Sunday, June 29, 2008

When life gives you soft peaches, make sorbet!

That's what I did today.

One of the consequences of doing our grocery shopping at Costco is having to find uses for all of the excess food purchase. Eventhough we often buy more than we need, I think we still spend less than if we purchased the same things at a grocery store. Especially when I find a use for the excess.

Alex asked me the other day if he should throw out the peaches in the fridge that were starting to get soft. I begged him not to and promised I would find a use for them. And I did.

Most turned into this*:

The rest turned into peach puree for bellinis for the next person who comes to our house and demands them.

Other than that, lots of activity in and out of the Steele house this weekend:
- Christopher moved into our basement. More on our new roommate later.

Me dominating Chris in an arm wrestling competition... far as you know

- Alex and I attended a baby naming ceremony for one of my colleagues' new babies. I got lots of practice playing with my camera with all the cute kids in attendance.

- My mom and I had a lovely visit in Milwaukee with my Aunt Mary and Cousin Susie. And by the way, the third ward in Milwaukee is very happening/up-and-coming. How fun!

Beautiful view of Lake Michigan from my Aunt Mary's Condo

View from our lunch locale in the third ward

* The peach sorbet recipe is really not involved enough to type up, but the gist is puree 1.5 lbs of peaches (after peeling them and removing the pits), mix with 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tbsp of amaretto (or anything else you think would go well with peaches) and sugar syrup (made with 1 c sugar and 0.5 c water simmered until sugar dissolves and cooled), cool in refrigerator for an hour or so, and mix in ice cream maker until set.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

What keeps me on the couch in the summer

Sure, summer is great and all, but I still need to put in at least some time making sure the couch doesn't float away. And once it gets really hot, I go into a sort-of reverse hibernation where I stay inside in the cold to avoid the hot outside (my temperature tolerance is really limited to a pretty narrow band, especially when there is humidity involved).

Some of you may have noticed a nod to Steven Colbert in my most recent post. Alex and I really enjoy his brand of fake news, the running jokes (love shows that reward the regulars) and his over-the-top (for effect) self-promotion. His ability to call large groups of young people to action is both impressive and disturbing (in that it rivals Barack Obama's). We like Colbert so much that last year, as a birthday gift to Alex, we went to New York to see the Colbert Report live, where we saw this happen. At 1:53 into the video, you can even see Alex and I in the audience:

It was Colbert's most recent call to action that causes me to once again give him a tip of the hat.

His campaign to make McCain interesting is phenomenal, especially the contribution of Colbert Nation member, Wayne Simbro. Enjoy:
If you would like a fuller explanation and more videos, look no further than here. Ridiculousness at its finest!
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And don't say blueberries; you know they're purple.

What a happy coincidence tonight: I found myself trying to decide what to do with the crappy blueberries we purchased at Costco on Monday*, when Alex saw that HBO was airing one of its many George Carlin comedy specials in his honor. As a kid, I always found George Carlin very funny. Maybe because I knew he said things I wasn't supposed to hear. Maybe because I knew my parents would get upset if they caught me turning the TV to HBO when he was on. He was forbidden fruit (in the most innocent way). I knew my mom had seen him in concert once. I knew he was for adults, and I really badly wanted to be an adult when I was a kid. So we watched George Carlin tonight, because I had never really sat and watched him. He was funny. A little ornery, a little crude, but a lot funny.


So as we watch, Mr. Carlin points out the fact that there is no actual blue food. Blueberries!, I shout. I've got them on the brain, so it's easy for me to think of them. Blueberries are blue! And he corrects me with the line that is tonight's title. You know they're purple. All the same, I had to find something to do with them.

Definitely purple. Especially these.

Fortunately the editors of Cook's Illustrated were there to help me with The Best Recipe for Blueberry Muffins, or at least the best recipe that I had all the ingredients for. So that's what I made. They were super tasty. My only complaint was that the batter was a little dense and folding in the blueberries was a little rough. Those of you with patience and a gentle hand (or frozen blueberries) will really enjoy these.

