Thursday, October 11, 2012

Moist? Ewww!

The word "moist" is one of the few words that most people have an averse reaction to. It elicits feelings of ickiness, and I find no need to mention it here, but we all know what image "moist" brings about. Don't quote me on this, but I think it actually makes the list of most hated words. (Who is compiling these lists, anyway?) Personally, I also feel bothered by "moistness", but oddly enough, its the lack of moistness that bothers me. Gross, right?

Not really, because if you know me at all personally, you'd know that this probably will end up having to do with food. I believe the only usage of the word "moist" that doesn't gross people out is when its referring to the "moistness" of a dessert, say, of cake. In that case, a moistness is an absolute must.

Turns out that for much of cuisine other than dessert and pastry, dryness, or the lack of moisture (to not gross you out too much with overuse of the word), is a big issue. How often have you had a mac and cheese that is actually, well, exactly that--macaroni and cheese--practically separate entities. Ideally, one would want something like that made at Beechers Cheese Shop in Seattle. (Refer to image) If I need to explain to you why that mac and cheese is preferable to a drier sort, then you're probably reading the wrong blog, and you probably aren't my friend.

I feel like much of my baking and culinary adventures are stemmed from the desire to find recipes that don't have this problem of dryness. So, if you catch me obsessing about the moistness of a cake, just remember, I'm one of the rare people who actually like the word "moist".

Images: Jamie,

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Carrot Cake Cookies

I love carrot cake, mostly because of the cream cheese frosting, but lately, I've been less excited about cupcakes so I decided to try these Carrot Cake Cookies. They're meant to be carrot cake cookie sandwiches with the CC frosting in the middle but when I made, them, the sandwich seemed a little heavy for the midmorning snack that I served them as at the UW Astronomy department. So I served them as cookies with frosting, as shown in the picture.

The recipe is as follows:

1 cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coarsely grated carrots (2 medium)
1 scant cup walnuts (3 oz), chopped
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Butter a cookie sheet and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a small mixing bowl. Mix the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to mix until fluffy. Add the carrots, walnuts, and raisins and mix slowly, using a spatula. Add the half the flour mixture, and fold into batter. Add the rest of the flour mixture and fold until just combined. Place small rounds of the batter onto the baking sheet and bake for 12-18 minutes (depending on your oven). More than minutes though it's better to gauge the cookies by them being spongy to the touch. They should bounce back to their original shape when lightly touched. Cool on the pan for 1 minute and then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Serve with cream cheese frosting.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The 7 Year Itch

I've had this thought recently ... about how the few foods that I used to say I didn't like, I've recently started liking. My list used to consist of: bell pepper, black pepper, honey, and dill. Yes, that is probably the only things I didn't used to like when it comes to food. Recently, (well, in the past 3 years), I've grown to like bell pepper, black pepper and honey too (as long as it's high quality). My dad always says that what you don't hate, you'll grow to love, especially when it comes to food. That's why as kids, they always forced us to try foods that we really didn't like, just to introduce us to the taste so that later in life, we'll miss those tastes. This really is true because I used to hate baingan (eggplant) bharta and it's one of my favorite dishes now.

They also say that food tastes change every 7 years ... well, seeing as though they also say that if you get past year 7 of your marriage, chances are it'll last, maybe all our tastes change every 7 years ;-). I don't really know if my food tastes will continue to change because I really wonder, "I like everything now, does that mean I'll stop liking certain things?" Oh right ... I hate dill, let's see if that ever changes.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

As Judgement Day Approaches ...

If only I had more to write about so that my posts weren't every couple months....but hey, the grad school life isn't the most happening.

I've been studying for my qualifying exam for about 3 months now ... it's been such a weird experience really. Last year, I had heard horrifying stories about the studying process and was upset at the prospect of becoming the worst person I could ever be due to the stress. I don't think I ever wanna see how horrible of a person I can get. Luckily, I'd like to believe that didn't happen (for a more honest assessment of this, see Rachana), but it's definitely had it's affect on me. I studied last year, which I realize now to be a decent amount of studying, but enjoyed the process because it was my choice to do it. This time around, the fear of failing the exam has added a level of stress that has made the process not as enjoyable. It's made me realize that I don't like to do things when I'm told to do them, and want to do them on my own accord.

I almost had a panic attack the other day, and then the prospect of having a panic attack also freaked me out ... because I thought, "Vaishali, you don't stress out...what's going on!?!" It happened right before a final exam and made me realize how important it is to be confident going into an exam. As I sat there with the exam, somehow every question made no sense at all, all of a sudden. Only after I forced myself to calm down and sit back did everything start making sense. Realization from that experience -- I better be calm and composed on the day of the qual.

Which gets me to the dilemma -- how do you walk into a test like that, confident? I'd like to walk in thinking, "I know everything. I'm gonna rock this." We've been told that the amount we know right now is the most we'll ever know about astronomy as a whole (later, we'll be smarter in our own particular fields). Too bad none of us feel that smart. Personally, I'm not afraid of failing really (this will be a funny post to read later if I do fail), but I want to do really well on the exam because it's the last exam I'll ever take. Looking back, I feel that in my life whenever I have had a big exam that is really important for my future, I never put enough time and energy into it. I feel like this is the last time to prove to myself that I can study really hard and kick ass on an exam.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes. And as I have learned....when in doubt, conserve energy!! (I'd love to know which one of you all caught that reference.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

A year...A Recap

It's surprising that in a whole year of grad school, I only managed to write 2 entries. Shame on me. But I guess I shouldn't force entries because then they'll just be boring.

