Monday, December 2, 2013

Spain, Part III: Costa Brava and Barcelona

I'm only 5-6 months late on this post.  Oops.  Although it's late, I still want to document and share the last part of my trip to Spain.  I started my trip with one day in Madrid and then five with my friend Lauren in Mallorca. We then headed over to Barcelona to meet up with our friend Mayu, catch some of the Fina World Championships, and to do more site-seeing.

I had received multiple recommendations from friends to travel north up the coast along the Costa Brava, and since Lauren had never been either, we decided to go.  When we landed in Barcelona, we got into our sweet rented car (just barely managing to fit our backpacks in it), and then headed north.

The drive was very scenic and as we headed into Tossa de Mar where we were staying, the views were breath-taking.

It was still ridiculously hot, so we did a little exploring but mostly with the purpose of finding some cold drinks.  We were only there for one night, but I'm glad we decided to go.

The next morning we continued north to Figueres to see the Dalí museum. It. was. so. cool. Dalí is a weird guy, but the museum was fascinating.  But more on that later.

We headed back to Barcelona and returned our cute little car.  That night we had our first sporting event to go to.  The Fina World Championships is the major international water sports competition, which is held on the Olympics off-years. Our friend Mayu is currently the Spanish National Team Coach for synchronized swimming.  (She lived with Lauren's family as an exchange student back when we were in high school and she trained and coached with our club team).  So that first night in Barcelona, we headed to the site of the 1992 Olympics and watched the synchronized swimming team free routine competition.

It has been SO long since I watched good synchronized swimming and it was really nice to be wowed by one of my favorite sports!

When we left, I was wowed again by the BIGGEST and COOLEST fountain I have ever seen (and I'm pretty sure the highest in the world).

The next day the sports continued as we watched 4 women's water polo games (half of the top 16 teams) followed by the synchronized swimming team combo routine competition.  I think both Lauren and I re-fell-in-love with water polo again, and we decided to buy tickets to watch Team USA play Spain the next evening.

Sadly, we didn't have that much time to explore Barcelona, so we did our best to cram in the key sites to see.  We walked La Rambla and went to La Boqueria (where I'm pretty sure I acquired a stomach bacteria, despite the delicious food).

The devil empanada...

We explored Casa Battlo, where I fell in love with Gaudí,

checked out Casa Milá (also Gaudí),

cried a little at the beautiful, spiritual, and truly awe-inspiring Sagrada Família (by Gaudí),

then made a quick stop in Park Güell (also Gaudí).

(I'm planning to write a little more about all the art I got to experience in Spain, so stay tuned.)

That evening, we headed back to the pool to cheer on Team USA in water polo (USA synchro didn't qualify this year, so we didn't get to see them compete).  Since it was the year after the Olympics, many of the gold-medal-winning team had retired.  Most of the Spanish players, who won the silver in the Olympics, stayed on the extra year to be able to play in their home country.  This did not bode well for us in the Spain vs USA game. :(  We also got mocked by many a Spaniard who would copy our English and yell "Go USA" in fake high-pitched girl voices.

After the game, we met Mayu and grabbed some beers and pizza in the village (like the Olympic village).  It was so good to be able to catch up with her after so many years.  It was also really fun to see what a star she is in Spain.  In the US, synchro is not highly respected.  In fact, it's made fun of regularly. I would guess that the average American could not name one single synchronized swimmer, let alone any coaches.  In Spain, however, the national team duet is on billboards all around Barcelona.  People call out to Mayu to get her autograph and take pictures with her.  She needs people to help get her through mobs of adoring fans.  I clearly competed in the wrong country.

Mayu, in the red shirt, signing autographs for all of her fans

The next morning one of Mayu's wonderful friends drove me to the airport a mere 2-3 hours after he dropped us off at our place.  My stomach was beginning to gargle and little did I know it was going to be a very long flight (and few weeks), but I won't go into those details. I'm mostly better now. :)  Other than that, the trip was awesome, and I can't wait for my next big trip (Ireland, June 2014)!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Easy Cranberry Apple Sauce

So I guess I fail in the "writing regularly" category, but I promise to be better.  I wanted to drop by and share a quick recipe with you, which I've been enjoying for a few weeks now. 

This is just another winning way to use your rice cooker- Easy Cranberry Apple Sauce!   I've been adding it to my oatmeal and overnight oats, and just eating it plain for breakfast or as an after dinner treat. 

I even served it at our friends-giving celebration last week!

Easy Cranberry Apple Sauce
by Lindsey

Makes 6 servings

3 jumbo apples or 4-5 average apples
12 oz fresh cranberries
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 cup water

I like using the jumbo apples, because it means fewer apples to peel and core.  I use jumbo granny smith when I make this, but I think most non-mushy apples should work fine.

This is what a jumbo apple looks like- the other apple is for reference

Peel and core the apples and then dice into 1 in chunks. Throw everything in your rice cooker and turn it on.  When the timer goes off, stir for a few minutes to break down the apples and cranberries.  Keep stirring until the cooker has cooled down and then reset it for a short-cook time.  Once that's done, stir again until you reach the desired consistency.

