Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Restaurant Review: Shelter Lounge

Last night I went to dinner with my college friend and fellow journalism nerd, Cari. We decided to go to Shelter Lounge in Ballard because although it’s been there for quite a while now, I still hadn't found time to check it out. It’s kind of off the beaten path of the typical Ballard bar scene, but luckily regular my bus home dropped me literally right at the front door. We sat in the patio area out back which was super cute and kind of rustic with lots of wood and even a fire pit in the center. As I looked at the menu my eyes widened and I couldn’t decide which strange and delicious dish to try first! In the end, we ended up splitting some things…
Avocado Fries – Slices of avocado breaded and deep fried. Avocado is one of my absolute favorite foods (and I’m also a big fan of French fries), so of course these were absolutely fantastic.
PB&J Jalapeno Poppers – Panko breaded jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese and peanut butter. Served with a sweet, spicy jelly. I normally love jalapeno poppers, and these just sounded so bizarre I had to try them out for myself. They were very weird, but delicious!
Spicy Grilled Cheese – Pepper Jack, avocado and red onions, served with a chipotle aoli sauce, grilled on sourdough. Grilled cheese is another one of my faves, and I loved how this one had a fancy spicy kick.
Although the menu is kind of limited, every single item looked delicious and it was kind of nice to not be overwhelmed by a plethora of choices. Although we unfortunately missed it, they have happy hour from 4pm – 6pm daily, and I would love to go back sometime to order all of the other delicious treats on the menu that I missed. They also have some yummy looking specialty cocktails.
Our food and drinks ended up being around $37, which even without happy hour prices is a pretty inexpensive dinner for two people. And it was so fabulous to finally catch up with Cari, who moved back from Washington DC ages ago, but we still hadn’t found time to hang out. And even though I kind of had to roll myself in the door when I got home after eating so much friend food… What a lovely evening!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Steamboat Rock Camping Trip - Part 2

Enjoying the sunset... and wondering where the beach went.
Last Friday we headed back over the mountains to Steamboat Rock State Park on Banks Lake in Eastern Washington to spend the weekend camping with my parents. Originally it was going to be quite a large trip including siblings, aunts and uncles, etc. but some things came up at the last minute making it a double date weekend with Mom and Dad. My mom was really worried that we would be bored to tears, but we love camping and could bask in the sun for days on end, so we were still really looking forward to the trip.
It’s blazing hot in that part of the state this time of year, so we were really happy to be sleeping in the air conditioned motorhome instead of in our tent. And since my mom decided to be in charge of all the food this time we didn’t have to worry about shopping, food or coolers, so packing was nice and stress-free. Stew picked me up from work around noon and off we went.
My mom booked this camp site back in February and scored an amazing site in the north campground right along the lake. Normally, we could just head down the path toward the water and land right on our own private sandy beach, perfect for swimming and sunbathing all day long, with the motorhome just steps away whenever we needed a break. However, the Washington State Parks web site graciously informed us a few weeks ago that Banks Lake at Steamboat Rock State Park is being drawn down to accommodate a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation repair of the headworks at Dry Falls Dam in Coulee City. By Labor Day, the lake is expected to be down by 10 to 15 feet from traditional summer water levels, and “park visitor water access will be affected.” They were not kidding.
The water level was much lower than usual last weekend, but during the mere week we were away the lake had dropped at least another five feet or so. At our campsite, what would normally be a lovely sandy beach just feet from the water had turned into a dry and desolate landscape. To even reach the water we had to walk roughly 100 yards out over sand, mud and muck which eventually ended in stagnant pond water filled with dead weeds and garbage. There went our lakefront real estate.
The lovely beach at our campsite. Did I miss the memo about the Apocalypse?

Yeah, I don't think anyone is going to be launching their boat here.
Searching for a place to spend the day, the next morning we went down to the main boat launch area, which was completely blocked by sand and not usable. The whole area seriously looked like the apocalypse had hit the planet… it really sort of freaked me out. We walked for about a quarter mile down the beach before we reached an area that was suitable (barely) for swimming and sunbathing. It was so hot outside that we spent the remainder of our day sitting in the shade or floating in the lake. Although the conditions weren’t ideal it actually ended up being a perfect afternoon. I love lounging around in the sun doing nothing and that’s exactly what we did.
Normally we would be about 20 feet under water here!

