By popular demand: Recipe for Spicy Fries

I’ll have to figure out how to add an audio element to this page, with Eldest Daughter saying in a distinctive voice, “Thpicy frieth!” kind of like Sylvester, of Tweety & Sylvester. She loves these—eats them by the bowlful.

The recipe is courtesy of the side of a bag of Mann’s pre-cut “sweet potato” fries from Costco. I put “sweet potato” in quotation marks because this was a bag of the orange things known to many as “yams.” You want the orange ones, not the yellowish ones.

For every 3 c. of yams cut into fry-like sticks:

½ t. red pepper flakes (amp up if you like things really hot)
½ t. chipotle pepper flakes (optional; or substitute these for the regular red pepper flakes)
1 t. chili powder
2 T. olive oil
1 T. lime juice (I often have to leave this out because I don’t keep limes on hand, and it still tastes fine)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1 T. spicy brown mustard (e.g. Grey Poupon)
¼ t. ground black pepper

Add at end: 1 t. salt (use kosher for extra crunch)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, stir together the ingredients for the spicy coating. Add potatoes and stir until evenly coated. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, then turn and bake another 10 minutes until crispy and browned. Sprinkle with the salt and serve.

I make these in really big batches because they go so fast around my house. The catch is that you can’t achieve a single layer in the pan if you cut up too many, so plan accordingly. They’re still good if they end up heaped in the pan—just not as crispy.

You might also bake half the batch and taste, then adjust the heat on the second half if you want them spicier.

Thanksgiving is an act, not a menu

Like so many, I get a tad Grinchy about commercialization around this time of year. I won’t be shopping on Black Friday, going toe to toe with desperate women in appliqued sweatshirts over this year's version of Tickle Me Elmo.

If I do anything commercial at all, it will be a walk to the Rockwood Bakery with My Sweetheart for a caramel macchiato (latte style), and possibly one of the orange almond rolls or their outstanding quiche.

Now that’s something to be thankful for: good food, the ability to move freely under my own power, a quiet neighborhood that makes for an enjoyable walk, a sweetheart who will happily go for a walk with me, holding hands and striding in step. (We can’t help but do that: he was in the Marines, I was in marching band. Left-right-left. On our second date we walked and talked for hours, enjoying the crisp snap of our steps in unison when we realized our strides matched perfectly.)

Or we’ll take Eldest Daughter and Second Daughter with us and walk the other direction, to the Perry Street Café. We haven’t been there in a while, but when we walk in the waitresses will recognize us, they’ll ask where the little kids are (with their mother; we only have them every other weekend), and the bottomless cups of coffee will begin.

Second Daughter will get a Caesar salad (no olives—why do they put olives on the Caesar anyway?); they make an enormous salad and she’ll eat all of it (note that this is for breakfast).

Eldest Daughter will get a mushroom/cheese omelet with hashbrowns and mix the entire plate together in one unappetizing (to me) gloppy mess with ketchup.

I’ll get the veggie scramble and an English muffin with honey. My Sweetheart will get pancakes, possibly; scrambled eggs; some kind of sausage or bacon (his chance at meat, since the rest of us are vegetarians); and will eat everyone’s leftovers if we let him.

Again, something to be thankful for: Living in a good-sized city with urban amenities that still has a hometown feeling and good little neighborhood cafes, and teenage daughters who will happily hang out with their folks (as well they should—we’re buying) and carry on intelligent, well-informed conversations about things like world affairs, ethics, and the economy (also lame jokes, word play, and occasional applications of the phrase “that’s what she said”—we’re not all high-brow and intellectual all the time).

I note that my stories do revolve around food—just not a blow-out feast requiring me to get up in the dark and start mincing celery and onions and rolling out piecrust (hopefully not all in the same dish).

I’ve had those years, and I love to cook a major feast, but that’s no longer what Thanksgiving is about for us. An event that creates major stress for one or two of us (Sweetheart likes to cook too) while the rest overeat and then roll away groaning isn’t really all that fun, if you think about it.

