Monday, May 26, 2008

I will derive

One week of agonizing over content, structure, purpose... thinking myself crazy for deciding I could finish up two experiements, work on a grant and write my PhD dissertation in a 10 week time span... and I did it! I wrote the first page... (149 to go)

The past decade has brought forth a multitude of new drug delivery technologies; these novel pharmaceutical agents, drug conjugates, polymeric and lipid carries and implantable biomaterials are revolutionizing a vision of how medical illnesses should be treated. Drug delivery research follows a simple scientific principle (to delivery drugs only where and when they are needed) in order to achieve sustained, regionally specific and targeted pharmaceutical action.

In spite of the promise that drug delivery technology will allow exact spatial and temporal control over medical therapy, few out of the many potential products have been developed into successful clinical therapies. The translation of drug delivery research from benchtop to bedside is hindered for industrial reasons – cost, safety and regulatory and large-scale manufacturing issues – as well as scientific roadblocks. These scientific roadblocks arrive in a variety of guises, yet they might be summarized by a straightforward concept: in the complex adaptive system of the human body, there are many variables to consider.

Predicting the therapeutic effect of drugs in the body is a complex and diverse challenge that could be approached from a variety of angles. It is the purpose of this research to explore the parameter space of drug delivery in several model systems, proceeding from biomaterial to target tissue to biological effect. First, we will examine the factors that govern release of a model hydrophobic drug from the polymeric coating of a vascular stent that is currently in clinical use. Second, the interaction of the same drug with target tissue site components will be considered in a ex vivo tissue mimic of the arterial wall. Third, the pharmacokinetic requirements for neurotrophic factor delivery in the brain will be examined in behavioral and biochemical models of biological effect. It is the intent of this thesis to address a fundamental problem in drug delivery, namely, how to quantify biological and physical parameters that are necessary for effective biomaterial design.

(For the two people who read this blog that I went to ASU with, the complex adaptive systems reference was intentional. Thank you Drs. Pizziconi and Coursen for preventing the phrase "things don't always work out the way we expect them to" from entered this draft of the introduction)

On that note of cheery jubilation (and I do apologize for the work-related interjection, although since I'm starting a process that's going to end in a thesis defense, you might be hearing more), I'd like to share something else that put a smile on my face today:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grate'r Butter for Greater Pastry, or, Cute Quiche


I'm all about puns this evening. But, aren't they cute?

I mean, seriously, aren't they cute?


Itty Bitty Fluted Removable Bottom 4" Tartlet Pans!!

I'm sure this is my extra X chromosome talking, here but there is something undeniably adorable, smile-inducing, shoulder-shrugging "awww..." about miniature proportions...

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<Ahem>. Moving on... The little quiche tartlets I picked up at the store are cute, and quiche itself is yummy. And easy. And perfect for using odds and ends of vegetables. The basic recipe is pretty straightforward: eggs, cream or milk, cheese and filling of choice. There are a few tricks:

The balance of ingredients in the custard is flexible within reason. You could substitute milk for cream, but I wouldn't reduce the number of eggs and the fat content at the same time (the milk might curdle).

A variety of cheeses work just fine. Fontina and Gryuere are best for creamy flavor and meltability. Chedder and Swiss provide stronger flavor but can get a little oily if you add too much.

Goat cheese provides tangy contrast when it is dollop'ed throughout. All other cheeses should be shredded or cubed into very small pieces.

If you want to lower the fat content of this dish, it's pretty simple: add more vegetables. You could also make the quiche crustless.

Vegan Quiche is easy - puree silken tofu in place of the dairy (shockingly delicious, although I know you wouldn't believe me unless I handed you a piece of normal looking quiche, which you proceeded to marvel about and then I revealed that ta-da you just ate something vegan)

The choice of filling is entirely up to you. I happen to love broccoli quiche, but there are endless possibilities here: leek, onion, chard, garlic, olives, pepper, mushroom, or asparagus (off the top of my head). Make sure that whatever you choose as a filling is thoroughly pre-cooked and squeezed dry, so that no excess water seeps into the custard (which would make for an unpleasant texture).

I think good quiche requires a decent crust, and I must admit that I find most frozen crusts are pasty and bland. I just don't bother making things with pastry, since the storebought variety irritates me a little and the homemade variety irritates me even more. Good homemade crust relies on keeping the butter super, extra cold. The flour is cut around the cold butter until little globules of cold, firm butter are uniformly coated with flour. Water is dribbled in to bring the pastry dough together, and then it is slid along a flat surface to smear the butter into flat sheets. When the cold dough hits the hot oven, the butter melts quickly, creating flat pockets of steam and a flaky, tender crust. The worst thing you can do to pastry is to let it get warm or add too much water.


