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1. Moving on...

Well after being here for years but posting so very little the past year, I feel it's time to give up the ghost and move on. I've never been much of a storyteller. There are people who can tell a tale so well and suck you in immediately; I, unfortunately, have never been one of them. Writing used to come fairly easily to me, but I fear the internet and being it's slave has changed me. I now write in bullet points (like any good web writer) and have a hard time writing anything less than 140 characters. Which is why I'm moving over to ctawatao.tumblr.com. It lets me share whatever I feel like, and not feel guilty if I don't write a full paragraph to go with it. I hope not to give up completely on writing, but to someday find new interest in it, but for now, sharing what I come across each day will have to do.

2 Comments on Moving on..., last added: 2/25/2011
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2. Conundrums

I find it ironic that it was snowy in Seattle when I bought my Maui tickets, and now it's snowy again when I'm about to leave. Here's hoping that the 1-3 inches of light snow predicted tomorrow night isn't a problem nor worse than that. Even so, I bought myself some tire chains this evening. Along with some sun block. I also packed myself some cold medicine, along with my swim suit and flip flops. And will bundle myself in a cozy sweater and raincoat with a tank top and sandals at the ready when I arrive. Is this what it's like to be a jet setter? I've never taken a winter vacation before, to exchange one extreme for another. It's going to be a blissful 45 degree difference!

Aloha baby! See you in a week!

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3. SnOMG!

It's crazy cold and snowing and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet (close, but not yet). So not only did we get the shortest summer ever in Seattle, we also got winter about 2 months too early.

To hell with that, I'm going to Maui!

Tickets just about to be purchased and a deposit sent on our townhouse. The whole family is going to the beach for a midwinter paradise retreat, and it's going to be awesome! In some ways I feel like I'm guilt-tripping my parents into joining us: don't you want to be with Baby L at her first time on the beach? Don't you want to go swimming with your granddaughters? Don't you want to be with your FAMILY?! Yeah, no guilt there. But I feel like we are going to have a grand time and no one will regret it in the end.

So go ahead and snow away Seattle Winter--so long as you let us catch a plane in January!

ps: I am super-excited that they've called a snowday at the UW tomorrow. I was planning to work from home tomorrow anyway, but now I have an excuse to laze in my jammies, reread Harry Potter, and bake cookies instead. Huzzah!

2 Comments on SnOMG!, last added: 11/23/2010
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4. Doe a Deer

For whatever reason, I've had songs from Oklahoma! stuck in my head all week. And then today, it was the Sound of Music. So I spent my evening putting these lyrics-based galleries together on Flickr, and I think myself quite brilliant! What other ones could I do, I wonder?

1. little deer, 2. The Earth & the Heaven [..Dhaka, Bangladesh..], 3. The Flickr Portrait Gallery Hall of Excellence 2007 (I), 4. Vanishing Prairie Point Visibility

This little project gave me the idea for a crafty Christmas gift I want to make for my niece, G, who is much enamored of the Sound of Music right now. Time for some crafting, yay!

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5. Cold and Soup Season

After spending time with a certain quality family on the East Coast, I returned home to too much work, very little sleep, and an energy-sapping cold courtesy of my neighbor that I had dinner with the other night. While it's not the flu, combined with my overworked and tired body, I decided to take the day off today and just veg. I caught up on some episodes on hulu, got a nice nap in, and made some soup.

Oh soup. How I love you, how comforting you are when I feel like crap. And the fact that you have only 4 ingredients and you whip up in about 20-30 minutes makes you doubly wonderful.

When I worked at my former workplace, my old boss used to take me out to lunch at her favorite Greek restaurant up the street, The Continental. The first time, we both had the avgolemono soup and a baklava to go, and I fell in love with lemony chickeny ricey soup/porridge. Last year I bought a soup recipe book from a fundraiser, and lo and behold, recipe for The Continental's Avgolemono Soup was in it. (Side note: the restaurant is owned and staffed by the Nicest People Ever. Please visit them.)

