Archive for the 'Living' category

Four Generations of Cooking…Fruit Melange in Vin Rose Anyone?

4generationsofcooking_smallMy grandmother, pictured here in the white dress second from the right, was not necessarily an adventurous cook. Nor did she have what I might call an adventurous palette. (In all fairness, not a lot of Americans did back in the day.)

As a kid, I remember my grandmother had reached a point in her life where she outsourced the preparation of large meals, or any real cooking, usually to the sainted Lydia or Gertrude, for instance. I don’t remember her doing much that might pass as actual cooking in the kitchen. What I do recall is when Granny Edith was flying solo, feeding herself was a sort of a bachelor vittles situation — she would cobble together odd bits and pieces from the pantry and fridge and call it a meal!


Fast forward to last year, when my parents were moving. One of the treasures that emerged from the great downsizing was my grandmother’s recipe box filled with moldy-smelling, hand-typed 4×6 index cards, some with taped photographs from magazines. (The scotch tape is giving up the ghost at this point, so many of the ‘graphs are loose in the box and we still have to marry them up with their recipes, as we can.)

We all had a good time thumbing through the recipes, as in all things, you wonder in hindsight why some of these she felt the need to write up and retain.

To my mother this Christmas, the Zs and I are giving the gift of making the weirdest of these recipes all together — four generations of cooking! We will have three generations cooking together in body, and the fourth, my grandmother, will be here in spirit! We are going to tackle the following desserts as our first three projects:

  • Prune Spice Cake. We will have to buy shortening, and it calls for the cake to be baked in a moderate oven, whatever the heck that means!
  • Fruit Melange in Vin Rose. This is borderline disturbing! Gelatin, wine syrup, fruit, and sour cream. It has it all!!
  • Zwieback Apple Cake, The Zs and I chose this because Tom actually knew what Zwieback was, while we had no earthly idea!


We plan to update the blog with the results of this ongoing project!

Regarding the purposely badly photoshopped four generations of cooking picture above, I wanted to share the wonderful historic photograph that inspired it. This pic happens to be my grandmother and three of my mother’s older sisters.

I Know that Floating Shouldn’t Be Competitive, But…


“Wow, you made it the whole 90 minutes…Generally, a first time floater only makes it an hour.”

I couldn’t help but feel inordinately pleased when I heard these words, all the while resisting the urge to fist pump my triumph, which would have been unseemly for so many reasons, and completely not in the spirit of the experience.

My birthday treat this year? Deprivation — sensory deprivation, that is. I have always wanted to try one of those devices where you float in a tank with no sound, no light, and no movement, just me suspended in some super salty saline. So after a bit’o Internet searchin’, I came up with Mudra Massage, where they not only had a float tank, but they also practiced Ashiatsu massage:

“If you’re in need of deep tissue work, but don’t enjoy the discomfort of pointy elbows and thumbs, then Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy® is the treatment for you. Ashiatsu is a barefoot massage technique in which the therapist delivers deep, broad, consistent pressure while utilizing their feet and body weight.”

We had a winner! Sensory deprivation and then someone walking around on my back. Perfect.

I showed up for my appointment having followed their admonishments not to shave (my kinda place), drink caffeine, or get a tattoo prior to my float. I was ushered into a room with a shower and a giant pod that looked something like an astronaut return-to-earth space capsule. They gave me a few instructions, like where to place my head (near the fresh air input) and to relax my neck and shoulders (first time floaters will often tense to lift their head just a tiny bit to avoid the sensation of drowning).

Then it was just me, the shower, and the space capsule.

After a body wash, it was time to get in. Buck naked, I stepped into the hatch, gingerly, because it was super slippery, and lowered myself to my knees. Using the interior handle, I swung the hatch door down while simultaneously, and unceremoniously, falling onto my butt, enveloping myself in total, complete and utter darkness.


With a gentle recline, I lowered my back into the water until I was suspended in the briny solution, my head pushed down and my ears fully submerged. I could see nothing and I could hear only my breathing and the sound of my own heartbeat.

My first fluster had to do with where to put my hands. If I placed them along my hips, the buoyancy of the water would push my shoulders into an aggressive shrug — not comfortable at all. When I flipped my hands up and opened my arms wide, the edges of my fingers would brush up against the sides of the tank, which ruined the feeling of weightlessness. Finally, I raised my hands over my head — BINGO! Comfort at last. I figured, at that point, I would relax right into it and enter a Zen-like state.

