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About jess

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

How Jewish tastes

GF everything matzo 1

Making matzo at home brings with it an unusual challenge: because the goal of eating matzo is to remember the sacrifices our forebears made, it’s not really supposed to be enjoyable. Store-bought matzo, if made appropriately, should leave one with the approximate sensation of having eaten crisp cardboard made out of dust. It’s shattery. It’s white. And it’s very, very plain.

The problem is, I usually avoid boxed matzo. I don’t steer clear because of the taste. I skip it because it’s just the type of white-flour product—plain, slightly sweet, and likely quite processed—that makes me feel crummy. Gluten-free matzo are commercially available, but they’re heinously expensive. And unlike regular boxed matzo, which often come in various flavors, gluten-free matzo are (in stores near me) always naked.

I lined up my matzo musts: First, I wanted my crackers to taste like an everything bagel, with a smattering of seeds. Second, I wanted to avoid grains, lest someone question my devotion to Ashkenazi Judaism (to which I am not even slightly devoted), practitioners of which typically avoid all grains during the holiday. Third, the matzo had to be disappointing in some way. There’s no point in making a cracker that doesn’t taste like suffering if you’re going to eat it for a week straight while pretending to suffer. I couldn’t call it matzo if it didn’t leave me needing a glass of wine, or at the very least, water.

“This can’t be called matzo,” said J, a high school friend who’s recently moved to Seattle. “It tastes too good.” She was munching on a cracker I’d made from a mixture of almond, coconut, and garbanzo bean flours—a mixture sprinkled with poppy, sesame, and caraway seed, crunchy sea salt, and dried onion flakes, then baked until the edges curled up. We dipped the crackers in hummus, pondered, and ate more.

“I’m no expert, but there is no way these are matzo,” she repeated. She was right. I wasn’t feeling even the least bit guilty about having a nice life, or peaceful surroundings, or leavened bread–not to mention making a cracker that took longer than the “official” limit of 18 minutes to make. I was feeling guilty about planning to not eat the same terrible cardboard everyone else planned on eating.

“They’re a cross between socca and a graham cracker,” declared Jim. And he was right. We actually enjoyed them.

The next day in the car, I started preparing Graham for what will probably be the first Passover dinner he will actually understand. I talked about how Jewish people take the holiday as a moment to slow down and appreciate what they have. About how we eat certain foods to celebrate the season, and how we always leave the door open, in part to welcome in anyone who might stop by with a hungry stomach.

“Mom, what does ‘Jewish’ mean?” he asked.

Right. I’d forgotten the basics. I’m a secular Jew: I’m Jewish by tradition and by generational duty, but not by proactive practice. We don’t talk very much about religion in our house.

“Jewish means something different to everyone,” I said carefully. I went on to give a very brief, very bad explanation of how religions differ, and how everyone needs to find out for themselves what practice works best for them, if any. Our conversation fizzled, and I cursed myself for being so unprepared.

Then, when we got home, I got an idea.

“Here,” I said. I handed him a matzo. “This is what Jewish tastes like to me.”

He refused to taste it. And in that moment—feeling guilty for giving the matzo too much flavor, and for failing to teach my son about my family’s past practices, and for realizing he had zero concept of what was going to happen later in the week at Passover dinner—I realized I could call it matzo. I’d suffered enough.

Eat it smeared with additional guilt.

photo 3

Gluten-Free Everything Matzo Crackers (PDF)
Gluten-Free Everything Matzo Crackers

Made with a combination of garbanzo, almond, and coconut flours, these crackers have a texture slightly crisper than graham crackers, with a much more savory flavor. Topped with a smattering of the seeds you might find on an everything bagel—plus caraway, a favorite of mine—they make a good substitute for any cracker you’d use for hummus, cheese, or tuna salad. Put them on the Passover plate, if you feel like it—but be warned that they’re more flavorful than traditional matzo!

Look for minced dried onion in the spice section of your local grocery store.

Time: 35 minutes active time
Makes about 6 servings

2 teaspoons poppy seed
2 teaspoons white sesame seed
2 teaspoons dried caraway seed, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons minced dried onion
1 1/2 teaspoons crunchy sea salt, crushed til fine if large
1 cup (100 grams) potato starch
1/2 cup (60 grams) coconut flour
1/2 cup (50 grams) almond flour
1/2 cup (50 grams) garbanzo bean flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/4 cup warm water
2 large eggs, blended

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, and space two racks evenly in the oven. Cut two pieces of parchment paper to fit the flat parts of two large (such as 12-by-17-inch) baking sheets. (You’ll roll the cracker dough out between the two pieces of parchment, so they need to be the same size. If you don’t have two baking sheets of the same size, just pick one, cut out two pieces of parchment to fit it, and bake the crackers in two batches.)

