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The Gourmet Century

Rad Chicken Salad 4

“Laura Marshall just had TWINS!” hollered the instructor. Whoops erupted from around the room. But in the dark, cultish spinning studio in Marin County, I couldn’t see who this woman was, or why I should care. At that point I much preferred it just be me, my ragged breathing, and the glowing EXIT sign. That Laura Marshall seemed to be in the front row dominating my first SoulCycle class soon after popping out a couple babies did not help me feel less exhausted or more fit. The instructor’s voice thundered on through her microphone. Maybe we should consider being more like Ms. New Mother, she suggested—stronger, even, since the rest of us hadn’t just given birth. “Raise. Your. Standards,” our waifish leader repeated to the beat of hammering pedals. I think I was supposed to be impressed, or possibly motivated.

But I am not the Laura Marshall in the front row. I am neither the Lycra-clad Energizer Bunny who bounced about in front of me nor the agro she-man who grunted beside me. There in the back row last April, on bike fifty-two, elbows bumping sweat-slicked neighbors’ arms, I was the wheezing newbie thirty-something who wore bike shorts. (No one wears bike shorts to SoulCycle. It’s a cycling class, but you don’t actually use the seat.) I looked lame. I was just trying to find a way to pretend I was pedaling hard and out of my saddle without actually lifting my butt off the seat.

In the end, I survived, if survival can be defined as panting for 45 minutes afterward in front of a tall iced coffee and a chicken salad sandwich my arms were too tired to hold. As I waited for my heart rate to come down, I weighed my options. Sign-ups for the Gourmet Century, a 100-kilometer bike ride-slash-eating-experience that winds its way through the hills outside Portland, Oregon each July, were the next week. I needed to decide whether I really wanted to do it. On one hand, I had started training. I could congratulate myself for getting back into road biking, even though my experience to date that winter had consisted only of riding my bicycle on a trainer (a little gadget that goes under the back wheel and allows you to pretend-ride in place without actually moving). If I signed up, I could sleep a little better knowing I’d already started pedaling. I could participate in a theoretically fun ride with my husband and some of our more cycling-savvy friends—a ride predicated on the theory that the only thing better than cycling is cycling with consistent gourmet food provisioning all day long and a big dinner and lots of wine at the end. But if I signed up, I’d also have to train more. A lot more. I’d have to ride up real, live hills, instead of gliding along peacefully in the relative safety of the garage. If I didn’t sign up, I could probably avoid thinking about Laura Marshall again, but I couldn’t think of any other good reason not to ride. On April 1st, when the registration page opened, I pressed “submit.”

I’m not one of these people with an illustrious athletic history. I flailed in gymnastics as a child, thrilled for the floor routine music but too uncoordinated and inflexible for the rest. I stunk at ski racing. I limped through college crew. As an adult, marathons and triathlons never interested me. But none of these things had been paired with a daylong eating schedule, complete with mobile espresso machines and fancy Portland chefs. For the first time, I felt engaged in a training schedule. I was interested. As the spring rolled along, I began riding two and three days a week—something I’d never done before. I rode at my own leisurely pace, but still, I was moving, often next to Tracy, my friend and unofficial coach. I became Tracy’s Padawan cyclist, following her around to learn things I thought I already knew: how to yell at offensive vehicle drivers, how to open a packet of energy gel blocks while riding, how to relieve numb or cramping hands. When I bought the wrong new bike seat (which, I learned the hard way, is referred to only and always as a “saddle”), she sent me to a special physical therapist who specializes in bike fitting and injuries. (It’s not a place that makes a person who’s broken both collar bones in bike wrecks feel comfortable about deciding to ride more.) I bought a very white, very hard saddle—an experience that required a very awkward young man to propose that perhaps I needed a different seat because my pelvis and its associated parts have widened since childbirth—and wrapped my bars in white tape to match, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

When June hit, I’d survived a 28-mile ride (with hills!) with Tracy. I rode 37 miles with my husband in the rain without screaming at him or myself. And once I’d passed what I considered the halfway point—the point at which I’d ridden half of the distance required on Gourmet Century day, July 18th—I started talking a big game. I told everyone who would listen that I was training for a Big Ride, and that it was going to be Type 2 Fun, at least. And that my goal is to finish without crying. (If you’re not aware of the classifications, they’re easy: Type 1 Fun applies to an activity that is fun both in reality and retrospect. Type 2 Fun may require suffering in the moment, but is enjoyable when you look back on it. Type 3 Fun—the type that, truth be told, applies to much of my athletic history thus far—describes an experience that is neither fun in the present nor when you think about it in the past.)

