Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Scallops Provencale (Page 319)

  • Date: Saturday, August 26, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Southborough, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Richard, Anita, and Michael
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this one because I wanted to finally find out if I am allergic to scallops! I'm not sure how excited everyone else was to participate in my allergy discovery project, but it all turned out well. This dish wasn't spectacular though. As the scallops were cooked separately from the sauce, they didn't absorb a lot of the tomato and garlic flavors. Chris suggested the dish may have been better with bay scallops, which are smaller. Then they probably would have combined better with the sauce. The sauce had a very nice flavor. Richard suggested that it could have been thicker, and I think he's right about that. It was a little watery. All in all, this dish wasn't bad, but I wouldn't make it again.

I went to work today, then to the MIT gym (which was swarming with men), and finally to my book club meeting (which was swarming with women). It was a nice day.

I have been feeling generally very motivated lately. I have been quite productive at work, and unusually (for me!) disciplined at the gym. Oddly, the one thing I don't feel motivated to do this week is cook. It's not that I don't want to cook -- I think am just in denial about the fact that the people I usually cook with have mostly moved away. Usually when I think about cooking dinner here it involves Mike, or Vigleik and Shihchi, or Paul or Chris... I would love to cook with more of the people in my life here, but I worry that people don't actually enjoy cooking! I don't want to pressure anyone to cook with me who doesn't want to. The beauty of my old crew is that they all either like to cook, or are close enough friends to tell me when they don't want to. I don't mind cooking alone, of course, but it seems a little silly to make a huge multi-course meal just for me! So if any of you out there like to cook, and want to help with the project, you should let me know!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Classic Popovers (Page 603)

  • Date: Saturday, August 26, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Southborough, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Dining Companions: Chris, Richard, Anita, and Michael
  • Recipe Rating: B+

The "Breads and Crackers" section is one that I am behind on, so I picked this recipe to catch up a little bit. These popovers were quite good. Popovers are amazing -- they are so easy to make, but so beautiful and tasty. I liked this recipe a lot. Chris thought the insides of the popovers were too moist. I agree that they could have been dried out more. Perhaps it would be better to take another 5 minutes off the initial bake and add it to the second bake, after the steam vent is cut. They had a nice flavor though, and they rose perfectly.

I have had a couple of wonderfully productive days in a row, which always puts me in a good mood! I think this year is going to be crazy busy, but I also think I am on track to get everything done in plenty of time! That's a good feeling.

Orientation started this week for the new MIT graduate students. As I was walking through the infinite corridor this morning, I walked through a herd of new students, waiting in line for pamphlets and instructions of some sort. I paused for a second to watch them. They looked so excited and scared. I remember that day. I was really excited. This is always an exciting time of year. I am looking forward to meeting the new graduate students and post-docs in the department. It's always nice having some new faces around. Plus, some people are finally moving up to the 4th floor to take the places of the people who graduated. It has been really deserted up there lately. Many days I am the only person on the whole floor. But today Peter and Max moved up there. It will be nice to have other people around again!

My book club meets tomorrow and I am only on page 54 of the book. Time to do some reading!

Hot Garlic Dressing (Page 172)

  • Date: Saturday, August 26, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Southborough, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Richard, Anita, and Michael
  • Recipe Rating: B-
Chris and I intended to make a mache salad with dinner on Saturday, but Whole Foods had no mache. So, I just threw together a salad and made this dressing to go with it because Richard and Anita had all the ingredients for it in their pantry. This dressing was just dull. It wasn't bad, but there wasn't much flavor to it. The garlic didn't come through as much as I expected it would. Using this dressing was essentially equivalent to pouring some mildly garlicky oil over your salad. It wasn't offensive in any way, it just wasn't particularly inspiring.

Some signs that I have been travelling too much this summer:

1. I have completely given up on packing and unpacking my toiletries. I finally just bought an extra of everything so I can leave my bag permanently packed.

2. The unpredictable Boston weather is starting to seem fun again -- like a crazy uncle that you haven't seen in a few years! Sixty degrees and rainy in August? Sure, why not!

3. I woke up at 4:30am last night, looked around my bedroom, and had no idea where I was. Nothing looked familiar. It took me at least a minute to realize that I was at home in my own bed!

But, now I don't have another trip planned until the middle of November! That means I have three months to enjoy being home.

Monday, August 28, 2006

French Pea Soup (Page 96)

  • Date: Saturday, August 26, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Southborough, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Richard, Anita, and Michael
  • Recipe Rating: A-
Chris and I decided to take advantage of Richard and Anita's beautiful kitchen, and make a big dinner on Saturday. Chris thought pea soup sounded like a good idea, and from the available choices, I selected this one. It was quite good. I am a huge fan of pureed vegetable soups, and this one did not disappoint. It was a beautiful green color, and the taste was interesting and pleasant. The flavors of the peas and mint really came through, while the leeks and lettuce added a nice depth. This was certainly the best hot soup I have made from The Book so far. Everyone around the table was in agreement that it was a lovely dish. One complaint: I didn't like the croutons. I much prefer larger homemade croutons (an inch or so on each side). That way they are crisy and lovely on the outside and still a bit soft on the interior. The croutons in this recipe were more like little rocks that very quickly absorbed a lot of soup and got very soggy. Not good.

My first year at MIT I met a guy in my building who asked me out on a date. I went out with him twice, and he was a good, smart, nice guy. But for some reason, spending time with him made me really boring. I wasn't bored by him - he was interesting and had a lot to say, but when I was with him, I just became a really extremely boring version of myself. I never figured out why. After a couple dates I told him I was too busy to see him again. In truth, I just didn't like myself when I was with him.

He was essentially a stranger, so it wasn't a problem, but what do you do when someone that you are close to brings out really unflattering parts of your personality? I thought a lot this weekend about how there are some people in my life who I really like and care about and enjoy spending time with, but who, for whatever reason, really bring out the worst in me. What do you do when you like your friend, but you don't like the person that you are when you are near him?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thin Apple Tarts (Page 774)

  • Date: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Alex and Marco
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this recipe because it was another one where I could try out my mandoline. These tarts were pretty good. Marco and Chris were quite enthusiastic about them -- I believe Marco even graded them an A, which for him is pretty rare. They were good. The tarts were quite pretty, and individual, which is always a bit more elegant. The crust was nice and crispy, and the apple slices were cooked just the right amount. The glaze also had a lot of good flavor. I think I could have glazed them more heavily than I did and that would have been an improvement. My only complaint was that they could have been sweeter. The crust was puff pastry, and hence not sweet at all, and the apples were Granny Smiths. There was some sweetness from the glaze, but it still didn't feel very dessert-like too me. Alex suggested it would be a good breakfast food. Overall though, these tarts were tasty and very easy to make!

Andrew (another topologist and friend who works with Chris at Stanford) came out to Chris' family's house this evening to hang out and eat dinner. The three of us got to talking about job stuff -- how they each have one, and I would like to get one -- and it got very depressing. At some point I decided I didn't want to talk about it any more, and I wandered upstairs to work. But I ended up instead putting on my pajamas and crawling in to bed for a nap. It was cold and rainy here today and it felt so nice to lay in bed in the middle of the afternoon, half-asleep under a big pile of covers. I can't remember the last time I did that. It was nice though, and it reminded me how much I like the way the air is crisp and slightly chilly in Boston in the fall. It gave me something to look forward to. I needed that. I have been feeling a little down lately. I miss everyone who moved away, and I am feeling quite stressed about work. Job applications are a scary thing for me -- on some level I know that whatever happens, it will be fine. Still, I think that the not knowing what's going to happen is hard for me. I have never been good at being patient.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Romaine-Wrapped Halibut Fillets (Page 303)

  • Date: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Chris, Alex, Marco
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Marco ranked fish as his top choice for dinner, so I picked out this recipe. This fish was quite good. The halibut was moist and flaky. The lettuce absorbed a lot of flavor from the shallot butter, and it complemented the fish nicely. This dish was flavorful and tasty while still retaining a nice light feel, which is a great characteristic in a fish dish. It was the sort of entree that you can eat and afterwards feel satisfied and healthy. There wasn't anything amazing about this preparation, but it was a really solid summer dish that was very enjoyable.

