Author Archives: jess

About jess

Jess Thomson: Eater. Writer. Live-life-to-its-fullest-er. Hogwash: Recipes. Stories. Thoughts on food and life in Seattle.

Enough

It’s been a very delicious year in my house. I worked with Renee Erickson on A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories, due out in September, which has been, hands down, the most rewarding, most thrilling work experience I’ve had in my career. (I’ll take spot prawning and crabbing as a day’s work over fact-checking any day. Same for traveling to Normandy to learn about oysters. Ditto for working with and writing about a chef who is as devoted to beauty, writ large, as she is about where she sources her ingredients.) In cookbook terms, we worked hard and fast–at least, it seemed fast to me, until I started Passionate Nutrition, which was the writer’s equivalent of running a marathon with no training. The overall effect feels like swimming to the ocean’s surface after being released by a submarine far, far below.

Now, though. I’m back at the surface, after a year under water. Boat comes out in September, and Passionate Nutrition comes out in December. I’m intensely proud of and excited for both books, and feel so lucky to have been chosen as the writer for each. And now, theoretically, I have time to pick my head up and look around for what’s next. (I’ve had time to read, which in and of itself is cause for celebration.) Only, reading The Map of Enough made me wonder what I’m really trying to see.

The Map of Enough, by Molly May, a woman three or four silky threads over on the web of life that seems to connect us all, is a lovely memoir about the significance of place and self-exploration. The book sees life through the eyes of a woman who spent her childhood and young adulthood identifying as a happy nomad—a person whose soul craved travel and adventure—who decides to build a yurt by hand with her now husband. After growing up in a constantly mobile family, she’d always needed to move. In fact, for the first part of the book, I didn’t think I’d be able to identify with her at all. I was born all settled down. I can’t take a two-hour car trip without unpacking myself properly into the front half of the car. To me, the concept of building a house you could just pick up and move anywhere seemed antithetical to the concept of having one in the first place. If you build a home, it means you want to stay right where it is, right? Building a yurt is pretty close to the bottom of my lifelong to-do list, right down there with visiting the Arctic (where my husband is now) and riding a bicycle across the country (which is where you’ll find my sister soon). I’m the girl who always had all her school supplies lined up and labeled a week before school started. If I’m going somewhere, I want to know when, why, where, and for how long. I make reservations. People who build yurts by hand aren’t reservations people.

Reading is funny, though. The more I read about Molly’s need (or lack thereof) to pick that yurt up and move it someplace new, the more I associated her Montana life with my own work habits. Every time she flashed back to childhood memories, living in Spain or in Mexico, I saw myself–but my in my working life, instead of my personal life. I saw myself jumping from project to project the way she’d jumped from country to country, sometimes, like Molly, self-defining more by the jumping (Higher! Faster! Over a new stream!) than by the projects themselves. It threw me into a tizzy over the definition of one word: enough.

I don’t want to go anywhere, like Molly did. (We also remodeled our basement in the last year, so we’re not moving anywhere.) But I have been wondering, the way she did, how to know when I’ve had enough of something. And what’s the difference between getting enough, in the sense of being full, like when you eat, and having enough, as in being sick of something? It’s a fine line.

For me, clearly, enough relates to cooking and writing and writing about cooking. Of course it does. We all want to do well in our work, and as a freelancer, there’s no annual review. There’s the wave of self-satisfaction and pride that washes over when the mailman brings a big blue cookbook to your doorstep, but there’s no promotion. There’s no real benchmark. There’s no paperwork that says, Well, Jess, that’s enough for this year, well done. I guess I’d like an owl to fly through the window with a letter that reads: There, now you’ve got three more until Success. Walk down Greenwood Avenue. Take your third left, then the first right. Your next idea will be hiding in a small box in front of the red house. Books bring me pleasure, but these two offer no more of a path forward–and no more real sign of enough–than the first did. Is it enough to write someone else’s story, rather than my own? Is it enough to work during the school year, but not much over the summer this year? Is it enough that I’m writing recipes for this blog every week or so, but that they never seem to make it onto the screen? Is it enough to make money writing for a corporate magazine no one reads?

Enough seeps across the cracks to the rest of life, too. I’ve declared this The Summer of Graham, because before our kiddo starts kindergarten, we’re doing an intense amount of various therapies with him. There were three weeks in leg casts designed to increase his ankle flexibility, then a week in California for an alternative therapy, and now, where I sit writing and pretending not to watch at all, he’s working with his favorite physical therapist, learning how to use the crutches he’ll have inside his kindergarten classroom. Is it enough? Right now it’s three hours of therapy every weekday. Is it too much? Where’s the line? The kid clearly has the capacity to learn, physically, and in that sense the therapy is “working.” He can make sideways steps now while hanging onto something, which means he’ll be more successful going to the bathroom by himself. (Huzzah!) But he also needs to be a kid. It’s summer. He needs to run through the sprinkler and eat sand and fall down the stairs. (Check. Check. Check.) He needs to play Candy Land until he drives his parents crazy. (Check.) But are we summering enough?

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You have issues with enough, too, I’m sure. They’re different issues. But they’re there.

There’s a habit Molly has, explained in the book, of getting in the car and just driving when she’s feeling the need to move. Ultimately, to me, the habit was helpful; it signified that while we’re always looking to define enough, the definition changes when we step away. Last spring, I thought for a bit that I’d had enough of food writing. (Well, that, or I thought I’d never find a project as great as A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus again, and I got depressed.) In the cracks, I wrote a story about skiing, and a story about noise, and a story about cycling, and now, food seems pretty lovable again. I got in the car and drove away–metaphorically, anyway. I came back, and now food seems like enough.

Now, I think, I need to explore–not just how to define enough, and how have enough, but how to not have enough, too. The other day, sitting on the couch while a random batch of fig jam bubbled away on the stove and Graham played happily, I got a little bored. I had a moment of (dare I say it?) summer. It felt so, so good. And in that small moment–hanging out with my kid, with the windows open, and only vague plans on the horizon but all Graham’s school years in front of me to work on whatever comes next–I felt like I’d found the recipe for enough.

Now, if I could just get that small moment of enough to last longer.

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Filed under and a Walrus, commentary, Passionate Nutrition, recipe

The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project, v. 5.0

Uncle Josh uncling

The family I was raised in is not, by any stretch of the imagination, one based on coddles and cheerleading. We give gruff pats and solemn nods instead of hugs and high fives. We send each other photos of our gruesome cycling injuries. We make fun of each other and throw each other in the snow. But every year, no matter how close together or far away we find ourselves, we are silently united by Passover–or, more specifically, by the knowledge that we are all reading from the same proverbial book, laughing at the same jokes, stumbling over the same Hebrew words.

Each year, for now five years running, my brother Josh puts together a politically-inflected Haggadah that both shortens the Seder–because who are we kidding?–and makes it interesting and relevant. This year’s version tackles Obamacare and gay marriage (but, I noticed, avoids addressing the Super Bowl, which was hard for the family’s Bronco fans).

Enjoy, however you see fit. This year, my parents will be in Idaho, and my sister will be in Montana, and my brother will be in Oregon. We will introduce an uninitiated family to Passover here in Seattle, as we often do, and they won’t know how much we bastardize the blessings and possibly won’t care. We’ll drink plenty of wine (no way will it be Kosher), and enjoy a menu I’ve yet to plan, and children will run screaming, and we’ll remember, as we do every year, to simply be thankful for what we have–namely, for our families, and for those that step in as family when family can’t be around.

Click on the link below for the full Haggadah, 2014-style.

The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project, 2014 (PDF)

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Dear Ms. Jones: Twenty Kindergarten Admissions Questions You Should Have Known to Answer

Dear Ms. Jones,

 

Thank you for submitting your child’s kindergarten application. Unfortunately, it appears you failed to understand the nuances of our admissions procedure. For parents like you, we have a special set of questions aimed more specifically at obtaining the information we really wanted, which you should have inferred when we said “Tell us about your child.”

 

Please complete the following questions and return the form to us by yesterday.

 

1. What is your child’s preferred second language?

2. Which code(s) does (do) your child use to write iPhone apps and new games (besides HTML)?

3. Is your hopscotch court mosaic made of hand-painted stones or seashells you gathered while volunteering in Thailand?

4. Can your child operate a 3D printer unassisted?

5. How many wells has your child built in Uganda?

6. Has your child recorded an album? If not, why not? And what is his/her instrument of choice?

7. What are you planning for your child’s next birthday party?

8. How does your child manifest his/her Chinese zodiac sign?

9. Is your anchor tattoo ironic or honest?

10. Describe your home’s most cherished artwork.

11. What is your child’s yogic mantra?

12. List all past and planned (future) Halloween costumes. If applicable, include notes on how you built/sewed/sourced/traded the materials.

13. If we send your child home with a live animal, how long will it survive in your home?

14. What is your child’s favorite ethnic food to cook at home?

15. Was your child raised in cloth or disposable diapers?

16. Has your child ever eaten an Oreo? (We value diversity.)  

17. What methods of renewable energy does your family depend on to offset your existence on the planet, and how does your child participate?

 

ADDENDUM 

18. Please attach your family crest or logo, and explain how and why it represents your family’s core values.

19. What did your child name your chickens, and why? Please attach photos; we would like to see their grooming habits.

20. Please attach your child’s educational mission statement.

 

Thank you for your time.