Don't have a rice cooker?  Add the ingredients to a pot on your stove, cover, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pesto Stuffed Chicken

Mmm.  It normally takes me a while to post recipes once I've made them (because I like to make them again and change ingredients and take lots of pictures), but the dinner I just had was too good not to share immediately.

I discovered this recipe for pesto on a beautiful blog called What Katie Ate a few years back.  Katie made this goat cheese pesto in a tomato tart which I tried and liked.  But it was the pesto that stuck with me.  My roommate and I could devour a cup of the stuff in an absurd amount of time and I made it many times when I was living in San Francisco.

I sort of forgot about the pesto, but I recently made a recipe that involved stuffing a chicken breast with apricots, and it seemed like using the pesto would be awesome.  So that's what I tried tonight: a chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese pesto and sun-dried tomatoes.  Delicious!

Fresh from the garden. And yes, I'm actually managing to keep basil alive these days!

Pesto Stuffed Chicken
by Lindsey
Makes 1-2 servings

1 chicken breast
2 tbsp pesto (recipe below)
1 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes (chopped)

Pesto: (adapted from What Katie Ate)
Makes 12 tbsp servings

2 handfuls of basil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup grape seed oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
100 g goat cheese (I used a 113 g goat cheese log)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes 
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the pesto, toast the pine nuts for a few minutes until they start to brown and smell yummy.

Add all of the pesto ingredients to a food processor (or blender).  Blend until well-mixed.  It's not the prettiest pesto, (kind of a bleh color), but it tastes wonderful.

Heat your over to 350 degrees.  Pound the chicken to make it as flat as possible- this will help it cook evenly and quickly.  At the fattest portion of the breast, start cutting a pocket, without cutting through to the other side.

Mix the pesto with half the sun-dried tomatoes and stuff into the chicken.  This is a cool trick I learned: use a couple of toothpicks to "sew" up the pocket in the chicken.  It's amazing how well this works.

Although this pictures makes the chicken look nasty, check out the toothpick "sewing".

Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet that can be transferred to the oven.  Cook the chicken breast for 4-5 minutes on each side until it's nice and golden.  It won't be cooked all the way through yet, but no worries!

Transfer to the oven and cook 20 minutes.  I found that the extra oil burned, so I probably will try to drain any extra oil before I transfer it to the oven next time.

Remove from oven and top with the remaining sun-dried tomatoes.  Enjoy with some brown rice and a side salad.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Things You Should Know About Sea Level Rise

The sea is coming!  The sea is coming!

Sea is for Cookie- get it?  (Also, this is totally the background for my work computer.) Source

Let's talk a little about sea level rise today, shall we?  In my job, I deal with sea level rise (SLR) a lot.  This is great, because it means some cities/states/other areas get it and are willing to pay us to help them
start preparing.  Sadly, there are still plenty of people out there who are in denial or actually think the science is wrong. (I went to a conference last year where a guy gave a presentation about how sea level rise isn't happening- to a room full of coastal engineers... know your audience, dude!  I just kept texting my coworkers asking if this guy was for real.  So bizarre).

So you don't end up being that guy, here are some things you should know...

What is sea level rise anyway?
Well, with or without humans, the oceans would rise and fall as global temperatures change.  For instance, during the Ice Age, lots of water froze on land and formed giant glaciers.  That meant that there was less water in the ocean.  On top of that, the water that was left in the ocean took up less space (not by a lot, but enough... remember back to physics class? when molecules get cold, they slow down.  They bump into each other less, so they take up a smaller amount of volume.  Heat them up and they use the energy to bounce around and the substance expands- that's called thermal expansion).

Molecules doing the thermal expansion dance. Source
So less water in the ocean + less space taken up by the remaining water = low sea levels.  Sea levels were estimated to be 125-135 METERS(!) lower than present at the maximum of the last Ice Age (NRC 2012).   On the flip side, when things get hot, the glaciers on the land melt*, the extra water goes in the ocean, all that water expands because it's warmer (and more energetic), and like an overfull bathtub, things start getting wet.

Wait, but then how much of this sea level rise thing is my fault?
Most of it.  Or at least, you probably aren't helping the situation.  While the non-believers the non-understanders** will argue that global warming is just part of the earth's normal fluctuations, truth is, since the Industrial Revolution we've been making a mess with all of our new-fangled inventions.  While cars are sweet and they help us get around, they burn fossil fuels which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  You've heard about those greenhouse gases, right? Like water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone?  Well greenhouse gases work kind of like lots of little mirrors.  When the sun shines on us here on earth, the light and heat bounce off the ground and back towards space.  The gases in the atmosphere reflect some of this light/heat back to earth again- like a giant blanket keeping in our body heat.  Now greenhouse gases are super important for us- earth would be too cold for our existence without them.  But put too many little energy mirrors in the atmosphere, and it's like having too many blankets on- we don't release enough heat out into space, and we get HOT.

