Angry.

Today, I am angry.

If you’ve been following any social media platform over the past few days, you’ve seen the hashtag, #metoo. This tag is to give awareness to how often women have been sexually harassed or assaulted. Post after post, message after message from my friends read, “Me too”. Some meekly acknowledged it, still holding on to the shame; others finding their voice. So many women, and some men have posted.

I remembered this post, my “me too” sitting in a draft that I have been writing for multiple years. It’s embarrassing, it’s awful. It’s one of many situations, some worse, most better. I cringe when I read the words I have written, as I don’t see myself as a victim. I am loud, tough and pride myself on my years of work in the sexual assault education, prevention and research field. THIS was my background, all I lived, breathed and ate for years. But nonetheless, it happened. This is my story.

Today, I am angry. I was angry yesterday and the day before, too. I was disappointed. I was hurt. I was trying to make it not my fault.

If you follow this blog solely for happiness, recipes and all the good stuff, you may want to pass up this post. I hope you don’t, since this needs to be read.

Saturday, I went to pick up kids books off of one of those Buy Nothing Facebook pages. As I was driving there, I passed a house; one I hadn’t seen in years. It was a house that belonged to a man who tried to assault me.

I passed his house and I froze. I stopped my car in the middle of the street and thought about getting out. I didn’t, but good gravy, I wanted to. I wanted to scream at it, drag him out and yell at how low he made me feel, how he made me question my worth and every decision I made, and still make.  I gripped my steering wheel, my face getting hot. I stared, eventually driving away. How did I fucking get here…

Years ago, after a long term relationship ended, I went on a date. It was way too soon and I was not thinking with my head or heart, I was thinking with my hurt. I wanted to feel attractive, like there was hope for my future, and I needed that pain to go away.  I had met a man at my neighborhood pub, and we hit it off, him chatting me up about a book I was reading-some Russian Lit novel (yes, I am that girl that reads random books in bars). An hour quickly passed, and it was time for me to go home to my empty house. He asked if I wanted to go out another time, and I said yes. I walked home feeling happy about things.

We met up a few days later at a place I felt safe, a local brewery owned, staffed and visited by my friends-he would be on my territory. When he showed up in socks and Birkenstock’s, I let that go (I am open minded you know). The plan was to have a beer and chat, and go for dinner in the area. I’d drive my car, and he’d drive his. No pressure.  When he brought me to a vegan restaurant, I let that go too, as he noted, animals are just so cute. The night would go on and we would chat, the charm of the first night fading, but I was still interested in how this could go. We talked about our recent failed relationships, him lamenting “if she had just listened to me”….Hi, flashing red light. We opted to go to another brewery, again owned by my friends. I thought, “what could happen”, so I left my car in my ‘hood and took his, despite being against every rule I had. We played darts, we talked; we didn’t have a lot in common but it was still nice to be out. Towards the end of the night, I was done. I was ready to go home. I wasn’t feeling it, he had recent relationship issues and I was tired of looking at his socks and sandals. I asked to head out and go back to my car. “Sure, I gotta make one stop”.

To his house.

I offered to stay in the car, I didn’t know this guy well, but I changed my mind. I didn’t want to be rude despite every part of me knowing this was a bad idea. I knew in my head this was the wrong decision and I went in anyway.

I wanted to go home, but I was in his space. He showed me around his house, bragging about the remodeling he had done, his mountain climbing pictures, and all the crap he collected.  I was getting uncomfortable and mentioned it was time to go, but he expected more, since he took me out and I entered his home.

Suddenly, hands, arms, and a mouth were everywhere. A man that outweighed me by at least 100 lbs thought it would be ok to see how far he could go, and I said no, which he didn’t get. I remember looking at him, his sneer. His shirt came off, and I asked him what he was thinking. As he came closer I remember my heart sinking.

And not because of him, but because of me. I broke every rule I had. Everything I taught classes about, I ignored it all. I wasn’t just angry at him, I was angry at myself. I started to push him away, and he laughed and told that it was either put out, or figure out where I was and find a way to get home.

I froze.

So I bargained. If he just let me go home, I’d go out with him again. Words like, “please”, and “I’m sorry” came out of my mouth softly. I didn’t want to make it a bigger thing than it was. I wanted to go home.

When that didn’t work, I fought and I yelled. I pushed and hit him.

And when that wasn’t enough, I threatened to call the police.

That was finally enough for everything to stop and it was like a switch flipped. He got off me and put his shirt back on and looked for his keys. It took the potential for arrest when all I had wanted was to go home. He looked at me, shrugged and said “whatever”, eventually driving me back to my car, asking if I had any “bitches” he could hook up with. I looked at him and asked if he ate paint chips as a child (in retrospect, probably not a wise move).

As a woman you end up assessing situations in advance. You size up situations and men and think about how the situation could go. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t and sadly this isn’t a one-off.

