Cooking up a storm

For most of my adult life, I have classified myself as a baker, not a cook.  I have always been quick to joke, “why should I cook, when everyone cooks for me?”  It was true.  Growing up, my mother did all the cooking.  (okay, yes, my father did make dinner on the rare occasions my mom was out of town.  Breakfast for dinner every time.)  In college, it was dining hall food (bleh), and then when Val and I shared an apartment it was – well, we were P-O-O-R.  So we ate whatever was free or cheap.  I remember a time that we dug for change under the mats of my car in order to split a value meal at McDonald’s.  Yeah. But occasionally, when money would appear out of thin air, she would cook, and it was always beyond amazing and completely without the aid of a cookbook.  While in seminary, I worked in a restaurant the entire four years, so food was always free or cheap.  Then I started dating Kris, and yes, it was because he knew his way around the kitchen. 🙂  That man can cook a gourmet meal without breaking a sweat, and is hot to boot.  Seriously, what more does a girl need?!  Then, living in Hong Kong, I ate at the shelter most days because, well, I didn’t even have a kitchen.

One of my goals in moving to Seattle was to learn to cook for myself, and to cook with locally bought items as often as possible.  Local is no issue here, because this city is serious about promoting, supporting and making affordable local anything.  I’ve seen local cheese, local wine, local beer, local fish.  I’ve see local yarn, locally made guitars, even locally made birthday cards.  This is no joke.   So, I can buy local.  Now the real question is, Can I cook?

Turns out, I don’t suck at cooking.  For most of my independent adult life, I thought I did.  Honestly, I thought I was a nightmare in the kitchen.  When all I really needed was just a little confidence and time to explore.  So far, I’ve made pizza where even the crust was from scratch and all of the produce on top was locally grown.  I made a to-die-for salad with grilled chicken the other night that was seriously some kind of incredible.  Last night I made pita fajitas. 

I find that not only am I enjoying the food I’m making, but I’m enjoying the time and energy it takes to cook.  I love finding new recipes, and get excited shopping for all the right ingredients.  There is anticipation over my meal as it simmers on the stove.  And when I finish, I feel that I have eaten healthier and accomplished something of worth in making my own dinner from scratch.

So my continued challenge to myself is to make one new meal a week.  (I seem to remember someone else with a similar goal 🙂  In these meals I have to use at least one local product.  I’ll try to keep you updated as I go (though it will not be anything as extensive as Val’s food blog). 

Who knew?  I can cook!

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Missing Hong Kong

Friday night I was trying to make my way out to a co-worker’s house.  I had to take a bus route that I had not yet taken, and was diligently paying attention to the road signs and passing stores, watching for my landmark.  Across the aisle from me, two women sat chatting away in another language.  I strained my ear toward them, to see if I could catch what language they were speaking.  To my great surprise, I heard them speaking Tagalog – the Philippine language.  Excited that I could recognize what language they were speaking, I started paying more attention to the two women than to my approaching landmark.  I could pick out parts of their conversation.  The older woman’s concern for her son.  The second woman complaining about her long work hours.  I wanted to talk to these women.  To greet them in Tagalog.  But I was scared, and I let my fear keep me from speaking to these strangers with the familiar language.  As they got off the bus, I found myself a little sad and disappointed in myself for not speaking to them.  I also found myself a little lost.

In paying attention to the women rather than the road, I had missed my stop by a good ten minutes.  I moved towards the front and the bus driver confirmed that I had indeed missed my stop.  “Not to worry though.  We are about to loop around, and you will be back again in about 20 minutes.”  I called Rachel to let her know what happened, and settled in for the rest of the journey.  There were only three people remaining on the bus at this time, the bus driver and myself up front, and an older gentleman towards the back, sound asleep.  Earlier, when the Filipino women had gotten off the bus, I had heard them speaking to the bus driving in Tagalog as well.  So I pushed myself to ask the bus driver, “Are you Filipino?”  She was.  I was so excited.  I began sharing with her about how I had been to the Philippines, and had worked in Hong Kong with Filipino domestic workers.  I asked about her, where she from in the Philippines, what brought her to America. 

