Archive for: March, 2012

GUEST POST: Dr24Hours tackles Chili-lime swordfish #dinnerdare

Mar 14 2012 Published by under [Et Al]

Hello from the unparalleled genius behind the original #dinnerdare concept. Though, the hashtag was invented by @drisis, all of this nonsense began when I tweeted a question about who was going to outclass @drisis and make a fine dinner, introducing my humble guacamole as a low bar threshold. It rapidly gained momentum, the hashtag was introduced, and #dinnerdare was born.

So, a couple of days later, I introduced my own #dinnerdare effort, a Chili-lime swordfish steak with grilled vegetables and piñon-rice pilaf. So, here's how you do it:

You will need (No, I will not provide metric conversions. You're a grown-up. Do the arithmetic.)

One 4 oz Swordfish loin steak (about 3/4" thick) fresh, never frozen.
One large lime
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, dried and powdered
1/2 tsp chili powder
One carrot, one zucchini, one yellow summer squash
One small handful of piñons
1/4 cup jasmine rice (dry)
Two TBSP balsamic reduction
Salt and pepper
Olive oil


Take the swordfish out, trim off the skin. Juice the lime, and mix the chili powder and the cayenne pepper with the lime juice. Coat the swordfish in this mixture. Now, go sit in the jacuzzi, or smoke your pipe on the verandah, or sit on the floor and weep about the score of your most recent grant submission for at least 30 minutes. Then pick yourself up, look at your ingredients list again, realize that this is clearly dinner for one, sit back down on the floor and stare for another half an hour. Done? Good.

OK. Wash your rice and boil it. If you can't make rice, then you're probably just reading this for entertainment, not instructions. Aim for fluffy. I like to add about 1 tsp of olive oil to the boiling rice. Also, now, if you don't have a balsamic reduction, but you do have balsamic vinegar, it is a good time to go back in time 2 hours and simmer the vinegar until it's reduced by 3/4ths. Do this in someone else's house.

While the rice is simmering, toast your piñons. Heat and oil a grill pan or, god help us all, a real live grill. I bias cut the vegetables. Put the carrots on first, because they take the longest. Add the swordfish when it's about 12 minutes until the rice is ready. After 3 min, give the swordfish a 1/8th turn, and flip the carrots. After another three minutes, flip the swordfish and add the squashes. After another three, give the swordfish another 1/8ths turn without flipping and flip the squashes.

Remove everything from the heat, fluff the rice and add the piñons. Plate everything, drizzle balsamic reduction over the vegetables (and rice if you like, but probably not the fish).

Eat. Your next grant score will be better.

11 responses so far

REPOST: A day of quick meals for the over-committed #dinnerdare

Mar 14 2012 Published by under [Et Al]

Lest you think all meals prepared in the PLS household are dishes that takes hours of prep, I'm pulling this out of the archives from last summer. Wouldn't want anyone to think I'm not taking time for my science.

But as a preview for tonight's #dinnerdare, I'll leave you with this:



I was out of town last week, which leaves the rest of the family juggling more balls on the home front than when I am there. This is not ideal, obviously, but got me thinking about some of the ways we try and make our lives a bit easier without succumbing to sacrificing things like home cooking. There are a few meals that we cook on a regular basis these days that require little effort, but are still delicious. We also tend to cook dinners that several double duty as lunches, to avoid paying for meals out.

With that in mind, here is a day of favorites. Bear in mind that all quantities are approximate because I cook by the force, not by book.

It still surprises me how many people roll out of their houses without eating anything before they get to work. This is a no go for me and I need to get some food before any work is getting done. We typically have a full breakfast as a family, but I can understand that this might not work for everyone. But, you DO have time to make a smoothie to at least get some nutrients into your system. All you need is to have some fruit kicking around, even in your freezer if that works better for you.

Dust off your blender and add the following:
One chopped banana
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup each, of two other fruits (whatever you have that would taste good together; melon, blueberry; strawberry, kiwi; etc.).
Enough orange juice for everyone to get however much smoothie they want.

Blend everything on medium for 2 minutes. Don't cheat on the time unless you want a chunky that separates in 5 minutes.