This soup reminds me of the Filipino arrozcaldo my mom always made me when I was sick and remains my go to soup when I feel like crap. Unfortunately it involves cooking chicken which I don't always have the energy to do, and requires nice big chunks of ginger which I don't always have fresh on hand when a cold strikes me. This Greek soup however is simple enough that it may become my new go to.

Their recipe calls for bouillon and water but I usually just have those boxed chicken broths in my pantry. Theirs also calls for a tablespoon of butter, but I forgot to put it in, and frankly didn't miss it all. I halved the recipe as I only had 2 eggs and 1 box of broth, but it's resulted in several bowls, probably enough for 2 people.

Avgolemono Soup (Half Recipe)
adapted from The Continental

1 quart chicken broth (1 box)
1/2 cup of rice
2 eggs, separated
1 lemon, juiced (or 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice)
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring broth to a boil and add rice; cover and simmer until rice is cooked, about 20 minutes. Meantime, separate the eggs and beat the whites until solid and frothy. Beat in yolks and lemon juice. Ladle in the hot broth (leave the rice in the pot) one spoonful at a time with the egg mixture, while beating. Do it slowly so the eggs don't curdle. When it's all in, give it a final whip and stir everything back into the pot and dish up. Season to taste and feel better soon!

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6. Clean Up Week: Day 7

The floors have been vacuumed of every speck of dust. Tabletops have reemerged from the remaining dregs of clutter. I schlepped bags and bags of stuff around the corner to the Goodwill and it felt like such a relief to finally not have it in my possession that I did a little dance in my clean hallway when I returned home.

There are a few things left to take care of, like dismantling the man-cave desk, and piecing together my new worktable and then rearranging some things as a result of the new workspace, and also tackling the out-of-dates in my refrigerator, but otherwise I almost feel like I live in a new space. The old apartment feels transformed, thanks in part to a new bathmat, a new duvet cover, and some nice storage containers, but also because of the reemergence of a subtle sense of more space in my home. It's subtle, but it's there.

I also feel kind of transformed by the whole experience--taking stock of what I have, reevaluating what I need in my life versus what I've been hoarding "just in case", take a closer look at those times when I'm lazy and tell myself "oh I'll clean it up later", and the trip down memory lane has made me feel the need to reconnect with the people in my life, past and present.

One thing is for certain: another clothes shopping boycott commences now! 7 bags indeed!

1 Comments on Clean Up Week: Day 7, last added: 9/7/2010
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7. Clean Up Week: Day 6

Today was also a very productive day despite the late start. Finished laundry, hung all my clothes back in the closet and fit all my clothes easily back into drawers (they were stuffed before), cleared out most of the stuff from the man-cave desk and found places for them on shelves.
Ended the day with dinner out with friends (fried chicken dinner at the Hi-Life, yum!) and tea with Scrabble.
Highlights from Day 6:
  • Rediscovered the floor!
  • Found a home for almost everything!
Tomorrow, last day before heading back to work, I finally get to vacuum! Huzzah! And clean out the fridge. This will be about all I can do until I can get the man-cave desk out of home and set up my new worktable--but will need an extra set of hands to help me with that. We're in the final stretch!

1 Comments on Clean Up Week: Day 6, last added: 9/6/2010
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8. Clean Up Week: Day 6

Yesterday was pretty productive. I finally started on laundry and cleaned every nook and cranny in my bathroom that I could reach. I also finished the purge of my closets which included unearthing a humungous box labeled "desk" that in the back of my mind I knew I had, but had readily forgotten as soon as I moved into my apartment four years ago. It's contents has been added to over the last 10+ years without ever purging and resulting in about 4 desks-worth of paper and photographs.

