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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Friday, January 13, 2017

Cook's Illustrated Boston Baked Beans (and Old Biddy's Maple Syrup Beans)

I was very excited when Cook's Illustrated, the Boston based purveyors of cooking geekery, published a recipe for a faster cooking version of the beans with no hipster ingredients, as well as a recipe for brown bread.  I'm gluten free again since my knee has been bothering me, so I did not make the bread.
As with most Cook's Illustrated recipes, there are a few tricks and secret ingredients.  The trick here is to soak the beans in salt water for at least 8 hrs, and then do a combination of cooking it in the oven and on the stove.  This reduces the cooking time to appx. 3.5 hours instead of all day.  You're still fighting with acidic ingredients (brown sugar and molasses) but the salted soak brings a lot of bean softening firepower.  The secret ingredient is a little bit of soy sauce for umani notes and depth.  Other than that, there are no hard to find ingredients, no wasted beer, minimal active time and no time consuming hacks.  There is even a discussion of bean blowout, which isn't nearly as funny as it should be. When I take over Cook's Illustrated I will be sure to include a lot more fart jokes.

Cook's Illustrated Boston Baked Beans, now with more fart jokes

1 lb navy beans, picked over and rinsed
1 1/2 tbsp salt

6 oz salt pork, sliced into 3 pieces
1 onion, halved
1/2 cup molasses*
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp pepper
1 bay leaf

*use maple syrup instead of molasses for a different flavor

Combined dried beans with 2 qt water and 1.5 tbsp salt.  Let it sit at least 8 hours or overnight

Preheat oven to 300F.  Rinse and drain beans and transfer to large dutch oven (because of course you need a dutch oven for this...).  Add salt pork, molasses, brown sugar, soy sauce, dried mustard, pepper, and bay leaf.  Add 1 quart water.  It should cover the beans by appx 1/2 inch.  Add more if needed.  Bring mix to a boil.  Cover and put it in the oven for 2 hours.  After 1 hour, stir it around and add enough water to cover beans, if necessary.  After 2 hours, remove cover and cook for another hour.  Scrape down sides and remove onion, bay leaf, and salt pork.  Give them to the person in your household who wants to eat them.

The beans came out pretty well, and I really liked how hands off the recipe is. They reminded me of the baked beans they served at brunch at an Irish pub in Boston, so I even ate some for breakfast. They were sweet and had good flavor.  They retained their shape almost too well - no bean blowout. Due to the lack of bean blowout, the Dutch oven was easy to clean.... All fart jokes aside, I miss the slight thickening effect from some blowout. 

We really liked them, so in the interest of science I made another batch two days later.  This time I substituted dark maple syrup for the molassses.  They were much mellower and less Beano was needed.  I will probably use bacon for the maple syrup ones next time.

Dutch Oven Bean Blowout Report: low in the recipe, high in the Old Biddy household. Get your Beano for these bad boys!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Easy Quinoa Salad

I haven't stopped cooking, but I have been slacking on my blogging for the last couple of years.  Anyway, during that time I've discovered a lot of recipes that have become standbys. Here is one

Quinoa Salad with Feta, Cucumbers and Tomatoes

1 1/2 cups quinoa, washed well
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

1 cucumber, chopped
8 oz cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 cup vinaigrette (make you own or use store-bought)*

6-8 oz feta cheese, cubed or crumbled

Combine vegetables, garlic, and vinaigrette.  Allow mix to sit in fridge overnight.  (If you're pressed for time you can skip this step) 

Cook quinoa until all liquid has been absorbed.  It will be soft but not mushy.  Transfer to large bowl and let it cool to lukewarm.  Add vegetable/vinaigrette mixture and stir gently to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Chill in fridge.  Before serving,  add feta cheese.  It tastes better if you let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

* When I make my own vinaigrette I use a combination of lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and sometimes green onions or chives.  It's a forgiving recipe so it is fine with store bought Italian dressing too.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Adulting and Emotional Labor

This is an old post which sat in my 'drafts' box for a long time, but I'm killing time and blogging now that my writer's block has been beaten in to submission.

If you haven't done so already I highly recommend checking out the Metafilter megadocument on emotional labor.  Once you're done reading it, let me know, and we can start making plans to go live on Crone Island.  Well, not really, but it got me thinking a lot about it, because up until fairly recently I did not know what emotional labor was, and it's actually a huge portion of how I spend my day, if you include what I do at work.

