What was I thinking??? Or, keep the scissors away from me!

This post will be another one where I have a confession to make. I am a bit obsessed with food. However, it is a very complicated obsession. Having recently relocated to a much smaller space, I have an entire bookshelf devoted to cookbooks and recipes. And it is the pile of recipes that is the concern. It is kind of a towering pile of recipes. I also have two recipe boxes, and a few folders that I have gathered these recipes in, but the pile is always out of control. Organizing them is one of those perpetual tasks that makes it on my “to do” list for Winter/Spring/Summer breaks, when I theoretically have time to deal with them, yet I never seem to make any progress! I do try, I attempt to go through them with a critical eye, “will I really cook this?”, I cut them smaller and glue them to index cards, I try to group them in logical ways (main dishes, desserts, etc…), yet I am always cutting out more, so I never catch up. And I find recipes everywhere, not just Vegetarian Times or Eating Well or magazines devoted to food; I cut recipes out of the newspaper, Yoga Journal, or anything else I read. I also check even more cookbooks out of the library and look through them for intriguing recipes.

Now, in and of itself, this might not seem too odd, but the bizarre reality is that I never really use these recipes. I have the best of intentions, I occasionally go through them as I menu plan for the week (which I also don’t do often enough), but most nights when it is time to cook dinner, I look in my fridge and just make something up. My family is vegetarian and has participated in a CSA (community supported agriculture) program for years, so we get a lot of variety of local produce- it is not that we eat the same thing all the time. However, I seem to cook most meals the same way. I get out my wonderful wok (best wedding present ever! And still in regular use) throw in some oil and onions and then just add piles of chopped veggies and a sauce I have thrown together at the last minute, toss it over a starch/carbohydrate of some kind, and add tofu or some other kind of protein, and serve it. I am fairly versatile, I can do Asian (Thai, Chinese, Japanese), Mediterranean, or Tex-Mex in this way, and that is the way I cook most of the time. Sometimes, I mix it up and throw some of these veggies onto a pizza dough and bake it in the oven, or under a layer of eggs for a frittata- that is about as radical as it gets. So, what is up with that pile of recipes?

I started reflecting on this after my younger daughter asked me last month if I considered myself an “adventurous” cook. I still don’t really know how to answer this. I am somewhat creative with food, but don’t seem to try a lot of new things- either ingredients or recipes. I definitely eat much differently than the way I ate when I was growing up, and cook very differently than my family. I use “real” ingredients and actually cook most things from “scratch”. I am confident in my skills and most people seem to enjoy the food I prepare. I even eat differently than I did ten years ago- kale and beets would not have been on my plate then! Yet it is a slow evolution, often motivated by what I get in my CSA box. I am loathe to waste food, so try to eat what comes into my house. For example, last year, I learned that in some Asian cuisines, they use the carrot greens in cooking, so now I can’t with a clear conscience, compost them anymore.

So, again, what is up with that pile of recipes? I am pretty disciplined about only saving ones with ingredients I will probably like, or that are not too time-consuming or complicated, on the theory that I will be more likely to try them, but very few of them ever make it out of the pile and into our bellies. My best guess is that it is somehow tied to my identity- my image of whom I am. In my more idealized version of myself, I try more new things. I do like learning new things, and gathering new ideas, so this is part of it also. I have a similar issue with wishing I decorated more for the holidays or made more DIY gifts (hmm… I could possibly have written a similar post about knitting patterns and that one hat design I have made hundreds of variations of- might be a trend here…). Regardless, when I was going through that recipe pile one more time, I could not get rid of them! I know I could look things up on the internet, or pick one cookbook and work my through it, and mine is not the most efficient system, but those recipes are important to me for some reason and they will continue to collect in my life, for better or worse.

I guess there are worse obsessions…


ASTC 2014: Field trip to Raleigh

Last month I attended ASTC (Association of Science and Technology Centers), which was a great opportunity to hear about work in other science centers, visit a new museum, and meet some of the researchers that I often cite in my work!  This year the conference was held in Raleigh, North Carolina — a new state to visit!  Oregon State University had great representation as two of my colleagues, Laia and Jenny, presented their analysis of science communication in natural history museum exhibits.  Dr. John Falk and Dr. Lynn Dierking presenting in research and evaluation sessions.

