Jul 7, 2013

Adventures in Academia: The Conney Conference

A few posts ago, I scratched the surface of what kinds of shenanigans I had been involved with in my academic life.  To be perfectly honest: I don't discuss my academic life much here.  Things--meaningful things--seem to get lost in the process of explaining, for example, the importance of academic conferences and the publish or perish mantra that so colors my professional world.  Discussing weddings I've attended and food I've made seems like a safer, if not more mundane and acceptable option for blogging purposes, if only because these topics are less likely to inspire awkward silences and confusion that the act of telling you about my academic life seems to inspire.

That being said: the Conney Conference on Jewish Arts, at which I presented this past spring, has recently uploaded videos of all the presentations onto its website, and so I thought perhaps you might like to see first (second?)-hand part of what I do as an academic.  

Without further ado, a link to the video page.  My presentation link is the third from the top: http://conneyproject.wisc.edu/videos-2013/  

The Conney Conference is a project of the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison. This conference was really awesome in so many ways--an interesting, yet balanced mix of artists and academics from visual, dramatic, performance, musical, and yes--even culinary/domestic!--arts presented on a wide array of topics.  Everyone there was really friendly, not to mention extremely engaged, and the overall synergy was amazing to experience.

I did not take very many photos at this conference.  For one thing, the entire thing was videotaped, and is now online.  Additionally, the weather--early April in the Midwest--was rather unpleasant.  It was either quite cold, rainy, windy, or all three for the duration of the conference.  However, I did enjoy walking around downtown Madison, an area that is extraordinarily logically laid out.  I also enjoyed some fried cheese curds on more than one occasion, which I am pretty sure is a requirement for anyone visiting America's Dairyland.

The final morning of the conference, everyone met at Gates of Heaven, which is this little (former) synagogue (shown at left) that is situated right on the shore of Lake Mendota.  The dancers in residence had put together a presentation for everyone to watch, and then at the end we sat around, ate bagels (because what else would one eat at a Jewish arts conference?) and talked about how awesome the week had been.


Jun 14, 2013

More Springtime Shenanigans

I know ... I know ... I just posted!   And here's another one!  You will probably enjoy this post more, since it has some awesome pictures and is less ... boring ... than reading about the ins and outs of academic life.

Memorial Day weekend, Nick and I attended the wedding of our friends JeanAnn and Eric.  They are both really awesome people, so we knew their wedding would be really awesome as well.  Little did we know, however, that this would actually end up being the most awesome wedding either of us have ever attended.  Actually, if facebook is any indication, a lot of people who were in attendance came away with a similar sentiment.  Furthermore, I like to think that this is almost exactly (minus the food trucks, maybe) the kind of wedding that Nick and I would plan for ourselves, if either of us was susceptible to the idea of getting married.  So you should definitely keep reading.

What made this wedding so awesome, you ask?

1. Location: The wedding and reception were both held in Brooklyn, at the Vander Ende-Onderdonk house.  As you can see, it's a gorgeous home, and the wedding was held outside in the spacious garden area.

2. Food: In the style of true New Yorkers, the dinner and dessert came from food trucks.


Each of us got these cute little menus with the dinner and dessert offerings.  Dinner was tacos/little sandwiches catered by Mexicue, with one's choice of yummy fillings.  The best part is that it was self serve--everyone enjoyed the experience of waiting on line at the taco truck, and then ordering exactly what they wanted.  Of course, once we were given our food, the challenge of consuming said deliciousness without spilling anything on our nice clothes ensued.

Dessert was ice cream sandwiches--again, self serve, and we got to pick not only what kind of cookie, but also what kind of ice cream.  Totally a win-win.

3.  Music: JeanAnn and Eric both have an affinity for New Orleans, JeanAnn having earned her bachelor's degree from Tulane University.  So they hired a Dixieland jazz band to play the reception.  Given that so many of the guests were theatrical/musical types, many of them also being Tulane alumni, the reception was a big hit, as everyone there really knew how to cut loose and have a good time.  (and surely the vast amounts of spirits that were consumed helped with this ...)

