A late 'Merry Christmas', and then I'm off to Chicago

Well, this is yet another week away from the cornfield. I worry a little about the plants I've left behind, but two of the three are cacti, and the third is ivy, so hopefully they'll all be alive when I return.

Although I've been unable to water my plants on a weekly basis, I have been able to do plenty of baking and cooking, repeating the potato cheese bread I made over Thanksgiving and whipping up plenty of cookies for my family. After all, this week the calories don't count. Or, at least, that's what I tell myself as I promise to start swimming laps with my friends in January.

And, in keeping with tradition, I made my own project cookies, or, at least, something from the book. So in addition to all the other junk food we already had, we now have gingerbread white chocolate blondies (26). These are basically like chocolate chip cookie bars, but with all the gingerbread spices: ground ginger, cloves, cinnamon... and, of course, lots of molasses. Oh, right, and white chocolate instead of semi-sweet. Tasty.

I shared a bunch of these with my family, and I'll be taking the rest with me to Chicago tomorrow to share with my friends.

So why am I going to Chicago tomorrow? The reason is simple: I'm going to attend this conference. It's a conference for Christian Graduate students, which is very exciting to me because when I went to Urbana (a conference in St. Louis) as an undergrad, I felt left out from the focus because of my academic aspirations. After all, working in a lab or teaching Physics isn't an obvious way to do God's work. But it still is what I'm called to do right now.

I am excited, but I'm also a little concerned. Graduate students tend to be too smart for their own good, and so I worry that people will be too concerned with facts and searching out knowledge instead of wisdom. We'll have to see, though. I think that I should definitely pray instead of wasting my energy worrying.

We'll have cookies again next week, on or slightly before schedule, depending on when I decide to do my next leg of travel.

In the meanwhile, safe travels to all and I hope you're having great vacations!


Singing a Beauuuuutiful Ballad...

My friend Alex uploaded a video of me singing at the Physical Revue onto YouTube.

So here, for your viewing (and hopefully listening) pleasure, "A Summer in Urbana"


Snowed in, but that's ok too

What is this? I'm baking and I'm *not* stuck in the middle of a cornfield? Yes, that's right. However, I find myself a day ahead of schedule as I'm stuck in the middle of a large snowdrift instead.

I left Champaign on Wednesday to get closer to home, and stopped over in Ann Arbor to visit friends, and to eventually drive a friend to the airport so she can go to Germany for break. But my car was stuck in the snow today and the roads were in all kinds of bad condition, so she rescheduled her flight (and consequently, I rescheduled my triumphant homecoming) for Saturday.

Having little to do, we decided to call it an early cookie day!

These cookies are called Pfeffernüssen (25), which, in German, means pepper nuts. These cookies are flavored with molasses, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and, as their name indicates, black pepper. There are no nuts involved, apparently their name has more to do with what they look like. Oh, right, and they're covered in powdered sugar.

Unlike the chocolate crackled cookies I made a few weeks ago, there is only one layer of sugar on the outside of these cookies, and boy was it fun to cover them: the instructions called for putting confectioner's sugar in a paper bag, dropping a few warm cookies in, and then shaking them until they were covered. Good times.

I was really looking forward to making these cookies, as pepper in dessert foods is an unfamiliar idea to me, and I find that I am not disappointed. The pepper is not especially strong, but it sits well with the other flavors so that these aren't just some lumpy gingerbread cookies. Even with slightly burnt bottoms (which I think is a side effect of the pan I chose to use), I think these cookies are going to stay in my top ten favorites.

In other news, I'm proud to say that I made it through my first semester of grad school, while being able to maintain this project. This means we're in for another 3 years of cookies, so those of you who are around me on Sundays or Mondays, look forward to lots of new interesting things (actually, my family should also expect some good stuff over vacation, since I can do some of the smaller batch things). I may even start talking about things other than my baking experiments, but we'll have to see.


One blessing after another

Last night was a very fun time: The physics first-years got together for a Secret Santa exchange. I don't think I've remarked in this blog about how tightly knit the first-year community has become, but last night was further proof of it. Typically when Secret Santa things happen, the gifts are not too creative, and people just end up getting random things. When our group did it, we had to write poems to make others guess who the present was for, and the gifts themselves were creative and well-thought-out. I got a Higgs Boson, which made me VERY happy because I am in love with weird plushies. And physics. The thing that makes the Higgs so cute is that it's really heavy for a plushy, which is good because it's supposed to be a really heavy particle. Apparently my giver (who wouldn't reveal himself...) got it from here. Fantastic times.

