Sunday, August 29, 2010

Oh my. I have been quite busy. You know how the first week of the semester in undergrad is usually pretty slow and you have a lot of time to ease into your workload and your new surroundings? NOT SO in graduate school. I found myself scrambling to do readings while still cooking for myself, maintaining a clean and organized apartment, and managing my burgeoning social life. I only managed to go to the gym twice before the weekend! (And for those of you who don't know, the gym is somewhat of a priority for me because I'm trying to fit firmly into my size 8 pants by the time it gets chilly here).

The good news is that I am still glad to be here. The most intimidating class that I have is easily The Ethics of Close-Reading. Garrett, the professor, says all of these amazing and excitingly brilliant things during class... but I don't always immediately grasp their meaning. It is sometimes akin to how, when you know a foreign language but do not have much real-life experience with it, you listen to someone in France speaking French but you have to think about the words they are saying and so don't grasp their meaning until after a minute or two has passed. For example, we were discussing "Ode to a Grecian Urn" by Keats and "Seven Types of Ambiguity" by Empson, and Garrett said something, just in passing, about "adverbial modifiers." Well I understand that an adverbial modifier is the word that modifies the adverb, it took me a few seconds to translate it thus, and a minute to spot the instance of one in the poem. The one hour and fifteen minutes of this class is FULL of experiences like this, and I think it comes down to the fact that I never had technical grammar or literary terms (i.e. terms like "chiasmus" or "enjambment") drilled into me. Of course, close-reading can be an incredibly technical process, so I am a little worried that I won't be able to perform up to par. I need to find some website that has worksheets for high school English teachers to teach their students grammar.

In my Intro to Contemporary Theory course, we had a great discussion about Kant on Thursday. Thank God. It boosted my spirits tremendously to participate intelligently in a discussion after the Ethics class. I'm still afraid that I am not the kind of student who completely articulates my thoughts to myself before sharing them with the class, which inevitably makes me come off as less intelligent than everyone else. But luckily Jess, who is in that class with me, was apparently telling Justin, another first year (he's married and has a daughter and another baby on the way! and he is only 24!) that during our discussion I called Kant a snob (which I did and which he is!) and what was nice/refreshing/cool was that I clearly knew what I was talking about. So... hopefully I don't come off as an idiot. I am the youngest person in the program, it looks like; the other first-year who just recently graduated is actually a year older than me.

We haven't had a true discussion yet in my Modernist Arts in Britain class yet, but I think that the perspectives of the students in that class are so varied that the discussions will be rich. A couple of us are self-proclaimed Woolfians, but it sounds as though the majority of the class actually wants to work in areas outside of Modernism. Annemarie, for example, who is a year older than me and in all of my classes, wants to work with Victorian women authors and narrative theory.

This week has been full of little "meeting people" functions and so I feel like I have been asked about "what I want to specialize in" about a million times. In the email sent around to the department by the Director of Graduate Studies in English, my interests were ever-so-suavely listed as "Transatlantic modernisms and relations among language, affect and truth." My God that sounds sophisticated. I felt very legit after reading that. I've been telling people in my classes and at the social gatherings that I am also potentially interested in doing something with cultural studies and Jane Austen--what makes her so popular now, for instance. It's fun to come up with these ideas... but when in the world am I supposed to have time to actually pursue them?

Throughout the week I have somewhat inadvertantly been seeing who I am likely to be spending a good chunk of my time with. Because Annemarie and I have all of our classes together, we've been seeing a lot of each other and taken pains to spend time between classes working on our homework together in the library. Jess lives just up the street from me, a 5-10 minute walk, and so we have been walking to gatherings together. The three of us went to see Scott Pilgrim on Friday, and to a picnic with some other first year students at a nearby lake on Saturday morning together in my car. I have also seen a lot of John, the other first year who graduated this year. He lives about two minutes from me, so it's been easy to fall into chatting at each others' houses. We went to the gym together this week and talked at the pool before going back to my place and talking for two hours until midnight. Yesterday Jess and I walked to to party for first years together, but because I wanted to leave early and get some reading done, I rode back to Lucas St. with John--and we fell into conversation first at my place and then carried it over to his, where we went from reading to talking and back to reading for a couple of hours before his roommate Carmen (in the Writer's Workshop, I think) announced that she was making fuzzy navels, and we spent the rest of the evening (until 1:30 in the morning) exchanging stories, watching music videos, and laughing.

