Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Lighter Chicken Marsala Part Two: The Comparison

As I mentioned in my recent post, I spoke of my love for chicken masala. I mentioned that "even in our lighter, fabulous version, there is still some debate. Cream or no cream?" A few nights ago we made a version with cream (in which I was the head chef) and tonight, my mom made a cream-less version (in which she is the head chef). The problem is: both were great! So what do we do? I guess we will determine based on whether or not we have cream in the house and how many calories (cream adds calories).

If anyone decides to try out one of the recipes, comment and let me know your feedback!

Chicken Marsala Pasta without Cream (makes 3-4 servings)
  • 9-12oz boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper, white or black (plus some for flavor in sauce)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (plus some for flavor in sauce)
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 small head garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2/3 cup marsal wine, dry (not sweet)
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • Pasta (usually fettucini or angel hair), a serving per person

  1. Place the chicken pieces between wax paper and pound to 1/2-1/4 inch thick.
  2. Mix oregano, salt, pepper, and flour. Drag the chicken through the mixture and shake off excess.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Fry the chicken until cooked through and slightly browned on the outside. Do not overcook, should be fork tender. If you need to fry the chicken in batches, that is ok.
  4. Remove chicken from pan and cover with aluminum foil
  5. Add last tablespoon of oil to skillet. Add garlic and saute until soft (do not brown), just under 1 minute.
  6. Add scallion to skillet. Saute for 1 minute (do not brown).
  7. Add mushrooms and saute for about 5 minutes. Stir the mushrooms during this process. However, do not stir them too much. And "don't crowd the mushrooms" [1]! Really, let the mushrooms sit flat on the pan so that they brown.
  8. Pour marsala and chicken broth into skillet and let simmer for a few minutes.
  9. Add cream (optional).
  10. Prepare pasta when necessary, per the directions of the pasta, but I usually put it on as the sauce is reducing.
  11. Let the sauce simmer until reduced by half. Add salt and pepper to taste (this does not require much salt or pepper, but white pepper especially brings out the flavor). Add a mix of water and flour if necessary as a thickening agent (more likely to be necessary if you are not using cream).
  12. Replace chicken into pan and reheat on low. Cover the chicken in the sauce and the mushrooms.
  13. Either place pasta in skillet and stir into sauce, then serve, or put pasta on plates and place chicken on top, pouring excess sauce over the pasta. Enjoy!
  1. I just watched Julie & Julia, which is an adorable film, and this is one piece of advice she provides. The Julie character warns: "don't crowd the mushrooms. Otherwise they won't brown."

How Early is Too Early for Holiday Cheer?

I love the holidays. In past years, I mostly loved them because I could listen to holiday music and sit by the fire while I did my homework or read. Now, I am not in school and I have been busy and lazy about getting my work done. When I was in school, I remember how much it bothered me when holiday advertising began too early (especially pre-Thanksgiving). I always had papers or finals and I wanted to only taste the holiday cheer in the last few weeks before vacation, so I did not get too antsy.

So, this year, I decided no holiday music or movies until Decemeber first. But, in terms of baking ideas (one of my favorite parts of the holidays), I figured it was reasonable to search around. Although I really should not eat holiday cookies or deserts anymore, and over the last two years I have been reasonably restrained, I can still enjoy baking them and having the wonderful smells fill the house. I can give the desserts away as gifts or feed them to friends.

This year, I found one thing I probably will not be able to resist having entirely. When I was a kid, one of my favorite desserts (and probably foods) in the whole world was an Angel Kiss. It was a blond brownie with chocolate chips lightly drizzled in a chocolate sauce. Yum! I have not had one, since I was about 10, but I found a recipe for something similar in Joy of Cooking Christmas Cookies and I just cannot resist modifying it into my old favorite. Here is the modified version of their "blondie" recipe. I have not tried it yet, but I will try it in the next few weeks.

