Winter 2012 Foods

I realized that recently I haven't posted much about food. How can this be?!
So as I've done in the past couple of months, I'm giving you a list of recipes and links that we've liked since the 2nd semester started. All of these were successful, though not always by the same standards.

Dilly Stew with Dumplings from the PPK.

This was a combination of things I love: rosemary, biscuits, dill, and creamy stew. The roux makes it seem like it has cream in it and the biscuits, carrots, and potatoes soak it up while they cook. John was skeptical of this recipe because apparently he "doesn't like chicken n' dumplins" (what kind of southerner is he?!), but he loved this. We both did. Served with a salad, I didn't feel bad about eating several creamy-coated dumplings.

Italian Seiten Sausages with Tomto Sauce. The sausages are from the PPK and are also in her Vegan Brunch cookbook.
Sometimes John and I just have pasta with jarred sauce for dinner, sometimes with a few added veggies like mushrooms and zucchini. And sometimes it falls so flat as to be unappetizing. But this dinner was really great. The Italian version of the PPK sausages is wonderful and spicy with the right amount of red pepper flakes and fennel seeds. We fried them separately in a pan before adding them to the top of this jarred pasta sauce with zucchini and 'shrooms. All the flavors worked together so well, and the sausage turned out just right. Yes, the involved several steps and a bunch of ingredients, but most of the cooking just involves steaming them and walking away. Two thumbs WAY up for this meal.

Peanut Butter Swirl Pancakes from Oh She Glows.

These were my reward for losing 2 pounds since Christmas. I have a ways to go before I meet my ideal weight range, but it's do-able. Last time I lost a bunch of weight, about 2 years ago, I limited dessert to once per week - and then I made a point of eating something awesome, like cupcakes "for my students." So these pancakes were the treat recently. I made them on a Friday night for breakfast-for-dinner, and they turned out well! The first couple of swirls I made were too big because I cut too big a hole in the bag. But when I needed a second batch of the swirl, the hole was smaller and the designs were more manageable. Also, who knew that peanut butter combined with applesauce turns into peanut butter frosting? That's exactly what it tastes like. Add a few chocolate chips to this and you'd have actual dessert, aka, My Usual Method for Making Pancakes for Dinner.

Orange Cranberry Lentil Quinoa Loaf and Mashed Potatoes from Daily Garnish.
First, the mashed potatoes weren't from DG - I made them up. And they were decidedly not vegan, with a couple tbs butter, a splash of milk, and about 2 tbs Greek yogurt (I know people always say it tastes like sour cream in these contexts, and I doubted them until this week. Delicious!). They were perfect with this "loaf."
The nut loaf did not behave at all like a loaf when I cut into it, but we didn't really care. It's delicious and full of good-for-you foods. I think if I were to make it again (and I probably will), I'd make it in a casserole dish and just call it a casserole rather than fooling with the loaf pan. Do not skip the salsa on top. We spooned on more after serving it - the salsa really takes this up a notch.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles from the PPK
Can you tell I'm in love with the PPK as of late?
A couple weeks ago, hell froze over when all 25 of my students turned their assignments in on time, stapled, and with shockingly few mistakes. I don't think this has ever happened, so I rewarded all 26 of us with treats. This cookie recipe is a whole lot like the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes in the PPK's cupcake book, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Instead of chocolate extract I subbed some coconut extract. With a 1/2 tsp of cayenne, these were even spicier than the cupcakes! They went over well with my students and I had a couple to share with my beloved office mate afterward. Also, like most PPK baked goods, they only take one bowl. I'll definitely make these again.

Pad Thai from Eat, Drink, and Run
Finally. I have wanted to make Pad Thai for years as it is one of my favorite foods to order at restaurants. It's oily and indulgent, great for a night when you want to have something like restaurant food without having to leave the house or order take out. I followed Shelby's recipe but omitted the shrimp, and I wished I had upped the tofu to compensate for it (I also at fish sauce, because we still have some. Once it's out, I will quit eating it). This recipe is delicious and it made us want to make Pad Thai all the time.

