Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cookie Melt-Down

You win some, you lose some, they say. I've continued to attempt to bake despite the fact that my thermometer and my food scale hasn't come yet, this being a hindrance because measuring flour by volume makes for wildly inaccurate proportions.

This week, the blueberry muffins and the pizza have been successes, though I'm still working on the pizza. It's coming out as a thin-crust pizza, and I like slightly more bread-like crust. What failed were the pomegranate and chocolate chunk cookies. The idea is fabulous, and in the oven the pomegranate's seeds turn nut-like in consistency while continuing to add a tartness to the buttery, sweet cookie. The recipe doesn't specify the type of flour, and being the geek I am, I now have bleached and unbleached all-purpose flour, bread flour, and pastry flour, these all having different proportions of starch and protein and having different characteristics. Now scientist and baker Shirley Corrhier has a book called Cookwise, which applies food science to recipes. So I looked over her chart of how to adjust cookie recipes to get the kind of cookie you want: tender, chewy, puffed, flat, etc. There was a lot of ways to do this, but I decided to used pastry flour to get puffy cookies.

Of course, life intervenes, and the baby cried for food just as I was getting the pizza out of the oven to add toppings. I gave Sunny some quick instructions for finishing the pizza, and told him to turn down the oven before making drop cookies from the cookie dough I'd finished. The recipe is a whole stick of butter and a whole cup of sugar, and just enough flour to keep it from becoming candy. I don't know what happened next, but when I came out, the cookies were a series of melted disks on the baking sheet. They'd flattened out and spread out until the whole sheet was one very thin cookie.

Well, Sunny scraped the cookie off of the wax paper and we've been eating the very yummy chunks of chocolate and pomegranate butter cookie. I'm debating whether I should try all-purpose flour next or bread flour, but at this point I'm feeling the urge to try my hand at Japanese cuisine again, so I've shelved my baking supplies until the thermometer and the scale get here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

From Cooking to Baking

I view cooking as a process that provides delight both gustatory and creative while additionally nurturing and sustaining my self and my family. In very little time, I can whip up a meal borrowing Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Californian elements. I don't even have to pre-plan much; I just keep a running list of what staples I need at each of my favorite food stores and stock up when the baby allows me to go there. Then, I just create at whim. However, this week I've embarked upon a journey into that unknown and reportedly fussy land called baking, where doing things ad hoc can result in disaster.

As a chemistry major, I was one of those people who knew what to meticulously measure and what I could just slop into the reagent and save some time. While the journey to the end product was fascinating, I didn't worry too much about getting every detail perfect. As you can imagine, I considered myself a "qualitative" person as opposed to a "quantitative" person. I did really terribly in analytical chemistry, the flavor of chemistry where one tries to perfectly measure things.

Now that I'm trying to teach myself how to bake, I find myself reaching back for some of those quantitative lab skills. I haven't yet broken out a lab notebook to diagram out a bread-making experiment, but I'm tempted to, given that I've forgotten about steps that take an hour or more, delaying dinner (pizza) by an unacceptable amount of time. It's a strange mental shift away from my slap-dash cooking, but it's refresh ing. I'm buying a scale and a thermometer, and with increased accuracy of measurement and execution, I'll be able to make breads that are consistent; once that is achieved, I can then move on to refining the bread to suit my personal taste and circumstances.

Yesterday, I tried to replicate the amazing muffins at The Standard Diner, actually a swank joint here in Albuquerque. Now, I despise blueberry muffins for their heavy texture and cake-mix taste with sour berry remnants. These were amazing and converted me with their small size, actual muffin texture with holes larger than a cake's, a crunchy and sweet top, and fresh blueberry taste. I used the recipe from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, which took about twenty minutes to assemble.

This week I learned why the "room temperature butter" is supposed to be at room temperature: if you pull it out of the fridge, it's too hard and resists the incorporation of other elements. Elementary? Yes, but I had to experience it before I could believe it could resist the wiles of a stand mixer. Yesterday, I pondered the instruction "fold". Why not just mix? So I did. The muffins were yummy, but they rose oddly, and the texture was uneven. Alton Brow's baking book suggests that an uneven crumb is due to overmixing causing more gluten formation, making the walls of the air pockets too strong. But why are the air pockets uneven? I'll have to try the muffins again, and I'll fold this time.

