Written by Anton Zuiker since July 2000
Why mistersugar? Why a pig?
ScienceOnline Oceans started today down in Miami. From the tweets coming through with #scioOCEANS, it looks like it’s off to a great start. I’m not there, staying back in North Carolina for work and family. But I know Karyn Traphagen and David Shiffman have put in hundreds of hours preparing for this conference, and it’s sure to be another ScienceOnline success.
Still, I really wish I were there. Oceans and I go together.
When I was 13, I moved to the Caribbean. When I was 22, I moved to Hawaii. When I was 27, I moved to the South Pacific.
My memories of St. Croix and Waikiki and Vanuatu are all through my blog, chronicling my fun in the surf and long days on the beach, of sea turtles and nurse sharks and needlefish and snorkeling above the coral reefs in three different seas.
I miss the smell of ripe seagrapes and trying not to miss the green flash as the sun disappears below the horizon, the refreshing feel of a cold Heineken being handed to me. I recall lying beside a giant leatherback turtle laying her eggs in the sand, and swimming amidst dusky dolphins in the frigid New Zealand waters.
Great memories, punctuated by the scary: my mother and brother getting terrible infections from the sewage pumped into the bay at midnight, the shock of tumbling beneath a wave as my lungs screamed for air, the howling winds of hurricanes.
I miss the ocean.
So I dug into my Peace Corps journal to find another memory of the ocean.
Here are two entries, about troca shells and the dugong in Lamen Bay of Epi Island. This was midway in our service, Erin was back in Ohio for a holiday visit, and I was spending a month as a trainer for the next class of volunteers to come to Vanuatu.
December 19, 1998
Saturday afternoon before a nap, a rest I’ve worked for! This week I was busy with my sessions — lots of talk and discussion. Great classes.
And today, I tired myself out. After class got out at 11:00 a.m., I came [back to the hut] for lunch, then walked along the beach for nearly a mile, to where William and 20 others were gathered in their canoes for harvesting troca shells from the reef. The tabu on the shells was recently lifted, and at 350 vatu per kilo, these villagers will rake in the money.
I walked past the group on the beach having lunch — I wanted to go to the point where I could see Paama. Paama, and Lopevi (which has grumbled a bit today), were faintly visible in the haze. I continued down the beach, alone and with my fantasies of Erin. It’s amazingly peaceful and erotic and exotic at the beach there: lorikeets squawking, a gentle breeze, lots of green bush and blue sea. Amid my daydreams, I had to squat to shit in the sand, the diarrhea pouring out of me. I pulled up my pants just as the Vanair plane flew by on its way from Epi to Ambrym!
When I started walking back, I met William waiting for me at the point, concerned probably about my prolonged absence and the incoming tide that cuts off the breach route. We returned to the canoe, and paddled out to the reef, tied on to an outcrop of coral and jumped into the water. At first, I snorkeled close to the canoe, holding onto the outrigger. When I got more comfortable and bold, I swam around admiring the coral and at times diving down like William, who floated near the bottom, snagging mollusks from their cubby holes. I retrieved a troca shell from three meters down, proudly extending it into the air when I surfaced. William just said, “Put it in the canoe.” We finished with me paddling us to shore, and then William brought us back to Lamen Bay, me perched at the canoe’s forehead, smug and relaxed and content. Epi is beautiful, Vanuatu comfortable.
January 3, 1999
Finally, today, I swam with the dugong.
I woke this morning and relaxed in bed with Outside Magazine, which features a list of 100 adventures to try in a lifetime, then went to an earlier-than-usual church service. After church, William and Api and Christina and I went to the sandy part of the bay, and there was the cowfish. Not a stunning animal, but placid and approachable. I dived down to touch its scarred, slimy back, being careful of the strong dolphin-like tail. When I tired, I climbed into a dugout canoe and paddled after the dozen kids trailing the dugong through the cool water — this was funny to watch, as the dugong surfaced for air and with a few strong kicks propelled forward as kids and adults furiously paddled after. Amazing that a phalanx of reaching arms doesn’t scare the creature off.
Walking back, William handed me a warm, wet slab of banana laplap, and I hungrily ate it, thinking, Outside Magazine didn’t list this, but it should: swimming with a South Pacific dugong and then walking back to your custom hut while slobbering over laplap.
Coming home last night from a dinner fundraiser for North Carolina Health News at the home of my friend, Rose Hoban — Rose’s friend, a former chef, catered an amazing assortment of Thai, Singaporean and Vietnamese dishes — I was reminded that I had a batch of cayenne hot sauce ready to strain and bottle. It smelled fruity and not too hot, a lot like Tabasco but fresher, of course.
