Category Archives: My Crazy Mind

Accomplishments

November has been a productive month.   Well, not in terms of blog writing.  But in the rest of my life, things are getting done.

Most importantly, I submitted my portfolio, which is my program’s version of doctoral comprehensive exams.  It’s basically a sample of the work I have done so far in grad school: an in-depth review of the existing theory and research in my area of interest, and other documents that show that I have actually done something in the last three years: a manuscript submitted for publication, a poster presented at a conference, and a proposal that I submitted to an organization trying to convince them that what I intend to do for my dissertation is worthy of their funding.

So a little over a week ago, I printed out all 100+ pages comprising these documents, and organized them into binders to submit to the faculty members on my committee.  The binder organization was the best part.  It wasn’t until I saw all these printed pages, which contained nothing but words that I had written*, that I realized that, okay, I have done something with my life in the last few years.

I still have to wait several weeks to hear whether what I’ve done these last few years meets the approval of my committee members.  Consequently, I’m hesitant to do too much celebrating quite yet.  But assuming that I do pass, this means that I will advance to candidacy, and need to get going on my dissertation.  We shall see.

Is it odd that changing my own brake light, which I did earlier this month, felt like almost as much of an accomplishment as turning in my portfolio?  Perhaps I should explain.  Nick usually jumps on any sort of at-home car repairs and I usually let him, because, hey, that means I don’t have to do it.  But I like to know that I could do something if I needed to.  Sure, I still needed Nick to stand behind the car and confirm that I fixed the brake light, but I replaced the light bulb myself, dammit.  I swear I felt just as much pride in that moment as when my advisor told me my lit review was complete.

Also, I have a tendency to procrastinate on car-related things.  I almost always request an extension for the emissions inspection, mainly because I forget until the day before the deadline and I don’t have time to go.  I usually have to tape a printed-out temporary registration in my rear window because I waited to renew my registration online until the last day possible.  Once I even registered on time, but didn’t bother to put the new sticker on my license plate until the end of the expiration month.  This was a bad idea because in rushing to take care of it, I didn’t pay attention to all the dirt and salt (it was winter) on the license plate, and surprisingly, the sticker did not stick.

When I talk about things like this, it amazes me that I ever get anything done.

Anyway, the fact that I purchased and installed a new brake light within 24 hours of being pulled over by a state trooper felt like a pretty big accomplishment.  I would also like to note that this is the first time I did not feel like I was on the verge of crying and/or having an anxiety attack when being pulled over by a cop.**  So much growth this month.

Finally, I got a Fitbit.  I’ve learned that my walk from the parking lot to my building on campus is not as substantial as I thought it was.  But two Sundays in a row, Nick and I have gone for hikes and exceeded the goal of 10,000 steps.  This is very unlike us, but we like it and might do more of it.  Given the forecast tomorrow for a high of 33 degrees, I am not sure we’ll make it 3 in a row.  That’s okay, though, because we are seriously behind on figuring out this year’s Christmas card and we should spend some time on that.  Perhaps I’ll get my steps in while wandering through the Goodwill….

*And a handful of tables which I lovingly constructed.

**To be clear, in the 15 or so years that I have been driving, I have gotten pulled over maybe a total of 8 or 9 times, more often for burnt-out lights than for speeding.

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Culinary Crushes and Ginger & Lentil Soup

A lot of my friendships are based in a common love of food.

When my friend and I had our poster accepted to a research conference in Seattle, the number one priority was finding good places to eat. Actually making the poster? Way down the list.

When another friend called to tell me all of the hot, steamy details about her honeymoon, that meant telling me about a tasting menu served by a world-class chef.  (In turn, I rushed home from celebrating my first wedding anniversary to write her a lengthy email recounting every dish Nick and I ate at Charleston.)

So it’s not surprising that an enthusiasm for food is often a big attraction factor for me.  I have a serious crush on Andrew Knowlton, aka The BA Foodist. And I cannot be the only person who suddenly wanted to have a date night with Samuel L. Jackson after seeing the commercial where he consults Siri for mushroom risotto recipes, right?