An awesome rope swing we found - I think it's normally meant to go over the water.
For the past few years at Banks Lake there has always been a burn ban, so we were super excited to find out that this time we would be allowed to have a camp fire, one of my absolute favorite things about camping. That night we also spent a long time stargazing, something we never have the opportunity to do in the city.
It was such a relaxing trip (even though the lake wasn’t totally cooperative) and such a fantastic way to end a summer filled with camping trips.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Restaurant Review: Thaiku

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, we love Thai food. And although we don’t go out to eat very often, we will usually grab dinner on our way home from a weekend trip. It’s just easier (and way more appealing) than tackling grocery shopping and cooking. So this Sunday afternoon when we got back from our camping trip, we unpacked and cleaned up a bit and then walked down to a Thai restaurant in Ballard we had yet to have tried out, Thaiku. When we arrived the hostess informed us that it was happy hour in the bar, so we proceeded to the back of the restaurant and up some stairs to a dimly lit lounge area. The ambiance and décor was really cool, and we were greeted immediately by a very friendly waitress.

The happy hour price for appetizers was $4 so we ordered one of our favorites, Giow Tawt, which is crab meat and cream cheese wrapped in won ton, deep-fried and served with plum sauce. It was absolutely delicious. For our entrée Stew said we had to stick with our usual in order to do a comparison, so up came chicken Pahd Thai (3 stars) and beef Pahd See Iew (2 stars). The restaurant has a five star scale so I figured that should be just about right. The food was absolutely delicious with lots of flavor but man was it HOT! I felt like each dish had at least 4 or 5 stars and although I was able to eat it, I went through about six glasses of water and my lips and tongue were numb by the end. Stewart, of course, was fine.

Giow Tawt
Pahd See Iew and Pahd Thai
I also ordered a Diet Coke, but had to send it back because it tasted strangely like vodka, which I was not in the mood for. However, the second one the waitress brought out tasted just the same, but I didn’t really feel like drinking spit so I didn’t send it back a second time. I guess this would have been a pro if I had been looking for a free drink?

The only con we could see was we thought the portion sizes were a little small compared to what we are used to. But for a grand total of $29.44 it was definitely a delicious meal and a great end to our weekend.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mule Ops

Stewart emailed me this photo of him and the guys doing some training the last time he was on shift. I just had to share because it's so cute. Enjoy!

Mule Fire & Rescue Vehicle

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Review: The Help

It's as good as you've heard. Maybe even better. I seriously considered calling in sick to work twice this week so I could stay home and read it. In case you've been living under a rock, The Help by Kathryn Stockett tells the story of African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s.

The story is told from the point of view of three narrators: Aibileen Clark, a middle-aged African-American maid who has spent her life raising white children; Minny Jackson, an African-American maid whose back-talk towards her employers results in her having to frequently change jobs; and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a young white woman and recent college graduate who, after moving back home, discovers that a maid who helped raise her since childhood has abruptly disappeared. The stories of the three women intertwine to explain how life in Jackson, Mississippi revolves around "the help," with complex relations of power, money, emotion, and intimacy tying together the white and black families of Jackson.

I grew up in a different generation in a very different part of the country, so the concepts in this book were absolutely fascinating to me. Of course I am aware of what life was like during the civl rights movement, but the extremely personal perspectives shown in this book gave me insight that I never really had before. And although the book is fiction, Stockett herself grew up in Jackson with "help," and I think this lends her a huge amount of credibility.

Each and every character was well-written and relatable, even the nasty ones. And I loved the way the chapters were structured, switching between narrators. The book completely sucked me in from the first page, and I felt extreme disappointment when I finished it last night... I wanted more! That being said I thought the story wrapped up nicely and I was happy with the ending. Now I can't wait to see the movie!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Steamboat Rock Camping Trip - Part 1

Every summer we are lucky enough to get invited along on Stewart’s friend Brett’s family camping trips to a couple different locations across the state. Most recently we spent the weekend at Steamboat Rock State Park on Banks Lake in Eastern Washington. The drive takes just over four hours from our house, so I took some time off on Friday and we made it to the campground by early afternoon. We didn’t even pause to unpack our car before throwing on bathing suits and heading out in the boat for the rest of the day.

