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Friday, March 25, 2016

Unexpected Words of Encouragement

I don't really know how to say this without sounding corny. But it really is amazing when the words you need the most pop up to you in the least expected ways.

Let me explain. The past few months have been pretty quite a whirlwind. I felt more and more every day that the full time job I held was not only unfulfilling but entirely wrong for me. The pressure built until, almost on its own free will, my feet marched me into my boss' office' and I quit. I quit for a serving/bartending position at a bar. This did not go over well.

It's been two weeks now since my tearful last day of cupcakes in the office and -- the very next day -- my first day at the sports bar.

Overall the change has been positive. But it seems like I'm going through a trial with the other girls at the bar. I'm hoping this is just a short-lived hazing period, but there are times that getting singled out just feels permanent.

A few days ago I came home exhausted. My feet and back hurt. My spirit had taken a beating. I checked the mailbox and saw I had an envelope from my old employer's address. My heart sank a little. This cannot be good.

Inside the envelope was a copy of my last pay stub. And then something else. A typed letter from an old coworker that I hadn't expected to hear from.

...from the east
... from the west
... which is least
... which is best! 
There are so many appreciable things about both and here are some, from this place you now call home, that I love the best.

I love the space that surrounds me. You will too after your discovery of --

Movement -- Everything is in motion here. The land moves and changes. The zephyrs that blow across the landscape moving dirt, seeds, leaves, tree branches and sound.

I sit down as I read. I was not expecting anything like this.

Stillness-- In this stillness, I find the depth of me -- there is so much to explore about ourselves. I can hear my thoughts and yours when I stand still and hear, really hear life around me.

Now I have tears in my eyes. I sit very still as I continue to read:

People-- All are welcomed here but for some have been upon this place for generations and their character is a cultural study of kindness to each other, survival and living, tolerance of the elements and its challenges. Those old generations have shaped the look and sense of its history. There are abundant stories of loss and gain, settling and leaving, building up and tearing down and migrations.

Well. Maybe not all are welcomed -- I've gotten the same joking-yet-serious bad attitudes about coming from New York/Connecticut from both jobs now. But I understand it better now. I'm connecting the stories I've heard from locals at the office and the bar. Sometimes they are simply threatened by change.

Challenge -- We are constantly challenged by this place to explore ourselves. There is something deeply and profoundly soulful about the Land that forces us to look into ourselves and out upon the World. So explore and enjoy and when you leave here to Settle elsewhere - take a piece of this with you and find The best of it and least of it and know that it is there For the taking and the making of memories.

Challenge. Yes. So much about my character and outlook and really everything I thought I knew has been challenged by coming out here and trying to make my way, to find my place. Taking this leap to a completely different job is part of that challenge of finding myself. Knowing I can take the best of what I've learned brings me some comfort.

Success always to you...

Sunday, January 17, 2016

'Cause I Ain't Got Nothin' but Time: Pickles & Fermented Carrots

For Christmas this year, Rob got me a fermenting kit. It's a lot simpler than I expected something like this to be: it's just a few lids with airlocks and stoppers that fit directly on Mason jars that we already own. 

I guess he figured that since I'm basically spending my life sitting and waiting, we might as well get some pickles out of it.

Two weekends ago we decided to get started with some experimentation. First, basic pickles: dill and garlic on the bottom, slices of cucumber (as many as could fit standing up) topped off with salted water. No vinegar! We wanted to add grape leaves to help keep the cukes crispy, but we couldn't find any. I guess I'll have to wait until my friend's grapevine is ripe again.

Second project was the sparkly carrots recipe that came with the kit: pieces of ginger, carrots standing upright (again, as many as could fit), completely covered in the salty water solution. Then we put it in the closet that has since become our dark, cool fermenting spot for Rob's beer and our kombucha (which is very exciting and will require a post of its own!)

Friday night we decided to have a night in instead of our usual drive to Moscow for dinner. After a home-cooked pasta with cauliflower and olives, we kept pouring the wine (we were watching the fascinating documentary Somm, after all), and made a charcuterie board with our newest salami-of-the-month shipment from Olympic Provisions (Saucisson D'Arles, the salami made of just pork and salt, its simplicity just absolute porky perfection), a few cheeses that were sent us via mail for Christmas (I guess we only eat postmarked treats these days), and our newest home-fermented goods. 

The carrots were still amazingly crispy, with not so much a ginger taste but a fermented ginger tang. They were a nice addition to our salty board.

