Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What I Am Buying with My Tax Return


Nothing!  I can’t believe it’s true, but this year, I actually owe the government money for my 2010 taxes.  After dutifully going to work every day and paying taxes every month, I apparently have not given Washington its cut of my wealth, so here I am, with a check in hand, ready to be mailed to the United States Treasury.

So yes, I will be buying exactly nothing with my tax return this year.  Sniffle!  It’s so sad.  For example, I won’t be buying this adorable bowl from 


It’s a Rachael Ray Garbage Bowl, but I think it’s too pretty to be used only for garbage.  I could see it as a fruit bowl or a salad bowl, or a bowl for chips to go alongside some salsa and guacamole and a couple of mojitos.

I also won’t be buying this terrific dress from Five Bamboo:

Conspicuous Consumption

Oh, wait, I already bought it.  Oops!  Forgive my conspicuous consumption here, but I am pretty excited to have a breezy new dress to wear for the long, hot Texas summer.  I’m even more excited to be supporting a company like Five Bamboo, whose bamboo clothing is produced using environmentally friendly methods.  Yes, their clothing is more expensive than something I might buy at Target or The Gap, but it’s high-quality, beautiful clothing, and I plan to wear this dress all summer long.  And in Texas, one summer is a long time!

Clearly money and values are on my mind right now, between filing my taxes and thinking about the connection between money and quality of life.  I’ve been doing a lot of yoga lately, and this morning, it occurred to me that no one can sell you peace of mind.  I guess it’s an obvious thought, but still: No one can sell you peace of mind.  At the same time, if your mind is peaceful, nobody can steal it from you, at least not without your participation.  I find that to be a comforting thought.

Another thing I find comforting is soup.  It’s cliche, and if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, it’s old news, but still: soup!  Who doesn't like soup?  It’s the easiest way I know to eat vegetables.  Who doesn’t like to cook soup?  Especially when the weather has turned grey and misty, like a Seattle daydream that gently landed on Texas.  I haven’t been to Seattle, but our cool drizzle feels very Seattle to me.  I rather like it.

Today’s soup is an easy, very green pea soup.  My personal feeling is that one can never have too many pea soups, whether made rich with butter and creme fraiche or earthy with split peas.  Pea soup is good soup.

Saturday Lunch

Some pea soups are slow ones, like the soups I mentioned above, but today’s soup is not a slow soup.  Instead, it’s a quick-as-a-wink springtime soup, the kind of thing you can whip up in about fifteen minutes and be seated at your table, slurping soup in twenty.  I’m sort of cheating you here, recipe-wise, because this is just another version of that basic soup template I mentioned in the context of tomato soup.  But the charms of this soup make up for my cheating: it’s thick enough to feel substantial without choking you.  The flavor is decidedly pea, but it has a nice herbal depth from the onion, thyme, and sage.  I think it’s very healthy, too—just a simple vegetable soup made with olive oil, vegetables, and a few herbs.  I’ve made it twice already, and at the end of the second batch, I was sad to see it go.  I think I’ll be eating this one all spring long, especially once my spring fever sets in and I want to spend all my time outside.  This soup comes together fast enough to accommodate that kind of delinquent kitchen behavior.

Pea Soup for Spring

Adapted from EatingWell

Serves 3-4

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 tsp. dried sage

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

2 1/4 cups vegetable broth

3 cups frozen green peas

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1)  In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt, then cook for 4-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have turned soft.  Add the garlic, sage, and thyme; cook for another 10-15 seconds.

2)  Add the broth and frozen peas to the onion mixture.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about one minute.

3)  Turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool for about five minutes.  Puree in batches in a blender.

4)  Taste the soup, and add salt and/or pepper to taste.  Serve in deep bowls with some good bread and cheese.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Flag and Trees

Hi, friends.  Happy Tuesday!

It was a big day for me at work, and I’m so happy to report that it was a success.  For many weeks, I’ve been organizing a mock grant review hosted by the postdoc association for the medical and veterinary schools here at Texas A & M.  Actually, I’m one member of a team of people who have been working together.  There were a lot of moving parts to this operation, and I’ve been acting like the center of a wheel, holding all the spokes together.  My team has been great, and I think our mock grant review went really well today.  Our faculty panel did an amazing job, and I’m so grateful to the postdocs who volunteered their grants for our mock review, which was rigorously conducted by the faculty panel.  They had a lot to say about the grants, and I think their willingness to be critical and share their thoughts was an integral part of our review.

Organizing the grant review was more work than I anticipated, but I’m very proud and pleased with how it turned out.  It was worth the effort.  On the research front today, I also got a few moments of my boss’s time, and he, in his brilliance, noticed something awesome in my data that I had completely overlooked.  Doh!  He was nice enough not to thump me over the head, but I’m hoping one of these days I’ll get the hang of this research thing.  Sigh.  On the bright side, he noticed something awesome in my data!  So despite my data blindness, I’m feeling encouraged about research again.  

Now I’m relaxing, but I have a few things on my mind I wanted to discuss with you, sweet readers.  Enough with the science talk!  Let’s talk about food.

* Has anyone tried any of the sourdough recipes in the March 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times?  I’d like to make the blueberry sourdough pancakes, but I’m really annoyed at the idea of throwing out half the starter six or seven times during the course of its fermentation.  Anybody have any suggestions?  I realize I could just keep it.  Then I’d have many, many batches of sourdough starter…which would make many, many, MANY pancakes!  Hmm.  All of a sudden, I feel more hungry than annoyed…

* Dried apricots!  Buy them.  They are awesome.  I’m becoming quite the dried fruit fiend, between the dried cherries, the dried apricots, and the prunes hanging out in my fridge.  Which reminds me: what’s your favorite recipe that calls for prunes?  Please share—I’d like to make a dent in my prune supply.

