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Ms. MLIS and the 114 Dozen Treats

6 Jan

Happy New Year from Neen’s Notes!

I took a hiatus from blogging in December for a multitude of reasons. The first was to focus on completing my final projects for graduate school. You may recall such posts where I defeated the Great Perl Dragon and other beasts along the way, but this was (to put it in super-nerd terms) the true Boss Battle. And yes, I won the game of graduate school. I’m now a bonafide library and information scientist.

And then came the baking and candy making. Once the final papers were off to my instructors, I suddenly had…time. It’s not as though I never had free time while I was in school, but I always had a lingering, “I really should be working on (blank)” feeling whenever I tried to take some down time. Last December, when I was only a little more than half-way through school I made 65 dozen cookies for friends and family. I did not anticipate ever coming close to breaking that record. After all, I only have two cookie sheets and two 9×13 in. pans.

Armed with my favorite recipes from last year and a brand new confectionery book, I warned my family not to bake and that I’d bring more than enough home for Christmas. I’m not sure they anticipated quite how excited I was to be back in the kitchen.

Here’s the final tally:

7 dozen peanut butter cups
3 dozen Nutella cups
6 dozen orange chocolate truffles
6 dozen gingersnaps
4 dozen thumbprints
6 dozen peanut butter blossoms
3 dozen chocolate almond coconut biscotti
4 dozen chocolate cherry walnut biscotti
4 dozen cranberry orange pecan biscotti
8 dozen Russian tea cakes
10 dozen coconut joys
17 dozen walnut caramels
7 dozen torrone
10 dozen chocolate marshmallows (for Folger party)
12 dozen vanilla-almond spritz cookies
3 dozen walnut-coconut patties
4 cups sweet and spicy pecans
4 cups sweet and spicy peanuts

Total? Not counting the candied nuts, 114 dozen. I should go into business! If you have a request for any of the recipes above, let me know. There may be photo-tutorials for some of them in the coming weeks. Candy is so temperamental that it can be hard to get pictures of the process, but I’m getting better at setting the timer/one-handed photography.

My final reason for a blogging hiatus? Pittsburgh, of course! I can’t believe that I somehow didn’t write about the fact that (back in October) Joe got us tickets to the Steelers’ last home game of the season as an anniversary gift. The game was 2 days before Christmas and so we decided to spend the first week of our holiday up in PA.

Joe has taken me to a few Steelers games when they’ve played down here at Fedex Field, but I had never been to a home game at Heinz Field. In fact, the only home game I had ever gone to was a game at Three Rivers Stadium when I was…12ish? Needless to say, my anticipation was building for a very long time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010 I watched the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Carolina Panthers 27-3 from Section 223, Row K, and it was incredible. My favorite part of the stadium was the Great Hall, where memorabilia (including all of the Lombardi trophies!) from Steelers and Pitt Panther stand-outs are on display for all fans to see. A live band, members dressed in black and gold and donning Polamalu wigs, blasted rock music to get the crowd milling around excited and ready to go. Fans wore jerseys from every era emblazoned with names like Lambert, Greene, Harris, Bettis, Stallworth, Bleier, and Swann. Of course, current players were heavily represented as well, and even some…interesting throwbacks like Kordell Stewart. I did not, however, witness any Neil O’Donnell jerseys and do not believe I ever will. 

And everyone, I mean everyone carried a Terrible Towel. Even before the announcer could start naming the players who ran onto the field, the crowd looked like a sea of Vegas-gold waves. The experience of being in a place where 60,000 people are excited and proud of the same thing was unbelievable. The players on the sidelines too, waved their Terrible Towels to liven up the crowd during crucial moments. (The glorious noise forced 2 Carolina time outs and contributed to 3 false starts. Hope we helped, boys!)

I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire evening. Thank you again, Joe, for making yet another one of my dreams come true!

