Monthly Archives: March 2008

Word of the day: Meanderthal

When I was driving around New Orleans with a friend, we detoured through a grocery store parking lot to avoid some construction. There was this car ahead of us, driven by a woman from The Night of the Living Dead (she definitely couldn’t see above the steering wheel), rolling along one little tire hair at a time, but also weaving the full width of the aisle, like maybe she was also a little tipsy. She had no apparent destination, so we just sat, for a full five minutes, while she figured out which planet she was on. Hillary taught me a new word:

meanderthal: A person whose goal in a given situation isn’t defined well enough to prompt action.

I thought it was genius, especially given its possible application in supermarkets. That person yakking away on their cell in front of the deli counter? Meanderthal. But apparently it’s not that new a word.

No matter. I’m bringing it with me the next time I go grocery shopping.


Filed under commentary

A Snitch in Time

Tug on the Mississippi

It’s been a long week, since I was here last. Like flying through time, only instead of having Time bend for us, we moved for Him: We started in Seattle, where a dear friend and her adorable two-year-old were staying with us, then zipped to New Orleans with my family, catching two raucous nights and a wedding there, then flew back for a different wedding in Seattle, then hit home, seeing the same friends again. At one point I thought of the little golden snitch in Harry Potter, and wondered if this is how it felt, buzzing around nonstop, trying not to get caught. (That laptop? Yeah, it stayed in its bag, mostly.)

Random flasher in NO

But oh, New Orleans: City of debauchery, gluttony, and (we noticed) extremely bendy liquor laws (where pretty 17-year-old siblings are concerned, at least). It was my third trip since Katrina, and I must say the city is looking a lot better than it did a year and half ago.

New Orleans isn’t so easy on the liver, especially when my cousin Erica is in charge. (And I must say: Partying with your entire family is FUN.) Instead of rehashing everything from the bachelorette party to the bull ride, I’ll offer a few wedding planning tips, because Erica, honey, you did it right.

Erica looking away

For brides and grooms:

1. Do offer your guests a tall, strong cocktail as they walk into the ceremony site. Preferably pink. No one will care if you’re late.

Policeman at Erica's wedding

2. Do coordinate with your city’s police force and arrange for a parade around downtown after your ceremony, complete with a big brass band and you at the head of the line. This is so much more fun for your guests than waiting for you to take ten zillion pictures.

Band leading parade

3. Do give your wedding chow a sharp sense of place. Erica and Mark did up the New Orleans grub in a huge way, starting with a crawfish boil (and the best fried catfish) and ending with a failure-free buffet (those are so rare!) of spoonbread with beef debris, crab beggars’ purses, savory cheesecakes, jambalaya cakes, etc. Ah-MAZE-ing, even for this not-so-Cajun-lovin’ girl.

Rehearsal dinner fried catfish

4. Do ask your stiletto-clad guests to avoid the toes of guests with lesser, or in my case no, shoes on. It’s only polite. (I’m still a little limpy. It’s not my fault my shoes were off when I took this photo, is it?)

Light on latrobe's

5. Do commemorate your favorite late-nite snack. We had gyros after dancing, right there in the reception room, at 11 p.m., which made me miss breakfast a lot less when we hit the airport at 4:45 a.m.

Erica eating gyros

Anyway. That was the first half of my week. At the ass-crack on Saturday morning, which also happened to be our anniversary, we flew back to Seattle in time for a different (gorgeous) wedding here, which I stumbled through with less energy than I might have liked. Jim and I bailed on the dancing and had our own little slow dance right here behind the chair I’m sitting in, celebrating five years of marriage, and slept more in one night than we had in the previous three combined.

Then, Sunday, we had friends over for a Pagan eating celebration (read: our take on Easter), and I baked my first ham (easy peasy) and made the most delicious banana cake, with a cream cheese frosting that almost didn’t make it out of the bowl. Just yesterday, the friend and the 2-year-old left, and here I am, with lots of dirty laundry and about ten pounds of maple- and marmalade-glazed ham.

So, apologies: I just don’t feel much like cooking. (I do feel pretty good, though, considering. Hooray for naps three days in a row.)

But before it all started, I was on a recipe bender. I’ve been tearing out magazine recipes like a machine lately, bringing other peoples’ ideas into the kitchen to see what happens, and it feels good. Last week, before the time warp started, Jim and I had a conversation that went something like this:

ME: Tomorrow night I’m making an awesome Frenchie onion tart from Gourmet.

