Monday, July 30, 2012

Alphabetize Me! (Another Meme)

Hi, everyone!  My last post was a bit heavy with bigots and boycotts, so I thought I’d lighten things up with this fun meme.  I saw it a while ago on Chrissy’s blog, and then I landed on it again on Ashley’s blog.  I took it as a sign: it’s time for The ABC’s of Me!  Another batch of narcissistic navel-gazing coming right up.


A: Age.  30 and just four months shy of 31.  I don’t mind getting older.

B: Bed size.  Full.

C: Chore you dislike.  Putting air in my bike tires, dealing with the recycling, and washing endless amounts of dishes.  Curse you, cooking habit!

D:  Dogs.  They’re okay.  I did meet the sweetest pair of puppies the other day, and I nearly snuggled one into my arms and ran away.  Who doesn’t love puppies?!?

E: Essential to start your day.  Gah, I am really high-maintenance in the morning.  I require breakfast, a shower, a tidy bed, and a packed lunch if I’m heading off to work.  I’ve also started running a few mornings a week to beat the Texas heat.

F: Favorite color.  Can I cheat and say blue and pink?

G: Gold or silver.  Um, both?  I tend to gravitate toward silver, but gold can be lovely too.

H: Height.  5’1”.  I am petite.

I: Instruments you play(ed).  I played clarinet and bass clarinet.  Here’s a confession: while I never loved the clarinet, I did love playing in the school band.  Music is fun.

J: Job title.  Postdoctoral research associate.

K: Kids.  None.

L: Live.  College Station, TX.  For the reason, see J above.

M: Mom’s name.  Barbara.  Also, today is her birthday.  Happy birthday, Mom!

N: Nicknames.  Rosie and on rare occasions, Ro.  I like Ro a lot—it sounds sort of hip and fun.

O: Overnight hospital stays.  Maybe one?  I sliced my head open when I was six, and they sewed it up with stitches.  My mom tells me I screamed so loudly that I woke up the other patients.  But do you think they could have given me a freaking painkiller?  I continue to have very low tolerance for pain. 

P: Pet peeves.  I have a lot, which I’m not proud of.  I’m afraid I’m a snob.  But one that stands out in the last few years is when people whom I do not know well start texting me.  To be more specific, I’ve noticed that if I go out with a guy once, he is likely to start texting me as a way to communicate.  I got a text the other day—“at HEB. nd anything?”—and I looked at the number and thought, Who the hell sent this?  I figured it must have been the wrong number.  Then I realized and confirmed that it was from a guy with whom I’ve hung out twice.  Twice.  I’m still on the fence about him as a person, to be honest, and it was kind of jarring for me to receive a text like that from him.  Since when do we pick up groceries for each other?  That strikes me as very cozy, very domestic.  Right?

I have a theory about men in Texas, and it goes like this: they’re all really horny, so they try to accelerate the pace of a relationship in the hopes of making it physical ASAP*.  I’m pretty slow to become physical with someone.  If I feel like someone is trying to force it, then I’m likely to lose interest completely.  As Matt said about these things a long time ago, “You gotta wait wait wait wait wait.”  5x wait.  

Q: Quote from a movie.  “They have wings but cannot fly.  They're birds that think they're fish.”  (Anyone?  There’s a hint down below in Z.)

R: Righty or lefty.  Righty.

S: Siblings.  I have four.  Three brothers (Charlie, Scott, and John) and one little sister (Theresa).

T: Time you wake up.  Ideally, 7 AM.  But this summer I’ve been getting up around 6:30 to beat the heat.

U: Underwear.  Yes, I wear it.

V: Vegetables you don’t like.  Nothing comes to mind.  I’m learning to like eggplants and beets.

W: What makes you run late.  Not knowing where I’m going!  I was late for just about everything when I was in Chicago this summer.  Oops.

X: X-rays you’ve had.  Teeth and perhaps my skull?  See O for more details.  Also, I have been in an fMRI.  I participated in a friend’s imaging experiment, and it’s not something I’d like to do again.  fMRIs are very loud, and you have to stay very still so the instrument can get good images of your brain. 

Y: Yummy food you make.  Ha!  See my recipe index for the answer to that question.  I heart food.

Z: Zoo animal favorites.  I have to echo Chrissy and Ashley here and say that zoos are a mixed bag for me.  Should we put animals in zoos?  I don’t know.  But I will say that the penguins always seem pretty happy, and I love those crazy birds.

Care to play along?  If yes, leave a comment in the links so I can read your ABC’s!

* I realize that this may be a gross generalization, and for that I apologize.  Then again, maybe this is true of most men in most places.  Dating is hard, and impatience makes it even harder.  Slow down, guys!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I Suppose I Should Say Something: The Chik-fil-A Boycott

Perhaps you heard the news last week about the boycott of Chik-fil-A.  Chik-fil-A, for those of you who live under a rock, is a fast food restaurant, and the owner, Dan Cathy, is a bigot.  He says he supports the “traditional family” (whatever that’s supposed to mean—is he aware of all those men in the Bible who had multiple wives?  Or how about hunter-gatherer tribes in which childrearing is shared by tribe members, many of whom consider themselves fathers of a particular child because they believe in partible paternity?).  Cathy puts his money where his mouth is: Chik-fil-A has given a lot of money to anti-gay groups such as the Family Research Council.  And frankly, Dan Cathy can donate money as he sees fit.  That’s not a problem.

