Monday, June 30, 2008

I’m No Longer A Teetotaler

One of life’s little luxuries in my otherwise frugal and very often banal existence as a graduate student is my weekly consumption of a bottle of vino. For some inexplicable reason (I have various fantastic theories about this), I got out of the habit for about five months and fell back on the ever popular H2O interspersed with the occasional iced tea or lemonade. A few events happened which brought a dramatic conclusion to my life as a teetotaler.

Firstly, a couple of months ago, I received a beautiful gift – a crystal wine stopper that I have been dying to use. And then, a couple of weeks ago, I drank a couple of glasses of a beautiful Chilean red at a friend’s. A few days after that, I had a chance to enjoy a bottle of Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir – a bottle of which I had purchased before the dark wine-less months, and which I took to a party with me. And I experienced the joy once again of what it felt like to sip on a glass of wine from a sparkling goblet. Around the same time, I picked up a copy of John Mortimer’s “The Penge Bungalow Murders”, a Horace Rumpole novel. Readers of the Rumpole series will testify that on almost every other page, the celebrated barrister extols the virtues of that greatest of wines – Pommeroy’s plonk, on which Rumpole in his sagacity bestows the much nicer, but equally hilarious name of “Vintage Château Thames Embankment”. I’m halfway through the book, and the repeated mention of the good old bottle had the effect of propelling me in the direction of the nearest grocery store.

I wanted to try something I hadn’t tried before. And of course, I had to pick something that wouldn’t break the bank. Also, I resolved not to drink any more Californian wines – I may be too poor to travel to distant countries, but I can vicariously experience far-off lands through their bottled product. I still have a bottle of Mögen David Concord Red, which is unmistakably Californian, but that cannot be helped I suppose. Anyway, after about 15 minutes of lazy browsing, I picked out two wines:

• Georges Dubæuf, Red Beaujolais Wine, 2005 (France)
• Sommerau Castle, Riesling, 2006 (Germany)

The French wine was a steal since it was marked down from $11.49 to $5.49. And the Riesling was only $7.50.

My local Hy-Vee does not have a very wide selection of imported wines – at least not a wide selection of what I would buy and drink. There are some foreign wines that I will not drink because of their names. I refuse to drink at any price wines with names such as “Monkey Bay”, “Funky Llama”, and “Fat Bastard” (No, I am not making these names up). I’d much rather drink a horrible wine called Château something. Yes, I am a wine snob… sue me! Maybe I should try a real liquor store for a wider selection.

As I walked back home, I walked through the park. A mulberry tree was laden with ripe berries – no one seemed to want them. So, I stood under the tree, my wines in one hand, and with my other hand, I plucked and ate the sweet berries… Isn’t life beautiful?

Check out my awesome new wine-stopper. :-)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mystery and Romance

I came upon a most magnificent realization yesterday. I was reading a book of short stories by Dame Agatha Christie. They were detective stories that did not include her great set of detectives. Rather, they were tales of ordinary people who get enmeshed in the most extraordinary circumstances. However, reading her stories you would hardly think that the circumstances were extraordinary at all. In fact, it appears that danger, mystery and mayhem abounded on every street corner in her day, and that any unsuspecting passer-by could at any moment get embroiled in a spine-chilling murder or kidnapping. I also notice that every single one of those stories includes a rather klutzy young man who is often clueless about almost everything, but is called to exude machismo, charm and courage at the sight of a ravishingly beautiful damsel who is almost always extremely clever, but also extremely mixed up in some form of sinister trouble. Anyway, ten pages later, all is gas and gaiters again – the mystery is most satisfactorily solved with all the villains (usually jewel thieves, mysterious foreign spies or wicked relatives eager to usurp noble titles) securely handed over to the capable denizens of Scotland Yard, and our klutzy, clueless hero inevitably proposes to the gorgeous and grateful heroine.

