put 'em all together and a-whaddya get?

The first week of classes was moderately uneventful but still full of random blessings.

One such fortuitous event occurred on Tuesday, the very first day of classes, when I missed my bus. Now, taking the bus means that my time getting to school is quantized, meaning that instead of being able to be as many minutes late as I leave the house, I can be ten minutes early, five minutes late, or twenty minutes late, all depending on the bus. Having missed the bus that would get me to campus on time, I resigned myself to taking the next bus and being embarrassed by being late to my first class. As I stood outside waiting for the next bus to come, my friend Cory drove by, saw me, and gave me a ride. It was fantastic, I didn't have to set such a bad precedent for the semester (because my plan is to go to ALL my classes instead of skipping practically every morning class, as I did last semester).

There are a few extra things I'm trying to do regularly or to cut out this semester. A recent one, and a behavior I really hope to keep up beyond the "one-month wonder" range is spending time at the gym. My friends and I set up a schedule where we go to the pool twice a week, the gym twice a week, and have a day where we decide which one we want to do. So far, it's been doable, and actually quite nice - the gym facilities here at UI are well kept, and free for students to use.

Another thing I'm up to that I think is very important is making myself take a day off from physics (that day being Saturday). As such, it's my Sabbath: I realized that school has been an idol in my life for years, and taking a day off allows me to reassert that there is something much more important ruling my life, namely God. Taking a sabbath doesn't mean sitting around on the couch all day. I went to the gym in the morning, I did some reading, I went out with my friends, and I made cookies.

On Friday, when I did my grocery shopping, I was perusing through my book trying to decide what cookies to bake, when I realized that I've been making very chocolate-y things in the past couple weeks, and decided it would be good to take a break from that. So when I saw the recipe for Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies (30), I decided they were just the variety I wanted.

Looking over the recipe, I realized that I'm starting to pick up on the basic ingredients for chocolate chip cookies, as compared to other cookies. I find that chocolate chip cookies have equal parts white and brown sugar, and lots of butter. But the brown sugar, I think, is the thing that gives them a lot of their characteristic taste, and it's in these cookies, too. The recipe I used yesterday was actually very interesting because it called for 3 cups of oats and only 1/3 cups of flour (and whole wheat flour, at that). I thought perhaps this was an error, but with the low viscosity of the natural peanut butter and the absorbency of the oats, the cookies weren't goopy at all. You'll notice I mentioned natural peanut butter: this basically means it doesn't have salt, sugar, and other random stuff added, which gives it a different taste and makes it a lot less solid. There's also salted peanuts in the cookies, which puts the salt right back in.

I thought I might not like these too much: I usually don't like cookies with peanuts in them, I'm wary about peanut butter, and I always worry about too many flavors and textures going into a recipe, but I think these cookies are delicious. They're a different take on the whole chocolate chip thing, but they're just as easy to make (with about equal yield), and the oatmeal and peanuts go together to make these cookies delightfully crunchy. This recipe is definitely getting a comment written in for quality.

That's about it for now. I've got a problem set to knock out and a lesson plan to prepare, so that hopefully I can do what I want on my birthday instead of losing the day to the demands of grad school.


Everything's coming up bright lights and lollipops

Hey all, I apologize for being a little late in posting - this weekend the Physics department here hosted a conference for undergraduate women in physics, which meant two things for me: free food and that my best friend could come visit. Yes, I realize that I sound like a typical grad student once I bring up free food, but it was good and I actually went to some of the talks, too. I was supposed to be helping but never made it onto the mailing list. Oh well.

It's both encouraging and weird to get a bunch of young women together and to hear the ways we're encouraged to keep after all the craziness we love. Unfortunately, none of the worldviews presented are particularly Christian, which means that I tend to be unable to wholly accept the social science-y talks. Instead, I get angry at the 'jokes' made at the expense of men and unemployed musicians. Yes, the Social Science woman told us that if we wanted to have families it would be best to marry a musician so he could stay home and take care of the kids. And after she said that, I partially stopped listening, although I did pay enough attention to catch her entirely qualitative graph indicating that gender differences decrease after 45... and to hear her then argue that since the average lifespan up until about a hundred years ago was 47, the gender roles prescribed by religion and tradition are no longer valid now that people are living to 80, 90, 100 years old. I think, at the very least, that the argument is a far too simple way for her to throw out stuff she doesn't like.

In the midst of conferencing, I took the time to make my usual cookies (on time this week), which I will have to distribute tomorrow, seeing as there was no school today and I got caught up in apartment decorating. Classes start tomorrow, which means everyone will be back and will help me eat these lovely chocolate-expresso orange cookies (29)!

These small cookies lack eggs and baking soda, which is something that I would expect out of a shortbread, but these don't seem too much like shortbread, perhaps because there's a decent amount of flour in them. The flavor, as you might expect from the cookie name, comes from dutched cocoa, instant expresso, and orange zest. I really think the orange zest makes this cookie, although it just may be that when it's January I want citrus. However it may be, I approve of these cookies.

