The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Switching Gears

I have a habit of about faces in my life. I'm not sure where this trait comes from, but when confronted with an obstacle, I tend to do a 180 and move on to something completely different.

Example: Got in a car wreck, subsequently did very poorly at school, didn't get a lot of support from my faculty adviser, so I changed majors . . . five times -- before changing back to my original major (biochemistry) with the addition of a second one (literature).

Since this time, science and literature have vied for the primary place in my heart. Typically, literature has been winning. I got an M.A. in English; I teach it; I read it; etc . . . But a new development has occurred: my application to the PhD program in Literature at University of California, San Diego, was rejected.

In all honesty, I didn't have a huge chance of getting in. My literary interests don't really match that of the department's, and choosing a graduate school based solely on physical location (in this case San Diego) is not the wisest route. However, I figured I'd give it a try. Anything to be able to stop adjuncting. Even if that means I will be shifting from on field of study to another that is completely different.

So, now I am divorcing literature and returning to the love of my youth: biology. Biology is the science for lit majors: it doesn't have a huge amount of math and the math it does have is very basic. I made this decision about three weeks before the application deadline for Fall 2007 admissions at SDSU, so needless to say, I've been doing a bit of scrambling.

It's been five years since I've used glassware for anything other than vases or guacamole servers. It's been five years since I've talked about any chemical formula other than H2O (and that's only at cocktail parties when I wanted to impress someone with how scientific I could be). Five years since I've seen any bacteria purposefully grown (stuff in my expired yogurt doesn't count). Five years since I've read something talking about peptide libraries and P53 and understood it.

Frankly, I feel unready for this endeaver; however, I didn't get a BS for nothing (think about it: BS . . .). I can do that activity with the best of them. And my literary skills are holding me in good stead: I've been researching and reading up on faculty like a madwoman in the attic.

And all of this reading has been helpful in determining exactly which lab I'd like to join (think more bench work and less math) . . . as well as in insulting the professor whose lab I really really really want to get into.

I didn't mean to insult him. I came into his lab all smiles, ready to ask a few questions and answer a few.

"I cannot accept you into this program," he greeted me.

Taken aback, I stammered through my train wreck of a thought. Did he mean that I was so unqualified that I wouldn't get accepted into the school? Did he mean that he just didn't want me in his lab? Did he mean that I shouldn't take this interview as an acceptance into the program but it could only help me that we were having this interview?

Apparently he meant the last. But that didn't become clear for a bit. And in that bit, I managed to tell him that he didn't have that many publications--a deathly insult to anyone in academia.

I didn't insult him exactly in so many words . . . it just came out that way. And after back-pedaling and digging my hole all that much deeper, I decided to call that interview a loss.

Except apparently, it wasn't a loss. This faculty member decided he liked my grit and candor (my mom always just called it diarrhea of the mouth), so when I did get accepted into the Master's program at SDSU, he accepted me into his lab.

Oh happy day. I am now going to be a scientist. I am going to work with viruses. And I don't have to teach freshman comp ever again (if I don't want to . . .).

Who needs to cook today? I'm throwing the apron away and going out!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Company Cooking

There are some dishes that you save for company. These dishes either are so amazingly good that you don't want to waste them on a regular night. Or they are so amazingly complex that a regular night just doesn't have the time in it for preparation.

One of my dishes like this is enchiladas. At first glance, this dish doesn't seem complex enough to warrant its being classified as company food. I even used canned sauce (gasp!!!) rather than make my own homemade. Yet somehow I manage to make the seemingly simple steps turn into a situation whose complexity rivals that of the synaptic network of the human brain.

Luckily for me, I have a friend who a) I love very much and is way worth any complex company food I could ever make and b) is from New York so doesn't realize that canned enchilada sauce isn't the best ever and therefore c) requests enchiladas every time she comes to visit.

So while our boys played together, offering us a reprieve from the seemingly constant barrage of "Play with me, Mommy," she and I chatted while I used up every dish in the kitchen making enchiladas (which, by the way, uses exactly 0 vegetables from my CSA).

Green Enchiladas

whole chicken, boiled then meat picked off of the bones (if you are feeling particularly productive, you can boil the chicken with leeks, carrot, celery, parsley, thyme, etc . . . and make a stock which you can freeze for other dishes)
onion, finely chopped
black olives, chopped
jack cheese, grated
sharp cheddar, grated
green chiles, chopped

corn tortillas
canned green sauce (I like to mix La Palma (childhood brand my mom uses) with Hatch)
more cheddar and jack cheese, grated

Mix this stuff all up in a big bowl to taste. I like more onion and chile to my cheese and chicken.

Now this is where it gets way messy:
heat the oil in a small pan that is large enough to lay a corn tortilla flat in it. When the oil is hot, add a corn tortilla until it starts to soften. Transfer tortilla to a plate. Spoon a little sauce on it. The spoon a little filling on it. Roll it up and transfer to a baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Repeat this process until you have filled the baking dish. Pour the rest of the green sauce over the rolled enchiladas. Top with cheese. Bake covered in a 350 oven for 30 minutes. Then covered for another 15. Let it sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

Serve this will rice and beans and guacamole. Your New York friends will love it.