Friday, July 28, 2017

A few of my favorite things - 7/28/17

These days are all about the temporary: living out of boxes, in a (hopefully) short-term rental house. While there is so much that feels open-ended, like my sentences are all end with an ellipsis, I am finding it helpful to establish, where I can, consistency and a sense of normalcy. Even the mundane is welcome at this point. My husband and I have been getting up around 5:30am to walk/jog. The picture above was taken the first morning we visited Irene Rinehart park.

As a way of establishing another familiar process, I thought I would also start to regularly share a few of my current favorite things:

Grantchester season 3 just wrapped up and I am not entirely sure what to think of the direction the characters have taken. Is anyone else out there watching?

I think listening to this song transforms any situation. I used to listen to it on the morning train into LA and look at the houses flashing by the trains path and think of all the people waking up to start their days. After our recent move, the first morning we jogged down by the Yakima river, both my husband and I put in ear buds and played this song. It was our soundtrack and accompanied only by the crunch of the gravel path and whistles of birds. Pretty magical.

This article in the LA Times made me smile (and naturally, it is about dachshunds).

For those who may wonder: how are Duke and Harriet adjusting? Here is Harriet soaking up the central Washington sunlight. She celebrated her 6th birthday this week and I cried: out of gratitude for the love and joy that she has brought to our lives and out of exhaustion for this particular season we are in.
Our rental house has a small backyard, but it is much larger than the CA patio they previously had, so the pups are loving it. I like how Harriet appears to be "smizing".

Happy Friday friends!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Early days in a new place and a simple salmon recipe

Hello from a new place! We arrived in central Washington late afternoon on Sunday 7/16. We drove in on interstate 82 and dropped over the Umtanum and Manastash ridges from Yakima, and as our new hometown was coming into view, I pressed play on the song "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. It felt right.

However, I am proving out the wisdom that just because a decision is right, doesn't mean it will be easy. These first few days have been overwhelming. My sincere apologies to all my friends who have done big moves: I know I was not as understanding as was warranted or needed. There are so many things to learn and adjust to: my initial trip to the grocery store took 90 minutes, most of it trying to find where the heck everything was located.

The moving company arrived Tuesday with all our items. It feels to good to have both us, the dogs and our belongings in the same spot. Escrow closed the same day on our home in SoCal. So, in all capacities, I have moved- this is where I live now. Sometimes my brain can't quite catch up with it. The first night sleeping in our new home I rolled onto my right side expecting to see faint light through our bedroom sliding glass doors. Instead I found a solid wall and it took a few minutes to realize where I was and in which state.

While my little world is topsy-turvy, there are graces along the way. My sister calls them "text messages from God", which I think is good description: not earth-shattering, stone tablet-creating communications, but moments and interactions that help me feel loved and connected.

I have a perfect example: while the movers were unloading the semi-truck full of our boxes (and I was fretting terribly: has everything arrived? is anything damaged? what room should I put this and this and this in? will it all fit into our dollhouse sized rental house? ) I noticed a girl of about 7 years old watching the activity from a safe vantage point on the sidewalk. She stepped off her scooter but was still wearing her hot pink helmet, elbow and knee pads. She watched for about 15 minutes and I waved at her and she waved back. About 30 minutes later she returned with her older sister and marched right up to me with a jar of lemonade and handwritten card welcoming us to the neighborhood. It was the kindest gesture and we chatted for a few minutes. The girls told me which house was there's and that they have a Corgi who will always bark when we walk by.

It was so helpful to me, to feel welcomed. Daily there are gains in this direction and I use them to buoy me up. I am just terrible at navigating change and hold on to all the encouragement I can.

And of course, I am still me, even in a new place, which means I look to my kitchen as a place of centering. On Wednesday, it was one of the first rooms I tackled to unpack boxes and organize. By Thursday, the weather turned cool. Well, cool for me: 75 with a strong wind. I wore a sweater to the grocery store and was kindly questioned by the cashier, "How can you possibly wear a sweater in this heat?" She accepted my explanation that I am from SoCal and the grocery bagger tried to lessen the awkwardness of the interaction by saying, "Well, it is a very nice sweater." I purchased a gorgeous deep coral wild sockeye salmon and, owing to the cold weather and all, made a pot of salmon chowder with one of the fillets. It was cozy and delicious and so perfectly comforting. I do not yet have the chowder recipe developed to share with you all, but it is on my list of things I'd like to write about.

