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Paella – Northwest style. Scallops and prawns and mussels and clams, oh my!

I never really had paella until I moved to the Northwest. I don’t know why, probably because paella is usually a seafood dish and the desert really isn’t the first place you think of when you think of seafood.

The northwest, specifically the Pacific Northwest – now that is a seafood kind of place. And so I have been introduced to the delightfulness that is paella.

The best paella I have ever had? That was just over a week ago. Seriously. Take a look at the picture and tell me if you don’t think that had to be incredible.

Sharon made it and she is a pretty awesome cook. Even if she likes to deny it. Even if she likes to pretend that no, really, she is just ‘okay.’

Back to the paella.

You see, brother Geoff was visiting Seattle and as he currently lives in a seafood desert – which is to say he lives in an actual desert – one of the first things on his list when visiting is seafood. Lots of it. Now.

We all went back and forth on what would make the best seafood dinner. We debated salmon. We talked about crab. There was a mention of other fish. In the end, however, it was paella. Because you can pack a lot of seafood into that dish.

And so it was that we headed off to get the ingredients.

Sharon is picky about what goes into her dishes. I am not complaining. This is actually, in my mind, a really good thing. Really good.

We started at Pike Place Market. The Spanish Table.

Oh how I love that place. Some women can spend hours in clothing stores, hours trying on shoes. Me? I love a good food specialty shop. This place is incredible. Cookbooks? Yes. Cooking utensils? Yes. Incredible spices? Yup. Not to mention wine, specialty foods, and silly stuff. All with a Spanish influence.

We started there because Geoff and I contributed the wine. We ended up with a bottle of red and another of white. Both Rioja. I learned that day about white Riojas. I never heard of them before, but wow was this one a winner.

Back to the Paella.

Next stop was De Laurenti, another favorite in the Market. We stopped there to pick up some antipasti for dinner, not to mention some roasted artichoke hearts that Sharon added to the dish.

Sharon charming her favorite fish mongers - all in the name of culinary science.

Sharon charming her favorite fish mongers – all in the name of culinary science.

Finally it was Sharon’s favorite seafood stall.

The thing about Pike Place Market, at least if you are a local, is that you end up with favorite stalls. That’s what the open front shops on the main hall are called. Stalls. At least that’s what I’m told.

Locals have a favorite produce stall (mine is Sosio’s). They have a favorite flower stall. They have a favorite seafood place. Generally you have a back up as well because, well, not everyone has everything all the time.

Back to the Paella.

Sharon hit her favorite place and got some beautiful sea scallops, beautiful prawns, a bag of gorgeous mussels. But not clams. The clams were too big. That meant going across the market to the backup place. They had the right clams.

Again – I am not complaining. Sharon knows what she is doing and I am happy to let her do it. It means that I get a great meal.

Then it was back to Mitch and Sharon’s, time for the magic to begin.

Sharon got to work chopping and peeling and cleaning and grating. She grated tomatoes. Tomatoes! Turns out this is a really great, really easy way to turn tomatoes into sauce. Messy, sure, but the end result was worth it.

First up was the preparation of a sofrito. Another new word for me! This is an aromatic base for the paella that involves onion, tomato and garlic cooked in oil. Then came the rice, the spices, and finally all the wonderful seafood.

I have to say, it is a blast to watch Sharon cook. She frets and worries, she stirs and adds and considers. She drinks wine. The audience drinks wine too – it would be rude not to, yes? Like a true artist, she is always thinking about what she is creating, what she can do to make it better, make it different, make it delicious.

Back to the Paella.

It was incredible. The scallops were sweet and meaty and delectable. The prawns were perfect, the clams and mussels were excellent. The grilled artichoke hearts? Brilliant addition. The wine accented nicely.

Best of all it was good friends and good food and good company. Like it always is at Mitch and Sharon’s house.

The Fremont Troll

Geoff makes a new friend. (At the Fremont Troll in Seattle)

It is easy for me to get into a routine, to stop seeing the world around me other than through the tunnel vision that is chores and errands and to-do lists. It is a filter that I love to remove.

So when Brother Geoff came for a visit, I was more than happy to spend a couple of wonderful days playing tourist in Seattle. Seeing the city through fresh eyes, being in on the discoveries and the ‘ah’ moments reminds me why I fell in love with that city in the first place.

