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My first semester of grad school is drawing to a close.  It’s been great in some ways, and slightly disappointing in others.  Mostly, I wish that I had made more of an effort to talk to people in my lab rotation.  I spent more time reading papers and worrying about not getting any data when I could’ve been learning about the other projects in the lab.  But it’s no surprise that approaching people is not my strong suit; that shouldn’t be an excuse anyway.  It’s unfortunate that I realized this so late because now I just feel unsatisfied and disappointed in myself for not making the most out of this experience.  The only upside is that I’ll know to do better for my next two rotations.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve failed in some way.  Or that I haven’t given a very good impression to my lab mates.  It doesn’t help that this was the lab that drew me to UCSF in the first place.  I guess I wanted my rotation here to be so awesome that anything less seemed like a major letdown.

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Juan and I were so impressed with the lemon curd and gingerbread pancakes from Zazie’s that we bought a pack to take home with us.  On his last day here for Thanksgiving, we used up the curd to make lemon cream tartelettes.  These mini-tarts are so much easier to share with people than a regular sized one.  They also make very addicting after-lunch and after-dinner…and maybe after-breakfast desserts.

My friend gave me three very ripe mangoes to do something with, and I figured they’d best be turned into tartelettes as well.  To make mango curd, puree two or three mangos with some sugar, lemon juice, and an egg.  Strain the curd with a sieve if you want it to be smooth.  Heat the mixture over medium heat until the sauce is somewhat thickened; then chill it in the fridge with plastic wrap touching the surface to prevent a skin from forming.

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Maybe it’s because I put in so much more effort in this second round, but I definitely prefer the mango tarts over the lemon ones.

Lemon Tartelettes from Kitchen Wench


This week was the start of my rotation.  So far, I’ve been playing around with vials of fruit flies that are usually kept just beside the work desk.  Occasionally, lone flies that have escaped land on my laptop while I’m reading.  Funny to think how fruit flies are the kitchen scourge of the summer months, and here I am with my precious bottle trying to grow myself a colony.

Under the microscope, these critters are actually quite cute.  To discriminate between flies that we’ve genetically tweaked and those that are normal, we look at several physical markers.  Some will have red eyes, others white.  Curly wings or straight wings.  Long bodies or tubby bodies.  And even count the difference in the number of bristles next to the eye!  For my project, all the ones with red eyes and curly wings are expressing transgenes, or the genes that we have engineered .

To make specific mating crosses, I’ve learned how to sort out the virgin females.  We need to use virgins because the females that have already mated can store sperm inside their bodies to use overtime.  So to be sure that all the offspring are from a specific male, we separate out the virgins, which are fatter, whiter, and “shinier.”  I place these in vials with males from another strain, and after a day or two, I can see several eggs that have been deposited on the bottom.  And if I look again the next day, the whole culture is crawling with tiny little maggots that make my skin itch just by looking at them.  It’s pretty marvelous.

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Drosophila have a rich background in science.  They were first used by Seymour Benzer to study whether genes can influence behavior, a revolutionary idea at the time when most people thought that behavior was solely a product of our environment.  Using some elegantly designed tests, Benzer demonstrated that fruit flies exhibit simple and reproducible behaviors.  Phototaxis, for example, where flies are attracted to the brighter side of the test tube.  Time-keeping, or circadian rhythm, where flies emerge from their pupal cases (after metamorphosis) always at a particular time of the day.  And memory–flies can recognize an odor that had been paired with an electric shock.

For such a small critter, flies have an amazing repertoire of actions and responses to visual, gustatory, and olfactory stimuli (to say the very least).  But more importantly, Benzer demonstrated that mutants for these behaviors can be isolated and used to pinpoint specific genes that regulate these functions; thus, opening the field for the genetic dissection of behavior.

Another great advantage of the fly system is that the development of the neural system is stereotyped and uniform for every fly.  For example, in the larvae, there are four classes of sensory neurons that innervate the entire body wall.  Each class is characterized by the morphology (or appearance and shape) of the cell.  You can locate the same class of neurons in the same exact location in every single fly.  This makes it very easy to study what genes determine the development of these neurons.  For my rotation project, I will be looking at the interaction of these neurons and the surrounding glia (accessory cells that facilitate the development and function of the nervous system).

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And finally, just to geek out a little, the professor who runs my lab had actually came from the lab of Seymour Benzer during his postdoctoral training.  Which means (if I decide to stick with this fly lab) that I could be a “descendant” of Benzer!  I am a link in scientific history!

Apple and Lemon Cakes from Technicolor Kitchen

Lately, it seems like everybody is getting married.  In the past year, three of the post-docs in the lab have gotten hitched, engaged, or soon-to-be engaged.  My fellow lab tech is now sporting a ring that extends almost 1 cm above her finger (I may be underestimating here).  It’s so huge that it can double as a self-defense instrument, like pepper spray; except, instead of blinding someone with a chemical irritant, she can leave a diamond shaped hole in their eyeballs.

