Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holidays = mainly food

Sorry about falling off the face of the earth - after that third party I was just done in. Since then, the holidays plus the end of the semester just filled up my time.

We managed to get out of Maryland less than twelve hours before the storm of the century hit. I don't know if that's what they're actually calling it, but the two feet of snow that fell last week were more than Maryland had seen in 70 years. I'm a bit disappointed that we missed it, because I love winter, but I suppose that helping to shovel out the driveway wouldn't have been quite as much fun

We spent the past week for my parents. Now that I'm grown, my mother and I have an arrangement: I do almost all of the cooking, and she does almost all the dishes. In the past six days I've made: homemade pasta with creamy pesto sauce, cinnamon pecan rolls, Challah, nachos, homemade macaroni and cheese, Thai peanut noodles, a full meal of tapas, and a mushroom lasagna. I may have to go home and recover by eating only salads.

So, now we're off to make (and eat) more food. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Partying with physicists

On Saturday night, twenty physicists dressed in their finest descended upon our house. I had set the start time at 7:30 so that they'd leave by midnight. After all, I need my beauty rest. But you can't stop physicists once they start celebrating (which might be because they so rarely get a chance). It was just before two a.m. before we got the last ones out the door.

There were a few mishaps. Early in the evening we accidentally put both hosts' cell phones, along with the door bell alarm, in a separate room and closed the door. Our next set of guests waited outside in the cold for twenty minutes, fruitlessly calling, ringing the doorbell, and throwing pebbles at our window. (Sorry, R and B!)

But in the end, every last scrap of food was consumed, many bottles were emptied, and many problems were solved (see the picture below).
B and I, after drinking a few chocolate-mint martinis. (I recommend them, even though they in no way deserve the name "martini".)
So, now it back to boring old life, where I don't wear glittery dresses, but where I do spend lots of quality time with my laptop and Word documents.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Advent

The house is decorated. Buddha and the kokopelli (more info on the New Mexican troublemaker here) are swathed in tinsel. I'm embarrassed that my Christmas decorating mantra seems to be, "The more tinsel, the better."
I've made and hung snowflakes, just as I do every year. This year I figured out how to make 3-D snowflakes.
And, for the first time ever, I made an Advent calendar for Andrew. When I was an exchange student in Germany, many years ago, my host mother made an Advent calendar for me. She sewed 24 little bags and put treats in each one.
Since today is December 1st, Andrew got to open the first one. I've used much better chocolate than those pre-filled cardboard calendars usually have.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

We have a cat visiting us. Switters is a lovely, peaceful cat, who happens to weigh twice as much as my cat. There have been a series of small skirmishes and strategic maneuverings all week. This photo demonstrates the size differential and Phi's preferred interaction, the offensive hiss.
Lately I've been skipping the gym and walking outside instead. We live near a lake that has paved paths, and is filled with ducks, geese, and the occasional beaver. (Presumably the beavers are there all the time, and we just occasionally see them.)

To make our walks slightly more vigorous, we carry weights. Until I borrowed the weights you see in the picture below, I was using cans of beans. That was convenient and low-cost, and people we passed started to recognize me as the woman with the canned goods. Unfortunately, I would sometimes eat the beans and forget to replace them, so the hand weights are appreciated.
Even though the leaves are off most of the trees, it's still a peaceful way to start my day.
In other news, we are hosting three parties in three weeks. Yikes. At first I was sort of freaked out by this turn of events - two holidays celebrations fell close together, and then it turned out that Andrew had offered to throw an additional party. But I'm trying to remember that I love the holiday season. Although I pack a lot in, it's all stuff I enjoy doing. If I start seeing these activities as chores, then the whole point of doing them is lost.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Strauss and soup

Can you bear yet another picture of me in yet another hat? This one is posted particularly for my friend, who loaned me the stole. (Yes, it's real fur. No, I don't mind wearing that. This stole was inherited by my friend from her mother-in-law, so those little creatures, whatever they were, died long before I was born.)

Having such a nice wrap gives me an excuse to go nice places, so we saw an opera at the Kennedy Center last weekend. That was where I learned that there are two different composers named Strauss. Johann did the waltzes, and Richard was modern, and among other things, composed the opera which we saw. I think I like Johann a bit better, but I probably shouldn't admit that, because I imagine it's hipper to like modern operas.

