31 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: The Austin Food Blogger Alliance and the Austin to Boston food swap

In my final entry for the year and for the Days with a Grateful Heart, I'd like to say that I'm grateful for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance.  Through the AFBA, I've met many wonderful people and am lucky enough to have taken part in a lot of really fun food events.  In fact, without the AFBA, I'd never have participated in the grateful heart endeavor with Jote and friends.  I'm excited for some of the events that have been hinted at in the upcoming year and look forward to participating.  One of my favorite events this year was the Austin to Boston food blogger swap.  First, my many thanks to all the hard working leaders of the AFBA and the Boston Food Bloggers for setting up the Austin to Boston swap.  This was such a fun idea and I'm so happy that I chose to do this even with the crazy December I've had.

My Austin to Boston swapmate was Halley from Blunder Construction.  Halley writes an awesome blog, which features recipes, great pictures, and stories about her cat Jelly, amongst other things.  You should definitely check her blog out.  She also happens to be named after a comet and works as an engineer, it's as though the swap matchers could read our minds (or profiles).  Yay for STEM people who also write food blogs!

Halley sent her package early, which was good, since we were leaving for Michigan not too long after the swap deadline.

Halley sent along zaatar spice+crackers from Sofra Bakery in Cambridge, REAL maple syrup, cranberry vinaigrette, plum jam, a vegan peanut butter cookie (not pictured), a cute little teddy bear, some eco-friendly pinch bowls, and ginkgo leaves that she mod-podged onto some mini canvases.

So far, we've tried the cookie (which was delicious, hence did not make it into the picture) and the zaatar spice.  When I saw the zaatar spice, I immediately made hummus so that we could sprinkle some on, and ate it with a bit of olive oil and pita.  Sooo good and definitely a fun reminder of all the great Middle Eastern restaurants at home.  The maple syrup has been earmarked for pancakes that will be made on New Year's day and the cranberry vinaigrette is going on a salad for tomorrow evening.  With all of the great items in the package, I knew that I'd have to bring my A game to my bundle.

I managed to get out my Austin to Boston package on time, but I totally pregnancy-brained on the taking pictures of what I sent.  Fortunately, most of this is available on the internets, so here's a run down of what/why I sent.

I tried to send things that were both from Texas as well as a couple items from Michigan.

Round Rock wildflower honey - nothing gets more local than honey and I really enjoy their wildflower honey
Confituras pear caramel sauce - Confituras is just one of those quintessential AMAZING Austin small businesses that put out ridiculously high quality products.  I ventured over to the farmers market to see what they had and this looked pretty darn good.
Fredericksburg Farms Dusseldorf mustard - I use this as an everyday condiment and I've sent it out in care packages as well.
Native Texan BBQ sauce - BBQ sauce is something that I find a must to make barbecue enjoyable and Native Texan is one of my favorite brands.
Clint's Texas Salsa - Colby loves this stuff and salsa seemed like a must on the list of all things Texas.
Vernors pop - I sent this with a recipe for homemade vanilla ice cream to make the Detroit-invented, but appropriately named, Boston cooler
Al Dente spinach fettuccine - The only time I've ever seen this pasta was in specialty grocers in Michigan, so imagine my surprise when I saw it at Central Market.  They're located up the road from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor.

You should check out the posts that Halley also wrote about what she sent me and took pictures (which are way better than anything I could ever take!!) of what I sent her.

New Year's Eve 2011 Menu

We're going to have a bunch of people over tonight, so I wanted to post this menu plan.  It's a bit ambitious, so we'll see if it gets accomplished, though I almost think that this is the last time that I'll be cooking up a storm like this for a single event for quite some time.

spinach+artichoke dip
sun dried tomato spread
serrano ham+cheese plate from Antonelli's
crab-stuffed mushrooms

pot roast
sweet potatoes
truffled grits
prosciutto-wrapped asparagus

chocolate chip cookies
cream puffs
apple cranberry pie
pumpkin pie

2011 in Review

This probably should have posted earlier, as I'll have another couple posts coming up later today, but I wanted to reflect on 2011 for a moment.