So, why am I angry, dear reader? I was in a shitty situation where someone took advantage when they shouldn’t have. I put myself in a situation that I shouldn’t have. I didn’t call the cops when I should have and that son of a bitch has likely done that to some other girl. I am left with a lot of should haves.

I am fierce, loud and I don’t take shit and it scares me that this could have happened to someone else who isn’t that way.  More than that, I am angry my friends have gone through this, and so much worse. I am mad that so few men are speaking up on behalf of women. I am angry that I carry this shame and embarrassment and that I feel like I need to apologize for my actions and justify every step I took.

And yet I do. Like millions of women the world over.

So, what do we do?

We stand united. We share our voice. We demand change in policy that holds rapists and harassers accountable with legitimate sentencing terms. And we don’t stop. We leverage our ally’s, so our voice is louder and we work to forgive ourselves, when that voice of self-blame says otherwise. And we breathe.

I love all of you who have gone or will go through this. To each of you, I am so, so sorry. I love you and if your voice is silenced, I will be there to make it loud.

Raina

 

 

Hunger

I’m just back from Feast 2017, and am trying to find the words to describe my weekend away. Just like last year, I am in awe. I went with an empty belly and one goal: To try as many things as I possibly could. Good goal, right? I had a hunger in me for adventure, food and drink and dear reader, yet again Feast did not disappoint.

Was it the reuben from Tasty N Sons? Was it the Bubbles from A to Z Winery? The well earned French 75 after ending up in an Lyft on an accidental drive 45 mins outside of Portland in an attempt to get to a karaoke bar? Maybe it was the antelope tartar from Nicky Farms at the Grand Tasting, or dancing late into the night to 80’s music with caviar and more pinot noir than you can shake a fist at during an after party.

Whatever it was, and as crazy some of it was, it was perfect. I can show you pictures, I can regale you with tales of late nights, early mornings, and I can walk you through every slurp of perfectly fired oysters, but unless you go a piece of that magic will be missing for you.

So stop what you’re doing, right now, and block out the 13th-16th of September 2018 in your calendar. You’ll thank me later when you’re smiling deliriously from all that you’ll experience.

Let’s chat about what I did, so you know what you’re in for next year!  I’ll pop in my disclaimer now: I did receive complimentary tickets to all events, but the opinions are still my own. My belly never steers me wrong!

I rolled into Portland, and immediately made my way to Tasty N Sons for an AMAZING reuben which paired oddly well with a cremant and was the perfect way to start the vacation. Plus, look at my face in that first pic (and the photobomber!) it screams happiness! I ran to a quick happy hour checking out some delicious Oregon pinot noirs before meeting up with a friend for a tour of a few food truck pods and ciders at Schilling Cidery. One of the things I love about Portland is the collection of food trucks and the people watching that come along with them. Happy to see my friend, but ready to get Feast kicked off,  I made my way to an opening night happy hour celebrating ham (jamon) and eggs (caviar) and all the 80’s music I could shake it to. There were cocktails served in colorful beakers and blue umbrella adorned rum drinks and I was hell-bent on sampling all of it.

Full and happy, I headed back to my Air bnb, only to be woken shortly by a party that would go on for hours and met by construction an hour after that. I made my way to the Starbucks in the lobby and cursed those damn delicious cocktails, the construction people, and the lack of sleep.

Not to be deterred, I powered through fueled by coffee and a desire to eat even more. I meandered around the city on my way to the Friday Grand Tasting where I would continue to eat. I had the best apple fritters from Nola Doughnuts (sorry, Voodoo), paired along side pFriem Brewing’s Beligian Strong Blonde Ale (you NEED this combo), poke, and so much of the bubbles from A to Z Wineworks. Hours passed, and more calories were consumed, but it was time to make my way to the Night Market.

Flag streamers were strung across each of the paths, with various booths pouring drinks and chefs pushing out plate after plate of food; music blared from speakers above, the bass and beats making people dance, strangers becoming fast friends. Sake was had, along with braised oxtail, and Bulleit Bourbon cocktails adorned with hibiscus flowers flowed well into the night. One more bite, my body begged, as I picked up a bowl of ceviche and a little dish of chilaquiles. My eyes heavy, my heart happy, and my belly full, I knew this was the last stop for the night. There would be no after party, or after-after party. My day was done.

The construction at the Air bnb may have ended, but the late night parties and tweakers screaming had not-after 5 hours of sleep in 2 days, I called it quits, emailed the host at 3:30 and booked a hotel. I made my way to the hotel and crashed out for a few hours-I had 10 hours (at least!) of eating ahead of me and coffee wasn’t going to be enough this time. A few hours later, I woke up grabbed some eggs benedict and a mimosa and I was ready to roll. I went back to the Grand Tasting event to have more wine from Elizabeth Chambers Cellar and Domaine Drouhin Oregon, and some AMAZING antelope tartare from Nicky Farms, and of course, since I was walking by, one more bite of those decadent apple fritters. The night continued, and it was time to hit Smoked.