So I suppose I can say that I am settling in. The real trial is going to be managing my time properly so that I am not stressed out just trying to fit schoolwork and working out and cooking into my schedule comfortably. I also have a Graduate Student Senate meeting on some Monday evenings, and in September I have yoga on Wednesday evenings. I can do it! (I hope).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On the plus side, I am extremely excited about The Ethics of Close-Reading, and moderately thrilled with the syllabus for Intro to Contemporary Theory.

On the down side? You'll have to wait until Thursday night or Friday morning to hear from me again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

As promised,

Butternut Squash Pizzas with Rosemary

1 cup sliced onion
1/2 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced very thin
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary or sage (or 1/2 tsp dried)
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 individual pizza crusts
1 tbsp cornmeal
2 tbsp grated parmesan or asiago cheese

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the onion and the squash in a roasting pan. Add the rosemary or sage, the salt and pepper, and 2tbsp of the olive oil and toss well. Bake the vegetables for 20 minutes or until the onions are browning and the squash is tender.
-Increase the oven temperature to 450. Sprinkle the cornmeal onto a baking sheet and then place the pizza crusts on top. Distribute the squash mixture over the two crusts. Bake the pizzas for 10 minutes or until the crust is firm.
-Sprinkle the pizzas with the cheese and drizzle them with the remaining olive oil. I put them back into the oven for about 2 minutes to melt the cheese, but that is a personal preference. Cut into quarters and serve.

(Notes: out of Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons. The recipe has you make your own dough, but since it didn't work for me last week and it was a pain in the ass with all of the flour, I wimped out and bought ready-to-bake crusts at the store. I used ground sage and would in the future only use fresh spices so I could really taste their presence. But otherwise, it was quite delicious. I had thought I was only going to make one pizza, so I roasted less butternut squash and onions, only to find that I had enough to just barely cover both crusts. In retrospect I wish I had piled all the ingredients onto one, because one pizza was not filling enough to be full, but enough for me to feel like I would not be justified in eating the second one. We'll see how well it does as leftovers.)
Today I had my very first graduate course. Here I am, Lauren Rosales the graduate student:

Of course, being the first day of class, not much actually occurred. And since I only had the one class today, from 10:55 until 12:10, the day itself has not been much different than other days. But it is, symbolically, significant nonetheless.

The course I went to today was Modernist Arts in Britain. Here is a brief snippet from the course syllabus:

"We will pay particular attention to the arts of modernism in early twentieth-century Britain, focusing on three interrelated and overlapping areas: 1) The near obsession with houses, rooms, their interiors, and the narrative representation of interiority in modernist fiction; 2) Modernist magazines and the manifestos through which various arts groups (the Vorticists, Omega, Bloomsbury) and individuals (Wyndham Lewis, Roger Fry, Virginia Woolf) promoted their versions of the “new”; 3) Modernism and public/popular culture, including the 1924 Empire Exhibition at Wembley, exhibition posters, the London Underground, advertisements, and documentary films."

I am excited to consider Virginia Woolf through her use of public spaces in London, and to see how her own writings on the city might be able to inform such an angled reading of the novels. I bought a book this summer called The London Scene which has I think six essays that she wrote on the city; obviously, my own love for London is very compatible with the angle that this class is taking. Oh, sweet London. I miss thee.

After class, I joined a couple of my classmates for sushi in the mall up the hill from the main library. We discussed the difference in size of our previous schools, and to explain how small Hendrix was I mentioned the tradition of the senior superlatives. Both my companions denounced it as "awful" and rather catty, to which I of course agreed. Tradition or not--the more I think of it, the more I see Hendrix's student body as a mean-spirited bunch. I know I myself am rather harsh and judgmental, as well as prone to bitterness, but that doesn't change anything. Perhaps I fit in more than I thought.

In any case, I have officially begun graduate school as of today!
It's totally fine if you aren't going to answer my letter. I realize it is an outdated way to communicate and that it actually takes time and a conscious effort, and that we weren't super-close friends to begin with.

But by God, do not get on Facebook to send me a message asking me a personal favor and then try to tempt me by saying that you are going to respond to the letter when you actually aren't. And please don't make a show of asking for my new address if you aren't going to use it.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Since I last posted, a few things have happened:

-on Friday, the English graduate orientation, where I became acquainted with the other 13 incoming graduate students during a tour of the building and at a bar/restaurant afterwards (incidentally, the bar/restaurant, The Mill, had delicious cheeseburgers as well!)
-on Thursday, I managed to switch into The Ethics of Close-Reading, and dropped Modern Confession; to sell the books I had bought for the class I went to The Haunted Bookshop and ended up spending all of the money I had made in trade
-also on Thursday, I volunteered to be the 3rd senator from the English department on the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) and was thus appointed
-yesterday I went to El Cactus, a Mexican restaurant recommended to me by a professor at the English orientation, with Sydney (the Physics grad student) and enjoyed a decent enchilada, pretty good taco, and quite good rice and beans before heading downtown to Joe's, a bar where grad students hang out, for a PBR

During the tour of the EPB (English and Philosophy Building) on Friday, I felt occasionally disappointed that I'm not teaching this year. Everyone else in my tour group was greatly enjoying pointing out their offices to one another, and discussing using the copy room as they claimed their individual mailboxes. I felt left out, and had to remind myself that it is actually a good thing, a mark of my perceived intellectual worth and diligence, that I am on a fellowship and not teaching just yet. I imagine that once my classes begin and I can dismiss the bout of ennui I have been enduring, that I will be thankful to have the extra time on my hands. I do look forward to setting up a routine for myself, between meals and classes and going to the gym. The past few weeks have been unreal... and I am ready for reality to sit in. I have one class tomorrow, and then it will all begin.

For later this evening: Butternut Squash and Rosemary Pizza

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Today was the orientation for all graduate students. Initially, it wasn't all that useful. There were a bunch of booths, each representing either some type of student organization or some type of student services. I put my name on the email list for Hillel, and talked to a priest about when and where I can go to confession. Luckily, at the recreational services booth, I learned that there is intramural Ultimate Frisbee, but only in the spring. Still, that is better than nothing!

I sat through talks on payroll and health insurance that were pretty useless in that all of the information I was getting was available on the website.

Afterward, however, I decided that I would stay for the reception. There would be food involved, and I didn't feel like biking home to make shrimp scampi at that moment. I sat down at a table with a girl who had, like me, been searching frantically for the restroom after the talks. As I sat down, she complimented my dress, introduced me to the Asian girl sitting next to her, and we were off. Her name is Sydney and she is in Physics (GAH! I know, like actual physics, like, she wants to shoot lasers and study their effect on atoms for the rest of her life), and the other girl is Vicky and she is studying to be a Rehabilitation Counselor, which sounds like Psychology to me. It was overwhelmingly refreshing to be chatting with people who were not cashiers at the grocery store--almost for the first time in weeks. After we stood in line for food, we found a whole group of people congregated at our table. They all turned out to be English people! My English orientation is on Friday, so I would certainly be meeting these folks soon. But it was nice to know that they exist and that they don't all already have an MA or an MFA or some other PhD (or, like someone who added me on Facebook, a JD... from Harvard).

After eating, a great number of our table decided to hit up the Farmer's Market. When I was unlocking my bicycle to walk with the group, one of the pedals somehow scratched the back of my heel where a blister was forming. I didn't feel it until a little later, but realized as we trekked on that my foot was bleeding profusely, onto and into my beloved Sperry Topsiders. To save the shoes, I went barefoot. All my companions voiced their concern and I was very embarrassed.

The Farmer's Market was very unlike the one I went to a few times in Little Rock. The one in Little Rock was always more expensive than what I could find at Kroger, and so I always felt kind of cheated when Alex and I bought overpriced fruit and it went bad quickly. This Farmer's Market, which is on the ground floor of a parking garage to shield it from sun and rain, hosted incredibly reasonably-priced produce, as well as various vendors of jellies, breads, pies, meats, and spice plants. One vendor sold small boxes of different fruits and different peppers. I sampled a few salsas (a habanero salsa with apple and peach in it was not bad) and even a BBQ sauce (very unimpressed; it was a Memphis-y vinegar-based sauce). I found a booth where a man was selling salsas, guacamole, and tamales. We had a nice chat about the importance of using tomatillo salsa on chicken enchiladas, and he wrote me out a coupon for his restaurant for free drinks! Then I bought 8 tamales to freeze upon my arrival home. Tamales are so grievously bad for you... but I couldn't resist. They will be something easy to throw in the oven when I get back from my evening class.

After the market, Sydney suggested we could try to fit my bicycle in her car so I wouldn't have to walk barefoot all the way home. This turned out to be quite the hilarious adventure indeed, as she ended up having a Toyota Corolla and we foolishly attempted to squeeze the bike into the back seat... where it inevitably got stuck and we spent the better part of 20 minutes just trying to get it out again. Eventually, after much giggling and after I managed to snap the buckle on my new favorite belt (a skinny brown belt with a gold buckle with a little sail boat on it--$8 at Blue Velvet), we got it out and situated it as best we could in the trunk. She dropped me off and I came inside to figure out how to get blood off of my Sperrys.

