44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

Forty-four. Fancy, that.


Every year for the past few I have written a blog post for my birthday. A few of those years were pretty grim, so last year’s was a welcome change.

On the eve of my 44th birthday, I’m wanting very much to put together one of my annual blog posts while simultaneously feeling extremely guilty that – sitting in front of my computer – I am not working. See, I leave for Italy in less than two weeks, I’ll be gone for a month, and I’m doing as little work as possible during that time… Which means I’m cramming undergrad-style right now.

(Okay, not quite undergrad-style. I’m actually sleeping. Or trying to, at any rate.)

So, in brief…

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

Work is going very well, I got to travel quite a bit last year, and I’m looking forward to even more stateside jaunts after the Italy trip (which I am crazy excited about). I now have two ebooks published in conjunction with my Italy travel guide, and more in the works.

I remain happy, and even a little more settled than I was last year. I’m no longer in my transitional apartment. I am building a home and future with a wonderful man and his fabulous daughter. We aren’t a normal family, but it’s a sort of family. I never pictured myself as a family person, but now that I’m here there’s much about it that I genuinely love.

Fancy that.

A little anecdote from the other night demonstrates a bit of how much my life has changed, I think.

At dinner, the boyfriend was talking to the 10-year-old about impending adolescence, and how it’s almost her job to be surly due to body and brain changes, but that he hopes she’ll buck the trend and still be nice to her parents.

“And me,” I chimed in, as a joke.

“You’re a parent,” she said, not as a joke.

Years ago, that comment might have given me hives. The other night, it made my heart swell.

Once upon a time I lived in a town surrounded by wealthy families, and thought the only way I’d be happy was to have an entire Esprit or Benetton wardrobe like my classmates did. Once upon a time I sang in a struggling rock band, and thought the only thing that would make me happy was to be signed to a record deal. Once upon a time I was thisclose to living in Italy, and the achievement of that goal seemed the only thing that would make me happy.

Turns out there are many roads to happiness, and some of them might start out looking like that weird back alley your mother told you never to take even though they may open up onto a glorious field of flowers just around that corner.

Life takes us in funny directions sometimes, you guys. And I’m finally learning to not only follow that weird back alley, but listen more closely when life is practically yelling directions in my ear.

(44 and still learning. They say learning new things is good for the brain. That’s my excuse this year, anyway.)

A Note from Tallulah Underfoot


I drove back to Animal Aid this morning to drop Tallulah off. It wasn’t an easy decision. Here’s what I just posted on her Instagram photo… (And shaddup, of course the cats have an Instagram profile.)


I’m a sweetheart, but I’m shy. I’ve got anxiety issues. I like the humans in this house just fine, but even they scare me sometimes. And it doesn’t matter that Aloysius is just trying to be playful – when he “stalks” me, it really freaks me out.

I was *trying* to adjust to my new life. But it’s been *really* hard, you guys.

I peed in a couple of places that aren’t litterboxes a few weeks ago, but the humans thought it was just a transition issue. So when they went away for a weekend and had a friend staying in the house, I decided to let them know in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t working out: I used their bed as a toilet. Three times.

The humans made sure I wasn’t sick, which I suppose they had to do, except I really hate being shoved in that tiny little carrier box thingie. (The humans didn’t know how strong a little cat could be until they tried to get me in there, hoo boy.) The shelter said I should probably come back, so this morning I got manhandled into that stupid carrier box again and I’m now back at Animal Aid.

I know my humans are sad. One of them cried a lot the other night. (I tried to tell her it was okay, that it was for the best, by being super cuddly and purring more than normal. I hope she got the message.) They *really* tried to make me happy. I know this is best for me, though. I need a home where there isn’t an abnormally large and rambunctious cat around. I need a home where I can be the princess. I really need peace and quiet.

If you’re the right human for me, I’d love to meet you. And I wish my humans (and even that big oaf Aloysius) all the best.

Mark & I will look for another cat when I’m back from Italy. We’ll need one with a big personality like Aloysius, but not so big that they antagonize one another. It could be a challenge. He was adopted once before we got him, & had to be returned to Animal Aid for sort of stalking one of the existing cats in that house, so he’s got a history…

We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, we’re hoping our little girl finds the perfect home.

Introducing the New Family Members


We finally got to bring home our newest family members yesterday, so it’s time for formal introductions.

If you didn’t know already, we had to return Tallulah to the shelter – you can read about that here – and now there’s another cat in town.

