The Foodie Scientist.


I’ve been absent, I get it. My hands are up in surrender. But I’m here now and shouldn’t that count? And as a little bit of an apology, this post is going to be inundated with yours and mine’s favourite, food.

I’ve loved cooking and baking and it goes without saying…experimenting. Mind you, this love affair only began once I realised that cooking wasn’t a chore and onerous task. The first mess up I made, I don’t even remember the dish, my mum simply said start again and don’t worry about the mess. That made me see that the kitchen was much more like my lab. You don’t give up after a single failed experiment, you change parameters, you optimise and you try again. You start off following protocols, but you adapt to make it work for you and your conditions. And that’s exactly like cooking, you start with a recipe and you adjust it to your taste and what you have available. Except please don’t taste your Ringer’s buffer and your SDS-PAGE gel!

I’m really not embellishing when I say ‘inundated’ with food…take a look for yourself! I won’t lie, I’ve found much easier to post my foodie exploits on my Instagram page (I know! Nazra has moved into the 21st Century with social media!) @q.nazra ūüôā

 

Khaman Dhokla

Chicken Jalfrezi with rice

Butter chicken with naan

Steak and Chips from Toro’s steakhouse, Manchester

Quarter peri peri chicken from Toro’s steakhouse, Manchester

Refreshing mocktails from Toro’s steakhouse, Manchester

Halal full English breakfast from Millie’s tearoom, Hayfield

The Indian inspired Veggie breakfast from Millie’s tearoom (and B&B), Hayfield

Rose, Lemon and Pistachio drizzle cake

Oven roasted Salmon fillet with herb roasted potatoes and mint salsa verde!

Spinach pesto and chilli pasta

Salt and pepper chicken with veg noodles from Oodles chinese, Coventry (my fav takeout!)

Cake Box (can never say no to cake!)

Fruit scone from Rising cafe, Coventry

Smoked salmon and poached egg breakfast from Cosy club

Veggie breakfast from Cosy club

Garlic mushroom from The Farmhouse, Coventry

Passionfruit Daiquiri (mocktail of course!), The Farmhouse, Coventry

Steak! From The Farmhouse, Coventry

Indian fish and chips from The Farmhouse, Coventry

Cardamom panna cotta with a strawberry coulis

Chana daal with gourd (dudhi/kaddu)

Palak paneer, made with tandoori spiced paneer! It’s soo good!

Brownies! Recipe inspired by Roojie The Foodie #RTF

Curried cauliflower

Lasagna

Veggie Hot Pizza from Pizza Hut

Rava idli with sambhaar!

Oodles chinese! Kung pao and crispy chicken

Egg fried rice

BBC Good Food recipe – nutty chocolate bread!

Chicken and green bean curry

Chicken 65 – recipe from Fauzia’s Kitchen Fun (FKF)

Mixed veggie curry (aubergine, potato and pigeon peas)

Creme caramel

Cheesy pasta

My famous ‘Flaounas’

Achaari chicken!

Semolina pudding (sooji)

Chicken khao suey

Veggie pasta

Fudgy Oreo brownie cake

Las Iguanas dessert

Mac n cheese @ Las Iguanas

Masoor gosht with rice (brown lentil and lamb curry)

Fish curry – Sea bass

Egg and kebab curry

Creamy Philadelphia tagliatelle

 

What time is it? It’s Vegan time!


Yummy vegan and vegetarian food!

The ‘Wicked Kitchen’ range of exclusively vegan food is actually Wicked; from what I’ve managed to try, they’ve managed to get a lot of flavour into their products, which is something I often find lacking in most packaged foods, especially catered for vegetarians/vegans. My favourite has to be the sourdough caponata pizza with mint salsa verde (tasted amazing!).

So as the title may hint, I’ve been experimenting with a changeup of my dietary habit, just because! I’ve always liked vegetarian/vegan food, but it’s always been very Indian, and as I’ve mentioned before a lot of Gujarati food is vegetarian, in fact on closer inspection it’s actually vegan. So I figured why not!

It started off quite easy and for the first two weeks (the last two of Veganuary) it was great, I was very strict with what I would eat and I actually found myself more focussed and more energetic, probably because I wasn’t binge eating as much nor was I indulging. I actually really enjoyed the vegan food I cooked at home, and sometimes it would end up being vegetarian if I couldn’t escape certain ingredients, but nonetheless, I really enjoyed cooking and eating freshly made food at home! I even managed to re-write my results chapters for my thesis and write the majority of my conclusion too.

