Woodinville Wineries Bucket List

I like wine.  He likes wine.

Born and raised in upstate New York, we both attended Cornell, he as an engineer minoring in government, me as a French lit major dabbling in fashion.  The only class we shared was “Wines of the World,” a legend of a class at Cornell, and the beginning of our wine education.

Fast forward 9 years, and we’re married and living in Seattle.  We’ve taken a trip down to Napa/Sonoma, and multiple hauls to Yakima and Walla Walla.  Yet we’ve got the Woodinville wineries in our backyard and have only visited a few times.  What is it about living in a place that makes you take it for granted?  Last week, he proposed “why don’t we visit every Woodinville winery?”  And I was like, yes, why don’t we and why haven’t we done this sooner?  And then, poor guy, I took over his excellent idea and started planning.  Let’s go beyond Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia.  Heck, let’s even go beyond our so-called “off the beaten track” oft-returned to favorite, Airfield!  Turns out there is not only more to explore in Woodinville, but A LOT more.  There are 73 wineries/tasting rooms…seventy-three!  Done.

Our goal in this project is to spend time together over a shared hobby, learn more about wine, and extract as much joy as possible right in our own backyard.  I’m excited.  It’s good to be explorers in local territory.  And it’s an opportunity to develop a bit of expertise in an area we’ve only dabbled in.  By the end, we can say we really do know a corner of Washington State wine!

So, March 10, we set off, ready to tick a few wineries off our list.  Out of 73 wineries, we’ve only been to 6 (Only 6!  Isn’t that crazy?).  67 to go.  Not that we’re keeping track or trying to rush.  Well, we are keeping track,  but we want to savor and appreciate each one.

We debated a bit on our approach, and we haven’t landed it yet.  Should we go to all the big guns first?  Mix it up each week with a well-known and an up-and-coming producer?  Alphabetical order?  How many to do each week?  To share or not to share tastings?  We haven’t decided.  The important thing is that we’re doing it.

Our first stop in this adventure was Woodhouse Wine Estates.  Tucked into a very unassuming warehouse (like many spots in Woodinville), we entered a warm, sleek, well-decorated tasting room.  Very welcoming on a cold, rainy March day.  We liked Woodhouse for it’s unrushed, relaxing atmosphere.  We sat at the bar for quite awhile, enjoying the time together talking and laughing, savoring each new wine we tasted.  The staff were very knowledgeable and answered all our questions.  The various brands were a bit confusing, but we liked the wines and left with a bottle of 2006 Dussek Cab Sauv.  We only wished the winemaker–who was hanging out behind the counter–had come over to say hello.  We wanted to find out more about his Alsace-style approach–apparently, his family roots in France extend back centuries in the winemaking realm, so that would have been rad to hear about.  But no quibbles here, we had a relaxed afternoon, and are off to our next winery, Silver Lake, which is just down the road and across the street.

The tasting room at Silver Lake is smaller and a bit more pedestrian, but we had just as good a time.  Rick, who’s been working there for years, walked us through their wines superbly with a most welcome sense of humor and great conversation.  He set up the tasting so that we could try a Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio side-by-side.  I always thought they were the same wine…but not quite.  They are the same grape, but a different style, and the tasting will forever etch that lesson in my mind–the Pinot Gris was lush, flavorful, tropical, and just sweet enough (read: not too sweet, b/c I don’t like overly sweet wines).  The Pinot Grigio was light, clean, crisp, and proper.  Like twins with opposite personalities…same genes, different expression.

I will never finish my blog posts each week if I talk about every wine we like or every new thing we learn…so I’ll just note that the Glen Fiona Cuvee Parallel 46 was superb, and we might go back for that.  In the mean time, we have to temper ourselves when it comes to redeeming our tasting fees…otherwise we will have to move to a bigger place to store all our wine and have way more parties.

Although not quite proper, we don’t spit out at tastings, so by the 2nd tasting our taste buds were pretty overwhelmed.  But in a typical bout of overambition, I pushed us to try one more–Sparkman.  I really think their wines were outstanding, but I have no way to be sure, because mid-tasting everything tasted the same.  And this is the point at which we decided we will be doing no more than two back to back tastings going forward, because we just didn’t appreciate it enough.

We ended our afternoon next door at Purple Cafe, with some French dip to soak up all the wine in our bellies.  ‘Til next time!

The summer hunt and peck

What makes you sure that summer has arrived?  For me, berry-picking wraps me in summer’s embrace like nothing else.  Plus, it has got to be the most cost-effective way to eat a lot of berries ($2.00/lb….YEEEES!), and you do want to consume a ridiculous amount of berries.  They are packed with anti-cancer, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory compounds, all while being pro-delicious.

berries

So friend, get out there and pick as many berries as you can!  Not only because it is cheaper than buying them at the store, not only because they are ridiculously good for you, but also because you can pick organic.  Berries don’t have a protective skin, which means they have greater concentrations of pesticides than most fruits.  I like U-pick berries because many farmers offer organic U-pick at a good price. 

