Friday, July 27, 2007

What do those sirens mean?

My neighborhood is in a flap about a break-in last Wednesday -- though once you get to the bottom of the hoo-hah, it seems there was no breaking and entering, just someone entering a home through an unlocked door. And the intruder left as soon as he heard someone moving about the house.

In the process of trying to figure out what really happened, I came across, where you can see up-to-the-minute fire dispatch reports for Seattle (and many other cities). It does not, however, show police incidents for Seattle unless there is also a fire/emergency dispatch.

Solo cat bathing

Having pretty much blogged myself silly yesterday for a client, I decided to take Friday off and make it a long weekend. Ballard shops are having sidewalk sales in anticipation of the weekend Ballard Seafood Fest, and I thought I'd get first shot at the discounted merchandise.

Someone forgot to tell Betaille, our elderly long-haired cat, about my plans. She had a horrible morning and wound up needing a bath. Things were so bad, she actually asked for a bath.

I had never washed her solo before -- usually I stand in the tub, bottle of cat shampoo in hand, and Zorg nabs and then hands over the struggling feline. But Betaille put up no resistance when she heard the tub being filled. I was able to hold her in one arm without being clawed too much, slather her with shampoo with the other hand, and proceed just by dunking her vigorously in and out of the bathwater. She squeaked perfunctorily with each dunk, and it was hard not to laugh. After I released her, I got to wash towels and a bathmat, wash the tub, and then take a shower. So I got a rather late start on the day.

Eventually, I was able to walk into town and get to a few sales. Collective, the retro furniture shop on Ballard Avenue had much of its vintage patio furniture on sale. I was disappointed to see that the curved metal bench (that matches some of our patio stuff) was not marked down. I'd been eyeing it all summer. I went in and asked why it wasn't on sale, and the manager said "Because I forgot to mark it down. What do you want to pay for it?" I offered half the marked price, and he said "Sold."

I drove back at the end of the day to pick it up, and it's now in the back yard. There are at least three places it could go, so I expect to get a lot of mileage out of it. And will probably paint it which to match the other pieces...though the black is rather nice...Photos to come.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Classic London Broil

Back in the early '80s, when my first husband and I were living the starving grad student lifestyle, his thesis advisor used to have the lab team over every few months for a feast: London Broil. It was fabulous.

There is an art to making London Broil that involves marinating the meat, turning it frequently while broiling over a high flame, and then allowing the meat to sit five minutes before slicing it diagonally (the knife is perpendicular, but the cut is across the grain).

I've essayed London Broil a few times in recent years and have always been disappointed by the results: tough, with a liver-y taste. Reading up on the recipe today at Cook's Illustrated website (subscription only) I discovered why.

Traditionally, London Broil was made with flavorful flank steak. However, in the past few years, use of the flank steak for popular dishes like fajitas has driven up the price, and supermarkets now sell their less-expensive steak cuts (chuck, and top and bottom round steaks) marked "for London Broil."

So, if I want London Broil to taste like real London Broil, I will have to ignore the store labels and and buy flank steak. Next time. Grrrrr.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yes, we have no coyotes

Over here in Ballard we may be overrun with fearless raccoons, but, thankfully, we have no coyotes. Apparently there are a few up on Capitol Hill, snacking on cats. (Info courtesy of Metroblogging Seattle and the NW Coyote Tracker.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

iPhone anti-theft device

This Hide-a-pod idea is snarky, but amusing.

Probably someone's exercise in web page design.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Do you Twitter?

If you do, you'll find me on Twitter as "mystrev" (short for mystery reviewer).

(Yes, new glasses!)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Old-fashioned Montmorency cherry pie

When we moved here five years ago, one of the charming features of the neighborhood was a huge garden maintained by an elderly Italian neighbor who owns several adjoining properties. Mike grew squash, and tomatoes, and beans, and corn; you'd see him every afternoon in his overalls, toting tools, and heading off to work in the garden.

Sadly, Mike began to suffer from dementia two years ago, and could no longer maintain the garden. Mike's family has since sold some of their property, including the garden lot and an adjoining rental house. The garden's new owners are former neighbors who now live East of the mountains; they've invited a few other neighbors to use the garden. But this year no one is growing much in it, and the lower section has gone to seed.

My friend Nilos and I were out walking Thursday and spotted a small cherry tree in back of the garden, filled with ripe cherries. We asked some of the neighbors about it, and they said we were welcome to pick the cherries. They'd tried them and found them to be rather sour.

