Category Archives: Lunch

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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Filed under bread, commentary, Lunch, snack

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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Filed under appetizers, chicken, gluten-free, Lunch, travel

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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Filed under gluten-free, grains, leftovers, Lunch, recipe, recipes, salad, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

Beat.

IMG_7716

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Thanks, kid. You sure do.)

Graham on the steps

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

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

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

Standing up

Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken

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

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

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

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

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

Recipe Rally Icon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

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

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

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

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

The trappings of summer

My favorite fork

“COMFORT IS A TRAP,” read the road graffiti on the bike path in front of me. My thoughts bounced first to my bicycle seat (I was, in fact, comfortable, which isn’t always the case), then rattled around beside the author’s annoying negativity, and eventually settled around the last few weeks.

This summer has been comfortable for me. I’ve been riding my bike, and making an ass of myself on a stand-up paddleboard in Montana, and reading Suffering Succotash on a bench in the park. I’ve been working at a patient, delicious pace. I’ve been calling this The Summer of Jess, because my goal for July (and maybe August) has been to relax and rejuvenate. Because I’m trying to revel in summer in a way I haven’t over the past few years. Because I’m celebrating the effects of my new lupus drug. (And because everyone wants a holiday named after them, right?) I’m firmly against using “summer” as a verb, but that’s really what I’m doing. I’m summering.

But back to comfort. It sounds bad, but it’s true, it’s a trap. Right now I can’t imagine working after Graham goes to bed, which has been the norm for me for so many months. I can’t imagine holing up to work in a coffee shop, because these days, the windows are always open. I can’t imagine washing doughnut dishes until my fingers crack, because it hasn’t been necessary. In so many ways, it’s bliss. But every time I feel my brain starting to relax, I instinctively tense up, just a little. My brain works like an engine; it has to be warm to move forward efficiently. It’s hard to trust that it will restart again.

My body feels the trappings of comfort, also. These days, living is easy. The Benlysta is working, and it’s wonderful. I usually wake up with zero pain. I love how the body delivers a dose of amnesia with discomfort; I’ve almost forgotten how much it hurt, just months ago, to pour milk into my coffee first thing in the morning, or to type, or to pick up my hefty 3-year-old. I’ve been picked for Team Lucky in the side effects department, but the effects I do have are a little shocking. They come snaking off the end of my hairbrush, and curling into the corners of the bathroom, and twisting, rather disgustingly, around anything that will stand still in the shower stall. I have thin hair to begin with, but honestly, having to trade the mane for a shiny new Benlysta body has come as a bit of a surprise. I feel a little betrayed by my scalp. I’ve spent far too many minutes surfing Pinterest for a new, shorter hairstyle.

But oh, that body. For July, I am focusing on the body. I’m feeding it whatever it wants – these days, spoonfuls of the parsley pesto I’m hoarding from the garden’s dramatic bolt, wrapped around potatoes, whirled into vinaigrettes, dolloped into soups. I’m working this body, and resting it. In August, or maybe September, when the brain starts up again, I’ll decide on a haircut, and just see what comes next.

Parsley Pesto (PDF)
Serving suggestions: Fold into pasta. Spread inside a panini. Whisk into vinaigrette. Slather on toast. Stuff into chicken breasts. Layer inside caprese. Stir into soup. Mix with goat cheese for crackers. Eat with a spoon. Toss with fresh vegetables and nuts for a pretty salad, nestled into Bibb lettuce: tomatoes and pine nuts, roasted beets and walnuts, etc. Make chicken salad. Or freeze, for another season, when we’re not so produce-lucky.

TIME: 15 minutes (more if toasting pine nuts)
MAKES: About 1 1/2 cups

2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
4 cups parsley (packed into a big 4-cup liquid measure)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup loosely packed freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Whirl garlic and pine nuts in a large food processor until very finely chopped. Add the parsley in three additions, pulsing until chopped between each addition. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and blend. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula, add the cheese, and blend just until combined. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container* in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks or in the freezer up to 6 months.

*The less air the pesto is exposed to, the less chance there is of it turning brown. I put mine in Ball jar, then either press a small piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto underneath the lid, or cover the pesto with a layer of olive oil before sealing. I find plastic wrap works better when freezing, just be sure to tuck all the plastic neatly under the lid, so no air gets in.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe

Love your heart (and your kids)

Onion Dip 3

Every year about this time, just before spring, I think about my kidneys. It happens when the days snap back and forth from cold to warm and back to cold again in that spastic Seattle way. I used to make fun of this city for working up a lather about a “cold front” coming, as if it was a hurricane, but now I do it too. Two years ago, I had what I called my own cold front. Out of nowhere, I lost my appetite. After months of doctors, I discovered that my kidneys were failing—all part of having lupus, it seems.

Now, with an eccentric blend of induction therapy (chemo for wimps), steroids, a lovely bouquet of other drugs, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and a New! Improved! Diet! I’m admittedly still not totally on board with, my kidneys are happy. But every year, when Sodium Girl’s Love Your Heart Recipe Rally rolls around, I remember—with a twang of fear—that those two little organs are fragile, hiding there behind my back.

For someone with stage 4 glomerulonephritis, I had a wicked fast recovery. You’d never know much about the whole shebang, unless you were the one who watched my child and cooked me dinner and took me home from the hospital, drug-woozy, in those first weeks. And now, you can’t tell. The problem is, neither can I.

It’s easy for me to do my kids some general kindness. (Yes, of course they have a nickname.) I don’t drink all that much. I don’t use Advil. I avoid boxing. But when it comes to eating the one thing that has a huge effect on kidney and heart health—sodium—I can’t exactly say I pay attention.

Jess Goldman-Fuong is the exact opposite of me. Well, in some ways. Her name is Jess, and she’s a food writer, and she has lupus, all like me. She lives perpetually in the sun, no matter what the weather is, preferring a persistent upbeat attitude to any of the negativity having a chronic condition sometimes brings. I like to think I aspire to that, also. But she lives in San Francisco, not Seattle. And her kidneys can’t take sodium at all. So rather than glue herself to the 1,500 mg/day sodium intake level the USDA recommends, she skimps, going for about 500 mg/day, when she can. Skipping the salt means she can live a full, healthy life.

Over the years, Jess has garnered a following among sodium-free cooks. At Sodium Girl, she takes the normally salt-laden food she loves—things like crab salad, and bacon-wrapped scallops, and movie popcorn—and reengineers them to fit her diet. The thing is, her food doesn’t taste saltless. It tastes creative. It tastes delicious. So each February, when she issues the call for low-sodium recipes across the web–her Love Your Heart Recipe Rally–I get into the kitchen. For my own sake.

It’s never difficult to find something to desalinate. This year, I was on my neighbor’s couch, devouring French onion dip with potato chips while I pretended to watch the Super Bowl, when I realized I’d consumed four days’ worth of sodium in a single sitting. I’m not joking. Four days.