HIM: Just onions?

ME: OOoooooh. I’ll make it with kale!

HIM: And?

ME: And beet salad.

HIM: No, back to the tart. And?

ME: And what?

HIM: And bacon. Why?

ME: Why? Oh. Because we have that leftover bacon?

HIM: And?

ME: And because everything’s better with bacon?

HIM: And?

ME: And . . .I don’t know. Why am I playing this game?

HIM: And because when you cook, you have to know your audience. And I want bacon.

So demanding, this husband of mine.

The next night, before we headed off to a yoga class, I made the dough, folding in half whole wheat flour, and caramelized the onions. We only had 2 pounds’ worth of onions, so I added a pound of kale. (In my blissful post-ohming state, I forgot the kale on the stove, and it burned. It turned out just fine in the end, though; the burned bits got covered up by the cheese. Still, watch your kale.)

“No bacon?” Jim was doubtful when I slid the tart into the oven.

“No bacon,” I said.

Moments later, I heard his voice reverberating off the shower curtain. The song was about how tarts without bacon suck, with refrains about vegetables being for losers, etcetera.

When he walked out of the bathroom, I told him he was welcome to cook up the bacon himself and sprinkle it on top of the finished tart, if he was so sure my version would fail, but he declined. The sweet, yeasty scent of caramelized onion on fresh dough wafted through the house. He looked hungry.

When I took it out of the oven, I was thrilled to find that the tart’s crust was crisp enough to pick up in one hand. I transferred it to the cutting board that way, like moving a Frisbee, just to prove a point. (The truth: It almost broke. Don’t try it.)

My husband mumbled something unintelligible through his first bite.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“It doesn’t need bacon,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

I made it again the next day, for my friend, pushing the crust to all white whole wheat flour, and softening the edges with just a brush of olive oil. I used the full three pounds of onions, plus the kale.

Even better.

Onion-kale tart

Whole Wheat Kale and Caramelized Onion Tart (PDF)
Adapted from a March 2008 Gourmet magazine recipe for an Onion Tart with Mustard and Fennel, this simple appetizer tends toward pizza, but “pizza” just doesn’t capture its little mustard bite, the great herby fennel flavor, or the way the kale dries out and crisps in the oven. You can caramelize the onions the night before you serve it, as the original recipe suggests, but be sure to pour off any accumulated liquid before spreading them out on the dough.

For best results, bake the tart in a heavy 12” by 15” half sheet pan. I found the crust wasn’t as crisp in a flimsy pan.

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 8 appetizer servings

1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour, plus all-purpose flour for rolling dough
1 large egg
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
Olive oil spray
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
3 pounds yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
Freshly ground pepper
1 3/4-pound bunch kale, cleaned and chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Stir the yeast and warm water together in a small bowl, and let stand until foamy, about five minutes.

Place 1 1/2 cups of the flour in the work bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the flour, and add the yeast mixture. Stir the egg, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt together in the small bowl with a fork, and add that to the well, also. Using the fork, mix the liquids with the flour until a soft dough forms, and almost all the flour has been incorporated.

Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead on medium-high speed until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes, adding some or all of the remaining 1/4 cup flour, as necessary, to prevent the dough from sticking to the bottom of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a bowl coated with the olive oil spray, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free corner for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

While dough rises, heat 1/3 cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the fennel seeds, and cook, shaking pan, for about 30 seconds, until just beginning to darken. Add the onions, one teaspoon of the salt, season with pepper, and stir with tongs to lift the fennel seeds into the onion mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover onions directly with a round of parchment paper cut to fit the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender and golden brown, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Heat a separate skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a tablespoon of the olive oil, then the kale, and season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until kale has wilted, about 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and arrange a rack in the center of the oven.

Punch the dough down, and use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out on a lightly-floured surface to the size of a large (12” by 15”) baking sheet. Transfer the dough to the sheet, and crimp the edges, if desired. Brush edges with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

Using a small offset spatula or plastic scraper, spread the mustard out over the dough. Spread the caramelized onions evenly over the mustard, then the kale over the onions, then the cheese over the kale.

