I haven’t posted since last Christmas. I knew I’d been avoiding this blog (although regularly posting on the work blog) but even I hadn’t realized it was that long.

It’s been a year, but I have much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my husband and business partner who is just the best person ever. He’s supported me through a lot of challenging growth this year and I am ever thankful he is in my life.

I am thankful for the teams of veterinarians and their staff who have taken such good care of our cats this year. Momma Cat’s hyperthyroid was a standard diagnosis and treatment and it’s gone and fixed. Grover’s adrenal tumor was a much rarer thing. It took nearly a month just to diagnose it. I am thankful to Dr. Knoles for his diagnosis, and the team of ICU nurses at Adobe for getting Gover stable. I am thankful to the amazing surgeon Dr. Ullman at SAGE and her team of ICU nurses and doctors for safely excising “the biggest adrenal tumor [she’s] pulled out of a cat.”

Grover’s thankful he can get his super-kitty cape off today and finally wash.

I’m thankful we’re in a position where we can afford to pay for the excellent veterinary care.

I’m thankful to my team at WttW for all they do and how much they contribute.

I’m thankful for chosen family and the people who have welcomed me into their lives.

I’m thankful for so much this year. It’s been a challenging year, full of stress and new things. It’s also been a good year. Lots of successes and lessons learned.

Happy thanksgiving everyone.


Christmas dinner duck

With all the things that have been going on lately, we stayed home for Christmas. We took the opportunity to try out some new recipes.

Peking Duck. Mandarin Pancakes. Hoisin Sauce. Wonton Soup.


Yes, we had a Chinese themed Christmas dinner. Most of the recipes I pulled off of Serious Eats.

First the duck. We got a real pekin duck from Belcampo Meats and mostly followed the Serious Eats recipe. We used brown rice syrup because I couldn’t find maltose syrup. I forgot the salt and baking powder initially (Tuesday), so I glazed it a second time on Wednesday and then put dry ingredients on.

After 30 minutes of cooking

We didn’t make plum sauce, it being the wrong season and all. But we had jarred plum sauce which worked. We also had 365 hoisin sauce, which tastes more like worcestershire sauce than anything (too heavy on the vinegar, IMO). I made hoisin for leftovers on Boxing Day (hoisin recipe from Serious Eats) which was much, much better.

The magical bit was the pancakes. I do quite a bit of bread baking and make tortillas and stuff, but I was a little skeptical that the pancakes would work. The first step is to make a boiling water dough (1 cup of flour, 1/3 cup of boiling water). It makes quite a dry dough, that is a little tough to knead. The recipe says “knead until smooth” but I just could not get it to pull together. I was starting to believe my flour was bad and the gluten wasn’t all gone. (Yeah, silly, I know… but I could not get the dough to act like dough.)

After about 10 minutes of kneading I decided just to shape the dough and let it rest. That’s often a fix for something wrong with bread “let it rest and figure itself out.” 30 minutes of resting under a damp towel and, voilà, I had a great dough.

The rolling out bit is where the magic happens. The dough gets cut into 12 pieces and rolled into balls (the size of a large grape or so). Then you take a ball of dough and flatten it into a disk and paint one side with sesame oil. Then you take a second ball of dough, flatten it into a disk and put it on top of the sesame oil coated disk. You roll them out together, as thin as you can (into a 8 – 10 inch disk) and grill them on a dry pan. Yes, you cook both together.

Once they’re cooked, you peel them apart. It actually works. The first couple took a major leap of faith on my part. These are sooooo thin and so fragile, that there’s just no way they’re going to pull apart. But They Do!!! My first batch on Christmas day was good. My second batch (for leftovers) on Boxing day were just perfect. They’re thin and chewy and soft and just exactly what Mandarin pancakes should be.

Peking Duck Dinner

I’m so pleased. The duck skin was good, but not quite as crispy as I’d like, and a little darker than I wanted. I think we’re going to have to try again and get it right and then have friends over for duck dinner. The wontons were awesome, too. But that’s another post.

Baked potato soup

Finally had a very rainy day in CA and decided to make soup. We didn’t have a lot of protein in the house (well, ok, we had half a lamb roast, but it was too good to use as soup ingredient (although there may be scotch broth in our future)).

But we did have lots of potatoes! So I made some baked potato soup.

Bake 3 potatoes in the microwave until done. Cube and put aside.

Render the fat out of 4 – 6 ounces of pancetta. When done, remove from pot, leaving the fat. Set the pancetta aside and try not to eat all of it.

Add a diced onion and a couple cloves of chopped garlic to the fat and cook until soft.

Add a little flour to make a roux and cook until just browned.

Add chicken stock, whisking to keep lumps from forming. For this I used 3 cups of homemade, but you could use a full carton.

Add potatoes to the stock / onion mix. Top with milk until soup is the consistency you want. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook for 20 – 30 minutes (or until you absolutely have to turf the cat off your lap). Add a little more milk if it’s gotten too thick (the afore mentioned cat’s fault).

