Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: Rage of Angels

As I've mentioned in the past, when you join a book club you are often at the mercy of the literary tastes of others. This has led me to discover some of my very favorite books, and it has also forced me into reading some things that, in my humble opinion, have been an incredible waste of time.

I wouldn't say that Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon was completely terrible, but I definitely wish that my time could have been spent reading something more my own style. Alas, I am too nice for my own good, and I couldn't bring myself to skip one of the office book club picks and risk hurting the feelings of the person who chose it, so onto my library waiting list it went.

When the book arrived, it actually had one of those pockets in the front that holds a card with stamped due dates on it. This book was published in 1980 and whoa, was it dated.

The novel revolves around young attorney Jennifer Parker, who after working for just 24 hours at the district attorney's office in Manhattan finds her career ambitions dashed by a Mafia prince. After being framed for threatening a chief witness against the mob, being fired, and threatened with disbarrment, Jennifer somehow manages to rise as a successful New York lawyer. As the story progresses, Jennifer becomes romantically involved with a married famous politician, as well as the Mafia man who framed her early in her career. Things basically just spiral out unrealistically from there.

The story continually twists and turns as we watch Jennifer's morals and ethics fall to the wayside as she is sucked into the inner workings of the Mafia. I personally thought Jennifer really lacked any true character or conviction, which made me feel very little sympathy for her situation. And the ending was, in a word, lackluster.

If you are sitting in an airport with nothing else to read and no one to talk to, and you don't have to pay money for this book, I'd say take a crack at it. But other than that, with so many other amazing books out there in the world... don't waste your time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Baked Brie

I volunteered to bring an appetizer to Thanksgiving at the Alway's this year, and I decided to try Baked Brie. Brie cheese wrapped in pastry and baked until it has thoroughly melted inside is one of the world's easiest yet tastiest appetizers. I had never actually made it before, but my friend made it for book club last weekend and it was so delicious I decided it was definitely what I wanted to make for Thanksgiving. In this recipe the brie is topped with raspberry jam, surrounded with pastry and drizzled with maple syrup.   

Baked Brie 
  • 1 large sheet of puff pastry dough
  • 1 round of Brie cheese (do not remove rind)
  • Raspberry jam
  • Brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup of maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. If you want, start with chilled brie and use a sharp knife to carefully cut off the thin top rind of the cheese. This may help the crust stay with the cheese when served. The rind is edible so you don't have to do this step if you don't want to. On a stick-free cookie sheet, lay out the puff pastry; put the brie round on top. Spread jam on brie, fold dough over top, cutting off excess dough. Drizzle maple syrup and place a handful of brown sugar on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes; pastry should be golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with crackers and apple slices.

If you can't find puff pastry dough you can also use one tube of refrigerated crescent dinner rolls, and you can use any kind of sweet jam you want. I used seedless raspberry. You can also use a wedge of brie if you can't find rounds, but I think that would take away from the presentation a lot. According to the recipe, the whole thing can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, which means you will still have ample time for other more fun Thanksgiving activities like watching football, playing board games, and arguing with siblings.

As per usual when I attempt cooking, I ran into some problems. Since brie was buy one get one free at QFC I decided to just make two and put them in the oven with the Thanksgiving ham, which was set to cook at 325 degrees. I figured no big deal and added 10 minutes to my cook time. But when I checked on the brie, the dough was still completely raw and the topping wasn't melted at all. It took another 30 minutes before it was ready to come out of the oven, so over an hour total in the oven and I'm still not sure the dough was entirely cooked through. So next time I'll try making just one and putting it in all by itself at the correct temperature, I guess. Two ended up being way too much for 10 guests, but everyone seemed to like really like it and I got lots of compliments, so a moderate success, I guess.  
Bon appétit!

Monday, November 26, 2012

An Alway Family Thanksgiving

Well, nothing says Happy Thanksgiving like the stomach flu. But I'll get to that a little later.

Stew and I headed out of town on Wednesday afternoon at about 2pm. Three and a half hours later we arrived in Olympia, just 60 miles south. I knew the traffic would be terrible, but I had no idea it would be that bad! (Remind me next year to just go ahead and take the entire day off work and head south at the crack of dawn). But eventually we arrived at the Alway's in Vancouver ready for a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

Patty bought me this adorable apron so I
could help in the kitchen this year.
Getting the turkey and all the yummy sides ready.

Beautiful table and delicious appetizers.

After noon... time to open the wine!

