Sunday, December 26, 2010

I love Christmas

I really love the Christmas season, and for some reason this year was even more enjoyable than years past. Maybe it’s because last year was the first Christmas I’d ever spent away from Seattle, so I had two years’ worth of build up. The early advertisements didn’t bother me and I happily listened to Christmas music at every opportunity, only reaching my saturation point on Christmas day itself – perfect timing.

I planned my company’s holiday party, attended a lovely Hanukah dinner (mmm, latkes!), and went to half a dozen other Christmas parties and dinners - including a Santa-themed pub crawl and a dinner where I roasted my very first duck - before the big day. The duck was delicious!

The most memorable of these was Adam’s yearly Christmas party, in which guests are advised: “don’t come as you are . . . come a little bit better.” This results in a normally casual group transformed into a sharply dressed crew. Adam goes all out, including providing a top-shelf bar meant to last well into the night, decorating to the nines, and dressing as Santa and subjecting himself to an hour or more of Santa pictures. I didn’t make it home until 6 am and it was definitely the party of the year.

Contrary to the stereotypical stress-inducing family, mine is a joy to be with on Christmas day (and otherwise). We have very few obligations and a long-standing tradition of staying in our PJs all day – no one comes and no one goes. We make Chex Mix, drink hot buttered rum, watch movies, and play board games.

Of course, before all of that we open presents. Ever since we were kids, my parents have treated Christmas as the one day of the year when we’re extravagant, from sweet to savory, from decorations to gifts. Growing up without a lot of money, this was a particularly touching feat, one we didn’t fully appreciate until we were adults. This year was no different, but now that the kids are adults we give each other great gifts, too. All in all a very satisfying and relaxed morning of ripping open wrapping paper, pausing to eat overnight waffles, and finishing off at a leisurely pace. Another difference is that as adults we can stretch gift-opening until the early afternoon. Here is my sister displaying a fan of incense samplings and my dad figuring out his new Kindle in the background:

The only bummer was that I got the 24-hour flu, from about 2 pm Christmas day until pretty much right now. It was, as the flu goes, quite mild, which doesn’t mean it was fun (I’m not sure which was worse, puking or missing out on all the good eats) but at least I recovered quickly because I go to Mexico tomorrow!

I’ll be touring the Yucatan peninsula for the next 2 weeks. I’ve been dying to get back to Mexico ever since my last trip when I went to Oaxaca and the Southern coast for my 24th birthday. Five years later I’ll be spending New Year’s and my 29th birthday amid Mayan ruins and next to the Caribbean sea.

So, happy end of the holiday season to all of you, stay tuned for vacation highlights, and I'll see you in the new year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Backlog blog #5: Manu Chao plays Seattle

Manu Chao has long been one of my favorite musicians. His were the first songs I could sing all the way through in Spanish, I have very fond memories of my Spanish boyfriend singing me Manu Chao songs when I studied abroad in Sevilla, and I never tire of hearing the same albums over and over again.

So, even though I am famous for disliking live music, I have now been to two Manu Chao concerts in the same calendar year.

I had the opportunity to see Manu Chao last year in Argentina and I jumped on it - taking a bunch of Americans and one Brasilian with me - because he so rarely plays in the U.S. It was a memorable show and I was grateful to have seen him.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day walking to work from my new Capitol hill apartment in October, I passed the Paramount Theater and its placard announcing Manu Chao for the very next week. I quite literally did a double take, even rubbed my eyes to make sure it wasn't a mirage. Sure enough, he was doing several shows in the U.S. on the west coast, and Seattle was his first stop. Of course I had to go to his first Seattle show ever!

The natural choice for a friend to accompany me was my co-worker Ilona, a woman who loves languages, foreign culture, and a good beat. I bought us tickets at the box office and we counted down the days until it was show time.

The show was fantastic. I couldn't help but compare the two shows, and here are my thoughts.


Energy. That man brings an insane, inhuman amount of energy to every show he does. This is especially evident in his jumpy movements and the frequent beating of the microphone against his heart and head, which actually is a pretty cool sound effect.

Repeated sounds. At each show, Manu and his crew seem to zero in on a short, catchy riff that they repeat, and repeat, and repeat... in Argentina this went on for nearly an hours' worth of encores. To be honest, it was getting pretty old by the end of what was a 3.5 hour show.

Crazy long encores. So, so long. Like, almost as long as the show itself, both times. Though he kind of cheats by using that repeated riff... Oh, ooooh, oh, OH, OH, oh.

Price. Totally reasonable in both cities.


Band size. In Seattle, it was just Manu + his lead guitarist and a drummer. In Argentina, there must have been 10-12 musicians on stage. Still, the energy level was incredible.

Venue. In Argentina, thousands of people packed into a free-for-all stadium with minimal security and virtually no rules - smoke 'em if you got 'em kind of scene. Compare this with the uber-anal Paramount theater, where the employees seem to go out of their way to destroy as much of the show's magic for you as possible.