Mitch and Sharon were along for the ride, as always, playing tour guide for our willing adventures. The four of us set out to give Geoff a great birthday trip, ply him with seafood and even discover a few new things.

One of our first stops was the Fremont Troll. I am ashamed to say that for the amount of time I have lived in Seattle, I have never done more than drive past this landmark. Even then, it was more on accident than by design.

had the obligatory touristy photo taken standing in front of the Troll, waiting his turn among the other folks also playing tourist in Seattle. I have to admit, the thing is impressive. Tucked under the Aurora Bridge, keeping his one eye on all those who come to visit him, he is massive.

We wandered down Ballard Ave. having tasty drinks at Percy’s and later a wonderful dinner at Stoneburner. In between we browsed, talked, laughed, and people watched. I have to say that I am still bemused by the idea that Ballard is hip. I imagine my Danish Great-Grandfather would laugh at the notion of this Scandinavian enclave on the Pacific being a hot spot.

I love playing tourist.

I loved going to World Spice there at the base of Pike Place Market and sniffing all the wonderful blends. The sneezing afterward, not so much. But the spices? Heaven.

I loved wandering through the Spanish Table and looking at all the wonderful, exotic, weird and funny things they collect. A Luchador bottle opener was purchased as a gift for Joshua, bottles of red and white Rioja were obtained for dinner that evening, along with paper thin Serrano ham.

I loved hiking up the endless stairs and perusing Left Bank Books. I loved browsing the newsstand for foreign language papers and magazines. I really loved wandering through DeLaurenti’s for antipasti.

Mitch photo bombs Geoff at the Gum Wall.

Mitch photo bombs Geoff at the Gum Wall.

When you’re playing tourist – or at least when I’m playing tourist – I don’t mind the crowds as much. I actually like the bustle and the noise, the nearly overwhelming sensory attack of sight and sound and smell.

And I’ll even admit to it. I got a kick out of seeing the gum wall. Yes, it is indeed rather gross. Yes, it is really kind of…odd. But it was fun. It was something I had never done or even heard about before.

Seattle is my true home. I love that city, my heart is in that city even if I am currently not residing there. Playing tourist this last weekend reminded me of why I fell as hard and as fast as I did for the place. Being able to see it again through new eyes, being able to explore it with someone who was also falling under the city’s spell was just so incredible. Rejuvenating, really.

Which leads me to ask – what is your favorite touristy thing to do? In the Northwest or wherever you live.


Lenticular Cloud over Mt. Rainier

Let’s do a little catching up, shall we? Thought I would do a little ‘What I Did This Summer’ sort of thing, having never had a teacher assign such an essay in my life. I kind of feel like I missed out. Truly, I feel kind of cheated, because I would have killed that essay (probably by making up stuff, but I digress.)

This summer was filled with sunny days and good friends, a little travel and a lot of work. Which is good.

The highlight of the summer really was a quick trip to Mt. Rainier.

Sharon called and invited me to stay at the Lodge with her while Mitch summited the mountain. How do you say no to an invitation like that? You just don’t.

I took the ‘back way’ from Portland which meant a great drive through the little towns of Highway 12. Towns like Ethel, Mossyrock (yes, all one word) and Morton. I’ve wanted to do that drive for a while, so it was a lot of fun and just incredibly beautiful.

It meant wending my up to Elbe on Highway 7, on a winding road through foothills and streams and houses that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Then it was joining the parade heading to Paradise. That is actually the name, not an editorial comment. Though, to be fair – it is aptly named.

I think a lot of us had the same idea. It was one of those really hot Northwest summer days, the kind we don’t get a lot of but complain loudly about. Surely it would be cooler up on Mt. Rainier. Heck, there was still snow on the ground – a lot of snow. You would think with all the snow around it would be cooler.

It wasn’t.

It was Las Vegas Summer hot, but damn if it wasn’t spectacular. The sound of rushing water as snow melted into a myriad of little waterfalls. Gorgeous. The first thing that greeted me was a perfect lenticular cloud sitting like a hat on the mountain. Mt. Rainier is great for these sort of formations, but I always have seen them from a distance while driving on a freeway or busy highway. This time I got to just stand and be bowled over by it.

