Week 28

Looking up at lunchime

I returned from Boise on Sunday afternoon, via Seattle. (I drove down, Joel flew, Joel drove back, I flew back.) I sat next to an older gentleman who watched the end of "Mrs. Doubtfire" on his iPad. I couldn't help but watch a little over the armrest. Classic.

On Monday, the office was all but empty and I caught up on a lot of work. I was so happy to return to Bar Method after a 2-week hiatus due to stitches and travel.

I'm trying to spend lunch hours in new places. On Tuesday, I took a quick drive to a cemetery for a stroll. Is that weird? Maybe. A colleague of mine had told me she did this from time to time and I thought it sounded like a beautiful thing to do. After all, don't we appreciate life more when we think about death? I've been thinking a lot about death lately (see Reading and Watching) and it's an important subject to regularly ponder. I'm trying to understand life better through it, and the ways we experience joy and sadness simultaneously.

Wednesday was another long-ish but fun day of photoshooting. I missed out on most of the World Cup drama that day (England/Croatia).

Cool art in the Whitworth library
On Thursday, we almost won trivia at Iron Goat. We were in first place until the final question, when we bet it all for a Beatles-related question. We picked the wrong Beatle. Lesson learned: it's always Ringo.

Friday was hot, the hottest of all the days. The air conditioner is working hard. The cat is luxuriating in the warmest rooms. We got outside in the evenings, though, and prepped the backyard for putting in grass seed. It is probably too hot for doing such things, but we're doing it anyway.


I failed to mentioned last week that I actually read a book in a day! That is, I listened to Tim Robbins read Fahrenheit 451 for 5 of my 7-hour drive to Boise. I'd never read it before and I found myself tearing up somewhere around the mountain timezone switch as I neared the end of the book.
"And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the backyard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands? He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on."
I started another audiobook, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, which is all about death and dealing with grief in the year following the death of her husband, followed by that of her daughter.


The Tour is on in the mornings, of course, and I get my daily debrief when I get home. Sometimes we'll turn on the TV to continue one of our shows if we can stand to turn off the air conditioner (it's loud), otherwise we have to turn up the TV super-loud and feel overtaken with sound.

We watched Coco on Saturday. I knew where the song "Remember Me" would eventually lead, and there was no stopping the tears. This is the best Disney thing I've seen in years.


I started knitting Francis and the pattern is...innovative. I had to read and re-read and re-read again before I started to understand the designer's instructions. I had to undo it 4 times and start over. After the fourth time, it nearly got the better of me. I cried and felt like a lousy knitter. My neck was hurting and I just wanted to figure it out. I kept at it and finally I got it.


The new Dirty Projectors album (Lamp Lit Prose) is dreamily good.


It's the season for grilled lemon-parsley chicken tenders! (It's always the season, but it tastes especially good right now.)

Joel made jambalaya this week, too, which is always a favorite.

Otherwise, grilled meats and salads as much as possible to beat the heat!


Week 27

April used to be my favorite month of the year (selfishly - because of my birthday, of course), but I am here to say that July is officially the b-e-s-t.

On July 1 we continued our tradition of a river picnic with Luna. It was a beautiful, albeit slightly windy, evening, complete with a mama duck sighting with her 16 ducklings hopping on her back swimming upstream.

On Tuesday, I drove to Boise to join my siblings in celebrating my mom, belatedly, who turned 80 in February. We cooked together, played cornhole, watched old family movies, went to a Hawks game on the 4th of July, and picnicked in the mountains where our Oma (Mom's mom) joined us via butterflies and wildflowers near the spot near where we scattered her ashes. My nephews debuted a film they had worked on earlier in the week. We presented Mom with an album of words that described her, as submitted by her family and friends. The most common word was "gracious." We were not surprised. It was good to celebrate our mom, who continues to exude grace and inspires us to live our lives as other-focused as she does. And good to spend nearly a week with all three of my siblings - an event that hasn't happened in almost 10 years, along with nieces and nephews who are developing into young adults before our eyes.


Ha. I had some time to continue progress on my Elena Ferrante book, but not much.


