Monday, October 29, 2012

My setup for the next few days (thanks Sandy)

We're battening down the hatches here - the wind from Sandy started hitting the city last night, and the rain is supposed to ramp up today.  I've made myself a scholarly nest in my apartment, and don't plan on going into the office for at least today and probably tomorrow.

I've got textbooks to catch up on reading and hard copies of papers in the event that we lose power.  I'm trying to get ahead on my research now because it relies on computer programming, and my battery won't last more than a couple hours if I'm trying to run code. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Weekend Away

Or, a Homecoming weekend, in many senses of the word. 

One of the other grads in my department has been jokingly teasing me about actually going to Homecoming.  But I really felt like I was coming back home; my college was my home for 4 years.  I could see that at big schools or those with a consistently-winning football team, Homecoming might be less worthwhile for your average introverted nerd.  But at a small school, Homecoming was the time to see my professors.  To get a hug from Miser Mom, N, and J, or to sit in a former advisor's office for an hour and tell her about the graduate program that she helped prepare me for. 

Additionally, my group of friends have made a tradition out of Homecoming; I spent three years watching my older friends come back to visit and now it's my turn.  And I adored spending time with friends this weekend, fellow alums and current students alike.  Suddenly I was back among the people who made my college feel like home.  I've enjoyed getting to know new people in my department and around NYC, but it was nice to just hang with people who've known me for a while.  Some of the conversations were deep and emotional, some were delightfully geeky, and others were just catching up on life. All valuable for friendship alone, but particularly life-giving because of how much I've missed them in the last months.

I just realized that this weekend was the first time I've been out of NYC since moving here two and a half months ago.  That feels very strange, and explains part of my (disoriented) relief at being back in rural(ish) Pennsylvania.  Adjusting to NYC was in part an adjustment to not being on that campus anymore.  The location itself played a role, and the escape from the big city to a more scenic location was definitely a blessing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How Tastes Change

I realized this week that the me of several years ago would be appalled if she could see what the me of right now was eating.

I remember being in elementary/middle school, and my friend Courtney's mom was one of those "weird" moms who made her kids eat the peanut butter that you have to stir every time because it separates.  Why couldn't she just let them eat JIF (my one true peanut butter love for most of my life) instead of that gross stuff?

Now I buy, and gladly eat with gusto, the plainest of plain peanut butter.  No additives but salt, thanks very much.  I eat my brand-name former love when I go home, and honestly? It tastes really weird now.

And beans.  I used to hate beans.  The texture put me off.  I would eat around them if they appeared in any more meaty dish, and avoid them altogether if they were the main attraction.  Then, about a year ago, I realized "hey, beans are cheaper than meat.  And healthier too."  Now I'm willfully dumping multiple cans of beans into this:
The amount of meat that I eat has been drastically reduced, and my diet has gotten a heck of a lot more varied.

There was a point in time where I stopped eating yogurt; I didn't like the taste of artificial sweeteners, but "natural" yogurt kinda grossed me out.  It was lumpy and you had to mix it up, and it tasted funny.  Then I discovered Greek yogurt, and after a transition phase where I had to mix fruit in with it for sweetening, came to enjoy the tangy sourness of it.  Now I buy tubs of plain yogurt from the farmer's market, and mix it with a little bit of honey or....

Granola.  I can remember actually gagging when I tried to eat yogurt and granola a few years ago.  The texture combination was so weird to me.  Then I tried some at Miser Mom's house at the beginning of the summer.  I have no idea what changed.  All I know is that I eat this at least 3-4 mornings per week:
Homemade granola! Me!

This is a long, looooong way from the girl who ate pretty much nothing but sandwiches and cereal if left to her own devices.  I pretty much never eat either of those things anymore, unless I'm at my parents' house.  Mostly for reasons of budget, but I'm also trying to choose healthier options.  And I really have no regrets.  Life is a lot tastier now :)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Corn Bread Muffins

I've mentioned before my love of Maki's Pumpkin Yogurt Corn Muffins, because they're tasty and freeze well.  Simple convenience food, and goes well with a lot of soups.

