Potted

25 November 2012

Today I potted the amaryllis my mom gave me on the day after Thanksgiving.

We went to Winterthur where we enjoyed the Yuletide tour and ate a yummy lunch in their cafeteria, and the gift shop happened to have amaryllis bulbs. So my mom bought one for herself and one for me. I’ve never had one before, and we’ll have to make sure the cat doesn’t eat it (he doesn’t usually eat the plants on the dining room table, and we will keep him supplied with cat grass, which he loves) since they are poisonous to cats, but I am looking forward to the tall, red blossoms.

We had a very nice Thanksgiving, with my parents arriving on Wednesday afternoon after I got home from parent conferences and my workout class. Greg made sweet & sour tofu for dinner, and made the tart for Thursday’s dessert. I made rolls and cranberry sauce. We all drank wine. Thursday we spent relaxing and cooking, in preparation for our guests arriving 3-ish for a 4-ish meal. We invited one of my colleagues and his wife, and one of Greg’s colleagues and her husband. Interestingly, this resulted in two Chinese women at our meal, along with a part-Mexican, a Japanese man and a half-Japanese man (Greg), and my parents and me: a mix of white and Native American. We all ate turkey (except Greg), tofu-turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, roasted vegetables, Pennsylvania-style chow-chow (pickled vegetables that my colleague made), dinner rolls, and a fruit-and-nut salad. And then there was ginger-blueberry tart and apple pie for dessert. With decaf coffee or tea. I was sooooo full afterward, and it was all so good!

The next day involved not only Winterthur, but seeing Lincoln at the movie theater and dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant. All casual, no hurrying or rushing, and the only crowd was at the theater, where we had to sit more toward the front than we really wanted to, but it turned out OK. I really enjoyed the movie, and thought Daniel Day-Lewis did a really good job as Lincoln. I thought Tommy Lee Jones was also very good and I thought it was really nice that S. Epatha Merkerson read the 13th amendment. I was glad that a Native American actor (Asa-Luke Twocrow) played Ely Parker, one of my ancestors. There were some scenes I could not watch (the Civil War was a very bloody and terrible war) but not very many.

I’m wrapping up the holiday weekend with a little bit of schoolwork (lesson planning) and shopping online, and eating leftovers. I’m thankful that Greg and I both have good jobs and earn enough money that we don’t need to worry too much, and that we have loving families and good friends.

Awesome Evening of Science

13 October 2012

Yesterday when I got home from school, I caught the train into the city and met up with my husband. We had dinner at Sang Kee Noodle House and then took a taxi to The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, which was hosting the New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology program, a celebration in honor of John Templeton (born in 1912) and marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Templeton Prize and the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the John Templeton Foundation.

I might have ignored this event, but the star attraction was the lecture by Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality. I’m a fan of the NOVA series based on the first two books, and I have showed them to my students. Greene has also been on a couple of awesome RadioLab podcasts, The (Multi) Universe(s) and DIY Universe. So I convinced Greg we should go, and wrote in for free tickets.

The e-mail I got back said that the lecture was over-subscribed (the conference organizers had no idea that Greene was so popular?) so we arrived early to stand in line and get a seat. It was worth it. Before hand we chatted with a colleague and his students, and found out that one of his students had worked with one of my students over the summer. That student of mine was there with his brother and parents, and then I saw two others of my students there also! In fact, I got a photo of one with Greene!

This particular student plans to be a physicist when he grows up, and dreams of discovering a previously unknown law of physics.

After the talk, Greene answered a few questions. I asked if it was possible to observationally determine if there were in fact other universes outside of our own. The short answer is yes, IF another bubble universe bumped up with ours we should be able to observe the resulting “ripples” in the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Then, there was a panel discussion featuring

  • Marcelo Gleiser of Dartmouth, who is interested in the origin of life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe
  • Geoffrey Marcy of UC Berkeley, who is a co-investigator on the Kepler extra-solar planet finding team
  • David M. Spergel of Princeton, who works with the data from the WMAP satellite, which distinguished fine fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background
  • Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts, who has developed the idea of the multiverse and works on inflation and cosmic strings.

