Friday, July 29, 2011

Places I've been: Mountain Lake, Minnesota

My mother grew up near the small town of Mountain Lake, Minnesota (population 2,104). My father was more of a big city boy, living near Windom (population 4600). I don't get a chance to visit very often; this June was the first time since Andrew and I met that I've been to visit. Mountain Lake is misnamed slightly: it has a mountain (although you'd only call it one if you lived in the Plains) and it has a lake, but they're not near each other. And the only reason it now has a lake is because the town used a Works Progress Administration project (during the Depression) to dam a river and make a lake.
My mother has six brothers and sisters who live within driving distance of Mountain Lake, and I got to see them all. (It turns out some of them have been secretly reading my blog, too!) When I imagine living in Mountain Lake, I can see how different my life would be. I'd have to have a different job - there are no physicist jobs around. I'd have to have a different religion, or at least stop going to my type of church - most of the churches are Mennonite, as all of my ancestors were. And I'd have to eat different food - there were no veggies burgers in town. But there would be rewards as well. Many of the houses are built in the early and mid 1900's; they are surrounded by large trees and set near the street. It's easy to walk around town, and it's surprising how often I bump into an uncle or two when I'm wandering around.
And as a matter of fact, I'm headed back there this weekend. I have a conference in Omaha, Nebraska next week, which puts me only four hours' drive away from my grandmother and her 90th birthday party. I'm supposed to be a surprise visitor, because I had already said I wouldn't come before I realized how close I would be. But I don't think this post will ruin the surprise - my grandmother does not know how to work a computer.

So, while I'm gone, some other impressions of southwest Minnesota:
Since I've last been there, they went and got all modern: there are wind farms everywhere.
The good ole Green Giant in Blue earth - we used to visit him on our way to our grandparents. (For non-Americans, the Green Giant was/is a icon of a brand of frozen and canned vegetables)

Monday, July 25, 2011

A new cooking challenge: Tortes

Remember how I wanted to learn to cook Indian, so I promised to make it once a week last year? That failed. I managed to cook quite a few Indian dishes, but few of them appeared on the blog because they just weren't that spectacular. Andrew and I would eat them, and they were moderately tasty, but nothing that I wanted to encouraged other people to make. As a result, I've put that project on hold until I can take some proper lessons from someone who knows how to make proper Indian food.

Instead, I introduce my new cooking challenge: tortes. For some reason (perhaps centuries of national animosity?), the French bakery where I trained rarely made tortes. So I can whip up pate a choux, buttercream, and eclairs in my sleep, but I can't make a proper German cake. My trip last year to Muenchen reminded me how terrific these layered cakes, concoctions of cream, fruit, and nuts, really are. The introductory contestant is the Eierlikoertorte, from a recipe shared by a colleague, who has much more experience with German baking, as he is (1) German and (2) bakes more professionally than I do.

Eierlikoer is a cordial made of cream, eggs, and alcohol. Because I live in Miami, I couldn't buy the typical Northern European brands, but it turns out the Venezuelans like it too. The end result was a flourless cake (just almonds, chocolate, and lots of eggs), layered with a lingonberry jam and topped with whipped cream and more egg liquor. It was a smashing success.

P.S. Does anyone know how to include foreign characters, like umlauts, in blogger posts? I think this project will require heavy use of them.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

How many of me?

I was taking a break from a day-long cook-a-thon (pictures tomorrow, I promise), when I saw this website:

It uses census data from 2000 to tell you how many people in the U.S. have your name. There's a grand total of 1 of me, although there are at least 308 people in the U.S. have my husband's combination of first and last name. The fun part of my situation is that there's never any doubt who authored my papers. The not-so-fun part is that every time I'm asked to give my name on the phone, I have to stifle a little groan. It's guaranteed that I'll have to spell every name, usually twice. And then (unless it's legally binding) I'll just go along with whatever the caller thinks I said. Last week someone put an 'f' in my last name.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wednesday is now the day to prod people

