Playlist for Fall

Happy Fall, everyone! Leaves are changing, the breeze is suddenly crisp, there are pumpkins lining the front of every grocery store…

My sister Libby, with leaf.

My sister Libby, with leaf.

One way I like to commemorate the new season is with music. Music motivates us. It inspires us. It invokes memories. It helps us fall in love. It makes us want to shop at Anthropologie. (No? That’s just me?) I had a neighbor, back when I was a kid, who always cranked up 80’s music and strapped on knee- and elbow-pads to clean her house. Playing music can help you get through mundane chores like driving or washing the dishes.

That said, I’ve created a little Spotify playlist to commemorate the season. It has a little bit of everything: bluegrass, folk, rock ‘n roll. If you have Spotify, you can access the playlist here. If not, feel free to look up all the songs on YouTube or iTunes; I’ve listed them below.

  1. “Wrecking Ball,” by Gillian Welch – sort of Americana, heavily influenced by traditional American folk tunes. Amazing, very personal lyrics. I’ve been listening to a lot of her lately.
  2. “In the Night,” by Basia Bulat – folk-y too. My little sister Libby and I saw her open for Pickwick at a little music venue in NC. She’s Canadian and known for performing with an autoharp.
  3. “She Moves in Her Own Way,” by The Kooks. You’ve probably heard this song before. It is fun and dance-y!
  4. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” by Paul Simon. You’ve definitely heard this song before. Never fails to get my toes a-tappin’.
  5. “Easy Come Easy Go,” by Great Lake Swimmers. One of my favorite bands, with a song that makes you want to drive through curvy mountain back-roads with the windows down.
  6. “Down to the River,” by The Duhks. So many Canadians! Some of the verses are in French, which is unexpected and fun in a bluegrass song. Matt put this song on a CD he made me when we first started dating.
  7. “The Fade,” by Megafaun. A great NC band that’s been making music for some time now. Banjo!
  8. “VV,” by The Cave Singers. I love this album! Great band out of Seattle.
  9. “Gardening at Night,” by R.E.M. Probably my favorite band (thanks, Mom)! An oldie, but a goodie. This song reminds me of an article I read about guerrilla gardening, where activist gardeners plant flowers and edible plants in urban areas under cover of darkness. Take that, The Man!
  10. “Let It Ride,” by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. Ryan Adams hails from NC as well. He is now better known as Mandy Moore’s husband. Bluegrass-influenced, his first albums were released with a band called Whiskeytown.
  11. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” by The Smiths. I know, I know – I pulled it from the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. So unoriginal. But it’s The Smiths!
  12. “Orpheo Looks Back,” by Andrew Bird. I promise I was listening to this song before Chobani used it in their yogurt commercial! You’ve got to love the female backup vocals, the pizzicato violin in the style of a mandolin or guitar, the nonsensical lyrics…
  13. “Like a Rolling Stone,” by Bob Dylan. One of the few CDs Matt keeps in his car stereo is a Bob Dylan one. We listen to this song and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” a lot while driving to go climbing.
  14. “Lovesong of the Buzzard,” by Iron & Wine. From a great album. This song feels like a good Tumblr profile, or like a pop-up Free People store in a field. Yes?
  15. “Sweet Jane,” by The Velvet Underground. Also from Matt’s first mix. Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here.
  16. “Domino,” by Van Morrison. It’s hard to make a good playlist without at least one Van Morrison song. Just try listening to this without bopping  your head. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Feel free to share some of your favorite tunes for Fall in the comments. Get groovin’!

Flashback to Bosnia

I spent a couple weeks of the summer of 2010 in a small town outside of Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzegovina. I was there with six other college students from the US and Canada through an organization called International Student Volunteers, or ISV. We spent our time volunteering in a national park there near Bobovac (pronounced Boh-boh-vahtz), a historic site.

On our first day, we hiked to Bobovac. The view while recovering

On our first day, we hiked to Bobovac. You can see some of the ruins up & left

We whacked a lot of weeds, built a staircase, installed grills and trash cans – that kind of stuff.

