Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dumplings! A Family Recipe for Hungarian Rivilchas or Tarhonya

CC Image by @joefoodie 

Rivilchas might be a mouthful to say, but it's a mouthful worth having. This is a family recipe used for both everyday meals and special occasions.

My paternal grandmother's family brought this recipe with them when they emigrated from Hungary in 1903. I learned how to make these little egg-noodle dumplings when I was quite young, and I have included here the directions taught to me by my grandmother. It took me several hours of research to learn the true spelling of rivilchas because, in our family, we have always simply said what I know now as "rivil," pronounced [REE-vul]. When cooked, "rivil" dumplings are similar, though smaller and more dense than German spaetzle, and smaller than Hungarian nokedli.

Preparing rivilchas is a big job, so it's worth making a fairly large batch. My grandmother made up to six quarts at a time when she knew company was on the way! For practice, though, I recommend starting with a small batch, enough to make about four to six servings. I've included the measurements for this smaller batch size.

Hungarian Rivilchas Recipe

Until you are familiar and proficient preparing rivilchas, plan to spend at least one hour making the dough and preparing the dumplings.

Serves 4 to 6


  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Wash your hands and scrub under your nails.  This will get messy.
  2. Add 2 eggs and 1.5 measuring cups of flour to a large mixing bowl. Using a fork, stir to combine the eggs and flour. Mix until the dough is slightly dry to the touch, not too sticky.
  3. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand. Push the ball of dough down into the bowl. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour over the dough and reshape the ball of dough. Pull it up the side of the bowl then push it down into the bowl again. Continue to knead the dough until it reaches a consistent texture, adding a little more flour at a time until it no longer sticks to your hands. Depending on the size of your eggs, you could use up to 1 cup of additional flour to form the dough.
  4. Place a piece of wax paper on a work surface. Using the thumbnail-sized holes on a box grater, grate the dough, using steady, downward pressure. Let the dumplings drop down through the grater onto the wax paper.
  5. Once a pile of dumplings accumulates on the paper, move the paper or grater and make another small pile. If the pile is too large, the rivilchas will stick together. If the dough does not move through the grater, but sticks to the surface, return dough to the mixing bowl and add more flour.
  6. In a 6-quart stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add a small batch of rivilchas to the stockpot using a strainer or a slotted spoon. Cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from the cooking water with a strainer or slotted spoon.

Using and Storing Rivilchas

You can use the rivilchas immediately in a soup, paprikash or goulash, or you can eat them plain, with butter, salt, pepper, paprika, or cheese.

Rivilchas can be frozen by letting the cooked amount dry, then placing them in a freezer bag and sucking out all of the air with a straw.

Whatever way you plan to use the rivilchas, you and your guests will not be disappointed. Try using these little egg-noodle dumplings the next time you make any pasta dish, and people will notice the tasty, homemade difference.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Poetry and The Controversial: The Value of Truth

Controversy is Often Confused and Complicated
Do you value the truth?  Do you value the truth more than you value pride, decorum, holiness, obedience, respect, tradition, or wealth?  More than silence, skill, reason, happiness, discipline, art, or education?  Do you value the telling of truths?

As yet in my life, I have found nothing else in this world that raises hackles and brings on loud, menacing attacks so much as telling the truth; and what is poetry if not the telling of truths?  Such is the dilemma, then, that even when a poet strives to tell the truth as exactly as possible given the limitations of abstract language systems, the truth and the telling of it both bring about complicated controversies. 

Act I -  Exposition: One Defines and Redefines Controversy


According to Merriam-Webster Online, a controversy is “a discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing views.”  They list “dispute” as a synonym.  The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a “prolonged public disagreement or heated discussion.” A discussion is a conversation marked by an exchange of ideas.  An opposing view is an argument that contradicts another argument.  An argument is the statement of position backed by reason and evidence, specifically true evidence.  The origin of the word truth is an Old English word that means "faithfulness."

In short, a “controversy” is, traditionally, a rational discussion about a truth or the telling of a truth with special consideration paid to opposing views.

Controversy Redefined

A “controversy” is a physical or verbal fight over perceived offenses either purposefully or unintentionally committed.  Offended, in this redefinition, meaning “in dislike of” a truth or someone’s telling of that truth.