My friends also are super amazing and got me a bunch of cookie cutters, a mixer, a cookie press, and so on, which made me really happy ^.^ I'm really glad that I've been able to share this project with them, and that it makes Mondays good enough to encourage me to do more.

And so more I did today, with not one, but TWO different recipes.

I'll start with the more simple one, and a pointless anectdote.
When I was a teenager, my grandma would always make rum balls for my dad, for my mom, for my dad's parents... and I, being the straight-laced, boring kid I was, knew there was alcohol involved and never tried them. But some afternoons I would be at home, searching the fridge for a tasty snack, and I would see them there, covered in cocoa powder and confectioner's sugar, beckoning, beckoning, just beyond the bars... Oops that's some Sweeney Todd sneaking its way in... but anyway, after I turned 21 I tried them and they are SO GOOD. Thus, when I was going through my cookbook for a cookie recipe and stumbled on a rum ball recipe, I knew I had to make them (23).

Now, these rum balls aren't exactly my grandma's recipe, but they are incredibly good. And very easy to make, if any of you want to try. Basically what you do it make brownies, then smash them up and add a quarter cup of rum. Mix them together and then form 1" balls that you roll in coarse sugar (I used cane sugar, becuase everything else was too fine) and refrigerate for a couple hours. So if you were ever that person who liked to smoosh your brownies together and then eat them, you are totally in luck. These are brilliant. And delicious. Try them.

While I was making the rum balls, my friends came over to help me make stained-glass sugar cookies (24). And boy, did I need all the help I could get. For some unfortunate reason, the recipe proportions were off, and we ended up with a dough that was far too dry. An egg and a couple tablespoons of butter later, we were good to go.

So while the dough was chilling, we set out to crush 14 ounces of Jolly Ranchers, while lacking the appropriate tools to do so. I regret to say that two of my plastic bowls were broken in the process, but I'm not too destroyed by the loss, as the cookies are awesome.

In order to make these cookies, you make something like a basic sugar cookie dough (although I suggest using less sugar, as the centers are basically pure sugar), roll it and cut out your shapes, then cut out smaller shapes from the center. Sprinkle crushed hard candy into the centers and bake for about ten minutes. The candy melts to fill the space, giving a lovely stained glass effect and leaving you with cherry, watermelon, apple, grape, and blue raspberry flavored centers. A warning, though: the purple jolly ranchers don't make very pretty centers, as they are kind of brownish.

So if you want to try something a little out of the ordinary from your usual Christmas sugar cookies (and if your friends just got you a dozen new cookie cutters ^.~), try this! It looks really good and tastes nice. I'm looking forward to seeing the reactions of the other physics people on Monday.

Miscellaneous thrills

Last week was a skipped my usual update.. why? Because of a million things to do as the semester was wrapping up. So instead of doing the problem sets I had due on Wednesday, I made these ginger palmiers (22) instead.

Yes, they look kind of funny. They've got funky brown syrup baked on them, after all. This recipe was.. interesting. I had to buy premade puff pastry, which makes up the bulk of these cookies. Some serious work was required, though: I had to make a syrup out of molasses, brown sugar, ginger, and probably a couple other things I don't remember, and cover the pastry with a mix of white sugar, pepper, cinnamon, and again things I don't recall before rolling it up. The syrup made an awful mess, but went really well with the puff pastry. In fact, I was surprised at just how much people liked these cookies, since I think they perhaps weren't the best.

Also this past week, the Physics department had their yearly talent (or lack-of-talent?) show, the Physical Revue. By some fortunate happenstance, I've become friends with a third-year student who plays piano fantastically, so we rewrote the lyrics to a Jason Robert Brown song and performed it. It went awfully well, especially considering that I've only ever sang (and acted) by myself in front of bunches of people I don't know maybe two or three times in my life. I had been nervous about singing all afternoon, which was odd because I knew I could do it, and then when I finally got to it everything worked out. I suppose that is why I need to practice extra when any kind of performance is coming up. All this also means I need to pick up a new composer so I can have more song ideas for the future.


First snow, more cookies!

