Tag Archives: Life

A list to pass the time

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the next step I want to take these days.  For the first time in my life, I don’t have a degree (mine or James’s) ahead of me, pulling me along through sheer stubbornness and the need to finish what I started regardless of the foolishness of my task.  I just have a little under three years and the knowledge that I’m not where I want to be just yet.

I know I want to write more, and calculate errors far less. Beyond that? I suppose I’ll see.

For now, I figured I’d start a list of things I want to do while I’m still able. It may not have the urgency of a degree (or come with quite the same feeling of escape), but perhaps it’ll be a worthy substitute.

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So it is

I’m writing from a ground floor room in Berkeley with fishbowl windows and a tv the size of my living room, after yet another meeting where I am left confused about what to do.  This one was a small, collaborative meeting, and I was there as a notetaker, essentially — a fledgling scientist with a somewhat cloudy vision of the future of my field from the little I’ve managed to read on the subject in my spare time.

But as is typical for these meetings, I meet people, for a first time, second time, maybe third time… Names refreshed, the awkward dance begins.  What are you doing next, they ask, and I still have no certain answer.  The story comes out different every time, and all of it is true, but I’m sure I come across as a flake.  I wish I could just say I want to be a scientist, but haven’t figured out what kind yet.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t fly with the funding agencies these days.  I need to be focused (and obviously applicable) to be fundable, which is a shame. Science has become a profitable enterprise, with measurable outcomes and a lot of bs about what we’re going to do next.  Let me tell you something: it’s not science if you know what you’re going to do next.  You don’t know what you’ll find along the way.  Like any good recipe, scientific discoveries often start with a bundle of leftovers and a misstep or two. I think we’ve forgotten that, in our constant query, “But what will it do for us?”

I certainly don’t know what I want to do next. I apply for postdocs because I have some lingering interest in this field, and because I do believe on some level that what I do might matter someday, in ways I can’t predict. But beyond the tiny thrill that comes from placing a new level, seeing something new, I am crippled by the sense that this (in a very specific sense) isn’t what I’m meant to do.  What enthralls me is standing in Moe’s this afternoon, picking through books on fluid mechanics and biology, radiation and evolution. I love the complicated stuff, in other words — the interconnections between all these fields, ideas, systems. Nuclear physics isn’t like that.  We consider an isolated system, forget the electrons, forget the outside world.  Yes, the field is relevant — we are, after all, ultimately a product of nuclear reactions in stars — but I guess I’m missing the wonder in my particular corner of science.

Of course, I may have just deluded myself into thinking something else is necessarily better than what I’m already doing here.  I wouldn’t be the first to make that mistake, nor will I be the last.  I just wish I could give something else a try without sacrificing what I already have here.  Because it is a good life, in many respects, the people are fascinating, I like collaborations, and the opportunity to travel the world and meet new people is almost too persistent.  The hours are long, but that’s true of most jobs these days.

And so, I’m left yet again with a dilemma I have no business complaining about.  Which is probably why I’m posting on my (food) blog, which has morphed into a space for random (and sporadic) thoughts.  As a reward to the two people that actually read this thing in search of food, I will say Pie in the Sky near Center and Shadduck in Berkeley has a pretty nice thin-crust slice, the Downtown Berkeley Inn really isn’t bad for the price, and the view from the LBL cafeteria is enough to make me consider selling my soul to the government.  The food isn’t bad either.

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Strawberry basil lemonade

Perth seems like another lifetime by now.  I think I’ll save my report on Margaret River for later this week, since I have yet to upload the photos from that trip.  At the moment, I want to talk about strawberry basil lemonade, and the three weeks I spent in nuclear camp.

Yes, you read that right.  I am a nuclear physicist, and in an effort to try to figure out important life questions like what the hell I want to do with my life, I occasionally try new things. This was a summer school on nuclear nonproliferation, which covered everything from cold war nuclear hysteria* to what it would be like to be a UN weapons inspector.  It was awesome. So were my fellow students.  Maybe it was the return to dorm life, or the fact that we spent way too much time in the same classroom together, but I haven’t actually had so much fun since I was an undergrad. Perhaps that’s telling.  But I digress.