Walking in, you’re instantly hit with the smell of wood smoke and meat. The air is thick, and your belly grumbles. I grabbed a glass of pinot gris from Archery Summit and made my way over to see the folks serving up Hama Hama oysters, slurping down a few of them before moving on to the next grill station-more oysters were eaten, as well as a chunk of bone the size of my arm (mmm….marrow ). I nibbled on tomahawk steaks like a good carnivore, and salivated at game hens sizzling away over flames. Hours would pass, and more wine would be had. Plates of sausage on polenta with duck fat gravy were passed, spam sandwiches, and more of that marrow, and even more oysters. There was laughter, there were glow sticks and even a party in a tee pee.

The event would come to an end, but the night would go on-more after parties, an after-after party, more talks, more dancing, singing into the night in a failed attempt to find a karaoke bar, eventually slipping into my bed well after 3 am.

And dear reader, that is where the story ends. Full, happy, and ready to do it all over again next year. Won’t you join me?

Lemon Blueberry Jam

I’ll say it now and a million times again,

I. Love. Jam.

This is the time of year in the Pacific Northwest where berries and stone fruit are ripe and ready to be picked and savored immediately, or prepped to be set aside for the cold, dreary Seattle winters where you need to see some color. That time of year, you’re not going to be getting it from the sky, so it may as well come from the warm glow of something delicious!

This year I made a few jams-huckleberry, chipotle cherry, and my favorite lemon blueberry to have on hand over the winter. All have their place, whether it’s the huckleberry swirled into a cheesecake recipe I’ve got on the ready for this Easter, or the chipotle cherry slathered over a pork roast, with a splash of bourbon before roasting in the oven in the fall; but the lemon blueberry….it’s good on everything. Rich purple color, smooth and shiny texture; it screams summer. It comes together quickly and maintains it’s zip well into the doldrums of winter. You’re intrigued, right?  Sure, but I can hear you now though, but “Rai….canning is scary”!

Spoiler alert: it’s not. The key is to keep everything clean and hot and you’re good to go. Honest.

Ingredients:

2 lbs blueberries** washed, stems removed, and dried out ones removed
3 large lemons, juiced**
1 cup white, granulated sugar

**Shoot for organic where you can, and if you can hit up a blueberry patch and pick those bad boys yourself, you’ll save some money.

Equipment
4 pint jars with rings and lids, sterilized
Heavy bottomed pot, large enough to hold all of your berries and lemon juice
Large pot, tall enough to cover the cans by at least a few inches.
Jar grabbers
Kitchen towels-1 for clean up, one for setting your hot jars on
Pot holders
Ladle, or a deep spoon

Method:

  • Start by prepping your canning supplies-a tip: if it’s going to touch your jam, wash it. Easy, right?
  • Next, Fill your pot up with water, shooting for at least 2 times the height of your jar. When you process these bad boys, the water will need to cover the jars fully. Turn the heat on high. You’ll use this to sterilize your jars and bands.
  • Now, clean your jars! Even if I just opened the box and even if I washed the jars, bands and lids before storing, I wash them all again with a clean washcloth with hot and soapy water. Washing everything is a great time to make sure your jars do not have any chips or cracks-this could prevent sealing of your lids (no one wants mold or botulism), or cracking during processing.
  • Rinse your jars, bands, and lids to remove all the soap.
  • Set your lids aside in a clean bowl and place the jars and the rings carefully in your pot. **You don’t want to boil your lids. This can prevent the lids from sealing.
  • Now that you’re sterilizing everything, it’s time to make that jam!  In a heavy bottomed pot, combine the lemon, sugar, and blue berries and cook over medium-low heat for approximately 30 mins, stirring every few minutes to avoid sticking (and the dreaded burning), until most of the berries have fallen apart and turned into what resembles syrup.
  • You have a few options on what to do from here (yes, jam making is like a Pick Your Own Adventure book). You can keep going, letting that jam cook down even more or you can get ready to can it. I personally like little bits of fruit in my jam and less of a jelly texture. If you’re happy with the consistency, you’re ready to move to filling your jars; if not, continue cooking your jam down another 10 minutes, or until it’s the consistency you want. Keep in mind though, the more you cook it, the less you’ll have as a finished product!
  • By now, your jars have been bubbling away in the hot water and are all ready for your jam, so it’s time to prep your canning area. I lay a towel on the counter, which keeps my jars from moving around, but it also catches the spills I inevitably make. Set your pot of jam on a pot holder next to the towel. This makes for faster work pouring everything.
  • Remember that bowl with the lids? Get ready to pour hot water over them.
  • With your jar grabbers, carefully lift the first jar out of the hot water and pour some of that hot water over the lids until they are fully submerged.
  • Pour the rest of the water out of the jar, back into the pot and set your empty jar on the towel. Empty the other jars back into the pot and set them all on the towel. It’s ok if there’s a few drops of water in the jars, it won’t do anything to your finished product.
  • Slowly ladle or spoon the jam into each jar until they are filled up with 1/4 inch head space (room) from the top of the jar.
  • Take your other towel (or a paper towel), get it damp and wipe off the tops of the jars to remove any stickiness. Stickiness prevents a good seal folks.
  • I like to give a gentle tap to my jars, once filled, to get rid of any air bubbles. Be gentle though, you just heated that glass up!
  • Drain your lids from the bowl of water and place them on top of the jars and place the rings on, and finger tighten. The jars are going to be pretty hot still, so use a pot holder to avoid the hot glass.
  • Using your jar grabbers, gently place your jars back into the hot water filled pot and process (boil) for 15 minutes.
  • Once done, lift them out of the boiling water with your jar grabbers and let rest for 24 hours. The center of the lid should not bounce if pressed.
  • Store for a year with the rings removed, and eat whenever you’re ready!