I really hate making pastry, but I've learned two tricks that make it easier from my friend Jessica, who is pictured above with her son Jonah. I know, "new" tricks for perfect pastry? It doesn't happen, right? Using vodka or the Cuisinart, I've heard it all, but I swear these two suggestions are unique and actually work. First, put the butter in the freezer and then grate it onto the flour. This trick speeds the cutting step and thus reduces the amount of time that the butter has to get warm. Second, use whole wheat pastry flour, which is more tender than all-purpose flour.


Here's what "pea sized pieces" of butter and flour look like for me, with a tablespoon for reference

Broccoli and Lamb Sausage Quiche

Makes a 8-9" quiche, or six 4" mini-quiche!

I have never bothered to hunt down the "perfect quiche" recipe, since I would wager that if it were as good as it could get, then the fat content would be obscene. I'd rather not find out if I'm missing anything. This recipe is loosely based off of several epicurious suggestion and loosely off of a spinach tart recipe that I love. It works just fine as a starting point. I suggested a broccoli, sausage and swiss cheese filling here. You could just as easily substitute any ingredients you like. Keep a generally similar volume of custard to vegetables to cheese and it'll work

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop into bite sized pieces:

3-4 crowns of rinsed broccoli

You can include the stem if you wish (just chop it a little smaller than the rest). Add the broccoli to a small pot or sauce pan, along with

3/4 cup water

A glug of olive oil

Cover, turn the heat to medium, and steam until the broccoli is quite soft (~20-30 minutes). Add more water if the pot starts getting dry. When done, drain thoroughly and set aside.

Place an 8" fry pan on a burner set to medium, add:

2 humanely-raised lamb sausages, casings removed (or several ounces of crumbled pork, boar, nitrate-free bacon or turkey)

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Brown the sausage (~10 minutes). Drain off the extra oil (save the drippings if you wish - they would be delicious with sauteed greens) and chop the sausage into bite sized pieces. Set aside with the broccoli. You should have about 2 cups of vegetables and about half a cup of sausage.

Whisk together:

2 large, free-range eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream (can substitute half and half or milk)

~1 cup grated Swiss cheese (can substitute all or some with a different cheese type)

1/2 tsp freshly grated black pepper

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground sage

Stir the cooled broccoli and sausage into the custard mixture. Pour into a pre-baked crust, and bake the quiche for ~30-40 minutes, or until the center is set and firm.

A better quiche crust recipe

Makes enough dough for one 8 or 9" pie or tart pan


6 tbsp butter

1 cup flour, plus extra for rolling the dough

1/2 tsp salt

4-6 tbsp ice water

Put a stick of butter in the freezer. Measure 1 cup of flour and 1/2 tsp salt into a bowl with a box grater and pastry cutter and place all of that in the freezer too. Wait at least 30 minutes.

Take out the pastry ingredients. Grate 6 tbsp of the butter onto the flour with the medium side of the box grater. Toss the butter around with the flour with your fingers; using a pastry cutter or two forks, cut the butter into the flour until everything is in small pea sized pieces. If the butter starts feeling soft, put it all back in the freezer for a few minutes.

Prepare a large glass of ice water. Drizzle water onto the dough, one tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition (it will take ~5-6 tbsp of water). When the dough begins to gather into a cohesive (not sticky) ball, turn it onto a lightly floured countertop and knead (smearing the dough across the counter) just once or twice with your palm.

Form the dough into a disk shape, dust thoroughly with flour and wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze for just a few more minutes while you clean up, or let rest in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

Roll the dough to fit desired pie or tart pan. Pre-bake the crust at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes and cool slightly before adding the filling.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Apple Spiral Pecan Bread, Could Be Rushed


About 60 seconds after the last fork is placed on the table and the last morsel of dinner consumed, my grandfather turns to my mother and says, "Ok, Linda, let's go the living room". About 10 minutes after we all relocate to the living room and easy conversation finally settles down to stay, my grandfather turns to my grandmother and says, "Okay, Nance', let's go home". When they walk in the door of their home, the newspaper comes out, the TV turns on, but before long, my grandfather turns to their pet parrot and says, "Okay, Pepper, it's time for bed". Pepper usually agrees.


