Monday, February 15, 2016

An International Holiday Adventure!

Jeff and I spent this last weekend on our annual pilgrimage to Vancouver, B.C.  Just about every year for the last 15(!), we've gone up to run the First Half Half Marathon.  It's a great race:  small, scenic (along the Stanley Park seawall), well organized; mostly, however, it's an excuse to go to Vancouver.

I love Canada, and have ever since I first read Anne of Green Gables in elementary school.  The summer before I went to college my parents took our family on a vacation to the Maritimes.  In my 20's I lived in upstate New York for a summer and visited Montreal and Quebec City.  Since living in Seattle, I've had many trips to B.C. including an amazing trip through the Canadian Rockies and a little race called Ironman Canada.  There is one consistent theme to all of these places:  everything is better in Canada.  That's a catchphrase that Jeff and I have been trading back and forth ever since that first trip to Montreal in 1997.  Seriously, it's like all of the best parts of the United States (natural beauty, diverse population, good infrastructure, progressive government) without the bad parts (crime, racism, Donald Trump).

This weekend was the first time we used our Nexus cards to cross the border.  We got them this time last year (our interview was en route to Vancouver for last year's race).  In the interview, Jeff was asked why we'd bother getting the cards if we only crossed the border once a year.  We keep laughing about that.  The process of getting the cards couldn't have taken more than 2 hours and $50 each.  This weekend alone we saved at least 2 hours sitting at the border, and we've been able to use the clearance for TSA pre-check at the airport, which has saved us at least another couple of hours at the airport in the two times we flew this year.  So, one year in and we've already more than broken even.

We stopped for lunch in Richmond on Saturday, the town just south of Vancouver.  We found a noodle house (rainy day calls for soup) and we were not only the only white people, I think we were the only ones not speaking Chinese.  It felt like being in a foreign county, and then I realized that we were in a foreign county - a foreign county where the national languages are English and French...  A bowl of ramen and an order of beef tendon and gai lan hit the spot.

Everything in Vancouver was dressed up in red to celebrate both the Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day.  Even our race shirts and medals had red hearts on them to commemorate the holiday run.  We didn't have time to do much sightseeing, but did take advantage of the exchange rate to stock up on lots of tea (a tea shop was a haven after sloshing around town).

The run itself was very wet.  One might think that this is often the case for a run that happens mid-February in the Pacific Northwest, but it's extremely rare.  For some reason we almost always get dry and lovely weather.  Not this year.  It wasn't extreme and for most of us on the course it was just another rainy long run.  The beginning of the course is a 1-mile loop that takes us around B.C. place which gives the crowd a chance to thin out before hitting the running trail that takes us to and around Stanley Park.  This year I heard music blasting - not unusual for a run.  What was, however, unusual was the fact that it was blaring out of a police car.  I've seen lots of cops on race course and heard lots of music on race courses.  Never have I heard music coming from the cop car.

Post race we checked out the New Year's parade in Chinatown.  Unfortunately, due to the rain, it was hard to see much through the bumbershoots and we quickly became tired of walking around in the rain on tired legs dodging the umbrellas.  We did get a kick out of some of those marching in the parade.  I'm guessing that only in Canada would there be a group of highland bagpipers, kilts and all, marching in a Chinese New Year parade.  On our way back to our car we spotted a market selling take-out dim sum and lunch was managed:  selections of salads (including ones with pig's ear and octupus) and dumplings were a most excellent post-race lunch.
Lions wearing Showercaps

So long, Canada!  I hope to see you again soon!

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Foray into African Flavors

I recently became intrigued by a recipe I saw on Food52 for teff porridge.  It looked vaguely like a cereal I remember liking as a child, but gluten-free, so kinder to my belly.  And, quite frankly, exotic!  African!  So, when we ended up at Metro Market on Saturday to pick up a few things for dinner, I stopped in the extensive alternative grains section of the store and grabbed a bag of teff.  It was not until I returned home, however, that I realized that I picked up teff flour, not the whole grain, which was what the recipe required.  Not to be deterred from using this very interesting ingredient, I started looking up recipes for teff flour.  The most obvious choice was also the most intriguing:  injera.  Anyone who has eaten Ethiopian food will be familiar with this spongy bread that is served with soups and stews and is made primarily from teff flour.  Perfect!  The batter takes at least 24 hours to ferment, so I started it Saturday afternoon with a plan to eat it for dinner Sunday.  I then planned a meal around the injera, and decided upon lamb stew with ras el hanut and braised greens with pilpelchuma and fenugreek.  Neither spice blend was Ethiopian (ras el hanut is, I believe, Morrocan and pilpelchuma is Libyan), but I had both blends on hand and thought they would do well in place of the traditional berbere that I did not happen to have at home.