My most recent culinary crush is Joy the Baker. She unapologetically celebrates peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and she puts bacon into baked goods. And she makes homemade cat toys. I love her. And so she tops the list of “People I Don’t Know but Kinda Secretly and Very Much Creepily Want as a BFF.”

Her recipe for Orange and Dark Chocolate Buttermilk Scones won me rave reviews after making them as favors for a friend’s baby shower. And the Brown Sugar Bacon Biscuits??  Oh my.  The downside is that I did not photograph either of them, so you’ll just have to go to her blog and look at her photos.  They’re prettier than mine would be anyway.

Fortunately, Joy also offers healthy recipes.  Recipes that are so healthy, they could wash away any hint of regret you have about eating buttery biscuits that are studded with brown sugar-coated bacon. But let’s be honest- there is no regret in eating such biscuits.

I made this Ginger & Lentil Soup a couple months ago, but just rediscovered it via the giant container in my freezer.  It’s delicious and easy, and I follow the recipe exactly, so just go check it out here.  I took pictures of this one.  They’re still not as pretty as Joy’s photos, but I took them, so you should look at them.

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Filed under Cooking, Entertainment and Pop Culture, Guilty Pleasures, My Crazy Mind

Wise Words From Myself, Six Years Ago

Last January, my sister (who is far more organized and on top of things than I am) volunteered her time on a Saturday to be my moral support while I worked on cleaning out our office.  By moral support, I mean that she helped me from getting too distracted, or rewarding thirty minutes of work with a three-hour “break”.  And thanks to her guidance, one year ago, we had a functioning office where I could sit by the window and read, work on the computer, or clear out enough space on the desk to do some painting.

One year later, the reading chair has a two-foot-tall pile of books and random stuff on it, I choose to use my laptop in the living room, and while there technically is room to paint, the overall clutter and dust (oh, the dust…) makes it a less-than-inspiring space.  About the dust- the office unfortunately also serves as the home for the litter boxes (joys of apartment living).  Thus this room accumulates dust about 20 times faster than the rest of our apartment.  I try to keep up with it, but once the chair got reclaimed as a clutter receptacle in the fall, there was less motivation to enter that room for any reason other than cleaning the litter boxes.

I really didn’t intend to tell you all that. This is not supposed to be about my disorganization and questionable cleaning skills.

What it is supposed to be about is the fact that I do enjoy office cleaning and organization because of all the fabulous things I find. Today I decided to make some effort to get the room back in order.  So far, I have found the following:

  • a lock that Nick gave me two years ago so that I could safely stow my laptop while at school.  Only this past fall when I started teaching did I really feel a need for it, and of course at that point I could not find it.  And somehow between now and then I created a false memory that Nick asked if he could use it for something. (I have no idea what. Sorry, Nick.)
  • an X-acto knife that has been missing for several months but I gave up on because I created a false memory that Nick broke it and promised to buy me another one.  (Seriously, Nick, I’m really sorry. Don’t worry, I didn’t hold it against you.)
  • a book that one of my favorite friends gave me for Christmas several years ago. This wasn’t necessarily lost, but anytime something reminds me of Katie it makes me happy.
  • a card that another friend/former coworker gave me when we were both leaving our jobs.
  • a journal with two entries, presumably when I was wanting to start a new journal, perhaps one that focused more on personal growth instead of boyfriends. (Note- I have since returned to writing in the latter, about 4-5 times a year.  I’m happy to say there is a good balance between talk about personal growth and husband, but not boyfriends.)

The first entry is from November 2006, just after I graduated with my masters degree in psychology, got my nose pierced, and started what would be almost nine months of temping in the legal department of a national food distributor while searching for a “real job”.  The nose piercing lasted just about as long as the temp job- on the first day of orientation for my real job, I was quickly informed that the piercing had to go.

