We might be spending a lot of time at home, binge-watching TV shows or binge-reading books. But there’s still a whole world out there of things to learn. And now you just might have the time — or you’re simply bored enough — to learn them! This week, our features staffers share seven things they learned via YouTube videos. Here’s to socially distant learning!
Megan Burbank, outdoors/general assignment reporter
Starting a home ballet practice
Of all the things I’ve given up in recent weeks, the most painful — second only to hugs — has been my twice-weekly ballet class. It forces me to completely disconnect from my journalist brain, and I’ve needed that mind-quieting quality more than ever lately, so as I waited for my dance studio to make the switch to Zoom, I turned to YouTube to get me through the unthinkable: a week without technique class.
I consulted the deep YouTube archives of Miami City Ballet soloist and dance-community hype woman Kathryn Morgan, and Ballerinas By Night, the channel targeted toward adult ballet students. You can’t do ballet without a barre, so I made one following instructions from Ballerinas By Night using galvanized pipes and joints. I also made use of my kitchen counter, with my laptop precariously perched on the stove.
I chose a basic barre from Ballerinas By Night and followed it in my kitchen. After barre, I rolled back the rug in my living room and did some simple jumps and center exercises. I supplemented this with Kathryn Morgan’s foot-strengthening and Pilates mat exercises for dancers. Morgan’s videos are fun and friendly; they’re also extremely challenging — you feel like you’re being tortured, but by a good friend.
It wasn’t pretty: I live in a studio apartment, and I almost kicked my oven doing grands battements, and it’s hard not to feel a little like Miss Torso in “Rear Window” when you know you’re dancing in view of neighbors. But I plan to stick to my ballet practice, no matter how long it needs to happen at home. Because it’s either this or do nothing, and doing nothing would mean losing my technique.
I’m not alone. After days of YouTube, I got the email from my studio: We’d have regular class on Zoom. When I logged on, I saw all the regulars from class in little boxes as our teacher waved at us from behind her own screen. Then we took to our far-flung homespun barres and started our plies. We had made — and would continue to make — many personal sacrifices in the name of public health, but ballet would not be one of them.
Trevor Lenzmeier, travel and books coordinator
Cleaning sneakers for beginners
I have an affinity for dusty trails and mosh pits that runs counter to my tendency to wear white sneakers. Concerts are on indefinite hiatus, but the sidewalks are open, so it’s high time I learn how to clean my oft-scuffed shoes. (Properly, i.e., not just throwing them in the washing machine.)
Berlin-based streetwear company Highsnobiety has a great video displaying beginner care for kicks. Worried about finding cleaning solution in Seattle under the new normal, I mixed Highsnobiety’s technique with tools most people have around the house (or could grab at Target).
With my workspace ready, I removed the laces from two pairs of sneakers — my Nike Classic Cortez sneakers and Adidas Country OGs — and rolled up my sleeves.
I knocked the soles together and did a dusting with a brush, then used stain-removing wipes for a spot clean. For tougher stains, use a thicker brush; for hard-to-reach spots, brandish a toothbrush. Mostly, though, I used the stain-removing wipes and the “dab and twist” motion suggested by the video. If you want to order sneaker-cleaning solution online, the technique is the same.
Another tip from the video: for white canvas sneakers, a dab of whitening toothpaste mixed with hot water purportedly leaves your shoes “porcelain white.” This was overhyped, but now I have extra Crest, so oh well.
I dried the excess liquid and suds on my sneakers’ upper portions with a towel and turned to my midsoles. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Sheets, with a bit of hot water and gentle scrubbing, drastically improved the midsoles, but the thinner “sheets” variant fell apart in my hands — go with the original.
Shoe care depends on material, so my methodology diverged here. For the Country OGs, a Reader’s Digest article suggests scrubbing equal parts water and baking soda into the soles, then washing the shoes on gentle with cold water in the washing machine, “adding about half the amount of detergent you’d typically use when the machine is about half full.”
Another Reader’s Digest tip: as opposed to using a diluted bleach solution for cleaning white sneakers, which risks miscoloring, try cotton balls with vinegar or nail-polish remover. I found this as effective (if not more so) than any other method.
The end result: pretty clean sneaks and the belief that in this case, simple is better.