You will notice that I am backlogged again. Life as a grad student is a little hectic, especially when all my exams happen at the same time. But the cookies continue to happen.

With one week left before Thanksgiving break, I decided I didn't want to go grocery shopping anymore, and chose my recipe based on what was in the cupboard. Fortunately, I had just made an interesting Greek dish with lemons, so I had lemons to zest, and sugar cookies to make (19)!

These cookies were actually very good - I didn't quite have enough lemon zest (which, as I think I've mentioned before, is just the yellow part of the peel) but the flavor came through nicely. One of the issues I usually have with sugar cookies is that they are too sweet. These cookies were sweet, but the lemon balanced them out and brightened up the day. They currently hold the #1 spot on Noah's top cookie list.

Several of my friends have remarked upon the fact that I'm pretty committed to this every week thing. The way I figure is that if I let myself have a week off, I'll take another and another until I just quit this project entirely. So in that spirit, I made sure to bake something before leaving Chambana for Fall break. Usually I try to bake something in a large enough batch to share with something like 40 people, but this time my goal was to be rid of my wares by the time I left on Sunday afternoon. Thus, I decided to make brownies (20). It turns out that, with the exception of my grandmother's buttermilk brownie recipe, this is the first time I've ever made brownies from scratch, and I was very pleased with the result. This whole melting chocolate and then mixing it into the dough is a new thing for me, but I think it's something I'll try to incorporate into other experiments in the future.

So this past weekend, after driving for hours and hours to get back to the cornfield, I thought it would be nice to do something with more chocolate in it. And so I made what the book calls crackle cookies (21). Basically, these cookies have dutch cocoa and bittersweet chocolate in them, and after mixing the dough together I separated it into balls, which I rolled in granulated sugar and then in powdered sugar. The double layer of sugar was supposed to keep the powdered sugar white and pretty. I realized as I took a batch out of the oven that my cookies matched the outdoors, as we had our first real snow yesterday. I also realized that the sugar on the bottom of the cookies melted and solidified, so the bottoms are a little crunchy, but not burnt. This recipe, I've decided, is one of my personal favorites - eating these cookies is like eating a brownie without the mess (and, of course, with the added danger of asphyxiating on powdered sugar).

In other news, while I was at home over Thanksgiving, I pulled out a recipe I'd been meaning to try and made potato cheese bread. If you like to make bread, this is something I really recommend: although it was a bit of a chore to knead the cheese into the dough, the result was totally worth it. It was also very much worth it for me because I sort of made a friend do the hard part (well, she needed to learn how to knead dough so she can make her own bread in the future).

Alright, I think that's all for now, but expect interesting things over the next month as I get out molasses and cookie cutters and suchlike ^.^


Things I do instead of working on homework

Yes, I should be finishing my quantum mechanics homework. Instead, I will post cookie pictures, plus a bonus cute item!

This past Saturday I had some extra free time, so I took advantage of that time to make bulls-eye and spiral cookies (18). The dough is just a basic sugar cookie dough, with cocoa mixed into half of it to make it brown. I ended up with something that seems a lot like the dough you can buy to have Christmas tree shapes or something.. basically a log of dough that I cut and baked. It was good times.

Even better times were had last night when my friend and I got together to make hors d'oeuvres for our much-needed Physics Girls' Night In. This is a project I found here and have been wanting to try for a while. If you decide you want to make these too, let me warn you it's messy to stuff the olives with cream cheese, and it's also a little challenging at first to get the carrots set for the beaks. However, the carrot, cream cheese, and olives go together well (that is, assuming you like olives) and the presentation is nothing short of adorable.

I'm thinking this Saturday I'm going to have to opt for something pretty simple - I have a lot of work in the week coming up, plus a group of us are getting together for a Pre-Thanksgiving potluck. It should be mad good times.


All this after a course in ethics in science

This past week was awfully busy, culminating with a musical and two parties last night.

I went with a couple friends to watch Jekyll & Hyde, which was being put on by the UIUC students. The singing and acting were very good, but the lighting and sound was a complete disaster. I've done lights for a show before, and I realize it can be challenging, but there are some mistakes - such as bringing up the house lights in the middle of a song - that really shouldn't happen at all. But yes. The costumes were gorgeous too.