*****
In other news, I made (fake) chicken and dumpling soup tonight for dinner. I haven't eaten it in years, but suddenly it sounded like the best thing we could be eating. I have a special place in my heart for chicken and dumpling soup, which was one of the very first dishes I made (mostly) by myself. I was only eight, so I was still eating meat. I cut up the chicken and the vegetables, and made them into soup. The dumplings were made from Bisquick, and when I served it for dinner I was so very proud of myself. My father was careful to exclaim over how good it was, and then after he finished his bowl, he said, "That was great. What's the next course?" I was devastated! I was so proud of making one dish, but he expected more. This was just a momentary slip in my father's normally stellar parenting, so I like to tease him about it as much as possible.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Frivolous pursuits

Once again, I used up all the words I have on the chapter draft I just finished. So, some pictures and uneloquent sentences.

I went to a party and had too much time to prep beforehand. Here's how my outfit turned out:
Today I convinced Andrew to ditch his projects (the latest: a motorcycle shelter) and visit Mt. Vernon, which is George Washington's home. It's been restored so that it looks is it did in the 1790's. We enjoyed the grounds more than the house, because it was a gorgeous day. After sitting in my room and writing at my desk all week, it was heaven to tramp all over the farm. Highlights: the dung repository (Well, it was quite modern that George was composting way back then) and the views, which were stunning and aimed out over the Potomac and a National Park.) Andrew particularly enjoyed the calves:


The low point of the day was the lunch we ate there: how does one make a veggie burger with gristle in it?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

All alone (and loving it)

I'm alone at home this week, because my husband is off at a conference. I like being married very much, but I also love being alone. I'm really enjoying this week. I don't have to tidy up after anyone. There's half as much cooking to be done. (In fact, less that half, because Andrew eats almost twice as much as I do.) And I've got enough social events scheduled during the next seven days that I'm not in danger of going days without talking to another human being.

My enjoyment is bittersweet, however, because I also know that soon I'll be reveling in alone-ness all the time, and then it won't be quite so great. It appears likely that when I graduate and get a job (We're assuming at this point that I will get a job) that I will move somewhere new and leave Andrew here. Then we'll probably live apart for one or two years. He wants to finish his PhD (a goal I support) and I want a postdoc (a goal he supports). It's not a situation either of us wanted, but we don't want the alternatives (where one of us significantly delays or alters our professional goals) either.

So next year I expect to be buying a lot of airline tickets

Sunday, November 01, 2009

My Halloween

This isn't my pumpkin, but it is sitting outside my house. Even though it's a little gross, it still makes me laugh. (The jack o'lantern consumed all those beers, if it's not clear.)I bet you'll never guess what Andrew is:**
And me, agitating for women's rights, about a century too late.
We even ran out of candy to give the trick-or-treaters, so we're lucky the house wasn't egged. Happy Halloween.

** Really, you couldn't guess, could you? Neither could anyone else. Human pincushion is a good try, but actually he's a flu virus.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An illustrated journey through (select) New York sites

Of all the wondrous and unique diversions in New York (Chinatown? Broadway? Harlem?), Andrew chose to tour... an aircraft carrier museum permanently docked in the New York harbor.

We saved money by staying in a small room. Here Andrew demonstrates that he can touch three wall at once, while I stand in the four square feet of space at the end of the bed. There wasn't enough room for both of us to stand up at the same time in the room.
This door panel from the Metropolitan Art Museum represents Science. I was quite taken with such a stunning and, above all, female representation of my chosen field.
On our first day we walked the Brooklyn bridge. Cheap and fun entertainment.
We had pleasant enough food, but nothing remarkable. This was my fault, because I didn't have enough time to do research before we left. I did get to participate in one new food trend - frozen yogurt. (Cupcakes are soooo out.) The new frozen yogurt is not like the stuff you and I remember from the 90's; it's full-fat, quite tart, and the toppings include really perfect fruit and dark chocolate. I'd recommend it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The big apple

The weather in New York turned out not to be quite as bad as we feared. I think the advanced warning helped. Although the temperature stayed in the forties and the skies were dark and drizzly, there were no downpours. We were prepared with winter gear and umbrellas, so it turned out all right.

Today I'll just include some quick highlights, and then add more this week if I can. I'm working really long days this week and weekend, so time for frivolous activities like blog writing is lacking.

Andrew reported that his favorite part of the trip was going up to the top of Empire State building. We were surprised to see pigeons up there, considering it's over 1000 feet above the ground. I think this just proves that wherever people spill food, pigeons will find it. The view was great and I enjoyed seeing the building itself. It's hard to think of a building that's less than 100 years of age as old, but it really is old for a skyscraper.* I had heard horror stories about the three-hour lines, but we got there early in the morning and sped right up to the top. I think the weather helped us in this case - people with options put off their trips for warmer days.