Cooling off in the river at our volunteer site. I'm in the blue t-shirt

Cooling off in the ice-melt river at our volunteer site. I’m in the blue t-shirt

To give you a little background before I dive into this particular story, I started playing violin in the sixth grade, a good eight years behind the prodigies who were already cradling expensive instruments. I carried my factory-made violin in its black plastic case and plucked at its strings until I learned to use the fiberglass bow. I was a second violinist in the high school symphony orchestra my senior year, playing harmonies to Dvorak and Mussorgsky under the first violins. I disliked private lessons where I suffered through hearing every minute mistake I made, every squeak or snap, every missed note. My teacher was very sweet and encouraging, but I simply couldn’t stand hearing myself play. At school, in the midst of an entire orchestra, I wasn’t afraid. My fingers and hands moved the same way; my eyes followed the lines on the page, but I could no longer hear just me – it was a whole wall of complex sounds. The flutes and clarinets fluttered, the cellos swelled with sad vibrato, and the brass filled the gaps with warmth. I was a part of something huge, and no one in the audience cared that I wasn’t a virtuoso.

In case you didn't believe it, me and my violin circa 2006

Me and my violin circa 2006

Flash forward to Bosnia: I’d made the fortuitous mistake of telling our interpreter and guide Dijana that I could play the violin at some point on our bus ride from the Zagreb airport to the cabin in Kraljeva Sutjeska. The next morning we hiked the trail to Bobovac on which we’d be working, and we were told that we’d be attending a concert local schoolchildren in the small town were putting on that night.

Upon seeing children tuning their violins on stage before the show, Dijana immediately informed the teenagers organizing the event that I played violin, and that I should, of course, play for everyone gathered there. “It will be a good experience!” she insisted. “You will remember forever!”

I suddenly found myself backstage with a confused girl’s violin in hand, desperately trying to recall some semblance of melody. At this point, I hadn’t practiced violin in two years. I could remember plenty of piano pieces, but nothing for violin. I considered improvising something, which would probably sound better than anything else, but finally I settled on something fool-proof: “Twinkle, Twinkle.” At the time, I figured even people in Bosnia would recognize the tune, knowing it was a joke. I would embellish it with unnecessary arpeggios (like scales) and trills here and there, and at the end I would take a ridiculous bow. Perfect.

After a few very good performances, I was introduced in Bosnian to the audience. I understood my name, “America,” and something about volunteering. There were only about sixty people there, but that was the whole town, and I was going to be there for two weeks. I stood in front of the microphone and played the children’s song surprisingly well, no truly audible mistakes, and took a silly bow. I handed the violin back to the young girl and sat down next to my fellow volunteers who had tears in their eyes from laughing, which I took to be a good sign.

Me struggling through "Twinkle, Twinkle" as the audience looked on

Me struggling through “Twinkle, Twinkle” as the audience looked on

However, after the show ended, several people approached us and told me through Dijana that I did a terrific job (!), that it was beautiful (!!), and I must be very talented (!!!). People had taken my performance seriously. I became embarrassed, wondering what people thought of how I’d bowed at the end with my arms flailing around, but I began to realize that this was the first time I’d ever performed violin solo in front of a sizable gathering of people, ever. I’d been playing violin for more than eight years and I’d never performed alone, thanks to echoes of Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman swimming through my head.

I’ve given much thought as to why I like to tell this story: it’s embarrassing, it shows I can think on my feet – but with the larger context I’ve given you regarding my past with violins, I think it’s safe to say there’s something else here.

As people, we struggle so much with our hobbies and talents. We struggle with being “good enough” and being “the best.” Will we make the team? Will anyone publish my book? Will they hire me? Will someone buy my painting? We struggle largely because we care greatly about what other people think. But there is so much to be gained from sharing your experience, and sharing your (even if meager) talents. I’ve seen this in helping teenage girls write poems, and in playing violin for a bunch of people whose language I couldn’t speak, and in, I hope, writing this blog. Sure there are people who will say that you’re obviously an amateur, or that you’re not as good as so-and-so. But there are so many people, though perhaps less vocal, who will be affected immensely by what you do share.

As the writer James Baldwin once said, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” If those books hadn’t been written, if those authors hadn’t shared their pain and heartbreak with the world, you and James and all the other readers would never know that we are indeed so connected.

So stop doubting, and start sharing! And who knows – maybe, along the way, you’ll find yourself becoming a Joshua Bell too.

Welcome!

