Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Resilience

I would like to start this post with a wonderfully calming photo.

November Clouds

There.  That’s better!

I’ve been struggling with how exactly I’m going to write this post.  We’re going to talk about my career today, like I said we would, because this is a blog about life.  Science is a big part of my life—it’s my intellectual passion, my livelihood, part of my identity.  Being able to say now that I’m a scientist is so fun.  Working as a scientist is very challenging, but I like to think that I’ve done the best I could with what I had.  And right now, I’m in a good place, science-wise.  Over the past year, I’ve been able to take an observation and expand it into a full-blown project with publishable data and a working storyline.  I’m immensely proud of this accomplishment, and until about a week ago, I was feeling very happy with my job—I was convinced that I was well on my way to a publication.  I hadn’t put a deadline on this project, but maybe I’d guess that with another six months to a year I’d have a manuscript ready to be sent out for review.

On Friday, November 18, I met with my boss for an unexpected meeting, during which he told me that in about six months, there would be no more funding for my project.  I’ll spare you the details of that conversation, but suffice to say that it was an alarming piece of news.  I sat through the meeting the same way I sit through breakups: calmly stone-faced.  Afterward, I struggled with tears on and off for the rest of the day.  I tried to call Matt after lunch, and when I got his voicemail, I got so choked up that I couldn’t speak, so I hung up.  Later that day, I called back and left a proper message.

When we finally talked that evening, the feeling that left me most unhappy was the complete surprise of this news.  I felt like a fool, assuming that all was well with my project and my position in the lab.  I worked really hard to establish my project, and I just felt so stunned that my hard work had led me to this point.  I burned with disappointment and anger.

I can’t go into any depth here about my boss’s decision because I don’t wish to make things worse by making accusations on this public site.  You only have my story here; he can’t defend himself.  And most importantly, I have no desire to burn any bridges.  What goes around comes around, right?  One never knows what the future holds, and while I’m not religious, I think that it’s not a bad idea to cultivate good karma.  So I won’t say any more about why I’m angry, other than that I have now invested two years of time in this lab, and I’d like to see a return on my investment.  I may be angry, but I am not bat-shit crazy!

In my line of work, there are two major items that signify success: publications and funded grants.  Publications, arguably, are more important than grants because they are the record of your accomplishments: what you have done that deserves notice, praise, discussion.  Grants are important for continuing your science, and they indicate that you have good writing and project development skills.  At this point in time, my number one priority is to publish my work.  I have decided that I don’t care how flashy the journal is in which my paper is published; the important thing is that it is published, preferably within the next 6-8 months.  So that is my immediate goal—so immediate, in fact, that I’d like to start writing the paper next month.  It won’t hurt to get a good jump-start on it, even if it isn’t submitted until February or March.  (In my dreams, it will be submitted by the end of February.)

As for long-term goals, I am in serious thinking mode.  I always thought that I wanted to be a professor at a small liberal arts college like the one I attended, but now I’m thinking more deeply about science industry.  I am still interested in teaching, training, and pedagogy, but I find it hard to believe that those skills would go to waste in industry.

What I really want from my career is to feel like I am part of a team of equals.  Being a postdoc is pretty lonely, and in my lab, I’m doing work that is quite different from what other people are doing.  I’m the only one reading the papers in this field, which makes me feel isolated.  I don’t like it.  In academia, people become stars.  I don’t want to be a star—I want to be part of a team.  I want to contribute to something bigger than any of us could achieve on our own.  I’m wondering if science industry might fulfill that desire of mine.

I also want to spend more of my time working with people, rather than toiling away on my own experiments.  I suspect I could be quite good at project management, in part because I’m good at setting realistic goals and keeping an eye on all the moving parts.  I’m actually pretty good at multi-tasking on a large scale: planning my time so that today’s experiments get done and so that I’m ready for tomorrow’s experiments.  As Matt loves to point out, I am an excellent planner, which I think might make me good at organizing multiple people on a project.  And importantly, I tend to get along well with my colleagues; in fact, the best part of both the labs in which I’ve worked has been the people.  So I see no reason why I couldn’t teach, train, and supervise other people’s work while contributing to the development of the company’s projects.

