Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Beginner cooks pay attention!

If you have never cooked and want to try it then please pay attention! I was a member of the club that cooked from books titled "Idiots Guide to Cooking" about four years ago. Now I consider myself a fairly proficient chef. I'm not Martha Stewart but I can prepare a decent meal for two or even entertain a group of friends with my skills. Here are some pointers I've learned along the way:

1. Simple recipes do not mean less appealing food. The meals my husband raves about are not necessarily the most difficult, expensive or time consuming meals.
2. You must invest in some basic kitchen gear to get started. I recommend a basic set of pots (all sizes), several pans, a combo frying pan/stew pot (deep enough to hold liquid but wide enough to fry meat), and a set of kitchen appliances that include a Cuisinart, mixer, crock pot, toaster oven and several casserole dishes of varying sizes. By a wonderful stroke of luck I was given all of these items awhile back- it would be a considerable investment to purchase all of them but a necessity if you want to provide a wide variety of foods. I had no idea I would use all of these items. Never fear if you can't afford them- there are still many recipes that can be made with just a few pots and pans.
3. It is good to hold a few staple ingredients in your cupboard at all times: kidney and black beans, beef and chicken broth, sugars (powdered, regular, brown), flour, butter, olive oil, and spices. I would start by purchasing parsley, basil, oregano and chile powder. As time goes by you find your spice cabinet multiples itself abundantly.
4. Invest if a 1-year subscription to Cooking Light or another magazine about cooking. Some of the simplest, most nutritious recipes come from these magazines.

Give yourself a one-year grace period to experiment. It takes time to learn. The toughest part is the timing of the meal. Getting the roast to come out of the oven simultaneous with the vegetables and the bread is a challenge. This can only be learned with practice.

Here are some simple foods that are favorites around our house. Its amazing how these incredibly simple recipes create tasty and nutritious meals in short amounts of time.

1. Shrimp with pasta (This is a very, very simple recipe and one of our favorites. This is the recipe that made me give up my complex pot pies and other time-consuming endeavors. Why bother when something this easy is so popular?)
2. Pot Roast with bread (a crock pot is really useful for this classic dish. You load the crock pot in the morning and you have a ready-made meal when you come home from work at 5 pm)
3. Scallops with pasta (a bit expensive but not to bad if you buy frozen scallops)
4. Grilled Chicken (very easy if you microwave the chicken for 5 minutes and then put it on a Foreman Grill or a regular barbecue) with rice (a rice cooker is very handy here but you can make it on the stove also)

Add a salad and a side-dish of a fresh vegetable and you have a delicious, fairly-easy meal in a short amount of time. It is so nutritious to cook at home and such a rewarding feeling to know how to prepare a meal.

Good luck. May you discover a creative side of you that you never knew.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

children's books

A dear friend of mine from childhood just sent me an illustrated copy of Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden. It inspired me to take inventory of children's literature on my bookshelf. I've actually been collecting various children's books for awhile now. I lived with an elementary school teacher about ten years ago and she lent me the book order forms from her classroom. The prices offered to children are great through mail order. I'm sure the Internet has probably changed all of that by now ten years later.

My collection now includes the following:
1. Wrinkle in Time (series of 4 books)
2. Narnia books (7 in set)
3. Harry Potter (I have the first 4 in the set)
4. Wind in the Willows (beautiful illustrations)
5. Secret Garden (beautiful illustrations)
6. Anne of Green Gables/Emily of New Moon (can't remember how many exactly- I keep these at my parent's house)
7. Jane Eyre (copy taken from my grandmother's house)

I regret to admit I've never finished Jane Eyre. Always something left to accomplish.

 Much to feast on for my daughter's upcoming bedtime reading. Let the fun begin.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

You just can't get away from regulatory.......

After graduate school I began looking for a job in.....??????  I didn't really know what I was looking for. Have you ever noticed that when you don't know what you are looking for you rarely find something that really satisfies you? This does occasionally occur but more often than not a person who is looking haphazardly for something doesn't find anything worth finding.

