Merry Christmas

Crestline morning

When I was little, my Dad used to ask me, "Are you feeling mad, sad, glad, or plaid?" I always said "Plaid," which meant, of course, that I couldn't pick just one thing to feel. I felt it all.

Emily will tell you that nothing's changed. 

Have you seen that bumper sticker--"If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention"? I agree. There are so many things to be outraged about. And I'm sure you could tell me about even more. And if we wanted, we could list them all--just today's flavors!--here together.

This photo was taken out my living room window yesterday morning. I feel a deep sense of well-being looking at it again today. The "plaid" means for me now that there are stripes of outrage, loss, and incredulity, but they're woven with stripes of a "peace that passes understanding." If I really want to LIVE this life, I've got to sign up for all of it. They go together.

The Happiest Man in the World (though he hates that title), a Buddhist monk named Matthieu Ricard, says part of the secret to being happy is embracing sadness. Don't you just love that? Happiness (which is a popular and distinct pursuit these days) isn't about creating the perfect life. Because even if you do, sadness will find you. And if you don't open the door for that guest, you can't be hospitable to the others.

At this moment, about to begin Christmas vacation with my family, our move finally over, and some good work waiting in the wings, I'm not feeling the outrage. I'm feeling the gratitude that favorite poet Jane Kenyon talks about. Forgive me if I've shared this poem with you before. It's part of me, so I probably have.

Friends, it could all be Otherwise. May you find contentment and purpose whatever your circumstances this Christmas. Deep peace to you.

Love Sarah.

Otherwise

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table wtih silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise. 

Christmas Pledge 2011

Peace 2011

Wow. I am really drowning in Christmas spirit around here. Emily was up for the weekend, and I could write about 2,000 entries about how much I need her, how sacred our time together was. But I could also talk about the Christmas Kitsch Explosion that went on. WAY TOO MANY ornaments were purchased. She said, "I just love animals with scarves on!." Pathetic. We should have taken our wallets away from one another. So we've got some more animals with scarves on around here, and Loretta has taken it upon herself to kitsch up the mantle. I don't have the heart to take anything down for the sake of style. Let's just say Dwell magazine won't come knocking anytime soon.

Last year, I posted this Christmas pledge, and I'm pretty sure I found it by way of Emily and a blogger friend of hers. These 5 little principles lit the way for me last year, and I've found myself returning to them. In particular, this bit about "rededicating myself to the spiritual growth of my family." I want my kids to understand how privileged their lives are, and that responsibility comes with that. I want them to slow down enough to absorb love and receive love. I want them to be kind to one another, to be still and quiet sometimes, and to be captivated by the idea that God comes to us in all sorts of surprising ways. I can't expect them to get those things if Christmas is just about consuming.

Am I excited about giving them gifts? Of course. Do I have a ridiculous number of lists going? Puh-lease. I am Queen of Lists. But wonder, stillness, and a holy sense of Other trump all that stuff. I've experienced two deaths this year--my Uncle Mike and a dear friend and mentor, Lynn. I was able to be with both of them in liminal hours, hovering between death and life. What I experienced then is the truth I want to remember now--All that matters in this life is the love we allow ourselves to receive and the love we bestow on each other. If you don't feel like doing a Christmas cookie exchange this year, don't do it. Light a candle and pray for peace instead. If you don't want to go to the mall, don't do it. Call your aunt up instead and tell her you miss her. 

Christmas, like every time of year, is a time when we can be transformed if we let ourselves. It's a time when we can quit with the cynicism and let ourselves be broken open a little bit. In the end, we'll wish we had. And this pledge helps me.

P.S. Yes, my annual baking day is coming up. Give that up?! Never. I'm relying on old standards this year--Spiced Nuts, Caramel Corn, and Hazelnut Toffee.

Christmas Pledge

  • To remember those who truly need my gifts.
  • To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents.
  • To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family.
  • To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas.
  • To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends.

Candy Cane Brittle

Peppermint Bark II

So I'm a sucker for chocolate and peppermint. Sue me. 

And for all those folks who love to complain about Christmas coming too soon, you'd better start complaining about me, too. We already have our tree up. Me and Buddy the Elf are ready. It feels so good to be home, not in transition anymore, not living out of boxes. (Well, pretty much. Trying to be patient.)

I would rather die than go anywhere or purchase anything on Black Friday, but holing up in my kitchen or dragging out the art supplies is another matter. And my mom started a tradition, way back when, of always making some sort of special treat or cookie on tree decorating night. I come by it naturally.

