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8 novembre 2014 6 08 /11 /novembre /2014 19:19


- 500 g chestnut puree

- 1 Tb rum (optional)

- 85 g flour
- 1 tb baking powder
- 50 g butter (melted)
- 3 egg yolks

- 3 egg whites
- 1 pinch of salt

- heat oven to 350F 200°C (thermostat 6-7).
- Mix chestnut puree, egg yolks, flour, baking powder, butter
- Beat egg whites until stiff
- Fold in
- Pour dough in muffin tin
- Bake 15 minutes


(makes 24 mini-muffins and 6 regular size muffins)


I recently started craving chestnut muffins. I had a fabulous recipe that can't locate, so I just decided to improvise and whip up something. It was quite a success - in fact I could barely keep my son away from the muffins for 2 minutes to take a photo. 



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15 septembre 2014 1 15 /09 /septembre /2014 16:17

Number of times praise was heard for online grocery shopping: 67 Number of hours spent online filling grocery baskets: 5 Number of attempts to validate online basket: 2 Number of times online groceries delivered to door: 0 *


I heard the ultimate time and energy saving thing to do was to get grocery shopping done online. Supposedly, you can get it done 24/7 in just a few clicks. So many people swear by it and rejoice in having been off grocery store visits for months. I thought I would jump on that bandwaggon and save myself an hour and a half at the store every week. I started by downloading the cool shopping app from my store. It all looked nice and practical at first, but on second thoughts severe limitations appeared in terms of cost and convenience:

1. not all products are eligible for home delivery, such as diapers

2. home delivery shopping does not qualify for any of the in-store discounts

3. minimum purchase to qualify for delivery is 70 bucks AND they obviously charge a delivery fee


When confronted with these facts, online grocery shopping enthusiasts readily admit having to shop from three different stores to make sure they get all needed items, and some even set-up a round robin routine over several weeks to make sure they get all their supplies on regular basis. But, they insist, it's so worth the part were you don't go to the store and carry all your stuff.


I just stuck to my store-going habits until I got a little sick and decided I was ready to pay for the priviledge of not hauling my butt to the store. That's when I found out about the last catch:

4. delay between order and actual delivery is one week.

I suppose that's not an issue once you've eased into doing this routinely, but it's a joke for the one-timer.


So, basically, online grocery shopping is for those who are ready to adopt it as a way of life



* Yes, I've been reading 3rd Bridget Jones book**

** Obscure blog for self entertainment as much as others'

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27 juillet 2014 7 27 /07 /juillet /2014 19:11

Nail polish is for people who think it's fun. That's what I tell my son whenever the topic comes up. However, I'm not sure many people share my opinion, including professionals in spas and other nails salons in France.




My first experience with a salon was right after we moved back. I had booked appointments for my maid of honor and myself to get pampered before the big day. They did not have a fun massage chair like all the nail places in the US do, let alone two (also, the color selection I have at home was about three to four times what they had there, no exageration). One of us had the pedicure done while the other had the manicure and then we switched. In separate rooms. So the fun was overall moderate. Since that was a place in a village, I was willing to give them the benefit of the location, and I made another appointment just for myself a few weeks later. After solving some crisis or other with my then-baby, I showed up five minutes late. FIVE. And they turned me down because they expect customers to be on time.While I do have an appreciation for punctuality, this has to be the only time in almost two years in France that a scheduled meeting of any sort was going to start at the exact scheduled time*.Well, I've talked about customer service before. Way to kill your spirit for the day!


Anyway, I swore to never have anything to do with that place again and forgot all about it. Until... another friend got engaged, and it occurred to me that it would be fun for us girls to have our nails done. So, I went ahead and tried to book a whole party of three girls into a salon in Paris. In Paris. Not my backwater village. An endeavour that would take about five minutes in DC, including looking up the place's phone number on the web. And if you didn't do that, you could probably just show up anywhere and be accomodated within the hour.


But here... Ha! One full hour into the game, I was getting seriously desperate. Two places never picked up the phone. One place's website showed an unlisted number. Two places were fully booked for the next weeks. One place was too small to accomodate more than one person at the same time. Finally, I was able to speak with someone from a salon that did seem to have openings and the ability to work with three customers. Sadly, the conversation went like this:


Me: - Good Morning! I'm arranging a bachelorette party for a friend, and I'd like to make mani/pedi appointments for three. 

Salon: - Sure! I can give you appointments at 2, 4 and 5 on Wednesday.

Me: - 5 sounds great.

Salon: - Didn't you say you wanted appointments for three people?

Me: - Well, three appointements Wednesday at 5 would work great for us.  

