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Vinho Verde

vinhoverdeWhen asked about wine in social situations–and you’ll find that “wine” is a subject that comes up increasingly often as the age of twenty-one recedes farther into your past–I usually answer that I don’t care for it. When pressed, I’ll even say that it gives me migraines, which isn’t exactly a lie, at least not in the case of cheaper, sweeter reds and whites. The whole truth, however, is that I don’t like most wines. I am embarrassingly picky, and while I’ll readily admit to beer snobbery, I know so little about wine that I feel silly acknowledging any snobbery about it in public.

There are plenty of wines that I’ll drink and sort-of, kind-of enjoy, but there are only three kinds that I will actually seek out and purchase for myself. Of course I like very dry champagne (which is indeed a type of wine), because who with tastebuds doesn’t? I also like very dry prosecco. Unfortunately, when asked what you’d like to drink in the home of a friend or acquaintance, you can’t just breezily request a glass of something that takes such a steep toll on the wallet–something even that you would never be able to afford pouring out to a number of guests in your own home.

And then there’s the decidedly down-market vinho verde. I say this because the wine snobs I know tend to look down on this wine, and because the vast majority of the bottles available where I live are under $10. The most expensive I’ve seen was $17; the ones that I buy fall between $6 and $8. Vinho verde is just “young wine,” meaning that it isn’t aged. It can be made, in theory, with any kind of grape, and can be white, rose, or red. Around here, I have only seen white and rose versions. Most of it comes from Portugal and is very slightly effervescent.

Why do I like this stuff? Well, the price is decidedly a factor here, especially considering that the other wines I like tend to be special-occasion expensive. But this stuff is genuinely tasty, too. If you’re someone who hates reds, a vinho verde is probably right up your alley. It’s crisp, refreshing, usually served cold, usually quite dry, and still flavourful. Some of them are fruity, but I haven’t had one that was cloying or that tasted fake (like peaches or strawberries or any other Jolly Rancher-inspired crap).

My other reason is that I now have a collection of very beautiful, very matching wine glasses, and drinking out of them makes me feel like a fancy lady. The truth comes out.

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Eggplant (alias Aubergine)

In an attempt to get myself writing again–for both personal and academic benefit–I’ve been taking a tip from one of my professors and free-writing about single subjects lately. And since I think about food a lot, many of these single subjects have been food-related, and I figured why not write them here instead of in Word documents that will probably never see the light of day after I hit “save”?

I’m thinking about aubergines today because I ate one last night. And when I say that I ate one last night, I do mean that I ate an entire large eggplant, alone, with nobody else’s help. My fellow eggplant-lovers are wondering why I’m stressing this unsurprising point, but those of you who dislike this queen of vegetables (or berries, if you’re going to be pedantic about it) are wondering how and why I choked the thing down.

Before we get to that, I want to address the name of this plant. I grew up calling it an “eggplant,” but I’m not particularly fond of that name, since most eggplants aren’t even shaped like eggs, and certainly don’t have anything in common with eggs in terms of color, flavour, or methods of preparation. Most of the cookbooks I use refer to them as “aubergines,” and being an anglophile who spends a lot of time in the UK, I prefer that name to the American one. It certainly sounds more attractive–I like that the word “aubergine” is often used to refer to that lovely deep purplish-black color that the plant’s skins are known for. It also isn’t derivative like “eggplant,” bringing nothing to mind except the aubergine itself. I also like the Asian and Indian word for the aubergine, “brinjal,” although I think that fewer people would recognize that word than would recognize aubergine.

So why did I eat a whole eggplant last night? Because eggplant falls into the category of what my favorite food-related podcast calls “spouseless eating” in my household. Alex does not appreciate the delicious flavour of the majestic aubergine, and so, more often than not, when I am eating aubergine I am eating it alone. I don’t mind much, since Alex plays a dinner-time gig at least once every two weeks, affording me ample opportunity for eggplant consumption. And as I’ve already mentioned, I have no problem putting away the entire vegetable without the help of a hungry man, usually in one sitting no less.

My methods of aubergine preparation are simple, and the method that I use most often is actually the simplest of all: what my mom always just calls Baked Eggplant. All you need is an eggplant, mayonnaise, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 350℉ and line a baking sheet with tin foil. Wash the eggplant, then slice it into fairly thick rounds, leaving the peel on. It will become soft enough to eat. You can do 3/4 inch slices if you aren’t pressed for time, while 1/2 inch will cook more quickly. Avoid thinner slices as they sometimes dry out. Pour some store-bought or homemade bread crumbs, about 1 cup, into a shallow bowl. Season them with a little salt and pepper. I usually season the eggplant more heavily after it’s cooked. Don’t use pre-seasoned breadcrumbs; I find that I get too-salty aubergine with these.

