It turns out that there is a fabulous series of reasons I’ve been offline for ages. The most immediate of these is that I’m co-authoring a paper! On malaria! Awwwww yisssss!

MK (a.k.a. Princess), our PI, and I are hoping to get it off our desks next week. We’re already hard in on the experiments we anticipate our reviewers requesting, so life is crazy. Crazy awesome, I should say.

As usual, most of my life happens in the lab, but mariachi has been heating up lately. To be precise, we’ve been heating things up. That’s right, we did Valentine’s Day serenades. For the paltry sum of $10, one could contract a full mariachi band to show up and woo one’s sweetheart with Un Motivo and a chocolate rose. It was pretty sweet. Nothing says romance like sappy Spanish yearning, and nothing says cojones like wearing a moño in public.

Speaking of valentines, here’s a sampling of the inkwork I used for my labmates’ valentines this year. My reasoning was that it was late at night, and (apart from mariachi) nothing says “happy-platonic-valentine’s-day” like a gecko. Monsters are a fairly safe bet, as well, for friends with kids or easily amused fiancées

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One of my other friends and I keep in touch by letter, so I sent this valentine to her and her cat, Cleo.

2012 valentine for Cleo

I’ve also been up to some interviewing, writing, painting, and orchid-tending on top of teaching and cheffing, so look for some pictorial updates over the next month or so. There will likely also be recipes as we discover how, exactly, to make a balanced meal when someone hands you 10 whole chicken carcasses, several pounds of asparagus, and 15 packs of last-day blueberries.


In the midst of applications, there is always time for my friend Mroo’s fabulous flourless chocolate cake. There is also always time for singing, even when the neighbors would really prefer that we didn’t. Inevitably, cake and singing led to songs about cake, and I wrote this one to the melody of the infamously bawdy Moose Song. Feel free to sing this next time you’re baking; I know I will!


When I was a young lad, I used to like tarts.
I’d munch all the crunchies and pick them apart,
but the sugar, it burned til my glaze went opaque.
You’d never taste failure like that with a cake.

Cake, cake, I likes a cake
I’ve never had anything tasted so great.
I’ve had lots of sugar in all that I make
but I’ve never had anything quite like a cake.

I tried many recipes, baked every bun
with cinnamon, filbert, or coconut rum,
but nothing I buy and nothing I make
compares to a flour-less chocolate cake!


Meringues are a treat for a Saturday night,
and even cannoli or mousse is alright,
but cake is so simple, delicious and moist
It’s something on me that you won’t have to foist.


There’s artery clogging sweet treats on each shelf
in my pantry I just say, “to heck with good health!”
I cook so gourmet that my oven might break,
but I’ve never baked anything quite like a cake.


So in my old age I am quite satisfied,
though my waistline now measures a hundred feet wide.
I’ve never once tasted a sugar that’s fake.
Die before diet! Let’s have some more cake!

This weekend has been memorable. Allow me to demonstrate:

FRIDAY: After a 9am biochemistry class, I biked over to the hospital to get started on my thesis work. First came the 2 hour consultation with my PI about the underlying biochemistry, the proposal, methodology and security qualifications. After an unintended lunch break (my PI is adamant about 2 things: I must bike to work, and I must stop missing meals) came the most voodoo experience to date: the animal lab! It’s a clean facility, so you have to swipe into the vestibule with your SSN, carrying all your equipment in plastic baggies. Through a second set of doors is the equipment transfer room, where you spray your bags with this stuff that could kill Chlorox and put it through a double door to the lab interior. Then you head back out to the vestibule and over to the locker rooms, where you gown up: mask, hair net, gown, booties, gloves…the whole nine yards, also to be sprayed down with terminator spray. You can then head into the lab to go get your stuff, but your personal lab will be behind at least two more SSN doors, for which you must add a second layer of gloves and booties and terminator spray. Every time you go in and out that door, you have to add or subtract a booty layer. There’s no contamination from the supplies, either, since everything goes through the bedroom-sized autoclave. I kid you not – food, water, bedding, cages, and anything else a mouse might need – it all, gets sterilized. I just hope I never get locked in the autoclave room on accident.