Today I started a pizza dough and a baguette dough. For more flavor and longer shelf life, I'll let them rise overnight. Both are further recipes from The Bread Bible. Pictures of rising dough to come!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Pediatric Book Review: Raising Baby Green

Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care by Alan Greene (Author), Jeanette Pavini (Contributor), Theresa Foy DiGeronimo (Contributor)
ISBN 10: 078799622X

I'm reviewing this book first because I very much didn't like the book. Now, Sunny and I try to live as eco-friendly as possible, with new adaptations when we think of them. We're planning on breastfeeding, using cloth diapers, and plenty of hand-me-downs with the baby. So I considered this book as a possible repository of new ideas.

What I found was that a) this book did not give good, thoroughly researched information on the topics I expected like breastfeeding and cloth diapers and b) the author generically just states over and over to use "organic" products. Regarding the first, in order to be persuasive, the book should have a plethora of facts and some well-chosen hard data. Many of the sites advocating cloth diapers have clearly outlined how much cloth diapers cost, including estimates for power, water, detergent, and labor vs 3 years of disposable diapers. It is very persuasive to tell a new mom that she will save at least $1000 on cloth diapers, and more if she choses to wash the diapers at home instead of using a diaper service, and detail out why instead of magically presenting the final numbers. But such accounting was not in evidence in this book.

Secondly, I have a big problem with the indiscriminate use of the word "organic". The author is apparently fine with the use of organic formula as an alternative to breastfeeding. The primary problem with formula is not how it's grown, it's that it is artificial and inadequate nutritionally and immunologically. In other areas he recommends organic baby wipes, organic this and that. The problem with the word "organic" is that it doesn't always mean what a consumer might think it means. Organic farms don't necessarily use zero pesticides, they just have to use approved ones from a list. Nor are organically produced disposable products the best for the environment. I'm planning on using cloth baby wipes and water for my baby's rear end. What do "organic" disposable baby wipes contain?

So, I rate this book a 2/5 for "nice try. Good idea and poor execution". There's better information out on the internet, don't just take this book's word for it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Pediatric Book Reviews

What can I say...I'm big. At 37 weeks pregnant, I'm nearly full term (38-42 weeks), and I'm big. As far as I can tell, it's all baby and breasts, though, so I'm hoping that walking will become much easier once that baby drops into the world.

In preparation for the baby, many moms will start reading "baby books", a category of nonfiction whose discussions range from how to shop for the baby on a budget to how to parent to how to breastfeed. With one of my fellow residents, who's due the same time I am, I'm developing a curriculum for new parent-residents to complete at home, which means I get to read the books and get credit towards completion of residency at the same time. To track my current forays into the wilds of baby books, I'll be posting brief notes on each book.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Week in Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia 4

Found in Old Town Alexandria's Bistrot Lafayette , the seafood was all fresh, not frozen, and excellently handled in a Chardonay and garlic sauce that left every bit well seasoned and tender. I ate the accompanying creme brulees, one lemon and one espresso, too quickly to take a snapshot of them.

A Week in Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia 3

Wayne and a Metro mural drummer

Happily, I got a chance to meet up with a medical school friend, Wayne, who is also a drummer. He's many kinds of geek, and while we may share some of them, like computer geek, here he demonstrates one I can't claim: band geek.

A Week in Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia 2

Ethiopian entrees on injera

My second, and equally satisfying, experience with Ethiopian food. The entrees ordered come on injera, a pancake-like sourdough flatbread, with more injera for one to pick up food and eat with. Here I have five vegetarian dishes around beef that was exquisitely caramelized without being too sweet. Too bad that I can't have coffee anymore; Ethiopian coffee appeared to be just as exquisite.

Wikipedia on Ethiopian Cuisine

A Week in Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia 1

Jerusalem Artichoke Flowers
Sunny's been away from Albuquerque for work quite a bit this summer, and I've had a hard time keeping the blues away. Since he's working in Arlington for a bit, I decided to come out and visit him and my extended family in Fairfax, VA, despite the fact that my vacation got moved to a week in which he was gone to Missouri for a conference for a few days. Arg. Thus far, we've been to Fairfax, Arlington, and I'm discovering old town Alexandria after having done my obligatory visit to the National Mall. Palace From Mula, Venice Unfortunately, being six months pregnant has really cut into my stamina, and I've been getting lightheaded if I walk too far, and I haven't been able to see as much as I wanted. Still, I had a most amazing seafood pasta today, and I've been able to see an old friend from medical school, as well as spend a lot of time with my favorite Monets.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Experimental Treat: Basa Fillets and Sticky Rice

A few weekends ago, as I recovered from switching between nights and days, I felt up to cooking and decided to try something new to me but very old to Viet Nam: sticky rice and steamed fish.

