Polio and the pandemic: Braised Pork Shoulder

One of my favorite ‘50s singers, Patsy Cline.

In the early 1950s Midwest, along with lazy days, ice cream trucks, and DDT spraying, summer brought the ominous threat of polio. The specter of “infantile paralysis” showed up every summer, terrifying parents and health officials, banning birthday parties, closing swimming pools, interrupting my favorite Saturday matinee serial, and isolating children to their own back yards. No one knew for sure how the disease was transmitted—one summer, the prevalent theory blamed cats. The next year it was open windows, unknown water sources, and imported fruit. Ginny remembers getting a polio shot in kindergarten and having her picture taken for the Dakota County Star—“Probably because I had the most terrified look on my face.” Bob also remembers that he and his siblings were on the front page of the local paper in a group shot, receiving their vaccinations.

Middle class parents felt helpless—they had survived the Great Depression, fought and won a war, and they expected buoyancy and good fortune. A crippling disease that targeted children distorted the idealized notion of what family life should be. There were polio epidemics every summer but they tended to be regional not nationwide with an economic impact limited to the surrounding geographical area, and mainly affected children, not wage earners or businesses. In 1955, Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was declared safe and effective and the public lined up eagerly for the vaccine; in 1962 polio cases were reduced by 90%; and by the end of the century, polio had become a memory.

2020’s pandemic brought along a year of losses: we lost our freedom to mingle, to hug, to swim, to celebrate in a noisy bar, to sneeze unabashedly in a crowd, to eat popcorn in a darkened theatre, and to jump up and down at a sporting event; but our children, sisters, brothers, and grands are healthy and safe so thank you for that. This year we lost members of our extended family: the Sweetie’s sister—her husband, our long-time friends—their siblings, my sister-in-law—her niece, our daughter-in-law—her dog Lucy, and my daughter—our dog Louie. We remember them all and our other lost brothers, sisters, Moms and Dads—here’s thinking of you.

Here’s a recipe from the Food Network and Anne Burrell adapted so that I could use the leftovers in tacos.

Braised Pork Shoulder

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted
  • One 4-pound boneless pork picnic shoulder, sliced in half along the grain
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle in sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 T. Dijon mustard
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2-3 cups chicken or beef stock
  • 3 to 4 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced or 1 cup diced-in-juice tomatoes
  • 1/2 bag frozen pearl onions (Ginny told me about these and they’re fabulous)
  • Root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips), diced yams or squash, if desired

Toast seeds in a sauté pan over medium heat and grind to a fine powder—using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Sprinkle the divided pork shoulder with the ground spices and salt, then tie each piece so it cooks evenly.

Coat a Dutch oven with olive oil and bring to a medium-high heat. Brown pork on all sides, remove from the pan and reserve.

Lower the heat to medium and add onions and season with salt. Cook the onions until soft and aromatic, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, minced chipotle, and 1 more teaspoon of ground coriander/cumin and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Add the wine and reduce by half. Stir in the mustard and add the bay leaves and oregano.

Return the pork to the Dutch oven. Add stock and tomatoes to the pan until the liquid comes halfway up the side of the pork. Add salt if needed. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, and put the Dutch oven in the preheated oven.

After 1 hour, turn the pork over and add more liquid to the pan if the liquid level has gone down. Add pearl onions, cover, and return to the oven for 1 hour.

Remove pork from oven, turn the pork back over, return to the oven without the lid, and cook for 45 more minutes. The liquid should concentrate. Put root vegetables in now, if desired. (I roasted the vegetables separately and added when everything was done.)

Remove the pan from the oven, remove the pork and reserve for 15 minutes, tented with aluminum foil. Skim any excess fat from the pan and reduce the pan juices, if needed. Slice the pork and serve with vegetables and juices.

 

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2020, a look back: Thai noodle soup

Listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing New Year’s Eve by clicking on the post title.


