Friday, June 15, 2012

Parenting: Short-Term Relief vs. Long-Term Expense

A friend just shared an interesting Washington Post column with me in which a childless woman cluelessly asks what her friends with children did with their time.  I can understand that it would be hard to imagine what life with children is like if you haven't spent time with a young family (although I don't get this particular woman's level of cluelessness), but columnist Carolyn Hax's response paints a good picture of a typical day.  But what I really liked about the article was the following sentence:

[Being a parent is] resisting constant temptation to seek short-term relief at everyone's long-term expense.

This statement mirrors the core challenge of parenting, at least as I have experienced it so far.  When you are with your kids, you are constantly working and on call, so every decision has consequences, and looking for relief certainly has many.  But then the question becomes, when is seeking relief the ever-important Taking Care of Myself (necessary) and when is it Selfish Indulgence (necessary, but less often)?

Even if you are not a parent, Hax's pithy description of the tradeoff between short-term relief and long-term expense is familiar.  So many behaviors--eating, drinking, spending money, browsing the Internet--can start out so reasonable, but then be taken to counter-productive or destructive extremes one teeny tiny short-term decision after another.  Fifteen minutes checking email turns into an hour in front of the computer--oops!

Being a parent just extends the tradeoff to such basic activities as having a complete thought (gasp!), taking a shower, loading the dishwasher, making a phone call, catching up on the news, or running an errand, let alone pursuing a hobby or meeting with friends.  I would love to do these things more often than I do, but at some point they negatively affect my parenting by taking up too much of my attention or time.  Sure, my son can tolerate playing by himself for a while, so I can do some of these things some of the time. But when I try to do too much, my son gets cranky, clingy, and starts to push back.  In my head I'm thinking something like, "Okay, the dishwasher is running, now if I can just get the laundry folded..."  It sounds so reasonable!  Except when it isn't.  I find that it's often hard to identify when it is reasonable to do things for me and when an activity (or pattern of activity) incurs a long-term expense, and then it is even harder to resist temptation and stay on the path toward my long-term parenting goals.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Product Review: Nordic Ware Microwave Popcorn Popper

I have been using this Nordic Ware popcorn popper my whole life and LOVE it.  I can't fathom why it lives in obscurity.  Perhaps it's because it looks so unassuming:

It has all the benefits of microwave popcorn:
Making popcorn with it takes under five minutes.
It eliminates concerns about using the stove near a toddler (bonus!)

It has all the benefits of air-popped popcorn:
You have complete control over flavor, salt, and fat.
You avoid preservatives and other additives.
You have a lower cost and generate less packaging waste than traditional microwave popcorn.

To use it, pick up your preferred popcorn kernels, put them in the popper, and microwave it with the cover on for around three minutes.*  When you take the popper out, you'll have fresh popcorn ready for topping.

Although this popper is what Alton Brown would call a "unitasker," it does its job so elegantly that I'm happy to make shelf space for it. You can get your own for about ten bucks from Amazon, and it can often be found hiding on the shelves of your local Target.

The only drawback with this popper is that it is not designed to eat directly out of the bowl.  Although you can indeed eat from the bowl, and I usually do, the base stays extremely hot for several minutes after the popping is done, so you'll need some kind of trivet.  And if you have leftovers (ha!), you'll have to transfer them because the cover has vents for steam and isn't air tight. Last, if you add your toppings directly to the bowl, you'll need to clean it carefully before using it again.  When I've left traces of butter in it, the next time I used it, the kernels get too hot and started to slowly melt into the popper bowl.

Happy snacking!


*The popping time will vary depending on how many kernels you add and the wattage of your microwave.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Technique: Cutting Pineapple

Have you ever felt at the mercy of a pineapple?  I have.  I had forgotten how I used to struggle with cutting one up.  If I cut too little, the tough brown casings aroud the seeds ruined the final product; if I cut too much, there wasn't much final product at all.  Speaking with a friend recently reminded me of those trials and tribulations and made me realize that I was not alone.  But I eventually got a good technique and have been off and enjoying pineapple ever since.  So here is a technique for cutting up a pineapple that minimizes waste and cuts away the brown spots, without taking a super-long time.

First, use a broad knife to cut away the top and the bottom of the pineapple, and then cut the remaining cylinder into disks about half and inch or so thick:

You will then trim the edges of each round.  I think of this as the Octagon Method, but as you can see, the number of cuts is not always eight:

Trimming the edges can get tricky for the top and bottom slice, which are narrower on one side than the other.  Slowing down my process helps.  I make sure the narrower side is face up, then trim using angled cuts rather than vertical ones.  The angled cut follows the arc of the pineapple to remove the tough outer layers without wasting too much of the fruit.*

I usually cut the resulting disk in half, cut out the core, and then chop what's left. Any tricks for taking out the core more easily?  I'm wondering if a properly sized cookie cutter would do the trick!


*The thicker your slices, the larger number of sides your polygon will need to minimize waste.  Of course, there will be some waste unless you have an infinite number of cuts or an infinite number and thinness of slices.  And if you're a geek, this is fun to think about as an introduction to calculus.