The Excitable Scientist

Mostly cheerful, sometimes snarky commentary on life science research and its broader impacts

Baked chickpea fritters March 28, 2016

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 2:36 pm

This weekend, I felt like trying out a new recipe and I picked the Oh She Glows cookbook, which my dear roommate Verena graciously gifted me last Christmas. I had an enthusiastic taste-testing volunteer who happens to also be one of my favourite vegans, so I was feeling extra motivated to make something slightly more elaborate than my usual fare.

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I settled on this recipe for baked chickpea fritters (or “oil-free falafel bites” per Oh She Glows), and I share it with one message. Dearest fellow people of pallor: we need to stop ruining food that never did us any harm.

Falafel was, I believe, intended to be deep-fried into a warm morsel of crispy deliciousness—let’s leave it out of our quest to achieve WASP-y moral purity through “clean eating” and voluntary gustatory self-deprivation. What I made is not falafel, wouldn’t even be recognized by falafel as a distant cousin. It was bordering on flavourless. Maayan said it best, “I watched you put so many tasty things into the food processor… where did all the flavour go??”

The one saving grace to this meal was the lemon-tahini dressing. Do not cut corners and skimp on the dressing!!!! I swear it is worth it. It’s the best thing I’ve made in a long time. I will make this dish again (because I think it has potential), likely frying the patties and adding some cayenne pepper and more salt to them; the recipe below includes the ingredient modifications (but not the frying part.)

Chickpea fritters: (makes 20)
Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup red onion
1/3 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/3 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or the equivalent if pressure cooking
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/4 cup + 6 tbsp bread crumbs (I used panko bread crumbs, which made the fritters extra crunchy and interesting)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a food processor, chop garlic, then add onion, cilantro and mint; process until minced. Finally add the chickpeas; process until mixture forms a coarse dough.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the flaxseed, 1/4 cup of bread crumbs, cumin and salt.

Shape the mixture into small patties (using ~1 tbsp for each) pressing firmly so they hold their shape. If the mixture is too wet, you may want to add more bread crumbs.

Roll the fritters in the remaining bread crumbs (6 tbsp). Press down on each side so that the bread crumbs stick. You can leave some of the patties un-rolled in breadcrumbs, which will give quite a different texture, and decide which you like better!

Place fritters onto baking sheet lined w/ parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes, flipping once halfway through the baking time.

While the fritters are baking, you can make a really simple tomato-cucumber garnish (ingredients: diced tomatoes and cucumber, red onions, mint, lime juice and salt). Protip: if it tastes bland, you probably haven’t added enough salt!

Lemon-tahini dressing:
Ingredients:
1 large clove garlic
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1.5 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp sea salt

In a food processor, pulse the garlic to mince it. Add remaining ingredients & process until smooth. The dressing may thicken when chilled; you can thin it out with a bit of water or olive oil.

 

Leftover veggie and lentil soup March 14, 2016

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 11:32 pm

This recipe is a (partially successful) attempt at recreating a delicious dish that my roommate Maayan once whipped up. What I like about it is it uses ingredients we usually have around in our pantry at any given time, and it’s a tasty way to use up leftover veggies that have seen fresher days. You could add kale if you’re one of those people who feel they need to add kale to everything they eat (I don’t.)

Note: this makes quite a lot of soup, about 6 servings – enough to feed hungry roommates for a few days!

Note #2: this soup would go really well with freshly baked bread; I swear by this no-knead recipe. More on that soon, but for the soup…

Ingredients:
2 large onions, chopped
2 cups brown lentils
3 potatoes, chopped into small pieces
2 carrots + 2 parsnips, chopped into demilunes
1.5 tbsp Vegeta
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin
0.5 to 1 tsp chilli powder (I used this Mexican chilli spice mix I got in Montreal)
Ground pepper to taste
(Other potential spices: bay leaf, paprika, red pepper flakes)
0.5 tsp dried parsley
Bit of cilantro

Fry onions until translucent. Add Vegeta and spices, then vegetables and lentils, and enough water to prevent burning. Bring to a boil and cook until all vegetables are done (IME potatoes took the longest to cook- around 50 minutes on our stove). Add parsley, ground pepper and cilantro garnish at the end. Serve with a side of Carnegie newsletter.

