Monday, January 31, 2011

Wine Snob: Argentinian Malbec

I spent my last day at my Alma Mater yesterday, and last night Cerinthus and I organized a little get-together. We had a rather strange assortment of food and beverages. The wine that we bought was a Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec (2008) from the Mendoza region of Argentina. When I was at home, I went with some family friends to a restaurant and had a wonderful (much higher shelf) Argentinian Malbec from the Mendoza region (as I remember). So I decided we should try this one.

Like the last Argentinian Malbec I had, this was a thick, heavy wine that was very jammy (i.e. had a full-bodied berry flavor). This one, however, lacked delicacy and sweetness. Its smoothness was disrupted by a little too much tanan and the aftertaste was not smokey as advertised, but charcoal-y like burnt toast. I enjoyed it, but it would have gone much better with food (all I had it with was some bread) and I think it's strong flavor and lack of delicacy was too much for most of the people in the group.

Friday, January 28, 2011

At the Airport

My flight was delayed. Not for very long, but it provided me with a few minutes to write. Around me sat a variety of businessmen (I am including women in this term). Although most were not dressed in formal suits and ties, all of them had collared shirts and slacks and are on either a computer or a cellphone or both. Most of the deals around me seem to be last-minute financial negotiations before the boardroom or conference table. A sweet looking woman in her mid-40s in designer camel and with the last vestiges of a Southern drawl was changing fees or profit margins by 5% in order to payback or recoup some $300,000 that presumably she had spent to start the company or keep it afloat. A tall and lanky man in his early 30s with hair just longer than the traditional business-style and a gray suit jacket thrown jauntily over his shoulder in a manner clearly attempting to convey an off-beat attitude flirted with two women from his company.

I arrived safely at my Alma Mater and have spent the time enjoying my old friends, the local cuisine, and long walks in the cool weather. I will be back to posting soon. TTFN.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fun with Math

Wandering around New York Times site this morning, I stumbled upon a math column. The column was a short run-- a fifteen part series-- by a professor of applied mathematics from Cornell University. I have not read much of the series so far, but I read the piece on the integral and I found it to be engaging.

Note: I am going up to my Alma Mater tomorrow for a week to see Cerinthus. I will try to keep up with my posting.

Wine Snob: Script & Seal

One of the wines that we got from Garagiste for the holidays was a 2007 Washington wine called Script & Seal. The wine is a mystery wine, i.e. one of the wines bottled under a false name because of a glut of grapes.

The wine is a table wine that is quite lovely. Like most red table wines it was smooth, but it had a little bit of red pepper on the finish. The taste was cool and refreshing while still being complex. It was a bit heavier on the tannans than most table wines and had a medium body. I quite enjoyed it, as did Servia.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cornstarch? We Don't Have Cornstarch!

I spoke in a previous blogpost about an easy recipe for vanilla shortbread, which I dipped in chocolate. Since these cookies went over so well during the holidays, I decided I would make a batch to bring to my Alma Mater when I visit this coming week and give the cookies out to friends like Propertius II and Ponticus. When I was making the dough last night, I only had 3/4 of the corn starch necessary to make the cookies. Industrius as always, Servia thought we should replace the missing cornstarch with either flour or powdered sugar. We settled on a half and half mixture of the two in order to try to preserve the fine grain of the cornstarch with the powdered sugar but not make them too sweet (hence the flour).

The cookies looked similar, but did not feel quite as heavy coming out of the oven. Tasting one, I realized that the flavor of the cookie is actually enhanced by the powdered sugar, but the texture is too light for the cookies.
Cookies, waiting to be dipped.

Update 02/01/11: Cookies were a hit amongst my friends at my Alma Mater, although I still ended up with some left over. Even Cerinthus liked them.

Note: The reason this blogpost is titled "Cornstarch! We Don't Have Constarch!" is because Servia went to Trader Joe's and remembered that we needed cornstarch for the cookies. When she asked, the employee said in a very severe tone: "We don't have cornstarch."

Cerinthus Returns

After a semester in Florence, Christmas in Spain, and a Mediterranean cruise, Cerinthus returns to the US. I will not get to see him until Monday, sadly, but he is home!

