Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow! A ring! More snow! And lots of cookies and baking and soup and bread

Many of you fellow citizens of the Facebook Nation already saw the "status change" on Jake or my profile, but just to complete the new media announcement loop: Jake proposed the other day, I said yes, and then there was a ring (on my finger), and we are now officially engaged. Double exclamation points!! Here's Rock checking out my newly engaged hand (both of my parents individually asked if we had "told Rocky yet"-- I suppose we have). He is unimpressed because it is not edible.

For some reason I like the word in Spanish better -- I am comprometida. Which also means "in a difficult situation," according to my dictionary. And he is my fiance, I guess, and vice versa. Odd that the word in English is, for some reason, French. Are we "betrothed" in English? Anyone have a good vocabulary suggestion? I am still getting up to speed on all of this.

No idea on when, where or what we will do (not a religious thing, but some sort of ceremony, which we'll have to figure out). We have briefly discussed names. Galvez-Faleschini and Faleschini-Galvez (with and without hyphens), Galvezschini (I am particularly fond of the confusion and ethnic ambiguity that the z-s-c-h combo might create) ... but I am a fan of just keeping our respective names, respectively.

Jake was incredibly thoughtful and sweet and--uncharacteristically--devious. He had a plan that I was completely clueless about. Which resulted in him proposing with me carrying a large bag of kettle corn, which then accompanied me to the very nice jewelry store where his friend was waiting for me to come and pick out the ring. Which I did, albeit sort of in a daze, and wore home on the 49 bus through a snow storm. I swore everyone was looking at my hand, which of course they were not. Just we were. It is now my lucky bag of kettle korn, so I am finishing it off uncharacteristically slowly. I should figure out how to make kettle Korn, because I seriously love that stuff. But more on all of that later, probably.

In the meantime, we are completely snowed in here in Seattle. Buses aren't running, airport closed last night, the streets covered with packed snow and ice and no tire chains for sale within a few miles of here. We live on a big hill, where this happened just a couple of blocks away. So I have been cooking and baking up a storm -- two types of biscotti, potato leek soup with celeriac, bread, chocolate chip cookies, dark-chocolate covered nuts ... I finally made a chicken stew. Thank God we had dinner guests the other night to help with some of it.

I am probably moving on today to cranberry nut bread and pumpkin chocolate chip. Maybe pecan pie and lemon meringue tart tomorrow and Wednesday. And I think I did it: found a recipe for lard bread!!! That I am hoping to try on Wed. More on the baking later. I think I'll put all the recipes together in a link or a doc.

All this is in between dissertation work, of course. Um, yeah. I say as I head off to the gym (wear the ring?). But it has been a crazy few days and I so have a draft of some stuff that needs to go to my advisor. I may post if I can figure out how to do a pdf.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A pug's tail, Faleschinis and focaccia!

Jake's family is in town -- parents, aunt, and cousin with his son, in addition to the two cousins and grandma that already live here--and we all met up at our place and had some snacks before heading out to dinner. I had to work today, so figured it was a good opportunity to try making a quick basic focaccia. I found a recipe on the King Arthur website that seemed pretty idiot-proof, skipped some odd-sounding ingredients ("pizza dough spice?" "powdered Vermont cheese?") and stuck to olive oil, kosher salt, and a mix of herbs. My camera doesn't do it justice (although I have finally figured out how to turn off the flash, which helps), but there it is.

It was a hit, at least with Grandma Irma. The veggie box delivery people came by as we were slicing it up and also gave it a thumbs up, so I gave them the recipe.

I wish I could claim that it was complicated, but it wasn't. About 10 minutes to mix, an hour to rise, and 40 minutes to cook. It's pretty light and probably nowhere near authentic (it was a pretty sticky dough and I couldn't press proper dents in the top the way you're supposed to). So I think next time I'll try a double-rise recipe and take a bit more time with it. But it was salty and crispy and soft in all the right places, and definitely did the job. I think this is a good start to my week of holiday baking, which will involve many eggs and many sticks of butter. And one crock pot full of veggies I still need to deal with. The holidays are bad for vegetables.

On an unrelated note, a friend commented that Rocky's tail in the picture a couple of posts ago was straight, as opposed to its natural curled position. Her concern was that a straight tail is a sign of an unhappy pug (since curly tails are the sign of pug in its natural, happy state). What a good eye.