1 cup (5 oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter
2/3 cup (5.25 oz) packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (1.75 oz) sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yoke
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup (1/2 package) semi-sweet chocolate chips

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt
  3. In a large saucepan, boil butter for about 4 minutes stirring constantly until a light golden brown.
  4. Remove from the heat. Stir in sugar and brown sugar.
  5. Let the mixture cool until barely warm.
  6. Add egg, egg yoke, corn syrup, and vanilla. Stir until thoroughly blended.
  7. Add flour mixture. Stir until entirly mixed in.
  8. Add chocolate chips. Stir until evenly incorporated.
  9. Prepare an 8 inch baking pan. Place a piece of aluminum foil in the bottom of the pan son that it hands over the narrow ends of the pan by about 2 inches.
  10. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
  11. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 28 to 33 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the thickest part comes out clean
  12. Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack and let stand until cool. 
  13. Using the overhanging foil as handles, lift the bar to a cutting board. Peel off the foil and cut into bars.

I will have to get back to you for a recipe on how to make the chocolate sauce and also as to whether these blond brownies turn out the way that I remember. If anyone tries it out, please comment!

Update from 12/20/10:
I made them. They are excellent and exactly how I remember them (although still without the chocolate sauce). There is a short preliminary review and more pictures on my blogpost "Picture Updates for Holiday Recipes (and Reviews)."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Slightly-Lighter-than-Usual Chicken Marsala

I love chicken marsala. I had my first bite when my mother convinced me to try some at New Years when I was around 12 and I just loved it. I used to order it a lot at Italian restaurants until I realized two things: first, every recipe for chicken marsala is different and second that most recipes pack between 700-1000 calories into their versions. Especially as I was trying to lose weight, this was crazy. So my mom and I took a bunch of versions and synthesized them into a fabulous version which substantially cut down the calories.

However, even in our lighter, fabulous version, there is still some debate. Cream or no cream? A few nights ago we made a version with cream (in which I was the head chef) and later this week, my mom is going to make a cream-less version (in which she is the head chef). I will let you know the results, but for now, this is my recipe.

Chicken Marsala Pasta with Cream (makes 3-4 servings)
  • 9-12oz boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper, white or black (plus some for flavor in sauce)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (plus some for flavor in sauce)
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 small head garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2/3 cup marsala wine, dry (not sweet)
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 2-3 tbsp heavy whipping cream (optional)
  • Pasta (usually fettucini or angel hair), a serving per person

  1. Place the chicken pieces between wax paper and pound to 1/2-1/4 inch thick.
  2. Mix oregano, salt, pepper, and flour. Drag the chicken through the mixture and shake off excess.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Fry the chicken until cooked through and slightly browned on the outside. Do not overcook, should be fork tender. If you need to fry the chicken in batches, that is ok.
  4. Remove chicken from pan and cover with aluminum foil
  5. Add 1tbsp of oil to skillet. Add garlic and saute until soft (do not brown).
  6. Add scallion to skillet. Saute for 1 minute (do not brown)
  7. Add mushrooms and saute for about 5 minutes. Stir the mushrooms during this process.
  8. Pour marsala and chicken broth into skillet and let simmer for a few minutes.
  9. Add cream (optional)
  10. Prepare pasta when necessary, per the directions of the pasta, but I usually put it on as the sauce is reducing.
  11. Let the sauce simmer until reduced by half. Add salt and pepper to taste (this does not require much salt or pepper, but white pepper especially brings out the flavor). Add a mix of water and flour if necessary as a thickening agent (more likely to be necessary if you are not using cream).
  12. Replace chicken into pan and reheat on low. Cover the chicken in the sauce and the mushrooms.
  13. Either place pasta in skillet and stir into sauce, then serve, or put pasta on plates and place chicken on top, pouring excess sauce over the pasta. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Maya: Codex Dresdensis

I found this on AWOL:
Codex Dresdensis see AWOL [1].
I studied the culture and history of the Maya in elementary school, then again in middle school, and then again in high school. I taught myself their numeral system and wrote my first-ever term paper on the influences of astronomy ( through their calender system) on agricultural practices. I even tried to teach myself the glyphs from Reading the Maya Glyphs. Classics eventually took over my interest, but I still find the history of the Maya fascinating, so I thought I would post this.

AWOL also linked to a Maya Glyph Blog that discussed the "classic Maya" language.

