Sunday, May 24, 2015

Strawberry Season

It's strawberry season!  The first of the summer fruits to grace us each year is finally at its sweetest, juiciest, ripest peak.  I have been savoring these few precious, fleeting weeks by eating buckets of strawberries from a local strawberry patch and dreaming up countless ways to prepare them.

The first of my creations was for Mother's Day.  I set out to find a recipe for strawberry cake, but I was disappointed to find that most recipes called for strawberry flavoring, strawberry jello or some other variety of fake or frozen strawberries.  I decided to make Ina Garten's Strawberry Country Cake, which is basically a strawberry shortcake.  It is a dense (but not heavy) sour cream cake with a hint of lemon zest, fresh strawberries, and whipped cream.  It was incredibly easy to make and it tasted.....delicious!!  The cake and whipped cream are the perfect accompaniments to fresh strawberries to bring out their flavor and sweetness.  It makes a beautiful-looking cake as well.  Everyone at our Mother's Day gathering loved it!  I have to say, I've never made a recipe from Ina Garten that I didn't like.  She is the queen!

Photo credit to my Grandmother's iPhone

Next up was a strawberry rhubarb pie from Smitten Kitchen.  I had never tasted rhubarb before, but I kept hearing how great it paired with strawberries, and how well it balanced their sweetness and softness.  After making it and finally getting a taste, I have to agree.  The pie turned out just sweet enough, and the crust recipe was maybe the flakiest and tastiest pie crust I have ever made.  Like Ina, I've never made anything by Smitten Kitchen that I didn't like!

Enjoy the strawberries while they last! 


Thursday, May 14, 2015

6 GRE Study Tips

For those of us hoping to go to grad school, the GRE is a necessary evil.  It is like the SAT on speed.  I just took it last week.  Not that I aced it or anything, but here are some tips that I used (or wish I had used) to help my score:

  1. Begin studying at least a month in advance, preferably 2 months or earlier!  (But if you're like me, the longer you have to complete a task the more you procrastinate).  Try to set aside an hour a day or every other day to study, and take one or two practice tests a week.  That way you will know what you need to study, and you can track your progress by your weekly test performance.
  2. Buy a study guide!  The major ones are by Princeton Review and Kaplan, but there are many, many more.  I used the Kaplan book.  Most of the test prep books you find in the book store will be very helpful as long as they include lots of practice questions and practice tests.  These books are great because they familiarize you with the types of questions on the test and how it will be scored.  I recommend buying a book with an online component because it often includes extra practice tests that are administered the same way as the real GRE.
  3. Keep an ongoing vocabulary list.  As you study, you will encounter lots of words you don't know.  Write these down and define them, and continue studying them as you go.  My list was 4 pages long front and back.  Maybe I think too highly of myself, but I didn't realize there were this many words floating around the English language I had never heard of before.  I don't know where the GRE finds them!  These are not your high school SAT words.
  4. As for math: practice, practice, practice.  The way the GRE asks math questions is not straightforward...they give you an equation of some kind and two quantities (A and B) and then ask you if one quantity is greater than the other, equal to each other, or cannot be determined.  Unfortunately, this requires that all solutions must be parsed out before you can make your answer.  For a person as slow in math as me, it required tons of practice to get used to this type of question and to re-familiarize myself with long-forgotten rules and principles.  The only way to do this is to grab a test prep book and get to work, and then take as many practice tests as you can tolerate.
  5. Utilize  ETS is the organization that administers the GRE, and they have lots of useful test prep tools on their website.  There are free practice tests, essay prompts, and test tips.  I recommend checking them out and using all the resources they have to offer!
  6. Don't freak out on test day!  I know it's hard not to, but the GRE can always be taken again!  (Even though it costs you out the wazoo).  As my psych professor used to say, your exam performance does not determine your worth as a person!
Good luck!!!


Comic is from the great website PhD Comics

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

30 Days of Yoga with Adriene

I have mixed feelings about yoga.  For the most part I love it.  Every time I've done it in the past I've left the studio feeling more relaxed, more energized, and more positive.  A couple times I even felt like I got an intense workout - like I exercised muscles I had never exercised before.  On the other hand, if I'm going to allocate time to fitness, I'd often rather cram as much physical exertion into the hour as I can, and yoga sometimes doesn't cut it.  Also, I still feel a little hokey when the class chants "om...." in unison.  It makes me feel like more of a suburban white girl than just about anything else.

Despite my hesitations, I still really want to do yoga.  It is very alluring for its graceful instructors, its promise of serenity and strength, and its mysterious roots in eastern religion.  Not to mention my doctor recommended I do yoga to rehabilitate my back after a nasty injury.  So, to ease into it and hopefully learn a thing or two, I decided to try 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.  

I started yesterday with Day 1.  Adriene makes things easy enough for beginners.  She speaks in a soothing,  encouraging tone and has a playful edge.  I appreciated her gentle reminders to stay present instead of allowing your mind to race ahead to the next posture.  The session is thirty minutes long, and while I thought I would be bored initially, I slid into an almost meditative state in which I felt very calm and time passed quickly.  By the end, I felt relaxed and loose and positive.

Over the next 30 days I will give a weekly update with my observations of any changes or effects I notice from the program.