Flash forward to Sunday evening:  my stew and greens had been cooking most of the afternoon and smelled delicious.  My injera starter (teff and water) was in the oven in an attempt to keep it warm (I would periodically turn it to warm, then turn it off again, as the recipe said to keep it between 75 - 80 degrees); the house is 60-something degrees this time of year.  Dinner time was nigh, so I mixed up my batter, heated up my grill pan, added a generous amount of coconut oil, and poured on the batter.  I ended up with a gummy mess.  I'm not sure if it was the oil (I've since seen recipes that call for a dry pan), or the lack of enough warmth and time to really get the natural yeasts started, or the fact that American-grown teff needs a little help with leavening.  Assuming it was just a timing issue, I saved the remaining mixture with the plan to try again this evening.  We ate our stew and kale and enjoyed the wonderful flavors (and heat!! I didn't skimp on the ras el hanut and had included a large and hot jalenpeno in the stew) without sopping them up with spongy bread.

I'm very glad I branched out and tried new spices!  It is a bit ironic that I made food inspired by Ethiopian cuisine, and ended up making food with spice blends from other countries.  I will give the injera another go-round, although I'm guessing I'll need to start from scratch with more leavening agents, which will not happen tonight.  I plan on using teff flour in other gluten-free baking recipes in the future.  And, I'll keep an eye out for those teff grains, as I think porridge will be a much more forgiving use of this very interesting ingredient.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Neighborhood Advent Update

Those last few days before Christmas were a little busier than I expected, so the last Advent Event was on the 19th - 19 for 19.  I really enjoyed the experience and will try to remember to get out and explore a little more often.

Some favorites:
  • best new-to-me lunch spot:  Gaba Sushi
  • best dinner-and-a-show:  Cafe Nordo
  • best holiday event:  Holiday Ships
  • best wow-can't-believe-this-was-here-all-along discovery:  the Last Resort Fire Department
  • best art:  bicycle wheel public art in the alley
Now, perhaps it's time to think about resolutions.  I like resolving to do more, not less; focusing on the positive is much more fun and, I think, productive.  I am leaning towards ones like read more books, see more movies, and experience more art.  But, I'll get a little clearer on this and report back.  Stay tuned for more experiences in 2016; Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Neighborhood Advent: Day 19, Experience 19

We've been spending the last few Christmases with Jeff's parents in Colorado, and thus haven't gotten our own tree.  Despite traveling again this year, we decided it was time for a tree.  After all, we're only away for 5 days, and the tree season is about 3 weeks in our home.  And, our oldest nephew is now old enough to help decorate and enjoy the tree.  Judah came over on Saturday to participate in this ritual, having been primed by a facetime conversation with my parents where they showed him their tree and several of the ornaments that my sister and I have made and/or hung when we were kids.

Jeff and Judah focused on the ornaments while I prepped cookies to decorate.  Note that they are both wearing bells and hats.  Many oohs, ahhs, and sprinkles followed.  Hot chocolate and cookies were consumed.  There were a few cranky Grinch moments (I should have been wearing the hat), but overall a fun holiday experience.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Neighborhood Advent: Day 18, Experiences 16, 17, and 18

Last week was super rainy/windy/cold and I had more meetings than usual, so there was little time or motivation to get out for new experiences for much of the week.  I made up for it on Friday, however, with a few new experiences.

I first stopped into the Pilchuck Pop-Up store.  First, how can one resist a pop-up?  Okay, I have very little experience with pop-ups, but I love the concept.  Second, I love blown glass, so it was a treat to see beautiful glass objects.  Third, Christmas shopping season - this particular pop-up store was specifically put together with gifting in mind.  And, finally, I just love the word Pilchuck.  Say it out loud a few times and you'll see just how wonderfully it rolls around the tongue.  As I learned as I explored the space, the Pilchuck Glass School has a long and prestigious history, which you can learn more about on their webpage or by visiting their Seattle exhibition space in historic Pioneer Square.

I didn't buy anything at the pop-up, so continued on to a place where I've been wanting to visit for ages and knew that I'd find something to buy:  Intrigue Chocolates.  As soon as I walked in I was asked if I'd like to have a chocolate tasting.  Um, is that a rhetorical question?  And, after tasting, the question was not whether or not I was going to buy chocolate, but rather, how much.  I walked out with a 12-truffle variety pack for a gift, a small treat for me for later, and a punch card.

