Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Deck the halls

There's a lot to hate about the holiday season, but I'm not gonna go there. This blog is all about love, and what I love about this season is the decorations. My favorites in my neighborhood are at Paper Delights (which, incidentally, also had Halloween decorations that stopped me in my tracks). How pretty are these?

Besides all the beautiful cards, there's also some amazing wrapping paper there. My favorite is this faux bois.
I didn't realize it, but Paper Delights has lots of actually useful but still beautiful gift items, from Dwell Studio baby puzzles to Baggallini shoulder bags. I can't name all the goodies I found there because certain readers might find something from this store under the tree!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yam with marshmallows

At this time of year I become obsessed with sweet potatoes, or rather yams, which we tend to call sweet potatoes. Confusing, I know, but whatever you call them, I am referring to the long, orange root vegetable, which I find much tastier than the yellowish root vegetable. Anyway, on Thanksgiving Chris makes a very delicious dish from his grandmother's recipe which consists of yams baked until they're very mushy, mixed with copious amounts of butter and brown sugar and baked in a casserole dish with marshmallows on top. I seriously could eat the whole pan every time he makes it -- it's amazing. But really, you can make a much healthier version that's just as yummy.

I bake a yam at 400 degrees for 75 minutes, then broil some mini marshmallows on top. No butter or sugar needed! This is what I had for lunch today. One of the perks of working at home.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

B is for books

Never mind Seattle, I can't think of a bookstore I love more in the whole world than Alphabet Soup. This kids' bookstore in a tiny blue cottage on Wallingford's N 45th Street is bursting with charm -- and books. From board books to the thick Harry Potter tomes -- both new and gently used -- there's something for everyone, including an amazing, carefully curated selection of vintage. The displays are clearly created with love. A week or so ago there was a case of picture books front and center celebrating the city's first snow of the season. Books about transportation are corralled in a boat-shaped bookcase. On fine days, racks of picture books on the sidewalk encourage browsers. A tiny table and chairs invite toddlers to explore the picture books in the cozy back corner. If you don't have kids to shop for, there is a small selection of books for grown-ups, and a large selection of exquisite vintage-style greeting cards. Also: Free gift wrap! Every detail of this store is so appealing that I practically quiver with delight every time I go in.

I was happy to learn that Alphabet Soup just celebrated its seventh birthday and I hope it will have many more. One thing to note before you go: It's only open on Thursdays through Sundays. But if you like children's books as much as I do, Alphabet Soup is a shopping destination worth going out of your way for. I'm so lucky I live close by and can stop in often!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Boom Noodle

I always get the coconut curry and Oscar always gets the Tokyo ramen at Boom Noodle, but the menu of soups, ramen and small plates is extensive. There's pho, udon, soba, pad Thai, yakisoba, okonomiyaki, pork buns, edamame, spring rolls...pretty much all the favorites. The coconut curry is served with fresh basil, jalepeno and bean sprouts that you can add to taste, a touch that elevates the experience above your average ramen shop. The cocktail menu is also enticing: shiso mojito, anyone? Bloody Mary-chan? Yuzu marguarita?

There are three Boom Noodle restaurants in Seattle, but I've only been to the one in U Village, an outdoor mall inhabited by retailers like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. Due to its convenience for shoppers, this branch tends to attract a high percentage of families and children, but the spartan interior is lovely and serene.


There's plenty of crap food in Seattle, and as we try new restaurants we've been disappointed more times than we've been pleased with the cuisine. (In particular, the Mexican food is vastly inferior to that in the Bay Area, and "bland" seems to be the chefs' preferred spice in these parts.) On the bright side, Greek food seems much more prevalent here, and one restaurant Oscar and I discovered during our first days here has become a family favorite: Costa's Restaurant in the U District.

Today's breakfast of a Greek scramble, with olives, onions, spinach and feta, had just the right proportions of everything. And you can get fruit instead of hash browns! The Greek salad is also just right, and Oscar's favorites are the Avgolemono (chicken soup with rice and whipped egg-lemon sauce) and the prawns and spaghetti. Chris favors the gyros.

