Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fresh, Calm, Pretty

Scenes from a Sunday at home…

Blurry Soup



Today is my first day away from the lab in over three months.  I would say it’s my first day completely off from work, but I did some work this morning (shhh…).  How nice is it to work in pajamas, at home, relaxed and happy!  It’s very nice.  I wish I could work at home more often.

It’s been a really lovely, slow day.  I made vegetable and rice soup for lunch, listened to Iron & Wine and Gillian Welch on the CD player, and walked very slowly to the grocery store for some provisions.  I spent quality time with Nigel Slater, reading the chapter on pumpkins and winter squash in Tender and dreaming of the cooler days to come.  I swear, I want to cook everything in that chapter, from the pumpkin pangrattato with rosemary and orange to the sausages with pumpkin mash to the pumpkin laksa to the pumpkin scones.  Everything sounds delicious and hearty and filling—all my favorite qualities about food.

I also gave this blog its first makeover, and I’m really happy with the results!  The new look feels fresh, calm, and pretty to me—all things that I’d like to be, quite frankly, though usually I’m frazzled, anxious and sweaty.  But maybe the blog can inspire new levels of patience and serenity in me.  If you’re reading through Google Reader or a similar medium, I encourage you to click on over here and check out the new look.  Let me know what you think!

Right now I’ve got a roasted tomato soup resting its heels on the stovetop, and if it’s any good, I’ll tell you about it soon.  I know I promised you a recipe yesterday, but how about we compromise and I’ll post a recipe sooner rather than later?  I bet at least a few of you are like me—you read blogs as much for the beautiful writing and photography as for the recipes.  I also read blogs because I like to check in on my blog friends to see what they are doing.  On that note, I’ll end by saying hello, happy Sunday, and have a good week!  Next time, we can meet in the kitchen, with tomatoes, ready to cook.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Five Bamboo, Thank You!

My dear readers, perhaps you will indulge me just one post about my closet.  I realize that in theory, this is a food blog and in theory, I post recipes.  In fact, I hope that the very next thing I share with you, after this post, will be a recipe because I still like food.  I’m sure you do too.  I even have something in the oven right this minute and it’s smelling really delicious.  I hope the taste lives up to the smell!  If it does, I’ll tell you about it soon.

Today’s post is a story about my closet, my transition out of graduate school, and a sweet little company in Seattle called Five Bamboo.  Two years ago (give or take a few months), I started a new job and a new phase in my professional life.  For the first time, I was a professional, a professional scientist.  I jumped into my new job with gusto, embracing my new status as a postdoc.  My closet, however, was still that of a graduate student who liked to shop at thrift stores and who liked to save money.  It was also the closet of a woman who lived in the Great White North, where it’s winter six months a year.  I had a pretty awesome collection of sweaters, and I was a pro at wearing layers to keep warm.

Then I moved to Texas, and suddenly, a closet that had once seemed perfectly satisfying was lacking some oomph.  I needed more warm-weather clothing that was stylish, work-appropriate, and made me feel good when I wore it.  While wandering around the internet, I came across a style blog, then another one, and another, and I landed at What Would a Nerd Wear, who told me about Five Bamboo.  One visit to their website, and I was sold.  Or a dress was sold.  To me.  I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

I fell pretty hard for Five Bamboo because they offered me two things I wanted: beautiful clothing that feels good to wear, even in the hottest days of a Texas summer, and responsible consumerism.  I’ve written before about Five Bamboo’s sustainably made bamboo fiber clothing.  Now, after several months of wearing and washing their clothes, I can say that the pieces I’ve bought are in regular rotation in my closet, and they are holding up well.

Today I thought I’d share a few photos from my Five Bamboo collection, as a way to say thank you to a wonderful company and to encourage you to check out their stuff.

Theresa in Elusive Dress

That’s actually not me, wearing that orange dress.  This lovely is my sister, Theresa, and she’s wearing the Elusive dress in papaya.  I also own this dress and love it.  When I wear it, I feel a bit like a creamsicle, in the best way.  I love how Theresa added blue accents to the dress—the combination looks very fresh and summery.

Favorite Everyday Dress

Feeling Dressy

Okay, this weirdo is me.  Here I’m wearing the Artemis dress in applewax green, which is the first piece I bought from Five Bamboo.  This summer, I’ve really gotten into scarves, and I love how the yellow scarf plays against the green dress.