Easy enough, right?  This is delicious over ice cream, in yogurt, or on toast. Ok, it’s really good eaten with a spoon, right out of the jar.

So there you are! A bit of sunshine in a jar, ready whenever you are.

Yours in a jam,
Raina

A cocktail fit for a feast

I love a good cocktail, don’t you dear reader? A little special something as a nightcap, or a fun happy hour treat. There are so many excellent distilleries out there, and when you combine them with a little creativity, you can make a great cocktail in no time. With Feast Portland coming up, I wanted to combine two of my favorite things that will be making an appearance there-bourbon and tea-into a delicious drink.

Enter my cocktail, The Cloudlifter. It’s perfect for a chilly Seattle fall evening, but refreshing enough to handle the last days of summer as the weather changes from warm and sunny, to those late summer rains. It combines Steven Smith Teamaker’s bergamot tea with its citrusy, floral notes and adds Buffalo Trace bourbon‘s vanilla tones and perks it all up with a little kick of lemon. It’s sweet, smooth, and just right. Think iced tea, but for adults. It comes together quickly and you can make as much as you want, making it great for a quiet date night, a gathering with friends over barbecue, or my personal favorite: pairing with an epic toddler meltdown. You ready to put this together?

The Cloudlifter
3 ounces Buffalo Trace Bourbon, or your favorite bourbon
2 ounces Steven Smith Teamaker’s Lord Bergamot Tea Simple Syrup (directions below), chilled
Juice of one lemon
Splash of seltzer
Ice

For the simple syrup~
Make a strong batch of tea by boiling 4 cups of water. Turn off the heat and add two bags of Lord Bergamot tea, steeping for 5-7 minutes. This will the base for your simple syrup, which is easy to make: You combine equal parts sugar and liquid (in this case, your tea) and heat until combined. Pop it into the fridge to cool before using.

For the cocktail~
Combine all the ingredients over ice and enjoy!

Easy, right?  You won’t regret making this delicious drink. Now, go sit back in your garden and enjoy the last few days of summer!
cocktailYours in booze,
Raina

Feast Portland-Get Ready to Eat

There are few moments in life where I have been completely and utterly full, but still longing to eat more, to savor just one more bite of congee, or perfectly cooked lamb, or just one more sip of rum punch out of a fresh cracked coconut. “Just one more taste!”, my heart and my mouth beg! My stomach gives in, hesitantly.

This was Feast Portland last year, and if you checked out my Instagram feed that rainy weekend last September or read my recap, you recall how I fit in some of the best food a gal can get her mouth on.  You drooled along with me as I ate foie gras mousse with pears and pickled mustard seeds on crostini at the Grand Tasting event, and the Sweet Breads Al Pastor at Smoked when I was lucky enough to score a last minute ticket. For 4 delicious days you followed along with me as I traipsed along the streets, many bars, and fields of Portland eating my way through Feast.  You held on through the very end when I wrapped it all up at the Brunch Village, enjoying one last coffee and mimosa while nibbling on beignets dripping seductively with raspberry jam.

And oh dear reader, it was good. So good.

So good in fact that it’s time to go back, and I’m going to show you so much more this year!  Starting Sept 14th, I’ll be back at Feast checking out my old favorites with the Grand Tastings both for Friday and Saturday bringing you live updates on beers from Burnside Brewing (Sweet Heat anyone??), Migration Brewing, and so many others.  I’ll be sipping wines from Owen Roe and so many other wineries that I haven’t heard of before (you can check that list out here). The folks at Bulleit and Buffalo Trace will be in attendance as well as smaller batch distillers like Flooded Fox Den Distillery. There’s something for everyone, or at least one gal with a pension for cocktails and delicious beer. I’ll be at Smoked again, savoring so many plates from chefs outlined on the line up here.

I love my old favorites, but I am ready for something new, too. Last year I didn’t give myself nearly enough planning time to attend some of the other events you can find at Feast.  Not this year though! This year I am on a mission to do it all and bring you all with me!  I’ll be on a bar crawl with the folks from Reyka Vodka, attending Drink Tank events through Feast checking out topics on pilsners, and new ways to enjoy my personal favorite, gin. I’ll even be checking out “Ham and Eggs”, which is described as “a celebration of 1980’s excess featuring caviar and jamon”. This event had me at the 80’s, but I won’t say no to the rest!  Cue the Whitesnake, please!

