Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Oh No You Didn't!

Hmm, after last night's episode of Boston Legal I am less than thrilled with James Spader's character, Alan Shore. [Warning: Spoiler alert. Do not continue reading if you don't want me to spoil any surprises. Okay, consider yourself warned!]

When we last left Alan, he had started dating the beautiful Judge Gloria and it seemed like they were establishing a serious relationship. Last night, Alan and Gloria returned, still together, but this time, Gloria tells him she wants to have a baby with him. Alan is taken aback by this announcement, but don't think for a moment that his surprise justifies what he does later in the episode! Alan finds himself as the defense attorney opposite an old flame of his, Lorraine (I'm taking some liberties with spelling here, so forgive me if I've spelled any names wrong). Alan finds himself unable to resist Lorraine's come-ons, and he ends up cheating on Gloria (twice!) in an elevator with Lorraine. By the end of the episode, Gloria has NOT found out about the cheating and I'm left with a disgusting taste in my mouth.

Now, Alan is a notorious ladies' man. He doesn't date much, and when he does, the relationship is usually short-lived. He has a lot of sex with random women who come and go. The funny thing about this character, though, is that he is deeply emotional. Although his encounters with women are brief and many, he is a deeply feeling and thinking man. Every character on the show turns to him for help because he cares very deeply about other people and he is an excellent lawyer. His cheating on Gloria bothers me! I have this desire to see Alan settle down with a good woman and form a long-lasting, fulfilling, romantic relationship. Instead, we see him continually trash his opportunities to find happiness, at least the steady romantic kind.

Why do I care so much about this tv character and his love life? Why does it upset me to see him cheat? I think it's a deep-seated wish to believe that all men are capable of settling down with one woman. I want to believe that even "bad boys" are good people deep down inside, and to me, a good person is one who is able to commit and to resist temptation. By resisting temptation, he is putting someone else's needs above his own interests. Several months ago, I went on two dates with this guy who has some serious power over me. Just the sight of him makes me nervous and panicky: my heart races, I can't think, my stomach flips over itself, and I feel awkward and uncoordinated. The dates were okay; we hit a few bumps in our conversations but I didn't mind too much. But it turns out he might just be a classic bad boy, at least when it comes to women and dating. To make a long story very short, apparently I was more interested in him than he was in me, and we didn't end up going out again. Fast forward several months and after encountering him with all sorts of women (are they just friends? are they dating? how many women IS this guy dating anyway?!?), I have concluded that this guy is a player and I am lucky that I did not get very involved with him. I keep telling myself I don't like him, he's boring, and our conversations now are strained and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, he still makes me sweat, but as long as I stay far away from him, I'm safe. Like the old saying goes, if you play with fire, you're gonna get burned. This guy might be ridiculously hot, but I'm not interested in a relationship that's based on little more than physical attraction. Stay away from me, bad boys! I'm not interested. And I don't fall for your charms. Well, maybe I fell for one bad boy's charms, but it won't happen again.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Oh, Sadness

Hello, everyone!

My week is off to a disappointing start. I have a cold right now, which at times makes me feel spacey (even more than normal), dizzy, nauseous, and exhausted. Last night I was making pizza dough for tonight's dinner. While the dough was rising, I couldn't find anything good on tv, so I just had to lay down and do nothing because I was so tired and dizzy. In other disappointing news, my graduate advisor and I received a letter from the Journal of Neuroscience that our paper has been rejected. Oh, sadness! So now it's back to the drawing board as we appeal the decision, prepare to do more experiments, and consider submitting the paper to a different journal. Science can be brutal.

On the bright side, I'm making White and Green Pizza tonight for dinner. This week I'll be posting several excellent Monday-Friday dinner options that can be made very quickly at home even when you've worked a full day and you come home STARVING! (But I do recommend a snack while you're cooking--a healthy snack, of course, but a snack nonetheless. I like half a glass of fruit juice.) In addition, Boston Legal returns tonight with a brand-new season. I love James Spader! I loathe William Shatner, or at least his character on the show...but I tolerate him for the pleasure of watching James. He's a very charismatic actor, even if he is twice my age and a little paunchy. And his character on the show is so witty! I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Country Oasis

