Monday, December 26, 2011

Some Thoughts on "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Source: http://millenniumtrilogy.wikia.com
One of my greatest hobbies is viewing film adaptations of books. I love watching and critiquing the movies and mini-series made from books I've read (and sometimes even before I've read them--gasp!).

Some adaptations fail utterly (and as a book junky, I can't help being just a bit pleased when that happens). Others are incredibly faithful to their texts (see Pillars of the Earth, for instance). Some I end up liking better than the book (like the 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre). And some I must acknowledge as valid interpretations, even if they aren't true to my impressions; David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of these.

I say this for several reasons:
  1. The original Swedish film by Niels Arden Opley is excellent. So, perhaps I was already biased toward the first version.
  2. I read this review by Monika Bartyzel from Girls on Film before seeing it. 
  3. And finally, many of the changes Fincher chose to make distance the story not just from Opley's version, but from Stieg Larsson's.
I don't want to take you through every little difference that I noticed, so I'll focus specifically on the key one: Lisbeth Salander.

Let me just illustrate how I feel about Larsson's protagonist: she is a badass. There is simply no other word for it. In the novels, she is described as 5-foot something, roughly 100 pounds or so, child-like, anorexic-looking--and she manages to wreak havoc on anyone she has reason to act against. As a 5'2", 110 pound woman, this is a heroine I relate to on a physical level. And I think she's awesome.

Source: http://jabcatmovies.com
In the Swedish film, Opley's Salander preserves the badass-ery of Larsson's. I mean, look at her:

Would you mess with that girl? I sure as heck wouldn't!

Although she's victimized throughout the entire movie by various men, I get the sense that she's got this core of diamond--something absolutely unbreakable within her. Yes, she's aloof, strange, socially awkward, an enigma, but she's supposed to be. As a person, she's very guarded. No one ever truly knows all that's going on in her head, maybe not even Salander herself. And I like that rough-edged air of mystery around her.

Source: http://www.wmagazine.com
Fincher's Salander, on the other hand, fits a bit more neatly into the Bond girl/sidekick mold, as Bartyzel points out. For instance, check out the image to the left, of Rooney Mara as Salander.

The rough edges are gone. She looks soft, fragile, sad, and maybe even scared. While Fincher's Salander still does all the badass things that Larsson's and Opley's do, she's somehow less sure of herself. She practically becomes half of a couple with Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). She heroically saves his life, but then asks him for permission before chasing down the bad guy. And in the film's final scene when she spots Blomkvist back with his old lover, Erika Berger (Robin Wright), she looks positively heartbroken.

Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing. Salander is a tough character to connect to, and Fincher's choice to break down some of her barriers will make her more likeable to audiences. And in that regard, I can see the validity of his decisions regarding Salander in light of questions of audience.

But, personally I like the more enigmatic Salander. The one that doesn't need Daniel Craig (or any other man, for that matter) to coddle or protect her. The one that is frustratingly obstinate and taciturn, even in the most dire of situations. In short, the one that takes more time, patience, and effort on the part of the reader/audience member to get to know, because to me that's more true to life and to who Lisbeth Salander is.

Other thoughts, opinions?

And as a side note, I hope everyone has been having a great holiday season!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Macaroni & Cheese

The "cheese" to my macaroni.
Pun fully intended.
This was a great weekend.

In terms of school, I did practically nothing. But in terms of relaxation, I accomplished a lot. And it all started when this guy on the left pulled into town on Thursday.

Paul and I will have been dating for two years on December 29th. It's been a great two years for both of us, and I'm looking forward to celebrating in a few weeks. Having a long distance relationship is tough though, and we have to plan carefully to make sure we can spend time together.

This was one of the rare weekends when Paul had a chance to visit. We hit some highlights of Cincinnati--Findlay Market, the IKEA in West Chester, the Blind Lemon in Mount Adams, Skyline Chili!--but I also dragged him out to an end-of-quarter department party. I have to go to most of these events as a "single" person, so it's nice to have a significant other to bring along when I can!

