January 23, 2015

Five on Friday

Way back in 2005, I started a blog that chronicled my adventures in graduate school.  I used it as an outlet to share funny stories from the lab: the time the lid fell into the centrifuge and we had to wrestle it off with a tire iron that a PI just happened to keep under his desk; the little old lady in the elevator who rapped me across the shins with her cane and told me I needed to spend more time “praying to Jesus” for the cure for cancer; the day my heel caught in the spongy mat in front of the ice machine and I tripped and landed face-first in my ice bucket.  Over time, grad school became less enjoyable for me, and by the end… I was just exhausted, mentally and physically.  Every morning, I dreaded getting up and going into work and I completely lost the ability to find the humor in anything.  I started posting more recipes and pictures, along with ranting about my far less-than-positive experience.  After a while, I started to subscribe to the “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” philosophy… and from that, this food blog was born.  A new place to share my kitchen experiments without hiding behind my prior pseudonym and the slow deterioration from new, happy graduate student into someone who felt like the will to live had been beaten out of me by my lab.

Over the past few months, I’ve started to miss sharing more personal stories – something more than just what’s coming out of my kitchen.  My current lab experience is vastly different than my graduate experience (that is to say, it has been an overall positive experience and I am generally quite happy with where I am) and sometimes there’s a funny story from the lab that I’d like to share.  I miss interacting with readers – I used to use my blog to crowdsource, whether it was for book recommendations or deciding which shoes to wear for my wedding.  As such, I’ve decided to participate in the “Five on Friday” trend that so many other bloggers do: a little chance to share a few personal things from my week.  Welcome to my first edition!

1) Vacation.
I tweeted about this one last night and it led to some interesting comments, so I thought I’d share it again on here.  One of my husband’s coworkers is leaving their current practice to move across the country.  Her new job comes with 17 weeks of vacation time (while still maintaining a 6-figure salary).  17 weeks.  I’d be thrilled with 17 days of vacation time each year.  A few people responded saying they have no idea how to use 17 weeks of vacation.  I’d start by never working another 5 day work week (hello, grocery shopping on a weekday morning and not waiting in an hour long line to check out!), followed by reading all the books and knitting all the things.  I’d also tackle the mile-long “to do” list around the house, which includes tasks like actually painting some of the rooms in our home, which we said we were going to do 2.5 years ago when we moved in.  Also, traveling, but that goes without saying.

2) Beach Trip.
It seems funny to already think about beach trips when it’s cold and snowy outside, but every fall we take a long weekend trip to the beach with a group of college friends.  People have already started putting in vacation requests for December at my husband’s practice (only two attendings can take off at a time, meaning that vacation gets pretty competitive) so I already sent an email to a few friends to see if we can pick a week/end for our annual beach trip sooner rather than later so Husband can request the time off.  We just returned from an amazing beach trip (work related, for him) and I’m glad to have another trip on the calendar – life is so much more tolerable when you have a vacation planned, even if it’s not for another 9 months!

3) Game of Thrones.
Yes, I am well aware that I am several years late to this, but I just read the first book (I have not watched any of the TV series yet).  I picked up a few of the books years ago, but I haven’t had the kind of free time to dedicate to reading that much all at once, and I was afraid if I tried to fit the book in with my normal life, it would take me so long to read it that I’d have a hard time keeping track of all the characters.  I brought Game of Thrones along to Aruba, and finished it in three days on the beach – I loved it!  Now the debate: should I watch the first season of the TV series now, or wait until I’ve read the next book?  I’ll probably start the second book soon, although I anticipate it will take me a whole lot longer than 3 days to finish it, seeing as how I won’t be sitting under a palm tree for 6 hour stretches anytime in the near future (sob).

4) Super Bowl Party.
Even though neither my husband nor I have a horse in the race anymore, and find the two teams left standing to be utterly boring, we’re going to host a Super Bowl party.  Last year, I posted a series of my favorite party recipes leading up to the big game (caramelized onion dip, chili bean dip, crockpot-friendly spinach and artichoke dip, also crockpot-friendly pulled pork, my absolute favorite chocolate chip cookies, and the best rolled sugar cookie recipe ever), but I’m on the lookout for something new an exciting.  What are you making this year/what are your favorite go-to crowd-pleasing party recipes?  Send ‘em my way!

