Thursday Thoughts 15.0

Whew! It’s been a busy week over here at Ex Libris. Here is what’s on my mind today…

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[1]

It’s fellowship renewal season!!!! The due date for my fellowship renewal package is March 12, but I found out yesterday through a chance conversation with one of my lab mates (who has the same fellowship as me) that my advisor wants the student input portion by Friday. That’s tomorrow. Yikes. I should be able to get it done by then, but it really derailed my plans for the rest of this week.

[2]

Last week I got pulled into a new project. This one was sold to me by my advisor as a “two-week diversion.” Basically, we are trying to gather a lot of data and write a paper fast so that we don’t get scooped (i.e. we don’t want someone else to publish before us). We started out with a simple (and I thought reasonable) plan, but the plan quickly grew more complicated and convoluted. First, I unexpectedly had to make a batch of new samples (which takes the better part of a week). Then, a series of longer and more complicated experiments, which would have extended the project and likely resulted in us getting scooped, were proposed by a group member. We met with our advisor earlier in the week, and I think we are finally back to the simple (and reasonable) plan. So far, it looks like my new samples are working and that we are getting good data. Keep your fingers crossed that nothing catastrophic happens in the next week or so.

[3]

Today is the last day of February, and thus it’s time for a training update!

February results

If you recall from my last training update, my goal is to complete about 85 miles of cardio each month, which should total up to about 1000 miles at the end of the year. It was definitely more difficult to get the miles in this month. For starters, the weather was really uncooperative which made doing anything outside nearly impossible. Also, February is a short month so it is just harder to get them all in anyway (or at least that is what I’m telling myself). As you can see, I’m about 8 miles short of my goal this month. Luckily I did 9 extra miles in January, so technically I’m still ahead 1 mile for the year.

I’m really starting to notice improvements in my physical fitness this month. There were weeks where I couldn’t make it to the gym as much, but my mileage didn’t lack because I’m running and biking farther in the same amount of time. That was a really nice realization to have in the middle of the month. I’ve always been on the leaner side, but I’ve never been particularly “fit.” I’m starting to see muscle definition in places I’ve never had it before, and that is great motivation to keep going! So far, I’m liking that my goal is focused on total miles and not things like number of days worked out, calories burned, etc. The focus is on being active, and it really seems to be working for me!

[4]

Have you ever found that a bad experience reading one book and can kind of turn you off from the whole genre for awhile? Recently, I read (listened to) Robert Goolrick’s Heading Out to Wonderful and I really didn’t like it. I’ll try to post a review soon (soon = sometime this year), but this one really just did not resonate with me. It was well written but it was slowwwww and led to an anticlimatic (and frankly reprehensible) conclusion. Honestly, I only stayed with it on the hope that it would be worth it in the end. It wasn’t. Anyway, a few days ago I was ready to start a new audiobook. I have quite a few in my queue right now so I randomly selected a book which happened to fall under the same genre as Heading Out to Wonderful, aka southern historical fiction, and I didn’t make it past 10 minutes. Logically, I know in my head that this is a different book, but the memory of Heading Out to Wonderful was so strong that I just had no desire to listen after those 10 minutes. I’m keeping this new (southern historical fiction) book in my queue, but I’ve moved onto a different audiobook for now.

[5]

Tuesday’s With Morrie, my trivia team, has competed the last few weeks and fallen just short of the victory every time. We are nearly always in first or second place before the final question of the round, and then we blow it or don’t bet enough points at the end. Oh well. We are having a good time with it anyway! In fact, we are registering our team in the local trivia league, which requires us to make a group poster and write a short blurb. We’ve been sending around draft versions this week, so maybe I’ll have a completed poster to show y’all next week.

[6]

Guess what I’m doing this weekend? LASER TAG!!!!!!! Yes, you read that correctly. Our graduate student association has arranged this outing for us and I’m very excited for it. I haven’t played laser tag since late elementary school or early junior high.

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Well that’s it for now. Have a great weekend everyone!

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Potato Soup in the Slow Cooker

Hello everyone! Today I am sharing (yet) another soup recipe!

