Thursday, January 30, 2014

Shrimp Couscous

While I was in Germany on research (the first time--well, not the first-first time, but the longest time), I posted the following recipe as an example of "American" food I prepared for friends who were putting me up. Of all the dishes I have invented, this is one of Dear Husband's favorites, and it is a staple in our house. I am re-posting the recipe because I finally have a photograph to go with the instructions.
      Shrimp Couscous
Shrimp, thawed (+/- shells)
Broccoli, with long stems
Boxed coucous, any flavor
Pine nuts, toasted if you like
Olive oil
Garlic, minced
Start boiling the water for the couscous. When the olive oil and garlic are hot, begin cooking the shrimp. When the water has boiled, turn off the heat and add the couscous. Meanwhile, steam the broccoli. Just before the couscous is finished cooking, stir in the craisins and pine nuts (if you toast them, put them in the oven at the very beginning of the cooking process). When everything is cooked, spoon the couscous mixture into individual bowls, arrange the broccoli around the edges, and top with shrimp.

You'll see I took the time to burn my fingers standing the broccoli florets up around the edge of the bowl. To be quite honest, we don't usually go through the trouble and just pile the shrimp and broccoli together on top.  (It's a one-dish meal that takes 3 pots/pans to prepare.) In our experience, one box of couscous makes 3 servings, so we always buy 2 boxes the week we make this recipe. That way we can have fresh couscous twice, and then re-heat the leftovers the last night. This week DH bought Mediterranean Curry and some other flavor of couscous. I didn't think it was quite the right base for this dish--I usually choose Herb & Garlic--but we both though the Med. Curry couscous was so interesting that we're going to buy more to have with homemade falafel in a week or two.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Oodles of Noodles

As you may know, one of Dear Husband's jobs is to play for a local adult community choir. They meet on Sunday evenings to practice. After each semester, they get a short break, during which is held a potluck dinner and roast. A small group of dedicated singers and comedians re-writes lyrics to some of their songs and composes hilarious skits. At the most recent one, the group expressed their thanks to him for his talent and dedication in the form of a poem:

To find our pitch was futile,
so dress rehearsal was brutal.
New Year's Eve you didn't just noodle,
you played the whole kit and kaboodle!

Dear Husband was the featured musician at their New Year's Eve bash, playing a selection of rag-timey Americana. In addition, not only did he accompany the choir and the guest soloist, but he also played the theater organ before the concert and for the sing-along. So "the whole kit and kaboodle!"

At their annual showcase concert earlier in the fall, DH had acquired the nickname of "The Noodler," for the improvised introductions he played before the choir sang their unaccompanied pieces. So at the party, they presented him with a delicious basket of...every kind of noodle. We've broken into it already, making a tasty turkey noodle dish with the best sauce (it's the sage that does it):

Turkey and Pasta with Pears and Walnuts
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 6 servings 
1 pound pasta (or your other favorite grain, or mixed greens to be low carb)

1 pound turkey cutlets, thinly sliced

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 tbsps. olive oil

3 pears, diced (or apples)

1/2 cup each: coarsely chopped walnuts, dried sweetened cranberries, sherry

2 tsps. chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp. dried

1 cup chicken broth

Salt, pepper, and parsley to taste
1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add turkey and onion slices. Cook until slightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add pears, walnuts, cranberries, sherry, sage, broth, salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking, stirring until meat is cooked and ingredients are warmed, about 4 minutes. (The riper the pears, the less they should cook.)
2. Drain pasta; divide among six plates. Spoon turkey-pear mixture on top. Top with parsley if desired.

You've got your rice noodles and your Ramen noodles, your angel hair pasta and your Chef Boyardee... The basket also had a gift card for Noodles & Company, so we recently had a date to go ice skating and then eat lunch there.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Taking my first of three written preliminary exams (September 2007)
It's throwback Thursday! This week I decided to get a jump on the paperwork required for me to walk with my PhD in May. I registered my name to graduate and filed the title page of my dissertation. The email accepting my title page noted that it has been more than five years since I passed my last preliminary exam (an oral prelim, a defense of my dissertation proposal, back in fall 2008). Therefore, I needed to take a second preliminary exam to prove my knowledge was current in order to defend my dissertation. ?!?

