Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick or Treat!

We celebrated Halloween last night, at a costume party. Andrew worked on his costume all day. Can you tell what he is?

I was a godess, Athena to be exact. She's the goddess of war and wisdom. I couldn't find an owl to perch on my shoulder, so I'm a bit heavier on the war than on the wisdom part.

I hope you were all duly impressed by Andrew's costume, because the other guests were. He won the prize. Sadly, there is no place for the tree costume in our tiny home, so it's already been, erm, composted.

Monday, October 25, 2010


When I finished graduate school and got a post-doc position, my salary approximately doubled. The thought of this increase is one of the things that got me through the six or seven years of graduate school. We've tried to remain frugal, because while the our income increased we now have two households to support. But I have allowed myself a few indulgences. First off, I upgraded the quality of gin I drink, and I've started buying sparkling water (which I love, but how could I justify paying good money for water and air?).

I think I've added one more indulgence to the list. I've been a newspaper reader for decades. Even when I was a poverty-stricken chef-in-training in Albuquerque who couldn't afford a subscription, my uncle and aunt would save their papers for me. I'd pick them up each week and ration them out, reading one each day, exactly one week late, so that I could have a paper every day. Living in DC spoiled me, I know, because the Washington Post is a terrific paper. Even now, when Andrew comes to visit, instead of flowers he brings me a copy of the Post. The Miami Herald is, unfortunately, a pale imitation. I mean, it has two sports sections, almost no business news, and I've already mentioned the plastic surgery column. So I've been supplementing with a weekly New York times. The Sunday Times costs a whopping $6 an issue, which is more than I like to pay for a lunch. But it comes so jam-packed with readable material that I can work on it all week, and the only side effect is that it makes me want to move to New York.

And so I ask, if you had a bit of extra money to spend on one new, regular indulgence, what would it be?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Practice makes perfect

This is going to sound obvious, but sometimes the best way for me to improve my cooking is to just keep doing it. In graduate school, I decided that I'd like to make really good chocolate mousse, so I just kept making it, week after week, until it was consistently just right. (After all, even poorly executed chocolate mousse is no great hardship to eat.)

When I moved to Miami, I inadvertently improved my pasta making skills. I liked eating homemade pasta, no one (aka my husband) was around to ask for variety, so I just ate fresh pasta and marinara sauce every night. I've discovered that I can make a large batch at once and freeze individual portions, so it's not as much work as it seems. And since I've made the dough a dozen times, I know exactly what the texture should be, how long it needs to be kneaded in the mixer, and even how to simultaneously feed dough into pasta machine, turn the crank, and pull it out (without growing a third arm).

So I was thinking that I'd like to get better at Indian cooking. I love to eat Indian, but cooking a meal always seems like an all-day affair. Partly that's because when I like Indian buffets - I want the bread, and the raita, and a couple of curries, and some rice and dal. And then I'm too tired to eat what I've made. But it might also be that I'm just not sufficiently familiar with Indian cuisine, and that I could get faster with practice. So I've vowed to make two Indian dishes a week, which will conveniently make up my school lunches. (And I can keep eating pasta for dinner every night.)

This week's attempts were aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower) and eggplant cashew rice. They were both good, but the eggplant rice was better, because it had a range of textures. I always think of Indian food being quite heavy, but if you stay away from both paneer and cream-sauce dishes, as I did this week, it turns out that you don't get enough calories. I've been hungry every afternoon. I guess a little more ghee wouldn't go amiss.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Growing pains

My new academic home feels different than my old campus, and that's not just due to the palm trees and fountains here. It's also because Florida International University is, so to speak, a young whippersnapper.The university was founded in the 1970s, and it was about twenty years ago that it was classified as a Doctoral/Research University. (This is a classification that tells you about the primary focus of the university - whether it's teaching, a lot of research and what kinds of degrees it offers - associate's, bachelor's, or PhDs.) The physics department here only started offering doctoral degrees a few years ago.

Compared to other American universities, which may have been around a hundred or so years, thirty-something is pretty young. You can tell we're still growing because they're constructing a half a dozen buildings at once. We're always short classrooms, which means the classroom nearest to my office has classes most days from 8am to 8pm. Because 90% of the students commute, they can't study together in their dorm rooms, and there's not enough places to meet in the library and student union. So students meet outside in walkways, and sometimes in hallways, to work.

Parking is one of the most serious deficiencies. Because I have a faculty parking permit, I'm lucky enough to get a parking space as long as I arrive before 11am. Students that want a convenient spot try to arrive around 8am. If you arrive at 9am or 10, there's really only one solution, and it's a very civilized one. You join a queue. In each parking lot, at the exit door on each floor, a line of cars waits. When a student who's leaving emerges from the door, the first car follows that student to their parking space and takes their place. Then the whole queue advances one car length. It still means that you have to wait dozens of minutes, but now instead of cruising all over campus, you can conveniently read (or text) from the comfort of your car while you wait.

Monday, October 04, 2010


I know, in my head, that Miami has two seasons, rainy and dry. And I think I'm starting to understand, for real, that that means it's always going to be summer. Since I moved here in May the days have been humid and daily high is in the low 90's F (low 30s C). Now the temperatures have dropped to the mid-80s F (high 20s C), and I have been informed that this is fall.

Fall - real fall, when the air gets crisp and you can wear a jacket and kick leaves as you walk down the street - is my favorite season. I'm going to miss it quite a bit this year. I've managed to schedule some winter weather for myself, with a long weekend in Chicago in November and a Christmas week in Ohio. But there will be no leaves crunching beneath my feet nor any impetus to start cooking with pumpkins and apples.

The most unusual "fall" experience I've had in Miami? I had to walk through the Christmas display at Home Depot to get to the garden section where I was buying some seedlings for my herb garden.

Andrew thinks we should get a Christmas palm instead of a Christmas pine tree this year.