Monday, June 1, 2009
They taped a bag of food and a bone to the top of the crate, but wouldn't let me send him with his stuffed bear, which I'm sure he missed like crazy. I really tried to work the stuffed bear in there, but no dice. I felt very guilty, but they people who worked there let me walk him and then stay with him until they forklifted him onto the truck that took him to the plane. Once back in NYC, there were apparently a couple of fights between Rock and my parents' pugs once--at least one resulting in a bloody tail. And I have seen one seemingly nasty one since we arrived. But the three pugs (Eddie and Champ are my parents' pugs) seem to be getting the hang of things now. And Rock seems to have forgiven us for putting him through it.
I am always really happy to arrive in New York and feel back in my element. But it is also always bit jarring for the first few days. There is constant stimulation and interaction with people here, including in my parents' house. There are many more people on the streets and stores, and everyone needs to interact with other people a little bit all the time. Much gets done within a short period of time with very little conversation, or conversations are quick and funny and productive. Sometimes infuriating, of course, but generally productive. In contrast, Seattle interactions are slow, pleasant, and often completely useless. Generally very polite and I enjoy them most of the time. But they tend to be more about passing time while something is getting done than actually getting something done. I end up feeling impatient and bitchy there, and perfectly normal here.
But when I really knew I was back home was at Shoprite, where I went to get fish food for my mom's office's fish tank. The bakery section has canolli shells they fill will fresh filling, in two sizes. I'm sure they aren't the best, but I cannot tell you how exotic (and expensive) this would be in Seattle. I then went to Moretti's Bakery on Forest Ave to find anisette and sesame cookies. The girl behind the counter only had a giant cake box so she threw in a few apricot and raspberry cookies so it wouldn't look too empty. She didn't want my cookie box to look too empty! I tipped her, which was good, because I then forgot my wallet and had to send my father in for it 30 minutes later. After waiting in line at the post office for a while before noticing I didn't have it, of course. She had already called my office in Seattle and left a voicemail.
The icing, however, was getting home and reading the Staten Island Advance front page story subtitled "Dueling banners in Dongan Hills claim 'World's Best Pizza." There are many Worlds Best signs in the world. But turns out one of these two guys (Goodfella's) won the last World Pizza Championship in Las Vegas. The other was a runner up for the East Coast region or something.
In sum, it is nice to be back in foodland. There is of course good food in Seattle, and there is no way that my local Seattle supermarket would have run out of ground flax seed the way Shoprite did. But the goodness is just seeping out of every scruffy corner here, whereas Seattle feels bland in comparison. There is only so much Pacific Northwest style seafood that one person can eat. That said, I haven't worked out in four or five days (not counting many, many trips from the basement to the third floor of my parents' house carrying awkwardly shaped heavy objects) and will probably gain 50 pounds over the summer. I have not even hit my favorite bagel place yet, and those things are at least 400 calories a pop. Plain. I guess that would further complicate the wedding dress issues.
Whatever. I hear at least two pugs snoring right now, have a box full of aniette cookies to attack for breakfast, and am very happy to be back.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
This week has been a flurry of activity and anxiety, and Jake and I are both stretched really thin. And yesterday I went to go pick up my wedding dress. I was not 100% pleased, although Martha N and Jake both tell me it looks good, even if it maybe needs a little more tweaking. The seamstress, who comes very well recommended and to her credit is constantly saying she will keep working at it until I am happy, installed these two thick, wide elastic bands inside the waistline to help hold it up. And also replaced a ribbon around the waistline that needed an upgrade. The ribbon is nice but seems a bit worn. Martha N says it looks appropriately vintage and she likes it a lot. I am inclined to believe her. But the elastic bands feel sort of like some sort of S&M device, but they don't really do the Holding It Up job. I think they need to be fastened at exactly the right spot on my ribcage, but I didn't have them on the sweet spot when I tried the dress on at the seamstress's place. So instead it felt like it would stay put through many hugs and drunken dances, but would stay put in a really awkward and uncomfortable place. It looked and felt like it needed to be yanked up, hard.
So I acted aloof and paid the lady and got the hell out of there as fast as I could, with the seamstress's assurances that I could come back when I get back to Seattle and she'd do whatever else I feel needs doing. I feel slightly bad about that. She gave me a free veil I have no intention of using, no doubt sensing my dissatisfaction. Back at home, after some unexpected tears, some assurances from Jake and some technical assistance from Martha N, I think I can be happy about it. Not in love yet, but if I can make it a bit more comfortable I think it'll grow on me .
I think the tears were disappointment that I really wanted to be able to say I have gotten this one wedding thing done and walked away happy. Frustratingly enough, I'm not really sure what I would like better than the dress I have. Just in case, I bought another one on sale from JCrew that is not scheduled to ship until June 30 as a fall back plan. Amy gave me the thumbs up on that one. But maybe I should wear the one I have for the ceremony and do a costume change into something comfortable for the reception. Something in a color I never wear. I do think that it's a lovely dress; my main issues right now are that it is pretty uncomfortable.
