26 September 2010

My Other Love: Musings on Music Journalism

Music. Words. Both are things that define me to the core.

I've been music-obsessed from the start. My mom tells that as a toddler, I'd teeter up to the record player (one of those massive, furniture-piece consoles with turntable + speakers + storage) and bob along to Lou Rawls. I apparently had a penchant for "Groovy People."

When MTV launched in 1981, I was there. I can't prove that I remember tuning in on the very first airing of Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," but it couldn't have been long after. That old MTV moon man intro, played between actual videos (back when the "M" actually stood for "music"), still gives me the chills.

I started piano lessons in my single-digit years, then transitioned to the more portable flute in fifth grade. I toted that tin whistle around through to my early twenties when I graduated from college with a Minor in Music.

My other love, words, started just as early. I'm a talker, insisting on the last word. At some point my smart parents must have realized they could hand me a pen and paper and have me channel some of my Chatty Cathy into written words.

And so, for much of my elementary school years, you'd find me passing my free time by creating books and having them bound and "published" at our school library's own printing press.

It wasn't until about age 14 that I put two and two together, realizing I could marry my love of music and writing into a career as a magazine journalist. And so, my hobby of poring over music rags like Rolling Stone and SPIN become dually focused: I read the articles to learn about the bands + to see how the journalists crafted their stories.

About this time, my hometown of Seattle spiked the nationwide radar as an emerging hotbed of cool. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden were suddenly household names. When we'd travel out of state, we'd see fewer and fewer blank stares when we described where we called home. Seattle, and its gritty music, was on the map.

I couldn't have dreamed up a better place to be. Right place, right time.

Those years solidified my goal to be a music journalist. I rapidly set forth my path, eying journalism colleges with strong music programs, finally enrolling in the University of Oregon to study magazine journalism + minor in music. While in school, I landed an internship at the renowned Seattle music mag The Rocket. My senior thesis investigated Girl Zines (which, inevitably, centered mostly around boys in bands). I covered the music & entertainment beat at the university newspapers, continued to freelance at The Rocket until it folded, and found a longstanding home as a contributor to ThreeImaginaryGirls.com (a Seattle-based music website). I was living the dream.

Until I fizzled. I'd had enough of reviewing CD after CD, trying to come up with witty ways to describe what felt like the same ol' thing, over and over. I tired of going to live gigs, staying out late and cramming to wrap a review before the next day's publication. My swan song was covering a two-day megafest celebrating Sub Pop's 20 years as a Seattle music label. It was exhilarating and exhausting.

And so, as you know, I switched my focus to the kitchen. For the last couple of years, my creative energy has been directed at all things food. Yet, in the back of my mind, the wheels always cranked around What I Might Do Next. I knew music would return.

For the past couple of months, I've been putting on that old hat. The details are nascent, but I should be sharing more soon. Suffice it to say you may start to see more musical references in my recipe reviews...perhaps more posts as we get closer to the big reveal. I'm also hinting at a few things over on Twitter.

One thing I'd like to know: Do you care if I write about music here? Or, would you prefer to see that on a different site? Leave me a comment to let me know.

20 September 2010

How doth my garden grow (or die): Learning lessons from an urban gardener

Summer has shown its last rays of sun, replaced by rain. Torrential downpours, even. Yesterday, during a break from the drops, I headed out to my garden patch to harvest a handful of cherry tomatoes. I had to get to them before the pelting rain split them open.

While there, I also yanked up bushels of baby carrots, tugged out 4 baby bulbs of garlic, and took stock of the growing season on a whole.

Not good.

Early on, we lost the warm-weather crops: the jalapenos and sweet pepper plants withered almost immediately in Seattle's cool spring. Next time, I'll have to exercise patience and plant those after, say, Memorial Day.

I had a pretty good run with the carrots and radishes, but learned a lot about planting techniques. The carrots look like corkscrews; planted much too close together and not "thinned" properly, they didn't have space to grow straight. The radish patch was a success - but too much so! Next year, I will stagger my plantings so we aren't left with 80 ripened radishes on exactly the same day.

The lettuces - all romaine - performed great. I'll try those again next year with some additional varieties like butter or red-leaf for my salads.

The 2 pea plants dried out. We got a few pods, but not enough for full meals. Next season, I need 2 things: poles for the vines to climb, and moats surrounding the plants to corral the moisture.

The one zucchini plant proffered 1 squash thus far. Earlier in summer, I used a few of the blossoms in a delightful, soft salad (blossoms, butter lettuce, and avocado gently tossed with lemon/olive-oil + sunflower seeds). But I noticed that after I plucked the blossoms, the then-baby zucchinis seemed to rot away. Did I prematurely remove their nourishment? I had expected an abundance of squash - anticipating making chocolate zucchini cake. Not this year.

