currently crushing on… swoon worthy cherry blossoms

UW QuadIt’s no secret that spring has sprung in Seattle, thanks to the explosion of cherry blossoms around the city. And what better place to see them than the University of Washington’s campus? Something so spectacular should be enjoyed by all before it starts snowing petals! For the next few weeks, the Quad is picture perfect, attracting young and old, locals and tourists alike.

pic1

Such a stunning vision has of course drawn both professional and amateur photographers to snap pictures of children gathering fallen cherry blossoms or climbing the gnarled limbs of the trees, dogs frolicking in the grass, couples celebrating their love, and expecting parents announcing babies “coming soon…” With a backdrop of architectural perfection and soft petals in bloom, it’s impossible to take a bad picture. Yes, spring is here and Seattle is rejoicing.  And why shouldn’t we?

blossom branch with charm

Of course, such an impressive scene makes me think there must be a romantic history linked to these trees. I made a few inquiries and discovered that the Yoshino Cherry Trees were originally planted in the Washington Park Arboretum around 1939 and replanted on the UW campus in the ’60s. Their relocation to the UW campus was due to the construction of the 520 highway. I supposed the romance of the trees must be in the memories that have been made since their planting…

yoshino and window

Me? I’m going back. I want to wander the path, hand in hand with my hubby while we are cloaked by the sweet perfume of the Yoshinos. I’ll ask him about his day and tell him all about mine. Maybe we’ll pack a blanket and share a little tea or picnic. We’ll bring books but leave the cell phones at home and just swoon over “us” time. All this, with a romantically pink canopy that is so intoxicating, it’s almost boozy. I want to drink it up!

classic yoshinos

Sure, there are plenty of cherry trees to be seen around Seattle, but the Quad is truly breathtaking. Life is too short to not stop and smell the flowers. Go. Soak it in and enjoy your weekend.

XOXO, Bee & Em

Cherry Blossoms UW

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6 highlights from the big apple

Central Park

I’m back from a short week in New York City with my husband, and I decided to share with you a little account of my trip. We stayed in the Upper West Side, a neighborhood I had never really explored before, and even though I had to work, I found time for the occasional stroll. Far from the idea of playing the city guide, just consider these as some very personal and subjective highlights, in no particular order, from this specific stay.

Irving Farm Coffee

This is where I spent most of my time, working. By Seattle standards (and they’re pretty high), this coffee shop does not disappoint: a solid selection of coffee beans, a cool space and friendly service. If only they had wifi, it would be perfect. (Instead, I had to hack the neighbors’ internet connection.) Try their green tea lemon cookie, it’s pretty damn good!

Irving Farm Coffee Shop

Chelsea

Having just read — two years after everybody else — Patti Smith’s autobiography, Just Kids, I made a point of spending some time in Chelsea with the objective of visiting the Chelsea Hotel in the secret hope of feeling the spirits of all those bohemian artists who still haunt its legendary corridors, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Janis Joplin to Jack Kerouac. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the hotel had closed its doors a couple of years ago. The building’s façade is certainly still worth seeing, though, and from there you can meander on to the Chelsea Market.

Chelsea hotel, NYC

The High Line

Located in the middle of Chelsea, this elevated former railroad line has been repurposed into a park that overlooks the Hudson River. The High Line delivers some of the best views of the West Side of New York. Although it was too early in the season to enjoy the foliage, it was still impressive to be above ground and able to weave among the buildings.

High Line

I particularly love the set of stairs with the panoramic window overlooking the traffic and a vantage point where you can spot the Statue of Liberty through a rare clearing in New York’s urban jungle. A perfect spot for the Big Apple’s urban sketchers!

High Line

Bleecker Street Pizza

Definitely the best pizza I’ve tasted in New York (so far!), Bleecker Street Pizza will now count among my staples.  Be careful, though: The place is so tiny that it gets crowded pretty easily. The culprit? Imagine thin slices with a crispy crust and generous toppings. I sometimes think heaven must taste pretty close to a Bleecker Street Pizza slice. Sorry, Hot Mama’s, I love you and you’re the best in Seattle, but now that I have tasted perfection, it might be a while before I can come back for a slice.