Friday, November 26, 2010

College Essentials: How to Carve a Turkey

I went to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner last night. At some point while eating the turkey, it struck me: "I'm not in college anymore." One might wonder what brought on this sudden realization: a well-carved turkey. In my sophomore year of college, a friend showed me how to brine a turkey and how to make stuffing. After that, my junior and senior year, Cynthia (and Cerinthus) and I threw Thanksgiving bashes together. The food we made was pretty incredible, if I do say so myself, and the parties were always effervescent and enjoyable, but the problem we always ran into was that there was never one person at the party who knew how to carve a turkey. We always tried to carve it, but we ended up just sort of hacking bits off of it.

This year, one of the hosts actually knew how to carve a turkey and I realized that I was out in the real world again. I thought, after having a properly carved turkey, that I should learn how to do it. Luckily, the New York Times came to my rescue, providing an instructional video. For anyone who is in college or on the way, I seriously suggest learning to carve a turkey now. You never know when you might be the hero of some Thanksgiving party and you will always get invited back.

For Christmas dinner, my mom and I always brine a turkey together, which is fabulous fun. The best part, though, are the delicious turkey quesadillas we get to make with the leftovers! Both the brining recipe and the quesadilla recipes are forthcoming in December.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pie Crusts

So I have been making a bunch of pies lately. In a previous blogpost on apple pie, I asked for anyone to provide homemade pie-crust tips. Recently, we tried a premade vegan pie crust, which was difficult to work with and flavorless. Today, I found a New York Times article about pie, which led me to one about pie crust. Sweet timing since I made two more pies tonight. Unfortunately, due to a phone malfunction, we did not have enough flour to actually try this. However, next time we will try one of these recipes (although not the one with lard).

The video can also be found here.
A question-and-answer that goes with the video is also found here. One thing I disagree with the expert on is the manner of pre-baking the crust. I used to prebake my pie crusts, but found (as did my mother) that this does not keep the bottom crust from disappearing with an apple pie, because there is so much juice from the apples. My tip, would be to sprinkle a little bit of flour on the pan before placing the pie crust in the pan and then sprinkle some more flour on top of the crust before placing the apples. I'm not the expert, but I know what works for me.

To all of those in the US, have a wonderful and pie-filled Thanksgiving. For anyone outside the US, make a pie anyway! Pies are great.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Teaching Well: An Art or Science?

I read an article a few mornings ago in the New York Times. The article was by Thomas Friedman on the crisis state of education in the United States. I found myself agreeing easily with the first half of the article. He contends that to close the achievement gap, students must learn "he ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate" (article). After this point, however, I found myself extremely bothered by the rest of his perspective, specifically two major pieces:

First, Thomas Friedman's proposed solution, that he claims has worked in some European countries is selecting only teachers from the top third of their graduating class. Intuitively this sounds good: smart teachers inspire smart students. Yet, if you think about this for a second, this rings false. Teaching SAT prep, I have realized that being smart and having the right answers is extremely important, but wins little ground in ensuring that students want to be there and that they sit down and absorb the information. What a teacher needs is enthusiasm for the subject, energy, charisma, patience, empathy, and serious critical thinking skills in order to ensure that (s)he can constantly engage the students' interest. None of these things can be measured in college grades.

Two anecdotes illustrate this point. One of my favorite teachers in high school was an English teacher that I had. He started off as a library assistant at the school, who sometimes substituted for different classes, and he was so well liked, the administration gave him a teaching position. He was well-read, eloquent, spoke at least three foreign languages, and was clearly intelligent. From a stray comment here or there, I had the feeling that he may not have graduated in the top third of his college class-- or maybe just barely. After college, he apprenticed as a stone mason in Italy and worked as one in the US for a while before deciding he wanted to teach. What made him beloved was his passion for literature and language and the fact that his experience was not limited to the books that he taught. He endeavored, above all to make students as enamored with the subject as he was. My second example is of a physics professor from my alma mater. Some years ago, he had been a student at my alma mater and was reputedly one of the most intelligent physics students we had with a GPA near if not at the top of his graduating class. Although students generally liked him because he was a nice, intelligent guy, a constant criticism that I heard from my physics-major friends was that "he doesn't understand that just because it was easy for him when he went here that it does not mean it's easy for us." Since he extremely intelligent but without proper empathy, he undertaught the material, assigned too much homework, and made his students feel inadequate. Even Cerinthus, who ended up with a very high score in this professor's class, constantly complained that the professor just did not understand how much work he was assigning and how he simply did not realize that his students could not absorb information as quickly as he did.

