Monday, February 26, 2007


Oden is a traditional Japanese stew that's often served in the fall and winter by street vendors at little sidewalk stalls. We're somewhat chagrined to admit it, but our interest in oden was spawned, at least in part, by the fox spirit oden stand in xxxHolic, a manga (and now anime) by Clamp. The oden looked so good, and the fox spirits were so cute, that we just had to try some.

Oden is typically filled with an array of tasty bits, often including various types of tofu, fish cakes, and root vegetables. The flavoring is relatively subtle; much like sushi, this isn't a dish that's going to blow you away with spices. The main flavorings are dashi (fish stock), soy sauce, sake, mirin, a little sugar, and the savory flavors the other ingredients release after being simmered for a few hours. That's it. The joy of this dish comes from comparing the subtle flavor and texture differences between the various ingredients, all the while being warmed to the core with steaming hot, savory broth. This is a great soup for a cold winter evening, and thus it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

6 hard-boiled eggs
3 carrots, peeled
3 red (or other waxy) potatoes
~6 inches daikon root, peeled
1 burdock root (gobo, scrubbed but not peeled)
1 block extra firm tofu (~19oz)
1 block fried tofu (abura-age or atsu-age, ~9oz)
1 package fried tofu and vegetable balls (ganmodoki, ~4oz)
1 block yam cake (konnyaku, ~10oz)
1 fish cake (kamaboko, ~6oz)
1 broiled/grilled fish cake (yakichikuwa, ~6.5oz)
1 tubular gluten cake (chikuwabu, ~5oz)
3/4 cup low salt soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
1/4 cup mirin
3 tablespoons sugar
Enough dashi to cover (~12 cups, but may vary widely)
Japanese mustard (karashi; we use prepared neri wakarashi that comes in a small tube)

0. We've read that boiling the yam cake can remove some bitterness; to do this, simmer the yam cake in a pot of water for ~5 minutes.
1. Cut all the solid ingredients into large pieces (~1 1/2-inch cubes or slices for most items; cut the gluten cake into ~1/2" slices, and the fish cakes into ~1/4" thick slices, as they may expand during cooking). The pieces should be a good size to pick up with chopsticks.
2. Put all ingredients except the mustard into a large pot and bring to a bare simmer.
3. Simmer very gently, covered, for at least 1 hour, stirring infrequently; the longer the oden simmers the better (aim for at least 2 hours). You don't want the oden to boil rapidly, as this may cause the ingredients to fall apart.
4. Serve in bowls; attempt to place a sampling of each ingredient into each bowl. Serve with mustard on the side in little dipping bowls; we mix our mustard with a little bit of the oden broth to make a dipping sauce. Japanese mustard is very hot (much like wasabi), so use with caution.


Oden is extremely customizable; it can be made with just a couple of ingredients or a whole host of them. We cobbled together the list above by perusing various recipes online, but there's nothing special about what we've included (and we most certainly make no claims as to the authenticity of this recipe). Use whatever you like, and experiment with proportions - the amounts listed above are just what we can easily pick up at our local Japanese market.

To make dashi from scratch, see our recipe here.

To hard-boil eggs, we cover raw eggs with warm tapwater (by at least 1") in a large pot, and then cover the pot and put it over high heat. Once the water boils, we reduce the heat and simmer the eggs for 15 minutes (for large or extra large eggs). Then we drain the hot water from the pot, fill the pot once or twice with cold tap water to stop the eggs from cooking, and then leave the eggs in a bowl of cold tap water until needed. You should be able to hard boil the eggs while you chop the rest of the ingredients.

We don't particularly like the yam cake (we left it out of our most recent batch), but we've included it in the recipe becuase it's apparently a traditional addition to Oden.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Teaching link - baby mouse development

I'm insanely busy this week coordinating a visit by multiple out-of-state advisers for one of our programs1, but my SO found something that made me smile amidst the mountains of work: a series of daily pictures of mouse development. If you want to talk about mouse development post-birth, or need illustrations for what mice look like at various ages (from 1 - 28 days), this would be a great resource.