In a small bowl, blend the poppy, sesame, and caraway seed with the onion and sea salt with a spoon until well mixed. Set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the potato starch, coconut flour, almond flour, garbanzo bean flour, baking soda, baking powder, and kosher salt just to blend. With the machine on low speed, add the oil, water, and egg. Increase speed to medium and blend for one minute, until crumbly. The mixture should clump together when you press a handful between your palm and fingers.

photo 1

Pat the dough into a ball, then split it roughly in half. Place one of the parchment sheets on a clean work surface, then add half the dough. Top with the other sheet of parchment and roll the dough as thin as possible without breaking it; it should almost reach the edges of the parchment. (The goal is to make one giant cracker about the size of a baking sheet with each half of the dough.)

Brush one baking sheet with olive oil. Peel the top sheet of parchment off the rolled-out dough, then carefully invert the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, paper side up. Peel off the remaining piece of paper, and brush the dough with more olive oil.

Repeat the process with the remaining dough, using the same parchment paper. Scatter the spice mixture over both pieces of oiled dough, then pat the spices in with your hands so they stick. (If you’d like a more matzo-like look, use a fork or a rolling docking tool to poke small holes all over the dough.)

Bake the matzo for 5 minutes. Rotate the pans front to back and top to bottom, and bake another 5 to 7 minutes, or until the matzo is well browned on all edges and begins to curl up and off the pan. Transfer the crackers immediately to cooling racks and let cool for at least 30 minutes before breaking into pieces and serving.

Store any unused crackers in an airtight container, up to 3 days.

If you’ve followed the Uncle Josh Haggadah Project over the last five years, never fear, there is a 2015 edition. This year, it focuses on Montana, and was written in conjunction with our sister. Click here for the PDF of the 2015 Haggadah.

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A throwback, and a lentil salad

springtime lentil salad

The first time I flew into Regan National Airport in Washington, D.C., I think, was ten years ago. At the time, I was a personal chef—a private cook to people ranging, in order of preference, from devout foodlovers looking for a bit of a break on their summer vacation, to people looking for a more creative take on catering for larger parties, to heiresses looking (as far as I could tell) to flaunt their wealth to their Hyannis counterparts.

I was flying from Cape Cod to DC to drive to one of four or five homes owned by the rich Texan client a friend had dubbed Priscilla Princess. She belonged to the last client category. At her home on Cape Cod, she had a lawn man and an herb woman and a daily housecleaner and a personal assistant and an orchidist who arrived a couple times a week to make sure the arrangements in the bathroom were still perky. There were so many people helping her with life’s necessities that in my view, she almost ceased to exist. Catering dinners at her place always required an assistant, never because the food was so difficult—she didn’t have the taste for anything too adventuresome, and loved repeating dishes—but because inevitably another person was required to decide whether we’d plate on the Tiffany or Versace china, and whether the antique shrimp forks would work when there wasn’t an extra in case someone dropped one. Typically, the friend I’d roped into helping knew that if she wasn’t chopping herbs (“Jess!” the princess would wail from another room. “Don’t forget the pineapple sage is there in the back!!!”), she’d be following Priscilla around, nodding obediently as she took instructions on how far each wine glass should be from each plate and how big a piece of flourless chocolate cake she wanted for dessert. (“Oh Jess! The chocolate basil for garnish!”)

I think I did the job right. I organized everything through her personal assistant, because the Princess was allergic to email. I made the boring orzo salad she loved for her to have for lunch the next day, with the olives I had to order from Peru. (Maybe it was Argentina? I’ve blocked them out.) I scrubbed the Sunkist stamps off lemons in advance when I couldn’t find her required organic ones, and I smiled and presented the meal when I was supposed to in my pompous chef’s jacket, and in general, despite her difficulty, I really did enjoy it all. It was virtual reality—one in which I could buy whatever I wanted, at whatever cost, save the wine, which she limited to $20 per bottle. And she apparently enjoyed having me, because a few times, she paid me handsomely to fly down to her place in Virginia to cater a weekend’s worth of meals for her 25 or so closest friends.