More Mt. Rainier - Myrtle Falls

More Mt. Rainier – Myrtle Falls

Sharon and I met up and did a short hike up to Myrtle Falls, tramping through snow and slush. We would both stop at random points as a cold breeze would whisk by us, coming straight off the snow fields above; it was heaven. Or, you know, Paradise.

Later we imbibed cocktails on the deck, thanks to Bill our inconsistent waiter (he was a peach, but incredibly busy. We had a lot of fun joking with him.) and thanks to Sharon’s traveling bar. Mt. Rainier Martinis, Sharon’s Old Fashioneds, sublime.

Evening fell and it was the night of the first of three super moons this summer. Talk about amazing. Better still, a group of enthusiastic astronomers had set up several telescopes near the visitors center. We looked at the moon, at Mars and at Saturn. A former astronomy professor had what he called his ‘light saber’ (a very powerful laser pointer) and entertained the folks waiting in line by pointing out various constellations.

Let me just say that the science nerd in me totally geeked out to see Saturn’s rings, and I was thrilled that I finally saw Mars. It was just incredibly cool. Okay, geek out over.

While I had to leave before Mitch got down the mountain the next morning (getting home just in front of a pretty spectacular thunder storm) I had a tremendous weekend. Two days packed full of beautiful things, laughing with one of my favorite people on earth, good food and great conversations.

Two days on Mt. Rainier was good for the soul. Good for my soul at least. Truly the highlight of my summer.

So – what was the highlight of your summer?

Ripe Pinot Noir Grapes

And we’re back.

And we’re back. It’s been a while, I know.  But we are back. What drove me, ultimately, back to the keyboard was this concept of Millennial wines.

What are Millennial Wines? Good question. Here are a few of the answers I’ve gotten (all courtesy of some pretty slick marketing).

Millennial Wines Are:

Wines for a ‘new generation’

Wines that are ‘more approachable’

Wines that are ‘made with passion’

Wines that ‘have a story’

Wines that aren’t ‘stuffy’ or clothed in ‘terminology’

Alrighty then. That tells me….not a whole heck of a lot.

I’m not here to bash Millennials (that generation that more or less reached adulthood at the start of the new millennial); far from it. This is a group that is drinking wine in pretty decent numbers, and good on them.

I’m just really fascinated that there is a new segment to wine market, one that is growing pretty rapidly, that is so very targeted. Millennial wines really are big, bold, fruity new world wines. They have a very jammy quality to them, they are serious hit-you-in-the-face-with-a-bunch-of-grapes wines.

I recently had my formal introduction to these wines. Hence my fascination.

You see my cousin Kimm works for a winery in the Lodi area. Watts Winery. I recently was in the area and we met up for a big old gab fast/catch up/coffee and Thai food afternoon. Bonus for me was that she brought me two bottles of Watts’ Upstream label. There was a Zinfandel and a Cab Franc.

It was Kimm who first brought to my attention this notion of Millennial wines. She used the term to refer to the general age of the most frequent visitors to the tasting rooms in the area. Sure, I had heard the term before, but I hadn’t put two and two together. But now I had two bottles that were prime examples of the phenomenon to try for myself.

These are some serious New World Wines. The Zinfandel was not a typical Zin. The bell pepper nose was replaced by a much more berry-centric vibe. On the palate, there was spice rather than black pepper. This was Zin, sure, but a different take on it.

The star, however, was the Cab Franc.

A big, juicy wine that had an almost floral nose. I never expected a floral nose on a red, but there it was and in a really good way. This is serious food wine, and we (as in Beth, George and I) had it with some pretty serious food. George makes the best burgers in the world, and this wine was perfect with it.

The big red fruit flavor was great with the big juicy burgers. Yes, I know. Burgers and red wine; for some this is sacrilege. For me a wine that compliments a good burger is the hallmark of a really drinkable wine, It goes with burgers. Or steak. Or pizza. It does fancy well and makes the everyday just a bit more special occasion. What’s not to love about that?

Maybe that is the secret of Millennial wines. It isn’t about perfectly pairing fussy wine with stuffy food. It isn’t about finding all the nuances or debating whether that undertone is wet concrete or pink peppercorn. It is less about rules and more about drinking.

