February 21, 2014

Otis…en repose

Despite what this post might suggest, I am actually tremendously busy right now.  Or at least, I should be.  If I don’t, I’ll make life exceedingly unpleasant for myself in a few months.  So naturally I spend my time doing absurd, time-wasting, random things.  And here’s another…

Otis napping on a lazy weekend afternoon + Superzoom camera + Procrastinating amateur photographer = Sunbathed adorableness

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February 19, 2014

Small personal victories no one else cares about…

…That I have rudely posted publicly despite prior knowledge of everyone’s indifference.

I suppose I should start at the beginning…

Every year, my household experiences a momentous and joyous time.  Christmas?  Hardly.  Summer?  Not quite.  It’s the time each year when we cash in our rewards points on our two credit cards for Amazon.com gift cards and buy a bunch of the items we’d been accumulating in our wish lists.  I work hard for this privilege!  To anticipate and propitiate any solicitude on the part of concerned readers, let me assure you that this is not “Confessions of a Shopaholic”.  The Greek and I dutifully pay off our credit cards at the end of each month.  But I am also feverishly obssessive about paying for everything possible WITH our credit cards, to the point where all our other expenses combined equal less than half of our credit card bill, and the Greek has been scolded many a time for daring to pay for groceries with his debit card.

We maintain only high interest cards (higher interest rates=higher rewards), and I go to exceedingly long lengths to ensure that we maximize our rewards points like, for example, buying things online by navigating to them via my bank’s website as opposed to buying them when I saw them in person at the Target two hours ago because, when you buy these items from Target.com, you get four bonus points per dollar instead of the standard one.  If that explanation confused you, congratulations, you’re sane.  Unfortunately, you’re also not fully taking advantage of what a dash of crazy could gain you earnings-wise, and this blogger has more than her fair share of crazy.  Not to mention a heaping helping of that punctilious and pernickety personality type that allows one to devote precious hours of her time to pecuniary pursuits.

This particular saga all began back in (oh holy hell!) 2011!  I knew it was a while ago, but really Lisa? Really??  Anyways, back in 2011, I bought a coffeemaker, a sewing machine, a leaf blower (for the Greek naturally- me no likey the yard work), a yoga towel, a tape measure, a pie pan, a loaf pan, and some books of knitting patterns for the extremely reasonable price of $ 7.84!  Now, why did I buy a sewing machine?  Well, I’d always wanted to learn and expand my needlework talents…and also it was essentially free.  But because of this, it also didn’t feel especially urgent that I make use of my new purchase.  And so it sat…for (evidently!) two and a half years…collecting dust…until this weekend when, for reasons unknown even to me, I randomly decided to bust it out and give it a try.  I set it up and got it working using only the manual…either because I’m brilliant or using a sewing machine is exceedingly easy; I suspect it’s the latter.  And upon making several rows of different types of practice stitches in a spare bit of fabric, I proceeded to laugh gleefully and maniacally alone in my basement like a serial killer.  Next steps: more practice, find project!

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My setup

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My skills

I finally did something I’d been meaning to do for a long time, unsurprisingly eliciting thoughts of why I didn’t get around to doing such a fun and easy task sooner.  And I also managed to earn some giggles from the Greek, who had been dogging me tirelessly about the fact that I hadn’t used my machine yet and who, being Greek, is somewhat fuzzy, by remarking that I had, both metaphorically and literally, gotten a monkey off my back.  All-in-all, it was a fairly accomplished weekend.

January 22, 2014

The perfect cupcake

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Well, I think I can conclude that I am on a bit of a baking kick at the moment.  The irony of course being that following New Year’s, most people resolve to have less sweets in their lives.  But thus far I’ve been doing a pretty good job of “disposing” of the various desserts in places other than my thighs.  Most recently, I made a batch of what has become a staple in my repertoire: chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  It is easily one of my strongest, most mouthwatering offerings.  This is likely due to the lovely chocolate cake recipe I have, entitled “Presto! Chocolate cake” from the Mousewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook, given to me by the Greek’s dear mother.  It is one of many cookbooks distributed by Mousewood Restaurant, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant located in Ithaca, NY.  They certainly have plenty of recipes to spare, considering that their menu changes daily, and just the one cookbook I own comes with many delectable, granola-friendly goodies such as a “Carmelized onion tart”, “Greek stuffed zucchini”, and about five different recipes for grits.

