Monday, December 28, 2009

An egoless coffeehouse in Seattle

Matcha Green Tea Latte, SOHO Coffee Company

Cup o' Joe Mondays are back! This week, Alan and I trekked to a different part of town for a coffeeshop that was aptly described by one Yelper as "egoless." Standing in sharp contrast to so many in the city, SOHO Coffee Company makes little attempt to do anything particularly special. They have all the ingredients of a good Seattle coffee spot - music, local art, free wi-fi, down-to-Earth baristas, local alternative papers available, great espresso drinks and pastries, a satisfying combination of tables, desks, cozy chairs and coffee tables. But there's nothing fancy or pretentious about it.

Even the neighborhood itself is probably the least fancy or pretentious of any in Seattle: the Central District, an oft-overlooked (it didn't get a mention in my very own blog entry heralding all the cute, personality-driven neighborhoods of Seattle, despite the fact that I live in the Central District's backyard and the vast majority of my runs trek through here) part of the city. It doesn't have the scenic parks or incredible strips of restaurants or cultural hubs of other corners of's a little bit more rundown than other parts of the city, and has quite a few of those sad, boarded up windows in shops. But it also boasts a lot of invigorating hills (yay for hill running!), some great outlooks and views of Rainier, proximity to the also oft-overlooked International District (more exploration of that in future blog entries) and frankly, a less homogenous vibe than other parts of Seattle.

Because it tends to be less busy than all the crammed coffee spots of Capitol Hill, it seems like it would be a good place to really hunker down and get some work done. It also clearly lends itself to a lot of regulars, as the barista seemed to know just about everybody by name who came through the door.

And if there's any category that goes above and beyond for an A+, it's either the music (which seemed to be set to a totally-customized-for-Yitka Pandora station: Jack Johnson, Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, Regina Spektor, Joshua Radin? Yes.) or the awesome Seattle/Central District mural in the bathroom - which apparently harks back to the days when this coffeeshop was under a different name: Cafe Vega.

Floor-to ceiling windows (well, almost) and no tall neighboring buildings to obstruct the sky lead to a lot of sunlight on a clear day. A cute neighborhood park across the street, a few hugely territorial views toward the southern horizon, a yoga studio next door, interesting people going by...a nice landscape, in other words. Overall probably not a place I'll come back to often, but good to know it's here.

Lastly...Alan and I have instilled a Monday tradition of our own as well - Takeout Pizza Night! Some background story: Pagliacci Pizza is known throughout Seattle as the city's best; Seyeon and I went and got slices there my very first night here in July. Her mom and she and I shared giant takeout pizzas over the summer and into the fall when the three of us were all still living under the same roof. Upon Alan and I getting our apartment, the first thing I wanted to do to mark the occasion was order takeout Pacliacci and have it delivered. Imagine my disappointment to learn that our apartment was just barely out of their delivery range. Bummer!

And so we were passed off to Piecora's, the other big pizza name in town. Fortunately, despite big shoes to fill, they stood the test have proved to have equally delicious pies! Better yet, they run a 50% off special on Monday nights. This is a big deal, since pizza in Seattle, like everything else, is four meals (hot dinner and cold breakfast both, for two) for around $12 is great.

Chloe thinks so, too.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


90 hours of labor over the course of 11 consecutive days


Little time to blog :(

Sorry, readers. Regular writing will resume soon, I promise!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hippie chic meets Power walker meets Pub crawler ( + Cup o' Joe Monday, Installment XIV)

New decaf favorite: steamed milk with vanilla!

In anticipation of a busy (as always) Monday, I "worked" ahead and hit up a new coffee-spot yesterday so I wouldn't miss another Cup o' Joe review this week! It was a good day for trekking to a new spot, too, as yesterday appears to have been the last sunny day in a long streak of beautiful rain-free weather. Now that the rain's trickling down my windows again tonight, I'm filled with a bit of trepidation for the coming months...the cold but sunny days have been nice. The sky starts getting dark around 3:30 p.m. this time of year, so when it's gloomy all seven hours of "daylight", it's a bit of a bummer.

