Sweetness: Seattle Summers

I’m a summer baby. Born on one of the hottest days of the year (in…1984), I think my mind and body have just always been optimized for maximum vitamin D absorption. Which is why Seattle winters can really get to me. But then…Seattle summers. Those keep me here and they are, quite frankly, perfect. It’s a common refrain amongst everyone from Uber drivers to the most devout pluviophiles who shake their fist at the sun if it is out for too many consecutive days–there is no more beautiful place than Seattle in the summer. After nine solid months of gray, misty days, the omnipresent evergreen trees emerge from a thick fog into  dazzling, sapphire colored skies. Seattle is flanked by mountains on either side, and water at almost every turn, and on a clear day, it feels like you can see forever. Or, the mountain, when it’s out. And in addition to the natural beauty, this city of quiet, sometimes very serious seeming people, opens up, and we all turn into human sunflowers, craning our heads toward the sun. The energy is palpable, and it’s why companies bring new recruits here during the summer.

Photo: Robert Wade from 2014 #SAMRemix
Photo: Robert Wade from 2014 #SAMRemix

So for that long, gorgeous stretch of sunny days between July 5th and mid-September (though, admittedly, this year’s summer started in early June), it’s important to take advantage of every possible hour of time outside. Wring every drop of vitamin D from the long summer days, and take advantage of the city’s amazing assortment of outdoor activities, my favorite of which are the events hosted by Seattle Art Museum at their Olympic Sculpture Park.

Back in March, my sister and I went to a SAM Remix at the Seattle Art Museum. Because this is Seattle, I expected the usual mix of cargo short clad Amazon and Microsoft employees, pondering the meaning of contemporary art in respectful silence. Instead…well, in addition to the usual suspects, there was a dazzling array of bright young things and an energy I’ve never felt at an event in Seattle, a quick hit of Seattle Summer magic for one early spring evening. There was a DJ, dance floor, people actually dancing, great drinks, and access to all the art on display at SAM. And, of course, being able to support my hometown art museum.

So, I was super excited to hear that there will be a SAM Remix on August 21st at the Olympic Sculpture Park, one of my favorite parks in the city. I’ll be guest tweeting from the iHeartSAM Twitter account, but if you’re in town, use the code twitterremix0821 for $5 off adult event tickets. If you need me, you can find me grinning like a small child, absorbing all the energy around–solar and/or people-based–in the hopes it will sustain me in between summers.

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Hometown Glory: Best Place to Be Today

seattle ferry gray sky
The view from the Seattle to Bainbridge Island Ferry

I’ve never been the sort of person who welcomes fall—I don’t have a Pinterest board devoted to its charms, I’ve never used #sweaterweather on an Instagram post, and I am ambivalent about the return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks. So, you’d think that today, the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere, would be a particularly sad one for me. And you’d be partially right—I will miss cool, misty mornings that melt away into the languid heat of a Seattle afternoon, days where the sun sets well after 9 p.m., and the colorful array of sundresses that I’ll now shunt to the back of my closet. I love summer, and it will always be my favorite of the four seasons. But I’m beginning to understand the charms of fall, too, and that’s why Seattle is the best place to be today.

Sunday was a gorgeous day in Seattle—beautiful, sapphire blue skies, warm breezes, and temperatures that soared just past the comfort zone for most Seattleites. But by early evening on Monday, those skies had faded away, and were replaced with slate gray cloud cover that shrouds Seattle for most of the year, a fitting first day of fall. And rather than muting or dampening the landscape, the clouds provide a foil for emerald evergreens, the first leaves turning jewel toned hues, and the jagged peaks of the Olympics and Cascade mountain ranges boasting their first streaks of snow in several months.

The world seems more quiet, and still. Because the sun is so rare here, a warm summer day encourages a frenetic pace amongst the citizens of Seattle, people eager to soak up vitamin D and store it away for the months ahead. But now, we’ve all hunkered down, and life has returned to normal. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t rain all the time in Seattle—most natives will smugly tell you that it rains more annually in New York City than it does in the Emerald City—and the weather right now, crisp, early autumn with cool breezes, is perfect for long walks accompanied by the perfect playlist of mellow music, preferably penned by a Seattle musician. What I will lack in sidewalk café visits on long summer nights will be more than made up for in cozy coffee shops around the city, in restaurants with fireplaces, and the serenity of a long walk through the forest-like park near my house.

More than anything else, the return of fall makes me appreciate small pleasures that slip right past you in the heat and movement of summer—a Sunday afternoon spent wandering through Seattle’s main public library that also doubles as a beautiful work of art. A ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, emptied of tourists and filled only with commuters who still express awe over the view of the city from water. A chai latte, not iced, with maybe one pump of Pumpkin Spice. The heat from the cup reminding you of summer, but warming you for the cooler days to come.

Sweetness: Pie Bar

Way back in January, when I kicked off my lifestyle change, I knew the biggest battle for me would be bidding adieu to dessert. For the first month, I skipped all sweets entirely, and then, afterwards, I made them a special occasion type deal—I wouldn’t eat dessert through sheer force of habit, and only when I really, really wanted something and when that something was extra special.