Nor is it a problem for people to boycott Chik-fil-A because Dan Cathy is an anti-gay bigot.  I see this play of events as a sign of a healthy capitalist nation.  It’s voting with your dollars!  I agree with the position that politicians cannot and should not use or manipulate zoning laws to prevent construction of new Chik-fil-A locations.  I may be socially liberal, but let’s remember that tolerance requires us to put up with some stuff we don’t like.

I had two thoughts I wanted to share about this whole Chik-fil-A issue.  The first is that I remember Matt telling me several years ago that Dan Cathy is a Christian bigot, and that’s why Matt avoided Chik-fil-A.  He was ahead of the curve!  I find this very funny and rather charming.  I like a man with a moral backbone.  The second is that for me, as a vegetarian, this Chik-fil-A thing has no impact on my food life.  I don’t frequent Chik-fil-A or any other restaurant that has the word “chicken” or a derivative in the name.  The horror of the industrial chicken industry weighs heavily on my heart, and I know that I could never, ever go back to eating industrially-raised meat.  I don’t want to eat meat period, but thinking about conventional animal agriculture makes me want to cry.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I never eat fast food.  That’s not true.  I love a good burrito, and when I’m traveling, I often get a Subway sub (packed with vegetables!) at the airport.  In College Station, we have a terrific taco restaurant, Fuego, that serves a unique and delicious array of tacos in soft corn tortillas.  At Fuego, they have at least one vegetarian taco, and you can order other options and ask them to leave off the meat.  I do, however, avoid the chicken finger restaurants and most of the traditional fast food restaurants—McDonald’s, Taco Bell, etc.  I don’t like their politics, and I’ve got other options, even in College Station with its overabundance of chain fast food restaurants.

Even though I feel like I’m watching the Chik-fil-A boycott from the sidelines, I want to throw my voice of support into the fray: stay strong, friends.  Fight the good fight.  And maybe it’s time to think about opting out of eating industrially raised meat altogether.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Allow Me to Evangelize

I’ve been wrapped up in my own dramas lately, and for that I can only say: Hey, it’s life.  I feel guilty because I’ve been meaning to tell you about how wonderful green peaches are.  Dammit, we’ve got to talk about them before peach season is over!

My source for the green peach revelation is Melissa Clark, whose kitchen advice should never go unheeded (though I do, of course, excuse myself from all recommendations about eating animals.  On that topic, Melissa and I respectfully disagree.).  She mentioned green peaches in her book In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, and they popped up again in Cook This Now.  I tinkered for a while with a vegetarian version of the recipe from In the Kitchen but was never fully satisfied with it.  But the recipe in Cook This Now is perfect, absolutely perfect.  You should make it tonight.

Green Peach Salad

I’ve been evangelizing about this simple salad all summer.  Any time someone wonders aloud, “What should I make for dinner?” I shout, “Green peach salad!”  And then I describe it: sliced unripe peaches, plenty of salt, lime juice, basil, some good olive oil, and a touch of black pepper.  Oh me oh my, it is so delicious.

And that’s really all you need to know.  Make it today, make it tomorrow.  If you start to crave it regularly, I will sympathize and point you toward the peaches at the farmers’ market.

Green Peach Salad with Citrus and Basil

From Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

Serves 2

Just a quick note: 1/4 teaspoon of salt will look like way too much salt for this small salad, but the salt adds a wonderful savory depth to the dish.  It really transforms the peaches, so don’t be scared.  And be sure to use kosher salt!  I use Morton brand coarse kosher salt, and the saltiness seems just right to me here.

1 tsp. fresh lime juice (lemon is good here too)

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

A grind or two of black pepper

4 tsp. best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound of green (unripe) peaches, pitted and thinly sliced

A few leaves of fresh basil, thinly sliced

1)  Whisk together the lime juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Toss the peach slices with the dressing, add the basil, and toss again.  Serve immediately.  This salad also keeps well for a day or two in the fridge.  I usually bring it to room temperature again before eating.

* * *

Whew, I feel better now that we’ve talked about green peaches.  Happy summer and happy cooking, friends!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Five Best Decisions I’ve Made in My Adult Life (A Meme)

Lake Michigan Shoreline with Fence

I came across this post from Holly about her best adult decisions, and it really struck a chord with me.  I love contemplative posts like these, and I like reading other people’s responses as much as I enjoy writing my own.  So without further ado, here we go: five great decisions from my adult life.

* Pursuing and completing my PhD.

Completing my doctorate was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the reason for that is probably not what you think it is.  While PhD-level work is challenging, the hardest thing about graduate school is the rampant mental illness, the anxiety and depression that just about everyone seems to experience.  While I still struggle with those feelings, I am so proud of myself for clawing my way out of their death grip—the experience really taught me a lot about my own capacity for hope and change.

I am really glad I pursued an advanced degree in science because it prepared me to be a thoughtful and skeptical consumer of knowledge.  I know firsthand the difficulties in designing good experiments and asking good questions.  I know that data can manipulated to deceive, so we shouldn’t be too trusting of any authority, including science.  I also love that science can blow your mind.  It keeps me open to new possibilities, and how great is that?

* Dating Matt.

Yes, we are no longer dating, but I have no regrets about our relationship.  Matt is still the nicest man I’ve ever met, and I’m grateful for all that he taught me and brought into my life.  I still consider him an important person in my life, and I am happy to be at peace with this new stage in our friendship, the post-dating stage.

