Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.



You may remember that back in May I splurged on a new microwave as a Mother's Day present to myself. It's been a delightful six months of getting to know each other. This puppy has features that I haven't even begun to explore. I've been trying out all sorts of new things that I never could have conceived of trying with my old appliance and I've done a heck of a job keeping the thing sparkling clean, too. Everything is covered before cooking, the inside of the microwave is wiped out regularly. All has been well.

(Thankfully it hasn't fallen victim to my anti-technology aura, either... knock wood!)

Things with the microwave were going along so well that I decided to try a recipe for "roasting" garlic. I love roasted garlic and if I could end up with a close approximation to actual roasted garlic through a microwave technique, I'd be quite happy. It just seems too much trouble (and very energy wasteful) to heat the oven for roasted garlic alone, which definitely discourages me from making it whenever the urge strikes.

So. I follow the recipe and start cooking away. Less than halfway through the programmed cook time I start smelling burned garlic! Holy crap, I think to myself, this microwave is way stronger than this recipe calls for. Sure enough, I extract the garlic and it is a dessicated, brown-black lump, sizzling away. The plastic wrap that was over the dish has melted away completely into nothing more than a crispy film fused to the edges of the dish. Luckily, I have more garlic! Undaunted, I adjust my process and try again. Same results.

By now the entire house reeks of burned garlic. Chris walked in the house and told me he could smell it out on the street! Nothing even approaching edible and certainly nothing I would call "roasted" came out of this experiment. What we did get, however, was the long lingering stench of burned garlic. Even after the smell cleared the rest of the house, it continued to spew forth from the microwave. It rolled out whenever the door was opened, it belched forth from the vents whenever the microwave was running and threatened to attach itself to whatever else we might be heating. DISGUSTING.

Of course I had thoroughly (so I thought) cleaned the microwave as soon as the "garlic roasting" experiment was over. I used regular Clorox kitchen wipes, I broke out the Easy-Off Microwave Wipes, I tried baking soda, vinegar, baking soda and vinegar. Then I went all out with home remedies: I boiled tea bags in the microwave, I boiled lemons, I boiled a baking soda and vinegar solution. Every time I seemed to dull the fumes, but it hasn't banished the smell. It's almost gone now, just a hint, a whiff of the original reek remains. I'm sad. I don't want my softened ice cream or my warmed Silk Nog to stink.

A few more days of boiling lemons and vinegar and I'm going to resort to cracking the thing open and cleaning its parts.



Frustrated with my ability to get anything accomplished working on my seven-year-old, software-lacking laptop, I took this quiz. At least it brought a smile to my face for a moment...


Anti-Technology Aura

Long-time readers may remember that I have an anti-technology aura that occasionally causes all sorts of havoc around home and office. Occasionally electronic gadgets just blow up or stop functioning around me. I don't know why. I swear, I don't have to be actually even using the item, I just need to be in proximity.

The last six to twelve months or so I've had things pretty well under control. We got the network up and running (after many months of deep frustration that stumped even my geekiest tech geek friends and co-workers), we replaced my older machines with new ones, and things seemed to be going along pretty well.

Those days are done.

My six-month-old TiVo Series 2 began resetting itself and is now unplugged and in the hands of our local TiVo expert, who we hope will be able to restore/hack it for us and make it a usable machine again.

My cell phone got wet inside my bag and stopped working, so I had to replace that as well.

The day before Thanksgiving our printer started malfunctioning and when I called tech support to ask what the error message meant, I found out it means the motor has blown out. I'm still working on figuring out the best replacement option for a networkable duplex-capable color printer. Currently I can't print anything, including orders, invoices, or contracts. Joy, joy.

But the printer situation doesn't matter at the moment because I woke up this morning to find that my computer is stuck in a blue screen of death... the first such screen I've seen since using Windows XP. Stop Error 0x00000024, which tells me to uninstall all my virus/defrag/backup software and run CHKDSK /F Of course, I would be happy to do this if I could, but I can't actually get the computer to start at all. No Safe Mode, no Last Good Configuration, no boot from CD. Just endless restarts that all lead straight back to the blue screen that helpfully gives me the above instructions. Oh, yeah, I just upgraded and extended my MacAfee virus protection/firewall suite last week (after calls to both MacAfee and Dell tech support to even get the damn program to install/update correctly in the first place).

Yep, the ol' anti-technology aura is back. Maybe if I go to bed and pull the covers over my head it will all go away?


Snow Day

Schools were closed today so Kate was home all day. Pramas also stayed home, for which I was thankful (especially when I heard that my friend who usually has a one hour bus commute to UW made it in just over three hours this morning). Seattle bus commuting is bad enough without having icy hills and crazy traffic jams on the freeway to contend with, let alone the risk of getting stranded downtown if the buses stop running altogether or something.

I did not get out of my pajamas at all today. Used the internet to accomplish niggling work-related things (including researching a new network-capable, color, duplex printer to replace the one whose motor just blew out the day before Thanksgiving and making plane reservations for up-coming mid-winter convention appearances among other things).

Tonight: lamb curry in the crock pot and Brokeback Mountain on Netflix.


Winter Storm and Portland Report

I was going to write up my own Portland report, but instead I spent six hours on the road bringing Kate home from her dad's. It was as if someone drew a line north of Everett and imported a good old-fashioned Minnesota blizzard.

I saw trees, heavy with snow, uprooted and laying flat on the ground. I saw numerous spin-outs, cars and trucks deep in the ditch (sometimes more than 20 feet off the road, facing the wrong direction). The freeway was unplowed and the farther north I drove the worse the visibility got and the harder snow began to fall.

On the return home it seemed like things were going smoothly, as if the storm had passed. It had merely moved to the south. Eventually I caught up with it (and the accidents that went with it). It took me an hour and twenty minutes to drive three miles at one choke point, a total of two hours to make it the last fifteen miles home. Sucky.

In light of this, I've appropriated the Pramas Portland Report and added links instead of writing up my own. Here you go:

Months ago, when I agreed to head down to Oakland on the weekend of our anniversary, Nicole and I had decided we’d have a slightly delayed celebration. Originally we had hoped to spend a nice weekend in the English countryside attending our friend James’s wedding but that did not work out. On Friday we took the train down to Portland for a weekend away and our belated celebration of 5 years of marriage. Amazingly, the entire trip went like clockwork. We didn’t have any delays on buses or trains and we got everywhere we wanted to go on time and in good spirits.