Tonight Chris and I made scallops for dinner. True confession: I had never had a scallop before! Are you shocked? It's a little shocking. I grew up in the midwest, where seafood isn't really such a big thing. Plus, the younger version of myself was not at all an adventurous eater. I wasn't really picky, I just wasn't super-interested in trying new things. Then, the first time I ever remember eating an oyster, I had a strange reaction to it. I felt a little funny and had some trouble breathing afterwards. So, I became concerned that perhaps I am allergic to mollusks, and decided eating them might not be such a good idea. So, when I was in culinary school, and exposed to lots of new foods, I avoided all such dishes. Thus, I had never had a scallop. Until tonight. I decided it was time to start introducing some mollusks in to my diet, and see if I really am allergic. I figured this was best done in the company of people who are capable of handling an emergency. Hence I ate my scallops with Chris, Richard, Anita, and Michael. And I had no problem! I figure I will try clams or mussels next, and eventually I will make attempt number two at oysters. I need to start eating all these things, if for no other reason than to complete my project!

Cheddar Scallion Drop Biscuits (Page 597)

  • Date: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Alex and Marco
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this recipe because I am terribly behind on the "Breads and Crackers" section of The Book. These biscuits were odd in a way. They weren't great, but yet they were strangely addictive. The flavor was nice, but they were a little too chewy for a biscuit. I didn't overwork the dough, but maybe the addition of cheese made them chewy... I don't know. In any event, we all kept eating them long after we were full, even though we all agreed that they weren't great. I likely won't make them again, but I do think they would be a nice accompaniment to a big bowl of chili!

Before I got on the plane last week to come back to Boston, I asked Emilee if I could borrow the trashiest book she had to distract me on the flight. She handed me a book called "I Don't Know How She Does It." The cover is 5 different shades of pink. It seemed promising. I was a little embarassed to read said novel on the plane, as I was sitting next to the clearly very educated sister and brother-in-law of one of the faculty members in my department. So I am reading it now. I can't even put in to words how horrifying and depressing I find this book. I can't stop reading it though -- I keep hoping that there will be some miraculous turn of events, or something... The back of the book says it "brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of every working mom." In my opinion it describes a horribly sad, overworked woman who feels constantly guilty for neglecting either her career or her children. But the worst part is, it makes it seem as though it has to be that way --as though there is no way to achieve the mysterious "balance" that people always refer to.

I shouldn't take it so personally. It's just a novel. And I don't even know whether or not I want to have kids. But I would like to believe that it is possible -- that a woman can be both a mother and have a career and not be miserable. This book just makes it seem so hopeless. My mother never worked. So although I know that many, many mothers do it, I have never really seen up close what it looks like. This book feels like my first glimpse, and it terrifies me!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Zucchini and Carrots Julienne (Page 592)

  • Date: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Marco
  • Dining Companions: Alex and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: C

I picked this dish because I bought a mandoline a while ago, but hadn't tried it out yet. I though this recipe would be a good opportunity to give it a shot! I was disappointed by this dish though. It was just so... boring. That isn't even the right critique, because I would rather have just eaten the raw vegetables than eat this dish. There was something very unappealing about it. The vegetables weren't really overcooked - they definitely still had crunch to the bite - but they were still a bit limp. The flavors were fine, but any other preparation of carrots with zucchini would probably have been better. When I asked for opinions about this dish, everyone's response was something like, "I don't know. It's fine I guess." It wasn't anything special and I certainly wouldn't make it again.

My first year at MIT I was walking down the hall of the math department with one of the older graduate students when a young woman walked by in the other direction. My friend was staring at her, so I asked, "Who is that?" His response: "I don't know. Not a mathematician though." When I asked how he knew that when he didn't know who she was, he said, "She's wearing high heels. A mathematician would never wear heels." Huh. I just stared at him for a second, trying to figure out if he was serious. He was. And then I tried to think if I had ever seen a woman other than myself wearing high heels in a math department. I drew a blank. It was one of those moments in my life where I wondered if there are rules that everyone else knows and I just missed the day when they were laid out.

I still wear heels in the math department. But only at MIT. When I am at conferences, or visiting other departments, I wear modest flats with quiet soles. I was away from MIT so much this summer that my favorite strappy summer heels didn't make it out of the closet until last week. And when I wore them, they made my feet bleed. That seemed a little sad to me, that my feet aren't even used to wearing my favorite shoes any more. It's a sign that I have been away from Boston too much...

Mango-Spacho (Page 90)

  • Date: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Marco and Chris
  • Dining Companion: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: A-

In truth, I picked this one because it involved a lot of chopping! When you have a lot of people cooking at once, it is good to have at least one recipe that involves extensive prep work -- keeps people busy! My helpers seemed deeply skeptical about this recipe though. Marco, in particular, seemed to find it a bit painful to add some of the ingredients to this soup! In the end, everyone was pleasantly surprised. All of us really enjoyed this dish a lot! It was refreshing and flavorful, and the wide variety of ingredients really came together well. The textural combination from the creaminess of the mango and crunchiness of the corn was lovely. Additionally, the chiles provided just the right amount of kick to keep it interesting. It was also colorful and quite visually appealing. It was a perfect cold soup for the summer.

I am in Southborough with Chris and his family for the weekend. So this morning I drove from Southborough to Concord, where I tutor on Friday mornings. I always find driving new routes to be a humbling experience. It seems so simple: you look up directions online, you write down said directions, you execute said directions. Yet somehow, if you're me, it rarely seems to go that smoothly. In the midst of a downpour this morning (heaven forbid it be sunny and clear when I am lost!) I was completely lost somewhere near Westborough. I know some people really hate to be lost. The being lost part of it doesn't bother me (I have had a lot of practice with it!). I just turn up the radio, and try to develop a strategy to reorient myself. More often than not that strategy involves finding some cross streets and calling someone with internet to Google map my location for me. I do hate to be late though, so in cases like this morning, when I am trying to reach my destination at a specific time, I find it a bit stressful. When I looked up the directions this morning to Concord, Google told me it would take 35 minutes. So I left Southborough an hour and ten minutes before I needed to be there, and I arrived three minutes early. If nothing else, at least I know myself (and my navigation limitations) well!

On the short list of things I would buy if I had unlimited money: a navigation system for my car!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Vegetable Stock (Page 930)

  • Date: Monday, August 21, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe came from the "Basics" section of The Book, which is another one of my slow sections. We didn't actually use this stock on Monday, we just made it and froze it for later soup-making adventures! I tasted it before putting it in the freezer though, and it was extremely good. I make vegetable stock frequently, but my usual method is admittedly a little sketchy. I take whatever vegetables I have in the fridge (or ones that I have thrown in the freezer for this purpose), dump them in a big pot with some herbs, cook for a few hours, and strain. This recipe, however, called for the vegetables and herbs to be roasted before they are boiled. The roasting really added a lot of wonderful flavor to the stock. This stock also contained some white wine, which was a lovely addition. My only complaint: it was just a touch too tomato-ey. When I make it again (which I will!), I will cut back on the tomato a little.

Peter asked me the other day which food staples I thought were worth making yourself. The first thing I said was "Stock!" Homemade stock is just so superior to any stock or broth you can buy in a can. It seems like a small thing, but it is shocking how much starting with a good stock affects the flavor and mouthfeel of a soup or sauce. My freezer usually has various chicken or turkey carcasses in it, waiting to be turned in to delicious stock! I went through a soup phase a couple years ago, where I made huge batches of soup every weekend. At any given time my freezer probably had four different varieties of frozen soup in it. This also necessitated making a lot of stock! It's a lovely cycle to be in, especially during a Boston winter. I would often bake fresh bread to go with my soup. There are few meals as perfect as a wonderful homemade soup with bread straight from the oven! It's hard to motivate to make soup and bread this time of year though -- it just gets too hot in my apartment! But making soup and bread is one of the things that I look forward to about winter in Boston!