Lounging around in sweats watching football...
What could be more Thanksgiving than that?!

The rest of the family arrives...

David & Ginger enjoying pre-dinner drinks.

Tracy and Kelly... cheers!

Stew being childish.

The Thanksgiving feast.

Annual picture of Russ and John in their aprons. Cute, guys.

Lovely dinner table... we all have so much to be thankful for!

Before and after shots. That's Stew's "after" plate. I didn't actually
eat much of my dinner because I was already starting to feel queasy...

John and Kelly.

Bunco! Many years, after Thanksgiving dinner is over we have a Bunco tournament.
So much fun! Here I am at the loser table with Tracy, Russ and Bryon.

Kelly and Patrick, still at Table 2.

Dessert, food coma, and nap time! I never did eat any dessert...

Tabitha LOVES Stew.

It was at about this point that I started throwing up, which continued (among other unpleasant things) for the next 12 hours straight. Let me tell you, vomiting every 30 minutes in a house full of my in-laws is not my favorite way to spend a holiday. And I'm not sure stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes will ever seem appealing again.

My inopportune timing meant the inevitable cancellation of a Black Friday shopping day with Patty and Mom, which I was really looking forward to. It also meant there would be no visit with the Wells family on Saturday (they had also come down with the bug). Instead, I watched slept on the couch while the Huskies got smacked down by the Cougars, and on Saturday managed to leave the house to watch the Civil War (U of O vs. OSU) game with Stew's extended family. A nauseating ride to Olympia followed, and I spent Sunday on the couch at home watching the Dolphins beat the Hawks in a frustrating loss.

If I hadn't been fighting off body aches, hot and cold flashes, nausea and stomach cramps, it would have been a very relaxing weekend filled with food, family, and football. I'm so bummed that I ended up being such a party pooper (literally? ew) but at least Thanksgiving day was fun before the nasty little bug attacked. I'm still on the mend. On the bright side, at least I don't have to worry about packing on any extra holiday pounds.

But we hope that everyone else had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

In addition to my office book club, I also participate in a book club with some girlfriends, but because of our wedding and then busy summer schedules, last weekend was the first time I saw them in a really long time. However, I've always made a point to read all of the books they selected, even when I couldn't come to the meeting. The only one I missed completing in a timely manner was A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, but I finally finished it this week!

A Discovery of Witches is the first novel in the All Souls Trilogy, which follows the story of Diana Bishop, a historian and reluctant witch, as she solves the mystery of Ashmole 782, falls in love with a mysterious vampire named Matthew Clairmont, and learns how powerful it can be to accept who you are (according to the web site).

I really enjoyed this book, which begins in a library in Oxford where Diana, a young scholar, unknowingly calls up a bewitched manuscript in the course of her research. Although Diana is descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, she wants nothing to do with magic, so although she recognizes that the book is enchanted, she sends it back to the stacks. But her discovery sets in motion a horde of daemons, witches and vampires who descend on her, intent to get their hands on the manuscript, which has been lost for centuries. One of these creatures is Matthew, a professor of biochemistry and a vampire, with whom Diana falls quickly and deeply in love.

This is an addictive read that combines history, magic, romance and suspense. The characters are compelling and likable, although I sometimes wished Diana was a bolder heroine (she spends a fair amount of time swooning and moping for someone who supposedly possesses incredible powers). Matthew followed the typical outline of a modern day vampire, with his pale, cold skin, impressive strength and speed, and secretive personality. He quickly falls for Diana and begins to exhibits ridiculous, over-the-top protective instincts that sometimes made me cringe (forcing her to eat, lie down, or refrain from jumping a fence with a horse), but overall Matthew was a pretty likable character.

The book was a suspenseful page turner until the end, where the reader is left with a cliff hanger, which I found somewhat annoying since I don't have time to read the second book in the trilogy right now. But overall I think A Discovery of Witches is a fun, well-written book and I'd definitely recommend it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Slow Cooker Black Beans and Rice

Wow, it's been a really long time since I posted anything about cooking! I was doing pretty well there for a while trying new recipes, but since our condo went on the market I haven't really been able to use our kitchen (I'm a really messy cook), so I've taken quite the hiatus. But this past weekend I was doing some chores which included organizing our pantry, and I came across some large containers of black beans and rice that were left over from a party at my boss's house. So I decided it was time to use them.

