Working from home

by Houston

How is working from home going? Anyone buying special items to make your work more productive? DH got a ring light because he had to record a few presentations. I have my “Zoom lipstick” so that my lips don’t look so shriveled on Zoom.

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/11/ring-lights-for-all/617143/

113 thoughts on “Working from home

  1. I have started wearing a bit of makeup again. It’s not as much as I wore on a typical office day, but I put on mascara and tinted moisturizer most mornings. Also, I make sure to be wearing a top that is video-friendly. This isn’t anything fancy – just something beyond exercise clothing. Today I have on a striped t-shirt and a cardigan – not that different from what I would have worn into the office except I am wearing joggers on the bottom. If I have a video call, I’ll grab lipstick out of my desk drawer and put on a little powder if I’m shiny.

    I bought this desk lamp which rotates to light your face if needed. Late in the day when there is less natural light, I find I need a little extra light and this works pretty well. It also works as an actual desk lamp, so it seemed more functional than just a ring light.

    WFH is still going okay for me. Where I see the biggest loss is in training/mentoring the younger people on the team. I am also worried about onboarding, especially as I don’t think we are all going back to the office anytime soon. Even when we do, I think people (myself included) have gotten really used to the flexibility. Almost no one I talk to wants to go back 5 days/week. I was already WFH 1-2 days/week in The Before Times, so I only see that increasing long term.

  2. No surprise that I am living working from home. I hardly ever use my camera, but that lipstick is a good idea Houston. I should experiment with what makeup helps when on camera. I got a curved monitor, a laptop stand that elevates my laptop so that it works better as a second monitor, a 15” laptop instead of my prior 13”, and a new desk chair. I also moved some hand weights and an Apple TV into my office so I can do short 20 minute workout videos when I get the chance. My Christmas tree is in my line of sight, which is an added treat right now. Oh, and I also got 12 additional pounds, but that was not in the list of things I wanted. I’m hoping to return those sometime soon.

    LFB – my Ooni pizza oven will be coming soon. (Slowing the return of the 12 lbs). Do you make your own crust and sauce? If you have any recipes or sources you like, can you point me to them?

  3. Looks like DH, DS and I will continue to work/go to school from home until at least July. I am grateful we have a 2 story house with a finished basement as it means we each get a floor to ourselves. DS is upstairs. He uses DD’s bedroom as his school room (DD is living off-campus). I work on the main floor in the family room/kitchen (in the summer, I will spend part of the day on the front porch). DH works in the finished basement. He bought a light therapy lamp to mimic day light – he finds the lack of light depressing and said the light therapy lamp has made a difference.

  4. Similar to Becky, i got a extra 10 pounds. The one downside of working just off the kitchen is that I am steps away from snacks all day long. My snacking has definitely increased.

    And like Ivy, people in my office are thinking that when we do eventually go back, most of us would rather work 3 days in the office and 2 days at home rather than 5 days in the office.

  5. Houston, what’s your “Zoom liptick”? I wear lipstick every day all day. I finally found one that lasts all day but doesn’t dry out my lips. Bonus: it doesn’t rub off on my mask.

    IT Vitality Lip Flush Stain™ 4-in-1 Hydrating Lipstick
    IT’S YOUR BALM-GLOSS-STAIN-LIPSTICK ALL IN ONE!

    Ivy, I think I want that lamp. I’ve been wanting to replace my big old-fashioned swing-arm desk lamp with something more practical. Dim light on Zoom makes me look older and more tired.

  6. OMG, I cycled through 5 pairs of earbuds and headphones looking for a pair that would allow me to be heard well on Zoom. This is the set that I finally settled on. Two thumbs up. Very comfortable

  7. Becky — yes!! Jim Lahey’s no-knead pizza dough recipe — https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/03/jim-laheys-no-knead-pizza-dough-recipe.html. It is literally 5 minutes of work the night before to measure and mix, and then the next night it’s gorgeous and delicious. I don’t tend to bother with making my own sauce, because I’m not about the sauce. My favorite pizzas use alternatives — I do a white pizza with a mix of olive oil and herbs as the sauce, a truffle and tallegio pizza with truffle paste as the sauce, and a bratwurst/weisswurst pizza with a dijon-based sauce. Also, kids’ favorite dessert pizza is Nutella as the sauce with marshmallows; mine is strawberry jam as the sauce with slices of brie (and if you want to be decadent, bittersweet chocolate chips).

  8. Oh: I also do a BBQ sauce one with chicken and red onion and cilantro at the end, and one with ranch dressing and chicken and bacon. Just make sure all your meats are pre-cooked, as they will not cook in 60-90 seconds.

    I can also confirm that prosciutto on top is awesome, because it crisps up like the best bacon ever.