Caramelized Oranges (Page 808)

  • Date: Monday, August 21, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: C-

You tell me if this seems like a good idea to you: take orange slices and fry them in butter, then simmer them in orange-caramel sauce and eat. Well, it's not. To be fair, Chris and I picked this recipe because it sounded pretty questionable (better to make the questionable recipes when you are cooking with your closest friends!). I took two bites: the first one to try it and the second one to confirm my initial impression. Then I didn't want any more. I found this dessert very unpleasant. I think there is a reason we don't usually cook oranges. In particular, the texture of a cooked orange just isn't nice. Plus, the orange flavor did not go well with the caramel flavors in the dish. It was just not at all enjoyable to eat. Chris definitely ate more of it than I did, but he also found the dessert to be "not a winner."

Tonight Chris, Marco, and Alex came over for dinner and we made 5 recipes from The Book. One nice thing about having 4 cooks in the kitchen is that it makes 5 recipes seem quite manageable. Making 5 recipes alone for dinner is a bit much! But with the 4 of us together we made 5 dishes in a couple hours and had a very satisfying meal.

Next week is the last full week of summer before the term starts at MIT. Where did the summer go?!? I had such a fun and busy summer of traveling, working, and spending time with friends that it just flew by. Usually by the end of the summer I am ready for things to start up at MIT again. This year I feel like I could definitely use a few more weeks of summer though! Maybe that's just because I am starting to feel the pressure of job applications and thesis writing, etc... I think reality will set in even more once the semester starts. I have done a good job of making steady progress this summer, but I still feel overwhelmed by the idea of the next 9 months. Plus, Lars (my thesis advisor) is coming back from Japan very soon. That is (of course!) a good thing, but I always feel nervous about seeing him after not having seen him for many months.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sole Meuniere (Page 284)

  • Date: Monday, August 20, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Fish and Shellfish is another one of my slow sections, so Chris and I tried to pick a recipe from that section for dinner last night. Unfortunately, Whole Foods let us down and didn't have any red snapper for the dish we picked. So I ended up on the phone with my mom while I was at the grocery store, listening to her list recipes from The Book for me. This was one of her suggestions (and Whole Foods had sole) so we went with it. I was disappointed by this dish though. I think the butter to fish ratio was just too high for me. I like eating fish at least in part because it is such a light summer entree. This fish was fried in butter and then drenched in butter sauce -- it was just too much for me. The flavors were good, and the lemon-beurre noisette combination was nice, but I wouldn't make this dish again.

I had a dream the other night that I was standing at the altar, about to marry someone I wasn't in love with. What do you think that means? The weird thing was that the person I was about to marry was someone I actually know, but who I never dated (or even considered dating) and who I haven't seen or thought about since I was 17.

Maybe my dream reflects the fact that marriage really scares me. I was engaged once. And although at the time I felt that I understood both my feelings and his, I really didn't. I think marriage would not have been a good option for us. But what is still unclear to me is how I was supposed to know that at the time. Maybe these things always come out in time. So maybe the secret to a successful marriage is a long pre-marriage relationship. I wonder what the statistics are: does length of engagement correlate to length of marriage? I think I do want to get married someday, but probably not until I stop having nightmares about it!

Fresh Corn Soup (Page 99)

  • Date: Monday, August 21, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B

The Book is divided into 21 sections, and I went through the other day and identified which sections I have made less than 10% of the recipes from. I am now trying to focus on those "problem sections." One of my slow sections is Soup, so Chris and I picked this recipe from that section to make with dinner last night. This soup was pretty good. We laughed when we read the ingredient list and discovered that this soup contains only corn, water, and salt! The soup had an excellent, sweet flavor from the corn though. I wasn't a huge fan of the texture. It had the texture you would expect from corn pureed in water. It was limp, and without a good mouthfeel. The flavor was strong though, so for a light soup it was still not bad.

So I admit, not only did I make macaroni and cheese from a box for dinner tonight, but I made 2 boxes of it, so as to have plenty of leftovers for lunches! So there I am, standing over the stove, dumping in the yummy cheese packets, when I notice (after dumping it in) that cheese packet number 2 has little specks of black in it. My first thought: bugs! But no, much less gross, but much stranger. It wasn't a packet of cheese! I never did figure out what it was a packet of. Something very oniony and herby. Some kind of soup mix maybe? The little specks were certainly dried herbs. Since I had already dumped it in, I just stirred the whole thing up: 2 boxes of macaroni shells, some butter, some milk, one cheese packet, and one packet of mystery soup mix. And then I ate it (well, not all of it...). Not surprisingly, I've had better dinners. But it wasn't terrible! My macaroni and cheese was even the Whole Foods brand stuff. I expect better quality control than that from Whole Foods! Maybe they would give me some free macaroni and cheese if I told them about it. I do love mac and cheese from a box! Does that make me gross?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Old-Fashioned Potato Salad (Page 148)

  • Date: Sunday, August 20, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Alex, Blair, Lindsay, Friedman, Shaili, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Alex had a barbeque last night and I picked this potato salad to bring because it seemed like the perfect stereotypical summer barbeque food! In general I am not really a fan of heavily mayonaise-based items. But for what it was, this potato salad was quite good. Several people at the party commented that they really liked it. When I asked Alex for his opinion though his response was, "Eh," so not everyone loved it! If I were going to make a classic potato salad again, this is certainly the recipe I would use. Adding the cider vinegar to the hot potatoes really gave the salad a great flavor. The onions, eggs, and celery were all very classic additions. It was a good side dish. It definitely had a charming midwestern family reunion feel to it!

Yesterday I went to the homeless shelter for my lunch shift, as I do every Sunday. At the end of the shift my friend Danielle turned to me and said, "Well, that was different." It was just a crazy week. For one thing, our shift manager Johnny was out because he was in a car accident on Saturday! I think he's ok, but nobody seemed to know much about it. Ruthie was there to run the shift though, so we had a leader! The meal was supposed to be catered, which means that some group of people cook the food and bring it in and we serve it. The group was supposed to arrive with the food at 11am so we could heat it and set up before serving at noon. At 11:30 they hadn't arrived. At 11:45 they still weren't there and weren't answering our calls, so we decided to make lunch! Everyone started running around trying to make lunch for 75 people in 15 minutes. At 11:55 half the caterers showed up with half the food. A little after noon the rest of the food arrived, so we had 2 full meals prepared! Sometime in this whole mess a woman with a young girl walked up to the counter where Danielle and I were serving fish chowder. She looked a little confused so I asked her if she wanted any soup. She said, "What?" So Danielle asked, "Did you want a bowl of soup?" Again, "What?" It went on like this for a minute before she gave us a really horrible look and stormed away. Then we realized, she was one of the caterers! Whoops! She was really insulted, and we felt really bad. But how were we to know!?! My goal for next week: try not to insult anyone!

Warm Chocolate-Raspberry Pudding Cake (Page 740)

  • Date: Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Grace, Tigran, and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Emilee and I picked this one because it sounded so good! You can't appreciate it from the picture, but this cake was supremely ugly! Grace suggested that it would have been slightly cuter if we had flipped it on to a plate that was flatter. True, but still, if you make it: flip it and slice it in the kitchen and not in front of your guests! The cake part of this dessert was very good -- quite chocolately and wonderfully moist. The frosting was not as good. There was nothing in particular that was bad about it, it just wasn't inspiring. We served the cake with vanilla ice cream, but Em suggested that whipped cream would have been better. I think she's right about that. Overall though it was a tasty dessert!