To be honest, I never thought I would consider science industry as an option for me.  I loved my college experience, and I do love the idea of being on a college campus as a professor.  But I have to say, I’m pretty curious about what it’s like to work in industry, and the good pay isn’t too shabby either...

Stay tuned for Part Two of this story…(yes, I know—it’s another multi-part story on this blog!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You Lift Me Up

Dear friends, near and far,

I received some bad news last week about my work future, which I intend to explain here, soon, once I’ve got my wits about me.  I’m still reeling from the upset and the disappointment, so I’m feeling rather shy and protective about discussing it too openly.  But I’ll get there, in time.

Today, rather than moping and feeling sorry for myself, I wanted to say thank you to all of you, my dear readers and fellow bloggers.  Whether you lurk, comment occasionally, or have full-blown on-line friendships with me, I am so grateful to have you here.  This blog and I have been through a lot of ups and downs together: graduate school, a very anxious job search, finally finishing a PhD, moving to Texas to pursue new science dreams, and now, enduring a rather uncomfortable phase in my career when I don’t know where I’ll be in a year.  Through all that excitement, upheaval, and anxiety, my kitchen has been a constant source of pleasure.  Being able to share my love for cooking, eating, recipes, and the joy of feeding others and being fed by others has reminded me to live every day to the fullest.  Carpe diem, as Dead Poets Society reminds us.

Friends, you lift me up.  Truly.  Thank you for your friendships, your comments, your e-mails, your stories, and your beautiful blogs.  You inspire me to reach for new heights, to write from the heart, to live every day to the fullest.  You make me laugh, you make me think, and sometimes you make me cry.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  May you have a joyful Thanksgiving, with a celebration full of love and great food.  Carpe diem, tomorrow and every day.



Face Turned to the Sun

Monday, November 14, 2011

Winner, Winner, Eggplant Dinner!

I have a few vegetables that are always on my “Maybe” list: beets, Brussels sprouts, and eggplant.  I don’t hate any of them, but I also don’t love them either, and I really love many other vegetables.  My years of vegetarianism have coaxed my taste buds away from absurd amounts of candy and toward the garden.  Now I eat candy and vegetables!

I haven’t done anything with beets or Brussels sprouts in a long time, but eggplant leaped onto my radar again with Nigel Slater’s help.  I bought his magnificent book Tender earlier this year, and I kid you not: he devotes 24 pages to what he calls “the big purple shlong we know so well.”  It’s hard not to give eggplant another try when Nigel is waxing erotic about it.

I’ve got my eye on a few of his recipes, but the one I tried last night is one of the simplest.  I think the simplicity highlights its brilliance.  It’s a recipe for baked eggplant topped with a chunky tomato sauce and cheese—fairly standard stuff, really, but the eggplant is baked in lovely rounds that soften into tender steaks without disintegrating into mush.  The tomato sauce is homemade: a few tomatoes chucked into a pan on the stove and cleverly seasoned with some chili along with the standard olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Nigel calls for a fresh red chili, but I didn’t have that on hand, so I used some dried red chili flakes.  The heat from the chilis is subtle but noticeable in the final dish—it adds a sophisticated flavor that I think is quite welcome in what could otherwise be a very mild, even bland, dish.  Finally, the cheese!  The cheese is shredded and piled on top of the tomato-decorated eggplant steaks, then everything is baked until the cheese is bubbly and caramelized.  As Matt said to me in a recent e-mail, “Fried cheese is always a good call!”  Anytime cheese gets a little brown and crispy, I get excited for dinner, and that’s exactly what happens in this recipe.

