2013 in review

Given that this will only be my fourth blog post for the whole year, it is probably obvious that 2013 has been a busy year for me!

Professionally, this year has definitely been the best of my life. In the past 12 months, I have more than found my footing at med school. With the help and dedication of some amazing friends, we have successfully opened and operated a student-run free clinic since September. This project was conceived a little over a year ago, and the clinic has now been open and thriving for over three months!

Two med students practicing sutures on pigs' feet

Practicing before we treat any real patients!

This free clinic has opened so many doors for me – I have the amazing opportunity to work with so many students and faculty on this project. I really feel like I am doing important, meaningful work, and that I am respected by my peers and mentors for it. It is a wonderful feeling.

The second year of med school has also been so much more fun and interesting than first year. My classes are so much cooler and there is so much less “busywork”! My grades are much better this year than last year as well, which doesn’t hurt.

2014 is going to be another big year for me. The whole first half will be spend studying for “the boards”, the big USMLE Step 1 exam that I will take in June. Then, Daniel and I plan to move down to Chicago where I will start the clinical part of med school, my third year clerkships. I’m also working on a big project this spring with the goal of expanding the types of services we’re able to offer at the clinic.

But it hasn’t all been work, work, work! I have had a wonderful time with friends, family, and of course my two guys Daniel and Walter! Here is a little recap of 2013 in pictures:

In March, our friends Kaitlin and Chris came to visit, and we met up with Pamela and Javier in Chicago for a bite.

Grabbing pizza in Chicago, March 2013

Grabbing pizza in Chicago, March 2013

Then, in June, we traveled back home to Washington for a couple of weeks. We stayed at Kaitlin and Chris’s apartment in Seattle and explored our favorite city like we were tourists:

Me and Daniel on the Bainbridge ferry

Gotta wear that lifejacket!

Chris and Kaitlin at Tilth

Then we drove to Spokane for my sister’s wedding, which was lovely:

Megan and Shaun

Me and Daniel at my sister's wedding

Couples selfie

Then we settled down for a chill, relaxing summer at home in Waukegan:

We hosted a big 4th of July barbecue with with pulled pork and all the trimmings:
Backyard BBQ

We daytripped down to Chicago:

At Intelligentsia

Pamela visited for a few days later in July and we just hung out and bought matching “friend” watches (the brown one on the left):

Me and Pamela

Clocks on clocks on clocks

In August, we bought bikes and started commuting on them! I did the 13-mile round trip commute on my bike quite a few times until the weather got too cold, and I plan to start again in the spring.

New bike

In September, my mom visited, and she even went to school with Daniel and me each for a day! This is us at a school picnic where she was a big hit with all my friends:

Mom and me

Before we knew it, the holidays rolled around! We had a big Thanksgiving this year, with 14 people at our house, including Pam and Javier, plus a bunch of people from med school. Daniel outdid himself again (well, I helped a little,) and Pamela generously provided flowers for me to arrange and play with (one of my favorite things to do, but I always feel guilty about how much flowers cost). Everyone had a great time and left with full bellies.

Thanksgiving with friends

Cranberry-blueberry pie

Thanksgiving flowers

Thanksgiving with friends

Which brings us to Christmas. This was our very first Christmas away from our families. Daniel and I kept it very homey and cozy and just focused on being with each other.

Christmas cookies

Christmas decorations

Christmas decorations

Christmas Day dessert

Enjoying snow and sunshine

Wearing my Christmas scarf and pin

Modeling his new Christmas gifts

We still have a few more days until we go back to school, so we’re getting ready to tackle 2014 with our usual energy. As you might have heard on Facebook already, Daniel and I will be eating vegetarian for the month of January, as an experiment more than anything.

Here’s hoping that you had a great 2013 and that your 2014 is looking even better!

First visit to the Bean

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What I’ll be eating this weekend

This weekend marks the reprise of Camp Squid! Instead of going to the ocean this time, we are packing up and heading for the mountains, where there will be a firepit, a hot tub, and, hopefully, some snow!

A cozy weekend calls for cozy food, most of which will be supplied by Daniel, natch.

But I am not completely useless in the kitchen, so I will be making a specialty of mine – smoked salmon corn chowder:

smoked salmon chowder!

Although I love a good New England chowder, this is a more Northwest version. It isn’t thick and creamy like New England clam chowder, but milky and briny. The stars of the soup are salty, smoky salmon, and sweet corn, with tender red potatoes and celery. Sometimes I add carrots too.

