Author Archives: charlesprogers
Post by Alison Hein.
Short, dreary January days are perfectly suited to bread baking. Homemade bread is easier to make than you may think, especially if you own a food processor. All that’s required is a little flour and yeast, and a little larger commitment of time and patience.
Allocate several hours for the process, and don’t be dismayed if your first attempt is less than perfect – you will get better with practice. And, once you bite into your first fresh-from-the-oven steamy slice of homemade bread, there’s no going back. Three lovely. wheaty baguettes will scent your home with bakery aromas, and fill your heart with great accomplishment.
Try a cozy winter meal that calls for no more than a thick slice of sweet, salty homemade bread beside a piping hot seasonal soup. Better yet, slather a warm hunk of baguette with creamery butter, maybe some strawberry jam too. Pour a cup of dark-roast coffee, and reward yourself with the perfect cure for those short, dreary January days – breakfast in bed!
2 cups tepid water
1 tablespoon (2 packets) dry yeast
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 cups white flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
Oil for rising
Flour for kneading, shaping and dusting loaves
Add water to large food processor, or large bowl. Gently sprinkle yeast on top to cover surface. Set aside until yeast begins to activate, about 10 minutes.
Add oil, honey, salt and wheat flour to food processor or bowl. Gently pulse on food processor dough setting or stir until mixed in. Add white flour, about a cup at a time, until mixed in. If using food processor, gently pulse until dough is compressed and begins to pull away from side of bowl. Be careful not to over mix or dough will become tough. If making bread by hand, turn out onto floured board and knead gently for about five minutes. Add about ½ teaspoon oil to large bowl. Place dough in bowl. Turn and flip so oiled side faces up. Cover with light tea towel and set in warm, non-drafty place to rise. Let dough rise for about one hour, until doubled in size.
Punch down dough. Turn onto floured board and shape into 3 equal-sized baguettes. Sprinkle large baking tray with cornmeal. Place loaves on tray, cover with light tea towel and set in warm, non-drafty place to rise. Let loaves rise for about one hour, until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 425° about 15 minutes before dough is finished rising. Lightly sprinkle loaves with flour (use a sifter or sieve). Carefully make a few diagonal slashes on each loaf, using a razor blade or very sharp knife (I keep a craft knife on hand for this purpose).
Place loaves in oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes until browned. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Makes 3 baguettes.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Ah, darkness. To the reasonable adult, it is a welcome thing, indicating that sweet sleep might be just around the corner. To a child, it is little more than cover for bone-crunching, blood-sucking monsters, just waiting to pounce on their unsuspecting prey. Thank goodness for night lights! My boy has a couple lights he uses. We have gone through many more during our years-long hunt for the perfect light. Here are a few of the more interesting lights I have seen. Spoiler alert: my favorite is the Ikea “Totoro” light.
This is the Spöka LED night light from Ikea. I love it. My son loves it. It reminds us a bit of Miyazaki’s Totoro. That is what my boy calls it. The best part about it is that is holds a charge which allows your kid to take it to bed if so desired. My kid so desires. It’s even kind of soft! Also, it changes color, from blue to green and everything in between.
I found this turtle light at the Goodwill and it put me back a whole $2.99. I was skeptical whether it would actually project stars on the ceiling but it really does. It’s pretty great. It stays lit for about half an hour and works like a charm.
Spider-Man’s decapitated head on a spring. I thought this would scare the bejeezus out of my son, but he actually likes it. Go figure.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
So, here’s the thing about Newbery Medal-winning books. Most of the time they are pretty good, but they also tend to follow a theme of kid on his/her own, seeking lost something, hardship, struggle, overcoming. Some of those books are groan-inducing, as least to a seasoned cynic such as myself; others are actually fantastic works of literature. If I had read Moon Over Manifest before it was awarded the 2011 Newbery Medal, I would certainly have pegged it as a contender. However, the story and the narrative voice are so wonderful that I don’t mind how “Newbery-y” it is. Anyways, here it is:
Abilene Tucker has roamed the country with her dad doing odd jobs her whole life. But suddenly, in the summer of 1936, the thirteen-year-old is sent by her father to his old home town of Manifest, Kansas to live with his old bootlegger friend Shady Howard. What unfolds in the aftermath is Abilene’s journey (yup, another personal journey!) to try to understand who her father is by learning about the town he came from. Through a box of old letters discovered in Shady’s house, and the stories told to her by the Hungarian diviner, Abilene learns about the history of the town, and yes, about herself and her father as well.
