Thursday, May 31, 2012

Five Fun Things

Hola, mi amigos!  I hope this fine day is treating you well.  I wanted to pop in here to share a few tidbits with you, just for fun.  I’m having a good, if slightly unusual week, but unusual can be very interesting.

* Remember when I said that I wanted to submit an essay to The Chronicle of Higher Education about science postdocs, funding, and teaching?  Well, this week I did it!  My little essay was submitted on Tuesday, and I’m pretty excited because it’s only the second time I’ve submitted a science writing piece outside of research manuscripts and grant applications.  I love The Chronicle, and it would be so exciting to be published in it.

* I love, love, LOVED this piece about writing, or any other pursuit of greatness: “Bad Brain Days” by Rachel Toor.  Read it ASAP, especially if you are a writer.  And congratulate yourself for all your hard work on whatever it is you do.

* I’ve spent the last two evenings drinking wine with handsome men.  And it was really delicious wine, too.  I’m thinking of Shiraz in a whole new way now.

* I made Chrissy’s Starving Artist Red Lentil Dahl, and it was delicious.  I ate my dahl over rice and topped it with feta cheese.  Other nice topping options might be a cucumber raita or a squeeze of lemon.  Yum.

* I can’t stop thinking about Gretchen Rubin’s First Splendid Truth“To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”  I think this statement is deeply profound, and I’d like to spend some time here exploring what it means to me.  That last bit, “in an atmosphere of growth,” may explain a lot about my experience as a postdoc, which has been difficult yet wonderful in surprising ways.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

For the Fun of It: Five Years Later

Five years ago today, I started this blog.  That’s pretty cool, no?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned in my five years of blogging.  It seems to me that the number one rule of blogging ought to be this:

Have fun with it.

The second rule, a companion rule to the first one, is this:

Write a blog that you can love.

It’s easy to get tangled up in worrying about readers, and page views, and search engine optimization, and making money off your blog.  I know.  Because we can publish blog posts in the blink of an eye, it’s a medium that encourages the desire for instant gratification.  You publish something, and you want the world to tell you how wonderful it is. I know.  But blogging has never worked that way for me, in part because I’ve never built a huge reader base.  I still publish posts that get no comments.  I’ve been slow to make blog friends.  It took me a long time to find other nerdy women who write blogs.

This blog has been a slow project for me.  Whether or not it fits other people’s definitions of a “successful blog,” it’s been a terrific pleasure for me to write.  My blog and I have grown together.  It’s like having a constant companion, this space where I can talk about anything.  I rarely feel pressure to write a blog post just for the sake of a new blog post.  Instead, when I blog, it’s because I have something to say or something I want to share.  Sometimes the thing I want to say is hello, like when you call up a friend just to say hi.  For me, blogging is and always has been a very personal thing, even though the blog itself exists out there on the interwebs where everyone can read it.

In my time, I’ve seen a lot of blogs come and go.  It always makes me a little sad to see a blog that’s been abandoned or gone private.  And it reminds me that to make a blog last is no small feat.  The reason that I’ve lasted so long in this space is because I really, truly love blogging.  I know it’s a weird hobby, but I love it.  Blogging has fulfilled so many needs in my life: the need to write, a place to share and store my recipes, a diary in which to record my adventures and observations.  I love going back into my archives to read posts that I wrote years ago, back when I was in graduate school, or obsessed with granola, or when Matt and I first started seeing each other.  It helps me to remember what it felt like back then.  It helps me to understand how I became the person I am today.  I don’t think that personal growth is a linear process—we wander all over the map—but looking back helps me to trust the process.  It also reminds me to enjoy the moment, to enjoy this life, right now.  Life is short.  I try to remember that, too.

I guess the advice I have to offer about blogging is the same advice I’d offer to someone who asks, “How should I live my life?”  Have fun with it.  Build a life that you love.  I can’t tell you what exactly that means for you.  No two blogs, and no two lives, will be the same.  And that’s the great thing about blogging and living—there are so many ways to do it and to love what you do.

