Butternut Lasagne

I really love lasagne, so when I saw this recipe for Pumpkin, Sage & Ricotta Lasagne featured on the delicious. web page I was keen to try it.

Photo by found_drama

Like all lasagnes, it’s a bit fiddly to make (although the fresh lasagne sheets I used made it a lot less fiddly), and it uses the food processor twice (I hate cleaning the food processor). I think there wasn’t really enough filling for the lasagne – if I made it again, I’d double the amount of filling (or halve the “footprint” of the lasagne) – and I over-browned it a little, but I was generally happy with the end result – not spectacular, but still good, and a nice vegetarian option.

Carrot Overload?

Somehow, we ended up with a lot of carrots in the house. I think it was Boston Organics‘ fault – lots of bags of baby carrots.

Carrots in wheelbarrowOn Thursday night, we waged war on the carrots – making soup and cake. Of course, there was plenty of leftovers, so I took cake and soup to work yesterday, and I might have eaten a few slices of cake today, too. I expect to see (ha!) improvement in my night vision!

Today I bought a bike pump – in theory I can just use the compressed air at my local bike store, but it hasn’t been happening. I feel I should I add “biking places” to my list of things to do in Cambridge this summer.

Recent forays in the kitchen

Sticky Date Pudding: Mum sent me this recipe, which she found in The Australian. I made it a few years ago, and it had languished since then. By the time I dug it out again, the fax paper it was copied onto had deteriorated to the point that it was difficult to read. This version of the recipe (made with the incomparable dates from Whole Foods) wasn’t nearly as dark as I remember the last attempt, but it was still delicious, I suspect largely because of the sauce that’s poured over at the end of baking, and again before serving. Sadly, we fed some of it to a guest who really didn’t like it that much – he told us he didn’t really like sweet things. I’m not sure we’ll be feeding him again! Everyone else seemed to like it just fine, though.

Kheer: I’ve used this recipe from Jo I-don’t-know-how-many-times, always with delicious success – I love the cardamom – but when I last tried it I ended up with something more liquid than I’ve had in the past, even after I threw in a little cornstarch. The only thing I did differently was to use non-fat rather than full-fat milk – could such a small thing make such a big difference? I noticed a similar effect when I made tapioca pudding a few months ago. Can I test this hypothesis by adding heavy cream to the next batch of kheer I make? Maybe I need to try a different recipe? Perhaps something that incorporates an egg?

The King Arthur Flour Baker's CompanionClassic Buttermilk Waffles: From The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. Rachel and I were both pleasantly surprised at just how good these waffles are. We didn’t have “real” buttermilk on hand, so I used the dried kind for the first time. I’m never going back! No more half full container of buttermilk in the fridge that I’m trying to find a use for, and no more running out in the middle of making something to buy a carton of buttermilk. Of course, I have no idea if the waffles would have been even better had I used the non-dehydrated variety, but I’m perfectly happy with them as they were.

Pappardelle with Mushrooms and Spring Vegetable Sauce: Another recipe from an aunt (albiet a different aunt), this is quick and easy, tastes delicious, and is vegetarian. It’s good week-night fare.

Coconut Quinoa Porridge: Mum made this for Christmas brunch and it was really delicious, although certainly not low-fat! Rachel and I made it when we got back to Boston. We may have made it slightly lower-fat by using light coconut milk, but I think it really is a loosing battle. Rachel and I also didn’t bother making the syrup – we just used maple syrup that we had on hand. It’s not nearly as heavy as you might think it would be – the quinoa keeps it light, I think – but it’s certainly filling, and keeps you going for a good portion of the day.

