Friday, April 30, 2010

Oh, Olympia!

The Procession of the Species is held every year in Olympia, WA to commemorate Earth Day. David and Heather Shackelford invited us up to enjoy the sight that Reader's Digest named in 2009 as the best of the "can't resist" parades and processions in the U.S.

What makes this parade fun is that it is an entirely community-based event. People of all ages participate in groups with different themes; the sun, the sea, the jungle. Watching a 65 year-old man perform the same dance routine alongside a 16 year-old girl is pure entertainment.

Go ahead and call this woman "Little Miss Sunshine." I dare you.

That was fun, Mairead!

Whenever we take a trip to Olympia, it seems like a really great place to live. But between the way Heather feeds us when we visit (she baked an improvised rhubarb-cherry crumble on a pie crust base that was so, so very good) and the irresistible Bread Peddler, it's probably a good thing for my waistline that we're over 100 miles away.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

IS It a Helluva Town?

Shaun and I intend to find out--we're headed to New York City this summer to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

And we need your help.

We don't want to come back and kick ourselves for missing something really great. We'd also prefer to avoid restaurants and sights that are famous but overrated.

Whether or not you've lived there or just visited, we'd be interested in hearing what you love and what you'd skip. Luckily for us, we have the fabulous brains of the Owens to pick, and their knowledge alone could fill up more time than we have.

We'll be there from June 22-27th, which gives us four full days. We'll be staying at the Fashion 26, a brand spankin' new Wyndham Hotel. With a special offer through Travelzoo, we got our room for over $100 off the regular rate. So it will only cost us an arm.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Kindergarten Outlaw

does his homework.


Ridiculously easy, inexpensive, and delicious; behold the glory of oven-roasted pulled pork. To serve a crowd, we pulled it and made sandwiches. But nothing beats plopping down the entire monster on the dining table and letting everyone have at it while it's still warm. The crust is unbelievable. And your house will smell of piggy goodness.

I followed this recipe exactly, but the second time I made it I cut the paprika by one tablespoon and was glad I did. I haven't made the accompanying sauce or coleslaw recipes yet. Next time. Truly, making this is so easy that it feels like cheating to call it cooking.

And now a recipe that's far more elegant but JUST AS EASY: Gruyère cheese puffs.

The choux pastry is just like what you'd make for a cream puff, but adding bits of cheese turns it into a savory appetizer called a gougere. They taste best still warm from the oven, but the recipe says you can freeze and then reheat them later, which I would imagine would be good too. I always get intimidated by the thought of a piping bag; these are just dropped by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet.

And finally, to maintain balance in the universe, here are some labor-intensive miniature soft pretzels. I actually found it relaxing to roll these out and form them. I'd been wanting to try this recipe for a while (I used to eat a soft pretzel every day when we lived in Germany) and a church small-group clam chowder night (mmm, it was good) gave me a reason to go to the trouble. I accidentally undercooked them a bit, but it worked out perfectly after sticking them back in the oven to warm up at our destination. Phew.

Well, shoot. Now I'm hungry.

Friday, April 16, 2010

When You Don't Allow Your Kids To Say "Stupid"

Nels, upon finding a toy he'd been looking for:

"There it is! Why was I so un-smart?"

Beating the Blues

If you are a melancholic person, I do not advise that you read through the collected stories of Flannery O'Conner all at one go. Break it up with something happier.

Do not break it up by shopping online for women's wide shoes. This is one of the most depressing activities any woman with wide feet can engage in. Looking at page after page of shoes shaped like loaves of bread is very disheartening.

But what is heartening? I would say seeing an old friend and meeting a new one. It turned out to be the perfect antidote to a literature-induced funk.

In a strange case of it being a small world after all, my friend Amanda's dear friend Alison (who lives in Rhode Island) was the artist in residence for a week at Clark College, right here in Vancouver, Washington. Amanda came out to help with the installation at the Archer Gallery on campus.

We talked the ladies into taking a break and having dinner at our house on Friday night, and I can't think of anything to say about that except that it was the most fun I've had in a long time.

On Saturday night we went to the opening of the show. Alison managed to keep the boys engaged for hours by sending them on a scavenger hunt to find different things in the installation. She is obviously a genius.

The boys did great, but they were pretty pooped by the end.

I got to enjoy the inter-cultural experience of going out to Portland with all of the art folks afterwards. Some highlights:

We went to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner, and no one came to take our order for an entire hour after we were seated. An excitable Indian girl in our party (who, at the gallery, had encouraged Willem to shove an entire mini cupcake into in his mouth) took some serious initiative and served up our drinks from behind the bar. I don't mean she grabbed a pitcher of water. I'm talking draught beers and gin and tonics.

