Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A beautiful Thanksgiving day

There were still cornflowers blooming, kind of crazy to believe!  (called blåklint in Sweden, one of my favorite flowers)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Walk in Newton

One of the most interesting things I found on my search for 101 things to do in Boston was a suburban hike through the Sudbury/Cochituate Aqeuducts in Newton, Massachusetts (accessible via the green line). Back in the day, a tributary of the Sudbury river was dammed to form an artificial lake, Lake Cochituate.  The aqueduct was created to funnel water from Cochituate to the Brookline Reservoir.  Brookline Reservoir actually fed directly into the Boston water system, and apparently the ceremony to celebrate the first water from Lake Cochituate flowing into Beacon Hill in 1848 garnered quite the crowd!

from Wikipedia (the darkened stripe is the watershed/aqueduct area).

Neither of the aqueducts are in use anymore, becoming both green spaces and sewer lines (which is why some of the aqueduct is underground and some of it was still ravines cut into the ground). 

Posted here, this loop traverses people's backyards (stepping stones often provided), and a park, winds along a Whole Foods, and we walked under trees and through meadows, and next to a marshy bog.  Although we missed the fall colors, a long walk with crunchy leaves underfoot, eating honeycrisp apples on the way, watching the trains go by at Eliot, and conquering the most marvelous sledding hill - it was a great way to spend an extra-balmy November afternoon.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Beautiful Destruction"

Wonderful colorized charts of lava flows...very cool.  (from Wired, via Discovery Blogs)
(I also sent this along to Erin at Design for Mankind, and she posted about it!)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Pies!

 I tend to be a person that goes overboard with baking.  Constantly.  Ever year I say "oh my word, that was too much.  Next year, I am not making seven pies."

Famous last words.  Ha.

But some friends have asked me how I do it, so I thought I'd write the exhaustive guide to how I plan for this sort of thing.  (a la Rachel, from Heart of Light.  She's the queen of creative DIY planning with just enough OCD thrown in to stay on top of things.  A friend once asked me why I wasn't freaking out when throwing a dinner party for 40 people, and it's because I had people like Rachel to look to in terms of lists and planning.  Everything was prepared, if things go wrong, there's a plan B already set up.  No need to worry.  None of that allowed).  So.  Here goes!

While all of those life magazines say don't overdo it during the holidays, don't make things overly stressful, I've found that over-doing it so often, holidays or not, well, it has been very good practice to learn how to be a good and resourceful cook and baker.  Part of it lies in knowing a recipe, and making sure that you don't make too many new things when you're on a time crunch.  But part of it also relies strictly on preparation.  Thanksgiving is particularly hard for me since I don't take the day off to bake.  If I did, that would be perfect...but as a grad student, it is not to be.  So knowing exactly what I'm doing, the order of operations, that is what's important.  The one ringer last year that I made was sweet potato pie, complete with sweet potatoes put through a ricer.  Dude, no one wants to be ricing sweet potatoes at 2 am.  Just sayin'.  And I love cooking.  Pick your battles. 

So yes, it's all about the preparation.  Making sure you have enough pans, ingredients, time, space, storage of the finished product...especially enough butter.  There's also the very important factor that doubling or tripling things very rarely works well in baking since you're dealing with complex chemical reactions.  You're far better off doing things in series to avoid the issues that come with, overloading a pan or oven. This is why when I did cupcakes, I did one batch at a time.  Slower, yes.  But more precise, and I'm certain that it was better-tasting because I didn't try and over-do it.

Then there's the whole issue of having enough pie pans to do the whole thing...which is why one pies is being made in a 9x13 pan and another is being made in tart pans.  In particular, while I love key lime pie, I don't have covers for my pie pans and not enough room in my freezer for a foil-covered frozen pie pan (for those of you who have seen my freezer, you know exactly what I'm talking about).  But making key lime bars still gives me that lovely key lime taste without the fuss of juggling bags of corn and ice cube trays to get things to fit in the freezer. 

So how do I start?  I choose a bunch of pies that I want to make and then prioritize.  Sure, I want to make 12 pies, but that is really getting unreasonable. And I don't have enough pie tins anyways.

