Sunday, March 30, 2008

Surprise! And a Special Dinner at Bella Notte

So... I'm engaged! Dave totally surprised me with a proposal yesterday morning. Here's the story, and some links for those of you who I called and were confused by the story.

Dave had driven to Lexington to see me this weekend, but he got in late Friday night. By the time he got here, I was already out on the town for Rosalie's bachelorette party. So Saturday morning, Dave and I wake up, eat our cereal, drink coffee, and are watching tv and checking e-mail, trying to figure out what to do that day and for the weekend. Basically, we're having our normal Saturday morning. I'm still in my pajamas, sitting on the couch, had not yet showered or brushed my teeth, and was pretty grungy after a night of dancing and being out at the bar. I suggested a walk, as it looked like it would be sunny. After checking and figuring out that it was going to be freezing, though, we decided we'd just find something else to do.

At this point, Dave gets up, leaves the room, and I assume he's going to the bathroom. I'm in the middle of e-mailing a friend, when he comes back in the room and says "Here, I printed out a lolcat for you."

Now let's break here. For those of you who don't know what a lolcat is, go here before continuing on with the story. Lolcats are a web phenomenon, and basically a website for pictures of cats and other cute animals with funny, nonsense captions. We are dorks. We love this site, and we laugh at it all the time. It is saturated with a high dose of cuteness, so it's just one of our little "things" that we like to share as a couple.

Back to the story. I think, "oh, cute, a lolcat, bet this will be funny." And I see this:

So here's my thought process over the next few seconds: "aw, Chloe! Isn't she cute. Wait a minute. Holy crap. Is he serious?" And then I look up, and there is a ring in my face. Dave is crouched down on my level, tells me I make him happier than anything in the world, and would I marry him?

After a moment of panic, screaming, uncontrollable crying, several "OH MY GOD ARE YOU SERIOUS"'s and a big hug, I said yes. I continued to cry and freak out, until Rosalie ran out of her room, asking what was going on, and shared in the excitement.

I was totally surprised. After he gave me the ring, I stood in the middle of the floor crying for a minute because I was in shock. I think I have never, ever been so surprised in my life. This tops the previous big surprise - my 17th birthday party. I knew he wanted to propose for a long time, but I honestly didn't expect it until at least after I had defended my quals, which will happen in another two weeks. I thought that by withholding my ring size and stone cut preference, there was no way he'd ever go out and get a ring. Oh, I was wrong! Dave has had the ring since before spring break. The only thing that kept him from proposing that week was my stress level. Apparently, I was so stressed out over studying for quals, that he feared a surprise proposal would add to my stress level, and/or distract me, and/or cause me to not give a very positive answer. He thought about waiting until after I defend, but he didn't want to wait that long. He wanted to propose while we were out on a walk, but since it was cold, and we'd already looked at lolcats that morning, he felt the timing was right that morning.

We are both very happy. It still hasn't really sunk in for me, but I'm really excited to have a fiance! Our families are happy, our friends are happy - it is a happy thing. Even though I gave him no direction on the ring (except for that one time I said I didn't like gold bands and liked solitaires), he did an amazing job choosing it. We are in the process of figuring out how to have a very small gathering to celebrate at some point next year, after I finish school.

I don't have a recipe to share, but instead, to celebrate, we went to our favorite restaurant in Lexington, Bella Notte. I'll share what we ate with you! Dave had amazing pork spideni, which was pork medallions, breaded and lightly fried, with apples, walnuts, and some sort of amazing sauce; I had penne kalamata, which is my favorite pasta there - penne with olives, pine nuts, grilled chicken, and a light butter sauce. Dessert was nothing less than stellar, and we even splurged and got two! Profiteroles, and panna cotta. The homemade caramel sauce and candied basil that accompanied the panna cotta took that dessert over the top. And the profiteroles were very nicely done; as if something made with espresso gelato can be less than amazing.

Oh my gosh. I'm engaged, to the most wonderful man in the world!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

All this Talk About Adderall Makes Me Crave Caffeine: Espresso Brownies

I love my job. I really do. I get paid to teach, ask questions, answer them, write, and argue with people. This week, I'm writing and answering questions more than usual: it's quals week! I'm 3 down (effects, fem theory, and methods) and 1 (critical/cultural approaches to mass comm) to go. All the stress has pretty much gone away - if I don't know it by now, I'm kind of out of luck- and I feel good about my answers. They're not perfect. Hell, they may not even be exactly right. I'll find out on April 11. But, I'm doing my quals! It's cool.

