Tag Archives: seattle

Passing on my phobias

I’m extremely emotional today and over-caffeinated, both of which may be important details in this story. Also, Seattle is about to fry. No one has air conditioning and we’re preparing for a string in the 90s. Most of us start to complain when it tops 70. Since we can’t leave our windows open at night and still feel safe, we open everything up in the early morning to cool the house down. This morning, I headed to close our back door right as A RAT was trying to ENTER my HOUSE!

A RAT! My house! It may be a little my fault, time to vacuum and mop, but oh my god! A rat!

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The part of the rat that grosses me out most. If it had been facing us, the story might end differently.

I screamed. It ran and hid behind a box filled with broken outdoor toys we haven’t discarded. I slammed the door like a grizzly bear was about to eat me. Charlie and Miles learned about “eebie-jeebies” and watched me shriek and shake my jitters out all around the house. They didn’t seem to care much. They didn’t even ask to see the rat.

Gathering my composure, I continued to close up the house. After I shut the boys’ bedroom windows, which requires me climbing on top of Miles’ bed, I stepped down only to encounter this scene in Charlie’s loft bed:

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I screamed again. Then I laughed.

I knew the day would come when Samuel Bearded would scare the shit out of me. Today was the day. (Yes, we discovered his real name! It’s written on the tranverse plane between his neck and his former body!)

Interrupting the boys, this time to tell them of my adventure with Samuel, Miles giggled with pride, “I did that!” It worked, kiddo. It worked.

“So boys, want to see the rat?” I regretted asking immediately, but knew I had to face this fear. I needed to water my garden. There were raspberries to harvest. I might as well have moral support.

I opened the door. It was still there.

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As they watched, I pushed the box with a broom, anticipating the rat would run under the garden shed. Nope. Too easy. Instead it jumped onto our grill and hid under the cover.

“Aw, it’s cute!” Charlie gushed.

Shit. They make nests in grills. I didn’t think that was going to happen, but I didn’t want it getting cozy there, either.

I tapped at the cover with the broom. Nothing. I wiggled the grill with the broom. Aware that the boys are watching me, I was saying things like, “Just a little earthquake, rat! Come on out.” Nothing. It wasn’t budging.

The friggin’ rat was going to make me take the cover off.

I made a lot of nervous noises and grossed out faces while the boys observed from inside. I walked towards the cover and backed away. A few times. I asked Charlie if he wanted to do it. Nope.

Mustering up my courage and wanting to show the boys a good example (ha!), I approached, trying to pull it off like a magician pulling a tablecloth out from under dishes. The surprised rat tumbled off the handle, onto the cement and hid between a few of my potted plants.

“Oh, it’s SO cute!” Charlie exclaimed. Again.

I heard a quick whooshing noise and slammed the door again. “What was that?” “Did it come in?” Charlie looked around. “No, I don’t think so.” Clearly, I’m nuts. As if the rat would come back towards us. What, while wearing a cape to make a noise like that? Sheesh.

I went to open the door again but Charlie pleaded, “No, don’t open it!”

Rats. (Bwa-ha-ha. It had to be used.) I passed my fear to him. Just like that.

“Oh, honey. It’s fine. I’m sorry I scared you. I’m afraid of rats but they’re really more scared of us and won’t hurt us if we give them space.”

I opened the door, peeked at the pots and saw the rat tail. In my panic, I had thrown the cover back on top of the grill as the rat dropped. The cover must’ve fallen to the ground and made that noise. I shooed the rat away from the plants and checked in with the boys, who were still watching me with growing curiosity. “Yay! It’s gone!” I faked a little cheer.

“Are you alright?” Charlie asked me with genuine concern, but also a little smirk. I don’t think he’s ever asked me this question with that look on his face. He saw a little of the crazy in his mama. At least he found it funny.

I watered my plants and picked my berries with a hyper vigilant eye, all while thinking, “I bet that rat comes back. It probably likes berries.” Then I went inside and told the boys yet again, this time calmly and collected, that rats aren’t to be feared. (Hahahahaha.) We shouldn’t pet city rats, but they can certainly touch pet rats.

“Yes, people have rats as pets…”

“Oh, I’m glad you think they’re cute, Charlie, but no.”

Never. Ever.

Some days, when emotions are high, you just may pass on your phobias to your kids. Or, if you’re really lucky, they’ll want one as a pet.

