I can't even remember my reason for picking pad thai as a New Year's Day tradition when I started making it three years ago – I suspect I was craving Thai food and looking for a unique way to ring in the new year. The first two years the results were lackluster, the third time was pretty good, and this year, my fourth time making it, it finally turned out great. This version does not have any tofu or meat, since I think it's best to stay simple when attempting a recipe that's already involved to begin with. Without further ado... here's how to make pad thai!
Vegetarian Pad Thai (makes 2 generous portions)
adapted from About.com
8 oz. dry Thai rice noodles (linguine width)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 chili (optional; I use 1/2 of a jalapeño, seeds removed, which was a medium spiciness for me)
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 egg, whisked
oil for stir-frying (I use avocado oil because of the high smoke point)
3/4 Tbsp tamarind paste, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
2 Tbsp fish sauce
4 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp chili sauce or Sriracha (again, this is optional)
3 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/3 cup peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add noodles and reduce heat to low. Cook noodles until they are soft but still have a slight bite to them. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water to prevent them from sticking. (It's crucial to cook the noodles the right amount. But if in doubt, err on the side of underdone, because you can add more liquid while stir frying to compensate. I boiled mine for 5-6 minutes.)
2. Prepare the sauce by thoroughly mixing the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. (A note about the sugar: it may seem like a lot, but the 4.5 tablespoons are needed to balance the tartness of the tamarind.) Set aside.
3. Heat a bit of oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the garlic and chili for 30 seconds. Add the noodles and sauce. Stir fry for about 5-6 minutes, frequently moving around the noodles. (I find this easiest to do with chop sticks.) It will seem like there's a lot of liquid, but it will gradually be soaked up by the noodles. As soon as the liquid is absorbed, taste a noodle; if it's still too hard, add a little water or stock and continue cooking. The noodles will take on a "sticky" quality when ready.
4. Slightly reduce the heat, add the bean sprouts, and cook for another minute. Move the noodles aside, add the egg in the empty spot in the pan, let cook for a few seconds and then begin incorporating the egg in with the noodles. Cook another minute, then turn off the heat.
5. Divide the pad thai onto plates and top with cilantro, green onion, and peanuts. Squeeze fresh lime juice over top. Serve with steamed white rice, if desired.
If you try the recipe out, let me know how it goes! My recommendation would be to chop & measure out all of your ingredients first and have everything organized in the order they'll be used. The actual cooking part goes relatively quickly. Bon appétit!
One thing I know to be true as a writer: you are constantly cycling through moods about your writing. On Monday it can all seem worthless, the metaphors too transparent, the dialogue stilted; on Tuesday you decide it's maybe not so bad after all, that there's actually a few diamonds in the rough; Wednesday morning, you gain more confidence and rewrite the clunky parts; by Wednesday night that confidence has veered into smugness and has gotten in the way of being productive. In other words, feeling really bad and really good about your writing are equally dangerous. The sweet spot is when you feel cautiously optimistic. You get work done, and it's good work — not perfect by any means, but it's solid and heartfelt.
It's with that same cautious optimism that I want to share this with you: I just finished the first draft of my novel. It's not the same novel I started writing two years ago but it's the same type of story (family-centric, set in the Pacific Northwest). As for that first attempt, I scrapped it and started again from scratch four months ago. This new version is a novel-in-stories threading through a character's life, from childhood to her last years. I once read that you should write the kind of book you'd want to read (as opposed to what's trendy or what you think your friends/parents/editor wants to read). That may just be one of the best pieces of advice about writing I've come across. It's freeing. It means the difference between the act of writing being a chore and being a pleasure. It doesn't make writing easier, but it makes it more fulfilling.
So. Now: a big breath. And onto the second draft.
I've never given passwords much thought other than the typical, "Ok, how do I make this hard to guess and not hard to forget?" "The Secret Life of Passwords" digs a bit deeper. It's a fascinating read.
"Less was more, smooth was better, and absolute precision essential to the monthly grand illusion. Going to work for Vogue was, in the late nineteen-fifties, not unlike training with the Rockettes." Joan Didion on her early writing career. (Plus a peek at her rejections.)