Today, needing a reason for a first taste of the hot sauce, I looked around the kitchen and saw a bowl of potatoes that I’d bought from Eliza of Cane Creek Farm at the Carrboro Farmers Market a couple of weeks back. I went searching in the Joy of Cooking for a recipe for roast potatoes, and instead liked the idea of a Spanish omelet, which I’d learned to make from a volcano-loving Spaniard who showed up on Paama one day (I still have the piece of notebook paper on which Erin wrote out Jose’s recipes for gazpacho, paella and the omelet). So, for dinner here in Carrboro, spanish omelet with a dash of the fresh hot sauce. Very tasty and satisfying.
Dessert was muscadine granita, inspired by the scuppernong granita that topped off the 2007 food blogging dinner at the Durham restaurant Piedmont. (Here’s what Dean McCord wrote back then; I went to Dean’s birthday party last week, and blogged it here.) I made my granita through the day, this morning juicing the muscadine grapes that Oliver and I bought at the farmers market yesterday, preparing simple syrup this afternoon, and then mixing grape juice and sweet syrup and putting it in the freezer while I prepared the omelet. When I served the fragrant, deeply purple slushy to the family, Oliver was the first to say, “This is good. I like this.” The pungent grape flavor took me back to St. Croix and the frozen fruit juices in Solo cups that refreshed me along the dusty road.
The other day, searching the Joy of Cooking for a recipe of another sort, I happened upon a page describing various tropical fruits, and there was the genip (Melicoccus bijugatus, also called mamoncillo), a grape-sized fruit with a pit surrounded by tart orange pulp that is another of the memorable tastes of my youth in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
I wasn’t there. I was in grad school in Chapel Hill, studying the epidemiology of infectious diseases and struggling through Media Law, expecting our second child, enjoying a coffee discussion with Francis Collins.
But I was a blogger, and I was already gathering other bloggers for meetups. We called ourselves the Tar Heel Bloggers.
I’m sure I heard about BloggerCon at the time and followed the posts coming out of that gathering. As an early blogger, I searched for anything I could learn about how people were using the web to write and reflect their lives. And since I was just recently finished with my Peace Corps service in the Republic of Vanuatu, where the village chief would bang a tamtam to gather the community under the nakamal for village discussions, I loved the idea of a gathering of bloggers. So, the more I read from Dave and others about the bloggercon, the more I wanted to partner with my friends in the Tar Heel Bloggers to organize one of our own.
About a year later, in February 2005, we convened the Triangle Bloggers Conference. Dave drove down to join us, and others came from Vermont and Atlanta and California.
Dave blogged the day, said it was lovely but that we broke the rules, but he also organized a brunch the next day. I went to learn about outliners, although it took me until the World Outliner (seven years later) and Fargo to truly get it. I’m writing this post in an outliner! At the brunch, Dave urged me to bootstrap our community, and during the conference others encouraged us to keep up the conversation (which we would do in monthly meetups in Chapel Hill and Raleigh). I met Bora Zivkovic that day, and we were soon collaborating on a bloggercon dedicated to science. That annual event grew into a global community and a nonprofit organization called ScienceOnline.
My post A decade of blogging tells more about how we came together, who my partners were, and why we named the effort BlogTogether.
I have loved being a blogger, and I have so many friends because of blogging. Like Dave through his Scripting News blog, they have enlightened me and inspired me and entertained me and challenged me. I’ve read Kottke for more than a decade, too. His post this week about Stephen Hawking’s party for time travellers made me chuckle. Honestly, if I could travel in time, I’d first visit Cambridge, Mass. for BloggerCon, then Cambridge, UK to say hello to Professor Hawking.
Cheers to Dave and everyone else who made BloggerCon possible.
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At the Carrboro Farmers Market this morning, Oliver and I purchased our customary cinnamon rolls and ate them on the bench next to the playground. Walking along the path from stall to stall, we ran into Rose Hoban and chatted about the copperhead snake she axed in half, then a few steps later we met a neighbor holding a bunch of lemongrass leaves. I followed his lead, found the farmer, and paid $3 for a bunch of my own.
Back home, I’ve chopped the leaves and steeped them in boiling water. (The stalks I’ve put aside for making Thai red curry paste.) The lemongrass water is fragrant and tasty, and reminds me of days on Paama when I’d use the machete to cut a few leaves from our garden out back, then boil water on te smokeless stove to make the hot but refreshing drink.
In our back garden, and in the front garden, we’ve grown a variety of flowers this summer, including black-eyed susans, roses, lilies and hydrangea. The dogwood tree beneath our front porch bloomed in the spring, and the gardenia bushes that the girls gave me for my birthday a few years back were bursting with a hundred flowers.
Last year, our attempt to grow daisies didn’t work, but this spring Erin planted bunches of plants that Joanne brought down from Cleveland. Erin also put in potted plants from the garden center, thinking they were a variety of daisy. One went up front, one out back.