  9. On topic:

    I’m managing WFH fine; I did so voluntarily a lot in The Before Times, so the day-to-day isn’t that different. I did buy a lifter for the computer so I can stand up periodically, as the sitting all day kills my back. Also a SAD light, which I use both for myself in the AM and on a lower setting as a desk lamp. The biggest issue I have is that my office is on the SE corner of the house, and my computer is in that corner so I can look out both windows, so in the morning and late afternoon I have big glare issues. We have blinds, but my stupid computer camera tends to over-brighten everything, so I end up looking like a vampire. So I also use the SAD lamp to angle it at the computer in a way that it “reads” the background as brighter, but in a way that the light itself doesn’t really show up on camera.

    The biggest issue with WFH isn’t the actual WFH, it’s the DS-and-DD-school-from-home. We are back to DD in the kitchen, me down the short hall in the office, and DS in the front room. This morning I couldn’t get my tea refill because she was having a prep session for finals. Oh well — just have to get through this one more week, and then she can go flop in the family room instead. ;-)

  10. My D started a WFH internship last week. At one point her boss asked her when she could video call with him and she realized there were very few excuses for her NOT to say “right away” or “any time’ since not much else is going on right now. She has taken extra care to look professional on her calls, much more than on school calls. She tries to look put together and pays more attention to her background.

  11. We have a Logitech webcam and the quality is much better vs. our computer for Zoom etc. We also purchased a light therapy lamp from Amazon. DD bought a new chair, but I don’t think it is so comfortable. It matches her decor, but it was really not intended to be a chair that you sit in for 7 hours a day.

  12. Laura, wasn’t there a funky little upstairs room you made into a library or something? Could that be a work room/study/home office?

    I’ve heard people say scarves are their zoom insider tip to cover whatever they happen to have on and look like they actually put effort into their appearance.

    Why are ring lights better than other lamps?

  13. Rocky — no, not yet. I thought they managed the fall well; they canceled fall break, sent everyone home before Thanksgiving, and then told them to stay there through the last week of classes and finals. They seem to be trying very hard to keep people on campus while also avoiding a big outbreak, so I am assuming that at this point, she will be going back in January, unless all hell breaks loose between now and then.

    Lauren’s comment reminds me that we are dealing with chair issues. DD gave DS her desk so DS can work downstairs, where he likes to be. But the kitchen benches aren’t designed for 12-16-hr occupancy. It would be great if she could move to the family room or her bedroom, but we have had repeated issues trying to boost the signal to get it to work in there (the last version was an extender thing that ended up interfering with the main signal so nothing worked). I should talk to DH about letting her use her phone hot spot for that, at least for this week; he has been very tight on phone data, because, hello, we had a teenage girl in the house, but she’s mature enough now to manage that more appropriately.

    Unrelated: I had a couple of huge deadlines last week, so I have enjoyed a slow morning today, and I took the opportunity to put together the holiday card online on CVS’ website. I’m cracking up, because one of their options was a family photo card that said “enjoy this completely unrealistic family portrait” on the front. So of course I had to use that one, and then I had to go back and find that perfect, happy pic that says, “oh, yes, we vacation in Italy All The Time, isn’t it wonderful?” And then for the back I chose the “real” pics, like my epic Zoom fail when DS had programmed in the weirdest background and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. Alas, DD nixed the pic of her holding the giant lobster with huge green rubber gloves. But it was super fun to go through all of our weird pics to narrow it down to just six.

    (Meanwhile, DD was complaining “mom, NO ONE wants to see our ‘real’ pics, they want to see the pretty ones!” I had to explain my particular group of friends to her. ;-))

  14. My workgroup was geographically distributed and we did screen shares, Skype/Conf Calls and IMs in the Before Times. There has been no change in pandemic times. I don’t have to use Zoom for work.
    My DS and DD have to be on camera when they have remote classes and my DH has work Zoom calls. All of them have ring lights, make sure the room behind them looks neat and they are appropriately dressed. My DD has picked up lots of makeup tips from You Tube and is our resident make up artist and stylist. I now understand the tinkering around with eye shadow palettes and lipsticks and mascara.

  15. WFH works fine; productivity was ~as high as in the office 100% until a short while ago when a few major deadlines were met. Actually I feel things have been more intense than our usual fast pace because in addition to all the usual stuff there was the financial decisionmaking needed to keep the business in good shape and of course (worry about) not getting covid.

    I bought a simple table and chair from Wayfair for $170 that I use in my basement ‘office’. I care less than you all about how I look on Zoom/Teams calls.

    Talking to our environmental health & safety director over the weekend (backyard neighbor) and he said some vaccine will be in our geographic area this week; no one knows how many.

  16. So far this semester I have purchased a portable monitor, which DH and I share. I have a big second monitor on my main work machine but it is in the bedroom which doesn’t work well for teaching classes. I need the second monitor when teaching so I can keep notes on one monitor while sharing content on the other monitor. I also purchased a Wacom tablet after trying to use an ancient one for a while – it just didn’t work right any more. My DS bought a mike when he was teaching over the summer, and I took it over, and now am about to buy one of my own so he can have his mike back. I have a good webcam and a ring light on my Christmas wish list, and am considering a green screen.