We stayed at the Avalon Hotel and Spa, which Nik had gotten a good price on via a travel site. It was a few minutes outside of the hustle and bustle of downtown, which was nice. We had considered trying out the spa side of things, but it was spendy ($105 for a massage) and the 48 hours we had for fun were easily eaten up by other things. Saturday was the big day. It started at 10 am with a culinary walking tour of the Pearl District, a former industrial neighborhood rezoned for businesses and residences. Over the course of three and a half hours we visited a bakery, a tea shop, a brewery, a pizza place, a dessert café, a deli, and a shop that sells various culinary goods and gadgets. There was a tasting at each location and along the way we got to see a lot of the Pearl District. This was totally fun. The real surprise for me was Hot Lips Pizza. I was a bit nonplussed when I heard part of the itinerary was a pizza place. Perhaps my NYC bias was showing a bit. Hot Lips was a real treat though. We sampled their daily veggie pie, which had broccoli, hazelnuts, cheese, and a squash puree. It doesn’t sound too good but man, it was delicious and their thin, crispy crust was outstanding.

After the tour we took the obligatory trip to Powell’s bookstore, which was conveniently nearby. This is the biggest bookstore in the nation and a must-visit on any Portland trip. As usual I spent two hours there and barely scratched the surface. I picked up a bunch of books and then we returned to the hotel for awhile. We chilled out for the rest of the afternoon and spent some time deciding where to have our big dinner out that night. We ultimately chose Wildwood and were able to get a reservation for 8:45. At 5 we headed over to the hotel’s attached restaurant, Rivers, for some drinks and happy hour snacks. With four mini martinis for $4, how could we say no? We drank and talked while munching on some olives and local hazelnuts, tuna tartar, and French fries and steamed mussels.

Later that night we set out for Wildwood for dinner proper. As I had gotten a new suit for the wedding, we decided to dress up for the night out. The restaurant was one of the first in Portland to work with Pacific NW ingredients and create a truly seasonal menu. The food was excellent all around. I had a steak and beet salad to start, which was tremendous, and then had the grilled Muscovy duck for dinner. Duck is hit or miss, often too greasy and heavy. This preparation was excellent, very light and flavorful. It was served with a chestnut puree, turnips, and a poached pear. A cheese plate and a pot of Earl Grey finished the meal. Very nice indeed. [Nik adds: While we waited for the Avalon's town car, Wildwood's Co-owner and Wine Director Randy Goodman chatted us up after dinner, even though we didn't order any wine. We recommended he try Cremant when he's next in Seattle.]

Sunday we bid the hotel adieu and met up with some friends of Nicole’s for brunch at Wild Abandon (thus continuing the “wild” theme). Then we went back to JD and [Kris’s] place, a cool period home built in 1903. JD is a high school friend of Nicole’s that she’s seen once in the past 15 years or so. He and his wife were good folks and very hospitable. JD had recently gotten a wii and it didn’t take much convincing for me to have a go with it. I don’t know that I’d want to use the “wiimote” all the time, but I will say that it creates a very different experience than your average game console. Even something as mundane at bowling was more fun than it had a right to be with that controller.

Later in the afternoon JD was kind enough to drop us off at the train station. The trip back was uneventful, even with a car crammed full of co-eds returning to Seattle’s various universities. I read one of my Powell’s purchases (The Unknown Battle: Metz 1944, a book I’ve been seeking for a long time) and we hit town around 6:30. By then it was snowing, which is a strange occurrence in Seattle. We grabbed a bus and were home by 7:30. I had visions of a snow day for today, but it was not to be. When I woke up, there was some snow on the ground but the roads were clear and dry. Ah well. Still, no complaints here, as we had a very fun weekend and suitably celebrated our anniversary at last.


Portland Photos

I'm spending the morning braving wet (and possibly icy) roads to go pick Kate up from her dad this morning, so a detailed report of the weekend will have to wait. Meanwhile you can get some idea of what we got up to by visiting my Flickr photo set:


Weekend Wonderland

Chris and I just got back from our weekend away. Amazed, it went exactly as planned. Got to the train on time, arrived in Portland on time, had plenty of time to check into the hotel before meeting my brother and his wife for dinner. I almost blew it big-time as I had reserved the walking tour for the wrong day (OOPS!) but they let us come along anyway and we had a gorgeous day for the tour, hit all sorts of great culinary hot-spots in Portland's newly gentrified Pearl District, enjoyed happy hour at our hotel and then dressed up in the clothes we would have worn to the wedding in England if we'd been able to go and went out to dinner.

The hotel had this great old-style London cab that they offered as "town car service" so we were dropped off and picked up in style. We didn't actually do any of the outrageously expensive spa stuff but both enjoyed the luxury soaking tub, fancy shower, and complementary robes in the privacy of our room.

Today we met up with my high school friend JD and his lovely wife Kris for brunch (and got to meet Amy Jo and her husband in person) and got to see their great old house and I just chilled out drinking tea and watching squirrels while the guys played with their new Wii. JD so kindly dropped us at the train station where we waited in line for a seat assignment and were able to board almost immediately. Train left Portland on time, arrived in Seattle with no trouble at all and we hopped a bus home after only a 10 minute wait.

It's *snowing* right now and walking home from the bus stop was really pretty. Everything went off perfectly and the snow falling as we walked home made it feel just a little more special (particularly after all the drenching rain we've been having).

I hope everyone had a great weekend! I'll have more details about the hotel, the walking tour, our diversion to Powell's City of Books and our hedonistic food excesses tomorrow.


Thanksgiving, of course

Turkey platter complete
Turkey platter complete,
originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Was it a holiday involving food? Then I was there, of course!

It was a much smaller group than our 22 people feast last year so we were all able to be that much more relaxed and content. Ray, Christine, Carol, Pramas and myself, Chris L and Bill, plus Bill's mother and brother. Bill's mom is such a hoot: for a while after dinner we were chatting about how we'd both met our men on the internet. She then told me about her two suitors in Arizona (one to whom she broke off an engagement but who still comes around bringing her roses) and showed me pictures of her most recent cruise. Love it!