Bake the tart until the crust is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.
Bitten onion kale tart


Filed under appetizers, husband, Lunch, recipe, travel, vegetables, vegetarian

Fat Mint Brownies

Fat Mint Brownies 2

I suppose there’s a reason they’re called Thin Mints. They’re about as thin as mint gets. Unless, of course, you count Andes, or those fancy Eight O’Clock dinner mints, or Listerine Breath Strips. Or Tic-Tacs. Or the promiscuous mint leaf itself, but perhaps she gets disqualified, because there’s surely no real mint in a Girl Scout cookie.

They’re devils, those cookies, in any event: Utterly unhealthy. Impossible to save, even in the freezer. Perhaps clinically addictive. Worse, I’m not entirely sure I support the organization that benefits. (I might. But I’m not sure.)

But thin? Besides the obvious caloric ramifications, they’re fat in every way: They’re fat in your pocket, when you’re skiing, when pulling one out on the chairlift makes you a hero. They’re fat in your mouth, when you stuff one in all at once, and they even leave a nice layer of fat on your tongue after you eat them. (Does anyone know what that silky, waxy aftertaste is?)

They also make me a big fat liar. I won’t buy any this year, I said, until the girl outside my local supermarket announced it was her last day selling. I caved. (What does this teach her?) I ate four standing outside my front door, straight from the box. I won’t eat any more today, I promised. But yikes, that was Friday afternoon, and I’ve gone through three sleeves.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call them Big Fat Liar Mints.

They make Jim lie, too. Last night he ate these brownies up, one after another, and I scolded him for having two. (Really, it was more like three, but he knew I was saving them for the friend who came into town today. She’s the one who introduced me to Thin Mints in the first place, all those years ago.) He said No, it wasn’t two, it was just one very big brownie, if you think creatively about it.

Right. Liar.

For the record, Thin Mints are no less attractive crushed and stirred into a rich, dense brownie batter that’s been tinted with peppermint (and made with whole wheat flour, but who’s the wiser?). They might make you fatter in this form, though.

I hope you saved a sleeve.

Fat Mint Brownies 1

Fat Mint Brownies (PDF)
I made the original version of this recipe, from the October 2003 issue of Gourmet magazine, six times one summer for a chocoholic client, according to my notes on the tattered recipe. Somehow, though, I’d never tasted them myself. Now I understand why she loved them: Baked just until the top forms a thin, shattery crust over the moistest possible crumb, they’re deeply chocolaty and also happen to keep quite well. (I doubt that will be an issue for you.) This version, crunchy with crushed Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, relies on whole wheat flour for its bulk – the chocolate’s so dark, no one will notice.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: About 12 servings

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 sleeve (5 ounces) Girl Scouts’ Thin Mint cookies, crushed into roughly 1/2” pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9” square baking pan, line with wax paper, and butter paper.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. When bubbles have subsided completely, remove from heat, add chocolate, and stir until smooth. Stir in peppermint extract, and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl, and set aside.

Whisk the sugar, eggs, and vanilla together in a large bowl, then add chocolate mixture, whisking until uniform. Whisk in flour mixture until just combined, then fold in the crushed cookies. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and smooth batter into the edges of the pan.

Bake until top just begins to crack at the edges of the pan, about 35 minutes. Cool brownies completely, then invert, remove paper, and cut into squares.


Filed under dessert, recipe

Spearsuckers, and a good scare

Roasted asparagus breadcrumbs 1

Today, my calendar gave me a quick look at spring. March 20th, it flashed. I thought of the old poster in my parents’ basement, the one with the quote that says “Expose Yourself to Art.” It’s a picture of a guy in a trench coat from the back. He’s got the coat splayed open, showing what must be his naked body to an equally threadless statue.

Yes, spring flashed me, and what did I do? I bought asparagus. How risque. (I love living in Washington. California doesn’t seem that far away, when you’re trying to justify not eating locally.)

I have to say, I didn’t really want an asparagus gratin, or anything of the sort – nothing that allowed the spears to stick together, or prevent them from being pickupable, because that would strip the poor things of their best attribute, which is their portability.

My mother taught me to eat asparagus.

I know, that sounds silly. What is there to know?

There’s body position, for one. She rarely eats it sitting. She’s a springy sort of person, always shooting up to do something, which makes it fitting that she’d love asparagus. (If you’ve never seen it grow, find some over the next couple months. It rockets right out of the ground, from peek-a-boo tip to full-grown edible in a matter of days. They must measure growth by the hour. Quelle energie. Like Mom.)