Lasagna Cupcakes from Framed Cooks

A friend of mine posted this recipe on Facebook a while ago and John and I immediately started drooling at the thought of lasagna cupcakes. It turns out, wonton wrappers make excellent lasagna layers! I had a couple of hiccups while making these. First, they made fewer than the recipe indicates, and I ran out of cheese. Conversely, it may be that I put way too much cheese in each one. They were also greasy and indulgent, like the Pad Thai. Alongside a salad I could almost pretend it was a healthy dinner! They'd be great party food. If you click the link, note that the author of this recipe also has one for macaroni and cheese cupcakes. That would be seriously good party food for our next potluck.

Last but not least, we made this super flavorful Mushroom and Leek Soup from Closet Cooking. We made it once in Fort Wayne and it was a big hit with my parents, too (obviously we are a mushroom-loving group of people). Roasting the cauliflower adds so much flavor. It's perfect for a chilly winter night.

Here's to a cloudy Groundhog Day! It turns out that Canada has their own groundhogs for the occasion, and Wiarton Willy did not see his shadow. Spring is immanent, I'm sure.


"Random Girls Weekend in the Desert."

For a while now, the universe's policy is to only let me present papers in pleasant, small towns no one's heard of (unless you live in Warrensburg, MO, in which case, it was nice to visit you!). And Kansas City. Oh, and New Orleans. I guess this is a recent trend.

And this year, the trend continues. I got a paper accepted to the Frederick Loewe Symposium on American Music at the University of Redlands, in Redlands, CA.

However, this time, there is one key difference:

The night of Sargibso's graduation from IU, after many rounds of Sink the Biz.

Fabulous picture from his wedding 5 and a half years ago.

I get to visit Sargibso and my brother! Redlands is only 65 miles from Los Angeles, and I get to make a whole thing out of it!
This is only a preview post since the conference isn't until March and I'm really excited about it. I applied to a lot of conferences this year, and I'm so happy that this one has accepted me. Besides getting to see everyone I know and love in L. A., I get to leave the snowy tundra of southwestern Ontario and go to warm, sunny California. My choice to apply was only somewhat strategic. I also get to present with a bunch of people who like talking about 20th century American music. Sargibso is going to go with me for the conference itself, and she gave me the title for our trip: "random girls weekend in the desert." Because that's where Redlands is.

Win and (dorky) win.


Abby's Favorite Blogs - January 2012

A picture-less post! Brace yourselves.

Reading blogs is one of my absolute favorite ways to, among other things, kill time, find recipes, and get motivated to run. But my blog reader has changed a lot since the early days of my blog reading habit. My collection has gravitated toward less omnivore/baking and more vegan, everyday food, and several running-themed blogs. At the moment I subscribe to 114 blogs, some of which I read every time they post, and some I skim to see if I want to file away their recipes. I affectionately refer to them as "my stories."

Here are some of my favorites that I've added within the last year or so, in no particular order.

Cheaper than Therapy
Marie, who writes about running and sarcasm, lives in Indianapolis and her posts make me laugh every single time I read them. She recently had a baby, so her format has changed somewhat. I get the sense that before her pregnancy, she mostly posted about her running mileage and beer. She also has a great ability to make fun of other blogs, especially the healthy living variety. I heard about her blog via another fun running-and-humor theme site called Eat, Drink, and Run, written by a woman named Shelby who has a talent for making entertaining illustrations out of MS Paint (<-- seriously, click that link for a funny post), and who also mostly posts about her mileage and beer. These two are my favorite running related blogs, though I also immensely enjoy BrieFit (she and the other running blogs are some of the only people I know from the internets that I think I would actually want to be friends with in real life). And last but not least, I also like Peanut Butter Runner, since Jen's activities make my exercise routine seem so modest, and reading it always makes me want to run or go do some yoga. Or get a golden retriever.

