Monday, May 31, 2010

only you can prevent forest fires

[from here]

Quebec is seeing its fair share of wildfires this season; currently there are about 50 burning, and 8 of them out-of-control...over 350 square miles of forest burned last week. Which may seem irrelevent to Boston....until you step outside in the morning to this:

Gotcha! The smoke rolled in this sinuses feel like they've been injected with liquid smoke. Cool? Not so much.

To remind you what Boston looks like on a typical hazy morning:

Quite the difference, eh?

Memorial Day

Poppies in Gotland from here

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday Garden Update!

Day One. Let's hear it for 12 hours of blood and sweat (no tears, though!). Although I was 0 for 3 on helpers that said they'd stop by, I was still able to get everything in...with a few caveats and thoughts for next year.

Before shots:

[East side of the Penthouse; wild chives have been there for years]

[Looking toward the river and west side of the Penthouse]

[Looking towards the east side of the Penthouse and Boston]

[What a box looked like when I started]

[Another box; this one was full of weeds and old dirt]

[My trusty bucket and cup used for watering...I filled it up in the kitchen and then individually watered each planter. That white thing is one of the five bales of dirt I ordered from the Endicott House. Soil is deceptively heavy, that's all I gotta say]


[See that knife-looking thing on the upper left? This particular implement has been named the "OJ Special" by the guy I borrowed the tools from. And let me tell you, I was a little scared of using him, but holy cow. What a brilliant tool.]

[Now we get to the slight problem I mentioned earlier. (PS that's my arm covered in dirt. Sunscreen + really aerosolized dirt = Bridget man-arms ---the latter was responsible for the dirt coming out of my ears and nose and eyes. I still feel like I can't really see that well). Back to the problem---if you look at the holey thing, it's about eight inches below the top of the planter boxes. If you give the plants the three inches of head space at the top for windbreak, you have only five inches of dirt to play with, which is non optimal. So---I used the trusty OJ Special and my fingers minus about 8 layers of skin to help me pry it out.]

[Here's what I found---bits of dirt and rock! Plus some cement blocks. And here comes the engineering! Ha. Right.]

[I flipped over the cement blocks and put them in opposite corners...they didn't quite both fit on each side, so the other two went in the middle.]

[Now, I can put the drainage separator back on and voila! More space!]

[In progress...the foreground planter has the lowered drainage separator and is ready for gravel. The background planter has the gravel and old dirt on the bottom layer. Given the condition of the dirt already in most of the planters, I used this dirt as the base layer and then added the fancy-peat-moss-on-steroids from Endicott House.]

[Phew! Progress (looking toward Cambridgeport). Time for lunch.]

[Happy me right before lunch! Look at that hair, wow. Thanks wind!]

I came back from lunch having thought through the whole lowering the drainage separator thing, which, well genius, has a few issues:

--More space for dirt means you need more dirt. After doing the first eight boxes this way, I realized there was absolutely no way I'd have enough dirt if I continued with the current plan.

--It takes a lot of time. And knuckle skin. I tend to hate using gloves due to the loss in tactile sensation...but the numbness that comes with picking up #7-#34 grade sharp pea gravel makes up for it, I suppose. I only cut myself once, but my hands are so dry they feel like paper! Anyways, some of these planters aren't in the best of shape...if I had the money, I would have rebuilt some of them that are completely off-kilter, fixed the entire system by which they're built, and cleaned out all the gravel from each of them prior to use, found the right size of concrete blocks to use, had the same amount of pea gravel in each one, etc... But let's be serious...that would have A, taken forever and B, gone far beyond the skill/brawn/workmanship I currently have. And honestly---while I can say that I think the plants in the more dirt planters will do better, I don't really know. Maybe they won't. But now I have a control set with which to compare my garden as it grows for next year. I still have an entire half of the Penthouse planters which are empty, and maybe it'll be something where I go for the whole shebang next year. I don't know yet. But for now, I cut my losses and went forward with planting.


[The corner that looks towards Boston]

[A powerpoint map! And I figure I can make a new copied slide each week to report on the happenings of the garden to plan for next year]



[Chocolate Mint]









Also---I've never been so excited to see a bumblebee on a flower before. It came to visit my flowers while I was working! I could hardly contain myself...if someone would have seen me, oy.