Using a butter knife, spread each slice of eggplant on one side with mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s. Place the mayonnaised side down into the breadcrumbs and press to coat. Then apply mayonnaise to the other side and coat, so that both sides of the eggplant are breaded. Repeat until all slices are coated, and place them on the baking pan. They can be touching, but not overlapping. Bake on one side for about 20 minutes or until golden brown, then flip with tongs and cook for another 15-20 minutes, until tender all the way through to a fork.

I like to eat this alone with a salad, but it’s also good as a side dish with pasta, either with tomato sauce or pesto. You can also layer these slices with tomato sauce and cheese for eggplant parmigiana, but I like them better unadorned.

Eggplant Casserole is something that I only really make at Thanksgiving, but I’m going to write about it here because I have discovered that many deprived people who did not grow up in the South have never even heard of it (!). This is not a fancy dish. It is so un-fancy that my recipe bears startling similarities to the one in Paula Deen’s Kitchen Classics cookbook. But it’s delicious. You’ll need one large eggplant,  3 tbsp of butter, 1/2 yellow onion, 2 slices of bacon, 1 1/2 cups crushed Ritz crackers, 1 cup of your favorite grated cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup whole milk, one egg, salt and pepper.

As usual, preheat the oven to 350℉ and butter a baking dish of the size you’d use to bake brownies, an 8×8 or so. This time, you’re going to peel the eggplant, then cube it. Just cut into rounds and then break down from there. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the cubed eggplant to the boiling water, and cook until tender but not completely falling apart, about 15 minutes in my experience. Drain and set aside. Slice the bacon into lardons and dice the onion. Add both to a medium-hot skillet or frying pan, and cook until the bacon is rendered and the onions are translucent. Turn down the heat if the onions start to brown much.

In a bowl, combine the eggplant, onion, bacon, egg, milk, half the cheese, and half the Ritz. Melt the butter remaining from buttering the pan, about 2 tbsp, and mix with the remaining crumbled Ritz crackers. Pour the eggplant mixture into the baking dish, and top with remaining grated cheese and Ritz. Bake for about half an hour, watching to make sure that the top doesn’t get too brown. Serve hot.

This is a great side dish in a Thanksgiving meal, but you can also serve it as a main course with salad. Like mushrooms, aubergines can be surprisingly meaty and filling when prepared the right way. Of course if you’re vegetarian or cooking for a vegetarian, you can leave the bacon out of this and cook the onions with some olive oil or butter.

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regional bylaw changes

Long time no see, WordPress. Things have been… busy, shall we say. We got married, moved, went to Florida for a week, and then I left for two weeks in London to attend a conference and indulge my Anglophilia. Today was my first day of summer teaching, which marks a return to something like normalcy in my daily routine.

London was great, of course. The only downside was that Alex couldn’t join me there, but on the bright side, my dad could! We had a fantastic time exploring the city together, on probably our last father-daughter-only trip. This was my dad’s second visit to London and my fourth or fifth, which meant that we did fewer touristy things and more things off the beaten track. I’m going to write a few posts about the neighborhood we stayed in and the restaurants and pubs that we visited, because there were some really great ones this time! I can’t take credit for all of the “finds;” my friends Reid, Emily, and Zach were in London while we were, and they showed us some excellent restaurants and pubs.

Speaking of traveling, Alex and I have decided to go somewhere for Christmas this year! We went to my family’s place last winter and we’ll see his family next winter, but this year, we’ve had our fill of family for a while and we haven’t gone on a honeymoon. First on our list is Mexico City. We’re enjoying doing some research before we decide.

Aside from teaching five days per week, writing an article, and hopefully beginning my dissertation prospectus, I am committing myself to daily exercise and healthier meals. The past couple of months have been pretty indulgent, and while I haven’t gained much actual weight, I feel different. Squishier. Less healthy.

For me and for you, here are some lunch recipes that I’m making over the next few weeks. Some of these are just good, others are great.

