It’s very quiet in my Division this week, because there is a symposium on p53 (if you want the basics on p53, I’ve written a little bit about it at the bottom of this post – for the purposes of my story, all you need to know is that p53 is one of my Division’s very favourite proteins) just down the road from us. It’s cheap, it’s a topic that is very relevant to our researchers, and one of my Division Heads is an organiser, so basically all the researchers were there on Monday and Tuesday, before moving back to our own Institute Symposium and Opening for the rest of the week. Not much science is being done just now.
When the researchers are away, it is traditional for me and the technicians to play, and Tuesday’s playground of choice was High Tea at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. We are very partial to a good high tea.
This wasn’t one.
Yes, that’s blunt. I’m sorry, but it was truly a disappointing afternoon. High tea consisted of the following:
1. 3 ribbon sandwiches each (the equivalent of one full-sized sandwich). Flavours were egg, salami, and smoked salmon. The bread for the salami and the egg sandwiches had clearly been left uncovered too long, as it was dry. The smoked salmon sandwich was quite nice. Vegetarians got an egg sandwich, a pickle sandwich, and an eggplant sandwich, on similarly dry bread.
2. Six scones, to be shared between four people, with plum jam (I think?), apricot jam (probably), butter and cream. The scones were heavy, tough and crunchy – really awful. The jam was good, but it was a little difficult to identify the flavour.
3. Eight very narrow rectangles of cake, to be shared between four people. We carefully cut all our cakes into four tiny, small-bite-sized parts so we could get a taste of everything. There was a flourless chocolate cake which was OK, a lemon meringue slice that was actually pretty good, a pistachio and raspberry marshmallow cake that wasn’t bad (our platter had two of these on it), quite pleasant chou pastry with green tea custard (which, now I think of it, they put on the special vegetarian platter for the girl who doesn’t eat eggs. Oops.), Baileys cheesecake, which was good, Opera cake, and something else I don’t recall.
4. Tea, coffee or hot chocolate, and water. If you wanted orange juice you had to pay more. The hot chocolate was extremely average.
Edited to add: And it turns out the sparkling mineral water also cost extra – $10 for a bottle that was under a litre. Charming.
And that was it. Presentation was not exciting – everything was served on big common plates which didn’t really fit on the table, and this seemed to irk the waiters. Then again, the waiters seemed distinctly unenthusiastic about pretty much everything, which was a pity, because really good service could have rescued the experience somewhat (I went out recently for what turned out to be a very average buffet breakfast, due to a Scoopon, but the woman in charge of the buffet was so incredibly warm and friendly, and so determined that we should all have a wonderful time and get good value for money that it became a really nice morning outing). Also, they sat our group at two separate tables, which was a pity – I know 15 people is a lot, but there really weren’t that many people in the dining room – it would have been nice if they had put two tables together.
Honestly, I was really disappointed by the whole thing – for $35 I got a meal that was actually pretty meager in quantity, and disappointing in quality. Especially the scones and sandwiches – there is no excuse for dried-out bread, especially at the Hyatt, and the fillings were beyond unimaginative.
My mutterings about the scones and how I could make these better myself, and everyone’s mutterings about the pathetic sandwiches did have one possibly unfortunate outcome – it looks like the next High Tea we do will be catered by yours truly. I could do better than that in my sleep, and it seems that my colleagues would be very willing to pay me for it. And I must admit, the idea of making lots of teeny tiny cakes is very appealing…
“But you’d need to make at least three sorts of cake,” said L, concerned.
“Only three? I was thinking at least six,” I replied. (Actually, I was thinking of about eight, if you count meringues, and pectin jellies, and rocky road, and chocolate-dipped strawberries, and maybe I mean twelve…)
Actually, it was quite funny – we were walking back and the others were speculating on where we could hold this (since I am not attempting to fit 20+ people around my table), and I was quietly evolving menus: smoked salmon and rye pinwheels, chicken and avocado sandwiches, minted radish sandwiches, little lemon curd sandwiches, maybe some of my raw truffles or pectin confections, chocolate truffle tarts, strawberry mousse in little cups or chocolate shells… and D on one side of me was looking insufferably smug (I pointed out to her that it actually is not really a challenge to get me thinking about how best to overcater an event), and L on the other side of me was beginning to look uneasy and saying “You sound as though you’re planning something quite big… we don’t need to eat that much…”
I had to point out that they had asked *me* to cater it. What did they expect to happen?
(Actually, I already have half the menu in my head. Logistics might be a problem, but other than that, it’s all pretty easy, really. High tea really should *not* be difficult to manage – how hard is it to make good scones, tasty sandwiches, and a suitably decadent collection of cakes and pastries? And why can’t a posh hotel like the Hyatt manage it?)
Also, the concept of lemonade scones came up, and now I am positively itching to try making scones with ginger beer, or better still with red lemonade! Pink scones!! I wonder if green Fanta is still available around here…?
This time last year…
The totally unrelated p53 and apoptosis stuff
I have no idea if anyone cares, but just in case you do, behold, my probably very unscientific summary of what most of my scientists are studying (I have two Divisions, and one of them is more about apoptosis than the other one)!
Most of my scientists are working on a form of programmed cell death or ‘cell suicide’ called apoptosis, and p53 is one of the key proteins involved in that process.
Apoptosis is important because you need your cells to die when they get old or damaged. If that doesn’t happen, damaged cells will just keep on replicating and producing daughter cells with the same damage. If you are really unlucky, some of these cells will develop new and exciting kinds of damage and the next thing you know, you have cancer. And then you will be very sorry that you didn’t appreciate your cells’ apoptotic ways when you still had them.
On the other hand, you don’t want perfectly healthy cells
suddenly starting to read French existential poetry and painting their bedrooms black committing suicide, because you might need them later. That is a very silly sentence. But if you have too much apoptosis, you get autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, etc), which is also not much fun.
(Also, lest you think it’s all doom and gloom, apoptosis does some pretty nifty tricks during embryonic development – one thing it does is effectively carves our fingers out of the webbed paddles that our hands start as, by carefully destroying the extra tissue while leaving the bits we need. Nifty, eh?)
So properly-regulated apoptosis is a delicate balance, mediated by two
households, both alike in dignity sets of proteins, one of which is pro-apoptotic and the other anti-apoptotic (these proteins have catchy names like Bid, Bim, Bak, Bax, Bad, Bcl2, Mcl-1, and p53, which is why nobody has written iambic pentameter about them) and which, depending on circumstances, either block or create a chain reaction leading to cell death. P53 is at the top of the apoptosis chain, and sets the whole thing off when triggered by damage of whatever kind.
(I visualise this whole thing as a whole series of anthropomorphised proteins, some of whom are running around with scissors, while others try to grab their hands to stop them, but are often hampered by yet more proteins which keep tickling the responsible, well-behaved proteins to make them let go of the destructive scissor-bearing ones… and so on, up the chain. I’ve been told that this is not a wholly inaccurate visualisation.)
All of which is to say that my scientists are mostly studying normal apoptosis and how it works, and they are doing this by taking it apart one step at a time, to see what each protein does. Which sounds awfully theoretical and cell-level, but has actually led to at least one current cancer therapy that mimics a particular pro-apoptotic protein that is lost in some cancers. And there are, undoubtedly, more possibilities along those lines which are still being worked on.
Or I could just cut to the chase and tell you that p53 is damaged or non-functional in something like 50% of all cancers. So, you know, kind of a useful protein to keep around. I recommend buying it flowers and feeding it high tea somewhere much nicer than the Hyatt.
And I bet you never thought you’d get that much biology from a food blog…