Saturday, 25 November 2017

My Thanksgiving Meal Contribution: Apple Streusel

This year was the first time in I'm not actually sure how long that I was in Michigan for Thanksgiving.  It's also the first time in my life I've had my shit together enough to actually be an adult and contribute to the Thanksgiving meal preparation.  I was in charge of green beans and a gluten free dessert.  Green beans are boring so I'm not bothering with my recipe (it was quite good, but not my best).

I absolutely love apple pie.  It was my go-to for family gatherings since cake always made me sick.  I'm in no way capable of making a pie, so I took a shot at the next best thing - apple streusel (also called apple crisp if you're not in my family apparently).

 Look at the beautiful crumb....

The recipe is from Gluten Free on a Shoestring.  My main modifications were that I didn't use oats (lazy) and I left out the nuts.  I just wanted a plain, old fashioned streusel.  Also, freshly ground spices in a dessert are just excessive in my opinion.  My cheap nutmeg from a jar did just fine. ;)

What I like about this recipe is that there are no eggs.  The crust is just flour, sugar, spices, and a ton of butter.  You do have to melt and then let the butter sit for quite a while to get it to work correctly.  This is the first time I've done that attempting to make a streusel, and it's also the first time the crumb came out correctly, so apparently it's important.  I melted the butter and let it sit on the counter as the very first step, and it was cooled enough by the time I needed it.

The recipe calls for six apples, which were a bit painful to cut and peel, but so worth it.  I used Granny Smith apples, but I think it might be nice to mix a couple of sweeter apples in.  I know their juicier, but I thought it was a bit on the tart side.  The cinnamon and nutmeg really make the crumb fantastic.  I used Better Batter for the crumb and King Arthur flour for the apples, and that worked really well.  The crumb was also really easy to work with once it was chilled for a bit.  Most was already in chunks, and the bits that weren't stuck together when I pressed them in my palms.  And it made so much more than we actually needed!

My mom and I are the only two who need gluten free, but I noticed a couple of other people tried it.  Didn't hear responses to whether or not it tasted as good as the store-bought apple pie though.  It's odd, I think my family hears "gluten free" and they either think it's only for my mom and me or it's not edible for people who eat wheat flour.  But I'm glad people gave it a try.  I haven't had "real" streusel for probably 10 years, and I'm never going to match my little sister in pie making so I'm not comparing my desserts to hers (her GF apple pie last Christmas - my first pie in also probably 10 years - was freaking amazing).

Bonus, it sits well overnight.  I made this Wednesday night and stuck it in the oven Thursday afternoon for 10-ish minutes and it was good.  We also picked at it basically all of Thursday evening, and my mom and I cleaned up the last of it Friday night.  It had been siting, covered, on the counter the whole time, and I popped the pieces in the microwave for 10 seconds.  It wasn't at all soggy.

I will definitely be making this again for Christmas!

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Soup of the Week - Beef Stew

Today was supposed to be a work day, and it ended up being a sick day, but regardless I'm glad I'd planned on a crock-pot soup for this week.

The recipe is here.  I added an extra carrot after I'd cut everything up because it's pretty thin on veggies.  And I used dried parsley from last year's garden cause I'm not buying fresh parsley... I also used the whole can of broth because 1) otherwise I would have to store it in my freezer, which is full, and 2) there wasn't much broth once it was all cooked up.  But otherwise I just followed the recipe.  I accidentally dumped too much red pepper in the pot though, so it's crazy spicy.  Solution: making another loaf of naan to eat with it.

My verdict is mixed.  It has a really nice flavour, in spite of the ridiculous amount of red pepper.  But as I said above, it's really thin on veggies.  I didn't find it very filling, and it's probably to due with the inexpensive beef, but I don't like chewing my soup quite that much.  I'm not sure what one could add in place of potatoes that would fill it out, but it was just too beefy for my taste.

As an aside, cutting up 2 lbs of beef is hard!  But chuck roasts were on sale today at Kroger, which was fantastic timing, so I got two for the price of one.  So at some point I'll be making another beef soup.  I'm open to recommendations!

