Saturday, March 31, 2007

Spinach and pea yogurt salad (raita)

Raita is a type of savory Indian yogurt salad filled with vegetables and spices. It's often served as a cool, creamy counterpoint to warm, spicy dishes (e.g., hard-boiled eggs in spicy tomato sauce). We just made this spinach and pea raita to go along with some chickpeas in ginger sauce, so this is the first end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

1 1/2 cups frozen (or fresh) peas
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (plus a few pinches for the vegetables)
scant 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
scant 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Defrost and cook the spinach: put it in a bowl, add a splash of water and a pinch of salt, cover, and heat in the microwave for a few minutes (until the spinach is cooked), stirring occasionally. Drain in a strainer, pressing it with a spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
2. Defrost and lightly cook the peas: put them in a bowl, add a splash of water and a pinch of salt, cover, and heat in the microwave for about a minute (or until no longer frosty). We do not fully cook the peas, as we like the texture they add to the dish; feel free to cook them longer if you'd like. Drain the peas in a strainer.
3. Mix the yogurt, sour cream, cumin, coriander, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper together in a bowl.
4. Stir the spinach and peas into the yogurt mixture; serve.


The spinach and peas should be added only shortly before the dish is served; if you're working in advance, do everything up through step 3 and then hold everything in the fridge until just before you're ready to eat.

You can use whatever vegetables you desire. Sahni's (1980) original recipe used exclusively cooked spinach, but you could use cooked potatoes, cooked eggplant, raw tomatoes, raw onions, and/or anything else you think would be good. We typically add about 2 cups total of cooked vegetables.

This recipe is modified from one in Sahni (1980); we added more vegetables and spices in proportion to the yogurt.

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 344-345

Friday, March 30, 2007

A true break

This spring break has turned out better than I anticipated; even though it has been work-filled, I've managed to take some real time off. In fact, I've even become absorbed into a new hobby: the guitar.

Yes, that's right, your host is going to start learning to play the guitar. Now I should make it clear that as of right now I don't even have a guitar in my possession, but thanks to the miracles of the internet and UPS I should have that minor problem fixed by early next week.

While I've toyed with the idea of playing the guitar for a while, the catalyst for this sudden hobby acquisition was a local friend who's just started playing the guitar herself; I got to play with her acoustic guitar over the weekend, and fell in love with the sound after my first few plucks.

Considering that I haven't played an instrument since my age was something close to a single digit, this is going to be a big change. However, I think that's at least part of the appeal; it's been great fun to spend hours and hours of this spring break reading up on guitars, shopping for instruments, and starting to learn the basics of reading music1.

I'm looking forward to making time to learn to play the guitar in the coming years; lets just hope that someday I'll actually be able to make musical sounds with the thing.

1 Indeed, before the start of this week I did not even know how to read music. I'm about as much of a beginner as one can be.

A move behind the scenes

Thanks to losing access to some of my web space (on Comcast), I'm moving some of my files over to a brand new domain1. This move will only affect my static files (e.g., my recipe archive pages and my community college jobs archive), not the blog itself (which will be staying at the same URL). So, if you've bookmarked any of my static files, you should check to see if their location has changed, but otherwise you have nothing to worry about.

However, because I've been using the Comcast space since my blog started, I've got links to that domain embedded in my posts dating back more than three years; it's going to take a while to go through and re-code them all. So, if you're browsing through the archive and come across a link that no longer works, just drop me a line to let me know.

My hope is that this new domain will be a permanent home for all of my blog-related files in the future. I have no plans to move the blog over there right now, but who knows what the future will hold2; at the very least this new domain should give me more freedom with file hosting.

1 If you care, the new domain is, but don't bother going there because all my primary content is still hosted on (or linked to from) blogger. I may snazzify the domain in the future (I've got some vague ideas for projects I could use the space for), but right now all it does is point back here.
2 Especially if those Wordpress fans can convince me that it's worth the effort to install that ...

Friday, March 23, 2007


The first eight weeks of the semester are over, meaning that spring break is finally here, but right now I'm so tired that I'm not even excited. Most of the past few weeks have been filled with 12-hour days and to-do lists that keep getting longer in spite of those hours. And, sadly, even spring break is going to be filled with work (e.g., two committees I'm on are actively working over break on projects that will each take up at least a full day, if not more).