But anyway - I dropped/broke my phone yesterday on my run, so what was supposed to be a long, relaxing afternoon off from work turned into a necessary trek downtown to the Verizon store to solve my phone issue. The issue with the Verizon store is that it's Seriously Downtown. No reasonably priced parking anywhere nearby, horrendous traffic to get there, even as a pedestrian...I kind of miss the little Oberlin Verizon store I could hop on my bike and be at in about two minutes flat from just about anywhere in town. But, on the bright side, I realize how rarely I ever get down to Serious Downtown Seattle, despite living within easy walking distance of it. So it was a good, get-me-out-of-my-bubble experience.

A friend from college (it feels strange to refer to anybody as a "friend from college", but I am, simply because I can), John, visited Seattle a couple weeks ago. I got together with him toward the end of his few days here, and he was very Ehh about Seattle as a city. I was more or less horrified by his blase attitude toward what I think is, hands down, the best city in the world - but after yesterday, I think I kind of understand.

Maybe it was just the Christmas-shopping-frenzy, but Serious Downtown Seattle (where, likely, the majority of visitors and tourists spend their time here) is kind of...awful! It's swarming and overrun with people, and there's too many buildings, and it's all icky department stores and overpriced boutiques...basically, all the reasons I don't consider myself inclined to urban living at all. I got accosted at every street corner, and then some, by everybody from political activists to aggressive homeless people to drunken tourists to creepy men to a couple obnoxious AT&T salesmen hassling me about my Verizon shopping bag. It was stressful!

Miraculously at some point, though, I was pacing down a pedestrian-swamped downtown thoroughfare (think flashing billboard ads and Macy's and H&M and a line around two city blocks to sit on Santa's lap in Nordstrom's) and suddenly heard my name being called out. I snapped out of my harried city-goer haze and caught a familiar face - someone I met in Kaplan training several months ago. Fun to be getting to that point where I run into people I know wherever I go...seeing an Obie a week at REI, running into my cycling instructor at Capitol Hill coffeeshops, bumping grocery carts at Trader Joe's with the cute couple who always plays duets at my favorite local open mic night...

I love Seattle for its neighborhoods - for the fact that in any direction, there's a little microcosm of self-contained, distinct culture, whether it be the gay-fabulous hippie chic of Capitol Hill, the down-to-Earth, indie/artsy vibe of Fremont, the live-music, late-night, bar-hopping, pub-crawling wildness of Ballard, the runners' and power-walkers' paradise of Greenlake, or the theater-boasting cultural mecca of Lower Queen Anne. Anywhere you go, you can feel like you've walked into a quaint little village, each with its own distinct coffeeshops and ethnic restaurants and local shops, fraught with its own parks and hills and various views of the Space Needle, the Sound, Lake Union, Lake Washington, the Cascades, the Olympics, Mount Rainier...the multitude of familiar Seattle icons, but each neighborhood set to its own soundtrack.

Yesterday was, miraculously, the first time that I've actually gone to the infamous, fish-flying Pike Place Market since moving here. (No, I still haven't been up the Space Needle...) It was kind of cool to see it in all its Christmas spirit, and full of saltwater smells and fresh fruit stands and the distinctive scent of pine needles:

But all of this rambling, and no mention yet of my coffeeshop d'jour! I had hauled my camera and laptop along with me on my whole downtown adventure, with the thought that I might come across some adorable little cafe somewhere...but at least on all the streets I traversed, there was nothing but the big three: Starbuck's, Tully's, and Seattle's Best Coffee. No can do. So I trekked on back to good ol' Capitol Hill and hit up the other Victrola - on Pike Street.

It has far less seating than the one up on 15th - but on the upside: the smaller, more intimate setting lent itself to a much cozier feel than the other one. The baristas were much friendlier here, and the giant group tables made this place more conducive to hanging out collectively with strangers, rather than plunking down at a tiny, solo table to burrow away alone and work. Also, in further complaints against the 15th location, Seyeon and I met there for coffee ( juice for me; steamed milk for her...haha, we're such sophisticated young urbanites!) a few nights ago and they played the most atrocious, eardrum-destroying noise I'd ever sat through in a coffeeshop. Just awful.