“Wait,” said a friend. “I don’t get it. Are you eating or riding or both?”

Her confusion was understandable; when I explain the Gourmet Century, I usually get flustered and hopscotch between my reservations about the riding and my excitement about the eating. I’ve been training for both, focusing on eating while training to make sure my body is up for the combination. But stomaching anything halfway through a workout has never been my issue. Surviving the workout itself is another story. I started attending a spinning class more regularly. (The instructor, Tommy, always seemed to look directly at me when, after big pretend hills on our stationary bikes, he’d bellow, “This is not a working recovery period. This is work.”)

My friend Sarah and I hyphenated a hilly 40-miler with brunch and lemon drop shots (her idea) at mile 25. Two weeks ago, I rode 52 miles with the editor of A Year Right Here–the full story of the ride will be a chapter in that book–complete with stops for bacon-cheddar-avocado breakfast sandwiches and copious quantities of caffeine. I’ve learned that I can keep a decent tempo on a decent hill if I sing Anna Kendrick’s cups song from Pitch Perfect a gazillion times in a row under my breath. (Try it. It’s annoying but it works.)

I’m told some who sign up for the Gourmet Century are intimidated by the variety and quantity of food the organizers expect one to consume along the way. The pre-event email, which I received earlier this week, read like an ode to all of Portlandia, and it didn’t even include the dinner plan:

At mile 19, you will have the chance to refill water and snack on a selection of small morning offerings. Lunch will take place in the field at Sun Gold Farm, 33 miles into the ride. Rick Gencarelli of Lardo and Grassa will be putting a delectable spin on his farm-fresh approach to lunch […] 56 miles in, riders will find themselves at Chris King‘s barn for an afternoon serving of delicious charcuterie and small sandwiches by Chris Carriker of 23 Hoyt. Salt and Straw ice cream will be on location to cool everyone off, and there will be a barista to give you a quick caffeine fix.

A wave of satisfaction flooded over me when I read that email. Finally, someone understands how I want to exercise.

But in that same email, one thing got me: instead of 62 miles, which is the technical equivalent of 100 kilometers (and the distance I’d trained for), the email reminded riders that we’ll be going 68 miles. And in the days before the event, the six-mile differential has started to intimidate me terribly. Suddenly, I can’t imagine my legs lasting that long. How will I garner the strength for 68, when 52 felt like a thousand million miles already? The last six seem like they’ll be my personal equivalent of NASA’s trip to Pluto–achievable, perhaps, but never-ending. Eating seems like the obvious solution, but I instinctively assumed the carb-loading habits of my youth are no longer applicable. Yesterday, I wrote my coach.

“Fat and protein,” texted Tracy. “And hydrate. Carbs not needed until day of.”

I wrote my uber-athlete friend Lindsay, who will be running 100 miles in Vermont the same day I’m riding them in Oregon, to ask the same. “Eat your face off with carbs from lunch Thursday to lunch Friday,” she countered. “Then normal easy-to-digest dinner Friday and regular breakfast Saturday.

And so last night, at T-minus three days before the event begins, in addition to being plain old nervous, I found myself in the awkward, unfamiliar position of not knowing what to eat. Feeling paralyzed, I thought that instead of thinking about what might show up on a nutrition label, I should eat for my foods’ personalities. In a tangle, a salad came together right on my cutting board: I chose robust radicchio for toughness, spicy peppers for spunk, and preserved lemon for surprise, because I’m sure I’ll need to find all those things inside during the ride on Saturday. I added chicken for sustenance, then handfuls of the arugula and parsley from my little front garden–they refuse to stop growing, which seemed appropriate–and tossed it all together into a big, kick-ass salad I’ll probably make six more times before the ride. (I’d call it Rad Chicken Salad if I could keep a straight face while doing so, but I can’t. And on a bike, laughing makes me swerve, so it seems like bad luck.)

