All kinds of fun times

 Oops... I guess it's been way too long since last posting.  Um... Oops!  I guarantee that there's a perfectly good reason why I stopped posting mid-October, and here it is: in mid-October I met the guy that I am now dating (and if people have interest in knowing more, I can tell about it but not in a public post).  He's pretty cool so I tend to take my free time and save it to spend with him, and so although I've been baking a lot, I have completely neglected to post.

Until now.

I'm right in the middle of my very long Winter Break - they give us a month off from classes - although I'm not going to be taking the whole time as vacation proper.  Half of my "vacation" time will be spent back in the cornfield, working hard to finish up my current research project.  I spent the semester working on a starter project in the lab, and want to finish it up so I can move on to bigger, better, and more Physics-y things.

But for now I am still taking vacation, which means I had darn well better get caught up here!  As it's been some time since making several of these, I will be using my cookbook to remind me of what is worth saying.

These look like regular chocolate chip cookies, and, to be honest, I was so busy working on my Halloween costume (I got myself a sewing machine and pieced together a Belle costume.. but only the blue dress, none of the gold dress nonsense) that I didn't want to spend much time on baking them.  Fortunately, these were a quick cookie to put together.

The title explains pretty well what went into these cookies, aside from the usual flour, brown and white sugar, eggs, and so on.  In addition to peanuts, the recipe included a hefty helping of peanut butter.  I was skeptical at the idea of peanut butter and cinnamon together - at some point when I was younger I had them together and the memory still strikes me as A Bad Taste - but it turns out that the cinnamon was sufficiently subtle and paired with the chocolate chips to make these pretty good cookies, as far as the simple ones go.

This recipe represents yet another foray into the expensive world of dried cherries.  It's also one of my seasonal picks.  Here, dried apples and cherries are simmered in apple cider until they're properly rehydrated and soft.  The fruit is then used as a middle layer for a typical oat, butter, sugar, and salt crumbly mixture that you expect in any kind of fruit bar.

I enjoyed the flavor of these, but once again found the cherries to be too understated for the cost (although less than in those chocolate cookies I made in July).  I liked the oats in the crust, though, and used them again a couple weeks later when challenged to improvise a quick apple cobbler.  I consider this a small triumph, since the actual goal of this project is not to make tasty things, but to learn what it takes to make tasty things.

One week I went on a fennel kick and, in the spirit of things black licorice-flavored, whipped up these cookies.  For those of you unfamiliar with fennel, it's a root used in Italian cooking, and the seeds are one of the definitive seasonings in Italian sausage.  Anise is a different herb, but it has a similar flavor.

As I mentioned above, the anise extract in these cookies made them taste like black licorice, but not in a particularly overpowering way.  Otherwise, these are very light cookies - there's no butter in them, so the texture is due largely to the baking powder and the fact that they had to be whipped for upwards of 6 minutes.  All in all, I think these are good, if a bit unusual, cookies.

71. 11/07 - Rocky Ledge Bars (marked as a best cookie)
These bar cookies were so good: imagine for a moment that you have chocolate chip cookie dough, and then you add to it miniature marshmallows, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and pieces of caramel.  If your mouth isn't watering then your imagination might be broken.  These were decadent and delicious, what I like to call "full of bad for you", and the flavors fit together so nicely that even I, with my disdain for all things caramel, thought they were wonderful.  I suspect these might make a reappearance sometime next summer....

When it gets to be November, I like to start sneaking things like ginger and and nutmeg into my recipes.  And so in this case fresh ginger, ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves are mixed with bittersweet chocolate and Dutch cocoa to make surprisingly good brownies.  For all that I was afraid my friends wouldn't like these, they were also surprised to find they really enjoyed the mingling of flavors, especially a day or two after these had been baked, so that the flavors could actually mingle properly.  When that had happened, the ginger taste was very strongly present, but didn't overpower the chocolate.

My cookbook describes these bars as being similar to Black Forest cake, which is not something I really know anything about.  Nor did I know where to pick up any of the optional kirsch (cherry brandy), so that had to be left out of the recipe.

This is a 3-layer concoction, with toasted coconut, cocoa, sugar, butter, and flour mixed together to make the top and bottom (very crumbly) layers, and a center layer of dried cherries, sugar, and lots of egg.  As you can see in the photo, the center was pretty gooey.  This is the first dried cherry recipe that I have been satisfied with - for once the cherries had a solid place in the flavor palette, and I'm a big fan of gooey chocolate-y stuff.

These guys are on the cover of my book, and the introduction says something about how they're just about the most amazing thing ever.  I am inclined to disagree with Martha Stewart in yet another thing (there have been some interesting and some misleading typos in the book).  These cookies are basically a molasess cookie with cocoa in the dough and chocolate chips added.  It sounds kind of like the brownies I made a couple weeks before these, except that where the brownies had the ginger as a background to the chocolate, these cookies set the chocolate as a background to the ginger and molasses, which left my tastebuds confused.  These tasted much better after a couple days (again, flavors needed to mingle), but I think if I want to make a dominantly ginger cookie, I'll be sticking with the recipe I first used last February.

I have been copying the recipe titles from my cookbook, but I do not copy all the directions exactly when I think they're wasteful.  One such wasteful instruction is using cookie cutters to make shapes out of things that have already been baked.  So my choice of shapes was triangles.  I made these late on a Sunday night, desperate to get something made quickly so that I could study for quickly upcoming final exam without missing a weekend.

