Yesterday’s skiing was brilliant indeed…

My latest paper has nearly received its stamp of approval from my academic peers and newfound friends at the Public Library of Sciences1.

The weather is sunny and nearly getting to the point where I’ll need sunglasses to bike to work.

My new 20-meter-wide monitor was waiting by my desk today..

My personal supplies of high-grade chocolate is at an all time-high. With more on its way as I write..

But most importantly…

Flight EK 316 to Osaka is on schedule…

I am one good news away from breaking out in an elaborate choreography with the local avian life

  1. In the science publishing world, “accepted with revision” is a journal’s way of saying “I am not that kind of girl: first buy me dinner, then I’ll let you rip my clothes off”. []

It is no secret that I like to cook and bake. I have even posted a few recipes here in the past, ranging from Agedashi Tofu to Mango Chutney Pork Chops and Squirrel Melba.

As any sane person would, I blatantly ignore measurement recommendations in recipes. Except when cakes or pastries are involved. Baking is a much different job from regular entree cooking. If entree cooking was engineering: intuitive, reliable and practicable by a trained monkey1, baking would be much more like chemistry: finicky, unpredictable and liable to poison you if something goes wrong.

Baking is tough, and in a continuous effort to make me more marketable on the 40-to-50-year-old Japanese dating scene, I have been striving to improve my skills. Sometimes with helpful professional tips from friends, but most often through trial and error. Which is where the present entry comes in:

Being a scientist with early-onset Alzheimer and lingering ADD, I need to record the results of my culinary experiments lest I endlessly repeat the same mistakes and end up losing my entire roster of lab-test guinea pigs friends, to food poisoning. After toying with a few different solutions for the 21st-century housewife (from short-lived handwritten notes to mind-boggingly annoying “recipe sharing” websites), I settled, as I usually do, for the easy way: piling it on that shapeless clutter of random notes and pointless observations that we call a blog.

All that to say: the notes below are hardly proper recipes, more like experimental reports and notes for future experiments. No details and how-to’s: only list of ingredients, measurement corrections and fatal mistakes to be avoided. You might find them somewhat useful, but they are mostly addressed to future me and his elusive quest for the perfect chocolate mousse. Feel free to peruse, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:

  • 200g extra-dark chocolate2.
  • 100g butter (no more).
  • Shot-glass worth of strong brewed coffee.
  • 5 egg whites, 3 to 4 egg yolks (can use all 5 egg yolks but will result in runnier, stickier mousse).
  • 60g sugar (not 200g, for chrissake).
  • Rum
  • Few drops of vanilla extract

Notes:

  • Essentially based on Julia Child’s already quite awesome recipe, with a few crucial changes: her recommended sugar dosage will kill all diabetics in a 100km radius, if they haven’t keeled over from the massive butter-induced heart attack.
  • Whisk the crap out of egg yolks+sugar+rum (electric egg-beater for the win): makes the result less runny.
  • Dash of lemon juice (/cream of tartar) to whisk egg whites, pinch of salt at the end to retain consistency. Yay for high school chemistry.
  • Get chocolate as cold as possible (but still liquid and smooth) before mixing to egg whites: ice-cube bain-marie.
  • Special extra-sex food-porn edition: tiny ultra-dark-bitter-chocolate specks or candied orange zest.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake)

  1. Just kidding Engineering M.Sc. friends, we still need you. []
  2. In chocolate as in crack-cocaine, never go with less than 70% pure. []

The PoS cellphone I use when travelling abroad has the bad habit of accidentally triggering all sorts of functions when I forget to explicitly lock the keyboard (stupid brick-body designs). Instead of staying nicely asleep in my pocket, it will kill time by calling random contacts from my address book or navigate half a dozen menu down to some obscure settings…

Last week, upon glancing at my message logs by chance, I realised it decided to send half a dozen empty messages to the first contact in my address book. It then topped that series with an audio SMS: 30 seconds of muffled sounds from whatever crowded bar I must have been in, that night.

All that while using a throwaway number on a prepaid German SIM card (thus unknown from most of the people in my address book).

Meanwhile in Europe, my friend Abigail is probably ever so slightly worried by that mysterious German caller who sent her all these creepy empty messages.

In order to prepare for my upcoming 3-month stay in Berlin, I have started brushing up on my terminally rusty German: buying a couple books and checking out online newspapers somewhat regularly (more than just once every three months when I am curious to know the Frankfurter Allgemeine‘s position on some European issue).

Much to my surprise, I not only still remember a sizable chunk of German despite over 10 years with zero practice, but my level has in fact improved since then. That is to say, I am nowhere near fluent, nor able to remember half the vocabulary I once knew. However: turns of phrases and idiomatic expressions that I know would have me staring painfully for minutes on end back in high school, now seem perfectly natural to me… Most phrases hit the comprehension part of my brain directly, without going through the lengthy “decoding word-by-word and digging up through memory for idiomatic equivalent” phase. In some way I have magically become more “fluent” than I was, when last I studied ten years ago.

At first, I just assumed my memories were being overly modest and that, maybe, I was not the teutonic classroom failure I remembered being. Then I thought back of the long evenings laboriously spent stringing together 20 lines of homework, endless hours of classroom procrastination, barely coasting by, year after year, and the extremely mediocre A-level — or French equivalent thereof — grade that ensued. There is ample objective evidence that I really sucked as a high school student of German and it appears that I suck ever so slightly less, now that I am resuming ten years later… Which goes squarely against the widely accepted notion that foreign language acquisition skills decrease with age.

In proper logic-obsessed OCD fashion, I tortured my brain for days, trying to come up with a rational explanation for this, which did not involve being abducted, probed and experimented on, by German-speaking aliens.

And I think I found it…

The better half of the years spent studying German, were when I lived in Paris. I therefore studied in French. Grammar explanations, bilingual vocabulary lists, chatting with classmates, thinking about the ongoing lesson, were all done in French.

Nowadays: I live in Kyoto and there is very little French language in my life. Lots of Japanese, of course, but I would venture that well over 90% of my thoughts and interactions occur in English. When I read up a text in German, that voice in the back of my head, trying to make sense of what I am reading, is speaking English, not French.