Monthly Archives: October 2010

Dining room delights

As we move quickly towards winter here in Minneapolis (I have already seen snowflakes once – luckily they didn’t hang around), my dining room has quickly become my favorite room in the house.  The morning sun shines on the warm yellow walls and the whole room glows.  It is really quite spectacular.  I can sit while drinking my coffee and checking my email and feel perfectly happy … except that is Puck has all but destroyed one of my dining room chairs in rebellion for me not letting him outside to go play in the sunshine.

As you can see my chairs have become well-used scratching posts (and damned if my cats don’t use the ACTUAL scratching post they have).  I had to do something about it.  It not only has been driving me crazy to see it everyday, but it is only getting more destroyed.  So I headed to the fabric store found some upholstery fabric that suited my taste and budget and got to work.

There are just a few supplies you need for a task like this: fabric, a hammer and upholstery tacks and a staple gun.  It didn’t require any careful measuring or sewing, just some elbow grease and a little attention to detail.  I started by covering the back of the chair, tucking it into the crease between the chair seat and chair back and then stapling the fabric down on the backside of the chair. 

The top corners were a little tricky, but after a little finessing, I got them worked out.  Once I got the seatback of the chair recovered I moved on to the chair seat.  Again, I tucked one edge of the fabric into the crease of the seat and the seatback, then I flipped the entire chair over and stapled the fabric down on the underside of the seat and folded the fabric under around the chair legs, almost like you would when making your bed.

Then all I had to do was cover the back of the chair.  While it was still laying down, I stapled a piece of fabric (with the right side facing the floor) to the top of the chair, right above where I stapled the first piece of fabric.  Then I could flip the chair right side up, fold the sides of the fabric under and tack them down with upholstery tacks.

Ta-da!  A new and doubly improved dining room chair as it (1) no longer looks like a scratching post and 2) is now purple.  All it took was a few of hours (and perhaps more than a few swear words).  Now, I must admit to having some guidance.  While my mother was in town last month she actually reupholstered one of my dining room chairs, showing me how to do it.  It’s taken me a month to get to the second chair, mostly because I’ve been pretty swamped with work (a welcome change) and because I was hesitant to work on it by myself for fear of messing it up.  Overall, I am pretty pleased with the result.  I am sure there are more sophisticated and less messy ways to reupholster a chair, but I think this did the job well enough.  Even the cats approve (as long as they only keep to napping and not scratching).

Kudzu, enjoying a Sunday afternoon nap


Next, I have my eye on a overstuffed living room chair …

Lazy Sunday

It was a lovely, lazy Sunday.  So lazy, in fact, I am having trouble recalling exactly what I did today.  I spent most of the day trying to distract myself from all of the festivities happening this weekend in Gainesville.  (Scott was playing host to his parents and some good friends and I desperately wanted to be down there with them).  So instead, I drank nearly an entire pot of coffee while perusing my cookbooks, with Food Network playing in the background.  I took a nap.  I made some progress on a knitting project.  I did the dishes and vacuumed the rug.   I made a simple dinner and re-read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Then I decided to roll up my sleeves and spend some more time in the kitchen.  It’s been no secret that I have been having lots of warm, fuzzy feelings for autumn.  A couple of weeks ago, while my mother was in town, we went apple picking.  We picked up some apple cider and a bag full of fresh, crunchy Honeycrisps.  Both of which have been sitting in my refrigerator.  So I did something about it.  Because it was Sunday.  Yes, it may have been 75 degrees outside, but the leaves have been changing color and these apples have been on my mind.

First, I made some mulled cider.  I found a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Bon Appetit’s Fast Easy Fresh.  I halved the recipe, as it was just me drinking it.  It was pretty simple and suited my state of mind.

Spiced Apple Cranberry Cider

1 1/2 cups unfiltered apple cider
1 1/2 cups cranberry juice (I used cranberry pomegranate, and was pleased with the substitution)
The juice and peel from 1/2 orange
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon nutmed
1/2 teaspoon cloves.

Combine all ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil until sugar dissolves.  Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes.  I decided put my cider through my french press to to collect the cinnamon sticks and orange peel.  You could spike it with rum or brandy if you like.  That’s it.  Easy as pie and just as delicious.

I thought about making an apple pie.  But, as today was a lazy Sunday, I decided to do something easier than pie: Apple Brown Betty.  I actually prefer this to apple pie.  It has to do with the crust.  I am a sucker for any sort of flour, brown sugar and butter combo (and doesn’t require a rolling pin).  I think it might have been one of the first things my mom taught me to make as a kid (it was either this or macaroni and cheese, I can’t quite remember) and it’s stuck with me.  I made a relatively small dish but it is pretty easy to scale up.