Starting list
1.  double crust apple
2.  dutch apple with pecan crumble
3.  traditional pumpkin pie
4.  pumpkin tart with a gingerbread cookie crust
5.  key lime
6.  pecan
7.  strawberry rhubarb
8.  pear with gruyere crust (the Pushing Daisies pie!)
9.  banoffee pie
10.  cheesecake
11.  blueberry pie
12. maple buttermilk pie

Then I sit back and remember that every single pie I want to make does not have to be made for Thanksgiving.  This is important.  Pies can be made at other times.  Panic attack, relieved! 

So, I decided I'd make the pear and gruyere pie the weekend after as a treat.  And while I want to make a banoffee pie, that's one I've never made before, and right now I'm in a bit of a vendetta against  bananas (curse you, fruit flies!) so I'm going to wait on that one, too.  The maple buttermilk and blueberry are also on my list for January pies.

That leaves me seven pies in total, and only one of them that I haven't made before (strawberry rhubarb).  I know this is completely a summer pie.  But I have a freezer full of frozen fruit from this year that needs to be emptied a bit so I can fill it with breakfast sausage from Blood Farm to take home to the family for Christmas.  So---a summer pie for Thanksgiving it is!

The next step is matching each of these pies to their respective baking vessesls.  I have three glass pie tins, two metal pie tins (from grandma), oodles of tart pans (confirmed addict) and 9x13 pans to use. 

1.  double crust apple
--glass.  Apples are heavy, and I like my apples with about 1.5x as many apples as a recipe calls for.  Using the glass pan makes things easier to handle, that's for sure.

2.  dutch apple with pecan crumble

3.  traditional pumpkin pie

4.  pumpkin tart with a gingerbread cookie crust
--deep well tart pan

5.  key lime
--glass 9x13 pan

6.  pecan

7.  strawberry rhubarb
--glass (also a heavy pie)

Ideally, I would have more glass pie plates, and I keep an eye open for this sort of thing on amazon.  Does a person really need that many?  But if they get used, that's something.

Next, I look to the crusts.  First thing--there are many different recipes and methods for making pie crusts.  Butter tastes better, but shortening is flakier.  I just use super cold butter (bring to room temperature, cube, and put back into the fridge) and keep all my utensils cold to preserve flakiness and butter chunks in the dough.  I also make all of my crusts the day before, so they have a chance to chill overnight.  I just put the dough into my pyrex glass storage containers and stack them in the fridge, ready to be used the next day.  This whole process includes other crusts, too---I crumb up all of the graham crackers ahead of time as well, so I can get the food processor out of the way for the minimal counter space that I have.

For this set of 7 pies, I need six single crusts (apple, pumpkin, pecan, strawberry rhubarb), a gingerbread crust (pumpkin tart), and a graham crust (key lime).  So--the way that I'll do this is Monday evening right after work, I'll take out all the butter that I need for the dough.  Right before I go to bed, I will cut the now-room temperature butter into small cubes and aliquot into 2 cup pyrex containers and put back into the fridge.  Each dough recipe requires 1 cup of butter (two sticks), so I cut up six sticks total.

Tuesday, I make dough and crumble up gingersnaps and graham crackers (I do the latter first, since they're not messy, and I'm all about not making more mess than necessary in the kitchen).

My simple dough recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, method adapted from Alton Brown)

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, cubed and COLD
3/4 cup (ish) cold water (from the fridge)

Put flour, sugar, and salt into the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.  Add butter and pulse about 15 times, or until butter chunks are about pea sized.  Add water through the feed tube while continuing to pulse, pulsing a few times after all the water is added to thoroughly combine.  Since this dough makes two 9" pie crusts, split in half and put each crust into a separate container and refrigerate until tomorrow. 