Road to the plantation

It was a monster of a plantation in Virginia horse country, with a twenty-something-bedroom main house and servants’ quarters and guest houses here and there that each far outstripped an average large home in size. She and her husband had separate horse stables, which were not to be confused with the racehorses’ stables. (I believe the place was on the national register of historic homes, but I can’t remember the estate’s name. Shame on me.) We—my “assistant,” usually a good friend, and I—would stay in a four-bedroom apartment above the estate’s original horse stables, which I believe had been turned into an antique car showroom of sorts. For whatever reason, the heat didn’t work in the apartment, so we spent our days in a sweltering kitchen, churning out meal after meal, and our nights freezing in hard twin beds. “A kitchen should be warm, don’t you think?” she’d crow before dinner as she closed the windows we’d opened. Then she’d disappear to claim her place at the head of a massive table fitted with a servant’s bell under her foot. (It was actually a nice way to know when they were finished eating.)

The thing I remember most strongly, though, are her refrigerators. In the kitchen—a space roughly the size of my home’s current upstairs, fitted with a ten-person mahogany table in the center that we had to meander around each time we had to use the sink, oven, refrigerator, or trash can, which is to say, often—there was a bank of clear-doored Sub-Zeroes whose shelves’ square footage approximated that of a small grocery store’s. When I FedExed the pumpkin ravioli from Citarella that the Princess had to have from New York, it didn’t fit into her refrigerator plan. There was the place for milk and the place for fruit and the place for the grandchildrens’ food and the place for premade snacks, but there was no place for meat, or anything remotely “unsightly.” The ravioli were orphaned.

Downstairs, in the so-called slave kitchen—the Princess always whispered the word “slave”—there was also a walk-in refrigerator, which is where the ravioli ended up, on top of the duck breasts. One time, when my friend Michaela and I had been in Virigina long enough to get good and tired, we snuck down to the walk-in. We rested on the concrete floor with our feet elevated and drank Cokes. We iced our foreheads with the ravioli and made fun of her porcelain chicken collection.

Each time her gaggle of guests prepared to leave, the Princess hosted a lunch in what she called The Palm Room, which was a grand lobby-esque space not unlike the dining room in The Plaza Hotel near Central Park. (There were weird monkey statues everywhere, for some reason.) We made platters and platters of tea sandwiches, and salads, and deviled eggs, and lavender shortbread.

Once, at the last minute, the Princess announced she wanted to add a lentil salad to the lunch menu. I’d grown accustomed to her weird whims—if you want to plop a Maryland crab cake into that potato soup, lady, you go for it—but we had no lentils, and it was nearing noon, and the plantation was thirty minutes from anything. I said no. She pouted the rest of the day.

Since then, when I make anything with lentils, I think of Priscilla Princess. I think of the way she could somehow say my name with a Southern accent, rising in pitch and volume every time. “JaaayyyyUUSSSS?” she’d start, sugary sweet. “Just a quick question. Would you mind making that osso buco on the old stove on Saturday, when we have dinner in the blue house? I know it doesn’t really work, but it’s so pretty, and I’d love for the guests to get a feeling for how it was to cook a century ago.” I think of how sorry I felt for her sometimes, when I realized that the stress of not having the pillowcases in all twenty-something rooms match the patterns popular in the 1700s (when the estate was built) was actually causing her physical discomfort. And I think of how sad it was, and probably still is, that she liked really boring food.

And so here I am now, flying into Reagan again, this time for a conference, where no one will tell me how to wash my hands or how many lemon thyme sprigs are required on each plate—with a lentil salad on my tray. It’s an asparagus and pea version from home, and it’s spilling herbal perfumes into the seat beside me in a way that makes me feel like I’m getting back at my neighbor for taking up more than his paid share of the plane. We are bumping over Chicago (something that always seems odd to me when the sky is clear, despite my vague awareness of airflow science). I’m thankful I’ve made the salad a second time, so I don’t find myself lunching on a bag of beef jerky and stale nuts. I’m thankful that I don’t have an orchidist, or work for a person who feels she needs one. And I’m thankful that life has taken me to a place where I make lentil salad when and where and how I want, with ingredients from a refrigerator that is always too full and an herb garden that, despite total neglect, actually grows something useful.  

 

Springtime Lentil Salad (PDF)

In hindsight, this salad looks like the offspring that might result from a debaucherous night involving the lentil salad and the raw asparagus salad in A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus, but it wasn’t intended to mimic either. It’s a result of two things: first, the need for a lighter meal before a bike ride, and second, the green riches springing forth from my garden in the forms of parsley, chives, and mint. Serve it as is, with a few things alongside, or pile it onto steamed brown rice, like we did, for more of a complete meal.