In the meantime, I will share what I did with the second fillet: an easy baked salmon recipe. As I grew up regularly having this dish, it is pure comfort food to me. Good fish, mayonnaise and salt and pepper is all that is necessary. The thin coating seals in the moisture of the fish and adds a creamy saltiness. I purchased a whole salmon, so I did this with a full fillet but I think the process could easily be applied to smaller portions.

simple baked salmon

1 salmon fillet, skin on (approx 2- 2 1/2 pounds)
2-3 tablespoons good mayonnaise
salt and pepper

1) Preheat oven to 350. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2) Place the salmon on the baking sheet, skin side down. Pat the fish dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Using a butter knife spread a thin even layer of mayonnaise over the salmon. As far as the thickness of the layer, it should be opaque, but still thin, like 1/16th of an inch or less.

3) Bake fish for approximately 20 minutes, until it flakes easily with a fork. The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your piece of fish. To ensure I did not overbake, after 10 minutes, I started checking every 3 minutes.

4) Enjoy with a spritz of lemon. Leftovers are wonderful when made into salmon salad sandwiches.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

carrot, chickpea and peanut salad

While I am in the middle of the move and general upheaval, I am keeping up with the practical, like eating. I am finding time in the kitchen to be comforting. Here is one of the things that is sustaining me:

This salad is mainly my justification to eat a favorite snack- I love dry roasted salted peanuts. Specifically, I love dry roasted salted peanuts with a Diet Coke, straight out of the vending machine- the peanut sodium level so high it practically burns countered by the fizzy, ice cold achingly-sweet soda. In some now forgotten book, I read about a character who plunked salted peanuts directly into her bottle of Coke and this seems like completely reasonable behavior to me.

Before I lose you, let me alleviate any concerns and clarify that this salad does not contain Diet Coke. 

One of my personal discoveries of the last few years is that I don't actually love a lettuce based salad. I am thinking particularly of salads which float a few bits of meat, cheese and vegetable on a raft of ubiquitous spring mix. If the salad has an equal ratio of greens to other components, I am good. If the greens are varied (kale, arugula, etc), I am thrilled. Otherwise, I am kind of over it. It is not just out of boredom but because this type of lettuce heavy salad doesn't keep well in the fridge and generally tends to not fill me up. (Resulting in the above: afternoon snack of peanuts and Diet Coke).

This salad is a good one because 1) I can mix it up and have leftovers straight from the fridge 2) the heft of it satisfies my hunger and 3) it includes two of my favorite addictive foods: cilantro and roasted peanuts. The play of flavors with the sweet carrot, dense chickpeas and tang of red wine vinegar remind me ever so slightly of beloved pad thai (I hesitate to provide the comparison as I'm likely setting you up for disappointment, but to my palate, it hits some similar notes. I am the person at my Thai food restaurant who asks for extra chopped peanuts.)

The origin of this salad is from our domestic goddess, Nigella Lawson. In her book "Endless Summer", the salad is composed of simply carrots and peanuts with a red wine vinegar dressing but it was her description that made me first try it, some 11 years ago: "It's ingredient list may sound odd, but this is a combination that not only works but becomes addictive. Don't be alarmed at the amount of vinegar: the astringency of the dressing, against the fulsome oiliness of the nuts and, in turn, nutty sweetness of the carrots, is the whole point." Use of words like "fulsome" is what keeps me reading Nigella.

About a year ago, I was home from work on lunch break, staring at the contents of my fridge, deciding what to pull together. I remembered Nigella's salad and wanted to bulk it up a bit. Enter a lone can of chickpeas from the pantry. As George Clooney said, "God bless the chickpea." (Three cheers if you know which episode of Friends this reference is from!)

While I have gone on about my dry roasted salted peanut love, if you're not a fan, I think you could substitute dry roasted salted cashews with equal success. 

carrot, chickpea and peanut salad 

1 15.5 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed 
3 - 4 medium carrots, peeled and grated (grated on a the large holes of a box grater)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup rough chopped dry roasted peanuts
1 cup chopped cilantro 
salt & pepper to taste 

1) In a medium bowl, toss together the chickpeas and grated carrot with a fork (works better for me than a spoon at breaking up the clumps of grated carrot). 

