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I can’t remember how many times I’ve tried to make pull-apart bread. There was always something wrong with mine. The slices were too uneven, the edges too charred, the insides too dry. Luckily, I’m no stranger to sequential failures, thanks to graduate school. I’ve spent years cultivating a resilient sense of optimism and a high tolerance for repetition. I’m pretty sure that If I can bounce back from months of demoralizing experimental disasters, then making a decent loaf of bread is no biggie.

And the rewards were deliciously satisfying. As soon as I pulled this out of the oven, I did a little dance of joy. Perfectly crispy edges with generous amounts of buttery mustard and cheese filling slathered on each slice. Somehow we managed to restrain ourselves enough to make the loaf last for a few days. It makes an unbeatable combination with baked BBQ chicken wings and sautéed veggies. Pop open a beer and enjoy a toasted slice of this bad boy.

Now, if only my experiments could be as gratifying as this loaf of bread.

mustard cheese pull apart bread

mustard cheese pull apart bread

mustard cheese pull apart bread

Cheddar Beer and Mustard Pull-Apart Bread from Smitten Kitchen

Tips from Flourish

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Every year, I have a phone interview with a sociologist from Northwestern University to discuss my experience in graduate school. And since I’m not usually quite prepared for an intense introspective session on the joys and tribulations of academic limbo at 8 AM in the morning, my answers tend to be awkward and disjointed. What does it mean to be a scientist? Cue internal groaning. Have you completed your PhD? Panic ensues.

Since the beginning of graduate school, I’ve been enrolled in a study that tracks the progress and outcomes of PhD candidates across the States. A group of us were randomly chosen to receive formal mentorship from a career coaching program. I wouldn’t know anything about this program, since I’ve only been recruited to the control group. This means the sociologists are primarily interested to see how well (or not well) I am coping with graduate school without the benefit of their coaching program. Occasionally, I wonder whether my “luckier” cohorts are reaping the fruits of supplement support, while the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves. That is, until one day I discovered that my partner, who is also a graduate student, had been recruited in the intervention group of the same study. He is faring no better or worse than I am. What a relief.

One of the questions that the interviewers always ask each year is how my gender identity has impacted my experience in science. When I first heard this question five years ago, I was bewildered. I had received a great education at Berkeley where half of my fellow students in the molecular biology department were women. I had met plenty of women scientists in research labs, albeit fewer women faculty. But it had never occurred to me that gender was of any consequence in the scientific work place. Certainly, I have never witnessed nor experienced any overt sexism.

But I’ve come to appreciate that gender plays a larger role than I had believed. And part of that is understanding that sexism doesn’t need to be overt or external. I spent more than two years fighting the fear that my faults and ineptitude would be exposed every time I had to give a presentation. I worried that expressing any opinion during meetings would demonstrate my low-level thinking. I agonized over the thought that I was not as astute or committed to science as my male counterparts. I acquiesced to others when it came to sharing resources even at the expense of my own experiments, because I feared that I wouldn’t be liked. And I kept my head down when I needed help because I believed I had to solve my own problems in order to prove my place in science.

No one had to make any sexist remarks to shut me down. I shut myself down because I internalized perceptions—that I was not even aware I had—of women’s academic and professional potential. And I would have continued in this way if another women scientist had not invited me for a much-needed, honest discussion about the ways I was doing a disservice to myself and the achievements that say I am qualified to be here. While this story is not new for feminism, it is new for me. And it is still difficult to not capitulate to the cloud of self-doubt that constantly hangs over me even as I am aware of its fallacy. Even more difficult to convince myself that my work and opinions are entitled for consideration. But I have found that simply realizing and being able to speak honestly about my struggles has changed the way I approach science and my career.

This is my fifth year in graduate school. If you listen to my past interviews, I’m pretty sure you can hear the bubble of naivete pop somewhere around year three. To be clear, I am not resentful about anything. I would not have chosen differently if given the chance. But I have come a long way from the bright-eyed first year who was 80% certain of staying in academia after graduate school. I am not disillusioned with science, nor am I desperate to graduate. The work I do is frustrating, gratifying, engaging and illuminating. And in a lot of ways, I have to thank the rougher portions of this process for the deeper understanding I’ve gained about myself.

And while I don’t think, at this point, that I will stay in science after graduation, I am confident that my choice has nothing to do with the fear that I wouldn’t be qualified to be an academic professor. Rather, I am choosing to take all the ways my graduate training has empowered me, personally and professional, to pursue a career in a different field. Even though I have only a faint idea of what that career might look like, I am comfortable with where I am now and where I will be heading.

orange cranberry bread

orange cranberry bread chocolate orange bread

Orange Cranberry Bread from Allrecipes

I have never been a fan of oranges. Mostly because they require more effort than an apple to pry open and extract the meat from the gross, chewy connective fibers. But even I have to admit that the oranges this winter have been phenomenal. So much so that I’ve spent the past few weeks baking all things orange, including this Orange Cranberry Bread. The delicious citrusy scent that perfumes your kitchen is reason enough to make this.

I’ve substituted butter for margarine, omitted the nuts, and halved the amount of sugar. I highly encourage making an orange glaze to pour over the top while the loaf is still warm. It makes a sweet, fragrant crust that is balanced by the tartness of the fresh cranberries. Delicious for breakfast.

 

Tuesday night, Vicky and I went to see The Little Mermaid Sing-A-Long at the Castro Theater. We were given a bag to equip us with all that we’d need for the perfect interactive experience: a plastic crown (King Trident!), a plastic fork (“dinglehopper”), soap bubbles (life is the bubbles under the sea!), glow sticks and party poppers (because why not?). The theater was beautiful. And packed. People were breaking out their glow sticks and bubbles long before the movie started. You can’t enjoy a sing-a-long without an audience who’s equally, if not more, enthusiastic than you.

It was incredibly fun. We cheered for Ariel. We stamped our feet. We booed at Ursula. And we sang all the iconic songs that made The Little Mermaid so great. And while princess movies may be sending the wrong ideas to children about gender roles and romance (seriously Ariel, you’re 16 and you’re “in love” with a guy you saw just once?), that’s not going to stop my inner child from loving this movie. At one point during “Part of Your World,” I got both the tingles and teary eyedness of nostalgia. There is no better way to re-watch a Disney classic.

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What do they got? A lot of sand
We got a hot crustacean band!
Each little clam here
Know how to jam here
Under the sea
Each little slug here
Cuttin’ a rug here
Under the sea
Each little snail here
Know how to wail here
That’s why it’s hotter
Under the water
Ya we in luck here
Down in the muck here
Under the sea

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Grape and Rosemary Focaccia from 17 and Baking

This is probably the easiest and best yeast-based bread that I ever made. Even my mom liked it and she’s usually skeptical of my baked goods. The olive oil and rosemary really shines through, especially if you heat them up together before you add it to the dough. I accidentally left the focaccia in the oven longer than I intended, but fortunately, it came out with a nice crispy crust with a soft interior.  Next time, I would use the regular red grapes instead of these wine grapes, which were a wee-bit too small and didn’t keep shape as well.