Salon: - I don't have three appointments at 5, I have one appointment at 2, one at 4 and one at 5.

Me: - But this is a party, we kinda hoped to be there together.

Salon: - Well, you should have arranged this in advance then!

Me: - This is three days in advance.

Salon: - Do you realize we're in summer?

Me: - ...


In spite of this culture shock, the story does have a happy ending. Thorough perusing of Yelp turned up a place in Chinatown that took walk-ins. We gave it a try, and it was everything one could hope for: a rainbow of OPI colors! massage chairs! a warm welcome for three!


So, I guess the lesson here is to keep away from the glossy French beauty parlours.They may have invented French manicure, but they don't seem equiped to let regular folks experience it!



* except for city hall weddings, to be completely honest. The notion of punctuality is so loose in this country, it would take an entire post to even begin to address it properly.  



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19 juillet 2014 6 19 /07 /juillet /2014 13:23

In the words of a colleague, a career in academia is a long string of failures sometimes, and sometimes only, interrupted by success.

I had one such success two years ago when I received my coveted job offer. Since then... I wouldn't say it's been downhill from there, but it hasn't been easy. ProflikeSubstance is currently running an interesting series of posts on surviving the pre-tenure years, which cover a lot of ground. My job pretty much came with tenure, but while job security is not a concern, the situation is similar in terms of getting a research program off the ground, getting funded, hiring...

News from the funding trenches

Since chances of getting funded are about 1 in 7 or 8, simplistic math dictates that you should submit about 10 proposals before you see 1 funded. Sure enough, Year 1 I submitted 7 proposals and got 1 funded. Year 2 I submitted 8... and got none funded, although many went through first round selections placing them in the top 30% of submissions. This submission season has left me exhausted - not necessarily because of the results per se, but because of the sheer craziness of the process. Submission requirements and venues change every year, so learning about them is a lot of work - and what you've learnt this year is not necessarily going to be of any use next year.

  • One proposal got turned down because it was essentially off topic, but I didn't realize it until it was ready to be submitted, so I just went ahead and submitted anyway. My research overlaps with about three or four fields, so I'm routinely borderline off-topic anywhere I submit. This particular venue was decribing their scope in broad enough terms that I thought my proposal could fit in, until I discovered a more specific description of the funding agency's goals for this funding year that made it clear I was way out of left field to them. 
  • One proposal was turned down from the get-go because of a combination of bad logistics - the scientific write up was ready two weeks ahead of submission time, but needed to be submitted together with a bunch of admin letters that I finally received - I kid you not - 20 minutes before the deadline. At which point the submission website choked under the pressure of whooosh, 30 submissions. The very local venue declined to accept proposals through other means than the crashed website. 
  • I suspect one proposal was turned down because of unclear muddy local politics arrangements
  • ...

Overall, many things factor in the outcome that are out of the applicant's control. I'm not entirely clueless, but I guess I just realized how much of it is out of your control.

All of this is highly time-consuming and energy-draining because it drags over the best part of nine months between write-up and results.


Meanwhile, how's the research supposed to actually move forward? I suppose recruits are part of the answer, but that's the other thing. Once you got the money, you'd think you'd be out of water. However...

How to Hire a research associate in 10 days

...when you have the funds, the ideal candidate, and labor law behind you. 

Answer: it can't be done. Period. Not in ten days, and not even in ten weeks!!

Year 1, I learnt the basics of hiring: finding a willing, competent candidate and funds to hire them ain't easy. This year, I found out that having the funds and a candidate who is competent, willing, and legally able ain't enough. You have to have the candidate vouched by the institute who draws the contract, and, for some labs, by the department of defense.  I tried to hire two associates this year.

  • The first one had worked for a government research institution for three years over the past six years prior to accepting my offer of a 1-year-renewable-once position. If they had effectively been in the offered position for the maximum amount of time, they would have had at most 3 years tenure at a government research institution over a window of six years at any given time. The law states that an individual with six years experience in a six-year window needs to be tenured, and institutes are making a point to avoid giving tenure in this way. So, even though in this case we were far from reaching the six-year limit, they flat out declined drawing a contract for this person. 
  • The second one had a time-sensistive agenda, and needed to know where they would be working in three months time. Because we're one of the lucky labs required to seek defense approval before hiring folks, the best comitment we can make is: you're hired, pending defense approval which may or may not be granted within the legal ten-plus week time frame. Unsurprisingly, this candidate accepted a solid offer from a lab with the ability to draw a contract there and then.

