July 29, 2009

A little visit

After sitting between two doctors on the flight to Minneapolis, who both got called for an emergency in the back, I had no idea what to expect of the trip. The concept of home really got scrambled this past year. I couldn't convince myself to call the Twin Cities home because it was a temporary place while I went to school. But now Seattle has wiggled its way into my life, demanding a more permanent position. I would like to tell you that I recently went 'home' for a visit, but I must say I feel equally at home in my new west coast residence. A Midwest visit in the summer is a sure treat, though - giddy kids 'building Seattle' in their sandbox, dirty toes, cherry stained lips, tall corn, pork chops, potato salad, no cell phone service, and nephews asking questions like, "Is that how they cut apples in Seattle?"

The weddings of two classmates is initially what brought me home. Two guy friends - one was my childhood neighbor who bullied me, then proceeded to get in all sorts of trouble with me in high school, the other of which dated many of my best friends in high school and we ended up being homecoming king and queen together. I found myself at a reception table full of the guys that I graduated with, talking about interest rates, mortgages, and credits cards - something I couldn't have seen 5 years previously while we were still concerned about the Nike swoosh on our shoe or the year of our car. Marriages, children, job interviews, new colleges, they've turned into some really fine men. I was so proud of these boys. (Not that I am in a position to be, given I am the baby of the class!)

But the trip has turned up many interesting events through the visit. A wedding shower of a cousin's fiance, a going away celebration, swimming with a friend, a visit to the farm (where this blog began), and a block party (hosted by my very own parents). Despite not being able to talk with my Coasties on the phone, it's refreshing to be here. The strangest looks you get are from the cows as you bike along the flat highway, wondering what in the world you're doing. A wave to each vehicle that passes is mandatory, otherwise the locals will wonder who the 'stranger' is. But you learn to deal. When a little computer work is begging to be taken care of, a coffee shop isn't too far away in Sioux Falls, where one can easily slip into, if you can bear listening to retired, over-caffeinated Vietnam war vets sharing stories and getting on each others' nerves. The power of earphones to exclude you from any awkward public environment is amazing, really!

But there are definite adjustments that need to be taken into consideration when coming here. While having lunch in Sioux Falls the other afternoon with my friends, we were presented with the soup options in a downtown cafe. It was classic Midwestern fare: cheddar ham, loaded potato, chicken pot pie, and cheesy roasted red pepper. And this was their summer menu! Midwestern fare leaves me feeling a little woozy the first few days, but then the stomach soon turns to steel and I'm ready to handle anything. And the adjustments don't stop at the food. Some things I've learned not to bring up are West Coast liberalism, church, naked bikers, and the superior food of Seattle. But I do have to say the West Coast is already rubbing off on my family. One Saturday morning I had my parents on all fours doing yoga, and not long after I walked them through the granola-making process. Now the challenge will be telling dad to keep his shirt on.

I recently found that my parents have saved all of my voice mails on our answering machine since I left Minnesota. As I went to check a new message, I found my voice on the remaining 12. I didn't know whether to take this as a sign that they thought I was ready to drop dead any minute out there, biking all over the city, eating too much fish, taking the 'dangerous' ferries, or else did they think they had to savor each message because I didn't call enough? Upon further research, I found that my dad wants to record them to save for memory-keeping. My dad used to do this very thing while the first batch of kids were growing up on the farm. It's one of his Hobbyist things, I guess.

The unchanging characteristics of this small place in Minnesota are what make it such a charming place to call home. The plume of cigar smoke that trails the local car mechanic, the wooden spoons whose location in the kitchen have never changed, retired farmers that walk down main street in their overalls even though they haven't been on a tractor in years, and dad's laughter - the one that makes you think he's having a heart attack.

Although I couldn't ever see myself living here again, a little visit is a welcomed treat.

July 17, 2009

A good slice

Here I am in this hyper-caffeinated city, awake at 7:00 to make a tart for some colleagues. A plum tart to be exact. All thanks to this thing that rolled out of my oven a week ago. What was once a quick answer to some over-ripening plums has quickly turned into a break-room treat. So these things go...

I shouldn't complain, really. Coworkers who request, not generic chocolate chip cookies, or tuna noodle casserole - but plum tarts. Tarts used to scare me as much as my old baby sitter's husband. Midwesterners, I've learned, are very much of the set-it-and-forget-it crowd when it comes to cooking. The whole notion of tarts- gently fingering fragile dough, smoothing out rough cracked edges- didn't fit into the idea of a quick bite. So, I never learned how to make them.

The tart shell is an artist's best friend- a friend that doesn't demand as much attention as you think. (I give a thorough walk-through here. Click July 13 and scroll to page 4.) The fillings are endless, both sweet and savory. The look can vary as much as the insides, as the shell can be put in a tart pan or left free-form. But the deliciousness of tarts, as is the same for almost everything in the culinary world except vinaigrette and pesto, is due largely to one thing and one thing only: butter.

Never take the presence of butter lightly in any recipe. When butter's on your side, you're sure to win over many taste buds. (But maybe not the goal to loose that extra 5 pounds. Hey - life is full of compromises.) The tart pictured above was consumed by me and my friend Emily, followed by the fellow band-members of a friend I live with. It was a hit. Molly Wizenberg, in her book, calls her chocolate cake the 'Winning Hearts and Minds Cake.' This is my answer to that cake, but in the form of a tart.