And, if you absolutely must see more pictures of mice, go take a look at my pictures of baby mice and adult mice.

1 Yet again I'm swamped with work, and yet again it's unrelated to my classroom teaching. One of these semesters I've got to learn to say no to anything unrelated to the classroom so I can actually have time to work on improving my teaching ...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Teaching link - flowchart of the scientific method

BoingBoing recently linked to a flowchart comparing how the scientific method and religious faith build knowledge. The contrast between science and religion is great, but could be somewhat offensive to religiously inclined students1. However, the scientific method flowchart is clear and informative by itself; I think it would be a great aid for explaining the scientific method to introductory students.

The image is by Wellington Grey, and is Creative Commons licensed.

[Update just before posting: PZ Myers has posted the images as separate figures; his versions should be easier to use in class.]

1 I'm torn about using the faith portion of this in my classes; on the one hand it is a decently accurate representation of how faith-based systems build knowledge, but on the other hand religion is such a taboo topic that it seems easier to leave that part of the figure out.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Buttermilk mashed potatoes

My SO loves mashed potatoes1, and some version of them has been included in many of our holiday meals to date. However, while we've posted recipes for variants on mashed potatoes, we've never posted our recipe for them. This omission is partly due to the fact that we don't have a recipe for mashed potatoes; we just throw everything together into a bowl, stir, and adjust the flavorings to suit our whims. Thus, to create this recipe we had to do something we hadn't done for years: we measured how much of each ingredient went into our latest batch of mashed potatoes.

This recipe is nothing special; it's just standard American mashed potatoes. Since we just whipped mashed these up tonight, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

4 pounds potatoes (we typically use russet, but use whatever you prefer)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or to taste; plus more for the potato water)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup buttermilk

0. Get a large pot of water heating on the stove; we add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to the water (~6 quarts of water).
1. Wash the potatoes (we scrub them under running water), peel off any green bits of skin, and cut out any bad spots. Leave as much of the skin on as possible, and leave the potatoes whole.
2. Add the potatoes to the water, bring to a boil (if the pot isn't already boiling), and cook until the potatoes are tender (estimated 20-40 minutes, depending on potato size). Test the potatoes by lifting individual potatoes out of the pot with a cooking spoon and poking a paring knife or fork into the center of the potato; if the potato is tender throughout, the potatoes are done (the potato will fall easily off the knife). If your potatoes are uneven sizes, the smaller ones will cook faster; remove them to a strainer when finished and continue cooking the rest until they're done. Remove all potatoes to a strainer when completely cooked.
3. Once drained, put all the hot potatoes into a large bowl and add the butter, salt, and pepper. Mash with a potato masher; continue mashing until potatoes are at the desired level of lumpiness/mashedness. We like to leave ours a little chunky.
4. Stir in the remaining ingredients (sour cream and buttermilk) and mix until well combined. But don't overmix them, as that can make them gluey.
5. Taste the potatoes and adjust the seasonings.


Mashed potatoes are incredibly flexible, so adjust this recipe to your liking. If you want them creamier, add more liquid (and/or fat); if you want them butterier, add more butter; if you don't like skins, remove the skins before cooking (this will likely lead to soggy potatoes, however); and if you've got a low tolerance for salt, lower the salt level. That said, don't try to make these with very low levels of salt or fat; both are critical to the flavor of good mashed potatoes.

The buttermilk makes the potatoes tangy, but you can make them with regular milk instead. If you're using regular milk, we'd suggest using about 1/2 cup milk and about 1/2 cup sour cream instead of the amounts listed above.

Some people claim that mashed potatoes don't reheat well; we say "bah" to that. We always make pounds upon pounds of mashed potatoes at a time, and enjoy the leftovers for days afterwards. We just reheat them in the microwave.

If you want a more extravagant meal, put a dollop of butter on each serving of potatoes.

To make wasabi mashed potatoes we add ~1 tablespoon pre-mixed wasabi paste in with the final ingredients. We've previously posted our recipe for cheddar cheese and bacon mashed potatoes. And, if you're looking for something really different, try our mashed turnips and potatoes recipe.