Aloysius, né Avery

Nicknames so far: Wishes, Monster Floof


This one was purring and wanting tummy rubs about 20 seconds after being released from his cage, and was eagerly exploring the whole house a few hours after he arrived. He’s the social bug, and will likely serve as the official welcoming committee of the house from now on.

He’s a big boy; he weighs only 13 pounds but looks heavier. His paws even look like he needs to grow into them, but he’s around two years old, so I think this is as big as he’ll get. We’ve no idea if he’s part Maine Coon or Norwegian Forest Cat, but of course he appears to be part something-gigantic. The pointy tufts of fur at the tips of his ears contribute to that, too.

He purrs constantly, follows us everywhere, is very talkative, and slept most of the night at the foot of the bed. Both cats like having their tummies rubbed, which is a huge bonus. I didn’t dislike the name Avery, but I’ve wanted to name a critter Aloysius ever since I read “Brideshead Revisited,” and I finally got my chance.

And yes, I have just ordered a Furminator brush to deal with all that floof.

Miss Tallulah Belle, née Paris

Nicknames so far: Lula Belle, Pigeon
Note: Tallulah is Paris again and is available for adoption at Animal Aid! Are you her forever family?

Miss Tallulah Belle

This one is a small but high-density cat with a round barrel-like belly (she’s supposed to go on a diet soon). She’s a dark brownish tabby with a white bib, white socks, and a thin white stripe down the middle of her nose. I think she’s much cuter in person than in photographs.

She loves being petted more than anything else the world, especially the cheek scratches, and she chirps a little when she purrs like a quail or pigeon. She’s the shy one, mostly content to stay in her hidey-holes in the bedroom (her “safe” room for now), though she’s perfectly affectionate when she comes out to us.

I think she’ll be a super lovey cat, she just needs a little more adjustment time. Apparently it took her about a month to go beyond her safe spot in the shelter, so I’m pleased she’s already purring with us after not even 24 hours. They think she’s around three years old.

As much as I love the city of Paris, I couldn’t handle leaving her with that name. It just reminded me too much of Paris from “Gilmore Girls.” Plus, she seems like such a sweet and proper Southern lady, I figure her new name suits her.

creative commons photo by Matthias Ripp

Building My Own Fire

creative commons photo by Matthias Ripp

creative commons photo by Matthias Ripp

When I was a young professional, just a few years out of college, I checked into what seemed at the time an impossibly swanky lodge during a work trip. We each had our own cabins (mine was larger than my basement apartment at the time), complete with a fireplace. A real fireplace.

I was 26, and I had never built a fire.

After two failed attempts, using up all the kindling supplied, I flagged down a passing worker who started a fire for me. I’m sure he got a good laugh out of that, though I’m guessing he isn’t still thinking of that evening nearly two decades later.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

In 2013, I began a long process of pivoting from the direction in which I had been going for years – of shifting the earth around me so I could really move.

I was 41, and I had never built a fire.

I had been living in a shiny new house with a gas fireplace, lit with the flick of a switch. I had settled into a life that, at one time, suited me partly because it coddled me. I don’t know when exactly I stopped needing the coddling, but by the time I noticed it was too late. There was nothing for it but to move.

In 2015, I began the process of settling into a new life – one with a 100-year-old house that has no insulation, a dirt-floor basement, and fragile plumbing and wiring that both could use updates.

And a real fireplace.

I am 43, and I can now build fires.

I begin with the easy stuff, the paper, and work my way up to the hard stuff, coaxing little wisps of flame on the edges of newsprint into the crackles and pops that tell me it’s going to take. I crouch in front of the stove’s open mouth, blowing steady streams of oxygen to resuscitate flagging coals when I’ve neglected them for too long. I pull on work gloves and haul wood in the rusted wheelbarrow from the shed out back to restock the wood pile on the porch.

I can keep my fires burning all day long, until the gorgeous coals glow with a bright orange light that shifts and moves like the fire itself.

Like me.

I am 43, and I have built my own fire.

The haul from my inaugural PDX Food Swap.

Things I Learned from My First #PDXFoodSwap

The haul from my inaugural PDX Food Swap.

The haul from my inaugural PDX Food Swap.

Just a few years ago, I was what I would call a foodie, but I actively avoided cooking. I lived with someone who loved to cook, and I was so deep in the middle of a depression that I wasn’t motivated to “play” in the kitchen. Today? Not only do I really enjoy cooking, I’m now inspired to expand my preserving repertoire.

