Monday, December 31, 2012

Cosmopolitan (Page 5)

RECIPE #30
  • Date: Sunday, June 24, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I made this drink to go with a leisurely summer dinner this past June. I started by filling our cocktail shaker half full with ice. Then I added vodka, Triple Sec, cranberry juice cocktail, and Rose's lime juice and shook it. I strained it into martini glasses and garnished with lemon twists. These Cosmopolitans were only OK. They didn't have as much cranberry flavor as I like in my cosmos. It ended up tasting a little bland to me. That said, I still enjoyed drinking it!

This recipe isn't online.

And just like that, 2012 is drawing to a close. Like any year, this one has had its ups and downs, but reflecting back, it was overall an excellent year. I had a number of professional and personal triumphs this year. Plus, I finished cooking through the Gourmet Cookbook!

This past semester was probably the most grueling of my professional life. I had committed to do a lot of things during the semester. Indeed I did what I often do: committed myself to do so much that there is really no room for leeway. I enjoy my work, and I enjoy being busy, so usually it works out fine. This semester though, I was quite sick for a long time. The health issues on top of what would have been a busy a semester anyway made the last few months of the semester pretty miserable. Usually I aim for excellence in the things that I do, but those last months, I was really aiming only for survival! Well, I survived! The semester is over, and things went just fine. Could my classes have been a little better? Probably. But I think my students learned what they were supposed to, and that's the most important thing. Could I have done a better job with my other professional obligations? Sure. But there were no disasters. It's hard for me to feel like I am not doing my best. It doesn't sit well with me. But I learned an important life lesson this semester: I can only do as much as I can do. And even in a semester when what I could do was less than usual, it all worked out fine. I prioritized work and I managed to do what I needed to. There were some non-work things that I love that I just couldn't do these last few months because I didn't feel well enough or didn't have time: cook, exercise, blog... And that was OK too.

In any event, I am glad it is behind me. I am feeling a lot better now, and I have had a wonderfully relaxing break filled with many, many recuperative naps. And while this semester was physically difficult, it was still a good semester, with a lot of really wonderful moments. It was a good year. I think 2013 is going to be a good year too! I am looking forward to it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Apricot Cobbler (Page 813)

RECIPE #29
  • Date: Monday, June 25, 2012 -- 9pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Adam
  • Recipe Rating: B


I made this back in June, when apricot cobbler was sounding like the perfect summer dessert! I started by pitting and quartering apricots, then tossing them with sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and almond extract. I let the mixture sit for a while to get juicy. Then I whisked together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. I blended in some butter with my fingertips, then stirred in buttermilk to form a dough. I put the fruit in a pie pan and dropped the dough over the fruit. I sprinkled the cobbler with sugar and baked it until the fruit was tender. It is hard to go too wrong within this genre, and as with most fruit cobbler recipes, this was tasty. I thought the biscuit topping came out excellent. The biscuits were flaky, tender, and flavorful. The sugar crust on the biscuits was also a lovely addition. I wasn't as crazy about the filling. It had a good flavor, but it was a bit thin. The dessert would have been better with a thicker, heartier fruit mixture. That said, this was pretty tasty, and a perfect dessert for a summer evening.

The recipe in The Book is similar to this one, although the ratios of ingredients are a bit different.

29 recipes down, 1077 to go!

Wow, I haven't posted in a long, long time. I have no excuse other than to say that this semester has eaten me alive and I have been battling sickness throughout much of it. Thankfully, the semester is almost over. Just two more weeks of classes! I am not sure I have ever been so eager for Winter Break to arrive. Today, though, I am enjoying a small break. Normally at this time on a Friday morning I would be teaching multivariable calculus to a group of still-sleepy students. Instead this morning I am relishing a peaceful day-after-Thanksgiving. I don't have the motivation, nor the patience for Black Friday shopping, so my plans today are simple: spend time with family! (Oh, and do some grading, but I am trying to forget about that for the moment!) We are in Ohio at my in-laws' house, where yesterday we had a lovely Thanksgiving feast with about 20 people. Today the refrigerator is packed with delicious leftovers and I am the first one awake, so the house is quiet, except for the sound of one of our cats meowing. He doesn't particularly like to travel. This afternoon I am sure we will go cut down a Christmas tree, in keeping with our usual day-after-Thanksgiving traditions. And over the next couple days, my special gentleman and I will help my mother-in-law string the tree with lights, ornaments, and long strands of popcorn and cranberries. Inevitably this leads to me laughing so hard I cry as I sort through the adorable but phenomenally ugly Christmas ornaments my special gentleman and his brothers made when they were little. These handmade ornaments have been preserved with love all this time and we place them on the tree every year! Holiday traditions!

Frankly, it's hard to believe that it is already the holiday season. In some sense this semester has dragged on, and things that happened a month ago seem like they are at least 6 months in the past. But on the other hand, November really snuck up on me! I have been traveling on and off for the last few weeks. Indeed I just got back from Texas on Tuesday. Traveling while sick is rough, and has made life extra exhausting. So perhaps because November has been so chaotic, Thanksgiving came out of nowhere. I am trying to be more aware of Christmas, so that it too doesn't blindside me!

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone is having a restful and happy holiday weekend!




Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grilled Corn with Chipotle Mayonnaise (Page 552)

RECIPE #28
  • Date: Monday, June 25, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Adam
  • Recipe Rating: B



My special gentleman loves Mexican style-grilled corn, so I made this one for him! I pulled back the corn husks and discarded the silk, then replaced the husks. My special gentleman grilled the corn in the husks for a while, then removed the husks and grilled the corn some more. Meanwhile, I stirred together mayonnaise with chipotle chiles in adobo. We served the corn with the chipotle mayo and lime wedges. Grilled corn is always tasty, and this was no exception. I like the Mexican-style grilled corn, served with some kind of mayo-like sauce or cheese. I think there are better renditions of that dish than this one though. I would have preferred some Cotija, or crema, or queso fresco on my corn rather than this chiptole mayo. That said, it did taste good. Indeed, my special gentleman was quite taken with this dish. Of the 5 corn cobs pictured, Adam ate one, I ate one, and my special gentleman ate the other three!

This recipe isn't online.

Oh wow, it has been a long time since I have posted. The last few weeks have been a blur of visitors and trips, work and deadlines, appointments and meetings... I am exhausted! It feels like a month ago that I went to Boston for a conference, but now that I look at the calendar I see that I came home from Boston early last week. This week is a bit mellower than the last few. No one is visiting and I am not going anywhere. Since last Friday I have been working almost non-stop to try to catch up with everything that got left behind in the last few weeks. I spent the entire weekend at my desk, working. Probably that sounds really unpleasant, but in this case it was lovely. It felt really good to just sit and work, and get things done. After a chaotic few weeks I wanted nothing more than to drink coffee in my pajamas all day and accomplish some stuff. Indeed, I think the only time I changed out of my pajamas all weekend was to go out Saturday night. My friend Kendra is about to have a baby and a bunch of us went out for one last pre-baby ladies night. It was worth changing out of my pajamas for! Other than that, I sat in my home office and plowed through old to-do lists of things that should have been done a while ago. My cats sat in my office with me all day, curled up in some comfy chairs. It was nice. In the evenings after work this week, I have been doing the same. And now, for the first time in quite a while, I feel almost caught up. My special gentleman and I are organizing a conference which is a week and a half away. There are still many things to do for that. But it is starting to seem possible to get them done now that I have cleared off some of the other things I needed to do!


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Black Bean Quesadillas (Page 299)

RECIPE #27
  • Date: Monday, June 25, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Adam
  • Recipe Rating: A-


My special gentleman's collaborator and friend Adam stayed with us for a week in June so that he and my special gentleman could get some work done together. My mother-in-law had recommended this recipe from The Book, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try it out! I started by stirring together grated pepper jack cheese, rinsed canned black beans, chopped cilantro, and cumin. I heated some veggie oil in a skillet then put a tortilla in the skillet. I spread the filling on half of the tortilla and topped with a bit of salsa. I folded the tortilla over and cooked the quesadilla, flipping once. This recipe was super simple and very tasty. The quesadillas were flavorful and hearty, with just the right amount of cheese, and a nice crispness on the exterior. I will definitely return to this recipe again for quick vegetarian quesadillas.