Also, those New Orleaners really know their jazz stuff--some of the guests talked the band into doing a second line.  A second line, by the way, originated from jazz parades/jazz funerals.  The personnel involved (musicians, family of the deceased, etc.) comprise the first line, and the second line is ... everyone else.  Minus a funeral or a parade, second lining consists of walking/dancing around in a line, waving handkerchiefs and parasols.  Some smart cookie was clearly planning ahead on this one, because no sooner did the band line up for the second line, than boxes of parasols were produced for those who did not come prepared.

Check out this picture taken (I think) by one of the guests.  This is the front of the second line, but as far as candid wedding photos go, this seems to be quite the epitome of very, very awesome.

4.  Last, though certainly not least, this wedding was covered by the NEW YORK TIMES and was actually just published (see link below).   I'm telling you, this wedding was all kinds of classy/awesome awesomeness.

It's no small feat to get the New York Times to cover one's wedding, and it's even harder to make the cut on a holiday weekend.  Among my small circle of friends, family, and acquaintances, May has a record number of birthdays and anniversaries, so for the Times to cover my friends' wedding over Memorial Day weekend ... that's one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

The New York Times article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/fashion/weddings/a-rented-truck-was-the-stage-for-romantic-comedy.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Jun 12, 2013

Publish or Perish: Devo's Adventures in Academia

It's June ... another semester in the books, and it was kind of a doozy.

On the PhD front this semester, I passed one language exam, and am now just two classes, an additional language exam, and one massive comprehensive exam away from being ABD (all but dissertation).   The idea is that I will attain ABD status in early February.  In the meantime, I will try not to think about what an oversized undertaking the Fall 2013 semester will be by dwelling instead on some of the other happenings of this past semester.

The motto of everyone in academia is 'publish or perish.'  Perhaps to you (nonscholars) this seems a bit extreme, but to me this slogan has become par for the course.  Somehow, inexplicably, I really snapped into scholar mode about a year ago and have been sending out proposal after proposal to be vetted by my advisors before submitting them to be considered for academic conferences, fellowships, and grants.  I would like to say I have had really spectacular success in this endeavor.  Actually, my advisors would probably insist to all of you, as they have repeatedly to me, that I am, in fact, pretty successful considering I'm only two years in as a PhD student.  And as far as conference proposals, my success rate this year has been a whopping 100%.


As far as various funding sources, however, my success rate is only about 50%--half of the fellowship/grant proposals I've sent off this past year have been accepted, but the ones that were rejected were awards that totaled almost 3x as much as the ones I received.  There are always more things for which to apply, however, and so every time another call for proposals lands in my inbox, I pull out my abstracts and prepare to send them out once again ....  

Of course, the 'next step' in the academic process is getting published, a feat which has very much been on my mind of late.  This is somewhat easier than it sounds, given the number of scholarly periodicals that accept article submissions and the evident interest in my research as suggested by my conference proposal acceptance rate.  All in good time ...

Mar 3, 2013

[insert clever title here]

Hello again.

Well.  I finished the fall semester with no harm done, just in time to catch a plane to Durango, where Nick and I spent Christmas with Nick's mother.  It was snowy, cozy, and wonderful--just the thing after  all of the happenings of last fall.  We had a very quiet New Year's eve, and then Nick taught a condensed Music Appreciation course during the January break.

I swear I was going to post a month ago, telling you about our approach to food and some of the delicious dinners we enjoyed this winter .... that obviously didn't happen.  But we managed to turn the leftovers from a very nice New Year's eve dinner of creamed spinach, roasted lamb and squash, scalloped potatoes, and truffle cheese into lamb pot pies (lamb and squash leftovers), a spinach quiche (creamed spinach and truffle cheese), and stock (made from vegetable scraps and bits of fat from the lamb).   I tried a curried lentil recipe that yielded mixed results--Nick really liked it, and I really didn't.  We also experimented with various chili recipes.  Prior to this winter, my only direct experience with it was my mom's approach (ground beef + celery + condensed tomato soup).  Nick, who comes from chili country, having grown up much closer to Texas than I, found this politely amusing, and is a huge fan of the method we've developed over the past month, which includes bone-in chuck steak, dried beans, and crushed tomatoes.