Oddly enough, Rock's tail goes straight only when he is asleep or really pissed off -- i.e., chasing a truck or plane, or trying to attack a pit bull or some nice pedestrian.

I don't want to concern anyone -- so here is Rocky looking undeniably happy.

This was post- play a while back, basking in the afterglow of a really intense lap around the sofa. I recently sent this to Elizabeth and her mom, who will be taking care of Rocky over the Christmas holiday. I am going to send them a picture a day until we drop him off next Wednesday, and I figured this smiley one was a good one to start off with.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

veggie bags, goals for the week, and carrot zucchini bread (by request!)

I didn't do any baking or cooking this weekend, and barely even made coffee (drank a lot, just didn't make my own). Jake's parents are in town, so we went out to dinner and haven't been home much. This week looks to be pretty busy, with several dinner outings.

Weeks like this make me remember how much I love these (As Seen On TV) Debbie Meyer GreenBags. They work. Seriously, they do. I have already preached to some of you about this, and I hope you tried them. I've been meaning to send them to my mom, who watched tomatoes from her garden rot this summer. A nutritionist in NYC gave me some bags three years ago but I shoved them in a drawer (then drove them cross-country) and forgot them until this fall. Now I use them constantly, rinsing them out and reusing them over and over again. I replenished my stash a few weeks ago, at $10 for 20 at Fred Meyer here in Seattle. Come to think of it, the nutritionist was originally from Seattle--but I think that's a coincidence and does not suggest that the bags only exist in Seattle. Check the supermarket, pay the $10, and you will thank me. Without them, my fridge would be a hot mess most of the time. They keep greens fresh forever (over a week, easy) if you put them in the bags relatively dry. I haven't tried them for tomatoes because I eat them so fast, but if greens and the stock photo are any indication, they work magic.

That said, my goal for the week is to use the vegetables in my fridge before they go bad and/or new ones descend on me on Wednesday. Looks like a maybe a some kind of stew will be in my future, because the slow cooker hasn't made an appearance yet this winter and those potatoes and kale and onions and carrots (still!) aren't going to cook themselves. Can you put bok choy in stew?!

Also, I need to:

1) figure out what to bake for our pug-sitter and christmas eve (I bought some anise extract and am thinking almond anise biscotti, and I just had a f-ing amazing lemon tart at Etta's in Pike Market that had a marshmallow meringue that left me sort of sugar-ill but also really inspired);

2) shop!; and

3) clean up some dissertation thinking I managed to pull off over the past few days.

I think I got a better handle on what my committee has been pushing me on, although I really only have stream of consciousness notes on paper about it. I think there are four main questions I'll be answering.
  1. The very basic: what do people say they want or intend to do with the voucher once they have it? I.e., I want to stay put, versus move to a new place in my current neighborhood, or move somewhere far away.
  2. Second, why? Here's where questions about whether they like their current neighborhood, or feel they are part of a community they don't want to leave, or feel that moving is just too damn hard/expensive/confusing/not a real option come in to play.
  3. Where do people actually end up? So, how many can't find a place and lose the voucher (called "success rate" in the lit)? How many "lease in place" (use the voucher to stay in their original housing)? And how many experience a change in neighborhood quality as a result of moving with the voucher? The latter involves measuring neighborhood quality, which will be a bitch and a half because it means EVEN MORE DATA.
  4. Here's still fuzzy -- but examining which factors influence outcomes. To what extent do preferences predict a person's likelihood of moving vs. staying in place or losing the voucher? To what extend does family size, or race, or some other thing seem to be more important?
That's a mouthful, so thanks for bearing with me (if you did). The fourth is where some modeling is going to have to happen and I need to make sure I'm asking the right survey questions. I'm anxious about it at the moment and concerned I'll need to go back to some drawing board with the survey. Maybe it's just the sugar in that tart.

But lets hope for a productive week and a happy jake family visit (thanks for Dinner Rick and Bonnie!).

Oh -- by request from Anonymous #2: a carrot zucchini bread recipe! Which is basically the pumpkin carrot, but swapping out the pumpkin for the zucchini.

3 cups flour (I split white and whole wheat)
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2.5 cups sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
.5 tsp clove
.5 tsp nutmeg
.5 tsp ginger
1 packed cup grated carrots
1 packed cup grated zucchini
1 cup plump raisins or nuts (if you want)

Whisk the dry together (flour, powder, spices and salt). Mix the sugar, beaten eggs, oil, applesauce, carrots, zucchini and raisins, and then add to the dry ingredients just enough to combine it all. I tend to just eyeball the spices.

