An AWP14 welcome mat: eating, writing, reading in Seattle


The truth: some of my best conference trips involved sneaking out from the conference. In Houston, I went to the Rothko Chapel; in Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardiner museum. You too? You might not plan to be at the conference the whole time, and you do need to eat. And Seattle has so many options to feed you well, both body and mind.

Before I moved here from California, my experience of Seattle was only through Singles and Sleepless in Seattle. And maybe that’s you, too. But there’s so much more. So I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite restaurants, museums, and bookstores below close to the conference. It’s not comprehensive, and it’s a bit idiosyncratic (where I’ve been, what I like, what my friends like). Nevertheless, I hope you find it useful.

A bit about me

I lived in Seattle for six years, from the late 90’s to the mid-ought’s. I’m an Asian American writer and a food lover, and (at times) a food writer. I’m not a Seattle native anymore, but I’m a Tacoma expatriate (thirty-five miles south) who visits Seattle pretty frequently. I’ve also written about Seattle before, including places like the Seattle Star, the International Examiner, and the local journalism site Seattlest.

A bit about Seattle dining

There are chain restaurants near the conference sites, if comfort and familiarity is what you seek. But Seattle has so many options to feed you, it would be a shame to visit us and not experience some of those. Bring your friends for a coffee, a library walk, a lunch or dinner, a write-in. A lot of us write here. Many of the cafes will offer free wi-fi access or free-with-purchase.

Dress is casual in most places, even in many of the higher-end restaurants: it’s the Pacific Northwest. If you like seafood, you’re in a great place for salmon, oysters, sushi. Mexican food can be hit-and-miss, with the exception I’ve noted below; proceed with caution. Bus access is fairly accessible and reliable around downtown; there are also cabs.

Downtown breakfast and coffee

Grab pastries or even sandwiches at the Dahlia Bakery next to the Dahlia Lounge. (Dahlia Lounge is famous; it’s one of the restaurants where Tom Hanks had dinner in Sleepless in Seattle.) Nora Ephron’s favorite cookie, it’s reported, was the peanut butter sandwich cookie from the Dahlia Bakery.

For coffee, the green mermaid is everywhere, of course. But I also recommend coffee from Caffe Ladro (multiple downtown sites). Locals also love Top Pot doughnuts.  (I’m not a doughnut girl, so I can’t say yay or nay.)

Downtown lunch and dinner

There is, of course, Pike Place Market, an entity all unto itself. You could browse the Market and grab some of Sosio’s produce (trusted by local restaurants, always offering great samples). You could head to DeLaurenti specialty Italian market at the south end of the market for a salad/sandwich. My husband Josh (who works near the Market with an office of foodies) recommends Pear, El Borracho, Local 360, Bacco Cafe, and Piroshky Piroshky (watch the lines) for lunch options. I liked the meal I had at Local 360, which will give you the Portlandia yes-we-know-where-our-chicken’s-from experience, but with much less attitude. We also went to Steelhead Diner for Josh’s birthday last year: upscale diner food, but a nice atmosphere with a view of the water, and yummy.  Friends recommend Cafe Campagne and Le Pichet for French food and romantic atmospheres. The Pink Door, hidden near Pike Place Market, has lovely Italian food and a great atmosphere for dinner/drinks/partying.

Farther up the hill and closer to the Sheraton, Lola has scrumptious Mediterranean food with good vegetarian options. I especially recommend anything with their crispy potatoes, morning, noon or night. Serious Pie has delicious pizza in a communal-table setting. On my last visit, my husband and I had a fabulous kale caesar salad, and flatbread pizza with chanterelle mushrooms and Yukon Gold potatoes. Grab dinner there, dessert at the Dahlia Bakery, or head down to the Procopio Gelateria for some gelato.

Neighborhoods to explore just outside downtown:

South Lake Union

Friends have raved over the offerings at Tom Douglas’s restaurants in South Lake Union, just a short bus ride or walk from the conference. These were made for casual or grab-and-go lunches, especially for the Amazon workers. I haven’t visited Home Remedy, but Serious Biscuit (biscuits, fried chicken) has gotten a lot of positive attention.  I have also heard great things about Skillet Counter and other new restaurants in the food court if you’re near the Space Needle.

International District/Chinatown

If you’re willing to venture a little where can i buy ventolin online farther from downtown, head over to the International District/Chinatown; it’s not very far and accessible by bus or a longer walk.

For great Japanese restaurants, try Maneki, which my Japanese American auntie and uncle visited recently and approved. (Bush Garden is where you want to go for post-conference karaoke.) For a casual, low-budget food court experience, the Uwajimaya supermarket has a variety of Asian fast food in the store as well as the attached food court (Thai, Hawaiian, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino). I especially recommend the Beard Papa cream puffs and the Japanese-style sweet crepes from Unicone creperie there. House of Hong is famous for its dim sum.

But I have also loved meals at two Vietnamese restaurants: Tamarind Tree and Green Leaf. Tamarind Tree is a little hard to find, and it’s in a strip mall, but it has amazing food and beautiful decor. You would never guess the inside from the outside. Green Leaf is like that, too: looks small and crowded from the outside, but wonderfully fresh and tasty Vietnamese food.

And I have to mention that while you are here, you should try to make time for the Kinokuniya bookstore inside Uwajimaya (Japanese and English books and magazines, and stationery). I also highly recommend the Wing Luke Asian Museum, which is the nation’s first museum dedicated to Asian American history. The site is gorgeous and the exhibits (developed through a community-centered process) are always provocative and well-curated.

