7.27.2015

Scenes from the weekend: July 25






At home: Got up early both Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch the final stages of the Tour de France, baked bread, made our very favorite pork tenderloin recipe on Friday night, mixed cocktails, tired my back out on yard work and washing the wood floors, played Mille Bornes while watching a Paul Simon concert and waiting for lasagne to cook.

Out and about: Sunday lunch at Veraci, ice cream at Brain Freeze Creamery and a walk with Luna on the Centennial Trail; Friday night drive (Joel was scouting out a bike ride for the next day) and froyo. We went to the movies and saw Mr. Holmes - I just want to give Ian McKellan a big hug. It was a sweet story, if at times a bit slow-moving.

Reading (trying, at least): Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch.

Making: I started on the Moss Landing hat from the Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders book, continuing on the Using Up My Stash quest.

This weekend felt a little too much like fall for my taste. I can already feel these days getting shorter - the sunrise feels a bit lazy and our evening walks have been cooler. And rain! What? Still, you should see my tomatoes. I can't get over how much they've taken over the garden. And this next weekend - at the lake! - should be hotter and remind me that it is still most definitely summertime.

7.25.2015

Saturday Sentimentalist: Things I Learned After Watching "Good News" a Million Times

Beginning in junior high, I developed a love for - nay, an obsession with - a lesser-known 1947 movie musical called Good News. It stars June Allyson and Peter Lawford on the campus of the fictitious Tait College in 1927, a year that many pop culture enthusiasts claim to be one of the best (Bill Bryson wrote a whole book on the marvelous events that happened just during that summer; worth a summer read). It's in Technicolor. There are lively, coordinated dance numbers. Mel Torme's vocals cast a velvety glow on the whole thing.

What I loved about it, especially in my teenage, boyfriendless years, was the portrayal of college, and of how a pretty but humble student librarian could win the heart of the most popular and attractive guy on campus, the star of the football team. I mean, young Peter Lawford, people.

Oh, but I also loved the idea of studying in old brick buildings, living in the grand mansions of sorority life, cheering with the crowd at a football game, and wearing cardigans with pearl buttons just like June Allyson's character, Connie. In my mind, I too could attend such a college, and with a big intellect and small waistline, surely I could just be myself and inadvertently woo a ladies' man to change his ways and devote himself to me. 

While I did go to college and owned two soft cardigans with precious little buttons, and though I lived in a dorm built coincidentally in 1927, in a room that overlooked the cheering crowds at the football field, I graduated without a jock hanging on my arm. By that time, I'd realized that most athletes I'd met weren't usually as eager to nerd out on indie music as I was, which was my primary extracurricular interest and the basis for most of my crushes. Needless to say, Good News was not my college story. But after watching this feel-good musical again recently for the first time in years, it became clear just how many of those things I internalized in some way, whether I intended them to or not. Here are the strange ways this movie has permeated my life:

1. A college campus makes me happy. My whole growing up life, I loved imagining that I was in the midst of a musical. Being on a college campus is the perfect place to feel as though a musical is about to happen, where you have hundreds of characters around you, witness dozens of impromptu interactions on a daily basis, and a beautiful setting for it all to take place. As a student, I loved being able to say that I lived in all of it, and as an employee, I love watching the predictable energy at various points of the year. 

2. Respecting my independent self. What I loved about the character of Connie was that she was a do-it-yourselfer. She could fix a sink, sew a dress, and work her way through college. And she had a healthy amount of pride: When asked to go to the dance by Tommy (Peter Lawford) after he was turned down by his first choice (the evil, gold-digger Patricia McClellan), she resisted because she knew that it would make her "second fiddle." But, of course those P-Law puppy-dog eyes convinced her otherwise. Like Connie, I worked in the library through my college years. I had financial aid and lots of help from my parents, but I also knew I needed to work and get started on my own. And I've also appreciated any chance I've gotten to learn how to do things myself. Because as long as I was single, it was fun to pine, but it wasn't fun to mope. Better to figure out what you really love and enjoy doing, regardless of your relationship status, and develop yourself.

3. Appreciating high brow AND low brow. The closing scene is a shocker when intellectual Connie attends the homecoming dance and leads Tommy and everybody else in the latest dance craze, the Varsity Drag. A delightful surprise to all! And maybe that's why on my Friday commute, I often turn the dial from NPR to the Top 40 station. Because in case people think I'm a total bore with all of my book knowledge, they'll change their mind and nod with approval when I recite all the lines to "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift. It's about balance.

4. Learning French. Is it just a coincidence that, like the "French Lesson" scene (which, if you watch nothing else of this movie, you must at least watch this much) between Connie and Tommy that launched their romance, one of the first activities Joel and I enjoyed together was learning French?