Monday, 6 November 2017

Soup of the Week - Chicken Curry

Ok, I know this isn't soup, but I'm trying not to eat a lot of carbs and curry minus rice is basically soup so shush.

So this recipe was super tasty and much easier than other curries I've made.  I substituted a few things, but her instructions are super clear so I'm just going to link to the site I got it from again.  You do have to pay close attention while you're cooking, and it takes probably 30-40 minutes total, but the time between adding ingredients is staggered, so you can just prep while things are cooking.

I couldn't find Kashmiri chili powder, which according to the internet is made from a milder chili pepper, but I like spicy curry so I just substituted regular chili powder.  I was able to find garam masala at the bigger of my local grocery stores, but this might be an ingredient you need to order online unless you want to hunt or have an Indian grocery store close by.  You could try to make your own blend but that just seems like more of a pain than it's worth.  That said, you really can't omit this spice.

Also, pro-tip, take out the bay leaf once you're done cooking it.  You don't want to end up eating that thing.

Ginger and garlic:
I'm super lazy, so pre-minced garlic works just as well for me.  And ginger is a royal pain to keep and cut, and I use it so rarely that it just takes up room in my freezer.  A while ago I found a jar of minced ginger at the local Korean food store, and I've been using it a lot more cause taking a spoonful out is just way easier than trying to chop that stupid root.

I used more tomatoes than called for because I really like Campari tomatoes but they're quite small and not very juicy.  I think it came out really well.  Also, I hate cilantro, and my green onions are dying because of the cold, so I just used those.

You could probably add more veggies to this.  It's very heavy on chicken (I used 1 3/4 lbs cause that was the size of the pack).  But I actually really liked the thinner, tomato-y base.  The onions add a good crunch, and the green onions added a nice splash of colour.


Oh, did I mention that MyHeartBeets also has a recipe for gluten-free/paleo naan?  Yeah, it's amazing.  It takes at least 20 minutes to cook, and mine still felt a little under cooked inside, but it's so good to have naan to eat with curry!!  And the recipe literally has three ingredients that you toss in a bowl, mix, and fry in a pan.

The curry recipe didn't make a whole lot.  If I needed a whole week's worth, I'd probably double the recipe (not quite double the chicken though).  I only filled one of my big soup containers, which is fine for this week since I still have my soup left over from last week.

Let me know if you try this or add any other veggies to it!  I'd love to hear your results.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Long Anticipated Cherokee Flute

So I've been tossing around the idea of learning to play wooden flutes for a couple of years now, though admittedly I didn't put a whole lot of thought into it until about a month or so ago.  What really sparked the idea was this random person who would play the Japanese flute in the park in Sakura every Saturday while I was at Rekihaku.  

In one of my prelims-breakdowns I spent hours looking into Native American flutes, because I like the sound and if I'm going to get into the world of indigenous flutes I wanted to start with the continent I live on.  Finding a flute wasn't actually very difficult.  I browsed Etsy and came across Blue Bear Flutes and did some investigating from there.  His website is very informative, and I've been glued to his YouTube channel since.  I ended up ordering the Little People flute 1) because it's apparently a good beginner flute and 2) I didn't want to make a big investment just yet.  

Initially I was pretty discouraged looking into Native American flute music because most of what's easily available is the weird New Age "meditation" music that has random nature sounds and someone playing-ish a flute.  Love the sound of the flute, but there really has to be some form of melody to keep my interest, and whale sounds just don't mesh well with flutes in my opinion.  I found a couple of bands on YouTube that were pretty interesting to listen to, but the romanticization of the Native American male as warrior in the promotional content just gave me an icky feeling, so I kinda veered away from those bands.  Also, the comments on Native American flute music on YouTube just hurt... along the same lines as the comment from a middle-aged woman in my American History class in undergrad who hadn't realized Native Americans were still alive.  It's almost laughable in an "OMG how are you that ignorant?!" way, except it's really not at all funny.  It's disheartening.  

Anyway, recently I've been listening to the work of Carlos Nakai, who is very good.  He plays in so many different styles and is just a great musician.  His music, at least what I've heard so far (Amazon Prime has a few of his albums available to stream), is really enjoyable to listen to.

