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Mindfuless Meditation for O

I've been meaning to start a daily mindfulness meditation practice for a long time, but thanks to this assignment from O, The Oprah Magazine, I actually started one. (And then got to participate in a full-day photo shoot that involved almost getting attacked by a bull.)

We've all had the experience of sensing time decelerate naturally when we're not so thrilled about what we're doing (think torturous spinning class or hour-long "synergy workshop" at the office). As my dear grandmother would have said, it takes only one colonoscopy to prove that time is relative. But what about the more enjoyable times in life? I hoped that practicing the popular and proven type of meditation called mindfulness—which focuses on bringing awareness to the present moment—might help me slow those times down as well.

White Whiskey

I've got a small piece in Men's Journal about the resurgence of small batch distillation. It's called White Whiskey:

If the greater number and variety of local and regional spirits at your neighborhood liquor store have you tempted to call micro-distillation a cool new trend, you’d be half-right — it’s more of a comeback. Early Americans were masters at turning harvests into hard alcohol using corn, potatoes, grain, apples, grapes — almost anything they could get their hands on. Converting food to booze didn’t just preserve the value of perishable crops; it also created a rich repertoire of homemade liquors, from rye whiskey, vodka, and bourbon to applejack, peach brandy, and unaged fruit spirits known as eau-de-vie.

I also did a big package about the spine called "The Complete Guide To Your Back" -- also for Men's Journal -- but I can't find it online except for this mention. Suffice it to say that you usually don't need surgery, and that if you're really hurting, you can ease the pain by sampling some small batch spirits.

A Taste Of Chocolate At a Former Army Post

Last weekend I had the pleasure not just of attending a workshop about chocolate, but of writing about it for the New York Times.

Wearing a short-sleeve shirt embroidered with his name, Mr. Recchiuti, whose shop is in the Ferry Building Marketplace, looked more like a mechanic than a fine chocolatier — albeit one with cocoa powder on his hands instead of grease.

He greeted each of his 19 students with a spoonful of liquid chocolate and a white plate holding eight samples arranged like numbers on a clock, with a small bowl with two roasted cocoa beans and a pinch of chocolate-covered barley — a “taste project” — at the center. The students would taste single-origin varieties of chocolate from around the world, and watch Mr. Recchiuti transform chocolate into confections that presumably could be replicated at home.

Diabetes Update

It's nearly 2010 and, guess what? I still have Type 1 diabetes. Sucks. So I'm writing about it -- on a site called A Sweet Life. My latest contributions:

-a review of Riva Greenberg's 50 Diabetes Myths That Can Ruin Your Life -- and the 50 Diabetes Truths That Can Save It

-a review and taste test of yacon powder, a would-be wonder tuber that's supposed to be a great sugar substitute

-an interview with Yale professor and researcher (and Type 1 diabetic) Kevan Herold

And, lastly, a guest post on Six Until Me about how to cope with holiday food.

Holiday Gifts for Irreverent Lawyers

79013347v7_150x150_Front_Color-PinkSalmon.JPGIt's that time of year again when I take a break from my career as freelance journalist and become Catherine Price, entrepreneur. By which I mean, I start promoting my legally themed clothing shop, Illegal Briefs, as the perfect one-stop holiday shop for all your dorky gifting needs. It began on a car ride with my husband, when he was telling me something about legal briefs and a boutique law firm and I, distracted, thought he was talking about underwear.  It's now three years later, and what started as a misinterpreted conversation has evolved into a smorgasbord of gift options for irreverent lawyers and their friends.

requestthongsmall"Harmless Error" baby clothes. "Request for Admission" thongs. "Justice is Served" cookware. "Tool of Discovery" boxers. I could go on -- but to quote from one of my favorite product lines, "Res Ipsa Loquitur."

Illegal Briefs: Be A Lawyer. Don't Dress Like One.

