Sunday, December 13, 2009

more loot from the semester bag

Today I am trying very hard to remember the good things I've accomplished this semester, and not beat myself up about the few things that I wish I'd done better. I had a bad dream last night in which one of my professors was chewing me out about the poor quality of my work and saying that this was not the program for me. Oof. Stop it, subconscious. To whit:
  • I taught my first class, ever: Watercolor for Landscape Architects. I managed to pull together a show of my student's work, and it was so satisfying to see people examining & admiring the artwork every time I passed through the LA gallery. Below, one of the demonstration paintings I made (for a class on using gouache paints together w/watercolor). I wish I could show you some of my students' work. I learned a lot from teaching this class, both about teaching and about painting techniques.

  • I learned a lot more about Photoshop. It's exciting to be able to make use of more of its tools, and to push the limits of those tools. I've learned that I *can* make original art with a computer that is not so different in feeling from a traditional-media painting. Below, #3 of the triptych of images I made to illustrate my studio project (other two, previous post).

  • I started to make friends with AutoCAD and Sketchup. My goal is to be so comfortable with all the main programs that I can combine them fluidly and cut down on work time significantly. Already I've learned that it's much faster to create a measured section drawing in CAD, and then render it by bringing it through Illustrator and Photoshop. Hurrah faster sections! (you'll have to enlarge this one (a section of the existing site) to see its detail)
  • I've also learned, through Stormwater and Site Engineering classes, so much more about stormwater management practices, and the creative possibilities of combining the science of these practices with visual/spatial goals for a site. Below, a bus shelter design that incorporates (in this section view) a green roof, permeable pavement, and a raingarden. The bus stop would also be a WiFi hotspot, and include bike storage in its footprint. Part of its roof would have solar panels, to run the lighting for the shelter, and power the WiFi router.

This design was for a group final project concerning a Prototype Stormwater Master Plan for Cornell, which we presented to the campus landscape architect, a campus engineer, and a traffic/building systems coordinator. We received very positive responses about our expanded-amenity transit stops/shelter idea (which was but one of our several ideas concerning stormwater-focused design in various areas of the campus). I was really excited about this class, because I had come into it knowing next to nothing about stormwater practices and it opened a whole new chapter of possibilities.

So, difficult semester in some ways, I definitely feel more pressure to learn new programs and get huge amounts of work done in painfully condensed spaces of time. I'm excited for, not dreading, next semester.

Now, for some holiday hectic-time (but FUN hectic-time), and then off to Key West. I'm looking forward to doing some painting, taking photos of egrets and anhingas, and going to some new places (the Keys!) and some old favorite places (Sanibel Island!). Crossing my fingers for warm sunshiny weather...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

the payoff for my cramped shoulder/neck muscles

What I've been doing all weekend: learning how to create weather in Photoshop.
And the same place, in winter:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

eye candy

Various cookies in the window of Junior's in Brooklyn. I left nose marks.

Cakes in the window of Junior's (+ reflections of Flatbush Ave.)

Evening shadows stretch across the Long Meadow in Prospect Park.
Notice the artist with easel on the left side.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

a dumpling day, and later, chestnuts

Saturday was the beginning of fall break, and it started out gray and chilly--a dumpling sort of day. Anyone who knows me pretty well knows that I love gyoza--Japanese potsticker dumplings. They are very easy to make, and great party food. Plus, they are not so bad for you, as you use only 2 tblsp oil and can use a lean cut of pork, or substitute ground turkey, chicken, or tofu (though the taste will not be the same). I thought the Bradburys (my family-away-from-family) would like dumplings, so I decided to make them for lunch. I went out and bought round dumpling wrappers from the local asian-food shop.