Still Fakin It

Fake Fashion Model

Here I am again, pretending to be a chic model.  Most of my outfit is from Target, but underneath my white cardigan I’m wearing a shelf tank in raspberry red.  When I ordered the Elusive dress, Five Bamboo sent me the tank as a thank-you for mentioning them on my blog, and I was really touched by the kind gesture.  I’m not the kind of blogger who gets much in the way of free stuff, so it’s a thrill when it does happen.  I wasn’t expecting it!  I also wasn’t sure how I would wear this tank, but I love how it came together here, a bold splash of color to tie together the pale cardigan and skirt.  Also, these photos were taken in front of one of my favorite modern buildings on campus, which happens to be a great place to take self-portraits.

Squinty-Eyed Outside

And finally, this is what I’m wearing today.  I bought the flowered top ages ago at Marshall’s, but I was never quite comfortable wearing it because it’s too loose in the top.  Finally I figured out that I could wear a close-fitting tank underneath and let the flowery top be loose and flowing without worrying about spillage.  Here the shelf tank is providing coverage and support and a little bit of complexity in the form of an additional layer.  I’m happy with how this turned out because now I can wear a blouse I always liked, in theory, but could never wear in practice!

And now, I must turn my attention to matters of the belly.  Happy weekend, everyone, and do hop over to Five Bamboo’s site to check out their awesome goods!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Is…

This is Summer

Impromptu and Delicious

…fresh basil straight out of Christopher’s backyard garden, turned into a pesto for pasta.

That pesto was no traditional pesto, not by a long shot.  My kitchen is running out of certain staples right now, and I’m teetering on the edge of overspending on groceries this week, so I decided to make do with what’s already lounging in the cupboard.  I buzzed the basil leaves with fantastic olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and a half cup of frozen peas that I thawed by dropping them into boiling water for a minute or two.  Christopher’s basil is incredibly flavorful, almost pungent in its strength, so the peas helped to mellow the basil while adding some bulk and nubbly-creaminess to the pasta sauce.

As you can see above, I tossed the sauce with farfalle pasta (along with another half-cup of peas) and topped it with more cheese.  The result was delicious: fresh and summery, yet comforting in its starchy familiarity.  Things feel really busy over here this week, so it was nice to spend some time puttering in the kitchen without putting in too much effort.  Really, the basil did all the work for me.  I just tried to treat it right.

Hope summer is treating you right, wherever you are.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Great Writers Steal: Seven Links from the Archives

View From My Writing Studio

I was tickled when Chrissy tagged me for the seven links meme.  Just tickled!  I like memes, but I am rarely tagged because I’m not a very social blogger.  On-line me is like real me: I have a handful of good friends, but otherwise I’m rather hermitlike.  At least I’m not as bad as Nigel Slater, who said,

"I understood that if ever one wanted to live with someone you cooked for them and they came running. But then it is my idea of hell these days, living with someone. The idea of sharing your life with someone is just utterly ghastly. I know why people do it, but it's never a good idea.”

Yikes!  You’d think that a hermit like me would appreciate his sentiments, but I’m not quite jaded enough about the people I love to describe our time together as “ghastly.”  Yikes.

But I digress.  The seven links meme is a look back into a blog’s archives to name blog posts that fit seven categories.  As I was thinking about the years I’ve spent writing this blog, I realized that my posts tend to fall into one of two categories: the food-focused recipe posts or the reflective personal posts.  There’s a lot of overlap, of course, but lately I’ve been doing a lot of personal writing in which food makes appearances but is not the primary focus.

Given this bifurcation in my writing efforts, I’ve decided to do two versions of this meme: a personal post version and a food-and-recipe post version.  Today we’ll start with the personal posts.

* My most beautiful post is Two Tales of One Soup.  That soup, and that post, were the beginning of something really special, and they both came straight from the heart.  Matt’s graciousness in allowing me to write about him, and us, is something for which I am very grateful.

* My most popular post is, according to StatCounter, On Bravery, Wine, and Romance.  But I’m giving the second-place prize to Where the Apple Trees Grow, an essay about Michigan and my family and which received a whopping eight comments!  (Okay, four of them were from me.  Don’t judge.)

* My most controversial post is Saturday, with Generosity, Hope, and the Color Green, in which I mouth off about marriage and declare myself queer.  At the time, I wondered if the post would alienate my readers, but my hope was that it would spark a dialogue.  My readers were silent, so I have no idea what effect the post had on people who know me only as a blogger.  With other friends, I’ve been lucky enough to have some deep and meaningful conversations about relationships and reproduction.  In the year or so since I published that post, I’ve arrived at a softer, more nuanced position with regard to marriage, but I maintain my blissful ambivalence about having children of my own.  It might be enough for me to be an auntie and good friend without being a mother.  Though my niece Lydia did once say to me, “I your bee-bee!”  I can live with that!