The food was fantastic, as usual, and we left with a big whack of left-overs. Carol made her homemade cranberry sauces (plain and ginger). I made my two best stuffings (Wild Rice and Chorizo, and Sausage and Pear). Lihosit smoked turkeys and Bill made his marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole, though he'll never live down the Great Marshmallow Fire of '05. I fell into a food coma. All was as it should be.

Today Pramas and I are sneaking off to a posh Portland spa hotel, where we will ruthlessly relax and make the most of the rest of the long weekend. There will (naturally) be some fine dining, some visiting, and a bit of roaming around. I have high hopes that there will be some massages and whirlpools in there somewhere as well.

See you all on Monday!



Food O Rama

What happens when Christine invites you to lunch. I went to lunch with Christine yesterday and ended up having a four-course meal that included a bottle of champagne. Holy smokes!

After lunch Chris, Kate and I had dinner out as a family before she goes to her dad's house for her Thanksgiving break: a 25 for $25 meal at the Edgewater hotel's Six Seven restaurant. Glorious.

Today it's turkey and the traditional Thanksgiving sides. Oh my, food o rama.



Frank McCourt and 25 for $25

Last night was the second lecture of this year's Seattle Arts and Lectures series. The night's lecturer was Pulitzer prize-winner Frank McCourt of Angela's Ashes fame. Although I meant to read his newest memoir Teacher Man before the lecture, I failed to read a single word of anything he'd written and went into the lecture knowing nothing about him other than he'd had success writing about his hard knock life growing up in Ireland.

McCourt was an entertaining speaker, though he was definitely rambling and unpolished. While it was clear he was going over familiar territory his delivery had more the feel of your doddering elderly uncle telling war stories around the holiday table than a polished song-and-dance lecture. There were a few times I found myself wishing we could have gotten him lubed up with a couple of drinks and been sitting around in a more casual environment, where I might have been able to ask him to repeat what he'd just said. His accent (not exactly Irish, certainly not Brooklyn, but some nightmarish mutation) was sometimes very hard to understand and he didn't shy away from his non-PC opinions (the difficulty of remembering his Korean students' names, as they were all named Kim Something; how Jewish guilt and suffering has nothing on Irish Catholics; the various ways in which the Catholic church screws people up). He did, in a gesture very much of his generation, warn delicate listeners to leave the room before he told a story that involved the word fuck.

In the Q&A afterward, someone asked the question about which student affected him the most and which would he never forget which launched him into a sad story about a poetic "genius" girl that he was absolutely in awe of but who was so screwed up... eating disorders, suicide attempts, middle of the night phone calls to him, until finally one night he told her that if she did indeed want to die so badly she should just go ahead and do it, he was done sending the Yale campus police off to her rescue... She didn't, and he saw her around in NYC where she'd gotten a job a secretary or something and "looked like hell" and when he asked her, "But what about the poetry?" she angrily told him to leave her alone. Sad story.

After the lecture, the 3 J's (John, Jenny, and Jim) and I took off to get something to eat. John had come armed with a list of the 25 for $25 restaurants and we decided to hit one none of us had been to before. After ruling out several options (because we've all eaten out around Seattle a lot) we settled on the Fish Club at the Seattle Marriott on the waterfront. Their 25 for $25 menu was very good and we all chose the trout entree, which was clearly the best thing on the menu. We were not disappointed. In fact, we did very well for ourselves simply following Jenny's suggestion of picking a place none of us had been before. Fun!

I look forward to the next lecture in January. Maybe I'll even have time to read something by the lecturing author before then. Edwidge Danticat, anyone?


One Word Answers

I haven't done one of these in a while, and it's going to be a ridiculously busy couple of days, so here's some meme to go around:

1. Yourself: fiery
2. Your spouse: punky
3. Your hair: streaked
4. Your mother: downtrodden
5. Your father: stoic
6. Your favorite item: bed
7. Your dream last night: nonexistent
8. Your favorite drink: coffee
9. Your dream car: Flexcar
10. The room you are in: kitchen
11. Your ex: arrogant
12. Your fear: uncertainty
13. What you want to be in 10 years? secure
14. Who you hung out with last night? family
15. What you're not? forgiving
16. Muffins: cupcake
17. One of your wish list items: iPod
18. Time: 10:27
19. The last thing you did: moused
20. What you are wearing: black
21. Your favorite weather: warm
22. Your favorite book: absorbing
23. The last thing you ate: cereal
24. Your life: improving
25. Your mood: cheerful
26. Your best friend: pervert
27. What are you thinking about right now? Portland
28. Your car: gone
29. What are you doing at the moment? 29
30. Your summer: conventions
31. Your relationship status: blissful
32. What is on your TV? TiVo
33. What is the weather like? rainy
34. When is the last time you laughed? 10:33



Minutes ago I heard some curious sounds coming from the back of the house. Peering out the window, I see that the sounds are coming from the back of the neighbor's house where the husband and wife are standing with a big, steaming pot. After six years of living next door, we're still only at the "Hello, how are you?" level of communication because my neighbors speak very little English. Their now-teenage kids are much more Americanized. The husband is so cute, he wears a plasticized little red apron with white polka dots. I see him sometimes as he's standing at the sink doing dishes. His wife is helping him pull a plastic garbage bag over his head and tear holes for arms, to further cover him head to toe. He squats down and begins to use a large Chinese cleaver to fish plate-sized turtles out of the steaming kettle. There's been more hacking and scraping going on back there but my curiosity has been satisfied and I'm done spying for today.


Astrology: not just for pies

From the same people who brought us Scorpio's Favorite Pies, we now have Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dishes of the Zodiac. Here's mine:

Scorpio Side Dishes (October 23 - November 21)
When you invite passionate Scorpios to dinner, be prepared to serve an excellent meal. They strive for perfection and will expect the same from you. Serve them plenty of rich red wine... and then be prepared, because they will tell you exactly what they think. When they say they loved your meal, you will know it is the truth. Serve them Pecan Stuffing and Fig-Walnut Salad to appeal to their mysterious side.

Cranberry-Orange-Pecan Stuffing
From Southern Living

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/3 cup chopped orange sections
1/3 cup chopped cranberries
1 tablespoon sugar
2 white bread slices, toasted and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons orange juice

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; add onion and celery, and sauté until onion is tender. Stir in pecans and next 3 ingredients; remove from heat.