Pour and serve. Done. You can even chop the fruit during the weekend and individually freeze the portions if you are really that rushed.

Well if you cooked extra last night, you don't need this. But, we find it helpful to keep a package of prewashed salad in the fridge. You can grab some greens and toss just about anything on top, from a can of tuna to whatever meat or starch you ate last night.

Get out your slow cooker! Place six chicken thighs, or if you want to get crazy, a whole chicken breast side down (remember to pull out the bag of bits in there), and add a jar of salsa. Put it on low in the morning and come home at night to half a meal ready to go. Bust out some cheese, lettuce (our washed salad mix makes another appearance), tomato, hot sauce and tortillas and you're ready to go. If you're day is longer than you want the chicken to cook, buy a cheap light timer (the ones people use to turn lights on and off when they are not around) and set it so that the crock pot will go on 6-8 hours before you get home.

The Speedy Mojito! This whole section will probably drive resident mixologist, Dr. Becca, into a rage, but sometimes you want a refreshing cocktail and don't have 10 minutes to make it. The only kicker here is that you have to have mint around, but if you toss some in your garden it'll be there for times like these. Pick the tops (about 6 leaves) of two mint plants and crush them a little in the bottom of a 16oz glass with the handle of a wooden spoon. Add clear rum to desired amount and some ice. Pour a whole 8oz can of club soda in the glass and fill the rest with... limeade. No melting sugar or trying to get the right ratio of sugar to lime, just let the good people of Newman's Own, or whatever limeade you buy, to do that for you.

Simple and tasty, that's the basic goal. Easy meals at home keep us from hitting take-out on the way home or ordering pizza every night. After a long day you may not feel like cooking, but if there's a meal waiting for you it is less likely you'll give in to less healthy options.

Anyone else have quick meal "recipes"?

4 responses so far

Guacamole (Non-Applebee's version) #dinnerdare

Mar 13 2012 Published by under [Et Al]

One of my favorite accompaniments to any meal is guacamole, which is a dish that needs to be made a couple hours before you eat it (to let the flavors meld), but not much more than that. It's come to my attention that some people cook with the imagination of a fast food line chef and need an ingredient list and step by step directions detailed enough to show up in an undergraduate thesis. That's cool, not everyone has cooking chops, but can fake it with enough details.

I've done some post hoc measuring of ingredients to provide more precision. You will need the following:


3 Ripe avocados
1/4 cp chopped onion
1/4 cp coarsely chopped cilantro
1/2 cp chopper red pepper
1 lrg clove of garlic
1 lime
Salt to taste (I know. Hard!)
Pepper to taste
Ground chipotle pepper to taste

Combine the chopped onion and the juice of half the lime in a mortar.


Grind up the onion, leaving the onion slightly chunky. Add the garlic clove, minced. Leave the mixture to sit while you do the next steps as the acidity of the lime will soften the onion in texture and taste.


Slice the avocados and place the flesh in a bowl. Mash with a fork, but leave chunks.


Next, wash and chop the cilantro. If you don't have fresh cilantro I would suggest waiting to make this until you do. Cilantro makes all the difference.


Add the cilantro to the mashed avacado, then add the lime/onion/garlic mixture.


Add the rest of the lime juice directly to the bowl and mix it all together.


Chop the red pepper and add it to the bowl.


Finally, add salt, pepper and ground chipotle to taste. I tend to go light on the salt and heavier on the two peppers, but cooking is all about making a recipe work for your tastes.


It's best if you chill the guacamole for a couple hours, covered, in the fridge. The lime will keep it from discoloring in that time frame and the flavors will mix better.

Eat with a chip or add to your favorite food.


21 responses so far

Blog cookoff, let's do this! #dinnerdare

Mar 13 2012 Published by under [Et Al]

Over the past couple of days there has been a mini war of dinners being waged over twitter under the hashtag #dinnerdare. Various folks have weighed in with their dinner du jour, including Jason Goldman's Jambalaya concoction, Dr. Isis' soup and sandwich, a fish curry by Jennifer Lane and NatC's Chana Masala.

But last night things got heated when I broke out the grill and Dr. Isis dug into her way back machine archives to issue a challenge: Let the readers decide who wears the dinnerdare crown.

