Sunday, March 29, 2009

Anatomy of a Night Out

Last night I was out for a friend's birthday. The evening got off to a fitful start.

The plan: live music. Where: Hmm, how about Chop Suey? OK, cool!

Wait, that's an all ages show (and we're all over thirty... some well over thirty). Hmm...

Plan 2: The Crocodile! Awesome! In theory that is...

The reality: I drive around for 15 minutes and never find a spot to park. Plus, the Croc is sold out.

Plan 3: Back to Chop Suey. I find a fabulous parking spot on Pike Street.

But then Chop Suey is sold out, too...

Plan 4: Neumo's! We wait outside for others to arrive (others who had managed to find a parking spot near the Crocodile and as a result became very attached to that spot), but at least this place is not sold old. And bonus: someone on the street gives the birthday girl a free ticket! And we are able to snag a booth in the Moe Bar! Things are looking up. While not everyone ends up making it (somehow we lost them in the course of this little adventure), the rest of us enjoy drinks and the Celtic rock band Handful of Luvin', which turns out to feature an incredible fiddler. The evening is saved! Happy birthday, Kristina!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Frugal Fifteen - Another Fabulous Five

We are up and running! Continue along with the next five of the Frugal Fifteen, or travel tips for tightwads.

6. Walk
Well, that seems self-evident, doesn't it? Most of us do much of our sightseeing on foot. But there are times when it's just easier or more convenient to hop the nearest tram or (shudder!) even catch a cab. Or are there? While I'll grant that in many cities it's hard to avoid public transportation, there's a lot to be said for schlepping around on our own two feet, even when it's not the quickest option. While most would consider Budapest, for example, a city that's not readily walkable, I spent a great two and a half days there last year, and managed to only take public transportation once, and that was only because I needed the ride in from the airport. If you have the time, why not walk? You'll see the back streets and get to know the lay of the land, and perhaps burn enough calories to enjoy a guilt-free gelato. OK, I admit that if you're buying the gelato you may not have saved much money. But how would you rather spend that money: packed like a sardine (in a place that also smells suspiciously fishy) on the local bus, or walking footloose and fancy free with a cone of creamy goodness in hand? I thought so.

7. Skip the Souvenirs
What? No shopping?! While I realize that for some this can be a travel highlight, think carefully before you buy. For me, photos are generally the only souvenir I need, and since I already own the camera and store them on my computer rather than make prints, they're virtually free. But for others, especially those experiencing a place for the first time, everything from little trinkets to leather jackets can add up to one spendy budget breaker. Do you really need so many refrigerator magnets? Would a free beer coaster from the pub be just as good of a memento? Ultimately, the time and money you spend shopping can be a real drain on your time and money if you don't reign it in.

8. Use Cash
This is the year 2009, and traveler's checks are so last century. And as for credit cards, who wants to pay those 3% fees on top of the exchange rate? When it comes to traveling frugally, cash is king, and the ATM is the castle. Sure, you'll be charged when you make an ATM withdrawal, but you will almost certainly be charged more using any other method to exchange money. Traveler's checks are particularly a pain because no one wants to accept them and so few places, other than the ones that gouge you with particularly high fees, will exchange them. Plus, since credit cards charge merchants fees every time you make a transaction, some businesses, including quite a few hotels, may offer you a discount for paying in cash. Just be sure that you notify your bank ahead of time of where and when you will be traveling and find out exactly what fees you will incur (there's really no way to completely avoid all exchange fees). You can also check with your credit card company, because some cards really do give you a better deal when making foreign purchases. But even if you're one of the few whose card gives them a stellar rate, keep in mind that many of the smaller, more budget friendly places won't accept credit cards anyway - but they do take cash!

9. Choose Your Splurges
Unless you are on the tightest of budgets, you'll probably want to tuck into a few good meals out on your travels, and such splurges can be well worth it. But to get the most for your money, think about where to head out for that three course dinner, and where to lay low. Off the beaten track in a lazy Tuscan hill town you can enjoy an amazing feast for less than the cost of a mediocre - or possibly downright terrible - meal in Venice. And any place away from the tourist hordes is bound to be a better deal and probably offer better service, too. Sometimes this means only moving over a matter of blocks. Another option is to head to a restaurant for lunch, then dine in style with a grocery star picnic. In Paris you can find terrific lunch deals in the local bistros, especially when sticking with the Plats du Jour, and enjoy the cafe life for ten euros per person, then spend only five euros apiece (less for a take away doner kebab!) for dinner on the Champs du Mars with an Eiffel Tower view.

