Monday, February 18, 2013

Tea time

Today I received a box of wonders, among which was this fine selection of teas (can be purchased here).

So as soon as I got home I thought about something to make today's tea time special. Therefore, I eventually decided upon my spicy muffins. I only had 50g of butter, so I reduced everything in the recipe to 1/3 of the original quantities. Also, the only flour I had around was a sunflower seed mix for bread and I said why not, it can't be any bad.

Turns out, it was an amazing choice. The seeds even roasted a bit in the oven and the overall result was delicious. But here's the recipe: I mixed 50g of melted butter with 30g of brown sugar and 20g of powder sugar, one egg, 35g of flour, a pinch of baking powder, 10g of cocoa, a pinch of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and Cayenne pepper. All that went into the silicone muffin shapes, filling about 2/3 of each (a total of 6). On two of them I placed, as an experiment, pieces of marshmallows. In the end, it didn't look very pretty, but they turn into this crunchy frosting, which is great. I put the muffins in a tray and in the oven at around 200 C and left them for around 25 minutes.
So when they were ready, I made tea. This time I chose Harvest Apple Spice and it was divine. I had some muffins with no frosting and drew them a whipped cream cap :) I was really into indulging this afternoon.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Weekend update

I'm a lazy bastard, I know. However, I'm a busy lazy bastard. Last weekend I went to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at the local theater. Needless to say, I was charmed by the script and concept, but a little aghast (if that is possible in the English language) by part of the staging. At times, and those times were quite often, I felt like the director tried too hard. And tried too hard all over the place, both at the more intense scenes and while begging for a laugh. I did have a good laugh, I have to admit, and I must applaud the cast. So all in all, things even out.
Later on, the babe took me out for a drink and then we went dancing with more of our friends at The Rock is Rolling Party. Me, I had the best of times. I got bored once or twice and, goddess, most of the people annoyed me, but I danced my ass off and stayed till the end. It was good to see old faces and lose the grip for a while. However, I'm committing again to my goal of not wasting a night's sleep, because on Sunday I was high on lack of it and had no appetite. Also, I might be too old for this.
These past two weeks I've been going to the pool and swimming more and more laps. I can't wait for my next visit, because I really need some time in the sauna. My muscles hurt like hell after the sliding contest with my family this weekend. We went skiing and yesterday, after hitting the slopes and a late lunch we took our sliding gear and had some fun right next to the cabin. The snow was great and our mountain dog was thrilled to chase each and every one of us until the sun set and the ground really froze. The bruises and torn muscles are witness to that.
I went to a small birthday party this Friday. Our former dean is 70 and I was pleased to be invited. I felt a little weird, as only one other current PhD student came, but we were among the very few invited, so I guess they did want us there. I might have made some inappropriate jokes, such as "well, it's the last time girls will stand in line to kiss you", but I hope I got away with it. I was also presented with some nice opportunities, among which the invite to attend a lecture of a family demographer on Thursday and the chance to at least look at, if not join in, the work of a team of researchers who tangentially touch upon my subject of interest.
I also managed to survive what I like to call TGIP (thank goddess it's payday) on a Friday, post-Valentine's Day, which you may not think is much, but in my office is hard to complete successfully. I want to watch Les Miserables this week, but maybe in my next post I'll write a few words on Hotel Transylvania, I do feel like it. And, of course, as soon as I'm done with Rant, it definitely needs a couple of lines as well.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The scientific mind

Lately, I've come across many instances that reminded me how important it is to teach children (and especially adults) to perceive and make sense of the world in a rather scientific manner. The great thing about science, someone supposedly said on American television, is that it's true whether you believe it or not. And this is especially true of the laws pertaining to the physical world, such as astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, to some extent, and so on.
But my field of expertise lies in the social world. And the scientific character of social research is often still questioned, but in the academia I believe it is widely respected. I've talked before about the TV show "Numbers", in which a brilliant mathematician used equations in order to assess behavior and social patterns. That is possible nowadays. Another great thing about science is it all ties up together.
But getting back to the social sciences, and in my case particularly sociology, I believe one of the best things that can happen to a person is to start seeing the world using the famous sociological imagination. Why is that? Well, first of all, there is a whole new understanding of the world around us. One of the ways sociology makes sense of the world is through social statistics. And let me tell you, there is strength in numbers, literally. A wonderful presentation by Hans Rosling will make the point for me.

Second, and most important, this understanding of the world makes you a better person. It wipes away prejudice. It makes you aware of the factors that shape the lives of a particular group, be them economical or historical and so forth. If only we'd had a better understanding of the social world, I believe a great deal of conflict could have been avoided through the ages. Of course, international relations and critical theory actually maintain that prejudice was only one of the immediate causes or even pretense reasons for wars and genocide, as the power balance was actually at the core of these conflicts. But at the more micro level, in our everyday lives, as women or members of a minority, be it sexual, ethnic or religious, we can very well feel the negative effects of prejudice based on purely ignorant understandings of the world, which can easily be disproved by solid social research.
I don't believe science is opposed to religion or the other way around. I believe some religious people oppose scientific research or the scientific thinking that contradicts their dogma. But, overall, religions have profited widely from scientific discoveries, beginning with the maths architects used for their amazing cathedrals, to audio systems that make the Pope's speech audible to thousands (and millions, by television). Today, the church uses social survey data to better understand its flock. Science, on the other hand, and especially social science, has only profited from religion in terms of knowledge. Studying religion, we are better able to understand how normative systems were formed and maintained, how communities construct the concepts of mutual beliefs and traditions and, among many others, how structures of power operate and thrive.
What is so cool about thinking at least a little like a scientist is that it no longer shatters your world when people contradict you in an argument. Scientists are obsessed with continuously defining the issues they study and assiduously trying to disprove them, after spending a hell of a lot of time bringing arguments in favor of their work. Bringing validity and reliability into your own way of thinking is liberating, helps you understand that attitudes and beliefs need to be based on solid reasoning, but also that better reasoning can make you change your mind. And that's not a bad thing at all. It's how the world evolved, after all.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Of love and peace

 photo by Gregory Maiofis via the near and the elsewhere

I'm sitting here with the cat purring on my chest, stretching her little claws and grinding away anything bad left in my world. Loss is supposed to make us sad and empty. But all I've been feeling these past few days is happy. And loved. I get home and get cooking and suddenly it's quiet and I'm at peace. I slide down the slope blinded by snow and I'm feeling so lucky. I want to share all that from now on. I've been saying it every year, right? It's six years since I started blogging and I don't think half my posts are still here anymore. However, I want to make a fresh start of it. Maybe this time it sticks.

I've been thinking about things to share that will take me further from the personal gibberish I've been writing so far. So it should be recipes, movies, books, plays, records, workouts, cats, you know, the things that make me tick. I'll be trying to make a schedule so that I'm around here at least twice a week. I'm still at the newspaper so maybe I'll pick an issue every week to discuss, maybe it will help me brush up on my opinion pieces style. I hope I do get my work on the thesis going again so I might write a monthly update of my progress and most inspiring or surprising discoveries. I don't know what else, but I miss writing and it's high time I got those thoughts I have on the bus somewhere safe, where I can revisit them.
It's always a new start with me. I have amazing plans for myself and I'm trying to replace worrying with dreaming. Maybe I'll tell you some more next time about this journalism convention I've been invited to and the research seminars I want to apply for. Hopefully I get to go to both!