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Celebrating People, Places & the Good Life in SW Washington State
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What if YOU Could Change the World One Dinner at a Time?

How do you make a difference in the world? We’re tucked in our corner of Washington State looking out at a globe filled with unfathomable poverty, disease, injustice… It’s particularly hard to know how to make an impact in other countries where the level of need and lack of infrastructure is staggering, if not paralyzing.

Sometimes a simple yet impactful idea comes along that makes perfect sense. That’s what happened in 2003 when Marsha Wallace, a nurse and mother of four in South Carolina invited her friends for a birthday dinner with special instructions – no gifts please. Her friends instead shared a potluck and wrote checks to the organization Women for Women International. That was an “aha” moment for Marsha. Why couldn’t these dinners happen in other homes? She started spreading the idea of Dining for Women and did it ever spread. Nine years later and 250 chapters later, in February 2012, Dining for Women was featured on NBC Nightly news. View it here

Connecting Southwest Washington to the World
So what does this have to do with Southwest Washington? Once a month it has everything to do with our corner of the world. We, in fact, traveled the world without even dusting off our passports. For the past year, every 2nd Tuesday of the month, a Vancouver, WA Chapter of Dining for Women has gathered for a potluck dinner, short video and presentation about an organization offering life-changing programs for women and girls who often live on less than $1 a day. We eat, we drink and share good company. We learn about other cultures and international issues. And we get out our checkbooks and write checks for what we might have spent had we dined out. A giving circle is a simple concept with far-reaching effects.

Our first meeting, January 2011

It’s not just about our group of about 40 diners each month. Our donations are combined with the contributions of the other Dining for Women Chapters to raise funds for organizations that have gone through an application process and have been fully researched by Dining for Women volunteers. One group is funded each month with grants averaging about $36,000-$40,000. It is incredibly exciting to be investing in and empowering girls and women around the world.

Most DFW Chapters meet in homes. Our Chapter is larger than the average group so we meet in a church. We are hoping that more volunteers will start chapters throughout our area (or wherever they live!). For information on how to start a chapter click here . Use the same link to receive information about our chapter and others across the country and international locations.

Which groups did we fund in 2011?
In January 2011, we kicked off our local Dining for Women Chapter with a full house. By the end of the evening, we had raised $1100 for Matrichaya of India, which provides literacy and vocational training and micro-credit programs. It was a magical evening and the first of many sumptuous and inspiring dinners.

Matrichaya teachers

February drew even more women – 65! Our contributions supported PINCC (Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer) in El Salvador, where Dr. Kay Taylor uses our funds to train doctors and other health professionals to do life-saving cervical exams (with a simple vinegar wash) and treatment of cervical cancer. We also were reminded of the importance of getting our own pap smears done on a regular basis.

Dr. Kay Taylor provides training

We “traveled” to Africa in March to learn about, and fund, the work of Uganda’s Village Enterprise Fund, which is using our donations to fund startup capital and critical business skills training for 145 women entrepreneurs.

An entrepreneur from the Village Enterprise Fund

In April, we tackled sex trafficking by funding Lotus Outreach International in Cambodia. Our contributions will provide trauma counseling and reintegration assistance for Cambodian victims of rape, domestic violence and sex trafficking. Counseling services are rare in Cambodia. This is a breakthrough program.

Lotus Outreach classroom

We supported the women of Mujeres Aliadas in Mexico in May. We learned about their lack of access to quality, affordable health care. We raised funds to reduce maternal and infant mortality by supporting professional midwives and providing medical equipment in a women’s clinic and birthing center.

June took us back to Africa and the Shining Hope for Communities in Kenya. This program supports the Kibera School for Girls, which is located in one of the worst slums in Nairobi. Our funds are being used to operate the school and to invest in the Women’s Empowerment Project’s micro-enterprise initiatives. The photos of all those little girls who are now in school says it all. Don’t miss their charming video “I Know I Can.”

Students from the Kibera School for Girls

We learned about the lives of the young women being served by Emerge Global of Sri Lanka in July. These girls, ages 10-18, have been removed from their homes due to abuse such as rape and incest. The Emerge Global program provides them with skills and financial resources for their futures. Our funds helped support their expanding bead program, which creates gorgeous necklaces and bracelets. You can order their beautiful jewelry through their Etsy Web site here.