  17. I love WFH but not the kids’ remote school! They are just so underfoot all the time!

    I have 2 floor lamps that I put in my office for lighting. I did have one day when I needed to do a recording for one of my virtual projects on a deadline and had to rig up my nightstand lamp without the shade but with the blind a bit over it because it was so dark outside – that made me want a ring light, but I haven’t pulled that trigger yet. I have an ipad stand and do all of my zoom calls for work on the ipad since it has the best video quality. Last week we had a virtual networking event and I was the host, so had to stay still and look interested/pleasant the whole time and know when to interrupt to move on to the next topic/question. It was EXHAUSTING – I was absolutely fried after that (75 minutes).

    I do have trouble sometimes with my zoom attire since it is cold in the house now. I ended up turning the collar of one of my fleeces in last week so it looked more like a blazer/cardigan and less like a fleece!

  18. I have long worked from home on days when I wasn’t teaching so I am used to it. The teaching from home thing, though, is a whole ‘nother thing. All my class materials had to be readapted and changed, especially since I was doing two async classes. Next semester I have one Zoom based sync course that is 3 hours once a week!! Horrible! I am going to have to change things around yet again, so I can intersperse little “activities” through out the class. I had a 2 hour Zoom sync class this semester, and found it very tiring.
    Disclosure of deep embarrassing secret – I actually dozed off a couple of times while making recordings, and came close to it once during my Zoom class. Teaching a Zoom class is totally different from a regular class because the students all have their cameras off. It is like teaching to a wall. I try asking them questions to keep things perked up, but that is also really weird too – about 10 seconds passes before anyone realizes that someone needs to respond, and then people start fumbling to turn on their mikes. It is very stilted

    I spent my weekend creating 18 individual versions of the takehome final so that if I discover one of my questions on Chegg, I will know who did it.

  19. “I have big glare issues. We have blinds, but my stupid computer camera tends to over-brighten everything, so I end up looking like a vampire.”

    I have this problem, too. In an attempt to address it, I purchased a good webcam, and a light to clip to the screen, but I’m still having issues with the lighting in my home office being all wrong for Zoom calls. I am hoping to block out some time this weekend to experiment and try to find some sort of solution.

    My favorite WFH purchase has been a bungee-cord chair from the Container Store. It’s really comfortable, and it came in a blush-pink color that perfectly matches the walls in my office! I also like it because I am petite, and the chair is scaled much smaller than a lot of office chairs:

    https://www.containerstore.com/s/blush-bungee-office-chair/d?q=bungee&productId=11010854

  20. LfB, your holiday card made me laugh. I’m finishing up ours, and was debating including a photo of the living room floor nearly completely covered in LEGOs (with a sprinkling of other tiny plastic pieces…pop beads, calico critter foods, etc.), as this has been a staple afternoon sight.

  21. DD was reporting a bit of a tug of war on dress codes. When the kids attend remotely they have to keep the camera on. Well, in DD’s friends parent/teacher conference it came up that the teacher mentioned that said friend looked as if she just got out of bed and hopped on class camera every day. DD’s friends Mom, was not pleased to hear this criticism of her daughter. BTW, DD’s friends family card was fantastic – the family was dressed in witty T Shirts, Santa hats – very well done. The contrast between what I heard and Christmas card image was striking.

  22. Ivy, where did you get that lamp? When I click on it, it just says “preview unavailable”

  23. I’ve finally got a decent WFH configuration.

    Initially, I wasn’t planning to WFH. I didn’t have approval to WFH, and we’re only allowed to use employer-issued computers on our network, and I don’t have an employer-issued laptop, so even as pandemic concerns mounted, I figured I’d be one of very few still working in the office, so transmission risk there would be low.

    But my employer decided to grant blanket WFH approval for everyone who could, and made WFH the default, with justification required for working in the office. A couple days after that announcement I drove to work, packed up my tower and a monitor, brought them home, and set up DS’ MS desk as my WFH space (DS got a new desk for HS). It worked, but was far less than optimal.

    Someone smart in our office decided while most everyone was WFH would be a good time to move forward with the long-discussed office remodel. In preparation for that, we had to go in to the office, staggered to minimize transmission risk, and move whatever stuff we wanted to save to a designated holding area, and whatever was left in the office after that was to be tossed. At the end of that period I was able to snag a couple of better monitors that had been left to be tossed.

    The keyboard drawer on DS’ old desk is higher than optimal for me, and after looking at various ways to address that (one of which was to cut the legs), I finally figured out a way to mount the keyboard tray that DW wasn’t using.

    The last piece was to bring home my desk chair from the office. The new office furniture included new chairs that matched– previously our chairs had been a hodge podge as people acquired chairs individually– so I’m able to keep that chair at home indefinitely.

