Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Christmases be white!

From my home to yours...
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons' Greetings!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Final Day: Back to Argonne

After a brief off-site respite, I am back at the Advanced Photon Source once more. I was just about to start running my sample, when the beam cut out. Then I had to reload my sample and restart not once, not twice, but three times. My sample just got started in the past hour. Oh well. The data looks okay-ish now, so hopefully, this keeps up! Right now, I am manually recording the temperature at which each pattern is being taken. I will personally pay for Argonne to automate this process if it means that I do not have to do this again when I come back.

In the time that the beam was down, I trolled around Pinterest for a while. Now, I'm not actually on Pinterest because I know that I would turn into that person who is ALWAYS on Pinterest. But that doesn't mean that I can't troll around on it occasionally. (Revelation: I just realized that Pinterest is a play on "interest." Don't judge. Just because I'm in grad school, that doesn't mean that I can't be slow to get things some times. :P Also, it is 2 or 3 in the morning.) I dug up a bunch of fun recipes, so I'll have plenty of things to blog about in the coming weeks. :)

We have about six more hours of beam time left before we head back to Evanston/Chicago. It's been a good experience, albeit a tiring one. Being here and seeing the capabilities has given me a bunch of ideas on stuff that I want to try. That's the problem with research sometimes....one idea can lead to twenty more (or sometimes, one meeting with your advisor can turn into three months of work).

I've got to go tend to my sample now, but until next time!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Argonne, Day Three

Day Three: Coffee consumption increases exponentially

Or, as our sector manager Greg said, day three is when the pessimism starts to kick in. But seriously, all in all, I think our session is going pretty well. We've broken just about everything you can break in our experimental setup, but at least we're learning what not to do and are getting some pretty legit data (okay, maybe that was some of the pessimism right there). Here is a list of the things I've observed so far at the APS.

1) You don't actually need special training to ride the tricycles. However, I discovered that I am really, really bad at riding them. Luckily, I made this discovery at 9 PM at night when no one but my colleagues were around to see me unceremoniously plow into the wall of our sector. Practice makes perfect?

2) The food at the APS is kind of icky. The "401 Grill" is basically a temporary desk put at the edge of the kitchen in Building 401 and serves generic burgers, sandwiches, salads, etc. Also, we are on the direct opposite side of the APS from where the food is. However, the breakfast buffet at the Argonne Guest House is delicious. Sweet potato pancakes with boysenberry sauce? Cinnamon rolls completely covered in frosting? Yes, yes, yes.

3) I can't understand anything that the audible alert system says. I just have to hope that what they're saying means that I won't get zapped with x-rays while I'm changing a sample.

4) The screensavers on the computer monitors for our sector are freaky. Especially at 2 AM. There's one of a cow that just bounces up and down for a good ten minutes. There's also another one that makes me think the girl from The Ring is going to jump out of the screen at me. Odd choices.

5) Opening and closing the door to the beamline hutch makes me feel like I'm in Star Wars. Also, the fact that everything is called a sector makes me think that I should be reporting my distances in parsecs or lightyears rather than meters and feet.

Tonight, I'm going offsite for a bit, but I'm going to be working the 2 PM to 8 AM overnight shift from Saturday into Sunday. Look for more updates to come! Cheers!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Argonne After Dark

Long nights in lab seem like the perfect time to write blog posts, don't you think? Well, this time it's not really my lab exactly. I'm out at Argonne National Laboratory with a few of my collegues at the Advanced Photon Source. The thing about the APS is that when your beamtime is scheduled from 8 am on Wednesday to 8 am on Sunday, this means that you start at 8 am on Wednesday and run 24/7 until 8 am on Sunday, not only-day-time-hours-between-8am-Wednesday-and-8am-Sunday. Thus, I am writing this post in the wee hours of the morning during an overnight shift monitoring our data collection. In the words of Lionel Richie, I am chillin' out at Argonne allll niiiight loooong.

Even though I'm being facetious about this whole thing (probably due to lack of sleep and overabundance of cookies), the opportunity to be out at the APS is kind of awesome. I thought that I wouldn't really have need to come out here given the nature of my research, but I'm really glad that the cookie crumbled such that it was possible. You can get data here that you really can't get anywhere else. People come from all over the world to work here, and it's right in our backyard!

In between frantic periods of sample changing and gas line fiddling, there's a whole lot of waiting, as you can tell by the fact that I'm writing this post now instead of hovering over an instrument somewhere. Luckily, the folks at the APS thought of this and gave us office space full of spinning, rolling office chairs. Hours of entertainment. Also, to get around the APS, there are, I kid you not, adult-size tricycles. I think you need special training to ride them, but oh man. Oh man.

More on Argonne adventures later...now it's time for some frantic gas line fiddling!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Overnight Oats in a Jar

After my last post, this little blog has reached over 1600 pageviews! Thanks to everyone who has read my posts. Your support means a lot to me, and I'm glad that I can share my baking and grad school adventures with all of you!

Do you ever have those jars of peanut butter hanging around that only have a liiiiittle bit left at the bottom? You know what I mean. The ones where you can see the peanut butter, but you can't always get to it with a knife/spoon/pretzel/finger.

Look at it sitting in there, mocking me. 

Lo and behold, I have found a solution to this problem: overnight oats.

You may ask yourself, what does this mean? Overnight? Oats? These are two words not normally found together. Basically, overnight oats are a cold version of oatmeal that you mix up the night before you'd like to enjoy it and then let hang out in the fridge overnight. Poof! You have breakfast waiting for you in the morning! The resulting mixture is along the lines of an oatmeal shake, although you can adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe to achieve your desired consistency.

You don't have to use a peanut butter jar - any container (Tupperware, leftover Chinese takeout container, glass jar, etc.) would work fine. The jars are nice because 1) they use up that pesky little bit of PB (or cookie butter or Nutella...), 2) the airtight seal prevents the bananas from getting brown, and 3) it's easy to grab and go without worrying about spillage. I keep a spare glass jar around to use when I'm not making peanut butter-based oats for this reason.

It looks a little wonky now, but trust me, it's going to be awesome!

I love the addition of chia seeds (yes, like that chia) because it gives the oatmeal extra volume and keeps me full all morning long. When the chia seeds are exposed to moisture, they expand and have a tapioca-like consistency. Also, I cut my banana slices a little bit on the large side so that there are still banana chunks in the oatmeal in the morning. If you cut them smaller, you'll taste the banana, but you might not see the pieces. 