The party happened to be a potluck dinner, so we made macaroni and cheese to share. I got this recipe from my Betty Crocker: So Simple cookbook--and while I was skeptical at first, it actually is pretty simple to make macaroni and cheese from scratch. And it was a hit!

The ravaged bowl of mac 'n cheese.
Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni (7oz, or about half a box)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Scant 1/2 tsp yellow mustard (or 1/4 tsp ground mustard if you have it)
2 cups milk (I used skim)
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar (or the cheese of your choice)

Steps:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook and drain macaroni as directed on package.
  2. Meanwhile, in a three-quart sauce pan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard. Cook over low heat until mixture is smooth and bubbly.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. (This step always seems to take a very long time, so be patient! The sauce will get very thick just before it boils.) Boil and stir one minute.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted.
  5. Add the macaroni to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Pour into an ungreased two-quart casserole dish.
  6. If desired, melt two tablespoons of butter or margarine and combine with 1/4 cup breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the macaroni and cheese.
  7. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until bubbly.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Culinary Mystery: Case Closed

Earlier this year, my dad started talking about these..."things" that my great-grandmother from Italy used to make. He described them as being something like pretzels in a round loop shape. We asked my grandmother and great aunt about them, but no one seemed to remember them or what they were called. After digging through some old recipes and performing several Google searches for "Italian pretzels," we more or less gave up.

And then in May, I got the chance to go to Italy for a week as part of an art seminar I took my last semester at Mount Union. We traveled to Siena, Florence, and Rome on a huge red double-decker bus. That meant we stood out as tourists wherever we parked, and it also meant that we spent quite a few hours on the Italian turnpike. On one of those journeys, we stopped at a rest stop and I saw these:


Right shape, preztel-like...these were the mysterious "things"!

Well, they weren't. I bought them, packed them up carefully, and almost missed a connecting flight home because I declared them at customs...and they weren't the right "things."

"These are crunchy," my dad said. "What I'm thinking of is more like a soft pretzel. Or a bagel."

As it turns out, Google is much more obliging when you search for "Italian bagel." Within a few minutes, I had a handful of recipes for something called "ciambella," (plural "ciambelle") which, as far as I can tell means "ring-shaped." It seems they are actually considered cookies, but they have the soft, doughy insides and shiny exterior of a bagel or a soft pretzel. Since solving the mystery, my dad and I have made them several times (most recently, today).

Ciambelle Recipe

Ingredients

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 packet yeast
1 scant cup warm water
3 tsp oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp anise seeds (optional--this gives them a licorice taste)
1/2 cup white wine (we used a white zinfandel)
Pinch of salt

Steps
  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water.
  2. Put the flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the oil, sugar, seeds, salt, wine, and yeast mixture by pouring them into the well. Gather the flour into the well with hands or a spoon until a soft dough forms. (You may need to turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead it to make it come together.) Add water or flour as needed.
  3. Shape the dough into a ball, cover it with a dish towel, and put it somewhere warm for an hour to rise. 
  4. When the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured surface. Cut off pieces of dough and roll them out into long strips. Form the strips into loops and press down on the joint. (Larger ciambelle will be softer, smaller ones will be more crisp.)
    Ciambelle dough formed into loops.
  5. Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil on the stove; preheat the oven to 400 degree Fahrenheit.
  6. When the water boils, drop several ciambelle into the pot at a time. When they float, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a dish towel to drain.
  7. Ciambelle float when they're done.
  8. Place the boiled ciambelle on a cookie sheet. (If desired, brush them with an egg wash of one beaten egg and about a tablespoon of water.) Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until golden (time will vary based on size). Enjoy hot or cool with a glass of wine.
Baked ciambelle. Culinary mystery solved!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"What are you thankful for?"

Thanksgiving is one of those very strange holidays celebrated in America. In my mind, it's a lot like Columbus Day: distorted and misunderstood.

The history major that still lives inside me would love to make this entire blog post about Thanksgiving's fascinating past (really, it is). However, if you get me rolling on misrepresented things in history, I may not stop. So I'll spare you the lecture, and instead address the one thing I do very much respect the holiday for: providing an opportunity to reflect on our lives and express gratitude.

