I Give Myself Permission

I did not move myself 3,000 miles across the country to live a life that is not my own.

Let me explain. Science, nature, conservation and the pursuit thereof have been the focus of my work and studies since going off to college a decade ago. I am still very passionate about conservation. I still enjoy learning about the ecology of all the organisms we share this planet with. I love those little marine invertebrates most. I am still happiest (as much as you can be) with a day spend outside doing field work. These things will never change.

The problem is, well, the problem is that grad school is sucking the life force straight out of me. Sort of like the dementors in Harry Potter. I have to remind myself that pretty much everyone in my department feels this way. I guess it is just one of those things that everyone goes through. But, as time goes by, I am having a harder time envisioning what life will be like when I finally get that degree at the end of all of this. Of course, when I have that thought, my mind immediately jumps in to say "
Yah, but if you didn't stay in this field, what a colossal waste of time this has all been. And, what would you do, anyway?" And these thoughts make me drone on without thinking about the possibilities that lie before me, both within and outside of the field of ecology.

And so lately I have been giving myself permission. Permission to leave the door open. To choose to pursue a career in ecology when I graduate, but also to explore the other paths that lie before me. To take the advice I give others so often. That it is all about the journey. Choosing one path for the simple reason that it is the one I have always been on is no way to live life. Whether I choose to stay the course or not, I want to know that it is
because it is what I want most, not because it was what was most reasonable.

Phyllo Pouches

I love me some phyllo dough. It makes everything taste good. Better yet there is an endless amount of things that you can wrap inside them. Last night, I had a craving for phyllo and after a quick survey of my fridge I decided that this evenings phyllo stars would be onion, mushrooms, and goat cheese. Sort of a twist on Spanikopita, if you will.

I know that working with phyllo can be a bit daunting if you have never used it before, but once you get the hang of it you just won't be able to stop yourself from using it. Even while making these I was thinking of other delicious fillings for next time. Maybe we should all band together and form a support group.

So without further ado, the recipe, my friends.

Just kidding. First, a note about phyllo:

It is one of those things that can seem daunting, but really isn't all that difficult to master. There are a few tricks however. The first is to be sure to set your dough out to thaw to room temperature on its own. No shortcuts here. No microwaving, blow drying, blow torching, or anything else you can think of. Trust me. As a procrastinator I have tried many a time to outsmart the phyllo and it just doesn't work.

Second, the phyllo will dry out quickly making it almost impossible to work with. When I use phyllo I put a damp (definitely not wet or soaked) towel over the phyllo to keep it moist. I keep it on there the whole time. I remove it every time i grab a piece of phyllo and put it back in between. If sounds annoying, but it gives you time to work. Otherwise, the phyllo dries out way too quickly to use.

Lastly, phyllo breaks really easily. Don't sweat it. I have never once seen a phyllo recipe that calls for only one sheet of phyllo. You will always be layering it. The phyllo will mend itself in the layers. What a great invention, right?!?

Phyllo Pouches
Serves 4

16-20 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 c olive oil plus 2tbs (or butter if you are feeling frisky)
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small to medium sized onion, finely chopped
1 c largely sliced mushrooms
16-20 oz fresh spinach or 1 package frozen chopped spinach
2 eggs
4 oz. goat cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 Tbs. freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheese (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Saute the onion over medium heat until they begin to turn translucent, approximately 6 minutes. Add Salt and Pepper to taste ( I used about one teaspoon of each).
While it sautes mince the garlic and then heat it in half a cup of olive oil (or butter). Heat it over a low heat until just before the garlic starts to brown, about five minutes.
Once your onions are ready add the mushrooms and cook until just before the mushrooms lose their liquid, about another 6 minutes.
If you are using the frozen spinach go ahead and defrost it so it has time to cool a bit. Alternatively, if you are using fresh spinach add it at the last minute to your onion-mushroom saute and cook it until it wilts.
Once your saute is done let it cool for a few minutes then mix the onion-mushroom saute, spinach, and eggs together in a large bowl. Then crumble the goat cheese into the mixture being careful not to completely melt the goat cheese by stirring to much.

