A Love Affair…with Cardamom

20130618-133933.jpgYears ago, working in Colorado in an area with a very heavy Middle Eastern population, I was introduced to the most wonderful spice – cardamom. It’s the magic that made the Persian tea so wonderful and also coincidentally a major component of Chai. Ever since then, I’ve loved and lusted after cardamom. It’s a pretty expensive spice, so I have not often had the chance to get it.

Then in the last year or so, bakers everywhere started advertising cardamom desserts. Get your cardamom raspberry cupcakes here! The problem however, is that I could never really taste the cardamom in any of these baked goods, which left me feeling let down. However, last week, when I stumbled across this recipe for Blackberry Cardamom Buckwheat Hand Pies, I knew I’d definitely give them a try, despite having never made pie crust or a fruit pie before. This is especially because I also have a serious thing for both berries, and buckwheat (both topics for future gushing posts). Seriously, when I mentioned I’d seen this recipe to Eddie, even he knew it was meant to be. Additionally, the pies called for cardamom in the crust AND the filling, so I was hopeful I’d even have a fairly strong cardamom flavor (just the way I like it!). Boy did they!

First off, I think it’s important to tip you off to my source for cardamom since some places it can be so expensive. Skip your grocery store where you’ll be able to get ground cardamom for something ridiculous like 15.99 for a little bottle and then you’ll never be able to use the whole thing anyway. Go to CostPlus World Market and buy the whole pods for $3.99 for a bottle. Then use a coffee grinder when you need ground cardamom.

For the full recipe, click here. I love the part where it calls for frozen butter so you can grate it into little pieces. I am not familiar with other pie crust recipes but this was really easy to work with and I was pleasantly surprised. Baking is something I’m sort of new to. Halfway through the recipe, I realized it was going to make way more than anticipated. I ended up making twice the filling because the crust was going so far and then I made all the pies and froze them. I made about half of them as described in the recipe (but using an upside-down pint glass because we definitely don’t have a 3″ biscuit cutter) and then made the other half larger, sized for two people and rectangular (think pop-tart – but SO much better).

They were TOTALLY delicious. And actually 2/3 of them remain in the freezer waiting for us to have a craving for pie. Then we’ll just pre-heat the oven to 400 – pop them in, and 15 minutes later enjoy wonderful, lovely pie. And the cardamom flavor totally shows through.

Pro-tip – if you start baking these, go out and get ice cream ahead of time. I made the amateur mistake of beginning to bake them and then deciding we’d TOTALLY need ice cream for them when they were already in the oven. So then Eddie had to go out on an emergency run even though I’d been to the store three times that day. You WILL want ice cream.


Book Review: The Truth About Style


Recently, I read the book The Truth About Style by Stacy London of What Not to Wear fame and it really spoke to me.

For years I’ve not really loved what I had to wear, I was also not interested in investing time and money in being more fashionable because it didn’t seem like it fit with my values of being frugal, sustainable, and authentic. All of this is what Stacy London writes about in her book The Truth About Style.

Stacy shares her own story, as well as the stories of nine other representative volunteers. They talk about their lives, their relationship with their bodies, confidence, and style, and then Stacy gives a “prescription” to help re-boot their style. However, the book is about a LOT more than that, because Stacy dives into why so many women struggle with something as simple as dressing ourselves, why dressing ourselves in a way that promotes confidents and shares our authentic selves matters, and, of course, shares some tips for doing just that. Reading this book helped me articulate why my own style journey has been so transformative.

Now, the fact that I even picked up this book may surprise practically anyone who has ever known me. My interest in style and fashion has mostly been in comfort and utility. In college, where I was constantly a fish out of water on a fairly fashionable campus, one of my best friends told me she admired the fact that I dressed for comfort not style – a sort of backhanded compliment if you will.

However, it was only recently that I realized that this approach wasn’t really working for me. A few months ago, I started to realize that I had hardly any clothes that I felt really comfortable and confident in. Whenever I did find an outfit I liked, I’d wear it over and over again and then still be out of things to wear in between each laundry day. Last year, I lost about 20 pounds and so on top of not really liking any of my clothes, none of them fit.