One of our absolute FAVORITE summer activities is wakesurfing. We tried it when it first started to get popular about four or five years ago and got completely hooked. It’s similar to wakeboarding but much easier (in my opinion) and lots more fun. When wakesurfing, the person follows behind an inboard ski boat, surfing the boat’s wake without being directly attached to the boat, and if you get the weight just right, the wake from the boat exactly mimics an actual ocean wave. Except because you’re creating the wave artificially, it never runs out and you can surf forever… or until you lose control and wipe out. Because there are no bindings on the surf board and you’re not holding onto a rope after you get up, nothing is jerking you around so you’re less likely to have a bad fall or be sore the next day. And because you surf close enough to the boat to talk to people on the back (and even have them hand you beers!) it’s a lot more social and entertaining. 
Our attempt to surf with two people on the board...

The weather last weekend was absolutely gorgeous… high 80s to low 90s every day with clear blue skies. Perfect for hours and hours of sunbathing and beach games followed by marathon wakesurfing sessions. And every evening we headed back to camp for delicious dinners and chit chat around the campfire until late into the night. I realize camping is a little weird (I mean, why would you pretend to be homeless?) but I absolutely love it. There’s nothing like getting out of the city and away from day to day life for a while, and spending time outside in the sun, water and fresh air. Plus food just tastes better when it’s cooked on a barbecue.
Home Run Derby Tournament
Boys can make anything into an adventure...
We did have some epic battles with mosquitos, and ran into some nasty traffic on the way home, but other than that our trip couldn’t have been more perfect. And ironically, we’re actually headed back to the same campground next weekend with my parents!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Downside of Shared Living

We really love our building. It was built in 2006 and has 31 modern style condominiums over underground parking, an expansive lobby and street front retail shops. The units are high end and have hardwood floors, walnut cabinets, slab granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. We also have gorgeous canal views, especially from the rooftop patio. Not to mention that we are steps away from tons of places to eat drink, shop and exercise. And although we only have one bedroom in less than 800 square feet, our unit is unique and homey and works just perfectly for us right now. We’re also on the fourth floor and the building is very secure, which makes me feel safe on those nights when Stewart is on shift and I’m home all by my lonesome. And for those moments when I happen to slice my thumb open with a kitchen knife, our neighbors are friendly and kind and always willing to lend a helping hand.

That being said, we’re really starting to experience the downside of shared living. We’ve managed to end up with some Nasty Neighbors at the end of our floor. We knew when they moved in because suddenly the entire hallway began to reek of cigarette smoke. And although the communal hallway carpet has remained pristine for the past five years, within a few months the new tenants had managed to track black grease stains, dirt and drips from the elevator to their unit. Along with stains and liquid splash marks along the walls leading to their doorway. Each morning as I wait for the elevator, I hear people in there screaming either on the telephone or at one another. I’m really glad we don’t have any joining walls.

A few weeks ago I waited in the lobby for nearly 10 minutes for the elevator. There’s no stair access from that level, or I would have walked up. When it finally arrived, one of Nasty Neighbor’s teenager kids shoved out with four or five of her friends, giggling. I stepped in and proceeded to stop at each and every floor on the way back up… yes, they had in fact pushed every single button as they got out. Ha ha, very funny.

Worse than that, we recently found out that the reason the ceiling of our lobby had to be ripped out and replaced was because of water damage from Nasty Neighbors… they have overflowed their bathtub not once, not twice, but SIX times! This caused extensive water damage all the way from the fourth floor down through the lobby. The two insurance companies are currently fighting over who will cover the damage, but if it ends up going through our building’s homeowner insurance… guess whose HOA dues will go up? Awesome.