I was at a party the other day and I had the following conversation with someone I had just met:

Her: "So, what do you do?"
Me: "I'm a graduate student."
Her: "That's cool. Where?"
Me: "MIT"
Her: "Oh, I'm sorry."

Is it just me, or is that really rude? I mean, I can't think of any situation in which I would ask someone what their job is and then respond "Oh, I'm sorry." I was a little shocked by that. It was just such an uninformed and unpleasant thing to say. I can only really speak to life in the math department of course, but I think MIT is a really fun, wonderful place to be a graduate student! I certainly don't feel like I deserve sympathy from a stranger! In terms of rude comments about my career it is second only to my all-time favorite, from a conference I went to in Montreal:

Professor: "So where do you study?"
Me: "MIT"
Professor: "Are you sure?"

That was pretty special. I managed not to say something totally awful in response, but it took some serious willpower!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Grilled Stuffed Flank Steak (Page 436)

  • Date: Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Emilee and Brian
  • Dining Companions: Grace and Tigran
  • Recipe Rating: B
Emilee and I picked this one because I am trying to get some of the more time-consuming recipes done. Plus, it requires grilling, and Em and Brian have a grill! Our matambre (stuffed flank steak) came out ok. Its major flaw was that the filling was too salty, which made the whole dish seem salty. Given the amount of salt that bacon has in it, the filling probably did not need the additional salt that the recipe indicated. The net effect of the excess salt was that the flank steak tasted a bit like corned beef! The dish was beautiful though, and had a good flavor. The spinach and carrots in the stuffing came out very nicely. It was also fun to make -- butterflying a flank steak was a new experience. I've included a picture of our stuffed steak roll before we sliced it. Overall it was a pretty solid dish, and it was certainly impressive looking. I think we all agreed though that we would have preferred to eat a nice juicy porterhouse steak!

This is recipe number 200 in my project! I promised that I would have a party when I got to 200, so I should do that soon! I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been especially helpful with the project so far. First of all, thanks to all my eating and dining companions! When Alex made the index for the blog and I realized that there are 35 of you out there who have cooked or eaten at least 5 recipes from the project, I was amazed. You guys are awesome! Special thanks to those of you who have helped eat and/or cook more than 25 recipes so far: Chris, Emilee, Brian, Mike, Paul, Vigleik, Shichi, Marco, and Alex! I couldn't have gotten through 200 recipes without you! Thanks also to everyone who has graciously allowed me to cook in their kitchen: Chris, Emilee, Brian, Alex, Paul, Peter, Mom, and Dad. And a special thank you to Emilee, Brian, Paul, and Chris. The four of you have brought so much energy and enthusiasm to the project. You guys have been beside me in the kitchen through a very high percentage of these 200 recipes. I appreciate that so much!

A final thank you to everyone who reads the blog! And to those of you out there who follow my blog even though you are too far away to be a part of the project: I am thinking about you. Rach and Mel -- I can't wait to cook with you!

Sauteed Potato Balls (Page 565)

  • Date: Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Grace, Tigran, and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Emilee and I chose this recipe on the basis that potatoes are good, and potatoes with butter should be even better! We ended up quite disappointed though. For one thing, there was so much butter in this recipe that the potato balls ended up more deep-fried than sauteed. At the same time, they didn't really have the crunchy exterior of a good deep-fried french fry, so it was the worst of both worlds: the greasiness and fattiness of deep-frying without the lovely textural benefits! Beyond that, the recipe was just a bit dull. When we critiqued it everyone made essentially the same comment: there are so many better things that one could do with a potato!

Chris is in town doing some work and visiting his family, so yesterday we had a lovely Saturday afternoon at his dad and step-mom's house in Southboro. They have a swimming pool and a huge yard with a hammock, so it is a nice place to spend a lazy afternoon. Here I have some action shots of Chris trying to use the aforementioned hammock and then one of me using the hammock properly -- don't I make it look easy!
Last night I came back to Cambridge for an engagement party. My friend and colleague Mark, and his girlfriend Candace recently became engaged and they had a wonderful barbeque last night to celebrate. It was a lot of fun! Plus, I got to meet their new puppy Hannah, who is really cute (and really energetic!)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Endive, Pear, and Stilton Salad (Page 146)

  • Date: Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Grace, Tigran, and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

Emilee and I picked this salad because we have both eaten and enjoyed this item (from other recipes) before. This rendition turned out to be quite different from what we expected though. For one thing, the pears in this recipe were cooked. The cooked pears had a good flavor and went very well with the Stilton, but Emilee commented that she would have preferred the texture of raw pears. The recipe's biggest problem was the dressing. It was an anise vinaigrette. The anise and vinegar flavors were so strong that the dressing was hard to eat. I would recommend dressing the salad very lightly. Aside from those various critiques, the salad wasn't bad. The sweetness of the pairs contrasted nicely with the bitter endives. And the Stilton obviously was a wonderful addition! The salad was very monochromatic though -- it wasn't visually appealing at all. It's so easy to construct a gorgeous salad that it's a shame when you have one that looks so bland.

A friend of mine from college was in town a few weeks ago and he came to a party that I was having. When he emailed me to say he was coming he wrote "Can I invite my girlfriend to dinner tomorrow? It looks like she would even out the gender balance a bit, but I know you hate girls..." I hate girls? It is true that of the people that I consider to be my closest friends, a relatively small percentage of them are women. But it not because I hate girls! I keep thinking about that comment, and wondering why he thought that... The truth is two-fold: One, I just know more men than women. I work in a male-dominated field at a male-dominated graduate school. It natural to be friends with people that you work with, and most of them are men. Two, I think I am better at being friends with men than with women. There are certainly exceptions. My friendships with Emilee, Rachel, Mel, and a few other women are effortlessly easy. (What do those women have in common? Maybe I find it easiest to be friends with women who have mostly male friends...) In general I think I have better intuition about the male-female friendship. I have more practice with it. I am generalizing of course -- no two friendships are the same, and any broad gender distinctions will have exceptions. But I think there are different dynamics in friendships that correlate pretty well with the gender composition. In any event, I don't hate women. In fact, I am always especially excited to make a new female friend! For instance, I was really happy that Grace could join us for dinner on Wednesday!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Lattice-Crust Peach Pie (Page 762)

  • Date: Monday, August 14, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Emilee and I picked this one because Brian loves pie and we were interested in the lard crust. It was quite good. We found some wonderfully ripe, flavorful peaches, so the filling had an excellent flavor. The consistency of the filling was also quite nice -- a little firmer than most fruit pies, but not in a bad, gelatinous way. The lard also succeeded in making the crust extremely flaky. Emilee was skeptical that the lard flavor would be overpowering, but in fact it was very subtle except right around the rim of the pie, where the crust is the thickest. Brian pointed out that in that area there was a slightly bad flavor to the crust. My only other complaint: after the specified cooking time had elapsed, the bottom crust was still a little undercooked towards the center. It would have been a good idea to cover the edges of the pie with foil and bake it longer. Overall though, it was a pretty good pie.

Making pie always reminds me of being young and watching/helping my mom cook. I must have been 8 or 9 when my mom started teaching me to make pie. I really only made lemon meringue pies back then (one of my dad's favorites!) but I made a lot of them... The first time I made pate brisee at culinary school the chef walked by, paused for a minute to observe my technique, and then said, "Well, you've made pies before." I replied, "One or two!" It made me very proud of my mother for teaching me well! My technique has evolved slilghtly since I was 8 (my mother is firmly in the vegetable shortening school, whereas I have transitioned to the butter school of thought), but I still think of my mother's tips whenever I make a pie. And in my mind making pie is still a group activity -- a time to bond with another woman in your life. So making this pie with Emilee was perfect! I actually have been making very slow progress on the pie section of The Book. I think it reflects, at least in part, the lack of women in my life. Making pie alone seems strangely sad to me in a way that cooking or baking alone usually does not. Maybe I should branch out and start trying to talk the guys in to making pie with me! Come to think of it, Mike and I made chess pie together in the fall and had a lot of fun...

