Friday, December 23, 2011



So when we left off last year, Jim was very poor and Gwen was stylishly on bed rest.  Jeff was in Walla Walla, Tim had a nice tan, and Jesse was – well, Jesse was busy being Jesse. 

We postponed our Christmas so that Jeff and Danielle could join us.  They arrived on Tuesday night and we pretended it was Christmas Eve.  On Wednesday we awoke to snow so we truly did have a white Christmas.  I highly recommend postponing the holiday until it's convenient for you.  Not only do you get another chance at a white holiday, but there is loads more time for decorating, baking, shopping (and you can take advantage of post Christmas sales if you want to brave the crowds), and you have all that extra time for procrastinating.  It worked out just great for us, so I've declared a new holiday, Brassmas, where you just celebrate whenever you darn well feel like it or get a round tuit. 

I started off the new year with a trip to the cardiologist where I was declared heart-healthy.  Tests showed that I had not had a heart attack and the 'damaged' spot in my heart had healed completely after the angioplasty.  I'm on an impressive array of meds.  It was a sad day when I realized I was taking more pills each day than my mother.  And an even sadder day when I realized my memory was so far gone that I couldn't remember from one moment to the next what I was doing and had to resort to one of those little pill cases with the slots for each day.  I hit rock bottom on a trip to visit my mom and found she had a shirt almost identical to one of mine.  And hers was cuter.

We were only a few weeks into the new year when I slipped and fell down our stairs.  I managed to bruise myself from head to toe inside and out (taking blood thinners makes for some spectacular bruising) and twisted my knee.  This injury allowed me to lie in bed watching tv for several days and further postpone taking down the Christmas decorations.  I gave some thought to just leaving them up all year but in the end started taking them down the last weekend in January.  I managed to drag this out til the end of March, when I decided to get it done so I could put up Easter decorations.  Except for the one tree upstairs which didn't get taken down til September when we had overnight company coming and I was embarrassed for them to see that tree.

In the meantime, I had not even recovered from the twisted knee before being given the news that Jim and I were going to be grandparents. Yes, 2011 was getting off to an exciting start!

Jeff and Danielle spent the year in Walla Walla.  Danielle received her Master's in Sociology in August and went back home to Hawaii.  Jeff stayed in Walla Walla to work a couple months more, which turned into him deciding to stay there a while.  He lives with a bunch of people he works with and enjoys both his friends and his work.  He came home for a visit in early November with his head shaved.  This is the first time since he was two years old that he has had short hair.  Quite a shock!

                                                                               Last known photo of Jeff with long hair.

Tim stayed down in Forest Grove for the summer and worked on campus in their Convention Services department, which was a job that Jeff had done when he was there.  During training, they learned how to make beds properly.  They were given a photo on how not to make beds and as it was passed around, Tim was informed, "This is one of your brother's beds."  I'm sure Tim's beds were meticulous and now they have "do" and "don't" photos from the Brass brothers.  This is Tim's last year at Pacific.  He's majoring in Business Accounting and really likes it.  He works on campus during the school year building sets in the theater department.

Jesse finished up his freshman year at Washington State University and came home for the summer. He worked for a contractor helping with painting and minor construction.  In September he transferred to Seattle Central Community College in order to be closer to home.  He lives in a 6-bedroom house in the Beacon Hill area with 7 other males.  It is surprisingly clean and it doesn't even smell bad.  A lot of kids from his high school class attend the same college, and he's enjoying Seattle a lot.  He just got a part-time job yesterday at a steakhouse, which I'm very excited about!

On Thursday, October 6, Jesse and Justine Coomes welcomed Hayden Alexander into their hearts.  Hayden is adorable (which one would expect from a Brass baby) and so sweet; Justine is a wonderful mom; and Jesse had Hayden's hair combed into a mohawk within the first 24 hours.  Jesse was a really good baby and very easy, and it looks like Hayden is following in dad's footsteps. 

We all have to grow up sometime.  (Except for me, of course.)   Jesse has had maturity handed to him in the form of a sweet little 7 pound 14 ounce, 20 inch package and has taken to being a dad with surprising ease.  There's definitely something to be said for young parents.  

