Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dear Diary

My friend Karen turned me on to this group, Trifecta, which comes up with writing challenges. Having some extra time on my hands, I figured I'd give it a go. It's a good way to jump start those writing gears, which have sat rusty for a while now...


This week's word is:

SINISTER
1 archaic : unfavorable, unlucky
2 archaic : fraudulent
3: singularly evil or productive of evil

Please remember:
  • Your response must be between 33 and 333 words.
  • You must use the 3rd definition of the given word in your post.
  • The word itself needs to be included in your response.
  • You may not use a variation of the word; it needs to be exactly as stated above. 
  • Only one entry per writer.

*****
Margie was typical of her time. She followed the same arc as most of her peers: School, marriage, kids, and boredom.  Few in her town veered much from the trajectory they all seemed to be on, although a lucky few inserted “teaching” between school and marriage. Often these women eventually had kids, and found themselves being pulled back into the same orbit they thought they’d untethered from.   
Margie was never one to rock the boat. A tamed, domestic future was fine by her.  She led what she considered a happy life in bucolic California. Nothing adrenaline-spiking happened to her or anyone she knew, unless you consider that one time when she snuck Edgar Allan Poe’s, The Murders in the Rue Morgue from the library because she was afraid of other’s reactions to her reading about something so macabre as death.  Upon finishing the book she often wondered if she was capable of a dark side. She tried to conjure up images of her playing the part of villain, but she was incapable of thinking of anything more extreme than dressing in black and slinking through dark alleyways.  When one lives a mediocre life, even its shadows are tame.  She eventually let go of such fantasies and settled into the life she knew awaited her. She married her high-school sweetheart, had three kids in quick succession and settled into afternoons of obligations to acronyms: PTA, YWCA, SI.
When she was delivered to her path’s final destination of boredom at age 33, she felt despair.  She reconsidered whether she was capable of a dark side. The next morning she awoke from a dream that startled her. She distractedly completed her morning obligations and once her children left for school she hesitantly approached her husband's study, put paper in the Underwood, and clicked out, Dear Diary, Apparently I am capable of sinister thoughts. I can't say I'm displeased...
## 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Boots & Umbrellas

Living in Vancouver makes me realize that I have two massive holes in my wardrobe: a decent pair of rain boots and a functional umbrella. Even though I've called the Pacific Northwest home for more than 20 years, I've managed to somehow get through the wet months without these items. Suddenly both seem equally essential. I'm not sure if it's because I walk a lot more and spend scant amount of time in a car going from point A to point B, or if the rain here is different than the rain in Oregon, somehow making me more wet. Whatever the reason, as soon as these rain clouds pass I am hurrying out and going on the hunt for aforementioned items. Your recommendations on rubber boots that are worth a darn, are most welcome. Ditto for umbrellas that actually keep one dry and don't keep showing their undersides the moment a slight breeze pops up!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Worthy of a Repeat


I love to cook. I’m fairly certain Quinn and Logan wish I didn’t. Although I’d consider them non-fussy eaters, at this stage in their life they’d be happy to eat Goldfish crackers and meatloaf 24/7. My personal eating habits skew more toward ethnic and vegetarian. I am also an experimental and impromptu cook and will often select recipes for the evening meal based on the ingredients I have on hand. I rarely, if ever, repeat a recipe. I don’t do this intentionally, but I’m not an organized enough cook to bookmark recipes with notes that read, “Repeat.”  Again, I think the boys are relieved by this as they’d prefer not to repeat certain meals. Every now and again, though, I knock one out of the park that satisfies all of our eating needs in terms of quantity and flavor. I figured I should share it here, not only to remind myself to repeat this recipe, but also if two teenage boys liked it, then consider it somewhat vetted for your own family. This is a Thai dish from the cook book, True Thai by Victor Sodsook. I highly recommend this cook book if you enjoy Thai food. I’ve made a number of the dishes and they are all equally delicious, and surprisingly simple. The key, of course, is having access to a good Asian food market where you can find some more obscure ingredients. Once your pantry is stocked, this will be a cook book that you’ll reference time and again. The winning dish from the other night was “Sweet Pork (Mu Wan).”

3 Tbl. Vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, pounded to a mash or crushed and chopped
¾ pound pork tenderloin, cut crosswise into thin medallions
2 Tbl. Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
4 Tbl. Golden brown sugar
½ tsp. white pepper
Crispy Shallots* recipe to follow
Place all of the ingredients within easy reach of the cooking area. Set a wok over medium-high heat. When it is quite hot, add the oil. Rotate the wok a bit so the oil coats the sids. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the pork. Stir-fry for 4-5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and stir-fry until pork is just cooked through, approximately 3-5 minutes. Top with crispy shallots and serve hot or warm over jasmine rice.

