Saturday, December 10, 2011

Just Garden Fundraiser: the long version

You can read the short blog that I wrote about this event at the Miller CC Garden site here. Here is more of the same, plus some back story, details no one cares about but me, and a little snarkiness.

First, the lead up: My dear friend Justin asked me way back in early September if I wanted to help him throw a fundraiser - maybe a small dinner? - for the Just Garden Project, which his friend Stephanie runs. Anyone who has ever met me knows I'm genetically wired to plan any event in my path so of course I said yes. I also thought it was a good opportunity for the Miller CC Garden (which I essentially manage as the "volunteer coordinator," a volunteer position unto itself) to get some name recognition and do something great for the community. After many fits and starts of picking a date and location, we settled on Saturday December 3 at Justin's house as a Secret Cafe style dinner with two seatings: 4-6 and 8-10.

Justin and I had a few planning meetings in which we brainstormed where to get donations, what we would need in terms of kitchen items and place settings (which was, by far, the most complex logistical feat considering 20 people across 5 courses), and how we'd find 40 people who wanted to give us $40 each. We each put in a lot of leg work getting donations from the community and although there were a few weeks when it was sort of touch and go, we ended up with tons of local sponsors (Full Circle Farms, Loki Fish, Calf & Kid Artisan Cheese, Stumptown Coffee, Essential Bakery, Madison Market Co-Op, plus personal donations from my parents, Justin's friend Paul, and a girl I know through a friend who, incredibly, gave us 26 BOTTLES OF WINE and a bottle of champagne just for me) and 32 reservations (thank heavens, 20 at each dinner would have been way too big). Then, the weekend itself was upon us.

When I got off work on Friday, Justin and I went grocery shopping together, dropped everything off at his house, and then went our separate ways to work on our long lists of to dos. Justin had a house to clean, potatoes to mash, and carrots to roast; I had most of the menu to prep and I didn't get started until 8:30.

I couldn't have done it without Katie and Shawna who came over and helped me until the wee (VERY wee) hours of the morning. Here I am at about midnight, roasting the 8th or 9th squash:

The next day I slept in until about 10 and then got busy by going to the University district farmer's market to pick up salmon and my parents' house to get a table and chairs. Once home I fried all the white bean croquettes, packed up my car with tons of food and other supplies, and made it to Justin's around 2 in time to start setting up. I was running a little behind but luckily my new friend and neighbor Dustin came up, finished the frying while I took a shower, and helped me load my car, so I was only about 10 minutes late.

Justin had to go pick up the other volunteers so for awhile it was just a girl who also volunteers at the Miller CCG named Katy plus me, and the two of us put the 3 tables in every possible configuration across the two connected rooms (laughing a lot in the process) before finally settling on the best layout. Then Justin showed up with the other volunteers and Robyn appeared shortly thereafter, and we all sprang into action on many tasks: arranging flowers, setting the tables, ripping lettuce for salad, slicing bread for crostini, arranging roasted garlic (I'd roasted 12 heads the night before), bleu cheese, goat cheese, and fresh bread nicely on the tables, and about a dozen other things that needed to get done. It was really amazing how well we all worked together, especially since most of us didn't know each other. But the ability of everyone to anticipate exactly what needed to be done made for an unexpectedly smooth evening.

Here is a picture of the guests at the second seating; you can just barely see the third table in the second room:
Here are some pictures of the food. I wish I'd taken more of the prep, the beautifully laid tables, the guests and volunteers, and better pictures of the meal, but it was so busy it was hard remembering just to snap these few.

Course 1: Red leaf and arugula salad with roasted beets, chopped almonds, and pomegranate seeds:
Course 2: Roasted ginger masala squash soup garnished with chives:

Course 3: Herb and mushroom risotto (which I slaved over, TWICE - one for each dinner - until my wrist and forearm felt like they were going to fall off):

Course 4: Option of Keta salmon with garlic and rosemary spread or white bean rosemary croquettes (which were unexpectedly and INSANELY GOOD), plus roasted honey Dijon carrots, mashed sweet potatoes and mashed Yukon potatoes (this plate was so big and people were already so full that we packed a lot of these to go):

Actual frying of the croquettes; we reheated on broil which worked like a charm:

Course 5: Option of baklava, pear cake with rum sauce, or vegan chocolate pot (all three made by friends of Justin - bless them!) with French-pressed Stumptown coffee:

Can I just say -YUM! The food was so freaking good, one person asked 'where the chef had studied' and many others asked for the recipes.