Welcome to my new home in Laramie, the it’s-still-comfortable-outside edition! I thought it might be nice to share a little about the town of Laramie with you all, so you can get a better sense of what I’m up to these days. (Don’t fret – the latter half of this post is exclusively about CLIMBING!)

Mums on the front porch

Mums on the front porch

Laramie is a cute little college town that began as a stop on the Union-Pacific railroad back in the 1800’s. It used to be one of those lawless, Western, cowboy, saloon towns as depicted in old Clint Eastwood films. There was seriously a bar colloquially referred to as the “bucket of blood” due to the amount of violence that took place inside. Our house is only a few blocks from the railroad, and you can hear or see trains throughout the day (and into the night) heading east from the Pacific coast with cargo. No more passenger trains these days!

The town is sort of a mash-up of a cowboy town, where local ranchers come to stock up on feed and such, and a college town. Thus the University of Wyoming’s mascot is, appropriately, the cowboy (or cowgirl, when fitting). Walking around the “downtown” area, you might, for example, pass by an ayurvedic nutrition shop and an old-fashioned riflemaker/taxidermist on the same block.

Mural on the side of a building downtown that hosts a natural foods co-op, bookstore, and some other shops.

Mural on the side of a building downtown that hosts a natural foods co-op, a cafe/bookstore, and some other shops

Our house is just across from a public park. For such a small town, there are an impressive amount of these multi-block parks with grassy fields, old trees, playgrounds, tennis courts, and picnic tables. Abe especially appreciates the park.

A poplar overlooks the park

A poplar overlooks the park

Before I started my new job here, I’d spent some time getting us settled in our new place. We have a large kitchen, conducive to hosting fun dinner parties, a living room lined with windows, a room for the piano, a built-in bookshelf, and a scary basement.

Little living room with sunflowers, and lots of World Market decor.

Little living room with sunflowers, and lots of World Market decor

Please excuse the crumpled sofa slipcover; Abe loves to sleep on it when we’re gone. And yes, our coffee table is an elephant. His name is Mortimer.

I had a chance to start a little garden in our backyard in a raised bed left behind by the previous tenants. Since it was a little late in the Wyoming season to start planting, I figured I’d go with wintry root vegetables. I also have a window box with cilantro, basil, and newly sprouting Swiss chard, which I keep inside.

Baby beet greens

Baby beet greens

I think it’s important for me to note here that I don’t by any means have a green thumb. In fact, most of the time I kill things. Most recently I killed a potted succulent. A succulent. Those things don’t die! You barely have to water them at all! So the fact that all these plants are still alive is a testament to both my having lots of free time, and my penchant for having pretty things around. I probably don’t have to mention to most of you the challenges of gardening in Wyoming, a place where, if you want to have a normal, American-looking green lawn, you have to water it pretty much daily. For those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you saw that the first below-freezing night of the season already happened here.

Baby carrot sprout

Baby carrots sprouting

Turnip greens, pleased with all the rain we've had

Turnip greens, pleased with all the rain we’ve had

That said, we’ve had an unusual amount of rain recently. It rained for one week straight, which was giving Matt cabin/when-can-we-go-climbing fever. We didn’t see any flooding here, but Colorado, the Boulder-area in particular, was and still is a disaster area for many. Please keep Colorado-ans in your hearts and thoughts as they continue to recover.

Apples on a tree in the backyard that I did not plant

Apples on a tree in the backyard that I did not plant

Now, enough about home. More about CLIMBING!

Vedauwoo (pronounced Vee-dah-voo) is practically in our backyard, and is a renowned destination for crack climbing, and off-widths in particular. Off-widths, for those of you who aren’t familiar, are a type of crack that is just too large for hand/fist-jams and just too small for chimneying, a technique wherein climbers shove their entire bodies into cracks (that resemble chimneys) and “stem,” or press opposing hands and feet, to inchworm up. I suggest you watch this quick video of Pamela Pack, the queen of off-widths, crushing/suffering at Vedauwoo. The large metal devices which she hangs from her harness, and later sets above her in the crack, are called cams. These (and other types of protection) are used in a form of outdoor climbing called traditional climbing, or “trad.” This means you bring up all the gear you need with you, and that there is little to no hardware on the rock (e.g. bolts) for you to use while climbing.* Cams, bolts, and other protection simply serve the purpose of catching you, should you fall, therefore preventing you from falling to the ground.

