The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Double Booking

There seems to be social trend going around my group of friends that we call double booking. What double booking entails is agreeing to attend multiple social engagements on the same day and sometime the very same evening. Actual attendance to the engagements appears to be optional.

I hate double booking.

Perhaps it is the fact that I have a toddler, so I don't have the prerequisite devil-may-care-go-where-the-wind-blows attitude you need to attend multiple events. Or perhaps because of said toddler, I don't have the luxury of moving about once I've made social camp. Or perhaps, I just feel that time spent with true friends shouldn't be rushed or an afterthought or plan b.

I'm all about letting an evening take shape with little to no agenda. If that shape takes the form of house hopping (or in my younger days, party hopping), then wonderful. But to plan truncated time with people you care for because you have also planned time with others shows these persons that you don't consider them a priority.

The above stated, I am about to finish a weekend of double booking not only on Saturday night, but on Sunday as well. I have become what I abhor, yet I seem to have an uncanny knack for pulling this feat off not only successfully but also with no stress or inconvenience to others.

Saturday, the family unit made the trek up to North County to visit two groups of friends who had the poor taste in making that area their homes. Both of these friend-groups have returned from far away places that I would most likely never ever go in my entire life (Idaho and Iceland) to San Diego county. And their presence here is a great joy; however, when I heard that they had decided to make their homes in hard core suburbia (topped only by Scripps Ranch), I told them that they might as well have stayed in their respective I-lands.

As you all know, I have some very
strict boundaries that circumscribe where I spend my time. North County greatly exceeds these boundaries--and I can't even ride the trolley there. So, it seemed reasonable to combine two social events in the far north on the same night to prevent me from dying of asphyxia or something like that.

Fate also aided me in my plans of social hypocrasy: the female of the first friend-group who has boys my son's age and a little younger was running a triathlon on Sunday, so she didn't want a late evening. We agreed to a 4pm to 730pm social time. Fortuitously, the second friend-group called and asked us to meet them out for drinks around 8pm after their date night and oh-so-generously offered their babysitter to watch our (we hoped) sleeping son.


The evening went off without a hitch. Both times with the friend-groups proved satisfactory and fulfilling. Unfortunately, I think I am addicted now to this trend of double booking because not one day later, I not only double booked, but triple booked.

This time the family unit did lunch with a friend whose husband is in Iraq. I then went home to prepare for a later meeting with the Dinner Divas (of which I made cucumber salad cups), and followed that up with quiz night at the local British pub.

Again a success.

The salad cups are cool and crisp and perfect for the dog days of summer we are so definitely in.

I cribbed them from from Vegetarian Times and the dressing from

1 medium zucchini, finely chopped
1 bell pepper, finely chopped (I used red, but I think yellow would be better for the color)
1 carrot, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cantaloupe, finely chopped
1 heirloom tomato, finely chopped
3/4 cup mix of herbs, dill, basil, parsley, mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup parmesian cheese, grated

1/4 cup balsamic dressing (I added about 2 tsp of honey)

3 cucumbers, striped peeled, sliced into about 1/2-inch thick rounds, and middle of rounds scooped out with sides and bottom in tact (harder than sounds)

Mix all the chopped stuff. Toss with the dressing. Scoop into the cucumber cups.
Quick. Easy. So good.

Just like double booking.

I am starting to wonder how many of these things I have in me before I encounter a spectacular failure. I'm already planning a double booking for this coming Friday . . . concert in the park followed by a movie, anyone?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Which of Course in German Means . . .

Seattle is the city of swine.

We've just returned from four rain-swept days in that lovely city where I took over 100 pictures of portly pigs, brilliantly-basted bacon. Apparently, there's a movement going on right now in Seattle called
Pigs on Parade--sort of like San Diego's urban tree thing where various artists feature their works in strategically placed parts of the town, but in Seattle it's with snub-snouted mammals rather than bark-covered flora.

I did do the obligatory Pike's Place Market and first Starbucks (Seattle being the only town in the Western U.S. where you can go to Starbucks without feeling as if you should later be branded with a scarlet letter of infamy). But though I love this overgrown farmers' market as well as coffee, it's hard to go somewhere and be tempted by amazingly fresh seafood and vibrantly colored produce and not be able to buy or cook any because you don't freaking live there. Every time I go to Seattle, the market makes me want to stay forever. But, for now, that is an impossible dream, so I contented myself with a quick trip to Pike's and spent the rest of the time walking the city in the rain and photographing happy hogs.

I've been to Seattle once before almost exactly two years ago. I stayed a week during the fourth of July and learned in that time that California may not be the only amazing place to live in the United States (I qualify with "may" because I'll need to do some further field research (preferably sans toddler) in Seattle to confirm this possibility; though, like any good scientist, I know that I can do an infinite amount of research and never be proven right but a single experiment can instantly prove me wrong. So, I guess, I'll never know if California truly has a competitor in perfection.). I'll admit, I had a short and sordid affair with Seattle two years ago and since then--though living an apparently contented life in San Diego--have looked for ways to get back. When this weekend presented itself, I jumped at the chance to see if Seattle still lived up to the fantasies I've been having about it for the past two years. And with the addition of an army of pleasurable porkers, Seattle didn't fail to please the second time around.
Being from California, I rarely experience rain. In fact, when I go places that are known for their rain, it is often in the middle of an inexplicable drought. 2006: ten days in Ireland, not a drizzle. 2005: seven days in Seattle, not a drop. 1999: four weeks in Guam, barely a deluge. So I tend to plan my vacations around the fact that I can spend the majority of my time outdoors in very little clothing with no discomfort. Such was not the case this weekend.
Seattle decided for our second rendez-vous to show me her true nature: she rained like a fiend. I've got to hand it to her, it takes guts to let it all out on only the second date. To show Seattle that I love her just as she is, I continued my outdoor activities, regardless of rain. And like any relationship when people decide to get real, some moments were pure bliss while others a bit more challenging.

One particular moment of bliss was running (or some semblance thereof) through sleepy Seattle the first morning I was there. A good friend maintains that you can only truly know a city if you run/walk the streets. Something about the contact made when you are physically brushing past people, moving along store fronts, connected by smell, sound, and touch.

I agree. That first morning, I got up before everyone else in my travel entourage and sought out the Seattle I remembered from two years ago. With DJ Tiesto's Elements of Life playing softly in my ears (so as to accompany rather than drown out the sounds of the waking city) and a soft drizzle falling, I felt more alive than I've felt in months. The steady susurrate sound of the rain melted into the slightly blurred grey streets and sidewalks flecked with startling colors--green of trees, red of a door, blue of a sign, yellow of (of course) a pig.

I passed stores and restaurants I remembered from my previous trip on my route from the 6th Ave Hilton to Belltown and encountered new sights as well. I am amazed at how little has changed and wonder if the "new" stuff to me is really new or places I just didn't notice last time.

Everyone who knows me knows that I have a horrible memory. Events disappear, shift, blur into things I can't recall, remember differently, or relate to others in some sort of morphing tale. Initially, I found Seattle to have suffered from my poor ability to recollect things. While I had no problem finding places I love and associate specifically with Seattle--Macrina bakery, the market, The Bookstore bar--I kept looking for things I had experienced in other travels. That first morning, as I sorted out my location and sense of place, Seattle was a mix of itself, Dublin, and San Francisco. It was slightly unnerving to turn a corner, expecting a certain view or building and find it conspicuously absent, only to realize that what I expected didn't even belong here in the first place.

But part of returning to somewhere (or someone) after a prolonged absence is getting to know each other all over again. Every morning I was in Seattle, I made a point of walking the streets. A different neighborhood each day: Belltown, Pike's, old Seattle (Washington Square), Chinatown. It is amazing to watch a city's personality as it is expressed in the architecture and people who call it their home. I briefly followed a man who seemed to know everyone we passed, greeted them by name, and in turn was greeted by name back. I caught snippets of conversation (political, literary, local gossip) at the various coffee shops I popped into (because you can't travel in Seattle without a coffee in hand): Cherry Street, Pegasus, Zeitgeist, and (of course) Starbucks. I heard music bursting from the speakers placed above the sidewalk outside of the symphony hall. I was struck by the sudden salty sweet smell of fresh seafood, the sharp green scent of fresh herbs, the cacophonic color of cut flowers at the farmers' market.

Travelling with toddler and indulgent Nani (my mom) in an rainy city can produce its shares of challenges. First, we somehow managed to get everyone a rain-proof parka except my son. At first, I figured that he would be fine in a relatively thick sweater, but as we continued walking in the rain, my son continued to get wetter and wetter.

Still, it seemed manageable: a leisurely lunch at a little cafe would allow him plenty of time to dry and then we would head to the indoors part of Pike's to watch fish being thrown or whatever.

However, my son had other plans.

In one of the squares off of 4th, there's a water feature that creates a tunnel of water. My son just had to go through it. And Nani is incapable of saying "no." A few photographs later (yes, I did take pictures of their watery journey), my son emerged from his water tunnel.

Now, this feature is designed (I believe) to cool people off on a hot (and not rainy) day by soaking those who traverse this tunnel of water from the knees down. Pleasantly, I imagine if one is wearing a sun dress or shorts or something similar that leaves the legs bare. Also, pleasant if one is taller than knee-height, which is not my son.

He emerged soaked to the skin. So much for lunch . . .
With a wet and cold small child, our options disintegrated to two: a) go back the 15 blocks to our hotel where we will effectively end our day or b) find a nearby store that sells children's clothes and purchase my son a new (and weather appropriate) outfit. Option a was not an option.
Luckily, Patagonia happened to be a few blocks away on 1st, and for the paltry sum of $200 (if you are Donald Trump!!), we purchased my son shorts, shirts, and a parka. I have a hard time spending that kind of money on clothes for an individual who, for all of his small size, will really only be able to wear them for a few months. I tend to believe that if we must spend money on clothes, it is money better spent on someone who won't be changing body shape any time soon and also has an appreciation for all that is fashion, namely, me.
However, necessity can make even the most ardent believer changer his or her views. So my son got a new outfit. I did make sure his parka from Patagucci is three sizes too big, so he'll be able to wear it for at least two years.
My son then spent the rest of the day in happy as a pig in chocolate, looking like the Morton Salt girl with his ginormous parka and Nani's pink "brellela." And with happy toddler, we had a pretty good time too. Even when we found out that we weren't going to be allowed in The Bookstore (a fun little pub on 1st a few blocks past Pike's) because of the under 21 member of our party, our mood couldn't be dampened. We ducked into a little sushi place right behind the pub and enjoyed wine, edamame, miso soup, and relaxed conversation while my son played happily on the table with his little sand-stuffed animals Nani had bought for him at Pike's.

Camaraderie seemed to reign as the spirit of the weekend after that. I looked up my doctor friend who is doing her residency in Seattle and met her for dinner and drinks later that evening. We traveled to Whidbey Island for a wedding of old family friends, marveling at the scenery at Deception Pass. We spent a lazy Sunday morning at Pike's Place Market one last time where we finally go to see some fish thrown to my son's utter delight.
I left Seattle, happy to return to San Diego, but with full acknowledgment that Seattle will hold a place in my heart not to far below that of the self-proclaimed America's Finest City.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Spontaneous Generation

Today I made RNA. How many people do you know who can say that? Well, I guess depending on which circles you travel in, possibly a lot. But still, talk about freaking cool. I made the molecule responsible for communicating cellular instructions.

In all actuality, the making of the RNA is kind of anti-climatic. I didn't design and then produce something novel and ground-breaking in molecular biology. I just demonstrated that I could produce RNA from the control DNA template provided in a kit. Yes, that's right, a kit.