Getting cozy in the fridge, making friends with the lime juice and half & half.

Before I get in the shower, I take the oats out of the fridge and let them sit on the counter for 20 minutes or so to take out the chill. The result is still refreshing but not quite as frigid. It also gives the oatmeal some time to mellow and get ready for consumption.

 The finished product. Yum!

Overnight oats are great because they are so versatile. Don't like yogurt? Leave it out. Can't imagine oatmeal without brown sugar and raisins? Go for it! If you do a quick search on The Google, you will find myriad recipes and variations. I've made versions with peanut butter, assorted fruits, and even pumpkin. Feel free to experiment with all kinds of ingredients. You might find a new favorite breakfast!

Done! Now off to the recycle bin with you!

Peanut Butter Cup Overnight Oats

Makes one jar

almost empty peanut butter jar (or about 1 tbsp of peanut butter)
1/4 cup quick cooking or old fashioned oats (do not use steel cut oats - they won't get soft enough)
3/4 cup milk
2 tbsp Greek or regular yogurt (for extra protein and oomph!)
1/2 tbsp chia seeds
1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 of a large banana, sliced
splash of vanilla extract
honey, sugar, or your favorite sweetener to taste
additional milk to achieve desired consistency (optional)

Add all ingredients to your jar of choice. Stir the mixture gently to make sure that everything is incorporated. Tightly close the jar and give it a hearty shake. Place jar in refrigerator overnight.

Before enjoying, let the jar sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to take the chill off. Open jar, give it a stir, and add additional milk as desired until the perfect consistency is achieved. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

First Snow of the Season!

I woke up today to find that we had been graced with the presence of the first dusting of snow this season!

Chilly morning snow

Yesterday, on my way to campus I saw Evanston's Christmas tree on its way into town on the back of a City of Evanston truck. Then it was snowing that light, swirling kind of snow on my way home from work. Could it be that the making of merry isn't far away?

Stay warm, friends!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pumpkin Bonanza!

Well, folks, it was a late night in the lab yesterday. I had to run a long furnace experiment (and had to go into lab today to finish it blah), and while I waited, I decided that I should tell you good people about all of the delicious fall baking I've been doing lately. I noticed that even though I included cupcakes in the title, my blog is definitely lacking in baked goods. Worry not...this sad fact will change in the coming chilly months.

My research group had coffee hour last week, which I always use as an excuse to go a little crazy with the baking. I made some apple cinnamon muffins (not as interesting) as well as a few pumpkin dishes (more interesting).


These pumpkin pie bars are a fun, easy twist on pumpkin pie. They're sort of halfway between pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake. The only modification I made was to decrease the amount of the topping/crust to 3/4 of the original recipe. Since they turned out so well, I made another bunch for a "practice Thanksgiving" that my friends Lauren and Kellie had at their place on Saturday. Our lovely hosts made the turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, and everyone else brought sides, desserts, and appetizers. There were great friends, great food, and great times all around. :)

Even though the bars were well received, the star of the show was something I made on a whim: pumpkin spice puppy chow. No, not like the stuff by Purina. This kind of puppy chow (aka muddy buddies in some places). If you haven't had it before, a very important piece of your childhood is missing, so go make yourself some. Right now. I'll wait.

The recipe for the pumpkin spice version replaces the peanut butter with Biscoff spread. However, since I couldn't find that, I used Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter, which is basically heaven in a jar. Seriously, the clouds will open up and angels with trumpets will appear when you first taste it. Couple that with some white chocolate and pumpkin pie spice, and you have a deliciously addictive snack. (I may or may not have eaten all of the puppy chow left over from coffee hour...but you have no evidence of this, do you? Mwahaha.) Puppy chow is super easy, and this version really seemed to be a crowd pleaser. Try it at home!

A little bowl of heaven

Also, not quite as heavenly as speculoos butter but still quite delicious is Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter. (I swear I'm not paid by TJ's in any way) It's like apple butter...but with pumpkin. I'm really digging it stirred into Greek yogurt with some granola.

The triumvirate

Once I discovered exactly how nutritionally sparse the PSL from Starbucks is, I've tried to avoid them (sigh). Thus, I sought to make my own. This recipe from Skinnytaste is an excellent substitute which uses the pumpkin butter...and it's super easy! Also, I can make mine more pumpkin-y if I want to without having to learn the language of Starbucks to get my order across. Be your own barista!

Starbucks, eat your heart out!

To use up the last of my pumpkin as well as some walnuts and applesauce I had lying around, I made a small batch of pumpkin nut muffins. They are moist and delicious and a festive way to use up any extraneous gourd you may have hanging out in your fridge.


As much as I love pumpkin, I'm super excited for the next season in line: peppermint! I think I saw some seasonal items popping up on menus already, so it's just around the corner! What's your favorite seasonal flavor?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weddings and Kale & Quinoa Cakes

Happy November, friends! Hope the new month is treating you well so far.

I've been busy the past few weeks with school, work, and travel in addition to some cooking/baking. Andy and I traveled to PA last weekend for the wedding of Jake, our good friend from college. Andy was a groomsman, and I just got to sit and enjoy the ride. It was really great to see some of our friends from college as well as to meet the families of both Jake and his new wife(!) Audrey. They seem like a great match for each other.

I also loved to have a chance to get back to my home state for a few days. There is nothing better than Pennsylvania in the fall. For real. Illinois just doesn't have the same rolling-hills-forested-area beauty that Pennsylvania does. It made me happy just to be around it for a short time.

In addition to all the usual delicious wedding things, there was something especially unique here: cookies. THOUSANDS of cookies. If you're not familiar with the tradition of a cookie table, you're not alone. It's kind of like the phrase "firehall wedding reception." You don't realize that not everyone knows what this is until you say it in mixed company, and people look at you like you have three heads. Anyway, every time I walked by the table there were new types of cookies appearing. Maybe there will be some cookies in the future on S&C as a result. :)

In order to recover from post-wedding gorging, I've decided that I need to cook more healthy things this week. I was in Whole Foods last week and bought some red quinoa on a whim. I've cooked with quinoa before, but never the red variety. Why is a grain that has been around for thousands of years all of a sudden super popular? Not that I'm arguing with deliciousness...


