Category Archives: Family

Roots

I am a biology professor at Emory University and live in Atlanta.

These are words that only reluctantly roll off my tongue – I still expect to wake up and find out this isn’t my life. In my defense, it’s been less than a month – I mean, I haven’t even changed my Facebook info or Twitter tagline (not to suggest that these activities make these facts ‘real’). Now, this isn’t my first turn on the relocation merry-go-round. A decade ago, I moved from the Pacific Northwest to North Carolina. Five and half years later, I moved to the Midwest. Now, I’m in the South. Welcome to the life of an academic. To be honest, when I moved away from the Pacific Northwest I had no idea what I was getting into.

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This move feels different; it has the weight of being a critical junction in my life. The intentions of it are far different than any of my previous moves. As an adult, the majority of my decisions have been career-driven. Why else would I have moved to the frozen tundra of the Upper Midwest? Mostly because I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. But this move? This move has the potential to be my last. That’s a complicated thought.

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In many ways, this department, this institution, this city and corner of the country, all feel like a natural ‘fit’ for me. I don’t think I can clearly articulate all the factors that go into that statement. It feels good and it feels right. When you know, you know. With the exceptions being of course, the many things that I don’t know. Regardless, I am incredibly lucky to be in this situation when so many other academics are not.

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Still, it’s more than a little scary to start again in a new place. When I moved to North Carolina I was 23, on the brink of adulthood, single and beginning a journey with people who would end up being major fixtures in my life. When I moved to Minneapolis, I was 29, no longer single, and infiltrating an established lab and community that when I left it still didn’t feel like I completely belonged. Now I’m 33, single again (and wise enough to know that my life is rich with my other relationships) in a new city with barely a pre-existing connection and entering a whole new realm of my life. I’m excited to get started and anxious to find my way.

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These thoughts have been swirling in my mind for the last six months, every since I got the phone call offering me THE job of my dreams. And the only wrinkle is that it seems as though I won’t be returning home. Home, of course, being the Pacific Northwest. Every year it seems I wax nostalgic over this special place – there are so many things about it that resonate with me. So, it’s hard to think that even after a decade away, I won’t be settling there.

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I strategically planned my move to be able to have a few weeks on the West Coast, buffering my transition from postdoc to professor. Partly to give myself a break so that when I started, I really started ‘fresh.’ But more so to give me much-needed time with the place and the people that have shaped who I’ve become. To remind myself where I came from and dig around my roots before transplanting myself yet again.

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I didn’t think I had a childhood home. We moved out of the house I was an infant in, lived briefly with my aunt and uncle before moving to a house when I started kindergarten, and then built another one when I was in high school, temporarily living with my grandfather during the construction. Now my parents live in yet a different house. All in in Olympia, I grant you and always surrounded by family, but I have never held sentimental value in the structures I grew up in.

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So it hit me like a ton of bricks when I spent a few days in our cabin in the southern Cascades. I hadn’t been back there since I moved away in 2004 – my trips home have always seemed too short to warrant a 2-hour drive into the mountains. It was like stepping into a time capsule of my youth. I had no idea of the enormity to which I missed this place and how much my family (including most of my extended family) is enveloped in it. My dad had spent many nights and weekends designing the cabin and the entire family pitched in to build the thing from the ground up. The avocado green stove! The country blue couches! The comforter covered in primary-colored hearts from when I was five! I’m pretty sure the décor hasn’t been touched since we first built it 25 years ago. And while, incredibly out of date, it was immensely reassuring to be back. The floodgates opened and the memories stormed in. My aunt burning her eyebrows cooking bacon on the barbecue. Weekend ski trips with the cousins. Jumping off of the 35-foot Jody’s Bridge during on sweltering 95-degree Labor Day weekend. Driving down the forest service roads with Dad towards our next hike. Games of gin rummy on the porch. It was all waiting for me, in this tiny cabin that I had returned to.

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One day I climbed up to Sunrise Peak for a 360-degree view including: Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helen’s. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by majestic mountains to gain some perspective. On another day I hiked through old growth forest into Packwood Lake to reconnect with my motivation to study biology (who knew that a girl who like play in the woods would end up studying the sex lives of yeast!). It was exactly what I was hoping to find and helped me garner the strength to move forward in this next adventure.

Blackberry-Hazelnut Torte

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Can you imagine a dessert any more ‘Pacific Northwest’ than this? I am more than a little late posting this recipe, blackberry season is long past us (I’ve been slightly busy in recent weeks – hello, I’m new faculty!). If you are anything like my family than you have squirreled away some of the deep purple jewels in your freezer. Plus – it uses 8 (8!!!) egg whites, making it an excellent justification to make two quarts of ice cream so not to waste the yolks.
 
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5 ounces hazelnut flour (alternatively, you can toast and finely grind whole nuts)
10.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar, divided
4.5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 large egg whites
2 cups wild blackberries
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan.
 
Whisk hazelnut and AP flours, ¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar and salt together in a bowl.
 
In a small saucepan, cook the butter over moderate heat until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool slightly, then stir in the bourbon and vanilla.
 
Using a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form very soft peaks.
Gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar and continue beating until the whites hold soft peaks. Alternately fold the flour mixture and browned butter into the egg whites in 3 batches. Gently fold in the blackberries.
 
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the cake is golden and just beginning to pull away from the side. Let cool slightly on a rack, then remove the side of the pan and let cool completely. Transfer the cake to a large plate to serve.
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Home

At some point, every summer, I make a pilgrimage back to the Pacific Northwest.