That’s it – Millennial wines are just about being drinkable. Imminently drinkable.

There is a place for both. For the Old World – for Burgundian complexity and hearty Tuscan varietals; for the minerality of Rhine whites and the nuances of Cotes du Rhone as well as for the brightness of Chilean reds and fruitiness of Argentinian whites. And yes, for the jammy new take on all of them in places like Lodi and Walla Walla.

We all want passionate, creative artisans making wine. We all love the notion of the person who lives for days of walking the vineyards and worrying about migratory birds or too much moisture. We love the folks who get a kick out of the living, bubbling vat of red mush that is metamorphosing from juice to juice.

What it comes down to, for me, is that the marketing doesn’t matter. The words don’t matter. The story doesn’t matter. What matters is the wine. If I like it, if it is quaffable, if I find myself saying ‘yes, please’ to the offer of a refill.

First day of spring, it is. The cherry trees seemed to have bloomed over night; really all the trees are in bud for the moment and true to the Northwest way of doing things, there is a chill wind blowing tonight. But they are winds of change.

Everything is changing. Some days it makes my head spin. Most days, in fact. I am moving back to my beloved Seattle in a few weeks. A few weeks! That alone seems impossible. Winds of change.

Sadly, as I make my move north two of my favorite people are moving south. Carol and Craig are heading back to San Diego. I’m glad for them and sad for me. As such things often turn out, yes? Truth be told I am a bit jealous. I have fond memories of cocktails on the terrace at George’s, with it’s spectacular view of La Jolla Cove. The fact that they can do this in January makes it even more enviable.

I’m watching so many friends going through their own winds of change. From new jobs to new homes to new beginnings. There is even a wedding on the horizon for one.

So I am excited about the move; really excited. It has been so hard to just visit the town I now think of as home. I have to be honest, I have felt like an exile. I don’t know, maybe it is my Scandawegian heritage, but I do love the green and the wet. I’ve often thought it funny that this desert rat ended up here, in this corner of the world.

I’m kind of sad, too. Sad to be leaving my easy access to wine country. To not be able to head out to one of my favorite wineries on the spur of the moment. Still, there is always Woodinville and a whole slew of new wineries to check out and, yes, write about. Woodinville and points east – Prosser, Yakima, Walla Walla. Not to mention being closer to the Canadian wine country.

And then, of course, the foodie paradise that is Seattle will be fun to get back to. Portland has more than it’s fair share of great eateries, and yet I really haven’t had anyone here to share that with. My tribe of food devotees just hasn’t materialized in Oregon.

Winds of change. It really has been an incredible few years. I think back to when I started this blog. I had been recently laid off (for the sixth time!), was floundering a bit in a new place, was feeling lost and a more than a little storm tossed.

But how I’ve grown and changed in that time. New ideas and new challenges have filled the days. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has always felt as though it were moving towards something. And now I am going home. To Seattle. Where there will be so many new things to see and do and experience. And to write about.

Gastropub Gastropod

I love wordplay, not wisely but too well. So it follows that I am going to be intrigued by a gastropub that calls itself Gastropod.

Gastropods are, of course, those scourge of the Northwest gardener. The slugs and snails that destroy our carefully planned planters. And yet the similarity of the words is worth thinking about. I have to admit that the first time I heard the term ‘gastropub‘ I was a bit put off precisely because it sounded so much like the vermin that decimated my garden on a regular basis.

This Gastropod, however, might just make me change my mind.

A  wonderful hole-in-the-wall spot in the SODO area of Seattle, Gastropod is the sort of place you go with a group of friends on a cold and rainy night. Which is exactly what I did.

It was Mitch’s birthday. That in and of itself is an occasion. Seriously. Sharon and I once assembled barbecue in freezing temperatures for a Mitch birthday. Because, well, Mitch.  That meant that ordinary just wasn’t in the cards. And so, Gastropod.

First off, this is a postage stamp of a place. A handful of communal tables are scattered around this tiny space. A bar lines a kitchen that can be charitably described as small. Being the food geeks that we are, we chose the bar seats because in a place like this the food can both be a meal and a floor show.