But the great start was not to last, a few cravings later and I found myself seriously wanting a different texture and taste, notably chocolate. And of course, since JamJar recently opened in Coventry, it was a no brainer. The mix chocolate cookie dough was divine! Very indulgent but perfectly sweet, not too much and not too little and the hazelnut gelato was a much preferred accompaniment to the hot cookie dough over vanilla ice cream served elsewhere. If I had more of a sweet tooth I would be going back regularly! But luckily I’m not overly hyped on dining out! Save the pennies AND the pounds! A necessity for a student.

So whilst it lasted it was certainly interesting, I lasted a lot longer than I had initially given myself credit for and I think I’m certainly going to change my dietary habits, mostly cutting back on the binge eating and trying to consciously include freshly cooked vegetables into my everyday eating pattern. And although ‘Wicked Kitchen’ is incredibly pricey, I will certainly be looking out for offers and marked down prices, because the food is good and the tub is reusable! Perfect!

 

PS. Food listed from left to right, top row: Mustard seed potatoes (Gujarati – rai vara bataka), Chana masala, Delhi dal makhni (ready to eat range from Ashoka). Bottom row: Gluten free mac and cheese with spicy mushrooms, Spiced brussel sprouts and sugar snap peas, Mushroom curry.

Sometimes…


It’s easy to drown. Drown in your emotion, in your work load, in your everyday life…when everything seems to submerge you inch by inch. Whether it’s that pile of paperwork you need to go through by the end of the week, or packing up your house before the big move, or even just hearing for the 100th time “when are you going to get married?”…it’s so very easy to drown.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any metaphysical buoys that I know of which can rescue those who find themselves submerged. So what are we to do?…learn how to hold your breath? Maybe. We drown, because we let ourselves be overcome by things which in reality can do no harm. If you can’t complete the paperwork, state it. If you know that’s not an option, then buckle down, and get yourself working. If you’re overwhelmed by all that packing, and don’t know where to start, just pick up a box and start putting things in. If you’re tired of having to answer to the whereabouts of your pending nuptials, think of something clever to say. And if you can’t be rude (which you shouldn’t), let sarcasm do all the work.

And then sometimes…you just need chips and curry sauce. I’m hoping that chips and curry sauce does the trick! I don’t even like curry sauce but I’ve been craving it! No idea why!

 

NQ out.

 

PS. Why is it so easy to write 200+ words for my blog, but writing even 20 takes forever for my thesis?!

The Magic Lasagna.


It’s been a hectic few weeks, certainly full of drama in some form or the other, and a heap of stress. In particular, “time” has been an incredibly sore point. I’m almost at the half way stage of my PhD and I feel as though I’ve not even begun to get myself to a point where I can say “yeah, I can see an end”…in fact, I still feel as though I’m still at the start. I’m still a headless chicken. I’m still stuck on one technique. And I’m still dreaming about what it is that I ‘actually’ want to do. What’s changed in the last twelve months? Not much…but at the same time, a heck of a lot.

There are positives and negatives in every situation and this certainly is not an exception. I’ve grown a lot as a person (metaphorically speaking of course!), I’ve developed thicker skin, and despite still being an emotional wreck (it comes with the territory) I can manage myself a lot better…especially with some “very” specific help (nothing illegal!). I have a clearer direction of where I’m heading, I know exactly what needs doing. I have a plan. I have back up, and surprisingly my supervisor has been very “on the ball” lately…which despite seeming quite great, it’s quite stressful because now I feel as though I’m not working hard enough or fast enough. Now I feel like I really need to step up to the plate, I’ve spent a good few months working on Western blots and they’re still not perfect. I want them to be perfect, they need to be if I expect any publications out of them. I just need to get myself focused. I need to start using my lab book again and start meticulously following each and every step with care, I just need to get my head in the right gear. Getting ill often has set backs, and nothing is more irritating than getting ill, feeling a little better and then exhausting yourself, only to fall ill again. Oh well, I think I need to reinstate my orange juice mornings.

 

PS. Title – As part of the ‘Jedi Mind trick’ package. NOT TO BE SOLD SEPARATELY.

Focus!