Combine bread pieces and next 3 ingredients in a bowl, and add to cranberry mixture, stirring until mixture is combined. Stir in egg and orange juice.

Yield: Makes 2 cups

I will say that I'm a better guest than one who would be so ungracious as to expect perfection when you invite me to dinner! Now, it's true I like red wine... and it's true I'm prone to tell you what I really think, but I don't see how that has anything to do with pecan stuffing.

I'm bringing stuffing to Thanksgiving at the Chez Pominger again this year, but it won't be pecan. I'll be making last year's recipes again this year: Wild Rice and Goat Cheese Stuffing and Sourdough Stuffing with Pears and Sausage. I ordered a fresh batch of wild rice from Minnesota last week. Which reminds me, I didn't actually make the beer cheese soup I was on about the day I got drenched. I made this Wild Rice and Leek Soup instead and it was good. We also ate the last of the pumpkin pancakes for breakfast this morning, so I threw the recipe up on my recipes pages as well.


Good Day

This morning I made the family pumpkin pancakes and turkey sausage. Kate wished aloud that we'd had bacon and I had to laugh, thinking of Sarah Katherine's bacon story from last night's reading. Pumpkin pancakes were good enough, though I was sorely tempted to doctor them up with some toasted pecans.

Tonight it's Bond. Been looking forward to this since seeing Daniel Craig in Layer Cake.

Also got my new phone activated, so I'm no longer cut off from the civilized world. I can't get to any of the stored numbers in my old phone, though, so if you think I should have your phone number please send it to me so I can make sure I do!

In short: yay weekend!


Sarah Katherine Rocks the House

I just returned from listening to Sarah Katherine Lewis read from her book Indecent at Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle. I've been a long-time reader of SK's LJ (and still think of her as her former handle "Motel666") but meeting her in person is a different level of delight.

Sarah is one smart cookie. Her writing is tight, her reading is fun and funny, but she's also the kind of woman who can use the word milieu when answering a question about the environment surrounding Seattle's sex workers and it works. It totally works. I was telling Pramas just this morning how sexy SMART is and Sarah has it in spades. She's the kind of girl who will look you right in the eye while answering your question during the Q&A and then do the same while thanking you for attending. I wanted to monopolize her time for the rest of the night because she's just that fucking interesting.

Since she's a hometown girl, the room was full of friends, admirers, LJ voyeurs like me, and even a few total strangers who came in knowing nothing more than a local author was reading. I spent not quite two hours at the bookstore and tore through the first couple of chapters of the book on the bus ride home. Good stuff. I promised myself I'd write something as soon as I got home before everything I wanted to say faded from mind but it's already too late. All I can say is that it resonated with me. If you have a chance to see this lovely woman, don't pass it up. If nothing else, at least read her book.


How wet was I?

Apparently I got so wet yesterday that my sell phone, inside my backpack, got wet. Wet enough that it no longer works correctly. Like the buttons don't work 9 out of 10 times they're pressed (so I can't answer it, or get it to stop beeping its "You have voicemail" warning)... and then it randomly starts calling the house phone.


Looks like I'll be phone shopping with that birthday money my folks sent.



This morning began with me feeling so groggy that at one point I found myself standing in front of the open refrigerator with a freshly brewed pot of coffee in my hand. Yes, I nearly put the coffee in the fridge. Not an auspicious start to the day.

Then, barely one cup of joe into the morning, I got a call from Kate's teacher asking me to please bring Bonnie the Bunny in for Kate's presentation "as early as possible". I'd asked to schedule this little event for the same day as my Parent-Teacher conference in the hope that I could make one trip to the school and handle both things at once. Instead, I found myself rushing off to Kate's school in the pouring rain, with poor Bonnie damp and freaked out in her carrier. I had to take the bus and then walk the rest of the way in the rain because, uncharacteristically, there was not a Flexcar to be had within 5 miles of my house. I arrived at the school drenched through and feeling a little dizzy and sick from running around in the rain with only coffee on an empty stomach.

I had just enough time to grab a bowl of soup at Geraldine's Counter, bring Bonnie back to the house and turn around and go back to the school for the conference. My clothes had just begun to dry out when it was back out into the rain for me. Happily, Kate's doing ever-better in school (testing as gifted in some areas and only below grade level in one remaining challenge area) and her social and emotional development have finally come around: she's becoming a classroom leader, has tried out for a play, started playing the violin, is reading for fun. What a relief to have such a positive report from her school after our history of struggles!

Kate and I took the bus back home after the conference and were cold and wet once again, though the weather has improved slightly from this morning's torrents. The rain is lighter but strong winds are whipping up. What I really want to do now is curl up in bed and watch some TiVo, but I can't even do that because the upstairs TiVo is currently on the fritz and spontaneously resetting itself every 10 minutes, making it impossible to watch or transfer any of our recorded shows. This TiVo set is only 6 months old, but the current warranty on TiVo boxes is 90 frickin' days! For $50 plus tax (plus a wait time of a couple of weeks) I could ship it in for a replacement (and I probably will) but man, I have to admit that I'm pretty pissy that it only lasted six months (especially since I pre-paid for a year's service!). I can guarantee that I'm not going to be jumping out to buy the new HD boxes TiVo is currently trying to sell me, not with crap reliability and a lame 90-day warranty like this.

So yeah, wet, cold, and TiVo deprived. I'm going to make beer-cheese soup and grilled turkey sandwiches for dinner tonight and crawl under the covers, TiVo or no TiVo.


Helskinki Complaint Choir

Oh, my Finnish brethren! I would join your choir.

Many thanks to Juuro for pointing me to this one.



Sometimes I tell people I've been busy, when what I really mean is I've been paralyzed with self-doubt, anxiety, or depression.

Some days are better than others but Mondays are the worst. Mondays are always fresh loss and renewed grief, the comfort of the weekend ripped away. I'm alone in the house; I often feel completely adrift. I feel like my life is just day after day spent waiting for the next crisis, the next bad thing, the next project to blow up or self-righteous asshole to come take a bite out of me. I wait to be tricked, to be duped, to be treated unfairly, for the rug to be pulled out from under me.

Some days my only success is getting to the end of the day having nothing bad happen and feeling I can breathe again for a few hours.