But nobody wants to listen to whining, so I'm off to get some sleep (and hopefully to awaken with a much more cheerful world view).

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A few good links

Weights Build Muscles, But Not the Manly Kind - A New York Times article debunking many of the myths surrounding weightlifting women. Refer female friends to this whenever they say ridiculous things like, "Oh, I only use 5-pound weights at the gym because I don't want to get big muscles."

Florida Girls Lift Weights, and Gold Medals - While we're on the topic of weightlifting women, this is a neat article about weightlifting teams of high school girls.

The confessions of a leading psychic - And, for those who enjoyed yesterday's James Randi's videos, here's a post about one of the featured psychics (James Hydrick) confessing that he was just a fraud.

Teaching link: James Randi videos

James Randi is a debunker extraordinaire and host to the million-dollar challenge, a challenge where any psychic who can convincingly demonstrate that they have supernatural powers will win a million dollars. BoingBoing just linked to an 18-minute video wherein James Randi embarasses James Hydrick, a psychic who claimed to be able to move objects with his mind.

Of course I couldn't stop at just one James Randi video, so I ended up pestering my SO with an hour or two of James Randi videos from YouTube. The videos had excellent footage of psychics in action, and while most of the psychics simply gave up or refused to be tested when confronted, I got to thinking that these would still be a good vehicle for starting discussions of skepticism and pseudoscience in the classroom. Thus, I thought I'd post a few of the videos here as the most recent installment of my teaching link series.

James Randi's classic experiment in horoscopes:

James Randi discussing Uri Geller and Peter Popoff:

James Randi performing psychic surgery (caution: filled with fake blood):

James Randi demonstrating spoon bending and discussing the preliminary test a psychic healer will undergo to earn the million-dollar prize:

James Randi discussing Doris Collins, a cold reader:

James Randi explaining homeopathy (contains no footage of psychics, but is a great lecture on the ridiculosity of homeopathy):

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cream of wheat with egg

We've made cream of wheat for years, but only recently were inspired to try my SO's grandmother's method of making it with an egg added. The added egg makes the cream of wheat smoother, creamier, and golden in tone. Since we just made some for breakfast yesterday morning, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

3/4 cup dry cream of wheat cereal (or "creamy wheat cereal" or "farina", if you buy generics)
3 cups milk (we use 1%)
Pinch salt
2 large eggs
Cinnamon sugar, brown sugar, and/or jelly for topping

1) Add the dry cream of wheat cereal, milk, and salt to a heavy-bottomed (preferably nonstick) pot and heat over medium-high heat, stirring often.
2) Once the mixture has started to thicken slightly, whisk in the the eggs.
3) Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture is the consistency you desire; we like ours rather thick.
4) Serve in bowls, giving the cream of wheat a few minutes to cool before eating (it will thicken slightly on standing); add whatever toppings you desire.


We use non-instant dry cream of wheat cereal; we've never tried using instant cereal, so don't know how that would alter the recipe.

This recipe makes enough to feed two hungry people or three mildly hungry people, but also scales extremely well. The basic proportions are 1/2 cup milk to each 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) of dry cream of wheat, with a minimum of 1 egg and an additional egg for each 3/4 cup of cream of wheat added. In general, we plan on making 3/8 of a cup of cream of wheat per hungry person.

This table should help those who don't like calculating proportions:

Servings Cream of wheat (cups) Milk (cups) Eggs
1 small 1/4 1 1
1 large 3/8 1 1/2 1
2 small 1/2 2 1
3 small or 2 large 3/4 3 2
4 small or 3 moderate 1 4 2
6 small or 4 large 1 1/2 6 3
8 small or 6 moderate 2 8 3
9 small or 6 large 2 1/4 9 4

Note that we haven't made any batches larger than a cup of dry cream of wheat; the larger amounts listed above are extrapolations from our smaller batches.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Goodbye student loans!

It was most enjoyable this morning to log in to my student loan provider's website, click the "show 10 day payoff amount" button, and then proceed to tell them to deduct said amount from my checking account1.

So, as of sometime early next week (when the payment clears), I'll be officially free of student loans. Yippee!

1 For those who are curious, I was actually scheduled to continue paying the loans through 2011, but have been paying accelerated payments for the past year so I could pay them off early (due to the recent increase in student loan interest rates).