Bake at 350 for about an hour in a pam-ed pan (makes two 8 or 9 inch loaves) and you're done. Or about two dozen small muffins.

The measurements on the carrots and zucchini are approximations -- use what you got. I have used pre-shredded carrots and it went fine.

You can do a whole cup of oil instead of half and skip the applesauce, or up the applesauce and skip the oil. I like to drop calories and fat where I can, but some oil helps.

I often substitute one or more eggs with banana and/or ground flax mixed with a bit of water -- which I think is great but definitely gives a denser texture. I've never tried it with this bread, but with others I love it. I'll post something about substitutions some time or another.

Really, it seems like you can take this basic flour, sugar, oil, eggs and spices combo and pair it with combinations of apples, banana, carrot, zucchini, pumpkin ... and crushed pineapple, coconut, nuts and raisins all work well with different combinations, too. Seems sort of like juicing. Whatever works in juice you can probably find a loaf recipe use for.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Speak of the Devil

I spoke too soon! Ben Smith confirms that Carrion was named head of urban policy. Things are looking good for NYC this administration. I wonder what they have in mind when they say urban policy, and how it will interact with all teh agencies that touch on urban issues?

Ok, time for me to get back to work.

Donovan and HUD

Two people have asked me to post some rocky shots and/or news, which I promise to do very soon. Here's a teaser for the moment though -- Rock in his favorite position, destroying my sofa cushion. God I love that dog. A friend was kind enough to volunteer to take him for nearly two weeks while Jake and I head to Minneapolis and then Wisconsin for the holiday. This means baking for her and her parents! I haven't decided what to do yet. So more on that in the next week or so.

I woke up this morning with a mild hangover from a birthday party with just enough time to make it to a class at the gym. I made it through bootcamp -- I think Madelyn took it easy on us. Or maybe it was all the carbs from the beer and the leftover cheesecake I had when we got home. That stuff really does get better after a few days. There was leftover carrot pumpkin bread for breakfast, which also held up really well.

I came home and saw that Shaun Donovan, the very smart head of NYC's Housing Development Commission, was named to head up HUD. It's not a surprise and definitely a relief. There seemed to be some politic-ing going on, with a short list of Latino names floated in the press. Not than any were bad, exactly, but Donovan is an obvious choice.

The thing that baffles me is that it was announced at 6AM eastern time, on a Saturday, on the radio. Huh? Politico writes it up as a "use of new media to make news," but it seems like a use of old media for boring news. Or maybe trying to minimize the appointment, in light of the fact that Latinos are not feeling the love from Obama right now?

I shouldn't be surprised that people care less about HUD than about the economy or defense -- but come on, now, let us see the guy shaking Obama's hand in front of a flag, at least. The NY Times home page, by the time I got to it, has the appointment story as a link underneath an unrelated story. We're also still waiting to hear what the deal will be for an urban affairs czar-type person or agency. I know that very good, very committed people are thinking about housing and urban issues on the transition team, which is really exciting. Nevertheless, it would be great to know a bit more about what direction it is taking. The Donovan appointment is pretty great news for housing policy wonks, though, particularly NYC housing policy wonks. He clearly knows what it takes to get housing built and to run programs, is innovative, and values research as a tool. From what I've seen working for a housing authority this past year, what the HUD-funded program world needs even more than innovation is some serious relationship-building with HUD itself. The current tone is one of mutual mistrust and perceived incompetence. The perception is probably real in some instances and places, but there has to be a better way.

As an aside, the Times mentions Donovan championing inclusionary zoning. My ex-boss Frank Braconi, now the chief economist for the NYC Comptroller, had a nice profile in the Times this week, was among the first to really push for inclusionary zoning -- arguing basically that it was a good political tool to gain consensus for rezoning (then just starting to roll out for Atlantic Yards, Far West Side, Greenpoint, etc.), and a nice way to add affordable units to already-dense development. He was at odds with City Planning over it, but it eventually caught on. I wrote the policy brief on it for him many moons ago, and then I think it cost me a job I interviewed for at City Planning that year (truth be told I was definitely on the under-qualified side at that point). Seattle is going through inclusionary zoning debates now, and i haven't been tracking at all, but it seems like some of the same issues (on-site vs. off site inclusionary units?; buy-outs into a fund as opposed to hard unit production?). Good stuff.