1 Actually, my SO just loves potatoes; my SO's love of mashed potatoes is a subset of this broader love.

It's a haircut, people

Assuming you haven't heard the news, Britney Spears1 is sporting a new do. One that involves no hair2.

While this really shouldn't be news, there are a few interesting elements to the story. For instance, the hairdresser she went to refused to do the cutting:
The former pop princess had just sheared her head, turning up at a salon she'd never used before and telling the owner she wanted a buzz cut - a request that was refused. (source)
Spears' busy Friday night began in the salon of Esther Tognozzi, who told the syndicated television gossip show "Extra" that she was afraid to shave Spears' head in case she was sued for ruining the singer's image. (source)
Afraid of being sued for following a customer's request? Give me a break.

Let's imagine this from the reverse perspective. A famous man who's always had long, luscious locks walks into a salon and asks for a mullet. The hairdresser refuses to do it, insisting that the customer is probably being hormonal, and so the famous man has to grab the shears himself and cut his own hair. Um, no.

People (at least those quoted in articles on the topic) seem to be responding with revulsion and outrage (e.g., headlines like "She's cutting off her femininity"). But many articles go beyond aesthetic critiques into analyses of Britney's sanity:
The weird evening has convinced fans that the mother of two, who has been partying hard since leaving husband Kevin Federline, is close to cracking up. "After she left the shop, we all just looked around and said to each other, 'We just saw a huge celebrity on the verge of a nervous breakdown,' " (source)
'We could see her in the mirror and her head is completely shaved. It looks terrible,' Spears fan Angelique Uram told a local TV station. The latest and most bizarre - but probably not the last - incident in the destruction of Spears' career and reputation was over. (source)
Friends, family and agents appear unable, or unwilling, to help the singer but the real concern is for her children. "The last thing she's acting like is a mother," said trauma psychologist Dr. Robert Butterworth. "This is like a second adolescence. Is she taking Anna Nicole's place? The slot is open." (source)
Wait a second here; all she did was get a haircut and a tattoo. This shouldn't give people license to question her sanity and mothering abilities.

Would these same reporters be questioning a man's fathering abilities (and sanity) if he grew long hair, got a tattoo, and went out for a night on the town?

1 I never thought I'd do this, but I'm actually blogging about Britney Spears. What has the world come to?
2 There's a picture here, if you must see.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Wheel of Food

BoingBoing linked to The Wheel of Food, a flash applet that lets you randomly choose a restaurant to eat at in your local area. Go play today!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Science badges!

The Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique (OOTSSOERAAAP) has a collection of merit badges for scientists. I was never a boy scout, so I've never gotten any badges; now I can finally get some!


Badges I easily qualify for:

Talking science: I'm a biology professor. It's my job.

I blog about science: Um, where am I posting this?

Sexing up science: Drosophila, baby. I've done selective breeding, stock breeding, and worked in a lab that studied fly mating behavior.

Has frozen stuff just to see what happens (LEVEL III): One cannot work with liquid nitrogen and fail to get this badge. The stuff is just so cool.

Inordinately fond of invertebrates: Need I explain why I deserve this? (and that really should be an insect, not a mollusk, on the badge)

I've done science with no conceivable practical application: Oh yeah, I qualify for this. I can't post about it here, but if you know me (or meet me), ask for a description of my qualifying research.

I know what a tadpole is: I do!

Badges that I'm still working on:

Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah, I've got a TV gig: Does a TV news appearance get at least some points for this badge?

Arts and crafts: I've got lots of scientific photography, but still haven't sewn anything scientific.

Destroyer of quackery: I don't do it as much as I should, though I do attack creationism whenever my students bring it up, and am quite proud of steering a woman away from quackery that a fellow blood-donor was trying to push on her.

Will gladly kick sexual harasser's ass: Happy to do it, but haven't had too much opportunity (though maybe that's a sign I don't deserve the badge ...).

(via BoingBoing)

More interest in German-style boardgames!

