Monday, December 2, 2013

Schooled at Trader Joe's

If you're anything like us, you're so dependent on Trader Joe's that your 3 year old only knows 1 grocery store by name. What's not to love?  Their produce are always  fresh; You can get brussels sprout on stalks, which you don't even have to remove when cooking! Their milk and dairy products are cheaper than other grocery stores; At least by where we live, the kosher meat selection is good enough and their fake meat selection is even better.

So, there I was, at the check out line when the lady at the cash register started telling the guy ahead of me that he really needs to wash his bags.  It's quite obvious that the bag was once white. The TJ lady continued to say that once she refused to let another shopper use his bag because she saw mold on it. Awkward. The guy started laughing nervously. Poor fella. But, she has a point.  I slowly shifted my gaze to my dark green bag haphazardly thrown at the front of my cart and without touching, I sharply inspected it for any dirt or grime. None visible.  WHEW, I live to see my vegetables.  

We have  about a dozen bags on rotation, so I admit, we seldom wash them too. Not anymore.  I quietly vowed to dump all the reusable bags in the washer when I get home and to wash them routinely. So, there you have it. TJ's not only sell fresh produce, they also serve a lesson on cleanliness along with spoonful of humility on the side for free!

On a happier note, THIS:

Drop your overhyped Speculoos spread bottle and start hoarding these like the apocalypse is near.  Unlike Starbucks' Peppermint mocha that lasts thru winter, there is no guarantee that TJ's sipping chocolate will last the entire season. When I asked (whined, really) last year why they sold out so early in the winter,  I was told that each branch just get a specific number and once it's gone, it's gone. Hoard, I tell you, hoard. Once you taste this goodness, you will want to bring 3 extra reusable bags to TJ's. Clean ones, of course. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Who's afraid of the big, bad flu...shot?!

Fall is in the air, which means it's flu shot season. While the timing of flu is very unpredictable, flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February but may begin as early as October according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 
And just in time, what did I see posted on one of my friends' facebook wall recently? This:

The website goes on to list 11 sentences full of crap, in my opinion. But then again, I only worked in the Virology field for 6 years... I was happy that my friend, Tina, who has been working in the virus and vaccine development field for much, much longer, did not take this sitting down.  With her permission, I am copying her response with a few comments of my own.  
False Claim 1. The flu shot actually makes you sick to begin with
Tina the Virologist: The SHOT contains dead virus, it is impossible to give you the flu.

Me: To expand a bit, you cannot get flu from the shot because the vaccines contain either 'inactivated' (dead) virus or has no flu virus at all. You may mistake the sore arm and slight fever after the shot as flu, but this is caused by your immune system's response to the vaccine. Now, if you're absolutely sure that you got the flu when you just got the flu shot, then you probably have been exposed to the flu prior to the shot or during the 2-week period after the shot that the body is still gaining protection. Otherwise, you could have been exposed to a strain that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine.

False Claim 2. Flu vaccines contain other dangerous ingredients such as mercury

Tina the Virologist: Multidose flu shots contain thimerosal, an organic mercury compound. This is much different than elemental or methylmercury, and is excreted from the body quicker. There is more mercury in breastmilk and tuna sandwiches than in the flu shot. And guess what? Single-dose flu shots are mercury-free, you can request those (these are given to pregnant women and children).

False Claim 3. The flu shot can cause Alzheimer’s disease
Tina the Virologist: NO. Just NO. In fact, those vaccinated against flu (among other things) are less likely to get Alzheimer’s.

It has been suggested that changes to the immune system could be a factor in age...-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. Our objective was to examine the association between past exposure to conventional vaccines and risk of Alzheimer's disease.
False Claim 4. The very people pushing flu vaccinations are making billions of dollars each year
Tina the Virologist: Even if they are how is this relevant to vaccine safety?

Me: I am pushing for flu vaccine, and I assure you I am not a billionare. Perhaps I should push harder?

False Claim 5. Lack of real evidence that young children even benefit from flu shots
Tina the Virologist: My search of says otherwise…. Lots of studies have been done.

False Claim 6. Makes you more susceptible to pneumonia and other contagious diseases
Tina the Virologist: FALSE. It helps prevent influenza-associated pneumonia.

False Claim 7. Vascular disorders
Tina the Virologist: Muscle ache/pain at site of injection. Pretty obvious as to why, since you are sticking a needle in your muscle! Some people get a low-grade fever after the shot.

