Last week our internet at home went out and I couldn’t push to the repository. When trying to correct this new local (personal pc) commit a week later, I removed a week’s worth of work from my remote repository… :O I had to force push to fix it at work the next morning.
All is fine, I didn’t lose anything, but I did get very frustrated at myself over this.
Tonight, I left Kait in charge of picking a recipe which was no mistake. She picked a good, but simple, recipe: Honey Baked Pork. You simply brown the pork chops on the stove top, melt honey and brown sugar in the microwave, and bake for 15 minutes on each side- using half the sauce to cover each side. Kait has also decided to expand the scope of our explorations and explore sides as well, calling our staple of boiled carrots and broccoli “boring”. Her response was to try stuffed mushrooms, but the grocery store didn’t have any plain ones left, just these store-prepared ones. People in the UK apparently don’t like to cook… But we paired this with a little bit of rice as well as a few slices of bread with balsamic and oil.
This turned out wonderfully. We were surprised that the sauce stayed thin instead of becoming more of a glaze considering how much sugar was in it. The prepared stuffed mushrooms were very good as well, and I wouldn’t mind them being a main on their own (although I would need a couple of them). They had a cream cheese, garlic, herbs, and bread crumbs as the stuffing, though I would opt for less cream cheese out of principle. Tonight, our carbs were fairly “common” to us. Plain rice and homemade sourdough bread are frequent parts of our weekly menu.
As if I didn’t already agree with Kait, that our sides could use some new variety and creativity, sitting down to this meal emphasized this point. The pork was creative and new, the mushrooms unique, the bread artisan, and the rice… well, bland with room for imaginative improvement.
Back in October, I joined scouts again to do something that was special and important to me, and not follow anyone else. Due to the age range I wanted to work with, I joined the Newnham 11th/9th Explorer unit. Back in December, I sat with a group of five explorers to plan out this term. Last week, we planned an Ice Skating trip for the last session of the season for the rink. This week, we kicked off our camping theme with nothing other than… Fire.
The objective tonight was a simple one that we did several times at home: build a fire to burn a string that is one meter off the ground. Only rules are (i) nothing can touch/lean against the string and (ii) your structure must be on fire from the ground up. Simple enough, right? One older explorer was in charge of setting up and giving everyone the green light (and matches) to light their fires.
The night went fairly well, except for the kid who stepped on the nail from wood they broke down and the kid who got a piece of hot plastic on his ear… Who threw plastic into a fire anyway? The three groups fit one of each category that I expected to have…
First, you had the hard-core group, the group that wanted to build their own wooden fire starter and kindling by shaving a piece of wood. Their fire struggled to get started and in the end, I think they stole a burning log from the second group, the resourceful group. The second group quickly looked around, found cardboard and paper to use as kindling. Their fire got started quickly and burned through the strings quite easily. And then there was the third group, the ones who knew the objective was to burn the string and were only going to do just that. First, they tried to bring the fire to the string by building a platform out of pallets; they were stopped. So, they ultimately cut the string (claiming victory in the process), threw it into the pile of wood they had, and proceeded to light that on fire… They were the group who acted like kids.
After burning a sufficient amount of string, they cleaned up, went inside and played a few games before receiving their badges we owed them. I discussed plans for upcoming meetings with those responsible for the next few meetings and everyone was on their way… No one too hurt, no items too broken, and nothing left on fire or smoldering.
Ultimately, it was a good night. They had fun, they worked on something productive, and we dealt with what hiccups did arise (as unfortunate as it was). Hopefully, if they ever are in a situation where they need to build a fire, they can.
I saw a lot of good comics about new years, specifically this “new year, new me” comic that I thought was really funny. Anyway, I somehow missed making bread last weekend (I just kinda forgot? not really sure how it happened), so here is my first bread of 2018!
Boy am I glad to have this stuff back in my life again… I’ve really missed it over the last two weeks… I even had to get a store white bread because Kait wanted it with our stew… (neverrr againn… no more bland bread)
The next stop along our adventure of food brings us to a honey and garlic chicken, or at least a variant of the recipe. The problem with this meal became the fact that we had an idea of what we wanted, just without any clue of how to go about it: a (different) sticky sauce we could put over corn floured breaded baked chicken, like in the firecracker chicken post.
I wasn’t a huge fan of this, but it was no fault other than my own. I admit to misreading the recipe, and since we wanted to bake the chicken, it just was a poor decision from the beginning. The recipe called for the sauce to be fried in the pan as well, where as we wanted to bake it.
The chicken was very an edible meal. My mistake was adding too much garlic powder instead of pan searing the garlic with the chicken. Lesson learned. I will retry this recipe when I’m actually willing to sear it all in pans instead of baking it.
My redeeming addition to the meal was a variation of my mother’s asparagus. I added a medallion-ed courgette and a diced onion to the asparagus, lightly coated them in olive oil, and sprinkled with garlic powder and salt. This turned out much better than I anticipated and was my favorite part of the meal.
