Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Which fig ice cream recipe is the best? This one is.

It's called "Miss Margaret's Homemade Fig Ice Cream," and it's located at Texas A&M's PLANTanswers, a gardening site run by Texas A&M. You can trust southerners to have mindblowingly great recipes for high-fat foods. I'm going to check out the other recipes at the site for sure. Just FYI, you could probably omit the lemon juice (or half it), you probably don't need to whip the cream, and you need to cool the custard before mixing it with the figs. I did that by pouring it into a big Tupperware and leaving it in the freezer for 10 minutes.

I suspect this fig ice cream recipe is also good, mainly because it claims to be an old Louisiana recipe, and because it calls for some vinegar, which figs need. It's also low fat. However, it requires cooking a sugar syrup to the thread stage, and that was just too much for me tonight.

Monday, August 21, 2006

19 pieces of "advice" for entering 1Ls.

Peer mentoring season is upon us, and like opinionated 2Ls everywhere (I think upward of 40% of my class has signed up to be peer mentors--this may be some kind of record), I have my list of things I did, things I wish I'd done, and ways I thought about the whole experience to keep myself sane.

So in no particular order...

1. Oh good lord, you do not need to brief every case and highlight in 4 colors. I briefed the first four cases in Torts and that's it. I underlined in mechanical pencil, because I have a fetish for those. I flagged the issue, rationale, test, holding, etc. (wow, I can't even remember that damn acronym anymore) by scribbling "Issue" or "Holding 1" or "Lookee, yet another 4-factor balancing test" in the margin. The tools who write those "how to succeed in law school" books are...tools.

2. You do need to pay attention in class. Maybe. Wireless = huge distraction. Try to avoid getting sucked into instant-messaging and reading blogs and whatnot during class. Especially if you learn well from listening, paying attention in class can save you a lot of time and confusion later. And frankly, half-distracted web surfing is not good recreation. Work when you're working, play when you're playing. Multitasking is bullshit.

3. Experiment with your study techniques and pay attention to what works for you. Half of the game of 1L is learning what you need to do to learn this crap. If you can use your first set of finals to do that, you'll be in great shape. Try different things. Buy different study guides. Learn what works for you. Also, understand the purpose and limits of commerical study guides. Basically, if you don't use study guides, you'll probably have difficulty extracting the doctrine from the cases you read. (Or difficulty managing and internalizing the vast amount of it.) But if you rely entirely on study guides, your reasoning will lack suppleness and beauty. Yes, they grade on this.

4. "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." Some dumbass entitled hippie types think this means that when you're ready, the Universe will bring you a really fantastic teacher. No. What it means is: if you want to learn, you can learn from anything. As I recall, this proverb arises in Buddhism in association with some story about a frustrated enlightenment-seeker who's been trying this guru and trying that guru and no guru is perfect enough, whine whine whine. Eventually the guy despairs and just sits on a rock and meditates. After several years of this, a crazy abusive homeless person (allegedly a mendicant monk) comes along and hits the guy on the head with a shoe, at which point the guy suddenly achieves enlightenment.* Law school pedagogy is a lot like this.

5. An outline should not be 65 pages long. Nor do you need to start it before late November. For me, an outline needs to be a boiled-down, scannable version of the course. If your exams are open book, it's a waste of time to flip through some massive, wordy outline. If your exams are closed book, you will never fully internalize a massive, wordy outline. The LONG version of my Contracts outline was 14 pages (it included references to the UCC and Restatement). The short version was 5. My Torts outline was 32 pages, with a big font and lots of white space. Also, it's a waste of time to start your outlines earlier than late November. You don't know what you know, you don't know what you don't know, and you definitely don't know what's important. You'll just spew out a bunch of crap that's useless later.

6. Buy Chemerinsky's treatise for Con Law. It's a model of clarity, fairly well-indexed, and actually makes the subject more meaningful, rather than sucking the meaning out of it like many study guides do.

7. Stress is like a computer virus in your brain. Stress consumes processor speed. It's like you've got some loop running in the background, chewing up RAM. I have been amazed at how much easier and more pleasant it is to get things done when I don’t stress about them. Trust me. I've lived this from both sides. In high school I was an overachieving valedictorian stress monkey who lived on No-Doz and slept 4 hours a night. Not stressing out is like having superpowers. It's like having some kind of hyperdrive at your fingertips. Really. Manage your stress. (Which brings us to the next topic...)