It’s a great story about a hot summer in the 1930’s at an age when you teeter on the line between carefree youth and the weight of understanding and learning about the world in which you live. Good stuff.
Post by Josh Zinn.
Good afternoon, dear readers!! Alas and alack, due to an intriguing offer to speak at an international conference on the correlations between the consumption of hibiscus flowers and the amazingly long lifespan of the pygmy population of central Africa, I am unable to write my weekly film review.
Fear not, however, as in my stead I have recruited my thirteen year-old niece Janie to regale you all with thoughts on one of her favorite films of recent memory, “Pitch Perfect.” Please be kind in your assessment of Janie’s writing abilities. In her defense, she’s a very enthusiastic tweeter.
On that note…
Pitch Perfect by Janie Swallowsbeigh
So, ohmygosh, you guys there is this really fun movie out called “Pitch Perfect” and it is soooooooo good. Seriously, I saw it at the mall last summer with my friends Brooke and Melissa and they were, like, totally in loves with it. You know how, like, when you see something sad on TV and it makes you want to give it a hug even though it can’t hug you back but that’s okay cause, like, you’re doing a good deed so you shouldn’t expect anything back? Yeah, this movie is kind of like that. It can’t hug you cause it’s a movie, but it totally makes you wish it could! It’s not sad, though, which makes it even better! You want it to hug you because it’s so OMG good.
I guess I should talk about the story in this part, right? Ok, so there’s this college that all these people go to and they’ve got, like, glee teams everywhere. I mean, I get that “Glee” has made singing really popular and stuff, but it’s weird cause you never even see any football teams or anything on the campus. Anyway, everyone wants to sing and this one girls team is like, so good but kinda boring. They all look like they work for an airline. But then their leader pukes on the audience and they become super hated and no one thinks they can do anything anymore, but guess what? They, like, totally bring it!
Do you guys remember that girlfriend of Bella’s in “Twilight” who goes to her school but is kind of a geek? Well, that girl (Josh’s note: the actress Janie is referring to is Anna Kendrick) is, like, the star of this movie and she is so good in this! She’s, like, a DJ or something but her dad is making her go to school, which is kind of lame. Anyway, she’s a really good singer and she joins the puke group and totally makes them better cause she adds, like, some banging beats and stuff. They even sing that Miley Cyrus song “Party In The U.S.A.” which, you have to admit, is a really good song even though Miley has gotten so gross and weird lately and it’s super embarrassing to admit that I used to have all her albums. ANYWAY!
So, the whole movie has the puke group fighting against these other teams and then there’s this super rude but hot boys team that they have to compete with and the “Twilight” girl totally has the hots for one of their members. I know, it sounds sort of dumb, but it’s super cute because he is so sensitive and totally wants to support her even though they’re supposed to be enemies. Plus, he is really hot. Yum!!
I don’t know if I’ve said too much about what happens in the movie, you guys, but you should definitely see this. There are so many good songs in it and there are so many funny parts. Like, that weird blonde roommate from “Bridesmaids” in this and everyone calls her “Fat Amy” cause she’s fat and her name is Amy. I know that sounds weird, but she’s so funny and she can sing super well, too. She’s probably my favorite part of the movie, especially when a burrito totally creams her. Gross!!
So, yeah, I totally think this is a good movie to watch. It’s so much like “Bring It On”, which feels kind of cheesy and no one I know watches “Glee” anymore, but that’s okay cause the singing in this is better anyway. I hope you liked my review. I usually HATE writing, but this was so much more fun to talk about than that stupid essay on Eleanor Roosevelt I had to write. BORING!!