That’s when the realization hit me – what one needs to do in order to find one’s soulmate is not to go in search of him, but rather to embark on a journey filled with danger, drama and scandal with a fair measure of good, old-fashioned crime thrown in. Sooner or later, usually on a train or in a tea-shop, one is bound to run into one’s dreamy hero. A few murders, a variety of poisons (cyanide, strychnine and arsenic are usually the best), some secret documents, a case of stolen diamonds, and half-a-dozen butlers are also extremely conducive to expediting matters in the romance department. You might think I am poking fun at one of my favorite authors, but that is not so – romance and danger go hand in hand in all famous detective fiction – Tommy and Tuppence Beresford came together joining forces against the 'Secret Adversary' in the Jane Finn mystery, had Harriet Vane never been accused of poisoning her fiancé, she and Lord Peter Wimsey would never have got together for an exciting domestic and detective partnership, both Dr. Watson and Captain Hastings would still be old bachelors had Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot never solved mysteries that plagued the fair ladies who were eventually to become the Mistresses Watson and Hastings. And Miss. Marple and Mr. Parker Pyne are also constantly called on to deliver their clients out of danger and into the arms of their waiting beloveds.

It is settled then – I plan on embarking on a most perilous journey forthwith. Know of any mysteries that need solving?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Flavorful and Spicy Feta Preserves

Despite the terrible midwest floods, and the generally bad weather these past weeks, Mother Nature has been kind to Ames and my plants - especially my herbs. Earlier this year, I planted mint, oregano, marjoram, rosemary and thyme. They are flourishing and fragrant right now. I have been liberally using them on pizzas, pitas, omelettes, and in curries and soups. I plan on bringing the herbs in for the winter, but I don’t think they’ll yield much during the cold months, so I will soon start picking them to dry and keep for using during the bleak Iowan winter.

Since the herbs were growing faster than I could use them up, I decided to use the excess herbs to make a Marinated Feta creation inspired by Jamie Oliver. So, I plucked a LOT of the herbs and dried them for two days – it’s surprising how much they shrink when they dry – I now completely sympathize with exorbitant dry-herb prices. And in 15 minutes yesterday, I whipped together a delightful bottle of spicy marinated feta cheese. It has to marinate for two weeks after which I will be able to use it – on toast, pitas, Greek salads, as a snack – anything.

It's delightfully easy to make it. Here's how:

Green Herbs – any combination – a handful.
Feta Cheese – 1 pound
Dried Red Peppers - 4 or 5
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – as required

1. Dry your herbs near any heat source. I placed them in my oven for two days. I used a handful – but they shrank to about three large pinchfuls, which was perfect.
2. Chop up the dried red peppers.
3. Spread the dried herbs and the chopped red peppers on a flat surface (I used my cutting board)
4. Break the feta cheese into large chunks. Lay these chunks on the spice-mix and roll around to coat the cheese well with the spices.
5. Pack the feta chunks tightly into a bottle. Throw any remaining herbs/pepper flakes into the bottle as well.
6. Pour olive oil into the bottle to cover completely – the tighter you pack the feta, the less oil you will use.
7. Let the feta, spices and oil marinate for two weeks to let the flavors infuse the oil and the cheese.

Once the mixture has marinated enough, you can refrigerate it. After you refrigerate the whole thing, the olive oil will thicken, and spreads delightfully, so in addition to the tasty marinated feta itself, you can use the flavored olive oil as a spread on toast etc. Enjoy!

P.S. On a completely different note, I watched The Kite Runner last night - based on Khaled Hosseini's 2003 book. I've been meaning to read the book, but decided to pick up the movie instead. It was an absolutely delightful movie. I highly recommend it. It has been a long time since I saw a movie so poingnant and beautiful. ~A.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Free Redbox DVD Rental!

Hello All,

Here's a promotional code you can use to rent a redbox DVD FREE!! The code is not valid for much longer, so the sooner you use it up, the better:



Friday, June 20, 2008

The First Day of Summer

Today is the first day of summer this year. (Many of you have probably already noticed, this on the news or on I thought I'd commemorate the occasion with a snippet of a poem...