All in all, a pretty good day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I should probably explain that Iowa City is nextdoor to Coralville, and that it is about a 15-minute drive to Coralville, if you get stuck at all the traffic lights. (I inevitably do). You don't get on any highway to get to Coralville, so it doesn't even feel like you are driving into the next town over. The best way to note that you have entered Coralville is by the big-name businesses you begin to see, such as Walgreen's, and various fast food establishments. Iowa City is comprised almost entirely of small, local businesses--it's so small that it can do so-- which is great from a buying-local standpoint, but kind of a pain in the ass when you just need that one damn thing from Target or Best Buy. Then you have to drive all the way out to the mall in Coralville, which is about 20-30 minutes of traffic lights. (It may be less than that, but my father continuously bemoaned the "half hour" spent in the car whenever we had to go back to Target when he was still here).

Today, that "one thing" for me was a sports bra. I have been going to the gym 6 days a week, and I don't want to have to do laundry every 5 days to accommodate this practice. But the sports bras had apparently been on sale, because the entire shelf was wiped clean. Bloody hell.

Anyway, on the way home I got a new wall charger for my cell phone, having lost the last one somewhere in Oregon. I have been charging my cell phone in the car for a month now.

My apartment, as you probably know, is one unit in a "fourplex." When I arrived home, the guy who lives in the basement unit, Jared, was smoking a cigarette outside so we chatted. He is probably in his late 20s and works two jobs while simultaneously doing his own independent film-making activities. He told me he was currently attempting to convert a short film into high-definition on his laptop, which is apparently an intensely tedious and time-consuming process. After giving me his phone number and email address he dropped a short screenplay by my door for me to read.

I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on Covert Affairs, the new show on USA that comes on every Tuesday at 9pm. I am getting a little hooked, almost certainly because I have a huge crush on the blind analyst, Augie.

Now, the moment I am sure you have all been waiting for: my dinner.

Asparagus Taquitos

5 6” corn tortillas
10 thin stalks asparagus, cleaned, ends trimmed
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup shredded queso quesadilla
chili powder
olive oil

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Heat the beans in a small saucepan over medium heat until heated through. Mash with the back of a fork until nearly smooth. Set aside.
-Microwave the tortillas on high for 20-25 seconds or until pliable (in the absence of a microwave, wrap the tortillas tightly in foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes).
-Gently spread each tortilla with a thin layer of beans. Top beans with two stalks of asparagus and a sprinkle of both cheese and some chili powder. Roll tightly and place, seam-side-down on a clean plate. Repeat until all ingredients are used up.
-Place taquitos in a small baking dish and brush olive oil on top. Bake in oven for 30 minutes, until browned and crispy.
-Serve with sour cream for dipping.

(Adapted, once again, from BrokeAss Gourment, here. The original involves frying and I opted for baking.)

Overall, QUITE good. I had a serving of Spanish rice with the meal, and would probably next time only make myself four taquitos rather than the five.I recommend this very highly--particularly with the sour cream as a condiment.

Now, to settle in for the new Covert Affairs and pick out a new book to read.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I set off on an adventure today. You see, I don't really like to cook meat. This makes me a kind of hypocrite-meat-eater-who-is-too-lame-to-be-a-real-vegetarian, I know. Alex was always the one to handle the ground beef, the spicy Italian sausage, the chicken breast, the pork chops, and the salmon fillets. But I found a recipe on Broke-Ass Gourmet that was irresistible. I had to try it... and it required uncooked shrimp.

At Hy-vee, the Kroger-ish grocery store here in Iowa City, the only raw shrimp still had little legs and, worse, even eyes! I was mortified. I went home in defeat.

But, today, I ventured to the New Pioneer Food Co-Op that is a couple of blocks downtown in search of an avocado. I took a gander at the fresh meat window and counter, and saw that this raw shrimp was not so raw that I would have to deal with eyes and legs and shells. I think it is called "deveined." I bought a half-pound.

So, this evening, for the first time in 22 years, I cooked shrimp.

