Sunday, November 10, 2019

Recipe of the Month: Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash

Last summer, Brian and I discovered a great vegan mozzarella recipe on the blog "It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken." It was so much better than any of the more expensive nondairy cheeses we'd bought at the store, and so easy to make (much easier than real homemade mozzarella, which we've also attempted), that I decided to sign up for her weekly recipe mailings. And last week, my email brought me one that looked so tasty and interesting, I just had to try it: Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash.

You can get the full recipe on her site, but the gist of it is, first you cut acorn squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake them. Then you stuff them with a filling made from quinoa cooked in veggie broth with onion, garlic, chopped nuts, dried cranberries, thyme, sage, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. There was nothing in that description that didn't sound good to me. Plenty of healthy fresh veggies, quinoa to supply carbs and protein, and an interesting combination of flavors and textures. How could it miss?

We already had most of the ingredients needed for this recipe on hand, but we needed to buy the dried cranberries and, of course, the acorn squash. Since the recipe said two squash would make four servings, we decided to buy just one for the two of us. On a trip to Shop-Rite, we spotted acorn squash for just $1 a pound, but we decided to hold off and see if it was available at the farmers' market, figuring we were willing to pay a little more for the sake of supporting local farmers. That turned out to be a smart move. Although it was a very chilly trek out to the farmers' market on Friday, with the temperature at around 43 and a stiff wind blowing right in our faces, the butternut squash there were only 75 cents a pound—so buying local actually saved us money. One good-sized squash cost us $1.80. As for the cranberries, we needed only a quarter-cup of them for the halved recipe—which was fortunate, since these suckers are really expensive even when bought in bulk. That one scoop of them cost us $1.55, nearly as much as the squash.

Since we had other activities going on Friday and Saturday nights that cut into our cooking time, Brian waited until tonight to make the dish. It wasn't all that difficult, just a bit time-consuming, since the squash halves took about 40 minutes to bake (5-15 minutes longer than the recipe's estimate). However, there were no such complications with the quinoa filling, which went pretty much according to the instructions. The recipe offered a choice of different nuts to include in the filling, so Brian used walnuts, which we had on hand; salting it "to taste" came to about 1/4 teaspoon for the half batch. The only thing he admits he may have fudged a bit is that he didn't quite halve the amounts of fresh herbs he used when halving the recipe.

The finished dish was certainly pretty to look at. The baked squash halves, with their golden color and scalloped shape, looked quite appetizing with the filling mounded up over their tops. Appearance-wise, at least, it was a dish you wouldn't hesitate to serve at a fancy dinner party.

And taste-wise? Well, it certainly wasn't bad; it just wasn't quite as good as I expected based on the ingredient list. Part of the problem may have been that Brian used a rather generous hand with the herbs, so the filling was a bit too wibbly-wobbly thymey-wimey for my taste. But mostly, I just didn't like the baked acorn squash quite as much as the butternut squash we usually make. Although it was certainly cooked through and tender, it seemed a bit stringier than the butternut squash, and it didn't have the same sweet, full flavor. As I said, it wasn't exactly bad, just a little tasteless. However, I found that sprinkling on some of the squash seeds, which Brian had roasted without cleaning them first, as Martha Stewart recommends, helped quite a bit. And while the dish wasn't exactly bursting with flavor, it certainly was filling; although Brian finished his whole squash half, I only got through half of mine before hitting the full mark on my internal gauge.

So would we make this recipe again? Well, probably not. Though it wasn't that hard to make, I wasn't exactly crazy about it, and the dried cranberries make it a little pricey for a dish that we don't both love. Instead, I might be inclined to try a different squash recipe from the same website, Stuffed Roasted Butternut Squash. This one uses butternut, a squash I know I like, and mixes the flesh of the squash in with the stuffing, which would probably help distribute the flavor better. So keep an eye out for that dish in a future blog post.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Gardeners' Holidays 2019: Late Harvest

When I checked the weather report this morning, I discovered a warning from the National Weather Service about the first frost of the year hitting in the wee hours of last night. (Why the NWS didn't warn me about this when I checked my phone last night, instead of warning me about tornadoes that had already hit the area the night before, I'm not quite sure.) Fortunately, it seems to have mostly spared our immediate area; one of our peppers looks a bit frostbitten, but the rest of the peppers and tomatoes still on the vines, and what's left of the basil and beans, look unharmed.