In January 2020, we worried about our traveling friends and the brushfires near Sydney, Australia, growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Britain’s upcoming Brexit, and the the report of a new virus in Wuhan, China. Who could have predicted what the rest of the year would bring. It’s difficult to look back on 2020 with any degree of fondness. It was a year of rolling disasters: an impeachment, the killing of Floyd George and the ensuing social upheaval, the raging fires up and down the West coast, the bitter, acrimonious presidential election followed by the refusal of a petulant tyrant to admit defeat, and a global pandemic that seems to have no end. I should at least be bruised or battered but here I am, cozy, well-fed and comfortable—life is indeed not fair.

2020 Bright spots:

  • Sweetie’s wildflowers
  • Grosbeak pair who stayed around until July
  • Dodgers’ World Series win
  • Boston Harbor
  • Gas fireplaces
  • Dr. Fauci
  • Neighborly chats with the Fros
  • Cordless steam irons
  • New bowls
  • Screen doors
  • Soft, beautiful throws
  • New puppies
  • Blog comments
  • Dave Barry and David Sedaris
  • Morning visits with Ginny
  • Nighttime snuggles with the Sweetie
  • Russell Wilson
  • Groovicorns

Not-so-bright spots:

  • Colonoscopies
  • Dental implants
  • Pandemic
  • Murder hornets
  • The hunt for toilet paper
  • Anyone Trump
  • Alabama Crimson Tide
  • Commercials telling me, “We’re all in this together”
  • No more Salted Caramel Gelato at TJs

So, my bright list far outweighs the not-so-bright list. And there you have it: my family and friends are healthy, my refrigerator is full, I spend my days with someone I love dearly, my sister lives close by, my kids are kind and successful in all ways, my grandchildren are generous and happy, the family is adding babies to the blend—I have so many things to be thankful for. Here’s looking at you, 2021. 

Favorite recipe of the year.

Thai chicken noodle soup

  • 1 cup cooked shredded chicken 
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, 2 tsp sesame oil 
  • Kosher salt 
  • ½ lb rice noodles (I also have used both udon and ramen—cooked separately and added at the end)
  • 1/2 onion, diced 
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced 
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced 
  • ½ lb mushrooms, diced 
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic 
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger 
  • 1 tbsp minced lemongrass (I rarely have lemongrass but I’m sure it would be good)
  • 2 tbsp red curry paste or panang curry paste (try a little more if you like spicy)
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar 
  • 1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk (don’t worry if the coconut milk is solid at the top. Just pour it in a bowl & whisk)
  • 1 ½ qt chicken stock 
  • 3 limes, juiced 
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce 
  • Garnishes: Thinly sliced scallions, cilantro leaves, lime wedges 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the rice noodles one minute less than the package’s instructions. Drain the noodles and run under cold water. Set aside. 

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion and shallots. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring often, until tender and slightly caramelized. Season with a pinch of salt. 

Add the carrots and mushrooms. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. Cook for a minute until fragrant. 

Add the red curry paste and stir well to combine. Whisk in the coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes, stirring often. 

Stir in the shredded chicken and cooked rice noodles to heat through. Taste for salty, sweet, sour, hot balance and add where necessary. Right before serving, stir in the lime juice and fish sauce. Serve the soup hot with scallions, cilantro leaves, and a squeeze of lime.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 4 Comments

Ghosts of Christmas past: Pumpkin chiffon pie

We’re on our second artificial Christmas tree. Our first one came from the Hillcrest Ace Hardware in San Diego and twinkled every Christmas for twenty years. But last year, expecting the usual, I opened the long tree box, found the elusive plastic feet, set the top on the bottom, plugged in the cord…nothing. No twinkle, no glimmer, nothing. A quick trip to Lowe’s solved that lack of twinkle and this year, the new tree lit up as expected.

Setting up a tree for a few weeks seems like a lot of trouble, but then, there’s the fun of unwrapping old friends: Sweetie’s yearly angel, the beautiful glass squares from Patty and Jim, Nikki’s sparkly cat ornaments, my Gramma’s swan and penguin that Ginny gave me, the cherub Muth brought me from Brussels, the gold leaf we got at Wall Drug, and Lara’s wonderful red birds. Putting up the tree certainly unwraps the memories.

