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25 December 2011 @ 07:01 pm
I received an Anthro gift card for Christmas. Recently, I seem to be a sucker for anything that seems "sculptural." I'm blaming it on Ann Rand (in utter defiance of my orals list, I've been reading The Fountainhead). 

Furled Gold Heels, Chie Mihara / Anthro

Feminine, sandaled, heeled, gold-foiled version of pointy-elf-toe shoes? Heck yes. Now if only they're not suede (impossible to clean, and impossible for me to keep clean) and half that price. Oh Chie Mihara, you're such a terrible tease. 

Vermillion Reflections Dress, Twinkle by Wenlan / Anthro

I love bell sleeves (especially 3/4 length versions that won't drag in food...or the dishwater) and wrap dresses (they work well on my build). I'm even digging the crazy orange-blue color (since when did I get into prints?).. I'm far less enthused about the price tag...wishlisted to consider if it goes on sale. 

Glowing Horizons Trench, Anthro

I just bought this trench to replaced my now-ratty blue one, so I really can't justify eyeing another one this year--or anytime within the next 3-5 years. But nonetheless, I love the mini-cape-like double lapels on this one...and the hint-of-orange lining. (wtf? when did I start liking orange?). I'm both sad and relieved that it's sold out in my size.

Orlena Hat, Yestadt / Anthro

With the 50% off sale deal running, this is actually reasonably close to my gift card and probably the most likely candidate for it. I love the taupe color--somewhere between gray, green, and brown (it should work with all the earthy tones that have taken over my wardrobe). The sculptural crown seems interesting and promising--though the jury is out until I try it out. The brim size is exactly what I need--big enough to actually keep the sun off my face, small enough to manage. I love that it's rabbit-fur-felt...which is tends to be softer, stronger, and has more of a luster than the typical wool felt.

Suggestions? Vetos? Other ideas? 
16 December 2011 @ 12:30 pm
I shamelessly love holiday music. My favorites are the old latin chants (and modern smoashborgs that retain the grandeur and eerieness of the latin--yay, Medieval Babes!) and baroque-era choir music....Handel, Beethoven, Mendensoln. There's something about listening to a song in either romance or germanic languages--languages that I don't speak, but share a root with English--that especially especially speaks to me. I think it's because I can almost--not quite--but almost understand. I catch the sense of that desire to speak...that grandeur and expression that's carried in the music, and in clips of words that resemble (but may be false cognates) with the languages that I do understand. It's that desire for understanding and communication that translates...that I find to be so transporting. 

I'm starting to understand why Thomas De Quincey loved Italian operas...especially because his Italian is apparently worse than my German, and he could only understand 1/10th of the words....
09 December 2011 @ 10:07 am
Arkansas Black = world's most awesome apple. It's an heirloom variety that I found at Berkeley Bowl, reasonably on sale for $1.09. I think I've eaten at least 5 lbs worth in the last week. It's an almost perfectly round, crispy, spicy apple...like a honeycrisp, but with a slightly stronger tang. 

02 December 2011 @ 10:37 am
I went for a long run last night. Campus at midnight is a different place: serene, moonlight, a touch of mystical...even the poorly trimmed knobby trees look almost majestic against the night sky. It was a blustery evening...and there's something about blinking against the wind, with dead leaves swirling around my knees that takes me back to high school cross country meets. I really love running in the fall--even if fall comes in December in the bay area.

There's something perfect about wearing a brilliant blue dress with golden leaves...on a day when golden leaves are dropping against a brilliant blue sky. 

Chocolate + bread =  brilliant. Cheese Board, you've really nailed it with these "chocolate things."

2 paragraphs  = productivity, right...RIGHT? I have a chapter draft due to Ian next week...it may be a "drafty draft," but I'm already remembering how much I love/hate deadlines....
29 November 2011 @ 02:44 pm
I've been looking to tweak an apple cake recipe so that it's respectable for breakfast or an afternoon snack...and it doesn't undo all my hard work at the gym. I'm pretty happy with this. Fair warning--like the original epicurious recipe, this bakes into something of a cross between bread pudding, a cake, and quickbread consistency...mostly apples, held together by batter. I love it, but it's definitely "rustic." This goes nicely with a drizzle of salted caramel topping--I've been using the TJ version. 