Pork Gyoza
Equipment: 1 large non-stick pan with lid
-round rice-flour dumpling wrappers
-filling: 1 bunch scallions, 1 knob ginger root, 1 peeled carrot, ~2 lbs pork (I usually use ground pork, but that was not available so I used two packages of "stir fry pork" and cut it into 1/4" dice), and the leafy part of the Napa cabbage.
-sauce: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1 tblsp hot sauce, 2 tblsp sweet/sour duck sauce.
Instructions: Finely chop the cabbage and scallion (white part and as most of the tender green part), grate the ginger (peel it first w/a vegetable peeler), shave the carrot into thin strips, dice the pork (or not if using ground pork), and mix it all well in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper (not too much salt as there will be salt in your sauce).
Prepare your dumpling wrapping station: 1 small bowl of water. Dumpling wrappers. Plate. Get another person to help you. Put a dumpling wrapper on the plate. Dip your finger in the water. Run your wet finger around the inside edge of the dumpling wrapper to make a 1/2" wide damp area. Put a small amount (~tblsp) of filling in the center of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half and pick it up, holding and pressing the wet edges together. Crimp the edges of the wrapper together, pressing firming (to make a fan-like shape, see photo). Add a touch more water if the edges are not sticking. Don't worry if your first efforts are ugly. The important thing is that the filling be contained (no holes). Cover the wrappers if you take a break--they dry out quickly. There will be enough filling to use the whole package of wrappers, plus a little left over.
Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
Cooking: This is easier with a non-stick pan, or better yet, a multi-tiered bamboo steamer. I will assume you do not have a steamer (since if you do you probably know how to make dumplings already). Heat 2 tblsp canola or peanut oil in a large non-stick pan. Adjust heat to medium-high. Add as many dumplings as will fit, leaving 1" of space between dumplings. Immediately jiggle pan and loosen dumplings with a spatula to prevent sticking. Continue jiggling pan frequently for 2 min. to heat dumplings through and coat with oil. Add 1 cup water and cover pan. Steam for 4 minutes, or until dumpling skin is translucent and dumplings have puffed slightly.
Transfer to plate/serve to hungry person(s) and make another batch.
These really are easiest to eat using chopsticks, as forks tear the dumpling skin and the filling spills out.
When I had finished making the dumplings, and had managed to snag a few for myself (they disappeared very quickly), the sun came out. Cindy and I went to the Cornell Orchards and bought apples, paw-paws, and cider (Cornell cider is THE BEST I have ever tasted). I bought some cider and apples for my parents, whose arrival was expected that afternoon. On the way back, we decided to stop at the Plantations Arboretum to see if the chestnuts had dropped. A few weeks ago we saw a woman poking in the leaf litter under these trees, and we asked her what she was doing. She seemed shy and a bit reluctant, but admitted that these were indeed the edible type of chestnuts. "Are they good?" we asked. She paused. "Yes. They are good to eat." She was looking for nuts very earnestly in the pouring rain. We resolved to come back when more nuts were ripe.
Many more nuts had fallen when we went back, but it looked as though a few other people had hunted for them. The husks are too spiny to handle (you'd need thick leather gloves), but the shiny brown nuts easily popped out when we prodded and squished the husks with our feet. Most of the husks on the ground had been similarly squished. The nuts were pretty small, but we gathered about 3 cups of them. Back at the house, I scored the shell of each nut at its pointy end and graded them into larger and smaller batches. Last night we roasted them on a cookie sheet, for 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven. They were delicious. Because they were small, the skin was thin and peeled off easily. They were sweet and had a flavor reminiscent of pistachio nut and winter squash. The flesh was somewhat mealy, but in my experience with chestnuts the flesh is always somewhat mealy.
Note: I should point out that these are chestnuts from the Chinese Chestnut tree (Castanea mollissima). Horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) are not for human consumption. Always be SURE of the identity of the tree (if possible verify with an expert) before eating any of its fruit.
The rest of the weekend was really nice. Parents finally arrived after taking "the scenic route" (i.e. getting impressively lost) and we had a late dinner at Moosewood (mmmm dark chocolate ricotta mousse). Sunday I woke them up early, plied them with coffee, tea, and fresh pastries from Ithaca bakery, and whisked them off to Taughannock Falls for a morning hike on the gorge trail. We stopped at the farmers market for a good while, and then to the Bradburys for a luxurious brunch. Peter is the consumate brunch chef. We had pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, fruit, coffee, tea, cake, and leftover dumplings. Then everyone digested as I drove to Watkins Glen. My father and Becky took hundreds of photos. It was a brilliant day.