Highlights from Day 6:
  • Palanka from 4 years of Search retreats in college, which include a lot of random inspirational quotes but also some incredibly deep and personal letters that I will treasure till my dying day. Such wonderful stuff. I was bawling as I re-read these, and really regret not keeping in better touch with my old high school and college friends.
  • Old letters during my college years: different from the palanka but just as profound, and really got me thinking how the internet/email/facebook has taken away from the art of letter writing. Apparently my sophomore year in college I went on a letter-writing kick which prompted some wonderful letters in return. I'm thinking I need to revisit this lost art--especially with all that stationary I found in random places.
  • I decided that Rubbermaid is not meant to be in plain sight, which involved some rearranging of storage and getting rid of some old things. All of which is resulting in a nicely edited and less cluttered look in my home. Achieving the goal of a home for everything! Yes!
  • Discovered that the closets I do have are tremendously deep, which is so awesome I can't begin to describe the joy I feel in being able to move things out of sight! Not sure why I didn't realize this before, but unearthing the ungodly amount of junk I'd squirreled away in there has made me realize how big they are.
Ended the day crying my eyes out while reading old letters, but it felt good to reconnect with the past and to look to the future with a lighter load.

1 Comments on Clean Up Week: Day 6, last added: 9/7/2010
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9. Clean Up Week: Day 4

  • 1am - Finished cleaning out closets and drawers and again pull out Mockingjay and get caught up in it.
  • 3am - Eyelids can no longer stay open.
  • 10:30am - Sleep in, but as soon as I awake, again pull out Mockingjay and decide to just finish the darned thing because otherwise it'd be hanging over my head the rest of the day--and we cannot have that.
  • 1pm - Finish novel and am listless and grouchy after reading about such raw and terrorizing events and having to return to my mundane world of housecleaning.
  • 2:30pm - Finally force myself out of bed to face my own reality and the chaos that is my apartment.
  • 2:45pm - Shower.
  • 3:15pm - Have now been fasting for 24 hours. Eat leftover veggie soup, rosemary bread, and figs with goat cheese while watching Ellen. It is a rerun from last October. I watch anyway.
  • 4pm - Hie myself to the mall where I purchase new luxurious towels in color Aegean. Am appalled I let myself purchase luxury towels rather than workaday towels; but love them anyway.
  • 5pm - Purchase compostable dish sponge and environmentally friendly toilet bowl cleaner. Wondering how I got myself to Target. Wondering if I too need a bracelet labeled "mentally disoriented."
  • 6pm - text from friend for dinner. Yippee! I don't have to go home yet!
  • 6:15pm - Find storage bins on sale at Storables and run into old college acquaintance.
  • 7pm - Dinner and good company commence. Best. Tzatziki. Ever.
  • 10pm - Arrive home and wonder if I should even bother to do anything since it's too late to start laundry and clean the bathroom, which is what I originally had intended to do today.
  • 10:49pm - blog.
  • 11pm - sleepy and I have a new Anthro catalog to admire; try again tomorrow.
And the moral of the story is: dystopian young adult novels make for a moody, listless, and decision-challenged day. Use sparingly.

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10. Clean Up Week: Day 3

Back from Ikea with a great counter-height worktable and stool and a new duvet cover. And those thin Anna's cookies that are so great with tea. Am super-excited to remove the man-cave desk now! The storage boxes and the bathroom rugs/towels were not so exciting though, so I'll have to find those elsewhere. Patience is a virtue.

Highlights from Day 3:
  • Hit the jackpot when I rediscovered my change purse full of laundry quarters (which I haven't needed for 5 years). Counted it up along with my "penny bowl" and have about $45 in change. Serious SCORE!
  • Found my flattened penny collection hiding in the penny bowl, including pennies from the Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Hanauma Bay, and the Ballard Locks.
  • Have fewer actual clothes to pass on than I actually thought, although if a normal person looked at it, it'd probably seem like an entire wardrobe. A lot of it is actually making itself into a rag pile. Have set aside some items as possible hand-me-downs for Book Fiend, although not sure if she has the same taste as I do, nor do I know if she's even really interested in hand-me-downs from her aunt. Have also set aside a few items that are possible consignment quality, which is something I've never done before, but my Seeeeester has, so I'm looking into it. The rest will either go to an upcoming clothing swap or to Goodwill.
  • Rediscovered my My Melody diary from when I was 10! However it is locked, but with a flimsy lock, so I'm hoping to either pick the lock or just rip the thing open. Am fairly certain I didn't write in it a lot, but am very curious what I did bother to write in it.
  • Mockingjay, Mockingjay, Mockingjay.