Is that it?

No! A girl has to keep some surprises for you, right?

Ready to join me? Check me out on Twitter and Instagram via the handle @makemendgrow for live updates, and insight into all the food and drinks you can handle (or that I can!!).

And just in case you need a little more eye candy, here’s a few extra shots to entice you into joining me, or at least keeping an eye on what I’ll be up to!

Yours in delicious food,

Raina

As 40 creeps closer…

It’s been  a year since my 40 by 40 list post was created and I am slowly getting through the list! I still have a lot of work to do, but have ticked off quite a few big items. One more year to go to as 40 creeps closer!

38 was the year of bills and home improvements. I paid off a small left over mortgage loan, and paid for a chimney rebuild and a new roof. That will be a lot more money in my pocket in the long run, but it sure was hard to say good bye to all that cash.  It’s also really nice not to have a failing roof, and a leaking chimney (hooray for maintaining structural integrity of this money pit…um, house!)

It was also the year of pushing myself-to learn more, do more, be more. You know, without getting all sorts of overwhelmed.

I also traveled alone, including business trips to Portland for Feast and Vegas to eat and for the Vegas Food Expo. I’ve never really been somewhere by myself, and so this was pretty huge for me!  Feast was my first time away from Izzy and while I was both terrified to be without her, I was so excited to be away and treat myself to a weekend away. Turns out taking a bath by yourself after eating a few thousand calories and then not sharing a bed with a tiny, raging octopus/toddler all night is AMAZING. That trip really prepped me for Vegas, where I hit quite a few of my goals-eating an amazing dinner, getting my first tattoo, singing loudly in front of strangers, and dancing in a huge sea of people.

I wrote more and collaborated with brands while not losing out on any of my creative desires. I spent more time learning herbal medicine and did a lot of wild crafting. I spent time nurturing my heart by making herbal goodies for friends, which reinforced how much I enjoy chemistry, biology and botany!

I built up the farm, too! I brought in 2 rabbits, which led to even more rabbits (see that whole thing here), and worked hard to not screw up growing carrots and peas. My corn thrived and grew taller than my house. I fed neighbors with the extra vegetables, and ripped up my lawn for more gardening space. It felt good to get up and out and push myself physically to make my home what I wanted it to be.

I participated in activities that fed my soul, more than fed my bank accounts. Let’s look at what I’ve been up to this year…the bold, italicized items are completed!

1. Do something that scares me, often!
2. Go to a ridiculously fancy dinner
3. Finally get that tattoo!
4. Pay off a large bill-not super exciting, but getting rid of any bill is more cash for fun
5. Be more accepting of my body, strengths and flaws
6. Go overseas again/travel more
7. Continue to get in shape -eehhhhhhh. A work in progress.
8. Skate more
9. Learn to knit
10. Make sourdough, actually keep it alive for more than 1 week
11. Do 5 push ups, well. Yeah, I said it. 5.
12. Do more karaoke
13. Make a blood orange olive oil milkshake like the one at the Olive Pit, in California-so good!
14. Fix up the garage and make it into a studio
15. Raise rabbits
16. Make more quilts
17. Finish up my herbalism classes
18. Eat fewer processed foods
19. Rock climb again
20. Hunt a deer and properly butcher it
21. Write more (hmmm…check?)
22. Make cheese
23. Go clam digging
24. Set up a friend version of Outstanding in the Field.
25. Teach Izzy to fish
26. Find more happiness-actively seek it out, and hold it tight
27. Successfully grow peas and carrots, and not little dinky ones
28. Bring Izzy backpacking
29. Take a photography class
30. Dance more
31. Build the fence that has been sitting in raw materials in my garage for 10 years
32. Kayak on Lake Washington
33. Ride in a hot air balloon
34. Go to Disneyland
35. Camp on a beach
36. Buy more nice knives
37. Teach more
38. Hike to a hot spring
39. Take a train ride
40. Read more

So what’s on tap for 39? More travel, more food and more finding and keeping what makes me happy. I’ll continue to tick things off of my above list and keep reporting back on all of my adventures!

Yours in squeezing all we can into life!

Raina

 

These are the days

These are the days where happiness is made. Where we linger over stories, and adventure. Where our make up is dirt, s’mores stuck to our lips, our hair bigger than normal, smelling of campfire smoke. These are the days where we chase sunshine’s last rays and watch stars long into the night.

“Momma! Did you see that star fly by?! Did you wish?”
“Yes, baby. Did you?”

These days fly by and we hold on to every moment as long as we can; watching, waiting, learning and I am still in so much awe of it all.

Recently, we headed north to Rasar State Park to rest, explore and make new memories. We were itching for a camp out and with all of the rain, blue sky tarp camping didn’t sound appealing and the cabins, outfitted with bathrooms and a wet bar, were perfect.

