Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A tour of Rome

I am of the opinion that there is nothing more boring than someone else's vacation photos. (Have none of you experienced a vacation slide show?) In spite of that, I yield to the barrage of requests I've received. If you're like me, you should just mosey along and read the latest article on Slate.com.

We saw many, many permutations on the theme "Old Stones in Italy". Sometimes they were famous ones, as on the left. (Random and interesting fact I learned at the Colosseum: the Romans invented concrete.)

Sometimes the old stones were less famous, is in the ruins of the port town here.

Sometimes the stones were still standing.

Sometimes I could no longer stand, so exhausted was I from looking at all the old stones.

These stones were rather new, and were used to make the most striking fountain I have ever seen. The Trevi fountain is built along the rear wall of a palace, and it's as if Neptune and the various ocean creatures are bursting forth from the building.

And here the old stones are used as a stray cat sanctuary, an ingenious use of ruins cordoned of in the middle of the city. The stones are protected and so are the cats.

Once again graduate school pays off

I'm concerned about the economy, like everybody else. But for the first time in my life I am truly grateful for my complete lack of assets and net worth.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bits and bobs, part three

Just for the record, I need to correct one error in the comments from last week's post. Nutella does not contain trans fat. Saturated fat, sure, but what's a little saturated fat among friends? (Especially if those friends are eating the chocolaty nutty goodness that is Nutella.)
I spend all of my spare time (and some not-so-spare time) doing homework and reading for the class I'm taking. General Relativity. Doesn't that just sound stereotypically physics-y? I have to admit that it's a little fun to actually being playing around with equations and thinking about how the great, big, wide world works (instead of just thinking about how the inside of the mind works). On the other hand, my last homework assignment took 16 hours. Andrew tutors me, so considering the going tutoring rate of at least $25, I owe him $400 for last week's work alone.
Speaking of homework, when I was a kid in elementary school and we had complained about how much homework we had to do, my teacher told us that when we got to middle school we would have to do ten minutes of homework per class hour, and that in college we'd have to do two hours of homework for each class hour. This scared the bejeebers out of me. How could one person do that much work? I hadn't really caught on that in college you'd have fewer hours of instruction than in elementary school. (I also hadn't realized that I would grow up and be able to do that much work in a day...)
So from the past few weeks' experience in General Relativity (also know affectionately as GR) it seems that the ratio in grad school is five hours of homework for each class. But who needs free time, anyway?
The weather is getting cooler here, which means I have a limited time to use the flourishing herbs growing on my front porch. I can always think of things to make with basil, but the lavender is stumping me. I've got a recipe for a lemon lavender tart which sounds enticing, but does anyone have any additional ideas?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A styling breakfast?

Last year I decided that we needed to wean ourselves off breakfast cereal, especially cornflakes, because the added sugar and salt plus lack of fiber is a terrible way to start the day. For a while I replaced the cereal with homemade muffins, but the baking is time-consuming, and anyway I make muffins loaded with butter. Then we tried health-food store granola, which was delicious and high in fiber, but still really loaded with fat and sugar.
This led me to oatmeal. This is far and away the best option: healthy and cheap, easily prepared. The only problem was that I hated it. I tried every trick in the book: I bought steel-cut oats, I loaded my bowl with maple syrup and nuts and dried cranberries. I ate it several times a week over the course of months, trying to retrain my palate. It still tasted like library paste, just with added crunch.
This week I had an epiphany. As a kid, I loved Coco Wheats. If you haven't experienced this miracle of manufacturing, Coco Wheats are simply Cream of Wheat cereal (For those not from the US - it's a semolina porridge) with added cocoa. I have no idea why my mother let me eat it, because once you dump on the requisite three or four teaspoons of sugar, you're basically looking at chocolate in a bowl. Anyhow, I decided to riff on that, and now I stir in a heaping tablespoon of Nutella into my oatmeal. Sure, it's not as healthy as plain oatmeal. But I'm eating it and I'm happy with my bowl of (pretty-good-for-me) chocolate sludge.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Continuing with the theme

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Ohio. We went for the dual purposes of retrieving Phi the Physics Cat from her summer home (where she went to avoid the wedding hoopla) and to pick up two garbage bags full of basil plants my mother had grown for me. Let me repeat that, for emphasis: we drove all the way back to Maryland with two black trash-can bags full of basil plants. That's a heckuva a lot of basil. I convinced a friend to take one off my hands, and then we picked and washed for two long evenings. The products of that work are pictured below, right before I pureed them with the Parmesan, walnuts, and garlic to make thirteen pints of fresh pesto.

Luckily, I received a small chest freezer as a birthday gift last week, so all that pesto is resting peacefully in the deep-freeze. Last time I made it, the pesto was still good two years later, so next year I'll get a vacation from this particular job.
The car still smells like an herb garden.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

You say toe-mah-to

The weather has been cool lately. (That is, it's been below 80F, which counts as cool in DC.) This is perfect timing, as my kitchen is currently a fiery inferno where I devote myself to removing water from tomatoes by various processes. The picture below pretty much sums it up: the oven has been on for two days as I oh-so-slowly turn twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes into about two pounds of dried tomatoes. The top of the stove is devoted to turning the other twenty pounds into tomato sauce. This is the first year I've attempted to dry tomatoes. I'm astounded by how small and light each slice becomes - this really is an ideal way to store tomatoes long term. Since I'm planning to keep them in the freezer, I've dried some so that they're almost as dry and leathery as the ones you buy in the store, and some are still moist like a plump raisin. If I find that I prefer one type when cooking with them, I'll stick to that in the future. (I act as if I planned this all out, but really the variety is a consequence of my occasional lapses of attention and my inability to slice the fruits to consistent thicknesses.)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Roman vittles

We spent our honeymoon in Rome; ten days in a tiny but cozy apartment that was less than a block from a metro station. It had everything we needed, including TV (to watch Italian police dramas, which are so filled with plot cliches that you don't need to understand the dialogue to follow them), a kitchen with a two burner stove (on which I made pasta every night), and a tiny washing machine (which held no more than four shirts and a pair of pants OR two towels).

