Friday, December 29, 2006

The joy of scrounging

I discovered thrift shops in college, when a friend and I had a informal business buying, refurbishing, and reselling violins, mandolins, guitars, and the occasional dobro. My first apartment in New Haven was furnished from thrift shops and tag sales (known as yard sales or garage sales in the Northwest).

I still love to spend Saturdays at yard sales, and results from my favorite eBay searches are emailed to me every night. My wardrobe is a mix of Eddie Bauer, J. Jill, eBay and the local consignment shop; the decorative aspects of our home furnishings (pillows, tablecloths, lamps, paintings, bookshelves, and small tables) have decidedly non-retail origins.

Amazingly, there are people even more wrapped up in treasure hunting than I am. One of the blogs I follow is written by a semi-professional young thrifter. It appears she struck gold at the local Goodwill store this week. Very cool.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

After all these weeks of wind and rain, Christmas Day was mild and faintly sunny. This enabled me to indulge in my favorite Christmas Day activity -- winter gardening.

The garden was in surprisingly good shape after all the freezing and soggy weather; the climbing hydrangeas and camelias are budding, and I spotted the tips of crocuses peeking out of the wet dirt. It only gets better from here on out!

Zorg gave me a 12" All-Clad frying pan -- definitely the highlight of the many Christmas goodies.

Season's Greetings

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Extra cats

Two families in our neighborhood have gone back east for the holidays. As a result, we are cat-sitting a pair of kitties across the street and also keeping an eye on the very friendly indoor-outdoor cat next door (its magnetic collar allows it to use our cat door as well as its own).

Friday night I went over to feed and check on the pair across the street and was greeted with loud meowing as one of the cats attempted to slither past me out the front door. I managed to get the door closed without letting the cat out, vaguely aware of loud meowing behind me in the kitchen. I turned around to see the two cats standing in the kitchen, meowing. But there was still meowing coming from an unexplained third cat, standing at my feet.

Somehow, the extra cat (the one belonging to our next door neighbors) had gotten into the house -- but couldn't get out again. It looks nearly identical to one of the pair that lives in the house, so my guess is that someone (the cleaning person?) had stopped by and, thinking it belonged there, let it in.

I let it out, and everyone was much happier.

Dalai Lama PowerPoint?

A friend who is a bit wary of computers and email sent me a PDF file today with a PowerPoint presentation of advice from the Dalai Lama.

It's truly lovely and thoughtful advice.

The hoax site Snopes points out, however, that it's not really from the Dalai Lama. It's just something that's been running around the Internet since 1999 (and the cringe-inducing PowerPoint graphics sure look like it).

As it happens, someone sent this same file to blogger Seth Godin last May. I'm going to spare you the PowerPoint download and invite you to go over to Seth's blog to read the advice more attractively presented; while you're there, you'll find Seth's advice on communications topics inspiring in its own right.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A friend's tribute to his dad

Andru Edwards, the driving force behind Seattle Mindcamp, has written a eloquent tribute to his father, George Budabin, who died this week. It makes you wish you'd known his dad, and will likely make you think about your own father. I'm sitting here looking at a picture of mine...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday meme - 20 Christmas questions

A holiday meme I spotted at AlmaNews:

1.What is your favorite Christmas carol/song?
"Lyssna, Lyssna" (Swedish carol). Favorite English carol is "Good King Wenceslas" -- very easy to sing, and I can even play it on the melodeon.

2.White lights or multicolored?
White lights. And when I put them up I like to think back on how my first husband was horrified by the "yuppie-ness" of them.

3. Do you have a cut tree, live tree or an artificial tree?
Cut. This year we went to a tree farm out in Monroe and Zorg cut one for me. It's a Fraser fir, absolutely beautiful though it doesn't have nearly as wonderful a smell as a Grand fir.

4. Eggnog, mulled cider, or hot chocolate?

5. Do you decorate your house with lights?
Not usually.

6. Do you write a Christmas letter?
Yes. Wish they could have hyperlinks.

7. Do you like receiving Christmas letters/photos?
Yes. My favorite of all time was John and Sally's Christmas photo card -- showing them on a trip to the Grand Canyon au natural.