Izzy and I spent the first two days just she and I, with our first afternoon and evening spent getting settled, setting up camp and going on a short hike before chopping firewood and attempting to build a fire. Luckily the campers next door came to our rescue with dry wood and expert fire building skills. We ate s’mores and watched the stars in the sky, listening to owls and other night critters. We talked about her dreams, what she wanted to be for Halloween and what I do all day at work. She would crawl into my lap in my chair by the fire and fall asleep and I’d carry her little body into the cabin, clean up her face and put her to bed.

The next day we hiked through the woods and open fields, exploring the river banks and spotting tiny fish and other critters. We took turns taking pictures, and I eventually would find out what poison oak feels like (itchy and awful!). We walked through waist-high grass, and watched the sky change from blues, to darker and ran back to the cabin to avoid being soaked by the sudden downpour.

We’d eventually have Izzy’s poppa join us later that trip for amazing beers at Birdsview Brewing, a short 1.5 mile stroll from the cabin, followed by more s’mores. This was perfect timing as my lackluster fire building skills were just plain embarrassing. The next day was spent at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and La Conner, looking at flowers and little shops and even getting in a little toddler yoga, a toddler meltdown and resulting wine tasting at Skagit Cellars before heading back to the cabin for one last night.

The weekend wasn’t long enough, as they never are, but watching Izzy explore and run and create new memories made my heart so full.

“Momma! Can we come back to our cabin again next year?”
“Of course baby, any time you want”.

These are the days, where sunshine fades into long nights, full of snuggles and happiness, wishes and critters.


Yours in adventure
Raina

Spring foraging – Stinging Nettle Pesto

One of my favorite signs of spring is stinging nettle!  It’s easily foraged and from an herbal remedy standpoint, this super food is full of nutrients and minerals like fiber, calcium and iron. They may also help with allergies (of course, if interested in using nettles for herbal use, please check with your doctor first!). From a culinary perspective, it’s delicious and adds an amazing earthy flavor to soups, stews, breads, or my favorite: in place of basil for pesto.  If you can get past the sting, you’ll have one of the best ingredients that spring has to offer!

Nettle Pesto
Makes 5 cups

Ingredients:
1.25 lbs nettle or 3 cups blanched, liquid squeezed out
1/2 lb pecans, roasted (you can substitute your favorite nut here as well, keeping the same weight.
1 head garlic, or 10 large cloves peeled
1 large lemon, squeezed
1/2 cup olive oil
4 ounces parmesan, grated
1/8 tspn pepper, or more to taste
1 pinch of salt, or more to taste (add after you blend in your parmesan, which tends to be salty)
1 pinch red pepper flake (optional)

Equipment needed:
Stock pot, or other deep pot
Cookie sheet
Food processor
Cheese grater
Tongs
Gloves

Process:

  • Start by getting your water going-fill a deep pot 3/4 of the way up with water and set on the stove on high. You’ll use this to blanch your nettles which removes the sting.
  • While that is heating up, you’ll start roasting your pecans. Lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, place in the cool oven and turn it on to 300 degrees. Cook the pecans for 10-15 minutes, or until they are lightly toasted. As ovens vary, I would check them starting at 5 mins, and every 5 mins after until you can smell them and they are just starting to brown. Keep in mind they will continue to cook a little as they cool on the pan. Take them out and let them cool while you’re blanching your nettles.
  • Prep your nettles by removing the leaves from the stems. This is where the gloves come in as the sting can be painful and can last some time. If some of the newer stems are still attached, that is fine; the goal is to have as much of the lower, woody materials removed. You can also blanch everything, stems and all, and then remove the leaves after, which is what I did. The blanching will take longer, but it will also reduce your sting risk!
  • Using your tongs, place large bunches of nettle into the boiling water. Note: You want enough that this part doesn’t take forever, but not so much that the nettles clump up-you want the nettles to  move around so that they blanch quickly.
  • Let the nettles blanch for no more than 1 minute and remove to a colander to drain.
  • Continue blanching and scooping until you’ve gone through all of your nettles. **Tip:  You can save this infusion to drink!**
  • Lay your blanched nettles on a clean, dry towel or cheesecloth and roll the cloth up, squeezing as much of the moisture out as you can. Too much liquid can ruin the end pesto!
  • NOTE: If you have a smaller food processor, you’ll want to do this in two batches!  Grab your food processor and add in your fully cooled pecans, and pulse until broken down into smaller pieces. You’ll be adding in other ingredients and don’t want to make butter, so don’t go crazy here!
  • Add your cheese, pepper, red pepper (if using) and mix until it looks well distributed-usually a few good pulses
  • Add your nettles and pulse to break those bad boys down.
  • Add your lemon juice and pulse a few more times.
  • This is where the magic happens! Grab your olive oil and turn your processor on-slowly pouring the oil in. If you prefer a drier, thicker pesto, stick with the amount of oil listed. If you prefer a smoother, creamier pesto, add more oil slowly until you reach the desired consistency. There’s no wrong way here and you’ve made it through the hardest part!

