Summer farm season has finally arrived!

Thursday I received my first CSA (community supported agriculture) box with veggies and fruits from local farms. Here in Olympia there are many such programs to choose from, and this one delivers to the local fresh seafood market, which seems like a bonus. This time I picked up a spicy calamari salad and fresh spot prawns from Westport, WA (local, yay!) to go with my veggies. This year we had a very late spring, accounting for the late start of the program, which will last 18 weeks. I really enjoy doing this as it typically provides nearly enough food for a week, all local, organic, and sustainably grown. Not to mention that I’m forced to figure out how to cook and eat new things! Half the fun is not knowing what will be in your box each week. And I lose weight… need I say more?

In the box this week was:
– 2 pints of the deepest red ripe strawberries you ever saw
– 4 medium-sized bok choy
– a head of oak leaf lettuce
– a bunch of arugula
– a bunch of cilantro
– a bunch of chives
– garlic scapes
– 4 very large radishes
– a box of various mushrooms (I have a small mushroom share also)
– there were also supposed to be flowers but they had a slight mixup on the first delivery!

As you can see, we’re still largely in the greens and herbs part of the season around here. Peas are starting to come in and should be ready by next week, and we’ve had asparagus for a while. I actually don’t have a fruit share this time (on the waiting list) – the vegetable farm grows some strawberries, pears, and apples, so I’ll get some of those as the season goes along. I can supplement at the farmer’s market if need be – nectarines and cherries are the only other fruits that have made it into season so far.

The strawberries are so sweet that they nearly cry out for something to pair them with. I don’t have any goat cheese at the moment, so yesterday I made a salad of lettuce, arugula, chives, cilantro, and strawberries with balsamic vinaigrette. That was really good. I normally don’t like arugula much, but I also tried it with the very spicy calamari salad and it seemed to pair well with that. I also made some biscuits and have been eating the strawberries with milk and biscuits for breakfast, or with fiber cereal. Last night I marinaded the spot prawns in some lime juice and zest I had leftover from another dinner party, along with heaps of cilantro and garlic-chile sauce. The prawns were sauteed with the bok choy, and all was good.

Now I just need to figure out how to eat these amazing-looking radishes, given that I really don’t like raw radishes. I’ve been wondering if there’s some way to creatively roast them or otherwise use them that might change their flavor?

First Impressions of Italy

Just wanted to let you all know I made it safely here to Italy and have been driving around the countryside without mishap :) I have limited computer capabilities here (didn’t bring my own) so pictures will have to wait, sadly. Here’s some highlights…

The trip

Well, it was pouring in Seattle when I left – Michael could hardly see to drive. The flight left a half-hour late, but was quite comfortable by coach cross-Atlantic standards. The Delta/KLM flight was mostly full, but it didn’t seem too bad, as we had pillows and blankets (haven’t seen that for a while), free headsets, movies, games, drinks, and 2 meals. All the freebies really helped pass the time and add to comfort, and the food was actually good. However, we landed just as late, which meant running through the Amsterdam airport for about half an hour to make the next flight. Added security that didn’t use to be there for international transfers didn’t help. Barely made it onto the plane to Venice – however, my luggage didn’t.

Here is where I was glad I booked a hotel near the airport the first night and had a car. The airport promised to deliver the bag later that evening, but it did not show up. Inquiries at the front desk suggested that actually using any of of the phone numbers provided would not work, as they never answered (stubbornly I tried anyway, to no avail). Their suggestion that I return to the airport and wait proved helpful, as sure enough, the bag was there, with no signs of intent to deliver it anywhere ;) All’s well that ends well. And I got some practice driving around the local area with Italian road signs and a stick shift.

The food

My plan is not to gain weight on this trip, which should be no small feat, considering. Added to that that I had already gained more than I wanted to working crazily before the trip, so losing some would actually be helpful. The first book I read while I was here was a book about how to effect change (in yourself or someone else). This was fascinating – some of their recommendations were 1) keep the changes small enough to feel doable and 2) choose very clear and specific goals. These appeal to the emotional and rational sides of you, both of which have to be engaged.

So, my goals for this trip are 1) look for ways to reduce carbs and portion size at every meal, and 2) look for opportunities to exercise every day.  I get exceptions to the carbs rule if the exigencies of travel leave no choice (such as on the plane) or I have an opportunity to try something regional and unusual while NOT on the ship.

Food so far in Italy:

First dinner – Very lightly smoked salmon with herbed yogurt, rocket greens, and little pointy toasts (the only carbs), cold roast beef with more rocket salad

Breakfast at the hotel both mornings – A buffet from which I have chosen omelette, pan-fried mushrooms, and little sausages – all protein except for the first day I added one of my exceptions – a tiny sliver of creamy tart that had an abundance of fresh tiny red and purple berries – don’t know what they were, but they were good! Definitely worth it!

