Thursday, August 30, 2012

First U.S. Spacewalk Since Shuttle

I hauled my butt out of my cozy bed at 5:00 am today so I could be on console at 6 for today's EVA, or Extra Vehicular Activity - the first U.S. EVA since the shuttle was retired.  Astronaut Suni Williams and Japanese Astronaut Aki Hoshide are floating around outside of the ISS, as I type, in the middle of a 6.5 hour spacewalk to perform maintenance on the outside of their orbiting home.  Think of it as a very well rehearsed honey-do list in space in which about 100 other people are listening in to make sure you don't mess up...  And despite the early hour, I'm actually pretty psyched to be on console supporting this, as it's one of the more exciting aspects of my new job.  You can read more about it here.
Keeping with today's EVA theme, and in memory of Neil Armstrong, I give you this week's "Increasing the Awesome" video - the MOST famous spacewalk ever - Neil's first steps onto the moon.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Brotherly Disappointment

3/4 sleeve raglan shirt | hat | royal blue tee | navy blue tee
I got a surprise call from my brother today during my lunch hour and while I had it on my mind, I asked him if he had an extra Chicago Cubs t-shirt and/or hat that I could borrow for the Astros vs Cubs game I'm going to with friends on September 12.  My request was met by icy, and I do mean icy, silence followed by his very tight voice conveying a strong tone of disappointment as he explained that, as a Chicagoan, I need to be owning such a piece of clothing, not borrowing one.  Wow.  Probably best I don't mention that I don't own any Bears or Bulls shirts either...

He said he might have a shirt that's too small on him that he could give to me, but no loaning was permissible.  In the event his strong Chicago heart just can't bear to hand over a piece of Cubs clothing, I have dug up some emergency back-up options to purchase.  Just to make my brother proud....

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hurricane Relief

While I'm not thrilled to hear that a hurricane is hitting land anywhere (I like them best when they magically appear and then disappear in the ocean), I have to admit that I'm a little relieved that it doesn't look like Hurricane Isaac has tracked any further west and therefore won't be impacting Houston.  I have been selfishly hoping that my Labor Day weekend plans wouldn't be impacted by the storm.  Good luck to everyone in Louisiana tonight and tomorrow as the storm passes through!

(map from here)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Farewell Neil Armstrong

First we lose the first woman in space, Sally Ride, and now the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.  This has been a rough couple of months for the NASA community.  Neil Armstrong is one of the most famous names of NASA's space program, if not the most famous, and one of the more inspiring figures in all of American and maybe even world history.  Just thinking about what to write right now has me tearing up a little bit.
One of my favorite qualities of Neil was the fact that, despite being the first man ever to set foot on a celestial body, he was actually so down to Earth.  He was kind, and humble, and a self-professed nerdy engineer to the end, which I love.  My favorite quote of his is in the image above.

However to the rest of the world it is undeniable that he was much more than that.  This article does a wonderful job summing up a lot of really great milestones in his life and just the general awe of what Armstrong accomplished: 

"An estimated 600 million people - a fifth of the world's population - watched and listened to the landing, the largest audience for any single event in history.

Parents huddled with their children in front of the family television, mesmerized by what they were witnessing. Farmers abandoned their nightly milking duties, and motorists pulled off the highway and checked into motels just to see the moonwalk.

Television-less campers in California ran to their cars to catch the word on the radio. Boy Scouts at a camp in Michigan watched on a generator-powered television supplied by a parent.

Afterward, people walked out of their homes and gazed at the moon, in awe of what they had just seen. Others peeked through telescopes in hopes of spotting the astronauts."

THIS, what Neil Armstrong and the NASA of the 60's accomplished, is where we need to be again.  What Neil inspired in hundreds of millions of people seems practically impossible nowadays, but it's what we should all aspire for.  Neil's legacy will truly never be forgotten.  Hundreds of thousands of years from now, what he accomplished will still be in the history books as notable, ground breaking, brave, and inspirational.

Rest in peace Neil Armstrong.

(images from here, here, and here)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Enjoy Your Weekend!

Do you have any fun plans this weekend?  I'm going to cheer on B as she competes in her first triathalon - go B!!!  I'm also getting a haircut as it's been about 8 months since my last trim.  I'm thinking right now that I'm just going to have my stylist trim up the ends and layers and keep growing out my hair and bangs for a little while yet.  But I've also been toying around with cutting bangs again, or just chopping it all off.  I get sick of having the same hairstyle for too long - you know me.  So we'll see what I actually decide on when I plop my butt down in the chair!  Other plans include my coworker's son's first birthday party, swinging by my favorite, Central Market, and going to see this movie, which I'm really excited about!