Add 2 cups of cheddar cheese to the soup. Ladle into bowls, top with reserved pancetta, a little more cheese and some chopped scallions.

Also makes an extremely tasty lunch the next day.

Destressing chili

Still alive. Work is challenging lately and generally I’m just too brain dead to blog. The work blog is suffering, too. But, it is what it is.

This was a very, very long week so I’m taking Saturday easy (I’ve got more work that must be done before monday, but I’ll do it tomorrow, my brain needs some down time). A couple loads of laundry and a big pot of chili with corn bread are about what I can manage today.

Today’s chili started with 1 pound chorizo sausage (supermarket had it in bulk. YUM) and 2 pounds 85/15 ground beef (too lazy to grind my own today). I browned it in our big dutch oven. It took me about 4 batches to do properly.

While the meat was browning I soaked a dried chipotle pepper, a dried new mexico pepper and a dried ancho in some hot water. The ancho smells like tobacco and raisin and a little heat. YUM. I also chopped an onion and a few cloves of garlic.

When the meat was brown, I softened the onion and garlic in some of the rendered fat. Added a good tablespoon or so of cumin. For me, chili is all about the heat and the cumin. Deglazed the pan with a bottle of Firestone double barrel ale (it’s what we had, but this is a nice beer for chili). I sorta de-seeded the peppers – in that I pulled out most of them, and the stems but let some of the seeds go into the pot. Then I added a can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes and about a 1/4 cup of homemade pizza sauce we had leftover from dinner earlier in the week.

I did add a teeny bit of water to the pot, I don’t think we’ll be lacking flavor overall and wanted it a bit looser while it cooked. Nice thing about water is we can always just boil it off for consistency without overwhelming the flavor.

It’s simmering now. Closer to dinner I’ll be doing some cornbread. I have a bit of a fondness for Alex Guarnaschelli’s Cast Iron Cornbread. This also means we may have leftover cornbread for stuffing later in the week. Maybe. Unless we have cornbread and jam for breakfast tomorrow.

Cooking is how I de-stress.

Quick yogurt and cucumber spread

We had some pre-marinated curry chicken breaks (Trader Joe’s) and pita bread that I used to make dinner last night. For a vegetable I did some yogurt cucumber spread.

So simple and so tasty

half a english cucumber, coarsely grated
about 1/8 teaspoon of finely grated fresh garlic
splash of olive oil
splash of red wine vinegar
1/2 cup of yogurt

Mix everything together. Serve and eat.

The wraps were really good for lunch. Ham + some yogurt dip in a tortilla. Done.

Correlation and causation

I wrote this for an audience who isn’t going to appreciate it. So I’ll share it here.

Correlation is simply pattern noticing: “When I observe this. I also observe this.”

The two things can be totally unrelated, the two things can be triggered by the same precursor event or one can be causing the other (note, these are not all the possible states, but we’ll keep it simple for the not-rocket-scientists here ;)). And, well, there’s always observer bias involved. [1}

What the statement correlation does not imply causation means, at the heart of things, is that just because you observe 2 things happening tells you absolutely nothing about the relationship about the two things.

Yes, we observe lots of emails sent by the winning side of an election. We can observe this. It is fact. There is a correlation, in these two elections, between well orchestrated email campaigns and a win.

But the observation alone tells us nothing else. Is it the branding and persuasive effect of the email? Maybe. Is it simply that the campaigns were better funded? Possibly. Is it that the campaigns sending more email were better run? Could be. Is it that the election accurately reflects the will of the voters? Possibly. [2]

That’s what scientists mean when we say correlation does not imply causation. We can observe “these two things seem to act in non-independent ways.” But that doesn’t mean that one causes the other. It could be that they’re totally unrelated. For instance, there is a correlation between the divorce rate in Maine and the per capita consumption of margarine.

It could be that both events are triggered by the same parent event. So it could be that the effectively run campaigns led to effective email usage and led to that side winning the vote. The emails don’t trigger the vote win they’re triggered by the same thing that triggers the win.

And, it could be that the email actually caused the win. To really tell, though, you need to do a LOT more data chugging and controlling for factors that might have affected the outcome of the election. You probably also need to be a statistician to actually do that level of work. You also need to look at more than 2 data points. You especially need to look at elections that were lost and identify how they were using email. But this is a lot squishier science than I did (and I was only a molecular biologist), so I can’t even start to comprehend how you’d collect and analyze the data.

[1] One of the things that was drilled into me as a working scientist is that we see what we want to see. The essence of being a good scientist is looking beyond what you want to see and making sure your own observations are as neutral and as bias free as possible. Or, if they can’t be bias free, design experiments that will negate or reveal your bias. [1a]

[1a] The recent “no such thing as gluten sensitivity” research is a good example. The scientist saw what he expected, but then did further research with much stricter controls and a different study design to see if the results held up. They didn’t.

