Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

Being on the Flip Side of the Research – A Ph.D.’s Perspective as a Study Participant

Last month, instead of wheeling the stroller through my favorite engineering building to see this year’s Engineering Open House displays, we went as a family to some other parts of our local university for All-University Open House.  (This event is something I’ve delighted in since I was in high school and first came to explore the campus and programs with my family.  I usually make it a priority to at least see some of the engineering displays each April.)  Instead of my two-year-old being able to create a test tube of layered, colored liquids and be involved in the manufacture of a customized brownie (from the Chemical Engineering and Industrial Engineering departments last year, respectively), we began our adventure in the building that houses Human Ecology programs.  Little Clara seemed more intrigued by the playroom set up for Early Childhood Education, the inflatable vessel that whirled money around her (being used for some kind of time-value of money presentation), the balloons and train outside as we walked nearer to the College of Education, the sidewalk chalk near the Art department, the gardens and insect zoo, and the snacks she got as we learned how cattle feed is mixed in the College of Agriculture.  It was fun to take in the event as more of a family activity rather than me just getting a bit of an engineering fix.

While we were in the Human Ecology building, though, a woman, seeing my husband and I with our little ones, handed me a slip of paper calling for research participants in a study.  I fit the criteria.  With an incentive of a $50 gift card for attending an hour-long class and cooking two kid-friendly meals, I was interested.  I signed up.

I attended the class this week, and, as a researcher myself, I left with more questions than I came with.  Granted, this is a field (dietetics) that I’m not overly familiar with in terms of what kind of research is funded and published.  The hour-long class probably took 30 minutes, involved a last-minute location change, and included two handouts for recipe resources.  Copies of the slide presentation were not supplied.  The facilitator read from her notes, adding personal stories from time to time.  I wasn’t impressed by this, but it wasn’t too surprising either, as I figured the methodology of the study must require a certain text/presentation be given to all participants.  Our class was around 12 people, while they are hoping to find 120 participants.  The content focused on the benefits of eating vegetables, with information about different types of vegetables and ideas on how to make them more appealing to children.

A calendar was being passed around as I arrived (a couple of minutes late), and I learned that we were to cook the two meals alone in a condo near campus, rather than in our own homes.  I had pictured cooking at home and answering a survey about the cooking experience as well as how well it was received by my little ones.  Cooking off-site was not mentioned in the previous communications I’d had (info sheet, phone call, e-mail reminder).  Other moms asked if we got to taste the food we’d be preparing.  The answer was no.  Another surprise.  “So, is this just to see how easy the recipes are to prepare?” another participant asked.  “Yes.”  Very vague.  I asked about the funding source.  The FDA is funding this study that only includes our university.

I fully expect there to be hidden cameras set up in the condo, similar to the rooms set up to record how teams worked or how sales presentations were given in some of my previous universities.  I’m not sure if the lack of information is intentional (some studies need participants to be a little “in the dark” to avoid bias) or if it is just poor implementation.  Hearing the experiences and questions from the other participants, I think they may already have a biased sample of sorts.  (These moms sounded MUCH more conscientious about buying and preparing vegetables than I ever have been!)  Also, the connection between the class (focused on vegetables) and the recipes (something with fruit and a meatball recipe) seem unrelated.

So now, instead of just being interested in learning something new and acquiring a gift card, I’m a little more interested in reading the grant proposal, checking what kind of Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was needed, knowing what kind of methodology will be used in the analysis, and reading the final results.    I don’t have time to investigate that on my own, but I think I’ll be asking more questions when I go to cook next week.

And, I’ll be looking for those hidden cameras.


Kitchen Creations for the Week

I was rather impressed with myself one evening when I decided we’d have breakfast for supper, and I used what we had on hand to prepare a meal that turned out to be absolutely delicious!  I didn’t measure (except in one instance), so I can’t share an exact recipe, and I was so excited to eat the food that I neglected taking pictures.

If you’ve been following my blog or know me, you know I’m an engineer by training, so “creative cooking” is not something I typically do.  I’m good at following specifications (for the most part – I’ve been sharing my bloopers with you, but they’re not as common as it sounds.), and I’m definitely more comfortable following someone else’s tried-and-true methods.