In December 1984, we were finally getting settled in Los Angeles after the move from Vashon. The Sweetie was training educational software in Texas and I had a job at Stratton’s, a fancy continental restaurant in Westwood. He flew home on Christmas Eve and I had Christmas Day off, so we decided to have a Christmas picnic at the beach. On my way home from work I picked up California rolls at Cowboy Sushi, bialys and lox cream cheese at I N’Joy Bagels, and a tin of chocolate chip cookies from Mrs. Fields. Bob bought the finest champagne Westward Ho had to offer and the next morning, we tossed our Mexican rug in the trunk, and set off for Santa Monica. The beach was almost empty—a few gulls lurking nearby to snatch up our crumbs, one lone Christmas surfer, and endless blue skies. The only thing missing was The Beach Boys.  

The Fosters show up in several of my favorite Yule time memories. There was that year we went to D. C. and saw a Man Ray exhibit at the Smithsonian, shopped at fancy city malls, ate Ethiopian food in Adams Morgan, and cooked an elaborate Christmas dinner at Dick’s house. Then there was the winter we decided to fly down for a San Diego Christmas. December weather in the Northwest can be treacherous, and sure enough, a blizzard cancelled our flight. Not to be deterred we thought, “We’ll just drive. No treachery there!” Six hours later we were at a dead stop on the 205 around Portland where we stayed for eight more hours. We burned through one jar of Ruby’s special strawberry jam, two tubes of Pringles, a tin of gingerbread men, a bag of Cheetos, and our backup Diet Cokes. Luckily for me, we brought along paper cups; after all that Coke, there was no choice.

Frosty is his usual jolly, happy soul.


Gnome reluctantly agreed to participate


Grumpy Santa, snowmen, and Karen’s Christmas stockings


Ginny’s basket with 101 red balls and Bridget’s Christmas runner


Doubletree

So turn on the tree, bring in the dogs, gather up all your special ones, wrap up in that new silky throw and listen to these wistful Christmas songs.

BTW, forget about that enormous, shiny Costco pumpkin pie. Buy a frozen Marie Calendar pie shell and make this instead.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

  • 1 tablespoon gelatin
  • 1⁄4 cup cool water
  • 3 whole eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked or canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoons each, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • Whipped cream

Soak the gelatin 1/4 cup cold water Separate eggs, reserve whites in metal bowl. Beat the egg yolks slightly. Combine beaten yolks with 1⁄2 cup sugar, pumpkin, milk, salt and spices in the top of a double boiler. Cook ingredients over boiling water, stirring frequently until thick. Stir in the soaked gelatin until dissolved. Remove from the cook top and chill until mixture begins to set. 30 minutes to 1 hour. Beat egg whites with 1⁄2 c. sugar. Fold pumpkin mixture into egg whites. Pour into baked pie shell. Refrigerate

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The days dwindle down: Cabbage patch stew

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John Lennon long insisted that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was not about LSD but was inspired by a painting his three-year-old son Julian made of Lucy O’Donnell, his classmate at Heath House nursery school. As Lennon said in … Continue reading

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Freezer burn, what freezer burn? Beef barley soup

Listen to Rag’n’Boneman’s Grace by clicking on the post title.

I was just looking for a few corn tortillas to make enchiladas. You know how it goes: you begin an innocent search and find yourself two hours later sitting on the bedroom floor sorting old photos, in the garage alphabetizing your fly fishing ties, in the attic trying on your wedding dress, in the work shed knee deep in stuff you haven’t seen for years, or in the kitchen surrounded by three years worth of bits and bites from the freezer. As November 15 was National Clean Out the Refrigerator Day and everything but the missing tortillas was out of the freezer anyway, I seized the day and dove in—heaven knows I have the time.