After making pizza using Mom's recipe for pizza dough on Saturday (i.e., my sister made it), I was inspired to use it more often! It was a major flashback to childhood but also just a darn good way to make pizza crust (you par-bake the crust and put it back in the oven with toppings). We were cooking for 16-ish all week, which meant a taco bar one night, baked potato bar another night, burgers and brats another. It was fun to make food with my siblings and appreciate what great cooks they all are.

Back at home, earlier this week, I also grilled this super-good southwestern-style pork loin.


I somehow managed to knit sock #2 in a week, completing a pair I started in February, the last time I was in Boise.


I was subjected to Emergency! and CHiPs this week, thanks to my brothers and nostalgia. I must say that Eric Estrada was, indeed, a looker.

The Tour de France began on Saturday as well, which commences a special season in our house. Not to mention more birthdays and partying to come!


Week 26

We are officially halfway through 2018.

Our first summer guest arrived this week! The last time we saw James was when he was living in Germany, about 7 years ago. He and the family are back in the states now and while it seems closer, it's still so far. He played a show at the Baby Bar on Tuesday night, another activity we hadn't participated in in perhaps more than 7 years. The only thing that felt like it changed was my ability to stay out past 11. Fun to catch up - and now it's our turn to visit on the East Coast!

I lost some skin this week. It amazes me how, in the quick course of a conversation about what I'm doing this weekend, everything's stitched up and I never feel a thing. These posters are also kinda nasty and I can't look away. Anyway, always wear sunscreen.


Brats, burgers, pizza, pasta. We're drinking rose and eating meals on the porch and living large.


I finished my Brudarach scarf! I started this mystery knit-along back in April, took it with me on our trip in May, and am glad I finished it before the 4th of July...when I will never wear scarves...sigh. I'll have forgotten all about it by the time September rolls around and I could use a lightweight accent.

I will be starting on this sweet little sweater next. The yarn is on its way!

Another finish: The Happiness Equation. The part that resonated with me most was toward the end, which aligned with my personal motivational phrase of "Just do it" (thanks, Nike). The idea is that you have to do before you realize you can do or want to do. Just do it, and then you'll realize you can do it, which makes you want to do it, and you keep doing it. It's a productive cycle. It also reminded me of a phrase my Oma used to say, which used to make me mad because she was usually right: "Those who say they can't, don't want to."

These also remind me of her

Watched Hannah Gadsby's comedy special, "Nanette," this past week. I found her take on comedy refreshing, gut-wrenching, and timely as ever. Worth a watch.

And Glow is back! I love it.


Week 25

Fancy ending to fancy dinner at Sante
Ten years, everyone. We hit the decade mark on June 17. Back in 2008, when we had been dating a mere week or two, he dropped a bomb on me by telling me he could never make me happy. I momentarily panicked that he was breaking up with me. And then he matter-of-factly explained that happiness was an individual choice - my choice - and that expecting to find happiness in another person would lead to disappointment. My feelings were telling me the opposite at the time - I was pretty certain he had everything to do with every happy thing I was experiencing. Nevertheless, his words returned to me over the next year, and again through the next several, and today I look back and see what a recurring theme this has been not just in our relationship but in other encounters throughout my life. I am so grateful he could be so real with me so early on. He may not be the source of my happiness, but he supports me through all the experiences - the light and dark places - and helps me see what I'm capable of. Including happiness.

It's especially nice to celebrate our partnership as we usher in summer. We've been making Summer Lists pretty much every year since to help set fun goals, even if the last few years have included more home improvement projects...
Luna helps with moral support
Joel built our new barbecue just in time for all the summer grilling. And it's a good thing we got a cover for it: the summer solstice hit hard via a raging thunderstorm on Thursday night. It was fun, but it's too bad the longest day of the year was lost to dark clouds. The inaugural grill night was Friday and featured simply seasoned steaks and vegetable skewers. Just what I needed.


Speaking of happiness, I picked up The Happiness Equation at the library last week. I love self-help books because they're usually skimmable and I often get a few takeaways. Lessons learned in this one: Never retire. Figure out what your ikigai is (and say the word as much as possible because it's fun: "icky guy"), also known as the reason you get up in the morning. Stop wearing out your brain with decision making. Nothing new, but some good reminders and visualizations.

