Monday, March 30, 2009

Foiled again... America's puritanical leanings. Some friends and I are organizing a camping trip. Our requirements: a place to have a campfire, space to hike, and the right to drink wine with dinner. That last one is doing us in. It seems that state parks up and down the East Coast (and maybe in the rest of the country, too, although we hadn't really considered driving from DC to Colorado for a weekend of camping) have been banning alcohol at their campsites. I understand their concerns about rowdy drunks, but I'm frustrated that once again there's little room for reasonable alcohol consumption in public. I have a drink every night with dinner, and it's become an accepted part of the meal for me. It's like they banned bread at state parks. Sure, I could plan meals to only feature potatoes and rice, but why?

In happier news, Andrew now has his motorcycle license. My family is so proud. For them, this is a bigger sign that he's joined the family than that silly marriage ceremony.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The sinking feeling when you hear that click

Door locks and I have a long and rather troubled history. One apartment I lived in had a front door lock that frequently became stuck. The first few times this happened, I called the super and the maintenance guy would come by and open the door with my key by simply turning it repeatedly in the lock - Five or ten minutes of that and I'd be in. My complaints to management fell on deaf ears, but one fine day I found myself locked inside the one-room, one-door apartment. The possibility of a tenant trapped inside a burning building because the lock couldn't be turned finally convinced them to replace the lock.

My next adventure with locks occurred when I was house sitting a few years later. I ran out of the house in my pajamas and bathrobe to grab the newspaper and let the door lock behind me. Several people had spare keys; unfortunately it was Thanksgiving and they were all hundreds of miles away. In the end, I thanked my lucky stars that I had a spare car key stashed on my car. I drove home where I could get dressed and had a locksmith let me in to the other house. (A side note: I was dismayed that a locksmith would let me into a house that I admitted wasn't mine without any kind of ID or approval from the owners.)

I've locked myself out of our current house once or twice, but luckily I have a husband with keys and a landlord who not only has spare keys but who also almost never leaves the house. Unfortunately, today Andrew was away at an all-day event and the landlord is on a trip. (You can already see where this is going, can't you?) While answering the door (wearing my pajamas and bathrobe, of course) I locked myself out of my apartment. I didn't lock the outside door, though, so I didn't have to contend with the heavy external door and multiple locks - just one oh-so-important lock. Using a borrowed phone, I called a friend who lives close by and owns tools. He also, it turns out, knows how to pick locks. In the end, the lock picking was supplemented with some well-placed levering, and I was in again.

I'm thinking of sewing spare house keys into my bathrobe lining.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Things that made me happy today

1. I have a big bunch of daffodils from Trader Joe's on my desk. Every time I look up from my computer their cheery yellowness makes me smile.

2. I crossed TWO things off my to-do list today.

3. My nephew decided to make his appearance:
(Mom and baby are both doing well.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A spring feast

I don't know what hit me, but I was in the mood for serious cooking this weekend. I invited a friend, Mr D.,  well know for his love of food (see: pork, butchering and eating) and I made us a feast in honor of spring.

First course: homemade bread with lemon goat cheese and chives. The bread was supposed to be flavored with dill, but the 1/2 cup of fresh dill I added to the dough before baking seemed to get lost. The topping of goat cheese and lemon zest was marvelous, though, and I think next time I'll just sprinkle the dill on top. (Spring-y ingredients: dill and lemon, plus chives cut from the garden)

Second course: Cream of asparagus soup. Simple, but good. (Spring-y ingredient: asparagus)

Third course: A roasted asparagus and cherry tomato salad, topped with walnuts and balsamic dressing. (Spring-y ingredient: you just can't eat too much asparagus.)
Fourth course: Cheese ravioli and smoky tomato sauce. (Spring-y ingredients: okay, nothing. And this was actually the least exciting course, but you can't live on asparagus alone.)
Dessert course: Raspberry mousse cake. (Spring-y ingredient: raspberries) A genoise layered with raspberry whipped cream and a kirsch flavored syrup. I had been looking forward to this all week, and it was as wonderful as I hoped. It tasted like a proper European dessert, not too sweet, but rich and full of berry flavor. This was straight out of the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, an encyclopedia of everything baked. I have never been dissatisfied with a single recipe I've made from it. (Thanks for the book, Motherrocker!) 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New beginnings

We haven't seen the sun in five days, but spring is close; I can feel it. The tree right outside my bedroom window, that always blooms with outrageous red pompoms, is in full flower. And my other sure marker of spring - the weekend visit of prospective graduate students - is next week. I've always suspected the university of timing that visit so that it happens at peak bloomy-ness in Maryland. When, like me, you've lived in an overcast place like Cleveland to do your undergraduate work, and then you walk on to the Maryland campus, with blue skies blazing and flowers bursting forth, you naturally think, "It would be springtime all the time if I lived here!" This distracts you from the misery of graduate school that you are signing up for.
I've solved my computer woes, I think. My advisor left her old laptop with our group when she upgraded; since I'm the only person who uses it, I've commandeered it. It solves a lot of my software issues because now I'll only be using one computer regularly instead of the previous four. I'm thinking of splurging for a new battery too, even if I'll only be using for the year and a half I left. The idea of having a laptop that actually works without being plugged in is rather heady. This is the third laptop I've ever had, and every one has been a hand-me-down. This has the obvious benefit that I have never paid one thin time towards a laptop, but all three have therefore had non-usable batteries. I have grand dreams of writing my thesis while sitting under trees in the front yard (which I have actually done in the past, using my husband's laptop, but that required the use of an extra-long extension cord).

