Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lessons from Sunday Night Dinner

Kale and Tools

Sunday Night Dinner

1)  Yes, you can make a raw kale salad with curly kale!  It may not be as lovely and delicate as the kale salads made with lacinato kale, but when living in a small town, one must make do with what the market has to offer.  I have yet to find lacinato kale around these parts, so until then, it’s curly kale.  A little chewy and very green, it satisfied a long-standing curiosity I had about raw curly kale in salad.

2)  Russet potatoes are the potatoes to use for oven fries.  I have been foolishly misled all these years.  No more Yukon Golds as oven fries.  It’s starchy Russets from here on out, with their delightfully crispy exteriors and soft, creamy interiors.

Hope your weekend was lovely, friends.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Art of Cooking for One

Sarah had a terrific blog post this week about her adventures in cooking for one.  I think that cooking for one, as an everyday and unfancy task, is not discussed nearly enough.  I know that there have been books written on the subject, but I think I’m more interested in how non-chefs and non-food writers manage to make cooking for one a reality.  Those of us who are not food professionals are likely to have a lower threshold for throwing in the towel (literally), picking up our wallets, and walking over to Blue Baker for dinner.  For us, cooking is harder—it feels more like work than pleasure.  I say that as someone who enjoys cooking.  But honestly, I have days when all I want to do is plop on the couch with a glass of wine and some cheese and pretzels and call it dinner.

(Wait.  Wine, cheese, pretzels.  Sounds good to me!  I don’t see the problem.)

I cook at home for two main reasons.  The first is that I am a food snob.  I use higher quality ingredients than most places around here in College Station, Texas.  I like fresh produce, organic food, and nutrient-dense meals.  I also like variety in my meals, which can be hard to find as a vegetarian in Texas.  The second reason is that in order to afford my food snobbery, I can’t afford to eat out too often.  The places where I like to eat around town are too pricy for everyday lunches or dinners.  As a side note, I’ll also mention that when I go out for dinner, it’s hard to resist ordering something boozy to drink, and alcohol is expensive.  Eating at home means I can either mix my own drinks or I can abstain.  For some reason, at home I’m not quite as tempted to drink, though I am becoming quite fond of the after-work glass of wine.

I have two strategies to manage my cooking life.  One is to cook in batches so I have good food for my deskbound lunches.  The other is a selection of single-serving recipes that I rotate when I want dinner at home with no leftovers.

When I cook in batches, I usually make soup.  Soup is, hands down, the best lunch.  Assuming you have access to a microwave or even a stove, soup is a warm, comforting, nutritious, and tasty lunch.  I usually eat soup with cheese and crackers or bread.  To round out my lunches, I add a piece of fruit, and a little sweet, like a cookie.  I love soup, and the number of soup and stew recipes in my recipe index is a reflection of my passion for soup. 

Salad Prep

Other decent options for cooking in batches are casseroles like lasagna, grain-based salads (like this rice salad), and tofu scrambles.  I love a good tofu scramble.

My collection of single-serving recipes is something of which I am very proud.  It’s also something upon which I am very reliant.  While I enjoy the feeling of cooking in batches—it makes me feel secure and centered, well-stocked for future good eating—I’m not always looking for leftovers.  Sometimes I just want dinner.  Here are a few of my best tricks for cooking for one and only one:

* Eggs.  Eggs!  What other natural food comes in its own single-serving package?  I like to make baked eggs, little savory bread puddings, scrambled eggs, and heavenly eggs.  (Okay, on that last one I usually make two servings, but it’s so delicious that I would be depriving you if I didn’t mention it.)

* A good supply of vegetables.  I like to have on hand carrots, celery, kale, and onions.  I can do so much with just those four vegetables: crunchy raw vegetables as a side dish, a simple soup, braised kale, steamed kale…and as a bonus, all of those vegetables are reasonably good keepers, which is a relief for the solitary cook.

Baby Kale

* Fancy sandwiches.  Don’t roll your eyes!  There are so many delicious things you can do with the sandwich genre: gourmet grilled cheese (don’t forget the mustard!), open-faced sandwiches, quesadillas with a myriad of fillings and salsas, burritos (great for using up leftovers like tofu scrambles or vegetable halvies).  I would even put pizza for one in this category.  I’m such a big fan of bread+cheese+vegetables that this category alone could feed me happily for months.

