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.


fancy footwork + weak ankles = bad idea


I apologize for procrastinating my way out of posting last week... I had a Quantum Mechanics midterm to occupy me until Wednesday afternoon, and then I had the brain death from the midterm to prevent me from other occupations until, oh, let's say right now.

The rest of my time in Miami was all kinds of fun - I went and watched more tennis (thus achieving a fantastic sunburn) on Key Biscayne, spent time with my cousins, and thoroughly enjoyed being out of weird Midwestern spring weather.

While driving to and from Bloomington, IL, I realized yet again that I am living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I never realize this until I leave, because grad school is difficult and sometimes makes me forget that there's anything outside of the Physics building. It's quite pathetic, and I'm hoping this summer will allow me to reclaim just a little bit of my humanity.

Upon my return to the middle of nowhere, I set a cup of currants to soak in dark rum so that I could make rum raisin shortbread (39). Currants are basically raisins made from a different, smaller kind of grape (and honestly, I'm not sure what else the difference is except that they cost twice as much).

These are your typical shortbread cookies: there's lots of butter involved, some confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and orange zest. The currants added a nice taste and texture, plus they make the cookies look cute. Of course, presentation is key, because nobody wants to eat an ugly cookie. Although I don't have too much to say about these cookies, I will say that I like them.

Between last weekend and this weekend I've spent some time experimenting with new recipes. More specifically, this has meant using tofu in things I make. Now, I realize most of you who read this probably think of tofu as food for health-food nuts and vegetarians, but it turns out to be pretty tasty stuff when prepared properly (likewise, soy milk is not just for lactose intolerant folks). 'Proper preparation' can mean something like pan-searing it or applying a good marinade. I also decided that it was time to use up the rest of my quinoa (a grain kind of like couscous), and in that pursuit, stumbled on this recipe for black beans and quinoa. When I cooked this, it was so delicious I couldn't believe it, and I honestly think this is a dish that even picky people (e.g. my stepsister) would eat. Give it a go. Seriously.

This weekend has already been pretty full, but in a good way. Last night I got all dressed up (in this lovely dress I picked up in Miami) for a wine and cheese party at my friend's apartment. Of course, I have no class beyond dressing myself, so I showed up with a plate of Pigs in a Blanket. This was fine - I had gotten approval from the hostess and my friends seemed to appreciate the food. Some time well after midnight, I came home and went to sleep. This morning I woke up, went swimming, cleaned my kitchen, played soccer, enjoyed a spontaneous cookout, and baked cookies.

Today's cookies are peanut crisps (40): basically, this means crunchy cookies with peanuts in them. The recipe was very straightforward, almost to the point that I thought it maybe had a typo in it. After all, putting together only half a stick of butter with 1-1/4C brown sugar sounds a little ridiculous. Fortunately, there was enough liquid involved in the recipe that there wasn't a problem. These cookies are much simpler than many other things I've made (and many things I will be making in the future), but I think their simplicity comes as a bit of a relief in the face of all the fancier stuff. Also they taste good, considering they're full of brown sugar, which is the best sugar.

I suppose before ending this post I should explain the title. It all boils down to this: today I played soccer with shoes that don't quite fit right and my usual weak ankle problems. When I play soccer I'm not very good at sprinting but I'm decently quick at changing direction (hence the "fancy footwork"). This means a lot of strain on my ankles, and so usually whenever I play a sport that involves this sort of business, I twist my ankle halfway or 3/4 through the game and it's all downhill from there. There are two options for me here. One is to not play soccer or ultimate frisbee, but that's silly. The other is to continue looking into ways to get better ankle support, since the arch-support inserts I used today didn't help. The third option, of course, is not to play on a nobbly field but that brings me back to option 1. I guess I'll go with 2.

In the meanwhile, I will gently limp around until things go back to normal, and will sleep very well tonight.


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