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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ghost Chile Almonds + Browned Butter Rice Krispie Treats

I'm mostly done with my holiday baking.  I was sort of low key about it this year, and was also not as into it as usual.  I've been cooking/baking a lot, usually with good results, but for some reason my fickle heart was just not into my old favorites, and I was a little careless.  The old standbys came out ok but not great.  However, the new recipes I tried turned out fabulous.
I did a lot of nuts this year.  I decided to do a batch of savory ones for my brother.  (Dude, if you're reading this, SURPRISE!)  Inspired by a recipe in the New York Times, I prepared some roasted almonds with a ghost chile powder coating.  The ghost chile powder is a gift from my brother so I thought I'd return the favor.  It contains dried New Mexico chiles, cumin, garlic powder and a hint of ghost chiles.  It doesn't seem hot at first but will sneak up on you.

Hot 'n Spicy Almonds
3 cups raw almonds
2 tsp olive oil
salt to taste (I used about 2 tsp kosher salt)
1/2 tsp ghost chile powder (or cayenne)

Heat oven to 350F.  In a bowl, mix almonds with olive oil until coated evenly.  Add salt and chile powder and mix well.  Place nuts on a cookie sheet and roast for about 15-20 minutes, until they smell toasty.  Be careful not to breathe in when opening oven since the capsaicin is pretty volatile.  Remove from oven and cool. 
They have what seems to be a subtle hint of salt and spice, but the heat sneaks up on you.  I could've made them a lot hotter for my brother but for a general crowd this is a good heat level.   As they said in the NYT article, that little bit of heat keeps you from eating too many.  I'll definitely make them again if I have to bring something to a party.

The second new recipe was the browned butter Rice Krispie treats from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  (You can find a similar recipe here, but the cookbook version doesn't have any added salt.)  I made them for the grad students and they were a huge hit.  The brown butter and slightly higher coating/cereal ratio made a big difference.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pumpkin Fest Part 1: Pumpkin Yeast Bread

I got this recipe from the King Arthur Flour website.  (Bakers - if you haven't checked out the recipes there yet, I highly recommend it.  There are a lot of great recipes as well as the option to convert amounts into ounces or grams.  Being a chemist, I like to bake by weight rather than volume ;-))  It was easy to make and the dough rose quickly.  I just used my stand mixer to knead it and then gave it a few token kneads by hand at the end.  For the second rise I put it out in the garage (45F?) overnight and baked it first thing in the morning.  It rose a bit too much so the bread may've been a little bit less tender as a result.  It was really good.  Next time I'll be more careful with the rise, and may try making some of it into dinner rolls as they suggest.
The flavor of the spices and pumpkin came through nicely.  It did not taste very sweet.  I like the combination of sweet and savory, so I wouldn't hesitate to use this in a sandwich.  It also made good French toast this morning, and was a tasty side for my dinner of pork roast, beets and spinach.  I think it would be absolutely delicious as dinner rolls with a chicken or turkey dinner.

1/2 cup warm water
2 packages (2 tablespoons) active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups puréed pumpkin, either fresh or canned
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 1/2 cups (approximately) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
In a large bowl, stir yeast into water to soften. Add milk, eggs, pumpkin, oil, 4 cups flour, brown sugar, salt, ginger and cardamom to yeast mixture. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.

Gradually add remaining flour, a little at a time, until you have a dough stiff enough to knead. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead, adding flour as necessary, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.

Put dough into an oiled bowl. Turn once to coat entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Turn dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide dough in half. Shape dough into loaves and place in well-greased 10 x 5-inch pans or, shape half into a loaf, and other half into 12 large dinner rolls. Cover with a towel and let rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 375°F oven. Loaves bake about 30 minutes, rolls about 20. Check the internal temperature of each with an instant-read thermometer; a reading of 190°F means bread or rolls are done.

Immediately remove bread or rolls from pans and cool on a wire rack to prevent crust from becoming soggy. For a shiny crust, brush tops of bread or rolls lightly with vegetable oil. Makes 2 large loaves, or 1 large loaf and 12 dinner rolls.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cook's Illustrated Pad See Ew

I have developed a fondness for pad see ew since I moved to Ithaca.  It's sort of an iffy dish, but Taste of Thai Express does it pretty well, some of the time, and we order lunch from them every Friday.  Much to my delight, Cook's Illustrated published their version of it recently.  You can find the recipe here
While I was looking for the recipe online, I also found a NYT article about CI, and its publisher, Christopher Kimball.  It was an interesting read and described the history of the magazine.  I recommend it if you're a foodie or a CI fan. I hadn't really thought about it too much since until recently I didn't subscribe to any high brow cooking magazines, but it does point out how CI's precise yet middle-brow approach is quite different from a lot of other cooking magazines.  They won't show you food porn pictures of a banquet for 16 people, or even pair recipes for a meal, and, as I've mentioned, it's usually all about the secret technique or ingredient.  In all my years cooking recipes from them, I've only had one turn out badly.  (Admittedly, I do alter ingredients and cut corners, but I like to think that their recipes are overengineered and can withstand a few tweaks, as long as you don't mess with the secret technique or ingredient.)  Although they are often fussy with their tricks or secret ingredients, they don't go over the top with hard to find ingredients.  This particular recipe relied on soy sauce, fish sauce,* oyster sauce and brown sugar.  Compared to some Thai recipes I've seen, that was pretty minimal.  It explained why CI is finally doing more international recipes (answer - readers want them) as well as why they don't call them by their common names, e.g. pad see ew rather than Thai stir fried noodles with chicken and broccolini (answer - even though the readers want them they're not sure the real names will go over well with the readers who are less familiar).
I didn't take pictures this time around.  I substituted broccoli for broccolini, and boneless lean pork for chicken.  I cut up the broccoli, cut up the pork and gave it a quick soak in a bit of water with baking soda (the CI magic trick worked!  The pork was very tender even though it was lean and had previously been frozen), soaked the noodles in hot water, made the sauce, and then commenced with stir frying everything in batches, with a little sauce each time  The garlic and pork went in first, followed by three eggs.  Then I dumped it into a bowl, stir fried the broccoli with some sauce, and then did the same with the noodles.  At the end everything was dumped back into the pan and warmed up. 
Anyway, it was really good.  I'm not sure how authentic it was - I've had it so many different ways that I don't really know what is normal.  The noodles were narrower than the ones used in Thai restaurants, but that is a minor detail.  It was still better than most restaurant versions, including Taste of Thai Express on a bad or mediocre day.  I liked that there was enough sauce - sometimes there is too little, and the noodles are bland.  The only thing I would tweak is to add some of those fermented garlic black beans that I sometimes find in there, and possibly a bit of garlic chile sauce.  I will definitely make it again.

*  Molly the cat was obsessed with the fish sauce.  Now I know what to use if I ever need to give her medicine. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Old Biddy Movie Review plus more: Skyfall