The decor is certainly lacking, reminiscent of an '80s fern bar, and on weekends Costa's fills with purple-clad students and parents headed to the UW football games. It's a roomy, family-type place with hearty portions, free coffee refills, and lots of newspapers and magazines to linger over. Perfect for family dining, but I would also happily eat here by myself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Seattle has a reputation for bad weather, specifically, rain. Yet I've had no complaints about the weather over the past four months. Sure, the fall has been colder than I'm used to, but it's refreshing, and if you wear gloves and a scarf, no big deal. And yeah, it's rained sometimes -- a few times all day -- but nothing extreme. An umbrella and hat have kept me entirely dry.

Yesterday it started raining. And last night, the winds grew so strong that the cushion from my outside chair blew away. It's been raining hard all day and it's also cold (currently 44 degrees). When I check the weather app on my iPhone, the rain icon shows up for the entire next week. And it's getting dark at 4:30 pm. Suddenly, leaving the house doesn't seem like such a good idea. This is what everyone complains about! Winter is here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wide World Books & Maps

No trips planned for the immediate future? Enough travel bags to last a lifetime? Only use online travel guides? You'll still find something to buy or covet at Wide World Books & Maps. It's a browser's paradise with the usual useful and latest gear, but also other delights of fine design and even a thoughtfully curated selection of novels for those of us who travel only via armchair.

I was tempted by this lovely Taxi wallet featuring Paris, and another featuring San Francisco. If only I needed a wallet! I'm considering getting some of their massive selection of maps to frame as home decor. I love them all -- antique, city, world, transportation; how will I decide? The Lonely Planet "Not for Parents" guides for kids seem perfect for getting tweens excited about popular destinations, with info about weird food, gargoyles, martians, and all the important stuff.

Besides premium merchandise, the store seems to have good community involvement. When I popped in this past Saturday, the Gutsy Women Travelers Group was listening to one woman talk about her solo travel adventures in India. On November 29 at 7 pm, author Clark Humphrey will discuss Walking Seattle. Who wants to go with me?!

One more thing that made me love this shop: They're having customers draw hand turkeys to decorate the window display. If you're in the area, go check them out -- I guarantee they will warm your heart despite this cold rain.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Doggy Style (G-rated!)

Oscar likes to stop at a little hot dog stand called Doggy Style on his way to piano class. I don't eat hot dogs, but both Oscar and Chris love this place, and I love the chatty old-school guys who work there. They use real, toasted New England-style buns, which have flat rather than rounded sides. They're serious about the buns: One week the guys manning the stand were very apologetic because their supplier went on vacation without warning them and they had to use regular buns. Also, if you buy two dogs, you get a free soda or a bag of chips. In fact, Oscar got a free soda today with just one dog!

Anyway, today Oscar planned to get the mac & cheese dog, the only one he hadn't tried yet, but we learned they no longer sell that one because no one ordered it. (Unbelievable, I know.) Oscar's favorite is the New Yorker, which has sauerkraut.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kale and brown rice casserole

Isla, who recently turned 3 and lives across the street, is obsessed with eating kale. Specifically, kale casserole that her parents buy at some fancy-pants grocer. I've tasted it, and it's delicious, so I tried something similar based on trolling the Internet.

Here's how to make it:

Sautee about 1/4 of red pepper in olive oil, and put in bowl with 1-1/2 cups cooked brown rice, 1 cup shredded cheddar, 3 chopped green onions, 1/4 teaspoon sage, 1/4 teaspoon rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 cup milk, 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper. Put one cup chopped kale in an oiled casserole dish, top with rice mixture and then another cup of kale, put the covered casserole in a 375-degree oven and bake for 15-20 minutes.

If I was making this for a toddler, I would add a LOT more cheese and rice and a lot less kale, and I would chop the kale very, very fine. (I think that would help it stick together better, too!) I might also skip the herbs if your kid likes bland food. But for me, success!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New book! Diary of Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever

There's no denying the tween appeal of the Wimpy Kid series. Volume 6, which hit store shelves yesterday, had a first printing of 6 million copies. Every kid in Oscar's peer group seems to have memorized the entire series, and Oscar still rereads his collection about once a month it seems. Surprisingly, I saw Cabin Fever in the neighborhood grocery store yesterday (guess its market penetration is not in danger!) and picked it up for incentive a bribe for Oscar to clean his room. It worked -- he ran up the stairs as soon as he saw the tempting tome and even made his bed!

When the first Wimpy Kid movie came out, I heard a lot of criticism about the protagonist Greg's reprehensible behavior. Yeah, he's a jerk. That's why it's funny, people!

