Monday, March 28, 2011

Summer recipes I can't wait to try.....if it was summer!

We're going on week two of sub-freezing temps at night here in Philly - we're only making it into the low 40s during the day, and it's absolutely freezing first thing in the morning!  This makes for tough running, and my motivation has been severely lacking lately.  Somehow the pollen counts are astronomical, even though it's below freezing, and my scratchy throat isn't helping with the motivation either....

But anyway, on to summer!  I'm dreaming of summer lately, and it's not just because it's cold - it's also only 4 weeks until my defense, and I'll be moving in with my boyfriend soon.  I can't wait - and so of course, I'm thinking of our first summer together - walks outside, barbecuing and making smores in the fire pit, and spending summer weekends in the hot tub with freezer pops (yep, the ones in the little plastic tubes).  So much more fun than freezing my bum off on a 6-mile run today.

I've been hoarding summer recipes since winter, and today seemed as good a day as any to post them.  I know a lot of you are dealing with cold temps and snow, so kick off your boots, slip on some flip-flops, and dream a little...

Black Bean and Corn Salad


It's a picnic classic - and one of my favorite things to eat outside on a summer day!

Salad with Blueberries and Walnuts

Something about greens with fruit just screams summer.  Sweet summer blueberries, bought in giant cases from the farmer's market...fresh, peppery greens and blue cheese.  Major yum.

Bacon-wrapped Scallops

They're not healthy, but they're so delicious.  And I am moving to New England this summer - I'm super excited about all the seafood.  These remind me of the night of Commencement Ball in college, when we went to Fanieul Hall and got them from a little vendor, then ate them in our fancy gowns and suits.  Can't wait to make them on the grill!

Blue Cheese Burgers

One of my favorite recipes for the grill.  Definitely my go-to when we have people over - I see many more of these in my future this summer.

Berry Fool

I saw this one on America's Test Kitchen yesterday, and it looks incredible.  Can't wait to try it with fresh berries and cream!

I may have cheated a little on waiting for summer and made crock pot pulled pork this reminiscent of summer barbecues.  I will post a recipe and pictures as soon as I eat my leftovers - I forgot to take pictures the first time.

Notice how dreaming of summer for me means dreaming of food?  I'm not so much dreaming of more running - I'm way undertrained for Broad Street and the Run to Remember half marathon in May.  But maybe once the weather actually starts warming up I'll be feeling it a bit more.  For now, I'll stay all bundled up inside and dream of warmer weather.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What they don't tell you about writing your thesis

My thesis is finally "done" now!  I say "done" instead of done because it's been turned into my thesis committee - the five people who have my life (or at least my Ph.D.) in their hands.  They can read it, give me back comments, and expect me to change it still - which means it's not REALLY done.  But the bulk of the writing and organizing is done (PLEASE tell me I won't need to reformat the pictures on Word again, the time that it swapped each picture in the document with another one KILLED me....).  Now it's on to preparing my talk, cleaning up everything, and moving(!).  I've actually sold all the furniture I'm selling, so once everything is picked up, the apartment will be pretty bare.  It's a bit crazy over here!

I learned a lot through writing my thesis.  Some of it was science-related, but really, I had most of that information already organized from paper-writing and committee meetings.  More of it was about the process of writing something that big, and about myself.  Before starting, I would have told you that all the ideas about "finding yourself" while writing your thesis are crap - but I really did do a lot of thinking about what I want in life and how I relate to the career path I'm going down.  Most of the process for me was really not how I expected it to be.  Here, briefly, is what I learned - or what they don't tell you about writing your thesis:

1. It is, in fact, really hard sometimes - but not the way you'd think it'd be.  For me, at least, the difficulty was emotional more than intellectual - I knew what I wanted to write and I had most of the information organized already, I just needed to sort it all out in my head and make myself write.  I think most people in the biomedical sciences, where your research is put into publications along the way, don't have to do a LOT of research to figure out what to write.  Sure, there were some sections I needed to research more carefully - but most of the work was organizing five years of research and thought about my project, then getting myself to stop procrastinating and write!

2. There will be good days and bad days.  A thesis is a big thing.  Like most big things, the amount of organization and work required is overwhelming at times.  On top of that, trying to get the words to come out right doesn't work sometimes.  Some days will be bad days - days when all you want to do is drink wine and watch tv, because you can't get even a paragraph to come out of your brain in logical form.  Other days, pages will come pouring out.  The thing is, the "bad days" are necessary - you need some time to let your brain incubate, form connections on its own, and make things work the way they need to.  Part of the word dissertation comes from the Latin serere, or "to arrange words" - and figuring out how to write what you know is a huge part of putting together the thesis.  Just because you're not writing doesn't mean your brain isn't working - you're thinking about your project and your writing even on "rest" days.  It will get done eventually, I promise!