The 4-6 seating was such a fun crowd and donated a significant amount of money so we were all sort of high on our success until we realized we had to do it again. We quickly threw the table cloths and napkins in the washer, ran a load of dishes (otherwise we did everything by hand - Robyn and Katy were the real stars there), started plating the salads and heating the food for dinner #2, and had the tables set just in time for the first guests to arrive.

The second dinner was somehow even more smooth since we'd figured out timing (for instance, I started the risotto earlier...) and also it was a smaller group, BECAUSE (warning: snarkiness):

1) Someone who had RSVPed for the first dinner for 2 people brought 3 adults, plus a toddler. Justin, who is incapable of being annoyed by broken social codes, was thrilled at the extra guests; I, who have to breathe deeply to control my social code annoyance on a daily basis, was highly irritated that it made us look like we weren't prepared to seat the number of guests we had and also gave an audible 'really??" about the presence of a toddler; luckily the dynamo volunteers scrambled to set an extra place and the group helped contribute to both the fun atmosphere and the increased donation.

2) Two people who had RSVPed to the second dinner didn't show. No call, no email, nothing. This was obnoxious unto itself, compounded by the fact that they were the only two vegan reservations we had at either dinner. We designed the entire freaking menu around them which took a lot of thought and consideration (cooking with olive oil instead of butter broke my heart a little), bought special ingredients (for instance, nutritional yeast so their risotto could have the same Parmesan texture), and made them a special dessert... and, nothing. I was pissed. I wrote a very nice email the next day saying we were sorry to have missed them, we hoped everything was ok, and it wasn't too late to donate to the organization. NO RESPONSE. I just couldn't let it go so a week later I wrote a short, slightly bitchy one-liner which of course instantly got a response. People are so predictable. (End snarkiness.)

The no-show really was my only complaint about the whole night since the extra guests in the first one were so jovial and generous. I still can't believe how well it went, and I had a blast with the volunteers -we had so much fun drinking champagne, eating what didn't get served (we ended up having almost the exact right amount of food for everyone, including volunteers, to eat, with just a little left over) and just horsing around in general, all while being very productive. My kind of crew:

Here are Justin and I at the end of the night - we look pretty dang good all things considered!

Between both dinners we raised $1,500, which was our goal and is the cost of building a new garden for a low-income family. Pretty cool that we directly helped a family feed itself.

A lot of people asked us if we'd do something like this again. I don't plant on hosting a fundraiser again any time soon, and I was swearing up and down that I was going to put a stop to my event-planning-for-free madness, but knowing me, yes -we'll probably do it again next year.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Backlog: August highlights

I have a vague memory of August being the redemptive sunny month this summer. Here's what I did with it.

Pop-Up Picnic

Amber invited me to an event on Thursday, August 4 called the Pink Pop Up Picnic. The address was withheld until the day before, and the only details were that it would be in the Capitol hill area, participants should wear white with pink bling and bring a picnic to enjoy, preferably with fancy accouterments. It ended up being at Volunteer park on a beautiful, sunny evening which definitely contributed to the excellent turn out.

Here is our sweet set up complete with pink sheet, white lace table cloth, pink plates and napkins, and fresh flowers:

Here we are all decked out:

Amber and I had Pimm’s Cup in Mason jars, plus veggies and quinoa that Amber brought and a fresh corn salad that I made. It was such a warm night that people lingered long past dark, which if you can think back to early August you will recall that sunset wasn’t until around 9. It was a really fun event and I’d definitely go to another one. Here's the host thanking us for coming:
Blue Angels!

The Blue Angels fly in Seattle every August for Seafair, and I am one of the few adults who has lived in an area where they fly who still likes them. The Blue Angels should annoy me – flagrant waste of fossil fuels and taxpayer dollars – but my mom’s lifelong obsession with planes, things that go fast, and things that are LOUD has rubbed off on me and I can’t help but love them.