I discovered a new variety of art that I love - works by Tiffany. That's right, the lamp-maker. I've never much cared for the lamps with glass lampshades; they're just not my style. But I'm pretty sure that the glass lampshades I normally see are not made by the Tiffany company, because I don't run in circles with that kind of disposable income. But in addition to lamps, Tiffany made large windows and mosaic fountains, and the Metropolitan Art Museum had a small collection. The windows he did are like luminous paintings. (This is the best example I could find, although it loses something in its translation to pixels.)

More on New York later this week, time permitting

*This reminds me: the German word for a "sky-scraper" is a "cloud-scratcher." I like it that both words convey the idea of touching the heavens. Does anyone know what other languages name their tall buildings?

Friday, October 16, 2009

N-Y-C

We're off to New York for a few days, and we leave in just a minute or two. They are predicting temperatures that will be 20F degrees colder than normal, and rain all day turning into downpours on Saturday. This might be a repeat of our Boston trip, but at least we won't be sleeping in moldy sheets this time.

I think I'll take the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge off the list, and add some warm, dry museums instead.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Bits and bobs

I don't think I can pull together a coherent post today. I used up all my coherence in the draft I finished yesterday.
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We're going to see the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble tonight. If you don't listen to classical music, you won't know that they are SUPER famous. I can't believe that they are coming to the university's concert center, which means we paid $7 each for student tickets. I'm looking forward to hearing them, but also (I must admit) to dressing up tonight.
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Last week I went a little crazy and processed gobs of food. I wrote all day long, and then each evening I cooked. The results? Four quarts of marinara sauce, several quarts of dried tomatoes, 6 pounds of green olives (I found fresh ones at the local Asian market!), four quarts of apple sauce, and refrigerator pickles. We will be eating well this winter.
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Andrew and I both got good news this week regarding papers we had submitted to journals. There was much rejoicing. It was efficient to get the news at the same time, because then we only needed to open one bottle of champagne.
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Next weekend we are going to New York for a three day weekend. It will be fun to get away from work, but (more importantly) it'll give me something to put on the blog.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Framing happiness

I don't know if this next story will be funny to anyone outside my research group, but here goes.

I spend hours every day analyzing interactions. My research involves looking at videos of people and trying to figure out why they make the decisions they make, and how they're interpreting the situation they are in.

Today I found myself cuddling my cat. As she purred, I explained to her that her purring made me happy, which caused me to pet her. This made her happy, causing her to purr more. Thus, we had established a stable feedback loop of contentment.

The cat was not particularly wowed by my analysis, but I think this shows that I am now fully immersed in my work. Surely this can only bode well for the completion of the disseration?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Context matters

Please allow me to wax philosophical tonight. I've had a bit of an insight, and I want to write it down before I forget it.

I have made a few lifestyle choices which deviate from the norm. Nothing on the order of joining a cult or adopting fifteen cats, just not things that the American majority usually does. The example we'll use here is my lack of a TV, although I bet almost every person reading could find an example from their own life.

When, in the course of conversation, my decision not to have a television comes up, it's usually met with one of three responses: (1) I could never do that! (2) Why would you do that? (This one conveying something less than genuine curiosity. Or (3) I knew someone who did that for a while, but then she stopped (and you will, as well). This usually makes me feel that my conversation partner (1) disapproves of my decision, (2) hopes to show me why my decision is foolish, or (3) is sure that they know me better than myself.

Generally I leave these conversations annoyed and defensive. But tonight I was reading an essay which made me realize that most of these conversations are not about me. (If I were wiser, I would realize that most of life is not about me.) I think when people are exposed to an atypical choice, they use it to measure their own choices. And I do this too, a lot more often that I'd like to admit. "That's not why I chose - could I have chosen incorrectly? No, I couldn't have. So let's figure out what's wrong about his decision." I don't want to denigrate people; cognitive science research shows us that our brains are wired to become happy with the decisions that we make. So, these people don't mean to make me feel bad. They're often just reassuring themselves that they made the right choice. It's hard for them, and me, to remember that the right lifestyle choice is defined by the individual situation.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bon Appetit!