I know I've discussed shortbread before, but I'll do so again as briefly as possible.  Shortbread is made from butter, confectioner's sugar, flour, salt, and vanilla, plus whatever you put in it to give additional flavor.  Basically, that means that whatever you add has to go well with vanilla and butter.  Cranberries definitely fit the bill, although other dried fruits or chocolate chips would work too.  But I liked the cranberries in this shortbread, and might not bother with putting in other flavors.

Oh, these were good.  These cookies are made with dark rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves as their flavoring.  When baked, the alcohol evaporates, and the lack of baking soda or powder keeps them from rising, thus resulting in a warmly-spiced dense but kind of crumbly cookie.  After they had cooled, I had to toss them in confectioner's sugar, which added just the right amount of sweetness.  The nice thing about these cookies, aside from the flavor, is that the dough keeps for a long time - once prepared, it's formed into rolls and can be kept in the freezer for a month or so.

These look pretty fancy, and they should because rolled-up cookies are really difficult to make.  The dough for these is very basic, with only sugar and vanilla as flavoring, and it's pretty runny, too, so that it can be spread thin.  I separated some of this dough and added food coloring until it turned red.  In order to make the appropriate rectangular shape, a cardboard stencil was made, so that the white batter was spread to fill the stencil.  Then I used a pastry bag with a circular tip to pipe the red stripes on top.  However, the sugar I was using was old and clumpy, so the batter kept getting stuck in the tip, leading to a few kitchen adventures, my favorite being the one where the tip flew off and red batter ended up all over my stove.

The other tricky part about these is that they had to be rolled immediately after they were taken out of the oven.  While this type of cookie is hot it is still pliable, but once it cools it hardens.  And so, with much cursing and slightly burned fingertips (and much appreciated help from the boy, as well) these cute cookies were achieved.  Take a good look, I don't think these will be coming back again.

I made these a little early because I knew I would be busy Christmas weekend, and because I wanted to have another nice thing to offer for my family to eat.  As the title suggests, these are biscotti made with dried cranberries, pistachios, and cornmeal.  There's also a lot of lemon zest in them, which provides a lot of the flavor.  I really like the use of cornmeal in these, as it makes them a little more crumbly than usual biscotti, and thus a bit easier to eat.  All in all, I find these to be delicious and appropriately festive.  Oh, right, and nice to have with tea.

Well, that's a lot of cookie summaries.  I should just close out this post, but there's a couple books I wanted to post about too, since they're interesting.

The first, Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross, is one that was given to me (and the other people on the exec team) by the Graduate Christian Fellowship staff worker at UIUC.  It is basically a devotional guide to following the Liturgical calendar - that is, the church seasons like Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and so on.  I grew up in various church backgrounds, having moved around a lot, and so while I'm aware of these seasons, they haven't really had much meaning to me.  However, it looks like this book might make a good guide for going through the Christian year while trying to keep the focus of my everyday life very firmly set on Christ.

The other book is one my mom gave me for Christmas, Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan.  It's a book of 150 hymns and a one-page summary of their history, particularly concerning the history of the music and lyrics.  Since I am secretly a Musicologist, I think this book is super cool - few things make me happier than taking music and connecting it with people's thoughts and ideas about life.  In fact, I am seriously considering doing a research project on music in the Church, particularly focusing on reasons for and reactions to new types of music, and going back to the first inclusion of singing as a method of memorizing Biblical text as early as the 5th century.  This may be too much of an undertaking, but at least what I can get done will be fun and maybe even edifying.

Alright, now that I've written far more than any sane person is willing to read, it's time for me to stop and do something else.  I hope you all are having great (or at least bearable) holiday times!


by the sea, by the beautiful sea

For a change of location, I am at home in Michigan and spent a good chunk of this afternoon wandering around enjoying not being landlocked.  Here, look at it!

Yes, that is a possessed Canadian squirrel.  But people don't believe me that we have black squirrels, this is a real one!!


Some days the interesting things that happen are actually interesting

Most of my anecdotes are pretty trivial, or, as some would say, I tell a lot of five dollar stories*.  Stories about my day usually go something like this: I made it to work something like on time, figured out some of my homework problems, learned interesting things in astrophysics, punched the air in kickboxing, came home and wasted time.

With minor variations, my days are just about the same.  So when someone asks me what's new, I don't really have anything for them.

Until today.

On the bus home from kickboxing, I was killing time with a cute little RPG on my ipod, when all of a sudden, SCRRAAAAAAAPE goes the bus and everyone is freaking out.  When I look up, I see that about 8ft in front of me there is a hole in the bottom of the bus.  Apparently what happened is that a loose manhole cover was tipped up enough by the bus wheel going over it to get caught between the road and the bottom of the bus.  It then proceeded to rip a hole in the bus as it was dragged along for several feet.  All of us riding the bus had to fill out a little card saying what happened, I wrote the accident cause down as "rogue pothole".

This day was much better than the time the bike rack fell off the front of the bus.

Now, if the World Series can just end so I can do regular things on Wednesdays, like watch Glee.

*when someone tells a story that has no point and realizes it, they can rescue the story by saying "and then I found five dollars", hence, a five dollar story.


Finally up to date... at least for now

Tonight I found myself with a little bit of free time, and not a whole lot that I could actually do. You may have noticed by now that I've been catching up on my backlog. In order to close that off completely, I'll update for last weekend as well (because, let's face it, I don't really feel like reading my sewing machine manual right now).

Last Sunday (because Saturday was too busy) I made chocolate pretzels (67). These get their chocolate flavor from Dutched cocoa and a little bit of espresso powder. To make these, a bunch of basic ingredients, although, hardly any sugar, are mixed together, chilled, and then cut into pieces, which had to be rolled out and then shaped. The sparklies on the top are not salt, as some of my friends guessed, but sanding sugar.