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11. Clean Up Week: Day 2

Boy I got a lot of stuff. I think I'm like my parents in that way. If they ever move out of their house, it'll take weeks to sort through their garage alone. Luckily I'm limited to a one bedroom apartment and have only so many places to stash stuff.

Highlights from Day 2:
  • Rediscovered my Michelle Branch cd. Kept it. Whatever happened to her? Oh, she's country now. Huh.
  • Rediscovered my Stitch n' Bitch book and other books after weeks of wondering what I'd done with it. I had put it in a tote that sits under my coffee table. In other words, it's been in plain sight for weeks.
  • Found more letters and cards from friends, including a very precious one from my niece, Book Fiend, that reads "Dear Auntie [Yola], Thank you for taking me to the library. Love, [Book Fiend].
  • Cleared off half of a bookcase. Once I dump my stockpile of Real Simple magazines, I'll have another shelf clear. Am planning to rearrange these to hold books and also baskets of my sewing supplies.
I now have a growing pile of stuff to purge from the house:
  • A television
  • A broken dvd player
  • A broken laptop
  • 4 grocery bags full of books
  • 1 box of cds, and a few dvds
  • 2 bags of shoes
  • 4 handbags
  • 1 box of assorted crap, including free-gift-with-purchase makeup bags, candle holders, scarves, a "mystical garden" that you grow salt crystals on, and a voo-doo doll (which includes an instruction manual and pins)
And I've satisfactorily recycled a buttload of paper scraps and about 5 years worth of shredding (at one point my shredder actually overheated and stopped working) and only thrown out a small bag of actual trash.
And then Mockingjay was delivered via AmazonTote and I was done for the day.
I spent the rest of the evening ensconced with book, but am back at it this morning, tackling the clothing. This afternoon I make a trip to Ikea to scope out a replacement for the man-cave desk and perhaps also a sideboard and new bathroom rugs.
It's been a productive, although leisurely, week so far. But since it's almost the weekend and I haven't even started the actual cleaning part yet, I need to pick up the pace so that I can actually enjoy the weekend too before heading back to work.

2 Comments on Clean Up Week: Day 2, last added: 9/3/2010
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12. Clean Up Week: Day 1

Today I started a major project: clean and purge and my apartment. Based on what I accomplished today, it's going to take a freakishly long time to take care of everything. BUT, I shall persevere! Today I started on my desk and my bookcases.

Highlights from Day 1:
  • Discovered my SAT scores (620 Verbal and 580 Math) and my Driver's Ed final test (got a 90: drove too fast through turns, didn't look back during parallel parking, and stopped on the line instead of behind it at a stop sign).
  • Unearthed several mixed tapes from my high school days (consisting mainly of Crowded House/Neil Finn songs), but also one tape of Tagalog songs
  • Put tax forms and bank statements from the last 10 years into a shredding pile
  • Kept letters from my former roommates and cousins in the folder where the tax forms used to be.
  • Discovered I have a lot of stationary, but I don't write nearly as many letters as I used to; however, new goal is to put newly discovered stationary to use in the near future. Expect random haikus and letters from me shortly oh ye in far places!
  • Paired cds and their cases, but was unable to match everything. I have 4 cds without cases and a dozen cases without cds. Boo-hoo!
  • Discovered many shriveled insects in drawers, including a bee. Poor guys.
  • Half of my cd collection is comprised of Crowded House, REM, The Posies, and U2 (or related bands and solo work).
  • A quarter of my books, I haven't read, and most likely won't ever.
Goals for the rest of the week:
  • Sort through cds, books, and clothing and get rid of half of it. Hopefully get some cash from some of it too.
  • Replace my brother's man-cave desk with a more sewing machine-friendly worktable.
  • Move my bookcases together.
  • Deep clean everything, especially the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Find a dedicated place for everything I own.

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13. Happy Birthday Dad!

My dad turned 75 today. All year I was thinking we'd throw him a big shindig with family and friends and barbecue and a cake and maybe some halo-halo...but when we finally asked him about it, he said he didn't want a big party. Some nonsense about how he knew he'd end up cooking but really I know it's because he didn't really want to lose at mahjong again. So he just wanted to keep it low-key. Us kids being of a celebratory-go-out kind of nature insisted that we at least go out for lunch to celebrate. So we did. And ended up with a big pile of seafood. That made my dad happy enough.