It's a Friday evening, the radio is playing excellent Dixieland jazz, and I'm sitting on my couch trying to write an argument about professional development for teaching assistants. Andrew has mixed us a couple of gimlets, which is adding to my good mood, and may even make the words come a little easier. (Last week my mother and I seized the opportunity to watch a movie our husbands would never enjoy, and watched "Julie and Julia." Since then I've been craving the gimlets that Julie makes in the movie and the butter-laden dishes that Julia makes. I've also taken to crying "Bon Appetit!" at dinner every night.)

I'm having trouble lately figuring out what to blog about. Although I won't defend for another seven months (only seven months! it's all happening so quickly), I often find that when I do something other than work it just feels like a waste of time. This is good, insofar is I'm getting a lot of work done (I think), but it definitely puts a crimp into the blogging lifestyle. Who wants to hear about the lovely paragraph I wrote that afternoon? I promise it will all get more interesting, in a mere seven months.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I've been in Ohio for over a week, and during that time I've watched the soybean fields that surround my parents' house turn from an emerald green to a faded yellow. This is good, because the soybeans aren't harvested until the plants are completely dried up (as I have just learned).

This sort of observation is in line with how life moves here. When I make my typical quick trips to visit my family, our time is normally packed with visits to my brother or celebrating some holiday or another. This time I was able to bring work with me, allowing me to write during the day and just hang out with my parents in the evening. Since we were necessarily prevented from taking day trips, I got to experience what daily life is like here, and it's a lot slower. It's also more centered around home. Watching the sun while it sets is actually an activity here. Or we might go visit with the neighbors for a half hour when they're sitting out by the bonfire.

A list of experiences foreign to my everyday life:
1. The clip-clop of horses pulling Amish buggies.
2. Neighbors just "stopping by" to see if you need help cleaning up after a party.
3. Trying to decide if you really need those two grocery items, since it'll take 30 minutes to drive into town.
4. Taking out the compost at night and seeing a skunk. (And therefore putting off that chore until the daylight.)
5. Seeing a sky full of stars. (Curse you, light pollution!)
6. Listening to the cows (soon to be burgers and roasts) who live next door.
7. Driving in a car almost every day.

It's been a good trip, but I'll be happy to be home tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Roast pork

Last weekend was spent preparing for a pig roast, attending a pig roast, and recovering from a pig roast. As detailed here, my parents through a huge pig roast for their 140 closest friends and neighbors. And because vegetarians enjoy nothing more than watching people dismantle and consume hundreds of pounds of pig, I came too.

My husband was designated Head Carver this year. At the previous pig roasts he only apprenticed, so this was a big promotion. He was ably assisted in his carving by another guest's son-in-law, who was apparently another meat-loving immigrant. When they were dismantling the head, this man thrust the eyeball at Andrew and asked him if he was scared. So for the honor of his country, he ate the eye. I forgot to ask how it tasted, because I was so freaked out by the act.

The side dishes were potluck, and I'm sorry to report that only one dish of jello made an appearance. I'm starting to think that Midwestern cuisine is changing a bit. When I was a kid, church potlucks always yielded hotdishes (known as casseroles in the rest of the country), bean salads, and jello salads. But this time I saw lots of green salads. I can assure you, though, that the most adored guest is the one that brings deviled eggs.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Setting the bar

Last year, when we were married but three weeks, Andrew went all out to celebrate my birthday. We splurged for dinner at a really nice restaurant, and he bought me a gift I never would have bought myself. (A small chest freezer, where we can store all the tomato sauce I'm always making.) I told him at the time that he was setting the bar awfully high: I'd start expecting a perfect birthday every year.

Well, this year he lowered the bar so far that a quiet dinner at home next year will be celebration enough. To be fair, it wasn't his fault. The day started out great, when Andrew presented me with this cake, which he had sneakily baked while I was away in Philadelphia and then hidden in his closet of tools:
I was especially impressed because he had never before baked a cake, and it came out perfect.

Our plan was to spend the day at the beach. It's about a three hour drive to the beach we love best, but we were going to make a day of it. There's one point in the trip where traffic regularly slows to a crawl - the Bay Bridge. This bridge spans the Chesapeake Bay, and getting to the ocean without crossing it would add several hours to our trip. We were sailing along, when right before we drove on to the bridge, the traffic stopped. There had been an accident, and the whole span was shut down. We ended up eating our picnic in the car, while we waited the hour and a half it took them to clear it.

By then it was getting late, so we decided to skip the beach. We turned around and came home, where Andrew gave me my present. I had been lobbying for a new bathrobe, and that's what I got. Unfortunately, the shiny, hooded, knee-length robe made me look like a boxer. (Something like this, but, you know, more female and Caucasian.) We're sending it back.