Friday, October 2, 2009

traffic patterns and urban stress

The title of this post could be a metaphor for my current grad school life. Currently in the landscape of Liz, there are

traffic jams (when there is too much work at once and nothing seems to get done fast enough)
flat tires (when I run out of steam and have to take an evening off from work to do nothing more than sleep)
and a few confusing detours to the freeway (changing and then finally settling on my concept two and a half weeks into the studio project).

(click on image to enlarge) I started off the semester with a whirlwind tour through the traffic of Brooklyn, en route to a site visit (see Flatbush Avenue and Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, above), and then a wedding. This was appropriate, as it turns out, because traffic is such a huge issue in and around this site. After fighting with the problem of traffic for a couple of weeks (see above), I finally (ah Liz, always learning the hard way) decided to make traffic patterns a key part of my concept, and in fact base my design around traffic flow. This has been really challenging and also exciting, as I previously had not thought about traffic much, aside from it being an annoyance of the first order.
So now I'm all set up to put together a project I'll be proud of... I just need to pull all my current maps, graphs, and plans together for the Midterm Critique next Wednesday. And in between drive to Boston and back for a wedding this weekend. I hope I don't run into that much traffic...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

fruitful foraging

Four years ago, before my parents had bought the land where they are now building a new home, I went bushwacking on that property with my dad and my new boyfriend. Unexpectedly, but wonderfully, we found over a pound of black trumpet mushrooms on that outing.
This past weekend, I went with my parents as they met, on the land, with the contractor who is working on the first phase of the house. While they talked with him, I wandered into the woods, curious to see if the mushrooms were growing where they had before. After about 40 mosquito bites and an incident with a blackberry bush, I emerged from the trees with a nice handful of the fragrant brown beauties.

These are not the most attractive mushrooms. They are the exact color of dead leaves, when the leaves are almost to the point of becoming soil. But they smell nutty, wine-y, and richly fungal (in the best sense)--definitely an umami-rich scent. They also retail for $18 a pound, so I am proud to find them in the woods, enough to contribute to a luxurious pasta dish for my mother's birthday dinner.
We also found, given directions by the contractor, a patch of big white polyphore mushrooms, but as we have not eaten these before, we are wary. My parents plan to consult the local mushroom expert.
Aside from foraging for mushrooms, it was a pleasant short visit. It was so nice to wake up on the screened porch and be surrounded by a golden-green forest morning.
As I did not have time to check out the blueberries (aside from the bush next to the dock, see photo), I plan to go back up this coming weekend.

[Note: I have been picking black trumpets and chanterelles since I was about 9 years old. Use caution with wild mushrooms and consult a mushroom book.]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer wayfaring

This has not been the best summer.


I am trying to extract from it the best that can be had.

Since mid-June I have been working two jobs, at an outdoor outfitters and a garden center. This is all well and good. I am employed, I have a small amount of money, and I've been able to support myself and help Mike with his grocery bill. The trade-off has been time. Time--I mean having it--is pretty much the essence of summer to me. Summer Time is the special time when one is able to work on random indulgent projects. Not this summer. I've had to scrim and save my time, hoard it and even then there is not enough of it, for my one day off a week is spent on business-type affairs.


There have been some good outings.
Over the 4th of July weekend, Mike and I were very unpatriotic. We ran away to Quebec and had a fine time exploring in the botanic garden, attempting to photograph monkeys in the Biodome, and hiking on Mt. Tremblant (a mountain in the Laurentian range home to a swanky ski resort, the "Vail of the East"). Then the following Friday we went to a baseball game. Herewith, some highlights:

Chung, Ellen, & Mike reflected in the windows of the Biodome

A tiny stream with a minuature dock in the Japanese garden area of the Jardin Botanique


On the main roadway within the Jardin Botanique

Roseate spoonbill

Les Ruisseaux/The Streams, Mont Tremblant

July 10, Red Sox v. Kansas City Royals

Dear old Fenway.

