A Jagged Gorgeous Winter

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

December is one of my favorite months! There are lots of holidays and (it seems like) more opportunities to celebrate together with friends & family. The holiday I enjoy celebrating the most during this month is Yule. Yule, also known as the Winter Solstice, is celebrated today & tonight on December 21st, “this is the longest night of the year, meaning that despite the cold winter, the days get progressively longer after the winter solstice.  The winter solstice is celebrated by many people around the world as the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness turning into light.”  Generally, on Yule/the winter solstice my framily (friends who are more like family) and I gather around the fireplace, drink mulled cider, exchange small gifts, play board games, eat a cake decorated with a sun on it, burn the yule log, and just enjoy time together.  “The yule log is a remnant of the bonfires that the people would set ablaze at the time of winter solstice. These bonfires symbolized the return of the Sun.”  In recent years, we’ve also claimed The Main Drag’s “A Jagged Gorgeous Winter” as our holiday song!

During these dark months, I often feel much less motivated and have found that listening to podcasts can be really motivating for me.  I really don’t feel like doing the laundry or dishes or cleaning in general, but I’ve found that if I put an interesting podcast on, I can distract my brain a little and get some work done (or maybe reward my brain for doing the work!).  pexels-photo-374703I think of podcasts as a form of Assistive Technology as they’ve gotten me through some mentally & emotionally challenging times in my life. 

Though I know some friends who listen to podcasts, I’ve found that many people still haven’t heard about them or know how to listen & enjoy them.  I’ve written this post to try to help with that.  If you’re not currently listening, I think you’d really enjoy podcasts if you gave them a try :)!  So let’s start at the top, what’s a podcast?

A mic standing on a laptop computer with headphones in the background.“Podcasts are free audio programs distributed over the Internet. You can download them and listen to them as you please, essentially creating a radio station focused entirely on the topics you want to listen to. There are podcasts out there covering almost any topic that you can imagine – and probably dozens of podcasts on that topic.  Because you can choose programs that match your interests and can swap programs in and out as you wish, it becomes much like having a customized radio station for yourself that you can even take with you wherever you go if you have a smartphone.”

The Podcast Host has created a great guide, How Do I Listen to a Podcast?, that will help you get started, “Here we look at the different ways that you can listen to a podcast, from Smartphone to smart speaker.”  Podcasts can also be enjoyed on your desktop computer and even in your car.  In the car, I especially love that I don’t have to listen through songs I don’t like or NPR shows I’m not particularly interested in.  I can be my own radio show programmer!  Stitcher logoMy favorite way to listen is by using the Stitcher podcast app on my iPhone (also an Android app).  I load the app, scroll through shows I’ve saved, and search for new shows I might enjoy.  There are built in help features so if I forget how to do something, the app reminds me.  🙂  The Stitcher podcast app is free and so are the shows I listen to on there (they do offer a paid, premium version, but I feel like I need it).

As I was preparing & planning to write this post, I started to think about podcasts I wanted to recommend. Two people looking on their smartphones together.Then, I had a better idea: include what others AND I like.  There are so many different podcasts that cover so many different topics!  From America’s Test Kitchen to Anderson Cooper 360; the topics & show choices are endless.  Here are a few suggestions from people in my life; my own recommendations are at the bottom of the list.  If you listen to podcasts, what do you listen to? Comment! 🙂

Katie W’s recommendations: I listen to Buffering the Vampire Slayer-which is about…Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Each week the hosts watch episodes one at a time (it starts from the pilot and as of right now they’re in season 3), and they discuss the episode.  I also just started Rupaul: What’s the Tee? with Rupaul and Michelle Visage-they basically just pick a topic and talk about it. Usually relating it back to their own life

Greg’s recommendations: Tanis, Rabbits, & The Black Tapes are all great sci-fi/horror stuff. Wolf 359 is a more comedy leaning space adventure. If you’re interested in history, History On Fire is a great in depth look at a variety of historical figures and eras. If you like old time radio, Thrilling Adventure Hour is a comedic spin on that style.

Katie C’s recommendation: She-Explores is my favorite! It focuses on women’s adventures in the outdoors. It’s empowering, inspiring, and often includes good story telling.

Jessica’s recommendations: Heard a great one on Living Myth. I listen to podcasts from End of Life University. There are some interesting topics.

Bri’s recommendation: The only one I listen to with loyal regularity is Thinking Sideways. It’s a round table style (two men and a woman) discussion on an unsolved mystery each week. They cover true crime, cryptozoology, mystery people, conspiracies you name it. They have great chemistry and I like their approach.

Diana’s recommendations: I love The Moth Podcast, Ted Radio Hour, Ted Talks Daily, and StoryCorps.

Beth’s recommendations: I second “The Moth“. Also enjoy “99% Invisible” it kind of sort of focuses on the broad topic of design.

Lindsey’s recommendations: For politics + humor: Lovett or Leave It, Throwing Shade, Fake the Nation.

