Really gotten into this.

On the menu: Thai Chicken Curry with Potatoes

Thai Chicken Curry with Potatoes ~ Documenting our Dinner.

I feel that I may have misrepresented myself the last time I wrote. Yes, things are cray right now. But they’re also really good. I published my last post after writing a few iterations that I couldn’t stand. I was frustrated and out of words. I’d like to try again.

During the first three semesters of my PhD program, I was constantly looking for other professional opportunities. I never wanted my PhD. I knew early in my college career that I was going to need a Master’s, and I knew then that there would be no more school after that. I mean, seriously. I can’t throw down with the big guys. I’m just little old me, with a simple mind and simple wants. I want to work. I want to have a family. I want to watch shitty TV every night and not feel bad about not doing homework or reading the latest research papers.  I don’t want to push the limits of my brain to their maximum, and then keep pushing.

Thai Chicken Curry with Potatoes ~ Documenting our Dinner.

Last fall I applied for my dream job. I wanted so badly to quit school before it was too late and start doing something every day I was truly passionate about. The opportunity was perfect. It was near the town we moved to last May, so my weeks on someone else’s couch would come to an end. I had an in: I had worked for them before. They knew me. But my professional experience was too limited, and in the end I was passed over. It was a soul-crushing blow. I spent the rest of the semester wallowing in my failures and dreading the challenges ahead.

Thai Chicken Curry with Potatoes ~ Documenting our Dinner.

Well, those challenges are upon me. 2014 will be the year I present my dissertation proposal and take my qualifying comprehensive exams. And I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow I’ve really gotten into this being a doctoral student thing. My thoughts have drifted from “What am I going to cook for the blog this week?” to “How much programming can I finish before dinner?” It’s absurd. I think a lot about my professional identity; how to market myself as a future person with a PhD, what my career opportunities might be, and most importantly, what I should be doing now to get there.

Thai Chicken Curry with Potatoes ~ Documenting our Dinner.

I’ve been making serious effort to improve my biggest weaknesses: productivity, time management, and casual discussion of my work. The improvements I’ve made in just 8 weeks are nothing short of remarkable. It’s not all been great: I’m still recovering from making a complete dumbass of myself to some really important people a few weeks ago. But it’s a learning process, and holy shit, I’m learning. Some days I read so much I swear I can feel my brain expanding to fit all that new information in. Yes, there are still those frustrating moments where I can’t remember things, but all in all, I’m totally thrilled with what I’m doing. So I’m just going to keep on doing it.

Thai Chicken Curry with Potatoes ~ Documenting our Dinner.

Thai Chicken Curry with Potatoes
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, March-April 2014

For the curry paste:
6 dried New Mexican chiles
4 shallots, unpeeled
7 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup water
4 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
4 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

For the curry:
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 13.5 oz can coconut milk
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 onion, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
Jasmine rice, for serving

For the curry paste:

Heat oven to 350ºF. Place chiles on a baking sheet and roast until puffed and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer chiles to a plate and let cool.

Preheat the broiler. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil and arrange unpeeled shallots and garlic on it. Broil on the middle oven rack for 8 minutes until charred and softened.

When cool enough to handle, remove stems and seeds from the chiles and tear into medium sized pieces. Grind in a blender or food processor until finely ground, about 1 minute. Peel shallots and garlic and add to the food processor along with all remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes.

For the curry:

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 cup of the curry paste (freeze leftovers for later use) and cook, stirring constantly, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, coconut milk, potatoes, onion, and salt, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes are just tender, 15 minutes.

Stir in chicken and continue to simmer until chicken is cooked through, 12 more minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in lime zest. Serve with cilantro and jasmine rice.


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14 Responses to Really gotten into this.

  1. Mimi says:

    Congratulations and good luck! You should be very proud of yourself! Very few people manage a PhD!

  2. emma says:

    Good on you, Brianne. I was the opposite, isn’t that funny? I was so sure I would head right for a PhD, and now, still unpublished, I’m so glad I freed myself from academia and caught a breath of fresh air. But I miss a lot of things about both my universities. Weird things, like occasionally treating myself to the salad bar at lunchtime. No salad bar out here, except for what I forage.

