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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Saturday, April 30, 2011

More Facebook Etiquette from the Old Biddy

Dear Facebook Friends (no, not the ones who actually read this blog),
I've hidden a few of your status updates. It's not that I don't like you. It's not even that I don't like constant updates - I do, even though I don't post very much myself. If I hide your posts, it's usually due to the following things.
Too many irritatingly smug, "my life is perfect" posts. For me, it takes a combination of a lot of posts coupled with posts about how wonderful one's significant other/kids/life are topped off with lots of references to spending money. Bonus points if you still manage to squeeze some whining in there for good measure. Real life example: "FACEBOOK BRAGGER is stuck at the airport after my husband surprised me with a weekend in LA where I got to meet Jon Stewart and had a spa day and went shopping. Wah, two hour delay wah..." Really.
Fortunately, I am an old biddy and my main response is to say STFU and hide posts from that person. These are not close friends, anyway. However, teenagers may be more susceptible and more likely to have friends who post stuff constantly, so some studies suggest that Facebook may make some of them feel worse about their lives.

tornado in CNY

We had several large thunderstorms roll in last week. Typically, the day would start sunny or partly cloudy, then cloud up over the afternoon and start to feel like it was going to rain. The actual thunderstorm would start within minutes of me getting home.
On Thursday night, there was a tornado warning for all of CNY. The first storm started around 9 PM, then eased up slightly before hitting really hard some time after midnight. At one point, the winds got really strong for a minute or two. I think it was stronger than the one hurricane I've experienced. The cats hid under the bed. I got up to close the window, and then the power went out.
The next morning, I realized that a lot of trees had fallen down or had their tops snapped off (none in my yard, fortunately), including the one that took down the power line by the entrance to the subdivision. Later, I found out a tornado had touched down in my neighborhood and also in Danby, which is a few miles south of us. It was strictly minor-league compared to the hurricanes down South, and, fortunately, touched down by the main road rather than in the subdivision. Nonetheless, it was still pretty scary.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Early, Lazy Easter Dinner

I bought a cheap spiral sliced honey ham at Aldi, which is like Trader Joe's poorer cousin Al. (They are owned by the same parent company. Aldi is much less upscale, but they are both pretty cheap and are a good place to buy snacks, chocolate, and cereal.) It was less than half of what I would've paid for it elsewhere. Anyway, the plan for the ham was to cook it Easter weekend so that I'd have good leftovers. I've never actually cooked a ham before, because my mom is such a ham maniac that she always cooks it at holidays. I ended up cooking it on Friday night, which was a good thing because I had way too much fun at the neighborhood potluck on Saturday and had a massive hangover on Easter.
The classic biddy family Easter dinner is ham, sweet potatoes, and asparagus. Minus the ham, that is pretty much the standard biddy family dinner for most of the year. Minus the asparagus, that is still the standard biddy family dinner year round. My mom really really likes sweet potatoes. Anyway, my plan was ham, asparagus, and mashed potatoes. I asked cowdude if he had any preferences and he put in a request for corn, which I actually had, and mashed potatoes, which I was going to make anyway. He is kind of easy like that. I made a salad so we'd get some greens.
Anyway, I must say that the combination of ham, mashed potatoes and corn (nothing fancy, just the frozen kind) was really good - classic comfort food. I will have to ignore cowddude's "I will eat anything except squash" act and ask him his food opinions more often.
Obviously, if one bought pre-prepared mashed potatoes this would be the laziest holiday meal ever. But I am weird about mashed potatoes. I have nothing against the boxed or frozen kind, but somewhere along the line it became one of my signature dishes so I always make then from scratch.

Old Biddy's Mashed Potatoes

Garlic (optional)
Chicken broth (optional)

Peel potatoes and cut into large chunks. Add a peeled clove or two of garlic, more if you want. Cook in broth or water.
Mash potatoes/garlic along with a little bit of the cooking water/broth. Add some butter and milk, and salt and pepper to taste. I like them kind of light so I probably add more liquid than some people.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reflections on Free Food

