Summer Journal 2017

I know nothing about Julia Cameron,  except what I just learned after looking her up on Amazon, but I came across a quote of hers the other day and I've been thinking about it ever since.
"I have learned, as a rule of thumb, never to ask whether you can do something. Say, instead, that you are doing it. Then fasten your seatbelt. The most remarkable things follow." 
I've also been thinking about my 6-year-old friend who came to visit me with her mother a few weeks ago, and the mantra she recited as she approached the monkey bars and other playground obstacles: "The mighty Regan doesn't give up!"

This blog has been dormant the past couple months, though I've visited it often in a weird state of reminiscing. After you've maintained some sort of blog for 11 years, it's like an old friend that indulges you with details of memories you'd otherwise forgotten.

If I look back on this post in another 11 years, I wonder what details will bubble up when I read this. As I'm writing, it already feels like a chapter is beginning, not just for me but for many I know and love. In times like these when I'm liable to draw inward as I process change, I'm least likely to document it. But I also know, after spending probably too much time revisiting these posts, that it's good for me to stick around here and post when I don't feel like it.

Which brings me to Summer Journal 2017! I began the Summer Journal idea a few years ago as a way to keep up my daily photo habit. It didn't really happen last year, but in the other years it was a simple documentation of mostly very simple things I didn't want to take for granted in the colder months of the year. So I'm reviving the tradition starting today because, at 9:24 p.m., it is officially summer.

I'm keeping the words of Julia Cameron and the mighty Regan close at hand as I head back into this world of blogging (not to mention the times throughout the day I call upon my "just do it" mantra).

Here's a warm-up.

Another tradition I'm resuming this summer: Daily walks around campus, even when it's sizzling out, while listening to food podcasts, and this year, learning Italian.

Time to stock the summer bar. Required: Campari, gin, vermouth, and white wine in the fridge.

Now that Spokane's black fly plague seems to have subsided, I am looking forward to more nights dining on patios.

My latest cooking kick is cutting recipes out of magazines and making them. This was from a recent issue of Bon Appetit - bucatini with garlicky bread crumbs and chard. It was also my foray into cooking with anchovies! This was good.

 The bachelor buttons are blooming on the bluff.

Seen on the morning neighborhood walk. Reminds me of the Sesame Street scene in which an orange jumps out of a basket of fruit on the counter and sings Carmen. 
First selfie in my new office! This falls under the "new chapter" category. Very exciting to get out of cubicle land and have a door. I don't have a real window, but it's something.
I have a category of desserts I call "Desperation Desserts," which are the kind you can make when you don't think you have any ingredients for dessert and you don't have a whole lot of time. If you have oatmeal and an hour, you can probably make Cook's Illustrated giant oatmeal cookies. Now you know.
 Trivia. We just can't resist it.

I've been lucky enough to sit across this handsome fellow at dinner pretty much every night for the last nine years.
In honor of our milestone, I made him a denim utility apron. That's traditional, right?


Thoughts at 35

I began this week by turning 35. Since it's a year that is divisible by five, it feels like a minor milestone. I revisited the list I wrote when I turned 30 and made a few edits but also added five new items to it, having gained five more years of wisdom. I have to chuckle at some of them because they somehow became even more true after I wrote them five years ago.

