p.s. You might have noticed that I also redesigned the blog. It was one of those things that I just started playing around with on a whim and then ended up spending the entire night working on. Thank you, as always, for reading.
For the last couple years I've been making a list on New Year's Day – not resolutions, exactly, but things I'm looking forward to. When I re-read last year's list, I happily realized that it turned out to be a pretty accurate summary of the year. I hope the same thing is true for this list. This year I'm looking forward to...
Buying a house... we hope!
Taking up gardening, if we do buy a house.
Getting more serious about novel writing. (My big dreamy goal is to write one before I turn 30, which is not happening this year but is nonetheless creeping up on me.)
Reading a lot. (If you're on Good Reads, let's be friends!)
And lastly, baking my way through the huge gorgeous Bouchon Bakery cookbook.
Today I'm making pad thai from scratch (using this recipe). Last year I decided to make it my New Year's tradition. I wouldn't say that two years in a row quite counts as a bona fide tradition, but you have to start somewhere, right?
Hope you have a splendid day.
Listen to this story here:
Even if the week had been slow at the restaurant, there never failed to be a line come Saturday morning. At eight o'clock the oldest Munro boy flipped the sign in the window and the middle Munro boy pushed the last of the refilled ketchup bottles across the small square tables by the back windows. The youngest boy, Victor, sat on a high stool in the kitchen watching his father whisk the eggs into a froth in a metal bowl. Mr. Munro had never liked being the cook, but his wife had insisted because he was good at it. He did not deny this. But what he would have preferred was to actually converse with the customers. He often fantasized about how different it would be. Instead of donning a grease-smeared apron, he would wear a dark crisp button-up shirt, ironed smooth each morning. He would spend the day asking the diners, "Everything to your liking?" and lean in gently over the table, resting a hand on the man's shoulder and smiling to the wife. He would offer wrapped mints to the restless children. At the very least, he was convinced that his charm would bring in more customers on the slow quiet weekdays. "That Mr. Munro," he imagined them saying, "He's such a nice man; he runs such a lovely restaurant."
It would come, eventually. The boys got older, and while two of them went away to out-of-state universities on scholarships, the youngest stayed with his parents. Victor had spent so many years watching his father cook that when he finally picked up a whisk to ready the eggs for that morning's omelettes, he knew the entire menu by heart. It was never difficult for him, and unlike his father, he desired to stay isolated from the dining room. He was taken by surprise the first time his father poked his head into the kitchen to relay compliments from an elderly couple who had been dining at the restaurant for years. "Oh, that's–" stumbled Victor, wiping his forehead. He seemed to have forgotten about the diners entirely. "That's nice," he finally said. "That's awfully nice of them."
Victor had a boy of his own a few years later, and he brought him into the restaurant and sat him up on the high stool in the kitchen as he himself had sat so many years before. "Do you want to learn?" he offered, but the boy shook his head no. Maybe in time, Victor thought. He cracked the egg into the metal bowl, and then another and another, and for a moment paused with the last weightless shell in his hand before setting it next to the others.
Wishing you a bright & merry Christmas!
(The photo: it was 1989, my grandfather was dressed as Santa, and I had totally figured it out. He had excused himself to "take a nap" and then Santa appeared suspiciously soon thereafter. Also, notice how my blouse matches the curtains? So stylish.)
It was gray and wet this morning when I woke up, and instead of opening up my laptop like I usually do, I started a pot of coffee and whisked two eggs for a dutch baby batter, and fed Bodhi while the oven finished warming up. He is very, very enthusiastic about meals. So much so that he makes a point of checking his bowl throughout the day just to make sure there isn't a surprise meal waiting there for him.
The last few nights I've been making hot toddies for Stefan and myself about an hour before bed. I kind of wing it, but it's basically just whiskey, hot water, lemon, honey, a few whole cloves, and a pinch of nutmeg. I mention it because this thought just occurred to me: doesn't a late-night dutch baby served with a hot toddy sound good? I think I'll have to test this theory. Yes. I'll definitely have to test it.
