Looking to the New Year

'Tis the season for New Year's Resolutions.  Given that I love making lists and setting goals, this has always been a fun activity for me.  Recently, though, I've been reflecting on these lines enough that the new year doesn't particularly stand out to me, other than for writing a post to share this category of thought.

I've moved away from setting specific tasks to accomplish, contrary to the goal setting system, in favor of making life pattern adjustments.  That is, I have finally found a rhythm that allows me to accomplish vague goals such as "keep the house cleaner" or "spend less time on the computer" or "simplify wardrobe."  This new mentality is about improving one's life every moment instead of focusing on planning out every detail.  A lifetime is made of moments, not of larger goal-driven sessions, and thus adjusting life patterns requires a more generic approach.

This path seems to work better for me because I have found that I will spend far too much time detailing my plans for improvement and I won't necessarily do anything.  The focus of these efforts is simply stated as my recently evolved mantra: be the person you want to be, right now.  Too often have I planned to do something and it goes on a list and never comes off, frequently because I get caught up grouping it with some larger task or objective.  When I see crumbs on the counter, I should just wipe them off and not wait until I have a chance to do the dishes or deep-clean the kitchen.

The reason the aforementioned goal setting system works is because it focuses on the achievable; the same theory applies here.  Instead of specific tasks, however, I've created some overarching themes.  Rather than consulting a list or time-line to gauge improvement, I automatically do a mental check when I step out of harmony with these themes.  The ideal is not to check these things off, but to always feel good about the ways I am spending my time.  The themes are guidance for balancing out my life a little rather than create hard and fast rules.  Generally, they are values that exist as motivation for some of my actions that I would like to extend in some way or at least understand better.

The Themes
Physical over Virtual
This isn't about favoring the physical over the mental or spiritual, it refers to spending too much time on the computer, being technology dependent, and thinking about a task rather than doing it.  An example of a thought that would trigger a mental check would be the urge to find something to read; in response, I would favor books over blogs.

Creative over Consumptive
The idea here is that I feel happier when I am being productive: doing my mending is a better choice than drooling over the new Burpee or Williams-Sonoma catalogs.

Independence over Reliance
There are many directions I could take this, but I'll simplify it to two ideas: I should not impose on people when I can do something myself, and I should favor producing and maintaining my own possessions rather than outsourcing.  The former is all too natural for me (see the next block for more discussion on this), and the latter is also fairly easy; when I check myself for this one, I am usually looking to enlarge the scope of my knowledge for producing/maintaining goods.

Community over Isolation
As an antidote to the extremes of independence, community involvement is probably the single most challenging thing for me.  Again, I take two directions: that of being interdependent within a small community or family and that of dedicating time to a larger local sphere.  I desperately want to be involved with my local church, but I find the activities to be dull and often pointless.  Similarly, I want to help those in need living around me (both within and outside of church), but sometimes I feel that the manifested necessities are not sufficiently essential enough to merit my concern (which can in turn make me feel guilty for thinking that).  Basically, I want to do be able to exchange and interact meaningfully and productively with a local group and also do some regular hard-core volunteering, but I can't find a good direction for these energies.  For the former, I acknowledge that I am in a new area and it takes time to cultivate those kind of relationships, but for the latter I am currently at a loss.

Simplicity over Clutter
We're back to the more straightforward: in this case, culling possessions and keeping things organized and clean.  Lately, I've been literally starting in a corner and working my way out.  I started with my bed-side table, organizing it and getting rid of things that I don't need.  Every day, I tidy up what has already been ordered and work outwards: from the table to the dresser, closet, bathroom, and on.  Outside of the already organized space, I spot-clean as I notice things.  This gives me the liberty to both order/sort things and clean without attempting to totally revamp and cover everything all at once.

Stimulated over Numbed
Quality entertainment is essential; if I can both relax and feel enlarged at the same time, my time has been well spent.

Appropriate Use and Reuse over Waste
This includes the obvious: recycling of materials and reusing items or parts of items.  It also includes being frugal and spending time wisely.

* * *

There are many more values that I could include, but that covers the desired changes that I've been pondering of late.  No matter what direction one chooses to pursue, I have learned that we need to be the people we want to be in each moment we can or else we will never be that person.  Who would ever have thought that goal-setting makes some things harder to accomplish?


better than voting?