The guys at Penny Arcade have found yet another way into my heart: Tycho plays German-style boardgames. While I can't wholeheartedly applaud his choice of games (Ticket to Ride isn't my favorite1), it's great to see that other electronic gamers are also interested in boardgames. As Jerry (Tycho) says:
I mention it [playing German-style boardgames] because (as I have said in the past) gamers - by which I mean gamers of the electronic variety - would find a lot to like in these games, because they are simply well-built systems which accept time as an input and produce fun. They have a delicious logic and a competitive thrill that strategy gamers especially might find irresistible.
I primarily enjoyed strategic multiplayer computer games (think Rainbow Six vs. Half Life, Kohan vs. Starcraft, and Combat Mission vs. Command and Conquer2); now I find that German-style boardgames have more of what I want in a game. For one thing, it's nice to be able to pick up a game, learn the rules to it, and become decently good at playing it in less than 2 hours. It's also nice not to have to worry about getting smashed to bits by players who've spent the last month learning every little trick and programming macros for the game. The downside to boardgames, of course, is that you need a local group of people who are willing to play with you, but assuming you have that, they're a great hobby.

1 My current favorite is Puerto Rico, closely followed by Saint Petersburg, Leonardo da Vinci, Tower of Babel, Louis XIV, and BattleLore.
2 While I hardly ever play them anymore due to lack of time (and a preference for boardgames), I vastly prefer the first game of all those comparisons.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Mouse party

I love mice, so this is just great: an animation by the University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center that shows a simplified version of what various drugs do to mouse brains. They call it mouse party. Enjoy. (via PZ)

Sunday, February 11, 2007


So far this hasn't been a bad semester (there hasn't been any bad news like last semester), but it's been a busy one. A good example of how the semester's gone was today: by the end of the day I'd crossed 24 items off my to-do list and sent 40 e-mails, but still had more than a dozen things left to do.

While I used to hate keeping to-do lists, I like them now, as I find they help keep me organized and de-stressed. While my short-term lists are typically on paper, I transfer anything that I don't complete in a day or two onto a longer-term list I keep in But She's a Girl's program Tracks. While I did install Tracks on my Debian box, I'm now running it on rented server space, meaning that I can access it wherever I am. Given that I've been using Tracks for more than a year now, I'd say that it's proven to be a useful program; try it out if you're looking for an easy-to-use web-based to-do list management system.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Annotated speach by Dean Dad

Dean Dad has a hilariously annotated first-day address to the faculty. I've heard many versions of this speech from the other side of the lectern; it's nice to finally see the real version.

Trackbacks and backlinks

I've used Haloscan's trackback service since I started this blog (it shows up via the little "Trackback" link underneath each post). However, now that I've upgraded to the new blogger, I've fiddled with my template to enable backlinks (the "links to this post" link that is now showing up below the posts).

Backlinks automatically display links from other posts (on my own blog or on other blogs) that refer back to the original post. This is a pretty cool feature (I especially like that it shows when I refer back to a post), and it functionally eliminates the need to use Haloscan's trackback service. I'm going to use both for a short while, but assuming backlinks continue to work well, I'll probably delete Haloscan's trackback links at some point.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Teaching links - reading a meniscus

Every now and then I come across a website that has some tidbit of information, or an image, that is just right for a lecture or lab I'm working on. Often this information isn't anything earth-shattering, and thus I don't post it. However, since the information is useful, I think I'm going to change my policies and start posting links to this type of information. The posts won't be long, and probably won't be exciting, but hopefully will be useful to others 'in the trenches.'

Today I'll start the series with a link to Wikipedia's meniscus page; it's got a great (GNU FDL licensed) figure that shows how to read menisci. It's useful for those first-day-of-lab lectures on how to use graduated cylinders1.

1 Hey, I told you it wouldn't be exciting.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tagging posts revisited

A while back I gave up waiting for Blogger to add the ability to tag posts and started using a Greasemonkey script that let me assign tags to posts (I've got a list of basic tags I use here). The new Blogger has a built-in capability to label posts, and thus while the Greasemonkey hack has worked well, I'm going to stop using it1. It should be relatively trivial to go back and move the old tags into the new Blogger system, but doing so will take time (which I'm sadly short of these days).