Slow Cooker Black Beans and Rice 
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper

Soak beans overnight in water. In the morning, drain and rise. Cook soaked beans for an hour in a saucepan with at least two inches of water over the beans. Place olive oil into slow cooker. Stir rice around in the olive oil. Add cooked black beans, diced tomatoes, garlic cloves, ground cumin, salt and pepper, AND two cups of water. Set on high for four hours.

Let me just clarify that if I didn't already have dry black beans in my pantry I would NEVER cook them from scratch like this again. What a royal pain in the behind. I know it's supposed to be super cheap to purchase and cook them this way, but my time has value, too! In any case it felt good to use them up. I also used diced tomatoes and green chilies because that's what I had on hand, and that gave the dish a nice little spicy kick. I actually had enough ingredients to make two batches, and to the second one I added two frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts for Stew. That worked okay except for some reason the beans and rice in that batch were a little underdone, so I guess if you add chicken add a little more time.

This is a great comfort food recipe and it makes a ton of servings that you can stack up in your fridge or freezer and reheat throughout the week. If you're not vegetarian you can add chicken or another protein, and I like adding avocado and ranch dressing on top.

Bon appétit!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekend Review

We hope that everyone had a lovely weekend! Ours was very busy but very productive.

It really all started on Thursday evening when I met up with my dear friend Amanda for happy hour at Rock Bottom. We had planned on going to Hard Rock Cafe because I still haven't been there, but it was closed for a private event. Rock Bottom ended up being a great choice though; I always forget how great their happy hour is! We had two beers each plus shared three large appetizers and only spent $20 a piece!

On Friday I had lunch at Wild Ginger with a former co-worker where I ordered the Pad Thai with tofu... Wild Ginger seriously makes my favorite pad thai in the entire city, and the vegetarian version of it is super delicious as well!

That evening we went to Cinebarre with our Sunday Dinner buddies and saw Argo. If you haven't seen this movie yet I suggest you do so immediately! It's the best film I've seen in a long time, with edge-of-your-seat suspense throughout. Also, if you've never checked out Cinebarre you should do that, too. It's a 21 and over theater where you order dinner and drinks during the movie... really fun!

Saturday we woke up bright and early to clean the house and head up to Snoqualmie Ridge to check out the property and measure out where our patio is going to go. Some more of the framing is done, which was exciting, but it was a very muddy tromp to the backyard to figure out the patio situation. What a dilemma. How big of a patio do we want? Do we want a larger patio because it's sort of an extension of our living space, or do we want a smaller patio so it doesn't take away from the small-ish backyard? We decided on something medium, 12'x16', which I think we'll be really happy with.

Slowly but surely!
Next we had to stop in Southcenter for my appointment at Renew Beauty Med Spa, where I am having laser underarm hair removal done. Has anyone else done this? I've been to three sessions already with no results and I'm starting to get discouraged.

We spent the rest of the afternoon volunteering at Fred Meyer in Auburn collecting cash and toys for the firefighter annual holiday Toys for Kids drive. Some people were so, so generous it was really amazing! One woman put in $100! Apparently her house burned down earlier this year and she really wanted to give back to the firefighters who came to her aid. That one almost brought tears to my eyes...

Saturday night was super duper exciting. We rented The Vow and watched it while eating sushi and frozen pizza. I fell asleep for about the middle third of the movie. Jeez, we're old.

Sunday I was up bright and early for my very first Flywheel cycling class with my friends Lindsee and Heather. Ohmygod what an amazing class! I've been to the generic cycling class at my gym before, but this one was so much better! It took me a while to get used to the clip in shoes and the seat was pretty uncomfortable, but other than that I loved everything about it. The instructor was fantastic and I loved how the room is dark and the music is extremely loud, it just really gets you pumped up and in the zone. Panting and pouring sweat for 45 really got me motivated for the rest of the day!

After a few hours of chores around the house I headed to Book Club with some girlfriends who I haven't seen for the longest time. I missed Book Club a lot in the months before and after our wedding, so it was great to get together with everyone again. This month's book was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn which everyone else loved just as much as I did.

While I was at Book Club, Brett came over for a little football, beer, and manly bonding time with Stew. The Hawks had a bye this week and unfortunately Stew's fantasy team played absolutely tragically, so it wasn't the greatest football Sunday, but we still had fun with our friends.

Whew! It was a whirlwind weekend and it went by way too fast, but at least it's a short week before we head down to Vancouver to spend Thanksgiving with the Always... I'm already counting down the hours until we depart.