Completely unrelated to the kitchen:

  • Seeing the Invisible: A New York times article on schlieren photography, with some very cool pictures. My favorite? The firing of an AK-47 (I’m not sure what this says about me).
  • A poster for your favorite physicist.
  • I went to see The Corn is Green last night, which is playing at the Huntington Theater. Not quite my favorite Huntington play of the season (I really liked Rock ‘n’ Roll) but still very good. I turned out that we were there on the night that they had sign-interpreters (which was not nearly as distracting as I thought it might be – much more distracting was the huge head in front of me), and I think that all of deaf Boston must have been at the play. At the end, when the actors acknowledged the interpreters, a huge portion of the audience raised and shook their hands to thank them. I have to admit to finding the last bit of the play to be a little over-the-top and contrived, but that’s not the fault of the Huntington Theater Company.
  • I’ve been enjoying this week’s New Yorker. In memory of John Updike, there’s a huge section of excerpts of his work (including my favorite: Happiest I’ve Been), as well as some really lovely photos.

New Slippers

I bought new slippers this week, and I can’t tell you how happy they make me. I always had Ugg boots as slippers growing up, and while in high school and in university, but I gave them away when I moved to the US. I’m not sure why. Probably because they didn’t fit when I packed everything up. When I went to buy them, I shuddered a little at the price, and then embarked on an effort to find something that looked like them, but wasn’t so pricey. I don’t think such a thing exists – everything I found that was cheaper looked less well made and less sturdy.
Ugg Slipper

Ugg Slippers: The Source of Much Foot Happiness

I ended up buying my ugg slippers from Campmor. Another thing I love: the speed with which Campmor ships. I’ve ordered a few things from them now (they’re always very cheap), and whatever I order is generally on my doorstep within a couple of days. Fortuitously, my new slipper arrived just as the temperature in Boston plunged (again). My old slippers weren’t so different from what I have now, but they’d become too loose on my feet – so they were constantly coming of – and the sheepskin lining was beginning to remove itself from the shoe. The new slippers are much better. Combined with my fingerless possum gloves, they keep me toasty warm when I’m working at home.

The New Best RecipeRachel and I made a reasonably spectacular pumpkin pie recently. I have the Cook’s Illustrated recipe book out of the library, and we used the recipe from that. Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of Cook’s Illustrated; I find their recipes a little bit fussy, and this one was no exception. It was, however, good. The reason that it is good is that you basically make a custard filling (complete with heavy cream) that just happens to have pumpkin in it. We used pumpkin from a can (which is a curious American phenomena), and the recipe has you bring it to a sputtering boil to remove the taste of the tin. I have no idea if this really works or not, but it’s Cook’s Illustrated’s claim.

Aside: this is the other thing that irritates me about Cook’s Illustrated. It’s often pseudo-scientific. They rely completely on tasters, which I guess is better than nothing, but I’ve no idea if/how chemicals from the tin are leaching into the pumpkin (I really hope they’re not, though – I actually suspected that the “canned” taste comes from preservatives, rather than from the can), and if/how heating the pumpkin purée would fix that, and Cook’s Illustrated never tells you. It’s not like they uncover any new science in the quest for better recipes. Sometimes they regurgitate stuff that’s already known, and sometimes they speculate, but they never do uncover new science. They just make it sound scientific.

Pumpkin from a can bothers me a bit, probably because I didn’t grow up with it. However, I’m the first to admit that it makes baking pumpkin pie a million times easier. In any case, for all it’s fussiness, and despite the use of canned pumpkin, the recipe makes great pie – easily the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever made. And since I missed out on pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving – I completely neglected to make sure we’d have some at my Thankgiving dinner – it was nice to finally have some in the house. In fact, it was so nice that:

  • I ate a slice before I went to bed;
  • Uncharacteristically woke up at 3 am in the morning, thought a lot about pumpkin pie, and eventually snuck out to the kitchen and ate a sliver;
  • Ate pumpkin pie for breakfast;
  • Worked from home and ate pumpkin for lunch;
  • And then declared that I really had to leave the rest of the pie for Rachel. And I did.