I served the cakes with the "Hot Pepper Mustard" that we received as a favor at Jake and Audrey's wedding. It was sort of like a spicy version of honey mustard, and it went really well with the cakes. Such a cute idea!




Kale and Quinoa Cakes

From Joy the Baker (recipe adapted from Super Natural Every Day)
1 1/2 cups raw quinoa
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 bunch (about 3 cups) chopped dino kale
splash of apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup coarsely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes (I did half and half)
1 tablespoon water (I used a little less)
2 tablespoon olive oil (or cooking spray) for frying, add a bit more as necessary
lemon wedges, olives or capers, spicy mustard, and greens for serving

Place dry quinoa in a fine mesh strainer.  Wash under cool water for a few minutes.  Quinoa needs to be rinsed or it tastes dirty.
In a medium saucepan place rinsed quinoa, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Place over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Cover, decrease the heat, and simmer for about 25 t0 30 minutes, until the quinoa is tender.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  We’ll need about 3 cups of cooked quinoa for the recipe.
In a small bowl, whisk eggs and set aside.
In a medium sauté man, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.  Add kale and toss until just slightly wilted, about 1 minutes.  Remove from heat and add a splash of vinegar.  Place kale mixture in a large bowl with prepared quinoa.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  You can speed up this process in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Add cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, break crumbs, salt, and pepper.  Add beaten eggs and stir until all of the quinoa mixture is moistened.  Add water to thoroughly moisten mixture.  Quinoa should be slightly wet so it doesn’t dry out during cooking.
Scoop out mixture by the 2 tablespoonful.  (I used a small ice cream scoop to scoop the mixture right into the hot pan.)  Use clean, moist fingers to form into a patty.  Create as many patties as you’d like.  (Rinse your hands after every few patties… it makes making patties easier.)
In a large skillet over medium low heat, heat olive oil.  If you pan is large enough, add four to six patties to the hot pan.  You’ll need a bit of room to successfully flip them.
Cook on each side until beautifully browned, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side.  Low heat helps the quinoa cakes cook slowly. Brown on each side then remove to a paper towel lined plate.
Serve warm with a lemon wedge, mustard, fresh spinach, and salty capers.  It’s like a deconstructed salad.  Serve them any way you’d like. Makes about two dozen small cakes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Return to Baking: Apple Spiced Scones

I freakin' love fall. There I said it. The crunch of the leaves, the crisp smell of the air, the warm colors of the trees...

Magical.

I also freakin' love scones. When I saw the recipe for these apple spiced scones on Skinnytaste yesterday, I knew that I had to get back to baking. Now that our kitchen in the new apartment is pretty much all unpacked and painted(!), I'm starting to make the kitchen my own again and beginning to get acquainted with my new oven. I feel like I should name it. Maybe I'll call it Gladys.

My preferred scone recipe is a whole wheat cherry scone that I came across a few years ago on the interwebs, but I'm always looking for new recipes for my favorite breakfast treat. My friends and I went apple picking a few weekends ago, and as you can probably imagine, we still have a glut of apples hanging out in our fridge. What better way to put them to use than in something delicious?

Scones fresh out of the oven.
The kitchen smelled AMAZING while these morsels were cooking. Sort of like as if you were baking an apple pie and banana bread simultaneously. UH-mazing.

I followed the Skinnytaste recipe pretty much word for word with a few substitutions. I used the lemon juice/milk substitution for buttermilk. I didn't have applesauce, so I just used a one-for-one substitution with vegetable oil. I'm sure they would be even more apple-y if you used the sauce. Also, I just used straight-up whole wheat flour because I don't stock the white whole wheat flour regularly in my pantry.

My dough was very sticky (maybe it would have been less so with the applesauce?), so if your dough is like this too, I would recommend forming the dough into a round on a cutting board, flipping it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and cutting it into twelve wedges once on the baking sheet. I learned that this would have been the better technique by doing things the hard way and cutting the wedges first. I had to reroll the dough into a disk on the baking sheet. Oopsy.

EDIT: I also might refrigerate my dough for a little bit before working with it. I usually do this when I make my cherry scones, and it really makes handling and cutting the dough much easier!

A solitary scone...
...plus cinnamon/nutmeg sugar glaze...
Glorious!

Also, the scones themselves aren't super sweet and are almost like an apple cake/scone combo. Thus, they really need the sugar glaze to give you that satisfying sweetness in every bite. One of my baking life mottos is that you can never really have enough glaze on baked goods, so the more the merrier. I wound up using pretty much all of the glaze that the recipe makes, which gave me a nice hearty drizzle of glaze in every bite. Enjoy!


Delightful Apple Spiced Scones

From Skinnytaste


Ingredients:

1/2 cup cold buttermilk
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce (or oil)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed (light brown works, too)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
cooking spray (I used parchment paper instead)
1 cup white whole wheat flour (I used plain whole wheat flour)
1 cup all purpose flour  
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp chilled butter (must be cold) cut into small pieces
2 cups diced apples, peeled (I used Jonathan)

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
2 tbsp cold fat free milk (plus 1/2 tbsp if needed)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine the first five ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Combine the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in another large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in chilled butter with a pastry blender, or you could use 2 knives, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Fold in diced minced apples. Add buttermilk mixture, stirring just until moist.

Place dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly four times with floured hands. Form dough into an 9-inch circle onto baking sheet, about 3/4" thick. Using a knife, cut dough into 12 wedges all the way through.
Bake until golden, about 18-20 minutes, depending on your oven. Place on a cooling rack about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the glaze: Mix powdered sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg with 2 tbsp of milk, adding 1/2 tbsp more (1 tsp at a time) if necessary to get the consistency to the right thickness. 

Place scones on parchment or wax paper and drizzle the glaze over the scones using a spoon - or- place the glaze in a shallow bowl and dip the top of the scones into the glaze, then let it sit on the waxed paper to harden.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Refried Bean, Corn, and Cheese Quesadillas

Now that we've FINALLY unpacked the kitchen stuff (mostly...sort of...sufficiently), Andy and I have finally started to cook things. Huzzah! Hopefully, Science and Cupcakes will include a little more cupcakes and a little less science the coming weeks.

