Archive for January, 2007

My family is cursed.

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Or, not to be so egocentric (familiocentric?), we are the curse of wildlife in Southeast Missouri.  I hit a coyote on I-55 tonight.  This after Hannah hit two deer over Christmas break.

I was driving home, a little before 7, having worked out at the gym with Binnielula and then picked up food at the grocery store*, and I saw a coyote on the shoulder of the road.  I immediately hit the brakes, hard.  I’ve been sensitive about animals on the road since Hannah’s deer encounters, so I try to be extra cautious.

The coyote ran out in the road, predictably, right in front of me.  He still could have made it, but he stopped right in my lane, as if suddenly he said to himself “Oh, shit! This is a freeway! Who could have guessed, from the unceasing din of traffic, constant flow of cars going by, and the bright lights whizzing around, that there was an actual highway right here?”  I couldn’t manage to miss him.  I swerved, but the left front corner of the car hit him hard.

I  hate this.  A good friend of mine from high school totaled her car because she swerved to avoid a turtle.  I can empathize.

Thank God for technology

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

About two months ago I decided to quit using Crisco in my pie crusts.  I’ve made pies with Crisco for about thirty years, and one might suggest that they haven’t killed me so far, but it seems clear that trans fat is bad for you and should be minimized in the diet.  So, I figured I’d just learn to make pie crust with a different fat.

A lot of people swear by lard, but I just find the idea distasteful.  I learned to make pies from my sisters, who learned from my mother, who always used Crisco. (It was first sold in 1911, the year she was born, which is fitting).   Besides, I have some vegetarian friends; I wouldn’t want them to be unable to eat my pies.

So, I figured I’d use butter.  My first attempts at this came out pretty badly.  Butter isn’t just fat, like Crisco; it has some water in it too.  If I make pie crust with butter using the same amounts of flour, fat, and liquid that I do with Crisco, the crust sizzles when baked, and turns tough.  It’s kind of like very tasty leather.
So made up a bunch of little test batches of crust with different amounts of liquid and butter added; I found that you get a very nice, flaky crust if you keep the amount of liquid really low (like 3 C flour, 1 C butter, 6 Tbsp water for a large two-crust pie).   The problem is, the crust is practically powder before baking.  I can line the bottom of a pan with it, but as a top crust, it’s almost impossible to get onto the pie. It crumbles.  And forget woven lattice tops.

Still, it tastes good, and it doesn’t have any trans fat in it.

But today, after a frustrating experience with an apple pie for the Unitarian potluck tonight, I went to the Crisco web site, and discovered that they’ve replaced all their formulas with a new “zero trans fat” formula.  Okay, it has some trans fat, but since it’s less than 0.5 g per serving, they can round down.  And I’m ready to accept this as a triumph of food technology, and resume making pie crusts the way God intended, with Crisco.  Preferably butter-flavored Crisco.

Indoor vs Outdoor

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

Today I rode 20 miles on the indoor trainer (a Giant mag resistance model).  Yesterday I rode 21 miles outdoors.  My thoughts on their relative merits:

Indoor -

Easy to get dressed for it.  No road hazards.  No headwinds.  You can watch “My Name is Earl” during it.

Outdoor -

Tailwinds.  Scenery and terrain vary.  You can’t watch “My Name is Earl” during it.

A tough choice.  Mainly, the deciding factor was that it was spitting snow or sleet today, and I’m not loony enough to go out in that.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping the weather will be good next Sunday, when I’m trying to organize a 50-mile ride from Dutchtown down through Advance and Delta.

Roasted Vegetable and Cheese Enchiladas

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Slice four or five medium yellow summer squash, a red sweet pepper, a yellow sweet pepper, and four green onions.  Spread in a single layer on a Pam-greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt.  Put under the broiler.  Turn every 2 minutes until they have brown spots on all sides.  Turn oven down to bake at 350.
Heat 10 whole wheat tortillas, one at a time, in a dry frying pan or griddle.  Stack on a plate.

Microwave four cups of frozen spinach. Salt to taste.
Grate about two cups of cheese (mozzarella and a little cheddar)

Open two small cans of diced green chiles, and three cans of red enchilada sauce.

Spray a 9×12 baking pan with Pam.

Put 1 oz of cooked spinach (I used a black Volrath disher to measure), 1/8 of the grated cheese, 1/8 of the roasted veggies, and a heaping teaspoon of diced chiles on a tortilla.  Roll it up and place in the baking pan.  Repeat until you have 8 in a row across the pan, then put the last two at right angles lengthwise along one long edge.

Pour the three cans of sauce over the enchiladas.  Sprinkle any extra cheese and chiles over the top.  Place in oven and bake until cheese on top is lightly browned and sauce is bubbling — 30 to 40 min.

Serve hot with a nice Shiraz.

Happy Birthday, whole bunch of cool folks.

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Check it out. Sure, every day is someone famous’ birthday, but today was a huge one. Etta James! Dobzhansky! Lagrange! Boyle! Robinho! General Pickett! Burns!


Choral Union!!!

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

I love choral union.  It’s the university’s non-auditioned community choir.  Every semester we meet on Tuesday nights, and then perform something with the University Orchestra.  This semester we’re doing Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum.  Tonight our accompanist wasn’t there (death in the family) so we just listened to a recording of the piece and followed along in scores.  It’s not too hard.  Handel has lots of notes, all those melismas, but he doesn’t do much that is really surprising.  Predictable is good, when you read music the way I do (i.e. poorly).  And it’s in English; I don’t mind other languages much, but many of the members have a problem with them.  And when we did Mozart’s Requiem a year or two ago, a bunch of people called Speak Out (column in local paper where illiterates can rant anonymously) and complained that we were always singing in furrin lingo.
Anyway, it was nice to see everyone again.  My friend and chiropractor, Jim, was there – we’re baritones.  There aren’t a lot of baritones — a big clump of basses sitting in the back, but just a few of us up front.   And I saw my friend Judy, who does a lot of cycling and is the only female tenor in the group.