Thank you for reading, friends, and for your comments, encouragement, and friendship.  I think you and I both know that the best things in life are built slowly and thoughtfully.  We can’t really hurry these things along.  By enjoying the process, we learn that gratification doesn’t have to be instant if it’s been there all along.  It’s my hope to write a blog, and live a life, in which the best part is seeing how it all unfolds.  Tomorrow is another day and another mystery, and I’m so glad we have another chance to live and love and eat.

Happy birthday, little blog.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Two Vegetarian Myths, Debunked…Maybe.

Hello again!

Today I want to talk about two topics that pop up somewhat frequently in discussions about vegetarianism.  As I’ve grown older and wiser, and as I’ve matured a bit in my scholarly pursuits, rhetoric has emerged as a passion of mine.  I think of rhetoric as the art of argumentation.  The World English Dictionary defines it as “the art of using speech to persuade, influence, or please.”

(As an aside, it strikes me as hilarious that years ago, when we were walking along the west coast of Lake Michigan, I remember having a conversation with Matt about rhetoric.  It was our first date [a three-day-long date, mind you], and we were talking about books and tattoos and scholarship, when I confessed that I didn’t really get what people meant when they talked about rhetoric.  I thought rhetoric was equivalent to arguing without having any evidence to back up your argument—the art of being full of horseshit.  Or, as the World English Dictionary puts it more eloquently, “excessive use of ornamentation and contrivance in spoken or written discourse; bombast” or “speech or discourse that pretends to significance but lacks true meaning.”  In other words, horseshit.  But Matt, kind and gentle man that he is, showed me a far more intriguing definition for rhetoric.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that his lesson opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at the world.  In the years since that romantic walk by the lake, we’ve had many more walks to discuss the ways in which rhetoric shapes our lives.  I believe he said that rhetoric is as powerful bricklaying in the way it literally builds the worlds that we inhabit.  Dammit, I love that man and his big brain.)

Anyway, my interest in rhetoric is what allows me to listen to people argue passionately for veganism and paleo diets.  I want to hear what people are saying and how they say it.  I’m not necessarily looking for answers.  To be honest, I’m comfortably entrenched in my own habits, and while I may flirt with veganism and argue on behalf of its principles, I don’t feel pulled toward full-on veganism.  Likewise, I listen to people discuss the health benefits of eating meat, but I know that I can’t do it.  I’ve been vegetarian for too long to take pleasure in the idea of eating dead animals.

With that nuanced position in mind, here is my take on two vegetarian myths. 

Myth #1.  “I’m vegetarian, but sometimes I eat meat.”  The rebuttal: “You’re not really vegetarian!”

I got into a little tiff on Facebook recently about this issue.  An acquaintance of mine took issue with the fact that I call myself vegetarian, but occasionally (rarely, almost never) I eat meat.  Her position was that if you eat meat, ever, you are not vegetarian.

I disagree with her opinion, for two reasons.  The first is that whenever I tell people I am a vegetarian, the first thing they ask is, “So do you eat…?”  You can fill in the blanks: fish, chicken, dairy, eggs, seafood, etc.  (My answers: no, no, yes, yes, and no.)  When I define myself as vegetarian, it serves as a conversation starter, not as a definitive statement.  In other words, people have come to expect ambiguity in vegetarianism.  In a functional sense, it’s not an absolute, so why pretend that it is?

The second reason is that being a vegetarian is really hard for some people.  In certain situations, it can feel almost impossible.  We live in a meat-eating world.  I realize that, and I’m sure you do too.  When a person declares himself a vegetarian, what he’s saying is, “I don’t want to eat meat” or “I’m trying to eat less meat” or “I like the idea of not eating meat.”  I am sympathetic to all of these positions because I know how hard it can be, for example, to scan a restaurant menu in vain, hoping to find something you can eat while your dinner companions are chewing on animals.  I get it. If we lived in a world that was predominantly vegetarian or vegan, it would be less understandable why a person would identify as vegetarian and then go out of her way to eat meat.  I suppose I’m applying some situational logic here, but in the end, I always see discussions about food as just that: they are discussions, and I’m comfortable with that openness.

Myth #2.  “Earth Balance is so much healthier for you than butter.”

This argument drives me crazy because it’s bad logic and it’s an empirical claim that is not, to my knowledge, supported by data.  Allow me to explain.