Sometimes I want to write. I want to write about this desperation and anxiety and sadness I feel. Usually I'm afraid to be that honest. (One time a friend's reaction to my writing was to call up and suggest I might want to try lithium and that unsettled me far more than my own state of mind.)

When I write, I want people to feel what I've written; I want to reach them, move them. I dread writing something that only encourages them to offer platitudes or pep talks. If that's what I get back I've completely failed.

Sometimes I wish I was a painter instead of a writer, so I could just slap paint to canvas and let the painting speak for itself.



God, Mondays depress me. I hate Mondays and all they represent.


Where did the weekend go?

I find myself looking around on this dark, rainy night and wondering where the weekend went!

Talked to my brother for about half an hour this afternoon. Looks like Chris and I are going to be staying very close to where he and his wife are living while he goes to med school at OHSU in Portland, so we're going to try to get together while we're down there over Thanksgiving weekend. Haven't seen my brother since, um, two Christmases ago, so that would be nice.

Tonight was dinner (celebrating for the three November birthday girls) with Ray and Christine, Mitch and Robin, and our assorted children. Some whacking big hunks of delicious cheese (it always starts with the cheese...), fantastic osso bucco and saffron rice, wine, salad with almonds and goat cheese (oh, how I love my goat cheese) and mini cheesecakes in chocolate, coffee, and vanilla. It had been weeks since we'd seen R&C and a couple of months since we'd seen M&R, so it was good to have time to chill out and catch up.

Now it's Sunday night and another weekend is gone. I'm happy about all the things I did, the people we saw, the food we enjoyed... but I find myself sad at the prospect of another work week beginning in the morning. As Rutger Hauer voiced so eloquently in Blade Runner, "I want more life, fucker."

Chris tells me that he thinks he may have just seen the Magic: the Gathering commercial that I saw being filmed in Columbia City back in September, so I'm off to check the TiVo.


Windy and Cold Veterans Day

Veterans Day dawned cool but partly sunny here in Seattle. The weather grew nastier as the day wore on and eventually climaxing with violent rain (including a lightning flash and clap of thunder) and high, freezing winds in the early dark somewhere between 4:30pm and 5:30pm.

I wanted to stay under the warm flannel sheets and snooze very badly this morning, but I'd promised the girl I'd take her to Seattle Center where Hidden City was hosting Girls Day to promote their newest release the Bella Sara card game and website. I made breakfast (eggs cook like a dream on fresh teflon!) and then made my way over to the event location (the other side of the venue was, funnily enough, hosting a Magic: the Gathering tournament... not little girls with purple balloons and pink back packs there). I forgot my camera (having left it on my desk after downloading the pictures from Cremant) but I found this image on the web from a similar event in San Diego last week. The Seattle event was virtually identical:

Kate and I, bedecked in beads and pink t-shirts and clutching purple balloons against the increasing winds, made our way back to the house as the weather began to turn uncomfortably colder and nastier. Chris thrilled me to the core by cleaning the kitchen while I was out, and we stood around sharing the last of the rillette on crackers as a late afternoon snack. Still swoon-worthy stuff. I quickly baked up an Upside-Down Cardamom Pear Cake to take with us to a dinner being thrown by the Orca L Pod teachers to thank the parent chaperones who went to OPI last month. We all went out in the pouring rain, got stuck in traffic, took a huge detour and finally ended up at the house of our host a mere 45 minutes late. It was all up-hill from there, though, as we chatted with other parents and teachers, ate some good food, and generally had a very nice time. By the time we left for home the weather had cleared up considerably, though it's still surprisingly cold (with the wind, it feels like it's about 40 degrees even though the actual temp may be 45 or 50).

Tomorrow we're getting together with Ray and Christine for a belated mutual birthday celebration for Christine (and me, again). They've been on the road a ton over the last month and it will be good to catch up with them and perhaps do a little planning for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. I expect we'll hear about their recent trip to New York and they'll get to hear even more detail about our glorious night out at Cremant.

And now the flannel sheets call me to bed.


The Cremant Experience

Steak Tartare
Steak Tartare,
originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I'll say off the bat that my experience at Cremant was fabulous. I recommend it without hesitation and can't wait to find an excuse to go back myself. Chris said his meal at Cremant was better than his recent meal at Bouchon.

We first asked our waiter to please throw in an order of the marrow bones while we decided on the rest of the menu. The marrow takes about 30 minutes to prepare and we knew before we even arrived that we wanted that. I followed up by asking for a wine recommendation that would please me (who doesn't like white) and Chris (who doesn't like red). After assuring us that we could order by the glass from across the menu if we so desired, he recommended a Joël Rochette Beaujolais that was just perfect.

In addition to the marrow, we ordered the sardines and the Rillettes au Crémant. The rillette was glorious. Fatty, smooth, and rich as hell. I had to stop myself from eating it so I would have room for my dinner. In fact, if I hadn't woken up still full from dinner I'm pretty sure I would have woken up craving this on toast. We paid the $5 deposit to take the rillette home in the little French-style canning jar it's served in. Now I have an excuse to go back... I have to bring the jar back for my refund, right?

The restaurant is tightly packed and the tables are very close together, so I couldn't help overhearing what the people closest to us were saying. To my right there were three ladies, who were just as interested in us as I was in them. One of them clearly knew the owner (from eavesdropping, I found out that she and the chef's co-owner/wife were both named Tanya).

At one point as I was diving into the Rillettes au Crémant for a second round I looked up to see Tanya and her friends scrutinizing me. Tanya said "You've ordered the rillette and the marrow. Who are you people and why don't we know you?" At another point, another one of the women piped up to say she was on the verge of exchanging numbers with us because she wanted to eat with us! LOL. In a move completely out of character for me, I gave her my e-mail address because I overheard her talking about where she lives (Georgetown, which is just on the other side of the freeway from us in an old industrial area that reminds Chris of NYC and is slowly becoming ever more hip) and how she got into scotch ("I have lots of friend who drink scotch...") and it was clear that we had a lot in common and are practically neighbors. So wacky! I never do things like that!

Next came entrees: steak tartare and frites for Pramas and blanquette de veau a l’ancienne for me. Until this meal, Red Square in Las Vegas was our standard for tartare. Cremant beats Red Square hands down. I'd read a diner's review of the tartare that complained it was too strongly flavored but after one bite I dismissed that as foolishness. The tartare arrived in an obscenely generous portion was perfectly prepared! My fork-tender veal was braised with mushrooms and onions, served in its own personal Le Creusette right to the table. Very subtle, especially compared to the tartare but savory and delicious. I have not one complaint.