There must be some loophole, I replied, I'm a dual-degree student. Nope, it's a university-wide rule. I've been here 10 years; how had I never heard anything about this?? I sent emails to my advisers and posted an outraged message on facebook while I tried to figure out how to accomplish yet another task this spring.

The responses on facebook were quite interesting: colleagues who are "behind" me in their programs uniformly responded with outrage. What kind of requirement is that? Don't they know we have enough on our plates? Somebody should do something about that!

Meanwhile, colleagues who have already completed their degrees told me this was quite common and really only a formality. Usually the defense committee just asks you about the most important book(s) in your field in the last five years. It's an easy enough question to answer, since you've probably been citing it/them in your diss. Then the rest of the defense goes on as scheduled, only with twice the usual paperwork.

So that is what I will do. I've filled out the form to request a day, time, and room for my dissertation defense, which will likely take place the first week of April. What frustrates me is that if I had known of the rule earlier, or if anyone in my department had been paying attention, I could have filled out the second prelim paperwork in advance of my pre-defense, which happened this past fall and could easily have doubled as the required examination.

As it is, no harm no foul. Maybe my little outburst even served to educate a few of my friends about this hoop they may have to jump through. I've traded my "stressed kitty" t-shirt (above) for my "happy camper" t-shirt. T minus 7 or 8 weeks until I have to turn the final draft in to my committee!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Nanook of the North, Part II

In Germany and Austria, Dear Husband and I enjoyed getting to know a little drink called "heisse Zitrone"--literally translated "hot lemon" but in English you might say "warm lemonade." It's a common home remedy for colds there. I ordered some in the informal vegetarian restaurant around the corner from my apartment in Dresden and in a fancy cafe in Vienna. The ingredients are simply freshly squeezed lemon juice, hot water, and sugar (or honey); sometimes also ginger and/or mint. It is generally served with the sugar on the side so the customer can add as much as s/he wants. I like mine more sour, DH more sweet.

After I got back from Germany, we started buying lemons and making our own. They're not cheap, of course, so it's really a treat: perfect for relieving cabin fever during long days stuck inside due to cold, wind, and snow.

The mugs were a wedding present from my bestie in high school, SB.
She made them herself. We use them for hot cider and heisse Zitrone.
Directions: Juice 1/2-1 lemon per serving, depending on size and your taste for tart. Meanwhile, heat water to not quite boiling. Pour juice into mug, then top with water. Sweeten to taste.
Maybe you would like to sip some while watching a silent film about my namesake for the day? Nanook of the North (1922) is one of the earliest documentary films made, and you can find it for free at the link in its name. Roger Ebert called Robert J. Flaherty's masterpiece one of the greatest films of all time. Some of the scenes are staged, yes; and the family depicted was cast that way. But the star--Inuit hunter Allarkariallak--did hunt seal and walrus (albeit with a rifle rather than the spear in the film) and did build igloos. (More than one just for this movie, as the first one was too small and dark for Flaherty's primitive video camera; they built one with three sides to allow enough room and light.) I don't know what the Inuit drink for a cold, but I know it doesn't involve lemons!

Nanook of the North, Part I

Me, at the door of the music room: "Hon, could you help with me something quickly, please?"

Dear Husband appraises me, all bundled up, with a stricken look on his face. "...I'm afraid the coroner doesn't make house calls."

I had declared my intentions earlier of attempting to turn hot water into snow like "the world's most Canadian couple" did in Manitoba in -45 degrees (not including windchill). Things have come to a literal standstill around here what with the snow, wind, and arctic cold. This morning the air temperature was -11 with a windchill of -40, so I heated some water in the microwave and put on multiple layers. We did a test run out the kitchen door before I opened it further against a drift and squeezed out.

