Friday, January 30, 2009

Laura's baby shower and Sunday dinner

Last weekend Martha N and I co-hosted a baby shower brunch for the lovely mom-of twin boys-to-be Laura, followed by dinner for six at my place later that night. It actually worked out quite well, even if I was feeling goofy by the time dessert rolled around that night. I drank kind of a lot of leftover champagne between brunch and dinner, which no doubt had something to do with that. But the day (and food) went over well, Laura seemed happy and it was great to meet her friends and family. And socializing was a nice break from a long, overextended work week.

I've been waiting on this post because I didn't take any pictures and was hoping to get my hands on someone else's. I seriously need to invest in a new camera. Martha N made great looking (and tasting) sticky buns and a pumpkin cake, and some friends of Laura's brought all the stuff for tamales -- yet this is the only picture I have of Laura and its not even from the shower. She's taking part in an MLK day celebration at the school where she teaches, I think. Or possibly a pro-compassion rally (which has probably happened in Seattle at some point or another)? Please let me know if you have any good camera suggestions, because I am ready to invest (modestly).

Brunch needed to be easy to make and to eat. The tamale-makers needed to spread out in the kitchen (we used every kitchen item of mine and some they brought with them) and Martha N needed the oven. So something that could be put together in advance and/or in one pan. And I was really just providing space and logistical support -- Martha N took care of most of the details, including helping re-arrange the furniture so we could all sit and taking me to Pike Market early Sunday for tulips and coffee. Martha N is pretty great.

The tamales (half with chicken and kale, half just refried beans and cheese) were also great. Laura took home a few freezer bags full for when then babies come (twins! boys! holy crap), and--57-step process notwithstanding--they're pretty straightforward if you have strong leader ship (enter Laura's friend Hilary, who is originally from Texas and was elbow deep in masa at one point). Definitely a nice twist for something like a shower and 110x better than other things I've heard of (melting candy bars to look like baby poop? Tasting baby food and guessing which is the chicken and peas?). At least once you get past the amount of lard in them (giant tub of it), which I may never be able do.

For my end I found a couple of recipes on 101 Cookbooks, which is a great and good-looking blog full of healthy, simple recipes. They tend to call for a ton of ingredients, but many are staples you may already have. You can search by ingredient, which is perfect for when I have some CSA box item I want to use -- in this case, bananas. I ended up with Roasted Banana Bread with rum-soaked raisins (I've been into rum raisin things lately--like in leftover bread and pasta puddings, following Mark Bittman's suggestions). I followed the recipe almost exactly, except that I added an extra banana, skipped the pumpkin seeds and put some salted pepitas on top instead. The bread is pretty, really light (cake flour does that trick), not overly sweet, and has a richer banana flavor than most. I had mine with strawberry preserves and was pleased with myself.

I also made a vegetable and rice casserole/gratin thing that was a hybrid of a few recipes I've tried from the NY Times and 101 Cookbooks. Another good option for leftover rice or veggies. I used arborio rice because I think holds up better than other types of rice, but I bet any rice or grains would work. I'm thinking spelt might be worth trying. I used chard, mushrooms and onions--but here too I bet pretty much any vegetables would work. I meant to throw in the chopped chard stems but forgot. Some baby shower-ers asked for the recipe, so here it is:

Mushroom, chard and onion risotto casserole

2 tbs olive oil
12 oz mixed mushrooms, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 bunch chard, blanched and chopped
3-4 cups cooked risotto (arborio) rice (cooked in vegetable stock)
2 large eggs
1 cup lowfat cottage cheese
3/4 cup sour cream
2 oz grated gruyere
2 oz grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
tarragon and parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cook the mushrooms in olive oil until they start to soften. Add the onion, cooking until they start to turn translucent. Add the garlic and a bit of salt and pepper and stir for a minute or so longer, and then add the cooked rice and the chard. Set it aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs a bit and then add the sour cream, cottage cheese and grated cheeses -- hold on to some of the parmesan for the top, or add more if you want to. I think I added a bit more salt and pepper at this point, but the sour cream has a lot of flavor so I don't think you need much.

Combine the rice/veggie and the egg/cottage cheese mixes, and pour it into a decent-sized baking or casserole dish. I used a silicone brownie dish sprayed with a little olive oil. You want the mixture to be thick and thoroughly wet but not soupy. I used a square (8x8?) silicone brownie pan.

