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Pumpkin pie 2021 (part 2 Thanksgiving)

It’s funny how working outside your own kitchen can throw me off just a little bit. Tools aren’t where you expect them to be. The refrigerator is plenty cold but somehow the butter feels not chilled enough. I’m cutting in the butter but it doesn’t look right. The oven is hot enough but it feels like the pie is taking too long. It’s all in my head and it’s just enough to yield unexpected results.

For Thanksgiving this year we were at Nancy’s new house here in Milwaukee. Of course, László woke up Thursday morning with croup, which threw us all off and scrambling the day of and sent me to the hospital’s pharmacy to pick up his medication. Once we were set and cooking, we constructed a pretty excellent meal for the four of us.

From my last post, I tried the steeping method of infusing cinnamon flavor into the pie filling and I was not disappointed with the results. For whatever reason my crust did not want to come together, nor roll out, nor bake fully on the bottom. Still, we had a good pie.

The pie was not the highlight of my baking this year. (I know, the title, bear with me.) It was Struffoli, a Neapolitan dessert involving deep fried dough balls, cooled and soaked in honey, nonpareils, almonds and dried fruit. This was much easier than expected to throw together, though it did take some time. Cook’s Illustrated (which is apparently my only cook book these days) has a great recipe.

If the dessert sounds decadent it’s because it very much is. For being deep fried, you might expect them to taste like doughnuts, but the texture we achieved was more like tiny bites of biscotti. A puffed, sweet, crunch that left us going back for more. A nice thing about them is they’re tiny so you can just grab one. And then grab another one. Then another one. Then why not three or four. OK maybe just one more. OK, this is the last one now.

If I have one addition to the recipe notes to use a light colored honey. Since honeys can taste different depending on what kind of flowers the bees were munching on, a mix of honeys could be a nice experiment. Light color is key, though, if only to make the plate more attractive and give it a bright and inviting look. It’s also possible a lighter color honey would help gauge whether it’s hot and cooked enough before dumping the dough in to coat them. I’d also use the trick in the comments to use a glass to help shape the wreath and avoid a big pool of honey in the middle of the plate. All that said, this is a keeper I’m excited to try again.

The method for these was pretty simple, but the dish was nonetheless complicated and time consuming. The dough is almost like a cake: flour, baking powder, sugar, butter. You ball up the dough and divide it roughly into six equal parts. With a scale and a ruler, I might have achieved a bit more uniformity, but I didn’t have either and the higgledy piggledy result added an extra element of fun. Divide the six dough pieces into (about) 60 each and you quickly have a pile of more than 300 balls of dough ready for frying.

The dough balls took a bit longer to fry than I expected — about 3 minutes or more to get a nice golden brown color — and I was a little worried I’d over done it. Trust the color, not your internal clock, and you’ll have good results. I didn’t time it, but I’d guess the 2 hours + 20 minutes of cooling is about right.

Next up: More pumpkin and Christmas bakes. Hopefully this time around my crust comes together a bit better.

Pumpkin pie 2021 (part one)

We had a crop of pumpkins surprise us in the yard this summer. Most of them, somewhat inconveniently, grew under the Whitespire Birch tree we planted last year. This made finding the pumpkins an interesting game, and we had to improvise a trellis to keep the vines off the grass so the pumpkins wouldn’t rot.

Pumpkins hiding under the tree.
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A short list of things that could provide longer-term student loan relief (including forgiveness)

Matt Taibbi has an article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone called Forgiving Student Debt Alone Won’t Fix the Crisis. It’s a good argument that doesn’t get enough attention. Every semester that clicks by is another semester where thousands of students are issued loans to cover tuition, books, materials, and living expenses at colleges both expensive and affordable.