  24. I might add a ring light to DD1’s Christmas presents, and I might add a bungee chair to my wish list.

    Work from home has been fine, but I imagine that when we are all back in the office I’ll go in two times a week. Currently I’m only going in when I have an important meeting that I can’t have kid noise (or noise from next door’s construction site), or when I need to print a bunch of stuff. The highlight of WFH is that I see the faces my coworkers that are located all over the country. In the past we never used our cameras. Also, people are more likely to send memes in their emails and I’m really enjoy it. I just got one from someone several levels above me and it made me laugh out loud.

  25. I have no worries about on-camera appearance while WFH. My employer tightly controls what we connect to our computers, and webcams are on the list of things we’re not allowed to connect without special approval. So any telecons are, at least from my end, audio only.

  26. I have to get on DS2’s case all.the.time about getting dressed for Zoom school, taking a shower, getting out of bed and actually getting dressed in “outside clothes” (i.e. not pajamas)….

  27. Becky, we used to use our breadmaker to make pizza crust. We found it quite easy, and also like that it made cleanup very easy.

  28. The HS is doing spirit week this week. One of the days is PJ day. What’s the point – they are all at home in their PJs every day.

    I’m not working from home. I did a little telehealth for a couple of weeks when one of my facilities wouldn’t let me in and I hated it. In-person is so much better for what we do. But the irony is I love telehealth when I’m the patient, but it works great for what I need.

    DW was working from home during the beforetimes anyway, but we got her a new desk and chair back in the spring so we could move her out of the dining room and into our office area.

  29. Teaching a Zoom class is totally different from a regular class because the students all have their cameras off. It is like teaching to a wall.

    Isn’t it in your power to require them to have their cameras on?

  30. Do you ever had odd thoughts in the middle of the night? One of mine recently was, “Hmmm, I should get the exercise ball from the basement and try it as an office chair.” So, I did, but I need to find the special needle to add more air to it. My kids are sure to howl if they see me using it as a chair.

    Re: Holiday card, we have a plan to take a photo of us all in matching Christmas pajamas at the front door, which is decorated with a nice garland swag and winter floral arrangements. We will all be wearing masks, and our lovely cheesy-tacky plastic Santa will be in the photo with us…with a mask.

    The original plan was all four of us in haz mat suits around masked Santa, but the kids balked. Sheesh, they are no fun. Their pushback basically boiled down to, “We look like the Telletubbies” which is a valid gripe, especially since the suits are green and yellow. So now the plan is for the pj photo on the front of the card, with a smaller “out take” picture of just DH and me in haz mat suits on the back. Will report back if the plan works.

  31. @MM – It was from Amazon. It’s the JUKSTG LED desk lamp – I think that should probably work for the search?

    “The highlight of WFH is that I see the faces my coworkers that are located all over the country. In the past we never used our cameras. ”

    Same here. It’s nice because I was already on calls with people in other areas of the country, and now I can see them. I still have more audio than video calls – the balance isn’t too far into video where it’s not necessary.

  32. MM – Is it common for college to allow video cameras off for students? In my D’s case students are marked absent if cameras are turned off.

    My friend who works at the DoD is prohibited from using a video camera. In fact, her work laptop does not have a camera.

  33. “My friend who works at the DoD is prohibited from using a video camera. In fact, her work laptop does not have a camera.”

    I’ve heard that many DoD laptops don’t come with wifi.

  34. MM – aren’t the students required to turn on their cameras ?
    In a fit of holiday spirit, I told DD that maybe she could wear her snowflake or antler head band. She pointed out that it was a bad idea and against the rules. But she was not shocked at her mother suggesting something so cringe worthy ;-).

  35. “Isn’t it in your power to require them to have their cameras on?”
    At my university, and many others (including CUNY), we are not allowed to require cameras on. Actually, we can require it during exams – CUNY profs are not even allowed to do that. And honestly, on a practical level, many students have broken webcams and/or bandwidth issues.

  36. For our Christmas card the first idea was to capture a screen print of us all on a zoom/teams call, maybe wearing masks to boot. That got vetoed by all three, and it wasn’t my favorite anyway. What we ended up with is a flat card (we’ve always done foldovers) with 4 pics each of all 3 kids when they were young (dressed for the holiday, opening gifts, with Santa…). Actually came out nice and since we’re late adopters of technology we had to go thru a bunch of old printed photos to find ones that worked well.

  37. WFH – I was set up before the pandemic to work from home, so my set up continues to work for what I do. The biggest issue is lighting for Teams calls. I hung my curtains differently and that helps some. I just haven’t had the time to really look at the lights, but will look into those listed above.

    The bigger issue is home much time I spend in here. I had the room repainted a lighter shade of the same color with a sheen that is one level shinier than before. I also move a mirror so it picks up some of the light from the window and reflects it back into the room. I also shifted some pictures to allow me to turn a different way and have a more professional background.

    Communication in my group has gone way down as time has gone by and apparently that is true in other departments. Long story short, our upper management is working on improving communication. We will see how that goes.