I used the nettle pesto I make every spring, but basil pesto (even a good jarred version) will work nicely.

Serves 4 with rice, or 6 to 8 as a salad.

4 cups water
1 cup small black lentils or beluga lentils, rinsed and picked over
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (raw, unpasteurized preferred)
8 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
1/2 pound skinny asparagus (about half a bunch), ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch sections
1 cup fresh shelled English peas
1/4 cup roughly chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup pesto (made with any combination of herbs and nuts that appeals to you)
Crunchy sea salt

In a large saucepan, heat the water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook at a simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or until tender.

While the lentils cook, in a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and 7 tablespoons olive oil to blend, adding salt as necessary. (Keep in mind that lentils like a lot of salt.) Set the dressing aside.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon olive oil, swirl to coat the pan, then add the asparagus and peas. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are bright green and slightly charred in spots. Transfer the greens to a big platter to cool.

When the lentils are cooked, drain them in a fine-mesh strainer, then transfer them back to the warm pot. Add the dressing, stir gently to combine, then stir in the mint, parsley, and chives, reserving a few pinches of each for the top of the salad, if desired. Add the asparagus and peas to the lentil combination, stir a few times, then heap the salad back onto the big platter.

Serve the salad warm or at room temperature, drizzled with additional olive oil and garnished with extra herbs and crunchy sea salt.

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When there are no eggs

Sardines on crackers with nettle-walnut butter

You’ll hear, certainly from more dramatic writers, that working on a memoir is like childbirth: It’s painful. It takes too long. It shows you the part of yourself you never wanted to see. Technically, A Year Right Here—the series of essays flowering into form on my computer these days, in fits and starts—is not a memoir. But it is, in general, about me. And I find it is, in general, a more difficult process than writing cookbooks has been.

But for me, the process of writing a single essay is more akin to laying an egg. I can’t say why or when or how, but at certain times, my mind is capable of producing writing. When I feel the egg coming on, I find a nest—often Vif, the coffee shop in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood whose breakfast menu typically refuels me late morning if I’m really on a roll—and I write. When the essay comes out, it’s almost fully formed, save some tinkering. It’s a matter of washing and perhaps scrubbing, but usually not one of constructing. But if there’s no egg, there’s no writing. If there’s no egg, I answer email or plan or pitch or simply walk away.

And so it happened that the other day, when I realized my cozy spot in the sun at Vif wasn’t going to be productive in any way, I gathered my dog and my mittens and my favorite orange bag and went for a walk in Discovery Park.

nettles in the park

If you ask a park ranger, I’m sure she would tell you that picking foods out of Disco Park, as we call it, is strictly illegal. But as spring unfolds into summer and summer unfolds into fall, it’s not unusual to see folks picking things out of the undergrowth or off spiky blackberry bushes. And this year, the nettles are early. And on the whole, I do very few things that could land me in jail, so I figured picking was worth the risk.

Stinging nettles, as they’re so accurately named, are what I once called mint’s mafia cousin; they have spade-shaped leaves with toothy edges, but they’re corrupted by a taste for causing pain. Cooked and whirled up into, say, a pesto, the fine stinging hairs on the sunny side of each leaf learn to play nice, but if you touch them when the leaves are raw—i.e., when they’re still in the ground at Disco Park, or fresh out of the bag from the farmers’ market—they will cause paresthesia, which is a (temporary) numbing or stinging wherever the hairs contact your skin. I’ve learned, over the years, that it’s best to dump fresh nettles into a pot of boiling water, dirt and sticks and bugs and all. The less desirable stuff tends to float up to the surface, where it can be fished out with a slotted spoon, and I don’t get stung. But before this week, I’d never picked nettles myself.

stripped lemon zest

It’s not hard. It took almost as much time to put on my mittens as it did to pluck a bag’s worth of nettles in a spot just out of view of the park’s walking trails—maybe five minutes, at the most. I simmered them until they were limp but still bright green, then buzzed them into a thick paste, along with strips of lemon zest, toasted walnuts, and olive oil. Yesterday, I smeared the nettle-walnut butter onto crackers and topped it with tinned sardines for lunch, and for dinner, I mixed it with olive oil and tossed it with pasta. Today, I’ll bring half of it in a small jar to the ladies at Tieton Farm and Creamery, who I’m visiting for the book. Maybe we’ll have it for breakfast, over eggs, with a smattering of fresh cheese.

