Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Things that distract me…

I have a few things I’ve been saving up to blog about, but none of them are very long, so it made the most sense to combine them into one larger post. When I sat down to consider how to unite them, it was almost too obvious: things that distract me. There’s even an additional meta element here, because writing the blog also distracts me…

1. Walter: This should be obvious to anyone who has spent more than 15 seconds looking at the blog. I got a new tiny, tiny video camera from the Point Foundation and, of course, tested it out with Waltini.

2. Crafting: Though last week wasn’t exactly the Valentine’s Day I’d always dreamed of, I had a really good time crafting cards for friends. Design*Sponge (also high on the list of distracting things – this one is thus a two-for-one) had previously posted some really, really cute fruit sticker templates (stay with me here folks), and so I dutifully printed them out, obtained a punch, and stuck them to some delicious-looking oranges to share around. I gave all of the oranges away (they said “Orange You Glad You’re My Valentine”), but here is a shot of the apple sticker:

I would encourage you to print some of these yourselves and put them on fruit in your own lunches, or those of people you care about, because they are funny and cute, and only the orange one is really specific to Valentine’s Day.

3. Reading: Motivated not only by the large number of good book available, but also by the calming effects of reading something unrelated to my dissertation before I go to bed, I’ve been slowly working my way through a variety of fiction and non-fiction books this past year. The most recent was Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, which Ruti recommended after Alicia and I decided to go to Colombia for a vacation after I defend. It was quite a disturbing read, both in terms of the drug violence and the shady US involvement in Latin American politics, but gave me a much better sense of the history of the drug trade in Colombia.

4. Random stuff: These kinds of distractions are impossible to avoid, and occur all to frequently in the world. The latest:

That’s right, the translation of “Peppermint to the max” is transliterated back into English as “An explosion of peppermint”! This seems less funny now that I’m actually writing it down, but I’ll leave it here as an indicator of how punchy things are getting at my place as the dissertation defense draws near.

Oh distraction...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Twilight Woods

A few weeks ago, Alicia called in sick and came over to spend some quality time with Nurse Walter. She snuggled under the blanket with him on the couch for a little rest and relaxation, and in doing so, she unwittingly created a new nickname for the dog. When I came home, I thought the dog was wearing cologne, or more specifically, some vaguely doggy version of Twilight Woods, a Bath and Bodyworks fragrance that Alicia likes. Since that time, I’ve been calling him variations on Twilight Woods, including, but not limited to, Wimptini Woods and Twilight Walt.

I now present you with the most recent of the gratuitous dog photos:

Nurse Wimptini Woods relaxes in his lotion scented blanket after his sick charge heads home.

Dante is our upstairs neighbor, and he and Walt have discovered tug of war. Dante does not know of Walt's most embarrassing series of nicknames yet.

As much as Walt enjoys tug of war, his favorite part is winning.

Walt attacks from below.

This is what I saw when I searched for the source of some quiet wimpering this evening. I think he vaguely needed to go out but couldn't quite bring himself to get out of the bed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More (and better) bread

I posted a week or so ago about giving bread baking a try, and being quite happy with the results. More recently, however, I tried the original No-Knead Bread recipe adapted by Mark Bittman from the recipe Jim Lahey uses at the Sullivan Street Bakery. It is better. I would also note that if the bread is going to rise for 4 hours it might as well rise for 12-14 hours. I made the dough the night before and baked it last Friday morning.

I did not have a ceramic pot like the one called for in the recipe, and so created a bread terrarium out of Pyrex bowls. It worked!

The only issue seemed to be the apparent stickiness of the bowls, so next time I'll use a little oil to prevent the sticking.

I’ve been eating it all week, and it is amazing. The crust is crunchy and delicious, while the inside is spongy and nice. The only modification I made was to substitute 1 cup of multigrain flour with 2 cups of all purpose flour for the 3 cups of all purpose flour the recipe calls for.

As I type this I’m letting two more loaves rise in the kitchen, slightly upping the proportion of whole wheat or multigrain flour (one loaf of each) to 1.5 cups. Yum!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A rose by any other name

Shortly after I hit submit on the post yesterday, I was made aware of a new study suggesting that choices, not discrimination, were currently causing the sex differential in the life sciences. The study is quite good, reanalyzing and summarizing much of the data on sex discrimination in manuscript review, interviewing processes, and hiring in the life sciences. It is heartening to see that many recent interventions in blinding reviews and mentoring female candidates, along with societal progress among other things, have reduced the discrimination that women have historically faced. What I take issue with, however, is the distinction the authors make between “discrimination,” which they seem to define as bias in some aspect of the peer review or hiring process, and “choices,” which encompasses every other element of a career trajectory, including decisions made in elementary and high school about the acceptableness of a career in math or science. While the authors acknowledge that many of the “choices” they identify are constrained by biology and society, I think that if they looked more closely this would more accurately be described as structural discrimination or bias. Although individuals may not be consciously holding women to a higher standard than men, or discounting female accomplishments, the fact that women cannot have children and meet tenure requirements, while men are able to do this because of the different societal expectations around child-rearing, to me represents an institutionalized level of discrimination that goes far beyond the personal biases that the authors of this study dismiss as noncontributory. The decision to leave, or not to seek out, a tenure-track position because it “demands that women having children make their greatest intellectual contributions contemporaneously with their greatest physical and emotional achievements, a feat not expected of men,” is in fact a choice, but the discrimination lies in the fact that it is a choice “that men are not required to make.”