Ok, I've gone on too long, and need to get in the shower to go to coffee with a friend from grad school who has moved to back to Seattle, her home town. I had some mini-epiphanies yesterday on dissertation stuff that I think moved the logjam on the research questions issues. More on that than you probably care to hear some other time.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I was too busy yesterday to appreciate this:

In my effort to send forward the Vermont-based King Aurthur Flour Company's (great) website to my friend who is from Vermont, I accidentally sent the following to the head of NYU's Internal Review Board. I have not heard back.

I love these peopel! You shoudl move to Vermont and marry this website.

- Show quoted text -
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: King Arthur Flour <>

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Root veggies down. Ugly celeriac to go.

This is a celery root. I am not familiar with it. It arrived in my box of vegetables last week (the week before?), and I have been ignoring it. Jake sliced some of it up and threw it in something that had celery and onions and it worked -- sort of like water chestnuts or sunchokes. But I have no idea what to do with the rest of the thing. And am too uninspired to look into it. Too many root vegetables and not enough time.

Speaking of roots, yesterday's Nature's Last Stand box came with carrots and potatoes and beets. I still have carrots and potatoes and parsnips from last week. So, determined to 1) use carrots and 2) not buy anything else in order to use the carrots, last night I made a carrot pumpkin raisin loaf to bring to this book club I just joined (crashed, really,a nd they very nicely let me). Today I made a beet, carrot and parsnip salad--which had the added benefit of letting me use a big bunch of parsley that was starting to wilt. Both went over well. I adapted the bread from some recipes I found on line (recipe below), and the salad was the first thing that came up when I googled all three words. I only just now noticed that it's from a Canadian supermarket's website. Go Canada. I used honey, some water and lemon instead of apple juice, but basically stuck to it.

Both were quick, which was good, because I blew a lot of time at the gym and at book club. I'm trying out a new gym called Cross Fit, which involves things like kettlebells, pullups, fast jerky motions with your hips, jumping repeatedly onto a tall box, and doing workouts that have names -- Kathy, Fran, Helen. I'm not sure I'm a fan. It was hard, but some of the motions feel awkward and uncomfortable: swinging a heavy iron ball by a ring from between your legs and up over your head. I have bruises, but I'm sure I'm doing it wrong. The instructor did not have bruises. Or body fat.

Coincidentally, the couple that brought me into the bookclub--who are both in great shape and pretty normal people--also use kettlebells, albeit with a different style of workout. There are apparently competing camps and philosophies of kettlebellers. The Cross FIt folks doing things to exhaustion, and incorporate swinging and jerky-seeming movements to use momentum to their advantage (see Kips and Swings). It feels odd, but the instructor runs 50-mile races so the man knows how to work out. I can't decide if it is more challenging than weird or more weird than challenging. I'll try to stick it out for a few months and see if I can get into it. I lost some weight this summer -- 12 lbs, which is kind of pushing it. So I am trying to do more strength training and less cardio (without taking a Madonna turn for the sinewy muscular weirdness). As luck would have it, my friend and favorite gym instructor ever is taking off for a few months to do an internship in Olympia, so it works well to have a fill-in workout to try while she's gone. There are a lot of depressed people at Gold's Gym at the moment, trying to guess how big their asses are going to get while Madelyn is gone. We should start a pool.

Kettlebells yesterday+1 hour of Madelyn's class tonight+15 hours at the office+carrot bread and carrot salad-making=no gym tomorrow and no (involved) baking. All day. Tomorrow is about task-mastering my way through this writing rut. (Thank you Dave for the pep post about just focusing on steps ... I am going to try to do that, and to let the bigger issues rise to the top along the way).

Carrot pumpkin raisin bread
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cups white flour
2 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp salt
1 can pure pumpkin
2.5 cups sugar
.5 cup oil
.5 cup applesauce
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1tsp cinnamon
.5 tsp cloves
.25 nutmeg
.25 tsp ginger
1 packed cup grated carrots
1 cup golden raisins

Mix the flour, spices, baking soda and salt in a large bowl
Beat the sugar and wet ingredients together until just blended, then fold into dry
Fold in the carrots and raisins

Bake at 350 for about an hour.

It will make two large loaves, or several mini-loaves. I made one large loaf and four mini loaves to freeze or bring to work. I added pepitas and oats to the top of some, which look nice.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bread is good. Camera sucks.