As for the pickles, the second week truly transformed these suckers into actual sour pickles. The first week we tried them in hopes they'd be ready early, but they just tasted like salty cucumbers that weren't even permeated with the brine. Now, they have the fermented taste and texture of any good pickle you'd find in restaurants (though, probably much better than restaurants around here). 

For round two, we got some green beans going. We also bought some colored carrots at Trader Joe's today for another, perhaps more exciting stab at "sparkly carrots". They're squeezed in next to my bottles of kombucha and all Rob's beer stuff. I keep track of what's fermenting and for how long on our whiteboard. It's like having small victories to look forward to, little milestones that make sense to me. Instead of at least another year and a half in Pullman? It's two more weeks until I get pickled beets and three until I have strawberry kombucha. 

These are the things that'll keep us going through a cold and lonely winter. Because again, what else can I say? I ain't got nothin' but time, and I might as well have fermentables to get us through. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sad Pho + How to Make Your Own Ramen

In the middle of a cold January, there's nothing I crave more than a hot bowl of soup. With lots of delicious little morsels of stuff in it. I want meat and vegetables and herbs and lots of flavors. It should be authentic and probably from Asia. Chicken pho, or pork ramen.

I guess it's one of those things that I don't even realize I want until I have a bad version of it.

And Oasis Restaurant in Pullman is one of those places I can count on to re-break my foodie heart and make me miss New York more than when I wander around in my usual sleepy haze of disillusionment.

A bowl of chicken pho, ordered from Oasis, it's only redeeming factor that it's actually quite hot. Tasteless broth. Overcooked noodles. Dry chicken, which seems impossible given its position in a bowl of liquid. Wilted bean sprouts. The surface of the bowl a tiny bit and mysteriously bubbly, as though the bowl wasn't quite rinsed after it was washed last. In all, a soggy bowl of unflavored beige, served in the most unappealing atmosphere of an old Taco Time. 

Alright, soup. Game on. Now it's my turn. 

In New York, the answer to this dilemma was always so simple: Go to Ippudo. Just. Go. To Ippudo. Snack first, wait the two hours with patient diligence, walk through the doors to jarring cheers of IRASSHAIMASE!, order to Akamaru Modern. Inhale the salty steam, dip your spoon, and swoon. There was no reason to attempt this at home. But now, following my disappointment, I crack my knuckles and give it a go. Akamaru Pullman.

How to Make Ramen: The Stock

First and foremost, the backbone of the soup, if you will: the stock. I'd saved the carcass of a whole slow-cooked chicken (this coconut-turmeric chicken, if you really want to know), plus the bones of some oven-baked pork ribs we had over the weekend. Some chopped onions and carrots, a few bay leaves. Covered the whole thing with water and slow cooked on low for 24 hours so every bit of mineral was extracted from the bones.

The Egg

As far as I'm concerned, there's no point in ramen if there's no runny egg yolk to mix into everything. To be honest, I'd never soft-boiled an egg before yesterday, but I felt like if I was giving it the old college try, it was worth a go. I brought a shallow pan of water to a boil before reducing to a very low simmer, adding the eggs, and cooking for six minutes. (Sidenote: it could have probably gone for 7 or 8). Dipped them straight into an ice bath for a few minutes (Sidenote: could have been a few minutes more). 

Then the marinade, which was mostly just made up based on what I had: equal parts water and soy sauce (maybe 1/2 cup?), a splash of mirin, sesame oil and ponzu. Clumsily peel eggs and dunk into a tiny bowl where marinade just covers eggs. Let it sit while everything else comes together.

Sauteed Stuff

Oyster mushrooms. Sliced beef. This part could easily be switched up: carrots and pork. Tofu and cabbage. Whatever! We did oyster mushrooms and beef, which I guess helped make the chicken/pork broth stand out.


Just a regular old package of ramen noodles, cooked in the stock. Here's a good broth-flavoring hack: Add the marinade from the eggs, and then adjust seasonings as necessary. Add a little miso, too. It's needed for that cloudy umami taste.

Topping it Off

Once the ramen is in the bowls, with mushrooms and beef and the soft-boiled egg slid on top, now it's time for last-minute flavorings. Sliced scallions, chili oil, grated ginger, raw minced garlic. 

And that's it. It's colorful, it's flavorful, it's hot, and you're not sitting in an old Taco Time.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I Failed My New Years' Resolution

Not to be hard on myself or anything. 

