Cherry Blossom Afternoon

The cherry blossoms came early this year, so Oliver and I hopped on the metro to get down to see them before they blew away. We walked the tidal basin and took in the beautiful sight on a truly splendid day.

Nothing beats spring blooms, and the blossoms in our neck of the woods is no exception. Next thing we've got to do is fly a kite!


bp's science: kids and germs (v.1)

In a recent article in Discover magazine, it was reported that when mice live in a sterile environment during "mice childhood", the immune systems they develop are not as strong as the immune systems of mice living in a normal environment. The article suggests that this finding could apply to children as well. If kids never come in contact with germs, their bodies cannot develop immune systems that correctly recognize a pathogen invasion, resulting in an overactive immune system (i.e., strong allergic reactions).

What is your parenting style when it comes to children and germs? Do you let them eat dirt? Lick the grocery cart push handle? Play at the playground and eat a snack without washing hands? Sounds a bit icky and, these days, what some would call parenting neglect, but there could be some value to it. What do you think?


Love StoryCorps

I saw this on a blog I follow. A tribute to love. It makes you want to cherish those you love even more.


Poor man's iPad

Like I mentioned previously, my sister came to visit this past week. Along with her baking prowess, she brought her iPod Touch. Oliver could not get enough of it. He specifically liked a number game app she had downloaded. Oliver thought it was the coolest thing since the alphabet puzzle he plays with on a regular basis. I think he asked to play with the iPod everyday after he was introduced to it. Then my sister had to go home, and with her, the Touch.

Unfortunately, our iPod Touch broke a while back, before Oliver could really dig it. We have yet to get another. So, to fill the void, we play games on our laptop computer. But here's the catch, Oliver still touches the laptop computer screen like an iPod, and I move the mouse around to where he points. It's the poor man's iPad, and I've played my fair share of Letters to Big Bird. Oliver's sure to figure out my gig sooner or later, and in due time, we'll probably get an iteration of an iPod or iPad. But until that day comes, we'll be kickin' it old school with our laptop at home.


bp's science: social science and 5 degrees (v.1)

Back in February of 2008, I mentioned on this blog that I thought the famed "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" was most probably the 5 degrees of Kevin Bacon in terms of the internet world and how we are all connected. Turns out, they've tested this theory and that estimate was about right. According to research done by Facebook and the University of Milan, the connection we create from linking can get to just about anyone in 4.74 degrees. In countries where lots of people are on the internet, the United States for example, the degree of connection is 4.37. So we're just about skipping 5 degrees altogether because we're getting nearer to 4 degrees by the minute.


Cupcake creativity

This past week my sister came out for a visit. As is always the case, we had a great time, the conversation was superb, and Oliver couldn't get enough of playing with his cousin. On the way home from dropping them off at the airport, Oliver asked, "Where are they?" He just couldn't believe they'd gone. I felt the same.

One of the awesome things that sprouted from this visit was a cupcake making evening. My sister, with her baking prowess, came up with a cupcake that was original (which is difficult these days with the cupcake being so popular), great tasting, and the perfect dessert accompaniment to spring. She even taught me that you can fill cupcakes using a bismark tip without cutting a hole in the cupcake first. I was pretty adamant that it could not possibly work. I should have known better. It worked, it was fun, and it was delicious. I'll describe this as the lemon curd cupcake with butter cream frosting, and I'll let my sister give it's final and official name.


bp's science: why airline food isn't the best (v.1)

According to an article in The New York Times, 1/3 of the tongue's taste buds are numbed in an airplane due to air pressure. Combine that with the extremely dry cabin air, making it harder for the nose to work, and you've got a problem even before the food is served. The paper reports that airline companies are working with master chefs to get around the fact that these senses aren't functioning 100% at 35,000 feet. It's all part of a business plan to keep high paying customers happy with good food.

And to that I say, good luck. I believe airline food can be delicious. My brother says he's had one of the best meals of his life on a plane. I know I've had some of the best peanuts. But this was probably because we were very, very hungry at the time.