5. Money can't buy happiness. "The Best Things In Life Are Free" is the anchor theme of this musical, and the song gets sweeter and truer as the years go by. People who chase money, like the aforementioned debutante character Patricia McClellan, are not worth investing your time in. Those who find joy in what's already around them will be set for life. I try to remember this every day.

You want to watch it, don't you?

6.23.2015

Baked falafel: attempts at vegetarian-ish-ism

When some dear friends visited us from Petaluma - vegetarians, all - earlier in June, they presented us with a jackpot of Rancho Gordo beans. I was so thrilled to try these for myself after hearing so much about them. Between that gift and thinking only in terms of non-meat dinners that week, I felt myself get back into the veggie groove. Sometimes I forget how many flavors I have at my disposal when meat is out of the equation. To be honest, I would be perfectly happy eating a plate of beans, Rancho Gordo (which are, in fact, all they're chocked up to be) or otherwise, with a smattering of herbs for dinner, or fresh tomatoes and cheese on toast, but I also know someone else in this house might not find it substantial enough. A vegetarian dinner that both of us can enjoy definitely is not impossible, but right now it's mostly limited to pasta and soup. And hot soup loses its appeal when the temps are in the upper 90s (i.e., mid-80s in the house).

Aside from the ethical and health reasons I've believed as good ones for eating less meat, the thing I'm realizing as one of the best things of vegetarianism is the economy of it. A pound of dried beans is enough to feed a couple people for at least two nights with leftovers for a lunch or two.

Feeling inspired and well-equipped with bean varieties, I charged on in my quest to build my vegetarian-for-two repertoire. My latest inspiration came from a Mark Bittman recipe for baked falafel - something I'd only made for myself until now - which I presented with confidence to my dining companion. "Do I like tahini?" he asked. There was only one way to find out, I replied. To my delight, we both enjoyed this dish and the tahini sauce that accompanied it.

The link to the Bittman recipe is here, though I must note that I un-veganized his tahini sauce. When I whisked the tahini paste with the water, there was just too much separation and I had trouble emulsifying it without a spoonful or two of Greek yogurt. I also added lemon juice for flavor. You can use this sauce - my version - as a yummy vegetable dip or dressing on hearty romaine salads, too.

We made pita sandwiches with lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Are you as frustrated as I am by store-bought pita bread when it comes to actually using the pocket function?  The only time I got a pocket was when I made them myself (and I wasn't about to do that this time around). These were too gummy to wiggle a knife into without ripping, so we just split the whole thing in half and made a sandwich that way. Still good.

5.27.2015

Monique's Orzo Salad Formula


In a resourceful, conscientious effort, I have spent many a Sunday afternoon putting together a new recipe for a grain salad to enjoy during the work week - mostly to take the frantic lunch assembly out of my morning routine. On Monday, I pat myself on the back during the lunch hour because this looks so much better than peanut butter and jelly. By Wednesday, though, things change. I don't always know why exactly, but I slightly cringe at the thought that I've got this thing for two more days.

So a month or so ago, after enduring another revolting but lovingly made lunch, I made myself a list of the tastes and textures that always taste good to me, things I always look forward to come lunch time. Through that process, I made the freeing decision that I should not put onions in things, because they were one of the primary culprits in making my salads less desirable as the days went on, as were grains pre-dressed in vinaigrettes. From there, I made a list of things that I will actually eat after four days, like taco and greek salads, or a tomato soup with chickpeas. This sounds really basic, but I can't tell you how much it's helped. While my grain salads have always been aspirational - the things I should be eating - I've decided that most are best left as one-offs, or better yet, side dishes, complements to what I REALLY want to eat.

Hooray, this orzo salad made the cut. It's great as a side, but I also love it as my main sustenance, sometimes on a bed of greens and/or with an orange. My friend Monique brought it to a party and when I asked her for the recipe, she just gave me a basic formula that can be altered to whatever I have on hand. That's what makes it impossibly easy and almost always doable.

Ingredients:

Toss in a large-ish bowl:

1 c. orzo, cooked al dente
Olive oil - just enough to keep the orzo from sticking together
Salt and pepper to taste

Then add, in quantities that look reasonable to you...

Goat cheese (or another soft/salty cheese, like Feta or Gorgonzola)
Dried cranberries (or raisins, currants, cherries, sliced grapes, even)
Chopped parsley (or even basil)
Toasted almonds (or pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts)

Stir well and enjoy over however many days you need!