Bake at 350 for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until it looks bubbly and set. I put it under the broiler briefly to brown the top. Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting into it. I turned it out onto a cookie sheet and then pretty-side up onto a wooden cutting board with some chopped tarragon and parsley on top.

By the time we cleaned up from the shower, it was time to think about dinner. Everything was from recipes I found on-line, and I didn't fuss with them:

A big pot of French onion soup (onions came from the CSA last week), a green salad, and the easy focaccia toasted with cheese to top the soup with. And lemon bars with whipped cream from an Ina Garten recipe. I like her. Jake made a couple of steaks because he felt we were protein-deprived and we had some in the freezer. I'm eating almost no meat these days (but use stock or bullion all the time...not sure what that pans out to geo-agro-politically).

The soup is hearty and satisfying, and I pretty much followed the recipe except with more beef stock than chicken, leftover shower champagne instead of sherry, and dried herbs instead of fresh. But be warned: the first hour of cooking the onions in the oven is pretty intense fumes-wise. Jake and I felt a little queasy and went for a walk to get some air (I may have just been tired).

The lemon bars are great because you don't have to cook the custard. I was skeptical, but it turned out creamy, kind of spongy, and really rich. I thought it was almost too rich, but the whipped cream helped cut the sweet-tartness. I used a small round cake pan and a (silicone--it's sticky stuff!) cupcake pan for individual servings that folks took home. The only down side was that the crust didn't hold up in the fridge overnight (yes, I had some for breakfast). That might have been from me overworking the dough because I suck at shortbready things. But I think I would use a graham cracker crust next time, which is harder to botch and still pretty tasty.

Ok -- that's all for that. Thanks for the potato ideas, but I solved the potato problem: it suddenly occurred to me that I could give them away instead of trying to force myself to consume them. Duh. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

IRB, a fetching cat and a call for potato recipes!

The IRB approved my project! This is good! Or at least feels like progress.

IRB down; pre-tests and finalizing steps with housing authorities and legal departments and whatnot still to go. The grant application that sucked up my time is behind me, and Jake is packed off to NYC for the weekend so I can theoretically get a ton of work done. And I have about 12 lists of things to do all ready to go. Feels promising.

I'm off to a coffee shop to hopefully plow through some list items for a couple of hours, and to avoid procrastinating by attempting to do something with the 5 pounds of potatoes--two or three weeks worth--I have taunting me from their perch in the kitchen. I already wasted time by taking a picture of the stupid potatoes. I really need help with potato ideas. Anything you like to do with them?! Please send them my way.

In the meantime, here is my friend Shannon's cat Pumpkin. Pumpkin fetches hair ties. Seriously. I've been bugging her to put the fetching cat on You Tube, and she finally did. I am also impressed with her video editing skills.

Send potato ideas!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sweet thing(s) giveaway

My friend Martha N's crafty sister Sarah, of the crafty sweet thing(s) blog is celebrating her 200th blog post by giving away a sample of her felted art. She's even been on Martha Stewart (yes, lots of Marthas going on) and never fails to impress.

Long ice cream post for Lisa's birthday!

Today is Lisa's birthday! Or maybe it was yesterday? I'm bad with birthdays. And she's in the UK, so it is tomorrow there already even if her birthday is today over here. In any case, she is special and this is her special day!

Here's me and Lisa in Des Moines, Iowa two and a half years ago -- this is the last time I saw Lisa, I think. Which is shocking considering the amount of time we used to spend/waste together. She has created an entire new person since then (see Gillian!), and I can't wait to meet her.

Lisa has specifically requested ice cream recipes to use with her new ice cream machine. We have had several conversations about the glories of ice cream makers. I love mine, even if it is in the cabinet now because I have no room for the bowl in the freezer. But as an incentive to make vs. buy, we were just informed by QFC that some peanut butter cup ice cream we bought was recalled for the salmonella scare. Yuck.

So I'm no expert, but here are some ice cream recipes for Lisa. The ones I've tried and liked so far are:

Berry and vodka sorbet
Pumpkin rum-raisin ice cream

I also direct you to the chocolate cashew ice cream I posted a few weeks ago.