5) Weekend.
My husband is on call all weekend, meaning I’ll be hanging solo with the dog.  I originally planned on taking a long, leisurely walk around the city on Saturday, but the impending snow/sleet/rain combo looks like it will put a stop to those plans.  Hopefully the weather will clear out by Sunday for our bi-weekly pack walk with a neighborhood pet store/dog training business, but it looks like we’ll be stuck inside on Saturday.  I have grand plans to do a thorough house cleaning and catch up on some podcasts, but otherwise – shaping up to be a pretty boring weekend (NOT complaining – a boring weekend at home is still 1,000,000x better than a weekend spent in the lab!).  It seems like a good opportunity to bake something – any suggestions?  Are there any recipes you’d like to see over here, perhaps a recipe that has been troubling you or something you’ve been trying to replicate?

January 22, 2015

Mediterranean Fish Stew

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Winter is in full force around here, evidenced by the fact that it’s currently snowing in my neck of the woods.   I’ve always loved snow and winter – something about the city is so much more magical with a light coating of snow.  (I’m well aware that my love affair with snow is because I walk to work, and would probably feel quite differently if I had to drive – this is also exactly why I loathe summer with every ounce of my being, while those of you who go from your air conditioned house straight into your air conditioned car and then walk a few yards into your air conditioned office don’t mind summer.)  This kind of weather is perfect for hearty soups and stews – something warm and filling after walking home from work in the cold, wet precipitation.  Plus, it’s a healthy option for dinner – even if you don’t have any food-related New Years resolutions, January is always the perfect time to reset and fall back into healthy habits after the gluttony of the holidays. 
Unlike many simmer-all-day style soups, this is ready in about half an hour, making it a perfect weeknight option.  I also usually have most of the ingredients for this on hand; it’s easy to substitute vegetables if you happen to have a handful of spinach but no fennel in your fridge.  I like to serve this with a loaf of fresh bread and a leafy salad for an easy dinner.
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Ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bulb of fennel, diced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4-5 tomatoes, diced (or a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound halibut or other white fish
  • 1/2 cup fresh herbs (I like a combination of additional oregano, rosemary, basil, and chives)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
Directions:
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven.  Sauté the onion until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté an additional minute.  Add in the fennel and red peppers, and continue to cook until just soft.
  2. Pour in the white wine and simmer for several minutes, until reduced by about half.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces and add the fish.  Continue to simmer until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the fresh herbs.  Ladle the soup into bowls and top with fresh feta.

January 20, 2015

Clementine Vanilla Quick Bread

It’s pretty much a guarantee that if you stop by my kitchen between November and February, you will find a crate (or two) of clementines sitting on the counter.  Hi, my name is Julie, and I’m a clementine addict.  I pack them for lunch every day, I snack on them all weekend – I just can’t help it (and judging from the additional peels I find in the sink, my husband feels the same way!).  Given my love of clementines, it’s probably no surprise that I also enjoy baking with them.  To date, my absolute favorite cake I’ve ever made was an extra cinnamony cake with a cinnamon clementine frosting – I last made it 4 years ago and I’m pretty sure I need to try to replicate that “throw things randomly in the mixer” frosting again, because it was amazing.  This clementine vanilla quick bread isn’t quite as tasty, but it’s still a delicious treat.  It’s not too sweet, which I like, and has a dense consistency similar to pound cake, which I love.  Go ahead and give this a try this winter while clementines are still plentiful – you won’t regret it.

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Clementine Vanilla Quick Bread
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

  • 10 clementines
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter, unsalted
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste (highly recommended, but can substitute with regular vanilla extract)
  • 2 eggs

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter and flour a 5x9-inch loaf pan.
  2. Zest 6 of the clementines.  Cut the pith from 2 of these zested clementines and cut the fruit along the membrane to collect the segments, discarding any seeds.  Juice the remaining 4 zested clementines, along with the 4 unzested clementines.
  3. Beat together zest, butter, 1 cup of the sugar, and the vanilla bean paste in a mixer with medium speed until well combined and butter is pale and fluffy.  With the mixer running, add in the eggs, one at a time.  Reduce the speed to low and add in the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt), followed by 1/4 cup of the clementine juice, heavy cream, and vanilla extract.
  4. Fold the clementine segments into the batter, and pour into the prepared pan.  Gently smooth the top using a spatula.
  5. Bake for 55 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.  Halfway through baking, tent aluminum foil over the top of the pan to prevent the bread from darkening.
  6. Bring remaining clementine juice (~1/2 cup) and 1/4 cup sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
  7. Remove the bread from the oven, poke the top all over with a knife, and brush with half of the clementine syrup.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Invert the pan to remove the bread and cool completely.  Once cool, brush the remaining clementine syrup on the sides and top of the bread.
  8. The bread can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in saran wrap, for up to 5 days.