Pie on wheels

Hands down, the best purchase I’ve made since having kids is our cargo bike. She’s been my right-hand gal over six months now, helping me transport the boys to school, haul groceries, fetch library books, and complete other supremely routine aspects of my life. With her assistance, the monotonous became an adventure. (Yes, she’s female. I still need to name her, though. The boys once suggested Rudolph, and as much as I appreciate the story parallels, I couldn’t embrace Rudolpha or Rudolphina. Suggestions welcome! She’s black with red bags and strong as a horse. Lucille? Annie? Cherry Pie? Rhubarb? Oooh, maybe Rudy!)

Now, cue Mary Poppins singing “Let’s go fly a kite” except substitute “Let’s go ride a bike.” Nearly every time I hop on I sing that song (in my head, though I’m probably a decade away from singing out loud.) Bike rides bring out my inner musical like just about nothing else. The only conditions that block the earworm from entering are arguing boys, super wiggly passengers, busy streets, rude or inattentive drivers. (Stop texting, people! Sheesh!) Otherwise, I am ridiculously happy on my bike. I often feel sluggish in the afternoon before going to get the boys but one ride picks me right back up.

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Rain and wind didn’t stop us! I’m not sure we would’ve braved the weather if we hadn’t committed in advance, but we ended up so glad we participated. It was such a fun morning! (Thankfully, the wettest day in over a year happened the NEXT day.)

My first time carrying a bike passenger happened during an exchange student year in The Netherlands. I was eightteen, a recent high school graduate and away from home for the first time ever. Every few months the Rotary exchange students would gather at someone’s village. We’d dance, freely speak our native languages without judgment, and repeatedly consume four ounce glasses of Heineken. We usually ended our nights biking in small groups to homes of kind people willing to host tipsy, homesick foreign teenagers.

One of those nights a Dutch girl (stranger to me) needed a ride to her place. The back rack of my bike was open and I must’ve agreed or couldn’t argue sufficiently given my state. Either way, it was naive of me. Probably her, too. We didn’t get far. I lost my balance as I biked over a canal bridge. Wobbling and shaking, I dumped both the bike and my passenger on the street. I’m glad my Dutch wasn’t stellar at that point, because I was spared comprehension of most of the cuss words she threw my way. I’m certain I confirmed her belief that Americans can’t ride bikes. (I wish I had tallied the number of times I was asked if I could ride a bike during that year. There must be a lot of American tourists dumping bikes in canals or having near misses with trams.)

Thankfully, both my Dutch and my biking skills improved that year. I learned to navigate my way past the Amsterdammers blocking paths without stepping off my bike. I rode 10km from my village, Monnickendam, to my school in north Amsterdam with a group of friends. As I recall, there was always headwind both ways. (Listen up, young whippersnappers!) Biking became second nature and my passport to freedom. Heck, I even learned to adequately transport people while tipsy!

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Most, but not all, of the bikes on the ride. Notice Madi’s bike on the top left with the bike teeter-totter strapped on, aka her “sail” on the windy day.

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Cargo bike decks act as portable tables, too. After consuming his 3.14 pies, Miles resigned himself to apples and cheese.

Biking with my boys has reminded me of the free spirit and sense of adventure I felt while living in Holland. Last Saturday, our family celebrated Pi Day with a big group of other families on a Kidical Mass bike ride. Charlie and Harry biked themselves. I carried Miles, his balance bike, twenty-something blueberry turnovers, apples, bread, cheese, a towel, and water bottles. It felt easy, which was definitely not the case six months ago and such a great realization. (I’ll write another post about my journey towards comfort with this bike.)

For the past few years I was scared to death of biking with the boys in the city but missing riding more and more. I was the quintessential Wendy, willing but wary. I began searching the internet for inspiration from Seattle families. Madi, the Queen of Seattle family biking and author of the soon to be published Urban Cycling, inspired me to start seriously considering a cargo bike. (Check out her Instagram photos. The woman could carry a small house on her bike. Oh, and her pictures from Pi day are here!) Each little glimpse into her world encouraged me to be more courageous. If she could tackle Seattle’s hills, relatively poor (but improving!) cycling infrastructure, rainy days and less than biker-friendly driving culture with two kids on board, I could get there, too. It was a slow warming period, but with her help and the support of Seattle’s Family Biking facebook group, I jumped on board.

In honor of the freedom wheels bring, full-circle moments, and opportunity to indulge in buttery pastries, I was excited to celebrate the day with a special treat on board. Here’s a very minimally adapted turnover recipe from Dorie Greenspan. Hers calls for apples and are a bit larger. I made mine smaller because I didn’t want any tiny riders to be pie deprived, nor did I want to double the recipe.

