Monthly Archives: January 2007

Five Years

Five years ago today I got on an airplane and moved to Philadelphia.  Despite the fact that I was born in California and grew up in Oregon, I look at this city as the place I am from.  I am the sixth generation of my family to live and work and learn in the City of Brotherly love, and even if I left tomorrow, it would still always be home.

If you’re curious about how I got here, check out my move-anniversary post from last year.

I feel loved

The Prophet, the Panhandler & the Moon

Yesterday I got some treats in the mail, including a book I desperately needed for class tonight, a black sock that I had accidentally left in Portland while I was there in December, a twenty year old Septa token and best of all, two copies of Raina’s new album. They did a special advanced run of 150 for her CD release party, and while I didn’t get to go to the party, I am now the proud possesser of personalized and autographed copies of numbers one and two of the run. Once in a while it’s nice to be the sister of a burgeoning rock star.

City Noises, 3 am

I sometimes forget how active the city remains, even in the middle of the night.  I’m up at nearly 3:30 am, completely unable to sleep.  I had a cup of coffee this afternoon around 2:30 pm, after nearly two weeks without much caffeine of any stripe (coffee just isn’t the same when I have a cold and can’t smell it) and that single cup of La Colombe is extracting it’s revenge for my long absence.  I had forgotten how much caffeine effects me when I’ve gone without it for an extended period of time.

Back to the city noises.  I’m sitting on the couch in the living room, with one of the big sliding windows cracked to let in some of the cool night air.  The sky looks brown and a few offices are still lit up across the way.  The breeze carries the rattle of trucks as they bounce over the pockmarked city streets.  A bus hums as it accelerates and then brakes with a squeal.  An occasional honk divides the background buzz, possibly a cab trying to solicit a fair from some lone pedestrian.  The mammoth cooling fan on the roof of the Stock Exchange Building raises the level of the white noise to a nearly distracting level.  When it finally shuts off, the air seems to shudder for a moment, as if even the molecules of oxygen find relief in the momentary silence.

I imagine my body will feel a similar sense of relief when I finally sleep.


My classes start tomorrow night.  Though I have enjoyed many aspects of the unscheduled life I’ve conducted for the last month, I’m really looking forward getting into a routine that challenges me and gives me a sense of purpose.

I am grateful that I am finally feeling substantially better.  The cold I complained about last week stuck around until about 24 hours ago and it is such a relief to be feeling better.  I do appreciate the timing of the cold though, because I got it when I had the time to just sit and be with it.  I didn’t have to drag myself to work or school while feeling awful.

I’m about two weeks late, but I’m finally ready to start the new year with energy and excitement.

Random Friday–Crazy

It’s Friday, late thought it may be, there’s still a little time for a the Random Friday Ten.  The rules are simple, just set your pod or other digital music devise a’shufflin’ and report back the first ten songs it spits out.  No omitting, altering or obfuscating allowed.

1. Crazy, Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson (VH1 Storytellers)
2. Give It Up Or Let Me Go, Dixie Chicks (Wide Open Spaces)
3. Solitary Man, Johnny Cash (American III: Solitary Man)
4. Maggie Mae, The Beatles (Let It Be)
5. Shadow of a Doubt, Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers)
6. Drunk at the Biltmore, Danny Schmidt (Enjoying the Fall)
7. Stage Banter, Bonnie Raitt (Live at the Philadelphia Folk Festival)
8. Take a Ride, Lucious Jackson (Fever In Fever Out)
9. That’s the Way (I Like It), K.C. & The Sunshine Band (Pure Disco)
10. Extra Track #2, Bad Livers (Hogs on the Highway)

Favorite Song: Crazy by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.  I’ve never heard a version of this song I didn’t like.

Favorite Album: Let It Be.  Remember, I love the Beatles.

Seen Live: Dixie Chicks.  Nobody else today, though.

The Nap Angel

Over the course of my life, I’ve come to believe in a variety of task-specific angels.  The first one to develop was the parking angel, who my mom, my sister and I would entreat with varying levels of sincerity to find us a good parking spot, near to wherever we might have been headed that day.  If the spot appeared just as we were pulling up on the same block as Powell’s bookstore or in the tiny parking lot of the co-op with the good granola, my mom would turn to us and say, “Girls, the parking angel has smiled on us today!”

