Mid-Winter Days

     Last week I went to Seattle with my old friend who lives here (my longstanding friend of shared adventures). We decided on a whim the day before to travel (remember such thoughts?), to ride the ferry, be in the city and, after ongoing gray, make use of promised sunshine.

     In a word, Seattle was grim. On our visit in December, holiday festivities buffered reality with a little glitter and cheer. This week all seemed grubby and crazy and more than a little sad. Hammering Man still pounds, and walking past I wondered if anybody considers putting a mask on him, thinking it would probably tangle with his hammer. But gazing up at him takes eyes away from the street scene – more shelters in doorways, blue tarps, tents, boarded up shops. No scurrying office workers clutching coffee cups.

     Beyond curiosity and the desire to walk someplace else, our only target was The Crumpet Shop (hoping to recreate our holiday visit, eat some, take some home). But no, “closed due to COVID and winter business constriction.” We absorbed this sign, and kept walking.

Still bustling at Christmas, now the market was deserted, all the long row of stalls empty. People milled along the street through the market, small clusters formed in front of a few vegetable stands, the original Starbucks, noodle shops, and Le Panier. Corrugated iron shades shuttered the bakery I look for (because it has enormous vegan chocolate chip cookies that can be an indulgent meal in a pinch).

A mid-week, winter day surely explains the empty market (it must still bustle on the weekend, even on this recent snowy Valentine’s Sunday), but I’d hoped for a glimpse of the flower stands loaded with spring blossom, tall, galvanized buckets full of tulip and daffodil color.

We circled more blocks, then searched for a Mexican place my friend once mentioned as providing a memorable evening meal – a tiny taqueria on First Avenue. Beans and rice just when you need them – and guacamole and freshly made tortillas – at a metal table tucked just off the sidewalk. Suddenly we were doing the unheard of – eating at a restaurant, albeit outdoors. We talked about cities, about living in a city in a pandemic – how so many places no longer exist as we picture them in our memories.

We were glad we went. And glad to be home.

It’s mid-term in the U.K., so class took a break last week. In our break assignment, we painted random watercolor shapes, and then changed them into people by adding features and clothing using gouache – taking advantage of its opaqueness and layering ability.

The ladies below appeared out of the watercolor blobs, wearing their winter coats, and standing in a meadow of flowers. Maybe they are out of the city for the day.


The Quiet Week

Now, between the celebrations, we acknowledge our good fortune to be whole when so much sadness, worry, and fear haunt the nation, and our monster of a leader flames out to his own script. My old friend asked me if things felt flattened, diminished in the world, and to me that seems a reaction to a constant background of death and uncertainty.

My friend commented during a trip to Seattle – yes! After nearly a year, we spent a day in the city (accomplished with much thinking and laughable preparation on my part – extra mask, hand sanitizer, battery charger, warm clothes – how could a day in Seattle seem a Big Adventure, but it did).

On a blue-sky, frosty morning, we rode a nearly empty ferry to Seattle. Past Hammering Man who still pummels his target, we walked up First Avenue and encountered stores with buzzers to ring for admission or service windows where there used to be doors.

The Pike Place Market was busy, not the crush and bustle of old, but many vendors and masked customers. The Crumpet Shop, a favorite place for 40 years, drew us. We sat outdoors, side-by-side on metal chairs, ate crumpets and drank tea, watching masked passersby. We took home packets of crumpets for Christmas morning.

As you walk east with deserted office buildings overhead, it’s sadder. Westlake Center and Pacific Place malls are ghostly. In the eerie vacantness a few shops remain open, but tasteful graphics on boards hide more that are closed, and restaurants and food courts echo with empty. Up the street, the flagship Nordstrom hangs on – with perhaps more employees than customers.

We sat outside in the sunshine on the ferry home, protected by a glass windbreak, the Olympics with new snow stretched white on the horizon – a spirit lifting day with a good friend, walking familiar streets, and seeing well-known places, changed but there.

In the days leading up to Christmas, I read with grandchildren north and south together. My friend who paints in the woods taught me how to juggle phone and computer on Zoom, so the book was visible to the children, but I could also see their faces and talk to them (and they to each other). A technological challenge, but by Christmas eve we finished “The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits,” and Lady B read to us, “Mrs. Claus Saves Christmas.” (She must act because Santa falls asleep and misses his midnight departure!)

Beginning with a Christmas Eve trumpet carol concert by Papa Jim, played on the front porch for Zoom dinner and neighbors, we found more joy on Christmas than I ever expected, a warmhearted though electronic celebration. It is odd to have one’s old age observer status made concrete, but COVID has done that. We were grateful to be part of the California Christmas, participate in stockings and present opening, and share dinner at festive tables (with the Alaskans joining in), but it feels awful to be no help at all to the young parents. (Christmas magic requires a lot of work from them!)

So, we welcome the new year this week – with some trepidation, as hopes for respite rest on banishing 2020’s many woes. But I’m wishing a happier, safer, and kinder new year – for all of us!

Fabulous Fingerlings

After reading the Vedge cookbook on the plane, we stopped on the way from the airport in Seattle’s International District to buy some recommended condiments.

Most often I’m an olive oil, salt and pepper sort of “vegetable wrangler” (as Mrs. Hughes refers to a person preparing vegetables), but it seemed like some of the book’s interesting sauces would spice up the gathering autumn.

If only I could describe for you the interior of Big John’s Pacific Food Importers! (A quick Google declared it “a holy land for food lovers.”) Creaky wooden floors, and old olive oil cans full of flowers and herbs on the front porch of a warehouse building certainly charmed me. But the power was out – the interior dark. No scales. No cash register.

By the light of the proprietor’s cell phone and a tiny flashlight on my key chain, we found some of the things from my list. The place is a wonderland of jars and bottles from around the world – with power I might have also secured porcini powder or nigella seeds!

Then we walked a block away to Uwajimaya – the huge Seattle Asian grocery store and bought an interesting looking tamari and sriracha hot chile sauce.

It took searching further afield for the recommended Wizard’s vegan Worcestershire Sauce, but worth it, because Vedge’s “Fingerling Potatoes with Creamy Worcestershire Sauce” are sublime.

Using a pound of fingerling potatoes, whole if small, cut in half if bigger, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper, and roast until tender.

While that’s happening, combine half a cup of vegan mayo, two tablespoons of vegan Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, two teaspoons of sherry or malt vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar, and salt and pepper. Pulse this mixture till smooth.

(A favorite thing about the Vedge cookbook is that it inspires cooking the bounty of this season, with or without specific ingredients. While eating at the restaurant with their perfect preparation was bliss, substitutions I’ve made also work out.)

The Vedge chef says he based this recipe on traditional and comforting “pub fare.” So, top the warm potatoes with the sauce, and picture yourself in an English pub, in a tall wooden booth by a roaring fire while fall rains lash the windows – and enjoy!