Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tortilla Madness is Spreading

Inspired by my post, my friend Veronica tried her hand at making her own. Since Veronica doesn't have a rolling pin, she improvised by rolling the tortillas out with a cup from QuikTrip which I think shows Mission:Impossible levels of ingenuity. She says they weren't as thin as she would have liked, but you will notice that hers are pretty much round, not amoeba-shaped like mine were.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This Isn't What I Signed Up For

Let me start out by saying that I really am not complaining. I do love my job (most of the time) and the fact that I get to be the first person to ever know something about the genetics of human beings is unfailingly cool - even though it is usually something that other people wouldn't find that interesting. But it comes to my attention quite often that the reality of research is very far away from the concepts and challenges that first drew me to science.

Punnet squares transfixed me when I was 12 and I first came to love genetics. Now instead of Punnet squares, I apply statistical algorithms of varying degrees of complexity to determine the likelihood of two brown-eyed parents having a blue-eyed child yet I tell my students that it is 1/4 (just the way I learned it was 14 years ago) even though I know that isn't true. Once I reached undergrad, I got to spend my time running PCRs and determining genotypes by gel electrophoresis. It was like a miracle every time I mixed clear liquids together, heated and cooled them and then ran them through some glorified jello to produce glowing pink bands that told be about a person's DNA. Now I spend my time in front of a computer writing bits of code (with about a 5% success rate) to manipulate the genotype data I payed someone else to generate.

The point is this: I came to grad school because I love genetics and now all I do is statistics and computer programming. While these aren't my favorite things, I have no beef with statistics or computer programming the problem is that I thought I would be doing "Genetics" - amazing things like what I read in my text books. What no one tells you is that the breakthroughs that make it into textbooks are the culmination of an entire lifetime of work boiled down to half a paragraph. Only Darwin and Mendel get whole sections. The reality of any job that we dream of, even ballerina and astronaut, never quite matches the way we imagined it. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, nor something I'm just now realizing, but it is something that I have seen strike many of my friends and colleagues.

People who loved school and pursued degrees in art history, theater, meteorology, anthropology, English, and so many other exhilarating subjects found that there aren't really jobs where you get to "do" English or art history or anything else. For a few of the lucky ones, there are jobs that use their skills but usually not in the way that they had hoped. For an even more select few, we get to do what we wanted. And because I am one of those lucky few, I am truly grateful. I do get an occasional rush from research that I don't get anywhere else. But it was a knowing smile I gave my student the other day when he came in to talk to me about double majoring in Anthropology and Philosophy. I hope he enjoys writing copy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is it Worth it?

I wish I were making more of my own food. I have friends who make most of their own bread, cheese, yogurt, beer, and other essentials. For the most part, my friends make these things because they find that the quality of the food is better not to mention the fact that you know what is in it. This later issue has had me thinking as I have read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan which was recommended to me by Laurel. The simple premise is that we should be eating food, a radical idea only once you consider how much not-food there is in what we buy at the grocery store. To wit, this list of ingredients in Wonder Bread:
1. Whole wheat flour
2. Water
3. wheat gluten
4. high fructose corn syrup
5. soybean oil
6. salt
7. molasses
8. yeast
9. mono and diglycerides
10. exthoxylated mono and diglycerides
11. dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide)
12. datem
13. calcium sulfate
14. vinegar
15. yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate)
16. extracts of malted barley and corn
17. dicalcium phosphate
18. diammonium phosphate
19. calcium propionate (to retain freshness)

You may be familiar with calcium sulfate because they make drywall out of it. When I make bread, it contains:
1. flour
2. yeast
3. salt
4. water
5. honey (sometimes)

Beyond not putting weird things you don’t know what are in your body, it may actually be cheaper to make your own. I read an article several months ago in Slate magazine indicating that you can make less expensive, more delicious bagels, yogurt, crackers, and granola at home (although cream cheese and jam are about the same). So with all of these things rumbling around in my head, I’ve decided to start a semi-regular series that I’m calling “Is it worth it?” There is a long list of foods that I frequently buy that I want to try making myself. Bearing in mind that I am trying to complete my dissertation within the next year, a major consideration is how MUCH better is something given the amount of effort that goes into it. So without further ado, the first review is here.