Remember that scientific experiments are all about controlling variables.  In this example, we have three experimental groups: butter, Earth Balance, or nothing (the negative control! do not forget the negative control!).  The Earth Balance myth takes advantage of the fact that the arguments about butter being bad for us are analyzing the data from a butter vs. no butter angle.  They assume that if butter is bad for us, substituting something else for butter must be better for us.  But remember, that was the argument made for margarine, which used to be loaded with trans-fats.  Now we all think that trans-fat is the devil.

Now, I happen to like Earth Balance and think it has a useful place in our pantries.  It’s a nice option for vegans and dairy-free folks.  It doesn’t have a scary ingredient list; in fact, it looks pretty wholesome to me.  Yes, it’s more processed than butter, and healthwise, I’m inclined to think that butter from grass-fed cows is pretty awesome.  But my point here is that we should be skeptical of any claims that X is better for you than Y, unless one of those items is the negative control.  Walking is better for you than not walking, but is running better than walking?  Well, maybe.  It depends who you are.  For some people, running puts such a strain on their joints that it puts their ability to exercise at risk.  For those people, I’d say walking may be better than running.  But many of us enjoy running—the challenges and health benefits of the sport—and those benefits outweigh the potential for injury.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that no scientific studies have been done in which the only difference between groups is that one group ate butter and the other ate Earth Balance.  Nutrition science is notoriously messy; even studies on vegetarianism in general don’t always control very well for differences within the vegetarian group (for example, levels of produce consumption).  That’s why my nutritional philosophy is based on eating whole foods, as much as I can, and with as little processing as possible.  I’m not militant about it—I do have a thing for pretzels, and graham crackers, and soyrizo—but in the end, I think eating whole foods will always trump debates about Earth Balance versus butter.  Either is fine; just eat your spinach too, okay?

What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree with any of this?  Are there other vegetarian myths that drive you crazy?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Everyone’s Favorite Cashew Cheese

I’m going to cut straight to the chase here: make this cheese.

Everyone's Favorite Cashew Cheese

I made this cashew cheese a few weeks ago, as part of an appetizer spread for a Mary Kay party.  My upstairs neighbor is a Mary Kay consultant, and with her I hosted a party.  I invited some friends over for some makeup sampling, and afterward, we drank wine and nibbled on appetizers.  It was a little tricky to figure out the menu.  One of my friends is gluten-free, another is dairy-free, and I wanted a spread that everyone could eat happily.  I settled on a vegetable-heavy menu: a cucumber salad, roasted red pepper strips, crispy rice crackers, and a homemade cashew cheese.  It was really delicious, and I’m not the only one who thought so.  We ate all the cashew cheese in one sitting, so I had to make another batch the next day.  Life is rough, I know.

The amazing thing about this lovely cheese is that it tastes a lot like Cheez-ItTM crackers.  I don’t say that lightly, either, because I loved Cheez-Its as a child.  I still do, to be honest, but they’re too addictive for me.  I can’t be in the same room with an open box without wanting to dive into it.  This cashew cheese has that same salty, nutty, slightly tangy quality as a Cheez-It cracker.  It’s uncanny.  I was so stunned by the flavor that I had to survey other people to see if I was the only one who tasted the similarity, and thank goodness, I was not the only one.  So go ahead, dive into the recipe!  I can’t promise that it’s less addictive than Cheez-Its, but at least it’s made with really wholesome ingredients.    

Everyone’s Favorite Cashew Cheese

Makes about 1 cup

This recipe is, of course, a riff on the cashew cheese recipe I posted several weeks ago.  But I like this one better because it’s simpler and uses better ingredients (olive oil instead of canola oil).  Simple recipes mean you have more time to sit around drinking wine and gossiping with your friends.

1 cup raw cashews


2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp. tahini

1/4 tsp. salt

1)  First, soak the cashews.  Place them in a tall glass or a bowl, cover them with cold water, cover the container with a lid, and let them sit for several hours or overnight.  Drain the cashews in a colander, rinse with cold water, and place them in a food processor.

2)  Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor, and buzz everything together.  Blend for several minutes, pausing a few times to scrape down the bowl.  You really want to blend the heck out of the cashews to get a creamy texture, so when you think you’re done, blend some more just for good measure.  If the mixture seems too dry, you can add another splash of water to help everything blend together.

