Weekly: Nov. 11 - 17

The November blues are trying to weasel their way into my mood and I'm looking for every good thing to focus on right now.

It comes as no surprise to me that I spent money this week on things like super-soft clothing and airline tickets. Instant mood-boosters.

What I read:
  • Still working on Hillbilly Elegy - I should wrap that up this week and start on my neglected stack of New Yorkers next. I unsubscribed so I could catch up and stop feeling guilty. Speaking of which, this was the last piece I read and it was terrifying. 
  • This was an interesting read one morning over breakfast. 
Pizza prep

What I ate:
  • Sausage and shells, a signature dish of Joel's, made with fancy pasta we picked up in Seattle. Friday night was so dark and dreary that it needed something comforting but bright. This made us cheerier. 
  • Pocho Tacos, from Bon Appetit. This will be going into my permanent recipe binder. I didn't use the pine nuts, and I swapped Greek yogurt for creme fraiche and soft corn tortillas for hard shells, but were these ever tasty. I made the salsa and have been enjoying the remainder on scrambled eggs each morning. I also made Deb's recipe for slow-cooker black bean ragout for a side (also good as leftovers with anything). 
  • Homemade pizza, in a clean-out-the-fridge/pantry style. Salami, olive, red onion, tomatoes with fresh mozzarella. I love making pizza because it is always like a miracle how it just comes together. 
  • Made-up soup with beans and tomatoes. Joel mixed a couple recipes together with the stuff we had in the fridge and I hope he remembers how to recreate it in the future.
  • Swedish sandwich cookies. I'll share the recipe in a future post.

What I saw:
  • The Mambo Kings perform with the Spokane Symphony. One of those experiences where if it were any other venue, you'd get up and dance - but, being part of the symphony crowd, my head was the rockingest and my foot was the tappiest of the whole row. 
  • Murder on the Orient Express. There was a lot I enjoyed about this movie, but ultimately, it was not a favorite. Very fun to see all the celebs in the ensemble cast, though. And it was a fun start to what looks like a promising winter movie season.
  • Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (on Netflix). I came away from this documentary asking myself how I might be a little more like Joan. For one thing, her breakfast meal was (maybe still is?) Coke and smoked almonds. If that is not supremely cool, I don't know what is.  But I also admired the way she approached writing as a path toward understanding. When she stepped into troubling or tragic situations, she saw gold. She knew the stories needed to be told. I'm ashamed to say I've never read her books, though I've known a bit about her and have read a few pieces here and there. This documentary increased my admiration for her and I'm considering which of her books I'd like to read first. If you're a Didion-ite, please let me know where to start. 
Mambo Kings

What I listened to:

  • War Paint, original cast recording. Fascinating true story, with the incomparable Patti Lupone. 
  • John Mayer, Room for Squares. This was a weird cure for a Thursday afternoon slump. I had this album on repeat during my sophomore year of college. I was in love with John then, when he was yet to become a household name. While I've since moved on in my musical infatuations, I never lost my love for "No Such Thing." I let that tune rip through my tiny computer speakers and I felt better.

Other excitement:
  • I raked the front yard. Now that we have a giant rake (I've never had one so huge) that can clean a postage-stamp yard like ours in, like, 5 minutes, I'm tempted to start offering to rake the neighbors' for some cash. Raking is the most satisfying yardwork, in my opinion.
  • Got a haircut and some fresh color for my long hairstyle. This is likely the last trim before a very dramatic cut in the spring.
  • Flash mobs. I got to help coordinate one at Whitworth for our Christmas video. I had stressful dreams about it for two days leading up to it. But it happened and it worked and I had goosebumps for all two minutes and 15 seconds of it. 
  • Napoleon brandy. I bought it for a recipe but we're about to polish off the bottle after a couple weeks of nightcaps. It's very wintry of us. 


Weekly: Nov. 3 - 10

Where I went: This weekend we made a verrrrrrry quick trip to Seattle for a birthday surprise. It ended up being one of those experiences you know you'll laugh about later, though we were already laughing about everything (with exhaustion, maybe) before the day was over. Lessons learned: don't leave Spokane the day of the Seahawks game when it's snowing if you want to watch the whole game; always carry chains; know how to put on chains; expect delays; Jerroll's and Winegars is not a bad place to kill a couple hours in Ellensburg. Despite what you may have inferred from what I just listed, the surprise worked out, and we were all surprised it did.

View from our room at the Best Western the next day

What I ate: In Seattle, we enjoyed a Thai dinner at Soi, donuts at Top Pot the next morning, and lunch at Uneeda Burger in Fremont (I was feeling guilty about the donut and enjoyed a kale salad - but ate a bite or two of the philly burger and fries and boy, oh boy). I also made the recipe for Coq au Vin Rose from Dinner in an Instant. I highly recommend it - though next time I'll opt for simple cuts of chicken thighs and drumsticks (she calls for whole leg quarters which took forever to brown).

