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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I Failed My New Years' Resolution

Not to be hard on myself or anything. 

A year ago I declared that my New Year's resolution wasn't going to be about eating right or exercise. It was more like a goal. I was going to read 25 novels by December 31st. That's only one book every two weeks or so. More than enough time! This is a resolution I can STICK to! 

But here I am on New Year's Eve Eve, staring at my library copy of The Grapes of Wrath with the flimsy bookmark sticking out stubbornly only about 1/8 of the book. This was supposed to be the golden number 25. So close, yet so far!

My White Whale. It's taunting me.

I figure that since I read the 1,000-pager The Pillars of the Earth, that can count for two books. Right?

But just in case it doesn't, I'll make up for the 7/8th of a book by sharing my top ten favorite reads this year, and hoping that maybe I can inspire someone to pick up one of them and maybe even enjoy it as much as I did. Or maybe you can hate it, and we can talk about it and have some sort of post-2015 blogger book club. But there I go asking for too much again.

In any case, here's my top 10!

10. Naked (David Sedaris) -- Reading this in early January on the train from NYC to CT, I remember flipping to the back of the book to read the excerpt again. Is this guy for real? Is this some sort of satire on American culture? But then you realize that you just need to get a feel for the guy's sarcastic sense of humor because it is, in fact, a memoir. Once he lets you in, his stories resonate deeper. I think he saved his serious, but haunting, stories for those who hung in there til the end.

9. The PIllars of the Earth (Ken Follett) -- The great de-railer of my 2015 goals, this kitty-crushing 1,000-pager was totally worth the journey into 12th C. England. I guess it's sort of comforting to know that corruption ruled even harder in those days, when politics was deeply entangled with the Church. And don't you just love to hate that smug little William Hamleigh!

8. Big Brother (Lionel Shriver) -- I love Shriver's writing style, but I didn't love this book right away. The characters were all just a tad too removed for me to care much about them. But the subject matter (one family member trying to save another from their eating disorder) hit me for some reason. This is a fabulous exploration of the question: How much can one person do for another person who is headed for self destruction? The ending, which I know many people find disappointing, answers that question with a sharpness that might take your breath away.

7. The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion) -- This book was just pure joy. A clever chick-lit romance novel written by a man, and told from the hilarious perspective of an Aussie with Asperger's. Read it at the beach. Read the funny parts out loud. Just read it. (But you can easily skip the sequel, The Rosie Effect).

6. Compassionate Carnivore (Catherine Friend) -- I thought this book would be a pretentious study about why I'm a terrible person eating factory farmed meat and a did-you-know? diatribe about slaughterhouses. It's not that. There are no guilt trips here. I found myself nodding and smiling and wishing I had a highlighter to highlight the honest and humble words on every single page. Her writing has changed the way I've thought about (and practiced) eating meat, permanently. 

5. Zeitoun (Dave Eggers) -- I guess I got my fair share of nonfiction, and this one is a one-two punch about sad realities in America: both acts of God (Hurricane Katrina) and of man (post 9/11 racism). I'd never considered how close 2005 was to 2001 until it's ten years later and did they seriously treat this poor Syrian -- who stayed in New Orleans to HELP -- with such awful disregard? How do we keep fear from driving humans to do awful things? Unlike Shriver, the answer is not at the back of the book. 

4. Wild (Cheryl Strayed) -- It is absolute and pure coincidence that I finished this book while staying in a cabin alongside the Columbia River on the Washington side, when Cheryl finishes her long journey on the PCT to the Oregon side of the river, just a few miles away from me. I'd meant to read it for so many years, and after three people recommended it in succession, I finally gave in. While I can't say I understand all her choices, the drive to get away and challenge herself in isolation resonated with me deeply.

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver) -- Ohh Shriver, my absolute favorite writer this year. She explores such big topics with such a cutting writing style that actually keeps you hooked all the way through. I'd first heard of this title when at the Nite Hawk movie theater in Brooklyn, and feeling lonely and homesick in Pullman, I grabbed it off the shelf of the library when I saw it. The school-shooting material reminds me of Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed, which I read 5 years ago, but it's so much sharper, darker, less Columbine-cliche. I guess she's had a few more years of these events to draw on. Regardless, the perspective of the mother of the killer is just so brilliant I can't even attempt to do it justice with my own words. The ending is so dark and haunting and somehow unexpected that it will follow you around for months!

2. The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) -- More dark novel stuff. Why do I enjoy books where every character is just horrible? This isn't the place to answer that question, so instead I'll say that yes, this book was similar to Gone Girl, and yes, I'm a sucker for good suspense-thriller-mysteries when it's written in a compelling manner like this one.

