Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Still Cooking

Last week I made "Baked Cut-Up Chicken with Fruit" from Mollie Katzen's Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen.

Although Ms. Katzen suggests using a cut-up whole chicken, I just used a package of chicken thighs which my father bought at Whole Foods.  First, I made a spice mix with pepper, paprika, salt, cumin, and cinnamon.  Then I rubbed the chicken with it.  After I put the thighs in the pan, I surrounded them with lots of peeled garlic cloves, sliced onions, dried apricots, dried figs, and prunes.

Finally, I finely sliced an orange (including its peel) and mixed it in, too.  Ms. Katzen points out that it is really important to use an organic orange since much of the pesticide used on non-organic citrus stays in the peel.

After I finished filling the pan, I put on the lid and put the dish in the oven for an hour. After that time, we took the dish out, basted it, and flipped the chicken. Then I put it back in for twenty minutes.  Then I removed it again, basted it, and put it in for a final ten minutes without the lid.

I served the chicken on some whole wheat couscous.  My mother made steamed broccoli with a little walnut oil to dress it.  It was a great meal.  I am eager to make it for my grandparents when I visit them in Florida for our New Year's celebration.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Get Cooking

Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the KitchenRecently, I have been cooking out of Mollie Katzen's new book Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen.  My mother gave me the book so I could continue to learn to cook as part of homeschooling this year.

 Last night I made a peach and nectarine crisp. It was very good!  The original recipe called for apples but Ms Katzen suggests using other fruit as well.

The fruit we used was from the farmer's market.  We bought a huge basket of nectarines.  Because they were seconds (meaning a little rotten, but still great for pies) they were only a dollar for the whole basket!

On top of the cut-up fruit, I put a sort of crust-like topping made out of oats and other things mixed with butter.

*  *  *

About a week ago I made macaroni and cheese, also from this book.  I used two cheeses for the sauce, a Parmesan and a Cheddar.  I grated them both on a box grater until I had enough for the dish.

The sauce was a roux, made by combining flour, butter, mustard, pepper, milk, and later, cheese over slow heat.

At the end, I added steamed broccoli to the noodles...

then topped it with breadcrumbs...

and baked it for 20 minutes.

I had a lot of fun making--and eating--both the macaroni and cheese and the peach/nectarine crisp.  They were delicious!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Make Your Own Slingshot


Slingshots have been used for centuries. When people wrote about David fighting Goliath, what weapon did David use? A slingshot, though the slingshot that was used then was probably a piece of fabric which was flung around the head providing centrifugal force to propel a stone or other missile. But it was still a slingshot. This essay will talk about how to make a slingshot, what to make them with, and how to use them properly and safely.

To build a slingshot, I used a handsaw, a knife (which must be sharp since a dull knife can be dangerous), a piece of strong but flexible leather, two wide rubber bands, and a y-shaped stick.

When choosing your stick, you want a fresh unrotten one. I used sycamore which I found in our backyard after a storm. If a slingshot is made out of too hard a wood, it could snap and hit the bearer in the face. Pine can also work nicely for a slingshot.

The forks on my slingshot are about 5 inches in length. Using my knife, I whittled notches at each end of the fork. I cut the leather into roughly a one-and-a-half inch by three-and-a-half inch rectangle. Then I made two incisions near the narrow ends of the leather.

slingshot bands

I attached the rubber bands to the stick by wrapping the rubber band around the stick and sticking one end through the other.

slingshot notches bands

Then I stuck the other end of the rubber bands through the slits in the leather and anchored them with tiny twigs.

slingshot twigs

To work the slingshot, pull back the leather pouch slowly while the slingshot faces the ground. Hold your ammunition in place against the inside of the leather, then life the slingshot and take aim, still keeping the leather taut. Release.

When using your slingshot, be careful! Make sure there is nothing in your way before you pull the leather back. Do not underestimate how far a handmade slingshot can shoot.

I use acorns for ammunition and use my slingshot to see how accurate I can aim at a target. Instead of accuracy, you could practice for distance, or whatever you like.

I invented this pattern and have enjoyed using my slingshot very much. I hope you do too!

Friday, June 4, 2010


The Ramayana is a great Indian epic originally written in Sanskrit about 500 B.C.  It is a central text of the Hindu religion.  I just read an illustrated version of one story from the Ramayana: The Adventures of Rama by Milo Cleveland Beach.  The story in this book tells of Rama, a heroic prince favored by the gods.  He goes on adventures, finds true love, and slays demons to save the world from evil creatures.  It is a classic hero story--very similar to Greek myths, to the medieval tales in King Arthur and Robin Hood, and also to Homer's Odyssey, which was written about two hundred years before the Ramayana.