This year seemed like it flew by.  Here's a month-by-month recap, for funsies:

Take 9
I spent the beginning of the year with the usual suspects in Austin and we rang in the new year like we do every year: too much food and just enough alcohol.  This was followed by a trip to Seattle for the American Astronomical Society convention, where I picked up a pretty nasty case of the flu.  Randi and her boyfriend Steve shot a short film at my house.  At the very end of the month, I started Community Supported Home Cooking with Athena, Randi, and Chalence.

sweet corn dessert at Uchiko

I was still sick in February, but I managed to get healthy enough to create a list of demands for my birthday.  Colby complied ;) and we had a lovely dinner at Uchiko.
rabbit and duck liver pate at Luke New Orleans

I did a Nerd Nite talk about astronomy with a couple of my friends from the department.  Mid-month, I went on a spring break trip to New Orleans with Kyle.  We had ridiculously good food and way too much alcohol. 
ridiculously tasty apple tart from Austin Bakes for Japan

I participated in the Austin Bakes for Japan bake sale with a lot of my fellow AFBA members.  It was quite the success and I met a lot of really cool bloggers.  A few days later, Colby and I went to the Guster concert at Stubbs and I had the past 11 years of fandom fulfilled when I got to meet Brian, Ryan, Adam, and Luke of the band.

my plate at the AFBA farmers market potluck

May was busy and filled with a lot of things having to do with school.  I spent most of it frantically writing a paper.  I also joined the AFBA officially that month, I believe, and went to the first official event -a farmers market potluck at someone's home.  There was more meeting people and eating of delicious food

I think this one speaks for itself

Ahh June.  For thirty days, I took a picture of everything I ate, so the posting was thin to begin with.  I got really drunk with Randi and dyed my hair purple.  I'm still living with the consequences of that decision.  At the end of the month, I submitted my paper to the Astrophysical Journal.  At some point mid-to-late month, I started feeling crazy sick and when I couldn't stand it anymore, took a pregnancy test which came back positive.  I took three more that day to confirm.

someone besides me cooking

There was a whole lot of morning sickness going on, so I didn't cook anything, really.  Also, it was really freaking hot and I threatened to kill anyone who tried to turn on the oven.

My muse for the month of August

Still in the throes of morning sickness, I continued not to cook.  I had a disappointing pasty, but that was mostly it for my food adventures.  At the end of the month, my paper was accepted and I posted it to ArXiv and I said good-bye to Athena.  This was also the end for the Community Supported Home Cooking project and blog.  I also took a lot of pictures of my dog.

One of my contributions to the Austin Bakes for Bastrop bake sale

The morning sickness finally started to ease up, and we announced the pregnancy to people.  Although, I guess we did it kind of sneaky-like because I surprised a whole lot of people with my pregnancy when I sent out my baby shower invitations later.  Oops.  I also participated in the second bake sale of the year, Austin Bakes for Bastrop.  This was put together by the same people as Austin Bakes for Japan, with the proceeds being donated to help the victims of the Bastrop fires.  We also got a DSLR for the baby.  This has definitely been used for the baby... we have ~10 GB of pictures of Kimchi. ;)

seagulls in Port Aransas, TX

We found out that we were going to have a girl and I started cooking again.  We also took our babymoon in Corpus Christi and Port Aransas and ate at some pretty yummy places and watched Michigan State beat Michigan from a brewery in Port A. Go Green!

cider making ingredients

I attempted to participate in NaBloPoMo for the 6th time and FINALLY finished a month.  (Go me!)   Colby and I went to a Slow Food Austin session on the making of hard cider and decided to start making our own.  The plan was to make a bunch to bring to Michigan for Christmas gifts.  I graded a lot of papers and gave a talk at the end of the month, so mostly the month consisted of cooking, working, and more working.