The recipe is here.

27 down, 1079 to go!

I keep things. It's just the way that I am. If you asked me to locate a ticket stub from the first date I went on with a high school boyfriend 15 years ago, I could probably do it. There's a box upstairs where I keep those things. There is a sweater in my closet with multiple holes in it that I can't get rid of because I wore it the day I defended my PhD thesis. I still have my bridesmaid's dress from my best friend's wedding 10 years ago even though it got damaged in an apartment flood in 2005. I keep things. I always have.

One type of thing that I have kept all these years is every piece of course material from every course that I took in college that I judged to be important. It's pretty clear where my priorities lied. I have every single page of lecture notes, homework sets I did, exams, etc for every math class and every computer science class I took as an undergraduate (and as a graduate student of course). On the other hand, the materials are long gone from all of my courses in other subjects. I still have my Chemistry textbook, for instance, but my organic chemistry notes and homework assignments got disposed of many moves ago. I don't keep everything :)

I'm not sure exactly what my logic was at the time for keeping every single piece of paper from every math class I ever took as an undergraduate. I have moved 8 times since then, and every time I packed up one apartment to move to another, those binders always made the cut. In each of those moves I recall cursing my tendency to keep everything. But in the case of old course notes, I am so glad that I did!

This semester I am teaching an honors undergraduate course in Real Analysis. It's a fun group of students -- they are smart and motivated, and enjoyable to work with. This is their first analysis course, so everything is new to them. It's a good class. I took the analogous class at Stanford something like 12 years ago and I loved it. And fortunately for me, I kept everything. Now that I am 5 weeks into the semester it's fun to flip through my old course notes and see the similarities and diferences between the lectures I wrote versus the ones I listened to as a student. We are using a textbook which is laid out differently from the one I used an undergraduate, so the lectures aren't completely analogous. But they provide great inspiration for exam problems, for instance. And as I read through them I sometimes think, "Oh that's a great example. I should use that in class!" When I took this course I had a professor who was fantastic. It's a privilege to continue to learn from his example via the materials I saved all these years.

I think I will continue to keep things. Old ticket stubs, torn sweaters, and damaged bridesmaid dresses will likely never prove to be useful in the same way as old course notes, but they are lovely reminders of good times and good friends. That's important too.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Skirt Steak with Red Wine Sauce (Page 445)

RECIPE #26

  • Date: Sunday, June 24, 2012 --7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I was in the mood for some skirt steak earlier this summer so I picked this recipe for dinner one evening. I seasoned the steak with salt and pepper then cooked it in a skillet with vegetable oil until it was medium-rare. I moved the meat to a platter and poured off the fat from skillet. I then added red wine, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. I deglazed the pan, then reduced the pan sauce. To finish the sauce I added the meat juices that had accumulated on the platter, discarded the bay leaf and thyme and stirred in some butter, salt, and pepper. This steak was tasty. The sauce had a nice flavor to it and the meat was cooked just right. There was nothing terribly exciting about this dish but if you are looking for a simple steak + pan sauce recipe for a quick dinner, this is a solid recipe. It's hard to go wrong with steak and red wine.

The recipe is here.

26 recipes down, 1080 to go!

I haven't blogged in a long time. It's not that I don't have anything to blog about. On the contrary, I have a rather lengthy backlog of recipes I have made that need to be posted. I haven't blogged because things around here have been kind of shitty lately. It's hard to motivate to reflect on one's life when things are going badly. For me, it's hard to motivate to reflect on anything at all in that situation. But here I am, writing, if only to say that I am still here, and I am going to make an effort to blog more.

In reality, things aren't so bad. Nothing disastrous has happened. Just a series of things that have been scary, sad, frustrating, or demoralizing, from various realms of life. Taken all together, it has been a bit much. On top of it, I have too much work to do. I am feeling overextended, which isn't an unfamiliar feeling for me. But right now, at a time when I could desperately use a day off to relax and regroup, I just can't take one, and that's hard. Well, I could I suppose. But then I would be even more behind, and would feel even worse. So I have spent this weekend with my ass in a chair, sitting in my office at home, drinking pots of decaf coffee, and plowing through my list of things that need to get done. I am making progress, which is a good feeling.

And generally speaking, things are looking up I think. Right now I am sitting in an armchair in my home office, drinking coffee out of a mug I've had since college, eating skittles from the gumball machine in my office, and taking a little break to write this. It's nice. I've got my space heater turned way up so it is toasty warm in here. And although I have several more hours of work ahead of me on this fall Sunday evening, I feel pretty good about things right now. Here's hoping that this coming week is better than the last one.

Back to work.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Pancetta (Page 579)

RECIPE #25
  • Date: Sunday, June 24, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


This recipe came off a list I generated using a random number generator. I try to make something off that list every week. We love both Brussels sprouts and pancetta in our household, so this one was an easy choice from a list that contains other things like Creamed Oysters on Toasted Cornbread (toasted cornbread=yum, but creamed oysters... we'll see). Anyway, I picked this one a few weeks back. I halved some Brussels sprouts then tossed them with minced pancetta, minced garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. I spread the Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet and roasted them until they were tender. When they were done roasting, I put the baking sheet on the stovetop, then stirred in some water to deglaze the pan. This dish was pretty good. We weren't quite as enamored with it as we expected to be, but neither of us could exactly put a finger on why not. My special gentleman just said, "It isn't as good as it should have been." I think it would have been better with more olive oil and more garlic. It just wasn't as flavorful as I would have hoped. That said, we did enjoy it!

The recipe is here.

25 recipes down, 1081 to go!

My special gentleman and I are organizing a math conference that will be held here in East Lansing in late October. It's a weekend conference, with talks on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday night we will host a conference party at our house. We've actually never had a party with more than 25 or so people in this house. But I am confident that many more will fit. We don't have a final list yet of conference attendees but it is looking like at least 60 people will be there -- possibly quite a few more than that. The current plan is to have casual dinner food at the party on Saturday night, cooked by yours truly. It's possible the plan will change, especially if the number of participants grows much larger! I have made dinner for 60 before, and one thing that I have learned is that preparing dinner for 60 requires a lot of freezer space! I will need to make some things that can be prepared in advance and frozen (particularly because on Saturday I will be at the conference all day!). We have two freezers: the one attached to our refrigerator and a small extra freezer in the basement. I think it is enough freezer space for what I have in mind. Or more accurately, it would be, if both freezers were empty!

To say that they are far from empty would be an understatement. In our house, when you open a freezer door inevitably food falls down upon you. I like to freeze things. In particular, there are often Book leftovers, and those often end up in the freezer. So both our freezers are bursting at the seams. Some of the food has been in there a while. But in preparation for the large amount of food that will be prepared for the party, my special gentleman and I have starting eating our way through the freezer. Every couple of days I take a few containers of food and move them to the fridge to defrost. Then we have to eat them or they will go bad, and that imminent threat does appear to be enough to entice us to eat the food. In the last week we've had: carrot soupsalt cod chowder, carrot ginger soup, lobster bisque, stuffed pork loin, roasted fresh hamstuffed turkey, chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, blueberry muffins, salt cod fritters, etc -- all out of the freezer. We're doing well. There are still LOTS of things left in there to be eaten, but both freezers are starting to look less packed.