We got frozen custard and cotton candy. It was a swell time. And our team won!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Adventures in domesticity

Mike and I have been trying to make meals at home more often, to try and save money. It is hard to save money when your nearest grocery store is a Whole Paycheck, but we've been doing our best. Yesterday I upped the ante a little bit, with a smoked salmon, leek, and goat cheese tart, accompanied by caesar salad with caesar dressing made from scratch. I swear, despite the fancy-sounding-ness, this meal was not time-consuming or difficult (or expensive). It would have been even easier, but Whole Paycheck does not carry unsweetened pie dough. I thought a quiche with sugar in the crust would be odd, so I fell back on my time-saving trick of using phyllo pastry. I used my rectangular tart pan. Recipe to follow.
Another food adventure occurred last week, when I was having dinner with my family. My dad requested that I bring up a bottle of white wine from the basement fridge, but there was only one bottle in the fridge. This one:

As you may have guessed from the label, this was a rosé wine. But what a rosé! It tasted like the magic elixir that Mary Poppins gave to Jane and Michael. It tasted like clouds of strawberries and mists of crème de cassis. We all pondered where this mystery wine could have come from, when my dad realized that the village of Chaux was home to our friend Maryléne's late aunt. We had all visited them on our family trip to France in 1999, and on that occasion we sat on their back patio and drank their homemade rosé. This must be their wine! Here is a close-up of its beauty.
For that dinner party my mother and I made a chocolate-strawberry tart, and I made cilantro-lime composed butter, for the swordfish my dad grilled. A perfect summertime dinner, all told.

Here is the recipe for Smoked Salmon, Leek, and Goat Cheese Quiche, followed by the recipe for Caesar Dressing.

Smoked Salmon, Leek, and Goat Cheese Quiche

12 sheets or so of phyllo pastry, thawed and kept under a damp napkin
cooking spray (i.e. PAM)

3-4 ounces smoked salmon (I used 3 and this was plenty)
1 leek, white part only
olive oil
100 grams soft goat cheese
1 cup milk
3 extra large eggs
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp tarragon, minced
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375.
Spray tart pan with cooking spray. Fit one layer of phyllo gently into the tart pan, taking care not to rip corners. A good technique is to gently lift the pastry with one hand while with the other nestling it into the geometry of the tart pan. Repeat spraying and pastry-fitting process for the next 11 layers, overlapping the pastry where necessary to prevent holes. Give the pastry a final spray of oil, trim overhanging pastry with a knife, and cover it with a damp napkin for the moment.
Slice the leek in half. Flush all grit from between the layers of the leek with cold water. Remove outer layer of leek. Slice into small pieces. Sauté leek in olive oil until tender but not brown.
Tear the salmon into small pieces. Put in a bowl with the leek.
Beat eggs and milk together. Crumble goat cheese into this mixture. Add tarragon, lemon juice, salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
Arrange leek and salmon evenly in the tart pan. Add egg mixture. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Turn off oven and let quiche rest in oven until serving.
Thanks to for recipe source (recipe slightly altered as is my wont).

Note: In the original recipe, the author notes that one must use milk with 2% or greater milkfat, or the quiche will not set. I used 1% milk, and had no problem. The fat in the goat cheese probably helps.

Caesar Salad Dressing
(From Emeril Lagasse. We chose this recipe because we had an exquisite Caesar salad at Lagasse's Delmonico restaurant in Las Vegas. This tastes just as good as at the restaurant.)
Serve over fresh, cold Romaine lettuce, with warm garlic croutons.

1 large, very fresh egg yolk
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon anchovies, finely minced (about 1/2 a fillet)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan, roughly grated

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients except olive oil and parmesan. Whisk together. Continue whisking briskly, while pouring a very thin stream of olive oil into the bowl (it helps to have a sous-chef at this stage). Whisk until the mixture is emulsified (thickened and opaque), and all olive oil is encorporated. Fold in the Parmesan and adjust seasoning to taste.
Dressing keeps 24 hours. Refrigerate until use.