This recipe is one of my favorite quick things to make when we don't want to get take out and don't feel like putting tons of effort into dinner. It includes my favorite cooking technique of all: opening up packages of things and dumping them into a bowl. The other nice thing about this recipe is that it is very flexible. Want to add cayenne pepper? Go for it. Cilanto? Sure! It works well with whatever spices you have on hand. Include the cumin, but everything else is up to you.

Serve with salsa, sour cream, and/or tortilla chips. Enjoy!


Refried Bean, Corn, and Cheese Quesadillas

Makes approx. 6 quesadillas
Adapted from Cooking Light

12 yellow corn tortillas
1 - 16 oz can fat free refried beans
1/2 cup frozen corn (do not thaw)
1/4-1/2 tsp cumin
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheese

Optional additions:
Green onions
Cilantro
Jalapeno peppers
Cayenne pepper
Etc.

In a small bowl, combine refried beans, corn, cumin, and crushed red pepper. Mix well.

Coat a non-stick skillet with cooking spray. Warm a corn tortilla on each side. Remove from pan. Place another corn tortilla in the pan to warm while compiling the quesadilla.

Spread first tortilla with 1/4 - 1/3 cup bean mixture. Sprinkle with ~1 tbsp shredded cheese. Place second warmed tortilla on top of filling to complete the quesadilla.

Return to pan and cook on both sides until the cheese is melted and tortillas are slightly brown. Enjoy!



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sweet Home Chicago

Can you believe that it's almost the end of September already?! Where did the summer go? I've been back in Chicago for a little over a week now. And this time, when I say Chicago, I actually mean Chicago proper. Andy and I moved down to the city on the border of Lakeview and Lincoln Park, and so far, I am loving our new location! We're close to restaurants and the El, and our neighborhood is quiet enough that we can hear ourselves think yet busy enough that I feel safe walking around. We're still unpacking and such, but soon our place will be all spiffy and homey-like.

For those of you who have followed me around the country this summer, I hope you've enjoyed exploring the west with me. From the high desert of Albuquerque to the rolling hills of Livermore, I've tried to share my ups and downs with all of you, for better or worse. It's hard to encapsulate the summer in just one blog post, but I thought I could at least share a few musings that have been on my mind over the past few days. 

A few bullet point reflections of the past twelve weeks:
  • Livermore is cute and quaint, and the Bay Area is lovely. Seven weeks there wasn't nearly enough time to see everything. This clearly means that I need to go back soon!
  • Albuquerque is weird for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. We had sort of a rough time of it while I was there. The food is AWESOME, though. Ten points for Flying Star, green chile, and sopaipillas! I feel like to be fair, I need to give ABQ another try some time in the future. Maybe during the balloon fiesta?
  • I really like biking everywhere. Livermore was super bike friendly, and I have a new respect for people who bike around Chicago. Maybe I'll get myself a spiffy new helmet and lights and stuff and become one of those people, too!
  • Nature is amazing. Grand Canyon? Yosemite? I can't remember the last time my breath was taken away by something so beautiful. Nothing that humans can make rivals that which occurs in these places. Pictures don't do it justice; you need to see it yourself.
  • You definitely need to have a car anywhere west of the Rockies. They're not built for public transportation. Gripe as you will, but the El is amazing.
  • National labs are neat little places. They're a bit looser than the corporate world but still have that feel of academia. Perhaps a place for a post doc? 
  • Even though the places I've visited were pretty nifty, there's no place like sweet home Chicago.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Weekend of the Rental Car, or How I Got Lost Everywhere I Drove in California

This past weekend, I rented a car on a whim. The inception of this idea went something like this:

Me: uhhh, I don't know what to do this weekend. Maybe I should just rent a car and drive around.
Andy: Oh, look, Hertz has super cheap cars this weekend.

Done.

I was supposed to have a compact car but instead wound up with a Toyota Corolla, which is quite a bit larger than your typical compact. The larger size of the car will be relevant later in the story.

I had a vague framework of destinations in mind - Palo Alto to visit my friend Jakub, San Jose to see my friend Diana, and some sort of viewing of redwood trees. Also, since I was so close, I also decided to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Google. Mostly, I just wanted to embrace the California highway culture and explore the land beyond Livermore.

On the way to Google, I stopped at NASA Ames Exploration Center to geek out over space travel and to bask in the excitement of the Curiosity landing.

Almost my shoe size?

Just down the road was the place where all of the magic happens...

THE GOOGLE

I don't know what I was expecting (maybe armed guards or a labyrinth of mind games at the entrance?), but it was pretty cool that you could just drive around the campus. If I had some time, I probably could have even ridden around on a GOOGLE BIKE.

It's like seeing a unicorn or something.

After a quick lunch at a taqueria in Mountain View and a stop at the Stanford shopping mall, I visited my high school friend Jakub who is a grad student at Stanford in chemical engineering. En route to campus, I stumbled upon the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts, which very much reminded me of Arts Fest in State College. Lots of roads were closed off in the downtown because of this festival, and I got super disoriented and mildly lost. Eventually, I found my way to campus. Apparently the mall where I was shopping was adjacent to the campus. I did not know this at the time. Oops!

Stanford's campus is HUGE and absolutely gorgeous. I saw the brand-spanking new engineering labs and even managed to find the materials science building.

Ta da! 

In the main quad, we stopped by the beautiful Stanford Memorial Church. Check out the gorgeous mosaic on the front.

Proof that I didn't just take these pictures from the internet.

That night, I grabbed dinner with Diana, a friend of mine from my REU at Lehigh a few years back, and her boyfriend in San Jose. Again, I missed my exit at least ten times, but I finally made it to downtown San Jose. We ate at a Thai place just adjacent to the San Jose State campus. Then I drove back to Livermore and passed out for the night.

The next day, I decided to venture out of the 'burbs and get in touch with nature at Muir Woods. The journey to Muir Woods was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. 180 degree turns? 45 degree inclines? Blind corners? The drive up to Muir Woods has it all!

The longest 500 ft elevation in my ENTIRE LIFE.

I think my crowning driving achievement was turning around on a road that was barely wide enough for two cars, with no guard rail, and parallel parking on a 20 degree grade along the side of the road. If I can do that, I can do ANYTHING. The drive was completely worth it, though, as I got to see these trees!

 That tree is gigantic.