So I was originally going to write this post yesterday, but a lack of ‘focus’ meant…well, here I am. So, the subject of this post…Focus. Now, I’m not going to make this a boring account of what it means to be focussed, in fact, I don’t believe that there is one strict methodology to being focussed. Using myself as an example…I focus in an non-conventional way, where I actually need distractions to be focussed. So what does that mean? (Sounds strange, I agree) Well, let’s think back to a little while ago…and my whining about a certain ‘pod’…even though I complained about the ‘pod’, it’s actually not so bad…because it helps with my strategy. I focus in a strange way, and the only way I can describe it, is imagine walking through a crowded High street…I mean REALLY crowded; with lots of people all walking in every conceivable direction, but they’re all in their own world…and through the mass of people you can see your ‘goal’ (could be anything…literally and metaphorically). So with this ‘focus’ on your goal, even though there are hordes of people around you, you can go straight towards your goal…because in a strange way, you can pick it out a lot better with all the distraction around you. It’s like listening out for¬†the right ‘notes’ in a sea of noise.

For me, it’s the way I can achieve focus. Because if I were to describe it in another way…(something like)…being in utter silence, no one or nothing around you…so walking along an ’empty’ High street…yes, you can see your goal…because there’s no one obstructing it. But for me, I’d be distracted away from the goal. Sounds strange? Let me explain. If I was walking along and there was nothing around me…I’d feel like there was no rush for me to get to my goal…because I could ‘see’ it. So I’d be tempted to ‘wander’ around and that would be incredibly unproductive (believe me when I say that I’ve tried this on countless occasions). Yes, for a lot of people this seems to work…complete isolation, so that whatever requires focus is the only thing which has their undivided attention. I don’t quite work in the same way, I need that ‘noise’ to listen out for the ‘right note’.

But it’s not so simple, in terms of ‘noise’. It obviously can’t be something which stands out…so there goes having your favourite TV show in the background, it has to be ‘noise’…so something which you won’t pay attention to. In my case, that’s students walking past me in my ‘pod’ and the literal noise coming from the food court…but can’t sit close to anyone engaging in conversation…because that’s just annoying, and will only provoke unsolicited eye-rolling from me.

 

 

Some pigeons have defective homing instincts


As with the others, originally this particular post had some ‘thoughts’ attached to it, and of course me being me…can’t remember the whole story behind it. Now I can either post half of what I originally conceived, or write something completely new. I opt for the latter. I’ll admit, I’m now procrastinating from the post itself and therefore this particular post will quite possibly not make any sense once I’m done with it, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

(I kid you not, this is truly a ‘patchwork’ post) I’m still not sure as to where I’m heading with this post, but there’s a dominant emotion which is dictating my actions right now and so that’s the direction I’m probably going to take. Feeling overwhelmed is certainly not a new emotion for me, I just didn’t realise how everything could suddenly feel so overbearing. There’s only a few weeks left until the end of my first year as a PhD student, and to be perfectly honest, despite only getting through the one technique (and half of another…although I can’t say with ‘hand on heart’ that I’ve excelled in it), I should be happy with the outcome. But I’m not. In fact, everything feels pretty meaningless right now…and it’s all down to one very specific thing. (I’m going to proceed to being very cryptic and not reveal this specific ‘thing’) This ‘thing’ has made me somersault through a range of emotions, and I feel trapped by it. I’m not the melancholic type, but lately, that’s all I’ve been. And it’s been noticeable. To the extent where, if one more person asks whether or not I’m okay…I will flip! I get it, I look a little ill right now…probably because I feel that way, and have done so for the last 3 weeks or so. I know why I feel ill, I just don’t know what to do about it.

I think I’m doing something which will eventually help…but so far it’s made things a lot worse. One foul move has completely altered my eating and sleeping pattern (last night was the first time in over a year that I couldn’t fall asleep), and I can’t imagine things getting much better any time soon. I have faith in my decision though, and even if it means tears right now (a lot of them. Hate tears) and not being able to focus on anything (especially my progress review…coming up in a few weeks), I know that it’ll be good for me…I hope.

Sometimes you have to hurt yourself in the short term to prevent getting hurt in the long term. I really hope that this is one of those times. And I should add that my friends have been amazing with everything so far, they’ve helped me keep it together…for now.

Sorry this is so cryptic, but I can’t really say much for now. On the bright side (if there ever was any) my supervisor was actually proactive and asked to see my write up so far. Success!

PS. Titular reference: there’s always one pigeon who doesn’t know his way home.

