Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday Night Done Right

Michael took a bite and closed his eyes. "Mmmm," he groaned.

"You like it?"

"This is possibly the best burger ever," he enthused. Weighing in at half a pound of ground sirloin topped with bacon and English cheddar, this was, apparently, no ordinary burger. Michael does enjoy the occasional ground beef patty, but I'd never seen him react to a burger like this.

Not that I didn't appreciate the "wicked linguine" I'd ordered. Spicy and sassy, with just the right touch of creaminess without being over the top, I was more than pleased with my selection. Across from me, Lewissa reveled in a dish of penne n' cheese. Creamy and sharp with more of that English cheddar, it couldn't be beat - except, perhaps, by the mac n' cheese at the Frontier Room, which Lewissa assured me was even better.

We were enjoying a luxurious night out, complete with cocktails and chocolate ganache for dessert, but what made it even better was the price. Sunday and Monday evenings, the Seattle steakhouse El Gaucho, well known as restaurant where one can easily drop some serious cash, offers happy hour all night in the bar. With bar food that is definitely priced above the average joint, yet still a good deal more economical than the dinner menu, happy hour give you the opportunity to try it out for half price, along with $6 cocktails, $5 glasses of wine, or $3 beers.

And despite the fact that we were fine dining on the cheap, our waitress still treated us with a smile, always there when we needed her. What more could you ask of a Monday night? I can't think of a better way to start the week.

When Reality Sets In

Fall has come, and I find myself ill prepared. Yesterday evening found me shivering on the sidewalk in a skirt with bare legs and sandals, desperately waiting for the light to turn so I could cross to Target and the warmth of the indoors. But how was I to know? When I left to catch my morning bus, the skies had been reassuringly sunny. Heading to work with only a cardigan over my little black top seemed only natural.

Today I fear I'm out of excuses, although I could claim that the discovery, a mere fifteen minutes prior to departure, that my wallet was nowhere to be found threw me off my game. Just in time to catch the 41, I ran down the road with a pocket full of pennies for bus fare and still only a cardigan on my back. Thus it was that I spent this evening's commute running through the rain bareheaded from one bus route to the next, all of which were late; I guess we really don't know how to drive in the rain in Seattle. At least this time I was wearing pants.

By the time I arrived home tonight, the reality of the season had sunk in, and I could see endless dark, damp nights stretching ahead of me. The three bus commute can be a joy in summer, but the winter waiting is merciless.

But who am I to complain? Next week at this time I'll be in the Greek islands, where the weather report promises sun and temperatures in the mid-seventies, enabling me to blissfully ignore reality for one more month. I can hardly wait.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Never have I made my own beer. Much as I like the stuff, I generally rely on the expertise of those Belgian and German brewers for my personal pints. After all, they've been brewing it for hundreds of years, so should know a thing or two by now, right?

For those who'd like to try U-Brew, there is, however, a simpler option than turning you're basement into a chemist's lab of questionable results. Gallagher's in Edmonds offers the ingredients, the equipment, and the expertise to guide you in making your own beer. While I haven't yet tried my own hand at this, Michael and some other guys made their own brew at Gallagher's for our friend Ian's bachelor party, and last night it was finally time to bottle. And, since the official "bachelor party" was over, my status as a woman was no longer a reason to keep my distance.

Ian had chosen a stout for his personal brew. The barkeep (for lack of a better term; what do you call the staff at a U-Brew shop?) poured us each a sample, and everyone's first comment was unanimous.

"It tastes like coffee!"

Yes, it tasted like coffee. Beer... it's what's for breakfast.

"My wife said if the beer tasted like coffee she'd drink it," Ian said. "I thought there wasn't much chance of that, but..."

Well, we'll see if this coffee-beer meets Karin's requirements. In the meantime, the six of us at the brewery had a lot of bottles to fill. After having run them through the sanitizer, having already discarded the bottles with "fuzz" growing inside (coffee flavored beer: good; mold flavored beer: bad), we took turns with one person filling bottles directly from the tap while another capped the filled bottles. In the end, we had more than 100 bottles, including several 22 ouncers and a growler full.