I spent two days driving south of Venice to bird-watch and ended up spending the night at an agro-tourism place. There they served a four-course meal of nearly all seafood – clam fetuccini, steamed mussels with garlic butter, a marinated shrimp and octopus salad, and a tuna-vegetable salad in mayo. All were fab. Since I don’t speak Italian and they didn’t speak any English, I had already resolved that I would eat whatever they gave me – though in the morning I was able to ask for eggs and ham rather than toast and marmalade.

The Birds

My first bird of the trip was a White Wagtail, not bad (at least it wasn’t a Rock Dove!). I had a somewhat frustrating 2 days of driving around looking for birds, punctuated by occasional bright spots. This area is very agricultural, including the river delta that I thought would be more wild. It also took me some time to figure out the road signs, and I got lost a bunch of times, losing a lot of time. Eventually I figured it out- it actually isn’t that hard except that so many of the little towns and road names look exactly alike to me. I imagine it would be like an Italian trying to drive around in Iowa farm country :D

Anway! I did find a lot of the marshes and lakes eventually, and saw some great birds, including flamingos, spoonbills, and lots of herons and egrets, as well as some surprises, such as migrating rare hawks from Africa. I did not find most of my target land and forest birds. I did spend a morning wandering through a beautiful forest, which must be what most of this area looked like before all the agriculture. It was filled with birds – I could hear them but not really see them. And mosquitoes – who managed to bite me through my jeans and through a jacket AND sweater. Still, it was beautiful and nice to find a place filled with birds.

This area was quite allergenic for me being spring and agricultural, and at this point the mosquitoes and pollen won and I conceded defeat and returned north to the hotel :) Not actually, because I did find lots of new birds for my list. I even got to go on a boat tour of one of the lakes, where we learned about flamingoes and traditional fishing practices (anchovies, sea bass, dorado, shrimp, and molluscs). As mentioned above, I also spent the night at an agro-tourism place, which is basically a working farm/B&B, although this one also had famous lagoons where birds could be seen.

Accommodations and plans

The Hilton Garden Inn has been great – it has public transport to the airport and to the center of Venice, extremely comfortable and modern rooms, free internet, etc. Also a very eclectic clientele – the first morning I awoke to a large group of Japanese tourists at breakfast. Kids start young touring it appears, as this was a group of teenagers chaperoned by adult men. The dinner when I returned from birding had been turned into a disco party/buffet for a large group of Italians. I felt like I had entered the fashionista world – jeans so tight as to be painted on and always worn with 4-inch heels, skirts ultra-short with thigh-high boots (also with 4-inch heels), long perfect hair, high cheekbones, men with designer sunglasses… I’m not sure what kind of group this was but I felt out of place, to say the least! Later I felt better when passing by the bar I noticed that all the “normal” guests were there, eating dinner :D This morning there is every possible nationality represented at breakfast.

Today I’ll be doing the tourist thing in Venice, just wandering around the streets to see what I can see. Tomorrow I’ll be transfering all my luggage to the ship and will still have another day and a half in Venice before we sail. More later!

Chasing the bird from Mongolia

This weekend, I actually had no work to do – a very rare occurrence. At least, no work I HAD to do before Monday. I’d been planning to take off and do a little birding, it being fall shorebird migration along the coast, and lots of interesting bird reports streaming in. Thursday and Friday, Tweeters – no, not Twitter, Tweeters – the WA bird report list – had reported a Mongolian Plover at Ocean Shores (for purists, that would be the Lesser Sand Plover). This would be the first state record of this rare bird from Asia. So, Saturday I headed out there, along with most of Tweeterdom and eminent birders from several states around.

We all headed for Oyehut Game Reserve, where it had been seen, and set up our positions around the marshy tideflats – a ring of cameras, scopes, and binoculars. Some people were clearly in it for the long haul, with sand chairs and coolers. As the day went by, more and more birders showed up, waiting for high tide, when the best chance of seeing the bird would arrive. Meanwhile, we entertained ourselves by thoroughly identifying the hundreds of tiny shorebirds that were already there – “midbies” like myself greatly benefiting from the expert knowledge arrayed around the reserve, as shorebirds are not easy at the best of times.

Many folks took short lunch breaks to go off to Damon Point to find the King Eider that had been hanging around for months, but which was a lifer for many of us, or to view the many other great seabirds, mammals, and whales off of the jetty. We were all back by 2 pm, as the shorebirds began to stream in by the hundreds, and hopeful excitement rose with each flock. A few new species appeared, but not, alas, our Mongolian friend, who had apparently deserted this particular tideflat for one of the many other enticing beaches …. who knows where.

