Bibimbap for one (multiply for more)

Bibimbap is a Korean rice bowl. This is a fiddly recipe; not difficult at all, but it takes a lot of effort to put together. However, it looks awesome and contains all the flavors that characterize delicious Korean food: chili, garlic, sesame oil, and sweetness.

The very best bibimbap occurs when you heat up a serving-sized stone bowl, drizzle a little sesame oil in it, then put the rice in the bowl and let it sizzle and get crispy on the bottom while you put the rest of the ingredients on top. This is called dolsot bibimbap. However, if you’re making this at home for the first time, you likely won’t be able to do that on account of not having stone bowls. I certainly don’t, and so I enjoy it all the more when I go to a Korean restaurant where they do have stone bowls.


Bibimbap for one
All the amounts given here are for one person.
Since it’s really a bunch of tiny dishes all put together in one bowl for each person, it doesn’t really make sense to make enough for leftovers, because you’ll end up with a bunch of tiny containers in your refrigerator. Just multiply the amounts by the number of people you are feeding.

Buy gochujang, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and dried shiitake mushrooms at an Asian grocery store. (If you use dried mushrooms, don’t forget to soak them in water for eight hours before.)

Gochujang is chili paste that is usually sold in a red plastic container with a flip top (I call it a “treasure chest.”) That will be way more than you need for this recipe, but you can always use it up in tteokbokki.

Spicy sauce

  • 1 tbsp gochujang (Korean chili paste)
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • ½ tsp honey
  • ¾ tsp sesame oil

Mix the ingredients together and let it sit while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Rice

  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup basmati rice (short-grain rice would be more authentic, but it’s more expensive where I live)

Boil the water in a pan. When it boils, add the rice. Lower the heat, cover, and leave, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the meal. After 20 minutes, remove from heat.

Marinade

A note here: this is usually done with beef strips but, in a shocking departure from the usual, I actually prefer deep-fried tofu here, because it soaks up the flavors quite nicely, and most grocery-store beef is not good enough quality to be able to pull this off. If you use beef, make sure it’s good beef. You can get pre-fried tofu at an Asian grocery store, or deep-fry it yourself.

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cm piece of ginger root
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • ground black pepper
  • 40 g deep-fried tofu puffs or beef strips

Whack the garlic clove with the side of a knife blade and then chop it finely. Peel the ginger and grate it. Mix the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, sesame seeds, oil, and pepper in a bowl. Slice the tofu into strips and coat them in the sauce and leave it while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Raw vegetables

  • one-sixth large cucumber or ½ snack cucumber
  • ½ small carrot
  • 2 tsp powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar

Slice the cucumber very thinly. Slice the carrot into matchsticks. Put the carrots and cucumbers in a bowl, but don’t mix them together. Mix the sugar and vinegar and pour it over the vegetables. Leave it while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Mushrooms

  • 2 shiitake mushrooms
  • ½ tsp vegetable oil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of ground black pepper

Slice the mushroom into strips. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Fry the mushroom with the salt and pepper.

Sautéed vegetables

  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 spring onions
  • 50 g spinach, washed and de-stemmed

Mix the oil, honey, and soy sauce. Chop the white and light green parts of the spring onions into thin slices, and chop the dark green parts into 3 cm sections. Fry the spinach until it just turns dark green, then add half the sauce mixture. Stir briefly and remove to a bowl. Put the chopped spring onions in the same pan and fry them, then add the rest of the mixture. Stir briefly and remove to another bowl.

Assembly

By this time the rice should be done. Put it in an individual-sized bowl, and arrange the cucumbers, mushrooms, spring onions, carrots, and spinach in pie-chart sections on top of it, leaving space for the marinated tofu (or beef). Stir-fry the tofu over medium heat for 2 minutes; if using beef, do it for 3 to 5 until the meat is brown. Put it on top of the rice.

Egg

  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp toasted sesame seeds

Fry the egg until the white just starts to bubble. Flip it over and fry the other side, but not too long — the yolk should still be liquid inside. Put the egg on top of the ingredients in the bowl, in the center. Drizzle the spicy sauce on top. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.

