The Point.

For me, the point of this blog is to share inspiration among us through everyday life.  If by reading something I write, someone feels inspired to try something new, or think about something in a different way, then there is a point to all this writing and documenting.  My 35th birthday was this week and I feel so satisfied because I inspired.  My mother read the post about my  grandmother and her secrets … and felt inspired.

Not only has she challenged me to a “taste off” between my pickle recipes and her version of my grandmother’s pickle recipe.  (More on that sometime soon…)  I can’t wait!!

But, she also made a birthday cake for me in the tradition of my grandmother!  What a wonderful surprise.  My grandmother had two cakes that she would bake and she kept the process a secret: “the checkerboard” and “the rainbow”.  So this year I received a checkerboard cake for my birthday from my mom, a woman who does not love to cook.  I love that she felt inspired to figure out the mystery of “the checkerboard” and that I was the recipient of this fun!  Thanks, Mom!  You’re a wonderful mother and an inspiration to me too.

How cool is that?  There is a surprise checkerboard pattern inside.  I believe you can do either two or three colors.   I can just imagine purple and pink from a childhood birthday party decades ago.  In addition to this surprise cake, there was also a package for me to unwrap.  It was the secret… a special pan from Wilton that makes all this magic possible:  Checkerboard Cake Pan.  Who knew?  There are different brands, of course, that make this special pan, Wilton just happens to be the one I was gifted.

I see many a checkerboard cake in my future (and my past)… Happy Baking!

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Perfect Imperfections

There can be beauty in the imperfections…  I might wish that I felt more comfortable with this statement, but I am a selective perfectionist.  This means that in some things I am very relaxed, but in others I can become paralyzed if I cannot get a project to meet my expectations.  Thankfully, my husband and I are well-paired in this arena.  Where I stall out, he moves forward with gusto. Our garden this year is a perfect example of how beauty and joy can come from unexpected imperfections.  This is our second year planting a vegetable patch.  Last year was a bit of a bust.  We were novices with high expectations.  We started the season in a flurry of energy and completely fell off as the summer progressed.  This year, with new baby and a busy life, I entered with moderate expectations.  We planted tentatively and sparingly… still, I stalled out when I couldn’t come up with an aesthetically appealing plan for my vertical peas.  I was ready to throw in the towel.  Thankfully Gus stepped in and made it happen.  He also had big plans for our tomatoes.  I hate the way the tomato planters look.  There, I said it.  They are planted in rubbermaid totes and are pretty ugly – but, as you will see, quite impressive.

 

As it turned out, the garden was a funny and beautiful success ~ an exercise in wabi sabi.  Our peas were fantastic on their imperfect stakes.  They grew like crazy and the kids enjoyed picking them every day for a month.  Then our two small nasturtium plants went gangbusters.  They took over the carrots and scallions and eventually had to be completely pulled.  And now, our beans have gone crazy!  We call them “the leaning tower” due to their robust growth towards the sky.  Jokes have been made about whether we traded a cow for the seeds… and whether Jack will by coming by anytime soon.  Lastly, our tomatoes are the best I have tasted in years.  When planning something in May, it is impossible to know what unexpected beauty and delights will occur in June, July, or August… A good lesson.  Thanks, Honey.

                    

         

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Alfresco

Dining alfresco is perhaps one of my favorite things in life.  It is also one of the best things about summer.  Lately, I have been thinking about what makes summer feel like summer and for me, summer is when my family and I eat most of our meals outside…

Living in a city that has a reputation for being grey much of the year, I notice that many of us who choose to stay here become a little weather obsessed.  We wait patiently (and sometimes not so patiently) for blessed summer to arrive and then when it does there is a frenzy of activity.  It can be difficult to even see our very good friends.  Maybe this is everywhere, I’m not sure.  I just know that summer here feels like perfection when it arrives and I cannot get enough.  This makes me think of the mouse in one of my favorite books from childhood, Frederick, by Leo Lionni.  “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.”  “I gather colors, answered Frederick simply.  For the winter is gray.”  Maybe we are all like Frederick, gathering in the beauty of the outdoors to sustain us during the indoor months.

My patio is my favorite spot to enjoy the season (especially with three kids), but on days when I don’t feel like cooking, here are some other choice outdoor dining spots around town.  Some are fancy, some are not.  Some are kid-friendly, some are not.  But we have had fantastic alfresco meals at each of them.