These battles are equally time-consuming and energy-draining as the funding quest. I now understand the statement of a former mentor that the first rule of hiring is in fact to pick a candidate that will do no harm. Qualified candidates are hard to come by, and should you be so lucky to find them, likely to have competing offers. So in the end, the candidates that will be willing to put up with the bloody process are the ones with no other options - so what your job description comes down to is: ability to not blow up the lab, getting some actual work done optional.

Long live the batrachians

What about the Science? In the midst of all this, it's trying to move forward, with exciting progress. Since it's definitely the most interesting and rewarding part of the job, I am seriously considering quiting the other quests, or at least putting them back on the back burner that should have never left. If nothing else, this will give me time to build up the stamina to collect more rejection.

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17 juillet 2014 4 17 /07 /juillet /2014 10:19

Every time I go to the grocery store, I cringe when I drive by this add in the parking garage:




If this cookie were a car, it would be impossible to park.


Because frankly, forget about the cookie, this statement is true of pretty much any car here - bar the Smart and Austin Mini. Parking in those tiny, tiny spaces is such a nightmare that people don't seem to bother anymore and just park over two spaces to save precious manoeuvering time, and enjoy the luxury of being able to open the door to get out off the car...Resulting in increased shortage of parking space. 


  The question is, when are parking lot architects going to get clued in and adjust parking space size?

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14 juin 2014 6 14 /06 /juin /2014 11:47

I recently came accross this essay about procrastination. I found it quite interresting in general, and in particular it helped me articulate the main issue with my professional situation: I lack much needed time to procrastinate.


I think I view procrastination a little differently from the author of the essay, but in essence, I am in full agreement with his perspective. I believe the key phrase in that essay is the claim that "real work needs two things (...): big chunks of time, and the right mood."

Where I differ from the author is in the belief that, to reach the right mood, you need "bad" procrastination, i.e. what he calls type-A and type-B procrastination: periods of time do "do nothing", aka clean your house or office space, watch TV, goof off on the web, read papers that are only remotely related to your research topic... After a while of "doing nothing", the urge to get some actual work done does build up, but you're not quite ready to commit to the hard tasks yet, so that's the perfect time to "do something less important", such as reply to email, document recent work, admin stuff... And finally, the "right mood" is there, hard work can begin! That's when you need to be able to sit at your desk for hours without being interrupted by meetings, errands, domestic chores. At least, that's how I operate - well, how I used to operate... Because over the past few years, I have not been able to go through all the motions in the game plan. I simply do not have the time. I've been able to either "do nothing" and then "do something less important", or go straight into the "do something less important phase", but I never really make it to the last phase. Or if I do, I have to drop everything after five minutes to rush home. My errands and domestic chores are no longer of the kind that I can throw to the wind and just postpone indefinitely or even for a day. When it's time to pick-up my son from daycare, I can't just decide to let the teachers drop him off at the local police station until I'm ready to take custody of him. When it's time to go shopping, I can't decide that my son can do without proper food or diapers for a few days. I suppose I could decide that I will sleep another day, but that's treacherous when the little one will wake you up at 6 a.m. no matter what.
I realize it's a common predicament, but to this day, I have not found the right strategy to make adequate time for procrastination.


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3 juin 2014 2 03 /06 /juin /2014 13:42

Ce post fait suite à deux autres, qui évoquaient la consommation de cafféine et l'utilisation du jacuzzi et du sauna. Dans ces deux cas, une étude rapide de la littérature montrait que les interdictions fortes associées à ces activités pendant la grossesse n'étaient pas fondées et  relevaient plutôt d'une application abusive du principe de précaution. Une autre interdiction largement relayée auprès des femmes enceinte est celle de la consommation d'alcool, dont l'ensemble du corps médical semble s'accorder à dire qu'elle doit rester nulle. Mais qu'en est-il vraiment? 


Comme pour les posts précédents, je tiens à préciser que je ne suis pas médecin - mon expertise se limite à la consultation (ici rapide et non-exhaustive) de la littérature médicale pertinente.


Une recherche ciblée sur PubMed donne... quelques milliers de résultats, dont finalement peu portent sur la consommation d'alcool seule (non associée à d'autres facteurs de risque comme la consommation de drogue ou des affections diverses comme le diabète ou le tabagisme), et encore moins sur une comparaison des volumes de consommation, ou sur les effets d'une consommation modérée à très, très, modérée.


Le résultat qui semble faire consensus correspond à la conclusion de cette revue de 1997 selon laquelle vu les conséquences néfastes avérées dues à l'exposition prénatale à l'alcool, mieux vaut s'abstenir de boire pendant la grossesse. Je n'ai pas pu consulter l'article entier, mais en gros, il semble dire que consommer beaucoup d'alcool a un impact très néfaste sur l'enfant alors que ne pas en consommer du tout n'a aucun impact négatif. Entre les deux, c'est moins clair.


