Monday, December 3, 2012

O, Christmas Tree!

The tree is up (even though the air conditioning was on while decorating it) and that means the Christmas season is really here!  I changed a few things from last year.  The yarn pompom garland was cute, but sort of overwhelmed the small tree, so it is now a part of our birthday decorations.

I do love the look of garland so I made this simple star and sequin garland from the Creature Comforts blog.  For the clay, I used Crayola Model Magic which costs $3 and is extremely light weight.  Add 97 cents of sequins and you are all set.

I've been wanting a new tree-topper for a few years.  The felt angel tied to the top of the tree looked more like she was being held captive than a festive decoration.  I'm not usually one for sparkle, but this time of year?  The more the better!

This is a craft project with a huge payoff.  I love the way that it looks, but it is made with just some poster board and the template from Martha Stewart.  Rather than attach it to dowel rod, I cut away part of the back star and inserted a tube of rolled paper.  A coat of gold paint and a thick layer of chunky gold glitter and I've got a new topper that I love!  Are you crafting any new holiday decor this year?

Friday, November 30, 2012

November in Instagram

This was our only fall color until just this week!

Taking photos on the Riverwalk was how I justified a break from running.

More Riverwalk.

The Bay Bridge during the day.

Celebrating the turning on of the Christmas lights at Incarnate Word.

Happy Birthday, Mike!

Getting ready for Christmas!

I made the softest tagged blanket as a baby gift.  Congrats you guys!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Giving Thanks

After a lot of travelling this fall, staying in San Antonio for Thanksgiving was a welcome opportunity to relax and give thanks for wonderful friends.  Summers in south Texas are miserable, but it means that we can eat Thanksgiving dinner outside!  I baked a large, braided loaf of cranberry-walnut celebration bread from the Bread Baker's Apprentice.  Between the enriched dough and the sweetened cranberries, it's a rich bread fit for a feast and delicious toasted.  We had the leftovers for breakfast on Black Friday.  Then we sat on the couch through three James Bond movies, far from the maddening crowds!  I hope you all had restful breaks spent with loved ones.  Now here comes Christmas!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Seven Sad Samurai

(Geoff takes a bite.)
"This is the best Japanese curry I've ever had."
(Second bite.  Puts down fork.)
"It might be the best dinner you made since we moved to Texas."
(Picks fork up again.)
"People would pay for this."
(Doesn't say anything else until his plate is clean.)

I tried my first Japanese curry in May at a second-floor restaurant in LA over the karaoke room we were about to occupy for five straight hours.  If you haven't had it, this curry shares very little with its Indian cousin.  The basis is a nice, dark roux that gets sweetness from a grated apple and spice from garam masala.  I started with this basic recipe from serious eats and added edamame and more carrots for some vegetables.  This would certainly be a satisfying vegetarian meal, but I have a serious weakness for pork tonkatsu.  It's just boneless pork cutlets dredged in flour, egg, and panko bread crumbs before lightly pan frying.  It's fantastic with this sauce, but just about anything would be.

The meal was served alongside Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, just the sort of cultural touchstone that I've felt left out on.  And I'll continue to.  I didn't want to admit this, but I turned it off less than an hour in.  It was just a bunch of people being mean to old Japanese men and I wasn't in the mood for three hours of crying.  I would be a terrible movie critic, but life is too short!  So my recommendation?  Make this curry, pull up some youtube videos, and karaoke at home.  You may even want to start with the Bare Naked Ladies, who probably didn't really watch Seven Samurai either.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope all of my American readers are enjoying time with family or friends following a delicious Thanksgiving meal.  Now that all the dishes are done and the leftovers stuffed into an overflowing fridge, those of you hosting should put your feet up and relax.  If you have house-guests, though, they might be expecting breakfast tomorrow.  Sure, you could make a turkey omelette or a sweet-potato hash, but I'd recommend that the morning after this quintessentially American holiday, you should make a German pancake.  This "dutch baby" bears little resemblance to the American flapjack, but it has two big advantages - you can dump all of the ingredients in the blender and it all cooks in one big skillet.  The result is a lemony, slightly eggy pancake with a great texture.  I topped mine with some truly excellent Ginger Pear Butter made from The Kitchenette's recipe, but you might consider topping it off with leftover cranberry sauce.  You'll want that fridge space back eventually.

