Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Courtesy of the amazing Judy Garland.

Merry Christmas to all! (And especially my sister, Jenni, who is in Phoenix and who we really miss this year.)

May the new year bring us all adventure, joy and peace.

P.S. I was so in love with Judy and this movie, that I had my mom make me a deep red velvet dress for Winter Dance my senior year of high school


Food Inspirations

All sorts of fun food info and links around the Web this week! I wish I had time to try some of these out. I'm half-tempted to get some chestnuts from the farmer's marketing this weekend and make a soup!

This chestnut soup definitely caught my interest, and it's the one I may actually attempt to make: Chestnut Soup with Crisp Prosciutto.

But, always enlightening NPR also just posted a nice article on chestnuts with some yummy sounds recipes, particularly the Slow Cooker Lamb with Chestnuts.

Incredible Layer Cakes
As much as I love making cake, I don't think I'll ever attempt one of these cakes highlighted in a New York Times article.

Dinner Tonight


Monday Distractions

The Muppets are IN right now. For the record - they were never out in my book, but it's so awesome to see them around the Web these days. They have a new video in celebration of Christmas:

More Muppets fun with Bohemian Rhapsody (Seriously, watch long enough to hear Monster's solo. So funny.):

Even Saturday Night Live is getting in on the fun:


Spirit of Christmas

Well, what a wonderful weekend! Pete hosted a festive holiday party, and we all sampled some exciting hot holiday beverages including Hot Buttered Rum, Mulled Wine (Glogg?) and Tom & Jerry's (tastes kind of like egg nog). And now, I'm staring past my Christmas lights out the window, and willing it to snow. (Just a little!)

Pete and I just watched Elf and drank cocoa, and while that movie is funny it makes it seem like the "Spirit of Christmas" lies in believing in Santa Clause. The heart of Christmas is love - bringing love into the world through Jesus, if you're a Christian. And that shows in many ways - spending time with family and friends, giving to the poor, etc.

I heard a really touching episode of Story Corps this week that provided one of those grounding moments. And of course, it takes a child to show us all how far off the mark we can stray. Listen to it here: Debbie Watterson and her son Mitchel


Christmas Cruise

We sang carols, drank hot cocoa (with a little something extra), took in the lights and even survived the arctic wind out on the Sound. It was a lovely evening on the Argosy Christmas Cruise, and definitely got me even more in the Christmas Spirit.

And, guess what? It might SNOW here this weekend. Here's hoping!


Eggs in Hell

Dramatic name, right? We can thank M.F.K. Fisher, author of "How to Cook a Wolf," for the recipe and name. I know I've mentioned how awesome she is before, but I'll do it one more time. If you're a bit of a foodie, I'd highly recommend her book. She laments the downfall of good, crusty bread and praises the healing effects of eating pigeon(!!!). Obviously, she's speaking from a different era.

This recipe is along the lines of a few others I've come to rely on for a quick, satisfying dinner. They are all based on the same equation: toasted bread, topped with some kind of warm veggie, topped with a friend egg. A great example that involves kale is at Orangette.

For this one, you make a quick tomato sauce, and then break the eggs into the sauce and let them cook gently for about 15 minutes. Then serve it all up on a piece of toast. I had it for dinner this week, along with a glass of wine, and it was a very tasty, satisfying winter meal!

Eggs in Hell

4 TBS olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 onion, minced
2 cups tomato sauce
1 tsp minced mixed herbs (basil, thyme, red pepper flakes)*
1 tsp parsley
8 eggs
Slices of French Bread or another type of good bread, toasted

1. Heat oil in a saucepan that has a tight cover. Split garlic lengthwise, run a toothpick through each half, and brown slowly in oil. Add the onion and cook until golden. Then add the tomato sauce and seasonings and herbs. Cook about 15 minutes, stirring often, and then take out the garlic.**

2. Into this sauce break the eggs. Spoon the sauce over them, cover closely, and cook very slowly until eggs are done, or about 15 minutes. (If the skillet is a heavy one, you can turn off the heat and cook in fifteen minutes with what is stored in the metal.)

3. When done, put the eggs carefully on the slices of dry toast, and cover with sauce. (Grated parmesan cheese is good on this, if you can get any.)

Note: I usually cute the recipe in half and just make 2 eggs, if I'm cooking for myself.


Well, I've already failed miserably at posting every day. But, I believe that rules are meant to be broken - even if I created the rule myself! I have a post halfway finished that I'll put up later today.

I'm super distracted today because I'm going on a Christmas Cruise around Seattle tonight!! I've packed lots of warm clothes, and I'm ready to take in the Christmas lights and holiday beverages.


Melt Your Heart

It's Monday. Ugh. I re-watched this video today to break up my afternoon.

Just try to watch this movie trailer without melting. This may rival March of the Penguins on the cuteness scale!


Christmas Poinsettia

Last night I went out with a group of friends to the cozy, retro-swanky Sorrento Hotel for drinks and jazz. It was a lovely evening, and the room was decorated beautifully for Christmas. In the holiday spirit I ordered a drink called the Poinsettia (after my customary vodka martini - that's what I get whenever I go out for cocktails). A you would expect, it was a very pretty red color. The recipe below is an estimate based on having drank it once.

I'm kind of craving one right now!

2 parts champagne
2 parts cranberry juice
1 part vodka
1 part Cointreau

Mix and serve in a wine glass over ice.


Cheese Ball!

I made this cheese ball for a party last year, and it was a hit. I make it into a ball, and then cover it with pecans. It looks really retro and kitschy - but everyone really liked the way it tasted too! I serve it with Ritz crackers.