One of my favorite things to eat in the whole world is my mom’s baked potato soup. It’s SO delicious, but also (as mom and I can both attest) so much work. I have been craving some potato soup lately, but wasn’t in the mood to devote a whole Sunday afternoon to it. So I did some searching and ran across this recipe. It was so easy AND it tastes very similar to my mom’s recipe (although I’ll admit I’m still partial to the stove top version). Bonus: the flavor gets better with time and it reheats well. Win! I’m making another batch this week…

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Potato Soup in the Slow Cooker

Adapted from: Real Mom Kitchen

potatosoup

Ingredients:

4 slices bacon

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

5 cups diced peeled russet potatoes (about 5 medium)

1 medium stalk celery, chopped (1/2 cup)

1 carton (32 oz)  chicken broth (4 cups)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1 bag (8 oz) shredded  Cheddar cheese

Instructions:

In 12-inch skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, turning occasionally, until browned and crispy. Remove from skillet, reserving fat in skillet. Drain bacon on paper towel, then refrigerate. In same skillet, cook onion in bacon fat over medium heat 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender.

Spray 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. In cooker, mix onion, potatoes, celery, broth, salt and pepper.

Cover; cook on Low heat setting 6 to 7 hours.

In small bowl, beat flour, milk, and cream with a wire whisk until well blended; stir into soup. Increase heat setting to High. Cover; cook about 30 minutes longer or until thickened. Stir in cheese until well melted. Crumble bacon; sprinkle over soup.

Notes:

If you don’t have heavy whipping cream on hand, you can substitute both the milk and the cream for 1 1/2 cups of half and half.

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Friday everyone! Today I am sharing  a recipe for cookies I recently brought to my department’s weekly coffee (and dessert) hour. Before deciding on a dessert, I did a lot of searching around the web to find something different and most importantly something easy. I finally decided on these cookies and I’m really glad I did. I’ve had (and enjoyed) other variations of chocolate mint cookies before BUT they tend to dry out really fast. I like this recipe because it uses cake mix, which keeps the cookies moist and tasty for much longer. I was really pleased with the end result–these cookies were seriously tasty and didn’t last long at coffee hour!

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Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from: Real Mom Kitchen

Dark Chocolate Mint Cookies

Ingredients:

1 box Betty Crocker (or equivalent) Dark Chocolate cake mix

2 Tbsp brown sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup oil

2 Tbsp water

1/2 (10 oz) bag of Andes Creme Menthe baking chips

1/2 (10 oz) bag Nestle semi-sweet morsels

Instructions:

In a bowl of a stand mixer, mix the cake mix, eggs, oil, and water together until a soft dough forms.

Fold in the dark chocolate and mint morsels.

Drop by the spoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes until set in the middle. Make around 2 dozen cookies.

Notes:

Other variations of this recipe call for 10z of the Andes baking chips, but I decided to only use 5 0z and mix with the semi-sweet morsels. This produces a chocolatey cookie with a nice mint flavor that isn’t too overpowering. Most people who tried the cookies said it was just the right amount of mint. However, if you like a really strong mint flavor, you will probably want to use the whole bag.

Top Ten Favorite Romances

Happy Tuesday! Today I am participating in Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

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The theme for today is “Top Ten Favorite Romances,” but I could only think of 9. I tried, I really did, but I just couldn’t think of one more that was a “favorite.” So I went with 9…

Top Ten Nine Favorite Romances:

1. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This will probably make almost everyone’s list today, but it’s still one of my favorite romances of all time!

2. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

O.k. you might have your feelings about Scarlett, and yes I know they don’t end up together in the end…but it’s still a pretty epic romance and one of my favorites.

3. Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska from Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Yes, another romance where they don’t end up together in end! But again, one of my favorites!

4. Anna and Étienne from Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

It was obvious what the result was going to be from the beginning of the novel, but I still really enjoyed seeing it all play out.

5. Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I love this book, and how their relationship survives and thrives despite all obstacles.

6. Henry and Clare from The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I loved this book and this unusual romance! The ending is a little bit sad, but I still think it’s a great romance.

7. All of the the Bridgerton romances from the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn

I don’t read a lot of “historical romance” books anymore (I like to think that was just a phrase in my teen years) but I will still admit to loving this series. The Bridgerton family was made up of 8 siblings and their widowed mother, and there was a book (and a romance) for every sibling. If I had to pick a favorite romance out of the 8, it would probably be Francesca and Michael from When He was Wicked.

8. Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I was never one of those people who wanted Harry and Hermione to end up together. It was clear to me from the beginning of the series that Hermione and Ron were meant to be. And how can you not love the Harry and Ginny pairing? I’m of the firm belief that J.K. Rowling finished the series right.

9. Eve Duncan and Joe Quinn from the Eve Duncan series by Iris Johansen

I’ve read this series for over 10 years now, and while my enthusiasm for it has waned I have always been a fan of this couple. They were friends for 10 years before becoming romantically involved, and I think this added credulity to their romance as it endured the bumps Johansen threw in the road.

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What are your favorite literary romances?

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

I really, really love soup. I eat it year-round…even when it’s hot outside. Over the years I’ve grown especially fond of squash-based soups–butternut squash soup being one of the most common. However, most squash-based soups require a blender (which I did not have until recently), and are generally a lot of work. I found this recipe in Good Housekeeping last fall and was immediately intrigued since it uses canned pumpkin, which sounded like way less work than dealing with a whole squash. Not surprisingly, it was less work than butternut squash soup…in fact it was downright easy! To top it off, this soup is DELICIOUS. Really. I’ve made it about 3 times by now, even though it’s no longer fall. Although its filling enough to be a meal for me, for larger eaters this might be a better appetizer soup. I also think it’s good soup to have for lunch.

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Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Adapted from: Good Housekeeping (November 2012)

Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp. ground coriander

1 qt. chicken broth

3/4 cup milk

1 can (15 oz.) pureed pumpkin

Pinch salt

Instructions:

In 5-quart saucepot, heat oil on medium. Add onion, apple, carrot. Cook 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are just tender, stirring often. Stir in spices; cook about one minute.

Whisk broth, milk, and pumpkin into pot. Heat to boiling on high. Reduce heat; simmer 20 minutes or until slightly reduced, stirring often.

Serve with croutons and/or a dollop of sour cream.

Notes:

The original recipe calls for coconut milk, but I substituted with cow’s milk because it was what I had on hand.

The soup freezes and re-heats very well. I’ve made it three times now, and have thoroughly enjoyed the leftovers every time!

Thursday Thoughts 14.0

Whew! It’s Thursday already!? Here are some things that are on my mind today…

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[1]

I wanted to have a picture of some snazzy new nail art this week, but sadly I don’t. I have unsuccessfully tried twice to do this manicure, which uses a sharpie for the tips. My guess is I haven’t let the sharpie part dry enough before putting on the top coat since I’m having lots of problems with smearing and discoloration. Alas! I’ve been wearing my last failed attempt for like a week now, and will probably do something simple for Valentines day week. Two failed experiments in a row doesn’t make me excited to try for a third!

[2]

I am finally almost done with my blog revisions. I’ve been working to get the menus in the header updated, and only have an “About Me” page left to add. Almost there!

[3]

It’s official! I made my monthly cardio goal for January!

January Goals-edit

My goal was to hit about 85 miles so that I can reach 1000 miles of cardio by the end of the year, and as you can see I exceeded that! It’s probably a good thing I did because I have a feeling it’s going to be more challenging to reach that number in February. For starters, it’s a shorter month. Also, it’s been too cold and snowy for me to walk to school (2.3 miles each way), so I’ve been having to take public transportation. This is reflected in the meager 12 miles I’ve completed so far this month 😦

[4]

I found out yesterday that my second co-author paper has been accepted! I’m doing a happy dance. Maybe I will someday get to leave here with a degree!

[5]

I get (i.e. am required to) host my first visiting scientist to our lab. This scientist will be visiting from another national laboratory, and I will be the one to coordinate travel arrangements as well as tours of the school and the lab. It’ll be a good experience for me, but I know it’s going to be a bit of work on my part. I’m nervous about that, but am hopeful that it will be a productive visit. Maybe a new collaboration will form from it and I’ll get another paper. Ha! I can dream right? 😉

[6]

I’ve had a very busy social calendar of late. It’s a rough life I know! 😉 I’ve had plans 5 of the last 7 nights, but of course I have no pictures to show for it…

Here is a quick recap…mostly for my parents and posterity’s sake. Feel free to buzz past if you are uninterested and/or do not fall into either of those categories (but Mom you have to read this!).