The Reluctant Diabetic

A Sweet Life

I decided that it's high time to connect my writing career with my life as a Type 1 diabetic. So I launched the Reluctant Diabetic, a blog that combines a personal account of what it’s like to live with Type 1 diabetes with news, information about research, and reviews of diabetes products — whether they be food, gadgets, books, clothing, or anything else geared toward making this disease a little easier to live with. These days, the blog is featured on the great new diabetes website A Sweet Life.

The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

Big Sur Bakery CookbookThe Big Sur Bakery is tucked next to a gas station right off of Highway 1 and is, if I might say so myself, a damned fine restaurant. (Don't trust me? Read this article from the New York Times Magazine.) I helped them write a cookbook, now out from HarperCollins. Sara Remington did the photographs, and Hatch is designing it. Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, wrote the foreword. Click here to buy multiple copies for friends and family -- and check out these mentions in the New York Times and The New Yorker.

The Sludge Report

phpthumb_generated_thumbnailjpgIf you want to avoid having conversations about your work, I highly recommend telling people that you're writing a three-part series about sewage sludge. It tends to shut them up quick. Thankfully, though, my personal sludge hell is reaching an end: The series was just published on Grist. Part one explains current uses of sewage sludge, and the rebranding effort it took to get there:

"The renaming contest [for sludge] received over 250 entries, many of which suggested that even water quality professionals still enjoy a good poop joke. Submissions included “bioslurp,” “black gold,” “sca-doo,” “hu-doo,” “geoslime,” and “the end product”; one person proposed rebranding sludge as “R.O.S.E.” (“Recycling Of Solids Environmentally”). Critics asked whether a rose by any other name would still smell as bad, and in 1991 WEF settled on “biosolids,” a term that Sheldon Rampton, co-author of Toxic Sludge Is Good For You, suggests “must have been chosen precisely because it evokes absolutely nothing in the minds of people who hear it."

Part two is about turning poop into gold -- or, more specifically, figuring out ways to recycle it into a marketable commodity. (Though, actually, there's a sewage treatment plant in Japan that is literally mining gold out of crap -- I kid you not.)

And part three is about shitting in a bucket. Or, more precisely, composting toilets.

The research for this series was provided by a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Reporting.

The Locavore's Dilemma

Ordinarily, I would never eat turnips. I managed to go 30 years without buying one. But now every winter I'm faced with a two-month supply, not to mention the kale, collards, and flat-leaf Italian parsley that sit in my refrigerator, slowly wilting, filling me with guilt every time I reach past them for the milk. After three years of practice, I've figured out simple ways to deal with most of these problem vegetables: I braise the turnips in butter and white wine; I sauté the kale and collards with olive oil and sea salt; I wait until the parsley shrivels and then throw it out. The abundance of roughage is overwhelming.

I subscribe to a CSA —a program, short for "community supported agriculture," in which you pay in advance for a weekly box of fresh produce delivered from a local organic farm. For the most part, it's great -- until you reach your seventh straight week of radishes and start to lose the faith. I wrote for Slate about my attempts to get it back.

Omega-3 Phatty Acids

Oct. 17, 2006 | I can't say I've ever eaten yogurt fortified with microencapsulated fish fat before, but hell, there's a first time for everything. I'm in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and Ian Lucas, executive vice president of global marketing at a marine research company called Ocean Nutrition, has just handed me a spoon. The yogurt sitting between us is flecked with peach, but it also contains a surprise: powdered oil from smushed anchovies, encapsulated in pork gelatin. You might say it's surf and turf in a cup. It's also just one of a slew of newly developed food products that have been fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. With the yogurt still in front of me, Lucas pours a large, cold glass of fish-oil fortified milk as I rip open a bag of omega-3 tortilla wraps -- all products that contain what's referred to in industry circles as designer lipids. Food technologists working the world over have been busy figuring out how to shrink fish oil capsules to microscopic size and bake them into bagels. Entire companies have devoted themselves to breeding algae laden with omega-3, which can be dried into flakes and used as animal feed, or sprayed as powder and used in food products. There are already omega-3-fortified eggs and infant formulas on the market (not to mention margarine, gummy candies, orange juice, fruit chews, nutrition bars, chocolate, bread, pizza crust and, yes, yogurt) -- and eventually there will be omega-3-fortified cake. There will be cookies. There will be omega-3 ice creams and cheeses. Research has even begun on omega-3 pâté.

