Monthly Archives: March 2013

Things I’m thinking about – weekend of March 29

It’s the last weekend of March, spring is here – and so is Spring Quarter, henceforth known as The Doom Quarter.

I’m taking stats II (my other courses didn’t cover econometrics), and then there’s program evaluation and the last in the public policy/leadership trilogy. I’m not sure how much whining will happen on Ricochet, but my twitter feed is going to be full of it.

Oh, and I need to work on that thing I mention in my byline. Grad student powers, activate!

Things I’m thinking about for this weekend:

April Fool’s pranks. My spouse and roommate don’t read this, so I could, in theory, write pretty much all of my plans on here. But by the variation on Murphy’s Law, if I publish this, it’ll be today that they start reading. Knowing me, I’ll go simple, as I don’t like following most holidays the day of. That and I need to wait until Peeps go on sale before I really cause trouble.

You have been warned.

Voracious is coming up. While I have no clue if I’m going this year, it’s a fun excuse to check out a lot of food at once, but not as much as Taste Washington so you don’t feel exhausted just trying to check it all out. Last year, the McCracken/Tough duo made a meringue dipped in liquid nitrogen so you breathed out smoke. Fantastic.

To bake or not to bake: There’s a Food Swap in Ballard on April 13th. Yes, it’s the risk of eating from an unclean kitchen, but you take more risk whenever you eat random food your friends make. It’d be fun to bring a ton of tiny latkes to share with others, and I often bake way more than I can eat anyway.

Everyday Adventures: What to do when your friend bails

A bigger frustration for me than eating alone is when you scheduled to meet someone and they don’t show. Especially at a restaurant, where then you’re suddenly at a table by yourself. While it’s a surprise, it’s one you can work with. Here’s how I assess dining/being out by myself – the end goal is to have an awesome time, whether I’m by myself or with friends.

Step 1: Try to determine why your friend is can’t make it.

If they’re simply flaky by nature, that’s one thing; it’s another if they have a family member dealing with a medical emergency. No point in getting upset until you know what happened.

Step 1a: If you need to be angry/frustrated/sad, that’s totally cool.

Step 2: Do you want to invite anyone else to join you? Given it’s last moment, this is probably challenging. Still, nothing wrong with trying if you think someone else might be free.

If they show, go back to the original plan; otherwise, on to step 3.

ARTStep 3: Assess the situation. Are you still home? Are you at a restaurant/mall/theme park/secluded tropical island? (If you at the last one, I’m jealous as hell.)

If you’re waiting outside the restaurant/mall and not committed to anything and no one can join you, then I say go exploring with that time you were going to hang out. Did you see anything cool on the way in you wanted time for later? Go for it.

If you’re at a restaurant and already seated, probably the worst part of it is having that second place setting stare you in the face – that signal that says to everyone else “you’ve been stood up.”

Next, determine how much you care about being seated at a table clearly for two. If it’s really bothering you, have the other setting removed or ask your waiter if you can move to the bar. If it’s not bothering you, you don’t have to move, and if someone’s judging you, they have some serious issues.

I admit, nowadays I’m often carrying notes for school/work, so I might pull those out if I’m feeling really nervous (or I realize how much I’ve been procrastinating.) Unless the place is jammed full and there’s a big empty bar, the waiter probably doesn’t care if you take up a table for two to yourself.

If there are more comfy-looking chairs, though, now’s totally the time to take one over. Comfy chairs are totally the way to go.

If you’re on that secluded tropical island, you’re on a secluded tropical island. Go stare at some palm trees for a while and then go watch crabs on the beach.

Step 4: Order something awesome, but keep somewhat to the original plan. If you need to add a drink, that’s one thing, but ordering a bottle of wine when you’ve been nursing that glass of water will probably, sadly, add to the collective staring.

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I’m a big fan of things involving fried onions and vague attempts at eating healthy, but definitely get that steak if it’s calling your name.

Step 5: If someone’s actively staring, they’re being ridiculous, and more than a bit nosy, which isn’t fun. If you’re up for it, stare right back. Smile. That should stop all eye contact for the rest of the evening.

Step 5a: If you want no one to bother you, period, grin broadly, like they’re your best friends.

Step 6: Have an awesome meal, then get something awesome to take home. Nothing wrong with having leftovers for breakfast the next day – unless it’s a pile of melted Halloween candy. Then you’re me at age nine.

Step 7: Tell that friend that they missed out on an awesome time, and go invite different friends out if it turns out this person doesn’t like to show in general.

On Hunger Action Week, and food stamps

I recently received an email asking if I could contribute anything to the United Way’s Hunger Action Week campaign. I’m not able to take the challenge due to dealing with illness, but it’s a good chance to talk about the fact that I spent two years on food stamps.

That being said, I see my case as an example of nothing more than luck and a heavy dose of privilege, but it’s still something to learn from.

Before I started grad school I was a habitat restoration technician, spending my time cutting down invasive plants and planting trees. I loved my work – I have never, before or since, been so consistently thanked for my job – but it was incredibly physically strenuous. I worked four ten hour days each week my first year, and generally came home exhausted. My hands alternated between functional and useless, acting more like claws than fingers.

I made minimum wage, with rent taking half my paycheck; most of the rest went to doctors. So, after I started that job, I applied for food stamps. That little card made a huge difference – I went from barely making enough to eat to being able to have meals and having a tiny bit left over for emergencies.

That being said, I had a lot of things going for me: I didn’t have a child to feed, or student loan debt. While we were long-distance, my now spouse had his own job and wasn’t reliant on me. I was under my parents’ health insurance. My car was fully paid for, I had relatively cheap rent, with roommates to help offset costs, and I was reasonably close to being fully able bodied. My actual needs were few.