So, I decided I needed to find my own personal style. I tried looking at fashion blogs, or at things people had pinned on pinterest, but I felt overwhelmed. I really wanted to get to something that was very authentically ME, but had no idea how to do that, or how to tell what else I needed in my wardrobe. So, I waited. I talked with people and asked questions about how they dressed, and I kept an eye out for things that I liked. I also started saving some money knowing that when I was ready to act, I was going to invest in myself and spend some money to get to a place where I, like one of my favorite bloggers, could have a closet with only 10s. Then, one of those magic-universe-talking-to-you things happened, when this post came up on Off-Beat Home and Life. The article itself had some useful nuggets, but it was the comments that blew me away. Tons of suggestions to watch What Not To Wear and check out another book by Stacy London and her co-host, Clinton Kelly for tips. These were not some fashion lovers making these suggestions, but other people like me who had felt at a loss and then found this helpful.

I started watching What Not To Wear and then COULD NOT STOP TALKING ABOUT IT TO EVERYONE. I was amazed by what a difference the clothes made not only in how a person looked but also in how they were able to communicate their personalities to the world. I also realized that a big part of my problem was that I didn’t know how to find clothes that fit and flattered my body type. So I read the book, Dress Your Best, and set up an appointment with a Nordstrom Personal Stylist. I got a new haircut and let the stylist do whatever she wanted (best haircut I’ve ever had). Since then, I’ve been learning a lot about what I do and don’t like and have started getting towards my own closet of 10’s.

But I still couldn’t understand why I felt so happy about something as simple as clothing – until I read The Truth About Style. Stacy does a great job talking about what style communicates, how it’s different from fashion, and how it can actually empower people. Then I realized – I can’t stop talking about it because I feel empowered and didn’t have the language to explain that! I highly recommend The Truth About Style to anyone interested in thinking more about style. 

Small Space Furniture Building

Here in Seattle, we are currently in the process of making our little house a home. While Eddie has been living here almost a year, I just moved in, and we’re enjoying making it our own together. One of the really nice things for us has been the ability to custom-make furniture for our small space both to maximize storage potential and to save some money. While Eddie wouldn’t describe himself as handy, I took up some basic furniture building a couple years ago  after finding Ana White’s blog and find it to be a really fun, satisfying (sometimes frustrating) endeavor.

In my last place, I built a media center and two bookcases. They were really fun to make and ended up looking like they came out of a Pottery Barn catalog (but I guess I’m biased!). People were always shocked to hear I’d made them. Then came their next question, “but don’t you live in a dorm?*”Media CenterIMG_0055

So, after getting that question a million times, I thought I’d dive in and talk about what it’s like to build furniture in a small space with no access to outdoors or a garage! The short version – I lived with sawdust everywhere.

Room full of half made furniture photo

Now for the long version. In my last place, I had an extra bedroom/office area that I took over from time to time with projects. The first time I built any furniture, it took ages and I had no extra room for about 4 months while it looked like this.

I don’t have a table saw so at first, I would figure out every cut I needed to do, drive home 6 hours to my parent’s house, talk my dad into helping me buy and cut the wood, stuff all the wood into my tiny well-loved, magic Honda Fit, and drive home. Now, I do a combination of that, and getting things cut at McClendon’s – the best hardware store ever – who are happy to help me make a bunch of project cuts, even on wood I already had.

I’d work in spurts and sometimes clean up in between and sometimes live with the chaos. So, sometimes my kitchen, living room, and extra rooms looked like this:


When it came time for stain or paint, I laid down a huge drop cloth from a hardware store and went for it. While things were drying, they couldn’t really be moved, so I had to just live with it and get it done.

*This is a whole other conversation sometime, but for the first several years of my career, I worked with college residence halls and this involved living in an on-campus apartment. So technically, yes, I did live in a dorm. 

Book Review: In the Kitchen with the Pike Place Fish Guys

20130612-140524.jpgAfter browsing through it a couple different times in stores, I finally bought the bullet and grabbed myself my very own copy of the excellent new cookbook, In The Kitchen with the Pike Place Fish Guys: 100 Recipes and Tips from the World-Famous Crew of Pike Place Fish and I am SO glad I did!