The rock at Vedauwoo is a sharp, crystallized granite. It’s very distinctive in photographs due to its deceptively smooth look and colorful lichen.

Approaching the cliff

Approaching the cliff through sagebrush

Yesterday Matt, our friend Toby, and I headed out to Vedauwoo for some off-width action. The weather was beautiful! We first did Moor’s Crossing, a three-pitch, 250-ft. 5.6/7 (i.e., supposedly easy). You can see pictures and other info about the route here.

Due to a lazy start and a slow (because of me – sorry, guys!) scramble back down the mountain after finishing the climb, we only had time to struggle on one more route, a classic 5.9+ hand crack that completely shut me down.

Toby cruising up the 5.9+ hand crack

Toby cruising up the 5.9+ hand crack

I flailed around on the first 10 feet of the climb on top rope and came back down after it became clear I was going nowhere fast. Obviously I need to work on my crack climbing technique! Matt didn’t have a lot of luck on it either, which made me feel better. 🙂

While I was sunning/not climbing, I took a few pictures of our view. In a couple weeks, hopefully before it snows, all the aspen trees will turn yellow for fall.

The Vedau-view

The Vedau-view

An Instagrammed view

An Instagrammed view

The moral of the story is GET OUTSIDE! It’s fun! As always, thanks for stopping by. Feel free to leave comments! One request I recently received was that Abe begin his own blog. To tell you the truth, he’s way too lazy to start a blog, but I think I could convince him to write a post, so long as I reward him with many treats both throughout and afterwards.

Woof!

Woof!

*To note, in the video I reference above, Pamela (the climber) uses a couple quick draws that are clipped onto bolts. Though unusual, here the bolts were installed to protect the climber from a nasty possible head injury, which you’ll hear her discuss.

Dinner Party, aka Katherine Cooks All Day

Last night Matt and I hosted a little dinner party with two couples from his graduate program here. One couple is from Iran – they literally just moved to the U.S. – and last week they had us over for dinner. You can imagine how delicious the authentic Persian food was. It helps too that Fatima’s parents apparently grow spices – homegrown saffron and cardamom!! She set the bar quite high.

In planning the menu, I started with the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, which comes out of the amazing Smitten Kitchen blog. I’ve been wanting to try her peach dumplings recipe, and I needed a can’t-fail salad. (SK is a great place to look if you need a can’t-fail recipe.)

I went for the Sugar Snap Salad w/Miso Dressing, by the book. The salad itself was fairly simple – thinly sliced sugar snap peas, Napa cabbage, radishes, and scallions – but the dressing was just spectacular. Every time I moved the dressing (from the blender to the container, from the container to the bowl) I ate what must have been several spoonfuls. Oops.

Following the recipe

Following the recipe

It was an even better version of the dressing you get at sushi restaurants, or Kanki. You know, the one with ginger-y tangy nuttiness. Because of the cabbage, it ends up looking more like a slaw but, as you may have gathered by now, I am okay with that.

Just look at that creamy dressing!

Just look at that creamy dressing!

For actual dinner, I had three things on the menu:

  1. Pork loin with cherry mostarda
  2. Minted rice salad
  3. Summer squash gratin

For both the pork and the rice salad, I used this lovely recipe from Food52. Because I was feeding 6 people, however, I tripled(ish) everything and made a 3.5 lb pork loin in the oven instead of on the stove. I’ve always found it’s basically impossible to just sear a pork tenderloin on the stove and get it cooked all the way through, as the recipe would suggest. (This might be because I start from a refrigerator-temperature cut of meat rather than room temp.) I’ve made this recipe before and had to throw the seared tenderloin, skillet and all, in the oven for a while.

Anything sweet with pork is so good. Cherries and pork tenderloin. Apple and pork sausage. Maple bacon doughnuts. You get the picture.

Moving on! The squash gratin has so much flavor that it will beguile even those who swear against “squish,” I promise. The original recipe also comes from Food52, but my less time-consuming take lies below.