On the way home, I drove through Sausalito, which has cute, quaint, nautical seaside charm a la Cape Cod. I topped off the day by getting horribly lost in San Francisco. This resulted in me driving around the Presidio for half an hour before inadvertently driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. I took a picture while driving. This is obviously super safe and probably voids some sort of agreement on my rental car.

Surprise! It's a bridge!

This time, I got super lost, and after freaking out a little (okay, a lot), I finally stopped at a Walgreens where a nice lady with an iPhone helped me with directions and a Russian woman thrust an atlas at me and insisted that I take it before I drove off. So now I have a U.S. Atlas, which will probably come in handy given how many times I got lost.

When I returned the car, I discovered that I had put 288 miles on it over the course of the weekend. I am fairly certain that I drove on pretty much every road in northern CA that ends in "80." It was a great experience. I think I'm really starting to like California. :)

Cheers for now! Have a great rest of the week, kids!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Farmer's Market Ratatouille

As I only have two more weeks(!) left in Livermore, I'm trying to use up all of the food that I have and be smart about what I buy. Not do the thing where I'm like, oh this looks interesting...I'll use this for something...and then I never do. You know how it is.

I exercised my super-California-ish-ness by biking to the farmer's market. I really like the one in Livermore, especially the Thursday one, which has live music and a bunch of food trucks where you can grab some dinner before you shop. For this recipe, I was able to get everything I needed vegetable-wise at the farmer's market, even the garlic and the parsley. I had some Parmesan cheese left from my kale adventures as well as some pasta sauce from a sauce I had made with leftover chicken sausage and basil from my plant at home that I harvested last weekend.

I searched the web for a ratatouille recipe, and what resulted is sort of an amalgamation of all the recipes I found. This is a good base recipe, but it definitely needs...something. I think maybe some extra seasonings like rosemary or thyme would be great to throw in with the eggplant and onion mixture.

Deliciousness in progress. So colorful!

I served the ratatouille with brown rice, but it would be great with cous cous or another starchy grain to soak up all of the vegetable juices.

Be warned that there is a LOT of prep work involved, but once you get everything chopped, all you need to do is layer it in a dish and poof! After 50 minutes, you have dinner! If you desired, you could probably buy pre-cut veggies or even get cut up stuff off the salad bar at your local supermarket.

Also, the ratatouille gets better with age, so look forward to leftovers!

Farmer's Market Ratatouille


Cooking spray
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 Japanese eggplants
2 tbsp fresh parsley
2 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow squash
1 bell pepper
1/2 cup baby carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 medium tomatoes
1/3 jar tomato sauce
Fresh basil
Salt
Pepper
Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup-ish)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat the bottom and sides of a 9x9" glass baking dish (or any similarly sized casserole dish) with cooking spray.

Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Saute garlic and onions until garlic starts to brown and onions are slightly translucent. Add the eggplant and continue sauteing until the eggplant is soft, about 10 minutes. In the last minute of cooking the eggplant, add the parsley and cook until incorporated but still green. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

Spread the eggplant mixture on the bottom of the dish. Cover with a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Layer zucchini on top, sprinkle with salt and more cheese. Continue layering the squash, carrots, bell peppers, and tomatoes, salting and adding cheese in between each layer. Top the tomato layer with torn basil, pasta sauce, and a final sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 50 minutes or until cheese is browned and vegetables are soft.

The finished product!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Kale Chronicles

My favorite part about summer is the plethora of unique fresh veggies that appear at the grocery store and farmer's market. Sure, I love the usual suspects like carrots and peppers, but part of the fun of cooking is being inspired by what is in season at any given moment. One class of veggies that doesn't get nearly the respect it deserves is the leafy-greens family. This includes things such as Swiss chard, collard greens (a current obsession when I eat Ethiopian food), and my personal favorite, kale.



I love, love, love kale. It has a strong enough flavor to stand on its own, but it is versatile enough that it blends in with whatever flavors you desire.

When looking at what to make for dinner, I try to adhere to the cook-once-eat-all-week mantra. This pasta dish stores and reheats really well, so you can nom all week from one easy night of cooking. I've adapted this meal from a WeightWatchers recipe. I like to use more kale than the original because as I said, I really like kale, and the extra greens make it more satisfying in my opinion. You really can't go wrong with whatever kind of sausage you use, and you could probably even use other greens like broccoli rabe, chard, or even asparagus if you can't find kale.


I went a little kale-crazy, and I wound up buying two bunches, which is kind of a lot of volume for one person. Thus, I needed to find another recipe to make with my limited ingredients. The idea for kale chips was born!

The term "chip" in relation to kale is kind of a misnomer. They're really more of a crisp than a chip. They're not quite hearty enough to survive a salsa or a dip, but they're light and delicious and perfect for a savory, crispy food craving!

A few notes on kale chip prep: make sure your kale is REALLY dry. Otherwise, it won't crisp up evenly, and you'll have some chips that are overcooked and some that are still floppy. Also, as I found out, the kale chips tend to get soggy if you don't consume them immediately (but a little moisture didn't deter me from eating them!). Enjoy them fresh out of the oven. Plus, they're really yummy when they're still warm.

Cheers!


Pasta with Sausage and Kale
Adapted from WeightWatchers.com recipe "Rigatoni with Sausage and Kale"


2 cups uncooked pasta (I like to use fun shapes like bowties or curly pasta that holds the kale better)
8 oz uncooked bulk turkey or chicken sausage, spicy (I've used spicy turkey sausage and spicy chicken parmesan cheese sausage...both were great!)
1 bunch uncooked kale, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 cup canned fat free, low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Instructions

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions.

Meanwhile, brown sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up sausage as it cooks, about 3 minutes. Add kale a handful at a time. Cook, stirring frequently, until limp, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add broth to skillet and scrape up browned bits on bottom of skillet with a wooden spoon; season with salt and pepper. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low; cook until kale is tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in rigatoni; heat through.

Sprinkle each serving with about 2 tablespoons of cheese before serving.
Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Baked Parmesan Kale Chips
Modified from Skinnytaste


1 bunch kale
cooking spray (I used canola, but olive oil would work well, too)
sea salt
black pepper
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly spray large baking sheets with cooking spray.

Wash and thoroughly dry kale. Remove any thick stems, and tear kale into bite sized pieces.

Place kale pieces on baking sheets in a single layer. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Bake for ~10 minutes, moving the kale around as it shrinks and gets crispy.

