Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best Things I've Ever Eaten

Today on our way home from Texas, we stopped at our favorite Wyoming Mexican restaurant - Su Casa in Sinclair, a town of a scant few hundred citizens in the middle of the wind-whipped high plains off I-80.  I might mention that we stopped for lunch at the same cocina five days earlier on our way down to Texas.  The food is authentically Mexican.  It's not the tex-mex, cheese-laden, spicy-for-no-good-reason-canned goop that other Mexican restaurants try to pass off as real food.  It's homemade, it's what I grew up on, in a community rich with Hispanic cooks.  Green chili that doesn't burn your throat raw, but rather melts on your tongue and slides easily down; enchilada sauce that is a rich, flavorful mole, rice and beans of homemade nature, fresh flour tortillas, and a hot sauce that I want to recreate, but, sadly cannot.  I am in love with this restaurant.  It seats maybe 15 people, and I can't drive even close to it without salivating.  I don't like food.  No, I LOVE food.  I obsess over it.  Yesterday while eating dinner, I knew we'd be hitting Sinclair (2 hours away from our home) for a late lunch, and it was all I could do to sit still in my seat in the Yukon to wait for it, like a child waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Day.  Mexican food is better than Santa Claus ... well, probably because it's real.

So I got to thinking, how many restaurants have I dined at that are truly and deliciously wonderful?

  • La Caille, outside of Salt Lake City, is a French chateau with beautiful grounds, swans, and other elegant creatures, ponds and bridges, and amazingly prepared French food that manages to be un-fussy yet complex and delightful.  Absolutely one of the best meals of my life.  I was there for a work function and couldn't even talk to people (as I am loathe to do anyway when I am eating a fabulous meal), I wanted to savor every single moment of my Asian noodle soup, my filet, and creme' brulee', truly a savory meal.  
  • Squatters in Salt Lake City is a Slow Food movement brew pub, brewing beer that is not Mormon-ized into watered down malt.  I usually have the pork carnitas, my husband opts for the beer-crust pepperoni pizza.  
  • Franck's - Salt Lake City, amazing saucework, this Franck.  We had a perfect meal outdoors at the end of summer with my in-laws.  
  • Grappa - Park City, UT - amazing Italian food, just don't drink the grappa, which is quite possibly the only alcohol I will now turn down.  
  • Blind Dog - Park City, UT - sushi, sushi, sushi ... in a landlocked state, yes, but amazingly fresh and beautifully prepared
  • Joe's Shanghai - Chinatown, Manhattan - Soup Dumplings ... nearly, quite possibly the ONLY thing, that even comes close for me, than sex 
  • Amada in Philadelphia, tapas and sangria, exotic flavors I've never tasted before, but hope to again.  
  • Davio's, also Philadelphia, I had a frenched chicken with a sauce to die for.  Amazing Italian food.  
  • Supper - Philadelphia - I had a pork medley that was awesome, pork belly, pork brat, pork loin, heirloom tomatoes, fresh, fresh, fresh
  • Artisan in Paso Robles, CA, fresh, seasonal food cooked perfectly. 
  • Emeril's in Orlando, the tasting menu was a surprise after a surprise after a surprise, it just kept coming, ragu, steak, I can't even remember all the deliciousness, but remember it as a great meal with great people. 
  • Oriental House, Scottsbluff, NE - I know, Nebraska, that's where you go to find good Asian food.  This restaurant was my first taste of Asian as a child (the granddaughter of a Japanese citizen); it closed down for a decade or so, then came back into my adulthood with an amazing likeness of what I first remembered great Asian food to be.
  • Peohe's, Coronado Island, off San Diego - fresh seafood, halibut that made me weep with delight, chocolate lava cake (before it became faddy and overdone).
  • Tao, Las Vegas - before our wedding, we ate here with Josh's family, a truly amazing feast of sushi and other Japanese treats, my father-in-law being my benefactor of many great meals
This clearly will be more than one blog entry, because I've been fortunate enough to eat at some amazing restaurants.  Maybe not Michelin-star, but still, cooks making the best food they know how to, fresh ingredients, lots of love and passion, you don't need to be a Michelin-starred chef to make fantastic food for me.  Cheers to every great chef who cooks for love.  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New Direction

My department Christmas party (4th annual) was a success.  As usual!  I kept it simple this year -except for dessert - bacon-wrapped apricots with an apricot preserve glaze, kielbasa bites with pretzel sticks (instead of toothpicks - genius!), herb-roasted pork loin, balsamic-olive oil roasted red potatoes & onions, and buttered peas.  A truly simple meal, executed nicely.  Cooking for friends need not be intimidating.  I had chocolate (both dark and white) bark with peppermint, and spent the night before making Bobby Flay's Throwdown Coconut Cake - not for the faint of heart.  It was so rich and delicious I almost died.  But no one could eat much because they were full from dinner, thus confirming my position that dessert, when you have a great meal and wine, is never necessary.  Good times, good friends.