This recipe is from the fabulous Amy Sedaris's book "I Like You."

I'm making it for a holiday party tonight!

In case you can't read the recipe from the picture:

Lil' Smoky Cheese Ball

2 cups shredded smoked Gouda
16 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
2 1/2 tablespoons milk
2 1/2 teaspons steak sauce
1 cup pecans

Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Add milk and steak sauce to cheeses and butter and beat until completely blended. Chill overnight (or for as long as you have time). Turn it into a ball. Cover with nuts. Serve it at room temperature, spread on Ritz.


Birthday Paella

Photo source: Epicurious, Marcus Nilsson

Well, I was going to post about sweet potato biscuits today. See, I had this Martha Stewart recipe for sweet potato biscuits that I had been holding onto for, literally, years. I FINALLY decided to make them last night. And . . . they were OK. I mean, they were good, but not as good as I had worked them up to be in my mind over the last four years.

So, instead I'm posting the recipe for paella that I made for Pete on his birthday. I first dabbled in paella with Mark Bittman's simple vegetarian version, and then tried a couple other kinds. I quickly sold Pete on the joys of it as well. But, I was still looking for a good classic recipe to make for his birthday when I stumbled across one called Birthday Party Paella. How perfect! It's called that, though, because it's designed to serve about 12 people. So I cut down a lot of the ingredients. My personal altered version is below.

It really is delicious and satisfying - try it out!

(I would post a picture of the one I made, but because I'm not a food photographer my photo makes it look kind of gross.)

Pete's Birthday Paella

3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 fresh Cajun or hot Italian sausages
4 chicken thighs with skin and bones (about 4 1/4 pounds), excess fat trimmed
1 very large onions, chopped (about 5 cups)
6 garlic cloves, chopped, plus 1 garlic clove, minced
1 can chopped tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2/3 cup frozen peas
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch-wide strips

1/2 pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
Generous pinch plus 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
2 teaspoons paprika

Chopped fresh parsley

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in dutch oven or large cast iron pan. Add sausages and sauté until cooked through, turning often, about 10 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add chicken, skin side down, to pot. Cover and cook until brown, about 6 minutes. Turn chicken over, cover and cook until brown and cooked through, about 8 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to bowl with sausages. Add onion and 5 chopped garlic cloves to pot; sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and bay leaves; stir 2 minutes. Stir in peas and bell pepper.

Toss shrimp with remaining 2 tablespoons oil, 1 minced garlic clove and generous pinch of saffron in medium bowl.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix rice and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt into vegetable mixture. Cut sausages diagonally into 1-inch slices. Using wooden spoon, push sausage and chicken pieces into rice mixture; pour any juices from bowl over. Bring 3 cups chicken broth, paprika and remaining 1/4 teaspoon saffron to boil in medium saucepan. Pour evenly over rice mixture. Cover with a lid or foil. Bake until rice is almost tender, about 30-40 minutes.

Sprinkle shrimp mixture with salt and pepper. Arrange atop rice mixture. Cover and bake until shrimp are opaque in center, rice is tender and most of liquid in pan is absorbed, about 20 minutes longer.

Remove from oven and put pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving.

Sprinkle with parsley. Spoon paella onto plates and serve.


December Food Blogging Challenge

It's the holiday season! I just made the my first batch of Christmas cookies with Pete this weekend, and have about 20 soup recipes lined up. I'm feeling happy every time I look at my little tinsel tree and Christmas lights. And, I'm plotting out the last of my Christmas gifts. I'm also hoping for (just a little) snow in Seattle this year. It was so fun last year - until it turned into a total nightmare . . .

I've also been wanting to blog, but feeling so behind that I don't know where to start. So, I've decided I'm going to go out of 2009 blogging strong. I'm going to post a new recipe every day until the end of the year! (Or at least try.)

I'll start today with a fun Sweet Potato Bundt Cake posted by Orangette. I made it last time I had to provide food for church coffee hour. And, guess what?! I'm making it again for coffee hour this weekend! It was a real crowd pleaser, and not too heavy or sweet for a late morning snack. Plus, I have some canned sweet potato puree that Fred Meyer was conveniently carrying during Thanksgiving. I might have to stop by and see if they have more - it's a handy thing to have around!

Anywho, here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Pound Cake
Adapted from Southern Cakes, by Nancie McDermott

For the cake:
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp. salt
½ cup milk (low-fat is okay)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes

For the buttermilk glaze (optional):
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup sugar
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter, cubed
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch or flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan. (If your pan is nonstick, you can get away with just some cooking spray; no need to flour.)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk well. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and light brown sugar until light and fluffy, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sweet potatoes, and mix until the batter is combined. (The batter may look terrible at this point: curdled, weird, terrible. Don’t worry.) With the mixer on low speed, add half of the flour mixture. Beat to just incorporate. Then add half of the milk mixture, and continue to beat on low until well blended. Add the remaining flour, followed by the remaining milk, and beat on low until the batter is thick and smooth.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge to loosen the cake, and then carefully invert it onto the rack.

Meanwhile, make the glaze, if using. In a medium saucepan, combine the buttermilk, sugar, butter, cornstarch, and baking soda. Place it over medium heat, and bring it just to a gentle boil. Immediately remove it from the heat, stir well, and set it aside to cool to room temperature. Add the vanilla, and stir well.

Set the wire rack - with the cake atop it - over a rimmed sheet pan. Spoon the glaze through a fine-mesh sieve over the warm cake. (I recommend using a sieve because my batch of glaze had some little gelatinous bits of clumped cornstarch in it.)