Unfortunately, the show itself was all over the place. The songs were nice, but (I never believed I would ever say this) there were too many of them. The plot happened too slow and then too fast, and just didn't give the kind of character development that I've grown to expect out of a musical. There were nice moments, touching moments, and several disturbing moments, but no coherence.

Unlike the musical, the cookies I made today go together very nicely. Today's project was pumpkin cookies with brown butter icing (17). And yes, they do taste as good as they look. The recipe calls for many of the same ingredients as a pumpkin pie: pumpkin (obviously), nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, evaporated milk... These have less butter in them than most cookies I've made (3/4 C for 7 dozen!), so I like to imagine they might be healthy.

Well, at least I like to imagine that without the icing they're healthy. The icing is pretty basic - browned butter, evaporated milk, LOTS of confectioners' sugar, and vanilla. I've never made anything with browned butter before, so I was worried that I would do something horrifically wrong, but nothing went wrong and the frosting is some of best I've tasted.

For a first cookie of November, I'm satisfied both in terms of taste and seasonal appropriateness. Once we get into December I'll probably do a lot of ginger-heavy cookies, but that's still a few weeks away.


In a land of corn, apples are a novelty?

This morning I went with a friend of mine to Curtis Orchard to get some cider and doughnuts, and maybe to pick apples and take pictures of interesting autumnal things.

When we arrived at the orchard, we found that it didn't quite meet our expectations - both of us being from states farther north and east, we're used to serious apple orchards where the trees are big enough to climb and they don't have awkward Wizard of Oz themes. We were also disappointed to find that it cost more to go pick your own apples than to buy pre-picked ones.

Since we're cheap, we just wandered around, taking pictures of things.

First we wandered out to the pumpkin patch. It was sad, although we figured the deadness and lack of pumpkins was because it's the weekend before Halloween. I did find a few that I thought were pretty to see.. I like the ones that aren't completely orange because the contrast makes everything seem brighter.

One of the interesting things about having moved a few hundred miles south is that fall really happens a few weeks later than it does up north. I expected to see vibrant leaf colors as early as two weeks ago, and it's only now that they're starting to really show up. If I'm not too distracted by less whimsical things, I might take some pictures and post them, at least for the benefit of my friends who have moved to even warmer climes.

I think that's it for now... Soon I'll be getting to the point when I'm counting days to Thanksgiving, but at the moment I'm more concerned with the number of days until Friday comes again.

Cookie backlog

So basically I'm a pretty busy person these days. This doesn't mean I haven't been making my cookies, though! I don't have a whole lot to say about the cookies, but I'll put something in, I suppose.

I'll just do this in chronological order, I suppose.

Week 1: Peanut Butter cookies (12)
I think there was something wrong in this recipe - the dough was far too sticky and the cooking time was so long that I burnt the first batch. The sticky dough was particularly unfortunate, because it meant that I was completely unable to include the cross-hatch pattern that everyone expects out of peanut butter cookies. Clearly, in the future I will be using my own recipe.

Week 2: Brandy Snaps (13)
The cookie title is deceptive - there is no brandy in these. However, I did have to go to the international food store to pick up a jar of Lyle's Golden Syrup, which is a British corn syrup concoction. These were actually a lot easier to make than they look... there's no baking soda or eggs or anything silly like that, so they just baked out flat, then I had to roll them around the handle of a whisk as they cooled.

Week 3: Coconut Macaroons (14)
I always thought macaroons were difficult to make. I was wrong. The recipe called for something like five ingredients, and then you make lumps, put them in the oven, and, voila! macaroons.
The picture on the right was taken in my office... you can see my Statistical Mechanics book chilling out in the corner, and the hat I was knitting just chilling out. The guys like to make fun of the three girls who knit, but I think that's because there's not much else to make fun of us for (well, except for being women studying physics, but that's a line that doesn't get crossed).

Week 4: Snickerdoodles (15)
These were a much bigger hit than I anticipated. I made these cookies on the suggestion of a friend, and then it turned out that everyone ever (except me) ate these as a kid when their grandmother/mom/babysitter/dog made them. I never had snickerdoodles until I was in college, and I never was particularly excited about them, although they taste pretty good. My friends who ate them enjoyed them thoroughly, which leads me to wonder about the power of nostalgia as a spice.

