Category Archives: husband

What We Don’t Eat

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It’s always been hard to judge Bromley’s misery properly, because she’s been a miserable, hateful sort of creature since the beginning. She’s almost never affectionate, and pouts constantly, and whines if she smells food but doesn’t get to eat it (which, in my line of work, happens often). She hates rain and children and men with beards, and feet without shoes on them, and people touching her feet, or her head. She’s the cranky neighbor and the crazy lady on the corner and the mean librarian, all rolled into an aging, stinky, always-hungry beast. As we talked about putting her down, my husband and I stared guiltily at each other, each thinking our own version of the times we’d wished aloud that she’d just hurry up and die already, so we didn’t have to clean up the remnants of the individually-packaged kids’ juice boxes she’d opened with her big maw and strewn across the living room rug, or wonder how she’d gotten to the shoulder-height bag of cat food. Thinking about how different she was from the dog we thought we were getting, almost 13 years ago.

Bromley comes from good eaters. When we arrived to pick her up for the very first time, her mother was counter surfing. We should have known then.

“SYRI,” bellowed Syringa’s owner, before Siri became a terrible name for a dog. The red bell pepper Syri had claimed from the cutting board dropped to the floor. Innocent eyes begged forgiveness.

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From the moment we got Bromley home, she was the same kind of scavenger, ripping open entire bags of sugar, stealing donuts off the counter, sneaking bites of steak directly from a hot grill, and generally failing to understand that the kitchen counters weren’t dog domain. She learned to stand in the center of the kitchen and not move, ever, interrupting the so-called kitchen triangle so effectively that we could never get from the refrigerator to the stove or the stove to the sink without running into her unmoving bulk. When we scolded her, she looked up at us with what we soon came to call “filet eyes.” She knew she was beautiful from a very young age, which didn’t help.

Outside the kitchen, she was cold and loveless. She refused to be petted. She hated being touched. She generally hated other dogs, too. No matter how much time and money we spent training her, she only paid attention to us if we had food in hand or if she was seated on some sort of couch. For years, we joked about giving her away.

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But about two months ago, our big Rhodesian Ridgeback plum stopped eating. We’d taken her in to have her various old lady lumps inspected, but until then, while she was partially deaf and blind and starting to lose her barking voice, there hadn’t been anything actually wrong with her. Not eating seemed like a giant red flag.

That same week, she fell up the stairs. She was ambling up them after eating her breakfast in the laundry room downstairs, and her back paws slipped out behind her on the polished wood, just a stair or two from the top. I heard a yelp and a thunk, as all 85 pounds of her hit the floor, and ran to find her stuck, chest and front paws prostrate on the top landing, with the back paws pads-up behind her. I had to lift up her backside so she could gain enough traction to finish the job. She was very embarrassed.

“I’d say 90 percent of our clients let their dogs live too long,” said the admin at Bromley’s vet, when I called to ask how one knows when it’s time to put her dog down. “We see a lot of dogs that suffer for way too long. And not eating is generally not a good sign.”

I dropped my phone, collapsed into the bed beside my snoring hound, and sobbed into her fur until she wiggled away, grossed out by my storm of affection. That afternoon, I brought her in for a check-up, but again, there wasn’t a single definable something wrong. The vet insisted it was our choice, but made sad little nods and pursed her lips a lot.

And so we went into discussions, round and around, trying to decide whether it’s better to wait until a dog shows definite signs of the end-of-life kind of aging before putting her out of her misery, or to have her anesthetized before anything tragic happens, and save her the pain. I bought her lovely hunks of beef leg bones to chew and thought about what we’d do, if we gave her a day of her favorite things before it was all over. We’d take her to the beach, of course. I started planning a steak dinner goodbye party in my head.

Because she’s the dog we got, we have loved her. And because we were heading out of town, and because a few days after seeing the vet she simply started eating again, we didn’t put her down.

Instead, we gave Bromley to my husband’s parents for two weeks, and left for our spring break road trip, hoping she’d be there when we returned, and that no one else would have to do what we hadn’t been ready to do ourselves. And the first day they had her, they wound up in the emergency room.

It was an abscess in her foot that had clearly been there for a long time, said the ER vet, and, later, our own vet. Weeks, maybe, or longer. It was likely the sign of bone cancer or a deep bone infection, they thought, but just in case, they’d treat it like a random foot infection. They cleaned it and drained it, and put in stitches, which fell out as the wound worsened, and put in staples, which fell out also, and put in more staples. My in-laws shepherded her through multiple rounds of pain medications and antibiotics, and Bromley became famous with all the vet techs. When we returned, my in-laws had had the patient in their home for two full weeks. They’d covered their rugs with puppy training pads to prevent the blood from Bromley’s wound from staining everything. The injured leg was wrapped in a big purple bandage more appropriate for a 12-year-old girl than a 12-year-old dog.

And when we came home, Bromley seemed upbeat. She was eating normally. She seemed happy to see us, even. We took her in to get her staples out, three weeks after the ER visit, and the vet leveled us with her steady, sweet gaze.

“There is a chance that it could just be a tissue infection,” she said defensively. “But honestly, I’d say I’m 99 percent certain it’s either a cancer or a deeper bone infection.” She recommended an X-ray, which would tell us which it was. The cancer could theoretically be treated with amputation, and a bone infection would require a month or so of IV antibiotics.