And on that note, a list of the top ten things I am thankful for (you knew it was coming).
  1. My family, and their constant support and encouragement.
  2. My friends, new and old.
  3. My boyfriend, who has the incredible talent of being/saying/doing whatever I need at that moment.
  4. The opportunity to be in graduate school.
  5. My assistantship.
  6. Having a place to live at school, and also a true home.
  7. My car, because I don't know what I'd do without it.
  8. My health.
  9. Delicious food that I am going to enjoy tomorrow, and that I have available to me every day.
  10. My cat and dog because they are just too adorable to be left off the list.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mushroom and Spinach Quiche

Mushroom and spinach quiche!
Lately, I've been having a craving for quiche. I saw some posts on Facebook about the International Dinner coming up at Mount Union, and it made me remember the really amazing mushroom quiche they had there last year representing French cuisine. Perhaps, in some small way, the craving was my expression of homesickness for my alma mater.

Anyway, I've never made a quiche before but I thought this would be a good time to try it out. I had a lot of mozzarella cheese left over from making pizza a few weekends ago and a few other odds and ends lying around. It was easier than I expected and pretty delicious. I think next time I'd use  a mix of mozzarella and cheddar or something similar to give it more flavor.

The recipe I (somewhat loosely) used for my quiche came from my Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 15th edition, an insanely large cookbook that seems to have just about everything in it. (It's a great book to have!) Their recipe started with a pie crust--either buy one or make it yourself. Since I've never made a pie crust before, I opted to use Bisquick's recipe. It wasn't quite enough to cover the pan, so I think next time I'd make a batch and a half.

Bisquick Pie Crust
The baked Bisquick crust.

Ingredients

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup Bisquick mix
2-3 tbsp boiling water

Steps
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Combine butter and Bisquick in a bowl (I used a fork for this). Add water (start with 2 tbsp) and mix vigorously until dough forms. Flour your hands and press the dough into a 9-inch pie dish.
  3. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden. 

And now, for the quiche. I'm giving you the recipe as I made it, which is again, somewhat different from the cookbook.

Mushroom and Spinach Quiche
The uncooked quiche.

Ingredients

1 small onion, chopped
1 container of sliced mushrooms
3 cups loosely packed, coarsely chopped fresh spinach
1 tbsp vegetable oil
5 eggs
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
Dash ground nutmeg (optional)
6 ounces shredded cheese
1 tbsp all-purpose flour

Steps
  1. Bake your crust, and turn down the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cook the onion and mushrooms in vegetable oil until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in the spinach and turn off the heat, allowing it to wilt just slightly.
  3. Crack the eggs into a glass measuring cup and lightly beat with a fork. You want 1/2 cup of total liquid per egg, so add milk (or half-and-half or light cream) until you have 2 1/2 cups of eggs and milk. Pour into a large mixing bowl.
  4. Combine cheese and flour in a small bowl (it's easiest to just use your hands for this). Add to the egg mixture and mix well. Add the mushroom mixture and mix well. Pour into the pie shell.
  5. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 6-8.
Ta-dah! Delicious quiche.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Some Thoughts on Web Design

If you had told me six months ago that by November I would have coded a website by hand, I would told you that was crazy. Web design? Me? I'm not so sure about that.

But, strangely enough, that is the case. Web design turned out to be a required course for my program, so I enrolled this quarter, and as of a few days ago, I have actually coded a website by hand.

I know that in today's internet-driven society, that isn't much of a feat. There are millions of people who beat me to it. But despite that, I am proud of it. It isn't super cool or fancy, and it doesn't have a bunch of neat features, but it works, and I made it do that. And if you ask me, that's still pretty cool.

In the beginning, I felt like one of the most clueless people in the course. I had no idea what the heck any of those acronyms that people kept throwing around meant (CSS, W3C, etc.) and I was intimidated by all that had to do with web design. However, once I got past my confusion and fear and forced myself to jump off the high dive, I actually picked it up fairly quickly. I'm not claiming to know or understand every bit of HTML and CSS (because I certainly don't!), but I think I've come very far in the past couple of weeks.