Anyway, the summer after my first year of grad school is coming to a close and I realize how much I've grown in the past year. I'm writing a personal essay for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellowship and am to write about what personal and academic reasons have led me to pursue astronomy. I applied for this fellowship my senior year and remember not having any idea about why I liked astronomy and how to even begin writing this essay. This time around, this task is much easier due to a combination of my experience in grad school and this past summer, working in Berkeley and New Mexico.

When I entered grad school, just like every other astronomy student, I wanted to do extragalactic astronomy (studying galaxies outside of our own). I thought that this was a big decision, and that I was ahead of the game--I knew I didn't like planetary or stellar astronomy. Little did I know that...well...little did I know. Being thrown in an environment where I attended classes, talks, and read numerous papers on various subjects, I realized how much there was within not only astronomy, but within extragalactic astronomy. Saying that I wanted to study extragalactic astronomy all of a sudden became so vague. There were so many directions I could take to study other galaxies. It all has been so interesting to me that I've started worrying that my thesis topic is to be decided by next year. My dad says that "this is a nice problem to have" in that many people can't find anything interesting and I'm finding too many things interesting. I agree. It also gives me hope that whatever decision I do make, will not be a wrong one.

If anyone has ever talked to me, they know that I have this irrational fondness (for lack of better words) for my first boss from Berkeley -- David Schlegel. So, when he asked me if I wanted to work for him this summer, I, of course, said yes. I had no idea what I'd be working on but it didn't matter because I knew it would be a great experience and David was the type of boss to expect a lot out of you but also make you feel great about your small accomplishments. Without too much gory detail, I've been working on getting a telescope up and running. Because of the time constrains, I've been forced to work in a lot of different fields, learning so much on the way. But if there's something I can take back from this summer other than science, it's a new level of confidence. I started the summer begging David not to force me to send one of my figures to the mailing list because I was scared I would sound dumb or that my figure would be wrong somehow. 2 months later, I'm not only sending emails out to the mailing list without thinking twice, but I'm delegating work to other people! Fine, probably most of you who are reading this are like, 'um, that's what it is to have a job', but I've always been really intimidated by astronomers. But I guess telling a badass astronomer that he looks like Austin Powers and getting him to say "Yeah baby, yeah" may have changed my perspective :-).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kickstarting the Blog

I find it fitting that I decided to have my next post be today, when I'm again, teaching gravity to a new group of students. Needless to say, the teaching process has become a lot easier, although I'm pretty sick of students trying to push their luck with turning in assignments late or making excuses that they were sick and thus, were unable to make it to class.

It's very interesting being on this side of the academic process. I think back to when I was an undergraduate taking classes for requirement and I actually do sympathize with slacking off. Personally, I was guilty of putting in zero effort in requirement classes, while working extremely hard in those that I needed for my major. The difference though, between me and these students, is that I never expected the TA or professor to cut me some slack because I decided to skip my 8:30 a.m. section. I believe that by that age, we are not in school because we have to be, like in high school, but are there by choice. Thus, if I made the choice to party the night before and not make it to a quiz section, I don't expect the TA to allow me to retake the quiz.

Antara has convinced me that I should restart my blog and I thought that I probably had nothing to say, but let's not kid ourselves, it's me ... I always have something to say.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A fresh start...

To a certain extent, it hasn't hit me that I'm in grad school yet, or what exactly that implies. I had about a 2 minute window in which it hit me that I'd be living in Seattle for 6 years and it was a bit panicking. And now again, I still don't really believe that this will be my home for the majority of my twenties.

Day 1 was near and it seemed like the Astro dept really wanted to throw me head first into the world of grad school. My first commitment as a student was to be teacher's assistant (TA) for a class on planets. Being a TA entails heading up a quiz section twice a week, assigning homework, leading lab exercises, and that sort of thing. It really isn't just a review of what the professor has taught, but includes teaching new material. The first day was meant to be just an introduction in which I went over the syllabus I created for my section and tried to claim my authority over my students by saying things like, "I don't accept late work." The fear of this first section was not about teaching itself, but of standing in front of 25 students as an authoritative figure. Although my first section had to have known I was really nervous, by the second section (I teach two sections every Monday and Wednesday morning), I was a lot more confident and comfortable. On the other hand, in terms of showing them I was knowledgeable and deserving of the TA title, things didn't run as smoothly.

I took them on a "Planet Walk" where I show relative sizes and distances of the planets in the solar system. As I was going to the next planet after Venus (starting at the Sun), I stated, "Next, we will go to Mars." One of the students then responded with, "Isn't the next planet Earth? You know, the third rock from the sun." I don't even know the order of the planets. Great.

After this shaky start, the next hurdle to overcome was my first attempt to teach concepts clearly. The first lesson was on gravity, using an equation to figure out how the gravity on a planet or moon would change if you changed the mass or radius of the object. I lectured on the topic for about 10 minutes, and at the end asked, "Makes sense, right?" Everyone stared at me, dumbfounded, wondering what I had just blabbed about. To my credit, these students don't know how to divide fractions, so it may not be entirely my fault.

They say the first two weeks of grad school are the worst time in your life. For me, that hasn't been the case at all. Living with a friend who knows me from before is a huge factor in this but also, I think the decision to come to UW was the right decision. I feel a sense of belonging and comfort with the people in the department already, within a month of school starting. Usually the first couple months are the hardest when you move to a new place, but I've been here just over a month and am loving it!!