Heart on a String: A sweetly simple sign of love

It’s funny the way that holiday decorations can instantly bring me to a happy place. In December, the stress of holiday traveling melts away when I see my childhood stocking (made by my mother years ago) hung over the fireplace. In college, I remember the sense of connection and solace when my friends and I would do silly things like paint Easter eggs together or decorate our dorm rooms with hand-print turkeys. It made being away from home a little easier.

Vase of Pussy Willows

Seeing this vase makes me feel like I’m home.

This is how I feel every February when I go up to my grandma’s house for my birthday and see a familiar white vase on the table, full of pussy willows and dangling red heart candies. I feel like a kid again, like I’ve come home from camp or a weekend slumber party.

Logically, it doesn’t make much sense because growing up I was never at my grandparents’ house this time of year — I was always in school. Instead they would fly to Alaska (on alternate years) to visit my brother and me for our birthdays. I was oblivious to the whole pussy willow/candy heart tradition until I was living in Portland and began spending my birthday weekends with them in Tacoma. Yet, there’s still a nostalgic feeling attached to those little gummy hearts.

Maybe it’s because the story connected to the vase and its enticing sweets is so familiar. Every year I hear about my uncle, who in his younger days used to pull all the hearts off their strings, leaving behind the empty circles of thread as evidence. My grandma loves to tell me this story and honestly, every year I enjoy hearing her recount the memory. It makes me feel connected knowing that traditions (along with having a sweet tooth) remain a constant in my family.

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Do the Puyallup! Fall at the Washington State Fair…

Growing up in Alaska, I missed the memo about the Puyallup Fair (renamed this year to the Washington State Fair). This was the fair my mom’s family has gone to for years. My grandma even remembers when the famous raspberry jam-filled scones were only a nickle a piece.  My older cousin, who grew up in Tacoma, went every year without fail until he moved to Texas to get married.

I, on the other hand, was completely unaware of the fair tradition until I moved to Portland after college. My first experience was a bit ambivalent — I knew I would enjoy it but I had no idea what awaited me. One bite of a slightly greasy fair burger smothered in grilled onions and I was hooked. Now I can’t imagine a September without a trip to Puyallup and a bag full of hot scones for the car ride home.

Messy, awesome & delicious: scenes from a crawfish boil

Portland Crawfish Boil

Crawfish Boil in St. Johns

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’re probably familiar with that bridge in the background. It’s the St Johns bridge in Portland, OR and it means I’m cooking at my friend DB’s house.

These pictures were all taken at his Fourth of July crawfish boil. Being a bit crazy, he shipped 45# of live crawfish from Louisiana. Then, worried he would run short on food, he bought an additional 10# of Oregon crawfish. I had no idea we even had local crawfish!

Each batch was cooked in a flavorful broth of seasonings, onions, garlic and lemons. Potatoes were thrown in first and then the crawfish were added. Once they were bright red and cooked through, the heat was turned off, corn and andouille sausages were added and the mixture sat for 20 minutes to allow all of the flavors to permeate.

Then the pot was dumped out on a newspaper-covered table for guests to enjoy.

And enjoy, we did. When I left, completely stuffed full of great food, he was on batch number four, with another 10-12# of live crawfish still remaining!

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Summer succotash & impromptu dance parties

Summer Succotash (a la April Bloomfield)

Summer Succotash (a la April Bloomfield)

My friend DB and I try to cook together as often as possible — switching off Saturdays so we each get a reprieve from traveling (we live on opposite ends of town). Cooking at his house is always a very different experience than cooking at my own.

I’m courteous with my neighbors, but we certainly aren’t close, and on my weekends to host our cook-fests, it’s almost always just the two of us. DB, on the other hand, seems to know everyone within a two-mile radius of his place, and they know they are welcome to stop by and visit whenever he’s home.

At his house, I’ve become accustomed to having a crowd of hungry, sweaty and slightly intoxicated softball players show up (his housemate plays in a league) or perhaps just random neighbors who heard tales of homemade pizza being made. In the beginning, I was a little awkward, as I rarely saw the same person twice. But now there’s a group of people that I feel comfortable with, and the conversation flows as easily as the beer does.

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A sad farewell to the Last Frontier

Leaving Alaska

Leaving Alaska

Last night I said goodbye to my family and headed back home to Portland. It’s hard to believe that my mini-vacation is over. I had so much fun the days flew by!

I also realized that I have a much greater appreciate for my home state after having been away for so long. The sheer beauty of the landscape had me pulling out my camera every five minutes — I’m sure I took more pictures than your average tourist!

Here’s a few more scenes from my trip:

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The Nitro Zipline & the Matanuska Glacier from afar

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The Nitro Zipline in Glacier View, AK

The zipline is 1,500 feet long and it goes so fast it takes a minute to get to the bottom!

The view from the starting point of the Nitro zipline in Glacier View, AK

The view from the starting point of the Nitro zipline in Glacier View, AK

The base of The Nitro Zipline in Glacier View, AK

The base of zipline — love seeing those Alaskan flags!

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