Each venue had its advantages and disadvantages. In Argentina, it was crazy and awesome and you could go anywhere you could maneuver yourself. Of course, this also involved a lot of pushing and illegal drug activities, and in a closed stadium that much cigarette smoke was a disgusting detractor.

In Seattle, you bought your seats ahead of time and even though the open, downstairs area wasn't anywhere CLOSE to full by Argentina standards, the "I-think-my-job-is-really-important" Paramount ushers wouldn't let you budge from where you were assigned. Hell, they wouldn't even let you inch into the aisle to DANCE a little, rushing at you with a flashlight in the face to corral you back to your proper place. And, the stage crew was embarrassingly bad, constantly interfering with the band. I thought Manu Chao was going to pop one of them when after about 3 altercations (including one where Manu actually tripped over one of them in his way) the stage crew guy wouldn't hand him his guitar, apparently fiddling with a string for about 2 solid minutes ... are you kidding, guy?? It was so bad I was actually embarrassed, like blushing and groaning and fidgeting uncomfortably embarrassed for the impression Seattle's stage crew was causing. But, the air was clean and I wasn't scared for my life.

Shorter sets. In Argentina, there are no limits to how long a show can go, and with a crowd of 10,000+ that can be a long time. Although his show in Seattle was certainly long by Seattle standards, it was nowhere near the almost too-long show he did in the south.

Dance crowd. Of course Argentina blows Seattle out of the water for the dance scene, because EVERYONE DANCES. Like, duh. Why go to a Manu Chao concert if you aren't going to dance? Passive, boring Seattle was a little more restrained up in the balcony seats, but some of us were definitely going crazy (much to the dismay of those sitting near us.) I have to give it to Seattle, though: those on the main floor actually had a mosh pit going, and a pretty solid one at that (is there anything Seattle goers won't mosh to?), plus several successful crowd surfers.

In short, I was delighted to be at both shows and particularly pleased to have two very different Manu concerts under my belt. You better believe that if he's ever in a city when I'm there again, I'll continue adding notches to my Manu Chao belt!

And, thus ends my backlog - I'm finally caught up. Next you can expect something about Christmas, and then I'm off to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico for 12 days where I'll spend New Year's and my birthday. I'll blog from the road if possible, but if not you know you can count on a 'super comprehensive' (aka stupidly long) blog with photos on my return.

A non-traditional Thanksgiving

As everyone must know by now, I love Thanksgiving. But, I am not beholden to a single Thursday in November to celebrate it; in fact, I’m fairly indifferent about its specific date. So when Robyn suggested an out of town retreat I jumped at the idea of a few days of R&R.

Of course, only a crazy person would fly over Thanksgiving break so we searched for a local option and came up with the Bonneville Resort on the Columbia River. Bingo! We booked ourselves for 3 nights and several spa treatments and patiently awaited our mini-break.

There was some temporary concern when the storm hit that we wouldn’t be able to make it out of the city, but luckily by Wednesday morning the streets were more or less OK and the freeway was free and clear so we got out without a problem. Along the way we made a random stop in Kelso to go on a wild goose chase for a UPS store that the iPhone promised us would be there, and it was. Not two hours later when we stopped for groceries, of course, there was a UPS next store. We also hit up Five Guys Burgers, my absolute favorite fast-food-but-not-fast-food place that has magically migrated here from the east coast. By the early afternoon, after some gorgeous scenery along the way, we pulled up to luxury itself – 3 days with nothing to do.

I wasn’t sure what to expect since you can never tell in pictures what a hotel will really be like and it seemed as if it might have a 70s flair, but I was pleasantly surprised. 70s flair aside, the hotel itself is quite grand – I’ve never seen such a majestic room (outside of Vegas) OR such a giant fireplace. Here is the view from our room:

After getting settled in we made our way down to the spa for our 4:00 appointment: a mineral water and essential oil bath followed by a “wrap.” The bath rooms are quite sweet, with deep tubs separated by screens in dimly lit rooms. After 30 minutes of soaking we were ushered into the wrap room, where we were tucked within an inch of our lives into hot blankets, a cool towel covering our eyes. It sounds so simple, yet it was probably the most enjoyable spa treatment I’ve ever had. We left there moving about 10 times slower than when we went in, and lazed in our robes in the tropical pool room for a solid hour before heading back to our room and going to bed by 8 pm.

The next morning was Thanksgiving and we started it off right with mimosas in bed. Then we went downstairs to the most unexpectedly wonderful surprise: FREE BUFFET BREAKFAST. I’m not talking about some dinky little continental affair; this was a full-blown feast including coffee, juice, fruit and oatmeal, bacon and sausage, potatoes, and the best parts of all, an omelet station AND a waffle station. Free. Every morning.

Sometimes we’d look at each other with a gleam in our eyes and we’d know we were thinking about free breakfast. In fact, that free breakfast was such a great deal that we managed to spend almost zero money on food, having brought groceries with us for most meals. The only time we dropped any cash was on the Thanksgiving meal itself. But that’s later… after The Bridge.

