Macaroni and raisin salad

•May 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This pasta salad is weird, but it’s very useful on those days when you just can’t decide between a salad, raisins, and elbow macaroni (because you know that happens twice a week). It also has lots of flavor—maybe a little too much flavor—so it’s very filling.

Macaroni and pasta salad!

Caution:
Stoves, knives, and elbow macaroni are fun but dangerous; don’t hurt yourself.

Materials:

  • 4 ounces (1/4 box (unless your boxes are weird)) elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup seedless dark raisins
  • 2/3 cup yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1/3 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 large or 1 small bell pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons (if you chop it into tiny pieces) basil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons (if you chop it into tiny pieces) onion

Additional materials:

  • 1 mini food processor (or, you know, a boring normal-sized one)
  • 1 mesh sieve
  • 1 medium-sized bowl
  • 2 small bowls
  • 1 cup
  • 1 water filter
  • Lots of water
  • Implements and salt for cooking pasta

Procedure:

  1. Set the mesh sieve over a small bowl, and put the yogurt in the mesh sieve. Leave it there.
  2. Cook the macaroni.
  3. Rinse all your vegetables with cold water from the filter.
  4. Put the garlic clove through the food processor until it’s in tiny pieces. Move the garlic to the medium-sized bowl. Add the vinegar and the sugar.
  5. Put the onion through the food processor until it, too, is in tiny pieces. Without removing the onion, put the basil through the food processor until it is chopped up. Move the onion and basil to the second small bowl.
  6. Put the bell pepper through the food processor until it is chopped into small (but not tiny) pieces. Add this to the second small bowl, too.
  7. Put the cup of raisins in the cup. Boil a cup of water and add it to the raisins. Let it sit for a minute or so, until the raisins are plump and juicy. Then drain the raisins and rinse them in cold water from the filter until they are no longer hot. Drain one final time.
  8. When the pasta is cooked but still firm, rinse it with cold water from the filter.
  9. Transfer the yogurt from the sieve to the medium-size bowl (the garlic, vinegar, and sugar mixture) and mix. Add the macaroni and stir until it is coated in yogurt. Add the contents of the second small bowl and finally the raisins. Stir until mixed.
  10. Chill.
  11. Eat.
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American pancakes

•April 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Pancakes!

Caution:
I tend to “ruin” American food by not adding as much sugar or spice to it as I “should.” Don’t be surprised if this is bland. Also, stoves are fun but dangerous; don’t burn yourself.

Materials:

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, or 1 1/2 cups skim milk and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (That is, (1.5 cups whole milk) || (1.5 cups skim milk + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil))
  • 1/4 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 to 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Additional materials:

  • 1 large bowl
  • 1 mixer
  • 1 pan/girdle
  • 1 spatula
  • 1 big spoon/small ladle
  • 1 stove

Procedure:

  1. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl.
  2. Add the milk and eggs to the mixture.
  3. Mix the product (with the mixer) until it is smooth and bubbly.
  4. Put the pan on the stove and turn the stove on, to medium heat. Pour the vegetable oil onto the pan.
  5. Make pancakes! Pour the mixture onto the pan, one big spoonful (about 1/4 cup) per pancake per time. Cook until the top of the pancake is covered in bubbles and the bottom is lightly browned. Flip and cook until the bottom is again lightly browned.
  6. Eat.

Sweet potatoes

•April 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Sweet potatoes!

Caution:
I feel like I should say something about microwaves, but I can’t think of anything.

Materials:

  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1/2 to 1 can sweet peas
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Additional materials:

  • 1 microwave
  • 1 microwave safe bowl with a lid
  • 1 potato masher
  • 1 potato peeler
  • 1 knife

Procedure:

  1. Peel the sweet potato and chop it into small pieces. Put the pieces in the bowl, add the salt, close the lid, and put it in the microwave for 5 minutes.
  2. Mash the sweet potato.
  3. Add the sweet peas.
  4. Eat.