Back to the stove I went. I caramelized onions over low heat until they were deep golden brown, threatening to burn but really just improbably sweet. I pureed them, then whirled them with crème fraiche, which (contrary to what you might think) has far less salt than sour cream or mayonnaise. The result? A simple, low-sodium dip with every bit as much addictive power as my favorite homemade version. Don’t worry, this dip isn’t actually slimming. It still has the creamy punch you need at the end of your crunch.

So the next time you’re heading for the tube, mix it up. If you’re sitting on your ass in front of the television, at least you’ll be doing your heart and kidneys a little favor.

Onion Dip 4

Chunky Low Sodium Onion Dip
I love a good packaged onion soup dip mix as much as the next person. Maybe it’s the MSG? This version depends on crème fraiche, which is naturally low-sodium, instead of mayonnaise or sour cream, for its creaminess—and because it’s made with deeply caramelized onions, there’s plenty of flavor. Take the time to get the onions good and brown.

Makes: 8 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large yellow onions (about 2 1/2 pounds)
Freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) crème fraiche

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions, first in half through the root and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go. When all the onions have been added, season them with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so while the onions begin to cook down.

Add the garlic (if using), and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring frequently, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. (Timing will depend on your stove and the vessel you’re using. The important thing is the color, though, so don’t rush it. If the onions begin to burn or stick to the bottom a bit before they’re done, add a little water to the pan or adjust the heat, as necessary.)

Transfer the caramelized onions to the work bowl of a food processor. Whirl for the count of 10, so the onions are still a bit chunky, then cool for about 15 minutes (or overnight) in the refrigerator. Transfer the onions to a bowl, stir in the crème fraiche, season with pepper, and serve.

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Filed under gluten-free, Lunch, lupus, recipe, snack

Parsley. In February.

Clams with Chorizo and Chickpeas 3

One of the things I really love about Seattle is having parsley in February. It spurts forth with a stubbornness even my two-year-old can’t muster, preening through the rain, ignoring our recent “snowstorm.” (The Idahoan in me still can’t call that a real storm.) I like to pick it right after 5 p.m., when people are walking home and watching, because it doesn’t feel as much like bragging when I don’t actually open my mouth. After I bring it inside, I peel off my socks, because I’m forever dreaming that somehow my socks won’t get wet if I run extra fast from the front door to the edge of the garden in the rain with a paring knife in my hand. Then I wash the parsley well, because I can’t seem to trust that someone hasn’t been fertilizing it with some magic chemical when I’m not looking. Finally, it sits on the drying rack, next to the Tupperware, and waits.

Seattle garden parsley

Last week, it waited for a clam and chorizo stew I made with Kathy Gunst, when she was visiting. Kathy is my cooking Yoda. She’s not short, and doesn’t have big ears, but since an internship with her ten years ago, it’s her voice I hear when I’m standing in front of the stove, wondering what comes next, or what flavors work together. Over the years, I’ve spent days and days cooking in her kitchen, in Maine, but we’d never really cooked together in mine. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a real cooking partner. It’s especially convenient when there’s a kid in the house; it’s like having four hands, instead of two, only they really can be in two places at once.

I threw chorizo into a high-sided pan, where it sizzled until a certain someone demanded I play ice cream shop. Kathy floated in, and when I returned, pretend-bloated with ten pretend cones’ worth, the stew was bubbling, ready for clams. When I held the long, steel handle of the pan, just to give the tomatoes a quick shake before adding the wine, the handle was still warm—not from the heating element, but from human touch.

Here’s something you might not know about me: I don’t often cook with other people. I like it well enough, but with the exception of my younger sister, who’s turning into a pretty clutch cook herself, my Seattle tribe consist of people who eat, but who don’t necessarily cook. And so often for me, being in the kitchen means a frazzled dance of stirring and writing and timing and judging, rather than just plain cooking. That warm pan handle reminded me how much enjoying cooking, for me, revolves around touch, instead of just taste.

In the end, the stew was good not just because the chorizo, from Seattle’s Rain Shadow Meats, seemed to have exactly the right amount of pimenton, or because the little Manila clams were gorgeous, or because I added the right amount of parsley. It was good because it made me remember that more than any book, or my upbringing, or even culinary school, Kathy’s two hands—the ones that had picked up cooking just where I’d left off, so seamlessly, mid-stew—are the hands that taught me to cook.

Clams with Chorizo and Chickpeas 2

Clams with Chorizo, Chickpeas, and Parsley (PDF)
It’s a simple enough dish to make, but loaded into bowls and served with good, crusty bread, this meal has the ability to transport—to Spain, for starters, with that smoky pimentón flavor, and then to the sea, because when the clams cook in tomatoes and wine, they release their briny juices right into the dish’s liquid. If you want this to be more of a stew, add eight ounces of clam juice along with the wine.

Look for pimentón de la vera in the spice section of a large grocery store, or online. Do not substitute regular paprika.

Time: 30 minutes active time
Serves: 2, or 4 with a hearty salad

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, casings removed, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 medium leek, chopped (white and light green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (high-quality smoky Spanish paprika)
1 cup dry white wine
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 pound clean Manila clams
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the chorizo, and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring just once or twice, or until the chorizo is partly cooked but loose on the pan. Add the leek and garlic (and a swirl of additional olive oil, if the pan is still dry), and cook another 5 minutes, until the leek is soft. Stir in salt and pepper to taste and the pimentón de la vera. Add the tomatoes and wine, and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.

Add the chickpeas and clams, cover the pan, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until all the clams have opened. (Discard any unopened clams.) Stir in the parsley, season to taste, and serve piping hot, with crusty bread for dipping or over soft polenta.

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Filed under egg-free, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, Lunch, pork, recipe, shellfish, soy-free

The perfect table

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom 3

It all started, I suppose, with an article in The New York Times about a vacation home in Nova Scotia. It wasn’t a home we’d ever build, even in our dreams, because to me, it seems strange to have your dream life more than 3,000 miles away from your real life. Even so, the inside was so light, and so welcoming to crowds despite its small size, that it got us thinking. We loved its long, slender, people-friendly eating space. We loved the built-in bench that ran along one entire wall of the living room. Since we’re predisposed to feeding crowds of people quite regularly, and usually on short notice, we thought, wouldn’t it make sense for us to have a big, hefty, crowd-loving dining table, instead of a formal, ill-fitting, accidentally inherited one?

And so early this fall, armed with advice garnered while writing a story on how the Seattle restaurateurs behind Bastille and Poquitos and Caffe Fiore (and soon Macleod’s) use reclaimed materials, my husband and I set out to convince a large piece of wood that it wanted to be our a new dining room table.

First, we found a church pew. It’s evidently a remnant from an old Episcopalian building in Portland, Oregon, one that spent the last 30 years in a garage in Kirkland, Washington. It made its way to our house on a trailer that only came unhitched once, complete with a pre-communion gum stash, but lacking hymnals. It’s nine feet long, so we settled on a seven-foot table.