* My most helpful post is…helpful to whom?  I do not know how to answer this question, especially with a readership as quiet as mine.  (It’s okay, quiet readers, I still like you.)  If I have to make a choice here, I’d say that Sexy, Messy, Homespun Love is a helpful post for anyone interested in making cooking a part of a stay-at-home date night routine.  For me, on a very personal note, Where the Wooden Spoon Rests was a good post to help me come to terms with my friends becoming parents.  It’s not always easy being a friend to parents, but I think it’s worth the effort.  It’s also worth the effort to cultivate friendships with non-parents so you don’t go insane after watching too many episodes of Thomas & Friends or Wonder Pets!  [Caution: noisy links!]   

* A post whose success surprised me is One Piece of the Puzzle, a post that was written as part of the Tandem Posting Project with my friend Ammie.  We were writing about gender that week, and after the post was published, a friend of mine sent me an e-mail to tell me that the post was “universally appreciated.”  We live in a world where gender is often used as a weapon, and it’s really unfair and unfortunate.  If my post touched just one other person or helped one reader feel a little more at peace with the gender issues in his or her life, then I feel I have done one good thing with this blog.

* A post I feel didn’t get the attention it deserved is Circles.  That post was a good-bye love letter to Chicago, the Midwest, and my family as I got ready for my new adventure in Texas.  The fall of 2009 was a sad season for me, a season of endings.

* The post I’m most proud of is the next one that I’ll write!  What an impossible question.  Even after four years of blogging, I still feel that writing is its own reward, and whether the end product is good, bad, or boring, I can never regret the effort behind the blog.

Following Chrissy’s lead, I’m going to tag some of my blogging friends to see which seven links they’d choose.

1)  My lovely friend a of still life.  a has been on a blogging hiatus for a while, but she’s an incredible writer and I’d love to read her thoughts on (can it be?) eight years of blogging.  Wow.

2)  Shannon of the ever-creative, ever-cooking Tri to CookCorn ice creamWasabi truffles?!?  Shannon’s kitchen adventures are unbelievable.  I’d love to be invited to her next dinner party!

3)  Raquelita of Historiadora on the Run.  Raquelita’s posts are fun, inspirational, yet down-to-earth.  She runs multiple long-distance races a year, keeps lots of balls in the air as a busy academic, and somehow finds time to keep writing her blog.  Kudos, Raquelita!

4)  (I would tag Kate O. of Effing the Ineffable, but Chrissy tagged her first, and Kate posted her seven links here.  Go read ‘em!)

Have a good week, everyone!

PS  Want to join the seven links fun?  Consider yourself tagged, and leave me a link so I can check out your blog!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Up, Down, and All Around

Glossy Green Leaves

Looking Down Again

Hey Bunny

Greetings, my darlings!  I’m getting a little hooked on these Thursday lists; it’s a nice way to look back at my week and pick out the highlights.  And that’s really the way it works: I pick out the best stuff easily and quickly, but the un-best stuff is harder to put my finger on.  I’m grateful for that, the ease with which I remember the good stuff and forget the bad.  It helps that I’m reluctant to dwell too much on things like work stress or the heat, which are fairly constant for me right now.  I have so many good moments and people in my life, and I like to remind myself of them.

Let’s do this!

On the Up side of things:

* Being open to uncertainty, to possibility.  Feeling ready for what’s next.

* Writing.  It does something magical for me, even if the only one reading the words is me.

* Serendipitous photo opportunities.  I love rabbits!  They are furry, adorable, twitchy, nervous little creatures, which makes them terrible subjects for photo-taking.  But sometimes, as you can see above, it works out.  Hi, Fluffy!

* Peaches!  The peaches this summer have been very, very good.  Peaches and nectarines are my favorite summer fruits (though I am, of course, reluctant to choose), so I am especially happy when they are particularly good.

* Working on recipes.  I’ve got a black bean dish in the works and a cookie recipe I want to share here.  I like having ongoing projects—it makes me feel productive and optimistic.

* Phone calls, long ones and short ones, with good friends.  I really do have the best friends.

* The public::bookstore blog and in particular, this gorgeous post.

