Days off are for go-getters!

I was one of the lucky ones who got MLK day off (unlike the Hus-friend, womp, womp), so I felt the heavy responsibility of making the most of my day. Before I went to bed the night before, I scribbled down a to-do list and left it on a sticky note next to my computer.

When I woke up the next morning, I considered how ridiculous it is to make a to-do list for a DAY OFF from work. Then again, I am a ridiculous person who loves checking off tasks.

On the boring side of things, my list had:

  • itemize Goodwill donations and drop them off (When we amass a sufficiently large box of donation items, I go through and write down the date, the item, and its value and print off a hard copy to staple to the back of the official donation form. Each itemized list goes into a master Google doc, so at the end of the year, we can easily total what we donated for tax purposes.)
  • return goodeggs (local food delivery service) cold packaging to get them out of the kitchen AND avoid being charged a fee
  • pick up prescription from the pharmacy
  • Also: change the bed linens and wash the sheets:

folded sheets

I hate-hate-HATE the look of a messy linens cabinet, but up until yesterday, I was pretty bad at folding fitted sheets. The videos online (and I’ve watched them ALL) did not explain how to orient the sheet–do you hold the corners on a short side or a long side? Fortunately, I remember that Kim had done a short video a few years ago where she explained how to fold a fitted sheet into a neat little square. Her video was perfect because she used a sheet with a print, so I could tell how it was oriented. So if you would also like to save yourself the rage of trying to fold a fitted sheet, definitely check out her video!

Now, onto other fun stuff i did:

I baked some keylime cookies, except I used the zest of two Meyer lemons instead. My baking powder is apparently expired because these babies turned out pancake flat. They were still soft and yummy though (and the engineering department ate them all).

Meyer lemon cookies

To use up the rest of a softball-sized Eureka lemon, I made another gâteau au yaourt. This time, I omitted the crushed almonds and used all flour. I think I prefer this smoother and lighter texture.

gâteau au yaourt

While I was in the kitchen, I stocked up on…stock. My system (because everything is a system) is to save vegetable scraps and any bones from cooking and add them to a resealable bag in the freezer. This makes a tastier, less salty stock, and I feel so much better reducing the amount of waste I produce. I’ve been buying animal products and meat from local producers, and I really like the idea that none is going to waste. For example, not only did the chicken I bought get used in three meals, I simmered the bones for stock!

Since I had a bunch of floursack towels lying around from a failed sewing project, I was able to strain the stock to make it clear. Then into the freezer it goes for future soup-making!stock

Not pictured: the long walk I took with bodger, the progress I made on the gusset of my knitted sock, and the time I spent reading for pleasure.

Around 4:30pm, I still had “sew” on my to-do list. I was feeling guilty for not spending any time at my machine recently, and I had a small stash of fabric to use. I was feeling pretty tired by that point, but I really wanted to get through my “to do” list. Isn’t that ridiculous? I could have sat on the couch and stared at the wall, and no one would have faulted me! Then again, my productivity is for me, not for anyone else.

I rallied, picked a very easy project, and got to work.

sewing pink jersey

Check it out! I made a soft, light jersey infinity scarf, perfect for San Francisco. For the past year, I had been going to Marinelayer store in Hayes Valley and stroking their soft jersey infinity scarves. I REFUSED to pay $38 for something I could make myself, so every time, I’d put it down and congratulate myself on my ability to walk away from an impulse buy. I’m so glad I did! This scarf was so easy to make, even though I totally hate hate hate sewing jersey! (I didn’t blog the totally wonky jersey tee-shirt with an awful stretched-out neckline that I made last month.)

jersey infinity scarf

When the Hus-friend came home, I told him all about my very productive day over leftover pizza. Please, like I had the energy to make another pizza from scratch! That would just be too much.

So, my day off was not necessarily relaxing, but it was very productive and satisfying! And trust me, I slept like a log that night.

Ameri-cakes & Pies: Virginia [Chocolate] chess pie

Well, it’s not much of a looker, but I made a pie!

One of my teammates Eyal got a sous-vide recently (Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what that is. I had never heard of it before moving to California, and it was like “Sous-vide this! Sous-vide that.”) We had decided that in the new year, we were going to start having monthly theme dinners, so it made perfect sense that January’s dinner would be cooked in the new sous-vide.