I had done some scouting on things to do in the area and came upon what sounded like a promising description of some nearby hot springs. Also nearby was the Bonneville dam, which Robyn was not as into touring in the freezing weather as I was, but it was pretty cool to look at from afar:

Anyway, we decided that on Thanksgiving we’d venture out to check out these hot springs 20 minutes away. We bundled up...

...and off we went further east through several one-horse towns until we came to the Carson Hot Springs Resort. It was a wee bit, how shalle we say, dilapidated?

We went into the main building and asked a bored but pleasant man where the trail started. We didn’t reveal our plans since it was a gray area whether or not it was legal to access them. He pointed us behind the hotel and we started the mile hike across partially frozen but otherwise easy terrain. The directions we were following were sketchy at best but we did manage to find the suspension bridge mentioned:
Yikes! The river was thundering beneath us and we were both terrified to cross, so of course we had to, yelping like scared baby animals all the way. Here is the view from halfway across:
Once on the other side we saw the ‘piece of string’ alluded to in the shady directions which was really a rope and started a very careful scramble across some frozen rocks. When my water bottle fell out and crashed 20 feet to the ground below, and when I saw that after these rocks were more rocks, even more frozen and even more vertical, we very wisely surmised the danger and backed up out of there. (This was one of the many times I have been grateful to be a level-headed, non-thrill-seeking woman.)

Back across the bridge we went, where we encountered two locals who informed us that to get to those hot springs you actually have to scale a vertical wall and that the best way is via raft or other water vessel. I wanted to track down the idiot who wrote the original instructions and tell him what a moron he was, but then again I was the moron who was basing my experience that day on a stranger’s vague description, so I didn’t have anyone to blame but myself.

Safe and sound at the end of the trail we applauded our sound judgment – AND our crossing of the bridge – and started back, stopping to cross the Bridge of the Gods, kind of a lofty name for this unimpressive overpass:
It cost us $1 each way and we were surprised to find that we were in Oregon on the other side, though if we’d stopped to think that we were on the Columbia it probably wouldn’t have come as a shock (like I said, spa life had slowed us down some). We stopped and had sandwiches with a flock of geese, crossed back over the bridge, made our way to the hotel, and sat by the pool for several hours reading before it was time to feast.

Imagine, if you will, a Thanksgiving in which you neither have to cook nor clean, coupled with unfettered, unlimited access to all your favorite dishes: this is the beauty of a gourmet Thanksgiving buffet.

We went back for seconds and thirds and had more than our fill of Thanksgiving classics: requisite turkey, potatoes, and stuffing; green bean casserole made with fresh green beans; tons of veggies and salads and soups and cheeses; and a good variety of pies (which some a-hole next to us actually had the gall to say was a 'thin selection.' Really, guy? How many kinds of pie do you NORMALLY have on Thanksgiving?) There were also non-traditional items like prawns (which we did some damage to) and a prime rib (which we didn't touch). We ordered a bottle of champagne which they let us take back to the room with us, tub and all. Here I am after dinner posing next to our favorite place in the hotel, the "area of rescue":

It was another early night for us, though I stayed up watching Avatar for the first time. I was glad I hadn't wasted any money on this lame adaptation of Pochahontas in the theaters. And don't try to tell me that the 3-D was worth it - I'm so sick of 3-D! It gives me a headache after 20 minutes.

The next day was Friday and we had a soak, wrap, and massage scheduled for the afternoon. As wonderful as all that was, there was something magical about our Wednesday soak and wrap that just couldn't be beat. Afterward we went to the pool, books and robes in tow, and spent some more quality time doing more nothing. There was a hot tub outside called the 'pool of tranquility,' and since it had snowed it was fun being outside in the frozen white landscape engulfed in steaming hot water.

By Friday evening I was getting a little restless - so much nothingness can be tiring! - so we did something a little more active: played UNO for about 2 hours. Not surprisingly, we were in bed early.

Saturday we woke up to our final free breakfast and our final swim in the pool, and we were underway by check-out at noon. My car was covered in snow, which I removed using a tennis racket randomly kicking about in my car. (Note to self: get an ice scraper.)

Snow-covered car aside, the weather was once again on our side and the roads were clear. The views were gorgeous and we stopped at Cape Horn to get some pictures. I love this one because it's hard to tell the difference between sky, cloud, fog, and water:

Of course I had to snap a shot of the Matrix for posterity. This car is going to have quite the photo album:

We got back to Seattle on Saturday evening at about 5 - virtually no traffic! - and spent the night chilling out in our respective apartments before reuniting for one last Thanksgiving weekend event on Sunday: the Christmas Tree farm.

Robyn has gone to the Carnation Tree Farm for the last 5 years and this time I was her guest of honor. I didn't get a tree - the saw is just for the picture - but I did get some garlands which are lovely hanging over my French doors, wrapped in white lights.