Now, because chocolate is a magical thing, I have tried my fair share of chocolate cake recipes, including one from Epicurious.com that calls for strong, black coffee and is denser than lead when finished.  So, I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the matter.  Furthermore, the Mousewood recipe receives, by far, the most compliments for its moistness and chocolatey-ness from the various human guinea pigs I’ve served it to.  It is the unanimous winner!

I struggled with whether or not to publicize their recipe in my blog.  After all, it isn’t officially available anywhere online.  But it has been previously published in at least two other blogs before me.  The recipe also includes a glaze that I don’t include here, I do my own little touches here and there, and I think I give them their due credit.  So, I have decided it is just unobjectionable enough to pass muster (I’m a scientist and am therefore compelled to cite everything: a reflex, at this point, as habitual as breathing!).  The recipe can be found below as well as the link to the frosting recipe I used which uses less butter and a touch of sour cream making it a little more tart than others.  Note: this can be a tad jarring to those more accustomed to the sugar shit you buy in plastic canisters at the grocery store that I clearly have an unfavorable opinion on.  Enjoy!

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Presto! Chocolate cake

1 c. unbleached white flour

1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 c brown sugar

2 large eggs

¾ c water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ Cream cheese frosting recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter and dust with flour an 8- or 9-in. cake pan
  2. In large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt
  3. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time and blend well after each addition
  4. In small bowl, combine water and vanilla.  Add flavored water by thirds to the creamed mixture, alternating with flour mixture and beating after each addition
  5. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until a knife inserted in center comes  out clean and cake begins to pull away from the sides, about 30 to 35 minutes.  Bake cupcakes for about 20 minutes

Makes one cake round or about a dozen cupcakes so double the recipe for a layer cake

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January 9, 2014

Christmas cookies and last-minute-knitting-crunch-time

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Graduate school is about sacrifice.  The time and energy that must be devoted to my new endeavor in order for it to be a successful one means many things: less time spent with family and friends, less time for the other things I enjoy doing,…and inherent poverty.  This holiday saw the spectacular convergence of these three themes.  First, in what I can only describe as a remarkably coordinated show of charity, most of my loved ones mercifully declared this year a no-gift-exchange-year.  For the remainder, I very ambitiously (and ultimately unsuccessfully) tried to knit gifts for most of them.  Sadly, planning multiple projects, starting them way too late, and then spending nearly zero time working on them ended pretty predictably.  And as such, I have spent the majority of my post-Christmas downtime furiously trying to get those finished.  Currently, that saga remains unconcluded…

Also, while I did manage to bake several pies this year (as per usual), the Christmas cookies I had planned did not come about until after the holidays, which worked out exceedingly well for my colleagues who got fresh cookies upon returning from winter break.  Incidentally, any (and I do mean ANY) extra foodstuffs that you might need to get rid of need only be placed within view of a pack of scientists.  Ravenous creatures.  Anyways, I’m simply happy I got them done at all…annnnd I finally (finally!) used the decorator set the Greek bought me forever ago that I had yet to use.  Now, I normally don’t go in for decorated sugar cookies.  I get it: the fun is in decorating them!  But I usually only like to bake things that taste, well, good.  And happily I think I achieved that!  I used this recipe from The Washington Post for the cookies (I found I needed at least twice as much cream cheese to get the dough to the correct consistency), this one for the royal icing (with a dash of blue food coloring!), and this one for the decorator frosting.

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Notice all the little specks from using Sugar in the Raw!

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God bless standing mixers!

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Aw, the Greek helped decorate a cookie.  Um, adorable!

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All-in-all, not a bad effort for my first attempt.  Mind you, this is the goal: http://www.flickr.com/photos/irinalapko/4210474976/…a photo taken from my stepmother, Irina’s, blog, which can be found in my blogroll.  So, not quite there yet.

And about that decorating set, cheap piece of crap broke two-thirds of the way through.  So, any recommendations for a new one that, say, doesn’t break on its first time out would be appreciated.

