21 January 2015

A favorite spot

This week I toted Wyatt across town to the University of Washington Arboretum to get myself a little winter garden fix at the Witt Winter Garden.  No matter the time of year, there's always something blooming at the arboretum, or looking "just beautiful" as Wyatt declared Tuesday.  The sun came out for us as we sniffed our way around the garden several times -- the witch hazel and sarcococca smells are incredible -- then wandered off to see what was happening elsewhere and to find a few more things on our scavenger hunt list i.e. a tree with peeling bark and a singing bird. 

Wyatt wrangled my camera away from me and insisted on taking pictures, some of which I've included here.  Although many of the camellias had already come and gone, the witch hazels are at their peak right now.  Magnolias soon to come . . .



08 January 2015

Hurricane Ridge for New Years

After the Christmas holiday, the three of us needed a break from home, so we decided on the spur of the moment to spend a couple days on the Olympic Peninsula and to go snowshoeing at Hurricane Ridge.  We left on New Years Day but didn't arrive in Port Angeles until about 2:30 p.m., which was a bit late in the day to try to make it to the Ridge and do much of anything.

Instead, we opted to get an early start to the mountains in the morning.  We explored the kids' Discovery Room at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center before heading to town and checking into our motel -- the Port Angeles Inn.  The room was simple and clean, and had a nice view of the lighthouse, which was super interesting to at least one of us.  In search of dinner, we took a terribly cold walk the three blocks to downtown and chose between the few places that were open.  The Crab House it was.  All I can say is they have a tasty hot fudge sundae. 

In the morning, much to Wyatt's delight, we got to make hot waffles in the breakfast room of the motel.  Then we headed into the mountains.  We saw deer and lots of snowy trees and some great views despite the overcast day.  After stuffing Wyatt into his snow suit, we gave our snowshoes a spin and it began to snow on us.  It was Wyatt's first try at using his snowshoes and poles but he got the hang of it pretty quickly.  He answered to Yukon Wyatt most of the way. After about an hour of walking (mostly downhill) we headed back to the lodge.  Wyatt made it all the way albeit with a few rests and some motivational snacking provided along the way. The snowball fights made his day.



By two we had eaten lunch, snooped around the gift shop, and Wy had vetoed the sledding idea.  At his request we headed "straight back to the Port Angeles Inn," and he slept the whole way. Once back to town we managed to hit a great sale at the local Brown's Outdoor clothing shop and find dinner at Bella Italia.  Little did we realize we had chosen at a restaurant made famous by the Twilight books/movies.  The young woman filling our water glasses clued us in.  In any case, the food and wine were outstanding.

After another breakfast of motel waffles, we checked out and headed for home via Port Townsend for some wandering, lunch, and a stop at one of our favorite book shops. We had a really nice time on our adventure.  Nothing fancy or resort-like about this getaway, but it gave us quality time together playing and eating and goofing around.  Just right for the start of a new year.



07 January 2015

Quatre

As has become our custom, we celebrated Wyatt's birthday this week with a small family dinner. Perhaps we are all too exhausted from the December festivities to do more, or just not organized enough to put together "a friends party" as Wyatt calls it.  In any case, we ate Wyatt's requested dinner (haystacks a.k.a. taco salad with fritos) followed by cake (the same one I always make) and ice cream and a few birthday presents.  Grandpa Herman, Aunt Becky and Uncle Darren joined us.  The Corvallis grandparents Face-timed with us before bed.

In truth, we also had a friend over for lunch and play date on his birthday, which totally made his day and wore him out.  Byron also came home a couple hours early on his birthday, and the two of them "watched space movies" at Wyatt's request for an hour or so before dinner. It was a pretty awesome day by Wyatt's standards.

I can hardly belive how fast we have gotten to four.  It seems like only moments ago that he started sleeping through the night and rolling over. 

But now that he's four, he has gotten quite interested in how and when he was born and where he came from. For weeks now, we've been talking about how he grew from an egg to an embryo to a fetus to a baby . . . about the day he was born . . . how he peed on dad during his first diaper change (cue the hysterical laughter).  Periodically, he will quiz me about what he was doing during any given time in my life that I mention.  Our exchanges often goes like this:

Me: "I remember my birthday when I turned four years old.  A girl named Julie and I became friends that day.  And I lived in a log cabin with grandma and grandpa, in the state of North Carolina."

Wy:  "Oh.  When you lived in a log cabin was I born yet?  Or was I still just an egg?"

Me:  "You were just an egg back then."

Wy: "Okay.  When you married my father, was I born yet?  Or was I still just an egg?"

Me:  "No you weren't born yet.  You were still an egg."

Wy:  "Oh. When did you decide to grow me?"

All historical occurrences are now measured by whether Wyatt was born yet or whether he was still just an egg.

And how crazy it is that just five years ago, he was, indeed, still just an egg.  How much life and love -- and, well, pretty much everything from my brain chemistry to my outlook on life has changed.  I knew I would enjoy this parent adventure, but I had no idea how much.