There were many other things I should have been doing yesterday, but I spent a good portion of it getting ready for Tree Decorating Night. Vacuumed the rug, hauled out the plastic tote marked "Xmas," and had to go to two stores to get the ingredients for these little numbers. I was doing it all for Wyatt. Really. He goes NUTS over chocolate and peppermint. Like I've said before in your presence, there's nothing quite as motivating as seeing your kids love something you make. Wyatt really goes for it, too. He rolls his eyes, groans, get chocolate everywhere. It's pretty great. 

I'm keenly aware lately that these are the moments I will miss and romanticize as I grow older and into different seasons of life. Don't get me wrong--I'm dying to go to Greece and Morocco, sleep in every once in awhile, and actually get something accomplished during my day. But all of that is overrated. These moments, unwrapping all the Chrismtas ornaments or cleaning up the playdough, are the real ones. I'll miss the physicality of the kids' little limbs, the completely un-self-conscious way they love things like Christmas lights and peppermint bark. 

This is it, and it's breathtaking. I am blessed beyond belief.

Candy Cane Brittle
Adapted from Bon Appetit. I used to be down on BA after Gourmet went under. I didn't want to like it. But guess what? I can't help myself. The December issue got me out of a kitchen stupor. All of the sudden, I want to attempt everything and travel everywhere. And that inspiration is totally worth the subscription price. 

P.S. I get chocolate for stuff like this at Trader Joes. Their "Pound Plus" bars are the deal of the century. And apparently white chocolate is totally passé. So 1984. I actually had to look pretty hard to find some. I settled for a Godivia bar from the grocery store. I suppose you could go without it, but I like the contrast and the way it binds everything together.

1 lb. high quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. chopped candy canes, divided (I used 6 "regular" size candy canes, put them between parchment paper, and pounded them with a rolling pin)
1 c. chocolate wafer cookies (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers), lightly crushed
2 oz. high quality white chocolate, melted 

Line a large baking sheet with foil. Stir bittersweet chocolate in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of shimmering water until melted. Stir in 1/4 c. chopped candy and all the crushed cookies; spread mixture over foil till it's about 1/4 " thick. Sprinkle the rest of the candy over, and drizzle with the white chocolate (which you've melted in the same manner as the bittersweet chocolate). Chill until set, about 30 minutes, and break into shards. 

Favorite Places: Old World Deli

Old World Deli with Liz

Emily sent me more mail yesterday. The only good thing about being apart is that our voluminous mail exhanges are acutally justified now that more miles separate us. I knew we were going to be friends 10 years ago when, after having her over for dinner, I got more than one follow-up card. You locked me in, sister.

This time, her card included a thin strip from a fortune cookie. It said, "You will make a new friend." 

Liz and I went out for lunch, and if the parking meter and picking kids up from school hadn't been realities, we would have eaten a lot more charcuterie and drank a lot more beer. Bellingham friends, I'm thinking about getting direct deposit to Old World Deli. I love how everyone's having leisurely lunches in there on a weekday. 

And I was connected with a colleague up here. We had an animiated time over coffee and even talked about doing some work together.

Cry, and the milk will come. I'm finding it to be true all over again.

We've had seven nights in our new (unfinished) house. I'm learning how the light falls and when, swooning over the view of Bellingham Bay, trying to be patient with the months left of work to do, and feeling overhwhelmingly grateful to have landed. Eleven months ago, Yancey and I were in Vancouver for our annual getaway and decided it was time to move back to Bellingham. We came home, spent six months getting our house ready to sell, sold it, moved up here into a rental, and spent another 5 months fixing up this one. God. We are tired. And ready to focus on each other what else is going on in the world.

What about you, long-lost readers? I miss you! What are you grateful to have survived this year? I'm happy to be heading into Thanksgiving with you. I'll probably be making good old-fashioned apple pie, maybe these, and already starting to think about trifle for Christmas. Bring it on.

Favorite Places: Dashi Noodle Bar

 IMG_0809

Yeah! I'm posting a favorite place in Bellingham! 

In this little town of 81,000, it's a little easier to keep up with what's going on. Like the opening of Dashi Noodle Bar several weeks ago. I've been by a few times and it was either closed or I was daunted by the line. But today, on my way to pay my second parking ticket as a Bellingham resident, I drove by just as it was rolling up its doors, and I would have stopped even if God herself had stood in my way.

Dashi Delight

You know me and my ramen obsession. Dashi isn't that. They have delicious homemade ramen noodles, but a traditional ramen shop would never put out green tomato kimchi, salted peanuts, and fresh jalapenos on a free-for-all condiment bar. And you can get Chinese or rice noodles, choose your protein (I got braised pork belly and a gingered soft boiled egg), and choose your broth. And I want to have an I.V. drip of that green tomato kimchi. I considered shoveling a bunch into my purse, but kimchi is one of those things that you don't really want anywhere but in your mouth.

vanished

I froze my *%# off, as the only seating is at a narrow bar outdoors. Good thing the soup was hot, the staff was super friendly (hi, Julia!), and I don't really care about the temperature when I'm buzzing over good food.