In principle I have no issue with this, but these cookoff posts often include a recipe, a la this risotto and pasta blog. I'll admit that I'm not really a recipe kinda guy. Recipes are for the weak baking or to giving you an idea for the types of ingredients normally found in a dish that is new to you, but otherwise not really worth a lot to me. My mom is a chef and has always believed in cooking to taste, which was how I learned to cook, so I may find myself in unfamiliar waters quickly. But I'm willing to give it a go if y'all are willing to deal with "coarse" measurements.

One of your household favorite dishes is pizza, and we've settled on one that has been a mainstay of the dinner rotation for a while now. The key is the dough recipe, which is an actual recipe (it's baking). The dough takes a while, but is mostly hands off if you have a bread machine. The starter has to sit for a while and it is better if the finished dough spends the workday in the refrigerator. If you work out the timing, however, you'll come home to perfect dough.

Alright, so once you have got the dough ready and rolled it out to your preferred size and shape, it's time to dress the thing. You'll need about 6-8 oz of Gorgonzola, depending on your love of said cheese and the size of the pizza you are making. You'll also need a medium sweet onion, sliced. Simmer the sliced onion with olive oil on low for 20-30min to caramelize the onion (stop when they are soft and slightly brown). Crumble the cheese over the dough and liberally apply the onion. Add chopped sun dried tomatoes if you want, or leave them off. Bake at 425F on the lowest rack of your oven (if using a pizza pan) or on a preheated pizza stone.

After about 10 minutes, when the dough is firming up on the bottom, cover the pizza in arugala lettuce and put the pie back in the oven for another 5 minutes to wilt the lettuce. Before the lettuce gets crispy, remove the pizza, cut and serve with a glass of Argentinian Malbec.


7 responses so far

Laideez, it's okay, men have validated your position!

Mar 12 2012 Published by under LifeTrajectories

Hey guys, being a researcher and a parent is tough and The Scientist is on it! Today's "nutshell" article in The Scientist, entitled "Research is tough for Dads too" is fraught with fail. It may be a summary of the much more balanced article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, but manages to introduce more patriarchical bullshit in 150 words than I thought possible.

Let's start with the title. The implication is that this is news. Whereas part of me thinks "well, at least some Dads are getting involved enough to feel an effect" the rest of me thinks: A) well now that the survey shows men care, maybe something will get done about it, and B) tough compared to what?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not immune to complaining about the parent/science interface, my last post was just that. But when we, as men, think of having a tough time balancing children and careers, are we thinking of things like having to pump milk in a bathroom stall or closet? What about having to travel to meetings or work engagements with a child, because, ya know, they need to eat. Do guys consider having to go back to work before one's mind or body is ready after having a child as something they share? According to The Scientist " a large percentage of men felt the same stress, suggesting that the problem with research is not a “female problem,” but one that relates to workplace requirements."

Silly "female problems". Good thing it's not just one of those.

15 responses so far

It's not just the sleep

Mar 09 2012 Published by under [Life Trajectories]

As some people around these parts are just finding out, having kids changes everything for you. I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of having kids, but your world changes in enormous ways. One of those ways, hopefully just in the beginning, is sleep.

Our first child started sleeping through the night at about three months. At the time we thought we were going to die, but in retrospect three months was incredible. Those three months were brutal with the combination of new parenthood, lack of sleep and planning an international move while finishing things up where we were, but it was only three months.

Today our second daughter turns 7 months. Last night she woke up and screamed three times before 1am and then again at 4am. Because I had done the two feedings the night before, my wife took the pre-1ams and I was up at 4am. But whether you get out of bed or not, it's never a good idea to be woken up 2-4 times a night. Doing it for seven months straight is an even worse idea.

Sleep deprivation is one of the few legal ways you can break an interrogation subject - it may not be physical torture but it makes you lose your damn mind. For whatever reason I made no alternative plans to change my teaching/grant writing/paper writing schedule when we had the second child and I am now very much regretting that because everyone assumes that after about 6 months everything should be good with the baby. In most ways it is, but the sleep issue is getting worse as it drags on. I've agreed to two collaborative grants in the next two months, have two students finishing up and will be on an NSF panel in a month, on top of teaching.