Also, I am beginning my review of Gregory Vlastos' Socratic Studies on Platonic Psychology.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jeeves and Wooster

I have been rewatching Jeeves & Wooster with my family since we finished Downton Abbey. I absolutely love Jeeves & Wooster. The writing is incredible and Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry have incredible chemistry I highly recommend it. Laurie plays a vapid British bachelor with an aristocratic inheritance and no ambition, while Fry plays Jeeves, the perfect gentleman's gentleman-- a snobby valet who has a good brain for intrigue. Together they get into-- and out of-- various ridiculous situations.
Jeeves & Wooster: The Complete Series
I also think the books are fabulous. I read a bit of them here and there when I am feeling sad and they cheer me right up. I grew up with the Jeeves and Wooster Omnibus, but I have recently found that some of the stories are up on Project Gutenberg. Check out My Man Jeeves and Right Ho, Jeeves. They are hilarious. I had to stop reading Right Ho, Jeeves while proctoring exams because it made me laugh aloud.
Jeeves and Wooster Omnibus: The Mating Season; the Code of the Woosters; Right Ho, Jeeves

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Machines Should Not Be Smarter Than Their Owners

I have been outsmarted, yet again, by Windows 7.

I am a PC person. Macs and I just do not seem to get along and I have always had PCs. I have always had my qualms with Windows, but Linux, in my limited experience with it (a much older version), was far too complicated. Even though the Windows interface is unintuitive and cumbersome, I like the ability that if you play around with it for long enough, you can figure out how to troubleshoot problems. Windows 7 has changed this one feature that I actually like.

My Windows 7 changes features on its own whim, and no matter how much I explore the computer, I cannot seem to get them back. I had a problem with a program whose settings had mysteriously been truncated by my over-zealous operating system (I was provided some warning about compatibility issue only after I had been searching for a remedy for the better part of an hour), and I found that the only solution was to uninstall the program and reinstall from scratch. It was absurd.

When I was at the airport coming back from my Alma Mater the last time, I had the unlucky coincidence of being placed at the gate where the Windows 7 people were advertising the media capabilities of the operating systems by having people take a picture with a Santa-impersonator. Although little kids seemed excited, the young representatives were encouraging adults as well. I was getting sick and feeling fairly miserable. One young rep had the unfortunate gall to come and ask me what operating system I was using on my laptop and trying to get a picture. I tried to courteously decline at first, but when he started questioning me on the operating system, I let out a tirade about everything that bothered it about me in a cold tone. The man, trying to maintain his advertisers attitude sort of sheepishly invited me again and scooted off to bother someone else.

Season 1 Review: Downton Abbey

A few days ago my family finished watching Downton Abbey, a series for which I provided a short midpoint-review. The series focuses on the servants at a manor, Downton Abbey, and the "upstairs family." The family consists of Lord Grantham, a man trying to keep the peace and arrange the future of his rather dramatic house, his three daughters, and his unconventional American wife, Cora. His estate is entailed to the next male in the line, which happens to be a distant cousin-- a middle class lawyer named Matthew Crawly-- who Lord Gratham must train to be the next heir as his mother and Cora band together to try to fight the entail.
Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey
The story is slow, but charming, and provides wonderfully three-dimensional characters as well as unexpected twists and turns. The serving staff provides a wonderful foil and contrast to the family above and the moments of interaction between the two groups shows the class divisions and tensions in pre-World War I England.

The series was charming, especially from the third episode on. The one disappointment was that they left the story extremely open ended. However, it appears they are preparing for a second season. I highly recommend the series and hope that the sequel is equally engaging.

Update 02/02/11: I re-watched the series with Cerinthus while I was at my Alma Mater, and he really enjoyed it as well.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bibliophillic Dream

A friends recent blog entry lead me to Ideal Bookshelf, which is artist Jane Mount's project to do portraits of people by painting the books that made a difference in their lives. I think the work is phenomenal and the project is a wonderful idea. I'm not yet sure what I would put on my bookshelf. What would you put on yours?
I chose an assortment of cookbooks from the website as a sample.

Champagne Sauce

I was at a lovely little Argintinian place the other night called Malbec. The dinner was lovely-- I went out with one of my best friends and her parents. On the specials menu was a pasta with grilled shrimp and pasta dish in a champagne cream sauce. It sounded too wonderful to resist-- and it was.