Then, because someone had the key, we went to the amazing abandoned Templeton building alongside the Burnside bridge and saw this. It was a party of sorts; I watched someone double-fist full-size bottles of champagne for the first time in my life. But Amanda, Alison and I were waiting to sit down somewhere a little less insane and have a quiet drink with just the three of us.

We eventually ended up at Clyde Common, which is still my new favorite place. Once again, one dish (the house salad) was totally forgettable, but the good stuff was so very good. Like a Gruyère grilled cheese sandwich with nettle and walnut pesto. And a flatbread with roasted beets, goat cheese, and pistachio pesto. Good food, good drinks, and even better company.

I got home just before three in the morning. I'm way too old to do that anymore.

On Sunday Shaun and the boys and I went to our local hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Lakeside Chalet, and were delighted to find that our server was Nels's school bus driver. Shaun had corned beef hash (the kind that comes out of a can and delivers a year's worth of sodium on one plate) and I had the "Small Breakfast": an egg, two pieces of toast, bacon, and hash browns. For under five dollars. It was a very different outing than the one of the night before, but equally life-affirming. And equally un-Flannery O'Conner-esque.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Odds and Ends. Mostly Odds.

Green oatmeal on St. Patrick's Day.

I used to think dyeing Easter eggs was boring. Beige carpet and young boys add an element of suspense.

Cutest drawing of an Easter bunny ever.

Except perhaps for this one, in which the Easter bunny has just delivered two eggs to two disgruntled children.

See? Odd.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Poetry Rant


My bathroom now is drenched with pee;
It's like an urban alley.
Such a mess from one so wee--
My bathroom now is drenched with pee.
The puddles you don't seem to see,
As from the room you sally.
My bathroom now is drenched with pee;
It's like an urban alley.

Monday, April 5, 2010

With Apologies To Those Of You Who've Heard This Story Already

One of the great things about being a kid is that you don't realize how unlikely it is that you will ever dig anything terribly interesting out of the ground. By the time we're adults, most of us have accepted the fact that we will not unearth ancient fossils or dig up buried treasure or stumble upon a lost civilization. I say most of us because we've all seen those people at the beach with the handheld metal detectors.

Of course my kids have been on the lookout for dinosaur bones ever since they learned what a paleontologist is. (Boys acquire this knowledge when they are quite young.) Unfortunately for our boys, our yard is mostly covered with grass, so their digging space is very limited. There is one place alongside the chain link fence in the backyard where a year-round blanket of pine needles keeps the ground otherwise bare, so Shaun designated it as their one sanctioned digging spot.

Shaun didn't think they'd get too far, since the spot is between two trees and laced with roots. He didn't count on the determination of a six year old boy (armed with an adult-sized shovel) who wants to be a scientist when he grows up. Within a few days the hole was waist deep, and Nels would disappear from sight when he bent down to inspect his work.

I was summoned to the site only once. The boys had disturbed a nest of insect eggs and the distraught parent was scurrying around trying to put things to rights. They were totally fascinated (we'd just read several books about bugs) and were sure I wouldn't want to miss it.

A few days into the digging frenzy, Nels came home from school with some big news.

"Guess what? Maya dug up a crystal in her yard! Actually I think her mom did. But Maya brought it. She showed it to us. They dug it up! Can I go dig now? Can I go dig?"

"Sure." I put his backpack down inside. I heard yelling. He'd been digging for less than a minute.

"Mom! Mom! Come here! I found a bone!"

I was happy for him. What were the chances that he'd dig up something cool right at that moment? We have a lot of little critters around; I figured maybe a squirrel had gone belly up at some point, or a rabbit, or...

I was not expecting a jawbone. With teeth attached. Canines.

You can imagine the jubilation. Nels told everyone that he'd found bones. He asked if he could call Grandma, and when he talked to her he told her he had news so exciting that her eyes were going to explode out of her head. Of course he wondered what kind of animal he'd found. I told him it was probably a dog. He didn't think to ask how the dog came to be there and I didn't feel the need to volunteer any theories.

It was all rather appalling, but Nels was so excited that I didn't have the heart to call the excavation to a halt immediately. It wasn't until a cold, damp day, when Nels emerged muddy and triumphant from his pit, calling, "Mom, look what I found!" that my conscience (which is not overly tender towards dogs in general) started to trouble me. As Nels approached, I saw that he was holding a circle of blue webbing. A dog collar.

I'm sorry, very nice family who lived here before us. We did not mean to disinter your beloved pet.

And if any of you reading this have a yard with only one good digging spot in it...well...proceed with caution. Proceed with caution.