Did you have a good weekend?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Strong Foundation

Stew had a pre-construction meeting this morning at our property and the foundation has been poured... super exciting! As the site agent warned us, the foundation footprint and the yard look super small at this point, and she said we'll probably feel like that for a while until everything starts to come together. But the framing will be up in only about five more weeks and at that point it will really start to seem like home, I think.

Right now it's hard for me to visualize the floor plan because the model home is a mirror image of how our house will be, and it's hard for me to imagine the floor plan backward. But once the walls go up we'll really be able to start daydreaming about our finished home.

Ever since King County Metro made huge changes to the bus routes back in September, commuting between Ballard and downtown Seattle has become even more of a nightmare for me. The other night I left work at 8:30pm and it took me three different buses, a 20 minute walk, and 1.5 hours to get home (have I mentioned we live 5 miles from my office?)

Needless to say, I am over living in the city!

I just can't wait to move into our lovely little home in suburbia, where my commute will consist of a quick 30 minute ride on an express bus full of other Eastside commuters. This house can't go up quickly enough!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Seahawks Game 10

Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Jets...
WIN: 28-7.

We arrived a little bleary-eyed to the tailgate this Sunday after a late night on Saturday at the Husky game, but it didn't take us long to regain our energy.

It was really nice to just sit back and watch a low-stress game that we were pretty much guaranteed to win. The games are starting to get colder the further we get into the season, and this game required lots of layers, hand warmers, and a cup of hot chocolate at halftime. We were still a little damp after walking through the pouring rain to the car after the game though. Welcome to winter in the Pacific Northwest.

We had a great weekend even though we spent most of it at CenturyLink Stadium. What was everyone else up to?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Go Purple, Be Gold

On Saturday night we joined some of my team members to watch the University of Washington Huskies take on the Utah State Utes. (What is a Ute, by the way?) It was a great game which we won 34 to 15. I don't care much about college football, but I'll admit that the games are really super high energy and pretty exciting.

We stopped at Collins Pub for a drink and some dinner before walking
down to CenturyLink Field. It was pretty cool arriving after dark.
The Huskies are playing at the Clink until their new stadium renovation is
complete. It was weird to see all the purple in the stands when we're
so used to Seahawks colors.
Stew representing with a dub-yah.
Jess and I all bundled up... night games are COLD!

Somehow no matter what team we watch we always end up right next to
the visitor's section!

Go Dawgs!
The most annoying thing about college football to me is that they don't really sell alcohol at the games. All the regular concession stands were closed and we had to go down to the ground level to a special outdoor beer garden to get a beer at halftime. The line was absolutely insane and by the time we reached the front the second half had already begun. So we had to down freezing cold beers as fast as we could before climbing back to the upper level to our seats. Why not just open the regular concession stands and ID people like at NFL games? I can't imagine how much revenue the UW is missing out on by doing it this way. Must be due to some silly rule.

We finally tucked ourselves into bed a little after 1 a.m. and set the alarm for bright and early so we could head right back down to the stadium for Seahawks tailgating in just a few hours... maybe we should have just pitched a tent?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Glass Garden Dinner Party

Our event took place in this amazing space.
My company is celebrating a very important anniversary this year, and to celebrate we all attended an amazing event last night at Chihuly Garden and Glass in the Seattle Center. This amazing exhibition explores the inspiration and influences of Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly. It features a comprehensive selection of his work including both indoor and outdoor spaces, and a new Glasshouse.

"I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in a way they have never experienced." ~ Dale Chihuly
Our event began with time for a social hour and viewing of the exhibit. I was completely overwhelmed by the elaborate installations that flow onto floors, walls, ceilings and the outdoors. The shapes and colors were simply breathtaking!

Afterward we had a delicious seated dinner followed by a program and additional social time.

The menu, which I helped select, was melt-in-your-mouth amazing. It started with a garden salad followed by Roasted Delicata Squash Soup which was probably the best soup I've ever had in my life. So rich, creamy and delicious, I can still taste it... My entree was Sundried Tomato and Goat Cheese Ravioli with rainbow chard, Pistachio brown butter and grilled bread, and Stew had the Double R Ranch Waygu Style Beef Filet in red wine butter (actually he had two, because the person who was supposed to sit next to me didn't show up!) We were in heaven. Dessert was Strawberry Rhubarb Croustade with marscarpone cream.

Seriously, if you ever get the chance to eat here, do it. I hear the food in the Cafe is equally amazing.

It was a wonderful evening of celebration and I only wish it could have lasted a little longer... and that we both didn't have to work the next morning!