Excuses and banana bread

•March 30, 2010 • 2 Comments

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It's certainly been a while. My only viable explanation is that I've been too busy living to write about it, but I know that's a pathetic excuse. The truth is it's been a big three and a half months: things have changed, I have changed, and while I'm hyped to tell you (almost (Unless you're me, you only get the abstract of the research that is my life.)) all about it I'll leave you with a recipe for banana bread (Since my independent, legal adult self is moving away next semester (that being one of the changes), I should probably (try to) learn how to cook (Cook in this case means burn things.).):

Banana bread!

Caution:
I tend to “ruin” American food by not adding as much sugar or spice to it as I “should.” Don’t be surprised if this is bland. Also, ovens are fun but dangerous; don’t burn yourself.

Materials:

  • 3 bananas you would no longer consider eating raw (I like my raw bananas greenish.)–just ripe enough to have brown spots
  • 2/3 cup chopped walnuts (or however much you have handy/can afford)
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs

Additional materials:

  • 1 oven
  • 1 8.5 by 4.5 loaf pan and aluminum foil OR glass oven-proof pan of the same size (preferred)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 napkin
  • 1/2 fistfull of манка (манная крупа, semolina in English)
  • 1 spatula
  • 1 plate

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
  2. Mix the sugar and the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large bowl.
  3. Add the eggs (sans shells) to the mixture.
  4. Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda in a separate bowl.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the sugar-vegetable oil-eggs mixture.
  6. Mash the bananas.
  7. Add the chopped walnuts and the mashed bananas to the mixture. Mix thoroughly until it is of a generally consistent texture.
  8. Spread the aluminum foil over the loaf pan if you’re not using the glass one. Cover the inside of the pan with the remaining 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil using the napkin. Sprinkle the манка over the inside of the pan, covering the surface the bread will be touching. (The vegetable oil will help it stick.)
  9. Pour the mixture into the pan. Place the pan in the oven.
  10. Remove the pan from the oven when a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean, after about 55 minutes. Turn off the oven.
  11. After ten minutes, scrape the bread from the pan (using the spatula) and put the bread on the plate.
  12. Eat.

Edisto Ethics

•December 14, 2009 • 10 Comments

“See this?” Our tour guide swept his arm toward the salty marshes around us.

“See this land?” he continued, gesturing again to the marshes as a pelican climbed into the thickening clouds. It would rain soon, and hard, but several miles separated us from the dock. There were no houses along the banks—just salt water, grass, and the dolphins that had followed us for the past hour.

“See this land? This land been here thirty years ago, and thirty years from now—I guarantee you, if you come back in thirty years—I bet you this boat—” Here he rapped the bow of his kayak with his fist. “I bet you this boat that in thirty years it will still look the same.”

Laws had been passed in that area of Edisto Island, he said as we paddled back to the dock, to stifle development. The lonely cabins a few miles along the bank—those would stay. The docks and the restaurants a few miles away—those would stay. Even the giant blue houses with their yachts would stay. But if you wanted “y’all’s supermarkets and movie houses” you’d have to drive into town. There would be no expansion into the sandy forests or the marshes. This was dolphin land:

Sunrise at Edisto Island in South Carolina.

So what about the rest of the world? David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club Foundation and star of McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, suggests, like many other preservationists, that we leave nature alone. Initially I thought this was too radical—we’re a part of nature; animals use it, so why shouldn’t we?

The problem is that we don’t know how to use it. Even Henry Beston, one of my favorite nature writers, admits that nature does not play by our rules. Brower emphasizes that we don’t know her rules (If we did, we wouldn’t need science.): “There isn’t enough capability in ordinary people to tinker with such a complicated piece of machinery.”

I have an odd hobby of collecting mud. I like to store seaweed and water in Tupperware containers and watch critters hatch out and interact. Every mini-ecosystem that’s lived in my room so far has gone through stages: some animal thrives, devastating everything else; then, suddenly, the water murks up and the flourishing species disappears. After a few bleak days the water clears again, another species dominates, and the process repeats.