And as icing on the cake, we got home from vacation today to find out that there had been a fire on the roof over the weekend. Although smoking is prohibited up there, someone left a cigarette butt smoldering in one of the planters, which lit up and had to be put out by the fire department. If it hadn’t been discovered by another resident Sunday morning, the entire building could have burned down, so we were very lucky. But guess who has to pay for extensive repairs on the roof? That’s right… the homeowners. Now I don’t have proof that it was Nasty Neighbors who were smoking upstairs, but after their displays of blatant disregard for personal property, I’d probably bet a good chunk of change on it.

We’re still not sure if Nasty Neighbors are renting or if they actually own the unit, but they’ve really put a bad taste in our mouths about shared space. It sucks how one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. I can’t wait until we have a whole house and yard to ourselves, so when something gets ruined we know we have no one to blame but each other.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review: Black Dagger Brotherhood

Oh my goodness I can’t believe I’m doing this, but since so many people are interested in my book nerd tendencies I’m going to go out on a limb and review a recent guilty indulgence… The Black Dagger Brotherhood. A good friend read this whole series and recently lent me the first four books. So far I’ve read the first two books in this paranormal romance series by J.R. Ward and it’s been a wonderful summer indulgence.

The books focus on six vampire brothers and warriors who live together and defend their race against Lessers, de-souled humans who threaten their kind. I know, I know, it sounds completely ridiculous but it didn’t take more than a few pages before I was completely sucked in. I believe there are nine total books in the series and even though they’re all between 400-500 pages, each one really only takes a few days to read. I’ve been mixing them in between other more notable titles just for fun… now I’m hooked and I’ll probably end up reading the whole series.

Don’t judge!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Restaurant Review: Matt's in the Market

Today at lunch I went out with a few people from my office to celebrate a co-workers birthday at a restaurant I had not been to or even heard of before, Matt’s in the Market.

Located on the third floor of the Corner Market Building, the restaurant is a fun little hideaway. We arrived just in time for our 12:15 reservation, which we were lucky to have made in advance because the restaurant was jam packed with tourists and local lunch-breakers. Our table had a fantastic view of the Market’s famous clock through gorgeous arched windows. We savored every bite of the delicious food and it was the perfect lunch outing to break up a very long and stressful day. At $15 - $25 per entrée your bill can add up quickly, but luckily my manger picked up the tab this time. My meal was absolutely FANTASTIC.

Don & Joe’s lamb burger with goat cheese, bacon, herb aioli
and onion jam on brioche with a garbanzo bean-sultana salad
Being right in Pike Place Market means the restaurant has tons of fresh food right at its fingertips, and each day the chef creates a menu based on the best ingredients the market has to offer that day. I would definitely recommend Matt's in the Market to anyone working or visiting downtown, but call to make a reservation first!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fancy Schmancy Work Party

At the party with my incredibly helpful admin team.
I threw a big fancy party for work this past Saturday, the planning and coordinating of which has been consuming my life for the past month or so. (All the event planning I do for work really should make planning our wedding a breeze, right?) The party was to celebrate the completion of a large building my company just opened, as well as the beginning of a brand new project breaking ground in the fall. Guests included members of the development, construction and architectural teams, and about 150 people showed up to celebrate. After all the stress of planning was over with, the event turned out to be fantastic and a lot of fun!  

Branded gifts for all the team members.
A signature at our company parties is our unique coursed dinners, which include giving guests “dance cards” as they arrive which instruct them as to which table they will be sitting at for each course. Following a cocktail hour and appetizers, each person finds their assigned table for the first course. After enjoying salad paired with white wine and a short speech, each person then gets up and moves to their next table. Here they get to chat with different party guests while they eat their main course (paired with red wine) and listen to several more speeches. This is followed by another round of musical chairs ending with their final table including dessert and champagne and final remarks.
Past / Present / Future Centerpieces.
As you can guess, putting all of this together was quite time consuming. I had to select a venue and caterer, design and send invitations, coordinate RSVPs, food and wine pairings. I helped my boss design unique centerpieces representing the “past, present and future” nature of the celebration, along with many personalized and branded gifts for the project team members. I also created a looping video featuring project photos from the past four years as well as a time lapse video of the building’s construction.
For this event we selected Lisa Dupar Catering, and what an amazing choice! I would highly recommend this catering company to anyone… the food was absolutely delicious and the service was outstanding. There were several options for each course but here's what I got to enjoy -- YUM!
First Course: Pepper Arugula Salad with shaved asiago, Belgian endive,
raspberry sherry vinaigrette & curried spiced walnuts.