Furthermore, Robin and I met at the gym again this afternoon and then went out for dinner before choral union, and I’m filled with uxorial bliss.

Deneke Road bridge across the diversion channel

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

Deneke Road bridge across the diversion channel

Yesterday while wasting time in the Biology Office, I was talking to Joe Berger. He’s a University plumber, and he often drops by the office to hang out. Particularly on Friday, also known as “admiration day,” because it’s the day you go around and admire the stuff you got done during the week. Anyway, he mentioned living somewhere near Allenville, and driving out the Allenville road from highway A.

I said “Is that paved? I’ve ridden by there a lot, but I didn’t trust it.”

“Yeah, they blacktopped it all the way a couple of years ago. You can go down there and cross the diversion channel to get to N.”

Wait a minute. Cross the diversion channel? For those not familiar with Swampeast Missouri, around the turn of the 20th century some landowners got together and developed a system of canals, etc. to drain the southeast corner of the state. Prior to that it was an enormous wetland, on a par with the Everglades; now it’s cotton, rice, beans, etc. An ecological catastrophe, but completed long before anybody thought that wetlands were good for anything.

Anyway, on a bicycle, if you want to head south from Cape Girardeau, you have a problem. There’s a big canal, the Diversion Channel, that runs west to east just south of Cape, and the only crossings I knew of were I-55 (no bikes) and MO 25 (rideable, but insane traffic). Needless to say, I was excited about the prospect of a paved county road crossing the diversion channel.

So today I drove down to Highway A and rode down the Allenville road. Above you see the bridge.

Here I am at the bridge:

Me at the Allenville bridge

Okay, not the greatest photo. I used the “timer exposure” setting and set the camera on the ground. Still, you can see the bullet holes in the sign.

Not to skip over the charms of Allenville. Here’s the Lawnmower Racetrack:

Allenville entertainment
And here’s a house, I think the nicest one in town, with a really great oak tree:

Allenville home

Finally, I bade a fond farewell to Allenville, and headed west on N to another noteworthy locale:

NUT junction
NUT junction, where Missouri highways N, U, and T come together. BTW, U crosses the diversion channel just to the right of this view. In fact, I later found that CR253, just west of Whitewater, also crosses the diversion channel and is also paved all the way. So, a big day for Southeast Missouri biking.

Play date and dinner

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Binnielula and I had a play-date at the gym this afternoon. She used the treadmill, I got on the stationary bike. My hip is finally feeling better, and I should really get out on the real bike soon — yes, it’s cold, but I have a new set of insulated tights that I need to try out anyway. Sunday it’s supposed to snow, so I need to get out while it’s still dry.

We came home (in separate cars, as usual) and here’s what I did for dinner:

Put water on to boil for pasta, put chicken breasts in microwave to thaw.

Poured a glass of wine (3-buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s).

Cut up a green pepper and a red pepper, a Granny Smith apple, an orange, and a mango.

Ground up a couple of ancho peppers and some cumin in the spice grinder. (Okay, it’s a coffee grinder, but this one is just for spices).

Sprinkled some of the ground spices on the thawed chicken.

Sliced two shallots.

Melted some butter in a big frying pan and threw in the shallots.

Read the Atlantic for a while until the shallots were translucent.

Tossed the chicken in the pan.

Turned the chicken, added a little more ancho/cumin mixture.

Added the sliced apple to the pan, along with a little more butter.

Water started boiling, so I put whole wheat penne in it.

Chicken was starting to get done. Took smaller pieces out and put them on a plate.

Added peppers and mango to pan.

Penne got done. Drained them.

Took last piece of chicken out, put it on plate.  Added orange to pan.
Added some brandy to pan with veggies and fruit, lit it, let alcohol burn off.

Went upstairs and called Binnielula for dinner.

Poured more wine.


This semester is an extended vacation

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

As part of my new “retiring on the job” plan, I’ve managed to get a schedule with no classes on Tuesday or Thursday for the first half of the semester.   Yep, that’s me.  Three days a week.  I’m going to get a lot of research done.

Of course, this is partly because I have a web class, so I’ll be putting in a fair amount of teaching time outside the classroom too.  But I’ve taught it several times before, so it’s well organized.

Today I turned in two reviews of scientific papers on Cuphea.  It’s a plant genus that I used to work on, back before I started doing fungal stuff.  My old friend Dennis Ray is editor of Industrial Crops and Products, and he emailed me right around Christmas to ask if I’d review these papers, since there aren’t a lot of people with any Cuphea expertise around.  So I did, but it turns out that what they really needed was someone with heavy statistics expertise.  I’m not that up on principal components analysis, frankly.   Still, I think I can tell if an argument makes sense or not, so I guess it worked out.

Next I have to settle on papers for the students to read in Problems in Cell and Molecular Biology.  I’m doing a unit on RNAi first — I have a couple of papers I like, but I need to look at them more carefully to see if they’ll be appropriate.

I’m also trying to come up with some exercises for the Molecular Genetics class.  I have them read scientific papers, too, but this is a lower-level class, and I want to break them in gradually.  I’m going to pull out a single experiment and results from a paper and have students explain that, then work up to whole papers.  We’ll see.  I’ve been frustrated in the past with attempts to get students to understand primary research.

Star Trek Goes to Congress

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Just passing on this great little video from the floor of the House, from Andrew Sullivan’s blog.