Sunday, November 30, 2008


I have never in made gluey mashed potatoes. I wasn't even sure it was truly possible, suspecting instead that gluey mashed potatoes were some boogie-monster used to scare keep inexperienced cooks on the "true path" to mashed potato nirvana. Usually I just peel the potatoes, chop them into little pieces, and toss the pieces into water and boil the snot out of them. I mash them in my kitchen-aid and pour the milk in cold just like you're not supposed to. And they come out fine every time.

Yeah, so this year I read something that said to boil potatoes for mashing in their skins to reduce the amount of moisture they absorb and make it less likely that they'll turn out gluey. Then we mashed them by hand to be extra sure they'd have a good, fluffy texture.


Wall-paper paste. Three of my six dishes turned out not quite as I expected (cranberry sauce overcooked to the point of being candy; pecan pie undercooked and runny--but still tasty!) but none of the rest were bad enough I was embarrassed to serve the dish.

We did serve the mashed potatoes, which were tasty (what wouldn't be with three heads of roasted garlic?), and hidden in amongst the rest of the very delicious meal, nobody said anything. Catherine (who hosted us) asked us all to tell something we were each grateful for. Right now I want to say I am grateful for friends who are willing to eat my food, even when it's more than a little sub-par.

I am also grateful for a creative husband who can turn gluey mashed potatoes into this:

Mmm, tasty! Mashed potatoes, flattened into a disk, dipped in egg and coated with a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and black pepper, and pan-fried. Very tasty dinner.

Oh, and I'm grateful for home teachers who show up on the last day of the month bearing pecan pie with the proper texture.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sherri's Danishes

Mmm, danishes. These ones were dotted with raspberry preserves before serving, but they're delicious plain as well. Here's the recipe and a few photos to demonstrate putting them together.

Sweet Roll Dough
1 package (2 1/2 tsp) dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup shortening, butter, or margarine, softened
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
3 1/2--4 cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl. Stir in milk, sugar, shortening, salt, egg, and 2 cups of the flour. Beat unti smooth. Mix enough of the remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Place in greased bowl, flipping dough so top side is greased. Cover and let rise in a warm place unitl double, about 1 1/2 hours. Dough is ready if an indentation remains when touched. Punch down dough.

Cream Cheese filling

8 oz. (1 package) cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla (opt)
1/2 tsp lemon zest (opt)
1/2 cup jam (opt)
1/4 cup chopped nuts (opt)

Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Stir in four, egg yolk, lemon juice, and lemon zest (if using).

roll dough into a 15 inch square on a lightly floured surface.

Cut into about 25 3-inch squares.

Spoon about 1 Tbsp crean cheese mixture onto center of each square.

Bring two diagonally opposite corners to center of each square, overlapping slightly; pinch together.

Place on greased cookie sheets. Let rise until double, about 40 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Stir jam and put dollop on danish while still warm. Sprinkle with nuts if desired.

Thanks Sherri!

Rosanne's Rolls

These rolls were so tasty I never did manage to get a picture of them before they were all gobbled up!

Rosanne Smith's Favorite Rolls

1 Tbsp dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder

Mix yeast, sugar, and baking powder. Pour lukewarm water over yeast mixture and briefly stir until there are no dry clumps. Set this mixture aside.

1 cup warmed milk
1/3 cup shortening, butter, or margarine
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1/4 cup melted butter

Scald the milk and add the shortening, sugar, and salt. Stir with wire whisk until dissolved. (You can set pan in cold water in the sink to cool once the shortening, salt, and sugar are dissolved. Do NOT add flour to the cooled mixture).

When milk is lukewarm, beat in eggs with wire whisk.

Add the yeast mixture and stir in. Add in 2 cups flour. Whip in with whisk. Continue to add flour until the dough will stay mounded and none of it is runny, wet, and shiny looking. As the dough gets thicker, you will have to use a strong spoon. Do not over-stir the dough--mix just until flour is mixed in and none of the dough looks wet and shiny.

Let rise in bowl or pan until doubled.

To roll out, divide dough into thirds. Prepare a cookie sheet (not stainless steel) by greasing it with Crisco (not Pam). Melt 1/4 cup butter. Put down a sheet of waxed paper or a smooth towel and sift flour onto the surface.

Put 1/3 of the dough onto floured wax paper.

Pat into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Dab surface with melted butter.

Cut circle into 6 to 10 pieces with a pizza cutter.

Roll pieces up from the wide to the pointed end. Repeat with remaining dough.

Place rolls onto greased cookie sheets

Dab remaining butter on individual rolls.

