Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving recipes

This year, my sister Eri, BIL Ryan, cousin Eric and I all celebrated the holiday in San Diego. My grandmother dubbed it "Thanksgiving West" whereas the rest of the family was part of "Thanksgiving East," like some bizzaro turkey eating offshoot of the old East Side West Side rap rivalry. Two recipes we tried out were big hits:

1. Pumpkin Ice Cream Torte, from Cooking Light. I made it with lactose-free vanilla ice cream from Breyers (OMG YUM!), which was super exciting because I hadn't eaten ice cream cake in like, decades. You have to make it the night before you plan to eat it, and it does take some time for each layer to set, but it's really easy. And really fantastic. Wah-lah!

2. We also made these tasty Sparkling Cranberry Tea Cocktails, which would be an excellent addition to any fall or winter gathering in need of a refreshing alcoholic beverage.

and just because I think it's funny:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Blast from the past

I'm in San Diego enjoying a sunny and warm Thanksgiving with my sister, BIL, and cousin. There are many things to love about San Diego- the weather, the prevalence of "dip" signs, the delicious Mexican food, and did I mention the weather? I don't know why we all don't just move here. Honestly, what's stopping us?
One of my favorite places in San Diego is Old Town- a historical state park that replicates San Diego during the mid 1800s. It's sort of like the southern Californian version of Sturbridge Village, but instead of actors churning butter and playing with a hoop and a stick, it's full of cute little adobe buildings that serve margaritas. Admittedly, Old Town may be perceived as hokey by some people, but I have no time for people who don't appreciate a penny candy store. Especially a penny candy store that sells... CANDY CIGARETTES!!! I can't believe these are still in existence- I thought they had been banned a long time ago, a la Joe Camel. Yeah, I know they are totally un-PC and smoking kills and everything, but aren't candy cigarettes awesome? I bought two types- the sugary white stick ones, and the gum ones wrapped in paper that puff sugar so it looks like you're smoking! Wheeee! I can't wait to give them to my nieces! Just kidding :)

My other Old Town purchase was a Mexican bingo set- we had this game when I was a kid and I hadn't seen one of these sets in years. I love the pop art look of the cards and the boards, with their bright colors and strong, simple drawings. My plan is to frame a couple of the tablets and hang them in my kitchen.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What next?

So I've finished my Ph.D. and I'm back from Australia, and for the time being, back in the lab wrapping up some loose ends. And now I've got to figure out what to do next. I've done some thinking and have come up with a long term goal- I'd like to stay in the microbiology field, but move away from academia and into public health, global health in particular. And right now I have to potential job offers at different ends of the spectrum.

1. Microbiology research in Australia. While on vacation, I met with a scientist who studies bacterial pneumonia in children, and we've been corresponding about the possibility of me coming there for 6 months to a year to do what would essentially be a mini post-doc. On the plus side, it's an interesting project and aligns very well with my scientific background and career goals. And one objective would be to get a paper out of the work, which would be a big-time CV booster. Most of you know that my graduate school experience was ...unplesasant. But, I've heard from a lot of other scientists that starting a new project in a new lab really rejuvenated their enthusiasm for scientific reasearch, and in general, doing a post-doc keeps a lot of doors open. On the minus side, I'm waiting to hear back about visa and funding issues, and so far, I do not have an official offer.

2. Teacher training in Uganda. I applied to a position to do laboratory training in Africa through Peace Corps Response, and although that spot was already filled, they offered me another position- working in science education at a teachers' college in Uganda. On the plus side, living in Uganda would definitely be exciting and interesting, and having work experience in Africa would be helpful in appling for future jobs in international health. I had some concerns that it would be a little bit too much like Peace Corps Part 2, but I talked to the placement agent and it does seem to be a much more professional assignment. A couple of the goals of the project are to incorporate HIV education into the science curriculum and to increase the enrollment of girls in Ugandan schools, so philosophically, it seems like very meaningful work. On the minus side, it's an education position and I'm a scientist, not an educator. I worry that it might be deviating too far off the track of where I'd like to eventually end up. If it were a health or laboratory job, I'd jump at the chance, but it isn't. Also, it would be difficult to keep up with my scientific contacts and apply for jobs while I was there, because of poor internet service. But hey, I could probably finagle a trip to the world cup!

So here's the dilemna: the Uganda people have officially offered me the job and need an answer very soon (within a week or so), becuase the departure date is in early January and the processing (visa and medical clearance and whatnot) takes about a month. So after six years of not having to make any sort of life decisions, I need to make a big one in the next few days. Both are good options and neither one is permanent (6-12 months, most likely). I think the Australia job is a better match for me, but it's not yet a guarantee.

