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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Thursday, December 25, 2014

7 reasons why "The Year without a Santa Claus" rules

A few weeks ago, Joe and I were discussing Christmas TV specials.  He said that Ruldolph was his favorite.   That's not entirely surprising, since it came out when he was 4 and was pretty good. Anyway, it got me thinking about Christmas shows.  I'm not as sentimental about them as Joe is, probably because we didn't have a TV for part or my formative years, but my favorite one is relatively unknown.  It's "The Year without a Santa Claus", otherwise known as "the one with heat miser."  I assumed everyone knew about it, but Joe had never heard of it.  Without further ado, here's my reasons.
7.  The old biddies rule the show.  You may think it's about Santa Claus, Heat Miser, and Snow Miser, but they are but mere pawns in the hands of Mrs. Claus and Mother Nature.
6.  Santa's tired and burnt out, and sick of ungrateful kids.  Even as a baby biddy, I could relate to this.
5. It came out when I was 6, which means it was the cool new show when I was the most impressionable.
4.  The 70's are strong in this one.  Mother Nature ruling everything, Mrs. Claus in drag, etc.  No classical 50's motifs here...
3.  Sibling rivalry and your mom laying down the law are main themes here.  As a kid, I could relate to that.
2.  It took place in a town where it didn't snow in the winter.  I grew up in California, but most Christmas specials took place in mystic snow filled places that looked like Buffalo.  I could relate to the kids wanting snow for Christmas.
and of course...
drumroll please...
1.  Heat Miser and Snow Miser, but really mostly Heat Miser.  They're funny looking, they have singing minions, Heat Miser's got a 90's band named after him, and, most importantly, they have the world's catchiest theme song. They're both hilarious, but Heat Miser wins due to his bright orange Don King hairdo and the fact that it looks like he is naked.
Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The one in which Old Biddy catches shade from a most unlikely source

I am careful to avoid getting into Facebook wars, or even passive aggressive Facebook snark battles, but I am functioning on approximately 3 hours sleep and have been sitting in Washington National Airport (it still pains me to call it Reagan Airport) for the last seven hours.  I am facing another four or five hours of travel, including a 90 minute drive, assuming my flight gets out on time, so it doesn't take much to get me into honey badger mode.   Alas, that is what happened, and I'm opting to take the high road (or at least not the low road) and post here, and not on Facebook..
As most of you know, I don't post that much stuff on Facebook, and it is usually cat pictures, geeky stuff, nature pictures, or toilet humor.  I don't brag or humblebrag too much (I think), and I don't complain all that often. When I do, it is pretty neutral stuff, like complaining about being stuck at the airport.  When I posted that I was stuck at the airport, I didn't think I'd get more than a bit of commiseration, which I got from some of you, as well as a truly shocking story about a flight from hell.  However, I also got the following comment from a childhood friend's mom. 

"At least you don't have a family at home waiting, Old Biddy, but it is always nice to get home."  and she tagged me in the post instead of leaving it untagged.

Um, WTF?!?!?!?  I've managed to happily reach perimenopause without anyone daring to snark openly about my singleness and lack of kids so this blindsided me. Apparently, no woman escapes, and by daring to post that I am on a business trip, she took it as a reason to throw some shade in my direction about the fact that I don't have kids or a husband.  And sexist shade it indeed is.  No one would post something like this if a guy wrote that he was stuck at an airport.

Now, if the person posting this were some older conservative woman who never worked outside of the home, that would be one thing.  However, she is a scientist and worked while her daughter was a kid, and I am sure she had to deal with a lot more sexism that I do.  She and another female scientist in the neighborhood were role models for me.  I assumed that she was a feminist, or at least not a chauvinist.  So WTF is she doing posting that?!?!? Is it some kind of delayed guilt?  Internalization of patriarchal attitudes? Jealousy that I am eating greasy meals on the government's dime?  I am just blown away.

So, for the record, if you wouldn't say it to a guy, it's sexism.  It doesn't matter if you're a woman, and a feminist.  It doesn't matter if you're an older feminist and think the young'uns have it easy now.  Check your assumptions at the door, because we are all the product of a patriarchal society.   Even though I never strongly wanted kids, comments like this still sting because (a) she doesn't know if I really wanted kids and couldn't have them, or if I actively avoided it, or something in between, (b) I've absorbed enough patriarchal conditioning to be hurt by her pulling the "pathetic middle aged single woman whose feelings and desires to get home are somehow less important than all of the women with kids and/or husbands, men or young people of either gender who also just want to get home and (c) I am so goddamn sick of the constant chorus of "You are doing it wrong." Fuck this shit.  It's not the World Cup of who deserves to get home the most.