I'm also enjoying the fact that it's something new. I haven't done much academic work in the past few years aside from the familiar routine of read, research, and write a paper. It's sort of nice to do something different, and something that's challenging in a new way.

I don't know if I'll ever need to apply these skills in my professional life, but being forced to acquire them has been a rewarding experience. It's always good to get out of your comfort zone, and if nothing else, at least my blog looks a little better because of it. ;-)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

French Onion Soup: An Exercise in Improvisation

The finished product.
I'm not an "improv" type of person. When I was in band back in high school, you'd never catch me making up a jazzy solo on an instrument; I stuck to the music. The same goes for cooking; I follow the recipe.

The problem is that I'm no longer cooking for the 4-6 people most recipes serve. I'm usually just cooking for myself so a lot of my favorite recipes have to be pared down, and sometimes you just have to do away with the recipe altogether.

Hence, this afternoon's improvisation: French onion soup.

I had some beef broth left over from last week's Italian wedding soup, so when I came across this super simple recipe for French onion soup from The Kitchn, I decided to use it up. My recipe is a conglomeration of the above and this one from How to Cook Like Your Grandmother (and maybe a few others mixed in).

Excuse the lack of precise measurements--this is improv, after all.

French Onion Soup (serves one very hungry grad student)

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, sliced into thin strips
2 tbsp butter
Some minced garlic and/or other seasonings
A pinch of salt (if your butter is salted I would skip this)
A splash of wine
Some beef broth
Some water

Optional (for topping): Bread, Cheese

Steps:
Add broth, bring to a boil, and simmer.
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, salt (if using), and garlic/seasonings.
  2. Choose to stir or not stir. Some recipes say to give everything a quick stir right away to coat it in butter, while others say to let it be and stir once the onions start to turn translucent.
  3. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they caramelize and turn a nice brown color. The Kitchn says to not let the onions burn; Cook Like Your Grandmother says it's ok if some of them burn a little. Choose your own adventure.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat, add a splash of wine, and stir. (Most recipes say to use a dry wine, but I used white zinfandel and it was fine.) Return to the stove and cook for a few minutes until most of the liquid is gone.
  5. Add the beef broth. I had about 1 1/2 cups, so I added that with half a cup of water.
  6. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until it has reduced and looks good to eat. (The Kitchn recommends at least half and hour; I could only wait about 20 minutes). Season with salt and pepper if necessary.
  7. Optional: Toast a piece of bread in the oven/toaster oven until sufficiently toasty. You want to dry it out as much as possible without burning it. Put soup in an oven-safe bowl, top with the "crouton" and cheese (I used provolone) and put it under the broiler or in the toaster oven until the cheese has melted.
The Verdict: Despite the fact that I was very impatient and didn't simmer the soup as long as I probably should have, this was pretty decent French onion soup and it filled me up.

Things I'd Do Differently:
  • Don't burn the onions. Really, don't. You will later taste the burned, charred bits in your soup (which is not something I particularly care for--maybe you're ok with it, though). Perhaps the taste would have been diminished with a longer simmer time.
  • Use "good" bread for the crouton. The Kroger Lite Wheat sandwich bread was ok, but it got very soggy very fast. This would have been better with a denser, crustier bread.
So, there you have it. An improvised soup easily adapted to whatever you have on hand, as long as that includes onions and some kind of broth. Cheap, simple, and pretty darn delicious.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Things You're Doing Right

So I've been having a rough week or two here. In my Intro to Graduate Studies class we've been doing a lot of talking about jobs and internships, planning for future courses, workshopping resumes, and generally discussing the future.

My name is Stephanie and I have a confession: The future scares me.

If I'm being completely honest about it, I don't know where I'm going after I leave UC. I don't know what I will be doing. And I'm not sure what I want to be doing, which makes it difficult to come up with a course of study or a "dream job" to be working towards. I spent a lot of effort trying to pitch myself to graduate schools as a flexible and adaptable person, and it worked; but now I'm having a hard time choosing a path to "adapt" myself to.