And then by request, Plain Vanilla. I have not actually made them but I'll pass them to you and you can tell me how they go.

First, here are some rambling things I picked up by trial and error:

There are a couple of approaches to ice cream. First, the slightly challenging custard base with tons of eggs and time on the stove, then time chilling, before it can go in the freezer. So delayed gratification but richer and fattier and creamier and probably a crowd-pleaser. Second, the completely idiot-proof all milk and cream no-cooking involved kind (unless you steep something in the cream, which is always a good idea). It's quicker and easier, but doesn't keep well and can be kind of icy. There's apparently an additive (pectin? gelatin? Rennet?) that you can use to cut the icy/crystalline quality, but I haven't tried yet. Too lazy. And then there is the skimp-on-fat frozen yogurt or low fat kind. The texture changes with frozen yogurt--particularly if you use no milk at all, or no fat at all. Nonfat frozen yogurt sticks to the ice cream maker bowl, but ice cream does not. And the frozen yogurt doesn't freeze as smoothly. If I'm making it for me, I use plain non- or lowfat yogurt. If it's for anyone else, I use the full fat kind or add cream or whole milk.

For all recipes, it's a good idea to chill the mix in the fridge before you freeze it, so that the flavors come together. They can sit for a couple of hours to a couple of days and be fine. A tiny bit of booze is also really nice in ice cream (like, a tablespoon or two) -- particularly in sorbet. It keeps it from getting too hard, and helps it be creamy. But not too much or it won't freeze right. Finally, all machine instructions and recipes seem to say that you should churn it in the maker and then transfer it to a bowl and let it sit in the freezer for a while to firm up. I sometimes do this and sometimes I can't wait. Seems like the custard ones need it while the yogurt really doesn't. Lower fat kinds are better fresher and softer, I think.

So here goes:

1. Pumpkin Rum Raisin (adapted from Peggy Fallon's Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts)

I made this one for my neighbors and they liked it. But it got kind of grainy from the pumpkin after a day or two in the freezer, so is best eaten pretty fast.

1/2 cup dark rum
1 cup dark raisins
2 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 can pumpkin (unsweetened -- not pie filling)
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
pinch of salt

Bring the rum and raisins to a boil, remove from the heat, and let soak for an hour.

Whisk the sugar and the creams and salt together to dissolve the sugar, then whisk in the pumpkin and spices. Taste it to see if you like it sweeter, but I can't imagine you do. Chill it for a couple of hours. Follow your machines instructions -- adding the raisins and the rum when you are in the final few minutes.

2. Berry Vodka Sorbet

I used frozen mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries and blackberries) for this, and it was great. Straining the stuff to get rid of the seeds and skins is a pain, though. I bet you could do this with other fruit -- I've been meaning to try pureed canned peaches (without adding sugar if they are packed in syrup), and fresh ripe mango might be nice. The zest makes a big difference, and I bet other citrus juice or zest swapped in would work well. If you don't have juice or cider of any kind (maybe a berry juice might be good) you probably want to add some sugar.

1 to 1.5 pounds mixed berries, fresh or frozen.
3/4 cup apple cider or juice
3/4 cup maple syrup or sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
grated lemon zest (about one lemon)
1-2 tablespoons vodka

Blend the berries with the apple juice in a blender or use an immersion blender in a big bowl. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds and skins. Stir in the maple syrup, lemon juice, salt, lemon zest, and vodka. Freeze according to the machine's instructions.

Long post! Here's a picture to break it up: This (really scary) monkey stole a cookie from me in Gilbraltar, on a trip that Amy and I took a couple of years ago. She tried to get me to pose with the monkey but I would not. Lisa REALLY LIKES monkeys, and also likes the Pixies quite a bit. She once made me promise to do an interpretive dance to the Pixies song This Monkey's Gone to Heaven at her funeral -- wearing a flesh-colored body suit. Clearly both the request and promise were made after a few too many drinks. I have never understood what made her come up with the body suit.

3. Vanilla, two ways (cooked and no cooking, both from the Ice Cream book noted above)

A. Cooked Fancy vanilla

1 vanilla bean
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon good vanilla extract

Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds out into a saucepan with the milk, cream and the vanilla bean itself. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Add the sugar and salt, and return the pan to medium heat for about 5 minutes, until it is hot.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks. Gradually and slowly whisk in about a cup of the hot milk mixture -- slowly enough to heat the eggs without cooking them. Add the egg and milk mixture to the pan with the rest of the cream and cook slowly, on low heat, until it starts to thicken into a custard. It should coat the back of a spoon. Don't let it boil.