There is this incredible pressure associated with all things wedding-related that I wish I could say I am avoiding. There is sort of an expectation that as The Bride you will 1) know what you want and 2) enjoy it. Yet I have no idea what I want, not much energy for figuring it out, lots of baggage about marriage and weddings in general, and am not really able to have a good time with the process yet. Figuring out what you want or like takes time and energy I don't feel I have to give. I would like to say that I am not interested in traditional things, but I don't really feel interested or equipped to come up with my own particular brand of non-traditional. I just tried to grill Martha N about her sister Sarah who is ridiculously crafty and talented to see if there was ANYTHING I could maybe outsource to her. Martha N seems to think there is not. Friends offer to help (thanks Amy! poor Amy ...) but I haven't taken them up on it. I'm not good at asking for help. But I do think I might ask someone to do the invitations for us. Meaning, find a cute, simple cheap one, design it for us and just tell us how much it costs. Any takers?
I think what has been the most jarring for me about all of this is just how much I have been affected by it. I have been kind of an unexpected emotional rollercoaster ride, as they say. It is most definitely jarring for Jake. I'm not sure what to make of it. Intellectually I know that the stress and changes we are facing inevitably kind of grates every feeling to sharp point. It is hard to manage anyway.
But Rocky IV is on as I write this (the one where he takes on the cyborgish Russian who killed Apollo Creed by training exclusively with snow and lumber and rocks, and Adrian follows him to Siberia), so I am feeling encouraged. I am happy that the spurts of enthusiasm and clarity that I have had about wedding stuff do seem to be getting longer and closer together. Sort of like contractions are portrayed when women go into labor on TV. Maybe soon they will come together in a single painful crescendo--in a cab or a plane or stuck on the subway--and I will emerge flushed and smiling, with a color scheme and some new self-awareness.
In the meantime, I am doing a lot of hot Bikram yoga (Bikram is this guy, shown with his wife) and longish runs with Jake. He mapped them out on google maps so we know how long they are, and we'll miss when we leave for the summer. 4.8 is so far our farthest -- keeping in mind that about 2 miles of it is uphill. We're going to work up the distance, hopefully.
Funny aside on Bikram: a friend who moved to Seattle from LA tells me that she saw him once in an Indian video store there. He drove up in a Bentley, was wearing white snakeskin pointy shoes, and asked for the the most recent movie by the Bollywood equivalent of Chuck Norris. In the photo he is in a pose I can get nowhere close to.
Ok -- I'm off to bring Rocky the pug to his red eye flight to NYC. I feel guilty, but then again nothing that costs that much can be all that bad. I think. Thanks for reading.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Whereas a few weeks ago I was infuriated by anything having to do with weddings or wedding planning (including really pissed off at Jake for having proposed, to be honest), last night I managed to flip through almost the entire issue of Martha Stewart Weddings without getting angry. I did get annoyed by article about which cosmetic procedures you can squeeze in before your wedding at 12, 9, 6, 3 months, etc. (I am in the botox range; possibly microdermabrasion if I got on it right now). But I appreciated the pretty pictures of ridiculously expensive earrings and bracelets and very labor intensive cakes. This is a Major Milestone.
And today I talked to a coworker whose wedding is also in September and who is an admirably practical, crafty and hard wedding worker. She just finished making her own invitations, and is taking a break before starting in on thank you cards. She has done flower arrangements for other people's weddings, and knows how to decorate. She is doing all of the decorating herself. She gave me good tips: get color on the tables with linens so you don't have to bother with it elsewhere; there is such a thing as long-burning votive candles you can get cheap; and yeah, little lights and lanterns look good. It turns out she was thinking about some of the same stuff I was -- like the twiggy stuff in the photo above (I'm not wild about that one specifically, but you get the idea). She upped my website with nice earthy materials with one of her own that had similar stuff, and cheaper. Go Katie go. Jake's sister-in-law Amanda, here with the very cute Izzy, has graciously offered to help with this stuff and is also very crafty and has a great sense of style. And she is conveniently located about 1500 miles closer to Dairymen's than I am. I hope she doesn't regret the offer.
The dress thing -- two fittings down this week -- is just so-so. I am more nervous about it now than when I started. It seemed like the alterations needed were minor, but now I am starting to think they might be a bit more major. Whatever. The thing basically fits, and I might have to chemically affix it to my body to keep it up. Whatever. Th eseamstress thinks only two more fittings--it seems her assistant errs on the side of caution fittings-wise.
In the meantime, a battle rages against the CSA veggies in my fridge. Last night as Jake and I were drifting off to sleep I woke both of us up when I heard myself announce "I can steam it." I was having a sort of half-dream about a head of cauliflower I have been moving around the fridge for a week. So I am apparently battling some low-level anxiety about the vegetables. So far this week I have made an rhubarb/blueberry/apple crisp, kale salad and my brother's caramelized carrots, and I have a soup on the stove with a mound of the cauliflower waiting to go in it.
The carrots are easy and have been a staple at family dinners forever, but I can never do them like my brother can. Now I think they are a staple at his firehouse. Chop up the carrots, cook them in a heavy skillet in enough olive oil to coat them--stirring occasionally until they are soft and browned or even look a bit burnt (we call them Arnie's Burnt Carrots). If your carrots are kind of on the old side, as if they have been sitting around since the cute hippie CSA delivery guy dropped them off a week or so ago, you can add some honey or brown sugar or season them however you like. Some lemon is nice. They are nice on their own, but I tossed them in a green salad.
The crisp was marginally more involved, if only because there is more chopping, some melting, and multiple bowls.
I tossed together:I forgot to melt the butter until I had already mushed half of it into the dry topping ingredients, so I melted what I had left and mixed it up, threw it on top and it was fine. It is really hard to go wrong with a crisp.