Bleecker Pizza

The Guggenheim Museum

Even though I have been to New York a fair number of times, I hadn’t visited the Guggenheim until now. This is a must-do, at least for its architecture, which gives a unique and pleasant viewing experience, but also for its collections, especially if you’re into contemporary art. An exhibit about Gutai, a Japanese postwar avant-garde movement, is currently on display.

Inside the Guggenheim

If you have the opportunity, check out the temporary exhibit from Indian-born American artist Zarina, who dedicated herself to the exploration of paper as a medium, whether it’s through sculptures, collages, calligraphy, topography, poetry or painting. It was compelling, profoundly moving and very delicate. I sincerely enjoyed each piece of it and hope you will too.

Sushi Yasuda

I kept the best for the end: my favorite sushi place. This is the very first sushi restaurant I ate at with my husband, long before we got married, during our first trip to New York (which was my first time on the American soil). I guess he wanted to impress me, and that he did, as this was the best sushi I had ever eaten. But it also spoiled me forever, because once you try the fish here, there is no going back. You will be cursed. The bar will be so high that you might never look at average sushi the same way again. I know: It’s tough. I’m supposed to go to Japan in a couple of months, and I live in the fear that it will ruin sushi for me. Definitively.

Don’t even consider going without a reservation and if possible ask to be seated at the counter. There is nothing more entertaining than watching the sushi master deftly wield his knife. Yes, it’s on the expensive side, but isn’t the promise of life-changing sushi worth the splurge?

Sushi Yasuda

Order the omakase. Don’t expect funky rolls; you’re in for some very traditional nigiri and sashimi. Every piece is so fresh, soft and buttery that it will melt in your mouth. My husband and I have instituted a tradition: We always end our meal with an order of unagi, a barbecued freshwater eel glazed with sweet sauce. It’s our dessert, not to be confused with “U-NA-GI”, as Ross from Friends would say. (This always cracks me up!)

I could also mention The Hummus Place for great Middle-Eastern food or Le Pain Quotidien, which reminds me of my time spent in Belgium (yes, the chain is Belgian, not French) or my necessary stops at my favorite French brands such as La Durée or Palais des Thés, but that will be for another post.

Bee

breaking bread

baked loavesHave you ever wanted success so badly that you were certain failure wasn’t even a remote possibility? I was on cloud nine all last week thinking about my upcoming weekend bread baking project. Dreams of freshly baked sourdough loaves coming from my oven wiped all traces of pessimism from my mind. I had visions of myself delivering delicious, rustic loaves of bread to family and friends. Bread nirvana was in my future.

Little did I know that I was in for a huge slice of humble pie.

Saturday morning started out with promise. I re-activated my starter. Remember the starter? Measure 13.85 ounces of starter and discard the remainder. Add the feeder mixture (1 cup water and 1 cup flour) to the 13.85 ounces of starter and mix well. Let the mixture sit out for about 6 hours. It should look nice and bubbly. My starter was still alive!

active starter

With my starter alive and happy I moved on to make the dough. In a stand-mixer I combined:
200g starter
600g flour
14oz water

I mixed on low until everything was incorporated and let it rest for 40 minutes so that the flour could absorb the water. Then I added 10 grams of fleur de sel and mixed with the dough hook on low for about 5-6 minutes.
mixed dough

The dough needed to rest for about an hour, covered with a kitchen towel. After the hour passed, I began folding the dough.
dough folding I let it rest for an additional hour and then repeated the folding.

Up to this point, things were going well. I covered the dough (which was warm to the touch) with plastic wrap and placed the dough in the refrigerator with the hope that it would double in size in the next 12-24 hours. However, after 12 hours there was no change in the size of the dough and I was very concerned. I removed the dough from the refrigerator and started to knead it gently, hoping to warm it up and rally the yeast. I placed it back in the bowl and covered it with a towel by the heater. After a few hours passed my dough continued to rebel. It would not rise.

If dough doesn’t rise, what are you left with? And after all that hard work… I was frustrated and disappointed. I desperately needed a pep-talk. I called Bee. Who else could I call at 8am on a Sunday morning about dough failing to rise? She insisted that hope was not lost.