I thought these cookies were alright, not as crunchy as I hoped they would be, and after the complex flavors from the past couple weeks, I wasn't ready for something this simple.

That's okay, though, I have plenty of other complex things to work out, both in research and in home things.


A Weekend in the Country

For all that I claim that I live practically in the middle of nowhere (that is, I live in Cornfield, USA, hence the blog title), I am still very much and probably will always be a city girl. Or at the very least, a mildly sophisticated suburbian girl.

Last Friday I went to a nature reserve about 40 miles east of town to go on a camping trip and retreat with the Graduate Christian Fellowship. Most of the retreat consisted of us sitting around the campfire talking with each other, but cooking was also a major part of the fun. As I am always stubborn in my desire to be creative, I surfed around the internet looking for good campfire recipes and stumbled on a boy scout site that included directions for cooking a peach in the fire. So I pitted a peach, wrapped it in foil, and cooked it. The result was pretty tasty.

Friday night was spent sleeping in a tent, trying to keep warm as the temperature crept down to the mid-40s. I knew it would be cold, and remembered how I couldn't sleep last year, so I came prepared this time, with basically two sets of pajamas to wear, plus my sleeping bag with its secret hood. The moon was nearly full, so the overcast sky was fairly bright, and I could peek out of my sleeping bag to watch the rain and wind on the tent. Although I was prepared, I was still very glad that this was just an overnight trip, because I definitely prefer the amenities of home.

Camping on Friday meant exhaustion on Saturday - so after a sad football game (green is a very silly color) and a double feature of Toy Story and Toy Story 2, I quit for the day.

(66) That means that today (well, yesterday by now) was my cookie day for the weekend, and once again I aimed for something kind of fancy. These cookies are basically chocolate shortbread with a white chocolate ganache in the center and plain white chocolate drizzled on the top for decoration. The cookies themselves are a little crunchy and very chocolate-y, and I think their dryness pairs well with the ganache.

Whenever I make something with white chocolate, I am always concerned that its richness will overpower everything else, but in this case I think that the fairly small size of the cookies (a little more than 1 square inch) helps to prevent that problem.

Today I ended up spending a large amount of time in the kitchen, preparing food for the next several days. Among my smaller projects are included a modified Turkey and Black Bean Chili (modified because I'm playing around with ways to reduce my meat consumption, so I added fake meat instead), and mixing up a batch of hummus. I'm excited about the hummus, as it's expensive to buy at the store but much less expensive to make at home.

As far as cooking goes, I really love autumn. Now that it's cooling down, I can start making more soups, stews, and chilis, switch back to drinking tea on a regular basis, cook interesting squashes, and pull out the spices that have been in the back of the drawer all summer.

It should be good times. Now all I have to do is make a decision on a Halloween costume...



I came home tonight to see this by my door. I have never seen a slug of this magnitude before.


...and another thing

In addition to my (rather complicated) regularly scheduled baking endeavor this weekend, I took a stab at this recipe for Red Velvet Cake Balls. Hopefully my friends will enjoy these in lieu of a traditional birthday cake:

I've tried one and yes, they taste just as good as they look. The only unique thing I did with these guys was to slop white chocolate all over them (and the rest of my kitchen, too), to cover up how silly they looked when I was coating them with slightly cooled chocolate. If you decide you want to try this recipe, the ingredients are pretty inexpensive, but all the cooling that has to be done takes a lot of time and fridge space.

epic backlog - recovery!

After I finished with my Qual, it was time for work. And homework. And catching up with all the people I'd been neglecting. I took the next several weeks to make tasty cookies, but I didn't really get around to posting. Nothing was too exciting about life, so I'll just talk briefly about the cookies.

(Marked as a best cookie) (63) To be brief about these first cookies will be difficult, because they were very delicious! I had carrots left over from making a carrot cake, so I used them to make carrot cake cookies. The cookies are a basic recipe, with carrot, raisins, and oats, as well as cinnamon and nutmeg. The filling is a standard cream cheese frosting. The cookies turned out nice and soft, and paired with the frosting kind of tasted like the Little Debbie oatmeal pies that I used to eat as a kid... except that these are a lot healthier, and the filling has no weird unidentified hydrogenated death oils. Honestly, I think this is the tastiest recipe yet. Hooray!

These next cookies were chosen so that I wouldn't get totally stuck in a pattern of cookies with filling, and so that I could get them done a bit quickly - I spent all day Saturday being involved in a wedding (congratulations Josh and Janine!!). Although, actually, these are blondies. Here, a basic blondie batter (you know, brown sugar, flour, eggs, butter) is mixed with (and covered with) chocolate chips, coconut, walnuts, and dried cranberries, then put in cupcake tins. Unfortunately, some of the stuff on top was a little loose, and fell off when people were eating them. The blondies were pretty good, but if I make them again I'll definitely be putting more cranberries in them. (64)

The week after I went on a baking spree (this is the same week I made those cake balls) and made what my cookbook calls Sarah Bernhardt cookies (65). According to Wikipedia, which is the source of all credible knowledge, Sarah Bernhardt was an exceptionally famous French stage actress in the late 19th century. My cookbook claims that this name is due to the many layers of these cookies resembling the layers of characters Bernhardt played. Or something like that. I don't know about these things, but I do know that I really like these cookies: these are almond macaroons (which kind of taste like marzipan) with a dollop of chocolate mousse on top of them. The whole ensemble is coated in semi-sweet chocolate mixed with just a little bit of vegetable shortening. Since they were covered in chocolate, I had to work hard to get people to eat them, but once they tried them, they were impressed. I like to describe their taste as very high class, and considering the cost of the almond paste in the macaroons and the amount of time taken in preparation, I think the description is fairly accurate. Maybe I'll make these again sometime for something fancy.