Here is Robyn loading up her mini-tree:
Although I love my family and love spending holidays with them, this was a happy and restful way to spend the long Thanksgiving weekend. Hip hip, hooray!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Backlog blog #4: A special visitor for a special occasion (aka EAT MORE CHILI)

Several years ago, my Seattle friends started a chili cookoff tradition. It has had many iterations, from specific judges to popular judging, from straightforward categories and rules to mind-numbing mathematical messes necessitating an excel spreadsheet to calculate the winner.

This year’s cookoff was held for the first time at Ray and Jen’s house, and when I was talking about it to my buddy Mike, one of the first friends I made when I moved to Philadelphia, he became utterly giddy. “Yo Arch, do you think I could come out there for this chili cookoff?” he asked eagerly. A short time later he had booked his ticket for a long weekend in October and I began laying the groundwork for this year’s chili entry.

After having been a judge and a straight-up interloper for several years, last year I entered for the first time. I chose the vegetarian category and won with ‘Moli,’ a mole-chili combination that I whipped up from scratch – yes, even the mole part – and that one attendee in particular still talks about longingly (Morgan, you know who you are). I had a reputation to uphold, so one weekend about a month in advance I went crazy with three different versions of the same experimental chili idea I had, roasting whole tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants to create a truly 'from scratch' recipe. (The pot on the left is the start of applesauce from the great apple harvest.)

Bubbling away:

It centered around lamb, which was delicious, but the rest of it didn’t really knock my socks off - not surprisingly, eggplant was NOT a winning addition to a chili, though the leftover puree did make a delicious baba ghanouj - so after a night of taste-testing I went back to the drawing board.

The next week, K and I were trying to come up with something to make for our neighbors who just had a baby. As is our wont, we scavenged the fridge, freezer, and pantry, and came up with a wild rice, sage, and squash soup. It tasted like Thanksgiving, a light bulb went off in my head, and the Happy Thanksgiving chili was born.

Fast forward to Mike’s arrival in Seattle. Born and raised in Brooklyn and a longtime resident of Philly, he had never been to the West coast. I had just moved into my apartment less than a week before but was determined to have it ready for my first guest of honor. We packed a lot into the first few days, much of it food-based: I took him to the best bowl of pho at Pho Bac in the ID; to Tacos el Asadero, the taco bus on Rainier; and for a gyro in Pioneer Square. When he mentioned he’d never heard of, much less been on, a floating bridge, we drove across I-90, through Bellevue, and then back across 520.

Mike is part of a running and drinking club called the Hash House Harriers, and he found a Seattle chapter which took him on a grueling run in the rain and the mud through Lincoln park in West Seattle. Before I dropped him off we stopped for the glamour shot with Seattle’s skyline:

Later that night he didn’t realize how lucky he was when some of the runners decided to drive to Capitol hill to sing karaoke at the Crescent - a bar that you can see from my apartment - until he was ready to go the short distance home, at which point he was overcome with relief to get so quickly out of the rain and his wet clothes and onto my super comfy couch.

Mike was on his own that night because it was my 10-year high school reunion. It was over stimulating and underwhelming at the same time, but I’m glad I went on that walk down memory lane. It was great to reconnect with some people, and fascinating to see how some people had changed. Of course, most of us were exactly the same. I think the 20 year will be even more interesting.

The next day was Sunday - Cookoff Day. I had started the chili in the crockpot the day before, so Mike and I went to eat breakfast pizzas and watch football at Bill’s Off Broadway before hitting up the cookoff. He was in awe of how early football here goes down, especially the Monday night game which for us starts at 5:20 and ends by the time it had started on the east coast.

A few hours later we found ourselves in North Seattle, surrounded by crockpots of various size and smell. Ray and Jen did a spectacular job setting up the competition in case of rain, but we were lucky to have the sun shining down most of the afternoon. Here is part of the sweet set-up in the basement, which opened onto the driveway and front lawn:

I think there ended up being 14 chilis across 3 categories, all of which the majority of us were able to work our way through. Here are a few taste-testers eating out of leftover mugs from Ray and Jen’s wedding, the perfect chili vessel!

My personal favorite was a whiskey plantain chili, followed by Nathan and Morgan’s lamb with polenta, followed by my own Happy Thanksgiving which had a few kinks in the beginning that I managed to even out by judging time. The base consisted of roasted and blended pumpkin, tomatoes, turkey gravy, and chili peppers, plus dark turkey meat, hunks of pumpkin, chopped pecans, dried cranberries, and French’s Fried Onions on top. It was Thanksgiving in a mouthful.

I happily came out victorious in the ‘meat no bean’ category. Next year I will have to up the ante by entering ‘meat with bean’ in the hopes of securing a trifecta of wins. Here are this year’s winners:

You can also read about the cookoff and see more pictures on Ray and Jen's blog here.