Cool completely before serving.


My Favorite Meal

I love, love, love Thanksgiving. I love the turkey and the sides and the desserts and the friends/family. It's about eating good food, but also about counting our blessings. Great combo.

Plus, we'll be spending Thanksgiving with new baby Greta this year!

We're splitting the Thanksgiving cooking between ten people this year (the two babies aren't required to make anything) so it should be a somewhat light lift for all. My mom and youngest sister are heading over tomorrow and are going to help me make Apple Cranberry Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Bourbon Sweet Potatoes. Plus, my sister is making a cheesecake pie.

The Bourbon Sweet Potatoes are from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food (Nov '09) but it doesn't look like the recipe is online.

The pumpkin pie is going to be made from a pumpkin my mom grew. Whoa!

And the Apple Cranberry pie was an inspiration I had a couple weeks ago. I found a recipe on the Cook's Illustrated Web site, but it's only available to subscribers.

I'll report back on all this, plus Pete's making Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Apples.

Anyone making something particularly exciting?

Gobble, Gobble!

PS I made some delicious bread and squash soup this week. I'll try to post the recipe tonight, if I have time. But, I'll also be frantically cleaning my apartment in preparation for guests.


New York, New York

I just booked a hotel in New York for my birthday weekend in April! We're really going!

Now, time to start thinking about what to do there. I'm thinking: art gallery (which one?), Central Park, a play, tix to Conan O'Brien. And, we'll probably take a jaunt over to Brooklyn where I'd like to check out the Brooklyn Flea Market, which Martha recently blogged about.

Where else should we go? Where should we eat?

UPDATE: Dope! Conan moved to LA when you took over The Tonight Show. Options are: The Daily Show, SNL, David Letterman and The Colbert Report. I found a very helpful NY Times article about getting tickets.


Wednesday Cuteness

Elephant + Dog * Friendship = I'm squealing with the cuteness of this clip.

(I'm mostly posting this for my sister, a lover of elephants.)

Thanks Erika


The best part of Halloween?

Hanging out with baby Greta Louise. She was one week old on Halloween! Hey kid, just wait until you can eat the candy.

I was afraid to touch her with my crazy, scary fake red fingernails!

Babies make the world seem like a happier place.

If you want to absolutely explode with cuteness, click here.

How do I know it's fall?

1.) This is what I bought at the farmer's market this weekend:
  • Squash (2 kinds!)
  • Kale
  • Beets
  • Apples
  • Pears
2.) I had to bundle up and use both my front
and rear lights on my bike ride to work this morning.

3.) I went to a chili cook-off last week.

4.) I carved pumpkins with friends.
Welcome fall!

Oh, by the way, I had the most amazing kale salad at a Locavore Potluck at church (most of the food was grown locally). And, since I'm currently on sugar overload, I'm going to go heavy on the vegetables and light on the sugar this week. Here's the recipe - the trick is "massaging" the kale!

Massaged Kale & Currant Salad

By Jennifer Adler M.S., C.N.

Makes 6 servings.
• 1 bunch kale, de-stemmed, cut into bite sized pieces
• 1 teaspoon coarse salt
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
• 1/4 cup diced red onion
• 1/3 cup currants
• 1 cup diced apple (1/2 apple)
• 1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted (I used roasted seeds)
• 1/3 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Put kale in a large mixing bowl. Add salt, massage salt into kale for 2-3 minutes.
Gently stir in remaining ingredients except for cheese.Taste salt and vinegar. When at desired flavor gently stir in cheese.

Oh, and one more sign that it's fall - costumes!


What a week!

I'm exhausted. I'm biking home from work and then laying low tonight with some beer, Arrested Development and Pete.

It's been a week of fascinating experiences.

I had the opportunity to visit a local organization called Compass Center, which serves homeless men and women in Seattle. I ate dinner and went to the evening worship service. We were at the location that provides services for men (women's services are at another location), and I enjoyed chatting with a few of the men while we had dinner. They had all been employed until recently and had basically slipped off the bottom of the employment ladder - and now there's no work to be had. It was a good dose of reality in terms of what the new face of homelessness looks like.

At the end of the evening a man talked to us about his life, and I thought his words were simple, but incredibly true and poignant:

"When you're faced with change, it can cause fear.
And the fear can paralyze you.
That's when you need help, from other people.
Now I'm not afraid.
I don't know what's next. But I'm not afraid."

And, I saw an amazing multimedia art show by Peter Becker Nelson called Former Best Friends at the Pioneer Square First Thursday. It was a cool blending of audio, visual and experiential art that examined his relationships with four former best friends from childhood. It made me reflect on how relationships evolve and how men and women differ in their experiences of "best friends."

We checked out a few other artists that evening and I love, love, love this work by Erin Kendig called Alphabet Pile (she's sitting on a pile of letters):

You can see it better on her Flickr page

Sigh. I wish I could afford art.


Glee - Are you watching it yet?

It's on tonight. I was literally giggling with, well, glee at this scene last week.


I have a slight fascination with Martha Stewart, and I think she totally rocks. Case in point: She just got a new batch of one-day old chicks for her farm, to give her fresh eggs. Don't I wish! Maybe someday . . . when I live on the imaginary farm in my head. (That farm also has goats and llamas, in case you were interested.)

The chicks are SOOO CUTE! I want some! You can read her post about it.

Photo source: The Martha Blog

My neighbors have chickens. They're a very pretty golden brown and I like to hear them clucking when I walk to my car. But sometimes they get out and stand in the middle of the road like a bunch of dummies. I've tried to herd them back a couple times without much luck. Maybe I'll be an urban chicken owner someday, since Lord knows I'm too lazy to actually take care of a real farm.