Makes 1 Dozen Large Muffins
From The Best Recipe


3 c all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
0.5 tsp baking soda
0.5 tsp salt

10 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 c minus 1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1.5 c plain low-fat yogurt
1.5 c blueberries
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
Vegetable cooking spray or additional unsalted butter for greasing muffin tins

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk 3 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.
2. Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in one-half of dry ingredients. Beat in one-third of yogurt. Beat in remaining dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with yogurt, until incorporated.
3. Toss blueberries with 1 tbsp flour. Fold blueberries into finished batter.
4. Spray 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray or coat lightly with butter. Divide batter evenly among cups. Bake until muffins are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Set on wire rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and serve warm.

* I know, who has ever heard of Costco selling crappy anything? Because my favorite big box has never failed me otherwise, I am willing to give it a pass. But Costco, you're on notice!!
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Sunday, June 22, 2008

More on my love of the USA

This is a total coincidence, I swear. The subject I want to write about this weekend just happens to relate to something that elicits my love of America.

Yesterday, Alex and I were lucky enough to find ourselves with tickets to game 2 of the Cubs/White Sox crosstown series. It ended up being a beautiful day (despite a rainstorm shortly before the first pitch) and a great game (despite the fact that the White Sox were up 4-1 at the top of the 4th). The Cubs managed 9 runs in the bottom of the 4th, and that kept the mood in the friendly confines pretty positive.

Beautiful day for a ballgame

Eamus Catuli! My favorite Wrigleyville rooftop

Hey Chicago, whaddya say the Cubs are going to win today!

But the most lovely part of our afternoon at Wrigley was Michael McDermott's rendition of the national anthem. It was beautiful. It was moving. I want to follow him to any and all stadiums/ballparks/fields where he will perform the national anthem in the future just to hear him sing it again. I want to buy one of his CDs and listen to all of his music and see if I like it as much as his Star Spangled Banner. It was that good. And so I waited until tonight to post, when someone finally posted a video of his performance on youtube (the quality gets better as the crowd becomes more and more mesmerized, though it wasn't the same as being there):

Thank you mycubseason2008!
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Karl and me

I can't tell you how weird this is. It turns out that I am in agreement with a political figure that I never thought I would be. I don't know whether it is a sudden jolt of rational behavior on his part or my not doing any research to understand what made him so despicable in the first place, but here I am agreeing with someone who is usually vilified by just about everyone.

I don't pay attention to politics or Washington happenings generally - only if they affect me or my job. In all fairness, I'm a math nerd and a finance jock who likes to cook, workout (so I can eat what I cook) and bookbind. I don't have a lot of time in my life for paying attention to politics. Maybe that makes me a bad American. Or maybe I just have other things to contribute to our fine nation.

Sure, I care about America. I'm proud to be an American (just like Lee Greenwood). This ad makes me ooze girly patriotism in the form of tears. I stand at attention and sing along to "the Star Spangled Banner" when I hear it. I wear red, white and blue on the 4th of July. I wear red, white and blue when I go to Cubs games. :)

Politics, politicians and the average American's seeming love of being pandered to are really the only things I dislike about this country. Mind you, I'm not anti-government, just anti-stupid government. I think government is important and necessary. It saves us from our selves. It makes tough decisions that we as individuals wouldn't make on our own. Like the friend who is good at math and is always held responsible for making sure that everyone pays up at group dinners, government makes sure we all chip in for our parks, police and fire departments, roads and libraries. At least, that's what I think it should do.

It shouldn't play favorites. [Warning: crazy analogies ahead.] As the "adult" in our society, it shouldn't pick on the same guy all the kids are picking on just because it wants to be more popular. It shouldn't blame the guy it saw trying to defend himself in the schoolyard, it should blame the kid who started it. It shouldn't hand out free all-you-can-eat cupcakes to kids, thereby making them obese*, as another way to gain popularity. As the "coach" driving the strategy for our country, it shouldn't keep our team from playing the better teams in the league simply because we might lose, because they'll never win the state championships with that sort of treatment! Are these analogies getting a little too far-fetched?