Much lighter and airier than when it was all whole wheat and rye flour. No idea if that's the extra white flour or the extra yeast, but it works.

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white bread flour
.5 cups oat flour
1.5 tsp salt
1 packet yeast (7 grams)
1.25 cups water

I could have used less water. Mix and let sit for 4 - 5 hours, then put it in an oiled bread pan (with oiled hands) and cover for an hour more. I brushed the top with olive oil, but could have used more or maybe even a little egg wash. Cook in a pre-heated 350 oven for about 45 to 50 minutes.

The one thing that is not so hot is that this bread tends to release a lot of moisture, so doesn't keep long. I am going to try not to make any bread for a while.

Long post about writer's block

This is adorable baby Gilly. Lisa, Gilly's mom and one of my favorite people, tells me that she doesn't have enough room in her apartment for a Dutch oven and therefore can't make Bittman's easy bread recipe. I wonder if the pot can't be substituted for something else? A quick google found people who use ceramic or pyrex dishes. Why not a pasta pot with a bunch of tinfoil? This kid is pretty damn special and will need some bread to gnaw sooner or later.

Getting this picture of Gilly up is about the only thing that has gone right today. I have been roaming around the apartment for the past few hours, trying in fits and starts to get some work done and not go to the gym, make cookies, or read the paper. I did read about that idiot governor of Illinois (what is up with these idiot savant governors in states with awesome senators?), and I did accidentally start some bread to rise. The bread really takes only minutes to do, but still. I tried for a combo of whole wheat, white, and out flour today. I was distracted and feeling angsty about work, so i threw in much more yeast that I needed -- like, twice as much. We'll see what happens.

I have an immense amount of dissertation work to do, and am still having trouble moving on it. This happens periodically, and usually ends in a spurt of productivity, but is always stressful and unpleasant. And this time it is lasting a long time. One advisor tells me that days like this you should expect to do one solid hour of work. That's fine, except that I have just two days a week that I can devote entirely to the dissertation -- so losing them stresses me out.

I have to clean and start working with five different and enormous administrative datasets. But I am balking at it because it will be really involved once I get going, and I still haven’t nailed down the final research questions for the survey section of the dissertation. I’ve figured out what I am going to focus on for the survey itself: the basics of where people say they want to live at the point they are issued a housing voucher, and why. This includes things like whether they like the quality of where they already live; if they feel attached to their neighborhoods because of ties to family or friends, services they rely on, their church—whatever; or if they feel they don’t have the wherewithal to face the process of moving, regardless of how much they like or dislike their current living situation. That part is direct enough, and really very little (if any) research focuses on that nuts and bolts type stuff, if you can believe it. Which seems odd for a program that relies on people to move themselves out of poverty and into “opportunity” neighborhoods.

Anyway, where I get overwhelmed is with the next part: I will know where people actually end up, details about the households themselves, and folks’ stated preferences for moving (to the extent that I ask the right questions!). So what do I want to test for at that point, or look at with all that data? And this begs the question of what should be driving what -- the survey driving the outcomes questions, or the outcomes questions driving the survey design?

I can look at descriptive stuff, like variations in move outcomes by group (for example by race, household size, people with wage income vs. people on welfare). Then I can look at variations in move outcomes by preferences and resources (do people who say they want to move actually do it? Do people who say they don’t know how to look for an apartment end up not moving, losing their voucher, or moving somewhere really similar to where they started?). I can test some hypotheses about the relationship between preferences and resources and outcomes. It gets hairy and has 15 sub-bullets to each question once I start to write it down, and becomes as rambling as this post. It is good to have a lot to work with, but I'm stalled.

I am tempted to dive into the data work and just plow ahead and deal later (even though at my defense I vowed to clean it all up now). I have to present at one agency in a week or so, and need to start reeling in the second agency asap. Then I can try and deal with the inevitable as it becomes more inevitable. I do think that I have the survey content where I can deal with it. Much more in there will just get burdensome (and maybe there should be less). This may be a recipe for disaster, or it may be par for the course – I don’t know. My growing and incredibly boring library of qualitative and survey methods books suggests that either could be the case. My advisor would like to see me narrow questions down and articulate them better, but also suggests issue after issue that would expand the scope (what about differences in information networks or access to information by language group? What about survey materials in different languages?). I’m not sure she sees the contradictions in that, but I definitely feel them. Expand and contract, expand and contract. So here I stand.

