Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Glorious Mornings, Guaranteed

When I was in middle school, a restaurant called the Garden Cafe opened up across from my house.  The food was sort of upscale diner.  I don't really remember much about it except that they served breakfast all day and no matter what you ordered it came with your choice of muffin.  Chicken parmesan? Blueberry muffin.  Chop Salad? Bran muffin.  Pancakes? You must like carbs, why not have an apple muffin?

I always favored the Chicken Salad with a Morning Glory muffin.  I think it has been a decade since I had one, so when I was cleaning out the pantry and came across some desiccated raisins, soy flour, and wheat germ, I combined several recipes to create this one.  The soy flour adds protein and the wheat germ adds fiber - both of which help this muffin keep you full until lunchtime.  I used apple butter from last fall's canning, but feel free to substitute applesauce instead!

While the muffins, were cooking, I made a list of the remaining ingredients sitting purposeless in my pantry/refrigerator door/freezer. I'm usually good about only buying things I need that week at the grocery store, so I don't tend to accumulate much, but every six months or so, I try to do a clean out of all the half-empty containers. My happiness project goal was a good excuse, and now we have the next two weeks of dinners set:

Bulgur à loaded tabbouleh with cucumber, tomatoes, and black olives

Rye Flour à pizza with caramelized onion, ham, and swiss (increase proportion of rye)

Ginger Pickle, Chickpea Flour, and Fenugreek Powder à Indian spiced grilled chicken skewers, paranthas, yogurt, and ginger pickle

Chow Mein Noodles and Peanuts à Thai-ish cabbage salad

Rice Paper Wrappers and Sweet Chili Sauce à vegan summer rolls with peanut and sweet chili sauce (I like them with tofu better than seitan)

Homemade Pickles, Buttermilk Ranch Mix, and Panko Breadcrumbs à “fried”pickles with ranch dip

Quinoa and Chia Seeds à energy bars

Green Curry Paste à summer vegetable curry

Buffalo Wing Sauce à buffalo chicken pizza 

Pickled Pepper Rings àroasted cherry tomatoes, toss with basil, goat cheese, and pasta

Tamarind Concentrate and Peanuts à simple vegetarian pad thai

Morning Glory Muffins
Makes 12

1 cup AP flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup soy flour (or more whole wheat flour)
1/4 cup wheat germ (optional)
1 tbsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
8oz can crushed pineapple in juice, do not drain
1/2 cup apple butter or applesauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. vanilla

4 medium carrots, coarsly grated
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sweetened coconut
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat over to 375 degrees.
2. Mix dry ingredients well.  In a separate bowl (or realistically, in a well in the middle of dry ingredients to avoid having to clean to bowls, mix the wet ingredients.  Stir to combine, the dough will be thick.
3. Fold in carrots, raisins, coconut, and walnuts.
4. Line 12 muffin tins with parchment liners (these are amazing - nothing will stick to them) and fill each liner with a full 1/4 cup of batter.
5. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Happiness Project: Money

Yikes, summer is nearly over! I dawdled, but I finally finished my Happiness Project goal of reviewing all of my finances.  I've been meaning to set up budgeting on and I'm loving it. It let's me set budget items for all of our expenditures (including monthly date nights and individual discretionary spending). It took me an evening to get it all set up, but the learning curve is minimal and I love seeing exactly where the money goes each month. It brings me peace of mind which is so important to my overall happiness.  I also set up a few investments so that I can track them with Mint, which is great because I mostly ignored them before. They are long term investments (like my Roth IRA) but I do at least look at them more than once a year now. Mint also encourages you set goals for paying off debt, increasing emergency savings, and putting money away for travel (honeymoon fund!).  It's nice to know that money will be there when we want it.

Secondly, I reduced AT&T cell phone bill by adding the "Fan Number" for my work.  Penn State had one as well, so I recommend asking your cell phone carrier about it.  It can't hurt and it might save a few bucks a month.  We save enough to offset our roadside assistance.  I also finally set up autopay through my bank to mail my rent check for me every month - my last bill that wasn't on autopay - and met with my insurance agent to review my policy.  Each of these took a bit of time, but I'm glad they are done, I've been putting them off for much longer than the inconvenience warranted.  It's given me a huge boost to have this taken care of and I'm feeling inspired for my next goal!