Also, have you heard about this????  Not sure if it's real but if it is, it's AWESOME!

Hope you have a fun and relaxing weekend!

(pictures from here, here, and here)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

We're NASA And We Know It

I've been finding a huge number of videos recently regarding NASA and so I've decided to implement a weekly feature on how NASA, to quote internet vlogger (video logger) Hank Green, "Decreases the Suck and Increases the Awesome".  This week's video is admittedly a spoof, but it still manages to draw attention to the success of the Mars Curiosity mission.  Enjoy!

(Top image from Hank Green's NASA: Increasing the Awesome video)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Best Maxi-Dress Ever!

I've spent months combing stores and the internet for a perfect maxi dress.  I wanted something that was comfortable, didn't make me look like I was pregnant (so no empire waist), that also was casual enough to wear on the weekends.  Part of the problem I was running into was a lot of the maxi dresses I was trying on were very formal looking due to the length.  It was starting to get pretty hopeless.  Then on a random trip through Victoria's Secret, I happened across the dress pictured above.  The fabric feels like an incredibly comfortable, worn-in t-shirt.  the way it sits on my hips makes it look like I have a waist, but it doesn't accentuate my short torso, I love the cross-back design.... I'd finally found it!  It is from their Supermodel Essentials collection, but it doesn't appear VS is selling it online yet.  However, if you're looking for the best maxi dress EVER, I'd highly recommend you make you way to the nearest mall and snatch one of these babies up.  I never buy multiples of anything, but I actually bought two of these, one in black and one in navy because I loved it that much.  And I wear them all the time.  The situation with the drapey cross back was a bit of a conundrum bra-wise, but I snagged two of these sports bras from Target and they work perfectly with the casual weekend look I'm going for! 

(dress picture from here)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Squash Blossom Trio

So as I exclaimed in yesterday's post, I finally got around to cooking with/tasting squash blossoms for the first time!  I had SO MANY of them and the flowers wilt within a day, so it was a squash blossom cooking marathon on Sunday and last night.  Squash blossoms, also referred to as zucchini blossoms, are a traditional ingredient in Mexican cuisine and they don't really taste sweet or floral like you might expect, they actually taste like a delicate version of the zucchini that grow on the same plant.  Apparently the most famous dish they're used in are quesadillas. In fact, the hispanic gentleman at the produce booth where I bought my blossoms asked me if I was buying them because I had recently vacationed in Mexico and had them in quesadillas there (I wish!).  I didn't take a picture of the quesadillas, because they didn't look like much, but they tasted like something you'd order at a (good) restaurant!  I used a recipe from the Homesick Texan blog I posted about last week.
My second dish was a squash blossom soup, and I think it may have been my favorite.  It shared a vaguely similar profile to the quesadillas, both used the blossoms, roasted hatch chilis that I had purchased last week at Central Market, and dairy.  However, if I had to choose between the two, the soup would win HANDS DOWN!  It had a creamy, spicy flavor that didn't overwhelm the delicate squash blossoms and it was filled with fresh pieces of zucchini and corn kernels that I had cut straight from the cob - incredible!  Between the soup and the quesadillas, I had way more food than I could handle, so I brought it over to B and J's house for Sunday night dinner and the first of our Dexter Season 6 viewing sessions (we're hoping to fit all 12 episodes in before season 7 starts at the end of September!)  B and J both loved the quesadillas and soup, though I think the soup was the favorite there too.  B suggested I just use ALL of my half pound bag of squash blossoms to make a triple batch of it next time...
I had saved a few of the bigger, prettier blossoms overnight and so yesterday after I got home from the gym I whipped up this delicious dish - meyer lemon pasta with herb ricotta stuffed squash blossoms.  It sounds complicated, but all of the steps were actually super easy and with some multi-tasking (let ricotta drain while I chop herbs and veggies, boil the pasta while I stuff blossoms, finish the pasta while the blossoms cook, etc), it only took about 25 minutes to whip up the whole dish.  My final dish was obviously slightly modified from the recipes I linked to - I didn't use gluten free pasta and the stuffed blossoms topped spaghetti, not toasted french bread - but they totally worked together and my mouth was in heaven.