Winner, winner, eggplant dinner: I think I’ve finally found an eggplant recipe that will make its way into steady rotation in my kitchen.  Exciting!

Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes and Cheese

Eggplant Steaks with Tomatoes and Cheese

Adapted from Tender by Nigel Slater

1 medium eggplant

About 2 tbsp. olive oil

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

4 medium tomatoes, about 1 pound total

1/4 tsp. dried red chili flakes

1 clove garlic

About 1/2 cup shredded cheese, such as Cheddar

1)  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Slice the eggplant into thick rounds, or “steaks,” as I like to call thickly sliced slabs of vegetable.  Place them on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil (I use a pastry brush for this), and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.

2)  While the eggplant is baking, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet.  Coarsely chop the tomatoes and slice the garlic, then add them to the pan along with the chili flakes and some salt and pepper (don’t be stingy!).  Allow the tomatoes to bubble and cook down into chunky sauce, about 20 minutes.

3)  Remove the eggplant from the oven.  Top each steak with a generous spoonful of the tomato sauce*, sprinkle some cheese on top, and bake for another 15 minutes.  Serve warm from the oven.

* You might have some tomato sauce left over here, but it’s delicious and who can’t use some good tomato sauce in her fridge?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

San Antonio for the First Time

San Antonio Street Sign_cropped

Many months in advance, Matt warned me that San Antonio is a nauseatingly romantic city.  Charming, no?  One might think that he opposed romance when he offers up descriptions like that!  I worried that someone’s shoes would be the victim of too much romance, but I’m happy to report that no shoes were fouled by the remnants of dinner.  Instead, I found San Antonio to be equal parts beautiful and fun.  It’s a city with a lot of history, but it’s a city that has kept itself relevant by blending the old with the new.  It was a wonderful place to enjoy a little vacation, Texas-style.

It was a road-trippy kind of vacation: Matt picked me up in College Station and drove the two of us to San Antonio.  It was a lovely drive, smooth and easy, though it was sad and distressing to drive through the wildfire-stricken remains of Bastrop.  We arrived in San Antonio in the late afternoon on Sunday, which gave us plenty of time to meander before our dinner reservation.  One of the things I loved best about our vacation was that we were able to walk to most of the restaurants where we ate.  Sunday night’s dinner spot was just off the riverwalk, so we walked along the river and chatted until we came to a stairway, and poof, we were inside and ready for dinner.  The riverwalk was especially romantic all lit up at night, looking gorgeous and inviting.  I could have walked for hours, but there was dinner to be eaten.

One of the nice things about knowing and loving someone for a long time is the way that you mold each other to fit one another’s habits and pleasures.  On Sunday night, we went to dinner at Il Sogno Osteria, where they serve fresh, flavorful Italian food, and you can watch the action as it unfolds in the open kitchen, complete with fiery oven action.  Il Sogno has this antipasti bar where you walk over with a waiter and pick three or five of the items for a choose-your-own-antipasti-plate adventure.  As longtime readers may recall, I am a vegetarian, but when I saw the prosciutto, I knew it needed to come back to our table for Matt, who loves all things pig.  And when the waiter recommended the seafood salad, I thought it should come back with us too.  Perhaps it sounds like I’m bragging, but I feel like in long-term relationships, we show our affections with small gestures.  And perhaps Matt and I enjoy the gustatory differences between us: I bring him prosciutto and seafood at the Italian restaurant, he takes me to the vegetarian restaurant the next night.

This hold-the-meat restaurant is Green, which we both loved, and I mean LOVED.  I was surprised by how much we liked it!  Matt pronounced his barbecue sandwich “the best I’ve ever had,” and I had a very tasty eggplant parmesan sandwich.  We had a long discussion about how traditionally meaty foods, like barbecue, can transition into the meatless world, and Matt told me he liked the place so much that he’d come back without me.  At first, I was jealous that he would think such a thing—of course he should come back with me!—but periodically he has work to do in San Antonio.  So then I felt pleased that I could be the one to introduce him to something new.  During much of our time in San Antonio, Matt was my tour guide, showing me around and explaining the city to me.  It was nice to add something new to his San Antonio knowledge.


