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!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Weekend in Cleveland and Italian Quinoa

Happy Tuesday, friends! I hope you had a chance to get out an enjoy the beautiful weather we've been having over the past few days in the Midwest and on the East Coast. It's almost like it's spring or summer or something.


This past weekend to continue with my month of perpetual travel, Andy and I visited Cleveland to see his sister Robin graduate from Case Western Reserve University. We spent six and a half hours in the car each way to spend 24 hours at our destination. Woof. Needless to say, it was a tiring trip.

I have to say, I kind of like Cleveland. It's trying so hard to get rid of the stigma of being Cleveland and the still fresh memories of LeBron James. The area around Case is really nice and urban in a friendly way. Also, they have Yuengling there, which we purchased on our way out of the city. So yes. Two points for Cleveland! If I haven't made you want to go there, maybe this video or this video will.

Case's commencement speaker this year was Paul Buchheit. Even if that name doesn't ring a bell, you definitely know this guy's work. Paul invented Gmail (which I currently have open in more than one window as we speak) as well as AdSense, that nifty little program that reads your mind to anticipate what you want to buy on the internet and tailors your ads to meet your needs. However, I was a little underwhelmed by the performance. Although he claimed to have thought about this speech for several months, he said that he decided he would rather discover the speech with his audience than write down trite words on paper. So it was kind of disorganized. At least I can say that I saw the Gmail guy speak?

Robin's apartment was located in the Little Italy section of the city (also a very nifty area of Cleveland) adjacent to the campus. While the masses were descending on the commencement to grab seats, Andy and I grabbed a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee at Presti's Bakery. It was a really cute local place, and it was great to have a moment to relax on a generally busy graduation weekend.

Andy's sister and mom really like to bake, and they made these adorable graduation cookies. They all had different names of her friends who were graduating or encouraging sayings like the one below. I aim to emulate these skills. So cute!

The sprinkles are even in Case Western's colors. Awesome!

On our way back to Evanston, we drove through downtown Chicago because all of the ruckus being caused by the NATO summit meant that Lake Shore Drive was closed off. We discovered that LSD was closed on our way out of the city when we ran into a barricade of SNOWPLOWS which were blocking the road. Chicago has so many, so at least they found a use for them in the off-season?

In an attempt to get off of I-90/94, we drove up Michigan Ave and found these guys hanging out.

Riot police!

I asked Andy if it would be tacky if I took pictures of the police. He said yes, but I took them anyway. They'll never know it was me. Mwahaha. If you wanted to commit a crime in Chicago anywhere but downtown, these two days would have been your opportunity. Apparently, all of the police were on this street. Further down, more snowplow barricades were discovered. Important personage need their space.

The off-season use of Chicago's snowplows


After an eventful weekend, I unfortunately had to come back to reality. Today in my Analytical Electron Microscopy class, I took my last exam EVER. Remember that class I almost didn't go to in the beginning of the quarter because I forgot that I was taking a class? Yup, that's the one. It's such a strange feeling but also a relief to not have exams hanging over my head anymore. Woooo! Now I get to do research all the time. Hooray?

To reward myself for getting through my last exam, I decided to take time off tonight and do some cooking. I've been craving quinoa (pronounced keen-WAH) and am getting bored with sandwiches, so I decided to make some yummy lunches for the rest of the week. If you aren't familiar with this grain, it's kind of like a cross between rice and cous-cous but with tons of protein. More on quinoa here from Wikipedia. I bought it in bulk at Whole Foods, so it was super cheap. The only caveat is that you have to wash it yourself to remove the bitter outer coating on the grain. No big deal to save lots of monies!

Quinoa in its bulk form

After trolling around the interwebs, I decided on an Italian dish based on the fact that we had a lot of ingredients in our pantry, and I needed to make some use of my basil plant. It took it pretty well, I think.

Naked basil plant

I also made two batches of pesto, which I froze into individual portions in an ice cube tray. I make the pesto with everything but the cheese and add that when I thaw it. It doesn't get all weird that way and tastes fresh for a longer time. Also, I put a little extra olive oil on top of each cube to prevent the basil from turning black and funky. Brilliant!

To make life easier, I use those takeout containers that soup comes in when you order Chinese food to portion out lunches for the week. This way, I have no excuse not to pack my lunch because all I have to do is grab it and go.

Boom! Lunch!

 I also have the basil in a separate bag so I can just grab that, too!

Bag of non-suspicious green herbs

I hope you give quinoa a try and enjoy it as much as I do!

