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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Monday, February 21, 2011

Blogging about blogging

I've had this blog for about two years now. Tonight I read an article about how people, particularly young ones, are navigating away from blogs in favor of posting stuff on Facebook or Twitter. Translation: I am an old biddy and am hopelessly behind the times, as usual.
Twitter has just never done it for me. While I appreciate the amusing sound bite aspect of it, I've just never gotten into either posting or following tweets. It's just another layer of stuff to have to follow.
Facebook is another question altogether. While it would certainly be possible to post on Facebook instead, I don't know if I want to go in that direction. It would not be hard to create a group of who can see my blog-like posts and post to Facebook instead of here, and be done with it, or at least post links when I post something new here. If those options sound more convenient, please let me know. Since I am now moving back into less-personal blogging, I may also post a link to the blog on my profile on Facebook.
The truth is I like both the anonymity as well as the fact that random people stumble across the blog ever so often. Maybe they'll get a laugh or find a recipe they like. Blogspot started letting us track stats on which post get the most views, etc. It's been a big surprise. Blog trafic has been increasing a lot lately and always peaks on the weekends. Keywords are definitely critical. My most popular post, for reasons unknownst to me, was about unpacking. Less surprising was the fact the a post entitled 'Real estate porn' got a lot of hits, and the diatribes about on-line dating are also fairly well read. I've removed most of the breakup blog posts, as well as a few rants about specific crazy/loser Match dudes, so I can't track those. Date nut bread is by far the most popular cooking post, and second most popular overall, which is sort of satisfying because that is a really good recipe.
I have no clue if I have any regular readers other than the small core group of friends, but it would be helpful to know, in case I decide to go the Facebook-only route. If you are reading this blog on a regular basis and have no clue who I am, please post a comment.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Brown bottom brownies

Even though I am a cranky old biddy most of the time, ever so often I fall for something cute and/or sentimental. Such was the case with the light heated/dark hearted brownies posted recently over at Smitten Kitchen. The premise is simple - bake a batch of white chocolate brownies and a batch of regular brownies, cut them in squares, and then use a heart shaped cookie cutter (or any other shape) to cut out the centers. Put the light centers in the dark outer shells and vice versa, and voila, the cutest things I have ever seen. I decided to make them for cowdude for Valentine's Day.
However, once I got home from the grocery store I realized I didn't have an 8"x 8" baking pan. Yes, it's true - somehow I am lacking that standard size pan. So I decided to swirl the two batters and make swirled brownies. I got fancy and put the batter into ziplock bags and tried to pipe it into the pan in an artistic manner. Bad idea- it looked more like turds in the pan and made a huge mess. Do not try this at home. I smoothed it out and then swirled it, and then baked it.
Somehow, the dark chocolate layer sunk to the bottom and the light layer floated to the top as it baked. So I was left with a pan of two layer brownies.
I still had hopes of some heart shaped V-day treats, so I froze the brownies and attempted to cut them with cookie cutters. No go. I think I froze them too long. I suppose I could've warmed them up and tried to cut them, but at this point I was very fed up, so I just cut them into squares.
Anyway, why am I telling you about my brownie misadventures? Well, both the white chocolate and dark chocolate components are extremely tasty - chewy, tasty, and the perfect texture. I plan to use it again to make regular chocolate brownies. The recipe for each batter is simple - melt butter and chocolate, stir in sugar, add vanilla and eggs, and then add flour. Just one bowl, no weird ingredients and no baking soda or baking powder flavors. If you can do a brownie mix you can do this. Go check it out if you've got an urge for brownies, or if you just want to get your daily supply of cute.
So, the take home message is that I am neither light- nor dark-hearted, and my best laid plans sometimes take unexpected turns. I'll spare you the bottom jokes.

P.S. Later I was talking to one of the grad students. She made the same recipe, and had similar tasty but not cute results - lots of crumbs and broken brownies. I was amused.

Sunday LOLcat

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It runs in the family

The cooking gene runs in the family. It helps that we all enjoy eating, are pretty unpicky, are cheap, and have a tendency towards experimentation. Even my dad has started cooking roasts now that he has my convention oven.
My brother is a bigger food geek than I, believe it or not. His particular specialties are local inexpensive restaurants and perfecting certain of his trademark dishes, including smoked turkeys and red beans + rice. Someday I am going to invite him to share his secrets here, but don't get your hopes up. Either he's being secretive or he never really follows a recipe (sort of like my mom), so he only ever gives me general guidelines.
Despite these fairly inexpensive leanings, he occasionally gets sucked into extreme foodie territory. For instance, when terduckens were all the rage he ordered one from New Orleans and cooked it. Now he's interested in molecular gastronomy. Yes, I'm a PhD chemist and a food geek, so you'd think I'd be ahead of him on this one (especially since I could borrow some equipment and supplies from lab), but no. Nonetheless, it probably does provide evidence that we are actually related. He bought a sous vide (aka a temperature controlled water bath). I'm not sure how he will deal with the need for increased attention to detail, but when he starts making frozen three layer terducken terrines I am going to be really worried.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Alma Mater Fundraising Fail

Dear Alma Mater Fundraising Geniuses,
On this fine Valentine's evening I was lying in the bathtub reading the Atlantic Monthly and relaxing when the phone rang. It was someone from my graduate alma mater, trying to fundraise, no doubt. I didn't pick it up.
Now, I realize that you are all a bunch of geeks just like me, but let me give you a piece of advice. Do not call on Valentine's Day. If I were spending it with that special someone, I would not want my nookie session interupted. If I were at home moping about it, I would not want to be reminded that I am such a big huge geek that I attended a school where they apparently think it's normal to fundraise on V-day evening. Even when I was in grad school I at least went out drinking with my buddies on V-day. There is just no way this would translate into a productive fundraising outcome for you.
Thank you!
-Old biddy, PhD 1994