Later, at Earthwise, a reclaimed building materials shop south of downtown Seattle, we found a 14-foot-long cedar board leaning up against the outside of the building nonchalantly, almost modeling, as if it knew just how we’d ooh and ahhh at it. It was a bear of a thing, and as we brought it home, our ski rack bent and cursing, we wondered whether we’d done the right thing. It had clearly spent the majority of its life outdoors, and even though my husband, a hobby woodworker, had A Vision, I couldn’t see it. He disappeared into his shop, about once a week all fall, to sand and chisel and patch and epoxy and finish. I made him coffee, and found great little wooden chairs at a consignment shop in Walla Walla, and hoped for the best.

The day before our Thanksgiving crowd of 20 started arriving, friends helped us assemble the table in the living room. (It’s bound by metal rigging that emits a high-pitched hum if you pound the table in just the right place.) I slapped burlap coffee sacks on top of the girly turquoise fabric the chairs had come with, and suddenly, instead of a dining area, we had a gathering space.

Working at the table

I’d be willing to bet that if I poured carefully, I could fit a full cup of liquid into the cracks and crevices still undulating across this table. If you’re one for symmetry, it’s imperfect. Its two halves are mismatched in both thickness and shape, and now, with my computer high-centered on its highest section, it rocks back and forth a little as I type. I’ll have to be careful not to wear too much fine silk, because the edges are still a bit raw in places. We may have to floss food out of the center. But there are two full quarts of epoxy in this thing, making cracks that once went straight through the wood perfectly impervious to anything one can see with the naked eye. And filled with grandmas and grandpas, sitting hip by hip in the same place filled the hour before by scribbling toddlers, it has somehow, with its mere presence, made our house more of a home.

play-doh at the new table

We had a lovely Thanksgiving week. Despite the conditions on Snoqualmie pass, everyone eventually arrived. The cousin who stayed with us cooked and stirred and scrubbed more than any guest ever has (although I won’t say should, because I loved it). The other cousin made real southern biscuits, the kind you can pull apart layer by layer, and I ate them, gluten and all, and didn’t notice a thing. (That’s another story.) My brother brought a fresh venison roast. My parents did dishes and dishes and dishes. We made two giant meals in my own house, and held Thanksgiving itself at my in-laws’, which meant that the work was spread out enough that I could still taste the food by the time it hit my plate.

lunch at the new table

And now that everyone’s gone, this new table still works. My sister, who has been traveling the world (literally) for months, is here staying with us for a bit. When she wakes up, we’ll sit here together, dappled by the rare Seattle sunlight, with my recipes and her photos and our dueling coffee cups, and we’ll just be family. As the day wears on, we’ll eat split pea soup made with the bone of the ham she roasted to keep the turkey company. The empty bowls will sit on the table, I’m sure, like they did so often this past week, just resting, as if they themselves wanted a feel for it, too.

Then, as the days wear and tear on it, the table will get dinged and stained and scratched and abused, and slowly, year by year, it will become perfect. I can’t wait.

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom 1

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom (PDF)
Based on a recipe from my forthcoming cookbook, Pike Place Market Recipes (Sasquatch 2012), which is itself based on a verbal recipe from the ladies at the counter at Bavarian Meats in the Pike Place Market that uses their smoked ham, this soup blends the earthiness of split peas and leftover ham bone with enough dried dill and cardamom for intrigue, but not so much they take over the soup. You can puree it before stirring the ham pieces back in, if you prefer.

Time: 40 minutes active time
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (2-pound) ham hock, or meaty bone from a holiday ham
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon dried dill
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 pound dried split peas
1/4 cup cream or half and half (optional)

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the carrots, celery, and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ham hock, broth, water, bay leaf, dill, cardamom, and split peas, stir, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook at a bare simmer until the peas are soft and the meat falls off the bone, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove the bay leaf.

Transfer the ham to a cutting board and set aside until cool enough to handle. Finely chop the meat, discarding the bones and any fatty parts, and add it to the soup. Add additional water, if necessary, to thin the soup to your desired consistency, and rewarm over low heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper (you won’t need much salt because the meat is usually salty enough), stir in the cream, and serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, leftovers, Lunch, pork, recipe, soup, soy-free

On the border of Spain and Germany

IMG_5907

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking Jess, good God, didn’t you ever take a geography class? I did, but sometimes geography just gets in the way.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. The manuscript for Pike Place Market Recipes is due in nine days. Technically, I have five entire uninterrupted hours to work on it right now, which is why instead of buckling down with a French press and a sheath of notes, I’m blogging. (Procrastination is alive and well.)

The thing is, there’s something about writing a cookbook that’s bugging me. It’s about how we use cookbooks. Yesterday, I was interviewing Uli Lengenberg, the German master butcher and owner of Pike Place Market’s Uli’s Famous Sausage. He’s a big bear of a guy who ferries links around the city on the back of his motorcycle, wearing a canary yellow helmet. And when it comes to recipes, he has opinions.

Yesterday, I asked him what he tells people when they want to know what to do with his sausages. He was emphatic that a recipe is just a guideline, and I couldn’t agree more. “You don’t die if you don’t cook like the recipe says,” he said, hands waving in the air above his tiny little spectacles. “Your love for creating something tasty and enjoyable will always be bigger than the need to follow a recipe.” Yes, Uli.

And my biggest challenge, in these next nine days, is to somehow create a book that gives people perfect guidelines for great food without making them feel totally wed to the recipes. I don’t want the book to prevent people from (as Uli calls it) cooking from their hearts.

As we talked, his love for food spilled into the air, in a genuine, helpless way, circling up around his helmet and his big black work boots and the beer taps halfway between us and the meat case. He explained a concept that I’m very familiar with, but that doesn’t (to my knowledge) really have an English equivalent. Literally, mit fleischeinlage means “with a meat ingredient,” but like so many words in any language, in German, einlage also means “orthotic.” Uli explained that in German, cooking something mit fleischeinlage means that you add to it what you have, and that all of those little things—leftovers, half-dead vegetables, special ingredients that you only have in miniscule quantities—are what add up to make a dish special. All those little things are what support the dish.

When I got home, I took some of his chorizo out of the freezer. I’d been saving it to remake a recipe from the book for Spanish Chickpea and Chorizo stew, but given my conversation with Uli, it didn’t seem like I should hold myself to the written recipe if I had chorizo on the brain and a fridge full of mismatched ingredients. I ditched the chickpeas, and threw in potatoes and cabbage, and a bunch of spring onions that have been sulking in the back of the produce drawer. They’d been back there, forgotten, since I bought them thinking I had to and then cooked spring asparagus instead.

Simmered down for an hour, the stew looked like a remarkably gentle collision between Spain and Germany—the rich, red color of pimenton de la vera and the chorizo crumbles swam around the whitish shredded cabbage and potatoes, somehow coexisting happily, like when my dog and cat are both in good moods and they curl up on the couch together.

At the end of our conversation, Uli told me that he always asks people what they want to cook when they ask him for advice. He doles it out, but always, always volunteers to also show them how to eat it. Might have to pack some of this stew up and head down to the market.

But first, the book. I need to write it mit fleischeinlage.