Friday, May 8, 2009

snapshots from the spring semester, or bidding farewell to a year of hand-graphics

Our studio work will be nearly all digital graphics next year, so with this knowledge I especially enjoyed the opportunity to work on and improve my hand graphics skills. The prevailing hand graphics style in landscape architecture is stylized and geometrical, as one might expect. Nonetheless, personal style (so long as it is somewhat refined and "readable") is admired and encouraged. Also, it is still a necessary skill. Firms (so our profs tell us) look for good hand graphics when hiring interns and staff.
Some people naturally have a personal style that adheres more closely to the LA "norm." This is sort of hard to explain, but I guess there is a graphic standard of sorts. It is the kind of drawing that you see in books teaching presentation graphics. One of my classmates has it. His drawings are beautifully technical. His handwriting is brilliantly clear and precise, in a really pleasing way. I aspire to perfect my handwriting; I know he's worked to get it so precise.
Looking back at my drawings from the year, I know I'm evolving a style of my own, which is really kind of exciting. It is equally as cool to see the distinct styles of my classmates. If I saw a book of only their drawings, I know I could identify the artist by the marks.
An elevation drawing from my final studio project

A second elevation, same project as top (this elevation is "perpendicular" to the one at top, showing the end, instead of the side, of the vine-covered pavilion)

Plan view of my pocket park for Graphics II

Axonometric view of the same park. I encourage you to click on this image to enlarge. There are lots of details, such as the one below. I had fun drawing the people at the café-bar. See? They are listening to the jazz trio playing on the terrace.

Friday, May 1, 2009


So *obviously* my goal for the summer first and foremost is to find a job. But aside from that, there are many personal projects that I haven't been able to work on since last August. Here is a partial list.

Purely personal projects:
  • Knitting. First off, a sweater for Cara's baby, due in July! Second, socks for Mike. I've also been eying patterns on this great blog Now if I could only afford enough yarn for another sweater... I'd love to design a pattern of my own, and I have some visions I'd love to draw out.
  • Painting. Ideally I'll have a few days before I have to move out when I can work on the LeRay/Jones painting.
  • Sculpture: playing with paper and making abstract shapes. Specifically I have mobiles and light fixtures in mind.
Not as personal creative project:
  • Planning and research for the Watercolor for Landscape Architects class I'm teaching in the fall

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ode to a cookie

Si simple, et quand même si séduisant, this little biscuit.
He comes from a pâtisserie on Mont St. Michel in Normandy, France.
He is made of good French flour, Normandy butter (best butter in the world, some say), sugar, and lemon. Maybe a little salt.

Yes, he is enclosed in what seems like excessive packaging, but only imagine his journey across the ocean, and this does not seem so excessive. It keeps his crumb supple.
And what a crumb:

He is like a miniature tart, no? A tart with soft lemony filling, gently caramelized on top. At two inches across, he is a very mini tart. So he does not induce much guilt after eating.

He has companions, also: similarly tart-shaped, but filled instead with chocolate. Is it just chocolate, or is there also a flavor of noix de coco? I prefer the lemon, though.

The delivery man is very sweet, too. He deserves his own separate ode, however.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

what I spend my time doing

Recent studio project, an AIDS Memorial for the Ithaca College campus, which had quite a few professors and some students die of the disease in the 80s.
The plan:

The model:

The illuminated model:

Yes, my model lit up. It took forever to make. You think this is cool, one of my classmates had a model with a fountain/stream... with real running water. And then he added dry ice to show how it would look in wintertime (the water would be geothermally heated so that it would run year long, and thus create steam/mist in winter). I wish I had a picture of his model to share!
More to come soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

all quiet on the western front

It is a dark snowy night in mid February (the dimmest time of year), a good night to be cooped up in the studio immersing myself in work. Real post to come soon, promise. Not just another recipe (though I have those).
For now, a couple of recent photos. These are (some of) my plants, which are creating a mini-greenhouse feeling in my bedroom. My magenta Phalenopsis orchid has a flower shoot with four buds! You can see the flower shoot in the upper middle of the group of plants, towards the window. I will record its process over the next weeks. I expect that it will not bloom until the end of March/April.
And this is the path I used to take to get to campus, now covered in snow and ice. The one time I tried it I had to hold onto the hand rail the whole way around because of the ice. Not going to do that again. P.S. To see the photos in their full glory (I'm not boasting (only sort of), they really are tiny and hard to see), I recommend double clicking on the photo and it will enlarge.