 So looking forward to nomming this tomorrow!

Italian-Style Quinoa

Makes four servings of ~1 cup each

1 cup uncooked quinoa, washed
1 can fat free, reduced sodium chicken broth (about 2 cups)
2 tbsp lemon juice

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in warm water to soften and chopped
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1-2 tsp olive oil
1-2 tsp lemon juice
fresh basil, chopped

Place quinoa, chicken broth, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until quinoa is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 18-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a skillet until they become fragrant and golden. Roughly chop the pine nuts.

Once quinoa is done cooking, add sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, pine nuts, garlic, and spices. Drizzle lemon juice and olive oil over the mixture and stir to combine. Add basil to quinoa just before eating to maintain freshness. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Week in Review

Happy Thursday, all! It's been a scattered week so far, and I've been negligent with my blog. Sorry, guys! I'll write a quick post to update all the goings on of the aforementioned scattered week.


I went home to the great state of Pennsylvania this past weekend. As my mom's birthday was on Friday and Mother's Day was on Sunday, I thought it was a good excuse to go home for a few days. I haven't been home since the holidays. I actually didn't realize it had been that long. It's funny how we get so caught up in day to day life that all of a sudden, poof! five months have gone by. In addition to seeing my mom and dad (and my dog Lola!), I was also able to meet up with some friends from home. It also struck me how disconnected I've been from the East Coast. A lot of people seem like they haven't really left or have left and moved back. I guess I'm the one getting farther and farther away. Each move I've made has been further west. Pretty soon I'll have moved so far west that I'll be back in PA again!

We ate out a lot and ate lots of cake (ice cream cake! why waste time eating them separately when you can GET THEM TOGETHER?!) for my mom's birthday. We were also able to go to the Michener Art Museum where my parents are members to see a special exhibit Offering of the Angels, which features lots of Italian Renaissance art from the Uffizi gallery in Florence. Apparently, the Michener was one of only a handful of museums in the US to get this exhibit, so I felt really fortunate to be able to go see the works. The art was truly breathtaking. Renaissance art has such subtleties to it, which aren't often seen in more modern pieces. The exhibit also had a really nice audio tour, which I usually think are kind of hokey, but which was really insightful and informative.

This weekend, Andy and I are fleeing to the Cleve to see his sister graduate from Case Western Reserve University. All this travel is very exciting, but I'm definitely going to napping hardcore when I get home.

Grad School

I promised some more grad school-ish things in my updates, so here they are. Research has been super frustrating lately. I feel like for every moderate success I have, I have about 50 failures. That may sound somewhat pessimistic, but such is life. The grad student mentality must sound so funny if you aren't a grad student. "Hey, I just failed for the 30th time, so let me get started on way number 31 of trying to get this to work!" Ah, well. At least I can set my own schedule.

Today is arguably our department's banner event of the year: The Hilliard Symposium. This event consists of two keynote speakers and a bunch of twenty minute talks from the graduate students who are defending this year. The morning keynote was John Cahn, an ex-Northwestern affiliate who is a big wig in phase transformations in materials science. I was super excited to see someone speak who actually created something I've used in my classes. Euler? Fourier? Dead. Never going to meet them. But Cahn of the Cahn-Hilliard equation in the flesh? Magic! He gave a nice conversational talk that wasn't very technical, but instead chronicled his interactions with Hilliard and some research things. All in all, a very cool way to start the day.


ALSO in reading my blog roll, I saw this delicious Mexican mole dish over at What's Good at Trader Joe's? I LOVE mole sauce. Like, more than I can describe. I will be jumping over to my local TJ's. I still need to buy pork buns, too!

I hope everyone has a great weekend! See ya on the other side.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pinata Results and Fun Things

Pinata Cookie Outcome

Hello, friends! I wanted to bring some closure to the weekend extravaganza of cooking and baking with the results of the pinata cookies. I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath for the results. Because I was a little uncertain about the dough in the original recipe, I decided to use a basic sugar cookie recipe for my cookies instead. Simple and makes 60(!) cookies. It gave me about 20 pinata cookies with a few spare cookies in case of breakage.

The pinata cookies became a bit more of an agglomeration of every holiday cookies. In theory, they are still true to the spirit of the pinata. Holiday #1 - Cinco de Mayo. However, they became a bit more conceptually abstract as the process progressed. As I mentioned before, I couldn't find mini M&M's anywhere (has anyone found them since?), so instead, I decided to use what we had in the pantry: red and green M&M's. Holiday #2 - Christmas.