Right now, we are that seemingly successful creature. We have already killed countless other species, and we’re on the verge of overwhelming our environment. But unlike the animals in my ecosystems, we know what’s coming, and we know how to stop it. We can be satisfied with the land we’ve already taken and we can leave the rest to the wilderness. We can control ourselves.

So far, at Edisto Island, it’s worked. There’s one small supermarket down the road. It doesn’t sell much, but it’s enough to live on. Movie theaters are an hour’s drive away, but most people would rather watch the sunset anyway. There aren’t any new houses, but there are plenty of old ones to move into. Edisto Island has been keeping things the same, and the dolphins—and people—are still here.

Dangerous Darwin

•December 14, 2009 • 2 Comments

On November 24th, 1859, Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species (originally (as in, pre-editors and publishers) titled An Abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties Through Natural Selection). In “On and On… the Origin of Species: 150 Years Old and Still Dangerous, Still Great,” David Quammen and a packed lecture hall celebrated a man and an idea that, a century and a half later, are still hot—both within and beyond the scientific community.

As bold as his idea became, Darwin was a shy man, a “reclusive gentleman who wrote books.” The celebrated diligence and logic in Darwin’s research infused his life; I like to think he found refuge in them. He even worked through marriage logically, comparing its pros and cons in his journal and deciding, finally, that a wife would be a “companion in old age who would be better than a dog anyhow”—not that he didn’t love his wife very, very much. Darwin was a “sweet-spirited nerd.” Please tell me you find this as cute as I do.

The Origin cultivated for decades, hidden from Darwin’s comfortable world in his “transmutation notebooks.” Starting in 1836 Darwin scribbled observations and thought experiments: “If species evolved, how?”; if you isolate a pair of cats on an island, how would its offspring compare to that of mainland cats?; and, ten pages later, “Each species changes; does it progress?” He experimented with the tree of life and pondered why men have nipples. More notably, he struggled with the traditional and then-accepted idea that man was “Godlike,” finally deciding that “humans are no more Godlike than other species.”

This was shocking. It, along with his daughter’s death, shook Darwin’s religion. It created a “painful void” between him and his pious wife. It jeopardized the Christian creation myths and with them the world Darwin grew up in. It was dangerous.

Darwin did not jump to publish his theory. First he probably wasn’t open to the consequences of a godless theory of creation; second he knew that evolution by natural selection would not be happily accepted by a deeply religious society—especially after the “flaky” 1844 Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation made evolution famous to the public but hated by the scientific community. He wrote for years, filling page after page with heavy data. 250,000 words later he was only a third done.

It was a young scientist and his letter from Indonesia that triggered The Origin as we know it today. Independently of Darwin, Alfred Wallace had also unearthed evolution by natural selection, though not nearly as meticulously. Darwin responded by presenting Wallace’s manuscript along with a sample of his own research at a 30-person conference on July 1st, 1858. It’s (almost) funny that afterward, the leader of the conference reported that nothing important had been discovered.

Recognizing the threat to his research, Darwin started over. He set aside “the big book” and began an abstract that grew into The Origin. He “wrote with passion, with nervousness, with excitement.” By summer it was written, by fall it was revised, and by October it was finished. Just weeks later it was published.

Darwin’s story reminds me of Bilbo’s in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Both Bilbo and Darwin seemed like individuals made for quiet lives of quiet speculation, not adventure. Like Bilbo, Darwin was forced out of his comfort zone, seemingly by fate, and, like Bilbo, Darwin returned to it, turning to the “less controversial” topic of the “movement and habits of plants” ten years after he published The Origin.

Darwin’s story is a real-life example of what can happen when you abandon comfort and dive into the most terrifying risks. Though the mechanism of natural selection was not accepted, the idea that “evolution had occurred” was. Today, Darwin’s theory of evolution has grown into something truly remarkable, extending into biochemistry, molecular biology, population genetics, and (my favorite) what Quammen calls “the whiz-bang field of machine-driven genetic sequencing known as genomics.” The theory of evolution pervades literature, politics, and religion—areas that too often steer clear of science. Better yet, every day “further pieces [are] added to the puzzle” as we learn more and more about ourselves and the world around us.