It looks very aesthetically pleasing now, but to eat it, you should mix it all together, breaking the egg yolk and letting it coat everything. Eat it with kimchi on the side.

(Adapted from emagasia.com and a now-defunct recipe in The Independent.)

Nature, why?!

Scientific journals charge subscription fees in order to access their content. If you’re an employed scientist, the university or company where you work usually buys an institution-wide subscription to a journal. In that case you don’t have to log in to the journal website because it recognizes your IP address as belonging to a subscribing institution. In fact, you don’t even get an account on the journal website, because it’s impractical to issue an account to every single user at a university, for example.

So what do you do when you have to look up something when you’re away from your office? You use SSH with port forwarding to connect to work, then visit the website using a proxy server on that port. Since you are now browsing through a work computer, you can read the journal. There’s nothing wrong with this, because your employer has already paid for your access that content, but the barrier was simply the impracticality of issuing you an individual account.

So it’s really strange that Nature Publishing Group, which publishes the overrated Nature family of journals, seems to want to discourage this practice. If you visit the site of a Nature journal from a non-subscriber IP address, they set a cookie in your browser that says you are not a subscriber. So even when you turn on your proxy server and revisit the site, it still tells you you’re not a subscriber and can’t access the journal article. Luckily, it is easily remedied by erasing your browser’s cookies. (Easily done, that is, but not easily thought of. Hope this helps someone.)

Why, Nature, why? Why would you do this? Do you have scientists’ best interests at heart and you want to prevent them from working at home? Or do you hope that people are gullible enough to pay twice for the same content?

Faux Korean Noodles

In order to use up ingredients for Korean food, I improvised a hybrid of bibim guksu (spicy noodle salad) and japchae (stir-fried noodles) this evening. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture, but you can catch a glance of very similar food at the 3:22 mark of Gangnam Style.

Vegetables

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 4 small carrots or 1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • leftover kimchi, chopped
  • lemongrass fake chicken leftover from who knows when, sliced (optional)
  • any other vegetables or meat you want to use up, sliced

First put a pot of water on to boil. In a wok, heat the oils. Fry the onion. When it starts to get translucent, then add the carrots. When they start to brown, add the kimchi and the fake chicken. Add any other ingredients at the appropriate times. When the vegetables are tender, turn down the burner until later.

Sauce

  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 4 tablespoons liquid from kimchi
  • 8 tablespoons gochujang (red pepper paste that comes in a little plastic treasure chest thingy)
  • 1 tablespoon leftover bruschetta from an appetizer the other day (optional)

For the kimchi liquid, use the juice from whatever kimchi you used in the vegetables. If you don’t have enough, just make it up with water. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Garnishes

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 baby cucumbers, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 green onion, sliced coarsely
  • a few sprigs of cilantro, de-stemmed and chopped

By this time, the water should be boiling. Boil the eggs for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the other ingredients and set aside. When the eggs are done, add the noodles (see below) to the pot immediately. Rinse the eggs with cold water, peel them, and cut them in half. Set aside.

Convergence

  • 250 g dangmyeon (sweet potato starch noodles)

Boil the noodles for 6 minutes, then drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Add the noodles to the wok, turn the heat up again, and stir-fry them for about 3 minutes, tossing them with the vegetables and/or meat. On each plate, put a helping of noodles, then garnish with the garnishes and spoon the sauce over the top.

Serves 3.

Adapted from Maangchi’s japchae and bibim guksu.