For the rest of August and September, I'll be focusing on clearing out physical and mental clutter. While I'm not a hoarder, I do have a problem with saving things for a special occasion, holding on to supplies I bought for projects that were never finished, and letting work projects languish as I focus on new and exciting projects. So for the next two months, I'm focusing on identifying all that clutter and using it up or throwing it out! First up, the bag of Penn State pasta I was given at graduation two and a half years ago - it made a frighteningly colored, but tasty Greek-influenced pasta salad.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Starting Summer off Right!

Summer started with a Memorial Day visit from Geoff's family and mine.  It rained the whole weekend, but there was enough time to fit in a bit of sightseeing and lots of time for the families to get to know each other.

We also fed everyone lots of Tex-Mex before sending them home. The next weekend I headed to Lake Conroe with the girls to celebrate our 30th birthdays.

It was tight, but we got 5 women's worth of luggage into the car.  We shared a cabin on the lake and spent the nights in the hot tub and days playing Uno and catching up.

It's been almost three years since we have all been together.  On our last day, we kayaked in the morning then rented a pontoon boat to spend the afternoon floating around different parts of the lake.  It was a great, relaxing way to start the the summer and hopefully it will become an annual tradition.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Happiness Project: Sleep

I'll be honest.  I really didn't want this to work.  I was hoping that eight hours of sleep every night wouldn't make me feel any sharper and then I could go back to my sixish hours without guilt. But I was wrong.  It took a couple weeks and a lot of nights where I didn't quite get the full 8 hours, but this past week I finally felt like I was humming on all six cylinders.  Things seemed easier, challenges had clear solutions, and I was excited about projects that were feeling like a burden.  I hate that I have to sleep (Hank has a different opinion), but it does make the awake part better.  If you are a chronic under-sleeper and there is anyway to sneak in a bit more time, I recommend you do it.  I'm sure I'll still have to pull the occasional up until 3am work night, but I'm so much more productive, I suspect it will happen less.

While keeping up with my sleep cycle, my goal for May is to get my finances in order by automating those last few bills I actually pay by hand each month, double checking all of our bills to get the lowest possible rates, and then reconfiguring our budget to pay for some travel we are hoping to do later in the year.  All things that I've been wanting to do but procrastinate on.  Now you all can hold me accountable (pun intended).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Southern Sojourn

It's been a rough week in the news.  All I can do is focus on not taking my loved ones for granted.

It's weird to fly north to visit the South, but I did.  First to Kentucky to visit my college roommate Summer in Lexington. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived, but Lexington is a great town.  The first night out we parked across from the house where Thomas Hunt Morgan - famous fruit fly geneticist - was born.  It was meant to be.

Kentucky is known for bourbon and thoroughbred horses, so Summer and I set out to experience both.  We started with a tour of the Four Roses distillery.

All of the bourbon Four Roses makes comes from these four story vats.  The water in the bourbon comes from a local stream that also cools everything.

In the summertime, there isn't enough water and what is there doesn't stay cool, so they shut down.  The whole place smells like yeast and bourbon so we were ready for the samples at the end.  We couldn't stay for long, though, because it was time to see the horses!

The famous horse races generally involve two to four year olds and those that do well spend the rest of their lives being flown all over the world for breeding.  (Evidently thoroughbreds must be conceived the old-fashion way.)  When they are done breeding, the lucky ones end up at the Old Friends Farm outside of Lexington.

We went on a tour and I took about 200 photos of horses and learned all sorts of new fun facts.  For example, did you know that the reason the best horses come from Kentucky is the calcium carbonate in the water that makes their bones strong but light.  So they say anyway. Also, horses are identified by mouth tattoos.

The farm's owner is a former movie critic who took this on as his second career and keeps as his pet this miniature horse who likes to sit on the couch and watch horses race on TV.  His name is Little Silver Charm and you can be his friend on Facebook.

After two days with Summer, I drove through the Cumberland Mountains while listening to bluegrass on the radio and enjoying the gorgeous day. I soon arrived in Knoxville for the AAPA meeting and a chance to catch up with some of my favorite people!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ONE x 31

I've done 28 goals by the time I turned 28, 29 by 29 and 30 by 30, but by 31, I have only one goal.