* Right now I’ve got butter softening to make a batch of these cookies, but tonight, I’m trying them with a flax “egg.”  You’ve heard of this, right?  Mix ground flax seed with water, let it sit, and it becomes gooey, like an egg white.  I’ve never baked with flax eggs, and I’m craving cookies like mad, so I thought I would experiment.  (Oops.  There’s science again, raising its curious little head!)

I hope you are having a good week, wherever you are.  I’m happy you stopped by.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Can Tinker with the Flavors

After that little intermission about breakfast and a few not-so-frequently asked questions, I thought it was time to get back to the tomato soup I mentioned eons ago.  This one is worth the wait, I promise.

* * *

I wish I could tell you that when I was growing up, I was the type of kid who liked to take everything apart so that I could see the insides, the hidden stuff, the parts that made things work.  It would make for a better story to explain why I became a scientist and why I spend my days taking things apart (genetically, at least) and putting them back together.

But I wasn’t that kid.  I’m not sure I was very curious as a child.  I was more fond of order, of making sense of the world by making it neat and tidy.  Taking things apart really didn’t appeal to me for obvious reasons: if you take something apart, you’ve got to put it back together to restore its sense of order!  And maybe this sounds ridiculous, but I think that when I was younger, I just didn’t know enough to be curious about the world.  Things just worked.  It was neither magic nor mystery; it was just the way things were.

Well.  That child would be shocked to see who she became after a few years and a few degrees.  Though I still prefer order to chaos, I’ve gotten awfully good at taking things apart.  Even better, I know how to put them back together to make something terrific, like a nice bowl of creamy tomato soup.

Tomato Soup

Wait.  I’m taking too much credit for this tomato soup.  I should tell you that EatingWell helped me quite a bit here.  They’ve been running a new series on kitchen techniques at the back of the magazine.  As part of the series, they often feature a “master” recipe for, say, fruit bars, and then the test kitchen offers you a few flavor variations on that master recipe so you can follow your craving for cranberry-orange bars or apple-cinnamon bars.  (I’ll take one of each, please!)  I love this approach to learning about recipes and cooking technique because it’s a deconstruction that lets you see the bare bones of the recipe—the working parts—and then you can tinker with the flavors to your heart’s content.

The March/April 2011 issue of EatingWell featured a kitchen technique article on blended vegetable soups.  They offer a flavorful “base” recipe which you then use to make one of four variations: tomato, potato-artichoke, pea, or carrot.  I’ve made the tomato and the pea soups, and I can tell you that they are both really wonderful, well-balanced, and nicely textured.  The base recipe is really a keeper, but I confess that I don’t follow it exactly as written.  I made two easy swaps to accommodate my kitchen: I leave out the celery and add an extra onion, and I use dried herbs instead of fresh.  I also mix up the herbs I use, which is just plain old kitchen fun in my opinion.

I guess what I’m saying is that the base recipe is a good place to start.  I think my substitutions are fairly minor—just some changes to the aromatics in the recipe—and I have made several great batches of soup.  So consider this tomato soup recipe a place to start for a flavorful, creamy, but not too rich tomato soup.

Happy cooking!

Perfect Creamy Tomato Soup

Adapted loosely from EatingWell

Serves 4-6 as an entree

The soup “base” here is everything but the diced tomatoes.  The heavy cream is optional, but I like what it adds to this soup.

1 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 medium onions, preferably one red and one yellow, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. dried basil

1 28-oz. can best-quality diced tomatoes

4 cups vegetable broth

1/4 cup heavy cream

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1)  In a large soup pot, heat the butter and oil over medium heat until the butter melts.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt, then cook for 4-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have turned soft.  Add the garlic, thyme, and basil; cook for another 10-15 seconds.

2)  Stir the tomatoes into the onion mixture, then add the vegetable broth.  Bring the whole thing to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium to keep everything simmering for about 10-15 minutes.

3)  Puree the soup using a stand blender or immersion blender.  If you are using a stand blender, puree in batches so as not to overfill the pitcher.

4)  Stir the heavy cream into the blended soup.  Grind some black pepper over the whole thing, then taste and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Weekend Kitchen Inspiration

Skillet with Seasoned Breadsticks

I’m pretty tickled to be in the kitchen these days.  On Wednesday night, I made a frittata, a terrific grated carrot salad, and a chocolate egg cream.  The food and drink were delicious, but more importantly, I felt so happy and at ease in the kitchen.  Onions were browning, broccoli was roasting, chocolate syrup was bubbling, and I was in the middle of it all and loving it.

I think it was a little surprising to me because lately, I’ve been hearing the siren’s call of food prepared by someone else.  The temptation to eat out has been almost overwhelming.  Certain things I used to do all the time, like bake my own granola, have fallen off my radar.  And once I’m out of practice at doing something, it can be really hard to get back in the groove.

I’ve also been feeling overwhelmed by the almost-constant mess in my kitchen.  Does this happen to you?  Your sink never gets quite emptied, and before you know, it’s time for another meal and another round of dirty dishes.  In a moment of miraculous sanity, I spent a healthy chunk of Sunday afternoon cleaning all the leftover dishes—the ones that remained from Saturday night’s dinner, or lunch, or…I think you know where I’m going with this.  The sight of my empty, sparkling sink was almost too much for me.  I felt both liberated from the tyranny of dirty dishes as well as somewhat bereft, like I’d lost something I expect to see whenever I walk into the kitchen.  It’s strange, I know, to feel comforted by the sight of dirty dishes.  But those dirty dishes were also weighing me down, making it hard for me to justify more cooking when I can’t seem to get a handle on the mess from past meals.