1. The Wonder Garden (Lauren Acampora) -- Oh, the darkest of them all and no wonder it's my favorite! I'll admit that I only picked this up because the author's name is Lauren and the setting is Connecticut (cringe) but you know what? Sometimes you fall onto amazing books in mysterious ways. This collection of short stories -- tied loosely together by connections in overlapping characters -- looks at the sad underbelly of the lives lived behind closed doors in a make-believe town not unlike Greenwich. There are the expected themes of lies, marital issues, drugs and disgruntled teenagers, covered over with truly bizarre scenarios: spending the night stuck at a stop sign. Metal creatures affixed to a wealthy home's exterior. Secret brain touching and following the call of Spirit animals. It's bizarre and creepy and I was left wanting so much more from this new author. More, more, more short stories! Or even a true novel would be nice, though it's obvious that she thrives in the short story format. This one's a winner for sure.


If there are any book recommendations you'd like to share, I would love to hear them! Maybe 2016 will be the year I can actually meet my 25 goal!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Finding Myself + Where to Eat in Seattle

It's a magical feeling, getting up at 5am, even though your body is screaming for just a little more sleep. Driving through town while it's still dark and quiet. Boarding the airplane before dawn. Taking off as early daylight touches the yellow hills of the Palouse, height giving new perspective. Miles and miles of farmland. Drinking a little styrofoam cup of coffee and imagining what the day will bring in a new place, how you'll navigate it all alone. It feels new and fresh and exciting to hop on a plane to explore by yourself. It makes me wonder why we don't all break routine a little more often.

It's been funny living in Washington for over two years and yet never making it up to Seattle. It was starting to become a game, in a way. How long can someone live in Washington and not make it to the only part of Washington that people know? Two years and two months, I guess.

I had a good time exploring by myself, visiting the EMP museum, playing the keyboard in one of their sound rooms. Marveling at the glass works at the Chihuly museum. Shopping at Pike's Place. 

But as usual, I was mostly there for the food. Raw oysters and a little sushi, to be precise.


Living in Eastern Washington, it is really hard to find quality seafood. You would think that at least the grocery stores have a selection, right? Unfortunately, you would be wrong. You would also be wrong if you thought that the fish guy at Safeway has a filet knife and could maybe filet a whole fish for you. Also, they only get deliveries on Tuesdays.

My priority was finding the best spot for oysters at a happy hour price. But what I realized is that happy hour oysters in Seattle is not like my favorite place for oysters in Brooklyn. At Maison Premier, you can get any specialty oyster they have for $1 at happy hour. Everywhere in Seattle, you can get $1 happy hour oysters, but only of a single variety that they choose FOR you. You want some of their other stuff? That's another $2.25 each, if you're lucky. Come on Seattle, give oyster freedom back to the people!

So I had the one-size-fits-all dozen at The Brooklyn (the oysters were fine but the atmosphere was way stuffy) and another at Elliott's Oyster House (a little touristy and pricey, being right on the water). I treated myself to a non-happy hour variety and got the $30 dozen at Taylor's Shellfish Farm. They were out of the Fanny Bay oysters, but I got to try the Shigoku, Totten Inlet Pacific, Virginica and Kumamoto, all from Washington. All delicious. Their salad with manchego cheese and side of green olives also did not disappoint. And it was fun to eat all the oysters at my own pace and not have to share with anyone!





For brunch, dungenness crab meat abound in Toulouse Petit's fantastic crab benedict... with "fine herbes." (Make-believe fancy conversation in my head: 'Oh, pardon me.' 'Quite all right.') And would you believe they have seven other kinds of benedicts alone, as well as tons of other Creole classics? I could probably eat here every day and never tire of it. They also have a fruit plate that would spark envy even among non-health nuts. Probably cause they serve it with a big bowl of condensed cream for dipping.



For sushi, we took refuge from a sudden deluge of rain at Japonessa. Although, now that I think of it, is rain ever sudden in Seattle? This fusion spot was completely packed by 5pm on a Saturday. Their creations, if not fun, can be a little over the top: the Super Bad Boy roll is packed with eel, snow crab, avocado, cream cheese and then deep fried and topped with spicy seared crab, chili aioli and soy glaze. I'd rather not even think about it too hard: it was tasty, if not a little overwhelming. Here's the Mexican Ninja, my preferred lighter dish, which is kind of like a rainbow roll with a little south-of-the-border spicy kick. 



The drive home was pretty, lots of evergreens and mountains before making way for the rounder hills of the Palouse. Back to the routine, the less exciting restaurants, the boredom that comes along with kicking around the familiar. I know it won't be another two years before I make my way back to Seattle this time.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Paleo Coconut Peanut Butter Cups

Call me an introvert, or a party pooper, or downright antisocial. But when the husband asks me to accompany him to a party for the psych department, I groan. And then when I hear it's a potlock? I groan some more, because out in Pullman I swear that every social gathering I'm invited to requires me to whip something up. Whatever happened to "just bring yourself?" 

I thought about making something quick and easy. Baked brie? No, it might need reheating. Pasta salad? No, he says. Too many of his colleagues are on Paleo diets. Well, that's convenient, with my Practical Paleo book within arms reach. So I flip to the way back again and boom -- another recipe to help use up those mini muffin cups. Almond butter cups!

So I go to the Moscow Co-op and would you believe almond butter is $17?! So I made a little swap to peanut butter with coconut oil already mixed in. Perfect, because that eliminates a step.