This year I am not messing around.  I am hell-bent on picking every kind of berry—strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and whatever else I can find—before the season bows out to make way for fall.  I had to do a little geographical triage to make this happen (i.e., I was not in Seattle during strawberry U-pick time, so I had to pick strawberries in upstate New York even though the season there was pretty terrible and I had to drive an hour and a half to find a farm that still had decent berries).  But I am determined to get the experience of harvesting every kind of fruit I can, particularly berries. 

What, what, you say?  Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are not berries?  Well good for you, and touché; the hallmark of a true berry is a fruit with interior seeds, something about superior ovaries, and probably some other additional nonsensical, botanical, taxonomical criteria.  The strawberry is technically an accessory fruit.  The raspberry?  A composite fruit.  The blueberry gets close—out of this crew, it is the only one that even gets “berry” in there, with the distinction of being a “false berry”.  I bet it feels pretty bad about having an inferior ovary.  (Maybe that’s why it’s called a blueberry.)  I don’t feel bad about any of this though—I can pick them, and they are delicious.

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Which fruits, then, are true berries, you may be wondering?  Examples include the tomato, the currant, the grape, and the persimmon.  And let me tell you, if I could find a U-pick persimmon outfit in the greater Seattle area, I would not be sitting here writing about false berries.  I would be out picking even more fruit to cram into my freezer, indulging in an afternoon of foraging under pristine skies and clear sunshine.

Which brings me to my point: foraging.  Hunting and gathering is what makes berry-picking (false or otherwise) so much fun and so rewarding.  Other than the end product, which is a proud hoard of inexpensive and delicious fruit, the main attraction of berry-picking is gathering it myself.  Yes, I do have a lot of help.  Bing locates the U-pick farm, our trusty GPS, Margaux, directs me there with her calm, reassuring voice, and the farmers, bless them, have grown so many fruitful plants in such nice, straight rows.  And I don’t even have to stain the skirt of my dress, because look at that, they’ve provided cardboard flats for collecting the fruit. 

But still, I am working a lot harder for my food than I normally do.  I like that.  I zone out, enjoying a different kind of productivity that affords my mind time to wander.  Sometimes, I drift so far that I forget to peck a little at the lovely jewels before me.  The sun beats down, sweat trickles down my face, and the warm, juicy berries lazily drip into my box.  It takes a long time to harvest a respectable amount.  Every pint of produce at the grocery store now seems more impressive.  Good things always take more work.  I don’t have any pictures of me picking berries, but I do have this great photo of Jonathan sticking a berry on my face:

CIMG0071

Summer feels eternal in the berry fields, as one by one the rich nuggets drop into my crate.  They are bursting with sun.  I feel a little like a gold-panner who has struck it rich, and the prize is endless long days graced with warmth and abundance.

But summer is fleeting, and the berries are proof.  Come September, they disappear from grocery stores or their price makes a pie embarrassingly expensive.  Even when my most recent batch of fresh-picked raspberries arrived home, it was quickly evident that they have been severed from their life line.  They seemed so strong, so everlasting, that I forgot their fragility.  Left out, mold started sprouting within just a day or two, and I hesitatingly began moving them into the freezer.

But still, there are so many and it feels so luxurious.  Not limited to thawed lumps or a few fresh drupes sprinkled on cereal, no, not me!  I can make two pies or three, eat them by handfuls, and experiment.  At the last possible minute, the remainders are deposited in the freezer, only to be withdrawn on a cold day without sunshine. 

20090127153721_frozenberries

Until then, blueberries are up next, and anything else I manage to hunt down and gather.  I am getting my fill of summer, which also includes a healthy dose of giant bubble blowing.

What about you?  Have you done your summer hunt and peck–or whatever else about the season makes you feel most alive?

I would be remiss without including a recipe…

Raspberry-Rose Gin Rickey (From Bon Appétit) (Serves 4)

The most surprisingly delicious use of my berries so far this summer!  I had rose water on hand, but opted not to use it. 

3 cups fresh raspberries

1 cup gin

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon rose water

3 cups crushed ice

Mix first 5 ingredients in a bowl.  Let stand for 1 hour; stir occasionally and crush some of the berries.  Place 3/4 cup ice in each of 4 glasses.  Top each with 3/4 cup raspberry mixture.

The Damn Birds: 1,000 Origami Cranes

Focus! 

When I was thinking about the atmosphere for our wedding, I knew  I wanted to have a strong focal point at our reception.  Perhaps something of an art installation.  An elegant design that would be eye-catching and symbolic. 

Art deco emerged as our wedding style early on, so I sought a project that made sense with that aesthetic.  Several library books referenced the influence of Japanese art and origami on Art Deco.  This intrigued me.  I had not done origami in years, and I loved the idea of handcrafting my way to a focal point for our big day.