Jesse’s recommendation: The Fantasy Focus Football podcast; I listen to stay up to date so I can manage my fantasy football team.

Mike’s recommendations: I like listening to podcasts while I’m driving.  I like Intercepted, it’s political and keeps people in check.  Pod Save America is a good political one; some of the hosts used to work for Obama when he was in office.  Adventure Zone is fun; people get together & play d&d (Dungeons and Dragons)! And Radiolab has interesting stories that are compelling.

Arika’s recommendations: The Longest Shortest Time is a good parenting one.  Majority 54 & Pod Save the People are a good political ones.  Dear Sugar is a realistic advice column podcast.  Oprah’s Super Soul features Oprah herself talking about spiritual things with different people.

Aimee’s recommendations:
Another Round
Book Riot
Death, Sex, and Money
Note to Self
Double X
Mom and Dad are Fighting

My recommendations:

  • This American Life‘s show usually focus on topics all of us usually have a relation to (like topics of conversation over dinner).  I like this show because the stories shared on there seem to somehow better connect us all/make us more aware of each others’ life experiences. 
  • The No Sleep podcast is a horror fiction show with voice actors who read fantastic stories!  I can’t see scary movies or shows, but I can listen to podcasts and enjoy the creativity of the stories shared! 
  • Anderson Cooper 360!  My partner and I don’t have cable and thus don’t have access to watching Anderson’s nightly news show.  BUT this audio version of his show is a pretty good free option.  I like & respect Anderson Cooper and appreciate the multiple, different points of view represented on his show.
  • Game of Thrones podcast!  After I watch this show with my partner, he usually has to go to bed and I don’t get to recap/chat about the episode with him.  This show features 2 hosts who recap the episode, talk about theories, and read listener feedback.  I often will learn about things I didn’t pick up during the show and hear interesting takes on the various characters & their motivations.

Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen (Part 6)

Kitchenaid stand mixer

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Welcome back to our Assistive Technology in the Kitchen series, Part 6 :-)!  Today we are talking about using a stand mixer (or standing mixer) as an Assistive Technology support in the kitchen!  

Graphic of a handheld mixer with beatersMixing by hand can require precision, endurance, and fine motor control.  Handheld, electric beaters can be difficult to use; holding the power button down can take a lot of grip/pinch strength and holding the device itself takes a fair amount of upper body strength. Knowing I can set the stand mixer to do its job makes cooking and baking seem less daunting and more accessible to me. 

When you think of a stand mixer what comes to mind?  Having a lot of time available to “play” in the kitchen?  That’s what I thought at first too and I couldn’t justify spending a larger sum of money on something I’d maybe use once a week.  But then I searched “uses for kitchenaid stand mixers” on Pinterest and found that (along with other surprising uses), I could shred cooked chicken breast using a stand mixer!  

2 forks shredding cooked chickenI have been making bbq chicken in my slow cooker for years, but there’s a step in the recipe where I need to shred the cooked chicken with 2 folks.  Using 2 forks to shred up a protein (even if tender) can require upper body strength, fine motor control, and muscle endurance.  Not to mention that your hands are really close/touching hot meat and that can be painful.  By using the stand mixer to shred the chicken, I now just use tongs to place the hot, cooked chicken into the mixer, mix for 30 seconds on low with the paddle attachment, and all my chicken is all shredded and ready for bbq sauce & bun (maybe a little coleslaw too)!  😉

Shredded BBQ chicken sandwich, topped with coleslaw

I use my mixer with the whisk attachment whenever I want something really thoroughly mixed: Jello, instant pudding, ranch dressing/dip, fluffy eggs for scrambled eggs & omelets, box cake mix, meat for meatballs & meatloaf, etc.  

Tray of soft pretzelsStand mixers often come with that paddle attachment I mentioned with the shredded chicken, the whisk attachment, and a dough hook attachment.  You can make lots of great, yeasty dough’s for soft pretzels, breads, rolls, etc. using the dough hook.  I especially love using the dough hook to make quick breads; the dough hook attachment doesn’t over mix and ends up giving them the best texture!

  • Pro tip 1: When I bought my mixer, I purchased a second bowl & paddle attachment so that when I was making a recipe that required 2 different batters or preparations, I didn’t have to stop to wash my one bowl & paddle.  The bowls I have are the lighter, stainless steel ones.  Kitchenaid has some pretty ceramic and glass bowls available, but they are heavy and therefore can be cumbersome to use, wash, scrape batter out of, etc.  In addition to the food weight inside of the bowl, the glass & ceramic bowls add 3 additional pounds!  

Stand mixer with ceramic mixing bowl

  • Pro tip 2: Stand mixers are heavy and can be difficult to lift (even just to scooch over a bit).  Mine lives on my counter so I don’t have to deal with moving it to store it after I’m done using it (besides, it’s pretty and I like looking it lol).  I’ve found that by putting small, furniture felt pads on the bottom of the stand, the mixer scooches around on the counter a lot more easily.  And if the pads get dirty they are easily replaceable.