False Claim 8. Children under the age of 1 are at risk
Tina the Virologist: Yes, they are at risk from the FLU! Especially premature infants whose lungs are still playing catch-up developmentally. The H1N1 “swine flu” of 2009 was responsible for 282 US pediatric deaths. Last year’s flu killed 164.

Me: I'm getting my 8 month old vaccinated on her next well-check.

False Claim 9. Increased risk of narcolepsy

Tina the Virologist: This is true for those of Northern European descent who got the European version of the H1N1 vaccine (which is a different formulation than the vaccine in the USA). Studies in the USA and Australia showed no correlation with narcolepsy.

False Claim 10. Weakens immunological responsesTina the Virologist: FALSE. Vaccines work by giving your immune system a “heads up” so they can quickly recognize the virus/bacteria and destroy it before you get sick.

False Claim 11. Serious neurological disordersIn 1976 a significant number of those who received the flu vaccine acquired Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a disorder characterized by permanent nerve damage and even paralysis.
Tina the Virologist: There was a higher than baseline GBS incidence with this batch of flu vaccines, but not in the batches since. 

False Claim 11a. Flu vaccines can contain many harmful materials including detergent, mercury, formaldehyde, and strains of live flu virus.Tina the Virologist: Your body makes formaldehyde every day, the small amount added with the flu shot is not harmful. Flu shots DO NOT contain live virus, but the nasal flu spray (FLUMIST) does. It is a “broken” virus aka attenuated so it doesn’t multiply in your body.

Me: And there you have it.  My personal plea is this: If you have a hard time looking for credible reading materials, or understanding tables of data in scientific publication about vaccines, seek someone who can help.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013 Nobel Prize winner for Medicine/Physiology

At 5:30 am Eastern Standard Time on Monday, October 7, the 2013 Nobel Prize winner for Medicine/Physiology was announced. The lucky winners are James Rothman of Yale, Randy W. Schekman of Berkeley, and Thomas C. Südhof of Stanford who are awarded for their fundamental discoveries in vesicular trafficking. 
Now, why should a lay person care? Well, here is a cell, and the little tiny dots you see are vesicles moving. That's vesicular trafficking. As we walk around, meandering at the mall, not caring about life's little troubles, these are membrane-enclosed bubbles have more point to them. Cells move molecules around using the teeny,tiny packages called vesicles. These vesicles bud off from cellular compartments and then transport their cargo inside or outside of the cell and release their contents at the intended place and time. It's a very efficient machinery that sustains the balance in your system int the most microscopic way. And that what these 3 scientists discovered. Worth the shared $1.2 million prize? If you know the meticulous works that go into working with these things, let alone discovering them at a time when technology is very limited, then I say YES.

Schekman discovered the genes required for the transport, while Rothman determined the proteins which allow vesicles to fuse with their targets and thus transfer materials. Südhof discovered the molecular triggers or signals that tell vesicles to expel their cargo.


With brilliant minds deservingly vying for fame, fortune and more fame, controversies are expected. Some people (and postdocs) have very strong opinions on who should hold this prestige, and are ready to raise their pitchforks at possible snubs of their idols. Perhaps the most famous one of which is Rosalind Franklin, when the 1962 prize was awarded to James D. Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material". Rosalind Franklin's key DNA X-ray crystallography work contributed directly to Watson and Crick's insight to solve the DNA molecule's structure. However, she passed away in 1958, deeming her ineligible for the prize.

Some other notable controversies:
The 1923 Nobel prize was awarded to
Frederick Banting and John Macleod "for the discovery of insulin", but the Banting complained that his fellow awardee did not deserve it. After all the drama, it was found that Nicolae Paulescu may have isolated insulin a year earlier, but using a different name. He called it pancrein. 

Of more recent controversy, the 2011 Nobel prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded to immunologist
Ralph Steinman, who, unknown to the committee, died of cancer three days before. It is common knowledge that the Nobel prize prohibit posthumous awards (as was the case against awarding to Rosalind Franklin). Clearly, Steinman's death created a dilemma but the committee decided to stick with the decision and award it "in good faith."

Monday, September 16, 2013

The prettiest flower

"Blow a ball of dandelion, and you blow a thousand stars into the sky."
- Stars, Mary Lyn Ray

Three years ago at this time in September, I was heavily carrying a child inside me. But more than that, I was also carrying a dream - a dream of a simple future with this little one, chasing squirrels, sniffing flowers, and singing silly songs, a dream of being a loving mom.  I can tell you that there is nothing sweeter than to live as I do now; that dream is a dream no more.

