Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Buttered up (or sideways)

Someone is trying to bribe me! Sure, I appreciate the effort, but anyone who wants me to buy more lab supplies from their company should do their research better: mass produced milk chocolate is hardly the way to go with me.

Next time, slip in a bar of locally produced organic fair trade vegan high quality dark chocolate instead and I just might need some extra tube racks...

(Yeah yeah, I admit it: it's still quite cute.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

At night they come without being fetched

Wait a second... What was that?

I'm sure I heard something.

There! Behind that thing - didn't you see it!?

Holy crap, what is that!? It's looking at me!

No wait, hold on a sec... Ah forget it; that's just another postdoc working late in the lab. Don't let it bother you, it just wants attention.

(Yes, I got a bit bored while waiting for my samples to be centrifuged.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holiday season (really)

I have begun to truly understand why the Americans call this time of year the holiday season; Thanksgiving simply merges into Christmas, starting with a crazy shopping spree on Black Friday when people gather in huge crowds at stores that open at midnight with sales and special offers. It seems to be a lot like what we in Sweden do at Boxing Day, which is why I made sure to avoid it as best as I could.

I did go down to Westlake Center to watch the Christmas tree lighting ceremony with a friend, though. Thousands of Seattleites had gathered to listen to Christmas carols and enjoy the fireworks that accompanied the tree being lit, as well as being blinded by the enormous holiday star that now occupies the corner of Macy's. I honored the occasion by getting a holiday seasoned latte at Starbucks and went on to Nordstrom to watch kids (and adults) sitting on Santa's knee; a tradition that kind of creeps me out, to be honest.

To recuperate from this near overdose of holiday spirit we went to the movies and watched The Man with the Iron Fists; RZA's homage to classic B Kung Fu films. Bad acting, brainless plot, outrageous wigs, severed limbs flying right and left, blood gushing, physics overruled. And Russell Crowe. (Crickets chirping.)

Anyway, I'm ready for more Christmas now!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A day in the land of plenty

Before I left Sweden for Seattle I made a mental to-do list with events and phenomena I hoped to experience while in the US. One of the posts read "A proper American Thanksgiving dinner", which was resolutely ticked off yesterday. Honestly, I didn't expect that to happen until next year but ended up being invited to no less than three different dinners. I wish I could have made two copies of myself and attended all three of them, but have unfortunately yet to master the proper cloning skills.

The evening was spent at Ollie and Nancy's house, where their son Max and his girlfriend Sarah hosted a potluck for a party of twelve, while the parents were out of town. It was a terrific event with lots of eating, drinking, chatting, laughing, and piano playing. The crowd was super friendly and trying all the dishes that were completely new to me was thrilling and fun. To my surprise, traditional Thanksgiving food is really vegetarian friendly and I was more than stuffed when I eventually left.

Sadly, the few pictures I took were of very low quality but I'll show a few of them anyway, beginning with an overview of the menu (all dishes not shown). I contributed with the salad in the wooden bowl; baby spinach and other mixed lettuces, thinly sliced pear, finely chopped shallots, chèvre, dried cranberries, walnuts, and vinaigrette. The various pots, pans, and bowls contained chipotle yams, mashed potatoes, butternut squash mac and cheese, green bean casserole, corn casserole, corn bread, leeks, brussel sprouts, Southern-style collards, turkey, paté, bread, three kinds of stuffing (two with meat, one vegetarian), two kinds of gravy (vegetarian and non-vegetarian), and two kinds of cranberry sauce.

My plate was... full. I had to try everything, didn't I? My favorite was without a doubt the corn casserole in combination with cranberry sauce. The sauce resembled Swedish lingonberry jam, but flavored with orange and seasonal spices. Yummy!

The dessert table was no less packed, displaying two kinds of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, another pie (zucchini?), sweet rolls, my apple pie with custard (both of which turned out great, at least according to me), and some completely delicious chewy pecan brownies.

My warmest thanks to the hosts of this fine evening! Next year I don't have to wonder where I'll be because Scott has already made me promise that I'll spend that Thanksgiving with him and Shani. I already look forward to it!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Easy as 1-2-3

All right; one bowl of creamy homemade custard is resting in my fridge. Surprisingly simple! Why on Earth are Swedish grocery stores packed with a battery of ready-made artificial versions when it is so straightforward to whisk together one's own vanilla cream in less than 20 minutes? Granted, it is a lot easier to regulate the temperature and avoid overcooking if you have a gas stove, but still. Try it! (If you like custard, that is. Personally, I don't consume it very often, but it's always fun to learn new things.)