The beer made us hungry for pizza, so we headed to Romio's for dinner once our project was over. But no more beer. We'd had our fill for the moment. Of course, Michael and I now have 22 bottles of home-brewed stout in a box in our kitchen. Anyone up for a cold one?

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Dog Days of Summer Come to an End

As a native Oregonian, I was shocked to realize recently that it had been more than nine entire months since I had set foot in my home state. Nine months! I could have gone through an entire pregnancy from conception to childbirth in that amount of time (please note I said could have; this in no way a reflection on what actually happened during the previous nine months)!

Fortunately, last weekend remedied this situation, as Michael, Lucy, and I drove to my parents' home late Friday night. Saturday was spent with my parents, dining (I use the word here with just a touch of the facetious) at Sheridan's lone Chinese restaurant - home of Michael's favorite General Tso's chicken, hiking out to the point of Cape Lookout on the coast for some fabulous views and woodland scenery, and letting the dogs loose on the beach, where a piece of kelp stood in quite nicely for a stick for Lucy to chase.

We had picked this last weekend of the summer for our trip as a wedding reception was held on Sunday for my cousin, Noah. The wedding had been in Mississippi, and the reception was a casual one, although the setting, in a beautifully landscaped home garden outside of Newberg, and the weather were gorgeous. The casual atmosphere was apparantly a good match for Noah - well, actually, even this setting was more formal than Noah's wedding attire, which he dutifully wore to the reception. While Rosalie, his bride, wore a lovely, simple white wedding gown, Noah had on a pair of dungarees, a striped Hickory shirt, and red lumberjack suspenders. I'm not sure how he convinced Roaslie that dressing like a logger was the way to go for the ceremony; perhaps the folks in Mississippi figured that this must just be how us Oregonians get gussied up. But hey, at least the clothes were clean.

We were on our way to Seattle following the reception, sadly with one of our family left behind. Lucy will spend the next month and a half as a farm dog with my parents, who have offered to dogsit while Michael and I vacation in Greece. But now that we're back home and still have almost two weeks until our trip, the house feels strangely lonely without our beloved pup. Nuisance though she may be at times, it is comforting to come home to someone who's always excited to see you, always eager to snuggle up next to you on the sofa, and who sleeps only an arm's distance away next to my bed each night.

But I have the feeling the next two weeks will be busy enough that we won't have too much of a chance to miss her. And when we get back, Lucy will be an bonafide Oregonian herself, fully integrated into her country dog ways. But don't worry, I'm sure she'll miss her Seattle sofa, at least a little bit.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dog Trick

When a picture is worth a thousand words:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Falling for You

Yesterday, I was down. Work, the weather, a dull dinner of tuna melts on the menu (not to dis tuna melts - after all, it's cheese that puts the "melt" in them); I felt a vague dissatisfaction, not to mention a little restless. The fact is, this is the fourth night in a row I have spent at home doing nothing in particular, and it wears on me.

But! (Yes, there is a but!) This evening left me feeling right as rain, which is an admittedly odd turn of phrase considering the fact that the sun has reappeared has not a little to do with my change of heart. After work, the Lake City farmer's market was abuzz with people out enjoying the golden glow of an Indian summer. Unexpectedly, I happened upon Dimitris, our former Fred Meyer fishmonger. Years ago I told him of my dream to some day go to Greece (his home country), and now that I'm heading there in less than three weeks, I lamented the fact that I wouldn't be able to tell him. And there he was at the market! Coincidence?

The "seconds" at my favorite tomato stand had the perfect heirloom specimens for tonight's pizza, and after getting such a good deal, I was inspired to pick up a hunk of Mount Townsend cheese and a loaf of rustic Italian bread to take to my parents this weekend. Heading to the car, I ran across another friend, out enjoying the park with her kids. The Lake City Market, being adjacent to a small park and offering homemade ice cream, crepes, and Czech pastries, is a popular spot for families.

