Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Homemade vegan burger experiment

Tofu, sprouted legumes, thawed peas and boiled carrots, mashed and run through a blender with tahina, breadcrumbs, soy sauce, pepper, oregano, basil and paprika.

It can be scooped to the desired size and used to make anything from a burger to a steak, and can be slow-fried in a non-stick pan or baked in a conventional oven.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New planet messing around with our comets and stuff

Predicted on the basis of weird things happening to comets in the neighborhood, a long-hypothesized 10th-now-9th planet, Tyche, has eluded observation so far. However, scientists are now getting closer to nailing it down. While this presumed gas giant is believed to have a mass 4 times that of Jupiter, which would make it 1268 times as massive as Earth (might explain why it's hiding), it is also believed to be 15,000 AU (earth-sun distance) away from the the Sun. Compare that to former planet Pluto, which is a mere 39 AU from the sun, and you can understand why we have trouble sticking an astronomical pin into it. Unfortunately, it may have been nicked from another star, so we might soon have to rename it "Exhibit A". Seriously, if our sun is going to steal stuff, at least it could have stolen something that could be surreptitiously tucked into its Kuiper Belt, instead of something with a comet-deflecting gravity well.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Booza night by The Carton at thejamjar

A rather large number of people skipped dessert at last evening's iftars, because it was "booza" night at thejamjar.

The gallery-studio was hosting an event with The Carton, a food-centric art/photography/culture quarterly. There, The Carton was promoting their sixth issue, a special on ice cream ("booza" is Arabic for ice cream). I had no idea that this magazine existed until now, but I bought three back issues. See, apart from great articles about, and pictures of food, they also feature recipes. As my readers would have guessed by now, I love experimenting in the kitchen, and I look forward to trying some of them.

Attendees could engage with the ice cream theme by customizing a cone or cup on the open drawing wall, using the colored markers provided. I designed a mango and lemon twist, poured into a cup of berry syrup.

The Ice Cream Shop UAE provided us with scoops of free fresh ice creams and sorbets before we settled down to watch the hour-long documentary An Ice Cream Show, the educational and entertainment value of which quite made up for having to endure the cringe-provoking '90s hairstyles it featured.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sand formation art workshop with thejamjar resident Talin Hazber

One of the resident artists at thejamjar, Talin Hazber, led a workshop on sand formation art in the studio space on Saturday. Sand art involves a good deal of science, so it particularly piqued my interest. Besides, who didn't have fun playing with sand, growing up?

The workshop started with a short slideshow presentation by Hazber, describing various applications of sand art, as well as the history of sand microscopy and taxonomy.

Our first hands-on task was assembling and sealing a control sieve. It's like an hourglass, but cuboid, and with multiple holes.

Using styrofoam plugs, we implemented our intended topographies by permitting or blocking the escape of sand through each hole in the sieve, and further individualized our pieces using sands of different colors. When done, spraying water and adhesive set the surfaces of our pieces into firm crusts, after which the plugs were removed or dissolved to let out the loose sand beneath.

Although I ended up with my amateur hands coated in dried glue, and the crumbled remains of one failed attempt, I managed to get one decent piece set and removed from its mold. I shall title it "Guanzhong".

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tag Challenge win mentioned in Dubai's Vision magazine

Vision, a quarterly magazine in Dubai, has published a feature on crowdsourcing in its online version, focusing heavily on the research we did in SCAILab and our win in the US State Department's Tag Challenge last year. Check it out at this link; our lab's head was interviewed, and our Tag Challenge team's photo is in the album in the left-side column.

veri.ly mentioned in a TEDx talk

The veri.ly crowd-sourced crisis information verification platform, which we at MIST's SCAILab were developing when I left, was recently mentioned in a TEDxTraverseCity talk by QCRI's Patrick Meier (one of the lead collaborators in this project), along with earlier work on the DARPA Network Challenge.

BookMunch and a poetry reading

After a well-attended launch event last month, Poetician Rewa Zeinati hosted a reading and signing of her new book Nietzsche's Camel Must Die at BookMunch in Wasl Square last night.