"semi-health" apple cake

4 large apples, unpeeled, sliced. (I used 2 large granny smith and 2 large mcIntosh)
2 TBSP coconut flour (optional--I find that it absorbs the juices from the apples nicely...also adds fiber and protein)
1 TBSP sugar

2/3 C pancake mix (I use the high-fiber kind from Whole Foods...otherwise, 2/3 C flour would work)
1/2 tsp cardamom 
1/4 tsp baking soda

3 TBSP butter
1/4 C yoghurt (to make up for the reduced amount of butter--alternatively, use 1 stick of butter total)
1/4 C sugar (I cut this down from 3/4 C...which is sweet enough for me and lets the apples shine more)
2 eggs (I often have leftover yolks from meringues, so I tend to throw in an extra yolk)
1 tsp vanilla (optional--I tend to omit this)
2 TBSP rum or apple brandy

Toss apples, sugar, and coconut flour...set aside for 1/2 hour or up to overnight (the apples will release a bit of juice, which the coconut flour should "soak up"). Preheat oven to 350. Spray or butter a 12-cup muffin tin. Brown butter in pan. Cool slightly and add to sugar. Mix well, add in yogurt, brandy/rum, and eggs. In a separate bowl, shift together pancake mix, baking soda, and cardamon. Add to wet ingredients until just mixed. Add apples. Pile into muffin tins--it should be quite full. It'll fall just a bit as the apples cook down. 

Bake at 350 for approximately 30 minutes (do watch it--I've had to pull it out at 25 once...it needed 40 minutes on the second try). 
Makes 12 servings, roughly 120 calories per serving.

20 November 2011 @ 04:47 pm
Despite the rain and my wet feet, it's been a beautiful day. I took care of the dogs [Adrian's in SoCal for a funeral, so I'm petsitting this weekend], skipped mass (largely by accident--I overslept), and "made up for it" (or not) by wandering into a craft sale at the basement of a different Church.

I love church(y) craft sales. They remind me of the best elements of growing up in the Midwest...the small, tight-knit communities, the (semi-Protestant) valuation of hard work and taking pride in one's handicraft. I walked off with a oversized, chunky, hand-knit wool sweater for $25. It has a luxuriously thick shawl-collar, which I can't stop petting. It's intended as a Christmas gift for my mother...but I'm tempted to appropriate it for myself. In the same spirit of "chunky & oversized," I bought a necklace of rough-cut fluorite stones and a green turquoise-and-silver pendant for $35 total. It's a departure from the "delicate" jewelry that I usually gravitate towards...but this seems just right for sweater season. And a pound of handmade English Toffee...for $5.

It was lovely to stop & talk to people who obviously love what they're doing...and who do this almost exclusively for a "hobby." The prices on everything there are way too low for this to actually be profitable (the raw materials--stones, wool--retail for more than what most of these sellers were charging!). The lady who sold me the necklace tells me that she enjoys making jewelry...but she can only enjoy it when she sells once or twice a year. Otherwise, it feels too much like work. After my recent experience with writing/baking, I can relate.

(It makes me wonder...what is it about "amateur" work that allows us to pour our love & dedication into it? Why does "professionalization" feel so paralyzing? A year ago, I had a long talk with Ian about the dangers of pre-professionalization...I think I'm only just beginning to understand what he had meant when he said that students somehow stop doing "good work" when they pre-professionalize too early. We adopt the trappings of authority and expertise...but there's something about that very posturing that seems to curtail the "play" that is so necessarily to finding exciting-yet-useful ways of thinking about our work. </digression> )

I wonder if this is part of why I find it most productive to work in coffee shops. I have to find the right one--it's usually a semi-busy, semi-quiet space, with music that stays atmospheric (rather than expressive). It doesn't "feel"  like work. I come here to update my journal, look up recipes, stalk anthro sales...and happen to write a few sentences about De Quincey on the side, while waiting for the internet to load. I'm learning, I think, to accept this desulatory method as a method, rather than to continuously berate myself for not getting more work done. I work best, perhaps, when I give myself room to explore...when I feel licensed to "play" with ideas (and when reading/thinking feels like playing...an exploration, rather than pounding out words for a deadline).

I'm learning to leave guilt behind. [A priest once told me, "I don't do Catholic guilt and neither does the Catholic church." Implicit--but unspoken, I think, was the word "anymore." I figured that if the Catholics are leaving behind their trademark, it's probably a good indication that guilt doesn't work...in the spiritual, pedagogical (spirituality is always pedagogical. I think)...or any other realm.]. What does seem to work (for me, at least) is consistent dedication to the process. 

I just started running again, after taking a few months off to nurse my shin splints. I have such a love/hate relationship with running. On the one hand, it helps to structure my day and suppress my neurotic-hamster-on-speed tendencies.  It keeps me fit and calm...and when I have a "good run"--as I do most days--I love the act, as well as the effects of running. But I've always disliked the "discipline"--the necessity of going out there every day (or most days), which makes running feel like a chore...even when I enjoy it. I finally started giving myself a 15-minute rule. I'll go out for 15 minutes, stretch out and warm up...and if I don't feel like running further, simply head home. 90% of the time, I choose to go further. That 15-minute rule is just enough to coax me out of a warm bed on a cold morning (because I know I can crawl back into it, if I should choose to do so).What matters, I think...is that I always have a choice--or rather, I feel as though I have a choice.