Gastropod doesn’t disappoint on either side. The chef works with a pair of portable two burner gas cookers, a chiller and a commercial convection oven. Watching three people operate in this small space was like watching a superbly choreographed ballet. I can only imagine what it would be like on a busy weekend night. And that vision gives me a headache.

Everything is small plates, meant to be shared among friends. The buzz in the place is testament to the success of that notion. Shared plates invite conversation. We as humans I believe are hardwired to share food in uniquely social rituals, and I think this growing wave of small plates feeds that.

The food was interesting, complex, unusual. There was hamachi, seared yellowtail on what can only be described as a pancake of onion and other root vegetables. A plate of Japanese sweet potato roasted with maple syrup and hazelnuts. King salmon grilled and topped with a salmon skin chip. A steel cut oatmeal risotto that would be a perfect brunch dish.

It felt like everything here was tilted just a bit to the side, making me look at it a little differently. The food was excellent, just unexpected in a really good way.

All of the ingredients for a good evening came together that night – good friends, good food, an intimate place. I want to go back, even if that is against Sharon’s cardinal rule of eating out. (She has a point, Seattle has an abundance of wonderful places). I want to go back with a cadre of friends to eat, laugh, argue, eat some more, compare, contrast and just flat out enjoy.

I like football. I’m not rabid about it, but I like it. Football is wrapped up in a lot of good memories for me. And being in Seattle ? A town where I actually have a hometown team? Football has been somewhat of a heartache. But now – now we’ve won the Superbowl.

Yeah, okay, it was a dog of a game. But for a dog of a game, it was a really good one. It was a bit cringe-worthy towards the end. It is just never pretty to watch a team get thoroughly trounced. And yet it was kind of satisfying. Satisfying because we won. We won the Superbowl.

You see, Seattle teams have generally been a lot like Seattle itself. Polite. Restrained. Embarrassed by show offs. We like our sports heroes to be low key. Which explains why we all loved Ichiro. He was quietly great. He didn’t brag, he didn’t strut, he was a team player (I imagine he still is, he just doesn’t play for Seattle anymore). We like that. But it also means that our sports team have historically been great at losing, at wresting defeat out of certain victory in spectacular displays of team self-immolation.

In a nod to the Nordic heritage of the region, we accepted this with a sort of resigned fatalism. In some cases, slightly surprised (and oddly disappointed) that our teams didn’t do worse.

We got really excited in 2006 when we made our first trip to the Superbowl. And then were devastated when that game was handed to the Steelers on a platter. Yeah, I went there. It was a heart breaker.

As a result, I tried really hard to avoid the hype this time out. I  had pretty much ignored the game for most of the season. To be honest, I had basically boycotted the entire NFL since 2006. But it snuck up on me. It became almost too much to hope for. First the team trounced New Orleans in early December, a game I allowed myself to listen to while I worked (thank you iTunes). Then a week later it was a narrow loss to the 49ers – the traditional Kieser family team.

Win, loss, win. Oh my. We were in the playoffs. It didn’t seem possible.

What made it harder was that I began to know the team. I was listening to the interviews, reading the articles and I found that these were seriously Seattle guys. They were polite. They were funny. They were having fun on the field. I liked the coach. I liked the players. Now it was more than just the local team. They were, suddenly, the hometown team. I was invested.

Superbowl Sunday found me not at a party, I don’t think I could have handled that, but at home. My oldest friend (oldest as in length of time – we have known each other since we were five) texted me just after the start of the second quarter. She lives in DC. I called her back and we watched most of the game together over the phone.

We talked about the game and about watching football when we were kids. We talked about my Mom and how much she loved the 49ers. Heck, my mom loved sports in general. The sweet middle school teacher who embroidered beautiful pieces would sit on the floor of our living room, placidly stitching away only to look up and yell something at the TV. Like “kill him!” or “YES!” before returning to her work. Then again, Mom was also a huge hockey fan, so I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised any of us.

In the end it was a perfect day. The Seahawks won the Superbowl. I got to watch the game with my oldest friend even though she was on the other side of the country. The nice guys from home were and are champions. And Seattle celebrated the victory as only we could, but having a rather polite and orderly celebration (at least for the most part). And then on Wednesday, more than 700,000 people lined the streets of downtown Seattle in bitter cold weather to cheer the team, and to be cheered by the team. That’s just how we roll.