The illustrations in this book are from a sixteenth-century manuscript currently in the possession of the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art.  The art reminds me of early Egyptian art because the artists often choose to illustrate people with their heads in profile, their chests facing the front, and the legs in profile.  Interestingly, many of the monsters are not drawn that way, although a few are.  I wonder if the artists thought this distinguished between monsters and humans and good creatures like the monkeys?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Note by Note

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 is about how Steinway pianos are made. The documentary follows a particular piano as it is constructed and adjusted by hand. The case (the outer frame) of the piano is built first. It is then left to age for 8 weeks. Then the sound board is put in, the piano is strung, the keys are inserted, the felt hammers are shaved, and the list goes on. It takes an entire year to make this one piano.

Throughout the film, there are interviews with famous pianists such as Lang Lang and Hank Jones. They talk about how and why they are choosing Steinway pianos. Because the pianos are handmade, they are of very high quality. Each piano is a little bit different, and each pianist is looking for a particular sound and feel. So the musicians often try out many Steinways before they find the perfect fit. Musicians giving concerts in New York City sometimes rent specific concert grands just for their performances.

This is a great movie for piano players and non-players alike. I myself play piano and highly recommend that others see this movie.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disease where the body makes abnormal sickle shaped red blood cells.

What is it?

Normal red blood cells are disc shaped cells that flow easily. They carry three types of hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that carries oxygen, hemoglobin A, A2, and F. Over 96% of the hemoglobin in normal cells in hemoglobin A. In sickle cell disease the red blood cells have an abnormal shape which makes them clump up and block small blood vessels. This is caused by a mutated hemoglobin, hemoglobin S, which bonds together to form long chains that give sickle cells their rigid shape.

Who gets it?

People get sickle cell disease when they get two copies of the abnormal hemoglobin gene from their parents. People of sub-Saharan descent are much more likely to have the disease. People from the Middle East, India, and South America are also at increased risk. In the United States about 70,000 – 100,000 people have sickle cell disease. One in 500 African American children are born with sickle cell disease.

People who only get one copy of the hemoglobin S gene are said to have sickle cell trait. They have no symptoms of sickle cell disease but can pass the condition on to their children.

In places with malaria, people with sickle cell trait are thought to have a higher chance of surviving malaria infection. This is because when the malaria parasite settles in a red blood cell, the cell may sickle and be removed by their spleen, helping the person fight the infection.

Signs and symptoms

People with sickle cell anemia usually don’t develop symptoms until they are over 4 months of age. This is because infants, even with sickle cell disease, have high amounts of hemoglobin F (also known as fetal hemoglobin) in their red blood cells.

Common symptoms of sickle cell disease are anemia and pain. Anemia, or low number of red blood cells, causes tiredness, dizziness, and feeling cold. Normal red blood cells live for about 120 days before being removed by the spleen. Sickle cells only live 10 to 20 days. The bone marrow of people with sickle cell disease cannot make enough new blood cells to maintain a normal number of red blood cells. This is why sickle cell disease is often called sickle cell anemia.

The pain in sickle disease is caused when sickle cells clump up and block capillaries and stop oxygen from reaching parts of the body. In addition to pain, lack of oxygen can cause tissues to die resulting in strokes, heart attacks, blindness, and other organ damage.

Sickle cell crisis, or acute pain attacks, can happen occasionally or as often as 15 times a year. They can be mild or very severe.

Most people with sickle cell disease damage their spleens. The spleen helps the body fight certain kinds of infections. Without a spleen, people with sickle cell disease, are very susceptible to infections.


There is no widely available cure of sickle cell disease. In some children a bone marrow transplant can be used to cure the disease.

Children with sickle cell disease are given antibiotics to help prevent infections as well as getting vaccinations.

Pain medicines and fluids are used to treat pain crisis. Sometimes blood transfusions are also used.

A new method for preventing pain crisis is to give patients a medicine called hydroxyurea. This medicine causes the body to make more hemoglobin F which carries oxygen well and reduces the frequency of pain crisis.

Scientists are trying to use gene therapy to replace the abnormal hemoglobin gene in people with sickle cell disease.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mark O'Connor

On Wednesday I got to see Mark O'Connor perform live at the University of Maryland.  His music was a combination of old time fiddle and classical violin.  He also played jazz.

Mr. O'Connor is a violinist and composer.  He played with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer creating the album Appalachian Waltz which he also composed.  He grew up playing the violin, and by the time he was in high-school he had one every major fiddle competition in the US.