My point is that I realized I essentially want to save the world, to put it bluntly, and that I’m not the only one with that ambition.  It’s kind of cool to find out there are other people out there who feel this way, and that they’re talented, motivated, and fun to hang out with to boot.

Don’t worry. I won’t get totally serious on you all of a sudden. I plan on finding a job — any job — that gets us to Europe for a couple of years, before we have too many responsibilities.  The world can wait a little while.

So… Where was I? Oh, right. Lemonade.  It has absolutely nothing to do with this post, except that I was making it while I was thinking about career options today, and it sort of got tangled up with all of this in my head.  That and it’s a delicious accompaniment to a day full of making jam and putzing about in the garden.

*30,000 weapons, US / Soviet Union? Really? You could destroy thousands of worlds with that kind of stockpile…

Strawberry basil lemonade

I’m obsessed with lemon + basil at the moment, because I bought this tiny globe basil plant (with mini leaves) and can’t resist using it whenever and wherever I can.  We went strawberry picking on Sunday at a nearby orchard, and I happened to be making jam when I started craving lemonade, so that’s what this particular combination came from.  I sort of mashed up the strawberries and basil and threw it into the lemonade, chunks and all. You can blend it a little more thoroughly, or strain out the pulp, but try it first as is.  I sort of liked the texture.  Make sure your strawberries are ripe and flavorful.

  • 1/2 c. strawberry mash (This consists of ~6 medium-sized strawberries, pressed into a pulp.)
  • Juice from 6 small, juicy lemons
  • ~1 c. simple syrup (Heat about 3/4 c. sugar in 3/4 cup of water until the sugar dissolves, and let cool). Add this to taste — the amount of sugar you need depends on how sweet your strawberries are and what your personal preference is. Make extra simple syrup if you like things on the sweet side.
  • handful of basil, crushed
  • 3-4 cups of water.  This is also to taste, as the amount of juice your lemons produce will vary, and you may prefer a stronger or weaker drink.

Mix all ingredients together. Taste and adjust as required. Strain if you want a smooth drink; otherwise, don’t bother. Enjoy cold, preferrably somewhere sunny and warm.

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Filed under drink, lemon, local, strawberry, Uncategorized

the report

Post-thanksgiving dishes

Post-thanksgiving dishes

I’m feeling a bit of food blogger guilt for the complete lack of thanksgiving food porn. I mean, I tried:

Cherry pie

Cherry pie

But the lovely cherry pie was prettier pre-baking. And besides, I might save it for another post. I’m getting desperate — cooking is becoming a “throw in a pot and go” sort of affair around here, since the thesis defense is now looming. Still slightly in the distance, but really … I haven’t even finished my analysis.  So I’ll cheat a little, and give you a play-by-play of Thanksgiving, just because I can. And while I’m at it, maybe I’ll come up with a list of things I’m thankful for, because that seems to be the thing to do (even if I am a bit late).

Let’s start with the good stuff, shall we?  Here’s the menu:

  • Roast chicken with rosemary and garlic butter
  • Caramelized onion, sage, and bacon stuffing (made with homemade bread)
  • Roast potatoes
  • Roast sweet potatoes with chili
  • Roast carrots with a touch of golden syrup, salt, and pepper
  • Yorkshire pudding
  • Chicken gravy
  • Sauteed kale with smoked paprika and lemon (got to have a green — even if no one eats it)
  • Cherry pie

Guests brought awesome apple pancakes (which went really well with gravy, strangely enough), delicious shortbread, and plenty of wine.

This year went quite well, mostly because we tried to plan a menu that would be easy enough to make in an afternoon, and had an actual schedule that broke the cooking up into manageable chunks. This meant that cooking, as you might guess, actually started a few days in advance.

This is excessively long, I realize, so skip it unless you’re planning a big (Holiday) dinner in the near future.  Or go straight to Thursday if you want to know about the race!

Monday:

We baked the bread for the stuffing and pre-dinner snacks. Ahem — actually, James baked the bread, because he’s good at it and that’s usually his job when we have dinner parties.  I made chicken stock for the gravy and stuffing, using some chicken bones we had kept in the freezer for that purpose.