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Hi-vis jacket courtesy of my road biking days made it easy to spot the pies. Did the trick this rainy, windy day! The Green Lake wading pool hosts bike rodeos in the off season.

 

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Flaky Blueberry Turnovers

Slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s turnover recipe in Baking, makes ~20-24 hand pies

Dough
  • 1 cup full fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Filling
  • 1 to 2 jars thick blueberry jam (I used St. Dalfour Wild Blueberry)

Aesthetics

  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
  • Turbinado or Demerara sugar (or other coarse, thick sugar), for sprinkling

To make the dough, stir the sour cream and sugar together and set aside. Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter pieces into the flour, using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers. Work the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. It is better to have an uneven mix than an overworked dough, and keeping the butter cold is important, so don’t worry about being too thorough. Using a lifting and tossing motion with a fork, gently work in the sour cream. The dough will be very soft.

Divide the dough in half. Put each half in a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to shape each half into a rectangle. Don’t worry about size or precision. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour, or for up to 2 days.

Remove one piece of dough from the fridge and roll it into a rectangle about 9 x 18 inches. The dough is easiest to work with if you roll it between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. If you want to roll it traditionally, make sure to flour the rolling surface. Once it’s rolled out, fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate it. Repeat with the second piece of dough, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.

Once the dough is sufficiently chilled, position the oven racks to divide the oven into thirds, and preheat the oven to 375℉. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Roll out one piece of dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, and cut out 3 1/2 inch rounds with a large cutter or the edge of a tartlet pan. (You can change the size and shape of cutter you use. Obviously this will impact your total yield. It may also change the baking time, so plan accordingly.) Repeat with the second piece of dough. Gather the scraps together, chill them, and make additional turnovers to get the full yield. (The turnovers made from scraps will still taste good, they just won’t be as light and flaky as the first round.) You’ll get 8 to 10 rounds from each half of dough.

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Place one teaspoon blueberry jam in the center of each round. Moisten the edges of each round with a little water and fold the turnovers in half, sealing the edges by pressing them together with the tines of a fork. Use the fork to poke steam holes on top, and transfer the turnovers to the baking sheets. (At this point, the turnovers can be frozen. After they firm up in the freezer, wrap them airtight and store for up to two months. Bake them without defrosting, adding a few minutes to their time in the oven.)

Brush the tops of the turnovers with egg wash and sprinkle each one with a pinch of sugar. Bake for about 16-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 8-9 minutes. When done, the turnovers will be puffed, firm to the touch, and golden brown. Gently transfer them to racks, cool to room temperature, put them in a sturdy container, and secure them in your bike bag.

 

Sunbreaks

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When we first moved to Seattle in 2000, I remember dying with laughter the first time I heard a weather forecaster mention “sunbreaks.” My native Colorado soul could barely handle that I had moved from a state with nothing but blue skies to a state that gave residents notice of when they just might be lucky enough to see the sun for an hour or two. The choice was either to laugh or cry.

Last Friday I felt the heavy weight of my snowballed anxiety lifting. It felt like a sunbreak after an unusually long, gray winter. I quietly hoped that the majority of February trials would firmly park themselves within that month, allowing March to come in like a lamb.

I drove to Seattle Public School’s district headquarters to drop off paperwork and landed a parking spot right in front of the building. I shared a little yelp of glee with the parking attendant. She understood and laughed knowingly. Previously, I’ve ended up parking at least a half mile away. It’s an industrial part of town, and walking to the building involved crossing railroad tracks and busy, trash-filled streets. (If you don’t appreciate a good parking spot, visit Seattle and drive somewhere downtown. You’ll quickly understand why we love our bikes.)

After waiting in line a fraction of the time I anticipated, I received the best customer service I’ve experienced in years. The kind man processed Miles’ Kindergarten enrollment form with a genuinely happy demeanor. He didn’t seem to notice the line rapidly growing behind me. (I had been anticipating a stern look of disapproval from whomever helped me because I didn’t have Miles’ student identification number. I had recycled the only notice we received with his number on it because I didn’t realize that: 1) the number was on it, 2) the number was important, nor 3) the only place we could find that number from our home was on that letter. For goodness sakes, the entire purpose of that letter was to inform parents that we wouldn’t be getting a letter with school assignments on it. Why would I keep that? Sigh. But, I digress. He was friendly, not at all flustered by my error, and helped me forgive SPS for it’s poor communication.