    Also, sorry to hear about that job letdown. I saw my dream job two months ago, and it was heartbreaking that I wasn’t at a place where I could apply for it. I guess I should have anyway, but… that would have given me too many feelings.

    • Brianne says:

      All the feelings, for sure. I had all the feelings. But I gotta believe that everything happens for some reason, and these days I’m feeling pretty good. It would be nice to settle into something that feels more permanent, but 2 1/2 years of school is secure enough, I suppose.

      And hey, you left academia and now your world is a salad bar! You’re getting all the fresh air in your sweet snowshoes and that big ass truck. Who needs the cafeteria?! Though we have a sushi bar now. It’s crazy expensive, but it’s there.

  3. shannon says:

    i am totally psyched that YOU are totally psyched! I feel very lucky to have heard about your ups and downs via the blog for a few years now, and i’m really happy to hear that you’re loving what you do so much. That’s the best thing ever, in my opinion.
    letdowns are tough, and totally suck it: i’m sorry you didn’t get your dream job. I’ve had some experience with that, especially early on post-school, and it’s always heartbreaking. i guess what i’ve learned from it is that it seems like, at least in my own life, that those letdowns combined with some successes/moves forward have gotten me here, which is kind of a new, revised version of my dream job? if that makes sense. Not to get all deep about it, but you never know where things lead you, i guess.:)

    • Brianne says:

      You’re so right! That’s how I’ve been thinking about it. The early on post school thing goes on so long; most of my college friends are still in limbo with subpar jobs, trying to get to the next step. It will all work out eventually, but waiting is tough sometimes!

  4. I can imagine PhD is so tough. I was seriously considering of doing one right until I finished my masters and realized, I want to do something completely different altogether. Don’t worry about the jobs, it will come along😉

  5. Hannah says:

    I can’t even imagine the ups and downs of a PhD program. You have a lot to be proud of and your positive attitude is marvelous. The right job will come along and in the meantime it’s great to hear you are feeling good. Love this chicken curry, too!

  6. 1. That curry looks like a keeper– chicken, potatoes, ginger, and coconut milk… yum.

    2. I am finally nearing the end of my 7-year PhD program, and I’ve (kind of) wanted to quit since around the 2nd year… To be honest, one of the main reasons I’ve stayed in it was because I had funding, so it was a matter of ‘why not?’ combined with being too scared, intimidated, and lazy to go out and apply for other jobs—while staying afloat in school—that could have given me a ticket out of there. Anyway, I think you are very brave for having applied for any jobs *while* in your program, and congratulations on getting into the idea of finishing after all! (Something I never really succeeded at…) It seems like good things are going to come of it for you!

    • Brianne says:

      This curry is definitely something I’ll make again. And I can’t lie…I’m ready to go on another job hunt, but I feel at this point–like you–that I have funding, and what do I think I’m going to find?, and I’m probably not qualified for any opportunities that I want anyway, so…let’s keep going. I really, really love that I get to address the problem that’s at the roots of my dissertation–finding good bee habitat and promoting it’s spread–but dang, doing the work some days feels so far beyond that basic premise! I’m so excited that you’re nearly done. I bet good things are coming your way, too!

      • Thanks, Brianne! Your dissertation topic sounds so interesting, and so important! (I mean I’m just imagining all of the actual impact it could have on the environment, especially compared to the lack of impact my linguistics dissertation will have on pretty much anything…) And I know what you mean about how most of the grunt work you put into it seems so far removed from — or above & beyond — the broader issue. …I assume you’ve seen this before? Maybe just looking at it again when you’re feeling frustrated will help.:)

        Anyway, I am SO excited to be almost done! But I’m not planning to apply for jobs in academia at all — I’d like to get into freelance editing if I can. So that’ll mean that getting the PhD really was kind of pointless and only because I had the funding. But who knows if/when it might come in handy, and at least I’m proud of myself for sticking it out to the end (in a perverse way, since I’m proud of myself for not quitting something that I probably shouldn’t have started in the first place).

      • Brianne says:

        Oh, but linguistics is so fascinating! At least you’re not one of the humanities students I read about in academic blogs only aware of academic jobs. I know in the sciences we pretty much all assume we’re not going to be tenured professors. Alt-ac all the way! I’m proud of you for sticking it out, too. And thank you for sharing that illustrated guide; I hadn’t seen it.

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