If some truth within a piece of poetry, whether it's the theme, the language, the metaphor, the irony, the circumstances,  is called “controversial,” it means that there are those who dislike that truth and are very keen to eliminate, confuse, or silence that piece of writing, that truth.  If it's the telling of the truth that has offended the opposition, they are more likely to want to, and in no way am I being trite or dismissive, eliminate, confuse, or silence the writer.

The level of dislike for that truth can be mapped on a continuum marked “discomfort” on the far left, “anxiety” in the center, and “terror” to the far right.  The level of dislike marked on the continuum seems to have a direct correlation to the level of faithfulness one has to an opposing view, even when faced with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.  See “sticky theory.”

Act II -  Rising Action: One Uses the Conventional Definition of Controversy and Creates Misunderstanding

“I do not find your work controversial” she said, meaning she, personally,  did not find anything with which to argue, meaning all of the poet’s premises and conclusions were sound and valid truths.

“You don’t find it controversial because you are solipsistic and ethnocentric” he said, thinking she overlooked or ignored the premises and conclusions entirely, thought them beneath the level of deserving of consideration.

“Wait!  What?”  she replied, wondering why anyone would be so upset about a level of complete  agreement.

Act III РPeripeteia, Anagnorisis and D̩nouement: Another Explains the Redefinition of Controversy and Creates Clarity

I had an amazing conversation yesterday with an amazingly intelligent poet about the meaning of controversy within poetry.  Because I had always thoughtfully considered, then accepted entirely the premises and conclusions within his writing, I overlooked the fact that others would not be so apt to do so.  So, yes, I was being slightly solipsistic, and I had to be shown that there were opposing views and that there was controversy surrounding his work. I had to sit and think about it.  Whether or not a poem or book of poetry is protest poetry, and whether or not a poet is an activist poet, that work may cause an unexpected emotional reaction in others.

I also learned from the conversation that although it is a starting point to either accept or reject ideas and arguments on a personal level, a larger scope of literary analysis is also necessary.  Even when it’s completely outside my realm of understanding why a certain truth would be unacceptable to another reader, there are going to be readers for whom a truth, or the telling of the truth, is unacceptable.  Digging into the controversy and attempting to discover root causes of the discomfort, anxiety, or terror, could be far-reaching, culturally significant, and should not be ignored.

Writing raises hackles when writers tell the truth.  This truth-telling butts up against the desire of others to gloss over the truth for more preferred narratives or more tempered descriptions of the same truth.  The faithfulness a reader has to an opposing view will determine the level of emotional reaction to a work.  That level of reaction may cause the reader to want to eliminate, confuse, or silence the writing, or even the writer.  It’s a battleground, these pages of poetry and stories, and the war is between what is told and what is untold.   The war happens whether we’ve been drafted or not, whether we understand what we're fighting for or not, and whether we've proclaimed ourselves pacifists or not.  "Controversy" does not live only within the realm of civil discourse.

Want to read more about poetry?  Try

Ars Poetica: When a Poet's Fly is More Than a Fly

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Contact the author for permission for republication.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Brief Introduction to Crochet Hooks

A Variety of Crochet Hooks

Take a look at these throats and grooves to compare hooks.
Choose Your Hook Wisely
As with any task, be it building a house or constructing a ship in a bottle, a crafter must always choose the right tools for the task.  Crochet is no different. Different crochet hooks do slightly different jobs, and the job will go much more smoothly if the right type of hook is used.

Crochet Hook or Crochet Needle

A collection of crochet hooks: Tunisian, cro-tat, filet, jumbo, handmade, and standard
A Collection of Crochet Hooks
Crochet hooks, alternately called crochet needles, are available in several materials, sizes, and grips. Crochet hooks can be made at home or purchased online or in craft stores.  Some common brands are Susan Bates, Clover, Prym, and Boye, which each have their own unique hook cuts and handle grip designs.

The size of a hook is measured in millimeters, which generally also correspond to letters or numbers imprinted on the hook.  For example, the blue aluminum Susan Bates crochet hook pictured here is a 5 mm hook, which is also called an "8" or a "H."  These "regular" crochet hooks are extremely versatile tools and can be used for most crochet stitches.  Because they are available in so many sizes, they are used for yarns that correspond by ply or bulk. Simply check the label on your skein of yarn to see which hook size is recommended.