Wasl Square is really convenient to find and get into, being located right opposite Safa Park and its ample parking space. I used a live map to find the venue, although projecting and/or clearer night signage would have helped.

The place has a playful and vibrant look on the inside, with a striking primary color scheme of green and magenta, patterned in classic houndstooth and pinstripe. Depending on whether one wants to eat, read, or do both, one can pick from among the seating options of chair, armchair and couch. Their book collection is fairly large, mixing a number of old literary hits with select contemporary reading. There's a good stock of kids' books too.

In a mood for a light supper, I consumed a delicious combination of a hearty, sharp harira soup with a salad pairing sweet slices of pear with pungent, salty lumps of gorgonzola.

Rewa read several notes from NCMD, signing books for, and taking questions from those who stayed after. The event was somewhat cozy, as we were well into a summertime Ramadan. Even so, there was plenty of animated post-reading talk among those in attendance.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Film review of I Am Kalam

Harsh Mayar in a film poster

I rented Indian independent film I Am Kalam this week. Set in Rajasthan, it is the story of a talented and driven boy who seems destined for a childhood spent busing tables at a roadside tea house. Already a voracious reader and a keen learner, a brief about the rags-to-riches story of Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on TV inspires him to rise above his disheartening circumstances. 

There's some good film-making by director Nila Madhab Panda evident in the film, despite it being an indie on a relatively low budget. The cinematography does justice to the vibrant colors and scenery in the film. As with many indie Indian films, there are no implausible song & dance routines to interrupt the story with unnecessary camp. Apart from a little awkward acting by some of the foreign cast that were roped in for bit parts, and a couple of moments that were predictable on a tactical level, it was a good show on the acting and writing fronts.

Lead actor Harsh Mayar deserves every award he has received for his part in the film; his expressiveness and delivery really generates the bulk of its charm. The film also received a lot of awards, and with an appeal for all ages, ought to have done better at the box office.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Drawing in thejamjar at the third 3rd Mondays

Dubai gallery and art space thejamjar has been hosting a new series of art-focus fora and workshops by The Domino, called 3rd Mondays, for a couple of months now. The have been taking place on - surprise, surprise - the third Monday of each month, and I attended the third this week, titled "Why draw?". As I have a little experience in cartooning, this was a topic on which I was particularly keen.

My own "drawings" (hey, some of these had time limits in seconds)

I arrived in time to catch the latter part of a documentary about drawing, following which I participated in a series of drawing exercises.

Drawings by people who had a better idea of what they were doing

We were given instruments of our choice and sheets of paper on which to try out a number of different challenges, such as drawing oneself or an object within view, in spans of time ranging from 5 minutes to 5 seconds.

A large collaborative work at the end

At the end of the event, we all got an opportunity to draw together on a single, large space, which was a lot of fun. Right before that, though, we had an interesting and informal round table chat about our own experiences with drawing. Many of the attendees were indeed very experienced (evident in what they produced during the exercises), so there was a lot of productive knowledge-sharing regarding materials, technologies and practices.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Teatime and delightful Devon

Having done a basic cream tea a couple of times already, I went a level up today, and hosted a Devon(shire)-themed tea for myself and five guests, with a slightly extended menu from the county that lent its name to one of the most exciting geological periods, and produced some of England's greatest seafarers.

We started with a savory bite-sized snack of Devonshire Eggs, which I prepared by making 6 deviled eggs, the yolks blended with a teaspoon of mustard, 60g of cream cheese, a teaspoon of vinegar, a tablespoon of cream, and salt and pepper.

This makes a great hors d'oeuvre or snack, with a lovely tart taste from the mustard in the blended yolks that were scooped back into the halved whites.

Another item I prepared was a Devonshire Honey Cake. To make this, I melted 100g of dark Muscovado sugar with 225g of butter and 225g of honey.

I beat 3 eggs into the cooled mixture, and beat that into 300g of self-rising flour to make a batter.

I baked the batter for about an hour at 150C, and glazed the warm, risen cake with honey. This came out much better than I expected.