An epic tale

It's been a very stressful month since my last post, but somehow (and probably not wisely) I have kept up my baking, and even remembered to take pictures of the results.

And thus begins my epic tale of the Qual.

For those of you not well-acquainted with the world of academia, I'll explain the situation a little:
The path of pilgrimage to the Ivory Tower is fraught with obstacles, trials, and rites of passage to weed out those who lack the ability or determination to achieve the final goal, which is Knowledge. The Qualifying Exam occurs a little ways down the path, after one has toughed it out through the Undergraduate Education and Graduate School Admissions, as well as the First Year of graduate school.

In the Qualifying Exam, pilgrims are asked questions that should allow them to demonstrate their proficiency in their chosen subject. In the specific case of Physics in the Cornfield, eight questions in what are considered the four Main Topics of Physics must be answered in two three-hour sessions. To pass this test, the pilgrim must have sufficient knowledge of concepts and equations from his or her senior level undergraduate courses and be able to write very quickly. Upon passing, he may continue along towards his PhD. However, if he fails, he must try again in a year, and if he fails again, he is no longer allowed to pursue his degree.

Knowing this fully, I entered into my studying much later than my brighter peers, and had significant trouble forcing myself to focus and start working through the many old problems available online. I spent time reading textbooks, making formula sheets, cleaning my apartment, sleeping a lot, and getting very frustrated with old problems from 1995.

That weekend, I made brownies (59), because brownies are simple, and because marbled things are pretty. I failed to realize in advance that the coconut and condensed milk in the light part would not have a very strong taste, and so I was sorely disappointed to taste a brownie, and to only have the coconut texture to let me know it was actually in there. Without the taste, the texture just made the brownies seem weird.

Riding on the tails of this disappointment came terrible unhappiness at my lack of work ethic, and the realization that the only way I could possibly get through would be by God's grace. So after some serious praying, I dove into the next week.

Early in that week, it dawned upon me that it was foolishness to continue on my quest alone, and so I joined two of my stronger (i.e. smarter) friends in their studying. Their motivation was catching, and my difficulty with the subjects was alarming, and so the next several weeks passed in a panicked flurry of practice problems and pasta. For, indeed, I switched over into a mode where I spared little time for non-Physics endeavors, including food.

When I did spare a little time for cookie baking, I attempted to make chocolate meringues (60). Clearly, I did not leave enough time for whipping them, as the one shown in the picture on the left had the most shape. Aesthetically, these were a complete failure. However, they still tasted good, and although they required two hours in the oven, I was able to spend those two hours busy with... you guessed it... more practice problems.

In the final week before the Qual, my peers and I started doing practice runs of the exam - we would take old exam sets and sit down from 7-10pm in a poorly-lit and steeply-inclined auditorium, in order to get used to the misery of the real test. After each practice test, we'd get together and compare answers. Or, rather, I would look at what my friends had done, since I wasn't really able to do a lot of things. My level of panic growing, I stayed for later nights as my more prepared peers took evenings off, making lists of the things I knew I needed to understand, finding problems related to those concepts, and working on them until I thought I maybe had some idea.

At this point I was desperate. My list of concepts ran four pages long, and each of those concepts took at least half an hour to master. By the weekend, I knew that I had to forgo the practice exam schedule and just focus on my weak points. So I worked out problems, skipped the Annie Get Your Gun cast party, and tried my hardest not to do anything too unwise before the test.

During a short break I whipped up some ANZAC Biscuits (61), which seemed appropriate as they're the cookies Australian families would send to soldiers in World War 1. This wasn't war, but I certainly had no time to go the grocery store or to roll out dough, so these were a great way for me to keep up with my baking. The taste of these was rather sweet - perhaps because I could only find sweetened coconut, and the only real flavor came from the golden syrup the recipe called for. Unfortunately, this was another case of coconut providing texture but not much flavor.

Monday came, and I was a mess. I was so scared about the exam that night that I couldn't eat and had to force myself not to listen to the voice in the back of my head, repeating over and over, "I can't do this. I'm going to fail." Fortunately, several friends and family members emailed and called, wishing me luck and reminding me that they believed in me (which totally sounds like the climax of an 80s movie or a 90s anime where the heroine is just about to give up).

So on Monday night I took the first half of my test. Some of it was alright, some of it was awful, and I came out of it totally numb. After an evening of beer and Rock Band, I returned home to sleep. I awoke on Tuesday more scared than I had been the day before - although I knew that the four specific topics from the night before wouldn't be repeated, they still could ask anything else, and there were still so many topics I hadn't mastered. In addition, I figured I had only gotten half of the points on the first part of the test, which meant the pressure was on to perform better on the second part. Knowing this, I entered into another studying frenzy, until the exam was near enough that I had to go to the Physics building.

I entered into the second part of this ordeal completely aware of the inadequacy of my preparation, and completely terrified. When the exam had concluded, I had no idea if I had done well enough to pass. By the time the letters were distributed on Friday I had completely convinced myself that I had not passed and would have to go through it all over again next year. So as I opened my letter, I steeled myself for the "I regret to inform you..." that meant failure, but instead I found:
I am delighted to be able to tell you that on the basis of your written qualifying examination and your record as a graduate student in this department, the Qualifying Examination Committee recommends you as a candidate for the Ph.D. degree in Physics.
Unlike the Committee Chairman, I was not delighted - or, rather, not just delighted - I was ecstatic, incredulous, completely in shock. I had to read the letter again to make sure it was real.