By the time we went home we were a little fatter and a lot happier. We went to bed with lofty goals for the next day, Mike’s last full day and a Monday I had taken off. But, fate had other plans.

Mike is an early riser and I was secluded in the cave of my bedroom, so by the time I rolled out at 9 am he was nearing his breaking point: WISDOM TOOTH ATTACK! I felt so bad for him but there’s almost nothing you can do for that kind of pain. I started by giving him some pain killers and recommending he call his dentist and insurance provider to get a list of oral surgeons in Philadelphia, since clearly those suckers had to come out. After a few false starts he got the nicest woman in the world on the phone who scheduled him for a consultation the very next day, with the promise of surgery on Thursday. The only problem was, Mike didn’t fly until the next morning. Cue the call to the airline, where we got him on a 12:30 flight that night with a minimal fee since he was technically flying in the same day as his original flight. PHEW! With all of those details ready to go for his return, there was really only one thing left to do: drink the pain away.

Our original plan had been to take the Underground tour, go up in the Smith Tower, Columbia tower, or the Space Needle, and take a ferry ride to Bainbridge and back. We did pretty well after several drinks at the J&M Café in Pioneer Square and I think Mike managed to enjoy the Underground. We hit up the Smith tower where Mike got glamour shot #2 with the Space Needle:

By that time the booze was wearing off and the pain was coming back so we skipped the ferry, choosing instead to go to Tukwila to retrieve Harriet. (I both blame and thank Mike for this random incident in my life, since it all started the first night he came into town with the innocent phrase, “Have you ever seen a Lionhead bunny?” followed by about an hour of obsessive Google imaging and Craigslist searching.)

Once we had Harriet safely tucked away inside her shiny new cage, we meandered over to the Redwood, my friendly neighborhood bar a block away, to watch Monday Night Football. I have never watched so much nor learned so much about football as I did that weekend. Mike also helped me cultivate and refine my fantasy team, and I’m happy to report that I am in first place in my league and going to the playoffs next week. Holla!

Mike got safely on the plane, had his consultation and surgery, and while convalescing crafted this insanely awesome creation as thanks for my hostessing. A straight dude who can crochet is one in a million in my book.

He’s already plotting a return trip for the cookoff next year, and this time plans to enter a chili of his own. Bring it, Mike!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Week-long Birthday BONANZA

Apparently everyone is born in November. In 8 days (from Friday, November 5-Saturday, November 13) I celebrated 5 birthdays, one of which was out of state.

My Dad looks exactly the same as he did 10 years ago

So does my Mom, for that matter, but it was my Dad’s birthday and I was going to be skipping the family party that weekend (see next header). Instead, I went up on the Friday before and we had a chill celebration which included French Bread Pizza (the love runs in the family), chocolate chip ice cream (his fave), and the gift of a hoodless sweatshirt, something that is remarkably hard to find. He’s about as low-key as you can get so he probably wouldn’t have even noticed if we didn’t celebrate at all, but it’s always nice to see the folks.

Meagan’s Dirty 30

My friend Meagan and I met during my one year at LMU 9 years ago. Since then we have never lived in the same city, so we’ve seen each other less than 14 days total since then. Regardless, we’ve maintained an important friendship, so when I got the invite to her 30th birthday party in Santa Rosa, California for November 6, I booked a ticket – 30 hours for her 30th birthday, from Saturday at 2 pm to Sunday at 8.

I was lucky to find a cheap flight into Santa Rosa itself, an airport so tiny you can still greet people at the (one) gate. Meagan picked me up in the flesh and we hugged it out, reveling at the unbelievable idea that it had been more than 3 years since last we met (when I visited her in New Hampshire). She whisked me away to her parents’ house, who were out of town but seemed to trust her to throw a party.

For not having lived in her home town for a decade, she drew quite a local crowd, many of whom she had gone to high school with. She also had several out of town guests, and Ian trumped my distance since he came from Vancouver – international guests are so exotic!

There was a keg of good beer, a beer pong table painted bright gold – Ian and I crushed it – and plenty of assorted booze and eats. I did garner some street cred when it was revealed that my present to Meagan was a whole salmon I had purchased that same afternoon at Pike Place market and carried on the plane. We barbecued half of it and I cut the other half into filets to be frozen and enjoyed at will.

Her friend Rachel definitely won for best presents, though: customized beer bottles with pictures she had gotten from Meagan’s mom, plus a hand-carved Scrabble board. I was drooling with jealousy over that board.

Other than pong, highlights included a small but admirable dance party and a hilarious game called some dude’s name that I kept forgetting. We hardly even noticed that it was raining, and enjoyed some good times over the outdoor fire pit despite the unseasonally cold weather. (WTF California, I leave Seattle for 30 hours and you make it rain??) It's ok, we kept warm by dancing:

The next day was an exercise in lazing around, which was really pleasant. Here are Meagan and Clare the dog chillin' on hangover day:

I made a random breakfast bake with leftover party food (my specialty) and we talked trash through the movie Twilight. I was so sad when I had to catch the airporter to Oakland – no such luck getting a reasonable flight out of Santa Rosa on Sunday – and much more bummed when I found out my flight was delayed. Fortunately my sister Tessa came to the rescue and picked me up from the airport, so I only got home about 30 minutes later than I was expecting since I had planned on taking the light rail. Regardless, waking up for work the next morning was not much fun.