November 10, 2013

Lady troubles

So, I’m going to tell a tale.  I could tell you this happened to a friend of mine, but we all know it was me, so I’ll just get on with it…

Gentlemen, from time to time, ladies will employ little wardrobe tricks cleverly concealed underneath our clothes.  Double-sided tape to keep our bra straps in place or a strategically placed safety pin…because wardrobe malfunctions are rarely beneficial outside of a Super Bowl performance.  And speaking of pasties, I happen to own a pair of far more understated ones.  For when I want to wear a billowy blouse to work that ties behind the neck.  Because pasties have expanded far beyond strippers and Vegas showgirls to serve a far more utilitarian purpose for all types of women…and because in very few professions outside of the two aforementioned ones are the unintended appearance of nipples an appropriate thing, including mine.  I happen to have a pair of silicone ones that attach to me purely through the mechanism of my own body heat making them sticky, so there has always been an awareness on my part that this is not a foolproof setup.  Which was recently proven correct when I returned home from school one evening and removed my lovely chemisier to discover that, yep, I’m only wearing one.  Panic descends.  For I have only noticed this now.  Lord knows when this happened!

I start going through the events of the day.  Naturally, I had a million places to go that day at locations that couldn’t be more distal from one another.  And I bounced and flounced my way to each of these, blissfully unaware that I was dropping ill-supported undergarments like so many bread crumbs.  Of course I had class that day, so it is entirely likely that this event was seen by a fellow student who I will have to see for the remainder of my career there.  Ha, or perhaps even a professor.  Awesomeness!  And of course I work in a lab, nay, A FLOOR populated almost entirely by men.  I fully expect to find it stuck conspicuously to the lab floor on Monday morning.  Well, I won’t find it, but it’ll be found and no doubt correctly assigned to the only one within a 100-yard radius with breasts.  Oh, and did I mention that of course, OF COURSE, this all went down on the day that I had scheduled a meeting with the department chair.  Ahahahahahahahahahaha!!!  Funny, right?!  The best part, I think, is how this happened on a Friday, so I get to ruminate on this ALLLLL weekend.

At this point, you may find yourself thinking, “But, Lisa, if this was so mortifying for you, why am I reading about it on the internet?”.  Well, I suppose I’ve decided at this point to simply own it.  These things happen, folks!  In fact, ladies have also been known to menstruate, grow hair under their arms, fart, and drool when they sleep; in all likelihood, I’ve done all of these at once.  Let’s all just try and behave like grown ups.  And men, if ever your (let’s see, what’s the equivalent here?), er, athletic cup (??) jiggles loose during an afternoon stroll, I promise to pretend I didn’t see a thing.

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August 29, 2013

Business is booming! I really should start charging people…

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Attention everyone, I am now a successful businesswoman!  I have all the makings of a lucrative cat toy business: since my last post, virtually everyone I know who owns a cat (and even a bunny owner!) has requested my simple, homemade toys for their furry brood. <— Demand!  And now, I have the supply to meet it!  The toys really are quite quick and easy to make, taking only a couple hours max.  So, I devoted a few 2-hour periods last weekend to generating a pretty good stash (the eager, playful kitties of dear friends and family is an exceptional motivator!).  Unfortunately, I have neglected to charge for my coveted playthings; ’tis the flaw in my grand plan.  Ah, profit…I knew I was forgetting something in my business model.

Sadly, employee theft is still an issue: quality control has no self-restraint…

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Disclaimer to friends and family: So help me, if any of you read this and try to pay me, let me just say I will be terribly hurt and offended.  It’s my blog post angle, you guys!  Really, for aiding me in getting rid of the extra junk yarn taking up valuable storage space in the house, I’m pretty sure The Greek will offer to pay you.

August 13, 2013

The Misadventures of Spots and Stripes, Part Five: My tedious pastime finally has purpose!

Finally, the moment has come: my needlework hobby has merged with my other great obsession, my boys.  As sometimes happens, particularly if, like me, you are still a beginner knitter, you miscalculate how much yarn you’ll need for a project and end up with a lot of scrap yarn.  For this, you need to have a fair collection of projects that allow you to use up those spare skeins.  In my case, that most definitely now includes “Crocheted balls” by Purl Bee (see also “The beekeeper’s quilt”).  Because despite making many, many gifts for loved ones that were warmly received and appreciated, my craft has just now only truly felt useful and utilitarian as I watched my little guys try to tear my crocheted creations apart.  I have an illness.