Two apples, peeled and sliced
Two cups rhubarb, roughly chopped
One cup frozen strawberries
Two tablespoons orange juice
Juice from 1/2 lemon
About 1/2 cup raisins
About 1/2 cup sugar or more to taste (I don't like it that sweet)
Cinnamon to taste (I like a lot)
For the topping:
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup oatmeal (I used the non-instant kind)
1 tsp cinnamon
A good pinch of salt
6 tablespoons melted butter
The fruit goes into a shallow baking dish, dotted with some butter. And the topping goes on top. Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes and then check it. The fruit should be bubbling and the topping starting to brown.
The soup is not really worth talking about. I had an onion, potatoes, a red pepper and cauliflower in the fridge, and about 2 cups of split peas. Now that's what is in the pot -- along with some cumin and allspice and vegetable stock. And soon to be joined by a couple of parmesan rinds. Actually, I have a can of white beans I am debating tossing in. Seems like a lot of beans. But anything immersion blended is good in my book, and gets me one step closer to a clean fridge and cabinets for Jake's cousin Court (our subletter this summer).
What a long post! Thanks for hanging in there with it. XO
Sunday, May 17, 2009
This is in keeping with my general slacking off on just about everything. A more accurate assessment is that I am trying to cram too much into a small period of time, stressing out about it, and then making only incremental progress on any one thing as a result. And things keep popping up and sucking my time. Like Rocky's (still kind of sickly looking) eye. He has another vet appt. on Tuesday. And I called a seamstress to make alterations on the wedding dress I bought at a local consignment store (it's a bit more formal than I'd like, but I like it, and think no one will hold it against me). She--her assistant, actually--wanted to book TEN appointments. Ten! We made three for the next two weeks and I told her we'll have to regroup after that. I really don't think it's that involved. I am noticing that as soon as you say the word "wedding," people's voices drop an octave as if to sooth what they assume is a hysterical bride, they jack up the price and they start saying things like "foundational undergarments." Tomorrow morning is the first appointment. She told me to bring the Foundational Undergarments and the shoes and then seemed genuinely concerned that I have neither. And then genuinely surprised to her me say I wasn't worried about it. I'll bring some heels and we'll be fine. I am trying to strike a balance between getting done what needs to be done without getting sucked into the things that other people think you should care about. Choosing what color the napkins should be or finding favors/matchbooks/m&ms that say Jake & Martha is not a priority at this point. I have no idea if the ceremony will be indoors or out, and want my nieces and Amy to be happy and look great but have no idea or preference about what they should wear. Something they like. We'll figure it out, and the deed will get done.
But I am getting really enthusiastic feedback about my research. I was at a day-long mini-conference for all the folks who who won grants from the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, and people were into it. I also recently had some meetings with people in my field who think my sample size (just hit 208 responses on Friday!) is plenty big, and that the data will be really unique. This was a much-needed confidence booster. I for one was just pleased with myself that I managed to come up with a semi-decent paper title: "Using Section 8 in Seattle: Thriving, surviving, or falling though the cracks?" Now I just have to do the research. One thing that my committee member brought up (she's mentioned it before, but I failed to absorb it) was that I need to keep a journal or field log of notes and ideas as I continue through the data collection phase. She's right. There are things that I am thinking about and research ideas that come up that will be incredibly helpful when it finally comes time to write.
So baking and cooking has dropped off considerably, and I am instead slowly trying to make it through the contents of the freezer and keep up with CSA vegetables. This basically means giant vegetable stir-frys once a week, a lot of defrosted baked goods, and smoothies because fruit is coming back in season. I do have some rhubarb in the fridge from the CSA, and a Daring Bakers thing to deal with--along with some more freezer contents (lots of pecans and walnuts, chocolate, a pie crust, frozen berries)--so there is likely something quick and nutty and rhubarby in my future. This coffee cake recipe from the woman who provided last month's Daring Bakers cheescake recipe looks like a contender.
I did try to make my own yogurt in a crockpot the other day, inspired by both the New York Times and 101 cookbooks (she also has a great recipe for frozen yogurt), but it was a complete failure. At first I thought it was something about the temperature--you are supposed to heat the milk, then let it cool, and then add some starter yogurt and keep it warm for several hours. But I let it get too cool and then tried to reheat. Now I think it the starter yogurt may not have has many live cultures. I am determined to get it right, and possibly have a machine shipped to NYC to have fresh yogurt all summer. I vaguely remember that my parents had a yogurt machine crammed in the kitchen pantry until I finally bullied them into getting rid of it because it had been used exactly once in about 10 years. They have issues parting with broken or unused items. Now I wish it was still around. I remember it was green and yellow shades that only existed in the 70s.
Hopefully more frequent posts in the coming weeks!
Sunday, May 3, 2009
For whatever reason, I just can't focus well with the new camera and can't figure out why. The settings are not well programmed and I need to use the viewfinder instead of the screen, so I think I need to bring it to a camera shop to see if they can set it up for me and start from there. Compared to Olivia's pictures--here's her shot of butter dipped dinner rolls we baked for Easter dinner--I definitely have a ways to go. Hers are sharp even though they are taken in really low light and, I think, without flash. I have no idea how that works.
The rolls are straight from the Bread Bible. They freeze really well but don't keep long on the counter, so I have started making double batches and keeping some on hand in the freezer. We're trying to make our way through the contents of the freezer this month before heading to NYC for the summer, so there are a lot of dinner rolls in my future over the next few weeks. They're all white flour, and my attempts at whole wheat versions have been only so-so. With about 20% wheat flour is passable, but the all white version is definitely better both taste and texture-wise.