Tamar was at the NICU for 9 days because she was born a preemie.  Everyone who knows me know how that was the toughest time in my life.  The good staff at Virginia Hospital Center were gracious enough to let me stay and sleep with my little one for 8 nights.  For one night, my husband dragged me out of the hospital to rest at home.

Fast forward to present, and my little one has grown so much. She's playing dress-up, jumping off the couch (which scares the living daylight out of me), chasing squirrels, sniffing flowers, and singing silly songs.

Yesterday, out of the blue, she said "I want to look for dandelions". I don't know why I found that one sentence so sweet. What was she thinking? What made her say that? With summer flying by so quickly, and the fall chill in the air... Should I tell her the truth? I did. I told her, "Sorry, sweetie, dandelion season is over." Then I went upstairs to nurse Maya, while she went for a walk with Eric.  When we came back out to join them, she beamed at me on top of Eric's shoulders, and said. "Look, mommy, it's dandelion."

The last dandelion of the season. Make a wish, my dear.

Shows you what I know, right? 

She sat on the floor for a while holding the prettiest flower of all. And I, I stood rooted, staring at mine.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Riding high on camel's back

No, we didn't actually go to the middle eastern desert to ride camels. 

Last week, Eric and I went for our annual "date" event, spending three days together in Vermont by ourselves while the kiddos spent some alone time with their grandparents.  At this point, we are less nervous about doing so as we had similarly left Tamar when we had our date in Hawaii in 2011 and in Maine in 2012. Of course we missed the kids, and found ourselves singing children's tunes in Tamar's high pitched voice, but we did have a good time. 

Vermont is perhaps my favorite state in the US. We've skied here in the winter, went leaf-peeping in the fall, and now we've hiked it in the summer.  In spite of the heat, we went hiking on all 3 days. The first day was just a short, liesurely hike at kingsland bay, while we did a longer history-laden 5 mile hike on the 3rd day at little river state park. But the 2nd day was the one to remember. On that day, I summited Camel's Hump. 


Blood, sweat, tears and milk

Five months post-partum, I found myself rock scrambling to Camel Hump's peak. At 4083 feet, Camel's Hump may not be the highest peak in Vermont, in fact it is 3rd behind Mt. Mansfield and Killington, but it is the highest undeveloped mountain in the state. Presumably this is because the other two have been developed for skiing.

I can't say that we really planned this hike ahead. We intended to go to the green mountain club to get a decent Topo map, but since it was getting late in the morning, we went straight to the park and hiked using a generic map instead. Eric really wanted to hike along the Long Trail, which is the oldest long-distance trail in the US and extends north to the Canada border, so we did. The plan was to go on Monroe Trail to Dean Trail, and at Wind Gap, we can decide whether to go left to Mt. Ethan Allen summit (3688') and back to LT to Camel's Hump summit (2 summits!), OR turn right and just go straight to Camel's Hump (1 summit!).  

The climb started cheerfully enough.  We stopped a few times to take pictures of the flora and little brooks.  We also stopped so that I could pump milk since I'm still nursing Maya. Thankfully, my breast pump is a backpack and not in a purse form or I would have been stylin' up that climb.

Dousing myself with cool water from the stream 
Well, we found out that we chose the most difficult path to take to the top.  This became apparent about 2 hours into the climb at Dean trail. The ascent became slow and steep and there were no switch backs to soften it. Instead, big rocks started to appear and soon enough we had to scramble up or around them.  I still have the bruises on my shins and knees to show for all that rock scrambling. 


When we finally reached Wind Gap, I knew there was only one choice to make: go to Camel's Hump.  Thinking that we could climb 2 summits was overly ambitious of my dear husband. As much as I love him, I will only climb one mountain a day for him. 

This was serious business, so the chit-chat had ceased somewhat.  We climbed, and climbed, and just when we thought we reached the top and tried to take in the breathtaking view...

We looked up and saw this:

"Is that the peak?" between huffs and puffs was probably the only thing I could utter at this point. And so, we continued climbing up.

"We made it, right? This has to be the summit. Surely, it can't go higher than this." After all, there were no more deciduous trees in this part, only conifers. But I had a sinking feeling it wasn't the summit still. After rounding the corner, this thing loomed in front of us: 

This one's from the web; I think I was threatening to pass out at this point.
After a short late lunch break of bread and 3 kinds of cheeses, we started off again.  We met 2 hikers climbing down, and they were commending us for taking the steepest and longest route to the top.  "WHA..??" Poor choice, dear Watson, poor choice.