The UnRecipe
Spanish-German Chorizo Stew starts with good chorizo. Crumble a few fat links into a hot soup pot, and let them cook until your house smells like a different country. Add a big handful of chopped alliums – whatever mixture of garlic, onions, and leeks your refrigerator offers up – and then add about 5 chopped carrots and 3 chopped celery stalks. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and a good dose of Spanish pimenton, then add two peeled and chopped russet potatoes, half a small head of green cabbage (nicely shredded), and enough chicken stock to cover it all. Oh, and glug in some sherry vinegar, because you want a little tang. Bring the stew to a simmer, and go do something else, but every once in a while, come back and stir it.

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Filed under commentary, Lunch, pork, recipe, soup

Stung

Bucatini with Garlicky Nettle Pesto 2

Stinging nettles taste green and earthy and wild, like cooked spinach would in a teen Goth stage – not surprising, considering they’re usually foraged in the wild and eaten relatively young. But as I’ve told you before, they come by their name honestly. Resist the urge to touch them or play with them as you dump them into a pot of simmering water to tame their poisonous attitude. When they’re raw, they sting.

Cooked, though. Cooked, a tangle of nettles whirls up into a beautiful pesto, more deeply flavorful than its basiled cousin and a better bed buddy for four large cloves of garlic. Last night, I made a fairly traditional pesto, only with the nettles, and smeared it on a marinated, roasted leg of lamb, so each bite had two punches of spring. Today, when I found myself standing at the stove, hands shoved deep into my back pockets while I slurped long bucatini directly out of the cooking pot I’d used to stir them with the leftover pesto, I knew I had a recipe to share.

That was yesterday. I wrote all that – what you see above there – and then I found out that dear Kim Ricketts had passed away. There will be no more writing about nettles.

Kim was the mama of Seattle’s food scene, a literary powerhouse who brought people together for the love of food and books. I can’t say I knew her well, but I knew her well enough to be touched by her energy and her kindness. And now, the morning after the news, yesterday’s recipe seems so appropriate, because what I really feel is stung. I feel scraped raw. And I don’t know how to begin mourning someone whose soul and spunk was so immortal.

So scratch the pasta. I mean, it was good, but scratch it. Make this pesto, and take it to someone you don’t see that often, someone whose light and effervescence makes the world a better place. And thank them for being alive.

Pot of pasta with nettle pesto

Garlicky Nettle Pesto (PDF)
Although most Seattleites find nettles at farmers’ markets this time of year, they’re also often available at Whole Foods Markets. Buy a bunch when you can, and double or triple this recipe, as needed, and freeze some, because my fortune-telling powers tell me you’ll want to twirl the pesto up with long pasta again long after the season has passed. If you have time to be thoughtful and a bit patient, you can add toasted breadcrumbs, for a bit of crunch, or chopped sundried tomatoes.

Time: 25 minutes active time
Makes: 1 generous cup

1/2 pound nettles
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer for the nettles. Add the nettles directly from their bag and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. (This denatures their sting.) Dump into a colander to drain. When the nettles are cool enough to handle, wrap them in a clean dishtowel and wring out as much moisture as possible, like you would for spinach. You’ll have about a cup of cooked, squished nettles.

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the paddle attachment, whirl the garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to taste until finely chopped. Add the nettles, breaking them up as you drop them in, and the lemon juice and whirl until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Add the cheese, pulse briefly, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice.

46 Comments

Filed under farmer's market, grains, Lunch, Modern, Pasta, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

A Clean Start

Carrot Hummus with Harissa 2

There’s something about the concept of the Western world’s New Year that never sits quite right with me. Until now, I thought I was simply anti-diet. The New Year’s pooch is a symbol for me; it represents the cookies and cake I’ve consumed, and also the people I’ve shared them with. If I pour my energy into dieting on January 1st, like half this country seems to do, I effectively cut myself off from the biggest soul-quenching time of the year, because food connects me to memory. It’s like ruling out bright sunlight in August. (Sure, we could all use fewer UV rays, but what would August be without sunburns?) I usually start the year out bingeing on soups and stews, precisely because so many other people are avoiding them.

This year, for the first time, I figured out why January 1st seems so meaningless: Here, it seems like the same new year every time around. We’re supposed to create a resolution to battle whatever it was about the previous year that left us feeling unsettled, but there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s intrinsically needed. Every year, there’s basically the same expectation: This year will be better. Why?

2010 was kind of an outrageous year for me. There were months with no appetite, followed by an experiment with eating gluten-free. In the end, the culprit was something close to kidney failure. Then there was chemotherapy, crazy complications with my son’s health, and (surprise!) two cookbook deals. It was a roller coaster, for sure. As December faded to January, I had trouble resolving to do anything but make sure 2011 was a little more calm.

This past weekend, my parents visited, and I was somehow able to drop everything. (Not my son, of course. I didn’t drop him.) We played human-sized chess at the Pacific Science Center, and gobbled soup dumplings, and watched humans pretend to be dogs driving cars, and it was all light-hearted and boatloads of fun. Last night, as I read Graham a book before bed, my eyes fell to the Chinese zodiac hanging in his bedroom. Now there is the right approach to the new year thing.

Chinese zodiac

2010 was the Year of the Tiger, right? In my world, certainly. The Chinese zodiac called for unpredictability, recklessness, and aggressiveness, but also generosity. My year couldn’t match more perfectly. Last night, as I looked down the chain of animals, I realized that long, long ago, someone realized this next year is just the year I need.

This New Year – the one that started this week, for me, with a calm mind and my son emerging happy and clear-sighted from eye surgery on the first day of the Chinese New Year – will hopefully be more rabbity. I want the year to be soft-spoken and flexible, creative and gentle. Luck would be good, but it’s not necessary.

In this kitchen, the Year of the Rabbit means clean food. It means being kind to my body – more Zumba, less zeppole. (Yes, I tried Zumba. It’s like a dance party for those of us who can’t stay awake past 9 p.m., and it’s fabulous, even on days like today, when the average participant age is about 103.) Anyway. For some reason, I’ve been all hopped up on the idea of eating a little less meat. Crazy, I know, but for some reason, right now, it feels right. It feels clean.

Clean Start

It started with a book. Clean Start showed up on my doorstep, and I thought, Really? Do I need a book to tell me how to eat well? But it had an orange cloth cover, and if there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s the color orange. I opened it, and fell in love with the photographs – tahini-glazed heirloom carrots, sautéed greens with sesame seeds, and this wacky Carrot Cashew Miso Spread (PDF) I immediately wanted to dip my fingers into. The concept of a carrot spread made my brain whir.

I realized, as I started listing out all the recipes I wanted to try, that not a single one had meat. It took me a good day or two before it registered that the book is totally vegan, which I thought was a good sign; my body seems to be craving what’s in those pages regardless of the ingredients. Well, almost regardless.

See, I’m sort of in a carrot phase. Last week, I made a carrot and chickpea tagine for the cookbook (which will most likely be called Pike Place Market Recipes, but more on that another time). Then, when my parents were here, there was an Indian coconut curry with carrots and chicken, and a mysteriously carrot-heavy tom kha gai. On Superbowl Sunday, neither the television nor the tacos held much appeal for me (only the latter is really a mystery), but I was all about the raw carrots. I might in fact be turning into a rabbit.