8. Stress is physical. Stress is biochemical. Respect the organism. For me, managing stress is largely about the physical, biochemical cycle. Lack of exercise, crappy diet, and lack of sleep = stress. If you have an exercise routine, keep it up, even during finals. If you don’t have an exercise routine, get one. I suggest yoga.

9. Embrace confusion. It's OK to be a complete fucking idiot. (And a waste of energy to pretend you're not.) I feel like this was one part of 1L that was easy for me, because in my prior job I basically had to learn a new client’s business every 4 to 6 weeks, so I had already learned to be pretty comfortable with my own unavoidable idiocy. The worst thing you can do when you feel stupid and confused is get stressed out about it—it saps your energy and makes your thinking less flexible.

10. Law students are great. Be kind to each other. OK, that’s not entirely true. Some law students are complete fucking tools, and you must learn to avoid them and their bizarro ego games and assorted other bullshit. But honestly, 90% of the people you will meet are fantastic, humane, fascinating people. Also, try to avoid obsessively talking smack about the freaks in your class. It's uncompassionate, and you'll feel shitty about it later.

11. Form a study group with people you like. Yeah yeah, sure, you don’t want to form a study group with idiots, but revisit #9 above: it’s unavoidable. You are all idiots. So focus on grouping up with likeable folks. What I found most important about my study group was that the people were simpatico (in my case, basically a bunch of old farts), we were persistent, and we communicated well. Also, don’t be afraid to change the study group lineup as the year progresses. In my experience, 3 is the minimum functional size for a study group, 6 or 7 might be workable if you get along well, and 8 is probably too big. What should you do in your study group? Whatever you want to. Mine made shared outlines and did a lot of practice tests.

12. Cultivate at least 1 or 2 friends you can be totally, freakishly honest with. The stupidest thing people do in law school is keep their problems to themselves as if everyone else isn’t going through the same fucking thing.

13. If you have buttons, law school will push them. Although law school is basically just school, you are learning a bunch of difficult new things, you are pressed for time, it is stressful, it is competitive, and the instructional style is not…how shall we say…always particularly compassionate. This means that your shit will come up. Depression? Anxiety? Perfectionism? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Pathological self-deprecation? Overweening egotism as a transparent compensation for feeling like shit? Flashbacks to your emotionally abusive family of origin? Yes, all of this stuff was on parade this year among me and my friends. (Well, not so much the overweening egotism thing, but I chose my friends carefully.) Stuff you thought you got over a long time ago may suddenly float up out of your memory and hurt like hell. If this happens to you, rest assured that it’s normal. But don’t go through it alone.

14. Limit your study time. There is a point of diminishing returns. Figure out where it is for you. For me, it’s between 40 and 48 hours/week. More than that and I’m learning less the more I work. I basically worked 8 hours each weekday, one solid day on the weekend, and that’s it. I didn’t work at night. I didn’t work all weekend. Also, do something non-law every day, even if it’s just exercising, reading a book, or watching TV. This all goes out the window about two weeks before finals, but before them, maintain some balance.

15. Do something fun over Thanksgiving. Maybe you'll be feeling stressed and have some kind of desperate overachiever plan to hole up in the library, but don't do that. Cook dinner with friends and drink way too much wine. Go see stupid movies. Go to an island somewhere. Take a fucking break. A guy in my class borrowed a car, took a week off, and drove to Mexico three weeks before finals one term. Our professors were mystified, but he's on Moot Court Honor Board and a journal now.

16. Be irreverent. OK, these last few pieces of advice are about power. There is, in law school and I suspect in the legal profession as a whole, a disappointing tendency to adopt a stick-up-the-ass attitude and severely punish minor transgressions and any manifestation of joie de vivre. Resist this. As far as I can tell, that crap primarily works to maintain power hierarchies by making you afraid to rock the boat. (And by depriving you of your own perspective, your own judgment, and your own sources of joy.) Don't succumb. Law deserves no reverence. Law is just a human creation. It was made up by guys (mostly guys) no smarter than you or I. (Except maybe Karl Llewellyn, who was a genius and a hottie to boot.)