What I read: As we neared the one-year mark for Trump, I began Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. This past year has brought some important insight for me as I examine the bubbles in which I have chosen to surround myself, and how I can challenge and broaden my own perspectives on issues. This felt like good thing to read. So far, so good.

Also, when we were in Fremont we went to The Book Larder, which is the bookstore of my dreams. Because it is a cookbook store! Nothing but cookbooks, young and old. They were even holding a class with a Seattle chef when we tiptoed in (it was a small space and it felt like we were interrupting, though they were very welcoming). More reasons to love a big city like Seattle. Little delights everywhere - on a Monday, even! I had to give myself a time limit, otherwise I could have easily spent the entire afternoon there and we would have returned to Spokane long after dark. But before I left, I picked up a sweet little book, Fika, which is all about Swedish coffee culture, and the importance of slowing down to sip and eat treats. Good winter goal, no?
Eastbound on I-90, somewhere between George and Moses Lake

What I listened to: When the snow hit on Saturday, I queued up a winning playlist of Sinatra, Harry Connick, Jr. (We Are in Love and When Harry Met Sally soundtrack, specifically), and Nat King Cole. Cozy weather is made for this stuff. I also listened to Count Basie's "Li'l Darlin'" no less than eight times after hearing it on the new Whitworth jazz band CD (it shows up in my work mailbox and I'm always delighted). Talk about slowing down to enjoy stuff. I remember when my jazz choir director used this tune to demonstrate how to "walk the dog," i.e., leaning back as far as you can go and not losing control of it. Those Whitworth kids got it right.

Other excitement: 

File under: Money You Can Feel. We insulated the attic this spring, and this week we insulated the crawl space under the bedroom and laundry room. Someone told me yesterday we're expected to have 90 days of snow on the ground this winter. How do they know this stuff?!!

We've been playing Mille Bornes off and on over the last 7 or so years and have a running score on the whiteboard in the kitchen. I'm nearly in the lead and as of last Saturday night we're both about to crack 100,000 points (an average game score earns about 1,500 for the winner).

I also learned how to play Texas Hold 'Em (bargaining with beans) while the family was in town and I still wonder if I'll ever understand poker. Not likely.

A Mille Bornes game I did not win


The week (and a half)

Halloween sunset

What I read:

  • I finished up Prodigal Summer before the weekend (which made me want to commune with nature...it also made me realize I don't know an ash tree from a chestnut, and don't know a robin's song from a finch's. I even felt compelled to save and study the lives of the boxelder bugs that always make their way into our house. So...I loved this book). 
  • Bored and Brilliant: Quick, thought-provoking read. This is one of those books that makes you grapple with your use of technology, but I liked that it was not an anti-tech book. Just one that makes you think about how to use technology, particularly your smartphone, in smarter ways that don't impede your creativity. The basic idea is that we need to re-learn how to be bored. I came away feeling pretty OK about my phone use, but it made me want to use it even less. 
  • After reading an article about Thoreau in the latest issue of The Atlantic and being totally entranced by the illustrations by Lisel Ashlock that accompanied the piece, I went down a rabbit trail and found that she illustrated a book called Do Unto Animals, which I promptly ordered and started reading. It's a very sweet guide to treating animals humanely whether they're in your home or backyard or on a farm. It was a nice way to follow up on the feelings I was having after reading Prodigal Summer.

Margot cuddling up to Bored and Brilliant

Saturday morning walk with Luna

What I ate: One of the big reasons I bought my Instant Pot this summer was because I learned that Melissa Clark (my favorite living recipe developer) was coming out with a pressure cooker cookbook. I think I ordered my Instant Pot and pre-ordered that cookbook, Dinner in an Instant, on the same day. The cookbook arrived a couple weeks ago, and we tried out her recipe for smoky lentils and sausage on Halloween. Great success! If you have an Instant Pot and eat meat, you should probably get her book.

On Saturday, I had the greatest excuse to make pretzels: a neighborhood Oktoberfest party. I think pretzels might be one of my most favorite things to make. The dough is so fun to work with and the finished product is so satisfying.

And it's officially soup season (YES!), so I returned to an old favorite recipe for creamy parsnip soup from who else, Melissa Clark, and instead of serving it with a boring loaf of bread (I don't mean that), I tried this recipe for rosemary almond meal bread from Sprouted Kitchen. It was quite tasty, and another nice gluten-free discovery.