My contribution, unsurprisingly, was dessert, albeit not cooked in a vacuum. Eyal and his fiancée Julia are big into pie, firmly on the other side of the pie vs. cake debate. Though I am firmly a CAKE4LYFE  type, the least I could do was try my hand at a pie. After all, they were having us over for fancy steak cooked under a vacuum for, like, days upon days!

Since I’m not big into fruit pies and the Hus-friend hates nuts, I figured the safest bet was to try a more custard-y pie. I flipped through Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies, which my mom had given me awhile ago and found chocolate chess pie. Bingo! I was excited to make a pie that is characteristic of my home state.

Granted, chess pie is not the same thing as chocolate chess pie, but as this project won’t be submitted for a peer-reviewed journal, I don’t care.

I tried Mrs. Rowe’s recipe for vinegar pie crust. According to the book, the vinegar “acts as a stabilizer” and imparts a unique flavor. It’s an all shortening crust (plus egg yolk?). I still had a hard time rolling out the crust: it stuck to everything and kept cracking while rolling out inconsistently. I probably didn’t flour things enough, but I didn’t want it to get too dry with the addition of more flour. And my rolling technique almost certainly needs work.

The filling was pretty standard: cocoa, evaporated milk, some eggs, sugar. Nothing ground breaking!

I panicked a bit once it was time to take the pie out from the oven. The edges were supposed to be set, and the center was supposed to jiggle slightly. Agitating the pan of my attempt, however, caused giant waves to roll across the surface of the pie, like some demonstration of tidal action.  First, I was stressed about an over-baked, dry filling, but then I worried about it not being set enough (and oozing out everywhere once I cut into it). All the recipes I found had baking times between 40 and 50 minutes, but I ended up baking it closer to an hour, and it was still quite jiggly.

chocolate chess pie
The crust crimping shrunk too much. :(

After our delicious sous-vide-prepared dinner (delicious, by the way!), I took a deep breath and sliced into the pie. Even though it had emerged from the oven all puffed up and proud of itself, it had several hours of timeout in the fridge to ponder its place. When we cut into it, it had deflated, and the filling was somewhere between the consistency of mousse and custard. Yum!

I still have so much to learn about pie: getting the crust right, what “just right” filling looks like, how to cut slices without mangling them. Hmm…sounds like a new goal: learn to make a good pie!

The last week

I was going to blog about the pie I made, but I didn’t want two consecutive “I baked this” posts. Since my blog is an online [somewhat edited] account of my life, I don’t want it to be all about baking, running, crafting, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with blogs about one specific thing, but it’s not really what I’m “aiming” to create here. Plus, you might get bored if I only talked about things I’ve made or lackluster runs I’ve had, right?

Last week, it was crazy foggy when I went to work. My walk to work takes about 25 minutes, so I use that time to catch up with my parents. (I put in my iPhone headset and can talk hands-free. It makes me feel more alert.) I was talking to my mom and snapped this picture with the intention of sending it to her later. Whoops! I guess everyone gets this picture of the fog instead. SF morning fog

I’ve recently become friends with another engineer at work. Her name is Senna. While I like a lot of my co-workers, I don’t hang out with that many of them outside of work. (This is kind of a weird thing about tech, I’ve realized. The lines between professional and personal relationships seem kind of blurred because everyone is supposed to be cool and very nice, and everything is super casual.) Senna and her fiancé Ganbi (short for Ganbileg. He is Mongolian!) are both really nice and funny, and the Hus-friend and I have enjoyed hanging out with them. Before the company party last week, we all went to dinner before making a brief appearance at the shindig. (Since none of us really drink, after making the rounds, we left to get donuts instead.)

Company party photobooth
Something I love about tech: photobooths at parties

Last week, Senna and I were finishing up our weekly meeting for a big project when she said, “Hold on. I have something for you, but I have to go get it from my desk.” I blurted out, “Is it a burger?!?” (which is a reference to Ganbi saying he was ‘plugged up’ from eating a burger, which he pronounces “bourger.” We later realized he meant full, not constipated.) Senna’s object was not, in fact, a burger, but this!bridesmaid invitation

After my initial shock that the box did not contain a bourger, I, of course, said, “Yes!” I was so surprised and honored to be included in Senna and Ganbi’s wedding. It will be at the end of the summer and will include both Pakistani and Mongolian traditions. I like almost all weddings I attend (which is a testament to how cool my friends are), and I love that I get to see so many cultural traditions at various ceremonies.

