Life of Megan

Saturday, April 29, 2006

First pie of 2006

People who say "easy as pie" don't have to clean up the mess you create as you make a pie. Anyhow, we are finally starting to get fresh rhubarb, so as a special treat for Judson, I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie, his favorite. It is still cooling, so I'll have to update you on flavor later. I have been steadily reducing the amount of sugar I use with each pie to reach his desired tartness level--I hope I got it this time. The crust was a bit of a problem--it seems like I have to make pies regularly to turn out a pretty crust--but I think it'll taste good.

The pie is excellent! I was using the recipe in the Betty Crocker retro cookbook, but because in the past, the pie had been a bit too sweet and a bit too runny, I added 1/3 cup less sugar, and I made sure to dry the fruit as much as possible. The result was a pie that wasn't runny and that had the tasty sweet-tart flavor Jud craved. Even the crust was great--the flakiest I've ever made!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need another piece...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Random musings, Wednesday morning

My brother restarted his blog, with a new music theme. It's been pretty entertaining so far. He is nice enough to give suggestions. I am not sure how I feel about it because it will probably drive me to spend more on music then I would like.

I have been watching American Idol this year. I no longer mute the contestants while they sing, though sometimes I want to. They are down to six contestants, and last night's theme was great love songs, or something like that. I was a bit skeptical at first because I saw a quick chat with Celine Dion, but aside from not liking any of the songs except the one that was completely butchered, it wasn't that bad.

Here's who I think will be in the bottom three:
  • Kellie:Her "Unchained Melody" completely lacked passion and sounded funky. I don't think she was ever really on key. She's a big crowd favorite, but I don't think most will appreciate her sentiment that the pottery scene in Ghost was so "cute and sweet." Her naivety, whether it's real or just a marketing ploy, is really getting old
  • Elliott: He was great, but he's never come across as having much of a personality. Last night was a little better, but I don't have a lot of faith that he'll avoid the bottom three
  • Paris: She was fabulous, but she sang a song that many people don't like, and she rubs a lot of others the wrong way.
Here's who I think should be in the bottom three:
  • Kellie
  • Katherine: She has a strong voice, but she stretched it too much yesterday. I think she'll avoid the bottom three because she has a very strong following; she normally has a strong voice; and she's gorgeous
  • Taylor: He's usually strong, but his performance last night was tired and rightly compared to karaoke and bar acts.
I'd like to be optimistic and say Kellie will go home today, but I honestly can't read this show very well.

In Cold Blood is a fantastic book so far.

Pandora has figured out that I'm a nerd and has started playing nerd-rock on my Queen channel and nerd-rap on my Blackalicious channel. =( I also got some French selections yesterday. =)

That's it: I told you it'd be random.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Megan Thompson, Poker Champion

Yep, you read that correctly. I won a poker tournament. My first poker tournament. My second poker game. It was a good day.

My department hosts monthly happy hours so that we can relax and get to know each other better. These usually have strange themes. We had Mardi Gras, a celebration of comfort foods, international day, etc. This month, the special event was a Texas Hold'Em tournament. It was free to play, and there was a reward for the top player. I've wanted to try poker for a while now, so I thought I'd give it a shot. In case you don't know, winning in poker is all about skill, so it's a game you have a decent chance in if you are relatively good at math and intuitive. I knew I wouldn't stand a chance against someone really good at reading people, but I was comforted by the fact that neither can most engineers and that none of us have really spent a lot of time playing. You are supposed to go into a poker game believing you can win. I went in believing I could make it past the first table.

The Tournament:
We played no-limit poker, and the blinds went up every ten minutes. I noticed right away that most of my table were playing every hand. Raju, who had never played before, got a little coaching from Jud, who was just spectating, and folded often. I did too. We had eight people at our table--that's a lot of free chances to bail. So as my pocket cards were consistently such beauties as a 4 of clubs and a 7 of hearts, I was folding and watching. I actually got to the point where I had a pretty good idea of whether people were bluffing, and if not, what they actually had. I played a few times when I had a strong starting hand and mostly won. Since I know I'm bad at bluffing, my strategy was to make people think I would never try. Then I built in a little bluffing later. I'd also play with nothing (if forced in by a blind and able to check my way through or bet very little) if I knew someone else was probably bluffing and won a few that way. Little by little, I pulled in more chips and watched my opponents lose more. At the final table, I was short-stacked vs. the blinds (but second or third in chip count). I got a great hand--king and jack of clubs--when I was late in the bid order. I went all in before the flop, and I got a couple of takers (I thought I would probably just win the blinds and whatever had been thrown in so far, but I knew my cards would probably back me up. I think that my large stacks of lower-valued chips tricked people into thinking I had less money than I did). As we flipped our cars, everyone groaned. I ended up with two pair--kings over jacks--and won. From that point on, I was the chip leader by a large margin, and I knew that if I didn't make too many mistakes, I'd win.

