Holiday Cooking

Technically, I’m supposed to be eating as healthily as I can right now. But you know what, it was the holidays, so starch! Dessert! Things that are terrible for you but delicious! No regrets!

Now. We are not Christian. We do not believe in Jesus. Nonetheless, my mother is somewhat of a fan of Christmas. She likes presents and nice food and warm pajamas. She even got a set of very fancy toys for my sister’s cat. So on Christmas, I intended to make jalapeno cheese bread. Seasonal? Well, no. But it’s delicious. Who am I to question that?

I seeded and diced up my jalapenos, grated my block of cheddar, added some cream of tartar to a cup of milk for a buttermilk substitute…then realized that, unfortunately, the yeast did not make it out of the shopping cart. Well. There’s a bit of a disappointment.

So what do we do? We adapt! We use the other stuff in the kitchen to make some other form of bread that does not require a raising agent! The obvious answer here was gougères. Why is that the obvious answer? Well, I love them more than is healthy, I have made them enough that I have the recipe committed to memory (see here), and they come together quickly.

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Because I am lazy, I used a muffin tin to make them. Unfortunately, the texture that you get when you do that is not nearly as excellent as when they have more of the surface area directly exposed to the heat, which you get when you spoon them onto a tray like you’re supposed to. They don’t have nearly as much of the wonderful contrast of that lovely toasty outside with the light and fluffy inside. But they still taste good, so. There’s that.

A couple days after that, I wanted a snack. And most things weren’t sounding very appealing. I briefly thought about getting some Ruffles and making a dip, but I wasn’t feeling it. I normally love chips and dip, but it didn’t sound right at the time. So what’s a girl to do? Well, I’ll tell you – garlic bread. Cinnamon toast. Bruschetta. A weird thing with caramelized onions and goat cheese. A CROSTINI PLATTER. Or, you know. Not a platter platter, but an assortment. You know what I’m saying. I’ve been very good lately about cutting down my bread intake. But, as noted earlier, the holidays mean screw being good, it’s time for food.

You know how you should almost always add more garlic than a recipe calls for? My philosophy with garlic bread is to not only use a huge quantity of garlic, but to use multiple types as well – I make the garlic butter by adding roasted garlic, minced garlic, and garlic powder to softened butter and a little shredded parmesan. First baking it at a lower temperature to crisp up the bread, then turning on the broiler for a couple minutes to brown the surface…oh,my god. So, so good. To make the cinnamon toast, I do pretty much the same thing, except with cinnamon and a bit of sugar instead of garlic. As for the bruschetta…I sometimes make it using the same garlic bread described above. And instead of using raw tomatoes, I like to cook them with some garlic because I don’t really enjoy raw tomatoes.  So, traditional? No. Delicious? Hell, yeah. Unfortunately, I do not have a recipe for any of that because those are entirely based on what feels right in the moment. Gotta embrace my inner hippie.

NEW YEAR’S EVE. You know what that’s time for? Something over indulgent, chocolatey, and covered in salted caramel! (Recipe here)

This was not the world’s brightest idea. The reason why it was not the world’s brightest idea is that I’m not really a big dessert person. Like, do I like things that are sweet and chocolately and good? Sure. But I hype it up in my head, and when I actually eat some…it’s not as good as I expect. It’s not satisfying. At heart, I’m a savoury snacks gal.  My junk food of choice will always be the humble potato chip. But the problem with that is…chips on New Year’s? That’s just depressing.

Jalapeno Cheddar Gougères

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 jalapenos, diced
  • 1 cup grated cheddar
  • Rosemary
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F
  2. Bring butter and water to a boil
  3. Lower heat to medium
  4. Add the flour
  5. Stir for a couple minutes, then remove from heat.
  6. Let cool until warm, but not hot.
  7. Stir in eggs, one at a time.
  8. Add the cheese, jalapenos, salt, pepper, and herbs.
  9. Spoon onto greased tray.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes.
  11. Lower heat to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes.

