Saturday, August 31, 2013

I made food: Mediterranean chicken en papillote

Today I was faced with cooking the dreaded chicken breast, which I normally hate because they tend to be dry and tasteless. My husband suggested trying to cook them en papillote (apparently he heard about it on NPR), which just means you wrap the food in a parchment paper packet so it steams in its own juices.

I followed this recipe from Martha Stewart, except I omitted the artichokes and olives for budgetary reasons.

First you mix up a mustard vinaigrette.

Then in the middle of a piece of parchment paper, you make a little bed of asparagus and top it with a half chicken breast, some vinaigrette, feta, basil and tomatoes.

Then the chickens all go to sleep in their little beds and into the oven...

...and here's what you get when you open the package! (We ate it with penne and homemade marinara.)

Because it cooks all sealed up, the chicken stays moist and tender. It's relatively low-fat (unless you drink all that leftover dressing at the bottom...) And it's very flavorful thanks to the mustard vinaigrette. We both agreed this recipe needs to go into my chicken breast recipe rotation!

Everyone ready for the 31-Day Challenge starting tomorrow? I am!!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Swatch: China Glaze It's a Trap-eze!

The polish in this post was purchased by me. All opinions are my own.

I bought this polish a while ago when a lot of people were going nuts over it, but never wore it until today. I just felt like wearing a glitterbomb! It's a Trap-eze! comes from China Glaze's Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away collection  from last year. It's got silver, magenta, orange, yellow, green and blue hex glitter in two different sizes, suspended in a milky base.

China Glaze It's a Trap-eze! 3 coats with Revlon Matte Top Coat.

I think this polish has a real indie vibe, which is pretty rare for a commercial polish! And of course I always prefer glitter in a colored base rather than as a topper. It's a Trap-eze! reminds me of Fruity Pebbles in milk. :-D

I needed three coats to get decent coverage of my nail line. The polish itself was easy to apply, but I did need to dab on glitter to get it even (and still ended up with some bare spots). I think it looks better when mattified like this, but YMMV!

It's a Trap-eze! doesn't seem to be available at anymore, but you can still find it on Amazon (which is where I bought mine) for a low price.

In other news, I thought I'd mention that starting September 1 I'll be attempting the 31 Day Challenge! Sarah at Chalkboard Nails (one of my absolute favorite nail blogs) will be updating daily, and I'll do my best to keep up. I'm no great nail artist, so it should be good practice for me!

If you want to join in, here's the schedule and hashtag!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Talking funny: Thai tones

Statue at Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok (photo by Vladimir Samoilov)
The interesting linguistic feature I'm going to talk about today is exotic from a Western perspective, but will be familiar to speakers of many East Asian (and also African) languages. That feature is tone. A language has tones when it uses the pitch of the voice to distinguish different words. Tones can consist of a single steady pitch, or a contour (a change from one pitch to another).

In Thai, for example, a syllable can have one of five possible tones. Here's a set of five words that differ only in their tone. You can hear these words being spoken here (just click on the words). Can you hear the difference between the tones?

  1. naa21 [a person's name] -- low falling tone
  2. naa51 'face' -- high falling tone
  3. naa45 'aunt' --high rising tone
  4. naa213 'thick' -- low falling-rising tone
  5. naa32 'field' -- mid falling tone
The numbers after each word are a way of describing the tone. The number 1 means the lowest possible tone, while 5 is the highest. Each of these words has a contour tone--a changing tone--so multiple numbers are needed to describe them.

Many people who don't speak a tone language (including many students I've taught) have a hard time hearing the difference between tones, even when the tones are explicitly pointed out to them. This is normal, of course, because we're not used to listening for pitch in that way. But for speakers of a tone language, it's as easy as hearing the difference between p and t is for us.