One of my favorite results of the chili experiments has been baked eggs, which uses chili as the 'base' of the dish.

In other news, we have some new household acquisitions.  As many of you know, we have been saving up for a new bed since September, and finally had the time and patience to do our research and shopping in January.  We ended up buying a bigger bed (full -->queen), which also meant purchasing a new box spring.  After a lot of comparison and research, we took a leap of faith and bought a memory foam mattress from Amazon, and a new bed frame (with head- and footboard) from Overstock.  I felt sorry for our UPS guy, who delivered these heavy/unwieldy packages over the span of only two days.  And then of course, we had to put everything together, which was its own adventure.  But our new bed is amazing, and Nick and I are both surprised at how much better we feel in general than we did a couple of months ago.

Our other new item is a fridge.  Well ... new to us anyway.  When we first signed the lease on our current apartment, we expressed some concern over the state of the fridge.  The prior tenants were not terribly tidy people, it seems, on top of which, the fridge had been unplugged but not properly defrosted in the process of the painting/renovations that were just being finished when we moved in.  The freezer had some pretty gross mold as a result, and I'll let you guess which of us (me, Nick, or the landlord) ended up with the task of cleaning it.   ..... ANYWAY, we weren't sure whether the funky mold smell and stains would ever fully go away, and then in the course of using the fridge, it turns out that the freezer just didn't work very well.  Finally, after weeks of back-and-forth with the landlord, it turned out that the building super had a used, fully functional brand-name fridge sitting in the basement.  Said super not only brought this fridge up to our apartment, but also returned to remove  the old one.  Our 'new' fridge has kind of a loud motor and a funky door layout, but is consistently cold and lacks the funky smell/ potentially lurking mold/questionable past of the other one.  Plus it has door handles ... who could ask for anything more?

Although Nick and I are keeping plenty busy with teaching, classes, gigs, etc., we have managed to get out and do a few fun things since the beginning of the year.  At the top of our to-do list has been visiting the NYPL main branch, which has in its permanent collection the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals.  Some of Nick's favorite books as a child were the stories of Pooh and friends, and so spending some time in the Children's Library, where they are displayed, made for a very sweet afternoon.

Also high on our list of things to see was the MTA Transit Museum.  Nick had actually visited with his parents as a child, but the Museum has expanded significantly since then, and so we both saw a lot of new subway and bus things.  My favorite part was seeing all of the awesome ads in the subway cars, like this one for Schmulka Bernstein's cold cuts.  But there were others: Etti-Cat reminders for proper behavior during one's commute, a bazillion ads for various kinds of booze, and the Miss Subway competition/winner announcements.  Last weekend I took a trip to my favorite ice cream shop, Ample Hills Creamery, located in my old neighborhood.  For a few days before the Oscars, they offer the most amazing flavor of ice cream ever, called "Oscar nite": large chunks of red velvet cake generously smooshed into sweet cream ice cream.  Unlike cake shakes and other cake ice creams, the red velvet cake used here (which also had a ton of frosting, by the way) seemed to have been specially formulated for the purpose of using in ice cream (quite simply, it was dry enough that the cake didn't get soggy until the third or fourth day after purchase).   Last year, the first year they made it, I missed out on the amazingness, but this year I was determined to give "Oscar nite" a try, and purchased an entire pint for good measure.  And given the variety of responses to the awards ceremony itself, I think that "Oscar nite" beat "Oscar night" hands down.

Monday night Nick and I both attended a screening of Future Perfect, our good friend-and-vacation-buddy Liam's Master's thesis film, which was sponsored by his alma mater's alumni association (the screening, not the film). We enjoyed some free food and wine, and a nice chat with our other Cape vacay buddies Kevin and Vanessa.  And the screening!  The film was a rough cut, which meant that it's still in the editing phase of production, and shots and sounds may differ from the final version.  Nick will be doing sound editing for this film, so his attendance was required.  After the screening, Liam, Nick, and other crew members participated in a Q&A session with members of the audience.  Overall it was a nice evening, and everyone (around here) is looking forward to seeing the final cut of the film later this spring.  