 

Salted Caramel Rum Tart

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour.
  • 1 and 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Chocolate chips
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Mix flour and baking powder together.
  2. Beat the 1 stick of butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs until creamy.
  3. Add to the dry ingredients.
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes and 350°F.
  6. Cook white sugar over low heat until golden brown.
  7. Remove from heat and add remaining butter, small pieces at a time.
  8. Stir in 1/2 cup of cream.
  9. Return to heat and cook until thickened.
  10. Add rum and salt.
  11. Pour caramel over cooked cookie base and leave until set.
  12. Heat remaining cream to a boil.
  13. Slowly add cream to chocolate to make ganache.
  14. Pour ganache over tart.
  15. Leave to cool until set.

Becoming Less Clueless: Interviewing

I theoretically understand what I need to do in an interview. But I’m really bad at them.

It’s not that I don’t know the answers to the questions I’m being asked – of course I do. They’re either about me or reasonably basic technical questions about things I’ve done and know. But I get self conscious about everything – my voice is too high pitched, I can’t pull off a suit, do I have a giant pimple on my forehead preventing my interviewer from processing a word I’m saying, when are scientists going to develop technology that would allow me to be a brain in a jar – oops, was that another question? It definitely doesn’t help that I really haven’t done many of them. In August, though,  I applied to a job that I really, really want. And the application process here? Well, it helped me get a lot more confident and a lot less clueless about the terrifying prospect of a job interview.

One of the things that I find discouraging is getting back a form rejection before even getting to a coding challenge, let alone the interview stage. I have no idea what that means – what specifically did they find unappealing? These are entry level positions, and so it’s rather unlikely that many candidates have much  more to offer than I do. So what is it? There’s only so much I can change, and for all I know, the rejections stemmed from other candidates being from “better” schools! Luckily, this application process was not like that. A couple months after I sent in my application, they sent me a coding challenge.

Fine, I thought. This is good.

A coding challenge is something that I can control, far more than I could with if someone was deciding whether to call me based on my resumé. Some companies will send you a timed test, which are almost universally hated, but this was better. I got a problem and ten days to return my solution. And you know what? I do know how to program. I may not be the world’s best speaker. I may panic at everything. But I am good at getting things done. Good enough that a few days after I submitted my solution, I got an email from someone in HR asking me to set up a phone interview. That’s when my obsessive reading of the Glassdoor page started out.

Now. I am a giant nerd that thrives off having as much information as I can on any given topic. So I read every single review of the interview process and wrote down answers to every question people said they were asked. I read countless lists of interview questions and practiced my answers to those. I made flashcards. I even recorded myself talking so that I could get more confident with the sound of my own voice. And when the interview actually happened…it went well! So I got an invite to an in person interview.

This was far from perfect. I stammered through a few answers. There were questions to which I didn’t like my answers and that I wish I’d answered differently. But it went well enough. My preparations weren’t perfect, but they were good enough that I got an offer. It made me realize…I don’t have to be ready for everything. I’m probably never going to be the kind of person that’s effortlessly confident and always believes in her own ability. But I am capable of preparing for the most likely questions well enough that I’ll be solid, and sometimes, that’ll be enough.

Becoming Less Clueless: Clothing

There has long been a disparity in my life between the clothes I wear, the clothes I like, and the aesthetic that I want to fulfill. For most of my life, the Venn diagram of these things would be three circles with no overlap of which to speak. Now, I’ve been working on closing that gap.

I think the first problem is that I don’t really do seasonal clothing. I wear long sleeves in the middle of summer and sweaters all year round. I love sweaters. I have a drawer filled with them. Precisely zero of them are even remotely flattering. There is a time and place for giant sweaters, but there is not really a time and place for the sweaters that have nothing going for them but a pretty colour.