Now you are ready to assemble those pouches.
Take one sheet of phyllo dough and place it on your work surface. Brush the garlic olive oil onto the sheet, then repeat. Don't forget to cover it with your damp towel in between brushing. Take approximately 1/2 a cup of the filling and place it on the far end. Fold over the sides and then roll it almost like a burrito. Brush the outside of the pouch and place it on the baking sheet. Repeat this process until your filling is gone. It should make about 8. The pictures below show this process.

Once they are all on the baking sheep sprinkle it with the Parmesan and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the pouches are medium brown.

Bribery is my friend

The time has come for me to bribe you into becoming a follower or leaving a comment in response to this blog post. I know that some of you have just been procrastinating doing this, so I am going to do my best to send you over the edge. I am bribing you, with baked goods.

Anyone who has become a follower or left a comment in response to this blog by May 1st will be entered in a drawing to have sumptuous baked goods mailed directly to your door. I know you are excited so start following and commenting!!!!


I have gotten all kinds of responses from friends and family regarding the creation of this blog. The most frequent question I get is "Why?"

I guess it is time for a mission statement of sorts. There are lots of reasons, so this post might lean a little to the rambling side. Oh, who am I kidding? They are all rambling posts so far!
Mission statements are technically supposed to be something you do before you launch a project or business. But, sometimes things take a bit of time to find their footing. Or you start something because you know you have to do it, even if you don't know the purpose yet.

I started this blog as a way to stay in touch with family and friends. My family has always been spread out and I have never stayed in one place for too long since graduating.

I started this blog because I was inspired by the likes of those you see in that list to your right. They are all such eloquent writers who have a truly creative point of view, whether it be about food, colors, or kindergartners. I have not been inspired by much lately and finding something that did inspire me again was a welcome change.

I didn't know it when I started this blog, but as I have continued to work on this blog I have rediscovered my love for writing. I write plenty in grad school. But, a truly good scientist must remove her voice from her writing. It is important in science. Our credibility lies in our dedication to the search for unbiased truths. We cannot let our feelings or attachments to certain outcomes taint our interpretation of our research. However, with this blog I am free to write as I please. About the things I like and the things that inspire me. I feel renewed. I wasn't expecting it, but I am really enjoying finding my voice as a writer again. I find myself planning blog posts all day long.

And with that dear reader, I promise to write more about my adventures in cooking, gardening, outdoor adventures, organizing, sewing projects, decor that makes me smile, art, travel, libations, and coffee to name a few.

Another day in the life of a field biologist

Well, another blog about science! I know you are all on pins and needles just waiting to read about all the science Bethany and I have been up to this week.

First, all field work starts with plenty of food.

I over packed just a little.

Bethany and I took o
ff for the Columbia River last Tuesday. Our first stop was a salmon hatchery. Hmmm....getting ahead of myself a little here. Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start (five points to the first person to leave a comment with the name of the song that line is from*).

This is the hatchery:

Bethany studies Coho salmon (those are the hatchery-raised Coho below). I have a very limited understanding of fish in general. Shocking, I know, for a grad student in a Fisheries Program. As some of you may know, practically every salmon species is on the Endangered Species Act list. There are many threats to the survival of these species. Logging, pollution, dams, the list goes on and on. Essentially, you name it, we do it and it destroys their habitat.

Bethany's thesis research is largely funded by a Power Company. One of the big issues in salmon research is that we humans have spent a lot of time and effort building dams and trying to control the flow and movement of rivers. While this has a whole laundry list of negative impacts on the environment (not to mention that rivers are wily little suckers and still do as they please causing floods and wreaking havoc despite our best efforts), one of impacts for salmon is that it literally impacts their ability to migrate upstream to spawn, changes water temperatures to lethal levels, among others.

So basically it boils down to the fact that power companies build dams, it alters the environment, the fish die, and since they are on the Endangered Species list the power companies must mitigate for all the death and destruction they cause.
In steps science! It turns out that they best way to save a species is to find out about their life history and what types of habitat they need to survive on their own.

Bethany essentially studies part of the Coho salmon life history. She wants to learn how must time they are spending in wetland habitats and how much they grow while they are there. I am probably butchering terribly what it is that she does, so let's just move along shall we? Oh good. I'm glad you agree.

