Category Archives: Seattle



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.


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

Like we did for pie

Pulled Pork and White Bean Chili eaten

My sister called me from Colorado this weekend, in the midst of cooking for the UW ski team after a day’s races. She was with my brother, who was there coaching Stanford’s team. (Sometimes it’s convenient, having a family full of ski racers.) On the stove: a sweet potato version of the squash- and black bean-stuffed peppers we’d made together once.

There, in the midst of making dinner, she realized she wasn’t sure what to do with the potato.

“Do I just bake it?” she asked.

Allison,” I admonished. “You can’t call me from Nationals with a question about potatoes. How’d it go?”

She gave me the quick, half-hearted version of the day’s race, then continued on her quest. “So I bake them. Then do I just scrape the stuff out, like we did for pie?”

Like we did for pie.

Those were the five words that got me: Like we did for pie. Those words, they made me realize that of all the things I might have expected, when Allison moved to Seattle, the only thing I really wanted was to have a sister again. I never harbored any real plans for teaching her to cook stuffed peppers, or sweet potato pie, or anything, for that matter. I just wanted to see her more, and take life’s juicy parts in together, in smaller sips—less How’s life, I haven’t talked to you in ages? More Hey, is that my sweatshirt?

It’s not like we ever stopped being sisters. But when you live smack in the middle of the underarm fat on the curled bicep of Cape Cod, and your kid sister lives in Idaho, it’s not exactly easy to bond on a regular basis. With my brother, distance never seemed to be an issue—we grew up in the same house, at the same time, close enough in age to suffer the mental and physical battles that bind siblings together for life.

But Al and I never had time to beat each other up. Visits were usually exciting, but hurried, sometimes stilted, and always, always too short. It’s hard to have time to wrestle with someone who lives across the country, much less invite her over for dinner.

Since September, though, when Allison moved here, we’ve been doing better. Sunday nights, she shows up with dirty laundry, chases the dog around the couch in circles, and pillages my closet for clothing that no longer fits. I love it all.

Conveniently enough for me, it’s not considered polite to pick physical fights with your pregnant sister, the way she might with my brother. So instead of wrestling, we cook—and increasingly, that means cooking together automatically, as opposed to me cooking, with her waiting, deer in headlights, for me to assign her a specific task. Now, she knows where the measuring cups are. She knows how to cut an avocado. She knows where we keep the good cloth napkins, and the hot sauce, and the extra sparkling water. And, it turns out, she knows how homemade sweet potato pie is born, which tickles me pink.

Of course, I should have seen this coming—should have seen that in my house, every Sunday at the stove means roasting one’s first chicken, and learning what goes into a fruit crisp, and learning to like real summer tomatoes. But honestly, I wasn’t marinating her in kitchen experience on purpose.

What I wanted, and what I now realize I’m getting, in part because we’re spending time eating together, is a sister who’s growing into a friend. We’re separated by twelve years, and are living quite different lives, with different values, and priorities, and schedules. But when someone that looks a lot like you walks through your front door with a hug every week, things change. We’ve gone from being related to relating.

Outside the kitchen, it’s fantastic. And the food knowledge goes both ways: Allison introduced me to the Swimming Rama stir-fry at Thai Tom, and to a new place for bubble tea, and someday, I will make it to University Teriyaki, just because she loves it.

But last night, when Allison came home after Nationals, and we started Sunday night dinners again after the two-month hiatus her ski season necessitated, I felt paralyzed. Getting confirmation that she’s watching, and listening, and learning every time she comes over freaked me right out. Teaching someone how to cook a specific dish is one thing, if you know they’re paying attention, but this whole subtle absorption thing is a bit disconcerting. What if the woman never learns to cut an onion properly? I know how to do it, and I can do it if I need to, but in practice, I’m usually sort of an onion mangler. It just wouldn’t do if she thought that was the right way.

It comes down to this: What if I don’t teach my sister the right things?

I’ve decided that would be okay. I’ve decided that if she’s learning how to stir-fry, she’s also learning that not every stir-fry tastes the same, and that some may, in fact, taste really bad. She’s along for the ride when I stuff peppers, and also when I tear their soft flesh accidentally, or burn the cheese on top. She’s realizing that the best part of a well-roasted chicken is a super crisp skin, eaten right off the bird right when it comes out of the oven, even if that means putting a bird on the dinner table stark naked. She’ll eventually find out that I hate eggplant, and that I’m not very good at making pizza, and that I’m actually quite lazy when it comes to washing vegetables. She’ll also be here for nights, like last night, when dinner means taking a vat of the world’s easiest homemade chili out of the freezer, simmering it on the stove for an hour for good measure, and not really cooking at all.

With any luck, Allison will learn that enjoying spending time in the kitchen means writing her own definition of what it means to cook, and what it means to eat well, rather than adopting mine or anyone else’s.

Six-Can Vegetarian Chili 3

Last week, I cooked dinner for about 25 people with a friend who also happens to be in her third trimester of pregnancy. My assignment was chili—two giant pots of it. I made one simple vegetarian version (pictured just above), and a more time-consuming one, made with pulled pork, white beans, and green chilies (pictured at the top of the post, and farther below). We split and froze the leftovers, presumably intending to save them for when neither of us has the energy to cook. Our portion probably won’t last.

Here are both recipes; choose what suits you best.

Six-Can Vegetarian Chili (PDF)

It doesn’t sound as sexy as a meal made entirely from raw ingredients, but throwing together a hearty, healthy, vegetable-studded chili in well under half an hour appeals to me. In this version, loosely based on the beef chili my mother-in-law makes, I especially love that I can dump all the canned ingredients in without any fuss—which usually means that even on a tired day, I have the energy to make homemade cornbread while the chili simmers. Serve as is, or top with shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled—you’ll just have to cook the vegetables a little longer before adding the beans.

If you like a spicier, smoky chili, consider adding a finely chopped chipotle pepper or two, from a can of chipotles en adobo.

TIME: 25 minutes prep
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (6-ounce) package sliced crimini mushrooms
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans
1 (15-ounce) can black beans
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15-ounce) can corn
1 (7-ounce) can fire-roasted, chopped green chilies
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then the onion, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Add the chili powder, oregano, salt, and garlic, and cook and stir for a few minutes, until the spices become fragrant. Add the mushrooms, stir to blend, and cook, covered, until the mushrooms give up their water, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and simmer for an hour or two, stirring occasionally. Season to taste and serve hot.

Leftover chili can be cooled and frozen, in an airtight container, for 3 months or so.

Pulled Pork and White Bean Chili side

Pulled Pork and White Bean Chili (PDF)

I don’t suppose I get extra credit for writing a recipe that’s double slow-cooked, but that’s just what this is: pork shoulder, braised to fallingapart in spicy green salsa, then pulled and stirred into plump white beans that have been simmered for hours with the braising liquid, tomatoes, cumin, chilies, and garlic. The result—a relatively easy, deeply flavorful (but not blow-your-mind spicy) chili spiked with shreds of tender pork—is enough for a crowd. Any leftover chili can be cooled, then frozen in airtight containers up to 6 months.

This recipe takes some planning—please read it carefully before beginning. And don’t be afraid to make it ahead of time; the flavors will only improve with a day (or three) in the refrigerator. I made the pork after an early dinner one night, cooked the beans overnight, and simmered the finished chili just before dinner the next day.

TIME: 1 hour active time, plus plenty of slow cooking
MAKES: 10 servings

For the pork:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (roughly 3-pound) boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 (16-ounce) jars green salsa*

For the beans:
2 pounds dried cannellini or great northern beans (or a combination of the two)
2 (28-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes
3 (7-ounce) cans fire-roasted chopped green chilies
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
5 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups chicken stock

For serving:
Chopped cilantro
Chopped avocado
Crumbled cotija or shredded Monterey Jack cheese

*Be sure to taste your green salsa before using it—if you don’t like it in the jar, you probably won’t like it in the chili. I like using El Paso or Trader Joe’s version, although the latter is a bit salty, so watch your seasoning if you use it. Of course, you could use any kind or color salsa (or a mixture), as long as you avoid anything fruity.

First, braise the pork: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat a large, ovenproof Dutch oven or casserole dish over medium heat. Add the oil. Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides (about 5 minutes per side, undisturbed). Transfer the pork to a plate, add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Return the pork to the pot, add the salsa, and add water, if necessary, until the liquid comes halfway up the side of the pork. Bring the liquid to a bare simmer, cover the pot, and braise in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, turning the pork halfway through cooking—the pork is done when it falls apart when you try to pick it up with tongs. Transfer the pork to a plate, and reserve the braising liquid for cooking the beans. When the pork is cool enough to handle, chop or pull it into small pieces (discarding any fat), and refrigerate it overnight.

While the pork is cooking, start the beans: Place the beans in a large pot and add water to cover by 3 or 4 inches. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for an hour. Drain the beans, and transfer to a large slow cooker, along with the tomatoes and chilies.

When the pork is done, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the spices (next five ingredients), and cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add one cup of the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, and cook for a minute or two, scraping any spices off the bottom of the pan. Pour the onion mixture over the beans in the slow cooker, add the reserved braising liquid, stir, and cook on low heat for 10 hours, undisturbed.

Before serving, combine the beans and the chopped pork in a (probably very large) pot, or two smaller pots. Add the remaining chicken stock, and simmer for half an hour or so. Serve hot, garnished with chopped cilantro, avocado, and cheese.


