Friday, November 20, 2009

a connection

I really like fall, in case I haven't mentioned it before. One of the things I like about fall are its flavors. I anticipate the arrival of squash and brussels sprouts and "warm" spices like those found in a pumpkin pie. I am always enticed by pumpkin-spice lattes and, as autumn seems to indicate that Christmas-time is here and thus it's appropriate to start selling Christmas-type items in OcToBeR??!, gingerbread lattes. However, here-in lies a problem.

I have noted to myself several times that pumpkin-spice lattes make me feel awful. A stomach ache unlike others I get. Most of the pumpkin-spice lattes I've experienced also seem to taste waxy to me. Waxy is the best I can come up with to describe what I'd otherwise term "like crayons" (not that I believe I've ever eaten crayons. But the taste is the same as how crayons smell). Until this year I have ignored the fact that pumpkin-spice lattes are disagreeable to me, and I've had at least one when fall hits...only to be given another data point indicating that Something Is Wrong with them when combined with my body. I guess I mostly remember the bad taste, and I seem to think that if I try enough versions made using different recipes I'll find one that does not taste like a crayon. Finally this year I took the data into consideration and decided not to further test the hypothesis that pumpkin-spice lattes create a sensation of illness and taste waxy.

However, I did have a gingerbread latte yesterday. I think I've had these before, and perhaps they have been bad and I just don't remember it. But yesterday's left me feeling quite like I'd had a pumpkin-spice latte, although it did not taste waxy in the least. In fact, I really liked it. So I was quite disappointed when I had the just-drank-a-pumpkin-spice-latte feeling afterward!

In my scientific mind, it seems like gingerbread and pumpkin-pie flavoring could indeed have similar ingredients, because they have similar spice-tastes, and I know that gingerbread and pumpkin pie are made using similar spices. So I've tried to figure out what might be causing the problem. I learned something quickly: ingredients lists of flavored syrups will NOT give any useful information about what causes a disagreeable feeling in one's tummy or creates a waxy taste. For example, one list included these ingredients:
  • pure cane sugar
  • water
  • gingerbread flavor
  • citric acid
  • caramel color
  • cinnamon extract
Hm, well...I don't think that water or sugar or caramel color (which is in everything...) would cause me illness. And I have cinnamon all the time, so I doubt that. Thus, the culprit is likely "gingerbread flavor"...which is entirely useless. :-P

Kind of makes one start to think about food do folks MAKE gingerbread flavor. It's just chemicals, I know that. What is the chemical in, for example, ginger that causes it to taste like ginger?

I have concluded that instead of attempting to track down complex organic chemistry formulas of flavor molecules, it will be easier to test the individual spices that theoretically make up the pumpkin-spice and gingerbread "flavors" to see if any create a poor reaction (sounds fun, huh?). So far what I can determine is that cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cloves are what goes into the flavor of these two. I'll give it a whirl, thing I still don't understand is why neither pumpkin pie nor gingerbread in their original non-beverage forms don't give me any trouble at all!! Hm...

Friday, October 30, 2009

waiting and waiting...

It seems that I'm in an anxious period of waiting currently. Not Joe was informally offered a new job, and now it's been two weeks of waiting for HR at the company to send him an official offer. I'm also waiting for a lot of samples to be analyzed at another facility (although, honestly, I'm not DYING for the results to come back, because I'd then need to analyze them, and I'm already busy with work as it is).

The biggest ache I'm experiencing, however, is anticipation of the harvest season to be over & winter to set in. Don't get me wrong, I want to enjoy autumn and all its beauty and crispness. But I have been storing away food from the summer's harvests, and...I want to start using it! It's somewhat silly - obviously I CAN use it now. But this primal fear in me says, "But what if you NEED that in the winter! Use the fresh veggies now - they won't last for winter!" And it's not as if I don't have a lot of fresh vegetables. My refrigerator is literally packed full of vegetables that won't store anywhere else (unless I had a root cellar...which, being that I live in an apartment, I don't) (oh, and I guess I could can some of it, but I'd rather have fresh carrots than canned carrots, you know?).

This is thanks to the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group that I have been a part of this season. The CSA gives me a huge crate of food every week. This experience was rather a snafu. The first time I did a CSA I got a "half-share," which is supposed to feed 2 people who love vegetables - and that was way, way too much for me alone to handle. This year I found a bunch of friends who liked the idea of a CSA, so I went ahead and paid for a "full-share" - enough to feed a veggie-loving family of 4. Guess what. My pals liked the IDEA of a CSA, but they didn't actually want to participate in the paying for or consumption of the food from the CSA. So...I obviously have received a LOT more vegetables than I need. So, it's good that I picked this year to learn how to preserve food, because that was about all I could do with much of it.

I've felt like I've been in a never-ending battle with vegetables. I'd make it my goal for each Tuesday to get all of my veggies eaten so the fridge would be able to accept the new shipment that arrived that day. I kept up with it for a while, and then...well, then I learned that composting is a great way to pay back the earth for the bounty is provided to us from it. If my 10 eggplants from week 1 didn't make it to the end of the week, they'd go in the composter, and I didn't need to feel bad about it at all. Except that I'd intended to pay for the vegetable and not the compost material. Ah well.