While I was napping this afternoon, my mother decided that she would recreate the dish for dinner. Not remembering the details well, she made a Champagne Chicken. It was lovely.

  • 4 4-oz pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt (plus to taste)
  • 5 sections garlic, pealed and smashed
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper (plus to taste)
  • 3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup champagne
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sliced crimini mushrooms
  1. Pound chicken to 1/4 inch thick, drag through a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper
  2. In a large skillet, put the olive oil and garlic over medium heat. Heat until it will sear the chicken.
  3. Add the rosemary and the chicken. Saute 5 minutes each side until almost cooked through.
  4. Take the chicken out on a separate plate.
  5. Add the mushrooms. Saute until they begin to brown
  6. Add the champagne. Saute for 2 minutes.
  7. Add the chicken back in. Cook for 10 minutes.
  8. Add the cream and cook until thickened.
  9. Remove chicken to a serving plate, and pour the sauce over it.
It was lovely, although we are still perfecting the idea. enjoy!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Teaching through the Invisible Wall (revisited)

A while ago, I wrote a blogpost called "Teaching though the Invisible Wall" which talked about my problems relating to my students. Having taught a few more groups of students, I have a slightly different perspective on how to relate to students.

My problems in "Teaching though the Invisible Wall": I was wondering whether it was the position of authority that barred me from my attempts to be accessible to the students. I tried to do those things that I wanted my teachers to do, such as eliminate silly games and focusing the techniques that were the most reliable. It did not seem to help.

This current class is different. They are eccentric: smart, diverse, and often sleep-deprived. Perhaps the members of this class are more like me than my previous classes. They seem to like me. At the beginning of the class, a few of the students seemed to think I could not be particularly intelligent because I was teaching SAT preparation. However, one of the students who so clearly looked a little askance at me the first day actually asked me why I was not a "real teacher" in a way that implied that it I was good enough to be whatever it was he deemed a "real teacher" to be. Maybe I have changed my style or grown acclimatized to students without realizing it.

Another possibility is that I have changed my style. I do not compare myself and my applications to those of my students, but I rather try to remember the things that they talk of so I can ask after them. Maybe it is not for a teacher to say "I know the stresses of being a student" but rather "your life is of interest." I am not sure. Perhaps the next class will prove some kind of a test case.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Midway Review: Downton Abbey

My family has been watching Downton Abbey. It is a British show on the BBC. It's a period piece with a sort of Gosford Park quality to it. It focuses almost equally between the "upstairs" life of the family at Downton Abbey and the "downstairs" servants. Both my family and I are enjoying the series. Although it has a fair number of obvious manoeuvrings, it also has a lot of unpredictable twists and turns. Sweet, slightly humorous, and well written. I am only about halfway through the seven-episode series, but I find it to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Updates: Reading and Teaching

Tomorrow I am hoping to finish and post my next blogpost on pedagogy. The current class I am teaching has demonstrated to me the importance of understanding classroom dynamics and how to foster an atmosphere of curiosity.

Part of the reason that I have been sidetracked from my blog recently is that I have been spending a lot of time reading while I haven't been feeling particularly well. I am particularly enthralled with The Family, which I received for Christmas. I also spent a lot of time with one of my best friends with whom I hope to learn Sanskrit.
The Family 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Manuscripts, Movies, and Thoughts

Today I went to see the "Imagining the Past in France Exhibit" (see Platonic Psychology) and a companion lecture: "Manuscripts and Movies: From the Medieval to the Modern." The premise of the lecture was that although technology was different in the two media, movies, like manuscripts, are a visual means for artists to reshape the past based on contemporary events and tell a specific story. Through about five examples, Elizabeth Morrison and Kenneth Turan explored the different ways of representing and illustrating the past.

The lecture was fun and interesting, although not art history focused like the other companion lecture for this exhibit. I am especially curious about the version of Richard III from which they showed clips. They used it to illustrate that updating the a concept made foreign by its antiquity, just as the manuscript artists did by putting classical figures in medieval dress, artists and filmmakers can demonstrate the universality of human themes.