So, I got back in the saddle and shaped my little loaves. They looked so sad.
dough loaves They wanted to sleep in on a Sunday morning and I was begging them to wake up. Rise and shine already! I prayed for a miracle. But no, divine intervention was not on the schedule for me or my loaves. I was left with flat bread. Oh, the irony of this as Passover quickly approaches!

loaves final

As with all things in life, there is a silver lining to be shared. The loaves smelled terrific. I wish I could have captured the smell of the baking bread. And although they were too chewy and dense for a true sourdough loaf, the taste was spot on. I’m not sure what went wrong but I suspect that the problem was the refrigeration. Any suggestions? Feel free to leave me a comment with any tips or tricks. I’m going to continue to experiment with my starter again next weekend. Until then, I’ll dream of freshly baked loaves of sourdough all week long. Yes, I see bread nirvana in my future!

XOXO, Em

currently crushing on… the french festival

A new take on the beret. Photo by Chris Blakeley.

A new take on the beret. Photo by Chris Blakeley.

Before the St. Patrick’s Day hangover wears off, let’s have a look at another cultural-slash-boozy (I hope) fest that will be celebrated at the Seattle Center on Sunday: the French Fest, designed as a celebration of French-speaking cultures.

For background, you should know that we French people are very proud of our language (among many other typically French things), and in order to remind everybody of its greatness (and fight evil English), we established the International Francophonie Day, celebrated every year on March 20. Around the world, events are organized to showcase the importance, dynamism and vitality of the French language. This celebration of French-speaking culture is a perfect opportunity to learn about this diverse community which gathers more than 890 million people over the five continents from Paris to Tahiti, via Dakar and… Seattle.

But enough facts and figures. What can you expect from this event? Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s the first time that it’s being organized. To date, we’ve had one yearly French celebration, the Bastille Day Festival sponsored by the French American Chamber of Commerce and the French Consulate. Apparently, French Education Northwest decided to transition away from it to create a more inclusive event.

I only attended the Bastille Day Festival once, last summer, and it was fine. Some of the bands were quite good, and the wine was definitely not bad, but there was clearly a lack of good food options, which is ironic considering France’s reputation in that field. Also, it was sort of very cliché — I’m looking at you, the colleague of Rick Steves whose condescending assertion that “French people aren’t as arrogant as they look” must have offended all the real French people around! — but so is St. Patrick’s, and I guess that’s what is generally appealing.

As it is supposed to be a celebration of the diversity of the French-speaking culture, you should be ready for less France-French and more global-French, from Tahitian dances to Cajun music, from the typical Parisian ham sandwich (jambon-beurre) and Belgian moules frites to Louisiana po’boys. There is no mention of a wine-tasting (-drinking!) area. I understand that this is supposed to be a “family-friendly event” with all sorts of fun activities and games for children, but who will be in charge of those children? The parents, who after an afternoon of “all sorts of fun activities” will only have one desire: to forget everything with a good glass of French wine. Just say’n…

moules_frites

Moules frites. Photo by Flickr user kiwifraiz.

And if you’re learning French, try to take the dictée, a dictation exercise that’s struck fear into the hearts of millions of French students over the years (including me).

Join the Francophone and Francophile community on March 24, 2013, from 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. at Seattle Center’s Armory/Center House. More information available at www.fenpnw.org.

À très bientôt!

Bee

a conversation with… gabriel campanario

Olympics_Gabi_Campanario

Olympics, Gabi Campanario

There was a time, before photography, when sketching was the main way to illustrate news. Although technologies have evolved, there is something charming and slightly nostalgic about looking at a sketch and marking a pause when reading an article. A je-ne-sais-quoi that transports you to a very personal take on reality. If you’re a reader of The Seattle Times, you might be familiar with Gabriel Campanario, a visual journalist also known as the Seattle Sketcher, who captures the cityscape with his ink and watercolors.

Gabriel Campanario

The Seattle Sketcher is probably my favorite column in the Seattle Times (maybe equaled only by Nancy Leson’s accounts of her culinary escapades). The very first thing I bought (at a charity auction) when I moved in Seattle was one of Gabriel’s sketches, a representation of the Blaine Stairs on a rainy day, and I’m happy to think that wherever I go in the future, this sketch will always have a special place in my personal story, representing this chapter of my life as well as my connection to Seattle.

Blaine Stairway, Gabriel Campanario

Blaine Stairway, Gabriel Campanario

Em and I met Gabriel on a rainy and cold day (typical March) in the middle of Seattle’s very first P-Patch, the Picardo Farm in the Ravenna neighborhood. He was closing up his watercolors just as we were arriving. Gabriel explained that the current weather conditions made it difficult to continue working. This answered a question that was on our minds: No, he is not impervious to Seattle’s constant drizzle, and neither is his work. The weather challenges him and his craft.