8. What is your favorite Christmas story/movie?
Scrooge. Last year Zorg gave me about 20 different DVD versions of it. I like the one with Patrick Stewart.

9. Have you ever made a gingerbread house?
No. But I own a book on how to do it, so watch out!

10. Poinsettias or holly?
Holly. Poinsettias are hazardous to cats (though my cats survived many years of them before I was warned by the vet).

11. Do you display a nativity scene?
No. We do a more Solstice-y version of Christmas with white candles and fir boughs. And lots of little reindeer -- I collect homemade wooden reindeer at Ballard yard sales.

12. Do you bake Christmas cookies?
Yep. My mother is in charge of baking spritz cookies, to which I am horribly addicted.

13. Ham or turkey?
Chinese. It's traditional for one side of my family.

14. In what languages can you wish someone a Merry Christmas (without cheating)?
Merry Christmas
Joyeux Noel
Bon Natale
God Jul

15. Do you know all the words to Jingle Bells?

16. Do you put presents under the tree?
Everything but the catnip toys.

17. How do you eat a candy cane?
I don't.

18. What is your biggest holidays pet peeve?
The line at the Post Office.

19. What is your favorite Christmas tradition?
Putting the ornaments on the tree and thinking about the people who made them or gave them to me or were with me when I bought them.

20. What was the best present you ever got for Christmas?
A Smith-Corona typewriter (from my mom and dad in 1970).

(Please note that the cat in the lower righthand corner of the photo satisfies the requirements for catblogging.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Storm report

"We're fine," I said, somewhat impatiently, when my mother called from Florida Friday morning. She frequently calls because some weatherbabbler in Florida has reported that "Seattle is buried in four feet of snow" when the snow fell in the passes, and there's not a flake here. I assumed all her comments about the aftermath of the windstorm had about the same level of accuracy, and went about my business, driving around Ballard and doing errands. I saw a total of two trees down, both in people's yards.

So I was astonished today to find out that many Seattle-area friends are without power, without heat, and without internet connections; that many roads are blocked by fallen trees and wires; that many major intersections are without traffic lights; and that North Seattle community centers were being opened so people would have somewhere warm to sleep, and warm showers.

We were very, very, lucky here in Ballard. And very grateful.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is Seattle pizza any good?

There was a spirited discussion of Seattle pizza today on KUOW's Weekday hosted by Steve Scher. Download the mp3 file of the show (Thursday on Weekday: Hour Two) and you'll hear me as the first caller on the pizza segment, about 18 minutes into the show. I had a chance to voice some of my views about "neo-traditional" pizza and Tom Douglas' new pizzeria, Serious Pie, in a discussion with Ed Levine, author of Pizza: Slice of Heaven.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Third person (feline)

Kaylee, our little tabby, goes to a glass door or mirror and paws it frantically to signal that she wants to be let in or let out. It doesn't have to be the door she wants to be let out of; it just has to be glass.

She has recently started doing this to signal that one of our other cats wants to come in and is waiting patiently at the (glass) back door -- visible to her, but not to me.

Tonight, while drinking tea at the kitchen table, I became aware of Kaylee pawing wildly on the glass door of the toaster oven. I turned around and, sure enough, our elderly cat Betaille was at the back door, waiting to come in.

If pawing means "want in/out" (verb) then Kaylee uses both first person ("I want in/out") and third person ("She wants in/out"). I find this rather impressive. Kaylee and Betaille don't particularly like each other, so Kaylee gets no advantage from Betaille coming in. She's just busybodying.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Better than a chill pill

Thirteen days until Christmas! I ordered all the presents in early November and stored them in the pantry. I updated the holiday spreadsheet. I drafted a holiday letter. I drew up a holiday calendar with mailings of gifts, mailings of cards, making of rum balls, a trip to visit friends in the country and pick up a fresh-cut tree, tree decorating, and a dinner of Scandinavian cuisine with friends.