3)  Line a small or medium colander with a coffee filter and place it over a bowl.  Scrape the mixture into the colander and let it sit for 15-30 minutes to let it set and to let any excess liquid drain out.

4)  Spoon the cheese into a serving bowl or a pie plate and serve.  A pie plate is a nice option because it’s pretty and the size makes it easier for people to scoop out a serving.

Monday, May 21, 2012

For Dinner Tonight…

Toast with Artichoke Sauce and Baked Eggs

Coffee and Cake

…there was toast with artichoke sauce and baked eggs.  And for dessert, a tiny slice of Jess’s banana bread and decaf cinnamon coffee.  Let me tell you people: if you happen to have a loaf of that banana bread sitting around (and who doesn’t?!), you must toast a slice of it in the oven until the top gets crispy and the whole thing is warmed through.  The crispy top is key, so when in doubt, leave it in the oven.  The bread is very moist, and that contrast between crispy top and soft inner layer is delightful.

What’s been on your dinner table lately?

(PS  Cashew cheese recipe coming soon…!)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Final Frontier

It’s Saturday afternoon, almost 1 PM, and I am still in my pajamas.  Isn’t that what weekends were made for?  It hasn’t been a bad week, not at all, but still, I needed this dose of laziness.

Speaking of laziness, I feel like I have done an awful job finishing up my vegan project!  The guilt dangles over me daily, but friends, I am going to finish this project.  It’s been almost three weeks since the eating part of the project ended.  Overall, I did pretty well with my vegan diet, but dang, the blogging part of the project is becoming the proverbial albatross around my neck.  Let’s do this, shall we?

I decided that no vegan project would be complete without tiptoeing into the world of vegan cheeses.  Before April, I had tasted plenty of other vegan specialty items—non-dairy milks and meats—but I cannot remember trying a vegan cheese, ever.  And I don’t mean a homemade nut cheese (though they are, of course, delicious), but a commercially-made product that is trying to emulate a classic dairy cheese, such as cheddar.  Whenever I’ve eaten in vegetarian restaurants, if I order an item that contains cheese, I always opt for dairy cheese.  Always.

Vegan cheese is the final frontier, at least for me.  It was time to give it an honest chance, so I picked up a package of Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cheddar.  In the interest of honesty, I will tell you that it was okay.

Vegan Cheddar

“Okay,” of course, is not high praise in my book.  I’m sorry, vegan cheese-lovers, you aren’t going to like this, but here goes.  On the plus side, the vegan cheddar had a sharp flavor, similar to a good sharp cheddar.  It was a tad too sharp for my taste, but I could see that a person might grow to enjoy that strong flavor.  The cheese also shredded easily and it did melt.  On the minus side, it was disturbingly oily in texture.  It didn’t taste oily, but it was hard to ignore the oily quality when I was working with it.  When my sister was visiting, I made quesadillas with a mixture of vegan cheddar and dairy cheese.  The flavor of the combined cheeses was great, but oil leaked out of the quesadillas while they cooked, which was not appetizing.

Vegan Cheddar Ingredients

A major plus for this vegan cheddar is that the ingredients list is much shorter and much less scary than some of the other vegan cheeses I considered.  Yes, this product is heavily processed, so we should probably consider it vegan junk food, but the ingredients are recognizable (to me, anyway), and that’s a good thing.

I hate to say it, but I won’t be buying this cheese again.  I just didn’t like it enough.  I love cheese so much that this vegan cheddar actually made me miss real cheddar more.  I’m the kind of cheese-lover who likes to eat cheese sliced straight off the block, with or without bread, pretzels, or fruit.  I love the flavor of dairy cheese.  Fake cheddar didn’t hit the spot for me, but now I can say that I gave it a try.  I should mention that I won’t rule other vegan cheeses out before trying them, but I suspect that the commercial vegan cheeses may always be a hard sell for me…

…especially considering the cashew cheese I came up with just in time to feed to some party guests!  Get your cashews ready, guys, because I’ve got a memorable recipe coming up next time.