I saw "Skyfall" recently.  My movie review will be short, since that's not really my thing.  This is the third Bond movie starring Daniel Craig.  I was a bit dubious at first, but have since been won over by the newer, darker style, the inclusion of Judy Dench as M, and the fact that these Bond movies are geared a bit more towards women than the older ones.  Skyfall continues this tradition. There was more nudity from Bond than from the Bond girls, and there weren't really any Bond girls here. It was darker than the previous two, and dragged on a bit sometimes.  Daniel Craig was shirtless quite often.  I approve.  I was disappointed that they didn't let Javier Bardem be a hot sexy villian and instead made him into a creepy looking one, but I know that is pretty typical.  M is the queen of all honey badgers - I want to be her when I grow up.   Anyway, I don't think you need to go see it in the theater, but it was enjoyable.  I am still holding out hope that Angelina Jolie will be the next 007.  She would seriously be the best Bond ever.
But no, the movie review or even the fact that M is a badass honey badger is not really why I'm blogging.  No, the real reason that I'm blogging is to do a smackdown of a 50 or 60-something writer (previously accused of sexually harassing a 23 year old coworker) who whined that it's so unfair that Daniel Craig is muscular and sexy, when past middle-aged movie heroes got the hot young babes by means of charm and savoir faire alone.   Cry me a river and call the wahhhmbulence - this is the sound of someone who doesn't like it that he has less male privilege than he wants.  Gawker and Jezebel already did epic smackdowns of it.  I highly recommend checking it out.  I shouldn't really have anything more to say, but I do.  Is he complaining that men are now held to the same ridiculous standards as women?  Is he suggesting that the Bond girls be age- or experience appropriate for Bond, rather than having Denise Richard play a nuclear physicist? Is he bemoaning the fact that in sitcoms and movies it is perfectly common to pair a fat schlubby guy with a supermodel?   No.  He's just pissing and moaning that James Bond has a nice body now and it's so unfair.  Dude, I hate to break it to you, but even in the days when Bond was slightly less ripped, you're no James Bond.
It's been a little while since I did any rants about online dating,* but this just summarized a lot of what annoys me about it nowadays.  It's that small subset of middle aged guys who have suddenly gotten more, rather than less, picky and tend to blame women or other men, even fictional ones like James Bond, for their woes.  Since I tend not to go for older guys, and they don't go for me either, I was blissfully unaware of this until I hit my 40's and started encountering it in my own age bracket.   I can even see it in their profiles sometimes.  In person, I get younger guys checking me out all the time, as well as some fairly attractive guys my age and older, but from what I can tell the 40-50 age bracket on OKCupid is full of the pickiest low-libido guys ever.  I blame lowered testosterone levels as well as an inability to face reality.  My brother has a friend who's sort of like this.  I'll call him H.  He is my age and is good looking and a total player.  He is also very fixated on the really hot young women.  A lot of guys who are total players just adjust their expectations somewhat and continue having fun, but not H.  Even though he could easily get lots of super hot women in their 30's,  he's not having as much success getting the super hot 20-something hotties as he used to, and is not adjusting that well. 
Anyway, guys, please get used to the fact that neither you nor the women who will date you are as young and hot as you once were.  I know that I am no longer the plump cute Zoe Deschanel lookalike that I used to be**, and that is ok. I don't expect to fuck guys who look like Matt Damon anymore either.  But really, it's not all that bad.  We bring a lot of experience, humor and maturity to the table.  Just because some older guys can attract much younger women doesn't mean that you will.  Decide what works best for you, but please don't waste anyone's time with your whining.  Life is not TV or movies - you won't get the hot babes just because you have a pulse.

* Mr Cub is still in the picture.  I don't know if it will lead to anything, but it is entertaining.
** Sadly, although I did used to have Zoe Deschanel hair, I was born about 10-15 years too soon to fit the adorkable geek girl archtype.  I was too far ahead of my time.  Geek girls were not popular back then.  Of course, my demeanor was/is more like Daria meets honey badger rather than manic pixie geek girl, so that didn't help either.

Friday, November 23, 2012

CI November: Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

I got invited over to a colleague's house for Thanksgiving dinner.  I volunteered to bring a dessert, and since the pies were already covered I decided to make the triple chocolate mousse cake from Cook's Illustrated.  I've been wanting to make this for a while but never had a good excuse.  It's a bit too rich and fancy for an impulse bake, and there's no way I'd trust myself with it with no one to help me eat it.
Fortunately, I'm not the only one blogging the recipes from CI, so I don't have to type everything in, although I've changed the commentary as needed.  I've pilfered this one from the aptly named Annie's Eats.

For the bottom layer:
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces (plus extra for greasing the pan)
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¾ tsp. instant espresso powder
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs, separated
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

For the middle layer:
2 tbsp. cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
5 tbsp. hot water
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½ cups heavy cream
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

For the top layer:
¾ tsp. powdered gelatin
1 tbsp. water
6 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
1½ cups heavy cream
For garnish:
Chocolate curls or cocoa powder
To make the bottom layer, butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  Your springform pan should be at least 3" tall.   Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325˚ F.  Combine the butter, chocolate, and espresso powder in a large heatproof bowl and microwave carefully until chocolate is almost melted.  Stir occasionally until the mixture is smooth.  Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.  Whisk in the vanilla and egg yolks.  Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds.  Crumble half of the brown sugar into the mixing bowl with your fingers to remove any lumps.  Beat until incorporated, about 15 seconds.  Add the remaining brown sugar and continue to beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute more.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the beaten egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining egg whites gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake until the cake has risen, is firm around the edges and the center has just set but is still soft (should spring back after pressing gently with a finger), about 14-18 minutes.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour.  Do not remove the cake from the pan.  (If not making the second layer right away, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to proceed.)

To make the second layer, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl; set aside.  Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth, or microwave it carefully Once melted, remove from the heat and let cool slightly, 2-5 minutes.
In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream, sugar and salt on medium speed until the mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 30-60 seconds.  Whisk in the cocoa powder mixture until smooth.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Pour the mousse into the springform pan over the cooled cake and tap gently on the counter 3 times to remove air bubbles.  Gently smooth the top with a spatula.  Wipe the inside edge of the pan to remove any drips.  Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes while preparing the top layer.  I covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight.
To make the top layer, sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand at least 5 minutes to soften.  Place the white chocolate in a medium bowl.  Bring ½ cup of the cream to a boil in a small saucepan.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the white chocolate and let stand about 1 minute.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Cool to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the remaining 1 cup of cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken.  Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 30-60 seconds.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the white chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Spoon the white chocolate mousse into the pan over the middle layer.  Smooth the top with an offset spatula.  Return the cake to the refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2½ hours.  (Note: Do NOT cover your pan with plastic wrap unless you are completely sure you can do so without it touching the top of your cake during placement or removal.  If it does touch the cake, it will smudge the perfectly pristine top, forcing you to make an excessive amount of chocolate curls.  I speak from experience.)

OK, old biddy Annie commentary again...The base layer took longer than expected. I left it in there around 20 minutes.  I thought it was done in the middle but it started looking gooier as it sunk and cooled.  It was somewhat gooey but ok in the final cake.  The second and third layers were pretty straightforward.  I was out of chocolate so I didn't put any chocolate shavings on top, but it would've looked nice.  Some of the commenters suggested using a collar of greased parchment paper around the cake to make look prettier when it is removed from the pan.  It did stick a bit, but no one seemed to mind since they were fighting to lick the knife.
It was really rich, but since it was fluffy and not too sweet it was not overwhelming.  I'll definitely make it again when I need a showstopper dessert.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cook's Illustrated Recipe Testing: Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer
It's November, and as usual I am observing neither No Shave November or National Novel Writing Month, but am instead doing the annual CI recipe testing marathon.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, today is the first actual CI recipe in a while.  I'll keep it going until the New Year since I've got a backlog of recipes to test from CI, as well as the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  Today I was on the lookout for something that bears little resemblence to anything normally served at Thanksgiving.
Anyway, there was a recipe for Saag Paneer in a recent issue of CI.  Based on my fondness for dairy products and my one-time relationship with Cowdude, I think it's probably a safe guess to say that I was a cow in a past life.  I love saag paneer.  Veggies, spices, cream, and cheese - what's not to like!?!?  I've never made it at home, although I have bought paneer and eaten it all by itself.
Anyway, CI doesn't usually do anything half-assed, so they had a recipe to make the cheese as well.  I've made ricotta, yogurt, and kefir, but have never made paneer.  Fortunately for me, other bloggers have blogged about it already so I can cut and paste the recipe. There are a lot of pictures and amusing commentary so I recommend checking it out

Homemade Saag Paneer

Yield: Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


3 quarts whole milk
3 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons salt
Spinach Sauce:
1container baby spinach (11 ounces) spinach, washed
1 large bunch turnip or mustard greens, washed
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cardamon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 inches fresh ginger, minced
1 jalapeno chile, diced
1 (14.5 ounce can) diced tomatoes
1/4 cup peanuts or cashews
1 cup water
1 cup buttermilk
Fresh cilantro (garnish)
Cashews (garnish)
Rice, for serving
Helpful Equipment:
Cheese cloth
Adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe.

Making Cheese

My only advice, if you decide to make this, is to make sure you use a very large colander and have enough cheesecloth.  Mine was overflowing and got clogged.  I got out a sieve and used that once the curds had started to stick together,  I probably lost a lot this way, though.
Anyway, bring your milk to a simmer and stir in the buttermilk and salt. Then let it sit for a few minutes. Pour that through your cheesecloth lined colander and let it drain for about fifteen minutes.  Squeeze out the excess liquid and place the cheesecloth-wrapped ball on a plate.  Place another plate on top and set something heavy on top. (I used a dutch oven)  Let it sit for 45 minutes.  It will firm up and drain off more liquid during this time.  Remove the cheesecloth and cut the cheese into cubes.  Allow to air dry while you are making the sauce.

The Spinach  Sauce
While the cheese part has a few ingredients but is maybe a bit intimidating, the spinach sauce has a bunch of ingredients but is really simple to make.
You could use all spinach, but CI recommended using  turnip greens which gave it a more peppery flavor.
Basically just rinse all your greens and then chop off any large stems. Add them to a large bowl and microwave them on high for 3-4 minutes until they are wilted and tender. You will have to work in batches.