[Looking toward the west side]

[Looking towards Fenway...the bright white things on the left side of the picture across the river are the lights that are on for night games]

[Sunset looking towards Cambridgeport]


Friday, May 28, 2010

hand-washing, soap, and viruses

If you've ever been interested in the link between soap, hand sanitizer and virus prevention, this article is for you! It's very approachable and interesting---and let's just say the study affirms everything I thought about hand sanitizer (besides that it smells funny).

[the Norwalk Virus, from here]

PS. All the London Planetrees on campus just shed their pollen. I feel like I'm gonna die.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

reasons why MIT is silly

1. Along with the typical 5, 10, 15, 20 etc....class reunions, MIT celebrates Pi reunion. In Vegas. I'm not even kidding.

2. When you reach the year of your 50th class reunion, you are gifted a red jacket with the MIT seal. Hence, the phrase "the red coats are coming!" is spoken quite frequently this time of year, when the reunions are surrounding commencement.

from here

3. The turf on the Kresage oval ALONE cost $13,000. That doesn't include labor or time or water or anything. Just the grass. They replace the grass every single year and then cover almost the entire oval with a tent...which ruins the grass for the entire rest of the summer. Nice.

4. Graduation starts at 10 am. Which means you start lining up at 7:30 am. 10 am! Seriously! That's...early. Why not an afternoon graduation?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


So you know that look of the boy kitty in cartoons when he sees the girl kitty? The one where his jaw drops and he's just so excited he doesn't know what to do with himself? That was the reaction of the head gardener for the MIT Endicott House when I showed him the Penthouse of McCormick. He was just speechless. So many things were running through his head... "Why are there no plants here? This is so gorgeous. Oh there is so much you can do with this. Wow. This is incredible. Just amazing. Wow. Wow."

We planned things out, charted a course for my second self-motivated gardening experience (the first being a load of kohlrabi that did when I was in, what, 4th grade? They were delicious, for the record). Gardening just...wasn't so fun when I was younger because it was a lot of weeding. A LOT of weeding. And I gotta be honest...petunias just don't do it for me. Sorry, mom.

You see, I've been thinking of what to do with these penthouse boxes since I moved in last August, and now I have the money to do something with them (thanks house government! you're swell!). And---with this money, I'm buying a lot of plants that will serve as interactive learning opportunities come August. As in, study breaks in the Penthouse to make fresh basil pesto. Or making chocolate mint tarts. Or baking rosemary bread. Or even just infusing a bunch of delicious teas with herbs. It's gonna be lovely.

At this point, there will be sage, cilantro, parsley, peppermint, pineapple sage, spearmint, thyme, rosemary, chocolate mint (oh yes. it does exist), oregano, and basil. The possibilities...they are endless.

Tomorrow, they'll be dropping off the 5 bales of dirt and all of these plants, and Saturday will be a day to remember with dirt and all sorts of hope for deliciousness.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Farmer's market: May 24th

Monday's lovely purchases:

Pea tendrils/pea shoots

from here (I know, I know! I have a camera, I love taking just gets kinda late by the time I get home. And I do have a plan to change this. But it involves clear packing tape, which was completely and utterly used up by the girls moving out last week. Oops.)

The leaves and climbing tendrils of early peas are often used in Asian cooking, and are best used soon after purchasing. But--I'm trying to push that time with the Alton Brown method, which involves soaking in a sink of cold water immediately after purchasing for 20 minutes, spinning in a salad spinner (whee!), putting on a paper towel or in my case, piece of leftover cotton, rolling it up, putting in a plastic bag, and sucking all the air out with a straw. It's supposed to last for about 10 days. Here's hoping!

It cooks quite quickly, and tastes delicious sauteed for ten seconds in hot olive oil. I guess in general I'm not that much of a sauteed greens alone kind of person...I mean, they weren't bad, but it's just not my thing. But I do love wilted spinach in pastas and such, so some of the below recipes look pretty tasty (and it does have a nice taste raw, too!)

