Garlic and Cheese Stuffed Bread

Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re all sick of bread and if you’re not, you definitely hate rambling blog posts filled with pictures of mostly irrelevant stuff before you can get to the recipe. This will not help with the first one, but for the second…here is a link to skip right to the recipe.

I…barely ate bread before quarantine. I mean, I’ve always loved bread, but I started cutting back on it quite a while ago, and for a long time, had mostly cut it out of my daily routine – the occasional crusty loaf with soup, or a sandwich once every couple of weeks, but not as a daily part of breakfast. Buuuuuuut then quarantine happened and I started baking constantly. It was like a siren’s song – all those lovely pictures of bread on the Internet, how could I resist the urge to make some?

Also, I started a sourdough starter, so I’ll probably be posting about my first attempts at that pretty soon. I’m still settling on a name – I thought the Rye of Sour-on was cute, but my friends seem to be in favour of Jane Dough (or Grain Dough) or Beauty and the Yeast. Here it is:

But I digress. With most of the bread I’ve been making, I followed existing recipes pretty closely, so I didn’t really think it worth posting about. But this one, I messed with a fair bit, so here goes.

The dough was pretty standard – two and a quarter teaspoons of active dry yeast, three quarters of a cup of warm water, a tablespoon of sugar, one and a half teaspoons of salt, about two cups of flour (I was out of bread flour, so I used all purpose. It worked fine), a drizzle of olive oil. I added a little bit of onion powder, too. I let that rise for about an hour, and chopped about five large cloves of garlic. Once the dough was done rising, I stretched it out until it was pretty flat and spread out the garlic and cheese on top. Then I folded the dough over the layer of garlic and cheese so that it was it was sealed in and shaped it into a loaf. On top, I put some butter, more garlic (…I got annoyed and used jarred minced garlic here. Yeah, yeah, don’t judge me. But if you’re going to do the same, I’d probably swap where you put the jarred garlic inside and the chopped garlic on top), and more cheese. Then I baked it at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes.

Ta-da!

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Garlic and Cheese Stuffed Bread

  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • Shredded cheese
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Butter

Method

  1. Add the sugar, yeast, and water to a bowl and stir to combine. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until the mixture foams up.
  2. Add salt, onion powder, olive oil, and 1 cup of flour to the yeast mixture. Stir until smooth. Continue adding flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.
  3. Knead the dough until smooth and no longer sticky.
  4. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rest to rise for an hour, or until doubled in size.
  5. Deflate the risen dough and stretch it flat.
  6. Spread the chopped garlic across half the dough, reserving some for the top of the loaf. Do the same with the cheese.
  7. Fold the dough over the layer of garlic and cheese, pinching the dough closed around it and forming a loaf.
  8. Transfer the loaf into a greased pan.
  9. Gently spread butter over the loaf, then spread the reserved garlic and cheese on top.*
  10. Let rest for about half an hour.
  11. Bake at 375°F for 35 minutes.

*If you would like the garlic and cheese to adhere better, replace the butter with an egg wash – beat one egg with a tablespoon of water and lightly brush it over the surface of the loaf before adding the cheese and garlic.

Quarantine Quaffing: The Good Old Fashioned Art Of Cooking To Escape Boredom

What’s a girl to do in a time when everyone’s supposed to be self isolating as much as possible, and after that, when there’s a stay a home order? It seems…food. Here are some of the many things I’ve been making in the past month or so.

We begin at the very beginning of self isolation, when the staying at home was a little bit more casual – you know, before it became mandatory and everywhere started running out of paper products. At this point, food hadn’t really been very appealing to me for a while, so I was at the point of needing things that were easy to eat and boldly flavoured. So I made some pseudo-shakshuka. I did not have the patience to poach the egg, at all, so I fried it and put it on top of the tomato sauce and tossed some goat cheese into the mix. I cheated a bit by using tomato paste instead of just cooking down the tomatoes for however long it took, but I think it still tuned out pretty well!