Still, this was a timely reminder to us that it's about time to start getting our nest ready for winter. So today, we've been taking care of various little errands like replacing the windshield wipers on the car (including the rear one, which was long overdue), stocking it with an ice scraper and mini shovel, checking the condition of our roof gutters, and draining the rain barrel. Brian also went through the garlic we'd harvested this summer (and already eaten some of) to see how much we had left to plant. Unfortunately, the answer turned out to be less than he thought, as some of the heads had rotted, despite being cured with their stalks on in the approved manner. So even though he planted everything we had left, it looks like our garlic crop next year will be no bigger than this year's. Next year, perhaps we'll try picking them a little earlier and making sure we get all the dirt off before curing them.

He then decided, since frost is apparently a potential threat at this point, to go ahead and pick all the remaining peppers and squash. (There are only three squash here, but he'd already brought in about nine others.) He also harvested what was left of the basil, which he will grind up and freeze (the best method we've found for preserving home-grown basil). However, he didn't touch the green tomatoes left on the plants, since none of them were beginning to blush yet. We figure we have a better chance of gleaning a few more ripe tomatoes by leaving them on the vines a bit longer, taking our chances with future frosts, than we do by picking them now and trying to ripen them in a box, which hasn't worked altogether successfully for us in the past.

One other crop he harvested is most of our remaining Climbing French beans. He made a point of letting some of these beans go dry on the vine so that he would have a supply of seed for next year, since we can't buy these at Fedco. As a result, we didn't get as many of these beans for eating this year as I'd hoped for, but we have a whole bunch for planting. So he picked and shelled most of those, and we'll set them aside for next year's garden.

Now the only question is, what shall we do with all this lovely produce? Since this is the last harvest of our 2019 garden (unless we manage to get a few more tomatoes), it deserves a little something special to commemorate it. I would have liked to make the stuffed acorn squash that my new favorite vegan blog (the one where I found the vegan mozzarella recipe we've been using for the past couple of months) served up a recipe for today, but I didn't know how well it would work with butternut squash. And we'd need to acquire some dried cranberries for it, anyway. So we'll have to try that one some other time, possibly as our Recipe of the Month for November.

For tonight, the plan is to make a simple fried rice using some of our freshly harvested Carmen peppers and Thai basil. It'll be a last taste of summer to bid farewell to the warmer days and welcome the cold winter in. And we'll most likely follow that up with a batch of chocolate pudding and a bit of the vegan coconut whipped cream that we were delighted to discover is back in stock at Trader Joe's. We're hoping this will work for us better than the coconut-based Reddi Wip we tried, which got stuck in the bottle and wouldn't dispense. If it's good, it might be the final piece of the puzzle—or at least the biggest remaining piece—in our attempts to go dairy-free.

Then it's off to snuggle up on the couch with a blanket, some Critical Role, and the cats (if they cooperate), before turning back the clocks and tucking ourselves in for a long winter's nap.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Coupon coup

As I've noted before, Brian and I aren't big couponers. Although extreme couponers like to promise that their strategies can save you 50 percent or more on "every single item you buy," my previous experiments with coupons have shown that this only works if you're willing to restrict your diet to whatever happens to be most deeply discounted in any given week. And since we can't really live on a tube of toothpaste, a can of shaving cream, and a candy bar, we simply don't bother with coupons most of the time.

So on those rare occasions when we actually do manage to score a majestic deal, it's such a thrill that I want to share it with the whole world. Or at least the subset of the world that reads my blog.

To that end, check out our haul from a trip to the Stop & Shop yesterday. We got two small (8.9-ounce) boxes of Cheerios, two boxes of pasta, one large can of diced tomatoes, and one little cup of "Sabra Snackers"—a single-portion cup of hummus with pretzels. (This is exactly the kind of ridiculous, overpriced, overpackaged item that we normally avoid, but you'll see in a minute why it made it into our cart.)

Now here's the total price we paid: $2.69. That's less than the regular price of the hummus cup alone, and we got the entire bagful for it.

