Tag Archives: recipes

Unapologetic

I have a confession.

I care deeply how others think of me.

I enjoy being distinctive (my purple hair certainly plays a large part in achieving this – and I love that). I am to be taken seriously – but not always seriously. I like that people like to be around me and that my thoughts and opinions are valued. That I am trustworthy and my research is well-regarded. And that my awesome style impresses upon others. Am I shallow? Narcissistic? Too female for science?

I have cried at work, on more than one occasion and even (gasp!) in front of other people. I’m incredibly open about my mood and my feelings (that seeming span a wide-spectrum). There is a hefty dose of reverse snobbery in academics – that our minds are the only thing to be valued. That we are completely objective towards all things. To say nothing of the passive-aggressive attitudes towards those with pastimes outside of science. I, like so many others, am a complex being with a wide-array of interests and emotions. I refuse to apologize or feel shamed about that.  In fact, I think it allows me to step back to see the larger biological questions and think more creatively.

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I have a hard time discussing gender and science and am extremely sensitive to broad sweeping statements on the subject. Both my Ph.D. and postdoc advisors are female, from different generations and are unalike in many ways. They are two distinct people after all, and who is to say that the commonalities they do share is because of their gender? The same is true of my female peers. I’m not in any position to speak for them.

But I think about it. What does it means to be a female in science? More importantly, to be me? I am decidedly female in my wardrobe – I own about 15 dresses to every pair of pants. You won’t find me in any neutral colors either. I wear heels. I occasionally put make-up on. I spend a considerable amount of money to control my curly hair. I have never been interested in wearing contacts because I think my glasses make me look smarter. I contemplate at length the appearance I present to the world. I agonized over choosing a photo for my faculty profile – they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I wanted something that illustrated my intellect, my openess, and my style all the while staying inside the lines of professionalism. Is that even achievable?

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It’s more than just the way I dress: I try to smile often to seem friendly and approachable – but not too often because I don’t want appear a pushover. I frequently nod during seminars or in conversations to indicate that I am paying attention but don’t hesitate to hide quizzical expressions. At conferences I make a point of asking intelligent questions during the public forums and staying out late to drink beer at the bar with my fellow nerds. I am actively trying to stop apologizing or making excuses for delayed responses. I do these things deliberately because I am female, but mostly because I want to be a vibrant, noteworthy member of my community.

I am making my way through the leaky pipeline and now find myself in a tenure-track position. The department I am joining has exactly two other female professors. Whether I like it or not, I will be an example. Hopefully in time, even a role model for scientists-in-training. My voice has weight. I worry about what sort of mentor and colleague I will be. Not only do I want to be well liked and respected, but to also inspire those I work with and lead. I try my hardest to have my interactions with others to be open, honest and thoughtful, which at times, can be mutually exclusive with being nice, but never with considerate. My intentions are always to be critical of the science, but not of the scientist. I just hope that I can achieve that without those exclusively female labels.

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Raspberry Jam

When given a choice of berry – I always pick raspberry. Their bright sassiness endears them to me. I chanced upon enough of these beauties in my backyard to make a jam (coupled with some strawberries a day or two past their prime) last weekend. This jam is unapologetically tart. It doesn’t sugarcoat the ‘I AM RASPBERRY’ spirit. Enjoyed best with a batch of buttermilk biscuits and a steaming cup of coffee on early on a Saturday morning.
 
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1 cup freshly picked raspberries
1 cup strawberries, diced
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
pinch of salt
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Collect the ingredients in a small saucepan and Cook over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes. Mash slightly. The jam will thicken slightly as it cools. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers – it will keep for a few days.
 

Oh … hello!

Is anybody there?

This tiny, online space is not forgotten. I simply took some much-needed time for me. But I’ve missed this terribly. This place. Writing. It’s not to be overlooked or undervalued.