  38. Is it late enough for a hijack?

    I just saw this article in WaPo:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2020/12/07/ricotta-recipe/

    “If you want to make fresh ricotta, sneak a peek inside your fridge: Do you have milk, lemon juice and salt? Great! Got heavy cream on hand? Even better. With those three to four ingredients, fresh ricotta can be yours in about 30 minutes. And, once you’ve tried the homemade stuff, good luck ever going back to store-bought.”

    We have some heavy cream in the fridge, left over from some desserts DW made, with no plan for using it, so thinks looks promising.

    Anybody else try something like this? Is there some easy way to use ricotta (I love lasagna but don’t consider making it to be easy)? Can we just, say, add it to pasta along with some pesto?

  39. I’ve shared my secrets here before I think. I’ve purchased a few (mostly low dollar( accoutrements to make WFH a bit better.
    – iPhone stand
    – laptop riser (pack of 2 with telescoping legs was ~$30) raises laptop for better video appearance. And maximizes desk space
    – bluetooth keyboard that bluetooths to up to 3 devices. Can operate my work laptop and home iMac from one keyboard (again, desk space)
    – added a leftover side lamp and placed it behind my laptop. Too bright. Added a sheet of printer paper (folded over lampshade, quite high style). Dims the light just enough.
    – yes to zoom lipstick. I’m blonde and fair. I’m like a beige blob if I’m not wearing lipstick. Except I did a laser facial treatment on Friday so now I’m a beige blob with some purple spots. Also keep pressed power nearby for shiny moments.
    – Those little cord clip stick on things.
    – Amazon Echo Show.
    – And the used office humanscale office chair
    – and because I’m apparently 100 years old because I also bought a vertical file stand to hold file folders. I got tired of the stack. And let’s be honest, I actually needed another stack so had to find somewhere for the ones that were aging to the bottom of the stack.

  40. Finn – I have made ricotta and lemon pasta before and like it. I am sure there are lots of recipes out there. I also like lemon ricotta pancakes. And ricotta on pizza. I really like ricotta.

  41. Ricotta, powdered sugar, and chocolate chips on graham crackers for a cheater’s version of cannoli

  42. “Anybody else try something like this? Is there some easy way to use ricotta (I love lasagna but don’t consider making it to be easy)? Can we just, say, add it to pasta along with some pesto?”

    Yes and yes! I make ricotta that way frequently & it is very good.

    I love mixing it with pesto. It’s also good as a pasta sauce with just whatever fresh herbs you have (mint, basil) and veggies – frozen peas would work too. Something like this, but then I usually add frozen peas. You could also add ham or bacon.

    https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/pasta-ricotta-mint

  43. Thanks for all the suggestions.

    Does anyone have any recipes or suggestions for making something that tastes like lasagna but is easier to make?

    I was thinking of maybe something like brown some sausage, add pre-made marinara, then spread that and some ricotta on some pasta. Maybe put some mozzarella on top and bake for a little while.

  44. Skillet Lasagna –
    Pasta, campanelle – 8 oz (sub any pasta shape – fusilli or penne would work well)
    Garlic – 4 cloves, chopped
    Oil, cooking – 1 Tbsp
    Sausage, Italian and raw – 8 oz (use mild or spicy)
    Italian seasoning – 1 tsp
    Red pepper flakes (opt) – 1/4 tsp
    Tomato paste – 2 Tbsp
    Tomato puree (14 oz / 397 g) – 2 cans
    Cheese, part-skim ricotta – 1/2 cup
    Cheese, parmesan (opt) – 2 oz, grated

    Heat a Dutch oven or very large skillet with cooking oil over medium heat. Add sausage to heated oil and cook, breaking sausage apart, until browned and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain off any excess oil.
    When sausage is cooked, add garlic, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste, stirring to combine.
    Add tomato puree and stir well to combine. Reduce heat to low-medium to prevent the sauce from boiling. Cook sauce, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes to let the flavors develop.
    Stir pasta into sauce until everything is well combined. Taste and season with some salt and pepper if needed.
    You can stir ricotta into sauce or just add small spoonfuls of ricotta to the top of the pasta.

  45. “I was thinking of maybe something like brown some sausage, add pre-made marinara, then spread that and some ricotta on some pasta. Maybe put some mozzarella on top and bake for a little while.”

