Archive for September, 2008

200,000 miles and counting for my Honda

September 29, 2008

Diane's Honda turned 200,000 miles

Hooray for my wonderful 1994 Honda Civic DX! The little two-door hatchback turned 200,000 miles yesterday! The momentous event occurred around 6 p.m. on Route 4 in Virginia near the Kerr Dam and Reservoir. We were returning home from a visit to our four acres on a creek in Virginia, affectionately and also appropriately dubbed Chiggerville.

We were prepared, having brought a bottle of chilled champagne and four glasses. We pulled over in a little clearing and had a quickie party, even pouring a bit of champagne on the Honda.

Worries about missing the big turnover

Wessel and I had been worried we’d miss the big turnover because we are loaning the car to our Dutch/Friesian visitors, Wessel’s longtime friend Liekle and his brother Tjits, while they explore the NC mountains this week. From our calculations two weeks ago we were convinced the Honda would hit 200,000 with them, so we were doubly excited that we were present for the event.

Toast to Diane's Honda Civic

Toast to Diane`s Honda Civic

While hybrids are great, the Honda ranks up there in fuel efficiency. Plus I haven’t wasted energy on new materials to assemble a new car in 14 years, and the car still gets about 32 mpg in the city and 36 mph on the highway.

While I have named cars in the past, for some reason I never named this Honda, which I bought for $10,000 at Weymouth Honda, south of Boston. But it has served me well. My last Civic (“Hokie,” for its origins in Blacksburg, Va.) died at the early age of 120,000 miles. Most of this Honda’s miles have been for fun or errands, as I’ve always, on purpose, had a short commute to work. Wessel now takes the car to work, about 20 miles roundtrip. I’ll be putting a fair number of miles on the car during the next year, while crisscrossing the state to research my book, “Farm Fresh North Carolina.

Diane celebrates milestone with champagne

Diane celebrates milestone with champagne

I’ve had some great road trips in this car, especially when I load it to the gills (grills?) for car camping. The Honda and I have driven up and down the East Coast and halfway across the country, but not to the West Coast. I’ve had three bicycles on the back, and three dogs inside. I’ve also had some very romantic moments, with Wessel and a few who preceded him.

Diane and Wessel somewhat successfully attempt to "spell" 200 while holding Sabrina and Roxy and not breaking champagne glasses

Diane and Wessel somewhat successfully attempt to `spell` 200 while holding Sabrina and Roxy and not breaking champagne glasses

Honda and I have had our share of dramatic moments, too, from getting caught in a snowdrift in the White Mountains in New Hampshire to hydroplaning on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Mass., and ended up sitting on the median – uninjured and facing the wrong direction. We’ve gotten only one speeding ticket (my only one ever, when returning from the NC coast four years ago.) We’ve lost a couple radios and wallets to thieves in Boston, and a suitcase (of a houseguest!) to vagrant neighbors in Durham. We’ve never run out of gas, but we have broken down on a few occasions. Of course I’ve locked myself out of the car several times (who hasn’t?) and left the lights on, running down the battery (again, don’t we all?).

I hope we still have many happy years together. When our time comes to say so long, I’m thinking Honda Fit; a maybe a hybrid, if the price drops; or even more exciting, a plug-in hybrid. But for now, I’m very happy with my little Honda Civic. Pass the champagne, please.


Don’t take Clearwater hydrant for granite

September 24, 2008
Fire hydrant monument in Clearwater, FL

Fire hydrant monument in Clearwater, FL

Wessel has a knack for spotting all kinds of monuments, one of the many, many, many things that fascinates him. I usually can take ’em or leave ’em, but this one really amused me. He spied it in Clearwater, Fla., during one of our bike rides along the Pinellas Trail, a 45-mile-long paved rail-trail from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. Usually firefighting monuments contain life-size statues of firefighters hauling giant hoses. But this dedication to Clearwater firefighters is more basic — it’s a fire hydrant. My first thought was why have a statue of a hydrant when you can see actual hydrants everywhere you look? But then it kind of grew on me.

The Clearwater Fire and Rescue Department

The Clearwater Fire and Rescue Department

Then when I read more about it in a government newsletter I found online, I was really charmed. The “sculpture” was initiated by a couple women in human resources at the Clearwater Fire & Rescue Department. The “artists” were city employees, i.e. it was a DIY effort. It’s an actual hydrant on a concrete base that was primed with a gloss black base coat then stippled with gray, white and silver paint to mimic granite stone. The base was done with the same faux finish. I had no idea it was a fake. It’s a lovely tribute to a very noble profession.