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I haven’t been comfortable sharing my thoughts, opinions and experiences for immediate public consumption. Striking a balance between my online presence and real-world life has been an impossible task over the past year (and it’s not just me). Nonetheless, there has been a fair amount of ice cream and perhaps a cocktail or two. Some fantastic travels to the south of France with dear friends and scuba diving in Bonaire with family (where you might just find yourself swimming with a pod of dolphins) and many other places near and far. A re-upholstered chair and a revamped sofa table turned kitchen cart. But more than anything else – life as an academic and biologist.

This past year has been a doozy and change is underway.

(The details on that are for another time).

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But on to more pressing topics … It’s springtime in Minneapolis! At last! Opening the windows, biking into campus, beers on patios and the start of farmers markets. – a glorious time indeed. I’ve been in a flurry of spring cleaning – my closets, my kitchen, the laboratory. No space I occupy has been safe from my critical eyes. I adore the process of shedding winter layers. To rediscover lost treasures and carefully assess what to keep close and what to finally let go of.  It’s no small task and not an easy one either. But the psychological satisfaction of this particular accomplishment is one of the best there is. It’s not for everybody, but it certainly is for me.

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Now that the dust has been cleared and I’ve got no upcoming travel scheduled, I’ve been having fun playing in my kitchen. To brush up on my skills and hone my culinary instincts. To anticipate the summer bounty and enjoy fresh, seasonal food again. Which brings me to … RHUBARB!!! I’ve waxed poetic time and time and time again about my favorite spring crop, so let me just cut to the chase. An afternoon tart of roasted rhubarb with cardamom pastry cream and orange poppyseed shortbread crust.

This dish took me the better part of a Saturday morning, but there is no reason why the parts can’t be made independently and assembled whenever it pleases you. It’s good. Very good. In my opinion, worth not only the time, but also the number of dirty dishes.

 Not-so simple rhubarb tart
Serves 4
 
Roasted Rhubarb
~10 oz rhubarb, cut in 4 inch pieces
3/4 – 1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
 
Combine all ingredients in an oven safe dish. Roast at 300 degrees for about 50 minutes, occasionally  so that the rhubarb is soft, but still holds its shape and the juice is reduced to about a quarter cup or so.
 
Cardamom Pastry Cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
 
Make the filling: Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cardamom, and salt in a 2-qt. saucepan; whisk in milk and eggs. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; whisk in butter. Transfer mixture to a bowl (pressing through a sieve, if you are so inclined, as I usually am); press a piece of plastic wrap onto surface of filling. Refrigerate until ready to use.
 
Orange Poppyseed Shortbread Crust 
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
 
Cream the butter, mix in the sugar, lemon zest, poppy seeds and salt followed by the flour and mix until it forms crumbs. Press the mixture into a 4” x 13.5” rectangular tart pan. Freeze for 10-15 minutes and bake in a preheated 400F oven until lightly golden brown, about 15 minutes before letting it cool.
 
Assembly
Spread chilled cardamom pastry cream into baked shortbread crust. Carefully top with roasted rhubarb pieces. Brush with the reduced vanilla orange juice. Serve cold or at room temperature.

CSA Week 5: Mini Chocolate Zucchini Cakes with Raspberry Frosting

There was zucchini in the CSA box this week. And when I think of zucchini, I always think of my Aunt Janice and her Chocolate Zucchini Cake (which is much tastier than if I thought of my mother and her zucchini relish, and if memory serves correctly, I vehemently do not like).

Janice is one of my most favorite people. Unbelievably generous and giving, always opening her heart and home to anybody and everybody. She’s always there when you need her. For example, while home for the holidays several years ago, I had driven my mother into work and on my way back home I had gotten in a car accident. (Nobody was hurt, but the car got crunched). So there I was, in my sweats, hair disarrayed, no cell phone or wallet, as I was just dropping my mom off at work, less than two miles away from the house. Luckily some kind soul had stopped and lent me her cell phone. Janice was the first person I called. Primarily because hers is the only phone number that I actually have memorized. Plus she is a good go-to person in a crisis. She stopped what she was doing, drove out to my parents house collected my wallet and brought it down to me. And then she waited with me for the tow truck and helped me deal with all the details. ‘Cause she’s a good sort like that. And she makes a mean chocolate zucchini cake. A few years back, I called her up and got the recipe. You can see that it’s seen some love. It’s time I wrote it up properly.