I was digging through some albums that I have in my apartment that I've been hanging onto with the intention of digitizing most of the photos, and found some of my dad when he was younger. Notice how his smile hasn't changed.

I totally love my dad. I think he's an incredibly loving, loyal, hard-working, creative man, whose best quality if probably how affable he is. Everyone knows he's the guy you can always count on to laugh at your jokes. When I was a kid, I knew him as the dad that worked really hard during the week, made awesome pancakes on Saturdays, and loved to snuggle and joke with us kids. He had an incredible tolerance for pain and his one first aid item was a bottle of merthiolate that probably was kept in the medicine cabinet for 30 years. Actually, it might still be in there. As he's gotten older, he's found more time to hone his skills in the kitchen and his pie is by now world-reknown--or if it isn't, it really should be. We dream of apple pie every week, and that's a pretty darned powerful skill to yield. He insists on doing everything himself, and he's been throughout the years the go-to plumber, mechanic, and general handy man. He's still doing it all himself, and just finished putting up a fence all by himself this summer.

He's come a long way from his tiny town in the Philippines, has literally been around the world many many times--f

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14. Blueberry Morning

Got a freezer full of blueberries? How about some muffins? Make these, they truly are fabulous (maybe not quite to die for, but pretty darn good). I made them without the crumb topping and just sprinkled some demerara on top of each. Extra good on a lazy Saturday summer morning with Crowded House playing in the background.

To Die For Blueberry Muffins
Doctored from http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/to-die-for-blueberry-muffins/
Makes 8 supposedly; I made 6 hefty ones in the large tin; or double it and make 12 tall ones (regular tin)

Muffin Base
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup white + 1/2 cup whole wheat)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup fresh or frozen (do not thaw) blueberries

Crumb Topping
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Combine vegetable oil, egg and milk in the measuring cup. Add wet to dry until just combined; it will be thick. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture or with demerara sugar.

For crumb topping: Stir together sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in butter with a fork, and sprinkle over muffins before baking.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. (Bigger muffins take about 25 minutes--but watch for browning)

Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan before popping them out and smothering with butter while eating at the counter with a mug of hot coffee and Neil Finn in your ear.

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15. Letter to My Dear Brother

My Dear Brother,

Good luck with this!

Your Sis

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16. Letter to My Pre-Teen Niece on Her Reading Habits

My Dearest Book Fiend,

Well we can't deny it any longer: you're growing up. Not only are you now taller than me (which we always knew would happen, but...damnit!), you're dealing with oppression, starvation, manipulation, savage combat, and a pretty romantic love triangle.

Luckily it's all within context of a fictional future: the world of the Hunger Games.

I just finished reading the first in an exceptional trilogy by Suzanne Collins (also author of the fun Gregor the Overlander series). It is by all means a real page turner. After you get over the horrific idea that teens are forced into mortal combat for the sport of it, you just can't stop yourself from reading juuuuuuuust one more chapter at 2:30 in the morning.

And in the end, what can I say? I'm totally on Team Peeta.

What I'm enjoying most about this series so far is that it's got exceptionally strong characters, not weak, whiney, heavy breathing, dull twitty, vampire, werewolf characters like some other series that made me spitting mad. The Hunger Games has just enough "girly" to make your eyes flutter a bit, but enough grit (hello arrow through the jugular!) and determination to make you hitch up your boots and feel like you too could go skin some rabbits for dinner. I'm going to be sorely disappointed though if while reading this series I have to wade through 200 pages of a teenage marriage followed by a little too much detail of the honeymoon, resulting in the birth of a vampire/human child with a horrible name. Just sayin'.

To be honest though, it sort of snuck up on me how quickly you, Book Fiend, have moved on to reading about such heavy themes. I guess I keep wishing you were back in the lovely rosy-golden reading world of the 4th grade, where the most you can wonder is "what in the world did they do to those rats of NIMH?" and "what DID Lucy find there?"