As a prize for myself for getting something – anything—done this week, I decided that I would make the anisette cookies that I miss so much from NYC. I can’t find a recipe yet, and I need to buy some anise extract or powder or seeds or booze or something, I guess—but I’ll figure it out after I manage to get something done with this dissertation standoff. I should make something to bring to my new book club meeting tomorrow night. I have carrots in the fridge, so maybe carrot cake or carrot zucchini bread.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cracked cheesecake!

The cardinal sin of cheesecakes came to pass: it cracked, long and deep.

According to the cheese cake fanatics it could be any number of things. I think I just forgot to grease the sides of the pan. It likely would have let the sides of the cake pull away from the pan, and prevented the cake crack. But the thing tastes pretty good, so I'll call it a success.

Challah, cheesecake and IRB, which does not start with CH.

The productivity highlight of a relatively unproductive couple of days (dissertation-wise) is that I FINALLY got my IRB human subjects application in. IRB is the internal university group that reviews research proposals to make sure they aren't harmful or unethical or shady or all three. Think Tuskeegee, and that guy who made people believe they were electrocuting people. My application (an "expedited exempt review") involved 6 attachments. Several of which involved checklists and requirements for specific language and other annoying stuff. Technically, I could have been required to submit three separate applications -- one for the data I will collect myself, one for the data that is publicly available, and one for the data that I acquired through an agreement with HUD. They let me consolidate it to the single ridiculous application.

I was a bit intimidated by the process (which has an air of mystery for policy students) so took too long to get it done. Which is a theme for me and this dissertation. Then on Wed night I had drinks with a couple of clinical psych students who set me straight--basically saying that everything they do requires IRB review and they submit pretty half-assed applications. Which inspired me to get off my ass. So (with the exception of a signature on one document that I am waiting on) I did! Let's see what happens.

But what I really did today was bake. Challah, and then cheesecake. A lady named Ruth's challah recipe, and Chantal's NY Cheesecake recipe (another Ch word!), to be exact. I was inspired for the Challah by the $7 price tag for a smallish loaf at a local bakery. Yeah, right. Seattle acts like fresh bread is some sort of mysterious luxury item, possibly because so much of it seems sort of ethnic (so folks think it should either be really cheap but only found in grungy out of the way places, or really expensive if found close to home?). There are a couple of places that wholesale to local supermarkets (and are ok), and then a handful of neighborhood bakeries that tend to be on the fussy side. Winter makes me crave bread, and I have been complaining about the lack of it for so long that I finally started to make my own. Which reminds me I also need to learn how to make Italian anisette cookies, which I used to buy by the (cheap) pound in Brooklyn and eat for breakfast with coffee. Here I have found them only at the overpriced gourmet Italian grocery in Pike market, expensive and imported from New Jersey.

So Challah. It really isn't hard and doesn't take much work. I think I might like it a sweeter next time (always looking for a place to put raisins) and maybe should have let it rise longer. My apartment is chilly and it takes longer to rise the colder your space is. But it's definitely good. Jake melted butter and sopped it up (which I find shocking, but whatever). We'll finish off the sesame loaf by the end of the night and I might freeze the other loaf to see how that goes.

The cheesecake was a Jake request--prompted by me saying something like Please God Tell Me What I Can Bake That You Will Help Me Eat. He loves cheesecake, and is otherwise indifferent to sweet stuff.

Turns out cheesecake, which I'm not all that wild about, has a cult following and involves lots and lots of very intricate almost superstitious steps. Chantal's recipe seemed the most straightforward, had about 3,000 positive reviews, and didn't require a water bath (I'm out of tinfoil to wrap the pan in). I learned a lot about cheesecake, much of which can be found on links from Chantal's recipe page.

It's in the oven now, cooling. It browned a bit on the sides, probably because I put it in a too-hot over after baking bread. And it will definitely have tiny lumps, and is also a bit sunken in the middle. All things the on-line world of cheesecake warned me about, and gives about 2385623845 tips on how to avoid--all of which I skipped. Because in reality Jake will eat it anyway (he polished off a quarter pound of cream cheese this morning, right from a knife, and then ate about a half-cup of the extra cake batter), and because running the batter through a sieve seemed excessive. If it's good, I'll post a picture. I'm getting the hang of that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Survey booklets and Popeye pancakes.