On the other side of us a couple came in and they also started chatting with us! The woman of the couple was there to celebrate her birthday, too, so we toasted our mutual birthday together and started chatting about the tartare and the cassoulet. The guy was a huge cassoulet snob, or so he told us, and then gushed about how perfect his cassoulet was. The cassoulet was another dish I had considered ordering and after his glowing table-side review I simply must go back and try it. Apparently the bouillabaisse was also excellent.

I knew I must have some dessert so I set aside a portion of my dinner to take home. We contemplated ending the meal "Christine-style" with a cheese plate of some sort (Cremant has a cheese menu with 15 kinds of cheese to choose from, including a fondue option) but I'd discovered during my research that Cremant offers a cognac au chocolat that reviewers universally crowed over. The Tanya Table ordered these and the words "alcoholic chocolate pudding" hit my ears. I knew it must be mine. And it was! And lo, it was good. I had to stifle the same lick-the-container urge that I get when eating Tojo's baked oysters. Our waiter assured me that they would normally put a candle in my dessert but under the circumstances that wouldn't be possible. I assured him I appreciated the thought.

Turned out to be a glorious evening, really fun. The service was great (if perhaps just a touch slow...since we weren't in a hurry this was no problem), the food was exceptional, and I actually had a great time chatting up total strangers. How cozy! And reasonably priced for what we got... the portions were surprisingly generous and if we hadn't been celebrating and gotten the bottle of wine and one more appetizer than we really needed it would have been even more affordable.

Blah, blah, blah. I could ramble on. Had a great time. Be sure to check out the photo set!


Cremant: Short Form

"My god, it's full of stars!"

Had a fabulous time. Food was out of this world. Amazingly, even though I largely hate people I ended up loving everyone around me at Cremant. I actually demanded Chris give me one of his cards (why do I never carry my own??) and wrote my e-mail and website on it to hand to the woman at the table next to my right. The woman at the table to my left was also celebrating her birthday.

Quote of the night: "You've ordered the rillette and the marrow. Who are you people and why don't we know you?"

Oh, the food. Tomorrow, when I emerge from my impending food coma, I will write more about the food (and post photos, natch). Tonight I revel.



First, thanks to everyone who (through the glories of LJ, MySpace, Outlook reminders, of just good freakin' memories) came out to wish me a happy one. I appreciate every one of you! I got some nifty gifts (some of which I freely admit I gave myself).

Coconut hand lotion:

Pink Sneakers (from No Sweat):

A new non-stick pan!

A girly-cut shirt from Threadless:

Kij's book (which I've been meaning to read for years):

Tonight we're finally going to eat at Cremant, where I intend to dine on marrow and goose liver, among other things.


Avec fromage!

Thanks, Bruce!



It's all I can do not to post obsessively about the election results tonight. Democrats have taken back the House, but Lieberman beat Lamont, the Minnesota governor's race is tight and leaning toward the incumbent Republican and it's not looking good for Darcy Burner here in Washington at the moment so I remain on edge. I'm no political hound like some of my friends who follow this stuff and really enjoy it; I dislike politics, I hate the dirty tricks, the corruption, the self-servingness. On the other hand, I have felt downright desperate these last six years and I'm paying attention because I feel the state of the union is so dire there's just no excuse not to fight to bring things around.

I'm deeply relieved that enough of my fellow citizens cared enough about their civic duty, their responsibility as Americans, to get out there today and vote to stop some of the craziness.

I'll try to have something more entertaining, more enlightening, or just more interesting to say tomorrow. Tonight I can't focus.



Flood warnings in every county in Western Washington. Seattle has had six-inches of rain since Friday and other places around the area have had as much as ten! It's been pouring rain all day and low-lying areas are flooding, which makes me grateful for once that our house is on top of a hill. We don't have to worry about mudslides, rivers spilling over their banks, or much of anything like that, though ground saturation and high winds could still blow over trees and bring down power lines. City streets aren't in too great shape either as storms drains have been clogged with leaves helped onto the streets by the high winds. Still, people further out are in much worse shape than we city dwellers at the moment.

I did not go out today. I had intended to go to the post office and the grocery store but took one look at the rain that was still coming down this afternoon and decided we can wait until tomorrow.



I don't know if it's from the disappointment of yesterday's failed foodie experience, maybe the recent influx of cookbooks and magazines into the house (new issues of Gourmet, Saveur, and Cooking Light all arrived on the same day; I recently acquired the Cafe Flora Cookbook and the new Glorious One Pot Meals I mentioned yesterday) or something else entirely, but I find myself wishing I had a big family to cook for at the moment. I'm craving cooking. I'm absolutely longing for certain ingredients: I'm dying to use some chevre (maybe in a nice salad with some spiced-candied nuts), to make a butternut squash soup, some sweet potato fries, roast a chicken, make a mocha bread pudding.

On Friday night Jess was talking about the Swedish Heritage Center's first-Sunday-of-the-month Swedish pancake breakfast and it's all I could think about this morning. I left a message for Jess that amounted to "Swedish pancakes! I neeeeed them, call me before they stop serving!" but he had a previous obligation and so we have to wait until next month. Instead, I whipped up a batch of orange-scented blueberry pancakes at home, but it just wasn't the same. (For starters, I had neither lingon berries nor a ham steak....)

Fancy pants cooking is definitely not happening today. I leave in half an hour to go get Kate and Chris is having dinner with a friend while I'm on the road.



Today I intended to spend the day at Seattle's Cookin' expo. I had a really good time at this expo with Bruce a couple of years ago when it was held at the convention center. Chris and I took off on the bus for what should have been a straight shot to the Qwest Event Center. The weather was complete crap: periods of heavy rain, very windy, cold. We walked up to a doorway marked entrance but there was nothing, doors were locked, lights off. We wandered up and down stairs, through several levels of a parking structure, around the outside of the building where we ran into several other people who were also wandering around looking for the event, how to get in.