Fortunately Meagan will be in Seattle in December so I’ll get some more of her sooner rather than later.

Robyn – Low Key, Baby

On Wednesday of that same week – 11-10-10 – Robyn had her birthday. It was a really chill gathering at Barolo in the Lake Union part of Seattle, a swank restaurant with a killer happy hour. Highlighting for the 1,000,000th time why she is such a stellar friend she was completely understanding when I was only able to stay for 45 minutes since I desperately needed a new home for Hattie or risk eviction and it was the only time the new owners could come get her.

Of course, the party didn’t end with me leaving; I hear it ended many hours later at a bar in Ballard. Robyn always knows where to find the party!

K’s Gourmet Dinner

K’s birthday is the very day after Robyn’s, which means next year her birthday will be 11-11-11. Trippy. We arranged for her to have day-long childcare so she could go to the spa, and then we had a delightful dinner at another friend’s house. I love K’s friends, and this love is only heightened by their ability to kill it in the kitchen. We had the fanciest salad ever, plus roasted squash and cauliflower, chicken with pasta, mushrooms, and artichokes, a vegan carrot cake that was so good I went back for thirds, and some apricot bars I could have sworn were made by the almond roca people. We also had some very lively discussion about the state of our education system – it’s always nice to be stimulated intellectually, especially when there is a bottle of wine at hand.

Jacob’s Game Night

This past Saturday was my friend Jacob’s birthday celebration (also an 11-11 birthday) which went down on a rain-soaked Ballard evening with some animated rounds of Catch Phrase during which the birthday boy took significant liberties, followed by lemon cake with chocolate and apricot sorbet. My contribution? A jar of rum I’d been soaking with clove-stuffed lemon slices and cinnamon sticks which I turned into hot toddies. Does anything taste better than a hot toddy in wintry weather?

After the birthday boy left, those still standing hung around for some Settlers of Catan. I had planned on getting to bed at a reasonable hour and being productive on Sunday, but staying out until 2:30 am playing board games was all worth it when I sneakily won game #2.

Side note: “Happy Birthday” has to be the worst trick ever inflicted upon the tradition of birthdays. Think about it: it’s the ONE SONG you are socially obligated to sing on a regular basis, and it is so, soooo painful. If it must be sung, I prefer it in double time – it’s much easier to hit the right notes and keys, it doesn’t drag on and on, and it actually sounds like people have some enthusiasm and mean what they’re saying. Can we just all agree to sing it fast and get it over with??

I think I’m off the hook for birthdays for a little while.
Up soon: more backlog posts, my cell phone evolution, and spending Thanksgiving at a spa.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holy snow!

It has been snowing since last night in Seattle. We aren't talking snow flurries, people. We're talking knock-em-dead howling winds that whip across the roofs and penetrate every microscopic opening in the foundation, and tiny snowflakes that mean business. It's 25 degrees and dropping. I can't remember a November storm like this.

This morning I got suited up and made my way the mile to work on foot. I snapped this picture along the way, the perfect blend of one of the best falls I can remember with the start of winter:

Here's the view from my apartment this morning and again when I got home. Probably another 2 inches have fallen since the second one, and I would guess we have 4-6 inches by now.

My office emptied out around 2, and there had been so little movement that by the time I left at 6 the lights had turned off. (Not trying to tout myself as an overachiever, I just had something I had to finish. Trust me, I wanted to leave at 2 too.) My walk home was 30 minutes of zero-visibility skidding, but I still made way better time than the poor bastards stuck in cars or on buses. With a vehicle stalled or skidding out on every single road, traffic was stopped in all directions. It took people two hours to go two miles. Some gave up, abandoned their cars, and walked. Luckily all Metro buses had chains on their back tires starting this morning; apparently someone got the right idea after the 2008 debacle. I was scoffing at the alarmists who required Metro chains in the seeming calm of the morning, but by the afternoon I was applauding their good foresight.

A jet slid off the runway at Seatac, closing the airport down. The Alaskan Way viaduct and the West Seattle bridge are closed - two events I can't remember ever happening in my life. Most schools are already closed tomorrow. Thousands of people are without power, and I'm shocked I'm not one of them. Instead, I'm snug as a bug in my cozy apartment - heat is included in the rent! From my perch atop the 3rd floor I have been listening to the strange noises my radiators make while dreamily staring out the window at the mean weather, but I have to admit, I'm lonely.