Vivace and other Wonders

simonelli

Remember when Oprah was championing the gratitude journal a few years back? I miss Oprah and her spunky outfits. 

In a shout-out to the gratitude journal, here are some things I'm thankful for today:

  • Vivace Espresso beans, hauled back from Seattle whenever possible, and brewed in our trusty Nuova Simonelli machine. The crema on those shots is unbelievable.
  • All the folks in my leadership class at a large healthcare organization. They engaged, laughed at my jokes, and are making the world a better place.
  • My mom, who watched Lorettta during my doctor's appointment. It's sad that going to the doctor can be the most relaxing thing about your week. They even had the November issue of Real Expensive Real Simple.
  • Wayne, my tireless father-in-law, who took the week off work to help us lay wood floors. Our family would have fallen apart with his help these last four months. Whenever I can, I appoint myself the Lunch Mistress. I've figured out his favorites--Haggen deli tuna salad, chocolate covered peanuts, carnitas, and cheesesteaks without the hot stuff.
  • Kristen, who's taking Loretta some afternoons while I work, and Kelly who has rescued me from my schedule a million times lately.
  • Friday Night Lights, the best show network television has ever produced. I've already seen all five seasons, but am watching them again while Yancey toils at the remodel. Eric and Tammy Taylor, you never get old.
  • Emily, who put fruit in my lunchbox, made me popcorn, bought me dinner, and generally spoiled me during my work trip.

And, of course, YOU, who are sticking it out with me while my life is upside-down.

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies

salted PB cookies

Molly (Orangette Molly) has done it again. She has tracked down the recipe, converted it from grams to cups, and produced another delectable baked good that's quadrupling my daily calorie intake. Normally, cookies sitting around are not a big problem for me. But it's going to have to be awhile before I make these again. I am dying over them.

Find these illegal salted peanut butter cookies here.

And a few more tidbits today:

I'm finding, over and over and over again, that there's always more to the story. I've made some stupid assumptions about people lately. I'm meeting a lot of new people, so I have the First Impressions Syndrome. I find myself deciding what someone's like from an offhand comment they make, a bumper sticker on their car, or where their child goes to school. Once I spend even a little time with them, things get wonderfully complicated. I'm reminded again of a favorite phrase, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." Isn't that true? We just never know what's going on for someone, and that's reason enough to be kind. Even kinder than we think we need to be.

And I'm discovering some favorite things in Bellingham:

  • The muffaletta  sandwiches at Old World Deli on State Street. Perfectly chewy, soft (but not too soft) bread, piled high with Italian meats and olive salad. I brought one to Yancey at the remodel today, and you'd think he just won the lottery.
  • Fiamma Burger. I'm kind of embarrassed to say we go there at least once a week. I love that we can order at the counter, dip our fries in curry mayo, and get IPA in a can.
  • The thrift stores! This place must have more thrift stores per capita than any other spot on the planet. Bellinghamsters like a deal, I guess. And I've found a few things that would never have been sitting around for more than a second in Seattle.
  • The beautiful sanctuary at First Congregational on Cornwall Avenue. I haven't felt like introducing myself to tons of people or signing up for things, but I love sitting in that light-filled space and listening to the pipe organ.

Not doing a ton of creative stuff in the kitchen lately. I'm not apologizing for that (neither should you!), but just giving you a heads-up. This month will be even nuttier than these cookies, so if I disappear, just know it's not forever.

Dropping In

cake batter

Once, at a big all-church meeting, we were talking about how to better form community with one another. I stood up and said I'd like people to drop by my house more often, unannounced. A few people laughed. The facilitator said, "How many people here like drop-ins?" Me and half the room raised their hands. I love the other half, but don't understand them.

I read this great little article about the lost art of dropping in. More than favorite restaurants or parks, more than knowing the fastest route to the grocery store or finding a church, I'm starting to feel at home in Bellingham by knowing where people live. Our homes say so much about us, and it's a profound honor to know someone in that way. If you were to drop by my house today, you might guess a favorite mantra,  "A tidy house is a sign of a misspent life." Or that I've been to the apple farm this week and the fruit flies know it. Or that I'd much rather read than garden.

