Summer Journal: Week 3

This past week featured, of course, the 4th of July, as well as a couple nice get-togethers with friends. When I look through my pictures, all I got was food.

Ah, well.
Raspberry Blackberry Lime Sorbet remnants
A few weeks ago, I started getting a weekly box from Full Circle. For a person who tends to freeze with indecision at farmers' markets, this is a great solution. You can pick the produce (and other groceries, like milk, butter and grains) that goes your box, but they give you a good starting point to start swapping from. For instance, unless you select otherwise, you might get a pound each of zucchini and carrots, a couple peaches, a head of red leaf lettuce, an onion, a cucumber and a cantaloupe in your box.  I pick it up at the Lutheran church in Browne's Addition every Tuesday after work, and it's like Christmas, even though I know what I'm getting.

I try to incorporate a bit of it in each meal, whether it's a hearty salad, roasted vegetables, or something else fun like zucchini fritters.
Grilled pork, turmeric rice pilaf with currants and roasted carrot coins

Romaine and red leaf lettuce with apricots and almonds

Zucchini, pre-fritterizing
Food is nourishing, indeed.

Multigrain pancakes with every possible topping


Hot evenings were made for this.

Disclaimer: on days like this, we should all drink more water. Drink water all day long. As long as you've done that...

...you've earned one of these when you come home.

Every time Joel, or in this case, I, make a Paloma (that beautiful beverage pictured above), I am stricken with the worst earworm of a German pop hit from the late 1990s by the Ö La Palöma Boys. It was extremely popular when I was over there in high school, in a similar way that Weird Al's "Amish Paradise" was in the states.

I suffer through it because this drink is worth it. It's cold, bubbly and citrusy, and perhaps my favorite vehicle for my least favorite alcohol: tequila.

In most cases, tequila is the same thing as a bad idea: the last-minute, "Why not?" shot that pushes you over the line. In other cases, it's brainlessly paired with Mr. & Mrs. T's Margarita Mix, which has so much sugar you're guaranteed a headache. It wasn't until recently that I drank a margarita without a mix - with real lime juice and triple sec - and realized that tequila is not the enemy I always thought it was. It's still not my favorite flavor, but it is unlike anything else, and I guess that's enough to make me enjoy it on occasion.

The Paloma is on Joel's slate of go-to party beverages: it's easy to prepare and has a perfectly balanced taste, as long as you have grapefruit soda on hand, which is almost never the case. It's become one of those things that I see at the store and think, "Oh yeah, we need grapefruit soda for something..." but can't remember what.

This is what.

La Paloma

2 oz. tequila
pinch of salt
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
grapefruit soda (I like Izze)

Combine the tequila, salt and lime juice in a high-ball glass. Add ice, top with soda and stir.


Just half a batch of strawberry freezer jam

Confession: I have never canned food, much as I love pickles and jams and a good canned pear. I admire those who do. Personally, sterilizing everything sounds like a major pain - and I'm really afraid of botulism. It sounds like an ordeal. Is it an ordeal? Maybe one day I'll bite the bullet and find out how easy canning really is. 

Freezer jam, though: I can get behind that. It's a lazy man's jam that tastes really special. I love the bright, fresh flavor of this method, which is really just flash-cooked off heat. 
I picked up a couple pints of strawberries at the Thursday Market last week, just enough for two cups of mashed berries. Because normal recipes for freezer jam call for 4 cups, I took a risk and used half the pectin packet and less than half the sugar it listed.
I had wonderful success, so if you're like me and don't want to make a whole boatload of freezer jam, give this a whirl. I love it on everything: my oatmeal, toast, pancakes, Monte Cristos, soft cheeses, and straight from the spoon.

Strawberry Freezer Jam for 2 pints of berries

2 pints strawberries, mashed with a potato masher, leaving some nice chunks (should make about 2 cups)
Half a 1.75-oz packet of pectin, or about .8 oz. (I use Sure-Jell - though you could use alternatives)
1 1/3 c. sugar

Place the pectin and sugar in a non-reactive skillet or pan and add 1/2 c. water. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium high heat. Continue to stir and boil for a minute and remove from heat. Add the berries and stir for another minute.

Ladle the jam into clean small containers, as many as you need (I used three old jam jars). Cover and let sit at room temperature for a day to let it set, then freeze for a few months or, for immediate use refrigerate for a few weeks.


Summer Journal: Week 2

Now that I go on morning walks nearly every day, I have been judging lawns and edging (ours is definitely not in the competition). 


This weekend was eventful. I mentioned my brothers had their birthdays last weekend, so this Sunday held the surprise party for Rich, the older one. His wife, Sally, planned it. What she didn't know, however, was the surprise-within-a-surprise: my parents, other brother and niece drove in from Boise on Saturday to attend the party. Here they are looking at photo albums of little Richie; my dad's at the table preparing a sweet tribute to read to his son.

