April 21, 2009

I'm not kidding

It's not all cream puffs and scones around here today. I've got an ugly one for you. Enter - my kitchen ceiling:

No, your computer screen isn't cracked - that's our kitchen ceiling undergoing a makeover, as our landlord is replacing the sheetrock, plastering goop into all its wrinkles. As mentioned last week, the final semester crunch has taken my apron away from my wardrobe rotation and has prevented me from allowing my kitchen knife to see daylight. If this college thing wasn't enough for this 'let's keep Melinda from her kitchen' game, my kitchen itself is now in on the act.

When I cook in the current state of our kitchen, it smokes out our duplex-mate above us because the hole in the ceiling acts as a vent that releases right into his kitchen. Also, it takes nearly a half-hour to find my cooking supplies that are spread out over our living and dining room. It's like playing 'Where's Waldo?' with skillets and whisks. Alas, this is now how boring my culinary life is:

To make this picture more accurate, place a big red X over that wine glass, as it was the recent casualty of another migration of kitchen goods to the living room floor. My friends were shocked that I've added Lucky Charms to the rotation, thinking I'm above all processed foods or something. But little do they know it's been keeping me afloat these days. That, and the grains and beans you saw last week. And since it's seemingly all gloom-and-doom over here, I want to share this inspiring photo with you:

This was taken on a recent farm-weekend I had at my sister Amy's place in Iowa. Shot just after supper and just before going to the Hannah Montana movie with my nieces (where the rest of the movie-ticket line was very glittery and as tall as my waist), this photo reflects my nephew Levi's love of a good adventure. (He's been around here before.) A garbage pail, two scrappy pieces of plywood, and an old bike - he knows how to make something out of nothing. And the momentum he feels at this very moment in this photo, I now feel as graduation is inching nearer and my Seattle plans firm up.

At certain points in our lives, there's no stopping. We can only keep on pedaling and hope our chains don't break.

(p.s.- Thanks to all those who passed along warm words concerning the Seattle adventure. Your support and excitement means the world!)

April 11, 2009

An Unlikely End

It's been all graduation talk around here lately, but 'what's next?' you may ask. A 4 year degree, a range of experiences spanning from pulling weeds to interning in the downtown skyscrapers with the trend-setters of the city, 120 credits, countless articles written, and you'd think I'd have a full-time job with benefits all lined up. Given the grisly economy, to say that college students are faced with a challenge is a gross understatement. The work force can't sustain its current members, let alone the influx of students entering it in May.

Before the economy and I decide to settle down, I've decided to play the game of risk. And the secret's out. Well, come closer. I'm moving - across the country. Can't believe I waited this long to tell you, huh? I've been given unimaginable opportunities and, as with the remainder of my beans and grains below, I'm faced with the decision to throw them out and sulk at home until a cushy corporate job opens, or stick my neck out using what I've got and boil the heck out of 'em. And the trek to Seattle is me turning on the stove and turning up the heat.

Seattle didn't grow on me until day 3 of my journey. The multi-colored plastic luggage display hovering above the SeaTac airport's luggage claim area was a bit strange, and I had no idea what was in store for me. The gray skies, ever-present moss, and not-so-Minnesota-nice people took be aback at first. But seeing what happens to the city when the sunlight comes out (a near town celebration), the funky architecture, diverse neighborhoods, and learning that people keep to themselves because they are already living content, small lives, made me quickly reexamine my initial reaction.

Overall, it was the food that got my attention. And most importantly, how Seattleites are crazy about their markets, farmers, restaurants, and home cooking. These West Coasties are serious about food. I wanted in on the action. It's one thing to love a city, yes - it's another thing to move there. Don't think I haven't thought this one through.

I've taken a journey like this before as I moved to a college I had never visited when I was 17 years old. (It was the best worst decision I've ever made.) Granted, I turned 18 before the first day of class, but it still felt a bit strange. Even more strange was how old I felt compared to my peers. Black coffee and Tchaikovsky aren’t the typical college freshman thing, I guess. (I still haven’t got the hang of Bud Light and Britney Spears. I’ve never been good at being a typical college student.) My college experience has been worth it for one reason. Not for teaching me the Associated Press style guide, the Cyrillic alphabet, or Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, rather it has made me elastic and adaptable. One has to constantly reinvent themselves to respond to new challenges. This adaptability makes me comfortable being sent out into an economy in a recession, where flexibility is paramount.

I imagine you looking at me like the all-too-concerned grandparent of a free-spirited 70s hippie, peering over the top rim of your glasses with elevated eyebrows thinking, 'This girl's crazy.' So to sum up the logistics and give you some assurance, know that I have housing lined up and have recently fallen into a paid copywriting and web design project that I plan to take with me and expand upon. There are also countless catering companies, restaurants, and farms that I want to pursue once I get out there. And in my spare-time, I'll always be looking for publications to write articles for.

So there it is. A diploma, no fancy corporate job, a cross-country journey in my parents' old Buick (listening to this and this), experience under my belt, a few paid gigs, and a deep curiosity that gets me up every morning.

An unlikely end, that's for sure.

April 2, 2009

Never Enough Thyme

Between you, me, and these 12-hour days of tending to the last, lingering 15 credits and various unpaid internships- it's easy to find an occasional Dorito on my plate and gummy bear on my desk. Happy hour at the Happy Gnome, with two friends I don't see nearly enough, is just as good of a cure as any - especially when dark beer and baguette are involved.

Needless to say, my energies are not focused on cooking complex dishes, and I've temporarily lost the drive to make time to cook. That is, until lemon thyme showed up. I know what you're thinking, "What a play on words, must be a journalism student, right?" But hang on, I'm no David Sedaris. Thyme is serious business.

Although seemingly boring and mundane, lemon thyme behaves as chervil's big sister - a little more robust, mature, and fresh. With chervil - think sundress and Lip Smacker. With lemon thyme - think black fitted baby-T, pearls, and red lipstick. Got it? Good, let's move to the kitchen. The question always remains, "What do I do with it?" I seasoned my recent batch of tomato soup (thanks to mom and dad's preserved summer garden) with lemon thyme, but I imagine it making a delightful compound butter (regular butter spiked with flavor by mixing with herbs or spices). I would suggest spooning nubs of this on meat, vegetables (corn on the cob?), or pasta - any savory dish you'd use normal butter with, really.

I may have stooped to an all-time low when I put stewed prunes on a pb&j this week and decided not to write about it, pretending like I don't do that, but can I redeem myself with this morsel-sized tip? Use thyme (and butter!) to save time. A simple addition to a simple ingredient for an interesting spike in your life. And one more tip, relating to the subject of the day - make more time for YOU. Read, cook, write, knit - something! Treat yourself like a friend. There's no other person you'll spend more time with, so be kind! She (or he) will probably like you back.

Herb Compound Butter
(from The Hungry Mouse blog)


1 stick of butter (8 Tbs)
2 Tbs fresh chives, chopped (optional, but highly suggested)
1 Tbs thyme leaves, chopped (use any herb you like)

Soften the butter. (Leave your butter out on the counter for about a half an hour to soften it up.) Place it in a bowl and mash it up with a fork. Add the optional chives and your herb of choice into the bowl, and mix until there's a uniform consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can use it right away, but it's best when stored it in the freezer this way for later use.