You know when you finish most of a box of pasta, then have tiny quantities left of several different ones that aren’t enough individually to make an entire meal? I used the remainder of a couple boxes to make pasta salad! Some celery, red onion, half a tomato, and a whole lot of pesto and balsamic vinegar! Does it look good? Not even remotely. Was it delicious? Hell yeah it was.

You know what else is delicious? Chocolate chip cookies.

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These cookies were awesome. I put them in a box and they stayed soft and chewy for the whole week and a half it took to finish them. You can’t go wrong with cookies! I mean, next time I make them, I’ll add a bit more salt, and maybe a little more maple syrup. But they were still great.

Confession: I put ridiculous quantities of garlic into absolutely everything I make. Because of this, when I came across the phrase “roasted garlic soup” in something I was reading…I immediately had to try it.IMG_3250

An enormous quantity of roasted garlic, some fried minced garlic, vegetable broth, herbs, a splash of cream, and bam! Soup! It was awesome. (I can’t remember if I included chopped onion or not. I don’t think I did? But I put onion in almost everything, so it’s hard to be sure.)

I almost always make avocado toast on fried bread. Sometimes, I include cheese or onions. This time, I had a bit more time, and I wanted something a little different, so I tried it on garlic bread instead, with crispy cheese.

I like to cook. But I’m really not often fond of recipes that take a whole lot of time or need precise measurements. I’m a fan of things that I can throw together quickly and get a tasty result. But when you’re sitting at home under a low buzz of anxiety, sometimes you need some foods that are a little more involved – so I made pierogi. They are not pretty, but they survived and they taste good.

They had a potato and cheddar filling. I boiled all of them, then fried some and froze the rest. They defrosted surprisingly well, too. I only had trouble with two of them – those two got stuck together and one tore when I tried to separate them. Luckily, they’d already been boiled, so frying them went fine.

And because we’re in quarantine…I think it’s time for the obligatory bread pictures:

The one on the left is garlic pull-apart. The one on the right is cheddar rosemary. The dough for both was your basic bread dough, plus the add ins. Like the cookies, this also needed a bit more salt. Other changes I’d make for the garlic one would be to add more butter and maybe even whole roasted cloves, instead of minced garlic. For the cheddar rosemary, I’m thinking jalapenos. I can never stay away from that flavour combo for too long.

I’ll probably post the recipes later. How’s everyone holding up in quarantine?

Lessons Learned From Teaching Small Children How To Play Chess

So. For the past month or so, I’ve been teaching small children chess on a weekly basis. It’s very good pay and it’s easy to fit into my schedule. I got word yesterday that the remaining two classes in the session have been cancelled due to coronavirus concerns, so while I’m hanging out at home with very little to do, I thought it time to reflect. Here’s what I learned.

First of all. I really need to work out more. I am not the most physically fit of people, I will admit. That made carrying the heavy box containing all the chess supplies from my car to the school rather difficult. I will deny that it was all due to me being out of shape – it was a very large box, I am not a large person, there was often quite a bit of snow on the ground, and opening a door while holding something that requires two hands will be a challenge no matter how strong you are. All that being said…I should have less trouble carrying a heavy box.

Second of all. I really haven’t grown since I was about ten. I’m not that short. I know that sounds like what most short people say, but really, I’m not – I’m about as tall as the average American woman, and that’s how it’s been since I was about ten. I taught this chess class in second grade classroom, and I had no trouble at all sitting on the chairs meant for seven-year-olds. I did have trouble reaching the heights necessary to hanging up the demo board, and that was while wearing heels, as I’ve done pretty much every day since graduating high school. I take that to mean adults make everything bigger than they need to be.