The pattern is originally intended to make stuffed balls for human children, so some adjustments had to be made to accommodate my feline children.  First, really only the extra small ball is the appropriate size.  Second, I don’t do the embroidery: for starters, that seems like an awful lot of effort for something that will swiftly be torn apart and drooled all over, and also, and this is my imploration to you if you decide to give these a try, the thread could be ripped out and eaten which would be dangerous to diminutive digestive systems.  Thirdly, I used yarn to make fringe for a few of the toys so they can be tossed excitedly and chased, which they were…repeatedly.  Finally, I folded some loose catnip into the filling…because duh!

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Some interesting observations:

  • What is normally a pretty tame avocation becomes kind of a high-stress occupation when you put catnip inside of your crocheted project and then try to finish it with two glassy-eyed feline junkies (whose pupils are so dilated they just look like black discs) staring apprehensively at you inches from your work.
  • When photographing the boys for this post, it was remarkably hard to keep them in frame when their blood-lust was surging and they were high out of their minds on kitty weed.  With that in mind, I did manage to snap a few hilarious action shots, which I will share with you now:

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Otis just wanted to rub against it…and salivate all over it.  So, so, so much drool!  But little Jack went freakin’ ballistic…

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Next for the boys: little sweaters!  Where the joy of the completed project completely shifts in the other direction…I am so going to enjoy that day!

August 11, 2013

New recommendation: Krusteaz Lemon Bar Mix

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Okay, I know I keep saying I’m not a boxed mix type of girl…but then keep recommending mixes, in the same sentence.  But this fabulous mix from Costco simply must be acknowledged.  The Greek brought this home one day along with a 10-lb bag of lemons (everything at Costco must of course come in ridiculously large portions) because, well, I don’t know…evidently when you send the Greek out for ingredients for baked goods, no less than five servings are expected from the effort.  The bulk mix alone comes in a 3-pack!  But the box also contains a simply delicious recipe for lemon bar cheesecake, which is very popular around these parts and allows me to flex my culinary muscles.  And because my actual from-scratch recipe for Lemon Squares calls for only about 1-2 lemons, we’ve also been enjoying gallons and gallons of lemonade, which allows me to flex my actual (and far less substantial) muscles.  See also this and this for good lemon square recipes, but I like mine from Food Network the best because it has more lemon flavor.

July 27, 2013

Celebrating the opportunity to work my ass off basically for free

A couple months ago, I discovered that I had been accepted to the Microbiology and Immunology PhD program at UMB.  Finally, a journey that began with my registering for the GRE’s in January 2011 culminated in a teary-eyed, sweaty-palmed ultimately victorious meeting with the department chair last April in which I received my acceptance letter with trembling fingers.  Naturally, I am only writing about it now because…grad school gave, and grad school hath taken away…and I soon became mired neck-deep in the unclean dreck I had just worked so hard to wade into.  But I did want to take a moment and touch on the things the Greek and I did to celebrate…this and my recent birthday, a day now, since my thirties, celebrated by everyone but me (including all the citizens of Canada since it also happens to be their independence day).  I was playfully calling it my third 29th birthday, but you’ll also notice that I have very saliently and intentionally neglected to account for the passage of time in the profile of this very blog.  And so begins the period of my life in which I am only truthful and forthcoming of my age when not doing so is considered a felony…to be immediately followed, around the age of 50 I imagine, by my “Couldn’t give a shit how old I am” stage.

Conundrum: How do two suburban misanthropes enjoy the peak blooming of DC’s cherry blossoms and not have to interact with any people?  I asked the Greek if he wanted to see the cherry blossoms that bloom along the National Mall (because it’s one of those things people nearby like me vow to do but then never get around to).  He said sure, but he didn’t want to deal with the crowds and could I maybe play hooky from work some day during the week, confirming 2 things for me: 1.) That he had the same idea I had in my brain that I hadn’t shared, and 2.) That, apparently, people still say “playing hooky”.  And why am I suddenly talking about something that occurred a season ago?  Well, because this didn’t end up happening (see “Bad hostess”), but we did finally recently end up doing our ‘burb equivalent- the nearby nurseries, an outing that is both fun and utilitarian- since I’m pretty sure you can’t take the cherry blossoms on the National Mall home and plant them in your garden, speaking of felonies.  This is an especial treat for me because, as we can now almost certainly conclude, I am an inveterate ‘brown thumb‘.  The accidental arboreal Angel of Death, if you will.  And I must accept that the most beautiful gardens I shall ever have will be the ones I create in my mind.