Strain the custard through a sieve and remove the vanilla bean. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for at least 6 hours. When you are ready to make it, stir in the vanilla, and freeze according to the machine's directions. Transfer to a freezer container and let it firm up for another couple of hours.

B. No Cook Plain Vanilla

1.5 cups whole milk
1.5 cups heavy cream
pinch of salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix all, dissolving the sugar. Let sit and chill for as long as you can, and then freeze according to the machine's directions. The recipe says freeze for three hours after you have churned it.

But in a pinch this past summer, I'd take whatever yogurt I had in the fridge -- generally vanilla or plain -- and add some milk or cream (1/2 cup? a cup?), a touch of vanilla, and some maple syrup or sugar to taste. You can add some berries at the end if you want -- or cook down some frozen or fresh berries with some sugar and/or a touch of lemon juice and put it in or on top. Easy and quick and good when Gilly is too cranky to let you deal with custard.

Finally, I have a cup of coconut milk in the fridge, some full fat yogurt, and a couple of almost over-ripe bananas. I think I will put them together with some sugar and vanilla and see what happens and then let you know next year.

I hope this helps! Happy birthday Lisa! And congrats on the new job. I hope you had a great day, and have many more great ones this year. I hope we even get to have a couple together. Much love.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama countdown completed!

I'm sitting in the UW bookstore coffee shop, after a packed day that kicked off--like many people on the West Coast's day did--with the inauguration.

Against all of my natural instincts to avoid crowds and early morning activities I made my way to a public screening (7:45 AM!) nursing a really bad cup of coffee with soy milk to meet Jake's cousins and aunt. We ended up in pew-like seating with two giant screens and an excited, earnest, flag-waving, teary-eyed, standing up and sitting down whenever the moderator in DC said to, really happy bunch of Seattleites.

I remained pretty groggy and blase about the whole thing until I 1) saw Sasha and Malia's purple and pink coats and then 2) heard the announcer say that Aretha Franklin would be singing and saw her now world-famous and really spectacular hat. In all seriousness, I think that hat sparked an internal slide show of the whole story of the past and the future and everything in between. Did you know she sang at MLK's funeral? What a great moment and the perfect hat. And look at her here in 1960.

In an odd turn of events, both Jake and I ended up interviewed on tv! Jake about the budget cuts and tuition increases on local TV. And his aunt Maggie, cousins Courtenay and Kristen and I were interviewed by a Canadian TV station about how Americans feel about the inauguration and future of the country ("Do you all really feel hope?"). Apparently TV Global Canada BC figured we were a good representation of America. They snagged us because Jake's aunt Maggie was taking a picture of his cousins pointing to today's Seattle Times while standing in front of a Pike Market sign. I am trying to dig up the footage on line. Although it should probably stay buried.

I did manage to meet with a professor to talk about dissertation stuff today. I won't bore you with the details, but the biggest take away for me was the general assurance that Yes, at a certain point you need to just go ahead and dive in and collect data and see what you get. And No, you never quite feel ready to do that. This particular professor is young and a freshly-minted PhD, so is very close to the process. I'm finding out that, as with nearly everything, there's a confidence game involved. At a certain point I have to be secure and trust (convince?) yourself that you have thought through things enough, done enough leg work and vetted things enough to pull the trigger and get what you need out of it. I have work to do, as always, but I am getting to that point.

Anyway -- happy inauguration day! Things are a little better today than they were yesterday. Which is exactly what I told TV Global Canada BC.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sarah's Kale Salad

My neighbor Sarah got back to me with her kale salad dressing/marinade recipe:

2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs Bragg's
1 Tbs lemon juice

Hers was less sweet than the other, which makes sense, and was really delicious.