So, dear readers, I'm not going to post on Facebook, but I would like you to vote on which retort you like best.  Feel free to add your own, but please don't put them on Facebook because I really want to keep things civil and not draw her daughter into this.

A.  "Friend's mom, would you even dream of saying that to a guy?!?!"
B.  "Friend's mom, you are the last person I would've expected to make such a sexist remark.  You were a role model for me when I was a kid"
C.  "Friend's mom, Wow, I've hung out and discussed chemistry with two Nobel Laureates this month.  I had an awesome time at my grant meeting and have helped bring in millions of dollars in grant money this year.  But thanks for reminding me I'm a childless loser who doesn't really deserve to get home on time."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Old Biddy's Annual Rant on Dress Codes

It's that time of year again, folks.  It's finally summer, and that means only one thing. No, I'm not talking about pollen or vacation, I'm talking about the annual outburst of news about school dress codes and the girls affected by them. OMG, exposed bra straps, tank tops, short-ish shorts!  Oh no!  Won't someone think of those poor boys who are tempted.....Heaven forbid someone see a square inch of a shoulder. I'm not sure if things are getting more puritan, or if more people are speaking out via social media.
This needs to stop.  I'm wasting valuable time reading about it that could be better spent on chemistry, gluten-free cooking, looking at cat pictures on the internet, or watching the World Cup.
Fuck you, freakishly sex-obsessed and yet puritanical American attitudes.  It has nothing to do with getting students ready for dress codes at work, as some people claim.  It's all about the idea that women's bodies are not their own.  First we as a society tell young girls that looking pretty is more important than anything else, and bombard them with scanty, frilly stuff to wear in the interest of looking cute and girly.  Then around the time that they start to hit puberty, we start to tell them that no, they can't wear that top to school, even if they wore something similar last month or last week without any issues, or their friend who is shorter/taller/fatter/skinnier/cuter/less cute can wear it without getting in trouble.  Heaven forbid they go braless, but heaven also forbid if the tiniest bit of a bra strap is visible. They're brazen, boy-tempting hussies either way.  And so on, and so forth.  It's their unpleasant introduction the to ever-shifting, "U R Doin it Wrong" world of being an adult woman.
Don't get me wrong, I am ok with school uniforms, or even consistently applied, reasonable dress codes.  No fingertip rule, or rules that only affect girls, or only take effect once girls hit puberty.  And, for heaven's sake, take it easy on kids who are going through growth spurts. Stop obsessing about what girls are wearing; if it bugs you, stop looking.  Stop worrying about boys getting boners, too - they're teenagers and are going to get approximately one million boners per day, regardless of their surroundings.

Friday, May 9, 2014

NOMZ! Addictive granola "bars"

I'm on a anti-inflammation diet right now, at the advice of my doctor.  She was right about the gluten so I am heeding her advice on this at the moment.  Anyway, I'm supposed to cut out dairy, soy, peanuts, eggs, wheat (of course) and corn.  After a few weeks of this I am supposed to introduce these things back one by one and see if I notice any difference in how I feel.  Anyway, I've been on it a week and a half. I'm usually hungry and have lost about 2 lbs.  Other than that, it is hard to tell.  The first few days my knees felt great, then they felt awful, and now they feel good again.  So it remains to be seen if it helps or not.
After about a week of this I was seriously craving snacks, so I searched the internet for granola bar recipes that I could adapt.  I found one at the Food Network site, and adapted it to suit my diet and what I had in the house. Anyway, this stuff is seriously addictive. It's kind of sweet, very crunchy, and more like a cookie or candy than granola.  I'll probably cut back the honey slightly, but it is extremely good, and I'll make it again even if I'm not on a crazy lady diet.

"Just like crack" granola stuff

8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats, approximately 2 cups
1/4 cup sesame seeds
3 ounces sliced almonds, approximately 1 cup 
1/2 cup ground flax seed
6 ounces honey, approximately 1/2 cup
1 3/4 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/4 cup packed
1 -ounce coconut oil or butter, plus extra for pan
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
Optional Extras (dried fruit, nut pieces, coconut, chocolate chips, etc)

Butter a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread the oats and almonds onto a cookie sheet . Place in the oven and toast for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Watch it carefully since it doesn't take long to go from underdone to burnt.