Dec 21, 2012

The Holidays Are Upon Us

*blinks eyes*

Hi, everyone.  At the moment I feel as though I just crawled out from under a rock.  I am tired, disoriented, and VERY NEARLY FINISHED WITH THE FALL 2012 SEMESTER.


The stuff in caps = stuff about which I am pretty excited.

In the past week, I have written 30+ pages' worth of term papers, proctored 4 hours' worth of exams, graded 60% of said exams, gave a kitschy presentation on "My Yiddishe Mame," and did something that is completely unprecedented around these parts.

I turned in one of my term papers a full day early.

Yes, you read that correctly.  For those of you following along at home, I finished a paper approximately 25 hours ahead of schedule.  I must be getting old.  In my old age, I am also writing longer papers, it seems.  I've written nearly 35 pages' worth of ... stuff.  You might be thinking that I would be nearly finished with the paper writing process.  You would be incorrect about this.  Of the two papers I am responsible for writing, those 35 pages only works out to one and one-third papers.  Since the second paper is not due for another week, and since I am still patting myself on the back for finishing the first one so early, I don't feel very bad about finishing up my grading and goofing around a bit before finishing everything off.
Thanksgiving meal.  Grape leaves and yogurt, turkey, mashed potatoes,
roasted garlic, stuffing, creamed spinach, roasted brussel sprouts.

Best. Pecan. Pie. Ever.

In and around the paper-writing madness, Nick and I had a turkey-tastic Thanksgiving.  We over-compensated for last year's tiny, broken oven by cooking and baking a week's worth of food ... which we consumed in a few days.  Our pecan pie, which we baked in Nick's cast iron, was SO GOOD that we had to make another one over Thanksgiving weekend.  Yeah.

This year I also found my menorah and what was probably a rather old box of candles, and Nick and I actually celebrated Chanukah this year.  We lit the candles every night, and he really liked participating in the process.   I made latkes and roasted chicken one night, also a hit.  Nick's favorite part, though, was learning how to play dreidel, even though he confused some of the letters.  It probably also helps that he won all of the chocolate gelt from our short-lived dreidel game.   
For all of you Midwesterners, I hope you have a VERY SAFE holiday season, and a happy and healthy New Year! 

Nov 2, 2012

Hurrican Sandy

Hello everyone,

The preliminaries: Nick and I went to Iowa over Labor Day weekend, and brought back several vintage/thrifted  items which have since been put to use around our house.  We also enjoyed visiting with everyone, of course.  Since then, we've been trying to juggle teaching/coursework/work, and the months have apparently gotten away from me.  But only a little bit.

Most of you have checked in on me over the past several days.  I can't tell you how much this means to me, particularly since we were so fortunate to have been spared from nearly all of Hurricane Sandy's wrath.  Since we live in central Brooklyn, we missed the floods and fires, and unlike our last apartment, where Nick and I literally had to take turns bailing out our bedroom each hour during Hurricane Irene, our current building is incredibly well-built and successfully withstood the high wind speeds.  Here are some of the precautions that we took to ensure a 'successful' hurrication:

1. Grocery shopping: Since we have the space, I keep a very well-stocked pantry, full of canned and dry goods.  I did my grocery shopping on Saturday, stocking up on some perishable items, paper towels, and trash bags.  Not only is there wisdom in stocking up on food before a hurricane, by doing so a day earlier than everyone else, I successfully avoided the crazed hordes, long checkout lines, and bare shelves that were par for the course on Sunday.

2. Cooking: I made Aunt Deb's pumpkin chocolate chip loaf recipe on Sunday, except I did muffins instead of a traditional loaf.  We also enjoyed Fesenjan stew (shown above) Sunday night, and a barley, lentil, and chicken stew Monday.  We've since been eating off of the leftovers--delicious!

3. Household preparations: We happened to have a lifetime supply of AA batteries, some flashlights/touch lights, and more tea lights than I want to discuss as a result of the last Halloween party we threw a few years ago.  We also took the precaution of bringing our air conditioners indoors Monday morning, as well as our window box.

