FWIW: How to Fold a Plastic Bag

For What it’s Worth Wednesdays
My thoughts on many topics, widely varied

One of the useful lifeskills I acquired while in Mexico is the art of folding a plastic bag. Most people I know just bunch these things up and stuff them under the sink, where they expand, multiply like rabbits, and take over. Now, I’m not into hyper-organizing and I’m ashamed to admit that my house is messier than most, but this is one area where I do have just the tiniest bit of OCD. I hate an unfolded plastic bag.

Interested in taking back the territory next to the cleaning supplies and the recycle bin? Join me in folding your way to freedom!

Here’s how:

Clear some counter space. Spread the bag out so that the pleats, handles, and everything lay flat. I make sure to have the printed side facing up, but you need not be so meticulous.
 Fold bag in half lengthwise. Smooth, checking for rips or holes that would render the bag useless.
 Fold bag in half again, lengthwise.
 Grasp then bottom corner closest to you and fold it along the opposite edge, creating a right triangle:
 Continue folding right triangles. Resist the urge to create triangles with no 90-degree angles:

This is correct.

This is wrong.

Keep on folding those right triangles until you’ve got just a bit of handle left:
 Tuck that bit of handle between the folded layers.
 TA-DAH!
 Now you can fashion a plastic bag bouquet!
Or, just throw them under the sink. It’s OK; they won’t multiply.

At least, not like rabbits.

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How-to Tuesday: Five Minutes’ Peace

I’m experimenting with obligating myself to post more regularly by committing to posting on a theme for different days of the week. This began with Small Style Thursdays. Herewith begins my foray into How-to Tuesdays.

Five minutes of peace is an elusive goal for many new parents, and perhaps some not-so-new moms and dads as well. Here’s my favored procedure:

-Baby on hip, put the kettle on to boil and drop some Ginseng Oolong Tea* in a teapot.

-Set baby on the kitchen floor. Distract with measuring cups while you slice and plate a piece of the Pumpkin Pie with Apricot Preserves you managed to bake last night after the little one went to sleep.

-Before the water boils and gets too hot, pour a bit of (purified!) water into a bottle with some oatmeal cereal. Put the kettle back on. Settle the little one with her bottle. Pour tea.

-Waste precious moments of quiet time arranging tea and pie to photograph for posterity. Grab a spoon and mess with the whipped cream from a bottle so it looks like it might possibly be freshly whipped.

-Sit down to enjoy tea and pie. Realize that the tea is too weak, but the pie is heavenly. That’s OK, the tea is really just an excuse to eat pie in the morning. Get Spotify going for some mood music. Polish off slice of pie.

-Pour second round of hot water over tea leaves. Chase after escaped baby and re-settle her with her half-finished bottle while tea steeps.

-Savor second cup. Be sure to exhale slowly after each sip to appreciate the naturally sweet aftertaste.

-Aaaahhhhhh.

-Share pretend sips of tea with baby and groove to Spotify choices to distract the little one from “helping” you type up this post. Nobody promised five *consecutive* minutes of peace.

*It’s worth noting that the über-Chinese Ginseng Oolong Tea and classic American Pumpkin Pie make a great pair. The sweetness of the ginseng, only apparent in the aftertaste, complements rather than overpowers the sugary spiciness of the pie. I discovered Ginseng Oolong (人参乌龙茶) at a tiny dim sum joint in Guangzhou and it quickly became one of my favorite teas. It’s a great introductory tea for novice drinkers of loose-leaf tea…a stage I haven’t moved beyond myself.

Lifeskills: How to Cook Baby Bok Choi

One of the best things about food in China is learning just how good vegetables can taste. Who knew?Bok choy is one of my favorite vegetables to cook. Not the great big heads of 白菜 bai cai (literally, white vegetable, aka Chinese cabbage) nor the immature, baby, version of the plant the Southern Chinese call 小白菜 xiao bai cai (small white vegetable) but the similarly sized, light green vegetable bunches that we call baby bok choy in the States. Eight or nine times out of ten, the term 青菜 qing cai (green vegetable) got me what I wanted in China, though that term could refer to a whole host of different leafy greens.

This is what I'm talking about.