Christmas Eve dinner at my great aunt and grandma's house

After NaBloPoMo, I was about ready to stop blogging for awhile, but then found out that some people were going to post 30 times this month about what they were grateful for.  I decided that after a month of posting every day, I wasn't ready to commit to posting that frequently again, but rather decided to post 12 times.  The first part of the month was filled with more school duties, what with getting final grades in for my students, a committee meeting, and a paper draft.  I also started a new research project.  We went home for our baby shower and for Christmas.  The shower was lovely and we got a lot of clothing.  We also celebrated our third anniversary Christmas was less lovely and it made me grateful that I live 1400 miles away from most of my family, but that didn't seem to fit the spirit of the 12 days of a grateful heart, so I kept that to myself... until now. ;)  And now I'm home and the usual suspects are back at my house hanging out.  I have a menu plan for New Year's Eve posted.

30 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: Home

Today and yesterday and the day before that I've been grateful for being home.  And by home I mean my house.  The one that we own... because even though we left a rather picturesque scene

for one that was decidedly less pretty

we would never have been able to engage in science experiments in our kitchen before heading back to our house

Why yes, that IS a macadamia nut stuck on a paper clip over a pie tin that's been lit on fire.  How perceptive of you!  It turns out that they burn just like candles due to their high fat content.

Chris brought macadamia nuts to Austin as part of our annual New Year's Eve festivities.  Kyle's here too and by this time tomorrow, we'll have a full house filled with friends from all over the country.  Life, it turns out, is pretty okay right now.

27 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: On Road Trips and New Tires

Today I'm grateful that I'm not driving first and that Colby decided that we needed to replace our balding tires before we made the trip up to Michigan.  The trip down is going to be slightly more strenuous than the way up since we're doing it in one go.  Now that we're leaving Michigan for Texas, it finally snowed.  I'm sad that we're leaving before we had a good chance to play in the snow, but I'm excited to get back to my own house complete with my own kitchen and queen sized bed. 

26 December 2011

Twelve days with a grateful heart: proxy servers

This one is short and sweet. Apparently there's been a big debate in some of the science blogs about the legality of trading pdfs of papers.  I haven't followed along very closely, but today I'm grateful for the proxy server through the University of Texas' library, so I didn't have to pay $70 for my light holiday reading.

25 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Today I'm grateful for Christmas and the wonderful excuse it offers to dress up my favorite puppy.

24 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: "Coffee"

Today I'm grateful for decaffeinated coffee because, even though it tastes like crap, it gives me an excuse to sip a hot beverage in a cold climate and pretend to get some work done.

23 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: Michigan State University and The State Room

On Monday, Colby and I celebrated our third anniversary.  We decided to spend the day in East Lansing, home of our alma mater, Michigan State University.  Mostly, we went around the city and did some mundane errands, but we had lunch at The State Room in the Kellogg Center on campus and then dinner at Dusty's Cellar.   I managed to forget the camera for Dusty's and Colby didn't want me to go get it.  Something about food blogging being weird.  Pshh... what does he know?  It ended up being okay, though.  The meal at Dusty's was, unfortunately, forgettable, but we fared much better at lunch.

Today I'm grateful for Michigan State University.  Aside from the education, networking, and friendships I acquired, I would never have the cutest little baby in the world in my life without it:

Turns out my Kimchi fits into 6mo onesies. :)

Prior to this lunch, I'd only been to the State Room once before, despite living in East Lansing for four years.  This was right after our induction into Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society and courtesy of a lifelong learning student who was also being inducted.  She was old, her husband made lots of money, and she bought about 15 of us a fancy dinner.  I don't really remember much of it, except that Colby wouldn't let us get dessert because one of our fellow undergraduates (who was given the not-so-affectionate nickname of douche bag) was getting dessert, so he wanted no part of it.  This time, the food was much more memorable and delicious.

cheesy bagel chips

Pistachio-encrusted walleye covered in a dijon cream sauce with roasted potatoes and green beans
Asian Lettuce Wrap with spiced pulled-pork and Thai curried mayo and fries

I'm still waiting on that dessert, though.

22 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: December

Oh hai, internets. I sort of forgot about you.  At the end of our 1400 mile road trip to Michigan, we ended up at my in-laws' house (aka the land with the slowest internets).  We're currently at my dad's wife's house in Port Huron, complete with wireless internet and water that doesn't come from a well.