Finally, I want to say a word about kitchen gear.  I adore beautiful cookware.  Yes, it can be expensive, but my feeling is that once you own nice kitchen equipment, it is likely to last the rest of your life.  I’ve been blessed with generous family members and friends who have given me kitchenware for birthday and Christmas presents.  But I’ve also splurged because to me, an investment in my kitchen is an investment in my health and happiness.

Many single people put off buying nice kitchen gear because they figure they’ll put it  on their bridal registry when they get married.  My opinion is that unless your wedding is imminent, this is a bad idea.  You deserve to have nice cooking tools.  Yes, even if you only cook for yourself, you are worth it.  Invest in your cooking.  Buy a nice set of knives, a nice cutting board, and a few good pots and pans.  It makes a difference.  I know that it can be expensive to equip your kitchen with high-quality gear, so take your time.  You don’t have to replace everything all at once.  It’s taken me several years to accumulate the stuff I currently use.  Be thoughtful and deliberate.

PS  In this post, I’ve focused on the idea of cooking for one, but certainly the ideas here are not limited to solo cooking.  The techniques and strategies I use when I cook alone are applicable to larger crowds too, but my main point is that I don’t want anyone to feel that cooking is inaccessible to them because they aren’t cooking for other people.  We all deserve to eat well.  Knowing your way around a kitchen is a reliable way to make that happen on a regular basis.  So happy cooking and happy eating to all of you!

PPS  Have any kitchen tips to add?  Leave a comment!  I love comments.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Anticipation

I just ordered my copy of Cook This Now by Melissa Clark, and I can’t wait until it arrives.

I wasn’t going to buy this cookbook for two reasons: I have plenty of cookbooks already and I’m trying to stick to my budget (sorry, January—you were an expensive month).  But then my friend a asked me if I’d gotten my hands on a copy of it, and she reminded me of how wonderful Melissa Clark’s other book is.  Last night, I stopped by Barnes & Noble just to take a peek at Melissa’s new book, and I was reminded of the most wonderful feeling in the world: that moment when you settle into the couch with a new cookbook and plenty of time to sink into your treasure.  I love that feeling of starting at the introduction of a brand-new book; I am practically giddy with excitement over the delights that await me in unexplored pages.  And with a favorite author like Melissa Clark the feeling is even better because you just know it’s going to be terrific fun.

Cookbooks really are one of my great pleasures in life, and it hardly seems fair to deny myself such a thing.  After all, I’ve taken up wine-drinking, and that’s hardly an inexpensive hobby.  A new cookbook will last far longer than any bottle of wine, and it won’t make me tipsy either, not unless it instructs me to open the liquor cabinet and start mixing.  I also feel it’s important to support the careers of food writers.  It’s tough to write recipes for a living—tough and delicious, but still, it is work and I want cookbook authors to keep doing what they do.  While I would like to keep my cookbook habit under a modicum of control, I don’t want to abstain altogether.

Also, just from looking at the January chapter of Cook This Now: Double Coconut Granola?  Something about tofu croutons?  Yes, please!  I’ll have one of each.  At Barnes & Noble, I stopped myself from skimming more than a few pages because I don’t want to spoil any surprises or ruin any of the fun of diving into new cookbook pages.  So I’m just going to wait, ever so impatiently, for my new book, and I’ll tide myself over by flipping through my old cookbooks for some new recipes to try this weekend.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Friday List (Only the Best Stuff)

Wednesday Night with Nigella

Friday ahoy!  A few things on my mind today:

* A new friend in the kitchen, the lovely Nigella Lawson.  Oh, okay, we’re not friends in real life, but her new(?) show, Nigella Kitchen, has episodes on youtube.  I like to load a few shows on my laptop then drag it into the kitchen and listen to them while I cook.  It’s like Nigella and I are cooking together!  Awww, how cute.

* I really cannot get enough of these two albums: The Shepherd’s Dog (Iron and Wine) and The Harrow & the Harvest (Gillian Welch).  Such good listening on those two discs.  I’m pretty sure I’m repeating myself, but good music deserves to be repeated.

* New things to ponder, navigating a new bend in an old relationship.  Ruminating on the nature of love.

* Reading a book that is so, so good I’m afraid to read it too fast because then it will be over!  The book is All Things Shining: Rereading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly.  Chrissy wrote this week, quoting Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  This book is trying to answer the obvious and squirmy questions: how shall we spend our days?  And for those of us who have (sort of, kind of) settled on a path, how do we find meaning in the routine and ritual of everyday life?  How do we find the sacred amongst the mundane?