  1. This superfood salad with lemon vinaigrette is what I’m having for lunch this week. It’s absolutely delicious. I substituted chili-marinated shredded chicken for shrimp, and halved red grapes for the orange segments, since the oranges around here are gross lately.
  2. Eat Live Run’s Italian tuna salad travels really well because it includes so little mayonnaise. It’s great with whole-grain crackers and some plain greens.
  3. This shrimp and avocado salad with miso dressing is one of my favorite meals ever. The dressing recipe is amazing, and with baby kale as a base, this salad is super healthy and filling. You could substitute marinated chicken in this one, too.
  4. A DIY lunch bowl is the concept that most of these salads and meals are based on. It seems stupidly easy, but this post includes some ingredient ideas and an excellent dressing recipe.

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I’ve actually decided not to include photos of our wedding here. Part of the reason that we did a small ceremony was for privacy, and I’d like to maintain that. But those are my flowers! A lovely lady at Whole Foods put them together for me the day before the wedding. We also had pink tulips and bunches of some kind of pink-flowering greenery decorating the house and yard.

Part of me was a little nervous that I might regret not doing a “real wedding.” Luckily, I haven’t regretted it at all. It was exactly what I wanted it to be, and went off without a single hitch. I think that in order to get the same experience from a big, traditional wedding, I would have had to outsource nearly everything and have a very intense, very reliable planner. I think that’s a great idea for some brides, but I just wasn’t willing to 1) spend that much of anybody’s money and 2) have the kind of wedding that neither I nor Alex had ever particularly wanted. For all I know we would have enjoyed it, but we certainly weren’t dreaming of it.

The only downside to the tiny wedding? At least one of my relatives was a little miffed at not being invited. But that passed quickly. My advice to anyone else would be to stick to your guns and not let anyone influence your decisions. I was careful not to “leave people out” of course; I invited only my immediate family, so that I wasn’t inviting some aunts and leaving others out, for instance.

The best decision we made was hiring a professional photographer. We got some amazing photos not just of us, but of our families. We had considered having Alex’s sister do the pictures, but the professional photographer was a much better decision because Alex’s sister could actually be in our pictures, and because the photographer could boss Alex around! He hates having his picture taken, and I’m not sure that his sister would have managed to wrangle him into as many photos as we got!

My favorite part about the whole thing was how relaxed everyone got to be. Sure, we had to herd our families around a little and make sure that things happened on time, but in general we all spent the weekend spending quality time together and chilling out. Considering how busy things are for us throughout May, June, and July, that was the atmosphere that we needed.

And being married is pretty great. Moving is over now (thank goodness), and we’re settling into our life together. And on Wednesday, we fly to Florida! I can’t wait.

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and most memorable locations

First of all, our whole wedding weekend went beautifully and we had a fantastic time. I’ll write a separate post about it soon, but for now I will say that if you are a high-strung sort of person and/or if you are extremely busy, I highly recommend the backyard wedding!

We’re having a party this weekend and one of my best friends arrives from Tennessee in about an hour, but before I get super busy again I want to post a few (bad) photos of our new apartment. We’re still not sure whether Alex will be living there with me or not–he still hasn’t heard about one job!–but I am super excited about it either way.

We signed the lease last week. It’s a garage apartment in Hyde Park, one of my favorite parts of Austin.

apartment2The apartment is built above an attached garage at the back of a huge, beautiful six-bedroom home. We have access to a gorgeous shaded side yard, and have no attached neighbors. There are two separate townhouse-style apartments next door on one side, and on the other is just the large house’s walled garden. We also have storage access to the garage beneath our apartment!

apartment1These front living room windows look out onto the yard. The living room ceiling is vaulted with raw wood beams. There isn’t an eating area, but there is a bar. The windows came with these awesome bamboo treatments that match the raw wood and the avocado green paint job.

apartment3The bedroom and bathroom are back there: bathroom straight ahead and bedroom to the left. The other door is a storage closet, and the staircase leading up from the yard is to the right of this photo. You can see that the floors are cherrywood laminate.

Our only disappointment with this place is that it has an electric stovetop! If we want to brew beer here, we’ll have to purchase a propane burner for outdoor use. Other than that, it is perfect. Super small but in the best possible location, and so pretty! I am thoroughly enjoying moving in slowly and unpacking all of our gorgeous wedding presents in the kitchen. We haven’t moved any furniture yet, but my bed and couch are coming with us.

So exciting!