Dutch Baby
Adapted from Gourmet

2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3 large eggs
2/3 cup skim milk
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 lemon

1. Place all ingredients except butter in the blender and blend until smooth and light.
2. Place 10" cast iron skillet into oven and heat to 450 degrees.
3. Once oven reaches temperature, add butter to skillet and swirl.
4. Pour in batter and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
5. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice (it forms light glaze where the two meet).
6. Cut into wedges and serve with jam, syrup, fruit butter, or cranberry sauce.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bun with Pork Belly

Those of you who are Facebook friends of mine may have heard me mention the little boy who came to our house to trick-or-treat and asked if we were having hot dogs for dinner.  I said yes, rather than try and explain what pork belly is to a four year old.  The inspiration for me to make my own bun (the Vietnamese noodle "salad") came from a dinner we had in California. I mentioned at the time that "I had the bun with char-grilled pork and the pork was basically bacon" and I haven't been able to get it out of my head since.

I bought a 2 pound pork belly (it shrinks a lot when you cook it) from our local heritage pork purveyor.  Fair warning: it comes with the skin on.  Also, some hair.  But this, my friends, is the omnivore's dilemma.  I forged ahead with an overnight brine and braise with Ming Tsai's recipe. After it came out of the oven and it had cooled a bit, I cut off the skin and (are you still with me?) sliced the meat as thinly as possible.  To crisp up the meat and render the remaining fat, I tossed the strips into a hot skillet.

This is more of a salad than you usually get with lots of lettuce, cucumbers, and whatever else you might want.  Whatever you include, you should top it with vermicelli noodles and positively drench it in this fish sauce (nuoc mam cham).  I got this recipe from my brother and it is the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and pungent with a good bit of heat (the way I made it).  You can even use it to pickle some carrots and onions to add some color.  So the verdict?  The bun itself was pretty easy to make, but I'm going to leave pork belly to the pros.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

2978 + 13.1 miles

I did a lot of traveling last week - by plane and by foot!  The American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting was held last week in San Francisco.  I went to a few really interesting talks which sparked some new ideas to investigate in my own research.  I'm looking ahead to starting several projects in the new year that I am really excited about, which is a delightful place to be.  It's always fun to go to these huge meetings (>4000 talks and poster presentations) and get a feeling for what is going on the zeitgeist, even when it isn't really related to your own work.  For example, my friend Melissa gave a fantastic presentation on the evolution of the Y-chromsome which made it into the Huffington Post today.  I've been travelling so much the last month that I am looking forward to getting back to the office and really focusing on my research. These conferences always have that effect on me.

One of the best parts of any conferences is, of course, catching up with friends.  I roomed with my grad school friend Jen and got to see lots of friends from Pennsylvania and Kansas.  We also had a meet-up of anthropological geneticists which is a great way to find each other in the huge conference.  We met in a bar high over the city.  The art-deco windows and the view made me feel like we were in Bruce Wayne's loft apartment.  Seriously, check out this view.  You can see the lights on the bay bridge.

I flew back Saturday night in plenty of time to go to bed and toss and turn with nerves before getting up at 5am for the ROCK'N'ROLL HALF MARATHON!!! 25,000 of my closest friends and I ran all over downtown including through the Alamo Plaza which was packed with cheering supporters.  This was an amazing first half-marathon because I was never running alone and never out of sight of a fan (among my favorite moments, was the women around mile seven who yelled "you all smell fantastic!").  We ran through residential districts where neighborhoods were having cookouts, past assisted living facilities where older folks in wheel chairs clapped and waved as we passed, and by churches where entire congregations had gathered after services to cheer us on.

On top of all of this were the bands playing throughout the race.  I won't pretend the miles flew by (around mile 11, I was cursing these two lovely people who talked me into this), but all of these distractions and the amazing support of the people on the course and all of you out there made it a fantastic experience overall.  I'm already thinking about doing another one in the spring.  A special thanks to everyone who donated to Spina Bifida Texas.  Our team raised $3,000 for their programs!

I've tallied up the raffle and winner of the hand-knit hat is Holly!  Thank you again to everyone who donated.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October in Instagram

My half-marathon training runs have stretched to double digits!  (You can still sponsor me until Nov. 10th right here)

I've been wanting to make a succulent terrarium for a while and when I finally did, it was invaded by pirates.

Hooray for Kirk and Laurel - love them so much!

The Columbia River Gorge was a beautiful setting for a conference.

I was close to Portland, so I put a bird on my photo.

I saw four rainbows while in the Northwest (six if you include double rainbows!) 

San Antonio doesn't really do fall, so it was great to see it in Pennsylvania and Oregon!

I thought my office plant was forming dew but it seems to be some sort of weird sap.