Anyway, this first entry is a list of goals, not unsimilar to about 100 lists I have made since then:

11/21/06   Things I Want to Work Toward:

  • Painting on a regular basis (That coming year I definitely did. Since then… well, see above about the office.)
  • Writing more often (Oh honey, I don’t think you meant scholarly papers, but yeah… you’re writing more often, trust me.)
  • Reviewing Spanish (Does our honeymoon in Mexico count?)
  • Finally reading the wine textbook I have (That hasn’t happened. I think it’s in a box in the basement. Also, you’ll be shocked to know that your wine consumption has decreased greatly.)
  • Reading more. (Not always, but probably averaging more books/year now.)
  • Taking care of myself: less time at the computer, more time outdoors or exercising; cooking more and eating less pre-prepared foods (Let’s start with the good news: cooking more and eating better? Yes, absolutely. Unless you’re talking about during finals. The computer vs. outdoors and exercise thing is still a constant challenge.)
  • Starting to review for the GRE’s in case I want to take them next year (Well, you don’t take them until 2009, but I can tell you that you rocked them.)
  • Continue expanding my social circle and maintain the positive friendships I have right now (Some of the friends are the same, some that seemed positive at the time really were not. And you’ve accumulated some amazing newer friends since then, too.)

The second, and final entry:

2/7/07

Enjoy right now. Enjoy having a job you don’t care about because it means you’re not tied down. You can take a day off in the middle of the week and sleep in, have a late lunch with a best friend and a bottle of wine.

(Yeah, that probably was not the best idea.)

Enjoy not feeling pressured to find someone to date and being content to be at home on a Saturday night. Enjoy knowing what’s ahead of you: A great job or an experience at another school;

(Done and done.)

A man (or a woman) who makes you forget the one who got away;

(Yes. Well, the man part. The woman part never happened, but nice to know I was open to possibilities.)

Fantastic trips and adventures that you can only imagine right now.

(Some, but still imagining others.)

Inevitably, there will be a time 5, 10, 20 years from now that you miss where you are in this moment. So enjoy it. Embrace the challenge (ok, fear) of barely living paycheck to paycheck. Embrace not having anyone else to worry about and getting to do exactly what you want to do. For the first time you’re checking off the things on your to-do list. And constantly finding new things to add.

It concludes with some cheesiness marveling about how it had been four years since I turned 21 and how time moves so quickly. Oh, 25-year-old Sarah, you have no clue. But despite that, you had some admirable ideas and aspirations. It’s good to see I haven’t let you down.

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My Distractibility Increased by 500% Today

I guess that “30 days of random moments of happiness” thing didn’t quite get finished, did it? Well, I’ve been busy. And then sick. And then busy. And then sick again, while still being busy. But I am pretty sure I had random moments of happiness every day for the last week or so of November. I just didn’t tell you about them in a timely fashion, and now I have forgotten them.

I have a final paper due tomorrow-ish. There is nothing more simultaneously awesome and horrible than when your professor tells you, “Yes, the papers are due on Friday. But if you get it to me a little after that, it’s okay, too.” The good thing- some of the pressure is off. The bad thing- some of the pressure is off.

I’m working on it. And I’m trying to stay focused. But there are a bunch of things that are competing for my attention. Maybe if I tell you about them, it will allow me to move on and get this thing finished.

My Birthday Dinner(s) This Weekend. Mmhmm- that’s right- multiple birthday dinners. I can’t stop thinking about the menu at The Food Market, where I’ve wanted to go for the last four months, but since Nick and I are rather spontaneous with our date night plans, we always miss out on reservations. This time, I’m prepared. I made that reservation weeks ago, just in case I got so wrapped up in finals that I forgot to make birthday dinner plans (like that would ever happen). Why am I so excited? Four words: duck confit potato skins. And if that isn’t fabulous enough, later in the weekend I’ll be celebrating with the family and a sexy plate of raw oysters. Honestly, I think that will be so satisfying that if I don’t have a birthday cake, I won’t miss it. (But I did request something with chocolate and peanut butter, with carrot cake cupcakes or chocolate eclairs from my favorite bakery as backup options.)