Home.

I struggle to find the words to describe what this place means to me. There is some sort of fantastic synergy of family and landscape that makes this the most special place in the world to me. It’s enough to make me believe in fairy tales. The way I feel when I am in this place is, for lack of a better word, enchanted. The clouds wrap themselves around me, the sea salt air fills my lungs, the infinite shades of green permeates all that I gaze upon and the siren’s songs of the mountains all lure me in and entrap my heart. It’s a spell that I never want to have broken.

And is it any wonder … this place is stunning.

I may not have the words … but as always, the themes revolve around the following:

Family

Food

The scenery

I’ll be back. I can never stay away for long.

November

November?

What happened to you?

Where did you go?

This month, more so than most, has flown by.

Here are the highlights:

Scott and I went to Chicago and all we did was take this photo at The Bean.

That’s not quite true. We gathered in the windy city to witness the union of our two dear friends, Jenny and Sayan. But I don’t have photos of that. Because, as it turns out, I am really bad at taking the time to take photographs when I am actually having a life (remember Dave and Robin’s wedding?).

It also turns out that I am a romantic sap. I love watching people promise to spend their lives together. To become each other’s family. It’s stunningly lovely. And never fails to bring tears to my eyes. To have the people from all aspects of your life gather, assemble and celebrate love.

Plus, there is the added benefit of their friends being my friends. So in assembling to celebrate Jenny and Sayan, I got to see many of my friends that I had made while in graduate school. Some of whom I hadn’t seen for nearly two years and just thinking about it brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart.

Somewhere in the middle of November, I spent a week in Minneapolis, where I developed my menu for Thanksgiving.

Then I flew to the best corner of the world, the Pacific Northwest, otherwise known as home.

Where I got to play with babies and toddlers (and force my hugs and kisses on them).

And fuss in my parents’ top-notch kitchen.

Eating more than I thought I possibly could. All the while soaking up the scenery.

Lazy days filled with family. Doing nothing and having the days slip through my fingers without a second thought.

As always, it does my heart and soul good.

November, you will be missed, for you brought me my friends and family (and a lot of food!).

A girl can’t ask for much more.

Parental Visitation

I am going on record with this:

The recent weather in Minneapolis has been spectacular.

Which perfectly coincided with my parents’ visit.

I think we crammed in every possible touristy, autumn activity in three short days.

The farmers market.

The mill ruins.

Minnehaha falls.

Apple picking.

Chasing the fall colors and accidentally stumbling upon a ski “mountain.”

Walking around Lake of the Isles and finding Minnie.

And enjoying food, drink and coffee.

It was a great visit. Probably because I have great parents.

 

*I think I stole all of these photos from my mother …

Feeding the soul

I just returned home from a much needed trip out West to see my family and to feed my soul. Oh, and there may have been some blackberry pie eaten for breakfast.

First I flew out to Vancouver, British Columbia to crash Scott’s math conference. Okay, really it was just to visit Vancouver – but I did listen to a couple of math talks. Then we drove down to Olympia for a few days to play at the lake and welcome my new baby nephew, Lucas, to the world.

I can only describe Vancouver as cool. Cool, in a we-are-awesome-but-feel-no-need-to-overtly-state-how-awesome-we-are-because-if-we-did-then-we-wouldn’t-be-awesome-anymore kind of way. Perfectly welcoming and charming. An enchanting combination of European and American culture, with a large dose of Pacific Northwest ruggedness thrown in. Equal parts urban, residential and scenic. The buses apologize when they are out of service and the “walking man” seems to be strutting so jauntily. How could you not be utterly delighted by such a place?

I could continue to gush, but instead I’ll just share some photos.

The food.

The beach.

The totem poles.

The skyline.

And the sunset.

Then we were off to Olympia. While gazing out over the sunset last Thursday evening, I received a phone call from my brother letting me know that Amber was in labor.  Sure enough, when Scott and I got to Olympia there was a new baby nephew to fawn over. Perfectly happy and healthy, Amber and Lucas got to go home Saturday morning before we even got into town.

There was family. (You can see that I couldn’t keep my hands off that baby.)

Fun.

And of course food (with lots of “help” from Kailey).

And perhaps most importantly, there was blackberry pie. Wild blackberry pie, the only kind that is really worthwhile to eat. I think that I have finally convinced Scott of the superiority of wild blackberries (small and intensely flavorful) to the things calling themselves “blackberries” in the store (large, seedy and tasteless).

Mom’s Blackberry Pie

one 9-inch pie

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Crust
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
16 tablespoons (1 cup) butter, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons ice-cold water
 
The filling
3 cups wild blackberries
2/3 cup sugar (more or less, depending on the tartness of the berries)
1/4 cup flour
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In a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Pulse a couple of times to mix together. Add all of the butter and process for about 30 seconds, it should resemble cornmeal. Transfer to a bowl and add water, mixing with your hands until dough comes together. Divide in half and shape into two disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Roll out one disk of dough 1/8 inch thick and transfer to pie pan.

Combine berries, sugar and flour in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook until sugar is dissolved and the berries start to pop. Pour into pie shell.

Roll out remaining pie dough and cover berries with it. Fold over edges and pinch together both crusts. Cut slits into top crust and bake at 350º for about 45 minutes. It’s a good idea to bake pie on top of a cookie sheet to prevent any spillover mess. Let cool before cutting into.

Serve with vanilla ice cream. Nothing else will suffice. And feel the happiness spread through you.