Now it's time for a nice, long run before I take off for today's bingeing session. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank you kindly

It's after midnight in Seattle and my apartment is embedded in delicious cinnamon scent. A short while ago I took out the result of my first attempt of US baking out of the oven; an apple pie that definitely looks a bit weird but hopefully will be edible at the Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. (Neither flour nor sugar behaved quite like I am used to, but it was a fun experiment!)

While I'm waiting for it to cool down I'm thinking about all the things I'm grateful for - in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I sure am grateful for all the opportunities I have had in life; all the funny coincidences and flukes that eventually lead me to this little cinnamon-smelling pad on the other side of the world. It's quite awesome, really!

I have yet to get a personal relation to this holiday, but seeing how it affects everyone around me - very much like Christmas - it has awakened a longing also in me, for my family and friends back home in Sweden. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your emails, tweets, and comments on this blog; it means a lot to know that you're still there.

And as for my new friends over here; thank you too! Without you, a holiday like this would be a lot tougher to tackle.

Alright, time to hit the sack; tomorrow it's turkey time! (Well, not for me of course, but you know what I mean.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Vanilla Ice Ice Baby

Before I go to bed I must share another fun thing that happened today. I'm planning on baking an apple pie for the Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday and decided that custard would complement it nicely. Went to my local PCC store (which I absolutely love, by the way) and looked around for some vanilla flavoured yummyness. But alas! No such yummyness was to be found. After browsing around for a while I asked for help by a girl that eagerly took on the task. We looked among the dairy products, by the baking supplies, in the freezer and among the cakes. No custard. Only weird puddings and organic oddities.

I finally told her that I might just get some vanilla ice cream instead (secretly thinking that I should go find my custard in another store), and she wondered what kind I would get in that case. "Some really good vanilla?" she asked. When my answer was yes, she reached into the freezer and picked up a pint of really fine, locally produced Snoqualmie Danish Vanilla Bean All Natural Ice Cream ("Handcrafted in small batches for people who love ice cream"), wrote "SAMPLE" over the barcode and handed it to me, saying that I should try it. Just because she couldn't find me any custard!

Only in Seattle, my friends, only in Seattle... The friendliest town I've ever been to. How I love it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Quiz whiz

Although I'm very amused by trivia and pop culture I'm far from being an experienced pub quiz contestant. However, when Sean and Rebecca, two amiable acquaintances from the Leavenworth weekend, wondered if I would like to join them for some Monday night quizzing I certainly did not want to decline. Consequently, I met up with them and two other teammates yesterday at Green Lake Bar & Grill for some hearty pub grub and (friendly) competition.

Already a few questions into the game it dawned on me that for this particular occasion my knowledge base seemed somewhat maladjusted. Or to be frank: it was useless. I know very little of US state capitals, Rhode Island universities, NFL statistics, and (apparently) Back to the Future. My only contribution of any significance was the answer to a movie question that none of the others knew. The task was to figure out which motion picture that united actors behind two fictional characters; in this case Scout Master Ward and John Connor. And I nailed it (after some serious brooding)! Got a few highfives after that.

Luckily, my teammates were well-read and quick, and at the end of three rounds with ten questions each (plus a bonus round with a free beer pitcher at stake) there was a tie between us and another party. Oh, the drama! The winner was to be determined through a tiebreak, with one contestant from each team appointed by the quizmaster. I tried my best to sink through my chair, disappear under the table, and slip away between the cracks in the floor, because I really, really did not want to be picked. But of course I was. Of course! No wailing or moaning helped, no pleads for mercy were acknowledged; my teammates assured me that they couldn't care less about the outcome (although 30 seconds earlier they were all extremely focused and set on winning) and I eventually resigned and got up in front of everyone in the bar, facing my doom.

The tiebreaker consisted of estimating the nationwide opening (i.e. money made during the first weekend) of the movie Lincoln. I sort of blacked out and couldn't transform my thoughts into US dollars, so when the quizmaster pushed me for an answer I just scribbled down some figures on a paper and handed it over. The correct answer was just over $21 million; I had written about $1 million. Crap! But the other contestant was even further off than I, guessing around $100 000. The quizmaster rolled his eyes in disappointment at both of us, but none the less my team won! More highfives and great relief for me. And in addition, after paying the quiz fee and my food (including tax and tip) I ended up leaving with $8 more than I came with, which must be considered a successful result. Three cheers for team Pling Plong!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Under construction

My little apartment is getting nicer by the day; this weekend I've drilled some 26 holes in my walls, putting up hooks and shelves left and right. I'll post some pictures of the improvements as soon as I get my things organized, but until then I can show some sweet vintage prints that I bought at the Fremont Sunday market. A bargain!

And in case you didn't know: this is a hammer.