This book feels magical to me.

* Solving problems with patience rather than anger.  It’s faster and healthier for everyone.  Remember that list of money chores I mentioned last week?  After a rather focused effort, I’m down to just one item on that list, and it feels so good.  Money, I will do right by you and by me.

Weekend ahoy!  Make it a good one, okay?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Two for Tuesday

I have stolen today’s post title from a feature on the local classic rock radio station around here: two for Tuesday is two songs from the same band or artist.  I don’t have any songs for you, just a photo and a few tidbits.

Monday in Fishnets

Hi!  Yesterday was warm and windy; I took an afternoon walk to get away from my computer screen.  I’m way too much of a spaz to do a lot of deep thinking when the internet’s temptations are just a click away.  So when I need to think, I go for a walk.

Onto the tidbits!

Tidbit the first: I am delighted to be taking part in Amber’s Featured Careers series!  We did a fun e-mail interview together, which you can read here if you like.  Amber is the voice behind the blog Girl with the Red Hair, and she blogs about lots of fun things in addition to careers, such as marathon training, her journey to a healthier lifestyle, her upcoming wedding, and girly stuff like beauty routines.  I had a great time putting together my responses to Amber’s questions for me.  Also, if you’re interested in being a Featured Career woman or man, Amber’s looking for more volunteers, so click on over and send her an e-mail. 

Tidbit the second: I couldn’t resist a little beauty lift for the old blog here.  I think I’m going to try to make a new header, too, but do let me know what you think of the new template.  Is it easy to navigate and comfortable to read the text?  I worry about these things because I have bad eyes and it drives me nuts when a blog is too much effort to read because the font is too small, the colors work against each other, or the formatting is wonky (why does anyone use center alignment? why?!?).

Sure Happy It’s Tuesday!  Make it a good one.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Grant Watch 2012

Now seems like a great time to give you an update on my life in the lab.  Three words sum up what I am doing: reading and writing.  I am, with my advisor, writing a grant proposal to be submitted in February, but before I talk about that, I thought I could give you a little insight into how, exactly, academic scientists get money to fund their research.  Because you know, those flies—they ain’t payin’ for their own food.  Or wine.  I present to you Figure 1:

Has Good Taste

“Merlot?  I love Merlot!”

The short answer about who pays for my research is this: you do.  If you live in the United States and you pay federal taxes, you fund most academic science research.  It’s a huge enterprise: the 2011 budget for the National Institutes of Health was 30.7 billion dollars, and one primary investigator, such as my boss, will often have a quarter or half a million dollars to spend over the course of several years on his or her research.  In my opinion, by far the most important thing that research money is spent on is salary.  Because even with all the fancy equipment and supplies, who is going to do the research if there’s no one in the lab?  Certainly not that guy up there—he’s too busy drinking my wine.

Now, before you get all huffy and puffy about your tax dollars and reckless government spending, let me say this: science benefits immensely from government funding.  Here I don’t mean scientists, though that’s true as well, but actual science.  Because my research is not being funded by a drug company or someone else who wants to make a profit with the results, the work I publish is far less likely to be biased (or shall I say, bia$ed).  I’m not saying that scientists who work for drug companies can’t or don’t do good work, but I think we need to be very, very skeptical of results that come from profit-driven enterprises.  Academic science is a place where basic science gets done, and the primary criteria by which it is judged are novelty and quality of the science.  Not whether we can make a drug based on this work.  Basic science lays the groundwork for all therapeutics, whether behavioral, environmental, or yes, even pharmaceutical.

I work in basic science, which is another way of saying that the research I’m doing has never been done before.  It’s groundbreaking stuff, which is one reason why I’m pretty excited about the grant I’m writing.  I work with a model system, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and I’m especially interested in behavior.  As serendipity would have it, I’m studying female sexual behavior in flies, and it makes for all sorts of terrible puns and analogies with human behavior.  For example, much like with human females, female flies don’t like it if a male skips the courting and goes right for the copulating.  Flies like to be wooed.  They also need to be in the mood.  If there are more interesting things to do, like exploring a new space, then sex can wait.  And it seems they need to be well-fed, or so goes the hypothesis I’m testing now.