I agree with Taibbi and so many others that total or partial student loan forgiveness is a good idea. Where Taibbi’s article doesn’t go, and to his point politicians don’t either, is into what could be done to provide long term solutions. Here’s a short list of things that I, a lay-person who has learned a lot about this stuff, can think of that might help:

  1. Cut interest rates. Interest rates are set by Congress. The lowest interest rate for undergraduate student loans is about the same as a mortgage right now, but the interest rates for some loans are much higher. If Congress can set interest rates they can also cap them at some arbitrary rate. They could even set rates to 0.0% for some loans!
  2. Increase funding for non-loan aid mechanisms. I worked through college including a work study job that paid minimum wage and only allowed 20 hours per week. That was barely enough to cover meals in the cafeteria let alone cover room and board or any appreciable amount of tuition. Congress could dramatically expand this program if they wanted to, maybe ED could do it without them, I’m not a lawyer so I’m not sure.
  3. Stop collecting interest during deferrals and forbearance. It’s a really nice thing that borrowers can suspend payments when they can’t make them but your servicer can also put your account in forbearance without telling you and your automatic payment won’t go out and the interest will pile up.
  4. Limit balance growth to a certain percentage of the principle. If your on a long enough deferment, you can end up with more balance than you started with. This happened to me. I overpaid my loans while we were teaching in Korea, then went on deferment while in Hungary and couldn’t afford them. The result? My loan balance was just as high at the end of two years as it was when I left school.
  5. Set automatic cancelation for all borrowers regardless of payment plan or job and incentivize on time payments by moving that date up. If you paid your loans on time for 15 years, your balance is forgiven, no matter what payment plan, or how many deferments or forbearance. If you missed 1 to 5 payments in that 15 years, it’s 20 years. Something like that.
  6. Simplify the PSLF and other existing programs. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is way too complicated. It’s not “10 years” as advertised, it’s 120 on time payments on a qualifying payment plan. If you’re off one of those plans for a month, but still make a payment, it won’t count toward PSLF.
  7. Limit the total amount the can be borrowed.
  8. Give students amortization schedules and other tools to simulate the effects of switching jobs or payment plans. It’s very hard to get a straight answer about when the 20 year loan forgiveness date hits, and what you have to do to qualify for it.
  9. Allow students to chose their own loan servicer.
  10. Set up federal refinancing programs to allow borrowers in good standing an opportunity to cut interest rates in the future. There’s currently no way to refinance a loan short of taking it private.
  11. Allow student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy.
  12. Increase the amount of student loan interest payments that can be written off on income taxes. Currently you can write off 100% of interest paid on a mortgage but for student loans, there’s a limit of $2,500. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to guess most borrowers pay more than that in interest during the first years of repayment when their earnings are lower and their principal is higher. Since the interest payment is going to the government, that’s ostensibly a double tax on low income earners. This one feels like a no-brainer to me! I bet we could even get Ted “HULK SMASH TAXES” Cruz on board with this one.

Again, these are just twelve ideas I could come up with by thinking about this for like half an hour. I’m sure they’re expensive but I’m also certain these would work toward changing the federal loan program away from being a predatory regime rigged against the borrower.

Edit: I missed 11 and 12 in the original post.

I am racist and so are you

I’ve written about white privilege on this blog in the past, and I don’t plan on stopping. The first time I was introduced to the concept was in college, in a speech given by Tim Wise. (The address he gave us was a lot like this one.) Tim talked about privilege as a pathology, a mental dysfunction that causes white folks to be afraid of others and worry about what’s coming for our status. Whether we like it or not, this pathology comes for all of us, sucking us into situations where we put the security of our privilege in front of the well being of our friends, neighbors, family, and, mostly, people we don’t know.

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A black man in Minnesota was killed by police on my birthday

And it wasn’t the first time.

I turned 33 on May 26 of this year. Shortly after I finished a 36 mile bike ride, news broke that a black man was killed by police in Minneapolis. His name was George Floyd. Update: A previous version of this post said he was killed on May 26. He died on the 25th but video of the killing was released on the 26th.

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