Apparently, the fire department dedicated the monument in 2000. Of course the obvious question is, have any dogs dedicated it as well? Now that would be a photo op!

Celebrating Vicenza and pal Palladio

September 18, 2008
The Teatro Olimpico was designed by Andrea Palladio as his last work and inaugurated in 1585

The Teatro Olimpico was designed by Andrea Palladio as his last work and inaugurated in 1585

I was so happy to see this meaty travel story on Vicenza, Italy, by Canadian writer Paul French in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of its favorite son, architect Andrea Palladio (born Nov. 30, 1508), who designed many gorgeous municipal structures and country villas. Said article was even in the paper I usually write for, The Boston Globe. Not only was it interesting and helped spread the word on this relatively little-known architect and unknown area between Verona and Venice, in northern Italy, but its publication meant I could finally stop feeling guilty that I didn’t write anything myself!

Piazza in Vicenza (Click to ENLARGE)

Piazza in Vicenza on a dreary fall day (Click to ENLARGE)

Wessel and I went to Vicenza last Thanksgiving, and I swore it would be a vacation for me. As a writer, it’s difficult for me to go anywhere and not write about it. Part of that is that the opportunity is there and I’m spending the money anyway, and also I like making money from stories (though often my hourly rate ends up being ridiculously meager). But above all else, I truly feel a duty to spread the word about things I think are interesting, meaningful, helpful, or just plain fun. In a way I feel I do “social work” through my journalism, trying to help those in need. While Vicenza, a fairly wealthy city, will be fine without my assistance, I do want to point people there because it’s, as the cliché goes, a hidden jewel. (I’d never use that phrase in a story!)

Diane (left) visits Federico Lauro in the mid 1980s (Click to ENLARGE)

Here’s the story of my history with Vicenza. It was 1983 and I was on the last leg of a two-month backpack trip in Europe. I started out with a group of college friends, and then went solo. On the second day of my solo stretch, I was on an overnight train from Milan to Paris. Federico, who was in my cabin, was listening to a cassette of “Speaking in Tongues” by the Talking Heads. He was from Vicenza. We bonded over music, and ended up pitching our tents side by side in Paris and bopped around the city the next day. Then we became pen pals, writing each other a couple times a year.

Enrico, Mariella, mother Valenza, Eloisa and Federico (Click to ENLARGE)

Left to right: Enrico, Mariella, Mariella and Eloisa's mother, Eloisa and Federico, in 1986 (Click to ENLARGE)

In 1986, after staying in Greece for six months with my American friend Susan Pappas (who had also been on the backpack trip), I headed to Italy in hopes of finding work in one of the large cities. Of course a stop in Vicenza was on the agenda. When I arrived, I was quite under the weather, so not only did I stay with Federico and his family, they nursed me back to health. In the end, Federico and his father helped me find a place to live and a little work teaching English. I got to know his good friend Enrico, his girlfriend, Eloisa, and her sister Mariella.

I made a Vicenza stop during travels in 1988, but Federico and Eloisa were on holiday. Then, in 1990, Federico and Eloisa, now married, stayed with me near Boston for six months while they studied English and toured New England. After that, we wrote, and then emailed, infrequently.

Villa Rotunda designed by Andrea Palladio and built in 1566

The villa "La Rotonda," just outside Vicenza, was designed by Palladio and built in 1566

So when Wessel and I visited Vicenza, it had been 18 years since I’d seen Federico and Eloisa! They have two sweet, lovely children and live next door to Enrico and Mariella, now married and with children of their own. While Vicenza had grown (I couldn’t remember the outskirts all that well) the “centro” looked pretty much the same. It was very moving to revisit my past and also share my Italian city and friends with Wessel. Vicenza will always be near and dear to me, and now I don’t even have to feel guilty not writing a story about it!

Seattle’s best blend: art on the waterfront

September 16, 2008
Eagle (1971) from Alexander Calder with the Puget Sound in the background (Click to ENLARGE)

Eagle from Alexander Calder with Puget Sound in the background (Click to ENLARGE)

When Wessel and I flew into Seattle this past spring to then go on by car to the Olympic Peninsula, we first took one detour — to the new Olympic Sculpture Park. This amazing green space, open since 2007 and operated by the Seattle Art Museum, is to me one of the most exciting spots in the city. Not only are the landscaping, art, and setting magnificent, admission is free! Below is a little ditty I wrote about it for the Boston Globe travel section “Rave” feature on Sept. 7 (illustrated by one of Wessel’s photos). I just noticed that I used the word “impressive” twice. I’m surprised my editors didn’t catch that!