It turns out that I am my grandfather's granddaughter. We're both on the move. We both look for the next step 3 paces before the last one. We think ahead, and when the goal is known - why wait? I've gotten to be very good at rushing: rushing out of obligation, rushing out of necessity, rushing out of the basis of my personality. I hurry in the morning to get dressed, multitasking as best as I can. I fry the eggs while tamping the coffee down; I pour the orange juice while the butter melts on the toast. I make lunch for Greg and I with my own breakfast in hand. I run around at work to write busy emails and perform speedy experiments, and then I scramble to make dinner once I get home. I rush my way to the end of every day. Dinner's done? Time for cleaning/movie/work/dog park - let's go! My willingness to move with purposeful speed is not just due to the fact that I like things done quickly -- I'm usually impatient to see what's next.


There are a few particular things that I choose to never rush about, notably, my walk to work - I could ride a bike - and the time I spend with Greg  - why rush that? These days, I maintain my weekends as a necessary sanctuary of slow pace - I've learned that I burn out otherwise. There are also a few things that will not be rushed, no matter how much I wish them too: Greg (in any capacity), getting Tori to pee (when it's 10pm and raining), and letting ciabatta rise.

Bread will not be rushed: yeast, it turns out, is a fickle and moderate creature that will often refuse to conform to my scheduling needs. Good flavor from wheat takes some time and consistent attention that my week seems too rushed to afford, yet somehow I fit it in. My patience is always rewarded with a satisfying, buttery bite. Bread will do that for a person.


Equally fortunate, I found a bread recipe whose flavor and crumb don't depend on perfect timing. This is a fantastic and flexible recipe (originally from Peter Reinhart, who else) that I have adapted several times. I am very pleased with the result. Making this bread in an evening is - honestly - pretty easy. Reinhart has a habit of providing pages worth of detail in every recipe, but I've posted my modification here with as simple of instructions as I can manage. The nice thing about this bread is that a precise rise is not necessary for good flavor (since it is enriched with eggs, buttermilk and other tasty things). This recipe is not picky in the slightest. The enrichment also helps the bread from going stale, though I doubt - with sticky apple butter and pecans nestled in these slices - a loaf will last you very long. With a little bit of butter and a dash of salt on top, I can't stop eating it. Compared to a regular cinnamon role, this bread is low fat with practically no added sugar, and I love how the bit of whole wheat flour plays off the spicy, moist apple butter and rich nutty pecans. I've made  three loaves in a week (one that was plain sandwich bread, below) and I'll be sure to make more soon.



Apple Spiral Pecan Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Simply omit the apple butter and spiraling step to make a normal loaf of sandwich bread.

At first I thought I wanted Walnuts in this bread -- but since Greg is allergic, we went with Pecans and I don't regret it for a moment. However, I think it should be pretty clear that you could substitute whatever you wish for the spiral part. Some ideas: chopped apricots, figs, plum jelly, preserves of any sort, fresh fruit or applesauce, honey, walnuts, pecans, pistachio, or hazelnuts. Taste your filling of choice before using it - the filling should be delicious just on its own, and if it's not, add extra salt, sugar or spices until you are satisfied. The apple butter I used her is all natural: just apples simmered away with a touch of cinnamon and cloves.

I could imagine this going savory with pine nuts, garlic and cheese. Take this idea and run with it...


Stir together in a large bowl:

2 c flour*

1 1/2 tsp active yeast

3/4 tsp salt

Crack an egg into a small dish and whisk it lightly with a fork. Pour on top of the flour:

Scant 1 c buttermilk **

About half the whisked egg

If using whole wheat flour, add an additional:

1-2 tbsp honey (optional)

If using an electric mixer, fit with the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 3-4 minutes, until everything comes together as a uniform dough. If doing things by hand, mix with a large spoon or your hands for 5 minutes. Drizzle in more buttermilk or water if the dough looks dry; sprinkle in extra flour if it looks too moist. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom; alternately, it should be moist and stick just a little bit to your finger when touched. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, and then continue kneading for another 10 minutes or so. If you peel off a small bit of dough and stretch it between your fingers, it should be see-through.

Lift the dough off the counter or out of the bowl and drizzle some olive or vegetable oil in the bowl. Form the dough into a loose ball and role around in the oil to coat. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for as long as it takes for the dough to double in size (~1-2 hours, depending on temperature; you could always turn the oven on for 2-3 minutes, turn it off, and let the dough rise in there).

