Protocols and recipes

by Eva Amsen

I’ve always felt that I wasn’t creative enough in the lab. If protocols say to add 24 ul and wait 5 minutes, I will do just that. Sometimes I’m lazy and hurried, and it will be 4 minutes or 6 minutes, but that kind of behaviour seems to be a Bad Thing.

The people who are the best at benchwork always follow everything to a the tiniest detail. If they change something, they do so very methodically, by running parallel experiments under varying conditions. They don’t just switch to another brand or batch number midway through an experiment, or forget their samples on their bench, or accidentally had half amounts of some components and then mentally adjust to figure out what to add on top of that to get the proportions right again. Yeah.

I did get better over time, but I still don’t really like following protocols.

I also don’t really like following recipes. Like experiments, my cooking immediately suffers when I don’t do exactly what it says on the page or on the side of the box. I’m using the word “recipe” very loosely here, because most of my cooking is of the “add water” or “microwave for 3 minutes on high” variety.

Someone once told me that I just don’t like cooking because I don’t enjoy eating very much. That’s probably true. I mean, why bother: you’re just going to eat it anyway. And having never really been home before 8 after lab and meetings, I always came home really hungry, and just wanted to eat – not cook it first!

As supporting evidence for the “I don’t like cooking because I don’t enjoy eating” statement, I do really like baking. And I’m good at it, and I am not scared to experiment with the recipe! The first time I made pumpkin pie I replaced half of the required pumpkin amount with apple sauce. The second time, with the same recipe, I added double the amount of spices and used whole wheat flour for the crust instead of white flour. Both pies were amazing, if I may say so myself. Friends agreed.

I guess this also says something about my feelings towards lab work: I probably just didn’t really like what I was working on, and that’s why I found following the protocols such a drag. And/or if I had been better at it, I could have altered the protocols to get even better results than with the original protocol!

But back to the kitchen: I’ve decided that now that I no longer have to follow protocols in the lab, I should really devote more time to experimenting in the kitchen. Since it is apparently unhealthy to live on pies and cakes and cookies and meringues alone, I am going to try and learn to cook better. The goal is to have 5 awesome “signature” dishes (and home-made bread) by the end of the year: two vegetarian, one vegan, one fish, and one chicken. I will not eat the last two myself (maybe a bit of the fish one) but I’ll serve it to other people and have them decide.

My 2008 resolution was to finish my PhD, and somehow the cooking project seems much, much harder…

I think I’ll start with a quiche – at least that looks like a pie.

Related Articles


Richard P. Grant December 23, 2008 - 7:59 AM

Food is one of the great pleasures of life. A good cook always has lots of friends.

Henry Gee December 23, 2008 - 9:51 AM

*Sweet-and-sour Pasta Sauce a la Maison Des Girrafes*
Some Pasta (500g serves four)
Some onions
A couple of peppers
Loads of garlic
Can of tomatoes
1 large dollop tomato ketchup
1 large dollop golden syrup
splash of balsamic vinegar
splish of soy sauce
pinch of mustard powder
dusting of ground ginger
squirt of Korean hot chili sauce
3.4142 drops tabasco
Bring some lightly salted water to the boil. Add the pasta. Cover until _al dente_, drain and reserve in the warm pasta pan.
Chop the onions, garlic, peppers and put aside. Open the can of tomatoes. Get a small child to pour all the other ingredients -over itself- into a mixing bowl, stirring until a smooth consistency is achieved.
Pour a splash of olive oil into a large cast-iron skillet. Add the -small child- chopped vegetables and stir-fry on a high heat. When the onions look translucent, add the sweet-and-sour sauce, and then the canned tomatoes. Keep stirring until the mixture has reduced. When you’ve got bored of this, pour over the pasta and serve.
The residents of the Maison Des Girrafes pronounce it ‘yummy’.

Åsa Karlström December 23, 2008 - 5:23 PM

Cooking and i have a love/hate relationship. I like cooking but sometimes it doesn’t turn out like I thought (the reciepe thing… 🙂 ). I have realised the last couple of months that I actually relax when I end up in the kitchen, making something from scratch. And baking bread? Absolutely meditational like.
I would recommend trying to make a good soup – it’s so apprciated in the fall time with home made bread with some cheese and a nice hot soup to warm you. My faviourite would be “Potatoe and leek”. I am lousy with proportions but I’d go with
6-8 potatoes
1 onion
2 large leeks
vegetable broth
some sour cream/ regular cream
white pepper
slice the potatoes in thin slices and fry them in a pan so they get more “see through” together with the onions and leeks (sliced). Pour it all in a pot with the stock. Let cook for a while (say 25 min?) until the potatoes are well done and it is all a mushed thing. Use a hand mixer if you want it to be more smooth, a regular masher if you want lumps. Mix in some cream/sour cream in the end, bring to a simmer for a few minutes. Eat 🙂
Of course, the potatoes may vary in size and mushyness but I think it is all up to what you like.
I look forward seeing what kind of recepies you end up with.

steffi suhr December 23, 2008 - 5:31 PM

Ooooh, since we’re on soups (absolutely agree with you, Åsa!) – one of the best and easiest (and lots of room for adjusting the protocol without much danger of messing it up):
_Carrot and Ginger soup_
Slice a bunch of carrots (wash, don’t peel them)
Cover with water until it’s just about 1 to 2 cm above the carrots
Finely chop some fresh ginger (I use lots)
Boil until carrots are soft-ish
Add cream cheese to taste
Mush up with hand mixer
Maybe add some salt (I usually don’t)
Serve hot.

Eva Amsen December 23, 2008 - 9:09 PM

Richard, I originally had something in the post about social cooking/eating but then I started feeling sorry for myself for not having done that in a long time, so I took it all out. (I am going to be cooking with friends for Christmas, though)
Henry, that sounds delicious! I might substitute the small child for something else, though, as I -am fresh out- usually don’t have any handy.
Åsa and Steffi – I love soups! I don’t have a mixer, though, and that is probably why I never make any. Maybe I should get one and starting souping.

Åsa Karlström December 24, 2008 - 5:09 PM

Eva> Santa is giving me a hand mixer for Christmas 🙂 [$20 from Walmart, the simple one with two speeds…. that’s all I need]
Otherwise you can get around fairly good with a good sturdy wisk in metal, or the poatoe masher.
Hope you enjoy cooking with your friends for Christmas. I’m doing something similar (although I think I will do most of the cooking… but it is fun to eat with people)

Eva Amsen December 24, 2008 - 5:54 PM

I just remembered that I actually _do_ have a mixer! A vintage green one from the seventies, bought second hand from friends who left the country, and were glad to see it go to someone who loves seventies design. I haven’t used it in a year, but when I took out my recipe for meringues, I wondered how I beat the egg whites last year, and remembered. This is how often I cook. I am truly pathetic.

Comments are closed.