I am oddly shaped and nothing fits. I’m not short, but I’m definitely not tall, either. My torso is disproportionately long, and for whatever reason, most button up blouses look ridiculous on me. This below is one of the few that doesn’t:515540f2-b34d-465c-bb8a-0f37fd8dc03b

The colour, material, and drape of this shirt make it way less awkward looking than most dress shirts, so I keep it around, but still isn’t exactly flattering. So if I lean away from stuff like that and more to stuff like the next picture, I get closer to my preferred aesthetic:

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Clean lines, nothing too flamboyant. Lately, I’ve been tending towards blacks and creams, and I think it looks pretty good. I don’t really have many full body shots, so I can’t show how a lot of the stuff I’ve been trying looks overall, but that’s the general vibe – simple and clean.

I like the idea of short dresses and such – as my mom says, the time for skimpy clothing is now. However, then I’d have to put on sunscreen on my whole body and not just my face, and I’m just not that level of motivated. Plus, I’m super self conscious, and I feel weird about my knees. That being said, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to not get heatstroke:

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I’m also a big fan of suits. By which I mean, I like the aesthetic on other people, but when I try, I look ridiculous.

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Oddly enough, as silly as it looked with the jacket and all, that’s actually my favourite blouse! It’s simple enough to be versatile, and it’s got fun, kinda billowy sleeves! Which you can’t see in the next picture, I just like the way my face looks in it.

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Verdict: The rules are made up, no one cares, you can justify literally anything you put on your body, and people should just wear whatever they damn well please.

Becoming Less Clueless: Makeup

I have a number of things I’m reasonably good at: programming, machining, babbling about random topics that no one cares about. I also have a number of things that I don’t know jack about. So this will be the first in what I hope will become a series of posts about my attempts at becoming marginally less clueless about the very many things I know very little about. Let’s talk about makeup.

Makeup goes back to ancient Egypt. And historical makeup – and other beauty products and practices – was horrifyingLead. Arsenic. Crushed insects. Mercury. Nightshade. Radium. Jesus Christ. There are plenty of dangerous beauty practices and products that are still in use today – detox tea and dietary supplements, anyone? None of this is FDA approved! – and I’m certainly not going to argue against the fact that the expectations of women in terms of appearance are absurd, sexist, and dangerous both physically and psychologically. However, since today’s cosmetics are far, far less likely to literally kill you than those in 1700s England, I’m much more willing to approach using them as a valuable skill that I should be familiar with. So onwards, to what I’ve learned.

I don’t really do makeup. Not well or often. When I was in like eighth grade, my sister got me this eyeshadow palette with like thirty colours, so I tried some weird colourful looks for a while. And I used to do dance, which involved big dramatic eye stuff with bright red lipstick. But now I don’t dance anymore and am at a stage in my life where my attitude is more or less, “I will put in some amount of effort into my appearance if I have a reason to, but if it takes longer than five minutes or requires any amount of attention during the day else I’ll look absurd, I’m not doing it”. What that translates to is that most days, I don’t where makeup at all. When I do, it’s mostly just mascara. It’s only pretty recently that I’ve started using lipstick – and that’s because the formats have become more convenient and I’ve finally started to understand enough of colour theory to feel less awkward wearing it.

Now. Below is the combined product of a Snapchat filter and Nyx’s “try it on” tool.

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Snapchat filters are almost universally terrible. Like, what even is this? This doesn’t even look like me. I look like a white girl with a fake tan, and it makes me feel bad about how my face actually looks, which is ridiculous, because I am a person, not a doll. But anyway, I wanted to see how these lip colours would look on me with a full face of makeup, and I didn’t want to bother actually putting on makeup to get a more realistic impression. My face here looks considerably lighter than it is (also, so is my eye colour, normally I’d go on a tangent on how this is racist, but I’m tired and people more articulate than me have already done that, so I’ll let it pass this one time) so these lipsticks wouldn’t look quite this way on me, but I think it’s close enough to judge the colours and confirm what I’ve long suspected: I really can’t pull off bright. Dark colours work. Muted colours work. But they need to be warm colours on the cooler side. Anything too red or with warm undertones looks vaguely ridiculous. This is supported by the pictures I have of me wearing different lip colours in actuality:

