Tuesday, April 23, 2013

12 Things Science and Cooking Have in Common

1.     You follow a recipe/protocol

2.     Quality of ingredients is everything!  Fresh ingredients/reagents produce the best results.   Using the expired ingredients/reagents usually means trouble.  That said, sometimes you can get away with using stuff that’s 10 years old – no guarantees, though!

3.     When two different people follow the same recipe/protocol the results will always be slightly different. 

4.     Everyone has their own way of pipetting, cutting vegetables, beating eggs and splitting cells.

5.  The first time you try a completely new recipe/protocol (involving a new technique or using new Fancy Equipment) – most likely it will not work.

6.     You adjust your recipe/protocol to fit your needs.  Often, this is a direct  consequence of 5.

7.  Trouble-shooting.  This includes but not limited to figuring out which reagent went bad, fixing the food processor/centrifuge, frantically calling the company because the freezer is down, dealing with radiation safety and garbage collection and last but not least, calling your mom for advice. 

8.     There will be a day when your trusted recipe/protocol will not work even though you did everything as usual and you are 100% sure your ingredients are fine.  You blame the weather/aliens/mother-in-law/boss.

9.     You can mindlessly follow the recipe/protocol, but it is so much better if you understand the science behind it.

10.  When you get a good result – be it data that sheds new light on your project or absolutely delicious pies – it is absolutely, remarkably AWESOME and you want to share the pies – or data – with the world.

11. It is really, really INFURIATING if you can never again make your pies taste THAT good – or if you can’t replicate the data.

12.   Being persistent and not afraid to fail is the key to success.

Do you think science and cooking are similar?  Anything you can add to this list?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Grandma Anja's Borsch

My wonderful Grandmother Anja is from a small town in Belarus.  Her version of Borsch is very different from the classical Russian or Ukranian Borsch.  It is vegetarian and could easily be vegan if you skip the sour cream at the end.  This soup is super-easy to make and turns out delicious.  

Here is what you’ll need:  

2 ¾ quarts of water

One medium-size onion
¼ of sweet pepper (I prefer red, orange or yellow)
Bay leaves (2-3)
2-3 medium carrots
1 LARGE Beet (or two medium ones)
2 medium potatoes
Salt/pepper to taste
2/3 small Cabbage
¼ cup tomato sauce
            * instead of tomato sauce, you can add lemon juice – after you turn off the soup.

  1. Add whole onion, pepper and bay leaf to the boiling water, followed by the diced carrots. 
  2. After the water starts boiling again, add the shredded beets.
  3. Add salt and pepper.  Allow to cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add thinly sliced potatoes and parsley (fresh is best but dry is ok, too).  Bring to a boil and allow to cook for 5-6 minutes.
  5. Add the thinly cut cabbage and tomato sauce. 
  6. Cook for another 7-10 minutes.  Taste and add more salt, if needed.


Serve it with a dollop of sour cream and a slice of hearty bread.  

Now, a few things to keep in mind:  the soup tastes better if you let it sit for a day.  Don’t boil the beets too long – they will turn brown (this will not affect the flavor, but the beautiful red will be lost forever).  The order of how the vegetables are added is important (my mom just throws everything in at the same time and her Borsch tastes very different).

Friday, April 19, 2013


So.  Here is what I have done so far.

  • Went through a pile of kids toys and sorted keepers vs. creepers.  Keepers are now kept in a big box in the basement labeled “baby toys”.  That’s exactly what they are – toys my kids grew out of but I am choosing to keep (yeah, pack rat, I know) in case kid #3 happens along.

  • Went through some boxes in the basement and found unused diapers and some hand-me-down baby clothing that I totally forgot about. 
  • Went through our basement closet and pulled out 3 items I haven’t worn in 10 years.  One of these had to be trashed.
  • Went through some more boxes in the basement and found my old camera I bought in 1994 (the year I came to the US from Latvia).  That camera has been through a lot with me: high school, college, Israel, China, Italy and a portion of grad school.  It has seen my friends and family….  It has been to so many amazing places with me…. And into the garbage it went.  So it goes. 
  • My husband took a pile of things (toys, clothing, diapers, books) to a nearby shelter.  I think I can breathe a little better now.  Less stuff = more oxygen.  And I am so happy that these things that were simply taking up space in our house will be useful to someone else.