I'll admit it: I went through a year of my life where I was obsessed with omega-3 fatty acids. Luckily for me, Salon shared the love.

A Chicken in Every Plot, a Coop in Every Backyard

Novella Carpenter remembers the day she killed her first chicken. It was a rooster named Twitchy who had been injured by an opossum that got into her backyard chicken flock. About to leave for vacation, Ms. Carpenter, 34, had no way of caring for the wounded Twitchy while she was away. So she took it to the back porch and chopped off its head.

Before I wrote this article for the dining section of the New York Times, I had no idea you could keep chickens in the city. Now I kind of want to get some.

The Anonymity Experiment

In 2006, David Holtzman decided to do an experiment. Holtzman, a security consultant and former intelligence analyst, was working on a book about privacy, and he wanted to see how much he could find out about himself from sources available to any tenacious stalker. So he did background checks. He pulled his credit file. He looked at Amazon.com transactions and his credit-card and telephone bills. He got his DNA analyzed and kept a log of all the people he called and e-mailed, along with the Web sites he visited. When he put the information together, he was able to discover so much about himself—from detailed financial information to the fact that he was circumcised—that his publisher, concerned about his privacy, didn’t let him include it all in the book.

I spent a week trying to live as anonymously as possible and reported on the results in Popular Science. The experiment was hell, but it was worth it: the piece was recently selected for The Best American Science Writing 2009 (HarperCollins). 

I was also invited to participate in a podcast on the topic.

Stanford at Sea

It was a bad move for someone who hates boats: I spent 2 weeks at sea with a crew of marine biologists and students from Stanford, documenting the journey from the Line Islands to Honolulu and creating this website. (Don't know where the Line Islands are? Take a map of the Pacific Ocean and stick a pin somewhere directly in the middle.)

What Every Freelancer Should Know

I could never be happy in a traditional job. I hate fluorescent lights. I detest working in groups. While I can get interested in just about anything, nothing interests me enough for it to be a full-time career. Also -- and, to me, this is no small thing -- the smell of office carpet makes me existentially depressed. So I became a freelancer -- thus joining the growing armada of the self-employed who sit at the same cafe table every day and thrust their business cards in your face during casual conversation. For the most part, it is a satisfying existence, a life of freedom and flexibility and almost no personal connection to "The Office." Then there are days when the clock slips past noon, but I haven't been outside, I haven't spoken to another human being, and I start to wonder if I'm going to wake up one morning when I'm 70 and regret never having owned a pantsuit.

It's true: I have a love-hate relationship with my career choice. In celebration of tax day, I put together some freelancing tips for Salon.

In a Classical World, Nerds Walk With Gods

Don't get Andrea Goldstein started on "Troy," the 2004 film based on Homer's "Iliad" that starred Brad Pitt as Achilles. A freshman at the University of Chicago, Ms. Goldstein, 18, was so incensed after seeing the movie that she wrote an anti-"Troy" polemic in her high school newspaper. "On an absolute value scale of 10 to -10, this film gets a -7," she wrote, granting it a generous 3 points for set design and for its casting Orlando Bloom, whom she said did a good job "playing himself," as self-involved Paris. "It's like a train wreck: you stare in fascinated revulsion."

I love Latin. And apparently, I'm not alone -- as I discovered when I researched this piece for the New York Times about teenagers who are obsessed with the language.

The Id and the iPod

Unlike CD collections, which exist primarily in homes and may be tucked away in bedrooms -- and so are relatively easy to keep private -- the iPod is carried in public, where it has the potential to expose all, quickly. Gone are the days of slow musical revelation, layers peeling away like clothing until a man and his music stand naked before you. On an iPod, everything's there -- songs for exercising, commuting, seducing. Taking your iPod -- and its playlists -- on a date is the equivalent of wearing your entire wardrobe at once, then holding up each piece of clothing for examination. "Here's what I wear to work out!" it says. "And in the meantime, check out my silk boxers!"