Crispy Shallots
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 5 or 6)

Pour oil into a wok or heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring the oil to 360 degrees. (To test the oil temperature, dip a wooden spoon in the hot oil. The oil should bubble and sizzle gently around the bowl of the spoon.) Add the shallots and fry, stirring frequently, until crisp and brown, about 2 minutes (note: I’m not sure how the author achieved crispy shallots in 2 minutes, it took me closer to 12!) Remove with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Cool to room temperature. Shallots will keep for up to two weeks if stored at room temperature in a tightly sealed jar.

The crispy shallots are essential to making this a 3-star recipe become a 4-star recipe. Also, I love, love coconut so I make our jasmine rice with coconut milk & water. It imparts a very subtle coconut flavor, without being too rich or sweet. Also, if you have leftover rice, then it makes a delicious breakfast the following morning with a little milk and cinnamon. Mmmmm.

Friday, September 21, 2012

About Time....


I had intended on keeping this blog more current, especially given the dramatic shift our lives have recently taken, but all I really have to show for my intentions are half-written posts that read more like a completed “to-do” list than a blog. Hey, if I got bored reading through some earlier drafts then I can guaran-damn-te that you would too. So if you haven’t checked in in a while and are wondering how I jumped from life is peachy in Eugene to now living in a new country, don’t worry, I will try to bring you up to speed.  
Here’s the Cliffnotes version of the past year:
October 2011 Jim and I made our first trip to Vancouver to check out schools and see if there was even a possibility about enrolling boys in school for 2012-2013 school  year. We had expected the answer to be no, until my permanent residency status cleared, but were instead told yes because Jim is a citizen. Oh my gosh! We made monthly trips up here looking at schools and neighborhoods and pretty much honed in on both school and neighborhood rather quickly. Days in between spent figuring out the logistics of actually making such a move. Mostly this was a smooth and very easy process with the occasional, WTF are we doing thrown in, you know, just to keep it real. Craigslist is our friend! Scoped out a few places to rent and made a blitz trip up one weekend to attend some open houses. Knew after the first house that that was the one. Applied. Accepted. Woot, woot! July moved our furnishings and other household items into our new digs and promptly returned back to Eugene. August, I finally spent more than one night in Vancouver while Jim and the boys went canoeing with some friends in BC Rockies. LOVE it here. September was spent co-habitating with our friends who are temporarily renting our Eugene home while their home is being built. We were a family of 10 for nearly three weeks. Worked out way better than I would have expected, which makes me think that co-housing isn’t such a bad idea after all. September 4th moved up here officially. September 5th, boys first day of school in the pre-IB program at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School.   
So now that you’re up to speed I can do my normal random thought ramble. I’d have to say it’s too early to say that this feels like “home” but I also don’t feel like a complete foreigner. It helps that English is the common language and the driving rules are the same, but there are also subtle differences that I’m starting to notice after a few weeks of calling this Home #2. I guess I should first back up a bit and reiterate that while we are living in Vancouver and very much intend on making this home, we are by no means uprooting ourselves from Eugene. No, we enough love to plant ourselves in two places simultaneously. It is different for Quinn and Logan as they aren’t traveling in between Eugene and Vancouver like me and Jim, but they very much feel like Eugene is a part of their lives, even if they’re not daily participants. This is definitely where technology works in our favor (or should I write favour?) With Facebook and Skype, the boys are able to talk and touch base with their friends, who are scattered all over really. I will say that we’ve been somewhat surprised at how easily the boys have been absorbed into the social fabric of Vancouver. Jim and I had prepared ourselves that this could be the area that would create stress on the boys and take a while to establish. To our delight it was within days that the boys were being invited to this or that, and the group of kids at their school have been so welcoming. Of course it will take some time for the meaningful relationships to develop, but what a wonderful start Q & L have had thus far.
Prior to starting school the boys were very nervous about the intensity of the program (programme?). They’re finding that while it is more demanding than what they left behind, they are also ready for the challenge. One of the main reasons for making this move was for their education. From what we’ve seen so far, we’ve made the right choice. It’s no surprise to our friends who have kids in school back in the states, that our education system is in crisis. We can sugarcoat it all day long, but you can’t tell me that an Algebra II class with 64 students is effective, or that a French II class with 50 students is going to yield much learning. Add to the fact that the boys couldn’t get full schedules and it just became clear that we needed to explore our other options. 
No it’s not all unicorns and rainbows here regarding education, but it is still an intact system that is valued by its citizens, whether or not they have kids going to school. People really do understand that every child needs a solid foundation upon which to build their futures.  This is the first year that the boys have NO classes together. This has become increasingly important as they’ve grown older. Being identical twins has many advantages, but most important is the opportunity to grow and develop as individuals. That is much harder to do if you don’t have any time apart. So no classes together this year; they have full schedules, meaning 8 classes; and the largest class they’re in has 30 students. I get the sense that they’re really going to be educated here, not simply taught. Their math teacher requires strong mental math abilities, no matter that they’re having to solve square roots and more complex formulas without the aid of a calculator. I can tell I like her philosophy already. There is no English spoken in their French classes (Quelle Surprise!), they have P.E. classes in which they are required to change into PE uniforms (or strip, as they’re known here) and are learning golf, tennis, lacrosse, ultimate, volleyball, basketball, among other sports that they’d otherwise have no real exposure to playing. The list goes on and on. It feels like we just set the dial back 50 years. I remember my parents talking about when their high schools offered drafting, wood shop, metal shop, auto shop, sewing, cooking, etc., well, all these classes and then some are still available here. It’s funny because until those things are gone do we realize what value they have to society as a whole. It’s not perfect, but what’s important to me and Jim is still valued and funded here. Sure there’s still school fundraising and budget crunches going on, but what seems to be different is that people from young to old understand that a strong and stable society doesn’t happen without a solid education and all the opportunities that provides.    
I’d say that the boys have found a daily rhythm, whereas Jim and I are still figuring ours out. We may not find a pattern in our lives as we’re still here and there, but even this feels okay. Living abroad last year taught us how to get out of our ruts and honed our street-skills, so-to-speak.  The ambiguity and schedule-less days up here are taking some getting used to, but I’m confident that we’ll settle into a routine that will feel more natural. Although, I’d have to say I’m liking the routine of getting together with my friend Karen and drinking cocktails at lunch!
What are the boneheaded moves I’ve made since being here? Well, I naively volunteered to manage Quinn’s lacrosse team, for starters.  I initially thought that it would be a good way to meet other parents and help with getting Quinn established socially. This may have been true with younger kids, but when dealing with a U16 team, there is not a lot of parental engagement, so really all I’ve done is agree to work my ass off and send 1,000 e-mails a day to this group of people. Oops. Of course, being a recovering Type-A personality means that I’m going to be the Valedictorian of team managers! Let’s just say when the season ends in late February, I’m hanging up my hat!  The other oops, is that I didn’t connect with the rowing club soon enough and there isn’t a slot for Logan until next season. It never even occurred to me that 1.) the Olympics generate a lot of enthusiasm in a sport that Canada often does well in and 2.) that these clubs are, shall we say, a bit more structured than what we’re used to back in Eugene.  So Logan is drifting a bit without a sanctioned sport. We’ll get him signed up at our local community centre where he can work out, but he is pretty bummed about not rowing.
So life continues to move swiftly along here in Vancouver. This city just keeps offering up the goods. I promise I’ll be more consistent in my posts (thank you Leslie for the gentle nudges!) and remember that we LOVE visitors, so come pay us a visit! We look forward to sharing this lovely part of the world with you!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Oh Canada!