Yet, that was only the very beginning of our vacation. You’d think it couldn’t get any better but it did. We spent the next 4 days celebrating with family we don’t see nearly enough. There are few things that make me happier than just having time to spend with my parents, brother and sister-in-law, and Joe. We had some wonderful meals together, wandered the Strip District, and just caught up on life over wine and board games. Cigars, too. Oh, and cookies…days and days of cookies. I feel like we should install a fire-extinguisher type case in each family member’s house that contains a tray of cookies: “Break glass in case of celebration.”

I hope your holiday held wonderful memories as well. My hope for this year is that I may continue learning how to have more compassion for both others and myself, to remove the ego and respect what my body and mind can do on each day that I am alive, and to live with a sense of respect for all that this amazing planet provides each day.

Happy 2011—Ciao for now!


Mystery Food Weeks 14 and 15: Back to School edition

9 Sep
Another double-edition of Mystery Food today. This should tell you that my fall semester of graduate school is officially in full swing. Apart from working on my e-portfolio-thesis-magic, I’m taking a course in Medieval Manuscripts. I’ve always wanted to take a course on illuminated manuscripts, because pre-printing press books (and not simply their content) were intricate, one-of-a-kind works of art. Our class will focus mostly on Western Europe during the Medieval period, but one of our assignments is to create a wiki on scribes and writing in a different part of the world. Since everyone is required to post the assignments to our class discussion board, I’ll hopefully get to learn about a lot of different places.

All work and no play would make me a very dull Neen though, so I’m really excited that football season starts today. New Orleans and Minnesota play at 8:30 tonight! This year, I am participating in two pick’em leagues and one fantasy football league. It’s the first year in the seven (wow…) I’ve been playing that I’m only in one fantasy league. The final semester of graduate school has to get some priority. The pick’em leagues are different in that one uses the point spread and the other does not. I like the added challenge of the point spread, but I’m admittedly not very good at it.

My beloved Steelers are down a starting QB, but it’s alright because my favorite player (and his million dollar hair) is back!

On to Mystery Food…

Week 14 brought a giant eggplant, tomato, sweet corn, concord grapes, beans, Asian pears, summer squash, apples, and peaches:

Week 15 continued to spoil me with zucchini, patty pan squash, sweet corn, concord grapes, beans, Asian pears, apples, peaches, small watermelon, and a tomato:
Oh, those beautiful flowers in the week 15 picture? No, they are not mystery food. I’ve been sick all week and Joe got them to cheer me up! He really is quite the catch. 😉

Ciao for now,


Mystery Food Week 4 and Library School Gymnastics

25 Jun
I’ve spent the week with my head in two very different worlds. My spring semester was challenging in a way I’d not expected. I took a course on managing prison libraries, which forced me to weigh access to information against public safety and take a very honest personal inventory of my thoughts and subconscious judgments about the incarcerated population. What I learned was that prison librarians have an incredibly important role. These are the men and women who lead the book group discussions that teach positive socialization, help prisoners locate and comprehend legal materials, and ultimately manage and circulate resources to prepare them for life post-incarceration. It takes a certain amount of determination and resiliency to face what is often a difficult population to serve, whether those difficulties arise from the imprisoned or the bureaucratic “hurry-up-and-wait” nature of prison administration.

When it came time to register for summer courses, I finally decided to stop procrastinating and got around to signing up for a required research methods course. The specific topic for the course is “action research.” While I’m still grasping the concept, it seems to deal a lot with how research acts as a continual, fluid learning process that has no fixed beginning or end. For my other course, I chose a class on selecting materials for children ages 0-4. So you can imagine that going from writing about the constructivist theory of learning to evaluating a copy of Clifford: The Big Red Dog might make some mental gymnastics a necessity.

Nonetheless, I remain determined to share the joy of local food with the world and so present to you Mystery Food Week 4. This was the best haul so far (in my humble opinion).

Here we have some arugula, garlic, spring onions, kale, a potted basil plant (Yay!), a summer squash, and some lovely yellow plums.

…And now a confession: I have never eaten a fresh yellow plum. But the delightful smell as I opened the little container was so sweet that I immediately chose and bit into one.

Oh. My. God. Juicy, fruity, and wonderful. Like a tiny, golden nectarine. Immediately visions of chutneys, preserves, sauces, and salsas danced through my brain. Yes, yes, yes to fresh, in-season yellow plums.