The thriftstore angels, angels of serendipitous encounters and angels of found money have also played a prominent role in my life.   But today I discovered another category of helper.  The Nap Angel.

I spent the morning out at St. Joe’s today, trying to get a jumpstart on some of my assistantship work for the semester.  I headed home around 2 pm, feeling sleepy and little scratchy throated (the cold is still here, although less so that it was last week).  Once I got home, I wandered aimlessly around my apartment for awhile before realizing that the thing I needed to most in the world at that moment was sleep.  Except that I was supposed to be at a meeting at Penn at 3:30.  I looked at the clock on the bookshelf, said to myself “I can only sleep for half an hour,” stretched out on the couch in the living room and was gone.  I slept in that deep, soft-fleshed, demanding way that most people lose when they hit adolescence.

After what seemed like a flash I woke up as my lungs expanded to let in a full swallow of air.  I opened my eyes and looked at the clock.  I had been asleep for exactly one half hour.  Not a minute more.  Still feeling groggy, I said to myself, “Well, I could really sleep for five more minutes.”  Without another thought, I let gravity take over my eyelids.  Soon I felt like someone was standing behind me, gently patting the top of my head.  As soon as I was alert, it stopped.  Looking at the clock, I saw that just five minutes had passed.  I jumped up, refolded the couch blanket, brushed my teeth and was out the door.

Sitting on the trolley, I smiled to myself and sent a silent message of thanks to my nap angel, who had so perfectly timed my thirty-five minutes of sleep.  I was five minutes early for my meeting.

Missing Life

I was standing in my kitchen tonight, peeling some old wrinkled apples in order to turn them into apple sauce, when my cell phone rang.  It was my mom, calling from my sister’s concert.  She was calling to tell me how much she wished I was there.  I felt a quick, sharp pang near my heart and had to swallow before I could reply.

“I know, I wish I was there too.”

She narrated the goings-on for awhile, noting when a couple friends that reach back to our days at Bridlemile Elementary School walked in with their parents.  The fact that my old friend Kate got to be there and I didn’t seemed hugely unfair in that moment.  The running commentary continued as my dad walked up to her with a glass of Martinelli’s sparkling cider in one hand and a cookie in the other.  He leaned in and shouted into the phone, “Hey Meece, we miss you!”  We said our good-byes and hung up.

This is all part of the price I pay for choosing to live 3,000 miles away from my family.  I participate in a lot of the big events via a telephone receiver.  I am grateful I live in the age of cell phones, where instant connection with any member of my family is only the press of a speed-dial button away. But lately, when I’m having a bitch of a time reorienting to my life and not feeling particularly confident that things will turn out well for me, a cell phone isn’t a great comfort.

The Prophet, the Panhandler and the Moon

Raina and her banjo

Last Friday I called home to Portland, only to have my mom rush me off the phone with a hurried, “I can’t talk now, I have to get your sister’s CD downtown to be mastered.”

I realize that this is not a sentence that would be heard in every family, but in mine, my sister’s career as a singer/songwriter is a family undertaking and so we all participate. My dad has been recording and editing the album for many months, my mom often frequently enlisted to run deliver posters or CDs and I have claimed the role as hugely proud older sister (I did help stuff and address mailings while I was home).

Raina’s new recording, The Prophet, the Panhandler and the Moon, is done and it’s fantastic. The songs are addictive, clever, joyful, painful, heartfelt and political. Some great folks played on the album with her too, including Tony Furtado and the fiddler player from Green Mountain Grass. I can’t fullly express how impressed I am with my sister and her ability to create music (my dad also did a lovely job with the editing).

The record is hitting the Portland area tomorrow night (Tuesday, January 9th) at the CD Release/Send Raina Off On Tour party at Alchemy Jewelers (NW 10th & Lovejoy). For those folks not in Portland, it should be on CD Baby and iTunes soon.

The Bottle Room

As most people who read this blog know, the apartment I live in belonged to my grandparents long before I was born. I first came here when I was just three months old and came to visit at least once a year until 2002, when I moved in for good. You’d think after five years (Philadelphia and I will be celebrating our 5th anniversary in two weeks) that I would have tapped out all possibilities for nostalgia or quick trips back to my childhood, but that is not the case.