She came from Pangasinan, and was impressed that I knew where that even was.  The youngest of 11 children, she has been in the States for 30 years.  She has 2 sisters working as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, 3 in Hong Kong, and one in Canada.  Her parents were farmers who left their land looking for work in Manila.  The story of so many in the Philippines.  When her father couldn’t find work, the family moved back to the farm, where her parents still remain.  It has been over 10 years since she has been home. 

When we had reached my stop (again), I got off the bus, thanking my new friend in Tagalog. “Salamat!”  And felt a twinge of homesickness for Hong Kong.

Sunday afternoon, my landlord Barbara and I spent most of the day volunteering at the set up of a new apartment building for homeless and mentally ill men and women.  We took a break for lunch and walked across the street to a small local diner.  When we walked inside, I noticed everywhere signs of the Philippines.  Straw mats, Philippine Idol playing on the T.V., a bamboo flute with Baguio City painted on it.  A Philippine restaurant in South Seattle!  I was so excited.  As our young waiter handed us our menus, I went over all the best items with Barbara, recommending my favorites.  She ended up going with Pansit – egg noodles with soy sauce and chopped veggies.  I got one of my all time favorite Philippine dishes, Chicken Adobo with a glass of fresh calamansi juice.  I was in heaven. 

There were times working with nearly all Filipinios, and after spending a full month of eating nothing but Filipino food while visiting the Philippines, that I did get tired of their national dishes. (as one would with anything they eat too much of)  But after nearly 3 months of being away, I had never been so excited to have Filipino food for lunch!! 

I love being here in Seattle.  And I am so thankful to be in a place that is closer to home and my loved ones.  But I miss Hong Kong (well, the people there, not the city itself.)  I miss working at the Mission and the Bethune House.  I miss my wonderful Filipino and Indonesian co-workers.  I miss their beautiful culture lived out in music, dance, language and food. 

This weekend, I had two chance encounters with a culture I adore.  It made me realized how incredibly lucky I am to have had the experiences I did in Hong Kong.  Now if only I can find a place that serves dunaguan. 🙂

A post about work

I realized that all of my posts since arriving here have been about Seattle the city, and not about what I’m actually doing here.  I did come here with a purpose after all. 🙂 

I am working at a homeless women’s day center called Mary’s Place, which was started out of the Church of Mary Magdalene (CoMM).  The CoMM was started 10 years ago when a pastor saw a need from homeless women to have worship and community with one another, for their unique needs to be addressed by the church.  I will write more about CoMM in a later post, but today, I want to tell you about Mary’s Place.

Out of CoMM started Mary’s Place, a day center open 5 days a week where women can come and cook their own meals, take a hot shower, get resources on housing, employment, detox and other such needs.  Mary’s Place offers classes throughout the week on subjects such as Seeking Safety, Budgeting, Goal Setting and Learning to Ask for Help.  There are other self improvement  classes as well: knitting and crochet, a writing group and crafts.  Every week we have volunteers that come in as medical nurses, naturopath nurses, counselors and pastors, to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the women.  There is plenty of time for fun and games, with Movie Day every Friday, and games during slow afternoons. 

What you find at Mary’s Place is a place where homeless, nearly homeless and formely homeless women can come and just be.  There is help and many resources available for them, or they can just come and enjoy a place out of the cold.  Since shelters are only open at night, it provides women a place to go to during the day, instead of walking around or sitting in the park.  Over time, the women create a beautiful sense of community with one other.  They work together to keep Mary’s Place running.  They do all the cooking and cleaning, and many of the volunteers are women who have gone through the program before. 

It is not always an easy  place to be.  While many of the women are here for simple financial reasons that stripped them of their homes, there are others dealing with addictions and mental illnesses.  There are personality conflicts here like anywhere else.  There are frustrations, tempers and sometimes harsh words that come from a place of despair.   But there is also laughter, kind words and hope. 

My place here is to be with the women, working “on the floor” (as the staff calls it), helping facilitate groups, and keeping order at the center.  Other days I will be working with an advocacy group.  I have also recently been given the project of working with families, helping them find resources, getting kids into schools or daycare, helping moms find safe housing for their families.   I can already see that this job is going to be completely different from my work in Hong Kong.  The situations, the stories, the mentalities, they are all different.  And while there are days that I am a little overwhelmed, I am mostly really excited to be here and to be apart of this great and unique community.