But, I also worked as a development engineer/compounder, who worked to come up with new “recipes” for rubber products, and as a researcher who needed to develop something new for the world of applied statistics to graduate with my Ph.D., so maybe there is some potential…

I decided to make pancakes and something with eggs.   I’ve been supplementing our eggs supply with some eggs from the store since the girls are only producing enough for our breakfast each day right now.  We had enough eggs to cover supper.  I also had some spinach left over from a plan for salads last week.  I had purchased and thawed some Italian sausage with the dream of making pizza for dinner one night (It’s not hubby’s favorite, and he had gone out with friends for lunch to eat pizza already, so I knew I needed to come up with another idea.).  I had a can of mushrooms on hand for the pizza as well as some mozzarella cheese.

Here is what I came up with, based on something I liked at IHOP the week before and my handy ingredients:

Sausage, Spinach, and Mushroom Egg Bake

Yields: 4 servings

6 eggs
~1/3 c. milk
Seasonings to taste
~ 1/2 lb. sausage, browned
~ 1/2 cup fresh spinach
~ 1/2 can (4 oz.?) mushrooms (or 1/2 cup fresh mushrooms)
~1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
Grease an 8″ x 8″ baking dish.  Beat eggs with milk.  Add seasonings to taste.  (I used Adobo and garlic salt.  Adobo is something my Puerto Rican roommate in graduate school introduced me to.  Salt and pepper would also be fine.)  Pour about half of the egg mixture into the baking dish.  Layer the browned sausage next, followed by a layer of spinach.  Sprinkle the mushrooms and cheese over the mixture.  Finally, add the remainder of the egg mixture.  Bake at 350° for about 20-30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  (I didn’t think to keep track of the time.)

I thought this turned out to be amazing, but when coupled with the pancakes, it really made a fantastic meal!

I used the buttermilk pancakes recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook and added 1 c. of blueberries since I had some I wanted to use up.  With the remaining blueberries, I put them in a pan, added 3 Tablespoons of sugar and a heaping soup spoon of apricot preserves.  I cooked these, stirring occasionally, until I had the consistency I wanted for a type of blueberry compote.

Little Clara likes pancakes, and I was so proud to see her going after her last bites of spinach (even if she picked out the mushrooms).  My husband enjoyed the meal very much, and I was so delighted by the tastes that I was even happy to do the dishes afterward.  🙂

What creations have you developed for your family this month?  I’d love to hear about them!


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Domestic Engineering – Part I – R&D in the Kitchen

Perhaps you’ve had someone tell you that she’s a domestic engineer as she cares for her home and family.  I imagine few know how appropriate that term really is.  I plan for this series to share my thoughts as I reflect on the role I am about to take on full-time at home.  Yes, I’ll be a domestic engineer, but (and I hope I don’t lose readers over this!) I’m much more the engineer than the domestic artist, so my perspective is perhaps more technical and much less experienced.  Those of you with more common sense than I have (I’m guessing that’s all of you!) will understand what I’m talking about though, I think, and I hope will laugh with me at the time it takes me to learn homemaking basics.


Perhaps it was my mom’s insistence that I didn’t have to do a lot of cooking for their visit.  Perhaps it was realizing that my planned meal wouldn’t be ready in time for my sister to eat before she had to leave to pick up a student.  Whatever it was, the last few weeks helped me learn something about myself.

I like Research and Development (R&D) – perhaps to a fault.  When company comes or when I have the time, I am more interested in trying new recipes than in fixing a simple meal.  I spend time searching my recipe books for the perfect combination of foods, make an extensive shopping list, litter the kitchen with dishes, and end up rather worn out from my efforts.  My motivation is in trying to bless my guests or family and in revelling the excitement of trying something new.   (Oh, I like to eat good food, too!)

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  My first job out of college was in research and development.  I’ve studied designed experiments in depth at graduate school.  I have always liked starting new projects much more than applying the discipline to finish them.  I like being creative and learning something new, and I do get a little bored without a challenge. 

With my experimental cooking efforts, the time and trouble are worth it, but I will not have the luxury of avoiding the “production” aspect of my homemaking in the months to come with Baby #2 arriving this spring.   My “system” of evaluation to this point has been to make brief notes in the recipe books, which are then too often closed and forgotten about until the next time I begin searching for something delicious and new to try.

Can you see the inefficiencies?  To complicate matters, instead of working to design a system that will work better for us, I’ve been pondering the design and use of mixture experiments to develop a new chocolate chip cookie or pecan pie recipe.  (Sigh.)  I’m definitely a work in progress!  Praise God that

“…He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6, RSV).

I look forward to seeing what He has planned in this new challenge and to the refinement that will undoubtably come through the process as Christ continues to work on my heart!