First, though, I’m going back to the park, because it’s sunny and because there are nettles and because some days, there is just no egg.

Nettle-Walnut Spread (PDF)
This recipe calls for six ounces of fresh stinging nettles, but if you’ve dealt with nettles before, you know that measuring them—well, touching them in any way, really—is inconvenient, because the fine hairs on the sunny side of each leaf really do sting. Six ounces is about half a paper bag’s worth of unpacked nettles, if you’re picking them yourself.

Use the spread on sandwiches, smear it on a plate and top it with cooked eggs and crunchy sea salt, or dilute it a bit with water and dress a bowl of spaghetti (with additional chopped walnuts, toasted breadcrumbs, and freshly grated Parmesan, if you’re willing).

Makes about 2 cups

6 ounces fresh stinging nettles, stems and all
1 cup toasted walnuts
Stripped zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Heat a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the nettles without touching them, using tongs if necessary, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the nettles are all completely limp. Drain the nettles, spread on a baking sheet, and set aside until cool enough to touch.

Meanwhile add the walnuts, lemon zest and juice, and salt to the work bowl of a food processor. Using two hands, squeeze the nettles dry of any excess liquid a clump at a time, then loosen each clump before adding it to the food processor with the other ingredients. Pulse the nettle mixture until finely chopped, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl every now and then. Add the olive oil, then whirl the mixture until smooth and thick. (It should looks like green hummus.) Season to taste with additional salt, if necessary.

Transfer the spread to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 weeks.

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Filed under appetizers, eggs, foraged foods, Lunch, pesto

All Fired Up

Roasted Harissa-Glazed Chicken Wings

When Pramod Thapa walked into the Sunburst Lodge at Sun Peaks Resort, the British Columbia ski hill I visited last weekend as part of a tasting tour of BC wine country, I recognized his gait immediately. He doesn’t have the typical cattywhompus walk of a kid with cerebral palsy; at 21, he’s been fortunate enough to progress into a more typical movement pattern that comes off as a young male swagger. Still, for someone familiar with CP, it’s evident. Yet Pramod also moves like a ski racer—shins pressing against the fronts of the boots when walking, using their natural support to avoid the awkwardness inherent to wearing ten pounds of metal and plastic on each foot.

Pramod (pronounced “promo”) stopped short when the woman I was skiing with, Canadian ski racing legend Nancy Greene Raine, flagged him down. She realized that as the mother of a budding adaptive skier with cerebral palsy, I might want to meet him. Pramod perched one Lange boot on its heel—a typical racer’s resting posture—and shook my hand. When he started speaking, I realized that unlike Graham, he has a major speech impediment. He can speak well enough to communicate, but only if the listener has had, say, a few years’ experience tuning in to how the general population with cerebral palsy communicates. Pramod struggles to hug his mouth around vowels, and stumbles over consonants. Listening to him speak requires intense concentration, but he has a lot to say.

As we huddled around the hot, cottony sticky buns the lodge pulls out of the oven mid-morning every day, Pramod and I talked about his ski racing history. About how after immigrating to Canada from Nepal as a kid, an adaptive ski instructor recognized that he might be the type to enjoy skiing. About how and whether we should go about transitioning Graham from a sit-ski guided by an instructor holding tethers to a sit-ski he guides himself using outriggers, which are like hefty ski poles with extra tiny skis at the bottoms. About how now, in a bid for the Canadian paralympic alpine team, Pramod is having to fight for the right to use kids’ skis, instead of the regulation (read: longer and heavier) men’s skis the other guys he competes against use.

Pramod comes from a long line of sherpas. He can’t be more than 5’2”, and he must weigh 100 pounds soaking wet. I can’t imagine a person his size racing on the same skis my six-foot-something brother and father use. As we talked through the issue, he used his hands—hands seemingly unaffected by cerebral palsy—to describe the methods he’d been using to pressure the smaller skis around the turns in that day’s slalom and GS training. Fingers straight, hands tilting in parallel to mimic the skis beneath his feet, Pramod looked like any other ski racer talking shop. I realized that in a world where his body and his speech likely often prevent him from participating in a typical way, he has found a sport where he can use his hands to communicate the same way everyone else does. He’s found his sport. I also realized that when it comes to my own kid, it’s more important to me that he learns to love a sport than that he learns to love what I’ve long considered my sport.

