Saturday, December 27, 2008

Top Ten Albums of 2008

This list may not be as representative as years past, because I was so busy this year I didn't listen to as much new music as usual. Also, once Fleet Foxes' Sun Giant EP and self-titled album came out, that was pretty much all I listened to for 3 months straight or so. (Did I mention I love them? Oh, I did? Like here, here, and here? Okay then.) But we still managed to visit Sonic Boom on a regular basis and I did eventually listen to more than one band. We also made it to a fair amount of shows and I'm not gonna lie: how much I love their live performance definitely colors how I feel about a band's album (in fact, there may have to be a special top ten list just for awesome shows). But enough chitchat! On with the list:

Top Ten Albums of 2008

1. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
2. Grand Archives, The Grand Archives
3. Volume 1, She & Him
4. Blame It On Gravity, Old 97s
5. We Brave Bee Stings And All, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
6. Keep Your Eyes Ahead, The Helio Sequence
7. Mingle, The Saturday Knights
8. Glistening Pleasure, Natalie Portman's Shaved Head
9. This Gift, Sons & Daughters
10. Narrow Stairs, Death Cab for Cutie

Special Award: Just A Little Lovin', Shelby Lynne
Since it only contains one new song, I don't feel right putting this Dusty Springfield tribute album on the top 10 list. That said, I can't recommend this album strongly enough. Lynne's version of "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" alone is reason to get your hands on it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like (a white) Christmas...

Seattle has been shut down for a week now due to a very rare massive snowfall. Fighting cabin fever, making snowmen, baking, catching up on DVR recordings and complaining about the city's pathetic response to snow and ice have become popular pastimes all over town. We've gotten out a few times this week to go shopping, visit friends within walking distance and play in the snow, and I thought I'd share a few favorite photos...

Winterberries on 41st and Midvale; the poor tree was so weighed down with snow that I'm not sure it will spring back up when this is all gone. But it definitely makes for a pretty picture:

View down one of the many snowy streets in our neighborhood:

With even the main roads not getting plowed often enough, you can imagine how treacherous local streets have gotten. Many residents have made their own "street closed" and "do not enter" signs like this one, duct-taped to someone's trash can:

Someone (or more than one) made a snowman smack in the middle of 45th and Stone Way; the baristas from a nearby Starbucks gave it some character:

As for indoor entertainment, yesterday Larry made a chocolate layer cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. It looked so delicious that Zach wanted a bite too:

We were supposed to go to a friend's house for Christmas Eve dinner but the roads are a little too dicey. It's going to be a quiet Christmas at home, just us and the kitties. Roast chicken for dinner with some red potatoes and zucchini, and that fantastic chocolate cake for dessert.

Hope you have a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forks and Knives (La Fete)

The summer went by in a flash, fall came and went even faster, and suddenly it's the week before Christmas. Am I getting older or is time moving more quickly? Or maybe it's just that this year has been one of the busiest yet...I'll try to catch up on the past 6 months over the next few posts.

The biggest reason I haven't blogged since June is that we got married in September, so summer was pretty much a blur of wedding planning and preparations. We had a weekend of events so that our families could meet and we'd have plenty of time to spend with everyone, and it was definitely the best part of 2008 for me. The day before the wedding it poured buckets of rain, but our unpredictable Seattle weather came through and by ceremony time we had a gorgeous, sunny day complete with dramatic clouds - perfect for photos!

Our photographer, Della Chen, was AMAZING. She had so many great ideas for fun photos and was also open to any and all crazy ideas we had. Before the ceremony we went to the Ballard Sunday Market for some photos with our favorite vendors. A crazy idea, yes, but one that was perfect for us - the farmers market is such a huge part of our life that we wanted to include it. What came out of that trip were some of my favorite photos and an appreciation for Della's eye - who else would have looked at a parking lot wall (one that I had never noticed in 3 years of weekly trips to the market) and foreseen something so lovely?

Della's fun and laid-back attitude made our perfect day that much better. If you're looking for a wedding photographer (or a photographer for any occasion) I highly recommend her! All the photos you see in this post were taken by her, and if you want to see more of her handiwork you can view the slideshow she created for us.

The aforementioned perfectly cloudy sunny day, at Gas Works Park:

Group photo time!

We met the wonderful MoZo at Seattle Counseling Services' ICON gala, but it turned out we had been enjoying their music at the Ballard Sunday Market for some time without knowing it was them! Moe and Aimee played our cocktail hour and their mix of bluegrass and Americana really livened up the atmosphere. A perfect way to start the evening. (Am I saying "perfect" too much? Too bad. It was!)

