29 November 2008

Thanksgiving Recapped

I celebrated my first Thanksgiving away from home and it made me realize two things: a) my friends are wonderful and b) I really want a *real* dining room table instead of the card table that we inherited from Kyle. I sent an open invitation to the department and had about 12 people show up. It was the perfect size for the party and now I'm looking forward to planning a miniature white-elephant exchange Christmas party.

I took a lot of recipes from all over and modified them to fit my tastes/pantry. I made the homemade rolls from the pioneer woman cooks, which were tasty if not a bit heavy. Turkey, of course, with stuffing a la Chris complete with breakfast sausage and sour dough bread from the farmers market. We also had the Alton Brown version turkey and green bean casserole (although, I didn't have the patience or time to make my own french fried onions). Both came out wonderfully, and the turkey was made even better with cranberry apple chutney. There were also mashed potatoes with roasted garlic (along with plenty of cream and butter) and we mashed sweet potatoes from the farmer's market with cream, butter, smoked sweet paprika, and just a hint of cayenne. We also had apple and pumpkin pies which were made courtesy of my new pink KitchenAid stand mixer. Way tasty and easy too! :) In all, it was very successful and I'm looking forward to winding down the rest of the semester and going home.

27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

The preparations for Thanksgiving are very much under way. In the past couple of weeks, I've done some test run on side dishes, and I've definitely come across some really awesome recipes. :) Currently, the test pumpkin pie is half eaten, and sitting in the refrigerator and the apple pie is in the oven. I think that later today will be a well orchestrated dance between oven and stove top, made more complicated by a relatively small kitchen and four people who want to be in it.

Here's the menu at current:

Turkey a la Alton Brown
Sour Dough + Challah bread dressing
green bean casserole a la Alton Brown
roasted garlic mashed potatoes
roasted sweet potatoes with smoked sweet paprika
home made dinner rolls
apple cranberry chutney
apple pie
pumpkin pie

Sooooooooo excited! :)

24 November 2008

I should be working on stuff...

but, a couple things. Bradley Meyer wrote a review article in Astronomy and Astrophysics about p-,r-,s- processes and slipped in a quotation from Confucius:

The Master said, "Ssu, I believe you look upon me as one whose aim is simply to learn and retain in mind as many things as possible." He replied, "That is what I thought. Is it not so?" The Master said, "No; I have one thread on which I string them all."

This appears right after a plot of the solar abundances versus atomic number and right before a discussion on entropy that I skipped because, um, it was difficult to follow.

The best ever line in a prestigious refereed journal, however, has to be George Wallerstein's last line in his paper with Chris Sneden (my thesis advisor) about an especially lithium-enhanced metal-poor star (read: it has a lot of something that it shouldn't and it's really fricken old).

Such putative planetary systems, however, might be good candidates for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence because the inhabitants of their outer planets might be screaming for help as they watch their inner planets disappear into their central star.

Some background: the star had too much lithium in it, so there needed to be some sort of mechanism that created it. One creation scenario involves a star basically engulfing its planets, which are rich in lithium. Think the Sun eating Mercury (yum!). There are other complications that make this an unfavorable enrichment mechanism so he just slipped that last line in for funsies. Granted, this paper was written four years before I was born (1982), so perhaps astronomers were much more footloose and fancy free?

More posts later about what I'm making for Thanksgiving and how. But that's for later. I have to go work on a stupid outreach project that I've been putting off for weeks and write a talk explaining the s-process element abundances in planetary nebulae. Not fun. Although, I may finally use that kitchenaid stand mixer to make a batch of cookies because, um, I sort of don't have any motivation to be awake other than cooking.

23 November 2008

A Love Letter

Dear Rich-People-Who-Drive-SUVs-and-Shop-at-Whole-Foods,

I'd like to bring you out of your admittedly cushy, yet self-absorbed worlds for just a minute or two to make you aware of a few facts that will enlighten and, perhaps, encourage you to not look like, excuse my French, jackasses. I am a graduate student. In fact, I am a graduate student that just dropped an ill-afforded 800 bucks on repairs to my newly acquired 2000 Taurus such that it would start all the time, not just when it felt like it. Given that I am a graduate student of the hard sciences, I have become adept at things like "math" and furthermore, since I am an astronomy graduate student, I have begun to hone my observational skills. These skills have extended beyond the classroom and out into other areas of my life, including those times in which I find myself driving my car. I put these hard-earned skills to work today when I swerved to avoid you as you nearly ran me off the road because you were too busy to pay attention to figure out when to get over such that you could buy your most favorite organically grown produce items. In the future, if you could simply hang up your phone and PAY ATTENTION TO THE F*CKING ROAD, I would greatly appreciate that. Have a very happy holiday!