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill is very easy to go to and from the conference by bus or walking. On Broadway, for casual lunches and dinners, I have liked Annapurna (Nepalese/Indian/Tibetan), Eltana Bagel, and Marination Station (Korean/Hawai’ian fusion). Friends have recommended Tillikum Place Cafe for brunch and Poppy for small-plates dinner, although reservations are needed. Melrose Market is something like the San Francisco Ferry Plaza building, with a lot of smaller artisan food shops and merchants. I have been amazed by the pastries I’ve bought from Crumble and Flake (mojito macaron, anyone?), but they sell out quickly so arrive before 2PM at the latest. I have also heard great things about Spinasse (in Capitol Hill) and Artusi (downtown), owned by the same chef, but haven’t visited them yet.

Visit the Richard Hugo House to experience a community center for writers. There are several AWP events scheduled there. It’s a joy to visit the site where so many authors have read (and will be reading); there are posters for readings all over the walls, typewriters in the classrooms, and a zine library. Bonus: it’s close to the Capitol Hill Value Village (Thrift Shop, anyone?) and Elliott Bay Books, and Molly Moon ice cream. Parent/caregiver bonus: Cal Anderson Park, across from the Hugo House, has a great playground if the weather cooperates.

Offsite: more books

Spend some time with a friend by walking through the Seattle Main Public Library. We’re proud of this library—it’s got a fabulous structure, with wonderful views, and even a cafe inside. Take the elevator all the way to the top and then wend your way down with a leisurely stroll. Parents and caregivers: the Children’s room is a wonderful place to take the kids, with great reading areas, toys, and ultra-convenient bathrooms.

Come up the hill and cross I-5 to Capitol Hill, where you can browse at the wonderful and famous independent bookstore Elliott Bay Books.

Those who love food and cookbooks should also try to visit Book Larder, our jewel box of a cookbook store, in Wallingford. It also functions as a community center of sorts; there are frequent classes, demonstrations, and free samples scheduled in the store kitchen. Close to it is Open Poetry Bookstore, a poetry-only store that’s offering conference attendees a discount.

Gifts to bring home

I’m half-Japanese American, so I have to suggest a few places for omiage, or souvenir gifts. Sure, there are the T-shirts and magnets and coffee mugs, but you might want something different. Uwajimaya is where many Japanese visitors go for Seattle-based gifts. The Wing Luke Museum has a great store, as does the Seattle Art Museum.

Other resources

If you are into the latest and hottest restaurant/bar trends, Eater Seattle and Seattle Met will have lists and recommendations. Keren Brown’s A Food Lover’s Guide to Seattle, if you can pick it up before you come, is also a good resource.

And one more thing: the weather

I hope you have a fabulous time here. If the weather gets you a bit down, at least you’re able to experience Seattle like a native. Yes, we use umbrellas sometimes.

But the weather’s especially conducive to writing.

My word for the year, 2014

Chambers Bay

Welcome to January! I started this entry with some panic: I needed a Word For The Year. I’ve been using these lately, instead of New Year’s resolutions, as a rough compass for each year, for each place where I’m unsure. Should I do X or Y? I would feed the question to the Word of the Year Magic 8-ball, and see what emerges. Last year’s word was REACH.

Why the panic? I haven’t written a blog post since November of last year. “Don’t panic,” Josh advises in his FB chat to me. “You have to have a Day One [back to writing] that sucks. Make today Day One and get on with it.”


This year I am feeling the need for a different direction, away from achievement-focused pressure. My neurons are zinging too much on the pressure to achieve, to have a clean and uncluttered house, to make from-scratch nutritious meals and snacks for myself and my family. As if those two parts of homemaking were not enough work and commitment in and of themselves (if I’m not achieving in some public workplace, then I am going to out-Martha-Martha at home!), I am feeling the need to achieve more with my writing. And I think that need is actually hurting the writing itself.

Here, again, are the voices: the voices that berate me for going away from the book for so long. Some vaguely Catholic part of me still wants to confess to someone, ask to be forgiven. There’s the voice that suggests I go back to something with more tangible results, like baking or cooking. Seductive, those last two activities. There’s the voice that suggests I check my e-mail, Twitter feed, number of red dot responses on my Facebook account. There’s the fear and the self-flagellation: the I haven’t done anything yet,the self-accusations of laziness. Is that what I’m worried about the most? That someone will accuse me of being lazy? Sadly, the worst voices are all my own.

I have come to see that these voices are part of the process, coming to terms with the choice that I made—or rather that Josh and I made, together, for me to be home more and not to work outside it full-time, not to reenter the academy as an adjunct professor, not to work just for the income. I know. This is a luxury. But it’s also a balancing act.

Most perfectionists (also including me) grew up being praised for achievement and performance in our grades, manners and appearance. Somewhere along the way, we adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. A ticker tape began to stream through our heads: Please. Perform. Perfect. —Brené Brown

When I say I have had to detox from academic life, this is part of what I am talking about: a relentless pressure to achieve and perform for an audience. I am not saying that every academic feels this pressure. But it is certainly how I came to academic life, how I experienced academic life, and (in part) why I left it.


Here, then, the latest writing news. One of my blog posts (“How’s the writing going?”) was selected as a top pick for 2013 by the good folks at The Author Chronicles. I have just published a review of a book by Chang-Rae Lee, a writer I have long admired. I have just published an essay in Edible Seattle, a food magazine that appears on the newsstand at the grocery store. If you live in the Seattle area, please pick up a copy and support us. Turn to the back, just inside the cover page: that’s me.

Tempering the achievements is also rejection: a piece that I submitted to a contest was not accepted. I think it’s a good piece of writing, probably not the best fit for the contest or for performance. And it’s good to say that there is also waiting: a piece that I revised and submitted is going on 6 weeks. No word if it’s been received, but I can re-query after three more weeks.

Achievement, rejection, waiting: all parts of the writing life that I am starting to appreciate. In a follow-up interview to the famous Dear Sugar “Write like a Motherfucker” column, Cheryl Strayed added this, in the wake of phenomenal success:

My trajectory has not been failure, failure, failure, then success. The successes have been there all along, and all along, there’s also been a steady stream of rejections and disappointments. I imagine this will always be the case. It’s the writer’s life….Success in the arts can be measured only by your ability to say yes to this question: “Did I do the work I needed to do, and did I do it like a motherfucker?”

Am I doing the work I need to do? Not consistently, and not constantly. But slowly, in fits and starts, ventolin inhaler uk yes–something like this post.


“What if the opposite of good is real?”—Claire Dederer, Poser

I enjoyed Claire Dederer’s yoga memoir, Poser, but was hit especially hard by this sentence. What if the opposite of good is not bad, or imperfect, but real?

In yoga, that’s helpful: it accepts all parts of your effort as part of the process. In the case of perfectionism, it’s especially helpful.  Play in yoga has been one of the best words for me. It means that you are experimenting without preconception of what you might achieve or not. It places you directly in that moment of testing and discovery. It is low-stakes, with people not worried about what you might do or not. Play is exploration.

A few weeks ago one of my yoga teachers asked us in class: “What do you need to let go?”  I need to let go of the voices, the awkwardly but permanently coupled voices of perfectionism and self-doubt. The high expectations, even the arrogant expectations for myself, that come with prestige (the enemy of passion). The taking myself way, way too seriously. I need to let go of the need for someone to respond (and quickly) to what I write. I need to let go of the need for praise, which is especially difficult for the overachiever.

I need to let go of the fear of being vulnerable. “Opening your heart” is something you hear a lot in yoga classes, especially with backbends, and shoulder openers—all those poses which (according to my yoga teacher) release fear. In yoga class a few months ago we were on our stomachs, one arm outstretched parallel to the floor and the other arm rising, striving towards perpendicular using the floor as leverage. Shoulders pushed back, releasing the tension from writing and being at the computer. And I thought, “Right. I literally have to open my heart to write this book.”

And then it hit me: the opposite of perfectionism and self-doubt is play.


In choosing “play,” I am haunted by my own words, quoted back to me by a dear writer friend. She turned some of my words into a poem and gave them back to me in a beautiful 40th birthday card for my next writing project. (More on the birthday cards later.)

Ros-Collard card small

On the back of this lovely card-sculpture, here’s how she did it:

it took my
willingness to be
vulnerable, to hover on
the willingness to speak
what I don’t
say often
truths are so
close to my
That’s where I need
to be
in order to write
the book.

I take the words as an honor (my prose is something like a poem), and as a gentle but firm and loving admonishment (get back to work, woman!). But I also take the poem as an example, as a command to take my own writing and play. If I approach my writing as play, I am freer to make mistakes, freer to fail, free to cross words out before I can take them back, freer and more open to the process.

For example: I have organized the book one way: does it serve the story better if I organize it differently? I have a few sections to write still. Can I approach those as play? Although approaching early drafts as “shitty first drafts” has been helpful in the past, I wonder if I should let go of the self-defeating part of that term. Can I approach those as exploration? What will open up as a result?

I’m going back to the book. I’ve been thinking about it, and writing a few notes, but I have not sat down to work on it in a sustained way for half a year. (I originally wrote a year, then went back to my book journal and realized that it’s been half a year. It’s just felt like a year.) I have two big sections to write, and then it’s time to take a step back again and see what happens. And one of my dearest friends bought me a writing workshop as a 40th birthday present. My sister helped us redecorate our house, and we’re getting to know it again through new spaces and happier vistas. Surely those are other places to find out more, and play.

What if, instead of sitting down at my computer or my notebook to work, I sat down at my computer to play? For the overachiever, it’s something near-radical. I just turned forty. Play is actually why I created this blog in the first place.So I’m going to give it a shot. Day One, complete. Word for the year: PLAY.

Next entries: my birthday project, Project House Redecoration, learning to play with text and image through learning the photo essay.

Eggplant Zucchini Okazu (Okazu Nimura-Style)


When Josh and I were in college and just learning how to live together, we also had to figure out to cook together. It didn’t take long to find our go-to multicultural meal plan: chicken, vegetables, rice (Asian nights!). Or, chicken, vegetables, pasta (Italian nights!). We had lots of variations: stir-fry chicken teriyaki chicken, BBQ chicken, chicken cacciatore. For vegetables: salad, steamed broccoli. For carbohydrates: rice or pasta.

Every once in a while, we’d break out of the routine and splurge on some ground beef, and we’d make okazu.

In Japan, okazu is just a name for “side dishes to accompany rice.” The rice is meant to be the star of a meal. I’m guessing that this is because the Japanese value rice so highly, and because their “food pyramid” looks different than the American version. In my family, it means something different. Until about 10 years ago, I thought that “okazu” meant just one specific dish. If you said “okazu” to me, I’d tell you without hesitating: it’s eggplant and zucchini, stewed with some garlic and ground beef, all in a light sweet-soy sauce broth. Never mind that I’d never seen our version of okazu anywhere else, including Japanese American potlucks and restaurants.

Okazu Nimura-style is meant to be a main dish, a one-pot dish that you ladle over rice into a dinner bowl. As I heard my aunties tell it at one New Year’s gathering, okazu’s a dish that grew out of necessity. My grandmother had to stretch a pound of hamburger into a meal that would feed six kids and two adults. What did they have in abundance, maybe from their vegetable garden or from the farms where they worked? A lot of eggplant, a lot of zucchini. Brown a pound of ground beef. Maybe add some garlic cloves or garlic powder. Add a couple of flavorings that taste vaguely like teriyaki (soy sauce, sugar), and let the whole thing stew, and there you have it. Okazu.

Some of my Internet research tells me that versions of the dish grew out of the Sacramento valley, where I grew up. There are a couple of recipes floating around with green beans or cabbage instead of eggplant and zucchini. You could try those; they’re not so different than the recipe I’m going to give you. But if you like ratatouille, what happens to eggplant and zucchini in that dish, you might try this okazu instead. The vegetables turn silky, if you let them stew long enough. Mixed all together with a bowl of rice, it’s simple and comforting.  I grew up with so many meals ladled over rice. I still miss those brown Noritake stoneware bowls, large enough for a meal but small enough to fit on the wide arm of a comfortable couch.

