Our great friend Bill Usinger died from a  heart attack  two weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon. He was one of Phil’s very best friends, with a history together dating back to the days of graduate school, when they spent countless hours each week working to make monoclonal antibodies. Antibodies we still use in our lab today, by the way. Here’s something Phil wrote about Bill…

“I was preparing for a lecture last week when I received a cryptic, one sentence email from a colleague stating her sympathy at the loss of Bill.  After a few frantic messages I found out what happened from one of his colleagues at Trellis Biosciences in San Francisco.  I was so stunned that I had no rational response.  Bill was my best friend.  We knew each other for 31 years,  from the time that we worked side-by-side in Bob Mishell’s lab at UC Berkeley.  Over the decades we stayed close: we bummed around the Bay Area while each eating about a 1000 oysters, went to Niner games, watched the fire demolish the East Bay together in ‘91, side-by-side, close up at the Claremont Hotel.  It was an incredible, devastating inferno.   We manufactured and sold my invention, the Clonemaster, as part  of his company, Immusine.  I gave him my Niner tickets when I left the Bay Area, he gave seminars wherever I was located (we’d already planned a visit for him to K-State, my new place).  We scuba-dived in Monterey and we watched “Amadeus” together.  We ran, we rode bikes, we went to parties. We walked for a day through the streets of Paris, ate 4 dozen oysters and spent the evening drinking Bordeaux and eating foie gras.  I got to know his kids Brett and Brittany and their swimming conquests.  We shared a love of golf, and we played many times together in the East Bay and then in Oklahoma with Brett and my wife Sally.  He hit a long ball;  he liked to tee it high and watch it fly.   Over the past few years I was excited to have new scientific ventures with Bill through his work at Trellis, raising human monoclonals to Gram-positive bacterial pathogens.  Me and Sally loved him, me from 30 years of knowing such a wonderful guy;  her from 15 years of acquaintance with a man she respected and admired.  We often wished that we lived closer to him.

Bill was the sweetest person.  He always had a smile and never spoke a negative thought.  He was sincere and authentic, a person who listened when I talked  and had charming details to relate about his own life and his family.  For example, he used to collect antique mechanical banks, in which small metal dogs jumped through hoops, bronze owls turned their heads, and iron muskets discharged, all to deposit a coin in a slot.  He loved those banks, some of which were ridiculously valuable, but he sold them all when he started his own family. 

Bill was a clever researcher,  who was skilled and insightful in the laboratory.  He taught many, many novices (including me) the intricacies of mammalian cell culture. I worked with him in the same sterile hood when we were post-docs, and as we were sitting and manipulating flasks he taught me much of what I know about cellular immunology.  Bill was  stronger than me, physically and mentally.  In most conversations he never disclosed the travails that he went through on the scientific-biotechnology roller coaster.  It raised him up but it also plummeted down, sometimes to the bottom.  He  chose the most risky career path, biotechnology, and he had a lot of fun following it.  But, scientists are not automatically great businessmen.  Business was a new skill that Bill had to learn, and it took some years, some false steps and a few companies to accomplish that.  He never faltered or second-guessed himself during those biotech ups and downs.  He persevered and succeeded.    Before Trellis he was a vice president in charge of human monoclonals at Novartis, one of the biggest pharmaceutical manufacturers.  That was an accomplishment and a responsibility, ultimately a credit to his expertise.  Twice he addressed undergraduate  classes at my institution about how to succeed in a biotechnology career.  His current projects at Trellis, that I was fortunate to participate in, are headed in positive directions from his guidance.  Biotechnology is a crapshoot, but Bill was lucky roller, a winner.