Roast Chicken with Pan Gravy (Page 354)

  • Date: Monday, August 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Emilee and I picked this one for dinner on Monday. I had made the roast chicken part of this recipe many times before but since I had never made the gravy, I needed to make the recipe again for the project. As always, this roast chicken was quite good. The method of turning it from one side to the other every 20 minutes seemed a little finicky, but it was worth it. The skin came out wonderfully crispy and the meat was moist and delicious. For some reason, Brian really didn't like this dish very much, but Emilee and I were both extremely happy with it. My only complaint: the gravy was too salty. Between the salt from the chicken broth and the salt from seasoning the chicken, there was too much in the gravy. Other than that, this dish was excellent!

So my most recent crush (the aforementioned one from Germany) emailed me a couple days ago suggesting that I date a friend of mine. Now granted the friend he was referring to is actually gay, but still, it doesn't seem like a good sign when someone you are interested in is trying to set you up with someone else! I guess it is time to officially give up on my hopeless crush. And since I also gave up a while ago on my other hopeless crush of the past year, this leaves me crushless!

Probably it's a good time to be without any romance on the horizon -- I can get a lot of work done!

Something about this post reminds me of a dinner I had with Marco months ago where I was trying to ask his advice about some complex social situation that I was entangled in while retaining the anonymity of the parties involved. It got too complicated to keep referring to people without their names. Finally I had to draw a diagram and make up code names for everyone. Maybe my blog needs code names...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tomato Gratin with Parmesan Crumbs (Page 586)

  • Date: Monday, August 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Emilee and I picked this one because they have a whole backyard full of tomatoes this time of year! Brian wasn't home from the lab by the time we ventured in to his garden to pick our tomatoes, so somehow we ended up picking caspian pinks rather than beefsteaks (my claim: the caspian pinks aren't so pink! They're red!). Despite our mistake, they were still beautiful tomatoes! Nonetheless, this dish wasn't great. Brian said that the recipe "ruined the tomatoes." In a sense he was right. I think that the tomatoes, sliced with some salt, pepper, and balsamic, would have been a better dish than this. All the flavors were good, but the dish just wasn't cohesive. Plus, the textural contrast of the cooked tomatoes with the crispy breadcrumbs didn't work out well. It wasn't bad, but I certainly wasn't eager to eat it.

I should take a moment to wax poetic about Brian's garden. Emilee and Brian live in a 2 bedroom apartment in Palo Alto, which is nice for a lot of reasons, including that it has a little fenced in backyard. It's not a huge space, but Brian has certainly made the most of it! Right now it is a beautiful sea of tomatoes out there. I don't remember exactly how many different kinds of tomatoes he planted this year but he has several varieties of heirloom tomatoes along with the more usual stuff. There are strawberries out there now too. And a peach tree. And a fig tree. It makes me happy just thinking about it. I've never had a garden -- and I do tend to accidently kill even the houseplants that require the least attendance. But the idea of a garden appeals to me so much! When I stay at Emilee and Brian's, every morning I look out the window in the shower, which is on the 2nd floor and overlooks the garden, and it just makes me happy! In retrospect, I don't know why we didn't make more tomato recipes while I was out there this week. We should have!

Cauliflower with Ginger and Mustard Seeds (Page 531)

  • Date: Monday, August 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

Emilee and I picked this one to go with dinner on Monday because so many people in my life dislike cauliflower that I hadn't made a single cauliflower dish from The Book yet! Emilee and Brian love cauliflower like I do though, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity. This dish was pretty good. The ginger and mustard seeds gave it a lot of flavor, and the turmeric gave the cauliflower a lovely color. I think all of us enjoyed eating it, but at the same time, there wasn't anything terribly special about it. It was just a good, solid, cauliflower preparation.

Emilee, Brian, and I had Grace and Tigran over for dinner last night. The food wasn't great (more on that when I get to those recipes) but we had a really fun evening. Grace and Tigran were significantly more generous in their grading than me, Emilee, and Brian were. I think people need a few project meals to really get used to the grading standards! In any event, we had a nice time and we stayed up probably later than we should have! I was a little tired when I got on my flight back to Boston this morning. There was a couple sitting in the seats next to me, and I started chatting with them before take-off. When the woman found out I was a graduate student at MIT she said, "Oh, my brother teaches there, but you might not know him. He's in the math department." I said, "You know what, I bet I do know him!" It turns out she's the sister of a very well known math professor in my department. We had a fun chat -- her and her husband were great! Now I am back in my apartment, laying in bed, writing in my blog rather than unpacking! All is well with the world...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Baked Figs with Grand Marnier and Whipped Cream (Page 804)

  • Date: Sunday, August 13, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: C

I picked this one because figs are in season, so it seemed like the time to make it. It was bad though. The whipped cream and the syrup both tasted pretty good, but the figs themselves were just not good. Emilee tried to identify what the not-good flavor was, and the best she could come up with was that the dessert was dirt flavored! All three of us really like fresh figs, but this just didn't do them justice. Neither Emilee nor I even ate half of our dessert. Brian did really like it though. He ate his own serving, and Emilee's, and part of mine. In the interest of full disclosure: we used triple sec infused with some orange peel instead of Grand Marnier, so the dish wouldn't really ignite when we tried to flame it at the end (triple sec having a fairly low percentage of alcohol). I think that particular adjustment had very little bearing though on what we disliked about the overall dish.

My flight back to Boston leaves tomorrow morning. I try to never fly in the morning. I've noticed that I get much calmer throughout the day, so it's easier for me to do things that I find stressful if I do them in the afternoon. It makes me wonder if my whole life will take that trajectory too -- will I become calmer and less worried as I get older? On a flight recently I was sitting next to this wonderful lesbian couple. They were probably each about 60 years old. They had brought lunch on the airplane, which isn't uncommon of course. But the lunch they had brought was a multi-course meal including seafood chowder and lobster tails. They were so fun, and laid back. At some point the airplane made a pretty dramatic dive. I gasped. The woman in the seat next to me threw her hand in the air as if she were on a rollercoaster, and made a joyful noise. I wonder if I will ever be able to be that calm. I am certainly traveling on a path in that direction. Some things that used to cause me a lot of stress no longer seem like a big deal at all. But I still worry more than I would like to...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Grilled Porterhouse Steak (Page 434)

  • Date: Sunday, August 13, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A-

When I visit Em and Brian I like to take advantage of the fact that they have a grill (since I can't grill at my place!), so I picked this recipe for dinner on Sunday. It was extremely good. Porterhouse is a wonderful cut of meat, and the recipe really did it justice. The mixed peppercorns were excellent on the steak. And while the grilling method seemed unusual (2 minutes over high heat and 15 minutes over a cool part of the grill), the steak was beautifully cooked. Brian grilled it, so he deserves the credit for perfect execution! This was just a great grilled steak recipe!

Mike moved to Virginia yesterday, so when I get back to Boston on Thursday he will be gone! Mike and I became friends our first week at MIT. When we were new graduate students, lots of people thought that Mike was an incoming graduate student and I was his girlfriend/wife. Eventually people figured out that I was a graduate student too, but it was a while before people realized that we weren't dating. We waited patiently for people to catch on, but even after 4 or 5 months in the department people were still asking us about our relationship! Eventually people understood the situation, but we are still often mistaken for a couple when we do things together. In the fall we volunteered on a farm for a day with some other MIT people, and one of our fellow volunteers asked us how long we had been married. I laughed so hard that I fell over in to the mud. Me falling over made Mike laugh hysterically, so there we were, sitting in the mud, laughing our asses off. It was a good moment for us.

