Sticky issues

One of the petty little arguments I have with my husband is about the pans we chose for our wedding registry. He wanted some form of Teflon non-stick; I insisted on stainless steel. My reasons were simple: Non-stick pans, no matter how expensive they are when you buy them and how well you care for them, start to corrode after a few years. I also dream of being a good cook someday, and I'd always heard that "real" chefs don't use non-stick. And last but definitely not least, I'm scared of the chemicals they use to make the pans non-stick. This fear isn't based on any concrete knowledge. I just sense that, much as processed, enriched, packaged, and preserved foods aren't as healthy as fresh, whole foods, these chemically coated miracle pans that were invented 20 years ago can't be as safe as the DuPont company would have you think.

Today in the New York Times, I saw an article about PFOA, a carcinogenic chemical commonly found in food packaging, most notably certain cardboards, paper plates, and microwave popcorn bags. (I always knew there was something not quite right about that microwave popcorn!) PFOA is also used in the production of Teflon pans. Now according to DuPont, "none of it remains in the finished product," but they acknowledge that overheating an empty non-stick pan releases toxic fumes. Of course, DuPont says the pans have to be heated to 660 degrees before scary things start to happen; the non-profit environmentalists say that barrier is a much lower 325 degrees. Which would you rather believe?

I don't expect everyone to toss out their beloved pans or stop ordering pizza, but while we're waiting to see what interesting (or even dirty) little secrets the PFOA class-action lawsuit brings to the surface, let's check out these easy news-you-can-use tips mentioned in the article:

For those who don't want to wait for definitive answers from the government, the Environmental Working Group has some suggestions: Use Teflon pans at lower temperatures, and never put them on the stove to heat without food or liquid inside. Greasy food that is heated in a microwave oven in a cardboard container is a potential source of PFOA; take the food out of the container and heat it in glass or ceramic.

For popcorn in the microwave, the group suggests the following: Place a quarter-cup of good quality popcorn in a standard brown paper lunch bag; mix with oil and seasoning; seal the bag with a single staple (one staple does not contain enough metal to cause a spark) and heat for two to three minutes. Alton Brown, who cooks on the Food Network, uses this method.

Another solution is to cook the old-fashioned way. If cast iron pans are seasoned and heated properly, very little oil is needed for browning. Chefs generally do not use nonstick pans because they do not think they do as good a job of cooking as cast iron and stainless steel, especially for browning.

Meanwhile, I think we'll...um...stick with the pans we have.


Creature from the black lagoon

This weekend I organized my very first independent scuba trip, and the first dive since my certification last March. This picture is of me crawling out of the water, and despite the warm surroundings, all the neoprene I'm wearing actually was necessary. It may have been 80 degrees outside but the water was 58 degrees and freezing. We went to Lover's Point in Monterey Bay, which was only about 20 feet deep but was the perfect beginner dive. We had 9 people in our group, and everyone did at least one dive. Most of us did two dives. Even though we weren't on the typical scuba schedule, where being in the water by 9 a.m. is considered late, we had a great full day of diving. The best part was that it was hot enough outside that when we peeled off the wetsuits (or sausage casings, as I like to call them) we were able to bask in the summer sun. (But how did I get to this age without learning that, no, in fact I can NOT be in the sun for even 15 minutes without scorching my poor skin beyond repair?)


Coffee Confessional

Well, the insomnia that led me to quit coffee for a week has gone, and like any good addict, I've basically gone right back to my bad old ways. Sunday, Monday, and today have all been coffee days. Think I can keep it to 3 days a week?


Office Space...Cadet

Yesterday it occurred to me that I might have to quit my job. All week long, I'd been showing up to work feeling optimistic and perky, but by 3pm, I'd become a depressed mess with aches and pains of the body and heart. The days were dragging by. I had no energy to go to the gym. Yes, I know that would probably have been the best thing for me, but if you'd told me that in one of these moments, I'd have found some reason to get really upset with you for suggesting such an obvious and inapplicable solution for my deep, dark problems. I should have been happily busy with plenty of stuff to take my mind off my bad mood; instead every task felt like torture. I discovered the office version of waiting for water to boil: waiting for your document to print. Usually I am able to multitask and get lots of things done, then walk over to the printer and find all my stuff ready to go. But this week, I found myself forgetful; if I didn't go right to the printer, I'd forget that I'd printed something until hours later. So I kept ending up at the printer before things were done and I had to stand there...Processing...Receiving Job...Processing...all the while fomenting moral and personal outrage about my horrible career choices.