How I stumbled upon the Japanese tradition of 1,000 origami paper cranes, I know not, but I did know right away that this was my focal point project.  Tradition states that a woman who folds 1,000 cranes will be granted a long and prosperous marriage.  What’s not to love?  The patience, stamina, and attention required to fold 1,000 cranes are the same qualities necessary to sustain a marriage.  Also, this project fit my vision–Beauty: check!  Strong focal point: check!  Hand-crafted: check!  Symbolic: check!  This was a big deal, because often, my projects don’t fit a particular vision; I just want to do something crazy cool.  Not that there is anything wrong with “crazy cool”, but it’s nice when outlandish feats coincide with a genuine purpose beyond outlandish.

In my initial research to determine timeline and materials, I found some pictures of 1,000 cranes on the web here and there.   I easily located instructions for folding a single crane, but found no instructions as to the assemblage and display of all 1,000 cranes.  I decided to start folding and worry about installation later.  In this post, I promise to share instructions on installation, because if you think folding 1,000 birds is tough, wait until you try to get the flock to “fly”.  I don’t say this to discourage you from replicating this project, but to give you a sense of the dedication required to complete it!  (And proper gratitude for my DIY instructions.)

Never having folded 1,000 cranes before, I wasn’t sure how long it would take, so I folded a few dozen, and when I was pretty darn fast, I clocked myself…2 minutes per bird!  That’s 2,000 minutes total…or 33 hours…or 40 hours, since I always manage to underestimate completion time.  About a solid week worth of work, working full-time.   I decided to give myself a month or two, and that way, I would only have to work a few hours at a time. 

paper crane how to

Folding 1,000 cranes turned out to be not only a cool project for our wedding day, but also a calming process in the stressful months that preceded the wedding.  Folding is a meditative act.  As I folded the cranes, one by one, I understood the roots of the tradition and how it relates to marriage.  Folding the first hundred or two was novel and exciting; after that, some serious patience was required with a constant focus on the end goal; during the last hundred or two, as I anticipated it all coming together, it became easier again. 

The cranes carried me through a book on tape, a Hitchcock marathon, and several very long bi-coastal phone calls with Jonathan (which would soon enough be a thing of the past!).  But often times, I just needed to zone out, and fell into spurts of smooth, repetitious folding, the way an exhausted person falls into bed—grateful and relieved.

And now for the stressful portion of the 1,000 cranes project!  I was SO pleased with myself when I was done folding, sitting at the dining room table filled and piled high with silver cranes, when it hit me:  Holy crap.  Now I have to figure out how to display theseWhat was I thinking?!  Oh right, I was thinking that certainly, the folding of the cranes would be tougher and more time-consuming than their display.  In typical Kaitlyn fashion, I pushed forward with a project determined to make it work despite potential future obstacles and bit off more than I could chew. 

Given that the wedding was T minus 7 days, my mom decided it was time for an intervention.  She was trying really hard to let me be CEO of this wedding, but boy am I glad she stepped in and saved the day.  She rallied two crane assembly teams, and within a few hours of work over two nights, all the cranes were strung and ready to be hung.  (And I have to give my mom major props on this, because she did not wholeheartedly support this hair brained scheme.  She lovingly referred to my cranes as “the damn birds”.) 

Thanks to my dear friend, Trish, the cranes were separated onto clothing hangers, strung across a clothesline in the back of her Subaru, and transported to the reception site. 

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Of course, the final hanging proved to be the most difficult task of all.  I wanted the cranes to hang in the arch on the second floor of the ballroom, so they would be highly visible from above and below.  The plan was to hang them from a horizontal metal pole that would be duct-taped into place on top of two columns in the archway.  During set-up (i.e., the day before the wedding), we realized this would not work.  The pole was too big and heavy and would not stay in place.

Thank God, my design professor from college was there to help with the installation.  The cranes were pretty much the last straw for me and while I was busy finally having a meltdown, she stepped in with a “Save the Cranes” campaign, rallying the troops and proposing an alternative solution.  With the clock ticking, she found simple and available materials (clear fishing wire and candle wax), and proposed that we run fishing wire between two small hooks that happened to be installed on either column.  After much finagling and untangling, a team of five helpers strung all the vertical strands onto the massive horizontal strand.  And thanks to my brother and his amazing “stand on a ladder for an hour” skills and “pull-pull-pull on the fishing wire until it was taut enough but without breaking it” skills, the birds were finally in the air.  (And I have to tell you, we were all really holding our breaths on the last one…if the fishing wire snapped, it would have all been over…)  Here is a team work photo:

cranes3

From there, the challenge became: how do we keep the individual strands of cranes (~40 total!) separated so they don’t all sag to the middle of the fishing wire?  That’s where the candle wax came in—Professor Evans pinched a pea-sized blob of wax onto each individual vertical strand to hold it in place along the length of the horizontal wire.  Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.   Seriously.  It was like watching an episode of Top Chef, where you have two hours to put together an extravagant 4 course meal.  Prof Evans pulled it off, just under the wire, and we all raced off to the rehearsal.