Parsnip soup, pre-puree, and the rosemary loaf

What I watched: Stranger Things 2. We finished it on Halloween and I was totally on a high from it. I didn't think I could get into it again like I did the first season, but after the fourth episode I was back in its grip.

Other excitement:

I ordered this pin to have for the anniversary of Nov. 8, 2016.

I have been watching squirrels with great delight. They were everywhere last week and were working seriously hard. This one paused above us while Luna investigated the smells on the ground.

I've also been enjoying how loud the falling leaves were in the quiet morning hours. I took this photo around 5:30 a.m. on my walk with Luna - if you look closely you can see a couple on their descent.

I found it sweetly coincidental that I had car trouble while my car-loving brother was in town for work. After getting a new battery and new starter installed, I got to share a pizza dinner with both brothers on Wednesday night. After a very satisfying bag of popcorn at the mechanic's.


I'm not sure who's noticed...

...but it's Halloween, snowflakes are in the Spokane forecast, and I never finished my summer journal.
Last of the summer tomatoes

In case you wondered how my summer ended, I placed a few selections here for a quick photo recap.
Despite the smoke that kept us inside for the last couple weeks of August and again in early September, it truly was one of my favorite summers on record. I soaked up as much as I could and I think it helped carry me into one of my busiest work seasons ever.

I'm coming back up for air for the moment, and I'm learning how to reclaim some time to do things that are necessary to my mental health as we head into the cold dark days. Despite obsessing over how to make our windows less drafty, I'm actually looking forward to the change in seasons. And maybe I have my summer journal to thank for that, too.

Knitting, reading, whiskey, and Stranger Things 2 are leading the seasonal transition. Stay tuned.


Summer Journal: Week 8

Patience rewarded: a beautiful sunflower! There are about eight nearby that are about to burst, too. I've never grown sunflowers before but I think I'm hooked.

We took my niece to the Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival in Medical Lake on Friday night. The main attraction for us was a young woman named Kaia Kater. She sang and played banjo and brought along an upright bassist. The two of them were captivating on stage.

I also enjoyed eating this treat and making a joke about this being the only kind of drumstick at a bluegrass festival. Har har.
I also endured 13 mosquito bites as a result of this outing, with the majority of them being below the knee. Worth it. Also, topical Benadryl is amazing.

I used a few remaining apricots for a fruit-melange tart.

Before the oven:

After. Leaky but good!

I've returned - for the moment - to the art of cross-stitch. I believe this was one of the first kinds of craft I ever attempted as a kid. I tried cross-stitching a pattern that featured two cats (of course) and maybe only got through the ears. This will eventually be a pineapple if my patience doesn't get the better of me. I find it hilarious how many times I poke the needle through the back in a completely wrong place. I'm getting better, though.

Joel created a game this weekend, and we played through a couple different versions as he refines his prototype. I must admit, it's pretty fun. I'm impressed. (A little whisky on the rocks makes it even funner on a late Saturday night.)

The sun is setting earlier. The sunrise is getting later. It's all beginning to sink in.

Continuing my quest to make recipes I save from magazines, this, from the June issue of Bon Appetit. Roasted red peppers mixed with feta, shallot, thyme, garlic, salt and olive oil make for a really lovely spread.

After a smoky week, the air cleared and cooled and I soaked it all in on the bluff at the end of the street.

I'm pretty happy with the way I've kept things relatively green, alive and weeded in the front yard this summer. The roses have continually bloomed, and I'm proud to be one of the few houses in a 3-block radius whose hanging flower basket is not dead. It's a nice thing to come home to.


Summer Journal: Week 7

Is this normal behavior for day lilies? Is this a day lily?

When we went to Buenos Aires earlier this year, I bought some variegated yarn, and, as is often the case with me, I had no idea what I'd do with it after I bought it. I finally decided to make myself a shawl, striping it with a solid color. It's the most basic triangular shawl pattern, but it's the perfect thing to knit in the evenings when I'm too hot to do much else.

I'm having mascara problems. If you have a favorite drugstore mascara that doesn't smudge, let me know. I think the heat is melting mine.

Hot, smoky days. The sun looks cool in the evening on the hardwood floor.

I am really hoping this hazy condition doesn't ruin the eclipse later this month!!

Sunflower Watch 2017. Everyone else's has bloomed and mine are so slow. A watched sunflower never blooms, apparently.

A Bicicletta cocktail is the best way to use up the last ounces of Campari and best reason to open up a new bottle of white wine on a hot Friday night. Add club soda and lemon.

I love summer Margot. She never quite knows what to do with herself.

Whitworth is getting new turf installed this summer. It's fun to be here to see it all take shape, knowing that it will be a bit like magic when students return in a few weeks.