This week, Wyatt found out where a new friend from school lives. He's so excited about it, and we've driven by a few times. (Stalking?) He feels connected to that friend in a way he didn't before. I got to see Emily and Ricky's new apartment, sleep on their couch, and wake up to all the morning sounds in that little corner of the universe. I've started a trade with a mom at preschool, and Loretta has declared this little guy her "best friend" because she's been to his house. I got invited to join an awesome book club, and we had our inaugaural night at Kelly's house. And Kamille let me drop in with hardly any notice and we had a nice hour at her table while the kids played.

Y trimming things out

In three weeks, we'll move again to the house we (read: Yancey!) have been remodeling. Our sense, unless life surprises us, is that we'll be in that house until the kids graduate from high school. It's crazy to think about it that way. I've found myself saying things like, "Well, I can't host until after we get settled," or other such %$*#. We'll have plumbing, heating, fresh paint, and lots of love. And you are witnessing me saying it here: "Bring on the drop-ins." I hope I have the good sense to quit unpacking or cleaning, put on a pot of coffee, and not apologize for the mess. Life is too short to do otherwise.

Tomato Corn Relish

tomato corn relish

At the risk of being hyperbolic (which I've NEVER been known to be), this is my favorite thing I've made all summer. If I've got a good tomato sitting around, my default is to make salsa with lime and cilantro. This was refreshingly different. We had it over mushroom and kale enchiladas, which were truly, truly born of a fridge-cleaning. So much so that I couldn't recreate them if I tried.

But if you want to recreate this, chop up one lovely, juicy beefsteak tomato. Cut the kernels from two ears of corn, and quickly saute them in olive oil (about 2 minutes), just until they don't taste raw anymore. In a medium bowl, combine the tomato and corn with chopped fresh jalapeno or red chile to taste, 1 Tb. apple cider vinegar, a handful of finely chopped green onions, 1/2 Tb. sugar, and kosher salt. Gently mix. Yum. Salivating as I type this. 

It's all Compost

compost

One my favorite lines, for myself, friends, or clients, is "It's all compost." What I mean is that everything counts. Our successes, failures, catastrophes, and all the everyday moments in-between get thrown in that compost bin. Those banana peels, spent coffee grounds, and moldy leftovers help grow things later on.

Our lifeline is usually cast in terms of résumés--a list of what we've accomplished, a detailing of our credentials. That's probably more likely to land you a job than a bin of rotting vegetables, but I don't think résumés are where it's at if we want to get a good perspective on our lives. Throw 'er in, let 'er rot, and see what happens in a year. Or five. 

Lately, I've been thinking about the compost metaphor when it comes to THINGS. We're about to pack up all our stuff for the second time in 3 months, so I've been doing some sorting. I'm embarassed at the things that survived the last move. (For example, a box from Yancey's office 7 years and 3 jobs ago.) Sitting down to sort, I had two instincts. One was to chuck every single thing. The other was to hold onto everything because it represented our history and I'm hopelessly nostalgic. 

When I get to the box of cards from Wyatt's baby shower, I think of how that party helped make me the mother that I am and helped make Wyatt the secure, loving boy he is. Those cards have done their work already--I don't need to hold onto them! They're compost, in other words.

When I open the box of art supplies from Christmas gifts Yancey and I made 12 years ago, I have to be honest with myself.  We won't be making linocuts or woodcuts anytime soon. We'll be lucky to get our windows in the house before it starts pouring. But I can remember those happy hours we spent and how thrilling it was to be newly married, then stick that stuff in the Goodwill pile. 

And tons of photos, many of people who aren't part of our lives anymore. I'm grateful for them, their investment in us, and whatever occasions prompted the photos. Those friendships were formative and important even though I'm hauling those faces out to the recycle bin.

Scraps become compost, something more beautiful and useful, dark, loamy soil that produces new life. But that bin that sits by the curb on Thursdays? It's nasty, stinky, full of gnats and slime. I think of the Biblical phrase, "Faith is being sure of what we hope for, being certain of what we do not see." Time will do its job, but it's hard to believe that sometimes.

Prosciutto and Apple Pizza

prosciutto apple pizza

Last weekend, Bethany and I took the kids on the Whatcom Farm Tour. One of our stops was Cloud Mountain Farm, where I bought several bags of early apples. I can't think of anything more satisfying than biting into the first apples of the season. I love summer berries, melons, and stone fruits. But crisp fall apples with the leaves still on? I get giddy with all the possibilities. I made applesuuce with Loretta's preschool class, open-faced sandwiches with apples, fig jam, and sharp cheddar, and have been stashing them in my purse. There's only one left in the produce drawer, so tomorrow is being planned around finding more.

Cloud Mountain Barn

But this pizza was the star. It's predictable by now that I say, "Yancey, this is the best pizza we've ever made." But I am serious this time. I am loathe to count all the squares I ate. At least six. And by the third, one needs another beer, too. 