I'm a statistic!  I just spent a good 20+ minutes doing a phone poll covering all sorts of important political issues.  The thought came to me: in some ways participating in those surveys can be more important than voting as I was able to voice my opinion in a much more nuanced way than a simple vote allows.  I had the opportunity to rate all sorts of arguments for and against several bills on a spectrum of convincingness in addition to saying how strongly I supported those bills (twice each!...both before and after the series of arguments, very thorough).  In addition to just being fun, it's nice to feel involved in current goings-on, even if I am just a single perspective in the huge sea of opinions.


Chrome for a cause

I just discovered Chrome for a cause today!  I usually open a whole bunch of tabs every day, so it's a really easy way for me to donate this holiday season without spending anything personally...Google makes money off of your browsing experience and then donates.  Too bad it isn't year round, but it's fun anyway.


Merrily on our way we go

This is long overdue (and also very long), but I wanted to post about the summer in chronological order...the wedding photos held me up.

The JMT is about 210 miles. Adding in the descent from Mt. Whitney to Whitney Portal, we ended up hiking about 220 miles in 16 days or 17 calendar days, the first and last both being half-days. That's averaging 13.75 miles a day, but there were definitely days we did closer to 9-10 miles and days we did about 19-20 miles.

One of the funniest things about the trek was that everyone kept implying that N had to finagle me into doing the hike. To this, he would respond, "It was her idea," which is completely true. I didn't always think I was wise for having the idea, though. The whole point was to do something fun that would take up a good chunk of time between the wedding and when we were to drive cross-country so we wouldn't need to sublet a place for a month. It was painful on occasion--like the day I got 150 mosquito bites--but in the end I was really proud of having done it and we got a lot of nice memories and some beautiful photos out of it.

While hiking we met some very strange people, which was not wholly unexpected. Who else is going to be in the middle of the wilderness? There were certainly many people who just longed to talk to other humans (especially the PCT folks) and would stop to chat for extended periods of time if you let them. A few folks would use "we" for "I"--we didn't pass anyone else who could have been a companion. There was a man hiking in a kilt, another man with a silver umbrella who thought it was the greatest invention of all time ("It's dual purpose! It keeps off both sun and rain!"), and lots of folk who were just off their rockers.

We met a lady and her daughter doing the PCT. The daughter was normal but seemed to agree with our assessment that her mother was a little nuts. The mother told us a story about an Asian lady down the trail who spent the day going in the wrong direction--never a fun thing. Soon after that conversation, I started a little ahead of N, who was packing things up and was going to catch up. I was greeted by a man asking, "Are you hiking alone?" My response was, "No, why?" He spent about a full five minutes explaining how he had seen a glove on the trail and how he thought it belonged to this lost Asian lady and how I should pick it up and bring it to her and explain that I was doing this because "the man she passed" told me to. I assured him I would, but he kept going on and on and on. Though I looked, I never saw the glove. A few days later we met this famed lady, who was named Sunny. She told us to pass a message to her friend Sherry, who should be camping where we would be that night (Sunny was too tired to make it that far), that she was alright and that she would meet her at that location--the Muir Trail Ranch. When we got there, we discovered that she had told nearly everyone she passed to send a message to Sherry. Two firefighters, who had been roughly sharing our pace, actually talked extensively with Sherry and sought us out to see if we had seen Sunny. They convinced her to stay put until Sunny arrived. Quite a mess, if you ask me.

As with the firefighters, there were several people we saw frequently or at least a few times on the trail.  Since we couldn't remember anyone's names and it wasn't really important, we gave them nicknames.  "Ginger" for the red-headed bloke who kept referring to himself that way; he and N would hike together for stretches using each other for pacing.  "Fats" for a very kind gentleman who worked for IBM; he introduced himself with that nickname and I wondered if its origin had anything to do with FAT.  And then there was "Damascus," named after his city of origin; he had lunch with us once and shared with us some Spanish cheese.  At some point, Fats figured out that we were newlyweds (given that we're fairly young, we probably hadn't been married long) and after confirming it, he proceeded to tell everyone ahead of us (he started earlier each day).  So for the last five days or so, everyone that passed us greeted us with, "Oh! you must be the newlyweds!  Congratulations!" Blah blah blah (see paragraph 2).