In other news (but with a related theme, trust me), I need to learn to set the bar lower when dealing with the federal government. When we started the paperwork to make sure Andrew could stay in the US as long as he wanted, regardless of employer, I steeled myself for at least two years of paperwork. I mentally removed the $1500 from the bank account that it would cost to make this possible. Even more importantly, I let Andrew do as much of the paperwork as possible. Dealing with situations like this (where you're the supplicant of a monolithic corporation that can request pretty much whatever it wants) just gets me into a tizzy. Now we're seven months into the process and we're hit the first roadblock. Apparently they've sent us an approval - an approval that says "Yes, we've looked at your paperwork, and now you may send us more money and forms." Unfortunately, we didn't receive the notice. And now we'll have to pay $350 more to get a new one.

Andrew reminds me that we can afford this extra fee a lot more than most of the people applying for residency, and he's absolutely right. But I think I'll keep letting him talk to the government officials, so that my blood pressure stays low.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Summer recap

It's an absolutely, gobsmackingly beautiful day today. The weather has been perfect all week - clear, cool in the evenings, and sunny. We've been able to turn off the air-conditioning, at least for now. I won't be surprised if it hits the 90s in a few days, but I'm enjoying it today.

All this fall weather, combined with the start of school, has me reviewing my summer. My increased devotion to my dissertation has meant that we've mainly stayed close to home, but I've still managed to have a lot of fun. Here are some things I'll remember:





We vowed to go to the beach at least once a month, starting in April. So far, we've managed it. I expect that we'll get three more visits in, although the October and November trips may not
involve swimming. I've never gone to the beach in November, but supposedly seals winter over at Assateague, and it would be worth the trip to see seals in the wild.



A few weeks ago Andrew and I were continuing our quests to be tourists in our own hometown, and we went to Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum. Pictures weren't allowed inside, but the picture on the right accurately represents the type of art we saw. Highlights included a quilted history of the formation of the universe and a fifteen-foot long ocean liner built entirely of matchsticks. I highly recommend it.


This tree was outside the museum. I have vowed that one day, when we own a house, I will have one of these in my back yard.

And now I'm looking forward to my very last school year as a student. I'm starting the school year off right with a writing weekend in Philadelphia. Please make a sacrifice to the god of your choice to ensure much productive writing by me in the coming months.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ratatouille

One of my favorite summer dishes is ratatouille. I like it so much, in fact, that I was sure I had already posted on it. So, if this topic seems all-too-familiar, feel free to just move along.

WARNING: This recipe takes a long time. There's just no way to avoid it; you'll need a couple of hours. However, most of that time is spent sauteing, so can do other kitchen chores during the cooking. In addition, making a double batch doesn't really take more time, so at the two hours of work leaves you with about a gallon of food. In my household this equals at least three dinners, plus one or two stashed in the freezer.

Now, the good news. This recipes is rich, with many ingredients cooked separately in lots of olive oil, and only combined at the end. This means that you can taste distinct pepper and tomato flavors, but it all adds up to something extraordinary. And you can eat it for three meals in a week because there are so many ways to change it up. We eat it on top of pasta, or cooked on a pizza crust. You can also put it on puff pastry, use it as an omelet filling, or top it with fish or chicken. Sometimes I add Parmesan or goat cheese.

With no further ado, assemble these ingredients:
9 T. olive oil
salt
1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2" chunks
1 medium oniono thinly sliced
2 t. chopped fresh thyme
1 pound red or green bell peppers, cut into 3/4" chunks
2 t. chopped fresh rosemary
1 pound zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into thin slices
1/4 cup chopped garlic (6-8 cloves)
1 pound tomatoes, cut into 1" chunks
1 T. lemon juice
A few drops of hot sauce
1 t. basil, thinly sliced
2 T. chopped parsley

Toss the eggplant with salt and let it drain in a colander while you chop everything else. Now you're going to cook all the veggies, one at a time, each with 1 T. oil and a sprinkle of salt. When each is cooked, add in the corresponding fresh herb, then scrape it all into a bowl.

First, the onions on medium heat for 15-20 minutes, until deep brown. Add the thyme at the end:
Next, the peppers on medium high, until they start to brown (5 minutes), then another 10-15 minutes on lower heat until soft. Add the rosemary at the end:
The zucchini is cooked on high heat, so that it browns in 5-7 minutes. (No herbs for this one.)
Next, blot the eggplant and cook it in 3 T. oil on medium heat. They should be a bit browned. I don't have a picture for this part, because the last time I was cooking this I was making it for someone allergic to eggplant. So you'll have to use your imagination.