Rather than bore you with the menu details, I'll just let you read it below. I do have to say that it was a superb meal and my only regret is that I didn't get to finish my pork belly or doughnuts - I was busy socializing instead of eating. My waist probably thanked me but my taste buds were sad. Our super-cool "ramerliang" logo was designed by our good friends Kristine and Bob at Lynch Design Group; they also did our save-the-dates, invitations, programs and custom mailing labels. (Considering that Larry and I met at Kristine and Bob's stationery store, it was a no-brainer to ask them to design our wedding stationery!)

My placesetting - Palace Ballroom was awesome and set out all the favors for us. In fact, they did ALL of the set up; we just had to provide clear instructions and get the supplies to them ahead of time. They even printed the menus and table cards for us. We couldn't have asked for a better venue or service (or food). If you're looking for a venue for your next event, give them a call and ask for Alexis - best event planner ever!

Here's what the space looked like when we walked in from cocktail hour - they had it curtained off until dinner time, so it was really fun to see the room open up and watch everyone find their table and seats. We had 8 tables with 8 seats each - maybe the numbers brought extra luck, because everyone seemed to have a great time and get along with their tablemates!

A highlight of the evening, for me at least, was when we caved to peer pressure and had a first dance (which we hadn't intended to do, since dancing isn't something we've ever done together). I'm so glad we did - it was nice to have a few quiet moments on the dance floor while "our song" played. Of course we had to be a little bit silly - and now I have photographic evidence of my husband dancing!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Late night adventures in the kitchen

Inspired by Mark Bittman's article on Mexican popsicles in Wednesday's New York Times, we decided to make our own variation on Thursday night. We had three limes in need of juicing, as well as a pint of strawberries from the Wallingford farmers market that were super ripe and ready to eat, so we settled on...

Strawberry-lime paletas

1. Clean and hull a pint of strawberries and juice 1-2 limes, depending on size. Set the juice aside.

2. Pop the strawberries in the blender and puree

...and after.

3. Add one cup of milk and blend.

Sea Breeze Farm on Vashon Island sells real, raw milk at the local farmers markets, and it's the only white milk I've ever willingly drank straight up. So, so delicious and perfect for our paletas. You don't have to use raw milk for these, but I recommend using whole milk.

4. Add 1/4 cup sugar and blend again.

5. Add lime juice to taste - 3 tablespoons was perfect for us.

6. Get your popsicle mold ready, along with something to pour the puree.

7. Pour it in and you're ready to freeze.

8. Find some room in your freezer and freeze the popsicles overnight.

9. Enjoy, either traditionally like me or in your own special way like Larry.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Grow your own...

Vegetables, of course. What did you think I meant?

We went a little crazy this year at the Seattle Tilth Plant Sale and brought home what we thought were about 60 plant starts, but discovered yesterday that several start containers actually held 4 starts. More spinach for us! Our usual combination of store-bought planters and recycled kitty litter buckets was no match for all the plants we had, so we built a raised vegetable bed in the backyard. It took a few days, but it's all planted now and I can't wait to eat fresh salads and veggies all summer long. I just hope the squirrels and rabbits don't get them first!

This picture skips ahead a few steps in the process. Before we started, Larry sketched out the design and then we went to Home Depot for the wood. They'll cut it for you there so you can make the bed any size you like. We chose 5 x 5 - in hindsight we could have gone larger but that would have required even more soil, and this is a good manageable size.

We needed at least 25 cubic feet of soil and wound up with 27: 18 feet of organic top soil, 6 feet of organic compost, and 3 feet of organic steer-gro manure. We layered it in - 3 bags of soil, one bag of compost, one bag of manure. (Yes, the flies did hang around for a while.)

After we put in each set of layers, we raked it to mix. We also put in some fish bone fertilizer after the first round, just to make the soil extra rich.

Once the soil is in and mixed, you're ready to plant! We started with lettuces, since we have a ton. Here you can see we've planted arugula, buttercrunch, merlot, romaine, radicchio, and summer spinach.

Here's the finished bed. On the other half we planted bok choy, napa cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts.

Here's the rest of the garden - like those classy kitty litter buckets? Hey, this is Seattle and we like to recycle. Just drill yourself 7 or so holes in the bottom, rinse it thoroughly and you have a great container for tomatoes, peppers or chard (which is what you see below). There are also some kale, onions and endive that we started from seed in the winter - they're just now starting to thrive.

And the back porch. In the back, broccoli and brussels sprouts started from seed - they take forever to mature, it seems. Then we have sorrel (the tall leafy one), kale, and more peppers, and strawberries on the left.

With all those flowers blooming, maybe we'll actually get to eat some strawberries this summer!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Inspiration in ice cream

Just got home from Molly Moon's, the new ice cream shop in Wallingford where we went for a celebratory scoop after the show. I'm quite sure that Molly Moon's is destined to be my new favorite indulgence. With flavors like Scout Mint (with crushed Thin Mint cookies), Balsamic Strawberry, Honey Lavender and Cardamom, there's bound to be a flavor for every palate, and every day of the week. They also have homemade waffle cones - ours were so fresh and warm that they melted the bottom scoop of ice cream. And did I mention that the ingredients are organic and locally sourced? So many things to love already, but let's get to the point and talk about how it tasted...