I'll likely have both tagging systems functioning for a while; I apologize for any confusion this causes.

1 Sorry,

New blogger here we come!

Google finally encouraged me to upgrade to the new Blogger (by forcing me, but we'll ignore that). I was excited about the new version, but hadn't upgraded yet because I wasn't sure how Haloscan's comments would transfer (I didn't want to risk losing all my old comments); it looks like I shouldn't have worried, as Blogger has let me keep my old template, complete with my old Haloscan code. That said, I wonder if I should figure out some way to switch over to Blogger's commenting system1, as it looks like I could then play with some of Blogger's new template features2.

I'll likely be trying out new features in the weeks to come, so if something looks broken (or is broken), please let me know.

1 This post implies that it's possible to show both Blogger's and Haloscan's comments at the same time; I wonder if that might be a good way to transition.
2 To use the new template features I need to upgrade to the new style of template, which I gather won't be happy with my old Haloscan code. Haloscan does have a way to embed comments into Blogger's new style of templates, but there seem to be a number of people having problems with Haloscan's solution. So, if I'm going to go through the trouble of upgrading my comment system, it seems like I might as well just switch to the built-in one.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Clear Japanese soup with soba

It's been cold here recently (we got frost here a few weeks ago), and thus my SO and I have been in the mood for soups. One of our current favorites is this quick and easy clear Japanese soup with soba. The broth is a great combination of savory, salty, and sweet, yet it's made from only three ingredients: dashi (the classic Japanese soup stock that's used in many dishes, including miso soup), soy sauce, and mirin (sweet sake). Since we just cooked up a batch of this today (to have as a drink, acutally; see notes), it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

6 cups water
~4" piece konbu (~3-6 square inches)
1 package (10g / 0.35 oz) instant dashi powder (or 6 cups dashi in place of the water, konbu, and dashi powder)
1/4 cup low-salt soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
2 bundles dry soba (100g / 3.5 oz each)
Nori, cut into thin strips (~1/8" x 2", but it doesn't matter) for garnishing

To make this soup we cook the noodles separately from the broth, put the noodles into a bowl, and then ladle as much broth as we want on top of the cooked noodles.

To make the broth:

1. Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold it.
2. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the konbu, and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Remove the konbu and stir in the dashi powder, soy sauce, and mirin.
4. Keep warm until the soba is ready.

To cook the soba:

1. Follow the package directions. We add the dry soba to a pot of boiling water (not the soup stock), cook for 5 minutes, and then drain the soba.

To assemble the soup:

1. Place the desired amount of soba noodles in each bowl.
2. Ladle a sufficient amount of broth over the noodles.
3. Serve with thinly cut pieces of nori on the side, and extra broth on the table (or in the kitchen), for those who want more.


Nori is the toasted sheets of seaweed that are often used to wrap sushi; it adds a nice, crunchy texture to the soup. However, the nori gets soggy quickly, and thus it's best to sprinkle on only a couple pieces at a time as you eat.

We typically use instant dashi powder (instead of making dashi from scratch) primarily because it's quicker and cheaper (shaved bonito is expensive!). If you're using dashi stock instead of the instant powder, just bring the dashi to a simmer and then add the soy sauce and mirin.

Soba are Japanese buckwheat noodles; they're typically brownish in color. We try to get brands that have a high buckwheat content, as many manufacturers dilute the buckwheat with regular wheat flour.

This recipe scales extremely well; make as little or as much as you want. Leftover broth stores extremely well, but soba should ideally be cooked fresh (it gets soggy with storage), so only cook up as much soba as you plan on eating in one sitting.

This soup makes an excellent savory drink as well. My SO and I sometimes make this recipe (leaving out the soba and nori) to drink on on cold days or whenever we're tired of our usual assortment of drinks.