Now, as she and most of my family is assembled at her and my uncle’s lake house for Fourth of July, it seems appropriate to post this recipe today. Janice usually makes this as a cake, in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and serves it with whipped cream, but I thought it would be fun to make it into cupcakes and top with a sweet and tangy raspberry frosting. The cupcake wrappers are about as red, white and blue as I get.

Mini Chocolate Zucchini Cakes with Raspberry Frosting

makes ~15 jumbo or 2 dozen standard cupcakes

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Chocolate Zucchini Cakes
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups chocolate chips
 
Raspberry Icing, from Mark Bittman
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 cup seedless raspberry preserves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

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For the cakes:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Peel and grate the zucchini using a food processor or box grater. Mix the milk and the vinegar together and set aside.

Sift together cake flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda.

In a seperate bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Mix in the dry ingredients and the milk a little at a time, alternating.

Fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips. Scoop into jumbo muffin cups (about 2 ice cream scoops worth) and set on a cookie sheet. Bake for ~35 minutes (25 minutes for standard cupcakes), until toothpick comes out clean.

For the icing:
Combine all ingredients in a double boiler. Place over 2 inches of boiling water. Mix using a hand held electric mixer until it is light and fluffy, about 7 minutes.

Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and salt. Continue to beat until frosting is cooled and holds stiff peaks. Transfer to a gallon-size ziploc bag (or piping bag, if your kitchen is more well-stocked than mine), snip the corner so that there’s about a half inch hole, and pipe the frosting onto the cakes.

It just so turns out that the backyard raspberry bushes are just starting to produce some ripe berries. So I snagged a couple to top the cakes.

I know people say this sort of thing all of the time, but you really don’t taste the zucchini at all and it keeps the cake incredibly moist.

Grabbers

I am a girl who goes through schools like other girls go through boys. (And to be honest, I think I have been with more schools than I have boys…)

I had a rocky start in my relationship with post-secondary education. My first year of college was spent at Washington State University. Let’s just say that WSU and I weren’t a good match. At the time I thought that is what I wanted (back in the day when I dreamed of being an architect) and when I was in high school it was the only college I applied to. Surprisingly, it turns out you don’t really know what you want when you are 18 years old. It liked to party and I was a wallflower. It was big into the Greek system and I was (and continue to be) fiercely independent. It was into school spirit, sports and activities and I am more of the theater rat sort. I wanted to stretch my brain further and in new directions and wasn’t interested in having a typical “college experience.” WSU just couldn’t give me what I needed. So we split after a year.

But that year of my life left a permanent scar on my psyche.

(It also brought amazing ice cream sandwiches, but I’ll get to that later)

South Puget Sound Community College was my rebound school. I was there for a year, going to school full time, working part time at the dental office and dancing with the local ballet company, Ballet Northwest. And while it was not true love, it was a solid sort and got me back on my feet again. It was there that I learned how to write, speak in public and articulately form arguments against religion. I fulfilled all the requirements for an Associate’s of Arts and was on my way.

I fell in love hard with Evergreen and while I was there, with science and the prospect of a life in research. A quirky, independent, non-traditional learning experience. My first true love. It was there I felt a sense of academic and social community and a staunch motivation to learn. I stayed with Evergreen even after I fulfilled all of the “requirements” for a Bachelor’s of Science and got a second Bachelor’s degree just because I wasn’t ready to part ways just yet.