Which is why this weekend, along with something like a third of all Americans, we’ll be watching the Super Bowl. In an unpredictable combination of rare genetics, Graham has inherited a love of football. We don’t know how. We don’t know why. He “plays football” by knee-walking to and fro across the living room floor, hurtling his body against the couch or a chair or the dog occasionally, claiming touchdowns and wins according to rules we don’t understand in any way. But he loves it. So it seems like this year especially—when the Seattle Seahawks kick off their second consecutive Super Bowl—it makes sense to sit down and watch. And it makes sense for me to sit down and learn, the way Pramod’s parents are likely doing also, that it doesn’t matter what gets your kid fired up. What matters is that he’s fired up at all.

I’d have photographed this recipe on a Seahawks jersey if I could, but we’re not big enough fans to have that sort of thing. Nonetheless, when Super Bowl XLIX kicks off this weekend, we’ll be eating wings with millions of others, smothered, in our case, with butter and harissa. You can use a store-bought harissa for this, but the homemade kind from A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus works spectacularly. Note that each harissa will vary in spiciness, so you may need to adjust the heat to your own taste. I made this batch knowing there will be kids at our party on Sunday.

Now get fired up, people. Two days ’til game time.

Roasted Harissa-Glazed Chicken Wings (PDF)

Active time: 10 minutes
Start to finish: 35 minutes

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup harissa, plus more if desired
1 1/4 pounds chicken wing segments or drumettes
Sea salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Stir the melted butter and harissa together to blend. Divide the mixture between two large mixing bowls. Add the chicken pieces to one bowl, stir to coat the wings, then spread them out evenly on the prepared baking sheet.

Roast the wings for about 20 minutes, or until the wings are bubbling and crisp at the edges. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain for just a moment, then add them to the fresh bowl of harissa butter. Stir to coat the chicken, then transfer the chicken to a platter and shower with sea salt. Serve hot, with the yogurt on the side for dipping.

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A Year Right Here

All those corks

In the fall of 2013, when we returned from a 3-week stay in Provence, my husband and I had a bit of a hangover. It was less from the 42 bottles of wine we’d consumed collectively with various visitors over long lunches and drawn-out dinners, and more from the extended thrill of exploring new things, from the heady combination of having the little Citroen that could and no schedule. We agreed we’d had the trip of a lifetime. And over the course of 2014, as we were reminded time and time again that the same magic mix of time and freedom and savings might not present itself again for years, we mourned. The downside of taking the trip of a lifetime is that once you’ve taken it, it’s over.

Then last fall, an east coast acquaintance visited Seattle. She’s someone I’ve met many times but haven’t spent much time with, and as she traipsed her way through The Emerald City—through my own neighborhood, at times—I watched it on social media with the same interest and bewilderment I felt as I watched another acquaintance journey through Morocco. It became clear that the Seattle visitor was treating her trip here the same way we’d viewed our time in France; she skipped from market to café to restaurant to farm, ending up, more often than not, back in her own rented dining room, with food from the region and a good bottle of wine. She made me realize that while Provence was lovely, we live in a pretty epic spot ourselves. (Isn’t that why we moved here?) That while I skipped with joy at the prospect of picking up fresh lamb from a local butcher across the Atlantic, I had grown blind to the possibility of buying crab off a dock so close to home. That while I swooned when our French hosts brought wine from a friend’s vines, I forgot I knew folks who make cider right here in Seattle.

And so it came about that rather than pining for a full year in Provence, that sabbatical from life so many of us began imagining with the publication of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, I began daydreaming about how I’d spend a year in the Pacific Northwest, writ large, if I could go anywhere within a day’s drive of Seattle. If I could learn about anything. If I could talk to anyone. And if about half the time, I could take my family with me.

This month, I started working on A Year Right Here: Essays on Food and Life in the Pacific Northwest, due out on bookshelves in (gulp!) the spring of 2017. And by “working on,” I really mean planning for, because at this point, my poor beleaguered calendar isn’t sure what hit it. I’ve signed up for a hunter’s safety course. I have a shellfishing license. I’ve sized my child for a wetsuit he may or may not permit me to put on, for a winter surfing trip also linked to a restaurant off the coast of Vancouver Island. I’ve planned a chicken coop for the backyard, which involved bribing ten friends into digging out iced-over waterlogged grass on a cold-for-Seattle January 1st, hauling flagstone til my fingers (literally) bled, and, tangentially, installing a fire pit where the grass had been. (You’re not the only one who has asked whether we plan on roasting old chickens in plain view of their former coopmates. We won’t.)