In the meantime, combine the honey, brown sugar, coconut oil (or butter), extract and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook until the brown sugar has completely dissolved and then cook a few minutes longer, watching it carefully.

Once the oat mixture is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees F. Immediately add the oat mixture, flax seed and sesame seeds to the liquid mixture and stir to combine. If you have any extras (dried fruit, coconut, etc) add them and mix well,  Turn mixture out into the prepared baking dish and press down, evenly distributing the mixture in the dish and place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container for up to a week.  If you'd rather have granola-like chunks, press mixture down on a larger glass casserole dish or cookie sheet lined with foil.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes and remove before it looks burnt.  Allow to cool and cut (or break) into into pieces.  Allow to cool to room temperature and immediately put it into a ziplock bag - it absorbs moisture readily.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I expected better from NPR

As usual, I awoke to the sound of NPR this morning, when my clock radio alarm went off.  Unlike most days, the first words I heard were "bioinoganic chemist', which  made me wonder if I was still dreaming or if someone had finally started the world's first all-chemistry radio station.  (That would be awesome, incidentally).  Then I woke up more fully and listened to rest of the story.
Anyway, they were interviewing a husband and wife (Brian and Elizabeth), who are both bioinorganic chemists.  When their son was born, Elizabeth took lots of pictures and noticed "white-eye" in many of the photos.  She remembered reading that it was a sign of a type of eye tumor and stressed about it.  Initially Brian dismissed this hypothesis, and said it was their imagination, or a weird flash from the camera.  Eventually they took their son to the doctor; unfortunately, he did have the cancer and lost one eye. 
A few years later Brian (now an assistant prof) decided to see how long the white eye was showing up, and started analyzing all the baby pictures.  This eventually led to them teaming up with doctors and programmers to develop image recognition software, and published a paper on it.  This is all fine and good.  I think it's a great example of how scientists often excel in areas completely unrelated to their formal training.  I was intrigued and dug deeper and read today's NPR story, an older NPR story on it, as well as the transcript of the interview. 
That was when I started to get ragey.  From all of their statements in the interview, it sounded like 100% of a team effort.  Indeed, they are both on the paper.  Elizabeth made the initial discovery and persisted when Brian did not believe her.  Later he decided to investigate the old photos. To me, it was pretty obvious they have both put a lot of thought and effort into this.  However, you don't get any of this from either of the stories.  It's all about the genius male scientist. Even in the interview, the interviewer keeps setting up the questions as a narrative about a really smart guy who decides to solve a problem, rather than a team who of two scientists, without either of whom the research would not have been possible.  It makes absolutely no difference that she is a stay at home mom now, or that he is a professor.  They both contributed, and the fact that these sorts of stories are subject to revisionist history to fit a more familiar narrative pisses the hell out of me and makes it harder for people to recognize the true contributions of women and minorities in science.  To me, I think it makes for a far even more interesting narrative than the usual "white guy solves problem" type of story they usually run. 
Some of you may think I am imagining sexism where there is none, especially if you are young or are not a woman working in a male-dominated field.  I beg to differ.  I think it's more like when you buy a new car and suddenly see that make and model everywhere.  They were there before but now you are noticing it because now you are familiar with it. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

OMFG! Awesome Carrot Ginger Soup from Cook's Illustrated

I got the latest issue of Cook's Illustrated in the mail yesterday and saw a recipe for carrot ginger soup.  I love carrot soup but haven't found a recipe that I like yet.  This one looked appealing since it contained both fresh and crystallized ginger, but was really light - no cream or meat, and only 2 tbsp butter.    The secret CI ingredients were the crystallized ginger and a bit of baking soda and vinegar (not at the same time), as well as some carrot juice. 
You can watch a short video over at Cook's Illustrated.  I was so obsessed that I made it tonight.  I mostly followed the recipe, except I used olive oil instead of butter, and, since I am lazy and just have a regular blender and not a juicer, I used some carrot puree in place of juice.
There is also a recipe for croutons, and they suggest serving the soup with the croutons, sour cream and chives, but you don't really need to bother because you will be too busy inhaling the soup to care about the other stuff.  You can forget about side dishes too.  I'm not kidding.  I really like carrots, and I really like ginger, and this soup is just about perfect for me.  In fact, it is the best carrot soup I've ever had.  The lack of milk, cream, or broth really helped the soup, because the flavor is pure carrots and ginger.  For this reason, I'm going to suggest that you use olive or vegetable oil instead of the butter.  I used sweet onions and that worked well.  If you use a carrot puree and don't strain it, you soup will be slightly less smooth. 
The baking soda helps soften the carrots so you don't have to cook them as long.  They didn't discuss the vinegar but I assume it is to neutralize the baking soda once the carrots are done.  The carrot juice serves to give it a fresher flavor than you;d get from broth or just plain water. 

