Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cheese blintzes

Cheese blintzes are thin pancakes that are folded around a sweet cheese filling and then baked or fried so they have a crispy crust. They're are one of my SO's favorite breakfast foods, and thus they appear regularly at birthday breakfasts. Since I made these for my SO's most recent birthday, they're this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

Blintz batter:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups milk
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
Butter or oil for cooking the blintzes

Cheese filling:
2 1/2 cups drained small-curd cottage cheese (~20-ounces)
4 ounces cream cheese
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

To make this recipe you need to make the blintz batter and cook it, make the filling, and then fill the blintzes and cook them.

To make the blintz batter:
1. Add all the ingredients for the blintz batter to a blender or food processor and blend or process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary.
2. Refrigerate the mixture for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

To make the filling:
0. Drain extra liquid from the cottage cheese: put it into a strainer and let it sit for about half an hour. This step could probably be skipped if you're in a hurry.
1. Add the drained cottage cheese, cream cheese, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt to a blender or food processor and process until well mixed. There should be no large lumps left after mixing; chill until needed.

To cook the blintzes:
0. Get out your supplies and arrange them around the stove. You'll need a small to medium non-stick pan, the blintz batter, a measuring device for the batter (a 1/8 or 1/4 cup measurer works well), a spatula to remove the blintzes from the pan, a cooling rack or plate to put the blintzes on once they're cooked, and a paper towel or two to clean up the inevitable drips of batter.
1. Heat the pan over medium or medium-high heat, adding a little butter or oil to the pan before cooking the first blintz.
2. When the pan is warm, add about 2 tablespoons (1/8 cup; half of a 1/4 cup measurer) of blintz batter to the pan, then rotate the pan immediately to distribute the batter into a circle.
3. Once the top of the blintz is no longer liquid and shiny, and the underside is golden brown, slide the blintz out of the pan onto a waiting plate. Look the blintz over to see how it turned out, and adjust the cooking time and the stove's heat level based on this inspection (e.g., if the bottom is browning before the top is cooked, turn the heat down). I have an electric stove with only a few heat settings, so I often find myself switching between two heat levels on the stove to maintain the optimum cooking temperature.
4. Continue cooking (steps 2-3) until you've used all the batter (or made as many blintzes as you want to fill).

To fill the blintzes and cook them:
0. Preheat the oven to 350F.
1. Put an individual blintz on a plate, uncooked side up, and place approximately 1-2 tablespoons of filling onto the center of the blintz.
2. Fold one edge (the bottom) of the blintz up onto the filling, fold the two sides in, and then roll the filled portion of the blintz onto the last unfolded edge (the top). This should leave you with a compact packet of blintz neatly surrounding the cheese filling. Repeat for all the blintzes; see figure 1 for more detail.
3. Arrange all the filled blintzes on a baking sheet (we line ours with a non-stick liner, but this is probably not necessary) so that they're not touching, and bake at 350F for 17-20 minutes (or until the filling is heated through and the outside is crispy).
4. Let cool briefly, and serve.

Filling a blintz: part 1 Filling a blintz: part 2 Filling a blintz: part 3 Filling a blintz: part 4 Filling a blintz: part 5
Figure 1: How to fill a blintz.


When I cook the blintzes I use two pans simultaneously and fill the cooked blintzes almost immediately after I've slid them out of the pan (as another pair cook in the pans). If you're a beginner at making blintzes, I'd recommend using just one pan and waiting to fill the blintzes until after you've cooked all the batter.

This recipe is based on one in Joy of Cooking (though we've changed the proportions to make the filling sweeter and have more filling for the blintzes). Joy of Cooking specifies that the filled blintzes should be fried in a few tablespoons of oil in a pan on the stove; while this does result in a slightly crispier outside, it's far more tedious than baking, and thus we usually bake ours.

As making crepes and blintzes is so similar, many of these instructions are copied directly from our crepes with a savory chicken and cheese sauce filling recipe. Note, however, that unlike crepes, blintzes are cooked on only one side before filling.


Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A few good links

Twisty, of I Blame the Patriarchy, talks about aggregating harvestmen.

Science Daily summarizes a psychology experiment wherein women who are told that there is a genetic explanation for women's lack of ability to do math perform worse on math tests than women who are told there is no difference between how men and women perform on math tests.
Between 2003 and 2006, Dar-Nimrod and Heine conducted their research with more than 220 female participants. Their study provided participants with bogus scientific explanations for alleged sex differences in math.

Some women received a genetic account of inborn traits to explain the difference while others received an experiential account -- such as math teachers treating boys preferentially during the first years of math education. Other participants were reminded of the stereotype about female math underachievement, or were told that there are no sex differences in math.

Heine and Dar-Nimrod found the worse math performances belonged to women who received a genetic explanation for female underachievement in math or those who were reminded of the stereotype about female math underachievement. Women who received the experiential explanation performed better -- on par with those who were led to believe there are no sex differences in math.
The Times Union posts a news story about airport screeners failing to detect bomb-making materials in carry on luggage (published July 4, 2007):
The unannounced inspection by TSA officials took place [at Albany International Airport] early last week. The airport's security measures failed in five of seven tests, most of the problems occurring at the passenger checkpoint, the sources said.