Did I mention if you sponsor my run, you are automatically entered to win a custom knit AND you are helping fund programs for local kids with birth defects.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Grown-Up Treats

Halloween is the time of year where all of our sweet-tooths can be easily sated with jumbo bags of unrelentingly sweet fun-size treats.  But sometimes you need a slightly more complex treat.  Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of bag of Nestle Tollhouse chocolate morsels.  It tastes like your childhood and will always please a crowd.  But if you are looking for a more adult version of this classic, I'd recommend you check out this recipe from Jennifer MartinĂ©.  I have a sweet-tooth, but when things get too sweet, I go into sugar shock so I love that the sweetness of the cookie is balanced with salt and just a hint of bitterness.

I had never tried cocoa nibs before and pushed this recipe aside, assuming that they would be difficult to find.  Then one day I was picking up a bag of dark chocolate chips and noticed cocoa nibs on the shelf above.  If you can't find them at your local market, try your local snooty grocery store.  The cocoa nibs remind me a bit of coffee with a chocolaty undertone and provide a nice texture somewhere in between the crisp of the toasted walnuts and the yieldingness of the chocolate chips.  These are chock-a-block full cookies and I wasn't actually sure that the dough would be able to contain it all!  A few grains of very coarse sea salt provide a final flourish.  Be careful, though, these perfectly balanced cookies are completely addictive.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Coast-to-Coast and Back Again

October was a crazy-busy month of travelling!  First we headed to Pennsylvania for our dear friends' wedding which was just so perfectly them.  It was held in the small-town brewery where they got engaged with just a small group of family and friends.  We were so lucky to get to share their wedding day with them.  Look how happy they are, it makes my heart skip a beat.

We spent a few extra days in State College where we caught up with friends, closed down a bar after a funk show, and remembered the burning sensation of breathing in 20 degree weather.  During the day, I was able to meet up with some of my ongoing collaborators back in the anthropology department.  Geoff flew back to San Antonio with some equipment they are lending me for our newly funded research (YAY!) and got only a moderate amount of questioning from the skeptical TSA agents.

While Geoff was on his way back to balmy Texas, I flew to Stephenson, WA for a pair of conferences focusing on novel techniques in statistical genetics and genetic epidemiology.  The conferences were jam packed but educational and the surroundings - located on the Columbia River Gorge couldn't be beat.  I even ran into a friend from grad school that I didn't even know would be there.

Between prepping for my presentations at the conferences and all the travel, I was ready for a break.  My mom flew out and met me in Portland for a very relaxing three days.  The only real plans we had were to eat at some food carts and for me to get my first pedicure.  (I've sort of avoided them because I was afraid I would love them too much and want to get them all the time.  I was right!)

Because my family loves museums, we had to check out the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry where we happened upon a kids chemistry lab (they were doing flame tests!), the AAA's exhibit on race which features several anthropologists I know, and the very fun Grossology exhibit where we played a life-size game of Operation.

Of course, when in Portland, you must have Voodoo doughnuts and Stumptown coffee.  Being the loving women we are, we each flew home with a box of maple-bacon glazed doughnuts as carry-ons.

Our last night in town, we had drinks on the 30th floor of a large pink building (I think it was a bank?) and watched the sun set.  It was the perfect ending to a relaxing weekend with mom!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Easy-Peasy Halloweeny

Did you're October zip by so fast you haven't even bought a single piece of fun-sized candy, yet?  Thankfully, this project is so quick and easy that you could finish it before the trick-or-treaters arrive (or buy the supplies the weekend after Halloween and save them for next year)!  If you have little ones, this is a great way to get them involved in the crafting process.  The ornaments on the wreath are made of balsa wood and run about 50 cents at Joann fabrics where you can also pick up an inexpensive black wreath and a roll of orange ribbon.  I used acrylic paint (and googly eyes!) for my ornaments but they would be great to let kids color in with markers.  Once the paint was dry, I just hot-glued them to the wreath and added tied a bow based on the tutorial I found here.  I love how it came out - sweet, not scary - continuing my Halloween decorating theme.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

September in Instagram

Post-triathlon snack in New Braunfels

Planning my training goals (not always my training reality), for my half-marathon.

Margaritas on the patio!

Lot's of training runs along the Riverwalk.

Geoff sat in with an old friend when his band played San Antonio.

I've been learning weird things on my runs.

We chicken-sat this month.  They have developed some weird laying habits.

Much less well known than the Alamo.

Made pesto the old-fashion way.

Dramatic clouds (enhanced) on my longest run yet - 9 miles!

A sushi feast!
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