Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream

I’ve been tempted to buy an ice cream maker for several years, but I refrained from getting one until last week out of fear that such a device could enable an unprecedented body mass. As I did a bit of research on the categories of models available for home use, I noticed that ice cream making has very little to do with instant gratification. The old-fashioned ice-and-rock-salt machines produce a batch of soft ice cream in less than an hour, but I do not have a freezer large enough to harbor enough ice to make this option practical.

Getting a model with a frozen bowl looked to be the better option. These machines have a double-walled bowl filled with a sealed coolant solution that needs to be frozen solid before churning a batch. Since I have a KitchenAid Mixer, I considered getting the ice cream maker attachment, but my daughter noticed that the Cuisinart ICE-45 soft serve machine had a similar capacity with the added fun of extrusion into cones or bowls and automatic mix-in delivery.

I picked the ICE-45 for its fun factor, and it arrived over the weekend:

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Every time I get a new small appliance, I can’t resist testing if some of the recommendations in the owner’s manual should be taken seriously. I was one of those fools who had to see for myself that metal really should not be microwaved. With the ice cream maker, I learned that everything involved needs to be as cold as possible, especially the frozen bowl. The bowl really should be stored in a freezer for at least 24 hours between batches, unless your goal is to make a treat with the consistency of a melting milkshake.

Our first batch was the basic vanilla ice cream in the owner’s manual. My machine has a 1.5 quart capacity, and the ice cream recipes scaled for it tend to have 3 cups of liquid. The basic vanilla recipe had 3/4 cup of sugar, and the results were too sweet.

Today I tried making vanilla soft serve again, and the combination I used had a taste and texture that was quite similar to commercial ice cream stand soft serve vanilla. In the future, I plan on experimenting with lower fat, lower added sugar, and nondairy recipes. Today’s concoction was a bit indulgent, but I was glad the result was reasonably sweet. Learning to make an ice cream with smooth, tiny ice crystals is a challenge akin to baking a cake with tender crumb. It requires trial-and-error, and this trial produced decent crystals for a recipe that is not full fat.

Vanilla Soft Serve

Makes 10 1/2 cup servings

2 cups half and half

1 cup whole milk

2/3 cup white sugar

1 t vanilla extract

dash salt

Mix all ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

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Wasabi Pea Dip

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This afternoon I made an edited version of Cooking Light‘s Pea and Wasabi Dip, a recipe which is available both online and in their May 2017 issue. My anemic blender/food processor combo was overdue for the some vegetable crushing action, so I went ahead and tried making this dip. The next time I make it, I will try using a full pound of peas, for I thought this version was just a bit too thin.

Wasabi Pea Dip

2 cups frozen sweet peas, thawed

1/2 to 2/3 cup fresh parsley leaves (I prefer the curly variety)

3 T extra virgin olive oil

Juice of one lime

1 t salt

1 t wasabi paste

Place all ingredients, liquid first, in a blender or food processor. Pulse until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Serve with cut raw vegetables or crackers.

On Testing With 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and FamilyTreeDNA

Last year my enchantment with the series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. inspired me to get tested with 23andMe. Getting those results reminded me of the time when my most nutrition-minded aunt introduced me to Yoplait strawberry banana yogurt back in the late 70’s. After that first taste of creamy tartness, I felt that the best way to honor thats experience was to sample the many, many flavors of yogurt I encountered in the coming years. Just like I once felt compelled to taste boysenberry yogurt, both in blended and fruit-on-the-bottom style, I also tested with AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA.

The marketing for such tests emphasizes their weakest point, geographical analysis of one’s autosomal DNA (chromosomes 1-22, which are inherited from both maternal and paternal ancestors). The variances between my results from these three companies show that precision of admixture estimates is still evolving. All three show that my ancestry is almost entirely European in origin, but they differ sharply on the sub-continental level:

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23andMe: This test matches my known genealogy the best of all three.
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AncestryDNA: There was a lot of overlap in geographical analysis of my known relatives, except my brother’s results were bizarre in suggesting he is more British than a native-born Brit. In contrast, his 23andMe result strongly resembled mine. Oddly enough, his AncestryDNA results were more similar to my FamilyTreeDNA estimates.
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FamilyTreeDNA: The omission of Germany in their list is telling, as I have strong German ancestry on both sides of my family. This company has great matching tools, but similar tools are available at no cost through Gedmatch. This company offers better testing of mtDNA and Y-DNA, so I would recommend skipping their autosomal test.

After having tested with all three of these companies, I avoid putting too much importance on the geographical results alone, especially in the trace regions. All three of them found a bit of DNA that they didn’t want to assign to Europe, but they can’t agree on what area of the world most closely matches these segments. I am inclined to think that it is not outlandish that I have a trace of ancestry from Asia, as my mitochrondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup is U2d2, which hails from west Asia. This DNA is passed unchanged from mother to child with rare mutations, so my mother’s-mother’s-mother’s mother (back hundreds of generations) was not European.

The matching component of such tests is much stronger, especially at the second cousin and closer levels. Matching is greatly enriched with the testing of close relatives. I have had the great privilege of having key relations test: my parents, my daughter, my brother, my paternal grandmother (who has since passed away), one aunt, a first cousin, and several second cousins, along with both of my maternal grandfather’s siblings.

With matching, there are only two certainties: a child gets 50% of his/her autosomal DNA from each parent and identical twins are a complete match to each other. I suppose that even these two principles aren’t absolutely certain, for each person has at least a few mutations. Of course, there are also trisomies that would prevent the 50/50 rule, too, but that topic is beyond the scope of this blog entry.

