Roasted asparagus, how to cut an onion, math update

17 Jun

It’s summer!  Our local farmer’s market is teensy and the prices are about quadruple what I paid when I lived in Santa Barbara at a market about three times as large, but it’s still a good place to get incredible produce and goods that I can’t get elsewhere.  On Sunday I picked up a big bag of cheese curds, some pork sausage, mizuna (YUM) and fresh asparagus.

I don’t like asparagus.  I didn’t grow up with it and it’s always sort of fibrous and stringy and makes my pee smell funny.  But holy cow this asparagus was incredible!  Melty and tender in the middle of the thick stalks, with a pleasant bit of crispiness on the skinnier ends.  And so easy to make!

I don’t normally advocate preheating but PREHEAT THIS because you don’t want overdone/limp asparagus.  I did 415, then laid out my ingredients

I've never been much of a gardener but I have a great interest in paper bAGriculture

I’ve never been much of a gardener but I have a great interest in paper bAGriculture

I love garlic and throw it on all savory things, so these handful of asparagus ($4) got two cloves minced up on it

I should post this with my hipster social media account and title it MINCEtagram

I should post this with my hipster social media account and title it MINCEtagram

Then a squeeze of lemon and a generous pour of olive oil.  Roll the asparagus around in the oil on a baking tray/cookie sheet, and toss it in the oven.

Yeup, that is some good sheet (pan)

Yeup, that is some good sheet (pan)

Let it roast for between 8 and 20 minutes (I did 14)- it depends on how crisp you like it.  Pull it out and stick a fork in one and see if it gives (so is tender).  Then sprinkle with salt and pepper and devour.  The garlic, lemon, olive oil, and salt play so well together.

Kick-assparagus more like it

Kick-assparagus more like it

Next, HOW TO CUT AN ONION.  It drives me nuts when people cut an onion crosswise: only do this if you are making onion rings or want grilled onion rings rather than delicious caramelized onion wedges in a pile atop your burger.  USE THE STRUCTURE OF THE ONION to aid your cutting: onions are  partially pre-cut when you get them!

If you cut onions the wrong way, you’ll end up with awkward circular pieces and will have to move your knife in a weird circle to get dice that you want.  I’m far from a precise and careful cook, but I know that if you want things to be cooked evenly, it helps to have them around the same size/shape.

First, set your onion upright, with root on bottom and pointy Alfalfa thing on top.  Halve it that way, so instead of rings you see a Georgia O’Keefe painting in the cross section.

Step 1: chop chop from bottom to top

Step 1: chop chop from bottom to top

Then peel off the paper (or do this as a first step if you want) and lay a half down flat in front of you.  You now do a Cartesian grid cut on that, and you’ll get a nice dice from the layers of onion separating themselves.  I like cutting “vertically” (parallel to the spine of the onion) first, then transverse to the layers, but either way works.  In this photo I’m doing the transverse first.


Step 2: Make a grid, it's up to you!

Step 2: Make a grid, it’s up to you!

The point is that this method saves you from having to make a third series of cuts in the depth direction: onions are 3D, and we do one depth cut, then make a grid of length-width cuts.  I asked the internet “how to cut an onion” and it agrees with me, and has this nice cartoon picture:

Also, a good DON’T DO THIS photo from

I was unwilling to take this photo myself so I’m glad it’s on the internet so I can show you.  DON’T DO THIS.

Finally, what am I up to this summer?  Once you’re done with prelims, your next milestone is the thesis defense, which is a long ways away.  So I’m spending the summer reading math and trying to find a thesis topic.  This is what’s on my plate so far:

Notes on Combinatorial Group Theory by Charles Miller, available online and a pleasant read-on-your-own, graduate student level document, about 100 pages.  A two week project for me while reading other things/relaxing for summer!  I’m going to ask my advisor about a few parts I didn’t understand but overall I’d recommend for a short independent study.  Lots of good exercises.

A Primer on Mapping Class Groups, by Benson Farb and Dan Margalit, also available online but illegally?  So you should just google it.  This is an actual textbook, about 250 pages, much slower reading than the notes but still much more readable than most math texts.  I’m reading this with my friends Ellie and Mike.  I’ve actually attempted to read this before with the incredibly patient Jon McCammond and didn’t make too much progress.  Second time’s the charm!

Non-Positively Curved Cube Complexes by Henry Wilton-notes from a course he taught at Cal Tech in 2011.  These are somewhere in between the first two in terms of difficulty- I’m definitely asking my advisor for help on lots of the material in this.

Sort of a random post, but that’s me!


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