Sprinkle a clean counter with excess flour. Turn the dough onto the counter and stretch, roll and tug at the dough with your fingers until the it is ~8x16 inches in size. Spread the surface of the dough with:

~3/4 cup apple butter

And sprinkle on:

~1/2 cup roasted pecan pieces

Roll the dough up the long way so that the resulting log is about 8" long. Place in a lightly oiled loaf pan, seam-side up (can't you just see that apple butter bubbling out of the top of the loaf?). Brush the rest of the egg over the loaf, and sprinkle with a little brown sugar or cinnamon if desired. Set loaf pan in a warm place and allow to double in height (again, 1-2 hours). Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. When the loaf has doubled, bake for ~45 minutes. It should spring back nicely when you tap the top. Remove from the oven and cool completely before slicing.


(I haven't tried it yet, but I bet this apple/pecan/whole wheat combo would be perfect with slices of good cheese...)


*I used 50/50 whole wheat and bread flours; all purpose would be fine. The bread flour will yield a better crumb. You can also add a tablespoon or two of gluten to the flour if you wish, which will make for a chewier bite.

**Substitute milk, or milk with something sour (a bit of unflavored yogurt, sour cream or the like). The Reinhart recipe included 1 tbsp vegetable oil or shortening as an additional enrichment; I chose to omit the oil.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I got tagged for a meme


Here are the rules:
A) The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
B) Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.
C) At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.


1) Ten years ago I was…

A little sad about some things that don't weigh me down anymore

2) Five things on today’s to-do list:

  1. Organize my to-do list!
  2. Pre-cook a few meals for the week ahead
  3. Deal with our mouse infestation by putting out humane traps
  4. Pull weeds and plant sunflowers in the yard
  5. Spring cleaning

3) Things I’d do if I were a billionaire:

Donate most of it, I think. Does an individual person ever, ever have personal use for more than a few million dollars? I think I would set up a research/lobbying foundation for political issues I care about, including significant funds for education and scholarship awards.

"Just me" use -- travel and learn how to be a real photographer. If I could actually travel, maybe some of that photography could deal with political issues too.

4) Three bad habits:

  1. Getting my hands messy while cooking and then touching all of the door knobs and handles in the kitchen. This will one day send Greg over the edge.
  2. Accidentally derailing conversation topics, because I'm occasionally a space cadet like that
  3. Setting potentially unrealistic work deadlines for myself; getting burned out; taking it easy for a little bit; realizing that slowing down let the work pile up; frantically doing things I should have done a while ago. Repeat. And repeat. And... yeah, repeat.

5) Five places I’ve lived:

  1. Toledo, Ohio
  2. Phoenix, Arizona
  3. East Rock, New Haven CT
  4. Wooster Square, New Haven CT
  5. Downtown, New Haven CT

(do three places in New Haven count?)

6) Six jobs I’ve had in my life:

Other than 6 years of lab research!

  1. SAT and math tutor
  2. Cataloging chemical names and MSDS lists for a lab at ASU
  3. Picking up dog poop at a kennel facility at a vet hospital
  4. Secretary at a small company
  5. Summer outreach camp for middle school girls in engineering
  6. TA, TA, TA, TA, TA, TA, TA, TA (yes, times 8, and this year is THE LAST YEAR)

7) Tag 5 other people

Goodness, I don't think five people even read this blog right now. Plus I can't tag Liz because she tagged me  : D

  1. Nutcase 101
  2. Brett, but I bet he won't do it...
  3. 28 Cooks
  4. Jessy and her dog Whinny, though Jessy I think you're excused from question #6 : )
  5. Marce, who might still be away on vacation!

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Pressure's On


Have I told you yet that Greg organized a chapter of the National Kickball league right here in New Haven? This was to be a summer of sports and outdoor recreation. We had plans, oh there were plans for fitness and getting in shape... well, poor guy, things don't always go as planned. Greg had a youtube-worthy moment this weekend, and it might have been worth it if only someone had a camera on them. I was working on Saturday so I did not get to witness the event myself, but, apparently, he made a spectacular swan dive towards the giant bouncing rubber ball in order to tag someone out. Unfortunately, by making this amazing save, he landed awkwardly on his side and broke his shoulder.

In case you ever break your shoulder, here's what to expect: horrible pain for the first seven days, an uncomfortable sling that rubs your skin raw, Vicodin, and no use of your arm for 6 weeks. This, and the ER doctor said that his was the slightest injury he could have made. (Better than dislocating a shoulder, apparently).

Greg has been a real trouper about the whole ordeal. There's not much he can do at the moment except watch movies and be uncomfortable on the couch. There's not much I can do for him, either, which makes me feel helpless. So I decided to make him something uber-healthy for Greg to eat on Sunday.