Weekend Highlights

I rendered lard last night. It didn't turn out perfectly, so I'll try again tonight and post a longer rundown later this week. Most people have been at least interested, if not supportive, of this new experiment. My mom just thinks I'm crazy.

Many other culinary adventures are in the works - including canning! I bought the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and have referred to my most reliable source - my mom. We're starting with peach jam, and we'll go from there.

Besides working with lard and learning about canning, it was a lovely weekend with the highlight of attending our fifth wedding this year! It was a beautiful evening and a lovely service. I caught up with longtime friends, drank wine, did a little dancing and ate cake. What more can you ask for? Here's wishing happiness and adventure to all the couples I saw get married this year!

P.S. A couple tasty recipes that I made last week and I think are worth passing along:

Steamed Eggplant and Mushrooms with Peanut Sauce - Quick and healthy. A good way to use all the eggplant at the farmers markets right now. I served it with brown rice, just don't over-steam the eggplant like I did.

Pork Chops with Bacon and Cabbage - The perfect fall meal. Pete and I both really liked it. I mean, just look at the picture! I can't wait to eat leftovers tonight.
Photo source: MarthaStewart.com

P.P.S. There are SO MANY blog posts and YouTube videos about rendering lard and canning. So very helpful. Thank you technology!


Cupcake Conversion

Photo courtesy of Cupcake Royale blog
Dear Cupcake Royale,

Something's changed in our relationship. I used to put down your cupcakes, calling them dry, tasteless and over priced.

But, I take it all back.

A plate of your cupcakes was placed in front of me at a meeting recently. At first I resisted, but eventually gave in. And, to my surprise, the cupcake was moist and tasty, and the frosting was creamy and flavorful! Was it a fluke?

Then, I saw your sign about the cupcake of the month: Blue Mountain Huckleberry. My internal response: "Must have huckleberry cupcake. Immediately."

Would I be let down? Disappointed? No! It was delicious!

Plus, your Capitol Hill location is so cute and cozy, I kind of want to hang out there every day - drinking coffee, eating a cupcake and reading. Oh, and your employees are all very helpful and friendly.

You've won me over! I'm a fan, and I will now be singing your praises in Seattle. And I'm dying to trying your Salted Caramel cupcake. Watch out - I'll be back!


P.S. I also admire the fact that you provide employees with healthcare and advocate healthcare for all!

(Cupcake Royale has bunch of locations in Seattle, you can find them and see the cupcakes at their Web site.)


Lardfest 2009

That's right people: Lard. In case you haven't heard, it's in. This is mostly because transfats are out of favor, which includes vegetable shortening. So, we went old school by re-embracing butter. And, now we're going real old school with a renewed interest in lard.

The New York Times was singing its praises recently:

I have a suggestion for those Old World cooks who are wrestling with New World advice: take another look at the fat profile of lard. It has half the level of saturated fat of palm kernel oil (about 80 percent saturated fat) or coconut oil (about 85 percent) and its approximately 40 percent saturated fat is lower than butter's nearly 60 percent. Today's miracle, olive oil, is much lower in saturated fat, as everyone knows, but it does have some: about 13 percent. As for monounsaturated fat, the current savior, olive oil contains a saintly 74 percent, yes. But scorned lard contains a very respectable 45 percent monounsaturated fat - double butter's paltry 23 or so percent.

As with all dietary advice, the fat of the day will change. But eternal truths will remain: food is always best with little or no processing and eaten as close as possible to where it is grown. This goes for lard, too. The artisan pig farmers whose fortunes have been revived by a new market for pork with real flavor should look into selling lard because the supermarket kind is processed and dismal.

(Side note: I had a fascinating conversation with a local artisan pig farmer, which has inspired me to try rendering my own lard. But, stay tuned for more on that in a later post.)

And Slate seconded the wonders of lard:

Lard's fat is also mostly monounsaturated, which is healthier than saturated fat. And even the saturated fat in lard has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol. Not to mention that lard has a higher smoking point than other fats, allowing foods like chicken to absorb less grease when fried in it. And, of course, fat in general has its upsides. The body converts it to fuel, and it helps absorb nutrients, particularly calcium and vitamins.

In fact, I might need to get my hands on this book: Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes. The Amazon listing even include ones of her recipes - Pumpkin and Bacon Soup.

So with all this hype about lard, I was super excited when my friend Maggie sent along a recipe for pie crust that was supposed to be to-die-for and suggested we have a pie baking party. It involves a mix of half lard and half butter. And, the trick is to use high quality, leaf lard. It's the most tasteless and the best for baking.

We convened at Maru's house on Saturday to find she had whipped up five different varieties of tamales. WHICH ALSO INCLUDE LARD! Do you see where I'm going here? Lard was the theme of the day! LARDFEST 2009!

Lardfest then got underway in ernest, with lots of pie-making.

The star of the day: Lard. Maggie ordered it from Minnesota.


Peeling - Peaches were still in season, so Maru and I made peach pies. I'm looking forward to making an apple pie a little later in the fall.

Fruit was prepped and crust ingredients were combined and chilled - and we were ready to roll out the dough! One handy trick from the recipe - thump the dough before rolling it out!

Sept 20 008

Sept 20 011

Sept 20 009
Can you tell I'm excited?

A series of pre-baking photos:
Sept 20 014
Sept 20 016
Sept 20 025

And, the finished products:
Sept 20 035

We all agreed they were the best pies we'd ever made, and maybe the best pies we'd ever had.