For the TL:DR version of things, emotional labor, as colloquially defined by feminists in terms of people's daily lives, covers a lot of ground but gets lumped into the "second shift" of stuff people do.  The "I want a wife" post summarizes it in a nutshell.  Some examples include buying groceries, cleaning, cooking dinner, making doctor appointments, sending birthday cards to grandma, going to parent teacher conferences, helping the kids with homework, etc, etc.  I'm going to lump all of this boring stuff into what I call "adulting."  The rest is more subjective, but includes offering emotional support for spouses/lovers/friends, subjecting one's own needs for others, remembering everyone else's preferences and schedules, etc.    I'll call this emotional labor.

So the core discussion is that adulting and emotional labor are work, take time, use up mental bandwidth and are tiring.  On average, women have been socialized from birth to do these things more than men have.  This often leads to situations where the person doing more of the adulting and emotional labor is frazzled, stressed, etc, and the person who's not doing it has more free time and doesn't get what all the fuss is about.

I'm really good at adulting.  That doesn't mean I always like it, even though the perks are good.  I was really happy in grad school when I could just work in the lab and hang out with my friends.  I lived in a dorm and never cooked.  I did not have a car.  I did not own any furniture and packed all my stuff into a friend's truck when I moved to NC.  I called myself a minimalist, but in reality I just didn't have to do a lot of adulting.  As I've gotten older, I've spent an increasing amount of time adulting.  Gotta go refinance that mortgage.  Gotta talk to my financial advisor.  Gotta go to the dentist twice a year and the doctor once a year for a checkup.  Gotta clean the house, gotta take my car in for an oil change, gotta take the cat to the vet, gotta send that form in to HR, etc etc.  One of my students graduated and then stayed in town for a few weeks before starting her real job.  During this time, she got her driver's license, dealt with the movers, set up a new bank account, located and rented an apartment from 750 miles away, etc.  She came in and told my boss and I that she didn't know how we dealt with that stuff - it was exhausting!  We laughed and told her it only got worse, but there were some advantages too.  In my current job, I do a lot of what I will call research adulting.  I like fixing instruments and making sure the big fancy robot works well, but hate ordering stuff, so I outsource as much as possible to the senior students and departmental folks, but nonetheless the buck stops here.  This is different from my previous job, where we had lots of technicians/facilities people/IT support and they kept things humming really smoothly.  I'm not going to lie - I really miss that aspect of my old job.

I'm ok at emotional labor.  I consciously try to be a good friend, but know that I have my faults.  I'm introverted and although I love to talk to y'all on the phone, I have this weird introvert phobia of picking up the phone and making a call, and I rely too heavily on text/email/Facebook.  Joe is an extrovert and is much better at emotional labor than I am, although I am better at adulting. 

In my mid-forties, I suddenly was doing a lot more adulting and emotional labor than I'd ever done before, due to the combination of job stuff and Joe 'guesting' at my house 95% of the time but not officially living there.  I was surprised by how scatterbrained it made me feel.  Things got better once I started delegating more at work and Joe officially moved in so I got out of host mode and he got out of guest mode.   We're continuing to get better at playing to our strengths and dividing up the adulting.  He reminds me to call my mother.  I remind him to get his oil changed.  Anyway,  I'm over the hump now, but for about a year it was challenging.  When I discovered the metafilter document it was my own 'Eureka' moment. I realized that it wasn't just my imagination or a failure on my part - this stuff is draining and bandwidth consuming for everyone. 

I had a very busy month at work. I had a student visiting to run experiments on the robot, and we had a jam-packed schedule.  Soon after that ended, it was research proposal time with a big dose of election distraction mixed in.  At the outset, I decided I was going to minimize the amount of adulting I did.  Joe helped a lot with household stuff, and for the rest of it I just gave myself permission to put it on hold unless I wanted to procrastinate.  I'm still fried from the proposal, but it was a huge help to put most of the adulting on hold.

Election 2016: I Can't Even...

