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.