Tunisian Crochet Hook

Compare the Tunisian crochet hooks with the standard crochet hooks.
Tunisian Crochet Hooks are Longer or Corded
A Tunisian crochet hook, also called an "afghan hook," is much longer than a regular hook because stitches are cast onto the hook several at a time, then removed from the hook until only one remains.  The length of a Tunisian crochet hook can be the solid hook, itself, or it can be a flexible cord stopped at the end with a tab or button, which prevents the stitches from sliding off the end of the hook.

A Tunisian crochet hook is also sized by millimeters and gauged by letters and numbers.  The yellow Boye brand 5 mm Tunisian crochet hook, for example, is also labeled an "H," while the Susan Bates is labeled 10 1/2 US and 6.5 mm.

Tunisian crochet hooks, because of the length, are used only for Tunisian crochet because the extra weight and length can be cumbersome and unwieldy if the hook is being used for other types of stitches.

Crochet-Tatting Hook

A demonstration of the difference between a regular crochet hook and a cro-tat hook.
A Cro-Tat Hook for Crochet-Tatting Stitches and Projects
A crochet-tatting hook, or a "cro-tat" hook for short, is used for a special tatting stitch.  The head of the cro-tat hook is designed differently than either a regular or Tunisian crochet hook.  The special design allows the hitch-stitches that are cast onto the hook to be slid back over the head of the hook.  These types of hooks have less of a tapering at the head of the hook and a longer neck between the head and the handle.

The Prym hook in the photograph is a 1.5 mm hook and can be used with small, fine tatting and crochet cotton threads.

Crochet hooks can have ergonomic, interchangeable, glass, aluminum, plastic, resin, wood, ceramic, or polymer clay handles.  They can be long or short, flat or round.  They can be straight, curved, big, small, decorative, or handmade.  The project can be Tunisian, Bosnian, filet, double crochet, bioche, cro-tat, cro-hook, cro-knit, tapestry, or any number or types of stitches.  No matter the type of crochet project a crafter undertakes, there is a correct crochet hook for the job. The task will be all the more enjoyable and worthwhile if the correct hook is used.

Want to learn more about crochet?  Try . . .

my online course at Udemy!  You can use this link to sign up for a free Udemy account and take my complete beginner crochet course online for only $10.00!

Want to read more about needle crafts?  Try . . .

Lion Brand Yarn Ergonomic Crochet Hook Set
Tatting!  Susan Bates Plastic Tatting Shuttle with Removable Bobbin
Making Crochet Sushi Toys
Make Your Own Celtic Tatting Shuttle

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Narrowing an Essay or Paper Topic

Tapping a Pencil, Image by Rennett Stowe

Don't Know What to Write? You're Not Alone!

Has a teacher ever given you a writing topic and left it to you to choose how to write about it? What freedom! What opportunity! What limitless choices!

Sometimes, however, such limitless options can cause what's called "decision paralysis," or a person's inability to make a choice when too many choices are available. This can lead to procrastination, confusion, or even an avoidance of the writing assignment entirely. In order to prevent such damaging decision paralysis, what a student needs in this situation is a plan.

Limit your Possibilities by Carefully Adhering to your Teacher's Guidelines

If your teacher has offered some set guidelines, please remember to read those guidelines first, before establishing a plan that might be outside of his or her guidelines. For example, does your writing need to be within one of the two major categories of either fiction or non-fiction? Is there a word count requirement, or has your teacher asked you to write a research paper, a report, or an essay? Has your teacher defined a specific mode, like exposition, argumentation, narration, or description?  What about a specific strategy, like "compare and contrast" or "problem-solution?"  What is the scope of the assignment?  Are works of creative writing allowed or expected? Do you need to include research?  Always be sure to stick to the requirements you've been given, and if you are unsure, the first person to ask is your teacher. Sticking to the requirements can help you narrow down your options so you won't feel lost in a sea of choices.

Narrow a Broad Topic

If you are given a broad topic, or if you're interested in writing about a broad topic, it's best if you narrow your topic to a manageable size before starting to draft your assignment. There are a few ways to do that: prewriting, formulating a research question, or substituting vague and ambiguous words for specific language.