Finally, it happened, and I got a really cool poker set. =)

In other news, I finished Like Water for Chocolate and have moved on to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Next will probably be Isabelle Allende's The House of the Spirits (wanting to experience more magical realism--this particular book at the recommendation of my brother) and Kramnick and Moore's The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State, following my fiction/non-fiction rotation.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Penne arrabbiata

I like making my own pasta sauce, as long as I can either plan ahead and make it on the weekend (a la my Nana Jean) or I can make it in less than an hour (which works anytime because Judson is typically patient if he thinks dinner will be tasty in the end). So when I noticed a recipe for arrabbiata sauce in the current issue of Runner's World that only required a few ingredients and cooked up in about 45 minutes, I thought I'd give it a whirl. I've cooked it twice now, and I think it may become my standard sauce (this sauce is so cheap and so easy--and more importantly, so good--that it really makes no sense to buy sauce after trying it out). So I thought I'd be nice and pass along the recipe. It should serve 2-3 people.

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • One small onion, chopped
  • 4 oz. pancetta (or thick-cut bacon, if pancetta is unavailable), chopped
  • One garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • One (28-oz) can diced tomatoes
  • A pinch of sugar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12 oz. uncooked pasta (penne and fusilli work well)
  • Parmesan cheese, to taste

  • Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.
  • Add garlic, onion, and pancetta and cook (stirring frequently) until onion is translucent, about five minutes
  • Add crushed red pepper and cook until pancetta begins to brown
  • Add tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper; stir well; bring mixture to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer, partially covered, for approximately 30 minutes or until sauce is thickened. Stir occasionally. Cook pasta while sauce is simmering.
  • After draining pasta, mix in half the sauce. Plate the pasta, cover with remaining sauce, and top with grated cheese. Enjoy!
I like to use my cast-iron skillet for this recipe because I find it particularly excels when sauce reduction is involved in a recipe. The only issue here is that whenever you use cast iron with an acidic food (like tomatoes), you have to be more careful about seasoning the pan.

If you make this recipe, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Bon appetit!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good quotes today

I have the personalized Google page set as my homepage, and along with the news and my email and some other things, I have four quotes of the day. Here are two from today:
Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?
- Henry Ward Beecher
Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
- Mark Twain

I couldn't have said either better myself. =)

I have been thoroughly enjoying Like Water for Chocolate and am up to "July." I'll probably finish it this weekend. I encourage everyone to give it a read. It's romantic, whimsical, has a wonderful lyrical style, and the characters seem so full and three-dimensional, despite the fact that not much time is spent thoroughly describing them (situational characterization--woo!). The magical realism is a little strange, but I am really enjoying these bits of magic in the otherwise realistic story.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Vow of silence

About ten days ago, Wednesday evening, I suddenly noticed my breathing wasn't normal. I figured it was some kind of asthma flair-up and didn't worry too much about it throughout Thursday, as I coughed away. I was tired and had a headache, but I hadn't slept well. Friday, I went to the doctor, having decided I actually had something flu-like (without the aches and high fever) and that I probably had a sinus infection anyhow (I'd been working on one), I went to the doctor.

Two and a half hours later, I left the doctor's office with hefty prescriptions for prednisone (a steroid) and antibiotics. I got a breathing treatment while I was there, but most of the time was spent worrying about DVT, which seemed highly unlikely from the start. Anyhow, my coughing started to improve, and I didn't feel short of breath anymore within a few days. The fatigue continued, and so did the headache and cough. I spent most of last week taking it easy. I'm feeling a lot better, but not 100%. Sometime around Monday, I got laryngitis. I haven't really been able to talk since.

It's been frustrating, since I'm a talkative person and all. I'd like to say I'm working on being a better listener, etc, but I think what's really happening is that I'm working on facial expressions. I don't have time to write notes. It's a good thing I type fast.

The nice thing about having laryngitis is that people are especially nice to you at doctor's offices, and at church you don't have to sing along to hymns when you can't really read music and you certainly can't carry a note. I figure it's okay anyhow, since I've been going to a Presbyterian church, and unlike the Methodists, the Presbyterians do not seem to have rules about singing that apply to the general congregation. (Go to a Methodist church sometime, and flip through the hymnal--you should see these rules printed there.)

Meanwhile, my mom has been calling me "froggy" and has illogically called me more frequently than normal. Thanks, Mom! You know, she's a nurse--she should know better than to make me talk.

The boys in my lab seem upset that I am not gargling warm salt water whenever I do need to talk to them, but they don't work to get to the phone before I'm stuck answering it either. =P

That's about all I have to say about not being able to talk. In other news, Jud and I started looking for houses, and I finally finished reading 1776. I had no idea 1776 was such a hard year for America! The book was fascinating, and I now feel much prouder to have once lived near a city named for Henry Knox. I started reading Like Water for Chocolate last night. I haven't been able to get into Latin American literature so far, but I think this book has promise. So far, I've read the January installment, and I think that I'll enjoy it for the language, if nothing else.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Just in time for Easter...

It has come to my attention that the great confectioner Jelly Belly has developed the one treat that jelly-bean loving athletes every where have long awaited--the Sports Bean. This is basically a Jelly Belly jelly bean that has added electrolytes, thus removing the need to slurp down semi-palatable gels. Right now, they only seem to come in a variety of Gatorade-inspired flavors, but can Sports Bean sours be far away? Or peach? Or caramel popcorn? Mmm...