I am generally not a huge cookbook person because I find I’ll only use a couple of the recipes and then be stuck with it taking up tons of space in my tiny place. So, if I am going to actually purchase a cookbook, it needs to have at least one of the following:

  • a good match for me on lots of recipes – think at least 15
  • lots of instructions about a technique so I can expect to both learn from and reference the book in the future
  • a really good story

I am pleased to report that this book has all three! They’re “World Famous” and I live in Seattle so I’m familiar with them, but for anyone who isn’t, the Pike Place Fish Guys are from the Pike Place Fish Market. There are multiple seafood sellers in the market, but these are the guys with the flying salmon. They’re also famous for being the inspiration for the FISH philosophy because of their amazing energy, service, and retention. But most importantly, they’re really nice guys with a lot of fish knowledge, that they sit down to share with you in this book.

The book begins with a discussion of buying fish and describing their path to becoming a completely sustainable fish market. They describe why it’s important to have a relationship with a fishmonger and why some fish are better than others. Then they talk about some general seafood tips, which range from how to throw a salmon (complete with diagrams!) to how to store and cook fish. I grew up eating and cooking a lot of fish, but I have lots of friends who didn’t. This book is great for both of us as it is very detailed and step-by-step about how to buy, store, prepare, serve, and clean up from anything seafood.

Finally, they get into recipes. The recipes range from simple and quick to Whole Roasted Trout and Asparagus Photocomplicated and all look amazing. While I haven’t made any of the specific recipes yet, I did buy a whole trout on their recommendation and cooked it up according to this recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Not Eating Out in New York. As promised, it was economical and delicious. I was initially intimidated by serving the whole fish, bones and all, but it turned out to be incredibly easy to manage as described in the recipe.

Ultimately, this is one book I know I’ll turn to again and again. For those people who don’t live in Seattle, or even in other coastal locations, there are lots of good tips from the Pike Place Guys there as well, so if you’ve ever wanted to cook fish and are worried about whether you can do it – you CAN! Grab this book and get started!


My name is Nicole, and I think I might have a problem!

I love doing projects. Sewing, cooking, knitting…building furniture. I think it’s fun. And I think that’s part of why I have such a problem with doing them in small doses. Instead, I tend to jump in with enthusiasm, underestimating the time it will take and overestimating my capacity.

The first time this happened, that I remember, was in the summer during college. We were changing around my room a bit to make it feel more grown-up and had removed some furniture and picked out paint. It was this gorgeous green paint (it still is, but now the room is my mom’s sewing room) and I couldn’t WAIT to have it on the walls. Having not done much painting in the past, I asked my mom how long she thought it would take. She thought maybe 2-3 days between the prep, and putting a couple of coats on. I asked if she was sure it couldn’t be done in 1 day and she said yes, but I thought I’d go get started anyway. The conversation was over an early morning breakfast, so there was a good full day left.

I went downstairs, taped everything (this is before I started painting without tape), prepped the walls, and got ready for paint. Now, it’s a small room, but even prepping for paint is a big job. Maybe I should have taken a break there and gone swimming or something, but instead, I decided to put on the first coat. Then, once the first coat was on, I realized I it needed a second coat, and it needed it now.

I can’t remember the rest of the day, but I can tell you that I finished the whole room that night AND that I had trouble walking and moving for a couple of days. My mom still mentions it anytime she thinks I’m about to go crazy and do too much of something.

And yet…I am pretty sure I haven’t learned my lesson! Just Saturday, I woke up after being sick the day before, and thought, a whole day with no plans until dinnertime! What should I do?! And that was when I decided to build furniture and make cheese. So I went to the store to get milk and spent a couple hours making mozzarella and trying ricotta (definitely not as fool proof as it’s made to seem). THEN I broke out my drill and started going to town on furniture. I WAS careful to drink water the whole time and take breaks for food, but at the end of the day, I was barely walking, and I had built a bunch of furniture.

And even though I’m tired and sore the next day, I woke up and thought…I should go to the hardware store to pick up some of those items I needed to finish that project…

A CSA Adventure! (Part II)

In my last post on my CSA, I talked about why I wanted to join a CSA – now here’s the what and how!