 

The Admissions Department

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Beat.

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It hardly seems appropriate to say Happy New Year, but here it is, 2014. Thinking retroactively, here’s what was on my winter to-do list:

• Finish edits on a cookbook
• Take a time-out
• Gather every preschool germ Graham brings home and filter it through my system
• Pitch stories to magazines I’ve never worked with before (some Not! About! Food!)
• Do my taxes
• Finish details of our basement remodel
• Take a writing class
• See a kid through two surgeries
• Apply to private and public kindergartens for said kid

In my mind, two months in, the last thing is the only thing that really happened.

“It’s not the school that’s bad,” soothed my husband one wintry morning. “It’s the system that’s bad.” I sniffed over the phone, and tried to compose myself on the damp bench outside my gym, where an impromptu conversation with the principal of our local elementary school had reduced me to tears and snot and hiccups. My purse sagged open into the dirt of a giant potted plant. But Jim was right. The principal had never met Graham. And he hadn’t, as I’d insinuated, actually told me that my son didn’t belong in his halls. He’d just said he wasn’t sure, and refused to speak with me further, because I hadn’t followed the (totally top secret) prescribed order of operations.

In Seattle, where public schools are arguably better than those in many spots across the country, the process of enrolling a child with special needs in a typical kindergarten classroom requires patience, time, and emotional stamina. In the past week, I have been told to enroll, not to enroll, to fill out the special education form, not to fill out the special education form, that the special education form doesn’t exist, to fill out the school choice form, not to fill out the school choice form, that I need to appear in person to enroll because of the choice form, that I shouldn’t have appeared in person to enroll, that my special ed form will be shredded, that I’m already enrolled, and that RIGHT NOW I’ll be enrolled anyway even though I shouldn’t be standing where I’m standing and don’t need to enroll.

Now, Graham is officially enrolled in our local public elementary school. Will we end up there? Time will tell. At least we have a back up plan. Does that mean the system beat me? Or did I beat the system? This parenting thing is not for the weak.

Out of the blue this morning, when I was getting whiny over all this school nonsense, Graham decided to take the stairs to into his current classroom for the first time. A friend put him up to it and offered to take his walker to the top, and he just agreed. Like it was the most normal thing in the world. Like in his little way, he was saying Mom, I got this thing beat. See?

(Thanks, kid. You sure do.)

Graham on the steps

Grilled Beets with Herbs and Preserved Lemon (PDF)
In my house, beets make excellent decorations, but they’re rarely the main event—mostly because I tend to chop them up and shove them into salads more quickly than they can stand up for themselves. Here, they shine between layers of crème fraîche and fresh herbs, punched up a bit with preserved lemon.

If I haven’t made my own, I buy preserved lemons at Picnic in Seattle, because the owners, Jenny and Anson Klock, do a consistently excellent job. To use them here, cut them into quarters. Push the lemon’s meat out of the fruit and discard it, then use a small knife to trim the thin white layer of pith away from the peel. Once you have just the yellow peel, it’s ready to chop and use.

Serves 4

3 fist-sized red beets, roasted, peeled, and cut into 3/4-inch rounds
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh herbs (leaves only)
Peel of 1/4 preserved lemon, pith trimmed, very thinly sliced
Chunky sea salt, for serving

In a large bowl, mix the beet slices together with the olive oil and salt until well blended.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. (You can use a regular heavy-duty pan instead, if you prefer.) When hot, add the beets, and cook, undisturbed, until well marked on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total, turning the beets once during cooking.

Meanwhile, smear the crème fraîche onto a serving plate. Pile the beets on top, then scatter the herbs and preserved lemon on top. Drizzle the beets with additional olive oil, sprinkle with chunky sea salt, and serve.

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Filed under commentary, egg-free, farmer's market, garden, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, salad, Seattle

Sunny Side Out

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash 2

It might surprise you to learn that I’m not a very voracious reader. I’m an airport fiction kind of girl, and the titles I’ve read aren’t Titles, in the classic sense, except where food is concerned. Like my taste in music, my taste in reading veers to the trashy, unless the topic is short enough to fit between the covers of The New Yorker magazine. Did you have higher expectations? I’m sorry.

Actually, I’m not. Because here’s the thing about expectations: they’re bunk. (I’m sure I’m missing a huge point here from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, but I didn’t read that book either, and late at night in my faded pink bathrobe, when I do what little reading I do, I don’t care.)

A dear friend recently wrote a sagging email of sorrow. It was a real whopper—the kind of thing that reeks of tears and ice cream, at the very least. She said a lot of the things happening in her life weren’t what she envisioned or hoped for. Her life isn’t meeting her expectations. I nearly exploded with frustration. It still astounds me when people hew to their childhood expectations—not because childhood dreams are bad, but because I think being an adult requires taking the time to dream up something new. It requires forks in the road, even if they’re sometimes dangerously pointy forks. It requires flexibility. It requires adjustment.

No one expects to have a child born with cerebral palsy, or to develop lupus, or to break her collarbone on the 4th of July. No one expects two speeding tickets in the same week.

Then again, no one expects to land her dream job at 25, or feel totally satisfied with her shoe collection. (My mother just sent me this pair.) I didn’t expect to spend the bulk of 2013 working with an incredible chef whose fingerprints will forever be found on my cooking and on the way I approach food. And clearly, I didn’t expect to suddenly have thicker hair at 35.

I guess what killed me about that email—I should probably admit that it was sent months ago, but it’s been tailing me since—was that there are so many things this person also didn’t expect of her life that are positive. She has a thriving career. She has a gorgeous, happy child and a supportive family. Somehow, though, none of those things seemed to matter.

So here’s your holiday assignment, if you’re an expecter: if you find yourself turning into Eeyore while you’re doing your Christmas shopping, or ruffling through your cookie recipes, or digging through the files that have been stored in the garage for five months (which is what we’re doing this weekend), make a list. Make a real list, on real lined paper, the way we did when we used the pads of our digits to communicate instead of just their tips.

On one side of the page, you can whine. I didn’t expect my dog would become such a pain in the ass. Let it out, sister. Why did the contractors forget to put heat in the bathroom? Bitch and moan. I hate that my husband has started to snore. But really give it your best, okay?

Then, when you’ve wrung out the bad stuff, turn the paper over. On the fresh side, jot down the good things. I didn’t expect to write a cookbook using recipes from this website that could theoretically raise money for lupus research. Dig deep. I didn’t expect to be able to do a chin-up at all, even if my husband was holding enough of my body weight to make him sweat. And include the small stuff. The glue is holding on the teapot that shattered on the way back from France!

Are you done yet?

There. Read both sides again. Now, put the paper up somewhere where you’ll see it fairly often, sunny side out. This is how I live; the hard things are there, but I only look at them when I need to.

On the harder days, I turn the paper over, and scribble the most recent offense down with a dull pencil, so the lead smears into the cracks of my left hand. Then I get out the cast-iron pan and make a bacon-studded hash that looks like just potatoes and eggs, but is really made with golden beets and celery root. It’s a sneaky sort of breakfast, and it looks a bit homely, but the flavor always beats my greatest expectations. And it reminds me, like I wanted to remind my friend that day, that there is always, always a bright side.

You just have to get good at finding it.

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash 1

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash (PDF)
Simmered until almost tender and seared in bacon fat, golden beets and sweet celery root make a delicious, golden-hued alternative to the traditional potatoes in breakfast hash. Add a bit of goat cheese and a poached egg, and you’ve got a breakfast that will turn any dull day around before it even starts.

To peel celery root, use a heavy-duty peeler to get every bit of skin and dirt off, or simply use a small, sharp knife.

If you’re concerned about timing, cook the hash completely and let it sit in the pan, covered, while the eggs poach. The hash won’t mind.

Serves 2
Active time: 20 minutes

1/2 pound good bacon, cut into 2” pieces
3 medium yellow beets, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 baseball-sized celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (no stems)
2 large eggs, poached

In a large cast-iron pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning and rearranging occasionally, until crisp, about 15 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, eating about half of it casually as you cook. (Seriously. Who can wait?)

Meanwhile, combine the chopped beets and celery root in a saucepan big enough to hold them comfortably and add about a tablespoon of salt. Add cold water to cover, then bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery root is almost tender but not ready to fall apart, about 8 minutes. Drain the vegetables and set aside.

Drain about half the fat off the bacon pan and discard. Reheat the pan over medium heat. When the fat begins to sizzle, add the shallot and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, season with pepper, and stir to combine. Scoot the shallots to the edges of the pan and add the cooked vegetables. Cook, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, or until the beets and celery root have formed a nice brown crust. Stir the vegetables and cook again for 3 to 5 minutes, undisturbed, or until the mixture is nicely browned all over and the celery root is soft.

Crumble the remaining bacon and add it to the vegetables, along with the goat cheese and parsley. Season to taste, if needed, and serve in two heaping bowls, each topped with a poached egg.

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Chemin St. Martin

Clock Tower

I cut my toenails twice while we were in France. I did it slowly and carefully, always before it was too late, which is the opposite of what I do at home. And that’s how our three weeks in France went—slowly, carefully. The days unfurled. We found our route before starting the engine of our little Citroen rally car. We watched the ivy on our stone house turn from emeralds to fire as October progressed. We wandered. Time passed at a thick liquid pace, each day surrendering into the next not with the violent crash of fatigue we know at home, but with a shrug and a lazy turn of the covers. I relearned how to live.