Chop up enough spinach and greens to equal 1/3 cup of each and set it aside. Then add the rest of the greens to a blender
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet. Then add your ground spices, diced onion, and a pinch of salt and cook until the onion is soft.  Add the ginger, garlic, jalapeno and cook another minute.
Then add in your canned tomatoes and let that all cook together for a few minutes.  Add half of the mixture to the blender along with the water and cashews.  Puree it and return it to the pan.  add chopped greens and buttermilk to pan, and add additional salt if needed.  Bring to a simmer and cook  minutes.  Then just gently fold in the cheese and cook it for another minute or two so everything is warm. Be gentle with the cheese or it will just crumble into super-tiny pieces.  Serve with rice.

Anyway, this recipe is steppy and I got an awful lot of dishes dirty, even though I was using stuff multiple times.  It came out really well - I loved the pepperiness that the turnip greens imparted, and appreciated that it was lighter and healthier than the usual restaurant version.  The taste was pretty similar, even though I forgot a few ingredients  Next time I will just buy the cheese, make it in advance, or use tofu.  But overall it was a winner and I will make it again.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My brief foray into cougarhood

A few weeks ago I met a French guy on OKCupid.  I will call him Mr Cub.  He was new to town - a new assistant prof here, and was like a breath of fresh air after this recent batch of OkC guys.  He is also 11 years younger than me.  For reasons not entirely obvious to me, he was very persistent. I ignored my usual rules of not responding to guys without pictures, who are too persistent in emailing me, and who haven't written much in their profiles.  I also ignored my own rule about guys who are too much younger than me - he was on the borderline.  Anyway, he was quick to pull the conversation into sexual territory, but it was kind of entertaining and not creepy.  We met up for coffee, hit it off really well, and then continued to text/IM a lot.  But then reality intervened.  Ever move to a new town and start a new job where you have to build a research program from scratch and set up a lab?  Well, I have, sort of, and it's exhausting and can eat up every last bit of your time, and then some.  So we didn't get together then first weekend afterwards, but I didn't give it too much thought.  The intensity with which he tried to seduce me online was the exception to my norm, rather than the slow pace of getting back together after the first meeting.  I heard more compliments, flirtation, and endearments in a week than I did in a typical year with T.  It was entertaining and was a good counterbalance to the stress of Luna's death.  We continued with our texting/IM'ing/sexting. I will spare you the naughty details but it was fun.  Since I knew he was busy and had an inkling he might mainly want to just be online chat buddies, I offered him that option early on.  But no, he didn't take it and wanted to meet in person again.  He was going to come over for dinner last Sunday, but at the last minute he texted me that stuff had gone really badly in lab and he was way behind schedule and was going to have to bail.  I didn't text back right away.  Eventually I did.  He was apologetic - it was one of those situations where once you start things you have to keep going until you are done.  I know how that goes and have days like that myself, although I usually try to plan so that it doesn't impact my plans.  I was kind of cold at first - not harsh, just didn't write much.  After a bit more texting, we were back to normal, or so I thought.  But this week the relentless pursuit has ceased, although he is still checking out my online profile frequently.  I've texted him a few times and he has seemed normal but very tired.  Nonetheless I suspect that my foray into cougarhood was a brief one and this is the start of the fadeaway.  I am disappointed but it did do wonders for my self-esteem and provided a lot of entertainment when I needed it.

Molly and Rugrat: Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady

My cats and I are slowly adjusting to not having Luna around.  They're a fairly bonded pair, so I didn't expect them to act that much differently than normal, but they are.  Lucy is still very clingy and lovey.  I think this is a combination of her missing Luna and her just needing more companionship and play when there are fewer cats in the house.  In the absence of another cat, I am the stand-in.  She was like this when I first got her, before she bonded with Luna and Rugrat, and also in the time between when Rugrat died and when I got Molly.  This time around she is extra affectionate.  She sits on the edge of the bathtub like Luna used to do and purrs and wants me to pet her.  Sometimes she even climbs onto my chest.  This is highly unusual since she is not a big purrer and up until now she hated water and stayed away from the bathtub when I was in it.  Now she has taken over Luna's role as tub cat. It seems like Luna's death has affected her more than Rugrat's did, even though she now has Molly as an age-appropriate buddy.  Although I thought Lucy was closer to Rugrat than to Luna, now I'm not so sure.  Luna had a strong alpha cat presence and other cats tended to really like her even though she wasn't particularly social to them.
Lucy is a complex cat.  Of all the cats I've had, she is the least predictable and the most quirky. This is becoming more and more apparent as she matures.
Molly loved Luna and spent a lot of time with her, especially towards the end.  She was very clingy and kept climbing into my arms any chance she got. Fortunately,  she also began to be more active and resumed her frequent wrestling matches with Lucy.  Nonetheless, she still spends a lot of time in "Luna's" chair and still leaves a spot open for Luna. 
Now here comes the confession part.  Even though Lucy and Molly are a bonded pair, and it is easier to just have two, I am still tempted to get another cat.  Having just gone through having two cats die in the same year, I feel like I shouldn't get another kitten or young cat, since then I'll have three the same age.  I am kind of tempted to get an older (>8 years) kitty.  It will take a lot of luck to find one that gets along well with the others, and will probably also end up being one that picks me out.  I will ponder this for a while and perhaps visit the humane society occasionally.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dear Haters: Please STFU

As you might imagine, I have a lot of commentary about the David Petraeus/Paula Braodwell affair, but none of it really concerns the affair itself.  I really don't judge what other people do in their bedrooms unless I happen to be having sex with them.  Then I care.  However, I like interesting gossip so I do admit to be entertained by some of it.
Anyway, first of all, I hope no one is monitoring my emails/texts/IM's. I have been know to engage in salacious behavior by those means. If my passport renewal gets turned down I will know why.   I was amused by the accounts of a shared email account to try to get around detection.  I get that nothing is tagged as incoming or outgoing, but it's not exactly secret.   Furthermore, I bet they got some entertaining Google Ads.  Then again, maybe not.  I have been known to deliberately fill emails with sexual references to try to get some good ads.  I have never gotten in interesting Google ads that way, but the minute I mention a clogged toilet, I get ads for plumbers.  In my future career as  a crude humor marketing genius I am planning on leading up the new "Adult ads" department at Google.  I will also begin consulting at BJ's on how to make their email subject lines even more suggestive.  (I will do this for a year's supply of cat litter and Chobani.)
Secondly, I am amused by the growing number of people involved.   It sort of reminds me of grad school.  Unfortunately, there are no hot Navy SEALS involved (yet), or I might be more interested.
Thirdly, and most importantly, all the internet haters need to STFU about Holly Petraeus' looks.  She didn't do anything, and she is a perfectly normal looking 60-something woman.   Don't blame it on her and how you think she should have lost weight/dyed her hair/etc/etc or been able to run 6 minute miles at age 60.  Most people can't do that at any age.  She and her husband are perfectly looks- and age-appropriate.  A lot of this snark comes from women, not men.  I just don't get this, although I am used to it as part of the "U R Doin it WRONG!" syndrome that women get (and dish out) everyday.    I see it to a lesser extent in what is considered what is normal "good grooming" among men and women.  I'm going to do a bigger blog post on this someday, but I'll be succinct - if men aren't expected to do something and women are, it's sexism.  Do it if you want, but don't snark on people who make different decisions.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dear Conservatives: Neener neener!!

I've only been waiting nine months to publish this. The irony of the length of time does not escape me.  I tried many times but couldn't quite put it into words, and others more capable than me were writing about it in the feminist and mainstream blogosperes.  But the time has come for me to be a raging old biddy and engage in some long-overdue gloating.
September 11, 2001 was the start of my feminist consciousness, although I always considered myself a feminist before.  I will blog about this sometime.  The 2008 primaries reinforced that in my mind, with all the vitriol directed at Hillary Clinton about her gender and not her political viewpoints. The months leading up to the 2012 presidential election saw the rise of some of the ugliest sexism that I have witnessed in my life, but, unlike the previous two events, women fought back en masse.
Recently in Slate there was an article about how conservative pundits are "blaming" single women for Romney's loss.  Because, of course, we are women so you can blame stuff on us and get away with it, because whatever we do it is wrong.  NOT! No one would even think to use the same wording or the same vehemence if they were describing another population block and their voting habits. 
Anyway, as a single woman I am enjoying a few days of gloating at my newfound power and elevation from usual crazy cat lady status, but in all honesty, and using some appropriately juvenile language, they started it.   We didn't make it an issue - they did.  Us single ladies, and our married counterparts, were simply minding our own business, having sex or maybe not having sex.  Some of us* might even have sex with the same conservative guys who are pushing this legislation.**  Our concerns were not drastically different from those of the other women, or even (gasp!) men.   The amount of legislation, and the general level of intrusiveness trying to limit access to abortion/birth control/women's health has skyrocketed in the last year, as the Tea Party Republicans began to posture and prepare for the election.  All of a sudden we started hearing frightening threats of transvaginal ultrasounds, of "legitimate rape" and "rape rape", of employers being given the right to exclude birth control from insurance plans, even though this makes no sense from an actuarial point of view, etc., etc. Thanks in part to the power of the internet and social media, we fought back, and didn't let the divisions between different generations of feminists get in the way this time.  Instead of realizing that these extreme tactics were a bad idea and backtracking, they upped the ante.  It was like a bad dream, and every time I had a blog post in mind, they did something else that infuriated me.  Even now, I have a million other things I want to add, but in the interest of conciseness, I will just say "Neener, neener".  It's 2012, not 1950.  You can't turn back the clock just because you want to.  End of fucking story.

