19 December 2014

Solstice 2014: Feeling

Wishing you all the happiness this season offers -- from both expected and unexpected places. Here's my list of what made me feel happy and lucky and loved today:

Julkaka from Larson's Bakery
A stunning maple tree strung with thousands of white lights
My child sleeping with a yellow cat
Bargains at Value Village (A snowsuit for $2.99...Dr. Seuss for $1.99)
An entire peppermint brownie
A plaid bow tie
A shiny black cat with a festive red kerchief 
My red wool skirt
The small, warm hand of a 3-year-old boy in mine
Finding a holiday card in the stack of mail
Explaining pac man to my three year old
A white cyclamen
Being taught by a stranger to say hello and goodbye in Dutch 
A soft warm bed

18 December 2014

Solstice 2014: Warmth

Winter is almost here.  It brings with it not only the cold, wet, and dark time of year but also a dramatic increase in the consumption of hot beverages by all who live in our house.  Most winter evenings aren't complete for me without a mug of steaming tea.

Often grandpa comes upstairs for his nightly "hello" just about the time we finish dinner.  That's Wyatt's cue to ask him, "Grandpa, would you like a Swiss Miss?" and if he agrees we make him a hot chocolate and he joins us for hot drinks as we talk about the day.  Given the rut the weather gets into around here, we make an effort to not get into one ourselves with the hot drinks.  Some nights it's decaf or Pero with a bit of milk, others it is Market Spice herbal tea or Earl Gray with lemon. Occasionally it's a hot toddy.  Wyatt likes hot cocoa, of course.  But he's also a big fan of "kid tea," (which is Blackberry Zinger tea with some honey), a vanilla steamed milk, or a kid's version of a hot toddy sipped through a cinnamon stick (lemon, honey, hot water). This time of year, we seem to have cider on the stove more often too.

For special occasions I make a delicious mulled wine, but I've been wanting to create a similar drink that is non-alcoholic and more drinkable whenever we like -- something not as sweet as cider, too.

So here's my new version of mulled cider that is less sweet and a little spicy and fragrant.  I think children and adults will both ask for refills.  To you and yours this Solstice!

Solstice Mulled Cider
makes about a quart

2 cups apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
2 cups black current juice*
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
2-1/4" slices fresh ginger, peeled
a slice of orange

Gently simmer all these ingredients together for at least 30 minutes (longer is fine although it will begin to reduce).  Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool to a temperature cooler than you want to drink (or room temp if you have the time). Taste and if you've used black current juice (not syrup) adjust the sweetness with a bit of sugar.  Then heat again, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar.  When it's the drinking temperature you like, serve.

*You can use black current syrup instead, if that's all you can find, but be sure to dilute it with quite a bit of water to make a juice.  It will make the cider much sweeter, too, so don't add sugar.

Optional Ballard-style add ins:  Add a few golden raisins and blanched almonds and a thin 1/2 slice of orange in the mug before you fill it with the cider.

Photo: The supermoon from our driveway on March 19, 2011,  Seattle, Washington.

17 December 2014

Solstice 2014: Still

I wanted to write about stillness tonight.  But in all honesty I did not experience much of it today. Wednesdays are never still.  I work at co-op preschool with Wyatt in the morning, then a few errands, and usually an afternoon full of mundane but important stuff.  Occasionally, a play date with a mom whom I like -- and her kid.  Today was no different. 

About 3 p.m. today, my friend and I watched (and tried to ignore) two children running laps around the big table on my deck happily screaming potty words at the top of their lungs.  We were "getting the wiggles out" as we call it around here.  My poor neighbors.

You see, a little friend and her mom had stopped by to help us do some decorating on the gingerbread house we started yesterday.  I have never made such a house before.  Not sure when we will do it again, either.  But all I can say is that the excitement around this "craft of food" as Wyatt calls it, is astonishing. So is the mess. There are so many (like hundreds) holiday sprinkles and silver dragees rolling around on the kitchen floor right now I wonder how long it will be until one of us bites it. (Hopefully it won't be grandpa.)

And then about an hour ago, Byron and Wyatt tucked themselves into bed.  I started the dishwasher and then turned off all the lights except the twinkling Christmas tree and the candle-lit Solstice Tree. And I stood there. Still.

For the first time today I listened to my own breathing, took notice of whether my feet were warm or cold, remembered to take my hair out of its ponytail, and noticed that Annie Lennox was singing "Silent Night" on the stereo.   And then I came here to write.