Helping the Sri Lankan girls of Emerge Global

August took us back to Africa and girls education at the Nurturing Minds Program in Tanzania. Our donations enabled the Sega Girls School to develop and manage its first school-run business—poultry farming—and develop related business and technical skills among its students. Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations has called the education of girls, “the single highest returning social investment in the world today.” Dining for Women is COMMITTED to the education and empowerment of those girls.

Girls from the Sega Girls School

Many of our hearts broke the night of September 13 when we heard the tragic stories of girls and women with obstetric fistulas. We raised funds ($1185 – our personal best for the year!) for the Fistula Foundation. Combined with the funds from other Chapters, our funds will help provide fistula repair surgery and post-op for 66 women in Ethiopia. We were all highly moved by the program. (We later learned that enough money was raised to fund even more surgeries.)

A young fistula patient

Guatemala has long been recognized for its beautiful crafts and textiles. But how do you get them to market? In October, we supported Mercado Global of Guatemala. This Fair Trade organization works with indigenous women in Guatemala’s highlands. The group connects the women with U.S. sales opportunities. Dining for Women dollars funded sales and training programs for the artisans so they could expand their businesses.

Mercado Global artisans

The India Literacy Project has a serious goal – 100% literacy in India. The group is tackling this issue one village at a time. Our funds raised in November will impact 26 villages in Sundargarh in the state of Orissa by providing girls’ scholarships and job skills, among other services. It is amazing how far our dollars can stretch through our funded programs.

India Literacy Project

We learned about Project Muso of Mali in December. We raised funds to provide matching grants, non-interest loans and financial management skills for 90 women entrepreneurs. We watched (and wanted to dance to the DVD soundtrack) the women creating beautiful mud cloth in their excellent video which shows the far-reaching impact of micro-loans as small as $60-$100.

Businesswoman from Mali

What a spectacular first year! Averaging $1,000 per dinner, we raised more than $12,000!

Onward in 2012

In the first half of 2012, we will fund programs in Nepal, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Kenya. Programs funded in the second half of 2012 will be announced soon.

Thank about starting or joining a Chapter. Mentoring is available. If you are interested in more information about Dining for Women, check out the program Web site or fill out a member interest form. This is one evening each month where you can truly know feel that you are “changing the world one dinner at a time.”

Our February 2012 Meeting

February 21, 2012   No Comments

Celebrating National Pie Day in Southwest Washington

“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” – Jane Austen, 1815

Some holidays shouldn’t be skipped. I’m adding National Pie Day to the list. Why is January 23 THE pie day? “Because celebrating the goodness of pie is as easy as 1-2-3,” says the American Pie Council, which created the holiday. In the words of Bobby Hill from King of the Hill, “You had me at fruit pies.” Me, too, Bobby.

In celebration of National Pie Day, we planned a Saturday morning field trip to Sweetie Pies in downtown Vancouver. Entering the shop, the scent of hot cinnamon rolls bowls us over. Is there a National Cinnamon Roll Day? Note to self: Research that holiday, too. Actually, National Cinnamon Bun Day (Kanelbullens Dag) is October 4 in Sweden. Another note to self: Future road trip?

Sweetie Pies in downtown Vancouver

Back to our closer-to-home research, Linda Davis opened Sweetie Pies in November 2011 in a shared space with Swoon at 1006 Main Street in downtown Vancouver. The pie shop is complemented by Swoon’s collection of antiques, vintage, resale and hand made clothing, jewelry and art among other collectibles.

A baker of pies for 40 years, Linda knows her pastries. Under her mother’s tutelage, she baked her first pie at age 13 or 14 in New York State. A former owner of Antiques and Country Décor in Camas, this businesswoman is now a professional baker.

Today’s selections include rhubarb and mixed berry pies. They share the counter with cinnamon rolls, lemon bars and cookies. Three of Linda’s collection of 30 or so vintage rolling pins hang on the wall.

Pastries of the day

Linda serves up hot cinnamon rolls behind the counter displaying rhubarb and mixed berry pies

A perfect crust

Making a decent crust has always been the downfall of this blogger. Linda’s advice? Don’t overhandle the dough. Don’t use too much water. Use ice water and keep everything cold including utensils and bowls, which can be kept in the freezer until needed. “The colder the better,” she says. Keep the dough in the fridge for 20 minutes.