5.25.2015

Oof

Upon the purchase of our house, my eldest brother told us - in a congratulatory way, I'm sure - that we would never have a free weekend again. Ha, ha. I went away for a few days earlier this month for a conference, and when I returned, Joel had done all these little projects that brought me much joy - everything from hanging up a coat rack to touching up paint inside and out. A new doorknob for the bathroom, too. He repainted the front steps this past week. And me? I'm doing the one thing I know how to do right now: weeding. And looking up how to right all the wrongs of sprinklers, landscape lighting and deck railing...and the number of my nearest handyman. But let's not bore you, eh?

Joel aglow from the reflection of primer.
In the midst of all this, I have been very careful to not let my life get too consumed with my new to-do list. Here are some non-house things I can share that might have some morsel of intrigue for you. Maybe not.

Knitting this Strathcona scarf, in turquoise. This will be my summer scarf.

No more stovetop kettle for me!
Making hot water for coffee and tea with my Bonavita electric kettle, which I bought with birthday money - one of those where you can set the temperature - with a gooseneck spout for dainty pouring. Joel says I'm becoming a temperature snob (and he's right), but truly, I love drinking green tea now because of it.


Making desserts from this gem of a cookbook called Flourless (so far almond-butter chocolate chip cookies and strawberry rhubarb maple cake, which we consumed so fast that I didn't think to take pictures) - thanks, Mom!

Poppy surprise!
Between Two Lilacs

Mourning William Zinsser. Since first reading his On Writing Well in high school, the mere mention of his name reminds me to cut the clutter from my writing. He is also the primary reason it takes me as long as it does to compose an email. Or anything, really. This tribute is touching.

Working out at the bar, which is a really fun thing to tell people. But seriously, it's a workout.


Watering my plants, and recycling my wine bottles, with Plant Nannies


4.29.2015

A house with a name



This house is now our house. It's a very fine house. With one cat in the window (not visible), one dog on the front steps (visible). Built in 1909, part of the historic Booge's Second Addition (we just learned!) in Spokane, Washington.

On the day we closed, the thing I anticipated to be the most difficult - the part where I get a giant cashier's check from the bank - was, in fact, the easiest. No, the hardest thing about closing was signing my name with my middle initial. Boy, that really threw me. And signing my name while the closing agent was still talking was also difficult. Signing my name 15+ times is just plain difficult, no matter how you look at it. But, it happened. Everything is signed and the documents are presumably at the courthouse now, and we already have the keys, the same keys we've carried for seven years. But now we can change the locks, I guess.

It feels special, surreal, responsible, and weighty, like we've really invested in something, because we have, and not just in this little piece of property. Time will tell what this moment means for us.

***

Considering that cashier's check, it was fitting that it was on this evening that I made what Joel called a genuine hobo meal: franks and beans. We celebrated beforehand with bubbles, of course, but I had been craving baked beans for a good number of months. The beans were cooking on the counter all day and only needed to be doctored up with sweet and spicy ingredients. I started with a recipe from Melissa Clark for fake baked beans with crispy bacon, but substituted some links of grilled Aidell's chicken andouille sausage for the bacon. I also added smoked paprika, per the recommendation of the Wednesday Chef. I loved it, and even went so far as to say I'd eat this for breakfast.

We are storing up our energy for the months ahead, when those home shows I used to watch on PBS as a kid (Home Time, This Old House, etc.) gain new meaning, and friends with tools and trucks become our best. This will be fun.

Smoky Fake Baked Beans with Chicken Andouille Sausage

Original inspiration - Melissa Clark
Secondary Inspiration - Luisa Weiss

1 lb. pinto beans, soaked overnight and cooked all day in crock pot with:

  • 3 smashed garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/2 yellow onion, kept in tact
  • enough water to cover by 1 inch
When the beans are tender (i.e., when you get home from work), transfer to a large pot on the stove. I removed a little bit of the liquid; it wasn't scientific, but there was still a lot of liquid, so I just took out a cup or two.

Heat the beans back to a simmer while you add...
  • 1/4 c. ketchup
  • 1/4 c. molasses
  • 3 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Coleman's mustard powder (I just like their packaging; any variety will do)
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • Salt to taste (I added a couple teaspoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt, if not more, which is less salty than other salts)
Simmer for 45 minutes or until it's to the thickness you enjoy and it is unbearably tasty. When you're about ready to serve, go grill those pre-cooked sausages and get them a little charred. We served up the beans in a shallow bowl and cut up the sausages into coins and mixed it all together, sliced some baguette and assembled a simple salad on the side. PERFECT. If you're the literary type, go read Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat and learn why eating beans is vital. 



4.12.2015

Quotidian things

The 1940s-ness of this auditorium is my favorite thing about it.

 Homemade pizza dough.

 View from the (college) president's office.

Breakfast companions.

 This is Margot's favorite place to hang out - under my sewing desk.

With the combo of clouds and late-evening sun, it's a pretty lovely world out there.

Pretty much the best dog's best friend around.