That something special has presented itself in the form of Pie Bar. I Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetlearned about Pie Bar during my now regular nightly “Evening Magazine” viewing. The bar, located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, is just what it sounds like; pie. And booze. Opened last May by twin sisters, Pie Bar serves as a tribute to the duo’s recently passed father. I don’t know their father, but the bar is a fitting tribute to anyone who appreciates pastry and delicious adult beverages.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe location itself is cozy (read: super small, but still comfortable), tucked away on the western slope of Capitol Hill, away from the maddening crowds of Broadway. Despite how filled the little room was, it was actually pretty quiet–easy to hear my friend’s dating stories and to discuss the pros and cons of Tinder. Décor is a mixture of rustic Pacific Northwest glory and classic glamour—I was entranced by a row of miniature crystal chandeliers that hung from the ceiling. The bar itself is 21 and up, but pie fans who aren’t of legal age, or those who just want a slice to go, can take advantage of a walk up window. Our first server was warm and friendly, and the pie? Well, that was spectacular.

The menu offers up a la carte pie, both sweet and savory, a full list of alcoholic beverages, Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetas well as the choice to pie/drink pairings. My friend chose strawberry rhubarb pie and the Old Fashioned, a chocolate stout beer served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, like an adult root beer float. I chose banana cream pie paired with a pecan pie martini–which was served with crumbled pie crust on the rim of the glass. Both choices were divine, and though it would be incredibly easy for two sweet drinks to kick you into a sugar coma, both were incredibly balanced—and the topping on my pie tasted like fancy Cool Whip.

And to make you feel even better about a healthy dose of alcohol and sugar, the restaurant is holding a fundraiser to benefit the victims of the recent landslide in Oso, Washington.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetWhile my lifestyle change means I can’t indulge in coconut cream pie every day, it doesn’t mean I can’t have a little cheat day every now and then—especially when it involves pie and booze, and a slight hike to and from my new favorite sweet escape.

Pie Bar
1361 E. Olive Way
Seattle, Washington 98122
(206) 257-1459
Monday – Sunday: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Sweetness and Snark: Working With What You’ve Got

My hair in its natural, albeit helped by bumble&bumble, state.
My hair in its natural, albeit helped by bumble&bumble, state.

Last week, I had the brilliant idea that I’d write this post on my Keratin Express blowout. I was really happy with the way my bangs turned out and you know, I’m super happy with how my very expensive full-head Keratin Express treatment ended up. But then it occurred to me that there was simply no way for me to do a full-on review of my hair without really talking about the politics of black hair. Particularly, black women’s hair. It’s not something to be waded into lightly–it’s a subject freighted with meaning and controversy, debate over culture and self-loathing and aspirations towards unattainable standards of beauty. There are songs about it. During the 2012 Olympics in London, Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas’ hair made as many headlines as her feats of strength on the balance beam, something that still makes me sad.

So, before I dig into this review, let me say that the things I choose to do with my hair are not because I don’t love what my hair looks like in its natural state, because I do. If I still lived in California, or anywhere the sun shines for more than two weeks a year, I’d wear my hair curly on the daily. I spent a week in Hawaii last summer and didn’t even pack my flat iron. But that was because I knew it was going to be warm and my hair would dry quickly (even if it was raining, the climate in Hawaii interacts with my hair more like a diffuser would than the finger in a light socket effect I get at home)  without first being  misted on in 50 degree temperatures while I stood in the rain. I take the bus and walk almost everywhere, and the rain is not my friend. A few winters ago, I experimented with wearing my hair curly in winter and after applying enough product for it to stay put, I looked like a 3-year-old had given me a really poorly executed finger wave. I lean heavily on my flat iron, Oribe hairspray, and I wear my hair in a high bun until I’ve reached my final commute destination.

In November, I saw a photo of my girl crush Kerry Washington rocking a set of amazing bangs and decided that my fivehead could use a stylish cover and decided that it was time for a bit of a change. But because I have been relaxer-free for seven years and have curly hair (and you cannot have curly bangs because hello, that is a serious folicular crime), I needed to make some tough choices.

So with the encouragement of my wonderful hair stylist Geraldine, I decided to get a Keratin Express treatment. The Express treatment differs from the long form one in that

Before (left, with just my bangs having received the Keratin Express Treatment) and After (right, with a full Keratin Express Treatment)
Before (left, with just my bangs having received the Keratin Express Treatment) and After (right, with a full Keratin Express Treatment)

it’s less permanent and doesn’t last nearly as long (10-12 weeks versus several months to a year). The Express treatment doesn’t include the formaldehyde that makes everyone balk at the thought of it, and, perhaps most importantly, the Express treatment is about a third of the price (mine was $90 for the full head, vs. a $300 starting price tag for the full treatment). With the Keratin Express treatment, I get the hair flexibility that I’ve dreamed of since my mom stopped doing my hair way back when. My curly hair still exists, but when I want to rock my Kerry Washington bangs with (somewhat) wreckless abandon, that’s an option, too. And the product is by no means some kind of miracle–my hair is still somewhat at the mercy of the weather and I still experience a fair amount of dryness. The big difference, as you can see at the right, shine and frizz. On the left side of the picture, my only my bangs had received the Keratin Express Treatment. They’re super shiny (and this is about 10 weeks old!) The rest of my hair is sort of fuzzy and dull in comparison. The picture on the right shows less fuzzy and more shiny hair. It’s a win in my book.