OMFG!!- Awesome Healthy Carrot Ginger Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions (preferably sweet onions), diced
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4" slices
1 1/2 cups carrot juice (I just used a puree and didn't strain it)
4 cups water
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cider vinegar

Combine olive oil, onions, garlic, gingers, 2 tsp salt, and sugar in large soup pot and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onions are softened but not brown (5-7 minutes).  Add water, carrots, 3/4 cup carrot juice, thyme, and baking soda.  Increase heat to high and bring soup to a simmer.  Cover and reduce heat.  Cook until carrots are tender but not overdone (20-25 minutes).
Remove thyme sprigs.  Working in small batches, puree soup in blender until very smooth.  Return pureed soup to pot and add remaining carrot juice and vinegar.  Bring to a simmer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The gift that keeps on giving

Joe and I have been dating for a year.  We're not extreme anniversary celebrators, but Joe won a gift certificate to a local bakery so we decided to get a cake, and since the one year mark was coming up, we decided to get the cake this past weekend.
This is the first time I've ever ordered a cake, or purchased one from anywhere other than a grocery store or Costco.  I ordered a chocolate raspberry cake and picked it up yesterday.  It is in my fridge and is very pretty.  Alas, Joe picked up a stomach virus and had to spend the rest of the weekend on the toilet or on the couch.
Joe was glued to the toilet and at his request I ended up going out and buying him a tube of diaper rash cream.*   Nothing but the finest anniversary presents here...
Two days later, Joe was feeling well enough to eat cake.  We had some, then a few hours later it was my turn for the stomach bug...and the butt paste.  Sigh.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cook's Illustrated Gluten-Free Multigrain Sandwich Bread

 I've been baking my way through the Cook's Illustrated gluten-free cookbook, but I hadn't baked any of the breads yet, mainly because of time but also because I didn't have the secret ingredient, which is psyllium husk, aka the active ingredient in metamucil.  However, my grad school friend Adam recently messaged me asking for a gluten-free bread recipe to use for his chemistry of cooking class, and that spurred me to order some powdered psyllium.
I was feeling a little guilty about blogging recipes from the book, but when I went to go find a recipe for Adam, I saw that CI had sent copies of the book to several gluten-free baking bloggers and they had already blogged some of the recipes, so I stopped feeling guilty.
The first recipe I tried was the chewy multigrain bread.  It contains sunflower seeds and gets its multi-grain from a hot cereal mix (Bob's Red Mill Mighty Grains) - this is a CI trick that they used in their regular bread recipes.  I had a pack of the hot cereal mix and really didn't like it so I wanted to use it up.
I made one loaf last night, and it was tasty but very dense.  It is cold in my kitchen and it didn't rise enough.  (Also, my yeast is kind of old.)  Today I made another loaf, because I am a geek and also because it is 15F here today.  Joe and I were going to pull out the smoker and smoke some beef and pork, but the forecast changed and instead of being in the 40's it is butt cold...too cold to smoke.  Not too cold to be a baking geek and make another loaf of the bread.  I kept everything the same, but let it rise a lot more. This time it was a lot less dense, although no one would ever describe it as fluffy.  It has a nice, bready flavor and makes good toast. 