The final product exceeded all my expectations—the cranes were stunning, glittery, and elegant.  More importantly and unexpectedly, though, there were lessons to be learned.  Not only the individual patience and stamina required to tend to a marriage over the course of decades, but also the friends, family, and teamwork that make life worth living.  Would I do the 1,000 cranes over again, drama and all?  Absolutely!  For a very independent person, the realization of the importance of relationships alone was worth it.

cranes

Are you thinking about doing a 1,000 paper cranes display of your own?  Here are my DIY instructions, and food for thought:

Pre-folding

1)  Think about color.  Should you go with one color or multiple colors?  Various colors can work if you’re going for a more informal look or if you don’t mind spending extra time thinking about the spacing of various colors (i.e., will you string the cranes in a pattern?—e.g., red, orange, yellow, red, orange, yellow—or will you string them randomly?)  However, I think it’s easiest and simplest to go with a single hue, or perhaps tints and shades of a single hue.   Also, if you want a natural look, go with matte paper.   We were going for sophisticated and glitzy (yeah Art Deco!), and accordingly, we went with silver metallic paper, which reflected the lights and candlelight very nicely.

2) Think about scale.  Which size origami paper to choose?  Think about the space where you want to display the cranes.  Is it small or big?  Is it close to your guests or far away?  Since my cranes were hanging from the ceiling high above most of our guests, I bought the largest size paper possible (6 inches square) for greatest effect.  If the cranes are part of the table centerpieces, or if you want a daintier look, try 3- or 4-inch square paper.

Folding the cranes

3)  Find folding instructions online, practice, and then time yourself.  Instructions abound online, both in photo and video version.  Fold a package of paper (50 sheets or so), and once you’re pretty good, time yourself so you can get a sense of how long you’ll need to complete folding 1,000. 

4) Allocate space for the cranes.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but seriously, make sure you have enough space to store them!  I had to delay the start of my crane-folding until two months before the wedding, when I moved from Boston to New York (where the wedding was taking place), because the cranes literally would have filled my entire car, and I would have had to leave all my other belongings behind.  The other thing you can do to minimize their volume is to fold them up until almost the very last stage—when they’re almost completed, but they’re still flat—before you open the wings.  This keeps the volume down and prevents them from getting damaged in their vulnerable, open-winged stage.

Stringing and displaying the cranes

5)  Figure out how you will display the cranes.  There are two decisions you need to make:  (a) Will you hang them in one large cluster altogether, or spread them throughout a space?  and (b) What will they be hanging from?

Here are several different display ideas: hanging from trees, hanging from an arbor, and chandelier-style.

cranes_in_trees_outside

cranes in arch chandelier cranes

Probably the easiest way to hang them (and what I saw lots of examples of online) was to buy or rent an arbor or archway and hang the strands from the top of the structure. 

If you want to hang them from part of the architecture of a building, like I did, it gets trickier.  Of course, it’s easiest to hang them from a straight, horizontal pipe or rod of some sort, if the pipe can be secured into place.  Otherwise, you can try your hand at stringing them on fishing wire.  More on that later.  Just keep in mind that the wider the space and the heavier your cranes, the harder it will be to keep the fishing wire from snapping.  I was working with a 12-14ish foot piece of fishing wire, and that was really pushing it. 

6)  Calculate your space.  How big of a space you have to work in may define the spacing of the cranes when you string them, and the size origami paper you choose.  If you’re hanging the cranes freely, say, outside from tree branches, then you don’t need to think about this.  But if you’re hanging them from an arbor, or within an archway (like I did), you need to make sure your birds are the right size and are spaced appropriately.  I wanted each strand to be between 3-5 inches apart, and the space I was trying to fill was about 11 feet wide by 5 feet tall.  From there, I was able to figure out how many strands of cranes I needed, how many cranes per strand, and how far apart the strands should be from each other. 

7)  Stringing the cranes.  The best material for stringing cranes is clear fishing wire, because it’s almost invisible, and it doesn’t break as easily as thread.  Once you figure out how long each strand should be, make sure you add about 5 inches extra to form the loops on top where each strand will hang.  Cut all your strands at once, and tie your loops ahead of time.  From here, you can proceed two ways.  You can string your birds like this:

1000_origami_paper_cranes

or you can do it the way I did and space them like this:

cranes2

The advantage to the first is you don’t have to worry about spacing because you’re just stringing the birds on like beads.  However, I think the second, while more time consuming, is prettier and more airy—you can really see the birds.  If you opt for the latter, you’ll need some seed beads and a thin needle.  String the end of your fishing wire onto a needle, and then string your crane on, closest to the end with the loop for hanging, poking a hole through the top of the bird’s body, and going down through the bottom of the body.  Position the bird where you want it on the string.  Then, string your seed bead onto your fishing wire, and tie the bead to the fishing wire, so it can’t move around.  You’ll see that your bird will now “sit” on top of the bead.  String another crane onto the fishing wire, position it 4 inches below the first (or however far apart you want them to sit) and then string and tie on another seed bead.  Continue until your strand is complete.   If you’re spacing the birds with beads, don’t underestimate how long this step will take!!!  It is just as hard as folding, and you need a good set of eyes and great dexterity to pull this off. 