As for Jeff Kinney's latest, I feel like he's redeemed himself after an extremely disappointing volume 5 (The Ugly Truth). This book feels meatier -- although still a very quick read -- and funnier. Oscar ranks it between volume 3 and 4. Even though he doesn't believe the story, Greg is afraid to misbehave in front of a doll called Santa's Scout, which his mother told him reports back to Santa at the North Pole. Rowley and Rodrick have minimal roles this time, but baby Manny seems to be developing more of a quirky personality.

Any Wimpy Kid fans or foes out there? Which book series do you look forward to on release day?

Clara wants in

Much to our surprise, the family member least stressed out by moving was our curmudgeonly cat, Clara. She has carried on her routine like nothing happened, spending most of the day sleeping on Oscar's bed, and occasionally going outside to sit on the porch chair or to briefly explore the yard. Back in California, she used to stand on a chair on the porch and scratch at the front window to let us know she wanted to come in. Here at our Seattle house, she no longer needs a chair.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Keeping up the grades

Oscar's transition from elementary to middle school has been bumpy. Coming from a cozy, flexible school of a little over 200 students, he's now one of 920 kids in a sprawling three-story building. I'm not sure if it would have been any easier if we hadn't moved, but his academic scores haven't been what we're used to. Putting this in the nicest way possible, my guess is that Oscar is not used to the organizational demands of middle school. It's not easy to get any information out of him, though.

If you ask Oscar how his day was, he'll always reply, "Good." Any homework? "No."

That would be a lie. Luckily, the Seattle school system has an online database called The Source that lets teachers post grades and homework assignments; parents can access the lists using their child's ID number. Here's a less-embarrassing example from Oscar's Japanese class at left. When checking out Oscar's grades earlier in the school year, I was able to see that he was failing language arts and social studies. I was shocked! Digging deeper, I could see that he had not turned in several homework assignments, which was eroding his grades. I subsequently learned that he had had opportunities to improve his score on other substandard work he had turned in, and didn't take advantage of them. An intervention ensued, and I discovered to my horror a binder containing a jumble of incomplete worksheets, crumpled up class notes, and duplicate handouts -- even though he started out the year with neat tabs separating sections for each subject.

I'm sure I'll have to keep organizing the binder and reviewing his work with him, but the good news is that Oscar's language arts and social studies grades are no longer failing. (Which incidently is notated as "E" here instead of "F". Crazy!) The bad news is that he's now failing band class. How is that even possible?! Turns out that his band teacher hadn't been posting the assignments and grades over the term, but now that the term is ending, he has posted them. Who knew there were written assignments in band class?! So, even though the The Source is helpful, it isn't foolproof by a longshot. Live and learn.

The whole experience has been eye-opening to me. I'd love to know if there are systems similar to The Source in other school districts. Anyone?

Monday, November 14, 2011

To Savor Tomorrow

Last night Chris and I attended our first theatrical production in Seattle, To Savor Tomorrow, set on a flight en route to the 1962 Seattle's World's Fair. It's a Cold War spy romp served with period-appropriate cocktails and cuisine. I loved the American agent posing as a Pan Am pilot who spoke mainly in mangled cliches, such as "There's more than one way to shave a cat." He also sang "Fly Me to the Moon" accompanied by a very accomplished pianist who played throughout the production. My other favorite things were the Russian agent Svetlana's accent and the provocative dance the stewardesses did while pantomining the safety instructions.

As for the food, it must have been a lot easier to be thin before the Green Revolution! Due to my pork aversion, the only part I ate was the Bolshevik Blini -- blinis with house-made sauerkraut and beet caviar. I skipped the last two courses, Deconstructed Dim Sum, which is dungeness crab in molded pork gelatin, atop handmade noodles with impressed cilantro (pictured at right); and the Patriot Plate, which is a meatloaf of braised pork belly, sirloin, and chicken liver beside mashed potatoes and pea crisps. I was also served four cocktails and a "Dwinkie," which is a booze-soaked Twinkie. I couldn't finish them all and my stomach and head are not happy today.