A Stroll on Nose Hill

While I was visiting Calgary, Canada, a minor international incident reared its head. (This time, I didn’t cause it.) Walt Wawra, a policeman from Kalamazoo, Michigan, had been visiting during the Calgary Stampede, an annual event that is possibly the world’s largest rodeo. He and his wife were strolling on Nose Hill, a beautiful park a mere 15-minute walk from my girlfriend’s parents’ house. They were approached by two men who asked, “Have you been to the Stampede yet?” Unless they’re later identified, we’ll never know if it was out of friendliness or business interest (it’s been suggested they were promoters giving away tickets, but that seems unlikely), but Officer Wawra assumed they meant harm. He interposed himself between the men and his wife, and told them to back off, or something to that effect, “We have no wish to speak to you.” Bewildered, presumably by the unexpected hostility with which he met their neighborliness, they slunk away.

The real incident occurred when Officer Wawra, safely back home, wrote a snippy letter to the editor of the Calgary Herald, bemoaning Canada’s gun control laws that meant he couldn’t defend himself from people being friendly.

This column in the Calgary Herald was one of the kinder responses. Gawker had an apt headline: ‘American Becomes Laughingstock of Canada over Letter.’  And rightly so. The man’s batshit paranoia could have killed two innocent people.

And yet.

People shouldn’t underestimate just how unsafe America is. Whereas you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to get killed minding your own business in a public park in Canada, the sad thing is that it’s not unthinkable in the USA. And that knowledge changes your behavior whether you want it to or not. Walt Wawra overreacted in the most ridiculous way possible, but I felt an uncomfortable twinge of recognition.

During our visit to Calgary we had our own incident. Coming back from the Calgary Folk Music Festival at night, part of the metro line was closed for repair and we had to take a replacement bus. We had the bad luck to sit across from a drunk woman who, for some reason, took offense at my girlfriend’s bag and started a slurred diatribe: “Hey! That bag! It’s all because of that bag! You owe me money! Where’s my money, bitch? Gimme my money! I’m gonna fuck you up when we get off the bus!”

A far cry from “Have you been to the Stampede yet?” If this had happened in the Netherlands, we probably would have been laughing at how ridiculous it was, but perhaps being in an English-speaking environment triggered my ‘America survival mode.’ She was obviously too drunk even to get up, so we had nothing to fear, but I found myself sizing her up, wondering if I’d be able to throw a punch if need be, and — yes — wondering if she was armed. Even now, after having lived outside the USA for 18 years.

I’m no Walt Wawra, but America can make you into one if you’re not careful.

Discretization, Part II

In this post I described how I encountered the Sell Your Science contest and was entirely fed up with how they perpetuate the myth that scientists are a bunch of timewasters and that marketable research is the only research worth doing. I wrote the organizers, Science Alliance, a letter and urged other people to do the same. Well, it took fewer letters than I expected for something to happen.

My coworker Jelmer Renema wrote them a more strongly worded e-mail than I did. Today he got a telephone call from someone from Science Alliance who wanted to talk about the e-mail. The outcome of the telephone call was that the Science Alliance employee said they didn’t mean that economic gain was the only valid reason for science; social relevance and curiosity from the public are important too. He admitted that the blurb could have been worded differently, although he claimed that there was a large group of scientists opposed to bringing research to market. No, Jelmer told him, nobody’s opposed to that — they’re opposed to the idea that marketable research is the only worthwhile research. In the end, Science Alliance promised to do better next year and Jelmer offered them his assistance in matters of science communication.

By coincidence, an interview appeared in the Delft University newspaper this week. Professor Piet Borst, former scientific director of the Dutch Cancer Institute, says that the whole ‘valorization’ business has gone too far and gets quite angry about it (translation mine):

“We are going about this in such an absurd way. There’s really no other way to put it. [The ministry of] Economic Affairs is living in the 1970s, they think like this: ‘Those wretched university researchers and other academics, busy only with their own hamfisted hobbies, we have to force them to do useful work, and we can only do that by making them dependent on industry financing. They need guidance from our watchful industrialists over what they do.’ They’re delusional. It’s a recipe for how to do it wrong.”

Note that this man isn’t one of those mythical ‘hermit scientists’ either: he says in the interview that those who do research with public money have a duty to allow their findings to be turned into products, which create jobs.