A gigantic downed tree near Bedford Ave.

Brooklyn College

Some missing sign letters on Nostrand Ave.

The aftermath: I took some photographs of my neighborhood Wednesday afternoon.  As you can see, there is actually very little damage--some downed trees/limbs is really the extent of what happened in my neighborhood.  NYC public schools and CUNY all cancelled classes this week (most CUNY schools actually resumed Nov. 2, though several professors cancelled class anyway as a result of the transit situation).  Brooklyn College suffered very little damage, but a couple of CUNY campuses are still underwater and/or are serving as shelters.  Bus service resumed in Brooklyn and parts of Queens Tuesday evening, and very limited train service resumed Thursday morning.  Since lower Manhattan is still without power, and many of the subway tunnels between Brooklyn and Manhattan are still flooded, subway service ends in downtown Brooklyn and resumes at 57th St. in Manhattan.  To get between these two points, you can either take a shuttle bus or walk.  The sheer length of lines for the shuttles has made the news.  The lower picture shows how the line was supposed to work (empty at midday), and how it was literally wrapped around the stadium twice because there were so many people waiting for the shuttles during morning rush hour:

Randomly, our own neighborhood had a blackout for a few hours Tuesday evening.  We're so lucky that it didn't last longer, but it was a bit stressful while it lasted.

Although grocery stores have been able to restock their shelves, since the bridges have been reopened and delivery trucks can get in and out, gas stations have not fared as well.  Many are without power, and some are simply out of gas as a result of the ports being closed until today.  We live around the corner from a gas station, and have been watching the blocks-long line of cars since Tuesday evening slowly inch its way along.  After several fights broke out, the NYPD put several officers there to keep the peace, thought that has not lessened the lines or the honking of horns.   As I was walking home from a couple of errands yesterday, I saw that there was also a separate line of people with plastic gas cans.  I initially assumed that this was a shortcut to avoid waiting in the car line, but then I realized that the generators that people are using until electricity is restored are powered by gas.

I've also heard from several of my students.  Many of them seem to have come through completely unscathed, but one girl who emailed me yesterday literally lost all of her possessions in the storm.  The more pictures I see of the damage in the affected areas, and the more stories I hear from friends and students who were evacuated or were otherwise affected, the more grateful I am for how fortunate we have been.

Jul 16, 2012

Devo does babka

Last Thursday, while clicking around on the internet, I rediscovered Smitten Kitchen, a food blog written right out of the Big Apple.  Nick and I had been aware of this particular blog for several years, dating back to when we first moved in together, and had already tried Deb's recipes for ricotta (a quasi-success) and pastry cream (a near-unparalleled disaster).  After clicking through many promising posts, I stumbled across one for little chocolate swirl buns and then this other one from whence the buns were adapted.  And suddenly I was reading all about chocolate babka, and wanting some very badly.  

The bakery has just run out of chocolate babka.
Chocolate babka is sort of like a chocolate croissant ... but bigger.  And better.  It's an Old World relic that is popular enough in New York (but then, what Jewish food isn't in these parts?).  A Midwesterner by origin, my only familiarity with babka came from watching Seinfeld, where chocolate babka plays a prominent role in "The Dinner Party" episode.  So naturally, after perusing the Smitten Kitchen recipes, I assumed I would quickly get over the whole babka phenomenon.  

But I was wrong.  By that night, I knew that I would be making babka within the next few days.  But which recipe to use?  The original made three loaves and called for an obscene amount of chocolate (two and a half pounds!!) and streusel topping, but the swirl bun recipe was scaled down and made twelve cute little rolls that baked in muffin cups.  After a lot of thought, I decided to use the amounts listed for the swirl bun recipe but made a loaf instead.  

Since I have made bread from scratch a few times, the recipe was actually pretty manageable--up until you do the filling, you're essentially making bread.  My new Sunbeam hand mixer came with dough hooks, which helped to facilitate the kneading process, and otherwise the recipe went pretty smoothly so that after a few hours, I opened the oven and pulled out one golden, crusty, delicious loaf and IT WAS DELICIOUS.