And it's not just a matter of listening for specific pitches; we can't just say "in Thai, a low falling tone starts at 110 Hertz and drops to 90 Hertz". Why not? Well, the most obvious reason is that all people have different voices with slightly different pitch ranges. A man might produce a "high" tone that's actually a lower pitch than a woman's "low" tone. So when you meet a person for the first time, you have to be able to adjust to that person's natural pitch range. And one person's pitch range can change depending on many factors (their emotional state, if they're imitating someone else, etc.).

But worse than that, even if we're just talking about a single speaker, saying a single sentence, the exact pitch of a given tone will still vary a lot. This is because all languages use pitch for something called intonation. Intonation is the use of pitch to demarcate and emphasize various features of a sentence. For example, in English, when we ask a question, we generally put a rising intonation at the end of the sentence. To demonstrate, I recorded myself asking a question and saved the pitch track (which shows my pitch over time):

That big upward climb during the word "brownie" indicates that I'm asking a question.

Another use of intonation is to emphasize words that the speaker wants the listener to pay attention to.

In this case, the big peak on the word "brownies" marks it as the most important word in the sentence (as it should be!).

Tone languages make use of intonation too. So speakers of Thai would have to be able to take intonation into account when listening for tone.

There's yet another difficulty in the way of perceiving tone. Phoneticians have noticed that over the course of a sentence (or a longish phrase within a sentence), a speaker's pitch tends to gradually drift downward. So a word with a pitch peak (like the word "brownies" above) may still have a lower pitch than earlier words in the sentence. To illustrate this, I recorded myself reading the first line of Pride and Prejudice:

You can see that, although there are lots of peaks and valleys in my pitch (corresponding to intonational patterns), it generally decreases over time. Speakers of tone languages have to compensate for this too!

So tone seems pretty wild to us English speakers, but really it's just another example of the amazing power of the human capacity for language (not to mention the very fine control we have over our vocal cords!).

P.S. #1: Another thing I didn't mention, because I don't know a lot about it, is the fact that tones can actually mess with each other when they're adjacent!

P.S. #2: If you're wondering why there are some gaps in the visualizations of my pitch, it's because not all speech sounds have a pitch. During the sounds s, f, t, and p, among others, your vocal cords aren't vibrating; the only sound is noise caused by air bouncing around in a narrow channel (in the case of s and f) or the explosive release of air in t and p.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Today's mani: the rusty skunk

OK, I know that's a weird name for a manicure. Just sit back and listen to my story, dear reader, and everything will become clear...

On Friday night the hubby and I were watching TV (Michael Palin's Around the World in 80 Days, if you want to know). Suddenly we smelled the familiar scent of skunk, but much stronger than we had ever experienced. The stench filled our apartment in a matter of minutes. It was so strong I thought something might be on fire outside...but no, it turned out our landlord's dog had been skunked just outside the house.

When it was time to take Trudy out for her evening pee, I figured the skunk would have left the scene of the crime. But when we came out, it was still sitting there, ten feet from us with its tail up! Naturally both of us freaked out, and I pulled Trudy behind the house. Back there it's just a little dead-end alleyway, but I thought we might be able to escape somehow.

While fumbling around in the dark, I stepped on an old board with some nails sticking out...can you see where this is going? Yep, a nail went right through my flip-flop and into my big toe. Now I was panicking and also gushing blood from my foot. I knew I had to make a break for it, so I grabbed Trudy and dashed for the door, right past the skunk. Luckily we didn't get sprayed--wouldn't that have been just perfect? I called my husband, who was a bit freaked out at the sight of my bloody foot, but he did a good job cleaning me up.

Naturally, we decided it would be a good idea to pay a visit to the hospital, where I got a tetanus shot and some X-rays. They found that the nail had actually nicked my bone, which apparently is a risk for some bad infections, so I got a prescription for antibiotics. For the past two days I've been pretty much immobile. But it's a fun story to tell at parties, right??

To commemorate my first visit to the ER, I decided to create a mani...and thus the Rusty Skunk was born.

See, white stripes like a skunk? And the dots are like...drops of blood? Yep.

