The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I Should be Grading

Right now I am trying my damnedest to not accomplish any work tonight. Yes, I am giving a final in one of my classes tomorrow. Yes, I will be recieving 50 10-page papers tomorrow to grade along with 50 finals that have ten short answer questions I will also have to grade. Yes, I have about 65 2-page papers to grade right now. And yes, I should really be grading so that I am not smothered, overwhelmed, drowned in to-be-graded essays over my spring break (next week).


I am not. I am browsing the web. I am looking at other blogs (two of note: and I am chatting to mother and friends on the phone. I am decidedly doing the exact opposite of grading. I am living according to the maxims of that great philosopher Calvin . . . and his buddy Hobbes. Maxims I followed quite stringently when I was a student.

Here is one of them:

You can't read this image too clearly, unfortunately, so I'll recreate the text:

Hobbes: Do you have an idea for your story yet?
Calvin: No, I'm waiting for inspiration. You can't just turn creativity [or productivity] on like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
Hobbes: What mood is that?
Calvin: Last minute panic.

And indeed, I am waiting for that panic which will inevitably set in tomorrow about the time I am giving the final and handing out faculty evaluation forms (which I was supposed to hand out last class and completely forgot to do because I was so excited about how amazingly-freaking-awesomely I was wrapping this class up with a nice tie-in back to the very first lecture I gave in January).

Fortunately, my students are also accomodating my procrastination by frantically emailing me and calling me with last-minute questions about their final paper.

I hate to tell them that at 9pm the night before a paper is due there is absolutely no hope of their producing a great essay. It's like a victim of a decapitation being taken to the emergency room. Sure we might be able to attach the head, but really you ain't gonna live.

My New Year's resolution really should have been that I will focus and prioritize and get-things-done-in-a-timely-manner-so-that-I-am-not-a-frantic-mess. But it wasn't. Instead, I resolved to do two things I love on a regular basis: 1) listen to Science Friday on Talk of the Nation on NPR and 2) go to the Ocean Beach Farmer's Market every week. I have caught Science Friday once so far. I am doing better with the farmer's market.

Today is Wednesday. Farmer's Market Day in Ocean Beach. OB has the perfect-sized market. It is exactly one block. You can circle it twice (once to scope out what is being sold-once to make your purchases) in about an hour. Perfect for a toddler who measures the size of the market in cookies: two circles is two cookies (and a stolen strawberry) in length.

I love Farmer's Market day because it's the day I supplement all of the stuff I wish my CSA would give me and doesn't. I get onions, potatoes, mushrooms and garlic. Today, I also got olive oil, asparagus, and green onions. I did not buy lettuce. Not one tiny shred of lettuce since I have four heads mouldering in my fridge as we speak.

I love this farmer's market also because you can get to know the vendors who will then hook you up with what you need or want the next week. Case in point: I talked to the honey vendor today and asked if I could get honey in jars instead of those stupid bears. He said it was no problem and promised to bring two jars of honey for me next week. Way rad.

For dinner today, I did not make a salad. Rather, I made a winter vegetable soup from Epicurious. This soup was perfect because it used up a lot of CSA stuff in one handy swoop.

WINTER VEGETABLE (of course I have tweaks and didn't do any of the measurements)

olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 chopped leek
3 heads of chopped garlic
2 chopped seranno chiles

1 cup peeled, cored and coarsely chopped apple
1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped turnip
1 cup peeled and chopped butternut squash (seeds discarded)
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
1 cup peeled, chopped sweet potato
chopped parsley
chopped cilantro
chopped celery
two rainbow chard leaves, chopped
all of the turnip greens that came with turnips, chopped

5 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock (enough to cover vegetables; use your judgment)
1/4 cup maple syrup (so don't need this much. just go to taste)

For soup, heat oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add onion, leek, garlic, chile and sauté until translucent.

Add all the vegetables; season with salt (don't really need to), then sauté 5 minutes. Add stock, bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Cool slightly. Puree with a handheld mixer, food processor or blender. Add syrup to taste.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 289 calories, 12.5 g fat (4 g saturated), 40 g carbohydrates, 8.5 g protein, 4.5 g fiber

Makes 6 servings.

The calories are probably off. But who really cares. This soup is awesome. The perfect comfort food for my frantic grading in the coming days.

As for now, I will quite possibly start grading. Or I will quite possibly not. There is still time before tomorrow to find other things to do.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


So far this blog has not brought me the fame or book deal I expected when I read Julie Powell's Julie/Julia. Is it because I do not share the same name with a snazzy cooking icon? Or because I don't cook crazy stuff that requires me to suspend an egg in jelly made from boiled calf hoof? But come on, cow tongue? That's pretty freaking crazy. Or maybe because I only blog about once a month now? Hmmm, I guess if you want to be a writer, you do have to actually write on a fairly regular basis. And I'm thinking that writing grades on exams don't count as writing. Too bad. I'm really good at that.

Anyway, this blog has brought me one cool perk: I am now a member of the San Diego chapter of the elite DinnerDivas cooking club. I have been vying for membership to this group for months ever since I learned that one of my friends was a member (and a fabulous cook in her own right). In September or so, I asked her how I could be a part of that group, and she nicely said that it was kind of exclusive but she would put a word in for me.
Well, months and months passed and then my friend saw her opening for bringing me up and forwarded my blog to the head of the group. And I was in!--at least for a trial. For my audition, I made the raviolis from my
epic pasta blog, moving me instantly into the group's open and loving arms.

Being a Dinner Diva is way fun. We have a very eclectic group of woman who all like to tell stories, eat good food, drink good wine/adult beverages, and laugh. A lot. All of my favorite things in the world (well excepting maybe one or two other things that are also my favorites).

The group rotates hosts every month. The host gets to pick the theme of the meal and provide the main course. This month, I am the hostess with the mostess. And because it is Mardi Gras on the 20th and because I have access to a really cool Caribbean cookbook, I decided our theme would be Carnival.

So now to find a main course. Of course, in the presence of such accomplished and discerning chefs, I couldn't just make something I haven't tried first (like cow tongue); I needed to test a few recipes (okay, or maybe a lot). I perused the Caribbean cookbook and marked about 15 things I wanted to try. All meat.

Cooking a big meat meal kind of freaks me out. First, I don't really like meat all that much. Second, I don't cook meat very well. It usually comes out overdone or stringy or whatever. The solution to these issues manifests itself in the meat acting as some sort of side and someone else cooking the meat after I've prepared it. But after cow tongue, I think I can handle anything. So meat, give me your worse.

The first thing I made was a coffee and pepper crusted tenderloin.

olive oil
garlic, minced
unflavored coffee beans, ground
black pepper, coarsely ground


Soak the garlic in olive oil. Rub the meat with that.

Mix equal quantities the pepper and coffee and 1/4 ground cumin in a big baggy. Add the meat to the baggy and shake to coat well.

Grill the meat, turning every 4-5 minutes until done.

Of course with the whole "grill the meat" part, I had to have my friend grill it because I would have screwed it up.

However, the meat turned out very nice. I served it over a mix of spinach and arugula that had a squeeze of lemon on it. In theory the heat of the meat was supposed to slightly wilt the leaves. In theory.

The coffee was a nice complement to the meat and the lemon had just enough tang to make it interesting.

Along with the meat, I served asparagus, baby broccoli, bread, and wasabi mashed potatoes.


wasabi powder
green onions, finely chopped
Yukon gold potatoes

mix some wasabi powder in the cream. boil the potatoes. Mash with the cream, butter, and onions.

I think I may have a winner for my DinnerDiva hostess debut.