Wednesday is when the real fun begins.  As soon as I get home, I'll take out two pie crusts and get started on the double crust apple pie.  I preheat the oven, and then go crazy with my favorite apple peeler in the world (save the peels for bread pudding!  just puree in a food processor with buttermilk, then add to the mix of milk, eggs, and sugar.  Seriously delicious).  I peel enough apples for both pies, put them in two separate bowls, and then clean up the apple peeling equipment (it makes a bit of a mess).  Cleaning as you go is key.  By this time, the dough is soft enough to roll out, so I roll it out, put it in the pie pan, and put back in the fridge for 10 minutes.  I make the pie filling, roll out of the top of the pie, then fill with apples.  I put pie number one in the oven, and add a timer to my computer browser. (actually, this is kind of a lie.  I stole my lab timer from work, because I can clip it to my skirt!  Brilliant).

Double crust apple pie with traditional filling

My adaption from many recipes


3-4 pounds apples (weight is post-peeling and coring)
1 cup brown sugar (ish.  This is for tart apples, use less if you have sweeter apples)
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon/apple pie spice (my combination, a gift from a friend, has two kinds of cinnamon, mace, and cloves)
1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy)
chunks butter+sugar for topping

1.  Mix together brown sugar, flour and spices.  Pour over apples in a large bowl, and toss to coat.
2.  Add a splash of brandy, and let sit for a few minutes before stirring again.  If it super liquidy, add a bit more flour. 
3.  Put filling into crust, and dot with chunks of butter and a sprinkling of sugar.
4.  Put on the top crust, score five times, and wash with an egg wash (beat a whole egg and a bit of water together, pain on the crust with a brush).
3.  Bake at 400ºF for 10 minutes, then bring temperature down to 350ºF and bake for an additional 50 minutes.

Now onto pie number two!  (the other apple).  But before this, I check all my recipes and see if there are things that need to be taken out and at room temperature.  In this case, I need eggs for the pecan pie, eggs for the pumpkin pies, butter for the crumb topping of the dutch apple pie, and 6 egg yolks for the key lime pie (egg whites become dinner!).

Once that is taken care of, I take out the pie crust for pie number two, roll it out, place it in the pan, and put it back into the fridge.  I make the filling, add the crumble to the top, and about at this point, pie number 1 is ready to come out of the oven.  I put in pie number two. 

Dutch apple pie (a single crust apple pie with a pecan crumble and dairy included in the filling)
adapted from Heart of Light

Next, I do crusts for my key lime pie and pumpkin tart, and make the pecan pie.

Pecan pie
Originally from the lovely family of MK

(quilted leaf-patterned table runner from my aunt)

Next up are the two pumpkin pies:

Traditional pumpkin pie  
Originally from the Libby's can!  It's the kind my grandma made.

Alas, not as photogenic as a store-bought pie, but still pretty delicious.

Pumpkin tart with a gingerbread cookie crust
Originally from Martha Stewart

(camera died before being able to take this picture, sorry!)

and then the strawberry rhubarb:

Strawberry rhubarb pie 
Originally from Smitten Kitchen

Confession:  this was supposed to have a crust on top.  Whoops.

Last but not least, I make the key lime pie (it uses a mixer, and the counter with the mixer is my pie-rolling station, so it's covered in flour until the end).

Frozen key lime pie
Originally from Ina Garten

No picture either, sorry!  And the housemasters wouldn't let me leave any pie, but I did let their son know that the key lime was still in their freezer.

Now, the above is a fine basic schedule, but if you want to be really on top of things, you want to make a full-blown timetable:

(yes, this does go on until it finishes)

I'm still trying to find a template that has times on the "lines" instead of in boxes so when things start and end is a bit clearer.  But this certainly keeps one organized and on point.  Cleaning up in the free spaces is also pretty crucial.  But yes, there you are!  Many pies made for many happy young ladies.  And let's be serious, having pie for two breakfasts in a row is pretty wonderful. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Replacing a camera

My SD card reader bit the dust a couple weeks ago, and yesterday while taking pictures of pie, my SD card suddenly became unreadable.  While we do have a reader I can borrow from lab, I feel like I'm being nudged slowly but surely to find myself a new camera.  I've had my brick since June of 2004, and it's, um, old.  And performs rather poorly under low light conditions.  It has been a very good camera for me, and I'll be sad to retire it (==pass it on to my younger brother so he has one to fool around with), but it needs to happen.  So--much of my spare time has been spent browsing DP Review and other websites, trying to find a camera that balances cost, utility, and the bells and whistles.