A year ago I declared that my New Year's resolution wasn't going to be about eating right or exercise. It was more like a goal. I was going to read 25 novels by December 31st. That's only one book every two weeks or so. More than enough time! This is a resolution I can STICK to! 

But here I am on New Year's Eve Eve, staring at my library copy of The Grapes of Wrath with the flimsy bookmark sticking out stubbornly only about 1/8 of the book. This was supposed to be the golden number 25. So close, yet so far!

My White Whale. It's taunting me.

I figure that since I read the 1,000-pager The Pillars of the Earth, that can count for two books. Right?

But just in case it doesn't, I'll make up for the 7/8th of a book by sharing my top ten favorite reads this year, and hoping that maybe I can inspire someone to pick up one of them and maybe even enjoy it as much as I did. Or maybe you can hate it, and we can talk about it and have some sort of post-2015 blogger book club. But there I go asking for too much again.

In any case, here's my top 10!

10. Naked (David Sedaris) -- Reading this in early January on the train from NYC to CT, I remember flipping to the back of the book to read the excerpt again. Is this guy for real? Is this some sort of satire on American culture? But then you realize that you just need to get a feel for the guy's sarcastic sense of humor because it is, in fact, a memoir. Once he lets you in, his stories resonate deeper. I think he saved his serious, but haunting, stories for those who hung in there til the end.

9. The PIllars of the Earth (Ken Follett) -- The great de-railer of my 2015 goals, this kitty-crushing 1,000-pager was totally worth the journey into 12th C. England. I guess it's sort of comforting to know that corruption ruled even harder in those days, when politics was deeply entangled with the Church. And don't you just love to hate that smug little William Hamleigh!

8. Big Brother (Lionel Shriver) -- I love Shriver's writing style, but I didn't love this book right away. The characters were all just a tad too removed for me to care much about them. But the subject matter (one family member trying to save another from their eating disorder) hit me for some reason. This is a fabulous exploration of the question: How much can one person do for another person who is headed for self destruction? The ending, which I know many people find disappointing, answers that question with a sharpness that might take your breath away.

7. The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion) -- This book was just pure joy. A clever chick-lit romance novel written by a man, and told from the hilarious perspective of an Aussie with Asperger's. Read it at the beach. Read the funny parts out loud. Just read it. (But you can easily skip the sequel, The Rosie Effect).

6. Compassionate Carnivore (Catherine Friend) -- I thought this book would be a pretentious study about why I'm a terrible person eating factory farmed meat and a did-you-know? diatribe about slaughterhouses. It's not that. There are no guilt trips here. I found myself nodding and smiling and wishing I had a highlighter to highlight the honest and humble words on every single page. Her writing has changed the way I've thought about (and practiced) eating meat, permanently. 

5. Zeitoun (Dave Eggers) -- I guess I got my fair share of nonfiction, and this one is a one-two punch about sad realities in America: both acts of God (Hurricane Katrina) and of man (post 9/11 racism). I'd never considered how close 2005 was to 2001 until it's ten years later and did they seriously treat this poor Syrian -- who stayed in New Orleans to HELP -- with such awful disregard? How do we keep fear from driving humans to do awful things? Unlike Shriver, the answer is not at the back of the book. 

4. Wild (Cheryl Strayed) -- It is absolute and pure coincidence that I finished this book while staying in a cabin alongside the Columbia River on the Washington side, when Cheryl finishes her long journey on the PCT to the Oregon side of the river, just a few miles away from me. I'd meant to read it for so many years, and after three people recommended it in succession, I finally gave in. While I can't say I understand all her choices, the drive to get away and challenge herself in isolation resonated with me deeply.

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver) -- Ohh Shriver, my absolute favorite writer this year. She explores such big topics with such a cutting writing style that actually keeps you hooked all the way through. I'd first heard of this title when at the Nite Hawk movie theater in Brooklyn, and feeling lonely and homesick in Pullman, I grabbed it off the shelf of the library when I saw it. The school-shooting material reminds me of Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed, which I read 5 years ago, but it's so much sharper, darker, less Columbine-cliche. I guess she's had a few more years of these events to draw on. Regardless, the perspective of the mother of the killer is just so brilliant I can't even attempt to do it justice with my own words. The ending is so dark and haunting and somehow unexpected that it will follow you around for months!

2. The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) -- More dark novel stuff. Why do I enjoy books where every character is just horrible? This isn't the place to answer that question, so instead I'll say that yes, this book was similar to Gone Girl, and yes, I'm a sucker for good suspense-thriller-mysteries when it's written in a compelling manner like this one.