"It's snow-ing!"

But I honestly couldn't tell how cold it was outside, since I'd started sweating from wearing all those layers inside.

Chickpea Saga Spinach

When I was a senior in college, I lived with two "suities" (pronounced "sweeties") in an apartment on campus. Once a month we organized a fancy dress-up dinner party at our place. Each one had a theme, and we took turns inviting different groups of friends. One month I wanted to make a new side dish--I think we were trying to cook vegetarian--that involved spinach, chickpeas, onion, garlic, and some basic Italian spices. Actually, the original recipe required some brand-name Indian pickles or something, but I just edited that out. We three piled into the one's car to go grocery shopping. Not finding chickpeas at the first store, we stopped by an expensive specialty store. None there, either. By this point, we needed to start cooking, or there wouldn't be anything to serve when our guest arrived. So the suitie with the car dropped the other two of us off and struck out for a third store. She arrived just in time with a can: "Garbanzo Beans," read one side of the label. "Chickpeas" read the other side. It is entirely possible that the desired legumes were to be had at all the stores we visited, but we just didn't know! Whoops. At any rate, the dish earned a memorable moniker and was a success on the table.
Ingredients: 1 lb spinach (frozen is fine, fresh is better) 15 oz can chickpeas, drained 1 sm onion, finely chopped 8-10 cloves garlic, minced (more or less to taste) 2 tbsp lemon juice (=1 sm or 1/2 lg lemon) 4 tbsp water 4 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning OR make your own: 2 tsp dill seed, 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp black pepper
Saute the onion, garlic, and seasonings in the lemon juice and water. Add the chickpeas to warm. Stir in the spinach and cook until lightly wilted (if fresh) or hot (if frozen). Serve.
Considering all the difficulties we had getting the title to my car transferred, I thought a little Chickpea Saga Spinach was in order.

(You'll have to imagine the chickpeas in the spinach, as I had
used up our store of chickpeas in the lentil-rice patties!)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Purchasing My First Car, Extended Edition

All right, use your best Rod Roddy voice and say it with me: "Here's your NEW car!"

I recently purchased my first car. (Frau Doktor will need it to get back and forth from the hospital while she's working on becoming Frau Doktor Doctor.) My in-laws' neighbor's elderly aunt, a retired real estate agent, was finally willing to part with her cute little 4-door. We did the deal while visiting over Thanksgiving while. That's me freezing my butt off to get a photo right afterward. It was a triumphant moment, but I should have known that something was up when we got home and the second garage door wouldn't open on account of the cold...

That week, Dear Husband and I made a date to go to the DMV and then start decorating for Christmas. We showed up with our loan paperwork, insurance paperwork, and a couple of screwdrivers to change out the plates. "Crap," says the clerk. "What?" we reply, wondering what we forgot. The notary at the aunt's nursing home had misdated his signature on the original title as "2014" instead of "2013." Unless he sent a letter explaining his mistake, the car wasn't mine until the following November!

While I fume at having to return to the DMV for someone else's mistake, DH calls his parents for the neighbors' phone numbers. They don't answer. He calls his mother, who explains to my FIL what the problem is. FIL calls the neighbors, who pick up. They then call the nursing home, which explains the notary is in a meeting, but they take a message that includes the DMV's fax number. "Have him call us when he sends the fax," I insist, unwilling to sit in the DMV all day while Christmas preparations await.

Over the weekend DH talks and even emails with the notary about how best to get the necessary letter. Status uncertain, he calls the nursing home early in the week, but snow has slowed everyone down. Then a stomach bug lays DH low, and I'm more concerned about shoveling half a foot of snow and hosting a party than trying to track down this letter. The garage-door repairman has never shown up.

