27 April 2010

The Great Job Search

I graduated (well, will graduate on May 13) with my terminal degree.  Which means ... I have to get a job.  A real job.  A 40-hour a week, don't stay up till 4 am on a weekday, wear grown-up clothes kind of job.  As some of you may have noticed, we've got a little bit of job shortage right now.  Pair that with my general disdain for contacting complete strangers and talking myself up, and you've got one unemployed Jamie.

So here's the thing: I have applied for some jobs.  Jobs that I am wildly unqualified for (like professor at MIT!).  So far, I have applied for six or seven actual job openings and I've just randomly sent my resume to two other contacts from conferences long ago.  So far, no bites.  Sure, I've only been working on it a month, but I haven't really heard back from anyone.  The lack of feedback is disheartening, but I know that several positions are accepting applications for another month or two.  I don't expect to hear back about those for ages.  And I do have a job in the interim; my advisor is keeping me on as a post-doc pretty much until I decide to leave.  Believe me, part of me wants to stay indefinitely.  I know this job; I like this job; I can do this job.  But a much, much larger part of me is ready for a change.  So I keep applying.  I'm going to try to apply to two or three jobs a week, which is a modest goal compared to friends who apply to at least one job every single day!  If I hear anything promising, I'll report back ...

If you know of any jobs for PhDs interested in research in empirical modeling methods for system monitoring, fault detection and diagnostics, and prognostics, for god's sake let me know!  I am also entertaining the idea of opening a bakery.  Really, what vegan doesn't entertain that idea.  It seems that we are all bound by the love of baked goods, both savory and sweet, and the desire to make those goods easily available to the public.  But I digress.  I think that opening a bakery will be immensely more difficult than finding a research position that I'm qualified for and at least marginally interested in.

Have any of you been on the job market lately?  Do you have any tips or tricks for landing a great position?  What about cover letters? .... I hate them already.  Wish me luck!

25 April 2010

Boring Beans and Rice? I think not!

Brown rice, black beans, spinach, baked tofu (marinated in the Universal Marinade pg 164 from The Candle Cafe Cookbook and baked in my toaster oven for ~20 minutes at 400*, flipping about half way through), raw walnuts, pineapple, mushrooms, mung bean sprouts, avocado, tomato ... I think that's it. Really, do we need any more?

24 April 2010

Feeling Loopy?

This post has nothing to do with food, so if that's what you're here for then you can move on.  It also has nothing to do with Nuclear Engineering ... so ... sorry, on the off chance that anyone has ever stumbled across this blog in the hopes to learn more about black body radiation or quantum tunneling.

No, folks, today I come to you with a very serious message about procrastination.  Now, some people will tell you that killing time is just that -- murder.  These people are wrong.  I, personally, have a whole slew of favorite ways to kill time: google reader (300+ blogs and growing), reddit.com, stumbleupon.com, knitting and crocheting, stopping to talk to everyone I pass as I walk down stairs and probably fifty feet to get a cup of coffee at work (effectively turning a 2 minute task into a half hour break) ... 

Procrastination is a skill I've been honing for years, long before grad school or even college.  In high school, I had an even longer litany of extraneous activities.  A favorite in those days was taking an "inconspicuous" turn at the classroom computer.  When I was in high school, computers were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are now (and I walked two miles in the snow to get there, uphill!).  Some of my classes had a computer that students were technically allowed to use.  My fellow students and I took advantage of this opportunity in several classes.  My fondest computer time wasting memories involved trying to win free food at a local fast food restaurant (Pal's Sudden Service) in English class and playing Loop in AP Chem.

The idea behind Loop is pretty simple ... you just draw loops around butterflies, trying to meet a quota before the sun sets.  Several friends and I spent HOURS playing this game during a year of AP Chemistry, and we got pretty good.  I hadn't really played the game since high school, or even thought about it.  Yesterday, I was traipsing around in the woods with my boyfriend (another favorite time waster of mine) when I spotted several small butterflies fluttering around.  For some reason, this reminded me of Loop and my addiction to helping Ada, the young butterfly enthusiast.  Naturally, I searched for Loop as soon as I had a free minute on my computer (which quickly turned into a spent hour of looping butterflies).  I figure, if I'm wasting time online, then everyone should be!  So I'm passing Loop on to you.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and if you manage to get past level 23, let me know! I keep running into those damn bees. 

On an only slightly related note, whenever I hear the word "loop", I can't help but think of this Ween song featured on Spongebob Squarepants.  Enjoy.