The Real World is Scary

I had a “real world” (ie. not in academia) job interview last week, and can report back that the real world is scary. I think the interview itself went OK – my first of this kind, so it was a learning experience, if nothing else – but they kept asking questions about things I just don’t normally think about: my career path, my mobility, health care plans, 401(k) plans. By the end of the day, I was happy to collapse in a restaurant, enjoy dinner with a friend, and catch at movie.

Happy-Go-Lucky Movie Poster

The movie we watched was Happy-Go-Lucky, which I have to admit to feeling a little ambivalent about. It’s a British movie (this isn’t why I feel ambivalent about it, though), and not a great deal happens in it. And, at least if you’re me, the lead character grates on you in the beginning, although she does grow on you as the movie progresses. Perhaps this is the point? In any case, I felt much better about the movie at the end than I did in the middle of it.

I finally have got around to down loading photos from my camera that I took while I was in Adelaide (at the end of August). I really only had half a day or so to explore, before the conference started, but I actually really liked what I saw (and I really had very low expectations before I got there). I spent my half day walking along the River Torrens and through the botanic gardens, both of which were very pleasant. On my last day, I had a bit of time between my conference ending and needing to be at the airport, so I explored the central market, which is truly amazing – lots of delicious food.

Palm House at Adelaide Botanic Garden

Palm House at Adelaide Botanic Garden

More interesting (to me) stuff, in bullet points:

  • Recipe for Concord Grape Pie from Naples, NY, where I spent a year on high school exchange. I’ve been to the Naples Grape Festival. (I think I even played in a marching band at the Naples Grape Festival).
  • reCAPTCHA (Stop spam, read books). Someone in my lab reviewed an article on reCAPTCHA for journal club a while back. It’s a pretty cool use of technology, and now that I know about it, I see it everywhere. Basically, they use “not robot” tests (ie. where you have to enter in letters or a word to convince the internet that you’re a person) to improve the digitization of old texts.
  • What is the what: The best book I’ve read recently. It’s a compelling story (it follows the life of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan), but it’s also incredibly well written – I couldn’t put it down (I gave an entire weekend to this book!).
  • Knit One, Save One: For people wanting to knit for a cause.
  • bills food: Has an excellent recipe for baked risotto – you’ll never stir a risotto for hours over a stove again.
  • Biodegradable compost bags: I thought I’d come up with an original idea – sadly someone else thought of it long before me! So much for patenting it and becoming rich.

Barbecue, Soup, and Knitting

Last night, I went to Kendra and David’s apartment for food and games. They made a delicious eggplant parmesan, and I supplied dessert. I made strawberry shortcake (from Cook 1.0), and in the process got a bit nervous, as shortcake was described as quintessentially American. What was this Australian doing making shortcake for a bunch of Americans? I’m not sure that it was perfect (I may have over-pureed the berries), but it was pretty good. I’d do it again. David and Kendra hadn’t warned me ahead of time, but they also had some Tim Tams, and we ended up demonstrating Tim Tam slams to everyone else (well, David and Kendra demonstrated. I just provided commentary). So we ended up with a quintessentially Australian dessert, too.

Following dinner, I headed over to Anna and Chris’s place, where they had had pre-party dinner, and had moved on to pre-party drinks. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the party (or at least I didn’t; I think Jason and Anna might have), but it was really nice to catch up with Jason, Chris, and Anna. Despite not making it to the party as intended, it was still past 2 in the morning when I crawled into bed. Needless to say, when my alarm went off at 9 this morning, I was less than impressed.

The first duty of the day was helping with a graduate student barbecue. Officially, I was on set up duty (getting food and drinks to the barbecue location, setting things up, getting the grills started), but I ended up staying for most of the grilling, filling in where extra hands were needed. This meant I spent time putting hamburgers and hot dogs on grills, delivering meat to tables, and separating frozen hamburgers. By time the last burger went onto the grill (around 3, and when I left) I stank of smoke and had burger meat all over myself. I couldn’t wait to get home, shower, and nap. Luckily, this is just what I did.

