Dispatches from Abroad: Biking Singapore (IV) – In Search of the Rail Corridor

Although today is my last day in Singapore and I returned my rented bike 10 days ago, my series on biking in Singapore would be incomplete without recounting a two-day adventure across the island and back in search of and eventually on part of the Singapore Rail Corridor trail. 

coast2coastRR

My intention had been to ride the Coast-to-Coast trail from West Coast Park to Coney Island Park (magenta line to the east in the map above) and then ride west to pick up the Rail Corridor at Kranji Road (the northern terminus of the blue line in the map above). But I couldn’t find the northern end of the Rail Corridor, my GPS kept trying to send me across the causeway to Johor (Malaysia), it started to rain, and the batteries on both my phone and my GoPro gave out, so I ended up heading straight south back to home base.

If you’re too busy to read, you can watch the videos here (Part I, Part II). Otherwise…

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Dispatches from Abroad: Biking Singapore (III) – Relaxing on the Ulu Pandan Park Connector

For the last month, I’ve worked three days a week out of my guest office at NTU. On alternate days and most weekends, I start the day with a brisk but relaxing 90-minute, 30-km bike ride along the Ulu Pandan Park Connector. Given my home base in the Pasir Panjang area of Singapore, this route has much to recommend it. Other than a few road crossings at the very beginning (and end), it’s completely away from traffic and off the sidewalk. The North Bank extension is quiet and tree-lined, and a destination for the rapidly growing community of Singapore’s birdwatchers. And it’s almost entirely flat, so it’s more like a morning stroll than a heavy workout. Continue reading

Dispatches from Abroad: Biking Singapore (I)

A map of the terrain from West Coast Park to NTU via the Park Connector Network

Singapore is an exciting city, but it can be confusing and intimidating to learn about and get around. An island city-state, Singapore has an area of about 780 km2 (about 280 sq. miles)—about the same size as New York City—and about 5.7 million people (more than any other city in the US except for New York City). The excellent subway system is a quick and efficient way to get around, but being underground doesn’t afford much of a view of one’s surrounds or an easy way to get oriented. With its equatorial heat and humidity, long walks are not the most comfortable way to explore Singapore. However, Singapore has an accessible and expanding network of hard-surfaced “park connectors” (separated from the main roads) that make bicycling across and around the island a pleasant way to explore the city and its various parks and green spaces. Continue reading

Dispatches from Abroad: Crème Brûlèe Take-aways

While the long, dark shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted opportunities not only to travel but also to dine inside restaurants, especially in the US and Europe, meals taken-out or delivered can provide a welcome respite from the day-in-day-out routine of cooking in. While take-out is wonderful in the abstract, the reality is that anything that’s spent even 15 minutes getting from the restaurant or bakery to the home table (and 30-45 minutes is more likely) is bound to disappoint. And for desserts, even more so, and a pastry chef I am not. Opportunities for crème brûlèes have been few and far between this past year, but as winter set in, a few presented themselves. Continue reading

Dispatches from Abroad: The (Lunar) New Year Brings a View from the New Normal

It’s been a little over eight months since I last posted anything here. In that time, I’ve been on the COVID roller-coaster with the rest of the United States—holed up working from home, dealing with zoom fatigue and maintaining sanity with daily bike rides, walks, and explorations of local preserves managed by The Trustees of Reservations.

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The unBalanced ecoLOGist: #ShutDownSTEM

Initiated by Black astronomers and physicists, this Wednesday, June 10, has been called as a national day to commit to (or continue to) “taking actions that will change the material circumstances of how Black lives are lived — to work toward ending the white supremacy that not only snuffs out Black physicist [and, by extension, all STEM professionals’] dreams but destroys whole Black lives.”

In solidarity with the #ShutDownSTEM community, on Wednesday I will be refraining from my “normal” day-to-day activities that keep the wheels of the STEM enterprise going (e.g., designing experiments, analyzing data, writing and reviewing papers or proposals, editing a journal, sending and responding to emails, and engaging in standard committee work), and instead focusing my attention on taking action to agitate for change in our community(ies).

