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Coconut buns and the economics of home awesomeness

Sometimes making things at home is cheaper than buying them. Sometimes it’s more expensive. For example, the batch lunches we prepare and freeze come out to $1-$3 per meal, labour included. They’re definitely worth it compared to eating out. The coconut cocktail buns (pan de coco?) I spent this weekend learning are cheaper at the store, but they were still very much worth making.

We followed a recipe from an book that W- had bought from a pastry store in Chinatown a long time ago. It was a different way of making dough. The first step was to mix yeast, warm water, and flour. I was a little nervous in the beginning because it was more of a slurry than a paste. Once it rose and I combined it with the rest of the flour, it was beautifully dough-like, made smooth and elastic through kneading. After several rounds of rising, I filled it with the coconut mix, wrapped the dough around it, let it rest some more, then popped it into the oven for 15 minutes. The result:

Coconut cocktail buns

The buns were scrumptious. Not too sweet. Complex taste. Yummy yummy yummy.

I had a lot of fun making the buns with W-, playing around with the voice and mannerisms we’d picked up from a Julia Child video. I also made some pie crusts for Pi Day (March 14). W- filled the first pie crust with lemon meringue. I sewed up some tea towels from the fabric that W- helped me pick out, and those passed their field test. We salvaged some wool scraps from one of my bins and repurposed an empty paper salt shaker into a dice roller for J-‘s math study sessions. It was a great weekend for maing things.

We spend a lot of weekend time doing things ourselves: cooking, baking, sewing, fixing things, even woodworking during the summer months. Some of things cost us more in terms of time and money than we might spend on functionally equivalent alternatives, but we get a surprising amount of value from these activities. For example, baking coconut buns results in yummy coconut buns (for which a reasonable equivalent can be bought for a little more than a dollar each), but the activity is also:

  • intrinsically enjoyable for us
  • a way to develop skills
  • shared relationship time
  • an opportunity to create or build on in-jokes
  • an opportunity to strengthen other relationships (friends, neighbours)
  • a way to reinforce and express our shared values
  • a good reason for a blog post =)

So although baking buns takes time, it actually pays off better than many of the other ways I could spend weekend time, such as:

  • reading
  • watching movies (borrowed from the library, but still passive)
  • programming or working (important to invest time into relationships; doing well in programming and working at the moment, I think.)
  • writing, even

There’s a reasonable limit to how much time I would spend on baking or making other things at home. I don’t want to mill my own flour (just yet). I think I’ve got a decent balance right now, and I look forward to picking up more as I get better and more efficient.

Am I trading off, say, more brilliance at work, or racking up income through side-hustles, or becoming more famous through writing? Maybe. But this is good, and all of those other aspects of life are pretty okay (even awesome!). Life is good.

Watched Wicked again; thinking about experiences

We watched Wicked last night from some of the best seats in the house. It was amazing. J- had never seen it. For her, it was an entirely new experience. For me, seeing people’s facial expressions made the performance just so much richer – something I couldn’t do from the discounted rear seats we’d had the last time W- and I watched the musical.

What did we like about the experience? It added a richer sense of enjoyment to something we already loved. We often listen to the music from Wicked, and it was fantastic to be able to see it. There were new memories too, like the “Bring out the battering ramekin” quip that made W- and I laugh in an otherwise quiet theatre. (What, did they miss the pun?) It was a perfect fit for our dream fund.

What did it teach me about experiences to seek out? I really like watching performances, not just listening to music. It makes it much easier to remember and enjoy the music afterwards. I like musicals and operas more than concerts, so I’ll check out the Canadian Opera Company’s season and take advantage of their under-30 discount. W- and I love clever wordplay, too, so anything like that is fair game.

Looking forward to more awesomeness!

Back on the writing wagon

From October 6:

It’s been a whirlwind week. My family flew into Toronto to celebrate our wedding. I’ve been jotting quick notes in my ever-growing text file, rough sketches of things I’d like to tell stories about. I just haven’t made enough time to sit quietly and turn quick thoughts into something longer. I chose sleep, which turned out to be a good decision.

I’d normally choose to do fewer things so that I could write and sleep, but my family just overflows with awesomeness and stories. I can think of this as braindump mode – cramming a year’s worth of interaction into a week.

Besides, I can review my parents’ Facebook posts for stories to tell. Yay social media!

A few quick stories:

Languages: I like how undistinguished I feel around them. For example, my sister Kathy jokes around in English, Tagalog, German, Dutch, and Afrikaans. I can’t understand everything she’s saying, but I’m glad she has fun, and it nudges me to learn Cantonese and review my Japanese. I am going to learn Cantonese because I want to be able to listen and talk to Wayne’s family, and because it’s fun to pick up a new language. I also want to learn how to write it eventually.

Halibut: My dad says he will only eat fish he can spell. My sister once tried making him halibut, but it was a no-go. But Gene Hattori deep-fried cubes of halibut (that he had caught himself in Alaska!) in a beer batter, and it was scrumptious. So my dad learned how to spell–and eat–halibut.

School: J- ended up skipping a week of school and then some. She had a bad cold and cough for the first few days, so her dad kept her home from camp. She felt a little better by Thursday, but she was learning so much from my dad and the rest of my family that W- decided it was better for her to take advantage of those learning opportunities. He also got her excused from Monday afternoon’s classes so that she could come with us to the Hattoris. After all, it’s not every day that one gets to chat with someone who has been an official photographer for the Queen. =) (… is how W- explained it to J-‘s teacher, I think. Not that there was much talk of government over the excellent food the Hattoris prepared.)