* Sticking with vegetarianism.

I became a vegetarian at age 19, just a few months shy of 20, and I’ve kept it up for ten years.  I feel great about my diet—happy and healthy and so glad that I genuinely love vegetables.  I sometimes wonder if I’m a freak.  I mean, who gets excited because the blueberries and the kale are looking delectable at the supermarket?  I do.  (I bet some of you do too!)  I don’t miss meat at all, and I’m happy to eat a mostly plant-based diet.  For me, it is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.  I don’t preach that vegetarianism is the right choice for everyone, but it is the right choice for me.

* Tracking my spending and keeping a budget.

What a boring thing to list here!  Sure, you might call it boring, but it’s also very empowering.  Money is power, people, and knowing how you spend your money is a big step toward being in control of your life.

I started keeping track of my spending when I started graduate school.  Grad students are notoriously impecunious, so I wanted to make every penny count.  Keeping a spending log showed me that most of my money goes toward rent and food.  My apartment was my refuge during grad school, and food is my hobby.  Dating Matt was an expensive proposition, between the plane tickets and our expensive tastes, but it was something for which I could budget, and I was happy to spend money in ways that made us both happy.  To be honest, I sometimes feel guilty that he bankrolled our relationship more than I did, but then again, he has always made way more money than I do.  So I let it go because he hates when I count beans, even if the pile ends up in his favor.

* Making balance a priority.

If there is one word that is overused in American culture, it is balance.  Balance!  What does it mean?  To me, it means living your life in such a way that the everyday feels sustainable, productive, and satisfying.  It means finding ways to pursue your goals while maintaining your health.  I learned in high school and college that I really need 8 hours of sleep a night and daily exercise.  I need time alone and time with friends.  In graduate school, I learned that I’m really a 9-5er, which is frowned upon in science, but I maintain that if one is well-rested, you can get a lot done in 8 hours a day.  I try to make every day count by focusing on the high-priority items in my to-do list, and I fit the rest in around the margins.  I also think that being organized can go a long way, so if I don’t get something done today, I know it needs to be done tomorrow—I don’t waste time wondering if it should be done.  I know it must be done.

Or not.  I will always have more that I could be doing, and sometimes low-priority things don’t get done.  I’m okay with that.  I’m a bit selfish here because I care about getting my high-priority items done, not someone else’s.  To be fair, I can be persuaded to prioritize other people’s stuff, but I maintain that we all can and should be able to say no.  If you can’t say no to something, then how can you ever really say yes?

*** And a bonus!  Becoming a long-distance runner.

I ran my first half-marathon in 2007 in Chicago.  Since then, I’ve run three more half-marathons in Texas, so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve got a habit.  Before my first half, the longest run I’d ever completed was ten miles, so 13.1 seemed daunting but not impossible.  What I love about distance running is how it teaches you to transcend your own limits—you really have to believe, in your mind, that your body is capable of doing this thing that it’s never done.  That’s a powerful thing—believing in something you’ve never experienced.  It builds your self-confidence and demonstrates that life really can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.  When life is kicking the crap out of you, as 2012 has been doing to me, it’s good to be reminded that progress can be simple.  One step, one task, one day at a time.  You will survive.  You will thrive, eventually.

* * *

Care to play along with this meme?  Feel free to post your five best decisions and share the link in the comments—I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Anything is Possible

Let It Rain

This photo was the view from my office on Friday the 13th.  All that rain seemed like an appropriate metaphor for my mood.  The day after I found out my fellowship application had been rejected, I got another rejection, this time from Matt.

Yes, he broke up with me the day after my grant was rejected.  Boo hiss!  You’d almost think he planned it for maximum pain, but as I said to my boss, at least all this awful news came in one week!  It’s hard to top a serious professional setback and the official end of a long-term romance.  I’m happy to report that nobody in my family died that week—that’s the only thing I can fathom as being worse than the news I did receive.

Matt’s timing sucked, but as he quickly pointed out in his letter, there would never be a good time for what he needed to say.  He was right, so while I rolled my eyes, I also conceded his point.

We’d been going through what felt like the World’s Longest Breakup—six months of weirdness and ambiguity, me trying to be strong and Matt flailing to figure out what the hell is wrong with him.  He had warned me that things would probably get worse before they got better, and he was right.  To my surprise, I am already feeling better about things, and I will tell you why.

Matt wrote me an absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking letter to tell me that it was time for him to be alone.  I wish I could share his letter with you because it was gorgeous and powerful.  Even though he was ending our romance, his letter reminded me of all the reasons why I loved him and still do.  I read it many, many times, and I confess, sometimes I read it just because it was like a poem about love and friendship, him and me and all that we have shared.  It was devastating, in the best and worst ways.

At first, I was filled with anger and sadness and a lot of confusion.  We had always had what I thought was a great relationship, but his letter implied otherwise.  Then I started to think more deeply about what he was saying, and I realized that the problems he was identifying were not specific to our relationship.  He was talking about his life in a global sense, all the pieces of his puzzle: work, love, family, health, obligations, money, everything.  Those puzzle pieces were no longer fitting together, and he needed a time-out.  He needs a time-out in order to effect changes on the whole picture.