*  Not me, of course, because I am a cranky liberal old biddy with impressive bonerkilling powers.  That, and I do have standards...

** The mantra of "Do as I say and not as I do" and the definition of a slut as any woman who is having sex who is not having it with you, have been out in full force, thanks to idiots like Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts.  I just don't get it.  Mind your own fucking business, literally.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


 I had to have my cat Luna put to sleep on Friday.  It was almost 8 months to the day since I had Rugrat put to sleep.   She was 17 1/2 and had kidney failure.  It came on suddenly on Halloween, although there were some subtle signs that I missed in the last few weeks.
 For those of you who never met Luna, she was a badass honey badger of a cat.  She picked me out at the Chapel Hill SPCA, and proved to be an intelligent, quirky, alpha cat with a sense of humor.  Although she was not particularly big and had asthma most of her life, she was the queen of the house and the neighborhood, primarily by through sheer force of will.  She would take on all other cats, rats, racoons and most dogs.  Despite being such a badass, she trusted me completely and was very bonded to me.  However, as a total one-person cat, she was not all that social to people other than me.  She let Rugrat take care of that.  Later in life she started being friendlier to other people and had a good memory for people whom she had met before.
Due to her asthma and her tendency to get in trouble, she used up more than her given nine lives.  She may've borrowed a few from Rugrat.  I made many after hours trips to the emergency vet with her, as well as a lot of regular trips.  I always assumed that she wouldn't live that long.  A few years ago, when I was between jobs and was home a lot, I realized that Luna was actually more active than Rugrat, who was two years younger, and had a premonition that she would outlive Rugrat.  Unfortunately, that proved to be right.
Luna took Rugrat's death hard, even though Rugrat loved to annoy her.  She had a lot of digestive upsets and became more lethargic.  I got Molly for myself and as a playmate for Lucy,  but she and Luna really bonded and Luna perked up a lot once I got Molly.  I think that Molly probably prolonged Luna's life by a few months. I don't know if she reminded Luna of Rugrat, or if it was something else.  In the last month, Molly spent a lot of time sitting with Luna. 
I'm not very religious, and most days I don't know what I believe, if anything.  Halloween is the modern incarnation of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when the veils between the worlds are thinnest.  The Catholic Church preempted this custom and converted it into All Saints/All Souls Day/Day of the Dead.  It gives me comfort to think that Luna picked that time to leave this life and go join Rugrat in the mists.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Old Biddy's advice for a good OKCupid email

Today I got a very odd email on OKCupid.  I'm not sure if he's trying out some "advanced" new pickup artist technique or is just bad at this, or both.

Dear Old Biddy,
My name is Mr WTF. I have visited your profile on more than one occasion in the past day that I have been on this site. I have looked at others but keep coming back to yours. I feel I may be stalking you via this site and its disconcerting. If you would care to discuss the matter so as to resolve the issue I would greatly appreciate it. Please feel free to contact me.


Um, WTF, Mr WTF?!?!.  "Stalking" should not be used at all, ever, in an email or a conversation.  You guys think it's funny or even flattering but I suspect most women do not feel that way.  We do have creep radar and you just set it off, rightfully or unintentionally.  You can say the same thing in a much nicer way - say you keep coming back to my profile because you like my smile, or my eyes, or whatever it was that drew your attention. 
Anyway, I decided to compile a little bit of OKCupid message advice, so I am such a pro at it....well, not really, but I am an expert on what doesn't work. 
1.  No negging*, ever.  I don't care if the pickup artist video you watched said it's the best thing since sliced bread, it doesn't ever work in an email and probably hardly ever works in real life unless you look like Javier Bardem or Jon Hamm, in which case you could probably just read the phonebook and get better results.  No outright negging, and no subtle negging.  Don't tell me that I'm "actually" pretty, don't ask me what I think about a study showing that people who own cats are more likely to be depressed (yes, this was in a first email), etc.  Don't neg on other guys too unless I start it, which I won't at this early stage.  I had a tall guy make unprovoked snarky remarks about short guys who lie about their height.  I don't care about height but this did make me a lot less interested in him.
2.  If I don't write back immediately, don't send me another email.  This is not going to make me more likely to write back.  See above section on stalking.  Sometimes I check my email but am too tired/busy/actually at work and will write back at my convenience.  
3.  Write something to start a "conversation".  It doesn't have to be a lot, but if I get an email that just says "S'up?" I'm not going to write back unless your profile really stands out.
4.  Don't ask me to write back to let you know if I'm not interested.  I know you mean well but other guys have ruined it for you by using that as a reason to get rude or to try to get me to change my mind.  Believe me, I wish this was less of a game too, but after some trial and error I'm sticking to techniques that have worked well for other people.

Anyway, that's just a start.  I'm sure I'll think of more after I've been doing this longer.

*  "Negging" is a technique where someone jokingly/subtly insults someone with a backhanded complement like "you're really hot for a crazy old biddy cat lady with thyroid issues"  Supposedly this is all the thing now, thanks to the pick up artist (PUA) websites.  Since I am old, I haven't encountered it before now but am seeing it this time around.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

White Bean, Swiss Chard, and Pancetta Pot Pie

The students have been on a pie kick.  In addition to the pie contest last weekend, they've been bringing in pies during the week.  All this pie has whetted my appetite for more and temporarily overcome both my diet and my usual dislike of making pie crust.  When Smitten Kitchen published a recipe for a swiss chard, pancetta and white bean pot pie, I knew I had to make it.  I love soup with chard, beans and sausage.  This sounded like a more decadent cousin.  I also like the idea of making anything into a pot pie.
I'm not going to paste the recipe here since it's pretty long.  Go look at the link if you're interested.  Basically, you make the dough for the top crust, then you saute pancetta, then onions/celery/carrots/garlic, then add chopped up swiss chard and cook it until it's softened.  The veggies are removed from the pot and a sauce is then prepared from a roux and chicken broth.  The sauce, veggies, and cannellini beans are combined, placed into individual ramekins, and then covered with the crust dough and baked.

It's not a quick recipe.  The dough needs to rest for an hour in the fridge, and the rest of the prep is steppy and each step takes at least ten minutes.  I wouldn't make it for a quick after work dinner, that's for sure.  I made the crust and prepped the chard in between rounds of painting my entryway. 
I bought a massive bunch of chard, and I used the stems, so I had probably twice as much chard as the recipe, and used two cans of beans instead of 1 1/3 cans.  So I had slightly more filling than the original recipe.  I left all the other ingredients the same, but substituted an extra carrot for the celery.  I put the mix into a 9" x 13" casserole dish and rolled the dough out into a rectangle just slightly larger.  I put it on top and cut some vents in it, and set it on top of a cookie sheet to contain any overflows.  It took about 40 minutes to bake up and was pretty and golden.  I was so preoccupied with eating it that I forgot to take a picture of it after it came out of the oven.