Today I'm grateful that December has 31 days, because apparently posting 12 times is a challenge.  I've started a post about the Austin to Boston swap, though my super-on-top-of-things partner Halley beat me to posting about what I sent.  You can see her post here.

Meanwhile, I'm going to slink away to sleep because apparently the third trimester woes (the crazy tiredness, heartburn, backaches, pelvic pain, etc.) have attacked me in full force.  And, just for fun, I was going to post a picture of my hugely growing belly (holy crap, I'm 29.3 weeks preg), but it's not cute and it just kicked my computer again.

19 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: Colby

We've been married for 3 years, as of right now.  Time flies, eh?

Happy anniversary, Colby!

17 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: On the road again

It's been a bit quiet around the blog lately. This is mostly due to the flurry of activities that accompany the convergence of the end of the semester and Christmas.   In my haste, I left most of the pictures I took on a computer in Austin that I wrong be able to aces until after Christmas.  Once that happens, I'll be sure to have some fun posts about the Austin to Boston food blogger swap, my favorite dog-themed restaurant in Austin, and much much more.   Until then I may post about some of the stuff we do in MI

We're currently in transit to Michigan, making our way though northern Arkansas/southern Missouri.  We stayed in a hotel last night and I found this in the bathroom:

Today I'm grateful for passive aggressive notes that make the 24hr drive even a little bit more amusing.

06 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: DSLRs and Chicken with Mushroom Sauce

Here's another ugly meal that not even natural lighting and a DSLR could fix.  However, this one is crazy tasty.

2-3 strips bacon
2-3 T olive oil
1 lb chicken (I used boneless skinless breasts since I'm lazy, but chicken thighs would work equally well)
1/4 medium yellow onion, diced
8 oz cremini or button mushrooms, wiped and sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/3ish c chicken stock
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c cream or evaporated milk
salt+pepper, to taste

In a pan, heat olive oil, season chicken with salt+pepper, and pan fry until cooked through and golden.  Slice the cooked chicken.  In a separate pan, render bacon until crisp.  Set aside the bacon and crumble.  Leave at least a couple Tbs of bacon grease in the pan, which might mean not removing any of the rendered fat.  Saute the onions with a pinch of salt until at least translucent.  I usually try to caramelize them a bit.  Add in mushrooms and season with salt+pepper.  You may need to add a bit of oil if you've used most of the bacon grease for the onions.  Saute the mushrooms until they've released their liquid and start to brown a bit.  Stir in the garlic until fragrant.  Add in the chicken stock and stir to pick up any browned bits of mushroom and onion and let the chicken stock reduce a bit.  Turn down the heat and stir in the sour cream and cream until combined.  Don't let this boil because things will separate.  Add in the crumbled bacon and chicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve over rice or egg noodles.

I guess conventional wisdom says that I should use the pan that cooked the chicken to make the sauce, but I wanted a fast dinner, so I cooked the chicken simultaneously with the sauce.  After the chicken was out, I remembered that I wanted to make asparagus, so the chicken-y goodness didn't all go to waste.  I added a bit of stock to the pan to stir up the browned bits, added in my asparagus and cooked them until tender-crisp.

So  yes, I am thankful for my DSLR because with a little bit of natural light, I'm able to take foods that weren't actually that tasty and make them look delicious.  Similarly, they elevate ugly dishes to things that maybe look palatable.  While this dish is pretty gnarly, it's actually really tasty.

zucchini fritter with way too much onion (way more pretty)

chicken and mushroom dinner, with the chicken-y asparagus (way more tasty)

04 December 2011

Twelve Days with a Grateful Heart: Kimchi

Ahhhhh, that was a nice break from posting, but I'm back.  While November was National Blog Posting Month for many of the members of the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance, December has become 30 Days with a Grateful Heart, as led by Austin blogger Jote of Bless Her Heart.  I know of a few people participating, but decided that 30 more days of blogging would be too much, especially with the holidays, my impending committee meeting, and a cross-country road trip to Michigan and back.  It seemed, though, that this was something that could help me foster personal growth, especially since I've had a hard time feeling gratitude for much of anything lately.  I've decided to post 12 things for which I am grateful instead of 30.