I'm adopting a similar process for writing. I show up at the coffee shop every day with my books & my laptop. I'll read for 15 minutes, and see if anything catches my eye. Something usually does...and when that happens, I go with the flow. When it doesn't...at least I'm enjoying a good cappucino cappuccino.

Damn, I'm such a Romanticist. Would I be more regularly productive if I was, say, a Victorianist?

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17 November 2011 @ 10:45 am
*grumble grumble grumble*

I'm struggling to write an De Quincey abstract for a meeting with Ian in...oh, four hours, and all I can think about is pumpkin pudding. If I had gone into baking, would I spend most of my working hours dreaming of romantic-era novels?

If I get this done, I'm making pumpkin pudding for dinner.

Embarrassment  = 2 minutes after answering a question about my profession,  having to ask the too-cool-for-school barista, "how do you spell cappuccino?" It was the password for the coffee shop internet. Unfortunately, this is the first time that I realized that cappuccino has a double-c in addition to a double-p.  Not sure how I managed to work for Barefoot for several months without figuring out how that word is spelt.....
 I've been back in Chicago for the past 3 days. It's been...eventful, to say the least. I'll save most of the details for a friends-only entry...but in short, I realized what I've suspected for a while now: Chicago is no longer my home. I still love this place, and see myself as a Chicagoian (hello jaywalking!), but I'm not sure that I can see myself living here, anymore. I was never the sort to be homesick (I'm the "easy" kid at summer camp!)...but it was largely because I never had a sense of home to miss. I've always thought that I can live anywhere (and to some degree, that is still true)...but there's something about the east bay that I just can't quite leave behind, and it tugs at me even when I leave briefly. 

In the weeks before this visit, I'd sometimes go for walks late at night/early in the morning (perhaps a bit reckless, I know, but it's the midwestern in me that trusts in the innate goodness of my neighbors)...and simply marvel at the wonder of being here. My life in Oakland is starting to resemble a Charles de Lint novel (though perhaps with a slightly more subtle form of magic)...and I realized that I never previously understood what friendship, community, or belonging really meant. Or what it means to be truly invested in a place and a community. 

I blame it all on Berkeley Bowl. (seriously, where else can I get raspberries for 25 cents a pint?). Still...*smiles* I miss fall foliage, thunderstorms, cold winters...and drivers who actually use their turn signals. 

My parents are discussing buying an apartment for me in Oakland. They'd cover the downpayment, and I'd be responsible for the mortgage/HOA fees. I'm excited and a bit overwhelmed--this would be quite the gift. Although I'm grateful that my parents insist that I survive on my own resources, they've always supported me financially for the things that I could never afford on my own, as a college or grad student. (My beloved Prius, for example, was a graduation present. My four year's worth of private school tuition costs more than our first house). I need to make sure that I can be responsible enough to handle it. I didn't know this, but they've apparently always planned to do this for me...they were waiting until I finally settled into grad school (and I suspect, hoping for an engagement ring). 

I'm also starting to think through the emotional and logistical implications of actually owning a place. What happens when I graduate? (if I ever pass this effin' German exam, that is). Once, I would have moved anywhere for a first job, especially for a tenure-track position (hello, Mobile, Alabama!). I don't think that this is true anymore. While I'll still work my ass off to be the best scholar that I can be and put myself in the best position to find work, it might very well be the case that I'd choose to stay "here" over an assistant professorship title. I have close friends here, a sense of community, and little niches and nooks that make this place a home. I still don't know the answers to any of this (and I probably won't need to make decisions for several years), but all of this is calling into question answers that I thought would never change.

*grins* Like teaching my dad yoga. 