Pea tendrils with coconut

Butternut squash risotto with pea tendrils

Sesame pea-shoot salad (also contains snow peas, regular peas, and sugar snap peas. Just in case the pea tendrils weren't enough)

Citrus-glazed pea tendrils over rice


from here

Another unfamiliar green, tatsoi is from the Brassica genus (related to rutabaga, turnip, kohlorabi, cabbage, broccoli, mustard) and can endure temperatures down to 15ºF. No joke. I haven't tried it yet, but it also underwent the Alton Brown treatment and I hope to use it for dinner tomorrow.

Chilled sesame-ginger tatsoi

Browned butter pasta with tatsoi

Tatsoi with rice noodles

Almost all of the dishes that are "put together" (as in, don't involve "use it as a green in your favorite mixed salad!") use ginger and sesame for flavor complements. So I'm guessing that's a good bet...

Monday, May 24, 2010

sending packages...

could one of them be yours?

Friday, May 21, 2010

my guides to life.

"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained." -Marie Curie

“You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.” -Edward O. Wilson

"Never separate the life you live from the words you speak." -Paul Wellstone

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit." -Nelson Henderson

"And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy." -Max Ehrmann

Happy weekend, all. I'll see you after I spend hours in lab, baking cakes with this one for a certain July event, catch up with this one, start outlining powerpoint slides for the class I'm teaching, eat caramel rolls here, watch and shake my head sadly as my young McCormick charges leave to do great things this summer, and spend a lot of time wandering around in the beautiful weather, wondering why I'm here and what I'm supposed to do in this life. Deep, eh? (maybe I'll get two of those caramel rolls to give me the glucose to come up with the answer to that problem....)

re-branding BP

thanks Sarah

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

a little angry

I'm so glad I spent so much time and effort for my education as this young upstanding real American (read: knocked up teen mom). She is making as much money as I do IN ONE YEAR for one speech. Really? Awesome.

Also, to those bikers that think they can run red lights just because there are no cross streets at 77 Mass are hereby on my do-not-like list. How about starting to, you know, obey the law that was designed to prevent injuries? Then maybe we can avoid things like that hit-and-run that gave one of my students a concussion the day before finals week started. Thanks.

Seriously, between that stupid oil spill, partisan politicians, economic crises....what's a girl to do?

Wait. I got it!

from here

collective "awwwwwww"

Much better.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I'll be teaching a class this summer through HSSP (the name comes from Harvard Secondary School Program, but it's run by MIT now---I'm pretty sure it's gone through many iterations to become the program it is today that offers both summer and school-year classes for students aged 10-18)

More on my class later---but how cool is this? I am just too excited for words.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

an idea worth spreading.

[my efforts tonight are hereby in honor of a TED. I will cook good
food, I will cook from good ingredients, and I believe that meals
prepared by human hands and shared with others is an idea worth spreading.]

[from the 8 am Zipcar run to Trader Joe's...two
shopping carts full of groceries totaling $432.24.]

Today was the epic day of cooking enough food for 81 girls. To recap:

--8 bags of tortilla chips
--12 quarts worth of refried beans (with 8 more quarts cooking now for some more study break fun tomorrow)
--8 cans of olives
--27 red, yellow, and orange peppers
--homemade salsa (six large cans of tomatoes, frozen corn, cilantro, and onions)
--pan of sauteed onions
--8 batches of Mexican rice (=enough for about five 9x13 pans)
--6 packages of shredded cheese
--18 small-ish romaine bunches
--6 chopped onions
--12 bottles of sparkling fruit juice (apple, pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry, and mandarin orange)

and for dessert:

--64 cups of puppy chow
--240 truffles
--8 pounds of peppermint bark

[at the start of the night - thanks for the bowls mom!]

Although, we didn't eat everything...hence the study break tomorrow. I mean, girls are always hungry, right? (it's kind of I was cleaning up, four different girls came by looking for snacks; one went for the puppy chow, one went for red peppers, one went for a truffle, and the final just chowed down on chips). And the final count was probably more around sixty; but the funniest part was that I should have made more rice and beans, and less chocolate. Go figure.