As with all our recipes, we make no representation as to the authenticity of this recipe; in fact, from what we know, soba is most often eaten drained and dipped into small bowls of sauce.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Professorial magic: administrator's handbook

But She's a Girl and PZ Myers have linked to a compendium of professorial spells. Oh, how I could use some of those.

However, most of the spells in the compendium deal with students; the author has sadly left out some of the higher-level spells that focus on administrative needs:

NIGHT OWL - Motivates an individual faculty member to accept 1d4 evening teaching assignments in the next 1d2 +1 semesters. Primarily cast by department chairs or others with scheduling responsibilities; those without the proper administrative title on their business card (a required component of the spell) have a -2 modifier applied to all rolls.

SILVER TONGUE - Caster immediately obtains a +3 charisma bonus towards committee members, administrators, board members, and school patrons. Spell lasts 2d6 x 10 minutes; caster must pass a charisma check at the end of the spell, or lose 2 charisma for 1d6 hours after the spell has ended.

GOLDEN TONGUE - This spell affects any single person it is cast upon. Person, in this spell, refers to committee members, administrators, board members, and school patrons. If the affected person fails to save vs. spell, they immediately believe that the caster is a political ally, and view all proposals and actions (past and present) of the caster in the most favorable light. See table 547b for the duration between required wisdom checks for the affected person.

PLATINUM TONGUE - Identical to GOLDEN TONGUE, except that it affects an entire committee (or other governing body).

MODERNIZE TEACHING - Cast on a single faculty member. If the affected individual fails to save vs. laziness, they immediately discard all their old teaching notes and other materials. The faculty member then reads current textbooks, journal articles, and other accurate sources to recreate their teaching materials. Spell lasts for as long as it takes the professor to recreate a complete set of class notes. Spell automatically succeeds if the caster is casting the spell on themselves.

CONJURE LIGHT FUNDING - Immediately provides 2d6 x $1,000 worth of funding for equipment and supplies into the relevant budget; funding is spendable without purchase orders with a successful save vs. administration.

CONJURE MODERATE FUNDING - Adds 2d6 x $50,000 worth of funding for faculty and staff salaries to the current year's budget; must save vs. administration or 25% of the funding is withdrawn to be used for other divisions.

CONJURE SERIOUS FUNDING - Provides 3d12 + 4 x $1,000,000 worth of funding for facilities improvements (remodeling, new construction, etc.); must save vs. administration or 75% of the funds are diverted to fund improvements for administrative buildings.

RUBBER STAMP - Cast upon a single document, the document immediately obtains all required signatures necessary for the next committee's approval. Must pass a diligence check or 1d10% of the signatures (rounded up) will be from the wrong people (DM's choice as to who they are from).

ACQUIRE SIGNATURES - When cast upon a single employee (faculty, staff, or administrator), that employee is able to locate all required individuals to obtain signatures for whatever document(s) they are holding for the next 1/2 hour + 1/2 hour per caster level.

ROOM OF SMILES - All committee members in attendance are prevented from making nitpicky comments about any of spellcaster's proposals unless they save vs. spell with a -1 per caster level modifier. Can only be used during committee meetings; lasts for the duration of the meeting.

FIND MEETING TIME - Allows the caster to find a single open meeting time in the next 1d3 weeks that 3 meeting participants per level of caster will be able to attend. Can be countered by CONJURE CONVENIENT EXCUSE; for more pressing meetings see the level 9 spell, CLEAR MEETING TIME.

CLEAR MEETING TIME - Can be cast on 2 people per level of caster. All subjects of the spell immediately have a meeting time (specified by the caster) in the next 1d6 hours cleared on their schedules; all subjects will be able to attend the meeting, regardless of what was otherwise to occur (e.g., no students show up to class, students all walk out of class, other meetings are canceled, participants are teleported to campus, etc.).

Friday, February 02, 2007

Global warming? Pfffft.

It's just short-term, natural climate variation. There's no solid proof that human activities are changing atmospheric levels of gasses. We need more studies before we can come to a conclusion.

There. Do I get my $10,000 now?