It was nevertheless a very fun day, with lots of good birds (including several life birds for me) – pretty much a social event for a bunch of birders who see each other mostly at these times. Sunday, it was not in evidence either, so I headed off to the Jetty and a few other well-known birding areas around Grays Harbor to fill out my list, then headed home. While entering my sightings (yes, I have a bird database!), I found that I have already seen the Mongolian Plover in Hawaii, a location that is presumably much more likely to have strays from Asia than here. Whatever was left of my regret at not seeing the bird was erased by this discovery – I much prefer to see birds where they’re supposed to be, anyway – when I can.

Hey, we’re all bird nerds – what can I say :)

The fine art of dating and dining

I recently started dating again, and it occurred to me the other day how important restaurants are to me in this process. I love food – cooking it, sharing it with others, finding new restaurants, reading bento blogs, learning about nutrition, and admiring other people’s (more successful than mine) vegetable gardens. So it’s no surprise that it would matter in this part of my life too. I’ve noticed that I use choosing a restaurant as a sort of test, well, not exactly a test, but a way of learning about someone. What’s important to them, what they enjoy, what ambiance they’re most comfortable in.

For example, I have a college friend that visits every couple of months, and we always go out to dinner. He routinely chooses small but excellent ethnic restaurants of every variety tucked into little corners of the city. I have no idea how he finds these places, but it’s perfectly indicative of his creative, quirky, and independent mind. Another dinner date was mainly concerned that the food be fresh, healthy, and free of additives. That tells me a lot about what matters to him right there. Fortunately, there is no shortage of such restaurants in Olympia.

Another friend recently proposed to show up quite inappropriately dressed for a particular restaurant (not really realizing it). His comment was, “it’s the person I’m with that matters more than the restaurant.” So I was trying to figure out why the restaurant DOES matter so much to me. It may be because I’ve spent the last 6 years going out to restaurants by myself, for the most part. I’ve never wanted to deny myself the pleasure of a really good home-cooked meal or a fine dining experience, just because I’m single. If I’m going by myself, the restaurant really has to shine – whether it’s the hole-in-the-wall but very authentic Thai place or the finest Northwest fusion-Continental cuisine. The food should be excellent, and something I can’t make myself. The ambiance should be relaxing and enjoyable, with knowledgeable, friendly waiters, and in the best places, a chance to talk with the owner about the food.

I have a couple of favorite restaurants like this that never fail to leave me feeling relaxed and glowing with good food, wine, and attentive, friendly wait staff. Maybe my thing is, if I take a man to one of “my” places, I want him to enhance the experience, not detract from it through inappropriate appearance or behavior. Show up in shorts and a T-shirt, or talk loudly on your cell phone in a quiet restaurant, and you can bet you’ll never get another invitation from me. Know what to wear, be comfortable in your surroundings, love the food as much as I do, and appreciate the experience the restaurant is working to create for you, and that will earn my respect. Of course, intelligence, good conversation, ecofriendly social consciousness, and just plain sexiness will help too :D

Gratitude redux

Last night I was again reminded by something I was reading of how important gratitude is in achieving happiness (or at least equanimity), no matter how dire your straits. I can’t even count the number of people I’ve talked to who used this basic method to deal with severe depression or challenging circumstances, especially long-term. I was reading someone’s story about how he recovered from crack addiction and rebuilt his life, and the man basically said “platitudes saved my life” – meaning, I think, that even thought the idea of gratitude has become somewhat commercialized and appears in many self-help books, it is very powerful nonetheless. Sometimes these things have a reason for becoming so widespread – they work.

One woman said that when suffering from a major post-divorce depression, her best friend made her get up every morning and e-mail her 5 things she was appreciative of in her life – and she still does it, years later. It had the dual purpose of making her get out of bed, and helping her be happier. I realized I’d gotten out of the habit of reflecting on this every day. My way was to do it while lying in bed, just before going to sleep.

With that in mind, I’m going to try to do this more – feel free to join in. It doesn’t have to be 5 a day. I used to think of just one thing before I went to bed each night, and that was good enough. It can be something huge or tiny, anything at all. But since I haven’t done it in a while, I’ll do 5 to start.

Today,

1. I saw a new bird in my yard, in the cool of the morning (a Black-Headed Grosbeak). That’s always fun :) I suspected they were around, but wasn’t sure until now.

2. I am very happy that I am quickly kicking the relapse of a very bad summer cold I had almost all of July. It tried to make me sick again last week, and I am fighting it off successfully.

3. Because of 2, I get to go to a play and dinner with my Mom and her husband later today, and enjoy their beautiful (and cool!) house and garden.

4. A flyer magically appeared on my door to have my windows washed at a very reasonable price, which I really do need. Nice to have something sent your way that you don’t have time to look for or worry about otherwise.