Then I remembered that when I was in middle school, I was making my way through Shakespeare's comedies, trying to shake the image of Sir Gawain's head being split open by a broad sword in T.H. White's Once and Future King, was happily creeped out by Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, and began to sneak into my sister's room to read her hidden trashy romance novels.

Ah, the wonder years.

Anyway, now that I'm coming to terms with the fact that dystopia is your new BFF, I can see how it jives with your sudden interest in spaghetti straps and why you think it might be cool to paint your walls black. You're a pretty smart and determined young woman with great taste in reading matter and I look forward to getting more reading suggestions from you in the future.

So can we trade now so I can read the second book, please?

Your loving and similarly book-obsessed aunt,

3 Comments on Letter to My Pre-Teen Niece on Her Reading Habits, last added: 7/21/2010
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17. A Letter to My Kitchen Pantry

Dearest Kitchen Pantry,

Well, my attempts to keep you well-stocked have not been in vain. Today--a choreful but lazy day full of Doctor Who, new Crowded House, laundry and jam-making--you allowed me to create the best impromptu dinner I've ever had.

For starters we had manchego with rosemary croccantini paired with Working Girl White. Following that, we had seared scallops on herbed greens with green peas and pistachios (kudos to the Freezer for hanging onto all those things--who knew they'd go together so well?). For the main course we had a homemade eggplant mushroom tart/quiche with a rosemary pâte brisée crust (special thanks goes out to the new Food Processor, you are my new BFF! You've turned anytime into Pie Time!). And for dessert we ate our new honey raspberry jam over creme fraiche gelato, our second bowl of the day, and a great way to recover from the dryer and oven working overtime on a summer Saturday.

Thanks Pantry, we make such a great team!

Let's do it again sometime soon!


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18. A Message from The Universe

Dearest Yola,

Congratulations on having your job extended another year! We know how worried and sleepless you've been lately, fretting about your employment status and whether you'd have to move away from your family, friends and beloved city. It's been a huge stressor, and that's why you've been tired and irritable and so obsessed with baking lately. The baking lets you concentrate on a simple recipe and come out with sugary goodness at the end of it. So yay on the job front! Another year to get lots of experience and endear yourself to your coworkers with your technological mastery and winning personality. Go you!

But just so's you don't go feeling all high and mighty about yourself, we're gonna go ahead and have your car towed on this lovely summer solstice and have you pay $145 to reclaim it. After all, you still have a job, and you can afford it.

The Universe

2 Comments on A Message from The Universe, last added: 6/22/2010
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19. Lovely Lucca

I am back after a long day trip to Lucca during which I had no agenda and did as I pleased. It was truly blissful. I was on the fence about what to do today: do a cooking class? Chianti bike tour? Too expensive, too tired. Instead I slept in, wandered the side streets in the antiques shop part of town near Santa Maria Novella, then caught the train to Lucca, dozing in the morning sunshine watching the Tuscan hills float by. Arriving in Lucca, it was lunchtime and I found myself starving for some meat, which until today I have not really had. So I got myself a plate of stewed chicken Lucchese style, and some wine. After eating practically half of a chicken and sleepy with wine, I wandered, wandered, wandered...then suddenly found that I had drank a lot of liquid and needed a WC, pronto. So I wandered, wandered, wandered, and was just about at my wits end, spotted the TI with its free WC. Thank you, God.

The TI was also near a bike rental place, and having worked myself into a nervous breakdown about my near incident, I relaxed into a 2 hour leisurely ride along the fortified ramparts of the city that they have turned into a sort of park. Think of Greenlake, but instead of a lake in the middle, it is the town. I also meandered through town on the bike, which was especially fun, turning down little lanes having no idea where they went but knowing I could not get lost as long as I stayed inside the walls. The sun was shiney, and the Italian men glanced appreciatively, and I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed it. Especially when the old men give you The Look, it is especially funny. I also got a bunch of calls of "arrigato!" and "ni hao!" which I also got a kick out of, especially when I yelled back "sono Americana!"

Still full from lunch, I ended the day with a Puccini/Mozart concert in Puccini's hometown church of San Giovanni, which was quite charming.