Yesterday for lunch we heated up some salt cod fritters and stuffed pork loin. The fritters were pretty tasty, as they had been when we first made them. The pork loin wasn't great. A few bites in my special gentleman asked, "Which pork is this?" I speculated about when I had made that pork and who we had eaten it with. I was confident that it was some pork we ate with Helen and Charles about a year and a half ago. My special gentleman, on the other hand, insisted that it was a pork dish I made years ago in Indiana. I assured him that it was not. Would I really have moved a pork dish here with me from Indiana? Apparently, yes. The beauty of this blog is that such disputes can be easily settled. He pulled up a picture of the exact dish we were eating. The date I made it: September 20, 2009. In Indiana. To be fair, my special gentleman was living in Michigan at the time, so I probably sent the pork back with him one weekend so he would have something to eat. I don't think I actually moved with it when I left Indiana! Eating 3 year old pork? A little gross I guess. It hadn't gone bad or anything. Even if I had moved with it, I certainly would have kept it frozen with a good cooler and lots of ice. So it wasn't rotten, but the flavor and texture had degenerated a bit. Perhaps it is a good thing we are clearing out some things from the freezer! Next on the agenda: goosemiso soup, and chicken b'stilla. Oh, now that I think on it, both the miso soup and the b'stilla dish were also made in 2009!


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Crispy Seltzer Waffles (Page 661)

RECIPE #24
  • Date: Sunday, June 24, 2012 -- 10am
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


We were in the mood for waffles one day, so I threw together this quick recipe. I whisked together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Then I added melted buter, eggs, and seltzer. I whisked the batter until it was smooth. I oiled the waffle iron and cooked the waffles in batches. I had high hopes for this recipe, but it was disappointing. I had two big issues with these waffles. For one, they were incredibly bland. True, dousing them in syrup gave them some flavor, but the waffles themselves had no flavor at all. They weren't buttery, or yeasty, or sweet, or vanilla-y. They were bland. My other complaint was that they were way too crispy for my taste. Sure I like a slightly crispy waffle once in a while (I certainly ate a lot of Eggos as a kid), but these were downright crunchy. I didn't care for their texture at all. All that said, they were still waffles! They didn't taste bad and they didn't last long in our house. I just won't be making them again.

This recipe isn't online.

24 recipes down, 1082 to go!

I hate to say this, for fear of cursing it, but I am starting to find a rhythm for this semester. I'm only about a week into it, so I certainly won't say I have everything under control yet. And it is looking to me like this semester is going to be a lot of work. But I am starting to get a feel for how it will go. I am settling in to my routine. While I have been working a lot since we got home a week and a half ago, the strain of it is lessened by the incredibly luxurious feeling of being at home! I'm not traveling too much this semester (at least, as far I know right now!), and I am very much looking forward to having some time at home. It seems particularly special to have time at home with my special gentleman this semester because next semester he will be away. He is spending most of the spring semester in Stonybrook, New York. There is a special program there in his research area, so lots of the experts will gather in Stonybrook for the term. I have debated about whether or not I want to move to Stonybrook with him for the semester, but I think I am going to stay here. We'll visit each other often. It will be fine I'm sure. We lived apart for over two years not so long ago, so a few months isn't such a big deal. That said, I am making sure to appreciate the time we have together this semester, living in the same place!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Negroni (Page 10)

RECIPE #23

  • Date: Saturday, June 23, 2012 -- 8pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I made these drinks for me and my special gentleman one lovely summer evening. I started by filling a cocktail shaker half full with ice. I added gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. Then I shook it for 15 seconds before straining the drinks into glasses filled with ice. My first sip of this drink did not sit well. Indeed, it was much more powerful than I had expected. Campari is strongly flavored stuff. Often it is served diluted with soda, but not in this case! Consequently this drink had a serious punch to it. After that first sip I hadn't even really planned to keep drinking it. But after a few minutes I had another sip. And then another. It really grew on me! My special gentleman loved it from the start and was disappointed that I took a liking to it, as he was looking forward to drinking my leftovers. If you are looking for a powerful Campari cocktail, this is a good one!

This recipe isn't online.

23 recipes down, 1083 to go!

Over the weekend my special gentleman and I were discussing some of the conference travel we did this summer and he commented, "You know, sometimes you act different at conferences than you do in real life." His comment bothered me. Certainly everyone has a conference personality, which may or may not be substantially different than their everyday personality. Indeed there are a couple of people who I like quite a lot but who I have difficulty being around at conferences because they are so different in that setting. I never thought of myself as someone who is substantially different at conferences though, so my special gentleman's comment worried me. Interested, I asked for some examples. The example he gave was interesting.

He noticed that when I am at conferences, although I don't drink a lot, I act as though I really like to drink. It seemed very strange to him, me pretending as though I consume a lot of alcohol and that alcohol is a big part of my life. It further perplexed him because he knows me well enough to know that I wouldn't talk about drinking to try to look cool, or fit in with some crowd. So my behavior confused him -- it wasn't the usual behavior of the person he knows and loves.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I hardly drink. I do like alcoholic beverages quite a bit. But I hate to be drunk. And further, the medication I take for my brain tumor enhances the effects of alcohol. If I have more than one drink in an evening, I feel pretty terrible. So while I rarely turn down one drink, I practically never have a second one. I have operated that way for a long time, and I don't feel bad about it. I don't feel pressured to drink more, and I don't have any hesitations about telling people who are pushing me to drink that I am done for the evening. Well... I didn't until recently anyway.

I am 32 years old. And married. If I opt not to drink, people make assumptions. For example: at one conference this summer there was a lovely cocktail party. I didn't want to drink that evening -- in part because I was driving a bunch of people home from the party and in part because I had work I wanted to do later that evening. So when I went up to the bar I just ordered myself a glass of water. A friend of mine was standing nearby and when she saw me, water in hand, her eyes lit up. "You're not drinking! Do you have some news you would like to share?!?" The thing about being 32, married, and female, is that if you are out with people who are drinking, and you don't drink, everyone assumes you are pregnant. So that night I spent the whole evening carrying around my special gentleman's empty glass, pretending it had been my drink. When people offered me another drink I commented that I had, "had enough for the evening." It was all a lie. But it was a lie not based on trying to look cool, or wanting to fit it. I just don't like people always assuming I am pregnant. If I don't drink, people do make comments. And it makes me uncomfortable. I have various health problems, so it's not a given that we will someday have children. Consequently, I really don't like being asked if I am pregnant. So yes, when I am in a crowd I make a point of having a drink. And occasionally I steal someone else's empty glass to make it look like I have been drinking when I haven't. My behavior isn't limited to conferences, but it is certainly magnified in that setting -- where almost everyone is drinking and I spend a lot of time in close proximity with others.

My special gentleman's comment gave me pause though, as I don't want to misrepresent myself. Perhaps I should just let it go -- let people think that I am pregnant all the time and just not worry about it. That seems like it might be a better solution.

 

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Classic Sangria (Page 21)

RECIPE #22

  • Date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: Saugatuck, MI
  • Kitchen: Our Vacation Rental
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Dennis, Aylin, Deniz, Brad, Karen H, Dave, and Tulin
  • Recipe Rating: A


I made this sangria as an accompaniment for dinner when we were on vacation with my special gentleman's family. I started by pouring dry red wine, fresh orange juice, lemon slices, and orange slices in a pitcher. I then combined sugar, water, brandy, and Triple Sec in a saucepan and brought the mixture to a simmer. I added the brandy mixture to the wine mixture and refrigerated the sangria for several hours. This sangria was excellent. Indeed, this was the best sangria I have had. I wish I had taken the time to take a better picture of it, as the one above does not do it justice. But I was rushing as the food was hitting the table so I was sloppy with my photography. This beverage had a great balance of booziness and fruitiness. It was refreshing and tasty and ideal for a summer evening. This is certainly a recipe that I will come back to again and again. Indeed I immediately regretted not having made more of this for our family dinner.

This recipe isn't online.

22 recipes down, 1084 to go!

It's labor day weekend, which is a welcome break after the first half-week of classes. Our fall semester usually starts the Wednesday before labor day, as it did this year. It's nice to have two partial weeks in a row as a way to ease into the semester! This weekend I am trying to get a lot of work done. I am attempting to finish off the items on my to-do list that are left over from the summer, as well as getting properly prepared for the term in a way that I did not have time to before it officially began.