Week 5 (today!): Oatmeal Apple cookies (16)
After a very long week, I decided that it would make me happy to spend some extra time cooking. That decision made, these cookies seemed like a good decision. I made applesauce Thursday night while my cousin was visiting, and put half a cup of it in my cookies today. The cookies themselves have oatmeal, applesauce, and golden raisins in them. I find that the applesauce doesn't have a very strong flavor, but the raisins are nice. The frosting is your typical stuff: confectioner's sugar and water, with a few tablespoons of maple syrup added in to complement the taste of the cookies.

Hopefully next week I'll actually be motivated to post on time, and maybe even talk about something interesting. For now, however, physics has taken my soul hostage, and I don't expect to get it back until Friday.


Pause for breath

Yes, I realize it's been three weeks since I've posted. Oops? I tend to put too much thought into things like this, and so when I haven't the time to think, I forget to post.

I did, however, make my cookies as I planned, and even took pictures of them!

My three-weeks-ago cookies were chocolate with white chocolate chips, shredded coconut, and walnuts (9). When I first made them (since I like to brave the risk of salmonella and taste the dough), I was concerned that the white chocolate would make the whole thing taste too rich, but after they were cooked, and especially after the flavors were able to mingle for a day, the taste came together nicely.

That weekend was also the first time I had to grade quizzes for the classes I TA, so perhaps the brain-numbing nature of that experience is what kept me from posting. In fact, I graded last weekend too and didn't post. This weekend I did laundry yesterday and have yet to do my grading. I'm sure after I get to it I'll lose all will to have a life for the rest of the day.

I exaggerate a little, but grading can be a real challenge. My hope is that I can be an effective teacher and that my students will understand the stuff they're supposed to understand. While I realize not everyone keeps up (or makes the effort? I'm not sure), I still feel a little sad when quizzes are really tricky and when people do poorly on them. Clearly, I need to get over this or else I'll never be able to be real teacher.

But that was a few weeks ago. Last week I deviated a little from my egg/baking soda based recipes, to make citrus cornmeal shortbread (10). It's amazing to me that the taste of shortbread depends on the quality of butter and vanilla you use. After making it and seeing that it pretty much is all butter, the idea becomes less amazing, and the cookies go on my list of things I really shouldn't be eating. This particular recipe also has some cornmeal involved, and orange zest, which really makes for a fantastic taste. These cookies were so dense, and the flavor reminded me of the shortbread cookies you buy from the store.. which I guess is good, or at least a little nostalgic.

In addition to grading last weekend, my mind was occupied with questions about what it means to be a Christian and a Physicist... Not that most scientists don't claim some kinds of religious beliefs, but I've been thinking of it more on a personal level - so, things about keeping up spiritual discipline, and how to be humble and to serve God while I'm doing problem sets and research. It's been helpful that I'm currently reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, which spends a lot of time discussing morality and the motivations for it (for atheists, agnostics, and Christians), as well as talking about how the Bible calls for Christians to live on fairly practical level. I'm finding that reading this book really challenges me to be intentional with pretty much all aspects of my life, and it just helps keep me focused.

And so that bring me up to this week, where yesterday turned into a mix of excessive baking and excessive laundry. My normally scheduled baking consisted of the ginger cheesecake bars (11) pictured on the right. There's finely chopped candied ginger in the cheesecake part of the bars, and the crust is composed of ground up ginger snaps and butter. Yes, you read that correctly, these cookies (well, bars) are cannibalistic. I like ginger, so while this isn't my absolute favorite recipe, I enjoy its kick.

I also took some time to whip up bran muffin batter and bake a dozen muffins, but that's from a family recipe and they're for personal use. Thankfully, the batter keeps in the fridge for up to six weeks. Now I'll have muffins available for breakfast or whatever when I need them. And if it gets close to six weeks, I can always bake the muffins and freeze them for later use.

Overall, life is kind of like a hamster wheel right now - the moment I finish a problem set there's another to do, as soon as one week of teaching is over I have to move on to next week's planning, and I bake on Saturdays. I think it's manageable right now, and I'm pretty happy as long as I don't fall behind. We'll have to see what else gets added in as I get involved in GCF and in the community at church.


If you've got it, flaunt it...?