First, you can use prewriting techniques, like listing, clustering or mind-mapping, to brainstorm some ideas that surround the topic. For instance, if your topic is "Ants," you could write an entire book about ants! To make the topic smaller in scope, think about what is it about ants that might make them interesting to you. Make your list long, or your bubble-map or cluster as large as possible to get down as many ideas as you can. Some of your subtopics might include "Annoying at Picnics," "Fun to Watch Work," or "How Ants Build Anthills."  Feel free to include your opinions and attitudes about ants in your prewriting, too:  An engineering or physics student may have a note on his or her mind-map that states "Ants are ingenious builders," a statement that could easily later become a thesis statement.

Research Questions

Another way to narrow a broad topic is to come up with research questions you want to answer about your topic that incorporate your specific aims and interests.  For instance, if you are a nursing student, you might want to find out about the best ways to treat ant bites in your region:  "What are the best ways to treat ant bites in New Mexico?"  If you're interested in narratives or journalistic writing, you may wonder if there is a story you might want to tell about ants: "Are there any odd or interesting true stories about ants?"  Furthermore, a business student could be interested in creating an analogy between organizational behavior in large corporations and the organizational behavior of ants: "How are corporate organizations similar to ant colonies?" The possibilities are endless, even with a topic as broad and as seemingly mundane as "ants."

Specific Language

Furthermore, substituting vague and ambiguous language for specific language is a great trick for narrowing a broad statement into a narrow statement that might better fit the requirements of a particular assignment.  For example, instead of an essay about "Ants," you could narrow your topic to "Ants of South America," or even narrower, "Dinoponera."  As you begin your preliminary research about "Dinoponera," you may learn that some experts claim they make excellent pets and other experts disagree.  You may decide to investigate that disagreement as a research project.

Choose a Purpose and an Audience

Take a look at your prewriting or potential research questions. Based on these ideas, can you come up with a purpose for writing your assignment other than, of course, because your teacher wants you to complete the assignment and you want a good grade? Can you think of an intended audience for your ideas?  If you could tell your ideas about your chosen topic to anyone, who would it be?


Let's break it down: To continue with the example of "Ants" as your topic and the narrowed topic of "Ants Being Ingenious Builders," you could jot down that your purpose for writing is to "explain to others how ingenious ants are when building and how we can imitate them in architectural design," or to "write a story that shows how ants work together ingeniously when building."


Even better, you can combine these purpose statements with your choice of an audience by rephrasing them to include the specific audience. Instead of using the word "others" in your statement, try substituting "my classmates," "my mom and dad," "my little sister," or "my science teacher."  Depending on how you define your intended audience, you may or may not need to include certain key pieces of information: It all depends on what your intended audience already knows and what they need to know in order to understand your ideas. 

After you choose a purpose and audience, write down your purpose statement, set it aside, but keep it handy. After this activity you may be ready to begin your assignment, but you may also still feel like there are too many options.

Match a Genre with Your Narrowed Topic, Your Purpose, and Your Audience

Choosing a genre, or a type of writing, for your writing project will help you further narrow down how you will tackle that writing project. There are so many ways to write, however, it's challenging to think of them all.  Choosing a genre can be almost as difficult as choosing a topic.

However, help is available. Colorado State University has published an online list of a genres they have named "A Brief List of Genres," and it includes 60 different options! The key to not being overwhelmed by such a list is to make sure you match your assignment requirements, narrowed topic, purpose, and chosen audience to one of the genres.

Some of your options could include the following:
  • An expository, argumentative, descriptive, or narrative essay
  • A poem, song, or fictional story
  • A tribute or toast
  • A comic, script, or storyboard
  • An interview or biography
  • A research paper

You have to ask yourself, though, which of these will help you communicate the most effectively to your audience in a way that meets your purpose. If your purpose statement reads, "I will write about ants to explain to my 5 year-old sister how ingenious they are when building," an argumentative essay may not be the best option. However, a storyboard, a song, a sonnet, or a simple informative essay might help her to truly understand your opinion about ants. On the other hand, if you are writing for your science teacher, an interview with an expert on ants or a research report about ants might be a great choice.