I am also just trying to generally get my life in order. I was away so much this summer that things piled up. Indeed, check out the state of my desk at home:


I spent a big chunk of time yesterday trying to sort through everything. Progress was slow. I know that getting my life organized is neither the most urgent nor the most important thing on my to-do list. But feeling organized and on top of things does clear up mental space for me, allowing me to do all of the other (important, urgent) tasks more efficiently. So this weekend I will work some more on getting organized, both by sorting and cleaning, but also by thinking about how I want to structure my time this semester, what my goals for the term should be, and how to best achieve them.

I am also making it a priority this weekend to take some time to relax. There are dozens of things that I should be doing for work. But I can see already that this semester is going to be a busy one, and I need to rest up a bit before the reality of the semester fully sets in. If I don't go into this term at least a little bit rested, it could be a rough one!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Plum Berry Crisp (Page 827)

RECIPE #21

  • Date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: Saugatuck, MI
  • Kitchen: Our Vacation Rental
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Deniz, Brad, Karen H, Dave, Aylin, Dennis, and Tulin
  • Recipe Rating: B


I made this summer dessert when we were on vacation with my special gentleman's family. The plums at the market weren't looking great, but the pluots were, so I made this with pluots instead (close enough!). I started by pitting the pluots, cutting them into wedges, and tossing them with blueberries, blackberries, and brown sugar. I put the fruit in a baking dish and baked it until the pluots softened a bit. I made a topping with oats, flour, brown sugar, butter, and salt and I sprinkled it over the fruit. Then I put it back into the oven and baked the dessert until the topping was crisp and golden. It's hard to go too wrong with this kind of thing, and indeed this dessert was pretty tasty. The topping was appropriately sweet with a good crispiness to it. The fruit tasted good with it, although I have to admit that this wasn't my favorite of fruit combinations. I enjoyed it, but it seemed to me that an all-berry crisp would have been even tastier than this plum-berry combination. That said, I made two huge dishes of this dessert and it all got eaten. It was pretty good!

This recipe isn't online.

21 recipes down, 1085 to go!

I am feeling, today, desperate for some time to reflect. In many ways I am not ready for the school year to start, and this week has certainly been a rough transition. But beyond wishing I had more time to prepare for my classes and get other work done, I wish I had more time so I could reflect back on this summer.

Typically at the end of the academic year I am exhausted -- desperate for a break from the grind of the semester. I welcome the flexible schedule of summer and increased time for research and hobbies with utter delight and glee. I dream of summer for months in advance, and its arrival is one of my favorite parts of the year. This year, however, was a little different. When May rolled around I was certainly ready for a break. But what I had ahead of me was not a relaxing summer with decreased responsibilities, but rather a summer packed full of travel and talks. I spoke at 5 different conferences this summer, plus a few other random seminar talks. In total I was traveling for 10 and a half weeks of the summer. At the beginning of the summer I felt unsure that I could even do it. A number of the things I had ahead of me were quite stressful. Truth be told, for the first time I was dreading the summer a little bit. But here I am, on the other side of it, and everything went fine. Sure, there are some things I would do differently if I could go back and do it again, but for the most part the talks, the organizing, the research, it all went quite well. And I have the rare feeling that I really accomplished something. I made it through a challenging summer successfully. I just wish I had a little time to reflect back on it. But instead the semester has started and I have a whole new set of challenges in front of me. I doubt there will be much time for reflection in the next 15 weeks!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grilled Salmon with Lime Butter Sauce (Page 512)

RECIPE #20

  • Date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: Saugatuck, MI
  • Kitchen: Our Vacation Rental
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Brad, Deniz, Karen H, Dave, Aylin, Dennis, and Tulin
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I was looking for something quick and summery to make for dinner when we were on vacation with my special gentleman's family earlier this summer. This recipe fit the bill! I started by combining garlic, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a blender. I added melted butter and blended some more. I then seasoned salmon fillets with salt and pepper. My special gentleman oiled the rack on a gas grill and grilled the salmon, turning once, until cooked through. I sprinkled the fillets with lime zest and topped them with the lime butter sauce. This salmon preparation was quite nice. My special gentleman was frustrated that the fillets fell apart a bit on the grill, but I thought they ended up looking fine. The salmon was flavorful and nicely cooked, and the lime complemented the fish nicely. Indeed, the combination of lime zest and lime butter sauce made the dish very bright with citrus flavor. It would have been nice if the sauce had been a little thicker so it would have adhered to the meat more. Overall this simple salmon preparation was tasty, and enjoyed by all. Here's a picture of some of us sitting around the dinner table, relaxing after a meal together:

Oh, how this picture makes me long for more summer!

The recipe is here.

20 recipes down, 1086 to go!

Today was the first day of class. So it begins again! We returned from Europe late Sunday night, after nearly 24 hours of travel. That left me with two days to fight off jetlag and get ready for the start of classes. Needless to say, two days was not enough and when I woke up this morning I was feeling far from ready! I am teaching two courses this semester: a third semester calculus course, and an honors real analysis course. I have taught Calc III before, but this analysis class is a new one for me. The students seem great but I predict that it is going to be a lot of work to teach! I am also organizing a conference this semester, teaching an undergraduate directed reading course, etc, so I think this semester is going to be a little rough. Certainly the first day was exhausting! This evening at 8:30pm I closed my eyes for a minute and woke up 90 minutes later, disoriented and groggy. Apparently I was tired.

Usually by the end of the summer I feel more or less ready for school to start again. I have to admit, this year this is not the case. I spent a huge portion of the summer on the road (Albuquerque, Chicago, Boston, Virginia, Saugatuck, California, France, Switzerland...) and in particular I have been out of town for five and a half of the last six weeks. So starting up school at this point is a little tough. I could definitely use another couple weeks of summer! But school starts when school starts. My plan for the moment is to try to power through this week, keeping my head above water as much as possible, and then spend labor day weekend getting caught up and better prepared before the semester gets into full swing.  I can't believe that summer is already over. It absolutely flew by.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Orzo with Feta and Cherry Tomatoes (Page 182)

RECIPE #19
  • Date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: Saugatuck, MI
  • Kitchen: Our Vacation Rental
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Dave, Karen H, Brad, Deniz, Aylin, Dennis, and Tulin
  • Recipe Rating: B+


This simple pasta salad seemed appropriate for a family dinner on a lovely summer evening, so I made this as a component of dinner while on vacation with my special gentleman's family a couple months ago. I started by mashing garlic to a paste with salt, then I whisked in olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. I cooked the orzo while my special gentleman toasted pine nuts in olive oil. I tossed the cooked orzo with the vinaigrette, the pine nuts, quartered cherry tomatoes, chopped parsley, and crumbled feta. This pasta salad was quite tasty. It was exactly what you would expect from a pasta-feta-tomato-garlic salad. I make this kind of thing often, and I liked this version. In particular, I like both the vinaigrette and the addition of toasted pine nuts. There was nothing terribly surprising or exciting about this salad, but if you are looking for a quick summer pasta salad that it sure to be a crowd pleaser, this is a good one!

The recipe in The Book is similar to this one.

19 recipes down, 1087 to go!