The vegan detox-y limps along. Last night we went to a big potluck, which turned out to be less of a challenge than I thought but had some pitfalls. I stuck to the more raw-looking things and think that went fine, but the wheat avoidance was harder. Jake handled our contribution and made a pasta salad that he is literally in love with, so I had to try some lest I deeply offend. It was pretty great. Farfalle bowties with green and calamata olives, artichoke hearts, diced carrots, mushrooms that were marinated in the liquid that the artichokes came in, some green onions and parsley. He's great at dressing salads and just throws in olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper and some garlic salt, but it seems slightly different each time. Good work Jake! So-so work for me on the no processed and/or wheat-less front, but I'm ok with it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Victory kale and froyo self-sabotage

I accidentally ate an enormous frozen yogurt at Costco yesterday -- shown in this picture I found on line. Note the two spoons, barely visible, but suggesting it is enormous enough for two. I ate it myself, thoroughly sabotaging my detox-ish vegan/no processed foods thing. Amy was not impressed, and is kicking ass on her own detox-ish diet (she's going all raw!). Granted, I have no clear rationale for pursuing it other than wanting to know that I can walk away from cake if I choose to, but so it goes.

Now I'm back on the horse in a big way, and doing better with it today. So far, a kiwi, an apple with almond butter (natural, nothing added and all that), kale salad, and some pumpkin seeds. Plus coffee and soy milk, of course. I plan on keeping it up until I feel sufficiently cleansed and/or satisfied with myself and/or bored.

Victory on the kale salad front is giving me confidence: I found a recipe on line that somewhat mimicked what my neighbor Sarah came up with and shared with me. I would have used her recipe exactly, except that she told it to me and I then forgot it. She gave me a way to remember the proportions of the ingredients ("just remember two-two-one"), but I then forgot which ingredient got what and couldn't remember the third ingredient. I think she said she uses tamari, lemon, and Bragg's vinegar. So I googled and found the cutely-named I Heart Kale blog, with a good-looking marinade (a couple of them, if you poke around on the blog a bit), albeit with a lot more stuff in it than Sarah's. I didn't have all of the ingredients so I winged it--here's what I did, adapted from theirs and Sarah's:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tamari
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Salt and pepper

Remove the stems and thinly chop a bunch of kale (the more raggedy looking kind--Lacinato?) ,and toss it in the dressing. Let it sit for at least an hour -- my neighbor says overnight sometimes, depending on the temperature and the type of kale ... just let it sit until it gets soft. I had it with cherry tomatoes and tofu last night and it was great--some grated carrots would be great too. Any add-ons would be great, really. Amy gave me a promising recipe for collard greens which I'll try tonight, just to make sure I have greens at the ready for the next few days.

As I was looking for an image of the frozen yogurt, I noticed a headline on my Seattle news feed about the University of Washington in Seattle not accepting new students for the Spring semester, in an effort to save money. Not a huge surprise--it's been floated as a likely step. About 300 kids affected. Jesus. It's in part, apparently, because they are over-enrolled by about 1000 students.

As background, Washington State, which has no income tax, is facing something like a $5 to $6 billion budget deficit. The Governor put together a budget that cuts vital services for the poor (think housing, health care, and the cash subsidy for people with no income and no ability to generate income), and just about everything else. UW Seattle is facing something like a 15% budget cut -- and already receives less than its due from the state. It's really pathetic. UW is the state's premier institution, and in bad economies it should be easier, not harder, for people to go to school--particularly their state school. My mom has spent her career in the public university system, so the buckets of Kool Aid I have been fed on the importance of public education to both individuals and the public good inevitably taints my views on this stuff. But come on, they can't figure out a way to let 300 more kids start this spring? The nine or so months before they can start in the fall can be an eternity to someone who is struggling to make the school thing work. Yes, UW and everyone else is looking a big, ugly, cuts -- but even on a shoestring budget they should prioritize keeping kids in classes.

Ok, rant over -- I'm off to have coffee with a friend of a friend. I'll bring a snack so I don't get tempted by the baked goods, and hope for the best. Happy Saturday!

Friday, January 16, 2009

I guess Friday is the new Tuesday.

Turns out taking on two extra side jobs the week that busy season starts at work makes for hectic days. I'm beat.

I'm looking at these next two hectic weeks as an opportunity to schedule things that need to be done for the dissertation once the IRB re-surfaces. Like the pre-test for the survey, and the details for possibly adding a third housing authority, and the outline of tables and descriptive work I need to do for the first paper. Adding a third housing authority has pros and cons: hitting a respectable sample size seem more doable, but I'm not sure that program differences would make the populations too dissimilar (and the logistics too complicated). But in general, more tends to be better with these things.