It’s just the four of us this year. I asked everyone to tell me some favorite foods, and over the course of the four-day weekend I’ll cook my way through the list, which so far isn’t too daunting:
  • Laura Potatoes: Roasted in the oven with a liberal dose of a mustard vinaigrette dressing that’s good on everything from salad to pilaf to baguettes to, well, potatoes.
  • Spicy Fries: Based on a recipe originally found on the side of a bag of yam fries from Costco (modified to use chipotle for smokiness), these are basted with a mustard/chili sauce, the spicier the better.
  • Wild Rice: Sweetheart didn’t specify a preparation method, so I think it will be my recipe that involves caramelized walnuts or pecans, orange zest, and sautéed celery and onions (I guess I do end up doing some of that veggie prep—just not at o-dark-thirty in the morning).
  • Oven-roasted Cauliflower, Oven-roasted Broccoli: My personal favorites, from Cook’s Illustrated recipes that make these vegetables truly finger-licking good. Sometimes we eat them straight out of the pans at the stove. (I'd better become a member so I can actually log on and look up these recipes I've linked; fortunately, I have the print versions in the kitchen bookcase.)
  • Berry Pie: Second Daughter’s request.
  • Pecan Pie: Eldest Daughter’s request.

I enjoy cooking, especially for people I love. Doing it this way spreads out the labor as well as the enjoyment of the food. That makes me a lot more thankful than being exhausted when I finally sit down to eat.

If we happen to walk to a neighborhood spot for someone else’s cooking, we’ll get to connect with our neighbors and with those familiar faces we don’t actually know, but see often enough in the places where we’re regulars so that we’re “friendly strangers.”

As someone who particularly loves to feel a part of her community networks, I love this about Spokane: that willingness to strike up a conversation with a total stranger in line at the grocery store or coffee shop, make small talk, and in all likelihood find we like something or someone in common that creates a bond.

These are small things, perhaps, but they make life good. Plenty to be thankful for, even in hard times. Let us give thanks.

Kate-isms: Life with a Teenage Girl who Thinks Fast and Talks Even Faster

Eldest Daughter turned 18 last week. Time to commemorate this with a random collection of Kate-isms, almost all collected in one sitting.

“Mom, you’re so funny and lame. Well, sometimes you’re lame funny. Sometimes you’re really funny but it’s lame because you’re old. But you’re still usually funny. Sometimes.”

"Mom, write in your blog! You’ve had the Holocaust at the top for DAYS. Pep it up a bit!”

“Mom, the day you referred to ‘Mr. Fifty Cents’ you lost all your street cred, white lady.” Me: “I never had any street cred.” Her: “Exactly.”

“Gangsters. They’re like the lions with the biggest testicles. Or when the gorillas go like this"(chest pounding and improvised gorilla grunting). This is said while she is wearing fake leopard print shirts (two of them, layered) and whiskers and black nose artfully created with eyeliner for her duties opening the door on Halloween to exclaim, “Oh, aren’t you CUTE!” to the baby lions and tigers and bears. It’s like “Madagascar” around here.

Imitating me in a breathy style: “You know you’re going to write about this for your blog: ‘Oh, we exchange such clever quips. My darling daughter who knows all my era’s song lyrics, it’s such a joy to watch her grow. Just the other day she looked at me when I tried to sing REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” (to kill the earworm of “Keep On Loving You”) and said, “Stop now. I will shoot you in the face with a bow and arrow.” She’s so funny.’”

(Later: “Are you going to put that bow and arrow thing in your blog? It’s funny and people who read your blog will like it and laugh unless they don’t think it’s funny in which case they shouldn’t be reading your blog because you’re funny. Sometimes.”)

She refers several times to REO Speedwagon as a one-hit wonder. I protest that they had more than one hit (all of them during my high school and college days). She says, “Well, I don’t like any of their other songs so those don’t count as hits for ME so they’re a one-hit wonder.”

She mocks my technical know-how. I explain that I was on BBS systems back when we used packet and the text slowly crawled up your screen at baud rates of 300 and 600. She says, “Am I supposed to be impressed?” I say “Yes.” She says, “I’m not.”

“Mom, writing about your mother’s dementia is not that much of an improvement over the Holocaust. Write about me and how funny and witty I am. That will pep it up!”

“Know what’s fun?” Me: “What?” Her: “Me!”

“Life is never as exciting as you think except sometimes.”