I am writing this from the Amsterdam airport (where we are lucky enough to be able to spend our long layover in a cushy airline lounge!). My special gentleman and I have been in Europe for the last 10 days, and it has been absolutely lovely. A week ago Thursday we flew from Detroit to Paris. Last weekend we spent a fabulous three days in Paris with our dear friends Helen and Charles and their daughter Clara. This summer has been a bit crazy with work and travel, but I had three virtually work-free days in Paris eating delicious food with good friends and it was absolutely perfect. Here's a picture of me and Helen (who is very pregnant and looking amazing!) in Paris:


Here is one of my special gentleman and Clara playing in the backyard at Charles' grandmother's house outside Paris where we spent a beautiful summer Sunday:



On Monday we took a train from Paris to Switzerland. I was speaking this past week at a conference in the Swiss Alps. Many math conferences are held at universities or institutes, but occasionally they are held at hotels. This conference was housed in a hotel about a mile up in the Alps. There were 80ish participants at the conference and we were the only guests at the hotel. This hotel is hard to describe. It was old and sort of falling apart, in a totally charming way. I liked it. Overall, it was an intense and enjoyable week. A typical day was structured with 3 hour-long talks between breakfast and lunch. The morning talks ended at 12:30pm and the afternoon talks didn't start until 5pm. After a couple more talks in the late afternoon we sat down as a group for a long, multi-course dinner served by the awesome hotel staff. After dinner most of us would retire to the cozy bar in the basement to drink beer, talk math, and hang out. The afternoon break was left in order to provide ample time for hiking in the Alps! The hiking and the views were truly spectacular. Plus, I got to walk on a glacier, which was cool. Here's a picture of my friends Jonathan and Angelica with a glacier in the distance:


And here I am, huddled under the edge of the glacier:



On Wednesday the morning session ended early and there was no afternoon session. The organizers led three different hikes of different difficulties and lengths. I went on a challenging, but really spectacular five and a half hour hike way up to a cabin and then down to a beautiful lake, then back to the hotel. Here is a picture of me with me special gentleman on a very rare flat stretch on the way up the mountain:



And one of me and Angelica at the lake:


It was a fun, productive conference. My talk went pretty well I think, so that was good too. Because it was at a hotel there were no chalkboards so all the speakers had to give slide talks. I am a big fan of chalk talks, so I had actually never given an hour long research talk with slides before. I wasn't sure how it would go but it turned out to be fine, so that was a relief!

It was a great trip but I am looking forward to being home. I can't believe that classes start in three days! To say that I am not ready for the start of this semester would be a huge understatement. But I will worry about that tomorrow, after a long sleep! A conference disco last night plus a 5:30am bus this morning means that I entered this long day of travel already quite tired. Hopefully I will sleep on the plane! Speaking of, it's about time to board.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Green Leaf Lettuce, Pomegranate, and Almond Salad (Page 161)

RECIPE #18

  • Date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: Saugatuck, MI
  • Kitchen: Our Vacation Rental
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Dave, Karen H, Brad, Deniz, Aylin, Dennis, and Tulin
  • Recipe Rating: B


I picked this salad because my sister-in-law Deniz LOVES pomegranates, as does my special gentleman. So it seemed like an appropriate salad to make while on vacation with my special gentleman's family. To prepare this salad I started by whisking together fresh lime juice, sugar, salt, and pepper. I added olive oil to complete the dressing. I then combined green leaf lettuce, watercress with stems discarded, and some pomegranate seeds. I tossed the greens with the dressing, then sprinkled with toasted sliced almonds and more pomegranate seeds. This salad was pretty good. The dressing had a nice refreshing citrus flavor. The pomegranates and almonds went well with the greens and paired nicely with the dressing. My only real complaint about this salad was that it was a bit dull. The ratio of greens to other ingredients was pretty high. I have nothing against dressed greens by themselves, but it's not particularly exciting. That said, the pomegranate seeds did add some good textural contrast. I hadn't thought to add pomegranate seeds to salad before, and they were a nice addition. I will keep that in mind!

The recipe is here.

18 recipes down, 1088 to go!

Today has been one of those days! Nothing particularly bad happened and I'm not in a particularly bad mood, but it was the kind of day where little things went wrong all day. So I immediately had a bad feeling when we got home from work and our big kitty didn't greet us at the door. We have two cats: Michigan and Indiana. When you walk through the door, Michigan may or may not bother to leave whatever comfortable spot he is in to come greet you. But Indiana ALWAYS comes to the door. That is, unless he find himself in one of two situations:

  1. He knows he has done something bad. 
  2. He is trapped somewhere. 
So for instance, when he dumps an entire plate of cookies on the floor in order to eat them, he doesn't come running to the door. And every so often he gets curious about the cage in the basement that our laundry shoot empties into. He can get into the cage by dropping in off the rafters and pipes hanging from the basement ceiling, but he can't get out of the cage. So he gets stuck until one of us rescues him.

So today when he didn't come running, we first looked in the kitchen for some food related disaster. Seeing none, we then looked in the laundry cage in the basement. Still nothing. Calling him yielded no results. I had a moment of panic, thinking that something terrible had happened to him. But then we heard him crying from upstairs. I ran up to the second floor to see two of his white paws sticking out from under our bedroom door. My special gentleman had accidentally shut him in our bedroom before leaving for work. Whoops! So Indiana had spent a long day in our bedroom without food, water, or a litter box. He apparently managed to not pee all day (phew!), but he did poop. And where did he poop? Right on my special gentleman's spot in bed! Apparently he knew exactly who had locked him in there. 

I feel very bad for him. It must have been scary for him being locked in there all day and not knowing when someone would let him out. I have no doubt that the two kitties spent hours laying on either side of our bedroom door swatting at each other through the space between the door and the floor, wondering why Indiana had been shut in there. 

Apparently we need to be more diligent about making sure we know where both cats are before we leave for work in the morning!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Green Beans with Ginger Butter (Page 568)

RECIPE #17

  • Date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: Saugatuck, MI
  • Kitchen: Our Vacation Rental 
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Dave, Karen H, Brad, Deniz, Aylin, Dennis, and Tulin
  • Recipe Rating: B+


My special gentleman and I made these beans when we were on vacation with his family on Lake Michigan earlier this summer. We started by cooking green beans in boiling salted water until they were tender. Then my special gentleman cut fresh ginger into very thin matchsticks. I cooked the ginger in butter, then added the beans and cooked them until they were hot. We added lemon zest and seasoned with salt, and the beans were ready to serve! These beans were pretty good. They had a nice ginger flavor. The lemon from the zest was very subtle, and I would indeed add more zest in the future. I liked the buttery ginger matchsticks in the dish, but my special gentleman wasn't sure how he felt about them. The go-to recipe for green beans in our household is the Green Beans with Almonds recipe from the yellow book. I didn't like this recipe quite as well as that one, although these ginger beans were a bit lighter than the green beans with almonds, and hence would be better for certain occasions.

The recipe is here.

17 recipes down, 1089 to go!

Home sweet home! We traveled back from California yesterday after spending a month in Palo Alto, and I am very happy to be home! I had a great trip, but it feels wonderful to sleep in my own bed, cuddle my cats, and just be at home. The trip back yesterday was easy. We flew direct San Francisco to Detroit and rented a car for the hour and a half drive to Lansing. There is an airport in Lansing, but since I'm such a nervous flier, I would much rather drive that last leg than take a tiny plane from Detroit to Lansing! Our flight to Detroit was low-stress, even for me. There was basically no turbulence, the views out the window were beautiful, and there were tons of movie/TV/game choices. Plus I drank some wine, which helps me when I fly! We ran into a friend on the flight who was trying to get to North Carolina but who ended up stranded in Michigan overnight. So we took him home with us for the night. Another friend of ours, who lives in East Lansing, was on the flight too and he joined us for the drive back home. So we had a carful for the last leg of our trip, which was fun.

Today I slept late (very late!) and have spent the rest of this fine Sunday just enjoying being back at home. I went through a month's worth of mail, I started unpacking my luggage, I played with my kitties. For lunch we biked over to the Dairy Store on campus and got a milkshake! Plus I squeezed in some work. It's been a nice day. I am looking forward to being back in my office tomorrow morning.

I always used to say that I don't like to travel. I was reflecting on this on the flight home and realized that isn't quite right. I don't like to fly. But I do like to travel. On this trip I got to do lots of fun things, eat great food, learn interesting math, and most importantly, see good friends. Getting to hang out with Em, Brian, Sam, Joey, Spencer, Ellen, Grace, Chris, David, Mike, Teresa, Sami, Scarecrow, Brenda, Cate, Anna, Mike, Bert, etc, etc was completely wonderful. It was a good trip. As it turns out, I do like to travel. But I also like coming home!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Classic Daiquiri (Page 13)

RECIPE #16

  • Date: Saturday, June 16, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


After two weeks on the road earlier this summer, I got home and wanted to relax with a drink! My special gentleman chose this daiquiri recipe. I started by filling a cocktail shaker mostly full with ice. I added gold run, fresh lime juice, and superfine sugar and shook it vigorously. I strained the drink into martini glasses and garnished with lime slices. So far I have been very delighted with the drink recipes from The Book. This one, though, was not so good. The drink was just way too sweet. That's an unusual criticism coming from me -- I like sweet drinks. However, in this case the balance was way off. The sweetness was cloying. That's not to say I didn't drink my daiquiri. I did! But it certainly wasn't one of the better daiquiris I have had.