It’s official. We are moving to Vancouver, BC—sort of. While we’ve already taken a number of steps to realize such a move, we’ve yet to really say out loud that, yes, we are moving. I’m not sure if this move started last year when we all gave voice to this desired outcome, or if it started way before then when Jim and I would occasionally joke about one day moving to Canada. I’m sure having planted that little zygote of a thought all those years ago was influential in the sense that it finally prompted Jim to apply for his citizenship, which he was entitled to as a result of his mother being Canadian. We had no agenda when we started  taking all these little steps many years ago, and perhaps it would still be just a little bonus tucked away in our back pocket had we not uprooted ourselves last year and moved to France. That time away not only provided the luxury of getting out of our daily routines but allowed us to think more clearly about how and where we wanted to direct our lives. We enjoyed a reprieve from all the chatter and white-noise that distracts us from carving out the time to think about where we are and where we want to go. I’m sure you know the feeling. It’s so easy to get caught up in the flotsam and jetsam of life and much more difficult to hit the pause button long enough to make adjustments. Our three months in Paris was definitely about hitting the pause and reset buttons and it’s really quite extraordinary to think about how differently our lives will soon look as a result.  I will also be the first to advocate for leaving one’s home turf and gaining some perspective by living abroad. Our time outside the states gave us the opportunity to more clearly assess what the educational realities were for the boys not just for secondary school but for their university education as well. It became readily apparent that their goals exceeded what was available to them in our current home town. We figured if they were willing to think beyond their own borders, why couldn’t we? And thus began our exploration of schools and universities in Canada.
The “sort of” part of this move is that while we will be living in Vancouver and the boys will be attending school there, we are also maintaining our home and businesses here in Eugene. We’ve spent too many years investing in our community to just cut our ties completely.  We will be straddling the border and planting one foot in each country. I know this would never work for some people, but for whatever reason I am completely nonplussed about living in two places. We absolutely intend on making Vancouver feel like home, but we’ll have the added benefit of being able to retreat back to our familiar home as needed. Jim and I will take turns spending time in Eugene to oversee the continued operation of our businesses, which is the only real downside to this whole new adventure. We are fortunate to have employees and managers in each of our stores to keep the day-to-day operations going, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Probably the most interesting part about actually making this move a reality is witnessing people’s responses. We’ve encountered everything from enthusiastic support to head-scratching. Interestingly enough our most encouraging words come from those who have traveled extensively while the most resistance comes from those with fewer travel miles beneath their belts. Not so very surprising when you think about, but interesting nonetheless.
I honestly have no agenda or pre-conceived notion about how this will all shake out, which makes it a little anti-climactic.  Not that I’m not excited to be living in what is considered one of the world’s most livable cities. I’m stoked, but because I don’t feel like I am escaping anything or need a major change just for the jolt, it doesn’t have the energy behind it that one might imagine.  If anything, I feel exceedingly grateful that we have this option. It’s one of those things that you hear people make idle threats about doing, and here we are actually DOING it. So thank you to Canada for heavily recruiting Ukrainian immigrants in the early 1900s and thank you to Olena Grykuliak (Jim’s mum) for always maintaining her ties to Canada and never giving up her Canadian citizenship, even though she’s lived most of her life in the states; and thank you to Canada for recognizing that the off-spring of Canadian born citizens might want to return to their familial homeland one day; and thank you to everyone in Canada who we’ve worked with to make this transition possible-- your kindness and help and humanity remind us with every encounter that this is all worthwhile.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Birthday