Seriously though, what am I going to do without Mike at MIT? He is my source of all romantic advice, my personal trainer, my important email composer, etc... I'm excited for him as he starts his new job, but I am going to miss him! Here's a recent picture of the two of us:

Monday, August 14, 2006

Potato and Thyme Salad (Page 148)

  • Date: Sunday, August 13, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this potato salad because it sounded summery and not too heavy. It was quite good. The dish was very simple, with clean flavors. Emilee commented that it was hard to give it too good of a grade because there are so many better things that you can do with potatoes. But for what it was, it was tasty. The thyme leaves complemented the red potatoes well. My only big complaint was that there was too much olive oil. The oil just pooled at the bottom of the serving bowl, which was a little unappealing. Overall though, this is a very solid dish for summer, and a nice alternative to a mayonaise-based potato salad.

Emilee commented at dinner tonight that it is easy to eat an entire meal and really enjoy it and then find yourself giving the food pretty low grades. It's true that with the grading scale as it is, where everything from a B- up is stuff that you enjoyed eating, the grades do seem a bit low. Someone asked me the other day what fraction of recipes get grades of A- or A. I guessed that it was about a third. The person then asked, "If the book is that bad, why don't you change books?" I was so shocked. The Book is fabulous! Actually, I have difficulty imagining doing this project from any other book. I think if a cookbook is so good that you would make a third of the recipes again and serve them to company (which are the criteria for an A-), that is a huge complement! I am starting to feel really attached to my copy of The Book too. (Ok, in all honesty I have 2 copies, but one of them is on my desk at work, so I rarely cook from it). I like all the stains, and the check marks next to the recipes I have completed. I have been cooking this week from Emilee's copy, which is pristine compared to mine! Plus, as the number of recipes I have made nears 200, it takes me a second sometimes to remember if I have made something already without my check marks to guide me.

Brown-Buttered Corn with Basil (Page 534)

  • Date: Sunday, August 13, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A

I picked this corn because I wanted some vegetables for dinner last night after eating potato chips and cookies all day on our way back from Tahoe! This corn was amazing! Reading the recipe, it was not at all obvious that this dish would be particularly special, but it turned out to be just wonderful. Emilee even nominated it for the first A+ of the project! The brown butter and basil gave the corn a really fantastic flavor. I don't think I have ever had a better preparation of corn. I highly, highly recommend this dish. It's delicious and summery and would complement a wide variety of entrees. Even reheating the leftovers for lunch today I was struck by how great this recipe is!

We had an extremely successful meal out of The Book last night: grilled steak, potato salad, and this corn. Every dish was great! Well, dessert was a disaster (more on that when I get to it), but the rest of the meal was awesome. Actually, pretty much all the food I have eaten since arriving in California has been wonderful: yummy Vietnamese food with Soren, fabulous Indian food at Bret and Karen's wedding, etc... Shockingly, I haven't had any Mexican food yet! Usually when I come here I eat so much Mexican food that after a couple weeks no one will let me choose where we eat any more! I just never get tired of it...

Emilee is at the hospital, Brian is in the lab, and I have spent the day so far sitting at their kitchen table, listening to country radio and working. I had a lovely lunch of leftover steak, potatoes, and corn, and now I am feeling full, happy, and a little bit spoiled. I always feel so peaceful when I am here. But seriously, how could I not feel peaceful after spending the weekend somewhere that looks like this:

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Roast Pork with Apricot and Shallot Stuffing (Page 466)

  • Date: Sunday, August 6, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike and Vigleik
  • Dining Companions: Shihchi, Tim, Haynes, and Juli
  • Recipe Rating: B

Mike picked this one as the entree for our dinner last weekend. It was pretty good. The apricot shallot stuffing complemented the pork quite nicely, and created a lovely visual effect. My main complaint was that the pork came out pretty tough. It was just overcooked. The recipe called for the pork to be pulled from the oven at 150 and to rest 20 minutes to 155 to 160. Reading that, I was quite wary -- it seemed too high to me. I rested it 20 minutes though, which left it right about at 160. Oddly enough, there is a little blurb about pork right below this recipe in The Book where they say that the final internal temperature should be 150 - 155 to retain its succulence. I think if I had pulled the pork from the oven at 140 and then rested it I would have been much happier with the outcome. It was still a good dish though and the flavors were very nice.

I am back in Palo Alto now after a lovely weekend in Tahoe. Bret's wedding was so fun! His family has a house right on Lake Tahoe and the ceremony and reception were in the backyard. During the ceremony we were facing right out over the lake and you could hear the water lapping on the shore in the background. It was just wonderful. Plus, I had never been to a traditional Sikh wedding before, so it was very interesting to compare how the traditions were both similar and distinct from what I am more used to. I did find myself wishing, however, that some of the ceremony would be in English, just so I could understand more of the content of the prayers and blessings that were taking place. It was a great weekend though. As with any Taylor family party, there was a lot of fantastic food, and even more alcohol! Most people were a little tipsy, which meant that the dancing was wild! Here's a picture of me and Emilee before the wedding reception, and a picture of the beautiful dinner tent.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Creamless Creamy Corn with Chives (Page 535)

  • Date: Sunday, August 6, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Shihchi and Vigleik
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Haynes, Tim, and Juli
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I picked this one because I love all things corn. The recipe was quite good. The creamed corn thickened up nicely and had a lovely subtle sweetness to it. The combination of pureed corn kernels and whole kernels gave it nice textural contrast. Most people agreed that this dish was quite good. My only real complaint is that the recipe really didn't make as much as I thought it would. It claims to serve 4, but I doubled it for 7 people and it wasn't enough. I would say that it really only serves 2 or 3.

Em, Brian, and I are headed to Tahoe this afternoon for Bret's wedding. Bret and I went to Stanford together. There was a big gang of us that spent most of our spare time together my last two years in college. It was the first (and only?) time in my life where I was a part of a big crew of friends that did everything together, like you always see on TV. I enjoyed it a lot. Every Friday and Saturday afternoon we would all start circulating instant messages figuring out which subset of us was free that night and what we were going to do. We also had a weekly poker game, which was inevitably a crazy and fun time! The funny thing is, although we went to many dinners, concerts, shows, baseball games, etc... the times I remember most are when we were all sitting on Elliot's front porch, drinking beer and hanging out late in to the night. I didn't cook much in college (time and kitchen space both being hard to find) and I still remember one day when we were all in Tahoe, Emilee and I set up a big taco bar. The guys were all so shocked that we knew how to cook ground beef for tacos. It was pretty funny. I miss those guys a lot. I keep thinking that we should have a big reunion sometime. People have drifted a bit though. If I get married someday I will force them all to come to my wedding!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Cold Avocado Corn Soup with Cilantro Oil (Page 84)

  • Date: Sunday, August 6, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Aparment
  • Fellow Chef: Mike
  • Dining Companions: Vigleik, Shihchi, Haynes, Tim, and Juli
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this soup because I wanted to have a soup course for our dinner on Sunday, but a hot soup didn't seem like a good idea given how warm my apartment gets in the the summer! This soup was pretty good. It was visually very appealing, and I liked that it had multiple components. The texture was smooth, but as Haynes pointed out, a little gelatinous. The flavors were also too strong for some people -- in particular some found the cilantro oil overwhelming. I agreed that the flavors were strong, but thought that the strong flavors worked well. I really enjoyed eating the first few bites, but then was tired of it. I think it would make a perfect amuse-bouche, but the thick texture makes a whole bowl of it a little overwhelming.

