Monday, August 24, 2009

Katie/Julie Project

I have been reading the actual blog "the Julie/Julia Project." It's wonderful! I like the blog as much as or more than the movie. And it's much more appealing than the first few pages of the book, "Julie and Julia," which used such cutting, vulgar language that it turned me off and I returned it before I had left the bookstore.

All Julie's cooking is pretty impressive. I appreciate hearing about her trials and tribulations. Cooking, for me, is often stressful. I worry about doing a good job, being efficient, doing justice to my professed interest in cooking. Julie's cooking sounds fun, in the end, but it also sounds like a lot of work.

It feels like work to me, too. For example, I spent most of my free time yesterday dealing with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Homemade pesto, browned kielbasa, taboule from a mix with garden parsley and a garden tomato. It's nice to read about someone else who also frets about food.

I like thinking about all the different groceries Julie visits to get her ingredients. She doesn't just go to Whole Foods and buy everything at once no matter the cost. She gets things here and there, and tries to get them cheaply. Like a Frenchwoman going to market.

By the way, the few recipes I've made from "Mastering the Art," include "Crème Plombières Pralinée," a génoise, and Boeuf Bourguignon. Julie writes about how wonderfully easy and delicious custards are. It's true. I learned that making floating islands my senior year of college. Custards ARE easy, and so good. Whip in the egg whites you have left from making the custard, fold them in, chill, and you have a mousse. Or make lady fingers with your egg whites. I have made Julia's custards a few times, and they are everything Julie says they are.

Now I am raving about Julie the way Julie raved about Julia. It really is "Julie and Katie." And I have started a blog about learning all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, one movement per week. So Julie has inspired me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Katie Crenshaw At It Again

This is my latest street find. Isn't it wonderful? A charming suitcase in fine condition with leather exterior and paisley cloth lining, with nice ribbons inside for fastening things down.

Here it is in my kitchen. It even has a strap, like a leash, to pull it with. Hartmann rolls as well as my thoroughly modern suitcase. I know, since I rolled it about a mile today!

I do have a suitcase already, or two, or three, if you count the striped canvas overnight bag I like to use when I'm at my parents' house. So unlike the desk, it's not something that I sorely needed. But I do love it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New York City, Summer, 2005

My life in Boston is very different than my life in New York, the summer of 2005, when I was a summer student at the Rockefeller University and lived at the 92nd St. Y. New York felt so much more like a city than Boston does to me. Lately, one thing or another has reminded me of that summer in New York...

My first night in New York City, I had a bagel sandwich for dinner at a bagel place. It was probably the perfect chewy New York bagel. Delicious. But not quite enough food. Later that night, after dark, I got hungry again, so I risked my life to venture out to D'Agostino's for some bread and peanut butter. I came home, thanked Providence that I hadn't been mugged on the street, passed through the security guards at the front of my building, took the elevator upstairs, locked my bedroom door, locked my cell phone and my money in my closet (so if someone broke into my room, they could kill me but my money would be safe, I suppose!) and tucked into my snack before tucking myself into bed.

This pencil cup is a gift my mom found for me in a museum shop after I told her about a New York Times article I'd read about the decline of the real thing. The article - this very article - made me seek out these Greek-themed cups at little delis that also served coffee.

For the rest of that summer, I ate out or bought my food at various groceries. I went to Zabar's, in the Upper West Side, on the recommendation of my favorite biology prof. I bought some delicious brioche and raisin bread there, which I ate for breakfast with cheese and marmalade. I didn't go to Zabar's often, since it was far away and expensive. More often, I shopped close to the Y. If I was in a hurry, I turned right exiting the 92nd St. Y and went to a tiny little place. If I had more time, I'd turn left and go to D'Agostino's. I also went to the Food Emporium, mentioned in Julie Powell's blog, on my way home from Rockefeller.

I remember buying Kefir and Greek yogurt for the first time and feeling so lucky to be in a place where one could buy such interesting things. Now when people bring those items to the register at Whole Foods, where I work, I often think, "Oh, remember when Kefir was new and wonderful and exotic. I miss that." Don't get me wrong: I think it's wonderful that we have everything from everywhere at Whole Foods. But I also think it's more fun to buy things in little corner stores and feel like what you're buying is a find. At Whole Foods, nothing is a find. At Whole Foods, one should expect to find everything.

Sometimes, I think of that summer in New York as the good old days, when I was young and energetic. It's not really true that I'm old and lazy now, but how reasonable are one's memories of "the good old days," anyway? That summer, I woke up EARLY, went for a 3ish-mile run in Central Park, came back, showered, dressed, ate my brioche for breakfast, then headed out for my morning coffee and New York Times at Juliano's across the street, then walked to work, dressed in style. Of course, I was sweaty upon arrival. Thank goodness labs are usually cold!