The next week, I call and text the notary. Nothing. I call our DMV five times before someone picks up. No, they haven't seen the notary's fax. Then we receive word the notary has left the nursing home for another job and is unreachable! A nursing home manager gets involved, until legal counsel tells her the company takes no responsibility for his notary business on the side. The county notary office has out-of-date contact information for him, and the Secretary of State will accept no responsibility either. Basically, a notary is an independent agent of the state, and if s/he dates an official document incorrectly and then goes AWOL, you're sh*t out of luck!

car coasters I got for Christmas
"for the car you don't own yet"!
I call our DMV again. Someone acts like he might have seen a fax but cannot find it. ::cough:: He tells me a certified letter from the seller/power of attorney attesting to the legality of the sale would be acceptable. By now we have one working day before Christmas Eve, and I am afraid there is a penalty for not transferring the title within thirty days. But the banker seems unconcerned, and the DMV website has no deadlines, so we decide to get the letter over Christmas. Meanwhile, my in-laws' neighbor's elderly aunt falls and nearly breaks a hip, and then her step-mother passes away. While wondering if we have to apply for a new original title and do this all over again, we leave the new car at home and drive the old one to the airport--just in case.

Finally, on the first day the DMV is open again after the holidays I show up with the loan paperwork, insurance paperwork, certified letter, power of attorney form, and a couple of screwdrivers. Problem #1: DH has to sign the documents. Problem #2: the system is down on account of the new calendar year, and can we come back later. Are you kidding me? I take some paper forms, meet DH for breakfast, fill out one of the forms incorrectly, and finally we just rendezvous back at the DMV. The system is up and running, all of the paperwork is correct, and would I just pay the state some money? YES! Yes, I will! Tell me how much, and I will write the check. We swap out the plates and drive home at last.

Guess who sent me an email when I got home? The nursing home manager, relaying a message from the notary that he had in fact faxed a letter to our DMV and would be happy to do so again...      ::cough cough::

A few days after that, DH intercepted a phone call from a relative of the seller's...who had somehow managed to shred the check from the bank. Thank goodness we did not have to re-apply for the loan, but DH did have to sign an affidavit that the check had been destroyed, get a new check, and send it to them. Thankfully, this did not impact our ownership of the car, just their ability to get paid. Friends and strangers all assure me that purchasing a car is not usually this difficult!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy Eating in 2014!

Dear Husband had a big concert on New Year's Eve (you can read about it on his blog), and with his parents coming to town for it, I got inspired to try a trio of new recipes. On New Year's Eve he had an early call time, so I treated them to a new recipe from Better Homes and Gardenslentil-rice patties. These take an hour to prepare, but they taste great and are marvelously filling (i.e. Peter Jackson-movie-length filling!). Make the batter on a weekend and store in the fridge for a quick dinner during the week. You can eat these on a hamburger bun, tucked into a pita pocket, or on top of greens. Your taste buds will thank you.

On the left, lentils, rice, broth, and onion simmering. On the right, in the order in which they will be added, drained and rinsed chickpeas; oats; mixture of egg whites, BBQ sauce (I don't have Worchestershire sauce and skipped the hot pepper sauce), and basil; chopped walnuts. After everything has been added and the batter sits a few minutes, you pan-fry patties in some butter until brown.

A good daughter of Texas, I wanted to serve black-eyed peas for luck in the new year. I modified this Texas Caviar recipe (no cilantro or serrano chiles!) and served it cold on the side. I suspect it would be tasty warm, too. Here's the full meal, complete with steamed broccoli and a dollop of fat-free plain yogurt. Delish!


On New Year's Day--which doubled as Christmas with DH's parents--I prepared coq au vin* over noodles, rosemary roasted brussels sprouts, and green salad. I used canned mushrooms and jarred baby French onions, but I added the carrots late in the cooking so they were still firm when I put it on the table. This hearty meal was finished off with MIL's blackberry pie. Happy eating in 2014!

* My mother sometimes made coq au vin, and she pronounced it "cohk ah vahn" (pardon my haphazard spelling). Out of curiosity, I asked the interwebs, and some food snobs over at the Village Voice who insist on saying "boo-fay" for buffet assert it should be "co-ooh-vin." But Miriam Webster agrees with my mother, so I'm going to continue pronouncing it the way she taught me.