But not as charming as the woman singing arias on the pedestrian street between the Duomo and Piazza Signoria behind the church of Orsanmichele back in Florence. For the price of a €2 cone from Grom (tonight's flavors: pera and limone, and organic too) and the change in my pocket, I got a concert under the Florentine stars. Priceless, really.

Tomorrow, Siena!

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20. So-So Siena and Home Again

I'm home again, lounging on my couch in my pjs on a Saturday afternoon, listening to the rain come down, and munching on cantucci dunked in espresso. I've been home for a week and wake up each morning thankful for my warm cushy bed. See, hotel beds are for the most part not especially cushy, not if you can't afford a 4-star hotel. But that doesn't matter because you did not travel halfway around the world to spend it lounging in bed, now did you? A spartan hotel room encourages you to get out and see what you came to see. This for example:

This was the view from the terrace of Albergo Bernini in Siena. In fact you could see the Cathedral (shown above) as well as San Domenico, where St. Catherine's head is displayed on an altar (umm, kind of creepy actually), and St. Catherine's Sanctuary (aka her childhood home) was right below, next door. A lovely medieval Italian town laid out below. And even though the room was kind of meh with paper thin walls, and the water slowed to a tiny trickle during my shower in the shared bathroom across the hall, it was a charming kind of place, with kind people and great coffee.

St. Catherine's Sanctuary

I chose to spend the evening in Siena based on the recommendation of Mr. Rick Steves, my guide to all things European. Although in this case, at the beginning of April, it wasn't that interesting after all the crowds went back to Florence. I meandered the tiny streets, and I one point found myself alone with a stranger on a tiny lane that made me nervous, so I turned right around and marched back up the hill. That was the only point in 10 days of traveling alone that I felt remotely unsafe, and I trusted my feelings and pulled myself safely out of the situation. But that was probably the most exciting thing that happened in Siena. In the shoulder season, it's a sleepy little medieval town. I imagine in the summer, Il Campo is a vibrant and fun place to hang out and just relax:

Il Campo

So Siena was just so-so. The following morning I hit a few more museums, and packed myself onto a bus to Rome. It was a 3 hour ride, during which I slept, made friends with an Italian man who spoke no English, and watched the rolling hills of the Italian countryside. It was actually quite nice.

Back in Rome, I found my hotel (which was sort of a lame hotel, despite being recommended by RS--apparently I got an old room, which was on the 1st floor (American 2nd floor), but the hotel front desk was on the 4th floor, and I had to ride a rickety old elevator to get there. They had a really nice breakfast terrace, but unfortunately I left before breakfast time. I set out for one last passegiata, one last gelato (tartufo and chocolate/wine, deeeeeeelish!) and one last dinner (a Napolese restaurant with portions so huge I unknowingly ordered enough food for a family of four). It was quite nice, though I didn't get any souvenir shopping in, which I had planned to do, but didn't and now sort of regret. What I did get though was priceless: one last sunset on the Tiber and St. Peter's:

1 Comments on So-So Siena and Home Again, last added: 4/17/2010

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21. New Album and More Neil

Eeeeeeeek! Neil and company will be back this August! Eeeeeee! Who's
coming with me? http://www.frenz.com/crowdedhouse/

1 Comments on New Album and More Neil, last added: 4/20/2010
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22. Food Planning

It's been awhile since I've posted here. Busy in some ways, preparing for baby showers and imminent arrivals, but also just without much to say. It's mostly been same-old-same-old around here.

I have been thinking a lot about my food habits lately though. Especially a couple of weeks ago when I did not cook for myself for an entire week: I was feeling incredibly lazy and didn't want to clean out my rotting fridge, therefore the kitchen was off limits the entire week and I ended up spending a fortune eating out everyday (but yes, it was pretty yummy). Then the guilt descended and I cleaned and have been trying to strategize how to avoid having that happen again in the future.