Young House Love
I've written already about how A Practical Wedding is making me so happy these days. Another in my "DIY" reader category is Young House Love, that Carla initially sent to me. These people are inspiring because I know how little money they spend decorating their house. That, and their ideas are both functional and aesthetically appealing. They also have a chihuahua and a pretty cute toddler. I would probably never attempt most of the projects they tackle (like putting in their own giant tile backsplash or knocking a whole through their dining room wall to create an open floor plan). But I like to get smaller-time ideas from them (like these Christmas ornaments) and they've got a good sense of humor about what they do.

Two other food-and-health related blogs I like:
Oh She Glows and Daily Garnish, both of which I found out about Kira, who is still my ultimate source for finding cool blogs.
Oh She Glows (Angela Liddon) makes a lot of delicious vegan food, including a lot of less-bad-for-you desserts out of stuff I usually have on hand. She also takes some fabulous pictures when she travels. And she lives in Canada! We share a love for Bulk Barn, I think.
Daily Garnish (Emily Malone) writes about her adventures as a new mom, running, and developing vegan recipes that I almost always love. John and I make her food all the time and we're rarely disappointed.

And finally, two others unrelated to food:
Cabin Porn, that I first saw on Facebook just this week. Gorgeous pictures of cabins I wish I could live in or at least hang out in for a while. John and I like the especially modern/postmodern ones. So cool.

Socrates Pondering. This one is written by my cousin Corey who currently teaches English in Korea. He posts things about his travels there, or other issues that occur to him. And by him, I mean his cat, Socrates, who writes the blog in the first person about "his friend," Corey.

Last but certainly not least, a quick shout out to my cousin, Halley, who recently started blogging about cool vegan restaurants in Chicago at Chi City Vegan. Why can't I move to Chicago and eat like that all the time?

So that's what's relatively new on my feed reader.
What about you, Internets? What are your favorite blogs? I'm always looking for new ones!


I like bags.

I'm currently looking for a new day bag. My regular bag has become something of an eyesore and I'm looking to upgrade to something more professional. Given my proclivity toward stuff, I've spent the better part of a day looking for bags that meet my requirements. I have three simple needs (read: wants).

1. Laptop ready
2. Relatively small
3. Look professional

I've had a lot of bags in my life. Some were big, others small, some backpacks, others messengers. When I go to conferences, I usually switch to an old soft leather attache case that has room for my macbook (in an incase sleeve). After I stopped conducting all the time, I switched to a backpack for my then new laptop. Now that I'm in the latter stages of graduate school, I need less room for stuff, and I'd like something that set me off a bit from my students while still having more personality than your standard briefcase. Having said that, I'm not sure if I want to give up the comfort of a backpack. Basically, I want a bag that is a lot like George Clooney: high quality; good looking; stylish; and well-built.

See what I mean? (source).

I've narrowed it down to three bags. Each meets my size and laptop requirements, and each has its own pros and cons.

1. Incase Compact Backpack
The Incase backpack offers several features I love. It's slim and sleek, and has enough room for what I have in mind (book+laptop+charger). I trust the brand and it's relatively cheap ($80). On the other hand it's still a backpack, and I'm not sure it looks that professional. While certainly a step up from what I currently have, I'm not sure I would use it a conferences or (hopefully) job interviews while wearing a sports coat or suit. The guys over at Carryology, a blog devoted to bags (yay!), mention it in their list of favorite versitile backpacks. It's a fun, well written blog, and especially useful if you're into outdoor stuff like hiking.

2. Tokyo Backpack by Lexdray
One of the most all around impressive backpack I've seen so far the Tokyo Backpack has loads of great features such as locking zippers, numerous pockets, a great laptop sleeve, and includes a rain cover. Carryology gave it a rave review (with a few minor quibbles) and really made me want one. Having said all that, $450 (that's four hundred and fifty dollars in US currency) is a lot to pay for a bag, especially one that's made of synthetic materials and manufactured in China. I'm not saying that nothing good comes from China, just that I would like to know that my money is going toward well treated workers who can browse the internet for bags as easily as I can. I would probably use it every day, though I'm still not convinced of its conferenceability. What? That's a word.