Making these things is way easier than I thought. The chocolate shell has only three main ingredients -- coconut oil, coconut butter, cocoa powder. Mix it with a little salt, vanilla, cinnamon. I added a dash of cayenne. Pour just a teaspoon into each mini muffin cup, and then it's into the freezer to harden. 


The filling calls for almond butter with coconut oil, but since my substitute includes both, I just add a little pink salt and pipe it out of a plastic baggie.


Then fill in the rest of the cups with the chocolate, stick it back in the freezer, and done!

I guess I should have waited longer to make these, because I already had to make a second batch to replace the ones I ate. How can I not snitch at these perfectly delicious and Paleo-friendly cups?

Give them a try. Bet you can't make one batch last through the day!

Paleo Coconut Peanut Butter Cups
Adapted from Practical Paleo

Ingredients for Shells:
4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
4 tablespoons coconut butter or manna
1/2 cup unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or agave nectar, which technically isn't Paleo but I prefer it)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of cinnamon, sea salt and cayenne pepper

For the Filling:
3 tablespoons coconut peanut butter
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt

Instructions:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the shells. Place about 20 mini-muffin paper liners on a small tray, and spoon 1 teaspoon of the mixture into each one. Freeze to set while you prepare the filling.

Add the peanut butter, sweetener and salt directly into a plastic bag and mix with your hands. Snip a tiny corner off the corner of the bag and pipe a small amount of the filling into the center of each muffin liner. Once all of the shells have been filled, add the remaining chocolate mixture until the filling is covered.

Place the tray back in the freezer to set, and serve cold (they melt fast).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dabbling in Paleo: Coconut-Orange-Chocolate Melt-Aways

I'm not sure what compelled me at the library last week. Maybe it was the fact that the Neill Public Library had a very respectable collection of cookbooks, including my favorite from Joe Beef in Montreal. Or maybe I'm just curious about different approaches to life: Buddhism, Catholicism, the Zone. But there I was picking up, checking out, driving off with -- Practical Paleo! 

As I'm reading through it at home, I'm sort of nodding and sort of suspiciously scrunching up my face. Wait -- bacon fat is okay, but any kind of grain is not? With my obsession with overnight oats, I'm not sure I'm 100% on board with this kind of diet plan. I can see how it would be great for gluten-free people. I flipped through some more. There are some interesting facts about digestion. I noted the smoke points of different cooking oils. I flipped to the back for the recipes -- no, the WAY back. Treats & Sweets. Yes.

The Orange Cream and Mint Melt-aways caught my eye. Those refreshing-looking little candies in the wrappers. I'll make those. Just the orange ones, to start.

The thing that was both compelling and kind of strange about these treats was the amount of coconut oil. I like desserts that also have the capacity to be a little bit good for you (I should tell you about that tofu mousse I make for people that have no clue it's not real cream... sometime).



The truth about these melt-aways, though, is that they are way too greasy. Even when frozen solid. And the sweetener could use a little pump-up.

So here's my proposal: chocolate + orange, all wrapped up in those fun little mini-muffin cups.


Chocolate-Covered Orange & Coconut Melt-Aways

Ingredients
1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup coconut cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon agave nectar

Instructions
Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl until smooth. (Tip: Heat the coconut oil so its easier to work with). Pour into paper liners in a 24-mini-muffin pan. Set in the freezer, and serve cold. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Lemon, Thyme and Honey Overnight Oats

It is hard to get back into the healthy breakfast routine after the vacation I just had.

Waking up in the beach cottage on the coast of Maine last week, it was the unspoken rule that whoever was up first would start frying up the thick cut, smoky bacon. Usually the next person up would start scrambling the eggs or frying the potatoes with sausage and brussell sprouts or beets. A third person would brave the line to grab at least a baker's dozen (or two) at Congdon's Doughnuts. Then we'd sit around the coffee table in the living room with our bacon and a plate of the daily scramble and laugh about the missing G on the Doughnuts box. Who wants a Doug-nut?

Now that I'm far, far away from that fresh salty air and staying inside to avoid the dangerous air quality from the nearby forest fires, I am missing Maine tremendously. And wishing that I didn't have to brave two more years of the Inland Northwest.

Though it's tempting to return to the comforting breakfasts of Moody Beach, I knew the day I returned that I could no longer keep up that kind of breakfast routine. Not without all the brothers-in-laws and father-in-laws and cousins that make this kind of early morning gluttony possible. Plus... the health thing.

Before vacation, I had gotten in the habit of making overnight oats the easy way -- the morning of. I used quick oats instead of rolled oats, so they didn't need that 8-hour steepage. I covered them with yogurt and almond milk, added chia seeds and topped it with blueberries. Delicious, but after a few weeks? Boring. 


Luckily, I stumbled upon this amazing Lemon, Thyme and Honey overnight oats recipe by The Breakfast Drama Queen the other day. I still used quick oats, but gave it the overnight treatment it deserved. I added chia seeds and doubled the amount of oats used, because I get hungry in the morning. I have to say, I was immediately impressed. The lemon peel gave it the bright flavor of a dessert, and fresh thyme added a little fanciful green to the otherwise beige breakfast. I think it needs a topping -- maybe nectarine slices, or figs? I'll play with it. 


