Signals from a lighthouse

We just returned from a week on the central Oregon coast. It’s a very relaxing place to spend a vacation. We spent our days exploring tidepools, walking on the sand beaches, watching sea birds and whales (!) and visiting coastal places. We saw several lighthouses, and took a tour of the Yaquina Head lighthouse.

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“Why do we have lighthouses? What is their purpose? Well,the
lighthouse keeps the ships off the rocks. This is a good first part of the answer, but not the most important. There was a lot of ship traffic in the 1800s between China and the West Coast. Imagine a sailing ship, or a steam ship. Imagine not being able to see the stars or
sun for a navigational fix due to clouds and fog. If this happens during the last week or more of the voyage they could be a hundred or more miles off course. Then they would see a lighthouse and
could determine their exact position. How? Each lighthouse has it’s own “signature” made up by the light patterns and timing of the flashes. When they saw a bright two-seconds on, two seconds off, two seconds on, 14 seconds off of white light they could check their charts. These would show this signature belonged to Yaquina Head. If, for instance, their destination was Portland; they knew they had to sail north to reach the mouth of the Columbia River. The lighthouses on the West Coast are positioned so their beams overlap. A boat approaching the shore will always see at least one lighthouse.

Now, if your ship was approaching Hecata Head, you’d see a different signal. And a different lighthouse…. but still pretty stunning, don’t you think?
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I’m not a lighthouse “buff”. But I can see the charm they hold. Perhaps in my retirement you’ll come visit as Dave and I volunteer at some West Coast lighthouse? We visited a lighthouse in Washington state last year on Dungeness Spit last year that rents out the light house to groups. Work some, play some. Future family reunion???

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In the shade

We’re in the desert – or at least a semi-arid, hot, dry area of the country. It might be Washington state, but it’s not the “evergreen” part of the state. “Ever brown” would be a better description. Yet our yard does have some areas of shade and coolness next to the front of the house. And that’s where I’m able to grow a few plants that don’t really belong in the desert. My favorites are the Bleeding Hearts and Columbine.

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Small flowers, big delights.

So, what’s up?

No, not “what’s up, Doc?” as in Bugs Bunny, but what’s up in the garden. It’s late May and perhaps we’ve finally had our final killing frost. The temperature got quite cold earlier this week, enough to cause the tree fruit grower’s to start up their wind machines to circulate the air enough to hopefully keep the new blossoms from freezing. We don’t need a thermometer to know when the temperature has dropped low at this time of year. You wake up to the sound of what for all you know is a fleet of helicopters surrounding your house. Then your semi-conscious brain starts to wake up and realize that we probably aren’t under attack but the orchards have their wind machines going. Waking to the noise of huge propellers sent us out a few mornings ago to look at our newly transplanted tomatoes, with hopes that they were still alive. So far, so good. The plants we put out last weekend look good and Dave planted more today. He started from seed a variety of heirloom tomatoes along with some cherry tomatoes, all that we enjoyed growing and eating last year. We also have sugar snap peas finally beginning to form blossoms, baby beets that have lots of lettuce, carrots, chard and kale all doing well. Oh, also several different herbs.

It’s an optimistic time of year, isn’t it? So, I guess that is really what is up – our sense of better things still to come.

(now if only Dick Cheney would return back to the state of seclusion he spent his vice presidential years in, I’d feel even happier. What’s up with this guy?)

Only you can prevent food poisoning….

I was troubled by an article a few days ago in the New York Times about food companies shifting the burden to consumers for assuring food safety.

Specifically, it was looking at frozen chicken pot pies from ConAgra and other companies that have been implicated in salmonella food poisoning cases in 2007. The companies couldn’t seem to figure out just what ingredients were coming in contaminated with salmonella, and also couldn’t figure out how to adequately pre-cook the meals to kill off the bad bacteria. So instead they now have labels on the packages with instructions for how to make sure the pies are cooked in the consumer’s home enough to eliminate the hazard.

The article generated some good comments.

 I particularly agreed with this one:

“Food safety isn’t simple – it’s hard. For decades, consumers have been blamed for foodborne illnesss – with unsubstantiated statements like, “the majority of foodborne illness happens in the home.” Yet increasingly the outbreaks in foods like peanut butter, pot pies, pet food, pizza, spinach and tomatoes have little to do with how consumers handle the food.