My only regret now is that I can’t serve it to the enigmatic Laura Marshall. I never saw her face, but from the back, she didn’t look like the kind that eats. Perhaps the next time I visit Marin County, I should go back to SoulCycle with a rad chicken salad, just so I can share it with her afterward. “Raise. Your Standards,” I’d say.

And then I’d tell her how I survived a 100-kilometer bike ride without crying, and ate exorbitant amounts of really delicious food along the way, and that it was a much, much more enjoyable way to exercise.

Rad Chicken Salad 5

Chicken and Radicchio Salad (PDF)

I could eat this salad for a century—or more, if the parsley that perches on every edge of my little raised bed garden was still growing well. It combines big chunks of chicken with leafy, colorful greens, preserved lemon, and a spunky vinaigrette, for a lunch that eats somewhere between a salad and a sandwich. If you prefer, throw in a handful of toasted walnuts and a little bleu cheese, and balance a hunk of good bread on the edge of your plate.

To use the preserved lemon, cut a whole one in half, then cut it in half again. (They’re squishy in the center.) Using a small, sharp knife, cut the flesh of the quarter lemon away and discard. Then, with the peel flat on the cutting board, make cuts parallel to the cutting board to shave away any additional flesh and pith that remains on the peel, until only the yellow zest remains. That yellow zest is what you want sliced into thin strips for your salad.

Note that this is a recipe for one meal (in my stomach, anyway). Double or quadruple it as needed. For a crowd, you could plate the greens right around a roasted chicken, for something a little fancier.

Serves 1.

1 tablespoon finely chopped Mama Lil’s Peppers (or similar spicy pickled peppers)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup leftover cubed chicken (about one breast, cut into 3/4-inch cubes)
1/2 small (1/3-pound) head radicchio, cut into 1-inch hunks
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup baby arugula
Julienned zest of 1/4 preserved lemon

In the bottom of a big bowl, whisk together the chopped peppers, vinegar, mustard, and salt. Whisk in the olive oil until blended, then add the remaining ingredients and toss until all the leaves are coated with the dressing. Serve immediately, right out of the bowl or piled onto a plate.

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Scones for scarred eyebrows

Blueberry-Ginger Buttermilk Scones

It’s just been that kind of month (or two). With mercury in retrograde, our lives have become a comical progression of errors and mishaps. One Sunday, Graham ripped his eyebrow open falling into a metal support beam on the ferry home from Lopez Island. The following Tuesday, I got caught in a rain squall that turned to hail twenty-something miles into a bike ride. Then that Thursday, my husband got clipped by another bike commuter on Seattle’s busy Burke Gilman trail (which he avoids, as a hard rule, except just this once). I found him cowering on the couch when I got home, bruised as much inside as out. He sported a good slice across the bridge of his nose. Just as it began to look good and healed, the cat came home with a matching cut, and Jim spent the later half of an evening in a room full of yowling animals at the local pet emergency room. It’s been the ides of March, but for three whole weeks.

So straying from a baking recipe isn’t what I should have been doing, even if I knew that Cheryl Sternman Rule’s recipes are always bombproof as delivered. But the astrology site I consulted—I’m not normally into this sort of thing, so I had a lot to learn—says “intuition is high” when mercury is in retrograde. I figured that if I started with one of Cheryl’s new recipes from Yogurt Culture, and tweaked it just a little, I’d probably still be safe. I was right.

That Cheryl’s book (which, yes, is all about making and using great yogurt) uses yogurt in place of other dairy in baked goods appealed to me from the start. I don’t always have cream in the fridge. I always, always have Greek yogurt. Her scones—really, a recipe she tweaked from her friend Coco Morante—appear in the book with granny smith apple and a sweet cider glaze. I’ve retooled them in my kitchen with everything from rhubarb to fresh Bing cherries— and they’ve become a staple. “SCONES!” screams Graham. He eats them top-down, smashing the icing directly into his face.

More happened before I decided to share them with you: my credit card and telephone were both accessed by strangers. There was a rash of break-ins on our street, which we somehow dodged but which left a wash of sadness up and down our block. I made spectacularly underbaked banana bread, an annihilated an attempt at empanadas. I burned egg after egg. It just hasn’t been a good few weeks. But according to the experts, this mercurial problem was all set to end on June 11th.