New Orleans highlight: food

You all know me well enough to know that food is something I love, and thus I had to seek out good food in New Orleans (thankfully it was not hard to find). And, of course, I had to get pictures of the food to share here.

The first great food I had was at the Commander's Palace, which I've already posted about.

Turtle soup Gulf fish
Bread pudding soufflee Commander's Palace kitchen
Turtle soup, gulf fish, souffle bread pudding, and the kitchen where it was all made.

The next good dinner I ate was at Cochon; I had andouille & sweet potatoes with a black-eyed pea vinaigrette, crab gumbo with a deviled egg, and louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins. Everything was delicious (especially the gumbo; it rivaled the Commander's Palace's turtle soup), but sadly only the crab gumbo picture is worth posting:

Crab gumbo with a deviled egg Cochon in New Orleans
Crab gumbo with a deviled egg, and Cochon.

On my final day in town, thanks to a recommendation by doctorj, I headed off to Central Grocery and got myself a muffuletta; it was most excellent. It was big enough that I even brought some back for my SO (some people bring back flowers, t-shirts, or artwork; I bring back half-eaten sandwiches).

Central Grocery sign Muffuletta
A muffuletta

And, since Cafe du Monde was just down the block from Central Grocery, I took ArtK's advice and headed over there to have some beignets for dessert after my muffuletta:

Cafe du Monde Beignets

Just looking at these pictures again makes me hungry.

I now feel a great need to return to New Orleans to try out all the food I missed (and get more of everything I had).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Busy busy

While going to Innovations was fun, my pile of grading (and other tasks to do) did nothing but grow while I was away. So, this week has been spent playing catch up, and next week will likely be the same, meaning that I won't have much time for posting. Sorry.

That said, I will post some pictures of New Orleans soon. In fact, coming up next will be some pictures of food I had there. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

New Orleans highlight: books

While wandering around New Orleans last week, I came across a sign that I could not resist:

Bookstore sign

Crescent City Books is a used bookstore in the French Quarter (204 Chartres St., New Orleans). Every nook and cranny (and much of the floor) is stuffed full of books:

A good place to read

The store has the perfect ambiance for browsing used books (including couches to read on!), and is extremely well organized. If I hadn't been attending a conference and short on time, I could have spent hours upon hours in there. As it was, I spent more than half an hour reading through some old cookbooks they had in a case up front:

Old cookbooks at Crescent City Books

Most of those cookbooks date to the late 1800's (the one by Warne is the newest of the bunch, and it dated to the 1930's if I recall correctly). Many of them had notes scribbled next to the recipes, and still had little splatters of grease on certain pages. If they hadn't cost more than $100 each (one was priced at $400!), I would have left with at least one.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Thanks for the help

I walk home most nights, and it's typically an uneventful walk. However, tonight I noticed a strange organic-chemical smell about halfway home; since I was nowhere near a chemistry lab, this was odd. A few hundred feet later I discovered the source: a couch by a dumpster was on fire. The couch wasn't bursting into flames, but smoke was clearly pouring out of it.

I don't have a cellphone, so couldn't call the fire department myself, but I had noticed two men closing up a shop just a short distance away. I walked over, introduced myself, and asked if either of them had a cellphone, explaining that there was a couch on fire. They looked at me like I was babbling nonsense; one of them mumbled something like "No phone," and the other just stared in the direction of the couch. After a few awkward moments of silence I asked again, repeating the word "fire," and they said "Um, no, sorry; try the store over there."

I'd seen one of them turn off the lights and lock the door; he could easily have opened the door and called the fire department. Instead, he just stood there letting the couch burn. Jerk.

Isn't the bystander effect great?

Back in town

I'm back!

For those wondering if there was a repeat of this lovely experience, I'm pleased to say that there was not. In fact, I was so tired that I slept through the second landing of the day.

Sadly, today's going to be filled with catching up on all the work that I didn't do while I was in New Orleans (my pile of papers to grade is now very well traveled); I'll try to get some pictures and posts up later today or tomorrow.

In fact, if all goes well, I'll have a post up for Blog Against Sexism Day based around one of the worst talks I've heard in the past few years.

[Update: The post on the worst talk will have to wait for a bit, but I'm working on it.]