10. Use the Internet
The Internet, as we all know, can be a great tool, but it takes sifting through a lot of garbage at times to find any pearls. Like guidebooks, the Internet can be an essential planning resource, but keep in mind that all the many, many, many reviews posted by fellow travelers on sites like Trip Adviser and Boots'n'All are inherently biased and what one person loved another hated. Still, there is so much information available that wasn't around even ten years ago that it's a shame not to utilize it. Plus, Internet connections are commonplace in Europe now, and often offer a cheap or even free way to keep in touch with friends and family and to make advance reservations while on the road (you'll find that many hostels, for example, offer free Internet access, although their terminals can be a bit temperamental). Use it to find deals and save on postage and phone fees.

Note: In the photo above, Michael once again demonstrates tightwad travel tips, enjoying a well-earned gelato after trooping through Rome all morning - with our luggage, no less!

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Frugal Fifteen - First Five

The combination of being in travel mode and the influence of all the budgeting advice that is surfacing in the wake of our downtrodden economy got me thinking about travel tips for the budget conscious. While I doubt any of my suggestions are unique or new, one never knows when a new insight might be gained. Also, while these tips are geared specifically towards European travel, many can also be applied to travel at home.

As a final caveat: no one size fits all, and some of these tips may not work for you, but they are all tips that I personally have tried or use routinely, so they have been tested.

Without further ado, here are the first five:

1. Pack Light
OK, anyone who knows anything about the Rick Steves' style of travel has heard this. But is this really a budget tip? To my mind, one of the most important results of packing light is that it changes your mindset; it's freeing not to be weighed down with more than you can easily carry, and rather than worrying about your stuff, you can focus on having the best experience possible. Plus, it makes it much easier to stay in cheaper places, like hostels or inexpensive hotels that don't have elevators, if you can handle your own luggage. It's a good reminder that some of the best things in life have nothing to do with our possessions.

2. Buy a Guidebook
While I am usually the first to point out that you can't save money by spending money, the fact is that if you're going to visit some far-off land, you really need a guidebook to help you make the most of your time and money (after all, time is money, right?). You'll learn when you can peek into the cathedral for free, if it's worth your while to the get the museum pass or not, and where to find the cheapest hostels that you wouldn't be scared to sleep in. You may be the type that doesn't like to plan in advance, but you still need a guidebook so that when you do take that spur-of-the-moment jaunt to London you won't be stuck paying too much for your tube tickets, eating an overpriced Big Mac because you never heard of Pret a Manger, and spending half the day trying to find a hotel that fits your budget.

3. Drink the Tap Water
This one is applicable to most of Western Europe, but I'll admit you shouldn't try it in places like Mexico, Turkey, or south Asia. But in Western Europe most of the tap water is actually pretty good (better than even the filtered tap water I've had in L.A. and Las Vegas), so don't be fooled if it seems the locals don't drink it. I buy a bottle of water at a grocery store the day I arrive, then carry it with me for the entire trip, refilling as I go. In Italy there's also the fun option of outdoor fountains that offer potable water. These are great - and don't be surprised if you see the locals filling up their own bottles, too.

4. Forgo Water at Dinner
Now, as you may have heard, it's typical to be charged for water with a restaurant meal in Europe and tap water does not come automatically. Sure, you can ask for it, but in some places that can feel a little gauche. Wine, on the other hand, while not free, is a great bargain. In Italy, Michael and I would split a carafe of wine with lunch or dinner, and just skip the water. We didn't want to miss out on the wine, especially since a half liter of house wine in Italy cost less than a single glass does in most Seattle restaurants, and since we'd been drinking water (free tap water!) all day, we just didn't miss it at dinner.

5. Go Grocery Shopping
Ah, picnics! What a way to enjoy a meal, and to do it for a minimum of cash. Step outside of the tourist zone a block or so, and visit a local grocery mart for great deals on bread, cheese, meats, fruit, yogurt, and all manner of snacks. It's also fun and lets you feel (almost) like a local. Deli counters in Europe are fantastic, offering all manner of cheese and meats that they will slice at your request. 100 grams of each is generally good for two people, unless you have a large appetite. Many discount chains, such as Aldi in Germany, offer even less expensive prepackaged slices. Of course, don't forget about the farmer's markets. These are the most fun, and you're sure to find great quality food. Putting together a picnic for two for ten euros or under (I've even done it for about five) is a snap.