At the end of the day, I want a light camera (not a full DLSR) that I can hold comfortably one-handed, one that is small enough to fit in my purse, and great in low light conditions (image stabilization and operation in low ISO). While a fancy camera would be great fun to play with, at the end of the day I want a camera I can take everywhere I go, all the time, not something that is so big it requires its own case.  Not gonna do it, sorry.  I also want it to last for at least 15 years, double what this current camera lasted; we'll see how it does.  I did find an article from PC World about the best compact low light cameras, which is where I found some of my options.

Current Camera: HP Photosmart 935  (specs taken from a very thorough DP Review article from 2003)

price back in 2004:  close to $275
Size:  4"x3"x1.75"
Weight: 9.9 ounces
Maximum resolution:  2608 x 1952
ISO: 100-400
(this camera came with a 32 MB sd card.  I upgraded to a 512 MB three years ago, but I need to buy a new one, I think, haha)

Camera option number 1:  Canon Powershot S95
Size: 3.94" x 2.28" x 1.18"
Weight:  6.88 ounces
Maximum resolution: 3648 x 2736
ISO: 80 to 3200
Battery: rechargeable lithium ion (lasts about 200 shots)

Price 11.25.11
Amazon:  $289
Tiger Direct:  $399
New Egg:  $399

I also checked out the Canon Powershot S100, which is more expense ($429 on Amazon) but offers better HD Video and other things that are slightly better.  Basically, it's not enough to be worth it for me...if I want a video camera, I'll buy a Flip. 

Camera option number 2:  Olympus XZ-1
Size:  4.4"x2.6"x1.7"
Weight: 9.2 ounces
Maximum resolution: 3648x2736
ISO: 100-6400
Lithium ion rechargeable battery with USB, lasts about 320 photos

Price 11.25.11
Amazon:  $415
Tiger Direct:  $450
New Egg:  $445

Camera option number 3:  

See, I was trying to be open-minded, searched through about a zillion cameras, all that, but by hour three of searching today (plus the many many hours I've searched before this), I became more and more convinced that the Powershot S95 is exactly what I need right now.  Add one or two extra batteries to be safe, and the amazon deal comes with a 4GB SD card and a mini-hdmi cable...basically, I'm set.   Now, I just have to wait for it to arrive!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Why I love where I live.  (but where is the snow?  They need to do an edition for each season, I think.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Minimalist Walrus"

...ha.  Thanks to a labmate for passing this along!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Easiest Thanksgiving Recipe.  Coming to girl obsessed with pie near you! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stand With Science.

And then read this.  The Science Policy Initiative is a group that I've tried to support since I arrived at MIT (I took their public policy bootcamp over IAP my first year here).  Admittedly, I've been fairly focused on research lately, but I still stand with them, that's for sure.  Take a gander, see what you think---and then if you agree, sign the petition here (there's already 6000 signatures!)

Friday, November 11, 2011


Once upon a time I had short hair, believe it or not.

But it got longer...

And longer.. (this skips my awkward ages from about, oh, seven til fifteen.  But I still had longish hair, never shorter than shoulder length).

Then girls in band decided to straighten it while we were in New Orleans (seriously, what do 18 year olds do in New Orleans?  Answer...nothing.  Straighten my hair, apparently).

And sometimes I'd be fancy and put it back in two low ponytails and buns.  Kind of Leia-ish, but not really.

Then I had friends who loved to play with my hair in college (thanks Nicole!)

But really, it was mostly frizzy and in a bun.  Seen here with flowers, which were my favorite.

Or here.  See the frizz?  So much of it.  It was just the practical way to be with so much time spent in lab (hair had to be back, no exceptions).

Fast forward to today...I hardly ever wear my hair up anymore.  Actually, I wear it all down and back in a clip.  And yes, I use the same one every day.  My braiding skills are atrocious, though a friend has promised to teach me how to french braid my hair.  And online tutorials make me feel like I'm all thumbs.  Seriously, was there some slumber party magic class that I missed to get my certification in doing hair?

So here's the question...anyone out there have ideas for me?  Besides chop my hair off and start over?  (the thought of that gives me a panic attack). 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chicken Marbella

(also known as chicken mirabella...or just plain delicious).