My point with these two anecdotes is obviously not to entirely disprove Friedman's solution, it is simply to demonstrate that there are problems with the idea that teaching well and having students enjoy their education can not be solved with numbers and figures (like only selecting teachers from the top 33% of the class). There must be other ways of enticing good teachers, such as paying off the student loans of those who become teachers or helping pay for PhD programs. I'm not sure. I just cannot believe that selecting teachers by statistics, rather than those characteristics I mentioned earlier, will not lead to a better school system.

Second, I was shocked to find that Friedman does not speak at all about the crisis of the humanities so frequently discussed by academics in the paper over the past few months. Although the sciences can certainly help students with critical thinking, and in some cased with collaboration, effective communication skills come from humanities (as well as humanities also furnishing critical thinking and often collaborative skills). If teachers have not been educated in the humanities themselves, they cannot effectively impart these skills to their students. An article I read back in September lends credence to this point. The article uses the example of a Massachusetts school which integrated humanities-style writing into every class in the entire curriculum, including math and science. The result was "In 2001 testing, more students passed the state tests after failing the year before than at any other school in Massachusetts. The gains continued. This year and last, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools" (article). I could not believe that Friedman would neglect such an important issue.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wine Snob: Expanding My Palate (Soon)

I had one of those days where I woke up in the morning (later than I had intended), realized that I had forgotten about all of the Horace I was supposed to read, knew I could not finish it in time, and just decided to relax for a little while and worry about life later. Unfortunately, that means that I ended up shirking my obligations with both Propertius II and Cerinthus and I feel like a complete loser (sorry guys!).

Since I am still working on my work on dramatic vs. compositional dating of Plato, see my recent blogposts, I spent most of the day looking out my window and re-reading Catherine Zuckert's chapter on the Laws. A good portion of the Laws, in my memory and in Zuckert's summery/analysis, focuses on moderation and specifically a debate between the Athenian and the Dorian views on wine. The Athenians traditionally drank a lot of wine at symposia and civic festivals like the Greater Dionysia. The Dorians, however, according to the Laws, are not allowed to be intoxicated in public. In the Laws, the Athenian Stranger proposes to only allow men over the age of 30 to drink in order to test their character. Overall, the Greek world seems to conceive of wine as an agent of forgetfulness and lowered inhibitions (i.e. to test a person's true character). Since that seems to be the theme of my day (and because we just got the wines for the holidays), I thought I might talk a little about wine.

I do not know much about wine, as I have mentioned before, but I like to learn. My mother found a wonderful site called Garagiste, which is run by a small importer in Seattle who sends wine when the customer has assembled an entire case. We sometimes assemble a single case (one or two bottles of interesting-sounding wines until we have collected  a case) and share the wines with friends at holiday gatherings. The set this year is entirely red wines, and most of them are "mystery wines." Since there has been a great glut of grapes over the past few years on the West Coast of the US, a number of wineries jumped at the chance to "undersell" their wines (i.e. selling them for much lower than the traditional/list price), packaged anonymously, without tarnishing the reputation of their label. I am looking forward to tasting the wine and reporting back on it at some point soon.

Plato's Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues High Society
Speaking of wine, while I have been writing this, I decided to revisit one of the movies of my youth (I was raised on musicals of the Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire era), which also involves drinking a lot of wine. High Society is a musical version of Philadelphia Story, narrated by Louis Armstrong and featuring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. I highly recommend it, if you have not seen it (although be aware, there is some seriously 1950s-style moralizing).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Project M

Apparently, the moon just isn't cool enough anymore. This surprised me, especially since the unexciting-to-non-scientists "moon plume" has made astronomers giddy about the idea of water on the moon once again (mentioned in a previous blogpost). However, since "we've already been there" (in the words of President Obama), NASA cannot gain the funding to send another person to the moon. So instead, they will send a robot.

