Dishes from the Dish

Planetary Gastronomy at Arecibo Observatory

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It’s been a long time since I last posted. Here’s the dish: I got diagnosed with another autoimmune disorder, which explains the weight gain and lethargy. I started targeted steroids and lost ten pounds in the space of three weeks: feeling better means having energy to cook in ways that are good for me, eating food that fuels me so I feel better, and exercising. I also gave away Squeakazoid, the little kitten occupying most of my non-work waking hours. She is settling into her home in Atlanta like she was meant to be there. I miss her, but it’s freeing to not be responsible for socializing a seven-month-old kitten! Maybe I’ll have time for the gym.

My evenings and mornings are freer now, so I’m trying to cook more. Tonight is beef kabocha stew with vegetables, kombu, coconut milk, and Thai spices. I also baked sweet potatoes into fries and the other kabocha half. Maybe it’ll last for the week. I also made a coconut and almond flour Dutch baby, which demonstrates that my cast iron pan needs more seasoning. Why not be decadent.

Returning to Arecibo provided two upsets in my food routines: no more “whole grain” Udi’s gluten-free bread at Pueblo (if I can make sandwiches that makes food easier when I’m sick) and no goat yogurt at Econo in Aguadilla. I try to take it easy on lactose, so the latter is especially frustrating to my breakfast and snack habits, especially when I lack energy to properly cook.

Last week I visited my old co-op at MIT and made my standby New York Times turkey chili, blanched collards, sweet potato fries, glazed butternut squash with pecans and sage, and a pledge made a vegan, wheat-free carrot cake.

It’s good to be back in the kitchen. Now if only this migraine would disappear.

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I moved on June 8 to a house in town, which has a large kitchen!  

Drawbacks: most windows don’t have screens, and even the ones that do can still be popped open by the enterprising cat who came with the house.  Open screens means more than cats, it means bugs and dogs.  The stove is electric, which means it uses a ton of electricity, and the electricity bill for this house is apparently on the order of a hundred dollars. 

The place came with a pressure cooker (!) but I think it’s missing a gasket, which is unfortunate, because that’d mean less electricity used on account of shorter cooking times.

I haven’t been cooking much there, instead I’ve been making salads to bring into work, buying pre-cooked sausage at Econo/Gate 5 in Aguadilla or Costco, and cooking beans at my bosses’ house while I catsit for them when they’re out of town.

Filed under cooking energy usage moving

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Yesterday was Helen’s birthday, delightful individual from Yorkshire. She requested dessert for her birthday, so I decided to go with a somewhat patriotic jelly: a layer of cranberry lime juice with strawberries, a layer of coconut, followed by a layer of blueberry juice with frozen blueberries.  For being relatively unsweetened (except for the cranberry juice), it came out flavorful and with a pleasant texture, though the red layer had a relatively high Reynolds number compared to the coconut and blueberry layers.  Blueberry was more brown than blue, but the overall effect was quite nice.

I am sitting in the control room consuming celebratory leftover patriotic jelly as we send 200 kW chirps at the moon.

Filed under layered jello jelly coconut jelly chirping at the moon

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Root vegetable or space rock?

I picked up a sweet potato at the grocery store last week that looked suspiciously like a binary asteroid.  Little did I know it looked just like (8567) 1996 HW1 until I coincidentally started reprocessing data from this binary space rock, two lumps of stones stuck together and orbiting the sun.


Robert made some crack about how you couldn’t distinguish it from an actual asteroid, I made some remark about how you could try to take a radar image of it, or 3D model it, and see if people could guess its provenance as being terrestrial or cosmic, and then…

I went to our local CAD expert, Rhys.

"Do you have your camera on you?"

"… yes…"

"Could you cad up this sweet potato?"  

I handed it to Rhys before lunchtime, who reluctantly agreed and was appalled at the presence of a sweet potato on his desk as a paperweight.

After lunch, he came into my office, looking entirely disgusted.

"This is the most STUPID graphics project ever," he practically spat, "come pick up your potato." 

