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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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a huge, round moon-cake

Being totally honest here, this semester seems like one long struggle to beat stress and anxiety. I find myself wishing that I could just become a robot until August so that I don’t have to consciously deal with everything I need to accomplish before then! Which makes my yoga-brain start yammering at me about “being present” and telling me that I just need to focus and center myself and everything will fall into place, yadda yadda yadda.

I am worrying about my wedding, my field exam, finding a place to live, Alex getting a job, me eventually getting a job, the conference this summer, teaching this summer, teaching in the fall semester . . . you name it, I’ve already started thinking about it. None of this is rational, obviously. Our wedding is going to be so small and casual that there’s seriously nothing for me to legitimately worry about. My field exam, in reality, shows no signs of being a problem at all. We can’t settle the housing situation until May, so there’s no reason even to think about it for another six or more weeks. If Alex doesn’t get a job, he will get some job, and he’ll try again next year like nearly everyone else in academia. Teaching has never been particularly difficult for me, and I even enjoy it. If I get into the conference, it will cost money, but it will be an amazing experience that I wouldn’t miss. Etc.

tl;dr EVERYTHING WILL ALMOST DEFINITELY BE FINE, DAMN IT. There are just a lot of things that will be fine, and balancing them all is a challenge right now.

So, as a reminder to myself, what am I working towards right now?

  • A successful and fun field exam, after which I plan on a combination field exam/bachelorette party celebration with my amazing Austin friends.
  • My wedding, when I will get to see my parents and my new family-in-law and do some fun stuff in Austin with all of them, plus marry Alex. Doesn’t get much better than that.
  • Moving into my first roommate-free home, which with any luck won’t even be an apartment.
  • Traveling to Florida for another fantastic weekend with family, plus the beach, a big party celebrating our marriage, plus beer and Florida seafood.
  • Possibly a trip to London with my favorite professor.

I have nothing to complain about.


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Meals for March 17th – 21st

We’re jumping back into school next week, so I’m planning five weeknight dinners again. I’m actually looking forward to this; I spent a lot more money than usual at restaurants and bars this week, and ate a lot more cheese and crackers, chips and salsa, and frozen Central Market ravioli than I would have liked.

I get most of my recipes online, and some of them from my own cookbook collection. I just save recipes that I see online to Pinterest, and then look back through my boards for what looks good. I tried the meal planner that SeriousEats has on their website, and just didn’t like it. I still use their recipes, but not the planning/list-making function on my account. All of these recipes are from blogs that I have on my Feedly and glance through daily.

Dinner 1: roasted tomato and fennel tagliatelle with parmesan. I don’t like whole-wheat pasta so I’ll buy regular, but other than that, I thought this looked great for a vegetarian spring dinner. I love roasted or braised fennel bulbs.

Dinner 2: maple-mustard baked chicken with potato wedges. This is easy and filling, and it uses a cheaper cut of chicken that I can buy in a fairly large quantity. I plan on cooking all of the chicken at once, half maple-mustard glazed and half plain baked, to use in another chicken recipe later in the week.

Dinner 3: breakfast tacos with refried beans, potatoes, and cheese. No recipe here! This will use up the remaining baby potatoes from Dinner 2, some homemade tortillas that Alex has in his freezer, and some really really hot green sauce that we made and jarred last week.

Dinner 4: shrimp and avocado salad with miso dressing. I’m really excited to try this recipe after finding it on Pinterest this week. I added the blog it comes from to my Feedly, since it looks like it produces really well-reviewed recipes, many of which are fairly healthy and on the cheaper side. I love spicy shrimp and I love miso dressing, so I think this will be excellent.

Dinner 5: chicken tamale pie, from the same new blog as the shrimp salad. This is where the previously baked plain chicken thighs come in. Since most of the ingredients in this dish are canned (although our corn will probably be the frozen kind), it’s great for the end of the week.

Speaking of which, I probably won’t cook everything in this order! The breakfast tacos and the chicken tamale pie will probably be late in the week since they don’t involve a lot of fresh vegetables, whereas the shrimp salad will probably be early in the week since it has avocados and fresh seafood. I usually supplement dinners that don’t involve fresh veggies with a bowl of baby kale greens with vinaigrette. Just to make myself feel better.


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Meals for March 3rd – 7th

This one’s a little late, but that’s okay because I didn’t meal-plan at all this week! It’s spring break, and we’re just winging it with food. We had some really delicious meals last week, though.

Dinner 1: lamb bototie, rice, and coleslaw. Bobotie is a South African meat pie. I had never eaten it before, but this recipe was delicious! We’ll definitely be making it again.

Dinner 2: tarka dal with rice. Another excellent recipe that I’m adding to my repertoire. Every time I try to make lentils without a recipe, they aren’t very good! I used four serrano chiles in this version, so it was nice and spicy.

Dinner 3: muffaletta sandwiches with this version of olive salad. I used a different olive salad recipe the last time we made these sandwiches, and this Serious Eats recipe was better. I think that adding shallots is the key! We just used Cuban bread, some organic salami, smoked ham, and provolone cheese, then baked the sandwiches in foil for about 15 minutes.

That’s all I managed last week! I had a meeting one night at dinner time, and helped organize a happy hour on another night, so Alex and I only ate dinner together three times. Luckily all three of these meals made great leftovers that we ate by ourselves; the lentils especially re-heat nicely on the stovetop or the microwave, and the bobotie re-baked well since it’s very thoroughly cooked already.


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Meals for Feb. 23rd – Feb. 28th

I’m all pleased with myself because even though I was sick this week, we still cooked all of the meals that I had planned and only went out for dinner once. Success. Now I’m feeling a lot better. This morning I even remembered a trick that Ina Garten describes in one of her cookbooks–the only one that I own, unfortunately, called Barefoot Contessa at Home. There are some amazing recipes in there, not least of which is the best chocolate cake recipe I’ve ever made.

Anyway, Ina suggests dividing your grocery list into departments (ie: “produce,” “meats,” “refrigerator,” etc.). I realized that this would save us a serious amount of time, since I usually have the list divided by recipe, which results in a lot of backtracking and reading the list about ten million times. So:

grocerylist1Please ignore the fact that I cannot spell “refrigerated” and concentrate on how easy this will be once we’re at HEB. I predict that we’ll spend half as much time at the stupid crowded store.

grocerylist2And here’s the original list with recipes. Confusing.

Dinner 1: cabbage, potato, and bacon casserole. I might even assemble this one on Wednesday morning before I go to campus, so that I can just throw it in the oven when I get home. We’re going to a concert that night, so we won’t have time to cook.

Dinner 2: one-pot beef stroganoff with green salad. I’ve never made one of these one-pot pasta meals before, but this one looks like it would be hard to mess up.

Dinner 3: one-pan coconut shrimp noodle bowls. I didn’t actually realize that these were another one-pot dish until I clicked through on someone’s Pinterest photo. They look amazing, especially since we haven’t had time to make any of our epic authentic Thai dinners lately.

Dinner 4: carrot and brie pasta with green salad. I love brie, I love walnuts, and I love carrots. This dish reminds me of the pasta with roasted winter squash and ricotta salata that I like to make sometimes. Sometimes I feel like it’s a shame to waste brie in a cooked dish, but with a cheaper, less pungent brie I think this will be great.

Dinner 5: red wine risotto with roasted green beans. The green beans are there just because we have a bunch left over from last week. This risotto comes from a recipe that my great aunt used to make for risotto al barolo. However, her recipe came from an old copy either of the Times entertainment section or some cooking magazine that she subscribed to. Her recipe included ground beef, prosciutto, beef broth, rosemary, and sage, rendering it vastly superior to the recipe I linked to above. Although the original calls for some extremely expensive ingredients, this dish is actually fantastic with pretty much anything you can find at the store. We use bacon, dried sage, and the cheapest red wine, and we even leave out prosciutto entirely, for example.

Just fry a couple strips of bacon first, remove them, then saute shallots and beef in the grease, then add the rice to toast, and then alternately add wine and beef broth. When the rice is almost finished, add the herbs to taste, and when it is finished add the grated or ground cheese. You should salt as you go, and add as much wine as you prefer; I like mine to taste very strongly of red wine, so I add at least half a bottle. Serve with a fresh piece of rosemary and a glass of wine! I know that seems like a half-assed recipe, but I’m serious: You can’t mess this up. It is always great.

For lunch this week, I’m actually eating almond butter and jelly sandwiches with Cheez-It and carrot sticks. I’ve been wanting the packed lunches of my childhood–maybe that’s what happens when you’re stressed out!


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Moroccan-looking modernist houses

And I thought that my Masters report semester was going to be my most stressful . . . was I ever wrong. Somehow I am feeling even more stressed this semester than I did when I was teaching a brand-new class at 8am, too! There are just so many irons in the fire right now: my field exam, planning my own class for Fall, our wedding, our trip to Florida, moving, the class I’m teaching now. I am balancing everything fairly well so far, but I have to make a conscious effort to focus on, say, the book that I’m reading instead of wondering if we’ll find a nice place to live. Luckily, I don’t really have to make a conscious effort to enjoy myself when I’m taking a break. I’m not that preoccupied yet!

I mentioned some good news in passing: I got my own rhetoric course for the Fall semester! I’ll be teaching “Rhetoric of Travel and Tourism,” with all of my own reading selections. I’m definitely looking forward to a less generic rhetoric course. The one that I teach now certainly teaches students how to improve their writing, but because each student picks his or her own “controversy” to write about, the class can feel kind of scattered. None of the students are reading the same articles or writing about the same topic. I think that a themed course will actually be easier to teach, and more cohesive.

Our summer wedding celebration has been confirmed: we’re having it at the Casa Monica in St. Augustine, Florida. I am really excited about this. Lots of Alex’s relatives are planning to come, including some who I didn’t meet this past summer in Minot. He’ll get to meet my aunts on both sides of my family. My parents are throwing a brunch party for us, with an amazing menu and a selection of Florida beers that we chose. It’s going to be a nice vacation, especially since we’ll probably be moving either right before or right after that weekend!

Yeah, that’s what the next several months look like: field exam studying, field exam studying, field exam studying, FIELD EXAM!!!, parents visit, wedding, big party for our friends, fly to Florida, big party for our families, move, summer teaching, fall teaching, DISSERTATION PROSPECTUS. Dang.


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Meals for Feb. 16th – 21st

Another week down, and another has already begun! Last week was rough, but I have a good feeling about this one . . . let’s hope that my instincts are on point. I’m really enjoying writing these posts, even if they aren’t for anyone but myself. It’s nice to have a log of what we’ve eaten, especially since I’m prone to forgetting about meals that we liked and being at a loss when I make shopping lists.

Dinner 1
eggs and grits

This is the fastest, easier, most delicious dinner ever, even easier than shrimp and grits. We make the grits with the usual hot pepper, onion, garlic, butter, and milk, and fry the eggs in butter with a little Tony’s seasoning. Bam, dinner.

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Dinner 2
spaghetti and meatballs
green salad

We’ll see how this turns out, because Alex is making the meatballs in the crock pot! He’s a fantastic cook, so I’m looking forward to dinner tonight. The crock pot we use actually belongs to his roommate, but it was living at my place for quite a while . . . now it has made its way back home, and I am bereft. Is it lame that the crock pot is one of my favorite things on our wedding registry?

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Dinner 3
mushroom and gruyere tart
green salad

I’m excited to try this tart, since I love mushrooms and don’t think of cooking with them as often as I should. We bought some really nice cheese for this, and a frozen fancy-brand pie crust.

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Dinner 4
chicken pot pie soup
sour cream biscuits

I’m following that Food Network recipe, minus the potatoes and the pie crust. Instead, I’m making my great-grandmothers incredibly easy sour cream biscuits. Everyone should know how to whip these up. All you need is:

1 cup unsifted self-rising flour
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream

Cut the butter into the flour as thought you were making a pie crust, until you have pea-sized pieces. Stir in the sour cream until just mixed. You can drop them by the teaspoonful onto a greased cookie sheet, or put them in greased mini muffin tins–just be sure to grease! I prefer the muffin tins for the shape. Bake at 375℉ until golden on top. (My great-grandmother’s recipe just says “in a hot oven,” so you can try anything from 350℉ to 425℉.) If you used muffin tins, use a fork to flip the biscuits onto their sides in the tins as soon as you take them out, so that they stay crispy on the sides and don’t steam. You don’t need butter to go with these!

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Dinner 5
almond-crusted chicken breasts
green salad

Alex makes these chicken breasts by grinding almonds with salt and red pepper, then dipping chicken breast into flour, then egg, then ground almond. He cooks them in butter in an iron skillet until slightly browned on both sides, then transfers them to a 375℉ oven until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. These are great sliced over salad with vinaigrette. This is one of our “healthy dinners.”

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Dinner 6
black bean soup
chips
salsa
sour cream

This one will be black bean soup Alex-style, since he’s the one with the crock pot now!


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Meals for Feb. 10th – 14th

Finally, a nice normal week! And by “nice” and “normal,” I mean “crazy busy.” But since neither of us have extra obligations in the evenings this week, I think we’ll actually get to eat dinner together five times.

Friday is Valentine’s Day (and my brother’s birthday!), so we’re going to a brewery in the beautiful hill country and then out for dinner. Jester King is the same place we went on my birthday this year, and the weather will be similar: clear with a high in the 70s! Perfect. We aren’t much into the fancy Valentine’s Day dinner out, especially considering how crowded things will be that night. So after our beers, we’re heading to my favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, Las Cazuelas, for chilaquiles. So not fancy, but so one of my favorite meals in Austin. Yum.

Dinner 1
moqueca (Bahian fish stew)
Jasmine rice

This meal sounds complicated, but it comes together super fast. It’s served hot, but it has really fresh flavors, especially since we serve it with fresh limes to squeeze over the top. It’s good for winter or summer, and it’s pretty healthy.

Dinner 2
crock-pot beef goulash
sauerkraut
sour cream
French bread

I had never even has goulash before, and adapted this recipe for the crock-pot myself. I browned the beef separately with flour, salt, and pepper first, and layered the onions at the bottom of the crock-pot before layering the other ingredients on top and pouring the liquids over. I wasn’t able to stir it at all for the nine hours it cooked on low heat, but it didn’t seem to matter. It turned out really tasty (we ate it last night). We used Spanish smoked paprika, and bought a slightly expensive imported sauerkraut from Germany. We used the carraway seeds, sour cream, and sauerkraut as toppings, and ate the goulash as a stew with French bread. It was perfect for the cold, rainy day we had on Tuesday.

Dinner 3
macaroni and cheese
baby kale and spinach salad
homemade vinaigrette

We use Martha Stewart’s “Perfect Macaroni and Cheese” recipe, and it’s always amazing. Alex always measures the cheeses, but I never do, and it’s good either way . . . although, I admit, slightly more perfect when everything is carefully prepared! I am much more lax with recipes than he is. This is definitely not health food, but it is so tasty, and makes amazing leftovers. We’ve added lots of things to it in the past: blue cheese, bacon, peppers, chicken. My favorite addition is spicy roasted pablano peppers or Hatch chiles. I also prefer my macaroni and cheese without breadcrumb topping, so we usually only top half of the casserole.

Dinner 4
crock-pot black bean soup
avocados
sour cream
cheddar cheese
chips
salsa

This is a very healthy recipe for black bean soup, so needless to say I add a few slices of bacon or salt pork and use chicken broth. Sometimes I puree this soup, sometimes I leave the beans whole. When I puree it, I add some roasted garlic and some crema. This week, we’re leaving it whole and adding on a lot of toppings. Corn chips are necessary.


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Meals for Feb. 3 – Feb. 7

This week is a little bit crazy: Alex is having his dissertation recital one night, I’m having dinner at a professor’s house one night, and we’ve both been so busy that I had to grocery shop alone and fast. So I only got three super easy dinners for us.

A quick rundown of last week’s meals: the beet and feta tart and the chana masala were awesome, and we had made them before. Same with the shrimp tacos. The barbecue pulled chicken was a new recipe, and I liked how it turned out. It was definitely a crowd-pleaser, very sweet and not spicy. Next time I make it, I think I’ll do a mustard-based dressing so that it’s more tangy and a little hotter–more up my alley. I had never put chicken thighs in the crock pot before, and it was a great idea! They were much jucier and more tender than chicken breasts.

Packed Lunch
Salmon Cakes from Fitnessista
salad greens/carrot sticks/chopped radishes
apple

I’m not a big fan of the Fitnessista blog, but I saw these salmon cakes on Pinterest and have made them several times. They’re great, especially since they reheat nicely in the microwave and taste good at room temperature, whichever is easier. I’ve made them with almond meal before, but I usually use bread crumbs because I have a canister of them in the pantry. I pan-fry them in olive oil. The proportions aren’t very important with these, which is nice; I don’t measure the sweet potato or anything.

 

Dinner 1
shrimp and grits

Alex and I make grits basically according to the quick grits package, but we saute onion, garlic, and seranno pepper in the pan before adding milk and grits. I never make them with water, and I usually end up adding more liquid than the recipe calls for. You just have to eyeball and taste grits! Be careful in seasoning them, because your shrimp and shrimp gravy will be very salty.

For the shrimp, I fry two slices of bacon, then saute one chopped red bell pepper and one chopped seranno pepper in the bacon grease, leaving the bacon in the pan. When the bell pepper has softened considerably, I add the shrimp and a big sprinkle of Tony’s seasoning. When the shrimp are about halfway done, I add 1/3 – 1/2 a bottle of good beer, and cook until the shrimp are finished and the beer has reduced to a delicious salty gravy. Serve the shrimp with some of their gravy over a bowl of the grits.

 

Dinner 2
potatoes and sausages
salad

This is one of the easiest dinners ever. I just saute a sliced onion in a deep frying pan with a lid, then add sliced potatoes and season them. I cook the potatoes until slightly browned, then add about 1/4 cup of water, cover, and let them steam to fully cook. Then remove the lid and cook off any excess liquid. Next, I add fully cooked sliced chicken sausages–my favorite are Aidell’s chicken and apple sausages. When the sausages are hot and slightly browned, dinner is ready!

 

Dinner 3
spicy chicken tacos with:
flour tortillas
shredded red cabbage
sliced avocado
sour cream
jalapenos
cilantro

When we bought chicken thighs last week, we got a package of 3 lbs, enough for two full chicken dinners. I froze half of them, and they’ll go in the crock pot with San Antonio chili powder, cumin, salt, sliced onions, and sliced jalapenos to make these spicy tacos. I plan on leaving them for about six hours and then shredding them.

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