The left pic and the right pic are the same lip cream, but the one on the right has gloss on top of it. The middle is an oil. It looks a lot darker in the tube, and I was disappointed when I put it on the first time, but I think it’s dark enough to work anyway. When I took the right pic, I put on eyeliner at first, then took it off, because it was annoying and smearing everywhere. I’m wearing a small amount of foundation mixed with a lot of moisturizer in the left and right pics and mascara in all three. I still don’t really understand the purpose of foundation. It requires too much product and too much time to cover up facial blemishes that don’t need to be covered up at all. Similarly, eyeshadow – which I didn’t bother with in any of these – looks at best distracting and at worst tacky. I am going to continue not using that.

The product that trying different things with makeup made me feel like I should try out is powder. Not always, certainly, and maybe not even on a regular basis, but my forehead is apparently prone to getting shiny, so I’m thinking I should be using powder to tone it down sometimes, for the same reason that I avoid eyeshadow. I want to blend into the crowd, not stand out. I definitely don’t want my shiny forehead to be the memory people have of me. I’ll have to add that to my pre-interview checklist: folder, pen, resumé, ironed shirt, and non-shiny forehead.

So to sum it up, what I’ve learned from this experience is that mascara is more worth the effort than eyeliner, but a little white eyeliner blended at the inner corners of the eyes really does help you look less asleep on your feet; lip creams are the best form of lip colour; and I should start powdering my forehead at times when I have to be across from someone for a prolonged period of time. Overall verdict: Makeup is annoying and I will continue not using it much, but a couple products used once in a blue moon will surprise the people that know you by reminding them how good you look if you decide to put some effort into it.

Laptop Struggles: A Life Update

You know what’s not pleasant? Laptop troubles. You know what’s even more unpleasant than laptop troubles? Laptop troubles with a laptop you only bought a month ago.

My computer decided to start acting up a couple weeks ago, just after I bought it. It was usable, but barely – there were weird pixel issues that rendered part of the screen completely unreadable. I managed to get through the last couple weeks of the semester with it without tossing it through a window in frustration, then packed it up and sent it to get fixed a couple days ago.

It still hasn’t left the FedEx office where I dropped it off. Here’s to hoping it gets to where it needs to go soon. I never realized how many things I use it for until I’m at home without it, away from campus and the computer labs that go along with that, trying to get things done on a seven year old iPad.

History, Hamilton, Music,and Pop Culture

I may not always love taking history classes – there’s a reason I’m in engineering – but reading about history is a lot of fun. When you choose a historical topic you want to know more about, you get to read stories about it that people found interesting or important enough to document. And maybe that’s less significant in recent times, since the advent of recording technology and the Internet – everything is documented – but you’re still reading about events that shaped the world as we know it today.

I went to see Hamilton last Saturday, and I loved it. I’d heard the soundtrack, of course, but that doesn’t compare to actually going and watching it. Something that struck me both when I first listened to the soundtrack and again when I was sitting in the theatre watching the show was that I was legitimately surprised at how much I was enjoying it. I was born in the US, and at this point, in total, I’ve been nearly as long here as I have in Canada, but I spent the formative years of my life in Ontario. I still consider myself Canadian above all else. This is an incredibly American production – not just the subject matter, but the focus on the individual rather than the results.

This kind of topic is something that could very easily come across as dry, not so much because of what it is – I wouldn’t consider that boring at all, because it’s a significant part of how this country got to the point it’s at today – but because of how dense it is. There’s just so much information that condensing it to a two and a half hour musical would be a daunting task. Lin Manuel Miranda did an excellent job doing that, keeping a lot of important information while glossing over details that weren’t directly related to what he was talking about and having an engaging story that didn’t drag at all.