Wow. What a collection of thinkers! They were given the questions

I. What was the earliest state of the universe?
II. Is our universe unique or is it part of a much larger multiverse?
III. What is the origin of the complexity in the universe?
IV. Are we alone in the universe? Or, are there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system?

and this is what the discussion centered on. Then they took questions. Partway through, Marcy commented that he was surprised that the audience seemed much more interested in the idea of the multiverse than with the idea of aliens from other planets.

Other interesting tidbits: we were seated right behind 97-year-old Nobel Laureate Charles Townes, who invented the precursor to the LASER (the MASER, which stands for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) and who is also a Templeton Prize recipient. According to Wikipedia, Townes is the only figure other than Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama to win both a Templeton Prize and a Nobel Prize. The conference organizer was Donald York, one of the Principal Investigators on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a project for mapping all the galaxies in the visible universe. I have had my students use the data for projects through the Sky Server website. The data released is so comprehensive, a dedicated middle-schooler or high-schooler could ask a question and do research that could be eligible for journal publication. Finally, the panel moderator was George Ellis, also a Templeton Prize winner, who is a pre-eminent researcher in cosmology and general relativity, and who has co-authored a book with Stephen Hawking. The only way this evening could have been more exciting would be if Kip Thorne or Stephen Hawking had been there too. It was awe-inspiring to be in the same room with these people!

 

Harvest

26 August 2012

Greg has been gardening again this summer, and the garden has provided sugar snap peas, garlic, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and melons.  Here is what Greg harvested today:

That melon is huge for a cantaloupe. It’s probably 10 pounds of cucumbers. I think we have already harvested 30 pounds of cucumbers. I will be taking some to school on Tuesday to put in the teacher mailroom to try to get rid of them. We already have a lot in our refrigerator.

With some of the cucumbers and tomatoes I will be making a jar of marinated vegetables. I don’t remember who “pinned” this to “pinterest” but it showed up in somebody’s facebook feed and I followed it to find this recipe. Sounds yummy, and I bet the vinegar will make the tomatoes taste good to me!

I don’t know what Greg has planned for the rest of the tomatoes, but I think we will be eating melon for breakfast and dessert for a while!

Last week I made this tomato pie:

I made a tomato pie last summer but I could not find the recipe. I searched all the cookbooks and the internet. So I had to make this up. It is pretty yummy.

Tomato Pie – serves 2-4 as main dish, more as a side dish

  • 1 pie crust, store-bought or homemade
  • a bunch of plum or Roma tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves, shredded
  • a couple of scallions, sliced thinly
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • about 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Pre-heat oven to 425°F. Brush a pie pan lightly with olive oil. Lay the crust in the pie pan, and brush the inside of the crust lightly with olive oil. Combine the tomatoes, basil, scallions, and most of the feta cheese in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add pepper to taste, and mix gently. Add the tomato mixture to the pie pan, folding the edges of the crust over the filling. Sprinkle remaining feta cheese on top. Bake 25-30 minutes or until crust is golden, and feta cheese is browned on the tops. Let sit 10-15 minutes before slicing and eating. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

This pie makes excellent leftovers.

 

Surly

20 August 2012

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, mostly reading what science teachers and science-y people have to say. A few days ago Jennifer Ouelette (@JenLucPiquant on Twitter) linked to a post about things happening in the atheist/skeptic community, which I am not a part of and don’t follow. I read it anyway, and I got really annoyed. Not only are some people jerks and trolls on the internet behind the safety of a pseudonym, but there are apparently also a**holes in real life as well. For no good reason, a woman known as Surly Amy was harassed at a conference and some people actually went so far as to try to harm her business.

The issue? Apparently sexual harassment occurs at conferences and women who speak up about it deserve to be harassed even more.

Seriously?

I immediately went to Surly Amy’s Etsy store and bought a necklace.

In case you can’t read it, it says “LEARN Something New Every Day.” which of course is one of my major ways I try to live my life.