Moral of this lengthy food story?  You really must try squash blossoms!  In addition to the recipes I tried, here are a couple of others I found and contemplated: zucchini blossom fitters, squash blossom pizza, squash blossom frittata fried squash blossoms, and there are even some desert recipes like sweet ricotta stuffed squash blossoms and zucchini blossom cannoli!       However, for your first dish, I'd highly recommend the soup!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Canino Market

I ventured out of the house on Sunday morning to meet up with my friend L and family to go explore Canino Produce Market, which is north of the city.  Despite the crappy weather here in Houston, the trip was wonderful!  It's an open air market, but there was s a metal roof overhead to protect us from the inclement weather (however, it also made it practically impossible to hear anything when the rain started coming down in sheets).  Everything was super affordable so I stocked up on a handful of things I don't buy on a regular basis like dragon fruit, pre-opened fresh coconut pieces, a delicious looking locally grown eggplant and spaghetti squash, red lentils, and my favorite - sqaush blossoms!  I've read about squash blossoms in my foodie blogs before, and I'd seen them in specialty markets in tiny little plastic containers for about $8, but here, at Canino Market, I got a huge half pound bag of about 75 blossoms for only $5!!!  More to come on them later this week!  After we explored the produce, I made L and family slosh through the rain to the back of the market to hit up a food truck called Taqueria Tacambro for sweetbread tacos which, if you didn't look too closely at some of the pieces of meat product, were actually absolutely delicious! (ignorance is bliss)  The meat was all browned up and crispy pieces were mixed in with tender ones and topped with lettuce, cilantro, avocado, and lime juice on corn tortillas.  Yum!
Next we headed across the street to the Lone Star Culinary Spice Market.  I had just recently stocked up on spices at the bulk bins in Central Market so I didn't make any purchases, but I loved looking around at all of the spices, dried fruits, herbs, and teas that they offered.  My favorite discovery was this little display pictured above with pretty jordan almonds and brightly colored multi-colored sprinkles next to a jar of, of all things, ground shrimp powder....  so random!  We finished up our trip at Bolillo Bakery right next door.  I WISH I'd remembered to take pictures in there, but I was so transfixed by all of the brightly colored trays of deliciousness that I completely slacked off.  I stocked up on some of their delicious egg-free rice pudding, some egg-free puff pastries spread with jams and fruit fillings, and a couple of their signature bolillo rolls.  Overall it was a fantastic trip and with all of the yummy stuff I bought, the grand total came in at only about $25!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Have a Wonderful Weekend!

I have a growing mountain of books on my nightstand that I need to tackle, including the latest Sookie Stackhouse book and the brand new Michelle Moran novel, not to mention the new September issue of Vogue!  So I plan to spend some time relaxing on the couch with my reads this weekend.  Other plans include a game night with friends tonight, a trip to Canino Produce Market (I plan to try these sweetbread tacos!), and my first attempt ever at making French Macarons - I'm thinking vanilla pear, chocolate coconut, and meyer lemon flavors!  So a fun but low key weekend ahead.

What about you?  Any fun weekend plans?

(picture from here)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bluegrass Boogie

J introduced me to bluegrass a while ago and since I'm not a fan of country music, I had no expectation of liking it.  It took almost no time at all for me to realize that bluegrass is NOT country music.  The intricate melodies skillfully played on various string instruments, the crystal clear voices, and the addicting vocal harmonies immediately roped me in, and I was a fan.  The band I was most strongly drawn to was Hot Rize and there was many a car trip where their CD was played on repeat.  Here's a sample - it's one of my favorites (a couple more good ones here):
What made me think of this today?  Well, Boeing's Houston site hosted a Multicultural Festival today and one of the fantastic contributions was a small string-instrument-playing band of children!  They ranged in age from 6 to 13 (!!) and played in a variety of combinations with violins, fiddles, guitar, cello, bass, and keyboard focusing mainly on bluegrass type melodies.
They were such a fantastically talented group of kids (props to their teacher too!) and I had trouble tearing myself away to get back to work.  I took a handful of pictures and videos to remember them, though.  There was one of the fiddle players who actually sang some bluegrass too!