On an up note, I confirmed with the IRB that they did in fact receive and process my application, and I should be hearing from them soon. I cold-called the first name on the staff directory list, and happened to hit a really helpful person. "You'll hear back soon" probably just means they'll request additional materials, but at least it's in the works.

What I am really psyched about is this kale salad that my neighbor brought by! Raw kale salad! Chopped Kale (stems removed), basically marinated in tamari, oil and lemon juice. Who knew? I am in love, and heading out to get some kale and try it myself as soon as I post this.

It's great timing, because my friend Amy and I are trying out sort of a makeshift detox or cleanse diet for a few days, just to try and rid ourselves of the holiday overload. This is her very cute nephew Easy in his very cute Cleveland Indians outfit. I like that he looks a little bit gangsta here, for some reason.

I say makeshift because the official "detox" diets all seem pretty extreme or silly. Cayenne and lemon? But the idea of sticking to fresh stuff and avoiding processed foods, even just for a couple of days, is really appealing. Amy is already vegan (albeit slowly introducing fish and dairy this past year), and is dropping wheat, alcohol, sugar and caffeine -- but I'm trying to avoid dairy and meat. Really I just want to eat only what I make myself, or fresh foods. But I'm not even thinking about dropping coffee. No way, man. I'll stick soy milk in the stuff if need be, but I'm still unconvinced about soy at the moment and trying to figure out what I think about it. When I read the box, there always seems to be ingredients that have nothing to do with soy. I am hoping Amy can give me some wisdom on that.

Back to work! Next post is lard bread (seriously this time) and kale salad.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How cute is this? I couldn't resist posting it (and I learned how to post video!). I snagged it from my friend Martha's sister Sarah's crafty cute blog.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Belated Christmas recipes

My neighbor and her very adorable son Noah just stopped by and gave my a glass of excellent carrot juice she made, which I think gave me a burst of energy that I am hoping will help me churn out this recipe post. Otherwise I'll probably lose track of where I put them and have to hunt for them next time I want to make them.

So this is what I remember from baking at this point:

Torres' chocolate mudslide cookies
Chocolate cashew ice cream
Anisette toast
Cranberry orange bread
Pumpkin chocolate chip bread
Lard bread
Caramel pecan pie

And then there was potato leek soup and chicken stew with CSA veggies, but I think I just threw stuff in a pot for those. I think I'll post the ones I found on-line today, and then the ones I dug out of books or adapted from somewhere next time. The lard bread in particular took some effort to find.

Some of the baked goods went to pre-holiday dinners, some to the pug-sitter's family, some to Christmas eve dinner at Jake's cousin's house, and a bit to a friend who had a baby recently.

The anisette cookies, however, are mine alone. They are rock hard and perfect for dipping in coffee, and no one likes them but me. It took a while to find a recipe I liked, which oddly enough is apparently from a Sopranos cookbook, of all places. Who knew? There are multiple Sopranos cookbooks, it seems. Most of the other recipes I found for biscotti used butter or oil to make them more tender, and had lots of nuts -- not the hard, dry cookies I was looking for. This one has a lot of eggs but nothing that would make them fall apart in your coffee or somewhere between your mug and mouth (landing on your laptop). I added about a teaspoon more of anisette extract than the recipe called for, plus about a half a teaspoon of vanilla.

The chocolate cookies were a last minute find, because Jake's cousin requested something chocolate. But I've been hoping to make the ice cream for quite a while and never got around to it.

The cookies have a very official name, Jacques Torres' Chocolate Mudslide Cookies, and are all over the internet. That Torres has marketed the hell out of them, with good reason. You can apparently even buy a mix on Amazon, and they come with their very own video demonstration that I just watched now but wasn't too interesting. I thought the ice cream and cookies went really well together, even though both were really rich. But I had some mishaps with both. I ended up burning a batch of cookies because I was toying with the time (his recipe is for large cookies, and I made small, so if you try that cook them for like 10 minutes, tops), so I kept the slightly burnt ones shown in the photo--I froze them before we left and we've been picking at them since we got back. The ice cream didn't have enough time to freeze well, and we threw in some marshmallows that were on hand but turned out to be really stale. Not that the stale marshmallows stopped us from eating it. FYI: stale mini marshmallows in ice cream sort of pop when you bite them.