The clean kitchen was enough to shake off my apathy and get me busy at the counter and the stove.  And, as if that weren’t enough, I’ve been finding all sorts of terrific inspiration on the interwebs, from sources new and well-loved.  Today I thought I’d share a few of those things to inspire your weekend cooking.

* Dates have been on my mind lately, and lo and behold, I can’t stop thinking about this date cake.  Dates, coffee, chocolate…oh, yes, I’ll take a slice or five.  Sign me up!

* I loved this multi-book review on Cookbook Slut.  I originally found my way there because I was curious about a book named Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes, which, even without reading it, got me all rattled and worked up, probably because it just hits too close to home.  Do I want to be a professional, or do I want to ditch my job and tend a dairy herd and grow pumpkins in a pumpkin patch?  Anyway, Cookbook Slut’s review covers a host of books about people who have put food, community, and sustainability ahead of lucrative careers.  It certainly gave me food for thought!

* I really, really want to make this classy, sassy Mustard Tart from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.  But for crying out loud, did no one check the recipe and realize that there’s no amount listed for the ice water used to make the dough?  To add to my woe, the water is mixed with an egg before being incorporated into the dough, so I wouldn’t even trust myself to make the pastry by feel.

Nerdy researcher that I am, I have consulted another text, Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat.  She has several pastry dough recipes that call for an egg yolk.  Her Sweet Pastry Dough, which is pretty similar to Dorie’s in its ingredient proportions, calls for beating the egg yolk with half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and one tablespoon of ice water.  If I used Dorie’s pastry recipe, I’d probably mix the egg with one tablespoon of water, then keep some ice water nearby in case I need a little bit more to help the buttery dough come together into a nice fat disc.  (Or I’d just say to heck with it and use Ammie’s pie crust because she’s a pie-making goddess.  I’m shocked she hasn’t posted the recipe on her blog!  Ammie, please remedy this oversight post-haste.)

* Speaking of French cooking, I thought this post about Julia Child’s legacy, in cookbook form, was great.  I like culinary history quite a bit, and the more discussion of it on the internet, the better!  Also, I think I might be spending many more hours reading Cookbook Slut’s archives…

* I need a loaf of this spunky Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips in my oven ASAP.  Olive oil in banana bread?  Why not?  If we can make cakes with olive oil, we can certainly make banana breads with it.

* And for my last two links, I will point you in the direction of two of my blog friends.  Does anyone else find Jess’s early-morning baking utterly delightful?  I just love the idea of a new day, a clean and quiet kitchen, and the oven preheating patiently while you mix together flours and cream butter with sugar.

* Finally, Shannon is crazy in the best way possible.  She’s up in Boston making white chocolate truffles with wasabi.  Oh my.  I want one!

Happy weekend, my dears!  I’ll see you back here on Sunday.  Bring your soup spoons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

(not so) Frequently Asked Questions

Me in My Natural Habitat

I’ve been dying to write a Frequently Asked Questions post for this blog, but here’s the thing: I have no Frequently Asked Questions.  Dear readers, you either know me too well already or you are incredibly patient to let me tell my stories and share my recipes at my own pace.  In any case, it’s fantastic to have actual readers, even if y’all are better listeners than question-askers.

If I were a reader, I would like to know a few things, like what’s the deal with Matt (is he real?) and is that your real hair color.  At some point, I will write an “About Me” page; for now, those of you who don’t know me as well can read a similar page that I wrote for my running blog, “A Starting Line.”

* Fake Q and A with Rose-Anne * (in which I will ask and answer all of my own questions)

Q: Is Matt real?  Why don’t we ever see him in photos?

A:  Yes, Matt is very real!  And it’s not true that you never see him in photos.  His gorgeous hands are right here.  (Seriously, as a photographer, I think I’m in love with his hands.  I like the rest of him, but oh my, those HANDS!)

Matt is a much more private person than I am, which is why I occasionally post pictures of myself on the internet and he does not.  He’s a really good sport about this blog and his presence within it, but I try to respect his privacy by carefully selecting what I share here.  Sometimes I share too much, but never has Matt been the one to tell me that I shared too much.  He’s very supportive of everything I do, including and maybe even especially my writing.  Secretly, sometimes I think he says nice things about my writing just to win my love!  Though I do love a sincere compliment, and he’s really good at them.

Q: Why does it seem like you see him once in a blue moon?  That’s weird to me.

A:  Matt and I don’t live in the same city, and he is a workaholic.  To be fair, he does have a very demanding job, but secretly I think he loves his job more than me.  Kidding!  (No, I’m not.)  Anyway, I like him enough to put up with his shenanigans, and he seems to like me, so we keep seeing each other…once every blue moon.

(And he is, quite seriously, the most talented home chef I’ve ever met.  His food is unbelievably delicious.  It makes me weak in the knees just thinking about it.)

Q: Is that your real hair color?  It sure is odd.

A:  Yes, I know!  I thank my redheaded mother and dominant Irish genes for my orange hair.  I used to be blonde when I was younger, but my friend Lisa and I dyed my hair red when we were thirteen, and it never really went back to being blonde.  It’s a strange coincidence, but it’s a true story.

Q: How many calories do you eat during a day?