Now it was time for the classic Devon combination of scones with clotted cream and jam. I always like to make my own jam, as it has a much fresher taste and chunkier texture than a store-bought. I cut up half a kilo of strawberries into chunks, and put them into a saucepan on low heat, with caster sugar in equal weight, and the juice and zest of one lemon to provide the pectin.

After the sugar dissolved, I started boiling the mixture, repeatedly testing for a jam-like viscosity using a frozen porcelain plate.

It turned out a little runnier than I would have preferred, but still very good.

Scones are really easy to bake. I mixed 450g of self-rising flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 2 tablespoons of icing sugar, and kneaded a dough of this using 200ml of heavy cream and 125ml of water. I floured small, flattened balls of this dough, and placed them on a floured baking tray.

Their tops brushed with milk a couple of times while they baked at 200C for about 20 minutes, the scones came out perfect.

And of course, we layered them with dollops of clotted cream FOLLOWED by the homemade jam, in the order customary of Devon (as opposed to Cornwall, where they inexplicably do it in the reversed order).

Lots of hot Earl Grey helped settle everything down.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Masdar Institute campus expansion opens

The second phase of the Masdar Institute campus has started operating, and my department, Computing and Information Sciences, moved in this past week. For us in CIS, that means no more weird smells and machinery sounds occasionally wafting and blaring in from the chemical labs adjacent to us in the old research building, although those did add to the "sciencey" atmosphere of the place.

The new campus still uses a lot of the old architectural styles; at least, that's way it looks from the outside. Most of the new buildings have the clay-coated wavy and air-padded screened facades of the residential and research buildings in the older part of campus. The new part of campus also seems much, much larger, with multiple courtyards.

The only new building style is represented in a couple of blocks that have facades that slope outwards on all sides. One of these blocks is literally hinged to the top of a set of pillars, which hold it over the swimming pools. Presumably, this design will make their smooth faces less likely to collect dust.

One major concession that has been made is the addition of a rather large car parking lot right in front of the new part of campus. For a few years now, access to the old campus was limited to shuttles, electric vehicles and self-piloting electric pod cars that ferried staff, faculty, students and visitors between the campus proper and the parking lots on the outskirts of the city. Now, private cars will be able to enter the city itself.

Everything is nice and fresh. Our new premises have wide corridors and a lot of meeting/common space, and (seemingly) better cooling.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Singaporean Lunch again

I threw together another Singaporean lunch for friends on Friday. Twice-honed experience with this set made it much easier this time. Thanks to a friend, I had a pack of A1 Bak Kut Teh herbs - otherwise my main obstacle. So, I could get back to cooking this old favorite of mine, which is representative of the many culinary influences that constitute the Singaporean gastronomic experience.

Chinese Yau Fan (garlic rice)

Indonesian Sayur Lodeh (vegetable coconut curry)

Malaysian Bak Kut Teh (meat stew with earthy herbs and mushrooms)

Portuguese Egg Tarts (tart shells with sweetened egg/milk filling)

Entre les Murs at The Scene Club

The Scene Club's monthly screening of independent film continued in July with Entre les Murs (literally, "between the walls", but titled in English as The Class). It's not hard to see why it has been reviewed so glowingly. For one thing, high school is subject matter to which almost anyone can relate. Furthermore, the way this particular subject matter is handled is very mature. That is, it is not your typical high school film, focusing on clique and cliche. Nor is it preachy on some socio-economic issue.

Rather in line with its documentary-style cinematography, it is a depiction of fairly ordinary term for a fairly ordinary bunch of students taught by fairly ordinary faculty of schoolteachers, mostly following the daily life drama in one class on the French language. The genius is in keeping the occurrences and dialogue very believable, and carrying it through with extremely good acting down to the smallest role. This makes the two and something hours of running time enjoyable - almost surprisingly, given the barest hint of a plot. Highly recommended.

Cafe Scientifique returns from the dead

Cafe Scientifique Dubai's latest public science discussion, held the Friday before last at Lila Cafe TECOM , was about de-extinction, and started by dropping an asteroid on pop culture's most cherished vision of someday jeeping around Jurassic Park; at present, we simply cannot get enough intact dinosaur DNA to put together into a workable genetic code.