Along the River

When we weren’t eating, we were strolling along the riverwalk, or visiting the missions, or drinking wine.  Matt took me to a lovely little wine bar called Zinc, where we spent a few happy hours before dinner.  At one of those happy hours, I was way too hungry not to eat something while we drank, so I ordered the guacamole, which turns out to be quite the show: they bring all the ingredients for the guacamole to your table and make it right in front of your eyes.  It was delicious stuff too, with a smoky flavor imparted by roasted tomatoes they mix into all that creamy avocado.  It totally hit the spot.

I loved being in San Antonio during Halloween.  It was serendipitous that we were there for the holiday and so much fun: we saw a riverboat being driven by the grim reaper, but who knows where he was taking those poor passengers?  Elvis was driving another boat, and in the streets, the dark and chattering grackels created a spooky ambiance as they darted en masse from one tall building to another, their calls echoing through the streets.  On Halloween night, we walked back from Green and ducked into a Starbucks for after-dinner drinks, then we spent the rest of the evening chatting in a flower garden about movies and on-screen chemistry.  It wasn’t very spooky, but it was pretty darn romantic.

What does one call a road trip within a road trip?  I’m not sure.  But whatever it’s called, that’s what we did on our last full day of vacation.  We drove through Texas hill country to Fredericksburg for a dose of quaint, small-town beauty, with a detour into Texas wine country.

Capturing Hill Country

I Agree!

Our visit to wine country was very educational for me.  For one thing, I tasted port for the first time ever.  In fact, I tasted two ports!  At two different tasting rooms!  And it was delicious—rich as the dickens, sweet, velvety, wow.  I liked it a lot.  It’s something to be savored in small quantities.  I am going to keep port in mind this winter, as I hear it tastes better when it’s dark and cold outside, and you want to be warm and toasty inside.

Matt’s never been too enthusiastic about Texas wines.  Texas is a very hot place to be growing grapes—the sun can turn them all into sugar-bomb raisins, which do not make for tasty wine, or so I am told.  But all is not lost when it comes to Texas wines!  Pedernales Cellars is making some interesting wine, and the panoramic view from right outside their tasting room is stunning.  If you’re interested in Texas wines, a wine tasting at Pedernales might be worth the visit, and it’s certainly a lovely drive to get there.

We also visited the new Messina Hof tasting room, partly because the woman pouring our wine at Pedernales suggested it, and we thought, Why not?  But I have to say that Messina Hof’s wines were disappointing.  They didn’t taste bad, but they all tasted the same.  We don’t expect a Merlot to taste like a Cabernet Franc, but I tried both at Messina Hof, and they were remarkably similar.  Which, in wine, is a bad thing.  So I’d say skip Messina Hof, but do make the drive out to Pedernales.  (Though I can, in good faith, recommend Messina Hof’s port.  It’s seriously strong stuff, but wow—tasty!  Our Messina Hof wine-pourer recommended dribbling it over ice cream or baking it into brownies, and I think both ideas sound mighty fine.)

And now what else can be said, other than the obvious?  I loved San Antonio.  I loved that I got to see it for the first time with someone who loves it too.  Matt and I are already talking about where we’ll go next together—he’s ambivalent about New Orleans for complicated reasons.  It’s a complex city with a difficult history, and I’m a vegetarian who may be difficult to feed in New Orleans.  But I wouldn’t be opposed to going back to San Antonio.  We ate and drank well, we remembered why we like each other, and at the end of the trip, I cried.  When you’ve been looking forward to something for a long time, it’s difficult to let it go after it’s over.  I’m trying not to be too bummed about the return to everyday life, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t missing the beauty and excitement of seeing a new city.  So maybe it’s time to start planning that next trip after all.