Third of all. Kindergarten teachers should be paid more. My class contained people in grades ranging from kindergarten to third grade, and even though I only had to deal with nine kids, it was a lot. I’d turn to work with one kid for a few minutes, only to be interrupted thirty seconds later by a dispute between two others about the legality of a move. When I went over to look at their board, I’d find that the problem went back much further than the disputed move, because there was no way the pieces should have ended up in that position to begin with. (A player can’t have both their bishops on black! Doesn’t make any sense!) And that’s far from the most chaotic a class can be. Kids shout at each other. And throw things (thankfully not at me). And refuse to listen when I’m trying to teach them something with the justification that “I’m great at chess” (even when that same kid has been involved with multiple disputed-moves-that-couldn’t-have-happened-anyway). I brought coffee in an attempt to look more authoritative, but that didn’t seem to help. I was just doing this for an hour a week. Kindergarten teachers do it every day. All I can do is shake my head and marvel.

Holiday Cooking

Technically, I’m supposed to be eating as healthily as I can right now. But you know what, it was the holidays, so starch! Dessert! Things that are terrible for you but delicious! No regrets!

Now. We are not Christian. We do not believe in Jesus. Nonetheless, my mother is somewhat of a fan of Christmas. She likes presents and nice food and warm pajamas. She even got a set of very fancy toys for my sister’s cat. So on Christmas, I intended to make jalapeno cheese bread. Seasonal? Well, no. But it’s delicious. Who am I to question that?

I seeded and diced up my jalapenos, grated my block of cheddar, added some cream of tartar to a cup of milk for a buttermilk substitute…then realized that, unfortunately, the yeast did not make it out of the shopping cart. Well. There’s a bit of a disappointment.

So what do we do? We adapt! We use the other stuff in the kitchen to make some other form of bread that does not require a raising agent! The obvious answer here was gougères. Why is that the obvious answer? Well, I love them more than is healthy, I have made them enough that I have the recipe committed to memory (see here), and they come together quickly.

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Because I am lazy, I used a muffin tin to make them. Unfortunately, the texture that you get when you do that is not nearly as excellent as when they have more of the surface area directly exposed to the heat, which you get when you spoon them onto a tray like you’re supposed to. They don’t have nearly as much of the wonderful contrast of that lovely toasty outside with the light and fluffy inside. But they still taste good, so. There’s that.

A couple days after that, I wanted a snack. And most things weren’t sounding very appealing. I briefly thought about getting some Ruffles and making a dip, but I wasn’t feeling it. I normally love chips and dip, but it didn’t sound right at the time. So what’s a girl to do? Well, I’ll tell you – garlic bread. Cinnamon toast. Bruschetta. A weird thing with caramelized onions and goat cheese. A CROSTINI PLATTER. Or, you know. Not a platter platter, but an assortment. You know what I’m saying. I’ve been very good lately about cutting down my bread intake. But, as noted earlier, the holidays mean screw being good, it’s time for food.

You know how you should almost always add more garlic than a recipe calls for? My philosophy with garlic bread is to not only use a huge quantity of garlic, but to use multiple types as well – I make the garlic butter by adding roasted garlic, minced garlic, and garlic powder to softened butter and a little shredded parmesan. First baking it at a lower temperature to crisp up the bread, then turning on the broiler for a couple minutes to brown the surface…oh,my god. So, so good. To make the cinnamon toast, I do pretty much the same thing, except with cinnamon and a bit of sugar instead of garlic. As for the bruschetta…I sometimes make it using the same garlic bread described above. And instead of using raw tomatoes, I like to cook them with some garlic because I don’t really enjoy raw tomatoes.  So, traditional? No. Delicious? Hell, yeah. Unfortunately, I do not have a recipe for any of that because those are entirely based on what feels right in the moment. Gotta embrace my inner hippie.

NEW YEAR’S EVE. You know what that’s time for? Something over indulgent, chocolatey, and covered in salted caramel! (Recipe here)

This was not the world’s brightest idea. The reason why it was not the world’s brightest idea is that I’m not really a big dessert person. Like, do I like things that are sweet and chocolately and good? Sure. But I hype it up in my head, and when I actually eat some…it’s not as good as I expect. It’s not satisfying. At heart, I’m a savoury snacks gal.  My junk food of choice will always be the humble potato chip. But the problem with that is…chips on New Year’s? That’s just depressing.