Remove from oven, top with cheese, and bake for another ~5 minutes until cheese begins to melt, edges are crisp, and some kale begins to get brown around the edges. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

California Adventures

Hi, all!

Okay, for real, I'm going to update more frequently and stuff.

It's been a busy few weeks with the transition from ABQ to CA. This week was actually my first full week at Sandia/CA because of all of the travel! Last week, I had my fellowship conference in Washington, DC, so I basically dropped my stuff in California and then took off for the east coast 48 hours later. Over the course of a week, I was in every time zone. I started the week in ABQ, moved to Livermore, flew to DC via Chicago, and then flew to Chicago and finally SF. (I also discovered the exact turnaround time of a 46" x 41" poster at FedEx/Kinko's if submitted the night before it is needed. But that's a story for another day...) Oof. I am racking up the frequent flyer miles, let me tell you. I keep saying that I should take a vacation when I'm done with all of this summer stuff, but really, I may just want to stay put for a while.

I was able to squeeze in a much-needed but entirely too short visit home to Evanston. Andy and I signed a lease on an apartment in Chicago(!) while I was home, which was very exciting indeed. I got a chance to walk through it, too, which was awesome. It's a HUGE place with a kitchen that is easily the size of our current living room. I'm excited for the move and excited to have people over for a housewarming! I'm heading home in a few weeks to help pack for the move, even though I can't be there during the actual move. Chicago people, I'm counting on you in my absence! :)

Even though I've only been here working for real for a little over a week, I've already been working hard. I've been working 9, 10, even 11 hour days. I didn't think this whole practicum thing was supposed to be so intense. Maybe I got the short end of the stick. Who knows. I get to play with lasers so that's cool? The experimental setup that we're using is more complicated than anything I've ever used before, which is super intimidating. There are so many things that can go wrong. Luckily, I have a fellow grad student name Darwin (which is apparently a very common name in Indonesia where he is from) who is a pro at operating the system. He claims that I can bother him with as many questions as I have. I hope this is true, but at least he doesn't seem to be too annoyed yet. :) I'm starting to get the feel of the system now, but I feel like once I get it mastered, I'm going to be leaving. Ah well.

Since this was my first weekend in Livermore, I decided to walk about a bit. The downtown is super cute and friendly. There are all kinds of restaurants and small shops. I spent a good chunk of my morning sitting outside Panama Red Coffee Co with my Kindle and a tall cup of coffee. I got in some quality people watching while I was at it. Moving along, I stopped by the Donut Wheel and Noah's Bagels to get some donuts for breakfast tomorrow and bagels for breakfast throughout the week. I walked all the way to Nob Hill Foods (no, not like the ABQ Nob Hill. It wasn't THAT long of a walk) and Trader Joe's (yes, I found it already). One thing I've found is that, apparently, no one takes public transit here. In the morning,  no more than four people have been on the bus. Today I figured out that on Saturday, only every other bus runs to the stop near my building. So I got stranded for a bit at the Livermore transit center with my bags of groceries. Oh well. Chicagoans don't know how good we have it. For real. I miss the el!

Livermore is also home to about 50 wineries. After perusing Google Maps today, I found out that there are at least two wineries down the street from my apartment. Maybe this will be how I spend my Sunday, hmmm? I'm really looking forward to checking out the farmer's market tomorrow. I love farm-fresh produce, and I really missed having that opportunity in ABQ.

Speaking of ABQ, I've recently started watching Breaking Bad. I am really glad I did not start watching it when I was living in ABQ, as I may not have ever left my hotel. At least I never went to the South Valley, so I guess I would have been okay? The show is, uh, addictive, so to speak, and I've already gotten through the first season. Eep!

California is generally pretty okay so far. I'm starting to get my bearings, and I hope to do some exploring! If anyone has any ideas or suggestions on things to do in NorCal, I am open to suggestions!

Have a great rest of the weekend, folks!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Albuquerque Experience

Hi, S&C-ers!

Given the time elapsed between my last post and now, I think you can probably get an idea of what my time here in ABQ has been like. I've been working long days trying to get lots of work done during the five short weeks that I'm at Sandia NM. My work has paid off (I think? maybe?), and I have a bunch of things to test when I get to CA. It took a while to get used to living in a new city, fitting in with a new crowd, and acclimating to the national lab setting, and now when I feel like I know what I'm doing, it's time to go!

Fortunately, my time here hasn't been all work. Andy came to visit me a few weeks ago. We did some quintessential ABQ stuff like the Sandia Peak Tramway (the longest in the world!) at sunset, Petroglyph National Monument, driving down old Route 66, and eating (sopaipillas! green chile! carne adovada! oh my!). The main event of Andy's visit, however, was the Grand Canyon. We drove out on Sunday, spent the afternoon hiking down into the canyon, and came back up to the rim for sunset. I can't remember the last time I had my breath taken away, but the Grand Canyon definitely did it. We stayed the night in Flagstaff, AZ then headed back to New Mexico the next morning. On the way home, we swung through Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, during which I'm pretty sure we set a record for the fastest touring of a national park. We put almost 1000 miles on our rental car in three days. Awesome.

My parents also came out to visit for a weekend. We stayed more local and checked out Albuquerque sights like the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, which I thought was really awesome. Albuquerque also has its own minor league baseball team called the Albuquerque Isotopes, which sends players to the Los Angeles Dodgers. We also took the Rail Runner up to Santa Fe, which is absolutely adorable. Even though it rained, we got a chance to see the historic square, church, art fairs, and more. If I'm in NM again, I would definitely visit Santa Fe again!

My time in Albuquerque was eye-opening, but I am looking forward to heading to California. I can't believe I'm leaving tomorrow! I'll miss the beautiful mountain scenery and the yummy food in New Mexico. I've learned all about Southwestern wildlife, too. Did you know that road runners are real?! Apparently, there is a restaurant in Chicago that serves New Mexican-inspired food, so I'll have to check it back when I'm back home.


I'll try to be better about updating on the West Coast. Until next time! Have a great week everyone!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Public Transit and "Red or Green?": My First Week in ABQ

Happy Sunday, S&C readers!