1. The Wonder Garden (Lauren Acampora) -- Oh, the darkest of them all and no wonder it's my favorite! I'll admit that I only picked this up because the author's name is Lauren and the setting is Connecticut (cringe) but you know what? Sometimes you fall onto amazing books in mysterious ways. This collection of short stories -- tied loosely together by connections in overlapping characters -- looks at the sad underbelly of the lives lived behind closed doors in a make-believe town not unlike Greenwich. There are the expected themes of lies, marital issues, drugs and disgruntled teenagers, covered over with truly bizarre scenarios: spending the night stuck at a stop sign. Metal creatures affixed to a wealthy home's exterior. Secret brain touching and following the call of Spirit animals. It's bizarre and creepy and I was left wanting so much more from this new author. More, more, more short stories! Or even a true novel would be nice, though it's obvious that she thrives in the short story format. This one's a winner for sure.

If there are any book recommendations you'd like to share, I would love to hear them! Maybe 2016 will be the year I can actually meet my 25 goal!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Finding Myself + Where to Eat in Seattle

It's a magical feeling, getting up at 5am, even though your body is screaming for just a little more sleep. Driving through town while it's still dark and quiet. Boarding the airplane before dawn. Taking off as early daylight touches the yellow hills of the Palouse, height giving new perspective. Miles and miles of farmland. Drinking a little styrofoam cup of coffee and imagining what the day will bring in a new place, how you'll navigate it all alone. It feels new and fresh and exciting to hop on a plane to explore by yourself. It makes me wonder why we don't all break routine a little more often.

It's been funny living in Washington for over two years and yet never making it up to Seattle. It was starting to become a game, in a way. How long can someone live in Washington and not make it to the only part of Washington that people know? Two years and two months, I guess.

I had a good time exploring by myself, visiting the EMP museum, playing the keyboard in one of their sound rooms. Marveling at the glass works at the Chihuly museum. Shopping at Pike's Place. 

But as usual, I was mostly there for the food. Raw oysters and a little sushi, to be precise.

Living in Eastern Washington, it is really hard to find quality seafood. You would think that at least the grocery stores have a selection, right? Unfortunately, you would be wrong. You would also be wrong if you thought that the fish guy at Safeway has a filet knife and could maybe filet a whole fish for you. Also, they only get deliveries on Tuesdays.

My priority was finding the best spot for oysters at a happy hour price. But what I realized is that happy hour oysters in Seattle is not like my favorite place for oysters in Brooklyn. At Maison Premier, you can get any specialty oyster they have for $1 at happy hour. Everywhere in Seattle, you can get $1 happy hour oysters, but only of a single variety that they choose FOR you. You want some of their other stuff? That's another $2.25 each, if you're lucky. Come on Seattle, give oyster freedom back to the people!

So I had the one-size-fits-all dozen at The Brooklyn (the oysters were fine but the atmosphere was way stuffy) and another at Elliott's Oyster House (a little touristy and pricey, being right on the water). I treated myself to a non-happy hour variety and got the $30 dozen at Taylor's Shellfish Farm. They were out of the Fanny Bay oysters, but I got to try the Shigoku, Totten Inlet Pacific, Virginica and Kumamoto, all from Washington. All delicious. Their salad with manchego cheese and side of green olives also did not disappoint. And it was fun to eat all the oysters at my own pace and not have to share with anyone!

For brunch, dungenness crab meat abound in Toulouse Petit's fantastic crab benedict... with "fine herbes." (Make-believe fancy conversation in my head: 'Oh, pardon me.' 'Quite all right.') And would you believe they have seven other kinds of benedicts alone, as well as tons of other Creole classics? I could probably eat here every day and never tire of it. They also have a fruit plate that would spark envy even among non-health nuts. Probably cause they serve it with a big bowl of condensed cream for dipping.

For sushi, we took refuge from a sudden deluge of rain at Japonessa. Although, now that I think of it, is rain ever sudden in Seattle? This fusion spot was completely packed by 5pm on a Saturday. Their creations, if not fun, can be a little over the top: the Super Bad Boy roll is packed with eel, snow crab, avocado, cream cheese and then deep fried and topped with spicy seared crab, chili aioli and soy glaze. I'd rather not even think about it too hard: it was tasty, if not a little overwhelming. Here's the Mexican Ninja, my preferred lighter dish, which is kind of like a rainbow roll with a little south-of-the-border spicy kick. 

