30 April 2010

Colorful visitors

Not long ago we noticed some unusually bright visitors in our yard -- a pair of Audubon's warblers.  We've never seen these birds in the yard before in the six years we've lived here.

Today there were dozens of these birds flitting around the plum tree.  In fact, it looks like we may have two kinds of yellow-rumped warblers -- Audubon's and the Myrtle warblers or an intergrade of the two.

Here's the female Audubon's.

And the male -- probably a Myrtle x Audubon's.

28 April 2010

No More Yard Beer?

When we moved to the North Greenwood neighborhood six years ago, one of the first things we did was meet our new neighbors.  To welcome us, I think one of them gave us a box of English tea and another cooked us a homemade plum tart.  Nice folks.

Also not long after moving in, the neighborhood itself seemed to welcome us -- with yard beer. I kid you not.  One day, we found several bottles of light beer stashed behind random plants in the front yard.  Not exactly your typical "welcome to the neighborhood" gesture.  But hey, finders keepers.

This has been a great neighborhood for us -- walkable, full of friendly people, near the p-patch, and with easy access to everything we need (and even a few things we don't need).  Over the years, we've become good friends with several of our neighbors, sharing meals together and hosting barbecues.  We have felt fortunate to live in a place where we know and like the people we lived near.

In the last couple weeks, we've had the pleasure of meeting some of our new soon-to-be neighbors.  A few have stopped by to introduce themselves while we've been working on projects at the new house.  They come with smiles and cards and gift bags in hand.  They seem like lovely people.  They tell us that we're moving onto a block with people who like to socialize with each other.  Excellent news.

As you might expect, along with the greetings and introductions have come housewarming gifts -- so far, two bottles of Merlot.

I'm pretty sure we're moving out of yard beer territory.  Not sure how I feel about this.

27 April 2010

Things they are a-changin'

I'm pleased to report that a young couple has fallen in love with the little yellow house and wants to buy it.  We've been in contract for a little over a week and just finished the inspection process, which went fine.  Today is the appraisal.  Hard for me to believe, but it looks like this deal will really happen, and we'll be handing the keys over to someone new pretty soon.

The garden looks amazing, which couldn't have hurt the whole process any.  Every time I walk into the yard I get hit with the heady scent of lilacs and apple blossoms.  It's snowing petals around here.

In other news, Oggy has suddenly gotten weird.  Maybe he knows this pad isn't going to be his home much longer, who knows.  In any case, he doesn't walk any more -- he only runs.  Plus, he doesn't seem to like the floor much these days and only wants to sit on top of the tables, desk, couch, and bed.

And then there's his refusal to eat anything but wet food and his desire to sit on paper, wherever it is.

I have no idea what this is all about -- all I can figure is that when he got the "cat flu" (that's what I'm calling it) a couple weeks ago and was all lethargic and sleepy for two days, that he had a fever too, which must have fried his little cat brain a bit.  Hopefully not, but he is definitely behaving oddly now.

Seems that he also wants to start blogging . . . .

And finally, we're seeing big changes at our new house, too.  We had the opportunity to begin the yard renovation this weekend.  A team of young energetic guys, raising money for an urban gardening organization, came by and cut out our nasty, dandelion-ridden sod.  Now all we have to to do is take it away.  Here's the before and afters of the front yard.

Inside, we managed to pull up the carpets in the upstairs and take up the lovely 70s tile in the entry.  We now must refinish the floors and try to restore the slate in the entry.  Oh fun!

23 April 2010

Seen on my table lately

 "Flowers... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out-values all the utilities of the world."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson 

19 April 2010

Un dîner civilisé

We did something civilized and urban and hip this weekend. Last night we made time for dinner at Bastille Cafe in Ballard.  It was the first night of Seattle Restaurant Week in which dozens of restaurants are featuring three-course dinners for $25.

We hadn't eaten at Bastille before.  And since we couldn't fly to Paris on the spur of the moment (let me tell you, the only thing holding us back was the fact Charles de Gaulle airport is closed due to volcanic ash), an evening at Bastille was the next best thing to a cafe in the Marais.  The restaurant has an "old Paris" look complete with subway tile with black grout and lots of mirrors and vintage-looking light fixtures.

