Thursday, September 24, 2015

He's here!

I'm popping up to say hello, and as a mama of TWO!

Charles Gardner Hanger, our very own Charlie boy, was born one week late on September 4. He was 9 lbs, 21.5 inches, and is all kinds of awesome. Hazel - and her parents - are smitten.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The perfect good news dinner party dish

Let's backtrack. Again. (One day I'll write this blog in real time again, promise.)

In January we invited our dear friends over for dinner. They didn't know it, but it was a total setup. Not only were we planning to surprise them with the news that we were pregnant again, but we planned to really surprise them by asking if they'd be Hazel's godparents. Clearly, a damn good dinner was necessary.

Even though I've owned the Momofuku cookbook for years, I've always flipped right past David Chang's bo ssam recipe. This NYT Cooking piece, though, got my attention, which links back to this longer piece. A "recipe to win the dinner party sweepstakes?" Okay then!

The magic of this meal is that it's not at all difficult to put together. It's timely, yes - you'll need to plan in advance so the pork can sit overnight. But compared with lots of the "oh, this is simple!" recipes that I try to throw together when company is over, forgetting that I actually want to be able to converse with company instead of cook up until we're seated, this recipe is tailor-made for being able to enjoy your guests. And honestly? One of the best meals we've cooked all year.

We toasted Baby Dos. LG and B said yes to our big question. We all squealed and hugged and cried. And then we almost died at the deliciousness of the food. Make this dish for your next good news dinner, and then you'll have even more to toast.

Momofuku's Bo Ssam
Serves 6-8


1 whole bone-in pork butt or picnic ham (8 to 10 pounds)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons brown sugar

2 ½ cups thinly sliced scallions, both green and white parts
½ cup peeled, minced fresh ginger
¼ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)
1 ½ teaspoons light soy sauce
1 scant teaspoon sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

(DC peeps - you can find your ssamjang, kochujang and kimchi at the Korean stand inside Eastern Market! The owner makes it herself.)
2 tablespoons fermented bean-and-chili paste (ssamjang, available in many Asian markets, and online)
1 tablespoon chili paste (kochujang, available in many Asian markets, and online)
½ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)

2 cups plain white rice, cooked
3 heads bibb lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
1 dozen or more fresh oysters(optional)
Kimchi (available in many Asian markets, and online)

Place the pork in a large, shallow bowl. Mix the white sugar and 1 cup of the salt together in another bowl, then rub the mixture all over the meat. Cover it with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

When you're ready to cook, heat oven to 300. Remove pork from refrigerator and discard any juices. Place the pork in a roasting pan and set in the oven and cook for approximately 6 hours, or until it collapses, yielding easily to the tines of a fork. (After the first hour, baste hourly with pan juices.) At this point, you may remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest for up to an hour.
Meanwhile, make the ginger-scallion sauce. In a large bowl, combine the scallions with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and taste, adding salt if needed.

Make the ssam sauce. In a medium bowl, combine the chili pastes with the vinegar and oil, and mix well.

Prepare rice, wash lettuce and, if using, shuck the oysters. Put kimchi and sauces into serving bowls.

When your accompaniments are prepared and you are ready to serve the food, turn oven to 500. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining tablespoon of salt with the brown sugar. Rub this mixture all over the cooked pork. Place in oven for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or until a dark caramel crust has developed on the meat. Serve hot, with the accompaniments.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

This crazy beautiful thing that happened

Flashback: the week of Christmas, 2014. Work drama per usual, running around like mad, getting ready for work while mentally compiling the list of gifts to finish wrapping and the final things to do before driving to NC for the holiday. A pregnancy test, just taken, was tallying its result. Not that the chances were great it'd be positive - after three years and seemingly endless interventions to get pregnant with Hazel, this was the very first month we were officially trying to have #2. So there I was again, temping and charting, even though we both admitted to each other that the sound of my basal body thermometer's beeps in the morning gave us PTSD reactions. I figured I'd rather know the result alone in our house than during the rest of the week's craziness, when we'd be spending two days in NC followed by two days in CT. By the time I started showering I'd actually sort of forgotten about the test, my mind was so full of things to do that day. I reached for the body wash and happened to look over. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest. Was that...? Surely that isn't...? 