Lastly, on medium-high heat, cook the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes for 3-5 minutes:

Now you should have all the veggies dumped into a big bowl. If you have time, drain everything in a colander set in a bowl, and then boil down the 1/2 cup of liquid you get to about 1/4 cup and add it back in. Season to taste with the basil, parsley, hot sauce, and lemon juice. (Those last two ingredients are critical.) You'll get this:


Otherwise known as summer in a bowl.

Cheats that you can get away with: (1) Adding all the chopped herbs at once, at the end. (2) Leaving out 1 or 2 fresh herbs because you're missing them. Cheats you can't get away with: (1) Trying to cook more than one veggie at a time. (2) Using all dried herbs or leaving out the fresh lemon juice.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hmmm.

I just had a surreal, or at the very least, a novel experience. A man was walking around our neighborhood with his two kids, knocking on doors and begging. Now, I'm pretty accustomed to the homeless asking for money at intersections or by the grocery store, but this is the first time someone had come to my door. (And to be perfectly frank, I was happier to see him than the strangers who offer me a new religion.) I told him that I couldn't give him money, but I could give him food. He actually took the food, and asked for some water, which makes me think he might actually be legit. It's kind of a hassle to carry around food if all you really want is money for booze. I gave him some dried fruit and nuts because I thought that would transport well. It's the first time in a long while that I've been embarrassed by our lack of prepared food in the house. You can't exactly give someone your leftover summer squash or raw onions from the cupboard, and since we don't ever drink soda or bottled water, I couldn't give the kids anything to take with them - I had to carry out glasses and a pitcher of ice water. You just don't think to lay in a stock of portable foodstuffs for situations like this.

In any case, I'm extra grateful this afternoon for my house, my bed, my food, and most of all, the feeling of security that I'm not even usually aware of.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The school year approaches

Yesterday I saw the first advertisement for back-to-school sales and it caused my stomach to clench up into a compact mass. When I was a kid, I was painfully shy and the very idea of school starting made me physically ill. I liked learning, but I hated new situations. The four or five times I was starting at new schools were especially bad, and those back-to-school sales were the harbinger of the month of stomachaches that were approaching. Now it only takes a moment to remind myself that I'm not the same person I was when I was seven and then I feel better.

I can't believe I've decided to spend my career in academia.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Bits and bobs

I don't have enough material for a coherent post, so you'll have to do with this collection of random tidbits.
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My writing buddy and I had another writing session this past weekend. These weekends are really productive, but I am finding that too many in a row robs me of the ability to do serious work during the week. This last weekend came right after my conference, which meant I headed into it wiped out. I managed to get lots done, but I don't think I cracked a smile the whole time. (Sorry, writing buddy!)

To combat the burned-out feeling, I took Monday off and did some thrift shopping and beach-sitting. We've recently discovered a beach on the Cheasapeake Bay, which makes getting to the beach a 45 minute drive instead of a three hour event. The sand isn't as white and they don't have wild horses, but listening to the water is still just as relaxing.
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I'm planning to graduate next spring, and I was contemplating what joys will come my way as a postdoc. Besides the obvious (knowing that I've learned a lot, getting the opportunity to continue researching in a field I love), I'm looking forward to moving to a house with a dishwasher. That doesn't seem too much to ask, does it? Preparing three meals a day, even for just two people, produces a fair number of dirty dishes and makes a dishwasher seem like quite a luxury.
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Lastly, if you're looking for a way to kill a few minutes, check out this. It's a graph of how people spend their time in America, from a survey done last year. The results are presented hour by hour, and I found it especially interesting to compare the days of different demographics.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How many salads can you eat in a summer?

An alert reader (Thanks, Mom!) sent me a link to the New York Times Food section this week. In it, Mark Bittman pairs up ingredients for 101 salads. I'm always looking for inspiration, and there are some combinations which would stretch my salad boundaries. What do you think of jicama, mango, coconut milk, and curry powder? Watermelon, feta, mint, and olive? (Actually, I've made that one before, and it's terrific.) Dandelion greens with preserved lemon and feta? He's classifications are a bit loose (he sneaks anchovies into the vegetarian listings), but there's really something for everybody. Check it out: if you add some good bread, you can get a killer meal that only requires chopping.