The fact is, a lot of my food gets wasted. I buy produce, cook with about 3/4 of it, and eat only 3/4 of it, and the rest goes inedible. I'm not at all good about planning what I eat during the week, I tend to go with what seems tasty at the moment. I usually get home around 7 or 8 at night, so cooking dinner is not something I'm too keen to do, or I do a rush job and end up eating pasta and broccoli, which isn't bad, but isn't great either. But what with summer trying to make its way to the Seattle area, and all that producey goodness just waiting to be had at the farmer's market, I want to make better use of my food and look forward to doing it. Which means I have to start planning it during the weekends.

I have resolved to (A) buy most of my food at the farmer's market on Sundays. I have a fantastic farmer's market in my neighborhood every weekend year round, and I can afford to do so and I feel good supporting my neighbors and buying locally. I have also resolved to (B) plan at least 2 dishes a week, which usually translates to lunches and dinners for almost the entire week. (C) I will still allow myself to buy coffee in the morning, and lunch occasionally. I understand that I am lazy and weak and that changes cannot happen immediately overnight. (D) I will host friends for dinner more often! This I think is a brilliant plan because it forces me to cook, it forces me to clean my apartment, and it allows me time to hang out with friends: all very good things indeed.

Dinner this week: I just made a pot of emmer risotto with orange peppers, saffron, and spring onions, which went deliciously with my wild salmon and the ubiquitous broccoli. (No photo, as I scarfed this down immediately upon completion, I was so hungry). This should feed me for at least 3 more meals. Also on the menu this week: baby bok choy with peanut sauce and brown rice and maybe shrimp. And some leftover pancit that my parents made yesterday, yum.

1 Comments on Food Planning, last added: 6/2/2010
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23. Welcome Baby Smalls!

I have a new niece! She was born on Friday morning, a bit ahead of schedule. She's pretty darn adorable. When she frowns she looks a lot like my sister did when she was a baby. It's going to be a fun summer, I think, playing with the new family member and making cute things for her. My brain is already packing a list of things I want to try to make....

Welcome Smalls!
Baby Smalls

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24. In before the bell!

Dear World,

I am such a procrastinator. But you knew that already. Just don't tell the people that I just sent my resume to. I'm trying to make myself look good.

Wish me luck!

3 Comments on In before the bell!, last added: 6/6/2010
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25. Strawberry Fields Forever

I escaped the naked bicyclists this weekend and headed east where the rain had stayed away and left me to pick my 12 pounds of strawberries in peace. It was rather blissful...that is until I stood up and felt how tired my back was. I probably could have kept going, but decided 12 pounds is enough for now. The squirrel in me is quite gleeful at present but knows that there's always room to stock up more for the long winter ahead.

At home, I made Lady Susan's honey strawberry freezer jam. It's gonna make toast so much more exciting!

Honey Strawberry Jam
Then I decided to try something I've been thinking about forever: vanilla pastry cream. The bakery up the street, Honore, makes these wonderful pear danishes with vanilla bean cream that makes me want to cry, they're so good. I think the last time I ate one was a month ago, but I keep thinking about that cream, flecked with those teeny tiny beans and with such a creamy texture.

So I broke out my new food processor to make Clotilde's mama's pâte sablée for tart crusts (crust recipe can be found here). I made one large tart to share for Father's Day and 6 tartlettes to hog for myself. Try tossing in a 1/2 tsp of cinnamon with the flour, it's quite heavenly.

Strawberry Tartlettes
I topped the crusts with this vanilla pastry cream. The cream is a lesson in patience as you wait for that milk to boil, but at least this recipe doesn't involve hot water baths or straining. It thickens pretty quickly, even on medium, so keep whisking and watch it closely. I think the best advice is giving it a whir with the immersion blender. It silkens it up even if it starts to get a little too thick. After I'd chilled it in the fridge overnight, I went to spoon it into the crust and it came out like jello. I whirred in some warm milk with the blender and it came out silky again. I'll have to try it again to see if I can get the consistency a little better. It was wonderfully tasty though, either way.

Throw on some berries, artistically if you're going to present it to family and friends--or like I did the moment the cream cooled, pile those berries on willy nilly and eat it standing at the kitchen counter while your eyes roll back into your head and you experience nirvana while strawberry juice dribbles down your chin.

Hello summer!

Strawberry Tart

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