Growing up, she’d steam it and serve it plain, which is the best way to get a mouthful of that pure green, grassy flavor. She’d set the platter on the table, munching on a spear as she maneuvered around her chair. Once seated, she’d take another one, then bounce back up to get whatever was still on the stove, or just coming out of the oven. (My mother doesn’t put a meal on the table all at once, she rains dinner down slowly, one dish at a time. Just when you think you’re happy and full, a drop of something else entirely, something wonderful, shows up on the table. This is a perfect service style if you eat compartmentally, and perhaps, now that I think about it, the best explanation for why I eat that way.)

So this, you see, is how I learned to eat asparagus – forkless, one spear at a time, floating between seated and standing.

But it’s not just about timing, or utensils – there’s actually an eating technique, too. No matter the length or diameter of a spear, asparagus must be consumed in no more than three bites, taken, obviously, in quick succession. So instead of bite, chew, bite, chew, like my father does, so thoughtfully, my mother performs more of a percussive ritual, standing there behind her chair, more of a bite, bite, bite at Mach three, followed sometimes by a gulp, but rarely a chew. Or sometimes just bite, bite. You could dance to it: bite, bite, bite . . .(pause, pick up another) . . .bite, bite, bite. If there were contests, she’d win.

See, she doesn’t have to chew asparagus like normal people, because she’s a spearsucker. She brings the asparagus toward her mouth, and it disappears into her mouth. (God, I wish I had a video.) I’m not sure if there’s some sort of magnetism going on, or if she speaks to asparagus, or what, but I do know it’s a skill that’s part genetic and part learned, like parseltongue. I’m positive she learned it from her own mother.

My brother and I have almost perfected it, and I trust my sister, at 17, is on her way to becoming quite the crack spearsucker herself. (I haven’t eaten asparagus with her in a while. Maybe we’ll give it a test next week, when we see everyone.)

Anyway, because of all this, I would be lying if I said I wanted my first asparagus dish of the almost-season to come with any sort of clingy topping. I go for dressings, and vinaigrettes, and yes, for goodness’ sake, a poached egg would be lovely, but I’ll eschew the asparagus recipe that bundles them together in any way that might disturb The Force. If I can’t pick it up, forget it.

Sometimes what’s great about a food isn’t only how it tastes, but also how you eat it. Imagine eating a cookie with a knife and fork.

Separately, I’d been craving a crunchy topping – the kind of panko-based mixture you’d pat into a slab of salmon or rack of lamb, then pick off the meat and the pan in fingerfuls, once it was nice and browned, ignoring the meat itself entirely. (My friend Dani always puts any of the crusty stuff that falls off a roast into a separate bowl, and serves it on its own, which I think is genius. There’s nothing like spooning some crunch onto an empty plate and using your thumb like a lint roller to pick it up. Just don’t eat your fingers.)

So I did both – I roasted asparagus, clean and simple. Only, I happened to sneak some topping in there with it. If you’re looking for an asparagus recipe that clings and coddles, supporting your spears like an overzealous parent, move on. But if you want to eat each spear by hand, digging them out from underneath the breadcrumbs – each barely touched by the breath of a lemon, and perhaps accoutered with a crisp crumb or two – and wash them down with a bowl of lemony munchies you can also eat with your fingers, well, then, this is your recipe. My mother will love it.

Anyway. She gave us quite a scare last night, my mom did. Just blanked right out in the middle of a yoga class, and lost her short term memory. Poof. No pain, no fainting, nothing else weird – just forgot the last year and a half of her life. My family rescued her, everyone except me, and they took her to the ER, where she recovered completely in a matter of hours. They just waited, and eventually she remembered it was Thursday, and knew what she’d had for lunch, and everything was normal again, simple as that. It’s called Transient Global Amnesia, and it rarely happens to a person more than once.

But while it was happening, it wasn’t that simple, and it scared me.

Last week, I asked my mother for advice on how to comfort a friend who’d lost a parent, based on her experience losing her own father in the span of a few short, sad weeks.

“I think when people lose their parents, they always wish they’d told them certain things,” she said. “With mine, for example, I wish I’d told them they’d done a good job. You know, raising me.”

