April 27, 2008

Weekend Minutiae

Not a lot going on, just some updates on what's going on here at Chez J+J:

  • We decided that we're going to get another dog. Soon. Here is a picture of the guy we have our eye on:

    Bear the Cocker Spaniel

    His name is Bear right now (that's what the Rescue Org named him - he was a stray). We think we might name him Dmitri (Dima for short) to go along with Kira and the Russian-inspired names.

    As of right now there are 2 major roadblocks. First, we need to find out if our landlord will let us have a second dog. The second roadblock is my own idiocy. We were supposed to meet the dog we had our eye on this weekend at an event held by Shorewood Cocker Rescue. I thought it was on Sunday from noon to 3, but we discovered at around 3:30 PM on Saturday that it was in fact on SATURDAY from noon to 3 (plus, it was in Lake Geneva, which is 2 hours away, so it's not like we could have zipped over there and caught them).

    As I wrote this, I discovered a third roadblock - he got adopted this weekend. Dammit. So that's that. It's kind of cast a pallor over the weekend :(

  • We saw Kids in the Hall: Live as We'll Ever Be at the Barrymore on Friday night with our friend Brian. It was hilarious, as expected. Jennie and I both admitted to each other a day or so before the show that Kevin was now our favorite member of the troupe (Dave held the top spot for quite some time). Lots of great sketches - the best of which was one where Dave was confiding his worry that his imaginary girlfriend might be cheating on him to Kevin, only to discover that Kevin had been imagining that she was having an affair with him. Shenanigans ensued.

  • We went to the Farmers Market on a windy Satudray morning. Most of the vendors who actually put their awnings up spent a majority of the time holding on to the frames to prevent the wind from knocking them over. We got a pretty good haul - more delicious tomatoes and italian sausage (like last week), some good onions, spinach, cheese, pearl onions, eggs, applesauce, and some spring garlic. I added the spring garlic to my potato soup recipe last night, with some good results. It gave it a little more zest, even tastier than usual. My only disappointment was actually with a purchase from last week. I was excited for the market to be starting again, because one of hte stands makes amazing bacon. This time, when I went to get some they had options - hickory smoked or nitrite-free. I sprung for the nitrite-free bacon (it's what I've been buying at Woodman's and was pretty good). Big mistake - I didn't realize that it was uncured bacon. It tasted like fatty rubber. Super gross.

  • I'm almost done with Series of Unfortunate Events - I'll write my review when I finish it. I just finished The Grim Grotto - the eleventh book of the series. It was pretty eventful. Jennie said that many loose ends were not tied up at the conclusion of the series, so I'm feeling suspense over what will be explained.

  • I hit the bookstore today and picked up the beginnings of some stuff for my goal of learning some Chinese. I got the grammar book mentioned before and a big Chinese-English dictionary, along with How to Learn Any Language (on sale!). I've read the first 20 pages or so of the Language book and it's pretty fun to read so far. His views on language are a little different than mine - he stresses conversation over grammar, which I agree with objectively...but I feel that the structure of grammar is one of the main things that attracts me to language. That could just be because I don't travel very much, nor am I forced to communicate in anything but English...

April 25, 2008

Tex Tubbs and a classic pie

We hit up Tex Tubbs mexican restaurant on University Ave last night (after another disappointing aparment showing on the east side). It's a local mini-chain in Madison (it has only 2 locations) that serves american-style mexican food...though a lot closer to authentic than, say, Pedro's (or, ugh, Taco Bell, which I am proud to say I have still never eaten an actual meal from).

Tex Tubbs was pretty good - the chances of us going back to Pedro's again is pretty small between this restaurant and Pasquals (both delicious). Their menu was pretty varied - there were at least 5 or 6 things I could have ordered and been quite happy with. Jennie got some Fajitas (her usual) which she enjoyed, though she thinks she'll try something else next time, given the variety. I got the 'El Pastor' burrito, which was quite tasty. It had a mixture of smoked pulled pork (very tender!) marinated in some red chili sauce with pineapples, and beans, etc. Everything came with some pico de gallo, which I usually do not like (given my aversion to tomatoes, which I am slowly getting over), but I had no problem with it this time (the cilantro in it tasted fresh, which was big).