And here's we are at UW.
It was of course overcast the whole time she was here, but the cherry blossoms were blooming and all the undergrads were out doing their thing, so she got a pretty good impression of the place.
But as a hint of what may be possible with the new camera, here's a pretty decent Rocky action shot taken with the new camera. I have no idea how it happened.
A pug update: Rock's eye is much better. Still a red and buggier than usual, but definitely getting better. There is enough improvement that he is no longer in the lampshade collar and we don't feel guilty putting him through the drama of a big brushing.
I think Jake enjoys it as much as Rocky hates it.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
It also gave me an opportunity to use the new camera that Jake got me for my birthday! I have a complicated relationship with it: I've been complaining incessantly about my crappy camera, and Jake got me a really nice one--which is great. But it is big, and has all these lenses and is more complicated than I know how to deal with. I hate having a new thing to learn, but have to admit it takes pictures mine never could. Like this one of the cake cooking in a water bath in the oven. And here's the finished cake. As you will note, I have some work to do with the camera.
I like that it looks sort of like a fried egg, which is fitting, because it has a hell of a lot of eggs in it. There is chocolate and caramel drizzled on top, which is overkill but delicious. I have taken many, many pictures of cheesecake tonight in an effort to figure out how to use the f-ing camera without picking up the giant manual.
My stab at customizing was a banana sour cream cheesecake with a Nilla Wafer crust. I was kind of thinking about the banana pudding recipe on the Nilla Wafers box. I had bananas and a bunch of home-raised eggs in the fridge from Jake's cousin's best friend. Renee was Rocky's first vet when we moved out here and she has 30 chickens, an emu and a horse. And a dog. Her eggs have blue shells and very yellow yolks.
So I consulted with the Cake Bible and went from there. I swapped out the heavy cream for the banana, and added 8 oz sour cream for as much cream cheese. I used six egg yolks instead of three whole eggs. And the crust is just crushed Nilla Wafers and melted butter, without any added sugar, pressed in the pan and pre-baked for 10 minutes before adding the cake batter. The water bath is a pain in the ass in a springform because you have to use all this tinfoil and water seeps in anyway. But I also made some mini-muffins and loaf pan sized cakes using silicone pans which turned out great without sticking at all. Here's a mini, as I was eating it and experimenting with and without the flash, and trying this manual focus business. Turns out flash can be bad and focusing is hard.
I did the crust on Sunday, baked the cakes on Monday, and then decorated the big one tonight while watching The Biggest Loser. So while the announcer was talking about how these folks lost 600 pounds this season, I was melting chocolate with heavy cream and drizzling it on a ridiculously rich custard cheesecake. But it's good! Really creamy and actually kind of light (tasting, at least). Unfortunately, Jake is in DC until tomorrow and I'm not going to work tomorrow and I have no socializing planned for the next couple of days--so I have cheesecake for 10 in my fridge and no takers at the moment.
I needed a baking project, though. I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff that needs to get done in the next month before we go to NYC for the summer. My job wants me to do some pretty involved projects while I am gone and to take on more work and hours when I get back. I am resisting. But I'm finding myself back in that uncomfortable, if familiar, territory of being overextended and placing the dissertation work on the back burner. I am thisclose to really getting the thing done -- one paper just needs to be written, and the data is rolling in for the second. Not that there isn't lots of work to be done, of course there is (and I was just reminded by my advisor that I never handed in the final revisions on my proposal) but I'm starting to be able to see the end. And am actually close to where I should be based on when I started.
The up side is that all the work on my plate is good stuff and on point with my research. The Housing Authority wants recommendations for how to change some fundamental aspects of the program. But it's a big ask and I feel like I'd be starting from scratch, with little support. So first things first, and this summer needs to be all about the dissertation and the wedding. And I need to figure out how to turn that into a short mantra so that I can repeat it to myself on the treadmill or in yoga or whenever I start to entertain ideas of taking on more projects.
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.
Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.
Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Poor Rocky is having pretty nasty eye problems this week and weekend -- maybe an ulcer in his right eye that isn't clearing up yet. I took him to the Vet on Wed., who gave me eye drops and told me to take him in ASAP if it got worse. It did, so I took him to the vet ER last night. This picture is us leaving. They gave him a second set of eye drops, saying the first set could be making it worse (great.) but this morning he looks pretty miserable. He hates the lampshade thing, and is completely confused by it. He basically just sits and whines, or bumps into things with it if he tries to move around. But if I take it off he starts pawing at the bum eye. Walking him was pretty comical, if also sad -- he can't sniff stuff to then pee on it, so he sort of bumps it with the lampshade and then looks at me quizzically. I finally took it off so he could take care of business.
So about $400 down so far, and no closer to his eye looking better or knowing what's up with it. And no luck getting work done this weekend. I'm trying distract myself from the pug for a couple of hours until I can decide if it is getting worse and if I should drag him to the vet again. I'm not sure what else they can do until it gets so bad that they'd have to do something involving incisions (poor pug!). Jake's cousin is coming over for a bit, and I have some articles to read to revise one of my dissertation committee member's papers. And I have something I'm supposed to bake for the Daring Bakers monthly challenge thing ... so plenty to do between bouts of staring into Rocky's yucky right eye.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
I can't believe it's been nearly three weeks since I've posted anything. This have been busy: there was a wedding in Houston; Jake's sister Bree came to visit, and then my niece Olivia visited (which was great). It was my birthday. Then there was work -- I found out I got a grant I applied for, which I am excited about. More on that soon. Playing catch-up at work took over this past week.