According to the New York Times article I read, that the humanoid robot should inspire more interest than sending a man or woman in its place: "Project M’s planners say that a robot walking on the Moon would capture the imagination of students, just as the Apollo Moon landings inspired a generation of scientists and engineers 40 years ago" (article). Even more surprising is the creative funding;  Stephen J. Altemus, the chief engineer at Johnson explained that "we’re doing impossible things with really very little, if any, money whatsoever" (article) According to the article, some of the more expensive pieces have been obtained through barter and small-scale but vital experiments are engineered with cheap materials from Home Depot.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The View from Above

Over the past week I have found a couple of fascinating articles about spacetravel.

First, there are some pretty incredible pictures of the space station from the U.K.'s Daily Mail.

Second, I heard about a possible manned mission to Mars on MSNBC's Countdown. Apparently, a pair of scientists proposed a one-way ticket to Mars and create a permanent colony there. However, at the moment, they only want to send men over the age of sixty to go there because of radiation.

Third, while I was trying to find the information about the manned mission to Mars, I stumbled upon an article on a 1967 plan for a manned mission to Venus. That is way crazier than a manned mission to Mars. You can read about it on Galaxiki.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Illuminated Manuscript: Updating the Classics for a Medieval Audience

The lecture that I attended tonight was "How the French Made History: Manuscripts and Images of the Pas in Medieval France" given by Anne D. Hedeman. Andy (or Anne D.), as she was called by the person who introduced her, is a professor of art history at the University of Illinois. She seemed extremely friendly and accessible, while still communicating the scholarly tone of her work. Her lecture was also extremely well-organized and easy to follow.

Her lecture focused on the phenomenon of re-imagining the modern relevance of the past as seen in French illuminated manuscripts. She asked two questions at the beginning to focus her lecture:
  1. What role do images play in updating the texts for a contemporary medieval audience?
  2. What visual language is used in order to communicate messages to the audience.
She explained that to answer these questions scholars must look at the physical objects of the books, as well as the process of creation of the book and its intended audience. The books in which these images were presented were a large-scale collaborative effort. For these highly-decorated aristocratic volumes, the patron would hire a book-maker/book-seller who would, in turn, employ scribes and artists to make the physical volume. There are three ways that the collaboration created this visual language:
  1. Inter-visual and inter-textual references that demonstrate links between texts.
  2. Structuring the visual cycle of images in the texts themselves.
  3. A unified visual rhetoric in a self-controlled and self-conscious references to past images.
The texts that she used were generally Roman histories which had been translated into French for French royalty in order to create roll-models for virtuous kingship. The images that illustrated the text updated the garments, palaces, and tombs of the Roman parallels into medieval equivalents. This brought political equivalents for kingship, reapplying the lesson to contemporary situations.
Imagining the Past in France: History in Manuscript Painting, 1250-1500
The catalog from the exhibit [1]
  1. The lecture went on with the Getty exhibit "Imagining the Past in France."

Illuminated Manuscripts Lecture

Tonight I'm going to a lecture on French Illuminated manuscripts. The last one I went to (last December) was incredible so I am quite excited. I will report on it.

The last one was on Les Belles Heures from the collection of le duc de Berry, which is a beautiful manuscript. Hopefully this one will be similarly awesome.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Life Straw and Carbon Credits

So I found this great article in the New York Times this morning about the problems with creating access to clean water in the poorer (and drier) parts of the world. Most of the water pumps that groups and companies install fall into disrepair because the people do not know or cannot afford to maintain them. These water supplies are also easily contaminated. So how do we solve the problem? Apparently, by creating great filters.

The is already a personal filter that allows hikers to drink out of any pool. This type of filter, according to the opinion piece, can be implemented on a greater scale and work for families to clean water for up to three years. According to the article, the companies that make them can give them for free to families who need them because the filters replace the boiling of water (burning wood to make the fire is essentially a carbon emission) and the companies can profit from the reduction of pollutants (through carbon credits) and still make the filters free to the people that need them. It's a pretty sweet deal.

Monday, November 15, 2010

On Being Misplaced

I spent the weekend at a conference which focused on women in the ancient world. I thought it would be significantly easier to navigate than the Indo-European Linguistics conference because I would understand everything that was going on and have read many of the texts being discussed. Yet, it was actually harder. Although I was engaged in the content of the papers, the people were more intimidating because I was engaged in the content. I felt that if I were to talk to anyone, I would have to ask some intelligent question about their talk in order to prove myself. A bubbling resentment arose; I should be in graduate school right now. Thinking back on it, not being in graduate school is not my problem.