Filed under gluten-free, leftovers, Lunch, pork, recipe, Seattle, soup, vegetables, vegetarian

My New Noodle Soup

soba noodles

New Noodle Soup. Say it.

(Out loud, I mean.)

New Noodle Soup. Fun, isn’t it?

I know why. It’s because somewhere in there, you get to say “noo-noos,” like a two-year-old. Who can resist the sound of a food whose pronunciation requires the same mouth shape as its eating?

But clearly, noo-noos are not what one orders in mixed public adult company. Even I couldn’t do that. How unfortunate, especially this time of year, when traveling sniffles have most of us fighting hard to pretend we don’t have fall colds, and noonoos are just what we need.

But I do. I have a cold. And I’m going to be on the radio today, so last night I started hitting the liquids hard, trying anything to bring my bedraggled voice back. For dinner, it had to be my own version of the terrific chicken noonoo soup I had last weekend.

When I sat down at ART, the restaurant at Seattle’s new Four Seasons Hotel, I was a little shocked to find chicken noodle soup on the menu. It reads like such a pedestrian choice for an appetizer. Not exactly the sort of thing I’d expect to order in a room where the bar counter is backlit by ever-changing shades of fluorescence. But the soup – fine filaments of spiced vegetables, twisted up with soba noodles and black silkie chicken in a deeply flavorful broth, and topped with a poached egg – was anything but plain.

I didn’t have any desire to recreate the exact same soup. The carrots, cabbage, and squash were sliced micro-thin, for starters, and the presentation was far fancier than anything that happens in my house—the gorgeous ceramic bowl, the fanfare of a waiter pouring the broth over the noodles, yadda yadda. And I didn’t have time to hunt down a chicken that looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book. But I couldn’t ignore the way the egg yolk glided into the broth, infusing it with a richness that makes chicken soup feel even more healing than usual.

I thought I tasted a hint of miso in the broth at ART – but when I asked, I was assured that I was just tasting the richness of a stock made with silkie black chicken, whose meat is known for its deep, almost gamey flavor. Once I got the miso in my head, though, I couldn’t get it out – so I spiked our soup with a dollop of miso paste.

Course, the plan was to eat half of it, then take it out of the fridge this morning, pop a newly poached egg on top, and take a few slightly more attractive photographs for you, in the daylight. But when I went to take it out of the fridge, I discovered my husband had taken the entire container for lunch.

Guess I’ll have to make more noo-noos.

new noodle soup

Chicken Soba Noodle Soup with Miso and Poached Egg (PDF)

At ART, Chef Kerry Sear poaches the eggs for 8 to 10 minutes wrapped up in a layer of plastic wrap. He lines a ramekin with the wrap, cracks an egg in, twists the ends to seal, and puts it right into a pot of boiling water. His method worked perfectly for me, but poach using whatever method you like best.

I found the timing worked well if I put the chicken stock, water for the pasta, and water for the eggs on the stove at the same time.

TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

8 cups rich homemade chicken stock
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 pound)
2 large celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 bundle soba noodles (about 1/3 pound, or the diameter of a quarter)
1 tablespoon yellow miso paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large eggs, poached
Shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice mix, optional)

Bring the stock to a bare simmer in a large saucepan. Add the chicken breast, celery, and carrots, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Shred the chicken and return it to the pot with the vegetables.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil for the noodles. Cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, rinse with cool water, and set aside.

Add the miso to the soup, and stir the noodles into the soup to warm. Season the broth to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary. Using tongs, divide the noodles between four soup bowls, then add vegetables, chicken, and broth to each. Top each bowl with a poached egg, and serve with a few sprinkles of shichimi, for a bit of spice, if desired.

Close to Wolf's Chickpea Salad

For those who have come from KUOW, here’s a PDF of the chickpea salad recipe I mentioned, from How to Cook a Wolf (pictured above), and here’s the vanilla-olive oil cake.

Art Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon


Filed under appetizers, Cakes, chicken, dessert, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, lupus, Pasta, recipe, salad, Seattle, side dish, snack, soup, vegetables

A lot of little pigs (or none)

Oh, it seems like it’s been forever since we talked. I mean, since last week, things have happened.

I watched an entire football game, for goodness’ sake. Me, anchored to the couch by my neighbor’s pulled pork sandwiches and those cursed, blessed salami-cream cheese rolls. (Try it: Roll genoa salami around a baton of cream cheese. That’s it. But buy a limited amount of salami, because you will eat all you make.)

I read a book, a moving, educating, inspiring page-turner of a story, called Three Cups of Tea, which filled my heart with a feeling I haven’t had for a long time: It’s that warming sensation you get when you find out someone’s doing something really, really good for humanity, and that maybe you should pitch in, too. (If Super Tuesday’s got you down, give it a read.)

I was also introduced to pulla, a family of cardamom-scented Finnish pastries filled with quark and fruit, and made no fewer than 48 of them in the quest for the right recipe. We’re talking 48 hand-sized Danishes. Only, pulla are Finnish, so you can’t call them Danishes. For some reason the Danes got the jump on the Finns in the pastry department, which is too bad. I think it would make much more sense to call those dense, doughy gems Finnishes instead of Danishes. Because, really, what do you do? You finish them. But apparently pastry history isn’t rewritten to fit American writers’ preferences the same way political history is sometimes, so I’m out of luck. Finnish Danish it is.

Anyway, when I sat down at this here computer, I was going to tell you how healthy I’ve been, Finnish pastry and salami comas aside. Last week, I had arugula and chickpea salad for lunch all week, and mornings have been filled with oatmeal and smoothies and Grape Nuts, my rediscovered favorite. Yogurt and quinoa and wheat berries and greens have all been strong players in this here household, and I’ve been going to the gym, and all that does a body good.

But then I remembered that I’ve been sick, too, these last few days. Stuffy and sniffly, woozy and cold, just plain sick.

Oh, you say. That’s too bad.

It’s not, though. It’s the first time I’ve been sick in four years. I’ve felt rotten, for sure – sore, or tired, or nauseous, or achy, or all of the above, but since I launched into a regimen of immunosuppressants in late 2003, I’ve been too darn suppressed to show the symptoms of the common cold. No cough for four years, except the occasional snarf. It has felt downright inhuman, not to cough.

But I’ve lowered los drogues enough for my real, unfuckedwith immune system to shine through for the first time in four years, and you know what? It’s still alive. (Sniff.)

It’s emancipating, really. I don’t expect you to understand, but there’s a soft, blanketing comfort I’ve felt, just in the wanting for chicken soup. Just reaching for a Kleenex, like a normal person.

But what was I saying? Oh, yes. Healthy. I wanted to tell you about being healthy. But then there was the pulled pork, and the salami rolls, which means that my perceived health kick is . . .well, hogwash. Especially considering that I’ve also been yearning to tell you about my three little pigs. Three former pigs, actually, but they might as well be alive, for all the squealing they incite around here, stuffy nose and all.

The weekend before last, I was serenaded by the smell of sausage at Wooly Pigs‘ stand at the farmers’ market, and came home with a $16 pound of bacon.

Wooly Pigs' bacon

I’d picked it up, knowing it would be at least double the cost of grocery store bacon, and probably more than my prized Skagit River Ranch bacon, and handed it over before the $16 price tag knocked the air out of me. But by the time I started breathing again, I’d already put the bacon in my bag. Talk about commitment.

Thankfully, it was worth it, every last penny. Bacon this good deserves an altar. And as we savored it, piece by glistening piece, I developed a fantasy about actually saving the earth by eating pork so rich that you only really need a piece or so. Needing less bacon equals needing fewer pigs, equals ranching less land, equals growing more trees, equals . . .but waitjustadarnsecond, that sounds a lot like the path to vegetarianism. Who am I kidding? I really just like bacon. But it was a good fantasy while it lasted.

Little piggie #2 came in the form of jam:

Skillet's bacon jam

Yup, bacon jam: the unholy concentration of a pig’s worth of bacon into a jar that fits in the palm of my hand. It’s made by the guys at Skillet, and it makes one hell of a spread for a golden, cheesy panino piled with leftover sauteed kale. It’s Marmite for America’s palate, and I am an addict.

Piggie #3 came from that trip to Salumi, in the form of four 1/4″ thick pinwheels of pancetta:

Salumi pancetta

Their thick, silky fat ribbons queued up patiently in the fridge, curled tight, waiting their turn to bounce around in the pan.

Just when I realized I’d drowned myself in a lust for all products porcine (wait – did I forget to mention I tasted Landjaeger for the first time recently?), I realized I’d planned two consecutive dinner parties with friends who didn’t eat pork.


For a minute, yes. I’d made such a long list of things to do with the pork products in my refrigerator that I’d developed tunnel vision.

But pig wasn’t the only thing I’d picked up at the market – there were turnips, a celery root, carrots, and parsnips, waiting patiently for their turn in the oven, and that fat stash of fingerling potatoes from the fall, and a tangle of thyme in the bottom drawer. I roasted the root vegetables to a golden, crispy brown, stewed them up in a rich, fragrant dried mushroom broth, and made a vegetarian stew.

There, I thought, satisfied. I am capable of living without pork.