Over the years, I've inherited a bunch of baking supplies from my grandma and have thus accumulated a LOT of cookie cutters. We're talking bags upon bags of cookies cutters. Among the bags, I discovered that I had concentric heart-shaped cookie cutters and decided to use these as the inspiration for my shapes. Holiday #3 - Valentine's Day. It also means that unlike in the original recipe, you can cut out all of your shapes before you bake and can take advantage of the symmetry of the cookies during assembly. Nice!

Heart-shaped cookie cutters

When the cookies were hot from the oven, I simply cut out a smaller middle heart in every third cookie. Each cookie requires a sandwich of three individual cookies. The side benefit of this procedure is a bunch of heart-shaped little cookies in addition to your big cookies!

Bonus cookies!

The cookies were assembled using a powdered sugar and milk "glue" that I applied between the layers. The middle cookie has the hole in it and contains the M&M pinata filling.

Almost too much cookie to handle

I ran out of time to make the snazzy stripes out of dough a la pinata, so I simply decided to add some visual interest with a pink, purple, and white powdered sugar/milk drizzle. It gave the cookies a nice modern look and a little extra sweetness. Ta da!

I would definitely attempt these cookies again with different shapes, colors, and fillings. I feel like they would be really fun additions to any summer party!

Fun Things

  1. I love baseball. There's nothing quite like a cool summer evening in a ballpark with friends, a hot dog, and a beer. My department's graduate student organization hosted a baseball game this past Monday at Wrigley Field. Tickets were free from my department, and we had a bunch of people come out. It was a great time! AND the Cubs actually won! I've been to three Cubs games since moving to Chicago, and this is the first one I've been to where the Cubs were victorious. Also, the Cubs were running all kinds of promotions, so I was able to score a free Qdoba burrito and a free Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee. I basically got paid to go to this game. Awesome!
  2. College and grad school have made me regress to my earlier days. In college, I resumed the long-forgotten tradition of napping. In grad school, I've begun eating Lunchables again. This made me wonder: whatever happened to peanut butter and celery? It's simple, classic, and not too unhealthy. Thus, in order to embrace my youth again, I made myself ants on a log for a snack from the celery I had left over from the bolognese sauce a week or two ago. However, since I'm not too keen on raisins, I used dried cranberries. I call it - fire ants on a log. The first grader inside me was jumping for joy.
I'll be updating with more research-y things in the coming days, but I hope you've gotten some inspiration from these baking and cooking ideas. Cheers until next time!

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Happy weekend, friends! I hope everyone had a great Saturday/Derby Day/Cinco de Mayo. By some miracle, I didn't have to write a lab report for my microscopy class this week, and thus, I had a bit more time on my hands this weekend to devote to cooking and baking with pretty yummy results.

Nutella was on sale at Dominick's this past week, so I did what any girl who was in possession of a jar of Nutella would do - I made me some crepes. This was my first crepe making experience, and they are super-easy and super-yummy. I made a basic crepe and added ~1/4 tsp of vanilla because I wanted it to be dessert-y but still kind of breakfast-y to complement the sweet filling. Spread the crepe with Nutella, top with some banana slices, and enjoy! The batter keeps well in the fridge, so I'm going to experiment with berry-filled crepes tomorrow morning. Nom!

Eating Nutella directly out of the jar is also an acceptable form of consumption. Source

Starting out the day with a French dish is probably somewhat sacrilegious on Cinco de Mayo, so I felt obligated to make something Mexican-y (I'm really enjoying the -y in this post. My apologies to any English majors reading this). The warmer temperatures of last week had me thinking of warm-weather meals. Warm weather makes me think of California, which made me think of surfing, which made me think of fish, which lead me to troll the interwebs for a good fish taco recipe. Before you ask, no, I don't really have a good explanation for that train of thought. Just go with it.

A lot of recipes either deep fry the heck out of the fish or use TONS of mayo, both of which make my arteries quiver in fear. This one from Alton Brown was simple, moderately healthy, and AWESOME. I didn't bother with the whole making-your-own-tortilla (that's what the grocery store is for) or the crema thing (it takes 24 hours just to sit there? I'm too impatient for that). Also, I substituted lime juice for the liquor. Andy and I paired our tacos with some homemade guacamole and Newman's Own salsa with my current favorite tortilla chips. Excellent.