I made a mental note to return to that later in our conversation, and we kept talking about my grandfather, and my friend. But later that night, when I was climbing into bed, I realized I’d forgotten to tell her what a good job she’s done, with Dad. You know, raising us.

Last night, when there were two messages on my phone from my brother, and a text that said “call me a.s.a.p,” I thought about that conversation again, even before I knew what had happened. As the story unfurled, when she still couldn’t remember meeting the doctor each time he reentered the room, I thought about all the things she’s taught us, and is still teaching us. Not just how to eat asparagus, but how to be good humans.

Thank goodness, I say. Thank goodness the things that remind us what we need to say aren’t always life-threatening.

Mom, Dad: I’ll see you next week in New Orleans. I have something to tell you.

Until then, buy some asparagus. It’s spearsucking season.

Roasted asparagus breadcrumbs 2

Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Breadcrumbs (PDF)
If you’re a purist, roast the asparagus and the breadcrumbs side by side in a bigger pan – separated, so they don’t touch – and serve them as Roasted Asparagus and Lemon Breadcrumbs.

TIME: 5 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 large bunch asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the asparagus in a baking dish, and toss with one teaspoon of the oil.

Place the remaining tablespoon of oil in a small bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the breadcrumbs, mixing until they stick together when you press them into a clump in your hand.

Scatter the breadcrumbs over the asparagus, and roast 15 to 20 minutes on the top shelf, until the asparagus are cooked.


Filed under recipe, side dish, vegetables, vegetarian

A salad that plays pretends

Yesterday, I wanted a nice summer salad. A sharp-dressed pasta salad, maybe, or a creamy potato salad, something playful and flavorful and easy to scoop up with a spoon.

But in case you haven’t noticed, it’s not summer yet. (I do have arugula sprouting in the garden, though.)

Here’s a salad that plays pretends. It’s warmth comes not from the garden, but from last summer’s sun (and, well, from California), so it’s sort of an imposter. But it shouts with summery color and flavor in just the way I needed to hear, and it also happens to be quite healthy. I topped mine with toasted, chopped walnuts, for good measure.

Warm Red Quinoa Salad

Warm Red Quinoa Salad (PDF)
Sweet butternut squash and crunchy red quinoa make surprisingly good panfellows – as the quinoa cooks, the squash steams, and releases its soft edges into the grain, like it does in risotto. Spiked with the bright flavors of grape tomatoes and feta cheese, the salad makes for an easy, nutritious lunch.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 1 to 2 servings

1/4 cup red quinoa (white would work just as well)
1/2 cup water
Pinch salt
1/2 pound chopped, peeled squash (about 1 1/2 cups of 3/4” chunks)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
8 grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground pepper

Combine the quinoa, water, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to low, stir in squash, cover, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the quinoa has popped and the squash is soft. (You may need to add another tablespoon or two of water, depending on how juicy your squash is.)

Remove from heat and fold in the olive oil, tomatoes, feta, and basil. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper.

Quinoa Salad Going Gone


Filed under cheese, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, salad, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

Let’s do the numbers

When I finished the project, I ended up with a nice fat stack of receipts. You bet I kept track – I’m hopelessly anal, for one, but I also knew I’d be curious, in the end.

Today, I added them all up. I thought you accountant types would be curious.

I spent about $3260, writing a recipe a day for a year. Not counting the farmers’ market.

That’s $9 per day (ish). Maybe$10, with the markets.

On one hand, that’s not awful. I mean, we ate, didn’t we? We ate well. And so did a lot of other people, both directly and indirectly. And anyone who buys lunch out every day spends that, right?

Somehow, though, it’s hard for me to look at it that way, now that I’m done.

Now it just sounds like food for an entire village in Africa, for a year. Half a school in Pakistan. The new exhaust system our car needs, plus brakes, plus whatever breaks next.

Oy. The guilt overfloweth. I had to tell you. As penance.


Filed under commentary

Hot Dog!

March is the best-named month. Back when Rome was in diapers, and all the months got nice Latin names, the first month of the year (in Rome, anyway) got named after the god of war. They were right, whoever picked “March.” (Good job. A+ in month-naming class.)