“What’s that thing called…. Pronouncements! I make a lot of those. I think we could make a book out of them and sell it.”

My revenge on her is that she looks like me. She laughs just like me. My words come out of her face at times. Someday my very voice will emanate from her mouth. At least it will if she meets with my fate, which (as I've mentioned before) is to look down and see my mother’s hands sticking out of my sleeves, hear her voice coming out of my mouth, recognize that all the times she said “Someday you’ll look back on this and laugh/thank me/not remember any of it” she was right. BWAhahahahaha.

Married name(s)

The name thing: I got to thinking about this because of a Twitter discussion about the effort women go through to change their names when they marry, which is actually a holdover from when we were chattel.

I’m married to my third husband, but use my first husband’s last name. A sorority sister I reunited with via Facebook refers to this as a “divorced name”, which I think is a good way to label it.

Second marriages are pretty common any more, so when I refer to my first as “the girls’ dad” in a way that makes it clear he's not My Wonderful Sweetheart, you assume MWS is #2, unless you actually met #2.

Almost no one did, as he was a bit of an agoraphobe and an introvert and absolutely hated the thought of the “Babbitts” he was sure he would meet at the thousand and one Chamber of Commerce-type events I attend (and enjoy) for my job.

The name? Well, my maiden name was Greene, spelled with an E. I was tired of spelling my last name all the time so as not to be confused with the color, thought Chamberlain was a nice distinguished name, wanted to share a last name with the children I knew we’d have. #1 was a feminist kind of guy and would have been willing to take my name, but it rhymed with his first name and that sounded really, really stupid.

I subsequently built up a lot of political and social capital (name ID, in political parlance). Brand equity, if you will, although there are lots of other Barb Chamberlains out there.

So when we divorced after nine years of marriage, I kept the name. This, even though by then I’d discovered the many ways people could misspell Chamberlain unless I helped them, so I was still spelling my last name all the time to avoid being –lin, -lane, -land, or -lun.

It had become my name, independent of how I acquired it, and I kept it on the way into—and out of—my second marriage and into the marriage that now makes me seriously, deliriously happy every day.

We clearly believe in marriage: My family’s marriage history is entertaining, or discouraging, or typical, depending on what you think about the odds of finding the right person for your whole life the very first time you try.

  • My parents (ages 91 and 87) have been married for 63 years.
  • My oldest brother: married to #5. He believes in marriage more than any of us, and I’m not being flippant. He really worked at it every time.
  • Second brother: #2.
  • Third brother: #2.
  • Older sister: #2.
  • Me: #3.
  • Younger sister: Never married, still with her first boyfriend, passing 20+ years.

Moral of the story: While my parents apparently got the secret of a successful marriage the first time, the only one in our family to be matching their success to date is the one who never got married.

As Eldest Daughter reassures me, third time is the charm for me. She’s right.

Five things you don’t know about me

I hate it when I get this kind of question as an ice-breaker at workshops. See, the thing is that I was an elected official. As in, out there in the public eye with reporters asking questions about all kinds of things and then putting them in the paper or on TV.

Granted, this was more or less pre-Internet. Yes, kids, I’m old enough that I used to do bulletin board stuff via packet on a 300 baud modem—and I’m not that old. You can’t hit Google and find much from those days (at least, I can’t, so if you find good stuff please send me the links).

Now, there are hundreds of occurrences of my name (actually, 2,350 as of Nov. 15 if you search Google for “Barb Chamberlain”), but most consist solely of my name as a contact on a press release since I work in communications. Or they’re some other Barb Chamberlain (there are 46 of us on Facebook as of today; I’m thinking of starting a club).

The other problem with compiling a list on this topic is that I’m a talker like my mother and I disclose lots of things. My closest friends and family members know all kinds of stuff (and I think one of them actually reads this blog). But there’s this blogger game of tag where you link to other bloggers, with all of you writing on the same kind of topic. In this case, the theme (or meme) is five things you don’t know about me.

I think it’s fair to take “you” to mean total strangers, not the family member(s?) and friend(s?) who read this. This is our getting-acquainted talk. Pretend I’ve had an extra glass of wine or a second lemon drop or something, and you asked me about my life in politics.