It's been a hectic first week in ABQ. Work-wise, I've had a variety of fun battling Sandia's computer resources, getting used to commuting, and working in a new lab. I think I'm starting to get the hang of things, but every lab has its own culture, which requires some adjustment. Also, I've finally come to terms with the altitude in that I no longer feel winded when I climb a flight of stairs. Huzzah! I don't think I'll ever get used to this heat, though, however dry it may be. I have learned to apply moisturizer daily, always have your sunglasses handy, and when in doubt, slather on sunscreen. I even have a bunch of freckles and a sort-of tan. 

Uptown, the section of the city where I'm staying, is basically home to every chain store you could ever want. I'm about a seven minute walk away from Trader Joe's, and I'm slowly eating my way through every product that TJ's sells. Not that this is a bad thing. The view from my hotel room is quite striking. You can see the mountains really well. We had some thunderstorms on Thursday (which was very much needed due to the wildfires that have been running rampant), and I got to see bolts of lightning streak across the sky above the mountains. Awesome.


The view from my living room pretty much sums up this section of the city: TJ's and mountains. (During the day and at sunset.)

I couldn't find the bus stop on my second day of work. This sounds ridiculous, I know, but I'm not always thinking clearly first thing in the morning. In Chicago, not every bus stop is marked, so I didn't think anything of there not being a sign at the spot where I thought the bus would stop. Long story short, that wasn't the bus stop, and it took me an hour to catch the bus on Tuesday morning. Also, after whacking my bike into my shins half a dozen times, I've finally become a pro at hoisting my bike into the bike rack on the front of the bus (and have some really wicked bruises to boot). ABQ Ride, the name for the bus system here, has a really awesome video, which teaches you how to use the bike rack. It's like magic.

Since I've been working during the week, I haven't had too much of a chance to explore. Last weekend, I walked around in Coronado Center, the mall across the way, and did some shopping. Hellooooo, 7% sales tax! It seems so cheap compared to the 9.5% I'm used to. Ha. On Friday, I grabbed lunch with my NU friend Harold, who works for Intel. I discovered that there are a bunch of neat restaurants fairly close to my hotel, including several Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants. Who knew?


Yesterday, I decided to start exploring the rest of the town. ABQ Ride has a Rapid Ride line that runs along Central Ave, which is the old Route 66 that runs east-west through the city. It runs through Nob Hill and Downtown ABQ then on to Old Town. ABQ has tried to keep some of the old Route 66 charm, especially in Nob Hill, where neon signs abound, so it was fun to see snapshots of history along the way. 

I ended up in Old Town, which is on the western side of the city. The main plaza area of Old Town is a favorite of tourists and has a bunch of shops selling jewelry, art, and kitsch, an assortment of restaurants, and a few museums like the Rattlesnake Museum. Old Town extends farther west than I ventured and also includes the ABQ BioPark and some other fun stuff.

The tower of the San Felipe de Neri Parish marks the center of Old Town. 

As I mentioned, there's a bit of a kitschy element to some of the character in Old Town. For $4, I couldn't say no to the Rattlesnake Museum. I got a "Certificate of Bravery" for going through the exhibits and everything. If any of you are fans of the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, you may have seen the rattlesnake mugs that he and his robot-skeleton sidekick Geoff drink out of on the show. If you don't know this show, that last sentence probably made no sense. Anyway, I actually saw those mugs in the flesh (snakeskin?) in the museum gift shop. Because I realize there are some snake-phobic readers of this blog, I'll spare you the snake pictures and instead show you the entrance where, if you heed the sign, you can slither on in to the museum.

"Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?"

To top off the day in Old Town, I searched for some traditional New Mexican food. I wound up at the Church Street Cafe upon recommendation from the two nice old men who manned the Visitor Center desk. Basically everything on the menu at a New Mexican restaurant is smothered in cheese and either red or green chile. "Red or green?" is a common question, and it seems that everyone has a favorite place to get the best of either. I decided to opt for the choice of "Christmas," which means you get both red and green chile. I think I might be a red chile gal, but the combination was pretty delicious. Further experimentation is needed to have a full data set on the matter. I am an engineer after all.

Hopefully, this week will be smoother than last week. Also, I have the best motivation to keep going through the week: Andy is coming to visit this weekend!!!

I hope everyone has a great week! Cheers until next time!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Albuquerque!

Hi, Science and Cupcakes fans!

I apologize for the almost month-long pause in blog updates. With the quarter wrapping up, my last class EVER ending(!), and trying to fit a quarter's worth of research into two weeks, I've been a little scattered. I know I'm in trouble when I write stuff down on Post-it notes so I don't forget about it and then I lose the Post-it notes. Woof.

In trying to fit all of the research in to the past two weeks, I achieved what I thought was impossible. I got a full fuel cell fabricated with my new anode material having never made one of this chemistry before. Even though it was super-stressful, I am happy that I was able to get something testable finished before I left! Hoorah!

Yesterday, I arrived in Albuquerque, NM where I'll be staying for the next five weeks while working at Sandia National Laboratories. After a bit of a snafu with my initial lodging conditions, I am getting settled in to an extended stay hotel which has a full kitchen (including a DISHWASHER ahhh). I'm living in what is known as the Uptown section of ABQ, and the area around me is basically just a series of malls. Also, everyone I talked to told me I was within walking distance of a Trader Joe's. I'm wondering if it's a new thing around here considering how excited everyone was about it. I'll admit it's pretty convenient and delicious.

Being in a new city is kind of disorienting, but I was told that the way to figure out where you are is to look for the mountains. The mountains are always to the east. This reminded me of how people always look for the lake in Chicago. Except the mountains are much easier to find.

One thing that people weren't joking about is that it is HOT here. I don't care how dry the heat is: if it's 96 degrees (which it was today), it is still 96 degrees. It's a bit more tolerable, maybe. But still really toasty. Albuquerque also is elevated at 5500 ft, so you also lose a good amount of protective atmosphere in your sun exposure. I bought a huge thing of SPF 50 sunscreen, which I will be liberally applying daily, especially because I'll be biking part of the way to work. I went out for a walk today and was very glad that I had sunscreened-up before I departed. (Side note: I saw a little lizard running around! So much more interesting than the Midwest.) Another side effect of the altitude is that I get winded doing just about anything right now. Even walking up stairs is hard. I'm sure I'll adjust to the altitude in time.

I'm nervous and excited and scared about this relocation all at the same time. It's fun to discover a new area, especially one I've never been close to before. It's also kind of scary to be plopped in a new location not knowing many people. I'm sure that once I get into a schedule, I'll be right as rain. Which doesn't happen here. :)

As the narrative of ABQ appears in the weeks to come, I'll blog about my discoveries and adventures. I already miss everyone back in Illinois, so keep me posted on your lives. :) Cheers!