But it was. Holy crap, it was positive.

Talk about surreal. So much effort the first time that we didn't dare wait a second longer than necessary to try for #2, in case we were in for another three-year journey of outrageously costly medical hell. So no, we didn't dare wait... but that didn't mean we really had hope, either.

We told our families right away, later that week, toasting to our Christmas miracle. We were cautiously optimistic that everything would be okay at that first ultrasound. Having had sad news at a previous ultrasound, we steeled ourselves for the worst. We told ourselves that even if this pregnancy wasn't viable, at least we knew we could get pregnant on our own - that simple knowledge felt absolutely revolutionary to us, after all we'd been through. Everything looked great, though. A tiny little bean with a great heartbeat. Each time we checked in, that bean grew bigger and was doing more tricks. Sucking a thumb, spinning around, kicking. A happy camper with a due date of August 28.

We knew from the start that we'd find out the sex. I'm too much of a planner to wait to know - I need the information yesterday. I didn't have an instinct one way or another this time, but found myself thinking more about a boy than a girl as time went on. At the end of February those boy thoughts panned out - our bean (whom we'd taken to calling "Dos") was a he! A little brother for Hazel - too, too good.

Two kids has been our number for a long time, and knowing that #2 is a boy helps cement that thought for us. We'll be a family of four, with a boy and a girl 21.5 months apart. Life is going to be crazy and wonderful and beautiful, and when I stop to catch my breath and consider that, I can't stop smiling.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

This year.

I've been trying to write this post for a month. It's hard to find much time lately. But on the plus side, here I am, actually writing it, not letting it fall to the wayside like so many fun recipes, posts about life events, posts about silly things, posts like Hazel's birth story. (For the record, she is 14 months old now... oops.)

This is a resolution post. See, I have lots of goals for this year, lots of little things and lots of "that would be nice" things and some other biggies, too. But as 2014 turned to 2015, the one that stuck in my head the most was that this year more than anything, I need to recapture my creativity. I am lucky beyond belief to be a mom to little H, to be married to someone who still floors me and delights me more than I can possibly express, and to be a successful professional who, although more harried than not these days, is able to find some personal value in her career. I'm so lucky to have all of that and to be able to live comfortably. I know how many are struggling today to get by, which is to say, I don't want to sound like an entitled snob complaining without seeing her privilege. I am lucky and I know it.


I desperately miss my creative outlets. I miss writing. I miss making things for fun - rooms, parties, dinners, moments. Like every other mom on the planet, my time is squeezed more than ever, and for the best of reasons. Every day is a balancing act and every week is an absolute juggle. I've always been happy with that pace - I'm the first to squirm if there's not enough to do. But to do the important things well - to be a good mom and a good partner and a good colleague who manages not to cave into work stress but instead to navigate my team around it - I've dropped this world here, which has always been my special place, just for me. It was a survival decision and it was the right one, given those other biggies being juggled, but that doesn't mean it isn't difficult.

Tonight I was (virtually) home alone - Hazel asleep early with a cold, T at a coffee shop studying for a certification exam, and I cooked, just for me. I made a simple soup - nothing to write home about, although isn't a fresh, simple soup one of the most underrated meals there is? - and the experience was glorious. Cooking slowly, just for me. No timetable, no hungry companions, no recipe. That's the same me who misses this space.

I feel like I'm arriving at a crossroads and an inherent conflict that may well come to pass this year. I carry a level of stress with my day job that is not sustainable for the long haul. There is an end in sight, thankfully, although things will get worse before they get better. But then what? Is that the moment I've been waiting for, when I can recalibrate and bring back some of my interior world? Or will that moment instead be a real break, when I know I've crossed the (long, long, long-awaited) finish line, and I decide to do something entirely different with my life, something that will always give me the ability to maintain a little more interior space?

I don't know. And I'm not there yet, so I don't need to know. But this is coming for me, for 2015. It will either be a turning point or a new agreement with myself. But somehow, some way, I need more words, more air, more light, more spark.

