Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sauerkraut and baseball, a match made in heaven

Well, I've discovered my new favorite breakfast; scrambled eggs with Parmesan cheese, diced tomatoes, and sauerkraut. The combination of salty, sour, acidic, and creamy was exactly what I was looking for this morning. It's not that pretty, but the sauerkraut itself is a nice yellow/green color now. I took it out of the crock and put it in the fridge in a tupperware, so the fermentation is finally over. And I think I can promise that this is the last post with sauerkraut pictures (for now, mwahahahaha!).

I went to a minor league baseball game in Sacramento the other day, my first time. We were rooting for the Sacramento Rivercats, who are the minor league team for the Oakland A's. They lost, oh well. It was at Raley field, where they have lawn seats for $6 in back of the outfield, and it was a great way to spend a Thursday night. The stadium was surprisingly professional looking, with the regular vendors and everything, but it was all on a smaller scale. I'm going to see the Giants in San Francisco next weekend, so I'll be able to compare. Not counting Raley field, I've been to 5 baseball stadiums, which is quite a lot for someone who isn't really a big baseball fan. Shea Stadium (New York Mets), Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox), Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals), Three Rivers Stadium (Pittsburgh Pirates), and Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia Phillies). Now I get to add AT&T Park to the list. What a terrible name. I don't know which is worse, AT&T Park, or Citizens Bank Park, ick.

Here's a sneak peek of the weaving project. No details until it's done, sorry.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Summer is here

My finals ended last Wednesday and I took the week off for vacation (hence the lack of posts). My friend Chip came to visit and we had game nights and BBQs and family dinners galore, lots of wonderful summer activities.

It was over 100 degrees out for a few days last week, and the temp today is down to about 85, but I'm not crossing my fingers for it to last. This is just Davis in the summer.

The sauerkraut is aging well, I had some on my hot dogs for the BBQ. It's pretty salty, and the ballpark frank didn't help much, so I might try it on something else in the future. The Joy of Cooking suggests a lot of really terrible sounding recipes for sauerkraut ("sauerkraut balls" and "onions stuffed with sauerkraut" among them. It actually says "Not for ladies' luncheon" underneath that second recipe). Here's what it looks like right now.

It looks kind of gross, but it's actually pretty good all by itself. I've just been eating it slowly every day as I check its progress. I might have to transfer it to the fridge soon because this heat is aging it quicker than I'm ready for.

The craft center has been closed for the past week, but it reopens soon and I will get back to my massive weaving project that was supposed to be a Mother's Day gift. HA! Sorry Mom.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dinner Party

My friend Sarah threw herself a birthday dinner party last Saturday and I was in charge of the table decorations. It was nothing too fancy, but I'm pretty proud of the results. I tried to make it as eco-friendly as I could, but it was difficult on a budget. Here's what I ended up doing:

  • Blue butcher paper "table cloth" made the three rented tables into one long "Italian-style" dinner table. The paper was recycled afterwards.
  • Bronze candle sticks and glass dishes from the thrift store for the center pieces. Buying from the thrift store cuts down on price and eliminates the need to purchase new things for a one-time use.

  • Candles in the candlesticks and tea lights in the dishes provided light at night. If I had more money I would have bought soy candles because they are better for the environment.
  • Rice in the candle dishes added some extra interest and tied together the bronze colors of the candle sticks. The rice was still edible after the candle burned down.

  • Flowers in every other glass dish added color and tied together the candlestick color. And they are compost-able.

  • Christmas lights added another light source at night, and these strands are used for all of our parties, so they were not purchased new either.

The only new things purchased were the flowers, rice, candles, and paper. We used plates, silverware, serving dishes, and serving utensils from Sarah's house and mine. There was a lot of beer and wine consumed, but it was all in aluminum and glass containers, which are the easiest to recycle.

The party was a smashing success!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Back to "Normal" - more tea and veggies

School is almost over and I have my weekends back. I've been spending them well so far, even though I still have two exams left. Yesterday was my friend Sarah's 30th birthday party, and I helped her decorate her backyard for the dinner party. I'll post pictures soon. There have actually been a lot of birthdays this month, my friend Casey had a tea/B-Day party a few weeks ago:

Amanda brought green princess cake (marzipan "icing" and yellow cake with layers of raspberry jam, mmmmmm). We also had blooming jasmine tea which I've been really wanting to get for myself, but I can't justify the expense. The tea leaves and jasmine flowers are hand tied into little balls, which "bloom" when you pour the boiling water over them.

Here's the latest CSA box:

I bought the corn at the farmer's market (5 ears for $1!) but the CSA box had beets, basil, zucchini, carrots, cabbage, and beans. I put most of it into a huge fried rice dish, which I'm still eating. But I had something special in mind for the cabbage. I'm making sauerkraut!

That's right, you heard me. It's really easy, actually. All I did was shred the cabbage and sprinkle it with lots of salt to draw out the water and create a brine. A while ago I bought a crock for this very purpose, and I took the shredded cabbage and shoved it into the crock, pressing down and crushing the cabbage to draw more water out of it. I put a tupperware and water-filled glass jar "weight" on it, and the brine should rise above the cabbage in 24 hours. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Sierra Nevadas - Days 2 & 3

Day 2: Upper montane and subalpine zone of the western Sierra Nevadas

We drove up the western side of the Sierras and stopped several times along the way to see how the vegetation types change with elevation. We drove up through the white fir and red fir dominated forests, all the way up to the subalpine zone at 8,000 feet. It was chilly up there, and the snowballs were flying. The temperatures in Davis have been in the 80s and 90s for the past month so everyone was really excited to see the snow.