They were right: It’s an action verb, this whole month, all about forward progress, and doing, and conquering, and in Seattle, growing. And right now, it’s marching right over me. I can’t seem to keep up with any of it: the garden, or the sun, or the rain, or the lists. I’m always a half-step behind. There are fourteen magazines on our coffee table, which is the spot reserved exclusively for Things We Must Read Soon. (Normally it’s two or three.) I’ve spent most of March so far being sleepy, but I hear the rest of the month coming, far off in the distance. Clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp. It soldiers on without me.

And so far, I’m okay with that. So far, I like my pace. Yesterday a friend called from back east, smack in the middle of the afternoon when I was busybeeing over a story. My first instinct was to arrange a time to call back. But my hands hurt from typing, and I was actually a little ahead of my deadline, so I couched myself and had a nice chat. I came back to the story twenty minutes later, refreshed.

I, for one, am not going to march. I’ll just walk, thank you. I’m going to stop and smell the flowers, and not think about how much more productive they’re being this month, with all that bud-forming, petal-pushing energy.

My grandmother came to visit earlier this week. (Being with an eighty-year-old sure helps slow the pace. Thanks, Grandma.) We drank tea out of the peacock cups and examined the buds on the bushes around our house.

tea in a peacock cup

June calls this The Grumpy Season, because there’s nothing to do. She divides her attention between the plants and the news, and being in my house – without a television – was a little disarming for her, I think. She doesn’t use a computer, so I relayed the news to her a few times a day, when we weren’t listening to the radio.

“Hillary won Ohio and Texas,” I told her early on Wednesday morning. We were heading out the door for a walk.

She whirled around at the bottom of the stairs, a huge grin spreading across her face. She loves Hillary.

“Really?” she asked. I nodded. “Yup.”

Hot dog!” she exclaimed, with her hands spread out at her sides, fingers splayed and wiggling like she was rehearsing for FAME. “Hot DOG.”

Why did that expression go out of style? I think it’s the best. I’m going to make an effort to use it more. It also makes me wonder why certain foods get picked for certain sayings. I mean, hot dogs and wieners are basically the same thing, right? But you don’t hear people going around shouting “Wiener!” when things go their way.

Anyway. When grandma was here this time, we cooked. Not my food, but the food she remembers best, the food of my father’s childhood.

It was a sunny day, so we made picnic food. Baked beans with sausage and onions, to be exact.

I wonder if my father remembers eating it.

Baked beans with sausage and onions

We cut and seared up two fat, fresh hot Italian sausages, and mixed them in a bowl with a big can of baked beans (the kind with extra brown sugar). We added a 10-ounce bag’s worth of brown pearl onions, boiled and peeled, along with a dollop of Dijon mustard, a big squirt of ketchup, and two swirls around the bowl of dark molasses. No salt. No pepper. Just mixed it right up, dumped it into a dish (I didn’t have her Corningware, but we made do), and baked it at 325 degrees until bubbly, about an hour.

I did cringe a little, dumping cans and bottles of things into a bowl and calling it dinner. It’s not quite my style. But I’ll admit I loved the way the sweet, sticky beans mingled with the spicy sausage under the pudding-like skin that formed across my casserole dish. I’ve been heaping it into a small bowl for the last few days at odd hours, enjoying it straight from the fridge. It’s like eating an old secret.

Baked beans with sausage and onions 2

We had Jell-O salad, too. Lime Jell-O, with cream cheese and pineapple mixed in.

Not for dessert. For salad.

I didn’t like that too much.

Oh, how times have changed.


Filed under grandma, pork, recipe

Keep up?

I drink a few types of tea made by Yogi Teas, which I normally love. The paper tags are printed with deeper thoughts, like

Life is a chance.
Love is infinity.
Grace is reality.


Recognize that
The other person
Is you.

But the tea bag I opened after I posted the other day looked like this:

Time to switch brands. Anyone have a favorite ginger or green tea?


Filed under commentary

Inukshuk in my soup

We hit home three days ago. Friday, I slept through the better part of my supposed workday. Saturday, we puttered around the house, doing laundry and taxes and sifting through the week’s mail, trying to get our heads back on straight again. We went to a mellow yoga class, where I spent the majority of the hour in child’s pose, examining the dog hair on my mat. Today’s shaping up to be a slow one, too.

Whistler was gorgeous. When I was feeling good, I had a blast. We skied fast. We swam our way through the fog on days that felt more like skiing on the moon than on Earth. Watching the World Cup was phenomenal – hundreds of fans clanging cowbells in each others’ faces, Norwegians acting like idiots, Canadians going crazy for their strong showing, kids begging for autographs. . . It’s hard to hate a sport where the general rule is the bigger your ass, the faster you go.