I also wrote Surly Amy a note of support in the “message to seller” that you can write in when you buy things through Etsy, so she would know why I decided to buy this necklace. So, now I think you should check out Surly-Ramics here and on Etsy and maybe buy something for the science nerd/gamer/atheist/skeptic/Unitarian Universalist (yes, she does chalice jewelry!) in your life! Great gifts at a decent price! Also, you can follow Amy on Twitter (@SurlyAmy) and read her blog posts.

 

Diana

30 June 2012

Diana died this week.  She was a Christian woman in the best way, loving and caring and welcoming.  I met her when my father-in-law, Rich, brought her to visit us for a few days a couple of years ago.  Later that year, my visit to Portland, OR for a conference coincided with their visit to my sister-in-law, Jackie.

Rich, Diana, and Jackie and the Columbia River

Rich, Jackie, and Diana at a different vantage above the Columbia River

Diana loved to take photos, and she sent us papercrafted cards for every holiday while she could.  Every holiday including Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We also received papercrafted bookmarks that she made, with white flowers constructed of paper cutouts placed together with tiny dabs of glue, with bitty crystals in the center.

Most importantly, Diana was the person who Rich decided to share his life with.  They each sold their homes and moved to Oregon, far from where each of them had been living.  They bought a house where Rich could put together train layouts and Diana could do her crafts.  Diana will be missed by Rich and their dog Shadow, and by all of us who knew her and counted her as family.

We love you Diana, we know you loved us!

Jay

4 March 2012

This is a photo of Priscilla and Jay Edwards from August, 2010. Summers, I try to make it to my cousin Pam’s summer cottage in the Adirondacks of New York, along with my parents.  We love the lake, the smell of the pines, the abundant home-cooked meals, and the conversations.  For a number of years it has been a tradition for Pam to invite Priscilla and Jay for dinner while my parents are visiting, for a big yummy meal and Priscilla’s home-made applesauce cake with maple syrup icing.  Priscilla and Jay both grew up in the nearby town, Edinburg, and Pam is a “summer person” but Pam became good friends with Priscilla, who is the town historian.  Pam becomes friends with just about everyone, but my family also really enjoys conversations with the Edwards.

Jay was killed in an accident with his logging truck last week.  He wasn’t on the road and nobody else was injured.  He was 72.  Jay was full of stories about life in the Adirondacks, which he happily recounted over beer and good food. Logging is a dangerous job and Jay had survived all sorts of harrowing adventures (according to his stories) with his truck.  He’ll be much missed by his community, and my next summertime trip to Pam’s camp will be missing some Adirondack tall tales.

As old as me

3 March 2012

The year I was born, my mom mailed in enough “proof of purchase” seals or possibly box tops to receive a dixie cup containing a miniature orange tree.    She gave me the tree some years ago, and I have variously under-watered it to the point of near-death and also cared for it regularly.  It spends half  of each year outdoors and half indoors, and every so often (not annually) it produces fragrant blossoms that sometimes result in tiny, sour fruit.

This past year was one of those years, and the tree came up with a total of 12 little oranges.  My husband asked to be allowed to eat one, and I let him.  He said it was very sour.  Huh.  Well, my mother once incorporated the fruit into a marmalade/jam with blueberries that was pretty yummy, so I thought I ought to try something with the remaining eleven.

Some, I brined like Moroccan preserved lemons:

Sliced mostly through and salted

In a jar, getting juicy

And sometime in the future maybe they will get eaten.  It is an experiment, but if it works for lemons it might work for these things.

The other thing I tried doing was candying.  I was inspired by the idea that one could do this with kumquats, and while these are a little bigger than kumquats it seemed like sugar could only improve their flavor.  So I made syrup and boiled them up and canned them, with a few cloves for fun.  I have no idea how I will use these in the future, but it may involve alcoholic beverages.  Speaking of which, I now have some leftover citrus/clove flavored simple syrup.  Hmmm.

Ready to be boiled

From left to right: candied, leftover syrup, brined.

Perhaps someday I will let you all know how they turned out.