In the end, when given such freedom to choose how best to write about your topic, the choice really is up to you. However, don't fall victim to decision paralysis! Instead, use your imagination to generate a plan, give yourself time to generate a long list of good ideas, and then carefully choose the best options for your assignment requirements, topic, purpose, and audience.

Want to read more about different types of writing?  Try

Myths about Writing Essays
Secrets to Writing a Great Descriptive Essay
The Narrative Frame: Prewriting a Narrative Essay

Want to learn more about writing essays?  

Try my complete online essay writing course on called "Quality Paragraph and Essay Writing."  Use the coupon code link to get 50% off the regular price of the course. Receive a certificate of completion when you've finished!


Colorado State University (n.d.) A brief list of genres. Retrieved from

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writing an Argumentative Essay: Basic Terminology

Will Your Argument Hold Water?

When your professor asks you to write an argumentative essay, he or she is neither picking a fight nor asking you to write about your finest comeback in a recent argument you had with your roommate about the mountain of dirty clothes in the hall. What your professor is asking you to do in an argumentative essay is defend your conclusion about an issue by providing reasons and evidence in support of that conclusion.

Three Parts of an Argument

There are some very specific terms a writer must understand in order to understand argumentation or how to write an argumentative essay.  An argument is a unit made up of three pieces: the issue, the conclusion, and the premise or premises, which are also known as reasons and evidence.  Without any one of these three pieces, your argument will have a hole, and it will not hold water.

Issue - A Question about the Topic

An issue is complexity or uncertainty about a topic.  An issue causes inquiry or questioning about a topic, which results in research.  An issue is often introduced in the form of a question, although there is never just one answer to that question.  The terms used when a writer is defining an issue or asking a question must be exact and specific in order to effectively guide the writer’s research and construction of a conclusion with premises: The writer must write the question before beginning his or her research.  In the final draft of the paper, the question might or might not appear in the introduction.  

  • Issue: What is the best way to prevent plagiarism in an introductory composition course?

  • Issue: Should college students be required to take general education courses?

Conclusion - The Thesis or Enthymeme

A conclusion is a writer’s educated, researched, and careful response to an issue.  Other words for conclusion are position or claim, the writer's answer to his or her posed question.  A writer’s conclusion about an issue is generally stated as a thesis in an essay.  When the conclusion is stated in the same sentence as a reason in support of the conclusion, we call this special type of thesis an enthymeme.  Keep in mind, a thesis or enthymeme cannot be written until the writer has completed his or her research and has generated a thorough, supportable answer to his or her question.

  • Conclusion (Thesis): The best way to prevent plagiarism in an introductory composition course is to teach a unit in the beginning of the course on proper paraphrasing, summarizing, quoting, and citing.

  • Conclusion (Enthymeme): College students should be required to take general education courses because those courses prepare the students for success in not only their program courses, but in life.

Premises - Topic Sentences and Evidence

Another way to think of a premise is as a reason or a piece of evidence.  A premise tells the reader why he or she should accept the writer's conclusion about the issue.  Premises support the thesis and are placed in the body of an essay, either as topic sentences or as supporting details.  Premises can be based on empirical facts, values, comparisons, or definitions.  A writer should strive to include the most credible premises possible when supporting a conclusion.  Reasons and evidence that come from sources must be cited.

  • Premise (Evidence Based on Observation): When I began teaching composition courses, 33% of my students were committing unintentional plagiarism.  After speaking to several students about the problem, I realized they were plagiarizing because they had never been taught to recognize plagiarism or how to incorporate source material into original work.  After adding a unit about plagiarism and proper source inclusion to the second week of my course, the number of students committing unintentional plagiarism dropped to 0%.

  • Premise (Value Statement): We must do all we can to help prepare students for success in both their college coursework and in life.

Writing an Argumentative Essay

In conclusion, when writing an argumentative essay, a writer must begin with a research question based on an issue within a topic.  Then, the writer must brainstorm and research multiple sides to the issue in order to come to a decision about which side he or she will support.  Only then can a writer come to a conclusion about the issue and create a thesis statement or enthymeme.  Once the thesis or enthymeme is written, the writer can complete an outline, draft supporting paragraphs, and complete a final draft of the essay.

Read a Sample Argumentative Essay

Take an Online Writing Course 

Try Quality Paragraph and Essay Writing on