Dear Quinn and Logan,
I figured since I am belated in writing my annual birthday letter to you, I may as well just be even a few days later and write this to you on Mother’s Day, since I wouldn’t be celebrating this day without you two. Could it be possible to love and admire you two any more? Perhaps, but it is hard to imagine. Once again, this past year has been filled with absolute wonder, joy, and surprise. Last year we were celebrating your birthdays in Paris, this year we’re back home, but that Paris flame is still flickering and the imprint of our three months there has definitely shaped the young men you are still blossoming into. Maybe it had to do with living in a small apartment, or maybe it’s a true sign of your maturing, but whatever the reason, there is a settling into your skin that we’ve witnessed in you two this past year.

We know that being twins has it challenges and we figured that eventually, what outsiders marvel at, would one day become apparent to you. Up until this year there was more competition and an edginess that defined your twin-ship. This year you’ve really grown in your self-awareness and confidence and individuality and it seems that you two are able to recognize that walking through this world as a twin can be an asset rather than a hindrance. Of course, I fully expect that when you read that you’ll disagree and possibly roll your eyes, but I’m here to tell you that the softening between you two is palpable. You are each more willing to let the other complete a sentence without needing to finish it, you are allowing each other the space to be individuals and as a result you seem to enjoy some of the pleasures of being a twin. Or maybe it has less to do with joy and more to do with the fact that you can finally play identity tricks on your teachers and schoolmates. Yes, those stories trickle back to us, and we can’t believe it took you two this long to realize the fun you could have with being identical. Regardless, it has been such a joy to witness your growth in confidence and the joy of discovering your interests as individuals.

This has been a year of transitions for sure. You started high school this year after being gone from your classmates last year. The transition to school and the craziness that goes along with classes, homework, and sports has seemed to be much easier for you than it was for me and dad. Perhaps we are less resilient to change, but I feel as if I’m just settling into your school routines, and oh my god, school’s almost done! Don’t worry, that’s just my lag-time parenting, which has pretty much been my modus operandi since your birth.  I would like to think that I’m one step ahead of you two, but I’ll share my little secret now—you’ve already lapped me twice!