Happy weekend, everyone!  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Three Things I’ve Done Lately to Simplify My Life

Sunset Over Bryan

I’ve been thinking about my big goals for 2012 lately.  One of those goals is thoughtful consumerism.  Back in January, my vision for this goal was to find some green sponsors for this site, but the truth is that I just don’t have the time to solicit companies right now.  I love the idea of finding these companies, but because I’m so focused on my science career goals, I don’t have the financial motivation to seek sponsors.  I’ve decided that this is okay because the truth is, consumerism is not just about what you buy.  It’s about what you want, what you do with what you have, and what you buy.  It’s also about what you don’t want.

Today I thought I’d share with you three things about thoughtful consumerism that I’ve realized lately.  It’s a short list, but I find it very satisfying.  I’m kind of flaky by nature, so this list has a certain intentional quality to it that surprises me. 

* I decided that long skirts are not my style, and I gave my three long skirts to my friend Anne.  It’s freeing to embrace your style and send your seldom-worn clothes on to a better owner.  (A bonus: the skirts look terrific on Anne!)

* I cleaned bottom shelf of my fridge!  I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been to open my fridge to see a spacious, organized shelf of edibles.  You can imagine that since I cook a lot, the fridge is an important appliance, and I hated seeing the chaos inside every day.  Now I have reclaimed some much-needed space and the food storage containers that had fallen out of rotation.

* I realized that I need to be careful about going overboard as a hostess.  My sister visited me earlier this month, and I ended up exhausting myself cooking for the two of us and a Mary Kay party that I hosted.  My exhaustion and lack of a good sweaty work-out led to tears as I sobbed about all the stuff in my life that isn’t going right.  Running is one of the ways that I’m still holding it together, despite the uncertainty in my career and romance, and I went way too long without a good run.  It would have been better for us to eat out if it meant that I could go for a run and skip the dirty dishes.  Sometimes thoughtful consumerism means spending money wisely instead of saving money.

* * *

A few quick blog announcements:

First, I have a few more posts to write about my month of vegan eating.  I know I’ve been slow in wrapping up that project, but I hope you’ll indulge me in a few more posts.

Second, I started writing my post about a vegetarian’s perspective on paleo, and I realized that it would be better for me to write a series of posts on that topic.  I anticipate that I’ll start sharing those posts in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Finally, I’m organizing a project index for some of my old blog posts.  So far, you can find indices for my Specific Carbohydrate Diet Project and The Tandem Posting Project.  I’m working on an index called The Academic Life, and I’ll let you know when it’s up and running.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Don’t Hold Back

January 29 2011 Trees and Melancholy Sky

This week I received an e-mail telling me that my fellowship application has been assigned to a review section.  Ooooh, boy.  We’re really doing this thing.

Until that moment, I think I had deluded myself into a state of calm confidence.  Writing the grant was fun in a science-nerdy way.  I put my fellowship application together in about two weeks, which made it a whirlwind of writing and e-mails, but there was something fun about that too, perhaps because I do love writing and because submitting a fellowship application had been a goal for so long.  I relished the moment and the sense of productivity: we’re really doing this thing!

The application has been out of my hands for over a month.  There is something nerve-wracking about knowing that it’s not really my application any more; other people (besides my boss, of course) are going to be reading it, scrutinizing it, poking holes in it.  It’s not my baby any more.  It has to stand on its own two feet.  Of course it’s nerve-wracking when I think about the funding issue.  If my application is funded, I will have three more years of postdoctoral research, guaranteed.  It would be such a relief to know that I have some short-term security to pursue my projects.  I have worked really hard to establish the foundation for my research, and now there are so many interesting questions to pursue.  If only I had the time to go after them!  And by time, I mean money because while love of science is nice, love doesn’t pay the bills.  I need a salary to continue my work. 

January 29 2011 009 Trees and Stoplights

While my application is under review, I am doing my best to stay positive.  Worry is not my friend these days.  I am reminding myself to stay focused on right now: what can I do now?  I can do experiments, I can enjoy the science, I can make new friends and have fun with old friends.  I can live my life right now, and really, that’s all any of us can do at any given moment.  I think it’s so easy to get caught up in our preconceived notions of what the future will be that we forget to keep our feet on the ground.  Wasn’t it John Lennon who said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans?  I agree.