I think my phone is also feeling as crappy as I am. I charged it three times today, and it still died! I wonder what I’ll need to ‘charge my battery’?

Nazra’s Little Guide


I was supposed to post something which I’d thought of a while ago, then came back to and remarkably lost interest (my method of procrastinating no longer feels like procrastinating, so I now need something new), so anyway, I was thinking of going back to it today…but a conversation with one of my colleagues has changed my mind.

We were talking, as two PhD students would, about the ‘admin’ side of things and the frustrations associated with the fact that despite being told that you need to take control, no one is actually willing to give you control. So I thought to myself (out loud), what would I have wanted to know before I started this ‘journey’? For starters, it’d have been nice to have been told that things don’t work at the pace you’re ready to work at…everything depends on everything else. So what I’ve done is, I’ve made a list of the 5 key things which I think everyone embarking on a PhD should appreciate. I’ve learnt these things from experience and I certainly appreciate them.

Number One:¬†And perhaps the most important, your colleagues. These are the people you are working with everyday and in most cases they will be your first point of contact for all things ‘research’ related. Now it may be different for different people and places, but certainly where I’m at I don’t see my supervisor very much and the techniques I’ve learnt have been directly from my colleagues. If you’re nice to your colleagues not only does it mean that when you start to panic (and have a bit of a meltdown like me) they’ll be here to help, but it also makes the lab a less mundane place to be.

Number Two:¬†I can’t tell you how important starting your write up is, and there will be plenty of people to remind you. You can either a) nod your head with no intention of listening, or you could b)¬†actually¬†listen and follow their guidance. People are generally very helpful and although you may come across a few who aren’t, most want you to succeed and make the right start. Starting your writing up and writing whilst you’re still collecting data may seem like you’re trying to run before you can walk, but in the long run (Haha, get it? “run”)¬†it’ll mean that you will spend more time tweaking and less time feeling frustrated. And as I’ve heard from so many of my colleagues (and academics), the write up can be a great thing or the worst thing about your PhD.

Number Three:¬†This really is YOUR project, even if it doesn’t feel like it just yet. Your supervisor may have ideas of what they’d like you to look at, but don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and look at what piques your interest. It shows that you care about the project you’re looking at, but it also helps keep you motivated (something which you’ll find rapidly dwindle in the years to come). Not only is this sense of ownership associated with the practical side of things, it should also filter down to the way you approach things. When I started, I felt completely lost…a bit like a headless chicken (still do sometimes). No one was telling me anything, and I had to use my initiative to find out how things worked (ordering system, the right protocols etc.) and what I was supposed to do and who I was supposed to contact. If you have this attitude in mind before you start, it makes things seem a little less scary; and importantly, keep your end point in mind, and don’t let yourself get distracted from it (well…not too much. If you want to finish in three years, make sure that you’re as close to that as possible!).

Number Four:¬†A bit like Number One really, the technicians and support staff. Just like your colleagues, make these people your best friend! They are so helpful in so many ways, that I can’t even begin to describe. At first they make seem a little daunting, but be open to them. These are the people who know what they’re doing (mostly!) and even if they don’t, they’ll find a way to help you. They know who to contact and what equipment you need, and what to do if crucially that ‘equipment’ doesn’t work. They’ve been there a lot longer than you have and will have seen the best and the worst, it doesn’t hurt to ask for their opinion every now and then. I depend a lot on my technicians and I find that they will have very useful ideas, sometimes things that you haven’t thought of yourself. And they are a major help with ordering reagents etc. they can tell you where things are cheaper and who you need to sign off on your orders, they’re basically awesome!

Number Five:¬†A major clich√©, but a necessary one…enjoy it. The start of your PhD can be very scary and frustrating but don’t let that keep you from enjoying things. You’re taking on a massive challenge like a PhD because you love that topic (science!) and you want to actively research that area. What you’ll learn during your PhD is invaluable, it’s essentially the start of your research career but that doesn’t mean that it should dictate your life. Make sure you get a hobby, the last thing you want is to eat, drink, sleep and breathe just your ‘PhD’ (it may seem a heck of a lot easier to isolate yourself…and I know that I do it often, but don’t!). So when things get tough (and they do), don’t get tough on yourself, talk to people, everyone is willing to listen and advise! And if they’re not, then start a blog and vent your frustrations…and let me know, I’ll follow it!

Peace out. NQ

PS. Does anyone know when the new Tom Thorne novel is coming out?