Not being in graduate school is actually a great thing right now. I get to explore the academic world. A friend told me about a book, Phrasikleia, a book he was reading for his thesis and I just picked up a cheap copy I stumbled upon and started reading it. I have the ability to visit conferences, art exhibits, and enjoy my discipline from many angles. My difficulty is that I cannot prove I belong somewhere by just saying the name of the graduate school that I attend. This, of course, makes the little failures (like my recent translation of Horace I.37) a little bit sharper. However, it also means that I have the time to iron out problems before I find a graduate school.

Considering this my misplaced irritations, I thought about the benefits and detriments of misplacement of words, emotions, etc. My first thought went to Horace-- poets often transfer or misplace (more accurately, displace) epithets to heighten certain passages and make them more artful. A lot of Latin poets used these misplaced epithets.

Since Sharon James' opening lecture at the conference, I have been thinking a lot about comedy (her lecture was on citizen women in Roman comedy). During the question and answer session, Amy Richlin brought up violence in Roman comedy. She explained that although it comes close, in no extant Roman plays is there any physical violence between husband and wife. Rather the violence is misplaced-- or displaced-- to slaves. According to Richlin, this is because it was no longer funny, even to a Roman audience, if the director showed violence between husband and wife onstage. In more modern humor, there is the same displacement of insults, etc., in order to create comic scenarios.

So misplacement (or displacement) is a common theme. It does not make my discomfort and the conference any less silly, but it illuminates how common it is in the human experience.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


So I realized recently, as I try to hone my Greek pronunciation, that I could not roll my R's. Although this would be considered a speech impediment in a lot of languages, in English there is no use for a rolled R, so I did not learn how to do it. In choir, I remember having to do drills with similarities to a rolled R and I always had to fake it because I could not make my tongue trill.

Over the past few days, based on lots of practice, tongue twisters, and attempts to make my tongue more flexible, I've managed to get the necessary tongue position and make the trilling R noise. Unfortunately, I still sound a bit like either a jack-hammer or a bird because I mimicked those two noises in order to try to learn the trill. Anyone have any tips (I think part of the problem is that I can only seem to do it if I have the air coming from the back of my throat)?

While I was searching around for tutorials online, I ran across this bizarre article which tells of meeting a woman who decided that English speakers are lazy and she was going to pronounce every letter written in every word. Obviously, there a whole slew of linguistic problems with this conception of language. I think English-speakers (and especially Americans) are often lazy...but primarily in their use of descriptive language and expansive vocabulary rather than in their pronunciation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wine Snob: Esterlina 1998 Pinot Noir

This is my second installment of Wine Snob (which should demonstrate how little I drink wine). One of the wines that my mother was given by my uncle was a 1998 Esterlina Pinot Noir grown in Anderson Valley.

The wine was lovely. I have only once before had a similarly aged Red Wine. It was a Pinot Noir from the vineyard of Ponticus' extended family in Santa Cruz. It was fabulous. The Esterlina wine was also fabulous, but it was totally different.

Quick Detour: My family took a trip to Anderson Valley this past summer. We went to Husch, an adorable, family-run vineyard which produces some fabulous wine. We had been there before and really enjoyed picnicking at the vineyard as well as the women working in the tasting room who provided a lot of great insight on the wines as well as talking to me about my classic background. During the trip, we stayed at a bed-and-breakfast where the proprietor recommended to look at the view in Esterlina. So we made an appointment and drove up to the vineyard.

To get there, we had to drive a long way up one of the hills that surrounds Anderson Valley. Once at the top, we were greeted by an old hippy-ish looking guy by the name of Dan who turned out to be (as he claimed) a retired aerospace engineer of some sort who now owns a fruit farm. Instead of the usual wine-tasting method at places like Husch-- where you are poured a few different wines of your choosing in small quantities-- at Esterlina it's a whole floor-show. Dan spoke about each of the wines, as well as pouring 15 or so different wines for us. He also poured half-glasses of wine, instead of about a tablespoon, because he claimed that the wind (and it was very windy) would obscure the bouquet if he poured any less. This may be true, but I traditionally do not drink more than one glass of wine, so even dumping much of it out, it proved quite intoxicating. We were also given large dishes of Cheetos and pretzels to clear our palate. I primarily used the prezels to try to soak up some of the alcohol in my stomach.