This morning, when second breakfast seemed inevitable, I simmered up some carrots, and whirled them into a hummus rich with olive oil inspired by that spread in Terry Walters’ book, and flavored it with lemon juice and harissa. Healthy? Perhaps, but not intentionally. Just what I happen to need right now, that’s all. The harissa (an African chili paste) gives it a touch of heat, but because it’s still a bit warm after you being pureed, it feels soothing soothing. I think it should be the new snack du jour in preschools, because its effect is somehow calming.

Please don’t be surprised if I appear to have a slightly orange hue next time we see each other. I’m sure I’ll get over it. I just hope my teeth don’t start growing first.

Carrot Hummus with Harissa 1

Carrot Hummus with Harissa and Lemon (PDF)
Made by whirling cooked carrots, chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, and harissa (a North African spice paste) together, this simple spread is healthy and a little addictive. Adjust the spice level as you see fit.

Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: 4 servings

1/2 pound carrots, chopped (3 large or 2 big handfuls baby carrots)
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
1 tablespoon harissa, or to taste

Place the carrots in a small saucepan. Add water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until completely tender. (Time will depend on the size of your carrots, but about 10 minutes should do it.) Drain the carrots, then transfer them to a food processor with the remaining ingredients. Blend until completely smooth, then transfer to a bowl and serve warm.

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Filed under appetizers, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

Promised: Chicken Salad

IMG_3491

A few weeks ago, I promised you a new chicken salad.

There’s no story here – just plump chicken, chopped and blended with a spunky vinaigrette made with my new best friend, a lemon-infused olive oil. If you’re in a rush, fold in chopped rotisserie chicken. If you’re looking for a thinly-veiled excuse to eat the crisp, peppery skin off an entire bird you’ve just roasted perfectly on the grill (not that I would know anything about that), double the recipe. Try it in sandwiches or scooped next to a big green salad, or serve it inside endive spears or lettuce wraps.

Lemon-Spiked Chicken Salad (PDF)

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: Enough for 2 big sandwiches

Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 small shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped leftover chicken
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a mixing bowl, whisk the lemon zest and juice, shallot, salt, pepper, and mustard to blend. While whisking, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and whisk until all the oil is blended in. Stir in the chicken and parsley and serve.

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Filed under appetizers, chicken, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, sandwich

Why does your garden grow?

Garden Carrots

When we lived on Cape Cod, we had friends with a huge tomato garden. I remember a cantankerous gate, and in the heaviest part of the summer, the vines, which didn’t seem too prone to organization, spiraled up and around each other, racing toward the sunlight in one big viral, vegetal tangle. I remember how when we walked among them, picking and tasting, the strays popped beneath my flipflops.

Toward the end of one summer, these friends decided they needed help eating tomatoes. One Tuesday, they had us over for a tomato-themed happy hour. The idea was to munch and chat and have a beer, but with the help of some good Parmesan cheese, a tub of sea salt, and a dipping bowl of great olive oil, we frittered the whole evening away, eating our body weight in ripe, warm-colored fruits, feeling the beer melt our day away.

From then on, when convenient, we celebrated Tomato Tuesdays. It was the sort of thing that became a tradition well before we had done it long enough for it to deserve “tradition” status, like when you vacation somewhere two years in a row, and it becomes The Mother’s Day Place, or The Memorial Day Place, or whatever, simply because you enjoyed yourself so much. But Tomato Tuesdays ended, for us, when we moved to Seattle.

Truthfully, I don’t miss very much about Cape Cod. I’m not particularly fond of the ocean, or of sandy beaches, or of grey hair or bad hats or bad drivers, but when we moved, I did miss Tomato Tuesdays, almost immediately. But just weeks after we arrived in Seattle, a guy from a couple houses down knocked on our door. He introduced himself—here, I call him The Tomato Neighbor—and foisted two manhandfuls of sunny jewels upon us. At the time, our belongings were caught in a painfully long moving truck fiasco, so these glorious, colorful tomatoes, which required nothing more than the knife and cutting board and table and chairs we’d borrowed from other neighbors, were just the thing. I remember eating them alongside burritos from the freezer section from Trader Joe’s, thinking that even though Tomato Tuesdays couldn’t reinvent themselves in Seattle, we’d most likely find something equally terrific here.

Tomato Line-Up

Summer after summer—this will be our fourth here—the Tomato Neighbor plants his tomato garden. In a space about as big as our living room, with a carefully crafted vine-rigging and watering system, he plants upwards of 20 varieties each year, more than 50 plants in all. Each May, as little fuzzy, weak-leaved starts appear at the farmers markets, he brings home infant Black Krims and Mortgage Lifters, Purple Cherokees and Green Zebras, little children to be fostered and spoiled throughout the summer. As they grow, we tell the histories of the ones we know, like the tomatoes are actually people—what, you hadn’t heard that a guy actually paid of his mortgage selling seeds for his new tomato variety?

What I’ve noticed, over the years, is that our relationship with The Tomato Neighbor ebbs and flows with the tomato season. All winter long, we hardly speak. (It’s not that much of a coincidence, really. We don’t have a lot in common.) But when the days get longer, and the sun starts peeking out a little more, we see each other. He’ll show me the start he’s about to put in the ground, or tell me which new variety he’s testing this year, and I’ll promise, like I did last week, to give him some of my leeks and show him how to clean them. In a way, when he plants his tomato garden, he plants a little community for our neighborhood. As the fruit comes forth, we see each other daily, the Tomato Neighbor and I, and Vicki, and Gail, and whoever else happens by—maybe Susan from across the street, or Kris, or whoever. There are lots of shouts through open windows, and slices to try, and people stop knocking on doors.

The other day, when The Tomato Neighbor popped in to tell me he’s got 44 plants in the ground already, I realized that as much as I love the food that comes out of his garden, it’s not the tomatoes I miss in the winter. It’s the community his tomatoes bring. It’s calling a different neighbor to show her the Greek salad I’ve done with his tomatoes, and explain to her why it would be perfect for her mother’s birthday party. It’s having friends from around the corner, and their two dogs, over to taste the tomatoes, with salt and olive oil, the same way we did on Cape Cod. It’s having a garden of my own, but also knowing that in a way—and I hope not a selfish way—the gardens on my street are all mine, in the same way that my garden belongs to all of them.

So when I went to plant a garden this spring, I started by asking myself a question: What do I want to get out of this square of land, besides food? Not How does my garden grow?, but Why does my garden grow? Okay, so actually, I cheated: I asked you on Facebook, too. You’re good. You said yours give you really dirty fingernails, and healthy dandelions, and an excuse to spend money, and—my favorite—a “forgiving place to remind me that mistakes are how we learn.”