A few days ago I scored free pizza at lunch and a seminar bagel which turned into a large part of my dinner. It made me a lot happier than one would expect, me being a 42 year old biddy with a good salary.
A fondness for free food is definitely a grad school thing. I don't remember being too into it when I was an undergrad, thanks to the all you can eat dorm food and midnight Domino's orders, but I picked up the habit as a grad student, as did most of my classmates. Chemistry departments know how to play on this fondness. Want to get the grad students to attend something? Offer free food. Want to get more food for your seminar budget? Give the students a budget and have them bring the seminar refreshments when their group is hosting. You get the idea.
People don't truly lose their fondness for it when they graduate. My former company had a cafeteria, which supplied lunch and bagels/bread/milk/coffee/soda/ice cream. The cafeteria was a huge selling point for potential employees, especially those who had once been grad students. However, the fact that food was always available made me less opportunistic.
When I got to Cornell I was reinducted into the cult of free food. I had thought that the fact that I am old and diet conscious would make me less into it. I hadn't reckoned with the combined effects of the Ithaca hills and winter and a busy schedule. Within a few weeks I was as into it as I was in grad school. Eventually I realized that a lot of the appeal is not that it's free but that I am working a lot, my metabolism has increased, and it saves time. The $1 physics stockroom bagels and even the cafe in the new building have a similar appeal.
The typical female grad students are pretty similar to what I am used to. The guys are another matter. Some of them take it to a whole new level than I ever witnessed at MIT. I'm not quite sure why - the students do have more discretionary income here, and work somewhat less on average, so I suspect it's the hills and the weather.
A few weeks ago there was an event for the prospective students. The department ordered way too much food and there was a ton of it left over. Pizza, bagels, lasagne, cookies, chicken parmesan, etc. As soon people found out about it, they told everyone else. (It's part of the free food culture to spread the word. My friend Krissy used to get on the phone and call the other groups whenever there was a free food sighting in her building. Fast forward 20 years, and now the students have jokingly suggested setting up a free food twitter account.) Anyway, at first I wasn't going to take free food from the mouths of hungry grad students, but they said there was a ton so I got myself some pizza for lunch and a bagel, which ended up being breakfast a few days later. Some of the guys carted back tons of lasagne, etc, and even a pail full of the chicken parmesan got stashed in the fridge, where they were still working on it more than a week later. Eeew.

Fart Humor from an Old Biddy

I went to Sam's Club today. There was an elderly lady giving out samples of baked beans. She must've drawn the short straw that morning and got stuck with the bean table, instead of getting to hand out something more tempting like the brie and crackers or the coconut shrimp. Anyway, business was slow at the bean table. I walked by and hse asked me if I'd like a sample. I said, "No, thanks." She then said, "Oh, you must not have taken your Beano this morning".
I LOL'ed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Buckwheat Crepes

I'm still on my buckwheat kick. I made another batch of the pancakes already and tweaked the recipe slightly to suit my tastes. Having mastered the pancakes, I moved on to buckwheat crepes.
Crepes have a bad reputation for being fussy. Perhaps it's because they're used in French cooking. In reality, they're not really any more complicated than pancakes but you have to keep an eye on them as they're cooking. I've never been particularly daunted by them, because my mom's pancakes are really more like crepes, due to her dislike of baking powder and baking soda.

Old Biddy's Buckwheat Crepes, Version 1 (taken from the internet)

1 1/3 c milk
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

2/3 c. buckwheat flour
1/2 c. white flour

3 tbsp melted butter

Whisk together eggs, milk and salt. Add flour and blend well, then add butter and mix. Allow mix to sit for an hour or two in the fridge. (The original recipe suggested mixing everything in a blender, but I don't have one.)
Heat a 7-8" frying pan over medium heat and grease with butter or oil. Remove pan from heat and add about 3 tsp batter to it. Swirl it around to coat the pan evenly and cook a few minutes. When it stops looking wet, flip it and cook the other side.
They can be filled immediately, or frozen for later use. If you freeze then, put a piece of wax paper in between each one and wrap the pile with saran wrap and stick it in an airtight container.

The crepes were ok, but lacked the richness of flavor of my pancakes. Perhaps it was because I used oil instead of butter in both the batter and when I greased the pan. Perhaps it was because I didn't fill them with anything yet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Old Biddy Speaks: Facebook Etiquette

Old Biddy is...WTF?!?! Up at 5 AM, mind racing, can't sleep*....
Dear users of Facebook,
Status updates are fun. I get that. Although I don't post that many myself, I'm generally a fan. I like the random stream of consciousness ones and the non-sequitor ones, the ones that just sound funny, the crotchety commentary on things that annoy you, as well as the more standard news items. However, please spare me the titillating slight bit of information ones ("Survived my first police lineup today"), unless you are prepared to reveal more later when someone inevitably responds with a request for more info. It's just bad form, sort of like making a big deal about having a secret - it's not particularly mature in junior high, and even less so as an adult.
"But old biddy," you say, "I didn't want to spread that information to everyone on Facebook...." Fine. Don't broadcast it at all then, or create a subgroup for your inner circle.
#2 on today's list of things not to do on Facebook is to spend too much time whining about how difficult a class is, especially if you are posting from said class when you should be paying attention and the TA's for the class are some of your Facebook friends. Trust me on this - it will get back to the prof but it will not make them more likely to make the class easier or less work.
Related to both #1 and #2 is the passive-aggressive veiled shout-out to someone you're pissed off at. I know it's really tempting, and I fought the urge to do it a few times after T broke up with me, but really, no good will ever come of it.