Thus far I have placed five tiny reindeer on the mantelpiece. And there are just 13 days to make the rest of it happen. Eeek.

At this point, there's only one thing that can save me: Eggnog, and lots of it.

Here's my father's Virginia eggnog recipe, scaled down for a very small batch. He used to make the version for 24 servings; when I lived in Italy, I borrowed the kitchen of the local gelateria and whipped up 60 servings for the village Christmas party.

Keep in mind that this is far less sweet than commercial eggnog or eggnog with brandy, and the proportion of liquor is unusually high.

Virginia Eggnog (a mere 6 servings)

3 eggs (free range, since you're dealing with raw eggs here)
1/4 C sugar
1 C whole milk
1/2 C blended whiskey
1/4 C rum (preferably light rum, but dark will do)
1/2 pint (1 C) heavy cream, beaten
nutmeg (grated for garnish)
  1. Separate eggs.
  2. In large bowl, beat egg whites with an electric beater.
  3. In main pan, mix sugar into yolks with electric beater; beat thoroughly until sugar is dissolved.
  4. Add milk and liquors to yolk mixture.
  5. Fold in beaten egg whites, very carefully.
  6. Beat cream into stiff peaks and fold in to main mixture.
  7. Chill eggnog well (at least six hours); you will need to re-fold the separated cream before serving.
  8. Garnish cups of eggnog with fresh-grated nutmeg.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hidden Seattle

Thursday morning I stood on a ladder in a local community center winding mini-lights into long garlands of artificial greenery while macaws swooped through the room.

When I worked downtown in a high rise office park, I used to wonder what was going on in the "real" world. Now, I know. Volunteers are decorating for Christmas and people are teaching their macaws to fly.

While on the topic of local oddities, I want to note that Clark Humphrey's new non-fiction book, Vanishing Seattle, will be released Monday. Look for it in local bookstores and on Amazon. If you have the opportunity, come to the official release party at Epilogue Books in Ballard, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 6:30 - 8 p.m.

With rare photos of Seattle landmarks from the past half century (from Frederick & Nelson to The Cyclops, Glamorama, and Ruby Montana) this may be the perfect Christmas gift for Seattle aficionados of all eras. (Yes, of course it has the Twin Teepees!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

But kitty, it's GOOD for you

Try telling a sick cat that it needs to take evil-tasting pink liquid amoxycillin to recover from an infection. Better yet, try telling our elderly cat Betaille that she needs to take evil-tasting pink liquid amoxycillin every day for the rest of her life.

Fortunately, our vet sent us along to the compounding pharmacy (Ballard Plaza Pharmacy) to get a custom mix of amoxycillin in tuna oil to replace the pink stuff. We pick up a fresh mixture of the tuna oil every six weeks or so; Betaille doesn't even notice it mashed into her wet cat food.

On our last visit to the pharmacy, the staff told me that, due to pressure from the AMA and major drug companies, the FDA may stop pharmacists from making compounded (custom mixed) drugs prescribed by physicians and vets. If this happens, consumer "choice" will be limited to products and dosages pre-packaged by the major drug companies.

Compounding pharmacies allow people who are poorly served by their pharamaceutical products to get access to more suitable versions of the drugs. People allergic to corn products, for instance, can't take Tylenol pills. A compounding pharmacy can make up the active ingredients in Tylenol without using the drug's corn stabilizer -- or at least they can now. If the AMA and the drug companies get their way, it'll be commercial Tylenol or nothing. Now that's a pain.

If you'd like to hear more about the problem (from the pharmacies' end) check out the website Patients and Professionals for Customized Care. The letter writing campaign (for pet owners) is at the foot of this page.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Geeky from birth

Some of my earliest memories are of the office where my mother worked. It was a little different. Here's a memoir written by one of her colleagues.

And, yes, I remember the computer that played music. iTunes, it wasn't.