By the time our friends arrived, the stew was rich and earthy, just the sort of comfort a storm-rattled Seattleite needs in early February. But as I was topping the stew with puff pastry to turn each bowl into a bottomless root vegetable pot pie, I cracked. Out came the pancetta, and the knife, and a hot pan. I seared up a two thick slices’ worth of diced pancetta, and secreted them into the meat eaters’ bowls.

So pick your own adventure: Make vegetarian pot pies, as below, or spike them with squealer. Either way, you’ll have a darn good dinner.

Root Vegetable Pot Pie

Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pie (PDF)

It’s a doozy of a shopping list, but when it all comes together, with a rainbow of roasted root vegetables tucked into a rich mushroom broth, topped with Parmesan-flecked puff pastry, it’s worth it. The stew itself takes some time to put together, but you can make it a day or two ahead and warm it to room temperature on the stove before sliding the bowls into the oven. And if the idea of a vegetarian pot pie doesn’t sit well with you, stir a quarter pound of diced, cooked pancetta into the stew when you add the roasted root vegetables to the pot.

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 ounce dried assorted wild mushrooms
5 cups boiling water
3/4 pound celery root (1 medium), peeled
1/2 pound turnips (2 medium), peeled
2 carrots, peeled
2 parsnips, peeled
1/2 pound fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 large leek, finely chopped (or 1 bunch baby leeks)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 ounces sliced crimini mushrooms
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Tabasco, Cholula, or other pepper sauce, to taste (optional)
1/2 package (1 sheet from a 17-ounce box) puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator
1 egg white, whisked with 1 teaspoon water to blend
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese

Place the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl, add boiling water, and set aside to soak.

rehydrating mushrooms for pot pie

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.

Chop the next five ingredients into 1” pieces and transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, and the thyme.

roasting veg for pot pie

Mix to blend, and roast on the prepared baking sheet for 30 to 40 minutes, until browned and soft. Set aside, and reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the butter. When the butter has melted, add the shallots and leek, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and sliced crimini mushrooms and season again, then cook, covered, for 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms have given off their liquid.

Meanwhile, scoop rehydrated mushrooms out of the water, saving the mushroom broth. Finely chop the mushrooms, and add to the soup pot. Cook and stir another few minutes, until no liquid remains on the bottom of the pot. Add the flour, and cook and stir until a brown patina forms on the bottom of the pan, another minute or two. Increase heat to high and begin adding the mushroom broth a cup at a time, stirring and allowing the broth to come to a simmer and thicken between additions. When all the broth has been added, whisk the cream and the cornstarch together until smooth, then add to the broth, stirring until the liquid comes back to a simmer. Add the root vegetables, simmer for 3 minutes, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and a few drops of the pepper sauce. (The goal here is to boost flavor, not to actually make the pot pie spicy.)

finished stew for veg pot pie

To bake, divide the stew between 4 large or 6 smaller ovenproof bowls arranged on a baking sheet. Cut the puff pastry sheet into 9 squares, trimming off the wrinkled parts where the pastry was folded (you will need the second sheet of pastry if you’re using 6 smaller bowls). Brush each square with some of the blended egg white, and shower with a layer of Parmesan cheese.

Prepping pastry for pot pie with cheese

Place 2 pastry squares on each bowl, allowing the pastry to hang off the edges of the bowl, and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden and the stew is bubbly. Serve warm.

Note: If you let the pastry overlap in the center, as shown below, it won’t puff as well – try not to let the layers overlap.

Root Veg Pot Pie, overlapped


Filed under farmer's market, pork, products, recipe, Seattle, vegetarian

Tomorrow: Julia’s

Tomorrow, August 17th, is Indonesian Independence Day. I admit, it wasn’t on my calendar either, but yesterday, when I made my second trip to Julia’s Indonesian Kitchen, a new little mom-and-pop joint across the street from Whole Foods in Ravenna, Julia had put a little sign up. So now I know. And knowing is half the battle.

At Julia’s, half of the battle is learning when and when not to go.

Go when you want good, hearty Indonesian comfort food like deeply satisfying Javanese fried chicken, or risoles, essentially Indonesian chicken hot pockets that deserve a smothering dip in peanut sauce before you shovel them down.

Certainly do not go if you you’re in a big rush.

Go when you feel like you should eat a salad, but don’t really feel like all the healthiness that the word salad implies; in this case, order Julia’s gado-gado betawi, crisp lettuces topped with egg, tofu, puffy onion crisps, and a peanut sauce spiked with floral kaffir lime leaf.

Don’t go if you you’re afraid of fried foods, because if you walk in the door, you’ll need to order a plate of the supermoist Ayem Goreng Kremes Tante Julia (just order S3) for the table. (This is not optional.) This is another fried chicken, and it’s different from the Javanese-style chicken: it’s first braised, then fried, and served with hundreds of little shards of what tastes like a fried version of that miraculous fatty layer between a chicken’s skin and its meat, but is really chicken stock mixed with flour and deep fried. These bits, tiny, crisp versions of the very best part of a well-roasted chicken’s crackling skin, should be bottled and sold as a salad topping, if you ask me. After our meal (and a delicious black rice pudding), I found stray crispy chicken bits stuck to my forearm, where I’d pressed it into the glass tabletop. I ate them, of course. I’m pretty sure I’d eat them off the floor, given the opportunity.

Go if you want to speak Dutch. Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, after all, and the owner’s husband still speaks well. The first time, I went with a friend who lived in Holland until age 3, and she got a good earful.

Don’t go if you’re trying to lose weight: Even the lunch-size portions of the rijstafel are pretty filling.

Please, give me a call, and go when I go: On both occasions, I found Julia’s completely deserted, which surprised and disappointed me, given how much I liked most of the food. I think I’d enjoy it a whole lot more if it felt like a place more people wanted to go.

And for God’s sake, please don’t go via bicycle. That’s what I did. Made for a tough trip back up our hill. Fried chicken is not a cyclist’s best friend.

So now you know. You should probably also know that Julia is a friend’s mother, which is why I went (and tried Indonesian food for the first time) in the first place.

But go – it’s cheap, filling, and delicious, and the owners couldn’t be more excited about bringing Indonesian food to Ravenna.

Julia's Indonesian Kitchen in Seattle

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Filed under review, Seattle

A Seattle Saturday

Yesterday we were sitting at Brouwer’s with some friends after a Mariner’s game, discussing dinner options. Yes, it was a Seattle kind of Saturday; it started with a rollerblade around Greenlake to celebrate 1992 and included two lattes consumed at two separate independent coffee houses, in addition to my morning coffee. The latter might explain why I felt great bopping around all day yesterday, until I woke up this morning with what, for both symptomatic and gustatory reasons, I must label consumption.

We’d had garlic fries at the game. If you haven’t had the pleasure: “Garlic fries” insinuates (to me, anyway) that one is ordering French fries with a bit of garlic something on them. At Safeco Field, one actually receives chopped garlic garnished with fries. I’d like to start a petition at Safeco to convince the vendor to rename them “fries garlic,” implying that “garlic” is the main ingredient and “fries” is just a descriptor, because it would be a lot more accurate. If you’d like to duplicate the experience, eating a head of raw garlic is a probably close approximation, as long as ACDC’s “Thunder” is playing at full volume in the background. It made me wonder whether fries garlic sometimes cause pitchers to lose their concentration; the stadium’s collective garlic breath must be bad enough to find its way from way up in the nosebleeds, where we were sitting, down to the mound.

And oh, the morning breath. I’m fairly certain our dog is avoiding us.

After binging on fries garlic (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and other associated ballgame foods, my friend Michelle announced she needed something lighter for dinner, specifically, corn – but not right off the cob. (I like it when people know what they want; it always creates a much easier path to an eventual dinner decision.) She wanted something similar to this corn salad but less salady, more spicy, and perhaps used as a garnish for something grilled. We agreed on a spinach salad and grilled chicken with hot chipotle corn salsa.

We all gathered in our kitchen, milling and talking and eating and drinking in the casual, everyone-does-everything way that separates having dinner with friends from having friends over for dinner.

Discussion inevitably meandered to the pros and cons of the different methods used to cut corn off a cob: I think most people balance one end of the cob on a cutting board and cut the kernels off, like this or this (or worse, as shown in this painful video).

I’m just not as balanced a person, I guess. If I do it that way, the kernels go everywhere, and sometimes I rocket the cob itself across the room, too. I much prefer to place the cob down on the cutting board, and use a small, sharp knife to cut three or four rows of kernels off at a time, running the knife down the length of cob with the knife’s point on the board (as opposed to cutting straight down along its entire length) and rotating the cob (up, away from the knife’s blade) a little bit after each row.

Cutting corn off cob

The advantages for me are clear: 1) I don’t have to start by cutting the cob in half or cutting one end off to make a flat spot, which is sometimes tough to do and always hard on my joints, and 2) The kernels end up neatly lined up on the cutting board, rather than scattered around the board itself, the counter, and whatever happens to be within a roughly three-foot radius of the actual cob (such as my dog).