How, you ask? Well, it's all thanks to the digital coupons that I get with my Stop & Shop loyalty card. This week, it sent me a "Free-Day" offer for the little Sabra hummus cup, and when I clicked to download it to my card, I saw a couple of other good offers on the site as well. Fifty cents off two boxes of store-brand pasta...75 cents off a big can of store-brand tomatoes....and, best of all, $1 off two boxes of certain General Mills cereals. Which happened to be an especially hot deal because the store was running a special three-day sale on those General Mills cereals for just 99 cents a box. Now, at our new baseline price of 12 cents per ounce, that's already a good price, even for a tiny little box. But with a dollar off on two boxes, that works out to less than 50 cents each, which is not merely good but fantastic.

Put all those deals together, and you get a bagful of groceries, including the one pricey packaged item we wouldn't normally buy, for less than three bucks. (Brian can keep it in the fridge at work as a healthier alternative to cocoa for emergency fuel.) We didn't merely win the register-receipt game (the one where the goal is to have your "total savings" at the bottom of the receipt exceed your actual spending); we saved $10.65—nearly 80 percent—off the regular price.

But the very best thing about this particular deal is that the bargains didn't end there. Because when we rang all this up at the checkout, the clerk, rather than treating us like we'd stolen something, actually handed us a store coupon for $1.50 off three boxes of General Mills cereals—the very same cereals that were still on sale for 99 cents a box. And when I dug through my small stash of clipped coupons in my purse, I discovered that I also had a manufacturer coupon for $1 off three boxes of the exact same cereals. And as anyone with any couponing experience knows, store coupons and manufacturer coupons can be stacked.

So today, the last day of the special three-day sale, we went back to the Stop & Shop and bought three more boxes of Cheerios, using both coupons, for a grand total of 47 cents. Three boxes for 47 cents, when the regular price of just one box is $3.69! That's a savings of over 95 percent! Our previous shopping coup pales in comparison.

If we had kept all three of these, our total tally for both trips would have been five boxes of Cheerios for a grand total of $1.45, or 29 cents per box. But we were so happy with our earned blessing, we felt like sharing the wealth, so we dropped one of the boxes in the food bank collection box on our way out of the store. So we still got four boxes for just over 36 cents each, and someone in town who's down on their luck will get to enjoy a bit of ours.

If we really wanted to, we could rinse and repeat yet again, because at the checkout we received yet another store coupon, this time for $1.50 off four boxes. (This is a common coupon strategy: offering first a great deal, then a merely good one on the same product, then a so-so one, until they've got you hooked.) So in theory, we could go back there yet again today and buy four more boxes for $2.46, or 61.5 cents each. But that would give us a total of eight boxes of cereal to store, and there has to be a limit somewhere.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Money Crashers: 6 Health Insurance Options If You’re Self-Employed

It's now been over 15 years since I first left my job to become a freelancer. It was an uncharacteristically daring move on my part, since freelancing meant an uncertain income and, more seriously still, no benefits — particularly health insurance. I think the only reason I had the nerve to do it when I did was that Brian and I had just become engaged, so I knew I'd soon be able to get health insurance through his job. I just had to sign up for pricey but short-lived COBRA coverage to see myself through the few months before the wedding.

Today, freelancers have a much wider array of options. Instead of having to pay through the nose for COBRA, freelancers can buy a policy on their state healthcare exchange. This is significantly cheaper even at full price, and cheaper still for those with low enough income to qualify for an ACA subsidy.

However, with Obamacare perpetually under siege, first from Congress and now from the courts, it's unclear how much longer freelancers will have this option. And even if it remains available, there's no guarantee it's the best or cheapest way to get coverage.

So if you're a freelancer, it makes sense to learn about all your options. In my latest Money Crashers article, I cover all the different ways freelancers have of finding health care coverage, including Medicaid (for low-income freelancers), Medicare (for those over 65), coverage on a family member's plan, and coverage through organizations. I also discuss the possibility of getting a part-time job that provides benefits.

6 Health Insurance Options If You’re Self-Employed

Monday, October 21, 2019

Money Crashers: 8 Things to Put in Your Safe Deposit Box (and What to Keep Out)

Just a quickie post here to let you know about my new Money Crashers article on the subject of safe deposit boxes. If the very phrase sounds hopelessly 20th century to you, consider this: even today, there are times when only the original paper copy of a document will do (like when you need to renew your NJ driver's license with our arcane 6-point ID system). So you need to have these documents, and that means you need a safe place to keep them. And while you could just buy a safe to keep at home, it's going to be either incredibly bulky or pretty easy to steal, lock and all.