Note: My sourdough starters are back to being happy again (the weather here did not initially agree with them) so it may be time to make some more sourdough bread...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Confessions of a Former Chocoholic

I used to be a chocoholic. I could not get enough chocolate. When I started Sparkpeople I put a moratorium on chocolate for a while. I found if I don't eat it (and I exercise) I don't crave it. According to the New York Times, walking can reduce chocolate cravings. The article is pretty fascinating.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hubert Dryfus and General Updates

One of my favorite things during my senior year at my Alma Mater was a group of students who read Heidegger together that I founded. The group originally gathered around Hubert Dryfus' lectures in his course on the first half of Heidegger's Being and Time that he gave at Berkeley. When I noticed that he was speaking about his new book on the radio (which I found via the internet), I thought I would listen along (you can listen in the embedded version below). His book, written with a Harvard philosophy professor, is called All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age.The book sounds interesting, although I am not sure what I think of the interpretation of the Homeric gods or φυσις. From what I have heard of the interview, it sounds like they are conflating a couple of conceptions. I will have to ask Propertius II.

All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age

Update 02/01/11: Ovid has proposed that we read this together along with our Parmenides reading. This idea intrigues me.

General updates
I have posted some recipe and reading-list updates. These updates will theoretically continue based over the next few days given that there are a lot of recipes from the holidays to add to list. Furthermore, I received (and bought) a number of books over the holidays and I want to add some of them to the list.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year, New Possibilities

I decided to take more math. It is a New Year and I think that means that it is time for me to start something new.

One thing that I hear a lot from college and post-college female friends is that they miss science or math. This seems to break stereotype. Going to an all-girls high school, I had always heard that single-gender education and tailoring classes to "the way that girls learn best" allows girls to feel comfortable in math or science (or any field) and should help confidence and begin to rectify the gender gap in the sciences. Yet, there seems to be something wrong with that theory. A number of girls who enjoyed science in high school but went into humanities, art, or social sciences instead.

Some of them probably had issues in their math or science classes like I did (as I mentioned in "Circumnavigating the Wall"). Some of them just decided another path was better, and now have changed their minds, or wish they could reincorporate math and science back into their life. The real problem seems to be that the sciences require constant devotion. To finish as a physics major in four years at my alma mater, you had to start immediately as a freshman, otherwise you could not graduate in time. However, students often changed their majors to the humanities or social sciences after the first year. The problem was not that there were less requirements-- it was that classes in the humanities and social sciences can be taken concurrently. For example, one could take a 200-level Shakespeare class, a 300-level Chaucer class and a 400-level Literary theory class all at the same time, provided instructor consent and student devotion to the subject. With math and science, there is much more of an order of things; each level builds on the previous one and requires a rigid line throughout. Most of my female friends have a large variety of interests [1], and either did not want to sacrifice most of their other interests to science or were not sure that was the path they wanted to venture down.

So what should this group of girls do, who like science but have BAs or are working toward BAs in other fields? Taking science classes after a BA is regarded by other people as "useless," "inefficiant," or "a waste of time and money." I decided that I don't care. Today I registered at a local college and when my registration is processed I am going to sign up for a calculus class. I will probably never need advanced mathematics in my life, just as I will probably never need to know the philosophical standpoint of Pierre Bourdieu, which I studied in my Lit Theory class, but I think that it will enrich me as a person.

I picked the college because it was nearby, but also because it decided to offer German. None of the programs in my area had been offering it. I guess it's because German is primarily useful for classicists and students of philosophy, neither of which really exist at the local colleges [2]. German will help me get into graduate school and will also allow me (hopefully) to eventually read the German philosophers and writer's I like in their original language.

I hope the classes are not so full that I cannot get into them. Wish me luck!

  1. There are probably males in this position as well, I just do not know any of them. Most of the guys I know who have varied interests seem to have varied interests within the humanities, or are science majors who take a few classes in other disciplines but have never wavered in their devotion to science.
  2. There is a big university near me (which has great programs in both classics and philosophy), but unfortunately one cannot take many classes there unless one is an actual student at the university.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Recipes in Progress...

I am going to spend some of the next few days reorganizing my recipe page. I will attempt to post as well (I know my recipe for Turkey brining is still waiting). I hope everyone had a lovely New Year's Eve and Day!