(poster from here)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mars Mania

It may just be because I'm a member of the NASA community, but it seems like everyone all of a sudden has Mars mania!  It's all I see in Facebook posts and on the NASA website.  It's understandable, for the first time in a while NASA has actually generated public interest, so they're going to play it for all it's worth.  And I don't blame them, we need the good PR!  And on that note, here's the latest from Curiosity: a patchwork, interactive panorama of the red planet.  It doesn't look like much, but when you take into account that these images are currently coming from over 60 million miles away (the distance changes constantly) and the transmission of the pictures takes a whopping 14 minutes to reach Earth (delay to get data from the International Space Station is only 10 seconds...) then it becomes pretty phenomenal!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries...

...sometimes its sweet and sometimes it's just the pits.  My weekend was a little bit of both.  Some very unfortunate digestive issues sent me home early from what had started as a lovely Friday night out with B and J (those happy hour drinks were great, but the stomach issues that followed not so much).  I spent most of Saturday recovering, although I did manage to squeeze in a few errands I've had on my list for a while such as donating 3 bags of old clothes to Goodwill and finally getting around to dropping off a pile of dry cleaning.  I spent the rest of the day on the couch in comfy clothes getting my money's worth out of my newish Netflix subscription.
Sunday I was feeling better so I decided to head on into town.  I hit up Anthro first to return some stuff I had ordered online.  They're sneaky over there.  In addition to picking up a couple of new lightweight sweaters (I find that they're perfect for my over air-conditioned office), I just had to also grab a new Voluspa candle in Goji and Tarocco Orange.  They had one lit in the store and it smelled so incredible I couldn't say no.  It found a home on my mantle next to some gorgeous new ranunculus I also purchased this weekend.  After Anthro I stopped off at Kenny and Ziggy's, a Jewish deli in town, to pick up some chicken soup with matzoh balls (aka, Jewish medicine) for a friend who was sick and some Nova lox for me.  I've been eating the lox all week for breakfast on a whole wheat bagel with onion and chive cream cheese - yum!
After the deli I made my now traditional weekend stop at Central Market.  I seriously love that place.  I stocked up on veggies, seafood, herbs, some shredded gruyere, and some roasted hatch chilis, which are apparently in season and also a pretty big thing in Texas.  I also bought a bag of some of the most delicious cherries I think I've ever had.  I swung by my friend H's house to drop off the soup for her and kiss the new baby and then headed home with my spoils.  Nothing like a trip to Central Market to re-invigorate the desire to cook (I've been slacking the last 2 weeks).  Sunday night I ate some mussels steamed in a wine, saffron, and chicken broth with a side of avocado salad that I spiked with some roasted hatch chilis.  And last night after a trip to the gym for a spin class I whipped up a quick risotto with some roasted fennel and mushrooms, leftover mussel meat, and a touch of lobster.  It's going to be a yummy week!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Have a Lovely Weekend!

Well, the week (and a busy one at that!) is finally over!  Time to head out to happy hour.  I'll be spending the rest of the weekend sleeping in, hanging out with friends, maybe hitting up a few new antique shops I've added to my list, stocking up on delicious foods and hopefully getting in some cooking!  Low key but busy!  Do you have any plans this weekend?

(image from here)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Homesick Texan

I know my blog has been a bit food-heavy this week, but bear with me, this one's a goodie.  I discovered the fantastic blog Homesick Texan yesterday and have been on a mission ever since reading through all of the past posts and trying to soak up some of Lisa's enthusiasm for Texas cuisine.  I know I've been coming out here for a number of years on work trips and so I felt pretty comfortable with the immediate Clearlake area when I made the big move.  But I'd never had a chance to branch out into the greater Houston area and as I've stated here on the blog before, was therefore feeling a little intimidated by Houston's food scene.
Part of the problem was that I didn't really get it.  I'm hardly a culinary genius, but I consider myself a bit of a foodie and it seemed like everything, especially the tex mex places, were a bunch of chain restuarants.  After living in the cultural wasteland of central Florida, I was NOT going to be eating at anymore chain restaurants.  I didn't really get that these are TEXAS chain restaurants, and that they're based on the success of the local gem type of restaurants that I love to frequent, until I started reading Lisa's posts.  And I absolutely love the recommendations that she (and the people who comment on her posts) have provided in terms of Houston restaurants.  I find myself now armed with a ridiculously large list of restaurants that I must go try.  Not to mention some of the unique food markets like Canino Market (which I've actually been meaning to try for a while) and Hong Kong City Mall (apparently they have crazy big Cajun boiled crawfish, dim sum, a huge Asian food market, as well as shops that sell woks, chinese silk, etc...).
I also admit to "pinning" a handful of her recipes to pinterest for later use as well.  Given the huge cooking kick I've been on lately, trying some dishes with "local flavor" is definitely exciting!  Some of my favorites are her Dallas Style Brisket Tacos, Houston Style Carnitas (I've been looking for a good carnitas recipe), peach jalepeno jam, and chipotle sweet potato soup.  Yum!  Thanks Lisa for all of the inspiration!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hedgehog Bubbles