20 April 2010

Beauty is in the tummy of the beholder

Perhaps not the best picture, but trust me when I say this pizza was beautiful.  Based on the Thai Chik'un Pizza from Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan (pg 148), I used the peanut sauce that Dreena gives but mixed the toppings up a bit to use what I had.  Here you have mushrooms, spinach, chickpeas, fresh pineapple, red onions, fresh jalapeno, shredded carrots, and a squiggle of sriracha hot sauce. Easily the most delicious pizza I've made in a while and a nice change from the standard tomato base.

19 April 2010

And then the professor and I made a coconut phone ...

I found coconuts at the asian market for $0.69 each.  I have never, in my life to this point, done anything with a whole coconut.  So, naturally I bought it.  And let it languish on my counter for a week before I realized inspiration would not beat me over the head.  So I turned to the internet for guidance.  I started with how in the heck do I open a coconut? and then moved on to something I could do with the actual coconut meat.  Will start with the how and move on to the what ...

* Locate your sad little coconut face *

* Knock something through the eyes and drain the coconut water to save for later.  I started with tiny little nails, but moved on to larger things like screwdrivers *

* Drain coconut water. I got about 3/4 cup out of this bad boy *

* Beat around the middle of the coconut with a hammer to crack it open. This is the fun part. *

After you get it open, you have to pry the meat out and then peel the thin, wooden skin from the back.  I don't have pictures of this part, but you need a strong knife and a strong arm.

So, now you have coconut meat.  What can you do with it?  I've been reading about Artisana Coconut Butter a lot (mostly on chocolatecoveredkatie ... that girl loves some coconut butter!).  I haven't had a chance to buy some of this glorious spread, but I have definitely wanted to try it.  What better thing to do than try to make my own, right?  So, onto the interwebs I went.  I found a lot of recipes for making coconut butter at home, but they all started with coconut flakes, not whole, raw coconut.  This one seemed promising, so I went with it.

I dehydrated the coconut meat in my toaster oven at a low setting for about an hour, then dumped it all in my blender and went to work.  I blended that stuff for probably 15 minutes total, and couldn't get past this stage:

I can really only describe this as "fluff", never quite getting the buttery consistency I hoped for.  I jarred up my fluff to save for toppings and sandwich fillings, but I'm not sure what went wrong.  I found a few answers here.  This home coconut cook actually seemed to be trying to get this fluff (which she oddly gave the same name!).  She used thai coconuts to make coconut butter and brown coconuts for fluff, and I suppose therein lay my downfall.  Luckily, the blog has some ideas for coconut fluff usage, so all is not lost.  All-in-all, I'd say it was a successful venture and gave me something to do all day Sunday :)

If you're looking for a great way to spend a few minutes, head over to Vegan Crunk to enter to win a copy of American Vegan Kitchen!

18 April 2010

I could just Daiya

I live in a sleepy little hamlet in East Tennessee (okay ... maybe not so little, but not so big either).  While I know I'm not the only one here, I am in fact the only vegan I know in Knoxville.  We aren't exactly oozing out of the walls.  So when I see amazing new vegan products online I don't really expect to see them on Knoxville shelves any time soon.  Imagine my shock and excitement when I walked in to my local Earth Fare and found this:

With all the hubbub I've been reading about Daiya for the last few months, I picked these bags up at first sight (well, after a moment of breathless excitement).  There was no price tag with these little babies, but I didn't really think twice about buying them.  It is a particular bread of evil genius to splash the vegan blogosphere with a new product.  It is not often that cost isn't an issue (I did check the receipt afterward ... $4.49/bag ... not *too* bad, I guess).

As soon as I got home, I had to indulge a craving I've had for the last few weeks: NACHOS!  I have been jonesing for a big plate of ooey-gooey nachos for about a month, and behold!  Tortilla chips, black beans, onions, daiya cheese, salsa, and avocado.  Nachos fit for ... well ... a vegan.

So, my official, fairly uninformed verdict on Daiya so far is this: buy it! It melts, it goos, it satisfies.  I wouldn't suggest that you eat it by the handful by any means, but it lends a great "cheese" texture and flavor to dishes like this.  I know that $5 a bag is a bit steep, but I do not have buyer's remorse on this one.  Next up?  Pizza, grilled cheese, fondue.  Everything that needs some cheesy melting action.

That's right ... that's ooey-gooey goodness!  Eat your heart out :)

14 April 2010

WIP Wednesday


Well, this is my first ever WIP Wednesday.  I don't spend nearly as much time as I'd like doing crafts, but I know that all that time in front of the TV could be at least semi-productive if I just picked up some knitting needles or a crochet hook.  I'm hoping that posting my weekly craft project will give me some impetus to actually work on things and whittle down my massive (and I mean massive) yarn and fabric collection.