Mom’s Apple Brown Betty

3 baking apples peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
~1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Arrange apple slices on the bottom of a baking dish.  Combine remaining ingredients and cut in butter.  Sprinkle on top of apples and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.  I prefer to use a larger baking dish with a shallow layer of apples such that my apple to crust ratio is quite high.  Don’t be tempted to take it out of the oven too soon.  The beauty is in the crispy crust.  It’s almost like breaking the sugar on a creme brulee.  Crispy, sweet with soft baked apples underneath.  It makes a great dessert, but an even better breakfast (and should make Monday morning that much sweeter).  My father always likes his with a thick slice of cheddar cheese (something I still can’t bring myself to try), but I prefer mine with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

So not a total waste of a day.  Now to sit back to reflect upon this week’s episode of Mad Men with a second helping of Apple Brown Betty…

For the love of science?

I haven’t written about science in a while, despite it being something that I think about every single day.  Maybe that’s why I avoid writing about it (or maybe it’s just more fun to write about travel adventures or experiments in the kitchen).  But, by trade I am a scientist.  I spent four and a half years obtaining both a Bachelors of Arts and a Bachelors of Science, spending a significant time either in a science class or in the lab.  I then went on to spend five and a half years working on my PhD, with more than a significant amount of time at the bench, many times missing meals, sleep and social activities in pursuit of science.  For the love of science.  For the thrill of that elusive discovery (often times after many months of utter failure).  Because there is joy to be found in not only discovering things, but also in the discussion of ideas.  What is the interesting biological question?  How can this idea or hypothesis be tested?  What does this result imply?  Now where do we go from here?  One of the primary reasons I decided to go to graduate school is because I fell in love with science and its intellectual community.  And my graduate school experience was rich in intellectual community.  I mean it is almost an embarrassment of riches, with fungal biologists, evolutionary biologists and molecular biologists.  There were weekly seminars that brought in amazing scientists all over the world, monthly meetings with groups across campuses and even from neighboring universities and yearly meetings that took me all over the world.  It was one gigantic biology party for nearly six years.  It was easy to get excited and stay excited about your work when you had so many opportunities to share it with people who actually wanted to hear about it.  I never thought I was remarkable for loving graduate school, my thesis project or my thesis committee and adviser.  But perhaps I was.  I certainly knew many other students who didn’t share my feelings, but it seemed absurd to me to that they could be unhappy.

So how could I have fallen out of love with science?

I am not entirely sure.  I am not even entirely sure that I am not in love with science anymore, but I am pretty sure that I have been less than happy recently.  Yes, a huge part of that unhappiness is the fact that my significant other lives in the Florida swamps,  my family lives in the majestic Pacific Northwest and my friends have scattered across the country while I am in Minneapolis (with winter just around the corner).  So even if my scientific life were going beautifully, I would still have a big, dark, menacing rain cloud over my head.  But I think it goes beyond that. The rose-colored glasses have been ripped off my face and stomped upon.

That might be a little melodramatic, but you see where I am going.  Science is not for the faint of heart. It demands more than just a competent head on your shoulders.  You need to be more than just a respected colleague and a good adviser.  You need to be a publishing machine.  You need to be a grant-writing (and receiving) fiend.  You need to sell you little piece of arbitrary knowledge to the world as the most ground-breaking research out there (although it doesn’t hurt if you are part of the ole’ boys club).  There is no longer any joy in the discovery – it has now become an obligation and an expectation.

I think it is the obligations and expectations that has had me stewing.  The obligation to have a super-productive post-doc in order to have a fighting chance at finding a faculty position.  Is it worth it?  Is it worth busting your ass so that you can get a job where you have to continually bust your ass in order to succeed?  Not even to succeed, but just to keep your head above water?  When do you have time for the rest of your life?  Do you even get a life?  Friends, family, love?

I spent the weekend in Chicago, at a regional meeting regarding yeast biology.  I sometimes find these meetings to be double-edged swords.  On the one hand, it gives me immense joy to be completely immersed in scientific community.  I like meeting new people and talking science (especially yeast biology).  I like hearing good talks and asking pertinent questions.  I like drinking beer with people who are just as nerdy as I am.  While in the moment, I absolutely love being a scientist.  But then I get home and am suddenly full of doubts.  What if I am not good enough to cut it?  Why don’t I think that critically all of the time?  Why don’t I have those engaging, in-depth discussion with my colleagues on a daily basis?

Am I being too idealistic about what a life in science should be about?