We were there on business, with an entire rack of mice to genotype. In the process, I was bled on, shat on, pissed on, bit and scratched, and nevertheless came away with everything I needed and a wealth of advice from the superhumanly patient supervising tech (who is absolutely, unequivocally awesome). Then we did PCR! Whooooooooo! Hot dang, I love my job! Even when it means my day is 9am-7pm solid science and I smell like latex for the next two days.

Then we had Chinese and watched Memento until about 1 am. It was fabulous.

SATURDAY dawned early at 6:00, when I got up to prep for the International Crisis Aid 5k over at SLU. Six of us from WU formed a team, although at least 4 of us were under the weather: one suitemate is getting over swine flu and a sinus infection coupled with allergy testing, two of the other guys were at the tail-end of sick, and I had just given blood. Team of cripples that we were, we nevertheless piled into the car and headed off. The race was…confusing. SLU’s campus is pretty tiny, so in order to get 3.1 mi in, the route was pretty crazily complex. There were volunteers at every corner to direct you, though, so it all started off ok. However, someone had changed the route and not told all of the volunteers, so while the first about 50 people were shunted the right way, the next at least 100 of us got directed right instead of left and wound up doing at least a half mile extra and coming at the finish line from three different directions. It was all in good fun, though, and the complimentary bagels and massages afterward were entirely worth the ~4 mi run.

SUNDAY: tonight was chili night. With cornbread. Followed by monster cookies and rootbeer floats to Flight of the Conchords.

And my suitemate’s hipster moment. Heheheh. This is right up there with our budding Genji rap and vegan vapire epic.

Tonight was yet another where it reached 9:30 before I realized that a handful of raisins and an apple wasn’t supper, and headed for the kitchen. I dumped a yam in a pot with some sugar, but remembered that the fruit in my room hadn’t ripened yet, so I should probably make breakfast, too. Since I only bought flour and baking powder on Saturday and have no conventional measuring tools, baking is more like an extension of organic chemistry lab right now but, since the experiment with the apple doodad worked out palatably, I decided to try for something scone-ish. It turned out to be really, really good, so I thought I’d share. Feel free to laugh at the method of preparation.

Borough Biscuits

Turn the oven to 220ºC. In a slightly damp mixing bowl (cleaned because you don’t know where it’s been, but you didn’t have any towels to dry it) combine:

1 3/4 or 2 cups flour*
2 small pinches crushed sea salt
round about two pinches of baking powder
a few spoons of dark brown sugar (about a quarter of a cup, max)
a dash of nutmeg

Mix it all together with your fingers, making sure to break up the sugar clumps. And try to make sure not too much sticks to the damp. Cut in about 2 Tbl of salted cold butter to slightly smaller than peas and mix again. Then add the wet stuff:

1 egg
a good dollop of double cream (whatever the measurement is for the end bit of a ladle I can’t claim to know)
enough water to make a good dough

Mash it all together with a fork until everything is wet, adding the water as necessary. Now flour your hands and your flatmate’s baking sheet and separate the dough into six lumps. Shape the lumps into small rounds and flatten a bit. Place them at least an inch apart on the tray and stick in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes while you do the dishes and put everything away. By the time you’ve made tea, they’re lightly brown  and oh so savory. Goes really well with Yorkshire Gold ’round midnight. Mmmm.

*a cup being one of those cheap plastic cups from the local supermarket. I think it might translate as closer to 3/4 cup, but I can’t test it. Sorry ’bout that.

Also, I’m addled for sure, but now that I have the flat pretty much to myself, I sing whenever I’m in the kitchen. Most people do this in the shower, or the car, and usually in their own language, but there’s not much else to do in the kitchen either. Except to think. As noted, I’m an idiot, but I came up with this while my hands were busy:

Skritch scratch Jimminy Thatch
the harp is on the moor.
The mockingbird is in the trees,
the piper on the shore.

Quick, back to Mr. Black,
the raven’s in the hall,
the shepherd boy stands at the gate
the swallow’s in the wall.

Trip, tap, and doff your cap
the lark begins to sing
the morning light is drawing near
the little birds take wing.

Pick pack and watch your back
the eagle’s eyes are gold
the forest grows two mighty trees
the morning mist is cold.

crick crack down Hunter’s Track
the thrush is trilling loud
the harper’s silent on the moors
the noon without a cloud.

rip, wrap for Mr. Black
a crow the raven joins
the owl is waking in the loft
the magpie nests on coins.