While we are incredibly proud of your scholastic achievements, we are more proud of your kind and loving spirits. You two are empathetic to others and will lend a hand or word of encouragement when needed. These are the traits that will truly matter in life, and you are both off to a great start.

I still freak out at the thought of being an “empty-nester” in only a few short years, but I’m also excited to see what directions you begin to steer your lives.  These next few years will be filled with major life decisions, and the fact that you’ve already begun to give voice to the directions you want to take and are willing to make some sacrifices now in order to end up where you want to be just reminds us yet again of your maturity. Most fifteen year olds still can’t correlate cause and effect, but you two seem to have a very clear understanding of the decisions you make now and how they’ll affect your future. We honestly couldn’t ask for more. We love you beyond measure and while I will absolutely accept you cooking me a meal for Mother’s Day, I feel it is me who should celebrate you. Happy (belated) birthday my darlings and thank you for giving me the gift of motherhood.

Love,
Mummy

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Minced ginger

Minced ginger by Tamara Irminger
Minced ginger, a photo by Tamara Irminger on Flickr.

This is Logan's minced ginger! I have never minced ginger this well, but now I know who to ask!

Aftermath

Aftermath by Tamara Irminger
Aftermath, a photo by Tamara Irminger on Flickr.

Mayhem, but so worth it.

The dude can cook

In order for the boys to get an “A” in their International Cooking class this term, they are required to cook meals at home. We just found this out, when the boys’ progress reports were received and the only “Bs” were in cooking. Whaaaa? They explained why and we promptly told them they need to start cooking at home. They groused a little but by this past weekend they had each arranged opportunities to cook a meal. Logan chose Beef Lo Mein and after shopping with Jim for the necessary ingredients he came home and wowed us all. First off, his mincing and chopping abilities would put even a seasoned cook to shame. This kid uniformly minced fresh ginger, which is no small feat. The dish was perfectly seasoned as a result of his fine mincing skills and he nailed the meat so that it was tender and perfectly cooked. The house smelled great and sitting down to eat a meal that your own teenage kid has cooked made it even better. I will say that he managed to use just about every kitchen utensil/gadget he had access to and the clean-up afterwards was no small job. Not that Logan was concerned with that detail as the “rule” in our house is the cook never cleans, so it was me and Jim scrubbing, sweeping, wiping and mopping after our delicious meal. Small price to pay if you ask me…

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring 2012


Hey, it's Spring here in the PNW, and whadda ya know, it's snowing. While most parts of the country are basking in the warmth and early glow of the Vernal Equinox, we in the upper west are shoveling and wearing bulky parkas. Yeah us! Of course, the kiddos are elated with mother nature's idea of a joke and they've been out all day sledding the slopes of a local golf course. Our town has pretty much SHUT DOWN. I am already feeling cabin crazy. I wasn't expecting a "snow day" and I'm having a difficult time shifting gears into a spontaneous day off. I've pretty much piddled away the first half of the day reading pointless "articles" on-line, but if you want any updates on all the latest celebrity gossip, just ask, because I'm all caught up. I feel like I've just spent four hours in the waiting room at my dentist's, thumbing through all the People, Marie Claire, and Vogue magazines. Now I feel sort of polluted with pointless and meaningless drivel, but, hey, Beyonce looks great post-pregnancy. The six inches of snow we received throughout the early morning hours are now being hydrated with rain, and big clumps of wet, heavy snow are unloading off branches with big "thumps" on the roof, which makes me jump every time one smacks down. Okay, time to recalibrate and get something productive done, happy Spring!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pink Eye

What is up with getting pink eye at this point in my life. What's next? Lice? I swear, I feel as if I'm back in the second grade when pink eye just kept going round and round. Of course, there was also the requisite drama about who had the cooties and a lot of chasing and yelling, "I'm gonna give you the cooties!!!" I think I caught the cooties no less than three times in second grade and stayed home with itchy, goopy eyes and watched Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's and Reading Rainbow for hours on end. Back then staying home was sort of fun. Some adult was there to make sure you were well fed and comfortable. Nowadays, it is just a pain in the ass. I'm the only adult home, heck, I'm the only person home, which means that when I want that sixth mug of chai, I have to make it myself. Thank goodness I am in the middle of a good novel right now, or I'd really be miserable. I'm dragging on energy which means that I can't even apply myself to the million projects that are staring me down, but I'm not tired enough to nap and make all those glowing eyes go away. Grrrr. Let's just hope this is an isolated case and that we don't become a pink-eye endless loop within our household. This is definitely not the time to be "spreading the love" and so I'll stay holed up until the crust clears and keep my fingers crossed that our cootie-voodoo works.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fool's Spring