Dutch Babies (serves 2)
adapted from All Recipes
2 room-temperature eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
a pinch of ground nutmeg
a pinch of salt
2 Tbsp butter
powdered sugar for dusting
Place a cast iron skillet (mine is 10") into your oven and heat to 425˚F. In a medium bowl, beat eggs with a whisk until light and frothy. Add milk and stir. Gradually whisk in flour, nutmeg and salt. Remove skillet from oven. Melt butter in the hot skillet, rotating to coat. Pour the batter into the skillet and return skillet to oven. Bake until puffed and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Remove promptly, slice into quarters and squeeze lemon slices over the pieces, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.
I've been reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I'm ashamed that it has taken me this long to get around to it. There are a lot of books that fall into that category; I go back and forth between being happy that there will never be a shortage of good books and panicked that there's not enough time to read them all. Anyway, I really, really like this one. I love how much Francie loves books:
From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.
I also recently read The Fault in Our Stars, which was fine. I'm neutral about it. But I so appreciated this part:
Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books…which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.
Yes. That. I feel so protective of my favorite books. If I had to guess, I'd say that you feel that way too.
I thought I'd be posting more regularly but the Great Flurry of Holiday Orders arrived. (If you were one of those nice people who placed an order, thank you!) Today it's officially past my Christmas delivery cut-off date, so I still have plenty of work to do but I think I can see an end in sight. After the last of these orders gets mailed I'm taking a looong hot bath.
Hope you have a good Monday.
How was your weekend? I worked a lot, got Christmas songs stuck in my head, watched House of Games, and made biscotti, which despite starting off as the stickiest dough ever turned out to be pretty amazing. I think this biscotti tastes great as is, but I'm also sharing a quick maple glaze for those of you wanting a sweeter version. (Alternatively, you could make a lemon glaze instead. Or dip them in chocolate!)
Almond Biscotti with Maple Glaze (makes 1 dozen)
adapted from All Recipes
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1 tsp orange zest
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (or almond extract)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp milk
Preheat oven to 350˚F. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, almonds, and orange zest. Add the eggs, oil, and vanilla extract. Mix well with a spoon (or your hands). Dump the dough onto a baking sheet (optionally lined with parchment paper). The dough will be very, very sticky. Form it into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven, cool slightly, then slice into 1/2 inch wide pieces. Set the biscotti back onto the baking sheet, laying them on their sides. Bake for 10 to 20 more minutes, turning over halfway through. Finished cookies should be hard & crunchy. For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, maple syrup, and milk. Mix well. Add more milk if it's too thick to easily pour. Drizzle over the cookies and let dry. Serve with hot coffee or tea.
Please forgive less frequent posting... I'm immersed in holiday orders & prepping for this event. Be back soon!
(A neighbor's rose and Parsons Gardens in Queen Anne. Both from earlier this year.)
Listen to this story here:
It had been a tradition since before Suze married into the family, and this whole time she had kept her mouth shut, because who was she, really, to say anything about it? So she stood by, her face half-buried behind a scarf, watching the boys slide and slip down the thick coating of snow, whooping with laughter, clambering back up the hill and sometimes racing each other to the top because everything, she had noticed, everything was a competition. Nelson, the younger one, had almost choked on a piece of zucchini the evening before because he'd been trying to clear his plate faster than his brother. And once the commotion had settled down, he had gone right back to shoveling food into his mouth with even more fervor, as if what had just happened was already shed from his memory. She could hardly believe it.
As she stood out in the cold, Suze watched Nelson more closely than she watched the others, thinking that maybe if she did, nothing bad could happen. If she kept her eyes on him, it would be impossible for his sled to careen off its path and head straight into the maple tree that stood near the edge of the yard. It would be impossible for Nelson to slide down the hill with so much momentum that he would skid out into the street where the cars, though driving slowly, were not really driving that slowly. If it had been her son, she would have said something. Or if she hadn't started those fights at the previous family gathering, she would have said something. Yet she had promised. "Please, no scenes this year," her husband had begged of her, as they pulled into his parents' driveway. "Anything for you," Suze had replied, meaning it but not being able to look fully at him.