Jim and I looked at each other. We knew we couldn’t amputate one back leg of a dog who could no longer reliably stand on two. And since every vet visit left her shaking and bereft, sending her to a dog hospital for a month would be devastating to her. We told the vet we didn’t need the X-ray and left, chewing on her warning that sometimes, bone cancers can take over in a matter of weeks.

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At home, we spoiled her rotten. I bought fat, fresh spot prawns for grilling, and we ate them, but saved all the shells for her dinner bowl. I let her eat corn straight off the cob, in little bites. I fed her the crusts from Graham’s lunchtime sandwiches. We committed to buying canned dog food, which is outrageously expensive, and smells not unlike excellent pâté.

A few days later, my husband left on a business trip. I took Bromley in for her final foot check-up, and the vet declared it healed—healed better, in fact, than she had thought it might. Bromley wove her bumpy body between my legs as well as she could, like a toddler burying her head in her mother’s legs to hide. It was as if faced with her final moments, she’d decided she did actually have some love to share. As I was leaving, I suddenly decided I should ask to have the foot X-rayed. Off went Bromley, shaking terribly, with the perennially peppy vet, who seemed to pity me because I was about to learn the method nature had chosen for my dog’s execution.

But the vet came back with a funny look on her face.

“I’m happy to tell you that I think I was wrong,” she said. “I can’t find anything. Her foot looks completely normal.”

“Normal?” I asked, surprised and almost crestfallen. “Let me see.”

I couldn’t believe that there could still be nothing wrong, but as far as my amateur eyes could see, the dog’s injured paw looked the same as the normal paw, which the vet had X-rayed for reference. How many lives does this dog have? I thought to myself.

Bromley has never been easy to love, so with the good news came relief, but also an enormous wave of shame. I know my job is to love this animal as long as she lives, but part of me hoped—honestly, guiltily hoped—that something was finally really wrong with her.

And somehow, Bromley knew. When we got home, she became strangely sweet. She started following me around the house, like she had something interesting to say but kept forgetting. She sat next to me if I was sitting on the floor—close enough that I could pet her, which wasn’t something she let us (or anyone else) do regularly. She didn’t stop drooling or snoring or peeing in the wrong places at the wrong times, but instead of the mean, reclusive cat we’d likened her to her whole life, she finally became a dog.

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In return, we’ve started treating her like one. We’ve started petting her, because finally, she’ll let us. Last weekend, when Graham passed out in the middle of the living room floor, she took a nap next to him. And I actually cuddled with her. It took her five whole minutes to realize something unusual was happening and she stomped away.

And in the kitchen, we’ve simply kept spoiling her, because if a large dog can live almost 13 years eating all the human food dogs are supposed to avoid, a few more scraps on top of her pâté certainly won’t kill her.

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Last night, we had spot prawns again, heaping piles of messy garlic- and chili-studded creatures on a platter for our own dinner. We sucked the sweet meat out of their shells, and heaped the tails and legs into a big metal bowl, which we passed on to Bromley on the back porch. She looked up at us in lucky disbelief, as if wondering whether perhaps they might be poisoned. We nodded and pushed the bowl closer. My husband and I hugged each other, somehow deciding, after 12-plus years, that we’d simply love Bromley the way she wanted to be loved. Because sometimes the sweetest thing you make isn’t what you eat, but what you don’t.

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Spot Prawns with Garlic, Chilies, and Lemon

If you’re really going to do it right, eating spot prawns should be done with an apron on. That way, you can snap the tails off the creatures right as they come off the grill, slurp the juices off their legs (and out of their heads, if you’re so inclined), peel the shells off before dredging the tender, sweet meat in any lemony butter that remains on the plate, then wipe your hands on your front with reckless abandon.

In a pinch, whole fresh shrimp are a good substitute, but nothing beats the sweetness of spot prawns from the Pacific Northwest.

Serves 2 to 4.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes (or to taste)

1 medium lemon

1 pound fresh spot prawns

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill over medium-high heat (about 425 degrees F).

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. When the butter has melted completely, stir in the garlic and chili flakes. Zest the lemon and add that to the mixture, then slice what remains of the lemon into wedges and set aside.

Put the spot prawns in a large bowl and drizzle the butter mixture over the shellfish. Using your hands, scrape the leg side of the prawns against the bottom of the bowl, so each creature gathers up as much garlic as possible.

Grill the prawns for 1 minute per side, with the lid closed as much as possible, or until the prawns turn a deeper shade of pink and curl. (You want them cooked, but just barely.) Transfer the hot prawns to a platter, and serve piping hot, with the lemons for squeezing over them.

 

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Filed under Buddies, commentary, dog, gluten-free, husband, recipe, shellfish

Crab season

red rock crab

I wouldn’t call 4:30 a.m. a friendly time, but if you see it enough – say, growing up in a family dedicated to the first chairlift, or rowing crew in college – it becomes familiar. So when my alarm went off in the pre-dawn calm last Saturday, way before the hours I call human, I popped right out of bed. It was time to fish.