OMG!  It was so good.  The crust was sheer perfection!  I don't normally like crust, and I'm really bad at making it too.  This was an eye-opener. It was buttery and flaky and had a slight tang from the yogurt and vinegar.  It rolled out easily and didn't break.  The filling was great too.  I packaged the leftovers up into tupperware containers for lunch and got a total of seven servings from it.  (The original recipe suggests it makes four servings, which seems huge.)  I will definitely make the crust again and try putting it on other things, like chile or a bottomless fruit pie.  Heck, I might even try making a chicken pot pie.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

You get what you pay for

I had a date with the third okcupid guy yesterday.    He's a divorced guy with two kids, a few years older than me.  He seemed nice and I'd be interested in seeing him again, but I have no clue if he's interested in seeming me again. I'm guessing the answer is no.  Before our date we had only corresponded by email.  He had asked me to pick the venue for our meeting so I suggested that we take a walk and suggested some possible options.  He wrote back that a flat walk would be better so the lake by the chem dept would be better.  I offered to do a coffee date but he thought his knee would be ok.  Anyway, it turns out he had torn his meniscus (same thing I had a few years ago) and had to walk really slow. I slowed down, and I'm not a fast walker to begin with.  We turned around partway through since there were some stairs.  When we got back to where we were parked I assumed we would walk a bit further but he said he needed to get off his knee and that he would talk to me soon.  He had looked at me like he was interested but that goodbye kind of sounded like a brushoff and took me by surprise.  WTF?  Yes, I'm clueless.  At first I decided that I would email him in a day or two if I didn't hear from him and say that I enjoyed meeting him and to let me know if he'd like to get together again. However, today I noticed he had taken down his profile on OKCupid and I am guessing that this not a good sign, either one way or another.  I will leave him alone and he knows how to contact me if he is so inclined.
This is the third time I've done online dating.  The other two times I met up with three guys in person before meeting one that I ended up seeing for a while.  I am a grand total of 5 lbs fatter and 2 years older than the last time I did this, and probably not any more cranky or cynical,but nonetheless it is irritating that I am not doing all that well with the okcupid dates, even though none of the have made a super good impression on me either.  I feel like an ugly fat old biddy, although in truth I don't know if that was the reason.  I still get guys checking me out and flirting with me, just not the OKCupid ones.  There is a part of me that feels like I need to lose 10 lbs before doing online dating.   I've spent too much of my life thinking like this. Honey badger seriously totally doesn't care.  There's a part of me that rebels against this now.   I've been rereading "The Beauty Myth" and it's still relevant.  It was written in 1990.  It was very prescient.  Although it got a lot of criticism for being anti beauty, it was not anti beauty, just critical of making beauty the be all and end all in a woman's life.   Anyway, one of the main tenets of the book is that women are now made to feel that they need to be beautiful to be loved/successful/happy/etc.  Men are not told this.  All the guys I met were sporting a beer gut and didn't bother to dress any different than usual.   By most standards both they and I are sort of average looking and are age appropriate.  The last thing I need to do is be more cynical, but nonetheless I get cranky because middle aged men don't get held to the same standard. 
Nonetheless, I am a stubborn honey badger and I'm not giving up just yet.  However,  I may just go use for a while and avoid those people who are only dabbling on OKCupid because it is free.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dear random dude from OKCupid

Yeah, you, the "silver-fox" dude with the politician hair.  Yeah, despite the hair you looked kind of interesting for a minute or two, until I looked at your answer to the question "Would you date an overweight person". It doesn't bother me that you answered no - we're all wired how we're wired.  But then you had to go and qualify it with "Not even a little bit overweight.  It's so unhealthy" 
Fuck you, Mr "I've been smoking all my life and only recently quit and now I am so self-righteous about health."  I'm a Dr but not a M.D., but even I would hazard a guess that  a non-smoker who's 5-10 lbs overweight is probably more healthy than you.  Hell, I'm more than slightly overweight and I'd hazard a guess that I am healthier than you, partially because a lifetime of watching what I eat and exercising have not done much for my weight but have resulted in damned fine bloodwork results.  Fuck you, and enjoy sleeping alone.
Old Biddy

Can you tell that I am sick of fat shaming under the guise of caring about people's health?  I'll do a whole post on it sometime, but for now I'll just say that it pisses me off way more than just the usual dislike of fat. 

Old Biddy vs Cook's Illustrated: Biscotti Smackdown

OK, so it's not exactly Iron Chef-worthy, but Cook's Illustrated finally published a biscotti recipe that might stand a chance at matching my world famous Biddy Biscotti.  They had some older recipes in a cookbook, but I could tell they wouldn't be as good so I never made them.  There was nothing wrong with them, but they were old school low fat, low sugar ones that would need to be dipped in lots of coffee.  My personal recipe is somewhere in between - they can be eaten dry but hold up to being dipped in coffee.  Anyway, the new CI recipe featured ground almonds and more sugar for a less toothbreaking experience.  My recipe features slightly more butter,eggs and flour, a bit of brandy, and whole almonds.  The judges of this competition are me and Sheila, who knows she's getting biscotti but doesn't yet know that she's my guinea pig judge.  Surprise!

Pseudo-CI Almond Biscotti
1 1/4 cups sliced almonds, ground in the blender
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp anise seed
1 3/4 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325F.  Line a cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper.  Grind almonds in blender or food processor.  Melt butter and let it cool.  Beat eggs until frothy and then add sugar and beat until blended.  Add butter, vanilla, and almond extract and mix until smooth.  Combine dry ingredients and add half of it to egg mixture and blend.  Add ground almonds and remaining flour and mix until blended.  Shape into two flat logs on the cookie sheet.  (My logs were about 10" x 2").  Bake for 25-30 minutes until firm and lightly brown.  Allow to cool for 30 minutes and reduce oven temperature to 300F.  Slice into 1/2" slices and place on cookie sheet.  Bake until crisp and golden brown on both sides (rotate partway through) - CI recommended 35 minutes but mine took about 25 minutes total even though I had lowered my oven temperature.
It's not really a fair test, because I tested my variation instead of the recipe as written.  They recommended grinding up some almonds coarsely, and some finely.  I didn't have any whole almonds, so I used sliced almonds and just ground them up together to somewhere in between a coarse and fine grind.  I also added anise just to keep the flavor similar to my recipe.  The dough came together a bit faster, since I was able to use melted butter and didn't bother to toast the nuts beforehand.  I missed having my usual biscotti-making swig of brandy.  The dough tasted richer and sweeter and more almondy, almost like an almond macaroon recipe.  They baked up nicely during the first baking but didn't puff up as much.  They browned up much faster than I am used to in the second baking.  This may in part be due to the fact that the nuts were probably ground finer.   Coming out of the oven, I thought they tasted bland and somewhat overdone, but the next day I thought they had improved substantially and were safely in "Om non nom" territory.  However, that's not what you were wondering about.  Were they better than the Old Biddy Biscotti(TM)? Do I admit defeat to CI?  Hell no!   They're sweeter, and richer, and the almond flavor is more pronounced.  With some whole almonds, they might even beat my biscotti when I am in the mood for something sweeter.  A chocolate covering might be nice too.  However, I am not sure I'll be switching over just yet, at least not all the time.  I'm kind of fond of my usual biscotti, since I am biased, used to them, and like the contrast between the whole almonds and the cookie texture.  I may try putting a small amount of ground almonds in my usual recipe and see how that turns out.  Perhaps the rollout of Old Biddy Biscotti 3.0 is in order for the Christmas season. 

PS: Sheila - I'm putting them in the mail for you tomorrow.  Happy belated birthday!  Let me know what you think.  I'm sorry they're not chocolate covered - if I did that, there might not be any left by tomorrow morning.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

F*&k you, gendered Disney gummi vitamins

I was reading the coupon book from my friendly neighborhood warehouse store when I saw an ad for Disney gummi vitamins, available in either Disney princess or Cars variety.  Um, WTF?!?!?  Do we really need to genderize and slap a Disney label onto every single thing little kids eat or do?  It already tastes like candy.  Keeping your kids from eating too many of them is probably a more pressing problem than getting them to eat one.  Indeed, if you type in 'disney gummi' into google, 'overdose' is one of the autofill options that pops up. 
Can we please just go back to plain old animal and fruit themed gummis?  I for one would like some honey badger gummis, with or without vitamins but most definitely without a Disney label.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

No more coffee dates, ever!