Well, it's that time of year again in the Pacific Northwest. That time when everyone may as well be running around and shouting "GOLD" and setting off a total frenzy of people thinking that there's really gold in "dem dar hills." Alas, it's not gold, only Pyrite, which looks just like gold, but isn't, or in this case people are running around in short sleeves and buying vegetable starts and dreaming about tomatoes because it looks and feels an awful lot like spring, but sadly, it isn't. This pretty much happens every year around these parts, we get a week of glorious weather and we're all lulled into believing that that Oregon's climate is similar to California's, but if you've lived here long enough then you know that this week of nice weather is really just weather Pyrite. It's Fool's Spring and it won't last, sadly. No, in a week's time we'll once again be shapeless forms under layers of Capillene and Gor-Tex and we'll hunker back into our caves and won't come out again until late June. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying this weather and the brilliant, blue sky and the sun and light, but I'm not being pulled into a false sense of security that it will last, because it never does. I haven't yet decided if this is nature's way of playing a joke on us who live in the Northwest or if it's a lifeline thrown to all of us so we don't go completely bonkers. Either way, the sun is shining, the branches are budding and there is a sense of hope. Even though I know I'm holding Pyrite in my hands I'll just pretend that it's gold and join the rest of the masses who are out in force stretching their limbs and blinking hard at the bright light.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Delicioso!

I can pinpoint exactly when my love affair with cooking began. It wasn’t, sadly, after eating a life-changing meal at a brasserie in Paris, but rather after reading Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mays. I distinctly remember my mouth salivating and wishing I were eating the meals that she was writing about in her book, and then it dawned on me: I could. Up until that moment I was more of an anti-cook, mostly by choice. NOT learning to cook was my way of rebelling against my mother. We rarely ate out when I was growing up, and all of our meals were shared as a family around the dining room table. I can’t say that I have particularly fond memories of the foods we ate while growing up, there are no stand outs that I can recall, but I do remember my mother spending a lot of time in the kitchen and when I was in the throes of my teen years, that was THE LAST PLACE you would ever find me I vowed, and probably screamed at one point. And so I never did really cook or even attempt to.

After Quinn and Logan came along and they went from a liquid to solid diet, well if someone wasn’t cooking or at least preparing food, then we’d find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. And so I went from no cooking ever to at least preparing food items for the boys. I do recall them eating a lot of tofu dogs, which makes me cringe now. As I bumbled my way through their earliest years and as their appetites grew, I do remember feeling the stress of my limitations when it came to food. Jim and I both value and treasure the nightly ritual of family time at the table, but if there isn’t much to put on the table, then what’s the point. We ate out a lot! We probably single handedly kept certain restaurants in business well beyond their prime, but we also made lasting friendships, particularly with Keung whose Korean cooking kept us well nourished and satiated, and thankfully, exposed the boys to spicy, Asian cuisine.

In my twenties my motto was “eat for fuel.” This was also Jim’s motto and so we were both perfectly happy to eat peanut butter and honey rolled into a whole-wheat tortilla for nights on end. Neither of us wanted to be bothered with anything elaborate nor time consuming. I had no inclination to spend any more time in the kitchen than was necessary. And then I read Under the Tuscan Sun, and I was forever ruined—but in a good way. It is no wonder that it took writing to convert me into a cook. I’ve always been a sucker for anything well-written and as I was reading Ms. Mays’s description of the succulent vegetables and chicken that melted in one’s mouth, well I felt as if I were right there with her and my mouth was salivating and all I remember is that I wanted to be experiencing what she was writing about. My first thought was, “What restaurant would serve such a meal around here?” My second thought was, “Wait, I could probably make that myself!” The very next day in all my exuberance as newly crowned “home chef” I went out and purchased vegetables that prior to that moment I had never considered and then I really over the edge and bought a whole chicken. This, my friends, was an enormous step for me. I absolutely refused to touch raw meat until that point. Imagine Jim’s surprise when I came home with said provisions! I followed the recipe and being that our kitchen was ill equipped with the proper utensils, I definitely hacked my way through the instructions, but I did it. A few hours later and voil√•! While the flavor of my prepared meal tasted nothing like the description in the book, I surprisingly found the whole process not only enjoyable, but relaxing. Believe me, I was a bit stunned and it took a bit of work to reconcile these newly discovered feelings. Me, relaxed in a kitchen! Go figure.