All that said, I can tell you that no matter what happens with my fellowship application or the other grant application, I am proud of myself for this reason: I didn’t hold back.  Despite what has been a very bumpy ride as a postdoc, I gave it my best shot.  My boss said, “We need to write some grants to fund your project,” and so I did.  I went for it.  I have no control over the funding decisions, but I loved writing these grants and imagining what could be.  My boss and I wrote a strong research proposal.  We took our time, hashed out our options, wrote and rewrote and wrote some more.  I like to think that because we took our time and wrote a careful proposal, we have a better chance of getting funding.   

January 31 2011 All We See Is Light

It’s never easy being patient when you are waiting on an important decision.  In fact, I suspect that a secret to happiness is the ability to find contentment despite the anxiety.  No one teaches this to you during graduate school, of course, so you must look elsewhere for comfort.  I also don’t want to delude myself into thinking that all my problems will be solved if and when I get grant money for my postdoc work.  There are questions that will continue to loom over me, no matter what happens in the next few months.  But I believe that this place is best for me, at least for a few more years, and I’d like to stay if possible.  I’m not holding back.

“The temptation to quit will be greatest right before you succeed.”  Chinese proverb

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Just Bake a Cake

My vegan month of food ended over a week ago, but we never talked about vegan desserts!  Or did we?  I don’t remember.

In any case, vegans make the best desserts.  They really do—have you tried any of the cakes at the Chicago Diner?  So good.  Or the cookies?  Equally tempting.  At home, I have my own little rotation of vegan cookies because I am all about the cookies: walnut wafers and small-batch peanut butter cookies (use Earth Balance non-dairy butter here instead of dairy butter) are my current favorites.

I’m not much of a cake person, but I tend to overlook one of cake’s charms: you bake it in a single pan.  It’s so low-maintenance compared to cookies, with their acres of baking sheets and cooling racks!  I’m so lazy that it kinda surprises me I put so much effort into my cookie-baking when I could just bake a cake.  So a few weekends ago, that’s just what I did.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cake

The recipe for this chocolate chip cake comes to us from Melissa Clark, whose cookbooks are a bottomless source of inspiration.  It’s the Chocolate Chip Pecan Loaf Cake on page 359 in In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite.  For my first version of it, I obediently followed directions, and it was pretty good—not amazing, but certainly delicious.  But last month, I veganized it, using flax eggs instead of chicken eggs and cutting back on the butter (and swapping dairy butter for Earth Balance, of course), and I think my vegan version is terrific.  I think it would be even better with some chopped walnuts for texture and flavor—aren’t chocolate and walnuts a wonderful combination?  They always make me happy.  My cake didn’t have any walnuts because I ate them all, but Melissa’s version calls for pecans.  Pecans, walnuts—use ‘em if you like ‘em.  I know not everyone loves nuts in their baked goods.

Another charming aspect of this cake: it can help you clean out your pantry!  I used three, count them, THREE types of flour here: all-purpose flour, white whole-wheat flour, and some rye flour, just for kicks.  I was running low on all-purpose flour, so I didn’t have a choice about using a second flour, and on a whim, I decided to use white whole-wheat and rye flours.  I worried that the cake would be too dense and heavy with all that whole grain, but it was hearty and sweet and satisfying.  It’s not a light cake, but it has big soft crumbs that hum gently with sugar and chocolate.  This is an everyday cake, the kind you make for yourself and your family, wholesome without being frumpy.  I hope you like it.

Everyday Chocolate Chip Cake

Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

2 tbsp. ground flax seed

3 tbsp. water

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup pourable coconut yogurt (I like the So Delicious brand)

1 3/4 cup flour, all-purpose or a blend of flours, your choice (see the paragraph above the recipe)

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. kosher salt (I use Morton coarse kosher salt)

1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance non-dairy butter, melted

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, optional

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.  I used cocoa powder to flour my pan, and it’s a nice chocolatey touch.  But you can just use flour if you prefer.

2)  In a cup, whisk together the flax seed and water.  Set aside and let them gel for a few minutes.

3)  In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and yogurt.  When the flax seed has gelled (i.e., when it seems like it has combined with the water to form a gel-like mass), mix it into the sugar and yogurt.

