2014 Goals: March

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Spring has been trying

Books: This is a bit of a cheat but I finished both Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford and Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan in the final days of February. Due to travel they didn’t make it on the February review, alas, they are here now. The middle of the month was marked by my failed attempts at Eggers. Luckily, my mom saved the day by loaning me The Paris Wife for my train ride to Portland and I whizzed through Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? in the final days of the month. Annual total thus far: 7/15

For April: Lots of great books queued up at the library!

Exercise: Swim routine continues to be awesome. I started tracking my yardage and its nice to see steady progress. I’ve added approximately 200 yeards to my average workout each month and I’m considering signing up for the Green Lake open water swim in June. Any takers?

For April: Average 3/4 mile (1320 yards) per workout.

Shows: Success! Cayucas at Barboza and Galactic at the Showbox Market. Two weekends of travel this month really cut into my concert schedule. Ended up skipping a show that I had ambitiously foolishly bought tickets for the night I returned from DC.

For April: Strap in your seat belts! SO.MUCH. epic awesomeness is in store next month.

Travel: I had a blast in DC! Spent a long weekend in Oregon for Sparky’s wedding. And last weekend I got to host KVR for semi-annual epic fun times.

For April: Get ready to host the fabulous Miss Soleil! Ultimate single girls’ weekend, here we come!

 

 

Book Review: Dave Eggers FOMO

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Skeptical

Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity! and A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius

Eggers has been quite the literary darling. I’ve heard rave reviews of his work from friends and have relished in delighted at the witty, coastal intellgensia musings of McSweeney’s (particularly the Open Letters which are A1 prime) but I’m admitting defeat in the face of his long form work.

I started with You Shall Know Our Velocity!, a novel about two childhood friends attempt to deal with death and unexpected fortune. Reading the book made my heart incredibly heavy. The narrator is clinically depressed (or as much as you can armchair diagnosis a fictional character) and difficult to read. Eggers is a strong storyteller and the writing is masterful but I struggled to really engage with the book.

Determined to succeed (and because they came into the library at the same time), I picked up A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius. Jesus, that book is depressing. I associate Eggers with high wit and despite my dry sense of humor there just isn’t anything funny about a man watching his mother die of stage IV stomach cancer. I read 50 pages and returned it to the library.

It seems clear that Dave and I are better in an editor/reader relationship rather than an author/reader one. I’m fine with that. McSweeney’s is a joy and I greatly admire his work with 826 National (Seattlites, check out the Space Travel Supply Co in Greenwood!). I shall absolve myself of any Eggers FOMO.

And now, please enjoy the outtakes of me trying to properly capture my uncertainty.

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In the Kitchen: Multigrain Risotto with Asparagus

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Multigrain risotto with asparagus

Trader Joe’s, normally my womb-to-tomb BFFL, did something very mean. After years (years!) of purchasing their very reasonably priced arborio rice for my risottos they stopped carrying it. Just stopped. No warning. No time to stock up. Just, poof! Sure, I could buy it at another grocery store but it’s a certain kind of indignity to have to make a second stop to pay three times the price.

I’d seen barley and farrio risottos around the food internet and so I thought I’d give another grain a try. TJ’s does have plain barley and plain farrio but once I start poking the beast I have to go full throttle. While browsing the grains section, I spotted this Harvest Grains blend: a mix of Israeli (aka pearl) couscous, orzo, garbanzo  beans, and quinoa. I approached it like any other risotto: saute some onion and garlic, coat the grains in the pan, slowly add heated stock, grate a ton of parm in at the end.

And it mostly worked. The downside of this particular mix of grains is the rather different cooking speeds. The couscous and orzo cook much faster than the split garbanzo beans. Everything worked out and tasted delicious (parm hides many sins) but I’m not sure this was the right mix for this particular experiment. Cooking it longer would have resulted in mushy couscous and orzo but my dinner companions and I ate slightly crunchy garbanzo beans. Truth be told, I sliced some cooking sausage on top and no one seemed to even notice.