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yet to be directly observed

My field exam is finished, and the wedding weekend has begun! My parents arrived yesterday morning, right after Alex and I had picked up our new sets of keys and met our (awesome) new landlords. Last night they met Alex’s dad, and we all ate a fantastic meal at Odd Duck. This morning, my mom and I get manicures and pedicures before Alex’s mom and sister arrive in the late afternoon. Tomorrow is Alex’s graduation and a big barbecue lunch, and Sunday is the wedding! Everything is going by really fast; part of me wishes that I could slow it all down and savour it, but another part is glad that before too long things will settle and we’ll have some down-time. I’m not sure which I’d prefer, but I know that I’m definitely ready to be married!

I can’t wait to post some photos of this new apartment. I start moving in on Monday or Tuesday, and if Alex has (finally) heard the results of his most recent job interview, we’ll know by then if he’s moving in with me or not. The first thing I need to do is drive all of our packaged wedding presents over there, so that they aren’t piled around my roommate’s dining table anymore! Then I plan to move kitchen stuff, then bathroom stuff, then small furniture and lamps, then books, then clothes, and finally use a U-Haul for (hopefully) all of the furniture at once. The apartment is small, so there’s going to be some downsizing, which I happen to love! I am a very anti-clutter person, and living in the same place for two years has resulted in some clutter, especially in the form of never-worn clothing.

Now I’m off to enjoy a wonderful weekend. It looks like we’ll have fantastic weather: 82 degrees and some cloud cover!

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possesses the mastery of form

My field exam is in four days. Part of me is very nervous that my brain will become suddenly empty that morning, wiped clean of any of the relevant information it has absorbed over the past three years; part of me is excited to talk to my three favorite professors about a bunch of my favorite books for a couple of hours; and the biggest part of me just can’t wait for it to be over so that I can focus on enjoying my wedding! That is going to be fun. Oh, and watching the NFL draft at a sports bar that very evening, complete with boneless buffalo wings and sweating pints of beer. Yes please.

Alex still doesn’t know about a certain job prospect for next year, and might not for another 2+ weeks. We had been debating how to go about our search for housing next year when we have no idea what we’ll be looking for. I need to move on June 1st, which, after Wedding/Graduation Week, would potentially give us… maybe a week? maybe five days? to find a new place to live and move into it. We considered subletting for a month, which would mean moving twice. We considered just waiting and hoping that something perfect would be available during the last few days of May. But we ended up accepting my parents’ offer to help us out, and we applied for a place we like in Hyde Park. This was really an arrangement between me and my parents, because if Alex stays in Austin, we can easily afford this apartment. Split between us, it would actually be less than what I’m paying now, and about the same as what Alex currently pays. But if he does move for work, it will be pricey for me on my own.

I was very hesitant to accept my parents’ offer to help me make up the difference if I end up living alone this school year. Even though they can easily help me, even though they genuinely want to help me, even though it wouldn’t be very much money anyway, the thought of accepting help really hurt my pride. Which is so silly, because my parents have made my whole life possible. If I had to go through grad school without any help from them, my lifestyle would be completely different and I’d probably be in debt. Something Alex said really sunk in: “You’re acting like this is a bad situation! You’re lucky. You have so many people who care about you and want you to be happy.” He’s right; I should be gracious and not make this about my own illusory pride.

So, if this application is accepted, we (or I!) will be living in an amazing garage apartment in Hyde Park, the first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to Austin. Fingers crossed!

There is so much to do over the next few months. I’m ready to get past Thursday and get started on the fun stuff. Surely I can do this!

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I believe they are ruinous

My brain is overloaded, so I’m going to resort to The List.

  • I currently have more than fifty books checked out from the university’s library system, more than half of which came from what they call “deep storage,” a special off-campus warehouse where they stick books that haven’t been checked out since 1993 or thereabouts. The last thing I had sent down from storage was stamped “Returned May 1944.”
  • I’ve started dreaming about my field exam books. Not about the field exam itself, but about the content. The other night I was halfway through Christopher and His Kind when I went to sleep, and I dreamed that I continued reading it all the way to the end. The bad thing about this is that my dream-brain makes up quite interesting and plausible content for the books, so that I am afraid that I will start to confuse the dream-content with the real content.
  • Everyone else involved in this process has a much higher opinion of my intelligence, the quality of my work, and my ability to speak coherently than I do. I know that this is probably normal and a good thing, but part of me is afraid that I’ve just fooled them all, and that my dim-wittedness, laziness, and inability to express myself will all be revealed on May 8th.
  • One of my favorite friends from Tallahassee is coming to our wedding party in May, and I am so excited to see her in Austin again.
  • I am usually pretty immune from two types of anxiety/stress symptoms: stomach ones and sleep ones. In the normal course of my life, I am always hungry at regular intervals and I sleep through the night very consistently, no problem. Well, not lately. My appetite comes and goes depending on how worried I’ve been feeling, and I wake up every hour or so to write down something that I’ve dreamed or thought of in a half-sleep. I sincerely hope that this is the most stressful period of mine and Alex’s lives.
  • I get married in about three weeks!

