the lazy graduate student

Yes, I know, the title of this post sounds like a paradox.  Indeed, looking from the outside, graduate students are hardworking to the point that it is a fault.  Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that spending any waking hour not working is a waste of time.  I am not talking about this false laziness, but a real problem that comes out of burn-out, depression, lack of deadlines, or reaching a point where one can no longer coast.

Indeed, this state does exist, and I have fallen in and out of it for various reasons over the past couple years.  I can usually judge how bad this is by how messy my apartment is, and by how backlogged I get on my posting.  This gets into a weird feedback loops where cleaning my apartment makes my life better, and my life being better makes me want my apartment to be clean.  The activation energy is sometimes very high, but it's helpful for me to take care of the little things that have piled up.  And so, in my current recovery phase, I am posting what is not actually too bad of a cookie backlog:

137. Lemon Tassies
As you can probably guess from the picture, these are essentially tiny lemon cheesecakes.  The crust is a butter mixture kind of like regular pie crust, but it also has lemon zest in it.  This is baked before the filling, which is primarily made of cream cheese and flavored with lemon juice and more lemon zest, is spooned into it.  The whole thing is baked again to give the final result, which is a pretty and tasty treat!

I made a small mistake when I made these - when I read the recipe, I didn't realize that it called for so much lemon zest, and only bought one lemon when I definitely needed two.  I then tried to get as much zest as possible out of the single lemon and ended up including some of the bitter pith in the recipe.  This is always a bad idea.  Although this didn't completely ruin the recipe, these cookies (the definition is a little loose here I guess) ended up with a slightly bitter taste which shouldn't have been there.  When I shared these with my friends, they said it wasn't a problem, but I was not very happy knowing that they could have tasted better.

138. Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies
Continuing with the cream cheese trend, I went ahead and made these icebox cookies.  Now, the title here is a little misleading, because these cookies are made mostly of butter.  When I say mostly, I mean that there is an entire pound of butter in this recipe!  Yes, that's four sticks of butter, which is totally gross.  The cookies are a mix of all that butter, plus cream cheese, copious amount of vanilla, and finely chopped toasted walnuts (which I confess I burned a little).  The dough was rolled up and stuck in the freezer overnight, then I rolled it in more walnuts, sliced it, and baked it.

Fortunately, the yield of this recipe was something like 5 dozen cookies, so they ended up not being an instant heart attack for my peers.  The over-toasted walnuts weren't any kind of problem, and their flavor mixed with the sugar and vanilla left me thinking of maple syrup, which is never a bad thing.  I had a hard time peddling all of these off, so there are a dozen left in my freezer saved for another day.

139. Cocoa Shortbread Diamonds
Finally we have my rescued recipe, cocoa stars!  Faced with the prospect of cutting shapes in shortbread, I became reminiscent of the month I spent in Singapore in 2008 and the shortbread-decorating adventures I had there with my dear friend Bonita.  With that in mind, I couldn't bear just cutting these into diamonds, and went looking for a cute, small cookie cutter, which turned out to be a star.

Back to the topic at hand, however, these are shortbread cookies flavored with cocoa, so they have the typical shortbread ingredients - flour, confectioners' sugar, butter, and vanilla - plus cocoa powder.  This specific recipe calls for pulsing the ingredients in a food processor  until the dough starts to come together.  Unfortunately, with the quantities as dictated in the recipe, this never happened.  Even when I tried squeezing the dough together, it wouldn't stick.

Recognizing that this recipe was seriously flawed, I went online to the Martha Stewart website to see what the comments were on this recipe, and some people suggested adding an egg white to make the dough stick together.  I didn't like this idea: eggs have no place in shortbread, and I try to be very consistent about food definitions, so I added more butter instead.

I ended up adding nearly an extra stick of butter to the recipe, which made the dough stick together and made the cookies fantastically rich.  I think this ended up being a little too much butter, since the cookies basically fell apart when I tried them (and a few fell apart when I picked them up), but it was a good rescue.  So in the end, what I recommend is adding an extra 1/2 stick (1/4C) of butter to the recipe to make it work, and then it is a great success!


the roving researcher

I do a lot of theory and simulation work in my research, and so I find that I can sit down anywhere with a power cord and an internet connection to get work done.  Of course, the challenge of this is that there are many places where I sit down and get no work done whatsoever.  Working at home is perhaps the worst, because I tend to oversleep, and then do kitchen things or crochet or watch TV while I'm "working."  It's shameful, I know, and the only solution I've come up with so far is to just go to my office.  The only problem with my office, however, is that it's a solid 15 minute walk from any other places on campus I have to be, and so there are days when it's just not worth the time (this includes days like last week when the temperature was -5˚F).

