Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Research Hacks

Maybe you've seen the website making the rounds on facebook of "50 Lifehacks"--little tips and tricks for making your life a little easier, like running the cords for all the electronics on your desk through binder clips affixed to the edge, or how to fold a fitted bedsheet so that it's actually flat and square. Here are a few of the "research hacks" I've developed for my research trips.

1. Cook lunch faster
To keep costs down on this recent research trip in Leipzig, I cooked my own warm lunches in the primitive guest kitchen. My main meal consisted of pasta with broccoli-cheese red sauce. To cook the noodles faster, while the pot warmed up, I boiled the water in the water cooker, then finished the cooking in the pot. Since it was only a two-burner stove, I heated the tomato sauce, broccoli, and cheese together in a pan. Sometime after taking this photo, I started emptying the sauce pan into my bowl first, and then draining the noodles over the sauce pain in the sink, to make washing the pan easier.

(Lest you think that's a dishwasher, you're looking at two electric burners over a mini-fridge, a sink, a cabinet, a microwave(!), a hot-water boiler, and an assortment of dishes and utensils that lived on the table with its two folding chairs.)

2. Carry everything to the bathroom
Have you ever had the problem of trying to carry your shampoo, conditioner, facewash, bodywash, poof, lotion, deodorant, comb, ... from your room to a communal bathroom, or from your tent to the showers? (If you're a guy, maybe not; and if you've got a plastic caddy or a big enough toiletries bag, more power to you, but on this trip I packed light and brought a small suitcase, so many items came with me singly.) I recently learned about furoshiki, the Japanese way of fashioning cloth into carrying containers, so I've been using a version of the Otsukai Tsutsumi with my hand towel to get all my toiletries from my room to the bathroom down the hall. Here's how it works: pile toiletries on one third of towel. Fold down the upper corner. Flip or roll it over once. Fold the free lower corner over top. Tie the two ends in a knot. Voila! Just grab your bath towel and your clothes and pad on down the hall to the bathroom.

3. Type faster
Sometimes there are words that pop up regularly in my reading notes that are a pain to type. So I will copy the root of the most common one and just paste it into the document as I go along. This trip it was "andwirtschaft," from which I could spell Landwirtschaft [agriculture] and landwirtschaftlich(e) [agricultural]. Another thing I do sometimes is use shorthand for umlauted vowels. I type my notes in both English and German, so it is too frustrating to have to hunt down certain punctuation marks to use German key caps. (German keyboards put the umlauted vowels where things like ; and " are on English keyboards.) I am pretty good at using the short-cut keys for umlauts in Word, but I seem to miss the ü when typing a lot, such that "für" [for] becomes "fu." Reading my notes later it's "fu" all over the place! So I'll use "u]" while taking my notes and periodically Find --> Replace "u]" for ü. This words for a], o], and even s] for ß if my left pinky is feeling particularly abused.

What sort of life, travel, or research hacks have you developed? Please share them in the comments section!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cherry Pielettes

My next scheduled blog post isn't until Wednesday, but because of a late-season blizzard Sunday night, Dear Husband's choir practice was canceled for probably the first time during this cycle of cicadas. We decided to take advantage of the free evening together--the last of my Spring Break--to put on a Bach cantata and have a baking party. We get to eat the results, and you get an extra blog post!

DH had a hankering for chocolate-chip cookies, so that's what he's getting ready to mix up on his half of the island. Because it was snowing, he also had a hankering for cherry pie, but that requires three times as many cans of cherries as we had in the pantry. I decided to get inventive and make mini cherry pies in our muffin tins. He's the pie-baker in our relationship, however, so this entailed me learning how to make pie dough. That's my first attempt on the cutting board on the other side of the island.

We share the cooking 50/50, but DH does 3/4 of the baking.
Am I a lucky woman or what?
We've had some difficulties with getting our chocolate-chip cookies to rise in the past--I once sent my middle brother a St. Patrick's Day care box of flat, green chocolate-chip cookies that he was gracious enough to eat--and I finally traced the problem to el cheapo bleached flour. Once we bought better flour, the non-rising cookie problem stopped, or so I thought. DH swears he's had a batch fail to rise since then and wants "cakey" cookies. I think his usual cookies are perfect, but he tried out a slightly different recipe this time, with a higher flour to butter ratio and less brown sugar. I thought the results tasted like "crunchy snowflakes"--appropriate for the situation, don't you think?