So, off to the hatchery we went. Hatcheries supplement wild populations here in the northwest. They do that to make sure there is enough for sports fisherman, commercial fisherman, and the like. This is a whole other post entirely for another time.
The hatchery has a trap set up on the Columbia to capture and count both wild and hatchery salmon as they come down the river. They save all the Coho salmon they catch for Bethany to take scales (she determines growth from these, much like the rings on a tree) and to tag it in hopes of finding them again. Don't worry she puts them to sleep with some fishy anesthesia before she does this. That's them getting very sleepy in the white bin in the photo below and Bethany taking scales in the photo below that.

Side note: Can you believe that those little fishies above will grow into this:

Salmon have a very interesting life history and if you are interested you should read about it here on the NOAA site or here on the FWS site. End side note.

Wednesday through Friday were spent out in the marshlands of the Columbia River. Bethany and Chris (another lab-mate) work at a site similar to mine in that it is a breached levee, freshwater, tidally influenced marsh. We spent those three days setting up nets at different sites trying to capture fish as the tide flowed out of the marsh. The nets are kind of cool in that they completely cover the channel but funnel the marsh down into a little bag of net that we can pull out from time to time without having to deal with the entire net every time. Which is good, cause that sucker is heavy!

Once we get the fish out of the net Bethany takes scales from these little guys, marks, weighs, measures, and tags them. Then we release them back out into the marsh.
From all of this data Bethany hopes to determine how much time these Coho fry are spending in these habitats and how much importance they have in supporting the growth of these fish. This information can be used to make management and recovery plans that work the best for Coho.

Yes, it was cold and that is why Bethany is all bundled up in the picture below where she is tagging the fish by injecting some fluorescent dye beneath their skin.

It has been a really great week. I always appreciate spending time out in the field on others peoples projects. Basically, I really like being what we lovingly call in the biz "a field bitch." I just do what I'm told. No worrying about whether or not I am completely messing up my thesis research.

We did lots of other fun things too this week out here on the coast, but that is a post for another day my friends. I also have a rather long rant to post as well thanks to hatchery manager Mike.

*Have you ever seen "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" where Drew Carey was the Host? it was an improv show where Carey assigned points randomly because they didn't really mean anything. Yeah. My point system is sort of like that too. Maybe the system will change at some point and there will be an annual winner or something that gets some cookies in the mail.

What I have been up to

Hello to all you faithful followers (a.k.a Mom)!

Sorry I didn't get around to posting anything this weekend. I had lots of ideas like a recipe for homemade ramen (but, I didn't have my camera and who wants to cook something when you can't see a picture of it first) to, well, I think that was my only idea. Oh well.

I am headed off to the Columbia River this week to squeeze fish. That's biologist lingo for field work involving fish. I am helping out two of my lab-mates, one of whom is B, my roommate. I should really finish packing instead of writing this post. Alas, these are the trials and tribulations of a procrastinator. I will try to get a couple of posts in this week about the work going on down there. I will also try to get some good pictures of the Coho salmon for ya. You just can't live in the PNW without some blogs related to salmon, right?

Well, I really must go. I am going to be eating these two delicious soups this week: A broccoli soup from Orangette and a Cauliflower soup from a review on 101 Cookbooks. I made both of them last night and they are killer. If you want to be just like me you should make them and eat them all week long too.

Almost gone...

I have a crazy neighbor. Like crazy in the clinical and not clinical way. She is finally moving out and we no longer have to share a wall or building with her. I could go on and on about all the things she has done from planting out potted plants in the ground without asking us to threatening to have us subpoenaed. She runs around the neighborhood torturing all of our neighbors with God knows what too. But, talking about it gets me riled up, and I want to enjoy my Friday.

So, she is finally leaving. She was supposed to be out by April first, although last night was the first night she didn't sleep there. And, today she is still carrying junk out of her place. Her car is parked out front and it is loaded to the brim both inside and out (imagine a dumpster inside with a GIANT tarp burrito, stool, half a bike, and metal magazine rack on top). There is hardly room for her at all. My roommate D and I were in our kitchen lamenting her loaded car when we saw our neighbor run out of her house and take a picture of it with her camera phone. I can't describe how hard we laughed
. I think I need to become friends with this woman immediately.