    So . . . lasagna. ;-)

  46. Lasagna Soup –
    Onions, medium – 1, diced
    Garlic – 4 cloves, chopped
    Lasagna noodles – 6 oz, broken into pieces
    Mushrooms, any button – 8 oz, sliced (look for pre-sliced)
    Oil, cooking – 1 Tbsp
    Sausage, Italian and raw – 8 oz (use mild or spicy)
    Tomato paste – 2 Tbsp
    Oregano, dried – 1 tsp
    Basil, dried – 1/2 tsp
    Italian seasoning – 1/2 tsp
    Red pepper flakes (opt) – 1/2 tsp
    Stock, any type – 4 cups
    Tomatoes, diced and preferably fire-roasted (14 oz / 397 g) – 1 can
    Bay leaves – 2
    Baby spinach – 5 oz
    Cheese, part-skim ricotta – 1/4 cup
    Cheese, parmesan (opt) – 1 oz, grated

    Heat a Dutch oven with oil over medium heat. Stir in onions, garlic, and mushrooms and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
    Add sausage and saute until sausage is breaking apart and nearly cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes.
    Stir in tomato paste, oregano, basil, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, ~1 minute more.
    Pour stock and tomatoes (including liquid) over sausage and aromatics. Add bay leaves. Bring to a simmer.
    Stir lasagna noodles into soup and cover.
    Simmer soup just until lasagna noodles are al dente, tender but still with some bite. This should take 10 to 15 minutes, but watch closely to prevent over-cooking the noodles. In the last minute of cooking, stir in spinach leaves.
    Remove bay leaves. Taste soup and season with some salt and pepper.
    Divide soup between serving bowls. Top each bowl with a spoonful of ricotta cheese and some Parmesan cheese

  47. LfB, it seems to me that a lot of the work in making lasagna is layering everything. So I’m thinking that just mixing everything together, kinda like LT’s recipes, would taste similar but be a lot easier to make.

    As Rhett would say, an increase ratio of eating enjoyment to effort.

    Or am I wrong, and is making regular lasagna not as hard as I’m thinking?

  48. What is it about lasagna you find difficult? That might help us narrow it down. For me, spreading the ricotta across the lasagna noodles is a pain, because it wants to clump up. I use those noodles that don’t need to be pre-boiled, so that helps.

  49. Finn, here’s is how I make lasagna. This recipe is easy and not time-consuming.

    1 jar spaghetti sauce (we like Classico)
    ~6-7 lasagna noodles, uncooked
    16 oz ricotta
    1 egg
    basil, oregano to taste (1/2 t each?)
    ~3 T parmesan
    1/2 lb Italian sausage browned with ~1/2 onion and drained
    ~4 oz shredded mozzarella

    In 9×9 glass dish
    1) Place ~1/3 jar of spaghetti sauce
    2) Layer 2 lasagna noodles (broken to fit)
    3) Top lasagna noodles with browned sausage/onions
    4) Place 2 lasagna noodles (broken to fit)
    5) Mix ricotta, basil, oregano, egg, parmesan and spread over lasagna noodles
    6) Place 2 lasagna noodles (broken to fit)
    7) Pour remainder of jar of spaghetti sauce over top.
    Bake at 350 for 55 min, covered with foil. Remove foil, top with mozzarella, bake another 5 minutes. Serve.

  50. Also: Google “homemade cream cheese” “homemade sour cream” “homemade paneer” and “homemade sour cream”. They are all basically a matter of mixing milk and cream, heating, adding lemon juice, and then straining through cheesecloth. This was mind-blowing for me when I first realized it. My friend on FB wanted to know if you boiled a potato, added lemon juice, and strained through cheesecloth, would you get vodka? Smartass.

  51. I’m also wondering how much the taste is affected by replacing lasagna noodles with some other kind of pasta. I’m guessing not much.

  52. The taste isn’t affected at all. The texture is, of course. You could also just boil up lasagna noodles and mix them with all the other stuff. It wouldn’t be photogenic, but I’m sure it would be tasty.

  53. Off-topic – I am having a hard time thinking of gift ideas for 15 year old DS and would welcome suggestions. He loves cars. Doesn’t have any hobbies that involve gear (DD wants to do more backpacking so there’s an endless list of gear associated with that). In addition to cars, DS likes streaming shows, listening to Spotify, and reading (prefers actual books to a kindle and our library keeps him well-supplied). Not into clothes yet (I have to twist his arm to buy him anything new to wear – sometimes I sneak new clothes into his existing supply).

    I have bought DD a couple more items than DS because I couldn’t resist them – and I like to keep the number of presents each kid receives somewhat comparable. But now I’m having a hard time thinking of things for DS.

  54. “baked ziti”

    Thanks Reality and Ivy. That does look like what I’m looking for, lasagna taste with less work.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten it; it’s definitely not something I grew up with, so if I have eaten it it would likely have been at a potluck where it wasn’t identified as such. I can’t recall seeing it on restaurant menus, so I don’t think I’d have eaten it at a restaurant.

  55. RMS, I’ve never subscribed to HBO. so I’d never had that exposure to ziti.

    But a quick google of Carmela ziti turns up a bunch of recipes that look worth trying, although I’d substitute sausage for meatballs.

  56. Off topic for Finn—when your DS started his instrument, did you rent or do trade-ins with a local shop? We had a 1/16 already (from The Archives), but it’s time for DD to progress to a 1/10. (I’m very much looking forward to improved tone with a larger instrument and newer strings!)

