There are a lot of awesome biographies out there. It’s always interesting to read truths behind the great people of our time (or before our time as the case may be). In my biography queue are “Lincoln” and “Benjamin Franklin”. What are some biographies you’ve read that have moved you or that are on your ‘to read’ list?
Tea is a crucial part of my Â life in many ways, but one of the biggest roles it plays is in my writing ritual. I always brew a cup to enjoy while immersing myself in a couple hours of writing. Beyond that connection, this post has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with a special tea I have added to my collection.
Recently my father-in-law brought back some tea and spices for me from his ministry trip to India. Among the tea he brought back was chai, someÂ DarjeelingÂ and mamri tea. This is the first time I had ever come across “mamri” tea so I was excited to investigate. I brewed up a cup and was blown away with an interestinglyÂ savoryÂ flavor. It was unlike any tea I’ve ever had. It’s rich, strong, dark and surprisingly full bodied. It packed quite aÂ caffeineÂ punch too!
I did a bit of research to see if this was a common flavor panel for mamri tea. I learned that mamri is a specific type of Assam tea that has been cured in a special way that creates granules as opposed to “leaf” tea. It is inexpensive and the tea most often used in India.
This tea was like no Assam I’ve ever tasted and that’s when it hit me. The spices. The surprising spice flavor had to have come from somewhere else. The tea was stored in a plastic bag. So were the spices. And they were transported together. The spices infused the tea in transport! Â The tea was sandwiched between curry powder, saffron and cardamon seeds. What a delightful accident.
This special tea has become such a treat and this new discovery makes me want toÂ experimentÂ with other unusual infusions. Any suggestions? Have you come across any accidental combinations that have turned out to be favorites?
The art of simplicity is something I’m working on mastering when it comes to cooking. As a food-lover who bakes for fun, geeks out on taking photos of what I cook, collects cookbooks, and writes about food both in blogs and print publications, I have an eye for fancy food that’s just too time-consuming to make on an average day–especially when the responsibilities of writing and motherhood leave little extra time for complicated cooking. And that’s where recipes like this sleep-over coffee cake come in handy.
My husband and I had some friends over to watch the Seahawks game on Sunday morning, and when planning the breakfast menu, I needed items that would be quick and easy to prepare with little effort required on the morning of the event. So the night before, I hard-boiled a bunch of eggs and stirred together a coffee cake that would sit, chilling, overnight, only needing to be baked the next morning.
In addition to being prepared the night before, the cake’s batter also comes together quickly and easily. All the ingredients are stirred together at once; there’s no creaming the butter and sugar then adding eggs followed by flour here!
I’d encourage you to file this recipe away for those times when you want something special to serve your family or friends, even if you’re on deadline. I promise that it’ll take you no longer than 15 minutes to prep the night before, and no more than 5 minutes active time in the morning. Serve on a pretty plate with some fresh fruit and your guests will be in for a special treat.
Sleep-over Coffee Cake
This coffee cake–adapted from Simply Classic: A New Collection of Recipes to Celebrate the Northwest, from the Junior League of Seattle–looks rather simple, with a deep brown color that’s consistent from the cake to the topping. If you want a little more of a crunchy topping, I suppose you could increase the amount of nuts, but I like it just the way it is. While I’m at it, let me just say how much I love this cookbook. My mom gave it to me some years ago, and it’s one of those books that I feel confident in, knowing that virtually every recipe is going to turn out great.
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons dry milk powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter
The night before: Put all the cake ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer, and mix at low speed until combined. This might take several minutes. While it’s mixing, butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pour the batter into the pan and spread it evenly throughout the pan with a spatula. Combine the brown sugar, walnuts, and nutmeg in a small bowl and sprinkle over the batter. Cover and chill overnight.
The morning of: When you wake up in the morning, preheat your oven to 350 and melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter. Pour the butter over the top of the coffee cake and slide the pan into the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is a rich brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
We’re excited to kick off the year with a special Destination Inspiration series focused on San Francisco. We ended up in the Bay Area together on a whim over New Year’s weekend, and couldn’t resist checking out some of the best pastries, coffee, and beer the area has to offer. On our first outing into San Francisco (we were staying with Sarah’s parents in Castro Valley), we headed straight to Blue Bottle Coffee in Hayes Valley. Though headquartered in nearby Oakland, Blue Bottle has a number of locations in San Francisco and New York.
