Look Up!

May 4, 2018

“Few people have the imagination for reality.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The other day, as I was heading out for an afternoon walk, I glanced across the street toward the nearby neighborhood park and noticed some picnic tables arranged for a child’s birthday party.  There were balloons and decorations tied to several tables, one topped with wrapped gifts and one with cake, soft drinks, plates and cups, ready to be enjoyed.  The outdoor party was set up next to the sandboxes, basketball court and swing set, presumably so the kids and adults could enjoy a day in the park as they celebrated the occasion together.  Parked nearby was a large mobile WiFi hotspot vehicle, painted with characters from the world of gaming, presumably there so the kids could also play video games if they wanted to.  It was a perfect California spring day and, from a distance, it looked like a lovely party.

On my way home I walked right by the park.  As I approached the kids party area I noticed something strange.  To my left I could see that the picnic tables with balloons and cake and presents were empty – like a ghost town, as was the playground.  To my right was parked the WiFi hotspot vehicle.  I glanced inside and saw that it was full of children and adults, sitting packed like sardines in a can, shoulder to shoulder, each staring intently down into their respective devices and scrolling and clicking fervently.

When the attendees post pictures from the event on their various social media accounts, I imagine that the photos will depict the few brief moments when everything looked like a normal and fabulous kids party – one that those who did not attend would be sorry they missed – and not the sad, robotic scene that I witnessed.

Aside from encouraging humans to socially imprison themselves within the walls of a tiny screen, the overuse of technology can also have a detrimental effect on the brains of both children and adults.  Something as simple as how we make a list or take a note can affect our memories and how we process information.

According to a 2014 article in the journal Psychological Science by researchers at Princeton and UCLA, research from three different studies has shown that adult students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than those who took notes longhand.  In addition, a 2012 study by a psychologist at Indiana University showed that Children who drew letters freehand exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated by adults when they read and write.  The kids who typed the same letters showed no such effect.

Our modern technology has the potential to be used for both instructive and destructive purposes.  It can have the effect of widening our perspectives or limiting them to the view from a tiny screen.  We can seek out our own sources of information or let them be fed to us via an algorithm.  We are human beings and we still have choices as to what we consume, how much we consume and how we spend our days and nights.

Thank you for reading this blog post, which was written and is being read thanks to modern technology.  Now, look up, go find a blank piece of paper and a pencil or pen, and write a list of things you haven’t done in awhile that don’t involve being hunched over a screen.  Do at least one of them this week.


Super Easy Grissini are handmade crunchy breadsticks using ready-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s.

Super Easy Grissini
These tasty breadsticks are super easy to make using purchased ready-to-use pizza dough.  Trader Joe’s has plain, wheat and garlic-herb varieties.  I used the plain.  You can make the breadsticks without any extras, or you can add sesame seeds, dried herbs or cracked pepper.  I used some of Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend that a friend had given me. 

If you can find semolina flour to use for rolling out, it will give an authentic texture and flavor to the breadsticks.  All-purpose flour will work in a pinch, though.  Bob’s Red Mill makes a nice semolina flour.  It’s available at Whole Foods and other well-stocked grocery stores.

1 (16 oz) pkg of Trader Joe’s plain refrigerated pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil, for rolling out
Semolina flour or all-purpose flour, for rolling out

For optional variations:
Trader Joe’s “Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend”
Or your choice of:
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, crumbled dried rosemary or dried thyme
(You will need about 1 tablespoon or less)

Parchment paper
Plastic wrap
Baking tray (2 or 3 if you have them available)
Rolling pin
Pizza cutter

Take pizza dough out of the fridge and let sit on counter in package at room temperature for 30 minutes:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with some semolina flour or all-purpose flour.  Empty dough from bag onto flour-lined parchment and form into a roundish shape.  Brush or lightly rub a layer of olive oil over surface of dough.  Turn dough over (making sure to sprinkle some flour underneath) and rub olive oil on that side as well.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes:

Form grissini:
Remove plastic.  Press or roll out dough to an 8″ x 10″ rectangle, using additional semolina or AP flour as needed:

You can proceed to the next step if you are making plain breadsticks.  If you want to make a variation, sprinkle the surface lightly with seeds or herbs and press lightly into dough.  You could also cut your dough in half and make one flavored and one plain, if you’re not sure.  Note: the Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend has garlic and onion and sea salt in it as well, so sprinkle lightly for a mild flavor, heavier for a strong and salty, garlic and onion flavor.

Move the parchment with the rolled dough off of the baking tray and line the tray with fresh parchment.  Position the parchment with the dough so that the rectangle is in front of you with the long sides parallel to you.  Using the pizza cutter, cut a finger-width piece of dough off from one of the short ends.  Using additional semolina or AP flour as needed, gently stretch and twist the piece of dough or roll along the tray under flat fingers to form a long stick, almost the length of the baking pan.  Don’t worry about it being perfect-looking.  A rustic shape is part of the charm.  If your piece stretches too long, simply fold it over and twist it back together into a shorter stick.  Place the rolled stick onto the freshly-lined baking tray. Continue with the rest of the dough.  Cover 2 or 3 trays with parchment, if you have them, or you can place formed sticks onto sheets of parchment and place onto tray after you remove already baked breaksticks to cool.

Cover formed breadsticks with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes to puff while you preheat the oven.

Preheat oven to 400°F

Remove plastic from tray.  Bake the breadsticks for 14 to 18 minutes or until golden and crisp.  The thinness/thickness of the sticks will determine cooking time.  Check them every 5 minutes and rotate pan if necessary to cook evenly.

Remove from oven and carefully move paper with breadsticks to a rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container (Note: if you put them into a zip bag they will get soft – still tasty, but not crisp).  Eat within 2 or 3 days.


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