Also at work, I learned bitwise operators for storing certain types of data efficiently. I’m not going to try to explain it in detail here because it requires knowing binary, and I seriously forget how binary works EVERY WEEK. I was really intimidated by binary before I got into tech because my only exposure to it was nerd-bros boasting about how they could count to a thousand in binary or stupid shirts like “There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who know binary, and those who don’t.” (FYI, 10 in binary means 2.)

Like many things in programming, bitwise operators were not nearly as complicated as I imagined, and they’re actually really cool! Not to mention, I felt incredibly lucky that my teammate Jay did such a good job explaining them to me; a lot of times, if an explanation is inadequate, I get really stressed and cry about it. I encourage you to read up on bits vs. bytes and bitwise operators if you’re interested! (And if you’re like, “Ah, the Internet is full of complex explanations that freak me out!” you can ask me, and I’m happy to try to explain it.)

bitwise operators

On Saturday, I joined Stella and her friends for “Lady Tea” at the Legion of Honor fine arts museum. We toured the “Houghton Hall: a portrait of an English country home” exhibit before sitting down to tea, finger sandwiches, and miniature desserts. It felt sophisticated and fun, even though the food was deceptively filling and we all felt full afterwards. In addition to the tasty food, we had stimulating discussions about gender, feminism, programming, San Francisco, and losing bags on airplanes.

Maybe I should try hosting a tea party at my apartment; it can’t be that hard to cut the crusts off of bread and make scones, right?

Lady tea at the legion of honor

So, wow, even thought I felt like I hadn’t done anything really exciting, this week, I actually had a fun and engaging past seven days. (And this post didn’t even include the pie I made for dinner at Eyal and Julia’s!) That’s one thing I like about having a blog-journal; I have a record of meaningful day-to-day things I may have otherwise forgotten!

Mmm, gâteau au yaourt!

If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you may remember my French grad school officemate Julie. One of my many Julie memories (besides when she would call me a “fucking dirty bitch” for fun-sies) was her insistance on teaching me how to make a gâteau au yaourt, or yogurt cake. Though now that I think about it, I don’t think we ever did actually make it…whoops.

gâteau au yaourt

I read that French children learn to make gâteau au yaourt because it’s an easy first project. You can use the empty yogurt container for measuring out the other ingredients, but I panicked because this method assumes you know how many eggs to use. (One egg? Two eggs? Fifty eggs?!? I panicked!) I ended up using Dorie Greenspan’s recipe from her book Baking: From my Home to yours. (It’s also available on her site here.)

Gâteau au yaourt

Oooh là là, this was a bougie cake! I opted to use crushed almonds, and they added both noticeable texture and flavor. The yogurt was cultured in my yogurtmaker using milk from Straus family creamery. And for lemon flavoring, I, of course, used some organic, local citrus! In addition to the Buddha’s hand, Noah brought a lot of lemon varieties to work last week. I snagged some [improved] Meyer lemons for this cake.

lemons

Le gâteau au yaourt is one of the handful of desserts that French people make at home since around every corner, they have some bakery filled with delectable pastries. Not to mention, a lot of Parisian apartments lack ovens (which, like, how do you roast chicken?!?). If I lived in France, I think I’d try to keep baking for fun; I enjoy the process just as much as the finished product–sometimes even more! Case in point, I didn’t even eat very much of this cake. I brought it to work and had half of a very small slice, just enough for a taste.

 

Gâteau au yaourt

It’s a very delicate cake–not a bombastic, chocolate-filled monstrosity like I usually make. A slice would be a lovely complement to tea, if you were into dainty lady tea, which I most certainly am.

I told my French conversation partner that I had made this cake, and he replied, “Ah, yes. It’s a good one.” I’ll take that as a Gallic stamp of approval.

2015 Hot Chocolate 15K

First race of 2015 in the books!

I had signed up for this 15K (my first) last month and was absolutely sure that I’d be in tip-top racing shape by January.

AHAHAHAHA.