The real winner from the cookies is Torres' tip of spreading cookie dough onto a cookie sheet and chilling it, and then scoring or cutting the dough so that all the cookies are the same size. What a good idea. You could just cut them and then freeze them--which is so much easier than scooping out dozens of cookies. I've been freezing cookie dough already in balls, so that you can just put a couple on a tray frozen.

The cranberry orange bread was inspired by the pound of cranberries I got from the CSA and the really nice looking photo on the blog I found it on when I googled for cranberry recipes. Everything looks really beautiful on her blog, but this is the first thing I've tried. It tasted great and was a nice change from all the rich food going around, but I think it was a bit soggy and didn't hold up all that well. I'll leave out some of the juice, buttermilk and/or butter next time. The glaze was great, though. A keeper.

The other stuff will come next time. I'm off to walk the pug (who snuck into the neighbor's apartment and ate their cat's food, the little shit), and to hopefully get some work done. Happy weekend!

Tuesday's post on Friday

What a busy week. I took on two side consulting jobs (both very short-term, and I feel kind of guilty about taking them on -- but this is a recession/depression, right? Time to start saving for when I join the ranks of the unemployed?) So now I'm two posts in the hole -- the dissertation post that should have happened Tuesday, and today's recipe-related post. Thankfully, I have things for both--dissertation first.

I would like to note that I write this instead of watching All My Children, which is my usual procrastination tool -- so this is a victory of grand proportions! I would also like to add a photo, since posts without photos are lame. This is a grainy cell phone shot of Rocky, in his fantastic new sweater (Go Huskies!) knit by his foster mom while we were out of town. You can't see his face in this because he was intensely trying to pull us back to Elizabeth's house when it became clear to him that we were taking him home and she was not coming.

Anyway, I'm narrowing in on the research questions for the survey-related paper (and feeling the specter of all the data work I need to do creeping up behind me). A couple of things are pretty obvious: looking into what people are thinking when they apply for the voucher program and when they actually get the voucher in hand, and to how they perceive their options.

But a couple of things are less obvious -- like, how to look at outcomes themselves. For the cross-MSA paper (my dissertation consists of two papers -- here's a summary) I'm comparing where voucher people end up with where non-voucher people end up: other poor people who don't have a voucher, the average renter, and the locations of subsidized housing units. MSA's are the census data term for metropolitan areas. They are pretty big and include a whole commuting area as opposed to just city boundaries.

But for the survey paper I'm looking at the possible outcomes for voucher people themselves. There are a few possible outcomes that they can have. They can use it to stay in their current apartment ("leasing in place," and cutting their housing expenses), they can move someplace really close, like the same neighborhood (I'm calling this a "status quo move"), and they can move to a new neighborhood ... or city, or state. I'm calling this a "potential mobility move." And then, of course, people can fail to find housing at all with their voucher--called "failure leasing up," generally.

These are the things that can be measured and potentially modeled. First, what is the success rate for participants, and does it vary by group (race, income, family size)? Second, what does mobility look like -- leasing in place vs. status quo moves vs. mobility moves? Again by groups. And finally, for potential mobility moves, how many result in significant changes in neighborhood quality? I'll have both the full population of a few thousand households to look at, as well as the smaller sample of people who fill out surveys and tell me about their plans. Yikes.

This is getting long --so here's another photo: Jake an my feet with snowshoes on them. Snowshoes are intense.

So let's say some do move somewhere "new," i.e., in a different census tract from where they started (my back of the envelope numbers look like about two thirds of people move somewhere, about two thirds of those moves are to new neighborhoods). The question becomes whether there are changes in neighborhood quality--does the potential for mobility actually result in mobility? How do you characterize quality so that you can know?

I am very far from the first person to think about how to quantify neighborhood quality. But it is never easy. Poverty rates are the fall-back choice for most research -- but in Seattle, the poverty rates really don't vary so dramatically from census tract to census tract that you can pick up differences that seem particularly meaningful. I could be wrong on that, and I'll find out soon enough, but other "quality of life" indicators are probably more insightful. So maybe looking at crime rates? School quality (test scores?)? Access to transportation? Park space per capita? I need to get up to speed on local data that could be useful.