For my first ever show-and-tell, I've got this crocheted blanket that I'm working on.

It's loosely based on a pattern in The Happy Hooker, but with a very different color scheme.  A few years ago, a local yarn store went out of business, and I took advantage of the 80+ % off sale to stock up on a ton of yarn.  And the yarn has pretty much been sitting in my closet ever since.  This blanket is basically meant to be a "use up some yarn" project, and I think it's turning out very well so far.  The thing I really love about granny squares is that you can easily keep adding on.  If I finish my planned blanket and want it to be bigger, no problem! It's very modular like that.

I'm using a "join as you go" method, like the one here.  This isn't where I originally read about the method, and I wish I could link to the tutorial I saw because it was a little clearer.  But it's the same principle.  I strongly prefer this to sewing the finished squares together because (a) that takes FOREVER and (b) it makes the blanket even more "lace-y" looking.

I have run in to one minor problem ...

I ran out of yarn on this, the last square of this color!  I'm not sure what I'll do yet.  Probably it will start with scouring my apartment for any last length of it.  I probably don't even need another yard (so sad).  I'm planning to work up the remaining columns up to that row and then figure it out later.  I will probably have to break pattern and just put some other color in there, but I want it to look at least somewhat intentional.  We'll see how it ends up ...

I hope to have this done soon, although I dread weaving in all the ends.  If anyone has a fast and easy method for that, I'd be greatly obliged to hear about it.  I'm honestly tempted to just snip them all off and hope for the best.

12 April 2010

do NOT call me "Little Jamie" ;)

I had a Little Debbie doll when I was younger.

* Shamelessly stolen, since my doll is 100 miles away *

There isn't a whole lot you can do with a Little Debbie doll -- take off the hat, brush her hair, put the hat back on ... repeat.  But she's cute, and I harbored a great love of oatmeal cream pies, and so she was my friend.  Like so many other over-processed joys of my childhood, these little gems aren't vegan (or exactly healthful, but what cookie is?).  What's a girl to do?

 Never fear, dear readers.  With the help of the interwebs, I have laid my grimy paws on one great recipe for homemade, vegan oatmeal cream pies!  Little Debbie ain't got nothing on these.

From these humble beginnings, we get delicious, soft oatmeal cookies:

I followed the recipe exactly as written at Sugar-Skull, but I suggest that you take a little more caution if you decide to make the recipe.  After mixing my dough and cooking the first batch, I noticed that she suggests that you up the amount of oats and flour for a heartier cookie.  Next time I will probably take that suggestion to get a more toothsome cookie.  I also only had to bake my cookies for 9-10 minutes, but mine may have been smaller than the original, closer to 1 1/2 Tbsp each.  I use a scoop to make cookies, and I highly suggest this practice for making sandwich cookies.  It helps ensure they'll be evenly sized.

And a sweet cream filling:

I actually did not use the optional cream cheese because when I opened my container, I was not greeted with an ... edible spread.  heh ... I don't eat it ever, and only buy it for recipes, so there's no telling how long this had been sitting in my fridge.  I did use about 1 1/2 tsp of the optional vanilla.  I don't suggest that you try to eat this cream filling on it's own.  It is cloyingly sweet.  I was very worried about that, but after making (and devouring) a sandwich, the cream is perfect for this application.  It will not, however, be my go-to cupcake frosting by any means.

I am submitting these great oatmeal cream pies to the Blog Bites Copycat Edition.  I don't remember the Little Debbie dessert exactly, but I'm pretty sure it couldn't be any better than what I've made here.  Thanks to Sugar-Skull for the recipe!

11 April 2010

Gather up your four leaf clovers

I know I've not posted in a week, and I have some school/food/life related posts planned that I hope to get around to soon.  But in the interim, I want to let everyone know about some awesome giveaways that I've seen floating around the interwebs.

Vegan Organic Truffles! at Recycle Your Day
* from the Coco-Zen website *

I've not had these truffles, but I would happily give my left arm for some. They look amazing.

Customized Chocolate at Love Veggies and Yoga
You can customize your own bar with anything from nuts, fruit, spices, candy, and more. I emailed the company to check if the dark chocolate bar is vegan, and I'll let you know the verdict. But in the meantime I have created what I like to call the "PhD Completion" bar -- dark chocolate with dried cranberries, sliced almonds, sea salt, and (of course!) gold flakes!