I followed him back to his office where a 3D model of asteroid “Batatas” awaited on his monitor, done up in Blender via photographing it from every conceivable angle and then using some AutoCAD software to create the vertex-based model.  Tremendously excited, we summoned Patrick and watched as Rhys applied a rocky texture to the rendering of the tuber.  It looked just like a contact binary asteroid, or 1996 HW1!  Could we get synthetic radar images from this model?


El Jefe joined us, and suggested that this was a great idea.  We could indeed make synthetic radar images from Rhys’s 3D model—rotational lightcurves as well—add some noise, and then turn this into an inverse problem and see if we could coax a sweet potato shape out of 2D radar images.  (Other near-Earth asteroids look like muffins, dog bones, and even roast chickens.  Why not add sweet potatoes to the mix?)

We could create fake observations for asteroid “Batata”, and put it in the logs to troll our JPL colleagues!  What will they think of asteroid 2013 T8TR?  Will they try to process and observe it?  What should we do for the ephemeris file?  At some point Rhys was laughing hard enough that I justified bothering him to CAD up a potato.

Go forward on the inverse problem!  Give it to summer students to tackle!  Projects for everyone to establish how well radar works for imaging space rocks.


Perhaps my idea of a website, “root vegetable or space rock” isn’t that far-fetched?  Will this be a DPS poster?  Or two?  ”Digging Asteroids out of Noise: Modeling the Radar Signatures of Sweet Potatoes,” perhaps. An April 1 arXiv submission? Stay tuned!

And there you have asteroids for vegetarians and Paleo people.

Filed under sweet potato asteroid radar inverse problems batata

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Grape leaves

Driving around Lares on Saturday, I encountered a man selling plants on the side of Route 129.  I bought an orchid for Kalpana, a lantana plant, and a grape vine!  Very excited to make stuffed grape leaves and zucchini.  Hopefully the grape continues to do well in the tropical environment here.

Filed under grape vine grape leaves

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Porch garden report

Scarlet runner beans have sprouted and are climbing up a string to a former laundry line on Bob’s side of the cabin.

Some very brave nasturtiums are struggling out of the bottom of a pier on my side.

Bok choi started in water sprouted and is unhappily regaining its footing after re-potting

Volunteer kabocha and acorn squash continue to grow out of a mound of soil, but don’t seem to be sending out runners.

Planted some sweet peas and nasturtiums alongside my collards.  The collards reaaaaalllly hate the heat, and spend most of their time looking leggy.

The tulsi/Holy Basil plant was going bonkers, so I trimmed it back in the hopes that it’d bush out. 

The sweet-smelling herb I bought from the grocery store is Aztec sweet herb, and while it’d be as sweet as stevia, it has enough camphor to be dangerously medicinal. Ah well.

Conventional basil and culantro continue doing their thing.

Celery sprouted, but the top of the soil is getting moldy.  Like the collards, I think it hates the heat.

Three orchids are content to blossom, as well as a fuchsia.  Don’t eat those!

Lemongrass, after a few weeks, finally put out roots.  I’ll plant them when the roots are two inches long.

Sprouted adzuki beans: on round II.  This batch seems to be reluctant to sprout as quickly as the last one.

A sweet potato on top of the fridge decided to put out leaves.  I guess I’ll eat them soon!

Filed under scarlet runner beans nasturtiums bok choi kabocha acorn squash sweet peas collards tulsi Holy Basil Aztec sweet herb basil culantro celery orchids fuchsia adzuki sweet potato

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Things have been quiet

Tonight I made some meals for the week:

  • Churrasco steak cooked in a cast iron pan with butter, lemon juice, sea salt, black pepper, and the Trader Joe’s 21 spice seasoning salute (thank you Ti!)
  • Gravy out of the liquid remaining in the pan, dredged with coconut flour (thank you Kseniya!)
  • Steamed green beans with butter
  • Roasted sweet potato
  • Spinach, egg, coconut flour, and local green (Anaheim?) pepper muffins

Hopefully this next week I can avoid eating in the cafeteria.

Tomorrow’s lunch:

  • Spinach, arugula, and watercress salad dressed with lemon, cilantro pesto, and sprouted adzuki beans
  • Green beans over steak over kimchi

Filed under churrasco gravy with coconut flour green beans sweet potato egg muffins watercress arugula spinach adzuki kimchi