15 Ways to Write a Novel. Yep, yep, yep. I've done 14 of these. (I've yet to try "The Word Ceiling.")
Did you know you can check out a ukulele from the library in Chicago and Portland, Maine? Pretty cool.
Hope you're having a wonderful weekend.
The World's Longest Tattoo Chain: temporary tattoos of the text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. I immediately put my name on the waitlist.
Ez and Kaia's adorable new shop. I'm not surprised their handmade softies sold out so fast!
I thoroughly enjoyed these videos of Bob Mankoff discussing New Yorker cartoons. (And whether or not some of them truly are "ungettable".)
I've been using this KeepCup and it's pretty great.
Two fantastic things I watched recently: Olive Kitteridge and Interstellar. In some ways they are complete opposites — one stays within the confines of a small town and the other hurtles through the universe — but at their core they're both about what it means to be human and how to survive.
I have a poor track record with sewing clothes – I'm talking unwearable results – and it's been several years since I've attempted to sew anything. But a few weeks ago I was writing a scene in my novel rewrite (more on that soon!) where a character is sewing a dress for her daughter, and I needed to brush up on the terminology. And then, of course, I got sucked into the massive amount of sewing tutorials online, and was inspired to try again, and do it right this time.
I pulled my sewing machine out of the back of the closet and spent an hour in a local fabric store trying not to go overboard. With everything I needed in hand, I made a "beginner difficulty" tank from Grainline Studio because I appreciate how modern Jen's patterns are. That turned out well, so I tried a shirt with sleeves, and that, too, was a success. After that I started playing around with making some minor changes to the pattern to fit my body type better, which naturally lead to reading about pattern drafting, which is intimidating but really exciting. When I go shopping it seems like I'm constantly saying, "I like this, but I wish it had different sleeves," or "I wish it was in a different fabric," or "I wish it was just a tad longer," and the idea of being able to make exactly what I want and have it custom fit would be a dream.
When I stumbled across this Nani Iro fabric I immediately knew I wanted to make a dress out of it. I also knew that the type of dress I wanted to make was essentially just a top with a skirt attached – two things that, on their own, I knew I could figure out. So, tentatively, I started to plan out the dress, making a test version in muslin first, then using the Nani Iro fabric.
The skirt of the dress is just two big rectangles of fabric that are pleated and then sewn together, but for the top I drafted a pattern, starting with a basic bodice and adding a princess seam and making it fitted and shorter. Then the top and skirt were sewn together and an invisible zipper put into the back. I'm simplifying, of course – there was a lot of trial and error, stitches that had to be ripped out and redone, and many, many, careful rounds of trying the dress on while pins held parts of it together. But there you have it! A dress. I have dinner reservations with a few girlfriends tonight and I'll be wearing it with a cardigan and tights.
(Do you have any favorite fabric/pattern/sewing resources? I'd love to hear.)
Six and a half months ago, when I planned out a vegetable garden, I secretly hoped that gardening would be my new thing. A new passion. As it turns out, it's not, and that's totally okay. It doesn't mean I'm going to give it up. I'm sure I'll be back out there next spring, sowing seeds, putting markers in the dirt. But it's more of a, "Hey, gardening? Let's just be friends," rather than an, "I love you, gardening. I can't get enough of you, gardening."
One aftereffect of trying on a new hobby for size: newfound appreciation for those who do it well. I have a hunch that some amount of talent and intuition is required, but mostly I think it's fervor that is vital above all else. You put love into it, you get love back. The next time I pass a neighbor's flourishing vegetable patch, I'll have a keener sense of just how much work went into making it that way.
The last edibles to come out of my garden are a handful of small potatoes and two itty-bitty bell peppers. I would've let the bell peppers hang in there for a while longer, but I worried about blight, especially with loads of rain in the forecast. (It's downpouring as I write this.) The peppers are so small, and they didn't even taste any good, but at least I can save the seeds. It's not entirely a bust.
Thanks for following along these last several months! The rest of my gardening posts can be found here.