** Just wanted to update **
I contacted the company about the veganity of their dark chocolate bars and got this response:

"Dear Jamie,

Our dark chocolate is indeed vegan, but we don't work in a completley vegan only facility so we have warnings on our packaging that there might be traces of other ingredients. Let me know if you have any more questions.



A beautiful and shame-free starry tote from terracycle at EasyEcoToGo.com
Terracycle has long made cute bags from old wrappers.  Now they are making some unbranded bags using the same materials.  These bags are so cute, and I love that I can get a recycled bag without inadvertently advertising doritos or something.

* Photo from ecotogo.com *

And an iherb.com Shopping Spree at Chocolate Covered Katie!
Don't let the store name fool you, you can get all kinds of stuff. They don't have the best user interface, but they offer a lot of great stuff!

So figure out which contests look best to you and skedaddle on over there.  Oh, and if you win, I will expect a nominal finders fee (those vegan truffles will do nicely).

04 April 2010

You say it's your birthday ...

Well, it's my birthday, too! Having an early April birthday means that my birthday occasionally lands on Easter.  While I do love some bunnies and baskets full of candy, it means that on these rare occasions that the two events coincide most people are busy.  Once again this year I found myself on my own for the day.  I took this opportunity to test out one of my birthday presents -- The Indian Vegan Kitchen.

I love (LOVE) indian food, but my boyfriend is not a fan.  So I rarely get to enjoy it, either in restaurants or at home.  What we need is an Indian/Hamburger restaurant so that there is something for everyone.  Anyway, since I was alone this birthday and my good friend Nitish had just sent the indian cookbooks, it seemed the perfect chance to whip up some indian food.  I didn't want to go crazy, since I have to eat all this food myself, so I stuck with just two recipes:  Samosas (pg 61) and Quick Chickpea Curry (pg 122).  Because I can't leave well enough alone, I stirred a generous amount of fresh baby spinach into the chickpea curry.  I served all of it over a bed of plain basmati rice.  I don't know what's wrong with Derek, but he just doesn't know what he's missing! This was quite a feast.

My niece's birthday is April 2 (Happy 4th, Grace!), and she had a birthday bash on Saturday.  I make some vegan cupcakes for all her birthdays, because I don't want to be left out of the cake!  This year, I wanted to make something fruity and light because the weather has been so wonderful lately.  About three years ago, I snipped a recipe from my parents' newspaper for Meyer Lemon and Raspberry Cupcakes.  I've had the intention of veganizing this recipe the whole time and finally decided that this was the perfect occasion.  Here's my version of the cupcake.

Vegan Lemon and Raspberry Cupcakes
Makes 15 cupcakes

Zest and Juice of one lemon (1/4 c juice)
3/4 c soymilk

2 c unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt

1/2 c EB
1/4 c agave nectar
1/2 c brown rice syrup

2 egg replacer (I used EnerG egg replacer)

1/2 pint fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350*.  Mix together lemon juice, zest, and soymilk; set aside to curdle.  In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients; set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream EB until light and fluffy.  Mix in agave and brown rice syrup.  Add egg replacer and mix till well combined.  Add half of the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined.  Slowly add lemon/soymilk mixture.  Add remaining dry ingredients until combined.  Carefully fold in raspberries.  Fill paper-lined muffin tins about 2/3 full. Bake 20 - 24 minutes, or until tests done with a toothpick.  Allow to cool completely before icing the cupcakes.

I iced mine with the Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting (pg 142) from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, replacing the 1/4 c soymilk with ~3 T of seedless raspberry jam.  The jam will make the icing a lovely pink color that is hard to see in the photo.  These were great for a backyard play party, and perfect for a solo birthday celebration the next evening (I would tell you my wish, but then it might not come true!).

03 April 2010

Woot Woot

Two days later, and I finally have a minute to talk about it.  I passed my defense, and had only very minor corrections to make on my dissertation.  I got all those finished on Thursday, and am so relieved to be done with these things.  Of course, I still have to do my regular research, and I agreed to stay on at least through the summer as a post-doc to finish out the project I'm on.  So not much is going to change any time soon, but I finally feel like I can start looking for a job and say "Yes, I am a Dr. ... no, not a medical Dr.; the kind who can't really do anything ... " :)

But, on to the important stuff -- what did I cook? I made baklava based on this recipe, but veganized; a basic version of what I did to veganize it is at the bottom of this post.  I made some oatmeal raisin cookies based on a version I made a lot in my pre-gan days; that recipe is at the bottom as well.  I will warn you before you get down to it that the recipe is not meant to be healthy; don't let the raisins fool you! It is a yummy, gooey, full of fat cookie to convince people they want to award you a higher degree.  I also made two recipes from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar: City Girl Snickerdoodles (pg 46) and Magical Coconut Cookie Bars (pg 121).