The wine-- all of it-- was exquisite. Really top notch. We bought a little bit, but fortunately the other four people at the appointment bought a lot so some of the high pressure sales were off of us. The winery is currently owned by the Sterling Family and is the crown jewel of the Sterling vineyards. They bought it off of the original owners in (I believe) 1999. The Pinot Noir vineyards are something like 40 years old and are the oldest in Anderson Valley (closely followed by Husch's vines).

The view was incredible. I highly recommend the winery to everyone who visits that area, but definitely beware of high-pressure sales and bring some people with deep pockets so that you can deflect it off of yourself.
Picture from Esterlina's Website [1].

The Wine: This wine, bottled in 1998 was one of the last years of the original owners of the vineyard. The Pinot Noir had a slightly fruity beginning. It was extremely smooth with a tiny bit of a bite about halfway through and a light, long finish. Much better with food, I had it with homemade pizza. It seemed to pair very well with the flavor of the tomato and basil.

  1. © 2010 Esterlina Vineyards & Winery

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Liminal Characters: A Group of Friendly, Intellectual Eccentrics

Indo-European Linguistics is a small, and not particularly popular, field. I once heard from a grad student in a history department that the historians thought the classicists were intense and intellectual in a way that was impressive, unnerving, and furthered their image as social misfits. She said that the classicists felt that the Indo-European studies students were impressive and unnerving in a similar way and never came out in the light of day [1]. In stereotypical fashion, I made the assumption that the IE people were going to be unattractive, socially-deficient, overly-technical misfits. I was pleasantly surprised at what I discovered.

Over the two days, there must have been about 70 people who were at the conference, although there were never more than 40 people in the conference room at any one time, and most of the lectures drew about 25. The group of professors in the room was diverse in specific interest, but they were primarily men over the age of 60 of European descent. In general, they were also sweet, although I think that they were a little suspicious of me [2]. The professors were split between those who were smartly dressed in suits, and those in shorts and t-shirts, which was amusing to me.

The rest of the room was made up largely of (I presume) graduate students in the field. Those of the students who were presenting could be divided into generative linguists and non-generative linguists and this correlated to hipster [3] and non-hipster (respectively). Even though I did not necessarily understand (or like) the methodology of the generativist hipsters, I found some of them charming and some of their presentations to be interesting. There was one by a particularly hipster student which used some kind of a crazy Apple-based web function that actually made me seasick because it was moving and changing sizes as he spoke, and he spoke very quickly. However, I found him moderately charming and I think I would have found his presentation interesting if he had not been speeding through it. Aside from the hipsters, there were a pretty diverse group of attendees from girls in tight suit-dresses to girls in hippie-style floor-length skirts to guys dressed like trendy business men to guys who looked as though they had hardly noticed their attires as they put it on. I noticed, oddly, that among the attendees and moderators, the gender split was about 50%-50% (surprising for an old-boys-club-style field), but the presenters were only about 20% female.

Overall, the conference was enjoyable and the people were eccentric and friendly.

  1. At my alma mater, there were majors that were ranked in a similar fashion (although many majors such as chem, biochem, physics, classics, and history-lit seemed to all but themselves at the top of the "crazy" pyramid). There was also the opposite side of this chain, which were the majors that everyone made fun of for neither being difficult nor academically rigorous. Psychology (excepting the neuropsychology people who most people spoke of with respect) usually landed at the bottom of the heap as the most disparagingly-spoken-of major. However, above psych it depended on the person that you were talking to as to which way they ranked the departments.
  2. They had some right to be suspicious. Not that I meant any harm, obviously. Rather, I overheard some one of the graduate students say that someone in the department had proposed the idea of having name-tags for the conference, but the proposal was roundly rejected on the grounds that "we all knew each other." The conference was free and open to the public, but I guess they expected no one new would show up. 
  3. I find it pretty hilarious that my spell-check does not accept "Indo-European" or "neuropsychology," but it is perfectly happy with "hipster." What does that say?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Eyestrain, iPads, and e-Readers

I cannot understand the phenomenon of the Apple iPad. Many of the places that I go, my first instance was when I got stuck waiting for Jury Duty, I notice people over the age of 60 with iPads. Although I understand the benefits of an easy-to-use, portable computer, I simply cannot understand why I primarily see this crowd reading books on their iPads. I am sure that enhanced e-books are awesome, but I cannot imagine why someone would want to read off an LCD screen, and this is particularly important tho those of the age group I see most often with iPads.