Have you read anything great lately? These are my favorites from the last few months, all very different from one another. I loved On Beauty because the prose sparkled, The Book Thief because it was dark, poetic, tragic, and beautiful, 10:04 because it was hypnotic and daringly self-referential, and The Martian Chronicles because Bradbury is a master at making you feel like you're really there. A taste of each:
1. On Beauty (Zadie Smith) – "'Very enterprising,' said Howard. Then he laughed and looked at his son with fond wonder. What a period this was to live through! His children were old enough to make him laugh. They were real people who entertained and argued and existed entirely independently from him, although he had set the thing in motion. They had different thoughts and beliefs. They weren't even the same colour as him. They were a kind of miracle."
2. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) – "I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away."
3. 10:04 (Ben Lerner) – "I thought I could smell the light, syrupy scent of cottonwoods blooming prematurely, confused by a warmth too early in the year even to be described as a false spring, but that might have been a mild olfactory hallucination triggered by memory—or, I found myself thinking, a brain tumor. Across the water, a helicopter was lowering itself carefully onto the downtown heliport by South Street, a slow strobe on its tail."
4. The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury) – "They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff in the yard, and the little distant Martian bone town was all enclosed, and no one drifted out their doors, you could see Mr. K himself in his room, reading from a metal book with raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp."
For a while I've been wanting to go to Rattlesnake Ridge, especially when I saw these engagement photos, and this morning ended up being the perfect time to make the trip. It's just an hour from Seattle and a 4-mile hike roundtrip. It's a stunning view at the top, well worth getting up early for. (If you go, go as early as you can – we started hiking at 9am, and it was getting pretty busy by the time we left two hours later.)
Hope you're having a wonderful weekend!
A few weeks ago I realized that it's been five years since launching my jewelry shop. Five years! In some ways a lot has changed since the beginning and in other ways it's still very much the same. I haven't kept up with adding new jewelry to the shop as much as I would like to, and I hope I'll get better at that. Only time will tell. But today, at least, there's something new – a necklace and bracelet, both called 'floret', featuring a pendant set with crystals. The pendants come in both gold and silver; my personal favorite is 'seafoam' but all the colors are really pretty.
The new pieces are currently available for pre-order (find the necklace here & the bracelet here) so I can see which colors are most popular and order more accordingly. Within the next couple weeks I should have them available with the regular turnaround time.
In the meantime... a giveaway! I'll be randomly selecting two winners from the comments in this post. Each person will get to choose between a necklace and a bracelet and any color pendant.
To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment with your favorite pendant color. Giveaway ends on September 19th at midnight PDT; the two winners will be randomly chosen and announced in this post the following day. International entries are welcome.
Update: the winners are Caitlin T. and Charmaine. Thanks everyone for entering!
To any of you who live in or near Seattle – you should check out the book sale this weekend at Magnuson Park! I went this morning (my haul, above) and was certainly not disappointed. The books are super affordable and most are in great condition. There's more info here if you're interested.
It's beginning to feel like fall, and I'm craving soup... tomato soup in particular. I have three 'tricks' for making a delicious tomato soup: (1) roasting the tomatoes first for more complex, rich flavor, (2) adding just enough half-and-half to make it creamy but not too rich, and (3) straining the soup for a silkier, smoother texture. A cup of this soup with a grilled cheese sandwich? Ultimate comfort food.
Roasted Tomato Soup (makes about 2 cups / 2 servings)
28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes (I prefer San Marzano)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp Herbes de Provence*
1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock or chicken stock
1/4 cup half-and-half**
Preheat oven to 400°F. Drain the tomatoes, setting aside the juice for later use. Spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet, lightly coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast for 20-30 minutes, until caramelized. In a pot, heat a little olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic and onion. Cook until translucent and fragrant. Add the roasted tomatoes and reserved juice, plus the basil leaves, Herbs de Provence, and stock. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and blend until smooth. (Careful, it's hot!) Mix in the half-and-half. Taste; add pepper and salt if needed. Strain the soup by setting a sieve over a bowl, pouring soup into the sieve, and then using a spoon to stir and press along the bottom of the seive until all the liquid has passed through. (If you want the soup really smooth, you can repeat this process, but I just do it once.)