This recipe isn't online.

16 recipes down, 1090 to go!

I miss the old days, when people were more satisfied doing one thing at a time. Now, multi-tasking seems to be the norm. Undergraduates text during class, not-so-subtly hiding their phone under the desk. And even in conference talks, many audience members (professors and graduate students) have their laptop, or iPad, or iPhone out, and are busily doing something else while the speaker is speaking. Multi-tasking is even the norm in social interactions it seems, with people often immersed in their phone, checking email or texting, while hanging out with other friends.

I got an iPhone a little over a year ago now. My special gentleman was very worried about this purchase. He was sure that I would become one of those people who is constantly engaged with his or her phone, checking email, checking facebook, etc. I assured him that this would not happen. I think that I have done a reasonable job keeping that promise. I do love my phone, but when I am with people I put it away and I make an effort not to take it out of my purse. That is not to say that I always succeed.  I had an experience earlier this summer that made me think very seriously about my technology use. I went on vacation. In fact, I went on vacation with my special gentleman's family. My special gentleman's family is awesome, and we have been on vacation with them several times. We typically do activities of various sorts during the day, someone makes dinner in the evening, and then traditionally after dinner we sit around and either talk, or play games together (Risk, Sheepshead, Kill Dr. Lucky, Rummikub, Apples to Apples, etc). It's great! This year on vacation many of the evenings were a bit different. After eating a delicious dinner together, we would all retreat to our own technology. A typical evening situation involved some people watching TV shows on their iPads, someone watching TV on the TV, a few people reading on their Kindles, some people doing work (or not work) on their laptops, people playing games on their iPads, and almost everyone with their phone right next to them, in order to maintain ongoing conversations via text. And as far as I know, no one was unhappy. It was relaxing and pleasant. But when we left at the end of the week, I felt like I had missed out. On those evenings, I had missed out on the opportunity to talk with people that I really like. I had missed out on the opportunity to play games together and engage with one another. I had neglected my relationships with people I value in favor of playing Monsters Ate My Condo and watching bad TV. And I wished that I had done things differently.

In the couple of months since then, I have been making more of an effort to detach from my technology. I stopped playing Monsters Ate My Condo. In fact, I stopped playing all computer/iPad/iPhone games entirely. I am checking my email less often. My phone has been spending more time inside my purse. And when I am with my friends, I try to make sure I am actually with them, not periodically checking my email. Before I pick up my phone, or laptop, or iPad, I have been thinking about whether whatever I am about to do is really a valuable use of time and concentration. That reflection has been very helpful, as often the answer is no.  It's nice to have some space from my technology. I won't be giving up my phone any time soon (I would be lost without the GPS!), but it turned out that my phone and I needed a little more space from one another!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Penne with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese (Page 209)

RECIPE #15

  • Date: Sunday, June 3, 2012 -- 6pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: My Temporary Apartment
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I was in Boston a couple months ago, and was fortunate enough to be staying in an apartment rather than a hotel room. I decided to take advantage of the kitchen, and make something from The Book. I was looking for something with very few ingredients and that required little equipment, as the kitchen in question was incredibly poorly equipped! I settled on this recipe. I started by cooking some penne. Meanwhile, I halved cherry tomatoes and tossed them with salt. I tossed the hot cooked pasta with goat cheese, then added the tomatoes, some chopped Kalamata olives, torn basil, salt, and pepper. The dish looked delicious. And from the ingredients it also sounded delicious. But yet, it wasn't delicious. Perhaps the goat cheese I used was too strong, but the flavor of the goat cheese was very overpowering. I absolutely love goat cheese, but the way it dominated this dish made the whole thing one-note and unappealing. I rarely meet a pasta and cheese dish that I don't like, but this one left me pretty disappointed.

The recipe is here.

15 recipes down, 1091 to go!

One very nice thing about math research is that it is tremendously portable. I can take my pen and paper anywhere, and most of the reference materials I could possibly need are either on my computer already or can be found on the internet. My research life would be very different if I were in a lab science, for instance, where you are tied to your lab and the equipment therein. I travel a lot, but on the road I can continue working, and that is wonderful. However, I am about a month in to this California trip now, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to focus. I miss my workspace at home. I miss getting up, packing my lunch, and heading in to my office each morning. Basically, I miss my routine. I don't mind working in libraries, and coffeeshops, and hotel rooms, but after a while (about a month apparently) I start to miss my own space. So far I have been managing to power through my increased restlessness and get work done anyway. But I am glad we are headed home in two days. I will only be home for 5 days before I leave on another trip, but I have high hopes for a productive and refreshing 5 days.

In the meantime, I am trying to get as much work done as I can. I don't really have the luxury of taking a few days off, as the semester is almost upon me and I am far from ready! Fortunately (or unfortunately, I suppose) I have tons of organizational and teaching-relating tasks to take care of, and that kind of thing is pretty easy to do even with my compromised focus level. So I will write syllabi and lecture schedules, etc. And the poor people who are co-organizing conferences and programs with me will be bombarded with emails for a couple days, as I check the things off my to-do list that I can rally to get done. Sorry guys!


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Gin Rickey (Page 9)

RECIPE #14

  • Date: Friday, June 1, 2012 -- 8pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

It's hard to resist the Drinks section of The Book. Indeed, I feel pretty sure that is the section that will get finished off first! My special gentleman and I both enjoy gin, so this drink sounded great. I started by filling our cocktail shaker half full with ice. I added some gin and fresh lime juice and shook it for a few seconds. I strained the drink into glasses of ice, then topped it off with club soda. I squeezed the juice of a lime wedge into the drink, then dropped in the wedge. Then I gave it a quick stir and it was ready to serve! I've got nothing bad to say about this drink. It was crisp and refreshing with a perfect balance of ingredients. I used some good gin, and the drink had a great flavor. We thoroughly enjoyed these drinks, and truth be told, we have already made this recipe again!

This recipe isn't online.

14 recipes down, 1092 to go!

I love visiting California. In the 10 years since I graduated from Stanford I have been back here at least 20 times. There's lot of math happening in the San Francisco Bay Area of course, and my dearest friend lives here with her family, so I tend to jump at any opportunity for a trip. Being here for a whole month this trip has been delightful. I love living in Michigan. Indeed, I don't think I would actually want to live in Palo Alto permanently. But it does have its advantages. For one, the food in California is so good. It's hard not to be happy when you have this in front of you:


I have eaten tons of delicious food during this trip. A disproportional amount of it has been Mexican and Thai food -- two genres that aren't done particularly well near where we live. But here -- oh my gosh -- SO good!

Another highlight of this trip has been hanging out with Emilee and her family. She and Brian have two sons, Sam and Joe, and they are some of the most delightful children I have ever met. A picture of them just hanging out:


Sam has been watching some clips from the Olympics, so he was eager to show me some of his gymnastics skills:


He and I have had many athletic competitions over the past few weeks. He has challenged me in sprinting, tennis, basketball, baseball, croquet, etc. Somehow the rules are such that I seem to lose a lot. ;) It has been wonderful to be in the same place as them for a while. We have had some lovely summer evenings, drinking beer and eating yummy food from Brian's garden. Joe doesn't have any teeth, which makes it extra fun to watch him eat. That kid loves gnawing on delicious home-grown peaches!