I finally got back to work court reporting this year (although it has been very slow going), and besides working in Washington, I took several trips down to the Bay Area and did some work for firms down there while visiting my family.  After one trip, my friend and traveling companion Thelma Shelley flew down and drove back up with me.   We stopped in Healdsburg on the way home and visited an old high school friend Linda and had a blast.  I fell in love with Healdsburg and can't wait to go back.  Then we drove up 101, had dinner at the Samoa Cookhouse (which did not quite live up to the memories I had of it), and ended up in Brookings, Oregon, where we spent the night at Sue's, another high school friend.  We next headed to the cabin for a night and ended the trip in Walla Wallla where we went wine tasting and out to dinner with Jeff and Danielle.  It was a great trip with lots of wine consumed and purchased.

On another of my trips to the Bay Area, my niece Sawyer and I cooked at a Big Green Egg Eggfest, Eggs by the Bay.  We cooked up a number of things, but our hit of the day was definitely "You Had Me at Marshmallow," cedar-planked Twinkies topped with Nutella, crushed Oreos, mini marshmallows, and crushed Heath bars.

In September 5 friends came to visit me for an extended weekend.  We were quite the international group.  They came from France, Connecticut/New York, Ohio, Texas, and Australia.  Only Catherine from France had been to Seattle before, so we played tourist a bit, consumed lots of wine, and lounged around our house having a great "girls' weekend."  (Jim was banished to the cabin for the duration.)   Notice the cute tablecloth I made for the occasion.  We really did have a lot of laughs and a lot of fun.

When not palling around with friends, I've been a busy little worker bee.  I've been doing some floral work for Farmhouse Flowers, a local florist here in Langley, which I really enjoy; and, of course, I continue to work at The Clyde on Tuesdays in the ticket booth and in the snack bar whenever Mindy goes on vacation.  At the end of November I decided that 5 jobs weren't enough, so I started working for Greenbank Farm.  I'm their facilities rental manager.  Basically I handle all their rentals for events that are held on the property, including a lot of weddings, which should be a blast.  Keeping track of 6 part-time jobs is a full-time job, so I'm pretty busy these days.  But it's all fun and you know what they say – variety is the spice of life.  As reporting picks up for me, I'll be dropping some of the other jobs.  My goal is to get it narrowed down to court reporting, the movie theater, Greenbank Farm, and doing flowers.

Jim continues to enjoy his only (slacker) job at Evergreen Construction in Auburn.  He works from home two days a week and commutes down to Auburn the other three.  Sometimes Buddy goes to work with Jim if I'm not around.  Everyone there loves Buddy, but Buddy is not overly fond of riding in the car and has figured out that if Jim gets up really early and I'm not around, then maybe he should go and hide from Jim in hopes of avoiding the car.  So then Jim has to go in search and there is a lot of coaxing involved when he finally locates Buddy.  On days I work at Farmhouse Flowers or at the bus barn for the school district, I take Buddy with me if Jim isn't working from home that day.  Again, he's not thrilled to go, so he hides from me too.  He's a funny pup.  But we love him to pieces.

We're down to three chickens now, and they have quit laying eggs except for two piddling eggs we got in November.  Which is really a drag because we (Jim) have to take care of them and feed them, all the while going to the store to buy eggs.  It was so much fun just going to the coop to collect the eggs.  I don't care for this new arrangement at all.

We had Jesse, Hayden, Justine, Tim, and our friends Robert and Shelley with us for Thanksgiving and had a great time eating turkey and consuming lots of wine.  So much fun to have a baby in the house again!  Baby smells are even better than turkey and gravy smells.

Yesterday I drove down to Oregon, picked up Tim, and brought him back for the holidays.  Jesse came over from Seattle this afternoon.  Jeff will come home on the 26th and we'll celebrate Brassmas.  Jim and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary on December 27, so it'll be a combined Brassmasversary.   Hayden will be with us on the 25th and 26th when I hope to get more baby nuzzling time in.

Today is the 23rd and I haven't baked a single cookie or even put up a tree.  We might venture outside to see if we can find something in the yard tomorrow.  I went out there looking the other day and they all looked pretty spindly.  I think that's because I hadn't had enough wine yet, so I'll get an early start on that tomorrow and see what I can come up with.