To be continued...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

To another Council of Equals

Last weekend our dear friends LG and B were married at the DC War Memorial. It was a perfect ceremony - laughter, tears, full hearts, and so much love. We were so happy to be part of their day and to support a wedding of two individuals who quite simply belong together. That the District (and increasingly, the entire country) allows them to marry legally is an important reason why we love living here. Get a load of this gorgeousness:

As their wedding date got closer, T and I spent a lot of time reminiscing about our own wedding, five and a half years ago now. In lieu of favors we donated to Freedom to Marry, which felt like a big deal in 2009. In 2014, it'd be almost passe, which is pretty awesome. Thinking about how much ground has been covered in the simple effort to make love legal makes me all kinds of happy. (I mean seriously - check out this chart!)

At the LG&B reception - tipsy on champagne and oysters, per the me+B tradition - I read a poem for them that was part of our ceremony, too. This is my ode (well okay, Alice Walker's) to two complete individuals joining forces and, rather than meshing into the ubiquitous and boring "one" that so many folks seem to romanticize, each becoming doubly awesome in turn. The world needs more awesome, more LG+B, and more councils of equals. That's a world where I want to be.

Beyond What
Alice Walker

We reach for destinies beyond 
what we have come to know
and in the romantic hush
of promises
perceive each
the other's life
as known mystery.
Shared. But inviolate.
No melting. No squeezing
into One.
We swing our eyes around
as well as side to side
to see the world.
To choose, renounce,
this, or that -
call it a council between equals
call it love. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Here, catching my breath

It's the way things are these days... months pass in the blink of an eye. I can only say I hope to do better, that things should settle down in a few months. Then I'll no doubt begin the looking-back process on this time of my life and I may well marvel at everything that seemed to happen all at once. The work that comprised most of the insanity (which won't be captured here, but could easily fill a suspense novel), the dinners that were cooked (or ordered, depending on that day's stress level), the home improvements, the weekend guests or weekend trips, the changes in the lives of family and friends. There's been so much activity and then through all of it, this growing, incredible girl who makes everything else unimportant when she laughs. My baby is a real kid now, almost a year old.

It'll be good for me to forget some of the day-to-day happenings of these last few months, but I don't want to forget one thing about her. She's so much fun, this kid - so happy, so inquisitive, so funny, and so active. She's in such a hurry - a mouth full of teeth, standing solo, walking now with just one hand asking for ours, making leaps like mad. Getting to know her and cheer her on has been among the biggest joys I've ever known. Maybe she gets this hurry-hurry-hurry thing from me. Maybe in 2015 we can both take it easy a little bit.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Victory is mine: Mustard Dill Salmon

Optimists would say that T eating mustard dill salmon for dinner is a marriage victory. Pessimists would say it's the symbol of a man breaking down underneath an oppressive regime. I say... I don't care! I want to eat salmon for dinner and this is how I can do it. 

See, years back, T was firmly in the No Salmon camp. I've always been Team Salmon, and much like my propaganda campaign for mushrooms, I decided I could turn him. The trick has been cooking salmon with other strong flavors that he really likes, such as mustard and dill. The guy goes crazy for dill from the garden. Enter: a winning, simple recipe! (And a killer mustard sauce.)

Mustard Dill Salmon
Feeds four - or two with leftovers

- 2-lb salmon fillet (wild Pacific salmon is best - avoid farmed Atlantic salmon)
- 8 oz sour cream (small container)*
- 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup fresh dill + extra
- 2 cloves garlic
- salt and pepper
- arugula (optional)

- Mustard sauce: Mix together the sour cream, mustard, dill, and garlic and allow them to sit while you prepare dinner. Add salt and pepper to taste. You'll end up with just over a cup of sauce.
- Heat up your grill
- Coat the salmon fillet with 1/3 of the mustard sauce and place it in an aluminum foil packet
- Cook the salmon in foil on a hot grill for 15 minutes
- Garnish with extra dill and serve alongside fresh greens (I like arugula for this)
- Serve the rest of your sauce at the table with the salmon and arugula

(PS: We served this dish with caponata - still a goodie!)