As a musician, I adore soundtracks – whether they’re strictly instrumental or have vocals – and this was incredible to hear. I had heard the recording of the original New York cast before, so I got thrown off a few times by the different voices, especially the woman that played Angelica, but it wasn’t a bad surprise at all, just different. I haven’t gone to many musicals, and this was a wonderful one to go to. The music stood on its own so well that I never once felt like there needed to be something else going on on the stage.

I’m generally wary of people getting historical knowledge from pop culture. I’ve found that it leads to vague knowledge of a topic, but no more.Of course media and works of fiction have a role in piquing a person’s interest in a topic or a person, but it’s important to read. To question the conventional wisdom, to form your own opinions. To listen to what other people have to say, but focus on the facts and the argument, not the mythology.

In this regard, one of my opinions that’s furthest from conventional wisdom is mine of Jimmy Carter. I think that he was and is a very good man whose flaws included micromanagement and being loyal to a fault. I still think he did as good job as could be expected under the circumstances.

Carter took responsibility for failures. He brought back the confidence in the presidency that had been lost with the Vietnam and Korean wars, with Watergate. He had the courage and strength of character to tell people the blunt truth and not what they wanted to hear. And for all the complaints people have about him, it’s undeniable that he was squeaky clean ethically, and in 1976, the US really needed that. Just like how in 2008, it needed Obama’s message of hope and change, in 1976, it needed the peanut farmer and nuclear engineer from Georgia that believed in the goodness of the American people and had no scandals or controversies to speak of.

I only got this opinion from reading, from being fascinated by Carter and wanting to learn more. His presidency was over long before I was born. I don’t remember how long I’ve been interested in him, his presidency, and his post-presidential work, or how that interest was first sparked, but it’s been years now. I read everything, all sorts of articles, even if I have to sometimes have to grit my teeth to get through a piece of rhetoric that I can counter easily, just to know what people are saying. So many people, even if they do their research for current events and politics, accept what’s generally accepted about the past as true.Had I just considered the image of Carter presented in popular culture, I’d be one of the people considering him a complete disaster. I didn’t, so I’m not.

Hamilton is one thing. For all that it’s a positive take on Alexander Hamilton, it doesn’t gloss over his flaws to the same extent as a lot of fiction focusing on a historical figure does. It was also vague enough to pique a person’s interest without giving them misinformation. In most similar works, however, the writer’s biases come through even more clearly, altering the perception viewers or readers have of whatever historical figure is the topic at hand. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, but I do think people should keep that in mind when consuming media.

Cars, Pontiac, and Good Design: I Miss My High School Grand Prix

When I was in high school, I drove a Grand Prix. I learned to drive on a Cruze, so it was a little bit of an adjustment at first, but I loved that car.

It wasn’t something I really fully appreciated then, but since then, after driving other cars, I’ve realized just how well that car handled. It was very wide, which made it kind of a pain to park when I first starting driving it, but that and its low centre of gravity made it beautifully stable. It handled turns at speed excellently. It looked great. It was a performance vehicle with an excellent design – practical and functional without sacrificing the aesthetics.

I drive a Buick Lacrosse now. There’s nothing wrong with it at all. It drives fine. It’s somewhere between the Cruze and the Grand Prix for me – it’s a solid car, not difficult to drive at all, very comfortable for long distances, but none of the specific advantages of either of the other two. It’s very middle of the road, decent in everything, but nothing about it sticks out to me. It’s bigger than the Cruze, so it’s less easy to park anywhere. It’s heavier, too, so driving in the snow down the dirt road to my house isn’t as scary, but it doesn’t have as low a centre of gravity as the Grand Prix.

GM stopped manufacturing the Pontiac brand in 2010, and I understand why. They weren’t doing well, and it made sense to cut Pontiac loose instead of any of the four they kept making. But I seriously wish they were still being made, because my Grand Prix was a great car and I miss it.