*The packet of Herbes de Provence I use is a mix of rosemary, lavender, savory, fennel, basil, and thyme. Anything similar will work—the reason I use it is because it's a nice combination of flavor and I only have to measure out "one" spice.
**I use half-and-half because it's what I usually have on hand. But you could use cream or whole milk instead, or yogurt for a healthier twist.
Admittedly, I've neglected my garden some in recent weeks. I think I got a bit discouraged by some failures: the first broccoli head ended up flowering, my zucchini plant produced squash that only grew to about three inches and then shriveled up, and there are still no peppers on my bell pepper plant. But... finally... tomatoes are ripening! And I managed to grow a few carrots. And, not pictured, a small head of garlic. It'll be a small harvest this year, but a tasty one.
My latest culinary love is homemade mango salsa. It's so refreshing. I use this recipe as a guide, though I don't actually measure anything – for recipes like this, I've always found it to be more effective to taste and adjust as I go. Have you ever made mango salsa? Here's what I've been doing: I mix together some chopped mango, cilantro, red onion, green onion, lemon juice, lime juice, and jalapeño (seeds removed, to keep it mild), let it sit for at least half an hour, and enjoy.
I already shared a couple iphone photos of our Wallace Falls hike last month but here's a handful more shot on film. Wallace Falls is actually a series of waterfalls—first the small falls, then the lower, middle, and upper falls. Before going, I read that the middle falls were the most impressive, so that was as far as we went, eating a snack and enjoying the view before heading back down.
Also enjoyed: a mostly empty trail on the way up, nibbling on thimbleberries and salmonberries, and the sign near the trailhead quoting William Wordsworth: "Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher."
I've been reading a bit less in the last couple months, but am still working my way through my ever-expanding reading list. Here's four books I loved and would recommend...
1. The Moons of Jupiter (Alice Munro) — "It had been a different story the night before. When I brought him into the hospital, to the emergency room, he had been pale and closemouthed. He had opened the car door and stood up and said quietly, "Maybe you better get me one of those wheelchairs." He used the voice he always used in a crisis. Once, our chimney caught on fire; it was on a Sunday afternoon and I was in the dining room pinning together a dress I was making. He came in and said in that same matter-of-fact, warning voice, "Janet. Do you know where there's some baking powder?" He wanted it to throw on the fire. Afterwards he said, "I guess it was your fault—sewing on Sunday.""
2. On Such a Full Sea (Chang-Rae Lee) — "Quig came briefly to examine her leg and the splint, but he appeared both times in the middle of the night, his mini-flashlight rousing her from sleep, her heart bounding in a fitful dash; and before she could form any words, he'd have retightened the cord and checked the splint bindings and extinguished the light and left, depositing her back in her dreams. And what were those dreams? They were tableaus of the unknown, naturally, visions of anxiety and miserable solitude, the kind you might have when you are a child and clenched by high fever, when you see your loved ones from the bottom of a salt pit and they are as far off as the moon, when your arms are too heavy to lift, much less wave, and your voice has no carry."
3. Clever Girl (Tessa Hadley) — "Night falls while we are eating and the darkness outside presses greedily against the glass; an autumn moon swims up over the water, dowager-stately, trailing clouds like scarves, looming over its own reflection. The restaurant by this time is crowded and noisy. Somehow we get on to talking about coincidence: Madeleine believes in premonitions and synchronicity and ghosts and we quarrel about this amiably enough, not for the first time. She gives me examples of things that have happened to her which can't have been accidental and I insist that this perception is only confirmation bias. She says there are patterns of energy we can tap into, if we allow ourselves to read the signs. We're neither of us going to change our minds."
4. Train Dreams (Denis Johnson) — "Now he slept soundly through the nights, and often he dreamed of trains, and often of one particular train: He was on it; he could smell the coal smoke; a world went by. And then he was standing in that world as the sound of the train died away. A frail familiarity in these scenes hinted to him that they came from his childhood. Sometimes he woke to hear the sound of the Spokane International fading up the valley and realized he’d been hearing the locomotive as he dreamed."
