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 :)

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