It's hard living so far away from many of the people that we are closest to in the world. But I do feel blessed that our jobs give us the freedom and opportunities to travel. This month in California has been wonderful. We will be living in Northern California for 5 months in 2014 and I am already looking forward to it! A week and a half from now we will be in Paris visiting other dear friends on our way to a conference in Switzerland. We are indeed lucky.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Blueberry Corn Hotcakes (Page 658)

RECIPE #13

  • Date: Friday, June 1, 2012 -- 10am
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I made these hotcakes for breakfast one day while my parents were visiting a couple months ago. I whisked together flour, stone-ground cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl I combined eggs, buttermilk, and melted butter. I whisked together the wet and dry ingredients, then folded in blueberries. I cooked them on the stovetop, in a small amount of vegetable oil. These pancakes were great! I really loved the addition of cornmeal, making them hearty and a little bit nutty. The ratio of pancake to blueberry was just right. They were flavorful and a little bit crunchy around the edges, which I loved! My special gentleman is very particular about his pancakes, but even he loved these and admitted that they were tastier than the pancakes we typically make. Yum! This recipe will definitely get added into our breakfast rotation.

This recipe isn't online.

13 recipes down, 1093 to go!

Three weeks into this California trip I am starting to feel as though I live here again! The time has just flown by. The first week I was here I was part of a team of six people that was running a summer school aimed at graduate students and post-docs. There were about 80 young mathematicians participating in the summer school. I had never been on the organizational end of that kind of thing before, and I found it fun but also pretty stressful. The structure of this particular summer school was that the week was focused on one subject area: Algebraic K-Theory. The organizers outlined 15 or so hour-long talks on that subject, and then assigned the talks to certain participants in the summer school in the weeks leading up to the school. The organizers also wrote problems for the participants to work on during the week to help cement their learning of the material. During the summer school the role of the organizers was to help participants with last-minute talk preparations, answer questions on the material, and generally be around to provide insight and guidance. Various organizers also gave talks throughout the week. For instance, I gave the introductory lecture, introducing the field and outlining what we would be learning about all week. There were about 3 talks per day, given by the participants, as well as lots of problem sessions, during which the participants worked on problems and asked the organizers questions. The school ran very smoothly. The participants gave nice talks and everyone worked hard. But it was exhausting. The days were pretty long and it was a bit stressful to be one of the persons of authority. I was the youngest of the organizers -- indeed I was only a few years older than many of the participants. So it felt strange to be one of the official go-to people for all the mathematical questions that the participants had. After the summer school ended on Saturday morning, I spent that entire afternoon just laying around, recovering. I was exhausted!

The second week was a totally different thing. It was a huge international conference, honoring the birthdays of three famous mathematicians in my field. I did have to give a talk, but not being one of the organizers for the conference made that week much less stressful than the first week had been! Indeed, it was a ton of fun. The conference had over 200 attendees, which is pretty huge for mathematics. I got to see lots of friends from all over the world, which was great! The week absolutely flew by and now I keep finding myself wishing I had had more time to talk to various people who were there.

This past week has been different still. The conference ended last weekend, and this past week and the coming week we are here for conferences in my special gentleman's field. After my two weeks of summer school and conference (and the weeks of hard work at home that led up to our trip), I needed a little break. So at the beginning of this week I went down to Los Angeles to visit my brother and his wife Ellen for a couple days. It was great to see them. We hung out, ate delicious food (tacos, Korean shabu shabu, etc), and went hiking. Here's a picture of Spencer and Ellen during our hike:


I came back up to Northern California on Wednesday, and since then I have been trying to get as much work done as I can, and hanging out with some of my dear friends who live here.

Overall, it has been a great trip! We have one more week at Stanford, then we are headed home for a few days before we leave on another trip (Paris and Switzerland). And then the semester starts! I can't believe it is already August. I am not ready for the summer to be over!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tom Collins (Page 10)

RECIPE #12

  • Date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 -- 8pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I made this refreshing summer drink when my parents came to visit a couple months ago. I started by filling a cocktail shaker mostly full with ice. I added fresh lemon juice, superfine sugar, and gin. I shook the drink for 15 seconds, then strained it into glasses of ice. I then added club soda and garnished with lemon slices. This drink was simple to make and absolutely perfect for a summer evening. It was crisp and refreshing with just a hint of sweetness. It would be an excelle party drink on a hot day!

This recipe isn't online.

Hello from California! The last few weeks have been jam-packed full of conference activities, so I haven't had time for blogging. My special gentleman and I are in California (at Stanford) for a month. There were two weeks of conferences in my field these past weeks, and there are two weeks of conferences in my special gentleman's field these next weeks.

Conferences provide a wonderful opportunity to present one's research, as well as learning about what other people are doing. But beyond just the research benefits, there is also a social aspect to these things. With so many people gathered in one place, you are surrounded by friends you've made along the way (from graduate school, post-doctoral years, other conferences, etc...). So after long days of mathematics, people tend to gather and hang out. In the last two weeks, I went to a lot of parties: at peoples' homes, at restaurants, at bars, at the dorms on campus... Parties with faculty, or graduate students, or the post-doc/assistant professor crowd. There were a lot of parties and it was a lot of fun. This past Thursday there was a banquet dinner as part of the conference. In math we often have conferences to honor major birthdays of very famous mathematicians. This particular conference was in honor of three mathematicians, for their 60th, 60th, and 70th birthdays. So there was a banquet to honor them, with lots of food, wine, and roasting of the birthday trio. The dinner ended around 11pm and maybe 40 or so of the graduate students, post-docs, and young faculty continued the party at one of the dorms on campus. The night went late, and it was a lot of fun. Well, it was fun right up until the end...

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning we started playing a game called Ninja. I'm still not quite sure if this is a real game that other people know, or if it just something my friend David created. It's a fun game that involves lots of players moving around trying to hit one another's hands. You are only allowed to make certain kinds of moves, at certain times. You are eliminated from the game when both of your hands have been hit. So we were playing this game and it came down to me and one of the graduate students. I had one of my hands sort of near my face and he was trying to hit it. Instead, he decked me in the face. It was an accident (and he felt very bad!), but he broke my nose. I was looking pretty good the next morning with a swollen nose and two black eyes:


The doctor took x-rays and said the break is in a good spot and should heal fine, so that's good. The swelling has gone down in the last couple days, but I am still feeling the pain and looking pretty bruised. Here's a picture of me this morning:


Maybe the moral of the story is that I am too old to party with the graduate students!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Easy Carrot Soup with Toasted Pecans (Page 114)

RECIPE #11

  • Date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: B



My mom was flipping through The Book and commented that this recipe sounded good, so I made it for dinner with her! I started by cooking onions in butter, then I added carrots, cumin, salt, and water. I cooked the soup until the carrots were very tender, then I pureed it. I topped the soup with chopped, toasted pecans, tossed with butter. This soup was OK. I am a huge fan of pureed vegetable soups. Indeed, homemade potato-leek soup is a staple in our freezer. I also love carrots, so I was optimistic about this one. It tasted fine, but I wasn't wowed by it. The texture was good, and the pecans were a nice addition, but the soup lacked the depth of flavor that I was looking for. I think it would have been much better if the recipe had called for chicken stock as the base liquid rather than water. It certainly wasn't bad though, and it was incredibly quick to make!  

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this one.

11 recipes down, 1095 to go!

The last couple weeks have been a little bit rough. That's not to say that anything particularly bad has happened. We have been at home, which has been lovely, and we have had the opportunity to do lots of work and lots of fun things (concerts, bike rides, minor league baseball, etc). But in certain moments, it has definitely been a struggle.

Generally speaking, I am a pretty happy person. I don't have a history of depression, and any bad moods I have are typically short-lived. I feel very fortunate that my brain chemistry is such that mostly I feel pretty good. But I was taking a medication lately -- different from my usual line-up -- and I had a side effect that was new to me: depression. I have taken a couple of pretty gnarly drugs for my brain tumor over the years, so I consider myself relatively well-equipped to deal with side effects. Certainly fatigue are nausea are old hat to me. I've had some more creative side effects in the past too (I will certainly never forget the first time I saw snow falling from the sky when there was no snow!). But never depression.

