Monthly Archives: June 2012

Mint + Lemon + Ice Cream

It’s full blown summer. Temps are soaring into the 90s and the heat index is beyond that. I finally caved and bought two small window AC units for my apartment. Summertime life is about eighty seven times better with air conditioning. My cats agree.

Summertime is better with ice cream as well. Especially when it’s a combination of two of my very favorites, mint and lemon. What a marvelously magical combination of flavors. Bright and sunny, tart, and oh-so refreshing. You know how some ice creams leave a heavy film inside your mouth after your finished. Not so here. Wham-bam lemon right of the bat, juxtaposed by a sweet lighter-than-air creaminess (thanks to the use of half and half instead of heavy cream) and finishes with a mellow minty-ness. I predict this will become one of my summer staples. In fact, I am looking forward to it.

An added bonus: a minimum of time spent at the stove. A quick heat to warm up the dairy so as to steep the mint, but that’s it for cooking time. No eggs, no cornstarch, no cooking until thick. I have a beautifully fragrant pot of lemon balm that I clipped from, in addition to my mint plant, but feel free to double up on the mint in this recipe if you don’t have lemon balm.

Lemon-Mint Ice Cream
makes ~1 1/2 pints (3 cups)
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup packed mint leaves
1/2 cup packed lemon balm leaves
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (~3 lemons)

Heat half and half, sugar, and salt over medium heat until steam starts to rise. Remove from heat and submerge mint and lemon balm leaves. Cover and let steep for an hour. Strain through a mesh sieve, pressing hard on leaves to extract as much flavor as possible. Finely zest 2 lemons directly into mint-infused half and half. Juice lemons and whisk into dairy. Chill throughly. Freeze in ice cream maker.

Beet, Orange and Goat Cheese Salad

I made this salad tonight and within one bite I knew I wanted to share. It’s not fancy or fussy, but is brilliantly hued and surprisingly sweet. I don’t have much to say – no deep thoughts about life, just a nod to how much I enjoy food. This salad is a shining example of why I love my CSA. The salad greens were amazingly robust and flavorful. And the beets … oh my, this season’s beets have been wonderfully balanced between earthy and sweet.

This is a breeze to put together … I had a conference call to Singapore this evening (I am still in hard-core work mode) and managed to throw this together in a matter of minutes. Of course, I had the foresight to roast the beets earlier this week (and in the morning no less, while my apartment is still blessedly cool).  Pairing the beets with citrus was amazing. I had bookmarked this recipe some time ago, as I am always looking for inventive uses for rhubarb. And I attempted to cook the rhubarb as described – but just wasn’t feeling it for a salad (stay tuned for how I re-invented it …), so I ended up omitting it. I swapped goat cheese for feta, simply because I had some in my refrigerator, and these days I just don’t have time for extra trips to the grocery store.

I am smitten with this salad. For the colors and the flavors. My only hope that there are more beets in this week’s CSA…

Beet, Orange and Goat Cheese Salad
modified from Bon Appetit, April 2010
1 generous entrée-size salad
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice 
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
mixed salad greens
1 medium beet, roasted and thinly sliced
1 orange, peeled and segmented
1 1/2 ounce goat cheese, crumbled

Whisk orange peel, orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, and olive oil together. Season dressing with coarse salt and pepper. Toss with salad greens, sliced beets, orange segments and goat cheese.

Defining Moments

There are moments in your life that are game changers. Sometimes they sneak up on you, quiet and stealthy and alter the course of your life subtly but significantly. Others walk right up and hit you over the head, leaving you dizzy and seeing stars.

If you are lucky, you can see the latter coming. (Other times, perhaps not). In these cases I believe you actually have the ability to  wield some control over the situation. Last week I found myself staring straight into just such an opportunity.

A few months back I wrote about the thrill of discovery. What’s just as satisfying as making a discovery is sharing it with your colleagues. I was at a fungal biology conference last week and had the opportunity to stand on stage and present the work I’ve been busy with over the past six months. It was a strategic move – my mentor and I  are currently writing up the manuscript and we wanted to break the news and gather feedback before we submitted.