So, what are these old-school boxes actually good for? In this article, I review the eight things that most experts say it's a good idea to keep in a safe deposit box, as well as eight things you probably shouldn't.

8 Things to Put in Your Safe Deposit Box (and What to Keep Out)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

How to make dairy-free bread pudding

Our journey toward a dairy-free lifestyle is still in progress. Some steps are big (like finding a plant-based milk that ticks off all our boxes for flavor, texture, availability, and cost) and others are much smaller, but even the small ones get us farther along the road. This past week, we overcame yet one more small hurdle in our way: figuring out how to make bread pudding without cow's milk.

The first time we first tried making a dairy-free version of this dessert, using some walnut milk we got as a freebie, it didn't work at all well. It took ages to bake, and even when Brian finally gave up and pulled it out, it was still kind of soft and soupy, not firm like a bread pudding should be. And when we tried the same experiment with our favorite almond milk, the result was much the same. Based on these two failures, Brian was inclined to suspect that bread pudding just wouldn't work without dairy, and if we were serious about giving up milk, we'd have to give up this dessert, too. However, I'd seen dairy-free bread pudding recipes online that looked like they had the right consistency, so I thought there must be some way to do it.

As it turns out, one of our early failed experiments along the dairy-free road proved to be the key to this particular puzzle. When we first started looking for a sustainable and inexpensive alternative to cow's milk, one of the first things we tried was homemade oat milk, which we quickly rejected because it turned so thick and gluey when heated as to make hot cocoa undrinkable. However, it occurred to me that this bug could actually be a feature where bread pudding was concerned, since thickening up was exactly the result we wanted and couldn't get with the nut milks. And since oats are cheap and we always have some at home, it wouldn't cost much to try the experiment.

So, last week, when I happened to spot happened to spot a loaf of white bread on the "free stuff" table at a local church, it struck me as a perfect opportunity to try out this new recipe. However, in my eagerness, I snatched it up without noticing the words "gluten free" on the label. When I discovered my error, I was all set to abort the experiment, because using this bread would mean changing two variables at once from our original recipe. If it was a failure, we wouldn't know whether the bread or the milk was to blame; if it was a success, we wouldn't know whether it would still work with regular bread. But Brian persuaded me it couldn't hurt to try, since we already had the bread, the milk would cost us little, and more data is always a good thing.

For the test, he whipped up a batch of homemade oat milk using 1/4 cup of oats and 1 1/3 cups of water. He soaked the oats in the water for around 10 minutes, then blended them. This produced 1 1/3 cups of unsweetened oat milk, which he then used in our standard bread pudding recipe. And as soon as it came out of the oven, we could see the results looked more promising than our previous attempts with nut milks. The surface looked firm and lightly browned, just like it should. But the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Would the taste and texture be right once it was dished out?

The answer was yes, mostly. The texture was firm, not soupy like the puddings we'd made with nut milks, but it was a bit sticky. We have no way of knowing whether this was an effect of the oat milk, the gluten-free bread, or a combination of the two; we'll have to try the recipe again with a conventional bread to see. Also, this pudding was noticeably less sweet than it is when we make it with dairy milk, presumably because cows' milk contains some natural sugar and oat milk has essentially none. Brian figures if we try the recipe again, he'll soak the oats a little longer and add a tablespoon of sugar to the milk. But even with these minor flaws, the pudding was definitely edible, and much closer to the original recipe than we'd ever come with either walnut or almond milk.

Now, this bread pudding recipe isn't truly vegan, since it still contains eggs. However, as I've noted before, our goal isn't to develop vegan superpowers; we're just trying to reduce the carbon footprint of our diet, and eggs are fairly trivial offenders as far as carbon is concerned. We might still experiment later with combining the oat milk this recipe with an egg substitute (such as soy flour and water, or ground flaxseeds) to see if we can make a genuinely vegan version, but that's mostly a matter of curiosity. If we can just perfect a dairy-free version, we'll be satisfied.

Next challenge: coming up with a vegan whipped cream to serve with it that isn't a complete fiasco.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

My 24-hour Internet fast

It’s been many years since I fasted on Yom Kippur. Even back in the days when I did it every year, I never really believed that I was obeying a command from God or that I would be punished if I didn’t. Partly, it was a matter of cultural identity; I fasted because I was a Jew, and fasting is what Jews do on Yom Kippur. But also, I believed that on some level, it was good for me. Good for me physically, because a 24-hour fast would shrink my stomach and make me less likely to overindulge in the new year, and good for me spiritually, because going hungry for a day would make me more sympathetic to people in need.