I also had the time and energy to research its limitations and ways to max out my food stamp benefits. I shopped at farmer’s markets, bought things on sale at Trader Joe’s, and had enough cooking skill and gear to eat reasonably well.

Now, let me say this, and make it brutally, achingly clear: I. Was. Lucky.

Most of my cohorts had student loan debt, and lived far from work in order to afford the cost of living. Or they lived in large houses with tons of roommates. Or they lived with their parents. Whatever they could do to make ends meet. A single minor injury could make or break your ability to pay rent. Food stamps probably kept us all just a bit saner, but it was frustrating to be actively working to fix the world and also be reliant on food stamps just to function.

In an ideal world, we would not need food stamps. I see stories of towns in Brazil who have managed to clear out hunger, and compare that to listening to people on the bus swap stories about which food bank is the best. I know we can fix this.

We desperately need to first reshape the culture of food, and how we distribute food in our culture. Also, the time, energy, and ability to cook your own food should not be a luxury, but a basic human right. Right now in the US, we view food mainly as a necessity, but often don’t consider how food shapes moods, relationships, culture – and that must change. We are shaped by food culture, and must treat each case with care.

As we can’t do that yet, in the meantime you can support causes like Hunger Action Week. Learn about the program, but also research reform efforts, and ways to end hunger locally. It needs to be a global effort, but everything starts with one person.

Everyday/weekend adventures: the cherry blossom send off party

So in Japan, once the cherry blossoms start blooming people get together with huge, elaborate bento boxes of food and hang out in the sunshine. It’s called hanami, and it’s awesome.

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In Seattle this year, we apparently have snow instead, so doing anything to herald spring has been more than a bit awkward. Since it’s late for the early parties, I think as many people as possible should go have cherry blossom send off celebrations.

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There are two ways to do this: have a group cooking party, or, if you’re lucky enough to live in Seattle, get bento delivered. As I was feeling awful this week and wanted to try something to inspire me to make bento again, I ordered a delivery on the UW campus for a single bento from Jason Harris of Bloom Bento.

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It’s a rare thing nowadays to get such a small order delivered, but he’s currently willing to even hand carry bento about for now, and only on Fridays. (The rest of the week you can pick up from his space in Fremont.) And he was even okay with a drop off at Parrington Hall.

It wasn’t a huge meal, but bento aren’t known for size. (In fact, if you’re after an epic portion, just make your own.) I received the Hiyashi Soba and Turnip Bento ($8) in a two tier jyubako bento box, with stacked square boxes of adorable and edible treats.

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The first tier was simple, a twirl of buckwheat noodles topped with nori and two pink turnip halves. I admit I wasn’t a fan of the chewy root vegetables, but I’m not a fan of turnips in general. The rest was a series of tiny bites: two slices of apple, cut with the edges sliced artfully. Two cutely carved radishes. A heap of wakame seaweed with shredded daikon. Two delicate pieces of nori. (I suspect he really likes paired pieces of food.) A scoop of japanese potato salad on a leaf of romaine to separate it from slices of pickled beets cut into hearts.

As had I asked to have the egg omitted, Jason tucked in a furikake-laced onigiri. He so should start making them with umeboshi, maybe in tiny shreds for the American palate.

With tax and box deposit, it came to $10.40. And I had the most adorable meal I’ve eaten in ages, delivered by a super sweet guy.

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What does this mean for you? In general, anyone on campus trying to be romantic or awesome should see this as one of the best delivery boons ever for Friday afternoons. I suspect more than one weary grad student will try to get campus dropoffs coordinated in the quest for healthy food during study sessions. He can deliver up to 40, so someone really should have a huge party in the literary quadrangle. (I’d so join in.)

Even if you don’t order through Bloom Bento, try to have a bento party. There’s this joy in making tons of tiny bites that I wish we had more often in American-ish food. And if a group’s working together, it’s fun to see boxes fill with apples and carrots and whatever catches your eye that day.

Bloom-bento-8If you’re new to bento, plan in advance for the number of people involved, and just build in bulk. Lay out the trays, and work in assembly. Just focus on color and variety – some raw, some pickled; maybe reds and orange and greens. If you’re lost, try here, or here, or here, and definitely get out the cookie cutters.

Either way, it’s one amazing way to start spring in Seattle.

Things I’m thinking about – weekend of March 22

I’m writing this while dealing with my third day of a somewhat nasty fever, so I have no plans to be super eloquent. I’m going back to sleep, but there are still some cool things going on and in the works.

So, things I’m thinking about, which this week should really be titled “Things I’m Thinking About or Can’t Go to While I’m at Taste Washington”:

StoreFronts Seattle has a fabric stash grand opening on SaturdayThat doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Fabric nerds who don’t want to get a lot of fabric or want something unusual, now’s your chance.  I’m going to write about my love for StoreFronts soon, but you should still check this out. Hopefully next week I can go in and see if they have any lace remnants. Fingers crossed.

This bread recipe. Chris and I are just beginning to alternate bread-making duties again, and I may have to make this loaf before it gets too warm to want to eat it every. single. day.

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This dessert from Cochon 555 Seattle. Canlis killed it with this porky pot de creme. It was phenomenal, this blend of crunchy meringue and savory porkiness and smooth cream and I am so sad I only ate one. Makes me already excited to see how Cochon will step up in 2014.

I also can’t attend the awesome Zaarly bazaar. Zaarly has some amazing vendors, like Adana the fluffy marshmallow queen, who I need to work with more often. Eat her maple bacon mallows – for me, of course.

There’s a Sixty Second Film Festival? So it’s in Vashon, and in May. But it sounds awesome, and I love excuses to hit the islands.