However, I. Am. So. Freaking. Tired.

As I sit here with my iced latte, trying to stay awake until advertising, and as if I haven't written enough already this week, I feel the need to blog. It's a nice distraction from doing what I need to do - finishing up a conference paper and making a quiz. I'm reflecting on another part of my job - listening to other people make arguments. I just heard a research presentation by one of our Associate Professors (who's unfortunately an Alabama fan... but I won't hold it against him since he's also into critical studies) about the uses and abuses of Adderall on college campuses. His research shocked me; I knew people were using it, but seriously? That much? And there's really no side effects? No dependency? Besides the moral (you're stealing someone else's prescription?) and ethical (it's an FDA level II controlled substance) and general good sense (it's like CRACK) issues to consider, I have to say, right now, some adderall might do me some good. Especially as I think about how antsy I get sitting in a small room for 4 hours at a time writing. I got up to walk around 4 times today during my question. I could not sit still. I think had my parents had better sense raising me, they would have (should have?) put me on some ritalin. But, I hate drugs. I can't take anything stronger than a Tylenol without feeling exceptionally strange. My mom and I still laugh about the last time I was given anesthesia (wisdom teeth removal), because I woke up, crying hysterically, shaking, worried about my dog, Chi-Chi.

Anyway. Back to my point (yes, I have one). I don't think it's so much a problem that kids are taking adderall - kids in my classes, mind you - the problem is with the greater cultural expectations that our kids are learning. That good ol' American value of hard work paying off? "Kids today" are getting a horribly distorted version of what that means, and the consequences of wanting and having it all. My problem with adderall is not its abuse; my problem is that we are socially constructing (co-constructing?) that it is acceptable for people to do drugs in order to "get it all done." When life happens, unexpectedly, as it does, tell me that you didn't have time to do your homework. I'll count of 10% and let you turn it in tomorrow. Don't take an adderall and come to my class sleep deprived and wired. Maybe something else is going on in your life that makes it so you can't write that paper due next week. Talk to me about it! Family problems? I can certainly relate. Let's talk about ways to manage your family along with your own budding life and desire for independence. What happens when you get in the workplace and you have a boss demanding an extra 20 hours a week of your time; are you going to pop an adderall so you can work and spend time with your kids when you get home? Not a good strategy! It catches up with you. Regardless of the absence of side effects, why aren't we enculturating people to live their lives? Dare I say it - be imperfect? Experience raw emotions? Live through the pain and the stress?

Problems for another day. Let's bake something with my favorite stimulant - caffeine. Giada's Espresso Brownies. They are my favorite brownies. The frosting is sooooo goooood. I would make my usual suggestions and alterations, but like most everything Giada does, it's perfect, just as she writes it.

Now. Back to work. Adderall free!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops, and a Lit Review

One of the first things you learn in grad school is how to write a "literature review." The process involves searching out as many articles, books, book chapters, paragraphs, unpublished theses/dissertations, conference papers and hand-scrawled notes on napkins that show up in microfilm, as one can find about the particular topic of interest. For example, when I studied TVA, my lit review consisted of official TVA documents that are hidden away in the National Archives, congressional acts that commissioned the TVA, TVA annual reports, and a plethora of books, articles, and propaganda that were published from the 1930s until today. The lit review is a painful process that tends to suck the life out of whatever project for which you once felt a great deal of enthusiasm. Something about reading what everybody else has already written about your at first seemingly original idea is exhausting, time-consuming, boring, no fun, and insanely necessary. "They" say that your lit review is done when your new sources have published in their bibliographies the sources that you have already found. Eventually, you find out that the trail you've been following doesn't lead you to a castle, a one-up, or bad guy you get to fight for the princess; the trail is a mobius strip that leads you right back where you started. Once you begin, it never really ends.

So here I am, studying for quals, wondering if I've reached my saturation point because I'm connecting dots between my feminist theory, media effects, and critical/cultural sources? How in the world has Lazarsfeld led to Morley led to McRobbie? How has Hall managed to find his way into my book on feminism & pop culture? Am I studying the same thing, with three different names? Qualifying exams, my friends, will make one crazy. So will sitting inside forcing yourself to study, like I'm doing on this gorgeous day.