K lives in one such neighborhood and I’ve spent the last two years enjoying the thundering flyovers from her yard. She was kind enough to watch them with me this year, and I think my enjoyment of them might have rubbed off a little.

Nathan and Morgan Get Hitched

After all the planning and dressing up like Kurt and Courtney and making of decorations and more planning, it was finally time for the wedding itself on Saturday, August 13. I like this date because it means sometimes their anniversary will be on Friday the 13th. Sadly what would have been their first one is being ruined by a leap year so it won’t come until 2021- their 10 year anniversary.

I have to say, the day went off without a hitch. It was a nice enough day to see Mt Rainier from our hotel room across from the Tacoma Art Museum and a clear night with the moon visible. Everyone pitched in and worked together seamlessly, and the bride and groom were cool as cucumbers. Sweet ceremony, endearing toasts, yummy food, plenty to drink, and lots of good mingling. Congratulations to the happy couple!

Here is the set-up, with many thanks to Jen et al for realizing the light stringing vision Morgan and I had to a T:

A slightly funky picture of both of us but it's the best I have:

They had a hilarious photo booth set up; this one is tame but cute:

This was my first major event and I surprised myself by how well I handled it. During set up there was a line of people waiting to ask me questions but I never missed a beat, I kept things on track, and only almost lost my cool once when at the very end during clean-up I dropped a box and shattered the remnants of a bottle of whiskey and several vases. Luckily Casey and Joey were right there and swooped in with broom and dustpan, allowing me to wash the wasted whiskey off myself and take a few deep breaths. Not bad!

Once the wedding was over, however, I take absolutely no responsibility for the shenanigans that went down at the hotel.

Moving the kegs down to the lobby which Jacob cajoled the hotel staff into offering as an alternative to us being loud and causing complaints in the rooms:

My hair was Texas-style big when I took it down to go swimming; unfortunately I didn't quite capture it:

I was happy to take advantage of the pool that Jacob managed to get a guard to open for us at 2 am, though as one of two sober attendees (the other person was by choice; I was simply at a place where I could not get drunk after such a long day of being "on") I did feel obligated to monitor irresponsible pool behaviors and offer such motherly scolds as "water stays in the pool!" and "no launching each other into the shallow end!" all of which were duly ignored. Still, I more than enjoyed my long swim.

I didn't get much sleep that night and was mostly dead the next day, but in a good way.

Shanda Turns 40

You know how sometimes the friends of your friends become your friends? Well, Robyn has brought me a lot of good ones over the years, including Shanda who celebrated her 40th birthday at La Luna on Queen Anne on Saturday, August 27.

The evening didn’t start off very smoothly with the staff at La Luna somehow not getting the memo that the restaurant was closed for a private event – when we showed up it was filled with diners, despite Robyn’s constant contact and day-before confirmation with the manager. They stopped seating people and started giving them the bum’s rush, but not quickly enough, so there was a confusing overlap between party guests and diners for awhile. Luckily everyone had cleared out by the time the guest of honor arrived and it was smooth sailing from there. There was an open bar AND an open menu – a classy way to turn 40 in my opinion. Get your friends drunk and then feed them whatever they want! Luckily it was a nice night so we were able to enjoy the outdoor tables, and the staff at La Luna really went above and beyond to make up for the initial snafu.

Here is Shanda with our two accomodating (and sometimes fire-breathing) bartenders:

Robyn, Jacob and me looking fabulous:

I'm sure I did a lot of other stuff in August (mostly gardening) but these are the highlights!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Backlog: The rest of July

Now that I've written a novel about the the first four days in July I'm going to finish the month out as quickly as possible.

Weekend 2: Thao and Mirah, West Seattle Fair, and Clothing Swap

The second weekend in July I saw Thao and Mirah play at the Crocodile, the first time I'd been there since they revamped the space. Justin, some of his friends and I started the evening at Local 360, my new favorite restaurant in Seattle. Inexplicably, I wore blue eyeshadow:

The desserts (like everything else they serve) were divine, and I still salivate over the carrot cake whoopie pie:

Led to Sea opened and I loved the music so much I bought the CD. Thao and Mirah were also spectacular and their album has been more or less on repeat on my work computer ever since. But, why does there always have to be one drunk asshole who ruins it for everyone else? One of the reasons I usually don't see live music; the fans ruin it.