As for the cherry pielettes, I used a simple pie crust recipe of flour, butter, and a little bit of water. That made enough crust for six cupcake wells, so I got to refine the flour to water ratio for the crust of the last four wells. All told it was about 1/2 cup butter + 1 3/4 cups flour + 4-5 tbsp cold water. The filling consisted of one can drained sour cherries + 1/8 cup white sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon. It turns out each cup held 4 cherries and a couple teaspoons of the reserved cherry juice. When I couldn't find a cup the right size to cut circles out of the dough, I rolled the dough kind of thick and then flattened it with my fingers to fit the wells.

Here is the first batch, filled and topped with something approximating a lattice. Because the bottom crusts were never quite tall enough, unfortunately there wasn't anything to crimp the lattice to. I just had to trust that the crust would bake together. The first batch went into the oven at 375 F for 25 minutes, which turned out to be too long. The second batch turned out better (i.e. less crispy) after 15 minutes. If I were doing this experiment again, I think I would turn the oven down to 325 or 350 and bake them for about 10 minutes. If you try this at home, adjust according to how crunchy you like your pie crust.

Here I am with the second batch of four. I had greased the wells with butter papers, so with a little twisting and the leverage of a fork, all but one cherry pielette came out of the tin. One had boiled over, stuck to the pan, and had to be consumed on the spot. It was a tragedy, I tell you. DH is supposed to bring some French vanilla ice cream home after his rehearsals tonight so we can have our single-serving pies a la mode!
It was quite the storm: we got 6 inches of snow
by nightfall, and we woke up to 6 more inches.
In fact, Spring Break was officially one day longer,
as the University cancelled classes on Monday.
Who else has had baking adventures? Share in the comments!

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Von der Herausgeberin: ab und zu übersetze ich einen Post in Deutsch, um ihn mit meinen FreundInnen in Deutschland mitzuteilen. Diese findest Du, wenn Du "auf Deutsch" in den Search Kasten typst.

Jedes Jahr veranstaltet meine Uni einen „Abbildungen aus der Forschung“ (Images of Research) Wettbewerb unter den Magister und DoktarstudentInnen. Das erste Jahr von diesem Wettbewerb habe ich ihnen beantwortet, dass sie die Naturwissenschaften der Geisteswissenschaften vorzieht, da Biologisten und Physiker schaffen Abbildungen oft während ihrer Untersuchungen, aber Literaturwissenschaftler und Historiker arbeiten mehr mit Texten. Obwohl ich viele Abbildungen in meiner Arbeit verwende, diese wurden hauptsächlich von jemandem anders gemacht, entweder von einer Person in der Vergangenheit oder von einer Archivarin (und deswegen für den Wettbewerb nicht gültig). Trotzdem habe ich während meines Aufenthalts 2011 in Deutschland ein Foto gemacht. Es hat weder gewonnen noch eine Auszeichnung bekommen, aber ich entdecke es vor kurzem als ich nach etwas anders gesucht habe. Ich teile es euch mit, für Spaβ und Aufklärung.

Als Medizinstudentin und Geschichtedoktorandin übersetzte ich viel: vom Labor nach Klinikum, von Artikeln von Gelehrten nach Vorlesungen für Studenten, von deutsch nach englisch. Ich machte dieses Foto als ich meine Doktorarbeit über Theorien von Ernährung und Körper in der Sächsische Land- und Universitätsbibliothek in Dresden forschte. Es stellt Seiten über Sehphysiologie aus dem fünften und letzten Band des von dem Deutsch-Amerikanischen Arzt-Schriftsteller Fritz Kahn geschriebenen Buch Das Leben des Menschen: Eine  volkstümliche Anatomie, Biologie, Physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen, 1922-1931). Der erste Langfilm in 3D, The Power of Love [Der Kraft der Liebe], wurde 1922 in Los Angeles herausgebracht, und der erste gefärbte 3D Film war eine unbetitelte Aufnahme von der 1936 Reichsgartenasusstellung in Dresden. 3D Technologie übersetzt abgesetzte, zweidimensionale Bilder in lebendige dreidimensionale Bilder. Überdies sind die Linsen blau und organge, die Färben von meinem Campus.