I continue to depend on this pizza crust,but have been adding more olive oil to the pan and on the crust before topping it. I'll try not to gloat too much, but my future oven will be able to fit a commercial full-sized baking sheet. Oh God, help us. The pizza mania will be unstoppable.

pizza dough

Proscuitto and Apple Pizza
Make this pizza crust. It makes a regular baking sheet plus another half-size. Heat oven to 500. Liberally oil your sheet before pressing the dough in, and liberally oil the dough before topping it. Spread 2 c. grated whole milk mozarella over crust, 1 c. crumbled blue cheese, and several slices of proscuitto, torn up, and a few handfuls of chopped fresh spinach. Arrange  a few large handfuls of very thinly sliced crisp apple over everything, and sprinkle with a bunch of chopped fresh thyme. Bake till edges of crust are crisp and everything is bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Wheatberry Chicken Salad

wheatberry chicken salad

Have I devoted some space to my beloved pressure cooker here yet? If not, it's high time. I love that big, hurking thing. I got it at a garage sale last summer. Otherwise, I'm not sure I would have paid the $150. It takes up a lot of cupboard space, and I probably only use it 3 or 4 times a month. But if you eat a lot of beans and grains and you trip over a cheap one, grab it.

Soaked beans (pinto, navy, black) take 15 minutes to cook, and things like barley and wheatberries take 20 (instead of 50 or 60!). The steam is mighty loud and you shouldn't be doing 50 other things at the same time you're clicking the safety lid into place. Safety first in my kitchen. (Ha! Yancey would beg to differ, as I burn or cut myself nightly.) Not only do things cook quickly in a pressure cooker, but they stay perfectly separate--nothing sticking together or getting mushy. Dreamy. 

I'll often cook up a big batch of grain, use some of it right away, then put the rest in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. Then I can add a handful of barley or brown rice to a taco, toss it in a green salad, or eat it for breakfast with brown sugar and milk. 

For Monday night dinner with my parents we went on a sunset picnic, and my goal was to make dinner without going to the grocery store. One peek in my fridge and you'll see this isn't that hard in my house. It's always stuffed to its poor little gills with bits of this and that. I always have various grains in the pantry, usually chicken in the freezer, and bins of vegetables waiting for attention. This is a great one-dish meals, and leftovers can be packed in lunches the next day. 

Wheatberry Chicken Salad
Serves 6 as a main course. You can easily leave the chicken out of this salad if you're veggie, and sub brown rice or quinoa if you're GF. And don't let not having a pressure cooker keep you from making it. A big vat of boiling water works just as well.

For dressing:
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
4 Tb. honey
4 Tb. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/2 c. thinly sliced red onions

For salad:
2 c. wheatberries (or other favorite grain)
shredded, cooked meat from 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I roasted mine in the oven)
several handfuls fresh, washed spinach leaves
2 large carrots, peeled and grated into large shreds with a vegetable peeler
1/2 c. crumbled feta
large handful fresh whole basil leaves 
1/4 c. pumpkin seeds

To make dressing, combine all ingredients except for cranberries and onions and whisk, adding more of anything to taste. Drop cranberries and onions in, stir, and let marinate while you make the rest of the salad.

Cook wheatberries according to pressure cooker instructions OR in a big stockpot with lots of boiling, salted water. (If you don't put enough water, they'll stick together.). If you boil them, they'll take about 50 minutes until they're tender. Either way you cook them, drain them in a colander when they're done, rinse them with cold water, and drain again, shaking the colander to remove excess water.

Combine cooked wheatberries with all the other ingredients except pumpkin seeds, mixing gently with your hands. Pour dressing over, again using your hands to mix the salad and coat everything. Top salad with pumpkin seeds and serve room temperature or cold.

Goodbye, Sweet Summer

September kite

I can't remember being so reticent to say goodbye to summer. First of all, we haven't had one until this week. So it feels like I'm chasing the train down the tracks, begging it to reverse course and come back to me. But the train's left the station, and fall is unmistakably in the air--shorter days, leaves underfoot through Whatcom Falls Park, and spiders everywhere all of the sudden.

Bellingham Bay

And here's the kicker--Wyatt starts at his new school tomorrow, and Loretta at her new preschool. Nothing says "Autumn" like new backpacks and lunchboxes. I feel two ways about tomorrow. I'm so ready for routine and time to myself--time to clear off my desk, turn my attention to work, have ten minutes when I'm not asked for something. But I'll miss my kids as they disappear into those little worlds that don't have much to do with me. One thing is for sure--I won't regret not cleaning the house this summer and going to the beach instead. Next time you're sucked into ChoreLand, stop and wonder if it will really matter in the end. 