As 2018 rolls in, Kait and I have decided to make more new food. Last year we tried various pies, stews, pulled pork, pizzas, etc. that all went undocumented, un-photographed and forgotten (much like my childhood)… This year we want to try documenting it all!
This recipe was motivated by a sandwich from a chain-cafe here in the UK, a firecracker chicken “toastie” (flatbread sandwich). The ingredients list wasn’t very helpful as it lists “55% firecracker chicken mix” as the main ingredient. So we’ve looked up a recipe and decided to give it a try.
This turned out really well. The sauce is really thick, due to a cup of sugar that caramelizes in the oven. The corn flowered breading on the chicken fried well, and waiting to let the oil and pan heat up to its full heat really helped the frying process. The extra red pepper flakes give it an extra kick without being overbearing. Next time, we’ll probably use less buffalo sauce and make up the difference with hot sauce.
Last year, my parents made the long haul across the pond to come visit me in the UK for Christmas. It was great to have them here, but some of us didn’t enjoy the atmospheric deploring gloom and despairing lack of sunlight that the UK has to offer this time of year. In return, I made the trip home this year and took Kait with me, checking off her first trip to America! She was as excited as a puppy when it came to this trip, and showed her excitement in much of the same way. The trip was short, but we managed to fit a lot of “American” activities in.
First and foremost, we had to take a trip to Kroger to make a few purchases: a 64 oz bottle of my favorite BBQ sauce, a bottle of Buffalo wing sauce, 10 lbs of flour to bake with, and candy — American candy. Since you can get a lot of things in the UK, there were only a few things Kait needed to try, namely, Crunch and 3 Musketeers. Perplexed at first, she seems to approve.
To the bewilderment of my father, Kait took her first boat ride, EVER, on our second day home. Some of us got in smaller boats than others, but we decided to enjoy the best of the weather that the forecast had to offer and ride around Lake Murray. After the boat ride, we waited diligently until it got dark to visit Saluda Shoal’s Christmas lights. For 14 years now, a public recreation center has put up a drive through lights display, sponsored by various local businesses. This is always a holiday favorite of mine and is one of many stops we like to make on our holiday light tourism route. Unfortunately, one major stop has stopped putting up their lights, but seeing that they put so much work into it with very help, I can understand why they stopped.
Christmas Eve Baking
On Christmas eve, two significant events happened. First, to the bewilderment of my mother, Kait attended her first church service. This was a bit of a reverse-culture-shock to many of the women in my mother’s friend group to find that other people in the world don’t attend church religiously, or at all. The second thing that happened, arguably more monumental, was my mother tried some of my bread after a year and a half of a no carb diet!
I took my sourdough starter home and baked bread over the holiday. I made a loaf of bread for a party, pizza dough, and three dozen bread rolls to split between my family and my neighbors. It was a big hit and probably one of the better pizza crusts I made.
This year, Christmas day had three notable events. Upon waking up at 7am, I proceeded to start my baking of the bread rolls and had rolls to my neighbors at 8:30 am — they didn’t know what hit them! The second notable event was the slow migration to the presents was late this season, occurring at a record late 10:00am. Lastly, we had Christmas day lunch/dinner with our neighbors, which was a pleasure to get to host them and spend time with them.
On boxing day, we spent the day walking around downtown
Kait and I took a day to ourselves to go explore Charleston, but as with every good road trip, you need to start your day with a good breakfast, of Chick-fil-a chicken biscuits. Kait had been giving me crap for months over what a “biscuit” is… She finally got to see for herself and she enjoyed it, although it confused her. We decided she could understand it as a buttermilk scone for the rest of her life, and I will know it for all its glory, a buttered biscuit.
With the biscuit-affair out of the way, we were on our way to downtown Charleston to see the markets and Waterfront park. I’m not sure if Kait had it in for me or something, but all I could seem to get of her was pictures of her walking away from me! I was finally able to catch up to her and get a picture with her at the pineapple fountain though. We met up with a good friend of mine for lunch, Jake, before heading off to see the Citadel, Rainbow Road, and the Battery. We hit some southern breakfast food at Rarebit and head home to see Star Wars.
One of the things I learned was that pineapples are a sign of hospitality in the South. To quote from Southern Living:
The ability of a hostess to have a pineapple adorn her dining table for an important event said as much about her rank in society as it did about her ingenuity. These beautiful fruits were in such high demand, but so hard to get, that colonial confectioners would often rent them to households by the day. Later, the same fruit was sold to other, more affluent clients who actually ate it. While fruits in general–fresh, dried, candied and jellied–were in great demand, the pineapple was the true celebrity. Its rarity, expense, and striking beauty made it the ultimate exotic fruit. Visitors confronted with pineapple-topped food displays felt particularly honored by a hostess who obviously spared no expense to ensure her guests’ dining pleasure. In this manner, the image of the pineapple came to express the sense of hospitality characteristic of gracious home gatherings.
