science and cooking: week 1


Note: I started this post almost two weeks ago on the actual first day of class, October 8. See the update below for my delay in posting (i.e. class is HARD!!!).

First day of school!!!!

I mentioned last week that I registered to take an online course from Harvard on Science and Cooking. Today the course opened and I’ve dived in headfirst watching the introductory videos, reading the required text, making my own introductory video, and checking out the labs and homework assignments. It’s not too late for you to join the class if you haven’t already done so. It’s free and whether or not you choose to do any of the homework and labs is entirely up to you — you can choose to audit the course, or if you choose the certificate option and don’t end up doing all the required material, really what do you have to lose?

The first homework and lab assignments aren’t due until November 19, so you have plenty of time to catch up. Here’s a description of the course from the syllabus:

Science and Cooking:
From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science

This course will discuss concepts from the physical sciences that underpin both everyday cooking and haute cuisine. Each week we will visit a world-famous chef, who will show us the secrets of some of their remarkable creations. We will use these as inspiration to delve into the basic fundamental science behind food and cooking. The chefs include Joan Roca (El Celler de Can Roca), Bill Yosses (White House Pastry Chef), Enric Rovira (Master Chocolatier), Carme Ruscalleda (Sant Pau), José Andrés (ThinkFoodGroup, Minibar, Jaleo), Wylie Dufresne (wd-50), Joanne Chang (Flour Bakery, Myers and Chang), David Chang (Momofuku), Carles Tejedor (Restaurante Via Veneto), Dan Barber (Blue Hill) and Ferran Adrià (El Bulli). There will also be demos and lectures by other leaders in the field, including America’s Test Kitchen, authors Harold McGee (On Food and Cooking, Keys to Good Cooking) and Nathan Myhrvold (Modernist Cuisine), and food scientist Dave Arnold (Cooking Issues).

At the end of the course, students will be able to explain how a range of cooking techniques and recipes work, in terms of the physical and chemical transformations of food.

Regardless of whether you’re a science or cooking whiz, I think everyone can learn something from this class, and it will be great fun to be a part of a huge community of online learners, most of whom I assume have a love of food. I’m excited that I have a friends both locally and in the blog world that will be taking this class alongside me and I hope that we’ll have time to chat about what we’re learning and our successes (and possible failures) in the weekly labs.

If the technology of taking an online class scares you, there is an introductory class you can take that helps you learn your way around the edX website and courses. It’s a self-paced class (and it’s not graded), and I found it to be extremely helpful in learning what to expect from this class and help me navigate my way through the various materials online.

When else will you have an opportunity to learn from some of the greatest chefs in the world? José Andrés, Ferran Adriá, David Chang, Wylie Dufresne, just to name a few. These are chefs whose restaurants I will probably never be able to get into, but I have been presented with this amazing opportunity to be taught by them in my own home. Here’s a short video of José Andrés introducing the class — seriously, how adorable is he?

I haven’t decided yet what I want my final project to be, but I can’t wait to get started!

And here’s a picture of my first lab project — I calibrated my oven by melting sugar, folks:


Update: I started this post last week when the first class began. And then I got completely stumped in the homework section. The lab was fine — I aced that. But the level of math and science needed to complete the homework was way off what I’m used to, not to mention how many years it’s been since I took math and science in high school. I was really good at math, but it’s been ages since I’ve done formulas like these. Anyway, after watching the lectures several times, taking copious notes, and reading all the discussion below, I was finally able to finish the homework equations and got an A for the week!

Week 2 went much better – I haven’t started the lab yet, but I printed out the homework questions, took a ton of notes during the lectures again, and mostly breezed my way through the homework. I don’t know if the problems were easier this week, or if I was just better prepared, but I’m feeling a lot better about this class now. I was really discouraged the first week because I didn’t even know where to start with some of the problems. My one complaint is that there are inconsistencies between the lecture and homework, and also appear to be some errors in the homework as well, but reading the discussion helps to avoid those mistakes.


liebster award nomination


I don’t know if there’s an expiration date on these nominations, but I was nominated for a Liebster award about a year ago by my friend, Elisa, whose food blog, The Girl in the Blue Apron, inspired me to start mine. Elisa and I are friends in real life, and we love good food and good wine. We’ve taken many wine appreciation classes together, and enjoy going to try new restaurants and eat amazing food. Sadly, our busy schedules don’t allow for this to happen very often, but it’s always a great time when we can!