Last made in January of 2008 for a crew of hungry college students...notice the fancy wine glasses.  And the sitting at the table, backs up straight (instead of eating in the living room watching Boy Meets World).

On a bed of wild rice, too, just like I'll be making tomorrow.  So good.  And don't let the green olives/prunes/capers scare you.  They mellow out overnight, promise.

Chicken Marbella

adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

Ingredients  (this is for 10 pounds of chicken; reduce as necessary)

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 chickens (2 1/2 pounds each), quartered
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Italian (flat-leaf) parsley or cilantro, finely chopped


1.  Combine the olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2.  Preheat oven to 350ºF.
3.  Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with the brown sugar and pour the white wine around them.
4.  Bake, basting frequently with the pan juices, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the thigh pieces yield clear yellow juices (rather than pink) when pricked.
5.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with some of the pan juices, sprinkle with parsley or cilantro and serve with the remaining juices on the side.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Please tell me I'm not the only one excited to see the new Muppet movie...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fall in the City

I cannot even express how much I love fall.  The leaves are even prettier than usual on campus this year.  All I want to do is take a long walk outside...

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Murmuration of Starlings

Absolutely incredible.  (via SwissMiss)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Portrait of a Lady

Mary Robinson, by J. Hoppner (1782).  Anyone else entranced by that smile?

(via Emma...I wanted to do an expanded portrait search in the National Portrait Gallery, but boy is their advanced search system ever clunky!  I couldn't find anything I was looking for.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Just in case you forgot...

MIT will remind you what you're supposed to remember.

And for your listening pleasure, here is the second best use of the 1812 Overture (embedding disabled, sorry).  The best is obviously Fourth of July Fireworks in Boston with the Boston Pops.  Cannot be beat.

Friday, November 4, 2011


 All smiles!

 The lab!

The lab, outtake!


Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Cupcakes Adventure

This October, I spent a lovely day out in Brockton for the wedding of one of my labmates.  In addition to attending, I made them cupcakes!  Actually, I've spent June until now preparing for this: cupcake tastings, learning how to make Swiss buttercream, piping, the whole shebang. 

Starting the day off right by frosting oodles of cupcakes!  (and getting some help from the head pastry chef at Tastings Caterer, who was such a wonderful help!  And food was delicious, if you ever need a caterer here in Boston, I'd highly recommend them)

 Notice the carefully chosen attire--any frosting disasters will disappear into the print of the dress!

 Cupcake tree!

The cupcake table, complete with bride and groom!

...and because I'm at a school all about the numbers, here's the rundown:

Time started:  8 am Friday
Time ended:  4:30 am Saturday

Batches of lemon swiss buttercream: 4
Batches of maple cream cheese frosting: 4
Batches of white chocolate mint ganache:  4
Batches of cherry swiss buttercream:  3
Batches of espresso buttercream: 4
Total amount of frosting:  80 cups in 12 large pyrex containers

Lemon cupcakes:  96
Chocolate cupcakes:  216
Pumpkin cupcakes:  84
Vanilla cupcakes:  90
Total:  486

Number of people at the wedding: 137
Number of times I winced on the car ride over:  at least 17
Number of spoons of lobster mac and cheese I ate while decorating:  1  (should have been 18)
Number of times asked if I deliver cupcakes:  2
Number of times I washed a pastry bag:  8
Number of people that told me baking should be my backup plan:  4
Time I fell asleep Saturday night after the wedding:  9:23pm
Time I woke up Sunday morning:  11:30am

(also--if anyone is interested in a .doc file of all the recipes I made plus some cupcake-making-for-a-crowd tips, feel free to email me)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Girl crush: Lisa Hannigan

Right?  Who doesn't have a crush on this girl?  I got to see her live recently, and she's pretty much adorable.  And plays about eight different instruments to boot. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November 2011


Sesame Street + youtube = hours of nostalgic wonderfulness.

Things on the calender:

-McCormick Thanksgiving!  And likely making 6 pies. 

-Boston Ballet!

--Girl's night with pumpkin punch and chicken mirabelle