I have very strong thoughts about how science should be presented. Which meant I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to meet my exceedingly high standards. Not to mention the mind-blowing nature* of my current work, and the pressure builds. And let’s not forget, I am a post-doc entering the job market and need to be unforgettable. This was perhaps the most important 15 minutes of my career to date. Maybe I’m being melodramatic, as I tend towards the theatrical, but this was a big deal and the reason I’ve had so many late nights.

For a while, I thought I was going to crack under all that pressure. I’m not sure if it was psycho-somatic or an actual illness, but I was sick to my stomach the entire 24-hours before my talk (and even several hours afterwards). I am embarrassed to even admit it, as I usually relish any opportunity to be in the spotlight. But I knew this was one of the defining moments. In fact, the last time I felt this type of pressure was when I was interviewing for graduate school. I was a naive 23-year old who had gone to hippie college and didn’t have a clue as to the academic architecture. I only had gotten an interview at Duke, as the other graduate schools I applied to flat-out rejected me, and I knew that it was my only chance to get into a Ph.D. program. I was sick to my stomach then as well. I even had to leave in the middle of my interview with the director of the program in order to run to the restroom to empty the contents of my stomach. But I must have done something right, as I made it into the program, and the rest is, well, history.

And I made it through this talk also. Adrenaline is a powerful anti-nausea drug. In fact, I am proud to say that I nailed it. It’s a moment in my life that I will never ever forget. I could feel the buzz of energy in the air as I was on stage – people really got it (one person told me later they could feel the hairs on the back of their neck rising as I was speaking). As I opened the floor to questions, the first response that I received was a marriage proposal (from an already married woman, but a proposal nevertheless). I couldn’t have asked for much more, except for perhaps a job offer.

It’s been a boost to my scientific self-confidence, which as been on a roller coaster ride for the past couple of years. And it feels damn good. Success is a mix of hard work and luck and I got extremely lucky to fall into a such a compelling project.

*For my nerdy science friends interested in what I am working on:

I’ve been working on a yeast species that is a human commensal and occasionally, if the opportunity arises can become pathogenic. For decades, its been thought to be an obligate diploid with no known sexual cycle (which makes genetics and molecular biology in this organism challenging). Recently a parasexual cycle has been described in which diploid cells mate to form tetraploid cells and subsequently undergo a non-meiotic process to return to a near diploid state. We’ve found that there is also a haploid state in the lifecycle of this organism. Not only will this greatly facilitate future genetic and molecular biology studies, it suggests that a haploid phase may be important for revealing recessive alleles, and thus exposing genetic variation for selection to act upon. Furthermore, mating between haploids cells can restore heterozygosity, a trait we observe readily in clinical isolates, that as been paradoxical given the propensity of this organism to undergo loss of heterozygosity events in response to stress.

Cherry-Rhubarb Mini Crisp with Sweet Basil Ice Cream

Just call me Goldilocks. You wouldn’t be the first.

Whenever I go to bake something I first need to make the decision on how much I want to make. You can see from my assortment of baking dishes that this isn’t always a straightforward choice. You make too much and you get tired of eating (no matter how tasty it is) after a few days. You make too little and the last bite comes all too quickly.

I made this crisp last Saturday evening, hours before leaving to go to a scientific conference (which is where I am currently…more on that later), so I went with the smallest of my choices – a perfectly-proportioned 1 1/2 cups. A small dessert is better than no dessert at all in my book.

And speaking of books, this recipe came from a new book that I am enamored with. Beautiful photography and whimsical writing – and foods categorized by color. Utterly delightful! I am a little jealous I didn’t think of it myself. With the intersection of rhubarb and cherry season I knew that I wanted to give this recipe a go.

I had been waiting for an opportunity to make Sweet Basil Ice Cream and this seemed like the perfect pairing. Sweet, herbal and bright green in striking contrast to the deep reds of the rhubarb and cherries. None of it is overly sweet and all the flavors really come through brilliantly.