Fast forward to present day and I am buried in cookbooks, cooking magazines, and my computer is bookmarked with more cooking blogs/recipe websites than I can handle. In short, I love cooking and I get cranky if more than a few days pass when I can’t cook. (Look at me now, mom!) Over the years I’ve matured in my understanding and knowledge of cooking. Anyone can follow a recipe—well, most anyone—but that doesn’t at all guarantee good results. Au contraire. I’ve learned the subtleties of how to build a recipe, the balance of salt/sweet or spice/starch. I have a long ways to go before I have the confidence to build meals without the guidance of a recipe, but I am more comfortable to veer from a recipe as my taste dictates. I would say that I tinker with recipes more often than not and it wasn’t until my dear friend and cook extraordinaire, Amy, suggested a Spanish cookbook to me, that I understood subtleties with cooking. The first recipe I tried from this cookbook, Delicioso-The Regional Cooking of Spain by Penelope Casas Alb√łndigas con Picada de Almendra (Meatballs in Almond, Garlic and Parsely Sauce.) Normally if a recipe called for a 1/2 cup of chopped onion, I’d ignore it and add a whole chopped onion. When I read this particular recipe, however; I knew that this was a recipe I should follow to a “T” because it called for such small amounts of certain ingredients that I couldn’t wrap my head around how they’d affect the overall outcome. One tablespoon of chopped blanched almonds? That’s all?! Two tablespoons of fresh peas. Really? So glad I followed this recipe as written because it was so perfectly balanced and the taste so incredible that I learned in that instant that if a recipe called for pollen extracted from a honeybee’s belly, then I would oblige. This recipe was a game-changer for me. I learned that there are certain styles of cooking that really are perfectly measured for the optimum result, and one should pay attention. Here’s the recipe if you feel so inclined:

Meatballs:

1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs

1/3 cup chicken broth

1 pound ground veal or a mixture of ground beef, veal and pork, in equal measure

1 tablespoon minced parsely

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons minced Spanish mountain cured ham, capicollo, or prosciutto

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 egg, lightly beaten

……..

Flour for dusting

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons minced onion

2 tablespoons skinned, seeded, and finely chopped tomato

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 small bay leaf

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon minced parsely

2 cloves garlic, minced

Few strands of saffron, crumbled

1 tablespoon chopped, blanched almonds

1/4 teaspoon imported sweet paprika

2 tablespoons fresh or frozen peas

To make meatballs, in a large bowl soak the bread crumbs in the broth. Lightly mix in all the other meatball ingredients, then shape into 1 1/2 inch balls. Dust the meatballs with the flour. Heat the oil in a shallow flameproof casserole and brown the meatballs o all sides over medium-high heat. Lower the heat, add the onion, and cook until it has wilted, then add the tomato and cook another minute. Stir in the wine, broth, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Meanwhile, mash to a paste in a mortar or mini processor the parsley, garlic 1/8 teaspoon salt, saffron, almonds, and paprika. Add this mixture, along with the peas, to the meatballs and cook 15 minutes more. Proceed to devour the entire dish!

I’ve made this meal on numerous occasions and each and every time we are licking the pan clean. It’s surprisingly easy and simple to prepare and if you follow the instructions and quantities you will not be disappointed.

I’m using this recipe as a reminder of how to go through life. That it is easy to stomp and clomp around, but that beauty is often subtle and we must slow down enough to pay attention to what is so easily overlooked in our hectic lives. By slowing down today, I noticed that our Daphne is about ready to bloom in our front yard and overpower us with the scent if Spring and that the silhouette of bamboo leaves makes for lovely, if fleeting art, and that sometimes less is more. Bon week-end et une bonne alimentation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

awful

The weather today: plain awful! It is blowing and raining and it is dreary and all I want to do is curl up in front of a fire and read. It's as if the weather gods just realized that they had been ignoring the Pacific Northwest and now they are concentrating their efforts to make up for lost time. Message to weather gods, "We notice you, now kindly move on. Please."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Resolution-ish

I’m definitely not a “New Year’s resolution” person. I’m more of a meddler and tinkerer and if in March I feel the urge to set some goals and prioritize, then I’ll do it then. That being said, I love the first day of January and the ritual of putting a blank calendar on the wall. Knowing that I have a fresh calendar with no appointments or commitments penciled in feels so liberating. Of course, it doesn’t take long for each day to end up with some sort of scribble on it, so the freshness doesn’t last long, and thus I’ve learned to savor the first day of a new year, knowing that its sweetness is short lived, but the potential grand. If there is any New Year’s Day ritual I celebrate, it is the fact that I try to sit and reflect upon the recently concluded year and take stock of its highlights. I noticed in last year’s blog that I committed myself to noticing one “odd moment of beauty” per day. I totally forgot that I had started out 2011 by recording such moments and so I thought I should rekindle that effort in 2012. I do remember the positive effects it had and I think the only reason I ceased recording my daily musings was because we moved to Paris, and quite honestly, every moment there seemed like an odd moment of beauty and it was too difficult in choosing just one.

