Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What's cooking?

So my new favorite thing is an immersion blender, you know, the electric stick thing that you stick in a pot and BRRZZZZZZZZRRRTTTTTT, and now your soup has a pleasant texture as opposed to the standard "broth with stuff floating in it." However, be sure not to pull the immersion blender out of the soup while it is still on, lest you end up taking a soup shower- and that's not a euphemism.

So the immersion blender and the winter weather (Southern hemisphere shout out!) have put me in the mood for soup. Here are two I've tried lately:

1. Moroccan sweet potato, carrot, and chickpea soup. Yummers!!

2. Tortilla Soup. I did change this one a bit since I wanted to share with my vegetarian flatmate. I subbed veggie broth and didn't add the chicken put put in some diced zucchini, corn, and kidney beans to bulk it up, and then I hit it with the immersion blender- not a full puree, just about a 50/50 mix. I also used tortilla chips instead of frying my own corn tortiallas, because who has time for that shit? Okay, so essentially what I cooked had little to do with the recipe, but it was really easy to make and tasted very good, especially with avocado and cheese and cilantro all over the top.

And to continue on the vegetarian kick, I had friends over for dinner recently and turned it into a parma party and ended up making Martha Stewart's Baked Eggplant Parmesan (I like how it has aubergine in parentheses, cause Martha's so European) in addition to this oven baked chicken parm. The eggplant was a little more work than the chicken but both came out well and made for a perfect winter dinner, served up with pasta, salad, garlic bread, and plenty of red wine.

Sorry, no photos this time around- you'll have to settle for my witty commentary.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Here are some links of interest:

Reagrding the women's world cup, I watched a few of the later round games and the final- which was a great game- exciting goals, tough play by both teams, and even though most soccer purists hate it when a game is decided by penalty kicks, I can't help but love the drama. It would have been nice for the USA to win and they did play a great tournament, but I did feel happy for the Japanese team- they were underdogs who didn't give up when they fell behind, and they deserved to win. Something felt different from the men's world cup, and I couldn't put my finger on it at first- in women's basketball, the game always seems like it's being played in slow motion compared to the men, but that's not the case in soccer. And then I realized- the game seemed to run so much more smoothly because there were relatively few stoppages of play- in comparison to the men's world cup, hardly anyone was diving! They were just out there playing soccer, not rolling around and feigning injury every time they lost the ball. It really made the game so much more enjoyable to watch. I'm not sure if the difference is due to the fact that women tend to dive less than men, or that the final was played between the USA and Japan, whereas South American and European teams are much more notorious for diving. Here's a nifty NYT article about less diving in women's soccer (thanks, JR!).

Other links- Perfectly Timed Photos. Crappy layout aside, there's some great stuff on here.

My new favorite talk/interview show: The Graham Norton Show. On this BBC program, Irish host Graham Norton interviews celebrity guests, but in a much more interesting format that the typical US late-night shows. Kind of like on Conan, all the guests sit together so it's more of a conversation than a series of quick one on one interviews. And because it's British television, they're allowed to swear and tell raunchy stories. Here's a great episode with Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Alex Kingston, and Rob Lowe. Rob Lowe comes across as a bit of a tool but the other three seem relaxed, witty, and hilarious.

Lastly, Rihanna is hilarious in a lot of these photos with fans. It makes me like her even more. (via Metafilter)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Adventures in Massachusetts

Okay, I promise this will be the last post on my big June/July trip. In my mind, it's a summer trip, but the whole winter in the southern hemisphere is kind of throwing me for a loop.

After Helsinki and Newport, I spent a week and a half back in my hometown, spending time with the family and catching up with friends. It was great! I must say, though, when you live far away, returning home for a visit is definitely not a relaxing vacation. The entire time was a whirlwind of activity- seeing friends, running errands for my parents, spending time with my nieces, visiting my grandmother, meeting new babies (and getting spit up on by one- I considered it a sign of affection). I did manage to accomplish my two priorities- eating and shopping. Fried clams at Harry's, sushi in Boston, good Mexican food, nice crispy American bacon, Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, and all the things you just can't get in Australia. Since it was 4th of July cookout season, I also packed away my fair share of hot dogs. As for the shopping, between the Natick Mall, DSW, and the New Balance outlet, I may have singlehandedly stimulated the Metrowest economy.