Then comes the question of modeling outcomes as opposed to measuring them. What that means is taking, for example, whether or not a household moved to a new neighborhood or not as the outcome of interest (literally a yes/no, 1/0 outcome) and estimating the impact of differences in things like the household's race, income, pre-voucher location, PHA that issued the voucher on the probability that a household moved or not. A household's likelihood of moving or not moving is examined as a function of household characteristics, the housing authority that issued the voucher, and any other things that people theorize as important to people's options and outcomes. You have the outcomes for each household, and you have a range of information about each household, and then you plug them in (with a whole lot of crap in between) to a formula, basically.

I am pretty daunted by this -- all of the econometrics freaks me out and is part of why this all takes me so long. But I think desparation to be done will win out over intimidation by statistics.

Next steps, then, are to keep at it. Start test-running the survey to see if it works. And go back to playing with the data for the first paper. I reached out to a third housing authority to see if they are interested in letting me survey their folks -- I'm afraid that one of my current two won't be issuing many vouchers this year, and it could be interesting to see what a different area might bring. I'm also hoping that conversations with my committee members and a very sharp and nice professor at UW who has offered to give feedback will help stuff gel. This all feels like wading through sand half the time.

Ok! Too long first 2009 dissertation post! Seems fitting, since dissertations are generally too long, I guess. Back to work.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Back from the North Woods


It's been a long lapse since my last post. We've been to Minnesota and Wisconsin, with a brief snowy day-trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to see Lake Superior. We've seen my family and Jake's family, had many big meals, and learned just how cold the Midwest can get.

My parents, brother, and nieces Olivia and Julia holed up in a cabin for a week (the picture is dust on the frozen lake outside our cabin), where we spent most of our time putting on layers and then peeling them off again. The cabin is on 8,000 acres of property owned by Dairymen's--a private club that was started by dairy farmers from Illinois about a hundred years ago. My mom's grandfather was one of those dairy people (he shod horses for the delivery trucks), and she spent her summers there as a kid. It's definitely more rustic than resort (much of the land is nature preserve), but there are staff who keep the cabins stocked with wood and the cabins themselves are big, modern and warm. Even at capacity -- 120 people in 40 or so cabins lining two big lakes -- you could go a full day without crossing paths with anyone else. We fell into a pattern quickly: each morning and afternoon involved a couple of hours of some snow-related activity, and each evening some cooking and card-playing or movie-watching.

The seven of us went through an amazing amount of food. Off the top of my head, in seven days we went through:

6 lbs ground beef
5 lbs stew beef
1 5lb chicken
1 lb beans
4 lbs pasta
98 oz canned tomatoes
4 lbs carrots
3 lbs onions
2 gallons of milk
3 dozen eggs

That's just the start of it. We had some leftovers and unused stuff that I think made its way to the local firehouse. I did a bunch of cooking but not much baking aside from pecan pies by request from my niece Olivia, who really did most of the work. We tried making a maple syrup pecan pie (we had about a liter of syrup), but it was only mediocre. The caramel version was the crowd favorite, for sure.

But now I'm back in Seattle, and not particularly looking forward to returning to real life and avoiding thinking about all the work I neglected for the last three weeks (a month?). I made one half-hearted attempt at work the other day, but then we needed to make dinner and then my laptop was needed to watch Seabuscuit. It was out of my hands.

Jake and I also decided to investigate doing a commitment ceremony up at Dairymen's, maybe in the fall. I have no idea if it is possible, but put out some feelers with the staff up there. My mom would be thrilled, it's convenient for Jake's family in Minneapolis, it is self-contained and comfortable, and I think it would be a really relaxing time for anyone who made it out. But all that will have to be dealt with later. Here is the same lake in the late summer.

I hope you've all had a great and safe holiday, and that you have a happy and healthy and fun-filled 2009. I really miss being close to friends and family, and I hope that 2009 brings lots of togetherness opportunities. Maybe even a wedding. Or a graduation party!

Going forward I also hope to do shorter, more regular, posts, with some sort of structure. I'm thinking recipes on Fridays and dissertation updates on Tuesdays. A holiday recipes pdf will be the first Friday recipes post, since a few people have asked my for those.

Happy new year! Much love.