27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all a happy, healthy, and turkey-filled holiday!


23 November 2008

A Little Comfort Food

Well, the Korean Conflict paper is finished and handed in. 17 pages worth of information on why the U.S. chose to commit troops to fighting. I'm really not at all happy with the last section, or my conclusion, but it really is the best was able to do. If I had only started a few days earlier, and worked a little harder, I may have had the extra time to proofread and revise it to the point where I could be happy with it. But, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and it's not like I waited until the very last minute to do this thing, so I'm not going to let myself feel too bad. On the bright side, I can finally return these books to the library, and stop having them hog all the space on our kitchen table.

In the midst of paper writing, I did end up a little stressed as the due date crept closer, so I made myself some comfort food. I had found this Chinese Cookbook on the bargain book rack at Borders a few weeks ago for like, five dollars. It had some nice stuff in it, so I grabbed it. Luckily for me, it had pretty good instructions for making Congee, which is exactly the kind of comfort food that I was looking for during the writing process.

Congee is, basically a rice porridge. You boil the rice in massive amounts of water until the rice begins to break up and the starches thicken. It's traditionally served for breakfast, and while I was there in the summer of '07, I had it a few times. It's not exactly a complicated thing to make, but I really like to start with directions before I experiment with recipes, no matter how simple or straight forward they may be. I must admit, that my version did not exactly come out as well as what I had in China, but I think it came out pretty well for a first shot. I used beef broth instead of the recommended chicken broth, or the more traditional plain water, and I threw some straw mushrooms in there as well.

It ended up being a great mid-day comfort snack. It was gooey, warm and satisfying: perfect for the weather around here lately, which has been below freezing.

I did, in my 10 minute sporadic breaks from writing (so I could keep my sanity throughout the process), make something: a prototype of a coffee cup cozy I've been planning for a while. I really waste more paper and cardboard in my coffee shop purchases than I care to think about, so I wanted to make myself a cute reusable cozy to replace the cardboard things they give you. At least that will cut down on some of my waste. In the end, this first attempt didn't quite turn out the way I was envisioning it, mainly because of my methods, so, it's time to return to the drawing board. I'll post here about it once I get around to editing the photos.

But first, I've got some other things to take care of, including:
  • A concert.
  • Multiple rehearsals.
  • About 300+ note cards to finish and memorize about... well, ALL of U.S. History.
  • One last paper, this one 20 pages on the changing tides of Chinese culture and identity from the decline of the Qing dynasty to the May Fourth Movement of 1919.

  • While I run around like a chicken with my head cut off, seeing everything in the context of history writing, it doesn't exactly help to be surrounded by the animals, who, by the way, are still spending most of their time sleeping, usually on each other, or even on themselves. In the tradition of Mel Brooks, "It's good to be the cat," huh?*


    *see Brooks, Mel. History of the World Pt. 1. Line: "It's good to be the King!"

    13 November 2008

    15 pages down, 35 to go.

    Well now. I felt accomplished until I tallied up that page count for the title there. All week long I've been holed up in a far corner of the library, or in a far (well not really so far... my house is teeny) corner of my house, just working, and reading, and writing, and working some more.

    First on the agenda was a smallish research paper on a topic of my choosing in England during either the Tudor or the Stuart dynasties. I decided to take a look at the Spanish match, specifically the trip that Charles (at the time Prince of Wales, later the headless king), and the Duke of Buckingham took to Madrid, unannounced and in disguise to secure the Spanish Infanta's hand in marriage for Charles. It seemed to me from everything I've learned before that it's a pretty specific event, and that boiling it down to a smallish paper wouldn't be too much of a problem. It's not an often researched or talked about thing, so I figured doing my own research and coming to my own conclusions in the scope of 10-15 pages wouldn't be that big of a deal.

    Woah. Was I mistaken.