Wanting to Grade My Students’ Final Exams. I can’t help it. I want to know how they did. The suspense is killing me. You know you’ve got it bad when you’re bribing yourself to finish your own paper with grading other papers as your reward.

My Pinterest Boards for Christmas Dinner and Christmas Baking. So many pretty pictures of food! The one thing that is bugging me- and perhaps this is just me being a Pinterest novice – is that I can’t rearrange the pins on a board. Is there a way to do that?

Facebook. I think I have liked and commented about 20 times as many things today compared to a typical day. This is exacerbated by the fact that I think a lot of my fellow grad students are also procrastinating and are consequently posting about 20 times as many things as they normally do. The best thing from today so far: Your LL Bean Boyfriend. (Thanks, Virginia.)

Really, really wanting to post photos from our Christmas card. We have sent them out. I want to wait another couple days so that it is still a surprise for most of the card recipients. But then I will release them to the public.

Cats. My cats, because they are hanging around being alternately cute and obnoxious. But also, these cats:

Wanting to tell you about the bourbon bread pudding with bourbon sauce that I made. Well, I guess I just did. It was delicious. If you are short on time, just make the sauce and serve it on ice cream. Or on a spoon.

Okay… I think that’s good. I have emptied all the extraneous stuff bouncing around in my head, and will now resume paper writing. Next time you hear from me, I will have finished the first semester of my third year, meaning that I am officially half-way through the program (assuming my distractibility does not interfere with my finishing in five years).

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Summer Cooking: Outtakes and Deleted Scenes

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve been suspiciously quiet this summer. Perhaps you’ve thought, “Um, Sarah- isn’t this summer break? When you have no classes and thus clearly have far more free time to be cooking?”

Well, maybe you don’t use the word “thus”.  And maybe you haven’t thought that much about it, but I certainly have.  When I turned in my final paper in mid-May, I pictured three months of freedom.  Three months with no classes, no assignments, and plenty of time to split between productivity and laziness. Yet somehow I feel like there is more going on now than during the school year, or even last summer when I was prepping for my wedding. Because summer is the time to actually devote time to all the research-related tasks that I really should be working on throughout the year but always get pushed to the side by other commitments. And while I don’t think I would qualify as a workaholic, I do have a tendency to get obsessive about research stuff.

For example… have you ever stepped into the black hole otherwise known as a literature search? It starts off innocent enough. Your advisor forwards an article to you. You think, “This is interesting.  I wonder what else this researcher has published.” And suddenly it is two and a half hours later and you’ve looked at abstracts for everything this person wrote, not to mention every article that has cited this person. You have twelve PDF files open on your computer, a running mental list of five more keywords to try, and you find yourself screaming at the computer, “This article is exactly what I have been searching for. Why is it in FRENCH??” If only you’d taken French instead of Spanish. Your poor husband stares at you. Perhaps he’s wondering if you’re ever going to start cooking dinner. Or perhaps he’s wondering if you’re ever going to take a shower today. Or perhaps he too is wishing you spoke French.

So yeah… I’ve been a little preoccupied. And while I have been cooking, not everything has been worth writing about. Or, I just got too into cooking and forgot to take photographs. And what’s the point of posting a recipe if it’s not accompanied by food porn?

That being said… I have taken some photographs of some beautiful summer produce, and I felt sad that they were just going to get lost in a file on my computer. Especially because summer is the rare time that I am able to cook dinner (aka take photographs) while there is still natural light outside.

Shiitakes and scallions.  To be skewered and grilled. They weren’t bad, but they looked prettier raw than cooked, and the end product was a salad that had too much going on without any cohesion. Ah well.

Grilled kale. Also a part of the salad. And again, it probably would be good on its own, or in a simpler context.