That Saturday I went to the West Seattle fair with Jacob on a sunny Saturday. We got a lot of compliments on our matching hats:

The Sunday of that same weekend I hosted another wildly successful clothing swap, which is getting bigger every time and turning into a quarterly affair.

Weekend 3: French Crawl and Cabbage Battles

The next weekend, Robyn and I went on a “Bastille Day” French bar crawl on Friday night. Then I spent the entire weekend, unexpectedly, at K, M, and Toddler J's house. We spent Saturday in the garden, combating aphids on our cabbage. Then I went back on Sunday to make experimental kimchi with all the cabbage we couldn’t rescue (after doing a thorough job of cutting out all the colonies and then blasting each leaf with water). Here's K displaying a colony:

It was our first time making kimchi, and one of the writers of the many recipes we consulted said the only containers she had that were big enough were the drawers from her refrigerator, an idea we borrowed:

After a lot of research and hemming and hawing over which method to use we ended up making two kinds using a 'salt brine' technique.

They were delicious and I made batch after batch of kimchi fried rice with it:

Weekend 4: Wedding Planning and Beach Party

The following weekend my friend Annie was in town for the evening and I decided to make all her dreams come true by throwing her a dinner party and letting her invite whoever she wanted, a true gift for a girl who collects people in every city she's ever breezed through. I invited Casey and Joseph and they brought their charming friend Jordan as well as a random out-of-towner (the older brother of one of Joseph's friends I think) whose name I forget, and Annie produced a hodgepodge which, much to my surprise, ended up being a terrifically fun group. We moved my dining table into the living room and used the leaves for the first time to make a giant table using the couch as seating for one side.

The guest of honor and host:

Dinner was delicious, much wine and champagne was consumed, and we stayed up quite late chatting until I literally had to kick the last 3 people out so I could get some sleep for my big Saturday.

On Saturday Morgan, Jacob and I trekked to the Tacoma Art Museum to do a site visit for Morgan and Nathan’s pending wedding which I helped plan/coordinate. That day started productively with a huge breakfast at Fresh Bistro, a quick drive to Tacoma and a thorough meeting at the museum. As we were driving home we all decided the best thing to do once back in Seattle was get drunk, which we did through a combination of booze at my house and happy hour tequila (plus nachos) at the Saint. It ended sillily with Nick and BK crashing later on to play some drunken/giggle-filled Catan. Highlights included getting up onto my roof for the gorgeous view (since locked down by management), group intonation/chanting, and Morgan snorting water from her nose (twice).

The next day my friends Brandi, David and I decided to have a beach party at Magnusson park because summer had finally hit. I dragged along my co-worker Regis and Jacob and BK came too, plus a bunch of B and D's friends. It was a gorgeous, relaxed day with some float-toy action in Lake Washington and plenty of snacks. Regretfully I have no pictures from this entire weekend outside of Annie's dinner.

Weekend 5: Courtneys and Kurts and brunch

The following weekend (5 weekends in July!) was Morgan’s highly-anticipated bachelorette party in which we fulfilled one of her dreams from college: to have a pack of Courtney Loves running around town. So, we all found wigs and appropriate costumes in the weeks proceeding and dressed up as Courtney during a prefunk at my place. This picture is deceiving since I look kind of cool in it; rest assured I was a hot mess.

Here we are during a photoshoot at Cal Anderson park. Lots of people stopped to gawk; one woman asked to take a picture with us, who we happily obliged.

So artistic:

We hit several spots on Capitol hill including Bimbo’s for drinks and dinner, the Rock Box for hilarious private karaoke, and finally Barca where, much to Morgan’s surprise, a pack of Kurt Cobains was waiting for us!

It was a really fun night.

The next morning we celebrated Joseph’s birthday with a delicious brunch prepared primarily by Casey including piles of bacon and their favorite pirogis. I didn't take many pictures since we were all still recovering from the night before but it was a very pleasant way to spend a fuzzy Sunday.