Der Untertitel liesst: "Das plastische Sehen": nach dem Anaglyph-Verfahren von Ducos du Hauron
(Erklärung neben Originalaufnahmen von Reg.-Rat Hermann Lüscher.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Germany East: Leipzig

Editor's note: Having researched and written a series of posts for our up-coming trip to San Francisco, and having already purchased tickets for my next trip to Germany (late May/early June), I figure I had better finish up with the posts from the previous trip. This is the penultimate entry I had planned, and I've taken advantage of the end of Spring Break to put the finishing touches on them both for you. The other one will appear on Wednesday.

German National Library
I spent the last two weeks of my January research trip in Leipzig, at the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library). This private institution is in the southeastern corner of the city and abuts the Alte Messegelände (Old Trade Show Grounds). The German National Library celebrated its centenary last year, and its magnificent building will be 100 years old in 2016. It still amazes me that Germans continued to do things like build libraries during World War I. Back then it was called the Deutsche Bücherei.

The first morning in Leipzig I woke up to a fresh blanket of snow:

Iconic double Ms at the eastern entrance
For a variety of reasons I chose not to live in the same Haus I did back in May 2011, so I was happy to discover a small Pension just a 10-minute walk away. The Messegelände is 100 years old this year, and the buildings that aren't being torn down for being too old (or ugly--quite a few date to the Communist period) are being re-purposed. A number of Christian associations have purchased Building 14 and use it for worship, a school, a community center, and to house some missionaries. The first-floor cafe and third-floor hostel (Cafe/Pension 14) are run by a Christian businessman a little older than I am. He remembers when only the party elite were allowed to come to events at the Messegelände.

Herr Stiehl and I had a lot of opportunities to talk, since I was the only one at breakfast. Most tenants at the hostel are factory workers and feed themselves from the primitive guest kitchen upstairs. I wanted to start the day with a hefty breakfast that I could stretch into a second meal, so I paid extra for a spread like the one in the photo. It included tea, orange juice, two rolls, meat, cheese, jam, jogurt, muesli, several fresh fruits, and sometimes a soft-boiled egg. I slipped a sandwich and piece of fruit into my bag for later. For my other meals I used the large discount grocery store in Building 11 next door.

Among other anniversaries being celebrated, last year was the 300th birthday of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and this year Richard Wagner would have been 200. Even though he is most associated with Bayreuth in nearby Bayern (Bavaria), Wagner is a native Sachsen (Saxon). He was born on 22 May 1813 in Leipzig and lived here for two years, until his stepfather moved the family to Dresden. Leipzig is making a big deal about it, having concerts and exhibitions and the like. I didn't catch any of those, but one Saturday night I did go to the famous Gewandhaus to hear what I assume was the final performance of the semester of the student orchestra. They were pretty good--and played "the can-can" as an encore, complete with students in local skirts and knee-high socks doing a silly dance.

Finally, 2013 is 200 years since the Battle of Nations, the decisive battle between Napoleon Bonaparte and the combined armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden, fought on the flat land just south of Leipzig. (Saxony fought with the French. Oops.) It was the largest battle in Europe before World War I and marked the decisive end of Napoleon's European campaign. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of that momentous event, in 1913 Emperor Wilhelm III dedicated the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. (The next time French soldiers would cross the Rhine River int Germany was toward the end of WWI.) This monstrosity of a monument turns 100 later this year, and there are celebrations planned for October. 

Sunrise at the Monument to the Battle of Nations

Who else is celebrating a big anniversary this year? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Images of Research

Every year one of my campuses holds an Images of Research competition among its graduate students. The first year they announced this, I couldn't help but observe to them that they were privileging the sciences over the humanities, as biologists and physicists create images all the time in their research, whereas literary scholars and historians tend to work with texts. Although I frequently use images in my own work, these were overwhelming made by someone else, either a historical subject or an archivist (and therefore not eligible for the competition). Nevertheless, while in Germany in 2011, I decided to create an image to submit. It didn't win or even place, but I came across it today while looking for something else. Here it is, for your amusement and edification.