So yes, oh readers of DCoE, I'm asking for your advice. What should I do? (other than pressure Australia a little bit for an official offer)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Review: Dracula

For the last book club, we went with a Halloween theme and read Dracula, by Bram Stroker. And as you know, vampires are so hot right now! I must confess that I was a bit intimidated by Dracula (the book, not the vampire, although I would certainly be intimidated by him were we to ever meet). It's long and it was written more than 100 years ago, which for some reason, made me assume that it might be a difficult and tedious read, not to mention scary. In fact, the opposite was true- Dracula was pure entertainment, full of action and suspense. It almost reads like a movie script, which makes sense if you think about it- before movies and television existed, people read for entertainment, and what do the people like? Fast-paced, exciting stories filled with vivid imagery (like Count Dracula crawling down the wall of his castle, lizard-style) and interesting characters, such as uber vampire hunter Van Hesling and a good-ole boy Texan, Quincey Morris. The novel is written as a collection of journal entries and correspondence between the central characters and starts out with the journal of a young English lawyer, Jonathan Harker, on his way to Transylvania to conduct business with a new client, a foreign count named...Dracula! We as readers know that Dracula is like, the most famous vampire ever, and the local townspeople try to persuade Harker to cancel his trip to Dracula's castle and foist rosaries upon him, but he remains blissfully naive until he spends a few days at the castle and notices a string of oddities. I'll spare you the rest of the details, but I will recommend Dracula as a fun book to read, especially if you want to bone up on vampire lore. I still need to watch the movie version with Gary Oldman.

Monday, November 16, 2009

New Blogs

My friends JR and Jessica recently moved to Paris, where JR is starting a post-doc at the Institut Pasteur. And they're blogging about it: Le Grand Experiment.

Meanwhile, my friend Byran has started a blog project called Socially Conscious Weekends. Every week he highlights one human rights/global health/social issue (for example, Conflict Minerals in Congo, gives a factual summary, and provides links on how you can help. I think it's a great idea- a lot of us wish we could be more socially conscious but can't find the time to really delve into it. So now, Bryan does the hard part for us, and it only takes a few minutes to read up on a topic and check out the links.

Friday, November 13, 2009


This is of the funniest news articles I've read in years: A Danvers Principal is attempting to ban students from using the word "meep."

From the article:

Bob Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University, said he first heard students meep about a year ago during a class screening of a television show. "Something happened and one of them said 'Meep,'" he said. "And then they all started doing it."
The meeps, he said, came from all of the students in the class in rapid-fire succession. When he asked them what that meant, they said it didn't really mean anything.
"It's almost like they look at you like it's a silly question," he said.

But meeping doesn't seem to be funny to Danvers High School Principal Thomas Murray, who threatened to suspend students caught meeping in school.

That last line just kills me. (article via Ryan)

And...The Friday song is back! I couldn't find anything with meeps, so I had to settle for beeps.

Drive My Car, by the Beatles.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Things I found at my grandmother's house, Part IV

I've previously posted pictures and descriptions of unusual items I've discovered while living at my grandmother's house. The latest object is something with which I am quite enthralled...vintage outerwear! I saw this hanging in a closet, and at first glance, I thought it was a coat. However, upon further inspection, I realized that a coat it is not. I don't know exactly what it is. I started calling it a poncho-cape (in my head, at least) but when I described it to a coworker, he thought that it perhaps it was a cloak. Time for a game of Name This Outergarment! It doesn't have sleeves per se, but it will cover your arms. It opens and closes with a row of buttons along the left shoulder blade. It has two slits in the front and a long flap with pockets. It is made of wool, comes from Ireland, and looks to be at least 30 years old. Here's a picture of the poncho-cape/cloak and one of me modeling it.
I actually really like it, so don't be surprised if you spot me roaming the streets of Boston in a cloak this winter. I'm still holding out hope that it bestows special powers on all those who wear it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Recipe: Roasted fish, potato, and asparagus with dill butter (or margarine, in my case)

While I was at the airport to waiting to fly home, I amassed my leftover Australian money (which is really cool looking, by the way. and they don't use pennies!) and decided to spend it rather than turning it back in for like $14. I ended up buying a couple more souvenirs for family and a Donna Hay cooking magazine for myself. I had never heard of her, but I liked the look and feel of the magazine, and it came with a free tea towel (woohoo!). I was pleasantly surprised when started reading it on the plane and found it chock full of relatively easy and tasty looking recipes. This week, I tried out this one (I couldn't find a link but it's short enough so I'll just type it out. And I did have to convert the original from the metric system, so now you won't have to):

Roasted fish, potato, and asparagus with dill butter

1 lb baby yellow potatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 white fish fillets (about 1 lb total)- I used haddock.
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons butter (or margarine), melted
1 tablespoon dill leaves

Preheat oven to 390F. Place the potato and 1 tablespoon of the oil on a baking tray and toss to coat. Roast for 25 minutes. Add the fish, asparagus, and capers to the tray and drizzle with the remaining oil. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the potatoes are golden. Combine the butter and dill and spoon over the fish to serve. Serves 2 or 3.