Now I wake up in my house and make coffee and make breakfast and do what my ever-changing schedule dictates. I still get my exercise, but not early in the morning. Thursday through Sunday, I get the Boston Globe delivered to my doorstep and may or may not read it over my morning coffee. I still walk to work, but through residential streets, not city blocks. I still get sweaty in the summer, and my workplace, now a grocery store, not a lab, is still cold.

The 92nd St. Y was in the middle of the city businesses in the wealthy Upper East Side. Now I live in a residential area of Somerville, in a house. The streets around me are lined with two-family, gambrel-rooved houses, yards planted with amazing rose gardens and tomatoes in pots.

In Somerville, on the buses, one sees everyone, but common riders are elderly people and non-white people pushing strollers and navigating the bus stairs. Less common to see are dressed-up business people. In New York, I saw more dressed-up business people. When I saw a Latino or black person pushing a stroller near the 92nd Street Y, the chances were that the rider in the stroller was a white child most likely left in the care of a nanny. That's life in the Upper East Side.

In New York, I played right into that Upper East Side lifestyle. I had consciously decided to spend my childhood savings in order to enjoy New York, and that's what I did. I didn't have a well-stocked fridge, by any means. Rather, I ate out most of the time and so was out and about quite often. It's in my search for food "out" that I discovered the interesting markets I remember so fondly.

Those exist in Somerville, too, but I'm not looking for them now. Here in Somerville, I do eat out every week or two, but not every day. Out of thrift, I try to do at home what, in New York, I would have done on the town.

That summer, I saw "Swan Lake" at the Metropolitan Opera House. This year, I watched the library's "Swan Lake" DVD in my living room at home. There I was trying to spend and enjoy my savings. Here, I'm trying to generate savings. All those things make make my life in Boston feel less citified than it did in New York.

One thing that makes me feel like I do live in a city now is taking ballet classes. I take the T to Central Square, walk past the homeless people, the business people, everyone, to the Dance Complex and climb the stairs to the second floor. I pay my 12 dollars, get dressed, then head upstairs ("up the winding staircase...") to Roseann Ridings' ballet class. The giant studio is packed with people of all ages. Roseann gives a hard class but doesn't expect perfection and teases us along the whole time. There's a piano accompanist, Bob, who plays for us with energy and passion. When we dance from the corner, it takes about 10 minutes for everyone to have their chance to do the combination, and Bob plays flashy music that just makes me feel like a cool ballerina in a city.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Grits Update

This is an update to my 08/03 post "Sheer Grit and Determination," in which I lamented how hard it was to find grits at Boston-area groceries and joked that maybe if people had more grits in their diets they would have more grit to their personalities. I'm not the only one of this opinion. Check out this bill to make grits the South Carolina state food.

I didn't think the "Bob's Red Mill" grits I'd bought at a local health-food store were quite right, but they were all I could find, so I made some and posted the photographs to illustrate my entry.

Today I found some Quaker grits, which are white and made from hominy. These are more what I was expecting to find, though I don't think there's anything wrong with Bob's grits. Hominy is corn that's soaked in lye until the hulls come off.

Wikipedia says that yellow grits, like Bob's, are from unhulled corn, while white grits are from hulled corn. I think soaking in lye is the only way to remove the hulls.

But you also have to consider the corn color. Grits can be made from white or yellow corn. I suspect that yellow corn is white once the hulls are removed, which is what Wikipedia is talking about. So white grits could be either from yellow corn, hulls removed, or from white corn. Yellow grits would be from yellow corn before the hulls have been removed. Here are some nice photos of white and yellow grits.

Bob's grits are probably from yellow corn with the hulls left on. The Quaker grits are probably from corn that has been soaked in lye to make hominy, then dried and milled. Could be either white or yellow corn, originally. I'm just not sure...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

les Tartines

Tu es en France. Tu viens de te réveiller, et tu t'en rapelles. Il n'y a pas beaucoup de soleil dans ta chambre, parce que les volets sont fermés, mais tu sais que tu peux te lever. C'est bien!

Tu mets tes chaussures et sors par la porte juste à côté de ta chambre. Il fait frais, et tout est un peu mouillé. Il a plu dans la nuit, peut-être. Tu replies les volets sur eux, et tu les stabilises avec deux grosses pierres. Puis tu rentres dans la maison.

