Tag Archives: Pacific Northwest

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.

Anticipation

Less than a week from now I will be homeward-bound. I cannot imagine a time in my life when I don’t consider the great Pacific Northwest home. It’s been nearly a decade since I resided there, but it will always be where my family is, where my breath catches and heart stops with its sheer beauty.

Without fail, when I think of the Pacific Northwest during the summer I think of wild blackberries. Of of early mornings in my childhood traipsing through the logging clearcuts, braving the the thorny vines on the search for the small treasures, eating more than I collected. Small, dark as night, and mouth-puckering tart. My platonic ideal of what a blackberry should be. I’ve yet to encounter blackberries elsewhere that even compare.

At some point before my summer became insane with work (in a good way), even before I went out to visit home at the start of June, I spent a day playing with blackberries in my kitchen. It’s one of my very favorite things to do, playing in my kitchen. Taking recipes and mashing them together, tweaking them ever so slightly to incorporate the flavor combinations I’ve come to decide must live together. And when the colors just happen to be two of my very favorites in conjunction with a tasty profile – the stars start singing.

Here’s what we have:

Blackberry Curd Tartlettes with Lime Hazelnut Shortbread Crust and Honey Lime Whipped Cream.

Disclaimer: If all you want is a blackberry pie, please just make a blackberry pie. It will be quicker, easier and way fewer dishes. If you want to spend a day in the kitchen (as I am want to do from time to time), take a stab at these cute little desserts. Or at least make the blackberry curd and eat it on toast, blueberry pancakes (my favorite) or saltines (my mom’s favorite). I’ve also tried making this as a large 11-inch tart, but I prefer the little tartlettes – the ratio of curd to shortbread crust works much better in the smaller version.

Blackberry Curd Tartlettes with Lime Hazelnut Shortbread Crust and Honey Lime Whipped Cream
makes six, 4 1/2-inch tartlettes
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Blackberry Curd
(makes ~2 cups)
2 pints (~3 cups) blackberries
1/2 + 2/3 cups sugar (divided)
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
3 egg yolks
 
Hazelnut Lime Shortbread Crust
1/2 cup roasted whole hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups (180 g) flour
1/3 cup (80 g) sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
zest from one lime
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
 
Honey Lime Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
zest from 1 lime
3 teaspoons honey
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For Blackberry Curd:

Combine blackberries, 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons lime juice in a medium pan and bring to a boil over medium-heat. Reduce heat and bring to a simmer, cook for about 6 minutes or until berries are soft and beginning to fall apart. Transfer to a small bowl (or blender) and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Strain puree to remove blackberry seeds. Set aside.

In a double boiler (but not over heat yet) whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add egg yolks and blackberry puree and set atop a pot of boiling water. Cook for 10-15 minutes, continually whisking, until color lightens and is thick. Transfer to a blender and allow to cool for 10 minutes. With blender on, blend in 3 tablespoons butter, one tablespoon at a time. Refrigerate in an airtight jar.

For Hazelnut-Lime Shortbread Crust:

Place hazelnuts in food processor and process until finely ground. Add flour, sugar, salt and lime zest and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add butter and using quick pulses, process until dough is in pea-sized pieces. Add lime juice and process until dough comes together in a ball.

Divide dough among (6) 4 1/2-inch tart pans. Press dough into the sides and bottom until evenly distributed. Prick dough several times with a fork. Freeze for 15 minutes. Bake tart crusts at 425º until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Fill crusts with ~1/3 cup blackberry curd. Reduce oven temperature to 350º and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, just until the curd starts to set.

For the Honey-Lime Whipped Cream:

Heat heavy cream in small saucepan just until steam starts to rise. Remove from heat, add lime zest, cover and let steep 30 minutes. Chill thoroughly. Whip until soft form.

Top tartlettes with a dollop of whipped cream.

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.

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.

 

 

No place like home

I’ve escaped the the snowy Midwest.

Thank God.

I am not going to lie – it’s been crushing my soul a little bit.

But now I am home.  My heart was needing to be surrounded by family, food and love.

Plus there’s the scenery (and added bonus of enjoying this view while drinking my coffee from my parents’ deck).

Majestic.

Awe-inspiring.

And a little bit magical.

There will always be a wonderfully special place in my heart for the Pacific Northwest.

I repeat: It’s good to be home.