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Commander's Palace

I've been having a blast at Innovations, and thanks to being in talks all day and heading out with colleagues every evening, I've had almost no time to myself (or to tour the city, or to write). Two days ago we headed out to the French Quarter, and even walked down the famed Bourbon Street. It seemed like it was the type of place one must be inebriated to enjoy; I wasn't inebriated, so, well, yeah. In fact, I was about to report that New Orleans was only rather so-so in my book (though admitting that I really should tour the city more before forming a final conclusion).

However, that was before I ate dinner at the Commander's Palace last night. The restaurant is in the Garden District, and has some of the best food I've tasted recently. We ate on the second floor, and I got to spend the whole dinner looking out on what was probably a 100-year old oak tree lit up from underneath. It was a gorgeous atmosphere.

I ordered the chef's three-course meal, which consisted of turtle soup, sauteed creole-spiced gulf fish, and bread-pudding souffle. Those meager titles do not do the dishes justice.

The turtle soup was like a magically enhanced bowl of liquid delight for your taste buds; it was filled with creole spices in a thick stock that contained dozens of chunks of meat. My oh my, turtles are tasty. The fish was excellent; it was sauteed perfectly (still wonderfully moist), and lightly covered in a blend of (you guessed it) creole spices. A few vegetables and a light sauce covered the plate, and complemented the fish perfectly. Neither the soup nor the fish were especially hot-spicy, they were just full of flavor. The bread pudding had a souffle on top and a whisky sauce spooned over that. While I love bread puddings, this was probably the weakest part of the dinner, but that's only because I like my bread puddings heavy and rich, and the souffle made it very light (and dulled the flavor a bit). It was still excellent though, and if you complain about bread puddings being too heavy, this one would have been perfect for you.

The dinner didn't come cheap; I dropped $50 including tax and tip, and I only had water to drink. However, the turtle soup alone might even be worth that price in my book; it was exceptional.

I must now return to New Orleans, bringing my SO with me so we can both enjoy the Commander's Palace.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Good morning New Orleans!

I got this view from my room upon waking up this morning:


This is, I believe, the first time I've seen the Mississippi river.

Of course, I won't be seeing too much more of it (or the rest of New Orleans) today, as I'll be attending presentations all day long. On the schedule for the day is a talk on the Applied Math and Science Education Repository, a talk on promoting active learning in online environments, a talk on assessment techniques facutly can use in their courses, and many more. I'm looking forward to it!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Not the best of flights

I’m now in New Orleans for Innovations, but didn’t arrive at quite at the time I wanted to. Let me explain why.

My first flight of the day was to Dallas, and while I have a tendency to get motion sick, I’m usually fine on flights until the landing approach. This flight got me motion sick on the takeoff. In fact, the first hour of the flight was moderately miserable thanks to the near constant turbulence. The flight finally smoothed out for the middle half, and I was able to get a bit of work done (for maybe 30 minutes), but then it got turbulent again and was rocky for the entire descent into Dallas.

Normally I just slowly count in my head, clench my abdominal muscles, breathe deeply, and stare out the window during landing; I’m often unhappy, but usually fine. This time, however, that failed. And it failed when we were something like 50 miles up and a few decades away from the airport. So, I looked for an airsickness bag. There wasn’t one in my seat pocket.

A few minutes later we were still a few dozen miles above the ground in gale force winds (or something like that), so I asked my seat neighbor if she had an air sickness bag (note: that’s probably the question you least want to hear from the person sitting next to you on an airplane). She didn’t have one. Her neighbor didn’t have one. Finally they got a flight attendant to come up, and she found one a few rows up. It’s a great feeling knowing that you're about to throw up and that everyone around you knows that you’re about to throw up.

Before this gets too unpleasant, I should make it clear that I never needed the airsickness bag.

However, that didn’t mean all ended well. By the time we had landed I was probably hyperventilating (or something like it), my mouth was bone dry, my skin was clammy, my arms and legs were all extremely tingly, and I had lost virtually all muscular control over my hands, arms, and legs. In fact, as I sat there slowly figuring out that the muscles that control my fingers weren’t responding anymore, I realized that if I did actually throw up there was no way I could actually hold the bag open: my fingers were locked in a pinching position holding the bag by a corner. That was a problem I hadn’t considered before today.