Cherry-Rhubarb Mini Crisp
adjusted from Ripe, by Cheryl Sternman Rule
1 cup diced rhubarb
1/2 cup cherries, halved (pitted and de-stemmed)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons (33 grams) brown sugar
2 tablespoons (15 grams) flour
2 1/2 tablespoons (15 grams) oats
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 teaspoons pine nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Toss together the rhubarb, cherries, sugar and balsamic vinegar. Pour into a small (1 1/2 cup) baking dish. In a food processor, combine butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon and salt. Pulse ~35 times until dough starts to come together. Stir in pine nuts and crumble over top of rhubarb and cherries. Bake for 35 minutes in top third of oven. Let rest 10 minutes before eating.

Sweet Basil Ice Cream
from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebowitz
makes ~1 pint
1/2 cup (12.5 grams) packed basil leaves
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
pinch of salt
3 egg yolks

In a small food processor, grind the basil leaves with the sugar and 1/2 cup milk until the leaves are finely ground. Pour half the mixture into a large batter bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. Take the other half and put in a medium saucepan, add remaining milk, cream and salt. Heat until steam starts to rise from the dairy. Whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Scrape egg yolks and milk back into saucepan and heat until the mixture thickens. Pour the custard through the strainer and whisk into the basil-sugar-milk mixtures. Chill thoroughly. Freeze in your ice cream maker.

A late night cocktail

Do you remember how I mentioned I was entering into the writing cave? Let me tell you about my day.

~7 am – wake up

7:30 cup of coffee #1, start working on manuscript/presentation for conference

8:30 – 10:30 – cups of coffee #2-3, work on manuscript/presentation

10:30 – cup of coffee #4, get ready for the day

11:15 – 11:45 – bike to work

12:00 – 2:00 meet with advisor to discuss manuscript/presentation

2:30 – lunch

3:00 – 7:30 – lab work, catch up with co-workers on other projects

7:30 – 8:00 – bike home

8:00 – 9:00 – dinner, watch 3 episodes of Scrubs

9:00 – 12:00 – work on manuscript/presentation

12:00 – go to bed (write this blog post) 

It’s been like this for the past week or so with variations on the theme. Sometimes I wake up at 5 am and go to bed at 11 pm. Sometimes I don’t go into lab until after lunch. But you get the gist. I am working. A lot. Don’t get me wrong – putting together science stories makes me happy and provides a gratification like nothing else. But sometimes, just sometimes (usually around 11 pm), it drives this girl to drink.

Bourbon + Rhubarb + Rosewater = Brilliant.

Bourbon seems serious. So, being in a serious state of mind, bourbon is what I am reaching for these days. Adding the rhubarb and rosewater was an amazing happenstance.  The rhubarb mellows the edge of bourbon without losing any of its bourbon-ness. The rosewater adds a whiff of floral. I like to put in a martini glass and pretend that I’m not glued to my computer.

Bourbon, Rhubarb and Rosewater Cocktail
serves 1
1 part bourbon
1 part rhubarb-rosewater syrup (see below)
1 part raw rhubarb juice
dash of angostura bitters
3-4 ice cubes

Combine all the ingredients in cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass.

*I made this rhubarb-rosewater syrup and was overwhelmed by the rosewater and underwhelmed by the rhubarb. Which is why I went 50:50 of the recipe below with straight-up rhubarb juice. One could just up the up the amount of rhubarb in the syrup, but I kind of like the astringency that the raw juice brings.

Rhubarb-Rosewater Syrup
makes 2 cups
adapted from 101 Cookbooks
1 pound rhubarb, diced
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon rosewater

Combine the rhubarb and the sugar in a medium pot and let sit (not on heat) for about 45 minutes. Add water, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain and return juice to pot and heat. Add lime juice and cook until reduced to 1/2 volume. Cool. Stir in rosewater. Store in a air-tight jar in the refrigerator.