Two incredibly important women in my life recommended Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and Happier at Home and it inspired me to take my good life and make it great.  Each month, I'll be identifying an area of my life that can be tweaked and work on setting new habits.

April is my month to SLEEP!  I hate sleeping.  If I could just not do it, I wouldn't.  So I skimp on sleep and when I do, I'm not as sharp, focused, or disciplined as I want to be.  So I'm going to sleep 8 hours a night and increase my work-out schedule to help me feel tired enough to go to bed on time.  We'll see how this goes.  I think it may turn out to be harder than I anticipate.

Monday, April 15, 2013

30 x 30 Wrap-Up

Work Things
1. Find a Time Management System that Works
This is a constant struggle but the Pomodoro Technique, paired with a weekly priorities list, and a dry erase board listing the current status (urgent, backburner, waiting on a collaborator) and next step for each project are currently working for me pretty well.  I still constantly underestimate how much time everything will take me, but I'm getting better.

2. Five Publications 

I have only had two papers actually come out, one on paraoxonase in the Journal of Lipids  my dissertation work in Human Genetics but I have three more in press which will be out sometime in the next few months (hopefully) depending on the publishers' timelines.

3. Three Grant Applications

I've applied for more three applications and most importantly had one funded by Wenner-Gren.  I'll be ramping that research project up soon and I can't wait!  

4. Keep up with New Statistical Applications

This is a sisyphean task as there are always new methods coming out.  I did attend a great course taught at Cold Spring Harbor Lab in August which gave me all sorts of new references to work from.

5. Improve my R and Linux Programming

A friend of mine started an R programming group in San Antonio which has been great for learning new applications and meeting other nerds.

Fun Things

6. Go on a picnic
Not yet.  This whole fun things sectionis going to be ugly.  Evidently, I need to have more fun.

7. Go camping


8. Go to a local festival

Turns out I don't like crowds.

9. Go to the beach
Yes!  In Malibu and Venice.

10. Go to a professional sporting event
Uh-uh. But I'm hoping for a San Antonio Silver Stars game this summer.

11. Participate in alumni association events

I cheered on the Jayhawks at a March Madness watch party.  Turns out the motivation I needed to finally get out of the house was getting rid of cable.

12. Use the library

I haven't actually checked out any books yet, but I've started looking forward to my commute thanks to their audiobooks.

13. Visit the zoo and botanical garden

14. Watch classic movies

This one I've done a lot and, in agreement with every list ever, Casablanca was my favorite.

Crafty Things
15. Crochet a throw

Decided to be a bit less ambitious and crochet a pillow instead.  I'm really starting to get why people enjoy crocheting, though and may try a throw eventually.

16. Sew 6 garments for myself 

I did make two new items from scratch - my Easter dress and a mod pink pencil skirt I haven't posted yet - but I am even more excited to be upcycling new outfits from old clothes - teal pants and black cardigan with crepe ruffle, navy skirt and grey striped button down, and summer t-shirt dress (I'll be posting soon).  It's better for the environment AND my wallet.

17. Knit a sweater (Vignette Cardigan)

I knit one and I've cast on three others, because starting is the most fun part of a project!  

18. Knit a pair of socks

This was my first pair of socks with sock yarn and they are so decadent.  There is something really luxurious about hand knit socks.

19. Own no yarn that moved from PA

I'm counting those three cast-ons as using the yarn, so this is pretty much true.  All of my yarn now fits in the four wire baskets I have allocated for it, and I'm determined to keep it that way!

20. Put all photos in scrapbooks

Done, done, done!   

21. Learn to take better photographs

I really regret that I didn't put more time into this and I think I'll carry it over into the new year.  I do wish I took better photos, but I know it will take work.

22. Learn to draw

I started working on this and then realized that it really isn't that important to me right now.  

Yummy Things

23. Bake through Bread Baker’s Apprentice

I've learned to vary hydration levels (stiff dough for bagels and wet, sticky dough for focaccia), make lean pain de campagne and extremely rich casatiello, and leavened bread with direct fermentation (cranberry-walnut bread), instant yeast (stollen), and sourdough (pumpernickel).  My favorite development, though, is the sourdough pizza dough that has replaced my normal Friday dough.