Olivia and Bree will hopefully send some pictures from their visit soon -- including some that they snuck while I was trying on wedding dresses at a fancy-pants place. Bree really got the ball rolling on the dress thing -- she researched wedding dress places and made me a few appointments, and then the two of them played peanut gallery as I tried a few on. New words: ruching; organza; French bustle. I tried on dresses that were worth more than my car.
The wedding in Houston was lovely, and if possible I will shamelessly steal ideas from it--including if at all possible the photo booth idea that these pictures came from. We had a lot of fun with that photo booth. We also found a Kettle Korn machine in the Sky Mall catalogue that will probably be making the wedding trip. It'll be my contribution to Dairymen's.
But my real obsession since the Leila and TJ wedding are these amazing rosewater pastries that Lelia said were Persian baklava, along with some shortbready-type cookies that were much lighter (albeit definitely heavy on butter and sugar) and may be made with rice or chickpea flour. I have spent several minutes that I will never get back google image-ing "Persian rosewater cookies" with no luck finding an exact match. Here's a really bad picture of some that Leila and her mom sent me home with.
But I did find a Persian bakery in Seattle that I'll check it out as soon as I am over the work catch-up hump, and have recovered from the sugar high I have from Olivia's visit. We made bread and brownies, Jake got me birthday cupcakes, his cousins gave easter/b-day candy and my boss gave me really good chocolate .... i need a break. And I have to get some wedding crap off my list. People are being very generous with offers to help -- Amy, my cousin Gaby in Guayaquil, Jake's sister. I will enlist them.
But the dress thing is apparently time-sensitive. I have tried on dresses ranging from $300 to $5000, at a consignment store, a wedding dress outlet store, the fancy-pants boutique and a tailor/designer who custom makes a dress from a sketch he draws for you. The message from all--the former ballerina-turned high-end gown seller, the mom with the masters in public administration who wanted her own business and hours, the business that helps brides have more eco-friendly weddings -- was "get on it ASAP." Okay okay okay. I'm on it. This cake lady named Joyce in Wisconsin is making similar noises about ordering a cake. Ok.
Monday, March 30, 2009
This month's Daring Baker challenge, my second, was pretty intense: homemade spinach lasagna, with bechamel and meat sauces. Lots more work than I was prepared for, but in the end it was really very good. Because it is just the bechamel and some parmesan in place of heavy ricotta or mozzarella, it was a lot lighter than your typical lasagna. I added an extra egg to the pasta recipe--two eggs was just not enough moisture to absorb all the flour, even with the blanched spinach.
I made the same sauce I always do as opposed to the one DB provided (grind three or four meats together yourself?), and I added an extra egg to the pasta dough. Two eggs was just not enough to hold it together. A fourth probably wouldn't have been a bad idea. It's a nice project if you have a couple of people to help out, but I doubt I'll take this one on again. It's labor intensive even for me. I'm beat. I'm glad to have done it, though--this Daring Bakers business is definitely teaching me about cooking. And is a nice escape from work, which is getting out of hand at the moment.
(Very long) recipes for the pasta and bechamel, and directions for cooking the lasagna, are below. I used the red sauce I always make, so left out the DB's (very long, grind four types of meat yourself) version. The directions are for hand-rolling, which seems insane, but I used a pasta maker. Oddly, the only kitchen appliance Jake owns is a pasta machine.
The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.
All recipes below from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).
Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time
Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.
Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.
Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.
Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.
#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
Preparation: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.
Working by Hand:
- 2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
- 10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
- 3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)
A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.
A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.
A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.
Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.
A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.
Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.
Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.
With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.
Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.
Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!
Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Jake took off for Alaska yesterday (where an exploding volcano was canceling flights) to visit his friend Chad Lindner who just finished the Iditarod and won rookie of the year--his dad Sonny dog sled race. He came in 30thLindner, who is a well-known in the "musher" world, came in 11th. It is a pretty impressive feat. Here's Chad with his team, and the dogs who led him in. I think they're called Mulder and Eli. Chad finished in 12 days, 4 hours, 21 minutes, and 50 seconds, with 13 dogs.
I kind of imagined the sled as a Santa's sled type thing: plush seat covered with animal pelts and a place to stash your thermos. In fact, you stand on runners that are narrow like skis, and have to sort of run alongside when you get knocked off and jump back on. This site has some Iditarod 101-type information if you're interested.
Also in the news is my friend Aimee Molloy, whose book Jantsen's Gift (with Pam Cope) is coming out in April and has gotten some great early press. The book is about the Cope family's work helping children in Vietnam, Cambodia and Ghana--which they found themselves drawn into after the sudden death of Pam's teenage son.
You can learn more about it here -- it's a Reader's Digest "must read"--and pre-order on Amazon. It's a pretty amazing story worth checking out, for sure.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Race and post-race brunch are officially over. We all finished strong, and while I didn't break the 11 minute mark that I was hoping to hit -- I shaved about a minute and a half off my time and finished in 11:16.70! I'm 15th among the women so far (people are racing through the day, so results can change)!
This made me really happy until I just saw that I missed the top ten women finishers by like TWO SECONDS. TWO SECONDS! The stairway is narrow and had I been more aggressive passing folks (damn kids!), things could have been different. Here are the results if you're interested. It's all fun and games until you miss top ten by two seconds.