Everyone from farm-to-fork has a food safety responsibility, but putting the onus on consumers for processed foods or fresh produce is disingenuous — especially for those who profit from the sale of these products.”

Disclaimer here (as that’s what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it?). I work for a food company. We process apples and other fruits into juices, applesauce, dried fruit and fresh fruit slices. The thought of transferring responsibility for food safety to the consumer continues to bother me, even if it would make my job easier. Easier just isn’t always the right choice in the long run.

Adjusted Expectations

I am a regular reader of the New York Times. This is one of the joys of the world wide web (internet). It’s not necessary to have a newspaper heaved into your driveway in the morning to be a reader. To me, this is liberating. I can live in Selah, Washington, the heart of the conservative, red-neck, “love america or leave it” attitude but still find a place with kindred spirits. Like Anne of Green Gables, I need to have a meeting place with others who share some of my views, and the New York Times helps me with that.

Last weekend I was especially struck by one of the opinion columns. Judith Warner wrote an article called “Not-So-Great-Expectations”.

Adjust your expectations??? Many of the articles I read can be viewed as “academically interesting”. This one was more direct. Judith Warner was talking to ME! I don’t want this middle age thickening of the middle. The need for sleep. And all the rest. But as I think about it, I realize that it’s me who needs to change and “adjust my expectations’.

Hard work ahead. Put on your bumpcaps.

Hit or Miss (with Netflix)

I really didn’t think I’d ever subscribe to Netflix.

I knew you could get DVDs of movies through the mail from them, but I didn’t think it was of interest to me. We can check out movies from our local library or rent them from the Selah Video store.

I also have a compulsive streak when it comes to keeping track of our family budget. I use Quicken to record everything we spend. So it was easy to do a search for “how much do we spend on renting movies?” The answer was more than I had guessed and pushed me towards trying a free 2 week subscription to Netflix. I chose the “no-frills” plan with one DVD at a time. You add movies to your list and Netlflix ships them to you, you watch them, ship them back and another one is on it’s way. OK. Pretty basic. But the lure for me was also the “instant” selections. I have our computer set up to send content to our widescreen TV. So bringing in a “watch instantly” movie means we can watch the movie on tv, Anytime we want.

I finally succumbed to the Netflix ads a month or so ago. We end up getting at least 2 movies of our choice (newly released or old) every week in the mail, and movies from a more limited selection available all the time. It is probably going to turn us into couch potatoes. (side note: we can’t get tv reception as we live in a deep canyon. And I cancelled our cable subscription when our youngest daughter headed off to college).

But it also makes me even more aware of the “hit or miss’ nature of choosing movies. We often end up with horrible choices that we don’t watch to the end. But sometimes you also get gems that you probably wouldn’t have found in your local movie rental store. Tonight we watched a movie called “Kolya“. I put it in my queue based on this description:
A renowned cellist in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, middle-aged bachelor Frantisek Louka (Zdenek Sverak) is reduced to playing funerals at the city crematorium. Strapped for cash, Louka indulges himself by having sex with other men’s wives. On the eve of the 1989 “Velvet Revolution,” Louka has no idea that more than political turmoil is imminent; the personal revolution he’s about to experience is just as unpredictable. …”

OK. sounds kind of weird. The movie really wasn’t at all weird, but very touching. OH, did you notice the main character is a cellist? How could you not find that appealing. At this point I am supposed to add the disclaimer: “I played cello through junior and senior high school so I really am not capable of objective judgements of movies with cellists in them”. Which leads to the conclusion that I obviously am a soft touch for movies with people who play the cello, especially when they also take care of young children who remind me of my nephew Alexander.

Time will tell if we end up keeping our subscription to Netflix. I know it’s financially the right choice. But I’m still not just sure yet whether it’s good for us. Hit or miss…. Like most life choices.

Waking Beauty?

My sister commented about “fresh apples” from Yakima.  And wondered just how fresh they might be in May.  Ah yes!  All the apples from the Northern Hemisphere are picked in the fall.  And either sold to the fresh market then, or put in cold storage  (for sales in late fall and early winter) or controlled atmosphere storage (for sales in spring and summer).  So yes, any Yakima apples bought in May were picked half a year ago.  And by most standards, not exactly “fresh” picked.  But still fresh from the standpoint of not frozen or cooked or otherwise processed.