The perfect research project

Moment of pie-tasting truth

After tasting Linda’s pies, I make a silent pledge to permanently give up frozen, store-bought pie crusts. Sweetie Pies’ crusts are flaky and buttery. The fruit-fillings are perfectly sweetened and downright succulent. This being 10 a.m. and election season, I’m thinking that “Pie for breakfast” would make an excellent campaign slogan. Why not? “Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie eating nation can ever be vanquished,” the New York Times allegedly reported in 1902.

The very happy pie taster

Linda Davis, Piemaker

So let’s celebrate! The American Pie Council suggests making, eating and/or giving a pie on the day. Other days work, too, no doubt. Find their history of pies and pie making tips here.

Pie Recommendations for Southwest Washington
Here is a handy pie reference list, recommended by genuine pie eaters (thanks, Gian and Franji!) in Southwest Washington. Feel free to add your favorites by commenting.

VANCOUVER– Sweetie Pies – Try everything!
LONGVIEW Judy’s Restaurant and Catering – with high recommendations for Peanut Butter Pie, Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Pie and Marionberry Pie
CHEHALISMarket Street Bakery and Cafe – with accolades for the Marionberry Tart
CENTRALIAThe Good Lunch – Oatmeal Pie especially suggested
CENTRALIABerry Fields – all pies recommended
WHITE SALMONSweet Things Kitchen – also available in Stevenson at the A&J Select Market and Chuck’s Produce in Vancouver
OCEAN PARKFull Circle Café – Check out their daily menu

And if you want to watch a quirky, fun movie about pies while enjoying your dessert, check out Waitress with Keri Russell, Jeremy Sisto and Nathan Fillon. It will be impossible to NOT crave pie while watching this film.

Get out there and eat pie!

And remember: January 23, 2012 is also the first day of Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year) but that’s another story. For a 2010 ZEST post on this colorful holiday celebrated by billions, visit Gung Hay Fat Choy!

January 22, 2012   1 Comment

8 Tips for a Memorable Wine and Cheese Tasting Party

Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures.
M. F. K. Fisher

Looking for a reason to gather your friends for a unique evening? What about an evening of wine and cheese tasting?

Our co-host, Jim

Friends Jim and Joyce recently hosted an educational, tasty and increasingly jovial evening that featured nine wines paired with matching cheeses. Thank you to Jim, Joyce and all the other participants! Here are some tips gleaned from the party:

1. Start with a wine steward. Jim and Joyce worked with Ernie, the sommelier at their neighborhood Fred Meyer, to choose the four whites and five red wines featured for the evening.

2. Coordinate with a cheese specialist. After choosing the wines, our hosts worked with Berry of Trader Joe’s in Vancouver to pick the cheeses that best matched the wines.

3. Create a fact sheet about each wine. Jim shared information about each wine including the winery location, vintage and a description of the wine. Fact sheets were on the table and available for guests to take home.

Fact sheet for the Argentinian red

4. Label the cheeses. Each cheese was tagged by type with its matching wine.

Asiago with rosemary - paired with the Chardonnays

5. Provide wine glass labels. I, for one, always lose my wine glass. No one could do that with Joyce’s special paper wine glass labels, which are available online at Wine Compliments No more misplaced wine glasses!

Where is MY glass? No more lost glasses with these paper labels

6. Start with the whites. (Our hosts had a light white wine, Oisly-Thésée Les Gourmets 2009 Sauvignon, available to all upon arrival. This gave us something to drink while waiting for all the participants to arrive.) You want to go from dry to sweet whites, and light to full-bodied reds. Provide new glasses when switching from whites to reds.

Serving the cheese

7. Provide a pitcher of water and a dump bucket. The water will allow tasters to rinse glasses between tastes. The dump bucket? It speaks for itself but, frankly, I couldn’t bring myself to toss out good wine and it was ALL good wine!

8. Serve more food after the tasting. To avoid sending guests who have been consuming fabulous wines out into the driving public, serve food, coffee and conversation AFTER the tasting. Our hosts served us wonderful quiches, salads and coffee.