Grilled Chicken with Hot Chipotle Corn Salsa 4

Recipe for Hot Chipotle Corn Salsa
Recipe 210 of 365

I’d have written a recipe for grilled chicken topped with this spicy, creamy corn salsa, but it seems a shame to limit the topping to just chicken – cook the salsa and serve it as a piquant side dish on its own, stir it into ground beef for making hamburgers, serve it over fish, or stuff it into tacos or burritos.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large scallions, sliced, white and green parts (roughly) separated
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
Kernels from 3 ears fresh corn
1 chipotle pepper en adobo, finely chopped, plus 1/2 – 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then add the white parts only of the scallions, and the jalapenos. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the corn, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, and cream, and season with salt and pepper. Increase heat to high and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the cream has thickened and the corn is bright. Remove from heat, stir in sliced scallion greens, season with additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve. (The corn can also be served cold, and can be reheated just before serving.)

corn salsa 2

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Filed under chicken, recipe, Seattle, vegetables, video

Flat Eggs with Fish

The other night at Cafe Presse I ordered Oeufs Plats, Jambon, Fromage . In French that translates roughly to “flat eggs , ham, cheese,” which explains why French restaurants and bistros serving real renditions of French food keep the menu items listed in French. Flat Eggs with Ham and Cheese does not sound sexy. Oeufs Plats (which sounds roughly like hoopla) sounds at least a little better.

And when it came to the table, a hot oval ceramic dish lined with the Parisian version of American sandwich ham and topped with baked eggs (with still-gooey yolk) and a thick pool of melty gruyere, my fondue food memory flashbulbs went off. My salivary glands kicked into overdrive. It was sexy. It was also delicious.

I’m not sure where to find that same kind of ham, which bears very little resemblance to what people put on sandwiches here. It’s not proscuitto; it’s less cured and much lighter in color. But when I’m craving a ham and butter sandwich (which happens more than I should admit), or in this case Flat Eggs with Ham, there is no substitute.

Unless, of course, you’re willing to try smoked salmon. We had some left, and it created its own mini breakfast miracle, which Tito will undoubtedly demand again soon.

I wonder how smoked salmon tastes on a baguette with thick slabs of salted butter from Brittany.

Oeufs Plats au Saumon et Chevre 2

Recipe 200: Oeufs Plats au Saumon et Chevre (or)
Flat Eggs with Fish and Goat Cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Wipe or spray the inside of a creme brulee dish or small ramekin with butter or olive oil. Arrange slices of smoked salmon in a single layer along the bottom and sides of the dish (it should reach up the sides of the dish like a tart crust). When the oven is hot, crack a large egg into the salmon and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the egg white is set but the yolk is only set at the edges. (Timing may depend on your baking vessel of choice.)

When the oeufs come out, sprinkle with goat cheese and chopped chives, and serve with a toasted hunk of good bread.

Hint: If you’re making multiple servings, it’s easier to put all the ramekins on a baking sheet and transport them that way.

Café Presse in Seattle


Filed under Breakfast, fish, French, recipe, Seattle

It’s Halfway Day

Take a look: hogwash has a new face. Not so new, really, just been hanging out on my desktop for about three months now, apparently waiting for the perfect moment to be uploaded. When I flipped my calendar to July, I panicked and decided it was time. The photo the header is based on has been around since April 1st, 2006, when we decided to move to Seattle.

When it all went down, I was at Pike Place Market with Kathy. My husband called from across town with the news about his job, and I clapped and squealed. I’ll come here every day, I thought, looking around the market. But of course I don’t do that now.

Rachel is the pig at the entrance to Pike Place Market, a 20-something-year-old icon of a 100-year-old institution. Rachel was there when we decided to move to Seattle. Moments before my husband’s call, I’d taken an incriminating photograph of a little girl sticking her finger up Rachel’s nose:

Picking Rachel's nose

When I started hogwash, I wanted a name that was emblematic of what I’d been writing about, food and life, and also of Seattle. The market served as an obvious starting point. But I didn’t want to get too serious. It is all hogwash, these here words. Rachel seemed to fit my purpose. She’s just been sorta shy about coming out onto the big screen.

A few months ago, I finally took a deep breath and put my technological ego (or lack thereof) aside and brought Rachel to meet my computer nemesis: Photoshop. I eventually gussied up that photo of her being molested, and in the end, decided not to include the child’s finger. It’s cute in a giggly sort of way, but when decision time came, I ended up agreeing with my friend Michaela: perhaps not everyone wants to associate their dinner with pig’s snot.

(It’s also worth noting that this could have very easily been me as a child. I touched everything.)

So that’s it: the genesis of the pig at the top of the screen. And a better-looking blog, I think. (Don’t talk to me about that first h, it just doesn’t want to be included in its entirety.)

Someday a new and improving personal website will round it all out. I wish I could stick my finger up my computer‘s nose.


Filed under commentary, farmer's market, pork, Seattle

A Cure for El Groucho

Effing spectacular,” said my husband, who usually just comes right out and swears. I’m not sure if it was the romantic vibe El Gaucho‘s dark dining room has going or reverence for the Yukon River salmon we were eating that made him hold his tongue, but I appreciated it.

And he was right – the salmon was spectacular. I don’t mean good in a they-sure-did-cook-this-up-nice kind of way. That was part of it (it was cooked perfectly, still translucent in the center), but the salmon itself was unlike anything I’d ever tasted. See, Yukon River salmon has up to 30 percent fat, which is roughly double what Copper River salmon, the leading cause of outrageous expenditure at the Whole Foods fish counter, usually has. Double. We’re talking about butter, made out of fish. It was slippery in my mouth; the flesh didn’t so much collapse between my teeth as disassociate, the individual sheaths of muscle slipping past each other. It tasted sexy. Like satin sheets in my mouth, I’d say, if I’d ever slept on satin sheets. I chewed each bite so much longer than I usually do, trying to hold on to that rich silkiness.

“I feel like a kid from the East Coast skiing western powder for the first time,” said my husband. He kept staring at his plate, as if willing his 12-ounce portion to grow even larger.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We went to El Gaucho in the first place because we’d heard they were serving Yukon River salmon there. (Paul Mackay, the owner of Mackay Restaurants, of which El Gaucho is a part, worked a deal with the Yu’pik folks native to that area of Alaska, the only people who are legally allowed to fish the river. He buys the fish directly from the fishermen. No middleman, fair prices, the chef actually flies up there to pick the fish out himself, etc.)

Anyway, we’d stayed at the Inn upstairs, but I’d never actually eaten at El Gaucho. It’s basically a super high-end steak house, with a cigar room, waiters in tuxes, a schmancy bar, and lots of flaming food. I’d seen how dimly lit the dining room is, and labeled it a cocoon for men who either really love meat or really want to get someone into bed. (There. I said it.) Not really my thing. Right?

Wrong. I loved it. At least, I loved it as soon as my eyes adjusted to the man-cave’s darkness and I got over feeling like I’d walked in on a mob meeting. It served as a surprising, instant cure for the grouchiness I’d slipped into that day.

El Gaucho made me wish I hosted more (read: any) serious business dinners. The restaurant is a giant space that oozes masculinity (formerly a seaman’s union hall), with lots of dark red and black tones. Tables set up on multiple levels cascade down toward the kitchen, so that the people on the highest floor have a stadium view of the action down below.

And action there is: El Gaucho is known for steak, of course, but mostly for their “flaming swords”: Tuxedoed servers with serious faces walk around with fireproof gloves on, ladling flammable liquid over giant meat-laden swords (think Three Musketeers), pouring fire from one vessel to another, and setting still-flaming platefuls of food in front of gaping guests. As long as you’re not a vegetarian, this place impresses. And being seated up top, like we were, makes you feel important, even if you don’t order anything that needs to be set ablaze.

But like I said, I didn’t think I’d be into it. I never was a big circus fan. My husband and I ordered a Caesar salad, slightly annoyed that we’d have to undergo the pomp and circumstance of having someone prepare it tableside. I know what goes in a Caesar salad. But by the time we’d been plied with cocktails and started in on our bottle of wine, I forgot that I’d been in a rush, and edged closer to him in the little treetop nest our V-shaped booth was becoming.

The salad et. al. arrived, and I felt a little thrill seeing that our server had all the proper ingredients lined up on the rolling cart she’d be using to prepare our food. She even mashed the anchovies and garlic there in front of us. And when the salad hit our plates, I tasted it, that luscious texture great Caesars get from a coddled egg yolk, along with the deep (never fishy) flavor the anchovies lend. I decided I could get used to tableside service. Or, at least, food prepared just the way I like it.

In addition to the salmon, we ordered sauteed spinach, which came with an exuberant squeeze of lemon, plenty of garlic, and a hint of spice from red pepper flakes, and also a mushroom risotto. The salmon came surprisingly plain on the plate, next to just a few thin slices of cucumber topped with a dollop of sour cream. (Sounds strange, yes, but it worked.) Though the side dishes made the meal complete, I was so overwhelmed by the salmon’s flavor that I had trouble mentally processing anything else.

But the thing I liked about El Gaucho – more than the salmon, more than the old-fashioned dinner drama – was how slowly my dinner passed there. We were there for three hours, but I never looked at my watch. I gazed out at the other diners, and watched my husband gaze at the sign to the cigar room. Things moved in slow motion. Flames, everywhere, but never a hasty action. Every time a waiter passed, he paused slightly at our table, and smiled, as if to prove he wasn’t in a rush.

We lingered over the Roquefort platter El Gaucho sets out at the end of each meal. (I hesitate to use the word “complimentary,” because we certainly paid for it somewhere.) We fed each other pear slices. Cracked open whole nuts and laughed at how much better the squirrels are at it. Sipped coffee and chatted, well after we’d paid the bill.