I flew to California last night, which in light of today's security threats, was probably very lucky. It wasn't the greatest flying experience though. The guy next to me on my second flight seemed a little drunk when he boarded and then proceeded to drink 6 (or 7? I lost count) vodkas during the flight. He was, apparently, terrified of flying and didn't think he could make it through the flight unless he was completely trashed. On the one hand, I empathize with his fear, but on the other hand I felt quite uncomfortable being stuck in such close proximity to someone so drunk, especially on an airplane. In my life, I don't think I have ever seen anyone so scared about anything. He was so visibly terrified that I couldn't help but wonder if he knew something that I didn't know. Generally, it is mechanical failure that I worry about on planes and not terrorism, but this guy had me concerned. He just seemed so sure that he was going to die. Eventually I realized that his teenage son was also on board the plane and was playing video games and wearing a t-shirt that said something like "Expert Slacker." Then I felt slightly less threatened. In any event, I am grateful that I am here and safe, expecially after reading the news this morning...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Roasted Beet Salad (Page 147)

  • Date: Sunday, August 6, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike, Vigleik, and Shihchi
  • Dining Companions: Haynes, Juli, and Tim
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I picked this one because the last beet dish I made from The Book was so good, so I thought I would try another one. For some reason I had trouble deciding if I liked this dish or not while I was eating it. I had no complaints about it, I just didn't want to finish it. In retrospect I think my portion was just too big. The salad was quite good. The beets had a lovely flavor and color, and the dressing had a clean, pleasant taste that didn't overpower the flavor of the beets. I thought the crunchiness of the pears and almonds and the bite of the arugula provided nice contrast. For some reason Asian pears were impossible to find, so I used some European pears instead, and they worked really well, although I think the Asian pears would have been even better. This salad also had a lot of visual appeal. I was surprised, when we went around the room for comments, by how many people had never had beets before. Even the beet newcomers really liked this salad though!

I am flying out to California this afternoon. My friend Bret is getting married over the weekend on the shore of Lake Tahoe. I am flying in to San Francisco today and on Friday afternoon Emilee, Brian, and I will drive out to Nevada. I am really looking forward to it. For one thing, there will be quite a few people at this wedding that I haven't seen in years! And the people I know well who will be there are all so fun! Whenever I mention that I am going to a wedding this weekend, people ask, "Who are you taking as a date?" Why is it not acceptable to go to a wedding alone? I was going to bring Paul to Bret's wedding, but then I decided that I didn't want to confuse matters. We broke up, so probably it's better for both of us to not go on pseudo-dates, especially ones that involve thousands of miles of travel! And I have tons of male friends that I could have asked, but I just don't understand what's wrong with going dateless. Emilee and Brian will be there, along with lots of other people that I know, so I am not going to be bored or lonely!

Honestly, I am not worried about eventually meeting the right guy, and settling down, etc... When I was younger, the idea that I might not find someone worried me a lot. Now, being 26 years old seems so young. I don't feel like I need to rush. I am starting to feel pressure from other people in my life though. Even my parents, who are the last people I would expect to pressure me to get married, seem to be subtley pushing me. And if I mention to one of my friends that I think someone is cute, or I have a crush, it becomes this huge thing... If you go to a wedding alone though, random people really feel at liberty to ask you all sorts of personal questions about why you don't have a date. Maybe that's why no one goes alone!

Ok, I should finish packing... I am sure I will do plenty of cooking and blogging from California!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Herbed Lima Bean Hummus (Page 15)

  • Date: Sunday, August 6, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Haynes, Juli, Mike, Tim, Vigleik, Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: B+
I picked this one because I have a deep love of lima beans. This recipe was very controversial. I really liked it, but more than half of my dining companions thought it was not good. There were various complaints: too spicy, poor texture, tastes too much like lima beans (why is that a bad thing?!?), too bland, etc... I listened carefully to everyone's critiques, but I couldn't help but feel that they were all just wrong! I thought this spread was great. The herbs were really nice and complemented the lima bean puree well. The kick of cayenne was interesting without being overwhelming. And I thought the texture was much better than the texture of store-bought hummus (Haynes backed me up on this point!). This actually may have been my favorite dish of the entire meal. If I had eaten it alone, I likely would have given it a higher grade, but I want to take everyone else's opinions into account too.

On Sunday night, Haynes (one of the professors in my department) and his wife Juli came over for dinner with Mike, Tim, Vigleik, and Shihchi. It was a goodbye dinner of sorts for Mike and V. Haynes brought amazing wine to dinner. For instance a 1975 Saint-Julien Chateau Gruaurd Larose. I am pretty sure that I had never before had wine that was older than me! Haynes acquired the wine from the wife of another famous MIT topology professor, Frank Peterson, who died a few years before I got to MIT. Apparently he had a big collection of great wines!

We had a really fun dinner on Sunday. It was nice to do something to celebrate how much Mike and Vigleik have contributed to the topology group at MIT. I love Mike so much that I even made his favorite dessert rather than one from The Book! Shocking, I know! He begged for Salambos: eclairs, filled with coffee pastry cream and dipped in caramel. I made them and he ate four!

Blueberry Tart (Page 776)

  • Date: Thursday, August 3, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Lauren, Marco, Jacob, Izzet, Fumei, Samit, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Lauren had a dinner party last week and I offered to bring dessert. I picked this tart because it seemed appropriate for the very summery weather we were having. It was pretty good. I'm not sure I had ever eaten a tart quite like this one before. The mixture of cooked blueberries and uncooked blueberries was very atypical, but worked really well. I am generally skeptical of recipes with gelatin, but this tart wasn't overly gelatinous at all. It was also nice that the crust had more of a shortbread taste and texture rather than a typical pate brisee, especially since the blueberry filling was not very sweet. The whipped cream was a wonderful compliment to the tart. Most people seemed to like this dessert quite a lot, although Izzet did comment that he would rather have just had a bowl full of bluberries! There was also some disagreement about the level of sweetness. Several people liked that it wasn't too sweet, but at least one person thought it wasn't sweet enough! It just goes to show that you can never please everyone!

I spoke in the Topology Summer Seminar today at MIT. It went pretty well. The nice thing about giving talks is that afterwards you feel a concrete sense of accomplishment. I think most people have more of that in their job than research mathematicians do. Doing research mathematics involves a lot of long-term projects, and on a day-to-day basis not a whole lot of progress is always made. So it's easy to feel like weeks, or months go by without really getting anything done. It's not true of course -- even trying and failing to do something is making progress in a way. But, it can be discouraging. Writing and giving a talk is very concrete though. You work on it, you give it, and then it's over and you feel that you accomplished something! That feeling of accomplishment is something that I really have come to treasure. Maybe that's part of why I like cooking, and in particular, cake decorating. You put effort in to the food, and in the end you have something very concrete to show for it. This evening I am going to enjoy the feeling of having finished something, while eating at Cuchi Cuchi with Mike, Vero, and Phillipe!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Roasted Nectarines with Caramel Sauce (Page 807)

  • Date: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Peter's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Ana, Craig, and Peter
  • Recipe Rating: B

Peter and I picked this one for dessert last week for the simple reason that it sounded good. This dessert wasn't bad, but none of us really loved it either. My major complaint was that it was just too sweet. The roasting really brought out the sweetness of the nectarines, and the caramel sauce was extremely sweet. Put together, it was a little cloying. The lemon juice didn't provide enough acidity to balance it out. All the flavors were good though, and I certainly ate it. I just wouldn't make it again.

