The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw

Linda Greenlaw, in case you don’t know, was the captain of the Hannah Boden, the sister ship of the now famous Andrea Gail, which sank during the “Perfect Storm” in 1991.  She is referenced in both the book and the movie as one of the best swordfisherman captains in the fleet.  I’m not sure what took me so long to pick up one of her books, given my love of the ocean, of fishing, adventure, and women taking on things that are normally for guys.  I even remember my mom telling me once, out fishing on our small boat, that with my ball cap on and my curly hair sticking out beneath it, that I looked like her (probably the movie her, not the real person).  Anyway, while scanning shelves at the library one day I saw The Hungry Ocean, realized I had never actually read it, and picked it up.

If you are at all interested in boating, fishing, or the ocean – you will like this book.  It wasn’t a captive page turner full of suspense, but it was a truthful (I assume) and first hand account of what its like on a sword boat out of Gloucester.  While the Perfect Storm dealt with the inevitable climax at the end, which you knew was coming before you even picked it up – this story deals more with the day to day of life on a 6-8 week trip, filled with 20 hour work days, little sleep, and many other ups and downs.  She describes navigation, fish finding, baiting, social issues among the crew, and talks a lot about her love of the job.  It was just the right balance, right when I was started to get bored with the details of ocean currents and surface temperatures, we moved on from the technical stuff and got back to the action.  In reality, if you pay attention to those detailed pages, it is pretty educational.

Overall, while not full of suspense, or highlighted by a big inevitable event, The Hungry Ocean did keep my attention (which not all books do!).   I can say that I learned a lot of things, about how hard it must be to be stuck on a boat with only a handful of people, who are all hungry, tired, homesick, and in close quarters.  About how fisherman make a living, and the incredible risks they take to make that living, without a guarantee of success.  And about just another one of those jobs that I would hypothetically love to do, but probably be terrible at actually doing (seasick anyone?).  I’ll have to check out her other books in the near future…

Sausage and White Bean Soup with Collards

Ok, lets see if I can even remember how I made this.  This soup came from the back of one of Michelle’s fitness magazines, so I guess that means she okayed it before I even made it.  I am always looking for more warm soups and for things I can make a lot of and freeze. Its the most time and money efficient way to go with only two people!

So what you need for this is:

  • Sausage (I used spicy Italian chicken sausage)
  • Chicken broth or veggie broth
  • Can of white kidney beans
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Celery
  • Can of diced tomatoes
  • Chili flakes
  • Collard Greens (they suggested kale, but I just can’t bring myself to eat it)

I also added some carrots for color, and dumped some Italian seasoning in at some point. Remember how I don’t really follow recipes?  So this is what I did:

Cooked three sausage links in a frying pan with some olive oil or spray.  While that was happening I chopped up the onion, carrot, garlic, took the stems out of the greens, and just gathered the rest of the stuff.  Once the sausages were almost done, I added all of the things except the greens into the bottom of a stock pot and let it start to cook, with a little oil.  After five minutes or so I added some chicken broth, and the can of drained beans and tomatoes and brought that just to a boil.  Then I added the greens and let it simmer for a while, dumped a handful of chili flakes in, and maybe a bay leaf, oh and sliced the sausage up into there too! (My soups are really just random pots full of stuff!)

All in all it was REALLY good. It wasnt too kale-like, it did need some salt and pepper to taste, and had just enough spice to keep you going back for more.  I froze half of it for use later in the month!

Trying to be better…

Aren’t we all always trying to be better?  Trying to eat better, exercise more, drive less, be kinder, yadda yadda yadda.  It’s true.  Well, lately I have been in a rut.  I have been extremely unproductive at work, for no ones fault but my own.  I feel as if all of my free time has been sucked into a time warp of wedding planning, the gym, and aimlessly clicking through facebook statuses of people I knew in high school.  I finally realized last Friday that I need to make a change.  So starting tomorrow it is on, and ironically I’m going to spend some time telling you about it here. But I’ll keep it short.

