Monday, December 31, 2007
Hola from Puerto Rico! I must say, this place is awesome -- great weather, nice people, and fried plantains. Oh, and today I had two free rum drinks thanks to the nice people at Casa Bacardi. We've been doing lots of sightseeing and lots of relaxing, and I am working on a nice tan.

It's really amazing how consistently nice the weather is here in San Juan. In fact, we were kind of surprised that the Weather Channel was on the hotel cable, because when the weather is the same every day, why bother watching a forecast? Yeah, yeah, hurricane season is five months out of the year, but right now is around 80 and sunny every day. When it rains, it lasts about ten minutes, and then it goes right back to being sunny. Pretty great, considering I was shoveling snow a week ago.

In any case, I must go back to my relaxing. Happy and healthy new year to all, or as a guy on the city bus said loudly earlier this afternoon, felicidades por el mundo! I told you people are nice here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007
All of us here at hope you had a merry, enjoyable, minimally dysfunctional Christmas. And if you don't celebrate Christmas, we hope you saw a great movie and enjoyed your dinner at the Chinese restaurant.

As for me, I am digging out my sandals and bathing suits and shorts and tees, stuffing said items in suitcases, and charging all of my portable electronic devices. Why? Because tomorrow we're flying to Puerto Rico for eleven -- eleven! -- days of warmth and relaxation. It's our honeymoon, and I cannot wait to be lounging on the beach with a fruity rum drink. My goal is to write a few updates, but if I'm too busy relaxing or too tanked on cheap rum, we'll be back soon enough.

Sunday, December 23, 2007
While I am now officially off of work, I'm not sitting around doing nothing! In fact, over the past few days, I have been cooking and cleaning at a clip not seen since the advent of feminism. At least not outside of Martha Stewart's house, anyway. I am in the middle of an enormous top-to-bottom house cleaning. Due to the busy nature of our schedules these past few months, the cleanliness of our house has suffered quite a bit. So I thought it was about time to do something about that. Plus, we had some friends over for dinner today, and both couples have babies, and suddenly when babies are coming over, we get real conscious of how baby-friendly our house is. I don't know that it's super baby-friendly, but I think it should at least be clean. I don't want to be the friend with the dirty house and the dirty rug that the baby isn't allowed to sit on.

And the cooking -- my god, the cooking. We wanted some treats to give to our neighbors, but after last weekend's fudge disaster, we had nothing. So on Friday night, I assembled, rolled, and baked eight dozen (yes, eight dozen!) chocolate-raspberry rugelach. Not a lot of people out here know what they are, and they look nice, and they're Jewish, which I have to say, I get a little kick out of, especially since we give them out as Christmas presents. Yesterday I put some in little bags, tied them with curly ribbon, and we passed them out to our neighbors. Everyone really liked them (and one of our neighbors said I should set up a stand on the main drag in town and sell them, because people are in a shopping frenzy these days and will buy anything for ten bucks), but we got the best response from our older artist neighbor, who got so happy, hugged us both at the same time, and wanted to write down exactly what they were so he could write about it later. Talk about good cheer.

And then today we had some friends over for dinner. It was a lot of fun, and I was glad that we had a clean house, since one of our friends let her baby crawl around on the floor. But of course, it was exhausting. I think I need to lie down for a while.

Thursday, December 20, 2007
One more day of school! And tomorrow's sort of a wash anyway, since some kids have already left town for vacation, a few don't even have school, and the ones who will be there physically will not be there mentally. So really, no pressure. Honestly, I don't think I've ever looked forward to a winter break like I've looked forward to this winter break. This past semester has been seriously trying, and I'm ready to just put it behind me. However, on a positive note, I did get a 4.0 in all my classes, so I feel pretty good about that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I consider myself a fairly good cook, but in the past few days, I have conceded that I am just no good at making fudge. I'm not sure what the problem is, and it's not like fudge is super hard to make or anything. There's always a handful of idiotic teenagers mixing it up in big copper bowls in candy shop windows in any summer seaside town. Granted, those places usually put a pound or two of paraffin (aka wax) in their fudge to give it that fudge-like texture, whereas I don't really like to eat wax and therefore don't use it in my fudge, but still. Other people can make fudge successfully, yet I cannot.

