Blog Archive

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Davis Weekend

After 7 or 8 weekends spent in Livermore (I've lost count) with my parents, Dave and I spent a much-anticipated weekend at our OWN house in Davis. It was fabulous--full of a million little projects, lots of cooking, and hanging out with Edward, who flew into California last Friday.

Braving the rain, Edward helped me tackle some long overdue maintenance in the yards. All this stuff with my mom happened right when the garden was planted and I have neglected it ever since. Once the time changed, I was never at home during daylight hours except in the morning before school (and I certainly wasn't going to do any gardening that early!). Edward and I applied mulch to the vegetable garden after thinning the greens, onions, and beets. Then we planted some things in the front yard and applied mulch around everything to keep it nice and warm. Which is good since it has been below freezing every night since then.
Back in the spring of 2007 (right when we were moving into our new house), my dad and brother took a road trip from Kentucky to California to haul back a photographic enlarger they purchased. (Don't ask.) Along the way, they bought me a salt-cured ham as a southern souvenir. I never did anything with it because I was just so busy with things like moving furniture into the house and whatnot. Finally, after over 1.5 years I decided to open it up and eat some. Last Sunday I pulled the paper off it, only to discover that it was covered in mold. It grossed me out and I had to wait a week before diving into it anyway. Apparently mold is normal--the instructions even tell you how to remove it (vinegar, clean scrub brush, and warm water).
I always thought only wimpy people use electric knives, but after spending a full 45 minutes hacking away at that ham, I really wish I had one. (So if anyone ever buys me another whole ham, please also get me an electric knife. Thanks.)

The instructions warn that the ham should be eaten right away, otherwise an increasingly intense flavor develops. It also suggests soaking the ham in cold water before cooking to remove some of the salt. Since I was so tired from all the hacking, I just fried it up. It was super salty, but very good. It's called "country ham" in the south. Yummy!
While I was in the garden and in the kitchen, Dave was in the garage building a doggie door for our babies (I mean our dogs). He got it mostly done, except for painting, weather stripping, and a plastic flap over the hole. The hole is just big enough for the dogs to get through and small enough to keep human intruders out. It has handles on it so we can easily remove it from the sliding glass door track when needed (we'll lay a metal pipe in the track of the door so it can't be opened from the outside). We'll paint the outside half to match the color of the house so it won't be so obvious when viewed from the park.
After all that hard work we were starving so I made pizza for dinner with a salad made of the collard/mustard/beet greens we thinned from the garden. Oh-la-la it was delicious, but what isn't good with pesto, goat cheese, marinated olives, and pepperoni?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Funding is Not Fun

Right after Mr. Murphey and his ruling hand took away my lab's funding I began looking for my own funding. I told everyone I saw in my department about our lab's sudden loss of money and asked them if they knew of any professor who might want to hire me as an analytical chemist or instrumentalist.

When that didn't work I began schmoozing professors who would be needing TA's for their winter quarter classes. Since I couldn't apply for TA positions for several more weeks I finally decided to schmooze the professor I have long dreamed of working with some day. He's a soil organic matter genius (swoon!) and I already have a good track record with him and several of his students (a few of us have formed a "thermal guild" where we meet to chat about using thermal analysis techniques on soil organic interesting to you all, I know). I wrote him an email telling him about our situation (which he already knew about since he's also the vice dean of the department) and asking him if there was any way I could work in his lab, at least temporarily. We met, we chatted, I reminded him of my research and career goals, and he agreed to take me on for at least winter quarter on a brand new project. He was originally going to hire some post docs to do the work (heavy field work in the beginning followed by lab work) but he thought that maybe I could do it instead (I'm taking that as a compliment...even if he just means that I'm cheaper labor than a post doc). I have a lab and funding for at least next quarter. As of yesterday he still hadn't submitted a funding plan for me (so my tuition, health insurance, and student fees hadn't been paid) so I asked the nice office lady to get him to do the appropriate paperwork. The last thing I need is to come back to campus in January only to discover that there's an outstanding balance on my account and I have no insurance. Anyway...I hope it all gets taken care of this week so I don't have to worry about it.

My current research professor actually told me he thinks I should switch labs permanently since it would be better for my thesis research. I guess we'll have to see how this coming quarter goes and see if I like the project enough to make it "my" thesis research (and if the professor will take me on permanently, which would be super cool).

On another academic note, I received a passing grade for the class I just finished this quarter (transition metals chemistry) which means that I'm officially DONE DONE DONE with coursework for my graduate degree. Woohoo!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finally Done!

Whew...exactly 4 years ago I finished-up my last classes as an undergraduate at Saint Mary's College. This week I took my final exam for my last class EVER for graduate school! Woohoo! (Luckily for me, my graduate program course requirements are the same for both the Ph.D. and the masters I can choose which track to take later, depending on what research opportunities present themselves in the coming months.)

This is a super-short post because I'm exhausted from a full day of baby sitting Teo followed by 5 straight hours of cooking up massive batches of potato leek soup (for which I first had to make a batch of chicken stock), split pea soup, and a sausage-cabbage casserole.