One other important point that Borst makes is that if you, as a researcher, have a significant stake in a spinoff company, then can you really be trusted to publish findings that will cause your shares to plummet? As the interviewer says in the article, “The answer is obvious once you’ve asked the question.”

Discretization is the better part of valorization

V is for Valorization. What’s that? A buzzword coined by the Dutch government that signifies how all scientific research should make money, and lots of it, sooner rather than later. It’s certainly not an English word, as evidenced by the quizzical looks on the faces of physicists who haven’t been working in the Netherlands lately, when some official government delegate gets to make a speech at a Dutch physics conference and says, beaming into the audience, “We are ferry heppy to see so much fellorizable research going on here!”

(UPDATE: Merlijn van Deen reports that valorisation is, in fact, a borrowing from French, where it is used in the same context of scientific research as in Dutch. In English, according to Wikipedia, it is used only as a translation of the German Verwertung, a technical term coined by Marx in Das Kapital meaning to add surplus value to capital by human action.)

I don’t fit the popular caricature of a scientist who thinks all research should be pure and untouched by worldly concerns. On the contrary, I have a Master’s degree in applied physics. One of my current projects is to build a new kind of wavefront sensor that works on a different principle than the commercially available ones. I’m firmly of the opinion that the original reason for this ‘valorization’ policy is quite sound: to get academia and industry interested enough in each other so that academia’s more marketable efforts get passed on to industry instead of dying the death of obscurity in a professor’s filing cabinet, and industry knocks on academia’s door when they have an interesting problem to solve with a longer time-to-market.

But it’s been blown all out of proportion now. The government has declared some research more valuable than other research: fields like high tech systems and energie (energy) are now designated topsectoren (top sectors,) research to which funds should be diverted at the expense of all other research. They are headed by topteams (top teams) each including a captain of science and captain of industry, which draw up innovatiecontracten (innovation contracts) that are required to hit each vertex of the gouden driehoek (golden triangle) of kennis, kunde, kassa (knowledge, expertise, and cash.) It will be successful in making the Netherlands #1 worldwide in the use of buzzwords, which I’ve italicized and translated (only where necessary, since half of them are in English anyway to make them sound more important.) If you read the actual documents, you get the feeling that the government is telling the big companies, “Hey! Want some cheap contract research? We’ve given those scientists free rein for too long and it’s time they worked for you to redeem themselves!”

The thing that spurred me out of lethargy was this, the Sell Your Science contest. You have to make a 90-second video about your research and the winner gets the title “Best Science Communicator of the Netherlands.” Sounds great. But it turns out that you literally have to sell your research: in the description, they treat ‘the audience’ and ‘investors’ as one and the same! I’m sorry, but science communication and sales pitches are two different things. Nothing wrong with a sales pitch contest, but at least call it by its rightful name!

Science crosses borders that politics doesn’t, so it may not have even occurred to their bureaucrat brains that they’re shutting out a large share of the scientists in the Netherlands, who are not Dutch and might not speak it well enough to read the rules of the contest which aren’t in English.

And this part really makes my blood boil (translation mine):

Nowadays, it’s not enough just to write scientific articles and to talk to people in your own field. A broader, open attitude towards society is expected, and valorization sections are required in NWO grant applications. The modern scientist will have to communicate differently and more widely in order to propagate their research.

I explain exactly why this makes my blood boil in the letter that I sent them on May 10. My own English translation is reproduced below. It’s been two weeks and I’ve received no reply. So I’m sharing it:

Dear Sir or Madam, (cc: editorial office of the Leiden University employee newsletter)

I read about the ‘Sell Your Science’ contest in Leiden University’s employee newsletter, and from there I clicked over to the website www.valorisatie.nu. My astonishment was boundless when I read there that this contest is failing to distinguish between the two entirely disparate concepts of ‘science communication’ and ‘science valorization.’ I would like to take a moment of your time to explain why I think this is wrong.

Science communication is, as you say, presenting research to a broad audience in a clear and understandable way. But is that the same as ‘valorization’? Only if one assumes that the broad audience is exclusively interested in marketable research. That is a dangerous fallacy.