    I was correct in the assumption that there is not a great volume of work done on the subject, and that primary documents (James' and Charles' letters to each other specifically) would be easy to obtain. What I was wrong about was the scope of the topic. What little work is out there is incredibly detailed and massively comprehensive, and the affair itself turned out to far more complex than I had originally though. What followed was a week's worth of distressed pulling of hair as I tried to boil hundreds and hundreds of pages of information down to 10-15 pages, without leaving out anything important, while still utilizing primary sources, and finding something original to say about the matter.

    When I returned home from the library at 10 last night, my vision swimming from the constant switches from book to computer screen, my head pounding, hands chapped and stiff from the cold, short a conclusion, and with only 12 hours before it had to be turned in, I was ready to scream. But then, I saw the understated little Amazon.com box sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. Could it be? I dropped my backpack and armful of books, and ran to check.

    It was! My name was neatly printed on the address label, so it could only be one thing: Alicia Paulson's (of Posie Gets Cozy fame) brand new book, Stitched in Time. I tore at the box like a kid at Christmas, and couldn't help but grin as I pulled it out. I had pre-ordered it a week ago. My very first craft book that wasn't found in the garage of a family member. The first craft book I went out of my way to pre-order.

    Alicia's blog has always been so inspiring, and her skills with color have always left me speechless, so I was eager to have a good page through and see what sort of wonders were contained. But, I still had some paper left to write. So I sat the book right in front of me as visual motivation, dragged my shit out of my bags and got to work. In no time, I was finished and I quickly opened Stitched in Time to soak in all the pretty pictures.

    I must say that the book is everything I expected, and then some. Amazing ideas, beautiful photography, and wonderful writing. I already have three or four projects that I've bookmarked to be made as soon as I'm done with the whole... school thing... for the semester. The Memory match game is a brilliant idea, and timely since I have several family friends expecting in the next few months. Also, I'm going to have to keep my eye out in thrift stores for some great sweaters for the felted-sweater bag (though it defeats the memory-keeping part of the project, I don't really wear wool because of the itch factor, so I have no sweaters of my own that could "accidentally" end up felted). And the friend chandelier is a great solution to my problem of picture frames crowding all the flat, usable surface I have in my room. Even though I currently have no time to make anything in it, I get such joy just looking through it thanks to the beautiful photography (there's a photo of her puppy Clover in there that is amazingly squeal-worthy, btw).

    For now, it will have to wait, however. I've got two more papers awaiting my attention, including a 15-20 page analysis of why the U.S. got involved in the Korean Conflict, and another 15-20 page cultural history of the Chinese New Culture Movement. But at least one of them is finished and turned in.

    And as a bonus, Starbucks is using their holiday cups, and serving Peppermint Mochas again, one of which I briefly enjoyed while proofreading my paper this morning. And we all know how I feel about the holiday cups and Peppermint Mochas. I'm sure in the next few weeks you'll all get to read my annual ode of love to them.

    Well, back to the books.


    07 November 2008

    Week-Long Whirlwind

    Wow, what a week! So much happening, so much yet to do!

    Lets start with last Friday, HALLOWEEN! It was always my favorite holiday as a kid, so it felt kind of weird to be the one handing out the candy this year. My mother and my brother had rehearsal, and my dad doesn't much care for the holiday, so I was elected to stay home and man the door. Of course I made sure the Almond Joys and the Kit-Kats were on the top of the pile, since I don't like them and if they were left at the end of the night, they'd be of no use to me. Sly, isn't it?

    After the costumed visitors stopped coming, I was forced to face the reality that is grad school, and the three huge papers I have coming due, so I've been running running running all week, taking a brief break just to share my pumpkin carving experience with you, and to... well, eat, sleep, and shower.

    Clearly the resident pets don't have the same problems as I, since they spent most of the weeks sleeping, often on each other.

    Oh, well I did forget some time I took off. After all, it was the PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION!! It's been such a wild ride these past weeks and months, that I most certainly wouldn't have missed that for the world.