I baked a few of them with some peaches for dessert last night, but wanted to save a few for a spicy plum salsa to go with a grilled pork loin I plan to make for a late Father’s Day BBQ this weekend. (Hey, we do things at our own pace here in the “south.”) I just finished the menu plan and it’s chock-full of delicious goodies. I’ll try to take some pictures.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone. Mine will be spent at my favorite market and then celebrating with family. Oh, and maybe a little homework will sneak in there too…all in all, not a bad way to spend a few days.

Ciao for now!

Mystery Food Week 7 (Schoooool’s out for sum-mer!)

28 Jul

(Insert sigh of relief here)

There were some tears and frustration, but I finished up all of my assignments for the semester. The Perl dragon has been slain. It feels so good to be on vacation for a little while. Yes, there’s still work during the day, but now I can at least do fun things like garden and read on my Kindle when I get home at night. I haven’t had two seconds to think about getting fantasy football set up for the season, so I’m looking forward to doing nerdy football research this week.

But, speaking of gardening here is Week 7’s delicious bounty from Bull Run Mountain:

Potatoes, celery, garlic, salad greens, broccoli, tomatillos, apples, and PEACHES. I have been a peach-eating machine lately. This summer’s are really are the closest thing I’ve tasted to the infamous “Florence fruit stand peach.” I’m not sure anything will ever top that. It was a blisteringly hot day in Florence and my parents and I wandered up to this fruit stand with the most gorgeous produce I’ve ever seen. Hungry from doing the tourist-thing, we got some fruit and to this day that was the most delicious peach I have ever eaten.

Anyway, I digress. I made a big batch of veggie pancakes by shredding one of the potatoes with last week’s zucchini, some peppers, onions, garlic, broccoli, and some herbs/spices. Add an egg and a few tablespoons of flour to the mix and then fry them in a pan for a few minutes on each side. They’re really crispy and savory!

As for the 10 peaches, I made a batch of peach yogurt (peaches + pumpkin pie spice + greek yogur t+ drizzle of honey + dash of vanilla), ate a few raw, and roasted the rest with a little bit of butter, cinnamon, two small apples, and toasted oats.

Over the weekend, I was in Pittsburgh with the family for Jess’ bridal shower. It was a lot of fun! I’d never been to a bridal shower before, but I liked the silly games and enjoyed a really tasty lunch with a lot of people I don’t usually see when I’m home. I’m really looking forward to having fun with everyone at the wedding in August. Here I am with the beautiful bride-to-be:

When I came back yesterday, I noticed that I have three bright red cayenne peppers that are about ready to pick and two green sweet peppers that weren’t even on the plants when I left! Yay! I was worried. I haven’t had much success growing vegetables in the soil in my box garden…

It’s good to be back in Arlington, but I already miss everyone. I’m looking forward to some more CSA goodies tomorrow, a week free from worrying about school, and a visit from my parents this weekend.

It’s going to be a happy week.

Ciao for now!

Where did Neen and her notes go? (And Mystery Food Week 6!)

16 Jul

Yes, it’s true, I disappeared there for a week. But life happens, right? In short, I had a very important presentation for school, compounded by a Perl assignment I couldn’t seem to get a handle on and then wound up with the stomach flu. It was a rough week. I picked up my CSA share (a delicious basket of potatoes, squash, basil, cabbage, purslane, kohlrabi, and a few other items), but froze most of it because I wasn’t up for eating much or taking a picture. But this week’s is beautiful and is further down in this post…yum!

Fortunately, as of Saturday afternoon things started getting a lot better.

My birthday was Saturday, and it started off with a trip to the farmer’s market and then a group presentation on Elluminate. It was the first time I’d done an online presentation and it went really well. I must attribute some of the success to having a wonderful group to work with and a class that seemed genuinely interested in the topic (biographical reference sources). Want to see our presentation? Go to: to view it in its entirety.

After that was done, it was off for a quick run, which was VERY refreshing after being sick all week. (I tried to run on Friday and barely made it down the block).