So, Lardfest 2009, in summary:
three pies
Sept 20 020
Sept 20 019

Final note: I also got a quick lesson on making tamales, so I'll have to attempt that on another day and report back.

Now there's just Lardfest 2010 to plan for!


What a weekend!

It was a weekend of culinary adventures, time with friends, football, farmers markets, eating and more eating. And it all ended with a sunset sailboat ride.

Lots more to come about the weekend and our adventures into the exciting world of lard.
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Postcards From My Commute

This isn't breaking news, but it has been beautiful in Seattle over the last week. I've taken so many mental pictures on my walks and bike rides, and I often wish I had a camera strapped to my helmet. There's one point on my bike ride to work, as I'm climbing Capitol Hill, that I can see both the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains. (It's nice to have inspiration as I'm huffing and puffing up the hill.)

I've been keeping a pretty consistent commuting schedule of bussing two days a week, biking two days a week and doing whatever I feel like on the fifth day. I'm pretty proud of myself! The morning are getting slightly more chilly, but I'm hoping to keep up the biking until those dark, dark rainy days in the heart of winter. I might take a break for a month or two then, but otherwise I'm going to try to stick with my program.

I've also been lifting weights twice a week - which caused some major soreness in muscles I must have left dormant for at least the last three years. But I'm feelig stronger now, and it's worth the time investment in the gym.

So, a couple quick snapshots from commutes:

One thing I've learned through biking is that a lot of people sleep near the Burke Gilman trail - along the canal and near bridges. Sometimes I see the remnants of late night bonfires next to the water in Fremont! One man always has a makeshift tent up near the I-5 bridge - you can tell he's a pro (at being homeless) and has staked out a good spot and developed a solid set-up. So, one morning this week, I ride by his "tent" and see this:

It says: Lea! Call your f@!king voicemail.

I love how he was polite enough not to write the actual F word. And, let's all hope Lea did call her voicemail!

In addition, I have one quick photo from my phone of one of the many beautiful morning views I get on my ride:

Now that I'm in a little better shape, I'm thinking of doing the Kitsap Color Classic, a 64-mile ride!


Dirty Dancing

This is how obsessed I used to be with Dirty Dancing in high school:

Not only did I watch the movie almost weekly, I would rewind the last dance scene at least once to watch it again.

I convinced my class to use the theme "I've Had the Time of My Life" for our senior prom.

My friends and I learned entire dances from the movie, and one even had her date at a dance do the lift from the movie. (Note: That lift causes underwear exposure.)

So, Patrick Swayze is close to my heart. And, how can you not love him for his performances in Ghost, Saturday Night Life and To Wong Foo? He played a drag queen in a movie! And he can dance! (And, since he just died, I'll even admit that I enjoy Road House.)

So, in his memory, I present to you one of the greatest movie clips of all time. It won't embed, so you'll have to watch the Dirty Dancing clip on YouTube.

Thanks Patrick! We'll miss you!


Don't Stop Believing

Something to lift your spirits on a Wednesday. It's the the fifth-grade chorus from Public School 22 on Staten Island, N.Y. singing Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." And one little guy does an amazing solo! You go guy!

Here's an NPR Story on the chorus.

And, you can watch many more videos on their You Tube channel.

P.S. Hearing this song made me excited for the premier of Glee tonight.


Postcards From My Commute

I now commute up to Capitol Hill everyday, usually by bike or bus. And I get to see all sorts of inspiring, beautiful, weird, fascinating and even disgusting things. So, I'm going to try to start mentioning them. I'll try to post pictures as well, whenever possible.

First thing of interest: While biking on the Burke Gilman trail I have seen two fellow bikers who were missing a limb, yet still smoked me on the trail. One man was missing a leg, and used a prosthetic to pedal. Another was missing an arm. Seriously bad ass.

Second thing of interest: I'm a snooper - I snoop on what groceries people buy, what they check out from the library and what books they read on the bus. The other day, a small, middle-aged Asian woman was sitting by me. She was conservatively dressed, carrying a canvas bag and looked to be on her way to work. When I looked more closely at the book she was reading, I was able to make out the title: Drink, Play, F@#k. Wha??? I know it's a spin-off of Eat, Pray, Love. But, who would actually read that? She was about halfway through and looked pretty engrossed.

Bad Blogger

I've been a bad blogger. You know when you feel like you're always a step behind? You can't get to work on time, can't get enough sleep, can't get you apartment clean, can't go to the grocery store. Yeah, that's been me in August. But, I think I have time to take a deep breath now and start to catch up.

I have a big dinner planned for me and Pete tonight, followed by a nice walk around Green Lake. Then, a three-day weekend in town. What a concept! I'll be getting together with some friends and maybe taking a bike ride in the San Juans, if it doesn't rain too much.

I hope everyone else has a nice, relaxing weekend as well!


My Sense of Direction

Some confessions:

I drive my mom crazy by asking her for directions to places in Spokane that I've been 100 times.

I sometimes get lost coming out of the bathroom at restaurants and malls.

I have trouble giving people directions to places because I tend to just drive around until I find a destination.

Yes, I have a terrible sense of direction. Or perhaps just a lack of one. Anyway, I kind of cracked myself up this week with another classic example of my directional confusion. See, I had the simple task of walking from my office at Seattle University to Safeco Field. For most people, their mind would direct them to a route that looks something like this:

It's about a 1.8 mile route, and pretty direct.

Here's how my brain works (these are direct thought quotes): "Hmmm, I know how to get from my office to downtown, and I know how to get from downtown to Safeco. So, I guess that's the best way to go!"