Over those three weeks, I realized how many things I’d plum forgotten how to do, like listen for birds and make paper airplanes and walk down stairs softly and eat just cheese for dinner. Now, as my last day here dawns at the airport and I break out my husband’s computer to type for the first time in three weeks—not to actually work, but because the words just seem unavoidable—I wonder what I’ll take home.

First, there will be memories of the house in Provence, including the crumbly mortar between the stones that formed one wall of our little bedroom there. The house was old, clearly—although in France, 1904 is practically infantile for a residence—and it since the wall used to be the outside of one building, before the home we rented was tacked on, it clearly wasn’t meant as a morning headrest for an American coffee drinker. When the wind blew, the mortar sometimes loosened a bit and I had to pick it out of my hair.

Chemin St. Martin

The houses, which look like Siamese twins from tiny, narrow Chemin Saint Martin but don’t have any awareness of one another from anywhere inside, are collectively called Mas de la Laiterie. They sit on land that was once the town diary, and until the 70’s, when modernity stomped in for real, folks picked up their milk in what’s now our living room. Then the whole place was purchased by an old French Resistance fighter who had retired and, with 3 buddies, apparently started a little travel business called Club Med. The owner lived in our house, and the offices were in the original house next door until the firm outgrew the space and sold the older house to the current owner, our landlord. The resistant lived to a ripe old age before passing, at which point our landlord bought the house we’re in as a rental property. In typical French fashion, the two houses technically have the same address, and save the entrances, which are on different streets and are a good 500 yards apart, it’s difficult to describe the difference between the two if the landlord’s dog, aptly named Caffeine, isn’t home.

Anyway. That’s all to say that we came to France with one plan, which was to rent a fantastic place and spend time with friends and family. It worked. We lived just outside the medieval walls of Pernes-les-Fontaines, a town known for its 36 working fountains. It has an old-school boulangerie with a giant indoor cast iron oven—the kind Bob Cratchit must have bought his bread from—and a single popular café, called Café de la Place, where we spent lunches drinking cheap, delicious local rosé and feeding our child his abominable but dependable French diet of frites and ice cream.

Cafe de la Place

Some days, we’d wander the town, hitting one of the two local aire de jeux with Graham, but more frequently, we’d start the morning with a map, tracing our fingers over the towns we’d seen and the towns we still wanted to explore. We consulted the market calendar and scouted parking and packed the car and left, mostly in quest of a view and something to eat for dinner. It was an ideal existence. We had time to talk, the three of us. We all read books, including one on raising kids with special needs that will, we think, lead to a sea change in the way we’re approaching cerebral palsy. We slept enough to make up for the last decade.

Paris was busier. We had a tiny hotel room and a short list of things to do and friends to see and places to eat. We walked and walked and walked, and rode enough escalators to satisfy Graham for at least a month. We taught Graham to drink out of a teacup. When Jim and Graham pulled away in a taxi, leaving me to go to Normandy for a few days to finish the last photographs for the book I’m working on with Renee Erickson and Jim Henkens, I burst into tears. We had fun, our little family.

Today, honestly, as I see the pink tinge on the puffy clouds outside, it’s all run together a bit. My muscles are sore today—more from drinking wine, I think, than from actual athletic use—but my brain isn’t tired. And that was the other goal, if I remember. We wanted to stop thinking so much.

I wonder how I’ve changed, flying back. I have a bit more luggage. My French is certainly better than it was when I arrived. And in my back pocket, stuffed between the list of antiques markets I found in an old Gourmet magazine and the receipt for my carrot and duck mousse sandwich, I’ll carry the memory of the three weeks we spent as a family in Provence, paying attention to where we were going, and what we ate, and to each other.

I hope I don’t lose it.

Family

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The Village

photo

Fifteen people helped me function normally yesterday. I probably only know ten of their names, and I’d only really call five of them friends, but nevertheless, these days, all 15 are essential. See, I broke my collarbone on the Fourth of July. It was a classic bike accident—despite enough city riding to have a solid awareness of the problem, I fell for the old bike tire in the railroad tracks trick—but it’s left me with 3 good breaks and a not-so-classic problem: how does one cook with just the non-dominant hand?

The truth is, I haven’t been cooking. Or typing for more than ten minutes at a time, or exercising, or lifting my 44-pound child, or putting him into the car, or getting him out of the car, or bathing either of us if not absolutely necessary. This was all well and good when my husband was home, mostly waiting on me, but he’s off to sea again, so I’m either begging for help or learning to do things a little differently. Here are the fancy things I can do with just my newly promoted right hand: open jars (if braced properly between my hip and the counter), pick herbs off their stems, pour wine, slice cheese badly, make scrambled eggs, help my son pee on someone’s lawn because I can’t carry him inside in time, clean up after my cat’s mousing habits, put on anything with an elastic waistband, sit in a boat holding liquor while other people drag crabs off the bottom of the ocean, use an ice cream scoop, win at corn hole, pick up my telephone.

Here’s what my right hand can’t handle: cracking eggs, writing, wiping my child’s face, helping my child walk, pulling my child’s pants up, putting on make-up. When I’m alone, I just deal; I do things that I probably shouldn’t, like make my son’s lunch, or cut a nectarine, or put on sandals with two hands, or (the worst idea ever) dry my hair. But watch out; if you walk into my home’s general vicinity, you’ll get nabbed. Which means that yesterday, for example, members of the fantastic crew rebuilding our basement helped me get my kid into and out of the car. My neighbor’s daughter came over to water the garden, cut food and do dishes, put Graham’s shoes on, get him into the car while he threw a tantrum, and then later, when he finally sacked out, carry him into bed. One friend undressed my child for swimming lessons; another redressed him when the lessons were over. Graham’s therapist put on his shoes, and the preschool teachers helped me navigate transportation details into and out of his school. Mark carried my coffee when my useful hand was full. The baristas at Top Pot offered me ice for my injury. Whole Foods made me lunch. Jackie wiped the construction dust out of my house. And later, when Graham was finally asleep, I poured the rosé all by myself.

Today will be a totally different cast of helpers. Richie will probably get the kiddo into the car again—hear hear, Moms, hire a builder who’s had six kids—and the process will start anew. I’ll go back to the coffee shop where the barista knows how to put my barrette in, and to the gym, where I’ll ask a random old lady to help me put on my clothes in exchange for her bad collarbone stories. Tami will bring dinner and Dan will wrangle 3 kids at bath time. JJ, a guy I’ve never met, will pick up the tile for the downstairs for me, because it would be silly to lift all 3,000 pounds’ worth when I can’t drink out of a Nalgene bottle with either hand, and my in-laws will collect a week’s worth of laundry to take back to their place, because, naturally, the washer and dryer in the basement are disconnected and the plumbing is a bit spotty these days.

The whole experience has made me feel like a tornado of need, traveling through every village of friends that’s ever helped me, leaving a trail of appreciation and debt two (left) arms wide and three dinners deep. And since, for me, the path to paying it forward has always started in the kitchen, it feels like a rather irresponsible way to live.

Curiously, breaking my collarbone hasn’t seemed to impact my whining ability in the slightest. I seem to tolerate alcohol just fine, and I’m perhaps a bit better at sitting still to watch sports (although now that the Tour de France has finished, I may consider rescinding that claim). But two weeks ago, when the novelty of breaking what shouldn’t break was still all new and shiny, I was being very tough and resilient. Which is why, five days after my all-too-dramatic crash, but two full weeks before I could comfortably type, I made cookies.

I’m not normally one for contests, but Drew laid it out flat: this wasn’t a bake-off. This was a “cookie on,” because no one was allowed to enter unless they promised to get their cookie on for reals. I’d committed to entering the week before the Fourth, when Drew—another patient with (much more severe) cerebral palsy at Graham’s therapy center—had announced over her sparkle-tied Chucks that I was invited to join.

When I was out flat after the Fourth, slathered between ice like a freshly-caught salmon while my family stripped the basement naked in preparation for all that construction, I privately resigned from the contest. But the day before the cookies were due, I saw Drew again. She’s a gorgeous, spunky, bright-eyed, smartly dressed kid heading into 7th grade at the top of her class. She has severe cerebral palsy. She’s still learning to talk, walk, and write. Yet somehow, despite unimaginable obstacles, she cooks. She has major opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t. And she wanted me to enter. How can you tell a girl who can’t stand at a counter that a broken bone is stopping you from turning on an electric mixer?

Good butter

I started with 3 sticks’s worth of butter, because it meant opening a single large package of butter instead of multiple smaller ones. I weighed instead of measuring wherever possible, because my right hand’s dexterity hadn’t yet gone through its latent puberty. It was so awkward. I made a hell of a mess. But in the end, I wound up with crunchy, chewy cookies with the tang of summer cherries.  I was satisfied.

My entry was the first on the cookie table the next day. Graham and I left the therapy center, and I waited. And waited. I never got to see the other cookies, but I felt like I’d made a good specimen. But alas, among the plethora of categorized prizes available—prettiest cookie, best-named cookie, tastiest cookie, etc.—I got nothing. Well, except an honorable mention, for Best One-Armed Baker.