Post by Kyle St. Romain.
I recently spent a small fortune on an arsenal of air purifiers for my apartment on account of the air quality being noticeably unhealthy. I don’t know how the air got so bad, but everyone who stays here, including myself, complains of something air/allergy related.
I did some research on indoor air quality, and learned about the immediate symptoms of poor air (eye irritation, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue) as well as some of the long-term side effects (respiratory disease, heart disease, or cancer). The EPA has conducted a number of studies on indoor air quality and offered suggestions on how to improve it. Since we spend a good third of our life in our beds, the quality of air we breathe while we sleep has the biggest potential impact (in terms of overall exposure) on our long-term health.
The main way to improve indoor air quality is to introduce cleaner air into the room, which can be done in one of two ways: opening a window and letting the crisp mountain air in, or turning on an air filter, which simulates the effect. Since my apartment is located directly above the train tracks and is surrounded by interstate highways, the outside air probably isn’t much cleaner than the dirtiest of my indoor air, so I had to go with option two.
Having conducted many hours of research on air purifiers, I want to share with you the results of my research—especially now that I have had an opportunity to test a number of these units first-hand.
There are a couple basic things you can compare all air purifiers by:
Almost every air purifier you’re going to look at will come with a HEPA filter. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air, and just means the filter is able to trap very small air pollutants without causing too much strain on the motor. In addition to HEPA filters, some air purifiers come with activated carbon to remove smells, UV lights to kill viruses, mold, and bacteria floating in the air, and a variety of other pre-filters to help prolong the life of your HEPA filter (which is usually the most expensive one to replace). The type(s) of filter(s) you get depend on your needs; however, HEPA is usually sufficient for most applications.
Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR)
CADR tests are conducted by the Association of Home Appliance Manufactures, and measure a unit’s effectiveness for three different pollutants: tobacco smoke, dust, and pollen. Essentially, CADR measures how effective a particular air purifier is at cleaning the air of a given area (about 1,000 cubic feet) in terms of cubic feet per minute. All else equal, you want to aim to get a unit with a very high CADR.
Filter Replacement Cost
One of the biggest issues with air purifiers is the cost of filters. When comparing units, you want to judge both the price of the filter and the recommended time between changes. For example, Austin Air claims their filters can last up to 5 years, but cost $165/filter for the smaller ones. On the other hand, Blue Air filters for a similarly sized unit only cost $50 to replace, but only last up to one year. Also, the actual time between replacing your filters will depend on how hard the filter has to work to keep the air in your home clean.
Depending on where you’re planning to operate your air purifier, noise may be even more important to you than some of the other features a unit may have. It’s hard to know how noisy a unit is until you plug it into your own home, but a lot of manufacturers will let you know decibel levels associated with each setting. This is a factor that is especially important when considering a unit for your bedroom. While some people like a bit of background white noise, some people prefer absolute silence. If you’re the kind of person who likes to hear the sound of the fan spinning as you go to sleep, don’t worry about noise too much.
I purchased three different air filters to keep my apartment clean: the Austin Air Health Mate Jr, Honeywell 5250-S, and the Blue Air 203. For the money, I like the Honeywell even though it can be a bit loud on its highest setting, is the largest of the three units, and has a bright blue light which can affect sleeping if you like a dark room. Next would be the Austin Air since it is very small, very quiet, and seems to have the most robust filter. Interestingly, it is the air purifier choice of FEMA. Next is the Blue Air, which I think is overall the second best unit, but is much more expensive than the Honeywell. I’ve also used the Alen Air T300, which is also a very good unit, but the filters are expensive to keep up with.
So there you have it, a quick run down of how (and why) to select an air purifier for your bedroom. I got three, so I can have them running throughout the whole house and couldn’t be happier. There really is a noticeable difference in how much better you sleep and feel in your home.