My 4 tomato plants showed promise. They grew mightily and without blight (something that had plagued my potted plants the last few years). Their new locale in the baking sun, with tall, box-shaped trellises to crawl, turned out ok. Flowers bloomed abundantly. But our "summer" weather - so grey, so cool - didn't serve them well. We only started seeing ripened fruit a few weeks ago; today, more than half of the plants are loaded with green tomatoes.

The edible flowers - nasturtiums and violas - both grew well, but their spot wasn't right. Next year I'll transfer them into the raised beds so they don't get covered over by the tall-grass weeds that invaded our rockery.

The herbs - sage and parsley - also did well. But, frankly, I forgot to use them. Next year I'll pot my herbs and put them on the front porch to gently remind me, daily, of their presence.

The Italian kale held its own, but I don't crave kale until the weather turns dark and dreary. Next season I'll search for a variety I can plant closer to end-of-summer so I can harvest it come autumn.

The straight carrots - the ones I remembered to thin.

Now, after weeks of neglect (because the weather has turned, I haven't been outside), my raised beds look somewhat shameful. The parsley shot 3-feet high and is going to seed; the romaine, too, stretches, spindly, toward the sky. Now, the space formerly occupied by the radishes is overrun with pallid, 2-inch toadstool mushrooms. I did some tidying, but part of me is ready to let all of the remaining crops die out and start anew next spring.

So, we'll call this a building year, full of learning lessons.

In that spirit, here are my notes for what I need to do for the 2011 garden:
  • Raise the height of the dirt at least another 6-10" - which will also require that I build up the height of the sides of the raised beds
  • Install more poles
  • Track down a few more pots for herbs
  • Find a good landscaper to reclaim our rockery (Have a recommendation? Send 'em my way!) and put down weed block.

2011 Planting List:

  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • basil (grow inside)

  • butter lettuce - 2
  • romaine - 2 or 3
  • red leaf lettuce - 1
  • arugula - 1
  • (Can you tell that I love salad?!)

  • strawberries
  • raspberries (already have, but need to be cut back/moved)

  • tomatoes - 4 plants
  • jalapenos (plant later in spring!)
  • sweet peppers (same!)
  • carrots (need to raise the dirt level + remember to thin after they poke up)
  • zucchini
  • pumpkins
  • radishes (1 packet was enough, but i need to stagger my planting!)
  • peas
  • pole beans

  • nasturtiums (move from rockery)
  • violas (move from rockery)
  • sunflowers
  • marigolds

09 September 2010

Kicking out the Jams

I've been sitting on this story until it was good and steeped, ready to roll out to the world. I'm giddy with excitement to announce to you that my dear pal Rebecca has officially launched Deluxe Foods, an artisan house selling jams, jellies, and chutneys. Basically, anything good and sweet that will come in a jar and be served alongside toast. Or meat. Or cheese. (She's crafty that way; when you pick up some of her wares, be sure to check out the label copy for tips on how to enjoy the products. You might find some surprises!)

Rebecca can best be described as a maven of all things wonderful -- she's one of the most authentically happy people you'll ever meet. She's got a verve for life that is unstoppable. And her taste -- for food, handbags, and vintage trinkets -- is simply spectacular. (Bottom line: You really should meet her, if you don't already know her.)

In her professional life, including a stint as Amazon.com's first-ever cookbook editor, she more than excelled. Case in point: When she left her post as a Microsoft vendor last year, I inherited her project. I was thrilled for the opportunity, but jittery about stepping into those shoes (which, while fashionable, were big ones to fill).

Rebecca, smiling yet wielding a (label) gun. Watch out! (Photo courtesy Rebecca Staffel/Deluxe Foods)

But her time on the nine-to-five circuit had run its course. When she turned in her two-weeks notice, of course everyone asked, "Where are you going? What will you do next?"

Her answer?


And so, off to business-planning and goal-setting and permit-securing and commercial-kitchen-finding she trotted. After securing all the necessities (surprisingly, not many of them having to do with melding fruits and sugars into sweet delicacies), she announced Deluxe Foods' stamp on the market. And has been running at a feverish pitch ever since.

Strawberries, macerating (Photo courtesy Rebecca Staffel/Deluxe Foods)

Some 14 short months after turning in her dayjob laptop for good, Deluxe Foods is ready to sell. You can find the jams and jellies at Seattle's Picnic and 106 Pine, and she'll be showing (and sampling!) at the upcoming Artisan Food Festival at the Pike Place Market Sept 25-26.

Please plan to stop by for a taste (or three). I think I'll be there sometime Saturday, helping sling syrupy concoctions. I'd love to introduce you to my friend -- a living, real-life example of someone living her dream.

Pictured above is a sample from last fall of Deluxe Foods' delightful Sakuma Strawberry -- bursting with color and flavor and perfectly great on toast with PB (Or, straight out of the jar. Not that I've tried that.).