As we neared Whitney, one of my favorite encounters was with a teenage boy.  I was chugging along and this boy comes galloping down from nowhere.  After getting my attention, he asks, "What trail am I on?"  I was a little flummoxed that he didn't know where he was, but I responded saying that I was on the JMT to Whitney.  He just looked at me.  I asked him where he was going and I still got the stare.  After naming a few points of potential interest, we worked it out and I sent him on his way.  How can one get so confused?  Anyway, that's enough blathering.  Feast your eyes on some photos.

About to start out.  We're so clean and happy.  Aww!

Lots of streams and rivers to cross, with and without shoes.

 Sunset after a thunderstorm right before Donahue pass.

 Wildflowers!  These ones came in a beautiful lavender too.
 Many waterfalls from melting snow in stunningly clear lakes.
 Granite in abundance.

 Thousand Island Lake.

 N's favorite type of landscape.  (That's Ginger behind him.)

 Very blue and very cold.  N jumped in one of them.


This picture makes me want to go back very badly.

 I kept calling this one "Trinity."

 Hopping lake to lake.

 One of my favorite views.



Grey and blue.

 These trees were fascinating.  Closeup of the ribbed wood.

 More wildflowers.  (The wildlife was fairly elusive.)

Though I missed deer, chipmunks, and all sorts of birds, I managed to snap several photos of one particularly chubby marmot.

 Day before Whitney!

 A strange desert in the mountains.

Several people camped near this lake.  Look closely to see one flying a kite.

 We stayed above Guitar Lake (pictured) before the final climb.  The lake shimmered--the photo doesn't do it justice.

 We woke up at 4 am to someone rummaging around near our camp.  After that, we couldn't sleep, so we joined the train of lights starting in the wee hours.  This was some of the first light to hit.

 I'm at the tippy top!

 Him too.

 The plaque.

On the way down.

Once we got down, we had some delicious (and expensive) burgers and fries, took showers, and started looking for a ride.  We got down early (a Saturday) and given the bus schedule, we wouldn't be able to make it back to our car for a few days.  N held up a "Yosemite" sign, that being where our car was parked, and I held up the sign in the picture below.  After about a half hour, we caught a ride in the back of a pickup (a dad had taken a bunch of teenage boys backpacking) amidst a bunch of backpacks. He took us to Bakersfield, where my Mom picked us up.  After a day of rest, we borrowed one of my parent's cars to pick up ours.  Cars are so fast.

One season following another

Looking over the wedding photos made me think about a series of things: how much I love and miss the people pictured, how stressful the days leading up to and including the wedding were, and how glad I am that it's over.  If I were to do it again, there would be many-a-thing I would change, mostly having to do with my attitude towards several things.  Gratefully, there will be no again.

I've grown to appreciate the trust required of a traditional marriage.  Aside from sharing credit and household responsibilities, I feel that I am able to let go of insecurities and that I work harder to make our relationship solid.  I am no longer hedging my bets on some things.  I was both-feet-in long before we got engaged, but it took a while to get there, but now I feel an even stronger desire to build a future with reckless abandon.  It's really quite nice.

Wedding Photos!

The photos from our wedding have finally arrived!  I've uploaded a subset of them to a Picassa web album.  Here's the slideshow.  There are many, many more photos than I've posted, so if you want me to send you a different subset (e.g. all the photos of you/your family) please let me know.


do more with less giveaway!

I generally love giveaways if the thing being given away is useful or I think someone I know might need it.  But when I read about the Do More with Less Giveaway, I thought, If I'm trying to do more with less, either because I don't have much or I don't want much, why on earth would I want a Windows Smart Phone?  It would be like having a contest for the best gluten-free vegetarian recipe where the prize is a slab of beef, breaded and fried.


as long as im posting about church stuff

I might as well mention that LDS Church Administration handbook 2 (a new edition just came out yesterday I believe) is now online (thank you T&S).  The content can be boring or interesting, depending on who you are and what you care about, but regardless, I think it marks progress: a greater subset of policies are now accessible to everyone, or at least those with access to a computer.  This is especially important because we're a lay church.  It's also important that the document is online, which means that (though unlikely) the Church can evolve policies and distribute the evolutions more easily instead of waiting to print a new set of books.