Still, the whole thing was fun, and I'll definitely keep my eye out for more Cafe Nordo productions, which hopefully feature a more palate-friendly setting.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In praise of Starbucks*

When you think of Seattle, you think of coffee, am I right? Before I moved to the city and was just vaguely familiar with it from visits, I was impressed with the number of independent restaurants and shops, which give the city so much character. My neighborhood does have some lovely indie coffee shops, but today I found myself at the old standby, Starbucks. My new dentist sent me a gift card for referring Chris and Oscar as patients, and I'm not gonna let it go to waste!

And actually, as much as I like supporting independents, I do enjoy sitting in the comfy armchair at Starbucks, reading the paper and sipping my latte, occasionally glancing out the window to watch the people walk by. The employees are efficient and pleasant. And since Starbucks was founded in Seattle (the original branch is in Pike's Place market!), I feel like it's an integral part of the Seattle experience.

*With apologies to Chris, who detests Starbucks' coffee and all its food products, although he does like the company (it provides good benefits to all its employees), the restaurant interiors, and how well it's managed .

Friday, November 11, 2011

Off the Wall

I was in love with Off the Wall School of Music's funky aesthetic before we even moved to Seattle, when I was trolling the Internet for piano schools. Now Oscar is taking lessons there once a week.

His teacher is Caleb. My impression so far is that the teachers really challenge the students, so they progress quickly. (Or, it could be that my kid is no longer in elementary school with the same piano teacher he's had since Kindergarten!) They also let the students play music they like. Oscar learned how to play current radio hit Dynamite by Taio Cruz and is now obsessed with the videogame theme Mario Underworld.

If you live in Seattle and want to check it out, they offer a free lesson! A real one for half an hour! If you end up signing up for lessons, tell them Oscar sent you and he'll get a free lesson too. Win-win, right?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kick, punch, it's all in the mind*

While I've been going to Zumba class, Oscar has been taking classes at Jae Hun Kim Taekwon-do Institute. The classes for kids are big, and it's so cute to see rows of white-uniformed kids doing synchronized moves. The head instructor Gailyn Perrin is amazing -- she comes across as kind, but totally no-nonsense and authoritative. When she issues a command, the troops yell "Yes, Ma'am!" in unison. This place is disciplined!

It's in our neighborhood too, which has made it a lot easier to get to classes.

* If you're not familiar with my headline, it comes from one of the best PlayStation videogames in history, Parappa the Rapper. Check out the YouTube video!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fresh Fitness & Dance

My workout routine is best described as inconsistent, but Fresh Fitness is still one of my favorite discoveries in my neighborhood. Just a 10-minute walk from my house, this tiny, hidden dance and fitness studio (just one room with an attached kitchen/dressing room/infrared sauna area) is ideal for someone like me who just likes exercise classes -- not treadmills or weight machines. I've taken daytime Zumba classes from Dee and Michelle, who both have mesmerizing, graceful moves and gyrating hips, which I definitely cannot imitate. But my theory has always been that any activity is better than no activity, and they both make it really fun to shimmy around, burning calories to a blend of Latin/Bollywood/Hip Hop/whatever -- even if I'm not exactly performing on their level.

I'm no Zumba expert, but the version of Zumba at Fresh Fitness seems much less Latin-influenced than the few Zumba classes I took in the Bay Area, which for me is a plus. As far as I'm concerned, the more variety, the better; I get bored easily. I'm pretty sure these classes would have simply been termed "aerobics" back when I was in college. I've also taken one Pilates Mat class and want to try the Cardio Kick, but they're offered at dinnertime, and I prefer to get my workout done earlier in the day. I'm also gearing up to get up by 6:30 so I can take something called Fresh Camp.

The cost for Fresh Fitness is a little steep for me -- um, especially considering I'm unemployed -- (it's $90 for a 10-class punch card or $69/month; I've been using the punch card option), but, given the small class size, it's almost like getting a private lesson. I've been in a couple of classes with just one other student; most have a handful -- until more people discover this place, anyway.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Leaves of red

After living in the basically seasonless San Francisco Bay Area for 15+ years, I'm blown away by the colorful leaves that are everywhere here in Seattle. I grew up in Massachusetts, so it's not like I've never seen this phenomenon before, but oh. my. god. So gorgeous! The fresh crispness of the air -- and the chill -- take me back to my childhood. I'm enjoying scuffling through the leaves, and I'm lackadaisically wondering if I should perhaps rake them up. Maybe they're good for the lawn and garden? This picture is of a Japanese maple in my backyard, which is visible from Oscar's bedroom window. Lovely.