Sunday, March 31, 2013

Selfish but happy

After several weeks of work, including
  • a spring break largely dedicated to my writing, 
  • a freaking 12-hour work day today, 
  • a case of tendonitis bad enough to warrant buying several little doohickies to wear on my arm so I could keep typing and cooking as needed,
  • and a serious case of cabin fever from sitting at my desk so damn much,
I completed the first draft of an article and sent it off to the editor for commentary.  Check out that writing meter over there!

Once that was done, I checked in on the family back in Hometown.  It was an almost unstinting parade of human misery, including a truly awful progressive disease, punctuated only by occasional plaintive acknowledgment of how far away from everyone I am.  I swallowed hard and got through the phone calls.

And then I made dinner.  And had a few glasses of wine.  And you know what?  I may be a horrible, selfish asshole, but the plain truth is that I'm still in a good mood as a result of finishing that article draft.  Does it make sense that I feel a little bad about feeling good?

Whatever.  I'm going to finish my wine and eat some lovely food I just cooked.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scheduling conferences on syllabus

Every fall, I am confronted by the same problem when scheduling conference travel around class days on my syllabus, and I'm still not sure how best to handle this situation.  This year, if my luck holds, I'll be going to not one but two conferences in the fall that are practically on top of each other.  If I plan conservatively so as not to schedule a class day that must later be canceled when my travel plans solidify, this would mean wiping out seven class days in a row.  And, due to timing, that would mean that we would only have two more class days before the Thanksgiving break.  (We'll have two more full weeks of class after that, though.)  I will probably be in town for Thanksgiving and could go to class, although I know from experience that I am usually worn to a pulp from conferencing at that point, and neither my lecturing nor my discussion facilitation makes much sense under those conditions.  

Last fall, after I went through all of this in combination with some unbloggable drama back in Hometown that forced me to cancel a few other class days around the same time, I swore to myself that I would just write off the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving as days off with no classes scheduled in the first place.  Some months after that, though, it became clear that it would be in my best interest as a researcher to attend a second conference in addition to my usual Big Giant Pseudology Conference this year, which would almost certainly mean clearing my diary for a few more weekdays.  Naturally, I will also be teaching five days a week next semester, so some class sessions will inevitably be lost.  This hurts some courses more than others, since every course I have next term is on a different weekly schedule.

My understanding of CBU's academic culture is that people disapprove of canceling a class day that had been on the syllabus as usual, and that it is preferable to schedule days off as such, so that students know the score from day one.*  But I wonder if I'd be pushing my luck to say that we would basically forget about having class for half a month altogether.  CBU's academic culture – among faculty and admins, anyway – frowns upon declaring days off on weekdays immediately preceding scheduled breaks like Thanksgiving.  I understand and appreciate this policy for things like spring break, when students always try to skive their way out of taking tests and submitting papers with ski trips and the like.  But Thanksgiving?  Isn't it just a little unrealistic to say that everyone has only Wednesday to travel whitherto they require on the busiest travel day in the U.S. calendar?

Oh, right, almost all of our students are from Cornstate itself.**  They only need a few hours on the road to get home.  But I digress.

It sure won't be pretty, but I might be stuck having to travel home from a conference, turn around and teach for two days after a little more than a week of no class at all, and then go back to no class for another three days while I fight off whatever bug will surely attack me during my travels.

Am I missing some better solution?

*That is, if they ever read the fucking syllabus.
**That matter deserves a post of its own.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chad gadya

You win some, you lose some.  I'm not doing so poorly this year, but I struck out on one count: this year is the first one ever in which I have no Seder to go to for Passover.  Kind of a bummer, I must admit.

There aren't many Jews in Cornstate, and the ones I've run into so far are, frankly, not my cup of tea.  I learned last year that going to a Seder with people I don't know and don't much care for isn't really fun.  Since I haven't met anyone I trust to do a Seder the way I'd enjoy it, and since just about anyone who might host or attend a Seder lives at least forty-five minutes down the road from me in one direction or another, and since today was a huge snowstorm anyway, I bagged the effort.  Better alone than in bad company, right?

Sigh.  Guess I'll just have to party by myself this year.

Friday, March 22, 2013

O, asymptotic spring break!