Super easy and so yummy! I did sprinkle some salt and pepper on the potatoes and fish before I roasted them. I can't wait to paste this recipe in my nerd cooking scrapbook.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Back to Reality

I spent my last night in Australia drinking award-winning beer and gorging myself on all-you-can-eat sushi with my college friend Alison, who has been living in Sydney for a few years. And after a Very Long Flight, I'm finally home. Flying back to Australia is akin to time leave Sydney at 4pm and fly for upteen (12? 14?) hours and then arrive in San Fransisco at 10am...that same day. Crazy, huh?

Anyways, as you may have guessed from reading the recent posts, I had a great time in Australia. It's a trip that I had been wanting to take for years, and my old college roommater Kris and her husband Rodd were excellent hosts.

On a whole, the country on a whole was more subdued than I expected. The cities still have a strong British empire feel to them, although the birds and plants are a far more tropical to anything you'd spot in London- check out the bright purple Jacaranda tree. The Australian people enjoy meat pies and don't sound like Steve Irwin (a notable exception being Kristy's fitness trainer Spudd...I went to one of his workout sessions and could barely understand a word he said.) Australians are really into wearing sunscreen and conserving water- the toilets all have two buttons for flushing, one if you need a lot of water (i.e. for #2) and another if you only need a little bit. Lactose intolerance must be fairly common, because soy milk is available at every cafe. Food and drinks and gasoline are more expensive than in the U.S., but right now the Australian dollar is very strong and in the past American tourists have gotten a lot more bang for their buck. Although many things about Australia seemed surprisingly familiar, there were some striking differences. The natural beauty of the country is stunningly beautiful and like nothing I've ever seen before. Their sports are weird (cricket and netball and footy and rugby) and their animals are even weirder. And they eat their national animals, the emu and the kangaroo.

Australia is a wonderfully easy country in which to travel, especially for backpackers. In-country flights are dirt cheap (I paid around $80 for my round trip flight from Sydney to Melbourne) and hostels are abundant, inexpensive, clean, and safe. And there is so much to see and do! Even with the places I saw, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. Almost all of the other tourists I met were from Europe, and most of them were in the midst of two or three month vacations, a habit I think we as Americans need to adopt. Talking to them about their travels made me wish I could have stayed another month and gone to New Zealand as well. I also found it amusing what aspects of the American culture have made it to Europe- my tour companions were all familiar with Ben Harper's music but didn't know what a burrito was.

In closing, if you ever have the opportunity to take a trip to Australia, definitely go. Do I want to move there? No. It's a lovely country, but so very far away from everything. Do I wish I could have stayed longer? Absolutely.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Weekend Report

Friday I headed out to the Blue Mountains, a national park a couple of hours outside of Sydney. It reminded me a bit of the mountains in northern New England, only these forests smell like eucalyptus and are full of lizards and tropical birds. I took the train to Katoomba and hiked around (here they call it "bushwalking" instead of hiking) for a few hours, stopping to see the famous Three Sisters rock formation. Apparently there is a long track record of people wandering off the trails and getting lost in the Blue Mountains (recent example here) and I can see why- despite the abundance of tourists once you follow a trail into the woods for fifteen minutes or so, there's nobody around. So I made sure to stick to the trails and was back in Sydney in time for schnitzel and bier at a German restaurant.

Saturday was Halloween: I was very glad that the timing of my trip allowed me to attend Kris and Rodd's legendary Halloween party in Sydney. They really pull out all the stops when it comes to food and decor- check out the witch finger cookies and the meatloaf zombie Barbie that Kris created. I dressed as David Bowie from Labyrinth, which was a lot of fun, although my costume may have been more authentic had I been bold enough to shove a zucchini down my stretch pants. Kris and Rodd came as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers and they looked great, and a lot of other guests had fabulous costumes as well. Halloween is starting to become more popular in Australia, but it is still largely viewed as an American holiday. Some pics:

Sunday we cleaned and recovered from the party, watched a bunch of episodes of The Big Bang Theory (love it!) and met up with a couple of Sydney Metafilter members at a very townie pub. Overall, it was a great way to spend my last weekend in Australia.