I couldn't understand what was so different about this week. My job is far from perfect, and I've had plenty of so-so weeks...hell, MONTHS...that made me wonder if maybe, just maybe there's something better out there for me. I scan job postings, have my resume at the ready, and so on. But I think this is pretty normal for the average working stiff. We're all looking for meaning and fulfillment, but we're often forced to take day jobs that pay the bills and (if we're lucky) provide some modicum of satisfaction and/or a tolerable work environment. I also suspect that even the best jobs, "dream jobs" bring challenges, painful growth, learning, and, yes, boredom and burnout. (That's why, in my opinion, everyone needs a vacation, even if what you do is what you love.) My job, like most, sometimes feels like a dream, sometimes a nightmare... but most of the time, I can roll with the punches and enjoy the good parts and get myself to the gym and be happy with the world we live in and life in general (to quote Depeche Mode, in case you missed it).

Perhaps you are wondering by now, where the devil is this all going? Did I finally figure out what it was that made this week seem so much worse than all the rest? Well, gentle reader, you're on to something. This story does indeed have what we journalists like to call a "kicker." What was so different about this week that made me into Colonel Crank?

I was drinking decaf.

I guess that's not a true kicker, because I'm continuing the story. (If this weren't a blog I might polish this gem of an essay down a bit further toward Hemingway-esque perfection, but Hemingway got a) paid and b) published, so here goes...)

Yes, I recognized the fog of caffeine withdrawal that had hazed over my sanity yesterday afternoon, just around the time I was getting ready to hurl the printer (and myself) out the window. So I poured myself some diluted green tea, treated myself to some coffee ice cream, took two ibuprofen, and got myself to the gym.

Well, maybe in the Hemingway version... In real life I didn't really go to the gym. Because I had an appointment to get to. But I felt good dammit, and I didn't have to quit my job.


Life in a bubble

We looked at 3 open houses today. We liked this one the best, mostly because it was relatively cheap and has a dog & cat grooming business in the building. But that neighborhood without any parking is probably not realistic for us. We saw one even cheaper place that felt like it was cut off at its knees. You peeped out the back door and you were, like, inches from your neighbor's gorgeous yard. The realtor quickly told us "there's no back yard" as if we had to keep ourselves from leaning over and encroaching the neighbors' property. Plus, so often these Edwardian floorplans are just useless for modern living. The rooms tend to be small and connected to other rooms, so you can't exactly do anything useful with them. You might technically have 4 rooms, but they only work as parlors or dining rooms, definitely not as bedrooms or offices and hardly as living rooms. We've been in the market long enough that we know within seconds of walking in whether or not a place will work for us. That one didn't. Last, we saw this odd combo of units that were on the quietest, loveliest street in Noe Valley. Other than that, the place was overpriced for all the work it needed, and the layouts were pretty much pointless for anyone other than rich young singles. There were 3 units that, again, were technically 1 bedrooms with "parlors" or "fainting rooms" or "large closets" that are being sold as two bedrooms. Plus this obnoxious speculating couple was there boasting about how many places they've remodeled and flipped. It's hard to stay optimistic when you're regular middle-class people trying to buy in this market. I'll be monitoring the sales and I'm sure you'll all be as fascinated as I am to see what they end up selling for. Won't you?


Bimonthly Garden Update

Two months after my first report, we have lots of action in the garden.

Please welcome my newest flower, the Lantana...

which my mom says "almost thrives on neglect." I haven't found this to be the case so far, as you'll see there are no flowers at all (there were a bunch when I bought it). Mom thinks the potting soil might be too rich and that it needs plain old dirt. Unfortunately, as a city dweller, I have no plain old dirt. Keep your fingers crossed for this one.

My Meyer lemon tree is doing well, though I'm still waiting for life to give me lemons! I had no idea how long these little guys take to develop.

The tree is now FULL of purple buds, which will become blossoms, which then become little green lemons like the ones in the second picture. We'll see how long those lemons take to grow. I now understand my cousin's warning that a lot of blossoms would fall from the tree. I can't quite imagine having as many lemons as there are currently blossoms.

My herb garden is giving me more trouble than anticipated. I've come to love adding little basil leaves to salads, noodles, and sandwiches. But it's so hard to keep the basil from dying after a few weeks! The cilantro is basically gone... though it too was fragrant and tasty while it lasted. I'm not sure what I did wrong. Did I underwater? Or overplant? Did I let it go to seed without realizing it? I'm going to try again with some new cilantro seeds or plants. We still have a lot of warm months ahead! The pictures are blurry but I didn't bother retaking them because these sad little plants look a bit less pathetic in soft focus.

The nasturtiums have basically taken over any pot they were lucky enough to inhabit. I'm glad I went for the multicolored flowers because they look really pretty.

I just wish I hadn't planted them in a pot with my beloved marigolds because the nasturtiums have completely dominated and the marigolds are no longer reproducing the way they once did.

The "easy to grow and hardy" daisies are taking their own sweet time, though they have gotten bigger. Might be some time before a bloom, though.

You probably won't even recognize the tomatoes. Remember this little guy?

Well look at him now!

The other two plants have actual tomatoes and tons of flowers.

We'll close with a shot of my remaining marigolds and my new pot of succulents, which I lovingly call Desert Delight!