I get it. Nothing beats a Husband Getter. (When Stephanie tells me what exactly a Husband Getter is, perhaps I’ll be able to explain why she won.) I never tasted that, or what Drew made, or what Drew’s mom made, but they were apparently all wayyyy better than mine. I’m working hard to avoid losing confidence over a cookie-baking contest instigated by a 12-year-old. And I get that I should have added chocolate, even if it might have meant figuring out how to axe into a block of Callebaut with my non-dominant hand.

But what I also get, as I dole out lumpy scoops of dough every other day from the bucket in the refrigerator when the need for a cookie calls, is that no matter how annoyed I get about needing and asking for help, I’m both lucky to be whole and lucky to have a village. And I understand that I’ll have ask and ask and ask for help, and be okay with it, until this whole episode is over, which, someday, it will be.

And some day, when I’m all patched up and she’s perhaps a little older, I’ll ask Drew how she does such a good job giving back with just her smile, and how she’s okay with not giving back sometimes. Because if there’s ever a contest to get your gracefulness on, or to get your spark on, or to get your ability to inspire people 25 years your senior on, those are the ones she’ll win.

Super-Powered Cherry-Millet Oatmeal Cookies (PDF)

These cookies have a distinct advantage over every single other cookie recipe I’ve made before: they can be made with one hand. My apologies if you don’t have a scale to measure out the dry ingredients properly. You’ll understand, I hope, that since Hogwash is about food and life, there is naturally a category for recipes made with a broken collarbone.

If you have the pleasure of the use of both of your arms AND a food scale, add a couple handfuls of chopped dark chocolate to the mix right at the end.

Makes: About 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
350 grams/12 1/2 ounces all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
150 grams/5 ounces old-fashioned oats
100 grams/3 1/2 ounces raw millet
1/2 pound dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whip again on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the sides occasionally.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the machine on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the mixer in a few separate additions, mixing until thoroughly combined. Add the oats, millet, and cherries, and mix on low until evenly distributed, scraping the bottom of the bowl if necessary.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or a big cereal spoon), form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on the baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are browned but the centers are still light. Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, transfer to racks to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough.

Cookies are best eaten the same day.

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Filed under Cookies, gluten-free, grains

When May Flowers

©LFerroni-RhubarbJam
Photo by Lara Ferroni

This, people, will be a tumultuous spring. I can feel it. My arugula is flowering faster than I can eat it. The rhubarb in my garden is higher than it should be for the last day in April, and tomorrow we’re slated to see final plans for our big basement remodeling project. In the meantime, between book edits and my quest to find the perfect antique cast iron utility sink, there will be jam–simple, oven-roasted jam. I’ll have it on hand for the mornings the construction crews shut the water off on accident, and as a snack for stoppers by, and, of course, at a few upcoming book signings. Come say hello.

May 1: Orca Books, Olympia, WA, 3 p.m.
May 4: Costco, Kirkland, WA, 1 – 3 p.m.
May 5: Molbak’s, Woodinville, WA, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
May 11: Costco, Aurora Village location, Seattle, WA, 1 – 3 p.m.

IMG_0642

Caramelized Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (PDF)
Here’s a jam that takes instant gratification into account. Start with a trip to the farmers’ market. Buy a flat of strawberries. Eat a pint right there in the sun, chatting with friends, and down another pint on the way home — if you’re on a bike, congratulations. (You must be a Seattleite.) Now you have four pints left, which you’ll roast in the oven with bits of fresh rhubarb until they’ve both caramelized into a deep, brownish burgundy. It’s easier than regular jam because there’s no stirring involved, but the result, with its sweet, deep flavor, is even more toast-worthy.

4 pints small, ripe strawberries, hulled
1/2 pound rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 3 tablespoons)

Makes: 1 pint

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice in a large roasting pan. Mash about 25 times with a potato masher, until all the large chunks of fruit are gone, then roast for 1 to 1½ hours, stirring once halfway through, or until the fruit has melted into a jam and no liquid runs down the pan when you tip it sideways.
3. Store the jam in small jars in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Excerpted from Dishing Up Washington by Jess Thomson with permission from Storey Publishing.

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Filed under Dishing Up Washington, fruit, gluten-free, recipe

Definition: Chameleon Writer

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake whole 2

When I was in San Francisco last week, a fine, thin layer of buttery yellow pollen settled into the exterior corners of my car’s windows. I returned with watery eyes and a flooded calendar, and now, plumped with the delayed mental energy of a long weekend with colleagues from all over the country, it feels like a new year. But it’s not just the flowers.

I shouldn’t be surprised. The ides of April affects me this way almost every year. I feel new. Most years it’s because the part of season changing toughest on my body is finally over. Some years I feel new simply because those buds bloom. One year, it was because we had a child. Last year, it was because I started Benlysta, my no-longer-new-to-me lupus medication. And this year. This year, oh gracious, ever-surprising life, you have given me something to get ruffled about that doesn’t require additional trips to Swedish Hospital. It’s a new job. Only, it’s not really new.

I am a food writer, among other things. My job has lines, lots of lines. There are lines that define what I do on a weekly basis—I write for Sunset magazine quite regularly, and I dig around for new ideas, and I inevitably test a random recipe or two from a new book or for another person’s book or for, say, Highlights or Arthritis Today magazines. There are lines that define what I do on a monthly basis—I write for Edible Seattle, and on this blog, for example. These lines are the constants on my calendar. They are my structure.They are my steady dates.

But outside those lines, very little of what I do is well defined, beyond the computer on my lap right now. Recently, my 22-year-old sister fantasized a day when she might know what she wants to do for a living. I told her I still do the same. She wasn’t exactly spirited by my comment, but it’s true. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. So when I lifted off for the IACP conference in San Francisco, I had very little in the way of an agenda, but I did wonder whether other food writers—other authors with travel writing habits or photography habits or even sometimes-sidelined mosaic-making habits, anything—know what they want to be when they grow up.

What I do know about my job is that besides that faint weekly or monthly outline, I tend to be somewhat of a serial monogamist. I jump into projects and start swimming, breath held, eyes down. Most recently—and apologies for not having mentioned it sooner—I finished the text portion of a manuscript with the crew at Ivar’s. It’s a whale of a cookbook, based on dishes at the restaurant’s three full-service locations, that will be released this summer, to coincide with Ivar’s 75th (!) anniversary as a Seattle institution. It was fun to write thousands of words in Ivarese—a punny combination of history and educational fishspeak—but even more satisfying to learn the workings of a company run so well, by such a casual, understated, wicked smart management team.

Working with Ivar’s made me realize that part of what I love about writing cookbooks with other people, other chefs, or other business owners, is the jumping in itself. I like the challenge. I like the unknown depth. And landing in San Francisco, foremost on my mind was how to decide between being a ghostwriter—someone who writes cookbooks with and/or for other people—and being my own brand, with my own recipe style, and my own distinct voice. I felt torn.

So I asked people. The response astounded me. Why can’t you do both?, people asked. Somehow, twisted up in the details of each project and in the attempt to form a real writing identity, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could always be both. Giving my brain over to projects I enjoy but might not conceptualize myself (or even take credit for in the end) doesn’t mean giving my writing voice away for good.

Still, I’m a person who works by definitions. So for now, for this new year of work, I’ll call myself a chameleon writer. I can change shades with the weather and the sun, and when life and health get in the way, I can hopefully sit on a rock in the sun, just breathing, like I did for most of February this year. In and out. In and out.

And when the weather turns, and the tides change, and another project comes my way—this next one, should I sign on for it this week, is an absolute dream—I’ll find just the right color and jump.

These days, my sister is working as a baker in a small town coffee shop. It’s hard not to be motherly and tell her she’s doing just the right thing, trying her hands at new things as the opportunities present themselves. It’s hard not to tell her over and over that she could really be good at anything she set her mind to doing, and that diving into something new doesn’t mean leaving behind whatever stays on the shore on a given day or month or year. Mostly, though, it’s hard not to take my own advice to heart.

Buttermilk Banana Cake 3

Here’s a cake that understands what it means to be a chameleon. Make it in one pan, as a single layer cake, with a simple pouf of whipped cream and perhaps a sliced banana or two on top, and it’s a 12-minute miracle. Gussy it up by baking it in two separate pans and smearing the layers with a cardamom-scented cream cheese frosting, and by golly, it almost looks like a birthday cake. Either way, it depends on moisture from bananas and Greek-style yogurt. It works with either all-purpose or gluten-free flour. (I’m curious to try it with a mixture of rice and oat flours.) I personally find it’s as happy on my breakfast plate as it is shared with friends after a celebratory meal.

And as far as I can tell, deep down, it doesn’t really matter how you make it, because you can always make it a different way the next time.

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake 1

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake
Laced with cardamom, this stir-and-dump cake is a good, reliable crutch for the dessert-desperate if it’s cooked in one pan. (Serve the cake warm, with whipped cream and sliced bananas, if you’re so inspired.) Or fancy it all the way up and cook it in two pans, for something of a celebration. Bake the cakes for about half the recommended time, then serve them layered with a basic cream cheese frosting, made by whipping a stick of softened butter with 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted), and cardamom to taste.

TIME: 10 to 30 minutes active time, depending on your day
MAKES: 8 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose or gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas, well mashed
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Mash the bananas in the bottom of another mixing bowl. Add the sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and the oil, and gently fold the batter together with a spatula, just until no dry spots remain.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and just barely beginning to crack in the center.