Enough emo-ramblings. I've also been taking advantage of my parent's fantastic kitchen (an oven that holds temperate! a stove that works!) to bake to my heart's content. My current food-love? a pina colada cake.... Sheer awesomeness, I tell you. Go buy yourself a pineapple (don't even think about using the canned version!) and make this! I tinkered with a recipe from smittenkitchen, decreasing the sugar and adding a lot more pineapple. 

pina colada cake

1 C coconut milk*
1/2 C white sugar (definitely increase the sugar to 3/4 C if you prefer a sweeter cake)
1/4 C brown sugar
1 stick of salted butter, melted
2 eggs
2 tbsp rum (I used Captain Morgan's spiced rum)

2 1/4 C pastry flour 
1 tsp baking power
1/2 tsp baking soda**

1 - 1 1/2 C finely chopped fresh pineapples (this is WAY more than what the recipe calls for, but it still works as long as you drain it well), drained and juices reserved. 

glaze & topping:
1 C powdered sugar
3 tbsp pineapple juice
pinch of salt

1/2 C shredded unsweetened coconut, lightly toasted

*the only kind available at my parent's house was the light version (the can isn't marked as such, but it's way too watery to be the regular kind), and this still turned out fine. I'd go with regular, though, if you have it. The original recipe calls for coconut cream, which I'd imagine would work even better. If you're using that, omit both sugars.
**I used 1 tsp baking soda, since we don't have baking powder in this kitchen. It worked out pretty well, given the acidity in the pineapples. I'd still go with the original leavening...though I think the 3/4 tsp is a bit too much (the usual ratio is 1/4 tsp bs and/or 1 tsp bp per cup of flour). 

Mix the chopped pineapples with a tbsp sugar. Let stand for 10-15 minutes. Measure out 3 tbsp juice and set aside. Preheat oven to 350, butter & flour a 9" cake pan (I used a small bundt cake). Combine melted butter with eggs, sugars (if using it), coconut milk or cream, and rum. Strain remaining pineapple juice into the mix. Combine flour, baking power, baking soda in a separate bowl. Mix the dry and wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in chopped pineapples. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes (it took about 35 minutes in a bundt cake pan). 

While cake is baking, mix powdered sugar with pineapple juice and salt for the glaze (this makes for a pretty thin glaze--you might want to start with 1 1/2 tbsp of the juice and work your way up if you prefer a sweeter, thicker version). Add to COOLED cake (voice of experience here--wait until it cools. Otherwise, you'll have a sticky mess). Sprinkle on toasted coconut just before serving. 
18 December 2010 @ 09:28 pm
 My entire extended family on my mom's side is coming over tomorrow. (There's ten of us, including my two high-school-aged cousins). We're having brunch, and since my mother may need to work tomorrow (she's a realtor and has a customer who just flew in from a different country for the week)...I've been put in charge of cooking. 

It's a fun job, especially when cooking for my laid-back family. Here's my repertiore. I only included the recipes that I especially like. The sticky rice, for example...needs...err...another technique.

thai sticky rice with coconut milk. (I wish we had mangos. I may grab some tomorrow morning)
spinach-and-cream-cheese quiche (drats--forgot the ricotta)
candied ginger and apricot scones (semi-British version, made using this recipe, adding 1/2 a cup of crystallized ginger and 1 C of diced apricots at the end)
saffron & vanilla cupcakes, with a lemon cream cheese frosting 

I used TJ's vanilla cake mix for the cupcakes (yielded 17--would have been 18, had I planned better). TJ's does an excellent cake mix...probably better than basic cake that I've tried to create on my own. I added a large pinch of saffron, crushed between my fingertips. What I *should* have done is to add the saffron to the milk (which the recipe calls for an addition) the night before, to give the flavors time to release. Saffron needs either friction and several hours to soak in a cold liquid, or 10-15 minutes to soak in a hot liquid. I didn't do either, so that flavor was pretty muted. Still, there's a hint of it, and it was tasty. 

I'm pretty darn proud of that lemon frosting. I took the basic idea from this recipe, but drastically changed the proportions:

5 ounces package cream cheese (I used the 1/3 less fat version. Unflavored, full-fat goat cheese would also work if you really want a splurge)
2-3 tbsp butter, softened-to-melted (basically, the more butter it contains, the "stiffer" it will be. I used the smaller amount and was happy with the results)
1 C powdered sugar 
zest from one large lemon
juice from 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbsp)

Mix the butter with the cream cheese first, than add in the remaining ingredients. (It's sometimes easier to add the sugar in two batches). This makes for a very tart frosting...I used only 1/3 the suggested amount of sugar, but I prefer to let the lemon stand out. You can also substitute honey or maple syrup for the powdered sugar--use 1/2 C of either to replace that 1 C. For me, this was enough frosting for the 17 cupcakes...but since this frosting is so potent, I used a thinner layer than what you'd usually find on cupcakes. 

17 October 2010 @ 11:11 am
WEEE!!! It's the first rainy day of the season. I'm excited (seasonal change! in california!), even though I will be driving today. There's nothing wrong with driving in the rain, persay. (I'd take the rain over snow/ice any day), but California drivers seem to lose their collective minds the moment the ground is wet.

Still, it's raining. I love the chill in the air...this is the closest that we come to autumn in California.