So, my actual route looked like this:

I walked about 3. 5 miles. When I told the group that I had passed Pike Place Market on my way to the game, they all said: "What were you doing there? That doesn't make any sense!"

At the time, it made perfect sense to my directional-deprived brain! The Dixie Chicks have a song with the lyrics: "I've always found my way somehow, taking the long way around." That's me - both literally and figuratively!


Things I Like, August 2009

Mojitos - Pete and I had so many during the Record-setting Seattle Heat Wave (!!!) that we completely OD'd and have to take a break for a while. But, here's the easiest way to make them:
Muddle 2-4 t sugar, 10 mint leaves and 3-4 limes in the bottom of a glass. Add ice. Pour 2 oz. rum in the glass. Top it off with club soda.

Converse All Stars - I found a pair at Ross in Palm Springs, and started wearing them around town. And, THEY ARE AMAZING. So comfortable, and oh so retro-stylish. I kind of want to wear them all the time right now. I've started using them as my commuting shoes, since I have to walk a bit to and from bus stops.

Farro - Bluebird Grain Farms set up at farmers markets in Seattle, and they have all sorts of interesting and appealing products from flour and hot cereal, to stuff I'd never heard of like farro and wheat berries. I decided to give the farro a try. So far I have made a recipe for Farro Caprese Salad and another one with chickpeas, which I cannot find at the moment, but which was pretty close to this one. I just substituted farro for bulgur. I think I'm going to make one of these recipes again this week! (Bluebird also has a CSA that I'm tempted to join, but I just don't think I can go through that much grain each month!)

Julia Child & M.F.K. Fisher - Right now I'm reading "How to Cook a Wolf" by M.F.K. Fisher. She's pretty darn fabulous - writing about eating well during WW2 and maintaining quality in the American diet. I already tried one of her recipes, and it was very tasty. And I, like every other foodie on America, saw Julie and Julia this weekend. I also happened to catch a couple old Julia Child cooking show episodes on PBS. I have officially fallen in love with Julia Child. I may just have to get her book and try some French cooking. Eating and cooking French food has always intimidated me, but Julia was out to convert people just like me, so for her sake I think I'll give it a try. Maybe start with Beef Bourguignon?

Ryan Berkley artwork - He's kind of like a modern Beatrix Potter artist. I bought this set of squirrel prints, and I smile every time I look at them.


Week of Words - Sunday

This is my last post for Week of Words. And, since it's Sunday, I thought I would post a poem that my pastor included in one of our church newsletters - about the call to create a better world, and act out compassion and justice.

I'm off to church and the farmer's market. Hope everyone is enjoying the sunshine!

Christ Has No Body
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on the world.
Christ has no body on earth but yours.


Week of Words - Saturday

This is the first poem that ever sparked for me the imaginative energy and emotion that so many poems can create. I read it in my 10th grade English class with Mrs. Lake.

By e.e. cumings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from t he no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Have a great day on this lovely Saturday!


Week of Words - Friday

I came across this poem in Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. It's provided me with a good grounding after a week of sad news, and during a current week of high temperatures that keep making me grumpy.

By W.S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we say thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on the stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is


Week of Words - Thursday

Well, I'm not doing a very good job on my Week of Words - I forgot to put somethin up yesterday! Oh well, here's one for Thursday.

My Name Is Not "Those People"

By Julia Dinsmore

My name is not "Those People."
I am a loving woman, a mother in pain, giving birth to the future, where my babies have the same chance to thrive as anyone.

My name is not "Inadequate."
I did not make my husband leave - he chose to,
and chooses not to pay child support.
Truth is thought, there isn't a job base for all
fathers to support their families.
While society turns its head, my children pay the price.

My name is not "Problem and Case to Be Managed."
I am a capable human being and citizen, not a client.
The social service system can never replace the compassion
and concern of loving Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Fathers,
Cousins, Community - all the bonded people who need to be
but are not present to bring children forward to their potential.

My name is not "Lazy, Dependent Welfare Mother."
If the unwaged work of parenting, homemaking and community building was factored into the Gross National Product, my work would have untold value. And I wonder why my middle-class sisters whose husbands support them to raise their children are glorified - and they don't get called lazy and dependent.

My name is not "Ignorant, Dumb or Uneducated."
I live with an income of $621 with $169 in food stamps.
Rent is $585. that leaves $36 a month to live on. I am such a genius at surviving that I could balance the state budget in an hour.

Never mind that there is a lack of living-wage jobs.
Never mind that it is impossible to be the sole emotional, social and economic support to a family.
Never mind that parents are losing their children to the gangs, drugs, stealing, prostitution, social workers, kidnapping, the streets, the predator.
Forget about putting money into schools - just build more prisons.

My name is not "Lay Down and Die Quietly."
My love is powerful and my urge to keep my children alive will never stop. All children need homes and people who love them. They need safety and the chance to be the people they were born to be.

The wind will stop before I let my children become a statistic.
Before you give in to the urge to blame me,
the blames that lets us go blind and unknowing into
the isolation that disconnects us, take another look.
Don't go away.
For I am not the problem, but the solution.
And...My name is not "Those People."


Hottest Day Ever

Photo by Barry Fitzsimmons, published in Seattle Times

Literally. We just reached 102 degrees and it's still climbing. It's the hottest day EVER in Seattle. Time to go to a movie! I'm thinking The Hangover would fit the bill today.

Just to prove it, here's Cliff Mass's blog.

UPDATE: I seriously wilted on my hot bus ride home yesterday. Turns out only 30% of Seattle buses have air conditioning. But don't worry, they have great tips for staying cool in a sweltering bus.