I didn't get to try any of the snickerdoodles because they were gobbled up -- I think that means that were good (but whatever you do -- do NOT press them down before baking. They will flatten on their own. I lost a whole pan to that mistake).

The coconut bars really are magical.  If you have this cookbook and you haven't tried this recipe -- do it!  What are you waiting for? I think these bars might be able to bring peace to the middle east.  They are just that good. Even if you don't have the cookbook, you can still make these cookies because Isa was kind enough to post the recipe at her blog.  But, seriously, go buy the book! It's amazing.

So here's the spread:

For the cookie winners -- I have realized that (1) I don't have a lot of cookies that'll travel well, and (2) I don't want your cookies to be in the mail on Sunday, so I'm going to bake up some fresh ones and mail them out Monday morning.  Sophia -- I still need your mailing address! Please email it to me at theradioactivegan (at) gmail (dot) com.

And on to the recipes:

I made baklava based on this recipe on Allrecipes.com.  I read through a bunch of the reviews to get some tips.  I've never made baklava, but I wanted to start with an "authentic" recipe and veganize it, instead of starting with a vegan recipe.  Here's what I did, and it was a big big success.  I will warn you that unless you have some sort of baklava system, it takes quite a while to assemble all the layers (I think it took me 45 minutes).  But it is totally worth it.

Vegan Baklava
makes a 9x13 pan worth (number of pieces depends on the cut)

1 1/2 c water
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c agave nectar
1/4 c brown rice syrup
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
zest and juice of half a lemon

~1 1/2 - 2 lb chopped nuts (I used a combination of walnuts, pistachios, pecans, and almonds)
1 T ground cinnamon

1 16 oz package phyllo dough, thawed
3/4 c Earth Balance or other margarine, melted

Combine sugar and water in a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Stir frequently until sugar is melted.  Reduce heat to low and add agave nectar, brow rice syrup, vanilla, and lemon juice and zest.  Bring to a simmer and simmer for about half an hour.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Mix chopped nuts with cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350*.  In a 9x13 pan, lay 2 sheets of phyllo.  Brush with a thin layer of melted EB.  It's important to keep your EB melted.  If it starts to congeal at all, pop it back in the microwave for a few seconds.  Thick butter will tend to rip your phyllo sheets.  Add 2 more sheets, more EB, 2 more sheets, more EB, 2 more sheets, more EB.  You should have eight sheets of phyllo down now with EB layered on every other one.

Sprinkle on some of the cinnamon/nut mixture on the layer of dough, approximately 3 T - 1/4 c, whatever looks right to you.  Lay down 2 more sheets of phyllo, brush with EB.  Continue layering nuts, phyllo, EB until you have only 8 - 10 sheets of phyllo left.  Layer the top as you did the bottom, putting down 2 sheets of phyllo and a thin layer of EB, 2 sheets, EB, etc.  You don't need to put a layer of EB on the very top.

With a very very sharp knife, cut the baklava into your desired shape.  Don't cut all the way to the bottom; leave about 1/2 inch uncut.  I cut columns long ways, and then diagonals across that for nice diamond shapes.  Bake in your preheated oven for ~50 minutes, until the top is nicely browned and crispy.

Remove baklava from oven and immediately pour over your cooled sugar sauce.  Let the whole things sit for a while (you can leave it overnight, if you're patient enough).  Re-do all your cuts, going to the bottom of the pan this time.  Serve in cupcake papers to be fancy.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

1/2 c EB
1/2 c packed light brown sugar
1/4 c white sugar

1 egg replacer made (I use Ener-G for this, but flax eggs would probably work too)
1/2 t vanilla

3/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt (I like kosher salt here for a random bite of saltiness in the cookies)

1 1/2 c rolled oats (not instant!)
1/2 c raisins

Preheat oven to 350*.  Lightly grease a baking sheet, or cover with aluminum foil.

Cream together EB and both sugars until very creamy.  Add in egg replacer and vanilla and mix until well combined.  Sift in flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt and mix well.  Mix in the oats and raisins.

Place on prepared baking sheet by the tablespoon-full.  Lightly press each cookie down to flatten it a bit. Bake 9 - 12 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges.  Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes then move to a wire cooling rack.  Store in a tightly closed container.

I think these would be good with some chopped walnuts thrown in, or other dried fruit like cranberries.