Slowly, we climbed again. I felt like we were Frodo and Sam from the Lord of the Rings. Our water supply was low, and we're trying to save the remaining 750 mL for the way down. And here we find it, the part where the trees no longer grew. Our mission is to just climb up the rocks.  Up, up, up, my precious, without getting blown away by the wind. And yes, it is quite windy when there are no more trees to shelter you!

As I struggle between breathing, swinging my feet here and there, and hanging by my nails, I saw her waving at me. Ugh. Someone has witnessed this graceless effort. Thought bubble: Well, to my defense, I have only given birth 5 months ago. Truth be told, I am not (yet) in great shape. I have only managed to rejoin the gym early this month, and had only gone to work out a handful of times... I could have told her all that, but I was too busy catching my breath and keeping my heart from beating out of my chest!  Too busy to notice her ax, in fact.

Patty and her ax
Her name is Patty, and she's not a crazy ax-weilding person who would toss the dead bodies to the side of the mountains, as I had initially imagined. She's actually the keeper of the trail, and carries the ax to clear blow downs (fallen trees). And she hikes up Camel's Hump EVERYDAY. Show-off.

Just briefly after getting to the top, the wind started to pick up. Patty warned us that we should head back down soon as the bad weather was rolling in, and that she was climbing down shortly herself. And we looked out ahead of us, and we saw the thunderstorm coming.  BUT I JUST GOT HERE! Well, I'm certainly not getting stranded in the alpine trail in that thunderstorm.  

We clambered down Monroe Trail as fast as we could. But the trail, while more forgiving, was still steep and rocky. In less than half an hour, the rain poured. Rocks + Rain = very slippery slope. Not good. And soon enough, I slipped flat on my back. Thankfully, my pump pack and hip pack cushioned the fall, but I got a really bad bruise and scrape on my elbow. And then... I slipped again... And again.   

Three times. That was my quota of fall I could handle. My back took a beating; my elbow was swollen, and blood was trickling out. I was so frustrated, that I seriously began questioning each step I took. This did not make for a quick pace at all, but we eventually made it down safe and sound. 

Who conquered who?

It was truly a proud moment having summited Camel's Hump. I can't say I enjoyed the view well enough to make the pain worthwhile since we were only up there for a couple of minutes. Still, I hiked up for 5 hours and down for 3, all of 7.4 miles of its steep, rocky slope. I have to say though that this was also a humbling experience. Climbing the path we chose requires more preparation, physically and mentally. And even then, you can still find yourself ill-prepared for what mother nature could throw at you.  

So, will I climb Camel's Hump again?  

Only time will tell, kiddos. Only time will tell. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Nice diary - parting thoughts

Mark Twain once wrote that "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrowmindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." I dare add it is also fatal to ignorance.  At first glance Nice la belle lives up to its reputation as the seductress. But if you spend a couple of days, you will find that it is more than just the reknowned pebble beach, the turquoise sea, the friendly Niçoise who have embraced tourism, and spoke melodious French and impressive English.  No, it is so much more than that. It is immersing yourself in the market with lavender, wine, and olives, and enjoying a conversation with the friendly server, without having to pay for a criminally overpriced meal.  Nice's history boast of how it withstood the war and plague and revolution. How Napoleon Bonaparte once stayed here and fell in love with the innkeep's daughter. The ruins atop castle hill does not make it to the guidebooks, nor the time when the war had turned its hotels into infirmaries. Only if you go will you experience Nice's Sardinian and Italian roots before it voluntarily joined France.  This city is a survivor.

Now I can say that I share something in common with Princess Grace Kelley, Matisse and Queen Victoria. We have all breathed Nice's salubrious air, and were enchanted by its beach umbrellas, palm trees and le soleil toute l'Anneé (sun year round). Ok, so the palm trees were a bit confusing to me. Not surprisingly, I found that these are not native to the area, but planted to convey balmy exoticism and make Nice exude that 'tropical' atmosphere. And given the moderate climate here, I'm sure it was no problem growing them. It's neither hot nor humid, the weather has been referred to as "perpetual spring", with the temperature dipping below freezing only 5 days a year! No wonder the houses do not have airconditioning.

Clearly, 3-4 days is not enough to see everything here, especially if you're traveling on business, which I was. There is still the Marc Chagall Musem, and the biggest Matisse collection to see. There's also San Remo in the East and Cannes in the West to visit. So, I will be happy to come back here again someday, perhaps to create a lovely Mediterranean memory with the family. As one author warned about Nice:

"You will come back - because this sky, this sea, this sun, these mountains, exert an allure whose force you will feel when you are away. You will come back" - Leon Pilatte
Accordion music or iPod? I prefer the former.