24. Make brunch once a month
I love breakfast food.  This year we had apple-sour cream pancakes, Dutch baby, Southwestern omelet with extra crispy hash browns, waffles, spicy chicken biscuit sandwiches, peach and sausage kolaches, Moroccan merguez ragout with poached eggs, and migas.  

25. Try out six new canning recipes
Before summer rolls around, I'm using up my last stores of ginger pear butter, tomato jam, serrano jelly, ice-brined garlic dill pickles, peach butter, and - my favorite and already gone - chocolate balsamic strawberry jam.

26. Cook with a new ingredient each month

I tried out kala jeera, forbidden rice, pork belly, cocoa nibs, crab, caperberries, chia, and harissa, but I spotted three new fruits I'd never seen at the store today.

Strong Things
27. Run a half-marathon
I did it! I'm I ready to train for next year.

28. Compete in a 1 mile swim race
I missed the actual race (I was at my statistics course), but I've been swimming a mile most Sunday mornings.  

29. Complete two triathlons 

This year I completed the Spa Girl triathlon and Wurst Tri Ever.  Both had particularly fun swimming elements.  The Spa Girl was held at a resort and we swam the quarter-mile in the lazy river and the Wurst Tri Ever we road a water slide that dropped us into a spring-fed pond.

Last Thing
30. Purge things we don’t need from each room of the house

This has been so satisfying!  It is an ongoing project, and I think I may double back and purge more.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

On bonny Easter day

Meeting the Easter Bunny
by Rowena Bennett

On Easter morn at early dawn
Before the cocks were crowing
I met a bob-tail bunnykin 
And asked where he was going.

"Tis in the house and out the house
a tispy, tipsy-toeing, 
Tis round the house and 'bout the house
a-lighlty I am going." 

"But what is that of every hue 
You carry in your basket?"
"Tis eggs of gold and eggs of blue;
I wonder that you ask it. 

"Tis chocolate eggs and bonbon eggs
And eggs of red and gray, 
For every child in every house 
On bonny Easter day." 

He perked his ears and winked his eye 
And twitched his little nose; 
He shook his tail -- what tail he had -- 
And stood up on his toes. 

"I must be gone before the sun; 
The east is growing gray; 
Tis almost time for bells to chime." -- 
So he hippety-hopped away.

When I was growing up, my mom would read my that poem to me every Easter eve and in the morning I put on my Easter dress (and frequently tights, which I hated) and got to hunt for eggs!  No eggs this year except for the ones that came out of these chickens, but I wanted a springy, new dress for Easter brunch at Veronica's. I bought this very loud fabric about a year ago to make a dress using a different pattern, but I like the waist shaping on Simplicity 2145.  The fabric is flowy and light - perfect for summer in South Texas. I may still add the additional sash at the waist and/or a cap sleeve.

My contribution to the brunch was casatiello, a traditional Easter bread from Naples, which is basically a sandwich in and of itself.  The dough is enriched with eggs, butter, and milk (tripple-threat!) and studded with  gruyere and crisped up salami.  It is wonderful toasted  and so rich you don't need any butter.  For dinner, I cooked some sunny-side-up eggs and we finished off the loaf.  This bread is so good, I definitely won't be waiting for the next bonny Easter day to make it again.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

March in Instagram

Happy Easter! 

Everybody's working for the weekend.  Even pandas.

Sunnyside up eggs on colcannon cakes for St. Patrick's Day brunch.

Well, the madness is over now, but I celebrated an early win with the KU alumni association.  Wave the Wheat!

I've hated these pillows that came with our couch since we got them so I used some scrap yarn to crochet a new cover.  I love the texture, but napping on it leaves a particularly weird impression on your face.

Hank enjoyed the spring weather by lounging by the open windows.

The Alamo City R users group has been meeting at a really cool cooperative workspace downtown and I finally made it to a meeting.