Gabriel has always drawn, ever since he was a child in Spain: As people took siestas, he would reach for his sketchbook. Even though he became a globe trotting journalist, he never left his pencils very far, using them to connect to his environment. When he moved to Seattle for a position at the Times in 2006, he started a blog to share his sketches online. In 2009, as the paper was trying to figure out ways to emphasize their content, Gabi pitched the idea of a drawn feature. A natural collaboration ensued between a city paper and a city lover. Gabriel became the storyteller of the “urban forest”, as he likes to call Seattle, offering his personal and vibrant vision of the city and meeting its ”unsung heroes” to immortalize the uniqueness of our everyday lives. Through his drawings he began to capture “what makes Seattle tick” and thus the concept of “urban sketching” was born.

You are here, Gabriel Campanario

From there, he started a global movement, finding artists sharing the same interest. After one year, his Flickr group numbered 300 people, the genesis of a strong community of urban sketchers from all over the world. Fearing that the movement would wither, a blog and a non-profit were created to tell their story along the pictures and foster the art of on-site drawing of urban scenes, notably through workshops and seminars. The 1st urban sketching symposium was in Portland, Oregon in 2010. This year is the 4th annual symposium and it will be held in Gabi’s old stomping grounds, Barcelona. If you’re interested in the local meet ups, the Seattle Urban Sketchers meet every 3rd Sunday of each month.

Sketch

Of course, every artist has a muse. For Gabriel, it’s the urban jungle. But a city like Seattle is big. There is so much to sketch. How does one decide where to dedicate time? It’s clear that Gabriel is curious by nature and compelled to tell the story of the city and its people. But he acknowledges that some of his ideas are suggested by readers who highlight interesting people and places. “It’s an organic process,” he said. Gabi often finds inspiration from reading neighborhood blogs. (As local bloggers, we found this very encouraging.)

We could not resist asking about his favorite places in Seattle to sketch, and although he admitted it was difficult to choose – ”The topography is fantastic. Every neighborhood has its own vibe,” he said – he remembered being struck by the beauty and serenity of the Seattle skyline from a rowboat on Lake Union, early in the morning. Bridges and waterfronts are particularly inspirational but he insisted that it’s equally important to sketch places that may not be that beautiful (hello viaduct!) to stay aware and connected to the city.

sketch

He looked surprised when we asked him about his style. Marking a pause, as if thinking about it, he finally answered, “I’m impatient. That’s why I draw fast, working around simple and spontaneous lines.” The drawing is not meant to be displayed on a wall; it’s a snapshot of a moment, perfect in its imperfections. Sometimes the challenge is, how much can you tell with the minimum amount of lines?

Gabriel recently compiled works from his fellow urban sketchers into a book, The Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing On Location Around the World. With about 500 illustrations from over 100 worldwide artists, this book is a true treasure and a real inspiration for those who want to draw or just “see the world one drawing at a time.” I bought it few months ago and particularly appreciated the discussions over techniques and styles as well as the drawing instructions and tips (I’m a longtime wannabe sketcher). Be ready to be inspired and transported to new places, or just to rediscover them with fresh eyes — and, maybe, you will feel like trying your hand at sketching. As the book says: “No extravagant tools or formal artistic training is needed to draw on location. Let your hand interpret what your eyes see, as you explore your city, making marks on paper.”

Where are my sketchbook and watercolors? I suddenly feel inspired…

Bee

happy macaron day!!

macaronNot only is it the first day of spring but it’s also National Macaron Day. Does it get any better than this?! I think not. I have been waiting for this day to happen for weeks. If I could, I would jet-set to Paris and indulge in the very best macarons at Pierre Hermé. But seeing that it’s a Wednesday and I need to be at the office, I’m going to indulge at my desk.

If you haven’t been anticipating this magical day for weeks and you need to pick up a box of macarons, these Seattle bakeries have you covered!

Downtown / Pike Place Market: Le Panier
Ballard: Honoré Artisan Bakery
West Seattle: Bakery Nouveau
Madison Park: Belle Epicurean

Where will you go for yours?

Happy Spring and Happy Macaron Day!
XOXO, Em