The passion that drives a researcher to be good at science communication usually doesn’t spring from the commercialization of research. It’s likely that someone who’s motivated by commercialization won’t choose a career in research. These days, there are those who would rather deny that, but it’s a fact. The description of Sell Your Science, in which scientists are portrayed as hermits, only speaking to their fellow scientists and avoiding contact with society, and in which you say that the ‘modern’ scientist has to start doing things differently, feels like a slap in the face of my profession. There are countless scientists, both in the past and in modern times, who may not necessarily be oriented towards industry, but do stand 100% squarely in society. These people are marginalized by the tendentious introduction on the website. ‘Hermits’ may exist, it’s true, but they are a small minority.

Anyone that I’ve ever encountered who’s been good at communicating science, was able to captivate their audience using their dedication and passion, no matter what the economic value of the research was. Good science communication makes sure the audience has learned something by the time they leave. Good science communication fans the sparks of curiosity in the audience, so that someone, the day after or the day after that, might just hit upon the idea to ask “How does that work, anyway?” A scientist who can captivate an audience (apparently, a hostile one at that) with ‘unmarketable’ science and at the same time, manages to convey its importance despite its unmarketability, is a much better candidate for the title of “Best Science Communicator of the Netherlands” than someone who can sell ‘marketable’ science to investors. That’s the difference between ‘science communication’ and ‘science valorization.’

Sincerely,
Philip Chimento
PhD student, physics
Leiden University

Writing letters seems to have had an actual effect — read Part II.

When Bullies Grow Up

To mark the joyous occasion of Rick Santorum dropping out of the Republican primaries, here’s an observation that I wrote a while ago but never got around to publishing.

Last night I watched the movie Fucking Åmål, or as it was retitled in the USA, Show Me Love. (I have a sneaking suspicion that The Shins’ song Phantom Limb is based on it.) It reminded me of my short school career in good ol’ Sherwood Githens Middle School in North Carolina. The homophobic student body there had a rather broad definition of homosexuality: presumably it would have included actual homosexuality if they had known what that was, but it also included getting good grades, or being bad at sports, or… well, okay, it was pretty arbitrary who got beaten up for being ‘gay.’

The school placed a lot of emphasis on respect and “stomping out killer comments,” as one school poster campaign at the time put it, but even the good teachers only had ineffectual measures at their disposal for stopping the bullying. This was because the prevailing policy in American education at the time was that every child had a right to their ‘self-esteem’ and the children’s right to express themselves was paramount, even if it came at the expense of other children’s right to express themselves.

I believe it’s fallen out of fashion, but this self-esteem business is something that would make today’s conservative pundits and Republican politicians howl. “Your children are being persecuted by their peers for performing well in school!” I imagine them yelping in moral outrage. “And that’s exactly what the liberal conspiracy in America’s schools wants!” Well, it was a flower-power philosophy, and it was stupid, so this is one of those rare times I’d have to side with the conservatives.

Wait a minute though. Conservative politicians hate gays.* So diminutive homophobes punching gay children are actually the real American heroes in this year’s Republican primary. Well, too bad for the smart gay kids, at least the smart straight kids will catch a break if we get a Republican president, right?

“President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor to try to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.” — Rick Santorum, Americans for Prosperity rally, Feb. 25, 2012

“I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely. [...] The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.” — Rick Santorum, interview with Glenn Beck, Feb. 23, 2012

Conservative politicians hate gays and education! It was then that I realized the awful truth:

Republican politicians are what happens
when middle school bullies grow up.

*Of course not all conservative politicians hate gays. For example, I’m sure Mitt Romney is just pretending to hate them. Of course, what Romney’s homophobia lacks in sincerity, Santorum’s makes up for in oversincerity. What I mean when I say “conservative politicians hate gays” is “conservative politicians think that more voters want them to hate gays than not.”

Republican politician of tomorrow

Republican president of tomorrow. (Attribution: Diego Graz, licensed CC-BY.)