Thursday, 30 October 2014

"Autumn" in East Texas

How adjuncts spend their autumn evenings.
When October hits, I always feel like autumn must be just around the corner. Of course, autumn is just around the corner for people living close to or above the Mason-Dixon line. There is no autumn here, really. I am told by weather websites that some leaves will change color in early-to-mid November, but we’ll see about this. I am not hopeful. The leaves never really changed in College Station. Today the temperature dropped (high of 79 degrees projected). This is not the weather for dying leaves and bonfires and hot drinks.

 One of the things I love doing in strange (to me) areas of the country/world is talking with locals about seasonal expectations. Some of my students indulge me by sharing their perceptions of “cold” weather, seasonal clothing, and seasonal activities. My students have been wearing sweatshirts lately (it’s 79 degrees, after all!!) and begrudgingly not looking forward to winter weather (50 degrees).

There’s also a sense of desperation some days on campus to wear all of the autumn clothes that one is supposed to wear in this season, even when temperatures are in the high-80s (autumn clothes = jeans, leggings, boots, sweaters, sweatshirts, fleece jackets, flannel shirts). I always chuckle at the autumn-clothed student, struggling and sweating across campus on an 87 degree day, and they always chuckle at me for unfashionably wearing decidedly summer clothes (summer clothes = capris, skirts with no tights/leggings, short sleeves, flats). We share a mutual chuckle.

By the end of October at universities, there is also a sense of dread and work-piling-up and sicknesses caused by not sleeping. I am a strong defender of the need for a fall break in October; both for the well-being of students and professors. My students are tired and sick and stressed, and they really need some time away from class so they can come back refreshed. I am tired and behind on grading and really need a break to refresh myself. Texas universities do not have a fall break, though, so we just have to bully-through until Thanksgiving break (which is super-long here; it starts after classes on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week).

I always like to dress up on Halloween if I’m teaching, and, conveniently, Halloween falls on Friday this year (when I teach all of my classes). Dressing in costume is a silly think for a professor to do, but I’m not technically a real professor (I’m like a half-professor), and I don’t mind being silly. Therefore, I usually dress in costume and give my students candy. This year, I will be Nancy Drew, albeit the early, independent, and updated Nancy Drew (the first set of books had a more independent sleuth; then they got a little too “I need a man to come in and save me”). I am updating the early Nancy Drew by wearing jeans, as I think this version of Drew would definitely wear jeans if she was around today (it’s so much easier to climb through brush and investigate strange events in pants). Also, I will wear no hat because hats are annoying.

I have to plan my costumes and usual teaching clothes around the temperatures in my classroom, too, as I nervous-sweat in front of people (and I hop around all the time in the front of the room). Two of my classrooms are super-warm (my theory is that they are on the floors where all of the older professors have their offices, thus they complain about reasonably cool temperatures and demand the heat on at all times), so I am planning around this factor. I will also plan to be less bouncy, but I can’t promise anything.

Family updates:

JVJ: This cat had an adoption birthday at the end of September, so he got a whole can of tuna and a few tiny bits of butter. It was a glorious feast. JVJ seems pretty content and happy. His favorite game of late is to dive headfirst into a reusable bag on the floor and slide down the hall.

Katie: I’m always behind on grading, though I do usually take some evenings off from doing work (especially nights when I teach all day). Sadly, there is no time for craft projects, which includes remaking David’s school bag (it’s falling apart and I have the materials but no time). Winter is coming. I’m not really that ashamed about falling behind with grading, since the state of Texas mandates that we give our students five papers per semester. There’s no way I could have kept up, really (someday, after I leave Texas and don’t need to fear keeping my job, I’ll write a long rant about suspect education policies in writing classes).

David: Since David is teaching two different classes, he has double the lesson plans and tests and quizzes to make. David is always working (with breaks on date night and a few hours over the weekend). He had to reapply for his position here and submit a few other job applications, so work was added on top of work. Despite the work, he still makes the time to read more books than me.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

"Preventing" Disease with Soup and Biscuits

Soup time! #nofilter (hence the tag on the hot pad)
We had a bout of super-summery weather this week in Huntsville, but despite the heat and humidity, I felt compelled to make soup. One thing that I—always too much the idealist when it comes to teaching—forget is the resurgence of many diseases in the classroom in the mid-semester. Students get sick because they spend quite a bit of time in contact with the germs of others, don’t sleep much, and don’t eat well. I am a lower-level hypochondriac, so the waves of disease going through my students are scary. Hence, soup is a preventative measure.