17. (I can't believe I'm saying this, but...) Be entitled. Again, it's about power. Maybe it's different at very highly ranked schools, but at my tops-in-the-region Tier 1, you're sometimes encouraged to sell yourself short. In particular, you get a lot of "realistic" advice about the job market that primarily makes you feel like you should be pathetically grateful to get a job, any job, never mind the hours, never mind the working conditions, never mind whether it's meaningful work. This is bullshit. Would it be good to enter the legal job market not knowing what's what? No. But it's also a terrible mistake to downgrade your expectations before you understand what your real options are. And it's also important not to take the screwed up shit as a given. I honestly believe it will be up to our generation of lawyers to change the legal workplace, because the current model is unsustainable. We won't be able to do that if we're convinced it's a privilege to be chewed up and spat out. It's not.

18. Don't trust people who try to scare you. There's usually something in it for them. They're trying to freak you out or lower your expectations or sell you something or make themselves feel better. Even if your school has moved beyond the old-school Socratic method, you will likely have at least one prof who takes great joy in fucked up chain-yankery. Ignore him. Likewise for any administrators, mentors, and peers who do the same.

19. It's not that hard. It's just school.


20. Getting to Maybe is worth reading. But not before the 5th or 6th week of the term.

* I could be remembering the Buddhist fable wrong. Do you think?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Well-behaved salmon burgers

Here’s my conundrum: the salmon from Costco is about half the price it is at the PCC or Metropolitan Market, but the quality isn’t as good. It acts like it’s been frozen, or if not "frozen" by whatever technical criteria the FDA uses to define “frozen,” at least “kept at a very low temperature for long enough to rupture some of the cell walls and cause water to leak unappealingly between the flakes of fish flesh when cooked.”

Hence, the salmon burger.

My first round of salmon burgers was a total failure because I thought you needed eggs and bread crumbs to bind the salmon together. Au contraire. Those burgers were mushy and fell apart on the grill. What you need is this:

For 12 salmon burgers:
  • 3 pounds “fresh” salmon filets
  • ¼ to ½ cup fresh shallots
  • zest of ½ to 1 lemon, grated
  • 1 to 1¼ t salt
  • 1T brown sugar (or less)
  • 3T mayonnaise
  • whatever spices you want: 1t cayenne, a bunch of paprika, some thyme, some rosemary—one or all
  • Food processor
  • Big bowl

To prepare:
  • Peel the shallot, chuck it in the food processor, and pulse until finely diced
  • Take the salmon off the skin, cut into 2-3” chunks, and put half in food processor with the shallot and pulse until ground, probably about 15 seconds total.
  • Put ground salmon/shallot mixture in big bowl, then grind the other half of the salmon in the food processor. Then put that in the bowl too
  • Add lemon rind, brown sugar, mayonnaise, and spices to the ground salmon. Stir until evenly mixed.

Testing the flavor:
  • I suggest you under-spice the mixture, cook one burger, then correct the spices in the rest of the mixture.

To form the burgers:
  • Oil your hands with olive oil and form patties. Make sure each patty is well coated with oil.
  • Stack in a Tupperware in the fridge or freeze individually, then stack together after frozen.

To grill:
  • Put about ½ t olive oil on one side of the patty, put that side down on the grill, grill 5-7 minutes at medium heat, coat the uncooked side with olive oil, flip, and grill 3-5 minutes on uncooked side.

On the grill, these behave pretty much exactly like hamburgers--they don't stick, they don't fall apart, and they tend to draw up a bit.

If you freeze the burgers, you can grill them without defrosting. I do 10 min per side with my gas grill on "low."

This recipe would probably work well with frozen salmon, too.

Friday, August 11, 2006

My anal-retentive Kung Fu is powerful.

OK, I wasn't going to write about this, but my geekiness has overwhelmed me.

Some background: I was an English major in college, and went to grad school in English, and taught freshman writing for a gazillion years, but it wasn't until I took a tech editing job in 2000 that I started doing things like catching typos and usage errors in the New Yorker and the New York Times. I found this...strangely exhiliarating.