This latest twist is thanks in large part to two things – an extremely productive garden (including the neighbor’s ignored fruit trees) and attending my first PDX Food Swap.

First, a bit of background on the food swap thing, since I got a lot of “huh?” on Facebook when I mentioned it.

I heard about the PDX Food Swap group from my friend Bethany, one of the co-founders. Participants register in advance and bring their homemade goodies to the swap, ready to trade with other swappers. It’s conducted sort of like a silent auction – you set out your stuff, then make the rounds seeing what everyone else has brought (sampling where people have thoughtfully allowed for this), and write your name (and what you’re offering to trade) on their swap sheets. After a period of time, you review the offers you’ve gotten on your own swap sheets, make any trades you’d like based on the list, and – if you’ve got leftover goods – circulate again to make any other trades you can.

After this summer’s bumper crop of figs, I made a huge batch of fig freezer jam and this extraordinary (and extraordinarily simple) fig coulis that’s a terrific sauce for poultry or pork. I signed up for the September food swap, designed some cutesy labels, and even clipped fig leaves to bring to the swap as part of the presentation.

I thought I would be styling.

The room was super crowded, I’m not even sure I got to see everything on offer during the time allotted, and then when I got back to my station to review my offers I had received only one. That was disappointing, to say the least, and the most disappointing part was that the sole offer was for the fig jam, not the fabulous fig coulis.

In the end, by carrying containers of fig coulis around the room (with some help from L, the 9-year-old) and explaining how wonderful it is, we managed to find enthusiastic new owners for every container of coulis we brought. We still ended up coming home with a lot of our own jam, however.

I want to be clear that I’m not in any way complaining. We traded for a great assortment of stuff, including two kinds of homemade butter and a coconut miso caramel sauce that is – I kid you not – one of the most interesting things I’ve tasted in ages. I also came away inspired and motivated to be ready for the next swap with something that might just mean my station is the crowded one.

With that in mind – and yeah, I admit there’s a little bit of my competitive side coming through – here are some of my takeaways from my first food swap.

4 Things I Learned from My First #PDXFoodSwap

1. Jam isn’t (necessarily) gonna cut it.

Jam is basically entry-level food swapping, as it turns out. Since I didn’t cook much of anything a few years ago, the fact that I made a whopping huge batch of simple fig jam makes me proud – but it’s nothing compared to the homemade brie that had people salivating at the food swap.

Not all jams are created equally, however, so if you’re going to bring jams or jellies, you’d best make sure they are either made of something that’s nigh unto impossible to get around here or they’ve got a flavor twist that’s inventive and interesting. Case in point? We came home with a jar of fig absinthe jam that I’m in love with.

2. The name on the recipe might not be the name to stick with.

So, about that fig coulis. What the hell is coulis, anyway? A nondescript container of murky beige, umm, something with a fig on the label and a vague note that it’s good on chicken – this is not enough, I found out.

When we first started picking the neighbor’s figs last summer, I hunted for every interesting-looking fig recipe I could find on the internet, and the fig coulis was the biggest hit. It’s stupidly simple – figs, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar (salt and pepper added to taste), and it’s now our favorite thing to eat with chicken. Another swapper had made a fruit-based sauce to go with red meat, and the label for that said “Burger & Steak Sauce,” with a helpful image of a hamburger. If I ever bring the fig coulis again, I’m going to need a more descriptive name for it. And, perhaps, samples.

(Because, seriously, it’s so good, you guys.)

3. Marketing is key.

As I said, we were able to trade all the fig coulis at the end, but it wasn’t because of my cute fig leaf presentation or my good penmanship on my swap cards. It was because we walked up to other swappers and, extolling the virtues of the coulis, asked whether they wanted to trade some for one of their goodies.

When we were packing up, two of the organizers came over separately to say they really liked how we were doing active marketing. I hadn’t thought of it as marketing at the time, honestly, I was just eager to go home with fewer of our things and more of everyone else’s, but I suppose marketing is a good term for it.

And it turns out that although marketing might be key (especially if you don’t have the hot item of the night), it’s actually pretty challenging to do when you’re out sampling everyone else’s stuff and not at your own station to tell people what the hell coulis is while they’re standing right in front of you. Which brings me to…

4. Next time, I’mma make my own swap sheets.

Organizers send out a PDF of the swap sheets in case people want to fill them out in advance, which – naturally – I did (hello, firstborn over here). But, as I mentioned, since I wasn’t standing right there to answer questions or “sell” the idea of the coulis, it didn’t generate any interest on its own. I had to do that one-on-one after the initial session was over.