Looking Down on things:

* Feeling insecure this week about things that are pretty darn solid.  Matt blames it on the full moon.  Perhaps this is really an issue of transferring anxiety about one area of my life to another?  Do you do this too?  Or am I just crazy?

* {SPOILER ALERT!}  True Blood keeps killing my favorite characters!  First Longshadow from way back when, now Franklin.  Franklin made me laugh.  I’m gonna miss that crazy vampire.

* Patience.  I need more of it.

Have a good weekend, dear readers!  I wouldn’t mind spending my weekend sipping a cocktail in a garden with this kind of beauty:


Gorgeous, no?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Of the Essence

Peach on Cutting Board

These are the days, aren’t they?  These days that sit in the heart of summer, the days that are bursting with heat and sunshine and the earth pulsing with life.  These are the days of summertime produce, fresh-picked and juicy and in need of nothing more than a few quick strokes of the knife, a drizzle of olive oil, and a shake of salt and pepper.

These really are the days.

We’ve had a little bit of a cool spell here in Texas, meaning that it feels almost pleasant outside.  I’m enjoying it, this temporary reprieve from stifling triple-digit temperatures.  It may be temporary, but I’m growing accustomed to enjoying temporary pleasures, such as full-time employment.  Have I mentioned that I may not have a job in October?  Yes, it’s true.  I’ve been avoiding the subject here for a while, fearful that saying anything would mean that I’d have to say everything.  In addition, I’ve been too busy actually working to say anything coherent about my work life.  But I’ve decided that I’m tired of secrets; I wanted to tell you the truth.  I won’t divulge the gory details, but I will say this: after weeks and weeks of anger, tears, anxiety, sweat, frustration, and working my tail off, I am at peace with whatever happens.  Job, no job, Texas, no Texas: I’ll be okay.  I still have a PhD and plenty to offer professionally, so I know that I will be okay.  And knowing that I will be okay has loosened the death grip that worry had on my heart.  It feels a little bit like that day I sat in a garden, contemplating my future when the truth dawned on me like so many clouds parting to reveal the sun: everything is going to be okay.

But that’s not to say that things are going to be easy, especially if and when it’s time to leave College Station.  I have an uneasy relationship with this town.  I don’t love it.  It’s not really my kind of town.  Maybe that sounds snooty or condescending, but it’s the truth.  I’m a city girl, and College Station is not my idea of city.  Chicago is my idea of city, or Austin, or any place with farmers’ markets and urban hippies and Whole Foods and queer folks and intellectuals and single people over the age of 25.  College Station is a little lopsided.  It’s college students and families, a place run by white men for white men.  I work here, but I’m not sure I belong here.

It will be with mixed emotions that I say good-bye to College Station, which I am sure I will do sooner or later.  But it will be with real sadness that I say good-bye to the few good friends I made during my time here.  The friend I will miss the most is my best local friend, Amutha.  She’s a good one, Amutha, with a big heart, a bright mind, and a great sense of humor.  We’ve grown close since I moved here, and I treasure our friendship, which we’ve built slowly but surely, over hallway talks and shared lunches and the occasional homecooked meal.

A few weeks ago, I invited her over for dinner.  She e-mailed me, “What should I bring?”  I wrote back, “Salad?  Or your favorite summer vegetable recipe?  Or surprise me :-)”  She showed up with ingredients for one terrific little summer salad, which I wanted to share with you today.  Perhaps you, like me, are into chop-and-mix cooking during these long summer days.  It doesn’t get too much easier than a six-ingredient salad in which three of the components are lime juice, salt, and pepper.  Can you say easy-peasy?

Out of her bag, Amutha pulled a cucumber, a yellow bell pepper, an avocado, and a lime.  She peeled the cucumber, then sliced it into juicy little disks.  The bell pepper was quickly transformed into bite-sized pieces.  Using a spoon, she carved the avocado into chunks, scattering it over the cucumber and bell pepper.  Finally, she dressed the salad with a squeeze of lime, a few pinches of salt, a quick grind of black pepper before gently tossing everything together.

Amuthas Summer Salad


The combination was phenomenal: juicy, refreshing cucumber; bright, crunchy, herbal bell pepper; and cool, creamy avocado.  The lime juice added a sparkle of lip-puckering acid, and the salt and pepper rounded out the flavor palette.  I took one bite, and I was hooked.

So I made it again this week, and I’ll make it again next week too.  It’s so easy and so good, healthy and satisfying and the essence of summer.  It won’t be nearly as good once cucumbers and bell peppers are out of season, so like all pleasures, this one is temporary.  But it’s so worth it.