Jalapeno Cheddar Gougères

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 jalapenos, diced
  • 1 cup grated cheddar
  • Rosemary
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F
  2. Bring butter and water to a boil
  3. Lower heat to medium
  4. Add the flour
  5. Stir for a couple minutes, then remove from heat.
  6. Let cool until warm, but not hot.
  7. Stir in eggs, one at a time.
  8. Add the cheese, jalapenos, salt, pepper, and herbs.
  9. Spoon onto greased tray.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes.
  11. Lower heat to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes.

 

Salted Caramel Rum Tart

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour.
  • 1 and 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Chocolate chips
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Mix flour and baking powder together.
  2. Beat the 1 stick of butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs until creamy.
  3. Add to the dry ingredients.
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes and 350°F.
  6. Cook white sugar over low heat until golden brown.
  7. Remove from heat and add remaining butter, small pieces at a time.
  8. Stir in 1/2 cup of cream.
  9. Return to heat and cook until thickened.
  10. Add rum and salt.
  11. Pour caramel over cooked cookie base and leave until set.
  12. Heat remaining cream to a boil.
  13. Slowly add cream to chocolate to make ganache.
  14. Pour ganache over tart.
  15. Leave to cool until set.

Becoming Less Clueless: Interviewing

I theoretically understand what I need to do in an interview. But I’m really bad at them.

It’s not that I don’t know the answers to the questions I’m being asked – of course I do. They’re either about me or reasonably basic technical questions about things I’ve done and know. But I get self conscious about everything – my voice is too high pitched, I can’t pull off a suit, do I have a giant pimple on my forehead preventing my interviewer from processing a word I’m saying, when are scientists going to develop technology that would allow me to be a brain in a jar – oops, was that another question? It definitely doesn’t help that I really haven’t done many of them. In August, though,  I applied to a job that I really, really want. And the application process here? Well, it helped me get a lot more confident and a lot less clueless about the terrifying prospect of a job interview.

One of the things that I find discouraging is getting back a form rejection before even getting to a coding challenge, let alone the interview stage. I have no idea what that means – what specifically did they find unappealing? These are entry level positions, and so it’s rather unlikely that many candidates have much  more to offer than I do. So what is it? There’s only so much I can change, and for all I know, the rejections stemmed from other candidates being from “better” schools! Luckily, this application process was not like that. A couple months after I sent in my application, they sent me a coding challenge.

Fine, I thought. This is good.

A coding challenge is something that I can control, far more than I could with if someone was deciding whether to call me based on my resumé. Some companies will send you a timed test, which are almost universally hated, but this was better. I got a problem and ten days to return my solution. And you know what? I do know how to program. I may not be the world’s best speaker. I may panic at everything. But I am good at getting things done. Good enough that a few days after I submitted my solution, I got an email from someone in HR asking me to set up a phone interview. That’s when my obsessive reading of the Glassdoor page started out.

Now. I am a giant nerd that thrives off having as much information as I can on any given topic. So I read every single review of the interview process and wrote down answers to every question people said they were asked. I read countless lists of interview questions and practiced my answers to those. I made flashcards. I even recorded myself talking so that I could get more confident with the sound of my own voice. And when the interview actually happened…it went well! So I got an invite to an in person interview.

This was far from perfect. I stammered through a few answers. There were questions to which I didn’t like my answers and that I wish I’d answered differently. But it went well enough. My preparations weren’t perfect, but they were good enough that I got an offer. It made me realize…I don’t have to be ready for everything. I’m probably never going to be the kind of person that’s effortlessly confident and always believes in her own ability. But I am capable of preparing for the most likely questions well enough that I’ll be solid, and sometimes, that’ll be enough.

Becoming Less Clueless: Clothing

There has long been a disparity in my life between the clothes I wear, the clothes I like, and the aesthetic that I want to fulfill. For most of my life, the Venn diagram of these things would be three circles with no overlap of which to speak. Now, I’ve been working on closing that gap.