But me? My garden grows because it gives me a sense of community. It feeds my second most immediate family, this little group of people on First Avenue, in a way that’s much more tangible than anything else I do. My garden’s problem—or my problem, really—is that I don’t feel like I have enough to give. I mean, is knocking on someone’s door with four blueberries really an act of kindness? I rarely have enough lettuce for a salad, and beets come out two at a time. I’d be kidding myself if I thought my little city space could produce enough food to feed us (or, ahem, if I thought my limited gardening skills could actually make that much food grow), much less have enough to really share, the way the Tomato Neighbor does. So this year, instead of planting a little of this and a little of that, I decided to plant mostly one thing: carrots. In September, I want to have enough to share with everyone.

Teeny tiny carrot plants

I think carrots are the perfect garden vegetable: You can plant them early, when the digging itch strikes, but you can’t really put them in too late (in Seattle, anyway). In fact, you don’t even have to plant them, if you don’t want to—last year, I just flung the seeds into the patch and walked away, and everything turned out fine, except for the fact that my carrots came up in a sort of semicircular spray of green, like a bad eyeshadow job, instead of in neat little rows. In any case, the seeds morph into waving little green feathers almost immediately. You can thin the little sprouts, to make them grow bigger, but you don’t really have to. They grow below ground, instead of above, so my dog doesn’t eat them. They don’t go bad if you don’t pick them at just the right time, the way tomatoes do. And if, hypothetically, you’ve been known to forget all about them and leave them in the ground for, say, six months too long, they’re quick to forgive you.

I know. You garden people are balking, but you can keep your comments to yourself. I plant. They grow. I’m doing it right enough for me.

(Well, okay. They usually grow. I might have gotten a little bold and planted carrots in late February, but only a few came up. Mistakes are how we learn, right? So last weekend I planted again.)

Anyway. Last weekend, I announced to The Tomato Neighbor that I’d planted enough carrots for everyone, thinking I was doing my share. I’m proud of my carrots before they’ve shown even the smallest sign of success.

“Oh,” he said. “I got a whole bunch of carrot starts to put in, too. I meant to tell you that.”

So. I suspect we’ll have a few carrots around this fall. This little salad is my mental preparation.

Carrot & Hazelnut Salad 2

Carrot and Hazelnut Salad (PDF)

I’m not normally the kind of girl who eats a bowl of carrot salad and calls it lunch. (I make fun of those girls.) Tangled together in a mixing bowl, though, this combination of freshly grated carrots (the pre-shredded kind really won’t do), spunky vinaigrette, and earthy, crunchy hazelnuts makes me think twice about adding a sandwich.

Use good-quality sea salt, vinegar, and oil for this recipe.

TIME: 25 minutes (including toasting nuts)
MAKES: 4 servings

1 cup hazelnuts
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup hazelnut oil
1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley

First, toast the hazelnuts: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roast the nuts on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes, or until the skins begin to darken and peel away from the nuts themselves. Rub the nuts in a textured tea towel to remove the skins, roughly chop, and set aside.

Whisk the mustard, vinegar, and a little salt and pepper together in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until the oil is fully incorporated. Add the carrots, hazelnuts, and herbs, along with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and toss to coat.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Lunch, radio, recipe, salad, vegetables, vegetarian

Time change

Black Chickpea and Carrot Salad 3

Time baffles me. My father, an engineer, always said you need three things to conquer a new math concept: milk, cookies, and two hours. The first time he told me that, when I had to really study for a math test once, two hours seemed like an ocean of time. I’m pretty sure I cried before the clock started ticking, scared that my little boat of concentration wouldn’t make it to the other shore. But I’ve just spent two hours – that same increment – trying to sweep the debris off my browser and get to the screen now in front of me, and it hardly seems like I’ve had time to breathe, much less take a drink of milk.

Almost two weeks ago, I had lunch at Picnic, a little “food and wine boutique” near me in Seattle that sells mean European-style sandwiches, great soups, and a variety of creative little deli salads. I was with my oldest Seattle friend (someone I went to college with) and my newest Seattle friend, a woman I’ve only recently started getting to know. In round numbers, I’ve known one for ten years and one for ten weeks. Yet somehow, cuddled around the end of the table together, the difference, and the fact that they were meeting for the first time, didn’t seem to matter. We bantered and relaxed like we’d been having lunch together, the three of us, for years.

We all ordered soup, but before it came, one of Picnic’s owners, Jenny, came out with a little tasting plate of the curried chickpea salad we’d all been eying. “New Dehli salad,” said the sign, which made me laugh right out loud. It was spot-on – you certainly wouldn’t find a bright yellow legume mixture studded with golden raisins in the old-fashioned deli of my grandmother’s childhood.

It was the kind of salad that sits in the middle of the table and beckons, its little carrot arms waving wildly. Me, they say. Pick me. Every time my fork wandered toward the plate, I had a little moment of decision anxiety, a tiny panic over which scoop looked tastiest. (The truth: they were all pretty much equally delicious.) I’ve been meaning to tell you about it this whole time, but it’s taken until today – with a green tea latte, a muffin, and two hours – to get it all down.

My own version came together with a bit of serendipity, as we were pulling out of the driveway on our way to Portland, Oregon last week. Jill had sent me a bag of sexy black chickpeas from Montana. They’d been flirting with me the entire month of February, all pearly and exotic-looking, from behind the pantry door. I also had two pounds of gorgeous carrots from my garden – carrots I’d planted last June, forgotten about in September, remembered in November when they were hibernating under two inches of mulch, fretted over in January, and pulled just that morning – waiting patiently for the just the right use. (Carrots are pretty much the perfect vegetable for my current lifestyle: Can’t harvest today? Wait six months. They won’t mind.)

Quite literally, my husband was buckling our son into the carseat while I sautéed shallots with ginger, and yellowed them with curry. I stirred the mixture into the cooked chickpeas, along with toasted pine nuts for a bit of texture (because I didn’t think I had time to soften the raisins in hot water), fresh chives, lemon juice, and those carrots, all grated up.

“We’re ready,” said my husband. “We need to go.”

“Wait. Just a sec. I have to take a photo.”

He stood in the entryway watching me shovel the salad in, not 30 minutes after breakfast. Time stood completely still for three or four bites. I felt the chickpeas rolling over my tongue, and imagined their black skins cracking opening my mouth, revealing creamy insides really not much different from the interior of a regular chickpea. I felt the chives scrunch between my molars, felt the pine nuts collapse beside them. It was a snack for pressing pause.

“Are you going to take one?”

Right. The photograph.

“Yeah,” I muttered, foggy. “I’ll be right there.”

(And yes, of course regular canned or dried chickpeas work fine for this. I used the same amount you’d find in a can.)

Black Chickpea and Carrot Salad 2

Curried Carrot and Chickpea Salad (PDF)

Based on the “New Dehli” salad at a Seattle food and wine boutique called Picnic, this snacky salad combines chickpeas (regular, or black, if you can find them) and carrots with curry, ginger, chives, lemon, and toasted pine nuts. Either canned or dried chickpeas will work.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon coarsely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed and drained, if canned)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook and stir until very soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the ginger and curry powder, then the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and let bubble for another minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

Combine the chickpeas, chives, pine nuts, lemon juice, and carrots in a mixing bowl. Pour the curry mixture over the top, stir to blend, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Lunch, salad, side dish, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

The F Word

Hot and Sour Soup and Pike Place Chinese Cuisine

Click here to listen to me talking about hot and sour soup on KUOW.
Recipes are down below.

