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Packing started as this….

and 5 hours later, it ended up like this…

When I traveled to Europe in high school, I learned the importance of being able to handle your own luggage. The teacher who organized the trip had all of the students come to her house with our luggage packed. She had us walk down the street and climb stairs with our bags to see if we could carry them. Those who struggled during the test run also struggled in Europe. They found other students to carry their bags during the trip.

I think I packed, unpacked, and repacked at least 5 times today as I tried different combinations of luggage with the bags I found in the house. During my test walks down the street, I felt most comfortable pulling one bag and carrying a backpack. We even had a duffle bag large enough to serve as a cover for my big backpack. I’m hoping that will keep the straps from getting chewed up by conveyor belts! In the future, I think I would put my clothes in vacuum bags to save space and minimize the amount of luggage.

As of now, the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland hasn’t disrupted my flight from Philly to Zurich tomorrow. Lindau, here I come!

Last Friday, I felt like playing around in the kitchen. Cooks Illustrated had published a recipe for deep dish pizza that looked amazing and I thought I’d give it a try. But…I wanted to take the challenge one step further and make my own mozzarella cheese as well.

Some time ago, I bought a cheesemaking kit. I’ve used it once with near success. By the end of the process, I had something that resembled really soft mozzarella cheese. For this second attempt, Chris joined the fun.

This kit doesn’t use any active bacterial cultures to make the cheese. It relies on acidification and addition of an enzyme to separate the curds(the proteins in the milk) from the whey (the liquid).

First, you add citric acid and heat the milk to a specified temperature.

Then, you add the rennet, which contains enzymes that chew up the proteins in the milk and cause them to coagulate. In this kit, the rennet comes from calf stomach, but a vegetarian form exists too. After 15 minutes, we saw the curds separate from the whey.

For the last step, you pour off the whey, heat the curds, and stretch them like taffy to make the cheese. Everything seemed to be working well until we heated the curds. Instead of melding together, they stayed separated and we ended up with something that looked like ricotta cheese. According to the website, this can happen when the milk is ultra-pasturized (heated to higher temperatures than pasturized milk). This damages the proteins in the milk and causes it to form a weak curd.

Not wanting to waste our curds, we added some basil and turned them into a dip. Then I went to Trader Joe’s to get some mozzarella. I still wanted some pizza!

To make a long story short, the pizza was delicious. The recipe is time consuming because the dough for the crust has to rise twice, but it’s totally worth it. Next time, I’ll freeze some of the dough to see if it can be made ahead of time. Either way, this recipe is a keeper!

I’ve been accepted to the science writing program at UC Santa Cruz! The offer came with an unrestricted scholarship. Ironically, it is sponsored by a company in the healthcare industry, Roche Molecular Diagnostics. Hehe. To get the money, I have to have lunch with the sponsors at Roche, but I do not have to work or intern at a specified location nor do I have to follow a set career path after I graduate. I’ve accepted the offer of admission and the scholarship.

Santa Cruz is on the quarter system, so school will start in September. I return from Germany at the beginning of July, so I’ll have a couple of months of down time between my internship and starting the program at Santa Cruz.

This gives my confidence a great boost as I get ready for my defense. Despite the struggles of the past few years, I got myself headed in the right direction! If I can do that, I can certainly handle an hour of questioning!

My thesis is finished.

Last Friday, I got the final revisions from my advisor and spent two hours doing a quick experiment in anticipation of a question during my defense. I got some useable data, but it doesn’t change the end of my story. No problem. When I came home that day, the world looked different. The sun was brighter and warmer, the grass was greener, the wind more refreshing.

I’ve spent the weekend putting on the final touches and printing 6 copies of a 200 page document. Thankfully, there have been no printer problems. I’m really good at putting in new ink cartridges and refilling the paper.

Now, I have to put together my talk and do a little studying. I have most of the slides already prepared; the rest I can take from the figures in my thesis. Chris and I are planning to go backpacking at the end of the week, rain or shine. The end is near!

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