The  freezer has been out of control for a while now, so I accepted the challenge and will cook only what’s in there until I can see the back wall. Who knows what lurks behind the bag of rolls from Winco, three packs of English muffins, those endless grey-tinged Costco hamburger patties, Ziplocks full of mystery meat, and containers of unmarked leftovers? Aha! I knew we had some frozen shrimp. Yea! There’s that pork tenderloin from last summer. Yuk! What possessed me to save those two pieces of rock cod? OMG, how long have those blueberries been rolling around down there? 

Keeping Marie Kondo and her “spark joy” in mind, I tossed frozen fruit, old peas, curled up fish filets, small containers of something brown, two plastics of reddish, curry-like food, some creamy-green ice cubes, old bread ends—these did not spark joy. I kept a tin of chicken pot pie, three freezer bags of minced garlic, those Costco patties, rice, noodles, corn, TJs’ risotto and polenta, two pieces of pork butt, shrimp, scallops, and eight medium-sized pieces of meat that I assume are beef—these sparked moderate joy.

I found one limp carrot and a turnip in the vegetable bin, a half bag of barley from the bean/noodle/nut drawer and a fine beef barley soup was right around the corner. I made my first beef barley soup one morning at Sound Food. After searching through the walk-in for the day’s money makers, soup for lunch was my priority. Blustery weather and the trimmings from last night’s beef stew made for an easy call. Beef barley soup hit the right notes—comforting, cheap, and available. I trimmed, chopped, browned, and stirred with a frequent eye on the ticking clock,  the lunch bunch was on their way.

At 11:30 after a two-hour simmer, a peek under the pot lid revealed a sticky, gray, unappetizing mass of barley, beef, and vegetables. Barley has a life of its own: growing, exuding starch, and absorbing all liquid. After that first not eatable failure, I cook the barley separately, rinse it, and add it to the soup for the last 20 minutes.

The lunch bunch did not get soup that day.

The following recipe for soup may seem steppy, but any soup tastes better when you take time to build the flavor base. 

Beef barley soup

  • 2 tablespoons oil 
  • 1/2 pound beef cubes, short ribs, or chuck roast 
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste 
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme 
  • 2 Tbs. minced sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained 
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • Other root vegetables: turnips, rhutabags, parsnips, potatoes
  • 2 cups chopped cabbage 
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley, rinsed, cooked, and rinsed again

Heat a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add 1 Tbs. of the oil. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper. Sear the meat on all sides until well browned; this will take 10-15 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, add remainder of oil to the pan. Add the onion, celery, and thyme to the pan and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. (Those past-the-prime mushrooms in the bottom of the vegetable bin would fit right in.) Add sun-dried tomatoes—sauté five minutes. Add chopped canned tomatoes, sauté five minutes.

Return the meat to the pan, add chicken stock. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 2-3 hours or until the meat is just tender.

While meat and broth are simmering, rinse the barley and cover it with water plus about 2 inches of water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until barley is tender—usually 45-60 minutes. Drain and rinse.

When the meat is fork tender, add the carrots or other hard vegetables—rutabagas (rutabagas are so hard, they can almost be added with the meat), turnips, parsnips, etc. and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add softer vegetables—cabbage, potatoes, or zucchini—the amount of cooked barley you prefer, and simmer for 20 minutes more.

Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper or Tabasco.

 
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Cooking in the shadow: Crab cakes with thyme aioli

Listen to John Handy’s Hard Work by clicking on the post title.

I was fifty when I finished my final shift working for Tom Douglas at the Dahlia Lounge. I punched out, changed my sweat-soaked socks, let myself out the back door, and limped down Fifth Avenue to the #118 bus stop. Every morning when I rode in to work from Vashon, my bus passed through Pioneer Square, and every morning I saw an old breakfast cook, hair stuffed under a baseball cap, wearing a grease-stained apron, leaning against the alley door of a downtown dive bar smoking a cigarette. And every morning, I thought, “If I’m not careful, that will be me.”

I was tired, my knees ached, I lacked the energy to participate at full steam, I had no real enthusiasm for the daily menu meetings, and later that month, my culinary career ended. On the day I left, the Dahlia’s menu included Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Tomatoes and Gorgonzola Cream, Tuna Sashimi with Green Onion PancakesLobster and Shiitake Pot Stickers, Dungeness Crab Cakes with Thyme Aioli, and Coconut Cream Pie—all Tom Douglas creations.

