20 August 2009

How Does One Cook a Wolf, Anyway?

Last night I was treated to dinner at Ethan Stowell's How to Cook a Wolf on Queen Anne. This place was on my radar for a while and then somehow fell off. In a way, I'm glad. It was much more special to go there and truly appreciate everything about my experience in the way that I did with a friend I don't get to see that often than it may have been to just go on a whim for no real reason a few months ago. Thanks, David!

16 August 2009

Ever Have That Foie Gras Feeling?

This weekend was chock full of rowing and food, with connections twixt the two.

I met some friends of my friend Jain from LUC for dinner and travel/picture discussion on Friday night. They lived in Namibia for two years and Tanzania for two years, and they've recently come back to settle down (to whatever extent possible for them) in Seattle. After a delightful meal on the balcony overlooking Lake Union, talking about their African experiences and projecting some expected experiences of my own, I got to see some of their pictures from their stint in Namibia. Now I need to see if I can push back the Zimbabwe portion of my travels so that I can see some of these sights first hand. Incredible!

Saturday morning's row was a good one, as is usually the case for morning rows on Lake Union & environs. Happy-hour boaters aren't usually cruising around the lake from 7:30-9:30 on a Saturday morning, and we don't need to dodge sailboats. It was a focused practice with Aina that made for a nice change of pace. Following practice I got a Zipcar and met Margaret for a tasty light brunch -- peppered with calls to the East Coast to confirm details about making kubbeh -- at Oddfellows. It turns out that drinking caipirinhas while making kubbeh helps a lot, as does each episode of reheating the kubbeh. This isn't a recipe resource, so I'm not posting the recipe. Epicurious has one if you're interested, but this isn't what we used. It was more of a family recipe.

Despite having to be at the LUC boathouse by 5:00 Sunday morning, I stayed up until about 11pm making hummus to go along with the kubbeh the next day. Who knew that increasing the garlic in a hummus recipe by 50% would be too much? The real problem, imho, is that I used a recipe rather than just making it the way I normally do.

Marathon Row!
Rainier Valley Rowing, now in its second year, held a marathon rowing fund raiser. LUC managed to get four boatloads of rowers involved. It seems as if we had the largest representation of the boathouses that participated: 36 people and a coach. Go figure. At $50 donation per person, LUC did a lot to help out RVR this year. Go us. But really, go RVR! My friend Rick volunteered hours and hours of his time coordinating the effort from LUC's side. How can some people be as generous as they are with their time? Really.

The row itself was a lot of fun. Our coxswain was jockeying tunes through the cox box, so we certainly win the party barge prize ... if there were one to win. Unfortunately, we were in the saddest eight of the four we launched. The seats were hard as rocks and felt as if they were rolling over pebbles as they "glided" back and forth on their tracks. Oh well. It was all for the children.

View RVR Marathon Row in a larger map

After rowing about 20 miles and eventually stretching, I realized I had to make tabbouleh still. To the cutting board! It's incredible how finely chopping several bunches of Italian parsley will make you realize how exhausted you are. At least twice I was tempted to put down the knife and take just a few minutes' rest: a power nap. Eventually, after the tabbouleh was finished, I opted for the 1.5 hour sleep instead.

Dinner for four; Food for a dozen
Almost as much as the marathon row this weekend, I have for some weeks been looking forward to getting together with a couple of friends for dinner. We knew we would have more food than necessary for one dinner, but it's better to have too much than too little. Leftovers of this sort are entirely acceptable. Once the food was on the table, it was apparent that we had MUCH more than four people could eat at one sitting. Fortunately, this means no cooking will be necessary for a few nights this week. Margaret doubts I'll make it more than 48 hours without cooking. Sounds like a challenge! Can I hold out?

The company was comforting, conversation stimulating, and cornucopia impressive:

  • Spanish cured meats: chorizo, lomo, jamón serrano
  • fresh figs
  • variety of olives
  • γιαχνί (Greek potato and green bean stew) and feta
  • dolmadakia
  • tabbouleh
  • hummus
  • kubbeh
  • lebneh (yogurt)
...eating just one more bite of kubbeh with yogurt, you might find yourself empathizing with other animaux gavés.

11 August 2009

Not the Worst Birthday Ever

Yesterday I truly thought that today was on target for a potential let down.

It is my birthday, and I hadn't made plans to celebrate. Moreover, no one else had made plans for me, which is what I would have preferred. Entering panic mode for the upcoming journey, with things to accomplish on several fronts, I had no intention of having a good day today.

Then things changed when a good friend came over last night. I was reminded that I could relax and even deserved to. So I did. And the birthday goodness began. Curiously, a card I received yesterday about laughter presaged a recommendation from my mom this morning that I go out tonight with good friends and laugh ... lots. It would seem that I have a perceived need to laugh. Let's get on that, shall we?

This morning I made a pitcher of milk punches to share with a friend. This beverage -- consisting of ice, bourbon, brandy, Breyers "All-Natural" Natural Vanilla ice cream (which is no longer as perfect as it used to be since the recipe change a few years ago), real vanilla extract, and milk -- is a key element in my family's holiday celebrations. I thought I'd make today a special occasion for myself and mix up a batch. Good call, David.

Next on the agenda: rowing this evening and then finding a suitable place to bring anywhere from 8-26 people for drinks afterward. Given the temperature drop in Seattle back to a more typical mid-60s, I'd rather not be thrown into Lake Union today as part of some sort of crew birthday tradition. It would make for a quicker transition from in the boat to in the bar. Maybe I can bribe the thrower with a drink? Candidate watering holes for later include Knee High Stocking Co. and Rosebud. Although I haven't been to KHSC yet, the reviews are very positive...except for the fact that we'd be possibly many people squeezing into a not-so-big establishment. Rosebud is a terrific backup and often serves as a post-performance destination. TBD.