"You need some tacos, my friend." Source

Fun fact: the internet told me that if you let your fish marinate in an acidic substance (like lime juice) for more than 30 minutes, the proteins in the fish become denatured, and you have a mess of mushy fish instead of flaky filets of fish. So don't do that. A 15-20 minute swim in the marinade should be just enough for your fish. I used tilapia, which is a really good fish for people who normally don't like fish (like me).

Keeping with the Cinco de Mayo theme, I had seen this recipe for pinata cookies(!) earlier in the week. My friend Elizabeth made these cookies without the filling, and they turned out really cute. However, after scouring every aisle of Dominick's and Walgreens, it seems that mini M&Ms have ceased to exist. If anyone can tell me their whereabouts, let me know ASAP! For my pinatas, I'm going to go with a more basic sugar cookie recipe and heart-shaped pinatas because I am not in possession of a burro shaped cookie cutter. I'll report back on my findings! Until then, enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Cupcake sighting: I Dream of Sweets has a sign up for a Dillo Day cupcake consisting of a caramel cake, green raspberry frosting, and a chocolate 'dillo on top. Must. Try. This. Cupcake.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Grad Student E-mail Decoder

I get an obscene amount of email each day. Only about 5% of it really requires my attention. Maybe 10% on a good day. Most of it is for talks or forwards from our department's staff telling me about irrelevant job openings or fellowship programs for international students/men/upper year students/anyone with traits other than the ones I possess. Sometimes, I even get three emails about the same talk or fellowship. Plus a reminder. Or four.

To save your time and mine, I have devised a decoder list of things to consider when contemplating whether an email is worth your time to act as a helpful guide to fend off the overwhelming tidal wave of email. Enjoy!


Your Department's Administrative Staff

  • What to expect: Forwards that may or may not be relevant from professors who were too lazy to forward them on themselves.
  • What should you do?: Skim and move on.

Project Cafe

  • What to expect: Cryptic number strings. Messages regarding completed upgrades you had no idea were happening. 
  • What should you do?: Does anyone actually know what these things are? Why do I need a digest of them? Ignore.

Can you break the code?

  • What to expect: Colons, brevity, and email signatures consisting exclusively of initials.
  • What should you do?: Open it and read it, fool. This person gives you the cash monies. Scan for important words such "meeting," "results," and "data."

Bruce Lindvall
  • What to expect: yellow highlighting, blue italicized text, or ALL CAPS ADDITIONS TO THE TOP OF AN ALREADY WRITTEN EMAIL FROM SOMEONE ELSE
  • What should you do?: Create a filter to redirect these emails out of your main inbox. If you decide to open it now, brace yourself to be overcome by embedded images. Open to avoid having unread emails in your inbox. Scan for the phrase "free food." (see Food section below)

Bruce's emails are bursting with so much enthusiasm that it cannot be contained on your screen


"Seminar" or "Colloquium"
  • What this means: A talk that is most likely irrelevant to your research is occurring anywhere from RIGHT THIS SECOND to six months from now.
  • What should you do?: Assess the quality of food being offered. Determine whether seminar is required and attendance is being taken. If not required, determine desire to procrastinate that day's work in order to decide whether you should go or not.

  • What this means: You are expected to interact with other people in some way most likely involving networking, resume building, or sexual harassment training.
  • What should you do? Determine if food is being offered. If not, ignore. If so, determine whether quality of food is worth potential interaction with other people.


  • What this means: Most likely cookies and mediocre coffee or Jewel Osco tea
  • Likelihood of attending? 50-90% (higher percentage if the cookies are the sugar cookies with sprinkles from Einstein's)

These babies make it all worthwhile. Source

  • What this means: Important personage are in town, and the university wants to up the ante. Fancy finger food and punch awaits!
  • Likelihood of attending? 60% (reception = possible encounters with professors and/or distinguished guests. Only attend if food is known to be delicious and worth subjecting oneself to pithy banter.)

  • What this means: Deliciousness and a midday break from research. If coupled with "seminar," food will be provided with little or no effort required from you. Score!
  • Likelihood of attending? Pizza: 75%, Other: 90% (will rearrange schedule if food offered is good enough)

University programs are what keep these guys in business. Source

Phew! Now that I've finally sorted through my emails and procrastinated a bit, it's time to return to the world of electron microscopy. Happy hump day!

Public Service Announcement: If you like books, coffee, traveling, and hearing insightful things about life in general, you should check out my lovely friend Heather's blog over at Wordpress. You'll be glad you did!