3 stand mixersStand mixers in general are relatively expensive and if you’re going for the bright, colorful, and popular models (ahem, Kitchenaid), be prepared to pay $300-$400.  I saved for a few years before I purchased mine and during that time did a lot of research to find out which model would be best for me.  After visiting stores (Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table tend to have various models in their stores) to physically touch the mixer controls & watching the America’s Test Kitchen equipment review of stand mixers, I purchased an Artisan Kitchenaid Stand mixer (in the green apple color) with the “head tilt”.  I got mine from Kohl’s when it was on sale.  At that time, I had a 30% off coupon and they offered a rebate (saved me about $100).  I bet you could get the same deal if you checked their site (I think they list sales on Saturday’s) and keep your Kohl’s coupons/look up Kohl’s coupon codes.  Note: I wouldn’t recommend the Kitchenaid mini because I’ve seen that it doesn’t mix as well as the other models.

Do you have a stand mixer?  What do you use it for most?

If you missed them, check out Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, & Part 5 of this AT in the Kitchen series!

Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen (Part 4)

Whole eggs in a muffin pan, inside of an oven

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Welcome back to our ‘AT in the Kitchen’ series!  Last time in Part 3 we went to the grocery store and utilized apps to grab groceries in efficient, supportive, and less stressful ways.  This time we are back in the kitchen with loads of fresh ingredients just begging to be chopped, cooked, and/or baked into deliciousness!  Eating healthy and using what’s on hand can be difficult for everyone; specifically individuals who have support needs centered around memory, organization, and sometimes motivation.  I don’t know if you’re like me, but once I have my fridge stocked, I can feel a little overwhelmed of what to do next with all the fresh ingredients.  It can be challenging to remember everything I have and plan out what I can make with it before it goes bad.  Screenshot of the Fridge Pal appThe Fridge Pal app has been really helpful to me; I can basically create a visual copy of my fridge on my phone so I remember what’s available to use.  “You scan items in using the bar codes. Fresh produce can be entered manually. Look up recipes that combine ingredients so you know how to use items about to go bad.”  In the app, you can also enter an expiration date for each food item.

  • Pro tip: I hate wasting food so I try to organize my refrigerated shelves by keeping in mind what will keep best the longest.  The things that will keep for a while (eggs, cheese, hearty veggies like carrots, etc.) go in the back.  In the front of the shelves, I put things that have a shorter life (avocados, softer fruit like strawberries, fresh deli meat, etc.) so I’ll remember to use those before they go bad.  

Once my fridge is organized, my next step is to prep and start using ingredients.  Hard boiled eggs are a favorite of mine; I can eat them on their own with a little salt, put them in salads, pickle them (yes really!), etc.  Now, I have a confession to share with you: I am terrible at boiling eggs on the stove.  What I do instead is make oven hard boiled eggs using my oven and a muffin tin.  Along with getting more evenly cooked & easier to peel eggs, this method feels safer to me as I don’t have to deal with a big, heavy pot of boiling water once the eggs are cooked.  Here’s my method for baking hard boiled oven eggs (or as I call them ‘Oven Eggs’):

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place 1 whole, un-cracked egg in each muffin well (no muffin papers needed).
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • When 30 minutes are up, use silicone-tipped tongs to carefully take hot eggs out of the tin and gently place them into a medium-size bowl of ice water (I like using these Oxo bowls with the grippy handles and weighted, textured bottoms).
  • Once cooled, you can peel your eggs and put them in your fridge or leave them in their shell (to peel whenever you want to eat one) and place in your fridge (I keep mine in a big plastic sandwich bag so they don’t take up too much room.

3 Oxo mixing bowls

I have some recipes that I like to use in my weekly cooking/baking rotation, but I’m regularly searching for new things to try.  These days, many people have created their own blogs where they share their own recipes.  I’m a repeat user of Pinterest and find that many of the most yummy-sounding/looking recipes on there are from individuals’ food/life blogs; with every amazing cookie recipe, there’s a charming story that goes along with it.  Confession #2: sometimes I just want the recipe.  Am I the only one who feels this way? 😉  Screenshot of a No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Mousse.I’ve found a trick to help with this desire/need: when I scroll thru the blog post to get to the recipe, there’s usually a link to “print version of this recipe”.  When I click this, I get to see just the recipe; I take a screenshot of the print version of the recipe and then I just have it saved as a picture I can access.  Using this trick, you get all of the info you need with less noise and less information to try to sort thru (which can be overwhelming and sometimes a barrier to actually making the dish).  I also find it helpful that I can zoom in on the picture of the recipe if the text is too small in the screenshot. 

Here’s the link to the No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Mousse that’s pictured as a screenshot in this article (spoiler alert: it’s an amazing dessert!).

What tips or tricks do you have for organizing your fridge/pantry and using ingredients?  Share in the comments! (I’d love to know!)

If you missed them, check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this AT in the Kitchen series!