Second Course: Grilled Apple Butter Glazed Beef Tenderloin with herbed
chevre Yukon gold mashers, young green beans & pommery sage jus.

Third Course: Seattle Angel Food Short Cake with espresso
mascarpone whipped cream & seasonal berries.
Now that the event is finally over I feel a huge sense of relief and I’m looking forward to getting back to my real job! Until next time...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Restaurant Review: Thai Thani Kitchen

Feeling tired and too lazy to hit the grocery store after driving back from Idaho, we decided to grab takeout for dinner on Monday night. We've been trying to replace our favorite Thai restaurant ever since we moved to Ballard, and although we did discover one in Fremont that is a close second (and it's also open on Sundays), we've really wanted to find a delicious Thai place right in our own neighborhood. So we were thrilled when we noticed that the old Subway on Market Street had moved on to make way for Thai Thani Kitchen. I called in an order for our favorites: Chicken Pad Thai and Beef Pad See Ew with a side of brown rice. We walked down and picked it up for a grand total of $26.29 from the newly renovated restaurant which even showcased a vintage rickshaw out front. The inside is clean and simply decorated and we were politely greeted by a cheerful girl up front. The food was very delicious. But their spiciness is on a four star scale so be careful if you can't handle the heat! Considering the yummy taste, friendly service, and convenient location I'd say we'll definitely be back soon for more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lakehouse Vacation

For the past few years Stewart's family has been renting a cabin at Priest Lake in Idaho for a few weeks every summer. Stew's dad, Russ, and his wife, Patty, decided that they love the lake so much that this past winter they purchased a lake front home on Cavanaugh Bay, and they spent the spring remodeling it to their liking. Stew and I decided to tackle the seven hour drive and headed over for a four-day weekend to relax and ignore life for a while. It was well worth the trip!

Whenever I'm at Priest Lake I feel like I've stumbled upon a lost paradise. The sun is always shining over crystal clear waters and a bright blue sky with fluffy clouds. You can lay on the dock basking in the sun and a cool breeze for hours. Because the lake is so huge it never feels crowded with boats or people, and everyone you pass or meet is super friendly.

When we arrived we started with a tour of the Alway's amazing house, which is situated up on the hill above the lake with several sets of stairs leading down to the beach and dock. It really has the feeling of a Swiss Family Robinson tree house! The inside is comfortable and homey and I'm not surprised at all that Russ and Patty decided to move themselves and their two cats to the lake for the entire summer.

On Friday morning we headed out for a hike to explore a place we'd heard of called Slippery Rock. We drove up a long windy dirt road before arriving at the trail head and beginning a gorgeous hike through the forest. Although as I hiked through the backwoods of Idaho I did have a fleeting thought that what we were doing was eerily similar to a movie I once saw... Creepy thoughts aside, we waded through a section of the river and shortly after arrived at Slippery Rock, which is an amazing natural rock water slide! This also reminded Stewart of a movie and I expected him to immediately slide down shouting,"Hey you guys!!"

Saturday was my self proclaimed "lounge around the lake" day. I sunbathed and read books and wedding magazines until poor Stewart couldn't stand it any longer and begged me to go out on the boat with him. That silly boy just doesn't appreciate sunbathing! We spent the afternoon driving around in the boat exploring various shores, islands and coves before heading back to have a delicious dinner at Cavanaugh Bay Resort, which is just a ten minute walk away. There is also live music and we got to meet lots of the Alway's super friendly neighbors.

Another reason we were anxious to get to the lake was to give Russ his birthday present: a guided fishing trip. We arrived at the dock to meet our guide at 6 a.m. on Sunday. He was the epitome of an Idaho fisherman sporting flannel and a droopy mustache. We soon got used to his gruff demeanor and spent the next couple hours getting to know his life story... but unfortunately not catching any fish. I was worried that Stew's bad luck had followed us out onto the lake when suddenly we got a bite. From then on we started hauling them in! We ended up taking home nine of the biggest trout I have ever seen. And grilled up on the barbecue they made an amazing lunch, yum!  