Amutha’s Summer Salad

Serves 2-3 as a side salad

Amutha told me she also makes an all-green version of this salad by swapping the bell pepper for celery.  To a celery-lover like me, it sounds great, so I can’t wait to make that variation too.

1 large cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthwise and sliced into disks

1 large yellow bell pepper, diced into small dice

1 medium or large avocado, cut into bite-sized chunks

Half a lime

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1)  In a large bowl, mix together the cucumber, bell pepper, and avocado.  Squeeze some lime juice over everything, then toss to mix.

2)  Sprinkle a few pinches of salt over the vegetables, then add a modest grind or two of black pepper.  Toss again and serve.  Leftovers of this salad will keep for at least a day or two if refrigerated.  I think the lime juice helps keep everything tasting fresh.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday Up/Down

Asparagus Sign

I should be figuring out how to use Skype right now so that it’s all ready to go for a work thing tomorrow, but you know, I feel like goofing off.  I think it’s important to have enough time in your day or your week to play or explore or daydream.  Or write self-indulgent blog posts, if that’s your thing.  I haven’t had nearly enough time lately to goof off!  And it’s making me feel dull.  To cheer myself up, I thought I’d write another Thursday list, +/- or Up/Down style.  I wanted to write one last week and never got around to it, so this one feels overdue in my head.

On the Up side:

* It’s almost Friday!  I have to work (again) this weekend, but my workload won’t be too heavy (I hope), and I’ll (probably) have some time to relax.

* I discovered a holistic garden on my side of campus.  I’m totally smitten with it.  Do you think the gardeners would mind if I moved in?

* Four words: True Blood, Season Three.  Two more words: on DVD.  This season is, quite frankly, scaring the shit out of me, but it is so, so good.

* I treated myself to some new books from Amazon, and they arrived today!  On the coffee table: Tender by Nigel Slater, which looks gorgeous, delicious, and inspiring.  On the night stand: The Kid by Dan Savage.  Dan may be a gay man and a little too snarky for my taste, but I still think I have a crush on him.  He makes me laugh out loud, which is the best way for anyone to make me fall in love with him.

* I’ve started taking a shadier and more scenic bike route to work when I ride, and it really makes for a lovely morning.  This route is slightly less direct, but I feel like it’s worth the extra time.

On the Down side: 

* Oh, the heat.  I know it’s cliché and boring to live in Texas and complain about the heat in the summer, but I feel like the heat is creeping up into the temperature range that makes it almost impossible for me to bike home from work in the evenings.  I am so counting the days until October.

* I’m doing this experiment at work these days that makes my fingers ache as though they are arthritic.  Also, I may be going insane from spending too many hours in front of my microscope.  My labmates are urging me to take a “microscope-free” day, but I can’t!  I have data to collect!

* * *

I’d better go figure out this Skype thing.  Happy almost-weekend, dear readers!

Monday, July 11, 2011

On Bravery, Wine, and Romance

This is Part Two of a little rambling series about love.  If you missed Part One, read this first!

Oh, nostalgia.  How easily it paints over rough and crumbling bits of the past.  How deceptively it makes the past look happy and carefree, like so many halcyon days spent frolicking in the sunshine.  It’s easy to rewrite the past, and maybe that’s for the best.  Whatever pains we endured, we know that we made it through to the present moment.

I remember now what the hardest part of being with Matt is: the part where I’m not with him.

It’s funny because now I’m so accustomed to the rhythm of our relationship that I almost want to make a phone call to myself, circa 2007, to say two things to her.  “You should totally go for it with Matt!  And it’s okay to miss him because he’ll miss you too.  He’s worth it, and you’ll get used to being with him and not being with him.  That rhythm, for you, will seem normal eventually.  I know it seems really crazy and impossible, but it’ll be great.  Trust me.”

When he visits me in my little town, it’s like I get to go on vacation for a few days, and I love that sense of being able to relax and enjoy what this town has to offer.  Postdoc life, it seems, is a life devoted to work.  Weekends without work?  I don’t remember what those are.  I miss those weekends.  Because he works all the time, Matt understands my life and the relentless demands of work that I’m facing these days.  When I tell him that even during his visit, I’ll need to go to the lab to collect some data, he doesn’t roll his eyes or make a face to express his displeasure.  Instead, he does what he always does and says, “Hey, that’s cool.  I’ll just go read while you are working.”