Tally at the end of the night:

--one cut finger (found out while squeezing limes, ouch)
--a very burned thumb (So I kind of poured rice coming from a boiling pot all over it. Oops? It was fine during the night, but the whole doing dishes in hot water thing...well, it isn't so happy now. Thank goodness for my aloe plants and helpers that will let you dry for a bit instead)
--hands that are cracking from all the dish-washing

But really, it's the stuff that happens during the night that's awesome and makes this job very much worth my time:

--"This is so good"
--"This table is so colorful!"
--"Thank you so much for spending so much time on's so much better than pizza!"
--"OH MY GOSH I love red peppers"
--"You're my hero." [nope. not making that up. I nearly melted]
--"It's all vegetarian? Really? I mean, are you vegetarian? No? Well...thanks for thinking about all of us and cooking such a veg-friendly spread. I love it!"
--"I don't know what to do with myself right good!"
--"We have looked forward to this all week!"
--"Can I stay on your study break email list after I graduate? I mean, I'm going to be a masters student here, so I can always drop by, right?"

Yes. Absolutely. Stop by any time.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

this day

First, it is freezing. I am freezing. It is 62ºF in my apartment. COLD.

Second, I just agreed to host an extra two floors for a study break this Saturday...that's 81 hungry girls to feed. With all food from scratch. My own personal Jamie Oliver challenge, if you will. I'll see you if I make it out alive?

Third...god bless whoever invented histamine-containing eye drops. Brilliant.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

April Baking Challenge

April: Cheesecake (the really precise kind that Alton Brown makes). My girls have said that they looooove cheesecake, so this was my attempt to make it, and make it well.

....and the verdict was a resounding "this is the best cheesecake I've ever had!" Which, of course, means that they haven't had enough cheesecake in their life. But I have to tell you----it was good. Delicious, even. It definitely wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.

But now---onto tarts!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May 2010

[on my new dresser with some linens from a market in Sweden...whoops. Better grab an iron!]

Sea rings (from Nektar Destagni, via Design for Mankind)

These are incredible math and landscape photographs from Nikki Graziano; my students said "It's like she's Fourier-transformed the landscape!" Nope, don't know what that means. But they're beautiful.

Artist Kate MacDowell

Epoxy-polymer painted petri dishes from (courtesy of Klari Reis)

Things to look forward to:

--This lady is surprising me with a trip to Boston to see my orchestra concert and spend a weekend here. I'm feeling so spoiled and lucky by all these visits...keep them coming!

--Finals! I'm not actually taking glasses. But the girls...whoa. They are stressed. Which, in turn, stresses me out. And I do love orchestra and chamber music, but man I'll be glad to have those two hours of sleep back Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday.

--Memorial Day plans? I'm not sure. I may take off a non-Memorial day holiday and do something fun up in New Hampshire or something. Antiquing, anyone?

Things I will do:

--Tarts! I spent $135.42 on tart pans from my tax returns. And yes oh yes they will be used.

--Eat meat. So---this morning I went to E.L. Blood and Sons Slaughterhouse (nope, didn't actually see any killing take place)...but they do most of the slaughtering of family-farmer or 4H-raised livestock in Eastern Massachusetts and sell at an incredibly cheap wholesale price. Normal farm-fresh eggs from free range, grain-fed chickens cost $6 at the farmer's market. They were $3 here (and a beautiful mix of greens, browns, and creams). 94-6 ground beef from grass-fed/no added growth hormone/no preventative antibiotic cattle cost $8.99 at a farmer's market. Here? $3.29. I don't really eat all that much meat. Truly...we're talking once every three-weeks-ish and for three days before I give blood to the Red Cross (next date May 11th!). But I want it to be good meat. None of this double down crap (no offense, Jeff). If I'm going to eat meat in this life (and I've tried being veg; it wasn't working for my health)----well, I want meat from happy cows. Yum.

--Get some paperwork back from the American Bone Marrow Registry. There was a swab station in the student center this week, and I sent in the form. I know some may think this is a play to get my DNA for some nefarious purpose, but after spending so much time in hospitals in this life, if there is anything I can do to help, it's this. ( week on the pediatric hem-oc floor'll do that to you).

--Ugh. Jury duty. In Lowell. Actually, it's not until July. So I guess I'll look forward to doing my civic duty?