I like telling people about my work, and it turns out that while I’m okay at doing experiments and such, I’m really good at talking about science.  I seem to be the rare bird in science who actually enjoys the writing—papers, grants, you name it, I want to write it.  It’s funny: I could be feeling desperate for my grants to get funding right now, but instead, I’m just loving the fact that I’ve spent most of this week reading and writing.  I think I’ve read more in the past week than in the past six months.  I feel like I’m back in school!  But it’s better than graduate school, because this time around, I kinda sorta know what I’m doing.  So it’s more fun and less anxiety.

Sunday Self-Portrait

“Gosh, I really hope we get some grant money so I can spend more time in my cave at work.  The sunshine out here burns my pale skin!”

So what exactly am I doing these days?  Right now my advisor and I are preparing an R21 proposal, which is a two-year grant from the NIH for innovative and exploratory work.  We have a really solid proposal, and I think the science is very interesting, so I’m feeling optimistic about our chances for funding.  The R21 is due in February; after that, I’m planning to write and submit my paper and then submit another grant, a postdoctoral NRSA.  I had a predoctoral NRSA during my final year of graduate school, and it would be terrific to get 2 or 3 years of postdoc funding in my own name.  Though I am writing the R21 (in collaboration with my advisor), the grant will ultimately be submitted in his name, which is fine with me.  The NRSA, on the other hand, will be submitted in my name, so as a CV item, it has a bit more prestige.  The nice thing about writing proposals for these two grants is that if we are lucky enough to have both of them funded, we can keep both grants.  Many, many postdoc grants do not allow a postdoc to have two grants at one time, but that won’t be a potential problem with the R21 and NRSA.

The R21 is coming along really well.  I have most of the text written, and I’m starting to work on the figures for the preliminary data that we’ll include in the grant.  The grant is due in about a month, so I am relieved that a draft is coming together so fast.  It also means (I hope) that I’ll have an easier time balancing grant work with my experimental work because starting next week, I’m going to have a lot more animals available for experiments.  Fingers crossed!

And that, my dears, is an update on Grant Watch 2012.  I won’t know how well our grant did during its review for another 4-5 months, so please be patient with me.  I’m sure I’ll be updating you with good or bad news, but for now, I am feeling happier with my work than I have in a while.  It’s true that if neither grant gets funding, I may be hitting the job market for a new position, but if that happens, at least I can say I enjoyed the process.  Not a lot of people can say that about grant writing.

(But if you don’t mind, keep your fingers, toes, and eyes crossed for me, okay?  Thanks!)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thursday Up/Down: Nerd Version!

Hi There 

Yes, indeedy, that’s a real turtle in that photo.  I rescued her from a grisly death-by-automobile back in November, and then I tried to take her photo while she hid from me.  She’s beautiful, don’t you think?  (Matt assures me that this turtle was a she, though we didn’t perform any exams.  And I won’t get into how my rescued turtle prompted a conversation about turtle mating and genitalia.  Let’s just say male turtles are shockingly well-endowed.)

I’m deep in grant-writing mode this week, so today’s Up/Down post is a rather nerdy version.  I want to tell you more about the grant and my work, but I think I’ll save that post for this weekend.  So let’s get to the list!

Up, Up, Up!

* Writing.  It’s awesome, even when it’s hard.  I love it.

* Because of the grant, I have the opportunity now to read a ton of new literature, which has been really fun.  I’m learning a lot, and it’s more exciting than doing experiments.  Next week I’ll be back to doing more experimental research work, but for now, I feel like I’m back in school with my mountains of papers to read.

* The comment feature in Adobe Reader!  I love being able to leave myself notes inside PDFs while I read papers on the computer.  It’s also great being able to highlight passages inside an electronic copy of a PDF.  Technology, I think you and I are becoming friends.

*  Am I the only one who loves looking up words in the thesaurus?  The other day, I was looking up synonyms for “aberrant,” trying to see if I could find another way to say “aberrant behavior” in reference to some results.  But the options made me laugh: freaky behavior? mischievous behavior? naughty behavior?  No, I don’t think any of those options work for grant-writing.  But the idea is delightful!  Naughty flies indeed.

* Did you listen to this week’s episode of The Splendid Table?  There was a great discussion about extra-virgin olive oil, which really exemplifies the point of Caveat emptor.

* I am almost done with my current book, Sex at Dawn, which is terrific because I was showered with new books at Christmas.  Sex at Dawn, while fascinating and funny, is also really long.  I’m ready to be done with it.