Food and Beverages
Blue Bottle Coffee has built its empire upon, well, coffee, and though we live in Seattle–a city known for its coffee–the cappucinos at Blue Bottle are probably the best we’ve ever had. Surprisingly, the pastries are–at the risk of handing down too many declarations that sound like hyperbole–undoubtedly the bestÂ we’ve ever had at a coffeeshop.
The olive oil shortbread had all the elements of a classic shortbread–rich, buttery flavor with a crisp but tender texture–along with the savory touches of Eatwell Farms rosemary and Stonehouse olive oil. The stout coffee cake carried the deep flavors of beer through its tender and moist crumb that was accented with oats and currants. A pecan-caraway streusel finished it off with pleasingly complementary textures and flavors.
Had we visited again, we would have also tried the sesame absinthe cigars made with St. George absinthe and Stonehouse olive oil, and the snickerdoodles with Spanish saffron and Tahitian vanilla, among other pastries. It’s a good thing they recently released a book that, while primarily about coffee, contains an impressive selection of recipes, including all the treats we just mentioned. The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes is available at the store and online.
Location and Atmosphere
The Blue Bottle location in Hayes Valley is like a little hole in the wall that everyone knows about. The kiosk itself is a re-purposed garage with a finely manicured curbside and is tucked in the folds of an otherwise typical ally. It has just enough room for a lovely pastry case, the necessary espresso machines, a counter and the line that seems constantly formed in front of it.
WriteabilityÂ and Purchased Presence
As a walk-up coffee bar in an old garage in a former alley, there’s no place to sit at this Blue Bottle location, but to be honest you don’t really need one; less than a block away you’ll find Patricia’s Green, a little urban park on Octavia Street that’s just right for creative inspiration. On a side note, there’s amazing inspiration to be found in the history of Patricia’s Green and the amazing woman it stands for as a memorial. You can check it out at www.patriciawalkup.org.
Be sure to bring cash or check. The pricing is very reasonable with coffee starting around $3 and generously sized pastries beginning at $1.50.
Parking is always a little challenging in San Francisco and the streets near Blue Bottle are no exception. There are a few streets nearby that have free 2 hour parking, but bring money for the parking meters just in case you can’t snag a spot there.
Bundle up on a sunny winter day and get a coffee and some pastries at the kiosk, then head over to Patricia’s Green. Settle in on a bench to enjoy your treats and let yourself daydream and brainstorm as you watch the world pass by. Jot down observations, thoughts, ideas, and reflections as they come to you, and try to bring a little of this creative and happy state back to your writing space back home.
Blue Bottle Kiosk, Hayes Valley location
315 Linden Street
Wow, we’re already two weeks into the new year. Have you gotten used to writing 2013 yet? January is the month of getting your writing life in good shape for the coming year, and we are here to help. If you’ve been utilizing our Idea Generator in the past couple of weeks, by now you have a large pool of writing ideas–possibly even more than you know what to do with. This week we’re going to stretch that list of ideas even further.
Today, gather your ideas from the first two Idea Generators (here and here). Read through them all and see what kind of patterns emerge–what categories do they fall into? For example, do you notice that many of your ideas are related to gardening or food, parenting, or nutrition? Group your ideas into categories. That’s it for today–you’ll use this list in the coming days this week.
Starting tomorrow, divide your list of ideas between the remaining days of this workweek–if you have four categories, focus on one each day of this week. If you have eight categories, you’ll focus on two each day. For each category, spend ten minutes brainstorming the topic, jotting down as many additional angles and ideas as you can come up with. Don’t think too hard about whether they’re good ideas or whether you might be able to place them anywhere; the focus right now training your brain to think creatively without restraint. Think of it as freewriting ideas.
By Friday, you will have a master list of ideas, organized by topic. Continue your writing session for each day either by working on an existing writing project or by writing a first draft of one of the ideas on your list.
Certain TV shows always inspire me and get me thinking about the writers behind them. How do they come up with such amazing concepts and ideas? What is their writing process? Where do they find inspiration? This is why I love following their blogs. Do you have any writers that you follow? What do you glean from them? Who are your favorites?
You read that right. I’ll need your divided attention. These days, undivided attention is hard to come by, and sometimes not always the most necessary attribute to have. As a new mom, I long for the days when I could sit down and write undisturbed. I could pour my full attention into whatever tickled my whimsy. But those days are gone. Case in point, even as I’m writing this sentence, I’m holding my child back from the power cords with my foot. This is what I might consider theÂ epitomeÂ of divided attention…or as some call it, multi-tasking.