Tomorrow morning, travel preparation must resume!

09 August 2009

The Way to Start Celebrating

Today is looking like there will be some good events on the agenda. A few of us are planning to go see Julie & Julia this afternoon, to start. I've been excited about this since I first saw a trailer a couple of months ago. I got a text message from my brother Steve saying that he and Rory were 10th in line at a showing in NYC on Saturday. If another crazy person besides me had been around on Thursday, I may have gone to a midnight showing. Seeing it with this bunch will be a lot of fun though, I'm sure.

There was a last minute e-mail to Orkestar Zirkonium fans saying they were playing this weekend. Given that it was tonight and that the show sounded like great fun, I sent out a Facebook event notice to about 150 people. We'll see how many end up going. I love introducing people to OZ.

How could I pass this up, really:
It's late notice, but there's a great show brewing for Sunday night. The Handsome LIttle Devils are coming to town, and we're performing with them.

This quartet of Vaudeville Nouveau performers presents their latest creation, The Squirm Burpee Circus. We've seen them many times, and they will dazzle you with juggling, comedy, music, dance, and amazing feats of daring.

Hosted by Circus Contraption's own ringmaster, Armitage Shanks, and featuring the balkan beats of Orkestar Zirkonium and the Freaks & Femmes burlesque review!

Sunday August 9th
Canoe Social Club
409 7th Ave South (7th and Jackson in the I-district)
7:00pm, $12

With a follow up message:
Hello again-

FISHTANK ENSEMBLE from San Francisco is joining the bill for tonight's show! A 7-piece from San Francisco, this group plays incredible "cross-pollinated gypsy music." Don't miss out!
This is shaping up to be a great beginning of multi-day birthday festivities!

06 August 2009

Rewind to Motivation

I was laid off from work as a software engineer in May after parting ways with a relationship (not the other person in it) in April and decided I needed and was finally able to take some me-time to do some of the exploration I've wanted to do for a while.

Let's see. I have studied and worked and trained as a linguist (of various flavors) since 1993, if not before. Language and culture have been part of my interests for as long as I can remember, going back probably to kindergarten or first grade, when I remember going to a friend's house to play led me to encounters with his monolingual grandmother. Asking or thanking her for the wonderful Nicaraguan food she seemed to make all day every day had to take place in Spanish. That was the beginning of what would eventually become a long-standing relationship with the Spanish language. A little more recently, my PhD studies were in cognitive science and linguistics, largely because I liked the interdisciplinary nature of cog sci in approaching how people think, communicate, and exchange information (optionally, with machines). This carries over to lots of areas. I enjoy and think I'm relatively good at seeing patterns, connections, & similarity in general: in nature, in food, in dance, anthropologically speaking...

Knowing that 'gumbo' has its roots in Africa (from one or more of the many Bantoid or Kwa languages) is one thing, but experiencing a dish in West Africa that truly reminds me of a form of gumbo is the kind of thing I'd be floored by and the kind of thing I think might prove interesting to some audience somewhere. Of course, I fully realize that southern and western Africa do not share much in common other than that they're on the same continent, so the aforementioned discovery may not happen on the upcoming voyage. However, a ceremonial Zulu dinner with/for the Nkosi could have elements that are not unlike some you might see on a table in the southern U.S. (probably easy to recognize) or maybe even a Roman feast (more exciting to notice). Some observations are apparent, while others may require research. Either way, the lightbulb moments one could expect from such research seem highly rewarding from my perspective before the starting gun goes off.

I learned to cook mostly with my Great Aunt and my mom. I was always in the kitchen with them or even watching cooking shows with my Great Aunt on TV and even taking notes as a child. Creation, in the culinary sense, is an art form just as valid and appreciable as painting or sculpting or working with tile or glass or metal. It's arguably more ephemeral (and tastier).

Similar things can be said about music. Drawing parallels and observing differences between music of seemingly disparate cultures can be eye-opening for the uninitiated. I remember a Chieftains performance in the early nineties where they played some music inspired by (or maybe even prepared as part of) a tour they had done in China. The cross-cultural musical references left an impression on me as a musically-inclined teenager: How could Chinese instruments and music be so similar to Irish instruments and music? Although I have not made it my task to find an answer to this question, I have kept my ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and mind open to perceiving further phenomena in this vein.

While I'm not trained as a chef in any way, I think I am getting more and more interested in considering what it would be like to prepare food for more willing guinea pigs. I'm reevaluating what I'm doing and think that when (if?) I come back to the U.S., food will need to play a bigger role in my life. Some would argue that it's not feasible or practically possible. (Them: "Keep it as a hobby." Me: "OK, but it's a hobby I can spend more time enjoying!") I'm fascinated by the effect food has on [some] people. It has the power to nourish, heal, satisfy, delight, surprise, repulse.

What can I do with this? Who knows. Maybe write about food from a certain internationally parallel perspective, relating food histories and development. Maybe food photography would be enough. Hosting dinner parties has always been something I've enjoyed; that isn't going to change. Seeing people come together to socialize and appreciate each other's company and the dishes before them brings me joy, whether it's two people or ten or (although I haven't one it yet) 20. When I cook dinners for friends, even if I'm self-critical, the reviews are generally positive and those friends typically want subsequent invitations to dine.