  57. Minca, we bought from shops that did trade-ins. IIRC, we’d typically get back something like 75% of the purchase price toward the purchase of a different instrument.

    The first instrument we got was something like $300 for the instrument, case, bow, and rosin. I think rentals would’ve been something like $15 to $20/month.

    Because we had two kids, we saved on the trade-up costs by having DD use hand me downs from DS.

    DS wasn’t really young when he started, so his first was a 1/10 model. DD started younger, so her first instrument was 1/16.

  58. Finn—thanks, that’s helpful. Rentals are between $200-300 annually depending on quality of the violin; if we go that route, I’m inclined to get the better quality instrument as $1/day for improved sound should be worth it. Just one kid.

    Yes, we are doing Suzuki; DD’s teacher is progressing her through much more quickly than when I learned BITD (it’s not just DD, the other students are all moving more quickly, too). It may be a mastery vs spiral approach.

  59. Minca, I watched eBay for used violins from decent student brands and bought them there for about $50-$75 each. If your kiddo is playing the cello this is a much less viable strategy.

  60. “I’m inclined to get the better quality instrument as $1/day for improved sound should be worth it.”

    You may not find much in the way of higher quality 1/16 size instruments. IME, as instruments get larger, the available quality spread gets larger.

    Another couple ways to get improved sound at a much lower price are to upgrade the bow or strings. Most of the early Suzuki pieces only use the E and A strings, which are the least expensive, so you might just upgrade those two strings.

    I think we know several Suzuki teachers in your very general vicinity, and DD’s last violin was purchased from a shop in that same broad area.

  61. Sky—thanks for that idea, I wouldn’t have thought to look there!

    Finn—DD is ready for a 1/10; I should have upgraded the strings on the 1/16 when she started lessons last year and I had my own replaced (at the east bay store); oh well. My ears have paid the price!

  62. Another easy option for Finn:

    Lasagna Soup

    1 onion, medium diced
    4 cloves garlic, chopped
    6 oz lasagna noodles, broken into pieces
    8 oz mushrooms, sliced
    1 T. cooking oil
    8 oz Italian sausage (mild or spicy)
    2 Tbsp tomato paste
    1 tsp oregano, dried
    1/2 tsp basil, dried
    1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
    1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
    4 cups stock, any type
    1 can tomatoes, diced and preferably fire-roasted (14 oz / 397 g)
    2 bay leaves
    5 oz baby spinach
    1/4 cup ricotta cheese
    2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (optional) 

    Heat a Dutch oven with oil over medium heat. Stir in onions, garlic, and mushrooms and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.Add sausage and saute until sausage is breaking apart and nearly cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes.Stir in tomato paste, oregano, basil, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, ~1 minute more. Pour stock and tomatoes (including liquid) over sausage and aromatics. Add bay leaves. Bring to a simmer. Stir lasagna noodles into soup and cover.Simmer soup just until lasagna noodles are al dente, tender but still with some bite. This should take 10 to 15 minutes, but watch closely to prevent over-cooking the noodles. In the last minute of cooking, stir in spinach leaves. Taste soup and season with salt and pepper.Divide soup between serving bowls. Top each bowl with a spoonful of ricotta cheese and some Parmesan cheese (if using). Enjoy!

  63. Another easy option for Finn:

    I love how we all define “easy” differently. A recipe with that many ingredients doesn’t come anywhere near my definition, regardless of how little work might be involved.

  64. DD, I looked at the ingredient list and had the same reaction. However, most I’d the recipe is a version of spaghetti sauce. Using canned sauce probably wouldn’t be as good as the original, but might be easy enough to do.

  65. I wonder what the lasagna soup would taste like if you subbed pesto for the spaghetti sauce component….hmmmm

  66. Finn, we used to get frozen stuffed shells like Rhett posted. Check the freezer section at Costco. But if you want lasagne, you have to use lasagna noodles and make the layers. All those different shapes of pasta have reasons—surface: volume ration (& therefor how they cook), holding the sauce, whatever. The distinctions are often more fine than what matters to me, but they are real. And it doesn’t take a materials engineer to recognize that alternating layers have different interactions than just mixing everything together or making one big section of each. https://popchart.co/products/the-permutations-of-pasta?_pos=1&_sid=02aa25cb9&_ss=r

  67. *eatios.

    And if you haven’t seen pop chart lab before, it might be fun to take a minute and check out the many different things they chart.

  68. NoB – my review of A Suitable Boy series, is, the acting lacks spark. I liked the Urdu poetry and songs. It’s a reminder of how much of culture was lost in the partition. Visually, it does bring the novel to life (all 1,500 pages of it !).

  69. I agree that “easy” means different things to different people. I find lasagna to be an easy dish, especially since I started using pre-cooked noodles. I’ve never made ricotta or the other chesses mentioned at home. I should try it. Do you all find homemade as good as store bought?