Polishes used: Maybelline Porcelain Party, Revlon Stiletto, and Julep Minka. Minka is a matte metallic; I absolutely love this finish. On the nails where I used Minka, I did one coat of polish, one coat of topcoat, then another coat of polish. This is supposed to make matte polish last longer. I also used Revlon's matte topcoat on my accent nail.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the skunk was apparently sick or injured, because it lay in the same place for several hours, then mysteriously disappeared. It may still be out there somewhere...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

I made food: cinnamon craisin cookies

Another day, another batch of cookies. This is another variation on Mark Bittman's butter cookie recipe; it's the same as my butterscotch cookies except I used 3/4 cup of white sugar in place of the brown sugar, and I added 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1/2 cup craisins to the batter.

These turned out softer and moister than my last batch of cookies. They're like cinnamon raisin except with more zing--the tartness of the craisins really complements the butteriness of the cookie!

It's always nice to have some cookies around the house, especially after the crazy time I had last night...but I'll tell you about that next time. ;-)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Today's mani: floral stamps from MoYou

The products in this post were purchased by me. All opinions are my own.

Recently I bought a few stamping plates from MoYou, because I hardly have any and I want to start doing stamping more. One of the plates, Pro Collection 09, has a bunch of cool floral stamps I wanted to try, so I thought, instead of using one or two, why not use four?

(Smudging due to topcoat, boo!)

I used Orly Coachella Dweller for the base and Revlon Stiletto for the stamps. I like the idea of doing flowers in black, 'cause it's kind of the opposite of what you'd expect! I think the stamp on my index finger is my favorite of these, but there are 14 more on the plate so I need to try more!

The products in this post were purchased by me. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Talking funny: Fula

As I was writing my conference proceedings paper last week, I had the idea to write a bit about some of the unusual (to English speakers) features of one of the languages I worked on. I'm thinking of turning this into a series, if I can come up with enough material for it--it's cool to see how diverse languages really are!

Fula (aka Fulani, Fulfulde, Pulaar) is a language of sub-Saharan Africa, spoken by somewhere between 10 and 25 million people (estimates vary); that makes it one of the top 100 most widespread languages in the world. The homeland of Fula is somewhere around Senegal in West Africa, but since the speakers of Fula were originally nomadic herders--and sometime Islamic imperialists--they spread as far east as Sudan. So dialects of Fula are now spoken in a band across the continent.

Men of the Fula-speaking Wodaabe people in Niger (photo by Dan Lundberg)
Some early European scholars studying Fula found its grammar to be so complex that some wondered (half-seriously) how the language could ever have developed naturally. What could have gotten them so flummoxed? I'm going to tell you about two linguistic features of Fula that seem pretty bizarre, from a European point of view (neither of which are actually unique to Fula).

First off, like virtually all its relatives (including Swahili, Zulu and many many others), Fula has things called noun classes. If you've studied a language like Spanish, German, or French, you're already familiar with these--they're called genders in European languages. All nouns in the language are divided into groups that each get different markings. So in Spanish, you say:
  • el pulp-o 'the octopus', a masculine noun
  • la langost-a 'the lobster', a feminine noun
The two genders get different endings (-o for masculine, -a for feminine) and different articles (the two words meaning 'the').

OK, so Fula has genders too, except instead of two or three, it has twenty-something (the exact number depends on the dialect). And the classes have nothing to do with biological sex. Here are some examples:
  • ɗem-ngal 'tongue' (class 16)*
  • nagg-e 'cow' (class 13)
  • njaayrii-ji 'open spaces' (class 25)
  • loo-ngel 'little pot' (class 3)
One cool thing about the noun classes is that you can take a single noun and put it in any one of several classes to get different nuances of meaning. Let's take the root laam 'chief':
  • laam-ɗo 'chief' (class 1)
  • laam-ɓe 'chiefs' (class 2)
  • laam-ngel 'petty chief' (class 3)
  • laam-ngum 'worthless little chief' (class 5)
  • laam-kon 'petty chiefs' (class 6)
  • laam-nga 'mighty chief' (class 7)
  • laam-ko 'mighty chiefs' (class 8)

Pretty fun, right?