Note: In the photo above Michael demonstrates two of the fabulous Frugal Fifteen tips - picnicking and using a refilled water bottle. And with that view, could you ask for a better meal?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Travel on My Mind

The wait is over. Each year, as we inch closer to spring, I can feel my pulse quicken as I wait for the answer to this simple question: Where will they send me this year?

And in 2009, I was a little afraid the answer might be "nowhere". However, I am happy to report that I will be touring this year, again as an assistant guide with Europe Through the Back Door, and am in fact in the process of booking a plane ticket to Barcelona! In mid-May I'll be heading out, happy to assist on a seven day tour in San Sebastian, followed by a twelve day tour of Berlin, Prague, and Vienna (with one night thrown in in both Dresden and Cesky Krumlov for good measure). The time in Barcelona will be on my own; having never been to this city yet, how could I turn down this opportunity? I'm most grateful to Michael, who agreed that I should leave early for a chance to do some exploring in Spain before my tour begins, despite the fact that this means I will be flying out a couple of days prior to his birthday.

All my life, I have looked forward to travel. Always, potential trips are swirling through my mind, some dissolving before my eyes as other obligations take their place, some coming into clearer focus as actual dates are set. Even as a child, I longed for the day when I would see Europe for myself. I knew it would happen some day, I just wasn't sure exactly when.

As an adult my plans for travel didn't materialize as soon or as frequently as I had once hoped, but I bided my time. Some years ago, I had finally had enough, and convinced Michael that I simply had to go back to Germany. I could do it on the cheap, flying out in February, staying with family and friends, and avoiding the typical tourist traps, but I had to go. This trip, I also intimated, should satisfy me.

I'm wiser now. I took that trip to Germany, and was satisfied. For a little while. But wanderlust does not fade with time, and I have reached the point where the thought of not visiting some foreign soil (and Canada does not count) on an annual basis fills me with dread. It's a disease, you know. It eats away at you.

The good thing is, a temporary fix - travel itself. After a trip, I'm always so happy to be home. Everything is brilliant, new, exciting - Seattle, our house, Michael himself. In some cases, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Of course, it's only a matter of time, and not very much time at that, before I'm mentally planning my next escape. Here's hoping it's a good one!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sushi in the Hood

Being as there was no food in the house yesterday to speak of (no vegetables, fruits, or protein other than beans, that is), there were two logical options:

a) go grocery shopping

b) go out for dinner

While the more frugal option would doubtlessly have been (a), we chose the more enticing option of eating out. After buying a couple of beers at The Beer Authority, I was on a support-local-businesses roll, and as it had been years since we'd eaten at Toyoda Sushi, the choice seemed obvious.

Amy, Michael, and I took our seats at the bar, which afforded us entertainment along with our dinner, as we watched the chef prepare plate after plate of tempting sashimi, maki, and other sushi. Toyoda is a real neighborhood place, typically packed with locals, and the whole time I was there I kept wondering to myself, "Why has it been so long? What reason have we not gone here lately?"

I also sadly recalled the demise of Shian, the Chinese restaurant across that street that opened a few years ago but has since closed. Shian never managed to build the kind of following Toyoda has, despite stellar Chinese food. People were doubtlessly scared off by the "American Chinese" sign by the door (not what you want to advertise as a Chinese restaurant in Seattle) and the very un-Chinese faded pink and mauve Victoriana of the interior, a relic from the old Baker's restaurant and candy shop. Once Michael and I were bold enough to try it, we fell in love with the spicy dumpling soup and homemade noodles, and we showed our loyalty by eating there almost every time we chose to eat out in Lake City for at least a year. Sadly, our efforts were not enough, which is hardly surprising when we typically ate alone in a space that could easily seat 50 people or more.

Thankfully, Toyoda's popularity does not seem to be waning, and I'm happy to add it back into our (admittedly rather infrequent) rotation. I was also thrilled to discover that Michael will actually eat raw fish - and enjoy it! He has a newfound love for spicy tuna rolls, which is quite something coming from the man who will typically only eat three kinds of seafood: canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise on a sandwich, halibut or cod that has been battered and fried, or shrimp, preferably the small salad shrimp that don't "pop" when you bite into them (and preferably doused with plenty of cocktail sauce). He even branched out last night and tried the eel - and declared it to be "not too bad".