*I'm up at 5 since Rugrat woke me up and then I was wide awake due to too much coffee and too much wine last night. Once I was up, I found out that there was a minor lab semi-emergency which will require me to open a can of whupass, either on the students and/or on the company that supplies our nitrogen. Since I couldn't fall back asleep I decided to blog and then get in to work early.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Buckwheat Pancakes

When I was at the farmer's market yesterday, I bought some locally grown, organic, stone-ground buckwheat flour. How's that for politically correct foodie fare?!? Although I do like my ultra-cheap white flour, especially when I am baking goodies for the grad students, I have recently become a convert to freshly ground, artisan flours, especially for whole grains. They taste a lot better when they are fresh, since they are more prone to going rancid than white flour. I store them in the fridge and that keeps them nice and fresh. Most recipes call for a combination of whole grain and white flour, so it's not as expensive a habit as you may think. My most recent 2 lb package of whole wheat bread flour lasted about 6 months.
This morning I made buckwheat pancakes for breakfast. I love buckwheat pancakes but have never made them successfully at home, unless you count making them from a mix. I pulled up a recipe from the internet, adapted it to what I had in house and my own instincts, and voila - the best buckwheat pancakes I've ever had. They didn't even need any butter or syrup, and tasted good as leftovers later.
So anyway, without any further ado...

Old Biddy's Semi-local CNY Buckwheat Pancakes
Makes 4-5 servings (don't let the relatively small amount of flour alarm you. You can also half the recipe for a more reasonable amount of pancakes)

Mix together
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup white flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt

6 oz greek yogurt*
1 1/3 cup milk**
4 tbs melted butter (1/2 stick)
2 eggs

Whisk liquid ingredients together. Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix until just blended. The batter will seem runny but don't be alarmed.

Cook pancakes and enjoy. I'd pretend that I ate them with local maple syrup too, but I am still working on a container of not-quite-local Quebec syrup.
I have a sneaking suspicion that I can further improve the recipe by tweaking the egg/milk ratio, reducing the amount of baking soda and using honey or maple syrup instead of sugar, so I'll try that next time. (I may even be systematic and change one variable at a time.) But they were seriously tasty as is, and got me through a whole day of hauling logs from my back yard down to the street for the annual yard waste pickup.
Nest up: Buckwheat crepes...

*I used Chobani yogurt since I am seriously obsessed with it and that's what I had. It's made 70 miles from here, so that's sort of local.

**the recipe called for 2 c buttermilk, but I used the milk/yogurt combination instead. If you don't have either, use milk and substitute 2 tsp baking powder for the baking soda.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Kale with Walnuts and Sausage

Kale is omnipresent in Ithaca. I think it is one of the few things that grows really well here. While it is considered an early spring vegetable in most areas, it must like the cool and cloudy Ithaca weather. It's the first green vegetable ready in the spring and one of the last ones still available in the fall. People who get a CSA produce box each week get very tired of kale since there's always a huge bunch every week.
I went to the farmer's market today. It just reopened for the season and there isn't much produce yet. I saw beets, onions, potatoes, carrots, a few greens, and, of course, kale. I bought a bag of baby kale.
I'm not hugely experienced with it. It's an odd green. It has a lot of chlorophyll and wil leave your dishwater very green. One serving will also provide you with 1300% of the RDA of vitamin K, and it is considered one of the detoxifying foods. However, you won't find me going on a kale/wheat grass smoothie kick any time soon.
I looked at a few recipes online and decided to modify a recipe for kale with pan-fried walnuts. I chopped up the kale a little bit and boiled it until it was tender. While it was boiling, I sauteed some leftover chicken Italian sausage and then drained it on a paper towel. I then toasted the walnuts in a little bit of oil, added the garlic at the very end, and then dumped in the drained kale and the sausage and sauteed the mixture briefly. It was easy, and it was tasty. If you wanted to modify it, you could leave out the sausage, add different nuts, sliced apples, etc. If you happen to find yourself with an abundance of kale, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ode to tri-tip

I grilled a tri-tip today. This is very exciting. Although tri-tip is ubiquitous in California and can also be found anywhere there is a Trader Joe's, it is surprisingly hard to find here in CNY. I knew this before I moved here, but I didn't realize that it would be as hard to find as it was. A few days ago I found one at my friendly neighborhood Wegman's, hidden away in the organic stuff even though it wasn't. It was a momentous occasion, partly because I haven't had tri-tip since I moved and partly because I can finally grill something outside without having to shovel a path to my grill.
I realized that I didn't know anything about tri-tip, so I looked it up. It turns out that it is a small triangular cut from the bottom sirloin part of the cow/steer, and is one of the quadricep extensor muscles near the kneecap (i.e. the ones I was supposed to strengthen after my surgery) It weighs about 1 1/2 - 2 lbs and there are only two per cow. It's popular in Europe and South America, but historically has been used for ground beef or chili here in the US. I suspect that now they're mostly shipped to California. It's pretty lean, so it's important to leave on the fat that's on one side while it cooks. (I didn't have that option, since it had already been removed.) It's got a nice beefy flavor and, when cooked right, is pretty tender. It's good by itself or in sandwiches.
I rubbed my tri-tip with a spice rub and grilled it. It came out nearly perfect - I overcooked it slightly since I am out of practice. I ate it alongside some broccoli and salad. It was a nice reminder of California.