(David Quammen is a science and nature writer, author of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin and a dozen other books in both non-fiction and fiction (though he hasn’t published fiction since 1988), as well as articles in some of my favorite magazines (such as National Geographic and Harper’s).

His greatest strength lies in bridging the gap between the pure sciences and the humanities. I’ve never before had an event flyer forwarded to me by both my English teacher and my research mentor, and while of course everyone from the lab I work at was at the lecture, so were humanities majors from my English class. Darwin was “a science writer that is getting science to the general public”; Quammen is a nature writer that is getting Darwin to the general public.

If you couldn’t make it to Quammen’s lecture, his article in the November 2004 issue of National Geographic traverses much of Darwin’s theory and its importance today, sans the lecture’s focus on Darwin’s personal life. If you’d like to learn about Darwin’s life, Creation is finally hitting US theaters this January. (I’ll be at the midnight showing.))

Twilight (and New Moon)

•November 28, 2009 • 8 Comments

It was there, sitting on a sailboat in the middle of Lake Perez, that I first saw it.

It was resting in my boat mate Vasilisa’s lap, its pages flapping in a fresh gust of wind—wind that should have been sweeping our boat across the lake. Vasya’s eyes were cemented to the page, her usually effusive lips pressed together and her brow wrinkled into a frown. There would be no excited chatter today, I sensed, no pretending to be pirates, no jumping from the bow for a swim. Though she leaned against the mast in front of me, Vasya was with Edward in Forks, Washington—far, far away from the water lapping at her feet, the muffled laughs of our friends, the lake and the sun and the cool breeze we’d been waiting for.

“Watcha reading?” I asked.

Vasya sighed, tearing her eyes from the page for a split second to glare at me. She propped the book up on her knee so I could see the cover. Twilight.

Now, three and a half years later, everyone’s read it, or at least heard of it: shy girls and confident girls and nerdy girls and girls who don’t even read for English class all sit quietly at their desks before class, eyes boring into page after vampire-filled page. But when I bought Twilight three days ago, I wasn’t succumbing to fads. I was trying it out, like each of my friends before me, to “see the other side.” Twilight was successful and, as an aspiring writer, I wanted to know why.

That’s also why I couldn’t tear myself away until I finished reading, and why I rushed to get New Moon the next day.

I like it. I like it a lot. I might be addicted.

It’s not Stephenie Meyer’s faith in one-word sentences that I like, her fondness of the Caps lock key, or even the use of “…” that would make my AP English teacher cringe. Twilight appeals to me because it’s perfect for me, just like it’s perfect for almost any other female teenager.

Twilight and New Moon (I’m saving Eclipse and Breaking Dawn for after college applications.) are both written in first person, narrated by protagonist Isabella Swan. Bella is almost nondescript: all we’re told is that she’s pale and clumsy and has waist-length brown hair. We don’t know her weight or height, her economic status, what historical events she wishes she could visit, what she’d like to tell the President (Those are last year’s college application essay prompts.), or any other detail that might make her a unique individual. Bella is a shell, a one-size-fits-all baseball cap that almost any girl can wear.

Though some of my friends don’t like Bella’s lack of characteristics, I think it’s pivotal. Because Bella is such an easy spot to claim, the reader obediently puts herself in the story. Bella lives our dreams—a good relationship with both parents despite divorce, four boys wanting to take her to prom, and, of course, Edward—and when we put ourselves in her shoes we live them, too.

And, of course, Edward. Edward is hot: tall, lean, slightly muscular, tousled dark hair. He’s cold (literally and figuratively), unattainable for any of Bella’s friends or even the prettiest vampire chick. He’s smart, funny, emotional (but not in a bad way), and a vampire. The best part? He’s madly, undeniably in love with Bella—rather, with the reader. And what teenage girl doesn’t want a hot vampire boy?