Yes, it’s an expensive restaurant. But it was just what the doctor ordered.

El Gaucho in Seattle


Filed under review, Seattle

Fish tails

Branzini tails

Yesterday a big group of us headed down to Pike Place Market for the Seattle Cheese Festival, where we watched people race cheese wheels, said hi to Rachel, and ate ourselves stupid for the second day in a row. (The previous day had involved Jade Garden, Red Mill, Salumi, and Uwajimaya.) The biggest cheese discovery was undoubtedly the truffled goat cheese Cypress Grove will be releasing this summer. Oohhhhhh.

Nevertheless, we pursued dinner. The fish store I like at Pike Place, which I call The One in the Middle because I never remember its name, had happy-looking (and relatively inexpensive) branzino, so I scooped some up and asked the guys there to clean and scale them for me.

Gutting branzino

Cooking such lively-looking creatures certainly captured the attention of our animals, who took turns poking their noses into the photos I was taking. It was obvious to me that the dog saw the cat becoming interested, and dared him to lick a fish’s tail, which he did, like the good teenaged boy he is. They then held a tableside conference to determine outcome of the tail-licking experience and thus the desirability of our dinner:

Jackson investigates

Bromley dares Jackson to taste the tail

Conference about taste of fish tail

Eventually it was determined that while the fish certainly smelled good, the presence of such scary real-world features as fins and tails would make each fish too heavy to carry off the platter with much success. So they both waited patiently for scraps.

Here‘s a good video on how to filet fish, if you’ve never done it. It’s for raw fish, but it will show you where to begin cutting a cooked filet off – if the fish is cooked, the flesh will lift off the bones, so none of the knife-scraping-head-to-tail business shown in the video will be necessary.

Grilled Branzino 1

Rosemary-Grilled Whole Branzino
Recipe 140 of 365

Branzini are a small species of sea bass native to the Mediterranean (the French call them loup de mer), but it’s often possible to find them fresh from the Pacific in fish markets on the west coast. They have a nice, mild flavor, like a cross between regular sea bass and trout, which would also make a great substitute if you can’t find branzini. Here’s a simple way to grill them over hot coals (you can prep the fish while the grill heats up), stuffed with rosemary and sliced lemons and grilled over additional rosemary sprigs for a little touch of smoky, piney flavor.

To serve the fish, cut the filet away from the backbone with a small, sharp knife, or (I found this easiest with this particular fish) simply reach inside the fish and push your fingers between the rib bones of one side of the fish, effectively pushing the filet off the bones from the inside.

TIME: 15 minutes, plus 10 minutes grilling time
MAKES: 6 servings

3 fresh branzini, roughly 1 pound and 15 inches long each (or large trout), gutted, scaled, rinsed, and patted dry (heads left on)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing grill
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large lemon, very thinly sliced, plus 1 lemon for serving, cut into wedges
9 (6” – 8”) sprigs fresh rosemary, plus another big handful for the coals, if using charcoal

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill over medium heat.

Brush each fish inside and out with the olive oil, and season inside and out with the salt and pepper. Rub the 9 rosemary sprigs together in your hands to bruise the needles and release their oils a bit, and stuff three into the cavity of each fish, stabbing the sharp ends of the rosemary directly into the inside flesh of the fish, if necessary, to anchor the rosemary inside the fish. Stuff a few of the lemon slices into each fish, and set the fish aside.

Clean the grill grate, and grease it with an oil-soaked paper towel. Just before cooking, if using charcoal, toss the remaining rosemary onto the coals. Holding the fish together at the thickest part, transfer the fish to the grill, and cook directly over the coals for about 5 to 7 minutes on each side, or until the skin is crispy and the meat just begins to flake. (Note: the less you mess with the fish, the more likely it is to come off the grill intact.) Serve hot, with additional lemon wedges.

No more branzino

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Filed under farmer's market, fish, kitchen adventure, recipe, Seattle

A trip to Bainbridge

If normal means staying within sight of Seattle, this past weekend was my first normal weekend in a long, long time. The highlight (besides gardening in the sushine all day yesterday) was a quick trip to Bainbridge Island, a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle.

Our first stop was The Living Room, a new wine bar on Bjune Drive. If IKEA designed a wine bar to sell its products, it would look just like this: clean, modern lines, fun lighting, gorgeous place settings, etc., but almost completely devoid of the character one might hope for given the place’s namesake. The deep leather couches are as inviting and soothing as any living room couch should be, but it’s hard to feel like you’ve just popped by your neighbor’s house for a quick sip when you’re staring at artless walls and an unimpaired view of what qualifies on Bainbridge as a strip mall.

My glass of wine, however, a Finca de Arantei Albarino singing of peaches and citrus, was fresh and light and summery, and somehow that and the Portuguese red my husband was swooning over both worked with a big slab of flatbread topped with fontina, caramelized onions, thyme, and truffle salt.

Thus fortified, we ambled down to the marina and poked around a bit before settling in at The Four Swallows, a restaurant in a little yellow house up the hill on Madison Avenue that reminded me of Abbicci. Now this is a living room.

There we met Jose, the polite and affable server who represents, to me, all that is good about career waiters. He had style. He shuffled in and out like a male geisha, relaxed but purposeful, conversational but never intrusive, and by the time our wine was poured I knew I needed his help ordering. I’d been waffling between the Penn Cove mussels in a sherry, leek, tomato, and smoked paprika cream sauce and the beef carpaccio, a perennial favorite of mine. But when I asked him for advice, he skipped the first two courses on the menu all but shouted “order the pasta pomodoro!”

It sort of surprised me – I mean, I don’t typically avoid Italian options at the bottom of an otherwise fairly Northwestern menu, but I certainly don’t gravitate toward them. So we decided to share the carpaccio, which was the same alluring combination of soft, clean-tasting beef, excellent olive oil, truffle salt, and Parmesan cheese that caught my palate’s attention the first time I ever had it, at Sweet Basil. I also ordered a shaved fennel and artichoke salad, and the pomodoro, because Jose had seemed so earnest in his recommendation.

The salad, a tangled nest of white flecked with chervil and parsley and doused with a perky lemon vinaigrette, also carried the slightest hint of truffle oil, a successful way of grounding what might otherwise be a dish with only high, bright notes. Also nicely balanced was my husband’s salad, a rather ordinary combination of pears, Point Reyes blue, candied pecans, and greens, done uncommonly well.

Jose’s suggestion was the best of the night: the pomodoro was a far cry from the anemic, thick, pink sauce I’ve unfortunately come to associate with some simple Italian classics. He delivered it with the little bow he seemed to use every time he left the table. A big scoop of cool, creamy mascarpone cheese balanced the pomodoro’s earthy, spicy tomato sauce. I twirled spaghetti and scooped up pine nuts and slurped sauce until I had not a square centimeter of space left in my belly. For hours afterward, it was as if someone had smashed a garlic clove and rubbed it over every surface of the inside of my mouth. I loved it.

We ended (somehow) with a vanilla panna cotta with fresh strawberries, delicious and soft-textured but served in a wine glass, which (to me) sort of skips the magic of how a panna cotta that’s been successfully eased out of a form can be so perfect and linear and yet so jiggly at the same time.

As we walked back to the ferry through the rain, realizing we’d just been on a date, I couldn’t help but wonder what the mussels might have tasted like. Last night I made my own version, which were surely quite different from The Four Swallows’ but will have to tide me over until I can get back to Bainbridge. Closed and raw, the mussels barely fit in my favorite pan, which meant that when I took the top off after steaming them for a few minutes, they all opened and expanded at once, carrying bits of bacon and onion and parsley with them as the whole pile grew up and almost over the sides of the pan. Here are the stragglers:

Bottom of the barrel

Mussels with Smoked Paprika Cream
Recipe 113 of 365

Look for big Mediterranean-style mussels; it’s fun to use their shells to scoop up the rich, creamy broth left at the bottom of the bowl. Serve the mussels with plenty of good, crusty bread and a simple green salad. Two and a half pounds of mussels makes about six appetizer servings, four dinner servings, or an all-out mussel feast for two. (You can guess which one we did.)

Make sure you have a pot with a tight-fitting lid before you start.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: Varies

2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 – 2 large clove(s) garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon pimenton de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 pounds large mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Note: “Debearding” a mussel is simply removing the little black hairs that sometimes protrude from the flat side of the shell – these are what the mussel uses to attach itself to its underwater habitat. To do it, just grasp the strings (technically called byssus threads) between a thumb and forefinger and pull.

Heat a large soup pot or a 3-quart high-sided sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, or until the bacon begins to crisp. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper, and cook another 3 minutes, stirring. Add the garlic and the paprika, and stir until all the onions are coated with the paprika.

And the wine and bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat. Simmer for a minute, stir in the Dijon mustard and the cream, and season again with salt and pepper, if necessary. Add the mussels, cover the pot, and cook for about 5 minutes, or just until most of the mussels have opened. Transfer the mussels to a big bowl with a slotted spoon, discarding any empty shells or mussels that fail to open, pour the sauce over the mussels, and sprinkle the parsley on top. Serve immediately.