Handbook 1 is online as well, but you have to have a bishop/stake pres login.  I think I see reasons for keeping access to handbook 1 restricted, but I'm still curious about it.

My father, a member who has been in involved in church administration since I can remember, said that compared to the previous edition (which was never public), the new handbook is a lot shorter and more focused on following the spirit, allowing individuals to more easily tailor programs to local needs.  I definitely support that direction.


I'd like to highlight an excellent series of articles on fMh regarding modesty.

Modesty Part One of Four
Modesty Part 2 of 4: Between You and God
Modesty Part 3 of 4: Between you and your neighbors
Modesty Part 4 of 4: Just for you


redefining ambition

I'm currently applying to grad school...again.  This time, I'm going for the full-fledged PhD instead of the half-hearted Masters.  Last year was half-hearted because I wasn't sure what I wanted to be doing--I'm still not totally sure, but I have a much better idea.

Grad school or industry employment--that was the question, and to some extent still is.  I love working and I love learning, but the more I think about it, grad school and industry are both really similar: you work hard and get paid (at least in the sciences).  Expectations are different, and so is the kind of work one does, but in the end, it's pretty similar.

And in talking to people about what I want to do with my life, part of me wants to tell folks that what I really want to do is live on a plot of land, grow my own food, raise a variety of livestock, keep bees, bake bread, make cheese, mend and sew clothes, read books, write, paint, play the guitar, sing, work on open-source software, eventually raise children, and be involved in my community--for starters.  Sometimes I tell people that, and I can't tell how seriously they take me.  (I try to reserve the outburst for people who have a shot of understanding.)

But sometimes people talk (or just think) about being realistic or ambitious, implying that doing all that would be "giving up."  Sure, to some extent I would be giving up on the rat-race for money, but when it comes to ambition, I think our living on one income and my doing all of those crazy-wonderful things is truly ambitious.  It would be very, very hard, but also incredibly satisfying.

Realistically, I won't be able to be full-fledged independent land-owner without significant capital, so I'm going to need to work in the typical sense in some capacity for a while.  I'm incredibly grateful that I'm capable of doing so, that I have opportunities, and that I enjoy what I do.  I'm gradeful that I'm not exclusively tied to one world or the other and that I love my life when I'm working for pay and when I'm working as a homemaker.

For now, I've made it a goal to contact local individuals to learn skills that are hard to develop by just reading about them--starting with beekeeping since it's fairly location-independent and minimally time consuming.  Maybe I'll learn that I don't enjoy keeping bees, who knows.  But maybe I'll learn a skill that I will use when one day I "retire" with my sheep and my ducks and my orchards and gardens.  Maybe I'll always live in between.  What matters is that for now I'll take whatever opportunities that present themselves and find joy in life all along the way.


There's a poet in every scientist

From the reading for one of N's classes:

Big whorls have little whorls
Which feed on their velocity
And little whorls have lesser whorls,
And so on to viscosity.
    -Lewis Richardson, 1922

says and does

Nathaniel said to me, quoting Don from Mad Men, "You're twenty-four years old.  It's time to get over Birthdays."  Regardless, he's taking me out to dinner tonight.


this is not a cooking blog!

I happen to cook a lot, yes, I know.  However, I wanted to provide some evidence that this is not, in fact, a cooking blog.  Behold!  Verily, I say unto you, down yonder are some long-promised images of our new apartment. (Nuffin' artsy)

See?!  Okay, it's only the living/dining room.  But from three angles!!  The other parts of the house aren't as interesting (read: poorly-lit), but we do have a shower designed for handicapped individuals, which is all sorts of fun.

Yes, yes, I know I still haven't posted our wedding pictures, or JMT pictures, or anything about the other nonsense this summer, but I will eventually.  Instead, N and I have been doing fun things like going to Ben and Erica's wedding! (Sorry for the terrible picture, I didn't take many.)

Nothing ever settles down; life is always a whirlwind.  Tomorrow I head up to NYAS's Machine Learning Symposium.  Sometime in the next bit I'll be applying to grad schools.  Wee!


using raw veggies

Sometime last week I discovered that I had let a bundle of parsley start to wilt.  I had wanted to make pasta dish that night, so I decided to make a pesto.  Puréed parsley with a little olive oil was too strong on the parsley flavor, so I added carrots and a few mushrooms to the food processor to smooth it out.  I spiced it to taste and tossed it with thin spaghetti and it was a success with leftovers to spare.  Greens saved from wasting and dinner served.