Squash. From two different farmers’ markets. Purchased with the intent of making this summer squash soup. Two different days I pulled the squash out the fridge to make the soup for lunch. And two days the squash went right back into the fridge. Because who wants to cook squash and deal with a food processor when…

… you could have an amazing, perfect, best-thing-in-the-world tomato sandwich? I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten a summer’s worth of tomato sandwiches in the span of two weeks. My favorites were on whole grain bread, with avocado, basil, spinach, and mayo (and some smoked blue cheese, if you’re feelin’ fancy).  I was so enamored with this sandwich that I had to immortalize it. With Instagram. On two different occasions.

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It’s One Hundred Degrees Outside- Why Not Bake a Pie?

I never thought something like pie would lead people to question my sanity.  But apparently declaring via Facebook that you are going to bake a pie on a day it’s supposed to exceed 100 degrees will do exactly that.

I honestly hadn’t given the weather much thought.  I mean, it’s not like I’d be cooking the pie outside.  And with two dinky window air conditioning units and a west-facing kitchen that does not seem to benefit from either AC unit, heating up the oven didn’t seem like it would do much damage.  Or maybe this is a no pain, no gain kind of situation: if you’re not willing to sweat your [insert your choice of anatomy here] off, you’ll probably miss out on a pretty delicious pie. 

And to those of you who questioned my idea of an opportune pie-baking day, all I have to say to you is this (with love): You’re lucky there are crazy people like me who will hang out in the kitchen instead of the pool, because if it wasn’t for us, your summers would be sadly devoid of baked goods.

That being said, I might have backed out if it wasn’t for the giant container of sour cherries from the farmers’ market sitting in my fridge that needed to be used.  I considered pitting and freezing them for a later date, but these intensely red orbs were begging to be tossed with some sugar and tucked into a buttery crust.

Let me tell you, these cherries, and the pie filling they turned into, were so good.  They truly did deserve the butteriest, flakiest, homemade crust.  And I failed them there.  You see, while you’re pitting five cups of cherries, you have lots of time to think.  And to let those anti-pie naysayers on Facebook creep into your thoughts.  Which results in a conversation between you, yourself, and your most neurotic inner-self:

Lazy Sarah: Eh, maybe I should just buy refrigerated pie dough and get on with my day.

Overachiever Sarah: Are you crazy? You can’t half-ass a pie crust when you’re working with fresh cherries!

Lazy Sarah: But if the filling is that good, who’s gonna notice the Pillsbury crust?

Overachiever Sarah: Maybe they won’t notice, but deep down in your heart, you will know this could have been a better pie.

Third Sarah Who Just Wants to Complicate Matters: Hey, did you see that recipe for Sour Cherry Turnovers?

Lazy Sarah: Oh, that could be good.  I could just buy frozen puff pastry.

Overachiever Sarah: OR you could make cream cheese pastry dough from scratch…

Pragmatic Sarah: Well, we just wasted thirty minutes. We said we wanted to make a pie, so we’re making a pie.  And Overachiever Sarah, do you really want to be handling buttery dough in this heat?  Save your energy for the fancy lattice top.

Maybe people should be questioning my sanity.

If you think that’s bad, you should hear the argument I had with myself about buying Pillsbury versus store-brand dough.  But I won’t subject you to that.  In the end, Pillsbury won.  And it was… fine.  But I have to admit, later when I was enjoying some pie and vanilla ice cream, I was wondering how much more awesome it would be with homemade pie crust.

Next time.

I’m not going to post the whole recipe here, as I followed it exactly (other than slacking on the pie crust).  You can find the original recipe here: Sour Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust.   It’s actually the same recipe I referenced for Nick’s Birthday Pie, when I actually made the crust from scratch, but failed to find cherries.

Overachiever Sarah was clearly not present at the time of pie cutting.

Random fact: This pie holds a special place in my heart as it was the cover recipe for the very first issue of Bon Appetit I ever received.  How do I remember that?  Probably because the cover is actually framed and on the wall in our kitchen.