35 things learned in 35 years
  1. 30 isn't actually old. (Note five years later: Nor is 35.)
  2. Fashion magazines are simply ads.
  3. Making new friends after college is seriously hard. That Girl Scouts song about gold and silver friends is true.
  4. If you don’t pack enough clothes, you will be okay.
  5. Take notes when your relatives tell you stories about the old days.
  6. Empathy is pretty much the most important emotion, ever.
  7. And “Just Do It” is pretty much the best mantra you could ever have.
  8. Wash your face before going to bed. No matter what.
  9. Travel debt is the best debt.
  10. Buying in bulk might only make you use more stuff more quickly.
  11. Yes, you actually can run over seven miles nonstop, just not during the first 10 tries.
  12. Take lots of pictures because it may be the only way you can remember anything anymore.
  13. Your “Just Do It” mantra also applies to cleaning the toilet, going to the gym, getting up with your alarm, stuff like that. You can’t just save it for the fun times.
  14. Slow down. Don't rush other people. 
  15. Get over Diet Coke. Later, you’ll realize it tastes like chemicals, which is what it is.
  16. When you wake up in the morning, try to think of something wonderful as soon as you can.
  17. A good shopping tip: before buying clothes, envision what each thing will look like after having gone through the wash four times. 
  18. You will never fully understand the game of football.
  19. It’s not necessary to listen to music constantly. Even (especially) in the car.
  20. If you’re having a bad hair day, just put on some lipstick (not on your hair, though).
  21. Be interesting, but don't give everything away.
  22. It’s okay to change your mind. It shows that you’re thinking.
  23. Don't give up on penmanship.
  24. Go for a walk. Good things aren’t that far away.
  25. Find meaning in whatever ways make sense to you, and don't feel the need to convince other people.
  26. You’re not above lowbrow, and you’re better for it. Embrace it.
  27. Your profoundest thoughts have probably been sung about by Paul Simon.
  28. When in doubt, just smile a nice smile for the photo.
  29. Eat a little bit of everything (a la Julia Child) as long as it's real food (a la Michael Pollan). It's the only "diet" worth doing.
  30. Wear shoes you feel confident you could walk at least a mile in.
  31. Anger is often a manifestation of fear. When you feel yourself getting angry, or see someone express anger, stop to consider the fear that might be driving it. We all become a little more human that way.
  32. If you're boiling a grain for a savory dish, boil it in broth, man. 
  33. Strangely enough, people who tell you they don't like *drama* tend to attract it. Beware.
  34. Doing things you said you'd never do is a powerful route to self-discovery.
  35. When you feel like you just don't get kids these days, make an effort. Or get old because you stopped trying.


Around and about

 The river is still in a rage. But what a view! This was from late March.

Bread before/after. Don't get me started on baking bread unless you really want to hear an earful because I love talking about it, almost as much as I love eating it, or listening to it crackle when it comes out of the oven and starts to cool, or getting the perfect design on top. These are magical things in my life right now.

A scene from an incredible night featuring a magical collaboration between the Spokane Symphony and local artists, playing and interpreting Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Inspiring. My favorite movement of the Vivaldi seasons is winter. But in this performance, it was fall. In real life, SPRING. Late spring.

On a cold, rainy Saturday we made our first-ever trip to Mike's donuts in the valley. The apple fritters did not disappoint. I'd like to think this is Mike himself. Does anyone know Mike?

 I came out of the hallway after vacuuming to find these two curled up in their respective places. (Luna is not normally allowed on the furniture, but she's really taken to that chair by the window, and if it keeps her from getting up on the other things, then we're OK with it.)

 I love these. I still don't know how to pronounce ranunculous.

 Friday night, eating burgers and drinking wine by candlelight at a record store. Like we do. (At Garageland, at least.)

 Fresh orange rolls. I'm declaring this to be my Easter tradition, even though I come from a long line of other delicious baked-good Easter traditions, not the least of which is hopping bunny rolls. If you're interested in the orange-roll recipe, I posted the recipe here.

RaNUNculous? RA-nun-CU-lous?

 Friday night table is set for our dinner date with PBS Newshour JUST KIDDING. But we did watch The Amazing Race, which we DVR'd from the night before.

Who needs ham for Easter dinner when you can make Pasta Primavera?  Joel made the sauce, I made the noodles. A new favorite veggie pasta dish for me. I like the idea of a pasta for all the holidays.

Friday morning bathroom - before. Generally, there was nothing offensive about this bathroom and the stenciling from the 90s. But our house is covered in this green.  I wanted something cleaner and a little brighter. Enter: Rodda paint #0622 Serene Setting...

Saturday morning - after. The wainscoting still needs some touch-ups, but I'm not thinking about that right now.

These April days have mostly been soggy ones, but if you get out at the right moment, the sun hits you and all the colors are suddenly bright and the earth smells incredible. 

Lately I've been thinking about headwinds and tailwinds. Maybe because it's been so windy with all these changes of weather. But it was prompted by an interview I heard on Freakonomics about our tendency to believe that our lives are harder than others'. The headwinds come and become our focus as we struggle to get through them. But there are also tailwinds in our lives that make certain things easier for us. We may notice them giving us a boost at first, but as they continue to push us forward, we stop noticing them. If we pause to notice the seemingly invisible tailwinds, we start to realize how well we are set up in our lives, beyond the major things we're quick to rattle off when asked what we're thankful for. This is what makes daily gratitude journals so powerful and often life-changing. I've worked to make this a habit in my life for years, but something about framing it this way really made sense to me. In case you want to listen to it on a particularly windy day (or read the transcript): Why Is My Life So Hard?


