31 January 2012

4710 - Year of the Dragon

新年快乐!Gung Hei Fat Choi! 新年快樂!

We are now about halfway through the 2012 Chinese New Year season. Sunday, the 29th, I went to a parade celebrating not only the Year of the Dragon, but also the 100th anniversary of Chicago's Chinatown.

The parade was parade-y. We got a good spot on top of this planter thing but the increased height also resulted in increased cold and wind. We spent pretty much the whole time analyzing the marching bands (especially the guard) and complaining about the silly wai guo ren on the floats with their Japanese style umbrellas despite the fact that meimei and I are wai guo ren (but we're not like those jokers, right?)

I forgot to take pictures of the actual
dishes, I was too busy eating!
The more important part of the day was my first Peking Duck! Before the parade we had the cheapest Peking Duck in Chinatown, and possibly Chicago, at $10/person including a sizable tip. Somehow, throughout all of my Southeast Asian Adventures and extended love affair with Chinese food I had never before eaten this quintessential Chinese dish. It was glorious. There was duck soup followed by the classic crispy duck slices on slices of steamed bun and a duck and bok choy stir fry rounded out this duck-a-palooza. We had BBQ pork as the side dish instead of shrimp and even without rice, we were stuffed.

After the parade we made a foray to Little Saigon to do some shopping sans crowds. Little Saigon is definitely the best place to get Asian groceries. So cheap! I bought a bunch of snacks for my office and if it wasn't for the train ride home I probably would have bought half the store. I was in super-nostalgia mode. The only thing missing from my Asian shopping experience was a strong dried fish smell and a crowd of pushy old ladies getting all the best vegetables.

28 January 2012

Adventures in Baking, and Laundry

Today I was really tired for some unknown reason (possibly related to kendo practice last night and running with the dog this morning) but didn't want to take another nap so I spent the afternoon doing laundry (which I forgot to put a dryer sheet in – yay static!) and conducting some baking experiments.
I ended up with three things, all of which are edible and, to some extent, delicious.
-Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
-Gluten Free, GAPS-Friendly, Cranberry Walnut Cookies
-Pumpkin Cake with Walnuts and Chocolate Chips

Here are the recipes I used (more or less). Be warned, I'm not always a big measurer (I tend to just eyeball some things) so ingredients marked with an asterisk represent an estimated amount.

Wow, my scientist is showing. Quick, on to the recipes before I start trying to calculate the percent error or generate a probability distribution!

Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
This recipe (minus the walnuts) came directly from the back of the Aldi brownie mix box so everything is pretty exact.
            1 box brownie mix
            ⅔ cup vegetable oil
            ¼ cup water
            2 eggs
Make the brownie mix with that stuff and then add
            ½ bag chopped walnuts (4-6 oz*)
Separately, cream together
            6 oz cream cheese, softened
            5 tblsp butter, softened
            ⅓ cup sugar
Then add
            2 eggs
            ¾ tsp vanilla (I actually used a capful which is probably closer to ½ tsp)
And then add
            2 tblsp flour
To put it all together, pour half-ish of the brownie mix with nuts into a greased 13x9 pan. Pour the cream cheese mixture on top of that, don’t worry about making it even. Finally, pile the rest of the brownie mix on top and run a knife (or fork in my case) through it to make the swirly patterns. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes.

These were a huge hit. Even my roommate, who “doesn’t like cream cheese,” really liked these brownies. I’m pretty sure they’re already over half gone and I just made them.

Cranberry Walnut Cookies
            ¼ cup coconut oil*
            2 tblsp honey*
Cream these together
            1 cup walnuts*
Pulse the walnuts in the food processor so you get small pieces (some will end up finely chopped/flour-like, this is good and helps the cookie stick together)
            ⅛ cup dried or fresh cranberries*
Mix everything together making sure to coat the nuts and berries evenly. Press the mixture into a mini muffin pan. Bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. It can also be made as a pan but will need to be baked for about 20-25 minutes and then sliced with a pizza cutter. I haven’t tried them as a drop cookie but it should work if you use a significant amount of nut flour to get them to hold their shape better. I have also used this as a topping for gluten free, GAPS-friendly pumpkin upside down cake. 