I found a red pebble.

Matisse apartment can't be missed when you jog along the Promenade des Anglais.

View of Vieux Nice

The French Alps

Bread and pastries

Marzipans and chocolates

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 3: Nice diary - The tourist and the tart

Eventhough I didn't get to sleep until half past 1 last night, I still woke up at 6.  There was no use going back to sleep, so I went out for a jog heading eastward along the promenade towards castle hill. It was so peaceful. When I headed back, I went down the beach and touched the water. It was my way of exchanging pleasantries with the Mediterranean sea, as I did with the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico when I moved to Florida from the Pacific.

One thing that makes this sea different is its sound. Because of the pebbles, whenever the tide crashes on the shore, it makes a distinct sound of rolling stones (not the Mick Jagger tunes).

I headed back to the hotel to get ready and went to the conference.  Around noon, I went to lunch at Au Moulin Enchante with one of the conference speakers. I ordered the sea bream, which is one of the most popular fishes on French menu here I am told. The fish was good, but the sides and the wine fell flat. After last night's wonderful meal, I held this place at a higher standard given the 4.5 rating online. My take: 3.5. 

Here in Nice, the establishments are open until late. So, although the conference did not end until the afternoon, I still had enough time to roam. I decided to embrace  being 'the tourist', and hopped on the petit train. Sure, it was a little embarassing, but no one knows me here anyway. Joie de vivre! The train costs 8 euros, and takes you around the East side of Nice, passing Old Nice, Place Garibaldi and Castle Hill, all while you listen to a recording in a language of your choice regarding the history of la bella Nizza.

Le Petit Train de Nice

Monument of Garibaldi faces Italy. Born in Nice, Garibaldi was responsible for the unification of Italy.

In the flat city of Nice, one area stood high - Castle Hill. It used to be a fortified site, but now there's no longer a castle which was destroyed in 1706. Instead, one will find a cemetery for Catholics, Protestants, and Jews with ornate tombs. On top, there is also a playground and a picnic ground. The top of the hill offers views of the bay of angels on the right and the Nice port on the left as you face the sea. If you turn around, you see the bustling Old Nice below, and the alps at the background.

A cannon is fired exactly at noon everyday on the hill.  As the story goes, this originated when a high ranking official requested to fire the cannon everyday at noon to remind his wife, who likes to take walks during the day, that it is time for lunch. A bit extreme, eh? Firing the cannon has been carried over ever since and has now become a tradition in Nice. How would you like to be called to dinner with a cannon?

Although I couldn't go to Marc Chagall museum since it's a bit far and closes early, I decided to go to the small Molinard perfume museum near Cours Saleya. Had I known ahead of time, and what the schedule was, I would have signed up for the perfume making workshop. For 40 euros, you can make your own blend of perfume, the museum will keep it in file so if you run out, they can remake the blend and ship you a bottle. The museum was still interesting.  Although small, you learn a lot about perfume making and where the floral scents originated from. Obviously, most scents come from Europe, then Africa and Asia.  Two scents originated from the Philippines - Ylang-Ylang and Patchouli.

Since lunch was not exactly satifying, I walked around Zone Pietonne (pedestrian zone) and found a boulangerie patisserie that had a sitting area, from which I can enjoy listening to the street musicians.  I was intrigued with a pastry that seemed to have greens in it in the middle called Tourte de blettes. The server had a hard time translating it, but finally came up with "spinach, but sweet". He also said that it's a specialty in Nice, and that you will not find it in other region of France, including Paris. So I decided to try it, and found that it's not spinach, but rather swiss chard. This swiss chard tart is interesting. Aside from swiss chard, it had pine nuts and apples, and the pastry is topped with confectioner sugar.  It's definitely different, I may even try to make it one time.