But when I leaned toward making a blueberry-ginger version of Cheryl’s sweet morning treats for Graham’s last day of kindergarten today, there was no Greek yogurt—just buttermilk. So with the buttermilk, and the wrong kind of sugar, and a slightly different glaze, it wasn’t really Cheryl’s recipe any more. But somehow, she was there, laughing off the catastrophes with me the way she was in culinary school, more than a decade ago. And damn if they weren’t still delicious.

Hello, Mercury. Glad to have you going back in the right direction again.

Scones, and a scarred eyebrow

***Cheryl Sternman Rule will be at Seattle’s Book Larder on June 25th at 6:30 p.m. to talk about Yogurt Culture.***

Blueberry-Ginger Buttermilk Scones (PDF)
Based on the green apple scones in Cheryl Sternman Rule’s book Yogurt Culture, which are in turn from her friend Coco Morante, these blueberry gems don’t actually contain yogurt. Buttermilk gives them their signature tenderness! I’ve tested these scones with both regular all-purpose flour and pre-made gluten-free blends (Pamela’s and Domata brands). Both methods work; you’ll need to flour the board you use to form and cut the scones a bit more if you’re using gluten-free flour, to prevent the dough from sticking to the board. Brush any remaining flour off the scones before baking.

Makes 8 scones.

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (regular or gluten-free), plus more for forming scones
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pats
3/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons lowfat buttermilk, divided
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen wild blueberries*
1 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

*If you use frozen blueberries, you my find you need a little extra flour on your work surface to prevent the dough from sticking.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, with a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large work bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter, and, using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, squish the butter into the flour mixture until all the chunks are about the size of large peas.

In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the buttermilk (reserving 2 tablespoons for the glaze), the egg, and the vanilla until smooth. Pour the liquid mixture over the flour and butter mixture, and mix with a wooden spoon just until it forms a big shaggy mass. Using floured hands, knead the dough a few times, until it begins clumping together. Add the blueberries, then knead a few more times, until you have a cohesive dough. (It’s okay if the blueberries get smashed.)

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and pat it into a 7-inch circle about 1 1/4 inches thick. Using a large knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges, like you’re cutting a pizza, and arrange the wedges on the prepared baking sheet with plenty of space between them.
Bake the scones for 18 to 22 minutes, until the scones are firm on top and the undersides are golden brown. Once they’ve cooled enough to touch, transfer the scones to a rack to cool completely.

While the scones cool, in a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and the remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk until a thick glaze forms. Drizzle or pour the glaze over the warm scones. Serve immediately, or let the glaze harden as the scones cool completely and serve.

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A throwback, and a lentil salad

springtime lentil salad

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

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

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

Road to the plantation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Springtime Lentil Salad (PDF)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Year Right Here

All those corks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Or follow me on Instagram (@jessthomson)

hot & sour soup

Fresh Fall Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

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

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

Active time: 45 minutes
Makes 4 servings

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

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

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

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

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

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When we weren’t looking

Kimchi Cream Cheese Dip with Crudites

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crudites with Kimchi Cream Cheese Dip (PDF)

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

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

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

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

Change It Up:

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

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

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

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A new staple

Warm Quinoa and Radicchio Salad

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

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

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

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

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it ends

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About a year ago, well before 7 a.m., I woke to the telltale click of the screen door being closed extremely carefully. We have a slammer of a screen that doesn’t fit its home squarely; the silent slam is a trick only the most well practiced guest can perform. I scrambled up the stairs, more curious than afraid. Half a pink salmon sat in a plastic shopping bag on the shoe bench just inside the door, right next to my XtraTufs. I picked it up, knowing one of our builders, Richie, had left it there for me. His wife had planned to fish that morning, and he knew I was jealous. “Hope you can use this,” said his note. I could still feel the warmth of his skin on the handles of the bag.

At the time, I was testing recipes for A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories. Renee Erickson and Jim Henkens and I been tinkering with the smoked salmon recipe, and as I tested and retested, I relied on the builders to be occasional judges—of that salmon, and of the French-style apple cake, and of the braised pork shoulder I served to six or seven of the guys in that last week of remodeling. That final meal was a sort of congratulatory lunch that doubled, for me, as a way of testing a huge handful of recipes in one day and serving the food to a crowd piping hot at midday so it didn’t sag on the counter until dinnertime.