Anyway, this is how to cook that lovely vegetable. It’ll work for just about any other substantial leafy green.
Have on hand:

  • Bok choy (remember, this boils down quite a bit so buy more than you think you’ll want to serve)
  • salt
  • sesame oil
  • oyster sauce
  • soy sauce

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
Cut the ends off the bok choy to separate into individual leaves, and wash these.
Blanch the bok choy leaves, a handful or two at a time, in the boiling water for ~30 seconds. Remove from the pot and set aside in a colander placed in the sink or in a large bowl to catch drips.
Toss out the water and, over *low* heat, add a tablespoon or so of sesame oil to the pot. Be sure the heat is low, as sesame oil has a very low smoke point. Add a couple good-sized globs of oyster sauce and a dash or two of soy sauce. Mix these together well and let a bit of the moisture boil off. Add the blanched bai cai back to the pot and stir to coat. Et voilá!

I serve this with just about every Asian dish I make. You just can’t get enough dark leafy greens in your diet. It’s especially good with my famous Whole Pink Fish with Orange Juice and Cumin or Pai Gu (Spare ribs) in Black Bean Sauce.

Let me know how this works out for you and what you pair it with!

GPS and Prenatal Care

It seems that while I was navigating my way around subway systems abroad, a GPS service became de rigueur back in the US of A. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

See, I’m kind of a map fiend. I love maps. Love them. I don’t care if the map is of a place I’ve never been, or don’t particularly want to visit. I don’t even care if they’re accurate or not. Some of my favorite maps ever are the ones from the 18th and 19th centuries. Apparently the continents looked different back then. Nothing pains me more than throwing away a perfectly good map, as my better half will attest. He’s learning to live with all sorts of clutter.

The thing is, though, I’m really good at reading a maps. I think that being able to intuitively feel which way is north is a very important lifeskill, one that everyone should acquire if at all possible. Couple this instinct with a decent map, and you’ll never be lost for long. Even the time you spend a bit turned around is time well spent, as it helps fix those streets, landmarks, what have you, in their relative position in your mental map of a city.

I digress. GPS services. I kind of hate them, and even though I do recognize their usefulness in some situations, like figuring out how the heck to get on the West Seattle Bridge from downtown since they closed the Spokane Street onramp and neglected to change the signs, I confess to (often) talking back to the woman with the grating voice and to thinking myself wiser than she. My major objection to most GPS services is their assumption that I will just blindly, with complete disregard for the bigger picture, follow their commands as to what I ought to do next. It reminds me of my prenatal care experience in China.

There are lots of babies born in China every day. This means there are lots of pregnant women, which in turn means that even hospitals that specialize in prenatal care and birth are very crowded places. The administration of these hospitals deals with the issue by instituting policies that take expectant mothers through doctors’ visits that vaguely resemble circuit training. You check in with Registration so they know you’re there and are issued some sort of a number that will be important later. Then you go to Area A, take a number, wait your turn, get your blood pressure checked. Go to Area B, take a number, wait your turn, get a little test tube, go down the hallway and give a urine sample. Then you head on over to Area C, or sometimes back to Area A or maybe even up to Area D, to take another number and have some other test done. When you’re done with all your tests for the day, that first number gets you in to see your doctor, who looks at all your results, tells you to eat the blandest food humanly possible, and asks you to teach him two new medical terms in English.

The problem with this very orderly system, as it pertained to me, was that I never knew where I was supposed to go next. My medical Chinese is, um, not very advanced, and I don’t do well in crowds, so these were very stressful occasions for me. I made the mistake once or twice of asking WHY I should go to a certain department. On every occasion, the staff were so flummoxed by this question that they would put down what they were doing and say, “OK. I’ll take you there myself.” I soon realized that I couldn’t possibly beat them. I had to join them. So every visit, I would go to my usual starting point, find the friendliest-looking orderly, hand her my little book and say, “Where do I go now?” Once that task was done, I’d ask the orderly on hand, “OK, where do I go next?” As a coping device, I gave up on the big picture.

By my eighth month of pregnancy, I had finally figured out the routine and had started preparing for each visit by looking up whichever handwritten characters were decipherable in the doctor’s instructions from the previous visit. This way, I was able to map out an approximation of what indignities I’d be subjecting myself to that day. Still, by not insisting on an explanation of the big picture I had wasted tons of time and caused myself more stress that I certainly didn’t need.

My concern here is that GPS, like many other demonstrations of modern technology, is nothing more than a coping device, and that in relying too heavily on it we are giving up our critical thinking skills. Why? is the most powerful and the most important question I know, and the answer to it lies somewhere in between the big picture and the next step.