So what exactly is a Liebster award? It’s sort of like a pay-it-forward for new bloggers. It’s a way to recognize bloggers whose blogs you enjoy reading and following, and a way to encourage others to discover their blog. The “official” rules are as follows:

  • Post 11 random facts about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions the awarding blogger has posted for you
  • Nominate 11 bloggers (with less than 200 followers) and link them in your post
  • Give the nominated bloggers 11 questions to answer about themselves

When Elisa nominated me a year ago, I was at the very beginning of the crazy year where I attempted to direct two musicals at school. Not only was I not doing any blogging about food at the time, I wasn’t cooking, eating anything worthwhile, or able to think about blogging and answering questions. I had forgotten all about the nomination until the other day when a blogger I was following posted about a nomination she had received and I decided it was finally time I paid it forward!

So without further ado, here are 11 random facts about me:

  1. I was born and raised in Kobe, Japan to an American dad and a Cypriot mom
  2. I climbed almost to the top of Mt. Fuji when I was in 3rd grade
  3. I sang on a radio commercial for contact lenses in Japan when I was in high school
  4. I had a drawing published in “Highlights” magazine when I was about 10 or 11 years old
  5. I sang in Lincoln Center in New York City when I was in high school
  6. Most people mispronounce my first name, Yvonne — the “e” isn’t silent — it’s “Ee – vaw – nee”
  7. I don’t have a middle name. Seriously, I don’t. Neither do my sisters.
  8. Mushrooms are my favorite food group. What do you mean they’re not a food group?
  9. I love cooking, decorating, gardening, photography, and organizing (other people’s stuff, not my own) and often wonder what it would be like to do that full time
  10. I have a fat orange and white cat name Jack Daniels. He’s purring quite loudly on my lap right now.
  11. I am a carnivore through and through, and yet I have happily embraced eating vegan 2/3 of the day

My answers to Elisa’s 11 questions:

1. Why did you start blogging?  I wanted a better way to share recipes and photos (mostly of food) with other people besides facebook. And it looked like a lot of fun.

2. When you’re not blogging, what else do you do for fun?  I enjoy going out to eat and trying new restaurants, especially ethnic foods. I enjoy spending time with my friends and their families — I’m not great with small talk so I love being around people where the conversation flows freely.

3. What inspires or motivates you?  I love beauty in nature, food that is pleasing to the eye as well as delicious, and I love to take pictures of these things and share them with others. I think being able to share the things I love with other people through photography is what is motivating me right now. My blog originally was more about sharing photos than it really was about the recipes.

4. What is the one food that you could never give up eating?  I would have previously said bacon, but since going 2/3 vegan (that means two out of three meals a day are vegan), I find myself craving fried eggs more than anything else.

5. Do you have a motto, life quote, or “words to live by”?  My words to live by would be the Bible. It’s hard to just pick out a few verses, but here’s Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

6. What’s the most interesting or unusual food or meal you’ve ever eaten?  Probably the meal that would be the most unusual is one that has been stuck in my memory for years. This was a seven-course mostly raw fish meal at a fancy restaurant in Japan, paid for by a family friend. At the time, I didn’t care for raw fish so it was a really difficult meal to get through. (I would probably love most of the meal now). About halfway through the meal, they brought out a bowl of live shrimp and proceeded to dump them into a boiling pot of sake in the middle of the table. The pot was made out of glass so you could see the shrimp dancing around in there as they boiled to death. Needless to say, I didn’t eat any of those shrimp. My poor parents had to eat most of the stuff my sisters and I wouldn’t touch because they didn’t want to offend our friend who had gone to all this expense. I’ve never forgotten that meal!

7. What’s your biggest pet peeve?  I have so many it’s hard to pick just one… No, seriously. LOUD CHEWERS. Slurping and crunching and all those other noises are just nails on a chalk board for me. I discovered recently that there’s actually a name for this irritation – misophonia. People can actually become filled with blood-boiling rage. Mine’s nowhere near that bad, but listening to someone eating an apple usually makes me want to punch them in the face. I haven’t don’t that…yet…

8. What’s the last book you read that you couldn’t put down?  I haven’t done much reading lately. I guess the last book I read was probably the Hunger Games trilogy. I stayed up late many nights before Christmas so I could finish the trilogy and go see the first movie with my sister over break.

9. What are three things you always have in your refrigerator or pantry?  Lemons, olive oil, and Japanese short grain rice

10. What’s your favorite thing to cook or bake?  I’ve been cooking so much lately that it’s hard to pick. Of the things I’ve made recently, I think my two tastiest dishes would be the miso-ginger roasted chicken and ginger-peach muffins. My all time go-to meal would have to be pork souvlaki, though.