Week of Words - Tuesday

I've run across some amazing poems and words of wisdom lately, so I thought I'd post one of them each day. The first come from Mother Theresa. (And, yes, I know I'm starting my Week of Words on a Tuesday. Oh well!)

Do It Anyway

Mother Teresa

People are often unreasonable,
illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest anyway.

What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.



Just as I'm blogging about new beginnings and fresh starts, a good friend of mine lost her mother to cancer this week.

She's on the flip side of facing a new stage in life, without her mother. My heart is breaking for her right now. It's not fair. And it's not right. But, there's no changing it. That's life sometimes.

And it sucks.

(And it's not the only sad news I received today. But, that's not to share here.)

No one tells you that life gets more complicated, more sad, as you grow up. Sometimes you still have those moments, when you're completely happy. And you have to hold onto the memories of those for all your worth, to get you through so many other times when sadness and confusion are woven into and through your life.

My dad died of cancer when I was 16. Seeing and hearing about others experiencing loss always brings back a deep pang of sadness and pain. As someone who has lossed and grieved, I know that people come out the other end eventually. They will feel happy again, and they will find peace. But when you're just beginning the process, all of that seems impossible. That feeling of hopelessness is an important part of the process, but it also makes it so hard to see out the other end of the tunnel of grief.

I'm thinking of those hurting right now, sending out all the love I can. Wishing I could hug them and give them flowers. You are strong and amazing and wonderful.

Curly Hair Revelation

OK, all you curly-heads out there. I have some potentially life-changing information for you.

Everyone has a certain trademark to the way they look - facial hair, lipstick choice, eye color, hair color, etc. Something they feel sets them apart and looks attractive. Well, I've always thought that my trademark has been my curly hair.

Over the last few years, I've been having a lot of issues with styling it and trying to make it look as bouncy and shiny as I want it to. I blamed it on the weather, the water, my hair dryer, my haircut, my styling products, etc. And, I kept trying all sorts of things and products to improve the situation. One frustration is that the only products that seemed to work for me were Aveda, which is REALLY EXPENSIVE.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon a blog about curly hair that described the Curly Girl method for hair. You can visit the blog here, and even though it's long I encourage you to take the time to read it. It's made a huge difference for me.

Basically, it addresses a couple issues unique to curly hair. First, shampoo is very harsh and drying for curly hair. (Up until now, I was only shampooing my hair about once a week.) But, you need shampoo to remove the silicones in most styling products.

Solution: Use a mild conditioner instead of shampoo. Conditioners still contain ingredients that will clean your hair but aren't as harsh. And, avoid silicones! They coat your hair and weigh it down. (The link provides more details on how to find styling products that follow these guidelines.)

This solves so many problems for me! I don't need to worry about only washing my hair once a week. And, now I understand why Aveda products worked for me - they don't have silicones!

Now that I know the secret formula, I can hunt for cheaper products that don't contain silicones.

Here's what I use now:
  • To clean my hair: Suave Naturals Coconut Conditioner
  • To condition my hair: L'oreal Vive Pro Nutri Gloss
  • To style my hair: Herbal Essence Totally Twisted Mousse and Gel (Bonus: They smell like lavendar!)
  • To keep my hair in place: Aveda Hairspray (I still haven't found anything cheaper that I like as well as this)

So, now I'm saving money and my hair looks better (and still smells good). WooHoo!

Again, I encourage you to read the full article at The College Curly. Plus, she talks about a styling method called "plopping," which I definitely need to learn more about.


Summer Fun

Wow, I have been busy! With trips to Palm Springs, Santa Barbara and dear, old Twin Lakes, there's too much fun to report back. Plus it would just bore you. So, here are some highlights.

Palm Springs

hot. HOT. HOT.
Had a lovely time with the PLU ladies, sleeping, reading, eating, chatting and moving as little as possible.

Santa Barbara

You know how everyone says Santa Barbara is beautiful? Well, it is! Plus, it's very relaxing and they have a phenomenal farmers market on Saturdays.

Twin Lakes

My family's favorite little spot hidden away in the trees of the Colville National Forest. Pete got his first real immersion in Eastern Washington culture. Most of it was fun, except when drunk people started to go crazy with large fireworks. Ugh. How about let's not start a forest fire and cause permanent hearing damage in small children?

You can see more pictures at my Flickr account or on my Facebook page.


My First Homegrown Tomato of 2009 & A Poem

I just walked up to check on my plants. All four of my tomato plants have little green fruits that will soon be tomatoes. And, three of my four pepper plants have little peppers beginning. The Ancho Chile plant is going crazy!! I have about seven peppers that are just about ready to eat.

Most exciting, I harvested my first ripe tomato of the summer!

I was feeling light and inspired by my plants and the beautiful, peaceful afternoon. So, I wrote a little poem in my head on the way home. Which is weird, because I never do that. And now I'm sharing it with all of you.


Summer’s first
Ripe tomato
Off the vine.

I was going to share it
With you
At dinner.

But I ate it
Right there
In the afternoon sun
All by myself.

I think it's easy to see that I was inspired by this poem by William Carlos Williams, which I always find amusing every time I hear it.

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Hmmm, maybe I need to go get some plums?


The Times They Are Changin'

Not much has changed for me over the last few years. In fact, most of the time people asked me, "What's new?", I wouldn't really have anything to report. Maybe I was training for a triathlon or planning a weekend getaway or starting a blog :), but nothing of major impact.

Isn't it funny how change can sweep in suddenly from so many directions? It's scary and exciting and confusing when you're right in the middle of dealing with it - trying to figure out what to do, which way to go. Kind of like a big thunderstorm.