Cover with a light dish towel and allow to reise until at least double (1 1/2 5o 2 hours). Place rolls into an oven that has been preheated to 400 degrees. Immediately turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake 10 to 15 minutes.

Sweet roll variation:
Divide dough in half and roll into 2 rectangles. Dab with melted butter and sprinkle with brown or white sugar, cinnamon, raisins (if desired), and nuts (if desired). Roll up from long side and cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. Let rise until at least double. Bake as above. May be served plain or frosted.

Thanks Rosanne!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


At least my religion doesn't object to yoga.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The measure of creation

So, yesterday was a pretty spectacularly bad day, but I got over it and moved on, just as I have after any number of spectacularly bad days. Today wasn't a great day, though I was in a much better mood about the things that went wrong and the slowness of doing anything in lab while simultaneously caring for an infant and a husband. It occurred to me that the major change in my attitude came after I wrote about what had happened on my blog. I don't know if the difference is at all obvious to an outside observer, but yesterday's blog post was far more crafted than my usual get-down-the-details-and-don't-worry-about-how-it-sounds post. The same is true of a few other posts I've written when I've been down in the dumps about something, usually (though not always) school-related.

It occurs to me that when things are going well at school, I have less of a need to blog, less of a need to bake the cookies and cakes and endless loaves of tasty bread that Derrick so enjoys. I don't do as much photography or as much painting. I don't think it's because I have more energy when things aren't going well at school--quite the opposite is true. Instead, I think it's because for me science is very much a creative process--I am in the business of creating data, discovering ideas, creating knowledge and sharing that with others. And I get a fix off that. Elder Uchtdorf spoke to this need to create in the most recent conference:

The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.

Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty.

Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty—and I am not talking about the process of cleaning the rooms of your teenage children.

It's very true that I find deep satisfaction in the act of creation. Witness this tasty act of creation Derrick and I enjoyed about an hour ago:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I want to cry. I want to give up. I'm thinking maybe I don't need, and definitely don't deserve another degree. I'm looking over a collection of bottles--hard won, argued over, anticipated with the kind of feeling generally reserved for children (okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea)--and wondering if there's any possible way to identify them based on the few green and black smudges that are left on their otherwise identical faces. Is there some chemical analysis, other than the ones I've already planned, that will magically reveal the location from which the samples were collected? Is there some secret spy trick that I can use to ferret out the missing digits that were washed off the carefully made, but ultimately inadequate labels? Could I taste or smell some minute difference that will allow me to match these mystery samples with the waters they should be connected to? Alas, I fear the umbilici that should match parent water to brine shrimp offspring were cut long, long ago, and the matching ends shriveled and thrown off before I had any inkling to wonder at their connectedness.

It was such a beautiful day until I came into work.

Monday, November 17, 2008


That's all I paid to fill up my car with a little more than 14 gallons of gasoline this evening. I didn't think I'd ever see gasoline that cheap again. As nice as it is to not spend more than $50 on a fill-up, I'm unconvinced this is a good development. Will cheap gas mean a return to our formerly profligate ways, much as low gas prices in the 80's did after the gas crunch in the 70's?

Last Thursday the Union of Concerned Scientists visited Purdue's campus to discuss global warming. The two women who spoke to us were very excited about the results of the recent election (as was most of the room), and were excited about the upheaval in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as Rep. Henry Waxman seeks to take over the Committee from Rep. John Dingle. Exciting stuff, for those in the know. I am not in the know in general, so the brief view was refreshing.

The UCS wants the US (and really the rest of the industrialized and industrializing world) to make swift and deep cuts in carbon emissions in order to avoid the negative consequences of global warming. "Swift and deep" is the phrase I heard over and over in the discussion. They're right--if we don't stop emitting the massive amounts of carbon dioxide we currently put out, we'll face some rather difficult consequences, from more extreme weather (droughts, floods, more intense storms) to shifting species distributions, to the loss of coastal areas and glaciers. I have no doubt that humans will adapt to these consequences; that said, the faster these changes happen, the more painful the adaptation will be. By unhappy chance, the consequences of global warming will likely be concentrated in the poorer regions of the world--the same regions that have contributed the least to the problem. Many of these regions (particularly sub-Saharan Africa) are already notoriously unstable. Increased environmental stress won't help that instability, and I fear, will cause that instability to spread.