I don’t know much about his death except that it was a heart attack.  It’s an unfathomable loss.  I take solace that he’s not suffering nor experiencing some type of prolonged physical or mental decay as a result of a medical condition or catastrophe.  I’ve seen all that and I’m glad that Bill escaped it when he left this world.  As I view his photos, including this one,  I can’t help but remember Bill’s easy laugh,  his perpetual  optimism and his overwhelming desire to enjoy what he was doing.   That’s why all the pictures show him smiling, he was a happy, wonderful man.“


Besides his bright, inquisitive blue eyes, the permanent smile on his face and his unshakable optimism, he was the most dedicated father I’ve ever met. His two kids are amazing swimmers, and both are competing to make the US Olympic team in 2016.  Bill awakened each day before 5am to take them to their training, and once they returned he cooked up a batch of  his special pancakes before they left for school. They needed a ton of calories to keep up with the grueling training, and every weekend Bill made  a big batch of those pancakes to freeze.  Once Phil and I witnessed the whole process, so completely internalized in Bill’s memory that he just added the many ingredients while talking with us about everything that was dear to him, science, sports, cooking, the future.  It was almost like being in front of a professional baker…

Bill was a reader (and subscriber) of this blog, and though he never left a comment on the site, he often talked to us about the recipes he tried or wanted to recreate. The first time he made my pizza dough from scratch with his kids he sent me a photo by phone, the three of them in the kitchen, with big smiles and a lot of flour around.  😉

It is  hard to accept that someone so full of life and goals is gone. We won’t see him anymore, we won’t talk.  We won’t be in Colorado together next month at the ASM Annual Meeting, as we had planned. We will not travel to Brazil together when Brett and Britt make the Olympic team.

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Another example of inspiration coming from The Fresh Loaf.  David is a regular contributor to the forum, and every bread he makes is a work of art. He is the type of baker comfortable enough around sourdough starter to  devise his own recipes, having recently come up with a fig and walnut concoction.   David had access to fantastic figs, but when I went to the store I was not particularly impressed with what was available.  Since I am no longer afraid to improvise ;-), I used dates instead.   This bread is perfect to practice mindful eating. Don’t devour it. Instead, savor each bite as slowly as you can. Awesome bread, very complex taste.

(adapted from David, at The Fresh Loaf forum)

for the stiff levain
41 g water
66 g sourdough starter
78 g all-purpose flour
4 g rye flour

for the final dough
337 g water
416 g all-purpose flour
46 g whole wheat flour
11 g salt
189 g levain
98 g dates, diced fine
98 g walnuts, diced and lightly toasted

Dissolve the starter in the water. Add the flour and mix thoroughly until the flour has been completely incorporated and moistened. Ferment at room temperature for 16 hours.

In a stand mixer, mix the flour and water at low-speed until it forms a shaggy mass. Cover and autolyse for 30 minutes. Coarsely chop or break apart the walnut pieces and toast them for 8 minutes in a 300ºF oven. Allow to cool. Coarsely chop the dates, rinse in cool water, drain and set aside.

Add the salt and levain to the autolyse, and mix at low-speed for 1-2 minutes, then increase the speed to medium (Speed 2 on a KitchenAid) and mix for 5 minutes. Add flour and water as needed. The dough should clean the sides of the bowl but not the bottom. Add the walnuts and the figs to the dough and mix at low-speed until well-distributed in the dough. (About 2 minutes).

Transfer to a lightly floured board, do a stretch and fold, and form a ball. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly. Ferment at 76º F for 2 1/2 to 3 hours with a stretch and fold at 50 and 100 minutes.  Shape as a large ball (or divide the dough in two and shape as two smaller loaves)  and place in banneton. Proof at room temperature (68-70º F) for 1-2 hours. Cold retard the shaped dough overnight.

The next morning, proof the dough at 85º F for 2-3 hours. Heat the oven to 480º F. Score the bread as desired, and bake with initial steam, reducing the oven to 460 F when the bread goes in. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, and cool completely on a rack before slicing.


to print the recipe, click here


I am still having issues with our oven, the temperature shoots up and down, making it hard to control proper baking.  At some point in the future we’ll change our kitchen appliances, but for the time being we dance according to the music. That’s the proper Zen attitude. Or so I am told…  😉

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting.