Given my public profile, these fun facts are public or quasi-public knowledge or in a bio somewhere, but you as a passing blog reader aren’t likely to know them:
  • I was born on Election Day, and elected for the first time on my 28th birthday (I like to think I was born to run). Eldest Daughter (and first child) arrived six days later. As we like to say in our house when we tell this story, That Was A Big Week.
  • When I was elected, I was the youngest woman ever elected to the Idaho State House.
  • When I subsequently won a Senate seat, I became the youngest woman elected to the Senate, and hence youngest woman elected to both.
  • My ego bubble got a nice puncturing when someone pointed out that since I lost my Senate re-election bid, I probably became the youngest woman ever defeated for election to the Idaho State Senate. 1994. Not a good year for Democrats, since even Speaker of the House Tom Foley lost his seat. Sigh.
  • Given that I was born on Election Day, it finally occurred to me to ask Mom whether she’d voted that year. Yep—she voted absentee in advance. What I don’t know is how she voted. Democrat Gracie Pfost (pronounced POST) was unsuccessful in her effort to move from the U.S. House to the U.S. Senate that year. Mom probably voted Republican (in the Senate race it would have been a vote for Len Jordan, who had replaced Henry Dworshak, for whom the dam is named, when Henry died in August of that year). But maybe she voted for Democrat Compton White Jr. for the Congressional seat. These fun facts about the 1962 midterm election are courtesy of a web site that will soon vanish unless his successor copies the content: a page from Larry Craig's official U.S. Senate site. A better long-term link is this basic PDF list.

When I set out to write a list of five much more obscure items—short-lived jobs, encounters with famous people and the like—the post got way too long. So I’m saving those items for another day. You’ll just have to wait for Geraldine Ferraro’s hand, the constellation, the marriage thing, reproduction roulette, and my mercifully short-lived sales career.

Here’s the two people I have to thank for this writing assignment:

  • A blog I read regularly for great insights and resources on social media, by Chris Brogan
  • The blog Chris told people to link to in order to help boost his fellow blogger's readership, because Chris is incredibly generous as a social media leader, by Dominick Evans

Here are links to some more blogs that I enjoy reading. I went for a mix of social media, local, and inside-your-life types of blogs.

They're listed in in reverse alphabetical order, which is harder than it looks even though I can recite the alphabet backwards--hey! another fun fact you probably didn't know! They are hereby tagged and invited to write a post on the same theme, so subscribe, watch for it, and get to know them:

Bike blogging round-up

The late, lamented MetroSpokane blog was a great read. Five days a week, the anonymous author delivered a slice of urban life to my email in-box: Design, planning, restaurants, funky street art, commentary on local and regional policy issues—all my cup of java.

I made a habit of forwarding occasional posts to people I thought would find them interesting. After a few times of sending them to a city planner involved in Spokane’s University District because I thought the ideas expressed were a great fit for our vision there, he confessed to me that he wrote the blog.

I kept his secret, and started writing occasional cycling-related posts. Now that MetroSpokane has ceased publication and the blogger has outed himself, I wanted to collect the links to all my posts in one spot.

Spokane’s bike equity
A brief discussion of a much better piece by someone else: Dave Steele on “Unseen Bicyclists” at Next American City.

Is Spokane ready for a pedi?
Discussion of the feasibility of bike pedicabs in downtown Spokane.

Spokane loves used stuff: Here's some
An item on the bike swap being held at the first SpokeFest.

Policy wonking: Road dollars and road designs
A discussion of how road designs shape behaviors, i.e., all engineering is social engineering.

It’s All in the T-t-t-timing
Discussion of I-985, which fortunately lost big-time in the Nov. 4, 2008 elections.

Getting there on a Bike: Help us Google!
Rallying folks to ask Google to add bike-specific functionality to Google Maps, similar to what they’re doing for pedestrians.
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Getting older, or, it’s not fair but nobody said it would be

So nobody promised it would be fair. I get that. In fact, I use that line with my teenage daughters All The Time. No one signed a contract, no one provided disclaimers in 5-point type for wiggle room, no one made any promises whatsoever. But still.

I’m 46 as of yesterday. Here are three things I thought when I was younger that I now know to be wrong.

1) There will be a break between pimples and wrinkles.