Saturday, May 9, 2015

Summer Rolls Restaurant

A friend and I were looking for a place to eat some lunch. We weren't sure where to go, and I wasn't feeling anything too heavy or greasy. Fortunately, he had the brilliant idea to suggest some spring rolls! Although he said the place was a little far and a little pricey, the idea sounded perfect so away we went!

We ordered two things at the restaurant, and the first thing was a dish called banh beo. It consisted of small plates of steamed rice cake, topped with dried chopped shrimp, scallions, and croutons. We poured fish sauce on top, and scooped it out of the dish with a spoon. It was a little bit salty for my taste. We couldn't figure out what it was that was salty, but it was still delicious! The fish sauce added a little bit of sweetness to the savory dish.

As we were working through the banh beo, our spring rolls arrived! The rice paper came with hot water for soaking, so that it would become pliable for the rolls. The plate of veggies consisted of lettuce, cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, cilantro, mint, chives, and Asian basil. The meat came grilled and skewered, and everything was ready to be assembled!

We dipped the rice paper in the water, and assembled a little bit of all the veggies on top and added some meat as well. I remembered a YouTube video I watched on spring rolls (linked here), where the girl instructs the viewers to roll "gently but tightly, the way you hug your sweetheart." Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the finished rolls because this was a hands on process, but the spring rolls were fresh, light, and incredibly appetizing! I would definitely recommend this restaurant, and would return for another visit :)


Monday, April 27, 2015

Bread Baking: No-Knead Multi-Grain Bread

This recipe comes from Sonja and Alex of A Couple Cooks, who adapted it from Zoe Francois's cookbook The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  It is a great find because not only is it delicious, it is incredibly easy to make and it's got some nutritional value.  I stopped buying store-bought bread a while back because of the long list of strange ingredients.  It's nice to be in control of what goes into my least then I know I won't be eating lots of added sugars, preservatives, and flavor enhancers.  Homemade also just tastes better...and it's not too bad to look at on my kitchen counter!
I started by soaking rolled oats, quinoa, and chia seeds in water.  The recipe calls for sunflower seeds instead of chia, but the sunflower seeds in my pantry mysteriously disappeared before I had the chance to use them.  
The dough consists of all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, the grains, water, salt, and yeast.  Basically I just threw it all in the mixer bowl and let it go until the dough was just formed.  I was careful not to over-mix so the bread would be tender and fluffy.  It really is the easiest thing in the kneading necessary.  It's a piece of cake!  Easy as pie!  Why are there no bread puns?!  
Here it is after rising for a couple hours.  At this point I covered the bowl in plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge to be made the next morning.
Peeling it out of the bowl in the morning was quite the tactile experience.  This isn't the typical smooth bread formed lots of tiny air pockets which gave it an interesting stretchy-ness and a sponge-like appearance.
Doesn't it look like a sea sponge?!
I divided the dough in half and formed each loaf by tucking the ragged edges underneath to make a smooth ball.  Onto the corn-mealed baking sheet to rest for an hour.
It has risen!
I floured the tops and cut some slashes with a serrated knife.  Quite artist-ique if I do say so myself.
All finished.  This is a hearty bread but it's not so hearty that it's tough or dense.  It's got a nice soft texture and a crunchy crust.  I eat it with my eggs in the morning, as a sandwich at lunch, and on the side at dinner.  I eat it all day!  It's that good.  Thanks A Couple Cooks!


Friday, April 24, 2015

Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Foundation

Finally, finally!

I caved. I have been waiting to get this product so long, that I may or may not have paid too much to get a hold of it. But finally!

The full name: Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Eraser Treatment Makeup. If you saw the post on the Instant Age Rewind Concealer, you would know that the concealer is what got me interested in the foundation. And I am happy that I decided to try it!

This foundation is lightweight, medium coverage, and incredibly easy to apply. I don't have too much to say about the merits of it's lasting power, but I would say that this foundation is situationally amazing.

Time for a story. One day, I was feeling pretty upset and I ended up crying. Unfortunately, I am not a pretty crier! My eyes get swollen, and my nose and the center of my face get pretty red and I look like a hot mess. I wanted to go to the grocery store, but I didn't want to go looking like I had obviously just cried, but I also wasn't particularly in the mood to carefully and meticulously apply my makeup. IN COMES THIS FOUNDATION TO THE RESCUE.

This foundation took absolutely no time to apply, was ridiculously easy to blend, and covered all the blotchy redness on my face. It erased all the evidence of my tears! It was a miracle worker, a time saver, and was perfect for that moment.

The finish is definitely not matte, and would maybe be considered between satin and dewy. The applicator makes putting on the product a breeze and is a great time saver. There is a slight chemical smell to the product, but it's nothing too offensive.

Again, I wouldn't be sure about recommending this for the lasting power. But if you have somewhere you need to be and want to get out of the house in a few minutes and want to even out your skin, this would be a good option!

Rating: 3.8 out of 5


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day 2015 I thought I'd share some pictures of the flowers I potted a couple days ago!

 Out of the little pot and into the big pot!
 My mom always tells me to break up the roots before planting to encourage them to grow into the new planter.
Two double impatiens and two verbena!
Snipping the beautiful flowers off the newly potted gardenias.  Seems so sad but it helps the plant allocate nutrients more efficiently to grow big and strong.

Happy Earth Day!

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