We have the trophy, we won the Superbowl, but I doubt any of us will let that go to our heads. It would, after all, be unseemly.

Inside the renovated King St. Station, Seattle. Gorgeous stations are another reason to love taking the train.

Inside the renovated King St. Station, Seattle. Gorgeous stations are another reason to love taking the train.

I love the train. It really is my favorite form of travel. There is probably something about the romance of it all, or the fact that I can sit here and write a blog post as I look out the window at the passing scenery.

Sure, it isn’t always the fastest way to get anywhere, at least not here in this country where high speed trains are still something being debated by the folks who debate such things. Maybe it shouldn’t be faster. Or maybe there should be a choice.

I like the slowness, actually. Life already moves pretty fast, and sometimes it is nice to have an enforced slowdown. A moment in time when nothing is rushed or urgent or pressing. A moment to catch your breath.

Right now there are horses lazily grazing to my right and the mighty Columbia is meandering along to the left as we crawl along between them at what can only be described as a dawdle.

This route is a major one for freight trains, and they generously share the tracks with our sleek little Amtrak train. As the freight trains rightfully take precedence, it means we are sometimes slowed, sometimes stopped by the larger work-a-day cousins. But that’s just fine, I’m in no hurry. It seems impossible to be in a hurry when I’m on a train.

I’ve been on trains in various places in the world. From the high speed TGVs in France that fly so fast that you can get dizzy when you look outside the window, to the beautiful, sleek trains that run between Amsterdam and Bruges. I have taken a train under the English Channel and another between Edinburgh and London.

The latter one put me in mind of this trip between Portland and Seattle. It is close to the same distance and takes about the same amount of time. It goes through similar countryside, along water, through low cuts bounded by trees and brush. Maybe that is why I loved that particular trip so much. It felt rather homey.

Still, there is something special about this route. I took this train on that first real trip here; to the Pacific Northwest. I dearly wanted to move here. I was all of 29, ready to move on with the next phase of my life, ready to leave the desert behind.

I came to Portland first. My brother lived there and it seemed both a good base for exploration and a good reason to move to that city myself. I took the train to Seattle, a city I had visited many times before but had always been a bit intimidated by.

On that trip I realized it was going to be home. I loved everything I saw. Elliot Bay, the skyscrapers, the green. It seemed a proper city to this desert rat. One that had a bus tunnel! One that had an all business downtown, one that had parks galore.

I spent several days there, looking into every nook and cranny and finding more and more things to adore. Even the grunginess, even the not so pretty bits; they just made it so much more of a ‘real’ city. By the time I stepped onto the return train at King Street Station, I was smitten. Smitten and determined.

I looked out the window as we pulled out, looked up at the towering buildings and knew that I would be back for good.

I still love it here. Love all of it. Even though I have spent less time in my beloved Seattle, even though I have been charmed by Portland and its environs, I still think of Seattle as home. Maybe that is why this trip feels both nostalgic and hopeful. I suppose in many ways I am going home. Even if it is only for just a few days.

First off, let me just say – GO HAWKS! Yes, this is what happens to us during the short winter days here in the Northwest. We become rabid fans of… something.

We have passed the solstice, and so our day light hours are creeping ever longer. Yes, I love it here, but I have to say that I tend to breathe a sigh of relief when that shortest day passes by. It feels like a halfway point in some sort of seasonal marathon. This is as long as the dark gets, my brain seems to say; we’ve made it through and are coming out the other side.

So what have I done with my winter days? I have once again been inculcated into the cult of the pigskin. I watched with glee as the Seahawks fought it out with the Saints to advance towards the Superbowl. Don’t get me wrong – I like football. I like it a lot. I am the daughter of a former football ref, and as his only daughter am proud that I was the child that watched sports with him. I’m just generally not this…involved.

Granted, I do the football thing a bit differently. We do many things a bit differently here, after all. Our football watching party included really good beer and take out from Pok Pok, (another cult I am a member of). I can only imagine what the play-offs will look like!