Dr. Hayat Sindi started off the conference with an inspirational keynote speech.  Born in Saudi Arabia, she followed her interests in science to become the first female from the Gulf to earn a PhD in biotechnology.  She is a co-founder of Diagnostics for All which designs and creates medical diagnostic tools that can be used in areas that may not have the medical infrastructure.  She spoke of science heroes and how we continue to look to the past, which is dominated by white males.  She challenged us to continue to work and inspire young people to look for the heroes of today, many that are female, who are doing powerful things to advance our knowledge in the science field.

One of the more memorable sessions I attended focused on the premise of designing flow experiences and balancing sensory stimulation in the physical spaces of science centers.  As I am still learning about the design of the physical space, at times it seems that science centers and museums try to put so much into a room without considering how overwhelming it could be for the visitor.  With the advancement of technology and digital media interactives, this is creating more stimulation as the visitor tries to navigate and determine where to focus their attention.  Beth Redmond-Jones of the San Diego Natural History Museum spoke about her daughter who has autism.  She showed an interview of her daughter describing what an experience at a museum space is like for her.  For a few minutes the audience had the opportunity to “feel” what it is like to have the sensory overload.  The fluorescent lights of the room were put to the highest level, we had to move in our seats to that we were very close to our neighbors, and they played a recording from a museum lobby that had competing noises of conversations, babies crying, and sounds from exhibits.  This immersion technique was effective to prove a point to the audience.  From this there was discussion on how to make the space more inclusive for those with differences in sensory reception, incorporating spaces that are quiet, and training staff how to effectively engage with these visitors.

As a first time attendee to this conference, I was trying to soak it all in…the Exhibition Hall, the networking, the city surrounding the conference, and a cool museum — the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.  They have some amazing exhibits that incorporate technology.  There was a microbiology lab that allows for formal or informal exploration of DNA which I would have loved when I was in middle school.  The museum also made use of several touch screens in different sizes to present science content.  It was interesting to see their showcase of technology alongside their traditional dioramas and natural history exhibits.  So much potential for learning research with technology as well!  I could have spent several more days in Raleigh, but since I am in the midst of Fall Quarter with a busy course load, I’ll just have to make plans to visit again someday.  Check out #ASTC2014 to see tweets about the conference.

IMG_8999-225x300 IMG_9020-225x300 touchrock-224x300


Is your water drinkable? swimmable? fishable?

IMG_4959-300x225
Joe Cone, Renee O’Neil and Frank Burris discussing game components using a printed mock up game board.

The questions in this blog’s title show the possible goals of a watershed stewardship game being developed right now for the touch-table exhibit at Hatfield Marine Science Center. In collaboration with Oregon Sea Grant StreamWebs Program and using their data, the Cyberlab team is building the backbone of the game, title yet to be defined.

Considering that the game represents a  scenario thinking opportunity,  visitors  will be able to play by taking roles in different aspects of the watershed landscape in order to maintain its health and fulfill the game goal (e.g maintain the water as drinkable). Basically, the hypothetical “Oregon” watershed will be surrounded by a residential area, farm fields, an industrial park and a recreational area (state park). Players will engage in one of these areas while collaborating to reach the goal and working with inputs and outputs from their area influencing the system’s health.

Our general goal for this exhibit as a learning research lab is looking at visitor interactions around the game, how they use it, what they say as they make sense of it, and how effective the game is in communicating the message and promoting learning opportunities. The work of researcher Jenny East at the touch table has been informative in regards to patterns of touch-table use by visitors so that we can think more effectively about elements of the game. For StreamWebs coordinators, Megan Kleibecker and Renee O’Neil, this is a great opportunity to see their data displayed to wider audiences in simple yet effective visual ways, like the game format.

We had the chance to brainstorm the actual game watershed manipulable variables with scientists and Oregon Sea Grant Extension Guillermo Giannico and Frank Burris, and Oregon Sea Grant Communications Joe Cone. With their valuable help, we are moving forward now with a more targeted content for the game beyond design elements. They were extremely helpful in raising the main scientific components we have to incorporate for accuracy and yet in a way to maintain the game as simple and engaging for our audience.

We will continue to blog about our progress in the game development as we go. Stay tuned!