Okazu is simple farm fare. it’s hearty, it’s Japanese American soul food. It takes minutes to put together, and it stews obligingly while you take care of other matters: giving the kids a bath, watering the plants, sweeping the kitchen floor. Just don’t forget to turn on the rice cooker.

I don’t have a finished picture for this dish. Okazu’s not very photogenic; it doesn’t look very appetizing unless you’ve tried it. I’ll just have to trust your palate—does the combination of flavors sound appealing to you?—and maybe your sense of adventure, if you’ve never tried it before.

If adobo is my Filipino home, okazu might just be my Japanese one.

Eggplant Zucchini Okazu (Nimura-style)

  • 1 lb (more or less) of ground beef. Ground turkey works in a pinch, too, but dark meat is better. (A lot of the flavor comes from the meat.)
  • 1 globe eggplant or 2-3 Japanese eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2-3 medium zucchini, cut into chunks
  • About 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce, to taste
  • About 1/3 cup white sugar, to taste (note: while trying to cut back on white sugar, I  used maple syrup a couple of nights ago, which worked out nicely)
  • 2-3 minced garlic cloves, or about 1 tsp garlic powder if you don’t have fresh garlic
  • Water, barely enough to cover the ingredients above when in the pot (See notes below)
  • Cooked rice for serving (I like to mix white and brown together)
  1. Brown the ground beef in a medium-sized pot until it is cooked through. If there is a great deal of grease, drain the grease from the pot and continue browning the beef.
  2. Add the soy sauce, sugar, and minced garlic to the beef and mix well.
  3. Add the eggplant and zucchini to the sauce and meat. Then add a little bit of water, about half a cup. Note: The vegetables will release a lot of water, and you don’t want the sauce to be too watery, so don’t add too much at first until the vegetables have cooked.
  4. Let the dish stew, let the vegetables cook, and then add a bit more water if the eggplant is still tough and leathery and the zucchini isn’t sinking into a nice velvety oblivion. This step should take about 25 minutes over medium heat, although you might begin checking after 20 minutes to see if the vegetables are cooked the way you like them.
  5. Check the broth and see if it has enough flavor (too salty, too sweet? Need more water, soy sauce, sugar?), and adjust to taste. Check to see if the vegetables are cooked enough; the eggplant and zucchini should be fork-tender, if not melting (the way I like them). Serve over hot rice.

Where I’ve been

A can of vintage MSG. No, this is not where I have been. Though that would explain a lot.

Where have I been?

Well, I’ve been thinking about you. You’ve been on my list, believe me.  I imagine you peeking through the velvet curtains, clicking the website address in vain. Anybody home? Not recently. Ah, well. I’ll try again. And I’m grateful you did.

I’ve been writing, so don’t worry too much about that. You can find my latest food writing here about chocolate and butchers and teriyaki history on Seattlest, and about yoga and running here for my yoga studio. I’m also excited for my upcoming first freelance assignment with the International Examiner, a Seattle Asian American community newspaper. And there’s some other writing I’ve been doing that I can’t quite post here just yet. But I’ve been writing hard. Just not here. Sorry.

I’ve been reading, too. I bought a few new books for the first time in ages—my own copy of Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, plus Colum McCann’s novel Let The Great World Spin, on the recommendation of a couple of friends. I’m excited to begin Monique Truong’s latest novel Bitter In the Mouth.  I’m also two-thirds of the way through Daphne Kalotay’s novel about ballet and jewelry and Stalinist oppression, Russian Winter. And I don’t want to return my library copy (though I will!) of the letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, collected and called As Always, Julia. Their affection and wit and friendship made me fall in love with the two of them, and made want to write more letters again.

And I’ve been following the discussion on the movie and book The Help. In case you haven’t ventolin inhaler for sale seen this response yet, by Ohio State University professor Rebecca Wanzo, I highly recommend it. It’s pretty evenhanded and thorough, acknowledging the book’s emotional power while sustaining a more detailed critique.

I’ve been out and about a lot more—even a lovely date night here!–which is mostly good for me, not so great for the household sleep schedules, and thus not so good for downtime and writing time here.

I’ve been making jam, stocking the jam closet space downstairs. There’s a wonderful line from my goddess of domesticity, Pat in one of L.M. Montgomery’s novels: “While I move and live and have my being I’ll want a jam closet.” A jam closet! I might have scoffed a few years ago. Ah, but now. Now I understand.

And if you read the last few paragraphs of this haunting essay by Alexander Chee, you’ll get some of the feeling of where I’ve been. “What can you trust of what you can’t see?” his yoga teacher asks at the end. Like the yoga students in that essay, I’ve been moving thoughtfully through uncertainty, and trying not to fall.  It is terrifying and it is heady. Because of that combination, I’m sure it will eventually be good for me.

Nevertheless, I’m here too. I made you chocolate cookies. They’re still warm. Or you can spoon up some homemade peach jam over vanilla gelato, to hold onto summer as I have for the last two nights.

In other writing news, my creative nonfiction essay, “How It Feels To Inherit Camp,” is being republished and anthologized. It appeared in Kartika Review this year. I’m thrilled. And I’ll keep you posted.

Time to make pie

I helped to make the crust here! Photo by Shauna James Ahern. Used with permission.

I can make bubbling crisps, chewy cookies, melting brownies, moist cakes and quick breads. But I haven’t tried pie.

Well, that’s not quite true. The last time I made pie, it tasted like a cheese plate minus the saving grace of cheese: fruit and crackers. Oh, the shame. And I’m a baker, so I was really upset. So I never made it again. Besides, I reasoned to myself, I don’t have a food processor. And I don’t want to use shortening—scary stuff in a can! And yes, I know there are other options besides transfats, or besides just butter. Pre-packaged crusts seemed to go against why I love to bake. So, I went on, rationalizing my way through all these excuses.