In other news, I finally found out what and when I am teaching this semester, and while I'm glad to be teaching Physics 101 again, I'm not at all happy that I have to teach 4 sections instead of 3. This will mean grading 96 quizzes every week instead of 72, and at least another two hours lost out of my week. At least I'm only taking two classes this semester, and I really shouldn't complain because I expected to work hard in grad school, but, well, I'm just a little disappointed I suppose.

Everything will be fine, I'll get over it once the semester's momentum picks up (and I very much look forward to when it'll warm up outside and I can start riding my bike again)


I left New Orleans for sub-zero temperatures. Bad form.

Last weekend I took a train to Louisiana to visit my sister and brother-in-law. This was my first time on a real train (the metrorail, subway, and so on totally don't count), and the ride was 17 hours both ways, which was agonizingly boring.

I have a couple comments about the train ride, although they're not specifically related to riding the train:

A few weeks ago I downloaded an application called Stanza for my iPod Touch. Now, this application is basically a document viewer, but it's set up to go online and download free domain books from Project Gutenberg and a few other sites. On the train (and in some other situations), I've had the chance to read classics that I've been wanting to read, and all for free. Which totally beats the overpriced versions they sell at Borders. So I suggest that if you can deal with reading on the computer, look into such websites. Although, I definitely don't suggest reading The Time Machine before bed. It leads to somewhat disturbing dreams.

The other thing the train reminded me of is my complete inability to sleep while sitting up. And even when lying down in awkward positions, one of my legs falls asleep and then I wake up (at least my leg got some rest). I haven't really figured out how to deal with this, but I'm open to suggestions. Drowsy-making medicine doesn't work for me, though.

So I took the train to New Orleans, and my big sister picked me up and took me to Slidell, which is just across Lake Ponchartrain. She and her husband have a lovely apartment overlooking the lake, and I got to spend the weekend with them there. While I was in the area, I felt like my clothes and speaking style and so on screamed out "Yankee", but oh well. It was nice and warm, so my coat was a little lonely in my bag, and I was thrilled.

On Saturday, I delayed my cookie baking so that I could go visit Stennis Space Center, where my sister and brother-in-law work. For those of you that don't know, NASA has a space center in southern Mississippi, where they test rockets. And testing rockets, of course, is fantastic, if only because it means that Becca and Justin can rightfully call themselves rocket scientists.

Being in the area meant that I had to request local food, and Justin was so kind as to get some boiled crawfish for us to eat on Saturday night. I think that a year ago I would have totally been grossed out by the idea of pulling these guys apart and eating the meat from their tail ends, but I think after spending time in Asia I'm not quite so squeamish. In Louisiana, of course, the spices are different, and I couldn't figure out exactly what they were, but in my defense, I was paying more attention to not eating the guts part of the crawfish. Wikipedia says "salt, cayenne pepper, lemon, garlic, bay leaves, etc." Fair enough, although the etc seems a little sketch.

And now I am back in Illinois, where the current temperature is a balmy -6˚F (or 252K, which makes me feel a little better about life). That made Tuesday a perfect time to make these chocolate pistachio biscotti (28) to dip in my coffee (and to share with my friends who've already made it back to town). These are... not my favorite thing I've made, partially because biscotti are awfully hard, and I've never been particularly fond of pistachios. And I had to shell 1C of pistachios. It was a drag. Then I rinsed them in the hope it would make them less salty, but it didn't get rid of enough salt, in my opinion.

Alright, I realize that I'm making these sound like they're bad. Which they are not. These aren't weird like the Pecan Tassies I made back in the summer. In fact, they're quite edible, which is fantastic, because Saturday is coming up again, and I'll be making more cookies then (I won't tell you which until I actually make them, so you'll have to wait to find out).

But now, the goal is to keep my apartment warm against this horribly cold weather. Usually I turn my heat off at night, but I found that was a bad idea with last night's chill, and hope that I'm smart enough not to repeat my mistakes in such close succession. So the heat stays on (but so do the sweaters).


Not for evening snacking

Since school isn't in session right now, I've been trying to choose recipes that are both appropriate to winter and that have a fairly small yield. And thus, this week we have Mocha Shortbread (27).

I think I've talked about making shortbread before on this blog, but I'll review the basics just in case you've forgotten. Shortbread is mostly made of flour, butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar. There are plenty of other things that you can add to give extra flavor to the cookies, but the basic taste depends on the quality of the butter and vanilla. This is why I suggest using real vanilla extract (in fact, I suggest using it all the time, even though it is more expensive than it's artificial counterpart). In this particular recipe, dutched cocoa and instant expresso provide more flavor than anything else, so it's not as big of a deal.

I enjoyed eating these shortbread cookies. They're pretty dense, seeing as they haven't any egg or baking, and the cocoa is nice with the texture. The coffee taste is hardly detectable, but I still would recommend not eating any of these after dinner time, so as not to risk staying awake all night. My family seemed to enjoy these too: I made them Friday evening and they were gone by the middle of the day today (of course, there were also just eight pieces, which helped).

Alright, that's all for now. A New Year's post is in the works with some discussion about the conference I attended in Chicago, but I give it another day or two until I feel like it's ready to go up. I've only just begun gathering my notes and thoughts, so I've got to figure out how to package them for internets.


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