Arriving home, I found Michael parked on a blanket in the front lawn, taking a break from studying in a valient attempt to keep Lucy from lunging straight for me. In the mind of our dog, seeing someone in an surprising situation is cause to bring out the crazy. This was no exception.

With Lucy safely back inside the house, I joined Michael on the lawn to see what the mail had brought. Michael's passport! A belated birthday card! A Pottery Barn catalog! OK, so that last one just went in the recycling, but still. I then dumped out the "goodies" I'd brought for Michael from work - new moneybelts, Greece guidebooks, and other trip related swag.

Heck, even hanging out the laundry felt good. I pulled down a load of freshly dry whites, so different from the still-damp jeans I'd come home to last night, and reloaded the lines with the next batch. Mmm, clean laundry!

And here I am, still home, and not going to the John Vanderslice concert tonight after all. But I'm OK with it. Maybe all I needed was a little bit more summer to help ease me into fall.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Sunday Scramble

In this modern life, it is inevitable that schedules must sometimes collide. Michael and I had grown spoiled and accustomed to his having weekends off over that past several months, so much so that I took it for granted that our weekend plans were set - until last Tuesday night, when it suddenly dawned on us that he was scheduled to work twelve hour shifts on both the following Saturday and Sunday.

"You can't!" I cried. "The Pink Martini concert is Saturday, and we've had those tickets for months!"

A last minute decision to work a twelve, rather than eight, hour shift on Wednesday gave Michael the freedom to leave work in time for Saturday's concert (although this turned out to be unnecessary since he stayed home sick on Saturday - yes, sick again - still sick, in fact, although he made it to the concert and to work for the past couple of days). Sunday was another story. Just because Michael was at the VA for the day didn't mean my plans were in any way altered. Well, except for the fact that I needed the car. For the first time, I rose at 6:30 on a Sunday morning so I could drive Michael in to work and keep the car to myself for the day. For a Sunday, that's early. Very early.

Somehow Sunday had morphed into a day crowded with church-related events. I'd planned a hike for the "young adults" in the afternoon, it was the first day of Sunday School for the year, someone else had planned a walk at Volunteer Park, there was a meeting for Elizabeth Gregory home, a fundraising dinner for Elizabeth Gregory home, and I was counting the offering money with Erv. Not that all of these events affected me, mind you, but it seemed everyone in the congregation was busy in some way or another. Hey, at least the church felt alive, right?

Well, I'd planned the hike, so I was going hiking, no matter what. Four others crowded into my Pontiac Vibe, with Lucy huddled in the very back, and we headed out of town for Little Si. Not nearly as famous (or infamous) as Mount Si itself, Little Si offers a more gentle hiking option within 45 minutes of the city. Sure, there are some switchbacks and rugged, rocky steps and serpentine roots to navigate, but there is also a long, lovely level stretch through the woods, surrounded by alders and firs, ferns and snowberry bushes. After a final climb, we were rewarded with views across the valley, including a less-than-awe-inspiring peek at Issaquah's suburban sprawl, and a shady place on the rocks to relax over lunch. Out of all of us, Lucy seemed the least relaxed, having wedged herself into a fissure in the rock that was perhaps a little too tight for comfort.

Back at the trailhead we were happy and a little weary, and more than a little dirty. Two of us were attending the Elizabeth Gregory benefit dinner that evening at Portage Bay Cafe in South Lake Union, and time was running short. I pulled into the ULC parking lot around ten after five, sped home, fed the dog, took a shower, got dressed, and made it to the cafe promptly at six. Truly, that was miraculous timing. I also discovered the benefits of rolling down the windows to dry one's hair while cruising down Lake City Way. God bless multi-tasking!

Dinner seating was family style, with a wonderful buffet of salad, roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, and stuffed chicken breasts. My friend Stephanie joined me as my guest to take Michael's place, although I'm afraid I lost her for a while when another friend, David, and I started up a conversation about rowing, inspired by the racing shell hanging from the Cafe's ceiling.