It seems that a lot of science is about following directions that outline the mixing of provided ingredients and then heating them up for a bit. Two people can follow the exact same protocol--literally, everything exactly the same--and get drastically different results. Because apparently science isn't really an exact . . . science.

Sound familiar? A bit like following a cooking recipe? It really is. There's a list of ingredients, an explanation about the order and amounts they should be mixed in, and a person to put them all together (scientists even get to wear the little white coats that chefs wear). Every person in the lab unwittingly adds his or her own touch so that one procedure done over and over again by one person with constant success can be mimicked by another to no avail. And there is always room for improvisation if a certain procedure doesn't work or deliver the desired results. Yes indeed, a lot like cooking.

Except science is cooking without all of the sensory experience that makes working in a kitchen so amazing--an experience unparalleled. Lab work is like cooking without all the wonderful odors and colors and tactile sensations. In the lab, there's no burst of green scent that fills the air when you chop parsley or cilantro. There's no melodic motley mix of orange carrots, green and white cucumbers, red tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, pink radishes, brown mushrooms, and emerald lettuce in a salad. There's no rhythmic pulse of the knife hitting a worn wood cutting board.

Granted, lab has its pleasures. There is nothing better than getting a result you thought you didn't have or solving various problems. My mind is never idle. Nor is it stirred to poetic heights from a contrast in texture or smell.

So, while I love my new job and am excited about continuing, I find my thoughts often turning to the pleasure of my kitchen with its tacky orange and black tiles and too little counter space. I look forward to the end of the day where I can hold my chef's knife in its comfortable groove in my right hand as I prepare yet another meal.

Mexican Lasagna
(tweaked from Vegetarian Times
October 1, 2006 p.72)

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1 big onion, diced and divided in half
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin, divided
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 cups pinto beans, cooked
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 Tbs. lime juice

  • 4 grated carrots
  • 4 grated zucchini
  • 4 bulbs garlic, chopped
  • 1 can Chipotle chiles in adobo, pureed and added to taste (this is super spicy. Add slowly and cut with some tomato)

  • corn tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar and jack cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Coat 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in skillet over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup onion, and sauté 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp. cumin and coriander, and cook 5 minutes. Purée onions with beans, cilantro and lime juice in blender.
  3. Heat 2 Tbs. oil in skillet over medium heat. Sauté remaining onion and garlic in oil 5 minutes. Add carrots and zucchini, and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in remaining cumin, and cook 3 minutes. Add pureed chiles, and simmer 2 minutes.
  4. Layer tortillas, bean mixture and vegetable mixture in prepared pan. Repeat one or two times, and top with cheese. Bake 30 minutes, or until cheese has melted.
Serves 6

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


In one month, I will officially cease to be a wage earner. In fact, strictly monetarily speaking, I will become a gaping sucking black hole of needs (a cavern of want--if you will) rather than providing any type of economic reciprocation to my family unit. Much like my three-year-old son is now.

Does this bother me? Yes.

Will I cease my current plan to be a student (of SDSU as well as life) in order to find a more lucrative way of passing my time? No.

I've been taking a hard look at why my financially insolvency is niggling at the back of my mind. It's not like my adjuncting job provided all that much money. It's not like I really care about how much money I have nor does my husband make me feel bad for cutting our family income by several thousands of dollars so that I can play scientist for a few years. In fact, he's incredibly support of my scholastic goals of being a student for the rest of my life so that I never have to a) teach or b) get a real job. We've always shared the money equally, and I don't foresee this arrangement changing just because I will be making even less money that before.

I think the biggest reasons why I am bothered by my pending lack of personal income are as follows:

1. I am currently reading The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden. In this book, Ms. Crittenden outlines the heavy wage "tax" placed on people (primarily women but also some men) who choose to take a few years off or part time in their careers to do the necessary job of raising productive members of society. It's an amazing book. Crittenden nicely outlines the economic value of said child rearing and discusses the sad truth that our society does not give the value this rearing-sacrifice deserves. I recommend this book to any woman who a) has children, b) intends to have children, or c) advocates for women's rights.

