Two of My Favorite Things

Sous vide. I’d vaguely heard of it, was mildly interested in the way I am always attracted to cooking/kitchen things. But I never actually got around to checking into it. Until, that is, I decided my air fryer was too small and I needed to upgrade. (Air frying, btw, is the BEST. And America’s Test Kitchen has the recipe for homemade fries that will blow your mind. Better than restaurant fries!)

So I went onto Amazon as one does, and was looking at air fryers when Amazon suggested I might like to look at a Ninja Foodi. I trust Amazon’s judgment, so I looked. Turns out a Ninja Foodi is a combination air fryer/pressure cooker/many other things. The one I ended up getting was a $200 machine on sale for $70 and it does EVERYTHING, including dehydrating and yogurt making and guess what? Sous Vide.

I donated my old air fryer and gave my Instant Pot away to a friend. As soon as I test the yogurt maker, I’ll probably be getting rid of that gadget too. But the Sous Vide button is my new best love. It’s a method of cooking that involves sticking your steak or vegetables into a zip lock bag, pressing out all the air, and cooking it in a water bath at a low temperature for 2-3 hours. And it is marvelous. The restaurants use this method because it makes food turn out perfectly every single time – exactly the same results with zero risk of under or overcooking. And it’s so friggin’ easy!

Steaks have always been temperamental in my kitchen. Sometimes they are successful, and sometimes they…are not. With sous vide, they are tender, juicy, just to the stage of doneness I prefer – and there’s no problem with trying to gage how long it will take so you can get your sides finished at the same time. With sous vide, they stay in the water bath until YOU are ready to take them out, and then you just finish them off in a hot skillet or grill for a minute on each side to give them a lovely crust. No stress, no rush, and the only work you have to do is season them, stick them in the bag/water bath, and walk away.

You can buy sous vide cookers individually, or you can get a Ninja Foodi. I highly recommend getting the Ninja. I cooked a Cornish hen in it yesterday. I put a frozen bird under the pressure cooker lid for 15 minutes, then took it out, seasoned it, and popped it under the air fryer lid for another 10 minutes, and I had a delicious, tender crispy skinned bird ready for the table. Freezer to table – boom! Just like that.

The other piece of tech I am loving lately is my Quest 2 virtual reality headset. It is marvelous and mind-blowing. And although you can hook it up to a gaming computer, it is complete on its own, the only thing you need is access to wifi to download the apps (and in some cases, to use the apps). Honestly, I bought it for the gaming and the virtual travel, but while both of those are amazing, I ended up loving it even more for a different reason: the exercise.

I am not a girl who exercises. You will never get me into a gym, and every attempt I’ve made at some sort of focused, regular exercise has ended in abject failure and total disinterest. But VR exercise? Okay, I not just love it, I am addicted to it! I can’t wait to get off work so I can hop on my stationary bike and explore fantasy worlds, Paris, fly through space, or pedal underwater with orcas and dolphins. Holofit is a monthly subscription fee, but it’s so worth it. They regularly update with new environments and new challenges. My favorite (so far!) is the underground mushroom kingdom.

Or I pull up YouTube VR and bike along to a real-world video. I’m particularly fond of biking the alps, I’ve discovered. I also found a bike ride along the Chicago lakefront at sunset that is spectacular. And then there’s Beat Saber, an exercise “game” that is great for your arms and brain. I started out completely hopeless at even the ’easy’ setting, but this week I managed to get through a complete song at expert level without missing a single beat. It’s so much fun. There are a bunch of others along a similar vein – my other favorite is Ragnarok. Race a Viking ship through really cool environments by beating drums to a rhythm.

Then there are the travel/educational experiences. I love the National Geographic app. There are only two destinations on it, so I hope they will add more, but their Antarctic one is brilliant. You paddle a kayak through the ice bergs hunting for a penguin colony and meeting whales and seals along the way. Do a little ice climbing, survive in a blizzard, and take a photo for the cover of the Nat Geo magazine!

Or, just travel to a place. This video is beautiful in 2D…just imagine it surrounding you as if you were actually there!

I also enjoy Real VR Fishing. I never was a fisherman in real life, but somehow there is nothing more relaxing than fishing in VR. After I level up a bit, I’ll be able to do ocean fishing which I hear is extraordinary, but even the river fishing is beautiful. There are a bunch of different destinations – night with fireworks, sunset with murmurations of birds, or a sitting in a rowboat with a rain falling lightly. You also get a lodge with a realistic fireplace and full-wall aquarium stocked with the fish you’ve caught!

And what do I say about the gaming? Goodness. It’s almost indescribable to be in the game, able to wander and create and fight and touch. Regular gaming is completely ruined for me now. I could never go back to a PC. There is a game called The Room that might have been perfectly designed for me. Egyptology, puzzles, old temples, herb witch’s cottages, and cathedrals – wow. These video clips I’m showing you can’t possibly show what it’s really like to be there. It’s so much more beautiful than it looks in 2D. 

I also love Vader Immortal, because I love Star Wars. Getting to use the Force and wield a lightsaber, getting to stand next to Darth Vader and have him attempt to lure me to the Dark Side…  And if you like a bit of fear, there is nothing like VR. Layers of Fear is a psychological horror game where you explore a dilapidated Victorian house trying to solve the mystery of the tragedy that happened there. Unlike a PC game, the VR headset knows exactly where your line of sight is at all times, which means they can play some really eerie tricks on you: doors that disappear and reappear the moment you look away, pictures that flicker with movement just at the corner of your eye, and numerous other things that simultaneously awed me and freaked me out. There are three potential endings in this game. I’ll have to play it again and someday when I decide I have enough courage to do the options that made me say nope no way the first time I played. I was genuinely afraid while playing this game, literally had cold chills running down my spine. Even though I knew I could just take the headset off at any time, it didn’t feel like I could. It felt like I was there, in that house. Another favorite is I Expect You To Die, where you play a spy completing various escape room type challenges. It’s snarky, creative, and I love that they allow you to come up with your own possible solutions, rather than there being just one solution like a lot of games. A Wolf in VR has a youtube series where he plays through various VR games, and I love his sense of fun. Below is one of his play-throughs – bonus that he begins the video in one of the Star Wars VR games…so you can see how fantastic that is!

I love that I can face my fears in VR, and do all the things that I can’t do in real life. Either because it’s too dangerous, or too expensive, or literally just too impossible. Visit outer space and float above earth. Walk across a narrow plank at the top of skyscraper – and then jump off and fly. Battle gigantic spiders, or demons, or aliens or zombies. Visit penguins and whales in their own environment. Learn about history by going there and experiencing it. Learn about biology by going inside a cell. Be anywhere in the world just by speaking its name. And, by doing all these things, keeping my brain active and alive and learning.

The library where I work has had VR headsets for the YA sections for awhile now, and I’ve been campaigning to use them in adult programming. We’ve been hampered by Covid and safety/liability concerns, but it looks like soon we’ll be offering free trials with the VR here at the library, and headsets to check out. Some places are taking VR to assisted living facilities, and it’s wonderful to see how the residents react to seeing places they never though they’d see again or experiencing something completely new. Maybe we’ll also be able to do that someday. This new technology will be so beneficial to many different people, whether they are older or disabled or like me, just want to stay as physically and mentally healthy as possible.

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