Tuesday:

I picked up the chickens from a local market, and washed, salted, and peppered them as soon as we got home. I also stuffed some of the fresh rosemary we have growing in a pot in our kitchen under the skin covering the breasts, just for flavor. We’ll come back to those on Thanksgiving day.

Wednesday:

I bought some organic kale from the same local market, plus some lemons.  I washed and tore up the kale, so I could just throw it in the pot on Thursday. I sliced a bag-full of multicolored carrots into three pieces lengthwise, and then quartered them. After a quick toss in a bit of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oil, they were ready to go in the fridge.

We realized we were short on butter for the pie and cookies we were planning to make, but luckily had a carton of heavy cream (NOT ultra-pasteurized) in the fridge — perfect for making butter. So we did that, reserving the whey for the pastry crust as well. Once that was ready, James made the dough for the pie, and I made the cherry filling, plus some shortbread.  We went to bed at 1 am, which wasn’t quite the plan, but that’s what happens when you have to clean the house and cook at the same time. Next year, I’m definitely starting the cleaning a bit earlier.

Thursday:

We ran the race! I made it in under 45 minutes, which was under what I was going for — just under a 9 minute mile. James beat me by 4 MINUTES, which is unusual — I used to beat him … Got to work on that. :P  I saw our lab’s computer guy there, cheering on his daughter, which was cool. I love the fact that all sorts of people end up at these things.  The place was a bit of a zoo after the race, and it was hard to get out of the park, but after half a beer, some yummy chowder, and the usual post-race fruit, we made it home to start the stuffing at 1 pm.

The first item on the agenda? Cutting 3 mini-loaves of that gorgeous bread into cubes and drying it out in the oven @ 250 degrees F for 1.5 hours.  It was an easy start …

Next? I put together the stuffing, basically by throwing stuff together.  I cooked the bacon, and took that out but used the fat to cook the onions and sage in. Once the onions were soft, I threw in the bread and cut-up bacon, tossed everything together (with a bit of salt and pepper), and poured in ~ 2 c. of stock.  I also added the zest from one lemon, for a little extra flavor. After that cooked for 10 minutes or so, I let it cool off and stuck it in the fridge, for baking / stuffing later.

Then some friends stopped by for a visit, en-route to another thanksgiving party, so we took a little break until about 4 o’clock.  James pre-heated the oven, mostly to keep the house warm, but we didn’t do much cooking from 2:30 – 4, which was fine by me.

After they left, we took the chickens out of the fridge, just to let them warm up a bit before roasting. We washed and peeled the potatoes and sweet potatoes. The potatoes were tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper (nothing fancy — one of our guests has allergies that dictate plain food). The sweet potatoes got tossed in lemon, a bit of chili powder, salt, and pepper, and since they were cut up into smaller bits, we put them in the fridge for a while.

At 5, we put some garlic and butter under the chicken skin, and used the stuffing we had made to stuff the chickens.  The chicken, potatoes, and remaining stuffing all went in the oven at once, around 5:15.  I made the yorkshire pudding batter (basically crepe batter — 2 c. flour, 13 oz. milk, 4 eggs, a bit of salt — it could have used some pepper), and fridged that.

At 5:40, the carrots went in. If I hadn’t forgotten the sweet potatoes, they would have gone in, too.

At 6, our first guest arrived early. No problem — we have bread and homemade butter, and James decided to teach him the rules of Australian Rules football, which he could live stream.

More guests arrived around 6:20, which is when I realized the sweet potatoes weren’t in the oven. Oops! We stuck ‘em in and hoped for the best, poured some more wine, and got everyone settled. The chicken came out of the oven for a rest at 6:40, or whenever the meat thermometer read 165 degrees F (I checked in periodically). Everyone finally arrived by about 6:45, so once we got them talking, comfortable, and appropriately buzzed, we finished the cooking:

I sauteed the kale, took out the chicken out of the pan, and poured out the fat for the yorkshire pudding. It’s good stuff — you pour a tablespoon of the chicken fat into muffin tins, heat the oil up, and then pour the batter in. After a few minutes, you have these gorgeous, greasy, puffy treats — just in time for dinner. James made the gravy in the meantime.

