Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pomegranate Moon Pies

This is it.  The end of an era.  Tomorrow I leave the world of academia and become a full-fledged member of the working class.  That's right people, I'm a student no longer.  No more will I be able to use my university ID to get cheap movie tickets.  I'll be paying full price at the local Chipotle.  I have to give up my Amazon U account.  Goodbye academic bubble, I'm going to miss your warm, fuzzy, safe feeling.


I've been waiting years to be able to say these magical words.  The words that every PhD longs to scream from the rooftops and post to their facebook page.  I GOT A JOB!  After several long months of searching the job market, having phone interviews and visiting companies for on-sites, I finally scored my dream job.


2011 has been a great year for me, finished my project, got a job and there's even more to tell, but not today.  I think I've had enough excitement for one day.  Today I have about a million and one things to accomplish at my university lab before I head out of town on Thursday.  My to do list is very, very long and things keep getting added to it.  So, now I focus.  Thursday, I celebrate!
 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Baked Pasta Casserole


When one is on the edge of finishing a major project at work, everything else seems to fall to the side.  Drying your hair before you go to work?  Nah, I'll save twenty minutes if I just rock a ponytail.  Plus, my hair dryer is broken.  Go to the gym after getting home from the lab?  At nine o'clock at night, nah, I'd rather have some dinner and go to sleep.  Make and eat dinner?  That too sounds like a lot of work, I'll have cereal.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesdays post, I was insanely busy.  I would spend most of my waking hours in the lab, trying to finish my molecule.  After a week of eating cereal for dinner I decided that had to stop.  First, my pants were starting to fall off from lack of food.  Second, you wake up ravenous in the middle of the night when you only eat cereal!

I actually made this dish one saturday morning while I got ready to go to the lab.  It was quick and easy and made a ton of food.  Plus, it was kinda healthy.  Or at least it was, until I added in all that cheese.  Feel free to cut down on the mozzarella cheese, I was being a little crazy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chocolate cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream


I am and oxymoron.  My job title is "synthetic organic chemist."  When I tell people this I get many, many looks of confusion.  As an explanation I tell them that I make chemicals synthetically that are naturally found in nature.  Are you confused yet?  Most people just walk away.

You can also call me a natural products chemist.  Is this any less of an oxymoron?  I'm not really sure.  As a graduate student and postdoctoral associate I have been making natural products for the past eight years.  Here is a step-by-step explanation of why a synthetic organic chemist does what they do...

1. Sea sponge (or plant or animal or dirt) is collected by isolation chemists

2. Sea sponge is extracted and lots of neat-o chemicals are found inside of the sea sponge

3. Neat-o chemicals are tested against many, many cell screens.  The biologists look for activity against human disease

4. Neat-o, disease-killing chemical is published and given a fancy name like Neatoside F

5. Synthetic organic chemists (like me!) decide it's a worthwhile target and try to make neatoside F

6. On Friday, June 17th, they succeed in making neatoside F and celebrate with cupcakes!

That's right, after months of hard work, I finished my target.  It's a big day in the life of a synthetic organic chemistry, the day you bring your molecule into the world.  You've watched it grow, seen it make bad choices and even seen it fall apart in the face of tough conditions.  The SOC continues to nurture their target until finally it comes shining into existence.  There is no prouder day in the life of a SOC, until that work finds it's way into a major publication, of course.  It's like a birth announcement.  Welcome to the world neatoside F!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Buffalo Cheesey Bread

Things have been so crazy here in Connecticut!  I'm so sad that I won't be able to head home to Buffalo at all this summer.  Major changes are happening (stay tuned) and I'm going to be busy here on the coast for the next few months.  This is good and sad at the same time.


The best time of the year to go to Buffalo is the summertime!  Fall always comes to town with rain and cloudy skies.  Winter barges in with layer upon layer of snow that doesn't completely disappear until March.  Spring slowly melts away and you find yourself in June.  The sun finally welcomes you in the morning and the nights are warm and starry.

Summertime also brings with it some of my favorite Western New York events.  You must head out to the Taste of Buffalo, but be aware, don't go with a large group.  There are so many people at the TOB that it's hard to make your way from one end of Main street to the other.  The food makes the trip totally worth it! 