As a kid, we seasoned river trout in a paper bag. My father or brother would catch the fish – if I remember correctly, I never, ever caught one – and we’d pour flour into the bag, douse it with salt and pepper (or lemon pepper, if we had it), add the fish, and fold the top of the bag over twice. Dad set a cast iron pan over the open fire, glazed it with butter, and pan-fried the fish right there, next to the river. Or something like that. I think my father loved it because if we cooked by the water, my mother couldn’t complain about the house smelling of fish. I liked shaking the bag.

But river fishing, to me, always seemed like the easy way. (Don’t tell Dad, okay?) I romanticized deep sea fishing. Catching a fish in a river made you coordinated or perhaps just lucky; catching a fish in the ocean made you A Provider. So when my husband’s family arranged a salmon fishing trip for a group of curious relatives with All Washington Fishing, a local guide company with a slip about 2 miles from our house in Seattle, I was thrilled to join them.

I’d love to say it was a scintillating adventure. I’d love to say I caught three monster king salmon while battling rogue waves, each fish testing my strength to its limits. I’d love to say I came back with windburn, or sunburn, or both, or that I worked for my catch at least a little, but none of that really happened. The fact is, it was an easy, relaxing, calm, quiet morning. Like going to the farmers’ market, only less walking. We didn’t go out far – just across Puget Sound toward Bainbridge Island, where the kings and cohos were hungry and plentiful. The morning was almost absurdly pleasant. I drank coffee and ate Fritos. (It’s not a bad combo at 7:30 in the morning, if you’ve been up for a bit.) I learned how the fishing rods work, and reeled in the occasional fish, and drank in the shifting grays of the sky between our group’s successes. And in the end, perhaps because I was the only one who didn’t land one of the 7 keepers, or because I managed to pee off the bow because I was too proud to make the guide extract the women’s toilet from the hold, or because I’m the only one with a huge freezer, or because I have passable knife skills, I went home with 30 pounds of gorgeous salmon flesh. That, combined with my husband’s huge salmon-eating grin, was worth the wake-up call. I didn’t catch much myself, but my freezer is full.

A man and his fish

But then, on the way home, there was crab. The recreational season apparently opened July 1st here. The boat’s captain cruised by his pots with the same sense of idle convenience I use for getting gas or picking up a half gallon of milk. By then, I’ll admit I’d sort of stopped paying attention because I was focusing on the fish. But with each haul, he drew big tangles of sharp, angry legs out of his crab traps. About half were red rock crabs (pictured above), red-tinted, cranky things whose leg meat is apparently delicious but, besides the pinchers, quite difficult to retrieve. The other half were healthy full-size Dungeness. We took our Dungeness limit, 10 crabs, thinking the sweet, flaky meat could supplement our big family dinner.

What we didn’t realize, hauling in the crab, was that given a good labor force, two hours, and a few beers, the product of 10 pounds of crawlers is about 4 pounds of meat – enough to eat a bunch straight from the shell, stir some into crab salad, make a dozen jumbo crab cakes, pile crab curry over rice, and still have enough left for a hot, bubbling crab dip spiked with jalapeños two days after the catch.

Unlike waking up early, an overabundance of fresh-picked Dungeness crab meat is not a problem I’d call familiar. But if you should find yourself, like I did, with a healthy half pound of the stuff, and you can’t stand the thought of eating plain old crab salad for the third day in a row, and you’re longing for an indulgent appetizer that highlights the shellfish without scrimping on creaminess, this dip’s for you.

And guess what? You don’t even have to set the alarm.

Fishing photos by Adam Corcutt.

Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese 2

Hot Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese (PDF)
Active time: 10 minutes
Makes 6 servings

10 ounces fresh-picked Dungeness crabmeat
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapeño peppers
Juice of 1 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently squeeze the crabmeat in small handfuls over the sink to discard any excess liquid. Transfer the crab to a mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and stir with a big fork until more or less blended. (This is a good time to think about something else; there’s nothing exact about this process.)

Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish just large enough to hold it all. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling and browned on top. Serve hot, with the tortilla chips for scooping.

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Filed under appetizers, fish, gluten-free, husband, recipe, shellfish, side dish, snack

A stew for the heart

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Sometimes, I eat because it tastes good. I eat because the caramelized skin of a well-roasted chicken triggers a pleasure mechanism in my brain, because pureed kabocha squash tastes like everything that’s good about the earth itself, and because a good stinky cheese sings up into my nostrils as it hits the heat of my tongue.

Of course, I also love eating things that look good. Chomping into a well-made pain au chocolate reveals (literally) thousands of microscopic layers, culminating with the perfectly dry, crisp shatters that envelop the exterior. Just a week or two ago, I had a charcuterie plate at Mistral Kitchen made up of whimsical piles of thinly shaved meats, each a little porcine tornado almost (but not quite) too pretty to eat.

Food can feel good, too. I’m drinking tea right now, and I like the way the peach flavor rolls down the center of my tongue, while the ginger flavor unfurls toward its edges. I like the way a good braised hanging tender separates in my mouth, each thread of beef so soft I don’t really need my teeth. (Still, I’m glad I have them.)

Then, every once in a while, I eat for my heart. I’m not talking about eating by cereal box claims, or eating however the Senate says I should. I’m talking about eating because it’s calming and emotionally nourishing. We all do it.