Tout le monde dort encore. Tu rentres dans ta chambre, tu t'assieds sur ton lit, et tu prend ton journal et ton dictionnaire, qui sent fort comme un bon livre plein de paroles. "Je suis en France. Je me demande ce qui va arriver aujourd'hui..." tu écris. Puis, tu entends quelqu'un dans le couloir. C'est un des enfants.

"Coucou. T'as bien dormi?" elle te demande.
"Comment?" tu dis.
"Est-ce que tu as bien dormi?" elle répète.
"Ah, oui. Très bien, merci. Et toi?"
"Très bien," elle dit, sa voix se levant à la fin. "Mais ce matin, il y avait une mouche dans mon oreille qui m'a réveillée."
"Ah," tu dis, tout en souriant.
"Peut-être qu'elle a dormi là toute la nuit! Je doute ça. Tu veux des tartines?"

Tu la suis dans la chambre où il y a une grande table et des bancs pour les enfants. Elle regarde dans un placard et sort le pain de mie. C'est un pain très mou et leger, avec les tranches de 4 cm par 4 cm, à peu près. Puis, elle rentre dans la cuisine et revient avec quatre boîtes de confiture, la sorte en forme de polygone. Elle rentre encore dans la cuisine et rapporte avec lui du lait et du jus d'orange et la boîte de Nésquik.

Assises devant la table, vous commencez le petit déj. Les autres, encore trois enfants, arrivent un par un. Le grille-pain fait son travail. Le pain se grille très vite. "Quelle confiture voudrais-tu, Katie? Pomme-poire, pamplemousse, où bananes?"

En fait, tu prends toutes les trois confitures. C'est pourquoi les tranches sont si petites: pour que tu puisses en prendre plusieurs!

"Moi, j'ai pris quatre tartines," quelqu'un dit.
"J'en ai pris cinq," un autre se vante.
"Katie, peux-tu me donner le beurre, s'il te plait?"

C'est le début d'une aventure en France.

Des années plus tard, tu prends ton petit déj un matin comme aujourd'hui, où il fait frais, et tu te fais une tartine "J.J. Nissan." C'est un pain très mou qui se grille vite. Tu l'étale de fromage et de confiture fraises-rhubarbe. Tu prends aussi un café, un plaisir que tu as découvert depuis ton séjour en France. Tu étais vraiment jeune cet été de l'année 2003. Assise devant ton ordinateur et ton blog, tu reprends ton vieux dictionnaire. Tu commences à rêver et à écrire.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

le Parfum

Il y a du parfum, là. Mais vous ne le voyez pas.

Pour ma 25ième anniversaire, ma mère m'a donné du parfum. Je l'aime, et j'ai commencé à le porter.

Pourquoi est-ce que j'aime le parfum? On peut reconnaître les plantes par leurs parfums. Quand je sens des buis, je les reconnais toute suite, avant de les voir, par leur odeur. C'est pareil avec les gens qui portent toujours le même parfum. Sentir quelquechose est comme entendre quelquechose: on peut le reconnaître sans le voir. Mais mes oreilles écoutent mieux que mon nez sent.

Pourquoi est-ce que c'est comme ça? Pourquoi pas apercevoir le monde par le nez? C'est peut-être parce que les gens ne communiquent pas par les odeurs. On ne les dirige pas; on ne les choisit pas. On ne peut pas suer à volonté pour sentir plus fort, par exemple.

La bouteille à parfum contient cette liquide magique. La bouteille et son contenu sont jolis, mais ce n'est pas ça qui comte. Le parfum est invisible, comme la musique. On voit le violon, mais on ne voit pas la musique. On voit la bouteille de parfum, comme on verrait une bouteille de vin blanc, mais on sent le parfum. C'est l'odeur du parfum qui comte.

Et moi? Qu'est-ce qui compte quand on m'aperçoit? Qu'est-ce qui me distingue de quelqu'un d'autre? C'est les pensées. Même si j'avais un jumeau identique, nous serions différents, parce que nos pensées et nos expériences seraient différentes, comme si j'étais une bouteille de vin blanc et elle était une bouteille de parfum de la même couleur.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Julie and Katie?

I just watched the new movie, "Julie and Julia." It was fun, though predictable. I appreciated the way the character Julie rolled her eyes at corny moments. Rather than saying, "I'll write a blog and change the world; that's it," she would say something like, "...change the world," then add, "Yeah, right."

Here I go trying to compare myself to Julie Powell. I considered trying to do something and write a blog about it. I thought maybe I would blog about taking ballet lessons. Last year, I tried both to learn all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo violin by doing one movement a week, along with one scale and one Kreutzer Etude. Had I adhered to my schedule, I would be done with the Bach by now and nearly at the end of Kreutzer. Alas, I stopped in the middle of the second sonata. It could have been a blog.