I'm also a huge fan of Canalfest.  Held in the Tonawandas, it celebrates the Erie canal!  Or, what's left of it, I guess.  Whatever it celebrates, I try to plan my trips home around this event.  It all starts with a huge craft fair weekend, where you can buy everything from coasters to sheds.  There's a Miss Canalfest competition (which I totally wanted to be in when I was little, too bad I wasn't a resident...) and there is food galore!  Ribbon fries with vinegar, funnel cakes with powdered sugar and sausage with peppers and onions.  I always weigh a good five pounds more by the end of the day.

I also am missing my family this summer.  Boat rides on the Niagara river with my parents.  Long walks by the creek with Zoe, my happy, fluffy, red, golden retriever puppy.  Discussing fruit trees and computers with my brother (granted, that computer talk is usually one sided, not my side).  Soon I'll have the time to come home, just not in the next few months.


To cheer myself up and remind myself of home, I made some bread.  It's packed to the top with Buffalo flavor, the only thing that would have made it even more amazing was if I had some blue cheese in the house.  Next time!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coconut Joys

Summer is in full swing!  I'm reveling in these sunny mornings, hot nights and long days.  I've moved around a lot in the past few years and I always get very confused with the rising of the sun.  My hometown of Amherst, NY is situated right in the middle of the Eastern time zone.  I grew up with summer nights lasting until nine or ten o'clock at night.  Fireworks on the fourth of July couldn't start until at least 9:30 because it was still too sunny before that time.


When I moved to Wisconsin I moved to the leading edge of the Central time zone.  This meant that the days started earlier and they ended earlier, but it also meant that television was on a whole hour earlier!  I loved having Letterman on at ten pm.  Eleven o'clock shows on the weeknights are just too early for me. 

Moving to Colorado proved to be the biggest shock.  Not only is Boulder at the leading edge of the mountain time zone, but it's also the furthest south that I've ever lived.  As winter fell away from the mountains, it would bring the sun to greet you at 4:30 in the morning.  I was so confused my first year there, wonding how on earth the sun could be up at that hour.  Crazy sun, go back to sleep.  At least the Daily show was on at nine pm.  I could get my dose of Jon Stewart and Stephen Clobert and hit the pillows by ten.  The mountain time zone is great!


I joked that I was going to try and live in every time zone before I was thirty.  Since I've moved back to the east coast with only a few months left before the big three-o, I don't think that's going to happen.  But that's okay.  I like this coast, I think I'll stay here for a while.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cream of Asparagus Soup



I have some terrible news people.  Yesterday morning was going so well, until I went to dry my hair.  My favorite (only), trusty hair dryer was working its magic until it decided it had enough.  With half wet hair, my hair dryer coughed, sputtered and exhaled one final hot breath, then died.  I tried shaking it, pushing buttons, turning it on and off.  Even the tried and true electronic fix of unplugging and pluggin back in did nothing. 

I am now mourning the loss of my hair dryer.  I am also looking all sorts of crazy.  I guess the one bright side of no longer owning a functioning hair dryer (I like to call it an art piece right now) is that I leave the house twenty minutes earlier in the morning.  WIN?
 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fruit and Yogurt Jars

The heat of the summer is starting to hit most of the country and I’m very excited. I’m the type of person who will not put on shorts until it’s at least 80 outside. And that’s a humid 80. When I lived in Colorado, it routinely got up to 100 degrees during the summertime. However, you would still see me going to work in jeans. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s totally true! It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity, blah blah blah…


Well, I’m back on the coast and there’s definitely humidity here. Lots of it. I can see all the humidity hanging in the air when I open my blinds in the morning. My mornings have been going like this… Alarm goes off – I wake up, excited for a new day. I walk to the windows and open the blinds. My day turns to bad as I realize my hair is going to be crazy today. I’m going to look like Einstein, minus the snazzy mustache.