3. 2Unfold Laptop bag by Hard graft
This is the real deal. High quality Italian leather with wool lining, this bad boy looks like a really neat bag. It can be treated as a shoulder bag big enough for gym clothes, a laptop, and a book, or it can hold a 13" Macbook Pro (my next computer) and fold over on itself for a smaller footprint. I found one lengthy video review as well as another short review by Carryology. As mentioned in these reviews, this bag can be turned into a backpack, but the video review makes me extremely skeptical that I would ever choose to do that. It also has a really cool aesthetic and I'm sure I would be the only kid on the bock with one. Did I mentioned that this thing is $600? While that's a lot of money (read: shit-load), I would probably have this bag for the rest of my life. I suppose the question is whether I would always have a 13" computer. Probably, but who knows what the future holds?

So there you have it, my current bag wishlist. All in all, I might get myself the Incase at some point, and ask for the 2Unfold for Christmas or graduation or something. Ultimately, I don't spend a huge amount of time at conferences, and I could totally use the backpack for most of my regular life.


Iron Strength

I wanted to write in more detail about the Iron Strength work out I've been doing as part of my New Year's resolution to incorporate strength training into my running/exercise routine. Carla sent it to me just after New Year's and I've been doing it 1-2 times per week since then. Like I said before, I can only really do less than half of it.

The routine alternates between upper body and lower body exercises, with squats, push ups, lunges, arm curls and the like. You can watch a very even-tempered young woman named Meghan perform the whole thing on Runner's World while the doctor who designed it explains each move. Her contented facial expression made me think the whole thing might not be as torturous as it sounded, but I was wrong. It's much harder than that woman's face lets on.

I think this is called "Rows from plank."

I'll list the cons first.
  • It made me so sore the first time I did it that I could barely walk the next day. In fact, the act of sitting down was extremely painful, and it took a few days to recover. Ultimately this is probably a pro, though, because I think it's effective.
  • It's long and doesn't emphasize stretching much. I know it's a strength routine, not a yoga class, but I can only devote so much time to it on the off days from running and I prefer to stretch a little more. So I usually add my own.
  • The biggest con is that, because of my wacky motion sickness issues, I can only really do some of it anyway. Single-leg plyometric squats are definitely out, as are the Mountain Climber, lunges, sit-ups, and "Legs Down. " That still leaves 4 of the seven sections for me to do.

Trying to look happier about it. I LOVE rows from plank LOL!!!!!!

And the pros:
  • It's hard (also a con, I know). I feel really challenged by it every time, but it's not so hard that I dread it or give up completely.
  • I can do it at home with a yoga mat and my weights.
  • The online videos are pretty helpful and I feel like I know exactly what to do for each section.
  • Since I can do it at home while listening to NPR on the interwebs, I can customize it and omit things that make me sick, or do fewer reps of things that I'm not ready for. And even though I can't do about 3 of the 7 exercises, the other 4 are hard enough to make up for it, in my opinion.
  • Certain parts, like the "rows from plank" (good God), have already gotten easier, and that progress encourages me to do it again.
  • Someone posted a pdf of the whole work out in the RW comments, so I just open that when I want to do it rather than writing it all down myself or watching the videos. If you'd like a copy, I can email it to you.

After a couple of the work outs I've made this tasty fruit smoothie:

The giant bag of frozen strawberries from Costco: it makes winter bearable.

Combine in a blender and serve:
1 frozen banana, cut into chunks
5 frozen strawberries (or more if they're small)
1 cup almond milk, or non-dairy milk of choice
2 tbs peanut butter
2 tbs ground flax seeds


I like stuff (by john)

I like stuff. Call me materialistic, but stuff can make me unreasonably happy. Introduce a bonus element such as a low price or high quality and I get damn near ecstatic. Example? This Christmas Abby's brother and sister in law got me a Kindle and I basically stopped talking anybody except to show them features I discovered on the Kindle. I literally took it with me, everywhere. Like a child.