Something that might set Seattle alfresco dining apart from other locales is that some restaurants take our weather into account, adding elements such as roofs, outdoor heaters, and blankets to patio situations, making them a little more accessible.  My husband and I moved to Seattle nine years ago from San Francisco.  That year, Gus gave me an outdoor heater for my birthday.  I was thrilled.  This may seem like a random, unromantic gift, but at the time it showed me that he knew me and what makes me tick.  Receiving an outdoor heater at the end of August is like being given a jar of sunshine to help make the season last a little bit longer.  Eight years later, that little heater bit the dust.  So this year Gus and I gave each other outdoor heaters for our anniversary.  Maybe this is proof of what makes both of us tick.  Here’s to another decade of alfresco living… Cheers!

my grandmother, pickles, and a good secret

My grandmother passed away two years ago this week and I feel like I am saying goodbye all over again.  She was a phenomenal, modern woman whom I loved dearly and had a great impact on my life.  She was smart and sassy and loved her independence.  She could be a bit prickly, and was not your typical grandma.  Despite this, she baked birthday cakes and pies for our family gatherings.  She made delicious airy waffles and something amazing that we call “cheese puffs” in my family, that only came out on holidays.  Since my grandmother’s death, I have been in possession of her cooking file, a bulging binder that is filled, past full, of recipes and personal notes.  It has felt too intimate for me to really look through this piece of her over the past two years – but it sits in my pantry and waits for me; waits for the right time.  Lately, I find myself thinking about her and wondering things that I now cannot ask, and it is probably a perfect place for me to go hunting to find some answers, culinarily speaking at least.

The ladies in my family love a good secret.  They relish knowing a recipe (waffles, chocolate chip cookies, pickles) and keeping it special by not sharing that recipe with friends, and barely with family.  On occasion, a trade has been made for someone else’s treasured recipe, but that has happened too frequently.  Growing up, I remember a family legend was to talk about how the secret ingredient of our prized waffles was marshmallow cream, thinking that anyone who was listening might try to duplicate this hallowed recipe and ruin their waffle maker by including this sweet and sticky ingredient.  I’m not sure anyone was ever really listening, but it made us all laugh.

That brings me to pickles.  For a woman who didn’t mind hard work and had perfected pie dough, I am perplexed by her approach to pickles.  She had a recipe for refrigerator pickles, that I have made, that is a bit of a scam.  (reader: surprised gasp!) I am not sure how much more I can say, for fear that I will be kicked out of my family for outing her.  But, suffice it to say, there is no canning involved and the cucumbers were already a bit pickled when she got to them.  This one recipe makes me so curious…  (I think it actually is another thing that has inspired me to learn how to preserve food properly.)  For a lady that was not outwardly daunted by anything, I sit here feeling that the reason she went to the trouble for this “semi-homemade” recipe is because it was a just a damn good secret.  That’s the kind of lady she was.

It is probably no coincidence that this is the week I have chosen to make pickles for the first time.  I have tried pickling other veggies (carrots, beans, and okra), but so far had felt daunted by traditional cucumber pickles.  If you look into pickles there are a few different processes you can try: brining, refrigerator, fermenting, canning, pasteurizing and all turn out a little differently.  Hearing that I was interested in adding cukes to the list this season, my husband tentatively asked if this could be a “test year” of small batches to try a few different recipes with the hope of landing on one that we love and might repeat in a bigger way next year.  (I assume that this is opposed to jar upon jar of pickles sitting in our pantry that we do not love.)  So that’s what I did.  I made three plus batches of cucumber pickles yesterday using different ingredients and taking copious notes on what I actually did since I cannot rely on my memory at this point.  In a few weeks, when we start cracking these babies open, I plan to report back to you which ones we love, and guess what… I’ll even share the recipe.

This goes against everything holy in my family and makes me chuckle about what my grandmother would think of this blogging generation and the ease of sharing information (and recipes).  On the other hand, it pleases me to share what I am learning and I know my grandmother would approve of that.

Author’s Note (added 01/07/13): Click here to see how the pickles turned out!

Nervous.

Nervous.  Excited.  Scared.  Exhilaration.  Anticipation.  LOVE.  Prepared.  Unprepared.  Beginning.   End.  Change.  LOVE.  Curiosity.  Strength.  Confidence.  Trust.  Wonder.  Miracle.  Joy.  LOVE.

BABY.

My dear friend will hold her first baby in her arms in a matter of hours.  What a profound moment in time this is.  How can one even describe all of the emotions that exist at once.  What will it be like?  Will I be good enough?  Who is this kid?  Thinking back to our births, I realize how very special it is.  The precipice.  The brink.  A blip in time… Transformed in a push and then onto an entirely new adventure.

The fantasy of the imagined changed into the beautiful reality of your baby.

The body has a way of distracting us from these thoughts to move us towards the future.  Pain has a way of limiting introspection at times.  I am living vicariously through this couple that has so much ahead of them.  Their birth story is yet to be.