Down, Down, Down:

* Yesterday it was 70-something degrees.  Today it feels like 31 degrees.  Oh, Texas, could you please pick a season and stick with it for five minutes?

* I have a bunch of money-related chores and errands to do.  I hate it when my money makes me do work after I’ve already worked to earn my money!

* I am starting to fear that I lead a very boring life.  Or at least it appears boring from the outside.  Because I am always thinking about things, it actually feels very busy, almost overwhelming, from the inside, where I live.  Which is why writing is really the perfect hobby and occupation for me.

How is your week winding down?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2012, It’s So On

Dreaming of Other Places via Plane Streaks in the Sky

Can we talk about this photo for just a moment?  I really like it and have felt itchy to use it since I took it last March.  There’s something ironic and beautiful about the plane’s soaring white streak in the sky next to the red stoplight.  That plane just seems so defiant, go-go-GOING despite the stoplight’s instructions.  I feel like this photo is a little like a metaphor for resolutions: you’ve got to keep go-go-GOING, even though you will almost certainly find excuses to stop.  Soar, little plane!  Inspire us to reach for new heights!

In light of my success with resolutions in 2011, I decided to keep my own streak going by declaring a few big goals for 2012.  I really do believe that this year is going to be a big one, and I want to set myself up for success and happiness by being very explicit about my plans.  I figure that these resolutions are 2011’s gift to me: it was not an easy year, but I made it and now I’m ready to make the most of what 2011 taught me.

Despite my science credentials, I can be a bit hippy-dippy because hey—even atheists and agnostics are allowed a spiritual side, right?  On the hippy-dippy side of things (for me at least) is the idea of having a word for your year.  I saw this idea on Monna’s blog, and I really like it.  A word to inspire, uplift, and move you to action.  My word for this year is devotion.  I want this year to be about living up to the promises that 2011 hinted at.  I want to feel fully, deeply committed to the most important goals, the ones that will require some inspired effort to achieve.

Devotion.  It’s a quiet word, a powerful word.  It’s about connection, almost an intimacy.  I hope it makes me feel strong and capable, unshakeable even.  Devotion.  It’s a good word for a good year.

I have three major goals for 2012, and they are:

* Publish, publish, publish.  This is my work goal.  I am writing a grant right now, and I’m anticipating that I’ll be submitting a research manuscript in March.  I’m also planning to submit a second grant in April.  I consider all of these documents publications of a kind, whether for funding or to communicate my results to the scientific community.  I don’t know whether these grants will bring any money into the lab, but I’m feeling optimistic and that’s good enough for now.  But my absolute top priority, work-wise, is to publish my research this year.  And I think I can do it.

* Peace and quiet.  I admitted defeat when it came to conquering my anxiety in 2011, but as I reflected on the nature of that resolution, I realized that for me, managing anxiety is an on-going affair.  It’s more like having a chronic health condition than a broken leg: a onetime fix is not going to do the job.  This year, I am rededicating myself to my yoga practice and to building time into my day for peace and quiet.  I’ve struggled with how best to do this—daily yoga? evenings without the computer? nightly meditation?  For this year, I am going to try a 2x2 approach: yoga twice a week where I do a 20+-minute session, and two evenings a week during which dinner is a quiet, candlelit meal.  I often read blogs and whatnot during lunch and dinner; this year, I’m going to do less of that.  

* Thoughtful consumerism.  I don’t talk about it a lot on this site, but I’m a pretty dedicated environmentalist.  It’s a big part of my vegetarianism, it’s one of the reasons I don’t have a car (yet), and it guides my daily choices.  I believe the sustainable-living, green movement is gaining momentum, slowly but surely, thanks to increased awareness among individuals and the efforts of organizations like, which is working hard to induce political change that will reduce atmospheric carbon levels.

A huge part of green living is just knowing what your options are.  For example, a few years back, people were asking, “Paper or plastic?” at the grocery store, and the answer that came back was neither.  Bring your own reusable bags.  And now, lots of us bring our own bags with us, which turns out to be not only more sustainable, but it’s also more comfortable.  My reusable bags are much easier on my hands or my shoulders when I’m carrying several days’ worth of food home.  This year, I’d like to make bigger strides toward green living, and to do that, I’m inviting sustainable-living or green companies to advertise their wares on this blog.  I don’t write an insanely popular blog, but I have been around for a while, and I like my little corner of the web.  My advertising rates are low, which makes them affordable for small companies, and I love the idea of partnering with small companies.