Urban art with a green heart

SEATTLE – In an impressive makeover, this forward-thinking city has turned a former fuel-storage and transfer facility into a striking sculpture park.

Fountain with sculpture Father and Son (2004-2006) from Louise Bourgeois; the Father is covered with water

Fountain with sculpture Father and Son (2004-2006) from Louise Bourgeois; the Father is covered with water

Opened by the Seattle Art Museum last year, Olympic Sculpture Park, on the northern end of the waterfront, is in a vibrant area to stroll, shop, eat, and admire world-class sculpture. The nine acres of green space that overlook Puget Sound and look out at the Olympic Mountains bring together the best of this city: art and outdoor recreation.

Rotating neon ampersand part of Roy McMakin's installation `Love & Loss` (2005) (Click to ENLARGE)

Rotating neon ampersand, part of Roy McMakin's installation Love & Loss (Click to ENLARGE)

What’s most impressive is the way the park melds contemporary landscape design with existing urban infrastructure. A 2,500-foot, Z- shaped route follows the landform, leading from the visitors center and cafe on a hilltop through a series of outdoor “galleries” marked by differing landscaping down to a waterfront recreational path.

Of course the 21 sculptures take center stage, representing such artists as Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Richard Serra, and Ellsworth Kelly.

Mark Dion's Neukom Vivarium, a greenhouse with a 60-foot hemlock nurse log

Mark Dion`s Neukom Vivarium, a greenhouse with a 60-foot hemlock nurse log

The most provocative sculpture is Mark Dion’s “Neukom Vivarium.” The New Bedford, Mass., native and Pennsylvania resident custom-designed a greenhouse that houses a 60-foot-long western hemlock nurse log, whose decay and renewal represents the cycle of life.

IF YOU GO: Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Ave., 206-654-3100. Opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes after sunset. Free.

The egret has landed

September 12, 2008

Egret has landed on car at T-junction with Gulf Boulevard in Indian Rocks Beach

Admittedly, this is a pretty lousy photo, but you can see that a snowy egret has landed atop this car waiting at a stop sign at Indian Rocks Beach. After living in Florida for 13 years and now visiting for 20 more, I’d never seen such a thing. So while I was waiting behind this car and watched as the egret landed, I snapped a photo as quickly as I could. As expected, the egret flew off when the car started to move. (Had it not, well, that would have been beyond strange.) These beautiful shore birds are one of my favorite things about Florida. They hang out in people’s lawns, in parking lots, and of course along the water. But taking a break on a the roof of a car? That was a first.

Want to fish for the New England Aquarium?

September 11, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Aug. 31, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

I’d never stopped to think where aquariums get their stock until I heard about these “collecting” trips. What a cool idea to invite paying guests!

Russ Haims on a boat deck before diving in Bimini

Russ Haims on a boat deck before diving in Bimini

WHO: Russ Haims, 46, of Wayland, Mass.

WHERE: Bahamas.

WHEN: 10 days in May.

WHY: To volunteer on his fourth “Collecting Trip” conducted by the New England Aquarium. Haims returns because, “I love marine life, I’m an avid scuba diver, and the thought of helping out the aquarium and then taking my young children there and saying, look at what Daddy caught, what more could I want?”

GO FISH: “There are three crew, three aquarium staff members, and nine participants. Our job is to collect fish and marine life for the aquarium. Of course they’re very conscientious about handling the fish and protecting the reef,” Haims said. Usually the volunteers are hobbyists from around the country. But, aside from a Dutch couple, this outing comprised several aquarium staff members, including president and CEO Howard “Bud” Ris and his wife, Margaret. (Another Collecting Trip leaves Sept. 14, at a cost of about $3,500, excluding airfare.)

Russ (left) gathers fish with Joe Brennan of Boston (center) and boat captain, Lou Rich of Miami (Click to ENLARGE)

Russ (left) gathers fish with Joe Brennan of Boston (center) and boat captain, Lou Rich of Miami (Click to ENLARGE)

SITES AND FINDS: “The trips originate from Miami, and we always go through Bimini, but the itinerary changes depending on what dive sites we go to,” Haims said. “We’re on a research vessel, a 25-year- old dive boat.” The volunteers would dive three or four times daily for 45-minute intervals. On this trip they netted about 400 specimens for the aquarium. They also conduct scientific surveys of the reef life.