I think the first problem is that I don’t really do seasonal clothing. I wear long sleeves in the middle of summer and sweaters all year round. I love sweaters. I have a drawer filled with them. Precisely zero of them are even remotely flattering. There is a time and place for giant sweaters, but there is not really a time and place for the sweaters that have nothing going for them but a pretty colour.

I am oddly shaped and nothing fits. I’m not short, but I’m definitely not tall, either. My torso is disproportionately long, and for whatever reason, most button up blouses look ridiculous on me. This below is one of the few that doesn’t:515540f2-b34d-465c-bb8a-0f37fd8dc03b

The colour, material, and drape of this shirt make it way less awkward looking than most dress shirts, so I keep it around, but still isn’t exactly flattering. So if I lean away from stuff like that and more to stuff like the next picture, I get closer to my preferred aesthetic:

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Clean lines, nothing too flamboyant. Lately, I’ve been tending towards blacks and creams, and I think it looks pretty good. I don’t really have many full body shots, so I can’t show how a lot of the stuff I’ve been trying looks overall, but that’s the general vibe – simple and clean.

I like the idea of short dresses and such – as my mom says, the time for skimpy clothing is now. However, then I’d have to put on sunscreen on my whole body and not just my face, and I’m just not that level of motivated. Plus, I’m super self conscious, and I feel weird about my knees. That being said, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to not get heatstroke:

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I’m also a big fan of suits. By which I mean, I like the aesthetic on other people, but when I try, I look ridiculous.

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Oddly enough, as silly as it looked with the jacket and all, that’s actually my favourite blouse! It’s simple enough to be versatile, and it’s got fun, kinda billowy sleeves! Which you can’t see in the next picture, I just like the way my face looks in it.

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Verdict: The rules are made up, no one cares, you can justify literally anything you put on your body, and people should just wear whatever they damn well please.

Becoming Less Clueless: Makeup

I have a number of things I’m reasonably good at: programming, machining, babbling about random topics that no one cares about. I also have a number of things that I don’t know jack about. So this will be the first in what I hope will become a series of posts about my attempts at becoming marginally less clueless about the very many things I know very little about. Let’s talk about makeup.

Makeup goes back to ancient Egypt. And historical makeup – and other beauty products and practices – was horrifyingLead. Arsenic. Crushed insects. Mercury. Nightshade. Radium. Jesus Christ. There are plenty of dangerous beauty practices and products that are still in use today – detox tea and dietary supplements, anyone? None of this is FDA approved! – and I’m certainly not going to argue against the fact that the expectations of women in terms of appearance are absurd, sexist, and dangerous both physically and psychologically. However, since today’s cosmetics are far, far less likely to literally kill you than those in 1700s England, I’m much more willing to approach using them as a valuable skill that I should be familiar with. So onwards, to what I’ve learned.

I don’t really do makeup. Not well or often. When I was in like eighth grade, my sister got me this eyeshadow palette with like thirty colours, so I tried some weird colourful looks for a while. And I used to do dance, which involved big dramatic eye stuff with bright red lipstick. But now I don’t dance anymore and am at a stage in my life where my attitude is more or less, “I will put in some amount of effort into my appearance if I have a reason to, but if it takes longer than five minutes or requires any amount of attention during the day else I’ll look absurd, I’m not doing it”. What that translates to is that most days, I don’t where makeup at all. When I do, it’s mostly just mascara. It’s only pretty recently that I’ve started using lipstick – and that’s because the formats have become more convenient and I’ve finally started to understand enough of colour theory to feel less awkward wearing it.

Now. Below is the combined product of a Snapchat filter and Nyx’s “try it on” tool.