With all this heat and humidity, I have also been avoiding turning on my oven. Mostly because I’m too cheap to turn on my air conditioning. It was the exact opposite in the winter, when I baked a lot because I was too cheap to turn on my heat. What can I say, I’m a postdoc, we are a cheap bunch. So, instead of baking, I’ve been churning ice cream, making no-bake candies and tossing salads. Today I give you a light, refreshing snack. It’s full of vitamins and topped off with a bunch of protein-rich Greek yogurt. Enjoy some and stay cool!


Monday, June 6, 2011

Ohio Buckeyes

A Ted’s hot dog with a side of cheese. A stack of pancakes with a pile of crunchy hash browns. A Hershey bar and a jar of peanut butter. These are a few of my favorite things. What? You’ve never sat down with a chocolate bar and a jar of peanut butter? You should definitely give it a go. Chocolate and peanut butter is one of those quintessential combinations that so many people love. Well, most Americans. Seems like non-Americans can live their lives quite happily without a jar of peanut butter in the house.



I am a huge fan of the peanut butter and chocolate combo, so I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to make this candy. If you are from Ohio, you know these candies as Buckeyes. They look just like the nut of the Ohio buckeye tree, just like horse chestnuts! (Seriously, have a look, it’s uncanny!) My roommate in grad school made something very similar to these and I loved them. In fact, I would sneak a few from the fridge when she wasn’t looking. They were so good! Why did I never make them myself?


So far in Candy Challenge 2011, I haven’t made something so simple and so delicious. The whole recipe took less than an hour (including chilling time) from start to finish. There is no boiling sugar, for once, there is no need for a candy thermometer and you don’t even need any fancy equipment. So get out your bowl, spoon and baking sheet.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Creamsicle Fudge

WARNING!!! This has been described to me as “The best thing you’ve ever made.” It was also described to me as “Disgusting, I think I’m going to lose my lunch.” These might sound like contrasting opinions, but they are in fact telling me the same thing. This fudge is downright amazing.


Perhaps some explaining is in order. The first compliment came from my candy-loving boss. If there is any candy or chocolate in the building he will find it, and eat it. Which is fine, until I want an Oreo… and they’re all gone. He is always telling me I should go into business as a candy-maker. I don’t know how I should take that, since he’s my chemistry boss…


The second of the two comments came from my coworker. Last year, we were a small group of chemists, but by mid-year we had ballooned to a much larger bunch. Competition for the sweets and snacks that I brought in became more and more cutthroat. The compliments turned from praising to degrading, especially when others were within earshot. A little reverse psychology warfare was being played and it continues today.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Asparagus and Tortellini Salad

Can you believe that I have been the proud owner of a pasta maker for five whole months and it's only now that I've actually used it?  I kept looking at it, thinking of all of the delicious pastas that I wanted to try out, yet there it sat.  It was just crying out to be used and I ignored it.


This year has been one of the busiest times of my life.  I've hardly had time to do my laundry, nonetheless hand make pasta.  With trying to complete two projects at work, visiting boyfriend every other weekend in NJ and searching for a job, almost every minute has been spoken for.  Buying storebought pasta just seemed like the easy thing to do.


Last week I decided to ignore the calls of the pasta maker no more!  I was going to make one of my favorite pasta dinners and I would make the tortellini!  With a DVR full of shows from the past two weeks, I set out on the journey of making my tortellinis.  It was fun!  It was easy!  It was not a short process.  First I made the pasta dough (same one I used in this recipe), then I stirred together the filling, then it was time to roll.


I secured the pasta maker to the countertop.  It's a heavy little guy, but you still need to clamp it to your countertop in order to roll out the dough.  So I rolled and rolled the dough, slowly closing the wheels to get a thinner and thinner dough.


I stamped out litle circles using my trusty 2-inch biscuit cutter.


I added a 1/2 tsp of filling to the circle...


Folded it over and went pinch pinch pinch to close...


Then pinched them in the center.  Not exactly what a tortellini is supposed to look like, but I thought they looked cute this way.  Then I set them on a baking sheet and into the fridge they went.  Overnight they sat and dried out.


The next day I had adorable little tortellinis. 


See, aren't they cute! 


Then I boiled them up with some asparagus and yellow peppers, tossed them in dressing and I had dinner!  Phew, quite the process, but totally worth it.  I'm looking forward to trying out other filling recipes, fresh pasta is just the best.
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