Doing and Making

My goal this summer is to get on a roll with making stuff and gittin-r-dun. First thing's first, though: this week I started a 5-minute meditation practice before breakfast. I'm a worrier and heavy thinker and it often gets me down. Meditating helps me notice and accept it and calm my mind a bit. (I have been using the free version of the Headspace app.) I have been doing this every morning and it is a really positive way to start the day, and a good foundation for approaching new projects, including my ongoing self-improvement project.

So back to crafts: I dug back in on my Brudarach knit-along from back in April. It just feels pretty to knit lacy things. Up next is a knitted tank, I think, and finishing some socks. I'm contemplating some sewing projects, too.


Sidenote: a couple new developments in my food obsessions. One: sardines. I don't know how I lived my whole life without them until now. Second, this week I started poaching eggs the "real" way, after years of using my trusty poach pods. The first couple times were messy, but over the last week I've achieved the beautiful, billowy egg. Thanks to Bridget and Julia from ATK for inspiring me to give it a shot: they use a colander to remove the watery egg whites (this comes from older eggs) before poaching. But, as I've complained before about ATK recipes, you end up using a lot of dishes and equipment. So after I started getting comfortable with the process, I eliminated the colander component and it worked out just fine.

I had buttermilk in the fridge from an abandoned attempt at making English muffins, so I made buttermilk blueberry pancakes on Sunday, and a recipe from Bon Appetit for orecchiette (I used shells) with buttermilk, peas and pistachios. Joel saved the rest of the work week with chicken tinga burritos.

On Friday I picked up strawberries at the Emerson-Garfield farmer's market and made strawberry ice cream that night. Oh my wow. With Martha's recipe, you puree a pound of strawberries, then halve another 8 ounces and macerate those in vodka or tequila (I picked tequila).


When Gordon Ramsay starts a new restaurant-shaming show, you better believe we tune in. This time it's 24 Hours To Hell and Back. There are dead rats in toasters and belly-aching man-children and more. We can't look away, even if the gimmick is unbelievable. I thank Gordon for making me into a more discerning restaurant-goer.

And of course we're sailing through the new season of Queer Eye.

(Future posts should include more photos. Oops.)


Week 24

I have to keep reminding myself that it's not technically summer yet. But it sure does feel nice to not realize how late it is because it's still light out, to smell the barbecues around the neighborhood, to know the neighborhood ice cream shop is open later, to quickly slip on shoes to leave the house, to turn on a fan at night.

Something I wish I took a picture of in Italy: all the crimson poppies growing everywhere along roads and train tracks. I'm seeing them blooming here in Spokane now and they're making me feel all wistful. I am also having little flashbacks of other discoveries in Italy, like the public restrooms that had single tissue dispensers instead of toilet paper rolls. I was into it.

Recipes: On Sunday I made Mom's slow cooked pepper steak (I changed it into an Instant Pot recipe with great success. In case you didn't see, I posted both versions). This week I also received an order of Penzey's spice blends, and I immediately put them to use in flavoring yogurt for veggie dip, and rubbed some Florida on chicken for a skillet dinner. And on Saturday night I stir-fried some shrimp, snow peas, onion and garlic stalks with Mai Fun rice noodles and Trader Joe's Soyaki sauce.

Watching: The World Cup. I enjoy it enough. We watched the Steve Martin & Martin Short comedy special on Netflix. I have no problem with declaring my love of Steve Martin - he's widely respected by many people - but I do feel kinda sheepish about how much I love Martin Short. Don't ask me to explain it. But this clip has long had something to do with it. Also watched Ibiza on Netflix and it was a long, drawn-out version of the trailer. Just thinking about this movie annoys me. (Why did I watch the whole thing?)

Reading: While in Italy, I read the second book of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series, The Story of a New Name. I'm into book three now - Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. As I'm reading these books I can't help but think I'm reading something significant. Ferrante's writing is magnificent - her detailed character explorations never feel belabored or unnecessary.

For something completely different, I also read  Swearing is Good for You. I'm not necessarily trying to find excuses to swear, or validation for when I do, but it actually was kind of an interesting study of the brain as well as sociology. I was trained to avoid swearing, but as I've gotten older, I've found it to be a healthy outlet, and now it seems there's actual scientific proof that it is.

