Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Likeable links

I thought that it might be fun to share some favorite links today, just to share some things I have been liking/considering/mulling/coveting lately. Please note that these are just some things I have found recently that I wanted to pass along-- I receive no compensation for sharing them and am not affiliated with any of these companies.

First is this adorable teacup, from OlisCupboard on Etsy. All of her ceramics are really clever, but I am especially drawn to this one. I actually drink my coffee every morning out of a teacup, and the idea of waking up to this beauty every morning is quite appealing.

Next up is this mug with a little dissertation motivation printed on the front! I love the message and I really like the mix of fonts. This mug is from Click and Blossom, and their site has all kinds of similarly whimsical items for sale, like tee shirts, totes, and onesies.

After reading this NYT article on G&B Coffee in Los Angeles, I am sorry I don't live closer to the Golden State! Everything in the article sounds amazing, from an espresso milkshake to a macadamia-almond iced latte. Love that they only make things they would really want to order. The article includes a link for making the macadamia-almond milk, so I may need to try this one on my own!

I know it's summer and winter knits are the last thing most of us are thinking about, but knitting those booties got me thinking about another quick knitting project and it might be this Rikke Hat from Happy Knits. I love the simple, slouchy shape and I have some hand-dyed yarn that I think would be perfect for it.

Finally, this peach sherbet from Martha Stewart Living looks so good and so easy I may give it a try this week. The ingredients are just peaches and sweetened condensed milk. Better still, no ice cream maker is required! I will probably need to make a partial batch since Jared is not a fan of peaches, but luckily the recipe is so simple I don't foresee that being an issue.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tiny shoes for tiny feet

 Let me tell you, it has been a long time since I completed a knitting project. It's not that years go by without knitting a stitch-- like any good knitter, I have some unfinished pieces that I pick up occasionally before abandoning them again, sometimes after knitting just one row. I have made a couple of simple berets during grad school, which I have used often in the winter (it's a revelation to live in a place where lace knits aren't out of the question in cold weather). Sadly, those berets were both knit pre-thesis, so it has been a few years since I really finished a project.

Above you can see what I knit up last week, start to finish! Yes, they are very, very small and the pattern was very simple, but it felt really good to knit something up and I had forgotten how nice it is to knit on a long road trip or in the evenings after the day is done. I think I need to bring knitting back in to my routine. There's something about the clacking of the needles, watching the fabric grown... it's almost meditative, and I have missed that. I also really miss my knitting group back home; I think wherever I end up next, I need to make joining a knitting group a priority.

I returned to knitting because a dear friend is having her first baby and I think that a handmade gift is nice when someone reaches a life milestone like this. Of course, I got her some practical things, too, but I like to think her baby will wear these little booties for a bit and then they will be stored away as a memento from this special time. Obviously, the yarn is easy to care for so when they are in use she can just toss them in the wash with the rest of the laundry.

Here's a close-up on the stitches, after I blocked the booties. For non-knitters, that just means I washed them gently by hand and when they were still quite damp I shaped them into a nice boot shape. Once blocked, the stitches look more even and the finished product looks more like a bootie and less like an oddly shaped sock.

....cables! I just love cables, which is why I chose this pattern in the first place. The booties are also super simple to knit. You knit them up flat, increasing to shape the bootie, then working the cabled portion before finally adding eyelets and knitting up the cuff. It doesn't look like it, but the cuff is actually the portion that took me the longest. If you're like me and love a project with some variety, these are great because they have a lot of different techniques but you only work on any one portion of the bootie for a few rows, so the project moves quickly. The booties are finished off with a tie; for these, I used a simple crochet chain, but you can also use i-cord or ribbon. Personally, I like having the tie done in the yarn, but a simple grosgrain ribbon could be nice, too. Either way, it's a cute little project and is just the thing when you want to a little something special to celebrate a new baby.

