Saturday, September 29, 2012

Black Bean Quesadillas (Page 299)

  • 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)


  • 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)

  • 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)

  • 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)


  • 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)


  • 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!