Over the years, though, I began to have doubts about whether my yearly fast was really having the desired effect. It certainly wasn’t making me feel better physically; on the contrary, it usually left me with a throbbing headache and an uneasy stomach that didn’t want to accept the food it needed. And these discomforts, far from making me feel spiritually uplifted and sympathetic to all humankind, made me cranky and snappish with the humans in my immediate vicinity. I eventually reached the conclusion that fasting wasn’t doing either my body or my soul any good and quit doing it.

But I never felt entirely easy with my decision. Although I knew that fasting hadn’t done anything to make me a better person, it still felt wrong not to do something special on Yom Kippur — something that would give the day the same weight and significance it had in the lives of my ancestors back in the shtetl. So this year, as I attended the evening service with my parents, I found myself wondering: was there something else I could give up on Yom Kippur, something that really would be physically and spiritually beneficial even if it was difficult? And suddenly the answer came to me: I should go 24 hours without connecting to the Internet.

I quickly realized that doing this would be, in some ways, more of a challenge than going without food. No Internet definitely meant no work, since my job is pretty much entirely online these days — a mixture of Internet research, composing articles in Google Docs, and connecting to coworkers via Gmail, Slack and Trello. And most of the things I normally do as a break from work — checking email, answering online surveys, clicking on whatever intriguing article has popped up on Pocket — would also be off-limits. I wouldn’t be able to solve my daily cryptic crossword (downloaded from BestforPuzzles.com) over breakfast, listen to a podcast in the shower, or read the day’s top headlines from the New York Times. It would be a complete disruption of my routine.

And in a way, that was the point. An Internet fast would force me to take a break from all my daily habits, both good and bad — and in the process, step back and get a clearer look at which was which.

So, after a little initial hesitation — what about the emails I hadn’t answered that afternoon? What about other urgent messages that might come in during the day? — I decided to give it a try. And I made a further decision: as I went through my Internet-free day, I’d document it to see just how it had affected me, for good or bad.


Here's what happened.

***

Tuesday, 10 pm:
Upon my return home from services, my husband Brian gets onto my computer to answer, on my behalf, the one email message I feel I can’t afford to leave dangling for the next 24 hours. He then ceremoniously disconnects the Ethernet cable from my computer to ensure that I won’t slip up and connect to the Internet without thinking about it. So now it’s official: I’m doing this.

Wednesday, 7 am: Since Brian is still going to work today, even if I’m not, the alarm wakes us at the usual time. After I take my pills and brush my teeth, I realize I’m not sure what to do with myself next. Since I can’t eat breakfast until half an hour after taking my pill, I’d normally spend the next 30 minutes checking email and printing out my morning puzzle before breakfast, but those activities are now off-limits. Instead, I pick up yesterday’s copy of the Daily Targum — a college paper I normally get only for the crossword — and actually read it.

Wednesday, 8:40 am: After Brian departs for work, I sit down and start writing this article (in TextEdit, which I can use offline). I quickly discover how much I’ve been in the habit of taking mini-breaks throughout my workday, every time I get stuck on a tricky paragraph, to check my email or play a quick game of 2048. Unable to engage in these diversions, I root around on my computer’s hard drive and unearth an old copy of Montana Solitaire, which I can play without benefit of Internet.

Wednesday, 11:10 am: I decide it’s time for a shower. Clicking on iTunes, I realize that I still have part of yesterday’s Hidden Brain podcast left over that I didn’t finish listening to, and since it’s already downloaded, I can listen to it today without breaking my Internet fast. It feels a little like cheating, but I do it. The topic of the episode is outrage: how it’s “hijacking our conversations, our communities, and our minds.” As the presenter and his guests talk about how social media, in particular, has become a constant stream of vitriol, I mentally run over all the emails that have entered in my inbox over the past few days and are probably continuing to pile up this very minute. How many of them were from one political mailing list or another, shrieking about the latest travesty in the political realm and the urgent need for MORE MONEY, NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW, to combat it? All of a sudden, I feel a lot better about not being available to receive them.