This book boldly pushes to the forefront, the possibility of lost goals and dreams because of the choices we make regarding family life. And I know that having a child is a choice (even if you were on the pill and it didn't work . . .); in no way am I looking for a pity party because I have a beautiful and bright son. However, I will never be able to put in the research time in my lab because I want and choose to be home for my child. I will possibly never be as successful as my fellow grad students in our field because I won't sacrifice my family life for the sake of career laurels. And (as Crittenden has put into sharp relief), I probably will never be as successful as my husband in a chosen career because we've laid out the roles in our family, and mine is not that of the primary breadwinner.

These are hard facts to swallow: especially when your whole life you are told you can do anything you want as long as you work hard--your merit will win the day. Sometimes there just isn't enough time to juggle all the hard work. And sometimes people will refuse give your merit its deserved value because you have so many things to juggle in such a finite amount of time.

After I've swallowed these facts would I have it any other way? Hell no! (Well, maybe I'd be skinnier and have better hair. . .) I'm just working on the reconciling that my meaningful work (and both raising a child and being a professional student are meaningful work) requires me to be financially dependent on someone else. Trust me, I know life is pretty good for me.

2. (Remember: "Reasons" for being bothered by lack of personal income?) My meaningful work in the family isn't as Martha Stewart nurturing and home-making as I envisioned it would be when I quit working for money and started working for personal edification. I thought I would have free time to do some flower arranging, grow a garden, re-upholster the couch using fabric I made from eucalyptus leaves, serve up that dirty martini every day at 530pm to a tired and grateful husband home from the rat-race of the office--in short, do the whole June Cleaver home-making that sets apart the great housewives from the desperate ones. But reality is so different.

Science is hard. All of those tiny drops in bitty tubes. I'm wiped at the end of my 6-hour day. It's about all I can do to open that bottle of wine and sip directly from the bottle while sprawled on the couch. . . . Okay, honestly, I am blessed in that I have do very little around my house. We have officially entered yuppie-hood and have a house cleaner who comes in twice a week. My husband and I both pretty equally share laundry and childcare stuff. So my one major contribution to the family is in cooking. Here I so feel like this is cheating because I so love cooking.

So, the other thing that I am reconciling is that meaningful contribution to my family unit can be something I love like cooking or spending time with my child. And it still matters. It still is a sacrifice I'm making to ensure the well-being of our family unit. Showing love and being a vital part of the family doesn't have to be an un-fun thing like scrubbing toilets or working 9 to 5 in an office. Being an integral part of the family is showing love in the manifestations that are needed at the moment: sometimes that moment is 3 meals a day.

Love in the moment Portobello and Swiss Chard Sandwiches with an Herbed Salad:
*both of these are from last year's July Veg Times with a few modifications (below are my modifications; click the links above for the real deal).

3 portobello mushrooms, well cleaned
olive oil

Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
garlic, finely chopped
onions, coarsely chopped

1. Place mushrooms, stem side up in a dish that has a lid. Add sherry and olive oil plus a few grinds of the salt and paper. Shake up to coat the 'shrooms. Let sit a bit and start your grill.

2. Grill until mushrooms look done and are oozing some juices.
3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp. oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, and cook 30 seconds. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add chard and a few splashes of sherry, and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until leaves begin to wilt, turning frequently with tongs. Cover; remove from heat.
4. Put one mushroom and a pile of chard and onions on bottoms of rolls. Cover with roll tops, and serve.

Make a salad with whatever you want. In my case, lots of lettuce, tomato, chopped cilantro, chopped dill, mizuno, arugula, cucumber, mushrooms.

equal parts olive oil, sherry, white wine vinegar
about 2 Tbs chopped chives, cilantro, and basil (mixed together)
2 chopped shallots
1 Tbs honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard

1. Mix up all of the dressing stuff.
2. Put it on your salad.

3. Feel as if you are a productive member of society as well as your family for nurturing their minds with your amazing company and their bodies with this nourishing food.