As for me, I pretty much love it all - there are few edibles from the sea that I won't eat, and sandwiching a course of sushi rolls between an appetizer of vegetable tempura and a dessert of tempura ice cream was just right. Now I long to go back again - and I don't intend to wait a few years between meals there this time!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

You've Been Good, Have a Beer!

OK, so Las Vegas was, in its way, fabulous, but let's be honest - the desert and casinos just aren't really my thing. So I was just a little happy to be back in Seattle today, despite the clouds and cooler temperatures, and I was also more than a little happy to check out the newest addition to our downtown Lake City merchants: The Beer Authority.

Yes! I kid you not! Lake City now has a beer shop! And, in all seriousness, I didn't intend for those last sentances to (almost) rhyme, but I must have been so excited that I spontaneously burst into verse. The Beer Authority has taken over the spot that once was Flava Coffee, and, while it is admittedly smaller and feels less lived-in than Bottleworks, they offer a fantastic selection at prices comparable to the other, not quite so local, places I go for beer, plus they have a 5% neighborhood discount. They even have a website already:

OK, I should probably stop before I start to sound like a literal advertisement for the place. No, I am not being paid, I just really enjoy good beer and supporting local independent businesses. Lake City has lost too many of those in recent years, so I hope the neighborhood will show it's dedication to the ones that are still there and the ones just starting out as best we can.

And in further Lake City news, I also saw that the vacated space that used to house the upholstery shop next to Toyoda Sushi (and which has since moved down the street to the former Taco del Mar location) has proclaimed in handwritten black marker on the brown paper lining the windows that it is soon to be a coffee shop! Now I am doubly excited because since Flava and Cranium's left we have had no real coffee shop to speak of, and I do not count the two Starbucks shops. They are too far from the downtown core to be easily walkable, anyway, aside from the fact that Starbucks in Seattle - or anywhere, fo that matter - is hardly unique.

But our future coffee shop needs a name and they are seeking submissions. You can leave yours by the door of their humble location. Let's also hope that they can put forth a good paint job and some fun decor to appeal to the locals, too. Lake City, I knew you had it in you!

Gettin' Hitched, Vegas-Style

Michael and I are back from our brief trip to Vegas for his brother Ryan's wedding. It was a whirlwind of hot pink, glitter, too little time with friends and family, Cirque du Soleil, late breakfasts, and toasts - with or without the sparkling wine.

While I have, in fact, worn a hot pink dress as a bridesmaid, I never thought I would get to see Michael subjected to this color in tux form. Pink checked satin peeked above the lapels of all the groomsmen, complete with matching ascots. Katelynn, our niece, was perhaps more thrilled at the prospect of pink. She and her younger sister, Lindsey, walked down the aisle in white dresses with pink polka dots, strewing pink petals from the intensely hot pink baskets their mom, Nicole, had decorated for them. After a practice run half an hour before the ceremony (and I'm not sure whose idea it was for the practice run, but I have the feeling it was a decision made without adult input), they had their petal placement down pat.

Ryan's bride, Lyndsay, glowed in a beautiful white gown, but still gave a nod to Las Vegas style with her show-stopping make-up. She looked stunning, and everyone else had a fun time trying on different looks for the photo booth that had been rented for the reception.

Weddings are always a special time, and at their heart, all weddings are celebrations of family and love, a chance to see friends and family together who otherwise may have never met, but who all share a common joy in seeing the couple make a public commitment to each other (and, in this very special case, a public commitment on Ryan's part to be a father to Lyndsay's son Kenny, as well as her husband). Best wishes for a lifetime together, Ryan and Lyndsay!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Leaving For Las Vegas

Although we will be gone a mere four days, packing always feels like an ordeal. Where's a matching pair of black trouser socks? What happened to Michael's travel sized shaving cream? Do we have enough change for bus fare to the airport? And why do I do this the night before we leave?

I ought to be something of an expert on packing, I suppose. And I am, in fact, pretty good at the packing light thing. That, naturally, makes me cringe when I see Michael loading up with game console cables and controllers and bachelor party gag gifts. Are we really going to be able to carry on all this junk? But this is the difference between packing for travel and packing for an event such as a brother-in-law's wedding. As Michael is the best man, he's been plotting the bachelor party for weeks and, being the perfectionist that he is, this means accumulating plenty of potential entertainment in the form of movies, games, and gags to fill up the evening - this after he has already planned a trip to a hookah bar and comedy club. I did convince him we should purchase the wedding gift in Las Vegas, however. Precious little that we would want to offer to the happy couple would fit neatly in a Rick Steves' suitcase along with our weekend wardrobe.