Since it doesn’t matter how I do in races literally at all, I’m trying not to care about my performance so much. I mean, I don’t want to give myself permission to pursue apathy and indifference, but I also want to run races for both the challenge AND the fun of it.

SFRRC at Hot Chocolate 15k
With SFRRC friends before the start

Since I hadn’t done much in the way of training, I decided the night before the race to do my best with what I had and not beat myself up if it turned out to be a total disasterbox.

Milling about before the Hot Chocolate 15k

The race started in Golden Gate Park before heading south on Great Highway and turning around. This meant that the race went from easy to difficult: downhill, flat, and an uphill ending. I took advantage of the downhill in the 5K and ran at sub-9 pace because the end of the race always feels terrible, whether you were conservative or not in the early miles.

I kept thinking about how much the last 5K would suck, but it’s hard to stay grumpy when you’re running next to the Pacific Ocean. I love the beach, therefore, I am special.

Post-race
Race photos. The most unflattering. Always.

 

I finished in 1:25:09, an average pace of 9:09minutes/mile. It was definitely not a day for negative splits, but I am proud to say that I didn’t fall apart and walk on the hill in the last mile or so.  And, as this was my first 15K, it was an “automatic PR” or something. Meh.

The post-race party featured a giant, compartmentalized plastic “mug” with “chocolate fondue.” I immediately slopped my hot chocolate all over my tiny post-race banana. This is why I can’t have nice things. (That’s a lie; I have lots of nice things. I am classy.)Hot Chocolate 15K mug

I was able to use my monthly wellness stipend for the registration fee, so I only paid about $9 for this race. It was organized and well run, but the whole thing felt gimmicky and gratuitous. (Chocolate and strawberry marshmallows at aid stations. Yep.) I roll my eyes at races that vaunt their swag and post-race party goodies more than, say, their course. I often find that these are unnecessarily expensive. I could have done without a giant mug of sugar and been just fine with a banana, thank you very much.

Also, the shirts and cheap drawstring goody bags were DEFINITELY GENDERED. Women got pink swag, and men got green. It felt so weirdly incongruous to be in very progressive San Francisco, wearing a hoodie that reinforces gender stereotypes. I’m a lady. I like pink, right? RIGHT? Oh, wait, nope.

Hot Chocolate 15K

But not to be a totally downer! It was a fun morning and a successful first race of the year. Now, I’ve got to go find something to run in February!

Man, I’ve gotta’ figure out a way to display my medals. They all sit in a shoebox in my bookshelf.Hot Chocolate 15K SF medal

 

 

Candied Buddha’s hand

As I am a very important person, people often deliver gifts of great value to my desk at work, much as if I were a lord, receiving the best crops and livestock from my fiefdom.

Actually, that’s not true. What is true is that Noah, another member of the engineering team, grew me this Buddha’s hand and delivered it last week. Noah’s hobby is apparently producing, like, 8,000 pounds of citrus in his backyard.

Noah, Mica & a Buddha's hand

Upon receipt of such a magnificent, many fingered citrus specimen, it behooves one to use it for good, rather than evil. Buddha’s hand is a variety of citron, and unlike more popular quotidian citrus fruits, it has no pulp, juice, or seeds; the inside is just pith (that gross part that I painstakingly avoid when peeling oranges). What it lacks in juice, it makes up for in glorious floral-citrusy odor.

Bisected Buddha's hand

According to the sum of human knowledge (The Internet), Buddha’s hand is good for two things: flavoring alcohol and candying for garnish. Surprising though this may be, I opted for the latter and spent Saturday afternoon in the kitchen.

Chopped Buddha's hand

Blanching the citron pieces was a piece of cake, but candying them gave me frizzy bangs and almost certainly an ulcer as I waited for the temperature to rise to 230ºF. FYI: that candy thermometer was totally a piece of crap. It’s tip wouldn’t stay submerged, so it hovered at 205ºF, much to my frustration. Instant-read is the way to go!

Candying Buddha's hand

After an eternity of stirring, I was finally rewarded with translucent, jewel-like pieces of Buddha’s hand in glistening syrup. According to the recipes I read, you can use the leftover infused syrup for fancy drinks, but I think I cooked most of it off. Oh well, no fancy drinks for me!