The weekly challenge

I'm pretty sure my fascination with temporary lifestyle challenges started in grade school when I learned of a national challenge for kids to go a week without TV. I signed a pledge form in one of my magazines and announced to my mom that I was participating. I don't remember if I made it the whole week, but I do know that it didn’t have a lasting effect. I grew up in the golden age of Thursday night NBC and to this day I do not regret the high priority it had in my weekly life (others may disagree, but the '90s were amazing).

Twenty-five years later, I'm still ready to sign a pledge and sentence myself to a temporary lifestyle change and tell my mom about it. Since January I've been incorporating a weekly challenge into my daily life pretty much every week for fun (a challenge in itself). I mentioned a few of these in a previous post, but I wanted to let you know I'm still at it! Here are a few highlights from more recent challenges and what I'm learning:

The Week of Riding the Bus: I love riding the bus. You get time to yourself to zone out, to listen to a podcast, to knit, or to read. The challenge is in scheduling, and that is why I don't do it more often. I have to get up earlier to walk the dog, do my morning routines and make it back out the door by 6:56 a.m. I get home about 10 hours later, but only if I work through lunch to leave early so I can catch the fast bus back downtown and then one more to home. So...long day. I watch moms get on with their kids and I can only imagine how much longer theirs' are. It's logistically impossible to make it to my barre class after work without a car, and a bus that's a few minutes late or early can derail one's entire day. It requires a bit more meal planning and errand bundling, but that introduces other benefits of saving money and exercise. I definitely slept harder during this week. I'm good with riding just a couple days a week. I'm lucky to have the choice. 
The days are getting longer!

The Week of No News: I had some idea, but this week really highlighted how much of news is not actually news. It's often regurgitation, speculation, not life-changing stuff. I didn’t miss much in the course of a week, and if anything important happened, I heard a recap from Joel. And hearing about the news from someone you love is actually a nice thing. I also stayed away from my personal accounts on Facebook and Twitter that week, and that was more challenging. My brain longed for something to mindlessly scroll through. I ended up spending a lot more time on Pinterest just to scratch that itch. But when I did use the internet for non-Pinterest purposes, I used it purposefully - to look up something I wondered about, rather than allowing myself to be fed things I didn't care about - or to learn something new. Since ending the challenge, I've pared down my subscriptions on my Feedly reader to display the sources I actually read, which are mostly not news. I still catch myself mindlessly scrolling.

The Week I Read an Entire Book: I read Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which ended up being the perfect kind of book to read in a week because I couldn't put it down. It was so imaginative and touching, poignant and clever. I actually felt I learned something about how my brain works as I figured out the narrative style. I hear the audiobook is a work of art, too, with dozens of recognizable voices. Maybe I'll re-read it that way.

The Week of Running: I ran 10 minutes a day for four days out of seven. Not a rousing success, but I had good excuses for at least 2 of the days I didn't run (there was one day that I didn't feel like running because it was Friday, and thus I felt I needed to celebrate by not running. Not my best excuse). What I learned was I'm not too out of shape to run a solid 10 minutes, and I could have gone longer. I also enjoy running for 10 minutes because it's not a huge time commitment, and I start to feel really good by the end of it, therefore I don't dread it the next time. Ten minutes is totally doable, even the times I ran after my regular workout and didn't think I could make it...after two minutes of powering through, I felt like a new woman. I'd like to do this more often as the weather brightens up.

You can do anything for 10 seconds, they say. This weekly challenge thing feels the same way to me. You know you're not in it for the long haul, that the end of it is coming soon, and by the time you get to the end, you often realize you could do it longer. Or you're grateful that you can do it at all.


Define "snack cake"

I haven't definitively figured out what makes a cake a snack cake, but based on my limited research (which included wading through links for Hostess and Lil Debbie varieties), it seems to be a kind of cake you can pack up and stash somewhere and devour wherever and whenever. So whereas a rich layer cake may be more of an event, a piece of throw-in-the-bag snack cake just makes part of your day better. Whatever it is, or is not, I am generally a fan of packing cake in my lunch to save for my mid-afternoon slump.

So yes, I made a snack cake. This recipe for banana-oat snack cake came to me via Bon Appetit after I found a freezer bag of frozen bananas, a fresh bag of crystallized ginger, and an annoyingly inadequate amount of chocolate chips to do much else with. The recipe doesn't actually call for the ginger or the chocolate, but if I've learned anything in these almost 35 years, it's that ginger and chocolate take banana cakes to the highest dimension of "good" in a banana baked good. So I added them. 