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a propos of your remarks

I have been so busy lately. And when I have down-time, I feel guilty if I don’t spend it reading for my field exam! Yesterday I gave all of my committee members copies of my notes on the fiction and drama portions of my list, so now I just have to slog through the last of the history/criticism section. I don’t think that I’m going to take any notes on the poetry; I need to read it, but I don’t think that it will play much of a role in my work in the future.

A couple of weekends ago, Alex and I made this recipe for paneer korma. We were having a serious laugh over the title of the blog at first, until we realized that “Bong” referred to “Bengali,” and not the, um, smoking implement. We made the recipe with two serrano peppers, and added ground cumin and coriander. We also fried yellow onions instead of red onions, since red ones often give me a migraine. Highly recommended if you can get hold of some paneer.

In less uplifting food news… I made bangers and roasted potatoes for dinner last night, and I am absolutely terrified that I undercooked the sausages! I know that trichinosis is super uncommon in the United States now, and I haven’t started to feel sick, but the sausages looked slightly pink and now I am living in abject fear. I keep reading the CDC’s statistic: 0.013% of pork in the US is infected with trichinosis, so even if the pork was undercooked, we’re probably fine. This is the type of thing that I obsess over when I’m really stressed out!

So yeah, I’m ready for this semester to be over. I’m finding it hard to relax even when I am supposed to be relaxing, and I’m starting to get neurotic (see above!). May 8th cannot get here soon enough.

There is some good news, though: Alex had a great interview for a job this week! We are keeping our fingers crossed. He felt that it went very well, which means that whether or not he gets the job depends entirely on precisely what the hiring committee is looking for. Send good vibes!

Someone purchased the beautiful stainless-steel crockpot that I put on our wedding registry, and I am inordinately excited about it. We registered for almost exclusively practical house stuff, but the crock-pot is so beautiful. I will never undercook pork again. Crock-pot only, at least 12 hours.

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explored and dramatised potentials

My field exam is officially scheduled for Thursday, May 8th at 10am, in a lovely library in one of the English buildings. The first thing I did when I got the room reserved was schedule my bachelorette party for the following day! Hopefully that will provide some motivation. I’m going to make an at-home taco bar for my lady friends, and then we’ll all go out for drinks and celebrate. I am SO looking forward to it.

And a week later, I get married. I tried on my dress and shoes yesterday and made sure that everything fits properly. Alex is buying his suit this week. Sometime soon I need to buy plants for the backyard pots, and figure out what I’m going to do with my hair! Styling hair is NOT my thing–I can seriously barely do a braid–so I’ve been scouring Pinterest for ideas. I could have it done for me, but since the ceremony is on a Sunday at 10am, I think I’d have to get someone to come to the house, which seems silly for ONE person’s hair (no bridesmaids). Am I tempted to go back to the pixie cut to avoid this dilemma? Yes. Is my fear of my mother’s wrath stronger than that temptation? Probably!

This week I’ve stopped making dinner every night. Alex has turned in his dissertation (although there will be edits later), so he’s doing some cooking for us. On Wednesday, he says he’s making duck tacos. I think I’m going to be pretty spoiled by the end of April.

We’ve also got a realty service looking for rental properties for us. They think we’ll be able to find something suitable for June 1st, so I am REALLY excited. I cannot wait to move, especially into a house or a duplex. Moving is a pain, obviously, but I like looking at possibilities and I love the process of unpacking all of my things in a new place, as well as buying new things for a new place. We’re going to try to Craigslist most of the furniture we’ll need, and I kind of like that process, too!

So it looks like everything is on track to, well, happen.

Oh, and about the meals from my last week of menus: the roasted tomato and fennel tagliatele was amazing. We used regular spaghetti instead of whole-wheat tagliatele, and added a habanero pepper to the roasted veggies. I used to think that I disliked fennel, but it takes on a wonderful flavor when roasted with olive oil and salt–much better than it tastes raw.

The shrimp salad with miso dressing was also awesome, although we added a lot more shrimp than the recipe called for to make it filling. The miso dressing recipe is the best part. The chicken tamale pie was great, but really heavy. I ended up putting the leftovers in the grad lounge for other people’s lunches, because eating it once was enough!


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