And as it turns out, I am incredibly poorly equipped to deal with it. Feeling bad day after day, for no reason, was miserable and frustrating! I had trouble sleeping at night, and trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Even the things that I love to do sounded completely unappealing to me. And although I desperately wanted to just snap out of it, I couldn't. Which was terrifying. What really terrifies me is that a medication can do that to me. That one day I can be blissfully happy enjoying a wonderful summer, and the next day I can be crying at my desk for no reason -- just from a couple of pills. The pills were important but thankfully I am done with them now, and am feeling like myself again. I am also feeling tremendously grateful that depression is not a part of my usual life, and very sympathetic for those people who struggle with it regularly.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Steamed Broccoli with Olive Oil and Parmesan (Page 574)

RECIPE #10

  • Date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Book: Gourmet Today
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Teri and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: B-



I chose this recipe because broccoli is one of my favorite foods. Indeed, when I was a kid I wanted to open a restaurant that only served cheese ravioli, steamed broccoli, and chocolate cake! It was my idea of the perfect meal. These days my culinary views have expanded a bit, but I still LOVE broccoli. This was a simple broccoli preparation. My special gentleman steamed the broccoli until tender, then we tossed it with olive oil, finely grated Parmesan, salt, and pepper. That was it! The Book claims that the residual heat of the broccoli "melts the cheese ever so slightly, creating a sauce." That was not our experience with this dish. Rather than melting ever so slightly to create a sauce, the cheese just clumped together in a very unappealing way, totally separate from the olive oil. We also weren't sold on the olive oil + cheese on steamed broccoli. It wasn't bad of course, but it also wasn't nearly as good as steamed broccoli dressed with melted butter would have been. This recipe was a let down. Certainly not one that we would make again.

This recipe is here.

10 recipes down, 1096 to go!

We are in Columbus, Ohio today where, like many places in the country, it is sunny and HOT! This is a short trip. We drove down yesterday afternoon and are headed back home after dinner tonight. It's only about 4 hours from our house to Columbus so it's doable as a one-night trip. We came down here to visit my special gentleman's grandmother, Jinx, who has been having some serious health problems lately. We spent the day hanging out with her today. She's recovering really well, which was great to see! She was in good spirits, and we had a very nice time hanging out with her. We even got to try thickened water, which was a new experience! Unfortunately Jinx has to eat a modified diet right now, which includes thickening her liquids before she drinks them. I've never tried anything quite like thickened water before. She has been able to have some non-thickened water in the last few days, and hopefully soon she will be back on her usual diet. It doesn't seem like she is loving the thickened liquids! She told me that thickened coffee was where she drew the line -- it was apparently completely unpalatable!

Tonight my special gentleman's parents are taking me and my special gentleman out for a nice dinner. My special gentleman and I both got grants this spring which are sort of a big deal, and we haven't had a chance to celebrate with his family yet. So tonight we are going to eat some nice food in celebration!



Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Korean Marinated Beef (Page 443)

RECIPE #9

Gourmet Today

  • Date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Teri, Terry, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I love Korean food, and it has a special place in my heart since my special gentleman and I ate at a Korean restaurant on our first date, many years ago. My favorite Korean dish is Bulgogi, but I had actually never made it at home. So I was very excited to try this Bugogi recipe! I started by cutting flank steak into very thin slices. I marinated the beef in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, scallions, garlic, ginger, and toasted sesame seeds. I cooked the meat in a heavy skillet with vegetable oil. I topped it with scallion green and more sesame seeds and served it with white rice, lettuce, sliced garlic, and kimchi. This beef was very tasty! Lately my special gentleman and I have been trying out some of the local Korean restaurants. Bulgogi is my standard order, and I was happy to discover that this simple recipe was in fact better than any of the local Bulgogi dishes I have tried. It's wonderful that it is so easy to make at home! I have a feeling that this is a recipe I will be coming back to frequently. Here's a photo of my parents eating dinner with us:


The recipe is here.

9 recipes down, 1097 to go!

My special gentleman and I are both home this week, with no house guests, for the first time since the beginning of May. It's nice to be home. It also means that we are desperately trying to catch up on all the house-related tasks that we have been putting off. We leave again in a week and a half, and by the time we return from that long trip, classes will be starting. So now is the time to get things done! In the last week we have had the electrician out here, as well as the sprinkler people (twice!), and an arborist. We are having better internet installed tomorrow (thank goodness!). I finally did some spring cleaning, resulting in 8 bags full of stuff for charity and another couple bags for the trash. For the first time in a long time you can actually walk in to our walk-in kitchen pantry! And the floor in the coat closet is visible! Last night after work my special gentleman and I did two and a half hours of yard work (weeding, mulching, pruning, watering, repairing a fence, etc).  When we quit at 10pm it was still in the nineties, so we finished off our evening with a trip to the Tasty Twist for some ice cream. It's nice to finally check some things off my list that have been on there for ages. It also makes me realize how many more things I would like to do before we leave again!

I love summer. I particularly love being home during the summer. I don't feel ready yet to leave again, but I am looking forward to our upcoming trips. We are spending a month in Palo Alto, California, followed by a week and a half in Paris and Switzerland. The trips are for work (conferences and workshops) but I will also get to see a few of my best friends while we travel. It should be great! And maybe before we leave I will find some time to check some more things off my list!



Friday, June 29, 2012

Basic Pastry Dough (Page 781)

RECIPE #8

Gourmet Today

  • Date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 -- 10am
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: A-



This was the crust recipe attached to the Cherry Pie I posted about yesterday. I forgot to take a picture of the pastry dough by itself, so you are getting a picture of the pie again. Sorry. This was actually the same pie crust recipe as in the Yellow Book (The Gourmet Cookbook) so I have already blogged about this crust recipe once. To make the crust I blended together flour, butter, shortening, and salt with my fingers. Then I tossed in icy cold water a little bit at a time until the dough had the right consistency. I smeared the dough a few times on my work surface to distribute the butter, then I chilled the dough. That was it! Homemade pie crust is easy! This is a great pie crust recipe. I first made it out of the Yellow Book back in 2006 and I have made it dozens and dozens of times since. More often that not I substitute butter for the shortening, making it an all-butter crust rather than a butter and shortening crust. It tastes good both ways. The only reason I typically make it all-butter is that butter seems like a much more natural ingredient to me than vegetable shortening. For this Cherry Pie preparation I made it exactly as written in The Book though, and it was very tasty! The crust was flaky and crisp, and it browned nicely. This is my go-to pie crust recipe and it never disappoints!

The recipe is here

8 recipes down, 1098 to go!

I spent the morning today hanging out with some undergraduates at a Math REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program. These were undergraduate students from around the country who have gathered for the summer to work on math research. There are about 18 of them, divided into 4 groups, each of which is supervised by a faculty member. I listened to the students give presentations about the results of their math summer research projects so far, and then I gave an undergraduate-friendly talk for them about Algebraic Topology. It brought back memories. The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college I participated in an REU program myself. I lived in Boston and spent the summer thinking about math and hanging out with the other REU students. And I got paid to do it! It was great! It was also tremendously encouraging. By that point in college I was pretty sure I wanted to major in math and go to math graduate school, but the REU program really gave me confidence that I could do it. Looking around the room this morning, I hoped that the students were finding the same confidence and enthusiasm from their summer that I did long ago. They seemed very excited about mathematics, which was a wonderful thing to see, and they were impressively articulate and poised presenting their research.  

I thought a lot this morning about why my REU experience was so affirming. Partly I think it was the realization that I enjoy doing math research. I had never had the opportunity to do math research before that, so I wasn't positive that I would like it. But beyond that, I left the program with increased confidence largely because my REU supervisor had so much confidence in me. He really believed that I was cut out for math graduate school. And while I believed that too (I think...) having someone else say that was very powerful for me. A couple of my professors at my home institution were also encouraging me to go to graduate school, and their collective encouragement gave me a lot of confidence. As an educator, I think about that a lot -- the difference that one teacher's opinion can make to a student. So I try to make sure that I actually say to strong students the things that seems obvious, e.g. "You did a great job in my course and you are clearly very talented in mathematics. You should consider becoming a math major!" I am certainly very thankful for all the people that encouraged me.