I don’t know how many wine corks I’ll collect over the course of the year, but I’ve started a bucket, right on top of the bookshelf. And on Saturday, we’ll make the long, winding, likely rainy drive up Vancouver Island from Victoria to Tofino, through the Douglas fir trees, to a crab shack whose supposed location I know only in relation to a Gas-n-Go, because it apparently has no address.

So it’s a new year, and for us, that means new adventures, right nearby. This year, Hogwash will be full of outtakes–everything from our upcoming surf lesson, slated to take place in 40-degree driving rain, to the meals I can’t write about in the book, to the sad stories, like the one I’ll inevitably face when I mark the anniversary of a barn-burning accident with two lovely cheesemakers near Yakima, WA.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to go anywhere. Just stay right here.*

If just talking about surfing in January makes you cold cold, head for the hot-and-sour soup recipe I made this week for some of the generous backyard diggers, as repayment for spending the first day of the year hoisting dirt up into rickety wheelbarrows and piling it into big mountains on our front lawn.

And just think: you won’t even have to pick up a shovel.

*Or follow me on Instagram (@jessthomson)

hot & sour soup

Fresh Fall Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

This is not traditional Chinese hot-and-sour soup, but it was born close by. Down an easily forgotten staircase near City Fish—the Pike Place Market’s oldest fish shop—Pike Place Chinese Cuisine serves fantastic fare with an astounding view of the Sound. Start your market trip with a bowl of its pork-studded soup, then march upstairs to gather ingredients for this brightly hued vegetarian version, which has the same punch of white pepper and vinegar but uses fresh fall farmers’ market ingredients, such as mushrooms, kale, squash, and carrots.

Outside of chanterelle season, you can use all shiitake mushrooms.

Active time: 45 minutes
Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 teaspoons dark sesame oil, divided
8 ounces tofu (about ½ package)
3 leaves lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
½ delicata squash, seeded and shredded
¼ pound chanterelle mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ pound shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
6 cups vegetable or mushroom broth
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 large egg, beaten

In a small bowl, blend the cornstarch, water, sugar, soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil together with a fork until combined, and set aside.

Cut the tofu into ¼-inch batons and set aside. Cut the tough ribs out of the kale and slice the leaves horizontally into ¼-inch strips. Set aside.

Heat a wok or large soup pot over high heat. When hot, add the canola oil and the remaining teaspoon of sesame oil, then the carrots and squash. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the kale and mushrooms. Sauté for 2 minutes, until the kale has wilted. Add the broth, then the tofu, and bring to a simmer. Stir the cornstarch mixture, add it to the soup, and bring the soup back to a simmer, stirring occasionally until it looks a bit thicker and almost glossy. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vinegar and pepper, and taste for seasoning—you’ll probably want a bit more vinegar and/or pepper. Stir the mixture around in a circle once or twice, creating a gentle whirlpool. Stop stirring and drizzle the egg into the swirling liquid—it will cook upon contact in long, thin strings. Serve immediately.

*(c)2012 By Jess Thomson. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Pike Place Market Recipes by permission of Sasquatch Books.

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When we weren’t looking

Kimchi Cream Cheese Dip with Crudites

It’s been a whirlwind, this year. At the start, when we knew 2014 would bring surgeries and leg casting and umpteen hours of therapy for 5-year-old Graham (“FIVE AND A HALF,” he’d scream), I’ll admit I wasn’t excited. I just wanted it to be over.

But a few Friday nights ago, Graham walked right across the living room floor. In our house, with no physical therapist in sight. And then he walked around the first floor, in the little circle you can make when you leave the dining room to get something in the kitchen, but forget it’s really in the office, then somehow make it back to the dining room without losing your mind. And then he did it again, over and over, giggling uncontrollably. And then he fell with control, which was really the most significant thing. My husband and I danced around him the entire time, hands on sharp corners, ready for the inevitable crash. It never came. He just walked and walked, like it was a game, until he decided he was done. It was a game—a game he suddenly seemed to know he might someday win.

I wrote a friend with our holiday YouTube video recently, which chronicles how far Graham has come this year. She has a kiddo in a similar position with cerebral palsy, albeit much younger. “Tell me M will be able to pull to stand one day,” my friend pleaded. Her email exuded the same dangerous desperation I’ve felt so many times; waiting for the walking is wanting good strawberries in winter and healthy news from a doctor and the fat college envelope. But it’s all those feelings rolled into a bracing sweet-and-sour moment that pops up a thousand times a day, over and over, day after day. I said once that having a child with cerebral palsy isn’t disappointing, it’s disorienting, and that still holds true. But suddenly I’m much less dizzy. Suddenly, that persistent moment—the wanting moment—matters less and less.