This is the first time I have ever been alone when it snowed. Part of me wants to run outside and throw snowballs and drop to the ground and make a snow angel, but it feels a bit silly to do that on my own, even on Capitol hill where I'm sure I could find a bevy of insta-friends to do it with. Well, maybe not tonight... it's UGLY out there. But tomorrow they're predicting sun and 26 degree weather - a perfect snow day! (Until it all turns to ice.) Unfortunately I can walk to work, which means that's probably where I'll end up unless HR sends out the unlikely announcement that the office is closed. Cross your fingers for me and my snow day!

(Snow art on my way home. I couldn't resist!)


Not 20 minutes after I hit "publish" on this blog, my friend Brian sent me this text: "There is a party at Bellevue and Denny! Bring a cookie sheet or other improvized sled!"

I live 2 blocks from this intersection and had been hearing semi-strange rumblings from that general area. Luckily I was still mostly decked out in my snow gear so I got suited up the rest of the way and headed out at 12:30 am to catch the party. This is what awaited me:

About 30 people milling around with new additions constantly arriving, going like gangbusters down Denny on makeshift sleds. This included rubber lids, plywood planks, air mattresses, wheel-less skateboards, an ironing board (epic fail), and most notably, garbage dumpsters. They were by far the fastest and most reliable way to get to the bottom, and by the time I left they had started racing. I shot a few videos and uploaded this one last night; my apologies for the weird format.

Predictably, someone had gotten hurt and when I arrived there was an ambulance taking him away. The rumor mill said he broke both his legs but who knows what actually happened. A little later a too-drunk dude with a bloody nose and mouth tried to start a fight about 10 seconds after I said, that guy is drunk and looking to fight. But neither of those events affected the general merriment much, and I was shocked when I realized I'd been there for an hour.

I did take a few nips of whiskey but did not go down the hill. Apparently this is always where people gather on Capitol hill in the snow since Denny gets shut down at the mere whiff of inclement weather, and now that I know sledding central is the perfect distance from my house - close enough to walk easily but far enough away that the hooting and hollering doesn't keep me awake - I have plenty of time to try it out.

Today I did come into the office because HR only issued a "stay home if you can't safely commute" email. There are, I think, 6 people in all, 3 of them from my 5-person team. Now that's dedication!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thus ends my random pet ownership

Meet Katie:
Katie is 15 going on 16, owns a pony, and does 4H. She also now owns Hattie, the Lionhead rabbit that was mine for a whopping 4 weeks.

My landlords discovered Hattie and told me that either she had to go, or I did. So, I found Katie, and I can’t imagine a better owner for Harriet the Lionheart. She will love her and take very attentive care of her, especially since Hattie is now destined for the spotlight as a Show Bunny. (Turns out that pedigree came in handy after all.) I expect big things out of her.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Backlog blog #3: September Hodge-Podge

In the interest of feeling like I’m finally catching up on these backlogs, I’m going to roll a few events that happened around the same time into a single entry.

September 18: Vogue has never looked so....

First up was SHADE, a Vogue Ball put on partially by my dear friend Casey to benefit the Lifelong Aids Alliance. It was also a fashion show, and Morgan and I got more than we bargained for in our front row seats. T and A abounded and I was very nearly impaled by a stiletto. It was pretty awesome.

Then came the Vogue-ing, and as always it was a joy to watch Casey dance. Although he killed it in the group routine, in my opinion he shines his brightest doing his solo improvisational work. To everyone’s delight they left the runway intact and let us all ‘work it out,’ which I did more than once.

Here I am in my get-up. I was trying to make my hair Really Big. It was also pouring buckets so I went with the fashionable rain boots to complete the outfit. The bartender asked me if I was in the fashion show, which I took as a compliment.

September 24: FBPP

Second was the French bread pizza party, which K was trying to convince me was my ‘going away party’ since I was moving. As someone who has had more than her fair share of going aways and actively avoids them, AND since I was trying to convince my roommates that they weren’t rid of me that easily, I was just calling it a good excuse to make some delicious food.

I am a sort of foodie but my tastes, while varied, are in no way high-brow. To wit, my absolute favorite type of dinner party to throw (other than Thanksgiving, of course) is a French bread pizza party. Here’s why:

1) Delicious
2) Easy – people make their own food!
3) Varied – people get to eat exactly what they want to eat
4) Interactive – especially good for people who don’t know each other that well
5) Crowd pleaser – who doesn’t love FB pizza??

This was probably the most successful FBPP I’ve ever thrown, with long-distance friends Megan who lives near Portland and Mark and Sarah visiting from Madison, plus two toddlers, the younger – and much smaller- of whom absolutely terrorized the other, leading to my now-infamous line, “You’re bigger than him, you can totally take him!” How cute is this photo? You would never have guessed from how demure Toddler J looks here that he was the terrorizer.

We wrapped up the meal with an apple crisp, a pear crisp, and a molasses cake. The next day I ate FB leftovers for breakfast and made another pizza using all the leftover toppings for lunch. Had there been any left, I could have easily eaten it again for dinner. My love for FBP runs deep.