The famous Henry Wigglesworth, who is always top five and runs it multiple times, was running it seven times this year. Barefoot. With rubber gloves for improved railing grip. We saw him after his third and fifth, and he was fine--and his times were between 8 and ten minutes or so.
In all honestly, I am pretty psyched. We all did great -- Madelyn and Brenda in the 13 range, and Court at 19. All really impressive. It looks like our team is at about 50th place--but they don't differentiate between women and men's teams, and very few teams are all women. So it isn't really a great measure.
They--plus Brenda's husband John, who was our pit crew--just left after a nice brunch, so I'm on a sugar/coffee/mimosa high and my narrow brush with top 10-ness can't bring me down. I am having another mimosa just to make sure.
Brunch was the vegetable casserole last made at Laura's baby shower that is always a hit, and my first stab at sticky cinnamon buns care of Alton Brown.
When I was in DC, my Aunt Sally reminded me that she sent me the Congressional Club Cookbook from 1961, which included recipes from legislator's wives ... my grandfather on my mom's side was a congressman from Cook County, Illinois, and my grandmother Katherine (or "Mrs. Edward R. Finnegan, Wife of Representative" according to the book) submitted some recipes -- including a "dessert pancake" that I was hoping to try out today. It will have to wait for next time, but looks great. She was into sweets, if the cookbook is any indication: S'mores and an ice cream sundae and the dessert pancake were her contributions to the book.
Anyway -- good times. I'm going to go have another mimosa and strategize stairwell passing techniques for '10. XO
Friday, March 20, 2009
I did get some baking done these past few weeks -- I was on a whole wheat and bread kick (or continuing), and made two versions of whole wheat Irish soda bread in honor of March (here's the better of the two, from 101 Cookbooks), along with a doctored (sesame honey whole wheat) version of Beranbaum's Bread Bible flaxseed bread for my friend Nancie that was really *&^#@ing good. I also made some butter dinner rolls that turned out good despite having been dropped on the floor (in the sealed pyrex bowl--no three second rule needed) so that the dough deflated pretty dramatically. They turned out fine, but not in time for the dinner I was trying to pull them together for.
Here's the bread recipe, adapted from The BB:
13 oz (2 2/3 cups) All Purpose FlourHere's a video about shaping a loaf of bread by a guy who has a very involved bread baking blog, in case you're interested. And a couple of shots of completely unrelated loaf of white sandwich loaf I made a few weeks ago, slashed and then baked.
5 oz (1 cup) Whole Wheat Flour
2.5 oz (1/2 cup+1 tablespoon) dark rye flour
2 oz (.5 cup) ground flax seed
1.25 teaspoons instant yeast (about 1.5 teaspoons non-instant kind)
2 tablespoons honey
14.6 oz (1 3/4 cups) warm water
1/2 cup sesame seeds (a bit more would have been fine)
2 teaspoons salt
One 9X5 inch loaf pan.
Whisk together the flours, flaxseed and yeast, and then (making a "well" in the middle of the flour for the honey) use the dough hook to add the honey on low speed. Gradually add the warm water until it forms a dough, scrape down the sides of the bowl and cover for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle the salt on top and ad the sesame seeds, and mix on medium speed for 7 minutes, until the dough is a bit sticky but firm. Scrape the dough into a slightly oiled container, cover and let rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured counter, flattening it to deflate it somewhat, and shape into a loaf. Place it in a slightly oiled loaf pan and let it rise, covered loosely, for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 375 at this point, with a baking sheet in it.
Slash the bread--make a long slit down the top of the dough bread with a razor blade or knife. Place the loaf on top of the hot baking sheet and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until it is golden brown. Turn it after about 25 minutes so it bakes evenly.
Let cool on a rack. While still warm, brush the loaf with melted butter.
There were some other things mixed in as well -- Jake's 30th birthday (big carrot cake that was sort of funny looking but tasted fine ... I made a three tiered white cake, thinking one decade for each tier and realizing later that it looked like it needed a bride and groom on top. Wedding on the brain?).
But mostly it has been all surveys, all the time -- I'm happily over the hundred respondents mark, and there are only a few that seem to be unusable. The big problem is that I am out of stipend cash and now dipping into other expense reserves for printing and data entry and whatnot, so I cut the stipend from $10 to $5. People seem equally as happy. Some of these folks show up with no idea how they might eat lunch that day (after three or four hours spent at the office), or really struggle to buy diapers day to day. Every session someone tells me how grateful they are to be able to go get a sandwich (and of course someone else reeks of booze, but still). I wish I could keep giving $10.
Tomorrow is the Big Climb (!), so I refrained from going to my favorite class at the gym. I always end up with a sore ass, and I figure I should spare myself that tomorrow morning. I am already a bit weak in the knees from an overly ambitious run yesterday. I'll post my time, whatever it is, and come home to host brunch with the folks on my team. Many thanks to those of you who generously contributed to the Leukemia/Lymphoma society on my behalf! I appreciate the support.
Enjoy the weekend -- and wish us luck!
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Last year I finished in a respectable 12 minutes 41 seconds. Times can be found here, if you're interested. Technically, the my team won. But that's only because one guy -- the very fit Henry -- ran it three times in a row. They calculate team times based on the three fastest finishers, and his three times were not only our team's fastest but but faster than everyone else's top three. That's pretty humbling as far as stair-climbing goes.