Click clack no looking back
the hawk is at the door
the sheep have hidden in the yard
the mouse beneath the floor

Skritch scratch, Jimminy Thatch,
you’ve played the day away
the shepherd boy sleeps in the fields
and night has come to stay.

Honestly, this poem is not quite as nice as it sounds, and I’m not sure whether it should be have hidden or are running in the penultimate stanza. Perhaps I’ll add in another stanza either before or after. Edit: I’ve interpolated two stanzas right before that, and it may sound a bit better now, although it lacks the magic of the kitchen. Now in the last line changed to and, too. Second Edit: trick track down Mr. Black changed to crick crack down Hunter’s Track. Sorry, but the kitchen witch compels me.

In other news, JRR Tolkien has a story being published for the first time in just 10 days! Guess where I’m going to be on the 30th/1st? That’s right, sleeping in the air ducts of Waterstones so I can drop down from on high to spirit away the first copy. Fortunately that’s a few weeks before my first exam, although if he retold the entire tale of Sigurd and Gudrun, I may have to put it off until I’m back in the States. Dang, that’ll be awhile.

I  always feel blatantly American here – even if you discount the accent, I’m scruffy and wear jeans, hiking boots and a jacket – and though I’ve been considering a haircut to blend in, tonight my stomach also asserted its nationality. One of the things I haven’t found despite all my legwork has been any sort of Cajun food. There are a thousands of Indian and Chinese restaurants, plenty of Mediterranean, Russian, and African groceries, and almost everything at the open markets, but there don’t appear to be enough Acadians in the city to warrant groceries or restaurants. Even the better-stocked groceries don’t seem to carry so much as grits or jerk seasoning, so tonight I tried to approximate good old dirty rice with what I had on hand. It wasn’t truly Cajun; if you averaged the longitudes of the spices and ingredients, you’d wind up pretty much back in Britain. Still, it was nice to have a semi-American meal.

Well, I hope all you lads and lasses are having a very happy St. Valentine’s Day, especially those of you in the states, who are hopefully about to enjoy a tasty supper in pleasant company. Here supper is well past, so after doing dishes I’m going to crawl in bed with my current book (no, it’s not Modern Parasitology) and leave the partying to other time zones.

I went out to the world-famous Portobello market today for a bit of a grand day out, and discovered not only lots of antique surveying equipment, maps, skeleton clocks, and books (which was exciting enough), but a Normandie cheesemonger. It’s small, with very polite vendors, and everything is written in French. As someone who speaks just enough French to make jokes about potatoes*, I hung back a yard or so while trying to figure out which cheese was which from what the other customers were saying. It didn’t help too much, and the only non-English cheese I recognized was Bleu Average. It was going to be brie or bleu in any case, so I joined the queue and asked for about 300g of bleu cheese. It turns out that this is the kind of place where, in one corner of a metre-long case, there are seven different types of bleu cheese. I was treated to an explanation of the sharpness and consistency of each, and came home with this wonderful, creamy sharp goatsmilk bleu. Tomorrow I’ll get some crackers, and then I can die happy.

*c’est la vie, c’est la guerre, c’est la pomme de terre, in case you were wondering.

With the 5 hour time difference, the inauguration yesterday was late afternoon for me, so while our new president was enjoying his luncheon, I went and cooked supper. Usually I cook sans recipe with whatever happens to smell good at the time, and this meal was no exception. However, it did turn out exceptionally well, so I thought I might share:

Melt a slice of butter in a skillet with a liberal amount of garam masala and a few dashes of turmeric, and roll it around so it coats the pan and the spices are well mixed. Dump in one of those 180g packs of “Seafood Selection” from the grocery store (mussels, king prawns, and squid suckers) along with a sprinkling of salt, a little black pepper, and a dash or two (or three, if you’re me) of cayenne. Sauté it until the seafood is done and the spices are beginning to get a little crispy, then serve hot.

Although I didn’t have any on hand, I’d serve this on a bed of israeli couscous with a glass of dry white wine or passion fruit juice. What I had at the time, however, was a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape for toasting Obama. It worked just fine. 🙂

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