Happy Bralidays to all of you!  We miss you and think of you often.

She's Not Mad at Me Spaghetti Carbonara

My husband is a meat and potatoes kind of guy.  The first time I served him pasta after we were married, he took one look at his dinner and said, "Are you mad at me?  Did I do something wrong?"

For the most part, he'd prefer beef and mashed potatoes over just about any other meal.  Taking their cue from their father, our sons weren't wild about pasta either, although occasionally the youngest would eat it plain.  Imagine my surprise when I found a pasta dish they not only would eat, but eat with enthusiasm.  I have no idea why this pasta dish was such a hit when all others failed; I was just so happy to have finally found something the picky boys would eat.  And it's super easy to make too!

Spaghetti Carbonara

1 pound bacon
1 large onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground peper to taste
1 pound spaghetti or other pasta
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fry the bacon, remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  I cut it into pieces first, but you can fry it in strips or any way you like.
 Look at all that bacony goodness!

Sautée sliced onions in bacon fat until onions are golden, 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You can cook the bacon and onions in the same pan at the same time if you want, but you'll have less control over how much the onions cook because you'll need to stop when the bacon is done. So I like to do it in two steps.  When the onions are to your liking, add the bacon back in, add the wine, and simmer for 15  or 20 minutes.  Tonight, I was out of wine so I used tequila instead.  Maybe I should call this Spaghetti Carbonara Olé!  It's better with the wine.  I really couldn't taste any tequila flavor.  Darn!

 Oh how I love the smell and taste of sautéed onions.

A side note on the onions:  Did you know that if you breathe only through your mouth when you chop onions, it will usually keep your eyes from burning and watering?!  It depends on the type of onions and how fresh they are, but it almost always works.  Just be sure you don't breathe through your nose!

Okay, back to the recipe.  But you're gonna thank me for that little tidbit, see if you don't.

Combine the 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions and drain.  I like to put the pasta back into the pan and back onto the burner to get any remaining moisture out.  You need to stir continually while doing this.

Add the Parmesan cheese and parsley mixture to the pasta and toss well.  Then add in the bacon and onion mixture and toss again.  Sprinkle the remaining bit of parsley on top.  Serve immediately on warm plates and pass the extra Parmesan cheese.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Soup for Supper - Italian Chicken Soup

Last night was our annual holiday potluck for one of my gardening groups -- Northwest Perennial Alliance.  We get together for some holiday cheer and make wreaths.  Several of us have wreath-making machines, one of the best birthday gifts I ever talked my husband into giving me!  I've had so much fun with it over the years.  If he had known the amount of greenery I'd strew all over the porch and deck for the entire month of December, I'm sure he never would have bought it.  Or that after every storm, I'd be out there driving around looking for downed branches, which I then bring home and strew all over the porch and deck.  I need a bumper sticker that says, "I brake for pine boughs."  Every year he says, "Can we not have so many branches this year?"  But then I see a little fir tip laying there looking so perfect I just have to pick it up and drag it home.  It's a sickness, I know.  One year a friend and I drove around looking for lichen-covered twigs, which are a particular favorite of mine (and hers).  I'm ashamed to say (ok, not really ashamed at all) that we went onto some private property and cut some.  One of these days my shenanigans are going to land me in the pokey.  I wonder if they'll let me decorate with wreaths during the holidays...

 Anyway, back to the food part of this story, I decided to make soup and eggnog as my contribution to the evening.  I wasn't in the mood for any of my usual soups, so I went in search of something new on the web and found one on Pioneer Woman's site for Italian Chicken Soup.  I had to change up a few things.  One of her ingredients was a can of whole tomatoes.  You are supposed to take the tomatoes and dice them, then return them to their juice.  Helloooo, do they not have diced tomatoes in your neck of the woods, Ree?  Being limited in time this week, I simpified the recipe a teensy bit.  It turned out delicious.