Rohan Roberts and Raya Bidshahri introducing

But don't lose hope, for we likely can get an Age of Exploration Park up and running, with dodos, sea cows, and other victims of human population expansion put back into the biosphere. Maybe even a Cenozoic Park, full of Ice Age megafauna. And it's perhaps not as exciting for a movie, but we might be able to pull together a garden of recently extinct plants.

Open discussion

There was talk of corporatism, hybridization with extinct lifeforms, extending human rights to Neanderthals, preventing the use of de-extinction as an excuse for further ecological destruction, etc. As would be expected, debates on bringing back dead individuals also erupted every now and then (with broad use of Godwin's Law invoked at one point) until species-level de-extinction was brought back into focus. Basically, the discussions often veered in the direction of bioethics, and while I would have preferred more focus on hows than whys, a fair amount of sci & tech was touched upon collaterally.

Chai party with upma and poha

I had not cooked anything Indian in a while, so I thought I'd do an Indian chai party with some friends and some of my favorite Indian snacks. These snacks also double as great breakfast foods, while being all vegetarian (vegan, even).

Growing up, the semolina-based savory porridge/pudding upma was a treat for Friday tea at home. We called it sooji, though, and normally ate it warm or hot with sugar. It was after I started living in Mumbai that I found out you could also enjoy it with coconut chutney. Living in India also introduced me to poha, a dish of seasoned beaten rice. My relatives in Navi Mumbai were especially skilled at making the thick version of poha with vegetables. I made all three of these for myself and five guests, complemented with hot, kettle-brewed masala chai.

For the upma, I roasted 3 cups of semolina (rava) in a shallow pot until it began to brown.

In a larger pot, I added 3 teaspoons of cumin, 1.5 teaspoons of ginger, 6 small chopped green chillies and about 3 medium chopped onions to 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds sputtering in hot oil, frying on medium until the onions began to caramelize. I added some broken cashews as well, as I like my upma nutty. Optionally, curry leaves can be added at this stage.

After adding 6 cups of boiling water and a little salt, I added the roasted semolina, and mixed all the ingredients together. This was kept on low burner and mixed about from time to time until all the water was absorbed. It can be served at room temperature, or slightly warm, if served with a chutney. If served with sugar (a great and definitely easier-to-provide, if calorie-laden, alternative), it's best served hot.

I went the chutney way, so I let the upma cool down while I prepared a coconut chutney. To make the body of the chutney, I used a mini-blender on a cup of coconut flakes mixed with a chopped green chili, a tablespoon each of garlic and ginger, 12 curry leaves and a dash of salt. While blending, I added enough water so it is just mushy enough to hold together (some prefer it more watery).

In a small frying pan, I made a tempering (tadka) by lightly frying a half teaspoon each of mustard seeds and cumin seeds with 8 curry leaves and a pinc of asafoetida. Sometimes, I also add a few red chilies. Coconut oil is good for making the tadka.

I threw the still-sizzling tadka into the chutney and mixed. This is a common condiment at "Udupi" restaurants, usually served along with upma, vada, idly, dosa, and such.

For the poha, I added a cup of whole peanuts to 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds frying in oil, frying them until they started to brown. I also boiled some a cup of cubed potatoes and soaked a cup of frozen peas in warm water.

I then added 2 medium minced onions, 20 curry leaves, and 3 minced green chillies. As I fried these, waiting until the onions got translucent, I started washing and soaking 6 cups of the thick beaten rice.

After adding the potato and peas, I sprinkled the mixture with 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder and a dash of salt, and tossed the mixture. Finally, I added the soaked beaten rice and 3 teaspoons of lime juice, stirring and breaking the mass of beaten rice into a consistent, loose texture. Before serving warm, I garnished the poha with a couple of tablespoons of chopped cilantro, and cut up some lemon wedges for my guests to add lemon juice as per their tastes.

Of course, I would only serve all this with my famous five-spice masala chai, brewed in the aluminium chai wala kettle I bought specially for this purpose.