Beyond parent/child and identical twins, there are only averages of shared DNA based on distance between two people in a family tree. If you have siblings, you are not related equally to each one, and there can be significant variance between families in this relationship. For example, my dad and my aunt are 10% more genetically similar than I am to my brother.

Going back a generation, the inheritance of DNA from grandparents can be even more haphazard. Through testing of key relatives, I can tell that I inherited more DNA from both of my grandfathers than I did from my grandmothers. In the case of my paternal side, nearly two out of every three genes I inherited from my dad were from my grandfather. I have matches through him that go back nine generations, which is as far as AncestryDNA’s system will automatically find a tree match.

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Before I close this entry, I will briefly discuss two other findings of my testing. First is the revelation that the inheritance of X-DNA is even more unpredictable than that of autosomal DNA. It would stand to reason that a woman should pass on a recombination of her two X chromosomes, but this does not necessarily happen. I passed on the X chromosome I inherited from my mom wholesale to my daughter. My daughter and my mom have the exceptional connection of a complete X match on one of the X chromosomes.

Lastly, do not put too much trust in the rules of blood type inheritance recycled almost as often in soap operas as they are in pop science. Here is the case of my family: Dad O-, Mom O+, Sister O-, Brother O+, and me A+. I definitely have a parent/child 50% match to each of my parents. I read lots of speculation online about people doubting their parentage based on soft evidence while blood type differences are held up as a close second best to DNA matching. My experience tells me that having a so-called “impossible” blood type can sometimes be no more significant than a difference in eye color.

Today’s Thrift Store Haul

At yesterday’s appointment with my spine surgeon, I heard that I am definitely returning to work on Monday. Today I thought I’d prepare for this transition by visiting the best sort of outlet for retail therapy, secondhand stores. I found three shirts, a dress, a jacket, and a pair of pants for $20.65 total:

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I also stopped at a walk-in salon for a hair cut. My hair had gotten so fuzzy and unruly that I was at risk of becoming my own bushy-haired stranger.

Monday

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I am now in week seven of my medical leave, and I think that my recovery has jumped to an improved level after stalling out with some flare-ups of sciatica over the past two weeks. When I called to report the return of this nerve pain to my surgeon, he ordered some physical therapy which seems to have already helped more than I expected.

The physical therapy clinic suggested that working on the strength and flexibility of my hips could dampen my sciatic pain. I was tempted to dismiss this suggestion, which I guess would invest this therapy with the opposite of a placebo effect. Despite my lack of confidence in the capacity of this therapy to help me, I am happy to report that I am having less sciatic pain already.

I anticipate that my surgeon will release me to work in a week. I heard that this was the projected course of my healing before the surgery, and I am pleased that my recovery is proceeding according to schedule.

I also made a choice last week concerning the medications I’ve been taking that some may consider ill-advised, but the only advice I took on the matter was my own.  I had been taking prozac and gabapentin since mid-December to help ease the depression and nerve pain leading up to my back surgery, and my surgeon and primary doctor agreed that it was ok for me to stay on those meds during my recovery period. There was no plan for me to continue these prescriptions indefinitely, as was the case when I took antidepressants during my years of major depression.

Last week I considered that it was worth trying to discontinue these meds for three reasons: the 15-20 pounds I’ve gained while taking them (depending on the degree of bloat on a given day), the oddball return of my nerve pain, and memory issues. I wondered if it was possible that the gabapentin in particular had outlived its usefulness. As for the memory problems, last week one of the physical therapists took the time to prove to me (by reading from my session records) that I’d already been shown a particular exercise when I insisted that it seemed completely new to me. As she read the session notes to me, I suddenly remembered that I really had done the side-to-side squat walk with resistance band before. Such moments have happened to me all too often over the past four months.

I will preface the issue of returning nerve pain by saying that I believe that medications have a subjective experience that is particular to the patient, in addition to their clinical effects. I think of this as a quasi-placebo effect that endures over the course of treatment. Obviously, there are limits to how strongly one’s mind can influence the effectiveness of a medication. No one can make snake oil a true cure-all, and as far as I know, tales of Rasputin aside, a steel will hasn’t spared anyone the deadly effects of cyanide.

With that aside, I will disclose that my chief motivation in stopping the gapapentin was to see if this substance was perpetuating the need for itself. Was the return of my nerve pain a month after surgery, with no plausible reason such as injury, like a rebound headache? I have had this experience with over-the-counter pain relievers. Also, I had begun having flares of nerve pain in my hands, and there is no reason at all for that to be happening.

My nerve pain diminished rapidly once I discontinued the gabapentin. Where it seemed that I was having flare-ups of sciatica I am now just having ordinary, minor muscle pain. All the while I had been afraid of what this nerve pain would feel like without medication. I’m glad I decided to test whether the medicine itself was amplifying my perception of pain instead of dampening it.

Now that my time with gabapentin is done, I feel like it worked more on my anxiety than it did on my pain. I can see now that anxiety was a greater struggle for me than any of the physical symptoms I had with my back problems. I’m not sure why this medication is not considered a first-line prescription for anxiety. I felt almost no anxiety whatsoever during the four months I was on it, and I cannot overstate what a medical blessing this was for me. Better yet, I am not feeling any rebound anxiety or withdrawl now that I’ve stopped taking it, too. I had four months of experiences free from my usual fears, which was long enough to show me that my anxiety did not help me, even though it seemed to be the trusty advisor that kept me safe.

Now it is time for me to attend another physical therapy appointment. At least this time I can well recall what happened during the last session.