We got Rich out of the house on Sunday by taking him on tour of several breweries in town: Big Barn, Budge Brothers and Ramblin' Road.

When we got back from the tour, this was waiting for him in the backyard. Such fun. There are oodles of musicians in this photo.

I have been breaking up the workday with some beautiful walks around campus and good podcasts to listen to along the way. My favorites are always This American Life, Fresh Air, America's Test Kitchen Radio, and The Splendid Table. This past week I threw in a few wildcards, which were pretty good: The Dinner Party (featured an interview with Steve Martin), a couple of the New Yorker's Out Loud, and The Scrum, which was a little snooty but interesting anyway. When I looked down to adjust the volume on my earbuds one day, I noticed that I had a little traveling partner on my shirt.

Monday was a big day: I was able to officially declare myself DONE with the book I've been working on for pretty much the last year. In celebration, I felt I should take Tuesday off. So I did. After a leisurely morning at home, I went to the library and got my traditional mix: 1 fiction (Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon), 1 nonfiction (Weeds by Richard Mabey), and two cookbooks (Vegan Before 6 [VB6] by Mark Bittman and The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen).

I also planned it so that I could watch the USA play Belgium in the World Cup.

I left work early on Thursday and hit up the Thursday Market in the Perry District as things were just setting up, which meant I got my pick of the best berries.

Also, did I mention it's really hot right now? It's my favorite kind of miserable. We're staying as cool and as sweet as we can.


Summer Journal: Week 1

I've never really defined what my "summer journal" is, other than a way to categorize the great thigns that happen in summer. The format hasn't been consistent, but last year I started posting by week, so I'm trying that again this time. Here goes! (See past years' entries here.)
The first day of summer was appropriately sunny; a great day to be out and about. We met friends for breakfast (waffles, again, from The Scoop), and saw them again down here, at the inaugural Bazaar (presented by a non-profit group called Terrain). It's like an arts and crafts/flea market fest for hipster types. I mean that in the best way.
 Big Bank is always watching you.
We spent the early part of Saturday afternoon watching the World Cup at the Post Street Ale House, which required some beer drinking, so the 3 p.m. espresso was necessary. We'll make any excuse to take a seat at Atticus.

My brothers share a birthday with three years between them, which was Sunday. The elder of them lives here in town with his family, so we met them for a celebratory brunch in Kendall Yards. A little walk along the river followed.
This is Margot's summer spot. She watches birds and neighbors from this high perch for hours. Sometimes there's a bug on the other side of the screen, and it's adorable/pathetic to watch her try to catch it.
You know what they say about how everyone gathers in the kitchen.
Joel entertained my recent obsession with the FitBit gadget thingy that measures all your physical activity (and calorie intake, if you want it to) by surprising me with one last weekend. So far, it's resulted in a few more walks throughout my day to reach my daily step goal. I saw these little window friends waving from a dorm window during a morning stroll through campus.
Monday evening featured dinner by the river at No-Li Brewery.
Just last week I finished Molly Wizenberg's latest book, Delancy, and found out days later that she would be speaking in Spokane on Tuesday. I have read her blog, Orangette, for years, as well as both of her books now, and have often felt like either she was speaking directly to me, or like I could have written exactly what she had. Kindred spirits. I believe it. This evening meant a lot to me.
After I spoke briefly to Molly (!!) and had her sign my copy of Delancy, Joel and I walked out of Auntie's (where the reading took place) to this beautiful sight.
I went out with some of my favorite gal pals on Wednesday night at a nearby bistro. Three of us live within a half mile of each other, basically on the same street. A couple of glasses of wine in, we joined in a walk back to our homes. We were hunting for linden trees, which smell incredible right now.
I recently found a source for cheddar/caramel corn mix, a.k.a. "Chicago mix," which I totally ate - a lot of it - at Garrett Popcorn in Chicago. Don't knock it until you try it. Eating it is kind of a challenge, because when you know you should put the bag away, you can't decide which flavor to end on.
Joel's been working his way through his Italian cookbooks and trying new recipes. Thursday night was a beef risotto that was quite good.


Spring exit

Growing up in Boise, rain was exciting. We didn't get it nearly as much as we do in Spokane (or so it seems to me). I have such vivid memories of sitting on the cement with my best friend Laura, watching the drops soak in around us and singing "It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring." Poor old man. He was missing out on a weather event!

At school, the rain didn't often deter our recess unless it was hailing or something, and it was always fun to be out with my see-through umbrella that had a Mickey Mouse pattern on it.

I especially loved rain in the summer, and those times I could float around in the pool while big drops hit the water. Who cares if you get wet? You're already wet.