Project Details

Pattern: Two Needle Cable Baby Booties by Barbara Breiter
Yarn: Filtura Di Crosa Dolce Amore in color 48 (it's like a lime green, see the picture on Ravelry)
Needles: Brittany size 7 double pointed needles (DPNs), plus one medium cable from the Brittany cable needle pack

Please note that DPNs are totally unnecessary for this project; I just couldn't find my smaller needles when I wanted to start knitting and they seemed like a good substitute. I usually go up one or two needle sizes because I knit a bit tighter than some, but you know your knitting best so choose the needles that are right for you.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

An inspired improvisation

In the summer, I often have a smoothie for lunch. I usually try to get some exercise in right before lunch, so it's nice to have something light and cool afterwards. My approach to smoothies is usually "kitchen sink": throw in whatever fruit I have around, yogurt I have on hand, maybe some herbs, maybe some juice, often a handful of spinach, and some ice cubes. Nothing fancy, and although often good, rarely something to write home about. Yesterday's smoothie was one of those happy accidents that was so good, I recreated it today and decided to share it with you.

This smoothie is just yogurt, mango, blackberries, blueberries, and spinach. I promise, you won't taste the spinach (for anyone out there saying, "Spinach in a smoothie?! Yuck!", as my husband did). It has a nice, prominent berry flavor with some of the acidity from the mango, which just really hits the right note as the weather is heating up down here.

Ready... set... go!

 Place six ounces or so of vanilla yogurt in your blender along with half of a ripe mango, chopped (or just pealed and pitted).

Add three ounces of fresh blackberries...
...a quarter cup of frozen blueberries...

....one cup of baby spinach...

...and 3-4 ice cubes.

Whirr in your blender until smooth. I like to start on low and slowly move my way up to the higher settings, but you know your blender best.

Viola! A light, summery smoothie full of all kinds of good stuff. Again, this is usually something I just throw together, so there's no need to follow the directions exactly as the flavors are just provided here for inspiration. You can always exchange fresh for frozen fruit (and vice versa), although you'll want to adjust the ice such that you use more ice when you have more fresh fruit. If your smoothie seems a little thick, it's probably a bit too icy. This can be remedied with a little juice or milk, or even some extra fresh fruit. Some people thin smoothies with water, but I find this makes them taste, well, watery.

One note about spinach in a smoothie: if you're particular about smoothie color, pair fruits with spinach cautiously. I have found that if I stick to yellow (peach, mango, pineapple, etc.) and green (kiwi) fruits, the smoothie has a very pretty green color. If you use a fair amount of purple fruits (blueberries, blackberries, etc.), the smoothie is a nice purple as the berry pigment seems to largely mask the color of the spinach. The danger zone for color and spinach smoothies is red. As we know from the color wheel, red and green are complimentary colors, which means they really set each other off when paired in design. However, when the pigments are mixed, complimentary colors produce muddy, brown/gray tones. For this reason, if you want a smoothie that looks as good as it tastes, use red fruit (strawberries, raspberries, etc.) sparingly when making a smoothie with spinach.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer reading

 I thought it might be fun to post a bit on summer reading, the dream of vacationers and grad students alike. Every year, I amass a pile of books for reading over breaks. I add and add to the pile, decide it has gotten too large to be manageable and then whittle it down again. Repeat.

Above you see my current pile, although I admit that I already read A Year in Provence, and it was lovely. I found it in a thrift store on the Delmarva peninsula on a weekend getaway and when I saw Julia Child's endorsement on the back (simply, "I really loved this book."), I knew I had to have it. It did not disappoint, as I found it to be funny, informative, and full of daydream material. Highly recommended by me (and Julia Child). The Pynchon novel is one of my husband's favorites, and he has been needling me to try a Pynchon novel for a while. Jared introduced me to a few wonderful books over the years, including A Farewell to Arms, so I trust his judgment. We made a deal that while I read through it he will reread it so that we can discuss it together. I'm sorry to say he is getting through it much more quickly than I am. The other novels are just some I have been hoping to read for a while. Only time will tell which remain in my reading pile and are actually read this summer.