Anyway, if you talk to just about any geoscientist they'll suggest nuclear power would be a good way to reduce CO2 emissions. Talk to UCS and they'll tell you...I don't know. For all the talk of politics and having a chance to really do something I didn't come away with a very good sense of what exactly the UCS wants to cut. Certainly transportation--that's an easy one--but beyond that I didn't get a good sense of what technologies they think will replace our current carbon-emitting ones. Biofuels sound good on paper, but in the end they probably cause more CO2 emissions than gasoline. Conservation--which is a great start--isn't going to be enough without serious structural changes in the way we produce energy in this country. Nuclear energy really is about the best solution currently available, but because of fears of nuclear proliferation it's just too scary to be feasible. I wish that the UCS--the supposedly scientific, environmental lobbying group--were truly objective in their evaluation of the technological options available. I also wish they'd put a bit more of their own lifestyles on the line.

I'm quite superficial sometimes, I know, but I just couldn't help noticing that the woman who spoke to us was well-dressed in new, reasonably expensive, trendy clothing, likely produced overseas and shipped to the US. I'll admit, there really aren't too many other options for clothing, and in a line of work where one works with government I'm sure physical appearance is important; that said, I wish some of these environmentalists would at least look like they're sacrificing once in a while.

Someone had an impressive sense of timing. The the Chicago Climate Action Plan was sent out to the PCCRC email list as we were discussing the impacts of climate change on the Midwest, and the fact that Chicago had already done a bunch of climate projections for the region in order to create the document and craft a plan for mitigation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Before this gets lost--gyros

Homemade Pork Gyro Sandwich or Dinner
From Nancy Gaifyllia,
Your Guide to Greek Food.

The way professionals make gyro on an upright rotisserie is fabulous,
but not the most practical for most of us cooking at home. This
version uses the same meat (pork) and seasonings, but has been adapted
to home cooking.

* 2 1/2 pounds of boneless pork loin, shoulder, or fresh ham
* white wine vinegar
* ----------
* Seasoning Mixture:
* 3 tablespoons of salt
* 1 1/2 teaspoons of sweet paprika
* 1/4 teaspoon of pepper
* 1/4 teaspoon of finely crushed (powdered) Greek oregano (rigani)
* ----------
* For Sandwiches:
* 6 pieces of thin pita bread
* 1/2 cup of tzatziki (see below)
* 1 medium onion, sliced
* 2 tomatoes, sliced
* french fries (optional)
* olive oil


Make the Gyro Meat:

In a small bowl combine paprika, salt, pepper, and oregano.

Slice the meat against the grain as thin as possible and pound with a
meat mallet to less than 1/4-inch thick. In a flat-bottomed container,
arrange one layer of slices, sprinkle liberally with seasoning
mixture, then with a little vinegar. Spread the vinegar over the meat
so that all pieces are moistened. Add layers, spices, and vinegar
until all the meat has been marinated. Cover and refrigerate for 1/2
hour to 2 hours.

Note: If there's any seasoning mix left over, store in an
airtight jar and use again for gyro or as a rub for pork souvlaki.

Make the tzatziki and french fries.

Remove meat from the refrigerator and slice into strips about 1/2 to
3/4 of an inch wide and 2 to 2 1/2 inches long. Dry fry (without any
oil) in a non-stick frying pan until browned and slightly crisp.

Alternate cooking method: Do not cut the meat into strips before
cooking. Cook on the grill until the edges of the meat begin to crisp,
then slice and serve.

Yield: serves 8-10

To Make the Gyro Sandwich: See photos

Brush the pita bread with olive oil and fry in a dry frying pan for a
few minutes until warmed and softened, not crisp.

In the center of each pita:

* spread 1 heaping tablespoon of tzatziki
* add 2-3 slices of tomato
* add sliced onion to taste
* add 1/6th of the gyro meat for each sandwich
* top with french fries (optional)

Twist the gyro sandwich in parchment paper or wax paper and serve.

To Make a Gyro Dinner:

Serve the gyro meat with french fries, tomato and onion slices, and
pita wedges or crusty Greek bread on the side.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ready for a trip to Hoth

Derrick says Sylvia looks like she's ready to hunt ice monsters on Hoth in this:

I think she just wants to eat something fuzzy.

Maybe she's the ice monster of Hoth. Watch out, Luke!


This was sent out to a list-serve to which I subscribe:
Hello Ladies, I normally do not send out this type of information in this type of venue. But I had no idea that the situation had gotten so heated. My uncle sent me this link to an article written by a police officer who was present for the protest outside of the LA temple. If you have a moment, read what he wrote. Very moving and a little scary. Make sure you read the "part 2" . Apparently there were 2 ladies beaten at the temple protest. Now, I am not looking to start a conversation here. I just wanted to get this information out.