Complete with Cute and Trendy Hipster Girls.

But at this location, everything was mellow and cozy and inviting. The exposed brick wall is a nice touch...the current artwork a little too gothy and morbid for my taste, but I understand that stuff rotates.

Complete with Cute Artist Boy in a Hoodie.

The other cool thing about this place is that it has an in-cafe roasting room. If I knew more about the coffee-roasting process, I could probably better articulate just what goes on in that room, but frankly, I'm clueless. Nevertheless, I got the same excited feeling you get when you're at a brewery and the giant beer-brewing tub-things (obviously, I'm clueless about that, too) are in the next room over, separated from you only by huge panes of glass. You feel like you're getting in on some kind of awesome, secret process, and it's kind of cool. So overall a thumbs up for this place. I'd write more, but I already feel as though this entry has overstayed its welcome and dragged on a little too long. So I'll leave it there, and just say...

Good night, Seattle!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


A sad postscript to my earlier post, but from one REIster to another, I feel I owe him some tribute.

From the Seattle Times today:

"26-year-old Luke T. Gullberg...was found dead on a glacier on Oregon's highest mountain...

...The Oregonian newspaper reported Sunday that Gullberg was a sales clerk at the outdoor retailer and cooperative REI in Tukwila, Wash., and he studied writing and English at Central Washington University."

Endorphin-fueled musings on my crazy coworkers...among other things

I am transforming, and it's an awesome feeling. I have felt more consistently happy and calm and unstressed and myself than ever before, and I owe it to several factors, the following of which I'll explore here: life stage, environment, endorphins, and friendships.

I feel liberated, not being in school anymore. The academic environment, undoubtedly, is exciting, and powerful and motivating and wonderful, all at once...and I'd be lying to say I don't miss being in it. But I am so grateful, too, to be beyond that period in my life, to have more freedom, fewer constraints, more responsibility and independence.

Not that this life is without stress...but it feels more manageable than school stress did. There's so much pressure in college - academically, to push yourself, to please professors, to accomplish, to exceed all expectations...and socially, even at a purportedly nonconformists' haven, to "fit in" with the status quo, to want to always be in big group situations, to go out every weekend, to not "be lame" and stay in or go to bed early or ever spend time alone. Until I got to enjoy small-town Ohio post-graduation, and spend time off campus too, and with people not just my own age/race/socioeconomic status/etc, I think I really, really struggled with Oberlin.

Which leads me to: Seattle! Another big factor in my transformation. And along with that, REI. It's still too early to tell whether my REI friends are a good selection sample for all of Seattle, but if so, this is truly, truly my kind of city. It's been criticized for being a socially cold city - albeit a polite one, but one that's difficult to break into beyond surface pleasantries. But I feel like you could make that case for just about any city, especially as a young adult who's been accustomed his/her whole life to situations (grade school, summer camps and programs, team sports, college, study abroad programs, etc.) that make not making friends just about impossible. No matter where you are, it's hard to be thrown into a totally new place and try to develop meaningful friendships from the ground up. It involves a certain level of effort - to get out of your own apartment, to be bold, to be open-minded, to occasionally take the reins and organize gatherings, to be willing to try new things...

But in other ways, the friendships I've made here just...make sense. Instead of being friends with somebody because you're thrown into the same situation (class, dorm, house, etc.), friendships are built on mutual passions. Here, I have hiked, run, walked, biked, and played in the woods with acquaintances who, in turn, have become close friends. There are plans in the works also: snowshoeing, camping, serious trail running, snowboarding, and maybe someday, mountaineering. Anybody who's been in touch with me in the last two years knows how much I adored my coworkers at Dick's in Ohio - but honestly, I was a little bummed after I got hired there to realize that most everybody there was more fan than athlete. Not that sports retail is my lifelong career track, but I'd definitely sought out that job in hopes that I'd meet fellow runners and hikers and lovers of the outdoors, and it just didn't quite happen that way in Ohio. (Though I got other wonderful, unexpected gifts from them instead!)