Also, the recipe is written as though you have fresh, perfectly yellow bananas, because you are to chop them, rather than mash. I was working with frozen mush, and it worked just fine in the end. I am sure the texture was altered a bit, but the taste was perfectly banana-y and the cake was moist like banana bread.

Today I packed one up in my lunch and looked forward to a happy moment of afternoon snacking all morning.


Recipe Test: Absinthe Cake

David Lebovitz is one of my favorite original food bloggers. Many of the recipes he posts have some charming tidbit about life in France, the people he encounters, the restaurants and cafe culture, and the funny things he's learned through missteps and language fails, both confirming and debunking various stereotypes we have about the French. This is all distilled into his book The Sweet Life in Paris. I bought it before my first trip to Paris as a culture guide as much as a treasure trove of recipes.

I'd kind of forgotten I had it until a recent bookshelf purge. As often happens when I flip through these kinds of books, I'm reminded of why I have it in the first place because my brain lights up with all the possibilities of things I could and should make. The absinthe cake was the first thing I wanted to try, if only because it required a trip to Total Wine where we like to ogle at all the specialty liqueurs that we will never buy.

In fact, we didn't even buy the absinthe, because when it comes to anise-flavored liqueur, we enjoy a cheaper variety of pastis called Prado...so we bought that instead. So, I should confess at the outset, this is not actually an absinthe cake, but a pastis cake. Nevertheless, it's seriously boozy and covered in a sugary crust, brightened with orange zest, studded with crushed anise seeds and utterly decadent for something that looks so plain. (BTW, if you don't like licorice or anise flavors, don't make this cake. Not a problem at this house.)

Gâteau a L'Absinthe (ou Gâteau au Pastis!)
adapted from David Lebovitz

-Makes one 9-inch loaf cake-

For cake:
3/4 tsp. anise seeds, crushed with mortar/pestle or hammered in a Ziploc
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. almond flour
2 tsps. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs, at room temp
1/4 c. whole milk, not super cold
1/4 c. booze (absinthe or pastis)
Zest of one orange

For glaze:
3 T. sugar
1/4 c. booze (absinthe or pastis)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan, lining the bottom with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together the crushed anise seeds with the flours, baking powder and salt.

3. Cream butter and sugar together in an electric mixer for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition.

4. Combine the milk and the booze, along with the orange zest.

5. Stir half the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, then add the milk and booze. With the mixer on low, stir the remaining dry ingredients until just incorporated.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean.

7. Remove cake from the oven and let cool in the pan for 30 minutes.

8. With a long toothpick or skewer, poke 50 holes into the cake. Combine sugar and booze for the glaze in a small bowl, but don't let the sugar dissolve.

9. Remove cake from the pan and set it on a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Baste the cake with the glaze on the top and sides until the glaze is all used up.


7 links + 1 recipe for the weekend

A collection of things I read this past week that were worthwhile.

1. Looking for a break from the doom and gloom, I googled Positive News and found this delightful publication from the UK.

2. I just wish Carl Sagan was still around to tell me all the answers.

3. The case for living a less structured life. Improvise more!

4. Beautiful: Shadow work is active.

5. I am guilty of #3 during work meetings. Words and phrases to ban from your vocabulary.

6. This sounds about right.

7. My former art professor is currently using his blog to examine our current political climate through art, which is how I came across this link. Amazing how a cardboard box company could employ such an inspiring, daring and controversial method of advertising that is more about the art and a greater message.

From my cookbook archives: "You can serve sunshine - in salad," this Better Homes and Gardens book begins. Published in 1958, it is predictably filled with tragically lit photography of molded gelatin, processed cheese and stuffed orifices.

The actual best part of the book, though, is the section on salad dressings. I made this tangy French dressing to top my usual salad (romaine and chopped veggies) and quite enjoyed it. My favorite method to dress a salad is to place all the vegetables in the bowl, toss with the dressing to marinate until you're ready for dinner, and then add the salad greens and toss (by hand is best). A great trick I learned from Mom.

Tangy French Dressing

2/3 c. salad oil (I used olive oil but a more neutral oil would probably be better)
2/3 c. vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
1/3 c. water
2 T. chopped chives or green onion
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. celery salt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
Freshly ground pepper

Whisk together, shake well before using. Serve over greens. Makes 1 3/4 cups.

(And if you want to make scones for breakfast as in the photo above, my favorite recipe is in this post.)