A:  I have no idea.  I eat when I’m hungry (which is often) and try to choose foods that are nutritional powerhouses.  That said, I love white rice, potatoes, cookies, frosting, and chocolate sauce.  My sweet tooth will not be denied.

Q: Speaking of calories, what is your height and weight?

A:  Gah, so rude!  I’m 5’1” and weigh the equivalent of 27 Le Creuset 5.5-quart Dutch ovens.

Q: Why do you post so many recipes that are similar to each other?  For example, the baked French toast recipes, your granola recipes, some soup recipes.  Doesn’t that kind of defeat the point of a food blog if you keep repeating yourself?

A:  I think part of cooking is repeating yourself.  I cook what I like to eat, and I blog about recipes and ideas that I want to remember.  It’s true that I am not the most intrepid of cooks or bloggers, but my everyday goal is to feed myself in a healthy, satisfying, and sometimes creative way.

I also think it’s worth mentioning that there is a lot to be learned from tinkering with recipes.  Running frantically from one recipe to the next doesn’t necessarily teach you much about how to cook.  To understand the deep structure or the essential elements of a recipe, you’ve got to mess around with it and, preferably, eff it up occasionally.  Failure is an excellent teacher.

Q: Why do you have two blogs?  That seems excessive to me.  Are you just a total narcissist?

A:  I hope not!  I know that having two blogs is ridiculous, but I really love to exercise and be outside.  Feels Like Flying has given me a chance to explore more of my athletic side, and I’m enjoying the chance to write about things other than food.

Q: Eeny meeny miney moe.  Catch a tiger by his toe.  If he hollers, let him go.  Eeny meey miney moe.

A:  That’s not a question.

Q: What kind of camera do you use?

A:  I have an Olympus Stylus 9000, which is a cute little digital camera that I carry around with me all the time.  It’s easy to use, and I like the photos I’m able to take with it.  It is an extremely affordable camera, and we’ve had a good time together.  It’s the same camera my sister Theresa has.  Seeing the gorgeous pictures she took with her camera inspired me to get the same one.

(And as an aside, it is sixty dollars less now than when I bought mine!  Holy crap.  This camera is practically a steal.) 

Q: Why don’t you have a fancy camera like all the good food bloggers?

A:  I’m too cheap, and I’m very happy with my Olympus.  And who says you have to have a crazy expensive camera to take interesting, beautiful photos?  Certainly not me!

Q: Why do most of your posts prior to March 2010 contain no pictures at all?  Don’t you know that pictures are required for food blogs?  Your posts have too many words and not enough photos!

A:  I started this blog because I wanted to find my voice.  I discovered when I was writing and revising my first big research paper that I really missed writing.  At the time, I was already smitten with food writing—Passionate Vegetarian remains one of my favorite cookbooks to read, just for the pleasure of reading—and I had recently started discovering food blogs.  My love for food writing and my desire to share recipes with my friends motivated me to start my own blog.

When I started writing this blog, I just wrote and wrote and wrote.  At the time, I was a frugal graduate student and not all that interested in photography, so I focused on writing.  In February 2010, I finally decided to buy a camera so I could try my hand at photography.  Since then, I’ve grown to love taking photos and sharing them either on Flickr or one of my blogs.

To be honest, I remain ambivalent about if and how to use photos in a post.  I like to read, and sometimes photos are distracting.  Also, I think there are a lot of pretty blogs out there that are not very well-written.  It sounds harsh, but that’s my opinion.  But to each her own!

Q: What were your favorite books of 2010?

A:  I enjoyed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot quite a bit.  I hope to use that book when I start teaching undergraduates.  I thought Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Trouble with Normal by Michael Warner were fascinating reads.  I also liked Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce by Wendy Swallow.  Swallow is a terrific writer, and though her book is a heartbreaker, I couldn’t put it down.

I spent a lot of time reading about marriage last year!  I can be a little obsessive about things, and I guess 2010 was the year that I tried to figure out what exactly marriage was and how I felt about it.

I remain happily unmarried!

Q: What was your favorite cookbook of 2010?

A:  The only cookbook that I bought for myself in 2010 was Ani’s Raw Food Essentials by Ani Phyo.  It’s an interesting, weird cookbook.  I love her recipe for homemade jam, and I hope to try more of the salad recipes this year.  I also love my adaptation of her teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki noodles!  Yum.

Now that was exciting!  Happy spring, dear readers!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

All Better Now

Saturday Breakfast

It certainly wasn’t the best week of my life, but I’m happy to report that by Friday, I was almost back to normal.  And yesterday, after four days of near-constant nausea and pain, I felt great!  I’m all better and ready to rock and roll.

An unfortunate side effect of being sick is that I can’t quite bring myself to resume the diet I was following while I was sick.  It’s sad, really, because I was just eating what I normally eat, but being forced to lay on the couch to ward off any intestinal episodes has a way of shaping one’s appetite.  I could barely finish my morning bowls of oatmeal; those last few bites taunted and tortured me.  I probably should have just scraped the last bits into the garbage, but I’m a proud member of the Clean Plate Club, so I had to finish my breakfast, even if it meant laying on the couch between bites.

Fear not, dear reader: I tell you all of this not to gross you out but as a prelude to some exciting kitchen news.  It’s time for us to talk about the art of mixing.