Nope. No Zen-like state.

Instead, I started thinking about the return air. I wondered if it was working and how I would know if it wasn’t? I started thinking that it might be good to monitor myself for carbon monoxide poisoning…then I began trying to remember what the symptoms were and wished I had a “floating buddy” like I used to have when diving, to keep an eye out for nitrogen narcosis. This led to an entire fantasy about how it would make an interesting death in a James Bond movie to have a villain in a deprivation tank. A crow bar through the handles on the outside and the person inside wouldn’t be able to leave. Then you plug off the exterior air return…a horrible slow death in the space capsule.

As you can imagine, these lines of contemplation were not leading to a relaxing experience.

After what I estimate to be about 45 minutes of obsessive “I am going to die in the space capsule” thoughts, I began to have a mini hot flash. Game over. I decided to open the tank so that cool air could wash over my face. I sat up, and experienced a momentary bit of panic because I couldn’t locate the interior hatch handle! (I had turned in the tank and was not facing entirely forward.) A short burst of pawing in the dark and I pinpointed the handle, pushed it free of the capsule, and propped it open enough to gulp down some refreshing air.

As good as it felt to spring that hatch, to be honest, it also seemed that my need to burst free was somehow cheating…the process…me…I’m not sure. How silly is that?

A minute or two later, I returned to the tank. And what a difference that break made.

I laid back and immediately entered a Zen state, experiencing crazy physical hallucinations. There was a long stretch of time where I would have sworn I was a suspended in a giant bowl of jello…and I would occasionally gently press down on the water, and enjoy moving in the jiggling jello. At other times, I woke myself up with a snore or with body twitches. And later, I believed 100% I was laying on my bed — that there was something physically underneath me more substantial and much harder than the water. And perhaps it was the salt drying on my stomach, but soon after that, I swore a blanket had been thrown over the top of me.

These sensations were not alarming, rather I marveled at them.

This second half of floating literally flew by, until I was brought out of my Zen slumber by soft music emanating from the bottom of the tank. (I bet the astronauts didn’t have that.)

Would I do it again? I don’t know. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Was it a great birthday experience? Yeppers.

And of course, now I’m going to have to talk Tom and the Zs into trying it too!

Zelda’s First Protest, Rocking it Portland Style


What’s a Portland Mom to do when her husband and oldest daughter are away in Medford for a soccer tournament during Memorial Day weekend? Why take her youngest daughter out to experience her first protest, of course!

In the spirit of protesting GMOs and Monsanto, Zelda and I armed ourselves with art supplies, constructed a few homemade posters (pictured above) and repaired to the Lloyd District for some Democracy in action. And, we would be remiss if we didn’t credit Alexander Rokoff for giving us permission to use some of his images from the War on Nature painting series. A huge thank you, Alex, because everyone loved that sign! (Click to enlarge and see the sign on the left inspired by his art work.)

After finishing our stint, I filmed the melee that was the finish line, condensing it down into moments that were memorable for us, including:

  • For my parents, the bee protestors. At 11 seconds.
  • Dude in sunglasses, shorts, and backward baseball cap who takes off running, flips a double bird, and yells, “Fuck Monsanto!” At 15 seconds.
  • The cute older lady with the dog that Zelda and I met riding the streetcar to the protest. At 20 seconds.
  • The guy in the construction/hazmat suit finding love. At 26 seconds.
  • The mad scientists. At 40 seconds.
  • The woman with the pig snout and the bunny ears. At 45 seconds.
  • The Portlandia exacta…a protestor in pajamas (there’s always someone running around in PJs in Portland), and a circus performer contact juggling crystal balls (another Portland staple). At 56 seconds.
  • Alexander Rokoff admirers digging his artwork on our sign. At 1:07 minutes.
  • Requisite drum led chanters. At 1:30 minutes.
  • Protest selfie!! At 1:51 minutes.
  • Matching hazmat suits for this couple. At 2:02 minutes.
  • Corporate exploitation of protest to expose hot thirsty walkers to yerba mate drink. (Which, incidentally, tasted nothing like a real yerba mate.) At 02:14 minutes.
  • Wonderful woman with retro camera documenting us documenting the event. At 02:19 minutes.
  • Free chalk! At 02:27 minutes.