I’m pleased to announce I’ve signed up for a CSA with Growing Washington. In a way, they’re not a pure CSA as described on the first page, but I think they’ll be a really great place to get started. Growing Washington is a non-profit organization whose mission is:

Growing Washington strives to continuously enrich and improve the lives of all Washingtonians by empowering communities to work together toward mutual goals and by strengthening the sense of connectedness between individuals and between diverse groups. Growing Washington focuses on four program areas to fulfill this mission: Sustainable Agriculture Program, Environmental and Cultural Preservation Program, Economic and Societal Health Program, and Doing the Right Thing. From the Growing Washington Website.

One of the things they do is organize a CSA which connects people with a network of local, chemical free farmers in the area, rather than a single farm. This strengthens our community, provides greater variety for the boxes, and allows them to offer more scaleable options. With the Growing Washington CSA, we were able to choose from 4 different sizes designed to feed between 1-6 with between 6-15 different types of items each week. We also had the choice between the full (25-week) and regular (20-week) season AND the choice of style. We chose the “Farmer’s Choice” box, which is more like a traditional CSA in that the boxes are filled by the farmer’s based on what is most in season and wonderful that week, but we could have chosen the “Local Choice” box and actually chosen all our items each week – although still limited by seasonality. We decided to start with the smallest Farmer’s Choice box as a way to test out the CSA with a more modest investment. We figure next year we can go bigger and/or switch the type of choice we have depending on how this year goes.

Based on all of this, I’d had my eye on the CSA for quite some time. But there was not a nearby drop-off place, and our condo doesn’t have a good place we could use to volunteer to be a drop-off. Imagine my excitement to log onto their website this spring and find that a store just around the block from us is now going to be a drop-site AND we’ll be able to pick up our box between 12-9 every week.

One of my regular features throughout the year will be the CSA un-boxing on our Thursday pick-up day and then a round-up of ways we used (or failed to use!) the veggies that week.

A CSA Adventure! (Part I)

I’m so excited to share that this year, I’ll be trying out a CSA – community supported agriculture. Basically, people buy shares at the beginning of the year and commit to a specific level of support for the year, and in return the farm provides weekly boxes of produce, straight from the farm. They’re a bit of a risk for the consumer because if the farm has a bad year, there won’t be as much yield for the investment of joining. But CSA’s are important for supporting local farmers. Farming is a very unpredictable venture and a CSA allows the farm to have a base on which to plan for the year.

CSAs can be set up in all sorts of ways. Sometimes there’s just one size of share (it’s typically HUGE) and sometimes it focuses just on vegetables. Others may have fruit or flower shares, or even eggs! You might pick up your food on the farm and even have the chance to volunteer, or you might pick up the food at a neighborhood drop site on your specific day of the week. They vary widely in price, and on whether their food is organic or not. Most people find that CSA’s also invite creativity because you will probably get vegetables in your box which you haven’t bought before, and you’ll want to use them up rather than let them go bad!

Basically, CSA’s are awesome. And I’ve been wanting to try one for ages because it seems just right for a person like me:

  • I love to cook, and I like to be pushed (a little) out of my comfort zone to learn new things.
  • I love vegetables. Especially now that I’m eating mostly pescatarian, I’m eating a LOT of veggies.
  • I believe in eating local, sustainable, and ethical food as much as possible. A CSA allows you to know the farm(s) your farms are coming from and be familiar with their values and whether or not yours align. Local food has traveled less meaning it’s fresher and has a lower impact on the environment, while investing in your own community’s economy.

So – with all these reasons to join a CSA, why haven’t I until now? CSA’s can be a little intimidating, as well as a big commitment. I first decided I wanted to join a CSA back in early 2009, during graduate school. But my problem was that it was outside my grad school budget, provided WAY more produce than I (a single, omnivorous woman living alone) could reasonably eat, and required a time commitment of months I wasn’t sure I could muster. Then, I graduated, and got a job that provided a meal plan. So then I REALLY couldn’t justify the cost of spending a bunch of additional money on food. But mostly, because I needed the time to muster up the courage to put my money where my mouth is!

That’s why, after FOUR YEARS of waiting, I am so excited to finally be trying a CSA! My next post will outline how I chose my CSA and what was involved in signing up.