It will be a relief to be on the plane tomorrow, leaving the daily grind behind for a few days, heading for a celebration. Of course, just finishing up with the packing will make me feel a lot better, too. Speaking of which... I guess I'd better get packing!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Springtime of My Life

It's that time again! Spring is upon us! Well, technically winter has not yet run its course, but the month of March means that Dine Around Seattle is back, and for us that meant dinner tonight at Spring Hill. Back in November I wrote of our Dine Around experiences at Restaurant Zoe and Crush, taking advantage of the seasonal offerings of three courses for $30, and this time we decided to venture out of our usual neighborhoods to West Seattle. Even though it is only about a twenty minute drive away, I always feel like I'm going on vacation when I head to West Seattle. There must be some psychological advantage in leaving downtown behind as you cross the West Seattle Bridge.

Lewissa joined us for a wonderful meal. Starting with a butter lettuce salad lightly coated in a zingy citrus vinaigrette and studded with radishes, herbs, and Parmesan, I really felt as though spring had arrived on a plate.

All the entrees were excellent, and in this course we were lucky enough to have each chosen one of the three options, giving us all the chance to try a little taste of everything. Lewissa's chicken breast, while that hardly sounds like an exciting choice, was poached to perfection and tasted of citrus in each tender bit. Michael steak came elegantly fanned over caramelized potatoes in a pool of creamed spinach, rich in flavor yet not at all heavy. The vegetarian option was a strudel filled with spiced chick peas and chard, earthy and filling inside the crispest of crusts. Tangy yogurt sauce and warmed grapefruit slices provided a nice balance to the darker flavors of the strudel, along with tender roasted cauliflower.

There's something about grapefruit that has been lightly cooked served alongside a hot entree. The little bit of heat mellows the grapefruit nicely, taming the tartness but still adding tang to a dish that would otherwise feel too rich. I never would have thought to serve it alongside cauliflower, chard, and chickpeas, but it kept the dish interesting and elevated it above some of the more uninspired vegetarian fare.

For dessert, none of us could resist the call of chocolate fudge cake with salted peanut ice cream. Michael and I both consider peanut butter and chocolate to be our favorite ice cream flavor, so we had high hopes for this dish, and luckily were not disappointed. The thinnest slice of rich chocolate cake, topped with meltingly soft peanut ice cream with just the right touch of salt, a ribbon of dense chocolate sauce, and candied peanuts came close to perfection. I love the combination of salty and sweet (isn't that why we find kettle corn so irresistible?), and this dessert nailed it.

And now, as I sit typing this, I still feel full and content. No question, it was worth the trip to West Seattle.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Adventures in Bike Commuting

Despite the fact that I have worked there for almost three years, until last Saturday I had never biked to Europe Through the Back Door. While working at the UW, biking was my primary means of transportation for a large part of the year, so this was a real difference to me. Of course, biking to the UW was also a snap - about five or six miles along the flat Burke Gilman Trail, with the only real hill being the one I had to crawl back up to get to 130th Street at the end of my commute home. Getting to downtown Edmonds is another story.

The trip on Saturday morning wasn't too bad, however. Sure, it had its ups and downs, but I made it to the Aurora Village transit Center in time to catch the 131, providing me with the ease of bussing in for the last third of the trip. My bike stayed at work over the weekend, and then Monday I was struck by a strange urge to ride it all the way home, rather than take the easy way out and use the bus part way.

Had I known what I was in for, I don't know if I would have made the same decision.

I'm very aware of the fact that there are numerous hills filling in the approximately twelve miles between downtown Edmonds and my Lake City home, and traffic, to boot. Wanting to avoid some of the hills I chose to sail down Edmonds Way, which meant I had to deal with the traffic instead. A word to the wise: don't bike down Edmonds Way if you can help it. This is a road with almost no shoulder, and although there are two lanes heading in each direction, and traffic wasn't even particularly heavy, you would be surprised at how many people will whiz by at 40 miles per hour, not bothering to shift over to the empty lane on their left despite the fact that they are a mere foot from a stalwart cyclist. I could just see myself meeting my demise by tripping over a grate just as a Lexus SUV barreled by. It wasn't a pretty thought.