I love those rare sweet undisturbed moments and since my little one has gotten more mobile, those are few and far between. They come with nap time, bedtime, and when dad takes him for a hike on the weekends. Those are the moments you have to cherish and the minutes you really have to utilize. It can get overwhelming. Where do you start? There’s so much you want to do and only a matter of hours to do it. It’s like routing a river through a pinhole.
I could give you the tactics I use to get the most out of my few free moments…lists, tricks using a timer, etc. But in all honesty, there are times when you just need to sit back and let the pressure roll off your shoulders and just write when you feel like it. You have to remind yourself that it’s not all about the race, sometimes it’s just about the writing. The sheer pleasure you get out of writing what matters to you, when it matters to you.
If you find yourself in a pinhole situation of time, don’t stress. Relax and let the words come as they may. It’s your free time, so shrug off the pressure and let yourself focus your attention on being free.
Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”
I love that! From the writing that Sarah and I do for Destination Inspiration–which takes us to coffee shops and restaurants from Seattle to San Francisco–to The Flying Salmon, the Pacific Northwest travel blog I write for Wanderlust & Lipstick, I have to get out and explore my little corner of the world. I can’t stay home and watch the world pass me by–I have to get out there and experience it, and then share that experience with you.
I agree with Anne, that it is one of the greatest gifts about being a writer. Don’t you?
Image shows Sarah in an interview during our beer-tasting trip to Bend, Oregon, last summer.
By the time our beer-tasting weekend in Bend, Oregon, came to a close, none of us was ready to leave. Our husbands, babies, and the two of us had had a wonderful weekend together, and heading home just didn’t seem right. So we took the long route, heading toward Hood River, which would guarantee a scenic drive with a great destination–Full Sail Brewing Co. That was a perfect consolation to the fact that we weren’t ready to return to normal life back home.
From classic pub fare to more original summer delights, Full Sail is a sure shot when you are unsure where to eat. Here’s what we enjoyed that day.
Summer Vegetable PestoÂ PastaÂ zucchini, broccoli and cherry tomatoes tossed with rigatoni in our housemade pesto sauce. Topped with parmesan cheese.
Salmon Fish and ChipsÂ Session Lager battered wild Alaskan salmon with house made coleslaw and lemon caper tartar sauce.
The veggie salad was perfect on such a hot day! Fresh, firm (not overcooked)Â vegetablesÂ had the perfect coating of pesto. The pesto was light and had just enough flavor to beÂ noticeableÂ but not take over the flavor of the veggies.
The salmon is just what you’d expect. Strong, juicy flavors let you know that the pub didn’t skimp on quality. The Session Lager batter lightly coated the salmon almost more like a tempura than a beer batter. We both appreciated that they didn’t overdo the batter. It’s not uncommon to get a fish and chip plate where the fish is outweighed by the batter. Not at this place!
It may seem strange this far into our brewery trip to not get a beer, but we felt that the best accompaniment to our selected meals would be a glass of wine. And since we are in Oregon, why not try some of the local fare?
A personal favorite part of this meal definitely was the wine.
2008 Winemaker’s White Blend by Maryhill Winery, Goldendale, WA
2008 Peace, Love & Chardonay by Springhouse Cellar, Hood River, OR
Both wines were cool, crisp and refreshing with slight, but not overpowering fruit notes.
Location and Atmosphere
Overlooking Hood River, the location is definitely part of the restaurant’s charm. With windows for walls in the main dining area, the sweeping view of Hood River is breath taking. The atmosphere is busy, however, and seating can be snug. So come with an expectation that you might make some new friends!
WriteabilityÂ and Purchased Presence
Come with a notebook and a pen–and ideally a writing partner. You could bring a laptop, but come with a fully charged battery and we suggest doing this only during the off hours as it gets really busy during the rush. This is a great place to gather and brainstorm with friends while enjoying tasty food, quality drinks and a beautiful view of Hood River.
Expect to pay around $5 – 11 for a shared plate, or $10 – 15 for an entree. This is pretty typical of this style of pub and the portions are more than reasonable. This is a brewery, so keep in mind that the drinks are most likely where your money may disappear to.
Street parking is often available along Columbia Street. But be warned, the street is on an incline, so depending on where you park, you may have an uphill hike ahead of you.
There are some restaurants that are great for writing and some that are great for resting. While we always advocate having a notebook on hand, this is one of those restaurants that can be a nice place to just relax with friends, food and a nice drink. A rested writer is a productive writer!
Full Sail Tasting Room & Pub
506 Columbia Street
Hood River, ORÂ 97031