In the meantime, here's my version:

Lemon, Thyme & Honey Overnight Oats

Ingredients
  • 1 cup rolled or instant oats
  • Zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Greek vanilla yogurt
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, removed from stem
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon Chia seeds

Instructions

Combine all the ingredients in a Mason jar. Close lid and shake well to combine. Leave in the refrigerator overnight, or at least a half hour if using quick oats. Top with more honey if desired, and enjoy!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Skirt Steak with Chimichurri, Farro Salad, Walla Walla Wine

I think I've got down the equation for a perfect Sunday dinner: two parts slow, one part fast.


By this I mean two ingredients that need to sit and let the flavors mingle together in the fridge for a couple hours. You can prepare at will and then let it finish preparing itself while you nap off the effects of a hike. Yesterday, this was an Italian-inspired farro salad and an oily, bright green chimichurri sauce. The farro was adapted from Giada's recipe; I added some goat cheese and avocado to make it a little more exciting. I added a dash of red wine vinegar to the vinaigrette, to intensify the balsamic. And instead of chives, I gathered fresh basil from our garden. The chimichurri I copied exactly from Chow.com. Only I used more garlic. I always do.

The second part of the Sunday lazy meal equation: a meat that you can grill up on the back deck and have ready within minutes. In this case, it is a skirt steak, seasoned simply with salt and pepper, topped with the chimichurri. 

A bottle of red washes it all down nicely. We opted for a local(ish) Stateline Red from Gifford Hirlinger winery in Walla Walla. It was reminiscent of the day we spent tasting at the vineyards over Memorial Day weekend.

A pretty good choice for a Sunday, where the prep is as slow as you want, and the assembly is as quick as finding the bottle opener.


Sidenote: the bird in the top left of the picture opens beer bottles, not wine bottles, but I like it cause every good picture has a bird in it somewhere.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Only Five Ingredients You'll Need for Sunday Meal Prep

If you're like me, Sunday meal prep is really hard.

Pinterest makes it look easy to pre-package a dozen meals into a neatly organized set of Tupperware, but when you get down to it on Sunday afternoon, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. How do you know in advance what you’re going to want each day of the week? And when you hit the grocery store to get ingredients for five different meals, it’s easy to rack up a huge bill with too many one-time-use ingredients. Sure, this crostini starter calls for a little goat cheese, but do I really need a whole log of it?

The trick to effective Sunday meal planning is to make the same foods in bulk every Sunday. With the versatility built into these ingredients, you can switch up your lunches and dinners so you don’t have the same thing twice for months. Plus, it takes some of the pressure off the last day of your weekend, so you can still have plenty of time for Sunday Funday.

Quinoa/Farro/Bulgar

Whether you prefer the red, black or the white kind, quinoa is a superfood packed with protein, vitamins and fiber. Same goes for the other types of whole grains, which you can easily find in any grocery store. Boil a few cups of this good stuff with water or chicken stock, fluff it up and refrigerate until you need a quick carb with dinner. You can also make a flavorful and filling quinoa salad with chopped veggies, beans, herbs and cheeses. Try a Mexican-inspired version with black beans and cilantro, or a caprese with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Throw on top of a salad or use as a side dish for the week.

Here's a bulgar salad I threw together last night with avocado, peppers, mozzarella cheese, cucumber and lemon juice. Refreshing on a hot day, and great with some grilled chicken!



Eggs

Eggs get a bad rap for its high level of cholesterol, but the fact is that the health benefits of the egg far outweighs any preconceived heart risk. It’s even been argued that the egg is the most nutritious natural food we have! Hard boil a half dozen on Sunday and slice them up in salads, add them to ramen-style soup or just pack them whole for a quick workday snack. If you’re feeling ambitious, make yourself deviled eggs, or whip up egg salad with olive oil-based mayo or Greek yogurt.

Chickpeas

Even straight out of the can, chickpeas can add flavor and dimension to almost any meal. Add them to chili, cook them up with eggs or fry them in oil ‘til they’re light and crispy. For a quick Sunday prep, try a simple chickpea salad of lemon, olive oil, parsley, parmesan and garlic and use as a salad topper interchangeably with the quinoa. Or blend up a batch of hummus to snack on all week.

Veggies

Peeling, chopping and slicing when you’re in a pinch can feel like an annoying chore, but getting into it on a Sunday afternoon is almost meditative. Ready up your carrots and other snacking veggies for the hummus, wedge potatoes to roast later, and prep your greens with a good rinse and spin. You’ll be more likely to eat your veggies if they’re all sliced and ready to go.

A Whole Chicken

In the wintertime, I love to roast a whole chicken with fennel, carrots and onion. This definitely is not ideal for the summertime, as I think most people would hate to turn the oven on at all, let alone for a long stretch. Instead, grill a bunch of chicken breasts and/or thighs and slice them up to add to salads for the rest of the week.