"I love to rise in a summer morn
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me.
O! what sweet company!" ~ William Blake

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Smart Dialogue and Bad Writing

Why is it that all the cops on TV crime shows are always constantly trading clever and witty banter? You’d think that the whole lot of them never talked like normal human beings. Although the likeliness of hearing such amusing and interesting conversation is practically zero, the actors on these shows make it sound remarkably realistic and natural. Chrissy more than anyone else – he makes it sound like he throws witty repartees at every person he comes across. No wonder I love cop/crime shows.

Someone who cannot make dialogue sound real is Anderson Cooper. I was watching a report of Cooper travelling through Africa in search of the root of several diseases that originate in Africa. Along with breathtakingly beautiful pictures of Africa, Cooper sent in pages of his diary – moderately good attempts at sounding poetic and artistic, but they sounded very very phony. Cooper is a reporter who excels at reporting facts not creative writing and IMHO he should stick to that. However, the pictures were lovely!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Busiest Summer Ever

It's happened again - I got busy and started to neglect the blog. If my blog were a regular diary of things that happen to me, I would post more often. However, I usually tend to have something to say about something before I post - my posts are usually about something or other. Occasionally, I'll have updates on here. This is an update post.

I have been more busy this summer than I have ever before been - with the possible exception of the time when I was studying for my engineering entrance exams, and even then the exams usually were held in May or June freeing up the second half of summer. This summer on the other hand has been and will continue to be exceptionally busy. Here is a list of things that I have on my plate this summer -

1. Teaching: I'm teaching a class M-F. Teaching every single day is taxing. Add on to that the fact that I have never taught this class before and need to prep as I go along. Thankfully I am teaching only for one month which ends this Friday!
2. Prelims: My Ph.D. qualifying exams are in August. If I fail, I don't get my Ph.D. And I need to cover EVERYTHING that has ever been contributed to the field of Psychology. Okay, maybe not everything - but at least everything in the past two years, and every major research article before that. This adds up to hundreds of articles and so thousands of hours. Sadly, prep in this area hasn't begun yet. I am waiting till I finish teaching before I even think of tackling this one.
3. Dissertation Proposal: If I don't want to be stuck in Ames for another year, I need to propose my dissertation by late September. I haven't even got my committee formed yet. And I need to do an exhaustive literature review. I also need to have the whole thing written and ready to go by the time the new semester begins in the Fall. The upside of this is that I am using a pre-collected dataset. The downside is that the dataset is messed up and I need to spend some time figuring it out. No prep in this area yet either.
4. Work: I need to survive - in today's non-hunter-gatherer terms this means I have to pay for food, shelter and cell phone. Being on a nine-month contract, I don't automatically get paid in the summer. Summer funding is very competitive and I have been lucky to get a 1-month teaching position and a 1 month research/administrative position. The teaching is almost at its end, but I still need to work an additional month at the counseling center - and this will eat into my prep time for prelims and dissertation. However, the upside to this is that I can set my own hours and so probably will end up haunting the counseling center hallways in the middle of the night.
5. Hobbies/Relaxation: With all the above going on, if I did not spend some time unwinding, I'd probably end up having a nervous breakdown. Relaxation for me includes telly, gardening, browsing the internet and reading. And these also demand that of which I have very little - precious, precious time!

There it is - the busiest summer ever. Hopefully - if I pass prelims, successfully propose my dissertation and get an internship, this will be my last full summer in Ames. A year after that, I shall be in full-time employment. It shall be the end of my student life, the end of research, the end of teaching, the end of working way past 5pm, the end of having to give up life's little joys for lack of time, money and other resources, the end of enforced frugality and the end of a lot of other unpleasant things. Oh, sweet, lovely thought!!

P.S. I now belong to the Counseling Psychology program Ranked #1 in the nation. (Check the link out: It's the FSP index indicating that Iowa State is ranked #1 among the Counseling Psychology programs. It's under "Social and Behavioral Sciences", and then under "Counseling Psychology".) I am part of an extremely competitive program. I have done exceptionally well within this program - I have had my pick of the assistantships and practicum opportunities, I have an unbelievably high amount of counseling experience for a student at my level. All this hard work I am doing must be worth it eventually. I pray to God every day that this will eventually lead to a brilliant internship and a plum job!