Monday, January 26, 2009

oatmeal kitchen sink cookies

As in "everything but the ________."

Oatmeal Kitchen Sink Cookies
(adapted from a recipe I found online, I changed the flour amount and added more interruptions,* so I now consider the recipe to be my creation)

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick-cooking oats
3/4 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts)
1/2 cup raisins (opt. if you don't like raisins, if so increase nuts to 1 cup)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon cinnamon (opt.)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C)
2. In a large bowl, cream together softened butter and sugars with an electric beater. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla.
3. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir into the butter/sugar mixture until just blended.
4. With a large spoon or stiff spatula, mix in oats 1 cup at a time, nuts, raisins, and chocolate chips. Dough will be stiff but it will all come together, I promise.
5. Drop dough onto UNGREASED cookie sheets in ping pong ball size spoonfuls. Tap each cookie lump just a little on top to flatten slightly.
6. Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Cookies should be just golden brown. Let cookies rest on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool.

-It is important that the butter be softened or the cookies will lose their shape in the oven. Stick the unwrapped butter on a place in the microwave for 10 sec intervals, 30 sec total--don't do 30 sec altogether or the butter will explode, trust me.
-You can make the cookies in bigger than ping pong ball size lumps, just extend baking time a little. The original recipe called for "heaping spoonfuls." I guess my heaping spoonfuls were more generous than hers, because my cookies were huge. Also if you make bigger cookies, flatten them more before baking.

*interruptions are what a friend of mine calls ice cream add-ins.

New background: I am desperate for some spring green, and this cabbage leaf really appealed to me, as I was cutting it up for my dinner last night.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

the snow semester

Previously I wrote about how the weather is really not so bad here. I may have revised my assessment a bit.
The snow is pretty, yes, and though it was grey most of today the sun did shine brilliantly through my apartment windows from 3 to 4:30. But for the most part, this is the annoying, depressing time of winter. The depressive quality can be attributed not only to the precipitation and lack of sun, but also to the very cold and the difficulty of getting around.
That sun streaming through my windows improved my mood quite a lot. Maybe I need to get one of those full-spectrum lamps. Due to a variety of factors, I haven't been feeling super happy this week. Lack of sun, lack of exercise (I intend to asap, possibly skiing this weekend? X that, skiing too expensive), adjusting to the rhythms of the new semester, lack of boyfriend, and anticipation of stress. Yes, I am an anxiety junkie: I stress about stress.
The obvious solution to feeling low at the beginning of the semester is to get involved with my work. Then once I take some steps towards getting on top of things, I'll take some time for reflection and relaxation. The low feelings will pass, soon.

Note on previous post: the people upstairs have been pretty quiet since I sent that email to my landlord. Not sure if he spoke with them or what, but quiet is good anyhow.

Monday, January 19, 2009

and we're back from the break! this just in...

One of my new year's resolutions is to improve blog entry quality. Out with the mundane, in with the thought-provoking! Problem with this has been, I am often too tired/distracted/eager to take a break from deep thoughts when I write & post blog entries. Since I'm taking an l.a. theory class this semester, perhaps I will quote from my better writings for that class (Ye gods, writing is required for an l.a. class?! Yes. Well the prof is a former english prof). Multitasking. Yes.

But first... a bit of mundane. Rather ranty, please excuse me. It's been accumulating.
Some of you may remember my complaining about the noise from upstairs neighbors? At first I was sort of amused at their youthful antics, such as playing Rock Band with their friends, jumping up and down, & whatnot. Then I got peeved at how loudly they seem to walk back and forth (stomp really) into the wee hours of the morning (seriously, they do not seem to sleep at all). Among other loud noises. Well, I tried earplugs, but those fell out and mushed into the sheets or hurt my ears.
Then last night, the night before start of classes for spring semester, my upstairs neighbors arrived back at 2am ish, after which followed half an hour of them clomping up and down stairs, slamming the front door (which is behind the head of my bed), and then clomping all over their apartment for an hour putting stuff away and (seemingly) moving furniture. While yelling at each other. I fell back to sleep. At 5:30am I woke again, because of sex noises from up there. Great. I was so pissed off I stood up on my bed and rapped with my fist on the ceiling. This kind of helped, though I immediately felt a little mean.

But sleep is very important to me as a grad student. I don't get a ton of it usually.

I know it is not their fault really, they just seem to be naturally loud people and the thinness of the ceiling does not help.

Well. I emailed my landlords to say "Hi my toilet is running and by the way the people upstairs are rather loud, don't know what I can accomplish by telling you but they woke me up an average of 3 nights per week last semester, so maybe telling you can help in some way." They emailed me back promptly (my landlords are great), to say "Toilet will be fixed soon, thanks for letting us know. But on the other issue, what do you mean by "people" and "they"? There is only one person on the lease for that apartment."


I didn't mean to get them in this much trouble, as I said to the landlords in my reply, but I also said "Yep there are two people living there as far as I can hear." Which is true. I didn't go into details. I would be surprised if the guy is paying rent somewhere else.

Don't know what will happen as my landlords are pretty strict, and this is a clear lease violation. I requested that the landlord not inform my upstairs neighbors that I ratted them out. It would be bad if they knew. But maybe it is obvious that it was me? Yeesh I hate house drama. This is why I do not want roommates.

Speaking of housing, I am currently leaning towards living with my lovely lovely relatives the Bradburys next academic year. I have started to think that I do not want the responsibility of helping other grad students with their problems. Additionally, because I spend quite a lot of time in the studio, as a landscape architecture student I may not be well suited for this position. Also the mandatory August 1 start date for the training might mean an internship would not be possible.

Living with the Bradburys would be fun and cozy, plus could potentially enable me to have time for a TA position or other campus job.

Friday, January 9, 2009

beware of flying ice

I was driving on I-95 this morning, and suddenly a huge piece of ice came flying off the roof of a truck two lanes over, and hit the right side of my windshield, causing it to shatter. I'm okay, but the car is obviously not drivable, which spoils my plans for the day, at least until we can get to the auto glass place, which will happen after the truck company insurance people get back to us.
So if you see a truck spraying ice off its roof, stay back! I didn't stay back far enough. I saw ice flying off the truck's roof, but I only saw small pieces, not the 1 and a half foot wide monster piece that broke the windshield.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

sister friend

I just want to note how nice my sister's boyfriend is... he has agreed to a road trip to Ithaca, NY next Friday! I am looking forward to showing them around my adopted hometown!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Birds and recipe (as two discrete subjects)

Just after Christmas, Mike and I flew off to Evansville, IN for a friend's wedding, and after that (thoroughly moving, delightful, enjoyable) time drove to Nashville, TN to stay with his uncle for a few days. We visited Cheekwood, an estate in the suburbs of Nashville, on a beautiful day that felt like early spring. We peeled off layers, lifted our chins to soft breezes, and greedily soaked up the sunshiny warmth. Meanwhile the mansion still displayed gigantic, gaudy Christmas trees (the child in Mike loved the tinsel and humongous ornaments, we both liked the electric train around one of the trees), and the garden was woefully bare. In the absence of lush, blanketing green, we noticed shapes, colors, and smells that we might have missed in summer. I think this effect accounts partly for why we especially liked the bamboo grove in the Japanese garden, pointed out interesting bark to each other (Mike is very tolerant/indulgent of my plant geekyness), and why we spent a while in the herb garden crushing morsels of the plants and offering them to one another to smell (okay, I picked them and offered them to Mike, while he chastised me teasingly for my casual thievery).
A side note: Mike has an amazing sense of smell, and often notices shades of scent that I miss entirely. He could be a parfumeur.
As we wandered into the last garden that day, we heard a cacophony of birdsong. Birds are such a nice surprise in winter! They are still so active and quick while everything else is dormant or sleepy. We saw a few tiny birds in the shrubs of this garden, but since we are unfamiliar with southern birds we called them all warblers. A lot of them probably were warblers, though I think I saw a house finch too (they have those twitchy tails that are almost perpendicular to their bodies, right?). As we continued wandering we learned that this garden was designed to attract birds (duh). There was even a little hut in the garden with nice illuminated informational placards.
I've often wanted to know how to identify more birds by their songs, so I tried to read "The Singing Life of Birds" by Donald Kroodsma (a visiting fellow at Cornell Lab of Ornithology). It is a well written book but does not seem to be intended for the casual reader, as it is very densely scientific (i.e. urging you to study shades of difference in sonograms to learn birdsong). Are there any learn-birdsong books that are easy to understand? I am also frustrated with books that say things like "sounds similar to eastern grosbeak, only more shrill and more frequently repeated." So I suppose I need something in between. Maybe I should stick to that audio guide my family has somewhere...