On a normal schedule this is just another spring, but in a state of sleep deprivation this is stupidity. Not only am I working at half speed at work, but I no longer have a few evening hours to get some extra things done. The combination has effectively cut my weekly working hours by at least a third, but probably more. I am definitely the one-legged man in this ass-kicking competition right now.

But we quickly forget. As soon as the Weer One starts sleeping through the night, our minds will work hard to hide the evidence that there ever was a problem. If they didn't there would be a lot more single-child families.

Who would have thought that the thing I am most looking forward to as conferences approach is not the science or the travel, but the ability to sleep for more than 3 consecutive hours.

21 responses so far

The government doesn't pay for contraception just deception

Mar 08 2012 Published by under [Medicine&Pharma]

The Weer One is once again trying to destroy us via sleep deprivation after lulling us into to thinking we had turned the corner. Rather than write incoherent blabber, go check out this excellent post at White Coat Underground on the politicization of contraception.

No responses yet

Grad school pubs

Mar 06 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

A interesting conversation broke out on twitter this evening when @thelabmix asked:

@drugmonkeyblog @ProfLikeSubst @Namnezia Hey profs, are grad students crippled by lack of pubs from PhD?

Drugmonkey responded with:

whether the person published or not as a grad student reflects lab more than individual potential @TheLabMix @Namnezia @proflikesubst

I couldn't agree more with this, other than to add there are certain fields where it's damn hard to get papers out earlier in the game. Field ecology is the first one that springs to mind, but there are many others. But assuming that a student without major* pubs at the end of their PhD is not going to be successful is a short-sighted view.

Everyone is going to base their opinion on their own experience and mine was that I didn't have things actually published out of my thesis when I was looking for a postdoc. What got me the job was a combination of good timing and strong letters. I was able to get everything from my thesis out within a year of leaving and managed to crank out some solid pubs from my postdoc that got me the job I have now.

So do I depend on pubs from grad students when evaluating their potential as postdocs? Doesn't seem like a great idea to me. It is obviously important to know that people can write and that they have some pubs in the works, but if they are not in Pubmed, I'm not going to sweat it.

*By major, I mean first author pubs related to their thesis

20 responses so far

Undergraduate pen pals

Mar 05 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

A poll for this evening, as I am getting flooded with emails from student who shit the bed on my exam.....

11 responses so far

Greener grass

Mar 05 2012 Published by under [Et Al], [Life Trajectories]

In the past few months I've had some opportunities to travel and visit other universities. In a lot of cases these places have been the type that, by reputation, would be viewed as an upgrade from my current institution. In a couple of instances it wouldn't be close.

When I visit another department I always like to get a feel for how they do business. How are faculty treated? How are the grad students and postdocs treated and supported? What does the lab space look like and how tight is it? How colleagial does the department seem? How much teaching do the PIs do? Etc., etc.

This mix of variables is always different and often in surprising ways. Much of the tolerance for some features is in the eye of the beholder, in that we all make sacrifices in areas that hold less priority in our lives. How much weight do you place on institutional support of grad students? More than lab space? More than having an office and lab in the same building? What about teaching load?

In the non-biomed sciences there is perhaps a surprising amount of variability in the conditions and demands associated with PIhood at institutions across the country. Additional variability can come from the relative funding rates of PIs, but the NSFers can't haul in the type of funding that frees you up in the way that NIH peeps are accustom to, leaving only so far one can deviate from the base. In that way, institutional variation may be more critical to those of us in the "basic" sciences.

All of this is perhaps a round about way to say that I my travels have unexpectedly given me more appreciation for my own job and institution. I think we tend to fixate on the issues we know well from our own places of employment and believe that nowhere else could possibly be as backassward and maybe that is true on certain topics. At the same time, most of us chose our institutions in comparison to others where we might have had an offer. We did so based on the value we place on some of the many variables associated with this job. Perhaps some things were unanticipated from the vantage point of being on the job market, but on the whole it is probably a good idea to identify some of things about your job and institution that you appreciate once in a while.

Then you can go back to complaining to colleagues about how horrible your institution is.

3 responses so far

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