Take last May, for example. I’d just been released from the hospital, where I’d had a kidney biopsy. The doctor had said he’d call back in a week or two. We decided to go out, my husband and son and I, for a special meal that would let us sit and forget the previous 48 hours, if only for a few minutes. But when we walked into Spur, they informed us they didn’t allow kids. We got back into the car, and the phone rang. It was my nephrologist–already. My kidneys were on the verge of failing, and I needed treatment. I’d start infusions the next day.

That night, we ended up eating pho. We were confused, and nervous, and scared. It tasted good, but it wasn’t food for the heart. The next day, I started a six month-long course of induction therapy.

And guess what? It worked, people. The kids are healthy again.

Last week, the night before my treatment stopped, we went back to Spur, this time with friends. We drank, and laughed, and ate course after course, sharing each plate slowly and thoughtfully. The food was good, I think—but I’m not sure I really tasted it. That night, I was eating because it felt right to be in that restaurant, quietly celebrating an internal achievement.

You might agree that Thanksgiving is a heart meal, too. Whether you’re the cook or the dishwasher, there’s something about eating the turkey and the gravy and the mashed potatoes that’s . . . centering.

This year, we went to Colorado Springs, for a banquet hall Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by my grandfather. I thought I’d survive, not planning a big meal this year. Turns out I was wrong. I have trouble enjoying Thanksgiving without entering a kitchen. Turkey from a buffet table—even an incredibly impressive one—erases all the conduits of conversation that a Thanksgiving meal preparation necessarily provides. It’s fun, like a good dinner out, but to me, it sort of misses the point of Thanksgiving, which is not just to eat, but to eat together, and solve problems together, and make mistakes together. It also neglects Thanksgiving’s most important side effect: leftovers.

I’d planned to be a big girl about the whole no cooking thing. I even roasted a turkey the night before we left, and held a mini Thanksgiving here at home, just to be on the safe side. But I gave away the leftover turkey; there were no sandwiches. Digging through the refrigerator for a late-night dinner on Friday night, it was inescapable: I felt like I’d missed the holiday entirely. We’d had a giant meal on the allotted day, but there hadn’t been anything comforting about it.

When I came back to my kitchen this week, I only wanted comfort food. I made hot and sour soup, and huevos rancheros, and this buffalo stew. It’s the simplest of stews, made with the buffalo meat my husband gawked over when I sent him to the grocery store with a carte blanche for dinner foods. With only ten ingredients, it seems almost undercomplicated—but sometimes, simple is all my heart wants to eat.

I thought I might be alone. But when I phoned my neighbor today–a neighbor who had a thorough home-cooked family Thanksgiving–I happened to ask her what she was doing for dinner. “I don’t know,” she said. “But all I want to eat is beef stew.”

Buffalo Carbonnade 2

Jim’s Buffalo Carbonnade (PDF)

Made with buffalo stew meat and a good, hearty beer, this version of the traditional Belgian dish is quite stripped down—it’s delicious, but in no way fancy. I made mine with my husband’s homebrew (made with hops from our back yard, naturally), but any high-quality beer with some good body will do.

Note that this isn’t a recipe for a crowd—it’s just enough for two hearty servings. Double or triple it if you’d like, searing the meat in batches, then serve the stew over buttered noodles or polenta, with steamed or roasted carrots.

Time: 30 minutes active time, plus plenty of simmering
Makes: 2 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound buffalo stew meat, cut into 1 1/2” pieces (beef will also work)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large onion, halved and sliced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cups good beer
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat a medium-sized soup pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Coat the stew meat with the flour on all sides, and season with salt and pepper. Add the meat to the hot oil, and cook until the pieces are browned on all sides, turning them only when they release easily from the pan, about 15 minutes total. Transfer the beef to a plate and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan, then add the onions, and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often and scraping any brown bits up off the bottom of the pan, until the onions are deep golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Add the garlic and thyme, and cook and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the beer and beef stock, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Slide in the beef, cover the pot, reduce the heat to its lowest setting, and cook at a bare simmer for another 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is extremely tender. Remove the lid, and simmer another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the liquid is thick and glossy. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Stir in the butter, and serve hot, over buttered noodles or polenta.

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Filed under Beef, beer, husband, recipe

The Best Pork Stew You’ll Never Make

If I were to give you the perfect recipe for a Mexican-inspired pork and black bean stew, it would look like this:

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1. Find some friends willing to buy an entire pig, haul it six hours from home to a remote cabin without electricity or hot water, and cook it in a homemade “Cuban microwave” for hours and hours, until swarms of toddlers are melting under the pressure of a hard day’s play in the wild, the keg is kicked, the sun is finally going down, and the pig’s skin is crisp. Make sure the friends are food literate, but not food snobs. (Some make a point to only eat animals that have read Virgil, but I think too much enlightenment makes for tough meat.)

carving the pig at curlew

2. When the pig is roasted, volunteer to carve it in the dying light, even if you’ve never done it before. A 37-pound animal is large, but still only has two cheeks, which means that if you want to dig the fatty, tender cheek meat out with your fingers, you’ll want to be the one hovering near the head. (The whiskers, by the way, become quite sharp when roasted.) As you slice into it – surely with a knife you’re completely unfamiliar with, wearing giant barbecuing gloves that make you feel as awkward as Edward Scissorhands and only slightly more coordinated – combine just the right amounts of selfishness and laziness. You should cut enough meat off the bones to fill plate after plate with steaming flesh and satisfy any nearby vultures, but not so much as to strip the bones naked. (The meat left on them will be critical to your stew.) Pack obscene amounts of leftover meat and bones into coolers, neatly divided into “meaty,” “fatty,” “bones,” and “Neanderthal” containers, regularly offering diners feet or a snout from the last category, lest they miss what might be their only opportunity to munch on a pig’s toenail. Leave the coolers outside in the sun, with questionable amounts of ice, until the next morning.