As part of my effort toward more thoughtful consumerism, if and when I come across good stuff, I’ll try to share my finds with you.  And if you find good stuff that helps you live more sustainably, feel free to tell me about it!  Together we can make our lives greener and our carbon footprint smaller.

2012, it’s so on.  Let’s do this!

Friday, January 6, 2012

And An Unofficial Resolution, Too!

I feel it would be wrong to jump into 2012’s resolutions without at least giving a nod to one of my unofficial resolutions, a slow tide of change, a gentle makeover of sorts:

I resolved to be a little more stylish.  And by “more stylish,” I really mean less frumpy.  An attempt to look my age, in the best way possible.

I think it was in late 2010 that I realized that my closet wasn’t quite keeping up with the changes in my life.  I was no longer a graduate student, no longer a Midwesterner (at least by residence—in my heart, I will always be a Michigan girl.  If you doubt me, I will hold up my right palm, point to the area below my thumb, and tell you that I’m from there, and by “there,” I mean Detroit.  Surely you know that your hand makes a perfectly fine map of lower Michigan?), and feeling seriously out of place in steamy Texas.  I’ve never been a very trendy person, and that’s fine with me, but my closet and I needed some help to adjust to our new location.

I decided that I could afford to spend some time and money upgrading my wardrobe.  I wanted to look professional and a little stylish; I wanted to feel comfortable in everything I wore.  I took my time with this little makeover—there was no rush to the mall, no spending of hundreds of dollars at one time.  And I’m really happy with how my closet and I are doing now.  We didn’t need an all-new wardrobe; we just needed some new pieces (and a good excuse to get rid of the old stuff!).  I thought I’d share with you a few of the pieces that have gotten the most mileage since I resolved to be more stylish.  I always enjoy reading other people’s shopping lists and wardrobe essentials!

In no particular order…

A Favorite Outfit

Scarves!  I bought two patterned scarves at Target and wear them all the time.  They’re nice for adding a pretty detail to an otherwise basic outfit.  They also work well in the warm weather of Texas; I wore lightweight scarves all summer long and rarely felt overheated by the scarf.

And speaking of scarves, I especially like them with my favorite Five Bamboo dress.

Favorite Everyday Dress

I bought two summery dresses from Five Bamboo (you can see my sister wearing the other dress that we both own here—isn’t she cute?) and wore them constantly.  Now that it’s cooler outside, I wear them with shirts layered underneath and tights.  I worry that the layering looks a bit frumpy or schoolmarmy, but remember, my resolution was to be “more stylish,” not “actually stylish.”  So if a little frump falls my way, that’s okay.

New Flats!

Inspired by Tania’s awesome collection of flats, I improved my cool-weather footwear with a pair of black flats.  They’re pretty simple, but I love them.  And they transition well from hot summer weather (worn with those little shoe liners if necessary) to cold weather (worn with socks or tights).

New Faux Blazer

A blazer!  It’s a blazer with a wonderful secret: it’s made of sweatshirt material, so it’s supersoft and comfortable, but it looks classy and grown-up.  My mom bought me this little jacket when I was home in September, and once the heat faded, I started wearing it as my “coat.”  So many days in Texas are just too warm for heavy winter gear, but they do call for a lighter jacket.  I like this one a lot (it’s from JCPenney, in case you were curious).

There are some trends that I just can’t seem to wear, like skinny jeans, which always bunch at my knees, so I’ve taken a deliberate pass on some styles.  Likewise, I feel swallowed up by maxi skirts because I’m so short (5’1”) and I have a short torso, so I don’t much on top to balance a long skirt.  Plus maxi skirts are too long for bike riding!  I’m planning on giving my long skirts away because I just don’t wear them.  I’ve been experimenting with belting in different ways, but belting at my natural waist threatens to make my torso look even shorter, so sometimes I belt and sometimes I don’t.

I do have a few items on my wish list still: a shirtdress (adorable and can be worn in a million ways), a black dress with sleeves, some tights in fun and unusual colors.  Overall, I’m really happy with my mini-wardrobe makeover and will use it as an excuse to clear the closet of stuff that I don’t wear any more.  New clothing in, old clothing out: the cycle continues, as it should.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Way the Whole Thing Ends: 2011’s Resolutions

A Whispering Sunset

If there’s any music that will remind me of 2011, it’s Gillian Welch’s, so I have stolen a song title for my post.  Good thing I didn’t resolve to stop stealing things from other artists in 2011!