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Snapchat filters are almost universally terrible. Like, what even is this? This doesn’t even look like me. I look like a white girl with a fake tan, and it makes me feel bad about how my face actually looks, which is ridiculous, because I am a person, not a doll. But anyway, I wanted to see how these lip colours would look on me with a full face of makeup, and I didn’t want to bother actually putting on makeup to get a more realistic impression. My face here looks considerably lighter than it is (also, so is my eye colour, normally I’d go on a tangent on how this is racist, but I’m tired and people more articulate than me have already done that, so I’ll let it pass this one time) so these lipsticks wouldn’t look quite this way on me, but I think it’s close enough to judge the colours and confirm what I’ve long suspected: I really can’t pull off bright. Dark colours work. Muted colours work. But they need to be warm colours on the cooler side. Anything too red or with warm undertones looks vaguely ridiculous. This is supported by the pictures I have of me wearing different lip colours in actuality:

The left pic and the right pic are the same lip cream, but the one on the right has gloss on top of it. The middle is an oil. It looks a lot darker in the tube, and I was disappointed when I put it on the first time, but I think it’s dark enough to work anyway. When I took the right pic, I put on eyeliner at first, then took it off, because it was annoying and smearing everywhere. I’m wearing a small amount of foundation mixed with a lot of moisturizer in the left and right pics and mascara in all three. I still don’t really understand the purpose of foundation. It requires too much product and too much time to cover up facial blemishes that don’t need to be covered up at all. Similarly, eyeshadow – which I didn’t bother with in any of these – looks at best distracting and at worst tacky. I am going to continue not using that.

The product that trying different things with makeup made me feel like I should try out is powder. Not always, certainly, and maybe not even on a regular basis, but my forehead is apparently prone to getting shiny, so I’m thinking I should be using powder to tone it down sometimes, for the same reason that I avoid eyeshadow. I want to blend into the crowd, not stand out. I definitely don’t want my shiny forehead to be the memory people have of me. I’ll have to add that to my pre-interview checklist: folder, pen, resumé, ironed shirt, and non-shiny forehead.

So to sum it up, what I’ve learned from this experience is that mascara is more worth the effort than eyeliner, but a little white eyeliner blended at the inner corners of the eyes really does help you look less asleep on your feet; lip creams are the best form of lip colour; and I should start powdering my forehead at times when I have to be across from someone for a prolonged period of time. Overall verdict: Makeup is annoying and I will continue not using it much, but a couple products used once in a blue moon will surprise the people that know you by reminding them how good you look if you decide to put some effort into it.

Laptop Struggles: A Life Update

You know what’s not pleasant? Laptop troubles. You know what’s even more unpleasant than laptop troubles? Laptop troubles with a laptop you only bought a month ago.

My computer decided to start acting up a couple weeks ago, just after I bought it. It was usable, but barely – there were weird pixel issues that rendered part of the screen completely unreadable. I managed to get through the last couple weeks of the semester with it without tossing it through a window in frustration, then packed it up and sent it to get fixed a couple days ago.

It still hasn’t left the FedEx office where I dropped it off. Here’s to hoping it gets to where it needs to go soon. I never realized how many things I use it for until I’m at home without it, away from campus and the computer labs that go along with that, trying to get things done on a seven year old iPad.

History, Hamilton, Music,and Pop Culture

I may not always love taking history classes – there’s a reason I’m in engineering – but reading about history is a lot of fun. When you choose a historical topic you want to know more about, you get to read stories about it that people found interesting or important enough to document. And maybe that’s less significant in recent times, since the advent of recording technology and the Internet – everything is documented – but you’re still reading about events that shaped the world as we know it today.

I went to see Hamilton last Saturday, and I loved it. I’d heard the soundtrack, of course, but that doesn’t compare to actually going and watching it. Something that struck me both when I first listened to the soundtrack and again when I was sitting in the theatre watching the show was that I was legitimately surprised at how much I was enjoying it. I was born in the US, and at this point, in total, I’ve been nearly as long here as I have in Canada, but I spent the formative years of my life in Ontario. I still consider myself Canadian above all else. This is an incredibly American production – not just the subject matter, but the focus on the individual rather than the results.

This kind of topic is something that could very easily come across as dry, not so much because of what it is – I wouldn’t consider that boring at all, because it’s a significant part of how this country got to the point it’s at today – but because of how dense it is. There’s just so much information that condensing it to a two and a half hour musical would be a daunting task. Lin Manuel Miranda did an excellent job doing that, keeping a lot of important information while glossing over details that weren’t directly related to what he was talking about and having an engaging story that didn’t drag at all.