And the menu did not dissapoint.  We both ordered the three course dinner.  First course:  grilled asparagus salad with house crouton and sardine viniagrette.  Tasty.  We added a green salad with hazelnuts just to get a little something crunchy.

Second course:  I had the halibut with tomato confit and miner's lettuce salad.  Subtle flavor and and superbly cooked with a great crust on the fish.  (yes, I took pictures.)

Byron had a braised lamb dish with vegetables, which he swooned over to the last bite.

Third course:  (forgot to take pictures) I had the pot de chevre cheesecake-like-thing with rhubarb compote, candied nut crumbles, and goat milk sherbet.  Hard to visualize but VERY easy to consume!  Byron had the cheese course option -- Papillon Roquefort with a hazelnut and date terrine.  Super rich but a nice balance of flavors.

We were impressed with the service, the atmosphere, and the quality of the food.  We'll definitely return.

16 April 2010

Winter Garden Wrap Up

I'm not sure whether to call my winter gardening experiment a success or not this year.  The leeks and garlic are doing great and will be ready to harvest this spring. That's good.  But my Brussels sprouts . . . well, they didn't work out as planned. This is what Brussels sprouts look like when they bolt.  Pretty, but not so edible.

I decided they would at least be good for a bright spot on the front porch.  (And now my car is full of lady bugs . . . hmmm.)

While cleaning up the winter garden, I also planted my toasty grower -- radishes, arugula, and lettuce.  Then I found a spot in another bed for spinach and a few other things like sweet peas and scarlet runner beans.  Did some weeding and made a valiant effort to train my blackberry canes to grow on the fence.  Next task:  plan my spring/summer garden and come up with a planting schedule.  I'm visiting a garden this weekend that I hope will prove inspirational. 

Working in the garden was just what I needed -- that an a good nap yesterday.  Now I'm feeling more like myself and ready to head back over to the new place and wield my paint roller some more. 

15 April 2010

Serious Neglect

I'm in danger of getting a "weed warning" at the p-patch -- that's what they give you if you neglect your plot for too long and it starts getting weedy and out of control.  It has been over a month since I've been there last.  In my defense, nothing really needed tending (leeks grow fine without much intervention).  But I'm embarrassed to say that despite my best intentions, since setting up my toasty grower, I've not done much -- not even plant my seeds! 

I'm headed down there today for a couple hours.  Hopefully I can yank out the offending weeds and pull out my Brussels sprouts, which bolted this spring instead of putting on sprouts (bummer).  I need to see if my compost pile has done its thing, and if not, do something with the remains . . .  And I could benefit from a little summer garden planning so I know what plants I'm growing where.  

Maybe this will be good for me -- I've been fairly stressed out lately with all our pending transactions.  I hope getting my hands in the dirt will be the self care I've been needing (but have been too busy to notice or do anything about).  Neglect is a bad thing all around.

 A little inspiration from last year's garden.

13 April 2010

Getting a Feel for the Place

It's been a busy week!  We got keys to our new house and have launched an intensive effort to get the place ready to live in.  First order of business was to paint the popcorn ceilings and the walls. 

As of Sunday, we completed the first part -- the ceilings.  They turned out great.  Plus, Byron got to figure out how to use an airless paint sprayer and dress up in a white, non-breathable Tyvek suit for the day.  Fun!

Today I get to spackle, sand, and begin painting the walls, after having washed them all yesterday. 

The new place is beginning to feel like a house we know.  We've eaten a few meals there and even used the oven!  Granted, we only made frozen french fries from a bag, but whatever. 

I also spent a couple hours weeding in the flower beds.  Turns out one of our new neighbors (we aren't sure who yet) came over and weeded most of our front flower bed the morning after we took possession.  A very nice gesture!  I look forward to meeting this mystery neighbor sometime soon.

And, we enjoyed the first sunset from OUR deck.   We're pretty sure we're going to like it there.

07 April 2010

Off We Go to Pleasantville

We are the proud owners of a new home today.  We've been marching toward this "closing" date for some time now, and here we are.  Got keys and everything.