Nothing good ever comes from a coffee date for me.  I am sure they work well for most people.  I had sworn off them after my experiences with the dreaded dinner time coffee date phase two years ago, but made an exception for K because he seemed like a nice guy, and he didn't try to schedule it during a normal dinner time.  In the end, though, I couldn't escape the coffee date karma and I just wasn't into him and he wasn't into me.
The first time I did online dating, I wasn't opposed to coffee dates.  I was fine with the idea of meeting up and seeing if there is a spark.  I still am fine with it in theory, but for some reason I have zero luck with coffee dates.  Perhaps I'm not at my best on a coffee date, or perhaps they attract a certain type of guy, or both.  Strangely enough, the guys I do end up seeing more than once all ended up being the ones who did not ask for a coffee date, and the ones who aren't interested in me, or who are kind of weird, are all the ones who insisted on a coffee date.  Mr Meh from a few weeks ago was the only one who didn't insist on a coffee date whom I didn't end up seeing a second time.  I am starting to come to the conclusion that the coffee date, or lack thereof, is a sorting tool for me, a primary screen of sorts (to use some work lingo), but not in the way that it is typically used.
Anyway, back to the topic of my coffee date with K. We met for coffee at a place downtown.  I got there on time.  He got there slightly early and went ahead and got his coffee before I showed up, and didn't offer to get mine.  I don't really care who pays for who, but he got major minus points for not being courteous enough to wait.  It was sort of crowded in the coffee house, and I had to wait to get the milk.  He said he'd meet me outside.  Again, minus points for being kind of non-courteous.   Anyway, K seemed nice enough.  He's a few years younger  than me, but looked older, perhaps because he's a burly guy with a beard.  I was not particularly attracted to him, and he did not seem to be particularly attracted to me.  We took a walk and drank our coffee.  When we were done we parted ways.  From my experience with Mr Meh and Mr NiceGuy a few years ago,  I've learned that if I'm feeling 'Meh' or maybe or even no, to wait and see if they ask if I'd like to get together again before saying anything out of nervousness or politeness.
Because I'm a cranky old biddy and am worried about my looks, I still get annoyed if guys whom I am not attracted to aren't attracted to me.  It's silly, I know, but I guess it's part of being middle aged.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The names we give our pets/Random cat musings from a plane

I’m a crazy cat lady and I like to blog about my pets.  Be warned.
Do you names your pets and then have that name stick forever?  Or do you name them and then add other names which may replace the original ones?  I’m in the latter category.  It apparently runs in the family – as a kid all of our cats got a second name, which usually became the main one.  Of the cats I’ve had as an adult, I’ve never renamed one, but only Luna goes by her main name most of the time.  Rugrat was so named because she was funny-looking and always underfoot as a kitten, but she never answered to that.  I usually called her ‘Miss Kitty.”  Lucy usually gets called ‘Honey Badger” due to her general tortitude, the fact that she is a lean mean killing machine, and my general fixation with honey badgers.  I probably would’ve named her that except that my honey badger fixation started a few weeks after I got her.  Sometimes I call her Lucinda, when she is being exceptionally bad or particularly sweet.  Molly is sometimes “Mousie”  or Molly Mouse because she was small, quiet and grey when I first got her, and I used to have a mouse named Molly.  Oh yeah, and Lucy liked to torment her.  She is no longer small or quiet, and is getting her revenge on Lucy, but the name has stuck.  I’m starting to call her Molly more often now that she is getting bigger.  I didn’t even think about the fact that she and Rugrat both got a rodent name until just now.  As for Luna, well, she is just Luna.  If I want to add more syllables, I call her “Big Miss Luna”. 

Molly the Mousie is almost six months old now.  She is almost 7 lbs, which I thought was massive until Missy told me that her kitten Thor, who is three weeks older than Molly and is also a Maine Coon mix, is 9 ½ lbs.  Maine coons tend to grow until they are two, and may fill out a bit more up until age 4 or 5.  The females tend to grow a lot more slowly after they hit adolescence and often end up a lot smaller than the males; Rugrat was around 6.5 lbs when she was 7 months, at which time she went into heat and I got her spayed.  She lengthened out the second year and filled out after that, but probably never topped 8 lbs.  Molly is scheduled to get spayed in a few weeks.
Molly’s personality is really developing nicely and I am reminded why I tend to pick out adolescent cats when I adopt them from the pound.  Kittens are super cute and sweet, but their personalities really develop around five or six months.  Young kittens are off in their own little world a lot of the time, but they become a lot more interactive and quirky once they get a bit older.  Molly is getting very talkative and affectionate, and bounds around the house like a gawky squirrel.  She has some of the same weird quirks as Rugrat, such as an obsession with dairy products, a fondness for climbing on my shoulders and chewing on my hair, scratching on the window when one of the other cats wants to come in, and a strange fixation with the garage.  She’s not particularly interested in faucets, but likes to sit on my chest when I take a bath. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Old Biddy Music Review: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero

OK,it's already fall,  and the Mumford and Sons album is set to come out in a few days and I know that I'm going to be listening to that a lot, so I'd better blog about my summer favorites now.  Back in the summer of 2009 I was minding my own business, about to have a very crappy year.  Unbeknownst to me, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros released their first album, "Up from Below".  I became vaguely aware of them a year later when I moved to Ithaca and heard their first single, "Home", but it wasn't until this year that I realized that they did a lot of other songs that I also liked,  So I bought their first album and and played it constantly in my car/lab/iPod, and  then I got their second one, "Here".
It's a big group (12), and no one is actually named Edward Sharpe.  They're sorta folkie/indie, but they have a lot of musical influences.  In no particular order, I am reminded of Mumford and Sons, the B52's, Jimmy Buffett, random goth songs, U2, and many more.  They're from the LA area, but for some reason their music seems perfect for an Ithaca summer.
"40-Day Dream"

In which I am completely oblivious again

Dear friendly good looking goatee guy at the Toyota dealership service department,
You came by and took over from the gruff old German guy who was ringing me up.  You complimented my car and offered me roses from the big bouquet by the service desk.  When I acted surprised and demurred, you told me that since the dealership was closed tomorrow the roses should be enjoyed, so I said ok.  I don't know if you were being flirty or if this is just normal for this dealership. Or perhaps you were trying to ease the pain of my expensive unexpected repair so that I wouldn't pester you with questions about whether it was truly necessary.
Anyway, I am sorry that I didn't even notice the flirting until after the fact, regardless of whether it was real or not.  I was cranky because I had just realized I had just spent enough on my car to make it a bad idea to get a Subaru this year, and because I had just had a somewhat harrowing car ride with a half-asleep cab driver.  Nonetheless, you made an old biddy smile, somewhat belatedly, and I thank you for that.
Old Biddy

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Old Biddy Book Review: Gone Girl

After reading lots of hype for "Gone Girl" by Gillian Welch, I went ahead and bought it.  There are a lot of plot twists so I won't give away anything critical, but here's the shortest review ever.  You can go read longer ones over at Amazon if you're so inclined.
Nick and Amy are annoying smug Manhattan yuppies.  You know, the type whom the New York Times assumes are their only readers.  They meet cute, then he loses her number, then they meet again in the street about a year later.  They get married and a few years later they lose their jobs and move to Missouri to help out when Nick's parents become ill.  They rent a MacMansion, Nick opens a bar, and Amy mopes around missing NYC.  Then she goes missing on the day of their fifth anniversary.  Lots of complicated plots twists ensue.  He's an asshole, she's a psycho bitch, and they're both totally unlikeable, as are a lot of other characters in the book.  Most everyone is a misogynist, including some of the women, and the ending was weak.  Nonetheless I got completely sucked in.  I recommend it for bathtub and airplane reading.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Clean Out the Cupboards" Chewy Granola Bars

I subscribed to Saveur magazine recently.  I haven't cooked anything from it yet but have been enjoying the daily recipe emails.  They do a good job of not getting too cutesy with ingredients or techniques but still having some interesting recipes.  A few days ago they posted a recipe for granola bars.  I've never made granola bars before so I decided to give it a shot.
Ok, I exaggerated a bit.  This recipe did call for cutesy ingredients such as coconut oil, almond butter, trail mix  and rice syrup.  Of those, I only had the almond butter, and I was trying to get rid of it since it's kind of old.  The same goes for of my dried fruit and nuts, which took the place of the trail mix.  Anyway, although some ingredients were random, it was amenable to substitution.  Here is the modified recipe.  I recommend trying to get the overall wet-fat-sugar-dry proportions fairly close but using whatever you have in house or like.  I imagine they would be quite tasty with peanut butter instead of almond.  If you add chocolate, watch them more carefully so they don't burn or melt too much.

Old Biddy's Clean Out the Cupboards Granola Bars


4 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw sliced almonds
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (optional - I had it but forgot to add it)
1 cup dried fruit and nut trail mix (or just use a total of 1 cup of what you have in house)
¾ cup dried cranberries, cherries, or blueberries
½ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup almond butter
½ cup syrup (I used a combination of corn syrup and maple syrup)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg


1. Preheat oven to 350° with a rack in the middle position. Line an oiled 13" by 9" pan with parchment and set aside. Mix oats, almonds, coconut, trail mix, spices and dried berries in a large mixing bowl.

2. Combine butter, brown sugar, almond butter and syrup in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and stir until dissolved, 3–4 minutes. Stir in vanilla and salt, and pour over oat mixture, tossing well to combine.