I know it sounds like such a small thing.  But to have someone believe in you, really believe in you, is almost like having a superpower.  I wrote to him this week, telling him that I was feeling overwhelmed with the most recent twist in my research, and he wrote back, “I know that you can do it.”  His relentless positive cheer and support is the perfect antidote to the anxiety that’s telling me I can’t do this.

So I soldier on, bolstered by the support of a ridiculously confident man, and when he comes to visit me, I scale back my weekend workload so that we can spend some time together, in person, a rare treat.  Matt visited me last month, a week after one of the worst days in my working life, when the dust and the debris had barely begun to settle.  I told him he was brave, coming to visit me at such an awful time, and he said he was sorry he couldn’t have been there for me when things fell apart the week before.  I felt bad for him, because as much as I wanted to have a fun, relaxing weekend with him, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen because I was so wrapped up in anger, fear, and worry.

Our visit was a little bumpy at first, and it was all my fault.  There were tears, and disappointment, and a bottle of expired wine.  (The wine was actually Matt’s fault, his first ever fail when picking wine for us to drink!  It’s good to know that even he-who-has-more-confidence-than-Barack-Obama fails every once in a while.)  We ended up ditching the bad wine and heading over to Veritas, a beautiful and charming wine bar and bistro just down the road from my apartment.  I really like Veritas, but it’s a tad pricey for my budget, so I go there less often than I’d like.  But that evening, though we had dinner reservations elsewhere, Veritas was the perfect place for happy hour.  We shared two glasses of wine and a plate of stinky cheeses, and I fell in love with Matt all over again, even though he tried to poison us both just minutes before.

Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was the way that going to Veritas reminded me of a special evening we’d shared in that bistro last summer, but I felt like someone had pushed my reset button and I could finally, finally relax into the weekend.  After Veritas, we hopped in the car and drove to Bryan for a nice dinner at Madden’s, where the food was good but not great.  My salad was terrific and totally delicious, but my entree was so-so and too spicy for my taste.  (I blame the jalapeno pesto.  And maybe I should have known better?)  They did have a pretty big menu, so perhaps I didn’t hit the dinner jackpot and should try my luck again.  But to be honest, at that point, good-but-not-great food was fine with me.  I was perfectly content to sit at a table with my favorite carnivore, sipping wine and enjoying our date and feeling more like myself with every passing minute.  Because as much as I may be unruffled by the time we spend apart, I like it more when we are together.  That’s what romance is to me: time spent together, hoping for emotional and physical intimacy.  It’s so simple but so hard to get right.  It can’t be forced, but it can be planned, a little bit, and then we just have to smile and dive in.

I’m so glad I took that first plunge.

Stay tuned for Part Three of the essay that goes on and on!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

No Time to Waste. Time to Eat Cherries.

I have a true story to tell you.  A few days ago, I realized that I had not eaten any cherries this year.  I panicked.  I wondered if I had completely missed cherry season because I’ve been so distracted by the blueberries and the peaches.  I grabbed my shopping list, wrote “Cherries!" and hoped that I wasn’t too late.


And thank heavens!  Fresh cherries, so plump and shiny and perfect, are still elbowing the peaches and blueberries at the market.  I brought home a two-pound bag of fresh cherries last night and immediately adjusted my dessert plans to include cherries.  Because when it’s high summer, we have no time to waste.  We must make time to eat cherries before it’s too late.

So that’s my story.  What goodies have been filling your fruit basket lately, friends?

Wednesday Night Sunset

Above is the sunset I saw last night.  Lovely, isn’t it?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pizza for Busy Days


Pizza!  It may be man’s greatest invention ever.  I discovered recently that pizza is an excellent solution when you have to feed meat-lovers and meat-abstainers, but you still want to share a meal rather than have separate dishes for the two groups.  I admit that when it comes to family-style meals, I am not a huge fan of separate options for the vegetarians.  To me, it takes away from the cozy, communal quality of the meal.

Pizza, with its ability to segregate ingredients on top of the same pie, is the perfect communal food.  It’s delicious and endlessly adaptable for different palates.  It’s a fun homemade dinner option for the cook who can never make the same thing twice, because not only are the toppings of pizza infinitely flexible, but there is also a wonderful array of crust options.  I’ve told you about two pizza dough recipes in the past,  a traditional recipe (with whole-grain options) and an almond flour pizza crust, both of which are great.  But because I am a curious cook and because I am susceptible to the promise of a shiny new recipe, I tried a new pizza dough recipe this spring.  And I liked it.  The recipe comes from someone else who is always stockpiling new recipes to try, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen.  She has an incredibly useful page about making great pizza, and what caught my attention about her dough recipe is not that it seemed better than all the other ones out there but that it made enough for a pizza that served two people.  It seemed like such wonderful simplicity—pizza for two, or pizza for one with leftovers for the next day’s lunch.  How perfect for us single cooks!