At REI, I can hardly keep up with my coworkers. There's Jeff, who's climbed Rainier and doesn't run much but woke up last Sunday and decided spur of the moment to go run 26.2 miles...and Tom, who's celebrating his forties with a skateboard and barefoot trail running and 200km bike rides and absolutely kicking my butt in the woods...and Ryan, who did a full Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run) just out of college...and Michael, who's at Cyclo-cross Nationals in Oregon this weekend...and Suzi, who went to Boston to row at the Head of the Charles a few weeks ago...and Chris, who hunts with a bow and arrow and built his own kayak and sewed himself a pair of moccasins out of a deer he killed. There is serious peer pressure to ride a bike (or walk) to work, and everybody seems to pack themselves a healthy lunch each day. No fatty fast food for any of us; we all just sit down with our tupperware of quinoa or fresh salads - and it's awesome. It's just great, positive energy to be around.

Today, I went for a 9-mile run in West Seattle with Kate and Jenica. It's cold here, cold enough to make this fountain freeze over:

...but we bundled up, and had a blast traversing trails in Lincoln Park (which I wrote some about in July) and then running through quaint little beach-town neighborhoods to get to Alki Beach. Imagine the Florida Keys, except in 32-degree weather, and surrounded by mountains, and you get the idea. Cute beachside cottages, little palm trees, stretches of public beach, crab shacks and beach bars the joys of mountainous, densely-forested trails!

Apparently, working out in threes is awesome. This was the second time this week, the first being an incredible three-hour forest workout with the afore-mentioned Chris and Tom, modeling our afternoon after the MovNat philosophy - training your body through natural movements like running, jumping, climbing, carrying, balancing, swimming, etc. We ran trails (the two of them "barefoot" in Vibram Fivefingers), vaulted over logs, crawled across fallen trees on all fours, leapt over creek beds, scrambled up off-trail hillsides, picked up logs and carried them around on our shoulders, climbed into trees, jumped off of them, jumped up and down staircases, balanced on rails, slacklined, and basically, just played in the woods. It was the most invigorating and fun workout my body's ever had, and four days later, my muscles are still feeling the a good way :) Here's what it looked like:


In conclusion? These people make me feel alive. It's not all working out; we have egg nog parties and hideous holiday outfit parties and Rockabilly-themed bowling parties. We have hot cocoa dates. We hit the local German pub with two dozen of us and pass around a giant glass boot of beer. We go out for open mic nights and concerts.

But getting outside is the biggest part of it. The quote "You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with" has been of serious inspiration to me these past few years, and with that in mind, I feel lucky to be where I am.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Photo album catch-up

New banner for the blog! (I find Photoshop oddly therapeutic and relaxing after a long day at work.) I tried to include all my favorite iconic Seattle things, as well as the topics that tend to dominate my entries. From left to right: (1) fresh tomatoes growing over the summer in Seyeon's garden, (2) me running the Seattle marathon, (3) sunset over Puget Sound, as seen from Queen Anne hill, (4) Space Needle, of course, (5) a cup of Vivace cappucino, (6) the shelves at the infamous Elliott Bay Books, and (7) an evergreen with Mount Rainier (very, very faintly...look hard!) in the background.

My legs seem to have fully recovered from the marathon by now. I did a 10-miler yesterday, and for the first time ever, I made it back from the shores of Lake Washington without having to walk any of the brutal, endless uphill blocks from there until home. I'm more motivated and determined than ever to conquer Seattle hills, and I'll be damned if the cold front that's sweeping the entire country, it seems, keeps me inside.

In the meantime, I rediscovered some lovely, autumn-in-Seattle pictures I took several weeks ago, when the leaves were still richly's no longer quite this autumn-like, but given that the last few days here have been clear and beautiful, these photos aren't too far off the mark for how this city's felt lately...just cold. Really cold.