After the plane landed I just sat there curled up with my eyes closed. I hardly even noticed the people getting off the plane. Even after everyone had left I was pretty sure I couldn’t walk, as I was just getting control of my hands back and I felt light headed anytime I even sat up. And my hands were shaking like mad anytime I tried to do anything with them. It was at that point that the flight attendants noticed me just sitting there; they ended up calling the paramedics.

I then got to meet some of the nicest folks in Dallas; the police officer, paramedics, and American Airlines staff were all exceptionally patient and caring. The paramedics helped me walk off the plane, then politely suggested that I not try walking up the sloped ramp to the terminal until they had checked me out. They didn’t find anything wrong (they initially suspected blood-sugar regulation problems, but they ruled that out with a blood sugar test result of 94 (units unknown)). They ended up saying that I should have eaten something for breakfast (and should have had something other than a carbohydrate-laden snack bar and can of soda for lunch), but didn’t posit a physiological mechanism for the symptoms.

The paramedics suggested that I have a “good meal of real food, not junk food” and see how I feel (recommending, of course, that I head to a hospital if I didn’t feel better; they also offered to take me to one right then and there). I agreed that a good meal was likely all I needed, and so I set about figuring out how I could make that happen since my connecting flight was scheduled to leave soon. The paramedics walked me up the ramp, and the American Airlines supervisor who had been hovering around for some time now went to a computer and started checking flights; it turned out that there was only one later flight to New Orleans, and it was already overbooked. My flight was scheduled to leave in less than half an hour, but I really didn’t feel like flying right then, and I think the supervisor got that idea. After a number of calls she finally was able to get me a guaranteed seat on the next flight out; I have no idea how she did it, but I’ll be eternally grateful, as the last thing I wanted to do at that moment was get on another plane.

A good meal and a Dramamine pill prepared me for the next flight, which thankfully was nausea free. I don’t know if it was the meal, the smooth(er) air, the Dramamine, or the Dramamine-induced drowsiness that made the flight fine; I’m just happy to be here on solid, non-moving ground.

So, the question I’m left with is this: what physiologically happened to me during the flight to remove my conscious muscular control? It has happened once before (on a SCUBA boat trip, actually), and it’s quite an odd phenomenon. I’m thinking that lack of blood flow to the extremities seems like a possible mechanism (maybe combined with breathing too rapidly), but once I get back I’ll have to try to dig up some references.

Friday, March 02, 2007

New Orleans here I come!

This weekend I take off for New Orleans to attend the League for Innovations in the Community College's annual Innovations meeting. I've had a blast at the two Innovations meetings I've been to before, and I'm looking forward to this one.

Innovations is a neat meeting for people involved with community colleges for a few reasons:
  • The meeting focuses exclusively on community college education; there are no K-12 talks, no 4-year universities talking about upper division courses, etc. Since many education meetings focus on K-12 education, this is very refreshing.
  • While the meeting has tons of talks on pedagogy, it also features talks by (and for) administrators hoping to run their colleges more effectively. Last year there was a great talk by a state senator on how colleges should interact with their legislators, and another by a researcher studying the role of department chairs at various community colleges.
  • Each talk is 45 minutes long, which gives the speaker enough time to use the pedagogical technique they're talking about (e.g., using groupwork), or at least enough time to delve into the details of their work.
I'm hoping to blog some of the more interesting talks from the conference (as I did last year), but I may be a bit hindered in that as I'm rooming with a colleague who doesn't know that I blog.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Filing Papers

As long-term readers will know, for the past few years I’ve been involved in a faculty-driven attempt to start a field research program at my campus. At the start of this academic year we were told that the program might be shut down due to the possible sale of our field site, and we’ve spent the last few months fighting to prevent that.

We lost the fight.

Of course there’s currently lots of spin that we didn’t actually lose, and lots of talk about how excited everyone still is about field experiences, but that doesn’t change the fact that our current program is being shut down1.

This morning I’m spending some time cleaning up my office, and I keep coming across papers related to the program. Even though they’re just generic paperwork (budgets, plans for future courses, lists of past courses, summaries of research findings, etc.), they’re filled with hope and excitement. They represent hundreds (and probably thousands) of hours of work by many people in just the past few months, most of which was spent trying to document our successes and justify the program. Now they represent dead weight that needs to be moved out of my current-documents pile and into an archived folder. Who knew that sorting papers could be so depressing?

1 This decision also makes most of the research that I (and my students) have been doing for the past few years meaningless.