While exiting, I ran into two different friends, one of whom I’ve known since high school. It was a fun surprise to see familiar faces in an unfamiliar part of town. Later that day, I met with a different friend whom I’ve known since junior high, and the two of us saw another Boulder friend. My entire day was peppered with friendly faces, most from days past, in parts of town I almost never visit.

At the end of the day, Harry finalized a contract that brings us sufficient income for March. Things look hopeful for April, too. We celebrated with take-out and a bottle of wine.

The past week almost felt normal. We enjoyed a fun family outing at the Arboretum Sunday. I cooked. Harry mowed the lawn. I returned to my weight-lifting class because my back is recovering. My stomach is nearly normal after the tenants’ surprise eviction. No one else in the family is sick. Harry has been working.

It’s felt comforting. Not everything is resolved, but all of these little gifts felt like sunbreaks. I don’t know if this winter has passed, but I am thankful for the reprieve.

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Carkeek Park

As the tides are at their lowest, Seattle schools go on summer break. Kids flood the beaches searching for sea stars, lifting rocks to pester crabs, and poking at anemones. Moats get built, feet get sandy, hands smell like seaweed.

One of my hopes for our summer is weekly beach visits and hikes. The boys will pick Carkeek nearly every time if I let them and I find few reasons to negotiate. With a wide flat beach that looks out over Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains, it is hard to beat. My boys adore watching trains from the bridge over the railroad tracks, and the salmon slide is irresistible to the younger crowd (also sure to elicit at least a few poop jokes from all kids five and up).

When we first moved back to Seattle, I experienced a solid six months of “pinch me” moments. I’d visit a favorite bakery and squeal with delight. I’d hop on a ferry like a kid in a candy store. While I remain thankful that we moved back, those highly salient moments of gratitude have tapered off. Mostly I feel deeply anchored, gently swaying in the comforting knowledge that we’re home. Yet Carkeek, especially when the sun is shining and the clams are spitting and the boys are happily digging, always seems to return me to a more conscious level of thankfulness for the city I love.

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Places I love: Discovery Park beach

I’m going to start posting occasional pictures of places I love. Most will be sites I regularly frequent around the Pacific Northwest, but some will highlight previous places I’ve lived or visited, including The Netherlands and Siberia.

I’m starting off with my favorite park and beach in Seattle, Discovery Park. Looking back at our pictures taken here over the years reminds me that the best outdoor toys my boys ever received were shovels.

Discovery Park

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Looking northwest across Puget Sound towards Bainbridge Island’s north end.

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Driftwood lines the beach towards West Point Lighthouse, Olympic Mountains provide the backdrop.

 

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A busy boating channel- freight ships, fishing boats and pleasure boats abound.

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The splinters are worth it.

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One of us looks for porpoises, orcas, eagles, osprey and harbor seals using these.

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If you squint hard you might notice the Space Needle, as well as Mt. Rainier’s ghost rising above where the land hits the water. Both are visible on clear days.

Blueberry bars for breakfast? Yes, please!

New Year’s Eve was the fourth anniversary of our return to Seattle. In most ways it feels like we never left. We hang out with old friends, attend our previous church, frequent our favorite coffee shops and pub of the past thirteen years, and regularly run into neighbors, colleagues, clients and acquaintances from years past. 

As heartwrenching of a decision as the return was, it was right. Harry and I remain head over heels in love with our city and relish our community, which evolves in surprising ways. There has been grief with aspects of that, but mostly the changes have been welcome. Public school has opened the door to new friends, some of whom are neighbors. I can’t quite express how much I love that we now have spontaneous after school play times. I invited a neighbor and her boys over this week, possibly luring them in with the promise of cooling muffins.

Pear hazelnut muffins

Another aspect of Seattle that continually amazes me is the quality and variety of food being produced on surrounding farms, at restaurants and by entrepreneurs finding niche markets for their products. Opportunities for a vibrant, delicious experience abound, whether you cook at home or let someone else cook for you. Visiting one of Seattle’s farmers markets is like walking through an aisle of Heaven. (Please?!) I never have enough money. Purchases always exceed my list. Even in the dead of winter, there is abundance. Freshly caught fish, freshly foraged mushrooms, apples, pears, squash, bread, pastured meat, clothing, wooden bowls, skillets, cheese, wine. We have it good, people.

A new addition to my favorite year-round market is Marge granola. The name might ring a bell because it’s been written up a lot, and the owner also just recently published a breakfast cookbook. I have followed Megan’s blog for years, so I noticed when she posted about a giveaway shortly after publication. I won! I was incredibly surprised, completely thrilled.