Andrew and I agreed that we really enjoyed having an apartment. It was wonderful to sleep in and not worry about people needing to come in and clean, and having a kitchen so that we could eat one or two meals at home saved us enough money that we could splurge a bit on the third meal. Generally we had a big, two or three course meal at lunch, and then salad and pasta for dinner at home.
The quality of the food at restaurants varied tremendously. Our worst meal cost us about $60, and included stuffed squash blossoms (which I had always wanted to try) which were most assuredly vegetarian, except that the oil they were fried in was so impregnated with a fishy flavor that it was unpleasantly akin to eating calamari. The second worst involved some pucker-worthy wine that I'm desperately trying to forget.

Eventually we learned that there was a marked difference between a $50 meal for two and a $70 meal for two, and that it really was important to trust the guide book. This led us to our best meal, which was also our last. (It was also the only one that featured Neapolitan instead of Roman food, but I have too few data points to make any firm conclusions regarding the two.) We shared a bottle of prosecco (sparkling wine), and I had incredible homemade orecchiette (little 'ear-shaped' pasta) with pesto and a limoncello cake.
I was surprised (and a bit disappointed) that most of the food that we ate I could have made at home, and probably made better. I don't know if this is a comment about the quality of the restaurants there, a backhanded compliment to my own cooking ability, or just plain bad luck. I will say, though, that the quality of the ingredients available was outstanding. Whether we purchased at the market or the grocery store, the zucchini were small and tasty, the melons perfectly ripe, and the mozzarella creamy and perfect. To me this was evidence that Italians do care more about what they eat than we generally do here, and it gives me hope that there is good food in Italy, and that I just have to figure out where they hide it.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The smell of freshly sharpened pencils

Just a quick post today. Pictured as the Very Righteous Reverend herself, although she vamped a bit less during the actual ceremony.
This week was the first week of the school year, and this year I was aware of it more than usual. When you're a graduate student, the time sort of blurs together. (I'm a sixth year grad student! Argh! Soon it will be time to retire and I still won't have completed my thesis.) This year a bunch of new students joined our research group and the excitement and terror of the first year has been vividly brought back to me. I'm also taking a class this semester, and it's been so long that I was a bit blase. I didn't remember to figure out where the classroom was until I was almost-too-late, and I don't seem to own any decent pens anymore, because I only type everything. I'm sure the impending due date of the first homework assignment will make it seem more real.
Now, it's time to head home and batten the hatches in preparation of Hurricane Hanna.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wedding, Part 2

Other than the small congregation, it was a pretty normal wedding. My brother was my attendant, earning the title "Man of Honor," although I think he would have preferred the title "Grand Monkeyboy of the Universe," while Andrew's sister was the "Best Woman." Our good friend M (who makes the videos for this site) got herself ordained online so she could officiate and now prefers the title "The Very Righteous Reverend."

The somewhat blurry photo on the left shows the wedding cake I made. It was supposed to be tiered, but the columns were accidentally left at home, so it turned into a big layer cake. It would have been kind of cool to have a stunningly beautiful cake, but my specialty, quite frankly, is more on the tasty side than on the handsome side when it comes to baking. It did taste wonderful, though: raspberry jam and orange Cointreau-flavored butter cream held together by cake.

Because we had decided to do so much ourselves, the guests also had to pitch in. I was especially touched by my friend A, who I hadn't seen in five years. He flew all the way from California and ended up doing dishes and driving Andrew and I home so we could each have a second drink. A friend who chooses rolling up the sleeves on his dress shirt and clearing tables instead of having a glass of wine is a friend indeed.

Next post, the reception in Ohio.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wedding, Part 1

Well, I'd apologize for the lack of posts in August, but if spending time with your new husband on your honeymoon in Rome isn't a good enough excuse for neglecting the cyberworld, then nothing will satisfy you people.

I promise to give you all the gory details of the wedding and honeymoon over the next weeks,but here's a starter photo for today. As has been reported here, the dress was my paternal grandmother's. It seems that she was precisely my size, because it didn't need to be altered at all. (Although we had to repair the ravages of time). My mother and mother-in-law did the flowers. This led to a few less than relaxed moments when they weren't yet complete three hours before the wedding, but they turned out beautifully and my bouquet cost a whopping $6 so I am grateful to them both.

We were all extremely happy with how the wedding went. The small guest list made planning quite easy, although it made me laugh at one point. When I walked down the aisle, I was accompanied by both my parents. Andrew had walked down with his parents, and they were all standing at the front, with our siblings who were attendants. Two friends were playing music, one was officiating, one was videoing, and three were taking pictures. This left a grand total of six people in the "congregation," one of whom was a two-year-old and not really paying attention to me. So if you are a bride dreaming of walking down the aisle as multitudes gaze upon you, it would be best to invite more than twenty-one guests.