3. At some point, you will live, eat, sleep, and breathe thesis.  Although our advisors may like to think that this is every day for all of their students, in reality, even on long days I go home and let things go for a bit before bed.  Not true during thesis "crunch time."  I like to think I managed pretty well - I still ate normal meals and got enough sleep.  But still, every moment was occupied by thinking about what was still left to do and how I was going to do it.  I had thesis-related dreams, made random notes about it while driving, lost touch with my parents and boyfriend, and worked pretty much right up until bed time every day for a few weeks, including weekends.  Unfortunately, I don't think this can be avoided - at some point, synthesizing a complete thesis means putting it all together in your head at the same time.  And when that happens, there really isn't enough room for anything else in there!

4. Despite the amount of work, it really is cathartic.  If you're in a biomedical Ph.D. program, you've spent at least 4, if not 5 or more, years doing research before you start thinking about your thesis.  It's a massive amount of time to spend on one thing, and there are lots of frustrations built into that time.  Even though it's not something everyone will read in the future, putting everything together in one document and seeing how much you really did is very cathartic.  You (hopefully!) realize how much you've put into the work and how it really has paid off - even if your publication list is pretty slim, you probably know more about your topic than anyone else, and at the end of years of work and frustration, that can be rewarding.

5. At some point, you have to accept things being just "good enough."  Although graduate school is all a practice in being "good enough" since grades aren't very important and evaluation is less concrete, writing your thesis is the ultimate lesson.  Coming straight out of college, it's taken me a while to learn this lesson - and as a perfectionist, it's not something I totally want to resign myself to.  But when it comes to the thesis, something that big will always have a few mistakes.  No one's really going to read it, and if they do they won't mind your typo on page 76.  It's time to finally embrace being "good enough" to graduate - because no matter how much work you put into it, that's all it's ever going to be.

I think this cartoon pretty much sums it up!


It's a lot of work, but it wasn't so bad!  I'm happy it's done now, and I can spend my last few weeks here getting things together for moving, trying to do a few last-minute projects in the lab, enjoying Philly.

And now that it's (mostly) done, I promise a return to the regularly-scheduled programming of interesting recipes and thoughts more applicable to normal people!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Margarita Bars (....or, why I don't normally take pictures of my food)

It's been a busy few weeks around here.....the thesis and my second big paper are almost finished (which, of course, means plenty of hours of tweaking and revising, but still, yay!).  I am starting to make plans to sell furniture, and packing up a few things to bring to Brendan's next time I visit.  The more I can bring now, the less I have to get into the moving van on May 1!

Instead of working on my paper introduction last night, I made margarita bars.  Now, I know those don't sound like a "thing" - you've probably heard of lemon bars, but not margarita bars.  I was introduced to them on an innocent walk through Williams and Sonoma one fine morning.....and they've been one of my favorite recipes ever since.  Shhhhh....don't tell anyone I didn't make these up myself!

These are just like lemon bars, but with margarita mix instead of lemon juice.  So they're a bit sweeter than lemon bars (or maybe just less sour?), and have an interesting lime flavor.  The shortbread really makes them special, too.  I'm not sharing the recipe online....I don't know if I can really call it "my" recipe.....but if anyone wants the recipe, e-mail me or let me know in the comments and I'll send it to you!

Now, this brings us into why I don't usually take pictures of my food.  I'm a graduate student living on my own - I don't have the time or the budget to get fancy placemats and dishes to put things on!  My attempt at a fancy picture here required using one of my bags as a "placemat" - and you'll notice that the bars are still on a styrofoam plate.  They looked better on there than on my black dishes, and they were already set up on there to bring to my doormen.

Even with my terrible attempt at nice food photography, there were some issues.  The sunlight coming into my apartment is nice, so that works....but unfortunately, Mimu loves to lay out on my bed when the sun is coming in.  It's cute - but she can get in the way of the food photography, for sure.

Look closely at that last one!  Lab-mates who read this - rest assured that these aren't the bars I'm bringing into work.  The doormen will be none the wiser - plus, she didn't actually touch any of them!

The other reason I don't usually take pictures of my food?  I make strange food choices.  I wanted to make a "green monster" smoothie today because I haven't been eating enough veggies lately.....but I did something shocking.  You know Siggi's yogurt?  The kind everyone's been talking about that's super expensive and fancy?  Well, I bought some the other day - Whole Foods had a coupon and I thought I'd try them while they weren't ridiculously expensive.  I tried the orange ginger bite and I almost spit it out.  It was WAY too strong for me.  Yummy flavor, sure, but I couldn't eat it straight up.  So what did I do?  I put it in my green monster.  Yes, you heard that right - I added $2/cup greek yogurt to a green smoothie instead of taking fancy pictures of the Siggi's cup.

I'm weird like that.