Loose Ends


I had a few culinary adventures in the preceding weeks before I left, which I haven't gotten a chance to blog about yet! I'm really excited about making Homemade Larabars. I love these bars made of raw ingredients like dates and almonds, but I find that the $2.00 a bar price tag is a little steep for everyday consumption. Costco sells dates in gigantic packages, which is pretty perfect for mass producing the bars. And you can control exactly what goes into them. So far, I've made the cherry pie and key lime pie flavors, and I hope to branch out to more kinds soon! All the recipes I've done so far have yielded three to four bars.

Cherry pie bars before...

Cherry pie bars after! 


I'm always looking for new things to make for weekend breakfasts, and my latest endeavour was these super-moist banana breakfast donuts, which I actually made into muffins because I don't have a donut pan. These come from a vegan blog, but can easily be made non-vegan, too. I drizzled a simple glaze made with milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla on top for some added texture and flavor. Yum!

Clusters of muffins! You can even see the piece of banana in the bottom muffin.

Pro tip: the glaze tends to soak into the muffin by the next day or two, so revive some of the sugary goodness by placing the muffin under the broiler. The top of the muffin gets sweet and crunchy, which gives it a whole new texture.

Yummmmm


In my continuing obsession with Skinnytaste, Andy and I made these Chicken Rollatini with Spinach alla Parmigiana for dinner. I love, love, love spinach and will really look for any excuse to add some to my diet. This dish is healthy and very satisfying.

Before cheese...

After cheese!

We even decided to be all fancy-like with a side salad, whole wheat pasta, and a glass of wine. Om nom nom.
A complete and delicious meal.


I have a stove and a microwave but no oven in the place I'm staying, so I'm going to have to get creative with my baking endeavors to supplement my diet of microwavable Trader Joe's entrees. Maybe some stovetop-centered recipes will be appearing in the future, hmmmm? Suggestions are welcome!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dillo Day (er, Memorial Day) Weekend

Hello, friends! I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend! It was mad hot here in Chicagoland on Sunday and Monday. I went into work yesterday, but mainly I did so for the air conditioning. I told this to my advisor, who thought it was hilarious. I booked my SEM time smack in the middle of the afternoon so that I could hang out in the frigid EPIC microscope rooms. Best idea ever.

In addition to Memorial Day, it was also the infamous Dillo Day on Northwestern's campus this past Saturday. I still don't quite understand the origin of Dillo Day, even though I've read the Wikipedia article on it, and thus, clearly, I should know all about it. Anyway, it is basically an excuse for the undergrads to drink a lot and be rowdy. The undergrads are entertaining, but I think my favorite moment of the observation of the rowdiness was the entrepreneurial kids who decided to open a lemonade stand on the street leading to campus to catch all of the inebriated, dehydrated undergrads en route to the Lakefill. They even had Red Bull and water as the day went on. These kids are going to make it big one day. I look forward to their future business ventures.

The Dillo Day concert lineup was a little unimpressive this year. We tried to go see Cold War Kids, but the storminess of the morning had caused quite a tizzy, meaning that the first act hadn't played. Thus, they hadn't opened the gate, and the line was absurd, so we decided to come back and start up the grill a little bit earlier than planned. I'll never argue with earlier grilling.

We finally make it to the Lakefill later in the day to see some of Reel Big Fish's set. They were a bit aged but still put on a nice show. Having these guys in the lineup was definitely more for the grad students than the undergrads. Pretty sure some of them weren't born yet when these guys were popular.


Reel Big Fish playing for a sea of undergrads (see what I did there? Bam.)


After weeks of walking by I Dream of Sweets on my way to campus, I FINALLY got my hands on the famed Dillo Day cupcake that I had mentioned a few posts ago on my way back from the concert. It got a little squashed, but look at the cute chocolate frosting armadillo! Eeee! So adorable. The cake was very caramel-y (and as my friend Kayla mentioned, smelled kind of like maple syrup, in a good way) and moist. Thumbs up!


Dillo Day cupcake! Om nom nom.


Overall, I did a good bit of baking/cooking this weekend. Andy had reign over the grill and made some delicious grilled pineapple (thanks to a stroke of genius by our friend Adam), brats, burgers, veggie burgers, and hot dogs. I made baked oatmeal with blueberries and bananas for breakfast along with some chocolate chip cupcakes. The oatmeal was awesome, not too tricky, and pretty good for you, so it's a definitely make again recipe. I bet it would be awesome with other berries, too! For later in the day, I made this taco dip, which I made again on Sunday for another BBQ (which was on the roof of a 43 story building in Lincoln Park. Amazing views!). One can never have too much taco dip. Mwahaha. Also, in preparation for breakfast and burgers, we bought four pounds of bacon at Costco, cooked one pound, had another pound of bacon brought to our apartment by Kayla. Meaning that we still have three pounds of bacon left at our apartment. Problem? I think not. Awesome? Definitely. 

While I've had a lot of kitchen success lately, I sadly had a bit of a snafu with a cupcake experiment, too. Andy's mom had given me a bunch of mini ice cream cones left over from the graduation at Case last weekend. I thought, hmm, what if I made cupcakes...but made them INSIDE the ice cream cones?! I was not the only one on the internet who had thought of this, apparently, as there are myriad pages devoted to this very topic. However, as you can sort of see in the picture, some of the cupcakes rose nicely while most of them kind of sunk back into the cone, uncooked. I tried baking them longer, baking them again, baking them at a higher temperature but to no avail. I used Betty Crocker yellow cake with pudding in the batter. Maybe I needed the cake mix without the pudding? Or maybe I'll make my own next time? Meh, I guess you can't win them all. I'll definitely try it again, though. The idea is too cute!


They had such potential. 


Inspired by another Costco purchase of medjool dates, I'm planning on experimenting with making my own homemade Larabars this week. I love, love, love these things and would eat them all the time when I worked at Whole Foods Market, but the habit can get kind of pricey after awhile. Thus, I decided to get creative. I'll report back on my findings in the next post or two!

Hopefully, the weather will cool off was the week progresses. I'll take wearing a sweatshirt inside to sweating buckets outside any day. Cheers until next time!