The other big thing we humans have messed up on, is getting rid of some important greenhouse gas absorbers.  Like forests. And wetlands.  Remember back to elementary school again- plants breathe carbon dioxide (one of those greenhouse gases we're talking about) and exhale oxygen- the reverse of what our bodies do, and an important process for a healthy earth.  So when we cut down entire rainforests, or dry out wetlands, we're releasing all of the carbon dioxide the plants were holding out into the atmosphere.  I'll get more into the awesomeness of wetlands in another post, but even the soils of wetlands hold a ton of carbon for us!!  

So yes, this is your fault (and everyone else's).  Since the Industrial Revolution, there's been a 40% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide! (wikipedia) That's a lot.  The earth is getting hotter, so all that stuff we talked about in the question above is changing ocean water levels. Additionally, when we pump water out of the ground (which we do a lot these days) it usually ends up in the ocean- more water that wouldn't be there if it wasn't for us.  While this plays a smaller role than thermal expansion and melting ice, it's still not helping.

Okay, I feel horrible.  Let's just stop everything and save the earth!
Sure thing- I'm with ya.  Although it's impossible, let's just say we do stop all our polluting ways TODAY.  Because of everything we've done historically, the oceans will keep rising to get into equilibrium with the warmer atmosphere we've created.  Isn't that crazy?  Thanks a lot great-grandpa.

So are we doomed to be water-logged in the near future?
No, not really.  Even with the worst-case scenarios, things won't get too crazy for a while.  It's all about the acceleration of these things.  Right now, the global rate of SLR is 1.7 mm/yr- not too bad.  By 2030, we'll still only see 8-23 cm (3-9 in) of SLR since 2000.  But at 2050 it's likely to be 18-48 cm (7-19 in), and in 2100, we're looking at 50-140 cm (20-55) or 1.4 meters (4.6 ft) of SLR (NRC 2012)! 

Okay, 14 inches of SLR by 2050.  What does that really look like?
Well, conveniently for you, my dear reader, my co-worker Jeremy did some time traveling to show you what sea level rise is going to look like.

Jeremy back in 2000 - 0 in of SLR

Jeremy in 2050- 14 in of SLR

Jeremy in 2100- 55 in of SLR

Jeremy in 2100+ - ?

Those estimates are kind of all over the place. What do you have to say about that?
Well the scientists don't know everything at this point.  Will our political leaders lead us to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions?  Will developing countries put in an effort to reduce their emissions, or just say heck with you guys- it's our turn now! Will there be a turning point where all sorts of physical processes occur at once and accelerate the changes (like changing ocean currents or large chunks of ice melting at once)?  There are still a lot of unknowns.  With the data being collecting now, SLR science and it's models will vastly improve in the next 10 years.

Ok, so the sea is rising and it's our fault.  So what?
This is going to be a big issue for coastal communities going forward.  Natural systems are smart, and will try to adjust to changing sea levels, however we've done a really good job at boxing in most of those systems.  If you've ever driven along Highway 1 in San Francisco, you've probably seen the sand that blows on to the road.  This is the beach and dunes's attempt at moving upslope in response to SLR.  Marshes do something similar (they actually accumulate more sediment to raise up, but if they can't do that fast enough, they too will try to move up slope).  So when we build roads along the water, or houses, or other infrastructure (water treatment plants, pipes, buildings), we're setting ourselves up for a fight with nature.

And while we're smart, you know who generally wins these battles? Nature.  She's usually easier to just go along with.  Move your roads when they start falling into the water.  Move your house.  You can build a wall to keep out the ocean (another topic I'll get into in another post), but you're probably going to be spending a lot of money, and you'll just be putting off the inevitable.  And even if you do win the battle, you're probably destroying a valuable habitat/resource like a beach or wetland.  So just move- it'll be okay.   


This has been great!  How can I learn more!
I've included some links at the bottom of this report of some of the more recent scientific papers on sea level rise.  And of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Thanks for listening and learning with me today!

*For a while I was spending a lot of time wondering about the glaciers in the water.  Since ice is less dense than water, (ever try freezing something in a ramekin and then forgetting this part of physics and getting really sad over your broken ramekin? (this may have just happened to me) Same process- water expands, and the greater volume breaks your ramekin.  Remember, density = mass/volume.  So if your mass stays the same, and your volume goes up, your density decrease- thus water expands when it freezes and is therefore less dense) Where were we? Oh right.  Since ice is less dense than water, if it melts, the volume actually decreases.  With glaciers, the majority of ice is underwater, so I thought, heck maybe we should melt the glaciers to stop sea level rise! Then the voluminous ice will shrink to water when it's melted, and our bathtub volume will decrease.  Great plan, except the ice on land also melts and runs into the ocean, and your bathtub overflows. Sad.  So to summarize, it's the ice on land that's really important.

**I hate that- "believers."  Like science is a belief and not based on data. Like all the scientists got together and said, "let's pull one over on everyone else" and invented this stuff.  This isn't a belief-system, people!

A special thanks to Jeremy and Nena for pictures and proof-reading!

(1) NRC 2012 (National Research Council) -currently the go-to paper for SLR on the west coast of the US
US Army Corp of Engineers on SLR
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2007)

Vermeer and Rahmstorf 2009 -important paper that is cited a lot in SLR discussions