As women, no matter the color, we’re always inclined to fight against what we already have in an effort to make something new, and what we believe is preferable. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered the trick is not to get rid of what you’ve got–but enhance what you already have. The Keratin Express wasn’t cheap, and it probably isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of those rare beauty finds that does the trick of convincing me that I do actually have a great head of hair. If only there was a product that did the same for freckles…

If you’re in the Seattle area, you can get the Keratin Express Treatment at Gene Juarez Salon and Spa.

Snark: Storming the Bastille

On Sunday afternoon, I joined two friends at Ballard’s Bastille Cafe and Bar. It is a restaurant I’ve wanted to try for a while, but for whatever reason haven’t been able to swing it. The brunch menu is the sort of deal that sets my Francophile in Seattle heart a flutter–French Toast and French 75s.

An image of the menu at Bastille
Wise Words from Julia Child

When we arrived, it was like we’d walked into the episode of Portlandia where a new brunch spot has opened and all the local Portlandians have set up beach chairs outside the doors in order to score a table. As we joined the long line of quietly impatient yuppies, I wondered if maybe the beach chair idea might not have been half bad. And as much as I love brunch, I’m always somewhat leery of places where the lines are crazy long. There’s a restaurant in my neighborhood called Toulouse Petit, and while I love, love, love their happy hour and dinner, Toulouse Petit doesn’t take brunch reservations and you have to wait in almost comically long lines to nab a seat. I love mimosas as much as the next person, but at the end of the day, it’s just brunch, right? What on earth could be so special about it?

Turns out–everything, quite a lot.

French Toast at Bastille
The Holy Grail of French Toast

For reasons I don’t really understand, I cannot make French Toast on my own. It turns out burnt or underdone, and almost always totally hideous and slightly inedible. I can make souffles, gumbo, madeleines…almost anything else. Just not French Toast. And I order it any time I am given the option to do so. I’ve had every version possible–cinnamon bread, brioche, baguettes, etc. Bastille’s version was Baklava stuffed Challah French Toast served with a Cherry and Cognac syrup and dusted with cocoa nib powdered sugar. I also ordered a side of bacon because, why not. It was sinfully good, the kind of dish you wish you could make at home but know that it would only be a sad ghost of the original. I washed the decadent breakfast dish down with not one, but two French 75s. If you know me, you know that my love for French 75s is almost as boundless as my love for French Toast. On the occasion that I find a restaurant or bar that has one on the menu, they’re either too Gin-y or too Champers-y. Bastille’s was neither. It was perfect. It didn’t taste like booze at all and was light and refreshing and basically perfect.

Bastille itself pays quiet but not too kitschy homage to all things Parisian–it’s got dark wood, frosted glass panels between booths, subway tiles, and exposed iron beams like the ones you see inside the Metro in Paris. Though we had brunch, I took a peak at the whole menu online when I got home–it’s a delightful mixture of French standbys (moules-frites) made with locally sourced ingredients (Taylor Shellfish Farms). It was very, very good. The crowd was a mixture of yuppies, hipsters, families, and original Ballard residents. Despite my initial snark about yuppies in line, it was one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever seen in Seattle.

So next time someone suggests brunch, maybe I won’t frown so hard and will instead get my beach chair (and checkbook) ready.
Bastille Seattle
5307 Ballard Avenue Northwest
Seattle, WA 98107
206-453-5014

French 75 (Gin, Sparkling Wine, Lemon)
French 75 (Gin, Sparkling Wine, Lemon)

Sweetness: Adult Beverages

I was late to the Harry Potter phenomenon. How late? Late enough that third to last movie was in dollar theaters by the time I laid my 25-year-old mitts on the final book. But I devoured the books with the intensity of every other self-respecting person in the Western world and enjoyed every moment of them.

Any of my friends will tell you that I am a tough sell on fantasy and science fiction–I need books that take flights of fancy but are ultimately grounded in the world around me. So, J.K. Rowling’s mix of muggles and magic appealed to me on many levels. And I was positive that the inspiration for butterbeer had to be rooted in a real life drink.

In the past several years, I’ve made more than a few sickeningly sweet and borderline disgusting (nope, not even borderline, just flat out gross) variations of butterbeer…always so, so disappointed. Until last night.

A couple of friends and I popped into Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Ballard. It’s a tiny, dimly lit shop that smells like sugar and butter and chocolate. It’s the kind of place that seems tailor made for the cold, bleak, gray days that span the months of November through July in Seattle. And they serve butterbeer. Theirs is a heady mixture of Butterscotch, apple cider, ginger, and sparkling wine. It was warm and frothy, and delicious. And for this adult Harry Potter fan? A downright magical concoction.

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