September 25: Italian Festival

When Robyn asked if I wanted to go to the Italian festival I first said, the what? Then I said, of course! I’m always down for a festival, and I am a little embarrassed to admit I had no idea that Seattle even hosted such an event.

It turns out a lot of people outside the Italian community don’t know about it, even though it’s held at the very public Seattle Center. This is one of those festivals truly supported and primarily attended by the community in question, similar to the Greek festival (also going on that weekend, which I sadly missed) and dissimilar from, say, Oktoberfest in Fremont. We were surrounded by authentic, Italian-speaking, bocci-ball-throwing, pizza-crust-tossing Italians. And I’m not stereotyping here – we witnessed a children’s pizza dough tossing contest going on right outside the building that housed a Very Serious bocci ball tournament. We also watched teams stomp grapes, ate sausages and gelato, and drank Italian sodas.

Unfortunately I don’t have any still images from this event because I took my video camera instead, and although I do have quite a few videos, if you have followed this blog at all, you know I’m the WORST at editing them together! I keep promising a video blog and it is on one of my many lists, I believe the one titled ‘long term’. It will happen, eventually.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Backlog blog #2 - Mustache party!

A few weeks ago Robyn asked if I wanted to attend a Tom Douglas event at the Palace Ballroom downtown. It was an “Extreme beer and mustache” party. Even though it was pouring rain and traffic was more stop than go, we were determined to get our mustache on. Here we are preparing for the rain:

As soon as we walked in we were greeted with a ‘mustache making station’ full of sample patterns and creepy, hairy cloth. I opted for the classic eye-liner stash. Our friend Shanda met us there and together we were quite the trio:
I’m not sure why mustaches and extreme beer go together, but to match the beer was some really weird food. That was good for me since I’m not much of a beer drinker (though I did enjoy the peanut butter brew). Among the delicacies were pickled pig ears (kinda weird), fried pig feet (DELICIOUS), and donuts with peanut butter sauce.

Apparently Robyn and Shanda have a long history of ‘dares’ in which Robyn gets dared to do something ridiculous for a minor reward… and always does it. That night it consisted of approaching a group of 3 good looking, seemingly single dudes and doing a series of moves with her mustache. Now, I will do all manner of ridiculous things, but when it involves strangers I get wicked embarrassed. I. Was. Dying. I even hid in the corner while she started it, but got the courage to watch the end. It ended up being just what those dudes needed because they were total drips.

Of course, after all that beer the extreme food hadn’t really cut it so we headed over to Mama’s in Belltown for some greasy Mexican food. I left my mustache on and got a lot of stares and comments, which resulted in us crashing the table of a reunion of random guys who had flown in from around the country (possibly for a wedding). Somehow they managed to get all three of us riled up: me because someone was shouting that Boston sports are the best of all time (I loathe Boston sports teams and fans); Robyn because one of them said he was pretty sure that "Chilean sea bass is on the GOOD list" for seafood you can eat (it's actually one of the worst); and Shanda because one of them said that "animals don't have rights."

Fake mustaches: check. Weird beer and food: check. Greasy Mexican: check. Fighting with total strangers: check, check. Good times!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Backlog blog #1: Autumn bake-a-thon

What is it about the fall that makes you want to bake your heart out? For the few weeks before I moved I was cooking like crazy. This was partly due to a large harvest of apples for the organization Lettuce Link. Morgan, Adam and I picked close to 200 pounds of apples from a huge tree in Ballard. The ones that weren’t nice enough to donate to the foodbank we took home in giant bags. K and I cooked from my 2 bags of apples for about 3 weeks. This included apple sauce, multiple apple crisps, and two apple pies plus two mini turnovers:

The one with the heart cut-outs was for our friend's birthday and the one with the owl and "mouse" cut-outs was for us:

The apple bags also provided a giant pot of apple butter, using my grandma’s recipe. This led to my first ever canning experience. It was easier than I thought!

I was also prepping for this year’s chili cook-off. I won in the vegetarian category last year with Mole chili and knew I needed to bring it big time this year. So, I did a weekend of trial chili cooking and made three experimental versions including lamb and fava beans, eggplant, and avocado. I started everything from scratch, including roasting my own tomatoes and other veggies (the start of some applesauce is also pictured):

Eggplant chili was not my best idea ever. The rest of it was tasty, but non of it was award winning. So, I started from scratch and did experimental chili weekend #2, this time with 3 versions of what I ended up submitting. Here is round 1; close, but no cigar:

Then one weekend K and I started going crazy in the kitchen and produced a ton of muffins and apple bread, and also this pot of wild rice, squash, and sage soup that we made up based on what we had in the house and brought to some friends who just had a baby. It was like Thanksgiving in every mouthful, which inspired my second chili idea. More on that in the chili cook-off post!

Even though it's no longer my kitchen I think many more such inventive and productive days will take place there. (That is some foreshadowing for a planned "jamming and canning" day taking place tomorrow . . . I can hardly wait!)