Monday, April 9, 2012

Once a Week Cooking

Ever since I started my new job back in January, my free time has been increasingly limited and I've been quite exhausted after work. For the first few weeks it was tortuous to come home and have to get something together for dinner and more often than I care to admit I just gave up and we either ate out or dinner consisted of milk and cereal. One week got so bad that cereal was even my go to lunch option. Not healthy. Not at all.

To do something about this I decided to try cooking a weeks worth of lunches and dinners over the weekend when I had much more free time and energy. I started slow only doing 2 recipes at a time on Sunday but now I can easily make 4-5 meals plus a tasty treat.

In all I spend about 4-5 hours cooking but it has varied based on what I'm cooking. There are really easy ways to shorten that time too like having one recipe use the crock pot and having another be a stove top only recipe.

Another benefit is that all of the prep work is consolidated. Instead of getting everything ready to chop vegetables each day, I just get it out once chop everything and then I only wash it once too.
A few tips I've picked up on as I've done this the last few weeks:

  • Read all of your recipes before starting and get a feel for what order to work in.
  • Start by getting out all of your dry ingredients so you don't keep going back to the same cabinets half a dozen times.
  • Rinse off utensils and cookware after using so food doesn't dry on
  • Have some fun music or a podcast going!
Food for the week.

Here's a brief example of what and how I cooked a few weekends ago.  I made 4 dishes: egg salad, And Noodles, Stuffed Shells, and Tacos.

I started by cooking pasta and quick soaking beans. While that was on the stove I mixed up the sauce for And Noodles and preheated the oven. After the noodles were done they went into the sauce and then into the oven.

Using the same pasta pot I started cooking the shells. I also started the eggs to hard boil. Then I got the cheese filling ready for the shells. By the time the shells were stuffed and ready to go in the oven, it was time to take out the And Noodles so I only had to preheat the oven once instead of twice. I chopped up the vegetables for the tacos and egg salad while the beans finished cooking and then used the pot from boiling eggs to make some brown rice for the tacos.

At this point all that was left was letting the food cool before I packed it into individually sized portions in tupperware. Since I'd ben rinsing dishes off as I went and the dishwasher was empty all I had to do was load it and the kitchen was clean.

It's gotten a lot easier for me over the last few weeks as I've perfected my routines and it also helps if you do all of the grocery shopping a day or two prior since Sundays at the grocery store are always crowded.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Weekend of First Robotics

Whew it seems like I've been away for far too long. I we'll say that I gave up blogging and snark for lent.  One of those worked much better than the other.  I was ready to come back last week, but then life exploded in a really terrible way.  Now life has settled a bit and that Easter is almost here it's time to get back on the blog train.  And now that work has seemed to settle down over the last few weeks and I'm sleeping better there is finally time for us to catch up on life.

There's so much to share too, but I won't overwhelm you too much today. Over the last several months Steve has been working with a local high school as a mentor for their FIRST robotics team and two weekends ago we got to go to one of their competitions. It was especially exciting because it was hosted by the team Steve's been working with and it was at his old high school. Steve's dad was also the head referee at the competition so we got some high level insight into some interesting fouls and replay situations.

The gym was packed.  It only got more and more challenging to find good seats as the day went on.

Steve's team in the stands watching and supporting their robot.

What is a high school event without awkward group dance moves?

Many of the teams had team number signs as another sign of support and recognition.

I was skeptical at first but after watching a few of the matches I became a huge fan. The game this year is called rebound rumble and focuses on shooting baskets and balancing the robots on teeter-totter type boards. It was really cool to see all the different designs and shooting mechanisms.

The teams had 4 baskets they could use to score.  The white border is a special reflective coating that most teams used to help line up the robots for shooting.

Steve's team had an extendable arm that allowed them to get much closer to the top basket, which was worth more points than the lower baskets. 

Another shot of team 548 in the process of shooting.

Team 703 did a great job playing defense in the final matches, although I'm not sure this was a totally legal move.

Every so often, 548 would struggle to make it over the center line, which had a bit of bump to get over.  In this case, getting stuck was not a concern.

 The qualification matches actually started on Friday but we only went to the Saturday matches. We got to watch Steve's team play 2 of their qualification matches. The team ended up in third place after qualification and they got picked by the first rated team to form an alliance for the elimination matches. During the lunch break we had to rush home so I could change into my glasses because I'd managed to rip a contact and didn't have any spares since I've been wearing my glasses so much lately. We ended up missing the first elimination match because we got back late but all of the other ones were really great. The third team on the alliance was from Dexter where they had tornadoes come through recently. Their group became known for spinning like tornadoes when introduced.

The teams have student drivers that use gaming joysticks or controllers to move the robots.  They also have cute, little netbooks to run some of the software like the camera on the robot.

In the elimination round, balancing three robots on a single board was worth 40 points and in the finals our alliance managed to pull it off several times including both final matches.

Steve's team balancing with two other teams in one of the final matches.  The coveted triple balance isn't always possible because of the varying sizes of the robots.

Balancing on the middle board was only important during the qualification rounds and you had to balance with the opposing team.  Team 67 had a good mechanism to help stay on the board.

Balancing on the boards is tricky and sometimes robots ended up toppling over.  Most robots are stuck then and out for the rest of the match.

I managed to find my way to the top of the bleachers a few times to try and get some photos without blocking other people. Overall I was impressed by the lighting in the gym. Even though I had my ISO up pretty high to compensate it was definitely one of the better lit gyms I've been in.

After the matches were over, and Steve's team came in first I got to take a closer look at their robot.

Most teams used a long board to mount their netbook and controllers; 548 used a briefcase instead.   It was one of my favorite details of the day.

They even made an ethernet connection through the wall so they could hardwire the computer to the robot.