I've been frustrated about this for a while. Today I was talking to Paul about it (for the umpteenth time, I'm sure) and I said I felt like nothing is going right at the moment. To which he kindly replied, "I think you're doing a lot of things right." And that got me thinking. Although the future still scares me, I'm going to try to think about the things that are going right at this moment.

So, I hereby present to you The List of Things (I Think) I'm Doing Right:

1. Learning How to Be an Adult. For the first time in my life, I am somewhat supporting myself--at least as far as rent and groceries go. I have a job and I'm learning to budget my money responsibly.

2. Being a Student. This is probably the thing I am best at in life. Whatever else I may be mediocre at, I get my work done, I meet deadlines, and I pass my classes. Period.

3. Learning to Cook. This one is obviously a work in progress, but it's a lifelong skill that is going to serve me well. I've already mastered and memorized a handful of quick and easy recipes so I can feed myself (read: so I won't starve). And learning how to make things from scratch is cheaper and better for you than eating a whole bunch of Lean Cuisine.

4. Getting Enough Sleep. It seems silly, but sleep is one of the basics of life that students seem to miss out on. I can safely report that I get about eight hours every night.

5. Staying Active. As lovely as the Bearcat Transit is on those days when I just need to get to campus in under five minutes, I have been trying to walk as much as possible. It's helping me stay in shape, and I get to enjoy the beautiful fall weather we are still having (no snow yet!!). I'm also trying to work out at least twice a week.

6. Trying New Things. Since I've been in Cincinnati, I have experienced quite a few things that are unique to the area like Skyline Chili, Graeter's, a Bearcats football game, the city bus system, two Fountain Square festivals, and more. I'm getting more comfortable in the city and I'm learning a lot about the area.

UC vs. North Carolina State

That's all I have for you right now.. but don't worry, I already have plans for a sequel to this post.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bread and Soup

Italian wedding soup and ciabatta bread
It's finally feeling like fall to me down here in Cincinnati. We had our first real frost this week and the scarves and sweaters and UGGs are starting to come out of the woodwork. I'm a little nervous about winter because I live in a drafty old house, but the radiators kicked on this week and I've discovered that pointing a fan at mine really does wonders for heating up the room. I'm comforted by that and the thought that the city only gets a couple of inches of snow at a time--huzzah!

But, as we're moving towards cooler weather my culinary adventures are started to tend toward winter-y foods. Like bread. And soup. Both of which you can see in the above picture. This was my second time making Italian wedding soup, and my very first time making ciabatta!

If you have ever felt intimidated by breadmaking, let me suggest this recipe from Lifehack: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/kitchen-hack-one-minute-ciabatta-bread.html. It sounds almost too good to be true, but it works and you get tasty, tasty bread out of it. I made a mistake with mine and added 1tsp of yeast instead of 1/4 tsp so it was ready to bake in about two hours instead of eight. The resulting bread doesn't have the big airy pockets like you usually see in ciabatta, but it was extremely easy and still very delicious. Especially hot out of the oven with some butter... mmmmmm.

But of course, the bread was just one side of the equation. Soup was the other. I've been thinking about this Italian wedding soup for a while, and I finally gathered all of the ingredients. Contrary to popular belief, the soup has nothing to do with weddings; the name supposedly refers to the "marriage" of meat and vegetables. And I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that it isn't from Italy either. Oh well. Meatballs and pasta = close enough?

Here is the recipe that I use. It makes A TON of soup, so I'd suggest making a half batch like I did this week.