Then on Sunday, we had the LDS missionaries over and I made dinner for them: arugula salad, black bean soup, and stuffed acorn squash.  The stuffing was a quinoa-wild rice pilaf with cooked onions, shredded carrots and zucchini, and halved grape tomatoes.  One of the missionaries paid me a complement when he said "I just realized what I'm eating.  You know those magazines with the food that looks really good and is good for you?  That's what I'm eating."

The common thread between the two dinners was that they both used a fair amount of raw vegetables in the main dish.  I'm familiar with various raw-foods diets and am far from that myself, but I think it would be a good thing to incorporate more raw food into my meal preparations.  Cooked food is nutrient-dense and allows us to eat good food inexpensively--rice, beans, potatoes, bread--but adding raw foods will increase the diversity of our diets.  Briefly looking at raw-food recipes online, it seems that apple, avocado, carrots, coconut, and nuts are fairly popular, but of course any veggies or fruits can work.  I've been intrigued with apples in savory dishes for a while, so perhaps I can try a raw twist to that.  It'll be a fun vein to explore.


Shotwell on Ubuntu's home page

If you go to Ubuntu's home page, you'll find a screenshot of Shotwell for their 10.10 release.  Yeah, I'm proud.


Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Berkeley any more.

There are many things that make our new town different from Berkeley--the super high-end shops, the lack of homeless on the streets, and (what I miss the most already) our church community.  In our old Berkeley Ward, you could never get away with saying things like "In Russia, they get up in the morning and start drinking."  Somebody would ask you to dampen the extremeness of that statement.  And if you said that you were standing in holy places by refusing to "sit at the same table with" someone who was committing adultery, somebody would remind you that Christ sought out sinners in love.  I don't mind the opportunity to ruffle feathers, but I do miss rubbing shoulders with the excellent people in the Oakland Stake--people who are open, honest, thoughtful, and brave enough to do things like tell a General Authority of the LDS Church how much pain was caused by Prop 8.  I'm proud of them and of Elder Jensen and I hope the Church will listen carefully to his report of the experience.

Here are two links on the topic, following them will lead you to many more:
Carol Lynn Pearson’s account of the event
Times and Seasons' Credible Criticism


awesome conversation blip

N: You ever notice how geeks tuck t-shirts into their pants?  It's a stereotypically geeky thing to do, but they do it anyway.  It's like a one-to-one correlation.

Both N and I at the same time: No's onto.


potato shallot soufflé

Yet another entry on food...I just have so may new toys and a kitchen to myself for the first time ever.  I'll post about other things soon, I promise.

A few weeks before I left the SF bay area, a coworker described to me a little restaurant, Cafe Jacqueline, on the north side of the city.  The only thing it serves is soufflé, he described, but they're incredible.  He also told me that if I made it there, make sure to use the restroom--you have to go through the kitchen, and there you see Jacqueline herself, a miniature French woman with Popeye arms, beating eggs.  I never made it to Cafe Jacqueline, but that image stuck.  It was so haunting that for the past week I've been fighting the urge to make a soufflé myself, despite the fact that I've never made one before.

But an overabundance of eggs and cream in the apartment forced me to give in--potato shallot soufflé it was.  I adapted it from the classic La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange. (Looking up that link I discovered that the English version was translated by Berkeley's own Chez Panisse co-founder Paul Aratow.)  The original didn't involve shallots or thyme, but being 100 grams short on the potatoes, I improvised to prevent the dish from being too egg-y.

Another thing that I changed was leaving in some of the potato skins and not mashing the potato pulp to be as smooth as the original recipe suggested.  This made for a heavier soufflé with a more rustic texture, which worked surprisingly well.

I beat the egg whites by hand, which resulted in a blister on my right-hand middle finger.  When I beat eggs or cream, I do so most efficiently holding the whisk like a pencil or like a hammer, alternating between the two as my muscles get tired, which they certainly did.

As soon as the egg whites were added to the rest of the mix, I fretted over the poor thing endlessly. I probably checked the oven every minute or so.  In the end, the soufflé was scrumptious and neither puffing out of the dish nor fallen, which I vote to be a victory.  We ate it straight out of the dish.