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Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains blend

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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Get caught reading

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford

Lizzie rating: 4.5/5

Henry Lee has a foot in two houses. At home, he is unable to speak to his parents who demand he speak only English despite the fact that they speak Cantonese to him and each other. At school, he is the only Asian kid in his elementary school. His neighborhood, Seattle’s Chinatown, is, like the rest of the world, perched on the brink of World War II. The war is increasingly creeping into the edges of daily life. Henry is struggling to find his place against the expectations of his parents. A small reprieve is granted when Keiko transfers to his school. As another outsider they quickly form a friendship. However, Keiko and her family are Japanese, a fact unsettling to both Henry’s father and the American government. The story moves between the mid-1940s and 1986, juxtaposing Henry’s childhood observations with his midlife reflections.

Jamie Ford does a masterful job of depicting the changing city and the families caught up in the rippling effects of a country at war. As a native Seattlite, I particularly appreciated the rich description of neighborhoods I’ve spent time in, even if they aren’t my home turf. The story is engrossing and even if you’re familiar with the history you’ll find yourself anxious to see what happens.

In the Kitchen: 20 Minute Udon with Shiitakes and Snow Peas

Soundtrack: Atlas by Real Estate

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Wednesday comfort

I first discovered udon noodles while trying to help an ex-boyfriend adjust to gluten-free living. They helped scratch the “need pasta now!” itch and are the packets are dirt cheap (like a buck each). I try to keep a package or two in the back of my fridge. They come with their own seasoning packet (a la Top Ramen) and can be cooked in hot water. I usually ditch the packet and build my own flavors. Since they have to be refrigerated I usually find them near the produce section but ask at your grocery store! This recipe was built around my desire to try Trader Joe’s new Miso-Ginger broth. It’s delicious! If you don’t have a TJ’s nearby you can sub chicken or veggie broth and add some grated ginger to the onion and mushroom mixture.

20 Minute Udon with Shiitakes and Snow Peas

1 medium onion, diced

1.5 cups shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1-2 tsp Soy sauce

1-2 tsp fish sauce

32 oz Ginger-Miso Broth (or alternative and add 1 tbsp grated ginger)

One package udon noodles

3/4 cup snow peas, chopped

Heat sesame oil* in a heavy bottomed pot on medium-high. Add diced onion and saute until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add sliced shiitake mushrooms. Once the mushrooms have cooked down slightly hit the mixture with an umami blast of soy sauce and fish sauce. The measurements above approximate the amount I got by giving each bottle a few generous shakes. If you’re using chicken or veggie broth, now would be the time to stir in the grated ginger. Continuing cooking the mixture for a minute or two while all those flavors bloom, your nose will know! Pour the broth over the mixture and bring to a low simmer. Add the udon noodles. They’ll be in a big clump so use two forks to separate them. Just before serving stir in the snow peas. Douzo meshiagare!

*Olive oil would work great here too. Sesame oil has a higher smoke point so does better under high heat.

Breakfast Makeover

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Elvis waffles

Several weeks ago I got fed up with my breakfast. I was eating instant oatmeal every morning. It was bland with a tacky texture and left my hungry by 9:15. Not cool, oatmeal, not cool. Since then I’ve been experimenting with different approaches. My criteria: healthy, preferably warm, and ready in less than 10 minutes. My friend, C, suggested whole grain waffles which I’ve included in the rotation about 2x/week. Eggs have been the runaway victor here. There protein keeps me going through 10:30 (or beyond) and I like that I can leave them alone for a few minutes to pack my lunch or pour some coffee or respond to an early morning text.

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Greek yogurt with blueberries and banana

If you have trouble getting out of bed, may I humbly suggest my morning dance jams playlist? It’s got a little bit of everything on there (pop, funk, bluegrass, soul, assorted hipster). No need to play it in order. Just pick a place to start based on what you’re feeling and rock on out in your underwear. You’ll be ready to take the day in no time.

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Breakfast tacos, for ambitious mornings.

10 Breakfast Survival Skills | Egg Personality Test | Breakfast and Brunch Ideas

Video: First Kiss

This is absolutely my favorite thing on the internet this week. Twenty strangers were randomly paired and asked to kiss. The result is tender, awkward, and surprisingly steamy (hello ass grab at 2:30!).