8)  Protecting and transporting the cranes.  Once you’ve strung the cranes, you need a good way to store them until go time.  I recommend getting some clothes hangers and putting no more than 3-4 strands of cranes on each, so they don’t get tangled.  If you’re transporting the cranes, lay them flat on a car seat, or even better, find someone with an SUV or van, fold down the seats, and lay out the cranes on the hangers. 

9)  Hanging the strands of cranes.  If you hang the birds from a straight horizontal structure, you don’t have to worry about this—they’ll all stay put and behave.  However, if you want to hang them from two points on a flexible material (e.g., fishing wire) that bows into a convex shape, you’ll need to have a way to space them.  I highly recommend candle wax, or some other sticky yet clear substance (poster putty would work too, but it’s not quite transparent).  If you’re hanging strands from trees, you might try thumb tacks.  There are so many ways to display cranes—so I can’t think of all possibilities—but whatever you do, have a good plan ahead of time, and test it out!  Make sure the glue, tack, wax-whatever—will hold up.  (Oh, and don’t use a glue gun with fishing wire—it will melt!)

10)  Finishing touches.  You’ve put so much effort into this project as a focal point, so make extra sure it shines!  I used a $10 clip-on desk lamp from Target as an uplight to reinforce the cranes as a focal point and to help the metallic paper really SPARKLE!

And what better word than sparkle to end a blog post?  These DIY instructions feel exhaustive; I can’t think of anything else to add.  However, if the directions aren’t clear or a detail is missing, just ask, I am happy to clarify.

Good luck getting your flock to fly!

When life hands you lemons…

…thank your lucky stars she did, and stop waiting for a hand out!  If your current lemon intake is limited to a slice in your water or a wedge with your fish, get yourself to the grocery store and stock up.  Go ahead, live dangerously: buy a bag of eight or ten.  You won’t be sorry.  I promise.

Last week, as I flew home from Europe with my mother, the poor thing came down with a bad cold.  Upon arrival in Seattle, I chugged Emergen-C, guzzled ginger tea, and steam showered, hoping for the best.  This morning (3 days later) I smugly declared myself one deft little cold-preventing ninja.  And this afternoon, at 4:00, quite literally out of nowhere, my nose twitched involuntarily into a tingly fit, many sneezes burst forth, and I made a mad dash for the Kleenex.  That, friends, is where smugness will get you. 

Well, bring it, cold, bring it.  I will squeeze you like a lemon, which, you can be sure, is the first thing I reached for.  And here is what I made.  I give you “Lemon Cleanse”, a real treasure, adapted from Lemon Zest (a cookbook wholeheartedly devoted to recipes featuring lemons—yes, it really is too good to be true, as it seems to be out of print and only available via the library).  Now don’t go waiting for a sick day to drink Lemon Cleanse.  In fact, until today, I haven’t had a cold since I discovered it.  Drink it often, drink it liberally.  I dubbed it Lemon Cleanse because it makes me feel clean and fresh when I drink it.  And you know, I read that Hollywood stars drink this with a splash of apple cider vinegar to flush out toxins and shed pounds quickly. 

Lemon Cleanse

Heat some water until it is hot, but not boiling.  In a glass, squeeze the juice of one lemon, add a few slices of lemon, a dollop of honey, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Pour the hot water into the glass and stir well.  Sip slowly or chug with abandon and come back later to thank me for this gem of a comfort drink. 

Another dish you really do need to make is “Chicken with Two Lemons”.  You have no excuse not to make it, because all you need is: (1) a chicken, and (2) two lemons.  Plus, it’s really fun to be smugly sure that such a simple dish can’t be that good.  And then you eat it and it’s so delicious and you don’t understand how it’s possible.  No, you didn’t get a supreme specimen of a bird.  It’s the lemons.  This comes courtesy of the magnificent Marcella Hazan, via “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”. 

Chicken With Two Lemons

Roll the lemons on the counter to soften and release juices.  With a thick toothpick, deeply pierce the lemons in about 20 spots on each lemon.  Rinse a whole 3-4 pound chicken and salt and pepper it.  Put the two lemons into the cavity of the chicken and tie the chickens legs together with butcher’s twine.  Start it breast-down and cook at 350 for 30 minutes.  Then give it a flip and cook for another 30 minutes.  Increase the heat to 400 and cook for 20 minutes more.  (You may need to cook it longer depending on the size of your bird; each pound requires an additional 20-25 minutes cooking time.)

It really will be the juiciest, best tasting chicken you’ve ever had. 

So where does my deep fondness for lemons come from?  I imagine France is the culprit, as it is for so many other obsessions, culinary and otherwise.  In fact, I think I would have to credit the lemon festival in Menton for first giving me the idea that copious citrus fruit consumption is the best way to go.  It’s hard not to elevate lemons in your subconscious after seeing this:

Yes, that’s right.  You are looking at a (kinda) full-scale replication of the Santa Maria, except al limone.  The whole town was filled with these huge constructions made completely from citrus fruit.  (EmLo, are you reading?  Wasn’t Menton wonderful?) 