Okay, so on to my new flute. It finally came in the mail yesterday!

I'm really enjoying it so far!  It's in minor pentatonic, which I at least know what that means but it's not a tone I'm at all familiar playing in.  But I'm already getting used to what sounds I have, if I could only actually learn to improvise.  I also figured out a few extra notes. There are six basic notes, which you just play by covering or uncovering the holes in order.  But there are a three more that I found dinking around with transverse flute fingerings.  So that was exciting.

I wanted to upload an audio track of the scale, just to let you hear how the flute sounds, but Blogger doesn't want to upload it, so here's Blue Bear Flute's video on the Cherokee flute: 

If anyone has recommendations on other Native American flute artists, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Midweek Snacks: Pizza Cupcakes

These happened:

And they were delicious.  And kept me from buying and eating a pizza.  I blame my officemate for instigating the pizza craving. I've made similar before, a long time ago, but these came out so much better!  The trick?  Silicon cupcake thingies, the part that's usually paper, I have no idea what they're called.  But I found a pack at Ikea probably 4 years ago, and I finally used them for something other than melting candle wax (don't ask).

Three ingredients:
Large pepperonis
Pizza sauce
Mozzarella cheese

Put the silicon cupcake thingies in the pan.  Paper won't work because of the grease, and you can make them without the liners, but they turn into a mushy mess, so not recommended.  I kinda moulded the pepperonis into a semi-cup shape, and the pizza sauce weighs them down enough to make a bowl.  Cover with cheese.  400 degrees for 10 minutes was perfect.  They were just crispy enough to hold their shape, though nuclear inside! Wait a few minutes before sticking one in your mouth.  They slid right out of the cupcake thingies onto the plate.  Also, yes, I eat them with chopsticks.  It's easier.

I probably could have eaten more, but I ran out of cupcake thingies.  I bet you could add other ingredients too, but I'm a boring pepperoni pizza person.  Let me know if you try them and how they turn out!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Soup of the Week - Chicken Vegetable Soup

Having soup last week was fantastic.  I took some to the office once, had it for dinner several times, and it was awesome to have something premade that was hearty and actually pretty filling.  The spices ended up tasting a bit better in the left-overs, and adding cheese helped, but I probably still won't make it again.

This week's soup of the week is from Paleo on a Budget, and I basically used the recipe with only minor substitutions so I'm not going to copy it down.

I substituted sweet potatoes for the butternut squash because even though I love butternut squash, that hurt my hands to cut pre-RA and my fingers curled just thinking of trying to cut it today.  The sweet potatoes worked really well.  Everything gets kinda sauteed before you put the chicken stock in, so they cook really well too. 

I also added half a red pepper since I had it in the fridge from last week.  And the chives because they're one of the plants still growing on my balcony and I like to use them when I can.

By the time I put the chicken in, most of the veggies had already cooked really well, and the pot was pretty much full!  The website is not kidding, this is a hearty soup!  It's really similar to another one I've made, but that one mostly uses kale as a filler.  I like this way better! (Ignore my messy stove)

I didn't use my own stock because I haven't made any in months and while I have about six chicken carcasses in my freezer, I have no stock in there.  So I used "better than bullion" and mixed it in with the juices from baking the chicken thighs that I shredded to put in the soup.  Tastes good enough to me.  I think I ended up using 4 cups of the bullion mix and two of water to cover all of the veggies.

Also, it made a crap ton.  The dog mug fits about two bows, plus my lunch for tomorrow, plus the rest of my storage containers that were clean.  

Surprisingly, I really like the herb and spice mix.  I was skeptical because I'm not a huge fan of rosemary (actually I generally dislike it).  But I got to use my dried basil from my garden, and the fresh thyme that I bought for the soup last week.  The cumin was a surprise ingredient, but it actually adds a nice undertone, and I smell it more than taste it.

Overall, this soup is a definite win!