This year I'm not on Henry's team, but have a great group: there's Madelyn, who is a trainer when she's not dealing with journalism school; Colin, who lives in San Fran now and used to run stairs with Madelyn and I before he moved; Courtenay, who is new to the whole thing and has gone from horrified by the idea to wanting to practice at 7AM; and Brenda, who has climbed Rainier twice and will definitely be a contender. Not like we're trying to win or anything, but it'll be fun and hopefully there will be celebratory drinks afterwards.
Last year I didn't try and raise money for the event's charity-- leukemia and lymphoma research. I do several races of some sort or another every year, and never feel comfortable about asking people to donate. But this year I'd like to try and raise something. A friend from work is about to take on a bone marrow transplant in March. A friend I grew up with's younger brother recently went through a transplant. And my mom recently told me of someone she knows who needs a bone marrow transplant. All are in their 30s or 40s. WTF?
So, if you have the means to do so, please donate a couple of bucks. I don't think there is a minimum for the website. Our team fund raising page is here. It's sparse, but functional.
I am sort of embarrassed to admit this, but I joined this on-line baking group called "Daring Bakers," which I found because I noticed that some of the blogs I ended up on when I googled things like "pumpernickel flour substitute" had references to it. It's basically a group of people with blogs involving baking or food who all bake the same thing once each month. A couple of members choose a recipe for the entire group, and you are supposed to make it at some point during the month and then post it on a designated day (yesterday! I hope I'm not on the outs already). There are some pretty lengthy rules about posting that I am still not entirely clear on. For example, we are required to post the following statement with this month's flourless chocolate cake and ice cream recipes:
The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.There is also a website for members with forums with people fielding questions about baking and cooking.
I was feeing a bit skeptical until I started in on it and looked at this month's host Dharm's blog for guidance on how the cake should look when it came out of the oven (answer: sort of still wet and wobbly in the center). I found out that Dharm is a dad of two cute kids in Kuala Lumpur who recently posted a chocolate layer cake he made from a recipe he found in a 1978 edition of Australian Women's Weekly. How can you not love that? So I am sold again. Plus, I brought the cake and ice cream over to our new friends' house for a (pretty fantastic) pot luck dinner, and it was a hit. I respond very well to positive feedback, and they gave me a lot of it. Hostess Priyanka took this picture for me. I made the cake, plus a coconut ice cream with candied ginger (they gave you leeway on the ice cream part). I had extra heavy cream so we made whipped cream, too--which was unnecessary but always good.
The cake has just three ingredients: chocolate, butter and eggs. The tricky part is beating the egg whites and folding them into the chocolate/egg mixture -- on the first try I let the eggs sit too long and they separated, so I had to beat a new batch and added some cream of tartar that time. It worked. Second tip is to use the best chocolate you can afford -- it will (as the Daring Bakers instructions told me) taste exactly like whatever you use. I went part expensive chocolate, part cheap.
The ice cream is easy enough, but making a custard base always means hovering over the stove for a while. Good study break. I used the opportunity to test out the confection thermometer I've had for years without using (not sure where it came from), and turns out that yes, the custard does seem to thicken considerably somewhere between 150 and 170 degrees. Very cool.
Here are the recipes, the cake from DB and the ice cream adapted from Peggy Fallon's Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts:
Flourless Chocolate Valentino Cake
- 16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped. [I used 1/2 Valrhona from Trader Joe's, and 1/2 nestle chocolate chips; 3/4 semisweet and 1/4 bittersweet]
- ½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter [I accidentally skimped on the butter by those extra 2 tablespoons and didn't notice until just now]
- 5 large eggs separated
Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.
Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.
Coconut Ginger Ice cream
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 14oz can unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 tablespoons candied ginger (for a garnish or to mix in, or more if you want)
So that's my first Daring Bakers challenge. Happy Sunday!
Heat the cream, coconut milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan until the sugar melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat.
Beat the egg yolks, and very slowly whisk in a cup of the warm cream to heat the eggs without cooking them.
Add the egg/cream mixture slowly into the remaining warm cream and coconut milk and return to the heat, stirring regularly until the custard thickens and coats a spoon.
Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Cover and let come to room temperature, and then chill in the fridge for a few hours or up to a couple of days.
When ready to freeze in an ice cream machine, add a teaspoon of vanilla and the diced ginger (if mixing in), combine well and freeze according to your machine's directions. Return to teh bowl and leave in teh freezer for a while if you have the time.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
I almost forgot! Beth has requested Rocky shots twice now -- here are enough for a year. He is fine and snoring as I write this, even though yesterday I only have him one of the two scoops of food he is entitled to for breakfast before I left for work. I'm a bit distracted these days. He forgave me.
Rocky on a road trip:
Rocky in a hat:
Rocky asleep on a chair.
Artistic fuzzy cell phone Rocky shot in Brooklyn:
Rocky too lazy to right himself during a nap after sliding off a pillow and into the space between Jake and the pillow:
Rocky and The Baby:
Rocky at Thanksgiving on Staten Island:
Rocky looking alert and sporty:
Jake and Rocky watching TV:
Rocky showing he loves me more than Jake, and me and Rocky looking similar somehow, I think:
I am sitting here eating (a lot) of granola and trying to figure out what to do with the morning -- go to the gym, work on dissertation stuff, or just stare at the walls and watch Battlestar Galactica online. It has a hectic week, even with Monday's holiday (was that this week?)
I did manage to achieve my granola goal of last week and made a decent batch that I've been plowing through scary fast. Granola is the new Kettle Korn. I can't stop eating it, and it's not even that good. I mean, it's definitely good for what it is -- but at the end of the day it's just granola and I should be able to walk away.