    Now, it's no secret that I'm a democrat. I've supported Obama from the very beginning, so I am totally thrilled with the outcome of the election. My whole family has been a fan of him for a long time, though my Mom was originally leaning Hillary. My brother volunteered for his campaign, and even my father, who has never in his life cared enough to vote got involved because he felt so strongly about the kind of change this country needs.

    Now, of course, he didn't vote. That would really compromise his position as an apathetic. But he got involved! He was in charge of keeping our yard sign booby-trapped with dog doo so it wouldn't get vandalized or stolen, and he did so with steadfast diligence (we live in a relatively republican area, and I am sad to say that there is a history of less-than-respectful behavior concerning signs and people that support the opposite candidate. It's happened to our yard signs a number of times).

    So Tuesday night, with celebratory rum shots all ready for my father and I, my mom with her scotch, and my brother with nothing but a soda (under 21!) we waited with baited breath for the results.

    And I must say that the results could not have been more inspiring for me. Maybe I'll now have the inspiration to get these papers finished!


    02 November 2008

    Where I Butcher Some Pumpkins

    Welcome to the fall addition of "Tales from the Kitchen!"

    I got a bug up my ass the other day that I wanted to bake homemade pumpkin pie to being to my families' houses on Thanksgiving this year. Or at least one side of them, since my aunt has a monopoly on the pumpkin pie market for the other side. Which is great, because I'll at least get to chow down on one amazing pie if I manage to screw this up.

    But anyway, so to start, I had to make some pumpkin slurry.

    Actually, let's call it Pumpkin puree, like the Pioneer Woman (who's tutorial I used for this, and can be found here). Pumpkin slurry sounds like some sort of chemical spill.

    I started with three medium to smallish pumpkins, all set to meet their doom.

    The carving process completely negated all the precautionary measures I took against tendonitis in the past few weeks, while making me feel kind of like some sort of butcher in a horror movie. The huge knife paired with the absolutely spooky lighting my kitchen took on as the sky grew overcast and the sun went down made it perfect for Halloween. Even if it did gain me some odd looks from my family when they walked in.

    "Why is it lit like a mad scientist's lab in here?" they would ask.

    "My hands are too pumpkiny to hit the overhead light," I would answer. And with that, they'd raise an eyebrow and walk out. Without hitting the switch for me, might I add. So considerate.

    Since the light was staying spooky, I figured I'd take a Halloween butcher photo.

    As I got farther into the process, and as my wrist tendons began plotting their revenge, I remembered exactly how slimy and messy pumpkins can be. I hadn't carved one since... well, probably since before high school. That squish between my fingers and the deliciously nutty smell brought back all sorts of wonderful memories from childhood.

    Between the scraping and the carving, by the time I got everything done and ready to pop into the oven, about three hours had passed. At this point my mom walked in and asked, "So, what happened to the 'Oh, I've got to spend all night studying. I've got so much to do!' thing?"

    I just kind of shrugged. It was, admittedly, taking much longer than I expected. However, I kind of didn't care. The pumpkin smell and the joy of getting my hands all gooky like a toddler playing in the mud was just too much for the academic side of my life to spoil.

    But, three hours later, I finally got there. Add about half an hour, and the pumpkin came out of the oven all golden, browned, and delicious. Add another hour and a half where I want to throw our Magic Bullet against the wall, about half a pumpkin never making it to the mashing/blending process due to the rude interruption of my stomach, and I ended up with about 12 cups of wonderful pumpkin bliss.

    That should be enough for a couple pies. I hope anyway, because I don't think my wrists will ever let me do that again.

    Also, I was left with a wonderful bowl full of pumpkin guts.

    The slimy mass was just beckoning me to dig in.

    So I did.

    And I loved every second.

    And that, my friends is the story of why I ended up in double wrist braces for a week, with only some pumpkin puree and some seeds to show for it.