3. Pour the granola mixture evenly into prepared pan and press into an even, firmly packed layer using a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap.  Remove wrap and bake 20–30 minutes until lightly golden and fragrant. Remove from oven and allow granola to cool completely before cutting into 12 bars. Wrap bars in wax or parchment paper and store in an airtight container for up to three weeks. 

They were easy to make and I didn't encounter any weird surprises.  If you have little kids who want to help, this is a good recipe for them, although the dough isn't as tasty as cookie dough.  Definitely press down on the dough before baking to pack it in well. 
I let them cool most of the way and then cut them into 24 squares.  In the morning I ate one for breakfast.  It had good flavor and texture - just the right amount of sugar so that it worked as a breakfast bar but was sweet enough to eat as a treat. I took them in to work for the graduate students. They ate them.  They're an easy crowd.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Molly, 5 months

Molly is five months old now.  Sometime in the last two weeks she had another growth spurt and started looking like a mini-cat rather than a kitten.  She also suddenly became a lot better at jumping.  she is around 5 1/2 lbs, possibly 6, and is well on her way to being a large cat.  Her paws are big for her size, and her whiskers are long, and she is a total butterball. If she hits puberty early, that may change things, but thus far she seems to be a bit of a late bloomer.  I'll get her spayed once she is 6 months old, as recommended by her vet.
It's been a hot summer here, and Maine Coons don't always get very fluffy their first year or two.  She's got an extremely long fluffy tail, some pouffy belly fur and the beginnings of a ruff, but the fur on her back is still fairly short and sleek.  I am curious to see how fluffy she gets over the winter. Her fur has darkened up and there is more brown mixed in with the grey.
I started letting her out two weeks ago, after she had her rabies shot.  I was afraid I'd have to keep a close eye on her, but she is a homebody.  The first time I let her out, Lucy stayed close by and kept an eye on her.  She generally stays close to the house and comes when I call her.  In this regard, she is very much like Rugrat was.
Molly and Lucy are  best buddies now.  They spend a lot of time playing, which entails a combination of wrestling, pouncing on each other, chasing each other around the house/yard, having staring contests and ninja swat battles, and cuddling/grooming each other.  Lucy is usually the licker, and Molly the lickee, but that is starting to change.  When Lucy is not around, Molly likes to sleep near Luna, who sort of begrudgingly lets Molly into her personal space.  Surprisingly, Luna seems to really like Molly, and tolerates a lot more than she would've in the past.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Mr Meh suddenly became very persistent - calling, texting, etc.  Eventually I called him back.  He was easy to talk to and seemed normal, if a bit yappy, so I agreed to have dinner with him last night.  It was not a total loss.  I learned a lot of useful things.  Granted, I should know these things already but I don't have a lot of experience with dating.
New Rule # 1: Never agree to a first meeting at the last minute unless there is a really good incentive.  I'm not a "Rules" type girl, to say the least, but it totally threw a wrench into my plans to paint the posts on my front porch.  The project was 90% prep work and 10% painting.  I'd be done by now if I had been able to work through the day.  Instead I still have some priming and painting to do.  Adding to my annoyances, the water went out sometime when I was painting and I had to rush over to the gym to get showered and made up.
New Rule # 2: Steady does it.  Fast and steady, or slow and steady, or slow then steadily accelerating, but randomly hot and cold is not for me.  This applies to things other than online dating, but I won't go into those here because it's a family blog.
New Rule  # 3: If I'm still making up my mind at the end of the date, that means no.  Yes means yes, No means no, and maybe also means no.  Maybe always leads to me realizing that the answer is no as soon as I can be alone with my thoughts.  This does not mean it has to be love or lust at first sight, but it at least has to be a certain feeling that I'd like to see this person again.
New Rule # 4: I always offer to pay for my half of the meal, but dudes who either accept without putting up a little bit of protest or resist way too hard are suspect.  Mr Meh fell into the former category.  I think that is the first time that has ever happened.
Anyway, we met for dinner.  Mr. Meh was older-looking and fatter that his picture,and seemed shorter than he claimed.  These things don't bother me too much, since I do the same thing with the pictures, within reason.  He was interesting enough, but he talked, and talked, and talked, and even when he asked me questions about myself he managed to go off on a non-sequitor and talk about stuff he wanted to talk about.  It was sort of off-putting but it wasn't until after it was over how much he had done it.
I was being too nice, and gave him the benefit of the doubt, so when we parted I told him to give me a call if he wanted and it was nice meeting him.  He said yeah, let's hang out, but it seemed like I was being friend-zoned.  Which is fine, since I wasn't into him either, but I won't lie and say that my pride wasn't a bit injured.  What can I say - I'm vain. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

CNY Corn Chowder a la the Minimalist

I'm a big fan of Mark Bittman's articles ("The Minimalist") in the New York Times food section.  He's a good writer and also a nice counterpart to the overly fussy world of many food writers and bloggers.  Recently I bought his book "How to Cook Everything: the Basics".  Granted, I don't need another general cookbook, but it had some good recipes and step by step instructions and pictures for each one.  Given that my other general cookbooks are from Cook's Illustrated, a simpler alternative is nice to have.
For those of you who are chemists, cooking from Cook's Illustrated is like doing a synthesis from Inorganic Syntheses.  Everything is checked multiple times and if you do it right and are relatevely experienced, it works very well for that specific dish.  Cooking from the Bittman book is more like doing something from a freshman chemistry lab.  It's designed to be relatively straightforward and hard to mess up, and there are lots of pictures.
The recipe for corn chowder caught my eye.  I've only seen recipes using a lot of cream and sometimes potatoes.  This one used a broth made from cooking the corn cobs, milk, some scallions, a roux of flour and butter, and cheddar cheese.  No onions, no potatoes, no heavy cream.  It's not exactly Weight Water zero points soup, but it's reasonable entree - tasty and filling but not excessively rich.  I was intrigued.  It's corn season here, and other than the green onions, it was all items that I usually have.
I'm not going to repost the recipe here, so go look it up if you're interested.  I followed the recipe, sort of.  It was messy but well worth the fuss.  I made three alterations - I didn't put the scallions greens on top, I added a small (7 oz) can of green chiles, and once it was done I blended up a blender full to make for a thicker soup and then returned it to the pot.  It cooked up pretty much as described, but I was probably being too careful with simmering it so it took a but longer than described.  The recipe says it's 4 servings but I will probably get 6 or 7 servings out of it (damn thyroid!).
Anyway, I don't often go into superlatives but this was amazing.  The corncob broth really took it to the next level.  The flavor of the corn, cheese and chiles blended perfectly, and the corn retained a lovely fresh taste.  It was rich and tasty and did not suffer from the lack or cream or potatoes.  I forgot about the rest of my dinner as I scarfed it down.  I am already plotting to make more while corn is in season and freeze it.  ( I'll probably scale it up slightly (1 1/2 x) since my pot can handle it)  It will taste damn good on those winter nights when it's snowing I don't feel like grocery shopping.
Someday I'll try one of the richer recipes and see how it compares, or add a bit of heavy cream or more cheese to this recipe, but it's hard to beat perfection.  Likewise, it could probably be lightened somewhat with less butter and skim milk without sacrificing too much flavor.  (I would probably cook the corncobs longer and process more of it in the blender to make it thicker.)

Postscript, one week later: I got about eight servings out of the soup.  Some were main dish servings, and others were side dish servings.   It stayed tasty all week.  I made another, slightly bigger batch tonight and it came out even better.  I'm freezing half of it now and will freeze more if I get bored with it during the week.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympic Finals: Synchronized Feline Wrestle-Licking Competition