So, PLEASE...harvest, stop! I look forward to eating my frozen and canned vegetables en masse with no guilt that I am ignoring the 10 pounds of brassica in the refrigerator! I welcome the day when I can slice open the winter squash that keeps so well in a dark, cool closet, and say, "This is the ONLY OPTION I have! No lettuce, no spinach, no late tomatoes to contend with! I shall consume this squash with no regret!" Come, winter!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

moving forward

There has been a lot of waiting going on here for some time. I've been waiting ( still waiting) at work for several people to make some contributions to our joint project and for a bunch of samples to be analyzed. Not Joe and I have been waiting to hear about a job he began pursuing on July 26 (fortunately, it was July 26, 2009, not 2008...).

FINALLY yesterday I heard about two sets of samples that will be getting worked on in the next couple of weeks, and today I am going to work with one of the potential-contributors to see if the machine they're dealing with works or not.

And...yesterday...Not Joe got the job he's been waiting for!!!! We are both very excited. Financial stability (or, at the very least, income rather than expenses-only) is a really nice thing. He's also been self-employed for several years, and the new job will have health care benefits -- I think we're both rather relieved about that.

He's not sure on the start date yet, but at least there's a JOB waiting!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


It's been great autumn weather here over the past couple weeks - crisp and colorful. I was just catching the bug to start cold-season knitting.

And then, today...

IT'S SNOWING!?!?!?!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009


It's my birthday. So here I am to toot my own horn. :-)

A brief update on me:

I still work at Penn State. I still research the same stuff. It is going okay - slowly, but surely.

I am still dating Not Joe. I hope that soon we will be not-just-dating. Not Joe is looking for a new job because he does not like his current one & there hasn't been much work there anyhow. He purchased a foreclosed home in the late spring or early summer and has been fixing that up to sell at a profit. We hope it gets done soon. Note to self: flipping a foreclosed home by one's self is a lot of work!

Joelle is still kickin'. She's quite fine and is again due for a haircut. Not too long ago she somehow escaped from her cage AND THE DOOR WAS STILL LOCKED. I am not exactly sure how that happened, but I know clamp the door closed at a different angle.

This past year I have grown in my fascination of growing vegetables and preserving them so I can eat "in season." I learned how to can!! Just yesterday I made 8 jars of jam, one of which was made from wild blackberries I picked myself! I learned that if one is to "put up" enough food for a whole winter, one needs to put up A LOT of food. I do not think I will have enough to last the whole winter, but that is quite alright. I dream that some day I can have a "homestead" where I have prolific vegetable and herb gardens, chickens, honey bees, a plot of berries, and a small orchard (and maybe even some goats or sheep or rabbits...??). But for now I will settle for a small step or two, such as...starting a dwarf apple tree & growing sprouts over the winter. I know where to buy the sprout-growing stuff, but I'm not so sure about the tree. I will also note that I believe keeping a homestead will take a significant amount of time - not something that I could do while, for example, being a postdoctoral researcher.

I still knit, although infrequently. Now that the weather is cool again, I'm feeling more motivated to do so. Christmas is coming, so I will need to get on Christmas knit-gifts very soon!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

magic bunny

Hello everyone... To the few of you who read this, sorry I've been MIA for so long! :-( No dramatic, tragic things have occurred, I just have not blogged. Sure, life has been "busy," but it always is. It's more a matter of what I decide to prioritize. Lately, work has been the major priority, and it's amazing how much time one can spend working!

One of the things I've been learning (relearning?) in this season of extreme work is that some of the smallest things have the biggest importance. I've spoken before about cleaning. That's one of them. Still haven't gotten that entirely rooted in my brain yet. Another one is taking care of what one's been given -- and for me right now that includes a) my body (giving it enough rest, quality food, showers, visits to the doctor, etc.) and b) my rabbit, Joelle.

The other night I had some gal friends over for a "tea party" (we...sat around the table and drank tea. Not exactly a party, but it was good) and towards the end we somehow got to talking about Joelle and grooming her. I mentioned that it's possible to put rabbits in a "trance" to work on their bellies when grooming them, and then of course they wanted to see this amazing phenomenon. So I scooped up Joelle and laid her on her back and rubbed her nose, and sure enough her head lolled to the side and she was passed out.

In the midst of this all I realized that she's a big, huge mess. I know she's been matted for a while, but she hates being groomed and I don't like doing it, so we agree to just not do the grooming thing most of the time. But at this was really bad. So after the tea party I spent a good couple hours working away at her major problem areas.

Angora rabbits typically shed their coats several times a year. If one doesn't brush them regularly - especially during the shedding period - the shed hair just gets incorporated into mats. It makes it sort of fun to brush out mats, because if you put a mat rake to a mat made out of hair that's already been shed, huge chunks of hair start just falling out as the mat is destroyed. I find it rather satisfying.

Another aspect of this shed is that if one were to actually groom the rabbit at the appropriate times, they could easily harvest all of that hair that's being shed because it just pulls out. I have never really done this with Joelle for various reasons -- usually I just cut her hair short every now and then. I actually didn't realize quite what this "harvest" meant until lately when I visited this website.

But, on this fateful night, it just so happened that Joelle was shedding, and as I brushed out the tangles behind her ears, her hair just kept falling out and falling out. It was like magic! So, I thought...this would be a prime time to see just what happens when I harvest in the "right" way.

Joelle wasn't a huge fan of this, and we'd already been in grooming mode for at least 1.5 hours -- producing this fine mess... I didn't get far. can see the results: