Ross & Artichokes

Ross lived with Matt and I for one year before dying tragically in a rock climbing fall. He was a downright luminous person and we miss him every day. I especially miss him on warm sunny mornings as most of the spring and summer he lived with us the three of us sat on the front porch drinking up the sun, coffee or tea and each other’s company. I think most people find a couple with an adult roommate odd, or unusual – and perhaps that is so. But Ross really fit into our life and was a friend to both of us. We’d quietly and not so quietly hoped he’d live with us always.

While Ross lived with us Matt worked Sundays. Ross and I spent many Sundays together watching movies, visiting IKEA, running errands or cooking. Sunday was Ross’s night to fix dinner and he often bit off more than he could chew. Once he made breakfast for dinner that included bacon, homemade hash browns, eggs AND french toast. I think he used every pot and pan we owned that night. One of the things I loved most about him was that he was “all in” for almost anything – including dinner. He was an eager and appreciative eater, who I never saw  eat to satiety which made him a wonderful person to cook for. In addition, he was always the first to stand up and work on dishes, even when he (or I) HAD used every pot and pan in the house.

One Spring Sunday Ross came home from the grocery store with everything he needed to make dinner. I don’t remember what dinner was exactly, but I do remember that the first thing he did when he got home was pull out two artichokes and hold them up for me. He looked at me across the kitchen and said with his incredibly wide and genuine grin, “We’re going to eat these before Matt gets home, he doesn’t care about vegetables.” Which is true. Matt does not care about vegetables or really fiber in any form. Ross always made sure I had vegetables when he cooked and was a willing participant in the vegetables dishes I served.

As Ross steamed the Artichokes he talked about learning how to do so from his Mom. I told him my Dad used to fix artichokes sometimes for us as well.  When the artichokes were finished, Ross melted the butter and brought everything to the table where I sat with my book. As the spring sun streamed in across the table we worked away on the tender, rich flesh at the base of the leaves. Artichokes require you to eat slowly, they are a Zen dining experience as you pull out each leaf, revealing the choke with each bite. When we’d finished, Ross looked up, thrilled and said “Watch this!” He took the choke and with a knife and his hands ripped it open to reveal the heart. He dipped it in the butter and ate it, as I watched slack-jawed. I’d never seen anyone eat the heart out of a steamed artichoke, I’d always been under the impression that you had to be careful with them, which for me meant avoid them, because the choke could indeed choke you. When he finished Ross looked at me and went to work on the second choke saying, “it’s the best part!”

I miss Ross at every meal. Sometimes more, sometimes less – but always some. Losing Ross taught me that often times  life’s best parts end up wrapped in something difficult or scary. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth seeking out, revisiting, and spending time with. I can’t see or eat an artichoke without thinking of Ross, and gratefully artichokes are not the only food that make me think of him. Often remembering Ross or imagainging his delight in whatever is on the plate is indeed the best part of the meal.

Kaipaamme sinua Ross. Kippis!

Kuppi Teetä

The first full phrase I learned in Finnish was “kuppi teetä, kittos,” which means “cup of tea, thank you.” It was really the only phrase I needed. I’d slide my little tray down the cafe line, pick up a pulla from the case and order my tea. After counting out my euros and lamenting the cost a bit internally (upwards of eight American dollars for a tea and a pastry) I’d sit and take in the quiet, cool Helsinki landscape. I don’t remember much about what I would think or how long I would sit, but it was my favorite moment of the day.

Talking Pie with Mom

In graduate school I convinced a professor to work with me on a 5 credit independent study where we got up at the crack of down to drive to small Minnesota towns and make pie with old school ladies in diners. It produced some of my fondest Minnesota memories.

Part of the project ended up being me interviewing my mom in the University radio station on Pie. Here is everything you’ve ever wanted, the uncut track of Kelsey & Kathleen talking pie. For Mother’s day I am, of course, making my Mom a pie.

Hyvää Äitienpäivä! Rakastan sinua. Kippis!

On DoubleTree Cookies and Being an Adult

My high school music teacher was a verbally abusive and disgruntled human being (he once turned to my section and said “What’s going on over there? It sounds like a Mongolian cluster f***,” causing the international student FROM MONGOLIA to promptly stop coming to choir) but the man did like accolades so my sophmore year he recorded and submitted tapes of all “his” singers to be considered for Washington state choir. I was the only one selected, for which said music teacher took credit (nevermind years and years and dollars and dollars of private voice lessons that had positively nothing to do with him).

Anyhow, Washington State Choir took place mid-state in Yakima. As I did not drive yet my Mother woke me up early one morning, packed me a few snacks and dropped me off at the Greyhound station to take the bus to Yakima. I was given cash and directions to take a cab to the fair grounds once I arrived, if possible, I should find someone else going to state to split the cab with (more economical, and we are a practical people).

I felt so grown up heading out on this adventure. I’d never traveled anywhere independently before and it all seemed very mature making sure you were back on the bus at appropriate times, listening to my book on tape via Walkman, and gazing with purpose out the window at the increasingly boring Washington landscape. I don’t remember having a cell phone, maybe I did, but I don’t think I called my parents when I got to Yakima. Thinking back on it now I have to imagine that putting me on the bus that morning was a touch scary for my parents. But I admire their willingness to facilitate independence. I remember so much about this trip and experience precisely because I felt so gloriously grown up, trusted and alone.

After arriving, I quickly determined that State Choir was just a bigger version of school choir, complete with a verbally abusive and disgruntled director. Checking in to our hotel that night, positively overrun with musical teenagers and not at all like a scene from Pitch Perfect, I delighted in receiving a cookie. I really felt like I’d earned the cookie and I’d never stayed at a DoubleTree before so I did not KNOW about the cookie and it appeared to be a very FANCY cookie.

I trundled up to my shared room with my cookie and music and bag where I met my roommates (all Mormon, one adopted from China). I was thoroughly informed on the grand Mormon Choir tradition as I got ready for bed. I felt really proud of myself for working through whatever anxiety I had about meeting and sleeping with strangers. As I got ready to brush my teeth I remembered the cookie. I retrieved the cookie from my tidy pile of belongings and sank down across from the sink in the closet of the hotel room. The satisfaction of being alone and doing well in my sampled adulthood, rested with me while I dug in to that cookie. It was chewy and substantial, inexplicably crunchy and soft. Downright complex for being a hotel giveaway. I felt amazing crouched in that closet with that cookie staring at my fifteen year old self in the mirror above the sinks. I knew I was going to have a weird musical week, but I also knew I was an awesome adult now and I would be fine. And I was.

Fast forward fifteen years. I am again headed to Eastern Washington to stay at a DoubleTree. This time I drive. This time I have to get MYSELF out of bed early to make the trip. This time I pack my own snacks. I am still listening to things on tape but instead of library books on cassette it is NPR programs and instead of a Walkman it is my iPhone. When I checked in for the work conference I was attending, I felt nervous. I’d never participated in a professional event with these colleagues before. What would it be like? Who would I eat with? Did I pack the right outfits? More importantly DID THEY DRINK COCKTAILS?

The first night I’d not connected with anyone I knew and was headed out for dinner on my own. As I was walking to the restaurant two colleagues whom I deeply respect saw me and invited me to join them. With a moderate level of hesitation (I mean I was going to eat somewhere GOOD, where were they headed!?) I said yes.

Thankfully, the restaurant was excellent, I ordered smoked trout on toast (WHAAATTT yum). And they OF COURSE drank cocktails. And we talked about work; they offered career advice, providing camaraderie for the challenges we all face as women in our profession. We spoke candidly and honestly and I felt so very lucky to be held under the wing of these women, and to be advised by them as I trotted ideas and perceptions forward. I felt suddenly professional and very adult and very lucky.

That night, snuggled back in my hotel room I remembered theDoubleTree cookie I’d been handed when I checked in. After confirming that I had enough calories left in my daily quota to eat it (yes you read that correctly,GAH being an adult is not all it’s cracked up to be) I sat in my pajamas and watched bad MTV reality programs while eating the cookie. The satisfaction of being alone and doing well in my current adulthood, rested with me while I dug in to that cookie. It was chewy and substantial, inexplicably crunchy and soft. I knew I was going to have a great week, but I also knew I was indeed an awesome adult and I would of course, be fine.

Kippis! 

Aunt Christy & Red Hots

Every Christmas my Mom’s family gets together to bake holiday cookies. There are a few staples combined with rotating appearances, but one of the guaranteed productions is Gingerbread cut outs.

One of my earliest memories of this ritual is sitting around my Grandmother’s kitchen table decorating Gingerbread with my sister, Kirstin. Grandma mixed milk and powdered sugar in bowls with a few drops of food coloring. She pulled out the pink capped sprinkles and toothpicks. Armed with the necessary materials Kirstin and I went to work under minimal supervision decorating a myriad of snowmen, trees, Santas, reindeer, mini angels, and a few rogue pumpkins (I mean, why not?).

Kirstin is a freer spirit than I (you might recall her feelings on over planning) and promptly unscrewed the tops of sprinkles and DOUSED cookies in candied sugar while I carefully placed each one strategically so as to accomplish the most refined vision. Needless to say Kirstin’s decorating went along with a greater rapidity than my own at that time.

As we worked away in the dining room, my Mom, Grandmother and the baby of their family,29213_536538166326_4324406_n my Aunt Christy, continued working on other items in the Kitchen. Aunt Christy would peek her head around to the dining room inspect our work and grinning she asked Kirstin to, “be sure to make one with red hots.” It was a bit of an ongoing joke that Aunt Christy would eat the cookies that Kirstin absolutely annihilated with red hots. For those of you unfamiliar red hots are the red spicy cinnamon hard candies that are typically used sparingly for say, a Rudolph nose. Kirstin saw them as more of a performance art opportunity. I can still hear Aunt Christy say, “It’s not that I love red hots, I just don’t mind them,” which for Kirstin was an open invitation to go cray-cray on a gingerbread tree with hard red candy.

As adults one Christmas, Kirstin was home over the holiday baking for the Christy and Cookiesfirst time in many years – and we were all gathered at Aunt Christy’s house to do the annual baking. Aunt Christy’s own children were the ones charged with decorating, but Kirstin was providing the necessary oversight (she may have also just wanted to eat icing, some things you never out grow). Aunt Christy looked up from her work and said to Kirstin, “Make sure you make one with red hots for me,” winking and smiling. Kirstin set right to work. She uncapped the red hots and dumped them on a recently iced cookie.

Aunt Christy passed away this last winter and we weren’t able to get together and make cookies as we’ve done so many years before. I know Christy’s daughter made cookies with her paternal Grandma this year – which I’m glad for. But my Mom, My Grandma and Kirstin and I, we didn’t. And maybe we couldn’t. I know we will bake this coming year because we must, but it will be difficult to do without Aunt Christy there.

I share many things with the women in my family – unusually long fingers, rich tone of voice to the point people can’t tell us one from the other on the phone, and a firm kindness that leads us to contentedly participate in less than pleasant tasks (such as consuming a toddler dressed cookie of copious red hots). But perhaps most importantly we’ve shared many moments that are seemingly mundane, but rich in memory and connection. I’m grateful for the opportunity to throw flour and sprinkles and warmth around with my family each Winter season. Aunt Christy might not physically be there with us this year, but in every red hot and wink and grin – her spirit, her face and her voice are likely to peek out.

Rakastan sinua täti Christy. Kippis! 

Top Teas

I drink a lot of tea. I once gave it up for lent to prove to myself I could. I made it all forty days without tea, but I did not continue limiting my tea consumption. I saw no reason to. Tea is a center for me to return at any point throughout the day, and I see no harm in that.

What follows are a list of favorite teas with no particular parameters. Some are available only in memory.

Murchies Golden Jubilee Blend: this is my mother’s tea. Before Murchies began shipping at reasonable rates internationally she consistently requested boxes of the Golden Jubilee from Canadian travelers and friends. She’s a woman of good taste and I too have to agree this is one of the finest black teas around, particularly with a smidge of cream.

Harney and Sons Black Current: I love black current tea, partly because it was the black tea my Finnish host family kept most frequently. I grew very fond of a late morning pulla and cup of black current tea. I’ve tried many black current teas and Harney and Sons remains my favorite. The black current is delicate and balanced, there is no fruity sweetness or bitterness unless you over brew.

3. Ippodu Gokujo Hojicha: On a recent trip to New York I spent a whole afternoon listening to classical music and wandering from tea shop to chocolate shop to coffee shop to tea shop and so on. Pure bliss, IMHO. Ippodu has only one location state side and came home with both the Hojicha and a new spring green tea. The spring green tea made little impression on me, but as a fan of toasted, roasted and smoked green teas, the buttery green bite of this particular Hojicha made for excellent noon time tea. I’ll be back for more (and perhaps new selections) on my next trip to New York (here’s hoping that is sooner rather than later).

4. Lipton Green Tea Mandarin: This is not a special tea and most tea connoisseurs would scoff at its presence on a list like this particularly given the health concerns tied to pyramid tea bags, but I turn a blind eye to such snobbery and potential hazards when it comes to this tea because I really, really, really, really, really like it. I’ve yet to find an orange scented green tea that is as good. Suggestions welcome.

5. The Decaf Earl Gray at the Top Pot Doughnuts in Issaquah. Yet to be named, but nice citrus notes, not to floral and with the heft of a caffeinated tea.

6. The dissolvable sweetened peppermint tea my mom had when I was a kid. These were like peppermint sugar cubes that you covered in hot water and stirred. We drank them when we were sick. I would like them now to pimp my instant hot chocolate.

Kippis!