Lucy was happy to get a new buddy, but she had a weird way of showing it, and it took her a while to get used to Molly.  I blame it on a bad case of "tortitude".  Even though she was more content and obviously liked having Molly around, she still liked to hiss at Molly for no apparent reason, as well as utter strangely human-sounding exasperated sighs when Molly got on her nerves.  Sometimes I worried that Lucy was being too mean to Molly, but Molly kept coming back for more and they were pretty much inseparable.  A few weeks ago Lucy started pinning Molly down and hissing like she was really pissed off, but at the same time she was licking Molly's ears.
Something changed recently and now it's just a non-stop licking wrestling lovefest - no more exasperated sighs or hissing. Sometimes Lucy calmly grooms Molly, but most of the time they alternate between licking, kicking/biting and chasing each other around the house and pouncing on each other.  It is pretty funny.  I'll be interested to see how it evolves as Molly gets older and bigger. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I'm still on OKCupid.  There's not much to report - a few sporadic emails from guys I'm not interested in, the dudes who send the second email asking why I didn't write back to their first one, etc.  I'm pretty half-assed about it since I am not paying any money for it.
Into this mix came an email from someone who seemed a bit more promising - age-appropriate, lives in Ithaca, decent looking, and not prone to annoying typos or text-speak..  (Yes, my standards are pretty low that I get excited about age appropriate guys who live nearby)  I wrote back, and eventually received another email a week later.  I wrote back but I probably won't respond if he does reply.  I didn't used to have any set rules about how what is too fast or too slow, but this time around I'm trying to weed out the guys who are too busy or not that into me.
Postscript - the dude did write back eventually and gave me his 'real' email address and phone #, and asked if I like to meet up sometime.  I gave him props for at least having the guts to do that, so I wrote back, (and included my contact info) but if it's another week before I hear from him I'm going to let it slide.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Sheila and her boyfriend Chuck visited last weekend.  While they were here Sheila suggested that we make gazpacho.  It's tomato season now, and I'm sure she knew I was going to drag them to the Ithaca Farmer's Market anyway.
Sheila has a recipe she likes, although she made some few adaptations.  We made a big bowl of it and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  We had it the next day and I had leftovers for the first half of the week.  It was nice to have a veggie dish ready to eat when I got home from work.  I liked it so much that I made a new batch today.
Here's the recipe.  Feel free to adapt it to suit your tastes.  I skipped the onion, basil and jalapeno tonight, and used a hotter sweet pepper and some garlic scapes instead.  I like cucumber so I used more.  (I also neglected to look at the recipe this time and added way too much balsamic vinegar, but it seems fine, albeit a bit different than last week's batch.

  • 2-3 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 cucumber, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped.
In small batches, put chopped veggies in blender and puree.  Leave it as chunky as you like.   Pour into large bowl and add seasonings.  Adjust seasonings if necessary.  Let it sit in fridge overnight to let the flavors develop..or not.  Enjoy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

I blame my thyroid

I've been on the thyroid medication for about 2 1/2 months.  It's amazing the difference it has made.  My symptoms became noticeable to me in March, and with 20/20 hindsight I could trace it back another year or so.  However, I've noticed improvements in things that could probably be traced back at least five or ten years, perhaps longer, and which I had no idea had any relationship to my thyroid.  I won't bore you with all the things that have improved, and it  would be verging on TMI, but I'll give you the highlights.  I've got a lot fewer aches and pains, my balance is better (it was getting worse, which I attributed to bad knees from soccer and being out of shape) and it's a lot easier to drag my lazy ass out of bed in the morning.
Things just creeped up on me, and I assumed that it was just because I was getting older, or could attribute my symptoms to other, completely logical causes.  Rest assured, I'm still a cranky old biddy, though.

PS When I first posted this, I forgot to mention the best change of all.  My shoulder is healing up and feels a lot better now.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Calgon, take me away!

One of my many duties at work is to help the students learn how to write scientific manuscripts.  Once in a while it really is just proof-reading and suggesting stylistic changes.  Unfortunately, most of the time it makes me turn into the old biddy who claims that back in the mystical days of my youth, we knew how to write scientific papers.  I don’t tell the students this, of course.  Nonetheless, it seems odd that they’ve been reading scientific papers for several years and somehow still be so bad at writing them.
I’ve never taken a scientific writing class, or even a college writing class.  Nonetheless, I’m fairly good at it, although I am the first to admit that it can be slow and painful at times.  I have my weaknesses, including a fairly terse style, a tendency towards overly brief introductions and discussions, and a lack of self-promotion.  I picked up most of these bad habits from my graduate advisor.* Anyway, I learned the same way everyone learns.  I picked up the general style from reading papers and theses.  When I wrote my first paper, I gave it to a few friends to critique, and then gave it to my advisor to read.  He returned the manuscript with a bunch of changes – I was kind of traumatized by how many there were, but my friends told me this was normal.  Now that I am on the other end of the process, I realize that it was only minor stylistic changes – when a manuscript needs a lot of changes it’s all but impossible to write down all the corrections in the margins and space between the lines, or return it as fast as he did.  Subsequent papers required fewer changes.
Anyway, now that I’m on the other side of the process, I don’t get a lot of manuscripts which can be quickly edited by hand using only the space available in the margins/double spacing.   Sometimes it makes me want to tear my hair out.  The most common problem is wording things the exact same way as it would be described verbally in a presentation.  The other common mistake is to be too verbose, too often.
Like poetry, scientific writing has its own pentameter.   With students who are fairly good writers but are novices at scientific writing, it’s relatively easy to teach.  These are not the students who make me want to tear my hair out.  Anyway, I describe what the general problem is and we go over a paragraph or two and discuss how I would reword it, and then I have them practice for little while and help them when they get stuck.  Eventually, they pick up the cadence and conventions of it and then go edit the rest of their paper.  However, other students just don’t catch on easily, and the above approach is mostly useless.  They just keep on doing the same sort of things, even after multiple manuscripts.  They end up with lots of corrections from me and their labmates, and get frustrated, especially when everyone comes in with slightly different corrections.
I suspect that they think I am trying to make them write like me, but that’s not it.  If it’s well written, I will mostly leave it alone, even if I would’ve written it very differently.  In the end, it’s all about telling a story about the science and not distracting people with bad writing or a disorganized or confusing paper.  If you get those things down, no one even notices your writing style. My boss and I have different writing styles, but when we write proposals or papers we don’t end up making very many stylistic changes on each other’s sections.  It looks surprisingly seamless.  

* You may notice that I am pretty verbose in my blogs and emails – I change my writing style according to what I write.  I am still pretty weak on conclusions, though.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lil Bitty Biddy Kitty, the sequel/Molly

As most of you are aware, I've been looking to adopt and kitten and got one a few days ago.  Contrary to my prediction, I did indeed get a female maine coon mix kitten rather than a shorthaired teenaged cat like I tend to chose whenever I visit the humane society.
It's sort of Missy's fault - she got a little Maine Coon mix a few weeks ago and deluged me with pictures and stories.  Nonetheless, I was firm in my resolve not to get a kitten until after my trip to CA in mid-June and the Gordon Conference in July, or so I thought.  I made it about half way and then fell for the first female Maine Coon mix that I saw on the local* listings.  Actually, I didn't even hold out until after my trip to CA, but Rita, the woman who was fostering the kitty, let me pick her up after I returned from CA.
Anyway, she's about 3 months old.  I named her Molly.  Her foster care name was Tilly - I didn't like that but it reminded me that I did like the name Molly, and it seemed to suit her. In the week and a half between when I met her and when I picked her up, I told people that I might name her Molly but was going to wait and see.  But the name had really stuck even before I picked her up.  The chemistry jokes (Molly Cule.  Moly cat, etc.) did not occur to me later, despite the fact that we did a lot of molybdenum chemistry back when I was in grad school. 
Molly was a feral kitten when the cat rescue organization found her, although her mother had obviously been a pet at some point.  According to Rita,when they found her, Molly was almost at the age where it becomes more difficult to socialize them, but either Rita did a really good job and/or Molly is just very friendly, because it's almost impossible to tell.  She is a bit skittish occasionally, but she is just a total lovebug and loves to be petted, wants to be with me much of the time, especially if I am sitting down, purrs loudly even when she is not being petted, etc. She is a lot like Rugrat was at this age.  I am glad that I went with my gut feeling that a lot of these traits were somewhat type related, even in the non-purebred cats.  I love my 'presence cats' but missed having a lap cat.
Luna and Lucy are adjusting.  Luna always adjusts quickly to new kittens/cats.  She is the queen, and she knows it, and so does everyone else.  When Molly gets in her face too much or pisses her off, Luna hisses at her and sometimes swats her (if food is involved), but is not otherwise aggressive or too annoyed. It's not really any different than how Luna deals with Lucy. Molly has figured out not to mess with Luna too much. Lucy is having a bit harder adjustment, although by cat standards it's still pretty easy.  She is very interested in Molly, but also kind of nervous and kind of pissed off.  The first day she sat by the door when I was in the computer room, watching and growling.  She seemed pretty normal otherwise.  Now that I am letting Molly roam around the house, Lucy is somewhat better.  She growls at Molly but only if Molly is too close or too feisty. It's basically the same dance, in reverse and sped up, that Lucy and Rugrat did last summer.  Molly is not that scared of the older cats, although she does seem to have good judgement about when to back down.I was a bit nervous yesterday but they are already a lot more comfortable with each other today.
It's summer, and Molly has a lot of fur.  She likes to sleep on cool, smooth surfaces like the tiles in front of the fireplace or the plastic chair mat in the computer room.

* local = within a 2 hour drive.  I ended up getting her from a rescue agency in Syracuse.  It was surprisingly hard to find long haired cats in Ithaca.