Monday, December 04, 2006


A great birthday today, with lovely cards and presents (well, except for the little "present" one of the cats left me), and a delicious dinner at Serious Pie. Owner and chef Tom Douglas was working in the kitchen and prepared our pizzas!

A few people asked me for a review of Serious Pie, so here are my first impressions:

The salads are eye-opening and thoroughly delightful. Mine was celery, white anchovies, and grated cheese, and it was a refreshing and inspired combination. Laura had the proscuitto with sliced apples -- again, inspired. (No one in our party tried the rustic bread soup with olive oil, which I've heard only good things about.)

The pizzas are in a class by themselves. The crusts are at once thick and thin and at once fluffy and crisp, putting the crusts at ultra-trendy Via Tribunali (thin, and too frequently soggy at the center) to shame. When I lived in Italy, I did not get south of Rome, so I can't tell you what an authentic Neapolitan crust is. But I lived nearly 10 years in New Haven, home of the renowned Pepe's Pizza (which I believe is a Salerno pizza) and the crust at Serious Pie would make most Pepe's fans cry with joy.

That said, the Pepe's crowd would want to order the mozzarella (buffalo) and tomato (San Marzano) pie, which is only traditional pie on the Serious menu. The other pies are what I'd term "neo-traditional" -- tasteful combinations I'd expect to find at adventurous new restaurants in Italy, not the whacked-out inventions of some American fusion stylist. So: the potato, rosemary, and garlic pie was purely Italian in flavor, as was the mushroom and truffle cheese. For me, the triumph was the cherry bomb peppers with sweet fennel sausage pizza. Very south-central Italian! I like the way Serious Pie handles meat, and I can hardly wait to get back there and try the Penn Cove clams, spicy pancetta, and lemon thyme pie.

(Hmmm...maybe tomorrow night?)

I hate to end my review on a down note, but dessert was a disappointment. The cannoli made with Old Chatham ricotta was way off the mark. Heavy sprinklings of cinnamon and a hailstorm of dull-tasting pistachios on the plate did nothing to help tiny cannoli shells, heavy with either a whole wheat flour or perhaps too much cooking oil. All of this utterly overwhelmed the delicate, slightly watery ricotta. (For reference: The traditional Italian cannoli (such as you'd find in New Haven, or New York City) is all about a rich ricotta filling, fortified with shaved chocolate or chopped citron, exploding from a light crispy housing of shell. In Seattle, Tutta Bella serves a modest, pleasant cannoli.)

Unfortunately, Serious Pie offers only two other dessert choices: a cranberry hand pie (which sounds like it belongs over at Fado Irish pub) and an affogato of honey ice cream with hazelnuts and a dousing of espresso. That sounds like it wandered over from Douglas' Greek restaurant, Lola. So, Serious Pie needs some serious dessert. While I'm sure Douglas is deliberately eschewing the cliche tiramisu, fresh fruit gelato (Northwest raspberries with just a touch of those cranberries?) is always in good taste. Two other possibilities that come to mind: an almond cookie (think soft biscotti) with perhaps a hint of fennel and salt to dip in vin santo (or a vin santo sauce); and a panna cotta drizzled with a subtle espresso liquor.

Finally, it's worth nothing that when we arrived at 6 p.m. sharp on a Monday night there was plenty of seating. When we left shortly before 8 p.m., it was an utter madhouse, with lines out the door. Plan accordingly.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I'm happy!

Last night I accompanied Zorg to a World of Warcraft meetup at Fado Irish pub near Pioneer Square. I'm not much of a WoW-er, but it was fascinating to list to the serious players (most had one, if not several Level 60 characters) talk in what has become a WoW dialect. Ages ranged from the 20s through the 50s, and there were quite a few women.

Fado has great atmosphere, authentically heavy (and tasty) pub food, and one of the smoothest Irish Coffees I've ever drunk. Fortunately I wasn't driving!

Having finished the holiday gift shopping, I'm now trying to figure out how to decorate the place without buying any new stuff this year. I find it easy to decorate for fall, harder to decorate for Solstice/Hanukkah/Christmas.