Salad and quiche

Perfect post-tasting dinner

What wines did we taste? Here is the delectable list in serving order:

Mezzacorona (Italy) 2009 Pinot Grigio

Vino Noceto (California) 2010 Pinot Grigio (award-winning, fruity, sweet, my favorite white)

Peachy Canyon Winery (California) 2008 Zinfandel

Blackstone Winery (California) 2008 Zinfandel

Davis Bynum Winery (California) 2006 Chardonnay

Gordon Brothers 2006 (Washington State) Chardonnay

Don Tiburcio Bodega Benegas Winery (Argentina) 2007 Red Wine

Estancia Winery (California) 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Jones of Washington Estate Vineyard (Washington State) 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

The final, nearly empty line up

The best wine? Personally, I would move to Argentina for Malbecs so I loved the red wine of Don Tiburcio Bodega Benegas Winery. All the wines were excellent. This is the one of the group that I would take to my final picnic.

I confess. After about the fifth wine, I lost track of the cheeses. Best idea: pick your wines and then talk to your local cheese buyer for pairing suggestions. Joyce and Jim wisely used their consultant at Trader Joe’s.

Want to do this party on a budget? To preserve your checking account, create the wine list and then assign a bottle to each guest to bring. Ask each person to put together the fact sheet and give a brief lecture on the wine. This WILL generate a FUN evening!

A votre sante!

April 10, 2011   1 Comment

Some of the Best Gifts of All

We have way too much stuff at our house. When we joke about moving to a boat (which won’t happen but we can joke about it, anyway), we ask “Will it fit on the boat?” The piano? No. More clothes? No. More furniture? No. New experiences? YES!

My favorite gifts are experiences — presents that get me moving, seeking, learning, growing or relaxing. The memories of those experiences WILL fit on the boat.

Here is a short but fun list of experiences (with gift certificates available) in Southwest Washington (of course!) that you can give this holiday season, or year round, to friends, family or to yourself:

Pacific County
Give a gift certificate to one of my favorite places, Shakti Cove Cottages. These cute little cabins are within walking distance of the beach at Ocean Park, include kitchens and are near some of the best areas of the Long Beach Peninsula including Oysterville and Nahcotta.

Entrance to Shakti Cove Cottages

Consider including a gift certificate to Nanci and Jimella’s Klipsan Market Café just down the road. Remember the famous and fabulous Ark restaurant? That was Nancy and Jimella’s before they sold it. Their tradition of wonderful food continues in Klipsan Beach. Call 360.665.4847 for details.

Clark County
The beautifully restored Camas Hotel offers a relaxing getaway that is surrounded by shops and restaurants including Oliver’s at the hotel. Call for details and reservations.

The charming Camas Hotel

How about a gift certificate to Magenta Theater? Their 2011 plays include classics Life with Father and You Can’t Take it With You. It’s a sweet deal to have dinner in one of the many restaurants in downtown Vancouver and then stroll down to Magenta’s space on Main Street, near 6th.

Cowlitz County
Speaking of theater, do not overlook the recently restored Columbia Theatre in downtown Longview. Upcoming events include ‘S Wonderful, The Fab Four, 39 Steps (4 actors doing 150 characters!) and more including performances for children. Call for a gift certificate!

The Columbia Theatre

What about a pre-show dinner? Consider a gift certificate to JT’s Steak & Fish House, which comes highly recommended. Call 360-577-0717 for a gift certificate.

Skamania County
A night or two in the beautiful Skamania Lodge would make anyone happy. You could include a gift certificate dinner or brunch at the lodge or Big River Grill in downtown Stevenson.

The view from Skamania Lodge

Dinner at the Big River Grill

Klickitat County
Maryhill Winery offers a beautiful tasting room overlooking the Columbia River. A gift certificate to the winery can be used on their wines and items in the retail store. It’s a wonderful drive out to the winery and can easily include the remarkable Maryhill Museum.

The stunning terrace at Maryhill Winery

One more suggestion
Okay, after purchasing “experiences” for your loved ones, you may still feel the need a gift in hand to fill a stocking or to wrap for under the tree. Stop by or shop online at the Fort Vancouver Bookstore for the 2010 ornament – Fort Vancouver Village by Paul Lanquist. You’ll find lots of other gift ideas related to Southwest Washington, too.