The Omelet

For breakfast on Christmas morning, I made everyone customized omelets. I fancy myself a pretty good omelet maker. Herewith and for one time only, I reveal the secrets of my omelet-making success.

THE PAN: I like a small pan. It does not have to be an "omelet pan" per se. I used a 8.5 inch anodized aluminum Calphalon pan.

THE FLIPPING UTENSIL: I like the flat plastic spatula made by Oxo. It is flexible and about 4 inches wide by 1/8 inch thick. Your utensil should be able to easily slide under the eggs, so flexibility is nice.

THE EGGS: Fresh as you can get them. Two (not three), large.

THE FAT: butter and olive oil together. Approximately 3/4 tablespoon of each per omelet (I confess that I have a bad habit of eyeballing my measurements).

THE SECRET: 1 tablespoon, no more, of sparkling water from a freshly opened bottle. The bottle should be room temperature and I usually use club soda. This, plus a teaspoon (aka small dollop) of cream, is all I add to the eggs, initially. The sparkling water makes the egg mix puff up a bit when it hits the hot pan, making for a lighter-textured omelet.

THE ADD-INS: Like making stir-fry, everything must be ready, mise-en-place style, so you can attend fully to the cooking of the eggs and the temperature of the pan. I suggest crumbled soft goat cheese, grated gruyère/emmentaler, pre-sautéed mushrooms/onions, roasted red pepper, morsels of cooked ham, chopped green olives (not cocktail olives, preferably French picholine or Spanish "queen"), a mix of herbs (flat parsley, cilantro, tarragon, thyme). And don't add too much filling! There should be space for the egg to flow around and envelop the add-ins.

1) In a small bowl, beat eggs with a fork just until the yolks are broken and the yolk/white is swirled together. About 5 vigorous rotations of the fork should do it. Add cream, swirl once with fork.
2) Attend to your pan. Before adding fat, turn the heat on to high, wait 10 seconds, then turn it down a tad to between high and medium-high. Add fat. Swirl fat around the pan with the spatula.
3) Add 1 tablespoon (no more!) sparkling water to egg mixture. Swirl once with fork. Pour egg mix into pan. Try not to splash it up the sides of the pan. Working quickly, sprinkle the egg mix with salt and pepper. Jiggle the pan gently, then as egg mix sets, begin to work your spatula under the edge of the egg mix and jiggle the pan some more. The point is to ensure that the egg does not stick to the pan.
4) Add filling. Avoid clusters of filling. Distribute filling evenly over the egg mix (not in a line, taco style).
NOTE: steps 3-4 should take no more than 2-3 minutes.
5) When the egg mix STILL IS WET AND UNSET IN THE MIDDLE, BUT ITS EDGES HAVE SET SLIGHTLY, slide your spatula under one half of the egg mix. In a smooth not-too-fast movement, fold the omelet in half. Count to 5. Flip the whole omelet over in the pan. Count to 5 again. Flip it onto a plate. Keep warm in an oven until ready to eat.