Hidden in the suburbs of Detroit is the country oasis to which I escaped for a few days of rest and relaxation. My brother, sister-in-law, and their pint-sized daughter live on several acres of land in posh Farmington Hills, a suburb of Detroit. Their lifestyle, however, is more modern-hippie than suburban-yuppie. Their home is a refreshing slice of country ambiance right in the middle of suburbia: it’s an oasis of country in the middle of a bustling metropolis. Their yard is home to an impressive collection of plant and animal life, much of it growing wild and free. A walk through the grassy footpath around the backyard is the pedestrian version of an old-fashioned hayride as you pass by trees on one side and a field of plant life on the other. For my one-year-old niece, Lydia, I am sure it is the baby equivalent of a hayride as she cruises around the yard in a baby jogging stroller, observing everything intently.

Lydia is one of my favorite people in the whole world. Two feet tall with a head of blonde curls, she is gorgeous. Even more importantly, she is HILARIOUS! One of my favorite games that Lydia and I played was one in which I would build a tower out of wooden blocks and Lydia, or “Baby Zilla” as I called her during this game, would knock it down with glee. Every time we played a round of this game, I could see her eyes light up when she saw the new block tower and she would dive to sweep it into block chaos. Sometimes I could only make a three-block tower before Baby Zilla would see it! Baby Zilla is quick on the scene.

Lydia’s parents, Charlie and Amanda, are two of the kindest, most generous people I know. Anyone who enters their home can be sure that they will be loved and well-fed during their stay. During my stay with them, they threw a huge birthday bash for Lydia’s first birthday and invited a crowd of family and friends to join them for a backyard feast. And feast we did: the food was so good that I think I ate two dinners’ worth of food! Amanda’s mom, Barb, brought the most delicious Peanut Butter Salad which I cannot wait to try for myself at home. She told me it was simply chopped apples (NOT PEELED!), raisins, and sunflower seeds tossed with a dressing made of peanut butter and honey. It is a great fall dish: sweet, crunchy, and satisfying. Perfect for a picnic or a backyard barbecue. I like that the apples are not peeled because it adds more texture to the dish and makes it more nutritious because the peel is full of fiber and nutrients. Because Peanut Butter Salad is so delicious, if my version is even half as delicious as Barb’s, I’ll post a recipe here in the future.

Although Lydia has only been with us for a year (or two, if you count Amanda’s pregnancy, which I tend to do), it feels like she has always belonged with us. Her presence brings a sense of wholeness to the family, as though we have been waiting for her arrival for a long time without being able to articulate what it is we were missing. In Lydia’s face, I see all that is good and wonderful in this world: intelligence, curiosity, playfulness, and above all, love. I feel blessed to be connected to her by the bond of family. And she is blessed to have been born into a big, diverse, loving family. It is a pleasure to watch her learn and grow. The last time I saw her, she could barely hold her head up. During this visit, she was crawling, standing, and walking with just a little help. She talks all the time in baby sign language and baby babbling. She INSISTS on feeding herself most of the time, and her love of fruit and cheese suggests that she thinks she’s French. Most of the time she prefers that her mom hold her water bottle while she takes a drink, but toward the end of my visit, she allowed me the honor of holding her water bottle—either she decided I was trustworthy or she was just REALLY thirsty and couldn’t wait for mom! She loves going for walks and didn’t hesitate or fuss at all when I took her out in her stroller the day after I arrived. I was quite flattered that she didn’t seem to regard me as some scary stranger; she was perfectly comfortable with me from the moment I arrived. Of course, I’m sure it helped that Amanda was always nearby, but I’ll take the compliment!

A loving family, a roof over our heads, and good food on the table: blessed are we who have all we need in this world.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Homeward Bound

It’s always a tough week for a tried-and-true home cook like myself when an extended out-of-town stay is looming. There’s all the chaos of packing, tying up loose ends at work, and watering the plants. Most importantly, though, is the decision about WHAT TO COOK in the days before departure! To plan properly, I have to account for the current leftovers in the fridge, the number of meals to be eaten before I abandon my kitchen, and a dinner for the night I return. Perhaps all this planning sounds tedious and droll, and perhaps it is, but in a way it is a glimpse into the essential me: thrifty (it’s my father’s influence), thoughtful, practical, and just a little bit foodie. Oh, and hungry!