Like most good soups, there isn’t really a “recipe” because it is so simple, but here is my ingredient list and simple description of how I usually make it. I have no idea how much of each ingredient I use; that is something you can just eyeball as you put together the soup. If you want a really indulgent chowder, increase the smoked salmon and add some heavy cream. If you love potatoes, add more! If you like the way some of the potatoes disintegrate and thicken the chowder, try adding some starchy potatoes like russets in with the waxy red potatoes. This would be great with fresh corn, but frozen is perfectly acceptable, too.

Smoked Salmon Corn Chowder

  • 1 onion, 3-4 stalks celery, and 1 carrot, all diced (carrot optional) (mirepoix!!!)
  • some fat – butter or bacon fat are best
  • maybe some white wine would be nice in here…
  • about 2 tbsp flour
  • 8 oz. smoked salmon (or more! It is delicious with more!)
  • half a bag of frozen corn
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock (if you want to be a BAMF, warm the chicken stock in a separate pan so it is not cold when you ladle it into your mirepoix-roux).
  • waxy potatoes, cut into 1/2″ dice (red potatoes add a nice color)
  • half and half (milk is ok if you don’t have cream, but don’t boil it!)
  • salt (never forget the salt!)

In a big pot, melt the fat and cook the mirepoix over medium heat until the carrots are mostly softened. Now, I would normally salt here because it helps the veggies release their moisture, but since the salmon is probably pretty salty, just give it a little sprinkling of salt.

At this point, you can deglaze the pan with a little white wine. Then stir in a little bit of flour and let it cook until it is golden. If you don’t let the roux cook a little, your soup will taste floury. (The flour coated veggies will look pretty gross right now. I am pretty sure you aren’t technically supposed to make a roux with veggies in the pot already, but do you think this honey badger cares?)

Once the roux is golden brown, slowly ladle in some of the chicken stock. Whisk the stock around so it is absorbed by the flour with no lumps. Scrape the bottom on the pan to get all that good fond off.

Pour in the rest of the chicken stock, then add your salmon, potatoes, and corn. Bring to a boil and let the soup gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, but not disintegrating (maybe 15 minutes). At this point, it is best to turn the heat way down (or off) and just let those flavors sit and mellow. Salt the soup!

Just before you are ready to serve, turn the heat back up and add the half and half. You don’t want to boil it once the half and half is in, but you can simmer a little. Taste for salt one more time, and serve. Daniel the garnish king suggests topping the soup with some chives for maximum pretty.

smoked salmon chowder!

apartment tour- dining nook

If there is one thing about an apartment that makes you feel like a real grown up, it is having an official dining room. Our dining nook may be tiny (and also house the refrigerator!) but it is a huge step up from the lap-eating that we were doing in our last place. Here is a “before” shot:

dining nook

We love the extra-wide arched doorway. The kitchen is through the arch and to the right, so in addition to housing the fridge, the nook also serves as a walkway. Here is the finished room – you can just barely see the fridge at the bottom right.

dining room AFTER

The window faces west onto the alleyway and gets great afternoon sun. Unlike the bedroom, the dining room came together really cheaply. The orange table was a free find off the street corner and we ran out and snatched it up. It appears to have been made for use in a school or something. It is just the perfect size for our little dining nook. The coral chairs came from a school down the street via Craigslist, and they cost a total of $12.

The little white cabinet is a favorite Ikea piece that used to live in our old living room. It kind of looks like a locker, doesn’t it? Combined with the giant alphabet print on the wall, I guess we may be going a little heavy-handed on the “vintage schoolhouse” theme. Whatever, I think it looks nice.

dining room AFTER

The most expensive item in the whole room is definitely the chandelier, at around $100 (including an emergency run to the hardware store to replace the fuse we blew). I have been dying to make this chandelier ever since it appeared in ReadyMade 2 years ago. It is made of glass balls from CB2 plus some basic electrical supplies from the hardware store.

I built the fixture and Daniel hardwired it in and installed a dimmer switch. And so can you! Hard wiring a light fixture is really not a big deal. We already have vague future plans to build this chandelier for the bedroom at some point.

So while it is a little bit of a squeeze, we can comfortably seat 4 people at the table – in fact, we’ve already hosted guests twice. The table is just the perfect size for the space. The only bummer is that since the table has to sit off-center to accommodate the fridge and walking space, the chandelier hangs kind of in the way. Daniel already cracked one of the balls with his head. Oh well, glass balls are cheap!

dining room AFTER

This room is pretty much finished. I did buy some oilcloth to make a table cover, and we may recover the chairs someday too. Oh, and I want to mount my pretty plate collection over the archway. But for right now, this room is really livable.