OK, so if you want to learn Fula, you have to learn what noun goes in what class, and also memorize the suffixes for each class. But that's not all! Look what happens to the root meaning 'compound' in different classes:
  • wur-o 'compound'
  • gur-e 'compounds'
  • ngur-on 'small compounds'

WHOA!! Not only did the suffix change, but the first consonant of the root changed too! This is known as initial consonant mutation, and it's a feature of Atlantic, the small subfamily that Fula belongs to (it's also found in the Celtic languages). The consonants of the language are arranged in sets of up to three, called grades (for example, w, g, ng), and the first consonant of any noun or verb root switches between the consonants in a set. Each noun class requires a noun to use a certain grade of consonant. Another example is the word for 'a Fula person', which is Pull-o in the singular but Ful-ɓe in the plural.

So when you learn Fula, not only do you have to learn which noun is in which noun class and the suffix for each noun class, you also have to know which consonant grade each noun class likes! Oh, and did I mention that the noun class suffixes also undergo consonant mutation?...

If you want to get a feel for how Fula sounds, here's a recording which I guess is of a Bible story.

*The symbols ɗ and ɓ stand for a special type of d and b that are made by drawing air into the mouth instead of expelling it.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Today's mani: dotted skittles tips

I feel I've kind of made up for my somewhat disappointing dotting performance of the other day with this mani. Not sure where I got this idea, but I know I've seen something like this before. Here I am hanging out with my scorpion buddy:

I like the mix of different colors and dot sizes on each nail! Kind of reminds me of fish eggs.

Colors I used:
  • base: Revlon stiletto (a one-coater!)
  • thumb: OPI The "It" Color, Julep Abbie
  • index finger: Essie The More the Merrier, Color Club Twiggie
  • middle finger: China Glaze Turned Up Turquoise, Color Club Age of Aquarius
  • ring finger: Wet n Wild I Need a Refresh-Mint, Sally Hansen Blue Me Away!
  • pinky: Wet n Wild On a Trip, Essie DJ Play That Song 
Oh, totally unrelated, we're officially Massachusetts residents now!

Friday, August 16, 2013

I made food: no-knead bread

I'm going to be honest with you: I'm 27 years old and until today, I'd never baked a loaf of bread in my life. I wasn't really sure what bread dough is supposed to look like, or even what ingredients are in it ("Are there eggs in bread?" I asked my husband once). So I figured I would probably screw up my first couple of tries. But nope, this recipe is pretty much foolproof, and as the name implies, it actually requires almost no work, just a lot of patience.

There are a zillion places online to find the no-knead bread recipe; I used this adorable tutorial from Steamy Kitchen. (The only change being I used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour.)

Here's my dough right after mixing. This is like 90% of the work you do right here.

Then it rises overnight...

"Hey, I'm gonna get some of this, right?" (Nope.)

I didn't take any more pictures of the dough because it wasn't very exciting, but you just have to stretch and shape it briefly, then let it rise for two more hours. At this point I was worried I had messed up, because my dough was very wet and wasn't holding a round shape like the tutorial pictures. But once I got the finished bread out of the oven...

Not pictured: clouds of steamy bread-smell

...yep, I think it turned out OK.

Our plan was not to eat any until lunch, but that plan was quickly abandoned. We waited impatiently for 10-15 minutes until it had cooled a little, then buttered up some slices. The first words out of my husband were "holy s**t!" (and he doesn't swear much). This bread has super crispy, yet thin, crust, and the inside is chewy and filling but still airy at the same time.

I'm still slightly in shock that I'm actually capable of making bread...I just wish I had made more (this loaf is more than half gone already, and I just made it this morning). Seriously, if bread seems like too much work to you, try this recipe!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Today's mani: polka dot "spirals"

Hey all! I haven't posted in a few days because I've been working on a proceedings paper for a conference I presented at in March. But now my paper's submitted, so I can (momentarily) kick back and post my nails!