Anyway, I assumed that it would take me several years to come up to anal-retentive editing speed in law, but earlier this summer, I was shocked to find a pretty critical punctuation error in The Bluebook (18th Ed.). The error is this: the correct abbreviated citation for the Federal Supplement (where Federal District Court opinions are published) is "F. Supp." or "F. Supp. 2d". However, The Bluebook, on page 195, in T1, the easy reference table, gives "F. Supp 2d" as the correct citation. THERE'S SUPPOSED TO BE A PERIOD AFTER "Supp"!!

(For those of you who aren't law geeks, this is like finding a they're/their error in the Chicago Manual of Style. The only reason The Bluebook even exists is to tell you the correct fucking citation format, preferably in the easy-reference tables at the back of the book.)

Anyway, I had a similar moment this week when I found a substantive error in West's U.S.C.A. (United States Code, Annotated). One of the case summaries had an extra "not" in it, making the summary say the opposite of what the case law says. Thanks to my current obscene level of intimacy with the case law on OSHA whistleblowing provisions, I actually noticed this. And sent an email to the West editors. It's fascinating (but not surprising) that the vast editorial enterprises of West and Lexis Nexis make mistakes like this.

As a recovering perfectionist, I find this kind of thing comforting. It's not personal. There's a certain level of error that's inevitable in the system, and you're only as good as your process.

I'll probably have something more to say about this after I read that New Yorker article about Wikipedia.

Yes, my fig sorbet does kick ass.

The figs are ripe! The figs are ripe!

After months of waiting and about a week of my elderly Greek neighbor Poppy rattling her jury-rigged soda can contraption from 5:30 am to 9:00 pm to keep the squirrels away, the figs are suddenly ripe!

I'm always at a bit of a loss for what to do with these figs. I think they're green turkey figs. They're not all that sweet, and while I love their texture, I don't really like them plain. Last year I made a fig cake, which was good, but not outstanding. However, I had a feeling that the ice cream maker would solve all my fig problems, so when I first bought it, I went on an epic Internet search for fig ice cream and sorbet recipes. (Those of you who know my obsessive research skills understand exactly what this means.)

Tonight, fig sorbet

About 6-10 large green turkey figs
Simple syrup*
2 small limes
1/4 c or so pink wine**
1/16 - 1/8 t balsamic vinegar

Peel the figs, put half of them in the blender, mash the other half in a big bowl. (The point of this is to keep enough whole fig seeds to give that crunchy fig texture, but have enough smooth puree to make the sorbet hang together.)
Add the fig puree to the bowl of mashed figs.
Add balsamic vinegar and the juice of the limes. Taste.
Add simple syrup until the mixture tastes just a little too sweet.
Throw in a few splashes of pink wine. Taste. Add more simple syrup if needed.

Freeze in ice cream maker for 20 minutes. Taste. Add more simple syrup, pink wine, or balsamic vinegar if needed. Freeze 5 more minutes.

It's simple. It's sugar. It's syrup. For sorbet, use a 1.5:1 ratio of sugar to water. Heat until the sugar dissolves, pour into a jar or something, use.

Those of you who know me, I'm going to have my First Annual Rosé Wine Tasting Party sometime between late August and mid-September. There will be drinking of pink wine and stumbling around my tiny yard, and it will be awesome.

Rock on, my badass sister.

We have now reached the time of year where on Oh, Please we blog about spiders.

This year, there is a big spider that lives on my gas grill. She spins her web between the leg of the grill and the little wooden countertop area on the side. She doesn't hang out in her web--she lurks in the corner, tucked behind the tubular steel of the grill leg.

Last weekend, S and C came over both days to help me prep and paint my house. (Yes, this is a carryover project from last summer.) On Saturday, I grilled a big salmon filet, and part of it fell onto the lava rocks, where it has been attracting lots of yellowjackets, three of whom Ms. Badass Spider has now trapped, killed, and wrapped up for future consumption.

I don't know what kind of spider this Ms. Badass is. The big yellow yard spiders generally hang out in the middle of their webs, rather than lurking behind a support, so I don't think she's one of them. She also seems more brown/black than gold/brown. But she does spin a very symmetrical web.

In other spider news, this morning I disturbed one of the crazy Giant House Spiders (see last year's August archives) amongst the clothes pile on the floor of my bedroom.

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