That was on Sunday, July 31 so that officially wraps up July.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Let the backlog begin: 4th of July camping

I have quite a few posts I want to write that date back to July (don't even mention Mexico, maybe for the one year anniversary of that trip I'll finally post it) and I'm going to just start WRITING THEM ALREADY. I'll start with my only camping trip of the summer in July and work my way to the present.

Olympic Peninsula Trip

Somehow in my nearly 30 years of life I have never been to the Washington state rain forest. To rectify this gross oversight, Adam, Nick and I went camping on the Olympic peninsula over 4th of July weekend. We stayed at Mora, a gorgeous campground near Rialto beach. We left Thursday after work (Nick drove so the Matrix did not come on a road trip with me for the first time since I got it) and made it onto the 5:30 ferry. It was dark when we arrived and we were worried about getting a spot since it was first come first serve, but the grounds were half empty and each site was large and quite private. They all filled up by Friday though. Even in the dark we were very selective about our site.

It was well-chosen! We had this fascinating nurse log in our site:

We got the tents set up, made a small fire, and hit the hay fairly early. The next morning (Friday) we all commented on how well we'd slept, something that never happens for me when camping. We started with a delicious breakfast, complimented by this ingenious toaster:

We then made an unexpected decision and drove to Cape Flattery, the most Northwest point in the continental U.S. It hadn't even been in our plans but somehow that morning we were all on the same page about it.

First, though, we had to drive though Forks, which has been consumed by Twilight fever. It doesn't seem be as booming an industry as they might have hoped, considering many stores had fully changed their names (with little imagination, admittedly - see below), every single place we went - even museums - had cutouts of the characters, etc., yet the town still seemed mostly empty. It was semi-disturbing.

We got a few last-minute supplies in Forks and got the hell out of there. The day started overcast but quickly burned off to sun and intermittent clouds, and we were excited that our weekend was off to a decent start - the forecast was a lot of rain.

Although Cape Flattery was about an hour and a half away it was worth it for the view and for the bragging rights of having been to an extreme corner of the country. Here's Nick on the short trail to the viewpoint checking out a huge, fungus-covered tree. I think they're called Chicken mushrooms, the ones that look like little shelves.

As we rounded the corner of the trail we were met with this stunning view:

The water crashing in and out of these natural caves was mesmerizing:

We enjoyed the view, made salami sandwiches at a picnic table near the trail, and then found our way back to camp. We passed this beach along the way and the boys obliged my desire to get out, tromp around on the rocks, and look for crabs. Adam was especially helpful in turning over the larger rocks and every time there would be a dozen or more tiny black crabs scurrying away. I hollered and jumped away like I was surprised each time.

We got back to camp in time for the ranger talk on grey whales, and grilled a whole salmon for dinner.

Saturday started with gorgeous sunshine, so we spent it entirely at Rialto beach just a mile down the road. After a breakfast of salmon scramble and potatoes, we made the short journey and spent several hours chilling out with the giant driftwood.

Wes, our weekend mascot, was especially glad to work on his tan:

The beach was filled with perfectly smooth, round rocks. Since I'm terrible at skipping stones, I made a tower of them instead:

After lazing about, reading, napping, and soaking up some unexpected sun, we returned to camp for lunch – Nick’s tasty African stew – and then went back to the beach for the remainder of a low-tide, clouded-over afternoon:

Adam and Wes went back to the same great driftwood-encased spot we'd scouted earlier that day to read, while Nick and I set off on a long beach hike to see Hole in the Wall, which Wes wasn’t allowed to do (no dogs past a certain point). We used this opportunity to test out the walkie-talkies I'd gotten, which have a fairly decent range it turns out.

Rialto beach is beautiful, with giant rocks jutting out of the water like an artist placed them there intentionally:

Nick and I had never been to Rialto before and were under the impression that Hole in the Wall was a lot farther than it actually was, so when we came to this formation after what seemed like only a few minutes of walking...

...somehow our two college-educated brains decided this huge hole in the wall couldn't possibly be THE Hole in the Wall, so we continued our hike for quite some time, which was OK with us because there was a lot more to see.