After all the things that came together to make up last week, I have come to the conclusion that I absolutely have to start practicing voice again. Why? Let's see... Many of the first-year grad students have some kind of serious sports history - playing Ultimate Frisbee, or swimming, or training for marathons... and this makes me feel kind of silly, because the one thing I do very well (aside from Physics, I guess I have to say now that I'm actually a grad student) is singing. That, and apparently I blew people away sufficiently at the visiting weekend when I sang karaoke that they still remember, and if I let that slip, that'll just be silly.

Most of all, though, I just love to sing. The phrase is nothing original, the sentiment is genuine. When I finally had the opportunity to take voice lessons, I found that diligent practice actually made it more fun... partially because practicing meant I sang more every day, but also because I was able to actually find my own sound, as opposed to the adolescent choir sound I had developed. Then, somewhere along the way, I buried myself in musical theater pieces, and have since found all kinds of fun in expressing character and moods through tone and physical expression. Now all I need to do is find an amateur MT group so I can stroot my stoof.

But that is a different project. This week, as usual, I baked more cookies (8)! These ones have banana, semi sweet chocolate chips, toasted walnuts, and wheat flour in them (aside from the normal things). The recipe called for chocolate chunks, but when I was at the store, I found it was less expensive to purchase 12oz of chips than two 4oz bars.

These cookies ooze healthiness. I have to admit, I was one of those kids who LOVED white bread, and couldn't eat wheat bread unless it had all kinds of stuff on it. I eat whole wheat bread now because it's good for me, but I'm always very aware of the taste and it's not my favorite. That whole wheat taste is present in this latest batch of cookies, but I think it goes pretty well with the walnuts and bananas. The chocolate chips kind of save the recipe, though, by putting in something that's not so healthy. I think I may have put too much banana in the batter, since the cookies are a little spongy...but in a good way.

Of course, I will take these to the physics building on Monday, when people get together to do their homework (how lame are we, that we're taking our day off to go to work), and they will probably be gone by the end of the day. And hopefully, so will our homework.

**re-made on 7/19/10


it's not about aptitude, it's the way you're viewed...

I will begin this post by promising that I am not baking cookies so I can be popular. I will also promise that I will not start doing Kristen Chenoweth yodels, if only because I am not a coloratura.

Classes here begin this Monday, so I have been savoring my free time. This fall I am taking two upper-level undergraduate courses and a graduate-level course, plus teaching three sections of Physics 101, which is about as basic as it sounds. My courseload is somewhat heavy for a TA, but I'll survive, as I always do.

It turns out that this year I am sharing a grad student office with two other first-year women. We have decided to make an effort to make our office more comfortable. So far this has meant getting rid of a desk and purchasing a coffee maker from the YMCA garage sale thing. Next weekend we'll probably try to find a small sofa. Right now we're having some difficulty with people coming by to hang out in our office (it's good because I like people but it's bad because it makes work nearly impossible), so it might become harder to be productive when there's a couch.

Oh, right, and another reason why too many people will come by next Monday is that I made cookies (7)! These tasty morsels are made with a basic cookie dough (flour, sugar, eggs, butter...), and then have white chocolate chips, sweetened flaked coconut, old fashioned oats, chopped walnuts, and golden raisins added in. I have to admit that this recipe called for a little more elbow grease than is typical of a cookie recipe. It was worth it, though: I usually don't like nuts or raisins in my cookies but the blend of all the ingredients is phenomenal. In any other cookie I think the white chocolate would be too rich, but the coconut and oats really beef up the cookie such that the chocolate is a nice addition. Plus I can lie and say that they're healthy, because there's raisins!

I think that's about it for now... I should get to sleep so that I can continue my church shopping in the morning. I know there was something I was thinking about a couple days ago that I wanted to post here, but I've forgotten it. If you're lucky, I might post my thoughts about church shopping. Or TAing, although FERPA forbids me from referring to actual students (by name, at least.. I've got to check those rules out).


I want data, not drama!

I am now two days behind on my normal posting schedule... oops? Although this is no excuse, it's been a busy time now that I actually am in the middle of the cornfield which led to this blog's name.

Moving last Monday was a real adventure: we had a late start getting out of my house, and so by the time we got down here the landlord's office was past its closing time! Fortunately I called ahead and someone stayed so I could get my keys (apparently this is something they usually won't do, so I am extra thankful that it worked out). My dad and brother helped me move my things into my new apartment Monday night, and Tuesday morning we went to complete my furniture collection. Between Craigslist and the Habitat for Humanity Restore, my loft is fully furnished.