My career began twenty years earlier in the Vashon Elementary School lunchroom kitchen. On the day I started, the menu included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fish sticks, Tater Tots, and Jell-O Surprise—all recipes from the federally-funded Food for Schools Program. In the years between those two commercial kitchens, I became a skilled line cook, a competent kitchen manager, and an adept interpreter of someone else’s passion.

In a Seattle Times article charting the connections that created Seattle’s modern restaurant scene, John Sundstrom (one-time chef at the Dahlia Lounge and current chef/owner of Lark) said, “People expect Tom Douglas to be in the kitchen cooking their crab cakes. When you work for Tom, you’re in his shadow as a chef. When you start influencing the menu and having more creative control, you want to be recognized for it.” For Sundstrom, cooking in the shadow was a temporary but necessary stopover that fueled the passion to open his own restaurant. For me, and for most professional cooks, cooking under a known Chef provides a reliable income in a stable but chaotic work environment.

During my twenty-odd years in the back of the house, I worked for a variety of chefs: some consistently inspiring, some erratic and temperamental, all of them driven and passionate about restaurants. They learned their way up from the dish-room or they graduated from a culinary institute, but either way, no one got to be the Chef without years of hard work—in a restaurant kitchen there is no easy way to the top.

As a housewife in the 1960s, I cooked because we couldn’t afford to eat out; I cooked because it made my husband happy; I cooked because I grew up in a house where the Mom cooked. In the 70’s, I cooked in restaurants because I needed to pay the rent, not because I had a passion for food. Four years as an English major instilled a love to read, but didn’t provide a career path to self sufficiency.

When I needed a job on Vashon in the 70s, my choices were limited to sanding skis, bottling cider, pressing tofu, or emptying bed pans at the nursing home. In 1974 during a routine shopping visit to Minglement, Vashon’s natural food store, the owner mentioned the new restaurant he was opening with friends and offered me a job as a lunch cook. I was over eighteen (well over), I didn’t smoke weed, and I was reliable—three big ones in the restaurant world. With one summer as a car hop, one Christmas vacation as a Trim-A-Tree sales clerk, six months as a key punch operator, ten years as a home cook, and one school year as a lunchroom worker under my belt, I became a line cook. That first restaurant job offer became a defining connection—the first in a string that lasted for twenty years, put me behind swinging doors in Vashon, Los Angeles, and Seattle, and narrowed my life’s work to the kitchen.

Tom Douglas’s Dungeness Crab Cakes 

  • 10 slices supermarket white bread (about 1/2 loaf)
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
  • 7 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh cooked Dungeness crabmeat, picked over for bits of shell and cartilage with claw meat and large pieces left whole
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup seeded and chopped green bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup seeded and chopped red bell peppers
  • Unsalted butter, for pan frying, about 6 tablespoons
  • Tear up the white bread and pulse the pieces in a food processor to make fine, soft crumbs. (You should have about 6 cups crumbs.) Remove the bread crumbs to a shallow pan and mix in 1/2 cup of the chopped parsley (reserving the remaining 1/4 cup for the crabcake mixture). Set aside.
  • In a food processor, combine the egg yolk, lemon juice, Worcestershire, hot pepper, mustard, paprika, thyme, celery seeds, and black pepper and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream until the mixture emulsifies and forms a mayonnaise. Remove the mayonnaise from the food processor and refrigerate.
  • Place the crabmeat in a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl. Pull the cheesecloth tightly around the crabmeat and squeeze out as much juice as possible. Place the chopped onions and bell peppers in a sieve set over a bowl and use your hands to squeeze out as much juice as possible. In a large bowl, combine the onions and bell peppers with remaining 1/4 cup parsley. Add the chilled mayonnaise and crabmeat and toss lightly to combine. Add 1 cup of the bread crumbs-parsley mixture and combine. Do not overwork the mixture or the crabcakes may get gummy. Gently form 8 patties and roll the patties lightly in the remaining bread crumb-parsley mixture. Leave the crabcakes in the pan of the bread crumbs until you saute them.
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degree. Using a nonstick saute pan and butter as needed, panfry the crabcakes, in batches, until golden brown on both sides and place them on a baking sheet as they are browned, put them in the oven until they are heated all the way through, 5 to 8 minutes.
  • Serve 1 crabcake as an appetizer or 2 as an entree. Serve with a ramekin of cocktail sauce and a lemon wedge.
  • Cook’s Note: The crabcakes hold together better if prepared a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator before cooking. Store them in the pan of bread crumbs, covered with plastic wrap.