I made pumpkin turkey chili last week, and decided that pumpkin muffins wouldn't work.  Obviously, pumpkin+pumpkin is a little repetitive.  More importantly, my last can of pumpkin puree went into the chili; I won't buy more until after Thanksgiving, probably, because then it goes on sale.  So I got out Grandma's corn bread recipe:

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup oil (I used canola)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
To make one pan (Grandma's instructions)
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
  • Grease an 8x8" or 9x9"pan
  • Combine dry ingredients
  • Add milk, oil, & eggs with a few strokes
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, until it begins to brown
To make ~18 muffins (instructions mostly taken from Maki at Just Bento)
  • Preheat oven to 360 degrees F
  • Line two muffin tins with silicone liners (I only needed a tin and a half for 19 muffins)
  • Combine dry ingredients
  • Combine wet ingredients
  • Mix wet and dry ingredients with a spatula until just mixed
  • Fill liners halfway
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes
To freeze the muffins, allow to cool on a rack until they are about room temperature.  Then pack in a freezer bag, squeeze out the air, and freeze.  To reheat, just microwave for 45-60 seconds if they're frozen, or 30 seconds if they've thawed in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Tastes like home :)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Finally Paid

It's been an exciting month on the financial front.  My stipend comes to me in two different forms: a big check at the beginning of the semester, and then a few hundred dollars twice each month. 

It turns out my university had some trouble getting me my big check this semester.  Quite a bit of trouble, in fact.  I got an email saying I could pick the check up way back in mid-late August.  I tried several times to pick it up, and kept being told to come back in a few days.  Eventually they did cancel the check and reissue it (after telling me they were going to do that several times), and I got the check on Monday.  I had enough savings in the bank from undergrad that I could handle it without asking my parents for money, but it was going to get close.  October's rent will be a little late, but the check's in the mail.

I now have a new appreciation for the emergency fund.  I had planned to use my pre-grad-school savings as the seed for an emergency fund, but I didn't think I'd need it yet.  I was planning for far-off emergencies, like a busted computer or having a funding gap between grad school and a post-doc position.  Instead, that few thousand dollars allowed me to settle in, eat properly, and pay September's rent without resorting to my credit card.

UPDATE 10/5: I have not yet been paid.  The university apparently put a stop payment on this check after they had given it to me, so my bank returned the deposit.  I wrote myself a check from my account at my parents' bank that will hopefully clear in time to cover the loan and rent checks that are in the mail, but this could become nightmarish soon.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Once a Month Shopping, Take 2

Let's try this again.  Lessons learned from September:
1) Better planning is required to avoid mid-month runs to the store.
2) I do not remember to defrost things from the freezer.  (Food that can safely defrost in my lunchbox (soup & muffins) or that can defrost and cook at the same time (mini burgers) work well.  My mini packets of fish, which need to be defrosted before cooking, are basically untouched.)

In light of those insights, I'm changing my tact this month.  Once a Month Cooking doesn't work so well for me.  I will make more mini burgers, probably next weekend, and muffins as needed.  Aside from that, I'm looking at big, easy meals that will have a lot of leftovers.  I picked 5 recipes that make 4-8 servings from The Everything Healthy College Cookbook and Cheap, Healthy, Good's huge post of healthy one-dish meals.

My shopping this weekend basically consisted of procuring the dry ingredients for those recipes plus some pantry supplies. Quinoa, rice, cornmeal, brown sugar, lentils, spices, lots of oats, and lots of canned beans*.  And ground turkey because it was on sale at Whole Foods.  All in all, I think the cost was pretty acceptable: $37 at WF and $19 at 4th Street Coop.  Plus $4.50 getting to the Coop by subway, if we're being picky. 

One more lesson learned about the Coop: if something I want is on the out-of-stock list, I need to call them and double check.  Because I gave up and bought cinnamon from WF Saturday, and I had opened and used it by the time I went to the Coop yesterday.  Where a new jar of bulk cinnamon was sitting on the shelves.  I could have saved $5 there.

I also decided to try a one-to-one price check on rolled oats at the Coop.  I picked that one because I have a brand-name (I know...) container from the supermarket a few blocks away from me.  It's a small container, but cost me $4.39 plus tax.  So I took the container to the Coop, and got it refilled.  For $1.24.  Between that and the savings on some spices, I'm ahead even with the round trip on the subway.

*I'm aware that dried are cheaper and possibly tastier, but my aforementioned trouble remembering to defrost things means I doubt I will remember to soak beans.