Too much of my job here involves getting people to do things they don't want to do. Graduate students get back to me, and bosses return my emails. But there are other people in my work life who either can't or won't do the things I'd like them to do. I suspect that this is due to the fact that I live in Miami. Procrastinating is just the complete immersion into Miami Time (which is closely related to Cuban Time)
For example, I've been here over a year, and it took me until this week to get a working key to the graduate student office. That room requires electronic access, which means someone had to input my ID number into a computer somewhere, and someone else had to input my ID number into the door reader itself. It took me months to even figure out who was responsible for these tasks, and then uncountable numbers of emails and phone calls. This was such an effort that I actually listed "Get key card access to the graduate student office" as one of my professional goals during my first-year employment review.
I have regular reminders in my calendar so that I remember to bug all the people I need to bug. Today it occurred to me that it would be more efficient to designate one day as "The day to prod". So now, every Wednesday morning, I'm going to go down the list and gently agitate each person who's supposed to be doing something for me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

If you deep fry your salad is it still healthy?

I had a dinner party this weekend, and once again failed to take pictures. So you'll have to use your imagination a bit for this post. I've been trying a new strategy for dinner parties. I plan fewer courses (three or four) and I choose one item to be a showstopper, which is often something I've never made before. If I end up with extra prep time, as I have lately, I'll try to throw together an amuse bouche with whatever's lying around. Thus, the menu this weekend was:
Dessert: Blueberry Clafoutis
Unless you studied those recipes, it will not be obvious that the salad was the most time-consuming (but amazing!) of those recipes. The salad was relatively straightforward: greens, nuts, apricots, and herbs. The dressing was quite nice (although infusing oil by cooking it with lemon zest was not worth the time). The egg that topped the salad, though, made it something worth remembering. It was a complex preparation. First, I soft-boiled the eggs and then chilled them. After peeling, they were double dipped in a crumb mixture, and then deep fried right before they were placed on the salad. I think it's the closest thing a vegetarian will ever get to a Scotch egg.
Everything else on the menu was made from a recipe I knew well. The clafoutis, a baked product that I only discovered last year, is so easy: fruit in a pie tin covered in a pancake-like batter and baked. It's so much easier than pie, but allows me the same opportunity for showcasing summer fruit. The only hitch is I can't figure out how to pronounce 'clafoutis'. Does someone out there speak French?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Born in 1921

My grandmother Ruby is 90 years old today. There's so much of her life that I can't even imagine. She gave birth to eight children, lived on a farm that didn't have running water until after my mother was born, and raised and cooked most of the food her family of ten needed. As a result, today I have seven aunts and uncles that love me, and in a few weeks they'll all be getting together to celebrate nine decades. I won't be there, so here's my good wishes. Happy 90th, Grandma!

Friday, July 08, 2011

How do you make cat socks?

I need some engineering and design help. You may recall that Phi the cat, suffering from an eye injury, has been exploring the finer points of haberdashery with her cone:

She's been stuck in this cone for two months, and I feel terrible about it. She's so much happier without it, when she can bathe and run around and eat out of a bowl. But in order to take it off permanently, I need to prevent her from scratching her eye. She only has claws on the back paws, so I made her these socks:

The socks are made of tube sock material, and I sewed some extra elastic around the tops. She can't shake them off, but they only stay on a few hours before she pulls out of them. Does anyone have any ideas? Should I tape on the socks? Dip her feet in rubber? All suggestions are welcomed, short of stuffing her. We're rather fond of Phi.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

New wheels

The fish-mobile (otherwise known as a '95 Ford station wagon) has been making some funny noises lately. I had always hoped that it would get us through graduate school, and now that Andrew and I are both graduated and gainfully employed, I decided I couldn't ask for much more. Andrew could have kept repairing it, but the allure of a more fun, more reliable car was too great for me to ignore.
We used the long Fourth of July weekend to go new(er)-car shopping. It was a draining experience for me, because I am loath to part with money. You can call me frugal or you can call me a cheapskate, but even though I wanted to treat myself to a car, I was scared by the actual amount of money that I'd be required to part with. I take after my parents - you may recall that it took them ten years to buy a house, while a furnace purchasetook two years. In exasperation, my husband declared that if everyone was like me (and my family), the entire world economy would collapse. Which is true, but the garage sale economy would skyrocket.
Eventually, though, we made a decision. The fish station wagon is gone to a (better?) place, and we've got a new (to us) car:
I think it's just the car for a childless couple in Miami.