Of course they were sour! They're Montmorency cherries, also known as old-fashioned pie cherries, which are available at only one or two Seattle farmers' markets, one or two weeks of the year. They're incredibly fragile, losing their bright red, translucent color and turning to a darker shade just an hour or two after you pick them. They need to be cooked, brandied, or otherwise preserved immediately.

On Friday Nilos and I picked about 9 pounds of them. Then I scurried down to the basement pantry and rummaged in the box marked "kitchen gadgets" until I found the little vintage cherry pitter. Using the pitter, and a narrow-tipped wooden chopstick, Nilos and I pitted the first nine pounds of fruit; she took them to Anita's and today they produced three gorgeous cherry pies. They brought one by for me. (Zorg, having been traumatized in his youth by a seasonal job as a commercial cherry picker, has a permanent aversion to cherries.)

With a ratio of 4 cups cherries to 1 cup sugar, the pie is perfect. Anita tells me that the thickener is the pie filling enhancer from The Baker's Catalog. [CORRECTION: the filling is Signature Secrets] And she did a butter crust, far more delicate than anything I'd have been likely to attempt.

Cherry pie made with old-fashioned pie cherries was my dad's favorite dessert. He and my mom had difficulty finding canned sour cherries when they moved to Florida, so I'd ship them cans of Oregon pie cherries. Since "real cherry" pie is such a family tradition, I called my mom tonight and invited her over to enjoy some pie tomorrow afternoon.

And I'm taking some pie over to Mike and his wife. That cherry tree was the only fruit tree in his garden, so he must have planted it because he liked those particular cherries. I figure that even if he doesn't remember the tree, he'll still enjoy the pie.

[NOTE: We used one of Nilos' professional pie crusts, but here's a link to my "no-fail" recipe -- easy to make and easy to handle.]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The return of the turquoise moth

The turquoise moth I blogged about in July of 2004 was back last night. (Or, more likely, a relative of the original turquoise moth is putting in an appearance.) This year, I managed to get a picture of it.

Unfortunately, the cats were also trying to get it, and they were using claws rather than a camera. So I spent more time urging the moth to relocate than focusing the shot. It eventually moved to a wall over the bathtub -- an excellent choice. I'd just filled the tub with water for a bath, so any flying leap from a cat would have ended with a big splash.

I noted that first turquoise moth sightings were July 5 and 7 of 2004. This year I spotted it July 10. Obviously this is a seasonal visitation.

Can anyone identify this moth? The little guy has a wingspan of about 1 inch.

I've found a few other references to turquoise moths online, but they've all been like mine -- reports from non-moth people who found the moth in their house on a summer night.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Farewell, Lori

Early this morning our friend Lori Richey died.

She'd suffered a heart attack two weeks ago while attending a family reunion in Colorado, going into a coma from which she didn't emerge. Lori's family had her transported back to Seattle by special air taxi; she spent her final days at a nursing facility surrounded by family and friends. (A local Cajun band played music to her from the hospital courtyard).

Lori worked for many years in health research laboratories, but her true love was playing Cajun music (accordion). Back in the day when I was involved in the Seattle Cajun scene and threw some big parties at the old Shady Rest, I recall Lori coming over and bringing her favorite potluck dish, Chinese barbecue pork with dipping sauce and sesame seeds. (Oddly, I was eating that for dinner the night I heard the news about Lori's heart attack.)

Lori was way out ahead of the current crafts trend. She was beading elaborate jackets, crafting clothing, and designing greeting cards more than a dozen years ago. If you knew her, visit the beautiful website her family put up for her (with photos, music, and Lori's gorgeous artwork) and leave a message.

It's hard to believe she's gone.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Greet the heat

I was out soaking the flower beds tonight in preparation for Wednesday's predicted 94-degree heat wave. There's one last soaker hose to activate tomorrow, and then the garden will be as ready as it can be -- unless I buy dozens of beach umbrellas to shade the plants. That would be quite the sight, but not as far-fetched as it would have seemed 10 or 12 years ago.