When the cake is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge. Using oven mitts, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan and flip the cake and the rack together. Remove the cake pan, so the cake is upside-down on the rack. Place a serving plate upside-down on the bottom of the cake, and flip the plate and the rack together, so the cake is now right side-up on the serving plate. Serve warm.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, recipe

The quickest bite

toasted meusli

Here’s a breakfast cereal that lands halfway between real muesli—made with uncooked oats—and granola. The ingredients are lightly glazed with coconut oil and toasted, so that each oat carries a bit of crunch and true coconut flavor, but there’s far less sugar than typical granola. Serve with milk or yogurt, topped with fruit and perhaps a touch of honey.

Toasted Coconut Meusli (PDF)
Makes: 5 cups
Active time: 10 minutes

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil (measured warm, as a liquid)
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, almonds, oil, sugar, and salt until well blended. Spread the mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until evenly golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes or so, about 25 minutes total.

Let the muesli cool completely on the sheet, then store up to 1 week in an airtight container.

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Filed under Breakfast, gluten-free, grains

Spanish mission

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 4

I like almost everything about a good chorizo soup. I like how spicy, smoky chorizo turns the broth an almost bloody shade. I like how the broth stays thin, like a tonic that happens to house bites to fill the belly. But mostly, I like how the first taste plonks me right back into the creaky wooden chair at that truck stop somewhere between Rioja and Madrid, when my husband and I were traveling with a five-month-old in Spain in 2009. Graham was cranky after hours in the car, but when the soup landed, glorious fat bubbles bobbing at the edges of chipped ceramic bowls, pork and chickpeas swimming frantically, he silenced long enough for us to eat with both hands. When we finished, only a thin orange rim of spice clung to the inside edge of each bowl.

I’ve been trying to remake that soup ever since. Sometimes I add different types of pork, or kale, or tomatoes. I’ve nailed the way the paprika smokes itself up into my nose. I think I’ve figured out how to add just a hint of sherry vinegar, for the right tang. But that elusive broth–I never did quite get the broth right. It was never pure enough. It was never red enough.

Last weekend, inspired by a novel that talks about Hemingway’s time in Spain, I bought some chorizo from Sea Breeze Farm at my local farmers’ market. I thought it would be the same soup I’d made before, but as soon as the meat hit the pan, I could smell a different kind of success. I smelled the spice I’d been missing in the broth. All along, I’d simply been using the wrong chorizo.

As the soup simmered, I smelled warmth and winter. I smelled Christmas. The ingredients on Sea Breeze’s sausage list the usual suspects–pork, garlic, paprika, etc.–but they don’t list cloves or allspice or cinnamon, which were what I thought I tasted in my bowl when we finally sat.

I changed a few things. I skipped the pimenton de la vera I typically add, because the sausage had enough already. I added water instead of broth, because I wanted to taste chorizo, not chicken. The soup was perfect–right color, right texture, right fat bubbles, everything.

The lingering question, of course, is how I’ll make the chorizo on my own, if I want to doctor my own ground pork to the same perfection. They must have used a high ratio of pork fat, or perhaps ground pork belly, because both the meat and the broth had a silkiness only attributable to fat. I have a sneaking suspicion that those sausages may have depended on the pig’s blood for those Christmassy flavors.

So I need your help. Have you made chorizo before? What recipe have you used? I’d love to know more. I have a mission, and it tastes like a truck stop in Spain.

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 1

Pan-Roasted Chorizo and Parsnip Soup (PDF)
Serves 2 to 4

Made by first searing bulk chorizo in big chunks in a pan, then combining it with browned vegetables, this rich wintry stew has the appeal of a roadside soup stop I once visited in Spain. The secret to this soup is the chorizo; find one with lots of spicy, smoky flavor—or add a bit of spicy smoked Spanish paprika with the thyme, if you doubt your chorizo.

Note: I used a wide cast-iron pan for this recipe, to allow as much room as possible for the vegetables to brown without steaming, but you could also use your favorite Dutch oven or soup pot.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk chorizo
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 medium parsnips, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
4 small celery ribs, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Heat a large (at least 12-inch), deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, then the chorizo, breaking it up into roughly 1-inch chunks as you add it. (Think meatballs.) Cook the chorizo for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice, leaving the chorizo as intact as possible as it cooks. Transfer the chorizo to a plate and set aside.

Add the onion, parsnips, carrots, and celery to the pan, and cook, stirring every once in a while, until the vegetables are soft and browned in spots. Stir in the garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and add the wine. Cook, stirring, occasionally, until the wine has almost entirely evaporated. Return the chorizo (and any collected juices) to the pan, add the water and vinegar (you may need to transfer it to a bigger pan, if you didn’t start with a 12-incher), and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the soup has a rich red color. Adjust seasonings and serve warm.

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup

Standing up

Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken

It’s not that I believe there’s one way to roast a chicken; I believe there are thousands, and each has its merits. I love Marcella Hazan’s lemon-stuffed roasted chicken, a) because it’s fun to voodoo all those holes into the lemons, and b) because if it works, and the steam from the lemon juice puffs the chicken’s skin up from the inside, it’s quite a sight to behold. I love spatchcocking because you get to say “spatchcock” for the next 48 hours. But when I roast a chicken at home, I do it one particular way, because it’s quick and easy and because I’m hopelessly in love with the imagery of the chicken world’s version of a total floozy settling in for a snooze in the sun, which is exactly what I think of when I prepare my bird. It’s quirky. It’s silly. It’s a foolproof way to teach newbies which side goes up. And the wing tips never, ever burn.

Here’s how it works: first, you’ll need to imagine your chicken is settling in for a nice long nap at the beach. Never mind that your chicken is well past dead, and that you don’t want sand in your dinner. She’s tanning, okay? Everyone looks better with a tan. Give her a good lather, with olive oil, perhaps, or melted butter, and maybe some spices. Next, make her comfortable. Tuck her wings behind her back. Cross her legs. Take the extra material around her neck off, because no one likes weird tan lines. Now she’s ready to roast.

It might be the easiest way, or it might just be the way I’ve roasted a chicken most often, so it seems the easiest to me. But the real reason I roast chicken like this—the important reason—is because if I had to pick, crisp, salty chicken skin might be my favorite food on the planet. And in my 425-degree oven, this little trick tans the chick.

I’d eat a crunchy chicken skin—almost all of it, if you want the truth—everywhere Sam would eat green eggs and ham, and then some. Only poor Sam, in his seemingly infinite quest, never ate his gourmet treasure standing at the kitchen counter, which is a shame. Any food worth calling a favorite is worth eating standing up. Or, perhaps more accurately, said food should be capable of making one forget to sit down.

But aye, there’s a rub—I’ve always massaged my chickens with at least a half teaspoon of salt. At least. It’s an effective way to get the job done, but for people like me, it may not be the healthiest–1/2 teaspoon is about 1500mg of sodium, which is the upper limit for people who should theoretically be watching their sodium intake. So this week, for Sodium Girl’s 3rd annual Love Your Heart Recipe Rally (my participations in the first two years are here and here), I decided to give my roasted chicken a little makeover.

Recipe Rally Icon

Every year, Jessica Goldman Fuong asks folks to take a normally salty recipe they love—a recipe they can’t imagine changing—and reduce its sodium. It’s certainly a challenge; for most of us, taking salt out of a recipe is akin to taking away our favorite pair of jeans. (How do you get dressed in the morning when you don’t have any pants to put on?) The chicken was a natural choice for me, since the salinity of the skin seemed to be what I relied on for flavor. Oh, and because I’m apparently pickling my kidneys; looking at Jessica’s numbers, I add as much salt to my food daily  as most people are supposed to consume in a day, never mind the sodium even the healthiest foods contain naturally.

I started with Jessica’s recipe for “Beer Butt Chicken” in Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook—a gutsy recipe name, for one thing (be with what is, right?), but the recipe itself is also clever, because Jessica offers a few different spice combinations to round out the classic beer-chicken combo, where you roast the chicken standing up over a can of your favorite brew. I’d planned to use cider instead of beer (hard cider is also naturally low-sodium), but the cider was accidentally, um, consumed too soon. So I did what I’d never have done, say, a month ago: I went about my normal chicken-roasting routine, adding a bit of smokiness in the form of pimenton de la vera and a flavorful depth with cumin, smearing and tucking and tying per usual. But I skipped the salt entirely.

And you know what? That gal came out pretty as ever, puffed and crisp in all the right places. I shared her with friends, and later, when they were long gone, I stood at the counter, chipping the shattery, smoke-infused skin shards off the chicken’s legs, and I didn’t even think of sitting down.

Sure, she’s had work done. And in some ways, I guess it makes her no longer the chicken I always roasted before. But she’s still got her merits, and she’s healthier for me than the last bird I made. And–most importantly–she’s still worth standing up for.

Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken (PDF)
For a low-sodium dish, the numbers on this flavorful roasted chicken are a little high—if you split it between four people, it has about 162mg of sodium per serving, a hair higher than the recommended 140mg per serving for those following a strict low-sodium diet. For the rest of us, it’s just delicious—crisp in all the right places, and flavored with a good smear of ground cumin, smoked Spanish paprika, and dried oregano.

Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Equipment: Kitchen string, for tying legs

1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken, patted dry with paper towels
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Remove all chicken innards, trim any excess fat from around the chicken’s neck, and dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels inside and out. Rub all parts of the chicken with the oil. Place the chicken in a roasting pan or in a cast iron pan. Blend the pimentón, cumin, and oregano together in a small bowl, then sprinkle the entire chicken with the spice mixture. Fold the wings behind the chicken’s back, tie the legs together, and sprinkle any remaining spice on any bare spots.

Roast the chicken for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the breast meat measures 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. If the skin is dark golden brown before the meat is done, slide a baking sheet onto an oven rack above the chicken.

When the chicken is done, let rest 10 minutes, then carve and serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, kitchen adventure, Lunch, lupus, recipe

A different kind of resolution

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie 2Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie batter

I know, I know. February is a little late to be telling you about my resolutions. But I really stink at resolutions, which is why I don’t make them. Or it may be, just perhaps, that I stink at January. Case in point: I exercised twice in January. Since January 1st, I’ve managed to bring home a stomach flu, a sinus infection, a torn (and re-torn) intercostal muscle, and more candy than my home has seen since Halloween of 1987. I’ve turned an assignment in late for what might be the second time in my life—yes, I’m that person—and made some pretty awesome mistakes emailing incorrect files for big projects. January is when I mess things up, apparently.

Buying a juicer will make it all better, I’m sure. At least, that’s the theory, which is why there’s now a gleaming mammoth of a thing sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s been churning out delicious combinations and elixirs meant not to replace the vegetables in my diet—there are usually plenty of those—but simply to introduce new flavors and textures into my diet. To notice vegetables in a different way. And to help me pay attention to what I eat for breakfast, because my three-year-old has been talking me into Rice Krispies an awful lot recently. Occasionally, though, the thing is a little threatening. You’re being too healthy, it whispers. My goal isn’t to lose weight. My goal is to pay attention to what I eat, rather than eating blindly.

The theory—one I call Better Late than Never, or Better Something than Nothing—also includes paying attention to the smaller things in my diet. Like, well, gluten. I’ve been off the stuff for about 18 months now, and every once in a while, I need to be reminded why I’m doing it. Eating gluten makes me feel meh, a bit hungover, but it doesn’t actually make me sick. In January, I ate a croissant one day, and a bowl of pasta the next, and, not so surprisingly, I felt off but not terrible. I began to debate eating gluten again. For convenience. For easy dining outside my house. For really good croissants. Then someone published a story in the New York Times Magazine that articulated perfectly what I myself was told about how gluten causes things like lupus, and I remembered why I’m avoiding it: I’m avoiding it for me, not to make things easier on other people. Since then I’ve been darn near perfect about the gluten thing. So. On to bigger and better offenders.

February is also when I pay attention to my diet because it’s American Heart Month. You know, the one where you’re supposed to wear red a lot and remember that there’s this big beating beast inside your chest that keeps you alive. Theoretically, said beast does a bit better with a little less salt, which is why someone somewhere picked now to release a beautiful book called Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook. I think that’s great for hearts everywhere. But what the title doesn’t say—and what makes the book important to me—is that it’s written by Jessica Goldman Fuong, my San Francisco food writer doppelganger, which means it’s also good for kidneys. She also has lupus, and she, even more than me, has a deeper-than-normal relationship with her kids. (Hers have names, people. Frank and Stein. I’m so jealous she thought of that first.)

The book is a foray into really spunky low-sodium cooking for people petrified of putting down the shaker. It’s a tongue-in-cheek guide to junk food that won’t kill you, or more specifically, her or me—things like buffalo wings and homemade ranch dressing—and a funny, quirky guide to relearning how to cook. (There’s even a full-page Janet Jackson reference.) And most importantly for me, the book is a wake-up call. It reminds me that even after a rough January, when I spent so much time sick because my new lupus drug clobbers my immune system, I sometimes forget to watch what goes into my mouth.

So when I turned to my north kitchen wall yesterday—the one where I sneak recipes up under the rolling pin hanging there, to remind me at all times of the little tastes I want to try—and found one for salted peanut butter cookies, I swooned. (Wouldn’t you? Peanut butter cookies with a ton of salt in them? What could be better?) Then I reconsidered. Technically, I don’t need to eat a low-sodium diet. But with two kidneys always working overtime, it’s probably a bit better for me to steer clear of the extra-salty stuff. And of course, I’d need to make the recipe gluten-free. These are by no stretch diet cookies, but they are better for my diet than what I’d normally make. And these are the changes I want to make at home. Little improvements. Sustainable, kidney-hugging improvements.

The original recipe—from a forthcoming book called Malts and Milkshakes by Autumn Martin, of Seattle’s Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery—is from someone whose recipes I trust completely. I knew Autumn would nail the right chewiness, and the right vanilla flavor. But I didn’t know whether I’d miss the salt.

So I tinkered. I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend , and I added oats for staying power, and because my husband is a sucker for oatmeal cookies and was about to board a plane for Chile. I added chopped peanuts for some of the peanut butter, because I wanted a bit of crunch. I added a bit more leavening, because I wanted them to rise and fall, so they had a bit of crinkle on top.

Then, the strangest thing happened: I meant to decrease the salt from 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (!) to just 2 teaspoons—still a huge amount of salt for someone on a low-sodium diet but, in my salt-pickled mind, a conscious effort to lower the sodium—but I plum forgot to add any salt at all. And you know what? Between the salt in the peanut butter, the baking soda, and the baking powder, these cookies are delicious and still, strangely, salty. I’m not sure I’d give one to Frank or Stein, but I’d give one to you.

I would, I said. But I can’t. Half of them are at 38,000 feet, somewhere between Miami and Santiago, and the some came with me to feed a gaggle of 3- and 4-year-olds and their associated moms. And the rest of them? I’m saving them for my kidneys, who will someday also have names. I’m not dieting, but I’m trying to treat those kids a little better every day.

Editor’s note: The cookies have made it through customs. You were worried, I know.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie stack 1

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
This recipe, adapted from Autumn Martin’s Malts and Milkshakes, makes tender, chewy cookies with a bit of staying power. You want the kind of tan that comes with an unexpected sunny day in February on these cookies, not the kind you work for at the beach; even a shallow ring of toasty (as opposed to light golden) color will turn these from chewy to crispy. Pay attention.

Time: 15 minutes active time
Makes: About 3 dozen 2-inch cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup natural low-sodium creamy peanut butter
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle once or twice. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla and peanut butter, then mix on medium speed until well blended. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing on low speed between each until no white spots remain. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chopped peanuts and oats.

Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon measure, form the dough into 2 tablespoon-size balls and arrange them on the baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies.

Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and very pale golden brown around the edges. (You don’t want them to actually brown.)

Let the cookies cool 5 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer carefully to a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining batter.

Store baked, cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 5 days.

Note: I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for my muffins.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, gluten-free

The 7:05 a.m. muffin

Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppy Seed 2Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppy Seed Mini Muffins

I grew up the uncoordinated child of two avid tennis players. All summer long, in Boise, Idaho, we organized our days around tennis, and around my mother’s aerobics classes (she also taught step aerobics, when she wasn’t lawyering), and around the pool hours. I was in no uncertain terms a gym rat, but not really the fit kind. I scuttled around on a predetermined path each day, planning my appearances to coordinate perfectly with events I knew would take place at given times. I wanted to be there to greet Billy the crazy tennis pro, and Maile the front desk woman (a gay person in Boise!), and of course to spy on the cutest lifeguards as they emerged from their cars. They were in high school, I’d heard.

In the winter, things were considerably less exciting. But at 7:05 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, just as my mother’s 6 a.m. aerobics class was about to end (I was permitted to go and “use the gym” on my own from an early age), a large white muffin truck pulled up outside the front door.

There wasn’t really a question about which one I wanted. It would be the almond-poppyseed. They were small and a little dumpy-looking, but they had the perfect crack in the top each time, and inside that crack, and all along the edge of each treat, there was a thin lemon glaze worth fighting one’s brother for. There were usually two or three almond-poppyseed muffins, but occasionally, they’d stick real almonds on the top, and that was never really an option for me. At 10, almonds were a flavor, not a thing.

And so it happened that at 7:05 this morning, emerging from a good sleep, I looked at the clock and my brain rewound twenty years. Here they are, in a slightly more modern form—made with Greek yogurt and without gluten, and based on a recipe from a friend, Jeanne Sauvage, whose book, Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays, probably thought its abuse might end on January 1st. No such luck.

Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppy Seed 1
Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppyseed Muffins

Based loosely on a recipe for Applesauce Spice Muffins from Jeanne Sauvage’s Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays, these muffins have a thin lemon glaze that crackles when it dries. If you’d prefer two-bite muffins, bake the batter in batches in lined mini-muffin tins. The tiny muffins will only take 15 to 20 minutes to bake.

I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for my muffins.

Time: 20 minutes prep time
Makes: About 18 muffins

For the muffins
Muffin liners
2 1/2 cups (350g) gluten-free all-purpose flour, such as Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups nonfat Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup nonfat milk
Sliced almonds, for topping (optional)

For the glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 18 standard muffin cups (or 12 standard cups and 12 mini cups) with muffin liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, poppy seeds, lemon zest, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the yogurt, and beat on low speed until combined. Add half the dry ingredients and mix on low to blend. Stir the almond extract into the milk, add to the bowl, and mix again. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Spoon the dough into the prepared muffin cups, filling them about three quarters of the way full. Sprinkle the tops with sliced almonds, if using. Bake the muffins until lightly browned (a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean), 15 to 20 minutes for mini muffins and 25 to 28 minutes for standard-sized muffins.