Listening: Spotify has been delivering all kinds of good stuff to me lately. Kamasi Washington's epic rendition of "Clair de Lune" is joining the ranks of Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" and Ahmad Jamal's "Poinciana" as stuff I want to listen to at the end of a long day and the beginning of a stiff cocktail.


Mom's Slow Cooked Pepper Steak (instantly!)

Sometimes I look back on old blog posts from years and years ago and try to recall the energy with which I used to approach cooking. Lately I am kind of bored with it and am forcing myself to branch out by buying ingredients without a plan. What should I do with a bundle of spring onions? (I'm still trying to decide. Meanwhile, they wilt in the fridge.) What can I do with tater tots and marinated artichoke hearts? (Eat separately, do not mix.) And didn't I once read a recipe that called for black sesame seeds, because I'm finally seeing them in the store! (Recipe still not found.) Ugh, I am a mess.

My solution this past weekend was to revisit my mom's cookbook and find something familiar that I had not yet made on my own. I know if anyone can appreciate the occasional drudgery of cooking, it's her - and I only know this because she has told me, not because it ever came through in what she put on the table. I keyed in on her recipe for slow cooked pepper steak - made with an unfussy cut of beef (round steak) and bell peppers.

I had intended to slow-cook it as written, but a long bike ride had me looking at my Instant Pot at 5 p.m. I knew that most beef becomes fork-tender after about 35 minutes under pressure, so I just set it for that and crossed my fingers. It turned out splendidly, because of course it would. Below is my mom's original recipe, and my adaptation for the Instant Pot. Both ways will comfort your soul and astound you when you realize there's not enough leftover for tomorrow night's dinner. Oops.

I texted my mom to show her what I did, and she replied that her "lazy" dinner that night was salami sandwiches on Jewish rye. I'd probably enjoy that just as much, but we all know sandwiches taste better when Mom makes them. In the meantime, I was glad to have this bowlful.

Slow Cooked Pepper Steak (Mom's original)

1.5 to 2 lbs. beef round steak
2 T. neutral cooking oil
1/4 c. soy sauce (or tamari)
1 c. chopped onion (1 large)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
4 tomatoes, cut into eighths, or 1 16-oz. can tomatoes with liquid, cut up if whole
2 large green peppers, cut into strips (or a colorful combination)
1/2 c. cold water
1 T. cornstarch
Cooked noodles or rice

Cut beef into 3-inch x 1-inch strips: brown in oil in a skillet. Transfer to slow cooker. Combine the next seven ingredients (through the ginger); pour over beef. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours or until meat is tender. Add tomatoes and peppers; cook on low for 1 hr. longer. Combine the cold water and cornstarch to make a paste; stir into liquid in slow cooker and cook on high until thickened. Serve over noodles or rice.

New-Fangled Instant-Potted Pepper Steak

Same ingredients as above

After cutting beef into strips, as above, brown the steak directly in the IP using the saute setting (you may need to do this in batches). Add the next seven ingredients and give the pot a good stir to mix everything together. Add the tomatoes and peppers on top, along with another 1/2 cup of water to be on the safe side (this helps it come to pressure). Close the lid and manually set the pressure to 35 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally 10 minutes (or longer, if you can stand it), then quick-release the rest. Combine the cold water and cornstarch as above, and stir into the mixture. Use the saute function again to bring it back up to a simmer and let it thicken to your liking (this took about 5 minutes). Serve over noodles or rice.

I served it over brown rice, cooked in vegetable broth, with peas thrown in at the last minute. Yum.


Weeks 19-22 (let's just throw in 23, too)

Where do I begin?

Italy, how about. From a car to a plane to a shuttle to a plane to a shuttle to a plane to a bus to a metro to a walk to a sweet apartment with a view of Milan on a rainy evening. The first day of 16 without any obligations, except to ourselves in enjoying the adventures and misadventures that awaited.

We journeyed from Milan to Genoa, Genoa to the Emilia Romagna region, and finally to Turin, with stops in Lake Como, Parma, Modena, Bologna, Ferrara, Alba (ish), Asti - and a final night in Frankfurt. I managed to keep a journal the whole time, which was my goal, and I also took pictures, despite my idea to only take mental pictures instead. A cute but totally stupid idea. (When you see a statue on a cathedral with its guts hanging out, how can you not capture it for your personal collection?!)