Mixing is not exactly cooking.  Or maybe it is cooking, in a way.  Both art forms ask you to balance flavors, to combine ingredients in order to exceed the sum of the parts.  As you can see above, I employ my mixing skills when pouring a bowl of cereal, which is actually two cereals plus three different toppings.  It’s rather elaborate for a bowl of cereal on Saturday morning, but I don’t mind the extra few minutes of puttering in the kitchen, especially now that my morning hunger makes breakfast sound wonderfully appealing.  In that bowl, we have roughly equal parts Shredded Wheat and Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereals into which I’ve mixed a few spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter.  A bit of ground flax was sprinkled over the sticky cereal.  The final, crowning touch was a dab of homemade strawberry jam.  With a big splash of milk to moisten the whole thing, this breakfast had me scraping the last bits and slurping the milk out of the bottom of the bowl.

The mixing doesn’t stop there, though.  Oh no.  My mugs of coffee have become equally ridiculous, but I’m blaming Matt for this one.  When he’s visiting, we often go out for coffee in the late morning or after lunch.  It’s a comforting little ritual for us, and we like to sit around a tiny table and talk about everything under the sun.  That’s pretty much what we do, all the time: eat, drink, and talk.  I like it. 

Anyway, when we get coffee, Matt almost always fills his cup with two or three different brewed coffees.  Then he goes to work at the condiment station, adding cream, sugar, and whatnot.  I like to steal sips of his coffee, just to know what he’s tasting, and it always tastes amazing.  Maybe it’s that effect where drinking out of someone else’s cup makes things taste better, but I think there’s more to it than that.  One of his favorite combinations is a French roast mixed with vanilla-flavored coffee.  It’s pretty delightful: the deep, dark toasty notes of the French roast get lightened and brightened by the vanilla coffee, while the French roast adds depth and interest to the vanilla.  The two coffees balance each other without masking the flavors.  I was so inspired by this lesson that I went out and bought a bag each of French roast and vanilla-flavored coffee beans.  Since then, I’ve been making my morning coffee using a 2:1 ratio of vanilla coffee to French roast.  I mix one tablespoon of vanilla with half a tablespoon of French roast, then I add 1 1/3 cups of water to my little coffee-maker and hit the green button.  While the coffee brews, I add a big splash of milk, a tiny splash of heavy cream, and a teaspoon of vanilla sugar to my big orange mug.  I pour the brewed coffee into my mug and that, my friends, is my new morning coffee ritual.

I just love breakfast so much that I can’t help letting it become this elaborate morning ritual.  I rarely do much “cooking” in the morning—no eggs or pancakes for me at home, thanks—but a well-made bowl of cereal and a good cup of coffee start my day on the right note.  And my method is the perfect excuse to have breakfast for dinner, which I’ll happily do, just about any day of the week.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Almost-Here Season

Sweet Salty Spicy

Howdy, friends!

I’m afraid I’m turning into a flake, at least as far as this blog goes.  Last night, instead of writing about tomato soup, I decided to watch two episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.  Is that bad?  Not only did I not finish writing my blog post, I also didn’t read my new library book (The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton), finish cleaning the kitchen, do yoga, or pack my lunch for today.  In my defense, I seem to have the Rose-Anne Flu again, whose origins remain mysterious.  I’m afraid to point fingers, but I will say that I ate out two days in a row, and the Rose-Anne Flu seems to show up after I’ve eaten out somewhere.

My appetite has waxed and waned this week, despite my frequent nausea.  Mornings are the hardest, and evenings are pretty good.  I am managing to get something done at work this week as I dive headfirst into my new project.  I’m digging into the literature and filling myself with hope that the phenotype I’m studying will turn out to be real, in the sense that it is genetically tractable and we will be able to connect it to other biological pathways.  We shall see, but I am becoming increasingly optimistic about this thing.  As a result, and because I have something flulike right now, I’m not obsessing about food the way I usually do.  But fear not: my appetite for recipes shall return!  I know it will.

In the meantime, may I offer you a sampling of recipes that seem just right for this time of year?  It’s starting to smell like spring down here, that delicious smell of dirt and grass and flowers and sunshine.  This time of year makes me crave potatoes and lemon, radishes and broccoli, artichokes and spinach.  It’s a time of year to linger outside in the evening light, to start taking longer walks and noticing the wildflowers springing up out of nowhere.  And when it’s time to cook, it’s best to throw open the patio door, to let the breeze into your home while you chop and simmer with the radio on and the oven preheating.  It’s a good time of year.  I just hope this flu thing goes away quickly so I can enjoy every minute of the almost-here season.

Here are a few of my favorite springtime—or anytime, really—recipes:

* Easy Artichoke Sauce

* Greek Avgolemono Soup

* Rustic Lemony White Bean Stew

* Split Pea Soup with Green Peas and Fresh Mint

* Thai-Inspired Salad with Radishes and Roasted Potatoes

* Lemon Shortbread Bars with Chocolate Chips

See you soon, dear readers!

Another Sign of Spring

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In a Deep, Fudgy Kind of Way

Late Night in the Kitchen

It seems like everything is coming together this month.  I smashed my two-hour half-marathon goal.  My experiments at work are starting to suggest a new story of sorts, one that is weird and interesting and might be real.  I don’t know—there’s more work to be done, for sure, and I’m a die-hard skeptic about my own data, so we shall see.  And I am feeling so happy and so in love with Matt that it surprises me.  Our visits no longer feel rich with drama and anticipation.  Instead of fireworks and dramatic reunions, there’s a quieter sense of happiness, of deep friendship and affection, of knowing him and being known by him.  Sometimes I long for those early days when I was overtaken by the giddy joy of seeing him again, but I think I love him more now.  I feel more grown-up, and I think my love for him has grown up too.

