When I was 4 years old, MTV debuted Video Killed The Radio Star on our bulky television screen. I grew up staring at machines. We think of RIGHT NOW as the internet age, but computers fascinated me even before we had smartphones and constant information at our fingertips. I played King’s Quest 4 and Maniac Mansion on our Apple IIGS. Prodigy, AOL discs (and disc and discs), chat rooms, instant messenger, IRC, DeviantArt, the original Blair Witch viral campaign, LiveJournal… I’ve been eating this stuff up my entire life for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midnight snack. Computers were such a big part of my life that my first career was as a Microsoft network administrator. I’ve always been obsessed with these machines. As a socially awkward introvert, computers and the internet have been an amazing way for me to channel my creativity and meet like-minded people. They’ve also provided one hell of a crutch, and dare I say an addiction.
I stare at screens day and night, and I don’t even have the excuse of a desk job anymore. These days I rarely watch TV, but I shudder to think about how many hours my eyes have spent glued to a computer or smartphone. As I’ve focused on decluttering my life, all of the mental clutter has become much more apparent. I never thought I’d break the Facebook habit, but I barely look at it anymore. That has me re-evaluating everything. Recently, I watched two different YouTubers share their digital detoxes. It looked god awful, but I decided to try it anyway. Anything is possible for 24 hours, right?
What does a digital detox mean, exactly? Basically, no computer, smartphone, kindle or television. Jeff was visiting family this past week, so it seemed like a good time to try (also, he didn’t seem overly enthusiastic when I asked him to join me). I borrowed an old fashioned boombox from a friend so I could listen to some CDs we hadn’t given away yet (I was thrilled to discover one of my favorite Luscious Jackson albums in the mix). I made sure to have a few regular books and crossword puzzles.
The verdict? It was easier than I expected, but I spent a large part of the day visiting my parents. That felt a bit like cheating, so I’m going to try this again in April and hopefully challenge myself a bit more.
Some observations, in no particular order:
- It occurred to me as I was getting dressed in the morning that I had no idea how to check the weather. I could, you know, open the front door, but that didn’t give me the forecast for the entire day. We’ve had very inconsistent weather recently. I like being prepared.
- As I drove toward my childhood home, I realized there could have been a terrorist attack that morning and I would have had no idea. I turned on the radio but had missed all the headlines. Since they were talking about the latest stupid thing Trump said, I assumed for the moment that I hadn’t missed much.
- When I arrived at my parent’s house, my father was reading a good old-fashioned print newspaper. They still have classified sections! Lots of people want to buy old record collections. You can buy a dog for $1000. Seriously, though. Visit your local shelter instead.
- I usually take notes on my smartphone. I wanted to jot down observations about the day and had to scribble notes on the back of a receipt in my purse. I’m going to keep a journal with me from now on.
- Mornings were easier than I expected. I started doing things sooner than I normally would. Instead of staring at a screen, I looked through the kitchen window and noticed the sun rising up over the trees. I don’t care if that sounds cheesy. That actually happened, so shut up.
- I drank less coffee than normal.
- Reaching for my phone and my laptop was a reflex. I had to hide them.
- I was very happy to have the CDs. Staring at a screen all day and night masks how quiet my surroundings are. Like right now. I’m sitting in silence.
- That night, I was so self-satisfied with my experiment, and I was certain I would continue into the next day. I spent almost the entire next day staring at screens. Nothing has changed.
I was inspired to make this recipe after being recently reminded of an old favorite – my Butterfinger Shortbread Cookies. One of Jeff’s cousins made them and sent me pictures. I’m going to need to remake those as well, but I didn’t have one of the required ingredients handy (I’ll let you guess which one). Anyway, this recipe was visually inspired by those cookies. To be honest, I didn’t add the chocolate and toasted coconut to all of the shortbread. Cardamom + vanilla is one of my favorite flavor combinations, and I kind of loved the shortbread without the topping as well. The chocolate and toasted coconut add a lovely richness and texture, but you lose a bit of the purity of cardamom and vanilla. You can always do what I did, and top some but not all of the cookies.
- 8½ ounces (1¾ cup) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamon
- 1 vanilla bean
- 6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
- ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2-3 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
- 3 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line one large or two standard baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cardamom. Using a paring knife, slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use the dull side of the blade to scrape out the seeds and add them into the flour mixture, using your fingers to break apart any clumps.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla extract on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for a few more seconds. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in 2-3 stages, mixing until no dry patches remain. Wrap the cookie dough in plastic film and flatten into a disc. Chill until the butter firms up, approximately 15-20 minutes.
- While the dough is chilling, toast the coconut flakes in the oven until lightly caramelized, 2-4 minutes, stirring once. (Note: Keep an eye on them; they can burn if you’re not careful.) Set aside.
- Either between two sheets of parchment paper or on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to approximately ¼ inch thickness, then use a 2-inch cookie cutter to stamp out the shortbread. Place the cut cookies on the prepared sheets, and continue re-rolling the dough until all the cookies are cut.
- Place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to give the butter a chance to firm up, then bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cookies are lightly golden on top. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Place the chocolate chips in a small dish, and microwave in 20-30 second increments, stirring every time, until the chocolate has melted. Brush each cookie lightly with chocolate, and top with a sprinkle of toasted coconut.