Enjoying Tourte de blettes with my trusted companion

I walked around for a few hours more to buy some presents, marzipan and chocolate. The macaron in Nice are not as good as those in Paris, but I couldn't resist getting a small box for my dear hubby. After that, it was time to go to my dinner meeting with my colleague, which was really more social than formal. We went to a restaurant that was tauted to be "as local as it can get". L'Ovale  offered a great prix fixe menu. And since I haven't had a real Salad Nicoise, I decided to try it there.  I was not disappointed.  They also had a great duck cassoulet, which I couldn't even eat half of because it was such a huge portion.  Another reason I couldn't eat as much is because I began to have a headache from the cigarette smoke from the person behind me.  We moved to a different table, and the person next to us lit a cigarette too. I guess I've been spoiled here in the United States, and no longer used to being surrounded in a cloud of smoke. In the end, I couldn't even touch my dessert. I wanted to have it to go, but in Nice, and perhaps in Europe in general, they're not really big on taking home food.  You enjoy it in the restaurant, you don't bring it home. Anyway, they did not have a box for us to bring our cakes in, so I tasted a teaspoonful, and left the rest. If only Eric was there to share it with. 

Cassoulet de canard
Tomorrow, we go home.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Day 2: Nice diary - You're turning lavender, Lavender!

Today, I had a mission. In spite of the full conference schedule, I vowed to explore Vieux Nice (Old Nice). But first, off to work. 

The science talks today did not disappoint. Top notch research on drug discovery kept me not only awake, but inspired. Perhaps moreso, I enjoyed hobnobbing with the researchers. This group has a very laid-back attitude that it's turned this conference into such a pleasant work travel for me.  Topics of conversation easily shifted from the lack of research funds to neglected diseases to multiple rejections (yikes!) to awkward questions such as: "Are you Japanese or Chinese?" and "How do I get a job out of research?"  

Chickpea crepe?  I can hear my sister laughing right now.
I generally dislike chewing food while engaged in a stimulating discussion, so I passed on the lunch. We just had pastries for the morning break anyway. As expected, I got hungry by mid-afternoon, so I took the tram to Cours Saleya, considered the heart of Old Nice, and went anywhere my feet led me. Henri Matisse lived in Cours Saleya and painted many of his arts here.  The name derived from "soleil" or sun, as the flower market is pretty exposed. A lot of tourists flock Cours Saleya for its vibrant shops selling food, antiques, local arts,  and souvenirs. I had lunch at a crepe place, ordering the savory vegetarian socca, the chickpea crepe specialty here in Nice. Uh, to be honest, it was just ok. It doesn't hold a candle to the crepe carts in Paris.

In Cours Saleya, Lavender is pretty ubiquitous. Apart from the flower stalls, it also adorns restaurant tables and shops. As I continued to explore, I happened upon Fenocchio, the famous gelato place, which has 86 different flavors. Although I wasn't exactly in the mood, I had to try a boule since even my French friend had suggested this place. The flavors included unexpected ones such as cactus, verbena, olive, rose, jasmine, and... lavender. Guess which one I had? FYI, the boule is about 1/2 or 1/3 of American scoop, which is just about what I could handle. Verdict: the lavender gelato smelled good, and it is delicious too. I had to fight the urge to dab my wrists with it.

'Twas a tough choice between the lavender and violet.
I started heading back to the conference, but stopped at the herb shop to pick up a particular herb. Guess what you'll be trying in the coming days, sweetie?

After the conference, I went back to Old Nice for dinner. I am so happy that I made a reservation at Oliviera. This family-owned and run restaurant is the perfect place to end the day. When I told Nidim, the owner, how much I've heard of his restaurant.  He said "Don't believe it.  We are a simple place." And yet, I knew he was lying. Mind you, you should not be in a rush if you want to eat here. Nidim takes pride in his oils, and the oil tasting is such an experience. He is also very gracious. The place was fully booked, and he was apologetic to the people who walked in without reservation. I looked at the menu, which was in French, and picked the first one that appealed to me. Nidim said "No... ask me, ask me." So, I confessed that I forgot my French dictionary, and I couldn't understand half of the items on the menu. He described everything in detail and with great patience. While I am slowly giving up meat again, I decided that I will have the beef canneloni; the beef was simmered for 8 hours. They really are a patient bunch! I also had my first red wine after a long time, and I'm glad I waited to try it here. The Corbière is earthy and not tannic. The best part of this dinner, however, is the array of olive oils I tasted - one tasted like unripe banana, while one is a late harvest black olive Nidim drizzled on Tiramisu. In the end, I bought an oil that tasted like a combination of almond and artichoke, the Olive Oil Nicois. Mind you, this is not an infusion. It's just the type of olive that they make here - apparently harvested just 10 km away. I cannot wait to use it. I'm sure it will go perfectly with the lavender-scented salad I'll be making next week.

Big metal jars of Olive oil harvest

The second oil smelled like rainforest.
The canneloni I'll remember.

Nidim and Mr. Toutou parted as friends.