You ought to make lemon curd, and so many other deliciously lemony things too, but oh boy, am I going to make myself proud and save that for another post.  Until then, squeeze lemon into anything and everything you can—drinks, yogurts, pastas, sauces, stews.  It makes almost anything taste better, brightening flavors with its smiling acidity.

I leave you with this image from the lemon festival as a parting gift:

Kerchoo!  And goodnight.  I’m off to have one more Lemon Cleanse before turning in.

Magical 27: The Year of the Food Processor

A week ago, I turned 27.  27 was my lucky number as a kid.  I guess it still is, but after the age of 13, I don’t think you can admit to believing in a lucky number.  Forgive me, but it’s just not rational.  Nonetheless, this year I am 27, and am eager to believe again.  The previous year has been a bit crazy, filled with highs and lows that transitioned with abandon—kind of like watching a drunken bumblebee zig-zaggedly navigate the garden of his dreams while being chased with a stream of Raid.  So I tell you, I just don’t care—lucky number 27 means this is going to be a lucky year—darn it.  Lucky in the sense that I accomplish something tangible, sprinting forward with passion rather than slogging through uncertainty and snapping to attention at incoming curve balls.  Oh, lucky 27.  I can FEEL it. 

Other than the number itself, there was another sign that this year promises to be serendipitous indeed, and that was the arrival on my doorstep of a food processor–the most magical of all kitchen appliances.  I did a little happy dance, fists pumping in the air, and the only thing that kept me from hugging the box was its 2X2 girth and 42 pounds of culinary power, no doubt mostly contained in its mighty little 700 watt motor.  I nudged it over the threshold, sliced through the tape, and tugged strenuously until I, along with the Styrofoam shell, thumped onto the floor. 

My first encounter with a food processor was in my aunt’s kitchen when I was about 12 or 13 (yes, about the same time I ceased believing in lucky numbers).  My aunt touted it as a brilliantly handy appliance, but I was thoroughly unimpressed.  ‘It’s just a glorified blender, and a stout one at that,’ I thought.  I know, I know, heresy!  Blasphemy!  Naïveté!  Little did I know that a food processor can make velvety smooth puree of chickpeas, where a blender would render them a lumpy, messy, glob stubbornly clinging to the bottom of the bowl.  My frustrated attempts to get any globule going, frantically jabbing the pulse button, only yielded the mechanical smell of an overworked motor.  During my early culinary efforts, every now and again, the same scenario played out: (1) come across a recipe requiring a food processor (2) substitute a blender (3) end up with an unwieldy blob and a burnt motor aroma.  Yes, I quickly realized that a food processor is vastly superior to a blender, save for perhaps smoothie-making.  And for me to love an appliance despite its inability to bring together frozen fruit drinks, you know it has to be good.

Although I often watch food processors in action on t.v., operating one myself for the first time really was magical.  Of course, I chose hummus as the inaugural dish.  As I watched the slightly squishy chickpeas dissolve into a creamy, rich spread, I felt less like a cook and more like an alchemist, turning lead into gold.  And that, friends, is how year number 27 is going to go—lead to gold, rough bumps to smooth spreads.  Thus, I declare it ‘The Year of the Food Processor’.

Traditional Mediterranean Hummus

I reviewed quite a few recipes before settling on this one, called “Hummus III”, from  www.allrecipes.com.  “Secret combination straight from a Boston restaurant” sold me, along with 816 reviews.  Although I plan to experiment with abandon until I perfect my own, this first attempt was satisfying and I recommend it to all of you proud food processor owners out there!  I’ve adapted the instructions slightly, adding a few clarifying tidbits.

2 cups canned garbanzo beans, aka as chickpeas (drain and reserve liquid)

1/3 cup tahini (you can usually find this near peanut butter at the store)

1/4 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed, of course!)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cloves of garlic, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pinch paprika

1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley

 

1) Place the garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, salt, and garlic in a food processor. Blend until smooth.  Give it a taste and adjust ingredients to your liking.

2) Gradually add the reserved chickpea juice until the hummus reaches the consistency you like. 

3) Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of paprika, and a pinch of parsley.

4) Serve with pita wedges, carrot and celery sticks, or whatever else you have on hand that can scoop up this delicious spread!  If we don’t have pita on hand, Jonathan just spreads it on white bread 😀

The Job Hunting Secret No One Tells You

This is my third time looking for a job in four years.  Each time it gets a little easier, but it’s never easy.  My first hunt was punctuated with fits of rage.  It was kind of awful, but I did get a good job in the end.  The second time was fairly painless, but it was quick and stressful, and I think I got lucky.

I promised myself that this time would be different, and it has been. This time around, I figured out the critical job-hunting element that no one ever tells you: cultivate happiness.  Seriously, during my first job hunt, I not only thought it would be criminal to be happy (“I’m unemployed, I don’t deserve to be happy!”), but it would have been a herculean effort given how down I was.