And the final experience of the day was easily my favorite:  Holiday Ships!  I live about 1/2 mile away from the Fremont cut and Lake Union, love holiday lights and carolers, and yet, before Friday night had never made a point to see the ships before.  There are a few Argosy boats that are decked out with holiday lights carrying choirs that travel different routes on the evenings in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  One can buy a ticket on the boat (if one plans far in advance and wants to shell out a fair amount), or find a place on shore near one of the locations where they stop and the carolers sing a few songs.  Other boats can join in the festivities and follow the lead boats in a holiday parade of ships.  Friday night they had a route that included the Fremont cut and Lake Union, so Jeff and I made a point of hanging out in Fremont after work (which included cider at Shilling and sushi at Blue C) and then found a spot on the Queen Anne side of the cut to watch the ships.  We arrived just in time for Handel's Messiah (!!!!) and the entire parade.  Boats ranged from yachts to dinghies to tall masted sailboats with at least one kayak in the mix.  And, despite a rather rainy evening, we had a break in the rain for the show and the short walk up the hill home.
Photo Credit:  Jeff

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Neighborhood Advent: Day 15, Experience 15

After listening to a lunchroom conversation about gift ideas, I headed out to check out the glassblowing studio and shop.  On the way there, however, I saw an interesting sign for Ebbets Field Flannels and wandered into that shop instead.  Wow.  Filled with vintage flannel ballcaps and jersey's and the sound of a sewing machine in the background, this place is the Real Deal.  The items in the store didn't match up with my holiday shopping list, but if you have an old school sports fan in your life, the perfect gift might be found here.  It was fun just browsing.  Glass will have to wait for another day.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Neighborhood Advent: Day 14, Experience 14

Today was an unusual neighborhood day.  I drove to Renton for a meeting, so spent more time in my car than walking around my work or home hood (this is very atypical for me).  So, no neighborhood discovery.  As I was driving home, however, I did have a Seattle Experience.  I was waiting at a stop light before getting on Aurora and there was someone at the intersection with sign - not an atypical sight.  He approached the car with his sign and I prepared my "I'm sorry" face and shrug.  Then I read his sign:  "Looking for a Sugar-Momma."  I laughed out loud, he broke into a big grin, and then pointed to his shirt, which had very blurred font and said something about being one beer short of a six-pack.  He flipped his sign around, and the other side asked if someone would complete his six-pack.  I really wished I had beer in my car to give to that guy instead of an empty coffee mug.  He then moved on to the car behind me and the light turned green.

Neighborhood Advent: Day 13 Experience 14

I selected this puzzle (at Queen Anne's Blue Highway Games) just so I could get a photo of our black cat, George, sitting on a puzzle sitting on a yellow background, with a picture of a black cat with a yellow background.  George would not, however, pose, so this is the best I got.  I finished the puzzle yesterday (and then had to promptly return to Blue Highway to get a new puzzle).

Neighborhood Advent: Day 12, Experiences 11, 12, and 13

Catching up in Pioneer Square!  While I didn't go to work on Saturday, I spent a lot of time in Pioneer Square.  I first headed there as part of general errands (bought new boots for work downtown and dropped them at the office), stuck around a bit to check out the "Howlidays" event, and then returned in the evening for a dinner-theatre-like production at Cafe Nordo, preceded by a drink at McCoy's Firehouse.  

Howlidays was a bit underwhelming, perhaps due to the fact that I got there a bit early, it was pouring rain, and I didn't have dog with me.  The cute potential was high and there were free hot drink options, so I think this would be a good event to bookmark for the future.

A friend had organized a group outing for dinner and a show at Cafe Nordo back in October, and this was the night we were finally going to get "Sauced" (name of the show).  Jeff and I headed downtown a bit early to get a pre-cocktail-cocktail and decided to go lowbrow at McCoy's.
It fit our Fire Station theme of the week, with friendly service and an excellent price point.  We then traveled back in time to 1937 and a cocktail themed dinner, drama noir, and jazz experience at Nordo (within visual of Jeff's office).  A good time was had by all, although I wished I'd spent a tiny bit more time researching period costume.  Jeff and I made a good effort (jaunty cap for J, dress and heels for me), but I wish I'd taken the time to curl hair, find the right red lipstick, etc.  The show was fun, company amazing, food terrific, drinks tasty; all in all a lovely evening.
If you look closely, you can see a reflection of Jeff's jaunty cap

Friday, December 11, 2015

Neighborhood Advent: Day 11 Experience 10

I'm taking a vacation day today, so my neighborhood experience was checking out the Queen Anne Christmas tree, which debuted earlier this month.  This is very timely as Jeff and I are planning on picking up our tree this afternoon, also on the Hill.  I took the photo ~ 7 am - still pitch black outside!

Neighborhood Advent: Day 10 Experience 9

It's 5 o'clock somewhere!

Yesterday I went to a retirement party at FX McRory's.  While it's not the first time I'd been there, I don't know that I ever really noticed the clock out front before.  Click through and learn more about it!