Homemade soup has so many wonderful things going on. Chicken broth (at least, the homemade stuff), I read somewhere, has healing benefits. I don't know if this is true, but soup always makes me feel awesome. You get all of those good fats together in warm broth and good things happen. I always add real ginger and garlic to every soup I make, too, since these wonderful roots are supposed to help prevent colds and flus.

On soup nights I also always make spelt flour garlic-cheese biscuits to accompany soup, because: butter and cheese and garlic. No other answer needed.

Here are the recipes for my favorite soup and biscuits. The soup is based on a recipe by Ree Drummond (here), and the biscuit recipe is modified from two in the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

I forgot to add some of the ingredients in this pic. Most of the things are here.

Katie’s Hypochondriac Italian Chicken Soup

1 pkg. (4-6-ish) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (you can use the bone + skin kind, but then you have to pick them out later.
1 c. chopped carrots (really, use as many as you want)
1 green pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large, fresh tomato, peeled, diced, and then chopped into a pulp (trust me, the fresh tomato is so much better than the canned ones in this recipe)
Any other veggies you want in your soup (I like zucchini or cauliflower; broccoli is too strong)
1 tsp. dried basil (or as much fresh basil as you want!)
1-1/2 tsp. dried oregano (or as much fresh oregano as you want!)
2 tsp. salt (you may need to add more at the end)
2 tsp. black pepper (you may need to add more at the end)
either ½ tsp granulated garlic or 4 cloves of finely diced garlic (I can’t get it small enough for my liking, so I use the dried, granulated stuff)
1 to 2 tsp. fresh ginger; diced, and then chopped to a pulp (or buy the frozen stuff in cubes and add one cube)
1 bay leaf
hot sauce to taste
About 4 tbs. of heavy cream.

Prep everything and toss it in a pot (except for the heavy cream). Fill with water until it covers the chicken. Uncovered, bring it to a boil and then simmer for about an hour (or until the chicken is falling apart and the broth has reduced by about 1/4. 

Pull the chicken out and shred it. Add the chicken back to the pot. Add the heavy cream and let it simmer for about ten minutes (I begin making the biscuits when I add the cream, and I turn the soup off and let it sit as soon as I put the biscuits in the oven). 

Taste it before you serve it, to make sure that you don’t need to add more salt and pepper. Sprinkle Parmesan on top if you feel so inclined.


[almost] Everything in the pot!
Time to shred that chicken
After cream is added and I turned off the heat. Done!

Garlic-Cheese Drop Biscuits with Spelt Flour (makes six)

1 c. spelt flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
½ Tbs. sugar or dry sugar substitute (I like xylitol; stevia is too strong)
¼ tsp. granulated garlic
¼ tsp. salt
¼ c. cold butter, chopped into cubes
¼ c. shredded cheddar
½ c. milk (I prefer heavy cream, but you do what you want; skim will ruin it, though, so use some kind of milk product with real substance; you need fat in this recipe)

To brush on top:
2 cloves of garlic or another ¼ tsp. granulated garlic
2 Tbs. butter, melted

     1.  Mix dry ingredients (flour through salt here).

     2. Add butter cubes. Cut into dough with pastry blender. Use fork if you don’t have a pastry blender. I imagine a food processor would also work, but I’m snobby about my pastry so I can’t answer for you if you use a food processor. Cut butter in until the little balls are smaller than peas.

     3. Add cheese. Cut in the cheese in the same way, but you don’t need to cut it into as many smaller pieces; just get it worked in.

     4. Add milk (or cream, if you like delicious things). Stir until just blended. If you use cream, it will be a hard ball.

     5. Divide into six pieces. Try not to touch very much of the dough so the butter won’t melt. Drop onto sheet tray (I use parchment paper, as the cheese can make things sticky).

     6. Bake at 450 degrees F for 11 minutes. Remove and brush with the butter + garlic topping mixture immediately.


After the dough is mixed. I forgot to take a picture of the dry ingredients after I cut in the butter and cheese.

Biscuits on the tray; ready for the oven (you'll notice that I handled them a bit).
Garlic butter time!