Stefanie Loh, features editor
Making a trivet, and more, out of wine corks
I hate crafts. I have no patience for needlework. Don’t draw or color or paint, and don’t see the point in things like origami. But the coronavirus quarantine has forced me to craft. With gyms closed and everyone social distancing, out of boredom last Saturday, the wife and I decided to do something with the couple of hundred wine corks we’ve amassed over the span of our marriage. And it was … surprisingly … therapeutic? After a stressful workweek, armed with glasses of wine — because we needed another cork for our collection! — we bought a couple of hot glue guns, box cutters and some cork backing sheets and sat down to watch some YouTube videos for crafting inspiration.
“Every time I open a bottle of wine, I just can’t bring myself to throw away the cork, so I put it in this jar with the intention of using it for something, someday. Today is that day!” Shannon Petrie, managing editor of HGTV.com, chirped in the opening scene of the first video I watched: “11 Wine Cork Crafts to Try.”
Hell yeah. She spoke right to my soul. We were off to a great start.
Petrie made lots of stuff out of her corks. Floating key rings, garden markers, coasters, card placeholders, chip clips and bottle stoppers. The coaster was an inspiration. But I decided to go big or go home. I see your coaster, Shannon — and I’m gonna make a trivet!
My wife took a different approach. She decided to wing it and see where her creativity took her as she glued corks together.
So we gathered up the four vases and cups we’d dumped our corks into over the years and fired up the hot glue guns. As we picked through the cork collection to slice some of them and smear on a little glue, something cool happened. We started recognizing the corks from the different bottles of wine we’d purchased and enjoyed together over the years.
“Aww, here’s one from Once Upon a Vine,” Lauren cooed, holding up the cork to our favorite easy-drinking bottle from when we lived in San Diego.
“Eew, this one came from that nasty bottle of chocolate wine that we both hated!”
“Ohh, this was the bottle that had the dog on the label!”
“This one was from wine tasting up by the tulip fields! Look how little it is!”
We found corks from bottles we’d forgotten we’d purchased on vacations long ago. We reminisced over corks to bottles we’d shared with friends and corks to bottles that were special to each of us as our little craft activity inadvertently took us on a fond journey down memory lane.
Two hours later, we sat across the table beaming at each other, an empty bottle of wine between us and our finished projects proudly displayed. I’d made a trivet, like I’d set out to do. Lauren made …. uhhh …. it was supposed to be a cork … vase? Right after I helpfully pointed out that a cork vase wouldn’t hold water, inspiration struck! I grabbed the empty bottle of wine between us and slid it into the “vase.” It fit. Perfectly. Voilà! Fancy wine holder for a dining-table centerpiece!
To celebrate our accomplishment, we opened another bottle of wine and clinked glasses. Cheers!
Moira Macdonald, arts critic
Folding a fitted sheet (spoiler alert: I failed)
Desperate times call for … well, turning to YouTube to learn the impossible, i.e., how to fold a fitted sheet. (My linen shelf contains nicely folded flat sheets and more-or-less-wadded-up fitted sheets. Judge not.) Turns out there’s an entire celebrity sheet-folding subset of YouTube instructional videos! Grabbing a couple of sadly wrinkled sheets, I dived in.
First up: Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) showed off her expert folding technique, but she went way too fast and I gave up quickly, not entirely convinced that the whole thing wasn’t done with mirrors. (I was also distracted by her very cute dress. Lupita, please get in touch and tell me where you got it.)
Next: Marie Kondo, who of course has a very calm and soothing sheet-folding video in which she comments that folding fitted sheets “seems to trouble many people.” Sing it, Marie. Her technique involves having a clean floor space that’s the same size as your sheet, and as I do not have such a thing that can be guaranteed to be cat-hair-free (my cat sparks joy), I moved on.
Third: Sensing that perhaps celebrities weren’t the answer, I turned to the most popular sheet-folding video on YouTube, from the ominously named website LivingOnADime.com and featuring a very competent-seeming nonfamous woman named Jill. She was extremely good at fitted-sheet-folding (it’s all in flipping and aligning the corners, apparently) and made it seem very easy, until I tried it. Apparently I have trick sheets. Things got ugly, sheets got weirdly tangled and undignified words were hurled in Jill’s direction. Was I about to be defeated?
Finally, in desperation, I turned to a video from Martha Stewart’s TV show, in which its star — in true Martha Stewart fashion — took time to berate a humble sheet-folder from her audience (witheringly calling the poor woman’s attempt “that blob”) before calling in an expert. I watched, I tried, I failed. (Is it possible my sheets are possessed?)