Now Nelson was waving to her from the bottom of the hill. Most of the family had gone back inside the house. It had to be her that Nelson was signaling to. She called out, "What's wrong? Are you okay?" feeling the panic reverberate in her voice. Then she realized that all he was doing was inviting her to join them. He feels sorry for me, Suze thought, calling out that she was just fine as she was. Yet saying it reminded her of how awful it was to be standing still in the cold. She rubbed her arms, blew hot air into the scarf and closed her eyes a moment at the pleasure of warmth, as slight as it was. When she reopened them, Nelson was almost back up at the top of the hill. Closer now, she could see the joy in his face. "Hey," he said. "Watch me, okay?" And before she could reply he took off, the snow flying out from behind him, and Suze kept her eyes on him, kept him straight and unwavering.
I'm excited to share that I'll be participating in the '57 Biscayne Holiday Open House & Gift Sale next Thursday. '57 Biscayne is a studio space for all kinds of creative types, and this event is an open house for the studios and also a holiday gift sale with invited guests (like me!). I'll have a table set up with my jewelry, so if you're in Seattle, please come and say hi!
'57 Biscayne Holiday Open House & Gift Sale
110 Cherry Street (on the 2nd floor)
Thursday, December 6th, 6-9 PM
...are pink alstroemerias. I learned today that this flower symbolizes friendship; how sweet is that?
A cookie cutter gift box. (My favorite is the mitten.) Available through the end of the year.
Hope you're having a wonderful feast today with your loved ones.
Somehow I went from carrying my film camera around with me every day to hardly ever using it. Funny how that happens. While I work on getting back into the habit, here are a few photos from earlier this year. A neighborhood walk, the drive home from Ocean Shores, and the boys keeping an eye on each other... as they always do.
Listen to this story here:
After following The Indigo Man for three weeks, there were two truths I knew about him. The first was that he never left his apartment on Wednesdays. On those days he had Chinese food delivered around noon, then let the hours pass while he sat in his lumpy maroon recliner watching TV. Across the street, through my binoculars, all I could see were the changes in his expression, how his face morphed from laughter to boredom to a drowsiness brought on by the now empty cartons of takeout. Okay, I figured, so it's just his lazy day. But once, when he left his medicine cabinet open, it provided me a reflection of the TV he was laughing at. But there were no daytime talk shows, no overzealous infomercials. The TV wasn't even on.
The second truth I knew about him was that he spent the other six days a week making deliveries. He went on foot, a bag slung over his right shoulder and a wool cap on his head that he would periodically remove and peer into, as if verifying something. On State Street, he made six deliveries, skipping only the house with the orange cat sitting on the stoop. Out from his bag came small packages, tied in twine, which he slipped into the mail slots. Forty or fifty deliveries later, the sun had gone down, and I was tired of crouching behind bushes and park benches, and The Indigo Man retired to his favorite bar.
Three weeks of this and I was ready to give up – and then it happened. One of his little packages slipped from his bag and landed on the sidewalk, face up. I emerged from behind a dumpster, where I'd been holding my breath, almost turning blue, and dashed for the package. "For You And You Only" was written where the return address would have normally been. I flipped it over, and ran my thumb under the flap. But a voice said, "Hey," and the Indigo Man had realized his mistake, had turned back and was standing in front of me. For the first time, I was afraid of him. But all he did was hold out his hand, and wait for me to give back what was not mine.
...are yellow and red carnations. (I think carnations are underrated.)
Can you believe that Thanksgiving is next week? I'm not doing much decorating this year, but I did put a string of lights up above my desk. It makes all the difference.
Listen to this story here:
She is born in the winter. It snows that year, and even more so the next year, like thick frosting on a cake, and the winter after that they move to Monroe, where her father has a new job waiting for him. Every day he comes home smelling of flour and cinnamon. She is four when her baby brother is born and nine when he has his accident. Gentle now, says her mother, when she hugs her brother, newly home from the hospital. After a while the scars on his legs aren't so noticeable. When she is ten, her father brings home a dog from the shelter. She insists on naming him Lady and cannot be convinced otherwise. He sleeps at the foot of her bed every night except for one week out of the year when they are on summer vacation. Those days they spend driving down the coast with the windows down and her hair whipping across her face. She collects sand from every beach they go to, scooping it into little vials and labeling them with tape. In the middle of a fight with her brother, he smashes one of the vials on the living room floor, specks of sand everywhere.
