Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Happy DNA Day!

I've been looking forward to this post for quite some time now. First of all, because it would mean that I finally finished this quilt. Second, because I really am a nerd, and this post will remove any doubts you may have had.
So, just what is it that makes today DNA day? I'm glad you asked. April 25 marks the anniversary of the initial publication by Watson and Crick announcing the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. Here is their picture as well as a picture of their publication in Nature

Now, let's fast forward 50 years to April 25, 2003, when the announcement regarding the completion of the Human Genome Project was made.
DNA day is celebrated on April 25. The National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health organizes DNA day events to help students, teachers, and the public learn more about genetics and genomics. 
My first exposure to genetics and DNA was in my 10th grade biology class at Box Elder High School. I found myself rather fascinated with principles of Mendelian genetics and completing my punnet square exercises. Who could have known at the time that this initial exposure would ultimately lead to my participation in the NINR-sponsored Summer Genetics Institute during the summer of 2005 and teaching a graduate level clinical genetics course?
So, just what does all of this have to do with a quilt? Good question, and let's get back to the story. Fast forward to the spring of 2012. I purchased a copy of Quiltmaker magazine that featured a quilt pattern titled, "Chain Reaction." When I looked at the chain pattern, however, I saw DNA double helices rather than chains. I purchased some DNA-themed fabric from spoonflower.com (by the way, they have even more pretty terrific DNA and science-themed prints now), and began my work on this quilt. I decided to go for a scrappy look, and hunted down some additional prints that complemented chromosomes and DNA strands. Here's a look at the steps involved in making each individual block. Although the block construction wasn't that difficult, making over 60 of these blocks did get a bit tedious. I did find myself very grateful for the 60 degree cutting line on my cutting mat.
I started by cutting a 60 degree angle through my background block of fabric. Then I inserted a strip of one of my prints. For this block, I selected a print that included what I thought looked like a bunch of cells.

The next step was to remove a portion of the block - more 60 degree angle cuts and insert another strip of fabric. This time I chose a print that featured chromosomes and their bands.

Part of the challenge with this quilt was to make sure that I was incorporating enough variety into the quilt. This included making sure that I was using different combinations of prints in the individual blocks and then arranging the blocks in such a way that I had plenty of variety in the quilt. This meant having adequate space to position and reposition the blocks. This stage of the process pretty much consumed my entire design wall and forced me to bring this project to completion. 
Here are a few close ups of some of the blocks and science-themed prints included in the quilt. The DNA double helix print was my favorite. Here it is paired with a yellow and green leafy print as well as a print with dots on a black background. I think that the dots resemble the pattern of a microarray - a means for evaluating gene expression in a given tissue sample.

Here we have some chromosomes as well as a print that features paramecia.  

A science-themed quilt wouldn't be complete without  a prints that included insects and frogs. To me, the blue fabric on the right featured centrifuge rotors. The yellow fabric on the right featured linear thread-like nuclear DNA. Remember, I did warn you that this post would provide evidence of how much of a nerd I am.

On this DNA Day, I enjoy contemplating what a privilege it is to be living in an era where we are able to discover so much of the inner workings of our cells and how four bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, arrange themselves in such a way as to comprise our genomes. It's amazing to think of the complexities of the processes that regulate DNA replication, RNA transcription, and its subsequent translation into functional protein products. It's also humbling to realize how even one small error, the substitution of one base for another, can result in significant disease. I'm also awed to think that the One who knows the number of hairs on my head and knows each star by name also knows every base sequence of my DNA. As Paul reminded the church at Colossae many years before anyone had an inkling of the DNA molecule,
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:16-17

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Aebelskivers - a Danish breakfast treat.

I love Saturday morning breakfast. During the weekdays, I'm usually up and on my way so early that breakfast is more of a grab-and-go affair. For our family, we've also found that big Saturday morning breakfasts also help make the weekend cooking a little more efficient. A big, mid-morning Saturday breakfast means that we can get by with just one other meal for the day. For days when we have plenty of Saturday yard work and chores, getting by with fixing just two meals is a good thing.
One of our breakfast favorites is aebelskivers. For those of you who haven't heard of aebelskivers, they are a round Danish pancake. The word, "aebelskiver," actually translates as "apple slices." I've seen some recipes that include apple bits in them, but, more often than not, they don't include apples.
I was first introduced to aebelskivers during my elementary school years. Because they do involve a bit of work to prepare, we didn't have them very often, but they were a fun breakfast treat. During recent years, I've acquired an aebelskiver pan and have enjoyed making them for my family as a way to share a bit of my own Danish heritage. 
Because I am half Danish, I've been known to describe myself as a "slightly domesticated Viking." You are free to interpret that however you wish. My Danish ancestors immigrated to the United States near the turn of the last century and settled in northern Utah and southern Idaho. I honestly do not know to what extent any of my more remote ancestors engaged in any types of Viking raids or other activities that we tend to associated with Vikings.
Some fun facts about Denmark: 
  • Denmark is the smallest of the Scandinavian countries.
  • The Kingdom of Denmark actually includes Greenland and the Faroe islands which lie between Denmark and Iceland.
  • The current Danish monarchy traces its origins back to the 10th century.
  • Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Little Mermaid and The Emperor's New Clothes, was Danish. 
  • Legos were first produced in Billund, Denmark
  • Danish embroidery, features intricate cutwork as illustrated below. Perhaps that will be a topic for a future blog.

Let's get back to aebelskivers. To make aebelskivers, you will first need an aebelskiver skillet. Mine is a cast iron one, however, Nordicware makes a cast aluminum one that is available at Amazon.com. A typical aebelskiver pan will allow you to make seven at once.
So, now for the recipe. From what I've been told this is my Danish grandmother's recipe. Even if it isn't her exact one, it is similar to other recipes that I have found online.
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs separated
2 cups buttermilk

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the egg yolks and buttermilk. Beat until smooth. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the batter. Fry the aebelskivers in the aebelskiver skillet.

Now for the art of frying the aebelskivers:
I use non-stick spray on the inside of my skillet. You could also use vegetable oil if you wish. Heat the skillet over medium heat. Test it the way you would for making pancakes by sprinkling a few drops of water and see if they sizzle and skitter around. As with pancakes, it may take the first batch to get the heat just right.
Fill the cups of the skillet about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way full. Also as with pancakes, you will see the bubbles forming on the top of the batter.

When the aebelskivers have browned, you will need to flip them over. I've seen some sources say that aebelskivers are traditional turned with knitting needles. I just use a fork.
After you have flipped them over, allow the underside to brown and remove them from the skillet. I typically put them in a large serving bowl and place the bowl inside a warm oven while I am frying all of them. Aebelskivers are often eaten with jam. You can also top them with any of your favorite pancake and waffle toppings.