You’re probably thinking…why does she prefer a drier pesto? I add this stuff to everything-soups, sauces, eggs; you name it. If I want a formal pesto, I can add more oil to it later. I can’t take the oil out after the fact!

So there you have it, an easy pesto with an element of danger, or at least a good sting.  What will you add your pesto to?

~Yours in earthy goodness~
Raina

Before the spring

Hello dear reader! We’re finally in the home stretch here in Seattle; finally getting out of the cold and into the spring. This winter has been rough, with quite a few snow days, and fewer than 15 days of sunshine in 6+ months, and we’re now getting a good steady drizzle of rain. I don’t know about you, but I am ready for longer (and sunnier!) days spent out in the garden, out on the trails, and generally not cooped up inside!  Before the spring hits, I wanted to share all we did over the winter. I really need to be better about posting quick updates, in addition to the food posts!

My hope for the winter was to continue building traditions with Izzy, creating magical memories for her to relish for years. I look at all of the pictures and somehow she has gone from my tiny baby into my little girl. She grew so much over the winter, and while my heart breaks to know she’s no longer a tiny baby, I am so excited for all of our adventures we’re having and all that we’ll be able to do as she gets bigger. I am trying to live in the moment with her and enjoy everything as it comes.

This winter we explored, played in the snow, and traveled to Eastern Washington as we needed to get away and have a break during all of the holiday craziness. We rented the sweetest dog friendly Air BnB in Kittitas, right above the Thrall & Dodge Winery. For three days, we cooked meals in the retro 1940’s kitchen, snuggled in the massive bed, played in the snow and explored the tiny town and surrounding areas. We stumbled upon Whipsaw Brewing in Ellensburg, and I explored used book stores adding to my Serendipity book collection for Izzy. Happy and rested, we would return home for more holiday adventures.

One of the biggest highlights of the holiday season was the Mount Rainier Railroad’s Polar Express train ride, a two-hour adventure filled with elves, singing, and Santa! Izzy danced, sang “Jingle Bells” at the top of her lungs and stared in wonderment at Santa as he gave her a bell. The parents were entertained by amazing views of the Mt Rainier area and various rivers and their children totally embracing the spirit of the holiday. We’ll definitely take that trip again, making it an ongoing family tradition.

To really bring Christmas home and get us in the spirit, we returned to Pfaff’s Tree Farm to visit Santa again for some one on one time, and to cut down our own Christmas tree. We hunted for an hour for the perfect tree, finally settling on one that would (yet again) be way too tall for the highest part of my ceiling, despite chopping more than a few feet off of the bottom.  Almost every year I misjudge how high my ceiling actually is, and every year I still make that darn thing fit. Izzy found her first live turkey and gobbled along happily with it.

Lastly, Izzy saw the Nutcracker for the first time. She loved the ballerinas, but was disappointed in the lack of mermaids (no idea why she thought there’d be mermaids), which she loudly proclaimed often to the annoyance of the little girl in front of her who would continue to turn around and scowl at us. Izzy and her daddy would eventually make faces right back at the grumpy girl who finally stopped her leering, confused why an adult made faces back at her.

Our magical winter was spent making memories with these amazing events and finding down time where we danced in snow flurries with our critters (true story: bunnies hate snow) and chased sun beams for as long as they stayed around. We snuggled on the couch and read books together, and celebrated each moment with each other trying to keep the magic of her childhood alive and strong for yet one more year and I couldn’t imagine a better way to have spent the winter.

And there you have it! So many adventures were had, before the spring. What did you do this winter?

Raina

 

On the road to Vegas!

Vegas has always held a special place in my heart.  My grandparents lived there for decades and would regale me with stories of their dates. They’d save up their money as best they could and every weekend go down to Sam’s Town and have a special night out.  They loved their date nights and continued that tradition for years, until my Grandmother’s cancer finally took those nights away. Their love of their little city lives on with each trip I take as I discover new haunts or revisit old favorites.

I’ve always gone to Vegas with friends but I hadn’t been for work, or even by myself, so when the opportunity to go for The Vegas Food Expo came up, I couldn’t say no!  To top it off I turned it into a long girls weekend with my best friend Jen.  She and I hadn’t been on a girls trip since before we both got pregnant…almost 5 years ago, so we were more than due. I had been hearing about tThe Vegas Food Expo. It was slated to be an exciting event, with small scale vendors sharing their lovingly curated foods to connect with businesses, distributors, and bloggers like myself. Amazing food and I was going to be able to learn about and support small businesses? I was in.

I booked my room at the SLS hotel where Jen and I would eventually eat one of the most amazing meals of our lives (check that post out here). The room was bright, with a light up bed and couch, and a mirror placed above the bed, which screamed fun and Las Vegas. It was over the top, and clearly not meant for a single traveler, but it was affordable and had great customer service, a fully stocked mini bar and multiple bars and restaurants downstairs.  While off the strip a little, it was quick to get around. The room was a little small, and I would have liked more separation than a sliding door to my bathroom, but it’s not like folks spend a lot of time in their rooms in a city like Vegas.