So what’s on the menu for this week?

In the current leftover category, we have approximately two servings of White Bean Provencal Soup from last weekend’s cooking binge. I’m sure this soup is still safe to eat; I’ve found vegetarian soups keep pretty well in the fridge for several days.

In the new cooking category, we now have a container of Faux Tuna Sandwich Spread, a mixture of mashed chickpeas, mayonnaise, celery, onions, pickles, salt, and pepper. To those of you who are not vegetarians or are new to the ways of vegetarian cookery, it might sound odd, but I’m telling you, this stuff is GOOD! So good, in fact, that I am going to give you a recipe below in the hopes that you’ll be inspired to try it yourself.

Also in the new cooking category, we have Black Bean Soup whose recipe said it serves four but looks like it will serve six or more. This realization totally throws off my math for the week! I’m saved, though, by the presumed freeze-ability of this soup, which will make for a good lunch or dinner next week when I return to my regularly scheduled life. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m giving the recipe below. It’s a fairly basic black bean soup with the usual suspects: black beans, diced tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery, jalapeno pepper, cumin, and thyme. It’s decent, it’s filling, but it might not make it into my regular rotation. My eagerness to try new recipes actually makes it quite difficult for a new recipe, once tried, to make it into the regular rotation. Poor recipes!

Faux Tuna Sandwich Spread
Adapted from the “Too-No Fish Sandwich” in Passionate Vegetarian, p. 870
Makes enough for ~4 sandwiches

I’m actually going to give you two versions of this sandwich spread because I just tried a new riff on the old version and liked it quite a bit. I was inspired by a recent post over at a vegan blog which shall remain nameless in case my mother is reading this. But you know what to do with your mouse if you want to check it out…

The Classic:
1 14.5-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 stalk of celery, halved lengthwise and chopped into very small pieces
~1/4 white onion, minced (you can use more or less onion, depending on how you feel about raw onion)
Several spoonfuls of mayonnaise or Miracle Whip (to taste)
Salt and pepper
Several leaves of fresh tarragon, snipped into small pieces
Fresh lemon juice to taste

Place the chickpeas in a mixing bowl and mash them coarsely with a potato masher. Stir in the celery and onion, then add enough mayonnaise to make a nice spread. I usually add 3-4 spoonfuls to moisten everything nicely. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, tarragon, and fresh lemon juice. Taste the spread and adjust the seasonings to your liking. I recommend eating this sandwich spread on a good multigrain bread with juicy slices of fresh tomato. You can slip a slice of smoked provolone into that sandwich if you are feeling indulgent.

The Newbie:
Follow the recipe for The Classic, swapping out the fresh tarragon and lemon juice for 1 or more dill pickles, chopped into bite-sized pieces. Stir the pickles into the spread and proceed with the sandwich-making. Who doesn’t love pickles?

Black Bean Soup
Adapted slightly from Shape magazine, September 2004, p. 208
Makes half of a soup pot of soup (6 servings?)

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 jalapeno chili pepper, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
3 tsp. cumin
2 14.5-oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
4 c. vegetable stock, homemade or storebought
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet and sauté the onion, carrots, celery, and jalapeno for several minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and cumin, stirring the spices into the vegetables. Sauté for another minute or so to release the flavor of the seasonings.
2) Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large soup pot. Add the black beans, diced tomatoes (juice and all—don’t drain the tomatoes), vegetable stock, and bay leaves. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 8-10 minutes.
3) Add the apple cider vinegar to the soup, taste the broth, and adjust the seasonings with salt and/or pepper. If you can find them, fish out the bay leaves and discard them.
4) Serve soup with freshly baked cornbread, baked corn tortillas, corn chips, or some other delicious grainy side dish. I think this soup would be tasty over rice as well.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Determination and Grit Despite Myself

Oh, boy. The next two months promise to be one non-stop rollercoaster of paper-submitting, grant-writing, poster-making, and travel. As a graduate student, I have never had so many things on my plate at one time, and I am wondering if I am going to make it. I know deep down inside that OF COURSE I am going to make it; it's what I do. I'm a survivor. But when and where did all this self-doubt creep in? Is it because I feel like my work is never good enough? Is it because in science, we must leave room for skepticism? Is it because there is so much riding on the outcome (funding, papers, my eventual graduation) of the next two months?