Ingredients:

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1 lb ground beef
1 lb Italian sausage (Bob Evans is good!)
3 medium carrots, sliced (I'm not a huge fan of cooked carrots so I never use this much)
3 celery ribs, diced
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
4 cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cans beef broth (I go reduced-sodium here too)
1 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 cup fresh minced basil or 2 tbsp dry
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 1/2 tbsp ketchup
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups uncooked pasta (like macaroni or penne)

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine eggs and breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Crumble beef and sausage over mixture and combine. Form into 3/4" meatballs.
  2. Place meatballs on a foil-lined cookie sheet (with sides) and bake for 15-18 minutes until no longer pink. Drain on paper towels.
  3. Meanwhile, saute carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup kettle until tender. Add broth, spinach, basil, soup mix, ketchup, thyme, and bay leaves.
  4. Bring the soup to a boil and add the meatballs. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
  5. Add the pasta and cook for 13-15 minutes longer, until tender, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaves before serving.

Makes 10 servings or 2 1/2 quarts.

And there you have it! The perfect autumn / winter meal: bread and soup.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Grad Student "Identity"

Obviously I haven't been keeping up on this as well as I'd like. Things have been getting hectic. I've been out of town for the past two weekends and so haven't had time for much beyond schoolwork, driving, eating, and sleeping. But, it's time to take a deep breath and think a little bit.

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to my identity here in graduate school. For me, there are two sides to the equation: Graduate Student and Graduate Teaching Assistant. These are both mighty fine titles, but holding them simultaneously is sometimes difficult.

As a student, I know my job is to go to class, to study, and to keep up on my work. Easy enough, right? However, I'm in a pretty unique position within my program. I'm one of only a few grad students who started the master's program here straight out of undergrad, without any real work experience in between. That means 1.) I'm younger than almost everybody and 2.) I'm at a bit of a disadvantage by lacking those experiences in the workplace. I'm not sure what I want to do with my life or what skills I will need, so it's harder for me to plan out a course of study and know what I need to learn. On the plus side, I'm used to being in school so being a student still comes naturally to me. It's the role I'm most comfortable in.

Ok. So far, so good.

Now, the other side: GTA. I have to say, I had no idea what it took to be a teacher before I started doing this. I never realized all the planning and researching and just thinking that goes into it. Things that seem simple (writing a syllabus, grading papers) always take way more time than I think they will. Not to mention the fact that I am now a figure of authority for students who are practically the same age as me. It's a strange situation.

I tend to compare it to my experiences tutoring a lot. When I'm a tutor, I'm a peer. I'm a cheerleader for one student at a time. I get to say "Let's work together on this to make it awesome." I don't have to evaluate the work or give it a grade. Things are much less complicated.

Teaching is different. I have twenty-two students to deal with at a time (and thank goodness I don't have any more than that--I don't know how K-12 teachers keep everyone's names straight). It's hard to make sure everyone is on the same page, because inevitably, they won't be. And I'm now the one who has to say A, B, C, etc. That's a tough situation. The tutor in me always comes out when I grade; my comments are more about how to improve the text than anything else, even though I know I need to give it a letter at the end. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

The trouble is that I don't know whether I'm more of a student or more of a teacher. It seems that the answer should be student, because ultimately I am here to get a degree. But I can only be here doing this because of the teaching assistantship, which I get to keep by maintaining a certain GPA. I need one to keep the other. And right now, I find myself splitting my time almost equally between the two. It's a strange sort of limbo, and I'm finding it very interesting to think about how my two roles interact and overlap with each other.

Ah, well. Back to the grind. In parting I offer this delicious photo of a cappucino from Taza--if you're in the UC area and you haven't been to this place, check it out for some good coffee and neat latte art.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Leaves & Wings

Autumn leaves falling,
falling,
falling,
like so many responsibilities
drifting toward me
on an October breeze,
so numerous
that I cannot catch them all.

I prefer the summertime
when the wings of opportunity
light upon and carry me
gently
as a painted butterfly.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

First Pizza of the Quarter

 
One thing you will learn if you spend much time around me is that I love food. I'm not one of those people who is adept at describing smells and tastes and hints and overtones, but I love trying new foods and trying to cook them. And while this isn't going to be a cooking blog, I do intend to post some of my recipes here periodically. So, for my first "real" blog post, I thought I'd share with you my recipe for white pizza. But before we can get to the deliciousness of the pizza, you'll need the dough. Here is the recipe that I use, but feel free to use your own or the store bought kind.