Wednesday, 12 pm: Time for lunch. As my tummy rumbles, I feel thankful that I’m skipping Internet today rather than food. Then I wonder how ironic it is that not fasting is making me more appreciative about eating.

Wednesday, 1 pm: After consuming my soup, biscuit, apple, two squares of chocolate, and a chapter or two of Ngaio Marsh’s last novel, I find myself once again at loose ends. I can’t do any work, and I can’t do most of the things I normally do for play, since they all involve going online. So instead, I sit down at my computer and start putting together a scenario for “Honey Heist,” a silly little role-playing game I’ve been meaning to run for a while. This is a task I’ve never managed to find the time to work on; during the day I was always either too busy with work or allowing the wonders of the Internet to distract me from work. Apparently a day offline was the kick in the pants I needed to get started.

Wednesday, 2:20 pm:
Got so absorbed in planning my Honey Heist, I didn’t even notice it was past my usual time for my afternoon walk. It's chilly and damp out, but not too cold once I get moving. Since I have no work to get back to, I feel free to take my time strolling around town, gathering fall leaves, and stopping into the store to pick up some snacks for tonight’s game.

Wednesday, 3:50 pm:
Back from my walk. Take my time arranging my newly collected leaves in their basket and fixing myself a snack (hooray for not fasting). Go back to “work” on the Honey Heist.

Wednesday, 5 pm:
Brian comes home from work. I ask him if he knows what time sunset is, since I can’t go back online until then (and I can’t visit Accuweather to check for myself). He checks for me and reports that sunset is at 6:27 pm, so I still have about an hour and a half to go. He also brings me a fresh copy of the Daily Targum, so I have plenty to occupy myself until then.

Wednesday, 6:40 pm:
The moment of truth. Having finished dinner, I reconnect to the Internet. In the course of this one day — counting from 5:30 last night, when I left for services — I have accumulated 40 emails (not counting survey invites) across my three email accounts. These include five work-related messages, six about dance practice, four about the concert series, five concerning a friend’s request to borrow a couple of board games from us (which Brian handled for me), one about our weeknight gaming group, and two shrieking political messages. The rest are all newsletters and other trivia that don’t really require my immediate attention.

It takes an hour or more to go through all these accumulated messages, sorting them and responding as necessary. If I'd dealt with them as they came in over the course of the day, it would probably have taken at least as much time, but it would have felt less burdensome because it would have been spread out into shorter blocks of 15 minutes or less. By the time I'm done with it all, I feel almost as tired as if I'd really fasted all day, and more than ready to collapse on the couch with some Netflix (courtesy of my long-lost friend the Internet).


***

So, now that it's all over, what conclusions do I draw from my experiment?

First of all, I can say with relief that I'm not genuinely addicted to the Internet. Going without it for a whole day wasn't terribly burdensome; in some ways, it was actually quite pleasant. Being unable to work or goof off in the ways I usually do left me with time free to do things I normally wouldn't, like planning my Honey Heist, and more time to spend on offline activities I enjoy, such as reading and taking my afternoon walk, without feeling guilty about all the time I was taking away from work. It was definitely less painful than going a day without food.

That said, I have to admit that my life with the Internet is, on the whole, easier than my life without it. It really was awkward not being able to do the little things I've come to rely on: printing out my puzzle in the morning, checking the weather report, sending a quick email message. And while I didn't happen to miss any urgent messages during my 24-hour "fast," that was largely a matter of chance.

As to whether this Internet fast was good for me, that's a tougher question to answer. On the one hand, I think my day without Internet was, on the whole, less stressful than a normal day with it. But the time I spent recovering from the "fast" was actually more stressful than usual, because I had to clear out a 24-hour backlog of messages. And I'll probably have to continue putting in extra hours over the course of the next week or so to make up for the day of work I missed.

I certainly wouldn't say that Internet fasting is something I'd want to incorporate into my life on a regular basis. But as something to do every year on Yom Kippur, it has its points. It certainly does make the day feel different from other days. It forces me to take my mind off my usual everyday concerns and focus on different things — maybe not spiritual things, exactly, but things I might never find the time for on a normal day. And at the same time, it makes me more appreciative of the many blessings of the Internet when I finally get to go back to it. (And unlike regular fasting, it doesn't make me feel too ill by the time I break my fast to be able to enjoy it.)

And if I want to feel more connected to my ancestors in the shtetl, well, after all, they lived without the Internet every day of their lives.