In those days, my garden had dozens of mid-size terracotta pots. This year, I sold all the mid-size pots, since they dry out way too quickly in the burning hot sun. Now I use immense glazed planters and plastic planters that can hold moisture better, and I line the one or two remaining terracotta pots with plastic to reduce the rate of water loss. But I've also minimized the total number of pots, moving most of the plants into the ground, where they stay damper and cooler. And, finally, on the south and west sides of the house, I've moved away from fragile flowering plants and am planting small hardy shrubs and grasses, sages, lavenders, groundcovers, and succulents that can survive dry periods.

Still, it's alarming to see that the sedum "Autumn Joy" is flowering -- in early July. The pear and apple trees already have sizeable fruit. And, in spite of my tenacious watering, all the hardy geraniums have pretty much flowered themselves out already.

Perhaps we should just go out and get some Saguaro cactii and have done with it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Why I may have to vote for Hillary

For "best dressed," that is.

I'm loving the way Hillary Clinton dresses. I realized it today when I saw the newsletter photo of her in a red dress and jacket with a chunky red necklace and some cleavage showing. At a political event, mind you. She looks happy, and energetic, and vibrant.

Turns out Hillary's unusual willingness to step away from the stuck-in-the-80's business lady suits favored by most female politicians has been commented on before.

By contrast, Nancy Pelosi has a slightly updated look, but only slightly. Her hair color's dull brown (of course both of these women color over the gray) and the hairstyle is a bit stiff. Her suits are often Armani pantsuits (as a recent MSNBC caption noted), but the colors are bland. As the Washington Post pointed out, all of this is an improvement over the Madeleine Albright look. The Post went on to laud Condolezza Rice for mixing "professorial reserve with a hint of confident sex appeal" in her wardrobe choices.

There's something about the expression on Rice's face that would seem to negate any suggestion of sex appeal, but that's just my opinion. Comments?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Summer at the Mysterious Traveler blog

I'm sitting here damp and exhausted from yoga (tonight was a slow session in a super-heated room) but wanted to write a bit about seasonal blog traffic.

According to StatCounter, this blog got a record 169 hits today. At this time of the year, the most popular pages on the site (after the home page) are the ones with the Waring Ice Cream parlor instructions and the ice cream recipe. The second-most popular pages are the ones with the directions for caulking tubs and showers.

Having already caulked the tub this year, I guess it's time to get out our own Waring Ice Cream Parlor and make something. Perhaps I should start freezing what I harvest from the slowly ripening strawberry crop until there's enough for a batch of strawberry ice cream.

It is frightening how quickly the summer calendar is filling up. Seattle has only 9 or 10 real weeks of summer, and people seem determined to pack all the events into it that they can.

We've been invited to two Fourth of July parties; I'm headed up to La Conner later this week to play tourist with a friend from Bellingham. There are some going-away events for a friend who is moving to Oregon this month, and we've been invited to a preview showing of the new Harry Potter film on the 10th. Zorg and my Mom both celebrate birthdays this month, a gourmet friend is in town for July, and Wayne Hancock will be playing at the Tractor Tavern July 13. My yoga class is on vacation all next week, so I'm going to be trying out three different African dance-based classes for alternative workouts.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Retail done right in upper Fremont

The bad news is that the center of the universe (downtown Fremont) is going the way of Belltown and Ballard: no parking, obnoxious tourists, and the intrusion of Starbucks and Taco del Mar type places that try to look hip while sucking business from the stores owned by locals.

The good news is that just a few blocks north on Fremont Avenue, you can enjoy a vibrant little commercial district.

I was there because one of the lens gurus at Eyes on Fremont is helping me recover from my humiliating glasses disaster (at another optical store). We looked at the problem lenses and frames, played around with some new frames, and he put a pair of frames on me that brought a smile to my face instantly.

After visiting Eyes on Fremont, I stopped in at Wit's End bookstore (under new management) and browsed their inventory, which includes a lot of very classic science fiction. Just across the street is the sleek Icon coffeehouse. I noticed that Fremont Auto Detail has moved to the west side of the street, and its old space is now occupied by the new (it opened yesterday) Urbanweeds ("florus metropolitus"), a store that appears to be for people furnishing and decorating small patios -- lots of grasses and succulents in large, dramatic planters. Plus black garden furniture made of recycled plastic. And gourmet chocolate.

There are little restaurants all over the place (Persimmon, Paseo, Fremont Pizza) and also a solid core of essential places -- a laundromat, Marketime Foods, a dry cleaner and a video store. What a fabulous little scene. I'd love it if our little crossroads on 32nd Avenue NW developed into something like this.