I landed a job in regulatory affairs at a large research chemical supply company. Looking back, although the position was not intellectually satisfying or even all that challenging, I learned something that I didn't identify until now: The power and importance of regulatory affairs in the American economy.

As I read articles about the economy and regulatory affairs I realize how the problems I encountered in my little cubicle in chemical supply pervade the regulatory climate that encumbers the banks, the housing market, high-tech ventures and other businesses.

Problem number one:
Companies do not want to follow the rules (especially new ones) because they must spend money to comply with these rules. If they invest money in meeting the demands of these rules they risk having the rules repealed only to find their monetary investment was for nothing. (Unfortunately, for the peon (that would be me) in the cubicle monitoring the regulations, this can drive you crazy. The system is messy, disorganized and totally unsatisfying to work within.)

For this reason, companies stall in following regulations that are new or poorly enforced. What is the point when it cuts in on their  profit?

Problem number two:

There are some regulations that nobody understands or that are so old nobody can remember the original purpose. It becomes a total waste of time to follow these: a bureaucratic nightmare to figure out which sucker in the organization keeps a database geared toward following such nonsensical and ridiculous regulations.

While this applied to me in my little cubicle in research science it applies to the high-tech world as well. In two different editorials in the Wall Street Journal on Oct 31 the problem of regulations and green cards is addressed. Why is it that we send foreign graduates of engineering and physical science programs back to their countries after they complete their degrees? Even in this weak economy we are short on engineers in the US. The editorial states that Steve Jobs could have moved manufacturing jobs from China back to the US if Apple could hire 30,000 engineers in the United States. We don't produce enough engineers here in the US (by the time we send all our foreign graduates home) to keep jobs here.
The current green card policy is a stupid rule that not only fails to serve a purpose, it actually harms our economy and (as the article states it) gives an unintentional gift to China of jobs/business.

Part of the problem here is a failure to communicate and work as a team.
I liked how Newt Gingrich summed up the problem in one of the GOP debates recently. He said something like this: The gridlock in Washington is best summed as avoiding something totally stupid by cutting off your head if you don't allow your leg to be cut off. So we will allow something semi-stupid to avoid something totally stupid from occuring. (In reference to the super-committee and the impending automatic budget cuts in the event they can't come to an agreement.)

This is relevant because the super-committee must come to an agreement about how to streamline current regulations that strangle the economy. I just hope we have insightful enough politicians to be able to maturely tackle the problem without too many political games and other wasteful behaviors. 

We must have leadership that can work with businesses on this problem. Regulations must make sense and be comprehensive of the needs of businesses. We must be able to enforce regulations and have the enforcers have a logical reason to implement the rules. Stupid rules have no place in American business.

We need leaders who act in the best interest of the country: this includes private business, private citizens personal lives and public government needs. Do we have enough integrity as a country to select leaders who can manage all of these needs simultaneously while also preserving their proverbial political neck? This is a tall order- one I'm glad I'm not committed to achieve. Why would anyone want to run for such political office?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Recitation as a tool of learning and a way to fight boredom

This is my day: 1. Wake up. 2. Feed baby  3. Change and clothe baby  4. hold baby and walk back and forth around the house to keep her from crying. 5. Take a walk with a neighbor who also has a baby (if I'm lucky)

As you can see my intellectual interests are stalled currently. Here is how I combat the situation:

I recite.

You recite? You ask. Yes, it is a tool I used to learn introductory chemistry when I was a freshman in college. I made flashcards with definitions, terms, key ideas and concepts. Then, I would review the flashcards at all free moments during the day: after/before meals, before dorm meetings and at other times of the day. Now I recite because index cards are all I can hold while still holding an infant.

I am currently not reciting chemistry- I am learning a subject unrelated to science. But I still recite and can relay the information I'm learning by memory. It is really a great way to break up the boredom. You should try it.