Her car left, but this crap is still piled up on my sidewalk with a sign (she is big on signs and notes) reading "Please do not remove: On city property. Thanks" WTF? Ummm...removing something from city property is really not a big deal unless it belongs to the city! Just saying.


I love the sun and warm weather. Set me down on a tropical island where I can body surf and snorkel all day long while eating fresh fruit and I am as happy as a clam.

Why do I live in the Northwest then? Why do I date someone who is allergic to the sun (!?!?)? Why did I live in San Francisco for four cool climate years? Ah. All good questions my dear Watson. Because I am practical in many ways and have not chosen to base my lifetime decisions on climate. Which, is how I have landed myself in a dark, damp, cold (but, lovely) city. But, trust me, I complain about the weather (9 months of the year) plenty. I also try to escape the winter time SAD with vacations to sunny places.

Today, I was down in the International District with a friend for lunch. We went to a Chinese restaurant called Shanghai Garden. I had the most wonderfully bright green lunch. It was a green barley noodle and vegetable stir fry. I have never had anything quite like it. They make the noodles themselves and don't douse it in sauce that hides their natural flavor. They were so bright and fresh and tasty.

Then we get our bill and cursory fortune cookies. I chose mine first. And what does my little slip of fortune say? "You will soon vacation in a cool climate." I kid you not. My fate is sealed. I am now doomed to not only live in a cool climate, but vacation in one too.

The ironic thing is that I am going on an Alaskan cruise next month.

This one goes out to all those science nerds at heart!

This video is hi-larious. Thanks to my girl Tammy for alerting me to its existence. I don't know if Bio-Rad is a real company but I would totally buy their stuff if I were doing PCR analysis.

Speaking of Citrus

It has been lovely here in Seattle the last few days. It snowed last week and has been sunny and warm the last three. I am a better person when the sun is out.

I have been taking advantage of the good weather eating out on my porch. I had the most delicious grapefruit. And I want to state something for the record. I am all about eating locally, organically, sustainably and whatnot. But, I live in the Northwest. We don't grow citrus here. So, eff that. I do what I can, but I will never give up citrus.

Speaking of citrus, I miss the oranges my grandparents used to grow when they first retired to Florida. They would send us giant boxes of them in the middle of winter. Nothing has ever compared to them.

Sooo...what exactly is it that you do?

I am asked this question so often that you'd think I would know how to answer it by now. My response varies based on the person's knowledge of ecology, whether or not I think they really want to know, my understanding of what it is that I do, and my mood. This is all confounded by the fact that my research focus changes every time I sneeze. As you can see, there is a lot of confusion around what I do. I thought with my first official post I would try to explain some of the nuts and bolts with pictures. Words haven't really been helpful in my explanations thus far.

Last July, Bethany and I went down to Liberty Island (my study site) for a two day/see what was there/mini field work extravaganza. Liberty Island is that piece of land pictured above.

It is an area that was once a freshwater tidal marsh, which was then filled in and converted to agricultural land. In 1999, its levies were breached and the state decided not to repair it, but instead to allow it to return to its original state. I work (or was supposed to work - but that's an entirely different story) with a team of biologists that want to study what trajectories this marsh takes while in the process of restoring. In other words they want to answer at what point will sediment start to collect on its own (these areas are heavily subsided due to being levied for so long i.e. they sink below sea level over time), when does vegetation start to develop, when do fauna return, when does diversity return, when, if ever, does it start to function and have the benefits that marshland once did (water filtration, floodplains, wildlife habitat), etc. That's where I come in. I was slated work on the invertebrate part of this whole shebang. Most people look at them in relation to their use as fish food, but I am more interested in their functional role in this marsh (water filtration, sediment turnover, primary food source/consumer) as well as the dynamics between native and invasive invertebrates in this restoring marsh.