Tarts are perfect for summer. Not too thick, but substantial enough to stave off hunger pangs until dinner. An ideal sidekick for a summer afternoon sip- iced coffee, lemonade, tea, etc. Because most tart recipes make enough for two tarts (and they keep well in the fridge, balled up and wrapped in plastic), I'd recommend always having a round available. (Options people, it's all about the options!) Last minute impromptu dinner? An appetizer, side dish, entree, or dessert could all be solved by its presence. Want to vent some frustration? Rolling out tart dough has made me feel better about getting cut off in line at the farmers' markets many times. Although, if you're really down in the dumps, I'd suggest kneading yeasted dough!

Change isn't so unusual around here lately. Just as this former Midwesterner is slowly turning into a Francophile in her tastes, I've also managed to become a regular in the community of bikers. Like biker as in, I'm starting to have a crease on my forehead from the helmet and I've stopped using the brakes while going downhill, type of biker. (Although I do try to stay away from the likes of the man who rides around wearing a potato sack and boxers.) But don't let me convince you that I've got this city figured out.

Last night in an attempt to take the Burke Gilman trail home from my soccer game at Sand Point, I ended up nearly 8 miles north of where I wanted to be. After running over a dead snake and passing 'The Shanty Tavern' things got a little unnerving, but I ended up seeing the most beautiful view of Mount Rainier. And this wouldn't have happened had I not gotten lost. Such is this recurring theme here so far. Getting lost has been the best thing that's happened to me. Taking a step, not quite knowing what I'm getting into, strangely has produced better results than ever imaginable. Sure you've got to pass 'The Shanty Tavern', but eventually you get to see Mount Rainier.

Forrest Gump may have you believing that life is like a box of chocolates. "You never know what you're gonna get." But I'm convinced that life is like a tart shell. "It's up to you to create the filling," would be my tagline. Life's possiblities are as numerous as what you can do to a tart shell. It all depends on willingness, imagination, courage, and what you've got in your fridge.

July 3, 2009

One Month Ago

Boy, have we got some catching up to do around here. Last time we talked I was musing about mustard, but didn't mention the fact that I moved to Seattle (!) . Today is my 1 month anniversary of being in the city. So much has happened that I nearly forgot about this little space. In the following weeks I will share more, but first things first: The Trip.

The trip started out seemingly innocent, but things sure got rocky. And I don't just mean the mountains. One month ago, I sputtered into Seattle in near 90 degree heat. Sweating bullets, while cars were honking, myself and all my belongings were on the verge of being stranded in downtown Seattle rush hour traffic. My car was overheating. We scooted along at 20 mph and its hiccups inched me closer to Green Lake. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I'll return to this scene later.

Sustained by dried plums and smoked almonds, I plowed through South Dakota effortlessly. I managed to squeeze out a 1 minute tear session after immediately getting on the interstate and hearing Kelly Clarkston's 'Breakaway', as it was my high school graduation class song. (It's okay, you can go ahead and gag.) This was right after I stopped at our local gas station to get the smoked almonds, where my kindergarden school bus driver rang me up. (I distinctly remember he turned onto that very interstate one morning, rather than the Beaver Creek road, but I didn't want to mention it.)

Not until a sweet old couple I followed for hours blew a tire, did I get nervous . After getting over the initial fear of the worst thing happening, I was able to experience some highlights. In Buffalo, Wyoming, I ate buffalo on a stick at The Virginian. The best part was seeing real cowboys that tipped their real cowboy hats to me.

Before leaving Wyoming, I wanted to stop at Sheridan, Wyoming, because a Google search led me to believe there was a Melinda's Restaurant on Main Street. Turned out this institution, whose cinnamon rolls were famous, is long gone, and is now replaced now by a yuppie fine-dining restaurant. I went to Java Moon Cafe instead, where I had this:

I learned a few things about roadtrips during this experience. First: Wear sunscreen on your left arm when driving west. Mine is finally no longer the color of my favorite lipstick. Second: Signs that say it's last gas stop for hours -they're liars. Don't believe it. You'll be fine.

Events continued to get more exciting despite the frustration of sunburns and false advertisements. These include: a power outage as I was in a convenience-store restroom in Livingston, Montana, and a great lunch (a sandwich of charred pulled pork, caramelized onions, and orange/ginger sauce on a pillow-soft dinner roll) served by a waiter in a Brazilian soccer jersey with Bob Marly playing in the background at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Not to mention, my car reached 111,111.1 miles:

Of course, driving through the Rockies was immensely emotional. It wasn't until the latter portion of Wyoming and first half of Montana where I really felt out on my own. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. But memories of my going away party (thank you all!) and a newly created iTunes playlist titled 'The Wild West' (thanks to a thoughtful friend's graduation gift) carried me through. And many phone conversations.

That brings us back to scene one of this post. I barely made it. But I did. (And my car is fine.) Furthermore, that very night I got lost walking around the lake. Not knowing that the streets continue as though the lake doesn't exist, creating two versions of the same streets, I ended up on the opposite side of the lake. But I meandered back eventually, knowing the neighborhood that much more after having to explore a bit.

Travelling west has historically been a venture for opportunity. I aim to keep the dream alive, even if I get a bit lost along the way. That's half the fun.