It was disturbing to me to think that he hadn’t been happy with me.  If he wasn’t happy, then what the hell were we doing together?  We’re not married, we don’t have kids, we have no shared responsibilities.  Ours is a companionship born of nothing more than the desire to be together.  To think that he hadn’t been happy would force me to reconsider our entire relationship, and that made me so angry I could barely see straight.  Then I remembered something I learned from Gretchen Rubin: if we think we are happy, then we are happy.  Matt and I never shied away from telling each other how we felt about the time we spent together.  We were happy.

The thought that we were happy set me free.  It meant I didn’t have to look back on our past with anger or sadness; I could just let it be.  It also started loosening my anger about the present.  It’s hard for me to explain why my feelings shifted so dramatically from anger to compassion, but they did.  I realized that I had a choice to make: I could stew in my anger and let it fester into hatred, or I could choose love.  I could choose to honor our friendship and take a leap of faith into the unknown, into life after romance.

And so I leapt.

I understood that Matt was not choosing his misery.  He’s swimming in a complicated milieu, and he’s not in a place physically or emotionally where he can be a good partner.  Knowing all of that, I wanted to choose love.  My initial reaction to our break-up was this, which is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to several friends:

“When you love someone for a long time (we dated for almost five years, and we were very close friends before that), it feels as though they are a part of you.  Matt is my best friend, my confidant, the first person I want to share things with.  Our relationship taught me a lot about myself, love, friendship, and so much more.  To see our romance end is like seeing part of myself fade away with it.  I am sad and angry and confused about the whole thing.  He and I had a great connection and a wonderful relationship.  I still can't really imagine my future without our romance—it just looks so cold and empty.”

It was that feeling of losing a part of myself that really killed me.  Everything reminds me of him.  My kitchen is filled with gifts from him.  He loves my blue couch.  I wore my green dress with him in Austin and San Antonio.  He and I ate at most of my favorite restaurants around town.  He taught me just about everything I know about wine.  There have been moments when I felt so close to him that he felt more like an extension of me.  Maybe that sounds creepy, but it wasn’t—it was lovely.  I just could not bear the thought of losing him completely—his presence in my life is too important.  And he wants to be present in my life, but in a way that honors and respects the transformation he must undergo.

Maybe that sounds fluffy, but it works for me.  Another way to say it might be this: “I wonder if loving something or someone for its own sake is a sign of a mature love.”  I wrote that several months ago, on one of Chrissy’s posts about yoga.  (It was a good coincidence that I stumbled across that post recently!)

I love Matt for many reasons.  I love our bond and our shared history, but I also love him for who he is and who he will become.  I love his intelligence, his fearlessness, his independence.  I love that I cannot control him, that what happens to us will be the fruit of what we choose now.

We talked on Thursday night.  It was a long, meandering conversation.  It was a good one.  I knew, as soon as we started talking, that choosing friendship was not only the right thing to do, it was really the only thing I could do with Matt.  By choosing friendship, I wouldn’t be losing a part of myself, but rather I would be letting our relationship change and grow.  It would be an opportunity for honesty and compassion.  And though I can’t promise that I will never be angry with him, I know that I am not trying to hurt him, that my words come from a place of kindness.

I think he feels the same way.

Our break-up prompted me to think more deeply about romance and friendship.  Romance is, I think, a transient thing, like the twinkling of fireflies in a dark field.  Romance comes and goes.  It is shared moments of beauty and wonder.  It is the fulfilled desire to be awestruck by something amazing.  Romance is a bit unpredictable too, which is part of its magic.  Whether or not he knows it, I am fairly certain that Matt and I will share more romantic moments because that is the nature of our bond.  We’ve always appreciated what our relationship has drawn out of us.  I feel like my best self with him, and that’s a very good thing. 

“I was walking far from home.  But I carried your letters all the while.”  (Iron & Wine, “Walking Far From Home.”)

Wednesday Dusk

I will always love him.  I was young, eager, and impressionable when we started dating, and Matt was good to me.  His touch has left a permanent mark on my life.  Ours was not a perfect romance, but it was pretty damn good.  “Extraordinary,” he called it.  Yes.  I’ll take extraordinary over perfect any day.

As for the future, well, who knows?  Anything is possible.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Life in Small Notebooks

I live my life in small notebooks.  At work and at home, equipped with a small notebook, I make things happen.  Last week, I filled up my notebook at work, so I had to buy a new one.  I have two favorite places to buy small notebooks: Michaels and Target.  At Michaels, they usually have small notebooks for a dollar each, and I picked up three this time.  (They were so cute that I couldn’t resist!)

Three Small Notebooks

These notebooks will become my to-do lists at work.  I find that writing a to-do list is both pleasurable and useful.  I like putting pen to paper.  So much of my life takes place on a computer that the novelty of writing stuff down is fun.  I also find that having notes from most of my workdays is a handy record—phone numbers and random notes are not lost if I write them down in my small notebook.

I hate to confess this, but I bet it’s true for many of you, so here goes: I have trouble staying focused at work.  My work is very repetitive.  In science, often the goal is to get really good at something, then do it ten thousand times.  It can be difficult to stay excited about something when it’s no longer a challenging novelty, when your goal is to do it as efficiently as possible because you still have a ton of data to generate and analyze.  I use my notebook as a tool to stay focused, set goals, and keep track of how much truly useful work I’m getting done.  I can also use it as a record to gauge where my productivity is falling short or where my goals are just too ambitious for a given day.  For example, I’ve been trying to get at least six behavior sets analyzed over the last two days, but I’m averaging 2-3.  That number tells me that I should expect this set of experiments to require more time for analysis, regardless of my goal number.