Bruise Wheels, Black Eyes & Totally Disgusting Weeping Open Wounds!

We were excited this year when Maker Faire came to Portland, albeit in mini form! The kids enjoyed watching the watermelon launched by the giant catapult with the fancy french name…trebuchet! They made some adorable animals out of sculpting chocolate, pedal-powered their own smoothies on some bicycle blenders, and, of course, went in for some obligatory faire face painting.

Only in this case, it was Trackers style. Yes, that’s right. Trackers, or what I call hippie survival camp, which the Zs love. (The girls said they do a zombie apocalypse camp, how cool is that?)

Anyhow, Trackers had a booth at Mini Maker Faire and they were doing some awesome horrorfilmesque face painting that was a draw for old and young alike. Truth be told, it was a bit strange to see wee little tots in line for fake wounds and bruising!

Of course, the girls were instantly smitten with the concept, and placed themselves in line as Tom wandered off to peruse a few uber geeky booths we might find boring.

Zoe quickly made it to the front of the line (the artist was fast), plunked down in the chair and declared, “I would like an open cut on my arm.” The makeup whiz asked me if I had a kleenex, which I did not. But a bystander offered what I hope was an unused napkin, which she declared, “Perfect!”

This Michelangelo of the Macabre ripped a piece of the napkin, placed it on Zoe’s arm, and then sealed it to Zoe’s skin with liquid latex, leaving a line through the center raised and unattached to Zoe. Then, she began to color over it with her makeup brush from a circular palette she called her “bruise wheel!” It looked shockingly real very quickly, the napkin appearing to be peeled back layers of skin.

The icing on the cake, if you will, came when she split open the raised bit of napkin and filled the resulting trough with her special concoction of fake blood (a formulation of chocolate syrup, corn syrup and food coloring). It was disgusting, as you can see in the staged pictures below.

Zelda was next on the docket, and she requested a black eye. The makeup whiz whipped that thing out in a mere minute or two, explaining in detail to Zelda how the bones shatter and the resulting bruise pattern that occurs with a hard strike to the eye socket.

“I don’t know how to do pretty makeup,” she chatted with Zelda. “When I got married, my friends had to do do all the princess work…I only know how to do the scary stuff!”

With my disturbingly wounded lovelies in tow, we set off to find Tom.

It didn’t take long for the tall guy to spot us from a distance, his face lighting up when he saw us approaching. As we came into focus though, his hand went to his heart and he visibly staggered upon seeing the girls, so realistic was the effect. I thought he was going to have a heart attack, which, naturally, was a bonus in the eyes of our darling children!

The walk back to the car drew a lot of shocked glances and outright gawking. Clearly the highlight of Maker Faire for the Zs, and also an interesting experience, to see how fellow pedestrians interacted with their injured selves.

My View During Geometry…

This is the beach of my late childhood. The beach I could see from my high school geometry class, the one that would mesmerize me into a catatonic state, causing me to lose my train of thought…

Was that interior alternate angles are equal…?

This is the beach where my best friends and I skipped off to during the wind and rain of winter, dodging out on a practice run to go swimming in the cold ass Pacific Ocean, plowing into the surf in our shorts, t-shirts, and knee-high sports socks.

When my New Jersey-born husband first visited the Oregon Coast with me, he couldn’t believe my high school was located directly across the street from such gorgeousness.

Tom still laughs about his inaugural sojourn to the beach of my childhood. We walked toward the sea from my parents’ place, located roughly a quarter mile from the dunes and grasses, emerging onto some of the most stunning coastline I have ever seen.

I looked left, I looked right, and said…”I can’t believe it…it’s so crowded!

Now, you have to remember that Tom’s childhood coastal experiences were more along the lines of the Jersey Shore, where a body is hard pressed to find visible bits of sand in the crush of humanity that congregates there.

So, as you can imagine, he found my attitude particularly funny.

Uhm, Michele…there are…what…about five people here?!?

I know…I can’t believe it,” I responded, with no small amount of outrage.

It is lovely for the Zs that this is now the beach of their childhood. They freeze themselves in the water, swimming until their lips are blue. They roll around in the sand (still) until their ears are full of its multi-colored grains. They scramble over the huge piles of driftwood left by surging storms.