And there you have it! You can still come up with a ton of different weekday lunch and dinner ideas with these staples. You get to be lazy and creative at the same time!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Pasta Stra-sha-na-da

There's pasta primavera for the springtime, but what's an Italian to make in the summer? The answer is this: Pasta Stra-Sha-Na-Da.



As a kid, my mom always whipped up the same quick pasta dish in the summertime: Long fusilli pasta with a garlicky herb oil sauce. It was quick to throw together: she'd boil the water while my sister and I snipped the herbs from the back deck. We'd have dinner quick before getting back to the pool or playing with the neighbors or whatever else we did on long summer days when the sunlight filtered in long past bedtime. 

To be honest, I never really loved pasta stracchianata (taking a stab at the spelling here because I've never seen it written down). I guess the browned garlic was a little strong for my young tastebuds. It was just a means to an end: get the pasta down your throat and then you can get back to pool noodles instead of egg-and-flour ones. 

I hadn't thought about pasta stra-sha-na-da in a long time. But when my mom briefly mentioned she'd made it for dinner the other night before going on to tell me about the rest of her summery evening, I interrupted her mid-sentence: "Wait! Pasta Stra-sha-na-da. How do you make that?"

She was pleased I asked. Maybe she knew one day my taste buds would grow into it.

Basically, it's just an aglio e olio with a handful of herbs thrown in. But when you add some grilled chicken like I did, and use fresh pappardelle from the refrigerated part of the grocery store, it becomes so much more than the sum of it's parts. And you can still get it made quick so you can spend the rest of the evening gardening, reading, and having a cold beer on the deck.



Pasta Straccianata

Ingredients:
2 TBS butter
2 TBS olive oil
6 gloves garlic, chopped
dash of red pepper flakes
lemon juice
Parmesan cheese
1 spring fresh oregano
about 6 basil leaves
a handful of fresh parsley
a few mint leaves
1 package fresh refrigerated pasta (tortellini works well too)

Instructions:
Get a pot of cold water boiling for the pasta. In the meantime, heat equal amounts of butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat -- about two tablespoons each is good to start. When the butter melts, add the garlic and red pepper and turn down the heat to low. If you're worried about the garlic browning too much, turn it off entirely and just let the spicy garlic flavor infuse the oil.

Make a chiffonade of oregano, basil, parsley and a little mint. Chop coarsely. 

When the pasta is done, add to the oil and garlic. Turn the heat up to medium. If needed, add a little of the pasta water.

Sprinkle with the herbs and mix well. Off heat, add a little lemon juice and Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Foraging for Morels in Elk River



It was about mid-May when my friend finally said: It's time to go foraging!

I'd been asking repeatedly when we could go hunting for morels, which grow locally around the inland Northwest. She kept telling me that it had to be above freezing at night, but not too hot during the day. We hit that sweet spot a few weeks into May, and packed up a few cars with friends and dogs and supplies on the first nice Sunday.

The two-hour drive to Elk River, Idaho gave me time to think and reflect. In New York, morels were among the most coveted and rare items on a menu. We'd had them (and by "them" I mean two, cut in half, or maybe it was just one big one) with trout at Recette, and I think we found them on the menu at Dressler, too... maybe with that giant pork chop they used to have? Anyway, we used to think ourselves lucky to have access to that special fungi, and to take a day to forage it yourself -- isn't that the Brooklyn foodie dream? I mean, anyone can eat a mushroom soaked in butter at a city restaurant and nod approvingly, but not many can say they've strapped on their boots, rolled up their sleeves and found some themselves. 

Recette's Fancypants Trout w/ Exactly 3 Morel Morsels

We pulled into the secret woodsy area that I was threatened with my life not to share. And then we let the dogs loose to channel their inner truffle pig and be our mushroom muses. Only Honey Badger the corgi actually used her sniffer to actually find us any, but the rest of the pups were good and stayed close as we spread out.


It was a little slow finding the first morels, but we stuck to the rule: Look for lady slipper flowers and morels typically grow nearby. This was usually near a big tree, where the ground was still a little wet. At first, we would shriek with excitement when we found one. And then it got quieter as we secretly filled up our little laundry bags with as many as we could find. They seemed to be everywhere once we moved past an area that had obviously already been picked over. I was overwhelmed by the abundance.


After a few hours, we were all exhausted and hungry. So we headed into town and got huckleberry ice cream at the general store. TripAdvisor says it is world famous, but of course that's the only site that you can find that it even exists. They don't do much of a Web presence out here. But after hearing about it the old fashioned way, I was excited to get a giant cone and sit out on a bench enjoying the sun.

When we got home, it took a long time to cut, clean, soak and store our morels. The rest of the week there were sauteed morels, morel omelettes, morels with trout as a replication of our New York days past. But that night I made something to truly celebrate our hard work: a risotto! We bought a few scallops from the store to add to the asparagus and morel rice that I stirred constantly in chicken broth for 45 minutes. It was worth every stir. Having morels in this sort of homemade luxury made me scoff at our old ways of overpriced stinginess.


I'm not saying I'm a country girl now and won't move back to the city eventually. But a day like May 17? It changed my perspective in a haunting way that I can't shake. Where will we end up living, when we can finally decide for ourselves again? I'm not certain anymore. But in the meantime there will be morels in the freezer that I can thaw out at any time, and remember what I've learned.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

West Coast States are Big.