After that experience, I was more than happy to move to less crowded streets. Feeling pretty good about myself, I cycled down 185th Street, and was greeted by the most monstrous hill I could have imagined. Apparently I had chosen Shoreline's steepest street when I figured out my new route home, and there was no way I could pedal up this behemoth. Panting, I made it to the top , wheeling the bike beside me. I really do believe the top of the 185th Street hill must be the highest point in all of Shoreline. I could see both the Olympics and the Cascades over the lesser hills to my east and west, but frankly, given the way I was feeling at that point, I can't say I appreciated the view.

The good part was that it really was almost all downhill from there. A very long, winding way down. The bad part was that it was bone-chillingly cold, and by the time I got to the entrance to the Burke Gilman Trail in Lake Forest Park my hands were like red lobster claws numbed into place. I could barely zip my sweater, my fingers had become so clumsy. But I was in the home stretch! And I only had to get off and walk my bike two more times on the way up from the Burke! Woohoo!

Still, I may try this again - avoiding Edmonds Way, of course. And probably that 185th Street hill. Why do we have so many hills here, anyway? Who said Seattle is a bike friendly city? Ah well, without the hills I guess we'd be the Midwest, so I should probably count my blessings.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kitchen Confidential

No, I didn't burn the beans again (and as a matter of fact, I successfully cooked cannellini beans for a soup last week, so dried beans and I are currently on friendly terms). But I am wondering - can puddings, once thickened, actually revert back to liquid? And is it possible to overbeat the sugar and eggs for a genoise cake? Today's attempts at dessert making seem to indicate that the answer to these questions is "yes" and "yes". Let's examine this further...

Our friends Doug and Leena, along with their two little kiddlywinks, were coming over for dinner, and I was inspired by a menu in this month's issue of Gourmet to whip up a little Sunday chicken dinner with bourbon banana pudding with glazed pecans for dessert. And really, doesn't that sound fabulous? Who wouldn't want bourbon banana pudding for dessert? The kiddlywinks loved it. You can find the recipe online at

But back to the making of the dessert: I whisked together a mixture of brown sugar, cornstarch, and milk on the stove, bringing it to a boil and creating a lovely, glossy, thick pudding which I incorporated gently with some egg yolks and bourbon. Into the fridge it went to set. A few hours later I pulled out the bowl in high anticipation of scooping out delectable, pillowy spoonfuls of rich pudding soft enough to almost melt on the spoon but still solid enough form lazy ripples over a mound of sponge cake, bananas, and praline. If you need a moment to pause and savor that image, go ahead. I understand completely.

But instead what I found was pudding that had melted to the consistency of milk. Was this because I had used 1% instead of whole milk? What went wrong? It had looked so promising. I managed to salvage the pudding by adding some gelatin, but unfortunately by the time we were ready to eat it was still far from the pudding stage, although at least it had moved on to the creamy sauce stage, and no longer seemed like something that should be served in a glass with a straw.

As for the genoise, I read in Gourmet that it is absolutely essential that you beat your egg batter until the falling batter forms a wide ribbon that holds it's shape when you lift the beater over the bowl. After not quite ten minutes, my batter appeared to be getting close. According to the instructions, that meant to keep beating. So keep beating I did (gotta love those Kitchenaid mixers!).

And I kept beating. And beating. And - hey, if anything it looked less ribbony than 20 minutes ago! What was going on here? I gave up; I folded the egg mixture with the flour and baked my cake. It may have turned out a little flat, but it still tasted fine. But did this come about because I forgot to run the whole eggs under warm water before cracking them open, as the magazine had also suggested? Or did someone out there just not want me to make banana bourbon pudding today?

Well, regardless of the cosmic view of my pudding attempt, it turned out surprisingly well. Poured over cake, bananas, and candied pecans, the non-pudding still worked, and the genoise still soaked in the goodness of the bourbon glaze and the runny pudding sauce. And as I said before, the kids were quite taken with it (as, truth be told, was I). I guess you really can't go wrong with banana bourbon pudding with glazed pecans.

Friday, March 6, 2009

When Crabby Is A Good Thing

Lately I have been very lax about posting on this blog - my apologies! And while I rarely write about anything other than the most recent events (blogging just feels fresher when you're writing about what's currently on your mind, rather than something that happened a week ago even if that something was ostensibly more exciting), I would like to take the opportunity to share some photos from the lovely lunch I had with Leslie at Joule a couple of weeks ago. We all need a little Dungeness crab in our lives! Unless, of course, you have a shellfish allergy or, like Michael, have an inexplicable aversion to the crustacean. But the rest of us know where it's at - and Dungeness crab has got it going on!