In one test, TSA inspectors hid the components of a fake bomb in carry-on luggage that also contained a bottle of water. Passengers are prohibited from carrying containers holding more than three ounces of liquids, gels or aerosols through airport checkpoints.

The screeners at Albany International confiscated the water bottle but missed the bomb. In all, the inspectors slipped four banned items through the main checkpoint during the test, sources said.

The New York Times has an article on how the ability of the Surgeon General to be an independent office is being compromised:
Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional panel Tuesday that top Bush administration officials repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations.

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to a “prominent family” that he refused to name.
The Independent has an article by a reporter who traveled on a cruise ship packed with readers of the National Review. Read it for a view into the mindset of a few American conservatives.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I can use the net again!

Shortly after my last post I did indeed go 'net silent' to avoid accidentally reading spoilers for Harry Potter. I'm happy to report that I have now finished the book without encountering a single spoiler.

It's so nice to be able to surf the web again. My apologies to anyone whose comments or e-mails I've ignored in the past few days.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Uh oh

We've pre-ordered the last Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), and like good geeks are re-reading the last few books to prepare ourselves for the big day on Saturday. In fact, to avoid spoilers we've both decided to stay off the net from the time the book is released until we've both read it. Unfortunately, it looks like we may have to avoid the net earlier than we had hoped, as BoingBoing reports1 that the book is now available on the web.

1 Note that BoingBoing's post may have spoilers in it; I stopped reading it as soon as I figured out what it was about.

[Update: Cory has commented that there are no actual spoilers in the BoingBoing post, so it's safe to read.]

A few updates

It's been a while since I posted, and thus I wanted to reassure folks that the slow posting is due to nothing more than being distracted with other items. On the list of (enjoyable) distractions are house-guests (which we'll have three sets of this month), guitar playing, birthday celebrating, and starting work on my new online course.

The guitar course has been going for a few weeks now, and I'm having a blast. The course is focused around playing classical guitar, which I'd never really listened to before this course, but am now finding that I quite enjoy (both playing and listening to). I've still got a long way to go before I can do much of anything with the instrument, but it's fun to plink away at it every night.

And, as is traditional, I cooked my SO a birthday feast on the big day. This year the feast consisted of cheese blintzes (which will likely be this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post), crab dip, chicken ravioli, and a white chocolate cake filled with lemon curd. Everything was homemade, including the ravioli:

Homemade ravioli

While the ravioli took hours to make (I remember now why we haven't made them for about three years), they were excellent with a sauce of nothing but butter and Romano cheese. My SO should have birthdays more often!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Teaching link: Wellcome Images

One of the problems of developing an online course (or an in-person course, for that matter) is finding good artwork. Sure, there are lots of images available on the web, but relatively few of these are completely legal to use (i.e., most are copyrighted works with no clear license to allow educators to use them). However, works licensed under Creative Commons licenses are freely usable by educators1, and thus I now attempt to use only Creative Commons licensed works when I develop teaching materials.

There are many places where you can find Creative Commons licensed materials (e.g., Flickr's advanced search lets you filter by license, and all PLOS journal articles are Creative Commons licensed), but BoingBoing just linked to an amazing resource: Wellcome Images. This website, run by the Wellcome Trust, contains images depicting "two thousand years of human culture," and everything on it has been released under a Creative Commons license2.
Wellcome Images is one of the world's richest and most unique collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science.

All our images are available on demand in digital form. Search online or use the expertise of our professional scientific and historical researchers.

Whether it's medicine or magic, the sacred or the profane, science or satire - you'll find more than you expect.

This unrivalled collection contains historical images from the Wellcome Library collections, Tibetan Buddhist paintings, ancient Sanskrit manuscripts written on palm leaves, beautifully illuminated Persian books and much more.

The Biomedical Collection holds over 40 000 high-quality images from the clinical and biomedical sciences. Selected from the UK's leading teaching hospitals and research institutions, it covers disease, surgery, general healthcare, sciences from genetics to neuroscience including the full range of imaging techniques.
(quote from here)
I've only been browsing for a short while, but have already found a ton of images I think I'll use in my course. Who wouldn't want pictures of a malaria parasite in a mosquito's gut, an opium poppy, a human embryo implanting at 6 days, a picture of male bodybuilders pre-testosterone-injections, or drawings of morels? Go find some for yourself!

1 As long as the educators are creating non-commercial works, and even then some Creative Commons licenses allow commercial works.
2 All images are either under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial Licence 2.0 or a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives 2.0 license.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

My new favorite band


They were in Live Earth yesterday. Of course, they were playing from the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera Research Station, so there weren't too many people in the audience (17), but who wouldn't love a band made up of members like this:
  • Matt Balmer – electronics engineer with the physics and meteorology team.
  • Tris Thorne – communications engineer
  • Ali (Alison) Massey – marine biologist
  • Rob Webster – meteorologist
  • Roger Stilwell – Field General Assistant (polar guide)
Go watch the videos of their songs here, and then go read about the band here.