So I spent a few hours today formatting, editing and re-formatting the survey. Turns out that you can format a document in word as a booklet, and then print it double-sided, which does in fact turn it into a true booklet. 8 bucks later at Kinkos (our printer is ancient and can't do double-sided), I have five draft copies to give to folks for comment.

That said, I still haven't really narrowed down the research questions for the survey section of the dissertation, and am not sure that I will be able to any time soon. I keep going in circles with them. Some of it is ridiculously basic: asking people what they want to do now that they have a voucher. I.e., do you plan on moving somewhere? If so, where? Then it gets tricky -- why do people want to stay put even though they can supposedly move elsewhere? Is it because they really like where they already live (these are really poor people, usually in really poor neighborhoods), because they don't have the means to move, or because they see the moving/mobility process as too difficult to even try? Once I ask them about all of these things, how do I test the realtionship between their answers, their own characteristics, and their outcomes? Lost? Me too. I think a big part of the problem is that I have lost patience with the process of fleshing it out, and just want to move on and figure it out as I go -- but clearly can't yet.

After a few hours of trying to rewrite research questions and feeling really annoyed with the whole thing, Jake came home, I went to the gym, and then assessed the food situation.

We had salad greens, cheese and a butternut squash. So I made salad and roasted the squash -- and then made "Popeye pancakes." A few weeks ago, Jake remembered that his grandmother used to make them -- basically a puffy, eggy, pancake that you bake in butter. Called German pancakes if you google it. It puffs up weirdly and browns so that it kind of looks like a lunar landscape.

It's really easy, and the stuff you need is almost always on hand: flour, eggs, milk and butter.

This makes enough for the two of us, although more would get eaten, for sure:

.5 cup flour
3 eggs
.5 cup milk
pinch of salt

Whisk it all together, then melt some butter in an pan with a 2 or three inch rim, making sure the butter coats the bottom and sides. The smaller the pan, the thicker the pancake. I say "some" because I am still figuring out how little I can get away with -- tonight I used 3 tablespoons, and probably could go a bit less.

Pour the batter in the pan and bake it at 425 for about 15 minutes then 375 for another 10 or 15 minutes. Until it is nice and brown and lunar-looking. The picture is from someone else's blog, and really doesn't look all that great -- but it is. Next post, I'll use my own pictures.

The recipe calculator tells me that 1/4 of the finished pancake has about 300 calories, which isn't great but I guess could be worse.

Ok, time to walk the dog and get to bed. Tomorrow I have to go to Olympia at the crack of dawn to go to a hearing on the results of a study comparing housing voucher and capital project costs. Vouchers are cheaper than bricks and mortar development -- but the goals are different, too. Hopefully the study is worth the trip out there.

Tomorrow is a big day all around. I have a free intro session at a new gym that uses kettlebells and gymnastic equipment and general silliness, as far as I can tell. And then a new (f0r me) book club. We're reading On Being Certain, a book about how people manage to "feel" right about things, even when they have clear evidence that proves them wrong. Basically how the brain can allow people to accept really irrational inconsistencies and contradictions. Likr convincing yourself that you are writing a dissertation, when signs point to the opposite?! Hmmmm .....

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Butternut squash sweet potato soup

Here are the recipes for the greenbean salad and squash soup -- both of which turned out really good.

Green bean salad:
2 cups blanched green beans
1 cup of fennel, sliced thin
approx 1/2 cup calamata olives
1 shallot, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt & pepper
4 oz feta cheese
some lemon juice
2 slices of decent bread, toasted and cut into chunks

Toss all but the bread together and let it sit for a while, then add the bread. It was really good.

The soup was from the NY Times' fitness and nutrition section

The only thing I did differently was add some garlic and allspice, and some grated parmesan at the end. Really good. We had leftover soup tonight, with a spinach and grated carrot salad with a warm shallot/olive/cherry tomato dressing. And some feta thrown in. I had a ton of spinach from the CSA in the fridge, and was happy to use it.

I also spent the majority of teh day reading about survey design, and pre-coding survey instruments to allow for easier analysis and data entry after the fact. No small feat, that. It really is amazing how many details there are to figure out with this survey business. Aside from the conceptual issues of what to ask people and why -- and planning what to do with the data once you've got it -- there are a million details having to do with things like sampling, of course, but also formating, wording, placement of words on a page .... I'm having trouble getting through the conceptual things because I am a bit overwhelmed with the practical. But I have an actual draft survey (in brochure form, pre-coded) to work from, so maybe that's a start. I really, really, need to get to the data collection part, and fast. The survey methods book i am currently reading tells me that I am at stage 8 or so of a 12 step process. I had felt pretty much at step 2, so at least that's encouraging news.

