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Thursday, December 23, 2010


Most of the time, holidays induce extraordinary joy and an abundance of smiles, family, gifts, laughter, and happiness. But sometimes, for some people, holidays can be gut-wrenchingly tough and the absence of such joyous luxuries is loud and painful. For my family, this is going to be one of those tough holidays, I think.

This is the first Christmas my newly-widowed aunt will spend without her husband of 52 years. Fifty-two. My uncle lovingly called her "Sweets" for fifty-two years. Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the funeral in Hawaii. I have never wanted so badly to fold up a thousand hugs into a envelope and put it in the care of the United States Postal Service. Instead, I sent my Aunt a card expressing my best wishes in celebrating his life.

My second cousin, who was younger than I am, past away suddenly a couple of months ago. And, to tell you the cold hard truth (just as it was told to me) two people among my friends and family have recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I am still trying to figure out what to say. Maybe I will have another go at folding hugs into envelopes.

Such devastating loss seems to suck the holiday spirit down into a twisted pipe that funnels it all away to be trapped in a deep dark place. But, I have seen first hand that you can't hold love back. Or down. Or at arms length. It can wiggle through even the smallest of cracks. I've seen it happen with my own eyes. And heart.

In Kyoto, Japan, there is a famous temple called Kiyomizudera and on its grounds is the Jishu shrine, which has been rumored to be the dwelling of the god of love (okay, and matchmaking). Well, there are these two "love stones" placed about 20 to 30 feet apart and, if you can successfully walk between them blindfolded, then you will supposedly attain great love in your life. It's not a difficult test, but there's a lot going on around you. There are pushy tourists trying to take their carefully calculated photos, a whole slew of Japanese chatter, and, believe it or not, some people actually try to lure you away from a direct path. It's just sinister. And, oh dear, the pressure.

I took a deep breath and tried not to picture myself as a loveless loser pining away throughout my spinster days. I closed my eyes and listened to the good guidance of someone who wanted to see me make it to the end as much as I did.

And, can you believe it, I made it.

So, love is what I have to offer my family and friends this year. I’m not going to tell you that it's going to easy. But we will be together and that will be worth it. What I hope really rings true is that we can lean on each other and hold onto what we do have with just a little bit tighter grip. We are still gonna have some egg nog and I might muster up the nerve to make a pear ginger molasses cake that I know will garner a smile or three.

Love is also what I have to offer you, too. Thank you for being such a patient listener and always digging up some courage and support when I need it most.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December New Taste Market

Just the thought of holiday shopping makes me feel exhausted. I am a pretty resilient and fiesty woman, but honestly, I sort of crumble in the face of pushy crowds, forced shopping deadlines and endless mental sales calculations to figure out how much money I am spending. This year, my family has opted for a Christmas Eve dinner with a singular $20 gift exchange (distributed according to my mom’s favorite gift exchange game). My gift, not surprisingly, will be food-related (any suggestions?).

In an effort to avoid chaotic holiday shopping, I'm thinking I might either make gifts or pick up some locally-made gifts to celebrate the talents of others who make some fine products. I started collecting some local goodies and DIY projects to give away as gifts. At the November New Taste Marketplace, I bought some homemade tofu and a DIY tofu-making kit from Emily's Tofu and some small batch organic coffee beans from Tutmak Coffee. I'm not entirely sure which relative I could realistically give a tofu-making kit to, but I'll worry about that later.

If you still need to do some holiday shopping and want some homemade gifts, come check out the December New Taste Market on Saturday, December 18 from 4pm-9pm.Over 30 vendors will be offering everything from garam masala granola and artisan chocolates to homemade fermented miso and maple soda! Besides giving gifts made with love, you are helping St. Gregory's Food Pantry, which gives away tons of fresh food to more than 1,200 households each month. Holiday spirit doesn't come in a better form than helping others in need.

And...due to some begging requests, the pickled grapes are back!Come find me at the market and sample some! They are fanastic additions to salads, cocktails and cheese platters.

Photo courtesy of Jesse FriedmanThe pickled grapes are inspired by Susan Kaplan and Renee Erikson's pickled magic of Seattle's Boat Street Cafe, where they pickle everything from figs and asparagus to prunes!

I bought heaps of local grapes and hand cut each and every little sphere to let the pickling liquid really seep into the flesh. The grapes take a little swim in a white wine vinegar bath flavored with heaps of black pepper, freshly-cracked cinnamon bark, mustard seeds, cloves and just a hint of star-anise, for good measure. They snap open with a burst of sweet juice and just enough tang to make you wonder why you haven't thought of pickled grapes years ago.

I hope to see you at the market on Saturday!

Happy Holidays, dear readers. I hope it is really special.