I'll write more later with an update about my job/funding status at school.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Santa at Sea Ranch?

My friend Tina posted this cartoon and it instantly made me think of the Sea Ranch.

If you've ever been to this community you'll really appreciate it:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Best Tacos

Tonight I made the best tacos ever. Ever.

I warmed a butter-garlic tortilla in a skillet and sprinkled cheddar cheese on it until it melted. Then I spread some of my spicy barbacoa beef in the middle, topped it with plain yogurt, then a packet of Taco Bell sauce, then mixed mesclun lettuce and chopped cilantro, and topped it all off with chopped tomatoes. Holy. Good. was so good!

And by melting the cheese onto the tortilla I didn't have little bits of cheese falling out while I ate it AND the heat browned the tortilla for extra flavor.

Go into your kitchen and make one. Now. You won't regret it.



We had a small, relaxing Thanksgiving...even though we waited until Friday evening for our special meal. I was stuck in lab until after 9pm on Wednesday (my professor and I were running a very "cranky" instrument that decided to crap-out on us around 7:30pm and I had to stick around to prepare new samples so he could re-run them after the holiday) and Dave didn't pull into Davis until almost 10pm. We were both so tired that we decided to postpone the festivities (and all that cooking) until later. In fact, we didn't even get to Livermore until Thursday afternoon.

Our meal was planned around all the wild-picked, garden-grown, and homemade food we've collected for the past year specifically for Thanksgiving. Back in October I pre-ordered a heritage variety turkey. It was quite expensive but turned out to be totally worth it--the flavor was wonderful. The fact that it was a "heritage variety" means that it was not one of those standard-issue, commercial, all-white-breast meat, so-top-heavy-they-can't-walk turkeys. You could totally tell, too--I ate one of the drumsticks and was surprised to find tons of tendons in the meat. I was pulling them out as I cut the meat off the bone and asked my dad why there were so many. He laughed and said that most turkeys are so crammed together that they don't have a chance to walk and develop such things as leg tendons (that's sad and gross). Besides which, since commercial white turkeys are bred for maximum breast meat they can't usually walk because they'll just fall over (that's sad, gross, and sickening).

We defrost our turkeys in a pot of cold water, changing it often to prevent ickiness and illness from ensuing. Typically it takes a day of in-the-fridge defrosting per 5 pounds. Water defrosting takes much, much less time. Once it begins to thaw we open up the cavity, pull the paper sack of liver and gizzards, and fill the cavity with water. Once it is pretty well thawed we drain the meat and fill the pot with fresh water and a bunch of salt (I don't measure it but it is probably about a cup per 2.5 gallons of water). The turkey "brines" in this solution until we're ready roast it. (If it is going to be a while, we sanitize the outside of the pot and put it in the fridge.) To cook the turkey we dry it with paper towels, drizzle it with olive oil or melted butter, and then sprinkle it with salt and poultry seasonings (thyme, marjoram, savory, etc.). Then we tress it and pop it into a preheated roaster oven. No need to baste at all since these roaster ovens work by roasting and steaming the food. The meat is always super moist and perfect. These ovens are cheap and cook a bird much faster than a normal oven because of the steam action. (I like them so much that I have two!)

I didn't get a picture of the turkey before Dave carved it so this looks unimpressive--but I promise the roaster oven yields a picture perfect turkey every time.
The roaster pan collected almost 3 cups of drippings (with very little fat) which we promptly turned into gravey with wild mushrooms simmered in white wine. If my waistline would allow it, I'd have eaten only gravey for dinner.

To accompany our delicious protein we had stuffing (or is it called "dresssing" since I didn't actually stuff the bird?) made with my daddy's homemade bread, browned breakfast sausage we made in May, dried wild mushrooms we picked up in Gualala last fall, and parsely from our winter garden. It was super good, but a bit clove-y since we used our "antiseptic sausage."
We simmered a huge pot of greens (kale and other random types) with chopped bits of ham. We were going to use frozen greens from last year's winter garden but decided to use fresh greens I received in my produce box from Farm Fresh To You (I get the local-only Capay box twice a month). I could have eaten that whole pot of greens, they were so good! Another yummy dish that is a must at our house is baked mashed sweet potatoes with raisins and chopped pecans.
No Thanksgiving is complete without cranberry relish (the recipe is on the back of the cranberry bag--so good!) and Dave's requisite can of cranberry jelly.
While we dinned my giant Gualala-picked apple pie baked, which made the house smell incredible. Unfortunately, the pie wasn't my best work. The apples were old and a little mushy. I prefer crisp and tart (but not incredibly sour) apples cut into 1/8ths so the pie has a little tang to it and some texture. This pie was a family affair: my dad peeled and cut the apples for me while Dave rolled the dough (I was busy brining the turkey and disinfecting the sink). My dad cut up like 10 or 12 cups of apples. He was concerned that we had too many apples for a single pie. Ha! I loaded all the apples and cinnamony goodness into the pie with no problem (he underestimated my pie dough strechability. =)
Of all the things in life to be thankful for, I'm most thankful that my mom could be home with us for the holiday (and that she had enough of an appetite to enjoy the meal).