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Sister Stuff, More Tea Sandwiches, and Gratuitous Cheese Plate Photos

A couple weeks ago I threw my sister’s bridal shower.  I think it was a success.  There was lots of good food, absolutely no wedding dresses made out of toilet paper, and a lot of laughs.  And most importantly, Emily seemed to have a great time.  You can see a couple details below.  But first, I have to get something off my chest.

Before we sat around and watched Emily open a ton of boxes from Crate & Barrel and Bed, Bath, and Beyond, everyone took a turn saying something nice about Em.  Being the hostess, I set the example and went first.  Except I totally choked up.  I could blame fatigue after assembling dozens of tea sandwiches, but in truth, speaking about one of the most important people in my life gets me all misty.  It is truly embarrassing how easily I get emotional about things like that.

While I think the sentiment came through the tears, I didn’t get to say what I really wanted to say.  So, I’ll say it now, when I can blink away tears in the privacy of my own office….

Have I mentioned that my sister is one of my absolute favorite people?  Of all time? 

She is a fabulous partner for playing Taboo, at least if you have 25+ years of shared life experiences to refer to for clues that no one else would understand.   We say the same thing, at the same time, in the same exact tone, way too often.  She is probably the only person in the world who could accurately infer complete sentences from one hand gesture that I make when I can’t talk because my mouth is too full of cookies.  Despite a four-year difference in our ages and very different personalities, we often seem to go through parallel experiences simultaneously.  I can’t imagine going through life without Emily being there to commiserate, share happy news, and laugh uncontrollably at parts of movies that no one else finds funny.  And if I didn’t have a sister, I wouldn’t have had anyone with whom to wear matching outfits.

I don’t think of Emily as “my younger sister” or “my little sister”, just as “my sister”- a peer, a role model, and an amazing friend.  She is quite possibly the most energetic, passionate, and motivated person I know.  If you want something to get done, and done right, ask Emily.  She has strong values and they are reflected in her actions every day, but she is also open to new ideas and allows herself to continuously grow as a person.  Actually, she does more than “allow” herself.  She actively pursues experiences that help her to develop intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

I think that, in Mike, Emily has found someone who can match her energy, share her enthusiasm and beliefs, and support her independence.  Together (along with Cooper, the bunnies, the gecko, and HBD), Em and Mike are an incredible team, and I am so happy to have them both in my family.

And yes, I am a little teary now.  Let’s talk about food.

Since Emily loves tea, and she and Mike like spending a lot of time gardening, I used a tea-and-herb theme as inspiration for the shower.  It all started with the idea to have herbs potted in teacups as decorations (and also used for prizes during the games).  My mom was nice enough to execute my vision (in addition to all the work she and my dad put into setting up the house for the shower!)

Continuing with the tea and herb theme, I decided to make tea sandwiches that each used a different type of herb.

In addition to the Open-Faced Radish and Chive Tea Sandwiches  I’ve made before, I also made Ina Garten’s Turkey & Basil Tea Sandwiches (I used cranberry bread instead of raisin bread, and it was amazing) and this recipe from Martha Stewart for Smoked Salmon and Dill Tea Sandwiches.  Oh, and Cucumber Mint Tea Sandwiches although I can’t tell you if those were any good, given my mint aversion.

Unfortunately my camera died before I could document the amazing desserts that Emily’s friend Courtney made, but I do need to at least acknowledge them: a gorgeous chocolate cake with little sugar bees to match Em’s wedding invitations, and pavlovas with fruit and lemon curd.  So yummy.   The menu was rounded out by the best fruit salad I’ve ever had (brought by my aunt) and a beautiful veggie plate.  Instead of dealing with hot tea for a large crowd, we offered an assortment of iced teas, including Hibiscus-Pomegranate and Orange-Earl Gray.  And thanks to Mike’s mom for bringing the tulip centerpiece- it brought everything together perfectly!  No wonder Em felt so loved that day, with so many people contributing to the event.

And for no reason other than I love cheese and pretty cheese plates…

Note the crackers arranged in concentric circles.  Well done, Katie.

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