Star Wars Episode VIII
Kait and I tried to see the movie after coming back from Charleston. Unfortunately it was sold out, so we picked ourselves off and begin to head home when I overheard a dad telling his kids and their friends that they couldn’t see Star Wars because it sold out. I was crushed for him, but there was nothing we could do for them since we were in the same boat as well. We just tried again the next day after lunch with two childhood friends of mine, Kristen and Liz, who both happen to be in Europe as well (Oxford and France respectively).
Star Wars Episode VIII… as for the movie itself, I’ll air my grievances in another post… Kait got the largest size popcorn she could though. Had to make the trip worth it somehow…
One of my good friends invited me to go to dinner with him at the best Korean restaurant in all of SC: Korean O-bok Restaurant. Man, that place is great. Their grilled bulgogi is out of this world. Would highly recommend.
Basketball and Margaritas
On our last full day in the states, my brother got us tickets to the Winthrop Basketball Game vs High Point University. As a team manager, one of the perks is that he can “get us in” on the “VIP list”, which, honestly let us walk by the giant line of people waiting to get in. Afterwards, we went to a Mexican restaurant (or at least the South’s take on Mexican food — which is better than the UK’s to be fair). Since my mother had been here before, and she wasn’t driving thankfully, she decided to get a “Margarita Grande” without checking the menu. She got a fish bowl. A fish bowl full of margarita. We were impressed that she walked out of the restaurant.
The last fine dining location she needed to visit was, of course, Waffle House. She seems to have enjoyed her breakfast… it may have just been the coffee she was missing… who knows.
The biggest thing I wish I had was a few more days to spend with my friends. It’s a bit hard to be so far away from them and get so little time with them… But I’ve been fortunate to make such good friends here, and am happy to be back with them.
The trip ends here, where Kait and I pack ourselves in the steel tube called a plane and head home to start another year. This year was good, but I’m excited to see what 2018 brings.
Today I tried something new, making bread. A co-worker of mine comes in with the best bread at lunch that he bakes at home and I figured why not try it. I got the recommendation for the Book that he uses and decided to give it a shot. After spending a few days with the book, I ordered the missing tools off Amazon and set aside my Saturday to try out the most basic of recipes, a basic white bread.
The most interesting part of the book is the concept of time and temperature as an ingredient in the kitchen. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone since most recipes do call for time to bake and so forth, but the way you can manipulate time with temperature for the fermentation process is very unique — do you refrigerate it over night, or do you leave it out for the afternoon?
I was pretty happy with the whole process. I started with half of a batch, 500g of flour, to make one loaf. The initial mixing of flour and water with my hands left me shocked, the texture was something that I just didn’t imagine. The scale I used was perfectly responsive to high weights, but I had lots of trouble when it came to measuring out the 10 grams of salt and 2 grams of yeast, so I ended up guessing, albeit on the conservative side, and this caused this loaf to not rise as well. I also then decided to try increasing the batch size a little, by 25% to be exact, since the dutch oven is a little bigger than recommended. I made sure to add a bit more yeast and I think I got this one closer to correct since it rose in the appropriate amount of time.
The bread turned out really well. I’m very happy with the final result. It was moist and full of flavor. The crust was nice and crunchy. I probably could have left int in for a few more minutes, but that’s for next time.
So it’s been quite a while, and I’ll go back and write some updates about cool things that happened in the last few months, but I figured I’d go ahead and write about this one now!
All entering PhD students are “registered for no formal registration (NOTAF) until satisfactory progress has been made” and can say we are “registered for a a PhD (Probationary) or NOTAF” for the first year. The satisfactory progress includes a short presentation, a 40 page report, and an oral exam (known as a viva).
All in all, I passed. It wasn’t by any flying colors, but it wasn’t poor enough to look at failing me. This was aided by some of the circumstances regarding project handover and project definition being less than clean or clear for an extended period of time, so my progress was not held to such a high standard, nor has it made it to where I wish it was. My grasp on how to clearly deliver the underlying information, and in what order, was definitely lacking, which made for an uncomfortable few minutes.
The viva then turned from being grilled into a discussion, which proved very fruitful and thought provoking. We discussed ways and resources to improve my writing and undergo a longer writing process. They gave me advice on creating effective and concise figures, rather than my attempt to get my 11th hour data into the report. We discussed how to move forward with a project plan, which should prove most useful in the near future. Most importantly, we talked about the fact that I’ve been very detail oriented and have lost sight over the bigger picture, a skill I need to exercise and develop more.
This was a good and productive meeting for me. I feel both relieved to have gotten through it and excited to focus on improving in areas highlighted in the viva. I’m looking forward to spending the next few years in Cambridge developing my PhD.