Potato Shallot Soufflé
3-4 potatoes (1 lb)
1 shallot
3 T butter
2/3 cup heavy cream
3 egg yolks
5 egg whites
salt, pepper, nutmeg, and thyme to taste

Wash and bake the potatoes at 375 until they are fully cooked and mashable.  Meanwhile, mince and sauté the shallots until they golden.  Remove the potatoes one by one from the oven, keeping it warm for later.  As you remove each potato, split it with a spoon and remove much of the skin, dumping the rest into a pan.  Mash the potatoes as much as possible before adding the butter and turning on the heat.  Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and thyme and continue mashing the potatoes smooth as you stir them.  Add the cream slowly, no more than a tablespoon at a time.  Once the cream is added and the mixture is fairly dry, move it to a porcelain or ceramic dish and stir in the egg yolks.  Whisk the egg whites into oblivion, or "into snow" per the original recipe.  I whisked them until they became very firm peaks, but the original suggested that they should stick to one's whisk as a solid block, like a "clown's wig."  Fold the egg whites into the potato mixture until evenly distributed, and then bake for 25 minutes or until quite golden on top.  Once it's out, eat it immediately!


wild yeast bread

I've been collecting wild yeast for a few days now, and when the recipe called to throw half of it away (deeming it not quite good enough for bread yet...or something) I decided to try baking with it anyway.  Rebel of rebels.

Without using a recipe, I just added flour and water until it felt right--sticky but not too wet, refrigerated it overnight, and added more flour and water the next morning.  I proofed the loaves for a few hours and stuck them in the oven, starting at 500 and reducing to 450, keeping a ceramic bowl full of water in the oven and spraying it with water in the beginning to keep the air humid.

The loaves came out incredibly--thin, crunchy crusts with beautiful pockets of air inside, and very moist.  Texture-wise, they were possibly the best loaves I've ever made.  The flavor was a little nontraditional, likely owing to the dark rye flour used to catch the yeast and the flavor of the local yeast as well.  That said, I still ate an entire loaf before N got out of classes--I worked from home today.  I'm interested to see how the yeast flavor evolves with time.

Catching and Caring for Wild Yeast
adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice

Seed Culture
1 cup (4.25 oz) dark rye flour
3/4 cup (6 oz) water
Mix flour and water, making sure all the flour is wet.  Place in glass container or bowl, mark the top of the dough (e.g. with tape) and let sit covered for 24 hours at room temperature.

1 cup (4.5 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
Mix flour and water with previous day's dough.  Update marker and ferment another 24 hours covered at room temperature.

1 cup (4.5 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
Check for a rise in the dough--perhaps a 50 percent rise.  (Mine had more than doubled thanks to the warm weather and the amazingness of King Arthur bread flour)  Discard half the dough and mix in the new flour and water--the height should be the same as the previous day's marker.  Ferment again at room temperature for 24 hours.  The next day the sponge should have at least doubled in size.  If not, repeat for one more day, discarding half and adding new flour and water.

Mother Starter
1 cup (7 oz) seed culture
3 1/2 cups (16 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 cups (16 oz) water
Mix seed culture, flour and water, making sure that all the flour is moist.  Transfer to a non-metallic container at least double the size of the dough and cover for 6 hours or until bubbly.  Refrigerate overnight before using.  The dough will be ready to use for the three following days.

Refreshing the Starter
When you use some of the starter, you should feed it.  For example, if you use 1 cup of the starter, add 1 cup flour and some water to refresh it.  Otherwise, throw half of the starter away and replace it with flour and water.  It's okay to let the yeast starter go soupy, which will happen after 4 or so days. Once fed and bubbly, you have three days to use it.

Using the Wild Yeast
There are a number of recipes that call for wild yeast, and you can always make simple bread by adding more flour and water.  To use it in recipes that call for commercial yeast, you can either calculate how much flour and water/liquid you need to subtract, or else just add the flour/water slowly until it feels right, which is usually what I do for dough recipes anyway.