The sand at low tide was formed into these parallel ruts that I couldn't stop admiring:

There was also a lot of worthy marine life to explore, including tons of anemones, this strange pink algae, and starfish everywhere (though not in this photo):

Here we are well past Hole in the Wall; we probably went another three quarters of a mile, including scrambling over some giant rocks and through ocean water that hadn't quite left with the tide yet.

At one point after this I gave Nick my fleece since I was hot after the rock climb and my camera to put in his bag, and then we separated for awhile so he could advance to see if HitW was in front of us. Unfortunately this meant I didn't capture any of the next 30 minutes, which I spent in absolute, incredible isolation on vast swaths of rocks covered in mussels and barnacles. I walked out for what seemed like a half mile from the shore, trying to step carefully on bare patches of rock, finding small blowholes where the ocean was spouting up between breaks in the rock, inhaling some of my favorite smells: sea salt, decaying seaweed, shellfish, rain; in short, a beach in the Pacific Northwest. I was so grateful to be so alone with all this beauty... for about 20 minutes. I spent the next 10 shivering cold and cursing Nick for having wandered so far ahead of me, leaving me no choice but to wait until he decided to return of his own accord. As we walked back it started raining but we found Adam in a pleasant mood considering we had left him for probably an hour and a half longer than he'd expected and the weather had turned.

We got back to the campsite just in time for that night's ranger talk, which left me with the inescapable knowledge that the acidification of the oceans is (among other horrors) preventing shellfish from attracting calcium carbonate to make their shells, resulting in 'functional extinction' for many species and a strong likelihood that our oceans will be dead in our lifetimes. Depressing doesn't begin to describe it.

(There were actually a lot of people there, just sitting in the back rows.)

I had gone to the talk alone and left Adam and Nick to prepare dinner, and when I got back a baked potato, fresh ear of charred corn, and a perfectly cooked steak awaited me. After that I insisted on making s'mores, one of which Adam begrudgingly ate so I didn't have to eat alone. If I had known his dislike for them was so strong I would have eaten his but it was a nice gesture. We stayed up really late that night and at one point noticed the sky had cleared so we walked to a nearby open meadow and laid looking up at the stars until we were too cold to resist our sleeping bags.

Sunday morning - the 3rd of July - Nick made us a healthy breakfast of yogurt, granola, and fruit (plus coffee - what is it about camping coffee that is so great?) before packing up camp and heading home via the Quinalt rain forest. We had decided on Quinalt since dogs are restricted from national parks but not national forests. Our first stop was actually the best part of the whole day, a sweet, small rainforest walk we had entirely to ourselves called Maple Glade. Wes had to stay in the car for this one. Here are Adam and Nick admiring some trees:

It's so hard to capture how lovely this place was, but this moss-covered tree shows some of it:

It was an interpretive trail so every few feet there were signs pointing us to a section of the brochure that told us the history of that particular spot. This meadow was formed by something really interesting that now, months later, I sadly can't remember. I could probably dig up the brochure if I really wanted to...

Sunday was by far the most beautiful day, and we took out all the remaining food for a "what's left?" lunch at a picnic table in a wide grassy meadow near Maple Glade. By the end of eating I was as close to hot as I got all weekend. Then it was on to Quinalt proper. On the way we passed the ocean and had I known that the highway cut inland after that I would have insisted on stopping to enjoy the few sandy beaches WA state has. But we carried on and did two short hikes in Quinalt, one in an area that suffered extreme damage during a famous storm about 8 years ago. It was interesting to see how nature had been affected and how it was rebuilding itself.

The next stop was the World's Largest Spruce tree:

Apparently there's another one almost as big in California but this one has the official honor. We took the obligatory photos, and that concluded our trip! We hightailed it back to Seattle and were in town by about 6 pm, with plenty of time to prepare for our nation's birth the next day. (I spent it gardening at K, M, and Toddler J's and then watched the Lake Union fireworks from the roof of my building that night.)

Not bad for my first trip to our state's rain forest. I can't wait to go back again soon, hopefully next year, and check out the Hoh and everything else I didn't get to this time around.