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They had magnolias there that were lovely…far beyond the price range of the pay grade I recently forced upon myself…but lovely all the same.  And of course cherry blossoms.  And we have made another decision, or rather, another attempt to make gardening happen for me: azaleas (if only I were as tenacious at actual gardening as I am my unwillingness to accept my botanical limits!).  Reputably quite hearty and even the dwarf bushes we had our eye on will grow big and cover more surface area at once.  The Greek has proposed we come back later (which I guess is about now!) when they’ve filled in a little more (Translation: For you, we’re really going to need them to be at the peak of their health, my little flower assassin.  Aren’t you adorable?  You kill everything you touch, like some sort of manual Medusa).

After that, we dined for the first time at The Iron Bridge Wine Co., a small, dark, charming little place on Route 108.  I departed from my normally vegetarian diet and had the diver scallops.  The Greek had the duck in a delicate brown sauce.  And between us, we split a bottle of a red blend from South America whose name I can’t recall.  And for the close of this sumptuous feast, we each had an enormous crème brûlée with, get this, a thick layer of chocolate ganache gloriously discovered at the bottom and topped with fresh blackberries.

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For my birthday, we went to a place called Honey Pig, a Korean BBQ my fellow grad students are basically obsessed with.  Now that I’ve been there, I’m beginning to understand the prepossession.  At my behest, our first trip there was actually the prior week when my mother took me out for a birthday dinner.  This picture was taken at Honey Pig, part deux, when the Greek and I found ourselves back there a few days after my birthday: thinly sliced pork belly cooked right at the table (bring a hand fan; it gets hot in there!), udon noodle soup with fish cakes, and kimchi of course.  Additionally, and it goes without saying, I have also clearly fallen off the vegetarian wagon for this one as well.  Sadly, I am like Julius Ceasar: when I celebrate, something has to die.

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July 25, 2013

The Misadventures of Spots and Stripes, Part Four: Holding down the fort

It’s fairly well-known amongst those who know me that you shouldn’t ask me or the Greek how our kitties are doing unless you’re free for the next, say, forty minutes.  We tend to forget that perhaps not everyone is as invested in our boys as we are and that perhaps protracted tales of feline forays and catty anecdotes was not what they signed on for when they asked that simple question.  I’m sure somewhere in the back of my mind I am aware that “How are your cats?” is sometimes simply a standard nicety someone might make on the way to the restroom, with the expectation of a one word answer.  BUT theeeeennnnn I think, surely, once they hear the uproarious account of cuteness run amok, they will be glad they held it in.  So, ask at your own risk and clear your schedule!

There are, in fact, many instances where this occurs in my life: the moment when I realize that what I thought was garden-variety doting is actually viewed by some as fervent attachment verging on obsession.  Aw well.  Recently, I was showing pictures of the kits on my phone and remarked casually, “This was when we built them a fort…” to which my uncle responded, “Wait.  Pause for a moment.  You built them a fort?!  You built them…a fort?!?  They’re cats!!!”.  Evidently, this is yet another thing we are blissfully unaware that other people simply do not do.  Alright, fine, we might be a little indulgent and I don’t know about everyone else’s little ones (four- or two-legged), but our cats just love a fort.  Any enclosed space where they can hide and feel safe or nap or pounce.  They’ve been known to dig furiously at my stomach when I’m wearing a particularly baggy sweatshirt in a desperate attempt to burrow inside me like I’m their own personal ton-ton.  With that in mind, who can deny them, really?  So, I thought, for Part 4 of what is otherwise known as my creepy cat lady chronicles, I’d devote a post to my felines and their forts:

Some are sensible, intentional forts.  Usually a gift from their magnanimous Nana Barbara:

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And a peek inside…

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Some are somewhat improvised:

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Occasionally an errant limb will fall from the aforementioned flimsy fortification; I fear my boys are not as stealthy and astucious as they’d like to think

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Sometimes our intrepid duo are clearly just fooling themselves…for instance, these actually happened:

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And lest we forget our dear friend sweatshirt: Blanket, playmate, companion, friend…and best fort EVER!

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