Chamomile around the house. Confession: I didn't do a great job of taking pictures this week.

You can see the haze hanging. But it's still beautiful.

Other highlights of the week included seeing Detroit, watching half of the Daughters of Destiny series on Netflix, cooking in my Instant Pot (beans and shredded chicken, separately), training my new employee, making and eating a loaf of zucchini bread, getting back on the Italian-lesson wagon, and nice long walks with Luna around the neighborhood. Probably some other stuff I'm forgetting, too.

I listened to a little bit of Glen Campbell this evening (Tuesday) upon hearing of his death. His music has always made me so melancholy in a particular way that songs from the late 1960s/early 1970s often do (like the Carpenters, Bread, Nilsson, Gilbert O'Sullivan, just to name a few). I reluctantly saw him perform a few years ago on his farewell tour - reluctantly because I knew he was declining from Alzheimer's and, combined with the fact that his music already made me feel a little sad, it seemed like a real bummer of a concert. But my cousin had a free ticket and it was a chance to hang out with her and my dad and brother, so I went. There were a few shaky moments on stage but I was touched to think about all the people in the room who were true Glen fans, my family included, there to support him in his final performances, laugh with him through his missteps and forgotten words, and jump up with applause after some impressive guitar solos. I'm glad I was there for part of it (though I left early) and even happier my dad and brother - the real fans - got to meet him in person.

Of all the Glen songs I know, there's always been something about "Witchita Lineman" that has captured my imagination. It was only a few years ago when I realized that it, along with many other Glen Campbell hits, were composed by Jimmy Webb. So I'm concluding tonight listening to Webb's "Just Across the River" album, which is more my speed, and features other favorite musicians of mine. There's a duet with Glen on there, too. It's a good one. But also, sad.


Recipe test: Adventures in vegan dessert

I take issue with vegan recipes that are labeled with non-vegan terminology. So when a vegan recipe is called "lime cheesecake," if I make it, I'm going to call it what it is: Lime-Avocado-Coconut-Cashew Icebox Dessert.

Do you still want to eat it?

I made it this weekend.

The inspiration to make it came from my weekly Splendid Table email, which featured a review of the new Vegan: The Cookbook by Jean-Christian Jury. The picture of the so-called cheesecake wowed me with its bright green color flecked with darker shades of lime zest. Marble-counter backdrops also suck me into recipes. They make pretty much any food look good. In any case, I had a number of ingredients in my pantry (dates, coconuts, raw cashews) that needed to be used up, and I loved that I didn't need to turn on the oven at all, so I scheduled this into my Sunday.

This is a raw dessert. The things that hold it together and give it bulk are presumably healthy fats and oils, i.e., cashews, coconut oil, avocado; plus some healthy-seeming sugar sources, like maple syrup and dates. It's very trendy, and the ingredients don't come cheap. Even shopping at Trader Joe's, you will spend $16 on the two bags of raw cashews alone. I had to go elsewhere for the cacao nibs, which set me back another $6. This is not a sustainable lifestyle for me.

For a one-off, though, it was fun to try as I attempt to add to my repertoire of recipes to satisfy a variety of eaters. And I should say that if a show created by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, i.e., The Splendid Table, publicizes a recipe, I give it the benefit of all doubt, so I soldiered on despite any skepticism.

All in all, it was quite simple to make. I'd made a similar sort of crust for Thanksgiving a couple years ago for a vegan pumpkin pie. Dates and coconut pair well with warm spices, so I was curious how it would fare with a tangier topping. When it came to making the topping though, it seemed to be missing that vibrant green color (I was likely fooled by color correction) and the bright citrus flavor. I blame the avocado for both of these things. I froze it and later placed it in the fridge, as specified, and when it came time to cut into it, it looked even less appealing. You could see all the grainy cashew bits and it didn't look super creamy. Maybe that's just under-processing on my part. When I went in for that first bite, I was even more glad I refused to call it a cheesecake. And it most definitely needed more lime. But it wasn't bad.

I saved us a small portion to keep in the fridge and I took the rest to work. I told my coworkers what it was (not a cheesecake), sent them the link, and to my astonishment, people were actually liking it. They probably didn't love it, but everyone I talked to seemed a little surprised they liked it. One of my coworkers who is into the raw/vegan diet gave me two thumbs up. Another forwarded the recipe to a friend she knew would love it. And another thanked me for not calling it cheesecake ("It was better knowing what I was eating," she said. Exactly.)

I probably won't make this again, but it was fun to try. Let me know if you make it or if you have a favorite nutcake-disguised-as-cheesecake recipe.

Here's the link to the recipe: Lime Cheesecake