19 November 2008

Big Three Bailout

I've been following the bailout proceedings as best I can, with a rather personal position on the whole thing. I didn't really understand why the housing bailout should pass because I didn't really understand the housing crisis, but I get the auto industry. There have been four generations of Ford employees in my family, starting with my great-grandpa who had his checks signed by Henry Ford himself. My dad worked at Ford for over thirty years and now he's seriously in danger of losing the majority of his pension. GM looks like it might be the first to fold, which is problematic, because if one company goes, the much smaller suppliers will fold and then the other auto companies won't be able to make cars because they won't have parts and they too will fold. There has been speculation that foreign auto companies will come in and take up the slack, but for a country that has been patriotic to the point of stupidity, how can they be comfortable with that? Also, Honda doesn't care about the good of the American auto worker.

What many people don't seem to understand is that if there is no bailout, not only will the companies fold, but there will be jobs lost. What is also ignored is that there are thousands of people who have worked hard their entire adult lives in the industry who were promised a pension and retired with that money in mind. If any of the companies declare bankruptcy, those pensions will be drastically cut. How is it that any citizen could be so lacking in compassion that they would laugh at the lack of foresight of the auto industry? Why is there a lack of the same sort of understanding that was given to those people who stupidly bought houses they couldn't afford? All these stupid auto industry workers did was work hard for decades, save enough money to retired, and expect a pension. Yeah, I suppose those people were stupid for trying to plan ahead, instead of, you know, not looking at the fact that the appreciation rate for homes was ridiculous compared to the increase in salaries and then buying a house that they clearly could not afford.

At this point, pointing fingers back at the auto industry for lacking foresight does no one any good. In a small defense, the American auto companies developed cars that they could be competitive with and that they had carefully examined through R&D. Speaking of which, all of those jobs are gone now too. I think that everyone who has labeled themselves as a conservative (especially a Christian conservative) needs to back business, because that's what they do, right? And anyone who has labeled themselves as a human being, needs to work to help thousands of their brothers and sisters retain their jobs. The reason why I've always stayed away from economics as an interest is because it always disgusted me in how it ignores individuals. Claiming that a 4% unemployment rate is good, is saying that it's okay to have >12 million people out of work. Call me crazy, but I don't see that teaching the auto industry a "lesson" as something that is productive or healthy, because, seriously, what happened to caring about one's fellow man?

13 November 2008

I should be sitting in class right now, listening to a lecture on inverse Compton scattering, which is... well, um I guess I could tell you if I were there. I'm sure that wikipedia will tell me shortly after this post. This week has been one filled with shortcomings of some sort or another; missing class, or so it seems, falls in order with the failure motif of the week. Maybe it was the kidney infection, but maybe not. I spent all Saturday and Sunday working on a longshot of a grant proposal and again on Monday, until about 430 cst, when it was submitted. Somewhere in the frenzy that was Monday, the first failure occurred.

I forgot to take the last Cipro of the bottle. Now this seems as though it is a matter of little significance, in part because it is, but the first of anything (kiss, day of class, pancake you make) is always special, no matter how completely unimportant it is; thus the first mistake in an ever ongoing error-filled week must be mentioned.

12 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day Over

So I overslept and forgot to update. Oops. I guess it's all for the better because this way I don't *have* to update, but I certainly did enjoy updating more frequently. I feel, though, that it sort of diluted what I had to say in much the same way that expansion waters down baseball. It was checking in with people, rather than spending more time trying to craft what I was going to say. Ah well. Maybe next year.

10 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day Ten: Nesting

My penchant for avoidance behaviors exponentially increases as I approach an important due date. Considering that I had the NSF GRFP today, homework due tomorrow, and a project due on Wednesday, they're kicking my butt as we speak. Earlier this evening, Colby and I went out to Madras Pavilion, which is this Indian restaurant that apparently specializes in food that adheres to the regulations of the Jainism diet. It's apparently also kosher. More importantly, it was ridiculously delicious. We got the "dinner for two", which should really be renamed, "dinner for two for four nights". so. much. food. We're definitely going to go back at some point soon.

But besides that, I've been looking into acquiring a home. I know that it's very possible to just rent a house, but that seems a little pointless and I want to be able to call some place my own that has enough space to raise kids. Although, I guess I'll have to have the kids first in order to raise them. Either way, I should be doing homework right now, but I'm not. In fact, I'm just screwing myself over, but if I don't take a nap, I'll never get it done. So ta ta for now.