Hot and sour soup isn’t the prettiest, or even the second-prettiest soup there is. In fact, if I had to curate a list of beautiful soups, it would be miles below pho and chicken noodle, pasta e fagiole and tom yum. Hot and sour soup looks like dirty nothing in a bowl.

At least, that’s what I thought, before I got to know it. I guess it’s a soup like some people, that way – it’s easy to pigeonhole and walk away from, if you don’t know any better.

I grew up “hating” hot and sour soup, which means I’d never tasted it. (I hated a lot of things, including, but not limited to, anything with spice, foreign flavors, or ingredients whose entire preparation I didn’t personally witness from start to finish.) At Chinese restaurants, my family ordered a big bowl to share, and I ordered egg drop soup. The waitress would rattle her cart to our table and hold my lone bowl up accusingly, as if to ask Who ordered the boring soup?

Me. It was always me.

A few weeks ago, I came very close to doing the same thing, because I enjoy the simplicity of egg drop soup, and because it’s what I’ve always ordered. But for whatever reason – perhaps because I wasn’t really paying attention, or maybe because I am now An Adult Who Likes Things – I hopped on the hot and sour bandwagon, along with the rest of the table. And I tasted my new favorite soup for the first time.

I know. That f-word. It’s a bit of a shock to see it on the screen, even. I’m not a big fan of favorites. I go for change, and variety, and different every time. But this soup, people. If I count correctly, I’ve had hot and sour soup nine times in two weeks. Nine times. (Obsess much?)

The thing is, it’s worth obsessing over. Don’t look at it; taste it. Sip a spoonful, and the first thing you’ll notice is the texture – a bit of cornstarch makes it silky, almost satiny. It glosses over the tongue in a way few Western foods can, every drop somehow fatter and smoother. If you’re lucky enough to get a bit of soft, ribbony egg (and were lucky enough, in the first place, to pick a soup whose preparer got the egg to bloom up just right, like in the photo above), it glides across your palate. Then there are the cloud ear mushrooms, which don’t really taste like much, but have a lovely crunch, like some sort of terrestrial seaweed. (They supposedly improve circulation, too.) There are lily buds, with their vegetal, almost artichoke-like flavor. (Bet you didn’t even notice them the first time.) And then . . . then. . . there’s the clean, astringent hot of white pepper, and the brisk, bracing vinegar flavor.

Of course, there are endless variations. I tried rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, and a mixture of various vinegars. (I think I like white vinegar the best, because its flavor is stronger than rice vinegar but not too fruity.) There’s also whatever else the cook feels like adding – little gifts, like chunks of tofu, or pork, or carrot, or chili. I’d been tasting soups everywhere, trying to figure out, since I’d never been down the hot and sour soup road, what I liked. More tofu? More pork? More hot? More sour?

Then, gazing out the windows at the rain on the Sound at Pike Place Chinese Cuisine one day, slurping the bowl above, I had a BFO: I could probably make hot and sour soup myself. At home.

Hot and sour is, after all, a rather homey thing. Traditionally made with the most humble ingredients – dried staples, small bits of meat  – it’s a soup made with leftovers. They just might not be the leftovers you have in your kitchen.

I scurried around Pike Place Market, collecting ingredients. (You can get everything there.) I made a few traditional versions first, relying on recipes from Grace Young, Mark Bittman, and Susanna Foo, until I learned what combination of flavors I liked.

As it turns out, I’m sort of greedy. I like a healthy combination of tofu and pork – more than one usually finds in restaurant versions of hot and sour soup – and more than anything, I like a soup made with good, homemade stock. I like to tinker with the pepper and vinegar, until I get it just right. And I like to eat my hot and sour soup right when it’s fallen just below scorching, screaming hot – which is to say, immediately.

I also like the version I made using what’s available now at farmers’ markets here in Seattle – Northwest leftovers and pantry staples, if you will, like dried porcini mushrooms, and kale, and carrots.

Only problem now is deciding which one’s my favorite. Time for bowl number ten.

Homemade hot and sour soup

Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

Northwest Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

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Filed under chinese, farmer's market, gluten-free, Lunch, pork, radio, recipe, soup, vegetables, vegetarian

How to Defibrillate Dying Kale

Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon, and Garlic 1

It’s not a pretty picture, so you’re not going to see it. But open your own refrigerator, and chances are good you could find the same thing: a few little kale saplings, melting into the produce drawer’s back corner, so long ago forgotten that they must now pretend they don’t exist.

Our refrigerator is only 5 days old. But I bought the kale well before its predecessor was wheeled off to the morgue, and unfortunately, a new refrigerator cannot act as a defibrillator for oldish produce.

Truth: Buying a new appliance is much easier than cleaning out an old one. But I didn’t have the heart to leave the kale behind. It always strikes me as The Thing That Can Be Saved.

Kale, in its market prime, is physically spunky, and stubborn enough that it often refuses to be tucked into whatever space I assign it. Two weeks past its peak, it’s a little less sexy. It sags. But really, I promise you: You don’t need to throw it away.

sauteing kale and garlic for pasta

First, it might be worth mentioning that I’m on a pasta binge. Perhaps it started when I was working on a story about healthy pasta alternatives—quinoa, spelt, whole grain rice, and soba noodles sure do make a gal crave the old fashioned kind—or maybe it’s just this winter thing. In any event, I could eat plain white pasta three meals a day right now. Paired with the insanely peppery olive oil Jim’s aunt schlepped back from Italy for us, and maybe a little Parmesan cheese, spaghetti fits my current definition of the lip-smacking perfect food. (I tell you this with corroboration from my 9-month-old, who keeps imitating me chewing when I eat it.)

So you’ll pardon me, I hope, when I tell you that this kale saver actually seems like the complicated version. But there’s not much to it. You sauté very finely chopped kale in great olive oil, with a little spice, until it’s threatening to crisp up on you. Stir in some garlic, then some cooked spaghetti, Parmesan, and a squeeze of lemon, and sit down.

It’s important, though, that you take a seat away from your computer, and away from any reading materials. You’ll need your full mental capacity (at least, I needed mine) to focus on the little bite-by-bite cross section of spicy, sour, and earthy. And then you’ll need some more kale. And time, perhaps, although I’d be willing to wager this would work with a brand-new bunch.

Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon, and Garlic  3

Simple Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon and Garlic (PDF)

Made with a few sprigs of leftover kale, great olive oil, and a touch of spice, this simple lunch for one is quick and reasonably healthy. Double or quadruple the recipe as needed, piling the extra kale on top at the end.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 1 lunch

Spaghetti for one (a bundle about the diameter of a dime)
2 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
5 sprigs lacinato kale (droopy kale is fine), very finely chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon wedge
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions.