A few years ago, I tried making fudge from the recipe on the jar label of marshmallow fluff. After years of snorting at that recipe whenever I held a jar of marshmallow fluff in my hand (and usually a spoon in the other hand), I had tasted the fluff-recipe fudge at a party and decided it was really good. So I went home and tried to make it and failed. But I chalked that up to not having a candy thermometer at the time and just not knowing what the soft-ball stage of sugar looks like. That time, the fudge didn't set up right; it was too soft and not very fudge-like in consistency. But the resulting goo tasted pretty good, and when I was invited to a last-minute party the night of the failed fudge and needed to bring something along, I rolled the mixture into balls, coated the balls in hot cocoa powder, brought them to a party, said they were truffles, and everyone loved them. That was possibly my best recipe-gone-wrong food salvage ever, but I digress.

But this time, I wasn't so lucky. I decided to try Alton Brown's recipe for chocolate fudge, because Alton's recipes have always been excellent. (Well, with the exception of the incredibly infuriating butternut squash dumpling recipe that took four hours, but I digress again.) I usually make something to give to friends and neighbors this time of year, and fudge seemed like a nice option. Plus, I had seen Alton do it on tv, and I was pretty sure that I could replicate his results. So I took the recipe and I followed it to the letter. I measured and stirred and timed and everything. Plus, this time I used a candy thermometer and waited until the temperature of the fudge reached the soft-ball mark. And, I even used some good, expensive Ghirardelli chocolate so that the fudge would taste extra special. I got my mixture boiling and bubbling and up to the designated temperature, pour it into my prepared pan, and waited. And didn't set up. It was sludge. And, it was grainy. And, even more shocking, it didn't even taste good! I mean, this was sugar and butter and half-and-half and chocolate, and not just any cheap-o baking aisle chocolate, but good San Franciscan Ghirardelli chocolate! It just tasted bad. I can't even explain how, but needless to say, I couldn't even salvage it by making make-shift truffles. The whole batch was bad. It killed me, but I pulled it out of the pan (easily, because I followed Altons advice and made a little parchment-paper removal device in the pan) and dropped the whole thing in the trash. It made a loud thunking sound when it landed.

I think that was my last venture into fudge-making territory. From now on, I will eat fudge made only by others and made by rip-off seaside shops. Which is actually the only fudge I've ever really eaten anyway, so I guess it's not a huge deal. But I can't understand why I can't make it. Oh, and the neighbors? I'm making rugelach for them. I know how to make those, and everyone says they're good. And, they say "happy holidays" without saying "Merry Christmas." Because, you know, they're Jewish cookies.

Sunday, December 16, 2007
I always get my car serviced at the same place. It's the place where I bought my car, and while I know a lot of people who would rather change their oil themselves by sucking it out through a crazy straw than take it to a dealership, I actually like the dealership that sold me my car, and I think they charge prices that are fair. Anyway, I recently had some major service done, as my odometer just clicked past 100,000 miles, and when I went to pick it up, I was reminded of something kind of funny. For the past year or two, whenever I've had any service done to my car, whether it's having some parts replaced or just a simple oil change, the work slip always has "JEW" typed all over it. And every time I see it, I think to myself, why did they put JEW all over the work order for my car? Sure, I'm Jewish, but what does that have to do with getting work done on my car? And then I start to get sort of pissed, because I feel like they're singling me out, like, oh, this is the Jew's car, so we don't have to do such good work on it, or whatever. But then I realize that no, they're not singling me out, and I'm really kind of paranoid, because JEW is just the initials of the mechanic who works on my car. Heh heh.

Saturday, December 15, 2007
We had intended to get up early and go to Chicago for the day, but when we woke up and saw the wintry forecast, we scrapped our plans and just stayed here. Too bad, but considering the cold and snow and slippery-ness outside, I think we made the right decision. And it was actually really nice to sleep in and have the day off. I read, I watched a movie, we took a long walk, and I made a good dinner. And I'm pretty sure I'll sleep well tonight. Chicago would have been fun, but this was good too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007
I know it's a newspaper, but one of my favorite features on The New York Times website is their video. Specifically, I really look forward to Thursdays, because that is when they post a new video from Mark Bittman, aka The Minimalist. I've always appreciated Bittman for his cookbooks; I bought his How to Cook Everything book several years back, and I've probably made more recipes out of that book than I have out of any other cookbook I own. He's just remarkably good at breaking down seemingly complicated food into easy steps with ingredients that I can find at my super local megamart. (Which, admittedly, has gotten much better in the past few years, what with its new international foods aisle and improved spice and baking section.) Then, when I discovered a year or two ago that The New York Times hosts short videos of him cooking his tasty but easy recipes, I started looking forward to them on a weekly basis, and it kind of makes me sad when he skips a week. The videos aren't even that complicated: they're just three or four (or maybe five) minutes long, they look like they were produced in iMovie, and the shooting is simple. But they're fun to watch, and I've made a significant portion of the recipes he features. Plus, he kind of reminds me of my Uncle Mitchell, and I find his New York accent and gruff nonchalance very endearing.