I tried to work my way through a physics book. I never did seriously start cooking my way through Julia Child, though I did make some delicious custards and Boeuf Bourguignon, the début recipe for several cooks in the movie.

"Do something and write about it," is exactly what I want to do. Maybe that's why so many of my posts concern blogging. What I'm doing is blogging, so I write about it. But beyond the age-old tactic of overcoming writer's block by writing about writer's block... what should I write about?

I think it will come with time. Plus, I'm going to do more than one thing and write about it all.

Writing is what makes my hodgepodge of interests and activities into something. That is what writing does. It takes life and gives it meaning by telling about things that happen in a way that makes some sense to people. Not, "87 bus went by; ladybug landed on fence; carbon-14 decayed again; 88 bus went by" but "I took the 87 bus home."

Well, I think I'll go to sleep so I can tell you all about it tomorrow:)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Crenshaw, the melon

Here is a crenshaw melon I bought at Whole Foods. It's soft yellow and tear shaped. The furrows along its length, which meet at the top and bottom, make it look like a cloth drawstring bag with something at the bottom and drawn together at the top. It smells sweet when ripe.Here it is cut open, revealing the seeds and orange flesh.

Though it's orange, the crenshaw melon tastes more like a honeydew than a cantaloupe. The textures of all three melons are the same in my book.

Monday, August 3, 2009

In Which I Find A Desk

My Newfound Desk

Pictured above and also as the new heading of my blog is the desk I found free on the street this morning and managed to get home with the help of a kind taxi driver. On the right corner of the desk is a crenshaw melon. Inside that melon are crenshaw seeds.

I, Katie Crenshaw, sit at this desk and record my thoughts on this blog. Since I am a Crenshaw, my thoughts are Crenshaw seeds.
Someone in a large, probably multi-family house left the desk on the sidewalk today, trash day. They are probably renting an apartment in the house, moved August 1, and preferred to get a new desk rather than move the old one. This desk's top is a little beaten up and has multi-colored streaks of paint on it. Someone probably did art projects on it, as I plan to do. What are black c's inside the bottom drawer? What round things that got wet with black paint did someone put in that drawer? Maybe a well of black ink?

There was some writing in one of the drawers. Let me investigate before I fill them up too much. The top drawer is stamped, on the inside, "Educational material; printed music; fourth class mail." Maybe this desk was at a post office at one time. I doubt it. Someone who used the desk must have worked at a post office. Or maybe someone at a school used that stamp on their packages to make sure they got the discounted rate. That's more likely. This could have been an a teacher's desk in a classroom.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sheer Grit and Determination

Pictured above are some grits, dried, coursely ground corn that makes a traditional Southern porridge often served with cheese. Uncooked and dry, as pictured above, grits are tough, and you can see where the name comes from. Unfortunately, I discovered that grits are hard to come by in the grocery these days (at least on the East Coast)! Maybe that's why people lack grit in the singular: they don't eat enough of the plural.

Grit in the Globe
The Sunday Globe today features an article by Jonah Lehrer about the importance of grit, the ability to persevere in pursuit of long-term, obstacle-ridden goals. He cites a study by Dr. Angela Duckworth, of the University of Pennsylvania, who came up with a survey to measure grit, on-line at, and used it to measure the grit of people who succeed (or don't) in difficult tasks, such as the first summer of military school at West Point and the National Spelling Bee. Duckworth found that grit was much more important than IQ for success in these tasks.

The article also describes a study by Dr. Carol Deweck, of Stanford University, who believes, in short, that grit can be taught by convincing kids that achievement comes through diligence, rather than talent and intelligence. In her study, she gave two groups of 5th graders an IQ test. After the test, she praised one group for their hard work and the other group for their intelligence. Later, she gave the children another, harder test, and the children praised for hard work persisted at answering the questions, while the children praised for smarts quickly gave up. Finally, she gave both groups another test of similar difficulty to the initial test. The group praised for hard work scored better, while the group praised for intelligence scored worse, than they had on the original test.

I had these grits with tomato, parsley, salt and pepper, and Parmesan. They came out much thicker than my mother's.

My Abstract View of Grit
I think it's true that grit is key to success. Though it may be possible to encourage long-term diligence in students and people, I think grit itself comes from within. For one, no one else, except maybe your parents, knows you long enough to provide external motivation to persist at something for years. Teachers can push students for a semester, but not for a lifetime.

More importantly, I doubt that such external pressure succeeds in motivating people to excel at something unless they truly want to already. "You can lead the horse to water, but you can't make it drink," or "The teacher opens the door; you have to step through it yourself."