[Note:  Now, we are in a recession.  Some unemployed people are in dire straits, where a job is standing in the way of putting food on the table.  This post is not really intended for these folks—they’ve got to get a job, and get it fast, regardless of circumstances.  This post is for unemployed folks who have enough money for the time being, but are still going through a hard time, in a non-financial way.]

Advice abounds for better cover letters and resumes, smarter networking, snappier interviews.  But what most job seekers need more than anything is just plain old happiness.

stuffed flower 1flower toy	  Objects / Toys

When you put yourself out there over and over with no results, it’s hard not to get a little depressed.  And while the goal is to get a job, that’s not entirely under your control.  But being happy is under your control.  When you’re looking for a job, the last thing you need is sadness standing in your way.  Employers want to hire enthusiastic, upbeat people, and it’s hard for that to shine through when job hunting is sucking the life out of you.

How to make your job search a happy one

1.)  Be confident.  No responses to applications?  Got an interview, but it didn’t turn into an offer?  Disappointment leads the best of us to question our worth.  Every day, you have to fight back by reminding yourself why you’re terrific.  There are lots of ways to do this, but the one I recommend is an exercise I read about in The Magic of Thinking Big, by David Schwartz (a great “feel-good” read with lots of ideas for fostering a happy life).  It’s called the “Sell Yourself to Yourself Commercial”.  You write down your best and unique qualities; all the reasons you are a wonderful person.  If you have a hard time thinking of any, survey your friends and family.  When you’re done, read it every morning, without exception. Read it every time you get let down or feel your confidence wavering.  It never fails to put a smile back on my face, replacing what might otherwise have been a downward spiral into self pity and doubt.

2.)  Eat Well, Sleep Well, Exercise.  It goes without saying that eating healthy, a full night’s sleep and exercising regularly are critical for happiness.  You’ll think clearer and work smarter.  If you don’t do well in any of these departments, unemployment is a great time to make positive life changes.  Form habits that will not only help you stay happy through a trying time, but that will also be a boon to your future employer.  Who wouldn’t want to hire someone who is alert, energetic, and feeling good?  Good sleep, food, and exercise is the best continuing ed you can’t put on your resume.  Take it from me—I may not have a job yet, but I am literally in the best shape of my life.  When I do land my next job, I will no doubt hit the ground charging forward.

3.)  Interaction.  If you sit home and work on cover letters for 40 hours a week, you will start to hate your life.  Not what you need when the journey requires undying pep and motivation.  Change the scenery—go to a café or library.  Plan a few social interactions every week—lunch with a friend or a yoga class.  Sameness and solace breed boredom and bitterness.  This is not the time to be self-deprecating; “Oh, I don’t have a job, I don’t deserve to have a social lunch.”  Wrong.  You owe it to your job hunt to socialize.

4.) Reward.  This relates to the above.  Don’t wait to get a job offer to reward yourself.  If you hit a target (write 10 cover letters, do an informational, or get an interview), give yourself some positive reinforcement—a cup of coffee at your favorite café, a new pair of sneakers (for all that exercise you’re now doing!), or a short massage to get the endorphins flowing.  Treating yourself will make you happy, which will help you keep pushing forward.

5.)  Routine.  After a month or two, although I was pleased with the progress I had made on my job hunt, I was unhappy and couldn’t put my finger on the source.  I finally pinpointed that I need routine to be happy.  If you’re used to the routine of the workplace and suddenly don’t have it, it can make you feel even worse than your unemployed status already makes you feel.  By establishing a routine, you’ll feel more like you’re at work.  Or, for some people, suddenly not having a routine may be causing you to flounder and use your time ineffectively.  Either way, getting some ritual into your life will increase your happiness.

6.)  Projects.  Are you used to being super productive and now your only output as an unemployed person feels like cover letters and a lot of steam?  Do you feel like you’re constantly spinning your wheels but have nothing to show for it?  Create a project for yourself—something fun that you enjoy doing.  It’ll make you happy not only to do something you do enjoy (because let’s face it, no one enjoys writing cover letters), but also because it will give you a concrete result which will boost your confidence.  Cook a fancy dinner, plant a vegetable garden, design a website, knit a sweater, refurbish the roadster in your garage—anything tangible you can be proud of.

7.)  Kill worry, stress, fear.  In addition to actively cultivating a happiness paradise, you need to actively monitor for the weeds that will strangle it—worry, stress, fear, and other nasties.  Yes, I know, they are the very natural response to being unemployed (boy, do I know it!), but they just aren’t going to help you get employed.  They will only stand in your way.  If you’re looking for concrete ways to combat the negative, again, I highly recommend reading The Magic of Thinking Big.

The number of ways to breed happiness is innumerable; these are just suggestions I think are particularly helpful for the unemployed.  The important part is to make happiness a habit, not only to get you through a trying time, but also for the sake of your future job.  If happiness is on your mind, you’re less likely to focus on a job that will simply release you from the bonds of unemployment, and more likely to focus on taking a job that will help perpetuate your habit of happiness.