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Today I had the tremendous luck of finding something that I didn't even know I needed until I had it. Usually such a discovery would have been carefully planned by the R&D gurus at apple, but my good fortune occurred at the public library. Some background: I'm taking a course this semester, my very last required course ever, on the philosophy of quantum mechanics. So far I've understood most of the concepts, mainly because we've been discussing the quantum mechanics part of it. But I've seen the philosophy discussions looming on the horizon, and I'm a wee bit worried that at some point I'll no longer understand the lectures. While I should go to the school library and check out some dry tome on philosophy, I had avoided it thus far. But today, while I was waiting in line to check out my books at the public library, there was a display of new books. One of the featured books (which mainly concerned themselves with taxes or the economy), was a book written on precisely the philosophical topic we're discussing this semester. And it's written for the general public, which means it's readable and understandable. I'm so happy about my good fortune that I've resolved the read the entire book this weekend.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I made tactical error while packing my lunch today. I always have miso soup to start, and I will sometimes throw in a few cubes of tofu, as I did today. Likewise, I usually have a fruit or vegetable in one of the four bento containers. As it is the end of the week we are low on fresh veggies, so I chose edamame because I keep an emergency stash in the freezer. My mistake, though, was in choosing to make a bean curd skin salad as  my main dish, although I love it dearly. It turns out that three servings of different soybean products is just toooo much beany protein for one meal. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Computer woes

Last month I completed a very boring data entry job. I had pages and pages of notes on what I've read over the past few years: summaries, citations, etc. There are various programs that exist to help academics organize this kind of notes, with the added bonus of quickly generating bibliographies while you write. I didn't exactly enjoy the 15 hours I spent putting all these notes into new program, but it was a break from the thinking kind of work I normally do, and I hope that I have entered into a new, more productive era of literature reviews. 

In other computer news, there's some nasty virus going around the computer world. Apparently my desktop socializes more than I realize, and it got sick last week. The computer geeks scanned, and tweaked, and cleansed until they pronounced it all good. And then this week, again, my computer wouldn't boot, and they declared it dead. There was nothing left to do but wipe it clean, and I assured them that I had backed up everything in January. So they erased. 

Then I remembered all those little citations and notes that I had carefully entered, right after I backed up the computer. And suddenly they were all just a memory. So now I get to do it all again.

Monday, March 09, 2009

I must admit I'm a bit tired of looking at my computer

This weekend was my first writing retreat. I have a friend in Philly who's also trying to work on her dissertation (although she's a bit further along than me), and we've decided to spend about a weekend a month at our very own writing retreats. This time I drove up there on Friday night and we had a terrific evening catching up. Then we worked all day Saturday and all day Sunday. I wrote the most I've ever written in one day, I think. And it's nice to have a buddy working nearby: you know you can't stop working because someone will notice, and you have someone to decompress with at the end of the day.

(I must admit, though, that the real reason I go to Philadelphia as often as I do is the gelato store that is a half-hour walk from my friends' house. This time we had orange-cardamom and bittersweet chocolate.)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A tourist in Baltimore, part three

A parental visit last weekend provided me with the excuse for another tourist day. And so it was on to another free art museum in Baltimore. Who knew they had so many? The Baltimore art museum had a little bit of everything. Since I tend to prefer the boring old classics, I spent most of my time in the European paintings of the last 500 years. But they also had collections of quilts and African art for my mother, furniture for my father, and modern art for my husband. Here's a shot of Andrew and I puzzling out the pieces in the Andy Warhol room. 

We finished off the day with dinner with mezze, the Lebanese version of tapas. (Or maybe tapas are the Spanish version of mezze; I'm not sure.) Half of the plates were adequate and half were outstanding. The best were fluffy spinach fritters that tasted like onion rings, cool yogurt dips (tzatziki), and a dish of only two ingredients: portobello mushrooms topped with haloumi cheese. It's always a joy to taste a few simple ingredients, put together perfectly.

As a cook, I really appreciate going out for a meal composed of small plates. I make tapas at home, and I enjoy the food, but often I'm so worn out after composing all the different recipes that I don't even want to eat. I just want a big glass of wine and a nap. So I enjoy having the opportunity to simply teat.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Snow day!

(Well, it seems like a lot of snow when you live in Maryland...) And for the highlight of my weekend, read this.