The drive home was pretty, lots of evergreens and mountains before making way for the rounder hills of the Palouse. Back to the routine, the less exciting restaurants, the boredom that comes along with kicking around the familiar. I know it won't be another two years before I make my way back to Seattle this time.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Paleo Coconut Peanut Butter Cups

Call me an introvert, or a party pooper, or downright antisocial. But when the husband asks me to accompany him to a party for the psych department, I groan. And then when I hear it's a potlock? I groan some more, because out in Pullman I swear that every social gathering I'm invited to requires me to whip something up. Whatever happened to "just bring yourself?" 

I thought about making something quick and easy. Baked brie? No, it might need reheating. Pasta salad? No, he says. Too many of his colleagues are on Paleo diets. Well, that's convenient, with my Practical Paleo book within arms reach. So I flip to the way back again and boom -- another recipe to help use up those mini muffin cups. Almond butter cups!

So I go to the Moscow Co-op and would you believe almond butter is $17?! So I made a little swap to peanut butter with coconut oil already mixed in. Perfect, because that eliminates a step.

Making these things is way easier than I thought. The chocolate shell has only three main ingredients -- coconut oil, coconut butter, cocoa powder. Mix it with a little salt, vanilla, cinnamon. I added a dash of cayenne. Pour just a teaspoon into each mini muffin cup, and then it's into the freezer to harden. 

The filling calls for almond butter with coconut oil, but since my substitute includes both, I just add a little pink salt and pipe it out of a plastic baggie.

Then fill in the rest of the cups with the chocolate, stick it back in the freezer, and done!

I guess I should have waited longer to make these, because I already had to make a second batch to replace the ones I ate. How can I not snitch at these perfectly delicious and Paleo-friendly cups?

Give them a try. Bet you can't make one batch last through the day!

Paleo Coconut Peanut Butter Cups
Adapted from Practical Paleo

Ingredients for Shells:
4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
4 tablespoons coconut butter or manna
1/2 cup unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or agave nectar, which technically isn't Paleo but I prefer it)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of cinnamon, sea salt and cayenne pepper

For the Filling:
3 tablespoons coconut peanut butter
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the shells. Place about 20 mini-muffin paper liners on a small tray, and spoon 1 teaspoon of the mixture into each one. Freeze to set while you prepare the filling.

Add the peanut butter, sweetener and salt directly into a plastic bag and mix with your hands. Snip a tiny corner off the corner of the bag and pipe a small amount of the filling into the center of each muffin liner. Once all of the shells have been filled, add the remaining chocolate mixture until the filling is covered.

Place the tray back in the freezer to set, and serve cold (they melt fast).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dabbling in Paleo: Coconut-Orange-Chocolate Melt-Aways

I'm not sure what compelled me at the library last week. Maybe it was the fact that the Neill Public Library had a very respectable collection of cookbooks, including my favorite from Joe Beef in Montreal. Or maybe I'm just curious about different approaches to life: Buddhism, Catholicism, the Zone. But there I was picking up, checking out, driving off with -- Practical Paleo! 

As I'm reading through it at home, I'm sort of nodding and sort of suspiciously scrunching up my face. Wait -- bacon fat is okay, but any kind of grain is not? With my obsession with overnight oats, I'm not sure I'm 100% on board with this kind of diet plan. I can see how it would be great for gluten-free people. I flipped through some more. There are some interesting facts about digestion. I noted the smoke points of different cooking oils. I flipped to the back for the recipes -- no, the WAY back. Treats & Sweets. Yes.

The Orange Cream and Mint Melt-aways caught my eye. Those refreshing-looking little candies in the wrappers. I'll make those. Just the orange ones, to start.

The thing that was both compelling and kind of strange about these treats was the amount of coconut oil. I like desserts that also have the capacity to be a little bit good for you (I should tell you about that tofu mousse I make for people that have no clue it's not real cream... sometime).

The truth about these melt-aways, though, is that they are way too greasy. Even when frozen solid. And the sweetener could use a little pump-up.

So here's my proposal: chocolate + orange, all wrapped up in those fun little mini-muffin cups.

Chocolate-Covered Orange & Coconut Melt-Aways

1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup coconut cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon agave nectar

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl until smooth. (Tip: Heat the coconut oil so its easier to work with). Pour into paper liners in a 24-mini-muffin pan. Set in the freezer, and serve cold.