5. I decided to try a low-carb high-protein diet, and so far have lost 5.5 pounds in 2 weeks – despite the second week including several days of restaurant meals on travel, getting a cold, and the night before weighing, enjoying a potluck of Indian food (which I organized before the diet). This approach is a lot easier to stick to in situations like these, I’m not hungry, and it’s working – yay!

What motivates us to work hard


<— Nope, that’s not the secret.

I was sent this video by a colleague in the environmental field, after a long talk about a particularly difficult project I’m on and what keeps me engaged in it. I recommend you watch it – if only for fun! The video features an artist illustrating the results of a series of scientific studies, and just watching that is an education in entertaining and engaging communication.

There are a number of researchers at MIT, Caltech, and a variety of other institutions who study economics, social behavior, game theory and related disciplines using college students and various incentives, typically, but not always, small amounts of money. In this study, people were promised increasing amounts of money based on their performance at a variety of types of tasks. It turned out that money was not a motivator for most tasks, except for those that were purely rote or mechanical in nature. Once even the smallest amount of thinking was involved, other motivators become far more important.

You might think that this study was skewed by involving a bunch of idealistic grad students with possibly not that much need for money. So they tried it again, in rural India. And got the same results. A bunch of other studies corroborate the findings. So what are the three top motivators that prompt people to do a good or even outstanding job? You’ll have to watch the video to see (it’s worth it). All I can say is, it works for me.

Tips for expanding time

Every now and then I read a book and some concept in it really sticks with me. This time it was “The Divine Circle of Ladies Making Mischief” by Dolores Stewart Riccio. In this book are a circle of 5 women, and each of them has various “talents”. It’s a series, and in this book it comes out that one of them seems to have the ability of expanding time to encompass whatever she has to do – rather than the other way around (doing only what we think we have time for). In the book there may be some magickal means at play; however, when pressed, she gives only one explanation for her inexplicably prodigious output.

She explains that we spend too much time thinking about what to do, or how to avoid doing it, and not enough time just doing it. She goes on to suggest immediately beginning whatever it is that needs doing, without giving it even a moment’s thought – because those moments get ahold of you, and before you know it, you’ve spent half an hour avoiding doing it, or thinking of all the other things that maybe you should be doing instead, or what have you – none of which gets anything done. Could it be that simple?

I’ve been thinking about this off and on ever since. We live in a world where distractions are greater than ever. Scientists have found that there really isn’t any such thing as multi-tasking, as the conscious brain can only focus on one thing at a time. People don’t get more done, in fact, it takes time to switch between tasks and they actually get less done due to the refocusing time, however slight, that occurs each time the mind moves from one thing to another – not to mention the mistakes that get made due to lack of concentration. And this all assumes that you’re doing anything at all in the first place.

The other day I was driving to a meeting and my mind was bouncing around between three topics, two work-related and one personal. I realized at some point that my thinking was totally useless – I wasn’t staying on any one topic long enough to get anywhere, and I wasn’t paying attention to my driving. A multi-tasking failure if ever there was one. This brings up the other half of what I believe to be the two rules of expanding time:

1) When you have time to do something, do the first thing that comes to mind, without a second’s thought. Don’t think about whether you should do it, if there is something more important to do, etc. This just gives your mind time to come up with ways of procrastinating. That thing is most likely coming to mind first because it needs to get done, but often it isn’t getting done because there’s something difficult or unpleasant about it, or it’s a big job. Just do it. Trust that there will be plenty of time later in the day to do anything else that needs to be done. Now you are not wasting time getting started or procrastinating, and your available time is expanding. The job will take just as much time no matter how long you dither around getting started, and that makes it seem to take much longer than it really does.

2) While you are doing a task, think about that task, and only that task. This is really hard. We are programmed to think about many different things at once, the next item on the list, what our co-worker said yesterday, what may happen at work tomorrow, etc. Don’t – give your task its full attention. Give yourself reassurance that all those things are not important now and can be set aside. There is a lifting of responsibility that happens when you say this to yourself that is rather nice. Just say “I’m making dinner now, I don’t need to think about that until later.” Be present and mindful in each task. Take the time to savor the smells of cooking, to get involved in the details of a project so that it gets done right the first time, to drive carefully. Now your time expands because you are not trying to multitask and your brain is not having to refocus continually from one thing to another. You won’t forget what you were doing, or where you were on it, or be tempted to timewaste for a while reading e-mail. If something else is really intruding on your consciousness that you think is important to remember, write down that note or task to come back to later.

As soon as you are done with one task, do the next one that comes to mind. Continue throughout the day like this, and it is amazing how fast things get done. And yes, this is not just for work and chores. Your next thing may be a book you’ve been wanting to read, a yoga or stretch break, or your morning walk through the neighborhood. Be present and mindful in those activities also, rather than letting your mind drift to the next unpleasant task. Then these breaks and fun activities will be much more enjoyable and rejuvenating.