It was definitely real. The letter is now stuck my refrigerator as a monument of the fact that miracles do happen, and as a reminder that someone, at some point, thought that I am good enough to be in this program, and to be chasing after this PhD.

So, bridge crossed and giant defeated, I celebrated that weekend with fancier baking: vanilla cookies made into a sandwich with white chocolate raspberry filling (62). The filling was made with the juice from fresh pureed raspberries, heavy cream, and white chocolate, which means that I was in heaven. Somehow it ended up that too much liquid got into the filling, so it was very runny, but I added more white chocolate and that (mostly) solved the problem. It was good, in this case, that the actual cookies were very simple and not too sweet, as they were necessary to balance out the richness of the filling.

It would be nice to end the story here, to say that all has been well and calm ever since, but that is far from true - the long journey towards my degree continues, with small trials (like dysfunctional circuits), and other milestones (like the Preliminary Exam) to be passed on the way. For now I fill my time with research, exercise when I can get it, and my ever-continuing baking projects.


There's No Business Like Show Business

...especially when it comes to throwing my schedule into complete turmoil.

Over the past several weeks I've been kept super busy with work and rehearsals (and the actual show, of course) and my attempt to keep up some semblance of a social life in the midst of all that chaos. It was rough. But after 4 shows, the run of Annie Get Your Gun is over and I can move on to finish my summer as a normal person.

Aw, who am I kidding? I have three weeks left to study as hard as I can for my Qualifying Exam, which is basically the most important exam of my whole life. That means nonstop studying between then and now. In fact, I should be studying right now. In order to get back to my textbooks as quickly as possible, I will have to keep this post brief.

Yes, I realize I'm backlogged on 4 posts now. I'll give you pictures, brief descriptions, and will do my best not to wax too scientific on you.

After all my trip to Michigan funtime, I decided that I really like hazelnut flavoring in my coffee. This made me think that perhaps I would also enjoy hazelnuts in cookies too, so I chose to make hazelnut orange shortbread (55).

This was an interesting recipe, because the dough is about half flour and half toasted hazelnuts (which, I admit, I think I burned a little bit), and the orange zest has a nice strong taste. There's cane sugar on top, which adds just enough sweetness to help keep this shortbread from tasting like a granola bar... or, at least I was a bit reminded of some Nature Valley business or some such. My coworkers disagreed.

(marked as a best cookie) The week after that I decided that, being the middle of summer, it was the perfect time to make what I consider to be a perfect dessert for the summer: lemon bars (56). I'm not sure if it was the recipe, or if it's just an inherent quality of lemon bars, but these were SO GOOD. When I brought them in to work I encouraged everyone around me to eat them up so I wouldn't.

The recipe for the crust had an unusual instruction in it: it called for grating frozen butter so that it could be mixed with the flour and sugar. I think my grater was too fine, though, because by the time I got halfway through a stick the end had started to melt.

After that, I made peanut butter and jelly bars (57). These were a late-night endeavor, thrown together after loading everything into the theater and running through musical and technical rehearsals, so I chose something simple that required minimal shopping. What these bars did call for, however, was a LOT of peanut butter. A medium-sized jar of peanut butter went into this recipe, along with a couple sticks of butter and some other random stuff. Essentially what these are is a peanut butter dough covered with a layer of strawberry jam (homemade by my grandma), and then covered with another layer of peanut butter dough and roughly chopped peanuts.

When I tried these, I found, to my dismay, that they taste just like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that has been in a lunchbox all morning. My friends said they really liked these, but something put me off. It may be that I don't like how strawberry jam goes with peanut butter. It may be that the consistency made me think of elementary school cafeterias. I don't know. But I wasn't particularly fond of these bars. I did like the peanut butter dough, though, so I might see about revising this recipe to make peanut butter cookies (especially considering the melty peanut butter cookies I made last year).

Finally, this past weekend, I found myself a tiny bit of free time to whip together some key lime bars (58). Now, I love key lime pie, and I like lime in general, and so Saturday turned into a lime fiasco by mistake: my family came over to see the musical, and while they were here I served them Pad Thai (with lime), limeade, and these bars. But that's slightly off-topic.

I like these bars (although not as much as the lemon bars) - the key lime juice makes them exceptionally tart, so that adding whipped cream on top tones them down just enough to be amazing. I'm also particularly fond of graham cracker crusts, which is exactly what is on the bottom layer. The top layer is made with key lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk.

Aside from baking, I've picked up a couple things to keep me occupied in my nonexistent free time: I've been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I've spent a bit of time getting stars in Super Mario Galaxy, and I've started watching an old BBC comedy called 'Are you Being Served?'. I expect that I will be dropping all three of these in order to study more this month.

I'll try to keep the cookie posts up, although I warn in advance that everything I choose will be chosen for its quick prep time.

Ok that is all for now ^.^


real update soon

but for now, I think this is totally worth sharing:

My advisor went to China last week for a conference and he picked up small gifts for his hard-working students... which are multi-use matches. The thing that's awesome about these is I totally snagged one with Chairman Mao on it. Oh yeah.
I'm not sure why I'm so excited about this, but for now I'll blame it on my amusement at propaganda.


One Year: I've been scooped!?!

I realize, of course, that keeping a blog for anything at all is not particularly unique in this day and age, but I was glued to the tube the other night when I saw this (notice 1:15 to 1:20 especially). Oh great, a feel-good movie about a woman working her way through a cookbook and keeping a blog on it. Given, Julia Child is kind of cooler than Martha Stewart, and I don't have a soul-crushing job (or, at least I haven't discovered it to be so yet). And if, in the future, someone accuses me of copying this movie, I will at least be able to defend myself with the fact that I started this project an entire year before I heard anything about it.