Highlights included an overnight in the city with my sister Kerry and my nieces, and an evening that culminated in a distasteful photo shoot with my arch nemesis: Edible Arrangements. One of their stupid vans always hogged the best parking spot in front of my apartment for my last couple of years in Southie.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Around the World in 22 Days

On my last trip, I ended up traveling around the world: Melbourne -> Singapore -> Helsinki -> Reykjavik -> Boston -> LA -> Sydney -> Melbourne

I spent a lot of time on airplanes, and probably took enough weird one-way flights to earn myself a spot on the TSA watch list. One effect of living in Australia is that I've become accustomed to long flights. Here are some tips:

1. Neck pillow and eye mask. I look like a huge dork, but at least I get some sleep.
2. On overnight flights, I try to stay up for the first 2 or 3 hours, during which time I consume 2 glasses of red wine. 1 is not enough, 3 causes too many trips to the bathroom. When I'm ready to sleep, I pop a couple of whatever mild sedative I was most recently able to legally acquire- lately codeine has been my airline drug of choice.
3. Be polite, but keep quiet. Don't run the risk of getting trapped in an awkward conversation with someone you're stuck next to for 10 hours.
4. Bring your own headphones.
5. Bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it up before you board.
6. Movies and books are your friends.

On this last trip, I watched the following:

1. Red Hill- a modern western set in Australia. Really good!
2. The Apartment- A young Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in a Mad Men era comedy. Enjoyable but not as good as I was hoping.
3. Terms of Endearment- A much older Shirley McLaine stars in a movie about a mother-daughter relationship. Apparently I was on a Shirley McLaine kick. How did I not know until I just looked at IMDB that Warren Beatty is her brother? Anyways, the movie was pretty good, and Debra Winger was fantastic as the daughter.
4. Adam- Girl meets boy, boy has Asperger's. Meh- their relationship never seemed believable to me.
5. Win Win- Everyone's favorite loveable loser Paul Giammatti ends up taking on a troubled teen who turns out to be a star athelete. A bit predictable but highly enjoyable.
6. Just Go With It- A rom-com starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Just as bad as I expected it to be.

and I read the following:

2666, by Roberto Bolano. I've actually been reading this for the past few months and I finally finished. It is LONG and also a slow read- despite excellent writing and an interesting story (the backdrop of the book is the serial killing of women in a Mexican border city), the sheer length of the book made it feel more like a chore than a pleasure. The book is divided into sections with a variety of characters (a reclusive German novelist, a group of four literary scholars, a Mexican policeman, and American sportswriter) who all end up in Santa Theresa, a fictional city based upon Ciudad Juarez and its femicidos. Bolano died before the novel was finalized, and I can't help but think that it would have been better had he lived long enough to fully finish and edit it. The numerical title is never explained.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. I do love good Young Adult fiction and this one is a winner. Set in the future, the United States no longer exists and has been replaced by a number of territories ruled by a Capitol City. As punishment for a previous uprising, every year each territory must send one teenage boy and one girl to The Hunger Games- a fight to the death. Think Stephen King meets Harry Potter, with a female protagonist. I loved it! A creative premise, great characters, and fun and quick to read. It's a trilogy so now I need to hunt down the next two.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Wedding report

After Helsinki and a night in Framingham, the next stop on my trip was Newport, RI for Ern and Pat's wedding. As expected, the festivities were an absolute blast- the bride and groom looked fantastic and so happy, the ceremony and reception were pretty much perfect (seriously, it was like a magazine wedding), and it was great to see so many friends. I was a bridesmaid, which was especially nice considering A. I loved my bridesmaid outfit and B. I didn't have to do anything except show up a couple of days early to drink cocktails with Ern and friends.