In a nutshell, my job is like that of a graduate student. I have projects that need to get done. Some are in teams, others are my own.  Deadlines fall about once a year per project.  I have a few team meetings a week with colleagues or clients.  But otherwise, I am free to come and go as I please, make my own hours, and work from wherever I want.  Unfortunately I have not been taking advantage of this setup, one that I’m sure many would be jealous of.  Somehow I have fallen into the 9-5 routine. I’ve been sitting on my desk from 9-5, agonizing over to-do lists that I don’t want to do (I procrastinate like a champ), and reading the internet as if it was my job.  There’s a combination of factors at work here that I won’t go in to, but it comes down to the fact that my attention span will just not keep me there for 8 hours a day, some days with little human contact (except gmail chat – part of the problem).  I would be much more productive if I did an hour of work at home over coffee.  Then went to the gym.  Did the office mid-day for a few hours or meetings. Then stopped in starbucks to wrap up late afternoon for a few more hours. Or any combination of the above.  Along those lines, if I finished what was on those to-do lists, nothing is stopping me from going hiking, writing more, taking photos, visiting family, or just about anything other than staring at a screen sitting on my ass (like walk my favorie neice – see below).  So the first step was a plan, which I have.  The second is action. I deactivated my facebook account, not so much for its real purpose, which is bad enough, but for that damn bejewled game.  If only I could go pro in THAT!  So, with this announcement to my beloved 8 followers, I’m going to stop procrastinating by blog writing, and go make my plan for tomorrow!

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

This book was perfect for my quick business trip to San Juan.  I needed something to read on the plane, by the pool, and during lazy mornings in my room.  Ok, so not a lot of business happened on the trip – it was nice.  Some of you may know of this story because it has recently been made into a movie (of course), called 127 Hours.  So yes, its the story of the Guy-who-got-stuck-in-a-canyon-and-cut-his-arm-off.  Luckily, I had not seen the movie, nor did I remember exactly how he got out of the canyon in the end.  Did he cut the arm off, or did people find him and cut it off for him?  So, while knowing he got out, that added a bit of suspense for me.  I think what I loved most out of the book was just the love of the outdoors, and that mountain town life that I not-so-secretly wish I could lead.  It’s true, I want to be a ski bum.  Aron’s ability to work in the corporate world for a few years, while still climbing most of the peaks in the western half of North America, and skiing the back country of Colorado, and then quitting his job to do not much else but that – just makes me jealous. I’m sure I’m not alone.  And at the same time, I find comfort in a steady paycheck, a 401K, and my bed.  As much as I want to be, I am NOT the kind of person who can just sleep at the top of a mountain for a few days for fun.  Hike, sure, but not sleep.  So I’m destined to be a weekend warrior forever, I guess.

Anyway back to the book.  Besides the enviable nature of Aron’s life, I was much more caught up in the story at hand than the flashbacks.  Because, in reality, there just isn’t that much to tell when you are stuck under a rock, there were a lot of reliving old memories to fill the pages.  Some of the stories looking back were engaging, and others were just another story, to me.  After a while I didn’t want to read them because I wanted to know how he was going to get out of the canyon!  Unfortunately the end of my flight home was nearing as I was just getting to the part where he gets out, so I read it in a hurry – just-want-to-see-what-happens kind of way.  I had to go back and read it again the next day.

All in all I do reccomend it, its an easy read, has some good tales of adventure, and will certainly make you think twice to leave a note the next time you climb a mountain alone (or just go for a run, really).  I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have been repelling in a canyon alone in the first place, but I cannot guarantee that I could have made it through the week the way Aron did.  Certainly the boredom and frustration that must come along with being literally stuck, standing up, in a small hole indefinitely must be outrageous.  Let alone the pain, hunger, and fear of a slow painful death.  In the end it seems, the stars aligned for Aron, and everything turned out perfectly.  Had he gotten out earlier, there would have been other obstacles.  Had he not gotten out when he did, he may not have made it.

In a sense, I wonder what Aron thinks now looking back. Because for sure this experience has changed his life in many more ways than simply losing his arm.  Just the other night I saw him on A Minute to Win It, and in searching for the image for this post, I discovered that he is doing a speaking tour on college campuses.  And there’s that movie.  Certainly, if there were any question about how long he could sustain the mountain man lifestyle before, there aren’t now. And it is well known that he has continued to climb, and I’m assuming ski and backpack as well.  Maybe I should go look for a boulder somewhere….