Next up: the living room!

visit to Pam – Part 2

My whole trip to Champaign was awesome, but there was one thing we did that weekend that really changed my life. On Saturday, we drove out to a little local farm for a delicious farm breakfast…

farm breakfast farm breakfast

…with great coffee…

farm breakfast

…and then the real fun began:

BABY GOATS HERE

Baby goats break my heart.

baby goats

baby goats

There were only a few baby kids, but there were plenty of mama goats in the other barn. I made friends with them all. The best part is that they all had little name tags on their neck and they were all real names! I met Beatrice, Tallulah, Shelly, Roxanne, Ruby, Bella, and a whole bunch more. I love it when animals get human names. Goats are people too, you know.

new friend new friend

new friend new friend

Goats are so wonderfully quirky and expressive:

mama goats

mama goats

mama goats

mama goats

IMG_1859

Pam & Tallulah

Of course, sometimes new relationships just don’t work out:

(I don’t know what’s better, the fact that Pam caught that little interaction on camera, or the fact that you can hear her go “Gaaaaahhhh! … It’s recording!”)

Thanks for taking me to see the baby goats, Pamela!

visit to Pam – Part 1

I went to visit my BFF Pamela Saunders a few weeks ago in Champaign, Illinois! We had an awesome time! Pam moved out to Champaign last summer for grad school (she is getting a PhD in Writing Studies…hard core) and this is the first time I have been out there.

IMG_1838

Pam just moved into a new apartment and wanted my help decorating it, so the first thing we did was pick out a paint color and get to work. That room was a pain in the ass to paint, but doesn’t it look awesome?

bedroom makeover

bedroom makeover

bedroom makeover

bedroom makeover

(The perfume in the foreground is our “friendship scent – we both own it!)

We didn’t work all weekend though. I spent a considerable amount of time cuddling with my god-kitty Chloe:

Ms Chloe!

Thankfully, Chloe approves of the makeover, especially the window seat.

bedroom & Chloe

We realized after we started painting that the color we chose is pretty much exactly the same color as Chloe.

We also got some amazing barbecue at the Black Dog in Urbana:

OMG BBQ

And we made dinner at home one night (that’s risotto with a poached egg on top):

dinner

For the most part we just chilled out, and I got to meet Pam’s new friends and go to an art show. I had an awesome weekend!

Camp Squid

I know this is coming really late, since we went on this trip over a month ago, but I have to blog about Camp Squid!

Back in March, Daniel and I went on an awesome long weekend to the ocean with our friends Kaitlin and Chris. We rented a little house in Pacific Beach, brought a bunch of food (and some booze) and just had an awesome time. Spring break is the perfect time to go to a cold places – the rates are cheap, and if you’re lucky, the weather will be nice. If not, you have the perfect excuse to snuggle up and just chill out.

Camp Squid! (aka Coastal Nest Cottage in Pacific Beach)

Isn’t this place cute? It’s called the Coastal Nest Cottage and the owner was really sweet to work with. Seriously, this is the best possible place to stage a lazy, low-key weekend. Daniel expressed all of our delight with this pose:

this place is adorable!

Presuming we continue to live in this area (finger crossed that we are moving this summer!) we will definitely be back.

The first thing we did was start working on a sweet puppy puzzle, which we promptly finished.

puzzle progress

yes! awesome animal puzzle finished

Thank would be the only task we would actually complete all weekend.

Then we basically ate, drank, talked and played Settlers of Catan. I didn’t even get any reading done. Daniel was the chef all weekend, which he loved, and so did we.

Chris & Kaitlin

breakfast

We were having such a good time that Daniel and I only walked down to the beach once. Actually, the beach was pretty disgusting, and we all decided that we didn’t like the cars. We also never went clam digging even though there was totally a dig that weekend because apparently I was the only one who wanted to go.

on the beach

It was a beautiful weekend, with lots of sunshine. On our last full day, it poured and shone at the same time. I went outside to search for the rainbow, and it was a great one.

an awesome rainbow

We had such an awesome time at Camp Squid! We are going to try to make this some sort of annual event, if at all possible. Camp Squid 2011, inaugural class!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

If these aren’t the prettiest chocolate éclairs you’ve ever seen…

chocolate éclairs

…then you have probably been to some sort of French pastry shop at some point in your life. Nevertheless, these are delicious, and I made them from scratch for Valentine’s Day!