After a little shopping for bakeware (because some person ruined my cookie sheets last summer), I was ready for my Saturday baking, as usual. This week I made Cream Cheese Blondies (6). My choice of recipe was dictated, like last week's, by necessity: the recipe calls for the usual flour, sugar, eggs, etc., plus a brick of cream cheese. This batch turned out a little tall, but pretty good. I really enjoy the cream cheese taste, although I think that I prefer the taste and texture of some of my earlier cookies.

This week finds me in the midst of TA training, making new Physics friends (they're really cool people, I swear), and watching more Olympics. That means that for now, all is well.

We'll have to see how things go come next Monday, when classes start.


making a mess

Since I'm moving in a couple days, I decided to take care of my weekly cookie baking on Friday evening instead of my usual Saturday afternoon. The same circumstance also led me to choose a simple recipe, so I only had to purchase butter (I use unsalted butter so I can control the amount of salt in the things I make).

This week brings another version of chocolate cookies, this time made to be crunchy instead of soft (5). They're supposed to be large, too, but I always end up making my cookies too small. This means that instead of ending up with 8 cookies, I find myself with 11. I find them pretty tasty, but don't enjoy them quite as much as the earlier chocolate cookies I made.

As far as the rest of life goes, I've been watching the Olympics, as many other people around the world have been... This past evening I watched the opening ceremony (not live, unfortunately). The production was fantastic, but for me to talk about it would mean parroting the same things as are available on any news site.

My experience of the ceremony was particularly international: I've been watching a Canadian television station broadcasting an event in China. From my American living room I set my computer up for video chat with a very good friend of mine who is currently in Austria, so that she could watch, too. To bring it all the way around the globe, she's from Singapore.

So I've been watching live gymnastics, cycling, and beach volleyball (sailing is delayed for lack of wind), and it's just lots of fun, partially because the broadcast has a Canadian focus, but also because I'm always amazed by the abilities of all these athletes. I find myself also somewhat shocked by the amount of haze and smog visible in outdoor shots of Beijing.

There are several things I would love to say about what impressions all this gives me about China, but I realize that I don't understand enough about the culture to make judgments. It seems to me that China is trying their hardest to appear strong and perfect to the world. While they do have economic strength, the country is far from perfect (and between the propaganda thrown at Americans about "Dirty Commies" and all the current human rights issues, it seems like many Westerners are not going to take China seriously).

All that said, I'm going to pack/watch volleyball. It's a good time.


apple & cookies

I'm a little behind this weekend for several reasons... on Friday I went to my old apartment to move all my stuff out and clean it up, and only got back in the early evening yesterday.

Last night was dedicated to baking (as usual) and playing with my new laptop. Like so many people I know, I finally got fed up with Microsoft and purchased a Mac. It's a fun time, but I'm not used to the OS yet and have to go through the hassle of installing software and moving files and learning the commands, since I've always been a shortcut girl. Despite the frustrations that inevitably come from getting a new computer, I am excited that the hardware is faster (my other laptop is four years old) and the speakers are louder. Awesome.

But I did not come here today to alternate between complaining about and cheering for the features on my computer. I'm here to post a picture of my lovely chocolate chip cookies (4)! I realize that these are a staple sort of food, but I happened to have the correct amount of chocolate chips lying around (from a s'mores mix experiment) for the recipe. These cookies are just what you hope for - soft and chewy, and full of more butter than you really want to know. They are awfully tasty, and in a nice continuation of tradition, I had some fresh out of the oven with a glass of milk (I shared them with my stepsister too, she was pretty happy about that).

Over the next several weeks I'll need to make sure I pick some quick and easy cookie recipes - between my roommate ruining some of my bakeware, moving, and starting training and classes soon, I fear I won't have the required time or resources to do the more interesting baking experiments. I'm sure I'll still find the time to take photos and post them here - no amount of busyness can keep me from wasting time on the Internets.


Cookies, week 3

It's Saturday, which can only mean one thing: cookies! This week's experiment was something called 'Pecan Tassies', which is something like Pecan Tarts. I made them this week because the recipe calls for half a cup of mascarpone cheese, and I had that exact quantity left over in the fridge.

There's a few interesting things this recipe calls for... the first is the mascarpone I already mentioned, which goes in the crust as what I assume is a partial substitute for butter. The crust also contains finely ground pecans. The filling includes maple syrup and toasted pecans (among other things, of course).