Pretty Seattle.

Cal Anderson Park, Capitol Hill

Fallen leaves.

If my memory's serving me correctly, it hasn't rained (not really, anyway) since last weekend, before the marathon. This feels unreal for Seattle, but the sunshine and clear, spectacular views of the snow-capped mountain ranges on both sides of the city have been fantastic. It's just the darn brutal cold. (Although Seattle's "brutal cold" has got nothing on Ohio's hardcore lake effect weather patterns, so I'm not complaining.) REI's rockabilly-themed holiday party was last night, complete with bowling, pool and awesome catered food...but WOW was the walk in red tights and an argyle mini-skirt COLD.

No photos (yet?) of that evening, so instead, I'll just include a precious couple from the last great REI event - our end-of-the-year meeting, which was Winter-Olympics-themed and therefore awesome. Each department represented a different country. Footwear was Italy, and as such, we dressed to the nines and Cam and Jeff made us all amazing cardboard Vespas on which to ride proudly into the meeting room several weeks ago. I collaged mine:

Furthermore, as part of our department's pentathlon team, I donned a kiddie hiker pack and a helmet and jumproped across the room and back...

...then hopped on a longboard, where I was pushed back across the room by a coworker in snow boots. Ahh, nothing better than getting together with four hundred other outdoors-loving dorks to play with all the cool stuff REI sells. Our awesome CEO, Sally Jewell, came out for it, and there were free ice cream sundaes and company holiday presents (awesome day hike packs emblazoned with "REI Staff") for all of us, and Jeff was granted a prestigious Anderson Award... = major company-wide recognition, his name engraved in a brick at headquarters, and an all-expenses trip with Sally to go play in the wilderness for four days. Basically, I love love love REI.

In other exciting seasonal news, Alan and I got a Christmas tree! I also finally managed to get the plates on my car switched over (Washington has to be the pickiest, most stubborn state in this country; I still haven't managed to convince them enough yet of my residency in their state to be eligible for a Washington state driver's license), so here she is, in all her Washington-ed and Christmas-ed out glory:

And, as promised, a few photos from around the apartment:

The Christmas tree, installed.

Chloe plays tetherball with a Christmas ornament.

Cuddlefest on the living room couch. (Take note of Chloe; she kind of blends in with the couch.) Photo courtesy of Seyeon!

Me demonstrating my butternut-squash soup enthusiasm

More kitchen.

Bookcase! Thank you, Goodwill.

More soon. It's now almost midnight, and I just realized it's Monday. And I got nothing to show for it, coffeeshop-wise. Shoot! My humblest apologies...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Food is yummy.

So, I have been meaning forever to put in a food entry. Someday I hope to be in a better position to blog about the plethora of incredible restaurants Seattle has to offer - ranging in cuisine from Thai to Haitian, from Nepalese to Ethiopian, from Iranian to Peruvian - but not yet. Happily, I do have a boyfriend and best friend who appreciate food, too; in an awesome round of Guggenheim earlier this week, we each had to come up with an E "thing that's addictive" - between the three of us, we came up with "exercise", "endorphins", and "eating." But alas, something else that's addictive when you moved jobless to a new, expensive city is not spending money. And so the restaurants will, largely, have to wait. Instead, I am working valiantly to forge new paths toward my culinary ambitions (which, as you will read, are quite humble).

But first, a necessary tangent on blogging, with which to frame this whole entry:

So, why do I keep a blog? It's time consuming, it doesn't make me any money; my self-imposed Cup o' Joe Monday entries cost me a few extra bucks and often some hassle/schedule-shuffling on Mondays. But...