See, I also thought that pie crust was like the other forms of baking that I’ve done: mostly following a recipe, playing very little with the amounts or the ingredients, but mostly using the best-quality ingredients possible. But I cook differently than I bake—I do find recipes, but I often play with them quite a bit. This ingredient sounds good, but maybe I’ll use this instead of this. I’ll look, and taste, when I’m cooking, and mostly relying on my palate’s memory. It’s a lot more of an improvisational game than a putting together a model train, or painting by numbers.

So this week I was thrilled to see some different approaches to pie crust, and to making pie. My dear friend Shauna decided to give me a pie crust crash course. I watched her cut butter, roll her index fingers and thumbs together in order to coat the butter with flour, and  pat crust into her pie plates. It was a busy afternoon—two pies, one by hand and one by food processor, plus an online Facebook/Twitter pie party of 1500 participants, plus four children six and under needing different kinds of attention and snacks—but I learned so much.

If, like me, you are a piecrust novice, I thought I’d list a few things here that might be useful. Here are some things I wanted to remember for myself when making pie. They are not hard-and-fast rules–looking at different recipes, pie-makers will swear by their own rules, which seem to vary widely–but there are some guidelines that I can’t wait to put into practice.
• Chill everything before beginning to mix: your flour, your butter (it should be like ice cubes), your hands, your bowl. Maybe the water, which can be ice water.
• Make your filling first, especially with a fruit pie, so the fruit can macerate and rest in its juices. Cut your working recipe in half, and make the bottom buy albuterol inhaler online no prescription crust, leaving the other half of the ingredients to remain chilling in the freezer/refrigerator. Then once you have rolled out and patted the bottom crust in, you can make the top crust.
• If using a food processor, use about 8 pulses in order to cut the butter into the flour and salt. You want it to look something like dry cottage cheese curds.
• Kerrygold butter is the best. Using European butter with a high butterfat content helps the flavor.
• Work quickly, but not frantically.
• When working the dough with your hands, there’s a motion you can use to cut the butter into the flour—or rather, coat the butter with the flour. Holding both hands out in front of you, pinkies down, practice rolling your index fingers down the length of your thumbs. That’s approximately the motion you want to make in order to meld the butter with the flour.
• Contrary to what Pepperidge Farm and others might have you believe (at least, I did), the goal is actually not a uniformly consistent ball of dough, like pizza dough. You do want it to cohere, but you don’t need it to be smooth all the way through.
• A few lumps of butter throughout the dough actually help. They do not all need to be the size of a pea, either; some might be as large as a shelled walnut.
• The end result, the ball of dough, should feel something like cold cream cheese.
• Most importantly, chill your attitude. Be relaxed, be comfortable, be happy. It’s pie. It’s made to be shared.

Watching Shauna make the pies was inspiring, and it made me understand how I could get into pie-making this summer: it is baking as I like to cook. It is playful, it is flexible, it is creative, and it is pleasurable.

I saw how piemaking could be a meditative act, seeing how the baker should see what is happening to the dough, and simply roll (sorry) with the punches and adjust accordingly. I realized that I want a French rolling pin, which looks more like a mallet slightly tapered at both ends, rather than a log with handles at each end. Christmas elves, take note, please.

And I realized that the truth is that I am a perfectionist, and I hate getting stuff “wrong,” and I have a hard time fixing my “mistakes,” large or small, or starting all over again. I really need to get over that if I am going to return to my childhood dream: being a writer.

It’s time to make some pie. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Readers: any pie tips for me, or any favorite recipes? Or, do you have something “basic” that you’ve been afraid to make, and why?

Love letter to a small Japanese grocery store

Breaking news (and my, the online news world moves fast!) I’ve written my first article for Seattlest, a Seattle news/events/restaurants website. I’m going to be writing for the Food section of Seattlest, and I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to be a food writer. Here are some behind-the-scenes notes about the story.

This story is a love letter of sorts to Maruta Shoten, a small Japanese grocery store south of downtown Seattle. Maruta made me so homesick when I walked in, that I almost cried. Maruta carried umani in its deli section, a dish which I’d never seen outside my family’s kitchens. When I saw the umani I missed my California family intensely. I miss them still, living in Washington after all these years.

I grew up going to Sakai’s, in downtown Sacramento, which closed down eventually.  I have so many childhood memories of exploring the crowded and dark aisles of Sakai’s, and eventually leaving with some Botan rice candy and some Kern’s guava nectar. I remember my mom buying fresh tofu from the 5-gallon tubs of water, and watching the butcher cut up char shiu for us to take home. I remember the clear crackling cellophane bags of curry powder and other spices, and the porcelain buy ventolin 4mg teakettles crowded in the storefront window. These are the kinds of sensory memories that I want to pass on to my daughters; it’s a form of infusing cultural heritage like no other.

During the editing process I had to delete the personal “I” and exchange it for the royal “we”, deferring to the website’s overall voice: a useful lesson for an I-centric blogger (like me) to learn.

This post also marks my first foray into something like food photography–I have a nice point-and-shoot digital camera, though, nothing very fancy.  That’s our red couch, and my smoky lavender sweater serving as color backdrops for the food shots. Time to take some photography lessons!

A good number of folks in Seattle know all about the largest ethnic supermarkets in the ID (International District), Uwajimaya and Viet Wah–but I wonder what is going to happen to the much smaller markets like Maruta. It seems to be doing fairly well, but I wonder what will happen to it if it ever closes down. That’s why I wrote this article. I hope we can continue to support small mom-and-pop markets like this one. They often yield something that the larger supermarkets usually cannot: a sense of intimate community and history.

Assignment #4: How I eat (A letter to E)

Dear E,
How do you eat? you asked in an e-mail message last week. How do you establish a form for this part of your life?