The last book is dissertation guidance/inspiration/motivation, which I'm reading section by section as I work. The method of outlining and breaking the work into manageable chunks is really helpful, I think. Also, if you want to get through the end of your graduate school work asap, this is the book for you; anyone who wants to meander through the dissertation will be disappointed in the emphasis on choosing projects and methods that move as quickly as possible. However, for those of us who are itching to get on with it, the focus on speed is welcome and needed.

Finally, it seemed funny to contrast my summer reading with my pile of books from the semester. Mind you, I renewed all of those library books through the fall so they aren't leaving my life. I am going to enjoy turning to them a bit less and turning to novels a bit more, however.

Hope the summer is bringing you a vacation or two and some extracurricular readings, as well!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

So this is it....

I admit I have not posted in forever. But in my defense, I have done so much.... so much grad school, that is. I have *finally* reached that miraculous place known as ABD (all but dissertation) that means so much to a grad student and absolutely nothing to anyone else.

But, but! Classes are done, exams are done, and my advisor has greenlit but proposal outline, so that's a big deal. And my husband is job-hunting, since his grad schooling is actually done, so that's a really big deal.

My head is full of the things I want to do in the coming weeks/months/years. I spoke to someone recently, who had asked about how my program was coming along, and he related to me that he had so many fond memories of the dissertation stage because your whole life is ahead of you and you have so many dreams as you near the end of grad school. At first, I was struck by the fact that generally I get sympathetic smiles or dissertation horror stories, so his warmth was a shock. However, the more I consider it, the more I think he may be right. This probably says a lot more about me than anything else, but I have always been a bit of a daydreamer, and as a result I do consider the best times in my life to be those full of hope and promise, before the dreams have fully come to fruition.

Few extracurricular projects have been completed, and very few have been photographed for posterity as of late. I did get out my sewing machine, lovingly sweep out the dust bunnies, and get all of her moving parts cleaned up. I even made a very small alteration on my bathing suit cover-up, so that's a step in the right direction. Said alteration was performed in preparation for a conference in the most beautiful conference location I have ever seen...

...Honolulu (okay, that photo is from the North Shore of Oahu). The first four days of my trip were spent in windowless rooms listening to (fascinating) academic talks, but we did stay a few extra days to see the sights. Perhaps more on that later. Until next time, I will be trying, trying, trying to focus on my dissertation draft so I can move on to bigger and better things! And making some time to indulge my domestic hobbies, too.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Still breathing.

Okay, okay, I planned an update much sooner than this. So very much has happened, and I'm happy to say a lot of really great things have developed. First and foremost, I finished my Master's thesis and officially graduated! Hooray!

I cannot describe in words how amazing it feels to have the thesis monkey off of my back. Although the project will continue following some lessons learned along the way, it feels amazing to know that I have something tangible from my efforts and that I could go out there and get a job. I will be continuing on in the PhD program, so I will not be seeking employment for another two years... but at least I know call center work is no longer in my future.

Why did it take so long again? Oh yeah, it weighs 2 lbs 10 oz (that's over 140 pages)!

I also had the opportunity to teach my very own course this summer, which was a great experience. In my field, a bit more than half of us work "in the field" and the rest remain within academia. I have not decided for sure which way I will go, but teaching a course gave me a good dose of what to expect as an academic. We also had some restructuring in the lab and some really exciting new projects have come my way post-thesis.

Of course, all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl and you can be sure I have been cooking, baking, thrift store-scouring, reading, etc. these last few months, too! Why haven't I shared these adventures with you? Well, back in March our camera decided that from here on out, it would only take pictures like this:

Which would be amazing if I kept a surreal horror  blog. We tried a few things to get it working again, but the long and short of it is our camera bit the dust. Unfortunately, our grad student budget doesn't really allow for a new camera and after some unexpected expenses popped up (as they always do, at the worst possible time) a camera just wasn't in the cards in the foreseeable future. I frowned, but decided to be patient... like maybe-after-Christmas-patient.