World’s Largest

16 August 2011

Miyajima Island, in addition to being the home of the iconic “floating” O-torii gate and the source of momiji manju, is home to the world’s largest rice paddle. I would never have known this if our tour hadn’t included a stop there, but I am really glad it did! We spent two nights on Miyajima island, climbed to the top of Mt. Misen, and avoided the ubiquitous deer who love to beg for food. While we were there, there was a typhoon hitting parts of Japan and the island experienced  some strong winds and a little light rain.  The winds prompted the operators to close the ferry to Hiroshima and the ropeway up the mountain, and most of the restaurants and shops were closed as well.  This was nice, because there weren’t crowds of people and it was quiet and pleasant, but on the other hand there was not a lot of choice for what to have for lunch.  The two places open for lunch both served Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, so that was it.

Map of the side of the island that faces the mainland.

Keiko walked out at low tide to get a close-up view. Can you spot her?

At high tide, it does look sortof like it is floating.

Momiji manju are cakes (manju) filled with yummy filling and shaped like maple leaves (momiji). But one shop sells them with Hello Kitty on them.

This rice paddle is over 7.7 meters long (over 25 feet) and is made from a tree over 200 years old. And no, I've never been to the largest ball of twine.

The view from Mt. Misen. You can just barely see the ferry dock at the lower right.

A deer begs one of our tourmates for some of his ice-cream sandwich. The deer are not above chewing clothing and snatching pocketbooks.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki include pancake, cabbage, noodles, and omelet (invisible on the bottom.) There may be meat inside, too.

The finished okonomiyaki has been flipped so the omelet is on top. I got mine with oysters, another specialty of Miyajima. It was so big though, I could not eat it all.

 

Commonalities

16 August 2011

With the Republican presidential candidates attending the Iowa state fair in preparation for the Iowa straw poll, NPR had to do its obligatory story on “fried food on a stick.”  This year’s gross-out item was deep-fried butter on a stick. Well, in Japan, one needn’t go to the state fair (or rather, whatever the local festival is) to have food on a stick. There are sit-down restaurants devoted to fried food on a stick.  We ate a couple of them, enjoying chicken, pork, mushrooms, quail eggs, tomatoes, bell peppers, small fish, pumpkin (the green Japanese kind), potato, and probably something else I can’t remember. Dip the item into a sauce, or salt, or green sancho pepper (like black pepper but with a tingle and a citrusy flavor), and enjoy!  Then reach for another.

I think this is pork. The dish has wells for different sauces.

As you will see included with almost all Japanese meals, you can see the small dish of pickled vegetable in this photo, and in this case also a dish of cabbage for “cleansing the palate” between fried items.

You don’t have to go to a restaurant for your fried food on a stick, however. When we were in Osaka, the takoyaki that Keiko and I had were served with skewers, not chopsticks.  So I guess you could hold your octopus doughball on the stick and eat it that way.  I think it would have been easier to use chopsticks.

I used a couple skewers to dissect a doughball so you can see the little chunk of octopus.

What if you like food on a stick but are not a fan of deep frying? You can get that too. In Kyoto I passed by a shop with this display out front:

I don't think I could make myself eat one of these.

I have no idea if you are supposed to eat these octopuses as they are, or if maybe you buy a few to take home and fry up fresh for dinner. Or maybe you could do the other deep-frying: tempura.  Greg and I took a cooking lesson with a very nice woman named Emi, in her home in Kyoto.  She taught us to make tempura by combining half an egg (150 ml) and a combined 150 ml of flour and water, mixing it until combined but lumpy, and smearing the mixture by hand over whatever food you want to eat. While in Japan we tried tempura-style food of many different kinds (including nori and flowers and lotus root and pumpkin), but Emi introduced us to Japanese-style wheat gluten.  We were familiar with the seitan-style wheat gluten, but the Japanese style is more like a thick gel.  First, put the wheat gluten on a small stick.  Then coat in tempura batter and deep fry.

Wheat gluten before tempura. I don't know why it is green.

After tempura. Note the presentation has changed now that it is ready to eat.