We finally found the place, paid our money and were let inside. Talk about disappointment! The last time I went to this thing, it was vibrant. Larry's was a big sponsor with a full grocery display; Uli's sausages were there, selling their wares. Makers of custom kitchen implements (Bruce picked up a great handmade pepper grinder), people selling their family hot sauces, marinades, spice rubs... I bought truffle oil, sausages, gourmet hot chocolate, had a bag full of literature, coupons, and samples. It was festive and fun.

This year? L A M E. QFC was a sponsor and had a chocolate fountain but having been to Salty's twice this year, it wasn't that thrilling. Oh, and they gave out paper bags. Woo hoo. Tom Douglas was selling his rubs and his crab cakes book, nothing bad but nothing new. There were gutter companies, jewelry sellers, radio stations, banks, travel agencies... The few places that had food items for sale weren't actually selling anything there: they were happy to tell us that I could buy their sausages at the Bellevue PCC Market or whatever, but mostly we were just out of luck even if their product was great. There was a wine-tasting area, but again the wineries had precious little information to take home, so even if I did really like something it was a crap shoot (and up to me) to remember when I got home. Jeez, make it as hard as possible to remember your product, why don't you.

I did see two things that were interesting enough to buy: A chick was selling a cookbook touting Glorious One Pot Meals from a technique she's created to cook meals in a dutch oven at high heat (an interesting alternative to the crock pot) and a family was selling wooden skewers that had the seasoning in the wood so that it permeated the food while it cooked. I picked up a pack of four different flavors of those.

We stuck around for a cooking demo until a fire alarm was triggered and decided we were done. Walked over to the International District, had some tempura udon and a pot of hot green tea (perfect for the horrible rainy crap day) and headed home. It's hot chai and TiVo from bed for me for the rest of the night.


Early Birthday Merriment

Chris and Happy Nik
Chris and Happy Nik,
originally uploaded by Nikchick.
My friends took me out for dinner, drinks, and debauchery to celebrate my birthday a little early. I've put up a photo set of what we ate, drank, and saw.

My advice to anyone considering the cocktail of scotch, gin, prosciutto, and Gorgonzola? Skip it!


Recipe Page Update

Lest anyone think that stress, sickness, or politics have kept me from indulging in my culinary passions, I've once again updated my recipe pages with the latest new recipes I've given a spin:



The Archibald Cox Lesson

A little history in case the name doesn't ring a bell: Archibald Cox was the first Watergate special prosecutor. When the existence of Nixon's audiotapes was discovered, Cox insisted that they be turned over as part of the Watergate investigation. Nixon, knowing what disclosure of those tapes would mean for him, refused. When Cox likewise refused to back down and when the courts refused to let the White House off the hook by rejecting their appeals (and White House claims that such investigations were irresponsible "at a time of serious world crisis"), Nixon demanded that the Attorney General fire Cox, triggering what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre. (That link is to the Washington Post's excellent 1973 reporting of the event, which was republished to the web as part of their Watergate 25th Anniversary commemoration.) In short, the both the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General resigned rather than carry out the President's order and it eventually fell to Solicitor General Robert Bork (later to become Ronald Reagan's famously failed nominee to the Supreme Court) to do Nixon's dirty work.

All of this Archibald Cox history is preamble, framing for the rest of this post. Because of the principled, non-partisan actions of Cox (backed up by Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus), American citizens learned the truth of what a corrupt White House was up to. Unfortunately for America's citizens, politicians have learned a few new tricks in the years since Watergate. Today, political loyalty is rewarded and perceived disloyalty is punished swiftly and quietly. Take the case of Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, a military lawyer given the job of defending Guantanamo detainees. Lt. Cmdr. Swift's client was only given access to legal counsel on the condition that he plead guilty; the government didn't expect that his lawyer would actually try to defend him. You can read Swift's testimony before the Senate Committee on Judiciary on Detainees online. His superiors at the Office of Military Commissions (tribunals) have given him glowing reviews: "He has been absolutely fearless is pursuing his client's interests. And also he has exhibited an extraordinary level of legal skill. His legal strategy has been brilliant. We all take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and he has certainly done that, literally." Yet, somehow, he's now been passed over for promotion, effectively ending his career in the military. Wouldn't want any "brilliant" lawyers who exhibit "an extraordinary level of legal skill" traipsing around defending people!

Or, take today's revelation from the New York Times: Congress Tells Auditor in Iraq to Close Office.
Investigations led by a Republican lawyer named Stuart W. Bowen Jr. in Iraq have sent American occupation officials to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges, exposed disastrously poor construction work by well-connected companies like Halliburton and Parsons, and discovered that the military did not properly track hundreds of thousands of weapons it shipped to Iraqi security forces.

And tucked away in a huge military authorization bill that President Bush signed two weeks ago is what some of Mr. Bowen's supporters believe is his reward for repeatedly embarrassing the administration: a pink slip.

The most interesting part of the article to me was when Republican lawmakers admit that they don't know how the clause terminating the office was inserted. Neither the House nor the Senate version contained such a termination clause before the conference, all involved agree. "It's truly a mystery to me," Ms. Collins said. "I looked at what I thought was the final version of the conference report and that provision was not in at that time. The one thing I can confirm is that this was a last-minute insertion," she said.

Even members of the President's own party are waking up and realizing that what is going on out there is not good for America. What is it going to take for America's citizens to wake up and demand accountability or insist that their elected officials act in our best interest?


Call for Change

If you're reading from outside the United States, I apologize in advance for the America-centric political post. If you're a dedicated Republican, you probably just want to skip this post because I'm working to oppose your political party and exhorting others to join me. If you're worried about the course the country has stayed on these last six years, if you're sick of the corruption, the shamefully feckless war effort, the state of the national debt and the rampant borrow-and-spend policy, the role of government meddling into the private lives of its citizens, or just disgusted by the number of Republicans under investigation and ready for change, then read on:

MoveOn.org's Call for Change campaign is targeting high-stakes races around the country. All you need is a phone. Got a phone? Then YOU can make a difference.

The people at MoveOn.org Political Action have taken the voter lists from the most important races in the country and found infrequent voters who are likely to vote for Democrats if we can get them to the polls. YOU can do this. Everything you need to participate in Call for Change from the comfort of your own home, in front of your own computer, where you're probably sitting right now is online with a simple tool that makes it easy to call these key voters. MoveOn.org are aiming to make over a million of these turnout calls in the next 5 days. With races being decided by as little as a hundred votes, our participation could make all the difference.