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Rice and beans (with a coconut banana twist) February 29, 2016

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 11:39 pm

This recipe is an attempted recreation of the “east van town” dish from the restaurant Foundation; I like it because it has a high tastiness to ingredient ratio, and I usually have the ingredients around anyway.

If I hadn’t had these at a restaurant, I would file the recipe under ‘experimental dishes my vegan former roommate and now BFF would make’; he combined black beans with all kinds of unusual things, like chocolate. I promise you, these might sound weird, but taste delicious. So without further ado:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans black beans, or the equivalent in pressure-cooked
  • 2 ripe bananas, chopped length-wise into circles, and then into quarters
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 small can (165ml) coconut milk
  • 1 cup jasmine rice (my fave)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Vegeta
  • Cayenne pepper
  • (if you’re feeling fancy): mango, cilantro, green onion and/or Sriracha for garnish

Cook jasmine rice by whatever method you usually use (or this one).
Fry onions in vegetable oil until translucent; add 1 tbsp Vegeta and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, and coconut milk. Stir until dissolved, then add bananas and black beans. Add just enough water to keep the beans from burning (you don’t want it to be too soupy); cook for 10-15 minutes. Add lime juice and garnish at the very end. As with most things I make, this dish tastes even better the next day.

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Middle Eastern lentil soup, a Serbo-Canadian variation February 14, 2016

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 11:45 pm

While I was living in Kuwait, as an angsty teenage vegetarian, lentil soup was one of my staples – when I wasn’t stuffing my face with french fries. I still remember the restaurant in the Marina Mall food court, where I would eat it with copious amounts of lemon and deep-fried pita croutons. Most Middle Eastern restaurants in the country had a close variation of this soup. I have not been able to find even a remote approximation since moving to Canada. So, I looked around on Google and found a recipe that inspired my own (but mine went off on a tangent…) It’s now my favourite soup recipe by a wide margin. I recently found a recipe similar to mine, complete with gorgeous photos and method for making pita croutons, here.

(When I visited Doha in December, I made a quick beeline to a mall food court in search of the lentil soup of my childhood, and to my great surprise, I could barely recognize it. Flummoxed, I initially chalked it up to differences between Kuwait and Qatar, before realizing that the recipe I’ve been tweaking for the past 10 years had diverged from the original so much that it bore almost no resemblance to it at all. I’ve got so used to my version that I kinda prefer it now.)

So, without further ado:

Ingredients:

2 cups red lentils
2 onions, chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
Vegeta* (contains salt)
Cumin
Coriander
Cayenne pepper
Amchur (dried mango powder) – optional
Turmeric (for colour)

Fry onions in olive oil until translucent. Add 1.5tbsp Vegeta and other spices to taste, then add lentils and a sufficient amount of water to cook them in. Check saltiness, taste and colour and adjust using Vegeta, spices and turmeric respectively. Puree using an immersion blender. Add lemon juice at the very end.

This recipe scales up and freezes very well. I recommend saving a few servings for exam-time.

*Vegeta is a type of vegetable seasoning salt originally from Croatia, but now available in most “ethnic” stores in Vancouver. Every single savoury dish I make has it as a base. I can’t imagine cooking without it, but you could use powdered or liquid vegetable stock as a substitute.

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Lentil soup yumminess

 

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Lentil soup recipe, scaled up to 8 litres for my soup collective

 

The taste of mint April 7, 2015

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 11:33 am

In an effort to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle (annual flight to Europe notwithstanding), I’ve been trying to center plant-based foods in my diet again. I don’t eat animal products out of any particular craving, most days, but rather out of convenience, and when I have a bit more time to plan out my meals, it’s really not hard to come up with vegan options. The irony to this is that I end up making vegan dishes for more special occasions (because I have more lead time), and “richer” foods are relegated to the mundane.

