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

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Spontaneous Generation

Today I made RNA. How many people do you know who can say that? Well, I guess depending on which circles you travel in, possibly a lot. But still, talk about freaking cool. I made the molecule responsible for communicating cellular instructions.

In all actuality, the making of the RNA is kind of anti-climatic. I didn't design and then produce something novel and ground-breaking in molecular biology. I just demonstrated that I could produce RNA from the control DNA template provided in a kit. Yes, that's right, a kit.

It seems that a lot of science is about following directions that outline the mixing of provided ingredients and then heating them up for a bit. Two people can follow the exact same protocol--literally, everything exactly the same--and get drastically different results. Because apparently science isn't really an exact . . . science.

Sound familiar? A bit like following a cooking recipe? It really is. There's a list of ingredients, an explanation about the order and amounts they should be mixed in, and a person to put them all together (scientists even get to wear the little white coats that chefs wear). Every person in the lab unwittingly adds his or her own touch so that one procedure done over and over again by one person with constant success can be mimicked by another to no avail. And there is always room for improvisation if a certain procedure doesn't work or deliver the desired results. Yes indeed, a lot like cooking.

Except science is cooking without all of the sensory experience that makes working in a kitchen so amazing--an experience unparalleled. Lab work is like cooking without all the wonderful odors and colors and tactile sensations. In the lab, there's no burst of green scent that fills the air when you chop parsley or cilantro. There's no melodic motley mix of orange carrots, green and white cucumbers, red tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, pink radishes, brown mushrooms, and emerald lettuce in a salad. There's no rhythmic pulse of the knife hitting a worn wood cutting board.

Granted, lab has its pleasures. There is nothing better than getting a result you thought you didn't have or solving various problems. My mind is never idle. Nor is it stirred to poetic heights from a contrast in texture or smell.

So, while I love my new job and am excited about continuing, I find my thoughts often turning to the pleasure of my kitchen with its tacky orange and black tiles and too little counter space. I look forward to the end of the day where I can hold my chef's knife in its comfortable groove in my right hand as I prepare yet another meal.

Mexican Lasagna
(tweaked from Vegetarian Times
October 1, 2006 p.72)

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1 big onion, diced and divided in half
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin, divided
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 cups pinto beans, cooked
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 Tbs. lime juice

  • 4 grated carrots
  • 4 grated zucchini
  • 4 bulbs garlic, chopped
  • 1 can Chipotle chiles in adobo, pureed and added to taste (this is super spicy. Add slowly and cut with some tomato)

  • corn tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar and jack cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Coat 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in skillet over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup onion, and sauté 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp. cumin and coriander, and cook 5 minutes. Purée onions with beans, cilantro and lime juice in blender.
  3. Heat 2 Tbs. oil in skillet over medium heat. Sauté remaining onion and garlic in oil 5 minutes. Add carrots and zucchini, and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in remaining cumin, and cook 3 minutes. Add pureed chiles, and simmer 2 minutes.
  4. Layer tortillas, bean mixture and vegetable mixture in prepared pan. Repeat one or two times, and top with cheese. Bake 30 minutes, or until cheese has melted.
Serves 6

1 comment: