Sunday, December 14, 2008

A first

Last night was our first snow of the season. It was also my first attempt at baking a chocolate truffle layer cake. This year has been a big ball of firsts, and now that it’s coming to a close, it only seems appropriate to end with a few more.

Mark turned the big 4-0 this week. I was more excited for it than he was. Forever the optimist and the one wise enough to mention that ‘life is what you make it’ - even he thought the number to be daunting, strange and not quite something to jump up and down about. As for me, I thought it was terribly cool to have my sophisticated older and wiser guy (who looks not his age and acts definitely not his age… but in a good way) turn 40. To mark the occasion, I did nothing other than turn to chocolate. Not only because Mark is obsessed with chocolate in any form, but because it seemed the most decadent, rich and celebratory of all the things I could fathom to mark a milestone. Besides, chocolate makes people happy… and if you’re going to be depressed about your age you might as well stuff your face with butter cream frosting and have a beer.

When we woke up this morning it was freezing. The clouds were in a strange state of in-between, their high and wispy thinness showing patches of black, opening up to the sky and letting the sun shine through. The wind was whipping around, blowing the bamboo in the front yard all over the place. I knew it was cold, because the linoleum on the kitchen floor is always a fairly accurate thermometer of the chill outside our front door. I put on my slippers, Mark put a blanket around his ‘jamas, and we made coffee. Mark drank his hot in front of the computer while I let my go cold – I had to finish the birthday cake.

I wanted to try out a recipe for ‘Mile-High Chocolate Cake’ that I found on Mark mentioned at one point that a chocolate truffle cake would be yummy, so I found a recipe for chocolate truffles (also something I had never tackled before) and hoped that the two would come together nicely in a decadent, orgasmic marriage of rich dark chocolatey-ness that would put him into a solid age-amnesia-causing sugar coma. Well, one could only hope.

The recipe was a lot of fun, even if I didn’t have the correct cake pans and disgustedly refused to use 6 sticks of butter for the frosting (ok, I used 5). I’m just not used to going whole-hog on the decadent dessert front. I’m more the girl who shows up at the dessert and cocktails party with the carrot cake made with whole wheat pastry flour and honey. I’m my mother’s daughter, what can I say? It’s my first truly decadent dessert, made with all the ingredients that usually send a shiver up my spine. White all-purpose flour? Check. White sugar? Check. Heavy whipping cream? Check. Mind you, all ingredients were totally organic. A girl has her principles, you know.

After my morning of fussy cake preparations, licking chocolate spoons before 11am and drinking cold coffee, I felt fairly satisfied in my work. I put on my running tights and fleece headband and went for a run in the whipping cold air. The sea water crashed on Alki beach, and the shores at Lincoln Park were cluttered with huge logs washed in from logging on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s amazing to see the force of the water on days like today. The
cold wind working alongside the waves, reminding you where you are and where you come from.

That night we went out to dinner, to 35th Street Bistro in Fremont. It’s become Mark’s favorite place for a burger, and mine for the wine and the carefully and mindfully prepared food. We sat in front of the large front window, tables lit by candlelight, and told each other how lucky we were to have the other as a partner in life. The words weren’t this direct, but in so many other words and sweet smiles we both understood. Small snowflakes began to fall outside, in front of street lamps and onto the sidewalk. The small flakes turned to large ones, and pretty soon all the diners in the house were looking out the window, smiling and pointing because snowfalls in Seattle don’t happen every day.

By the time we got home the ground was covered in a thin, wet layer of white stuff. It felt sort of magical, since neither of us are used to very much snow anymore. The bamboo trees off our front porch were leaning all the way over to the ground, weighed down by wet snow. We both thought it a novelty, a cozy snowstorm… and chocolate birthday cake!

With a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream alongside, the cake turned out pretty well, even though it was more like a milk chocolate cake than a dark chocolate cake. The truffles made up for the richness, and I would classify those as a definite success.

Mark didn’t seem too critical. Of course I wouldn’t know exactly because his mouth was too full to answer my inquiries of what needed a little more of this or that. He just kept taking the truffles and smashing each one into the top of his layer cake, cackling a mischievous ha ha HA! each time. Well, some things deserve few words I guess.

We’ve weathered this year much like the beaches at Lincoln Park. We’ve taken the waves and let them crash against us, changing our sands in the process, but never letting them wear us away completely. Driftwood washes against our shores, and we don’t know what for. The wind turns cold and we don’t know when it will turn warm and soft again. This year we hung tight, stuck together and we’re still not going to let too many firsts rock us from our foundation, though the sands seem to be shifting underneath.

As the snow falls outside the bamboo hut, we look outside and know that the first snow of the season will be the last in our little place. We can only look forward, no matter how scary or beautiful or unbelievable it may seem, even with the number 40 attached.

Mocha Truffles
Adapted from a recipe from Ina Garten from the Food Network 2008
Makes about 20 – 25 truffles, depending on size

These are decadent, sweet and rich but not overwhelmingly so. You can omit the coffee and simply use cocoa for rolling, or you can get creative and add cinnamon, cloves or ginger too. Truffles are fun for flavor experimentation. Try adding peppermint essence instead of the vanilla for the holidays, or add whiskey or a flavored liqueur to really get a surprised reaction. Have fun!