Une revue plus récente indique que s'il est acquis qu'une consommation d'alcool importante et fréquente est évidemment néfaste (on parle de 4 verres par jour et plus), il faut relativiser l'impact d'une consommation modérée et occasionnelle. Là encore, hélas pas plus de détails car l'article complet n'est pas facilement trouvable. Un article plutôt récent du British journal of obstetrics and gynaecology rapporte une étude danoise menée de 2003 à 2008 qui conclut que la consommation occasionnelle de faibles volumes d'alcool pendant la grossesse n' a pas de conséquence inquiétante sur l'enfant. Un commentaire sur cet article décrit des limites de l'étude, portant sur le nombre de sujets étudiés (1628 au total) - notament dans les catégories avec les consommations d'alcool les plus importantes (seulement 195 rapportent une consommation moyenne supérieure à 5 verres par semaine pendant la grossesse). Une autre critique porte sur le fait que les tests employés ainsi que l'age des enfants ne permettent peut-être pas de détecter des différences pourtant réelles. Globalement, la critique principale est la crainte que l'étude danoise anihile le travail de prévention fait ces dernières années pour informer le public des conséquences de la consommation d'alcool et encourager les femmes enceintes à ne pas boire. 


En conclusion, l'impact de la consommation d'alcool pendant la grossesse sur l'enfant est grave et avéré dans les cas de consommation importante et fréquente d'alcool. On ne sait pas exactement où placer le curseur de la consommation "dangereuse" - s'il est certain que la consommation zéro n'a aucun impact négatif, il semble qu'une consommation très modérée et ocasionnelle (entre 0 et 4 verres par mois max en moyenne selon l'étude danoise) constitue un risque faible.

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31 mars 2014 1 31 /03 /mars /2014 11:17

The title of this post is actually very misleading, as it may imply that there *is* such a thing as customer service in this country.

My recent bitter experience at Mariage Frères is bringing back fond memories of the U.S. In the first few weeks after I moved to DC, money was really scarce and I found myself fuming at home after finding a twin bedsheet in a package supposed to contain a double. When I vented to a friend, she said, "Just go back to the store and they'll give you your money back!". From an *open* package? I just couldn't believe it was possible. But sure enough, I did get a refund. And they did not even ask for my receipt!

Well, the exact opposite just happened to me today. I went back to the store with a sealed metal box of tea in its original packaging (expiration date in 2017), with what I thought was a reasonnable expectation of store credit and they just told me "sorry no refunds or exchanges whatsoever". My gut reaction is to take my business elsewhere - since they apparently prefer to upset customers rather than budge from their stupid principles.

The only problem is, their competitors' customer service is likely going to be just as bad, so what is one supposed to do? Stop shopping in France altogether? I'm already enforcing this policy for clothes, I wonder how far I can push it. Grocery shopping has to be kept local, and I have already had to reduce the list of places I shop at by the customer service criteria: usually, as soon as I've had to experience their customer service, I just stop going. So, service is defined organically: if you have to request it, forget it. But I've been amazed in the past eighteen months at how basic things such as paying listed price and paying only for items actually in your cart can become stringeant constraints.

So basically, any recommendations for good tea places (bulk, no flavoring) in the greater Paris area are welcome!

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23 décembre 2013 1 23 /12 /décembre /2013 10:46

Around the holidays, I like to play ambiance music and I have a couple of classic holiday song CDs that usually take the lion share of the house playlist between Thanksgiving and the New Year. But this year, my son masters the CD player and all he's enclined to listen to is a particular collection of nursery rhymes, sometimes limited to the first title on the CD.



So I'm guessing Santa is getting tea instead of milk with his cookies this year!

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19 décembre 2013 4 19 /12 /décembre /2013 10:11

I thought that passive agressive notes were essentially an art practised in North America were I have seen my share of specimen from roomates and office mates. I have also laughed and sympathized with folks who publicly display these bouts of everyday frustrations. In France, people are probably just as passive agressive as everywhere else, they just don't display it in notes. Or so I thought. 


The other day, I had to take a personnal phone call at work, so I wandered in the halls in search of a quiet place where to talk privately. That's how I ended up in the building's public shower room and saw this:



[If you shed hair in the shower, please clean up after yourself, it's freakin' disgusting!]


It was quite the revelation :-)

I'm also compelled to report that looking up passive agressive behaviour on Wikipedia revealed that there is a dedicated page in French and an ICD code for it! 


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