As the post title suggests, these dots are supposed to make spirals, which you can kind of see on my index finger, but I think I put the dots too far apart. Oh well, live and learn! I do like the color scheme though--the base color is OPI My Vampire is Buff, and the dots are L'Oreal L'Orange and Sephora by OPI Ocean Love Potion. One day I'll redo this pattern but BETTER!

BTW, anyone else thinking of preordering any of the I Love Nail Polish Ultra Chromes? They look pretty fricking amazing, I must say!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Happy belated "birthday" Trudy [50th post!]

The other day I noticed Trudy was looking a bit mopey, and I suddenly realized we had forgotten to celebrate the second anniversary of her adoption (August 5)! So I'm publicly apologizing and presenting her with this lovely PNG I made all by myself.

We don't know when her actual birthday is, but her adoption day is more important anyway--it marks the day we brought our new best friend into our family. We've had two years of cuddles, kisses and playtime, and we're looking forward to many more!

On a less sappy note, this is my 50th post on the blog! I know it's not very impressive compared to all the big successful blogs, but I'm glad that I've been motivated to keep on posting. It's been a lot of fun so far, and I think it's just going to get better and better!

(Also, note to self: post more cute Trudy pics!)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

I made food: butterscotch cookies

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I were sitting around feeling too tired to work anymore. It was that time of day when your blood sugar drops and you just feel like either eating or taking a nap. "I wish we had cookies," said Hubby. "Hey, you should make cookies."

He was basically joking, because he thought I'd never agree to it, but I surprised him by grabbing How to Cook Everything and turning to the cookie section. The first recipe there was for basic butter cookies, and I suddenly realized, hey, I have all these ingredients! One of the variations listed is for butterscotch cookies--all you have to do is use brown sugar instead of white. Less than an hour later we were eating cookies!

(That's a 100% true story, folks.)

 The recipe is very simple: you cream together a stick of butter and 2/3 cup brown sugar, then beat in an egg and 1 tsp. vanilla. In another bowl you mix 2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp. baking powder and a pinch of salt, then mix in half the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Add 1/4 cup milk, beat the batter a little more, then mix in the rest of the dry ingredients. (Don't beat too much!) Put little mounds of the batter onto some baking sheets and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or so. Ta-da! Cookies! (Good thing they cool quickly too, because we were getting pretty hungry.)

The cookies are soft, buttery and have an almost scone-like texture. They're also not overly sweet (I've noticed this with other dessert recipes in this cookbook). If you like sweeter cookies, you could increase the amount of sugar, or just drizzle some honey over them like I did!

Swatch: Incoco Topaz Treasure nail polish appliques

The product in this post was sent to me for review. All opinions are my own.

Today I'm wearing another set of nail wraps from Incoco (you can read my earlier in-depth review here). This set, Topaz Treasure, has a subtle but elegant pattern in a cheery sky blue!

Incoco Topaz Treasure Nail Polish Appliques, with one coat Out the Door topcoat.

As with the last set of Incoco appliques I tried, these were easy to use and went on without wrinkles or bulges. Since they're made of nail polish, I used appliques that were slightly too wide for each finger and cleaned up the excess with acetone. I think this allows you to get a better fit to your cuticle shape. I added a coat of Out the Door to seal in the edges.

The only thing that bugs me about these wraps is the faint horizontal lines you can see--those are from stretching the appliques to remove wrinkles. A minor quibble though!

Topaz Treasure is currently on sale for 25% off ($6.74 down from $8.99) at, so go grab 'em! The sale goes through Monday!

The product in this post was sent to me for review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

New stuff on the blog, including ads and ad swapping!

I've been a busy beaver today! You may notice a few new buttons up above: first, "Things I Love" is a page of, well, things I love. Blogs, products, indie polish brands, you name it! Maybe you can find a new thing to love somewhere in there!