In the interest of preserving my mental health, let me tell you what I made for dinner last night. One of Dave's favorite things to order out in restaurants is bacon-wrapped scallops. I have never tried to cook the little mollusks before, and last night's attempt was a success! It was so easy, elegant and delicious. Here is what I did:

8 jumbo scallops
8 slices of applewood smoked bacon
salt & pepper
cooking spray

Preheat broiler. In a nonstick pan, give the bacon a head start on cooking, by cooking for about 2 minutes, flipping once. Remove from heat, cool slightly. Salt & pepper each side of each scallop. Wrap the scallops in a piece of bacon, securing with a toothpick through the center. Place on a baking sheet/roasting pan/whatever fits under your broiler sprayed with cooking spray, and go ahead and pour all that bacon grease leftover in the other pan, just for good measure. Arrange scallops on the pan, and place under the broiler for 5 minutes. Flip them over, and broil for another 5 minutes. Eat immediately.

Let me tell you, however, 8 jumbo scallops were way too many for me and Dave. These guys were huge! I could only eat 2. Dave ate 3. And at Harry's yesterday, they were quite expensive. Next time, I'm only getting 4-6 jumbo scallops, which will be plenty for average eaters. 10 minutes was perfect for these guys, but if your scallops are smaller, you may need to adjust the cooking time. I served them with my leftover red-wine risotto from the night before, and a small salad. And, we had our drunk strawberry shortcake again for dessert. This meal will impress just about anyone, and the house smells amazing, thanks to the use of bacon and fresh seafood.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Drunken Strawberry Shortcake

Man, I love HDTV. I am being totally spoiled this week by my techie boyfriend's sweet home theater setup. Where I have a passion for food, he has a passion for cables. Gadgets. New technology. At first, I didn't understand and rejected his assertion that we needed a large flatscreen samsung something or other, but now, as I sit here watching American Idol in high def, I can criticize no more. High def rocks! I really was hooked after Christmas break, because there is very little in life that's better than blu-ray Naveen Andrews.

Very little indeed, except, perhaps, this new dessert I just invented. I served it in martini glasses, and you should too. Here is:

Drunken Strawberry Shortcake
2 slices homemade pound cake (see my previous post; it's amazing)
1 shot Godiva liquor
1/2 cup whipping cream
scant 1/4 cup powdered sugar
3 oz mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
sliced strawberries (I used 4-5 large ones)
chocolate shavings for garnish (this totally justifies my keeping half-used chocolate bars in the freezer)

First, whip cream with hand mixer until almost at stiff peaks. Add in the powdered sugar, and whip until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the mascarpone cheese, set aside. Wash and slice strawberries. Retrieve martini glasses for serving (or any clear glass will work). Break the pound cake slices in half (or tear them to fit your glass) and soak the pound cake slices in Godiva. Layer the dessert as follows: Godiva-soaked pound cake, whipped cream mixture, strawberries, and repeat for one more layer. Top with chocolate shavings for extra beautiful presentation. Take a spoon and dig in.

This was a remix of the limoncello tiramisu I made last night, that was good, but this was better. Now, don't get me wrong, I love limoncello and homemade lemon curd as much as the next girl, but there is just something sentimental, warm, and comforting about a strawberry shortcake. It was my favorite dessert growing up, and I remember when my mom switched from those nasty cardboard-flavored discs and strawberry glaze with the consistency of motor oil to angel food cake, sugar-coated strawberries and cool whip. I was hooked! My new, grown-up version is classy enough to impress a first date, or just enjoy with your sweetie. Or by yourself. Or while watching Sayid fight his way through the jungle. Whatever. It's really good, and the addition of mascarpone takes it to the next level. It's one of those "worth the splurge" purchases; sometimes you can catch it on sale for $4/half pound, but I usually pay about $5 for the same amount. What do you do with the rest of it? Try not to eat it all by itself with a spoon. Or, make it into a fruit dip with vanilla extract and 1/2 cup powdered sugar.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spring Break Means Nothing in Grad School

I stole my title from Laura G., a beloved sorority sister who is in grad school at Georgia State. It was her status on facebook today. Yeah, I'm a stalker, whatever. Anyway, I think it's brilliant and accurate. Spring break means time to catch up on all the projects you've stupidly taken on before finals crunch time. Or, if you're me, spring break is your last ditch study effort before quals. I planned my quals date strategically, specifically so I would have this week to immerse myself in all things media effects, feminist theory, content analysis, and critical/cultural approaches to mass comm. But what am I doing? Blogging! And baking a cake. I really hope no one on my committee is reading this and thinking I'm a slacker. It's just a 2 hour break. Seriously, I studied all morning! And someone very wise once told me that I can't work all the time.