Monday, 23 October 2017

Soup of the Week - Pizza Soup

So I decided since it's (sorta) starting to get cooler, I need new hobbies, and I love soup, that I'm going to try making a new soup every week.  Monday is a good day for me to cook stuff since I'm home-bound for the most part and my head hurts too much from my meds to actually do work.

So today I made Pizza Soup from Paleo Girl's Kitchen.  The verdict is a resounding meh.  I tried to liven it up a bit with spices - I added basil, cinnamon, black pepper, and chili powder.  It's nice and spicy, and the cinnamon cut down some of the acidity.  Sugar probably would have helped more, but I'm trying to avoid that as much as I can.  Also, I hate olives, so I took those out.  And it's missing the best part of pizza - cheese - so it's kinda like tomato soup with a bunch of seasoned pork and not the most creative selection of veggies.  Still, it's not bad.  It's certainly not going to waste.  And it's pretty hearty.  Monday is a bad day to judge my food-energy levels, but one bowl was definitely a meal.

All the ingredients as I used them, with a lot of ish:

1 Tbsp butter
1 large spoonful minced garlic
1 pinch, minced thyme
2 leaves dried basil
1 dash cinnamon
black pepper
chili powder
red pepper flakes
1 large onion, diced (probably could cut this down to 1/2)
1/2 red pepper, chopped
6 mushrooms, chopped
several chives
2/3 lbs. Italian sausage
5 oz. pepperoni, chopped
6 oz. tomato paste
28 oz. whole tomatoes

It's pretty basic, sautée whole spices/onion with butter, add tomatoes, cook a bit then puree.  Sautée everything else before adding it to the pot, add the powdered spices, and cook.   It makes quite a bit.  At least 5 servings the same size as that bowl.  That's one meal down for each workday.  Cleanup was a bit of a pain, since it required multiple pots, a blender, and mixing bowl along with the stuff to chop everything.  Also tomato splatter!  Yikes!

Let me know if you try or modify this recipe any more.  I'm curious how other people manage it.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Life Post(ish) Prelims

I promised myself that I would make a real effort to balance work and life once prelims were done.  Well now they sorta are.... I did the writing exam last week, and apparently it was acceptable because my oral exam is scheduled for Friday.  My work to-do list has reached a manageable pace, which I'm finding genuinely disorienting.

I've been tracking my time on, which if you work from home or generally unsupervised, I really highly recommend.  So the seven or eight hours I spend at the office, for example, today from 8:40-5:20, has become genuinely productive.  Today I clocked 5 hours and 41 minutes of productivity time, and actually got everything done that needed to be done, and a good head-start on next week's work. So I'm not coming home stressed and thinking "Oh my God, I can't just chill out, I need to finish all the things".

And then I realized today that I don't remember how to live a healthy, balanced life outside of work.  For the last year I've been scrambling to manage teaching, my RA, and an overwhelming amount of reading material, writing, and meetings for prelims.  Before that, when I was still healthy, I just threw everything I had into my academics, with some time carved out for ballet.  I literally haven't had a regular schedule or even seriously made an honest attempt at a balanced life for six years... not since I lived in Tokyo and had a 36 hour a week job with a strict schedule and a comfortable paycheck.

Looking back, I loved to walk around the city in the evenings and at night once it had cooled off.  I would sit on my bed or couch and make beaded figures and watch TV.  Or play my bass.  Or write.  Or take classes online.  Or go to karaoke or a concert or a bar or do something.  I never remember coming home and going "Well shit, what do I do now?"  At least not over having time on my hands to fill.

And that was exactly my situation today.  I walked partway home because I wasn't feeling well enough to go to the gym.  Then I got home and had no idea what to do beyond eat dinner.  I took a nap because I wasn't feeling too well, half hoping to sleep through the night.  I woke up at 10, of course.  Then I sat and watched The Good Place and binged on crackers and cheese, which is pretty much how I procrastinated for the last year when I was overwhelmed with work.  I didn't enjoy it.  It just filled the time, and as I sat I got hungry, so I ate, and then overate.  And here I am, out of the show to watch and probably 500-600 calories above my goal for the day (and of course awake at 2 AM).