I'm not really a "gadgetty" kind of kitchen person, but a friend of our's gifted us a pressure cooker recently. She passed it along with constant assurances that her husband makes spectacular tofu dishes using it. I haven't quite been able to duplicate the dish that she described (she said it becomes dense and spongey, with a texture akin to frozen tofu), but I have found this new kitchen appliance useful for cooking things rapidly. I've found that, in the last, final stages of cooking, when the grains are drying up and absorbing moisture from every source possible, the tofu can get a little drier and hole-ier.


Pressure cooker tofu is nothing dramatic (for me, so far), but it the method I used to make this healthy salad is simple and the resulting dish is delicious and refreshing. The tofu has a wonderful texture that contrasts nicely with the wild rice, and the flavor creeps up on you: first nutty and grainy, then a burst of citrus flavor and olive oil. Next time I might add a little cilantro. Other possible additions? Toasted chopped walnuts, a little feta, pine nuts, or a squeeze of lemon juice.


Wild Rice Salad with Citrus and Tofu

What I liked better than the texture of this tofu (although that was good too) is the flavor. By cooking the tofu in the pressure cooker with orange juice, the citrus flavor thoroughly infused each cube of tofu. No weird sour/beany taste left.


Slice into 1/2" cubes:

1 package firm tofu

Add tofu to pressure cooker pot, along with

1 cup wild rice

1 cup orange juice

1.5 cups water

A glug of olive oil

Fit the lid onto the pressure cooker, turn the stove to high, and wait for the steam valve to open. Lower the burner so that the pot emits steam in steady spurts (~medium heat), and cook for ~15-18 minutes. (Keep an ear out and nose out for the sounds and smell of a dry pot/burning rice. Better to stop the pressure cooker sooner and finish the rice on the stove if need be). Meanwhile, wash and slice:

1 bunch beet greens (substitute spinach or arugula)

Peel and slice into 1/4" cubes:

2 oranges (I used one Valencia Orange and one Blood Orange)

When the pressure cooker is done, release the steam valve. Let  the rice and tofu cool for a minute (taste the rice; if it doesn't seem done, continue cooking on low heat). In a separate pot, steam the greens until wilted (~5-7 minutes) then shock in a bowl of ice water. Squeeze out the excess water and chop finely. Whisk together:

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp cider vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 tsp ground sea salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Add the dressing, along with the greens and orange slices to the tofu and rice. Toss together and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Leftovers three ways. Way #3: Cumin Spiked Veggie Burgers

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   Having had some delicious soup and then enchiladas  just the other day, I found myself staring at several more cups of assorted roasted vegetables (asparagus, peas, carrots and zucchini) tossed with braised tofu and steamed quinoa. Lacking any other ideas, I decided to try my hand at veggie burgers. It was surprisingly simple to prepare, and the end result was tasty...Not earth shattering, but tasty : )


My dad used to always make me smiley face meals. Greg does too : 0


Here's what things looked like before starting the recipe.


Cumin Spiked Veggie Burgers

Makes ~6 patties


I think there are a few things that make this recipe a success. (1) Roasted vegetables = flavor. (2) Quinoa = excellent texture. (3) Egg + Bread Crumbs = binding ability). And (4) Ground up pecans = even better flavor and texture. I'd say you could substitute pretty much any kind of nut in this recipe, although I think the fat content of the pecans helped things along. Be sure to adjust the amount of bread crumbs according to the moisture level of your particular batch.

I found these veggie burgers a tiny bit crumbly and reminiscent of falafel (with all that cumin). I think there are many spice combinations you could try here - curry, salt and pepper, mushrooms, barbeque sauce, etc. If it is important to you that the burgers hold together well, add another egg and up the breadcrumbs.

In a blender or cuisenart, puree:

~1 cup leftover vegetables and grains

1 egg

1/2-3/4 cup pecans or other nut

Small handful of parsley

Stir in:

~1/2 cup leftover vegetables and grains
~1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs (more or less, depending on how moist things seem)

1 tbsp worstershire (optional)

1 tbsp cumin

1 tsp cayenne pepper

Salt, pepper, other spices if desired

If the batter seems too dry, add a dash of olive oil for moisture. Salt and pepper to taste. Working with ~1/3 cup of batter at a time, form into flat patties. Add a swig of olive oil to a good fry pan, and fry the burgers on medium-low heat for ~3-4 minutes per side, or until the egg is cooked through.


Serve burgers on toasted bread or wheat buns, with a slathering of mayo, mustard, ketchup if you wish, and topped with lettuce, red onion and tomato. Delicious.