It's finally spring break for CBU now!  Well, almost spring break, for me.  I have a pile of tests to grade on my desk that I've been grinding through all afternoon.  Halfway through them now, and I'm trying to remain disciplined enough to power all the way through them before I leave the office today.  I'm actually rewarding myself right now by playing around in blogland for a few minutes, after knocking out half of the grading.  Although, I must admit, I actually thought when I took the break that I had done five of eight pages, and I only just now realized that page 5 remains unmarked.  *headdesk*

I have plenty of work to do through spring break, of course, so it's not like I'm rushing to grab a flight to Cancun or anything.  But I at least want to work on some of my writing, as well as obey the pitiless requirements of my teaching load.  And grading, more than any other activity for me, grows to be more of a burden the longer it sits.  I have a party to attend tomorrow evening, and I want to go home tonight and bake some pastry in advance of that party, and have a glass of wine or two, and NOT THINK ABOUT THE MOTHERLOVIN' GRADING. 

Kinda sucks to be in the office past 5:00 on the Friday that kicks off spring break, but it's worth it to leave the pile of tests neatly organized and graded at the office.

Almost there...almost there...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Diversis sermonibus pertemptatum finitimus

  • I've paid off the last of my lingering credit card debt.  The monkey is off my back!  (For now, anyway.)
  • The big IRS portion of my tax refund arrived.  Ahhhhh.  Knock on wood, I can actually start to amass some savings to see me through the summer.
  • I just picked up Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking.  I'm excited about experimenting with new recipes, especially ones that don't require a huge amount of effort after the workday.  (I'm going to politely ignore the amount of fat that some of the recipes include, for the moment.)
  • Speaking of cooking fat, I was searching for a recipe for chopped chicken liver, which led me to a recipe for schmaltz.  Shudder.  It's entirely possible that I will try that someday just for the tinkery challenge of it – especially with my increasingly greasy and well-seasoned cast iron pan – but it makes me mildly ill just to look at the pictures of the ingredients in process.  I really don't understand how my Ashkenazi ancestors ever lived past the age of 50 in the pre-modern era.
  • I sometimes wonder what it felt like to be one of those first proto-Ashkenazim who emigrated so far north of the Mediterranean that they could no longer acquire olive oil for pareve cooking. 
    "Well, the only fat we can even get out here in the boonies is butter.  How are we supposed to cook meat without oil?"
    "I dunno.  You think we could maybe just render animal fat into cooking grease?"
    "Oh, yeeeeccccccch!  That's gross, man!*  But....I guess I don't have any better ideas.  Go get the meat pan — and, uh, maybe some onions just to make this seem a little less nasty."
  • Some geeky anti-MOOC brilliance here.  It makes me wish more people tried to formulate ideas in Yoda's (apparently native?) grammar and syntax.  Seem smarter and more insightful, it makes things.
*Get it?  Get it?  Okay, it's not the best Judeo-German pun ever, but whatever.  It's no worse than half the jokes that Freud published.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Memo to myopic parents

From: Dr. Koshary;

To: Those parents of students at CBU who seem to believe and declare to their children that paying a lot of money for their children's education automatically entitles them to demand high grades from those students 
  • despite the fact that a grade is meant as an evaluation of how well the student learned something new and not of what the student already knew beforehand,
  • despite the fact that a liberal arts college is supposed to challenge a student intellectually,
  • despite the fact that students sometimes struggle early on to get the hang of a new subject,
  • despite the fact that a C is a perfectly normal grade to get in a discipline outside one's intended or declared major,
  • despite the fact that one C on a test or paper does not even necessarily mandate a C in the course at large,
  • despite the fact that one C on a transcript does not doom a person to a life of abject poverty and misery,
  • despite the fact that encouraging them to focus their strongest efforts on their sports and extracurriculars and social networks in legitimized drinking clubs is almost entirely dissonant with the idea of encouraging them to excel in schoolwork,
  • despite the fact that this attitude implies that only poor people in inexpensive schools need to work for their grade,
and on that economic basis demand that their children drop a full-credit college course when a C appears a possible outcome
  • thereby communicating to their children that 'academic achievement' is really just maintaining a flat-line lack of intellectual growth within a comfort zone,
  • thereby communicating to their children that the best course of action to take when presented with a challenge is to quit and shy away from the challenge,
  • thereby communicating to their children that those non-scholastic components of the student's schedule are actually more important than the coursework in college,
  • thereby communicating to their children that grown-ups in the real world are more worried by a record of struggle for achievement than by a record of weak effort and cowardice,
  • thereby communicating to their children that their final transcript will augment rather than weaken their chances in an already-tough post-collegiate job market,
  • thereby ultimately communicating to their children that form is more important than content, that price is equivalent to value, and that college is not truly about education;
Body text:  You make me sick.  May you reap what you sow.  (Enjoy having your kids move back in with you when they're 35, saddled with six figures of consumer debt, saying that their jobs were just too hard to keep, given their social schedules.)