ONE YEAR AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Apricot Glaze

TWO YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

THREE YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese


servedThe month of March brought a little too much snow and cold to The Little Apple, but we escaped to warmer weather for a week, arriving from Brazil right before the last Monday of the month.  Why is the last Monday of the month so important in the food blogging world?  Well, by now you should  know it’s The Secret Recipe Club Reveal Day!  This month, with all our activities and travel, it was a bit of a stretch to participate, but I’m very glad I did.  I was paired with a blog I had not visited before, The Saturday Evening Pot.   The host is a trained chef, and that immediately got the adrenaline pumping in my system as I browsed his site in search of recipes.  He cooks for a family of four: himself, his wife, and two kids, but to make things a lot more interesting they have food sensitivities that need to be taken in account. Not an easy task.  He does so beautifully, though, and in his site you will find extensive nutritional information for all recipes and plenty of advice for adapting recipes in case you face similar issues.  I highly recommend a visit to The Saturday Evening Pot.   It did not take me very long to choose a recipe, because I’ve been thinking of trying stuffed Portobello mushrooms for quite some time.  Great opportunity to go for it, wouldn’t you say?

(from The Saturday Evening Pot)

3-4 large Portobello mushroom caps
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
4-6 ounces crumbled goat cheese
3-4 slices prosciutto

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Using a small dinner spoon, remove stems from mushroom caps and scrape out brown ribbing on underside of mushroom caps. Lay mushroom caps, stem side up, on sheet pan.  Brush each lightly with olive oil. Bake approximately 10 minutes or until mushroom browns lightly.

While mushrooms are baking, take each slice of prosciutto and cut using a chiffonade pattern.  Set aside.

Remove mushrooms from oven and turn oven setting to broil. Drizzle each mushroom cap with a small amount (approximately 1/4 teaspoon) of balsamic vinegar.  Spread vinegar evenly with the back of a spoon over inside of mushroom cap. Place one slice shredded prosciutto in each mushroom cap and sprinkle goat cheese on top of prosciutto. Place sheet pan under broiler and melt cheese until lightly browned.  Remove and serve immediately.


to print the recipe, click here


Delicious recipe, we will definitely be making this over and over and over, adding all kinds of goodies on the Portobello base.  My only modification was to use fig balsamic vinegar, but other than that, I followed his recipe to a T. Three mushrooms were more than enough for Phil and I, we even had half of the small one leftover.  We enjoyed them as our main dish, next to a little spaghetti with olive oil and lemon zest.  You may notice there is no salt in the recipe. Both goat cheese and prosciutto can be very salty, particularly when you roast them, so make it as written and see how you like it.  I love salt, but did not miss it.  For a full vegetarian version, sun-dried tomatoes could replace the prosciutto, or a mixture of black olives, roasted red bell peppers…  this is a nice basic method to improvise according to your mood.

If you want to see the other recipes made by friends in my group, click on the blue frog that is smiling at you at the bottom of the post.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Orange and Rosemary Pork Tenderloin

TWO YEARS AGO: Pistachio-Walnut Sourdough Bread

THREE YEARS AGO: Cottage Loaf and Yeasty Dogs




When we left last week I didn’t anticipate that those six days ahead would pack so much activity! Our talks and meetings at the university could not have been any better. The organizer of my seminar  surprised me by inviting former colleagues and friends I had not seen in a decade or more, so the event was very special.  Phil’s seminar was superb (as usual ;-)). Together our talks covered two of the three lines of research we work on at the moment.  The weather was pretty bad – typical beginning of Fall in the tropics – and the traffic in Sao Paulo something that is hard to describe, and much, much harder to cope with.  All my friends and family who live there and have to deal with it on a daily basis are heroes.

I will have to disappoint those expecting pictures or descriptions of restaurants and meals.  But, I promise to compensate in the near future by sharing with you recipes from a book I received as a gift  about the food of Sao Paulo,  as well as from a cooking magazine my sister introduced me to while we were there.   Stay tuned!  😉


For those interested in reading Brazilian cooking magazines online, a big thank you for my sister who sent me a great collection of links (the only one missing is Mais Sabor, that doesn’t have online access).


To welcome one of my favorite seasons, a flash-back of recipes featuring one of my favorite veggies: asparagus!   Click on the title to see the original post.

(this post will be published during my trip to Brazil, in case of problems with links, I won´t be able to fix them until we are back)