Is it worth it to make your own flour tortillas? YES! Absolutely hands down. Homemade tortillas are chewy and flavorful (did you know tortillas could taste like something?) not to mention that their thicker texture saves you from the devastating burrito rupture. I made mine based on this recipe from the apartment kitchen and it was a snap. Mix everything together, wait 30 minutes while you assemble the rest of your fixings and then roll them out and cook them in a dry pan. Super fast and easy – the hardest part is rolling them out. I’ll admit that most of mine looked like a central African country, but they sure tasted like Mexico to me.

Chili in August

Last Friday, Geoff went to the CSA on his own because I was giving my final exam (4:30 on Friday afternoon, thanks Penn State) and he brought back a bounty: tiny eggplant, large and tiny tomatoes, green tomato, hot and sweet peppers, chard, celery, parsley, carrots, and patty pan squash. It was somehow even more exciting to have the vegetables surprise me from inside my own refrigerator. So here is what we are eating this week:

Monday: Yakitori Chicken and Fried Rice with Carrots and Celery
Tuesday: Chard-Stuffed Patty Pan Squash and Salad
Wednesday: Wheatberry Salad with Oven Roasted Eggplant, Tomatoes and Squash (from Laurel’s garden)
Thursday: Veggie Chili (featuring the hot peppers)

So chili may sound weird for August but my dad was talking about having chili the other day and now I can’t get it out of my head. The chili recipe I linked to is the only one I ever use anymore. It is full of vegetables, made in the crock-pot for extra ease and is overall a remarkably healthy chili recipe. I double up on the spices and about triple the amount of jalapeño called for since we like our food on the spicy side. The only thing I don’t like about this recipe is that the result, due to the lack of fat, is more of a bean soup than a true chili (also, don’t use the baked beans, use an extra can of kidney beans). My fix for that is to take the immersion blender to the crock pot once it is finished cooking and puree some of the beans until you get that thick chili consistency you want. At less than 300 calories per bowl and less than 5% of your daily fat intake, I don’t feel bad adding a dollop of sour cream and some cheese.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blog Roll! or Ellen Wants to Help You Waste Time

I’m sure you all are expecting to hear about my CSA this week, but first something a little different. I have recently been asked what blogs I read and had a couple people tell me they were clicking through the links to find out where I found recipes so I thought I would share which blogs I subscribe to. I use Google Reader so I can flip rapidly through all of the blogs and decide what I actually want to read in detail, but having said that I do look at about 80 posts per day. I didn’t really realize this until I looked at my trend report from Google, some information, I just didn’t need. I usually flip through some while eating lunch at my desk and then some when I get home and need to relax before dinner (yes, I’m trying to justify this to myself, but seriously I only look at some of the posts for two seconds ). So these are some of my favorites divided up into the four main types of blogs I read:

Food Blogs
101 Cookbooks Focuses on natural, vegetarian cooking with really gorgeous photography (the author is a photographer by trade) . I love this blog so much I bought her cookbook.
Bitten New York Times food writer Mark Bittman writes and curates this blog with tons of great ideas for quick, simple food. There has been a run of guest posts lately from a woman at the Times who is learning to cook and it has been endearing, hysterical, and inspirational.
Healthy Eats A blog from the Food Network that points you towards some of their healthier recipes (Paula Dean rarely makes an appearance) and has a lot of helpful tips.
the apartment kitchen My dad pointed me toward this blog by the daughter of a friend of theirs who just finished culinary school. Her recipes are inexpensive but fantastic. My favorite thing is that she tells you the “Leftover Potential” of all the dishes which is important when you are only cooking for one or two.
Smitten Kitchen Gorgeous pictures, yummy food. I really like this blog, although she has a pretty heavy bias towards sweets. She made a wedding cake once, it was insane.
The Wednesday Chef Really classic dishes with a twist. Classic foods like the tomato soup, blueberry buckle and such. Yum.