I am obsessed with this image of a little girl staring at a hedgehog that is blowing bubbles into a dish of liquid.  The lighting is perfect and the hedgehog is just adorable!  The photograph (found here) entitled "Milk* today, my love is back" is by Cath Schneider and I'm trying desperate to figure out how I can purchase a print of it... 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sweet or Savory?

I've been wanting to make a galette for a while now.  I had one for the first time years ago on my trip to France when K and I went to the tiny old medieval village of Perouges.  I've since learned how ridiculously easy they are (especially if you buy pre-made pie dough!)  Today's post at Fig & Fauna, a recipe for a plum galette, has inspired me to finally try out this rustic approach to pie making.  I love the idea of using a stone fruit and some sort of nut.  I also love this idea for adding a thin layer of ricotta (or maybe marscapone!) to the bottom too.  And since this is free form, I can make it any size I want so I won't over indulge on sweet pie goodness.
On the other hand, Aran over at Cannelle et Vanille also has some great savory galette recipes as well, like this one for a Crispy Mushroom, Potato and Blue Cheese Galette.  Then I won't necessarily feel like I'm killing my diet with baked goods since it's an actual meal!  Although I'm thinking that I might try using her galette method, but switching out the mushrooms, potatoes and blue cheese for the filling ingredients from her Roasted Beet and Purple Potato Tarte Tatin with Carmelized Fennel and Gruyere, because I can't really imagine anything tasting much better than beets, fennel and gruyere.  I'm drooling already.

So which should I try?  Sweet or savory?  Hmmm, or maybe both...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiosity Lands on Mars!

In one of NASA's better recent moments (after retiring the space shuttles things really only could go up...), the Curiosity rover landed successfully on Mars last night!!!  The picture above shows a depiction of the complicated landing apparatus that slowly lowered the rover to the Martian surface using cables while hovering in the air with thrusters.  All of this after a terrifying 6 minute mega-hot entry through the Martian atmosphere.  There were a lot of places where this could go wrong and, to be honest, after NASA's recent Mar's rover failures I was somewhat surprised this was so heavily publicized.  But NASA needed the win and the success will hopefully buoy support for future exploration missions!
In other news, I apologize profusely for being such a bad blogger and neglecting my posts at the end of the week.  I've been crazy busy at work and then I went out of town with friends this weekend and the time to post just never seemed to materialize.  My weekend was a lot of fun!  In addition to the exciting NASA news, I spent most of my weekend over in New Braunfels, TX where I saw a DJ known as Girl Talk at Whitewater Amphitheater with some of my newer Texas friends.  It is about a 3-4 hour drive out there from Houston depending on traffic so we left early Saturday afternoon, grabbed some food and checked into our hotel when we got there and then made our way to the concert which was a lot of fun!  Only downside was between the alcohol, dancing, hoards of people, and sweating, I did not intake an appropriate amount of agua and therefore I woke up ridiculously dehydrated and sporting a monster headache the following morning.  Lots of asprin and water revived me and we all then proceeded to float on tubes around the "horseshoe" of the Guadalupe River.  It was about a 3 hour float and there were a couple of rapids, the guys tried to swing on ropes into the river, and we brought a case of beer along so it was a good time.  The drive back wasn't as fun, but we made it and now I'm back to the incredibly busy grind.  I'll try harder to keep up with my posts this week!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Star Trails

Everyone here at work views astronaut Don Petit as one of the coolest astronauts out there.  Seriously, this guy goes out of his way to be as helpful and informative as possible while he's up on the space station, doing work that normally takes up to 2 astronauts in half the time.  And he's so frickin' agreeable too!  Needless to say, quite a few of the ISS Mission Control supporters down here in Houston were a little sad to see him leave the space station when his expedition finished up. 
Now I learn that in addition to completing huge amounts of very accurate and helpful work on ISS, he also had time to work on his photography skills on the side!  Check out these incredible long exposure pictures that he took up on ISS of the orbiting earth, including light trails from cities, auroras, and lightening storms!
Once again, way to go Don, you're awesome!!!

(pictures from here)