[2] Here in CA it’s not always the case that the better funded candidate (or referendum) wins. Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are two examples of this, but there are also a number of propositions that the lesser-spending-proponents won.

Just… no

Started drafting this for the work blog, but I don’t think it’s really appropriate. But it amuses me, so I’ll put it here.

One of the side effects of our new website is that I’m getting a lot more email asking me to sponsor posts or trade links or have someone write a “special” post for our site. Sometimes I’ll ignore them, because they really do appear to be automatic mail and not actually written by anyone who has visited our site.

Also, the few times I’ve responded, I’ve had bad responses. Sometimes people try to argue with me about saying no. Yesterday was one that made me laugh, though. Someone wrote in to the contact address. The entire mail:

I was wondering — How would someone go about sponsoring or advertising on your website?



I was pretty sure this was just another spammer scraping addresses, but I responded with “You can’t.” Short, sweet, and to the point; much like his original email. Apparently Mr. Partnership Director didn’t like this response and sends me:

Smart of you to turn down $100,000.00 partnership

I have to admit, I laughed, a lot. Mr “oh so innocent inquiry about sponsorship” now turns into someone offering me a $100K partnership. Nice try. I don’t believe you. (Plus, anyone who was going to approach me with a partnership is going to send mail To Me rather than our generic contact address. In fact! THEY HAVE!)

If you approach someone out of the blue, you don’t get to dictate how they respond to you, and sometimes those responses aren’t going to be what you expected. Yes, I probably could have been more polite and spend time explaining that this is not an advertising supported blog and that we don’t accept sponsored posts. But I was running out the door to a meeting when I saw it, and it was pretty clear he hadn’t put much time into thinking about how he was approaching me. So why should I put time into thinking about how I was responding to him?

Sometimes I really wish spammers weren’t so damn stupid.

Food for this week

I’m looking through recipes to make this week, based on what we have in the house.

Grilled leg of lamb Probably today or Monday (do the marinade today).

I’ll probably make some barley today, since I have the time to make it. Then we have a couple salads to do.

Zucchini, barley and Chickpea salad with warm or cold lamb.

Barley greek salad.

Pork belly

Korean style. This may prompt a trip to the asian supermarket today. Or I can try Emeril’s recipe instead.

Defeated it

We’ve been so busy lately. Steve’s encouraging me to hire a full time minion so I can actually get stuff done. I would, but I’m too busy to… Yeah, OK. That means that the house is a bit of a mess. I decided to get caught up on a little bit of cleaning so it doesn’t feel like we’re living in such a tip.

What happened turned into a bit of an ADD afternoon, where I lost many battles but possibly won the war.

I decide to start with a simple task. Clean the litterbox.

Grab the box, dump it out, take it outside, rinse it out. I dump the water on the front lawn because drought and leave the box in the sun to dry. Hey the car is a mess, I’ve got the hose. Yes, it’s water, but the car hasn’t been washed in an age and a good rinse will get some of that dust and pollen off it.

Leave litterbox outside to finish drying and sanitizing in the sun.

Go back inside and decide that while the box is drying, I’ll go ahead and vacuum. This is where it starts to go pear shaped. I managed to vacuum up some stealth poop (coated in litter) and… smear cat poop into the carpet. S#!T.

Vacuum 1
Carpet 0
Laura -1

Fine, no biggie, this is fixable. I’ll just get some carpet cleaner and deal. Except we’re out of carpet cleaner. Off to Home Depot (which is so close I should feel guilty driving rather than walking, but I was kinda in a hurry). I did see a pretty hummingbird in the garden center, though.

Get home and get the cleaner on the carpet and the spot bot working and decide to finish vacuuming the rest of the room. I sometimes forget quite how vicious this vacuum is… and got too close to the long string hanging off the scratching post. The vacuum pulled the post across the floor, jammed and quit.

Vacuum 2
Carpet 0
Scratching post -1
Laura -20

The nice thing about this vacuum is it’s really designed to get apart and maintain. This is no big deal. I find a screwdriver and take off the bottom and unwind 3 feet of sisal cord. Then I put it all back together, move the scratching post miles (ok, rooms) away and start vacuuming again. Now the carpet spinner isn’t working.

Vacuum 3
Carpet 0
Scratching post -1
Laura -50

Try again, take it apart, put it back together: still not running. Get a brilliant idea and hit the button to turn on the spinner. It works!

Vacuum 4
Carpet 0
Scratching post -1
Laura -1000

Finally finish vacuuming without destroying anything else. Get all the smeared poop cleaned up off the carpet. Put all the furniture (human and cat) back. Get the litterbox inside, filled and back in its place.

Final Score: Vacuum 4, Laura -1000. But the carpet is vacuumed, so I did win. Eventually.

I decided not to try and vacuum and mop the kitchen floor. I’d probably break a leg or something.