January 18, 2015

Mummers Parade (2015)

I’ve mentioned before that 4th of July is my favorite holiday, but I think New Years is sneaking towards that number one spot.  This year, we were fortunate enough to have seven of our friends from DC come up for a little New Year’s Eve party, and there’s really nothing better than a champagne toast with your favorite people while watching fireworks from your roof deck.  The next morning, we all bundled up and headed to the Mummers Parade.  The route changed a bit this year with the Mummers marching south down Broad Street (oh, the controversy!), and our favorite performance-viewing spot from the previous two years was no more.  Fortunately, we found a great spot to watch the pre-judging performances, and wound up with a better view than we’ve had in the past.  We had a great weekend with our college friends who we don’t see nearly enough, and another successful Mummers viewing.  I can’t think of a better way to kick off a new year!

2014 Mummers Parade photos here.

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January 6, 2015

December 2014 iPhonetography

Well, hello there, New Year.  Before we get too far into 2015, let’s step back for a minute and review December (where, frankly, I’d much rather be hanging out… 2015 has started off with a pretty terrible man-cold, so I’d like a redo).  We spent December hosting parties and catching up with many of our out-of-town friends, so it was a pretty great month.  A group of our DC friends came up for our 10th consecutive Chrismukkah party, and even more came up for New Year’s Eve.  We celebrated the 2nd adoption anniversary of our beloved dog, visited some family, and ate a lot of cookies.  All things considered, we had a lot of reasons to celebrate in 2014… I hope 2015 can live up to its predecessor!

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1) I fried a whole lotta latkes for our Chrismukkah party, and didn’t even set off the smoke detector once this year.  Latkefest 2014 success!
2) We tried to set up a photobooth for our Chrismukkah party, which was a quasi-success.  My computer kept asking for a password so I constantly had to reset it whenever someone wanted to take a picture, but the resulting 80 or so photos I found on my camera were pretty hilarious.
3) Nobody does holiday lights like South Philly!
4) Two years of hanging out on the couch with this big schnoz.  Happy Dreidelversary to my favorite doggie in the world!
5) Everyone shares their beautiful Christmas décor on Instagram, so I shared the extent of my Hanukkah decorating.  Oy to the World!
6) Our friends recently adopted a second dog from the shelter where I volunteer, so I took some portraits of their two pups in their Hanukkah finest.
7) Happy Holidays from the Plaid-Clad {Redacted} Lab!  The lab that dresses together… um… I’m not sure where I’m going with this.
8) Every time I’d go to visit my grandparents throughout my childhood, my grandmother would bake these pinwheel cookies.  The torch has been passed and now I make them for her when we visit.
9) The lab Chemis-tree, complete with tiny LB flasks and dried SDS-PAGE gel ornaments.
10) We don’t celebrate Christmas in our house, but we went to visit some family who does.  Dreidel was all about diving head-first into the pile of presents and sniffing out which ones were for her.
11) I spent the day after Christmas at Longwood Gardens with my childhood best friend… and witnessed her surprise proposal.  Of course, she said yes – congratulations, Shannon and Chad!
12) The lights really are lovely for Christmas at Longwood.
13) I somehow managed to convince my husband to take a “paint your pet” class, and we now have two paintings of our dog ready to hang in our home.  Crazy dog lady, party of one.
14) How better to celebrate than with sprinkle-overload cookies?  I made them for our NYE party, and they were every bit as tasty as they are festive.  They were all consumed before I had a chance to take any pictures of the finished product, so I guess I’ll just have to make them again to blog about them… oh, darn.
15) Two wild and crazy party animals really living it up on New Year’s Eve.
16) NYE fireworks from our roof deck.  Happy 2015!

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