So how would I summarize 2011? In a word—magnifique! That little seed that Jim and I planted so many years ago about wanting to pull the boys out of 8th grade so we could focus on travel, actually grew into a realized dream in 2011. While our initial dreaming had us traveling for an entire year, the reality was that three months was the more appropriate number. I’d like to consider it our stepping-stone year for the other worldly adventures that lie ahead. It’s funny how sometimes you get what you’re most ready for, and I think that three months was really the perfect amount of time away. A year would have been almost destructive to us in regards to being away from our businesses that long, but three months was just right. I wrote a lot about our time in Paris in prior blogs so I don’t need to re-hash some of those particulars here, but I will say that as our time in France recedes into the nooks and crannies of my memory, the impression that remains is integrity and ease. Our life up until the point of departure was utter chaos, the timing to leave when we did was by no means our ideal, but we also knew that it was “now or never” and so we did. We left our newly re-located business in the hands of a tiring manager, we left our house and pet care in the hands of a teenage neighbor, we left all of the familiarities and comforts of home for three months of who knew what, and we were rewarded beyond measure as a result. In many ways deciding to up and leave for a three-month sabbatical was a lot like putting up a fresh calendar. We had a blank slate in front of us and it was entirely up to us as to how we’d scribble in the details. It wasn’t that our life in Paris was effortless, it was more that we were able to savor the sweetness of discovery and time together as a family. While we make a concerted effort to carve out plenty of time together while state-side, the reality is that even when we’re together we’re still being pulled in 1,000 different directions. It’s as if our attention is funneled through a prism and we are scattered in our thoughts and conversations. Sometimes it takes being out of your normal patterns to realize just how fractured your seemingly normal, healthy life really is. Our time in Paris moved much more slowly and softly. We weren’t rushed or hurried and there were no demands on us. We were in complete charge of our time. If we felt like visiting a museum or art gallery, we did. If we felt like wandering the streets without a destination, we did. If we wanted a bottle of wine at lunch, we drank. There were weeks when we were enrolled in language courses and so we had to awake at a certain hour and were expected to complete our homework, but even so, we wove these obligations into our day seamlessly. Yes, the many sights of Paris and all around France wowed us, but what lingers isn’t le tour Eiffel or the artifacts inside the Louvre, it was the fact that for three full months we lived fully present and aware and open. Is this possible to do here, maybe, but I’d argue it takes the discipline of a monk. Believe me, I’d love to say “not now” when an oven goes down or when an employee phones in sick, but I can’t, or maybe I just haven’t figured out how to be Zen in my every-day life. I’m more like the wild-eyed lady muttering to herself with curlers in her hair out in public. Living in France was like taking those curlers out and actually doing my hair before going out it in public.

France was only three months of our year, the rest of it had to do with re-entry and adjusting to the boys returning to a bricks-and-mortar school for 9th grade. In order to facilitate travel they had to enroll in an on-line school for 8th grade and while they missed out on the camaraderie of their social group, I selfishly enjoyed having them around all day long. It definitely took a while to get used to returning to the rushing around in the morning to get them off to school on time, and then not seeing them until 7:30 in the evening after they were finally done with their extra-curricular activities. We went from being around each other 24/7 to barely seeing them at all. Besides my lamenting this fact, Quinn and Logan are doing exceedingly well in school, sports and their other pursuits. Not that I doubted for a moment that they wouldn’t, but I think way back in the recesses of my mind I wondered if pulling them away from their peers for a year and then having them bottle up with me and Jim in a small Parisian apartment would have any negative ramifications. It appears that the answer is no. Phew.

What’s in store for us in 2012? Who knows? We have a number of ideas/options brewing, but as of yet they are still zygotes of a thought. I do know us well enough to know that we’ll travel and work and play—all in equal measure. I also know that I’d like life to move with some of the ease we experienced while in France. How I’ll do this, I haven’t given much thought to other than it probably starts with taking the curlers out and doing my hair. It’s a start and most of us know that all journeys begin with the first step. Happy 2012! May the steps you’re taking today be on the path that you hope to be on at year’s end.