In the last six months, I've found my way through a couple major life changes. I've restarted a relationship, which has been so great and such a source of stability and support. And, I've recently the completed the process of applying for and accepting a new job, which I think will provide a great environment and new challenges. (I start on Monday!) Going through these changes brought on stress and anxiety in ways I couldn't have predicted, and made me dig deep into my own fears and dreams and intuition. In the end, I made decisions based on the direction my heart was pulling me in, but that doesn't mean making the decision was easy!

But you know that smell and that feeling when you wake up after a storm, in the morning? Fresh and new.

A lot of things feel fresh and new and exciting at this moment. I've come through the process of making hard decisions, and I'm ready to fully embrace this new direction for my life.

Here's what I've learned while going through this process:
  • Change is scary, even terrifying, but you can't be afraid of it. Don't let fear hold you back.
  • When faced with two options, neither one will be perfect. You just have to make the best decision you can based on your knowledge, experience, goals and values. (I've given up the notion that there is one "right" decision in every circumstance. Trying to be sure you're making the "right" decision can drive you insane.)
  • Pursue the life and values that you want to embody, not money and status.
  • Take calculated - or even crazy - risks. Don't just play it safe all the time.
  • A good friend told me that when you don't know how to start the process of making a change, just take one step in that direction. Do something small that moves you a little closer, and see what unfolds.
  • Listen to the advice of people you trust, who have your best interests at heart. But, in the end, you have to make the decision on your own and you have to live with the outcome. Don't let someone make the decision for you.
So, the times for me are changing. Wish me luck!


Summer Fluff Reading

I have some serious beach and pool lounging coming up (Palm Springs, Twin Lakes, Santa Barbara), so I thought it was time to lose myself in some easy, enjoyable, fluff reads. Now, mind you, these did receive excellent reviews on Amazon and are highly recommended by the ladies at one of my favorite sites: Go Fug Yourself. So, I think they're somewhat respectable.

Here's what I have lined up:

Got these from the Seattle library with almost no wait for my hold request. Imagine that!

This one, I actually had to buy! The Seattle library doesn't carry it - what snobs!

And, last, this is not uber-fluffy, but a good friend recommended it and I want to finish it before the movie comes out.

Now, I just need a lounge chair, swimsuit, sunblock, enormous sun hat and icey drink. Oh yeah, I think I can handle that.

A Very Seattle-ish Weekend

naked cyclists - elvis, originally uploaded by joshc.

Oh, Seattle, I love you sometimes. What a great weekend to enjoy all the charms and quirks of this city.

On Saturday, Pete and I walked down to the Fremont Solstice Festival and Parade. The parade kicks off with hundreds of naked bikers covered in body paint, followed by floats and groups ranging from funny to confusing to bizarre. If you are weird, then this is your day to show your true colors. And, guess what? We'll all celebrate you!

Then, we biked down to Safeco field to watch the Mariners win (!) against the Diamondbacks. We also conducted a very important taste test of sausage vendors outside the field. The conclusion: Mojo is our vendor of choice for their menu, their toppings (including banana peppers) and the song the vendor sings to people walking by. HOWEVER, we think the actual sausages at Al's may be a little better.

On Sunday, I became an ad hoc member of my neighborhood P-Patch. P-Patches are pieces of land in urban areas and neighborhoods where people can use small plots of land to grow gardens. They're run by the city and perfect for someone like me that lives in an apartment. I moved all my potted plants to an area of the P-Patch because they were recently kicked out of the common area of my building. (The nerve!). I'll have to post pics of the P-Patch soon - it's very charming and on a very steep hill.

Last, Pete and I celebrated the solstice and the first day of summer with a very summery meal of cherries, asparagus, salmon and bluebarb pie (that's blueberries and rhubarb).

Yea for Seattle! Yea for summer!

P.S. The pie was great but the crust was tough and not flaky at all. What did I do wrong? Too much water? Letting the unbaked pie get warm on my drive to Pete's?


Basic Brunch

Recently my officemate and I made brunch for our office. We used a couple classic recipes sent to me by good ol' Mom. (Thanks Mom!) Our menu: classic coffee cake, egg bake, fruit, coffee and juice. We received rave reviews and I promised I'd post the recipes online. So, without further ado . . .

Davenport Hotel Coffee Cake
The Davenport Hotel is a landmark in Spokane and huge source of community pride.

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream or light sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cupe walnuts or pecans, chopped
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Butter angel food pan. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Gradually add dry ingredients; mix until smooth. Spread half of batter in the pan.

Combine the nuts, cinnamon and brown sugar. Sprinkle half of the mixture over the batter in the pan. Add the remaining batter and sprinkle remaining nut mixture on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool cake in pan, loosen sides with knife. Take it out with the 2 plate method. Turn it upside down on the first plate to get it out of the pan, then put the second plate on the bottom of the upside down cake and flip over.

Egg Bake
This recipe is from the Spokane Junior League cookbook. I'm not sure of the official name of the recipe or the book it came from.

1 pack refrigerated (not frozen) hashbrowns OR 2 cups chopped potatoes
9 eggs
1 16oz. container of cottage cheese
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1 1/2 cup diced ham (or other meat - I just used a little cooked bacon)
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper

Cook potatoes in a skillet (my mom skips this step when she's using a package of refrigerated hashbrowns)

Spread potatoes in bottom of 9 x 13 pan. In a bowl, whisk eggs together and add all other ingredients. Pour egg mixture over potatoes.

Bake in the top of the oven at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.

Variations: Leave out the meat for a vegetarian dish. Substitute flour for a gluten-free option.