Friday, March 1, 2024
    HomePoliticsForget all about politics with these soothing, mostly mindless household tasks

    Forget all about politics with these soothing, mostly mindless household tasks

    In 2020, we recommended knocking oneself out with a shovel in order to avoid the spiraling stress of pre-election day speculation and theorizing. This year, we’re going to go the other way and recommend that you spend the last 96 or so hours before you vote in earnest—a time during which there are a lot of polls being published and very little new information to be gleaned from them—engaging in self- and home improvement. Below, tips from Slate’s politics staff on how to “cast a ballot” for a better you!

    Clear Your Lawn of Leaves Like You Might Pull Weeds, Just a Little Here and There, Whimsically

    After living during my early childhood in a rural environment in which leaf-raking and -blowing was a huge undertaking known for suddenly derailing fall weekend days that I would have preferred to spend doing almost anything else, I escaped the duty for two-plus decades, mostly by living in dorms and in cities. So when I moved out of Brooklyn three years ago to a suburban house with a lawn, I treated the task of clearing the property’s autumnal leaf cover with the dread of someone whose development had been arrested at age ten. The first two years we were here I waited until the last possible day to do it. It took forever and was a pain in the ass.

    But this year, on a whim, I picked up the leaf blower in early October when another outside task took less time than expected. I neutralized the leaves that were on the lawn in about ten minutes. Two weeks later, I did the same thing again. And then this week, again. It turns out that if you consider the removal of leaves a matter of light, regular maintenance rather than a looming burden, you prevent them from building up in such quantities that big clumps of them get stuck under plants, in corners, and behind trellis-type stuff in the garden when you finally try to remove them. It also gives you more occasions on which you can survey a fresh, sharp-looking lawn with the middle-aged satisfaction of someone who knows how to do things the right way. And that, at this point in my journey through it, at least, is what life is about. —Ben Mathis-Lilley

    Caramelize Onions the Right Way (Note: Replaces Prior Slate Position About Right Way to Caramelize Onions)

    I like to keep a large, pre-cooked batch of caramelized onions in my fridge, which I can then throw into a salad or eggs or whatnot to make a dull weekday meal marginally more exciting. Browning onions is one of those mundane cooking tasks that generates a lot of controversy and frustration because, as Slate’s former politics editor Tom Scocca wrote a decade ago, recipe writers have historically tended to lie about how long it takes to perform the task properly. The traditional method of slowly stirring them in butter over medium heat can take 45 minutes, but Tom—after trying a Melissa Clarke shortcut he found too stressful, and which still took 28 minutes—was convinced it’s the only way.

    But Tom no longer works here. I do, for now. And personally, I prefer a faster, 20 minute approach I’ve honed over the years, loosely based on what I’ve watched line cooks at diners and burger joints do. I slice 4 to 6 cups of onions, add generous amounts of butter and olive oil to a big sauce pan or Dutch oven, and cook them over high heat. The key is that I keep the pan covered for the first 5 to 8 minutes, so the onions steam and soften at hyper speed. I promise you can safely blast those suckers: The sheer amount of moisture in the pan keeps them from burning, though I recommend lifting the lid a couple times and giving a stir just to check. Then cook them uncovered, stirring as needed, for the last 10 to 12 minutes until done. Add extra fat if it looks like things might start burning, and salt, of course, once your alliums have cooked down. It requires a little vigilance, but I find doing it with a glass of wine in hand is a good way to tune out the world, and is more socially acceptable than working your way through a bottle without a complementary cooking task. —Jordan Weissmann

    Feel the Satisfaction of Total Control Over One Tiny Thing in This Crazy World by Peeling a Clementine in a Single Piece

    None of us have control over anything, really. But there’s an action that can make you feel like you have control, and has very low stakes if it fails—but when it works, it works, baby: Peeling a clementine in one whole piece.

    My advice on how to do it? Dig your nail in just enough to have a substantial grasp of the peel, and get underneath the pith (that white stuff under the peel) as much as you can. Start at the top (or the bottom, depending on how you perceive your clementines). Then slowly (slowly!) start to ease the skin around that tag, and begin to (slowly!) pull it, ever expanding the surface area of the peel in your hand. Bonus if you can get it moving in a spiral pattern. Don’t overthink it. If you can’t get the peel off all in one, it’s probably the fruit’s fault, not yours. And there’s always another clementine. —Natalie Shutler

    Give the World’s Hard-Working Sewing Machines a Break and Hem Your Clothes With Scissors

    As a 5’2” person who routinely finds her pant legs dragging on the ground, I have learned a secret Big Tailor doesn’t want you to know: You don’t need a sewing machine to hem all your clothes. With a steady hand and a sharp pair of scissors, you can shorten a good number of garments with just a few quick snips.