Strangers on a Train – a la David Nail

Ok, I’m going to give a go at a “listen” post.  Now, I’m not way into music. I don’t follow the music scene, local or otherwise, and I don’t really enjoy going to listen to someone play that I don’t really know. Sorry, it is what it is.  But, I do know when I like something, and I LOVE David Nail.  You won’t be surprised to know that he’s in the country genre, since so much of what I seem to like these days falls there.  However since he’s still relatively unknown, I figured I’d give the benefit of this blog post – which after its read by all 10 of you – will obviously make him go platinum! (although he was nominated for a Grammy!)

The first song of his that pulled me in was Red Light – I must have heard it on the radio because its in my Shazam queue (Ok, distractable moment: not only can I go in Shazam and tell you that I tagged it on 11/9/09, but I can tell you that I was off route 495 in Grafton at the time! Holy information/stalker potential overload, huh?)  Well, after listening to Red Light over and over for a year, my Shazam history tells me I tagged another about a year later, and if I were at work I’d go tell you the date I then bought the whole album on itunes, but that’s too much info, no?

So let’s get to why I like his music, keeping in mind that I really have no idea how to describe music I like.  I do know that if I had to list my favorite songs, or provide a real account of most frequently played, they are probably all emotional and sad.  I don’t know what it is but when I really want to listen to music, I want to feel.  I find myself listening to music more when I’m frustrated or sad to begin with, so maybe that adds to it.  On his own website, David Nail lists Elton John as one of his earliest favorite artists, and says that he wants to “bridge the gap between traditional country and the soulful styling’s of a Lionel Ritchie and Ray Charles.” Sounds like a good group to take after, no?

Once I like the sound of something and listen to it over and over again, there comes that day on the bus on my way home when I finally hear the lyrics of something.  And someone certainly gets triple bonus points in my book when I love the lyrics along with the sound.  Especially when I love each and every song on the album.  The majority of the songs are about love and loss, as most music in the world seems to be (why is that, anyway?).  But they are also about a sense of place in a home town, wishing you could go back in time, free and easy days of summer jobs, and one of my personal faves, Strangers on a Train.  Here’s some great lines and youtube magic:

“No one knows what we been through, but makin’ it ain’t makin’ it without you…”  – I’m About to Come Alive

“And I don’t know no friends
Like the old friends
I never seem to laugh now
Like I did with them
But deep inside me
A piece of history
Yeah, I hear their voices even though they’re gone
And it keeps me turning home” -Turning Home

“You never know which way the road is gonna go when it bends
And all I know is what I’d give today to feel that way again
I cannot lie sometimes when I come back to town
I head out to the river and roll the windows down
Listen to that Mississippi running through the night
Let it wash away the years and bring you back here by my side”  – Again

And pretty much all of Strangers on a Train

He has a new single out, something about Rain, but I haven’t gotten the chance to download yet – so I’ll get on that soon!

Glorious Veggie Taco’s

I have always loved tacos. Or fajitas, nachos, burritos, margaritas, pretty much anything Mexican-American, and it’s good stuff in my book.  Recently I’ve come to realize that what I don’t care all that much about when served a nice fajita platter, is the meat.  I pile on the peppers and the beans and rice and all that good stuff, and some chicken, but it doesn’t really matter to me once I also throw on salsa and cheese and all that.

So enter dinner tonight.  This is what we used (and of course use more of less of what you like!):

1 Avocado

1 Can black beans

Some forgotten mushrooms from the back of the fridge

Some salsa

Chopped red onion

Chopped tomato

Sliced black olives

Shredded cheese of your choice

Sour cream

Cumin and chili powder

Cilantro

Tortillas

(I wish I’d had a jalapeno)

So, I thought I was going to use black beans and avocado as the meat (get it?) of the taco – but I went astray at bit. First I rinsed the black beans and threw them in a skillet with the spices (oh and some scallions I found in there).  I also found the mushrooms at that point so I chopped them up and threw them in too. That is what really became the meat (and hot part) of the tacos.  While that was cooking down, I chopped up all the other stuff and laid it out on a big cutting board.

Following the salad wedge theme from an earlier dinner this week, Michelle cut some   more small wedges of iceberg lettuce to start with.  She ended up just dumping toppings on top and having a big taco salad.  I’m a stickler for the tortillas, so I stuck with the soft taco method.