The fire alarm went off.  Oops! The yorkshire pudding was spewing oil onto the oven floor.  We have, by this time, covered all but 2 windows in the house in plastic, so we threw the alarm onto our bed, closed the door, opened our two windows, and kept cooking. No harm done beyond a little smoke, right?

We had dinner ready by about 7, and did a buffet-style serving line. The chicken was gorgeous, with crackly skin, everyone loved the stuffing, and I was really quite pleased at how everything turned out. I didn’t even burn anything seriously this year — or stress out over the food. I just got to enjoy it.

By 8:30, everyone was stuffed and happy, and ready for dessert.  (No, that is not a contradiction — that’s what Thanksgiving is all about).

Oh, because I can’t resist, here’s a morning-after pie shot:

Pie for breakfast

Pie for breakfast

I’m thankful for the fact that Thanksgiving leftovers give me the excuse to eat pie for breakfast.

A few other things I’m thankful for:

  • James, for happily cooking all sorts of yummy things for dinner parties, even if the whole thing was my idea. And for being a generally awesome fiance.
  • My family, for teaching me that cooking things from scratch is the way to go.
  • A decent work environment and colleagues I would actually want to invite to Thanksgiving dinner.
  • BibDesk. If you’re writing your thesis in LaTeX, use BibTeX, and have a Mac, you’ll understand.  If you don’t, go look it up!
  • This year’s election results. (!!!!)
  • Possibilities. Do I teach, or go for a fellowship this summer? And what, exactly, do I want to do with my life? Agghh. Still thankful … At least I have options.

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Monster seedlings

Remember these?

All grown up

Yes, believe it or not, all those cute little seedlings have taken over the front room in our house. It’s a perfect greenhouse, with full sun all day, at least one diligent person (not me) who remembers to give them water on occasion, and a nice breeze when we decide the air’s too perfect to keep outside. But I kind of want my desk back, so guess what our weekend plans are?  I think they’ll go nicely with the lettuce, shallots, strawberries, chard, and onions we already have out back. All are doing just fine, despite some seriously rocky soil, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll survive our upcoming trip to California (two weeks! I’m so excited!). It’ll be a welcome break from days that seem to be filled with menial, must-do-now tasks. Like labeling the gamma cave.

Mess

Every single wire.  Anyone want to help?

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Baking for a hectic week

Power Bar

This weekend was supposed to be filled with all sorts of fun projects: a new loaf of bread, a wonderful meal, the start of a new gardening season, and perhaps a bit of relaxation on the side. But these idyllic pictures of what I might do with my “spare time” must have deluded me into thinking that Spring Break would bring anything but trouble.

Prep 1

Yesterday, we took the car out to pick up supplies for our garden, and do a bit of grocery shopping in preparation for all the gorgeous dishes I had planned. We had a trunk full of all sorts of good stuff — organic soil, seeds, fruit, vegetables, milk, and the like — and were on our way back from a neighboring town, making our way on the rain-streaked monstrosity otherwise known as I-95.  Things were clearly going a bit too smoothly.  We had barely stood in a line, despite making our way through four different shops, and eerily enough, traffic had slowed to a decent pace for the weather. People were being polite for once.  This never happens, unless 1) someone’s already been pulled over or 2) you’re starring in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Prep 2

I think option 2 was more appropriate, given what happened next. My car (a classy Ford Escort) decided it was high time I recognized it was nearing 100,000 miles and started acting like it had been possessed by some sort of alien force.  And so, one tow truck ride from the Better World Club later, with mechanic visits and potentially large bills looming, I decided to cut down my long list of complicated recipes and just make something that might get me through the next week in one piece.

Prep 3

Energy bars have been on my list of things to try making from scratch for a while, since James and I are both total bitches when we get hungry and nevertheless tend to pack too lightly for some of our biking / hiking treks. These bars pretty much meet all my criteria for yummy energy food: they’re compact, delicious, and not greasy at all. If you’re looking for something to take on a hike, or just want to get through a long day at work, these little bars will quickly become a weekly habit.

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Filed under baking, dried fig, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, quick meals, raisins