I am sitting in front of my air conditioner, still sweaty from the gym, eating cottage cheese and Runts (not mixed together!) and I am just happy. Candy does make me happy, but I think it was actually the song on the radio that really made me smile. The radio station played one of my ex-boyfriend songs: a song that is so linked to my memories of an old relationship that I can't help but think of that person when I hear it. That kind of song always makes me smile. At the end of any relationship I buy the music that I most associate with that person. I think it's a lovely way to remember someone, and the time that you shared together. And strangely, those songs never make me sad, or upset, they just remind me of everything that was great about the relationship. When I listen to the music, I feel thankful for the memories. My first real boyfriend when I was 16 years old used to play Sarah McLachlon when we hung out. He and I are good friends still, and whenever I play my old Sarah McLachlon CDs I remember being 16 and stumbling my way through my first relationship. I think it's a good sign that I have so many positive memories of my old boyfriends...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Spicy Blackened Catfish (Page 288)

  • Date: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Peter's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Ana, Peter, and Craig
  • Recipe Rating: B

Peter and I picked this recipe because he had all the necessary equipment and catfish sounded appealing. It was pretty good. Ana thought it was too spicy, although that wasn't the fault of the recipe really. The recipe called for sweet paprika, but the only paprika Peter had was some hot paprika that he brought back from Hungary so I think that contributed more spiciness than the recipe intended. The spice rub gave the fish a nice flavor though, and it blackened nicely in the pan. My only real complaint is that there wasn't really anything interesting about this dish. It tasted like a typical blackened catfish dish that you can find all over. I liked eating it, but I would never bother to make it again.

After 4 years at MIT, Francesca is moving back to Italy on Monday, so tonight we went out to dinner to celebrate her graduation and say goodbye. It was fun, but sad. I never know the right thing to say when someone that I care about moves thousands of miles away. I never want to acknowledge that distance affects friendships, that time apart causes people to drift, but I always think those things. So instead of saying anything about the leaving, I try to ignore it. I try to avoid sentimental goodbyes. Perhaps this makes me seem heartless. I don't think that's it though. I think I'm just never ready for people to leave when they do. I hate big changes. I particularly hate waking up one day and finding that someone I care about isn't around any more. The constant leaving is part of being a young academic though. Everyone moves around, with very little control over where they go.

Francesca is such a great friend, and has such a great spirit about her. I have so many fanastic memories: we shared an office at MIT for years, we lived together one May in Paris, and we have spent many, many hours talking over lunch, or dinner, or coffee... Here's a dark, but really cute, picture of Francesca at dinner.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bulgur Pilaf with Pine Nuts, Raisins, and Orange Zest (Page 262)

  • Date: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Peter's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Peter, Craig, and Ana
  • Recipe Rating: B

Peter and I picked this one because he had never made bulgur, which seemed so sad to me! I like bulgur a lot in general, but I wasn't a huge fan of this recipe. Everyone else liked it more than I did though. I spent a long time (and several helpings!) trying to pinpoint what I didn't like about the bulgur. In the end I decided it was the orange zest and raisins. They contributed a sweetness that just didn't go with the other flavors in the dish. I think without those two ingredients I would have liked the dish much better. It was ok though -- and it went pretty well with the fish we had as a main course.

Whenever I am single, I find that this fact confuses some people. There is this quizzical look that they give, which after several years I have identified as the "How are you single when more than 80% of the people you work with are men?" look. If I don't volunteer an explanation when I receive this look, these people tend to stumble on one of their own. They will say something to the effect of, "Well, I suppose the men you work with are probably pretty weird." Usually at that point I just nod, or quote the motto I heard when I entered the MIT math department: "The odds are good, but the goods are odd." That usually gets a laugh. In truth, mathematicians may be a little weird in some ways, but as a whole the math guys are some of the best, most solid, caring people I have ever met. Dating other mathematicians is complicated though. I have struggled many times with trying to make choices that are right for me both in terms of relationships and in terms of my career.

For a long time I believed that men could either see a woman as a sex object or as an academic peer, but not both. I no longer think this is strictly true -- I know some men who seem capable of holding both thoughts in their head at the same time. It's rare though, and I feel sometimes that chosing to date in the math department is chosing for people to not think of me as a mathematician. I certainly have done it though, and probably will do it again at some point in the future. I just have mixed feelings...

I got an email today that got me thinking about how the politics of the math community affects possible relationships. It always seems sad to me when things that seem promising can't work out for stupid, political reasons...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Watermelon, Tomato, and Feta Salad (Page 145)

  • Date: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Peter's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Craig, Ana, and Peter
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Peter and I chose this recipe because it sounded intruiging and seemed appropriate for the hot weather on Tuesday. This salad was quite good. The watermelon-tomato-feta combination would never have occured to me, but it really worked well. We couldn't find white balsamic vinegar, so we used regular balsamic which seemed fine. The salad was tasty and refreshing -- perfect for a summer evening! I think it would have benefited from a little more cilantro and a little more vinegar, but other than that it was great!

Mike and I skipped the office today and did our work at Diesel in Davis square instead. When we were first years we used to go there all the time, but we hadn't been there together recently. This is my last few days with Mike before he moves. I'm leaving for California on Wednesday and when I get back he will have moved to Virginia. Being at Diesel today felt like a nice way to bookend our time together in graduate school. I think I am in denial about Mike and Vigleik moving away. The other day Vigleik commented that they had taken away his MIT gym priveledges, and my first thought was, "Why?" I think when I get back from California and neither of them is here, it is going to be a bit of a shock to my system.

This morning I woke up in a truly terrible mood. I just didn't want to get out of bed, which for me is really weird. I laid in bed for an extra hour, bundled under all my blankets, reading a novel. Honestly, I'm not sure what was wrong. Eventually I forced myself in to the shower and turned my country radio station way up (yes that's right: country!). After some country music and an afternoon with Mike (including a trip for ice cream!) I am in a much better mood. I'm still not sure why I am feeling so generally unmotivated this week though...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oatmeal Coconut Raspberry Bars (Page 692)

  • Date: Friday, July 28, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef:: Mike
  • Dining Companions: Marco, Vigleik, Shihchi, and Jessie
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Mike and I picked out a dessert recipe for Friday that involved rhubarb, but we ended up not being able to find rhubarb anywhere, so we made this one because I already had all the ingredients. These bars seemed so promising, but they weren't really good. They were so intensely sweet that they were almost hard to eat (and I like sweet things!). Plus, the bottom crust had a very doughy, underbaked texture, although it was cooked through. I theoretically liked the combination of oatmeal, coconut, and raspberry, but it just didn't work well in these proportions. That said, they all got eaten within a few days, so they certainly weren't inedible!

It was incredibly hot here today -- so hot in fact that they kept threatening to turn off the air conditioning at MIT because the cooling system was overloaded. Actually, the many emails refered to it not as air conditioning but as "comfort cooling," which struck me as funny every time. In the end our offices remained "comfort cooled" but when Mike, V, Marco, and I tried to go the gym this afternoon we discovered that all the gyms on campus had closed because they couldn't cool them!

This morning I went to the doctor. He looked at my MRI films and blood work. I am doing so well that they are going to try reducing my medication by a third! He also talked me through the images, and showed me where the problem is, etc... which was really interesting. I know very little about the brain, so I learned a lot. I always get a little tense before going to these appointments. But today, all the news was good news! Yay!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Seared Salmon with Balsamic Glaze (Page 290)

  • Date: Friday, July 28, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Marco, Vigleik, and Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Marco suggested fish for dinner on Friday so Mike and I picked this recipe. It was great. The salmon was very nicely cooked and the balsamic glaze had a great flavor. The only change I would make if I made it again would be to reduce the glaze even more -- I thought it could have been a bit thicker. It was a great dish though, and a real crowd-pleaser. As I recall, everyone really liked it!

I have been really tired lately. I slept through my alarm this morning and didn't wake up until 8:30am. Then this afternoon I almost couldn't resist the temptation to take a nap in my office! I managed to stay awake though, if only because there were still several things on my to do list that I needed to get done before I left work. I don't know why I am so tired! A few days ago I was laying on my back on the sofa in my office, reading Ausoni and Rognes' K of K paper, and I fell asleep (this should not be taken as a comment on the paper!). I had been holding the paper up to read it and when I fell asleep my arms fell and hit me in the face. It was pretty special! Tomorrow night I plan to be extremely lazy, and go to bed extremely early. Whatever sleep debt I built up this summer is starting to take its toll!

Today is Soren's birthday. Happy Birthday! And congratulations to Francesca who turned in her thesis today!