But all summer, the plants just stayed green. Not so bad, of course, as the green growth and crinkly leaves gave color and texture to the yard. But, no flower buds.
We’d given up hope that these were ever going to flower, and Erin pulled the one in the back garden to give the black-eyed susans more space to grow. (The white ginger rhizome from that last year gave us fragrant flowers didn’t survive the wet spring.) The plant up front stayed, because we were distracted by a project to put rocks between our house and the neighbor’s house, to fix the muddy mess caused by all the rain running down from the hill behind our houses.
And, then, that plant up front flowered. It’s a daisy after all.
It’s been more than a few years since we last wrote to our host family on Paama. This spring, Erin put together a carton of hats — a friend was going home to Niger to visit his family, and Erin had asked at her office if anyone had unused hats (it’s sunny and hot in Saharan Niger!), and in one day she’d collected more than a hundred caps — some photos of the kids, and a note from us with our best wishes.
This week, a letter arrived from Paama, written by Enna – she’s spelling her name with an ending h now (read Naming rights for context).
Hallo ol famliy Dady Anton/Mamy Erin mo sista mo brata. Mifala i wantem talem bigfala Thank you long pasel wei yufala i bin sendem. I kam, mifala i glad tumas taem mifala i recivem. Mifala i glad tu wei yufala stap tinabaot mifala everi famliy long house even everi famliy long Liro mifala i glad tumas.
And she shared news about each of the family members: Terry is 25 years old and had gone to New Zealand to pick apples. Mereva is 15 and in the 10th grade at Vaum Junior Secondary School. And Enna is 21 and working in the Liro Health Center (where Erin had spent most of her time during our time as Peace Corps Volunteers in Vanuatu) as a student nurse.
If seeing the daisy bloom was the highlight of the summer, then getting that letter from Paama was the highlight of the year.
It’s a Monday and my brother, Nick, is visiting (Joel came down for the weekend, too, but left early this morning). We dropped Oliver at the daycare, and came here to Cocoa Cinnamon to sip delicious cocoa and work (me) and study — Nick is in his probationary period as firefighter in Austin, Texas.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the outdoor patio, the street noise as delivery trucks rumble by, the rising heat and the conversations around us (one table discussing last night’s episode of Breaking Bad).
This is a nice way to start the week.
Nick flies out tonight. Erin has trips to Baton Rouge and Charlotte this week, and I’m off to Washington next week to attend the Sackler Colloquium on the science of science communication.
So, before the week gets wild, I’m enjoying the pace of this day.
Just watched Life of Pi and loved it. So glad the story, about the power of stories, was made into a film.
Robert Redford is in a new film, All is Lost, also about a man floating at sea.
I miss the ocean, so full of wonder.
Great Lakes Brewing Company is celebrating its 25th birthday right now with a block party on Cleveland’s West 25th Street. So wish I could have been there to raise a glass in salute.
The first time I went to Great Lakes was summer 1990, when I went with my fellow John Carroll University RAs after a day of team-building exercises. I wasn’t 21 yet, so I didn’t drink a beer that night. But it felt good to be there amid the excitement of an establishment paying homage to Cleveland history, and trying to make Cleveland history.
I graduated from JCU, moved to Hawaii, then returned to Cleveland in 1994. I’d go to Great Lakes with Erin and her family, or Joe Cimperman, or my other friends. The beer was really good, and I loved going to gritty Ohio City where Great Lakes and the West Side Market and a good Cambodian restaurant and coffeeshops and a wine bar and more were coming in.
As editor of Northern Ohio Live, I found a way to feature the breweries of the region with a spread we ran in the Gourmet Guide. I can still recall the delight and surprise that came upon me when I tasted the oatmeal stout at Lift Bridge Brewery in Ashtabula. My friend Paul had picked me up one Saturday, and on a lark we drove east to Ashtabula to visit this new brewery. We found it in an old garage, and the brewer was finishing up the day’s cleaning, the spent grain still steaming in a pile on the floor. He gave us the nickel tour, talked about his plans for the brewery, and then poured us glasses of the delicious stout. Alas, Lift Bridge is no more, but the memory of that brew is still with me.
My dad hosted a rehearsal dinner upstairs in August 1996, adorning Erin and me and most of the other family and guests with leis he brought from Honolulu. Kegs of Great Lakes beer fueled the dancing in the wedding tent, in the Shaughnessy front yard, the next night.
When we moved to North Carolina, I found that Chapel Hill had two good brewpubs, and so I frequented Carolina Brewery and Top of the Hill. Now North Carolina has dozens and dozens of new breweries. Winn Bassett gave a great talk at Ignite Raleigh 3 last year:
Good beer all around me, but I missed Great Lakes brews, especially the award-winning Dortmunder Gold. So when we visited Cleveland, I always brought back a six pack or two to enjoy in Carrboro or Durham. And when our good friend Harold McCarty visited, he brought the variety twelve pack — and a six pack of Dortmunder Gold.