The tone of his violin was incredible.  During the performance he played in several different tunings.  In one piece, he started playing the violin like a mandolin but switched in mid-song to using his bow.

The whole performance was definitely the best solo violin recital I've ever seen and the best I can even imagine.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Young Omnivore's Dilemma

The The Omnivore's Dilemma is a book which talks about four meals the author Michael Pollan eats that can teach us about the different ways food is produced and eaten in the United States. I read the new version for young readers, The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat.

First, the fast food meal.
For his first meal, Michael Pollan ate the classic fast food meal, a hamburger. But what a hamburger means now is very different from the what it used to mean. Farmers get paid very little and aren't always treated fairly. Both chickens and cows often live in feedlots where they are tightly packed together and often kept in the dark. It turns out that cows are not even eating grass anymore. Instead, they now eat corn. And the corn they eat is sprayed with harmful chemicals. Cows eating corn is not healthy for cows and is not healthy for people who eat hamburger, either. One of the problems is that when a cow eats corn, a type of harmful e-coli can develop more easily. The bacteria live in the meat and can kill people who eat it.  Raising food this way is also harmful to the environment.

Second, the industrial organic meal.
For this meal, Pollan cooks only with organic ingredients—that is, foods that are grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. With meat, the situation is often the same as above, except the corn is not sprayed. When you eat organic vegetables, you can guarantee that fewer chemicals get in your body. So organic is definitely a step better than the conventional fast food meal. But the way the animals are raised is still a problem and the ways workers are treated also needs fixing.  Also, the food has to be shipped a long way from where it is grown, meaning it requires a lot of oil to get food to the grocery store.  This is bad for the environment.

Third, food grown on a farm.
Joel Salatin calls himself a grass farmer. His cows feed on grass and weeds in the farm's large open pastures. The cows' manure attracts flies and then his chickens eat the flies as natural protein. The manure also feeds the grass and weeds which his cows eat. It is a natural circle that continues without any pesticides or fertilizers or food grown elsewhere. Salatin’s farm Polyface is near DC. I have friends who get their meat from there. Michael Pollan has friends that live near Joel’s farm too and so he travelled there to cook a meal for them. On the menu was applewood-smoked BBQ chicken, roasted sweet corn, arugula "rocket" salad, and a chocolate soufflĂ©. This sounds so delicious!  Pollan knew the animals on the farm had lived a good life, the workers there were treated well, and the food was healthier.

Fourth, a hunter-gatherer meal.
For this meal, Pollan only served food that was hunted, gathered, or grown by someone he knew. Angelo Garro is an avid hunter and mushroom gatherer who also fishes and gathers wild plants like fennel. Michael hunted boar with him and also went mushroom foraging. He then held a party and almost everyone who came brought something they had created themselves from special ingredients they found or grew.  I like the way the author talks about how connection with the food we eat means our meals become special.

*  *  *

This book talks about how the food system works. It explains how much is bad and how we can start to fix the problems.  I thought the book was really inspiring.  I knew a lot of the information already from my parents (who read the grown-up version when it came out), but reading this book myself really pressed the information home for me.  Now I often don't order meat at a restaurant if I think was raised on feedlots.  (I still love Vietnamese Pho soup though....)

I highly recommend this book to young readers as well as anyone who doesn't have a lot of time or background about food issues.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A new violin!

Right before we left Maryland for our trip to North Carolina, I exchanged my 1/2-sized violin for the next size up, a 3/4. Although the violin costs the same to rent, it is a better quality violin. I love playing it!

violin in hotel

I got to try it out first while practicing in the hotel room. Because it is larger, it is also louder. But nobody in the hotel complained!

Monday, January 11, 2010


My father's work has brought me to the Duke campus for a meeting.

Papa went to Duke for college.  He also started attending TIP, a summer program at Duke, when he was young and then when he was older, he taught there.  That was where he met my mother.

The campus has a lot of Gothic architecture. The chapel is huge!

duke chapel

Our hotel has a nice pool.  I really want to swim today!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The New Year

Yesterday was my first fencing lesson of the year!


Before fencing I was doing yoga. One suggestion I've heard is to rest in savasana at the end of yoga and imagine yourself doing something you want to do very well. It can help you do that thing better. I was naturally thinking of fencing. Parry, thrust, lunge!

Then, I thought about what I really wanted to be good at in fencing. Instead of winning, I saw myself losing a bout, but being happy for the person who won.

Later, in my fencing class I won one bout and lost one. I always learn a lot about fencing by losing. And when I lost, I was genuinely happy for my friend!