Everyone: It has been so much fun having everyone over. This is the first time my entire family has visited me here in Canada. I don’t think our kitchen has ever been this busy – or smelled this good — before. Tita Gay and Kathy treated us to days of constantly eating gourmet home-cooked food, and everyone regaled us with stories.

Stories: Wayne and I like the way people tell stories. There are several parts to that: developing confidence and fluency in free-flowing conversations; developing an archive of stories; and connecting stories to each other. We’d like to get better at that. We can do that by hosting or hanging out with storytellers, going on our own adventures, and practicing telling stories around the kitchen table. I also enjoy writing.

More snippets as I make time to write.

The Exploratorium, or playgrounds for the mind

In this post about visiting San Francisco, Devin Reams wrote:

We also enjoyed walking around the Marina area and
visiting the Exploratorium. I’ve been to some pretty good science
museums (Denver, Smithsonian) but this place is amazing. The energy
and exhibits possibly could’ve kept us there all day.

Ah, the Exploratorium.

When I was in grade school, one of my most-loved books was the Explorabook: A Kid’s Science Museum in a Book. I read it until it was tattered and falling apart. No, I did more than read it – I did stuff with it. I used the included Fresnel lens to burn holes in leaves. I looked at streetlights through the diffraction grate. I pulled paperclips along paper using the magnet. (Hence the falling-apart thing: I disassembled the book to get to my favourite tools.) My only regret about the book: I wish I had worked up the courage to make agar jelly.

I remember reading and re-reading the blurb about the Exploratorium, the San Francisco science museum that helped develop the book. When my parents were planning our backpacking trip across the United States, there were two things I dreamed about: being tall enough to ride the rollercoasters at Disney World, and going to the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium was every bit as scientifically magical as I imagined. I could’ve spent days there. We also visited the Smithsonian, which I also loved. (They had a replica of Babbage’s calculating machine!) The Smithsonian probably takes weeks, even years to properly explore. But to a kid without all the deep background one needs to appreciate all the history, what was that compared to the giant soap bubbles and interactive exhibits of a science museum?

Whenever I have time in a new city, I make a trip to its science museum. I went to the one in Odaiba in Tokyo, where I saw a kinetic sculpture that simulated SMTP mail delivery. I went to the one in Boston and the one in Montreal. When I was in San Francisco for another trip, I dropped by the Exploratorium again. The exhibits were a little smaller than I remembered (I’d grown a bit since I was nine years old, but not by much), but it was still magical. I checked out one of the new science museum in Manila when I visited, and I’m looking forward to yet another one that I’ve heard is being built. We’ve been to the Ontario Science Centre a number of times, of course. We’ve even made a trip to a place specifically to see a science museum (Sudbury, Science North).

What keeps me coming back? Many of the exhibits are similar across different science museums, but sometimes I come across an interesting surprise, a clever way of turning a concept into an experience. And even with the familiar exhibits or in the less-endowed museums, there’s always the wonder of someone encountering these ideas for the first time – the kids on school trips, the parents and teachers and other visitors puzzling things through…

For me, science museums are like direct connections to the wonder of discovery. Love love love. I think science exhibit designers must have one of the coolest jobs around. Science museums and libraries are my favourite ways to imagine my tax dollars hard at work.

Share a science museum with someone!

Redoing things

SCHEDULED: 2010-09-07 Tue 08:00

It took me an extra weekend, but I repainted the chair I’ve been working on. This chair was my very first paint job. When we were working on this last weekend, W- was painting his chair too, and I made the mistake of not asking him for help. It turns out I’d loaded the brush too heavily, and the resulting runs marred the finish. So we sanded and scraped some of the excess paint down, and I repainted the pieces.

I thanked W- for helping me learn. He thanked me for caring. =)

There are a lot of things I’m doing for the first time. Whether it’s figuring out painting or my career, I try things out, make the occasional mistake, and get better.

Lessons learned from painting: Don’t rush. Go light – paint with an almost-dry brush. Ask questions. Watch other people. And don’t be afraid to do it again, even if doing again might make things worse. (I sometimes gouged wood out while trying to scrape paint off.) It’s just a chair, so don’t worry too much about it, but it’s a good story too.

In other news: W- has finished painting his chair Bibbidi Bobbidi Blue, and J- is painting hers with One Enchanted Evening. Mine is Pooh Bear Yellow. Attack of the Disney pastels! =) When we finish the chairs, I’ll post a picture of the three of us.

Learning storytelling from my parents

My parents are both storytellers.

My dad makes everyday life seem epic, with sound effects and humour. He embellishes tales to make them more dramatic. He tells stories in conversation, and is often the center of attention in a large crowd.

My mom keeps the stories of generations, revealing unexpected connections with grandparents or great-grandparents. She tries to stick as close to the truth as she can remember. She tells stories in intimate conversation and through her writing. I look forward to our weekly Skype conversations because of the mix of stories she shares: some about the past, some about recent adventures.

I’m really lucky that my parents both love telling stories.  Growing up, I saw how the stories they told inspired and energized and connected people. Good stories don’t have to have morals, points, or storybook villains threatening to destroy the universe. Sometimes a slice of life can make an unexpected connection.

I want to learn how to tell stories like that. My sister Kathy tells stories like my dad does, and I tell stories like my mom. I want to get better at saving and telling stories, particularly the difficult ones, and writing is my way of remembering.