How about you? Read anything fantastic lately?
To celebrate our anniversary, Stefan and I spent two days on San Juan Island, exploring Cattle Point, Lime Kiln Park, South Beach, Jakle's Lagoon, and the American and English camps; we visited an alpaca farm (so cute) and a lavender farm (so fragrant), glimpsed eagles and deer and foxes and seals and jellyfish in the wild, played bocce at Roche Harbor, feasted at Duck Soup Inn and Pablito's Taqueria, stumbled upon the farmers market in Friday Harbor, and admired the natural beauty of the island – the wind-bent fir trees scattered in the dry grasslands, the cool mossy woods, the rocky beaches, the mist lifting off the farmlands early in the morning, and, thanks to catching a very early ferry to beat the crowds, we watched the sun rise and set on the same day.
(More photos soon, once I get my film developed.)
You guys... a short story I wrote won the Little Bird Writing Contest! I almost don't believe it. The contest was created by Sarah Selecky, whose "In the Spotlight" series I took part in. The day my spotlight went live, I received a phone call from Sarah with the news that I'd also won the Little Bird Contest—the most wonderful kind of coincidence. (Sarah hosts the contest, but the stories are judged blindly by a guest judge; this year the guest judge was Rebecca Lee, who wrote Bobcat and Other Stories.) Needless to say, I'm thrilled and amazed to have my story become a prize winner. Wow.
Here's an excerpt from my story, "Woman in a Drawer":
When I arrived, the girls were somewhere deep in the house, so Mrs. Fielding called them out to meet me. Harriet and Gracie looked like miniature versions of their mother, but with delicate, sharply defined chins, and roving, bright eyes. They stared at me for a while without saying anything, until Mrs. Fielding asked where their manners were, and would they please show me around, and then she herself disappeared into another room. The girls—Gracie, the younger one, taking me by the hand—began the tour.
Their home was larger than ours, but its layout was oddly linear: there seemed to be no central heart of the home, only rooms that led into other rooms, or a hallway that criss-crossed with another hallway. Pop music pulsed in the distance. Gracie pointed out her sister's bedroom, then her own, then a little study in which "daddy doesn't like to be bothered," and another room with toys spread over the carpet and a big poster of a blue solar system on the wall. They showed me the kitchen, then the half bath intended for guests, both startlingly white and sweetly aromatic.
When they finished—struck by listlessness, a large portion of the house still left a mystery—they asked why my hair looked the way it did. "It's called a pixie cut," I said, and then, a little desperately, "It's in style." What I didn't mention was that my haircut was the solution to a bob I'd tried giving myself using the tri-fold mirror at home. Gracie asked, "Can you cut mine like that, too?" and smiled for the first time. She had long, sun-lightened hair, the sort I envied. I was tempted to say yes. I suggested we play a game instead.
"She only knows how to play hide-and-seek," said Harriet.
"So?" asked Gracie.
"I can teach you a new game," I offered.
"No," said Gracie. "I don't like any other games."
If you'd like to read the rest, you can find it in Little Bird Stories Volume IV. All your support and encouragement truly has had an impact on my writing—so thank you.
I've been enjoying the fruits of my labor – the radishes, strawberries, and snow peas in particular. There's a tiny broccoli head starting to grow, and my bell pepper plant is getting big, and the potatoes I shoved in the ground two months ago have sprouted. Overall, there hasn't been enough yield to significantly affect what I buy from the store, but it's still rewarding and fun and a great learning process for future gardening.
These popsicles are a bit more decadent than ones I normally make, but when I ran across this recipe I couldn't resist. Mmm. Happy 4th of July!
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs, lightly packed*
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
2 cups sliced strawberries
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
Mix together graham cracker crumbs and melted butter; set aside. Blend together the cream cheese, strawberries, sugar, and yogurt. Pour into popsicle molds, leaving a little space at the top for the crust. Top with the crumb mixture, gently pressing down to compact. Add popsicle sticks and freeze for at least 4 hours.
*easy way to break down graham crackers: put them in a ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin until they're evenly crumbled.
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