The trees in the subalpine zone are really stressed because of high winds and cold temperatures. In the winter, the wind picks up ice from the snow and blows it against the trees, scouring off the branches from the windward side of the trees. The trees are really funny looking because it looks like they only grow branches on one side.

There are a lot of really low-lying plants up there too, and their flowers are disproportionately large. They're called cushion plants because they resemble little pin cushions. This growth form keeps them insulated under the snow in the winter, and keeps them from drying out and getting sunburned from the intense sun.

Juniper trees grow in the subalpine zone, and their bark is beautiful and peeling.

We camped for the night at Grover Hot Springs State Park on the eastern side of the Sierras. There's a pool there that's heated by the hot springs, but you had to pay $5 to get in and wait in line. Plus, it's just a regular pool, so I decided to pass and I played dominoes instead.

Day 3: Eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas

The eastern side of the Sierras is drier than the western side because of the rain shadow created by the mountains. As clouds move east across CA from the ocean, they move up and over the mountains. The atmosphere thins as the clouds move up in elevation, and the water is squeezed out of the clouds to fall on the western slope. As the clouds descend on the eastern side of the mountains, they move down in elevation and expand, sucking up any available moisture. So the western side of the Sierras is a lot wetter than the eastern side. I think that's a really cool phenomenon, but then again, I'm a science nerd.

We also saw an aspen stand on the eastern side of the mountains.

We travel everywhere in these school vans and it cracks me up. People must think that we're a caravan of government vehicles.

So that was the last of the field trips. It was a crazy quarter, but there's only one more week left!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Sierra Nevadas - Day 1

On May 25-27 I went on my last field trip of the quarter, to the Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges that border California on the eastern side. We basically drove a transect up and over the mountain range from the mixed conifer forest on the western side, up higher and higher in elevation to the alpine environment, and over to the drier eastern side of the mountain range, just south of Lake Tahoe. It was breathtaking.

Day 1: Calaveras Big Trees State Park

We spent the first day of the trip driving east through the Great Central Valley, through the oak woodland and foothills, and up to the lower montane forest zone of the Sierra Nevadas. We went on a hike to see the big trees (Sequioadendron giganteum) in Calaveras Big Trees State Park! We camped in the park for the night, which was great fun. We made pasta and salad for dinner, and the whole class gathered around the campfire afterward and told stories. It started with my professor telling Mark Twain's "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and then continued with other people telling stories and jokes, playing songs on the guitar, and singing. It was wonderfully kumbaya.

The open, park-like understory of the mixed conifer forest.

The cool "jigsaw" bark of the Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Big trees!

Our campsite, that's my tent on the right, halfway out of the picture.

Dinner and kumbaya

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Big News, part 2

This post has been a long time coming (and it's heavy on words today, sorry). I officially have a topic for my master's research! It's been a frustrating process because I did this graduate school thing kind of backwards. What usually happens is a person talks to professors at various schools whose interests match their own, and she finds a project she can join where they have the space and money to support her. Then she applies to the school and that professor vouches for her and proves that he has the resources to pay her tuition etc etc. I, on the other hand, just applied to schools like it was a regular college, not knowing any better. It does make me proud that I got in without anyone vouching for me, but still, it leaves me kind of lost when it comes to support and research opportunities. I've had to figure this all out on my own, and sometimes it feels like I'm just floundering around and drowning, grasping at tree limbs and whatnot as I sink.

But now I have a project! This is big. I'm just realizing how exciting this project is too, because I was so focused on the fact that I actually had one to care much about what it was. So without further ado, here is the tentative title of my project:

Germination of rare and endangered plants in the alkali grassland ecosystem.

Tada! So, some explanation is required. The alkali grassland is an ecosystem that is characterized by highly alkaline and saline soils. It has seasonal wetland pools that inundate plants in the winter wet season, then dry up and experience drought in the summer dry season (this is like the vernal pools I wrote about a while ago). Plants have to be pretty tough to grow in the wetland areas of the grassland, and they need to have adaptations that allow them to live there. This means that there are a lot of endemic plants there, plants that only grow in those ecosystems and nowhere else.

My project will examine the germination of three rare plants in this ecosystem. Basically, what triggers they need to sprout from seeds, and how I can manipulate conditions to get the best germination rates from the small amount of seed available. There's practically no research on the germination requirements of any of the plants I'm studying, so my research will surely get published. This is a big deal. I'm only a master's student, but I will be the principal author in a paper that will most likely be published in an actual journal. Holy crap.

The other reason that I'm excited about the project is that the plants I will be studying are really quite cool. The one I will be focusing on the most is called Cordylanthus palmatus, and it's a hemi-parasite (it doesn't depend on its host for support, but it parasitizes in order to increase its fitness). It also has little salt glands that take up salt and extrude it onto the surface of its leaves, giving it a crystallized appearance.

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Better photos can be found on the CalPhotos website, but I don't feel like asking permission to use the photos, so if you're interested, you can go see them using the link above.

Another plant I will be studying is Astragalus tener var. tener. It's a cute little pea. More pictures here.
photo from the Great Valley grasslands State Park, via the CNPS website

And finally, if I can find this one in my site, I will be studying Atriplex joaquiniana, an incredibly rare salt-bush. This photo is also from CalPhotos, but it has different copyright rules.

copyright 2003 George W. Hartwell