Happy Friday!

Ms Liz Goes to Washington

My employer jetted me off to DC for several days to attend a conference. Not one to take a food/drink/friends opportunity lying down I promptly made some calls and lined up some dinner dates. In true DC form, I made my per diem work for me and then milked my connections to get improved government access.

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Small plates at Bar Pilar.

The People

Friday night, I met my high school buddies Julia and Laura for dinner at Bar Pilar. A Hemingway-themed bar on 14th Street, the menu is small plates-centric (which I’m told is very DC) and the drinks are spot on. It’s fun being so much closer to the South, with Virginia just over yonder. The pork ribs and mac-and-cheese all seem more genuine despite being in as equally hipster surroundings as the restaurants I frequent in Seattle. Julia and Laura are totally what I think of when I think “young in DC”: hard-working, successful, in possession of security clearances. Obviously, they put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us, but what is the joy in traveling if you can’t imagine how your life would be different if you had made different choices?

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Lighting at Ambar.

On Saturday I joined some of my favorite internet friends at Ambar in Barracks Row. A Balkan restaurant with well executed, sharable plates (DC, I see your game), we had such a great time chatting and catching up while working our way strategically through their drink menu.  Melanie had tried to convince me to skip Italy and go through Croatia and Serbia with her. I’m not saying I made the wrong choice, I’m just saying the food at Ambar gave some of my fonder Italian memories a run for their money. After dinner, I got up to use the restroom and as I was walking back to the table, I noticed that nearly every man in the entire restaurant was wearing a cashmere v-neck sweater. Virginia may be for lovers, but DC loves their structured casual.

You can read Carrie’s awesome book reviews for big and little kids at Somewhat Bookish and see photos of Nicole’s insanely adorable son at Grape Soda Kitchen.

The People’s House

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The White House. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

Despite spending approximately 97.5% of my life being extremely unimpressed by the American government, I have to admit the West Wing is pretty damn cool. They only allow you to take photos outside of the building and in the Press Briefing Room hence the rashly snapped, poorly lit masterpiece below. Annie Leibovitz I am not. I accept my limitations. (That is my actual, real life boss though. She’s totally the cutest. We took a second selfie to impress her teenagers.)

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Florescent lit boss selfie.

Julia masterfully wove us through the Mess, complete with U.S.S. Constitution decor, the Cabinet and Roosevelt rooms, and the crown jewel, the Oval Office. I dutifully fulfilled my pledge to make as many West Wing, Scandal, and House of Cards references as possible. My parents paid for four years of university political science education and instead got thirty-five minutes of jokes about Olivia Pope’s wine sweaters and Frank Underwood’s ruthless pragmatism.

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CJ Cregg, where you at?!

The personal highlight was the briefing room. I obviously did my best CJ impression. All the seats in the briefing room are labeled with various media outlets. The presidential press bureau assigns and reassigns the seats among themselves. The American TV giants make up the first row, larger newspapers are in the second, and smaller outlets are intermingled with international bureaus throughout the rest of the room.

Welcome!

Hey new friends! If you’ve landed here from Not Intent on Arriving, thanks for popping over! Feel free to explore those menus up there. There’s lots of travel in the archive and food and tunes in the more recent posts.

If you have no idea what the above paragraph is referring to that’s ok too! My friend, Kristin, hosts a weekly writer series on her blog and was kind enough to ask me to interview. Kristin and Not Intent on Arriving are kindred spirits to my little blog; both are about finding the adventure in everyday life.

(If you’re nosy, and I know you are, you can read my interview here.)

How to win a potluck

Recipe: Soft Pretzels via The Kitchn

Soundtrack: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

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Salty, carb-y delights

1. Trash talk your competition, make sure they know who’s boss.

2. Pick something familiar but (seemingly) difficult.

3. Make it from scratch.

4. Portability and individual-sized portions will ensure that everyone gets to try it.

5. Get the kids on your side. They’ll hype anything.

6. Savor your sweet bragging rights. They look amazing on you.

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Love me, love my ridiculous sniffing photo.