It hadn’t really hit me yet that I was reaching a marriage-able age.  After all, the people I knew getting married were all older than me by a few years.  And even rumors about high school classmates who have made the jump seemed so far removed from my reality.  But I guess I have to finally admit that my cohort—at least some of us—are becoming adults.

Two weeks ago, I flew to Chicago to attend a friend’s wedding.  She was my best friend in high school.  I remember her as a history buff, grammar freak, Starbucks addict, and an incredibly loud commenter while watching movies at the theater.  She introduced me to Korean pop music, caramel frappucinos, extreme procrastination, and a spirit of vibrancy and spunk that brought out the best in me.  She was a frequent online companion during the wee hours of the morning, my favorite person to rant to, and an ideal confidant when it comes to the matter of boys.  She ogled pictures of Orlando Bloom, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney, and on my chemistry notes, you would find her works of doodle art.  She helped me ask my crush to junior prom and she was first to hear the details of my first kiss.  To see her get married was a mix of the surreal and the sentimental, with a permeating sense of time passing.

The wedding was lovely.  I walked into the chapel just as G- and her dad were preparing to walk down the aisle, and she looked stunning.  What struck me more than the delicate folds of her dress was the smile of genuine happiness and the grace and maturity she exuded.  Despite the big time gap since I had last seen her, I felt tender pride and real joy to see her celebrate this milestone.

Now that her wedding’s over, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see her next time.  There have been plenty of days where I’ve thought about writing an email or picking up the phone, but I don’t.  I can blame busy schedules or long work hours, but the truth is that I’m afraid.  I’m afraid of those long awkward pauses and forced niceties that make up the vapid conversations between people who have nothing in common yet try to feign genuine interest.  I’m afraid that if I reach out this time, after so many missed opportunities, there would be nothing left to grab onto.

Someone wrote once that friends who have grown apart are like strings that had been cut, their loose ends flailing in the breeze.  But sometimes all that it takes to recover a friendship can be something as simple as tying a knot.

I don’t believe that friends have to stay by your side forever.  We all have our own lives to pursue, obligations to meet, agendas to make.  But I do believe that connections between people are never really lost forever, despite the time and the distance.  Put on hold, maybe, but always there if you dig down deep enough.

It’s been a long time since I’ve baked anything.  These pictures were taken months ago when I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner, and I needed to bring a dessert I could whip up in half an hour.  I thought it was best if I used a recipe that I had already tried.  This Lemon Tart was way better than the first time I made it, which was more than a year ago.  I’m glad to know that I’m actually getting better at baking (and all that entails is being able to tell when butter is “fluffed” or when whipped cream is “whipped”).  I’ve also realized that I should remember to write down how my food tastes.  This tart was made so long ago that I can’t remember much about it except that it was good, so I guess you have to take my word for it.

If you check the play count on my iTunes playlist, you’d find that Switchfoot’s “Dare you to move” has been played 1200 times.  And that’s an underestimate, since I tend to hit replay before the song ends.  I am one of those people who obsesses over one song at a time, and keeps it on repeat until I can mentally follow every drum beat and guitar rift.  I do this with every song until I am utterly disgusted with the melody and move onto the next catchy tune.  This is why I need my own room, because I would drive my roommate nuts.


But “Dare You to Move” holds a special place in my heart.  It is THE song I revisit, time and time again.  I’ve played it the day when I sat down on the steps of some stranger’s house and cried.  Over lost loves, dashed hopes, and deep-seated fears.  This is the song that inspires me at every twist and turn, reminding me that life is so much bigger than my circumstances.  It is the song I turn to when I need to find myself through anger and sadness.  In disappointment and confusion.  From resignation and indifference. 


This song is about moving forward regardless of whatever humiliating, shameful, hurtful, and devastating event took place.  It touches the very core of what I believe in.  That we have a choice at the brink of defeat and surrender—“between who you are and who you could be”—to choose how we want to make our lives.  It is timeless precisely for that reason.  Because failures come and go, because we will never know what adversity will hit us next, because we can never predict where we will find ourselves, we will always need to remember how to move forward. 


This past weekend, I tried to make doughnuts with lemon ricotta cheese filling.  I love the lemon zest and sugar topping, but the bread itself tastes nothing like soft, fluffy donuts.  Even though they make for some tasty breakfast buns, I consider this a flop.  I suspect I must have overworked the dough while rolling it out to cut out circles, because it was extremely difficult to re-roll the scraps.  Note: let it rest after each round of rolling so that it can build up some air.  Moreover, I could barely fit more than a small dollop of cheese filling into the buns without it spilling out.  In the end, I had so much leftover cheese filling that I had to figure out some way to use it up.  I’ll post what I did with that later. 

One thing I did learn from this is how to let dough rise in an icy cold apartment.  I turned on my electric oven to 200F for a minute and 15 seconds.  Turned it off and shut my doughnuts inside to rise.  It’s great because it’s well insulated and protected from drafts.  Now, if I could only figure out how to “fluff” my buns, then I’ll be happy. 

Baked Lemon Doughnuts from Gourmet Traveler