Inukshuk at top of Peak chair

At the top of Whistler sits an inukshuk, one of the hundreds of sculptures native Canadians originally built in human form as mountain guides – creative cairns, if you will. Inukshuks are supposed to stand for friendship and hope, hence the inspiration for the emblem for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

On our third day, the skies cleared, and the inukshuk loomed just off the Peak chair, with a gorgeous panorama of the high alpine. Groups of skiers eddied around him, marveling at his size and gaping at the view. Making friends better friends, I suppose, like we were, laughing at how close this winter wonderland is to Seattle.

But hope? There wasn’t so much hope up there. Not for me, anyway. Whistler is a big mountain, and six days of skiing there is a lot for anyone, really. I guess you could say I bit off more than I could chew. (I think we all did.)

By day three, standing at the top just meant hoping I could muster the energy to ski down, and I’ll admit I got my priorities mixed up. I wanted so much to be part of every run that I ran myself into the ground not stopping when I should have. I forgot that rule I made a few years ago about pairing intense activity with equal measures of rest. I kept going. And going. And going.

I know everyone’s legs were sore. I could deal with the cramping calves and the twitching quads. (And by now that part is gone.) What I couldn’t handle was the fatigue – that sneaky, foggy, full-body fatigue that the Wolf brings when I least expect it. It feels like a bodysuit made from one of those heavy aprons you wear to protect your organs from X-ray machines. (And really. Who wears a bodysuit?)

Normally, when it comes, I’m pretty accommodating. But when she showed up halfway through our vacation, we’d already bought our lift tickets, and skipping a day didn’t seem like an option. I should have. But I didn’t. Instead, I doped up on steroids and Ibuprofen and pretended I was fine. By day four, I was spent.

Then I got frustrated. For the first time in months, I got really angry, not just at how lupus made me feel, but at the fact that I couldn’t seem to bring myself to tell my friends I’d had enough. That I couldn’t tell my husband or my brother that I’d had enough. That I didn’t want to have had enough. That I was too self-centered – too focused on getting the most of my vacation and afraid of spoiling other peoples’ – to make it completely enjoyable for myself. I spent the days trying to remember whether I’d felt so tired when we went to Whistler for our honeymoon five years ago, before I was diagnosed, and wondering why I’d thought I could ski for six days now, fresh off methotrexate.

Basically, I forgot that less is more. My body forced me to remember.

On day five, I folded at the top of Symphony a few runs after I should have, skied down in a dizzy fog, off balance, and slept for three hours. I woke up, ate a giant burrito stuffed with juicy slow-cooked pork, skipped the drinking, and slept for another nine hours, unmoving.

Jess & Jim from top of 7th Heaven

The last day, my body rebounded a bit. The top of Blackcomb was clear, and as we raced around, the snow came alive again under my skis.

It doesn’t take much, I thought, feeling how the rest rejuvenated me. But it takes some.

Anyway. It was a great week.

We cheered for Bode (warning: bad video):

We stuffed ourselves with wings at Dusty’s:

Wings at Dusty's

At night, we gathered in the kitchen and scooped warm stew and spicy sausage pasta sauce into our bellies. We drank beer at the Roundhouse, and ate fat, fluffy Belgian waffles at Crystal Hut:

waffle at Crystal Hut

(And by the way, other ski areas could take a cue from Whistler and offer real mugs for coffee and hot chocolate. It makes both more delicious.)

And despite the cranky, I think I became a better skier, in a week.

On the last day, we spent the morning ripping groomers and dropping into the bowls accessed by Spanky’s Ladder, and by lunch, I was exhausted. But this time, instead of puffing out my chest and sucking up a few more runs, I announced I was done. Jim came inside with me, reminding me that it’s not about what we’d miss, but what we’d already done. We’d already skied the high line above Ruby Bowl:

Tiptop of Ruby Bowl at Blackcomb

We’ve already whizzed around like crazies on Cloud 9, he said. What we’ll miss in the afternoon isn’t important. We’ve had fun. He was so right.

View from Blackcomb center

At The Rendezvous, we split sushi and pepperoni pizza and a Powerade, the ideal spring skiing lunch that I never knew existed, and Slow Dog Noodled all the way down to the base.