Yes, that's right, I've been baking cookies on a weekly basis for a year now! The time has passed just as quickly as cliches call for, and here I am in perhaps the busiest summer of my life.

Why am I so busy? Well, let's see: I work full-time in a lab, I have three hours of rehearsal practically every evening, and whatever spare time I have otherwise goes into exercise or studying for the qual. I've still found time to sneak in cookie baking, but many of my projects have been uncomplicated to allow me to do other things. Although I'm often late and backlogged with posting, I promise that I'm keeping up this project, and will continue to stay on schedule with my baking.

Last weekend I made the 7-hour drive home to spend the Fourth of July with my family. This is one of the most important holidays on my Dad's side of the family, perhaps because there are something like 8 birthdays that happen in June and July put together. So everyone came home - my drive wasn't the longest, either - for a weekend of sun, soccer, and celebration. It was awesome. It also meant that I did not make cookies on Saturday.

Instead, I came home from rehearsal Monday night and started baking cookies that are perhaps the most interesting thing I've made yet: Cornmeal Thyme Cookies (53). Now, it's very difficult to imagine what it tastes like to put a savory herb into a cookie, and, to be honest with you, I thought that these were going to be disgusting. Or, considering that this is a published cookbook, I thought they wouldn't be better than mediocre.

After mixing everything together - that is, the cornmeal, currants, thyme, lots of butter, sugar, and other normal cookie things - and baking, I found that these are some of the best cookies I've ever had, especially the day after they were baked. Something between the first three ingredients listed made for a fantastic and unique taste, and perhaps it's the unique part that won me over. After all, I have some basis of comparison for most of the cookies I make, but this was totally new, and totally delicious. My friends were equally surprised that these were so good. If you're looking for a different cookie to share with people, this is definitely it.

Yesterday I decided to go with something a little more normal, and whipped up some Dark Chocolate Cherry Cookies (54). These are a basic cookie with Dutched Cocoa in the dough and bittersweet chocolate chunks and dried tart cherries mixed in. The product is a couple dozen large cookies that have a very strong chocolate taste. The cherries do not feature too heavily in the overall taste of the cookies, but when you get a bite of one, you definitely notice it. Although I think these cookies are tasty, I would have liked it if the cherries were a stronger taste in them - especially considering how difficult it was to find sour cherries around here. Ah well. I'll chalk these down as good, but they were kind of a waste of money.

Alright, it's time for some sleep - I've got to be up early tomorrow for the start of yet another busy week. Hi ho the glamorous life!


Backlog, take 2

I apologize for my tardiness in posting yet again, despite it being summer, I've been insanely busy. A typical day for me lately goes like this: wake up and go to work, from work go to rehearsal, from rehearsal go out with people. Rinse and repeat for at least half of the week. Weekends get changed up a little, but I like to go swimming, and then (again) end up spending time with my friends. Whom I love. So it's cool.

The first set of cookies shown here are a basic chocolate chip cookie (50), with ingredients set up so that they're thin and crunchy. You can see Domo is crunching on this one. As far as making chocolate chip cookies to have different textures, one has to vary the ingredients. I'm noticing that things that are crunchy typically have more butter and less flour (cakey things go the other way). At first when I realized this it came as a surprise: for some reason I thought that butter would make things moist or something. This is not true. But yes, these were pretty good, plus they were convenient to make while I was over at my friend's house watching the first Transformers movie.

On the following weekend I was in my cousin's wedding (congratulations Whitney and Adam!!), so I drove home for a whirlwind weekend of fun. I was completely unable to make cookies then, but I managed to sneak some baking in on Wednesday when I decided it was too hot to leave my apartment. Baking didn't really help, but these cookies were quick to make and worked well for the pool party I went to with the people from my lab.

These are called Honey Florentines (51). They're made with butter and honey, some sugar, and the tiniest amount of flour. This is the kind of cookie that melts all over the place in the oven, and the lacelike texture is a result of things boiling and then cooling. Although they were very buttery, these cookies gave the illusion of being a light snack, and they seemed to go over well at the pool party.

(marked as a best cookie) Finally we have Sunday's (yes, I was late again) concoction, Peach Drop Cookies (52), which have won their way onto my top five list. There's a couple reasons why I like these so much: first, they basically taste like Snickerdoodles with peaches in them. Second, their texture is soft and cakelike (more flour, less butter!). Third, they were super easy to make. Aside from the normal ingredients, these cookies have chopped peach bits and homemade peach jam in them. I did not make the jam - it was a Christmas gift from my grandma, which means I should call her and tell her about how I used it. These taste so good... they were especially delicious when I had just taken them out of the oven, and I have to admit I downed about half a dozen while they were still warm. I blame it on that they're too good. As long as peaches are in season, I may end up making these again.

Alright, it's time to get back to work. Rehearsal is picking up since the show is about a month away, and Quals are coming up in two months, so I've really got to get my act together. Oh, right, and posting this stuff on time would be nice too.



Well, the semester ended, I passed all my classes, and ran home for a week. After that I crashed in Ann Arbor for a couple days, during which I spent fun times with several of my close friends from undergraduate times, and wowed them with my cooking and baking skills. It helped that I made Truffle Brownies (47), which are now my favorite kind of brownies ever. Yes, these even top Grandma Carol's buttermilk brownies (although I may have to make those sometime again just to check).

These brownies have a lot involved: the base starts with sugar and eggs whipped together for several minutes, with melted unsweetened chocolate and butter added in, followed by the usual blend of flour, baking powder, and salt. Whipping stuff at the beginning makes the brownies pretty light, and the chocolate is nice and dark, which is how it ought to be. After the brownie part is baked and cooled, it is topped with a ganache made from heavy whipping cream and semisweet chocolate. All in all, the experience is one of chocolate decadence, which means tasty tasty bliss. And how is it that I can talk about something I made 3 recipes ago with such detail? It might have something to do with me making it again more recently for a friend's party.