Friday, November 4, 2011



It’s been a long time since I wrote an Up/Down or +/- list.  I miss writing them!  I do love lists, and I always find that the good stuff outweighs the bad on an Up/Down list.

I’m still getting back into the swing of things this week.  Writing a few shorter posts while I’m settling into post-vacation life is a nice way to organize my thoughts.  And there’s so much good stuff to look forward to in the next few weeks: Thanksgiving! my birthday! cool-weather layers!  Cheers to November and all the fun it brings.

Without further ado, my list!  This is the Hurray/Not So Much version of +/-.


* The smell of roasted squash and pan-fried quesadillas lingering after dinner on a Thursday night.

* San Antonio, after much anticipation.

* Thinking about turning 30 this month and not being afraid.

* Catching up on the blogs I read devotedly.

* Getting excited for Thanksgiving-inspired cooking.  It’s practically National Food Month, y’all!

* Pears.  Dammit, I love pears!

Not So Much…

* Junk mail!  I hate junk mail!  It is the bane of my existence.

* Fretting about what to do with my finances.  I hate money chores.  I wish I could delegate this task to a husband, though I realize that it’s better to be knowledgeable about your money, even if it’s knowledge that is reluctantly obtained.

* Kristen Stewart’s acting.  She is the worst actress I’ve seen on-screen in a long, long time.  Though I will add that I started watching Twilight: Eclipse last night, and so far this movie seems far more interesting than the first two movies.  The acting is a little better, and there’s some good tension in the storyline.

What’s on your +/- list today?  And happy weekend to everyone.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Refreshed and Returned

Texas Landscape

After a really lovely vacation in San Antonio, I am back safe and sound in College Station, ready to dive back into science.  It had been a long time since I had an adult vacation, one where the wine is poured early and often.  Today I am feeling remarkably focused on work—it’s amazing how a vacation can restore your intellectual faculties!  Nevertheless, I have a short list of random thoughts that are noteworthy.  There’s never any shortage of randomness around here!

I think my taste buds have grown tired of oatmeal for breakfast, at least in soaked-oat form.  San Antonio has left me craving granola.  For breakfast, Matt and I went to Sip, a groovy little coffeehouse, because he knows I require breakfast and I’m fond of granola (which he loathes!).  But we went there twice for breakfast and there was no granola to be had!  So now I can’t stop fantasizing about a bowl of cereal mixed with some granola and topped with milk and maybe some fresh fruit.  Yum.

This morning I had no power at home, and I was utterly baffled by the problem.  But it did let me put my candles to good use!  And there’s nothing like candlelight to make you feel beautiful—it’s like nature’s concealer.

Texas is a ginormous state.  It’s easy for me to forget this in my everyday hustle and bustle, trying to be scientifically productive.  But how awesome is it to be just a few hours’ drive from Texas hill country, with its sweeping views of rolling hills and ridges.  It’s pretty awesome.

Sometimes I think intimacy in a long-term relationship is a paradox.  I can be simultaneously charmed and alarmed by the pervasiveness of Matt’s influence on my life: what I read, what I eat, the music I enjoy.  The way I think.  Am I losing myself in this relationship?  Sometimes I feel I know him so well that he is an extension of my heart.  And I worry that this intimacy is more fragile than I realize, and I take it for granted.

Then again, if I am as good to him as I am to myself, maybe there’s nothing to worry about.

But I’ll never offer him any granola.  And I just smile and laugh when he orders dessert for breakfast.  Because it’s kinda cute, right?  It certainly makes me want to bake old-fashioned chocolate chip cookies for his next visit.

I like any excuse to bake chocolate chip cookies.  Or any excuse to drink wine.  Maybe that’s the key to our happiness.  We’re just a pair of hedonists.

Yes, I think that’s it.

I’ll be back soon with more to say about San Antonio.  Soon, soon.  Happy November, all.