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Filed under recipe, review, Seattle, shellfish, travel

These muffins ROCK

A few weeks ago I had a most inspiring green tea muffin with azuki beans at Fresh Flours, a wonderful little Japanese/French bakery up here with me on Phinney Ridge. It reminded me that I bought a package of azuki beans at the Seiyu in Yokosuka, Japan with Hilary almost exactly two years ago. (Akk! Just found out Seiyu is owned by Wal-Mart!) They’ve been sitting quietly in my cupboard ever since (they even made the move with us). I’ve been meaning to explore with them a bit; they’re a staple in Japanese pastries and make a wonderfully sweet, earthy filling.

Anyway, when I had this particularly moist muffin, its interior had the unearthly flourescence that matcha gives almost anything. The beans looked like chocolate chips, and had a similar sweetness and mouthfeel, but obviously a completely different flavor. I vowed to recreate it.

Fast forward to last week, when I tasted Trader Joe’s boxed green tea muffin mix at an in-store sampling. It made my food memory spasm and triggered a must have response.

Green Tea muffin mix

I’m not usually into boxed stuff, but I had this wild fantasy of recreating the Fresh Flours muffin with minimal work and research, right in the privacy of my own home. (It might be worth admitting here that I walk my dog daily to a turn-around spot exactly one block from Fresh Flours; it would be quite simple for me to pick one up every day.)

So. I got out the azuki beans. This is what the package told me:

Azuki beans from SeiyuAzuki bean instructions

Very helpful. But instead of going to the trusty internets to find out how to cook them (I only knew they needed to be boiled with sugar), I logically decided that guessing blindly would be the quickest, surest way to success. So I soaked them overnight, which did not change their appearance or texture in the slightest, and cooked them for a few hours with some sugar. The plan was this: I’d make the muffins according to the package instructions, using green tea instead of water to boost the flavor a bit, folding in some perfectly-cooked azuki beans like you would with blueberries, and topping them off with plenty of turbinado-style raw cane sugar.

When the beans seemed soft enough, I did all these things. I put the muffins in the oven, and they came out beautifully:

Green tea muffins with azuki beans

Then I looked down at the liquid I’d drained out of the azuki beans. It wasn’t so much a liquid as a caramel: a deep mahogany-colored, bean-flavored caramel.

Azuki bean caramel

It was beyond delicious; I wanted to dip anything I could get my hands on into it, bananas, chocolate, anything. But there was a problem: the leftover caramel meant that I had in fact cooked the beans in a sugar solution that had cooked too far; the beans in the muffins would have a caramelized coating on the outside, rather than a soft, fluffy exterior that would allow a little muffin batter to soak in.

Sure enough, when I bit into the first warm, steaming muffin, I got a wonderful green tea flavor and a mouth full of rocks.

Back to the drawing board.


Filed under bread, failure, recipe, Seattle

Will the real Jess Thomson please stand up?

Warning: I’m cranky today, and scattered. I am trying too hard to be all things to all people, including, most obnoxiously, myself. In my ideal world, I’m devoting everything to my husband and my family, being there when they need me, and listening when they call. I’m diving into work with as much breath as my lungs can hold, ten years old again and trying to get across the swimming pool underwater in one breath, striving to find that perfect combination of glide and effort that will allow me to keep going, even though I don’t know where the wall is. I’m walking and doing yoga and slowly enjoying the way the hot, jasmine-scented steam from my green tea collects on the inside of my nose when I breathe in too deeply. I’m eating outrageously delicious dinners, like the one the six of us shared last weekend at Araxi in Whistler (which I hope to tell you about eventually), and I’m at home, happy growing my own lettuce and eating small quantities and living simply on rice and beans and the occasional piece of fish. I’m a good friend, lounging at a coffee shop or chatting with a neighbor without the next thing on my mind, and when I walk my dog, I let her sniff anything she wants, for as long as she wants. I’m a sugarmama and a housewife, I work seventy hours a week and still do all the laundry, tend the yard, and scrub the floors. My health never wavers. I never lose my voice. I can fly across the country for a week every time a friend gets married, has a baby, or just needs a shoulder to cry on, and I’m home every weekend, being part of a community to which I’m only now just beginning to belong.

But I need to redefine “ideal,” because the inevitable impossibility of checking “all of the above” leaves me flashing from one ideal self to the next like Sybil with an ambitious to-do list.

And here’s what really happens: I answer the phone when my sister calls, intending to listen to anything she might want to say becuase I love her and want to hear about her life. But I’ve plunged into work and can’t come up for air until I turn in article X, and I’m still all nasty from the dog park, so I try to juggle the phone while I get my rubber boots off so I can press send on that last email that’s been sitting in the outbox since before I left with the dog. But on my way to the computer, I spill my green tea, which means my sister only gets half my attention while I mop everything up with the dog towel. Then my husband calls, and I’m frustrated with myself because the house is a mess, and he gets Cranky Jess, and we decide to go out to dinner with friends we haven’t seen in months, which means spending money when I wanted to be saving it, missing out on a night alone together, and getting to bed so late that my whole body aches the next day. Nothing gets done well.

Sometimes I feel like a chamelon, always looking outside to define what’s going on inside. I don’t have a long sticky tongue or anything, but I do wear camo from time to time, and I’m always taking things in from a 360-degree field of vision. This would be great if I were a reptile depending on my eyesight for survival, but as a human with a relatively stable food supply and no real predators, it’s less effective.

Anyway, it’s just one of those days. I’m sure you can relate. Today it seems like being all things to all people is a great way to make friends but a really terrible way for me to learn about myself, because I spend so much time fulfilling (self-generated) requirements that I never sit alone and wonder which of the requirements are most important to me. Is solidifying my career what I want most right now? Or is nurturing the friendships I’ve spent so long bulding more important? Which Jess is the most important Jess? And how do I choose one over another without alienating anyone who wasn’t part of the decision? And does a chameleon even know when it’s changing color?

Sigh. At least I discovered a stew that just might be all things to all people. Made with guanciale, kale, and all the tomatoey-shellfishy goodness typical of a San Francisco cioppino, it is a treasure of a stew for the days you want to space out and avoid deciding between, say, being a good wife, a “successful” person, or an attentive friend.

Tsk, you say. You can be everything! I’m sure I can. I just haven’t learned how.

Seattle Shellfish Stew with Kale and Guanciale

Recipe for Seattle Shellfish Stew with Kale and Guanciale
Recipe 78 of 365

I always use visitors as a good excuse to stretch a grocery-shopping trip into an afternoon-long excursion through Seattle. Fish and veggies from Pike Place Market and a big hunk of guanciale (cured pork jowl) from Salumi inspired this stew, which is a hearty, deeply flavored cross between a San Franciscan cioppino and wonderfully porky braised kale. You could substitute pancetta or thick-cut bacon for the guanciale.

Serve the stew with a simple green salad and good, crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

TIME: About 1 hour
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 pound guanciale, cut into 1/4” cubes
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large shallots, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (roughly 1/2 pound) bunch kale, rinsed and sliced into 1/4” thick ribbons
2 cups dry white wine
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth (or water)
3/4 pound extra large shrimp (about 12), deveined
3/4 pound firm white-fleshed fish, such as cod, halibut, or monkfish, cut into 1” cubes
3/4 pound manila clams (about 18), scrubbed clean
3/4 pound mussels (about 18), cleaned and debearded
1/2 pound bay (small) scallops, white tabs removed
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Preheat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the guanciale, and cook until browned and crispy, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the guanciale to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the grease in the pot, and set aside.

Add the onions and the shallots to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and kale, season again with salt and pepper, and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring and turning as the kale on the bottom cooks down.

Increase heat to high, add the white wine, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the clam juice, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, and the reserved guanciale pieces, reduce to a simmer and simmer the stew, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the kale is soft and the tomatoes begin to break down. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Shellfish for stew

Stir the fish pieces and the shrimp into the stew, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the clams, mussels, and scallops, stir to distribute evenly, and cook, covered, another 5 to 10 minutes, or until all the shells have opened. (Discard any shells that do not open.) Sprinkle the parsley over the stew and serve piping hot in wide, shallow bowls.

Shellfish Stew - almost gone


Filed under farmer's market, fish, pork, recipe, Seattle, shellfish, soup

The Ides of March

Here it is, the Ides of March, and for (I think) the first time in my life, I’m thinking about spring when the calendar says spring is coming. We have friends visiting from New York, and they were as surprised as I was to find crisp, fresh, new asparagus spears for sale at a price that could only mean they’re coming into season.

Yesterday afternoon it started to clear, not enough to see the mountains but enough to hint at long, warm summer evenings. With the time change, it’s now light at dinnertime here, so we packed up some firewood and hit Golden Gardens for a bonfire cookout. We had dogs and s’mores, of course, and in an effort to add something green to our recently rather brown diet, those asparagus, marinated in a quick soy, dijon, lime juice and olive oil mixture and then grilled:

Golden Gardens Grill

Marinated Grilled Asparagus

More on the s’mores tomorrow.

Recipe for Marinated Grilled Asparagus
Recipe 74 of 365

Though I’m sure new, tender spears would be delicious roasted in a hot oven or cooked on a gas grill, I love the crispy, blackened edge real, hot flames gives these asparagus. They make for convenient finger food while you’re waiting for the rest of the meal to come off the grill!

TIME: 5 minutes prep plus 5 minutes cooking time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 (1 pound) bunch asparagus
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Prepare a hot fire, or preheat a grill on medium-high heat.