I flew out on a Wednesday, met up with my cousin to catch up and get settled. We grabbed a bite at Umami Burger to grab a beer in the sun. After dealing with Seattle’s solid rain for the past 6 months, I was ready to soak up as much of the sun as possible.  For the rest of the night I walked around the SLS to see what all was there, ending up at the Center Bar for a French 75 and some menu planning before a nice sashimi meal at Katsuya (also at the SLS), which didn’t disappoint. I started out with the truffle and lobster “Chawan-mushi” which was a creamy steamed custard, with a light truffle broth, with lobster on top. It was such a nice appetizer, and at $8, it wasn’t a bank breaker. I moved to the Omakase Sashimi which was beautifully presented-the scallop was tender, the blue fin tuna was buttery, and the Ikura was salty and fresh. At $55, it was a good amount of food,  but next time I will likely look at some of their Wagyu options, like the  Waygu Filet with Foie Gras, a beautiful option that the person seated next to me enjoyed. .Living in Seattle, it’s hard to beat our sushi. Wednesday night, I crashed out early, spending an hour or two watching cooking shows in a bed without a toddler-it was glorious!

The next day marked the start of the Vegas Food Expo and once I arrived I made my way through row after row of wonderful vendors, meeting confectioners, brewers, cider makers, and cured meat makers among so many other mom and pop shops. I loved the attention to detail and complete love each booth had for their product. I sat with the owner of Gluten Free Harvest, who talked about a real world need for small  batch, well tested GF projects – his son’s celiac disease diagnosis. I heard the heart behind so many brands, and why they ventured out to create their products. Most were born from identifying a need within their own lives and then seeing that others could benefit, they made the switch to getting their products into the hands of those who could enjoy them. I sipped wines from Barcelona, tasted honey from right outside Las Vegas, and nibbled on an amazing bone broth based beef stew that I found out I could get just up the street once I returned home!  It was lovely.

That night brought a Dune-level sandstorm which made for a hellish trip to an after party at the Lavo Casino Club at the Palazzo hotel and a 15 hour delay in Jen’s arrival.  Walking into the Lavo club, a fun bar and restaurant with multiple levels, I had great conversations, wonderful cocktails and delicious hand passed appetizers.  I would end up traipsing around with a few vendors I met at Lavo, having a wonderful second dinner of a beet salad with walnut, cara cara orange, ricotta salata and mint ($16) some of the most amazing garganelli with rabbit confit and hen of the woods mushrooms ($29) from B&B Ristorante (a Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich venture). I was even given a lesson on how to gamble-thank you Gordon!  Thinking that Jen was finally going to land, I headed back to my hotel…and waited…and waited some more.

Jen finally arrived…at 4 am, long after I had gone to bed after a series of failed flights, seat upgrades, and hotel check in issues, only to be woken up by me and a bottle of whiskey at noon. Poor gal was beat, but when in Vegas, you rally. We headed back to the Expo, meeting vendors and tasting some of the highlights from the previous day, mapping out what we were going to do before dinner.

That night, we would have the most amazing dinner at Bazaar Meat, then hit the strip for some people watching and adventure. We ended up at the Mirage in a failed attempt to find lions and dolphins at Jen’s request, and while I am still solidly convinced they didn’t exist, we did manage to find Starlight Tattoo. Whether it was the magic of Vegas, the full belly, or the few cocktails we had getting my first tattoo (and subsequent first freak out about said first tattoo) sounded like an amazing idea. We both created our designs-a bumblebee for me, and tiny mushrooms for Jen. All my fear had been for nothing-Tony Firmino, my amazing artist, walked me  through what would happen, what could hurt and how to relax (breathe) and 90 minutes later, just after midnight, my first tattoo was complete!  We ventured on with the intent of heading home when we found Toby Keith’s country bar. I happily drug Jen in to sing along to songs she sweetly tolerates for me, provided I picked up some of the tab. We would end up at one more club on the way home, dancing and chatting up strangers before hitting an wall of exhaustion and heading back to our quirky rooms for the night.

My last day was spent relaxing, and enjoying as much time as I could without any responsibility and lack of toddler feet in my back. We spent time at Umami Burger for last cocktails and snacks, before we hit the slots. I chose an Elvira themed slot, which ended up paying out $170 and with that we wrapped up our time with a hug and another shot before I hopped in a Lyft and headed to the airport.

I got home just after midnight, amazed at all the adventures I had, the memories I created and the food I had eaten and smiled happily at my sleeping baby girl who was so happy to snuggle me as she fell asleep in my arms.  I can’t think of a better way to have wrapped up that trip.

Here’s the recap in pictures!

What’s your favorite memory of Vegas?

Raina