Can you take some time over the next few days to make some calls to unlikely voters? If you're a social sort, you can sign up to bring your cell phone and make calls in with other like-minded volunteers at a Rock the House (and Senate) Phone Party! Are you a busy, introvert like me? Sign up to make calls from home, on your own schedule, at your leisure, as YOU decide you have time.

Wondering if these calls are effective? MoveOn worked with a Yale researcher this spring and tested this program in a primary election where these calls had a huge, measurable impact on voter turnout. Apparently, hearing from real, genuinely motivated people means a lot to potential voters. The winning margin could come from real, person-to-person contact. This is what Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos refers to as People-Powered Politics.

Join in!



I totally want some hot Potato-Leek soup but I feel too crummy to make it. Pramas is gaming tonight and Kate's not interested.

Campbells Cream of Mushroom from a can it is. Boo.


Sickness trumps stress

I'm going to say it's sickness that's been making me feel so crappy the last few days. I'd no sooner gotten to the phone bank to help rally get out the vote callers today than the school called me to pick up Kate, who was in the nurse's office with a fever and a headache. While I was out running around, picking her up soup and OJ and Tylenol I started to feel an ever-increasing level of craptasticness spreading over me.

Pramas is going to happy hour and I'm going to bed. If anyone needs me for anything, you're out of luck until the next time I check my e-mail. Sorry.


How Deep the Scars

Pramas knows and understands me better than anyone. Even so, I managed to surprise him last night by how deeply scarred I am after "the WotC experience." Years of distance from the corporate politics and territorial pissing matches haven't done much to lessen the complete distrust of humanity that I acquired thanks to WotC. It's like Post Traumatic Stress from the game industry. If there was one lesson I learned well from Wizards of the Coast it was that people will fuck you over and no one can be trusted when it comes down to it.

Your "friend" in a corporate environment is only your "friend" as long as it's politically expedient and things are going along swimmingly. If your "friend" decides they want to climb the corporate ladder, it doesn't matter how often they were stepped on, disappointed, kicked around or otherwise ill-treated themselves when they were in your position: they're moving up in the world and they will step on, disappoint, kick around and otherwise ill-treat anyone necessary to claw their way up. Next thing you know, your "friend" is a Brand Manager who is flying first class to Antwerp while you're flying in coach in the back and who refuses to sign off on the $20 art release you need to move your project forward. Or your "friend" plays politics to get himself positioned as your boss so he can shitcan the work you've been doing the last year (to protect his other friends and their projects, or just to force you to do it his way because he thinks his way is better even though he has little to no actual experience in the product category). Hey, this guy who has only ever sold medical supplies for a living is your new boss and welcome to your new life of being fucked over by him every single day and thwarted in all you do. Woohoo, thanks corporate overlords!

Surely not, you say? Surely there are good people doing good work in corporate environments who aren't out to corporate climb or backstab their coworkers to get their way? I fully admit that. Not everyone is a wonk, a corporate apologist, or an asshole... unfortunately, even if they're in a position of some power it's only good as long as no one above them demands something different. Once Hasbro demands layoffs, those good people are either laid off or laying you off. It all goes along well until it doesn't. Our corporate strategy is X, Stay the X Course, X All the Way, X or Bust. Until it's Z. Now it's Z, Z all the way, Ice Cream Party for Z after the All Hands Meeting. Z til we drop.

What if the company has employed someone you can trust and treated them well? "Hey, my friend J has worked at that company for four years and he seems pretty happy." First off, good for J. I hope it stays that way! I'm happy for him, really... I'm not trying to bring people down or saying that it's impossible for anyone to have a good experience. I just can't take a lot of comfort in it for myself (or apply J's experience to anyone who isn't J). It could be that J is the Golden Boy, the untouchable hero who is good no matter what he does. Those guys exist. Or it could be that he's earned mad respect for his hard work and repeated successes: his work is called out in New York Times articles for being so noteworthy, big deals revolve around things he's done. Once again, experience shows that it doesn't matter how many kudos, how much good press, how many awards and nominations the company has received because of contributions directly traceable back to you, if someone in the wrong position decides that he wants it to be some other way, you're done for. Next thing you know the fact that you won an award is an offense (because it wasn't sanctioned by the company: see Dragon Fist and Ryan Dancey's subsequent coup to "fix" GAMA so no company should ever again be tarnished by winning an award for a game they didn't sanction being up for said award ahead of time) or you're being told to re-record that video game dialog because the Asian actors in the Asian setting sound Asian and they're hiring a new guy to take over portions of your job. "I was treated well for [time period]" can turn into "And now he's being shuffled off to Siberia" if the wrong person takes and interest or an offense to your successes.

Ok, that kind of sucks, but maybe going off to work for a smaller company funded by millionaires who aren't beholden to anyone else would be ok? Thanks to WotC, I'm still suspicious. There are plenty of people who became millionaires thanks to Wizards of the Coast. Going to work on their next "best thing since Magic" could be a stable job in a fun environment of supportive people... or it could be that you're laid off right before Christmas with three days notice and no severance.

Yes, my faith in human decency in the workplace is that low. Sure, weeks or months of good treatment can go a long way to encouraging my trust and goodwill but the WotC Experience is never far from my mind and I can't help but be on the lookout for the signs that it's all going to come crashing down: weeks of no communication while the clock ticks on deadline-driven matters, being told "I can't even begin to think about that issue now" on something crucial to moving projects forward, seemingly small things stacking up (meetings canceled on short notice and not rescheduled, not getting research materials or product support in a timely manner, key team members being cut out of the loop... like discovering the secret meeting about miniatures being held in a back room without inviting key members of the miniatures team, or how that RPG department has met to specifically address how to put mass combat rules into D&D products without involving the miniatures department who are supposedly working on the official D&D mass combat rules already...) or hearing about issues that affect you and should be addressed to you through co-workers or subordinates because the people who should be talking to you are talking to them instead. These are not signs that everyone is acting in good faith. Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!

I hope never to have to go through another hell-trial like the WotC Experience ever again in my life. No one should. Unfortunately, a little like someone who has been beaten or robbed or run over by a speeding truck, under the right circumstances I'm nagged by the worry, the fear that I'll have to live it again.