So, okay, my crappy sleep patterns aside (I have a referral to a sleep clinic, finally), I need to figure out how to be a human being again.  I'm comforted by the fact that I've heard from so many other people who went through this same thing at the end of coursework/prelims, so it's not just me being weird.  The most recent advice I heard was that it is important to limit working hours and have a balance, while you can, at the dissertation phase, and to reconnect with old hobbies.  With the RA, it's hard not to think about what I can't do anymore, what hurts too much or what I'm scared to even try again, or how tired I get... 

With the weekend looming ahead of me (sidebar: I've never had an obligation-free weekend loom before... but it's very definitely looming), I need to make a plan, or at least a grab-bag of options so I'm not standing in the door freaking out about being home and not working until I pass out or have a(nother) breakdown.  I don't want to spend my free time sleeping or watching stupid (albeit quite funny) TV shows and making myself even more unhealthy.

So, some of my options:
Bass: Will probably have to relearn where the notes are, since it's been literally four years since I took the instrument out of its case... Will probably hurt my hands, but an option for a day when my hands are feeling okay.

Flute: Same as bass, also have to limit to reasonable hours.  I am waiting on a Cherokee flute that I ordered a couple of weeks ago, which is vertical and wooden, and also doesn't have buttons to press down on, so hopefully that will be easier on my hands.

Knitting: A little on the mindless side.  Good for when I need to de-compress and not think about anything.  Maybe good for headachy days, especially when it's cold and I just want to sit and cuddle the cats.  Might hold off on this one until I get in the swing of having hobbies again.  This was one of my "I'm too stressed to function" go-to's this last year.  Also hurts my hands.

Reading for fun: It's been months... I have a backlog of comic books waiting to be read, and several other fiction books.  Maybe try this before knitting.  Use a bookstand when hands are hurting.

Work on my German: I'm worried this is too close to "work", even though I'm mostly doing it for fun.

Drawing: I stopped doing this actually more than 10 years ago now.  I used to be actually decent... last time I tried was just embarrassing.  I could take a class at Michael's or something.  Or get together with some of my friends and do this socially. That could be fun.

Writing: I don't know how to flip my brain from "academic" to "fiction", but I used to spend every free moment working on stories.  I absolutely loved it.  For months it would be all I thought about.  But is it good to sit in my desk chair at the same computer I use for work?

Walking: I'm not comfortable walking by myself after dark here, which limits this activity.  But if I plan correctly, I could walk home from campus occasionally.  It's about an hour or so, 4 ish miles. 

Gym: Yeah, this needs to happen no matter what.  Not my favorite activity though.  I need to find a good audiobook to get back with.

Ballet: This is a given, at least twice a week.  I have a few more classes I could take, provided my body and budget will cooperate.  I do really love this.

Other dance: Tap was decently fun last year, provided scheduling worked.  The tap class I could take now is during my pointe class.  Jazz is another option.  Same issues as with ballet.

Cooking: I hate cooking.  But I need to feed myself better, and since I can't or shouldn't eat most processed foods, this would be a really good option for my health.

100 Days Challenge: What would I even do?  I could do something like this again.... (I only remembered this when I looked at my old labels).

Ok, that list was shockingly hard to come up with.  But it's a start.  Any other ideas?

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Kyoto Research Trip - Summary of Posts

June 19: Arrival, housing, and the Kyoto Archaeological Museum
June 20: Higashiyama, Heian Jingū and Yasaka Shrine
June 21: Tōji temple market, exploring the Kamo River
June 22: Reflections on the city
June 23: Mt. Kurama, Kuramadera, exploring the Kamo River
June 26: Kitano Tenmangū, Rokuonji/Kinkakuji, AAS in Asia, catching up with local scholars
June 27: Higashiyama, Kiyomizudera, Rokuharamitsuji, Kenninji, eastern Kyoto birds and plants
June 28: Mt. Hiei, Enryakuji, train stations, Hiyoshi Shrine
June 30: Kamigamo Shrine, nagoshi no harae, Fushimi Inari Shrine
July 1: City Archives, Heiankyō Sōseikan
July 2: Mt. Kurama, Kuramadera, northern head of Kamo River