When the muffins come out, make the glaze: Stir together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack, then drizzle or brush a little glaze onto each muffin. Let the glaze cool for about 10 minutes, then enjoy warm.

Note: Muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days.

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Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, gluten-free, recipe

Resting

resting with jackson

For the record, although it looks like I’m spending a Sunday in my pajamas on the couch, there are other things happening around here. I’m recovering from an unforgiving stomach flu, and from a whirlwind trip back east to celebrate the New Year, and from Christmas with family, and a from month-long extravaganza of cookbook events before that. And well, let’s just say 2012 was A Year for me. A big year. A two-cookbook year—three, if you count the ghost writing. The year I started Benlysta. The year Graham took a few independent steps. The year the dog started going grey.

My husband labels hangovers by how long it takes after the evening in question to drink a similar amount again. So, for example, if you go out with friends and decide the next day that you’re going to wait a couple days before drinking that much again, you have a two-day hangover. If you have a two-month hangover, you probably had a pretty fun night.

So here I am with my Gatorade and a waifish bowl of Rice Krispies, nursing my twisted innards back to health with foods I normally never touch, wondering if perhaps I have a three-book hangover. I haven’t stopped long enough to find my goals for 2013 yet, but I know somewhere in that list, maybe between “eat more raw beets” and “find a good way to organize photo files,” I’ll put something like “be quiet” or “wear slippers more often.” There will still be cooking and writing and snapping and oh, yes, parenting, but hopefully, there will also be sitting.

You’ll forgive me, I hope, for starting the year off with a whimper. It’s so inconvenient to cook with a cat wrapped around one’s legs.

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Something to try

Smoky Spruce ButtercrunchSmoky Spruce Buttercrunch

I have an announcement to make: I have a new favorite flavor. It’s related to chocolate – what great foods aren’t? – and it comes from a tiny little sweets shop a couple miles from home. Friends, I am officially in love with smoked chocolate.

It’s not something I could have predicted, because typically, I’m almost completely anti-smokiness. I’m not a particularly avid fan of smoky barbecue. I can’t stand smoked cheeses. Smoked sausages? No way. But once the wisp of an alderwood fire crosses over to the sweet side, it seems like my taste buds forgive and forget.

I first tasted smoked chocolate in chocolate chip cookies from Hot Cakes, a newish sweets shop in Seattle run by Autumn Martin, the pastry genius once behind the confections at Theo Chocolate. When I was writing Dishing Up Washington, she gave me her recipe for smoking chips in a cold smoker, and together we adapted it so anyone with a standard-issue grill and the kind of box boots come in could replicate her cookies at home. But then. Then. Then she put her smoked dark chocolate chips up for sale, and suddenly it seemed perfectly reasonable to spend $15 on what amounts to less than a grocery store-sized bag of chocolate chips. Why? Because they taste like a campfire would smell if you drowned it at the end of the night with a fountain of dark chocolate. Because our fireplace is now home to the dog’s bed, and somehow, having an edible equivalent to that winter fireplace aroma makes up for it. Because this is Seattle, which means it’s raining outside and my grill is already hibernating. And, well, because time is money.

But last week, innocently enough, I ambled into Hot Cakes to run an errand for Santa (which I can’t mention here, for fear of exposure), and I ordered a smoky hot chocolate. There, underneath the house made marshmallow, hid an accent that surprised me. It tasted a little bit like pine trees. It was like drinking thick sipping chocolate that had taken a spill onto a forest floor covered with a soft, fragrant bed of needles – albeit remarkably clean ones. Autumn told me I was tasting fir essential oil, and that I could get all sorts of similar things at Dandelion Botanical, a shop across the street, so I wandered over. I went home with spruce tree essential oil. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since the year I spent a December testing recipes for a cookbook for Kathy Gunst, about a decade ago, holiday baking has meant one thing most strongly: buttercrunch. In her family, the secret family recipes is . . . well, secret, but I’ve made it enough times that a) I have to make some new version every year and b) I never seem to be able to make enough of it.

As soon as I tasted Autumn’s hot chocolate, I knew I’d be making a version redolent of smoke and that forest floor – spruce trees, it turned out, produced the essential oil I liked best. I folded Hot Cakes’ smoked chocolate chips and a few drops of that oil into my version of Kathy’s buttercrunch recipe, and added a bit of toasted coconut for texture (and okay, yes, I was flirting with the idea of making candy that looked like a campsite).

This ain’t your grandmother’s Christmas candy, people. But if you wanted to distill the smell of camping in a Northwest forest into an afternoon snack, and you want something delicious to crunch on in wintry weather, I got you covered.

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch (PDF)
Crunchy, chocolaty candy with the smoky, pine-filled allure of a campfire? Sign me up. But let’s not kid ourselves: this is not a low-maintenance holiday treat. It requires two ingredients you might have to mail order, but both, in my opinion, are intriguing enough to be worth the time and money. Order smoked chocolate chips from Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Seattle (www.getyourhotcakes.com) and spruce extract from Dandelion Botanical, which is actually just across the street (www.dandelionbotanical.com).

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
3 to 6 drops spruce or pine essential oil
7 ounces smoked chocolate chips
2/3 cup toasted sweetened coconut
7 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I prefer 70%), finely chopped
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290°F on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290°F, stir in the essential oil (3 drops for a hint, or up to 6 for a super piney flavor, depending on how strong you want it), then carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture is just a bit bigger in size than a piece of paper. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the smoked chocolate chips: Place them in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread the melted smoked chocolate in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with the coconut. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Repeat the melting process with the bittersweet chocolate, over low heat, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the almonds on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, Dishing Up Washington, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, recipe

Holiday Baking

HolidayCookieCollage_2

These days, life feels like it consists mainly of gathering. I’m gathering things for cookbook signings, gathering holiday gifts, gathering friends for dinners and parties, gathering photos and addresses, gathering tights I’ve ripped putting on with too-dry cuticles. It seemed only fitting to gather up a few of my favorite holiday baking recipes from Hogwash. Enjoy!

Coffee (with Cream and Sugar) Cookies
Salty Marcona Almond Toffee
Cardamom Snowflake Cookies
Ginger Shatters
Curiously Strong Buttermint Crunch
Nut-Smothered Chocolate-Dipped Pretzels
Heirloom Apple-Cranberry Pie

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All in the family

Photo by Lara Ferroni

My grandmother clucked and preened her way through Thanksgiving. While we cooked, she wandered from room to room, deftly dodging baby gates with 85-year-old leg lifts and cute little hops. She’d announce that she has the best looking brood of grandchildren, or that her granddaughters are the prettiest bunch ever. At one point I thought she might actually lay an egg. But other than the compliments she paid us, I didn’t really see June over thanksgiving, what with the parenting and cooking nonsense.

If I’d been with friends, I’d feel guilty. I’d feel like I missed something. But here’s what I like about family: I know they’ll be there. I know I’ll see June again soon, and that she’ll still cluck and preen when I’m around, and like a good recipe, there will always be new variations on the same conversations. Our visits happen a bit differently every time.

Here’s a cake that’s family, also. It’s always in my kitchen, constantly changing, but somehow still the same. It started here, with a kabocha squash-based bundt cake that’s been one of the most popular recipes on this site. That version, made with sour cream and maple, is deeply rich, almost a sin to eat in the morning but perfect as an afternoon snack. For Dishing Up Washington, I created a version that’s more fit for the morning, with hearty emmer flour, a lighter buttermilk glaze, and a bare smattering of hazelnuts.

I’m hoping that the next time I head down to see June, I can bring her this. She’s good at having just one more little slice–a habit this cake facilitates by the nature of its curves–so we’ll sit and chat and drink good coffee, and maybe fry up an egg or two. And with any luck, I’ll be doing the same thing in fifty years with someone I’ve never met.

And pssst–if you’re here looking for squash recipes after seeing me on Q13 Fox, here’s the recipe for Roasted Squash with Maple-Cumin Caramel (PDF).

Photo by Lara Ferroni

Kabocha-Buttermilk Bundt Cake (PDF)
Every fall at the University District Farmers Market in Seattle, shoppers ogle the winter squash. Ranging from the expected oranges and yellows to vibrant reds, greens, and even bluish hues, the variety is stunning — but for baking, I go for kabocha squash almost every time. Green or orange skinned, kabocha squash has a rich, yellowy flesh that mashes up soft and smooth (like canned pumpkin) when it’s cooked. Stirred into a stunning bundt cake made with emmer flour from the Methow Valley, it’s the best way to capture a Washington fall in a cake. Yes, it’s a cake. But it’s best for breakfast.

You can leave the cake simply glazed, or top it with a flurry of toasted hazelnuts or toasted coconut right when the glaze goes on. This cake can also be made ahead, wrapped in foil and plastic, and frozen up to 1 month. Glaze after defrosting at room temperature.

Special equipment: 12-cup bundt cake pan or 10-inch tube pan
Makes 10–12 servings

Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup emmer flour or whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ packed cups mashed kabocha squash (from 1 small squash)
¼ cup chopped toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts) or toasted sweetened coconut flakes (optional)

Glaze
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon buttermilk or water

Note: To roast the squash, slice the squash roughly in half and remove the seeds with an ice cream scoop. Roast cut side down on a parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheet (no need to oil it) at 400°F for about 1 hour, or until the skin is easy to poke with a fork. (Timing will depend on the size and age of the squash.) Let the squash cool, peel away the skin and any other tough pieces, and mash it like you would potatoes, until smooth.