Craft Blogs
20x200 This isn’t actually a craft blog, but a great attempt by a gallery to get original art to more people. A couple times a week the work of a few artists are featured with limited edition prints available of their artwork. 200 small prints are sold for $20, 20 medium prints for $200, and 2 originals for $2,000. I haven’t bought anything yet but I have thought about it and then decided I would and they were sold out!!
Craft Gossip A ridiculously over the top (27 posts per day) compendium of links to crafts of every sort (including many things I don’t do like polymer clay, beading, fused glass) from all across the web. It keeps me from having to trawl all those other blogs.
CRAFT Magazine I should probably subscribe to the actual magazine, but their blog is pretty great to. Lots of links to other projects with a high proportion of them being really great. Such a high proportion that there is no chance I will ever get to make even a fraction.
Crafting a Green World This blog is focused exclusively on reusing material where you can and buying eco-friendly materials when you can’t use what you already have. They have a lot of cute stuff to do with kids.
CraftStylish Lives up to its name - it is original, stylish craft ideas and I’m a huge fan. I have adapted many ideas from this blog for projects for the upcoming bridal and baby showers that I am throwing. There will be more on those soon, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.
Design*Sponge Not a lot of crafts, per say, but some really great design inspiration for those with a house of their own and some money. Oh to dream.
Diary of a Crafty Chica It’s glitter-mania, that is all I can say. But she has such a fun, infectious spirit that I can’t resist her, even if my style is a little more subtle.
the purl bee So they are really trying to sell you some really fine but expensive yarn, however to do so, they put together some really great knit and occasionally crochet patterns
Weekend Designer This one is for those of you more fashionable and talented than I, but I love that they show you how to sew really great, fashionable things.

Science Blogs
FemaleScienceProfessor Not a blog about science so much as an ongoing discussion of what it is like to be one of the less than 15% of science professors who are women.
Olivia Judson New York Times blogger about science. She always offers a really great take on unusual research (well, unusual to me since I don’t work in those areas). Always thought provoking. and are both nerd comics that I quite enjoy.

Friends’ Blogs
A Whisper on the Wind This is my friend Jen’s blog about her live in San Antonio trying to finish her dissertation while running a household of four children, a husband, cats, and two of the largest dogs I have ever seen. I stole the idea of posting my weekly menus from her.
Cerises a l’etranger Cherries Abroad is my friend Summer’s blog about traveling which she used to get to do more (I was deeply jealous until she let me come stay with her in France), but now she has an awesome new job helping undergrads get to travel abroad.
Philanthropology This is my friend Phil’s blog. Phil is a post-doc in San Antonio and husband to Jen so sometimes you get to read the same story in both of their blogs which always entertains me. Phil is pretty much always getting more work done that me, which I find very depressing.
Yann Klimentidis’ Weblog Yann is a collaborator of mine who writes about genetic anthropology.
Wow, that is a long list, but I’d still love to hear you all’s suggestions on blogs that you read or if you have a blog I’m not reading, it’s probably because I don’t know about it!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Itty-Bitty Eggplants

This week at the CSA I got some very tiny eggplants, about 1/50th the size of last weeks’ zucchini. I can hold five of them in the palm of my hand. I also got gorgeous cream colored heirloom beans with streaks of purple. I did a little research on the internet and it turns out they are poetically named Dragon’s Tongue Beans. Unfortunately, the purple stripes fade away when you cook them, but my imagination has run away with me and I wish I had the skill to carve a dragon out of vegetables (I’m picturing red peppers) and use one of these beans for the tongue. Sadly, I’m not that skilled, nor do I have that kind of time, so I’ll just show all my beautiful purple produce to you in the raw state.