Russ during his diving trip to Bimini (Click to ENLARGE)

Russ spent several hours a day underwater. (Click to ENLARGE)

WISH LIST: “The New England Aquarium has a very detailed wish list of species, quantity, and sometimes gender. This time, for example, they wanted a yellow stingray of a certain size, but not a female so you don’t take babies.” They caught several, which are now part of the new touch-tank exhibit. “Before every dive we have what’s called a chalk talk where they explain where the boat is, what reefs are around it, what fish you might find, whether there’s a current, and they demonstrate on the boat how to catch the fish.”

Russ diving at Bond Cay in the Berry Islands outside of Bimini (Click to ENLARGE)

Russ diving at Bond Cay in the Berry Islands outside of Bimini

NET GAINS: The divers use several methods of catching fish, usually a net handled by two people or the whole group. “Every time you identify and capture them you put them in your catch bag. Then you bring them on board and see them alive. It’s very rewarding.” The fish are brought up slowly in order to acclimate and some even go into a decompression chamber. On “pack day,” the group awakens at 2 a.m. to painstakingly prepare the fish for the airplane ride home. “If people knew how much care goes into all the fish at the aquarium, they’d have such an appreciation for them.”

ON PURPOSE: Of the aquarium trips, Haims said, “I cannot imagine a more rewarding, purposeful, and enjoyable activity. I’m not interesting in diving to see something that’s just pretty anymore.”

Wessel wins with lekker Indonesian dish

September 8, 2008

My spouse, Wessel, has many wonderful qualities, but I would not count his culinary skills among them. Well, not until two weeks ago. Wessel is now the proud champion of the 2008 “best dish” or “het beste garecht” at the annual Rijsttafel (pronounced riced-tahfel) event sponsored by our regional Dutch club. The group, which covers central North Carolina, is called De Wieken, which means “wings of the windmill.”

Wessel’s dish? Hot eggs, or “hete eieren.” (Recipe below.) You go, hon!

Wessel with dish with eggs soaking in hot sambal sauce

Wessel holding dish with hot sambal eggs shortly after preparation

He won 50 bucks (too bad they weren’t Euros) and an apron with a recipe on it in Dutch. Good thing he has his own apron now, because as you can see in the photo here, he had to borrow mine (which my mom made me eons ago) when he made his award-winning dish.

First, some background on rijsttafel, which means “rice table.” It’s an Indonesian spread, featuring rice with many different sauces and side dishes. Indonesian restaurants with rijsttafel dishes are very popular in Amsterdam. The Dutch connection is that from the early 1600s until 1945, Indonesia was a Dutch colony. Some Indonesians still speak Dutch, and when we were there in 2005, we spotted Dutch names all over the place, and even a Dutch cemetery in Jakarta (on the grounds of Museum Wayang).

Guests at the yearly rijsttafel event organized by Dutch club De Wieken

Guests at the yearly rijsttafel event organized by Dutch club De Wieken

The last De Wieken Rijsttafel we attended was two years ago, when, due to lack of planning, we lamely brought something from Whole Foods. This year Wessel took full ownership, studying Indonesian recipes online. Still, I was not hopeful. This is someone who has mixed pineapple and raisins into pasta, and once made me a meal of potatoes, cauliflower and onions. Maybe all-white worked for the Beatles, but not for me.

His choice was inspired by a friend from college at the University of Wageningen, Michel Flipphi, who used to make hot eggs for the study group he and Wessel were in. Basically it’s hard-boiled eggs that sit in a hot sauce with onions for several hours to soak up the flavors.

Me being the alpha cook and general know-it-all, I was convinced he’d never find the main ingredient, the hot sauce sambal oelek, a chile paste. Well, danged if it wasn’t at our local Kroger supermarket. He added another extra-hot sauce made from cayenne peppers on top of that, so then I was sure it would be way too hot. But in fact, it was perfect. He’d never used a wok, but mastered it immediately. He hard-boils eggs differently from me, but they were perfect.

This empty dish convincingly shows why the jury made its decision

As De Wieken was announcing the winner of the “lekkerste” (tastiest) meal, judged by Dutchies with Indonesian pasts, I thought, I hope Wessel isn’t getting his hopes up because he doesn’t have a chance, what with all the amazing and elaborate dishes here. When they called out “hete eieren” I expressed such surprise and excitement that everyone thought I had cooked it. “It was Wessel!” I sputtered. “He never cooks!”

Wessel with prize for best Indonesian dish

Wessel with prize for best Indonesian dish (Click to ENLARGE)

When he took his place on stage, I was bursting with pride, especially after having eaten two large platefuls of food from the Rijsttafel, not counting dessert. Here is the recipe, which Wessel found online at (hete eieren). He has generously translated it to English. If you try it, let us know how it turned out.