I had a couple of friends over last night for dinner and catching up, and one of my favourite parts about cooking for other people is it gives me a chance to try out things I wouldn’t make for myself necessarily, and people tend to appreciate whatever you’ve made. And I had this craving for tabbouli salad, but didn’t want to spend 20 minutes chopping parsley for a side salad and was thinking it would be nice to make something more filling, so that any leftovers could be reincarnated as lunches this week.

I also had a craving for fresh mint after one of my roommates used some the other day, and its sublime scent drifted up the stairs and into my room. I find mint really interesting: it has kind of a strong and distinct flavour, but it’s impossible to use too much; its scent is ethereal, but its leaves have impressive structural integrity (unlike basil which wilts if I look at it the wrong way), and it pairs with both savoury and sweet dishes. It’s an underused culinary gem IMO. So, without further ado:

Modified tabbouli recipe:

– 1.5 cups tomatoes, chopped

– 1 long English cucumber, chopped

– 1 red onion, coarsely chopped

– 2 cans chickpeas, washed and drained

– 1 bunch mint, chopped

– 1 tsp sumac

– 2 lemons, juiced

– 4 tbsp olive oil

– Salt: to taste

Combine all ingredients, shake well, and chill for a few hours before serving. The flavour only gets better with time.

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Musical accompaniment: Mint by Kathleen Edwards

 

Surfacing April 5, 2015

Filed under: academia,grad school,medschool — excitablescientist @ 10:27 pm

For a while, I’ve been meaning to write about what an incredible change medical school has been, but I struggle to find words for the overwhelming gratitude I feel for it daily. It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

It’s also hard to write about this without showing contempt of the many wonderful aspects of grad student life generally and the lab I work in specifically. But after being introduced to a field that places primary value on relationships and caring service for people and communities, I can’t see myself continuing my career in a field that is guided by the singular goal of individual achievement – defined by outcompeting your peers – any more than I can see myself becoming an Olympic athlete.

Despite being in the most supportive research environment I could imagine, I found the competitiveness of academic science soul-destroying, and didn’t fully realize the extent of it until this year. From talking to scientist colleagues in other fields, it seems that cancer research is particularly known for this. I still find it puzzling, given that nearly all the people I’ve worked with have been very collegial and collaborative and willing to share their expertise. But I don’t really want to talk about how this plays out for other people because those aren’t my stories to tell. I want to talk about the effect it had on me.

Having a publication accepted or advancing through the selection cycles of a scholarship competition felt really, really good. Maybe too good. Kind of addictive. I derived a good portion of my sense of self-worth by how I ranked against other applicants – not by how I treated people or based on how useful my work was likely to be to anyone except my own career. I also got a sinking feeling when people I perceived as rivals experienced similar success. I knew something was wrong when I realized I was envious even of my friends. These aren’t things I’m proud to admit, but they’re real and not altogether unanticipated consequences of the system of incentives set up for scientists today.

I was also getting really tired of the siloed thinking that so often permeates highly specialized fields, and of hearing that so many injustices staring us in the face “aren’t our problem” and having the conversation end there. While people have argued that scientists aren’t valued enough, the billions of dollars in research funding we receive, with almost no strings attached, testifies to the political clout we wield. And we don’t hesitate to use it to our own benefit, but we could do so much more. I would argue the least biomedical researchers can do is acknowledge the limitations of our own work and use the influence we have to amplify voices that are preferentially unheard (for example, those calling for dismantling systems of oppression as a way to support flourishing population health). Dr. Ruha Benjamin has some brilliant thoughts on how this might be achieved.

Last summer I attended a conference talk where a highly influential scientist in my field suggested that at least some of us in the audience should spend the rest of our lives on highly technical investigations of a rare type of cancer where the researcher:patient ratio is already close to 1:1. I felt like I was on another planet. While writing this post, a friend (who, obvs, knows me well) sent along a very relevant quote from Charlie Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator, which is very reminiscent of the thoughts that were running through my head then:

We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….

I’ve got a long way to finishing my PhD, and who knows how I’ll feel in the 7+ years it’ll take to finish med school. But for now, I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than this description of family medicine by a particularly inspiring doctor who spoke to us a few weeks ago:

You see patients get better and walk with them along their journey.