Maybe some of the issue here is that I haven't yet gotten used to the paradigm of not having a physical lab space.  I did experimental Physics research before, so I had to be in the lab to get work done.  There were no gray lines between work time and personal time.  Changes of venue, and their subsequent disruption of pace, were not an option.  Now they are, and I need to learn to stay put or else to lose less time in transition.  We'll see how that goes.

Or I could just work in my office and deal with the walking time.  It's especially useful to work there when other people are there and working (yay peer pressure!), plus it gives me a great opportunity to share my latest cookie adventure with people...

136. Cream-Filled Chocolate Sandwiches
If these look like Oreos to you, that's because that is basically what these cookies are.  As the title indicates, these are chocolate cookies sandwiched with vanilla cream.  The cookies get their chocolate flavor from a hefty dose of dutched cocoa, and are otherwise a little soft and kind of generic.  The filling is made with too much fat (1/2C butter and 1/2C vegetable shortening) and sugar (3+C confectioners' sugar!), which makes it taste even more sinful than your typical Oreo filling.

Basically, these cookies were pretty (as you can see), and very decadent.  Although the cookies themselves are pretty generic, they pair nicely with the filling to give a rich flavor and texture experience, and leave you with the lingering feeling that you're going to get both heart failure and type 2 diabetes.

I realize I promised two cookies this week, and I did make another vegan cookie - Peanut Apple Pretzel Drops - to share at a Superbowl party, but I neglected to take pictures.  You can find the recipe here, if you're interested.  These cookies have pretzels, peanuts, dried apples, and cinnamon (plus lots of brown sugar and such) in them, and made a tasty and even a little bit healthy snack.  I'm a fan (although I liked the green tea biscotti better).



Okay, I admit it's cheap of me to go for a snow pun, since they are overabundant this week.  And, to be fair, the roads were pretty awful here today.  Thankfully, Champaign has a magical weather protection bubble which, although my meteorology friend complains makes things boring, means that the really bad weather skirts around us.

As far as the Midwest "Snowpocalyse" goes, this means we had a lot of sleet yesterday, but not the foot of snow that was originally predicted.  Classes were cancelled today, and even though this didn't really disrupt anything for me (I'm not taking any classes and I don't teach on Wednesdays), I am still happy to call this my first snow day since the fourth grade.  Of course, this just meant that I worked from home, until it was time to dig my car out and make Phil take a break from running experiments in the wind tunnel to have dinner with me.  He's been super busy, which has meant I've been wasting (too much) time with my newfound craft, crocheting.  I am making a blanket, perhaps I will post a picture when I am finished.

The green color depends on your matcha.
Clearly, mine isn't very green.
I've also found myself tempted to pick up another project, and this one is totally my mom's fault: she gave me a vegan cookie recipe book for my birthday, and nearly everything looks amazing.  I'm not sure if I'm ready to commit to tacking another 100 weeks onto this cookie project, but I've already flipped through and noted a few of the recipes I'd like to try, including Grapefruit Icebox Cookies and Tahini Lime Cookies.  There was one recipe, however, that caught my attention so strongly I had to try it right away, and thus I ended up making Green Tea Walnut Biscotti last weekend (recipe can be found here).  Yes, these are vegan, and even though they have no animal product in them, they taste AMAZING.  That said, I am a huge fan of matcha, or green tea powder, so if you don't like green tea you might not be so excited about these.  But if you do, I strongly recommend trying this.  Biscotti are very easy to make, although they take upwards of an hour to bake.  Also, if you're not interested in buying ground flax seeds (i.e. you don't want a vegan recipe), you can omit the flax and a couple tablespoons of water and add an egg instead.

135. Amaretti Crisps
Saturday was kind of a weird and lazy day for me, starting with a malfunction in CRCE's sound system that badly disrupted my kickboxing class, and ending with a surprise birthday cake.  And so when I picked out cookies, I picked out something that matched my level of laziness, and which only called for four ingredients.  That's right, there's almonds, almond extract, confectioners' sugar, and egg whites in these cookies, and nothing more.

These cookies are made by whipping egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then folding them into a mixture of sugar and ground almonds, then adding the extract to give more flavor.  They were supposed to be put into a pastry bag and squeezed into cute little wreath shapes, but my pastry bag is broken, so I decided to go with the tablespoon option instead.  This may have made the cookies look a little less pretty, but I don't think it was really a problem.

The result of this recipe was a light, crisp (hence the name), and strongly almond-flavored cookie.  They are super easy to make, assuming you have an electric mixer, and everyone in my research group really liked them.  I recommend this recipe as a simple, low-risk way to try sharing a new kind of cookie with people.

Alright, that's it for now.  I've got to get back to simulating pressure pulses in tubes of random shapes.  Yay Matlab!  More cookies next week, with another vegan recipe as well.


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