Apple iPad MB294LL/A Tablet (64GB, Wifi) vs. Kindle DX Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G, 9.7" Display, Graphite, 3G Works Globally – Latest Generation

Having a visual processing disorder, I try to avoid reading off of LCD screens. I print a lot of articles into PDF with programs like PDF creator and read them on my kindle. When I work on this blog, read the New York Times, etc.,  I wear a set of computer glasses with a particular color and lens that relaxes the eyes (recommended by my neurologist). I definitely understand the desire to have a computer one can stash in one's purse or messenger bag, but I can check my email on my cellphone or my Kindle DX (and without the $15 per month of the iPad for 3G which is free on the Kindle DX) and I have an 11" laptop that is much more powerful and much less expensive than the flashy iPad.

The lack of e-Ink in something which one uses for reading boggles the mind. I know that the iPad was designed for much more than reading, but most of the people I see (and this is obviously anecdotal evidence) use it primarily for reading. Even more confusing is the Nook Color by Barnes & Noble, which is a dedicated e-Reader with an LCD display. An article on KindleWorld explains that people are claiming research has been done to show that LCDs are not as hard on the eyes as originally thought, but I cannot imagine that this is true, given my own personal experience.

According to KindleWorld, there will be a new "KinTablet," in which Amazon is the e-Reader with Android technology and creating a tablet. I guess this is not surprising is the tablet is the way of the future, but according to the same article on KindleWorld, most e-Books are still bought by those with dedicated e-Readers, and the there has been a recent upsurge in sales.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Humanities-Based Discussion of Mathematics

I love math. I realized this when I took geometry and again when I took calculus. After calculus the love never dissipated, even when I decided to go into classics instead of math. Since I have been out of school, I have been looking for interesting lectures and tutorials in math.

Earlier today I happened upon this discussion between Eva Brann, Brian Greene, Mario Livio, Barry Mazur, and Elaine Scarry. It is a lecture called "Mathematics and Beauty" from something called the Philoctetes Organization. I have not listened to it yet (internet problems) but it looks great. I had some trouble getting the video on the Philoctetes site, so I found it on youtube. I seem to be having trouble with my internet so I cannot embed it into the webpage.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Conferences, Oh My!

I'm going to be spending the weekend at an Indo-European Studies conference with Propertius II (see my blogpost), so I will probably only be around sporadically. Back to blogging Monday (and perhaps before). Have a good weekend everyone!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


In general, I try not to be very political. However, I just wanted to remind any Americans to go vote today, whatever your political affiliation or lackthereof.

So anyway, vote!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Almond Poppyseed Muffins

I love almond poppyseed muffins. Cerinthus and I found a mix that we really liked from Krusteaz, but I like making them fresh. My mom and I found a recipe one summer from MrBreakfast.com to make them from scratch, and we modified it a little bit in order to create slightly lighter-tasting muffins.

Almond Poppyseed Muffins
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup nonfat milk
1/2 cup butter
2 large eggs
4 teaspoons poppyseeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons slice almonds (optional-- for garnish)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  2. Prepare muffin cups with liners or cooking spray, 18 regular size, or 36 mini
  3. In a medium bowl, cream the butter with sugar, almond extract, and vanilla extract. 
  4. Add the eggs, beat until well mixed.
  5. In a separate large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, poppyseeds, and salt
  6. Add butter and egg mixture to the flour mixture.
  7. Add milk. Stir until well mixed.
  8. Pour batter into muffin tin filling cupt to about the half-way point. Sprinkle each muffin with almond slices if desired.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes (regular) or 12 minutes (mini)  or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out free of batter. Note: the tops will not brown at all so be careful about baking time.
If you have any comments or suggestions on changing the recipe, post a comment.