I have written versions and drafts of this to you in my head, upon waking in the middle of the night, on the mat at yoga class, during my run along the grassy median in my neighborhood. Places where spring’s starting to poke out of the ground in crocuses, swell the budding tips of branches, blossom in the cherry and plum trees. And I have written it at my laptop, which is usually next to the kitchen.

I have to begin, I think, with our neighborhood grocery store. It’s less than a mile up the road from our house, and it is our version of Cheers: everybody knows our names, or at least our faces. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that we go there almost every day. We get our double iced Americanos and caramel macchiatos there, our daughters have had birthday serenades and we’ve eaten family cups of gelato there. We’ve made friends there. So it is partly a place where we find community.

Sometimes we do plan our meals for the week, but more often it’s a day or two in advance. Partly because of the store, and because of its proximity, planning what we’re going to have for dinner is one of my everyday pleasures. It is where most of our disposable income goes. We don’t go out to movies very often anymore, we don’t even go to bookstores and music stores very often. But we do allow ourselves the pleasure of our grocery store. And, though we don’t have a year-round farmers market in our city, we do live within five miles of three farmers markets when the season begins. We try to go there even in the rain and cold.

Breakfasts are usually staples on hand. My latest breakfast obsession is peanut butter granola. (Before this it was toast with jam; before that it was peanut butter and jelly toasted sandwiches; before that it was smoothies.). Homemade peanut butter olive oil granola, Greek honey vanilla yogurt, sometimes with a spoonful of homemade rhubarb compote, blackberry jam, or cinnamon-vanilla applesauce. Usually in a glass ramekin, sometimes layered in a jam jar and smuggled in my backpack to school.

Lunches for me are usually leftovers from the day before. Sometimes I will pick up a bagel and cream cheese, or a salad, from one of the campus cafes.

Dinners, it must be said, mostly involve my cravings, and I usually crave some sort of Asian or Italian meal. Sometimes I’ll read about a recipe, and want to make it (parmesan-squash cakes). Sometimes I’ll think about what we have on hand already, and should use up soon (French toast for dinner, or Greek salad because of that stack of pitas in the fridge). Some days I’ll think that we need to have a vegetarian meal (spinach-feta lasagna), because we’ve had a lot of meat lately (kalbi) or that we need something warm because it’s been cold outside (minestrone) or something soothing because one of us has been sick (sinigang). Or something very quick that’s both savory and comforting (adobo).

It’s funny that you mention diet restrictions because we do have them, but I haven’t thought about them in a long time. Josh and C and M are lactose-sensitive, so nothing with cream or cow milk. We try to eat things that taste good to us, and are good for us. We’re not always successful with that balance, but we try to balance it out over a week.

But most of the time, it is about craving. And time: what can I make in a half hour, an hour, sometimes two hours, that will fit my mood and the contents of our refrigerator and the constraints of bathtime for our little girls and our workload for the evening?

I’ve been thinking about your questions, for other reasons, as well. Like you, I have experienced a difficult event recently, though I hope you understand that I am not trying to equate them. I have thought about why you would ask your questions: how do you eat? what enables you to eat? What kind of control do you exert over this part of your life, and why? And I think you might be asking, at some level, how do you find the appetite? In the churning wake of trauma, how do we reach for the hunger that is, by definition, an urge towards life?

And I can tell you about weeks when I ate purely for fuel: a handful of almonds behind my closed office door, a circle of leftover crust from the girls’ morning toast, a few pieces of cold pasta at dinner. I know that I am lucky that I had eating options. But most of my energy went towards getting out of bed, walking down certain hallways, stubbornly clutching the cool mask of a normality that I hope I never have to forge again. How the hell to reach for anything else?

Miraculously, appetite returned: at first as tentative as the signs of spring, then inexorable as the tide, luminous as the full moon, seductive as the inside of a peach. If we ever get to spend more time together, I hope I can tell you how. Maybe I’ll have figured it out by then.

See, my mind keeps circling back to your very first question. You asked how I eat. I’ve talked about how I prepare to eat, and what I eat. All of that pales compared to the family that shares my table nearly every night. With them, I eat gratefully.

And I think you know something about this.  Where and how and why I eat are actually the same…with love, with love, with love.

Hugs, Tamiko

Readers: how do you eat? (See my previous post for more of E’s questions to get you going.) E and I would love to hear from you.

Playing the soup card: sinigang

Say it with me, first: sinigang: see-nee-gahng. Still with me? All right. Let’s cook.

Out of the three Filipino dishes I make regularly at home, this dish is my true comfort food. It’s what I make when I am sick, when I have a cold. Or when someone in my house has a cold (hi, Josh!). I remember drinking it in mugs, just the broth, when I was little. I made it tonight because I’m sick, and I needed some warm food. I’m still reeling from last week’s news. And though our daytime temperatures are up in the fifties, it’s not quite warm enough yet where we can say spring is finally here.

How to describe it? Oh, boy. My version is a lemony, tomato-based, onion/garlicky beef stew with a lot of greens. What’s in it? You remember how I was saying that recipes for adobo vary? Well, the recipes vary even more for sinigang. As far as I can tell, here are its basic elements:
• Sour broth (usually, flavored with tamarind or calamansi or sinigang bouillon cubes/mix)
• Vegetables (usually, at least, a water spinach called kangkung, and green beans)
• Tomatoes
• Onions
• Meat (usually, fish, or pork, but sometimes beef and chicken)
I remember my grandma’s version with clear broth, and  some kind of white fish. My mom’s version was pretty different, so even in one generation, the dish adapted itself to ingredients more readily available in American supermarkets. My mom’s version used lemon juice rather than tamarind for the sour flavor, and she used garlic powder instead of fresh garlic, and she added spinach instead of kangkung (water spinach).

As with so many Filipino dishes, the taste will vary according to the region of the Philippines, as well as individual household preferences and availability of ingredients. To be honest, it varies so widely that I’d be scared to order this dish in a Filipino restaurant because a restaurant version would probably be pretty far from this version. I’ve never tried a mix or powder for the same reason. I’d be hoping against hope for familiarity and comfort, picky eater that I still am.