As the facilitator for Harvard Forest’s strategic planning activities, I have asked all working groups scheduled to meet this week (and not just Wednesday!) to use our regularly-scheduled meetings to identify specific actions (not objectives, not goals)—at local, regional, national, or international levels—that we can take right now to eliminate racism—and specifically, anti-Blackness—at Harvard Forest, across Harvard University, in our own work and in work with our collaborators, and in our home communities.

https://www.shutdownstem.com/

Dispatches from Abroad: The Continued Quest for the Perfect Crème Brûlèe

A little more than a year ago, I began to keep track of crème brûlèes I have enjoyed to greater or lesser degrees in my travels for work and play. In 2019, I took fewer trips afield or abroad than I had in 2018, but when I did travel, crème brûlèes were regularly encountered, eaten, and evaluated (see last year’s post for a detailed description of what I look for when approaching a crème brûlèe).

March 4, 2019

After a week at the Annual Assembly of the Biodiversity Exploratories in Wernigerode, Germany, a weekend enjoying art in Berlin (especially the newly restored pair of paintings by Caspar David Friedrich—The Monk by the Sea and The Abbey in the Oakwood—at the Alte Nationalgalerie), and the overnight series of perfectly-timed trains from Berlin to Uppsala, I found myself with colleagues from CEMUS at DomCraft, a unique bar and cafe in downtown Uppsala. Known mostly for its extensive selection of craft G&T’s and beers, they also had a crème brûlèe on the menu.

Creme Brulee at DomCraft, Uppsala

The brûlèe was slightly crisped well, but too thick. It was underlain by a custard that was little more than a thin, creamy pudding. Both were too sweet for my taste. Next time, I’ll stick with the much more memorable flight of stouts.

May 7, 2019

Closer to home, I had an excellent dinner at Ten Tables in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood with after Harvard’s annual Plant Biology Initiative symposium. Ten Tables is a local restaurant in every sense of the word: rooted in the neighborhood, locally-sourced ingredients in meals and beverages; and committed to environmentally sustainable operations. It was a great meal and a great opportunity to reconnect with a former student, Lila Fishman, whom I hadn’t seen since I taught at Swarthmore College in the late 1980s.

Creme Brulee at Ten Tables, Jamaica Plain

The excellent custard was covered by a toffee-like brûlèe lacking the expected crunch. The accompanying fruit was a fresh and seasonal palette-pleaser, but the unnecessary cookie was cardboard-like.

May 11, 2019

Later that week, Flossie and I were visiting my parents and sister in Philadelphia. We spent a morning wandering around the Italian Market, which bills itself as The Nation’s Oldest Outdoor Market. In the middle of the 9th Street district is Isgro Pastries, famous for its cannoli and other Italian sweet delights. Emphasizing the international reach of the crème brûlèe, the pastry case had a whole tray of them. Irresistable!

The custard was good, but the brûlèe was soft (perhaps not torched after baking?), and the fruit was large, watery, and unexceptional. The cannoli were much better.

June 22, 2019

The following month, I took the commuter rail from Boston to Providence (Rhode Island) for a day at the annual joint meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the American Society of Naturalists, and the Society of Systematic Biologists. I was there in my capacity as one of the Senior Editors of the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, talking with interested attendees about whether their projects might make a good paper for the journal (if you’ve got an idea for a paper, contact us!). At the end of the day, a few of us from the journal went to the nearby New Rivers restaurant for dinner. A new Providence institution, the dinner was an excellent combination of small plates and classic entrées. Although I was disappointed not to find a crème brûlée on the menu, their Vanilla Pot de Crème with hazelnuts, a mint leaf, and a lemon shortbread cookie was a delightful alternative.

Vanilla pot de creme, New Rivers, Providence

October 31, 2019

Fall found me, Flossie, and her mother and two sisters in Burlington, Vermont, for a short stay en route to a weekend in Montreal. We had a delicious Hallowe’en dinner at Leunig’s Bistro, watching through the window as costumed children and adults dodged the pelting raindrops. A Burlington institution, Leunig’s feels like a Parisian café, with desserts to match.