Update: They've got their songs posted on YouTube, so here's one to whet your appetite:

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Even limited exercise helps

One of the exercise mantras commonly floated about is that adults should get 30 minutes of moderate activity exercise at least five days a week. While this is a good goal, the majority of Americans don't get this amount of exercise1. And, for a lot of beginning exercisers, exercising for 30 minutes a day probably seems like a huge commitment, if not an insurmountable challenge.

My SO and I have long viewed exercise in the "some is better than none" category, and thus try to do even little amounts whenever we can (e.g., walking to the store instead of driving, always taking the stairs at work, doing our own gardening). A recent paper (Church et al., 2007) has shown, via a randomized, controlled trial, that even small amounts of exercise are better than no exercise at all (at least for the subset of people they tested).

Church et al. divided overweight, post-menopausal women into four groups:
  • Control: Did no exercise a week (other than normal walking)
  • 4kcal/kg: Exercised about 70 minutes a week
  • 8kcal/kg: Exercised about 135 minutes a week
  • 12 kcal/kg: Exercised about 190 minutes a week
Participants were randomly assigned to a condition, and all exercise was performed in a lab2. The participants exercised at their given level for six months, at which point physiological data were compared to data taken at the start of the study.

Fitness improvement correlated linearly with the amount of exercise:

Figure 3 from Church et al 2007
Figure 3 from Church et al. (2007)."Percent Change in Fitness Data for Each Study Group. The data represent the least-squares means adjusted for age, ethnicity/race, weight, and peak heart rate. The P values for pairwise comparisons of control with 4-kcal/kg, 8-kcal/kg, and 12-kcal/kg per week groups are P .001 for each variable. P for linear trend across groups .001 for each outcome. Error bars indicate 95% confidence intervals."

So, what this means is that even if you work out for only 20 minutes a day three days a week, you'll almost certainly see fitness benefits. And, once you start working out and getting used to doing it regularly, if you increase your workout durations (say, to 40 minutes a day three days a week), you'll see even more improvements. And, to help scare you into exercising, note that the people who didn't do any exercise actually had a small decrease in fitness3.

So, if you're one of the many sedentary Americans out there, take a look at those graphs and start exercising, even if it's only for a few minutes a day. It'll do ya good!

1 As in "More than 60 percent of U.S. adults do not engage in the recommended amount of activity (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week)" and "Approximately 25 percent of U.S. adults are not active at all." (data from the 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, specifically from here)
2 "Women in the exercise groups alternated training sessions on semi-recumbent cycle ergometers and treadmills." The control (non-exercising) women tracked their daily steps with a pedometer and were "asked to maintain their level of activity during the 6-month study period."
3 In fact, it was the realization that our fitness was slowly declining (and would continue declining until we would no longer be able to walk when we were 70) that finally motivated my SO and me to start regularly exercising (and tracking our exercise goals and progress here) a few years ago.

Church, TS., DP Earnest, JS Skinner, and SN Blair. 2007. Effects of Different Doses of Physical Activity on Cardiorespiratory Fitness Among Sedentary, Overweight or Obese Postmenopausal Women With Elevated Blood Pressure. JAMA. 297:2081-2091. Abstract.

Justice for all

In case you hadn't heard, Scooter Libby's 30-month prison sentence was commuted on Monday by President Bush. The reason, according to the president, is that "the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive." The LA Times begs to disagree:
But records show that the Justice Department under the Bush administration frequently has sought sentences that are as long, or longer, in cases similar to Libby's. Three-fourths of the 198 defendants sentenced in federal court last year for obstruction of justice — one of four crimes Libby was found guilty of in March — got some prison time. According to federal data, the average sentence defendants received for that charge alone was 70 months.
And the New York Times cites a similar case where clemency hasn't been granted:
Similarly, in a case decided two weeks ago by the United States Supreme Court and widely discussed by legal specialists in light of the Libby case, the Justice Department persuaded the court to affirm the 33-month sentence of a defendant whose case closely resembled that against Mr. Libby. The defendant, Victor A. Rita, was, like Mr. Libby, convicted of perjury, making false statements to federal agents and obstruction of justice. Mr. Rita has performed extensive government service, just as Mr. Libby has. Mr. Rita served in the armed forces for more than 25 years, receiving 35 commendations, awards and medals. Like Mr. Libby, Mr. Rita had no criminal history for purposes of the federal sentencing guidelines.

The judges who sentenced the two men increased their sentences by taking account of the crimes about which they lied. Mr. Rita’s perjury concerned what the court called “a possible violation of a machine-gun registration law”; Mr. Libby’s of a possible violation of a federal law making it a crime to disclose the identities of undercover intelligence agents in some circumstances.

When Mr. Rita argued that his 33-month sentence had failed to consider his history and circumstances adequately, the Justice Department strenuously disagreed.