Lemme 'splain.

[Restated: It shouldn't play favorites. It shouldn't pick on the oil companies that most Americans like to blame for the prices they pay at the pump, just because it wants to be more popular**. It shouldn't blame oil companies for prices increasing, it should blame commodity speculators or maybe even its citizens for becoming too dependent. It shouldn't implement a gas tax holiday, thereby making Americans willing to consume more gas (and really only save $40), as another way to gain popularity. It shouldn't keep American companies from competing against foreign competitors simply because we might lose, because they'll never become competitive in the global economy with that sort of treatment!]

I know I don't write a political blog. This may be my only political post, due to my aforementioned dislike of politics. Or maybe not, because I do need to step up my level of attentiveness by November to decide who I could stand to have as president. But I had to share this with you, because it is crazysauce (as the kids say, or at least as Patrick says):

I totally agree with Karl Rove***.

Whoa. Promise not to hate me, ok?

* OK, obesity is another thing I dislike about this country.

** If there really is unfair collusion resulting in excessively high profits, this should be looked at from an anti-trust perspective, but I haven't seen that argument yet.

*** If this link doesn't work for you, due to the Journal's 7 day limits on viewing links, send me a note and I'll email you the article.

Click here to read more!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Under my umbrella...

We found ourselves needing one of these over the weekend.

It should have come as no surprise when the skies opened up on Saturday. As I explained before, our class seems to have the power to bring rain to the Dartmouth campus, and we did not disappoint this weekend.

For the most part the weekend was lovely, Alex and I relived our Hanover memories via Lou's, EBAs and burgers at Murphy's. We saw all the new buildings on campus and visited the old ones.

Lovely Baker Library

Idyllic Dartmouth Hall.

The Tower Room, where I once made Freshman sing the Dartmouth Alma Mater, because I had briefly lost my mind and thought I was in a fraternity.

Another view of Baker with Webster Hall (Rauner Special Collections Library) in the foreground.

I destroyed my hands while doing this:
but I loved every minute of it, because I felt so at home among these
and these.

We even found a way to have fun inside our tent, despite the rain.
That's us, partying like it's 1999 (...or 1998, ...or 1997, as the case may be).
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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Returning home

At the age of 17, like many young nerds, I was faced with the decision of where I was going to live for the next four years of my life. At the time, it seemed daunting. Now that I'm older and wiser, I know I would have been fine at any school I would have chosen, but I also know that I couldn't have found a better place than Dartmouth to spend those four years.

I'm returning to Hanover for my 10th (!) reunion. Very excited to see old friends, meet new ones (a friend's new baby girl!) and spend some quality time with one of my favorite corners of the globe. Add to that the happy coincidence that Alex was born and raised in and around Hanover, and the result is that we're both excited to go back and eat our favorite foods, go to our favorite stores and see our favorite sights.

I plan to take lots of pictures and hope that a couple are good enough to share when I return. Until then, enjoy the ones I swiped from the Dartmouth web page.

Click here to read more!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Free stuff

The impact of free stuff on human behavior is fascinating to me.

My use of "human behavior" sounds like I'm distancing myself from the svengali spell of something! free!, but I am certainly not immune. I love free stuff. It totally impacts my behavior. I like to think my rational side is always in control. After all, I never sign up for credit cards to get a free Cubs hat, and at some point in my educational career, I learned to not go to club meetings simply because they were offering free pizza. But I can be gotten in other ways.

I pick hotels based on the toiletries.

Love the Bliss stuff at Starwood!
And don't get me started on how lovely our honeymoon stay at the Intercontinental in Hong Kong was (it has Bulgari amenities)!