Then she is fifteen and telling people to call her Anna, not Annabelle; then fifteen and a half and she almost crashes the high school's Driver's Ed car, her hands sweaty and slipping on the steering wheel; then sixteen and sitting in a dark movie theater beside Alex Atwood, hardly breathing when he runs his hand over hers. She writes everything down in lined journals, which her brother steals from her nightstand drawer and reads, hooting with laughter, until he gets to the part about him. When she is eighteen she wins a prize for a poem she has written, and her mother hangs a copy of it in the house, which embarrasses her only slightly more than having to read it in front of the senior class at graduation. We all were once young, it begins. Nobody in the house remembers to flip the calendar hanging in the kitchen, and it lingers on July as the months go on. Then, suddenly, she is coming home for the first time from college. Her mother has put new sheets on her bed; how large and luxurious it feels now, after being away. Her father comes home from work, still smelling of flour and cinnamon, and turns on the local news while dinner is bubbling on the stovetop. The weatherman is predicting snow, days of it, the first flakes likely falling in a few hours.
I feel like something a little sweet today, don't you? Today I'm sharing my favorite recipe for lemon ricotta doughnuts over on A Cup of Jo. Happy doughnut making!
Rufus loves this bar stool, but he does not appreciate me taking photos of him on it (or so I gather, based on the expression he is giving me in the second photograph). More than once I have I glanced over and seen him sitting there, on the bar stool, facing in toward the counter, with his two little green eyes staring at me impatiently as if waiting for dinner to be served. King of the castle, indeed.
I've been working on a short story (of much longer length than the ones I've share with you) with the intention of submitting it to a lit magazine when it's ready. It's tentatively called "The Painters." It's about a boy and his grandfather. I've written just over 1,700 words, but trust me when I say that it's in pretty terrible shape and there's still a big chunk that hasn't even gotten onto the page yet. But I am feeling hopeful because this time* I have a solid vision of my characters and their wants and their troubles. That's the hardest part, developing characters that are so vivid in your mind that you forget they don't actually exist. Well, I guess they do exist, in little bits and pieces taken from real people in your life, but you know what I mean.
*have I ever mentioned the 60+ unfinished, abandoned stories on my hard drive? Yikes.
Wow, first off – thank you for all the recipe suggestions. Every one of them sounds yummy and you're going to keep me awfully busy trying them all out. But first... applesauce. It really is ridiculously easy to make, and I love having full control over its consistency (by adjusting the amount of water) and its sweetness.
Super Easy Applesauce (fills a 16 oz. jar)
4 cups chopped apples (I left the peels on, but you don't have to)
1 cup water
½ tsp ground cinnamon
honey or sugar to taste (optional)
Toss the chopped apples, water, and cinnamon into a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook with a lid on, stirring occasionally, until the apples have broken completely apart (about 20-30 minutes). Sweeten it a little with honey or sugar, or leave it deliciously tart if you prefer. Let cool and refrigerate.
Yesterday I came home with two big bags of apples picked from my parents' backyard. Now it's just a question of what to do with them all! I've never made applesauce, so that's first on the list... and next are mini apple pies. What are your favorite apple recipes?
Listen to this story here:
The dream was always the same: it was almost November, and he was ice fishing with his grandfather, and the baby sharks were circling under the thick cloudy ice beneath their boots. He was feeling cheerful, despite the wind numbing the tips of his ears and the unscratchable itch creeping along the middle of his back; these were things that ordinarily irritated him and made him morose. But that day he was feeling good. An envelope had come that morning. From her. There was a photograph, and she moved in it as he rotated it back and forth. This part of the dream he especially liked. At one angle, she looked down shyly, and at another angle, she looked straight ahead with the slightest smile. She was standing beneath a palm tree, an open air market blurry behind her.
On the back, she had written: still waiting for you.
He had never made it past that point. Always the alarm, or Judith nudging him awake, or the kids crawling over him, squealing Daddy, or even when there was nothing to wake him: it just stopped, like the film had run out.
Do you ever have recurring dreams? he asked Ray, over their nightly beers at Smokey's.
What, said Ray, you mean like... oh, for crying out loud! He'd been looking up at the television above the bar. Then he wiped the corners of his mouth, and turned back.
What were you saying? Ray asked.
Never mind, he said. Nothing important.