I have two A's, waiting on the last class's grade for the semester.  I made some progress on my proposal/dissertation today, focusing it to interaction in online education.  I've had several undergraduate education classes from the University of Wyoming, got my master's degree online from Colorado State University, and am now getting my Doctorate, somewhat online, some on the phone, and a week on campus every year.  I find online education fascinating.  Real online education, not the University of Phoenix, or Capella, or other for-profit university rhetoric.  Now, stop, I speak from an educated position.  I took four classes from UoP for my master's degree and learned nothing, except their ridiculously low standards for instructors and students would never amount to my learning.  Call me elitist, it's okay, but for-profit universities are in it for just that - FOR PROFIT.  The quality of my classmates at UoP was truly pathetic, and UoP requires group work, which is even less of my favorite, especially when students who could barely pass a high school class left me to do the work.

I want to teach online education, for a not-for-profit university, one that cares about academics and learning, not just letting students "buy" a graduate degree.  I'm passionate about this, because I believe everyone deserves a quality education - if you are willing to work for it.  So, that's my soapbox.

As 2010 comes to a close, I reflect back on the progress I've made.  I started my PhD almost a year ago, and have the momentum to continue.  In 2 1/2 years, my goal will be realized.  I will make it happen.  My dream to live on the beach burns inside of me brightly.  That's the goal.  To live in a beautiful place, be inspired by beautiful things, and do beautiful things.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Confirmed "A"

I received my first confirmed "A" for the semester - in Literature Review, one of the classes I was nervous about.  My 4.0 streak continues, but I have two more classes to confirm.  I still have no idea which topic I'll pursue.  It's really quite ridiculous, but I know I will find my way.  I will get this PhD.

I had a semi-productive day.  I cleaned out my second closet, which held clothes from a life I no longer have.  I wear jeans to work every day.  I dress them up with some blazers, some fun tops with flair, and my infamous peep-toe high heel collection.  I love going to work every day without having to dress in ridiculous khakis and button-downs, which to me, make me look like I have no fashion sense.  Fortunately, my sister is nearly my size, and can use the clothes in her new job.  I have four big bags and two big boxes full of clothes, some never worn, to give to her.  Which makes me realize how much I still spend on material goods, despite my disdain for shopping.  My first closet, a walk-in the size of the average Manhattan apartment, is full of my current clothes, "finds" and deals at my favorite dot com stores of The Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy.

So now a lazy Saturday night at home, I wouldn't have it any other way.  I finally found a local rancher to sell me an eighth of a side of grass-fed beef, so tonight's dinner far is grass-fed rib-eye steaks with chimichurri sauce, scalloped potatoes, and these amazing-for-Green River-fresh green beans.  The rancher delivered the beef today and told me to cook it slower and to a more rarer state than I would regular beef because of its leanness.  I wanted lean beef, since I love beef and am overweight to begin with.  We'll see how it turns out.

I may reveal in my hard-earned A for a few more minutes, because it was a tough semester.  But again, I've proven to myself that I can do it.  My dear husband, who has known me as nothing but an accomplished, over-achiever, responded to my excited statement that I got an A in Lit Review.  His response - "Of course you did."  Then again, I'm entering year 4 of graduate work, and he's heard me say every semester that THIS is the semester I blow my 4.0, only to maintain it in the end.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Wage Gap

After a particularly trying day of interviewing laborers, I tossed and turned, trying to get some sleep before getting up to do it all over again (It's Groundhog Day!  ... again.).  Then my thoughts came back to that ever-elusive dissertation topic of mine.  I finished this semester with a gender study, particularly the underrepresentation of women in male-dominated (high paying) industries and leadership.  And it occurred to me, after interviewing no women for jobs that pay a barely-high-school-eduated man more than what a PhD earns at the average university, is the wage gap still a problem?