2) Add red wine vinegar and olive oil and stir to coat. Let it sit for 3-4 minutes for the vinegar to soak in a bit. (If you're so inclined, take a pause to sip on that Diet Coke). 

3) Stir in peanuts and cilantro, give it a taste, and then season with salt and pepper: I wait to add salt until after the peanuts have been incorporated, since they bring so much along with them. 

This keeps well in the fridge for about 2 days. I generally get 2-3 lunches for myself out of it. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Transition time: hello from nowhere land!

My husband and I are in the process of moving from southern California to central Washington. We are trading the suburbs of Los Angeles County (total county population: 10 million) for a small town in Kittitas County (total county population: 42k). At some point, I will be ready to write about this decision- the pieces that slid into place and the moments of magic grace that helped us form our way forward. For now, it's all a little bit overwhelming.

My husband has a new job opportunity and begins work right away. My focus is on the move and settling us in on the other side.

My current state is smack in the middle of nowhere land: I have left my workplace, which, after 17 years, broke my heart. I knew it would be hard but did not realize just how hard. My SoCal home is pulled apart and partially packed up but I am not yet in the new place. I described for a friend that it feels like I lit my life on fire- burned up all the knowns.

There are moments when this is exciting- like the first 20 minutes of a story that is setting up the obstacles and adventures our hero needs to meet. In that film, what would come next is a great new hairstyle/makeover but I am now old enough to know that, in real life, a haircut does not accomplish as much as it does in movies. (Back when we all used to carry photos in our wallets, I kept tucked in mine a picture from when I thought a drastic haircut would turn me into Demi Moore from Ghost and, predictably, the end outcome fell far short. The picture helped to keep me on the haircut straight and narrow path of incremental change.)

More frequently, I sit overwhelmed. I am returning to books that have previously helped me navigate. One of my go-to's is the William Bridges book, "Transitions". The author writes:
"...the transition always starts with an ending. To become something else, you have to stop being what you are now; to start doing things a new way, you have to end the way you are doing them now; and to develop a new attitude or outlook, you have to let go of the old one you have now. Even though it sounds backwards, endings always come first. The first task is to let go. After that you encounter the neutral zone- that apparently in-between time when...invisibly inside you, the transformation is going on... And unless you disrupt it by trying to rush through the neutral zone quickly, you are slowly being transformed into the person you need to be to move forward in your life."
At this point you may be wondering why I am moving if I am displaying such a lack of excitement? Here's the thing: I genuinely am excited. However, I often observe major change in others in a glossed over way and think "Hey, look how easy they do it! They seem so sure of themselves!" But I am more convinced that few of us really have that kind of confidence about our change experiences. So, I thought it might be helpful to let you in a little on the reality of change. If I had to sum it up so far, the stages look a little like this:
  • Decision made: I am so excited about this move, while I know it's going to be hard, this is definitely the right thing. 
  • Start purging household goods: wow, huh, this is a lot to go through. I own like 300 more DVDs than a person should. 
  • Saying goodbye to friends and colleagues: this is the worst, ever. I can't stop crying. Also, I have "Leaving on a Jet Plane" stuck in my head and when I get to the lines "...I don't know when I'll be back again. Oh babe, I hate to go", I cry even harder. 
  • Currently: This is still totally the right thing to do, but can I just be transported to 3 months from now when I am all moved and settled? 
I really want to be out of this nowhere land. I want security and answers and a regular routine. I want to live in my new town and walk to the Saturday morning farmers market and see the wide open starry night sky as a familiar friend. Some people thrive on change but I am not one of those folks. I know that this discomfort is just part of the process: there is an ending and a beginning and in-between there is this undefined place. I am practicing mindfulness and being present, even though it is so hard. I am being gracious with myself and having a good cry when I need to. 

Here is what I do know: This time presents opportunity for me too: for the short-term, for the first time in my adult life, I am not working. I am, as someone put it, a lady of leisure. (Well sort-of, there is also the whole moving our life element. I am not looking to start Desperate Housewives of Washington State. I think y'all would be disappointed when each episode is just me walking the dogs and wearing the same Patagonia fleece).

But, I am trying to live it up: starting my day with novels instead of conference calls, scheduling long lunches with friends instead of wolfing down a vending machine cup of noodle at my desk, running errands in the middle of the day instead of the post-work 5-7pm crunch, and taking a nap in the afternoon instead of pounding a Diet Coke. It's really weird. 