Oh dear. I've gone and done it again. Too many words. Not to mention that the above is like a really broad definition of what I do, and not really what I do at all. So anyway, last July this all started for real, sort of. Here is what happened:

Traveled around the site on a boat driven by USFWS agent Pete. He's awesome.
One thing we did was to set up fall out traps to catch terrestrial insects.
Basically, they are large tupperware bins, filled with soapy water, flanked on all four sides by the PVC pipe so they can rise and fall with the tides (they float!). But, I am really not too keen on terrestrial insects so we will just skip over any more details. Move along people! Nothing to see here!
The other thing that we did was to take benthic cores. This involves using that tube thingy you see above to literally take cores out of the mud. Later on I count all the little guys under a dissecting scope back in the lab. Last time I went out we took cores all over the marsh in three different types of locations: vegetation, mudflat (what you see above), and channel.
That brings us up to speed with last month (well, there was a lot of lab time, classes, etc. between last June and now...). This past March I was sent back down with the instructions to make a plan, decide what I was going to test, and do it. Oh, I had such big plans. But, the best laid plans have a way of falling apart. What ended up happening was that we set up transects (above) and we took benthic cores (below) to look at the transition of invertebrate composition from withing the vegetation to the edge of the vegetation to 10 m (go metric!) out from the vegetation. We took 10 cores from each of these transects. Side note: That's my great field hand Lishka above. She was a trooper for a few days last month and she took some of these photos. She's in the mud club now...so is Erin (one r), a new addition to our lab, and Emily a pro, who helped out a bit too.

Each core was immediately labeled and emptied into a jar that will be shipped back for me to sort through under the scope. Being out in the field collecting them was great fun... but every time I saw the pile of jars in our hotel closet expanding I wanted to cry. My fate was sealed. I will be taking up residence at a dissecting scope for the next few months.
We collected some other data too (mud, basically) and also tried to get a variety of vegetation patch sizes like the small one above to simulate a "young" area and
this large one above to simulate an "older" area.
At the end of the day I have a canoe full of samples (we just pull the canoe along with is through the marsh like kids with their red wagon).
Then we either sieve out all the extra dirt and whatnot onsite (or not, and I have to do it in the lab later).
That's all our gear. Sieves, jars, formalin, and a cooler full of coca-cola and chocolate.

Well, that's it in a nutshell. I think that's enough for now. My head hurts just from that. Hopefully, yours doesn't.


Main and Side Dishes

Asparagus and Zucchini Over Fine-grain Polenta
Baked Yams
Blue Cornmeal Spoon Bread
Butternut Squash Gratin with a Ginger Parsnip Puree
Cassoulet with Biscuit Topping
Egg 'n Sprouts for Breakfast
Ginger Parsnip Puree
Nopales (Cactus) and Vegetable Tacos
Phyllo Pouches
Rice and Beans
Roasted Mushrooms
Summer Squash and Carrot Casserole
Quail Egg Raviolone and Saffron Sauce
Za'atar Spiced Grilled Zucchini Sandwiches

Asparagus and Blue Cheese Soup with Parmesan Crackers
Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Carrot Vichyssoise with a Balsamic Reduction
Mexican Miso Soup with Crispy Tortilla Strips

Blueberry Spinach Salad
Grilled Tofu and Israeli Couscous Salad
Jicama and Avocado Salad with Spicy Citrus Vinaigrette
Sweet and Savory Watermelon Radish Salad

Almond Cookies
Chocolate Rum Cheesecake
Grapefruit Cocktail with Mascarpone and Toasted Almonds
Honey Caramel Peach Pie
Lemon/Lime Cream Cheese Meltaway Cookies
Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd and Blueberries
Roasted Grapes in a Wine Sauce
Shaker Lemon Pie

Cantaloupe Coolers
Hibiscus Gin and Tonic

Sauces, Dips, Condiments, Syrups, Jams, Preserves, Relishes and Everything Good
Caramelized Onions
Caramelized Onion Salsa
Faux Aioli
Homemade Orange Pectin
Honeybell Orange Slices in Syrup
Honeybell Orange Curd
Parmesan Crackers
Pineapple Sage Simple Syrup
Quick Picked Peppers
Vanilla-Honeybell Orange Jelly


Coming soon...




I don't like to waste meals.
CookEatShare Featured Author