We're making a big change.  Aside from the new house being about three times the size and half the age of the old one, the new neighborhood promises to be quite different from the one we live in now.  That's a bit of an understatement, actually.  Suffice it to say that we probably won't have so much yelling in the alley at midnight or road noise in the new place.

The new neighborhood, which Byron has already dubbed Pleasantville, is filled with houses built in the 1950s and 60s.  It has wide streets and level sidewalks.  Everyone seems to have manicured lawns and carefully sculpted junipers in their yards.  Neighbors wave hello or nod when you drive by.  Turns out the neighborhood hosts a Fourth of July Kid's Parade for residents, complete with decorated bicycles and scooters and hot dogs and pop for the onlookers.  There's also a neighborhood-wide garage sale the weekend after Labor Day.

This all comes at a price, you know.  We pay neighborhood association dues now.  And those dues pay for things like shrub maintenance at the entrance to "The Manor" and cleaning the entrance signs.  They also pay for entrance Christmas decorations and yes, "Santa storage."  Seriously.  I'm not making this up.

The neighborhood association handbook states that the neighborhood's "widespread fame revolves around the Christmas lights . . . most residents put up lights and other festive decor at their homes. . . . Be prepared for several weeks of significant numbers of cars and buses slowly driving through our neighborhood admiring the decorations."  Oh my.

As you may recall, this year we finally got up the nerve to put a single strand of white lights on our little yellow house.  I think we're going to have to kick it up a notch come December in Pleasantville.

Fun-poking aside, we are truly looking forward to getting settled in the new place, meeting our neighbors, and making the home and yard feel like our own.  The larger space will also allow us to entertain more, something we love to do.  I envision us fully embracing the new 'hood in short order.

We'll be moving in after we paint and do a few things around the house -- hopefully that means within a couple weeks.  I'll post some pictures soon.

06 April 2010

Eating it up

I recently began my own Eat-it-Don't-Move-It Challenge.  This means I'm planning meals with the goal of eating up all the half-boxes of pasta and random ingredients in my cupboard and fridge so I don't have to move them.  The corollary: once we eat it up, we can't buy more until after we've moved (this goes for ice cream, too).

Now that I'm paying attention, it's a little embarrassing to admit how much food I have around.  Granted, a good portion of the real estate in my cupboard is taken up with pots of things like green curry paste, hot sauce, water chestnuts, green chilis, and various kinds of jams and jellies -- hardly the makings of an entire meal.  But aside from those, I have an awful lot of partially-used foodstuffs (I love that word).  Today, I found five kinds of rice, three partially used bags of noodles, two half-boxes of pasta, 3/4 cup of couscous, a third of a box of polenta, three open containers of cocoa . . .  and the list goes on.

So what to make with these remnants? 

Well, here's what I came up with today.  I managed to use up my couscous, two half-packages of soba noodles, a partial package of macaroni stars, and a cup and a half of random dried beans.  I found all the other ingredients (except for cilantro and green onions) in my fridge . . . further proof that a purge is required there as well. 

Couscous-star salad:  cucumber, feta, red onion, random types of olives, couscous, tiny macaroni stars, sun-dried tomatoes from a jar, olive oil, red wine vinegar, lime juice, and cilantro.

Soba noodle salad:  soba noodles, Judy Fu's peanut sauce, garlic chili sauce, green onion, cilantro, and black sesame seeds.

Dinner:  borlotti and cargamanto cranberry beans with brown rice and Mexican toppings -- chopped lettuce, cheddar, salsa, plain yogurt, and hot sauce.

I think I should get bonus points for coming up with dessert . . .

This one uses up one of my containers of cocoa and whittles down my other staples.  It's a recipe my mom used to make a lot when we were kids -- I think my sister and I called it "hot water cake." In any case, it'll provide a good accompaniment to the vanilla ice cream dregs I found in the freezer.