Thyme aioli  

  • 1 large whole egg 
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice 
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
  • 1 garlic clove 
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt (to taste) 
  • ½ cup canola or grapeseed oil 
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, leaves and blossoms only 

In a blender, combine whole egg, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, and a little salt. Pulse until combined. With the motor running, pour the canola oil through the feed hole in a slow drizzle, followed by the olive oil, also in a slow drizzle.

The mayonnaise will start to thicken and when you hear the sound change, it’s time to turn off the blender. Scrape down the sides and add the thyme. Pulse a few times until everything is combined. Transfer to a bowl, cover and chill until ready to serve. 

Or, just stir up some bottled mayonnaise, add a squeeze of lemon juice, a bit of mustard, some minced garlic, a teaspoon or so of fresh thyme, and call it good. 

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Walk stories: Slow-cooked pork with tomatillos

Listen to John Popper and the Blues Traveler by clicking on the post title.

Walk on the wild side, walk like a man, a walk in the park, walking the walk, walk of fame, walk of shame—walking runs through our lives. Used to be that only kids and elders walked, pre-teens rode their bikes, teenagers cruised in packs, and adults drove everywhere. No one ran, unless someone was chasing them. In 1980 when we lived at the Klinks’ (a boat-sized house perched on Vashon’s Tramp Harbor), Bob watched the Olympic Trials. Lying on the floor in front of our small black and white TV one morning, he followed along during an athlete’s exercise routine—tired after ten sit-ups, he vowed to get into better shape. Thus began a forty-year program. That day he walked along the beach road from Tramp Harbor to Portage, around the bend and back again. 

Later that year I was riding my scooter home from soccer practice and got hit by an orange Volkswagen. I remember lying in the middle of the Vashon Highway watching the Volkswagen’s red tail lights disappear. An oncoming car pulled over immediately and helped me get off to the side of the road. As part of my broken ankle rehab the physical therapist advised a short walk, so walk I did. Bob and Foster walked with me, Bob watching for traffic along Portage Road and Foster, a serious power walker, forging on ahead, looping back to us when he got too far away. We walked every day and before long, I was back at work. I quit walking, the Sweetie never did. We looked for that orange Volkswagen for years but never found it.

When we first moved to LA in 1982 we lived in Westwood, a few blocks from UCLA, and had a spectacular walk. A quick left turn out the door onto Strathmore and we were on fraternity row, ears still ringing from last night’s parties. Down the hill, and onto the campus—past Pauley Pavilion, along Bruin Walk, the Ackerman Student Union, Schoenberg Music Building, Sproul Hall, and into the Murphy Sculpture Garden. In the spring, we walked under spreading jacaranda trees, buds bursting with lavender blooms.

We exited on Hilgard, cruised down the hill, and always took a brief detour through the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. Every morning we marveled at our good fortune and tried to avoid buying a cookie at the brand-new Mrs. Field’s.

 

In 2008 when were in Chicago for a winter EPIC install, the temperature dipped to 10-15° below zero, with a cold wind blowing off Lake Michigan. On our first morning there, Bob put on everything warm he brought with him, laced up his new Doc Martens, and started out for his daily walk. He went about 50 yards and realized that this was not your Puget Sound cold—this cold did not pussyfoot, this cold killed. He turned around, went back into the hotel and used the treadmill in the fitness room. Whenever the temperature warmed to above zero, an outdoor walk was possible with long underwear, earmuffs, two scarves, and a mask, but his getup ruled out entering a 7-11.