4)  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour(s), baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Mix the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.

5)  Fold the melted non-dairy butter into the flour mixture, a little at a time.  It might seem like a lot, but the butter is part of what gives this cake its richness, so persevere!  Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts, if using.

6)  Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the cake comes out clean.  I’d err on the side of underbaking this cake so that it doesn’t become too dry.

7)  Allow the cake to cool for 10-15 minutes in its pan, then remove it from the pan and finish cooling on a wire rack.  I remove my cake by running a knife around the edges, then placing a plate on top of the cake pan.  Hold the cake pan and plate together, plateside up, then invert and gently shake until the cake falls out of the pan.  Then use the same procedure to invert the cake onto a wire rack, rightside up.

Oh, and save me a slice of cake, please!

Monday, May 7, 2012

So Very Pretty

This is my little sister Theresa.  She is so stinkin’ cute.

So Stinkin Cute!

She was in Texas last weekend for a visit.  It was a pretty big deal, since it takes a good deal of time and money to travel from Michigan to Texas.  I was excited for her visit, eager to show her a good time and indulge her in some Texas-style hospitality.

We had a really lovely visit, with lots of walks and homecooked meals and even some time spent lounging by the pool.  Some of my friends came over on Saturday for a Mary Kay party, after which we drank wine and nibbled on some appetizers.  My friends may or may not have scandalized Theresa with their spirited discussion about boys, but secretly I think she enjoyed it.  Frankly, sometimes my friends scandalize me, but it’s a known hazard of hanging out with them.

Theresa arrived early Thursday evening, and we were surprisingly busy on Friday and Saturday.  It was a relief to have Sunday to ourselves, and we took advantage of it with a pancake brunch, a very late lunch, and a simple pizza dinner.  One of my favorite things from the day was cool, refreshing, and sippable: a Moscato spritzer with fresh peach slices floating in it.

Two Moscato Spritzers 

Aren’t they pretty?  These spritzers were a serendipitous discovery for us.  At the grocery store on Friday evening, we spotted fresh Texas peaches, tiny and fuzzy.  Honestly, I didn’t expect much of them, as it seems way too early in the year for peaches, but I couldn’t resist.  I took five of them home with us.  Then in the wine aisle, while I was looking at Sauvignon Blancs and Merlots for Saturday’s party, Theresa plucked a bottle of Moscato off the shelf.  She’s not a big fan of dry wines, so the Moscato was a good back-up plan.

On Sunday, we found ourselves alone with one last peach and most of the Moscato, so we decided to mix them together with some bubbly water, and it was delicious.  The fizzy water helped to cut the sweetness of the wine (it was very sweet), and the peaches soaked up all that delicious winey flavor and imparted their own essence into our spritzers.  The practice of adding peaches to white wine is an old Italian tradition, I believe, so we certainly didn’t invent the wheel here or anything.  But they were a lovely late afternoon beverage and so very pretty in their wine glasses that I can’t help but want to share them with you.  Theresa and I liked them so much that we’re planning a repeat when I’m in Michigan next month.

Theresa’s Moscato Spritzers with Fresh Peaches

Serves 2

1 part Moscato (we used Barefoot Moscato, which is tasty and very inexpensive)

1 part carbonated water

1 fresh peach, sliced

Pour the Moscato and carbonated water into two wine glasses.  Split the peach slices between the two glasses and serve.  Cheers!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Everyone Loves Basil

It looks like I’m not the only one who loves my new basil plant.

Hello Friend

Can you see him?  He’s trying hard to blend in with the plant, but his white chin and neck give him away…

It’s a crazy busy week around here for me, and I apologize for my absence around the interwebs.  It’s a good kind of busy: my sister is flying to Texas today for a weekend visit, I had a good meeting with my boss yesterday to keep the science moving forward, and I made a really delicious lentil soup on Monday.  I feel hopelessly backlogged on blog posts that I want to write and share with you, but there will be time later this month to dig my way out.

For now, happy Thursday!  I may pop in over the weekend to say hello, too.  Sometimes it’s nice to stop by this space with a photo and a few words—not every blog post needs to be a novel, right?

Until next time.