(name removed at the request of the author)

My response:
If you're not trying to start a conversation, why are you sending this out? Prop 8 is a very heated topic, and the article you link to is highly emotionally charged--exactly the thing to get a conversation started. I personally feel we should be discussing this (though perhaps not in this forum)--even if it doesn't directly affect us here in Indiana, we all have friends and family who are directly in the path of this conflict. At some point we're all going to have to face an amendment like this--I've had to twice already, once in California (prop 22, the one that was struck down by the courts) and once in Utah. I voted once for and once against the definition of marriage as only one man and one woman. My vote was influenced greatly both by statements made by the church leadership and by conversations with gay friends of mine. If the switching of my vote from one side to the other isn't evidence enough, this is a topic over which I am quite conflicted. I do believe President Monson and the rest of the Quorum of the twelve are inspired prophets and so we should listen to their counsel, especially when it's this explicit; that said, they are also men and I wonder if this command comes from their prejudices. I wonder how inspired this request can really be if it's creating such a violent, anti-Mormon atmosphere not just in California but around the world? Is it really such a great thing that we've given so much money to organizations that label us non-Christian and would fight against us given the opportunity? We're taking the brunt of the blame for the passage of Prop 8 even though we're far from a majority in California--is that really such a good thing?

Please keep the discussion civil--I respect those of you who would have voted for Prop 8, and I respect many of the arguments for why we should define marriage as "one man, one woman." In my own head, that is the definition of a marriage. I worry here more about the politics of legalizing the definition and about the ferocity of the backlash we are experiencing.


One more thing: I found this account of the more peaceful protest in Salt Lake a nice counterbalance to the Meridian article.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Ever have a conversation where you think you're communicating, and yet at the end of the discussion you realize you've been talking past one another for an hour or more? Yeah, tonight Derrick and I had one with Tad Colver about intelligent design and why it isn't science. The crux of the misunderstanding was that we were claiming a hard and fast boundary between the natural world and the supernatural world--taking "God off the table," so to speak. Tad seemed to think that division somehow required atheism, or implied science requires that God not exist. It took us a while to convince him that really all we were saying was that science can't test God, and religion can't refute science. God, and all the supernatural, are outside the realm of the testable by science. We will always have the unknown, the time before time, the existence outside the universe to contemplate; it's just that some things that today fit into the category of "supernatural" will eventually be explicable by natural laws. The inevitable clashes with religion will come as we move things from supernatural (like the creation) to the natural with the corresponding scientific explanations (evolution).

Dinner was quite nice--it was good to see Mary, and great to hold her nearly one month old son, Eddie. Sylvia's really grown up, and seeing her next to a younger infant shows just how much she's grown. She's much stronger than she was a month ago, able to hold her head up much of the time, has better control of her muscles in general, and is so much more interactive. She smiles and laughs, and is really quite social (at least, as long as she isn't tired).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jalapeno cheese bread

Wow, is this ever good looking and smelling:

We didn't even wait for this loaf (a roasted garlic loaf) to cool before cutting into it (as you can probably guess from the torn crust).

I've had a pretty busy evening, if you can't tell. Derrick wanted key lime pie, so we made that according to this recipe which left me with four egg whites, so we made macaroons by doubling this recipe. It's a little heavy on the almond extract, so I think next time we make it we'll double everything except the flavoring.

You know, I keep wondering why it is I'm not getting much science done...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Three months old

Sylvia is three months old today, and she's now 23 1/4 inches long, making her definitely too big for newborn clothes, and almost too big for 0-3 month clothes. She sure is cute, isn't she? I just love her chubby little cheeks.

I took her with me to work (of course--Derrick is at a conference) and while I was cleaning up after a poor attempt at vacuum distillation, she laughed. It took a minute for me to figure out what she was laughing at, but it was the clinking of the glass test tubes together. For whatever reason that sound just made her laugh like she'd just heard some great joke.

I also took her to dinner this evening. Clayton (married to Stacy--another grad student in the department) is deploying to Iraq soon, so a bunch of us from the department gathered at Scotty's for dinner. Clayton was more than happy to hold her while we waited for a table, and Sylvia definitely didn't mind the attention.

Here's a picture of Brenda and Isaac, taken while we were waiting. Isaac was quite taken by "baby Sylvia."

And at dinner Gabe told me that his advisor, Paul Koch is an intellectual descendant of Stephen Jay Gould, which evidently means I should be a paleontologist. Hope fossilized brine shrimp cysts count toward that!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy feet

I had every intention of writing about politics, or about the last of Stephanie Meyer's twilight books, or give a long-overdue report on our trip to Vermont and Woods Hole, but I came across this and just had to share:

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008