Hete Eieren/Hot Eggs

– one large yellow onion
– wok oil
– 6 tablespoons (100 ml) ketchup
– 2-6 tablespoons (30-100 ml) hot sauce
– 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 g) sambal oelek
– 4 tablespoons (60 g) coconut flakes
– 1/2-1 tablespoon (7-15 ml) soy sauce
– 8-12 hard-boiled eggs
– salt to taste

– wok or frying pan
– wooden spoon

– Cut hard-boiled eggs in half
– Finely chop/dice the onion
– Heat the oil in wok or frying pan
– Sautee onions till they begin to brown
– Add add ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce, and coconut flakes
– Add sambal to preferable level of spiciness
– Pour 3/4 of sauce in dish and put hard-boiled eggs in sauce
– Pour remaining sauce over eggs
– Incubate eggs+sauce for at least 30-60 minutes before serving

Tips from Wessel
– Add a bit of sugar if the taste is too sharp
– Add milk to turn down the heat if needed

Eet Smakelijk!!

Burma from beneath the sea

September 4, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Aug. 17, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

When Tom and Shelley contacted me, it was the first I’d heard of the Mergui Archipelago and the Moken people, though I’ve since read up on both, including a piece on “60 Minutes” after the tsunami. I was fascinated during every minute of our interview. A very exciting journey!!

Tom Schultz and Shelley Reeves in Mergui Archipelago, Burma

Tom Schultz and Shelley Reeves in Mergui Archipelago, Burma (Click to ENLARGE)

WHO: Tom Schultz and Shelley Reeves of Carlisle, Mass., both 52.

WHERE: Mergui Archipelago, Burma.

WHEN: 10 days in March.

WHY: “We’re snorkeling all the great reefs of the world and we didn’t know this one existed,” said Reeves about Mergui (pronounced mer-gooey), a 200-island barrier reef system in the Andaman Sea near the Thai coast. The couple learned of it from the World Wildlife Fund Travel Program, which just started trips there. “When we heard it was so remote and unspoiled and that this was an opportunity to see corals thousands of years old, we jumped on it.”

Shelley at Tower Rock in Mergui Archipelago (Click to ENLARGE)

Shelley at Tower Rock in Mergui Archipelago (Click to ENLARGE)

REEFS AND ISLANDS: The group of 12 Americans spent 11 nights on a live-aboard scuba boat with several guides, including a coral specialist and a naturalist. A Burmese government official joined them “to make sure you don’t go places they don’t want you to go,” Schultz said. The boat’s crew, used to accompanying dive trips, “had never stepped foot on these islands,” he said. They snorkeled several times a day and visited nine islands by motorized Zodiac.

COLOSSAL CORAL: “It was the most amazing snorkeling we’d done because of the undisturbed corals, some of which were 2,000 or 3,000 years old and as big as a house,” Schultz said. Reeves’s favorite fish were the cuttlefish. “Usually they’re small, but these were the size of a serving platter and all shades of purple and green. And we saw some of the hugest moray eels we’d ever seen, in all colors of polka dots and stripes.”

Tom Schultz in Mergui Archipelago

Tom Schultz in Mergui Archipelago

LAND LOVERS: “We weren’t expecting the stuff aboveground to be so awesome,” Schultz said. The biggest island they visited was Lampi where they saw “about 35 species of birds, monkeys, and signs of wild pigs, civets, and, of all things, elephants. It’s a protected marine park, but we saw Burmese fishing boats. They left when they saw us.” On another island they saw Burmese military officials “protecting their interests” in an area replete with swiftlets. “They take the nests and sell them to the Chinese for bird’s nest soup.”

Shelley with Moken (‘sea gypsy’) children on Lampi Island in Mergui Archipelago

Shelley with Moken (‘sea gypsy’) children on Lampi Island in Mergui Archipelago

RARE SIGHTING: “We had several encounters with the Moken, a nomadic people who live on small boats and a totally fascinating culture to get to meet,” Schultz said. “We were reluctant to introduce ourselves and approached cautiously, but they were welcoming,” Reeves said. “Their dugout boats had a little cover and a charcoal grill. In one we saw, with a family of six, they were drying sea cucumber and grilling eel. We traded pencils and little things for a piece of eel.”

ON THE ROCKS: On their last day, the group spent a few hours at the only resort on the archipelago, the Myanmar Andaman Resort. “Here’s this guy mixing mojitos,” Reeves said. “It looked so strange.”