The best thing about the dinner, however, aside from great food and company, was the fact that every single cent from the very reasonable ticket price of $30 per person is going to Elizabeth Gregory Home. This is the women's transitional housing shelter instigated and brought to fruition through our church, a shelter that has now been helping women in need for three years. The fact that the owners of Portage Bay Cafe were willing to donate this entire meal to the cause, and provide us with a wonderful community night out while doing it was inspiring.

After dinner, I headed back to the VA to pick up Michael after his shift. Tired and coughing, he was eager to be home, sipping a tall mug of tea before bed. I felt a twinge of guilt at having been the one to get the long end of the stick, so to speak. Even if I had to rise at 6:30, going hiking on a sunny day and feasting with friends can hardly be considered hardships, while working at the VA... well, that's another story entirely. The man deserved a back scratch, and after he'd had his tea, I was happy to oblige.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the Pink

On Labor Day weekend it appeared that fall had arrived with a vengeance. No sooner had we noticed that the leaves were beginning to turn a suspicious shade of yellow than we were suddenly whipped by angry winds and accosted by weather that went from party sunny to completely rainy in 60 seconds. Thankfully, this weekend summer came back for a final showing, which worked perfectly for us, as last night was the long-awaited Pink Martini show at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.

The Chateau does a concert series every summer, although I'd never been before. After encountering the stop and go single lane traffic jam to get to the event and carrying our cooler from where we parked half a mile down the road (at least we managed to avoid the $10 parking lots), I began to see the wisdom in avoiding the scene. After spending fifteen minutes roaming among the picnickers spread out across the grass, searching for our friends Heather and Satoshi, I questioned further the fact that I had left our cell phone in the car... now half a mile away.

But finally Heather spotted me and flagged me down, and the four of us, including Michael, set up our picnic far from the stage, but with plenty of room to take off our shoes and wiggle our toes. Out came antipasto pasta salad, pesto foccacia, deviled eggs, and Jones soda, with almond cookies and Lu biscuits for dessert. This being a winery, I was happy to take advantage of a bottle of red for $13, an unheard of price at any other local events or restaurants, which I found went especially well with Lu biscuits. Who knew?

As for the music, when China Forbes' voice rang out across the amphitheater clear and pure, Michael simply turned to me and said, "They're good!"

Well, yeah. That's why we came, after all. This being Michael's first live Pink Martini show, I guess he didn't realize the caliber of musicianship he was in for. The band played through old songs and new, and by the final song, Brazil, many in the audience were up and dancing. I was, too. And the fact that we were able to drive home from our parking spot and avoid all the bad traffic? That was just icing on the cake.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Little Bit of Paris in My Life

"When a girl is tired of Paris, she is tired of Life." I found this aphorism quoted on a notepad some years back, and at the time it seemed the perfect gift for the secret Santa gift exchange at work - the recipient was, in fact, a girl who now lives in Paris.

Lately, though, I felt that I was craving a little Paris in my own life. Daily I would walk - or run, on those days I was afraid of missing my bus - past Edmonds own little mini-Paris, the charming Daphne's. About the size of a decent walk-in closet, Daphne's spills out onto the sidewalk in the summer, with two marble-topped tables tucked behind a wrought iron fence to create a cozy space amid the pedestrian traffic. Daphne's is basically a one man show, but that man is dressed in a white dinner jacket and tie, suavely offering wine, beer, and nibbles in his cozy shop.

Charming as Daphne's may be, I've rarely been; aside from work I just don't hand around in Edmonds. But I had fond memories of my first, and, until yesterday, only visit there a couple of years ago with Amy V, so when I realized Amy would be winding up a class in Edmonds around six o' clock last evening, I asked if she'd like to meet for some wine and conversation. She happily obliged.

Now Edmonds is a far, far cry from Paris, and sitting outside with a view down Main Street doesn't exactly make the U.S.A. melt away. But it did feel rather chic, sitting at a sidewalk cafe nursing a glass of vinho verde and snacking on olives. And who knows how many more chances there will be to enjoy such an evening outdoors this season? It may not be Paris, but Daphne's has just enough je ne sais quoi to make any evening feel a little bit special.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Laboring the Day Away

"Ruth," a small voice croaked as I got out of bed this morning and headed to the door. "I need more sleep. I'm sick."