A Crazy Quilt

Quilting has always fascinated me, most likely because of the amazing colors, textiles, and textures involved.  But I think it goes deeper than that.  I love quilts because they are often pieced together from scraps leftover from other projects, scraps that would have otherwise gone unused.  Not only are quilts often wrought from recycling, but more importantly, they often are incredibly beautiful, despite their humble origins.  My all-time favorite technique is crazy quilting.  It’s actually patchwork, and instead of using regularly shaped pieces, every piece is organic, and they are haphazardly stitched together for an asymetrical end product.  They are usually made out of beautiful fabrics, like velvet, silk, or lace.  And they often have really rad embellishments, embroidery or applique, too.  Quite logically, they hail from the Victorian era, when dresses were made of luxe fabrics (thus the scraps, which women ingeniously turned into quilts) and the crazier the better in terms of style.  Here is a stellar example from the Illinois State Museum:

A Crazy Quilt from 1889

Someday, I’m going to make a true crazy quilt, but I haven’t yet accumulated enough lovely fabric scraps, and I don’t really want to buy the fabric, because hey, that’s cheating.  Since “recycling” quilting is the kind I’m drawn to, it makes sense that I’ve only made a few quilts so far.  My first quilt was hatched from a pile of fabric that I used for slings when I broke my arm years ago.  I wanted to include a photo, but unfortunately, that quilt still resides in New York.  Not too sad though, since my craftsmanship was lacking, but hey, it was my first big sewing project, and I was only 13 and recovering from a busted humerus bone.

My most recent quilt came from the transition from college to life on my own, when I needed to pare down my belongings.  No hauling unnecessary stuff with me as I moved from place to place.  I had several boxes FILLED with old t-shirts, more than I could ever use, even in my awkward, “wear a t-shirt to school every single day” phase in middle school.  I couldn’t move them with me, but I also couldn’t bear to part with them.  They represented a lifetime of sports, trips, affiliations, and my aforementioned nerdy phase (yup, I even had a periodic table of the elements t-shirt).  What to do?  MAKE A QUILT!

I had enough t-shirts (plus a generous donation from my brother) that it quickly became clear that I could make two quilts.  The first quilt took over a year to piece together, because I tried to preserve the dimension of the graphic on each shirt.  It was an admirable, though costly effort.  I finally patched the darn thing together, mostly by hand, but in the end, somehow it wasn’t as great as I envisioned it.  I haven’t quite finished that quilt.  It still needs a back!

The other quilt, I promised myself, needed to be an exercise in beauty through simplicity.  This was supposed to be fun, after all.  I decided on a traditional pieced quilt, and let go of the urge to preserve the original designs–if a word or image got cut off, all the better–it would have more of an abstract, dynamic feel.  As I studied the colors and images I had to work with, I quickly settled on making this mostly about harmonious color arrangement, and settled on a reversible quilt: one side featuring the lighter, pastel colored t-shirts, the other exhibiting the bold hues!

This quilt was HUGELY different from the first, both in process and product.  I had so much fun making it.  Since I used simple squares for the quilt and border, I was able to spend weekends watching old movies and enjoying the rhythmic, mindless task of tracing and cutting squares.  And their uniform size freed me to play with color arrangement, which was a blast.  The end product was kind of crazy, but I think the colors did turn out about as harmonious as possible given my materials.  I was particularly pleased with my rainbow border on the bold side, and at the end, added some visual interest with a little beading and embroidery.  Here is the finished quilt, in all it’s glory:

The Pastel Side

The Bold Side

What do you think?  Is it beautiful, or borderline hideous?

Unlike my sling quilt, I was very pleased with my craftsmanship on this one.  But like my sling quilt, I was thrilled to use material that otherwise would have gone to waste, and even more thrilled to have a functional object carrying so many memories.  After I finished, I sat on the sofa with Jonathan for a while and recalled great family vacations to Sanibel Island, the year our tennis team won the STAC championships, and the tie-die shirt I wore pretty much daily when I was 10, because it was all about tie-die and slap bracelets in 1993.  Like the quilts that were passed down to my mother from her grandmother, I hope this quilt is a conversation piece for future generations.  They may not hang it in the living room like my mom does, but I hope it excites them to have a piece of family history and perhaps they’ll crack up over my brother’s golf camp shirt with the slogan “Grip it and rip it.”

What’s not to love, right?  If you want to make your own t-shirt quilt, there are some good resources out there, but here are my general tips:

  • Use fusible interfacing and iron it on the back of your t-shirt fabric to stiffen the stretchy material, otherwise it will be tricky and messy to cut and sew.  Attach the interfacing before you trace and cut the squares
  • Use a simple square patched technique, and try to keep your squares from being too big, even at the expense of some print.  The t-shirt quilts I’ve seen that have huge squares are not as interesting or aesthetically pleasing, IMO
  • Don’t stop at t-shirts!  For my border, I actually infused a little color from some old boxer shorts with fun patterns