The crust turned out fine (I realize it looks ugly but it's fine), but there's all kinds of interesting issues with the filling. The first issue is that I toasted the pecans a little bit too long... so they taste kind of bitter. The second is that the maple syrup is kind of old and was in a metal container, so it had a little bit of a metallic taste. The extra taste on the syrup doesn't come through in the final product, but the bitter pecan taste can be a bit much. And so I'm going to call today a partial fail and start figuring out what I'll make next week.


to "nananana BATMAN" would make light of a dark film

This evening I went with my brother and cousin to go watch The Dark Knight. I wasn't aware that such a movie was being made until Heath Ledger's death, and figured that it would probably not be very good. As the release date came closer, I started to hear more about it, and got more interested (either that, or I just got caught up in the summer advertising hype: buy me! spend your money! etc etc). And so I went tonight, so that I would have something to do.

Which means that now I'm going to talk about the movie.

First I'm going to say that this new Batman movie is fantastic. I realize that I am a little biased because I think Christian Bale is gorgeous (although I don't like the scratchy voice he uses when he's being Batman) and I love all the technology. Neither of these let me down.

I found the storytelling in this film to be very thorough - I guess because it ran something like two and a half hours they had sufficient time to treat the story in such a way that no ends were left hanging loose. This is great, because I get frustrated with movies that wrap up too quickly (Enchanted, for instance). Even in the times when it felt like things were starting to close, hints were left to reveal that there was more to come. Sometimes these came in forms of music, sometimes in people that didn't make sense to have around... Classical film is interesting because it really lets you know where you're going, and in a well-tailored movie like this one, everything that is included is there for a reason.

The story itself was much darker than the kinds of things I usually watch (consider that the most recent movies I've seen are Mamma Mia! and WALL-E), but I really appreciated that it deals with integrity, the way people think, and choices that are made out of desperation, or in the attempt to choose the lesser of two evils.

The Joker was particularly well portrayed by the much mourned Heath Ledger (my cousin was sounding off about his death before and after the movie), who made the character come across much more deranged than Jack Nicholson did back in 1989. I, having entirely the wrong temperament for disturbing scenes, had to look away several times because the Joker just creeped me out too much.

Eventually those types of scenes made way for some AWESOME action scenes. Like I said before, I LOVE Batman's gadgets. His tank from the previous movie reappeared, but this time he had this motorcycle that made me very happy, and did all kinds of things that couldn't actually happen in real life, but were so cool. It was like watching a Bond movie, except Morgan Freeman can take Q any day.

But what this movie really ended up dealing with was what it means to be a hero and what it is to choose the right thing to do (and the difficultly in doing so). Batman is not Superman. He isn't the primary-colors liked-by-everyone kind of guy. He's always been a dark, brooding character, but that doesn't stop him from being the good guy (unless, of course, you think about the live-action TV show from the '60s, where Batman is just campy). I think it would be apt to put it as Commissioner Gordon says at the end: "he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now."

Needless to say, I think this movie is definitely worth watching.


Cookies! Always a good first post

Two weeks ago I was in a bookstore, and I bought this book. In it are one hundred seventy five cookie recipes. I have decided to go through this book, cooking a different kind of cookie every week, until I've done all of them. This should take me about three and a half years.

Today marks my second cookie day, and based on the taste and the nice resemblance of the product with the picture in the cookbook, I call it a success.

Today is also a good day, because I am another step closer to having an appropriately furnished apartment. I know I don't move for a couple weeks yet but I am keeping my eye out on garage sales and craigslist in the hopes that I can get some of the more necessary furniture (i.e. a mattress) before necessity forces my choice.

In other news, I went and watched Mamma Mia! with my grandmother, great-grandmother, and cousin. The movie was... flashy. I read a review that compared it to a giant ABBA music video, and I think I have to agree. As I sat through this okay movie (okay, not good), I was reminded why I don't really like ABBA music: although it is no less simple than other popular music, I find it has far too much stepwise motion and uncreative rhymes. I would blame this kind of thing on my music snobbery, but I didn't like this music before I was familiar with any music theory.

There are two conclusions that can be drawn from this. Either I have always been a music snob (whether trained or untrained), or ABBA just fails. Their success in the '70s makes me believe the former.


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