Yummy squash gratin + sprigs of thyme

Yummy squash gratin + sprigs of thyme

Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup store-bought salsa verde (I used Herdez brand)
  • 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (I have “Italian herb” flavor breadcrumbs and they worked just fine)
  • 2 lbs summer squash, e.g. zucchini
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sliced shallots
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp thyme leaves, dried or fresh
  • 1 jalapeno, minced and seeded (leave in the seeds if you like things spicy!)
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere or Comte cheese
  • Salt & pepper

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F
  • Slice the squash into thin (1/8 inch) rings. Mix the slices in a colander with a teaspoon of salt, and let drain in the sink or over several layers of paper towels on the counter for 10 minutes, or while mixing the other ingredients
  • Place the breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Melt the butter in a Pyrex or microwave-safe dish in your microwave. This will take about 2.5 minutes on high, depending on what type of microwave you have. Pour the melted butter atop the breadcrumbs, being sure to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of your container. Wait a minute for the butter to cool, and then stir to mix
  • In a large bowl, mix the shallots, garlic, thyme, jalapeno, salsa verde, and some black pepper
  • Drain the squash and pad slices dry with a paper towel as you transfer the slices into the large bowl with the salsa mixture. Padding the squash will help remove some of the salt so the dish isn’t too salty overall
  • Stir to combine and add half of the buttered breadcrumbs. Stir to combine and add all the grated cheese. Stir again and season with salt and/or pepper as necessary
  • Pour the entire mixture into a gratin dish or a 9×9 oven-safe dish. Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs on top
  • Bake 35-40 minutes, until the top is browned
  • DIG IN. (you may want to let it cool a bit first…)

Now for the highly anticipated (by me) peach dumplings!

Spooning out the pits

Spooning out the peach pits

When it comes to how I spend my time, I’m pretty anti-pie crust. (<< Who in their right mind says a sentence like that?!) Maybe I’ve had some bad experiences, but it’s just so much easier to walk into the grocery store and, four dollars later, walk out with two pre-made crusts all nice and rolled up, ready to thaw. Especially when that store is Trader Joe’s. *sigh*

So when SK called for the use of homemade pie crusts, I thought, “Ah-hah! A shortcut!” My slightly altered version of the recipe lies below:

Peach Dumplings with Bourbon Sauce
Serves 6

Dumpling Ingredients:

  • 2 store-bought frozen pie crusts, rolled up (Pillsbury makes some, but the generic store brand is usually cheaper)
  • 3 large peaches, unripe is fine
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1 egg yolk, for glaze (to capture just the yolk, crack an egg into the palm of your hand & allow the whites to seep out between your fingers into the sink or a trash can)

Bourbon Sauce Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp bourbon

Directions:

  • Ball the two thawed crusts together and roll out flat. Divide into six 6-inch squares (5.5 inches will do as well) with a pizza cutter
  • Wash and halve the peaches. I used a grapefruit (i.e. serrated) spoon to remove the pits and the red portion; you could also use a melon baller or a knife
  • Combine the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Spoon the mixture into the center of each pitted peach half. Squish in as much as you can! Place on top of the sugar mixture a slice (1/6 tbsp) of cold butter
  • Place the filled and buttered peach halves in the center of each pie crust square. Pull up each of the corners and pinch the dough together over the center to create a seamed little peach-pocket. SK says, “if it feels tight, or as if you’re short of dough, make sure that the dough underneath is flush with the peach curve; it tends to get slack”
  • Arrange parchment paper atop a 9×13 baking sheet, and place the raw dumplings atop the paper. Move to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes
  • Preheat your oven to 375ºF
  • To make the glaze, whisk together the egg yolk with 1 tsp warm water. Brush over each of the cooled raw dumplings
  • Bake 30-40 minutes, until browned, fluffy, and juicy
  • To make the bourbon sauce, melt butter in the microwave or on the stove. Whisk together with the bourbon and sugar until smooth
  • Serve each pastry with a large dollop of the sauce and EAT
A neat and tidy peach package

A neat and tidy peach package

A messy, flaky, oozing, boozing peach pastry

A messy, flaky, oozing, boozing peach pastry

Not gonna lie – I took the last two pictures this morning as I ate a leftover dumpling for breakfast. It’s like, fruit and carbs, right? That’s basically peach oatmeal!

If you end up trying any of the recipes above, or any rendition of them, please tell me how it goes in the comments! I’d love to send all of you a peach dumpling and an airplane bottle of Jim Beam in a brown paper package but hey, teach a man to fish!

Much love,

KI