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Garibaldi Park, Skwxwú7mesh and Lil’wat traditional territory

 

On TransLink and Thin Privilege February 11, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — excitablescientist @ 12:20 am

Earlier today, while waiting for the SeaBus to take me to family practice, an ad on the TV in the waiting room caught my eye.

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It was one of the few times I’ve seen someone whose body resembles mine in an ad that wasn’t about plus-size clothing, and it was a lovely surprise.

 

I suspect it may not have caught most people’s attention–not for this reason, anyway–but if you’re used to seeing uplifting representations of people who look like you, your sensors may not be as attuned to detecting them as someone for whom they are rare occasions. (and yes, I’m aware that the underrepresentation and negative portrayals of women of colour across the board make my experience seem trivial in comparison, and it is. I also know that racism exacerbates fat-shaming and I’ve noticed that people will defend the persistence of both forms of discrimination using surprisingly similar arguments.)

 

I have a BMI of exactly 25; teetering precariously between overweight and ‘normal’, and many people don’t read me as fat (or so they tell me). But for as long as I can remember, I’ve been told implicitly by media and explicitly by family, that I should strive to be thinner. Although the label of “fat person” is rarely applied to me now that I live in Canada, the phobia of it is something I’ve both carried and tried to resist almost all my life including the present day.

 

Relevant to this discussion is my position on many axes of privilege, as a white, settler, university educated, cisgendered, straight-passing, able-bodied person. All of these reduce the likelihood that I will experience fat-shaming in the context in which I live, and increase the chances that I will have access to other sources of validation if I do. On the whole, being heavier-of-center has minimal impacts on my life today, and in general there are so many sources of joy and meaning in my life that don’t have thinness as a prerequisite, that these impacts are almost unnoticeable.

 

Almost.

 

I can’t help but notice that I’m the largest person in most social groups I’m part of (and in my medical school class, among women, I’m in at least the 95th percentile when it comes to BMI). This is not the kind of statistical significance you get excited about.

 

I’m also not used to seeing young women who look like me in media, and it’s always a pleasant, memorable surprise when they do. You can try this out for yourself: flip open a magazine (it needn’t be about fashion) and count the number of images you see of women who aren’t, well, thin. I’m pretty attuned to being heavier than most successful women across a variety of occupations.

 

From time to time I’ll walk into a store and find out that the waist of their largest size pants would perhaps fit one of my thighs. Tall boots are a lost cause, though I do currently own a pair that must have had some kind of production error, because they actually fit pretty well.

 

Yet in spite of the grievances I just listed, I also realize that my relative position on the BMI spectrum means that thin privilege actually benefits me more than not. For example:

 

– People, including health care providers, don’t jump to the conclusion that I don’t value my own health, eat healthy food or get sufficient exercise based on my appearance.
– If I don’t manage to complete an assignment on time, my colleagues will not assume that it’s because people with bodies like mine are inherently lazy.
– Airline and bus seats are built to comfortably accommodate people like me; people don’t dread having to sit next to me (at least until I start talking to them!)
– I don’t receive unsolicited, disparaging comments on the amount or type of food I eat (most of the time)
– I don’t really worry about my body shape being an impediment to finding a partner (then again I’m still single, so who knows)

 

For me the impact of living in a society that puts enormous pressure on women to be thin has been subtle but persistent. I recognize that many people’s experiences with fatphobia and fat-shaming make mine pale in comparison and so I was uncertain whether it was appropriate for me to write about these topics at all. Part of the reason I did is I believe staying silent only serves the status quo. A society which is comfortable putting enormous amounts of pressure on women to be thin must also be made comfortable with the consequences of doing so. I also realize that people experience anti-fat stigma to very different extents (and, again, I realize mine has been just barely above the limit of detection and I would never talk over someone who has been affected to a greater degree), but the underlying reasons are often shared. Finally, while I can help amplify voices which I think need to be heard, all I can really write about is my own story, in the hopes that talking about my own vulnerabilities may find resonance with others in similar situations and contribute to a broader understanding that we are not alone.