When the pasta is almost done, heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the kale, red pepper flakes to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 3 or 4 minutes, until the kale starts to get a bit crisp. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add drained pasta, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese, and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon, and Garlic  (gone)

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Filed under Lunch, Pasta, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

Little things, and a roasted vegetable chowder

Simmering Root Veg Chowder

Today, just a few quick links, and a recipe for an oven-roasted (mostly) root vegetable chowder…

That fried squash? You might have heard me talking about it on KUOW, Seattle’s NPR station. (If you didn’t, it’s here.)

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake close

Also, I’ve entered the maple-kabocha sour cream bundt cake in Bon Appetit’s holiday dessert bake-off. The winner is picked in part by popular vote, which – if junior high cheerleading tryouts are any indication – has never been my strongpoint, but what the hay. Head on over to vote. (Hint: It’s in the cake category. And while you’re there, look for entries from other Seattle food bloggers!)

And then – then – I’m done with squash. Promise. At least for a day or two.

Salty Marcona Almond Toffee 1

My recipe for Salty Marcona Almond Toffee – one of my favorite holiday treats – is being featured over at Saveur.com.

We’re having fifteen people here for Thanksgiving. Not much is decided, but I’ll certainly be making this pear-spiked cranberry jam, as well as these bleu cheese and walnut cookies, because a Thanksgiving elf just sent me a six pound wheel of Point Reyes. Today, I begin the hunt for an excellent sausage-studded cornbread stuffing recipe. And if you’re a geometry expert, I could use your help fitting a table for fifteen into our living room.

I’ve been on Twitter (@onfoodandlife) for a couple months now. For those uninterested in joining, note that you can now follow my tweets – and not learn a single thing about social media, if it’s not your thang – on the righthand side of Hogwash’s home page.

And oh, yes. Hogwash. She’s had a little bit of a face lift. What do you think? Is there anything you’d like to see more of around here?

For now, a quick chowder for two. For the days when you can’t sit over the stove and stir.

Mostly Root Veg Chowder 1

Mostly Root Vegetable Chowder (PDF)
Made with fennel, parsnips, kale, shallots, garlic, and of course potatoes, this bacon-studded, oven-roasted chowder is a break from the kind that cements you to your seat for the hours following lunch. And because the bacon and vegetables are roasted together in the oven, it takes much less active time than most chowders—and you get the same potato skin snap you get when you roast potatoes alone.

TIME: 20 minutes prep
MAKES: 2 large servings

2 fat slices bacon, diced
Half a (1-pound) fennel bulb, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1” rounds
1/2 pound small white potatoes, quartered
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup chopped kale

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Scatter the bacon on the bottom of a heavy ovenproof pot, such as a Dutch oven. In a mixing bowl, toss the fennel, shallot, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, and thyme with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Roast 40 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to brown on the bottom and the bacon is crispy. Stir to release the vegetables from the pan.

Roasted veg and bacon for chowder

Add the chicken stock, cream, and kale, and stir again. Cook another 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve hot.

Note: To double the recipe, switch to a wider pan, like a heavy roasting pan, so the vegetables have enough room to spread out and caramelize a bit.

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Filed under gluten-free, Lunch, media, pork, recipe, soup, vegetables

Spain, in 5 ingredients

Chickpea Chorizo Stew 1

Once, then I’m done: Some days, lupus bites. Not in a lovely, peppery vinaigrette sort of way. In a rocks-in-my-soup sort of way. I felt so good all summer, then boom. I turned away for just a moment, and the wolf walked in the door.

It’s no wonder, really. We spent a week in Spain for a wedding, plus a long weekend in Rhode Island for another wedding. It all adds up to Too Much Fun. It was lovely, of course – the jamon iberico, watching the Vuelta a Espana’s last time trial, seeing cousins I hadn’t seen in (literally) decades, participating in weddings I wouldn’t have missed for the world . . . But coming home, we had sort of a crash landing. Graham didn’t adjust back to our time zone as well as he had going the other direction, and between his schedule, our own jetlag, and three good cases of the sniffles, we’ve been a mess. And my body has not been happy.

Thankfully, the one taste I had to bring back from our trip – the flavor of Spain that lingered on my tongue, through all the ham, through the weird Oktoberfest meal on Lufthansa, through the Willow Tree chicken salad reunion (me and the chicken salad) in Newport – was the simplest of stews. We had it at a roadside restaurant, driving from La Rioja back to Madrid in a rented 6-speed diesel minivan. (As a side note, I do not recommend driving a large vehicle through the heart of Madrid if there’s even a small chance your iPhone, with all its hoo-ha navigational capabilities, will lose power.)

Considering our lack of Spanish, you could say we ordered the soup on accident. It was hardly a looker – just chickpeas, soaking in a simple broth with little beads of paprika-spiked oil bobbing around on the surface. Studded with slices of mild chorizo, it went down easy, rich but not overwhelming, unmistakably Spanish but after 8 days of ham, appreciably different. It had the kind of broth you want to drink for days on end, like a tonic.

When I sat down to think about how to make it, I felt like my brain wasn’t working. If I sautéed chorizo and then simmered it, along with dried chickpeas, in a paprika-rich homemade stock, the legumes would soak up some of that meaty flavor. But wasn’t there more? Five ingredients didn’t seem like enough.

But they were plenty. And an hour later, there it was: Spain. I’d purchased bulk chorizo, instead of the regular kind in casings, which made it a bit different from the version I fell in love with. (If you must know, I don’t like the way sausage slices look cooked with the casings on. The way the exterior shrinks up and strangles the meat reminds me of putting nylons on – you know, when they’re only partway up your thighs? Uncomfortable, and a little gross.)

Of course, the one thing missing from the roadside stew – the same thing, frankly, that was missing from so many of my meals in Spain – was the color green. I served ours over sautéed kale.

This could very well be The Fall I Didn’t Make Pie. Peeling apples just doesn’t seem to be an option right now. My hands are too sore.

But soup. Soup can be easy.

Thank goodness.

Chickpea Chorizo Stew 2
Quick Chorizo and Chickpea Stew (PDF)

Brimming with more flavor than a stew that takes 10 minutes of attention really deserves, this hearty concoction was my favorite meal from our recent trip to Spain. I used bulk chorizo, but sliced (sausage-style) chorizo would work well also (and was what we ate in Spain). Homemade chicken stock is important here—use yours, if you have some.

Serve the stew as is, or try ladling it over sautéed greens, such as kale or chard, or over leftover rice.

TIME: 10 minutes prep time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 1/4 cup dried chickpeas
6 cups good chicken stock
3/4 pound chorizo (bulk or in casings, thinly sliced)
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring the chickpeas and 4 cups of the stock to a boil in a soup pot. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for 1 hour.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble the chorizo into the pan (or add the sliced chorizo) and cook, stirring and breaking into bite-sized pieces after the first 5 minutes, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to the pan with the chickpeas, stir in the paprika and the remaining 2 cups stock, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 hour, until the beans are soft.

Season to taste, and serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, Lunch, lupus, pork, recipe, soup, vegetables