Fed up, I stopped pausing the video and watched to the end, in which Martha (who had earlier admitted, intriguingly, that her divorce was due to fitted sheets; tell me more!) gave words to live by: “For all who are fitted-sheet-impaired, I suggest that you wash your sheets, dry them and put them right back on the bed.” AMEN.
Properly chopping onions
After the debacle that was my “how to fold a fitted sheet” adventure, I decided to tackle something a little smaller in scale — namely, how to properly chop an onion. I’ve long thought, vaguely, that one should do this like Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia,” which is to say a sort of rhythmic, devil-may-care whacking accompanied by trilling conversation. But this, of course, can only end in tears and really random-sized onion bits, so I vowed to do better.
Though there are numerous onion-chopping how-tos available (including one from Rachael Ray’s show that demonstrated how to use a hair pick to chop an onion, and frankly, I’m still recovering), I put myself in the hands of Gordon Ramsay. The British chef has a very brusque, no-nonsense onion-chopping video — it’s barely a minute long — full of comments like “Let the weight of the knife do the work” (clearly he has a better knife than I do) and instructions to “hold the onion like a tennis ball.”
I watched it a couple of times, then pulled out a cutting board and a knife, and voilà: Ramsay’s technique — probably every professional chef’s technique, I don’t know — of holding on to the root end and slicing only partway through produced a perfect mound of tiny onion squares, and nary a tear. My pride in this accomplishment was entirely of proportion — it was just one small thing, done right. But in these dark times, I’ll take that.
Crystal Paul, travel and communities reporter
Gaining new violin skills
Listening to Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor (No. 20) has long been a way for me to instantly calm or soothe myself as needed. It’s a haunting, beautiful and wrenchingly sad piece, but it also manages to capture a promise of future joy.
When I first heard the nocturne played on violin, I was blown away in a whole new way that made me want to finally learn to play violin. Last year, I finally bought an instrument and began learning. Violin practice, even my very bad, beginner-level violin practice, became a way for me to destress, relax, take a moment to just be every day.
Now, 34 weeks pregnant and stuck indoors as COVID-19 rages around the world and my job as a journalist keeps me inundated with all coronavirus all the time, I try to take time to decompress by keeping up with the rudimentary oeuvre I developed with my violin instructor. But eventually anyone (and very likely one’s neighbors) will get tired of hearing “Frère Jacques” screeched out by a beginning violin player, no matter how well you’ve mastered it.
So, I turned to the place everyone else stuck at home is turning to these days — the internet.
I found Beth Blackerby’s Violin Lab Channel on YouTube. With videos on different aspects of technique as well as tutorials that break down challenging classics into understandable techniques, and with an eye to adult beginners specifically, the channel has been a great way to keep up practice (there is also a complete website with more comprehensive lessons). Blackerby is a forgiving and realistic instructor. This week I began her vibrato video tutorials with her reassurance that there was no way I’d walk away having successfully learned vibrato in a week. It takes daily and mindful practice, she emphasizes.
Right now, a daily practice of mindfulness and music (even very bad violin music) is exactly what I need. Of course, if things get too stressful, I can always turn to my favorite Chopin nocturne.
Amy Wong, features producer
Making Japanese soufflé cheesecake
One fateful night when I was in college, I attempted to bake a Japanese soufflé cheesecake, the jiggly, fluffy dessert frequently featured in photos circulating on Facebook food pages. I will spare you the details, but it did not turn out well.
Two years later and with a lot of time on my hands, I thought I’d take a crack at it again. I was excited to find this YouTube recipe from Gemma’s Bigger Bolder Baking, because it appeared much simpler than some of the other cheesecake recipes I had seen online.
For the most part I followed the tutorial, but made a few changes:
- Instead of using the microwave, I melted the cream cheese and butter over a double boiler.
- I used all-purpose instead of cake flour.
- I ended up referencing the written recipe more than the video, but it was especially nice to have the visual reference for the more specific components, like the ideal consistency of the egg whites after beating them, and the best way to fold them into the batter.
- I was skeptical of the short baking time (30 minutes with the oven on, another 30 minutes sitting in the oven with it off — cheesecakes usually take closer to an hour of baking time in the oven), but was pleasantly surprised by the golden-brown, beautifully domed cheesecake that came out.
Overall, it turned out great! It tasted more like a sponge than a cheesecake, feeling much lighter. It’s not quite as jiggly as the ones you typically see videos of on social media, but it was still delicious.
Baking videos are really useful for recipes you’ve never tried before, and for providing visual aid for more complex techniques and steps.