I don't mean to sound as if I'm complaining about the cacophony that is my life.  Actually I like exactly what I have.  It's not a quiet life.  Not a typical path.  Not always clear where I'm headed or how I'll get there.  But, after five years on this unique journey, I feel lucky every day to have the opportunity to work as a curator, parent, student, volunteer, adviser, friend, mother, and partner -- still. 

 Photo: A single candle in the Mission Santa Rosa de Todos Santos, Todos Santos, Baja Sur, Mexico.

16 December 2014

Solstice 2014: Rekindle

I've only read two books in the past three years.  There it is.  My sheepish confession.  I have been a reader my whole life but for the past about seven years . . . since law school.  I can't really blame that experience for my failure at personal reading -- although maybe it did have something to do with killing the joy of words on a page for me.

I miss being a pleasure reader a lot.  Most of my good friends are avid readers and so I have sought out their stories and recommendations, which somehow also makes me feel more badly about my own inability to do what they enjoy so much.  I've quit subscribing to The New Yorker and have pretty much only bought cookbooks for the past five years.  The novels I do buy, I get to page 17 and put them down never to return.

Local book shops are still some of my favorite places, but despite the money and time I spend in these fine establishments -- Third Place, The Secret Garden, and Phinney Books --  the inner desire to read just isn't there.

Well, until this summer.  Those two books that I confessed to -- I've read them both since August.  I'm hoping this means I'm (book)worming my way back . . .  

I suppose part of my hope is based not only on the fact that I'm reading again, but that I'm becoming desperate to read again.  Since Thanksgiving when I picked up my latest book, I've carried it everywhere.  Stealing a quick read of a page or two whenever I can.  Last night, I turned off my headlamp at 1:06 a.m., having just turned the last page of Three Junes by Julia Glass. Glass won the National Book Award for it, and I can completely see why. The careful and researched writing, the developed-just-enough characters, and the interwoven story of family (both those we are born into and those we choose) resonated deeply with me.  One of the narrators in particular kept me turning page after page.  Plus, there's much writing about great food . . .

Which leads me to the other book I finished:  Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr.  This book, which I finished in the summer, is written by the great-nephew of M.F.K. Fisher and weaves a tale (based on some pretty seemingly thorough research of personal papers) around the lives and ideas of M.F.K., Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and other food luminaries from the day.  The book centers on their interactions in the winter of 1970 in Provence, where the group convened during the holidays.  I was sad to finish it.  The story so clearly reveals the passions of these friends -- for connection and food and sharing it with those they love -- it inspired me to work harder at collecting my own friends around our table as often as possible.

Now I just need another good book to dive into -- and fast before I lose momentum!

15 December 2014

Solstice 2014: Perspective

I think I have finally made peace with the darkest days of our Northwest winter.  I'm finding more value in this time of year, which can offer a bit of down time and a chance to reset.

That said, it feels like every December I have less and less tolerance for The Holiday Season.  While I love the opportunity to see special people and enjoy certain foods, I loathe the extra expenses, the pressure to send cards, and the idea that I'm going to acquire more stuff, which I don't need.  On the other hand, I am intrigued by the notion of finding light in what seems dark.  And so I persist in trying to look at this time of year with new eyes.

Often we have celebrated the Winter Solstice with dinners and small rituals that let us mark the end of the lengthening nights.  While the long days of summer light may be what we yearn for most, the current darkness we enjoy offers the important chance to restore ourselves and to reset our journey's course. 

As a gardener, the darkest time of the year is the only true garden rest that I (or the soil that) will take.  Anyone who gardens knows the importance of this pause.  Nothing is growing right now.  I may have plants surviving, still edible, hanging on, waiting for spring.  But nothing is growing.  The light is too weak, the days are too short.  In my vegetable garden, the soil is mostly covered.  As for me, I am no longer required to remain vigilant about what needs to be harvested or planted or watered.  I'm on vacation.

As a cook, the dark days bring a new opportunity for creativity.  It's a shift from freshly harvested to stored foods -- squash, root vegetables, beans, lentils, potatoes and leeks.  I get to consider how to cook things like Jerusalem artichokes and turnips instead of dealing with green beans coming out my ears and fruit flies that never die.  The seasonal urgency of use/eat/preserve-it-or-lose-it is over.