This recipe, and I used the word loosely, is great because you can just add more nuts or more honey/coconut oil mix as needed (hence my lack of accurate measurements…). It can also work with other nuts or different berries (or raisins) if you’re not a fan of these. Or it could be just nuts if you hate all berries. I don’t think it would work as all berries though; unless you used dried ones and pulsed them in the food processor to make berry-flour…

Anyway, on to the last recipe.

Pumpkin Cake
            ½ cup melted butter
            ½ cup sugar
            ½ cup brown sugar
Cream these together, then add 
            1 egg
            1 capful vanilla extract (1/2 tsp*)
Next mix in
            1 can pumpkin
            ⅓ cup plain yoghurt*
Then add the dry ingredients after mixing or sifting them together
            1.5 cups flour
            1 tsp baking soda
            ½ tsp salt*
            ½ tsp nutmeg*
            1 tsp cinnamon*
            ½ tsp powdered ginger*
Finally, stir in half a bag each of chopped walnuts and chocolate chips (it might work better with the mini ones).
This made 2 half-filled loaf pans, which were then baked at 350F for 45 minutes.

Ultimately I was a little disappointed with this experiment because it was too chocolaty. I never thought I would say such a thing but there you have it. There was too much chocolate (which is why I think mini chocolate chips might be a better choice). If you want some more accurate measurements for the spices, you can look at the pumpkin pie recipe on the side of the can. Also, if you’re a person who can stomach raisins I can imagine that some golden raisins would be nice in here. Next time, I will make this without the chocolate chips and do a cream cheese glaze instead.

After sampling all these baked goods, I don’t think the train was a very good place to write this post.  ~_~  (hopefully that looks like an ill face and not a contented face because I definitely feel like vomit, not warm and fuzzy)

26 January 2012

A Good Day (to start a blog!)

I was going to write a post that consisted of variations of the phrase "blah, blah, blah-ity, blah, pickles" so that I could work out my post formatting, but then I had a super awesome day.

Why was today super awesome? Let's see...

Hopefully someday one of these little
beauties will become a fancy bonsai tree!
I will name it Fred.
It was definitely not because I woke up early after not sleeping well, it was cold, it rained all day, I wanted to stab my prof for giving such a boring lecture, and I got stood up by my PIs for our weekly progress meeting and ended up sitting around for an hour because no one told me the meetings were cancelled.

It probably was because:
-I went running with the dog this morning despite the cold rain and my general loathing of running.
-My lab mate fixed the lab fridge saving me from hours on the phone in customer service hell.
-I didn't have to sit in front of my PIs and pretend that I've done something productive in the last week (I totally haven't).
-My bonsai tree seeds sprouted!!
-I composed and sang a song entitled "Fishy Face" while shaving my boss. I may have also made some fishy-faces, for emphasis.
-I got a ride to work so I didn't have to walk in the rain.
-My friend gave a cool presentation on simultaneous MR-PET in class this morning.
-I ate a super delicious dinner.
-I made some pretty okay earrings while rocking out to ABBA this afternoon (thank you meimei for that CD!) 
The chain connects my lobe piercing to my
cartilage piercing (thanks to Z for the idea!)
These are some other attachments for the top
of the chain (they hang down from the top of my ear)

-I managed to shower, get dressed, and brush my teeth in 15 minutes this morning. I'm pretty sure that's a personal record.
-I got a free brownie at my favorite cafe because they gave my roommate an extra.
-I went to a Chinese grocery store near my office/lab and am officially in love. It looks real shady from the outside but I will definitely be buying most of my groceries there this summer.
-I got a pork bun from said Chinese grocery store and it was glorious. I also got a bag of rock sugar for meimei for way cheaper than when I was trying to buy it online at Christmas time.
-I started planning a 2 week adventure on an historic tall ship in May with my friend.  I originally didn't think I would have time because I have to take my qual in June, but as it turns out I can take my finals, go boating for two weeks, and still have time to study for 1-1.5 weeks for my qual. Success.

I think that's about it. Now it's off to bed after some kitty snuggling ^_^

I mean, come on, who wouldn't want to snuggle these guys?