I still love the smell: mulchy and sweet; the lamp light that warms up the room in the daytime; the hopelessly optimistic rainy-day music it inspires me to think of (besides the aforementioned "Old Man" song) - "Singin' in the Rain," or my favorite, Shirley Temple's "I Love to Walk in the Rain."

It rained for almost two days straight this past week, and I couldn't help but think of old Shirley again (R.I.P.) and feeling "wonderful when the skies above are thunderful." (Here's the clip. Sweet, if a little racially uncomfortable, as was typical of these old musicals.) I wouldn't say that my love of rain is nearly as strong as it was when I was a kid, or if you could even call it a love of rain. In fact, I usually moan about it because it is often followed by dry, gray days around here. But in weeks like this one, when the forecast shows a solidly upward trend toward sun and warm weather by the weekend, I can certainly appreciate the free watering of my garden.

By Wednesday evening, the sun had returned.

 Luna's not really a huge fan of the rain. She needs vitamin D, too. Also: your eyes are not playing tricks on you - there is indeed a fanny pack in the picture. He totally rocks it, too.

I love these furry catalpa leaves.
(Another reason these old neighborhoods are the best: the street names are etched into the sidewalks.)
The eve of summer happens to be about the time Joel and I commemorate the first time we went out as a *couple* instead of just pals, and shortly thereafter launched just about the funnest summer anyone could have. It's time to bring on another. My summer journal begins on Saturday.


Lemon polenta cake with strawberries

Things to really appreciate:

- When your cat meows [whines] all morning because she's hungry, but you ignore her and she comes and sits and purrs on your lap at breakfast anyway.

- When you're stressed at work and you remember you have a stash of pretzel rods to chew on. You know, the really salty kind that gets crumbs everywhere, best paired with a lemon-lime soda, making for the ultimate comfort snack duo since my childhood.

- When you have car problems for months that your mechanic can't figure out, and you finally bite the bullet and take it to the [gulp] dealership and prepare to transfer funds from your emergency account for some major repair, only to find out that your car has been recalled, which you think is bad, but it just means you get a free replacement part, and by the way, the main problem you were having was simply due to a lousy light bulb, and, "You don't owe a dime," the Toyota guy tells you. Here's your freshly-washed car.

- When the weekend begins with a purchase of a bottle of tequila called "Sparkle Donkey."

- When your friend makes homemade deodorant and gives you a bar and it smells so good you kind of start using it as perfume (Spokanites can buy this stuff at Bazaar next weekend!).

- When you hand off 273 pages for other people to edit (and proceed to clear the pretzel rod crumbs from your desk).

- When your boyfriend comes back from the store and hands you a Take 5 bar (Pretzels + caramel + peanut butter + peanuts, covered in chocolate. Ever had one? The best.).

- When you go through the drudgery of cleaning out the fridge and find a package of almond meal that you don't remember buying and realize you're suddenly in the mood to bake with it, and WHAT !! you have all the ingredients splayed out on the counter already (along with the containers of rotting food, but no matter).

I must say, this has been a year in which I have really needed to write this kind of stuff down. It's been emotionally exhausting in so many ways, good and bad - nothing catastrophic, thank goodness - but I'll be darned if Oprah didn't make a difference in my life all those years ago when she told America about the power of gratitude journals in getting through every step of your life. It's also in writing this that I learn I may never get over my love of pretzels, no matter what.

This would be an appropriate post to introduce you to a pretzel-crusted pie or something, but back to that almond meal in the fridge.

This here cake is so simple, you might impress yourself by reading the recipe once and find that you can do it by memory. It's gluten-free with almond meal and GF cornmeal. Dense but bright with lemon, and not too sweet, it's a good plain cake that still seems special when you add some strawberries.

Lemon polenta cake with strawberries
adapted from Nigella Lawson

1 c. sugar
14 T. butter (1 3/4 sticks - plus some for greasing the pan)
1 c. almond meal/flour
3/4 c. cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
3 eggs
zest of 2 lemons (set them aside to juice for the syrup)

juice of 2 lemons
1 c. powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter and line the base of a springform or regular cake pan with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk the dry ingredients separately and add a third of it to the butter and sugar mixture, followed by an egg. Continue alternating the dry ingredients with the eggs, scraping the bowl down as needed. Fold in the lemon zest and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the edges begin to pull away and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and turn the cake out on a plate.

Heat the lemon juice on the stovetop over medium heat and add the powdered sugar. Let it simmer a little until all the sugar is disolved.

Prick across the top of the cake with a toothpick, and drizzle the lemony syrup and let it seep in. Serve with freshly sliced (or, if you're feeling super gourmet, roasted) strawberries.

The cake keeps, covered, for several days.