It must have happened when we weren’t looking. Like fall does, when you’re busy looking at the things that happen in the fall, or, in my case, like a lupus flare does, when you’re busy doing the things you can do when you’re healthy.

Here’s a recipe that happens almost when you’re not looking, from Passionate Nutrition, which comes out next week. It’s not walking, but it’s still quite spiffy–a scoop of this and that, all whirled up into an easy dip that I package in small containers to tote around town for snacking when I’m on the go (think crackers, cucumbers, and carrots). It’s an intriguing thing to set out for guests, because few people associate kimchi with anything besides Korean food, and it’s also a great way to get a little dose of healthy bacteria into your body every day. And—the most shocking news of all—Graham likes it. On crackers, spread all the way to the corners, eaten off a cutting board that’s seen three generations of haphazard snacks.

Bring on the New Year, people. You never know what might happen. But at least you’ll know you’ll have a snack.

Crudites with Kimchi Cream Cheese Dip (PDF)

Not everyone likes kimchi straight, which is why when I help people start incorporating it into their diet, I often give it a little bit of a disguise. Blended into cream cheese, it makes a dip as addictive as the packaged soup mix dips of our youth. If you don’t have a food processor, just mash all the ingredients together with a fork. It won’t be as smooth, but it’s just as effective.

Since this travels well (and tastes great at room temperature), it’s a good go-to snack to leave in the fridge at work or bring on trips.

8 ounces cream cheese (cultured, if possible), at room temperature
1/2 cup unpasteurized kimchi (with juice)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Cut raw vegetables, such as cucumbers, carrots, celery, radishes, cauliflower, jicama, broccoli, or snap peas, for serving

In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse the cream cheese, kimchi, and salt until smooth. Serve with the vegetables or transfer to a sealable container and refrigerate for up to 2 months.

Change It Up:

Stir in 1 cup fresh crabmeat or drained, canned crabmeat. Transfer to a small baking dish, bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, and serve as an appetizer at room temperature, topped with additional kimchi. (You’ll lose the dip’s original beneficial bacteria, but it tastes great.)

Add 1/2 cup cream and use as a dip for artichokes or a sauce for grilled chicken or salmon.

*(c)2014 By Jennifer Adler with Jess Thomson. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Passionate Nutrition: A Guide to Using Food as Medicine from a Nutritionist Who Healed Herself from the Insider Out by permission of Sasquatch Books.

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A new staple

Warm Quinoa and Radicchio Salad

If I could rewrite Thanksgiving tradition to include something a little more convenient and versatile than stuffing—a more colorful, more nutritious mixture of ingredients that really did stay perky overnight—it might look something like this fallish grain salad. Spiked with lemon and rounded with olive oil, it’s a colorful hodgepodge that comes together in about 20 minutes and passes as almost anything in my kitchen: as lunch on its own, as a bed for grilled tuna or roasted chicken, or as a nest for a poached egg in the morning. It’s wonderful warm, but equally delicious at room temperature, when the more subtle flavors of the parsley and pecans shine a bit brighter.

Of course, if this were served in place of stuffing at Thanksgiving, there would be gravy, and while this salad is many things, I don’t imagine it making friends well with gravy. Which is why someday soon, I will make both.

Warm Quinoa and Radicchio Salad with Pecans, Parsley, and Goat Cheese (PDF)

Note: You can toast the pecans on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F until sizzling and a shade darker, about 10 minutes, but in a rush I toast them by simply cooking them in the microwave for a minute or two.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup raw quinoa (any color)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Half of a medium (3/4-pound) head radicchio, chopped
Stripped zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 cup toasted pecans
1 loosely packed cup Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground pepper (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Add the quinoa and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stir to blend, then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, 12 to 15 minutes, stirring just once or twice during cooking. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then the chopped radicchio. Season the radicchio with salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the radicchio softens, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and the juice of half the lemon and cook, stirring, for one minute more.

Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl or serving plate. Layer on the pecans, parsley, goat cheese, and cooked radicchio. Drizzle with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, the juice of the remaining 1/2 lemon, and additional salt (and pepper, if desired) to taste, and toss all the ingredients together a few times. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The salad keeps well, covered in the refrigerator, up to 3 days.

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