Blame it on the hormones, but to say that I haven't exactly enjoyed pregnancy is a massive understatement.  This was a huge surprise and I'm still coming to terms with the reality that between now and March, I need to grow up a lot.  That's not to say that I didn't want to expand my family, it's just that in my immediate future I saw a baby dog, not a baby human.  And why is it that I want another dog?  It's because of this face:

So today, I'm grateful for Kimchi.  She always seems to know when I need attention and love and she loves food nearly as much as I do.

30 November 2011

The End.

This is the last day of NaBloPoMo and I'm extremely excited about that.  I'm surprised that I was able to keep up with it this time, but that was due partly to the fact that other members of AFBA joined in on the daily posting fun.  This experience has definitely brought me back to blogging.  Not only did I challenge myself to post every day, I also wanted to make sure that I was posting real things.  Sure, there were a few days that got super lame posts, but for the most part, I think I upped my content, mostly by including pictures.

So how did I actually make it through all of November posting?

1) Not all of the posts are about food.  I think I've come to terms with the fact that this blog is going to evolve into more than just what I'm eating/cooking/drooling over, because I don't have infinite things to say about food and I have the cutest little baby ever.  Oh and because I'm going to have a baby in March. ;)

2) Most Mondays I posted menus and most Sundays I posted pictures.  It's almost like a cheat, but I tried to make sure that the pictures were good and the menus were, mostly, followed.

3) This is probably the real reason why I could stick with it: I prescheduled a lot of my posts.  If I had multiple ideas for posts, I'd write them all up at once and then schedule them out.  Usually this ended up being a few posts at a time, so it's not like I had the entire month scheduled.

So will I ever do this again?  Possibly.  Probably not any time soon, though.  I'm planning on easing up on the posting, especially right now.  I have a talk to give about a carbon-enhanced metal-poor r+s-process enhanced star (say that three times fast) in about 20 minutes, a ginormous pile of papers to grade, and a committee meeting in a week, where I have to tell one of my committee members that I am, indeed, having a baby, which is probably going to cut my spring semester productivity in half.  Oops.

So for now, here's a piece of pie for you, because I think we've all deserved it by sticking with me for this long.  Also, because I can't eat it due to my newly-discovered pregnancy-induced insulin resistence, but more on that later.

Image from Stu Spivack because my phone is choking on the giant picture of pumpkin pie from inside my faraday cage.  I mean office.

29 November 2011

Peanut butter blues

My Koeze peanut butter is almost gone, which is sad but weird on the street is that I don't have to travel all the way back to Michigan to go to Zingerman's to get it.  Apparently, Antonelli's carries it. Hurrah!

Also, this talk is happening tomorrow at noon.  Which is, again, why I'm not making real posts.  Perhaps I should make up for it in December.

28 November 2011

science. ugh.

This is why you don't get a real post today:

Actually, I have to give a talk on Wednesday about this, which is for realz why.

26 November 2011

home brewing

me: are you excited?
he: for what?
me: cider!
he: oh, yeah.  Are you excited?
me: for what?
he: to play pretend.
me: pretend what?
he: pretend we know what we're doing

After seeing a Slow Food Austin talk by the Argus Cidery dudes, we decided to try to brew hard cider to give as Christmas gifts.  It seemed like it was going to be mostly easy, and after two trips to Austin Homebrew Supply, we came home with about $50 worth of supplies and way more confusion than when we first walked in the door.  Hopefully this works and we don't end up giving our families a lot of vinegar.  I'll update later when we know if it worked or not.  And no, the irony of being pregnant and brewing alcoholic beverages isn't lost on me.

cider supplies, including airlocks, campden tablets, and a bunch of other stuff

Bottles that are (still) awaiting cider.  Colby and Dustin "made" them in a weekend.  Anything for the cause, eh?

Sanitizing everything

The game plan

sulfated cider ready for fermentation

Colby putting the cider in its home for the next couple of weeks.  (And yes, this is going to be the nursery, but it's not like we're using it right now.)

Ciders with their airlocks and yeast. Look at that yeast bloom in the upper right corner!

It bubbled!  Success!