The rest of my bounty is jalapeño and Serrano chiles, green bell peppers, parsley, celery, yellow squash, basil, cucumbers and tomatoes. To further challenge myself, I am hoping to clear out my freezer to defrost it and my pantry, just because I don’t like things hanging around too long. So that adds to my list ground beef, black beans, chicken broth, and some bananas and other fruit that I froze before they went bad. I’m going to make the fruit into whole wheat, nutritious muffins to freeze for breakfasts. So our menu for the week is:

Sunday: Spaghetti with julienned yellow squash, tomatoes, and basil
Monday: Shrimp Paella with Spinach and Arugula
Tuesday: Turkish Beef and Eggplant with tomatoes and peppers in Yogurt Sauce over
brown rice
Wednesday: Grilled Fish with Braised Celery Gratin
Thursday: Pita (homemade) with Hummus, Feta, Cucumbers, and Olives with Garlicky Dragon Tongue Beans
Friday: Black Bean Tacos (with homemade tortillas) and Grilled Corn with Lime and Chili Powder

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Invite Out of Hiding

I think everyone has received their invitations so I can finally show you all the invitation that I made for my friend Sarah's bridal brunch. I'm hosting it along with the other bridesmaids (Veronica and Amanda) the day before Sarah and George's wedding Labor Day weekend.

I knew I wanted the invite to be silver, white, and teal because those are the colors I'll be using for the brunch table, but I couldn't come up with a design I liked. Eventually I came up with this design and I'm really pleased with it. There were only 15 invites to make so hand-cutting the silhouettes wasn't that bad. Luckily, I convinced Geoff and Logan to play bluegrass while I cut. Then I just tied a ribbon around it and attached the silhouette with foam tape to give it some dimension. I've been working on all sorts of crafty projects for the shower and I promise a full report as soon as I get back from the wedding. Full disclosure, I've been outsourcing some of the crafts to my mom. She's a terrible negotiator, she works for peanuts - just out of love for her daughter and a compulsive need to keep herself occupied (now you know where I got it).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Largest Zucchini I Have Ever Seen

Okay, I have been a blog-slacker this week. Sorry about that, but it is mostly because I haven't been slacking elsewhere. I have several things that I have been meaning to write but haven't had time so I promise to do better this week. For those of you curious (this may be mostly just my dad), here is my menu for the week. I like reading it on other people's blogs (I stole the idea from Jen) so I thought some of you might like to see what we're eating.

Dinners this week, as usual, are inspired by the haul from my CSA (smaller than usual this week, though more variety): carrots, celery, cucumbers, yellow squash, green tomatoes, parsley, mint, dill, and peppers. Plus a five pound zucchini that Laurel gave me after she found 4 such behemoths after returning from 10 days in Mexico. It's the size of a baby. I convinced Hank to pose with it to give you a sense of scale:

Monday: Zucchini Lasagna and Salad
Tuesday: Grilled Cheese and Green Tomato Sandwiches and Cucumber Salad
Wednesday: Steak with Mushrooms, Baked Potatoes, Spinach Salad
Thursday: Fried Green Tomatoes, Eggs, Biscuits
Friday: Stuffed Yellow Squash and Salad

I managed to use up the whole of that zucchini last night. It was the first zucchini I'd ever used that smelled like a pumpkin and it had a surprisingly distinctive flavor in the lasagna. I cut out the seeds and ran the whole thing through the shredder on the food processor, salted it and let it sit to drain off the extra water. Then I mixed it into a spicy marinara sauce and layered it up into a lasagna and it was pretty good!

I do wish I had some zucchini left over to make chocolate zucchini bread. I got a loaf from Logan in exchange for the banjo strap pad I knit for him, I totally knit another one for some more of that bread.
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