11. Who do you admire?  I hesitate to say I admire people who have it all, but I look at my friends who are wives, mothers, cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, and are also hospitable, gracious, and followers of Christ. I can’t help but think they have it all in the earthly sense. I know that they are not perfect and there are many things I’m sure they wish they could change about themselves or their lives, but I would like to be more like them.

My Liebster Nominees

I’m following over a hundred different blogs right now, but I had a hard time finding eleven who are under 200 followers. Most of the ones I would love to nominate are well over the threshold. But after hours of going through my list, I finally found eleven that fit the criteria! Here they are:

Maija at Mother of Invention – Maija is a friend from my high school days in Japan. She was one of the smartest people in our class and a great actress. She now works in London, has three children, and writes hilarious things about the domestic side of her life on her blog.

Lori at Ballard Adventure in Kenya – Lori is one of my oldest friends. We first met when we were in first grade. She and her family stayed with us in Japan for several days while they were en route to Korea for her dad’s work. We went to the same college and have remained friends ever since. Last year, she and her family spent a semester living in Kenya and she blogged about their time there.

Aaron at Aaron Rambles – Aaron is a friend from college days. He was a long-haired goateed drummer at the time, but is now a short-haired (still goateed) youth pastor with a passion for God, hockey, and his wife and kids (not necessarily in that order). As I write this, I remember that he asked me to guest blog for him earlier this summer and I never got around to responding to his request…whoops! Sorry, Aaron!

Rose at 30, female, & single … and happy! – Rose is another friend in real life. She was in the same grade as my younger sister in school and they were always great friends. Rose has great insight on what it’s like to be single after 30 and I have truly appreciated her honesty and openness.

Alaina and Stephanie at The Cooks Next Door – They are real life sisters who blog about food. The recipes are simple and seasonal, and there are a ton of vegan and gluten-free recipes on their blog as well. Check it out!

Sherimiya at Happy Little Bento –  Sherimiya makes great bentos – Japanese lunches. They are beautiful, clever, creative, and sure look tasty! Her bento posts were part of the inspiration for me to start making bentos for myself this year.

Miss Cruciferous at Sometimes I Miss the Sky – I’ve been a lurker on her blog for the past couple of months. I’ve been looking for more food blogs to follow and I was immediately drawn to this site because of the photos. If the photography on a blog isn’t very good, I usually don’t follow them unless they truly have amazing recipes. In the case of Miss Cruciferous, her photos and recipes look great so check them out! She posts vegan, gluten-free, oil-free and whole food recipes.

Em at Forked – Another blog I’ve been lurking on for several months. Em is a Pittsburgh blogger who writes about vegan cooking and dining out. I like her posts because the places she blogs about are close enough that I can actually go to them, unlike 99% of the other food bloggers I follow.

Better Bites – Yet another place I lurk – this blogger has great plant-based recipes that I keep adding to my list of things to make. Oh, and she also takes great photos, too!

Miss Kitchen Witch – And still another place I lurk. Miss Kitchen Witch is a food blogger who I found through the list of blogs participating in this year’s Vegan MoFo  – Vegan Month of Food. I’ve made a few recipes from her blog so far and am planning to make more in the future. The first recipe of hers that caught my eye was Orange Balsamic Glazed Acorn Squash — I made it this week and it was really good!

Ashley at Ransom Cakes – And one final blog I’ve been lurking on. Ashley posts vegan, gluten-free and soy-free recipes and is another great photography. I also found her through the Vegan MoFo blog roll. I’m stockpiling recipes of hers to try in the near future.

Here are my 11 questions for the 11 of you to answer:

  1. What inspired you to start blogging?
  2. What makes you happy?
  3. What is the one food you can’t live without?
  4. What is your least favorite food?
  5. What is your favorite book?
  6. What are your favorite hobbies?
  7. What would you do for a living if you didn’t have to worry about money?
  8. What is one thing you’d like to change about yourself?
  9. What is your best childhood memory?
  10. What is your dream destination (for either vacation or to live)?
  11. What is your most embarrassing childhood memory?

everything is better with lemons

I like lemons. Almost everything I cook has lemons in it. A salad isn’t a salad if there isn’t some fresh-squeezed lemon juice in the dressing…make that 2 or 3 fresh-squeezed lemons. Maybe this is part of my Greek heritage, or maybe it’s just because I really like them. I love to cook for my family and friends and share my love of food with them. I hope to share with you some of those dishes as well as others prepared by talented friends and chefs. Oh, and I love wine and taking pictures of food to make my friends drool.