Ingredients:

1 cup warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
3-4 cups flour

Steps:
  1. Heat water to about 115 degrees Fahrenheit. I microwave it for about a minute to get it the right temperature. You should be able to stick your fingers in it and hold them there for a few seconds.
  2. Add the yeast to the water along with a large pinch of sugar and give it a stir. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes, or until it foams. I like to do this step in my mixing bowl (less cleanup later).
  3. Add the olive oil, salt, and 2 cups of flour to the yeast mixture in a mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until blended. Continue to add flour (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup at a time) until the dough isn't sticking to the bowl.
  4. Flour a work surface like a counter top or cutting board and turn the dough out onto it. Flour your hands and knead the dough for 2 or 3 minutes, adding flour as needed. Then test it by poking it gently with your thumb--if the dough bounces back, you're done with this step. Oil the mixing bowl and roll the dough around inside to coat it. Then cover it and let it sit for at least 1/2 an hour, until it has doubled in size.
  5. Punch out the air in the dough and turn it out on your work surface again. At this point, you can divide the dough into however many pieces you want. You can make about 3 medium pizzas with this recipe, or 6 personal pizzas or calzones (I used 1/3 of the dough for the pizza in the picture). Form each piece into a ball and cover with a towel. (If you want to freeze the dough, this is the time to do it.) Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it, stretch it, toss it, or do whatever you have to to get it into the shape you want. Coat a cookie sheet or pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray and put your dough on it.
  7. Add toppings and then pop it in the oven for about ten minutes or so. Let cool (if you can), cut, and enjoy!
  8. If you want to make calzones, add your toppings to half of a dough round. Fold the other half over top, pinch the edges or press with the tines of a fork to seal, and brush with olive oil or beaten egg before baking.
 So that's it for the pizza. Oh wait, you want to know about the one in the picture? Well, that's a whole other story...

I basically made up this version of white pizza. I wanted pizza but I had no sauce or pepperoni or other traditional toppings. But I did have some olive oil, some spices, some mozzarella, and a couple of lovely tomatoes. And the results were delicious. So, while you're waiting for your dough to rise, you can get ready to make the white pizza toppings. For one pizza:

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
Spices
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 tomatoes, sliced

Steps:
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saute pan. Add the garlic and cook for about two minutes. Add your spices. I used crushed red pepper, dried basil, and an Italian seasoning blend. Cook for another minute or two. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. When your dough is ready to go, drizzle the oil on top and spread it around with the back of a spoon.
  3. Cover the pizza with mozzarella and Parmesan. 
  4. Arrange the tomato slices on top. Top with a little more cheese and a sprinkle of basil. Bake and enjoy.
And voila! The pizza was really delicious. You can tell because I had already started eating it before I thought to take the picture! The only problem was that it didn't rise much so the crust was very thin. This could have been a problem with the yeast or just my impatience in not letting it rise as long as it needed to. Either way, it was delicious.

Pizza is one of my favorite things to cook, partly for the reason that it is so very forgiving. Yes, I would have liked a thicker crust, but it turned out pretty awesome anyway. And you can throw whatever toppings you want on it. (Seriously, it's like the best food ever.)

I also sincerely enjoy the process of making it. The mixing and the kneading and the stretching and all of that. It is cathartic. I'm at a stage in my life known as "Poor Graduate Student" where I'm supposed to eat Kraft Mac & Cheese and Ramen noodles for every meal. And although I enjoy both of those things (in moderation of course), I like being able to prepare something from scratch. I like having that connection to my food, and there's a sense of pride that comes from making it yourself. Lucky for me, I have now 4 more balls of dough in the freezer so this pizza is only the first of many.

Now, who's hungry?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A New Beginning

I've tried blogging before, though I can't say with much success. This is my latest attempt to pull "whatever pieces" come my way together and organize my thoughts in a digital format.

What you will find here will vary. My life is made up of various pieces which I am constantly trying to integrate. It might be poetry. It might be song lyrics. It might be recipes. It might be nondescript rantings.What will be will be.

Be patient with me, and be kind. I will try my best to keep going.