Duomo detail, Milan

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan

Basil gelato, Genoa

Lake Como

The trip was beautiful and challenging and enlightening and took more work than most trips. We developed vacation routines in short spurts. We met and addressed our usual challenges in traveling together, with my proclivity to be a tourist (and ability to sight-see for hours) and Joel's to blend in as a local (and find time for naps and downtime), and made new discoveries about why we travel. We almost figured out the non-rules of Italian roads. We balanced each other in stressful situations. We found moments that reminded us of other places we've been and people (and dogs) we love, and felt wistful. We slept on hard beds.

Menomoka, in Modena

Nearly every evening was ushered in with Aperol spritzes and potato chips. I stuffed myself (uncomfortably, at times) with gelato, pasta, cured pork products, focaccia, and maybe not enough cheese, if I'm honest.
In Palazzo Rosso, Genoa

Genoa apartment view
Giro d'Italia after Barolo tasting

Modena, from the duomo

View of Serralunga from Azienda Agricola Rivetto, where we tasted wine

House dog, Luna, Castel San Pietro Terme

Serralunga viewpoint, near Alba


Lake Como

Sforzesco Castle detail, Milan
I keep thinking of the faces of people with whom we shared small transactions and larger conversations. They didn't mean much to me in the moment, though I knew they would provide the color to the memories of our time there.

The people I don't want to forget:
-Luisa, our host in Milan, who asked us to remove our shoes when at the apartment. She is vegan and had a beautiful collection of plants. She had a framed collection of autographs on the wall in the entry way. She was relieved when Joel spoke Italian to her (this would be a recurring theme on this trip). (We climbed 94 steps to her top floor apartment, multiple times per day.)

-The unnamed woman who met us at our apartment in Genoa, who awkwardly, mostly wordlessly, gestured around the apartment to show us around, and opened the fridge and pointed out the wine that was ours to be enjoyed. (It was enjoyed.) Also, only one person at a time on this antique opium bed.

-The Lisa Bonet look-alike who served us at Lanificio in Turin. I didn't like her vibe and she smirked at Joel when he ordered his drink, as though he were clueless. I ordered a glass of wine and she looked at me blankly, so I said it again. We got two of whatever Joel ordered - out of spite or out of miscommunication, it will never be known why.

-The guy who sang every night on the Vittorio Veneto piazza in Turin with his portable sound system, the same five songs. I gave him my last Euro on our final night there.
Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Turin
-The woman who helped us with our bike subscription in Turin. She did the whole thing in English, and when Joel complimented her on her English (in Italian), I half expected her to hug and kiss him. She was so pleased.

ToBike selfie, Turin
-Angelo, our dad in Emilia Romagna. He made us breakfast every morning (warm-but-not-toasted bread, butter and jam, warm and cold milk, coffee, juice, yogurt) and spoke nary a word of English, but his warmth and kindness spoke to us.

-Jacopo, Angelo's son, who was slightly pompous, but helpful in providing ideas of where to go and how to get around the region. He "plays with engines" at his job working for Ferrari.

-The server and the host at the restaurant we visited twice in Turin. The host had a Rob Reiner look about him, and after apologetically telling us of the 20 minute wait for a table, handed us some sparkling wine with a smile. We had the same server both times, and she seemed a little cold on our first visit. Upon our return, she remembered us and what we each ordered from two nights earlier as she made suggestions. Again, she appreciated Joel's efforts in Italian and complimented him. It was busy that second night. "I am sorry, it has been a hard night," she said at the end of the meal. She shook our hands and thanked us when we left the restaurant. A perfect final meal in Italy.

Gran Madre, Turin

-Haj, the bespoke tailor from London who we met at a Meet Up for English speakers, and someone I would be friends with if we lived closer. Her portrayal of overly-attentive Turinese retailers was spot-on.

-The guy at Wild Mazzini who explained all the data visualizations to us at the tiny gallery.

-The German server in Frankfurt who apologized for the German-ness of not providing food past 10 p.m. at the outdoor lounge at our hotel. He found some peanuts to tide us over after our delayed flight.

I'm not sure what else to say. It already feels forever ago. I'm glad I kept that journal.

If you want to look at a larger jumble of pictures, out of order and unorganized, be my guest: The Entire Italy Album (It's daunting, but I hope to add labels soon.)