Also, we got engaged! 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Skies of Gray, Pants of Blue

Today was a gray day, but without the rain we so desperately need down here. Luckily, my pants were a cheery blue.  I've been working on turning clothes I own into clothes I wear and I've had these pants and cardigan for years.  I picked up the pants a few years ago on mega discount at Old Navy.  They are a nice medium weight but powder blue pants just didn't do much for me - especially with super wide flare.  Into the washer they went with some teal dye and out they came - Tiffany blue!  I love the new color, springy but not pastel. I stitched a straight leg and now I have some pants I'll actually wear.  

The cardigan is even older - I think I picked it up in 8th grade? I still wear it occasionally but thought it could be pepped up.  I picked up some polka-dot crepe fabric in the remnants bin and added ruffles to give a bit of romance to this wardrobe staple. A whole new outfit for less than $3?  You can't beat that!  I'm loving refashioning and I have one of just about every type of garment in my box - any great ideas?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Three Dinners and a Movie

I've gotten behind on my Dinner and a Movie posts because I feel like my movie critiques aren't up to snuff and my food posts end up just being a thesaurus-worth of "this is tasty."  So, presented without additional commentary are three great meals for three great movies:

Thelma and Louise with fancier than diner Provençal Tuna Melt and Lightened-Up Banana Pudding (don't roast the bananas, they turn to mush).

Gone with the Wind with Hoecakes and Black Eyed Peas with Smoked Turkey Leg

Duck Soup with 1930s-era Philly Cheese Steaks with provelone instead of cheese sauce and Crispy Green Beans

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Passion to Refashion

As part of my goal to purge every room in my house by next month, I recently took on my closet which was stuffed full of stuff that I wasn't wearing because it was too big or I just wasn't that into it.  I filled two huge Rubbermaid containers with clothes that are fine except for one or two tweaks.  For example, this navy pencil skirt was a pair of wide-leg shorts until I cut them open.  Straight seams down the front and pack and I have a skirt with pockets!

I bought two of these very light-weight cotton shirts in January 2010.  The other got a basic redo - taken in, sleeves shortened - but this was a little more in depth.  I wanted a shirt that was more casual, so I picked the stitches out of the collar to remove it. Then I took in the sides by a few inches and the arms by about an inch and cut the bottom hem straight across to give a more finished edge without having to tuck it in (bonus!).

I still wanted a shorter sleeve but I decided to add a little bit of interest by cutting off the shirt cuffs and rolling up the sleeves.  I went ahead and tacked them in place to make sure everything was secure and used the cuffs to create tabs.  They are just decorative, but I still really like this detail.

In addition to gaining tons of closet space, I organized my jewelry with this simple frame and chickenwire jewelry hanger.  My mom and I found these two frames at the Habitat Restore (look for one in your town - great prices on all sorts of construction and home goods and the proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity!).  I painted them this bright blue and had a custom mirror cut for just $7 (please ignore the smudges).  I love the splash of color on my beige walls in my dark bedroom and I am wearing necklaces I had forgotten I even had.  I love getting organized.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sock it to Me!

I call these my sea monster socks.  The pattern, Scylla by Fiona Lucas, is based on offset slipped stitches and wraps to create a sort of box pattern with a lot of dimension.  The pattern fit well pretty much straight-away, although with my long feet, there wasn't much left for the leg portion.  You can s

I bought this yarn in Portland, Oregon during the AAPA meetings in April of 2011. The colors are gorgeous and the yarn was pretty springy, but I think for my second pair of socks, I'll use something with some synthetic stretch built in.  I may start wearing socks with sandals just to show them off.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

February in Instagram

Koi in the pond at the Japanese Tea Garden

Two of my favorite women in the whole world!

After two failed attempts to get a sourdough starter going in the summer (it got moldy), I spent a week getting it going and making pumpernickel.  It was good.  Not worth six months of effort. 

Magnets made from clear Christmas ornaments and sea glass from Rhode Island and Long Island.

Gave a talk on skin color and health at AAAS meeting - I love Boston!

A few extra days with friends and their adorable kids in Boston.

I finally got my library card so that I can spend my commutes listening to audiobooks instead of just hating my fellow drivers.  

Knitting and watching Jayhawk basketball are two of my favorite pastimes.

Hooray for friends visiting!!!

I own way too many spices and I don't even know how to use the more exotic ones.  I put some kala jeera and star anise in this Lagman Uzbek with chickpeas in place of lamb.
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