It used to be that seven hours got us from Brooklyn all the way down to the outer banks in North Carolina. That's New York, New Jersey (almost into Pennsylvania), Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. Six states! Now, seven hours gets us from southern Washington to northern-central Oregon. I don't understand how it's possible, but then again maps have always eluded me. "Cartographer" was my least favorite profession back in third grade, up there with "Hairdresser." Twenty years later and I'm still lost and my hair is still a mess.

Regardless of how long it took, I consider myself to be pretty blessed to have the opportunity to drive down to Camp Sherman for a long President's Day weekend. This is exactly the sort of thing that we would never fly across the country for, so why not pack up the car and experience it all now, while we can?

After a 5-hour drive to Portland last Friday night, which would have been pretty boring had we not debated about the destructive powers of the DSM and Fifty Shades of Gray, we stopped at Ecliptic Brewery to taste test a few brews and have dinner at the bar. This is exactly the sort of place that gives me hope that life exists after Brooklyn. North Portland is sort of like East Williamsburg before all those little fancy bars opened up and people started coming from Manhattan and ruining the gritty little part of Brooklyn that used to feel like a refuge. 

There were some interesting brews, but the best was definitely the Orbiter IPA, which "unites a constellation of "C" hops (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus)". Those C hops create a crafty beer that is citrusy, clear and crisp (See what I did there?).



The next morning we were had fantastic breakfast sandwiches from Random Order and hit the road toward Sisters. And I have to say that the Heartthrob sandwich, with herbed cream cheese and sundried tomatoes, definitely made my ticker skip a happy beat. 

What a gorgeous drive from Portland to Camp Sherman. After the first hour or so of highway driving, you seem to descend into a dense forest, alongside a rippling blue creek. Slowly you to ascend again, scaling the sides of giant hills as snow-capped mountains loom in the background. A few acres are totally destroyed from forest fires or volcanoes, their stumpy and charred tree remains stretched out like sunbathers on a beach. Then back into the canopy of trees until you reach your destination: a cozy cottage in the woods.

Our cottage was cozy and woodsy, a fabulous weekend retreat. A two mile riverside hike from the REAL family cottage: a blacksmith-detailed, antler-hanging DREAM of a getaway. I walked in and seriously just about hit the floor. 


But soon I got comfortable and had no trouble relaxing into the coziest moment of my life: fireplace, golden retriever, newspaper. 


Sunday we hiked Black Butte, a challenging two-mile hoof from the parking space about 3/4 of the way up the hill just outside Sisters, OR. The view from the top was rewarding, enough to offset the two days of leg pain that followed. It also bought me two days of dog exhaustion that almost had me worried but mostly had me feeling satisfied that I had never before challenged the pup this much. It was also validating to those spaghetti legs of mine.


Driving home and feeling rejuvenated on Monday, we cut across the northeast part of Oregon towards I-84 instead of stopping through Portland again. With snowy Mount Hood looming in the background and miles and miles of red-dusted, cattle-grazing land, I felt like we were in a cigarette ad. 


It's a freeing feeling, though. Back home everyone is shoved into the subway and shuffling across the street with hoardes of people. And here we are, driving 70 on an empty road with good tunes on the stereo and nothing in our way. The homesickness has whittled itself down to a sliver and in it's place, I feel free.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

1 Chicken, 2 People, 3 Days, 4 Meals

After a week of excess in NYC, it's been time to tighten our belts and start living in our means again. The idea of meal planning is actually kind of fun and exciting to me, unless it's actually Sunday and time to get down to it. Then I have to go through recipes and ideas and make a list and then go to the store and find other things and veer from the list and then go home and realize I forgot stuff and then I get frustrated. 

So a compromise: I'll plan a little, and leave room for meal creativity as the week goes by. One cannot choose a wardrobe for the week ahead of time and same goes for food. You just have to have the right items in your closet in case it snows or rains or something. 

To do this effectively, Sunday should be an easy prep day. Maybe a little grocery shopping. Then you make a bunch of rice or quinoa for the week, maybe boil a couple eggs for salads or ramen, but most definitely you gotta roast a whole chicken.



Meal One: Roasted Chicken with Fennel

Stuff the chicken with:
1 head of garlic
thyme
lemon

Slice up:
carrots
onion
fennel

Rub the chicken with oil or butter, salt, pepper, paprika. Place in a cast iron pan over a bed of veggies. Roast for about an hour at 425 degrees. 

Slice off the legs and serve with the veggies and whatever grain you cooked up. Save the breast meat for other stuff later in the week. 

Meal Two: Chicken Soup

The same night you roast the chicken, start the chicken stock. Add the bones, chicken carcass with onions, carrot, celery and parsley to a crockpot and cover with water. Let it simmer on low until the next day. Skim the fat off the top. 