This week, for example, our friend Mr. Bittman makes ganache truffles for us. Look at this video -- look at how easy he makes it look! Don't you want to go to your kitchen right now and whip some up? The Barefoot Contessa never makes it look this easy. To make her truffles, you need imported espresso powder and small-batch brandy. Those things are nice, but I sort of don't have them just sitting around the house waiting to be stirred, a tiny bit at a time, into some complicated recipe. And even if I did have them, they'd probably be stale or rotten from having sat on my shelf for so long, because let's face it, how often does one use imported espresso powder? Unless you're the Barefoot Contessa, not much. (Please note that I do actually like the Barefoot Contessa, and I think her recipes are delicious and more or less fool-proof, but she does have high expectations of her readers and viewers. A Hamptons mind-set, I suppose.) But back to The Minimalist - he makes smoothies! And glazed carrots. And delicious barley made with leftover Thanksgiving turkey. (Or at least it looks delicious.) And it's all so easy! Go watch them and tell me you don't want a smoothie right freaking now. Can you tell me that? Can you? No, of course you can't.

I will admit that sometimes his recipes are a bit too simple. He does sometimes focus too much on the ease of preparing a difficult dish and forget to add the little things that make it so delicious (just one measly teaspoon of tarragon and no other herbs in an entire dish of stuffing?), but it's easy enough to adjust the recipes with your own preferred herbs and spices. And he does have the shiny, powerful, and new (and, in all likelihood, free) small kitchen appliances and pots and pans to do his cooking with, making all that chopping and slicing and dicing easier than it probably is for most people. But still, he's fun to watch and he makes good food and I can usually make his recipes without making an unscheduled trip to the store.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Okay. So I've had a chance to sleep, and a chance to drink some wine, and a chance to get a massage, and I have to say, I feel better than I've felt in a while. The bags are still under my eyes, but I think they'll be gone by the weekend. And I don't have any crappy schoolwork to do! My brain is still a little fried, though. I just watched Paprika, for example, and I'm totally confused. That's okay, though. I have a feeling it would have confused me anyway. I think I need a few more days of rest and decompression, and things will be back to normal around here. No more of this twice-a-week crap.

Monday, December 10, 2007
Finally finally oh my god finally, I am finally done for the semester. Fifty-three pages for one paper, ten for another, print them out (it takes a while!), and I am done. And now, I am going to sleep.

Thursday, December 6, 2007
From an actual conversation on Tuesday:

Girl I go to school with: What's today's date?

Me: December 4.

GIGTSW: Wow, tomorrow's my birthday.

Me: Happy birthday.


Me: How old will you be?


Me: How old?


Me: Oh. Well. That's old.

(And I'm not sure what all I said after that. I might have looked at someone who overheard our conversation and tried to raise an eyebrow. I say tried because I can't really raise my eyebrows. Not one at a time, anyway. Whenever I try, I just end up squinching my face into a stupid expression. So I probably should have just written, I might have looked at someone who overheard our conversation and squinched my face into a stupid expression.)

So yeah, if 26 is old, I don't know what that makes me, but I turn 33 tomorrow. And I'm okay with that. I don't feel particularly old, but then again, I haven't had much time to think about it.

Monday, December 3, 2007
Holy crap. I forgot about this whole end-of-the-semester rush. It really sucks. There's all this work to do, and very little of it feels interesting or relevant. One of my professors said he's flexible on how we turn in our written final, so I'm writing it as a screenplay. Seriously. Because if I have to write another rambling seven-page paper, I will take a hammer to my fingers. It's freaking enough already.

I remember back in college -- in real college, not this crazy, last minute, No Child Left Behind grad school deal to keep my job kind of college -- at the end of the semester, my friend Jay would invariably finish all of his exams and papers before I would, and he would come over to where I was furiously typing up a ten-page something or other, and say, Hey Scoop, guess what I'm reading? And I'd say, What? And he'd say, Whatever I want! I'm kind of looking forward to saying that next week, except there's really no one to say it to. I haven't seen Jay in a long time. Well, maybe I can say it to the people I'm taking classes with. Some of them might appreciate it.

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