If I was fancy enough to regularly fly internationally in business or first class, I would probably choose my airline based on the free amenities. Instinctively, if Airline A gave me Fresh Sugar Lip Balm and Airline B gave me Chapstick, I would choose Airline A. Even if the tickets on Airline A were $100 more. Rationally, I understand that I could put that $100 toward 4 tubes of Fresh Sugar Lip Balm, but I'm not certain I would be so rational. I'm a sucker for free stuff - especially free stuff that I don't/can't/won't buy for myself regularly. I may always be.

This stuff rocks

Exhibit A: I went to the Bloomberg offices today to learn about their newest credit analysis tools. And when I came back? Did I talk about all the new Bloomberg functions I learned about? No. Ask anyone in my office, I couldn't stop talking about what a great company Bloomberg is because they gave me free dried cherries. And access to any beverage I wanted (non-alcoholic, of course)! And cashews! And! And! Yikes. They got me. Hook, line and sinker. I'm loyal to this:

because of dried cherries. If Mayor Daley came up with his own mega-cool financial analysis tool, I'd probably stick with Bloomberg. Eventhough I love Mayor Daley and all things Chicago, I would stick with the purveyor of free cashews. Unless of course, Richie wanted to offer me something more compelling...

I can be bought.
Like Andre Benjamin, I'm just being honest.
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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Indoor activities

In the middle of every winter, I think, oh, how I wish it were summer. I would much rather be hot than cold. I miss the sun. So what if it comes with humidity. I don't remember humidity being that bad.

Well, summer slapped us in the face this weekend. So, you've been waiting all winter for me, eh?, it asks. No, no!, I say. I really just wanted it to be spring! I just got confused!

Spring and Fall seem all-too-often to be short-lived in Chicago. This weekend, Chicago was hot, humid, gross - and all that about three weeks too early! We spent most of the weekend indoors: we played
our new(/old) game on the wii, I saw a movie (and I really enjoyed it, I don't care what the critics say!), and I made meringues (from Smitten Kitchen).

Sadly, I'm not able to make my food pictures look as beautiful as those on Smitten Kitchen, Simply Recipes or 101 Cookbooks. I think I'm getting better, but perfect pictures of my kitchen creations elude me.

Getting closer...but serious photoshopping was required

It's a skill I hope to shame myself into acquiring after a while posting here and h
aving you say - ick, I would never make any of the food you make, because your food looks gross! I don't want you to think I make gross food. A renaissance chick like me would not do that. (Cue Alex fretting that this means I will soon start pursuing food styling as a hobby, like the people on Scoop! - the Ice Cream competition show that airs on the Food Network from time to time*.)

In fact, I only write here about food that I made that I like. For example, in the meringue picture, you'll see some strawberry ice cream. I made it. It was fine, tasty, but not excellent. So I didn't even tell you about. That's how much I care.

Unworthy ice cream

* By the way, the second place flavor on Scoop! was Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle. Haagen Dazs decided to make it in addition to the winner's Sticky Toffee Pudding. I was fortunate to know people with good enough taste to serve Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle to me one day. It's amazing. I highly recommend that you try it. I buy it whenever I see it in the grocery store, eventhough it's crazy over-priced. It's probably the only thing I buy from the grocery store whether it's on sale or not, because I'm worried they will stop making it.
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Friday, June 6, 2008

One of my favorite things about Chicago - More on farmers' markets

I know I already told you about the Green City Market and how much I like it, but more generally, I'm a fan of how much the city of Chicago makes an effort to support local farmers by setting up markets throughout the city. In addition to checking out the Green City Market and the local neighborhood markets, I sometimes like to walk over to Daley Plaza on Thursdays during lunchtime to see what kind of fresh fruits and veggies I can bring home for dinner.

I think I like the Daley Plaza market so much because of the juxtaposition of the Daley Center (the very serious home of the Cook County court system and other Cook County and City of Chicago stuff), the Picasso (I realize this wasn't his only work, but this sculpture is known in Chicago as "the Picasso"), and the asparagus.