And that’s why, next time, I’m going to make my own swap sheets. Assuming I’ve got the time, that is, I’ll scan the official sheets and incorporate them into a one-pager about my goodies, so that I can still be there (sort of) to “sell” my stuff at the same time that I’m out seeing other stations and leaving my name on other people’s sheets.

Crazy over-preparation? Maybe. But I think it will let me focus on seeing and sampling everything else without constantly feeling like I need to check on my list or hover over anyone looking at my station.

The Plotting Begins

No sooner had we walked out the door of the swap than we were already brainstorming what to bring to the next one in early December.

Maybe the boyfriend will get enough deer or even an elk this fall, and we’ll have game jerky. Maybe I’ll use some of his grandmother’s canned fruits to make my mother’s curried fruit recipe, always a favorite at the holidays. L is even excited about making her own contributions next time, so she can get whatever she wants (i.e. she’ll be the first in line for that big pound cake she was denied this time).

All in all, I’m calling it a success. And I’m really looking forward to the next one.

Bourbon Curious by Fred Minnick

Bourbon Curious: A Book Review


I am a voracious reader, and I happen to adore brown likker. So when I got an email some months ago asking whether I’d like to be sent a review copy of a book about bourbon, I sent a pretty enthusiastic yes in reply. Here’s my review of that book.

Bourbon Curious by Fred MinnickI was a very late bloomer when it comes to drinking. I’ve never much cared for beer, didn’t start drinking wine until I was 26, and barely dipped my toe in the syrupy cocktail end of the pool by the age of 30. I don’t even recall the path that got me from there to the place I am now – a 43-year-old who likes what my mother calls “boozy” drinks.

Not only do I like boozy drinks, I especially love the alchemy that happens in a cocktail glass and the stories behind historic drinks. I suppose it’s not surprising, then, that I really enjoyed most of Fred Minnick’s book, Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker, which is part history book and part tasting guide.

The first part of the book breaks down what’s known about the history of bourbon – turns out the origin stories are a little murky – and puts some of the best known legends around certain brands to the test. (Spoiler: most don’t stand up to even the faintest degree of scrutiny.) Bourbon producers not only stretch the truth (which is putting it mildly in some cases), they’re pretty eager to hide the truth sometimes. Bourbon has survived – and thrived – in part thanks to some pretty shady dealings with things like slavery, prostitution, bootlegging, and snake oil salesmen. Not surprising at all, then, that distilleries make up their own origin stories.

There’s some really interesting myth-busting going on in this book – enough that a more combative person than I am might actually hope for that ill-informed blowhard at the bar to start in on how it can’t be called “bourbon” if it’s not made in Kentucky. (Spoiler: yes, it can.) Me, I’m satisfied just learning the history without needing to incite a riot at the bar.

After all the backstory, though, the most handy (to me) part of the book comes next. Minnick breaks bourbon down into four flavor profiles – grain, nutmeg, caramel, and cinnamon. Most bourbon will have a few (if not all) of those flavors present, but Minnick categorizes several popular bourbons by which flavor is most “forward.” I thought this was particularly useful, especially if you’re looking to pair bourbon or a bourbon cocktail with food, or if you’re looking for the right bourbon for a certain cocktail.

The last third (give or take) of the book was the part I could personally have done without. It’s a series of Minnick’s detailed tasting notes from a variety of bourbons, including space for your own tasting notes should you sample the same bottles included in the book. I once tried to keep a diary of wine tastings, but lost interest so quickly I think I didn’t get past the first page. I’m not a tasting notes girl. If you’re someone who keeps such notes, then this section might be just your cup of tea. Me? Not so much. I skimmed it.

Overall, I found Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker to be an informative, interesting, and quick read. I’ll be keeping it on my cookbook/barbook shelf for future reference in that middle third of the book that I thought was the most useful section. Honestly, I would love that section as a standalone bar reference book or – maybe – a smartphone app. The latter would be even more useful than the book, as it could include many more bourbons than are listed. There you go, Fred, that’s my contribution to your post-book to-do list. You’re welcome.

Did you know September is National Bourbon Heritage Month?

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