(1) I enjoy blogging. It's a fun, relaxing creative endeavor, and unlike similar ones like scrapbooking or collaging, there is an immediate and easy way to share it with people in my life.
(2) It keeps me connected with people I love who are far away - which, at this point, is most of them. Some internet technology is scary (the Farmville application on Facebook, for example), but I genuinely think blogging is a fantastic innovation. Not that online journals should ever replace real, direct interaction and catching-up (I owe quite a few of you, especially some who've commented on recent entries, a call or letter or email...I will catch up soon, I promise!), but for the purpose they serve, I think they're great.
(3) It keeps me writing. Any self-discipline is good for the kind of writer I am (the one that, since the days of elementary and middle school when every free waking moment was devoted to reading or writing, needs some discipline to make it happen) is good.
(4) It keeps me out and about, making the most of Seattle and my life, if for nothing else than thinking of it all in terms of being able to write about it later. Mile 22 on Sunday? Oh God, please don't let me have to write a blog entry about failing to cross the finish line of my first marathon. And so I kept running. Perhaps that's a good thing to aim for in life, then: a life worth writing about.

It's that last one that's been especially important in my new kitchen. Somehow, the notion of getting to blog about things I cook is inherently inspiring - and just recently I realized how many times I've taken pictures of food-things with the idea that I'd blog about them, and then didn't. So here, finally, are a few brief anecdotes on my recent cooking adventures:

Butternut Squash Soup with fresh ginger, coconut milk, and pecans

The above picture is a Big Deal. Here's why: I love butternut squash soup. It's my favorite soup, in fact. But I have been known to screw up a butternut squash or two in the past, so normally I just buy the things, put them on prominent display, and drop serious hints to whatever cooking-savvy housemates I have about my love for B.N.S. soup. Apparently, without housemates, that tactic is highly ineffective. So this was my first successful bowl. It was a bit watery, but still not bad for an inaugural effort.
(I also, with Alan's assistance, did a big batch of curried butternut squash cubes with chickpeas and a yogurt/cilantro sauce for a work-related holiday party/end-of-the-year meeting a couple weeks pictures, but it was quite tasty, too. Yes, by and by, I am conquering the butternut squash.)

Loaf of vegan banana bread

I frequently buy bananas, with big dreams of how healthy all that potassium consumption will make me. I then frequently fail to eat them before they go bad. The solution? Loaf pans, a bit of flour, and an oven. This stuff is awesomely moist and delicious.

Vegan snickerdoodles

Improvising, I pulled a shelf out of my refrigerator to compensate for my lack of a wire drying rack for yummy cookies. I took these to work to share, and despite the usual vegan-resistance ("Pssh, I don't eat cookies unless there's steak inside of them"), people liked them. Folks started coming up from other floors to try them, which I took as a good sign.

I did not grow up cooking, really. In pre-college days, my cooking skills topped out at scrambled eggs, which I learned to do about halfway through high school. College brought about the beginnings of my attempt to teach myself to cook, often with disastrous results (we all remember my first EasyMac attempt in the microwave in Dascomb over winter term freshman year? I'm not kidding...) Joining Harkness food co-op the second semester of my sophomore year helped, as I went experimentally vegan and thus was more or less forced to learn to cook things, or else have virtually nothing to eat.

Now that I'm really on my own - having no meal plan to fall back on, no excuse of a gross and unkempt shared kitchen,

College, woohoo!
(If you're just skimming this entry and looking at pictures/captions, PLEASE take note that this is NOT my current kitchen.)

...and no shortage of proper utensils and cookware on which to blame a lack of cooking - I am beginning to work on cultivating good, adult habits. These also include: not ever going to bed or leaving the house with dirty dishes in the sink, not letting trash or recycling pile up, keeping meticulous financial records, conserving electricity whenever possible, keeping my kitty cat healthy, getting enough sleep, and so forth.

But the same way that my blog has inspired me to explore new coffeeshops/make the most of Seattle/cook things, I am hoping it can help me devote more time to reading than I have. I've found myself jealous lately of friends and coworkers who are reading all kinds of fabulous, interesting books - and simultaneously telling myself, It's okay, someday you'll have time to read again, too - which is a lie. I think I'm at that point where I'll be telling myself that forever, until I really force myself to make the time. So I'm enlisting the help of my blog on this one, too, and from now on out, am promising to read a book a week and write about it here. Stay tuned :)