I made fresh paneer this weekend--my first escapade in cheese making! (Recipe below) Next time, however, I think I'll use whole milk--I used 1% and it was delicious fresh, but after one night in the fridge, it was a little hard when I made saag paneer the next day. It wasn't too bad, but if I were to do it again, I'd use it all fresh or else use fattier milk. To curdle the milk, I did a mixture of yogurt and lemon juice; the latter flavored the cheese really nicely when we ate it fresh with a little salt and garam masla on top. Yum!

Paneer Cheese
makes 8 ounces or 30 1-inch pieces
1/2 gallon (8 cups) lowfat or whole milk (skim makes it hard and leathery)
2 cups plain yogurt (nonfat or any kind), or 1/4 cup lemon juice, or a mixture of both
4 layers of cheesecloth or piece of fine muslin

Bring the milk to a boil. Before it boils over, add the yogurt/lemon juice and stir until it separates into curds and whey, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour the curds and whey into a the cheesecloth (use a pan, bowl, or colander to help hold the cloth in place). Bundle up the edges of the cloth and let the cheese to drain hanging for 3 to 5 minutes--I tied mine to the kitchen faucet. Twist the cloth snugly around the cheese and press between plates or anything waterproof and flat (the excess cloth to side) for 10 to 12 minutes. I did this in the sink, putting the whey, which was in a big bowl, on top of the plates to press the cheese. The cheese should keep 4-5 days in the refrigerator or a few months in the freezer.


Film Review: Arranged

Last night N and I took some down time from unpacking and setting up the house to watch a 99 cent iTunes movie rental: Arranged. It's a story about two women who meet as first year elementary school teachers at a Brooklyn public school; one of the women is Orthodox Jewish and the other Muslim. The film focuses on their friendship as they deal with a very ignorant Principal, challenging students and family members, and the process of arranged marriages.

I thought it was an excellent film on many levels. The cinematography was beautiful: lots of detail shots that brought the cultures to life. Both the script and the acting were believable and honest, with many moments of genuine humor. One of my favorite quotes was "Someone should be shooting a commercial for world peace right now." I also felt like the film addressed some real issues in a gentle way without focusing too much on them--for example, religious tension obviously existed as a plot element, but it was expressed as a part of their personal struggles.

Overall, I think it was a wonderful use of 99 cents and a perfect break from unpacking.



Whew! It's been a whirlwind of a summer. I left my job at Yorba (which was super sad because I loved it) and my beloved bay area (double sadness points) to get married a week later (makes up for the sadness), hike the JMT in 16 days, pack everything for shipping, then drive cross country seeing friends and family in 19 days, and finally arrive at our new place this past Wednesday. Oiya. Lots of changes, but it's been a blast and I'll be sure to post some more (including pictures) soon.



Time for an internet vacation.  Doing the JMT then driving cross country.  I'll be back in September!


adventures in dyhrdating food

As N and I prepare to do the JMT, we've been dehydrating our own fruits, veggies, and meats to make our loads as light as possible for as cheaply as possible.  It takes forever, but it's much more fun (at least for me) and healthy to pack one's own meals rather than use store-bought packs.  Almost everything I'm packing just needs to be boiled or soaked in water and it's good to go.

We're planning on mailing half of our food to a midway point along the trail; they'll hold it for a small fee.  On average, these meals still cost more than our usual meals as they contain much more meat and have bigger portions, but I think we've kept costs down pretty well.


dress switchup

Forgive my bride-y-ness, but I'm posting on wedding dresses.  Memorial day weekend, I got a call from the boutique with which I ordered my wedding dress.  Since I got their message after they closed for the day, I returned the call the next day they were open, Tuesday.  I was expecting that they were calling to tell me my dress had arrived--I ordered it three months prior.  Turns out the company was not returning calls and hadn't delivered a dress in the past three months (at least to any other places they called).  They recommended that I come in and pick out a new dress.

I was a touch stressed and time was of the essence, so I took off a day of work and went over to sort everything out.  Since they were having a half-off sale starting in June for dresses that were off-the-shelf, I ended up getting a new dress for significantly less than the first one and no alterations needed.  The new dress is more traditional and I like the neckline less, but so it goes.  I don't really feel the need to have the perfect dress.  Sometimes it all seems so silly anyway.

Old dress (left) and new dress (right).

The only thing store-bought dresses often don't have are mom and I had the adventure of putting it on with a friend of ours!


Shotwell 0.6.1 released!