I’m not sure they realized then how closely I watched their faces as they ate, and how much I appreciated that salmon, and another guy’s homemade bacon, and that they somehow kept the water on at all the right times as they intentionally shattered and rebuilt the basement and all of its associated plumbing.

banana bread sliced

My hope, at the beginning, was to leave the builder a book and some banana bread as thanks. When the bananas had wilted sufficiently on the counter, I tweaked the book’s zucchini bread recipe to incorporate them. The zucchini bread, as it stands, is perfect. (I can brag like that because it’s not my own recipe: It’s perfect, people.) I like it for its spice, and for its fine texture, and for the fact that it uses olive oil, so you don’t have to wait for the butter to soften. But if you’re going to make a perfect banana bread out of a recipe for perfect zucchini bread, a few things about it need to change—the substitution of bananas for zucchini, for example. I gave it a bit more backbone with bread flour, omitted the lemon zest, and tinkered with the top. Ultimately, though, it’s just the same bread, all dressed up for fall. (Honestly, with the exception of my cousin’s killer homemade sugar pumpkin pie, I’ll take a pumpkin-seeded banana bread over pumpkin pie any day.)

It baked up big and beautiful, just like it does at The Whale Wins, so that when you cut it into slabs, it eats more like cake than like a breakfast bread. I carefully sliced part of it for us to keep for snacking, and wrapped the rest in foil for the contractor.

signed book 2

When I signed the book for the contractor to pick up and share with Richie, I suddenly felt like the process of writing this particular book came full circle. Perhaps strangely, it’s often not the book’s release or its appearance on store shelves that makes me feel like a project has grown proper wings. For me, a book’s real launch happens when I thank the people who helped me get ‘er done. When I mail a huge stack of books media rate to the book’s recipe testers, and send copies to my siblings, and bring what I’m starting to call The Big Blue to the coffee shop that offered me a seat for at least three quarters of the project’s writing. The book’s circle will close next week in New York, when I’ll give my last book to a tester coming to the event there on Monday night, and I’ll hug her in person and say thanks for the invisible hours she put into it, too. Only then, to me, will the book be finished.

Yesterday morning, as I twisted the doorknob to put the book and the bread on the bench on the porch, my husband announced that our cantankerous gas stove had shot up a plume of blue large enough to trigger the gates on the emergency stove-buying portion of our bank account. We’ll be getting a new unit (suggestions welcome!), which means we’ll have to saw away the two-inch granite apron securing the existing stove in place, which means we’ll need to call our contractor. I put the banana bread on the dining room table.

“Maybe I’ll just leave him the book,” I told Jim. “Otherwise it would be bribery, right?”

No, it was most certainly not appropriate to leave the contractor a book and banana bread before calling him in again. And, well, clearly I’ll need strength for stove shopping.

IMG_1096

Pumpkin-Seeded Banana Bread (PDF)

In the world of zucchini breads, Renee Erickson’s rules all. This banana bread, made by adapting the zucchini bread from The Whale Wins that appears in A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories, has the same sweet, spiced background that makes the zucchini bread so addictive—plus a crunchy layer of shelled pumpkin seeds that, for me, act as a harbinger of deep fall. Note that at The Whale Wins, the zucchini bread is pan-roasted in butter and served with crème fraîche and sea salt. That’s not going to hurt this banana bread, either.

Use a good extra-virgin olive oil for this recipe; you’ll taste it in the final product.

Active time: 30 minutes
Makes one 9- by 5-inch loaf

Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
2 cups (about 256 grams) bread flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 very ripe bananas
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt, and set aside.

In another bowl, mash the bananas with a large fork until only pea-sized pieces of fruit remain. Whisk in the eggs and the vanilla. Add the olive oil in three stages, whisking it in until completely incorporated each time.

Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until no white spots remain. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top evenly first with the demerara sugar, then with the pumpkin seeds. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 70 to 80 minutes, or until a skewer inserted between seeds in the center of the loaf comes out clean. (It should rise right to the top of the pan.)

Cool the bread in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before cutting into fat slabs.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, Cakes, fruit, recipe