For years I’ve been playing with the recipe that my mom used, and I think I’ve finally got a version that I can post here. It’s highly adaptable (much like Filipinos themselves), and while some folks may quibble about cultural authenticity, I do love the flexibility. Recently, I asked some of my Pinoy/Pinay friends about a recipe substitution: “Think I’ll get my half-Pinay card revoked for using collard greens in my sinigang? Or will I get bonus points for fusion cuisine?”

And in generous, freespirited, life-loving Pinoy style, here’s what my friends answered:
“J: Filipinos are eminently practical. Use whatever you have on hand, sister!”

“K: Filipinos are known as the great assimilators. Kudos for the fusion!!! I’ll be right over. ;)”

“A: i don’t think you can get your pinay card revoked. it’s the kind of card that’s irrevocable. the sinigang sounds yummmmm”

And it is. Chicken soup for you, maybe, but sinigang for me, please.

The recipe: Beef sinigang

The number of variations and substitutions here is going to drive a precise home cook crazy. If that’s you, sorry. If you are a cook-by-instinct-and-palate cook, feel free to play a bit.

I am somewhere in between these two extremes of home cooking: I like to read a recipe, and then follow it until I reach an ingredient that I don’t like. Then I substitute or add different elements that sound appealing to me. I usually follow the methods more closely than the ingredients. You should feel free to do the same. If you want something buy ventolin 4 mg close to what I described above (lemony, tomatoey, garlicky/oniony), you won’t want to substitute or delete any of those ingredients, and you won’t add vinegar to make the soup sour.

If you want to make a vegetarian version, I have heard from one friend that it works, but I haven’t tried it myself. I think that a lot of flavor comes from the meat, though, so if you do not use meat, then you might consider using vegetable broth. Let me know how it turns out?

• About 1 tablespoon of olive oil
• 1-2 medium onions, roughly chopped into 1/2” pieces
• About 3-4 medium garlic cloves, minced
• About 2 tablespoons of kosher salt (or, salt to taste)
• 1 small can of tomato paste (if you use a no-salt-added paste, add more salt to soup)
• About 2 pounds of stew beef OR top round roast, cut into 1” cubes
• About 3 bunches of greens, chopped up into 1″ pieces. You can use a combination of winter (chard/collards) greens and spring greens (spinach). My mom used spinach. If you use spinach, cut the stems into bite-size pieces. Because they are tender, I prefer spinach and Swiss chard, or a combination. I used Swiss chard because it’s a darker leafy green and therefore more nutritious. You can also, as you saw above, use collard greens, though. Just be sure to cook all greens until they are tender.
• About 2 cups of water to start (then add about 1-1 ½ more later)
• About ¼ cup fresh lemon juice OR calamansi juice or (in a pinch) bottled lemon juice
(Tonight I used Meyer lemon juice and some frozen calamansi juice. It was just right. Meyers and calamansi are sweeter versions of supermarket lemons, though, so if your fresh lemon is quite bitter, you might add just a teaspoon of sugar to correct the bitterness. You want it tangy and sour, but not unattractively bitter. Dare I say, sassy, but not bitchy? And if you use bottled lemon juice, you might need to add a bit more, because it is usually milder than fresh lemon juice.)

1. Over medium-high heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil until nearly translucent. Then add the minced garlic and sauté for about a minute. Do not let the onions or garlic burn.
2. Add the tomato paste and salt to the onion-garlic mixture and mix well. Then add the water. Let all of this come to a simmer.
3. At simmering point, add the beef and then more water to cover. Then cover the pot and let the soup simmer for at least an hour to an hour and a half over medium-low heat. Do not boil the soup at high heat, or for a long time, because the beef will become tough and chewy. Use low, moderately slow heat.
4. Next, add the chopped greens. Three bunches looks like a lot, but they will wilt and cook down quite a bit. Simmer the beef and greens for about half an hour more: longer if you are using greens with tougher stems (chard, collards) and less if you are using more delicate greens (spinach).
5. When the greens have cooked down, and the stems are tender, add the lemon juice and stir. Taste and add more water or salt or lemon juice if necessary. Simmer until the beef is fork-tender.

Serving suggestion
We eat it, as we often do, in a cozy earthenware soup bowl, over a mixture of cooked white rice/quinoa. If you are sick, and don’t quite feel like eating, you can ladle the soup straight into a mug and let the lemony broth soothe your throat.

A new conversation: Behind the Menu Status Updates

Dear Colleen,
I’ve been thinking a lot about your latest post, “Friend to Foodies.” I like to think that you wrote much of it with a gently mocking affection for your foodie friends, me included.

I am guilty of much of what you describe: homemade jam (check) and cakes (check); farmer’s markets (check); reusable shopping bag, (check, but recycled plastic); Facebook status updates advertising what we are eating for dinner (check). Here’s the passage that I thought about the most:

“But alas, foodies are indeed everywhere. And now, thanks to social media, I get to hear what all of you food enthusiasts are up to, which is like 90% cool, and 10% annoying because you make it sound so effortless, like you are lazily sipping on chardonnay, throwing together ingredients from your garden for your adoring friends and loved ones…who will clap as you plate the food.”

I wanted to talk about the 10% annoying part a bit, because I recognize that feeling. I think this part says a lot about how we think about ourselves as working parents, as working mothers, and a lot about what’s not said. There are so many ways to judge ourselves and each other.

See, what struck me about these two identities, working parent and eater/foodie, is that both involve an endless daily supply of incredibly personal decisions. Most of us try the best we can. We try to make our lifestyle reflect our values and priorities, but we can’t be successful in every single decision that we make. The academic in me, heck, even the writer in me, says that there are larger conversations to be had. So, let’s talk about the menu status updates first.