For the eggnog, I had planned on just buying cartons of eggnog, dumping them in the punch bowl and adding booze and grated nutmeg.  Like I said, limited time this week.  I was looking around to see what kind of booze to dump in and how much when I came upon this recipe that seemed easy enough. So I made some of that just to try it out.  It was really good and quite easy.  Definitely a keeper recipe.

Sorry, no photos of the food for this one.  Did I mention I was super swamped?

In-A-Hurry Italian Chicken Soup
1 box Detalini Pasta (very short macaroni-type pasta)
2 T olive oil, divided
1 whole cut up cooked chicken or the equivalent (I cooked up some breasts and used that), shredded
8 cups chicken broth
1 medium onion, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 stealks celery, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 T olive oil
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups heavy cream
4 T minced fresh oregano (or the equivalent dried)
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan cheese shavings for garnish

Cook the pasta according the package directions.  The timing on the pasta package is usually very accurate.  Drain it, toss in 1 T olive oil, and set it aside.

In a very large pot (everything has to fit) and using about 1 T olive oil, sautee the onions, green pepper, celery, and jalapenos over medium heat until tender and golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Add in the oregano and cook for just a minute or so more, stirring.

Add in the chicken broth, shredded chicken, and diced tomatoes.  Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add in the cooked pasta and cream and drizzle with a small amount of EVOO.  Serve with the parmesan on top.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review - The Kitchen Diaries

I check out a lot of cookbooks from our library.  Some of them I even cook from.  That sticky spot on page 26 of Tartine Bread?  Nope, that wasn't me!  At any given time, I have four or five or more in my stack of library books.  This is just to say, I read a lot of cookbooks.  I never really met a cookbook I didn't like.  But I haven't met very many that I really love.  I can't even remember what prompted me to check out The Kitchen Diaries.  It wasn't easy to get.  It had to be ordered on a special Interlibrary Loan because our system doesn't carry it.  (When I return it, I hope to convince them of the error of their ways.)

The Kitchen Diaries, a year in the kitchen with Nigel Slater, written by British cookbook author and columnist Nigel Slater (photographs by Jonathan Lovekin) is the quintessential slow food cookbook.  The first sentence of the book—"Right food, right place, right time"—sums it up perfectly.  Slater goes on to say, "There is something deeply, unshakeably right about eating food in season…Learning to eat with the ebb and flow of the seasons is the single thing that has made my eating more enjoyable."  For me personally, chocolate is the single thing that has made my eating more enjoyable, but I do agree—eating food at its peak of perfection nourishes the soul as well as the body.

As the title implies, the cookbook is laid out in diary form, starting with the obvious January.  He chronicles his year of eating with 15 to 18 entries each month.  Some of them are complete recipes; some are merely descriptions of what he ate and how he fixed it.  All are written in a friendly and inviting manner that makes one want to cozy up and settle in for a long winter's read.

I really love his writing style.  He's so much more than just a cookbook author.  His writing is intimate and works splendidly with the diary format of the book.  He welcomes you into his kitchen and his life, and you feel as if you're sharing the meal with him.  Some of the delicious meals that Nigel and I shared:  A really good spaghetti Bolognese in January; Shrimp and cilantro rolls in March; Clams with ham and sherry in June; An extravagant supper of rare beef, red salad, and cheeses in August; and last, but definitely not least!, poached pears with ice cream and chocolate sauce in November.

The Kitchen Diaries makes the perfect Christmas gift for your favorite slow foodie.  Did I mention I don't have my own copy yet?

Poached Pears with Praline Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce
4 pears
2 T golden caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
200 g fine dark chocolate
Praline ice cream
1 T lemon juice

Pour a litre of water into a deep wide pan, add the sugar, vanilla pod and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Peel the pears, tug out their stalks, then halve them and scoop out their cores.  Drop them into the sugar syrup and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the pears are translucent and tender.  Leave in the syrup to cool.  During this time they will become silkily soft and soaked through with syrup.

Get the ice cream out of the freezer.  Chop the chocolate. Bring 200ml of water to a boil, then whisk in the chocolate, removing from the heat as soon as it has melted, just a matter of seconds.  Place two pear halves on each of four dishes, add the praline ice cream, one ball per person should be ample, then pour over the warm chocolate sauce.