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Awesome news…

From Dose of Reality:

The New York Times reported this morning on a new study of physician pay. The conclusion was that the pay gap between new (just finishing residency or fellowship) male physicians and new female physicians is actually larger now (adjusted for inflation) than it was in 1999. This is not good. It is also not explained in their analyses by differences in hours worked, specialty choice, practice setting, or other observed characteristics. The authors suggest that this widening gap may be explained in part by a disproportionate number of female physicians taking jobs with practices that offer “greater flexibility and family-friendly attributes…that come at the price of commensurately lower pay.”

I can’t decide how to react. On the one hand, I appreciate the increasing flexibility I’ve observed in medical practice, and understand that these benefits are likely to come with trade-offs. On the other hand, I’m frustrated at the idea that only women are interested in these benefits, or even that disproportionate numbers of women are interested in these benefits, and maybe even a little angry that it’s still okay to expect that a physician forgo all aspects of non-work life in order to be at the top of the profession. While I know it’s unreasonable, there’s a part of me that wants everyone to HAVE to have a life, so that I don’t feel behind if I choose to have one. What’s a girl to do?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Happy Birthday to me…

I haven’t thrown myself a birthday party in a while, but thought it would be a good way to see some friends. I also thought it would be a good way to enjoy some desserts. Once things got going I was having fun and forgot to document the vast array of sweets that filled my table, but you’ll have to trust me that they were awesome, and included oreo cheesecake, coconut cream pie, peanut butter cups, chocolate chip cookies, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, dark chocolate cupcakes, salt caramels, and marshmallows. I confess, however, that I was most excited by the marshmallows I made earlier in the day. This was not because they were the most delicious offering (by a long shot!), but because they were the most novel to me. I exhorted people to eat them all night, but am not-so-secretly pleased that there are leftovers today!

I was inspired to make the marshmallows by a post I read on Design*Sponge, and while I didn’t manage to put together the beautiful table arrangements that were the feature of the article, I immediately bookmarked the homemade marshmallow recipe. I followed it pretty exactly, stirring in a few spoonfuls of hot cocoa mix at the end, so I won’t duplicate it here, but I encourage you to give it a try.

In addition to the marshmallows, I made salt caramels (delicious!) and dark chocolate cupcakes, so I had a lot of materials (aka, butter) at the ready in the kitchen...

It turns out that marshmallows are really just hot (240F) sugar whisked with cool moist gelatin for a while.

Once they'd cooled completely, I started cutting them into little hearts because that was the only cookie cutter I had (and covered them with powdered sugar). I think I got rid of some Easter themed cutters a few years ago, and in retrospect should have kept them: the possibility of actually good-tasting peeps might motivate me to make this recipe again in the spring and cover them with colored sugar.

When I got tired of that, I cut up the rest into squares.

Finally, here are the cupcakes, the last photo taken before the fun began. (Actually, I'm pretty sure that between the taking of that photograph and the actual start of the party, I cleaned my entire apartment, made chocolate buttercream frosting, and frosted them, but who's counting...)

Friday, February 04, 2011


I think it was my wild success with the muffins that prompted me to consider baking bread. I’ve happily made biscuits and sweet breads before, but since a rather unfortunate doorstop of a loaf of something or other, I haven’t baked regular bread for sandwiches or toast, or any of the other usual things I use bread for. The other part of the motivation was this: I use bread for a lot of things. For example, I believe my toast consumption is higher than your average person, and I include it in my arsenal of not only delicious breakfast foods, but also snack, lunch, and dinner foods, with the right toppings.

Enter the vague recollection of a simplified bread recipe Mark Bittman posted a few years ago (and updated a few years later to include not only a faster recipe, but a whole wheat version). With my self-imposed snow day on Wednesday (because really, we only got a total of about 6 inches of snow all told), I realized that I could be home to monitor the progress of the bread. Now, the beauty of the originally posted recipe is that you let it sit for a long time by itself. I wanted to try to gain the supposed benefits of long rising times with only a slight increase in the amount of yeast so that I could cut the time from 14-20 hours to about 8, rather than to the 4 that Bittman adjusted to.

The result:

A smaller loaf than I had expected, but one that is still delicious. It’s not particularly dense (a concern I had considering the mix of whole wheat and multigrain flour I used), though it does not resemble the non-whole wheat photos at all, and it’s tasty. It is a little saltier than I would like, and I’ll cut the salt in the whole wheat recipe next time. The only adjustment I made was to use 1/2 tsp yeast, half the amount called for in the fast recipe (1 tsp), which worked out to twice the amount called for in the slow one (1/4 tsp), a symmetry I considered to be fate. I will be experimenting with rising times and flour mixes in the future to identify an ideal, but even at it’s unrefined starting point, it’s pretty delicious!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Have passport, will travel

My new passport arrived in the mail yesterday, and I’m pretty excited. Not only does it mean that my documents are all ready for an upcoming trip to Colombia, but it also means this:

What?!? Clearly passport technology has come a long way in the past 10 years. I am hopeful that this sensitive electronic technology will function like Jedi mind control and I will be allowed to board the plane last (and thus spend the least amount of time seated) but still find a space in the overhead bin for my bag…