At home, I use a small notebook to keep track of my spending.  I started doing this at the beginning of graduate school, and I’ve kept it up since then.  I learned to be anxious about money from my parents, and I can assure you, it is not pleasant.  But I’ve also learned that money is just numbers—numbers coming in and going out, income and spending.  By approaching my finances from an empirical perspective, I’ve been able to let go of some of that anxiety.  This is useful on all sorts of levels—it keeps me calm about unexpected bills, it allows me to be more generous with my loved ones, and it gives me a good idea of what my spending looks like when I’m simply going about my business.  I’m not really pinching pennies these days, but I may be in the near future due to funding issues with my job. 

Budget Notebook

I think my budget notebook is so pretty, and it is no exaggeration to say that I love writing in it.  In life, I will take all the motivation I can get.  If a beautiful notebook is all it takes to maintain my financial discipline, then it is an investment worth making—all $3-4 of it.

July 2012 Weekly

My budget itself is not very elaborate.  I’ve written about it before, and the take-home message is that a simply structured approach to spending works well for me.  Basically, I have a weekly allowance and a monthly allowance, and I’m happy as long as that total is $1600-1700.  I spend most of my allowance on food—seriously!  Between groceries and eating out, food is the adjustable category in which most of my spending takes place.  And I have no regrets about that either.  Food is pleasure, health, hobby, and sustenance to me.  I eat to live and I live to eat.  Somehow, by not being too frugal about food, it makes it easier for me to be disciplined about other spending.  For example, I’m being careful not to spend much money on clothing, in part because I don’t need much (except for a running skirt!) and because new clothes will still be there when I’m ready for them.  There’s no reason to buy stuff right now, and I’m making good use of the clothing I already own.

My small notebooks are my way of taking control of the things I can (sort of) control: my time and my money.  Control is a tricky concept, and I’m well aware of the fact that much of the world is beyond my control.  But in these small but crucial ways, I stake my claim to my own life, and it feels good.

Do you use small notebooks for anything?  To-do lists, journals, poetry, your budget?  Do tell—I’d love to hear!

PS  Another great small notebook:  I love this little blog!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

You Asked for It

I have the nicest readers here.  Thank you for your sympathetic comments on my last blog post.  Your kindness made the bad news a little easier to bear.  Group hug!  Blogging is the best.

Speaking of blogging, Raquelita, my dear, this post is for you!  It’s time to talk about that tomato-corn pie.  “Pie” is a bit of a misnomer—this is a quiche, with an interesting twist on the crust.  The crust is actually my favorite part of this whole dish.  Most quiches use a traditional pie crust made with butter, but this recipe calls for a crust made with olive oil.  It’s a stir-and-mix number in which the dry ingredients are stirred together with equal parts cold water and olive oil to form a dough.  The dough is then gathered into a ball, wrapped in plastic, and chilled in the fridge for a while.  Then you roll it out as you would any crust, tuck it into a pie pan, and parbake it.  You cool the crust for a few minutes, and then you fill it with a hearty mixture of corn, roasted tomatoes, cheese, and a custard to bind everything together.  Into the oven it goes and ta-da!  Tomato-corn pie.

Tomato-Corn Pie Redux

And in the finished pie, the crust bakes into a cracker-like texture.  It’s such a great contrast to the creaminess of the filling!  The crust is seasoned with black pepper too, giving it a nice spicy edge.  It’s delightful. 

I first made this recipe last summer.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  The flavors were good, the crust excellent (like I said), but the main problem was that it was so damn watery!  I told Ammie about how I kept extending the baking time to cook off the wateriness of the filling, and she responded, “Yeah, tomatoes give off a ton of water.”

Ah ha!  A clue!  Thank you, Ammie!  To nip that problem in the bud tomato, I stole an idea from this recipe for a roasted tomato tart, and I gave the tomatoes a short roast in the oven—15 minutes at 350 degrees, and another 15 minutes with the oven turned off.  It worked pretty well, but in the future, I’d probably go for a full 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

I know it might seem crazy to make a summer dish that involves so much oven time when you live in Texas, but that time spent puttering in the kitchen (with the AC on, of course) is so soothing that I crave it.  Life lately has been anything but soothing, and I think we take our comfort where we can find it.  For me, that means finding the energy to put on my metaphorical apron and get to work at the counter, mixing dough, chopping vegetables, and making something with my own two hands.  Fewer things are more satisfying in this life than being able to say, “I made that!”

Floured Countertop

Happy cooking, friends. 

Tomato-Corn Pie Redux

Adapted from EatingWell

Serves 4-6

I’m writing the recipe below as I followed it, but here are two notes for future reference (which I’ve already discussed above):

1)  For the tomatoes, it’s probably better to roast them for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

2)  Don’t be tempted to underbake this pie.  It tends to be more watery than other quiches (perhaps because of the corn and tomatoes and because it doesn’t use straight cream for the custard), and it benefits from a longer bake time.  I think 50 minutes should be fine, but I judge “doneness” by the appearance of the center of the pie: if it looks set and not watery, it’s probably done.