One of the ways I express my love for stuff is to tell (read: pester) Abby how cool stuff is. Abby, being the loving and supportive fiance she is, politely suggested that I start writing about stuff rather than regale her with my latest interest (read: obsession). She pointed out that rather than tell her about reviews of stuff I've already bought and used, I could tell the world. Just to be clear, that last bit places the blame for all of what follows squarely on m'lady's shoulders.

Another way I express my love of stuff is to read reviews about stuff I need/want. This means not that only will I be reviewing boring things you probably don't care about, I'll be linking to other blogs about those same things. It's a network of useless of information. I mean, at least Abby's posts are about food or exercise, things that most people use, or could use. My posts will instead discuss stuff I either want to own, already own, or just stuff I'm thinking about. You're welcome.

A Practical Wedding

As a Christmas-and-engagement present to myself, I bought a copy of A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration. It's by Meg Keene, who created A Practical Wedding the blog while planning her own wedding a few years ago. After reading a post on her site today I decided to write something here about the book.*

I can't remember how I stumbled onto A Practical Wedding, but I'm glad that it's one of the first wedding-related media I found. Meg and the other writers present a sane account of a variety of wedding issues, along with stories from couples planning their weddings and "Wedding Graduates" who share what they've learned. She's a proud feminist and I admire the way she writes about LGBTQ couples (just when you thought a hetero wedding couldn't be any more complicated).

While we're pretty excited to be engaged, John and I both have reservations about wedding planning. So many people we know are happy for us, and I'm incredibly grateful for that. But in the short time we've been engaged, I've already gotten a small sense of how many expectations come with wedding planning. Meg covers a lot of the issues that concern me, and she does it with compassion for all parties involved. She also discusses something she calls the Wedding Industrial Complex, and the perceived need to have OMG EVERYTHING at your wedding, but to also make it as personalized as possible (read: spend money). This book devotes a whole chapter to the history of the modern wedding (which I obviously love), and points out that many traditions that we may consider super important are less than 50 years old. Her point is not to abolish wedding traditions, if, say, you really love the idea of walking down the aisle. She just means that if you don't want an aisle at all, your wedding can still be meaningful. The same goes for favors, a unity candle, a white dress, a sit down dinner, or fancy chair covers.

Unless you really like fancy chairs, in which case, go for it. That's the tenor of the book, more or less, and I find it helpful as I start to think about wedding plans. John and I want our wedding to have some very traditional elements, but it's nice to have some guidance on how to sort out which traditions are important to us. For example: yes, we're having attendants, but they won't be divided by gender (in fact, we're having one big ol' group of them, and we're calling it the Fellowship of the Ring. I know).

The book the blog also deal with difficult topics, like how to grieve the fact that, for whatever reason, you may not have both parents with you to plan your wedding. She has stories of couples planning their wedding while one is severely ill, or when a parent dies close to the wedding date. While I'm grateful not to be in that situation, it is interesting to read accounts of people who overcame them, and to think "if those people can plan a wedding while their dad had cancer, then surely we can do this without making ourselves crazy."

Some other general guidelines from the book and the website:
- "I will not remember what my wedding looked like; I will remember what it felt like."
- If, at the end of the day, two people marry each other, then your wedding was a success.
- One and done. As in, make a choice and stick with it. Second guessing will make us all nuts.
- Your wedding guests are "grown ass" adults (unless they are, you know, actual children) and it's ok to treat them accordingly.
- Where you spend money matters more than how much you spend, and spending money is a political act.

So that's my 2 cents. Our wedding will probably be a fairly frequent topic here, but this isn't a wedding blog. Obviously, it's a stuff-we-eat-and-happen-to-do blog, and I don't want to ruin that incredibly consistent theme by letting the wedding take over. Just a wedding-related post now and then.