Despite all that, I hope I won’t shock you when I say I’m glad he’s not here with me this weekend.  We had two visits in a short period of time, one in February when he was in town for business and one last weekend when he was in town for fun.  I feel spoiled, getting to spend so much time with him lately.  His visits are always so nice because he is good company.  In February, we took a Thursday off and enjoyed the rare pleasure of a weekday vacation.  We had a slow morning together, talking on the couch in our pajamas.  Eventually, our hungry bellies started talking to us, so we walked to Boston’s for pizza, and I remember looking at him across the table and telling him his eyes looked beautiful, which they did.  The pizzas were delicious, and for dessert, we got coffees at It’s a Grind and sat by the fire, lounging like lizards in front of its cozy warmth.  Later, we went ice skating, talking and laughing as we glided around the rink.  For dinner, Matt made us a lentil soup, and we drank wine and kept talking until my eyelids were heavy.  I kissed him good-night, and the next day, I kissed him good-bye until next time.

That next time was last weekend, which was a blur of meals and driving and running 13.1 miles in less than two hours.  We had no slow day together, which makes me sad because those days are the best.  We did have a leisurely dinner at The Lemon Wedge, where one of Matt’s favorite musicians happened to be playing (surprise!), and it was pretty nice to have other people feeding us on Saturday.  And seeing him at the finish line after Sunday’s half-marathon was amazing.  He didn’t mind hugging my sweaty, smelly self, who was just glowing with happiness.  For the two hours that I was running, he entertained himself by playing golf and then going to a coffeeshop to work.  I love that he feels comfortable enough around College Station that now, even without me, he knows how to get to the golf course and which coffeshops have the best coffee or the best ambiance for a little early-morning work.

I could go on and on about Matt, but like I said, he’s not here now and it’s not even a secret that I’m happy to be alone this weekend.  I miss him, of course, but I like the silence and the freedom that accompanies a solo weekend.  I like having time to savor the thought of him, to anticipate the next visit, to write about our visits and remember how pretty his eyes looked in the sunlight on that cold February day.  I also relish the chance to do things without considering his opinion.  Take Friday night, for example.  After a dinner of leftover black bean salad, dessert was me, a mug of orange tea, a Whip It DVD, and a chocolate raspberry cookie.  Of those four things, I think Matt would have enjoyed me and the DVD of hot girls on roller skates.  The herbal tea and the fruity cookie?  Eh, not so much. 

Chocolate-Raspberry Cookie

But he’s missing out.  That cookie is delicious in a deep, fudgy kind of way.  The flavor is complex, a harmonious and sophisticated combination of cocoa, raspberry, and almond extract.  The recipe calls for an entire teaspoon of almond extract, which might alarm you, but it really works.  Unless you don’t like almond extract, in which case I think you could leave it out altogether and still have a wonderful, fudgy-cakey vegan cookie.

Which brings me to my next point: the texture!  I love the texture of these cookies.  They are soft and sturdy, with a crumb that melts in your mouth.  Using raspberry preserves was an inspired way to make a vegan cookie that is both incredibly flavorful and has a wonderful texture.  I bet this recipe could be used as a template to make chocolate apricot cookies by substituting apricot preserves for the raspberry ones, but I haven’t tried that yet.  Or you could try strawberry, which, now that I’ve thought of it, I might try next because I’m on a chocolate-and-strawberries kick right now.  In any case, these cookies were a mighty fine dessert on Friday, and I’d be happy to have them coming out of my oven all summer long.

Chocolate Raspberry Cookies

From Veganomicon via Chrissy’s blog, The New Me

A word on the yield here: other bakers say this recipes makes 24 cookies, but I only got 16 out of my batch.  I also made fairly large, thick cookies using roughly golf-ball sized balls of dough, so if you like daintier cookies, make yours smaller.

Another variation to try: adding a handful of chocolate chips!  The texture of these cookies is already a little fudgy, but a chocolate cookie with melty chocolate chips is hard to beat.  With all these possible variations in mind, I think I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Nonstick cooking spray

1/2 cup raspberry preserves

1 cup sugar (I used vanilla-infused sugar here)

1/3 cup canola oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray two cookie sheets with nonstick spray.

2)  In a small mixing bowl, mix together the raspberry preserves, sugar, oil, and extracts until well combined.

3)  In a larger mixing bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, and salt.

4)  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones in three batches.  Using a wooden spoon, keep working the wet into the dry.  At the end, it might look like the dough is getting too dry, but hang in there and keep creaming everything together to make a thick dough.

5)  Roll the dough into large balls (golf-ball sized or about 1.5 inches in diameter) and place them on the cookie sheet.  Use your palm to flatten the ball into a thick disk.  The cookies only need to be spaced about half an inch apart because they don’t spread during baking.  I was able to fit eight cookies per sheet on my large cookie sheets.

6)  Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes.  Remove the cookies from their sheet and let them cool completely on a rack.  These cookies will keep perfectly for at least four days at room temperature in a tightly sealed container.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Reading List for 2011

The Bookclub Cookbook

I should know better than to browse a new bookstore and expect to walk out without purchasing anything.  Especially if I walk into that bookstore specifically to browse their cookbook collection and find terrific prices on many tempting titles.  I adore the cookbook section of every bookstore—it’s the sort of place I like to go when I’m feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, or even just bored.  College Station’s Half Price Books moved across town and into my neighborhood, and visiting the new store seemed like a good thing to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

I walked into Half Price Books, and the air smelled like fresh construction, that sharp mixture of wood and paper and cleaning solutions.  The store feels a little like a warehouse; it lacks the coziness of Barnes & Noble or Hastings.  There’s no cafe, no coffee brewing, just books and the people who love them.  Half Price Books is not a place for studying or hanging out with your friends; it’s a bookstore in the true sense of the word.  The cookbook section was to the left, divided into two nooks, one with the traditional and ethnic cookbooks and the other with the diet and healthy cookbooks.  I perused the shelves slowly—it was a slow afternoon—and found a copy of The New American Olive Oil by Fran Gage (and edited by our very own Luisa Weiss!), a book I had read once for my Project Olive Oil.  Here it was, in sparkling good condition, for less than ten bucks.  I took that one home with me.