As a musician, I adore soundtracks – whether they’re strictly instrumental or have vocals – and this was incredible to hear. I had heard the recording of the original New York cast before, so I got thrown off a few times by the different voices, especially the woman that played Angelica, but it wasn’t a bad surprise at all, just different. I haven’t gone to many musicals, and this was a wonderful one to go to. The music stood on its own so well that I never once felt like there needed to be something else going on on the stage.

I’m generally wary of people getting historical knowledge from pop culture. I’ve found that it leads to vague knowledge of a topic, but no more.Of course media and works of fiction have a role in piquing a person’s interest in a topic or a person, but it’s important to read. To question the conventional wisdom, to form your own opinions. To listen to what other people have to say, but focus on the facts and the argument, not the mythology.

In this regard, one of my opinions that’s furthest from conventional wisdom is mine of Jimmy Carter. I think that he was and is a very good man whose flaws included micromanagement and being loyal to a fault. I still think he did as good job as could be expected under the circumstances.

Carter took responsibility for failures. He brought back the confidence in the presidency that had been lost with the Vietnam and Korean wars, with Watergate. He had the courage and strength of character to tell people the blunt truth and not what they wanted to hear. And for all the complaints people have about him, it’s undeniable that he was squeaky clean ethically, and in 1976, the US really needed that. Just like how in 2008, it needed Obama’s message of hope and change, in 1976, it needed the peanut farmer and nuclear engineer from Georgia that believed in the goodness of the American people and had no scandals or controversies to speak of.

I only got this opinion from reading, from being fascinated by Carter and wanting to learn more. His presidency was over long before I was born. I don’t remember how long I’ve been interested in him, his presidency, and his post-presidential work, or how that interest was first sparked, but it’s been years now. I read everything, all sorts of articles, even if I have to sometimes have to grit my teeth to get through a piece of rhetoric that I can counter easily, just to know what people are saying. So many people, even if they do their research for current events and politics, accept what’s generally accepted about the past as true.Had I just considered the image of Carter presented in popular culture, I’d be one of the people considering him a complete disaster. I didn’t, so I’m not.

Hamilton is one thing. For all that it’s a positive take on Alexander Hamilton, it doesn’t gloss over his flaws to the same extent as a lot of fiction focusing on a historical figure does. It was also vague enough to pique a person’s interest without giving them misinformation. In most similar works, however, the writer’s biases come through even more clearly, altering the perception viewers or readers have of whatever historical figure is the topic at hand. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, but I do think people should keep that in mind when consuming media.

Cars, Pontiac, and Good Design: I Miss My High School Grand Prix

When I was in high school, I drove a Grand Prix. I learned to drive on a Cruze, so it was a little bit of an adjustment at first, but I loved that car.

It wasn’t something I really fully appreciated then, but since then, after driving other cars, I’ve realized just how well that car handled. It was very wide, which made it kind of a pain to park when I first starting driving it, but that and its low centre of gravity made it beautifully stable. It handled turns at speed excellently. It looked great. It was a performance vehicle with an excellent design – practical and functional without sacrificing the aesthetics.

I drive a Buick Lacrosse now. There’s nothing wrong with it at all. It drives fine. It’s somewhere between the Cruze and the Grand Prix for me – it’s a solid car, not difficult to drive at all, very comfortable for long distances, but none of the specific advantages of either of the other two. It’s very middle of the road, decent in everything, but nothing about it sticks out to me. It’s bigger than the Cruze, so it’s less easy to park anywhere. It’s heavier, too, so driving in the snow down the dirt road to my house isn’t as scary, but it doesn’t have as low a centre of gravity as the Grand Prix.

GM stopped manufacturing the Pontiac brand in 2010, and I understand why. They weren’t doing well, and it made sense to cut Pontiac loose instead of any of the four they kept making. But I seriously wish they were still being made, because my Grand Prix was a great car and I miss it.