For the crust:

3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup cold water

For the filling:

2 large tomatoes

Olive oil

Dried coriander

3 large eggs

1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup shredded cheese, such as cheddar or jack

1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen

1 tsp. dried thyme

1/2 tsp. salt, divided

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1)  For the crust, mix together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in the middle, add the oil and water, and mix to form a dough.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and tuck it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

2)  Roast the tomatoes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Slice the tomatoes in half, then slice each half into four pieces.  Place in a roasting dish, sprinkle with some olive oil, dried coriander, salt, and pepper.  Roast at 350 for 15 minutes, then turn the oven off, leave the tomatoes in there, and roast for another 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside for now.

3)  Crank the oven up to 400 degrees F.  Flour a countertop and roll the dough into a large circle, about 12 inches in diameter.  Pick up the dough and tuck it into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing down and up the sides.  Trim off any overhanging dough and use it to repair any holes or complete the sides.  Line the dough with a piece of foil or parchment paper that can be lifted out easily, then fill the pie pan with some dried beans or pie weights.  Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil or paper and beans.  Let the crust cool for at least 10 minutes.

4)  Make the custard: mix together the eggs, milk, and cream.

5)  To fill the pie, sprinkle half the cheese over the bottom of the crust.  Next layer half the tomatoes.  Spread the corn in another layer and top with the thyme and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper.  Next sprinkle the rest of the cheese on the corn, followed by the remaining tomatoes and 1/4 tsp. salt.  Pour the custard (egg mixture) into the crust on top of all the layers.

6)  Bake the pie for 40-50 minutes or until the center does not look wet and an inserted knife comes out clean.  It should be nicely browned, too.  Let the pie cool for at least 20 minutes, then slice and serve.  I think this quiche is terrific served warm or at room temperature.  When I take the leftovers to work, I don’t bother to heat it up—I just sit down at my desk and eat.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Life, Lately: Newsy Edition



Despite the awesome dinosaur above, I’m feeling pretty down today.  This morning I found out that my NRSA fellowship did really, really badly in the review process, which I’ll tell you a little more about below.  Other than that, things are fine with me, but I admit, I’m pretty devastated by that piece of news.  But we rally and we move on, and I will attempt to end this post on a more positive note than this.

Life.  Sigh.  Let me tell you a little about the NIH review process as I understand it.  After each round of applications is collected, there is an initial screening during which the worst applications are pulled.  This batch is not discussed by reviewers and not assigned a score.  That’s what happened to my application—an absolutely terrible, failing grade, so to speak.  As of this writing, I have no information about why my application did so poorly, though I have a few ideas about what may have happened.

To be honest, I’m pretty stunned that my grant did so badly that it didn’t even get a score.  I didn’t expect to be funded right away—that would have been unlikely, given that most grants are funded only after a round or two of revise-and-resubmit.  But I had been looking forward to reading reviewer comments and to plotting my next move based on the reviews.  My new next move is to speak with the program officer to see if I can gather any more information about what went wrong with my application.  It’s a huge blow to my ego that things went so badly in review, and I’ve been crying on and off all morning.  I have a tear-and-snot-filled napkin as proof.  I’m also kind of angry.  After all the work I put into that application, all I get back are the words “application unscored.”  Um, thanks?  Thanks for nothing, I guess. 

Love.  But all is not lost.  I still love my colleagues and working in this lab.  I’m still plodding along on my experiments and still hoping to submit a manuscript sooner rather than later.  In a sense, my work, my real work, remains unchanged.  My advisor and I still have another grant proposal out there, so there is still hope that we’ll get funding through a different mechanism.

Of course, I still have all sorts of other good things in my life, like my writing, my running, and all my loved ones.  I have all of that, and so much more.  I’m down but not defeated.  I have another rejection to add to the pile, which will make success that much sweeter.  What doesn’t kill me makes me…cry sporadically and curl up into the fetal position.  And then get on with my life.  (Though I reserve the right to mope for two weeks, since I spent a solid two weeks working almost exclusively on that fellowship application!)

Food.  Okay, let’s switch gears now.  First of all, have you had any raspberries yet this year?  They are fantastic—I hereby declare 2012 Year of the Raspberry.  I like eating them plain or with some whole-milk yogurt and a swirl of maple syrup.  Yum!

Rice cakes!  They are delicious and unfairly maligned as diet food.  I’ve been eating mine slathered in peanut butter (what diet?) or with cheese.

I was pretty excited by some of the options at my hippie foods store (Brazos Natural Foods) on Saturday.  Loose organic cherries so you could buy a handful or two instead of two pounds!  Incredible strawberry-rhubarb yogurt on sale for 99 cents a tub!  And all the usual organic goodies—I took home a pretty great haul for about $30.

Finally, I’m enjoying Ashley’s series on buying organic groceries.  (Here’s her intro post, and here is the first update on the project.)  About 75% of my groceries are organic, so I’m used to paying the bills for a mostly-organic approach to eating.  I won’t get into all the whys and hows here, but suffice to say that Ashley’s bill this week is right on target with my own weekly grocery spending if you divide her bill by the number of adults in the household.

Happy eating, friends!


Friday, July 6, 2012

A Few Signs that You May be a Total Kitchen Dork

Tomato and Corn Pie

I’m feeling silly tonight and now I’m subjecting you to my goofy side.  Are you a kitchen dork?  I am, and here’s how I know:

* You get excited when you see you’re almost out of a favorite spice, because it means you’ve been cranking it out in the kitchen.  (For me, this happened with coriander, one of my favorites!)