And now I'm off for a week-long conference in Michigan. See you soon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The fight continues

We've identified the bully: the BlackandWhite cat. That's what we call him - feel free to suggest something more appropriate to a bully. Bruno? Butch?

After naming our enemy, our next step was to formulate a plan of attack. Andrew bought a water gun after researching the best choice in Popular Mechanics. (A good academic researches everything.) Here he is, preparing for battle.

Andrew put Phi out in the garden on her leash as bait, and then waited. The first night was unsuccessful, because the BlackandWhite cat spotted his stalker. The second night, Andrew chose a more hidden location, but the cat never appeared. Progress is slow, but the oppressor will be vanquished.

Friday, July 17, 2009

As requested, orecchiette in four easy steps

1. Mix the dough. This is a piece of cake if you have a heavy-duty mixer. If you don’t I suggest making cakes instead – they’re easier to stir. Throw in your bowl: 2 cups flour, 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon each of water, oil, and salt. Let the dough hook knead it forever, or at least until you get tired of waiting. My experience is that the longer you let it knead, the more tender your pasta will be.

2. Roll out the dough into cylinders with a diameter of about ½ “.

3. Squish each piece in the middle. Use lots of flour at this stage, and when you lay the finished orccchiette out.


They'll look like this.

4. But once I cooked the first batch, I realized that they’re better if they're squished out flatter. Take a look at the finished product, mixed with pesto sauce. I pressed out each piece so that it had a diameter of about 1 ½” and I tried to press the centers just a bit more than the edges, so they would cook evenly.

These really aren’t that hard, as long as you have a machine to knead the dough. Now that I’ve made them a few times, I can roll out the dough (which makes enough for three adult servings) in about fifteen minutes. They last in the fridge about a week, with wax paper between the layers. And did I mention that they are delicious?


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The garden offensive

There's a new bully in the neighborhood, and the fact that he is a cat does not make me dislike him any less. My cat, Phi, often spends time outside, where she wears a harness and is attached to a line. She likes to sit under the pine tree and dream of catching squirrels. (A dream that does not seem likely to come true, as mousing is not apparently one of her skills.) On Sunday, we let her out for a few hours. When we brought her in, we noticed her safety collar had come off and she had a tiny scratch near her eye. I wasn't too worried because she's gotten tangled up in the branches before. But after last night's session outside, she had a tiny sliver of her ear ripped off. I'm so mad, and I feel terrible for her, because she's tied up and can't get away from scary cats. She's also ten years old and only weights seven pounds, so the bully is picking on a tiny old lady.

Andrew has grand plans for a cat-frightening device, which involves motion detectors and sprinklers. But in the end we will probably just sit outside with a bucket of water until the bully cat shows up and dowse him.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday evening

My week goes a little bit smoother if I can get a good chunk of cooking done before the workweek starts. And I do this at the same time every week - Sunday at 7pm, when "The Big Broadcast" comes on. This is a radio show playing classics from Way Back When, like Gunsmoke and Dragnet. The old shows entertain me while I work, even though I am a little saddened by how many characters die on Gunsmoke every week.

Last night decided to document all that I was doing, so that those of you who don't cook that much can see what preparation cooking can offer you.

The first thing I started was a pot of lentils, which eventually turned into lentil soup, pictured on the right. I try to make at least a gallon of bean soup at a time, because Andrew eats it every day for lunch, and it freezes pretty well.

("There's just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers, and that's with a U.S. Marshall and the smell of... Gunsmoke.")


Next I prepped vegetables. I had bought corn and green beans at the market, so I blanched them for use later this week. Here's a picture of everything resting in the cold water bath. We might eat the veggies cold, on a salad, or I might throw the beans in a stir fry and make the corn into soup. But this way the corn won't have gone bad waiting in the fridge, and the next cooking will go quickly. (Plus, I've noticed that having pre-cooked veggies like this means we eat more of them.)

For dinner we had Vietnamese spring rolls, filled with tofu and red pepper, served with peanut sauce. I love these but I don't get to eat them often; all the ingredients come from the Asian supermarket, which is a long drive from our house. Yesterday I finally figured out the secret words to convince Andrew to go there for me: "Why don't you take the motorcycle?"



Lastly, I made a dessert which we can enjoy all week. Excuse the terrible picture, but trust me that it tastes great. It's a cherry cake, made from this recipe.

("The fabulous freelance insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account.... Yours truly, Johnny Dollar.")

Friday, July 10, 2009

A bit more of Boston

I'm heading into another writing weekend and it's unlikely I'll be unable to blog for a while, so I thought I'd throw up a few pictures of our vacation to keep you all entertained.