I'll just say that we stopped talking entirely because our mouths were constantly full.

Here's what we had:
Balsamic Strawberry - just the right amount of acid to balance out the cream, and little bits of strawberry throughout
Salted Caramel - perfection, although it tasted a little too salty coming right after the strawberry (but was awesome a few bites later), so maybe best to order it alone or with a more natural pairing like Chocolate or Vivace Coffee
Vivace Coffee - I'm not a huge fan of coffee ice cream, but this could win me over; Larry loved it

We went again 2 days later (I can see this becoming a problem - it's almost too conveniently located) and would have gone again this afternoon but the line was out the door. Will try again tonight, but in the meantime...

CARDAMOM!!!!! I think it may be my new all-time favorite ice cream flavor. Refreshing and completely satisfying in an almost savory manner. Sooooooooo good, you have to try it!
Chocolate - pure chocolate goodness without being too rich
Raspberry Sorbet - like eating mashed up frozen raspberries, seriously delicious. Not sure if it's a seasonal offering, but I could picture eating this in the middle of winter for a taste of summer.

Visit the website for more details.

Monday, March 31, 2008

An Old-Fashioned Girl

Illness, work craziness, and wasting time on Facebook have kept me from blogging. Must try to do better...I'll pick up where I left off with Miss Polly Milton.

Once I read An Old-Fashioned Girl, I forgot about all the other Alcott books and just kept rereading it; in fact, I still read it at least once a year. I probably love it so much because Polly becomes a music teacher; I remember wanting to live in a cozy apartment like hers with a cat and a piano (apparently I was 13 going on 70). Anyways, An Old-Fashioned Girl follows the friendship between sweet country girl Polly Milton and the wealthy Shaw family, in particular their daughter Fanny. Polly comes for a lengthy visit to the city when she's young, I believe around 12 or so. At first she's not treated very well because she dresses simply and doesn't want to flirt with the boys at school. But in the end she wins over the Shaw family and their circle of acquaintances. She teaches them to be happy with their lives regardless of how much money they have and to take pleasure in living an honest life. And of course there are plenty of fun childhood adventures to be had along the way, but I don't want to give away too many details...

Polly comes back to town as a young adult and sets up her apartment for teaching piano and voice lessons, and continues to be a positive influence in nearly everyone's life. You'd think this would get annoying, since Polly (and Alcott's writing style) can be kind of preachy, but it doesn't really; it's just a perfect piece of escapism literature for a rainy day.

Probably the most random thing I remember about An Old-Fashioned Girl is that it's where I first learned about macaroons:

"The hour was soon over; and when Fan had taken a music lesson in another room, while Polly looked on, it was time for recess. The younger girls walked up and down the court, arm in arm, eating bread and butter; others stayed in the school-room to read and gossip; but Belle, Trix, and Fanny went to lunch at a fashionable ice-cream saloon near by, and Polly meekly followed, not daring to hint at the ginger-bread grandma had put in her pocket for luncheon. So the honest, brown cookies crumbled away in obscurity, while Polly tried to satisfy her hearty appetite on one ice and three macaroons."

Now I grew up in Bellevue, Nebraska, and though there may have been macaroons in the midwest, I certainly never saw any as a child. This "one ice and three macaroons" business was all very exotic to me. These days I'd be totally content to eat macaroons for lunch, but I don't think three would be nearly enough!

But back to the review: if Beth was your favorite character from Little Women, if you enjoy reading about what young girls wore to balls back in the day, if you fantasize about tiny pre-war apartments with cats and birds and whistling teakettles, give An Old-Fashioned Girl a try. Much like those "honest, brown cookies" of gingerbread, it's pure literary comfort food.

Now this might be enough for lunch...

macaroons available from Pierre Herme

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Books actually written for girls

We had our friends Erma and Lance over last night for a belated Chinese New Year dinner, and Erma asked how I came up with the name for my blog, since I don't seem to ever write about books written for girls. The name was taken from a Camera Obscura song that I like a lot, but given the blog's name it's not surprising that I get a lot of hits looking for...wait for it...books written for girls. So I've decided to start a regular feature on my favorite books for girls, and we'll start with one of the classics - Louisa May Alcott.

Back in September I wrote about our visit to
Boston and Concord, where we toured Orchard House. I won't go into Louisa May's history since there are so many great resources online and elsewhere; let's just get to the good stuff. Keep in mind I'm going off of my memory here, so if I've remembered something incorrectly feel free to politely remind me. (Marmee wouldn't have it any other way!)