* You currently own three or more kinds of salt.  (I’ve got a pink mineral salt, two kinds of sea salt, and kosher salt.  Dork!)

* Your heart is set a-fluttering by the kitchen department in Target.  (Have you guys seen the flexible, collapsible strainers?  Swoon!)

* Growing your own basil is the highlight of your summer.  (Well, the tomato plant hasn’t started fruiting yet…)

* Discovering that “mature” spinach is actually more fun to cook with than baby spinach was a deep and meaningful experience for you.  (Somehow the work that goes into cleaning and prepping mature spinach makes the cooking more soulful.  Or is the heat making me crazy?)

* The thought of peanut butter frosting makes you reconsider your evening plans.  (Ooh la la!)

* Overnight oatmeal has changed your life.  (Am I alone here?  It is my most favorite breakfast, and I eat it almost every day.  It’s comforting and nourishing and endlessly adaptable to the seasons and my whims.)

Are you a kitchen dork?  Tell me about it—let’s commiserate celebrate our kitchen addictions!

{And happy weekend, my little dorks.}

PS  What’s the deal with that picture at the top, you ask?  That’s a tomato-corn pie, and I’m hoping to tinker with the recipe a smidge to make it even better for you.  It’s on my list of recipe redux candidates, recipes I liked a lot but didn’t love.  We’ll see if I’m successful!  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Give It All You’ve Got

Just in case there was any confusion, I have identified the hardest job in the world: stay-at-home mom.  Or perhaps a more accurate title would be always-busy-never-getting-enough-sleep-need-coffee-now-stay-at-home mom.  My sister-in-law, Amanda, who is indeed a stay-at-home mom, is ON 24/7, and wow, does she work hard.  I’ve known this for a long time, but there was something about my time in Michigan last month that really underlined this point.  I confess that sometimes I think the work of being a mother would feel more fulfilling than the work I do now as a scientist.  To witness a child growing, ever so slowly, from tiny infant to confident adult, is nothing short of amazing.  The work of nurturing is powerful stuff.  It’s also very challenging work, requiring more patience, creativity, hope, and forgiveness than we think ourselves capable of giving.  Parenting is, I think, the act of giving all you’ve got, and then some.

I am not a parent, but I take my duties as an auntie seriously.  I’m not sure that motherhood is in the cards for me—I remain ambivalent about becoming a parent myself—so being an auntie seems like the next best thing.  I try to embrace a give-it-all-you’ve-got attitude, knowing that, as Gretchen Rubin says, the days are long but the years are short.  The years are especially short when you only see your family twice a year, so we try to squeeze every last drop out of the days we have together.

It was wonderful to be in Michigan in the summertime because it gave us the chance to enjoy all sorts of outdoor delights.  Truth be told, we didn’t do anything too elaborate or exotic.  One morning, my brother and sister-in-law hosted a family brunch, and my entire immediate family was able to attend.  On another day, Amanda packed a picnic lunch and we took the kids to Maybury State Park for an afternoon of playing.  It was a little chilly that day, with a feisty breeze, but the sun was warm and we spent several hours on playgrounds and tracing circles through a Zen rock maze.

Later in my visit, the summer heat descended, and we took the kids to a nearby splash park for a day of picnicking, running, climbing, laughing, and sunshine.  I settled easily into my role as chaperone, standing on the sidelines while Lydia jumped and ran through the splash park with the uninhibited joy of a five-year-old.

Happy Dance at the Splash Park

At the splash park, we met up with one of Amanda’s friends and her two girls.  Later in the day, when all the kids wanted to play on the playground, I volunteered to chaperone the bigger kids, ranging from three to almost six years old, while Amanda tagged after little Devin to make sure he didn’t get trampled.  To keep an eye on three kids, I found myself doing head counts to make sure all the kids were visible and accounted for.  I didn’t do too badly, only losing track of one kid when she ran back to our picnic blankets to be with her mom.  It was surprisingly satisfying to be of use in this way, to be the shepherd keeping watch over her flock of children.  I am not the most maternal of people, but being an auntie lets me try on that role.  Sometimes it feels just right to me.

We had plenty of time at home, too, time which we filled with games and kids’ shows and lots of good food.  Lydia and Devin were fascinated by my lab timer, which I had brought with me to get some work done.  No work was accomplished by me, but I got a big kick out of Lydia timing everything.

Coolest Toy Ever

(I just love their expressions in this photo!  They look like scientists to me.  And don’t their new haircuts look great?)

I tried to strike a balance between entertaining the kids, helping out with the cooking and cleaning, and taking a bit of time for myself.  I have learned that even on vacations, I like some alone time, especially if my vacation is more than three or four days of “together time.”  I took runs or walks by myself.  Sometimes I snuck into one of the bedrooms to read or write on my computer.  But mostly I tried to be helpful, whether that meant taking the kids for a walk, playing with Lydia, or “baby-sitting” the kids in the car while Amanda ran into the store to pick up a few groceries.

In the midst of all that activity, I found myself thinking about how the act of being a family is a little like being a machine.  A dynamic, flexible, forgiving machine that works best when everyone tries to do their part to the best of their ability.  The machine must allow for people to grow and change, of course, but more than ever, I felt that the best way for me to help my family was to fill in the gaps where I see them: to care for Lydia and make coffee in the mornings, to empty the dishwasher and sweep the floor when the opportunity is present, to grill peaches for dessert, to clear the patio table of food and dirty dishes after dinner.  There is no clear line between being wanted and being needed.  My family may survive without my physical presence for 50 weeks of the year, but I know they want and need me to be in Michigan during those two precious weeks when I can be there.