The meal started with a refreshing mizuna and fennel salad...

And was followed by braised chard with bacon (so cute!)...

Alongside tender ravioli filled with creamed Jerusalem artichoke...

And the piece de resistance, whole fried Dungeness crab! It took Leslie two hours to eat her half of the crab, but I think she would agree that it was worth every finger-licking bite. So very, very worth it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Showing Off Seattle

I love playing tour guide. This, I suppose, is one reason why I actually am something of a guide in Real Life - an assistant tour guide, but that's close enough, right? So when two of my cousins, Audrey and Bethany, along with their friend Becca, asked if they could stay with us for the weekend for the purpose of hearing one of Audrey's favorite singers, AA Bondy, perform at the Tractor Tavern, my first thought was "Yes! I can play tour guide for the day and show them Seattle!"

OK, not really. That was not literally my first thought. In truth, I was more excited by the fact that some of my cousins were interested in coming up to visit, even if the visiting part was not their primary motivation. While most of my cousins, all of whom are younger than I, have moved into adulthood, I've spent little time with them since my own teen years, back when I was the babysitter or just the goofy older cousin. It's an interesting experience for me to get to know my cousins now as peers rather than cute (and sometimes mischievous - although I wouldn't really put Bethany or Audrey in that category) little kids, reading Ranger Rick magazines, eating peanut butter sandwiches, and playing dress-up with grandma's inherited costume jewelry collection.

But playing tour guide was a nice little perk (Seriously - I love showing people my town - take me up on that offer if you dare!). In Wallingford we tasted wines at Bella Cosa, ice cream at Molly Moon's, cupcakes at Trophy, and Bethany even bought a bottle of one of my favorite beers to take home from Bottleworks. We hit Gasworks, the samples at Theo Chocolates, and rummaged through the crazy (crazy ugly, in many cases) fashions of the past at the Fremont Vintage Mall. I discovered, not that it was a surprise, that visiting the locks on a February evening is pretty dull - there are no boats and no fish - and still managed a brief evening trip down the beach at Golden Gardens despite the fading light. Following dinner at Root Table in Ballard we headed to the Tractor, and I have to say that Audrey has pretty good taste in music. We were treated to some great performances to cap off the evening, and Audrey seemed more than please to report that AA Bondy was, "way better in person."

They've turned out pretty well, I think. At least they put up with all my random Seattle factoids and stories pretty well, so they're nothing if not polite. I think I need to stop referring to, "If it was summer..." in my Seattle guiding. But hey, maybe it will encourage people to come back!

Dog Crazy

Some people are cat people. Ostensibly, one reason cats appeal to these people is their seeming aloofness and independence. Other people are dog people. Rather than an unpredictable and indifferent nature, they look for a pet that will provide them with affection and a playful attitude.

Our dog, Lucy, is perhaps affectionate to the extreme. And extremely dependent upon affection.

The past week or so, the poor dog has been somewhat neglected. Most days she has only had one walk, as our evenings were generally busy with outside activities, meaning Lucy sometimes took a back seat. I think - really, I'm pretty certain - that this has proved damaging to her psyche.

Exhibit A: She has been EXCESSIVELY excited to see us when we come home. This morning, when we both walked through the door after having been gone for a couple of hours for church, the dog went berserk. Jumping on the sofa! Then off! Wriggling in and out of our grasp! Whining as she paws anxiously at the ground, her head bobbing in circles! You get the idea.

Exhibit B: Realizing that the pup needed to expend about a week's worth of pent-up energy, Amy V and I took her to the dog park this afternoon. This should wear her out, right? After an hour of playing fetch, fending off the unsolicited advances of other dogs, and swimming in the lake, Lucy was still wired. She didn't want to drop her ball, her hackles were raised repeatedly when any particularly suspicious looking dog came too near, and back at home she flailed on the sofa, trying to lick anything human in sight. Much like a toddler, this much stimulation after a week of lethargy was just too much. Sighhhhhh...

But, you know what? It may have worked better than I thought. I just peeked in the den and Lucy is lying silently on the sofa, doing a very convincing impression of a dog who is quite tired and ready for a nap. There is hope, after all, that no permanent damage has been caused and Lucy has returned to her normal state of mind - occasionally spastic, sure, but still within reason.