The Fort Vancouver Village 2010 Ornament


December 19, 2010   No Comments

5.5 Reasons to Do a Cookie Exchange – Hint: It’s Not Just About the Cookies

I have a confession. I HATE to make cookies. I have never enjoyed mixing dough. I’m impatient when the little darlings are in the oven. And we have a vintage Wedgewood stove from the 1950s which is strong on design and collectability, but has a runaway thermostat. Turn your back and your cookies are deflagrating at 500+ degrees.

So why did I, a total morning person, stay up until midnight last night, mixing batch after batch of high-cal morsels, starting over with brand new ingredients (thanks for going to the store, Gary) after discovering a weevil, artfully (sort of) twisting red and white dough into candy cane shapes, while totally trashing my kitchen with powdered sugar and wayward flour? Because I LOVE my neighbors and am willing to wrangle with my oven and stay up past my usual 9:15 bedtime to hang out with them at a cookie exchange. And, of course, it was worth it.

Get the flash player here:

Our neighbors Caitlyn, Jerrad, and Ivy are incredibly creative. They set up a lovely gathering with boxes, ribbon and decorative stamps for packaging the cookies plus lots of appetizers and drinks. With each of us bringing six dozen cookies, the table was thoroughly bedecked with holiday treats.

Why do a cookie exchange? Our neighbors came up with lots of reasons. Here are 5.5 of our favorites:

1. You get to find out what is happening in the neighborhood. Who is performing in concert with her madrigal group? Who is having squirrel problems? Why was a neighbor taken to the hospital in an ambulance? You don’t learn these things in the newspaper or on Facebook.

2. You get to see how much the children have grown. Our little exchange had a 3.5-year-old, a toddler and two babies, including a month-old new neighbor who mostly slept through the evening. Our neighborhood is attracting young families. It’s fun to see how much their kids change over the years.

3. You get to welcome new neighbors. We were delighted that our newest neighbors joined us.

4. You see your neighbors’ latest remodeling projects, and get ideas for your own home. Most of our houses are 80 to 100-years-old. Believe me, we are all regularly updating and looking for cool ideas.

5. You can escape from reality tv to real life. Getting to know your neighbors is reality, not the latest television show.

5.5. In the words of the Cookie Monster, “Cookie!” Somebody said “A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.” We’ll be slowly savoring ours so we should have a balanced diet through Christmas. Thank you, Caitlyn, Jerrad, and Ivy!

December 20, 2009   6 Comments

Adventures on Washington State’s Cranberry Coast, Part II

Isn’t it always the case that when you travel someplace new, you wish you had more time to spend there? We just discovered that in Glasgow (and Edinburgh and Inverness and…) but that’s another blog for another day. This is about Washington State’s scenic Cranberry Coast.

We spent four days there in mid-summer and pined for more. So we returned a month later for a camping trip with long-time friends, Mary and John Tyburski. Again, we were enchanted by the area. Cranberry Coast, Part I is here.

Westport Marina

Friday afternoon. Taking I-5 north, we make our ritual stop for milkshakes at the Dairy Barn in Chehalis (Exit 77). Cookie Dough and Hazelnut shakes in hands, we head west on SR6 through PeEll, which has what must be the world’s largest stop signs, and through Frances and Lebam—a town with a name to love. It’s backwards for Mabel.

We pass the Pacific County Fair in Menlo, hurrying on to Raymond, where we pick up SR105. We’re eager to get to our campsite before sundown at Twin Harbors Beach State Park.  Setting up a campsite in the dark is not my idea of fun and it’s raining so we are grateful for our snug tent camper. Our days of sleeping on the ground are over. Guess we are getting older…

Home Away From Home

What a multi-generational community we find! Park demographics include all ages, from infants to grandparents and a diverse, well-behaved canine population. We must have missed the memo that said “bring your dog.” Two doors down, so to speak, at least 30 high school girls (also well-behaved) are on a field trip and eating dinner under the world’s largest tarp.

Much later, two cars of very polite surfers from Port Orchard set up their tents next to ours in the dark. We save them from an imminent medical emergency by lending them our hatchet. Watching a barefoot surfer try to chop wood with machete is not a pretty picture.

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November 1, 2009   No Comments