I spent the rest of the day either in the boat or on the dock trying to decide if I really needed to rejoin the real world... or just stay at the lake house forever and maybe turn tricks occasionally to make ends meet. Our lives have been so busy and stressful lately that it really revived my soul for a minute to spend a few days just doing whatever we wanted... sleeping in, watching movies, cooking, eating, hiking, reading boating, fishing and just spending time with each other doing nothing. 

We can't WAIT until the next time we get to go back! 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

I decided to join my office book club and this month's pick was Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The book is only about 350 pages, but it still took me almost a month to get through. I finally finished it this past weekend.

The title comes from a Balti proverb: "Here we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything -- even die."

I was struck by this quote and looked forward to reading the book. It describes Mortenson's transition from a registered nurse and mountain climber to a humanitarian committed to reducing poverty and promoting education for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After beginning his efforts, Mortenson became co-founder of the Central Asia Institute, a non-profit group that oversees the building and operation of schools for children in remote areas where few education opportunities exist.

This past spring, right as we assigned Three Cups of Tea as our book for July, allegations began to surface that a number of claims in Mortenson's book are false, and that he has been mismanaging the Central Asia Institute's funds. Oh no... this felt like a James Frey situation all over again. Still, it made me even more interested in hearing the story, so I decided to read the book for myself and do some research before drawing any conclusions.

The book begins by describing Mortenson's failed attempt to climb K2 in 1993, which subsequently led him to stumble upon a tiny village called Korphe. The community helped nurse him back to health, and to repay them for their hospitality, Mortenson promised to build the village's children a school. Back in America, he struggled to raise money but eventually met a wealthy donor who gave him the money for the Korphe school and also helped him co-found the Central Asia Institute. The rest of the book documents Mortenson's struggles to build more than 55 schools in Taliban territory.

I really appreciated the main messages in Mortenson's novel: extremism in this part of the world can be deterred through efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to school for children, and that educating girls has a lasting benefit on a community. However, I did not enjoy the book as much as I had hoped. It did not hold my interest and I found the names of people and places hard to keep track of. Also, as the story went on I felt that it was increasingly filled with political propaganda which I do not care for.

That being said, I was definitely inspired by what Mortenson was able to accomplish. I did some research into the allegations against him and the Central Asia Institute, and it seems to remain unclear whether the claims of money mismanagement are founded or not. But the book did show that one ordinary person really can make a difference in the world with a little bit of character and determination.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gettin' Hitched - Yee Haw!

“Crystal and Hans, when I look at you together, I feel a whirlwind of emotions. Separately, you are two amazing people, but together you are complete. I know that Crystal has found her true match and I know that your marriage will be a wonderful adventure. You may occasionally disagree on some things (like who actually got to hold Jason Aldean’s hand at Country Thunder, or whether or not “hippie” is considered a color), but something you can definitely agree on is that you were made for each other.

My wishes for Crystal and Hans are that they enjoy success and laughter; that they are blessed with children; and that they always see and talk with their hearts. But my greatest wish for the two of you is that through the years, your love for each other will grow so much that years from now you will look back on this day, your wedding day, as the day you loved each other the least.

Here’s to love, laughter, and happily ever after. Cheers!”

Howdy! This past weekend Stewart and I attended the wedding of my dearest friend Crystal, and I’m telling y’all, it was a pretty fantastic hoedown. Above are just a few words from my obligatory Maid of Honor speech. I felt so honored that Crystal asked me to stand beside her on one of the most important days of her life. Although I reckon that speaking in front of so many people was just about the most nerve wracking thing I have ever experienced. Don’t worry, when it was all said and done I moseyed on over to my good friend Jack Daniels and we had a serious celebration. Here are some of my favorite pictures that capture this amazing weekend…

The morning after... sign of a good wedding.

I'm so happy for Crystal & Hans, and I'm incredibly excited for them to start their new life together. And now onward to planning my own wedding!