Almond-Crusted Shrimp over Mixed Greens with Lime Dressing

1/4 lb medium raw shrimp, de-veined, tails-on
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 tbsp whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lime, divided
1 clove garlic, smashed
mixed greens
cherry tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, diced
Newman's Own Light Lime Vinaigrette

-Combine 1/2 lime juice and garlic in a bowl. Add shrimp and toss with hands to coat well. Set aside.
-Crush almonds (I used my new Pampered Chef smasher thing). Combine almonds in a bowl with flour and salt. Set aside.
-Set up an assembly line of the seasoned shrimp, the half-and-half, and the almond-flour mixture. Dip each shrimp in the egg white and then dredge in the almond-flour mixture. Set on a clean plate.
-Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook shrimp for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the outside of the shrimp becomes brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels.
-Drizzle salad dressing over mixed greens, tomatoes and avocado. Toss well. Add shrimp.

(I had to adapt the original recipe because I had forgotten to purchase a few of the ingredients. The picture above is off the Broke-Ass Gourmet website as well.)

I would recommend the recipe, absolutely. I only wish I had used more shrimp!

Pear Scones

1 3/4 cups flour (I used whole wheat)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup butter, chilled
12 cup half-and-half
1 cup chopped pear

-preheat oven to 375
-sift together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; cut in butter until mix has a crumbly texture
-whisk together egg and half-and-half in a separate bowl, then stir into the dry ingredients and mix until combined
-still in pears
-drop large spoonfuls of dough onto ungreased baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown
-rest briefly to cool before serving

Some of you may remember these--I made them quite a few times last year. I'm not sure how many of them the recipe is supposed to make; this time I had seven. I suspect I made them a little too large and there are meant to be 8.

I am going to set a chair on my little porch and drink some iced pear white tea and eat a scone with it as I finish up Virginia Woolf's The Years. I wish I had someone to share them with!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I finally did it. I finally went to a Mexican food restaurant in Iowa City.

It is, frankly, quite amazing that I managed to hold off this long. My father was here with me for three days, and this is the man who raised me on Tex-Mex at least once a week, and, truly, often twice (though usually we did not inform my mother of the fact). I have been hesitant because, well, it's Iowa City. When I first went to the grocery store, the cashier at Hy-Vee did not recognize a poblano pepper that I was buying, and when I told her what it was she asked me what it was for. In addition, when I visited the university in April, every single person (students and professors alike) that I spoke to told me not to bother with the Mexican food here. Chipotle, they insisted, was the best that Iowa City has offer a gal from Texas.

But this evening I had a conundrum. The pizza dough I was making did not rise, so my butternut squash and rosemary pizza was out of the question. The corn tortillas in the refrigerator had not thawed, so I could not pursue the asparagus taquitos, either. I haven't been to the co-op to purchase fresh shrimp yet, so I could not make the shrimp scampi or almond-crusted shrimp salad with lime dressing. (Note: when I do finally make these things later this week, you will be sure to read about the attempts, possibly complete with photos and recipes). And I was getting hungry.

In my failure to be a decent chef, I sought comfort. And if you know me, you know that my comfort food is Tex-Mex.

I decided upon Carlos O'Kelly's Mexican Cafe because it is very close to my house, and I have noticed on my trips to the grocery store that it often has a pretty good crowd. I ordered the "Enchiladas de Poblano" because I am on a poblano kick. The chips and salsa that came before the meal were extremely disappointing. The tortilla chips tasted like Tostitos straight out of the bag, and the salsa was very tomato-y. It needed cilantro, desperately.

My enchiladas were not bad. The chicken filling was nice and spiced, and moist. If the tortillas were not good, I did not notice. The sauce was different. I expected a sour cream sauce, with poblano peppers throughout. Instead, I got a very poblano-pepper-y sauce that might have had some sour cream for consistency, but you couldn't taste it. They came with a lime on top, but I couldn't get any juice out of it, which was a shame because I think it would have added a lot to the enchiladas.

The beans and rice were no good. I could not eat the rice, which was dry and spiced with all the wrong spices. The beans were sub-par, but only with the addition of the poor salsa.

For 10.00 plus tip, I would say I was disappointed. My meal was worth about 7.50 to me. But hey, at least I know that Mexican food in Iowa City might be edible. I feel up to the task of further exploring the other Mexican establishments, at any rate.

I think it's important

I think it's important to have somewhere other than tumblr for me to post to. First of all, tumblr does not seem to me to be the type of place where one has actual posts with text in them. Secondly, it's just time to have somewhere a little more private to post to.

It has been a long time since I used this blog. A lot has changed. I hope I can keep up with it this time. It might be my very first emotionally-mature blog! What a concept.

The URL is four (five?) years old, dating back to my obsessive love for Achilles. Forgive me my rich fantasy life.