Candied Buddha's hand

I drained off what I could, or maybe, I ineffectually just left the candied citron in a strainer for hours. Then I rolled the pieces in sugar and let them dry overnight.Drying candied Buddha's hand

And in the morning, I came downstairs to perfectly dried candied Buddha’s hand to be used on top of cakes, ice cream, and other classy desserts. (The dried version supposedly will last up to six months in the fridge.)Dried candied Buddha's hand

Next weekend, I plan to add some into shortbread cookies. Post to come!

Recipe for candied citron from David Leibovitz.

(This made a ton, so I still have a jar of the “wet” version in the fridge where it will last for a year. Come on over for candied citron!)

P.S. Comments were broken on my blog, but I have now fixed them. Apologies if you tried to comment and nothing happened. All good again, thanks for your patience!

Taking dinner class up a notch

So I’ve been trying to up the class factor in the apartment recently. Most of my attempts have been utter failures, like the time that I decided that I was going to like wine.

Oh, by the way, I still am maaaaaybe half-heartedly attempting to like wine. Keep encouraging me if we go out together. I won’t guarantee that I will agree, but I’ll at least probably not do something dumb, like buying a bottle labeled “white wine.” (Okay, in my defense, it was actually labeled vin blanc, and everything sounds classier in French.)

"I'm classy. I listen to music during dinner."

My newest attempt to be classy is playing music while cooking and eating dinner. Before Christmas, I played holiday jazz aggressively and kept remarking at how classy I felt over dinner. Now that we have 11 months until next December, I have to find something else to listen to…

For now, I’ve been trying to match the music choice to the dish. Bossa nova went well with tropical black bean soup, and last night, we ate homemade pizza to the lush vocals of Andrea Bocelli. Tonight’s bibimbap made for a poor Pandora selection, unfortunately: K-pop.

Bibimbap

I’m not very knowledgeable about music, so listening to a wide variety is helping me put together names and songs that I have heard. Also, K-Pop aside, it’s very pleasant to have some jazz playing in the background while cooking, instead of silence and the horn from the commuter rail nearby.

(Our very high-tech system is to cast the Pandora station of choice to the Chromecast in our TV. It’s not the best sound-quality ever, but we live in an apartment, and it suffices to bring the class-factor up at least a few notches.)

If you have any favorite tunes for eating, please let me know! I’m on the lookout.

Things I accomplished besides goal-setting

I did something silly that I said I wouldn’t do. I wrote this whole grandiose post announcing that I was going to learn one new tech-related thing every day this year and record my progress  in a weekly blog post.

The idea is good, and I might share some interesting things about the Internet on the blog (Did you know there’s an actual cable that runs under the ocean?!?). I do want to learn things to help me at work and ultimately, make me a better engineer. And focusing on the habit of learning regularly rather than the goal of having more knowledge is the more successful path.

That being said, I think goal-setting is a dangerous and slippery slope for me because I try to do it all. I end up feeling stressed that I can’t or don’t want to commit to every goal I set. Then I am disappointed in myself for “failing” at all these goals that I shouldn’t have set in the first place.

I’m a productive person, and I generally know in what direction I want to be moving. Maybe I should give up on the illusion of goal-setting because as much as I want it to, setting goals will not help me do everything. It will just stress me out.

So, in the spirit of this post, which served as my wake-up call, here are three small tasks that I achieved so far in 2014 that made me feel very accomplished already.

Turnips pickling in mason jar

Pickling, I feel you and I will have a very fruitful relationship. I felt so goddamn rustic-hipster-culinary-cool making a brine and putting it all in a mason jar and only slightly stressed that it sits out UNREFRIGERATED. Am excited to see how things turn out in a week. (Recipe here.)

Knife rack & measuring spoons

This was such a stupid-simple solution to a rage-inducing problem. I was inefficiently storing the measuring spoons in the silverware drawer (which, by the way, is impossibly narrow and can hold therefore zero organizational compartments). After buying a bunch of those sticky hooks for hanging holiday stockings, I decided to use some around the kitchen.

Hanging potholders

Again, another ridiculously simple but, dare I say, life-changing fix. I was storing the potholders in…the fruit basket, which was sub-optimal. When I needed them, I had to go rooting about for floppy silicone hot pads next to the limes. No more, I say!

Honorable mention: Folding clean running laundry, which we usually just dump unceremoniously on the floor. We win at being adults.