The sharks he understood. There had been a field trip to the zoo when he was in grade school and an incident with a zookeeper that had turned out to be nothing, really, but had still scared him, being so young. But the rest confused him. He had never known his grandfather. Couldn't even say a single thing about the old man, so what was he doing showing up in his sleep?
And, of course, there was the girl. Still waiting for him, but where? But there was nothing more to be seen in the dream. What he had been given was all there was. So in his waking life, he looked. He looked for her when they went on vacation in Santa Monica. He looked for her in crowds at the mall while his wife shopped for Christmas presents. He kept his eyes open. It was all he could do, until it was night again, and time to sleep.
Well, look at that... Mignon Kitchen Co. was included in InStyle's Best of the Web 2012 list. Crazy! And cool.
Listen to this story here:
After the man in coveralls pinpointed us on the map and gave me directions ("Just keep going straight," he'd said, and I'd replied with, "Well, that's easy enough to remember,") I went back to the car, which was idling with Lynn in the passenger seat. She was staring out into the moonlit fields of red wildflowers that ran down the length of the highway. Not pretty ones; just weeds, really, that would scratch your legs and get caught in your hair if you tried, let's say, to run through them.
While I was asking for directions, she'd turned the radio to oldies. I turned it back. I reminded her that the driver picked the station; wasn't that one of the first things we'd agreed on when planning this trip?
"Right," she said, rolling her eyes. "You and all your rules."
While I drove, she dozed off. She made little whimpering sounds as she slept, and then one long, squeaky snore that I couldn't stop myself from laughing at, and then finally she fell into a silent sleep. A half hour went by, and nothing – the road, the moon, the radio music – seemed to change.
Then, so quickly: I felt wobbly, like I'd been spun and then halted still. In the next moment, the sensation was gone. I reached over to shake Lynn awake, but she pushed my hand away, laughed, asked what I was doing.
"When did you wake up?" I asked, and she gave me an odd look.
In the distance, there was a light squeezing out of the dark. It developed into a small gas station, where a man in coveralls came out to greet me. He pulled out a map like an illusionist pulling a trick from his sleeve. He had dirt under his fingernails, the kind you get from really digging down deep in the earth.
"Do I know you?" I asked. "I have the weirdest feeling..."
But he interrupted me. "Just keep following the road," he said, tracing his forefinger along the thick purple highway line on the map. Then he raised his finger up off the page and pointed into the darkness ahead.
"Are you sure?" I asked. "I'm worried that we missed it. It wasn't supposed to take this long."
"Like I said," he repeated, "Just keep going straight."
"Okay," I said, and heard myself say, the words coming on their own: "That's easy enough to remember."
Back in the car, Lynn had been fiddling with the radio, and it was humming oldies. I switched it, and then we drove on, looking out over the dark fields of wildflowers that were unlike anything we'd seen before.
I spent most of the summer wanting it to last longer, but now that it's gone, I don't miss it so much. Now there's varicolored leaves strewn across the sidewalk, and it's scarf weather, and the evenings suddenly feel longer, and pumpkins are winking from the neighbors' porches... and (hooray!) it's the season for baked potatoes and hot cocoa and warm buttered bread with soup. So many good things.
Sometimes it's just impossible to get them to look at the camera.
Yesterday I made this coleslaw and immediately filed it away as a favorite recipe. It's sweet and nutty and makes use of jicama, which is one of those ingredients that doesn't get as much attention as it should. I recommend eating this slaw with stir-fried chicken and steamed rice; it's a simple meal, but it will leave you happy.
Sesame Coleslaw (serves 4)
recipe from All Recipes
½ head green cabbage, shredded
½ large carrot, grated
½ cup jicama, grated
½ Tbsp toasted or black sesame seeds
½ cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
½ Tbsp sesame oil
1 ½ Tbsp honey
Toss the cabbage, carrot, jicama, and sesame seeds into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients, then drizzle over the salad. Toss evenly to coat, then chill until ready to serve.
Recently I've received some requests for book recommendations. Easy, I thought, but it was exactly the opposite; a list of good books can go on and on and on when you get to thinking about it. How to choose? But I managed to slim this list down to twelve, because twelve books will keep anyone busy for a decent chunk of time. (A note: I've linked to Amazon in this list, but of course, also check your library!) So here goes:
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb.
Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
Tooth and Claw by T.C. Boyle.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.
and last but not least, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.