Then recently, I realized I still had my old camera from college. It is clunky, only holds 32 photos, uses regular batteries, has been around for nearly a decade, and is devoid of most bells and whistles. But it works!

In celebration, I am giving you the culinary equivalent of a sigh of relief. This is comfort food, yes, but the kind you can whip up then stash in the fridge or the freezer to give you a little pick-me-up for many dreary or draining days to come. I am talking about classic American brownies.

These brownies are wonderful the way they are-- fudgy with a crinkly top and full of rich, chocolate flavor, just the way my husband likes them. However, they are also a great base for adding nuts and chocolate bits to add plenty of interest and texture, just the way I like my brownies. 

 Classic Brownies

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, March & April 2004

Makes 24 two-inch square brownies

Note:At the end of step 3, feel free to fold in 1 cup of chopped, toasted walnuts and/or 1 cup of chocolate chips, dusted lightly with flour (if you skip the flour dusting, the chips will sink). Also, be sure to really test the brownies. Mine required about 45 minutes until I had just a few moist crumbs on my tester, but do start checking early and really make sure just a few crumbs cling! The goal is fudgy, not gummy or cakey.

1 1/4 cups (5 oz) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (use the good stuff here, I like Valrhona)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
2 1/4 cups (15 3/4 oz) sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1.Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place a rack in the middle position. Line a 9"x13" baking dish like so: cut an 18" piece of foil, fold lengthwise to 8" width and fit it into the length of the pan; cut a 14" length of foil and fit it into the with of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. Be sure to press the foil down into the corners and spray the pan with nonstick spray. This is your insurance against sticking, so don't skip this step! You'll be glad you did it when it's time to cut the brownies.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

3.Set a large, heatproof bowl over a pan of just barely simmering water. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the bowl, stirring occasionally until it is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and slowly whisk in the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla. In three additions, fold in the flour mixture until the batter is completely smooth (i.e. no little pockets or lumps of flour).

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the batter into the corners and smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center has just a few moist crumbs attached, rotating the pan halfway through, 35-45 minutes. Start checking at 30 minutes to be sure you do not overbake the brownies. Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours (about room temperature). Once cooled, lift the brownies out of the pan using the foil overhang. Cut the brownies into two-inch squares and serve (alternately, keep them in the fridge for about a week or the freezer up to 3 months).

Be warned: they are extra delicious with a cup of strong coffee. I've had this french press for a few years, courtesy of my father-in-law who knows I love a good cup of coffee, but only taught myself how to use it recently. If you have one languishing in your closet, I highly encourage you to dig it out and give it a try-- it makes a perfect coffee break for one on a hectic afternoon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Moving on up.

I can't believe it. On Tuesday, I had my thesis defense. The night before, I made Jared watch me practice and be my stand-in audience. I made blueberry muffins to bring my committee. I hardly slept I was so full of excitement, terror, anxiety, happiness, fear...

I presented my findings over a 30-minute Powerpoint presentation, to my committee members and my lone audience member (Jared). They asked me questions, some I was prepared for and some I was not, before asking me and the audience to step outside so they could deliberate. We stood in the hall and although I was less nervous than I thought I would be, I was not sure how the whole thing went, but I was so grateful to have his company so I didn't just worry the minutes away.

After 5 or 10 minutes, my advisor came out and shook my hand. It was so surreal. As I realized what was happening, I felt weak in the knees. I had passed the defense and officially obtained my Masters degree. The other members congratulated me and they and Jared left the room. My advisor and I spoke about the new projects I would be started and I'm just so excited for the road ahead. New projects, a new degree, a new chapter.

No recipes or projects today, crunch time to turn in my thesis (with revisions) to the university, but look forward to new exciting things soon!