Trim the asparagus and transfer them to a big zip-top plastic bag. Place the Dijon, soy, lime juice, and olive oil in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, and whisk until blended. Pour the marinade into the bag with the asparagus, seal the top, and shake the bag to coat all the asparagus. Marinate at least 30 minutes, and up to 6 hours.

When ready to grill, remove the asparagus from the marinade and arrange on the grill, perpendicular to the grill racks. Cook for about five minutes, turning occasionally, or until the asparagus are browned (or blackened) on the outside and cooked through. Serve immediately.

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Filed under recipe, Seattle, side dish, vegetables

A taste of summer

Eagle Soars on Blue Sky

Yesterday, when Seattle stuck its tongue out at its own rainy reputation and kicked my car’s thermostat to a gorgeous 71 degrees, I was lucky enough to have scheduled a meeting at Taste, the new cafe at the Olympic Sculpture Park downtown.

Somehow, I fell prey to the tricks of advertising and believed that Taste was an actual restaurant, so I was surprised when I walked in to find that it’s really a cafeteria, complete with roped line. But the food is better than most cafeterias – a lot like Kathy Casey‘s food at Dish D’Lish, if you ask me, just with less pomp and circumstance.

Taste Cafe (which doesn’t seem to have a website of its own, or at least one I can find easily(although here‘s a piece from the P-I)) is certainly pandering to local palates. They’ve sourced a lot of their food locally, and aren’t afraid to brag about it. This is a good thing.

I had a Grown Up’s Grilled Cheese (or something like that), made with deeply flavored cheddar and sandwiched on a panini press. But with sweet apples and caramelized onions, it might have been more aptly named Grilled Cheese for Grown-Ups with a Kid-Sized Sweet Tooth. My little side salad, which came festively packaged in a Chinese take-out carton, featured perfectly-dressed fresh (and presumably local) greens with just the right amount of real (crunchable) sea salt.

But oh, how I lament having forgotten to climb into one of the huge geodesic dome-like swings obviously put in the cafeteria to entertain littler people than me. Next time.

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Filed under review, Seattle

Persimmon popsicles, and other new things

Yesterday my husband returned from wandering Seattle with his parents with a smile on his face. He said he had something for me, and he held my hand like a child’s and lead me out of the office, where I’d been typing away. We walked out into the early afternoon rain, and there on the grass landing strip across the sidewalk from our house was a Meader persimmon tree.

I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect tree for a few weeks. More accurately, I’ve been dreaming about the perfect tree, because I haven’t actually made it to a nursery yet. But I’d been thinking along the lines of a semi-dwarf apple tree that produced crisp, tart specimens that hold onto the tree well and store successfully. Wade Bennet, the cider master at Rockridge Cidery (who supplies me with warming cider when, like on Saturday, it’s pouring and freezing at the University District farmer’s market), suggested I find a Buckley Giant, an apple tree whose huge, green, basement-friendly fruits usually weigh in at over a pound each.

But this persimmon tree arrived literally on my doorstep, with a man who volunteered to plant it. So we put it in. I don’t know whether it requires special attention of any kind; I don’t even know how to tell when a persimmon’s ripe on a tree. (I know some ripen to a softish state, and I think the Meader is one of those, but I haven’t done my research yet.) In any case, someone at The Nursery told my husband that she’d been trying to get her hands on this particular variety of persimmon for months, so he hopped on the bandwagon and now it’s the five of us, my husband and the dog and the cat and me and the Persimmon tree.

I’d send a photo of Miss Persimmon, but there’s nothing to see. She just looks like a three-foot stick planted in the ground right now. She does seem beautifully planted, though, thanks to my in-home arborist.

The description I found on a random nursery website says to make persimmon popsicles. I’ll have to try that, in a few years, when the tree starts to bear fruit. The whole experience reminded me just how many ingredients I’m unfamiliar with – I’ve put persimmon in salads and a cake or two, and I’ve eaten them raw, but I’m a complete persimmon novice when it comes to baking, canning, and storing.

So, in anticipation of my need to try new cooking things with less familiar ingredients (like persimmons), I’m going on a New Things Kick. Not promising a whole week of new things, just acknowledging an effort to look deeper into my kitchen. I think I’ll find plenty in my pantry, which is filled with things like adzuki beans, nigella seeds, and vaccuum-packed shelf-stable baby clams from Japan (eek), none of which I’ve ever touched.

I bought dried fresh cranberry beans at the market on Saturday, a first for me. They were creamy white with purple flecks in their container, but cooked up to a gorgeous pinto hue that looked so . . . natural. Here’s the result, which I served with its liquid as a bed for yesterday’s halibut:

Cranberry Beans with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts

Recipe for Cranberry Beans with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts
Recipe 57 of 365

My husband’s tuna dish at The Stumbling Goat the other night inspired these beans – I’m not sure what was on his plate, but it struck me that I rarely serve fish in a bowl, over beans with a little light, snappy broth. And why not? These beans make the perfect bed for small piece of protein.

I used cranberry beans, but I’m sure fresh dried cannelini beans would also be delicious. As a warning, I doubt many kids would go for this, but I’m already planning to make it again.

TIME: 30 minutes, plus 45 minutes to cook the beans
MAKES: 6 servings

8 ounces dried fresh cranberry beans, rinsed and picked
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 thick (or 6 regular) slices good-quality bacon, diced
1/2 pound small Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Place the beans in a soup pot, and add the chicken broth, salt, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the beans are just barely al dente. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Begin cooking the bacon pieces over medium heat in a large ovenproof skillet. Halve any sprouts bigger than 1 inch in diameter. When the bacon is almost crispy, add the sprouts, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes more, or until the sprouts begin to lose their bright color. Increase heat to high, add the beans (with any remaining cooking liquid) and the vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and cook another minute or so, stirring. Add 2 cups water (the water should almost cover the beans), and carefully transfer the skillet to the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until about half the water has evaporated and the sprouts are entirely cooked through. Serve immediately: spoon the beans into bowls, and pour the extra liquid on top.


Filed under farmer's market, husband, pork, recipe, Seattle, side dish

This goat can run

As promised, we returned to The Stumbling Goat Bistro tonight, and with great relief and excitement I can report that the salty, stumbling Goat we met last month has shown us a most delightful gait.

We’ve been on a major eating-out binge, and this morning my mouth woke up tired. I bought a donut for breakfast at PCC and only ate half of it. I ordered Caesar salad for lunch, for chrissake, and we’re not talking appetizers. Even by the time we showed up for our 7 p.m. reservation, I wasn’t really in the mood for food. Please, I know what you’re thinking. I’m always hungry.

I ordered the wagyu beef tenderloin, served simply and effortlessly with roasted baby carrots, parsnips, turnips, and potatoes. No muss, no fuss, just a killer cut of beef with a nice (salted, but not overly salted) crust on the outside and satiny strands of animal on the inside that fell apart like pulled pork in my mouth. My husband’s albacore was seared just so, still cold to the touch in the center the way he likes it (he always touches it first), with an intriguing, slightly chunky pecan-arugula pesto.

We split the “lover’s cheesecake,” a 4″ round cheesecake for two based on chef Seth Caswell’s New York grandmother’s recipe, for dessert. (It should probably count as tomorrow’s breakfast, too.) It had the consistency of whipped cream cheese lightened with shower cream (I told you so), and because there was a significant amount of shower cream in the batter, it didn’t have the cloying aftertaste that makes me regret most cheesecakes for hours afterwards. Some people say cheesecake can be light, but until tonight I felt strongly that light cheesecakes were either a) made with lite ingredients or b) served in small portions. This is the cheesecake you have room for.

And now, after weeks of casting furtive glances in the Goat’s direction as I wait in the construction traffic across the street, hoping that our second encounter would overshadow our first unfortunate experience, I can finally drive by and announce that The Stumbling Goat Bistro is our neighborhood restaurant.

Stumbling Goat Bistro in Seattle

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Filed under review, Seattle

Playing pretends

I was doing a pretty good job pretending all of the inn’s amenities were part of my regular life, but the hairdryer got me. The extension cord was wrapped so neatly around the thing; beginning at the base of the handle, it was impeccably wound around and around in the kind of perfectly flat, compact coil only someone with severe OCD determined to make a hairdryer look really nice could achieve. This is not what my hairdryer looks like at home. My cord would never behave that way.

But I’m not at home. I’m sitting in a corner room at the Inn at El Gaucho in Belltown, where my husband and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day a little late, pretending to be far away. I’ve never spent the night in a hotel in my own city before, and it really is a fabulous idea. The sounds and the light are so different from my the ones in my neighborhood, and despite the fact that I’ll just jump on the #5 bus to get home, and that I’m sitting here typing on my laptop with my work files on the floor next to me, I feel so far from home. There are no dishes. Someone else made the coffee. And whether it’s the connection here or my as-of-yet unpersonalized new hard drive, I can’t seem to get the wireless to work, so it’s just me and the coffee and the seagulls and the sunlight streaming through the wooden blinds onto the dark chocolate-colored leather couch. I’ve been here for 12 hours now, pretending this is my real life. Pretending that when I get home every day, the first thing I do is take my shoes off, throw my coat over a chair, flop onto a giant leather couch, and watch my husband pour me some champagne. I’m lucky if I get through the shoes part before I start doing something else. This morning I pretended I always drink coffee in bed with my head, back, neck, and arms comfortably propped up on fifteen million pillows.