Here we are, four years in.  What an interesting person he is.  These days he is "really, really into space stuff" as he puts it.  He's just discovered Legos, which are pretty fabulous.  He counts everything in French.  He's learned to play games like Go Fish and The Scrambled States of America.  He can navigate utube and Apple TV like a pro (unfortunately).  We "sort, sort, sortie, sort, sort" everything thanks to Peg+Cat.  Salad people are all the rage with him (thank you Mollie Katzen).  He can snowshoe, order his own meal at a restaurant, and cut cucumbers with a serrated knife.  He reads.  He sits in a booster seat in the car now.  He can make phone calls and pour his own milk from the carton (definitely not at the same time, however). And if he holds my phone in the car, he takes great pleasure in announcing what businesses we are passing as he tracks us on Google maps. 

Happy fourth birthday, Wy!


 


29 December 2014

Fresh starts


Today the Olympic Mountains were covered in blankets of fresh snow, and when the sun came up they glowed hot pink.  That was the sight I enjoyed, coffee in hand, from my living room window this morning.  With a cold, clear blue sky in Seattle today, it was impossible to picture the many days of gray and rain that await us this winter (or remember the ones that complicated last week).

It has turned cold tonight.  Got our covers on the spigots outside.  The water fountain is indoors for the season. Nobody runs the trash out to the can without a coat anymore.  It's the time of your when you come in from outside and you suddenly think how fortunate you are to have a warm home and a furnace that works. 

Our household is in "reset" mode after hosting our family Christmas festivities last week.  Byron headed back to the office today.  I'm trying to keep a stuffy nose from turning into something worse (and have acquire a nifty new humidifier to counteract the forced air heat).  Wyatt finally agreed to compost the gingerbread house.  And we actually forgot to turn on the Christmas tree lights for the first time tonight.  Today we planned a short getaway for New Years.  And Wyatt's birthday arrives in eight short days.

In a similar effort to begin the "reset" for our bodies following the delicious Solstice-Christmas Splurges, I cleaned out the fridge, dumped all the remaining candies and sweets into the garbage (in a moment of strength), and Wyatt and I headed to the store to load up on fresh veggies and fruit for eating and juicing.

Tomorrow I think we're going to fortify our holiday wind down with some endorphin-releasing, anxiety-decreasing fennel in our morning juice.  Our annual winter juicing regimen will commence to welcome the cold December sunshine with one of our favorite combinations:

Apple-Fennel-Celery Juice

2 stalks celery
1/2 large fennel bulb (fronds and root removed)
4 medium apples
ice cubes, optional

Using a juicer, juice all ingredients into a container.  Transfer the juice to a blender and blend with a few ice cubes to make it frothy. 

Serves at least two.

21 December 2014

Solstice 2014: Dark


Here it is, the Winter Solstice.  I thought I'd have something terribly insightful to say about it.  Maybe that reflecting and paying attention over the past Seven Days of Solstice has changed me in ways I can't begin to explain . . . but that's not really the case.

It's been a busy week.  Lots of preparations, fun, time with people I adore, eating, laughing, catching up and also creating.  Creating a ginger bread house, a better home office space for myself, and foods to eat and share . . . Thinking and planning or "writing it down in my mind" as Wyatt would say, about what is to come after the holidays are behind us.

I envision more outdoor winter play.  Language classes and ice skating.  Maybe a new women's group to participate in for me.  I remain on the lookout for just the right book.

The Seven Days of Solstice have not transformed me.  But I feel as though I'm beginning a new habit of taking more pauses.  Trying to look around and notice, be still, savor, and make the choice that is rejuvenating rather than depleting.

Perhaps, if you've been reading along, these Days have given you something to think about too.  I hope so.

In this pursuit, it's a fact that the process is often improved by munching.  We eat a lot of popped corn in this house -- several times a week, really.  Mostly with salt and brewer's yeast on top.  Sometimes with smoked paprika and sumac.  Other times it's Parmesan and dried herb-garlic rub sprinkled over top -- but I digress. . .

This week I decided to come up with a solstice-version of popcorn -- and here it is.  When made correctly, there should be more dark chocolate showing than white popcorn, making it -- obviously -- Winter Solstice Popcorn.

So . . . Here's to thinking and munching and enjoying the darkness!

Winter Solstice Popcorn

4 cups popped corn
3 Tablespoons dry peanut butter powder
8-12 ounces melted dark chocolate (or semi-sweet chocolate chips)
flaky sea salt

Pop the corn in an air popper or the microwave -- you want plain popcorn to start with.  While it's warm, lay it out on a parchment-covered tray.
Sprinkle it with the peanut butter powder.
Drizzle generously with melted chocolate so that not much white popcorn is visible (obviously the other side is still white but don't worry about that)
Sprinkle with sea salt.
Let the chocolate set up.
Break apart and enjoy.  Keep it in an airtight container (if you have any left).


Photo:  My first batch of Winter Solstice Popcorn, obviously not made correctly since more light than dark is showing, my kitchen in north Ballard, Seattle, Washington.





20 December 2014

Solstice 2014: Light


I'm grateful to count among my friends so many individuals who make a positive difference in the world every day by the work they do and the people they are.  Tonight I am reminded that there is light in the company of good people -- and I am better for having spent time with a dozen of them. 

We ate more than our fill of deviled eggs, bubbly drinks, fondue made with all the good stuff, and sweet potato pie with bourbon -- we managed to consume a few vegetables and a wonderful salad with apples and pecans as well . . . so perhaps it wasn't total gluttony.  In any case, we celebrated the solstice (a day early) by conjuring some light and laughter with friends (nearly half of whom were age four or younger).

Tomorrow winter arrives.

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
Laughter
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!