Then, in February 2012, Great Lakes came to North Carolina. Now I can find my favorite brew at the Weaver Street Market in Carroboro and Sam’s Quik Shop near Durham, and on tap at various bars and restaurants.
A moment ago, I popped the top on a bottle of a Great Lakes The Wright Pils, adorned with an illustration of the Wright Brothers Flyer: a Cleveland beer commemorating the Ohio-North Carolina connection. What better way to toast to the success of Great Lakes Brewing Company.
Last month when I was in Washington drinking in the Capitol City Brewing Company, I noticed this picture and caption on the wall:
Sitting down for the first time today. It’s 9:09 p.m.
Woke this morning to the smell of buttermilk pancakes. Another reason I love Erin: letting me sleep in, and making delicious flapjacks.
Spent the next two hours helping Erin put Oliver’s new bed together, arranging his room, and shifting other furniture through the house. Erin had found headboards at the Habitat Re-use store, painted them blue, bought new side rails, and took Oliver to Target to pick out a new set of sheets and a blanket. He was delighted by his new bed. Another reason I love Erin: she’s an attentive and creative mother.
Then I was off to the Carrboro Farmers Market. It’s a holiday weekend, and today was hot, so at 11 a.m. the crowd was light and the stalls thin on produce (early birds got the goods, clearly). At one stand, I overheard a farmer lamenting her debt and her need to sell her farm. But she was hopeful she’d find a place to rent so she could continue. From her I bought potatoes, and elsewhere a loaf of dark rye with caraway seeds, a cantaloupe and a cinnamon roll.
Next, over to the Harris Teeter supermarket at Hope Valley Commons, where Scott the produce manager had just received another shipment of prune plums. I bought nine pounds, and other items, and this evening, I made three more batches of DIY slivovitz, in half-gallon mason jars I bought at Weaver Street Market yesterday when I was watching Oliver (Erin had to put in a rare Friday morning there, which stretched into the afternoon).
When I returned home, the family was ready to go to the swimming pool, so we packed up and drove to the Farm Club. We swam, and Oliver and Anna I played a bit of tennis. As we were leaving the pool, a pair of six-year-old twins was having an epic and loud meltdown. I think many of the parents at the pool could relate to the harried mother, but when she retreated to the showers, no one got up to help her. Until my daughters and Erin went in to assist. Another reason I love Erin: she is observant, and empathetic.
Back home, I walked right into the kitchen to prepare the slivovitz, make piperies Gemistes me feta, and mix Erin a mojito a la Ruhlman. Erin took the kids — and half a dozen of the neighbors kids — outside to make s’mores, and I cleaned up the kitchen.
Now that I’ve chronicled the day, I’m going to take a shower, make a pot of tea, and settle in with the new issue of Modern Farmer magazine.
Last year’s batch of DIY slivovitz was so tasty that I’ve been rationing the bottle in the fridge, stealing a small sip once a month, drinking the Serbian commercial slivo in between.
I’d promised Bora and Karyn that I would make a triple batch this year, and so for months I’ve been searching for a supply of Italian prune plums. I called orchards in six states, begged on Twitter for help, and prowled the produce sections of all the supermarkets near my home and when I was on the road.
This week, thinking I’d already passed the season, I started to call produce managers directly. Yesterday, the Heinen’s in Rocky River, Ohio — where my mother-in-law is a loyal and treasured customer — had just received a carton of the prune plums I wanted. But they were 500 miles away, I wasn’t sure how shipping them would work and I couldn’t schedule an impromptu road trip, so I decided to sleep on how I might get them.
Instead, this morning I called around again to the supermarkets in Chapel Hill and Durham. Bingo! The Harris Teeter at Hope Valley Commons had six pounds, and Erin just happened to be nearby. She stopped in and cleaned them out.
Which meant that tonight, after the neighborhood back-to-school ice cream social down at the park, and after the dishes were washed and the kitchen cleaned, I prepared five pounds of plums with two liters of Polish vodka in six quart Mason jars. In 100 days, this double batch will be ready to be poured into the maple syrup bottles I’ve been saving for a year, and I’ll be toasting once again to the continued success of ScienceOnline with my friends.
I celebrated my luck — the availability of prunes, friendship with Bora and Karyn, a fabulous ScienceOnline community — with a full shot of the slivo in the fridge.
I’ll be looking for more prune plums over the next week or two, to make another batch or two of slivo, maybe a plum tart tatin, and something from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen (it’s Cathy’s slivo recipe I follow).