As requested

A few of you have requested photos from Seattle.  To be honest, I haven’t taken that many pictures since being here.  (A shock, I know!)  I promise to try and get better at that.  Till then, here are a few to hopefully tide you over. 🙂

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Here is my sweet momma, freezing in downtown.  While she was here, we spent a day exploring the famous Pike Place Market.  Yes, that is where they throw the fish.  No, we didn’t see any fish being thrown that day.  We did however have a nice lunch with a great view of the harbor, and enjoyed some tasty coffee and hot cocoa! Yum!

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This is the bridge that goes over the Fremont district, also known as the Center of the Universe! ha!  Its a fun little area, and their harbor is home to many house boats as seen here.  This is also supposedly one of the areas that Sleepless in Seattle was filmed in.  I need to watch that movie again….

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This was taken at Gasworks Park.  An old gas refinery that was later turned into a public park with a great view of downtown!

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This was taken in my neighborhood, a couple of blocks from where I live, on the east side of the ridge.  You are looking down at Greenlake.  On a clear day, you can see mountains all along the horizon!

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And this is Greenlake.  It is a little over 2 miles all the way around, and every day there are just slews of people jogging and walking their dogs.  You wouldn’t believe the number of people I saw on roller skates (not rollerblades, actual old school roller skates!!)  And when it is warmer, I’m told a lot of people use the lake for canoeing and kyaking.

Seattleite

Today is the first day it has rained since I’ve been here.  And it really only rained for a couple of hours, just drizzle, nothing too serious. I take that to be a good sign.  This week, other than being cold, was absolutely beautiful!  We had quite a few sunny and clear days.  Even in the winter, this city is beautiful.  I live on a ridge, right smack in between the Cascade Mountains and the Olympic Mountains.  On the clear days, when I’m walking the couple of blocks to my bus stop, I have a grand view of the snow capped mountains that surround me, and it is beyond breath taking.  I keep thinking to myself, “How is this my life?  How am I this lucky?”

After only two weeks in, I am already falling in love with this city.  I have to admit that while I have loved every place I have lived, I have never loved a city.  In the past, it has always been about the relationships formed, the experiences I’ve had in the various Southern states I’ve lived in.   But here, before relationships have yet formed, I have already connected to this city.  I can’t explain it properly.  There is just a…spirit to this city that I’ve connected with.  I don’t know any other way to describe it.  I can’t lay my finger on what it is that make Seattle so wonderful. 

Seattle is so many things that Hong Kong is not – in a good way.  While I adored my time in Hong Kong, I DID NOT like the city itself.  It was smelly, crowded, polluted, hot.  Seattle smells like coffee and lavender.  I don’t know yet what the population is here, but I have not once been pushed of the sidewalk or run into someone’s back because of the crowds.  I can walk down the sidewalk and look around and breathe. 

It would seem that everyone here has a dog! The majority of the people I see walking around my neighborhood are walking their dog(s).  And every one smiles at each other, whether they know each other or not, as they pass by.  When people get off the bus they thank the bus driver.  And are sincere about it!  It is Southern hospitality at it’s best!  It is said that Seattle has the cleanest air in the country, and I believe it.  I have not once blown my nose and it come out black (as it did nearly EVERY day in Hong Kong).  It makes walking so much more enjoyable. 

One thing that is similar between Hong Kong and Seattle though, which I am thankful for, is diversity.  The women who come to the center range all ages, economic statuses, sexualities, races and religions.  I can walk down two blocks and pass 5 restaurants from various ethnicities.  And it isn’t just Chinese food here, they have Schezwan.  It isn’t just Indian.  It is Pakistani and Bangladesh.  There is Santa Fe and then there is Mexican.  And there is no lack of Greek restaurants.  Where do I start? 

I could go on and on (not just about the food, because I haven’t even started on the local foods!), but I just wanted to say that I’m comfortable here.  I feel like I fit in.  I honestly cannot say that I have ever felt this way about a location before.  It makes me excited for the relationships that will surely come as I continue to settle in.