Oh -- I have all of these pomegranates I need to figure out what to do with. i just don't really see the point of them. It's all seedy and sour, and hard to get at. Maybe puree it and make syrup or sorbet or something?

Friday, November 28, 2008

So I got less done at the coffee shop (Vivace in Capitol Hill's new location, which is pretty nice and has this separate glass-windowed marble countered room that is a self-policed quiet zone filled with stressed out people working on their laptops) than I hoped, and decided to just stop fooling myself and get the cooking that I want to do over with.

But first a bit on the work I am failing to get done. At the moment, I'm trying to write a survey for my dissertation, and finding it really hard. My research is on the federal "Section 8" housing voucher program. In a nutshell, very poor people--basically at the poverty line or below--get a voucher that they can use to find rental housing on the private market, and the government pays a portion of the rent directly to the landlord on their behalf (the household pays 30 to 40% of their monthly income in rent, whatever that turns out to be).

My dissertation is about where these folks end up (i.e., good neighborhoods? "Bad" neighborhoods? All in the same neighborhood?), and why. A goal of the program is to give people the opportunity to move to better neighborhoods, but a lot of people -- about 1 in 5 -- end up in pretty high-poverty neighborhoods. The point of the survey is to ask people what they want to do with the voucher: where they want to go and why, and ho wthey approach the process of moving. I'm having trouble sorting through the issues to just get something written and done. In part because there are WAY more issues involved with putting a survey together than I ever anticipated, and many have nothing to do with the issues I am interested in researching, and more to do with the process of surveying people in a big, diverse, city. More on that some other time, or multiple times, most likely.

Before I left for the coffee shop, I started some bread rising -- from Mark Bittman's easy no knead bread recipe, which deserves all the word of mouth it has gotten. The bread was started because: 1) it is cold and gray outside; 2) I have bread flour and yeast; and 3) I have green beans from the CSA box and saw a recipe in some magazine for a green bean panzanella salad. You have to have bread for a bread salad.

Keep in mind that I already made a caramel pecan pie yesterday (2384756234765 calories per slice) that I am eating single handedly. But whatever. Why not have a giant loaf of bread, to boot. I am back on the stair-running food-diary kick, so I feel like I can get away with it.

Anyway -- I also have sweet potato, butternut squash and regular Russet potatoes (the damn CSA send me potatoes EVERY week and it is killing me). So a ginger squash soup recipe, also on the NY Times site seems like a good idea, too. No cream in it, and I can use my immersion blender, which is on my top 5 list of favorite things these days. But that will have to wait until tomorrow, I think, because Jake just got a call and it looks like we'll go get a drink with his friend Tristan and his very cool girlfriend Kate.

Recipes for all to follow soon.

Martha in Seattle!

This marks my first effort at creating a way to keep up with friends and family, and hopefully organize some of the random crap that clutters my head and desk. And to keep track of some recipes.

Being that I have not actually told anyone that I am starting a blog, and I have no idea how to edit the blog yet -- this is pretty much for my eyes only.

I anticipate several themes coming up quite frequently, and I hope to keep them somewhat orderly once I figure out how to work all of the tabs and buttons on the blogspot editing pages.

In no particular order:

1. Dissertation progress and housing issues.
  • This will most likely be for myself and of little or no interest to anyone but me, but I think it might help if I write it down.
2. Cooking, baking and thinking about food.
  • So recipes and food facts. I spend an inordinate amount of mental energy on food. You'll see. And I just joined a community supported agriculture delivery service, so am constantly battling the box of vegetables that arrives at my door every week.
3. Working out. I am a bit obsessive about this, too. It keeps me sane and lets me to pretty much do whatever I want in terms of Item 2.

4. The dog.
  • This will probably be many pictures of Rocky lounging, but possibly also snuggling with Jake.
4. Talking about Seattle
  • "Talking" was originally "Complaining," but I am trying to start off on a positive note. In all likelihood, this also involves missing New York, random great finds in Seattle, and trying to find things that I can get in New York.
So here it goes. At the moment I need to do some actual dissertation work so that I can justify spending more time doing things like thinking about blogs, but I will check back in soon.

Much love,