09 November 2008

Nablopomo Day Nine: Live Blogging from the Court

It's 40-love right now in this riveting tennis game. What a great volley! And by great tennis game, I mean Wii tennis... I think that this is my first lame post of the month where I'm just posting because it's Nablopomo and I'm supposed to post, but have no time for it. So here it is. I'm currently editing my cv and trying to get my NSF graduate fellowship application ready for tomorrow. Wish me luck!

08 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day Eight: A Recipe that Popeye Would Love

I love watching cooking shows, finding a recipe I love, and then realizing that I have almost all of the ingredients sitting in my pantry/refrigerator. This was most definitely the case a few nights ago when the spinach salad episode was on Good Eats. I made it last night it an attempt to a) not feel hungry and b) make peace with pork. It didn't work so well, but at least I tried (Part b, that is. The salad was really tasty if I ignored the porkiness.)

AB's Spinach Salad, explained:

8 strips of bacon
3 tbs bacon drippings
3 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp sugar
2 eggs, hard boiled and quartered or eighthed
1 bag spinach (8-10 oz)
handful of mushrooms, sliced
s+p to taste

Set the oven to 400. Take a baking sheet and place a cooling rack over top. Make sure that the cooling rack fits into the baking sheet. Arrange the bacon atop the cooling rack and bake until crispy. This can take anywhere from 15-20 minutes depending on your oven and your patience with making sure that every last bit of porky bacteria is obliterated. After it's done crumble the bacon and take three tbs of the bacon drippings from the pan and put in a metal working bowl that you've suspended over a pot of boiling water in a pseudo double boiler fashion. Whisk in the red wine vinegar, mustard, and sugar and add s+p to taste. Fold in the spinach, allowing it to wilt, slightly and then add in the eggs, mushrooms and ta da! you have the world's least healthy salad.

I think next time I'm going to substitute the red wine vinegar with apple cider vinegar and drastically reduce the bacon content. In fact, next time I can see this being done with turkey bacon so I don't feel weird and icky after.

07 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day Seven: On Calamities

I haven't shared too many of my cooking failures, which is only mildly ironic, given the title of the blog. Today seems like a good day for sharing, seeing as my latest cooking concoction kinda crumbled. The latest disaster was my feeble attempt at making hummus... in a blender.

It turns out that blenders are great for smoothies and that's about it. The blender that we have is older than I am. It's one of those greyish tannish Osterizers and has about 20 different settings that make the blades spin "differently". Mostly, it doesn't work unless there is an awful lot of liquid involved. I've made hummus in the blender before and it turned out well, but this time, I used real beans (not canned!) and they were a little bit too hard, I guess. Also, I added tahini, which was exciting, but a little bit wasted on the mess that's currently sitting in my kitchen. Lesson learned... I'm getting a food processor.

The hummus was not nearly as bad as the time that I tried to recreate Noodles & Co's Japanese pan noodles. I found some frozen rice noodles at our local Asian mart, along with a recipe for teriyaki. It turns out that those frozen noodles are horrible and rubbery and I couldn't get past the texture. I think that had to be the most disgusting meal that I've ever had the misfortune of creating.

Aside from that, I've mostly been able to recover meals with extra cheese or more salt. Very rarely has my way of covering up a bad meal been frozen pizza, but those horrible rubbernoodles were the exception. Mostly, my cooking foibles center around danger than disgust. When I was little, I found out the hard way that those shiny birthday plates are NOT microwave friendly. I had these amazing little paper plates with shiny pink hearts on them left over from by valenbirthday a few days before. Upon reheating some pizza, I set the thing on fire and since it was too high for me to do anything about, my mom had to blow it out. (I could reach high enough to put something in it, I just wasn't at face level.) The only catch was that my mom was on oxygen at the time, so it was probably not the best idea to be placing her face rather close to fire.

Has anyone else made something completely inedible or almost burned down their homes?

06 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day Six: And I thought this would be easy...

"Wow, you're weird!" is perhaps one of the last things that you want to hear at the doctors' office. This magical infection that I have was apparently sensitive to the antibiotic they put me on, but the antibiotic not only didn't work, it made me a lot sicker. The new solution was to give me an injection and some sort of oral antibiotic, but they never looked at my drug allergies. When I asked what was in the injection, he gave me the name and when I pressed on further, as to what it was, he replied with doctor-jargon that he was sure would go over my silly little head, but in fact, held one of the key words for which I was searching: cephalosporin. It turns out that drug allergies are even less fun than seasonal allergies, and instead of resulting in head colds, result in throat swelling and death. YAY! Oh wait, I think I mean the opposite of yay.