Sunset at the Marina

Down Time

Vaulted Ceilings!

I've been content to disappear this summer, hardly doing any of the snail or emailing I meant to do or the professional networking I pretty much knew I wasn't going to do. We haven't visited chuches or looked up old friends or got on any Bellingham listserves. Until a few days ago, I wanted to be off the radar, picking blackberries with my kids or holed up with my Kindle. Something is shifting though, and I find myself needing and wanting to make friends. My friend Steve and I have always wondered together why there aren't classes or workshops on how to make friends. It's an endeavor that continues throughout our lifetimes and something we don't talk that much about. How does it happen for you? If you're new somewhere, how do you break into lives and worlds that didn't need or know you before?

Besides the friend frontier, here are a few other tidbits from our 2-month foray into Bellingham life:

  • I don't miss Seattle traffic, how much planning it takes to get to a movie, or the constant parade of sirens past our house.
  • I really miss ramen, good teriyaki joints, Asian markets, the light rail, and the dizzying choices should we get a night away from the kids.
  • I know now that home is wherever Yancey and my children are. However lonely I might get in the coming months, I have everything when I have them. It sounds silly to just be realizing this now, but my Seattle life was very externalized. I don't regret that, but I'm happy to be in another stage.
  •  Bellingham needs a butcher shop. Big time. I miss my beloved Bob's.
  • When Yancey is not at the station, he is tearing down walls, rerouting plumbing, and doing his darndest to make a 1970 track home cool. We are getting there. And even if we're walking around on subfloor, it's going to be a party house. I've got a salvaged six-burner Viking cooktop and a dream-come-true Craigs List convection oven that are going to start earning their keep right away.
  • I've done more bike riding and lake swimming in the last 8 weeks than I have in the last 10 years. As summer comes to an end, I feel strong and grateful.

 As the seasons change and you face whatever is next in your life, may you feel the same--strong and grateful.

Oatmeal Coconut Chews

Oatmeal Coconut Chews

I'm generally not a giant oatmeal cookie fan. I can be found, peering into the cookie case at any given bakery or cafe, stopping just short of asking the clerk to let me perform a biopsy on the poor cookie. When they're good, cookies are really good. When they're bad? A disappointing waste of calories. (Don't ever let this snottiness stop you from offering me a cookie from your kitchen. I adore eating other people's food, whatever else this blog might project.)

Last week, my father-in-law had knee replacement surgery. I asked my mother-in-law what I could do for them. She was in the middle of saying "Nothing, honey. We're fine," when Dick grabbed the phone and said, "Oatmeal raisin cookies!" So Loretta and I made a special delivery, and I made them again today for a picnic with Bethany at the remodel. And there were enough left over for a barbeque with my other father-in-law tonight. The kids are in bed, and I finally have a few minutes to myself, which I've been craving all day. I have a little internal pressure gauge, and since 3:00 pm today, I could feel it getting dangerously close to the red zone. I am in love with my life, but I'd go bonkers if anyone needed anything right now. 

What I needed was to be here with you. These cookies are EASY, as cookies should be, and depend on the high butter to oats ratio and watching them carefully so they don't overcook. If you're about to explode from all the people and details that need you, excape to a little corner, crouch down, and nibble one of these with an afternoon cup of coffee. It will be alright.

Oatmeal Coconut Chews
Makes about 3 dozen. 

3 1/2  c. old fashioned oats
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. unsweetened coconut chips
3/4 c. raisins
3/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 c. coarse bakers sugar

Preheat oven to 375 and butter two baking sheets (or line with parchment).

Stir together oats, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

Beat together butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add oat mixture until almost combined, then add coconut, raisins, and dried cranberries.

Form dough into balls (1 heaping tablepoon) and dip tops in baking sugar. Place aout 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake until golden and slightly underdone, 10-12 minutes. Let cool.

Spill Studio at Dubsea

Last weekend, my sister Naomi had an art opening at Dubsea Coffee in White Center. She featured colorful drawings, sketches, and paintings from her life in Seattle--favorite places, moments, little bits of time she snatches between mothering and working to beautifully depict her ordinary life. You can see them on her blog or at Dubsea until September 14.

It was a wonderful afternoon, full of friends dropping by and kids busily creating at the art table she set up. What I loved most about it was that everyone could see, in bright, certain terms, her giftedness. Some of us have other kinds of gifts. One of mine happens to be truth-telling, but I can't very well put that up on the wall. Maybe yours is getting the other moms at preschool to take a chill pill. Maybe it's that, when you're in a dull meeting at work, you can see through to the glowing heart of the matter. Or maybe it's knitting, hospitality, or dexterity with a toolbox.