Second, I have a page called "Sponsorship", which explains how to purchase ads in my sidebar (only $2 per month!!). Or if you're interested in swapping ads with me for free, just use the promo code SWAP. I think it'll be a great way for me to meet new blog-friends!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Today's mani: my first try at striping tape

I bought a roll of striping tape a while back but never got around to using it until yesterday. It was easier to use than I expected! Whenever I do Scotch tape manis, some polish inevitably leaks under the edge of the tape somewhere, but that didn't happen with the striping tape!

Anywho, this mani's pretty basic, but I love the combo of grey and pink.

The grey is Julep Meryl and the pink is Zoya Belle. (My other fingers have Belle layered over white, since it's a jelly and I wanted it to be opaque.)

Next time I'll try a more interesting striping pattern!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

I made food: Meatballs and tomato sauce

The other day I made one of my favorite foods, thanks to my sister providing me with her recipe...

(Sorry about the random objects in the background--I haven't really gotten my photography space set up yet. I do have a real camera finally though! With a macro setting and everything! It's a hand-me-down from my dad.)

Turns out meatballs and tomato sauce are incredibly easy to make (not to mention DELICIOUS), and one recipe makes a whole ton of sauce. I hope my sister won't mind if I reproduce her recipe here; it's pretty loose, so you can change it up however you like. (Her notes say "all quantities guesstimated", so really just experiment until you hit on your favorite concoction.)

Ingredients for the meatballs:
1-2 lbs. ground meat of whatever kind(s) you want (I used 1.5 lbs. of beef and got 14 medium-size meatballs)
1 egg
1/2 tbsp. each dried basil and oregano
chili powder to taste, if you want
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. grated parmesan (I omitted this because my husband keeps kosher)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup flour

Ingredients for the sauce:
about 1 cup each of celery, onions, and carrots, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
1 box (32 oz.) beef stock
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
3 tomatoes, diced (or you can use a large can of tomatoes, like I did)
a bay leaf

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine all the meatball ingredients in a bowl (use your hands! It's like delicious-smelling Play Doh), then form into balls. In a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, heat some olive oil on medium heat, and brown the meatballs on all sides (this prevents them from falling apart, as I discovered...). Remove the meatballs and set them aside, and add a little more olive oil. Saute the veggies and garlic until softened.

Put the meatballs back in the skillet, add the wine and increase the heat to high. Let the alcohol boil off for a minute or so. Add the beef stock, tomatoes, tomato paste and bay leaf. Bring everything to a boil and stir to break up the tomato paste, then cover the skillet and put it in the oven for 90 minutes. (I actually left the lid of my Dutch oven slightly ajar to encourage the sauce to reduce.)

If you want the sauce to be smooth, you can take the meatballs out and blend the sauce--I used the immersion blender we got for our wedding. (Just don't blend the bay leaf!) But I've also left the sauce chunky, and that's fine too. Add salt and pepper to taste, and you're done! All you need is some pasta...

Seriously guys, this stuff is so good. Not overly sweet like some tomato sauces, lots of good vegetable flavor, and really moist meatballs!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Swatch: Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear Blue Me Away!

I received the polish in this post as a gift. All opinions are my own.

So I decided to polish my sad, stubby nails, just to get myself back in the habit. And this color is making me really happy! (Blue is my favorite color after purple.) Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear Blue Me Away! makes me want to go swimming; it's a perfect shade of blue for summer. My husband said the color reminds him of blue M&Ms!

Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear Blue Me Away! Two coats with one coat Out the Door topcoat.

(As always with blue-toned polishes, my camera had a hard time with this one; it's slightly more green in real life.) This polish had a decent formula, if maybe a little runny, and was nearly a one-coater for me, since I do thick coats. Unfortunately, despite the "Xtreme Wear" subtitle, I got tipwear and a chip within 36 hours of application. Maybe that's just my body chemistry though!

I received the polish in this post as a gift. All opinions are my own.