My only complaint was that they were out of tortilla chips (what mexican restaurant runs out of chips?!), so instead of chips and salsa we ordered a Frito Pie, which we've read about but never eaten. It came in a opened frito bag (big plus) and tasted pretty good, though I don't think it would qualify as legit by Frito Pie snobs. I think I liked this better anyway.

Anyway, after that we headed home, and I made a Peach Blueberry pie, which was delicious. I put the crust in for a few minutes before filling it, which was a good move. I think the bottom crust wasn't cooked enough last time, and it made it a pain in the ass to cut up. We could get slices out of it just fine ~30 mins after baking this time, which really surprised me. I really had to make this tonight before our blueberries went bad. I've had crummy luck with fresh fruit lately (courtesy of shopping at Woodmans) - we got some INCREDIBLE blueberries a few weeks ago but since then they haven't been as good (or lasted as long). Same with the blueberries I got this time - they went bad in only a few days. Strangely enough though the strawberries have been keeping well though (I always have bad luck with them).

April 24, 2008

Awesome site of the day

I found a link in a Harball Times article today to a site called Fangraphs. At first look, it looks like your usual run of the mill baseball analysis site...except for these:

Fangraph of Cubs/Rockies game on April 23, 2008

This tracks the win expectancy (supposedly live) for each team as a game goes on. This is too damn cool. I'm going to check it out during the Cubs game this afternoon.

April 23, 2008

Learning something new

A few weeks ago, I went to a dinner get together with all the Chinese math grad students to celebrate the graduation/new job of Xu Yang (and some other people that I don't know so well). It was a cool experience - I was the only non Chinese speaker in the (large) group at the restaurant. Xu and I were talking about the differences in our various languages, and he encouraged me to learn Chinese, which is something that I had been thinking about for a while. It's not like I wouldn't have a ton of native speakers to get some practice with, and it would probably help me if I were to ever travel to China for conferences etc. (my advisor is Chinese and has many connections over there). Also, as I discovered from my year of Russian as an undergrad, I really enjoy learning new languages!

Not long after this, the semester started bearing down and I put this idea on the back burner. Of course, I'm still busy as hell, and will be in the future, so why not start soon? KLaw has learned several languages, and recommends a book by Barry Farber as a guide to learning a language on your own. Keith's own attempt at learning Chinese petered out after he learned 500 characters or so and got discouraged. He did recommend the book Chinese: An Essential Grammar, which is fairly inexpensive for a textbook to use as a grammar reference.

I'm not looking for miracles here, but it would be nice to be somewhat conversational by, say next summer. Here's hoping a fun ride!

Spaghetti with Sausage + Mushroom Marinara sauce

I went to the Farmers' Market last week (yay!), and while I was glad that it was finally back on the square, it's really too early in the season to get many vegetables. This is what I saw:

  • Meats

  • Cheese

  • Honey

  • Baked goods

  • Garden Stuff

Granted, I got there a little late (yay sleeping in), but the only vegetables I saw were some beautiful greenhouse tomatoes. I picked up some bacon from my favorite meat stand, and some italian sausage caught my eye. I decided that I would combine these in some sort of pasta sauce. Here's what I made

Spaghetti with sausage + mushroom marinara sauce
1 pound italian sausage
olive oil
6-7 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 big delicious tomatoes, chopped
1 can tomato paste
1 tsp mustard
1/2 c sherry
chopped basil
grated parmesean and romano cheese

In a pot, brown sausage in the olive oil, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. If you're not as scatterbrained as I am, you should add the onions and mushrooms at this point to get some of the good sausage flavor (I forgot, and grilled them up separately and added them later). Add the sherry and let it cook down until most of the wine is gone. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 45 minutes or so, until it thickens. Add some basil and add to the pasta of your choice (we used some RP's egg angel hair pasta). Serve with garlic bread and a tossed salad.

I liked it a lot, Jennie seemed to like it too. I think she likes her grandmother's spaghetti sauce recipe better though, which is pretty similar but has hambuger instead of sausage and no sherry. This recipe was pretty sweet, probably due to the sherry (not sure - italian sausage is sweeter than regular sausage). I might try making it with some red wine next time. Definitely a make-again.

Blog news

Inspired by Keith Law's blog, I'm changing the scope of this blog. In addition to rambling about the Cubs (which I do mainly during spring training), I'm going to start blogging about food (cooked by me or for me), books I read, and other random stuff. Hopefully this means I'll post more than my average of ~1 post per month...