We still don’t own a television. Which means that the first thing my husband did when we got here last night (after he poured the champagne) was pick up the remote, not because there was something he so wanted to watch, but because a 3 1/2 x 1 1/2 foot piece of spanky-new electronics fastened to the wall represents a challenge to him. He picks up a remote the same way most of you might pick up an iPhone – with awe, curiosity, and maybe a little trepidation.

While I was inspecting El Gaucho’s plush white chenille bathrobes, my husband had an epiphany. “Hey, guess what?” he said. “There’s more than one channel for all those channels now.” Hmm. Okay. I looked at him quizzically. “You know, like HBO and stuff. There’s more than one HBO channel.” Sometime in the last 5 years I’d picked up on this fact, even without a cable bill to review, but he’d missed it entirely. Oh, the novelty of television.

But where were we? Oh yes, playing pretends. It turns out that the Inn at El Gaucho is the place to spend the night if you have housewares fantasies. Like if you’ve ever stood in the bathroom fixture section at Restoration Hardware, willing yourself to remember how much you like the wannabe retro maybe-stainless-maybe-not shower fittings your home’s previous owners got at Home Depot, but really secretly wishing that the giant discoid shower head you’re staring at would just jump into your arms, screaming “take me home, baby!” The Good Shower Head lives at this inn. Or say you’re the type that’s tactile by nature, and maybe you might have once (in a big department store, where no one notices) run your hands along a tall stack of big soft-yet-absorbent white couture towels, thinking how cool and wasteful and somehow thrilling it would be to spend $200 on a friggin’ bath towel. Not that I’m a towel-toucher. But if you are, you’ll like the towels here. Oh, and a first for me: feather bed. Ahhhh.

In Mrs. Hanson’s 7th grade accelerated English class (or was it still Language Arts then?), we read this poem called Almost Perfect, by Shel Silverstein, which outlined a pompous, bratty little girl’s take on the things that weren’t perfect about everything. Here are my Mary Hume comments:

Our breakfast arrived with steaming hot strong coffee, the perfect brew for a Seattle visitor, but the only available additives were Splenda, Sweet-n-Low, and CoffeeMate (The Original). Sacrilege. I mean really, shouldn’t a place that offers “shower cream” from L’Occitane – which, as an aside, will be my new permanent name for sour cream, as in “please pass the shower cream” – be able to muster up a cold pitcher of real half and half for the breakfast tray?

The pastries from Macrina Bakery, which I’d never had, were superfresh and delicious, but to my horror the filling from one leapt quietly, deftly to the sleeve of my snowy robe, and then spread like a pink-spotted plague across my entire body until I noticed ten minutes later that I’d been attacked by a raspberry scone. They should really train their pastries better. I might have to buy the robe.

My in-laws arrive today, and I’m sort of regretting not putting them up here. It’s really convenient to the 99 and it’s boutique-y enough that I feel like I’m in someone’s very well-appointed guest bedroom rather than in a hotel. No fake plants. No doilies. No teal, just rich, warm tones and a photograph of Marilyn Monroe bench-pressing barbells next to the bed.

There’s no way I’ll get that damn cord back the way it was. I just tried, and despite my own strong OCD-tendencies, and I failed. Sigh. Guess it’s time to check out.


Filed under commentary, review, Seattle

Let the pestos begin

There is a single, perfect rhododendron blossom on the bush outside our front door, and I am thrilled. Early spring blooms have begun in earnest in Seattle, with ornamental cherries, daffodils, crocuses, and lots of things I’ve never seen before sprouting forth hope for a long, hot summer. I know, I know, this doesn’t mean sun is coming to Seattle – but it does mean that the earthy scent of fecundity and warming soil, a springtime smell known collectively in our household as “plant sex,” is in the air.

Unfortunately, the farmer’s market is still really slim pickins. On Sunday I walked away with a whole bunch of dairy products, some potatoes, and a fistful of sorrel. By the time today rolled around, there were little rips in the tips of each of the little sorrel leaves where I’d picked some off to verify that its uniquely lemony flavor was yes, still there.

I made a little batch of pesto, the first in what’s usually a six month-long obsession with grinding herbs and nuts and adding oil and cheese. We slathered it on some local salmon, also from the market, but you could also use it in pasta salads, on chicken, or as a spread on sandwiches.

Salmon with Sorrel-Pistachio Pesto

And by the way, when I sear salmon, I cook it on the first side until the fish is cooked about halfway up the sides of the filets, which lookes like this:

Searing Salmon

Recipe for Sorrel-Pistachio Pesto
Recipe 52 of 365

Sorrel looks like little elongated spinach leaves, only its flavor is much brighter – most people describe it as lemony. Sorrel is actually a member of the buckwheat family.

If you have to buy sorrel in those little 3/4-ounce clamshell packages at the grocery store, you’ll need four of them – but you could also substitute basil, parsley, or cilantro for the sorrel. Pesto is infinitely flexible.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: about 1 cup

1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup toasted pistachios
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 ounces fresh sorrel leaves
1 teaspoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (lightly packed) freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or Grana Padano cheese

In a small food processor, whirl the garlic, pistachios, and salt together until very finely chopped. Add a grinding or two of pepper and the sorrel, and process to make a thick green paste. Add the lemon juice and olive oil, and process again until completely blended.

Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese by hand. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary.

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Filed under farmer's market, recipe, Seattle, side dish, vegetables

I’d make a pretty good cupcake

I’m not a particularly athletic person. I’ve done my fair share of sporty pursuits, but I learned long ago that there’s a difference between being athletically gifted and being athletically challenged, and I tend strongly toward the latter.

It’s not for lack of trying. And there are some sports, like skiing, that I’ve spent enough time doing to look like a natural, if not like a pro. I can’t think of any others besides skiing, but I’m sure there are one or two things. Probably just one.

But for all the good it’s done me (my husband swears my 198 cm skis were what nailed me the spot in his little black book in 1996), in-bounds skiing has also taught me that the joy derived from going down something very fast does not necessarily need to be preceeded by huffing up something first. Herego, my mental approach to anything that requires effort in one direction (or, God forbid, both directions) is a little skewed.

This morning was unusually warm and sunny, and some friends invited us on the first bike ride of the season. (Yes, you eastie beasties, there are daffodils blooming in Seattle.) They mentioned a place called Seward Park on Lake Washington, and said it was a pretty flat ride. But there was no mention of the fact that we live 14 miles from said park, and in my early-season exuberance and idealism I blithely donned my bike gear and started pedaling.

Somewhere around mile 20, when it was just getting unfun for me, my riding partners started discussing their upcoming participation in the Chilly Hilly, a 33-mile bike loop event around Bainbridge Island taking place next weekend. They were saying they wanted Cupcake Royale to sponsor them, despite their relative lack of racing experience, and it occurred to me that if, as an athlete, I were to have to be a food, I’d make a pretty good cupcake. I dress up nice on the outside, but I’m really just soft on the inside. I’m great going down(hill), even if I regret it afterwards. (Though I hope I’ll be able to make it to Seward Park again in the future.)

In the middle of my identification with the cupcake, I realized we’d be passing Trophy Cupcakes, Seattle’s newest cupcake house, on the way home, and we planned a stop. My pedal strokes seemed easier (not faster, just less mentally challenging).

I had a green tea cupcake, and it was everything I wanted after 25 miles. “Cupcakes are back,” cheered my buttercream-phobic husband. It was undeniably fresh (with a perfectly airy crumb), and the matcha-flavored cake and buttercream made a combo that was less sweet than I anticipated. I decided I could be the leader of a group of equally wussy road riders, and we could call ourselves the Cupcake Club and revel in the fact that we’d gain all motivation from each ride’s imminent cake and frosting binge. As I trudged up 73rd to the top of Phinney Ridge, I still cursed, but less loudly than I might have. The cupcake had given me strength.

Once home, I made a great smoothie using this ginger juice my friend in Hawaii dreamed up. I mixed a cup of frozen raspberries, 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup orange juice, a banana, and 1/4 cup of the ginger juice in a blender until nicely pureed, and it gave me the strength to sit down and write this. But now I must get to know the couch a little better.

Beth's Ginger Juice

Recipe for Beth’s Ginger Juice
Recipe 48 of 365

This is the ideal pick-me-up for ginger lovers. Beth gave me general guidelines for how she makes it when we visited in Hawaii. She puts it in Sprite, but I’ve had great success adding it to plain seltzer water (about 1 part juice to 3 parts seltzer), cocktails, and smoothies. I bet it would make a great base for ginger sorbet.

Since the whole mess gets strained, don’t worry about peeling the ginger too obsessively.

TIME: 5 minutes, plus 15 minutes soaking
MAKES: about 1 quart juice

8 ounces (1/2 pound) ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cups boiling water
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper, plus more to taste

Place the chopped ginger in the blender, pour the hot water over the ginger, and let sit for about 15 minutes. Add the lime juice, salt, sugar, and cayenne pepper, and blend until completely smooth. (Careful! It will probably test your blender’s capacity.) Strain the juice through a fine-mesh strainer into a mixing bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Season the juice to taste with additional sugar or cayenne (I added 2 more tablespoons sugar), remembering that this juice is a mixer; you probably won’t drink it straight.

Transfer the juice to an airtight container and refrigerate, up to 2 weeks.

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, products, recipe, Seattle