Knowing Megan would be at the market the next morning for her first time as a merchant, I headed there excitedly, both to meet her, sample her granola, and potentially get my copy. It was a freezing cold, sunny morning. Everyone seemed happy to be outside, soaking in the beautiful sights without getting soaked. After strolling slowly, booth by booth, filling bags with cabbage (to make this), squash (to make this, for the second time this season), bread and eggs, I came upon Megan. I wanted to hug her. That’s what giveaways do to me. She was funny and friendly, handling the market hustle and bustle like she’d been there for years.

Market bounty

Her book, Whole-Grain Mornings, feels like it was written for me. I am slightly in love. It’s organized by season, which is mostly how I cook these days, and within each season there’s a range from quicker, everyday type recipes to a set of more difficult brunch recipes. Granolas, oatmeals, porridges, egg dishes, greens & grains, muffins. Everything I want in a breakfast book, including the highly desirable whole-grain and lightly sweetened touch. I browsed through the entire book after the market and was immediately drawn to the kitchen. It’s a book that makes you want to bake.

The timing was perfect. Our morning routine of simple oatmeal- boiling thick rolled oats, adding cinnamon, maple syrup and raisins, and topping with milk-has become boring to me. The males in the family are still satisfied, but I’m ready for a broader repertoire. I’m finding myself making eggs or eating granola, even when they’re having (our lame version of) oatmeal. We really don’t need to be making more than one breakfast in the morning.

Her Pear Hazelnut Muffins (pictured above, also shared beautifully here by Sprouted Kitchen), made for a warm, fragrant afternoon snack and significant improvement in breakfast the next morning. These are very moist, fluffy, crunchy from the topped hazelnuts, and provide a gentle nod to nutmeg and cardamom along with the hint of pear. A definite keeper, particularly if you’re over the age of three and therefore not apt to completely lose your shit when there are nuts on your muffin.

I’ve also made the blueberry bars, which I am so pleased to share with you here. I let Charlie pick a recipe for me to make and the minute he saw the picture for these, he loudly proclaimed, “Those!” The bars are reminiscent of a classic crumble bar cookie, though not as sweet. The blueberry depth is brightened by the lemon. The almonds and rye make a warm, nutty base. I imagine they taste equally nice alongside coffee as they do vanilla ice cream. I have yet to try the latter, but I just might tonight.

While these would be lovely as a sweet aspect of a bigger brunch affair, we had them as a special breakfast all by themselves this morning. We also had a little square of them for dessert last night. They work well that way. Like donuts, I suppose.

Blueberry breakfast bar

Megan’s Blueberry Breakfast Bars

Makes 12-16, depending on how you slice ’em

Blueberry Filling

3 cups / 720 ml fresh blueberries or 12-oz / 350 g unthawed frozen blueberries

1/4 cup / 45 g natural cane sugar (I used turbinado)

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon water

Whole-Grain Crust

1/2 cup / 50 g rolled oats

1 cup / 100 g rye flakes

1/4 cup / 60 g sliced raw almonds

1/4 cup / 30 g raw sesame seeds

1 cup / 120 g whole wheat flour

1/2 cup / 75 g packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 large egg, beaten

8 tablespoons / 115 g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, plus more for greasing pan

3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

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Preheat the oven to 350℉. Butter an 8-inch square pan.

Prepare the filling by combining berries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir over medium heat until it simmers. Continue stirring until the berries start to break down and the sauce thickens, 3 to 4 minutes, and remove from heat.

Prepare the crust by fitting a food processor with the metal blade. Pulse the rolled oats, rye flakes, almonds and sesame seeds about 30 seconds, just until they form a chunky, mealy texture. Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking powder. Pulse a second or two to combine. Add the egg and butter and pulse, adding ice water tablespoon by tablespoon until the mixture forms a large crumb-like consistency.

Press at least half of the crust mixture evenly into the bottom of the greased pan. (I found that using slightly more than half of it worked well for my desired crust thickness. Maybe as much as 75%.) Pour the berry filling onto the crust, spread it evenly. Sprinkle the remaining crust mixture across the top so that it’s scattered somewhat evenly. Don’t press it down. It will bake into the bars.

Bake until the crumble is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let them cool completely in the pan before slicing them into bars. They will keep for 3 days at room temperature if tightly wrapped. (But only if you are crazy. These are not going to last that long.)