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about 2011, now bundled into a neat package of past tense.  A year is, in some ways, a long time.  A lot can happen in a year.  A baby can go from fragile newborn to sturdy walker in a year’s time.  A person can move away, fall in love, get married, get divorced, run a marathon—all in a year’s time.  I did none of these things in 2011, though I did run a half-marathon, and that’s exciting, right?  In a sense, 2011 was an uneventful year for me.  Nothing really BIG happened.  And yet, it was a year filled with drama, mostly work-related.  It was a year in which I witnessed the unfairness of mortality when cancer snatched an 8-year-old’s life.  It was a year of uncomfortable feelings: selfishness, frustration, shame.  And yet it was also a year of striving and achieving, of turning 30 and feeling very optimistic about everything.

I feel happy that I survived 2011.  Not all of us did.

2011 was also the year that I started to think more deeply about my ambitions.  I actually made resolutions!  I never make resolutions!  I was really inspired by some of the exemplary women I found on the interwebs, Chrissy and Raquelita in particular.  (They’ve already posted their 2012 goals, while I’m still putzing around with mine.  Check out Chrissy’s here and Raquelita’s over here.)  I started to wonder if, in spite of the fact that I am already a happy person, I could be even happier if I declared myself in pursuit of some ambitious goals.  It’s hard to gauge something like happiness in any sort of quantifiable way, but I’d say I was definitely rewarded by my goal-setting.  Maybe that’s the point: we get out of life what we put into it.

Let’s discuss 2011’s three goals, shall we?

* My first resolution was to cook from more diverse sources: my cookbooks and recipes from friends.  I definitely did this, though I didn’t always share the results on the old blog here.  I wish I had cooked more recipes from friends, though I did make Amanda’s peanut butter bars, which are crazy good.  A few of my favorite recipes from cookbooks include this rice pudding, this black bean soup, and this roasted eggplant recipe.  (That’s another thing I learned this year: I do like eggplant!  Really, I do!  Especially with cheese and tomatoes!)

Verdict: Resolution achieved! 

* My second resolution was to cultivate a more intellectual reading practice.  I even made a 2011 Reading List, which inspired me whenever I didn’t know what to read next.  I read three books from my list, started and quit a fourth, and read a basketful of books that crossed my path serendipitously.  I’ll be taking my reading list with me into 2012 since I only read about a third of the books on my list.  But I am very satisfied that I read a lot of interesting books in 2011, and at the end of the year, I got totally hooked on going to bed early so I could read.

Verdict: Resolution achieved!

* My third and final resolution, I must admit, was a failure.  But this year did teach me a thing or two about it, so I think there is some redeeming value here after all.  I had resolved to begin letting go of my chronic anxiety, which is primarily related to money and career.  This year was a hard one for me at work, which naturally made me even more anxious.  But I also found that when I was too busy to feel anxious, the anxiety disappeared.  I can’t always create the conditions whereby my anxiety lessens, but I do think that having a solid game plan helps.  I like meeting my deadlines, even if they are self-imposed.

According to my resolution, I was supposed to seek out external solutions for my anxiety, such as self-help books and yoga.  While I did plenty of yoga, I did no research on solutions for chronic anxiety, probably because I was too busy working.  That’s a lame excuse, I know, but it’s the truth.  What I realize now is that I want my anxiety to just go away.  I don’t want to have to work with it, or deal with it, or pander to it.  I just want it gone.  And that, I am afraid, is asking for a magical solution.  I’ll probably always have some anxiety—it’s just the way I’m hardwired.  But I do believe that healthy habits help to minimize it, and I’m going to do my best not to let it make decisions about my life for me.

Verdict: Resolution failed but not in vain.

And now, it’s time to consider what 2012 could be…did you make resolutions for 2012, dear reader?  If you did, feel free to share them or a link in the comments!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Breaking News

Breaking News

THIS JUST IN: Panera Bread is coming to College Station!  And it’s just down the street from my apartment!

I’m going to be the first person in line on opening day.  Oh, Panera, I’m so happy we’ll be together again soon.

PS  I’ll be back with a post of real substance later this week.  Until then, happy 2012!