You bet your apron-clad ass it is.  Women have made great strides and now make one-fifth less than men do in similar jobs - ONE-FIFTH - 20% - are we listening out there??  All right, give me the argument that we've made improvements since 1979, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started comparing salaries and found the wage gap to be 40% - oh, we're on a roll now!.  The BLS released their Highlight of Women's Earnings in 2009 in June of this year and reported that woman make only 80% of a what a man does for the same work.  (This doesn't even begin to go into the minority wage gap either.)  Does this outrage you?  It should!  Read the full report here:

Now, let me play devil's advocate.  Women often have to jump out of a career trajectory for varying amounts of time if they want to have children.  Some women take a few weeks off, some take years off, to raise their children, which puts them further behind men in wages.  The BLS, and many other researchers, have found this not to be true for men, who might take a week or two off after the birth of a child, but they are largely unharmed when they "have it all."  If it sounds like I'm being sarcastic and pedantic, well, I am.  Here's the thing.  When women stay home, they aren't NOT working.  Most women I know who stay home aren't in their pajama's sipping bourbon and watching The Young & The Restless.  No.  They chase after their children, making sure they are clean, educated, enlightened.  They volunteer, they help out at schools.  They clean, relentlessly - even if they have a a housekeeper, I guarantee you they will clean before the housekeeper arrives.  They shuttle children, and maybe their husbands, to work, to appointments, to social events, to community activities.  Most women work harder at home than they would at work.  And - AND - they are still refining valuable skills and expertise they can use on the job.  They are life counselors, schedulers, problem solvers, chefs, housekeepers, nurses, and negotiators.  Why would we de-value this experience when they come back to work and make them start over at the bottom of the ladder?  Women who stay home support their husbands in a job.  They take care of domestic duties so the husband can focus on his job.  And what are they paid for this work?  Nothing.  And even worse, they are penalized when they return to the workforce, finding that all their work at home was still rewarded with no paycheck, and men still make more money than they do.

Where do we start?  I found Catalyst Blog, a group of researchers who study this sort of thing, read it here:

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which targets eliminating the wage gap, was blocked by Senate, which ironically is comprised of, ready for this, it's shocking data - 83% men.  Yep, only 17% of the Senate is represented by women.  I don't know what the answer is.  We've made improvements, but it isn't enough.  When Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinham, Virginia Wolfe, and all the many fantastic women fought to gain equality, they envisioned true equality, where men and women earned the same money for the same work, where men and women were both respected for what they do.  This dream still hasn't materialized.

I think I just found my dissertation topic .... (It's Groundhog Day! ... again.).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Allure of Social Media & The Art of Procrastination

I love Facebook.  I can't articulate why, though.  I see the same people posting the same types of laments about their lives, their spouses, their kids; the same people gunning for causes and thinking that posting them on Facebook will cure bunions, raise awareness for cats with jaundice, or any other cause we find worthy.  But it's a voyeuristic glimpse into lives of people that I know either superficially or deeply.  I myself try not to post too much, because I'm not certain that people really care if I'm making a fabulous dinner again, for the 800th night in a row, and I'm pretty certain people don't care if I'm feeling bitchy on any given day.  But it's a wonderful distraction and an interesting social experiment.

Which leads me to the art of procrastination.  I'm mostly done with this semester's PhD work.  Except that for the fourth time, I've changed my dissertation topic, leaving me seriously one, maybe two, semesters behind.  My problem is focus.  I have about two hundred serious interests, and as I learn more, I find some new tangent to focus on.  Perhaps a clinical psychology would label me attention-deficit, but I don't think that fits the bill.  I am intensely interested in several topics, and I think my life will be a waste if I don't pursue as many of my passions as truly possible.  But at some point - obviously today won't be it - I will need to narrow it down, find something meaningful for my dissertation so I can find, eventually, my profession.  At work this week, I told my group that our jobs reward procrastination.  I wasn't being flippant or sarcastic, I was being candid.  I pride myself on being efficient - if you ask me to do something, I'm on it like a scotch bonnet.  (Okay, I made that up.)  But where does it get me?  People just ask for more from you, or think that you didn't put enough time into your work, which for me is not the case, I've just been doing the same thing for so long it comes naturally.  And then there are the times when I do something when asked, only to have to rework it, sometimes several times, because people keep changing their minds.  Then there is the issue of being caught between several strong personalities, all with varying degrees of "in charge."  They all want something different, and I'm growing increasingly tired of being the chess pawn in their power hungry match.  So, I'm being reinforced to procrastinate, and it's spilling into my life of academia.

So, time to shut off Facebook, it will be there when I come back, and move onto the literature review for technology and education.  Wait, is that the timer going off for my banana walnut bread?