Kintaro in Vancouver

A few hours later, we stopped for ramen at Kintaro in Vancouver. (Anyone going through Vancouver should make time for this. The broth smacks of pig, the noodles are fresh, and the service is pure Japan. Plus, your meal doubles as lip balm, which is great after six days outside.)

I floated some fresh wakame seaweed in my bowl, and the first spoonful came up with an inukshuk in it:

Inukshuk in my ramen

Maybe there is hope, after all. Maybe next time I gear up to ski for a week, I’ll find my inner inukshuk, and remind myself to find a little more balance. Hope: good. Friendship: good. Self-destruction: bad. I’ll make it three days, so I don’t come back and dive into hibernation. I’ll remember that skiing well and having fun doesn’t necessarily require skiing most.

Or, as my brother so astutely pointed out after my last post, I just have to stop squeezing the shit out of life’s fishes. I think that’s what he was trying to tell me in the first place.

He is the ideal role model:

Josh snoring

Here’s a stew we made the first day. Frank and I piled the ingredients into my slow cooker before we headed out to watch the race. We’d hoped to sear the meat, but the shitful pans in the condo didn’t get hot enough to give the meat more than a good steam, so we skipped that part, and just put the floured meat right into the pot along with everything else. I’d love to say we noticed the difference, but coming home from a long day on snow, tired and hungry, I’m not sure we did.

slow-cooked stew

Easy Slow-Cooked Beef Stew (PDF)

Here’s a dump-and-go version of Boeuf Bourguignon that feeds a crowd after a day outdoors without much mothering. You can brown the meat if you have time, but we just tossed it in flour and dumped all the ingredients into a CrockPot before we took off. Nothing fancy, just delicious, low-maintenance sustenance that keeps the wheels turning.

TIME: 30 minutes active time, plus 10 hours cooking time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 1/2 pounds beef stew pieces
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 large leek, thinly sliced
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 pound crimini mushrooms, quartered
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut into 1” chunks (chop just before cooking)
Hot pepper sauce (such as Cholula or Tabasco), to taste
Sour cream, to taste

Pat the beef pieces dry, and mix with the flour in a large bowl. Season the beef with salt and pepper on all sides. (If you have time, sear the meat here in a bit of oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan, until nicely browned.) Add the meat to a large slow cooker, along with the onion, garlic, leek, carrots, mushrooms, herbs, wine, and broth, and stir to combine. Cook on low heat, covered, for 10 hours, undisturbed.

Before serving, place the potatoes in a small saucepan and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain, and add potatoes to stew. Season stew to taste with additional salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce, and serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.


Filed under Beef, recipe, travel

Pretend you’re holding a fish

I like to think that between ten years of ski racing and five years teaching other people how to ski, my form is passable. But I’ve spent the last six or seven years pretending that skiing ten or twenty days a season – as opposed to the sixty or so I averaged before then – hasn’t changed my style much. When my brother showed up at Whistler, I realized just how much of a hack I’ve become. He skis pretty.

On our last day, I asked him for a ski lesson. Grudgingly.

“Pretend you’re holding a fish,” said Josh. I rolled my eyes behind my goggles. Is that how it is? I thought. He thinks I’m so obsessed with food that the only way I might pick up a few skiing tips is through a fish analogy? But I kept listening, leaning on my poles near the top of Blackcomb’s Seventh Heaven lift.

He grasped his poles out in front of him, about shoulder width apart, baskets back. “You have to hold the fish tight enough so that it doesn’t get away, but you can’t hold it so tight that it shits on you. And you have to hold one that looks realistic, or no one will believe your story.”

“So what am I doing?” I asked. Truth is, I didn’t really want to ask Josh anything, but the guy has an eye for skiing. And he also happens to be a decent fisherman.

“Your fish story keeps changing on the left turn,” he said. “Halfway through the turn, you’re telling fish tales.” He stretched his arms out so they made a ninety degree angle, like someone telling war stories about catching a fish this big. “You wash out the end of your turn that way. But don’t sell yourself short, either.” His hands measured a little lake trout, then relaxed back to a medium-sized striped bass. “Make sure your fish is the same size around every turn.”

It totally worked.

More soon. I’m in post-vacation hibernation.


Filed under commentary