Refrigeration seems easy to accept as keeping food fresh.  Pick it and keep it cold.  Yup, seems fresh.  Controlled atmosphere storage is a little more difficult.  Pick the fruit, then place it in warehouses where it’s not only kept cold but also some of the oxygen is replaced with carbon dioxide and nitrogen.  The fruit remains “alive’ but is put “asleep”.     Just like people breathe, apples also breathe.  Changing the gases in the atmosphere can slow down the breathing, or respiration.   This helps the apples stay crisp and juicy and sweet for a longer period of time.  But also leads to some confusion over what “fresh” means.

So, Sleeping Beauty ate an apple that put her to sleep.  And we now eat apples that have been deliberately put to sleep but then woke up again.  What should we call ourselves?  Waking Beauties?

Coquilles St. Jacques

Mother’s Day…  The weather turned out perfect for outside activities.  We started the day with a bike ride through the nearby orchards.   Then headed to the local hardware store for new string for the WeedEater and also a pretty planter filled with flowers to add to our garden.  WE’re hoping that the hummingbirds like the red flowers, even if I would have preferred the purple ones.

Dave wanted a nice dinner for Mother’s Day, and I asked to be given free reign to prepare what I wanted to eat.   There were some good looking scallops in the freezer so I looked at my Joy of Cooking for recipes and found one for Coquilles St. Jacques (Scallops in cream sauce).  I had all the ingredients and it looked good.  So we had that along with wild rice baked in the oven and fresh asparagus.  The scallops were wonderful tasting. Dave commented that he usually doesn’t like sauces that much but really liked this one and wondered what was in it.   Oh….. butter, garlic, shallots, white wine, cream.  What’s not to like?    Really, how can you fail when those are the ingredients.  We ended the dinner with angel food cake and strawberries and whipped cream.  Good thing I don’t have a blood lipid screening coming up soon.

Familiarity breeds…..

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Familiarity breeds…. hmm. contempt? Perhaps. But more likely, it just breeds boredom. I work for a company that is a major apple industry corporation. When I arrive at work in the morning, I am greeted by thousands of apple bins, each holding about 800 pounds of apples. “Good morning, Sue!” “oh, yes, Good morning, apples!”. Think about that – I might be faced with over a million pounds of apples as I arrive at work in the morning. Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji, Cameo, Honeycrisp, Jonagold. All lined up in the bin yard or on bulk trucks, ready to be processed into fresh apple slices or apple juice or applesauce or dehydrated apples.

So, when I think about cooking, do I ever think about using apples? NO. NO. NO. I have to think about apples when I ponder my work assignments – how much juice can we get from an apple, how do we handle apples to make the best applesauce? I want to leave my work behind when I go home. Yet last night when I was looking up recipes for Coleslaw that had bacon in them, I found one that also had chopped up fresh apples. I had a large bag of Granny Smith apple slices in the refrigerator (courtesy of a test run that generated, as test runs always do, extra samples). So I made the salad, including the apples, and enjoyed it. And found myself pondering how I almost go out of my way to NOT use apples at home. Perhaps I should change my tune. After all, I have all the apples I could ever use, in all forms possible, available to me. Time to change from Familiarity breeds Boredom to Familiarity breeds Good Eating.

It must be Spring!

Yes, the apple trees are in full bloom, as are the tulips. The weather can’t really seem to decide if we’re heading into winter or leaving it. But I know for certain it’s spring as I found my first tick of the season on Saturday. We had gone up to a nearby area in the mountains just to get out of town and see how far we could go on back roads before hitting snow. It was our first time on forest service roads with our new Subaru Forester and I also was kind of eager to see how it handled in a little snow. We got a little further than I expected. And the Subaru did a commendable job of getting through some patches of snow. But I also returned home with an unwelcome hitchhiker. Dave noticed a tick on my head as we were returning home and nicely picked it off and discarded it.

So, it must be spring. Now all I need is the first rattlesnake sighting of the season and I will definitely feel it’s springtime in the West. Ticks don’t really bother me, even knowing about Lyme disease. I guess because I grew up with them they don’t seem such a big deal. But rattlesnakes still startle and scare me every time I hear their rattle.