I'm currently chugging down odwalla C MONSTER which comes with 2000% of my recommended daily value of vitamin C. Linus Pauling would be so proud. Apparently the answer to my magic infection is cipro, the drug that everyone turned to during the anthrax scares of my youth. The common side effects may include anxiety, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, nightmares, restlessness, upset stomach, vision changes, and vomiting. The last time that I took this, it definitely induced vomiting. The saddest part of all, though, is that I can't take any antacids. What will I do without my tums? :( Ah well, this too shall pass. And I take back what I said about cider. I've found five brands of cider between Whole Foods and HEB. I'll have to check out Wheatsville Co-op and Central Market to see if they have any. None are unpasteurized, though, but stay tuned for an update and review of the cider that's available in Austin!

05 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day Five: Yes We Can

After trolling through facebook for a bit, I've mostly been reading people's status messages because, predictably, they're all filled with their reactions to the elections. They range from ecstatic to mildly relieved on the left and go from resigned to bigoted and hateful on the right. I'm sure that if the results were flipped, the left would be angry, shocked, and again disillusioned, but this isn't something that we're not used to. And yes, I just said "we".

In high school, I went to downtown Detroit and marched for peace. I was going to become a card-carrying member of the Socialist party, but was foiled when I drove my beloved Pacific-green '98 Escort SE into a light post and was no longer able to drive downtown. My AP government teacher called me a feminazi. This was probably accurate, if not a little derogatory. In grade school, I proclaimed that I would never marry, in fact, I would never even date because boys were beneath me. My views on politics and romance have softened considerably, perhaps most strongly witnessed by my impending wedding in December, but the political leanings are still there.

I've often wondered where I had developed my political identity. My dad is a blue-turned-white collar worker retired from Ford Motor Company and my mom was militantly Catholic. I guess you could best describe my dad as a modern-day populist whose conservative social positions were greatly eclipsed in this last election by the crumbling Michigan economy. I never really knew my mom's political identity, perhaps because she passed away before I really started to consider my own; however, the one thing that they both instilled in me that resonates strongly is the idea that people's choices are extremely personal and we should never force our belief system upon others. The other thing that they instilled in me was a Catholic education that spanned from pre-school 'til ninth grade and was chock-full-o Sunday mass with a large helping of guilt.

Somewhere between the daily religion class and the Sunday mass, I picked up the fact that the redistribution of wealth was a good thing. I guess my views aren't nearly as extreme anymore, but this laid the seeds for my support of universal health care, the general idea that the government should do everything that it can to help its citizens, and the firm belief that a country should be judged on the way that it treats the poorest of its poor.

So after last night's election, I am filled with hope. Do I believe Barack Hussein Obama to be the perfect candidate? No, because no one is, but I think that he is the most capable. I was unconvinced at first, but after a grueling democratic primary and this election, I find that he is capable and very much able to grow and improve and look out for the American people. I feel that his is the ideal American story. He was never born with a silver spoon in his mouth, nor did he marry into it, but he found a way to establish himself such that he is at the center of one of the most historical presidential elections in the history of the United States. Most importantly, he instills a sense of renewed hope in America and I for the first time in a long time, I am excited and proud to be a citizen of the United States of America. Yes we can!

04 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day Four: Mishaps and Misfortunes

Okay, to start off, the recipe that I posted yesterday was largely inspired by cookthink with large modifications to the veggies, seasoning, and amount of oil used. Thanks to a conveniently anonymous post to help point out my mistake. Anywho.

I spent the first part of yesterday thinking that I had the flu. I spent the second part of yesterday realizing that I indeed had an infection, but not the one that I had assumed. At first I was a bit baffled as to how I could confuse the two, and then I realized that the symptoms that I associate with the flu are the symptoms that correspond with any given infection. It turns out that I neglected fact that I had no cold symptoms. Oh well.

So how does this relate to food? Well, it doesn't, really, but I figured that I'd give a review of my self-medication.

1) Campbell's vegetable soup: good if you're, you know, indisposed and without the motivation to cook something for real. bad if you're unable to eat it without pouring it all over the floor. Oops.

2) Olive Garden Minestrone, Salad, and bread sticks: awesome. it totally hit the "I don't feel like eating but should, oh wow this is tasty" spot.