*Meg posted these ads a couple days ago on A Practical Wedding and gave permission for people to use them on blogs, websites, etc, as ads for the book. As usual, I'm not receiving any kind of compensation for this post and I payed for the book myself.


What's New

I love Christmas, as I'm sure you know. But I also love the first couple weeks of January when I get to detox from all the Christmas eating, margaritas, and decor. It's a good time of year to try new things and to get everything in order for the start of next term. So here's some of what we did this week.

My prize for participating in the 12 Days of Gym Christmas came in the mail!

The card reads: "Abby! Congratulations for your outstanding effort during 2011's 12 Gym Days of Christmas!"

That was a nice pick me up, since like I told a couple of people, I was in a race with myself over the holidays to see how fast I could gain 5 lbs. Let's just say I won. But this button was a good reminder that I did a lot of good things to take care of myself during December, and I can keep doing them. Now I need to find a place to prominently display my prize.

For instance, I've tried a couple of healthy recipes last week.
This first one John and I sort of made up. It was supposed to make tacos, but when we forgot to buy tortillas, it became a "burrito bowl," a la Q'doba.

Black beans, red peppers, an onion, a jalapeno, and cilantro cooked together until the beans break down. We topped it with more cilantro, some cheese, and the awesome Frontera (Rick Bayless) salsa.

Next I made the Back on Track salad from Oh She Glows for lunches this week. One change from her original recipe: red quinoa instead of wheat berries.

I ate it over a bed of spinach and topped with an avocado, but you can just eat it straight. It's really flavorful and full of good vegetables. My hope is that I can find a few more recipes like this one to take as school lunches this term.

This last recipe isn't exactly a health food, but if you keep to a moderate portion of cheese per serving, then it's not too bad. It's Lasagna Soup from Closet Cooking. We subbed a pound of mushrooms with 2 tbps chopped sage for the sausage, and it was delicious. It also made a big batch, so we have that on hand for a few more dinners.

And since it's still January and this is a blog, let me state a few goals I have for this year.
  1. Make it through the Iron Strength routine Carla sent me from Runner's World. I did less than half of it last week and I could barely walk the next day. Strength training is conspicuously absent from my running training, and I hope that doing it will help me avoid injuries and physio this year.
  2. Dress like a grown up in public. Since I'm done with coursework, and I have an aversion to make up anyways, I tend to just throw on whatever's (mostly) clean for the few occasions when I do leave the house. This is probably a good excuse to buy some grown up shoes so that I don't just wear my old Nikes everywhere...right?
  3. Buy a bike. I want to spend my Christmas money on a bike so that I can actually try a triathlon this year. I know nothing about bikes, but I want to learn before I make any purchases. Nothing fancy, since I'm not trying to actually compete. But something I could ride around or to school, and for an amateur triathlon.
  4. Running specific: go below a 60-minute 10K. I know I can do this. My goal is for it to happen at the Forest City Road Race this spring. I'd like a 5K PR also, but the one I got this fall is pretty good and I'm not going to set that as an actual goal until next fall.


A Very Fort Wayne Christmas

This year we spent Christmas in Fort Wayne with my parents. I took a bunch of photos, which I will present here mostly in chronological order, starting with Christmas Eve when I took some tree bokehs.

Dad, John, and I started Christmas Day with a dog walk.

The woods where we walked them were really pretty in the light. You don't have to get up too early for pretty morning light in December.

Double suspension.

Toby was thrilled to go back to the car at the end of the walk so that we could go home and open presents.

John and I got a bunch of fun Christmas presents, including these microphones for something called "Merryoke." Each microphone plays a series of Christmas songs for you to sing along to, and an "elf voice" button that transposes your voice up two or three octaves. Very entertaining for us, sort of frightening for the dogs.

John looks like a weird elf in this picture, with his merryoke mic.

After present opening and breakfast, Dad gave us a little archery lesson in the backyard.

It was a relaxing holiday and we're sad that we have to go back to work. But we'll be back in Indiana a few times in the next year for some very exciting wedding planning.

I hope you had a great holiday and a Happy New Year!