    If you’re wondering whether your DIY cutoff clothes will fray and tatter, making you look like a Victorian street urchin, I’d urge you to check your assumptions about Victorian street urchins—many were quite well-dressed— and choose your fabrics wisely. Cotton T-shirts will not take well to a raw hem, but I’ve cut a polyamide-elastane blend dress (turning long sleeves into short ones) and a silk one (making it short enough to clear the ground) with beautiful results. Lightly frayed denim is a look that fits well within the bounds of today’s trend profile, and no one looks too closely at the bottom of a floor-skimming gown, anyway.

    By the way, I actually do have a sewing machine, as well as the skills to use it. But it gives me great pleasure to rub my two-minute alterations in its face. —Christina Cauterucci

    Clean the Pumpkin From Underneath

    Did you see the TikTok going around before Halloween about using a hand mixer to scrape all the pulp out of pumpkins before carving them? Well, I didn’t do that, because 1) I hate doing dishes I don’t have to do, 2) I wanted to carve outside on the stoop with my neighbors and there isn’t an outlet out there, and 3) I really enjoy the satisfyingly disgusting sensation of plunging your hand in and scooping out the guts. But I tried the other recommendation in that video, which was to cut the scooping-out hole from the bottom. And I gotta say: great hack.

    For one, the shell seems to be thinner there for easier cutting, and you can hold the lil’ stem between your thighs to stabilize the gourd. Plus, it leaves the top scar-free, to make for a bigger carving surface. Did my neighbors make fun of me for following a “stupid and pointless TikTok hack”? Yes. Did the guts all spill out from the bottom at one point when I stood up? Also yes, but it made a funny sound and we laughed. And then I had a great jack-o-lantern with a face full of menacing fangs. Halloween may be over, but if you ask me carving a gourd still seems like a good way to sublimate creeping dread. —Molly Olmstead

    Just Feed the Cat Whenever It Wants to Eat

    As I write this, shortly before 1 p.m., the cat has already been whining for his 4 p.m. meal for 45 minutes. This may be a new record. The situation will soon escalate as he ramps up his means of getting my attention. Whining is the start. Then he’ll start looking for dust to eat, which he will vomit out. Around 2, he will start knocking things—keys, mail … water glasses? … liquor bottles??—off of countertops. For the finale, he will begin pawing, claws out, at the screen of my beloved and expensive OLED television.

    I think I’m just going to feed him before 4. I’m just going to do it, and I don’t care!

    Caving to your pet is liberating. We make all these rules for them. But what’s the worst that could happen if you feed the pet earlier than scheduled? They get fat? My cat is already fat, and always has been, but that has not stopped him from living 13 rewarding and otherwise healthy years focused on his favorite activity (eating).

    For a less stressful and dangerous, and thus more rewarding life—for all parties!—just feed your pet when your pet wants food. —Jim Newell

    Touch Your Toes. That’s All, Just Touch Your Toes!

    It’s important to set attainable goals, which is just one of many reasons that touching your toes is one of life’s best time-killers. Another reason: you can do it anywhere. Outside, at the grocery store, in line at the bus stop. Sure, people might look at you weird, but that look will be tinged with jealousy. They know that they, too, should be locking out their knees, tugging on their hamstrings, and attempting to make contact with the most distant part of themselves. Plus you won’t see those looks anyways; you’ll be looking straight down. If you’re worried you can always play it off like you dropped something.

    Touching your toes takes far less commitment than yoga or mindfulness, and it’s something you can even improve at over time. Does it count as exercise? Sometimes, when I’m straining to make it to my ankles, I’m inclined to say yes. That’s a lot of boxes ticked off in one maneuver. In the next handful of days you might feel the urge to turn to the skies and ask why God and/or this benighted democratic system hath wrought. I say go the other way. Fold at the waist and see how far you can make it. Who knows where we’re headed, but it’ll be good to be loose upon arrival. —Alex Sammon



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