Luckily though, they don’t have the resulting drop in mathematical thinking that often accompanied my connection to the beach!

Tea, Timers, Starfish & Coffee

Sometimes, the old fashioned way just feels better.

Tom and I have developed a bit of a tea habit. We like white teas, and green teas, and black teas, and ginger teas. (Although I am lazy about loose leaf. I tend to buy high quality bagged tea, such as Mighty Leaf and Tea Forte.)

We like tea pots too. The small Japanese tea pot. The smaller Chinese tea pot. The big dragon-themed tea pot that I inherited from my Grandmother (which has the faces in the cups, I posted about earlier).

What we don’t like is boiling our water, steeping our tea…and then forgetting about it. For some reason, we just don’t use our watch timers, or our electronic kitchen timer that sits right by the stove.

I’m not sure why, but digital just doesn’t seem to jibe with the process of making and sipping and appreciating tea.

So there we were, middle-aged farts with the short-term memory of fruit flies (we like to blame this on the children) who were letting their tea over steep…sometimes for half an hour!

What to do?

Tom found the perfect solution in my Christmas present last year: an old-fashioned, totally retro, bright yellow mechanical timer. We all love it, and somehow, it seems to fit perfectly with the ceremony that is tea drinking.

As an added bonus, the sound of the timer reminds us all of the bell that rings at the beginning of Starfish and Coffee, by Prince.

Perfect, since it’s one of our favorite family songs!

No, These Turtles are not Humping!

I had the most fantastic surprise in the mail yesterday! Four gorgeous, fabulous smelling turtle soaps, lovingly handcrafted by my aunt Leslie.

She is an incredibly talented and generous woman who thought the Zs and I would enjoy a little handmade Shea Butter and Aloe Vera soap.

Leslie, you were right! We do enjoy! We are enjoying!

For the record, I would like to say that the Zs practically got in a wrestling match in their excitement over which soap to claim for their bathroom. And, Leslie, you will be happy to know that living with 3 women has rubbed off on Tom, and he appreciates a non-drying hand soap as much as the next guy!

I also wanted to get a plug in for my aunt’s Etsy store. She makes some of the most gorgeous wooden crafts. Her cutting boards with inlaid turquoise–a great Mother’s Day gift.

Thanks Leslie for making my week!!

Stop…I mean Start…the Presses!

In Portland, we have a wonderful store, if you adore paper arts and letterpress. It’s called Oblation Paper and Press. I was lucky enough to take a letterpress class there a while ago, working with those incredible old machines and wooden letter blocks (I made a postcard-sized thank you card that said “Danke”).

Anyhow, our current downsized lifestyle, which I adore, does not really include room for a turn-of-the-century, gigantic, zillion pound letterpress machine! (Maybe when the Zs depart…) So, I didn’t think playing with letterpress would be in my future.

Then, Tom gifted me with the crafter-sized QuicKutz Epic 6 letterpress and die cutter this Christmas.

Before even using it, I have to say that I enjoyed reading all of the reviews. I traveled back in time, via the Interwebs, to the moment of its launch to see what reactions were when it first came out. The outraged posts on the part of professional letterpress artists about this innocuous little machine surprised the heck out of me. I am not sure what they found so threatening. I would think it would only expand people’s appreciation for, and understanding of, this incredible art.

The consumer reviews were definitely entertaining. My personal favorite was the complaint that to use it, you would continue to have to purchase supplies. Does a tube of paint came with an inexhaustible supply of canvas? Of course not. Think of it this way, you are buying a tool with a minimum amount of supplies to get started. Also, many complained, “I got it out of the box and it didn’t work perfectly on the first print.”

Welcome to letterpress!

When I took my class at Oblation, the pros had to use a ton of tricks and tweaks to get great results. Every machine had its own personality. Don’t expect home letterpress to be any different.

There are some good posts about modifying the machine, and about other’s experiences with it, including this one from Boxcar, here from Paper Crave, and lastly Viva la Blogette’s review.

Mine own first pass reactions after spending a few hours with the machine several weeks ago are below. Above is a photo of some of the results I got with the Epic 6 during that time.

  1. I was able to get passable results pretty quickly out of the box, particularly with the finer letters and lines.

  2. The plates that are included are uber low quality. When I opened the box, several of the stock images were dramatically warped and completely unusable.

  3. The brayer that was included worked fine for me, particularly on narrow text. In fact, for this, I preferred it to the fancier 6″ one I purchased on the recommendations above. I am curious to order plates from Boxcar though, and use the larger brayer with some guides. This will be the key to good results with larger inked areas, which are hard to coat evenly with the smaller brayer.

  4. I had no problem with cracking plates, as others did. But, I didn’t print any large runs. Also, I didn’t press boundaries in terms of increasing the impression depth.

  5. Watching a video or two beforehand is definitely helpful.

  6. You will definitely want more color than the solo black tube included with the kit, so buy an array of ink ahead of time if you can!

  7. Make sure you have lots of time to play the first time you take it out of the box. It’s addictive!

A Magical Moment at the Train Station!

I’ve been meaning to post about this for awhile!

A few months ago, I was puttering around the house and glanced out the window to find a ton of people milling about near the train tracks, where they intersect with NW 9th Ave to the north of Union Station. Let me assure you, this is not a normal occurrence. There is absolutely zero reason for Portlanders, some with cameras, to be besprinkled between and betwixt the tracks. (Generally, the only crowds we get are when the Portland Police park next door at the mounted police training facility to get suited up in riot gear for protests. There was not a law enforcement officer to be found in this group though. I checked.)

Intrigued, I decided to observe this group milling around for a bit, but nothing was happening, so I continued on with my day…irritated that I couldn’t figure out why everyone was chilling at a nondescript intersection. As I was mentally setting aside their puzzling behavior, my puttering was interrupted again, this time, by a vibrating exhalation that reverberated through our place, shaking everything.

I ran for my camera while my brain was piecing together that a steam engine must be parked at Union Station. Sprinting for the balcony, I could hear it lumbering by, and I managed to catch the shot below of a lovely Art Deco steam engine starting its journey to a train show in Tacoma.

According to Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, this beauty is called the Southern Pacific #4449

Built in 1941 as a 4-8-4 GS-4 locomotive, she is 110′ long, 10′ wide and 16′ tall. With locomotive and tender weighing 433 tons and a boiler pressure of 300 psi, her eight 80″ diameter drivers and unique firebox truck booster can apply 5,500 horsepower to the rails and exceed 100 mph. The only remaining operable “streamlined” steam locomotive of the Art Deco era, this grand Lady of the High Iron pulled Southern Pacific “Daylight” coaches from Los Angeles to San Francisco over the scenic Coast Route and then on to Portland until 1955.

Retired to Oaks Park in 1958 for display only, many thought 4449 would never run again. In 1974 she was completely restored specifically to pull the 1976 Bicentennial Freedom Train throughout the United States to the delight of over 30 million people. SP 4449 has also operated numerous excursions since. She is arguably one of the most beautiful locomotives ever built and kept that way by the all-volunteer Friends of SP 4449.

The juxtaposition of highrise condos with a steam train was captivating for us all who watched her get underway. (Click on photo to the right to enlarge.)

Unbeknownst to me at the time all of this was happening, Tom was stopped by the train as he was walking home on NW 9th Ave with Zelda. He too could not deduce why people were loitering, nor imagine upon what they could be waiting. Lucky Tom and Zelda were both right there as this piece of machinery demonstrated its ability to achieve some serious pressure in its boiler…the noise and heat was quite visceral for them.

Thanks babe for snapping the great close up shot of all that water vapor using your phone (pictured top left)!

More Bridges of Multnomah County

Prior to our carless period, seven years of living in Portland had netted me exactly one trip across the Willamette River on foot. (During Tom’s marathon training, he made many crossings, so his record is much more solid than mine!)

Now, as a rule, if I have a work meeting anywhere in-city, I try to walk or bike to it, which has had the happy side effect of requiring many, many pedestrian crossings of the Willamette, the river that bisects Portland. And every single time I step foot on one of our bridges, my mood soars…it’s so movie montage cliche! Regardless, I find it spectacular in all weather — the driving rain, howling winds, dense dense fog, and gorgeous gorgeous sunshine. These little cross water forays provide a sort of relaxed fulfillment that surprises me each and every time I undertake one.

I think the Steel is my favorite because the pedestrian walkway is so low to the river.