Thursday 1/31: My friends Alex and Kayla came over to help me change my kitchen light. Don’t mock–I have 12′ ceilings and the light fixture is this heavy globe…and it was dark in there y’all! Afterwards, Kayla stayed and I made us dinner and we watched Revenge. It was during these episodes where I attempted the second failed sharpie manicure experiment.

Friday 2/1: I went into the city to have dinner and drinks with my friend Elizabeth and her friend Emily. Emily recently moved to the city, and so we hung out in her neighborhood (i.e. River North).

Saturday 2/2: I stayed at Elizabeth’s Friday night because I didn’t want to come all the way up north by myself late at night. She and her roommate Kate made me pancakes, and then I took the train back up north. The instant I walked into my apartment, my friend Ricardo (i.e. the organizer of the Food Adventures) called me and told me everyone was having lunch at Crisp. I quickly got ready and headed back out to have lunch with them. I had the boneless wings (with the Crisp bbq sauce) and they were delicious! I was SO TIRED after lunch so I went home after that.

Sunday 2/3: Superbowl Sunday! I worked all morning and afternoon, and then went back to Elizabeth’s apartment for her Superbowl gathering. She and Kate made us chili, bacon-wrapped sweet potatoes (which were SO GOOD), and cookies. I ate WAY too much.

Tuesday 2/5: I went to Trivia Night at a local bar and grill with some people from the department. We choose the name “Tuesdays With Morrie” for our group. Obviously, this is the title of a Mitch Albom book but it had additional significance for us as well. We are materials scientists, and this term was first coined by Professor Morris E. Fine at Northwestern University (where we are students) in 1955. Professor Fine is still a professor in our department (albeit he is an Emeritus faculty member now), and is a science hero to many of us. Since it was also Tuesday, it seemed an adept name for our group. The essence of Morrie must be strong because we won the first round! Our prize was a $20 gift card to the bar and grill where the trivia night is held.

Wednesday 2/6: I went to a dinner held at The Celtic Knot in honor of my friend Beth for passing her qualifying examination! It was also a celebration for her birthday (which is today). Congratulations and happy birthday Beth!

Thursday 2/7: Tonight I will be headed to Nevin’s for happy hour with the graduate students from my lab in honor of our lab mate Ted passing his qualifying examination, which is behind held as we speak! I’m sure Ted will pass, so I have no doubt it will be a celebration!

Whew! What a crazy week! I have no plans for the weekend yet (other than going into work), but perhaps that isn’t a bad thing.

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Have a great weekend everyone!

Chicken Tortilla Casserole

I love Mexican food. Really. I could probably eat it everyday. I’m also a sucker for a good casserole–just throw it all together, heat, and eat. I found this recipe on my cousin’s Pinterest board (which is hilarious because I’m not even on Pinterest), and I had all the ingredients on hand so I made it that night for dinner. It turned out great, and it was really easy to make. However, as I note below, it didn’t reheat as well as I had hoped. I think this is because I used flour tortillas (which I had on hand) instead of corn tortillas. On reheating the casserole retained its flavor well, but was kind of a bit “mushy”…I think corn tortillas would have lessened this effect.

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Chicken Tortilla Casserole

From: Live Better America

photo(65)-1

Ingredients:

1 can (10 3/4 oz) 98% fat free 45% less sodium condensed cream of chicken soup

1 can (4.5 oz) chopped green chiles

1 container (8 oz) fat-free sour cream

1/2 cup fat-free (skim) milk

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast

8 yellow corn tortillas (6 or 7 inch), torn into bite-size pieces (I used flour tortillas)

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)

1 large tomato, chopped (1 cup)

1 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend (6 oz)

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. In large bowl, mix soup, chiles, sour cream, milk, chili powder and cumin until blended. Stir in chicken, tortillas and bell pepper. Stir in tomato and 1 cup of the cheese. Spoon and spread mixture in baking dish.

Cover with foil. Bake 40 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake uncovered 5 to 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted and mixture is bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes.

Notes:

This was really delicious when it was hot and fresh, but I have to admit it did not reheat as well as I had anticipated. I think if you used corn tortillas instead of flour like I did, it would probably reheat better. Next time I make this I will definitely use the corn tortillas instead of flour.

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