Ruby at the art table

In whatever life is next, I like to think we'll all be having little artist receptions for ourselves. There won't be any false modesty, any of the "Who? Me?" crap some of us engage in from time to time. There will be music, delicious buffets of nibbles, big bouquets of flowers or balloons. There won't be comparisons, labels like "amateur" or "professional," and we'll be tooting our own horns relentlessly and loving the sound.

For the time being, there's Naomi's art on the wall of the amazing space at Dubsea. There are friends lighting out for grad school despite a million obstacles. Another who's finally starting to live the life that's been waiting for her. Wyatt, scribbling poems in the back seat of the car, my Mom raising money for relief work in Burma. Whatever your party is, get it started. Consider my RSVP a resounding "Yes."

Naomi at Dubsea

Best Blueberry Muffins

blueberry muffins

I love to watch people love things. I'm famous for cooking something, offering it to someone, getting settled, and creeping them out by intensely watching them eat it.  Yancey has learned he has about 5 seconds before he has to say, "Wow, babe. This is good." Then I'll leave him alone and let him enjoy his food.

Maybe more than anything I can think of, I love to watch my kids enjoy things. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, and this instinct is probably the reason some kids end up spoiled. If blueberry muffins for breakfast is spoiling, I'm all over it. Wyatt sat across the table from me, his little sunburned shoulders and uneven teeth, still sleepy, and bit into a muffin. He rolled his eyes in pleasure and said, "These are sooo good, Mom. And they're still warm. Oh. Oh. Yum. Thanks, Mom." Then he had 2 or 3 more. Honestly. What is better than that?

Best Blueberry Muffins
From my yellow Gourmet cookbook. I guess if you own it, you might not be a reader here. So don't go buy it. Stick around the Leftoverist long enough and I'll drag you through the whole thing. These aren't revolutionary, full of whole grains, or attempting anything creative. They are blessedly plain and tender and don't require getting out a mixer. 

For batter:
6 Tb. unsalted butter
1/3 c. whole milk
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
2 c. blueberries

For topping:
3 Tb. cold unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
1/2 c. flour
3 1/2 Tb. sugar

Preheat oven to 375 and butter a 12-cup muffin pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over moderately low heat; remove from heat. Whisk in milk, egg, yolk, and vanilla until well combined.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add milk mixture and stir until just combined. Gently but thoroughly fold in blueberries. Divide batter among muffin cups and spread evenly.

Combine all ingredients for topping in a bowl and rub together with your fingertips until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over batter in each cup.

Bake until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Cool in pan for at least 5 minutes (10 would be better), then run a knife around edges of muffin tops and carefully remove from cups. Serve warme or at room temperature. 

Emily's Favorite Caponata

caponata

Emily and Ricky came up a couple weeks ago for her birthday, and she requested eggplant caponata. Then my neighbor Megan left a jar of caponata at my door a few days later. Then I had one more eggplant left and made it again last night for my parents. I don't think too much eggplant ever did anyone in. 

As I've mentioned ad nauseum, we've had lots of dinner guests lately. It wouldn't work if I laboriously menu-planned, set a nice table, or worried about things like appetizers. BUT, having a little something to nibble is a favorite hostess trick, giving me time to pile dirty dishes in the sink, take off my apron (if I remember), and act like things are more effortless than they really are. 

This caponata is absolutely delicious, a big saute pan is all you need, and one batch should get you through two nights of company. I've made it with fresh or canned tomatoes, with or without red chile flakes, and even without the flourish of fresh basil at the end. That's for the summer, which I'm not sure whether we're having or not. I keep bugging Joe's Garden about the basil. They just smile and say, "That's the sun's job." And the sun is nowhere to be found. But this little number might cheer you up.

Emily's Favorite Caponata
Adapted from Epicurious. Makes about 2 cups. Leftovers are delicious over eggs, spread on panini, or a million other ways.

5 Tb. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1.5 lb. eggplant, cut into 1/2" dice
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, some of the juices drained, or equivalent amt. fresh tomatoes
3 Tb. red wine vinegar
2 Tb. drained capers
1/4 c. chiffonaded fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
red chile flakes 

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add eggplant, onion, and garlic cloves. sauté until eggplant is soft and brown, about 15 minutes. Add diced tomatoes with juice, then red wine vinegar and drained capers. Cover and simmer until eggplant and onion are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Season caponata to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in fresh basil. Taste and see if it needs any salt (capers add a lot of salt). Grind a bit of fresh pepper and add a dash of chile flakes if you want. Transfer caponata to serving bowl. Serve with crackers, pita, or grilled bread. 