When I was younger, I was very confident about my abilities. I felt like there wasn't anything in the world that I couldn't accomplish if I decided I wanted to do it. Perhaps I was overly confident in my youth, but I would not mind finding a bit of youthful confidence and energy to propel me through my work these days. It's an interesting dynamic: I am starting my fifth year of graduate school, and I actually have SKILLS now. I can examine fly locomotor behavior (oh, you didn't know I work in a fruit fly lab? Yes, it's true! And I love working with flies.), measure gene expression, look at protein levels, clone a gene, critique other people's work, and I'm learning how to write my own papers. Wouldn't it be appropriate for me to have more confidence now that I have acquired a decent set of scientific skills? That's not to say that I don't have a lot more to learn. I probably have another two years of graduate school ahead of me before I can add those three little letters to the end of my name. But I do have the determination and the grit to survive not only this season of paper-submitting and grant-writing, but also the challenges that lay ahead of me after that. I will succeed. Even if I fall many times along the way.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Some New Things I've Learned Recently

I've learned several interesting things in the past few months, what with all the science and the running and the cooking and the eating. I thought I would share them with you, dear reader. Perhaps you will be inspired to share with me something that you have learned recently!

1) Writing scientific papers requires an immense amount of trust between graduate student and advisor. Sometimes I feel like it takes more trust than I am capable of having in another person.

2) Just because you can walk right after a half-marathon doesn't mean you won't be hobbling in pain several hours later!

3) Electronic music guru Armin van Buuren is awesome! I love this CD set.

4) I don't like roasted cauliflower!

5) I adore fresh peaches, fuzzy skin and all.

6) Decaffeinated mandarin orange green tea is the best after-dinner treat. I think it's even better than dessert, but I'll happily accept tea and dessert!

7) Lunar Gazpacho is heavenly. Have you tried it yet?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Faux French, So Good

It all started with the bread. On a late-night Friday run to Wild Oats to pick up milk for breakfast, I was perusing the bakery breads, trying to decide if I wanted to splurge. I found several small, beautiful loaves of bread marked as “Organic Peasant Rye Petit.” They were so cute and smelled so delicious that I had to take one home. It was only after I bought the bread that I realized I needed an appropriate soup to go with my bread. A peasant bread needs a peasant soup, or at least a nice soup filled with vegetables and savory herbs. I flipped through my binder of old Vegetarian Times recipes and came across a recipe for Provencal Chili, which is described as a “light, brothy chili that’s based on a classic French ratatouille.” Sounded perfect!

It turns out that the real star of this chili is eggplant. I’m a little intimidated by eggplant; I blame it on lack of experience. My mother doesn’t do much with eggplant to my knowledge, so I didn’t acquire eggplant expertise in her kitchen. I think I have cooked with eggplant exactly one other time in my life; it was with my friend Nicole and we were making a casserole that called for eggplant. The casserole was delicious, and working with eggplant didn’t seem too difficult. So I thought I would give this soupy chili a shot and see what happened…

Oh, my, was it wonderful. Delicious chunks of eggplant and zucchini bathed in a wonderful herby broth with accents of white beans, tomatoes, and onions. Those herbes de Provence are really good stuff—and I didn’t even know what I was doing! I tossed together a homemade batch of herbes de Provence and hoped for the best. My hopes were met by the Cooking Gods! I’m so glad I didn’t run out and purchase a commercially made herbes de Provence blend because my homemade version was wonderful (and now that I’m done bragging, you know how completely immodest I am!). Mostly I was just trying to be thrifty because I already own most of the herbs that make up herbes de Provence. Furthermore, I had bought a cute little jar from Cost Plus World Market to be used especially for homemade herb/spice blends, and I wanted to put it to good use. (I also use these jars for my salt and “hippie sugar.” “Hippie sugar,” as Tom-the-guy-I-met-at-The-Celtic-Knot explained, is any sort of raw, unprocessed sugar such as raw cane sugar. Hippie sugar is very tasty but doesn’t always work well for baking because its huge rough crystals. It works well when dissolved into coffee or tea.)