Yay Shotwell!  I had the chance to be the "release engineer" for the Shotwell 0.6.0 and 0.6.1 releases.  It consisted mostly of packaging and uploading to our PPA, but I also got to write the Yorba blog entry for the release(s).  Good times.


kitchen dregs

Last night I was tired and not in the mood to cook anything.  I didn't really have anything good in the fridge either...a few old and rotting vegetables, some broth, leftover enchilada sauce, and a small amount of monterey jack cheese.

Weighing a too-soft zucchini in one hand and a wrinkly red bell pepper in the other, I had an idea that was crazy enough to make me want to cook again.  I rummaged for an ancient onion in the back of the cupboard and pulled down my masa mix.

Corn masa, for those that don't know, is used to make corn tortillas, tamales, and pupusas.  And I decided to try and make Masa-ball soup (inspired by matzah-ball soup).

I sautéed the onion and added the chopped-up bell pepper and zucchini (with the bad parts cut out).  Part of the trick with aging vegetables is to cook them until they are soft enough that you can't tell they were wilted in the first place--soups are excellent for this.

I added the chicken broth I had on hand, and some water (and salt) to add more volume.  Then came my favorite part: adding a few spoonfuls of the leftover red enchilada sauce!  This gave it the perfect flavor.

The masa balls I made were much smaller than typical matzah-balls, mostly because I knew the masa was going to be denser.  I think it would have been better if I had added eggs to the masa (which is usually just the mix and water, sometimes with a little oil too) to lighten it up, but I didn't have any on hand.  I could have also made tortillas and fried them, but masa-balls were so much simpler, faster, and more puny.

I dropped the masa-balls into the soup and cooked them until they floated and served the whole shebang topped with grated cheese.  And it was pretty darn good.  I love finding ways to use the dregs in my kitchen.


yesterday's news

Yesterday an article by my coworker Jim was published in The GNOME Journal, entitled Introducing Shotwell: A GNOME Photo Manager.  The screen shots and the photographs in the screen shots are all mine!

free parking

Since I need to be home ASAP after work today, I decided to drive into BART instead of walking as I usually do (20 min).  I find on my car a warning (thank heavens it wasn't an actual citation) that I'd been parked in the same spot for over 72 hours, and according to Berkeley Traffic Ordinance 14.36.050 B.M.C, that's a no-no.

This was the first time I'd ever heard about the 72 hour rule, and I have severely mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, it makes sense to keep broken cars off the streets and to keep the parking dynamic alive, but on the other hand, I only drive once or twice a week, usually only on weekends.

As previously said, I walk to BART and take that into work every day, and then other than that, I use my car to go to church and pick up groceries.  I don't want to drive more than I have to, for both environmental reasons and out of pure selfish convenience.  I don't want to buy a monthly parking spot to avoid this either--that's just silly.

Seeing as I've been living in Berkeley proper for nearly a year doing the same thing, I think they aren't too strict about the 72 hour rule and a neighbor possibly called me in.  It really isn't too big of a deal--if I see the tell-tale chalk markings on my tires that they're watching my car, I can just move it or wipe them off.  But the whole things seems so silly.  I'd rather that a neighbor just ask me not to park in front of their house instead of calling the police for pity's sake.  And I'd also rather have the time limit be a week instead of three days.

Maybe it's just my use case, but I feel that for people that own a car and use it infrequently, they're more likely to estimate their usage as "weekly" than "about every few days."  Work patterns occur on a weekly schedule and most people don't drive half the time and use other methods of transport the other half, except maybe carpoolers.  Admittedly, this assumes that people work every day of the week.  I guess my point is that this law was created with the idea that if you have a car, you should use it frequently, a premise with which I disagree.

This won't be too troublesome for my remaining time in Berkeley as N is currently on his way to drop off his "love-bug" (which is actually an ancient Toyota Corolla) at his parents' place in Colorado, where it will now live.  He'll use my car as well when he gets back, so it'll be in more frequent use.  And then I can just monitor for chalk in addition.

Anyway, that's enough on that.  Just to cheer me up after being flustered by this warning, the boxes where you pay for parking at BART needed to be restarted (displaying a nice Windows 2000 logo with the message "it is now okay to shut down your computer"), so parking (usually $1) was free this morning.  Life's pretty good to me.