And then…the culmination of four months of waiting: Billy Joel and Elton John Face to Face!


At Nationals Park:

Yes, it was amazing (as always), but even more special that it was the first concert at Nationals Park AND on my birthday. Sometimes the stars really do align. The sustain pedal on Elton’s piano got stuck during the opening set, but it didn’t cause a major problem. Billy’s band came on and he did his set while they took Elton’s piano off for fixing. (It didn’t seem to phase him much—Elton opened his set with Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding and it brought down the house).

Billy Joel was walking on top of pianos, running around throwing microphones, and even dived under Elton’s piano during the technical problem to try and fix it. Very spry and excitable for a man that just turned 60 and is going through divorce #3.

I was really impressed that they went on for 3 and a half hours in the 90 degree heat and very sticky humidity, considering both men were wearing full, dark colored suits. Their bands sounded incredible too. Mark Rivera was dynamite on sax and Crystal Talifiero was her usual “jack-of-all-trades” self, playing everything from bongos to horns.

So, THANK YOU JOE for a wonderful birthday concert experience.

This week has been kinder so far. I finished the impossible Perl assignment and feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of the language and its syntax. Looking at the CGI book really helped considering I’m a lot more familiar with programming for the web than I am with command-line programming. Oh, but you didn’t come here to listen to me go on about Perl, you came for Mystery Food!

That is a delicious bunch of goodies including zucchini, cucumber, tomatillos, potatoes, garlic, basil, Lodi apples, and (my favorite) peaches. The peaches are like candy. (For breakfast this morning, I had something really delicious: Dice one peach and mix it with 5 oz. of plain greek yogurt, a teaspoon of raw honey, sprinkle of cinnamon, and a 1/2 oz. of chopped mixed nuts. Happy in a bowl. It’s also perfect post-workout recovery food. Vanilla or almond extract might be a nice touch, too.)

Tonight for dinner, we’re having lots of local treats…

Last night, I seasoned, herb rubbed, and seared a bison chuck roast and sautéed onions, garlic, tomatillos, and some heirloom tomatoes. I put everything in the crock pot in the fridge overnight. This morning I added some chopped potatoes, kohlrabi, a cheese rind, and about a 1/2 cup total of broth/red wine to the pot. The crock pot is now making me dinner while I’m at work. Total time/effort? About 10 minutes of chopping and sautéing. (You could do everything the night before, but potatoes can get kind of gray and mealy on you if you cut them too far ahead of cooking.)

I hope that everyone out there is having a great week. I’m really looking forward to getting this summer semester finished so that I can focus on other things (like blogging, my brother’s wedding, Slow Food stuff…etc.) for a little while. It’ll be nice to have a month where I have no required reading. I’ll be getting very friendly with the Kindle!

Oh, and no, I did not indulge in a birthday cake this year, but there was a birthday frittata instead!

Weird, yes. Delicious, definitely.

Ciao for now—stay local, folks!

Celebrate Your Freedom to Read

19 Sep

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I wanted to take up some space on my blog today to get the word out about an event I feel is extremely important. Considering the impact that the upcoming presidential election could have on censorship, it’s crucial to remember the principles of freedom guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution.

The books listed above represent a tiny sample of the books that have been challenged or banned in the United States from 2007-2008. Other titles challenged in the past have included Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Shel Silverstein’s poetry volumes, A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Every year since 1982 the American Library Association, the Office of Intellectual Freedom, and countless publishing and bookselling organizations have sponsored Banned Books Week. This event takes place from September 27 to October 4th this year and reminds Americans not to take our freedom to read for granted.

“Banned books week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.” (ALA Website)

Although hundreds of books are challenged every year, most are not banned due to the efforts of librarians and concerned citizens who recognize the importance of upholding this essential freedom of choice. The ALA reminds us, “Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”

There are many ways to support banned books week, such as checking out a favorite challenged or banned book from your local library or supporting local librarians if you hear about a challenge in your area. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper reminding readers to support the free exchange of ideas and materials. For other ways to celebrate your freedom, click on the image below.

Remember, “closing books shuts out ideas.” Support Banned Books Week!