As an MD/PhD Candidate in History, I spend a lot of time translating: from basic science into clinical practice, from scholarly work into lessons for undergraduate students, from German into English. I snapped this image while researching my dissertation on theories about nutrition and bodies in the Saxon State and University Library in Dresden, Germany. It shows pages on the physiology of vision from the fifth and final volume of German-American physician-author Fritz Kahn’s illustrated encyclopedia, Das Leben des Menschen (The Life of Man: A Popular Anatomy, Biology, Physiology and Developmental History of Humans, 1922-1931). The first feature-length 3D film, The Power of Love, had come out in 1922, and the first 3D film in color was an untitled movie shot at the 1936 National Garden Show in Dresden. 3D technology is also about translating, in this case, off-set two-dimensional images into vivid three-dimensional ones. As an added bonus, the film inserts in the cardboard 3D “glasses” are blue and orange, the colors of my home campus. 

(The caption under the dromedaries reads "Das plastische Sehen": "’Three-dimensional Vision’ in the anaglyph technique of Ducos du Hauron [explanation on facing page, p. 113]. Original photograph by Councilor Hermann Lüscher.” The adjective plastisch has additional meanings of “vivid” and “malleable.”)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Homemade "noodles"

Unsurprisingly, in the course of my research on the history food and nutrition in early twentieth-century Germany, I find myself resorting to the internet to teach me things about food my grandmother or great-grandmother might have known--but by virtue of growing up in a generation with pre-packaged foods, I do not. For instance, one of the more interesting discoveries (to me) is that freshly laid chicken eggs come with their own "packaging," if you will--a slimy layer that seals the pores in the egg shell and help it keep longer. I bet you didn't know that egg shells had pores: cool, huh? Needless to say, whether factory-farmed or gathered by your local small-holding farmer, eggs are washed before being packaged into handy cartons and shipped off to the grocery store (or farmers market).

Something else that sent me off to the interwebs was an instruction in a manual for World War I soup kitchens to leave a good hour for noodles to cook. Now, a century ago Germans were cooking the stuffing out of the fruits and vegetables in the name of "digestibility." Naturally they didn't have any taste after boiling for 30 or 60 or 120 minutes (cabbage took the longest), so they had to serve their veggies with butter, salt, nutmeg, and all sorts of sauces just to give them some flavor! So on the one hand it didn't surprise me to read that noodles should cook for hour, but since I had never made them by scratch before, I looked up various recipes online.

Sure enough, the consensus was that noodles were easy to make out of flour, egg, +/- some milk, and that they would cook in just 5-10 minutes. With the encouragement of friends on facebook, I decided to give it a try when we ran out of packaged noodles for Dear Husband's mother's chicken soup without the chicken. (The meat is cut up and used for other dishes, while the broth is served with noodles.) Using this recipe, I mixed the three ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon until that seemed futile, at which point I switched to using my hands, which allowed me to feel the stickiness of the dough. I stopped at about 1 3/4 cups flour, rolled out the dough, cut it, and pulled the noodles apart.

Here they are, all cut out with a plastic doohickey I have in the drawer. (I didn't want to damage the countertop.) They only dried about 10 minutes before I plopped them into a small pot of boiling water, since DH had to get to a wedding rehearsal at 6.

Whoops--they get bigger when they cook! DH joked that I was inventing a new, fusion dish: American, country-style chicken soup with wonton noodles.

The noodles were still on the stove when DH returned from the wedding rehearsal. He said the one he tried tasted like a dumpling. It turns out the noodles were so thick that they needed to cook for more than hour after all.

When they were finally "done" (a little past al dente), they did not quite have the "velvety" texture the blog author above advertised. The outsides were falling apart, leaving a glutenous, gluey mass in the bottom of the pot, and the insides weren't quite soft. Next time I'll flour the counter, roll the dough out nice and thiiiiiin, use a pizza cutter to make the noodles, and cook them in a bigger pot. I'll bet my grandmother would have known better!