Soon after that baking endeavor, I returned to my own home and started work in the new lab (well, it's new for me). That week basically consisted of me working on a simple optics problem, which actually meant learning how to use Matlab... until I realized that I needed to be using Mathematica. Basically, these are both computational programs, but the first is for numerical stuff (i.e. processing data) and the second is for symbolic stuff (that is, solving equations with variables). I'm actually still not done with that I need to do, but it's a lot of work to learn how to make Mathematica do what I want it to do. I'll get it eventually, though, and then I'm sure I'll be glad to have worked on it.

After concluding a week spent almost exclusively working on the computer, I decided it was time to make cookies that were a little more involved than usual. And so I made what my cookbook calls Alfajores de Dulce de Leche (48). Essentially, these are shortbread cookies (well, less sugar and more flour) sandwiching a layer of dulce de leche. If I had really wanted to work hard, I would have made my own dulce de leche by boiling sweetened condensed milk forever (that is, like 5 hours), but it's summer and I don't like to add more heat to my apartment than is necessary. These were tasty cookies, although a bit rich, and the center layer had to be put on just before eating them, so I kind of didn't like that I couldn't present them already prepared.

Another week passed, with more work (finally some lab work too, hooray) and an audition snuck in on Friday night. As if I don't have enough to do what with preparing for the Qual, learning what I need to do in the lab, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, I am now singing in the ensemble for CUTC's Annie Get Your Gun. If you're not familiar with the show, here's my synopsis: this is a musical about a woman who's a champion sharpshooter, and she's in love with a guy who can't handle the idea of a woman being better than him. Throw in some other standard Musical Theater types - a young couple's forbidden love and a bunch of chorus numbers - and you've got this show. Although I'm sure I make it sound bad, I actually think it's pretty cute and I'm really excited to be involved ^.^

That weekend I got some of my favorite ingredients (toffee and butterscotch, mostly) to make butterscotch cashew blondies (49), which turned out to be exceptional. I ended up bringing these to a potluck lunch party for a friend, and everyone enjoyed them. Since these are blondies, they're pretty dense, and the three flavors mentioned above blend fantastically.

Okay, I'm off to lunch with friends, I didn't skip last Saturday's cookies, I just don't have them ready to post yet. Expect another rambling entry soon.


Vacation, had to get away

This is it, I've survived my first "year" (that is, two semesters) of graduate school! The last week was awfully rough, with two take-home exams pretty much kicking my butt.

Friday night, after finishing my last final, I braved severe weather to go out for a drink with friends, and thus began this nice but tiring week of vacation. On Saturday, after shopping (I got a new swimsuit for the outdoor pool), I made some cookies, and spent the rest of the evening peddling them off to whatever friends were left in town.

(46) These are very crunchy coconut cookies with nutmeg added, which I think pair nicely. The recipe claims that the flavor palette is Jamaican. I wouldn't know this because I'm not familiar with Jamaican flavors, but I think that coconut and nutmeg pair together nicely. As I've said, these are very crunchy - in fact, the recipe doesn't have eggs, butter, or oil in it. There's just sugar, coconut, some baking soda, nutmeg, and probably a couple dry ingredients I've forgotten, plus enough water to make it into an actual dough. I think I added too much dough when I made these because when I rolled them out and tried to cut them into circles, they were way too sticky to work with. Instead, I ended up grabbing dough and forming them into disks by hand.

But that was Saturday. On Sunday I took a very long drive (6.5 hours!) and ended up at my dad's house to spend the week. It's a relief to be close to water again, and a little taxing to deal with my entire family at once, but it's still great to be here. Today I went bike riding through town with my brother and we spent some time scrubbing my grandpa's sailboat and catching sun. Tomorrow I think I might go to the beach and jump in Lake Huron. If I do, however, it'll only be for a quick dip, because the water is still something like 42˚F. We'll see. I kind of want to do it, just for bragging rights.

The schedule for next weekend should be interesting - I plan to be in Ann Arbor for all of Saturday, so I may make my cookies early, or I may make them late. I will definitely be making them at some point for the weekend, but I'm just not sure when.

All that said, I think I'm going to go back to enjoying my time off, before research kicks in for the weekend.


exam panic time!

As predicted, now I am super stressed out about exams, seeing as take-home tests are kind of like death. Especially in the way that they're both things I don't really want to try right now.

So in the spirit of procrastination, I not only made cookies, but finished my wall decorating project I mentioned last week. I've been kind of bothered by some of my empty walls and how expensive it is to find things that aren't frameless posters to fill the space.

Then one day as I was surfing around the internet I stumbled on the suggestion to glue scrapbook paper to styrofoam sheets and put that on the wall. I decided that this was a good idea, and raided Michael's. The result is shown on the right. I like the way this looks because the paper is about 1" away from the wall (meaning, there's some dimension to it). Also, I was able to put these up using sticky tack and a level program I downloaded for my ipod. Accelerometers FTW.

As for my baking adventures, yesterday I made lemon-pistachio cookies (45). These are nice fluffy cookies, made fluffier by the egg white I had to beat until it formed peaks (thanks to my friends for the blender <3). Aside from the egg white, there's chopped pistachios, a little bit of lemon juice, a LOT of brown sugar, and about a tablespoon of flour involved. Since there's so little flour (and no butter), these are kind of crunchy and really airy, as you can probably tell from the picture.

I made these cookies because I wanted to use up my pistachios (they're not exactly my favorite nut, I think they're too salty), and I wasn't sure if they would turn out well, but I think these are really tasty. The brown sugar balances out the salty taste of the nuts, and the lemon juice adds in a slight bit of sourness just where it's needed. What's more, once you get past chopping 1C of pistachios, the recipe is very easy.

Alright, that has to be it for now. I have an Electricity and Magnetism final to plod through, followed by Quantum Mechanics. This is going to be a very long week.


wrapping up, winding down

This is the end of the semester, which means I'm going a little crazy in this last push before, well, continuing to work (but at least not in terms of coursework). Classes ended today, so from here I have a review session to run, two exams to proctor, and two take-home finals to write by next week Friday. It's very tempting to take a few evenings off, but I know I need to start plodding through these exams.

In the meanwhile, I've got some extra distraction that is entirely my fault: I splurged last weekend and bought myself a Wii Fit. On Sunday, I decided it should be called Wii Hurt, but my muscles are better now. The game is interesting - a little mean to slightly overweight girls like me, but it focuses on having the right weight distribution and balance while doing exercises as a means of having a healthier body. This means things like yoga poses, push-ups, pretend hula-hooping and snowboarding... there's lots of interesting things. I'm REALLY bad at the snowboarding. The board works via four sensors, one on each corner, that make it possible to measure center of balance and suchlike.

Before playing my exercise game, however, I made cookies on Saturday. These are called Lime Meltaways (44), and that's exactly what they do. These cookies fall apart once you bite into them. In these cookies there's the zest of two limes and about two tablespoons of lime juice, and the zest really makes the lime flavor come out nicely. The cookies are kind of sour on their own, fortunately they're covered in confectioner's sugar, which makes them just sweet enough.

This kind of cookie is what's called an icebox cookie. In general, what this means is that the dough, once prepared, is formed into rolls and refrigerated, then sliced to make fairly uniform cookies (that don't rise, since there's no baking soda or baking powder in them). It's a useful technique, but it definitely reminds me that I need a knife sharpener.

As usual, I've got a couple other projects in the works, when I finish them I expect I'll post because I'm kind of proud of my work so far. Until then, it's exam panic time!


summer is icumen in

Okay, so actually Summer is still 1+ months off, but the 85˚F weekend has gotten me a little enthusiastic about moderately warm weather. Among other things, this has meant throwing open my one big window to let all the fresh air in, and changing my comforter out for a light quilt.

Yesterday, a group of us decided to take advantage of the lovely weather, and we went to a small park in Urbana, located perhaps a mile away from campus. Despite its proximity to some 30000 students, we only had to share the park with a few children and some folks playing tennis. So the 15 or so of us took over a baseball field and played kickball (although we had to explain all the rules to the several international students playing with us). Miraculously, I didn't get a sunburn while we did this.

When we finished with the park, I went home to make cookies. This was not so nice as it usually has been, because during the winter I enjoyed the fact that the oven warmed up my apartment. The oven still warms my apartment up, but since "room temperature" is much warmer to begin with, there's the potential for things to get a little uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that I made about eight dozen cookies, and it suddenly becomes a good thing that I didn't start baking until the sun was well on its way down.

This week I made thumbprint cookies (43). The name has a pretty simple (and obvious) origin: halfway through baking the cookies I had to take them out of the oven and use my thumb to poke a hole in them. Then they were returned to the oven to finish baking, and later filled with a chocolate, butter, and corn syrup mixture.

The cookie dough is pretty basic. I would say that it's more or less like a shortbread recipe - butter, confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and flour - except that there's more flour in here than shortbread calls for. The flavor and texture is pretty simple, which means that the somewhat soft chocolate filling takes center stage in the cookie-eating experience. I'm not sure how I feel about that, it seems a bit like the cookies are just there to hold the chocolate.

There is an up side to the simplicity of these cookies, though: I made such a big batch so that I can give them to my students as an incentive for them to actually show up to class this week and get their old quizzes (I really don't want to have to hold on to them). Since there's no big surprises here, I don't think there will be any complaints, except perhaps the occasional "I don't like chocolate."

Speaking of quizzes, it's about time that I get my grading done. Then I have some homework death and so on. Oh, the joys of wrapping up the semester...


The girl scouts can take a hike

The first thing that I have to say is that the gray cupcakes were a success. I decorated them with Eeyores and emo faces, and Cory seemed pretty happy. Hooray!

This weekend was a busy time, as usual, but also full of being tired, not wanting to do homework, and watching Disney movies. A few of my friends got together to watch movies on Saturday night, and we ended up watching Aladdin, the Lion King, and Mulan. In the middle of the second one, I realized that there are far too many Disney movies with some bird in them. I would make a list but there are other things to do first.

Saturday night was cookie-making time, and I got around to making what I think are my new favorites: chocolate and mint cookies (42). These are basically Thin Mints with more chocolate and less Girl Scouts. The cookie part is mostly Dutched cocoa (honestly, there's twice as much cocoa as flour) rolled out and cut with the only 2" round cookie cutter I had, which happened to be fluted. After baking these and letting them cool, I made a chocolate-mint ganache with lots of semisweet chocolate, whipping cream, and peppermint extract. Finally, when those were set, the cookies were dipped in melted semisweet chocolate to make them look very beautiful and taste very good. I was a little disappointed that the yield was so small (well, small meaning about 30 cookies) -- I think I will definitely have to make these again, and in larger quantity.

Alright, I have so much homework to do and so little motivation to scrounge up that I think I should stop writing for now. I'm sure next week I'll be gushing about the glorious Spring weather, if I'm not out enjoying it.


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