We made a simple ramen type soup with the stock, some shredded dark meat, the leftover roasted veggies and fresh Chinese noodles. I would not recommend getting the flour-y kind of noodles like we did because it made the soup way too thick. I think rice sticks would work better. Also fresh veggies would work better too if you have time to simmer them. Add a hard boiled (or soft boiled) egg to make it ramen-y. 



Meal Three: Chicken Salad

Shred about 1/4 of the breast meat. Add enough mayo and plain Greek yogurt to moisten. Chop up some celery and add salt, pepper, and whatever spices you like. I added almonds too. Mom swears by Bells seasoning but I don't have that stuff so I just used some Penzey's stuff and it worked out just fine. 



Make chicken salad sandwiches with spinach and avocado, or add a scoop to a spinach salad with some mozzarella, a quick chickpea salad (just drain and rinse a can of chickpeas and dress with lemon, olive oil and parsley) and avocado. Tastes like the buffet lunches I used to get in midtown NY, only it doesn't cost $10/lb.



Meal Four: Chicken Tacos

This one comes together quick and works best for a gym night. Heat up some shredded chicken with a chipotle and some adobo sauce. Add to a tortilla and top with cabbage, cheese, Greek yogurt and avocado.



Shopping List
There's room for lots of variation here, but if I needed to build an important Sunday grocery list it would look like this:

  • Fennel
  • Onion 
  • Carrot
  • Garlic
  • Celery
  • Parsley & Thyme
  • Avocado

  • Greek Yogurt
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Mozzarella
  • Eggs
  • Chipotle in adobo sauce
  • Chickpeas
We just used the rest of the chicken stock to cook a bunch of boneless pork ribs. We'll see where this week of shredded pork will take us.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Selfie Book Club: Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

So here's my resolution for 2015: I am going to read 25 books this year. 

Usually my resolutions are so vague: "I want to be healthy!" or "I might go to the gym!" But 25 books is a goal and I think I can reach it.

So to kick off the year I decided to treat myself to a food book. For many years these cooking memoirs were all I would read, and of course they made me hungry so I would have to snack while I paged my way through each journey. After reading all the Ruth Reichl and Jeffrey Steingarten I could get my hands on, I had to take a breather. Now I treat food books as chocolates. It's good for once in awhile but I can't let myself rot my brain on them. Also I can't afford that many Fritos.

So you can imagine how pissed off I get when I treat myself to what I think might be a quaint little book about home cooking in 1988 and instead I get lectured about made up nutrition pseudo-science and weird ramblings about pimento loaf. Who even recommended this book to me? How did it make its way onto my To-Read List? And why does everyone on Goodreads think Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin is "comforting," "insightful," "witty"? Did we even read the same book? These cutesy comments make me angrier than the book itself.



So I'll give her this: food memoirs were probably edgy back in 1988. There was no Food Network. The idea of celebrity chefs probably would have puzzled many people back then. She had a couple good stories and a nice appetite and probably a workable typewriter, and she went for it. She wanted to share favorite recipes and dole out advice on things that maybe she wasn't in a position to really give but fact checking was probably a lot harder without Google. 

Okay but I seriously cannot get past the fact that there is an entire CHAPTER called "How to Avoid Grilling" and it includes the message that "Grilling is like sunbathing... everyone knows it is bad for you but no one ever stops doing it" and "Since I do not like the taste of lighter fluid, I do not have to worry that a grilled steak is the equivalent of seven hundred cigarettes." 

WHAT.

Lady, you fry literally everything in tons of oil, but a grilled steak is 700 cigarettes that tastes like lighter fluid?

I also have to give her props for her opening comment, "Unlike most citizens of these United States of America, I do not grill." I guess the humblebrag really was born before Facebook.

These United States. Pssht.

But grilling is not the only thing she despises. Oh no no no. She also makes the claim that "I do not like to eat al fresco. No sane person does, I feel." I mean I get that under certain circumstances it may not be entirely pleasant to eat outside but are you really going to call every happy picnic-going family insane?

Here is a list of other things she does not like:

  • (Cake) mixes: "They are uniformly disgusting"
  • Stuffing on Thanksgiving (no sympathy for even the disappointed kids!)
  • Little Fry Guys: for "nasty fried chicken.... crisp little baby shoes or hockey pucks"
  • Fried chicken coated with eggs or crumbs
  • Fish eyeballs
  • The idea of sweet fruit soup
  • Stuffed Breast of VealCaviar "My only allergy is a slight one, making me a cheap date" (humblebrag #2!)
  • "Glamorous" food
  • Dinner parties. But she throws them anyway to "keep the wheels of society spinning" so "no one will ever know how antisocial you really are." (Honey, I think they have a clue)
  • Canned broth: its "pretty nasty"
  • Parties at night
  • Chocolate cake
  • Chocolate ice cream
  • Microwaves

Things Laurie Colwin likes:
  • Potato salad: "There is no such thing as really bad potato salad."
  • Chocolate, which she likes but does not love
  • Lebanon bologna, with which she was able to (singlehandedly!) "buck the trend" of grilling
  • Some weird thing called beef tea
  • Pretty much anything "festooned" with something else (though I guess this does not count as "glamorous;" see above)
  • Chicken salad, which has "a certain glamour," but apparently the right kind of glamour; again, see above
  • Pimento
Things Laurie Colwin wrongly says "is good for you":
  • Vegetable fritters formed into cakes and fried in butter
  • Fried zucchini
  • Broccoli di rape, which would be true, but she sells it as "a perfect foil for buttery food."