But I eventually outgrew Evergreen and moved all the way across the country to Duke and its Ph.D. program. The longest and most serious relationship in my academic life. I mean, I was invested and completely absorbed into Duke and what it had to offer. In some ways my time at Duke has completely defined me. Exactly like how some girls are defined by the guy that they are with. And now that I am no longer with Duke, I’ve been trying to parse out my own feelings from the feelings at Duke about what it means to be in science and have a life in academics (and possibly a life outside of academics).

Now I am at the University of Minnesota. I don’t have that much to say about it. By the very nature of a post-doc, it’s not going to be a long-term relationship. I am kind of biding my time until something better comes along. Heaven forbid that I not be at some sort of academic institution. I am that girl who constantly has had a “boyfriend” (and by boyfriend, I mean school). It is what it is. But it is not going to last long, especially when I have an actual significant other at the University of Florida.

Will I find my life-long companion in an academic institution (a tenure-track position)? Or will I continue to flit through universities in a non-committal sort of way? Possibly this story will end in divorce and I’ll leave academics. At this point, it could go either way.

It’s been a long time since I was that lonely freshman at WSU, hating my life. But I was brave enough then to change my course and make my life what I wanted. There was however, one other bright, shiny light during my time at WSU – grabbers. Grabbers are ice cream sandwiches with oatmeal cookies, loaded with homemade ice cream and are sold at Ferdinand’s, the school creamery. Strawberry ice cream with oatmeal cookies? Talk about a fantastic combination.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grabbers and feeling like a freshman again as I try to decide what to do with my life. I’ve recently acquired an ice cream maker and for my maiden voyage I whipped up a batch of rhubarb ice cream (because that infatuation is going strong). Then I sandwiched it between two oatmeal cookies.

Dare I say it’s even better than Ferdinand’s?

I think I do.

Rhubarb Ice Cream Oatmeal Cookie Grabbers

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Oatmeal Cookies
adapted from The Essential New York Times cookbook
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups oats (not quick cooking)
 
Rhubarb Ice Cream
4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar, divided
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
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For the cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking soda cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

Beat the shortening and sugars in a large bowl just enough to blend well. Add the egg and vanilla. Continue to beat until thoroughly mixed.

Add the oats and mix again. Drop the dough by tablespoon fulls onto the cookie sheets, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until golden brown, 12 – 15 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool.

For the rhubarb ice cream:

Cook chopped rhubarb with 2/3 cup sugar over medium heat, until soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to blender and puree until smooth.

Heat milk and cream in small saucepan over low heat, until steam starts to rise off the liquid. Take off heat.

Meanwhile, beat egg yolks and remaining 1/3 cup sugar together until light yellow.

Take a little bit (~1/2 cup) of the hot cream and whisk into the eggs. Whisk in the remaining cream. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and cook the custard until thick, about 5 minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon. Mix in the rhubarb puree and transfer to a spouted batter bowl. Chill completely.


Set up and turn on the ice cream maker. Slowly pour chilled custard into ice cream maker and churn for about 25 minutes.

Take about 1/3 cup of the soft-serve ice cream and scoop it onto an oatmeal cookie. Top with a second oatmeal cookie. Wrap well in plastic wrap and freeze for a couple of hours to let the ice cream ripen.

Honey Muffins with Minted Berries

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

I love weekend mornings and the foods that accompany them.

There’s really nothing like sitting down with your steaming cup of coffee with the morning light streaming in. And if you have a honey muffin with some minted berries, well, that’s even better.

It’s a small batch, as always, I am trying to adapt to cooking for one (and sometimes two), but this can easily be doubled or tripled.

Honey Muffins with Minted Berries

makes 4
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Honey Muffins

3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey, plus more for glaze
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 egg, beaten
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon orange extract

Minted berries
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup raspberries
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon mint, cut into thin strips
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Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter muffin tin and set aside.

Sift together the flour and baking soda.

Add sugar, honey, butter, egg, sour cream and orange extract. Stir until just combined.

Spoon into muffin tin. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from tin and glaze with honey.

Combine strawberries, blueberries, raspberries with the honey and mint.


Serve warm.