Most sincerely,
Dr. Koshary

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lentil soup FTW

With my cast iron skillet skills very much a work in progress, it's comforting to know that I (usually) know how to get things right with my stock pot.  Lentil soup is one of the top 10 most comforting things in the universe – it's true, go look it up – so it's a great pleasure to be able to whip up a pot of this stuff on yet another cold day brought to you by Endless Winter. 

I try various recipes from time to time, but my favorite to date has been an Indian-style one poached from some newspaper.  (NYT?  Can't remember.)  It was good, but way too bland: "Indian-style," of course, usually means "take away all of the heat, take away the ghee, and throw in a little cinnamon and curry powder."  This recipe wasn't quite that bad out of the box, but I've been tinkering with it to goose up the flavor.  (As we all know, lentils often need a lot of goosing.) 

The one I made today for lunch was so good that I now regret that I couldn't have made a double batch.  I'll need some lead time on that, since part of the key seems to be using homemade chicken stock as a soup base.  My stockpot can only hold one chicken, and one chicken yields about 8 cups of stock, which is pretty much the quantity you need for every recipe.  But man, I'm glad I spent the time yesterday simmering up the stock.  The full key to greatness seems to be using my own stock instead of store-bought broth, and doubling most of the seasonings.

Try it!  Tell me what you think.  (NB: You will never, ever find a more umami low-sodium recipe.  It's not the lowest-fat recipe around, but I'm way warier about salt than fat, for my own health reasons.)

Curried lentil soup, Dr. Koshary-style

2 T. ghee
1 large onion, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
4 hot chiles of choice, minced
Handfuls of fresh baby spinach leaves, if available
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 T. curry powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 bay leaves
1 pinch asafetida
1 1/2 C. red lentils, rinsed and drained
8 C. homemade chicken stock (or, if you must, reduced-sodium chicken broth)
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste — note that you should not require any salt!

1. Heat the ghee in a heavy stock pot over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Add garlic, chiles, and all dry spices, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes longer.
3. Stir in lentils and stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender, about 45 minutes.
4. Discard bay leaves.  Stir in cilantro and lime juice.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Smoke gets in my eyes

In honor of the steak I cooked tonight:

This was the first steak that I have ever cooked, in fact, and I chose to do it Alton Brown's way: searing the meat on my spiffy new (and goddamn heavy) cast-iron skillet, then transferring it to the oven for a few more minutes to cook the center.  Other than some low-grade smoke inhalation and some slightly watery eyes, I have to admit that it turned out pretty well, even if I can't yet locate any grass-fed beef in Cornstate — even in mighty Corntown!*  When you can't even rely on Trader Joe's, you probably have to call off the search.

All respect to the illustrious Mr. Brown, but I don't recall him mentioning in that episode ("Steak Your Claim," if you're keeping track):
  • that my skillet would come out of its oven pre-heating already smoking a bit.
  • Or that applying the steak to the super-heated skillet would cause such huge billows of smoke that I would lose 50% of my usual visibility within my apartment, thereby encouraging me to open every window for emergency ventilation, in the middle of a windy snowstorm.
  • Or that the steak would leave such a stubborn imprint on my thoroughly seasoned skillet that it would shred the paper towels I used to scour the bottom with oil and salt, thereby encouraging me to re-season the pan after dinner amid fears that I have somehow removed the seasoning that I have been patiently building for a week and a half with greasy, greasy breakfasts and dinners.  Oh, well.  Cast-iron cookware is a lifetime investment, I'm told, and regularly re-seasoning is just part of the game.
*Clearly, I have succumbed to the inevitable, and now think of the major regional city in the center of Cornstate as Corntown.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Your nightmare film

Not what you're thinking, probably.  It crossed my mind today that there is a film that I absolutely adore, that I can watch over and over, that I can appreciate for all sorts of aesthetic reasons.  It's one of my very favorite films ever.  And at the same time, I live in quiet terror that someday I will end up living out the basic narrative of that film.  (NB: it is not a horror film.)

Readers, please tell us: what film fills this role for you?  (Bonus points if you can guess correctly which beloved film is my own personal nightmare.)