I love "glutinous" rice and have loved it since childhood. It's stickier than jasmine rice due to a higher amount of amylopectin, not gluten, and it's prepared in any number of ways, both savory and sweet. I've had it dyed red (wedding colors) with plums, white topped with peanuts and sugar, the famous "mango and sticky rice" way of Thai restaurants, and as a portable pocket stuffed with mushrooms, green onions, and select meat. However, it has always failed me when I've tried to make it. Traditionally, it's soaked for hours and then steamed. I've tried shortcuts with rice cookers and saucepans, to no avail. It always comes out burned at the bottom, soggy at the middle, and too hard and uncooked on top. EW. Perfect sticky rice, in my mind, should be firm but not hard, clear, and well hydrated. The solution was to finally use the wok that Sunny'd gotten me last fall, along with accompanying bamboo steamer, line them with banana leaves, and steam. Perfecto! Sticky rice for a side to the main course, and then mango and sticky rice for dessert.

To top it off, I ran across a fish I hadn't heard of at the organic market I shop at. "Basa from Vietnam" was the title. A quick wikipedia search showed that it's a catfish analogue that Mississippi Delta farmers are offended by because it's taken up quite a percentage of the domestic catfish market, so the lobbied to have it labeled as "basa" instead. They've got a point. I'm not really convinced that there are significant numbers of aquafarms in Vietnam that would hold up to US inspections. However, I slapped the fillet on a banana leaf, drizzled it with sesame oil and some ginger, and steamed it, and it came out perfectly. Yum.


1. On Food and Cooking, the ultimate food science reference
2. Wikipedia on Basa

Monday, February 04, 2008

First Prenatal Visit

Our first prenatal visit today went as expected for me. Sunny's never been to one, so I made sure that he got to see my cervix. I think that both of us are reassured that our doctor will listen to us and communicate well; the great news is that since she is a family practice doctor, our relationship doesn't have to end once the baby's born.

Now, I thought that we were about a month pregnant since we started coming up positive the first week of January. Normally pregnancy dating goes by the date on which you started your last period, but since I stopped birth control just a few days before that, I figured that it would take a while before I would ovulate. However, my uterus apparently feels about two months' pregnant, so we'll see what next week's ultrasound shows!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Mommy Diet

After discussing it for quite a while, Sunny and I stopped birth control on December 1st. A month later we're pregnant, which alleviated quite a few worries. Now we're trying to figure out how to optimize my health while the prototype human being develops inside of me. Now I've always been short on exercise, and I love food, so making healthy choices in terms of that is high on our priority list. The babies in the Newborn ICU whose mothers had raging, uncontrolled diabetes haunt me. An infant of such a mother can have just about ANY defect, and that's not going to be my baby.

Research on nutrition and diet has always been unsatisfying because it is impossible to completely control someone's diet. You can't really make two hundred people eat exactly the same diet for years in order to truly study the effects of a diet. Add the insurance liability of studying pregnant women, and the end result is that I view a lot of the dietary advice for expectant mothers with skepticism. For instance, the March of Dimes website suggests that 12 ounces a week of fish that may have mercury is safe. How do they know that! I love salmon both as sushi and as gravlax, and now I'm avoiding both. I have blatantly ignored any advice about soft cheese containing a dangerous amount of bacteria. I figure that as long as it is made from pasteurized milk, and it's made from a reputable dairy, I can handle it. I am unhappily avoiding raw oysters, but cooked clams are still on my radar!

A Perfect Soy Mocha

The food restriction that really breaks my heart is the restriction against coffee. I love coffee. I associate it with good moments from my childhood and great moments from college. Have you ever had Vietnamese-style coffee? It's drip brewed slowly to extract all of the essence of the ground beans, and an inch of sweetened, condensed milk adds creamy lipids and wonderful sweetness. It's better than a daydream and sweeter than cutting class. Now to hear that caffeine can make for smaller babies and have possible, subtle psychological and neurological effects on the baby is scary. But it's a possible, and I love coffee. An occupational concern is also that I use coffee deliberately to perk me up at the end of a long night on call. Otherwise I run the risk of making bad decisions or one of those desperate let-me-sleep-damnit decisions. My current solution is to switch to hot chocolate, which is a bit too sweet, and avoid caffeine except for those situations where I really need it. Not a satisfying solution, but I don't have enough evidence to give it up entirely, or to keep drinking it blithely.

Other Mommy diet resources:

Monday, January 07, 2008

Being Whole: Certifications I Aim to Acquire

Ones I Have Achieved:
Bachelor of Art
Bachelor of Science
Medical Doctor
Kukkikwon certified 4th Degree Black Belt

Ones to Achieve:
Registered Massage Therapist
Associate degree in Culinary Arts
Registered Yoga Teacher