Creme brulee at Leunig's Bistro, Vermont

This was a near-perfect crème brûlée. The brûlée held it’s own but wasn’t too chewy. The custard was excellent. The fresh fruit was a good addition here, and was not overwhelming. I know where I’ll be for dessert the next time I’m in Burlington!

December 11, 2019

creme brulee at 44 hill street, belfastAfter an incredible (for me, these last many years) eight months without a transcontinental or transoceanic plane trip, I spent two weeks of December on the island of Ireland, including a week in Northern Ireland and a week in the eponymous independent country. I was in Belfast for the annual meeting of the British Ecological Society; the restaurants were uniformly excellent, and yes, they all served one or more sides of potatoes. We did discover, though, that most of the restaurants stopped serving food at around 9pm, shifting (if they remained open) to all-liquid fare. An exception was 44 hill street, a Mediterranean-style restaurant located at the address from which it derives its name. I had the classic—and delicious—Roast Turkey and Ham Christmas dinner, and topped it off with a similarly delicious crème brûlée.

Although many pastry chefs can’t resist adding cookies and fruit to a crème brûlée, this one fortunately had the accompaniments “on the side”, as it were. The brûlée was nearly perfect: crisp but not burnt and just the right thickness. The custard was only a bit thin, and not at all grainy. I’d have been better off skipping the compote (a bit tart, perhaps the berries were underripe or recently thawed) and the shortbread cookie (a bit dry, perhaps not enough butter). But fortunately, I had saved one bite of the crème brûlée to conclude the meal.

December 17, 2019

After the meetings ended, Flossie met me for a week of vacation in Dublin. We enjoyed the museums, the street scenes, a day trip to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, and a series of outstanding restaurants. One of them—Wilde—we went to twice, once for lunch and once for high tea. The lunch was good and the high tea incredible, and the Vanilla crème brûlée, unforgettable.

creme brulee wilde dublin

The crispy, thin brûlée covered a smooth, light custard. The blackberries were not oversweet and perfectly complemented the crème brûlée itself. If it weren’t for the carbon cost, I’d fly back for another one.

January 30, 2020

We wrapped up the lunar year with our annual trip to Singapore for Chinese New Year festivities and, of course, food. Crème brûlée is not a Singaporean staple, but a local fusion dessert at TWG merits mention.

Creme brulee pie at TWG, Singapore

This “Singapore Surprise” is a crème brûlée pie with baked-in strawberries. The custard was a reasonable facsimile of the expected crème but the brûlée on top was soft, not crispy. The strawberries (definitely not locally-grown) were sweet and complemented the pie well. TWG’s pastry chef gets high marks for the originality and creativity of the Singapore Surprise, but a crème brûlée it is not.

Much more travel is on the calendar for 2020 (unless COVID-19 intervenes), so stay tuned for the next round of dessert discoveries…

The unBalanced ecoLOGist: Preprints, Open Science, and the Muddy Road Ahead (Part 1)

LeMondeBioRXiv
Monthly submissions of preprints to bioRxiv. Figure from Le Monde March 20, 2018.

While browsing my twitter feed this morning, I came across a tweet from ScienceOpen about a new article “In praise of preprints” by Norman Fry, Helina Marhsall, and Tasha Mellins-Cohen (published open access in Microbial Genomics; doi: 10.1099/mgen.0.000259). This article re-asserts familiar advantages (credit, visibility, pre-submission and prepublication review) and disadvantages (no peer review, novelty not required, financially unsustainable, and obscuring priority), and ends with a reinforced commitment to preprints (and smoothed workflow via bioRxiv) and a position statement in support of preprints from the Microbiology Society.

At ±5am EDT, there was already one response to this, from Lonni Besançon, who wrote:

can only be helpful in the dissemination of research results. I wonder whether someone has looked at whether they could actually be enough. could happen directly on preprint platforms and could be done massively and in a totally open fashion

which prompted me to wonder (and reply) whether any of the preprints I’ve posted have received any comments…

The answer: No. Not a one. In five years of posting preprints.

And, as today is a holiday here in the US, I had plenty of time to burrow further down this rabbit-hole…

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