Hot Fudge Sundae Cake
from my mother's kitchen

1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs. cocoa, plus 1/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk (lowfat or nonfat is fine)
2 Tbs. oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 3/4 cup super hot tap water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In an ungreased 9x9 pan (or 8x8), stir together flour, sugar, 2 Tbs. cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  When combined, stir in the milk, oil, and vanilla with a spatula or a fork.  Once it turns into a batter of sorts, mix in the nuts if you are including them.  Spread the batter in a thin, even layer in the pan.  Sprinkle the brown sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa evenly over the batter. Pour the hot water over the top (resist the urge to stir it in -- just let it sit on top). Bake for about 40 minutes, until it puffs up, the top looks done, and it's all bubbly around the sides.   Cool for 15 minutes (at least) before serving.

Rose's Trifle Recipe

Here's the recipe for the trifle that I raved about in my last post.  I know Rose assembled the trifle the night before she brought it to the brunch -- and it was just right.

Rose's Trifle
adapted from an Everyday Food recipe

Make the lemon syrup 
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 
1/4 cup water
1 store-bought pound cake (usually 16 oz.), cut into ¾-inch-thick slices
In a small saucepan, bring sugar, lemon juice, and water to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Let cool completely, then brush over both sides of cake slices. Quarter each slice.

Make the cream
8 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature 
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream 
Beat cream cheese with sugar on high speed with an electric mixer until lightened. With mixer on medium speed, gradually add heavy cream in a steady stream and beat until light and airy like very soft whipped cream. 
3 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried
3 cups fresh strawberries (raspberries work too)
Arrange half the cake pieces in the bottom of a two-quart trifle dish. Spoon half the cream mixture over the cake and spread to the sides of the dish. Scatter half the fruit on top. Repeat layering with remaining cake, cream mixture, and berries, piling berries in the center.  Cover, and refrigerate until chilled, at least one hour (but overnight is better).

04 April 2010

My Easter Resolution

Contrary to popular belief, Easter is really all about brunch.

This year, our good friend Cathy hosted a potluck Easter brunch that included friends we haven't seen in far too long.  When I think about this group of friends, I can't help but admire how accomplished and interesting everyone is.  The group includes business types, educators, medical professionals, scientists, lawyers, editors, entrepreneurs, and more.  There's always a lot to talk about and catch up on when we get together -- today we learned of big promotions (yeah! Chelle and Rose), travels planned to Bhutan and India, new jobs, and hobbies . . . and made the acquaintance of new friends. 

Like the people in the room, the collective brunch we shared was fabulous:  herb roasted potatoes, deviled eggs, waffles with homemade peach compote, sticky buns, sauteed greens, sausages, pancakes, fresh fruit (from strawberries to kumquats), homemade pistachio and chocolate chip biscotti, fresh coffee, fruit smoothies, and a beautiful fruit trifle.

And about that trifle . . .

After eating it today, I am convinced that trifle is one of the world's perfect foods.  Seriously.  First, it contains three of the all-time best dessert elements: cake, a sweetened cream mixture, and fruit.  Second, it is beautiful.  Third, the layered nature of the dish ensures you get a bit of everything in each bite, which is both efficient and delicious.  Fourth, did I mention it has fruit, cake, and sweetened cream in it?

Tragically, trifle is a dessert that has not yet made it into my repertoire.  How I managed to make this giant omission, I do not know.  I promise to do better.

03 April 2010

There is an Up Side

Living in a house that is on the market is not so easy.  At least not for me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm relieved that we put the house up for sale, finally.  This has put an end to our constant home improvement projects (for which I am very grateful).  However, every time we leave the house, we have to make sure the whole place looks perfect, there are no dirty dishes, no splatters on the mirrors, no dirt on the rug, and the nice towels are out . . . .  The real estate listing says "leave a message and show," so I never know who will come through when.

And then when we're home, we don't want to make too much of a mess anywhere.  You never know when we'll get a call.  The other night we had just finished dinner and someone wanted to show the house.  Needless to say, we scrambled to fill the dishwasher and tidy up before we dashed away, accomodating the potential buyer the best we could.

I think that home is where your stuff is -- not just where your stuff hides.   I suppose that's why this place isn't really feeling much like home any more.

Inconveniences aside, I must admit there is an up side to the selling process.  I've had beautiful, fresh flowers on the table every day.  And you know how I love flowers . . . .