So yeah, down with stressful goals! Let’s just start somewhere with one accomplishment, no matter how small. Who’s with me?

2015: The year of style!

I’m not big on resolutions as I can never seem to keep them and they add unnecessary stress to my life when I don’t meet my goals. Basically, I don’t feel a strong enough imperative to follow through with them. There, I said it.

However, last year, I dubbed 2014 “the year of crafts.” This worked surprisingly well for giving some focus and a general goal to my year. I learned to sew and even made some wearable garments. I also upped my knitting game with socks, which are now my favorite thing to make. All in all, I’d call the year of crafts a success!

Pt. Reyes

What’s up for 2015? Well, I’ve decided to make this my year of style. Here, I’m using “style” loosely, to describe more than just my appearance, though that is one part. With 30 coming up soon-ish, I want to enter a new decade as my very best self. In other words, I want a stylish life, and to me, that means the following:

  • a stylish appearance: curating a minimalist wardrobe to reflect my personality and lifestyle
  • a home “sanctuary”: building on a comfortable living space that makes me happy (or maybe, I’ll just yell “SANCTUARY!!!!” outside the apartment until the Hus-friend opens the door every night. I’m sure he’d love that.)
  • confidence and security in who I am: allowing the best parts of my personality to flourish while acknowledging and mitigating my flaws.

The last part might be the most difficult as I feel that I have an extreme personality with a proclivity for exaggerated reactions. Also, I kept telling my family over break that my 2015 resolution was to “cultivate an air of mystery.” I was told by multiple sources (namely, Pat and the Hus-friend) that they had more faith in my ability to succeed at nearly any other resolution than becoming mysterious. Perhaps this is because I kept burping at the table and then saying, “Ah, crap! Air of mystery!” I’m the classiest.

So I might not end the year as a poised sophisticate, but I’d like to work on my relationships and ability to react in a mature and thoughtful manner. Quality over quantity. Or something.

Obviously, the year of style necessitates a mink coat.Mica in a mink coat

No, just kidding. (That’s Mom’s, she found it a thrift store for $100.)

P.S. Other goals for the year include: (1) improving my core and upper body strength because I am failing so hard in those areas right now and (2) learning a new work-related skill (TBD)

Did you make an resolutions or goals for 2015? I’m always curious about other people’s resolutions (or lack thereof).

I’m back in the new year.

Happy New Year, everyone! I took the holidays “off” from blogging and enjoyed spending time with my family in Richmond. I hope you were doing the same (or something else fun).

Having flown back on New Year’s Eve, we rang in 2015 in our pajamas, watching a three-hour delayed “live” feed of the Times Square festivities. By 12:10am, I was upstairs on our very comfy futon, which now has a memory foam mattress pad and brand-new sheets.

In my “old age,” I’ve embraced the fact that I never have fun on NYE and just want to sleep in a comfy bed and not be social.

Futon with sheets

Don’t worry; the new year has not lacked for traditions, including faux resolution-making (Post to come).  I spent most of the day getting my finances in order (or trying), using the new year as an excuse to be a more savvy consumer.

And for dinner, I made Mark Bittman’s take on Hoppin’ John and collards.

Hoppin' John & Collards

Most of you follow me on other forms of social media (or were actually hanging out with me), so maybe you kept up with me during the holidays. If you didn’t, here are some photos to prove that I did things.

The annual “serious” photo on Christmas Eve:

2015 Annual Serious Photo

Making cheddar drop biscuits on Christmas morning:

Cheese biscuits

Handmade gifts, including three pairs of knit socks:

Mom with socks

Relaxing at the in-laws and starting a new pair of socks (Handmade holiday 2015, it’s never too early to start!):

 

Knitting new socks

Getting my first gel manicure. No chips, I’m sold!

Gel manicure while knitting

“Delicate lady tea” with family friends (Hi, Paula!):

Delicate lady tea

Spending quality time with Dad:

Frowning with Dad

Breakfast at Joe’s Inn before heading out of town: Breakfast at Joe's

We only spent a week in RVA, but I think we did a good job this year spending time with people (rather than driving back-and-forth between our parents’ houses). I left feeling happy and loved, and also, ready to get back to my own space.

2015 is here! Let’s make this year a good one!