But my bigger discovery of the day is pictured up at the top: an intriguing, enormous paperback called The Book Club Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp.  This book is a serious treasure trove for anyone who loves books and food.  This tome focuses on matching book club reading selections with delicious food to eat while discussing the book.  Admittedly, I am in a constant state of drowning in recipes, so I’m less interested in the recipes and more interested in the reading selections, though this book does contain recipes for mojitos and mint juleps, which I plan on drinking this summer while reading on my patio.  Anyway, I found this book at an opportune time, as I’ve been compiling my 2011 reading list, and The Book Club Cookbook offered lots of inspiration.  My friends also helped, and so did some of my blogging friends.  It’s a good thing that the university has a mighty fine library because I’m going to be combing its shelves regularly this year to find my fourteen selections.  Without further ado, here is my list for the year, in alphabetical order by title.

* The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.  Matt recommended this book to me when I was telling him how much I enjoyed reading about the Gilded Age of late nineteenth-century America in The Devil in the White City.  And what do you know!  It turned up as one of the first books discussed in The Book Club Cookbook.  How nice of the authors to remind me about Edith Wharton!

* The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.  This one sounds exciting!  And while Chrissy was reading it, she said, “It just keeps getting better and better!”  Now that’s my kind of adventure novel.  (And do click on the link and tell me the second photo is not the sweetest image of bedtime reading.  I love that photo.)

* Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God by Jonah Blank.  My beautiful bookworm friend a of still life offered me a dazzling array of recommendations, three of which I’m putting on The List.  She writes that this book “takes India's ancient epic folktale, the Ramayana, and follows it through modern India.”  Sounds interesting!

* The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.  Matt and I often go for walks in parks and woods, and he loves to mention this book.  I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read it yet.  Actually, I think he knows I haven’t read it or many of the other thousands of books he has read (literally! THOUSANDS!), but this one should be fun and interesting.  What’s not to love about plant sex?

* Chocolat by Joanne Harris.  I plucked this suggestion out of The Book Club Cookbook.  It’s hard to believe I haven’t read Chocolat yet!  For those of you who live under a rock like I do, here’s the gist: tiny French town scandalized when woman opens chocolate shop.  Priest is appalled.  Much deliciousness ensues.

* Four Fish: The Last Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg.  This one’s a recommendation from my friend JD, who is always reading provocative environmental and political books.  Though I don’t eat fish, the issues that surround food choices are near and dear to my heart.

* My Antonia by Willa Cather.  Ah, there are so many classic books out there that I have not read!  This is another.  Since this one is about pioneers in Nebraska, I’m hoping that it will inspire me to do more kitchen projects that I’ve neglected lately—granola, sourdough blueberry pancakes, homemade veggie burgers.  Not that they ate any of those things on the prairie, but whatever: it’s the do-it-yourself spirit that counts!

* Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  It’s hard to read classic books like Pride and Prejudice when you live under a rock.

* The Red Tent by Anita Diamint.  This biblically-inspired novel is another recommendation from The Book Club Cookbook.  Gail Hudson wrote, “It's been said that The Red Tent is what the Bible might have been had it been written by God's daughters, instead of her sons.”  Intriguing!  I love the idea of giving a voice to silent female characters from the Bible.  (And damn the patriarchy!) 

* Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop.  Another recommendation from a, this one is about bees and honey, which a said was “absolutely fascinating.”

* The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn.  I think I will love this book.  It should probably be required reading for scientists, though I say that before I’ve read the book.  I may change my mind.  Case in point: Richard Dawkins should probably be required reading for biologists, and I loathe reading books by Richard Dawkins.  So we shall see!

* Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land by Amy Irvine.  My friend Rebecca offered me this recommendation.  The story seems to revolve around Mormon social conflict and wilderness preservation in Utah.  The Booklist review on Amazon says, “Forthright and imaginative, sensitive and tough, Irvine joins red-rock heroes Edward Abbey and Terry Tempest Williams in breaking ranks and speaking up for the living world.”  The Edward Abbey mention hits me in the heart.  As much as I love the lush greenery of Michigan, I also love the stark open landscape of the desert. 

* Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  This selection is actually a reread for me.  I vaguely remember reading Wuthering Heights in high school, but it was so long ago that all I remember are the names of the two main characters, Heathcliff and Catherine.  Now that I’m older, I think I’ll enjoy this dark, twisted, classic novel with the wisdom one gains from surviving a few heartbreaks.

* Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.  The third pick on this list from my friend a, this one is the story of a Syrian-born man living in post-Katrina New Orleans and how his ethnicity made him a target of the War on Terror in a city devastated by natural disaster.  I think this one will break my heart, but I’ll have my hanky nearby.

* * *

I had thought that my reading list would be enormous—dozens and dozens of books, enough to keep me reading for the next five years.  But I think fourteen books is enough.  There’s a lot of variety here—adventure, romance, science, fiction, nonfiction, uplifting, darkhearted—and it’s really great to have culled my selections from a variety of people and sources.  Best of all, I have no excuses for not expanding my reading horizons.  Fortunately, one can expand one’s horizons from the comfort of the couch.  I’ll see you on the cushions, friends!