In the chapter called Feeding the Fussy, she goes to extremes to tell us about how she isn't fussy and can eat pretty much anything and that makes her the "universal recipient - the O Positive for hostesses." (Insert blanching emoji that doesn't exist). She goes on to make fun of people's idiocyncracies about food restrictions, fads, diets, notions, phoebias, religious limitations, etc. I feel like she must have been a really long lag while writing this book where she forgot about this chapter and penned the later chapter called Without Salt where she TALKS ABOUT HOW SHE CAN'T EAT SALT BECAUSE SHE HAS HYPERTENSION and then reminds herself that when she's giving those dinner parties she hates that "when I feed people without salt, I am actually doing them a favor."

To boot: we are asked to take inspiration for "low tea" from P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins.

I'm sorry to hear that she died of a heart attack not long after writing this book. But I really do wish she'd done her research on nutrition before giving a condescending diatribe about the virtues of things fried in butter.

TWO STARS because maybe I should just give festooned pimento a chance 

To Huevos Rancheros and Maya Angelou

I regret taking this title from that song in Rent, but La Vie Boheme has been in my head since my parents' dog groomer was jamming to The Tango Maureen while clipping little Maggie's paws.

But to the point. Huevos rancheros. My go-to thing to order at brunch when I'm in the city. And how did it never occur to me to make it at home? 

We were watching that Amazon Prime show Transparent the other night and Mort's daughter's new lesbian lover's ex stepdaughter (it IS that kind of show) says to Mort's son  "You like huevos rancheros? It's my specialty," and a fuse in my mind blew a little. It should be MY specialty! And also Jeffrey Tambor looks awful in drag.

So here we are on Saturday morning and I'm hankering for those huevos rancheros before I'm even conscious. I read through a few recipes to see where I should even start. But when I get to rifling through the cabinet and fridge I find that I'm missing few vital ingredients. No black beans, no sour cream, no fresh cilantro, no tomatoes. So I made a few substitutions and have to report that I'm pretty happy with what I came up with.


Sorta Huevos Rancheros (for 2)

Salsa-ish Sauce
1 chipotle marinated in adobo sauce (from those little cans I always have lying around), chopped, plus some of the sauce itself
1 half onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 TBS of pasta sauce (Shh, it was all I had)
1 drizzle of olive oil
Dash of cumin
Salt & pepper

Set sorta sauce in a saucepan on medium low and simmer while you arrange everything else.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium, add 4 eggs and cook about 1 minute. Then set to medium low and cover until almost at desired doneness. I turned the heat off and let them steam a bit for a nice medium sunnyside up.

Meanwhile, chop up some cheddar cheese and avocado.

When everything's good to go, fry 2 small corn tortillas over medium high heat in canola oil, about 30 seconds on each side.

To plate: Top each tortilla with 2 eggs, cover in sauce, sprinkle with cheese and arrange avocado. Add a nice dollop of Greek yogurt if you don't have sour cream. Sprinkle dried cilantro on top.

Even with all the substitutions, it came out pretty great. No 30 minute wait at Brooklyn Label necessary.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What to do with Chinese Fermented Bean Curd from Vancouver

I guess it was a happy coincidence the other day when my plans for a pork stirfry coincided with a new Chinese ingredient that Rob pulled out of his backpack at the end of the day.

"Joseph brought this for you."

Well, honestly, if it was anything other than a jar of strange liquidy red stuff with a label that I couldn't read, I would have been surprised. 

This spurred a texting frenzy where I ask our humanitarian a ton of questions: What is this stuff? How do I cook with it? Can I skip the marinading overnight and find a way to integrate into dinner right now? He gave me a few pointers before sending me off with a confident "play with it!"


So I popped the cap and gave it a sniff. I expected the sauce to be thick like a paste, but its as sloshy as thin paint and as bright red as blood. It's really bitter by itself, but can be properly tempered with sugar, cooking wine and a little soy sauce.

I have no idea if this stuff is readily available in most parts of America, but it sure isn't around here. I even went into the new Asian Market in Pullman to nose around and sure enough, no liquid fermented bean curd. For now I'll just be thankful I have a friend who takes frequent trips to Vancouver and brings us back cool stuff. 

Anyway, here's what I did, and I think it worked pretty well:

Bean Curd Sauce
three parts Chinese fermented bean curd
one part honey
one part mirin
two parts soy sauce
two parts sesame oil
splash of whiskey  

Heat over high heat in a wok for about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

For Stirfry
Add cubes of meat (I used pork) to the wok and cook until no longer pink. Remove from heat. Add vegetables (I used sugar snap peas, broccoli and asparagus) until slightly charred but still crispy, about four minutes. Add the meat back to the wok and top with the bean curd sauce until warmed over.


Serve over quinoa cooked in chicken broth. Hey... it's still healthy!