Confession #1: In my household we make time to cook, and grocery shop, but far less time to clean.

I know my menu updates on Facebook might sound, as menus do, like lovely descriptions. But, like menus and status updates, they are just the tip of the iceberg lettuce of life. Some of our meals do take a fair amount of work, and preparation, and hours of grocery shopping, all of which I enjoy most days of the week. I’m lucky that I love cooking and grocery shopping; I can’t imagine how difficult home cooking would feel if I didn’t.

Sometimes the menu status updates are elaborate because the meals do take a great deal of time and preparation. Arroz con pollo is one of our favorite meals, but it takes at least a couple of hours and several stages, involving chopping, marinating, simmering, and baking. On some days I wonder why I succumb to my craving for elaborate or time-intensive dishes, if I have to cook them.

But more often than not, the menu status updates are my ways to focus and meditate: a space to find calm and quiet amidst the whirl of activity that is our house between 4 and 7 PM most days. On good days, this might involve gleeful screams, an ABBA dance party, and several thundering laps around our dining room, kitchen, living room, and hallway. On not-so-good days, this might involve several tearful pleas for “chocky milk,” or just one more Bugs Bunny cartoon, or the clattering of fifty plastic blocks from the Duplo table. Most days are a healthy mix of both. Writing a menu status update can be my therapeutic reminder that I’m looking forward to a good meal, and that makes me happy.

So these status updates help me to relax. But they also mean that the more time I am cooking and baking, the less time I am cleaning. I know people don’t usually status-update a beautifully clean living room, but when I see those living rooms in houses I visit, especially those houses where people have small children, I think about how effortless they seem.

And that’s when I understand the “90% cool, 10% annoying” ratio. These living rooms look amazing. I envy their peace. But how do these families time find to keep it clean? Like you, I envy, but my envy involves that mythical clean and organized family who never has to clear off the table before they eat; who stores every toy in its original box in its proper basket on its designated shelf; who never finds pretzel crumbs and dried cranberries in their sofa cushions. My house is, let’s just say, far from immaculate. We make lots of time to cook, with family expeditions to various grocery stores, but far less time to clean.

I have similar feelings about the craftymom blogs that I read. I love seeing what these women create, and yet I wonder how they have enough time and energy, much less a clear-enough workspace.  Doesn’t it make you feel better when, occasionally, the cracks show through the seemingly perfect narrative? When they admit that they too, need time to breathe?

I have more confessions to make “behind the status updates” (I’m a picky eater! My kids are kind of picky, too! I use convenience foods along with from-scratch foods!). For now, though, I wanted to know what you thought about this column, “Busy Signal: The Very Busy Home Cook.” I loved so much of what Pete Wells had to say: what time constraints and energy levels look like in households with several small children and two working parents, what houses look like where the breadwinners’ work does not get “left at the office.” I loved the idea of not shaming “those who do not have the time to cook,” and I even loved the idea of better processed food.

I know that there are privileges in our two-income lifestyle. (Kudos to the single parents out there. A fist-bump to all those folks looking for a job. Gratitude to those who volunteer and work at places like food banks.) And yet with all due respect, I wondered if folks would have responded differently had Wells been a working mother writing this line: “I have definitely learned something about cooking for a family at the end of a day spent in an office: It’s very, very hard to do.” Would it have had the same impact?

I look forward to hearing more about what you have to say about this combination of issues, about working and parenting and home cooking. I don’t hold myself up as a model worker or parent or home cook, but maybe there are a few anecdotes or strategies I can offer, or things that our commenters can offer. And maybe that conversation can help everybody. And I hope you’ll do the same.


Where I start

I know I’m in trouble mentioning the word “miracle” during the holidays. I’m beyond saving if I add the word “family” to the same sentence. But I want to tell you about my family miracle.

Around 10AM on every New Year’s Day of my life, I have had breakfast with my extended family: all five of my dad’s siblings, plus my cousins and their families.  We all eat. Then we go home and cook. We return for dinner: more eating. Unlike other family reunions I’ve heard about, we don’t have T-shirts, we don’t travel anywhere exotic, and we don’t rent out a restaurant.

Longevity is part of the miracle. As far as I know, New Year’s has never been cancelled in over five decades; one year, my grandfather sold his wedding ring to make New Year’s happen. Maybe it’s because my father died over twenty-five years ago, and in some families that would mean that my link to his family died, too. Maybe I’m more aware of longevity now that I have two daughters to bring to the table.

Part of the miracle is also what I get to eat. At breakfast we’ll sip ozoni and eat its mochi, along with its shiitake mushroom, nori and shungiku. We’ll eat my uncle’s sabazushi with pickled mackerel. I can’t wait for my cousins’ carefully timed barbequed teriyaki ventolin inhaler albuterol chicken. At dinnertime we always start by lining up for Auntie Nesan’s chow mein. Another auntie brings arroz con gandules from her husband’s Puerto Rico. My Filipina mom will make lumpia; I’ll make sukiyaki using my dad’s recipe. My cousins and aunties will stuff the inari zushi and roll the maki zushi. There will be teriyaki Spam musubi, oden, crab legs, hijiki, tai, char siu, and umani. Dessert has its own table: fruit salad, pies, finger jello, multiple flavors of leche flans.

As well as we eat, I don’t want this piece to be a “savor the ethnic traditions” one. I’m also resisting the predictable family potluck cliché, about every contribution being valuable.

Yet New Year’s is miraculous: an annual family table. It is my touchstone, and what I think of first when I think of family. The meals are a staggering amount of work, the day has evolved over decades, and it will not always stay the same. Nevertheless, I’m a fairly sane and grounded person…and if anyone asks, New Year’s is where I start to tell the story of my sanity.

(I submitted this piece to a publication–they asked for a 400-word piece about “family” or “holidays.” It wasn’t published, so I get to publish it here! Happy holidays to everyone, and thanks for reading. Back in the New Year, if not before.)