Last night, I walked an overflowing bag of bottles and cans down to the recycling room. I reached out to pull open the door and flew back about twenty years. I remembered the thrill I would feel when my grandmother would trust me to take the empty jars down there by myself. She would stand at the door of the apartment and watch me walk down the hall towards the west end of the building. I would tuck the empty prune juice bottle under my arm to free up a hand to open the fire door in the middle of the hallway. I’d throw that door back and scoot through before it could return to rest against the doorjam.

The bottle room, as it was called in those days, always smelled like fresh paint, linoleum and the slight souring that came from bottles not properly washed out. I’d put my empties on the hallway floor and give the bottle room door knob a tug, fighting against the slight difference in air pressure. I’d carefully put my bottles on one of the many cubbyhole shelves that lined the shallow closet from floor to ceiling, and take a minute to check out what other people left behind. You could always tell if there was a baby visiting a grandparent by the empty food jars, or if someone had thrown a party by the number of empty bottles of Beefeater gin or Chivas Regal.

I’d glance down the hall and realize my grandmother was walking towards me. I’d taken too long. She’d open the fire door, stand in the frame and reach out with one of her perfectly manicured hands. “Dollbaby” she’d say, “aren’t you done yet?” I’d let the bottle room door close with a slam and skip towards her.

When I reached her I’d hold her hand and ask, “Tutu, do you have any trash that needs to be taken out?” The trash room was even more fun than the bottle room.

The Famous No-Knead Bread

The perfect crust

I am about two months behind the curve with post, but somehow I just haven’t gotten around to baking Jim Lahey’s much-vaunted No-Knead Bread that appeared on the front page of the New York Times food section on November 8th, 2006. This amazing bread recipe/technique sent ripples through the foodie world, and you can find a list of links to people who made the bread here and here.

I’ve been home sick for the last couple of days and in a moment of stir craziness yesterday I decided to start this bread. It’s fantastically simple from beginning to end. First off you mix three cups of flour (I did two cups of unbleached white flour and one cup whole wheat) with either 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast or a 1/3 teaspoon of regular dry active yeast and 1 & 1/4 teaspoons of salt. Mix these three dry ingredients together well and pour in 1 & 5/8 cups of water (I don’t have a measuring cup that measures in eights, so I guessed a little). Stir just enough to combine, cover with plastic and let sit for 12 to 18 hours (I let it go for nearly 20 and it was just fine).

It’s ready when the surface is dotted with bubbles. Turn it out onto a well-floured counter-top or cutting board and fold it over onto itself a couple of times. Then cover with plastic and let it sit for 15 minutes. Once its rested a bit, flour the dough and your hands and quickly shape it into a ball. The recipe says to place it, seam side down, on a dish towel dusted with either flour, wheat germ or cornmeal. I used wheat germ, but it was kind of messy and burned a little while baking, so I’m going to stick with flour next time. I also didn’t sit it on a towel, because I’d read things about how the dough stuck badly. So I dusted a sheet of parchment paper and sat it down on that. I dusted the top with flour and did drape a towel over the top. Let it rise for two hours.

An hour and a half into the rising time, set your oven to 450 degrees with with the pot you’re going to bake it in inside. The secret to this bread is that for the first half hour, you bake it in a pre-heated lidded pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic), to keep the baking environment moist. For the last fifteen to thirty minutes, you take the lid off so the top browns. When the rising time is up, turn it into the pot and bake.

The whole way through, I thought I had done something wrong. I didn’t get many bubbles on the top, and it didn’t rise much during the last two hours. But I figured I should just keep going to see how it turned out and I’m so glad I did. When I pulled my faux-Le Creuset pan out of my oven around 4 pm today, I was greeted with a perfect boule of bread. I let it cool for about 20 minutes before carving into it. For someone who has almost never baked bread and has a bit of a yeast phobia, this bread has done much to bolster my confidence. As it is, I have a full whole wheat batch fermenting on my kitchen counter right now, as I’m curious to see how it will do with just a whole grain.


It’s especially good with a smear of my mom’s seedless wild blackberry jam.  If you want to see the bread in action, we also made a loaf on an episode of Fork You.