Not true. The “facial evidence of accumulated wisdom” does not create a protective barrier that prevents breakouts, and pimples don’t magically stop appearing just because you get some “character” in your face.

The various things you can use for blemishes dry out your skin and make the wrinkles look worse; the moisturizer you need for the wrinkles encourages break-outs. Since all skin products for any age are just hope in a bottle and have few real effects, there’s no magic answer. On the bright side, I’m saving lots of money by not buying skin care products, other than that one bottle of Oil of Olay Regenerist because some web site said that it did actually have a marginal effect, and it costs a lot less than the other ones on the shelf at Rite-Aid. Effects so far? Not so’s I’ve noticed, but hey, keep hope alive.

2) If you’re nearsighted, then when you start getting old-age farsightedness, your eyesight will improve.

Wow, SO not true. I’ve worn glasses since I was five, got contacts for my 13th birthday (the old hard plastic kind that you had to acclimate to one hour at a time over a painful two-week period), had radial keratotomy when I was 21, and am still a -11 in my left eye and -10.5 in my right eye, with some astigmatism as a side effect of the RK. An eye doctor once told me this level of myopia would qualify me as legally blind if it weren’t correctible.

All my life in order to read or examine something with lots of fine detail, I have brought it right up to my face about an inch away from my eyeballs if I'm not wearing my contacts or glasses. Now, of course, I have to move things away from my face in order to bring them into focus.

When I work at the computer or read, I wear cheaters if I have my contacts in. My prescription glasses actually work pretty well, probably because they correct for the astigmatism in a way my contacts can’t (because at my high-diopter prescription level, astigmatism correction isn’t available—am I really that special? It's like needing an orphan drug or something).

The beneficial side effect of all this is that I’m not buying any food products with tiny, tiny print on the label, because I like knowing what I’m eating. This pretty much eliminates all processed foods, not that I ate too many of those to begin with. Saved from high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils by old-age eyes.

3) I won’t turn into my mother. Ever.


I did manage to do some things differently in raising my own daughters. As I read somewhere once, you only have two options in parenting: being your parents, or being not your parents (yes, that’s written correctly).

Since “not your parents” is a vast and unknown territory, you have no guideposts when you enter that strange land. You’re bound to get lost and wander around, trampling randomly underfoot the fragile wildflowers and rare endangered creatures, AKA making a whole new batch of mistakes different in kind but not in scope from the ones for which you blame your own parents.

In my case, I did some things differently/”right” (in my view, because after all I’m The Mom So I Decide): being more open with the facts of life, talking with them honestly about my own feelings and life mistakes, being closer, hugging more.

My reward has been that my daughters—unlike me at their age—don’t appear to consider it sport to be sarcastic and make their mother cry. They do spend a lot of time sequestered in their bedrooms playing music I don’t care for and talking to their friends on the phone(s) for hours, so they are like me at that age. (At one point about ten years ago, I remember apologizing to my mother for my brattiness at around age 16 and 17, and telling her that her revenge on me was that I have two daughters.)

But I recognize that when this strange new landscape overwhelms a bit, I scurry back to the familiar signposts of my childhood, open my mouth, and my mother’s words come out.

Also, there’s the part where her hands stick out of my sleeves and her voice and laugh come out of my face. That’s not that bad, since she was and is pretty cheerful (despite the dementia). And now my voice and laugh are coming out of my daughters’ mouths (particularly Eldest Daughter, although all three of us have an identical laugh at times).


Seriously good oatmeal cookie recipe

These are not your ordinary oatmeal cookies. For one thing, they don't have those nasty raisins in them--those squished-bug-like raisins that exist only to deceive the nearsighted into believing they're about to bite into a chocolate chip cookie. For another, they are more crispy than chewy, with a delicate consistency similar to sugar cookies. As far as I know, the recipe has been in my mother's recipe box since before I was born, labeled BEST Oatmeal Cookies. She was right.

I have updated the recipe based on extensive (ahem) experimentation. Originally it called for a 50/50/split of white/brown sugar; I have tilted it toward brown for richness and moisture. I've added several spices; the original recipe only involved the cinnamon/sugar coating in the last step. The're fantastic without the spices so no need to fret; use or leave out and you'll have addictively good cookies either way.

Advice from experience: Double this recipe. You won't be sorry.