I also know I'll be writing in this space more often. I have missed it and you, friends. 

So, here's to transitions: new things, hard endings and the grace to hold it all.
(I would love to hear any book recommendations you may have: are there books that you find yourself returning to or were helpful during change/transition?) 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

What I affectionately refer to as my "2017 Winter/Spring Collection"

I am challenging myself to work on bigger projects. Previously, I have been doing a lot of one-off projects- things that can be completed in a long weekend- but I want to do efforts that require more planning and commitment. I want to create not only as a hobby or a stress-reliever but to feel like I am completing a piece or product. Last year I watched the documentary on Raf Simons first collection with Dior and it has stayed with me is the focus and grit it takes to put together a cohesive vision and then interpret that into a tangible. I am inspired and pulled to try to do bigger things with what I create. What I affectionately refer to as my "2017 winter/spring collection" of scarves is born out of this motivation.

The inspiration for the three scarves is around the theme of the pairing of clashing: It started with a beautiful red and pink sari on the character Sooni in the BBC miniseries "Indian Summers". The sari was worn in a number of episodes and was a beautiful cottony red and pink striped sort of print. I really loved it and it made me think about how in western fashion, I do not often see red and pink together in clothing or outfits and so I started to imagine a scarf. I wanted the two colors to curl and bend together, similar to how the sari twisted around a woman's frame.

In keeping with my original inspiration, I chose a cotton yarn, and stuffed several balls of it in the rounded corners of my carryon suitcase for Thanksgiving holiday weekend with family. I have finally learned to just go ahead and bring yarn and a crochet hook with me on vacation. At home, I corral crochet hooks like flower stems in a glass jar and have so many number six hooks from various cities and towns- purchased when I finally give in to my hankering to have my hands moving, producing something, and track down a yarn or craft store.

I did not have much confidence when I started with the red- it is such a harsh uncomplicated red and I realized, if I wasn't careful, it could read as a little cheap looking. But I persisted and when I finally made it to the pink, it was such a relief. The pink is a throwback to an 80s childhood when neon or "hot" pink was a big draw for 11 year olds. I had a little of this intense pink yarn leftover and thought about how the soft brightness would play against a dark wool, a shot of color. That is when the second scarf was born.

The third scarf took a more consideration: my curiosity was engaged by the idea of the pairing of clashing colors, like the red and pink, and I wanted to use the cotton denim yarn again but I could not settle on the right shades. I spent a long time standing in the yarn aisle staring- my brain scanning, adding up and evaluating pairs of colors. Khaki and gray surely cannot be together? In general, I am wary of khaki: I think back to the experience of shopping for houses and how some many had the ubiqutous warm khaki colored walls circa early 2000s house flipping. I went for it anyway and as I worked on the scarf, in my living room in front of episodes of Lost (my husband and I are watching it again since it first premiered on TV and I am loving it just as much as the original viewing) I saw how I actually have both warm brown and gray tones in my home: caramel leather sofa, nubby gray rug, etc. This caused a little meditation on how I have created my own internal rules about "what goes with what" and that I am probably best served when I jettison those dated beliefs. In nature, gray and brown are commonly together. It helps that the tones in this yarn are the right one's for pairing. This scarf turned out to be my favorite and most wearable of the three.

Here are some details on the scarves:

Pink/Red: single crochet, length: 84in width: 11in
(I have no idea why I look annoyed in this picture. As I was my own photographer, apparently I was annoying myself?)

Brown with pink stripe: both brown and pink yarn are double-crochet.
length:110in width: 7.5in

Gray/khaki, single crochet, length: 97in width: 10.5in

The width and lengths vary because I determine the size as I go, simply based on the feel. As I am working, I pause occasionally to loop the yarn around me to help decide when I should stop. In general, my aesthetic with scarves leans toward the oversized. In addition to the dramatic look there is a bit of practicality: the winter and early spring temperatures in Southern California are generally mild enough that a large scarf will do the trick- no jacket necessary.

As I go to hit publish on this document, it was 95 degrees today. While I wore these scarves frequently in January and February, they will not find use again until November. In the meantime, when I reach past them for the short sleeved tees and tank tops, the folded stack on my closet shelf makes me smile.