I also found some time this weekend to work on my latest knitting project, a wrap-around cardigan for my newest cousin, who will arrive early in the new year. The doctor is pretty sure that my newest cousin will be a girl, and I really hope he’s right; I’m knitting the cardigan in pink and orange.

The pattern I’m using is for EZ’s surplice baby jacket, which is hidden in the Spring/Summer 2007 issue of Vogue Knitting. This is my first time knitting from an Elizabeth Zimmermann pattern, and I love it. It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of garter stitch! The choice of yarn has also worked out very nicely. I wanted some sort of stripes, but I wanted a little variation within them, which lead me to order two semi-solid colors of Koigu Kersti. I love it when things end up looking even better than I had planned.

I’ve actually knit quite a bit more than this, but these are the most recent photos I have.

While I knitted, I listened to Digging to America, Anne Tyler’s most recent novel (so far as I know). I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Anne Tyler; I find her books a bit hit and miss. I’m enjoying this one so far, though. Based on what I’ve heard so far, and the back cover blurb, the novel’s about what it means to “belong” in a country, even when you’ve lived in it for a long time. Particularly pertinent for me, having lived in the US for almost 7 years (although not continuously; I’ve been in Boston for 5 years now). For the most part I feel like this is my home; in many ways I’m more comfortable here than in Australia (and just the other day, someone mentioned that they just don’t think of me as an international student, presumably because English is my first language), but I’m also regularly reminded that this isn’t the place I grew up. It’s mainly small frustrations: having strangers understand what I’m trying to communicate, remembering to use American-English vocabulary (I’ve no idea what will happen to me if I ever go back to Australia on a permanent basis, and there’s a whole lot of words that I’ve forgotten which is the Australian-English version, and which is the American-English), having a good intuition of how people think, tentatively checking if things that are acceptable in Australia are acceptable here. Of course, this is what makes the world interesting, and Boston is international enough that I’m not really that much of a novelty.

This evening, I turned my attention to food. I’ve been thinking a lot about pumpkin soup recently, and, with a bit of searching, found a recipe for which I had all the ingredients. To be honest, I didn’t quite have all the ingredients; I was a little short on stock, but I made up the difference with water. The final product was fine, but I probably won’t make it again. It was a little watery (I wonder why?), and not nearly as orange as I would have liked it to be.

To finish the evening, I made Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins from The Muffin Bible. At the moment, I have quite a bit of fruit that needs using up, and this was my effort to make some sort of dent in it. I’m continually impressed by this book. It has a huge number of recipes, there’s nothing formulaic about them, and everything I’ve made from it so far has been excellent. The Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins are no exception: I can report that they’re delicious heated with butter (the only way I’ve tried them so far).

Stamped Cookies

A while ago Mum and I got enthusiastic about cookie stamps. The inspiration was a recipe in Silk Road Cooking – a book that I’ve borrowed from the library, given to Mum, and currently have on order for myself. The recipe in Silk Road Cooking (if I remember correctly) is for Date and Walnut Scones (or something similar). It’s basically these little pillow-like cookies, stuffed with a date and walnut – kind of like a Fig Newton. Really, the thing that’s most appealing about these cookie/scones, is that they have a stamp imprinted in the top. Mum and I decided that we needed to be able to re-create this effect. Some research revealed that what we needed was a cookie stamp, and that the nicest ones available were in America.

I offered to order a couple of cookie stamps and to send one to Mum for Mothers’ Day and keep one for myself. Mum agreed to this without too much pressure from me. I chose Elizabeth’s Crown for Mum (her name is Elizabeth, after all) and Leaf Blossom for myself. This evening, I decided to try mine out. Because I’m still waiting to receive my copy of Silk Road Cooking, I used a shortbread recipe that came with the stamp. The stamps also come with helpful instructions on how to use them, and I can report that they’re not joking when they stress the importance of seasoning the stamp with oil before you use it – once there’s dough stuck in the little groove it’s very hard to get out! However, my shortbread cookies came out very nicely – they taste good, and they have a lovely pattern imprinted into them.