Gluten-Free Chewy Multigrain Bread

11 1/2 oz GF flour blend (appx 2 1/2 cups)
4 oz Bob's Red Mill Mighty Tasty hot cereal mix (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) dried milk powder
3 tbsp powdered psyllium husk
1 tbsp instant or rapid rise yeast
1 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp oil
1 1/2 cups warm water.
 2 tbsp sunflower, sesame, or flax seeds 

In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, mix dry ingredients until blended.  Beat eggs and add water, oil, and honey.  Mix to blend thoroughly and then add in several portions to dry ingedients.  Mix at low speed until blended, and then increase the speed to medium and mix for 6 minutes.  Mixture will resemble very sticky cookie dough.  Add seeds (if desired) and mix to blend.
Spray a 8"x4" loaf pan with vegetable oil spray.  Place dough in pan.  Wet your hands and press dough gently into corners and smooth out the top.  Wrap foil around the outside of the pan so it makes a tent about 1" or 2" above the top of the pan.  This will keep the load from spreading too much or overflowing the pan or sticking to the plastic wrap.  Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top and let rise in a warm place until it is appx 50% larger (CI said it takes an hour, but it took about 2 hours for me.) Don't bake it too soon unless you want a dense loaf.  Preheat oven to 325F.  Spray or brush loaf with a bit of water and bake 1 1/2 hours. Rotate the pan about halfway through the baking process.  The bread is done when it is golden, crust is firm and loaf sounds hollow when tapped.  Let bread cool in its pan for 10 minutes, then remove it from the pan and let it cool on a rack for 2 hours, or until completely cool.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bossy Bitchy Biddy

If you've spent any time on Facebook or the internet recently, you may have heard about Sheryl Sandberg's "Ban Bossy" campaign.  If you haven't, the basic premise is that 'bossy' is a gendered criticism that is mainly directed towards girls, making them hesitant to express their opinions or take on leadership goals. I don't always agree with Sheryl Sandberg, but as a current and former bossy person I think this is a wonderful idea. 
What I like about it most is that, unlike virtually all empowerment suggestions for girls and women (including a lot of Sandberg's book, "Lean In") the onus to change is not put on girls, but on their parents, relatives, teachers, and society as a whole.  This is definitely preferable to the "U R doin it wrong" advice that is typically geared to women.  It's not that hard.  Stop calling little girls bossy, and don't use "bossy" to discourage the same behavior in girls that is encouraged in boys. It's a small thing, but an important one.
As you might expect, there has been a lot of objections.  Some people suggest that rather than "banning bossy", we should embrace it.  I'm fine with this in theory, and I'm fine with people choosing to describe themselves that way.  But it is difficult to fully reclaim words that have been previously used as an insult, and it would still have a gendered connotation.  I can proudly describe myself as a bossy bitchy biddy (incidentally, all those words have a negative gendered connotation) but I've had a lifetime of socialization telling me that I don't want to have other people describe me as bossy or bitchy. 
I have more to say about bossy, about microagressions and tone arguments, and the double standard I encountered when working in one group at my former job, but I will leave that for another time.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cook's Illustrated Gluten-Free Flour Blend

I bought the Cook's Illustrated gluten-free cookbook recently.  In the ads, they hyped their flour blend recipe as being the best thing since sliced bread.  I was a little dubious but their track record is pretty good.  Anyway, I made their flour blend, which isn't too obscure or pricy, at least by gluten-free standards.  It has brown and white rice flour, tapioca starch,  potato starch and a little bit of non-fat milk powder.  From there, I tested the chocolate chip cookie recipe and the waffle recipe.  These are things that I haven't been able to replicate very well.  Much to my surprise, they both came out really well.  As in, 'I can't believe it's gluten-free!' well, even though I took some liberties with their flour recipe (see below)  Even more surprising, the recipes were actually less full of special tricks than the average Cook's Illustrated recipe.  So I am going to share the flour blend recipe, but I do recommend buying the book if you're going to be doing a lot of gluten-free baking.  It is awesome and I am looking forward to trying more recipes.

For the flour blend, they recommend using Bob's Red Mill rice flours.

Gluten-Free Flour Blend
24 oz white rice flour (4 3/4 cups, or a standard size pack from Bob's Red Mill)
7 1/2 oz brown rice flour (1 2/3 cups)
7 oz (1 1/3 cups) potato starch
3 oz tapioca starch (3/4 cups)
3/4 oz (3 tbsp) non-fat dried milk powder

Whisk all ingredients together well.  Store in a ziplock bag.

I have a confession to make - I didn't totally follow their recipe since I was running low on a few things.  So I used more like a half and half mix of brown and white rice flour, and a little bit less potato starch and a little bit more tapioca starch.  Even so, the recipes came out better than any other gluten-free recipes I've tried, even ones using pricy flour blends.  So I'm going to guess that the relative proportion of rice flours to starch is important, but the relative amounts of brown vs white rice flour, or tapioca vs potato starch, are less important.  The milk powder is important since it helps with browning and contributes protein.