The sight of farmers with their wares makes Chicago seem, to me at least, a little less like a huge city and a little more like home. Also, shopping for vegetables in the middle of the day makes me feel like a renaissance chick (cooking, gardening, photography and finance all within the same day!). And I want you to believe I'm a renaissance chick. That's what I'm trying to convince you of.

So yesterday I trudged through the thick mass of humidity that separated my office from Daley Plaza, perused veggies and ogled the gorgeous peonies.

It was the highlight of my day... Much better than that 6am workout that has hobbled me since.

Where my new spearmint plant came from
AND, where I didn't need to buy basil, because I already have some!
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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A new chapter

I almost didn't write today, but I didn't want to upset Patrick. He relies on me for entertainment, since competitive beer frisbee season is over.

Patrick's beer frisbee team (?)
Photo credit: my mom

I know I said I really enjoy writing each day. I still do. But this week I'm embarking on a new chapter in my life and it's killing me: this week, I'm giving morning workouts a try. It has extremely high potential to be a very short chapter - a page, perhaps, maybe just a paragraph, or, knowing me, a mere sentence in the story of my life.

I'm aided in the motivation department by my amazing trainer, Annette, who told me a couple weeks ago that our 9am Saturday training sessions were not going to work during the summer months (she had warned me of this when I initially picked the time) and that my only viable options for working out with her were Tuesday at 6am or Thursday at 6:30pm. Normally, I would have been all over Thursday, but Annette is also teaching a Thursday morning outdoor speed workout (track running) class that I was excited about, and I was hoping to maintain two-a-days as something that was part of my life when I was a college athlete and not something I do in my 30s. And if I'm already getting up on Thursdays for track workouts, why not balance things out by getting up Tuesdays to lift? (My stomach turns as I write that sentence and realize that it's already 29 minutes past my bedtime!)

Nonetheless, I fear this will be a challenge. Annette
is the same person who tortured Patrick and me on the beach over Memorial Day weekend. I'll keep you posted on my progress in this new adventure.

In the meantime, I better get myself to bed!
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Monday, June 2, 2008

So excited!!

Those of you who have perused my links know that I'm a fan of Me Ra Koh's photography, her straight-forward explanations of how to create the kind of photographic artistry I aspire to create (and haven't come close to creating, yet) and her friendly voice. Or maybe you just noticed that I like her website. Whatever.

A couple weeks ago, Me Ra announced she would be doing a workshop in Chicago and I have been patiently waiting and checking her blog daily to see when she would allow a novice like me to spend a weekend learning everything I can from her. And today it happened. And I signed up. I cannot wait to spend the weekend with this rockstar! Anyone wanna join me?

Not much else to report today, just that now that I've been playing with expandable post summaries, I don't know how to get them to not show up when I don't need them, so I felt the need to write a little more to justify your clicking through. Thanks for clicking!
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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Miracle basil?

Yesterday, I planted the few herbs and the tomato plant I purchased last weekend at the Green City Market. Yes, I'm a terrible, neglectful gardener, but the plants were troopers. They survived their week by the back door, while I waited for weather conditions to be optimal (and while I waited for the motivation to climb up to our rooftop where sun-loving plants do best).

Most of what I plant every year goes into containers, especially my edible plants, which need lots of sun and protection from the jerky squirrels who like to nibble on and/or kill my edible plants. As a result, everything I plant each year suffers its demise either during my summer vacation or the long, cold, Chicago winter. So imagine my surprise when I made it up to the roof and found this:

Is that basil? Did my basil plant from last year survive total neglect during our August trip and the blistery winter on our roof deck? Is that even possible? Or is this a weed that found its way into my pot masquerading as basil so I don't tear it out from its cushy spot next to my new cherry tomato plant?

Time will tell. For now, I'm fascinated by what I'm calling my "miracle basil." As I've said to Alex at least five times this weekend, I really hope it's basil! Especially because now, it's super cute and tiny. Cute and tiny miracle basil!

The miracle basil's tininess in perspective

The squirrel-proof cage
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