Evidence of Lounging

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It’s a Work in Progress

Dandelion Gone to Seed

I’m newly smitten with Christine Hennessey’s blog, The New Me, in which she shares all sorts of good stuff.  She and I have a lot in common: we both eat somewhere along the vegetarian spectrum (I’m a vegetarian, she’s a vegan who eats eggs occasionally), we’re both runners and cyclists, we both like to write and fancy ourselves “writers,” and we both live in east Texas.  The Texas thing is kind of huge for me, as I am still searching for like-minded people who find themselves hunkering down in the Lone Star State, and it’s fun to find a kindred blogger just a click away.

Chrissy is a dedicated goal-setter, which I find fascinating.  She writes lots of lists detailing her goals, her plans to reach them, and she even reviews her progress toward those goals.  I admire her ambition and her honesty.  If she didn’t make much progress toward a goal, she admits it.  And sometimes, in extreme cases, she lets herself off the hook when she realizes that a goal she set has failed to become “her” goal.  By that, I mean experience teaches her that her heart just wasn’t in it, so it’s time to let go and move on to newer and better goals.

I’ve read all the posts that fall under her goals category, and they made me want to revisit my own list of goals for the year.  In January, I shared a trio of resolutions with you, and I’m happy to report that I have been working on them!  It’s slow-going for me, this resolution stuff.  These goals are big ones for me, so it seems reasonable that they take time to develop.  Let’s see what things look like almost two months later.

* My first goal was to expand my cooking horizons with new cookbooks and recipes from friends.  Of my three goals, I’ve made the most progress on this one.  I’m happily cooking lots of delicious things from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark; it’s the book on which I’m focused right now.  I’ve also shared a friend-inspired recipe, the Oatmeal Shake.

* My second goal was to cultivate a more intellectual reading practice.  I’ve been working on my 2011 reading list for a few weeks now.  Compiling the list is tough!  It’s hard for me to know when to stop adding books.  To add to my indecision, I recently bought a book called The Book Club Cookbook, which is filled with suggestions for book club reading selections.  I could probably read for five or ten years based off of the suggestions in that book.  Nevertheless, I hope to share my list with you before the end of this month.  And of course, I’ll be hitting the library to find a few items on my list.  I can’t wait to sit outside on my patio, sipping a mojito and reading classic literature while a breeze tickles my skin.

* My final resolution was the hardest of all to admit: begin letting go of my anxiety.  This one is really, really tough.  There have been some interesting developments in my research lately, so I haven’t felt as anxious, but that could change quickly, so this resolution is still very important.  One thing I am doing regularly is reminding myself that scientific discoveries are made when we take risks.  Risk is inherent in the work I do in the lab.  I think it’s helping a little bit for me to keep reminding myself that uncertainty is unavoidable, so I’d better get used to it.  The other thing I’m going to start this week is a 40-day yoga and meditation project, which I think will be very restorative and calming.  I’ll be writing more about that on my running/fitness blog, Feels Like Flying.  Since I just finished a half-marathon, it’s a good time for me to work on a different aspect of my health while I recover from the half.

I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I am indeed working on these resolutions in small ways.  Sometimes I set goals, but I don’t really commit to them.  I suppose that makes me kind of flaky.  I’d argue, however, that it takes a high degree of self-awareness to set attainable goals.  For example, generally I don’t like exercising in the morning.  If one of my goals was to exercise in the morning, I’m not sure it would be accomplished unless I set up exercise dates with other people.  I would need a lot of outside pressure to change my habits.  Likewise, it’s easier for me to spiff up my apartment if I have guests.  When left to my own devices, I’m a bit messier and dirtier.  But the three resolutions I’ve made for this year are things I really want to do for myself, and only one of them is a major change.  I feel optimistic about what I can do with ten months to work on these challenges!

So, tell me: did you make resolutions this year?  And if so, how are they going?  Have you accomplished them, taken baby steps like me, or have you abandoned them in favor of your old ways?

Friday, March 4, 2011

All is Well

Late Night Table

Hi, y’all!  This is Rose-Anne’s Kitchen, checking in with her sweet readers to say that all is well over here.  Rose-Anne has been really busy this week, and the busy-ness is going to flow right on into the weekend.  A special gentleman is coming to town this evening, and I hear they’ve got reservations at The Lemon Wedge, in Bryan, Texas, College Station’s better half.  On Saturday—and I can’t even believe this is true—they won’t be cooking with me at all, except for maybe some breakfast nibbles.  There’s a lunchtime birthday party to attend and a dinner party invitation across town.  Oh, and at some point between the festivities, Rose-Anne has to pick up her race packet for Sunday’s half-marathon.

It sounds like a marathon weekend to me!  Don’t tell anyone, but Rose-Anne confided she’s feeling a bit stressed about all the activity, not the least of which is a 13.1-mile race starting at 7 AM on Sunday.  I told her that maybe she should cancel something so as not to go crazy, but she said that she’d rather be a little stressed than cancel any of the plans.  “So be it!” I said.  Actually, it doesn’t sound too bad, letting other people do the cooking and then just showing up to eat and laugh and share stories.  Then there’s the Matt factor: things are always more fun and relaxed when he’s around.  I think she’ll be okay.  She also wants me to wish you a happy weekend.

Until next time!  And for those of you who want to know how the half-marathon turns out, you can check out Rose-Anne’s running blog, Feels Like Flying, where she shares pictures of her feet and bikes caught in trees.