3) Theraflu Flu & Sore Throat Hot Liquid: gross. It had a terrible i've-held-this-pill-in-my-mouth-too-long-and-now-it's-dissolving-,-gross aftertaste, so I couldn't even finish it... which was probably a good thing in hindsight since I didn't actually have the flu.

I really don't foresee cooking in my future today. In fact, I see frozen pizza or kimchi ramen or Colby cooking if I'm super lazy.

03 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day Three: Continuous Cooking

I find it amazingly difficult to complete an assignment, from start to finish, in one brutal sitting. Take, for instance, this gasbags homework. It's not that hard and it's almost completely from our notes, but instead I'm playing with garbanzo beans and updating my blog. Fortunately, I have a lot to write in the next week, so I'm using this as an excuse to get me started on the very mechanics of writing things, such that I am better able to talk about my experiences in the world of astronomy. The one downside is that I've been told that my personal statement reads like a cookbook, so I'm not quite sure that the food blogging is helping. ;)

The aforementioned farmers' market veggies sat sadly in my refrigerator, feeling abandoned yesterday. Instead of making the stir-fry I had planned, we went to Chuy's instead, and I had lackluster flautas and watery salsa. I felt that I had to make amends to my delicious veggies and so for dinner last night, I made chicken and veggies, cooked in parchment paper with roasted garlic mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes will be making an appearance at Thanksgiving, so I wanted to practice a bit. I'm still working on perfecting the recipe, so more details to come on that later when I've decided that it's good enough.

Chicken in parchment
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, halved into two congruent pieces
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs basil
1 tsp tarragon
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
broccoli florets, cut into small, uniform pieces
1 green pepper, cut into small slices
2 20in sheets of parchment paper, folded in half and then reopened

preheat the oven to 400. mix the olive oil, basil, tarragon, garlic, red pepper flakes and veggies. season chicken breast w/s+p. Set down 1/4 of the vegetable+herb mix on the fold of the parchment + 1/2 tbs of butter. place the chicken breast down on top of that and then place another 1/4 of the veggies and another 1/2 tbs of butter. Seal up the parchment paper to make a sac, much like making an empanada... out of paper that is infused with silicone... repeat. Place the two chicken sacs on a baking sheet and bake for 35+/-5m until it's done. Nom nom away.

02 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day Two: SHC, Spontaneous Human Cookery

The majority of my spontaneous cooking happens on Sundays or late at night when my avoidance behaviors have taken over (miraculously, my homework always seems to get done). This Sunday was no different and began with Jiffy Mix Blueberry muffins, which was chosen more for nostalgia than convenience. Colby grew up one town away from Chelsea, MI which is where Jiffy Mix is located, so I think when we go home, we're going to stop at the factory. The second part of breakfast was my attempt to recreate Heidi Swanson's egg cups. My take was slightly different

For two egg cups

2 eggs
2 small (taco) tortillas
2 tbs black beans
1/2 tbs butter, divided into quarters
taco seasoning
s+p, red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two cups of a muffin tin. Make an incision into each tortilla from the edge to the middle and fold it inwards to make a cone. Mix the beans with an appropriately small amount of taco seasoning and spoon in 1 tbs to each tortilla cone. Put one "quarter" of butter atop the beans and season with s+p (I used garlic salt). Carefully crack in one egg to each cup, so as to not break the yolk. Put another quarter of butter atop each and then season with s+p, red pepper flakes and put a small bit of cheese atop. Bake in an oven for 15-19 minutes, depending on your oven and what type of muffin tins you use.

The eggs were pretty good. The tops of the tortilla come out crispy and are wonderful for dipping into a slightly runny yolk.

01 November 2008

NaBloPoMo Day One

Do you know what today is? Okay, yes, it's All Saints' Day, which means that I should be at church, but ehh... Also, it's Halloween Candy-is-15%-off Day too. But really, the answer that I was looking for was the first day of NaBloPoMo! National Blog Posting Month is sort of a take on National Novel Writing Month. Since I don't have the desire (or time) to write a novel in a lifetime, I decided that this would be a) a more manageable task b) inspire me to cook at home, and c) make me write more because, despite all notions of astronomers being perched atop their ivory towers looking through telescopes at night, we need to be literate and articulate.

In order to celebrate this momentous occasion, I went to the farmers market. Actually, that's kind of a lie, but let's go with that. Basil season, sadly, has mostly passed, but now there are all sorts of squash and other goodies. I came home with sweet potatoes, green peppers, and broccoli! It was a very exciting sort of day. Dinner will most definitely have to be some sort of stir fry.