My family is like a microcosm of what went wrong in this election.
My mother raised me to be like Hillary Clinton, but she voted for Donald Trump.  Words cannot fully describe how pissed off I am about this. She has voted Democrat since the 80's.  She waited for several hours to see Bill Clinton's motorcade when he came to town for something back in the 90's.
My dad, who also raised me to be like Hillary, voted for Gary Johnson, but this was somewhat less surprising since he's usually just to the right of my mom politically and mostly votes Republican. They're live in CA so it really didn't make a difference, but it doesn't make it any better.
My brother didn't vote.  He never does.  He lives in Arizona.  It's not a swing state now but probably will be soon.
I voted for Hillary, of course.  It would be easy to say that the results are not my fault, that it's random uneducated white people in towns in middle of the country, but my own family, particularly my mother, suggests otherwise. Collectively, the four of us are part of the problem.
I didn't ask my mom who she was going to vote for, since I assumed it would be Hillary and it's usually kind of hard to get a word in edgewise, anyway.  Normally I call her out on some of the more sexist things she says (which seem to be increasing lately).  My dad told me, after the election, that my mom "just doesn't like Hillary." I am kicking myself for not discussing the election with her.  She's a smart woman, and went to college at a time when that was still sort of uncommon for women to do so.  But she also has a lifelong fondness for talk radio (which mostly veers right these days), and a new-found fondness for clickbait and its young cousin fake news.  I also know she has absorbed a lot of internalized misogyny, and it's rearing its ugly head now, perhaps due to all the talk radio.
I can't even...

Friday, April 29, 2016

I can't even...:my take on the Caltech astrophysics sexual harrassment case

As promised, here's my take on the Caltech astrophysics sexual harassment case, aka textgate.  In the months that this post has sat in my to-be-edited box, more has happened.
Read the Buzzfeed article for background.  For the TL:DR version, a Caltech astrophysics professor, Christian Ott, texted/IM'ed one of his first year grad students ("A") a lot, mostly about random things or trying to guilt-trip her into working more, then fired her without giving a reason.  He also wrote a whole bunch of bad poetry about her on his Tumblr page, which has since been removed from the web.  He then started texting/IM'ing another one of his students ("B"), partly about random things, partly guilt-tripping her about needing to work more,  but also discussing how he had fallen in love with A.  B eventually couldn't take it anymore and switched groups and filed a complaint with Caltech's Title IX office.  Caltech contacted A, who had no clue that the fact that Ott had fired her because he was obsessed with her.  A and B both joined the suit, and Prof. Ott got put on a leave of absence for 9 months.
Meanwhile, it sounded like Ott was a horrendous advisor to everyone, and a total of nine people had left his group since 2012.  Only two had graduated.  One was fired for keeping his bike in the office.  For comparison, in the group of 15 or so people that I am a member of, since 2010: 16 students have graduated with PhD's, one left with a master's since his fiance got a job in Delaware, seven postdocs have finished and gotten jobs, and two sabbatical visitors and more than 10 undergrads have spent time in the lab.  One first year student was asked to leave, and one visiting grad student had personal issues and left after a few weeks.  In the group where I was a graduate student, three graduate students decided to leave grad school in the 4 years I was there (out of maybe 30 people that I overlapped with in 4 years).  In my postdoc group, no one left prematurely in the 2 1/2 years I was there.  So people do leave for various reasons, but it is usually a small percentage of the total people who spend time in the research group.  But apparently, this is not weird to the Caltech physics department and they gave Ott tenure two years ago.
Student A left Caltech and is finishing up her PhD elsewhere. Student B is in the process of finishing up at Caltech.  Yesterday she happened to tweet some anecdotes about what has been going on since the buzzfeed article. The tweets have been deleted, but I read them at the time and B has been facing subtle and not so subtle ostracization, with several leadership roles taken from her and given to other, less senior students.  It was disappointing to read, but she did not say actually say anything about Prof. Ott (who is on leave), just about her experiences since January.  This elicited sympathetic responses and retweets from most people but Prof. Ott decided to weigh in with some threatening tweets to her (also now deleted, but saved as screenshots)  WTF?  You'd think that common sense, plus the probation order not to have any contact with graduate students, would be enough to make him keep quiet on Twitter, not get in a Twitter war with B and her supporters, many of whom are senior female scientists who have rallied around her.
This is one of the oddest stories of gender harassment that I have heard, which is why I'm writing about it.  In fact, it's probably the oddest grad school related story I've heard, and that's saying a lot.  It's not a 'he said, she said' type of grey area situation.  The students had produced loads of text messages, poems, etc, and the former group members had been interviewed.  I can't even imagine how someone in their mid-30's, who'd been doing research for 15+ years and had been advising grad students for several years at that point, could think it even remotely ok to text first years about personal stuff.  This is not rocket science, people, or even astrophysics.  It's common sense.   Did he not even look around over all that time and see how other faculty members interact with graduate students?  Even though I was in industry for many years, I was only a few years older than Prof. Ott when I started mentoring students, and it would not have crossed my mind to text them about anything not lab-related.  Yes, I do consider some of them to be friends, and all of them to be valued coworkers.  From time to time some of them confide in me or get my advice about personal matters, and I do keep in touch with them after they leave.  But it has never seemed difficult to figure out where the line of professionalism is drawn.  Likewise, did the other faculty in the physics department not think it was the least bit weird that most people switched out of Ott's group?  (I'm assuming that the students began to warn each other once the mass exodus started to occur)  It's rarely a secret which faculty are assholes to their students.  To quote all my millennial students, I can't even...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Prequel to my post on the Caltech astrophysics sexual harrassment situation