Here's the recipe: I started with Martha's sister Sarah's version of the Eating Well Magazine recipe, but had to use what I had on hand and don't have coconut or maple syrup. So I used honey and molasses instead. This makes me realize that to get the clumpy, carmel-y texture that the store bought stuff probably involves lots and lots of sugar, butter and/or oil. You can definitely add more of that (or anything you like) to this and get away with it. But add anything soft like raisins after everything has cooled.
- 5+ cups old-fashioned oatmeal
- 1 cup chopped raw almonds
- 2/3 cup roasted and salted pepitas
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- big pinch of kosher salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2-3 tablespoons molasses
- teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped dried apple
- 1/2 cup banana chips
On the work front, I started surveying people in earnest yesterday. I'm not 100% sold on the survey, but don't really have any more time to waste fiddling with it and being done is more important than being perfect.
It went ok. People were willing to fill it out (and very happy about the $10 gift card -- I'm not sure I would get too many takers without it), but it is time consuming to have to hunt down folks in groups of 3 or four at a time. Folks come in for a big hour-long group meeting, and then at some point afterwards -- maybe immediately, maybe a few hours later, or maybe another day -- they have another small or one-on-one meeting where they clean up their application information, are given the voucher, and hear more specifics about the program. I need to catch them somewhere in between these appointments. The result being that I have to do a fair bit of leg work for ten surveys or something like that. I am trying to secure a bit of time after the big group presentation to try and grab everyone at once. I really have no idea how I could pull this off if I were not already at the office. Doing this at two other housing authorities will be a big challenge. Then again, if the other housing authorities don't issue any vouchers over the next few months, it's a moot point.
So I have no idea if I'll be able to get a decent sample size over the next few months. It looks like Jake and I will be in NYC for the summer as of sometime in June, and then the wedding is in late September ... I should ideally have the surveying done by the summer. Fat chance. Ideally, it should have been done already. But I am already trying to find funding for a follow-up study in the fall. I think I'll at least have enough of a sample for that, even if I don't hit a number to be representative for the city or county. The goal for the follow-up study would be to find out where folks ended up living, how they found or looked for housing, and their experience looking for housing. Now that I'm talking to people a little bit, I can see the things that a survey just isn't going to pick up. For example, the person who reeked of alcohol and was drunk enough that he forgot what the gift card was when I finally handed it to him. And the woman who says she is moving to Brooklyn but has never been there and has no friends or family there. Both are probably in for an uphill climb.
Ok -- granola and first of many coffees for the day are done. I think I will attempt the gym and running some stairs, since the Big Climb race is next month and I'd like to beat my time from last year. 69 flights of stairs up to the top of the Columbia Tower! More on that later.
Friday, February 13, 2009
On a separate note, I finally did a pre-test of the dissertation survey yesterday, officially kicking off the data-collection phase once and for all! whew.
It was uneventful, which is good... none of my big concerns seem to be problems. I was worried it would be 1) too long (50 questions), too 2) confusing and/or 3) poorly worded so that questions and response options meant different things to different people. But all seemed well, aside from a couple of surprise points. For example, when I say "do you have transportation to visit housing" I mean to ask Do you have a way to get to apartments you are interested in possibly renting? But three of five people thought I wanted to know if they had transportation to get the the Housing Authority office we were sitting in and were confused because, well, there we were sitting in it. Good to know. I also found that in my effort not to bait people into responses, I was beating around the bush and not getting to the point. Hmmm. Rings true for my personal life, not surprisingly.
Between work, the consulting project and the pre-test, the week was pretty draining. So when Martha N came over for dinner last night she found me still in the sweaty clothes I biked home from work in (big hill between home and work) and half-assing dinner prep. I accidentally added a cup less flour that I needed for rosemary feta focaccia, and overcooked the chard and veggies I was adding to pasta. It was fine, but all a bit off. And soft. Not that she's holding it against me. At some point I remembered that there was leftover carrot ginger soup in the fridge, so at least that made up for the mediocre showing. I used pureed leftover rice in it, which made it creamy and thick without having to resort to actual cream. I don't really like the taste (aftertaste?) of cream in soups and savory things. And I f-ing love to use that immersion blender.
It turned out a bit sweet but with a bit of a kick to it from the ginger. Nothing too much for MN, who can't deal with spicy at all. Not even strong mints. Here's a picture of the last of the soup--today's lunch--with the weird under-floured feta rosemary focaccia.
And here's the soup recipe, more or less. I'm guessing at measurements:
2 lbs carrots (two weeks from the CSA -- more or less woudl be fine)
1 bunch of small white turnips
2 tablespoons olive oil
About 1 inch or so of ginger
1 chopped onion
1-2 tablespoons cumin
1-2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
salt & pepper
About 3/4 cup cooked rice (I had jasmine from trader joe's)
6-8 cups chicken and/or vegetable stock
Slice the turnips and carrots and set aside. Sautee the onion until soft, add the diced ginger, and then the tomato paste, cumin and paprika, and salt. Add the stock. Let it come to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the carrots and turnips are really soft. Add some more salt and pepper if you want it. keep about a cup of the broth to add to the rice, and then use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Mix the rice and broth, and do the same. Add the rice mixture to the soup.
It was definitely better the next day, and with some feta cheese and parsley on top.
Happy president's weekend! My goal for the weekend, aside from getting work done, is to try making granola, which I hear is easy. Until then, I'm off to the coffee shop to re-word some survey questions.