And in the life of my mind, I notice that my desire returns this time of year to become more still.  To read, think, write,  listen, and learn more than I do the rest of the year.  I sometimes become inspired to begin a new endeavor.  I think ahead.  Anticipate.

And there you have it -- this darkness is really about anticipation for me.

So here I am, finding myself actually enjoying these weeks of long nights -- and creating something new out of it for myself: The Seven Nights of Solstice.  I hope to be in this space regularly during our next seven spins on our axis.  My goal is to describe for you -- but mostly for myself -- the things I find most worth noticing and taking in fully in these days and nights leading up to the Solstice.

Photos: The illuminated path (top) and lighted canoes on the lake (bottom) at the 2014 Green Lake Pathway of Lights, Seattle, Washington.


05 November 2014

Skagit Valley in October

The month of October seems too short in some ways.  It is the month when fall really gets going  and new kinds of outdoor fun beckons -- pumpkin picking, apple pressing, leaf collecting, doughnut parties, school events . . .  But alas, this October it seemed we didn't have enough weekends to fit everything in.   We did, however, get our "fall fix" when Grandma and Grandpa came to town a couple weeks back.  We ventured to Gordon's Farm in Skagit Valley for a lovely day of pumpkins, apple picking, a picnic, a molasses cookie, and some tractor riding.

17 September 2014

And then fall showed up

It was only three days past Labor Day when I noticed the air started smelling like fall.  Local schools started and so did the sounds of school bells in the distance.  Tomatoes have been pouring out of my garden and local melons are here.  And the colors in the garden are some of my favorites -- red, gold, orange, and blue.  Fall is making its approach. 

We recently had a chance to hike around Discovery Park mid-week when the park felt virtually empty.  I had my camera along and couldn't resist looking for as many seeds and fruits of this transitional season as I could find.  Here's what I saw.


The table is back and better than ever

This summer, Byron decided to rebuild the huge table that lives on our deck.  Originally constructed in 2005 out of salvaged boards and posts from the carport we tore down at our previous home, the table top was getting a little rough and boards were beginning to rot in spots.  He used new cedar boards this time but repurposed the original legs.  The top is coated with a linseed oil finish.  It looks great and hopefully will last for many years to come.

19 August 2014

Having a real summer

Our weather has been hot, quite hot, for much of this Seattle summer.  I'm not complaining.  The hot days and warm nights really make it feel like we have four season here (which is debatable).  We've had a few days where the marine layer hasn't burned off until noon, but most days have been clear and pretty warm.  

For Father's Day, I gave Byron the gift of two weekends each month in June, July, and August, that I promised we would not schedule even one little thing. I knew he would love it.  In truth, I hadn't thought I would like it so much, myself.  But it's been outstanding.  We've had time to do whatever feels like being done.  Putter.  Play at the park.  Go get ice cream.  Make jam.  Read books.  Visit and eat.  It's all good.

For the weekends that we have scheduled things, we've had a blast too.  We spent a very fun 4th of July weekend in the woods camping at Ohanapecosh in Mt. Rainier National Park with friends.  We made it to the Timber Music Festival with Aunt Becky and Uncle Darren.  We met up with my parents at the Oregon Zoo for an afternoon.  We spent four days with dear friends on the Oregon coast in the terrific little town of Manzanita.  We also had an unexpected visit from Cousin Sadie and Aunt Jill, complete with rides on Seattle's Big Wheel, playing at the water park, and making and eating some pretty fabulous food. Last week we had some fun, mid week, with friends on Whidbey.

The point of all this being that our summer has felt like, well, summertime.  Yes, it's been hot.  But it's also been a few months where the holidays and school commitments and appointments haven't owned us.  Where we've chosen the pace and the people.  We're having a real summer, folks!

14 August 2014

Mid week

I spent the last couple days on Whidbey Island hanging out with friends, exploring Ft. Casey, taking walks in the weird August mist and fog that has appeared this week, and learning how to play banana grams. Wyatt came too and also enjoyed spending time with his friend Will, getting to sleep in his sleeping bag (albeit on a bed), and exploring the beach and fort. We were graciously invited to stay at Alumni House West with our friends Carrie and Mark. The house is an old Victorian that was part of Camp Casey back in the early 1900s but now owned by Seattle Pacific University and made available for rental to alumni and faculty of the school. With six or seven bedrooms and a dining room that seats 15, it's a perfect group getaway. I felt lucky to join the fun.

Several ferry rides later we are home, just in time for the weekend. It's good to be me.