1/2 pound good dark chocolate such as Green & Black’s organic 70%
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons Grand Marnier, optional, add if you like orange flavor
1 tablespoon prepared coffee
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
2 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar (omit if you end up using a 60% chocolate or less)

Rolling mixture:
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 teaspoons finely ground coffee beans (espresso ground)
1 teaspoon confectioner’s sugar

Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife. Place them in a heat-proof mixing bowl.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan until just before it boils. Turn off the heat and pour the cream into the bowl with chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the Grand Marnier, if using, coffee, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate for 10-15 minutes until it sets into a stiff ‘dough’.

With 2 teaspoons, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until firm. Roll each dollop of chocolate in your hands to roughly make a round ball. Roll in the rolling mixture until coated. These will keep refrigerated for weeks, but serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Step by Step

In the last month, I’ve been walking. A lot. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few of my nutrition rotations at a place right here in West Seattle. So every morning, I leave my house in comfy pants, my comfy Dansko clogs and an umbrella tucked into an outside backpack pocket (in case of an unforeseen deluge), and walk 35 minutes up two humungous hills to work. I love it.

The sun has begun to put on its pretty sunset show earlier and earlier. Now, if I stay too late at work, I walk home in the twilight. At the top of the highest hill in West Seattle, I begin to walk down… down… down …with a view of the Olympic Mountains backlit by pink and sapphire. The view of the city stretches out before me opposite those twilight colors, trying to compete with its own sparkling lights and the space needle’s orb glowing orange.

With the darkness coming so early, my days find me inside from four o’clock until bedtime. I don’t know how many times Mark and I have said to each other after a five-thirty dinnertime, “it feels like midnight!” There isn’t much room to spread out inside the bamboo hut, what with one bedroom and one living/kitchen room and a thinnish wall in between. We end up spending our dark evening hours with our noses in books, our faces in computer screens, or squinting at magazines in the poor reading light. I’m feeling the need to rebel against the darkness. It’s time to get out.

So I’ve been walking. More. I put on a heavier jacket, my Danskos, and leave the umbrella behind like a good hearty Seattlite. With all the hills, winding back streets and bridges, our part of the city is perfect for urban hiking. I set out right as dark falls and climb up streets that belong in San Francisco. I wind around roads that are only traveled by those who share its address, I breathe heavy as I use my legs to carry me to places both physically and mentally distant. I breathe. I gaze at the panoramic view of Seattle in the fog. I feel the mist slowly and surreptitiously soak my forehead and eyebrows, and I dream.

After dark all the houses are lit from the inside. Big picture windows that frame living rooms and warm kitchens glow into the darkness, allowing anyone to peek into their secret world. Tonight I walked by a mansion of a home, strung with colored Christmas lights. I could see their Christmas tree all in white lights inside. At another home, lit from within, a long paneless window revealed a complete dinner scene – with grandpa, mom and dad and two kids sitting around a long table, serving salad out of a large bowl. I also peek, with some amount of guilt, into the grandest of homes, to get a glimpse of their modern furniture and perfect lighting. I feel transported, taken out of my body and away from my life to enter the worlds of others. I can imagine stepping onto their plush rugs, sitting on their pristine furniture, sharing a meal around a perfect table. I’m a Pisces, so I’m doomed to be a dreamy sort, I know. But if I cannot dream and escape then I cannot create something greater for my life. As I imagine what could be, I create it and bring it to me in some way.

About a year and a half ago, when I first began spending lots of time here with Mark in West Seattle, in those dark cool evenings I would walk up those hills to 35th Street, as it afforded the most spectacular view of the port and the skyscrapers of downtown. For some reason I was drawn to those hidden residential streets around 35th and Harbor Avenue below. They were quiet, labyrinthine, and felt to me, well… dreamy. I admired the modern homes with their tall narrow design, to take advantage of space vertically because horizontal space was so precious. I pictured Mark and myself in one of those homes, with a view of the city laid out like a giant photograph in some coffee table book. I could feel it, rising in my chest.

About a year later I would walk again on those streets, on another urban hike on some lazy summer day and find a spacious modern home, empty and for sale, that I labeled ‘dream house’. Whenever I was feeling depressed, or when Mark and I would be feeling feisty and hopeful about the future, we would drop by the dream house and peek in the windowed front door. It was magical, it was for sale, and it was entirely out of any price range we could imagine…but it was somehow ours.

A few weeks ago, after months of online searching in the For Rent ads, I stumbled upon a notice for a place that looked spacious, full of light, and within our price range. The address read 35th Street, West Seattle.

It was the first place and the last that we looked at in our search for a new home. We signed the lease last Saturday after a visit and a chat with our landlords who live upstairs in the house. She works in organic gardening. He’s an architect who loves cycling. They both exude a kind and loving energy for people and for their home.

In two weeks we’ll be moving up to 35th, to the top of the hill, where our evening glass of wine will be shared with the lights of the city, the ships going in and out of the port, and the Sound with her wet fog and chill. We’ll gaze out the windows of our living room onto that view, warm light stretching out into the darkness.

Maybe a passerby, on her walk, will guiltily peek inside our not-so-perfectly furnished dining room on the hill and dream about living way up high.

A toast to moving on, and moving up, and the power of visualizing the life you wish to live. May I see you all around our dining room table in the coming year, sharing a meal in a home, lit from within.

Monday, December 1, 2008


The last piece of apple pie is still in the fridge, but that's all that's left of our Thanksgiving meal. 

Thought I'd share it with you...

**The recipe I used is the classic apple pie recipe that everyone and their grandmother uses from the Joy of Cooking... but using part honey instead of all sugar, with a few more spices thrown in for good measure. The crust is a fantastic all-butter affair stolen from the Smitten Kitchen. Enjoy.