When we are needed, we walk a line between feeling satisfied that we are an essential part of the machine and feeling overwhelmed by the work of caring for others.  Being an auntie, contrary to popular opinion, is not always easy.  I get tired too, or disgruntled that other people’s needs come before my own, or miffed that my family doesn’t understand my unconventional personal life.  I am an academic and an intellectual in a family that is more common sense-smart than intellectually sophisticated.  But then again, it is from my family that I learned to be practical, to find my own balance between everyday needs and pursuing my dreams.  I am a chameleon, able to move between different worlds without too much trouble, and my ability to blend into different settings and connect with different people may be one of my most powerful and charming traits.

I really love that every time I go back to Michigan, I feel a little wiser and a little more capable.  And it’s with that sense of becoming a bigger person that I offer the following advice for parents and aunties.  I found this on one of Amanda’s Pinterest boards and thought it was too good not to share here. 


Image from Modern Parents Messy Kids.  I hope they won’t be upset that I borrowed it!

I have one more thing to add: in the end, there is only love.  Let us move through our days knowing that while love may not be all we need, in the end, it is what matters the most.  Love, compassion, kindness, affection: these are the fuel that keep a family’s engine humming along.

* “In the end, there is only love.”  With gratitude, I adapted this quote from the amazing Gretchen Rubin.

Monday, July 2, 2012

On the Nature of Research

I think this photo and this sentiment are just perfect.


May your research lead you to joy, perfect conversations, and sun-dappled days.  Happy summer.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

When We Are in Bloom

Baby Raspberry Plant

I have returned to sleepy College Station after ten days of city-hopping and suitcase-dwelling.  I am simultaneously exhilarated, exhausted, and relieved—there’s no place like home, and this hermit is happy to be done with the suitcase and sleeping in her own bed again.

Every time I travel, it seems I am so filled up with new sensations, thoughts, and feelings that I don’t even know where to begin to write about the experience of travel.  It’s amazing to me that this is true even when I’m traveling to familiar places like Detroit and Chicago, places where I have spent hundreds of hours living, loving, and exploring.  I suppose it speaks to the way that places and people change, and the way that living away from a place changes me as well.  Chicago in particular was bizarrely disorienting; I was frequently lost, turned around, confused.  But I was also delighted by food and friends, by acts of kindness from my chosen family and strangers.  I still love that city, and yet I am still adjusting to the reality of not living in it.  I can’t really call Chicago my own any more.  Texas has changed me, and I find the speed of life in Chicago overwhelming.  Perhaps the pace of life in Texas is more in synch with my preferred pace, which is to say that it feels more patient to me.

But before Chicago, there was Detroit and my family.  Oh, Detroit, how our relationship has changed since I left more than nine years ago!  I can say without a touch of irony that I have deep affection for that city, a grown-up love for a city that has struggled to redefine itself in the last few decades.  Life in Detroit is so good to me—a happy tribe of friends and family with whom to catch up over food and drink.  A niece and a nephew who are eager for games, walks, wagon rides, field trips, picnics—pleasures of the simplest kind, really.  I feel a strong obligation to be a part of these kids’ lives, to participate in my family life even though career and ambition have taken me far south for now.  And so I slip into my role as auntie quickly and easily, and I let the kids wear me out because the days I get to spend with them are so precious.  I am happy to hear Lydia’s tiny feet in the morning as she slips out of bed and wakes up with a few computer games and maybe a television show.  (Speaking of which, can I just say that I think I am in love with Handy Manny?  Can I marry him?)  I am happy to be the one to feed her breakfast and to share snuggles and good mornings while everyone else dozes peacefully.

I admit that Devin, my nineteen-month-old nephew, and I are not as close as Lydia and I are.  In a way, I suppose it’s easier that I often entertain and care for Lydia while someone else takes care of Devin.  It seems to keep everyone happy and content.  But I don’t want to play favorites, so I am happy to take Devin out in his wagon or tickle his feet when we’re sitting in a parking lot while someone is inside Trader Joe’s, buying groceries.  I even changed his dirty diaper, and let’s just say he was very patient with me and my ineptness.  It’s also worth noting that Devin has a more adventurous, independent nature than Lydia, so taking care of him is more about keeping him out of trouble than it is about playing directly with him.  I want to honor the differences between these two kids, and I also want to be as helpful as I can to my family, so I try not to worry too much about the fact that Lydia gets so much more of my attention.  Devin is just as loved and adored, and he is seriously the best snuggler.  The way he throws himself at you when he wants to cuddle is absolutely adorable.  Over time, I know my relationships with Lydia and Devin will change, and that’s okay.  I just want to be there for them, to be a part of their lives, and to not let the geographic distance between us make me a stranger to them.

There is so much more to say about everything, but I think that’s enough for now.  I am happy and tired and of course sad to say good-bye to everyone.  But I’ll be back, both to Detroit and Chicago as well as this blog.  To love is to return, to forgive, to try again.  To love is to choose the bigger life.  When we love, we are in bloom.

I Love You Too

I love you too, Lydia.