On Thursday I will experience my first ever Thanksgiving. Therefore, the next couple of evenings will be spent trying to figure out something nice to prepare and share with the rest of the dinner guests, preferably with a Swedish touch. Stay tuned for pictures of turkey, yams and pumpkin pie!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

You say citron, I say Cthulhu

WHAT in the name of all things holy is THIS!?

 (Yeah yeah, you can call it Buddha's hand all you like - I aint buyin' it!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

L'amour est bleu

Behold! Baby Blue, new love of my life. All the cozy nights we'll spend together; I can hardly wait!

And you brought me flowers too! Oh, you shouldn't have...


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Flowers for Father Frost

November 11th is Veterans Day in the US, a day to honor armed service veterans such as my kind friend and colleague Scott. Cheers to you, Scott! It is actually a federal holiday, meaning that we are free from work tomorrow. Extra cheers to that!

At the same time, Sweden celebrates Father's Day. Although I'm currently far away from my father I acknowledged the day by buying a nice bouquet of flowers. ...for myself. But I think about you when I look at them, pappa!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A German escape

Now that the election madness is over I can finally sit down and report about my latest adventures. The last weekend was spent in a surreal location in the middle of the Cascade Range, barely 120 miles East of Seattle, in the enchanting town of Leavenworth. This old timber community was greatly affected by the relocation of the railroad in the 1920s, leading to economic difficulties for many years until the Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement For Everyone) Committee successfully transformed the city into a pretend Bavarian village in 1962. Nothing odd about that. Shani and Scott come here annually with a bunch of friends, and this year the crowd was bigger than ever, with 14 jolly characters (I being one of them) brought together at the Icicle Inn for two nights of munching and tomfoolery.

Scott, Shani and I quit work early on Friday and arrived a couple of hours before the rest of the group, giving us time for some wine and cheese tasting before meeting up at Gustav's for dinner. A few pitchers of beer later the whole gang moved on to the Post Office for karaoke and further merriment. This time I did not bail out on the singing...

Saturday started with a minigolf tournament, a tradition that aroused a lot of passion and strong emotions; some could not care less about the outcome and others were more serious. Guess which category I fell into. I did score a hole-in-one, however! That must count for something. Shani decided that she would try something different” at one of the holes on the course, leading her on an interesting excursion into the terrain (and lots of laughter from her husband and me).

More wine tasting ensued, along with lots of food and sweets. And glühwein! Good old glühwein. Compared to authentic Bavaria the food in fake Bavaria was considerably more vegetarian friendly, and for the first time of my life I had a “real” veggie wurst with mustard and sauerkraut. Not too bad! Not too good either, but I enjoyed having the possibility to try it. After lunch, we continued cruising around among the many knick-knack shops, and I may or may not have bought some sparkling ornaments at Kris Kringl, “Where it's Christmas All Year Long!”.


The whole gang at Andreas Keller Restaurant. Say käse!

Every now and then, the illusion of actually being in Germany was somewhat transparent...

...but then the moment passed, and the feeling of authenticity returned. Das ist gut, ja!

Still, Leavenworth is more than just kitsch and flakiness; before hitting the road back to Seattle on Sunday I took a walk along the river in an effort to document the stunning scenery that surrounded the village. As I walked among the trees a constant rustling sound from falling, bright yellow leaves filled the air, and clouds gently embraced the mountain sides. A perfect end to another great weekend.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Breakthrough Breakfast

I have a hard time trying to figure out a better way to start a Friday than what I managed today. The Puget Sound Business Journal sponsored a first time ever breakfast event at a fancy hotel downtown, where donors could "meet the scientists behind breakthrough research that is saving lives around the world and learn what their future holds in their effort to eradicate cancer". Sounds great, right? Luckily, there were 50 complimentary tickets available to Fred Hutch employees and a friend and I quickly snatched two of them.

The program included feasting on a plated breakfast while listening to a panel of four distinguished FHCRC scientists: Larry Corey, M.D., president and director; Harmit Malik, Ph.D., world-renowned evolutionary biologist; Jim Olson, M.D., groundbreaking pediatric oncologist; and Linda Buck, Ph.D., Nobel laureate. I had no idea what to expect from this event, but I am so glad I got to attend it as it was truly inspiring. It offered a lot of knowledge about the kind of questions Fred Hutch researchers wrestle with, as well as insight into the features that make this institute so successful.

And I got to do a really silly thing before leaving. Well, it felt silly at the time, but I'm actually quite proud of what I did: I worked up the courage to go over to Linda Buck after the panel discussion, introduced myself and told her what a great inspiration she is to me. Goofy, sure, but honestly: how many shots do you get at interacting with a Nobel laureate!? That's right. So I did it. Hah!