Wishing you an experience that is all yours… We can’t wait to meet you, Baby.

LOVE.

A Space

Today is Father’s Day and I am so thankful for my husband.

Each year on Father’s Day we typically plan to treat him royally, but inevitably today (and Mother’s Day for that matter) has been filled with an extra bout of tantrums, sick kids, and unexpected hiccups that make me feel that he is not quite getting his due.  Yes, we made him coffee and brought it to him in an awesome new mug, and yes, we gave him loads of cards that were made at preschool and squirreled away until today and yes, we love him very, very much.  Alas a house with three kids under five a relaxing house does not make, even on Father’s Day.

So since he isn’t getting props from the kids today, he will get some from his wife.  I am so, so thankful to have you as a partner.  We do things that I wouldn’t even imagine tackling without you by my side (walk around Green Lake with two children under five years on bikes, another one in the stroller and a dog just to kick things up a bit… anyone, anyone?)  Your confidence to try anything and everything amazes me and gives me the feeling that I want to be brave too.  I hope that we have the rest of our lives to be brave together!  And yes, in 2029 I will go anywhere in the world with you…

I mentioned in my first post that my husband worked very hard helping me to envision and then create a space just for me within this busy and chaotic house we are running.  It was something that was difficult for me to wrap my brain around and I wouldn’t have done it, if it hadn’t been for his relentless prodding and encouragement.  Now I have the mental and physical space to let my imagination run.  To take the line from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”  Similarly, it appears that he built it and the ideas are coming!  What an amazing concept.  So, on this day, I would like to share some pictures with you of My Space.  It is not perfect – whatever that means.  It is still being fine-tuned – and probably will be forever.  It is teeny tiny, but it is mine.  This is what it looks like today and I am so happy to have it.

Thank you, Gus.

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Holding A Memory

I was given a lovely gift this weekend from a close friend.  It was a journal titled, “Mom’s One Line A Day.”  The purpose of this book is to log a quick thought about each day as it happens, realizing that we are all so busy that one line might just be attainable.  It has room for 5 years of thoughts, all lined up for easy comparison between year one and year five.  A snapshot of what was happening then, as compared to what is happening now.  Or years from now, it would be an easy way to look back to see what we were up to during a certain phase of life.

The question of how we hold our memories has been one that spins around in my head periodically with no real solution.  There are moments when all I want is the ability to stop time.  As I lay on the floor, watching my baby learn to roll over, I want to wallow in the moment, hold it close, and imprint it on my brain.  As I see my four-year old son ride his bike without training wheels for the first time, I want to know that this proud, bursting feeling will be with me for the rest of my life.  Having been through the baby stage before with two other children I know that I will be able to hold onto pieces of the moment, but not the whole thing.  It will pass.

People who have lived through parenting often tell others to “treasure every moment, it goes by so quickly.”  I understand the validity of this statement, but I also find it absurd.  Even when one feels blessed with health and happiness, there are still dirty dishes, sleep deprivation, and shirts covered in spit up to distract from beautiful moments.  Hence my frenetic efforts at documentation… taking photographs on the last day of school, creating baby books, and writing down these random moments.  As I do these things I wonder why I cannot trust my brain to keep these moments for me for a later date; why I must rely on these outside mediums as vaults for something so treasured?

As my friend gave me this thoughtful gift, our babies were laying side by side – hers, six weeks old and precious for all his scrunchy newbornness, and mine, (almost) six months old and stretching out for her freedom.  The miracle of growth and the passage of time were staring us in the face as we looked at what happens in just four months of life.  We sat there in awe of what is occurring before our eyes and in our hearts.

I am left knowing that I can (and will) keep documenting with the best of them, but the real key is to try to stay present for all of it.

Now, I need to go wipe some spit up off the floor.

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Rebirth

I find myself in a period of rebirth and re-imaginings.  My third child was born almost five months ago and I think she will be our last.  As I transition out of having babies, there is something wonderful going on inside my head and heart.  I love my children more than life and have devoted all I have to them and our family for the last five years.  Although I expect to continue doing that for all my years to come, there is something more going on.  I am finding myself again.  Stay tuned… good things are coming!

The attached link is a very thoughtful piece that was brought to my attention and speaks to my soul.

I have been in a phase of “motherhood as all consuming life force”.  I am moving towards a rediscovery of who I am and who I have always been.  This rebirth feels like a marriage of something that existed before, intertwined with something new and different – something that has been evolving and exists in an embryonic state.  I find myself feeling excited about what is next for me.

“This is what women do not tell each other. I want to say it here: You will die when you become a mother and it will hurt and it will be confusing and you will be someone you never imagined and then, you will be reborn.” posted in The Sage Mama , Sept 22 2011.