So dinner was white bean soup provencal and peasant rye bread. Dessert was a new creation of mine that I feel compelled to share with the world because it is just so delicious: Raspberry Cookie Pudding. Inspired by Mollie Katzen’s Tiramisu in a Cup (also delicious) in her beautiful Sunlight Café cookbook, I made a few substitutions and voila! Raspberry Cookie Pudding, a creamy, slightly decadent, cold summer dessert.

White Bean Soup Provencal
Adapted from Provencal Chili, Vegetarian Times, January 2006
Serves many! (I will provide a more exact number of servings after I finish off this batch.)

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
1 large purple eggplant (~ 1 lb), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces*
3 small zucchini, ends cut off and discarded (or saved to make soup stock!), quartered lengthwise and then cut into ~1-inch-length pieces
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 14.5-oz. cans Great Northern white beans, drained and lightly rinsed
1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. herbes de Provence**
1 tsp. salt
Vegetable broth and/or water (several cups)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For serving: Delicious bakery bread

1) Add olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add onions to the skillet and sauté for several minutes to soften onions, stirring often.
2) While onions are cooking, prep the eggplant and zucchini (peeling and/or chopping as instructed above if you haven’t already prepped them).
3) When the onions are done, scrape them into a large soup pot along with all of the rest of the ingredients. Add enough vegetable broth and/or water to cover ingredients. Bring the contents of the soup pot to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for ~30 minutes or so until the eggplant is tender. Stir the soup every ten minutes or so during the simmering time.
4) Taste the soup (be careful here; it’s really hot! Blow on a spoonful of chili first to cool it down before tasting.) and add more salt and/or pepper as desired.
5) Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with hunks of delicious peasant bread. Of course like any soup or chili, you can top it with some cheese or any other goodies you like. The original recipe suggests topping it with grated Gruyere cheese for a nice French twist.

*For some excellent eggplant advice, I highly recommend the guidelines given by Crescent Dragonwagon in Passionate Vegetarian.

**To make a homemade herbes de Provence, I tossed together the following: 2 tsp. each of fennel seed, marjoram, sage, basil, oregano, and thyme and ½ tsp. of rosemary. I’m not a huge fan of rosemary, but if you are, feel free to add up to 2 tsp. of rosemary to your blend.

Raspberry Cookie Pudding
Inspired by Tiramisu in a Cup from Sunlight Café by Mollie Katzen
Makes 4 moderate servings or 2 very generous servings

This is a wonderful make-ahead dessert. The flavors mingle and marry during refrigeration, so feel free to make this pudding a day or two ahead of time. It’s also very good when made on the day you plan to serve it.

For the Raspberry Sauce:
~1 cup frozen raspberries, thawed
Honey to taste

¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup lowfat ricotta cheese
1 tbsp. brown sugar
12 vanilla sandwich cookies, preferably trans-fat free (I like the Wild Oats storebrand Vanilla Sandwich Cremes)

1) To make the Raspberry Sauce, puree the raspberries in a food processor with a bit of honey (1-2 tbsp.). Taste, add more honey if needed, and puree again. Repeat tasting/adding honey/pureeing until the raspberries are sweet enough to you. I like my raspberries lightly sweetened so that they are still a little tart; a tart Raspberry Sauce goes well with the rich sweetness of the cookies.
2) Coarsely chop the chocolate chips. Place in a bowl.
3) In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with the brown sugar.
4) Dessert assembly time! Pick your dessert serving dish: dessert ramekins, deep soup bowls (my choice), or even cereal bowls—whatever you have on hand. You’ll need two of them. Spread a spoonful of ricotta cheese on the bottom of each dish. Layer three cookies on top of the cheese and top the cookies with generous spoonfuls of Raspberry Sauce, using the back of your spoon to spread the Sauce. Layer more cheese and top the cheese with a tablespoonful of chocolate chips. Repeat the cookie-Raspberry Sauce-ricotta cheese-chocolate chip layering, ending with chocolate chips. Sprinkle any leftover chocolate chips on top.
5) Wrap dishes with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until serving time. Serve cold, preferably by splitting a bowlful with your sweetheart. I’m single—any takers? :-)