*I suspect you could substitute Greek yogurt for the sour cream here, with some tinkering, if you're so inclined.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Guest Room Complete! (ish)

At some point you just have to call it a day and take the damn pictures, right? Our guest room is "done." And by that I mean I still need to switch out the ceiling fan from the 1980s, I don't love the chair pillow, and the curtain brackets needs to be re-installed wider, butbutbut... perfect is overrated. The way life is going, I'm just thrilled that I managed to repaint. This room is truly a breath of fresh air compared to the mishmash it was before, so I'm moving on from perfect and calling this a complete success! Here's our updated guest room, pulled together from lots of existing items and freshened up by springy green.

Wall Paint - Benjamin Moore Classic Gray
Bookcase Paint - Benjamin Moore Acadia Green
Curtains - Waverly One Wish fabric in Mint Julep
Bedding - Old West Elm with new Anthropologie throw pillow
Art, books, and accents - Stuff we already had
Rug - Shades of Light
Lamp - Ballard Design
Throw - Brahms Mount
Mirror - Hayneedle
Furniture - Existing stuff

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Remembering why (the work edition)

I flew. I pumped. I networked. I conquered.

The dreaded first business trip is complete. And honestly? It was great.

H was fine. We had milk to spare. My mother-in-law got some great grandbaby time. I got some great professional time. (T is still waiting for his great relaxation time.) It was good to get away and be out west again. It was good to remember the good work I've done in the past, to get recharged about the good work I'll do in the future.

The truth is, I love my weird corner of the professional universe, maybe especially because I never really meant to call it my own. Given the bubble of DC and my current project, connecting with other folks in my field and learning from other projects is something I need to do more than ever. And of course, in the constant juggling act that is working momhood, it's harder than ever to make it actually happen. Having a reason to go and an excuse to suck it up and make it happen? Critical. I worked on Tucson's streetcar project way back in late 2007/early 2008. These things take time, as we know. Back then I was chasing love much more than the idea that I'd be at the system opening in 2014. I'd only been in Dallas a few months when I worked on that FTA application - T and I were just figuring out how to live together. We'd adopted one cat, maybe two. There was not yet a marriage, a move to DC, a house, infertility, a baby girl. Those things struck me in Tucson last week, seeing this project go live in a cool little town that reminds me in so many ways of the great one I left behind seven years ago. It's funny how things work, because pursuing transit was the professional path that made my choice to leave Albuquerque for Dallas as practical as it was romantic. I miss New Mexico like mad, but the decision was the right one.

All these years later, this streetcar project and I ended up meeting again. That's one of the reasons I love community planning and transit projects - you can always visit. Sometimes we all need a reminder of why we do what we do, why the headaches are worth it, why the unnecessary drama is sometimes just something you need to work through until the smoke clears. Last week refreshed me, and being away from H helped me see the big picture, to be honest. Some day I want her to know that her mom's work matters to her because she believes her projects help make cities better places to live. What I do might not always look exactly like it does today, but I hope that broad definition will still fit. And even if I decide some day to buy that little bookstore I love in the Outer Banks and leave it all behind (note to self: need to inform husband of these plans first), we can visit my projects together, anytime we like: that streetcar a mile away from our house, or the one in Tucson or Dallas or Ft. Lauderdale, the commuter train in New Mexico, or spots scattered around the country that are maybe a little more vibrant than they used to be - the Lehigh Valley, the South Valley, the Piedmont, and more. The thing about this work is, you get to leave your mark.

As for traveling to visit one of those marks, it was a juggle of course, but not as bad as I'd feared. I timed things similarly to my office, found a few breaks in the schedule to steal away solo, had refrigerators in my rooms, traveled with ice, only filled my bags to 100 ML to speed up airport security (which I didn't even need to do, it turned out), and basically just made it work. As we do. The only real wrinkle was just an embarrassing one, and saved for the flight home. Despite verbal warnings insisting otherwise, congregating in the aisles is in fact still rampant on airplanes. I discovered this the hard way after pumping in the tiny airplane bathroom for just ten minutes to take the edge off (having learned my lesson from the flight over - ouch and oops), and exited to find the bathroom line literally running halfway down the plane. Seriously people? Oh, the dirty looks. (Although they might have thanked me when they realized I did no harm in there.) At any rate... at least my freezer woes are no more!

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