I don't think grit can be forced at all. Though it is discipline and diligence, I think grit has to come naturally, conflicting as those statements may seem. It's easy to force onself to do something for a day, month, or year. But one can't just decide to commit to a lifetime of something. Saying, "I'm committing my life to X activity," doesn't mean anything the way saying, "I'm going to devote my day to something" does. Only time will tell what you devote your life to.

I think one will persevere in the thing that one loves to do so much that one would do it for a lifetime out of love. It's probably the thing that one has always loved, even before one started thinking about careers. It's probably the thing that one enjoyed doing as a child, since a lifetime of dedication begins with childhood.

There you can see the texture of the cooked grits. They're not tough anymore. I suppose having a soft and delicious personality wouldn't be so awful, either.

Grit and My Own Life
For me, the things I've always done and enjoyed are music, writing, and dance. Many other interests of mine have developed since childhood, but those three are the things that I've always loved. Of those three interests, I have this idea that writing is the thing I should seize on and really work at because it is versatile, I'm naturally good at it, and I like it. Because I like it, I've already been fairly diligent as a writer throughout my life. I have a good start at "devoting my life to X activity."

In other words, I do have grit as a writer. I've always thought best on paper and kept journals, off and on, and written for myself, in addition to writing for school.

While I get frustrated easily and at many tasks, writing is not one of them. With the exception of 9th-grade English, I have not shed many tears over writing the way I have over other tasks and pursuits. That says a lot.

As for the other interests: I've never abandoned my love of music, but I have given up any professional aspirations as a musician. I didn't seem to have the grit to persevere at the violin. I could do it for three weeks at music camp - I'd practice more than anyone else at camp - but I couldn't do it consistently for years, the way some other students could. And as a violinist, I didn't fare well in competition. But I've never stopped loving and listening to music. My brain has continued to develop musically throughout my life.

Dance? I am not good at ballet. It's difficult for me and has not come naturally after years of training. But I do love it, and it makes me feel good, and it keeps my body in shape. It goes hand-in-hand with my love of music. I love to dance to music, and that DOES come naturally.

For the last few years, I've been diligently pursuing a scientific career as a biological researcher. I abandoned that career after I lost a job working as a technician in a lab. Lab work did not come naturally. Though it's difficult for everyone, I think it comes more naturally to other people than it does to me. Plus, and more importantly, it turns out, other people can deal better with the daily frustrations of lab work than I can. So it's not the best choice for me.

I liked science because I liked to think, and I did have a knack for asking good questions and thinking of experiments to address them. I even liked thinking about chemistry, though I wasn't great at it - with the exception of thermodynamics. In introductory chemistry in college, I easily got a 99 on the thermo exam, compared to 80's on other tests, while other people found it the most difficult topic in the course. I also excelled in physiology class and exhbited fairly good reasoning skills. When it came to designing experiments and writing about them, I really shone.

On the other hand, I could never handle the kinds of science that relied on spatial skills, such as developmental biology and stereochemistry. And I was awful at physics, organic chemistry, and advanced calculus. In orgo and calculus, part of what I lacked was diligent studying. In physics and developmental bio, I studied diligently and still struggled.

I didn't love science from childhood, but I claimed that it was because I didn't have a good science class until 10th grade biology, which I loved and excelled at. Now I am starting to think that maybe I was not naturally meant to be a scientist, and that is the reason it didn't interest me as a child.

My Optimism Always Comes Through; My Stories Have Happy Endings
It's frustrating to think that one wasn't meant to be something, especially when one doesn't have an alternative being to fall back on, or into. The idea that INSTEAD of a scientist or violinist, I was meant to be a writer is much more appealing than the idea that I simply failed at both music and science.

And Mrs. Reynolds' endoresment is key. Are you reading this? :)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Song

Yesterday at the grocery store where I work, a customer came up to the register wearing a t-shirt with "beau brummel" written over its left breast. Sparks went off in my head, and I immediately burst into song: "Your clothes may be Beau Brummelly, they'll stand out a mile but brother you're never fully dressed without a smile." Ah, what a charming cashier.

He didn't know what I was talking about.

I'd just made the connection myself, between "Bo bro-mely" and the name on the customer's shirt, which was obviously a clothing designer and fit the context of the song. So I asked him about his shirt and he told me it was a "store in New York," and I explained about the song in the musical, "Annie." We traded references. I was pretty psyched.

Every once in a while, I run into the real-life version of something in the lyrics of a musical, and it is thrilling. "Bustelo, Marlboro, bananas by the bunch..." in the musical, "Rent," came alive with the Café Bustelo I discovered when I started drinking cheap coffee. It is delicious, and goes well with bananas (and peanut butter), though I don't know about the Marlboro.