Ungle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks: A Review

This book was a fascinating look into the history of alchemy and chemistry with little snippets of Oliver Sacks's life as a boy living in England. When I checked out the book, I was under the impression that it would mostly be about Oliver Sacks. His works on the brain are fascinating and I wanted to learn more about him. However, the book is 75% chemical history and 25% biography, and that's why it took me so long to read (2 months!). Details about the periodic table are interesting, but only in small doses. Every time I told Jess I had read the book during my day, he'd reply, "Oh, then you took a nap today." And every time he said that, he was right. The book put me to sleep a number of times, but still I enjoyed trying to remember everything I learned in my inorganic chemistry classes to understand what Oliver Sacks was saying. As a boy, he was literally addicted to chemistry and all of it's parts, memorizing the periodic table and the like. So, to sum up: It was a neat peek into Mr. Sacks's life, and a cool look into chemistry, but I'd suggest only reading if you really are into that stuff.


All for an eclair

Yesterday, Jess and I turned our little kitchen into a proper brasserie. Donning aprons, we scurried about making eclairs for a dinner invitation. Crafting eclairs is an easy task, but it takes a number of steps, so both of us had our responsibilities and we were working quick since dinner was in an hour and a half. We should have started baking earlier, but I was thinking more about the "easy" part rather than the "number of steps" it takes to make an eclair.

Before I continue, I must explain how our apartment smoke detector functions, that is, it functions very well. Our toast begins to toast and the smoke detector goes off. The teapot begins to steam and the smoke detector goes off. The oven is set to 400 or above and it goes off. And we have two smoke detectors that are seven feet apart. It's as if these apartments have been designed to have a kitchen but they are not expected to be used.

I finished the eclair dough and placed it in the oven while Jess began to whip up the heavy cream for the filling (while we do have an electric beater and could have used it to whip the cream, Oliver was napping in the adjacent room and we didn't want to wake him). As the dough began to rise and bake, the smoke detectors began to go off. First one and then the other in quick succession. I felt obligated to check the dough, it was not burning. Nothing was.

One thing about these detectors is that they are as easy to stop as they are quick to start. A rapid waft of a kitchen towel usually does the trick, at least for 30 seconds. But this time, the detectors weren't even giving us 30 seconds per waft. It was more like point two seconds. They began ringing continually with 15 minutes still left for the dough to bake.

So there we were, Jess whisking up a storm and I wafting wildly. Then, because my arms were getting tired and there was still 8 minutes left to bake, I asked Jess if we could switch. The whisk and towel hand-off was like that of a relay race baton hand-off. Despite our speed, the smoke detector noticed the lull and began ringing loudly, all the while Oliver slept soundly! Jess again began wafting, abandoning his towel and replacing it with a child bed sheet for maximum efficiency. However, each time he put his hands down to take a break, the smoke detectors would respond with fury, as if to say in their mocking tone, "Haha! Nice try sucker! You can't put us out unless you take out the dough and turn off that oven." But we most certainly could not do that. If we did, our puffed dough would collapse. It needed more time!

Jess shook the sheet back and forth with a vengeance while I violently whipped the cream and opened a window (it didn't help). It was 5 minutes of utter mayhem, Jess muttering "these stupid things!" under his breath as he moved back and forth from one detector to the next and I whipping the cream into submission. Tears blurred my vision I was laughing so hard.

With three minutes left, I looked at the dough and found that I could pull it out a bit early. Thank goodness. I had to stop the frenzy. The detectors were silenced and we finished the dessert in relative bliss, topping the eclairs with a chocolate ganache. Oliver woke up shortly thereafter and we were off to dinner.

I have since figured that it would have been easier to remove the batteries from the smoke detector to bypass this whole event. So we have since done so for good.

Just kidding.


Happy Birthday Dr. Suess

Just the other day I was talking to Jess about an awesome used book sale purchase I made: 4 of Oliver's favorite library book finds for $1.06 total (huzzah!). Jess was impressed and then asked, "Did they have any Dr. Suess books at the sale?" Of all the bookshelves in the used book store, the one specifically designated to Dr. Suess was the only one empty. Those Dr. Suess books must go quick! That doesn't mean I don't have my fair share of Dr. Suess books. Since the books take me back to my childhood and are so fun to read, I snatch them up whenever I find a good sale. Plus, we've received a few as gifts, so our collection keeps growing. Our latest additions, Fox in Socks and Hop on Pop (which Oliver calls "Hop on Hop"). My sister really loves Dr. Suess and has read nearly all, if not all, of the titles. She has introduced me to many of his books written for older audiences and they are gems (specifically, Oh the Places You'll Go and I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew). He was such a prolific writer, it's going to take me years to amass the whole collection, but we are certainly enjoying what we've got now.

Thanks Dr. Suess and Happy Birthday!