But it isn’t all sports all the time, either. Another passion I have found ramping up has been baking. Winter days are ideal for baking. Seriously, what is better on a cold and rainy day than cozying up to a hot oven? At the moment I am deeply immersed in Ken Forkish’s brilliant cookbook “Flour Water Salt Yeast” which is the best bread making book ever. I love how he invests himself in the details.  I have yet to actually make a loaf, but that is more about time than it is confidence. When it happens, I will post the results – good or bad – here.

Along those lines, I have also found myself immersed in the best geek cooking blog in the world. Serious Eats. What won me over was this – the Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. How can you not love someone who is willing to go all scientific theory on cookies? There is so much to learn here, from how the ingredients affect the outcome to how to apply that to other recipes. I found myself mulling how I could improve a cocoa powder brownie I have been working with while reading this post.

Yes, I know; but hey – winter days in the Northwest call for something to take your mind off the fact that you have been living in a dim netherworld for days on end.

Football, baking, reading, and a lot of scheming. That has been my January.

I have come to believe that this time of year is necessary for me. It is my downtime to think and plan and gather forward momentum. Soon, not very soon, but soon – it will be light until eight in the evening. The sun will peek in my window well before 6 am. The Northwest urge to not waste a single moment of sunshine will drive me from my bed, from my home and out into clear skies (or even filtered sunshine) to accomplish….something.

Winter days, in all their gray, hushed, dim glory give me license to play with levains, to spend time in the warmth of my little kitchen and to figure out where the year is headed. There is an order and a calmness to it all. Well, save those playoff games, which are anything but calm.

Maybe it is just easier to dream of sunny skies on a dark day, to dream of possible futures, to brainstorm and consider and ruminate. Or maybe I am just trying to find a way to justify why I tend to hibernate on winter days. And to think that one of my schemes involves moving further north! Hey, it can stay light until darn near midnight once you get to Canada…

Riders on the Storm

It is January in the Northwest and that means rain, wind, cold and general gloom. Right now we are gearing up for what we are promised is going to be a wild, wet, and windy weekend as a series of storms make their way inland. Then again, we are always gearing up for some near apocalyptic weather event. And generally we are a bit disappointed when it turns out to be just another day.

I was caught in a decently impressive rain storm yesterday. It was my own fault and I’m not complaining (though I did grumble a bit at the time). Being rather gray and gloomy, it seemed a good day to spend some time at the library; and with all the dire predictions of deluge in the afternoon I had planned to leave just before that happened.

Why I thought that would actually happen, I don’t know. Because it didn’t and I got to the truck looking rather like a drowned rat. And so the afternoon went, the usual periods of nothing interspersed with moments of downpour that a good Scottish friend would refer to as ‘pissing down.’

Then, suddenly by sheer chance, I looked up to see sun. Sun! Actual sun.

This required stepping out onto the deck to see what the heck was going on. Sun at four in the afternoon? In January? Unheard of!

I’m really glad I did. I was rewarded with wonderfully dramatic skies – patches of brilliant blue, big and fluffy back lit clouds, dark and menacing storm cells on the horizon.

Growing up in Las Vegas, summer was the season of dramatic skies. I am sure that is where I came to love such scenes. In San Diego, it was skies and seas just after a storm. Here it is the winter/spring storms that stir my heart. I am just more moved by the wild and woolly than I am by the pastoral and benign.

On this particular afternoon I could watch the clouds racing – racing – across the sky. I do love that.

So I grabbed my camera. My neighbors must think I’m a bit daft – standing on my deck, snapping pictures of clouds. Clouds! Then again, I am sure I have given them many, many reasons to think me daft that have nothing to do with my weather picture fixation. Probably best not to think of that too much.

In any case, this was the sky when I first walked outside:


Note the blue sky in the background as one storm passes over.















A moment later it looked like this:


Another storm band passed directly behind, but well to the west.














I moved to the front porch to see what was beyond the roof tops:


The second storm band from another direction.










And finally, this:


Blue sky ahoy!










All in the span of not more than ten minutes. Yes, this is why we love it here. Never a dull moment. And hey, it is well above freezing. Sure, we also love to give cute names to our storm systems. The East Coast may have its Polar Vortex, but we have Pineapple Expresses and talk about convergence zones; we can natter on about microclimates and will comment on whether there is an onshore or offshore flow. Regardless, we get some damn fine skies some evenings.