Happy Valentine's Day

So wrong, and yet so funny....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Monkey Bread

After two weeks of intense proposal writing and a seven hour editing session, with a bout of Valentine's Day bitchiness mixed in, I was one cranky old biddy. Sex or exercise probably would've improved my mood, but the first option was not in the cards (grrr) and I was feeling too self-indulgent for any exercise, and too lazy to stop off at the grocery store to get any interesting ingredients. I decided to bake monkey bread since I had all the ingredients. Back when I was a kid, it was called cinnamon pull-aparts, but now everyone seems to call it monkey bread, which is a much better name. In any case, you take small balls of dough (either biscuit or yeast), dip them in melted butter, roll them in a mix of sugar and cinnamon, and put them in a bundt pan. When it is done baking it is very similar to a sticky bun but it's less work and more amenable to adjusting the portion size.*
I used a simple yeast dough recipe for cinnamon bread. I don't feel like typing it out, but you can find a good one over at Smitten Kitchen, complete with pictures. Anyway, after the dough had risen once, I assembled the monkey bread. I didn't bother rolling the dough out, and just pulled off walnut size pieces instead and rolled them in the butter and sugar. I then let it rise for about an hour while I took a bath, and then put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I let it warm up to room temperature and then baked it at 350F for about 40 minutes or so while I did yet another round of proposal proofreading. The whole house smelled really good. After it cooled for about 5 minutes, I turned over the pan onto a plate and the read came out cleanly. It is important not to wait to long, or it will stick to the pan. I then frosted it with a cream cheese glaze.
It was very tasty - a bit on the sweet side, but keep in mind I have the same issue with cinnamon rolls. Next time I'll skip the frosting and just eat it with cream cheese.
Anyway, it didn't entirely cure my bad mood, but it certainly helped.

* I always find cinnamon rolls too big or, if they're the right size, they're too dry. It's sort of like with pancakes - my eyes are always bigger than my stomach. Not everyone has this problem, however. I made monkey bread once when I was in high school. I set it on a rack to cool and went and did something else. When I came back, it was all gone My brother and his friend Steve had eaten the whole damned thing.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Second Childhood

For a long time, I wasn't nearly as passionate about music I used to be. Ever so often I'd get a CD that I really liked, but none seemed to grab me like they did back in the day. I attributed it to being an old biddy, or to having everything so readily available that I got jaded. But perhaps I am in my second childhood, or perhaps it truly was a matter of me not finding things that suited me, because in the last few months I've gotten two CD's that have grabbed me like music used to do. OK, so the other difference now is that I'm spending a lot of time at my desk writing, so in a way it's sort of like when I used to study or spend long hours in the lab and needed something to listen to.
A few months back, Missy and I stumbled on Florence and the Machine. It was love at first listen. She sounds a bit like Siouxsie from Siouxsie and the Banshees, complete with gothiness, and some of the musical stylings are more reminscent of Kate Bush or Tori Amos. There's a very 80's mood to it, but with a hint of Lady Gaga. It should be no surprise that I put it on continuous play as I worked on the last research proposal.
Mumford and Sons had been on my radar for a while, and I downloaded "Little Lion Man" for my summer mix playlist, but I didn't listen to the whole CD ("Sigh No More") until recently, when I started checking out what sorts of music the grad students have on their iTunes playlists. It didn't take very long for me to realize that I had to own this album, so I ordered it. It's very folky, and very dark, and some of the songs are written from a place of deep pain. If I had this CD a year ago, I'm not sure if I would've loved it or if it would've cut too close to the bone. I'm not entirely sure why it grabbed me so hard now, because I'm not in a dark mood these days - perhaps it's just good winter music, or perhaps now I can relate to the songs and be glad that my life has gotten better - but I've been listening to it non-stop while I've worked on the latest research proposal.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Notes from the Snowpocalypse that wasn't

Here in Central New York (CNY), which is considered upstate New York by the rest of the country, we've escaped all of the big storms that have hit the coastal cities or the upper Midwest. It's not that we haven't gotten snow - we have, or that we didn't get hit with glancing blows by the storms - we did. But what we've gotten is not too far outside of the norm of an average CNY snowy day. Instead, we always seem to get unexpectedly large amounts of snow on the weekends when cowdude and I get together.
The latest Snowpacolypse started off well. It dumped about 6 inches of snow very quickly right before the morning commute. It was messy getting to work - people couldn't get up the hills, or were sliding down. A lot of people here really need to get snow tires. It was mainly the timing that made it bad. We'd gotten more snow about a week before but it came down a few hours earlier and got cleared.
Anyway, then it stopped and the weather forecasters started warning us about the next storm. It was slated to dump about a foot of snow/ice in the early morning hours. Everyone was told to stay off the roads, etc. Cornell even closed down preemptively from 2-10 AM, perhaps because of the experience the previous day.
In reality we got about an inch or two of very dense ice pellets, which solidified into a nice crust on the existing snow. I was kind of disappointed not to get a major snowstorm - I have never had a snow day and I kind of want one, especially if I get to spend the day baking, buying stuff online, or playing in the snow. OK weather dieties, I hereby request you send the snowpacolypse a few days after I finish working on this research proposal. Thanks!
The evening of the snowpacolypse that wasn't, it started snowing again. On my way home, I stopped off for groceries. I don't know what prompted it, but all of a sudden I was just very happy to be here, weather and all.
Note: this is not my cat - they refuse to go out into the snow. But it does look sort of like my driveway now.