Andrew loves hiking. He also loves landscapes and animals. So when I downloaded the pictures from the previous two weeks, I found two hundred photos of rocks, water, and animals (snakes, squirrels, and birds, mostly) and a grand total of three pictures of either Andrew or me. So take a look at the following picture and imagine looking at a hundred and fifty more just like it:
Because it was so gray and rainy in Boston, the few pictures we took look less than inspiring. I liked this bridge over the Charles River because it looks like the Washington monument doing the splits:

And if we had managed to take more picture of ourselves, they would all show happy people eating.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A tourist in DC, part two

Independence Day weekend gave me another excuse to tour through my own city again. Saturday we went and saw the fireworks downtown with our good friend D. Viewing the fireworks show they put on over the National Mall is one of those things I've always meant to do: what could be more patriotic than explosions over the Washington Monument? But it's also one of those events that looks a bit less inviting up close. Who wants to spend the entire day staking out a place at the Mall to get a good view for a twenty minute show? In the end, we compromised a bit and found a park with a good view next to the Potomac which only required a three-hour stakeout and a half-hour walk to the car. And it was plenty enjoyable. I wasn't that wowed by the fireworks themselves (must be the recession) but it was still a great way to celebrate.

My brother and his family were in town for a brief visit, which gave us an excuse to head downtown the next day too. We began with lunch at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, which boasts a food court featuring cuisine from up and down both Americas. The ingredients are always traditional - corn, cactus, grains, etc., but they put it away together in modern ways. Highlights of my lunch included a hibiscus-guava fresca, which tasted pleasantly (and strongly) of flowers, and Indian pudding, a corn and molasses pudding.

We made a brief appearance in a few Smithsonians, but the highlight for Andrew and I was the Smithsonian Folklife festival. This is an annual festival on the Mall spotlighting music, food, and history of featured countries. In the "Music of the Americas" pavilion we caught a concert by a mariachi band. They were excellent - every one of the sixteen performers could play a traditional instrument and sing solos. At the end we found out that they were a high school mariachi group from San Diego and that blew me away. I can't imagine being that talented at anything when I was seventeen.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Damp

I will forever think of Boston as the "Seattle of the East Coast." After my conference ended in Maine, Andrew picked me up (in the rain) and we spent one last day walking around Bar Harbor (in the rain). Then we drove down to Boston (in the rain), set up the tent (in the rain), and spent the next week sightseeing (in the rain). Except for the last day and a half, it rained/misted/poured more or less continuously. The title of the post refers to the state of us and all of our belongings. During the day, we'd wander around under the giant golf umbrella, spending lots of time having lunch or coffee in warm cafes. (Did I mention it was cold, too?) Then we'd come back to the campsite and crawl into our damp, and by the end, slightly moldy, sleeping bags. I can not tell you the joy I felt upon arriving home and sleeping in a dry bed.

In spite of that, it was a great trip. The camping wasn't all that enjoyable, but it's a choice I don't regret. Our lodging bill for the whole week? Less than a hundred dollars. That meant that we could blow the budget on food, which is what we did, with gusto. I made reservations at all the restaurants I could find with prix fixe vegetarian offers. Our vacation, therefore, was framed by three terrific meals. Rather than bore you with long menu lists, let me recommend these restaurants if you're in the Boston area: Craigie on the Main, Ten Tables, and Oleana.

Eating all this great food has inspired me to try new things in my cooking. Specifically, I have resolved:
1. To use more fruit in my cooking. I already include a lot of mangoes, strawberries, and apples in salads, but I want to use it other savory food. We had a great toasted cheese sandwich with quince jam served with a side of chilled melon soup. Another outstanding combination was a mango-beet salsa topped with avocado.
2.To eat more arugula. I love arugula - why don't I eat it more? (I know the answer to this: I can't figure out where to buy it.)
3. To remember that pasta doesn't have to have a sauce. One of my favorite dishes of the week was homemade orecchiette ("little ears") pasta tossed with browned, buttered breadcrumbs, bitter rapini, and a rather smooth feta cheese.

My first attempt to do this? On Sunday I made orecchiette and tossed it with Gorgonzola, spinach, and toasted walnuts. The cheese melted so it was sort of sauce-y, but it was at least a change from marinara. And homemade orecchiette needs to become a regular item at our house. I find the chewiness a pleasant change from homemade fettuccine, and they're big enough that they don't take too long to form into the little ear shapes.