Stock on the curlew stove

3. Make pork stock: Combine the meatiest pork bones, chopped onions (with the skins), and (unfiltered, from-a-real-spring) spring water in a large, unwashed roasting pan. Straddle the pan over two burners on an ancient stove, pausing to appreciate first that you know how to light your own stove at home, and second, that you weren’t the one to haul the propane tank currently responsible for cooking your stock up to the cabin on cross-country skis last winter. Bring the stock to a strong simmer, turn the burners off, cover the stock, and go to a rodeo.

rodeo queen at the chesaw rodeo

4. Here, to make the stew taste better, you should eat at least half of a corn dog, or possibly try the 68th Annual Chesaw Fourth of July Rodeo’s version of taco salad: one snack-sized bag of nacho-flavored Doritos, crushed, opened, and topped with taco meat of unclear provenance, shredded cheese and lettuce, and an unconscionable quantity of sour cream. (They do make it in small bags for little buckaroos, in case you were wondering.)

high class husband at the chesaw rodeo

5. Drink Budweiser in the sun while you watch toddlers chase chickens, small boys get stomped on by small (but still quite large) calves, teenage girls race horses around barrels, and grown men make their best attempt at roping and milking wild cows. Drink a little more; you need to sate your immediate hunger but open your palate to the possibility of a great deal of stew.

Boys playing on porch in Curlew

6. Get back to the cabin, bring the stock back to a simmer, and feed and entertain all children in the immediate vicinity. Snoop around the premises for anything that might make for a good stew – onions, garlic, carrots, and celery would be a fortunate start – and chop the vegetables, taking note as you work next to another person that it is neither the size of a kitchen nor its fanciness that makes it functional. (A kitchen qualifies as “good” if the space is well used, of course, with plenty of chopping room near the stove, but also if those working therein are happy bumping elbows without apologizing, and comfortable injecting cooking questions into unrelated conversation without losing one’s place in either the chopping or the conversation.)

Curlew kitchen 1

7. In a large (preferably tippy) soup pot, sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in (possibly) three-year-old olive oil, then season heavily with cumin, chili powder, dried oregano leftover from seasoning the pig, salt, pepper, a pinch of ground cloves, and a little bit of luck. Add the remaining salsa from two separate, open-but-unrefrigerated jars of salsa (their spiciness will have a lot to do with how your stew turns out), three cans of black beans (along with their liquid), and enough stock to let all the ingredients swim around freely. Simmer until the carrots are soft, roughly one hour, bossing anyone near the stove into giving it a quick stir so you can appreciate just being where you are.

dogs begging for pork stew

8. Meanwhile, clip most of the cilantro from the newly planted herb garden just off your porch. (If you can arrange for your dog to fall off the porch while avoiding a curious tot and land directly on the cilantro plant, do so, as the cilantro will be easier to cut that way.) Grate cheese and find some sour cream. Intend to slice the avocado in the fruit bowl, then promptly forget about it.

Curlew cabin front

9. Ask someone else to chop a good deal of what’s probably tenderloin and shoulder from the “meaty” bowl of pork in the cooler, and add it to the stew. Simmer another 10 minutes or so, so the pork fat melts into the broth. Season to taste again with salt and pepper, and serve hot, in mismatched bowls with shredded cheese, sour cream, and spoons that make you feel like you’re Goldilocks, minus the part where she finds the spoon that’s just right. (Feel free to continue forgetting the avocado.) In your mind, call it Curlew Stew, if you’re into that sort of thing. Pretend you aren’t surprised when it seems like the best stew you’ve ever tasted, and make a mental promise to make pork stock again someday soon. When it’s cooler.

dividing pig meat

10. Mop the last of the soup up with plain sliced sandwich bread. Commence a conversation about recipes – why and how we use them, how some people must cook from them while others simply can’t, where we record them, etc. Remember some recipes, like Hannah’s grandmother’s Goat Curry for Fifty, whose re-creation is so entirely unlikely that you might as well call it impossible. Think first, to yourself, that you wished you’d written the stew recipe down in some way, or snapped a photo before the last carrots were scraped from the bottom of the pot and fed to your child (who, with his first tooth, now seems to be able to eat cooked carrots). Then reconsider, and note that perhaps anyone interested in recreating Curlew Stew should probably not be relying too heavily on a recipe in the first place.

That’s it. That’s the whole recipe. Just ten quick steps.

If you live in the United States, chances are very good that you have recently suffered, are currently suffering, or will soon suffer an unbearable heat wave. (The definition of “unbearable” may differ from region to region; 90-degree heat broke records in Seattle a couple days ago. Likewise, the definition of “suffer” may be flexible; I was forced to make cold iced tea and wear a dress yesterday. It was awful.)

I thought that perhaps this heat thing, combined with the likelihood that you have a cooler filled with roasted pig parts on your porch, might make Curlew Stew an unconvincing proposition for your dinner this evening. But I promise: It’s the best pork stew you’ll never make.

But if you really want to taste Curlew Stew, I know a guy who makes a mean Cuban microwave; he says he’s willing to lend his to me when I’m ready to roast a pig. Swing by my driveway sometime around Christmas, because I now know I’ll be going whole hog, as they say, for our next holiday party. I’m sure there will be pork leftover.

Tonight, you should just make skirt steak kebabs.

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs 2

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs (PDF)

Marinated in a mixture of lime juice, garlic, fresh oregano, and red pepper flakes, these skirt steak kebabs pack a punch, but don’t take much time to prepare or grill. Instead of tomatoes and zucchini, feel free to substitute other vegetables—broccoli florets or crimini mushrooms would also be great.

Be sure to soak the skewers for the kebabs in a pan of water for a good 30 minutes (or longer) before you thread the meat and vegetables on.

TIME: 15 minutes prep time
MAKES: 4 servings

Juice of 3 limes
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (the fresher, the better)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound skirt steak, cut into 1” cubes
2 zucchini, cut into 3/4” rounds
2 dozen large cherry tomatoes
12 wooden skewers (12” long), soaked

Blend the lime juice, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, oil, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl. Add the steak, stir until all the steak is coated with the marinade, then add the zucchini and tomatoes. Refrigerate, covered, about 1 hour.

Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat, about 450 to 550 degrees. Thread the ingredients onto the skewers, alternating ingredients, piercing zucchini horizontally (through the skin on both sides) so that all the ingredients lie in a flat plane.

Grill the kebabs for 3 to 5 minutes per side, until the zucchini is marked, the tomatoes are beginning to burst, and the steak is cooked through. Serve hot.

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs 1

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Filed under Beef, dog, gluten-free, husband, kitchen adventure, pork, recipe, travel, vegetables

Hubbub

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars  close

Lunch last Friday was almost perfect. I wandered into Le Pichet a little after noon, and downed a New Yorker article and the better part of a glass of house red before a striking gentleman ambled in and took the barstool next to me. We flirted and talked, carefully eating our own little salads, ignoring the rest of the room. He fed me grilled sardines with onion jam, and I scooped salade verte onto his plate. Then we shared oeufs plats, two eggs snuggled into blankets of ham and gruyere and baked until the whites were just set. We both smiled.

He walked me to my car, where he kissed me goodbye. I drove away toward a doctor’s appointment, feeling light and happy, and so lucky to have married him. Then I looked at the floor in front of the passenger seat, and noticed my laptop, along with its nice case and all my work and recipe notes, was missing. The light feeling vanished.

I always lock my car. Sometimes I lock it twice, or even three times, just to be sure my obsessive-compulsive tendencies are still functioning. I pulled over to scour the seats, but a computer is a very difficult thing to lose in the crack between the seat and the center console. I checked the trunk. I called the restaurant. Nothing. Someone had stolen my computer.

There was an unusually clean spot on the passenger door. It was human-shaped, but other than that, there was no sign of a break in – no scratches around the window frame, no bent metal near the lock. While the lack of evidence was convenient from a financial standpoint – no one wants to replace a computer and fix a car door – it was completely humiliating. I must have left the car unlocked. Someone must have watched me leave the car unlocked.

I spent the remainder of the day alternately panicking and mentally flogging myself for my presumed mistake. Instead of going straight home to change all my passwords, file all the various required reports, and record what I could of the recipe notes I’d lost, I went to my doctor’s appointment, where every person in the office assured me the same thing had once happened to them, and they’d survived. Then our nanny called. Our son was running a fever. I picked him up, took him to his doctor, and waited in line for his medicine.

My husband came home. We fretted over a sick kid and cobbled some sort of dinner together. I wish I could remember what we ate. Later, we huddled around our Time Machine downstairs, trying to determine how much of my data was successfully backed up. So many recipes, I thought. So many emails. Getting a new computer is one thing – a process I loathe, because it requires spending so much money on something I understand so poorly – but recreating a work history is another thing entirely.

But I was fortunate. I’m somehow missing all my photos from the month of April – including all the shots we took of Graham’s first birthday – but as far as I can tell, everything else was backed up.

I breathed.

Then, as is always the case when something goes sort of awry but not really, really wrong, I felt a rush of luck. My car wasn’t stolen. I didn’t lose a person. And after all, I’d had a most incredible lunch date with my husband.

Wait. Lunch. At lunch, we’d shared part of a baguette. At lunch, I’d broken a six-week streak of eating gluten-free, as planned. And I didn’t feel one single bit different.

So . . . what? Do I not have celiac disease? I was simultaneously relieved and just plain angry. I mean, I’ve spent six weeks trying not to get caught gazing longingly at the donuts in the bakery case I work near at my local coffee shop, and I’d certainly like to have another one in this lifetime. On the other hand, I’d been harboring a little fantasy. It went like this: I’d eat gluten again, and fall terribly sick, and my joints would scream and shout more than ever. A small plane would soar across the sky, loop-de-looping a message across the bright blue until, clear as day, there was a puffy white paragraph for the entire city to read: JESS DOES NOT HAVE LUPUS. IT’S JUST CELIAC DISEASE. IF SHE STOPS EATING WHEAT, EVERYTHING WILL GO AWAY.

But no dice.

On the other hand, GLUTEN. On Saturday, I had a bagel for (first) breakfast, then we ate French toast for brunch, with friends. We rode to Roxy’s for afternoon Reubens. Afterward, I decided to bake.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars  2

Friday morning, I’d cleaned out my laptop tote a bit. At the top of a stack of papers headed for the recycling bin was one with “emmer chocolate chunk cookies” scrawled across the top, the ghost of a months-old craving. The only glutinous product left in the house – I’d known keeping any would be too tempting for me – was a little bag of Bluebird Grain Farms’ emmer flour, which I’d been too stubborn (or cheap) to give away. And we’d planned a trip to the mountains the next day. Cookies, indeed.

I fluffed butter and sugars, added eggs and vanilla, and fortified the batter with emmer flour and oats. At the last minute, I wavered. What about emmer bars, I thought? With huge chunks of chocolate? I love the way the cut sides of chocolate chunk bars offer a window into just how much meltiness hides in each bite. But cookies seemed so much easier to eat. I went back and forth: Bars. Cookies. Bars. Cookies.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars, before spreading

In the end, I made both. I scooped about half the batter into a brownie pan, pressed it flat, and made bars. With the rest of the batter, I made cookies. I like the bars better. So does Zac. My husband likes the cookies better, because they’re a little crispy. So does Graham, apparently.

Graham likes the cookies best

I guess there’s no way of knowing, without a biopsy, that I don’t have celiac disease for sure. But for now, it sure doesn’t seem likely. I’ve been eating gluten for almost 72 hours now, to no ill effect.

So that was all a lot of hubbub, now, wasn’t it? It reminds me of a joke my sister-in-law, a stand-up comic down in L.A., tells about going back “into” the closet, after years as a lesbian. (She’ll be performing in Bellevue next week, if you’re around.)

“What can I say, folks? Sorry about all the hubbub,” she says. “But I’ve really appreciated all the rainbow flags. Bandanas. WNBA tickets.” (Here’s the actual clip.)

So, yeah. I guess all I really need now is a little more chocolate.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars 1

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars (and Cookies) (PDF)
Here’s a chocolate-stuffed dessert that’s a two-fer in many ways: Barflies get chewy chocolate chunk bars, while cookie lovers get crisp wafers with a great oatmeal cookie chew. Sweets seekers get their fix, and nutrition nuts can point to whole grain emmer flour and a good dose of oat bran to justify the splurge. And for two treats made at the same time, bake the bars right away and freeze the rest of the dough in balls for cookies when you need them at the last minute. Or you can just make all of one type—whatever suits you.

Order emmer flour online at bluebirdgrainfarms.com.

TIME: 25 minutes active time
MAKES: 16 bars, plus 2 dozen 3” cookies

Vegetable oil spray (or butter for greasing the pan)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups emmer flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup thick rolled oats
3/4 pound (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8” square brownie pan with the vegetable oil spray (or butter), and line with a square of waxed or parchment paper. Line two heavy baking sheets with parchment paper, and set those aside, too.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl, and mix briefly.

Whisk the emmer flour, oat bran, baking soda, and salt together in a mixing bowl. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients, about a third at a time, and mix until the flour is incorporated. Add the oats and chocolate and mix until combined.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars in pan

Transfer three packed cups of the dough to the 8” pan, spread flat with a spatula, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bars are lightly browned at the edges and the dough has little cracks in the center. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then use the paper to transfer the bars to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares, and let cool another 10 to 15 minutes (to firm up) before moving.

Use the remaining batter to make another batch of bars, or make cookies: Shape knobs of dough into 1” balls and place 2” apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Bars and cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, husband, recipe

April

grilled cheese and tomato soup at Swedish

I think my senses are playing tricks on me.

What I heard on Monday was I think we’re going to admit you to the hospital. Then, on Tuesday, when I was actually admitted and asked the nurse what I should order for lunch, I thought I heard her recommend the fish and chips.

“Really?” I asked. Fried? Isn’t a hospital where one goes to get . . . you know . . .healthy? The menu reads like something from a college pub: Cheeseburgers. Pizza. French dip.

“The nachos are pretty good, too,” she said. Right.

I started with tomato soup and grilled cheese, a drape of orange cheddar wedged between two pieces of buttery toast that had been steamed to soggy under a plate cover for a few minutes, along with a fat slice of pickle, before landing in front of me. That’s what one gets for being food-obsessed, I suppose: warm pickles.

What I saw yesterday, on April Fool’s Day, was no joke either: snow, on April 1st in Seattle, flying sideways against all of downtown. And what I felt – my water breaking, at 7 a.m. – was certainly real. There are a lot of questions, and a lot of uncertainties, but at the very least, it’s clear that even at 33 weeks, this baby of ours has a sense of humor.

NST monitor

Since then, it’s been mostly unbelievable sounds: The local NPR station, graciously ending its pledge drive just in time. Our baby’s heart, ricocheting around inside my bedside monitor, thumpthumpthumping like a washing machine stuck with all the sheets on one side of the tumbler. My IV contraption, ticking and purring and clicking. Before last night, when I got to listen to it for hours on end, I didn’t realize machines can be reincarnated, too. I know this one was once one of those old ink plotters – I can hear the old-school computer paper spooling through on its little side holes, and the blotters jumping all around, individual spots of schizophrenia in an otherwise organized system.

There are unknowns, of course. We’re not sure why whatever language is being spoken next door sounds best to them, whoever they are, at maximum volume. We’re not sure why someone’s male partner seems to like singing the female leads to Mamma Mia songs. We’re not sure if the scrambled eggs will always be overcooked, or if the lattes will always be hot and surprisingly delicious. (This is Seattle, after all.)

Breakfast at Swedish

We’re also not sure how long our baby will stay snug inside (he’s been given a permission slip to stay in, if he feels like it), or how much extra snuggling will be required after birth. We are sure that for now, we’re all healthy, and that five pounds is already a lot of baby. On this floor, we’re the lucky ones.

So, no. No recipe for you today, or for weeks (or maybe months) to come. I probably won’t tell you about the pizza some friends brought the first night, or the homemade nutter butters someone else dropped off, because now, I need to be here. Plus, the IVs seem to work best in my hand, and typing with one hand is a handicap I don’t have the patience for.

Until soon. Be well, have fun cooking, and eat something for me, will you?

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Filed under husband

A Two-Dog Pie

Sour Cherry-Rhubarb Pie

I baked my little heart out today.

First it was blueberry muffins, to fuel a morning at Workimer, and the most absurdly easy macaroons. Then banana bread, for the freezer. (We have eight friends coming next week.) Then sour cherry pie, my first with real pie cherries.

pitting sour cherries

I’d never actually tried sour cherries, come to think of it. Smaller and softer, they’re so much more feminine than a Bing. At first, they taste like cherries in a bitchy mood, but after I got used to their punch, I decided I love them. And indeed, when I broke into them with my fingernails, pitting them all by hand without the use of a knife or a pitter, I felt a little more feminine myself. My fingernails are finally long enough to be good for something, I thought. I smugged inside, and thanked the steroids.

I’d made the nicest crust. I planned to have friends over for pie, and pretend it’s something we do all the time on a Sunday afternoon. On Friday, I stayed up late with my crust, with two whole sticks of butter, and the patience to add water until the dough clung together just enough. I even tied the two sections of dough together. (Who was it that told me once that it works, that a double-crusted pie bakes happier when its two halves sleep together in the fridge overnight?)

Nestling pie crusts

Oh yes, I did all the right things. I bought instant tapioca, because I’d never thickened with it before, and even folded my rhurbarb patch’s midseason surge in with the cherries.

Sour cherries and rhubarb

Then a friend called, just when I was about to roll the crust out. I turned my back, and in the time it took me to put a measuring cup in the sink, my dog stole about twenty percent of the dough. Right off the counter, in front of me, like I wasn’t even there. Just took a bite, and chewed thoughtfully, which is unusual – she’s a gulper, through and through. I’m sure that if she could speak, she’d have said Why yes, Jess, this is a fabulous crust. I can’t wait to taste it later.

We had a discussion, and she was exiled to the porch.

But really, it wasn’t that big of a deal – the skimpier crust forced me to roll the dough thinner than I’d have normally dared, and when I draped the last part of the lattice over the top, I almost shrieked with excitement. I brushed it with cream, sprinkled it with sugar, and tucked it into the oven with a twirl and a dance I’m glad no one got on film.

After it had cooled, I tapped my fingernails on the crust, and it made the hollow, almost tinny sound crust only makes when it’s impossibly flaky. I clapped, pushed the pie into the corner of the counter, where I knew my dog couldn’t get it, and texted my friends with a cherry pie invite. I ran out into the yard to clip flowers for the patio table.

A few minutes later, Scout, the Golden Retriever we’re watching this weekend, pranced down the deck stairs with my red oven mitt in his mouth. He was all wag.

Scout ate my pie

Scout ate my pie.

For the record, I didn’t cry. I didn’t get straight to work on another crust, either, which is surprising, because I wanted nothing more than to put him in one, all chopped up.

I screamed and shouted at him, and mourned for what seemed more like a masterpiece with every passing minute. Scout thought it was all a fantastic show, and wanted to know, Would perhaps a tennis ball help us enjoy my fit? My husband came home, and I wailed into his shoulder.

My first sour cherry pie. My perfect crust. How could he?

And was Bromley in on it? Did they plan the one-two punch, step by step pie ruination?

We salvaged two pieces out of the edge Scout didn’t touch. The crust was perfect. (Of course I can say that now that you can’t taste it, but really, it was. I promise.) The tapioca gelled the cherries together, and the filling sang with flavor.

Jim scraped what remained of the top half of the pie into the garbage, and saved the bottom crust, and its clingy bits, in a rosy heap in a Tupperware container.

“We’ll bake it again in the morning, and it’ll taste delicious,” he said. His optimism failed to cheer me.

I may find the ingredients again, because I may have been converted – sour cherries are worth their price, I know that much now. I may type the recipe out, so you can make it too.

But for now, I need a serious pout.

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Filed under dessert, failure, fruit, husband, kitchen adventure