Granted, the iPod is not the first portable music device. The Walkman has been around for years. But really, what do the contents of a Walkman tell you? They only hold one tape. That's like deciding whether a guy is hot by looking at one eye. And besides, anyone who has made a mix for a crush knows that, when it comes to romance, music can be carefully manipulated. Selecting the perfect songs for your would-be lover is less a revelation of your soul than a careful construction of a public image that you hope will lead to bed.

During the long-gone days when I still carried around a white, second generation iPod (you know, like, two years ago) it occurred to me that by creating the iPod, Steve Jobs had inadvertently affected modern romance. The San Francisco Chronicle gave me space to elaborate.

The Chronicle also invited me to participate in a podcast about the piece.

How Michael Pollan Ruined My Life

Halfway through the semester, I learned a new word: orthorexia. It means having an unhealthy obsession with eating healthily, an irony that was not lost on me as I stood in line at the Berkeley Bowl watching my groceries be rung up. Wild, line-caught salmon, pesticide-free strawberries -- by now, those were normal. But organic ice cream? Was I really now concerned about the origins of my junk food, worrying whether a mint-chocolate-chip-producing cow had access to pasture? I felt myself burning with self-righteous anger at having to be so self-righteous. I wanted to know the answer to one question: after wreaking so much havoc on my own life, what, exactly, did Pollan eat? So I did what any rational person would: I demanded to see the contents of his refrigerator.

Michael Pollan was one of my teachers at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and don't get me wrong -- he is smart, thoughtful, a fantastic teacher and an all-around great human being. But, as I pointed out in the San Francisco Chronicle, he still ruined my life.

Sometimes a Backpack Engenders Exasperation

The idea that backpacks might need genders hadn't occurred to me until I started paying attention to CamelBak, the maker of these "hydration systems" -- that is, bags with internal water bladders. Assuming that men are the default option when it comes to sports, the company doesn't even bother to label its masculine collections as such. But unless the "Hunting" line and "Outlaw Series" are being targeted toward desperately dehydrated housewives, their intended audience is clear enough. A man who wears a CamelBak, they seem to say, lives life on the edge. Depending on what pack he chooses, he could be a Menace. He might be the grim reaper of Chaos. Sometimes, let's be honest, he can be a bit of a Rogue. CamelBak's "women's fit" line is, of course, kept separate from the Outlaws and the Hunters; in fact, it's listed on the Web site directly above "Just For Kids." Want to go on a rugged hike? Try the Dream. Check out the Charm's "great colors" (silver/pink, sky blue), or pick up an "adorable" Pixie, which takes "cues from the runway." If you're really feeling parched, try the Moxie. It comes in waterfall blue and, according to the Web site, "holds enough water for 2- to 3-hour hikes, rides, or trips to the mall."

I cannot stand -- cannot stand -- the stupid names sports companies give to their women's lines. Luckily in this case, the San Francisco Chronicle let me express my frustrations on the page.

Math for Fat Kids

"What better way to introduce simple addition concepts than with delicious Hershey's Kisses?" reads the description of "Hershey's Kisses Addition Book" at Amazon.com. (It's not to be confused with the "Hershey's Kisses Subtraction Book," the "Hershey's Kisses Multiplication and Division Book" or "Hershey's Fractions.") Your kid hates Hershey's? Try the "M&Ms Addition Book," "Skittles Riddles Math" or the "Twizzlers Percentages Book," in which space aliens descend on a classroom and, in an unexpected plot twist, demand Twizzlers in exchange for lesson plans. It's a strategy best summarized by "Reese's Pieces: Count By Fives": "Don't just play with your food," says the online blurb, "Learn with it!"

For this editorial in the Los Angeles Times about the "educational" marketing of junk food, I question whether it's really a good idea to use Oreos to teach kids math.