The missing word that hung in the air at the end of that last sentence would be "again". This is at least the third time in about one month that Michael has been sick, although thankfully this time it appears that no vomiting is involved. There have been some miserable days for my husband of late. It's a good thing we're headed to Greece for a vacation in four weeks - he really needs one! I'll cross my fingers that any sickness will stay at bay during our travels.

In the meantime, we have been preparing for our departure by using Labor Day Weekend as a Weekend of Labor. During my spring Europe trip, work on the bathroom cabinet doors that we were preparing to paint ground to a halt. Not surprisingly so; wood cabinet doors, especially those with beveled fronts and deeply grained wood are a real pain to clean. The process starts with stripping, a messy, foul-smelling task wherein you apply orange goo to the wood and allow it to dry before scraping it off in dirty, rubbery ribbons. Then follow hours of sanding, working your way from 80 to 220 grade sandpaper, going crazy trying to sand those hard to reach beveled corners by hand. Next, the first coat of primer, followed by a layer of spackle that must be laboriously sanded down after hardening, all for the purpose of filling in the wood grain that would otherwise show through the many layers of paint. Now it's time for a second coat of primer, followed by a light sanding and four coats of white paint, a light sanding between each coat.

At this point, after more than twelve hours of actual labor each, including the stripping that was completed in the spring (oh wait, let me amend that - twelve hours of work for me, probably more like 20 for Michael; I should give him credit where credit is due), we are ready for the first coat of paint! Woohoo! Except now that Michael is sick, the project may have ground to a halt for the day. Sure, I could do it on my own, but because of all the crazy beveling (I'm not sure what else to call it, but you can see what I'm talking about in the photo above), it's probably not a good idea. Michael, in all seriousness, is a better painter than I, and trying manage all the picky little corners and then get everything with the sponge roller before the brushwork dries could lead to disaster. I can only hope that Michael will feel well soon, not due so much to the painting project, but just to be able to see him well and healthy for more than one week at a stretch would be wonderful.

And lest you think the weekend was nothing but work for us (no wonder Michael got sick!), we did manage a few enjoyable breaks, including having friends over for dinner last night, when I witnessed this amazing sunset from our porch, and I made it out Saturday night for the Mighty Shiny show with a friend. But don't think I'll be taking a break all day now that Michael's down; I'll fill the time with my own errands, from baking cookies to going to Costco. Labor Day, indeed!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Getting the Kinks Out

I had sensed that my back has been a bit sore of late, although I hadn't given it much notice until last night, when I found myself looking squarely across the room at my friend Lewissa's place, staring straight at her red microfiber massage chair.

"Can I use the massage chair?" I asked, already knowing what the answer would be and moving up from the dining chair I'd been occupying.

Ahhh! Who doesn't love a little massage now and then? I settled in while continuing my conversation with Lewissa, with Michael playing with Diego, Lewissa's unusually energetic pug, on the sofa. It's a good thing to be among friends when using a massage chair, I noted, as they can lead to a lot of jiggling. On the Turkey tours we offer at Europe Through the Back Door, our bus frequently stops at service stations offering ten minute mechanical massages for a small fee in giant, overstuffed black leather chairs. Watching people in the chairs is almost as good as getting to be in one yourself, and after hours on the road people find their inhibitions sufficiently lowered for this sort of thing, and simply sigh contendedly while their torsos are kneaded and prodded regardless of who might be looking on.

So it was that I was able to remain dignified (at least, from my perspective) while being treated like a snare drum by the little red chair. But honestly, while the rolling action was quite nice, the snare drum effect left something to be desired. Next time, I know what option not to pick.

This morning I found that my lower back and neck felt nice and relaxed. The area around my shoulder blades, not so much. Oh, massage chair, you sneaky devil, I'm going to need another massage to undo your work! Now I just need to figure out how to convince Michael to take on the job himself... Hmm... perhaps this was my brilliant plan all along.