However.  I can’t really say anything about Deb’s recipe because I didn’t follow her recipe.  Typical, right?  I can never leave well enough alone.  I had a packet of this pizza dough yeast lurking around in my cupboard, and I wondered if I could pull the old switcheroo to make a fast, weeknight pizza crust using the Smitten Kitchen recipe.  The answer, of course, is yes.  Or is it?  Was this another episode of “Watch Rose-Anne Eff Up Her Dinner”?  Maybe the crust was gummy and weird, or maybe it was flavorless and disappointing?  Should I stop trusting my instincts and start following the damn recipes, for heaven’s sake?

Nah, that would be too easy!  And the pizza crust was great.  It was a little crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and thoroughly delicious.  Flavorwise, it tasted the way a pizza crust should taste: like really good bread.  My position on pizza is that the flavor of the crust should be good without overpowering the toppings.  In this sense, the crust should be more neutral than the sauce, cheese, and any other goodies that are lucky enough to grace your pizza.  In the photo above, I topped my pizza with the usual suspects (sauce and cheese) along with thinly sliced zucchini and a few dabs of ricotta cheese.  I ground some black pepper over the whole thing, popped it in the oven, and out came a gorgeous pizza for two.     

Busy-Day Pizza Dough

Adapted from this recipe on Smitten Kitchen

Makes enough for the perfect pizza for two

For the flour, I like to use about 1/2 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour with 1 cup all-purpose flour.  I don’t want my crust to be too heavy, so that’s why I don’t use more whole wheat flour, which can make baked goods and breads dense and heavy.

And about that wine: I think it adds a little extra flavor to the dough.  I always keep white wine on hand for cooking, and I recommend that you do too.  Even if the wine has past its prime for drinking, it will still work well in cooking as long as it isn’t ancient.  If the wine actually tastes foul, then it’s over the hill—don’t use it!  Open a new bottle, or just use water instead.

1 1/2 cups flour (see note above)

1 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. pizza dough yeast, such as Fleischmann’s Pizza Crust Yeast

1/2 cup lukewarm water (not too hot or you’ll kill the yeast!) plus a little more if needed

1 tbsp. dry white wine

1 tbsp. olive oil

Cooking spray

Cornmeal for sprinkling

1)  In a medium or large bowl, mix together the flour(s), salt, and pizza dough yeast.  Add the water, wine, and olive oil, and mix everything into a dough.

2)  Lightly flour a countertop, dump your dough on top, and knead for a few minutes until the dough feels smooth and moist without being extremely sticky.  I have a habit of overflouring my dough, so I say err on the side of letting the dough be a little sticky.  If it feels too dry, sprinkle the dough with a little water and knead it into the dough.

3)  Using the bowl in which you mixed up the dough, spray it with cooking spray, place the dough in it, and cover it with a plate or plastic wrap.  Set it aside for a few minutes. 

4)  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F or the highest temperature your oven will allow.  Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray and sprinkle with cornmeal.  Prep your pizza ingredients.

5)  Lightly flour a countertop, or use your previously floured spot, and roll out the dough to your desired thickness.  Move it to the prepped baking sheet, and top the pizza with your toppings.  Bake the pizza for 10-11 minutes.  Serve hot or warm.  

Monday, July 4, 2011

Just Following Orders

I’m sure all of you will be thrilled to know that I have made excellent progress on my weekend to-do list.  There’s a batch of soup cooling its heels on my stove now.  Last night, after going on a photo walk at dusk, I laid in bed with freshly painted toes (not covered up, of course—those nails needed to dry!), reading Dreaming in Hindi and feeling more relaxed than I have in weeks.  It was wonderful.  And perhaps most importantly, between Saturday and Sunday, there were three chocolate egg creams, but only two of them were enjoyed by me.

Recipes for egg creams always catch my eye, and I always think the same thing: I want one!  Unfortunately, it took years to turn my wanting into sipping, because I’m easily distracted and I’d forget about egg creams until the next time I saw a recipe.  But thankfully, Melissa Clark and her cookbook put an end to my flaky pattern, and the chocolate egg cream is working its way into my regular dessert and snack rotation.