  70. Kim, no. I’ve tried several times to make my own paneer, with laughably bad results. There are two Asian shops within 500m of home where I can get it for very reasonable choices. I see no reason not to do that.

  71. On lasagna, I am not a purist so I wouldn’t start to make the sauce, ricotta or any other major ingredients at home. My method is buying store bought ingredients, cooking up the meat (I make my meat filling spicy), assembling the dish and baking in the oven.
    My Italian heritage friends would begin with….pluck the tomatoes from your garden to make the sauce..,,

  72. Louise — thanks for the review! I loved the book so much I hesitate to watch the series, but I might check it out this winter anyway since there won’t be much else to do.

  73. LOL Rocky.

    I had a “d’oh” moment this morning: I’ve been so happy with my new range hood, I even seared the hell out of a steak last Friday without setting off the smoke alarm. Then this morning DH pointed out that the smoke alarm is sitting in our garage, because it kept going off so much once we took the old hood out that he disconnected it. So I guess the jury is still out.

  74. I make a crockpot pasta that is like lasagna. Put ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan in crockpot with jarred sauce. Add pasta about 1 hr before serving with at least a cup of water. You can also throw in any veggies as well.

  75. Laura – LOL at the smoke alarm story. “oh, you don’t want the smoke alarm to go off every time you sear a steak on the cooktop? Fine, I’ll just take it out.”

  76. “I am having a hard time thinking of gift ideas for 15 year old DS and would welcome suggestions.”

    Phone Stand, Computer Stand, Upscale Headphones–These were all big hits with my boys.

  77. 15-yr-old boy: I have one of those!! He just bought himself a Razer Kraken gaming headset, if the kid is into that. Those things seem to break pretty regularly, so even if he has a headset now, he may be needing another one soon. ;-)

    Oh, and I did buy myself one new thing for the office recently:

  78. The Rao’s marinara is excellent – and great deal for a two-pack at Costco. I buy it all the time. DS makes it for himself for lunch, and I will doctor it up for family meals. It’s really not worth making my own marinara anymore (to me).

    For a quick baked ziti, I would brown sausage, onions, hot peppers (if the sausage isn’t spicy) and garlic, dump in the Rao’s – there’s your sauce. Then boil some ziti (or other tube shape) 2 minutes less than the package. Mix together with the sauce. Layer the homemade ricotta on top & top with mozzarella – or even better a mix of Italian cheeses. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or so.

    @Kim – I find the difference between ricotta from the store and homemade ricotta to be vast. And it’s really not too hard. There is even a microwave version. I do not find the difference between making my own marinara and opening a jar of Rao’s to be very different at all.

    This used to be on the Serious Eats website, but they removed it for some reason.
    https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/fresh-ricotta-in-five-minutes-or-less-51971601

  79. One minor complaint about the homemade ricotta/sour cream/paneer/mozzarella: Cheesecloth is a PITA. And I’ve never been able to successfully wash it. If you wash it in the machine on delicate, it still winds up a complete mess. Handwashing takes forever and is a pain. So it’s kind of a one-use substance, and that offends me, because it’s supposed to be reusable. Talk about first world problems.

  80. I purchased Catan during a black friday sale because I think DD will enjoy this game. We found it challenging to find gifts for her this year because she doesn’t want any makeup or clothes. She has most of the tech she needs so I was picked up a few games.

  81. “I use coffee filters”

    Great tip, especially since we have a bunch of coffee filters that fit an old coffee maker that broke. DW bought a new coffee maker that takes different size filters.

    Kim, the only reason I’m considering making ricotta rather than just buying some is having some leftover heavy cream. Actually the amount of cream is probably not enough to make enough ricotta for a pan of lasagna, so I may end up just mixing whatever I make in a pot with some sausage, pasta, marinara, and some vegs.

  82. Finn – The ratio of cream to milk doesn’t matter much if you are trying to get to a certain end amount of ricotta. What does matter is if everything is ultra pasteurized instead of just pasteurized. If you use UPH milk AND cream it won’t work well. If you are using a 3:1 ratio of pasteurized milk to UPH cream – that’s fine. Also – you can leave it a little looser (don’t drain as long) for cooking vs. spreading on toast.

  83. I don’t know exactly where the balance tips on the UHT dairy tips. I usually use regular milk and UHT cream in approx 4:1 or 3:1 ratios depending what I have on hand. I just know that the yield and texture are a bit off if it is all UHT.

    (sorry I was using the wrong abbreviation in the above comment)

  84. “ the amount of cream is probably not enough to make enough ricotta”

    To make enough paneer just for one serving of saag paneer, I needed SO MUCH MILK. If you just have a little bit of cream, you’re better off whipping it and putting it on your half a cookie or whatever.

  85. “half a cookie”

    LOL!!

    The cream is also a bit old, but what I’ve read suggests that old cream or milk is still OK for making ricotta, and will curdle more readily than fresher cream or milk.

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