Seriously though, they look like pickles… or worse.

chocolate éclairs

Daniel and I had a pretty chill V-day. We pretty much just exchanged cards, and Daniel woke up early to make me heart-shaped egg boats and bacon.

I made Daniel a few paper crafts from free printables available online.. His “card” is actually 26 cards with an A-Z alphabet of things I love about him. I got the pattern for the cards from design*sponge.

A-Z

I also made him a paper owl mobile/hangy-thing for the living room. Got the pattern here.

owls

Also, I tried sending out e-cards, but apparently none of them went through? If you’re reading this blog, I probably sent you one! These two were my favorites:

I love you burro, burro much

twinkle toes

Doesn’t that nail polish look like something I would wear? Actually, I love the whole thing – the shoes, the grass peeking through the lattice bricks, everything.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

feel-good cupcake

I had a really crappy day at work, so I decided to get some cupcakes.

Trophy Cupcakes - Red Velvet
red velvet cupcake by Chris Blakely on flickr

Sadly, they were all out of red velvet, so I got PB chocolate, triple coconut, and chocolate with vanilla icing to share with Daniel and Kaitlin.

Trophy Cupcakes is the best. Anyone who tries to tell you Cupcake Royale is better is full of shit.

box o' cupcakes
trophy cupcakes – new1mproved on flickr

dinner parties

Daniel and I just spent a couple of hours at a coffee shop planning our next dinner party. I don’t want to brag, but we throw really great dinner parties.

We usually do 3 or 4 a year, and sometimes we repeat stuff, but other times we try to do all new dishes. And we’re always trying to outdo ourselves – I think our personal best for a dinner party was 6 courses PLUs cheese course PLUS drink pairings. (Although we’ll never be able to outdo the really big party we had this summer, of course!)

So yeah, we’re pretty badass. We have a system: I make the dessert and usually one other dish, Daniel does all of the heavy cooking. I decorate the apartment and set the table. You have to get the timing just right, but it works out really well.

Here is a strawberry shortcake I made for dessert for our very first dinner party in spring 2007:

strawberry shortcake

I made the exact same cake by special request at Pam’s going-away dinner party in July.

And here are some delicious snowball cupcakes I made for Daniel’s and my joint birthday dinner party last year:

snowballs

And a magnificent caramel tart from ’08:

Caramel pudding tart

Sometimes setting the table is more fun than cooking, like when you have llama place cards:

dinner party table

Here are some other table settings I was particularly proud of:

Sep '09 dinner party

June '09 dinner party

Of course, the best part about dinner parties is the company. We have had such awesome times with our friends at our parties. Talking, arguing, singing, eating, and drinking – it is always an honor to host our closest friends in our home. In fact, we tend to have so much fun that there are hardly any photos of the actual parties.

Pam's going-away party

Pam's going-away party

June '09 dinner party

This “entertaining” thing is one of my favorite things that Daniel and I do together. It’s how I’ve always pictured myself as both a friend and as part of a couple. It’s so fun being the ones who are always down for hosting, who always have a place for people to hang put and get fed. As a co-host, Daniel is just about perfect, and our skills complement each other. Can’t wait for our next party in 2 weeks!

test run

So I’ve got two major wedding DIY projects that I’m going to have to pull off just days before the wedding. I’m making the wedding cupcakes, because I am known for my baking, and I’m doing the flowers, because I just love flowers. Last weekend was Daniel’s senior recital, so I decided to make the reception an opportunity to do a test run of a new cupcake recipe and to try my hand at flower arranging.

flowers and cupcakes

This was the first time I’ve done arrangements with floral foam and stuff (I usually just dump them in a tall vase or pitcher that can support the stems). My bridesmaid Pam bought the flowers for me as a birthday present and then I put the flowers together with my future MIL. We used the vintage milk glass vases she’s been collecting for me for the wedding. It was really fun! I learned a lot about how to combine and arrange the flowers and I’ve gained anew appreciation for interesting greenery. Best of all, now I’m sure I’ll be able to do it all for the wedding.

flowers and cupcakes

flowers and cupcakes

flowers and cupcakes

Being creative is really relaxing for me. It is going to be so much fun to do 15+ of these for the wedding! (Oh yeah, and there will be PEONIES!)

flowers and cupcakes

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