If you’re afraid of cutting the squash, you can also put the entire thing — stem and all — into the oven, and bake it a bit longer. Just be sure to scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff before you mash the flesh. Stir any leftover mashed squash into oatmeal or risotto.

1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously (and carefully) butter the bundt cake pan, and set aside.

2. Whisk the flour, emmer flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl, and set aside.

3. Whip the butter and granulated sugar together on medium speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use an electric hand mixer) until light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing between additions.

4. Stir the buttermilk, honey, and vanilla together in a bowl. With the machine on low, alternate adding the dry and wet mixtures — first some of the flour, then some of the milk, then flour, milk again, and finally flour. When just mixed, add the squash, and mix on low until uniform in color.

5. Transfer the batter to the prepared bundt cake pan, smooth the top, and bake (I find it easier to transfer if it’s on a baking sheet) for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs, and the top springs back when touched lightly. Let the cake cool 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully invert it onto a serving platter.

6. Make the glaze: When the cake is cool to the touch (after about an hour), whisk the confectioners’ sugar, honey, vanilla, and buttermilk together until smooth, adding water if necessary to make a thick, barely pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze (or pour it right out of the bowl) along the crown of the cake, allowing it to ooze down the inside and outside of the cake. Sprinkle the nuts over the glaze, if desired. Once the glaze has dried, the cake keeps well, covered in plastic wrap at room temperature, for up to 3 days.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, Cakes, Dishing Up Washington, recipe

A Plan for your Turkey

Eiko Vojkovich stacking eggs at the farm (Photo by Lara Ferroni)

If you show up at the Skagit River Ranch’s Ballard Farmers Market booth at 9:45 a.m. on the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving, you’ll be late for your turkey. Judging by the line, which snakes almost a block down the street, the eggs you wanted to include in your stuffing are long since claimed. But when you finally reach the front of the remarkably patient line, well after the market actually opens at 10 a.m., there’s Eiko Vojkovich, smiling as big as ever, and handing over the 18-pound turkey she promised you two months ago when Thanksgiving still seemed like a mirage. And she wants to know what you’ll do with it.

You’ll look to one side of her booth, where herbs are already bursting out of someone’s basket, and to the other side, where Rockridge Orchards’ Honeycrisp apple cider beckons, and you’ll know just what to do.

Fresh-Pressed Washington Cider
(Photo by Lara Ferroni)

Cider-Brined Turkey with Rosemary and Thyme (PDF)
Recipe from Dishing Up Washington

While the cider brine cools, or before that, if you’re smart, figure out what container is big and clean enough to hold both the brine and your turkey but also small enough to fit in your refrigerator. In Seattle, it’s typically about 40°F at night around Thanksgiving, which means the entire porch becomes my refrigerator — convenient for me, but not helpful, perhaps, if you’re not a Seattleite.

Look for nifty (but pricey) turkey brining bags, or brine the turkey in garbage bags in a clean, lined garbage can with enough ice at the bottom to keep the bird cold. I’d put it in the garage if I were you, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Special equipment: a clean container, cooler, trash can, or other container suitable for submerging turkey in brine (that can be kept cold); kitchen twine

Makes 14 servings, plus leftovers

For the Cider Brine
1 gallon high-quality apple cider
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 (6-inch sprigs) fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
6 (4-inch sprigs) fresh thyme, roughly chopped
2 gallons cold water

For the Turkey
1 (16–18 pound) fresh turkey, giblets removed, patted dry
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups high-quality apple cider
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1. Make the brine: Combine the cider, salt, brown sugar, garlic cloves, rosemary, and thyme in a large pot; bring to a simmer; and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved completely. Add the cold water. (If the pot isn’t big enough to hold it all, divide the cider mixture into two pots and add half the water to each.) Let cool to room temperature or set aside overnight in a cold (but not freezing) spot to chill. (Let’s not kid ourselves; it won’t fit in your refrigerator if you’re cooking this for a holiday meal.)

2. Make the turkey: Combine the turkey and the brine in a large, clean vessel, making sure the bird is fully submerged, and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

3. Remove the turkey from the brine, discard the brine, and pat the turkey dry. Let the turkey sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Season the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Place the turkey breast down on a rack in a large roasting pan, and pour the cider and water into the bottom of the pan. Brush the bottom of the turkey with some of the melted butter, sprinkle with about one-third of the rosemary and thyme, and roast for 1 hour.

5. Carefully flip the turkey over using washable oven mitts or a clean kitchen towel. Cover the wing tips with foil if they’re looking too brown. Brush the turkey all over with the remaining butter, sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and thyme, and roast another 1½ to 2 hours, basting every 30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F. (If the turkey is brown enough but the meat hasn’t finished cooking, slide a large baking sheet onto a rack set at the very top of the oven or cover the turkey with foil.)

6. Carefully transfer the turkey to a platter, and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes before slicing and serving with the juices. (If desired, you can use the juices to make apple cider gravy.)

Pair with a crisp, dry hard apple cider, such as Tieton Cider Works’ Harmony Reserve.

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Filed under Dishing Up Washington, farmer's market, gluten-free, recipe

The hardest thing to write

Photo by Lara Ferroni

Dear Parents,

Wait, that’s too formal.

Hi there! It’s Jess and Jim, fellow preschool parents . . .

Too campy.

Hi parents,

Better.

Now I have to tell them my son has cerebral palsy and explain why he uses a walker.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that there’s one spunky, silly 3 1/2-year-old who doesn’t quite match the rest.

But wait, that’s putting Graham’s differences before Graham, isn’t it? Can’t I start the email by showing how normal he is?

This morning, our son Graham threw himself onto the ground, kicking and screaming, because I didn’t use my maternal ESP to divine exactly which way he wanted me to design his breakfast plate, and the pomegranate seeds were totally in the wrong spot.

Ugh. Now he’s also a brat.

This might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written. It’s an email to the parents of all the kids in my son’s new preschool classroom, detailing what’s special about our child and why, and laying out some tender ground rules for their kids to learn—no pushing his walker down the stairs, etc. I’ve had it started for a good week or two, but procrastination has gripped me hard.

Everything feels hard all of the sudden, for some reason. It’s hard to get myself and my kid and my stuff into the car, hard to make coffee, hard to motivate. It must be the rain. Yes, that’s it. I’m suffering from shock after Seattle’s 85-day streak of gorgeous weather has (quite spectacularly) ended.

Months ago, I agreed to be part of The Oxbow Box Project, an effort on the part of Oxbow Farm to get the word out about their CSA box. In theory, it’s easy: They give me one of their weekly CSA boxes, brimming with produce, and I see what happens with it in my kitchen. Only, my pick-up day was the first day of The Rain. Stars crossed. The parking gods frowned. I dragged a cantankerous child to the pick-up, and the contents of that boisterously-colored box went into the fridge without a smidgen of ceremony. The next day, I painted mascara over my bad humor, got on an airplane, and flew to New York, hoping the vegetables would remember me when I returned.

Here’s the good thing about fall vegetables: They’re very patient, and they don’t hold a grudge. They don’t mind if you skip the warm reception, or if you go out of town. When I got back, the squash was still firm, and the collards and chard were still bright and perky. I sliced long radishes for a snack, and twirled pasta up with softened leeks, bacon, and shaved radicchio. This morning, I had roasted yellow beets for breakfast, like it was the most normal thing in the world.

There are still squash and potatoes and chard waiting for me, but last night, before I sat down to finish the email, there were carrots. To me, carrots always seem easy. Split in half lengthwise, tossed with whole-grain mustard, and decorated with fresh dill, these are a favorite from Dishing Up Washington. Save them for Thanksgiving, if you want, because they’re unfussy. (A dish like this is happy waiting on the counter, uncooked, for a few hours, and they taste perfectly lovely at room temperature.)

Or roast them soon, on a rainy night, when things feel hard but you know they really aren’t. (Tell me I’m not the only one who gets all dramatic when it rains.) You can float the back of your hand over your forehead and pretend you slaved over them. You can make up something complicated about what you did to get them to caramelize, dark and sweet, on each cut side. But you’ll know, deep down, that they’re just roasted carrots with mascara on–carrots with a mustardy little kick in the pants that elevates them from random root vegetable to elegant success story.

It’s just what we all need sometimes, isn’t it?

Roasted Carrots with Mustard and Dill (PDF)

Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim is known for its sweet, crunchy Nantes carrots, which grow particularly well in cool climates and the alluvian soil that covers the northeastern portion of the Olympic Peninsula that Nash’s calls home. Roasted, they become even sweeter.
You can cut the tops off the carrots entirely, if you’d like, but I prefer to leave about ¾ inch untrimmed — I like how the little green sprouts look, and they’re perfectly edible.

4 servings

8 medium Nantes or regular carrots (about 1¼ pounds), peeled and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Mix the carrots, oil, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste together in a casserole dish large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer. Turn the carrots cut sides down, and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender.

3. Sprinkle the dill on top, pile the carrots into a serving dish, and serve immediately.

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Filed under Dishing Up Washington, gluten-free, recipe, side dish, vegetables, vegetarian