My last food on a stick is not fried.  In Takayama, we went to a tofu restaurant.  Tofu served a lot of different ways, and listed on the menu as “tofu 3 ways”, “tofu 4 ways,” “tofu 5 ways,” and so on.  I think Greg had “tofu 7 ways” or maybe it was 8.  I went for fewer, thinking I wasn’t that hungry (having had a snack not much earlier).  I chose the option that included, you guessed it, tofu on sticks:

Tofu three ways. Plus soup with tofu skins, rice, and pickles (the pink things are pickles).

So much for not being very hungry.  I guess the fewer types of tofu in your order, the larger the portions.

Anyway, since being back in the USA I have stuck to only frozen treats on a stick. I am still finishing off last year’s watermelon-mint ice pops, and I recently made a large batch of fresh ones to take to the pool party on Labor Day.  Just watermelon, mint, lime juice, and sugar.

Today

11 August 2011

Break from Japan posts (more are coming, I promise!) while I write a bit about my life at this very moment.

In less than three weeks’ time, I will be back in school with students. I have a tentative schedule and tentative class lists, though I am not printing any out since the class lists typically change up to and during the first week of classes. It looks like my planning period will be the last period of the day, which will be different, but my lunch period will still be 4th period, which is from 10:11 AM to 10:56 AM.  Since I eat breakfast at 5:30 AM, I will be hungry by then, but I will be hungry again at 4 PM as usual.

I have a lot of things to do and I keep putting them off. I need to use my watermelon for pickled watermelon rind and I need to do something with the inside part.  I have to (with my husband) move all the rest of the stuff that belongs in the kitchen out of the guest room, and put the guest room back to rights so we can have a houseguest.  I need to clean up my office so I can use it.  I need to write lesson plans, course standards, assignments, and blog posts, and I need to sort photos from Japan to put up on flickr.  I need to get the house neat enough to have a house cleaning person to come over and clean it.  I need to take the cat to the vet for his annual shots.

What have I been doing?  Well, in between traveling, I’ve been enjoying the opportunity of summer to READ. I really love reading!  Really!  I’ve read:

  • A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
  • The Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper

I finished reading

  • Genius: the life and science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick

I’ve RE-read:

  • Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Forge of Heaven by C. J. Cherryh

I’ve STARTED but not finished reading:

  • The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (one of the summer reading books for my school)

I’ve continued reading (but also not finished) these books I started some time ago:

  • The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
  • Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

And I have on Kindle but have yet to start reading:

  • The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair
  • Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • The Forgotten Genius by Stephen Inwood

So my mind has been in books lately, and today NPR posted a “top 100” list of fantasy and science fiction books and series, as voted by online poll.  Each person answering the poll could select ten choices to vote for.  The poll was available for about a week, and I did make my selections, along with 60,000+ others. Or at least that many other ballots – I don’t know if it was possible to vote more than once.

I was sincerely bothered that C.J. Cherryh did not make the list.  I was also annoyed that books that I had been unable to slog through as a teen (when I had even MORE time on my hands for reading) DID make the list.  Some of them had annoying protagonists.  Or dopey dialogue, or dry dialogue.  Or had no women characters, or had bad women characters – shallow, two-dimensional, dumb, whatever. My judgement of what makes a novel a GOOD novel specifically has to do with these things.

If I get lost in the world of the novel, if it seems real, if the dialogue is entertaining, if the protagonist is likeable, I will probably like it.  If the dialogue is dull or in a difficult dialect, if the characters do dumb things, if the world is unbelievable, or if the book is overtly sexist or worse, misogynistic, I probably won’t finish it.  I couldn’t finish the Salman Rushdie book I started – nothing ever happened in it.  I couldn’t force myself through Abbot’s Flatland because of the way women were portrayed.  And it was boring.  And forgive me my friends who love them, I cannot get into Jane Austen’s novels at all. I haven’t figured out if it is the language or the plots or the characters that I dislike, but I have never been able to read one all the way through.

Please don’t recommend any more books to me at the moment.  My slate is full enough.  But in a month or so you can start directing me towards next summer’s list!