Better than Best Oatmeal Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together:
1 c. butter (don’t use shortening—it makes all the difference in the world! And for even more amazing flavor, brown the butter first)
1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg (okay to use egg substitute for a vegan version, but if you’re a vegan you’ll miss the buttery goodness mentioned above)
1 t. vanilla

Sift together, then add to the creamed mix:
1-1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour (yes, you can use white if you must)
1 t. soda
¼ t. salt
¼ t. nutmeg
½ t. cinnamon
Optional: 2 T. ground flaxseed (adds omega 3 for vegetarians)
Optional additional spices: 1/4 t. each ginger, mace; dash cloves.

Stir in:
1-1/2 c. rolled oats
¾ c. finely chopped walnuts and/or pecans

Prepare a bowl of cinnamon/sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
1+ T cinnamon (keep adding cinnamon until you get the color you want--darker if you want a heavier hit of cinnamon, but if you've added the spices above you don't need too much)

Roll dough into balls the size of small walnuts, then roll in the cinnamon/sugar mix.

Use parchment to line the cookie sheets if you have it--handy stuff! If you don't have it, grease the cookie sheet.

Place on cookie sheet and flatten gently with your thumb or the bottom of a glass. They don't spread too much but they do spread some so don't crowd.

Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes, then hide a batch for your snacking pleasure before you give your family a taste. In my current oven 8 minutes brings them to perfection; they'll still be moist and slightly bendy in the middle.

If you put two cookie sheets in the oven at once, then halfway through rotate the pans top/bottom and front/back for more even heat distribution.

After you take the pans out, let them sit for 1-2 minutes before removing from the pan.

I miss live voting

Around three years ago, Spokane County went to an all mail-in balloting system. As I understand it, this saved money; if they hadn’t made the change, they would have to buy accessible voting machines for all 85 polling places at a cost estimated then around $500K, versus making arrangements for accessible voting as needed.

It cost us something in civic culture, though.

I miss real voting. I took my daughters with me year in and year out, to primaries and general elections and school levies and bonds, in Idaho and then in Washington. I talked with them about why we were going, why it was important. We thanked the poll workers (average age upwards of 70, most times). I saw neighbors I might not see any other time of year. We all got “I voted!” stickers and wore them all day long, and the girls often got a treat.

I asked Eldest Daughter Kate if she misses it. “I miss those stickers and the suckers. The lollipops, not the political fools. I think it’s fun. Well, not this year because it would just taunt me.” (She turns 18 right after Election Day.) “But in general it’s fun and I miss it.”

Not only that, but it has changed the entire pace of campaigns. Once upon a time, boys and girls, you learned everything you were going to learn about a candidate—good, bad, wacky, and made-up—right up until the single day on which you had the chance to act on that knowledge.

Nowadays, I know it seems as if campaigns run on and on forever and ever, especially if you watch much TV. But the poor candidates have to work feverishly (and keep pestering you with those ads, mailings and phone calls) even though they know that plenty of ballots are cast within a day or two of being received in the mail. This burst of early voting takes place even though there are still 2-3 weeks left in the campaign season, endorsements still to come out, debates still to take place, neighbors still to talk to over the back fence.

In effect, “Election Day” is now a moving target that begins roughly three weeks before the actual Election Day.

In 2005-2006 when Yes for Spokane Schools worked to help pass the last levy for Spokane Public Schools, we knew the levy vote in March 2006 would be the very first election held via all mail-in ballot in Spokane County. We had to move every single tactic up to execute three weeks earlier, while also planning to keep executing on the traditional cycle for people who cast their votes “later,” aka closer to or on Election Day.

It’s hard on volunteers to reach a fever pitch and then sustain it for three weeks. It costs more. It’s tougher to keep the calling lists current—maybe your vote has been cast but your name is still on the list of those who haven’t voted because it takes a while to churn the data, so you keep getting those GOTV calls.

Every campaign faces this marathon. We’ll face it again this coming year, for the levy and bond campaign that Spokane Public Schools desperately needs.

I won’t get my sticker, but I’ll vote anyway. And when Kate said sadly, “I can’t vote in the presidential election,” she then perked up and said, “But I’ll be able to vote for the levy and bond!” That’s my girl.