This recipe is really two recipes in one: a recipe for thick, deeply chocolatey syrup, and a recipe for the chocolate egg cream.  I think it’s nice to have very basic recipes, like syrups, under your belt so you know you can always make a homemade batch of syrup as long as you have sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and a sly bit of salt.  You also need water, but I’m going to assume you always keep that on hand.  I know I do.

Making Chocolate Syrup

The syrup is a simple stovetop job that you mix together and let bubble away gently for a few minutes until it becomes thick and glossy.  Assembling the egg cream is even easier: simply measure, pour, and stir.  And if you’re really feeling wild and crazy, you don’t really have to measure, though I do because I am compulsive like that sometimes.

You know, they say that chocolate milk is an excellent beverage to drink after a work-out.  Since a chocolate egg cream is basically chocolate milk made fizzy with club soda, I’d have to say that a chocolate egg cream seems like an even better post-work-out option.  It’s reasonably nutritious, assuming you eat dairy, and it’s got a nice balance of sweet and salty to replenish blood sugar and all those lost electrolytes.  If you don’t like or can’t eat dairy, I bet you could make an excellent vegan chocolate egg cream with almond or coconut milk.  And the homemade syrup below is vegan, so you can still get that deep chocolatey flavor from your own efforts.

(Can you tell I’ve been reading vegan blogs and running blogs lately?  I thought so.)

Happy 4th of July, my dear readers!  May your egg creams always be cold, fizzy, and perfectly refreshing.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

From In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

I’m not sure on the yield of this recipe because I’ve never poured my syrup into a measuring glass to check.  Let’s just say it makes enough for a bunch of chocolate egg creams—more than six, probably fewer than twelve?

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar (I use vanilla-infused sugar here for an extra boost of vanilla)

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1)  In a medium saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar.  Whisk the cocoa powder and salt into the sugar solution.  Reduce the heat so that the mixture is simmering, and let it continue simmering for about 5 minutes.

2)  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Chocolate Egg Cream

From In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

Serves 1 (multiply as needed!)

3 tbsp. Homemade Chocolate Syrup (see recipe above)

3/4 cup milk

Fizzy water (club soda) to taste

1)  In a tall glass, stir together the chocolate syrup and milk.  Top with fizzy water.  Use a long-handled spoon to stir together briskly to make the fizzy water foam a bit.

2)  Drink immediately.  Repeat as necessary.

Chocolate Egg Cream

Almost immediately after taking this photo, I spilled my egg cream all over the coffee table, the rug, and the carpeted floor.  What a terrible end for the egg cream!  And what a pain in the butt to clean up!  Some days I really hate being a klutz.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Weekend To-Do List

Birds on Building in Bryan

Many people do not realize how flexible an academic’s schedule can be.  Most people who are in teaching posts (aka professors) don’t have a boss who keeps tabs on them at all, so they are free to come and go as long as they show up at their meetings and teach their classes.

However and unfortunately, I am not a professor.  I am a postdoc.  I don’t teach at all, and I devote 95% of my time to research.  My schedule is flexible, in theory, except that I am under the gun to crank out oodles of manuscript-quality data as quickly as possible.  I’ve been really busy and stressed out lately, so it is absolutely delightful that tomorrow, I have almost the entire day off.  I’ve been so productive lately that taking the day off sounds like an excellent way to reward myself.  I do have to stop by the lab to take care of two quick things, but other than that, the day is mine.  I have no meetings on Monday, and my data are organized, analyzed, and up to date.  I’m (almost) free!  Free from work!  Suddenly I’m a lady of leisure.  A very organized lady of leisure—so organized, in fact, that I thought it necessary to make a list of my weekend to-dos.

* Paint toenails.

* Take a couch cruise and read Dreaming in Hindi for a while.  (Couch cruises, by definition, can’t be done hastily.)

* Take a photo walk.

* Drink a chocolate egg cream.  I made the syrup tonight; now I just need to run to the store for some fizzy water.

* Call my brother (who didn’t call me back last weekend).

* Finish watching The Stepford Wives.  Matt suggested this movie to me after hearing about my research on female sexual behavior in fruit flies.  Let’s just say there’s something distinctly Stepford about one of my assays.

* Make a batch of soup.  You know how I feel about soup…

And finally, the most important item…

* Sleep late!  There’s nothing quite like sleeping in to give you a reprieve from the effect of chronic stress.

Happy weekend, my dears!  What’s on your to-do list for the holiday weekend?