Pretty much that’s all you have to do. If you lay out a nice spread each person can add what they want and ignore the other parts.  I couldn’t bare to mix the avocado into a taco, so I just used it as a little side dish. Yum!

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Well, honestly its been a while since I’ve read a whole book and posted it. Okay, maybe its just been a while since I read a whole book. I don’t know what happened with the end of 2010 – but the reading stopped. Maybe it was football season, maybe its these two big wedding things happening next year, and then the start of snowboarding season – I don’t know – but reading has taken the back burner.

However, for Christmas I received Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. I had skimmed through his shorter version Food Rules in Barnes and Noble a few times, but this is actually a more in-depth description of how he concluded with those rules – which are more like guidelines.  Like every other person on the face of the planet, a good New Year’s resolution was to eat better, and subsequently lose some weight for the aforementioned weddings happening this year.  But I’m also not interested in crash diets – I know they never work but for a few weeks – and I’d really like to just be in better shape and healthier.  Needless to say that gave me some motivation to actually read this book.  Two blizzards helped too!

All in all, what I liked about Pollan’s way of thinking is that it just makes sense (to me at least).  His mantra is “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”  This is oversimplified and without thought those can just pass you by.  I’ll skip the first mini sentence for now.  But the “Not too much. Mostly plants.” is something we all know or have heard and struggle with.  Sure I shouldn’t have that second helping.  Of course I should have an orange instead of bacon with my eggs.  But in reality, bacon always wins  (which is why I try not to even buy it in the first place).  So, those are pretty self-explanatory and just involve some more will power.  It’s the first statement, “Eat Food” that can be easily overlooked, but was the most thought provoking.

We all think we eat food, its not like we are going around eating office supplies (although I have stirred my coffee with a pen before).  But what is food, really?  What I like is that Pollan brings in a historical, evolutionary, almost anthropological view of it.  Pretty much think back to “the olden days” when people had to grow or hunt for their food.  The rule to “Only eat things that your great-grandmother would recognize as food” makes that clear.  For example, when you get back from vacation and realize that the “creamer” in the back of your fridge is still just fine – doesn’t that make you wonder what it is made of? Probably not any cream.

The book explains, both historically and politically  how American culture has changed over the last hundred years, and how our food has changed with it.  And how our cultural, “Western” diet is crap compared to most other countries.  He also brings in the medical facts, citing countless nutrition studies about nutrients and cancer and heart disease.  At times it becomes a little too scientific, but then you just skip to the next paragraph and assume the point is taken (or am I the only one who does that?).

To me the strongest take-away messages are his explanations of the millions of other people on this planet who have considerably fewer resources than we do (both in terms of personal income as well as medical treatment), yet have none of the health problems that American’s constantly face; cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes.  We eat too much.  Our meat is mass-produced, filled with hormones, and subsequently cheap – so we eat too much of it.  And, we are all too busy, apparently, to do anything involving food prep.  Ok, I admit, I don’t have kids to shuttle around, or a dog to walk, or aging parents (well they are aging, but they don’t need me yet!). But I do work full time, consult in my spare time, socialize, exercise, and recreate as often as possible (and there is that wedding thing) – but so far I haven’t found it too hard to avoid pre-packaged food.  Apples, oranges, and bananas come in their own packages. Carrots come pre-chopped up.   We’ll see how long this lasts, I mean it is NFL playoff month, and prime apres-ski-nacho season – but I don’t have an illusion of never having a nacho again – just not every week!

What has proved to be hardest is staying away from the brain-washing marketing that goes on in our culture.  It seems so incredibly logical to buy something labeled “low fat”, sour cream, for instance – instead of its full fat counterpart.  However, when you start reading the labels on low fat things – they generally have more sugar and carbs to make up for the lack of fat – plus added “who-knows-whats” to make it taste good. It seems easier to know that “whole wheat” frosted flakes are a scam.  I’m not sure why – maybe because I was brain washed into low fat growing up, and whole wheat is still new.  But the rule to try to avoid things that are marketing themselves at all makes that even easier (except for dairy products, which I’m still unsure of).

So overall, if you like to think and ponder the way things work, this is an interesting perspective on the way our food system works and how it has changed in the last century.  It has the potential to make a lasting impact on someone who never considered what they were eating before; a way to change a mindset and set of beliefs.

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