For those of you who aren't following the women in STEM news like I am, there has been a doozy of a report out of the Caltech astrophysics department.  You can read about it here.  I'm mulling over a post on it and have a lot to say, but as I gather my thoughts, here is a personal example of how employers SHOULD deal with situations, even minor ones.
Back in 1999 I was working at a startup which was growing rapidly.  We were running low on office space so most offices got another person.  For me, that mean my office went from three to four people, and that the new person's desk was placed in my "corner" of the L shaped office.  I was not thrilled but knew that everyone else was in pretty much the same boat.  Unfortunately, the person they put in the office, James A., was, for lack of a better word, a "creeper."  He did not do anything outwardly inappropriate but would sit sideways at his desk and stare at me, and make creepy comments occasionally.  It made me very uncomfortable.  It wasn't just me - he stared inappropriately at lots of people, including the man who took my desk after I moved offices.   He also used my desk and left his stuff on it when I was at conferences, wore way too much cologne and smoked in his car and "hotboxed" it, so he reeked of smoke and cologne.  Topping it all off, he spent a lot of time on the phone managing his rental properties and distracted me when I was trying to work.
It was not a sexual harassment situation per se,  and I was still one of the few female scientists at the company, so I tried to ignore it.  I lasted only a month or two, was completely stressed and grumpy, and my productivity suffered.  Eventually, I went to my boss and asked to move offices.  I told him the non gender-specific reasons, and he went out of his way to get me a new office ASAP.  From comments that he made, I could tell he knew that I was creeped out by James A. and did not question my reasons or make excuses.
That is how you deal with stuff like that.  Trust women.  We're not making this stuff up.  If even a minor situation like this can cause a honey badger like me to become completely stressed and unproductive, imagine how much harm is done in more serious situations.
As a postscript to the James A. situation, he was eventually let go for work-related reasons.  After he left, one of my coworkers told me that James A. was a second cousin of his wife's, and had basically been disowned from the family for propositioning people's wives and making everyone uncomfortable.  I mention this because it suggests that if people are creeped out for vague reasons like I was, it's still important to trust them.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cauliflower Potato Leek Soup

I'm trying to be careful not to eat too many carbs, as I was borderline pre-diabetic at my physical a few months ago.  I've been eating much better since then, but you may've noticed I'm not doing much recipe blogging.
I got Joe hooked on cauliflower.  He was dubious at first, but has become a fan of roast cauliflower, as well as some of the  "cauliflower as pseudo-potato" recipes like cauliflower mash.  Along the same lines, I have started making potato-cauliflower soup.  I haven't tried the pure cauliflower version yet, but a ratio of about 3 parts cauliflower to one part potato yields a soup that is tasty and satisfying, yet fairly low calorie.  You'll be hungry two hours later if it's all you eat, but while you're eating it you think it's pretty rich.  It's nice on a cold day.

Potato Leek Soup
1 large cauliflower, cut into smallish florets
4 red potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large leek or 2 small ones, washed and sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz bacon, most fat removed
1 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar)
4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken) or water
water (maybe two cups)
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes

Trim most of the fat off the bacon.  In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon and leeks until leeks are softened.  Add garlic and cook about a minute, then add broth, cauliflower, potatoes, and enough water so that veggies are mostly submerged.  Bring to a simmer and cook until veggies are soft.  Puree with immersion blender or in a regular blender.  Return soup to pot, add cheese and salt, pepper and a splash of red pepper flakes (to taste).  Warm soup briefly and serve.