Perfect Shortcake

shortcake

This recipe came to me by a familiar route. My mom works with Gayle, who's an excellent, effortless cook with style to spare. Gayle made this shortcake and brought it to work, My mom died over it ("I've been looking for the perfect shortcake forever!") and Gayle brought her the recipe. My mom made it for me, I died over it, and my Mom brought the recipe over that afternoon. I've made it twice in the last 5 days. The first, with peaches, raspberries, and whipped cream, was for friends. This morning, they were biscuits with butter and jam, and shared with my niece Hazel.

I have always made classic biscuits for a shortcake base. I'm sure I'll do that from time to time. But the crumb on these little wedges is far superior for shortcake, soaking up the bright berry juices, and just sweet enough. And they couldn't be easier--a couple whirs in the food processor, then pressed into a cake pan and sprinkled with coarse sugar. I'm really into broiled eggs for breakfast lately, with chorizo or little coins of golden zucchini and lots of bubbly cheese. But this morning, I woke up thinking about shortcake. And the kids were glad.

Gayle's Family Shortcake Recipe
I suppose you could form these into about 6 individual cakes, but the dough is quite wet, so I'd advise sticking with a cake round for ease. I used a sharp knife or bench scraper to score the dough into 8 wedges before baking baking it. The lines will be faint when it comes out of the oven, but still very helpful for slicing it.

2 c. flour
2 Tb. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 cube) cold unsalted butter
1 egg
2/3 c. half-and-half
coarse baker's sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 450 and butter an 8" round cake pan.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut butter into about 8 pieces, add to flour mixture, and pulse until pea-sized clumps form.

Beat egg and half-and-half together and add to flour mixture. Pulse just until combined. Mixture will be quite wet. With floured hands, gather into a ball and press into prepared pan, building up the edges a little bit. Sprinkle liberally with baker's sugar and bake in preheated oven for 15-18 min until lightly browned and just done in the center. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing into wedges and removing from pan.

 

Chorizo Roasted Potatoes

Choizo potatoes

I've instituted a Monday night ritual around here. I make dinner for my parents, and it's a highlight of my week. They are an appreciative audience--tired from work, happy to not be cooking and cleaning, and complimentary. This week, we had sausages, these delectable potatoes, and an arugula and ricotta salata salad. I couldn't believe how fast we polished off that mountain of potatoes.

I've had some moments of uncertainty lately. We are so happy to be in Bellingham and feel to the core that this is where we are supposed to be. But it's still transition. I always say that I'd rather help others go through transition than go through my own! In the middle of it, here are a few things (in addition to Monday night dinners) that have given me pluck:

  1. Seeing Jason Quick perform at Wyatt's daycamp. He's a one-armed juggler, therapist, and circus arts instructor  who lost his arm in an electrical accident when he was six. He learned to play games by himself, and he learned to never give up. I was so inspired watching him and so sheepish about how easily I give up on things just because the red carpet might not be laid out. I'll give you a silly example. We just joined the YMCA, and am notoriously clumsy and bad at sports. But they have a rock climbing wall, and I want to learn. And they have a racquetball court that looks fun. Don't let me get away with not trying those things just because I might not be excellent at them. 
  2. The new grocery store in town, The Market on Lakeway. When I walked in and saw their bulk spices, deli, and walk-in beer cooler, I almost cried. Everyone I know is getting little bags of Cyprus flaked sea salt for hostess gifts in the next year. (Or a link of chorizo. The real kind.)
  3. Taking an early-morning spin class at the Y, sweating it out with strangers and feeling exhausted afterward.
  4. Some coaching sessions with clients when I can almost see them growing right in front of me. There is nothing better than that.
  5. Meeting my childhood friend Sam's little girl, who stole my heart immediately.
  6. Late nights with Yancey, eating our way through a bag of potato chips and talking about spray foam insulation, window packages, and flooring options. Our house closed yesterday, and the sledgehammers are poised.
  7. A visit from Emily and Ricky yesterday and some time with Emily to talk about our friendship and how we'll navigate this new terrain.

And I haven't forgotten. Here's those potatoes.

Chorizo Roasted Potatoes
Heat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash 2 pounds small yellow potatoes. If they're on the small side, halve them. If they're bigger, quarter them. Put them in a large bowl with a couple big glugs olive oil, a generous pinch of kosher salt,  a teaspoon of cumin seeds, and a big handful of chorizo sausage coins. (Spanish chorizo--the cured, ready-to-eat, usually bright red sausage, available at good delis.) 
Dump the mixture onto your baking sheet, and bake for 20-30 minutes until potatoes are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and chorizo is crisped up. Mound on a platter, and garnish with a handful of chopped parsley and a handful of sheep's milk feta. And a little more salt.