Little Women is probably the best-known of all Alcott's works, and was based on her own upbringing in Concord. Set during the Civil War, it tells the story of the four March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy) and their many adventures. They often get into scrapes in their daily lives, but usually learn a valuable lesson from them, and also through advice given by their mother Marmee and the guidebooks she gives them(most likely Pilgrim's Progress). There's also a handsome neighbor boy, Laurie that I think every girl who reads the book falls for at some point. A true classic.

Little Men is the follow-up to Little Women. It tells the story of Jo and her husband, Professor Bhaer (who she marries at the end of Little Women), and the school for boys that they open together. Again, the students learn to correct their faults and become productive members of society, after having their fair share of struggles. Not quite as fun as the first book, but still highly satisfying since the characters from Little Women all drop in.

I have to admit that I don't remember reading
Jo's Boys, so technically I shouldn't include it in my favorites. It's considered the final book in the Little Women trilogy, though, so if you're looking for a great birthday gift why not get all three?

There are three more Alcott books that I'd like to include, but I think they need their own post - I have a lot to say about Miss Polly Milton.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Notes from a caucus

We went to our district caucus this afternoon to participate in the democratic process and support our candidate. Also, we knew if we didn't go today then our vote wouldn't count; although there are still county/city resolutions to vote on in the primary and the Republican nominees are chosen in the primary, the Democrats choose presidential nominees at the caucus. I don't usually talk politics on my blog, but I suppose I've outed myself as a Democrat by talking about the caucus. Oh well!

The turnout at our caucus (at Hamilton Middle School) was HUGE. I caucused in 2004 and all of the precincts fit into the main auditorium; we then split up by precinct into classrooms. When we arrived today, there wasn't nearly enough room for everyone in the auditorium. Instead, we were sent to the west gym where our precinct and 2 others were meeting; other precincts were spread throughout the school. In 2004 there were maybe 30 people in my precinct at the caucus - today there were over 100. Between our precinct and the 2 others, the west gym was packed. It looked like all of the other rooms were full too; it seems like people are definitely excited about voting this year, which is pretty cool. Living on the west coast, it often seems like the news channels are calling the winner before we've even made it to the voting booth, so it's nice to feel like our votes count this time.

I'm not sure how the rest of our district turned out, but in the west gym there was a total of 19 delegates for Obama and 3 for Clinton. In our precinct there were 106 people present. At the second tally, 12 were for Clinton and 94 were for Obama; the delegates were split 1 for Clinton, 6 for Obama. The other 2 precincts were split Clinton 1, Obama 6 and Clinton 1, Obama 7. The Obama love definitely seemed to be flowing. Granted, our neighborhood is one of the most liberal in the state, so we'll have to wait until tonight to see how the rest of Washington thinks, or even the rest of Seattle for that matter. But it certainly looks like Obama could be the big winner today.

here for dispatches from other caucuses around the state (though mostly in the Seattle area).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The healing power of music

Stupid flu. I had to go home early from school today, cancel my lessons and the worst part: Larry had to sell our Decemberists tickets because I'm too sick to go. We had tickets for tonight and tomorrow. I better get well by tomorrow because I am GOING to that show!

The only bright spot in this cloud of illness is my new harmonica. I'm teaching the kidlets about free-reed aerophones and it turns out the harmonica is a prime example (along with the accordion, which is too cost-prohibitive for casual experimentation), so I thought I'd give it a try. So far I've only succeeding in scaring the cats, but it's pretty awesome. Last night I figured out how to play "When The Saints Go Marching In," "Happy Birthday," and "Hey Jude," although Larry pretended he couldn't understand what I was playing on that last one. For 4 bucks it's a pretty good little instrument, and an excellent way to annoy your family/housemates/pets. Then again, at that price you can just buy one for everyone in the house and play together. I just had a vision of Zach and Nigel wearing conductor's caps, overalls and little steel-toed boots, playing the harmonica down by the train tracks. Maybe it's the cold medicine...but until that actually happens, here's a different musical cat to entertain you.

And one more classic, because I'm sick and Bugs Bunny always makes me feel better!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Cops on NPR

Seattle band The Cops (with fellow Nebraskan Mike Jaworski on lead vocals) are in today's NPR "Song of the Day" feature! See the story here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Fleet Foxes signed to Sub Pop!

Oh happy day! Fleet Foxes announced today that they've officially signed with Sub Pop. I can't think of another group that deserves it more - they work hard and sound amazing, and really, what more can you ask for in a band? Take my advice and visit their MySpace page for their upcoming tour'll want to catch them this time around. Then when they become hugely popular you'll be able to reminisce about how you saw them back when, and how it was so much better than before they started playing the Paramount (or whatever large theater with terrible sound your city has), et cetera et cetera. Plus you will LOVE them as much as I do. Trust me!