Besides getting prepared for quals, the other thing I looked forward to for this week was baking. And cooking. Anything that's bad for me. I've already gone through a pint of heavy cream and a box of butter, and it's only Monday afternoon! Part of those ingredients went to my attempt at a whipping cream pound cake, found on the back of the box of Swan's Down cake flour. I have been itching to try out the bundt pan I got for Christmas, and now was the time to do so.

I will add this to the category of recipes called "things that are counterintuitive." From my culinary education on food network, I've learned that in cake baking, you always do wet ingredients first, then add the dry. I even screwed up on my own once ignoring the rule. I also have learned, the hard way, to always preheat the oven. But this time, the cake recipe called for me to ignore both of those truisms and do the opposite. We'll see how it turns out. Here's the recipe, with a few minor adjustments in the technique:

Swan's Down Whipping Cream Pound Cake
3 cups sugar
3 sticks butter, room temperature
6 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour, sifted
1/2 pint (8 ounces) heavy whipping cream

Do not preheat oven. Cream butter and sugar with hand mixer until creamy. (Note: this was really tough for me, for some reason, with so much sugar and butter. I am now convinced I need a new hand mixer.) Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and add the vanilla. With a wooden spoon, alternate adding the whipping cream and flour until all incorporated. Pour into a greased bundt pan, and bake at 300 for 1 1/2 hours. Allow to cool completely.

I'm still waiting on it to come out of the oven, but it sure smells good right now while it's baking! And the batter was delicious, so that's a good indication, right? I'm baking my own pound cake in order to make something I saw on someone else's blog - Limoncello Tiramisu. I'll blog about that one when I need another break.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rosalie's Lasagna

Rosalie is getting married in July. As you might expect, in preparation for the "big day," our eating habits in A50 are, well, healthy. Very healthy. Our diet is best described as low fat (except when I have a bad day and end up topping whatever it is I just made extremely low fat with 2 TB butter - which I have done on several occasions this semester). We are not about to give up, completely, the foods we love, so I've invented low fat versions of almost everything I make. Still pretty inspired to cook thanks to the weekend in Miami, here is my newly invented low-fat lasagna. In honor of my betrothed roommate, I call it:

Rosalie's Lasagna
12-16 whole wheat lasagna noodles
3 links Italian turkey sausage
3 cups nonfat cottage cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 jars Barilla tomato & basil marinara sauce
2 cups low-fat mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400.

Cook lasagna noodles in large pot of boiling, salted water, 10 minutes. Do not overcook. When noodles are done, remove from water, place on baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, and allow to cool slightly.

In the meantime, brown sausage in nonstick pan, about 10 minutes on medium heat.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cottage cheese, parmesan, egg, salt, and pepper.

Layer ingredients in a 9 x 13 pan in the following order: 1/2 cup marinara, 3 lasagna noodles (may need 3 1/2 depending on size of pan), 1/2 cottage cheese mixture, 3/4 cup mozzarella, 1/2 sausage, 1 cup marinara, 3 more lasagna noodles, remaining cottage cheese mix, 3/4 cup mozzarella, remaining sausage, 1 cup marinara, 3 more noodles, 1/2-3/4 cup marinara, remaining mozzarella. Bake for 1 hour or until bubbly. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

This makes enough to serve at least 6(or 2 hungry grad students for an entire weekend), and if you only get 6 servings out of it (which you should get way more than that), it turns out to be somewhere around 14 grams of fat per serving. If you are on extremely low-fat diets, this lasagna is the one for you. It's lower-fat than the competition because of the cottage cheese. While I can find low-fat ricotta, I can find fat free cottage cheese. I have shunned using cottage cheese in my lasagna for a long time, but I really didn't mind it here. I also cut fat grams by swapping my usual pork sausage/ground beef combo for a small amount of turkey sausage. While pork sausage has about 18 fat grams per serving, turkey sausage only has 9. What a nutritional bargain, as my new friend Ellie Krieger would say! It's also a very "saucy" lasagna, which is another reason I named it after my roomie. She's a saucy lady! And she likes her pasta loaded with sauce. It's definitely appropriate. I think spinach would be a nice addition (or substitute for the turkey), as long as it's very thoroughly drained. Otherwise, you'd get a watery lasagna, and who wants that?

Whoever said fat free eating isn't yummy clearly never lived with us for a semester before a wedding.