It had been cool and rainy all week, but fortunately, by the afternoon of the wedding the weather had completely transformed into a sunny summer day. Ern's uncle performed the ceremony- it's always nice when someone who knows the couple well takes on this role, and he did an excellent job. Plus, we didn't have to sit through a mass. The reception was a traditional lobsterbake (my first!) where lobster, clams, corn on the cob, potatoes, sausage, and a few other goodies are slowly cooked on hot rocks and a bed of seaweed. Deliciousness. As for the entertainment, they had a great bluegrassy-type band and an assortment of lawn games, as well as giant picture frames you could pose in for photos. I enjoyed checking out everyone's outfits- lots of polo and nautical themed attire, as well as hats and gloves. I didn't take too many pictures but here are a few of my favorites (some pilfered from Liz).

Congratulations to Ern and Pat! Thanks for getting married so the rest of us could go to your awesome party.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Five Days in Helsinki

My trip started off with a whimper when the ash cloud disrupted my original travel plans, so instead of spending a few days in Boston prior to a work trip to Helsinki, I flew the other way around the world, stopping in Singapore and continuing on to Helsinki. It’s a lovely city- beautiful buildings, parks, and a lot of coastline- the city sits on the Baltic Sea and is surrounded by small islands. The architecture of the city is dominated by two huge churches, a white, modern looking one and a red brick orthodox one. Since it’s close to midsummer, the light was constant so I never felt any jetlag, partially because I never had any idea what time it was- good thing I brought a sleeping mask. Visiting Finalnd in the winter would likely be a vastly different experience. I had been warned that Helsinki was expensive but it didn’t really seem any different than Melbourne to me.

I arrived a couple of days before my meeting so had a chance to explore the city a bit, mostly on foot. My favorite stop was the market along the waterfront right at the city center. Fresh berries, reindeer meat, furs, knives, and herring- all of your Scandinavian favorites! My prize find was a pair of clip-on amber earrings for my grandmother, who loves jewelry but never got her ears pierced. I also checked out some of the local landmarks and took a ferry out to Suomnelinna island, which has an old sea fortress and a brewery.

Monday afternoon was my big meeting, in which I gave a two hour presentation to a bunch of pneumococcal bigwigs and representatives from the Gates Foundation, who are funding the project. My supervisor is the project coordinator and since she’s on maternity leave I was tasked with giving our steering committee an update on the laboratory portion of the project. It went very well, so yay for that. The next couple of days I attended the conference, which was largely focused on pneumococcal vaccination. The amount of research, time, thought, and money that lays the groundwork for introducing a vaccine into a country and ensuring that it’s safe and effective is astounding. Since pneumococcal vaccines are now being introduced to developing countries (where they are most needed), a lot of scientists from places like The Gambia and the Thailand/Burma border were at the conference, so it was really interesting to hear about their experiences.

Aside from the science, the conference had some other highlights. The hotel we stayed in was a converted prison- the rooms were obviously modified and really nice, but the hallways had a distinct prison feel and the restaurant used tin plates and mugs. The Finnish organizers of the conference had arranged for two social activities: birdwatching at 5am and “traditional Finnish evening with sauna.” I skipped the birds and went for the traditional evening. I was a little suspicious about the sauna when I noticed that there were separate sauna times listed for men and women. It turns out that the in a traditional Finnish sauna, everyone is naked. I walked in wearing my bathing suit but felt like a weird foreign prude so I ended up slipping out of it and just going with the naked Finnish flow. These people seriously love saunas- nearly everyone has one in their house or apartment, and apparently one Finnish prisoners have the right to a daily sauna. The World Sauna Championships were an annual event in Finland until one of the finalists died last year.

After the sauna, we went for a dip in the Baltic Sea (with bathing suits on) and then played a few games of Mölkky, a lawn game that's apparently Finland's answer to cornhole. After dinner and drinks, we participated in another Finnish tradition- cooking bread over the campfire. Instead of marshmallows, they toast sweetened bread dough on sticks over the fire. Yummers!

Overall, I really enjoyed my few days in Helsinki- the city was pretty and clean with a lot of do, and the people were friendly, almost all blonde, and fond of nudity.