 

This is just the thing to eat after a long, winter walk.

Slow-cooked pork with tomatillos 

  • 2 pounds boneless pork butt 
  • 3 slivered garlic cloves, plus 1 minced garlic clove, divided 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 2 tablespoons oil 
  • 1 cup chopped onion 
  • 1/2 small Serrano chile, seeded and minced 
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husks removed and coarsely chopped into 1-inch pieces 
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth 
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest 
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil 
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint 
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice 
  • Black pepper 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a small sharp knife to make small 1-inch deep cuts all over the surface of the pork, and push one sliver of garlic into each slit. Season the pork with salt and pepper, rubbing the seasonings all over the meat.

In a large, heavy ovenproof casserole, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork and sear on all sides to a rich brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the pork to a plate and set aside.

Add the onion to the casserole and reduce the heat to medium. Sauté the onion until tender, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the minced garlic, the Serrano chile and the tomatillos and continue to sauté until the tomatillos are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth to deglaze the pan. Stir in the orange peel and the oregano.

Nestle the roast back with the vegetables and spoon some of the juices over the meat. Cover and roast 2 hours, until the pork is tender (it will pull apart easily).

Remove the casserole from the oven. Carefully lift the meat out of the casserole onto a carving board. Stir the basil, mint, lime juice and a few grinds of black pepper into the sauce. Use a fork to break the meat apart into bite size pieces. Divide the pork evenly among six plates and spoon the tomatillo sauce evenly over the portions. Serve with grilled tortillas and/or rice.

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Soup Stories

 Click on the post title to listen to Tigertown’s Lonely Cities.



It’s dark by 4:00, there is no baseball, the virus is still raging, the election is still raging—what to do? Make soup. Soup is the ultimate comfort food: cream of tomato soup—a hug in a bowl; lentil soup—a hearty greeting when you walk in the door after a brutal day; chicken soup—the only thing when you’re flat on your back with a runny nose and bleary eyes.

Cream of tomato soup:
When Tommy was alive, the Sweetie and I would drive from Tacoma through Bremerton, over the bridge and through the woods, to Lariat Loop. The boys were usually in school; Ali was working, hoeing in the garden, mowing the lawn, or baking muffins; Tommy was in the garage working on a car, in his woods chopping down a tree, on the roof fixing the gutters, or up in a tree building a treehouse. Feets, the cocker spaniel, or later Skittles, would race around the house from the backyard and greet us in the driveway with enthusiastic wags and wiggles. Whenever we arrived, it was time for lunch: cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. We still remember those lunches whenever we eat a grilled cheese sandwich. Here’s thinking of you, Tommy.

City Restaurant cream of tomato soup 

  • 2 tablespoons butter  
  • 1 medium onion, julienned or sliced  
  • 1 large fennel bulb (optional) you can also use 1⁄2-1 teaspoon fennel seeds  
  • 2 teaspoons salt  
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon white pepper  
  • 1⁄2 cup Pernod (optional)  
  • 4-6 ripe Romas, seeded & chopped or 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes (best quality possible)  
  • 2 cups chicken stock  
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream  
  • 1⁄2 cup half & half 
  • Dash of Tabasco  

Trim fennel, discarding stem. Thinly slice stalks.

Melt butter over moderate heat in large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onions and cook with salt and pepper until soft, about 10 minutes. Add fennel, reduce heat to low, cook additional ten minutes. 

Add Pernod and reduce liquid by half.

Add tomatoes and chicken stock. Reduce to simmer and cook, covered about 20 minutes.  

Puree in a blender until smooth. Return to pot and add cream and half and half. Bring to a boil, simmer 5 minutes, and remove from heat. Add Tabasco. 

Fennel bulb and Pernod are optional. I usually don’t have either so almost always make the soup without. Good quality canned tomatoes are preferred, but I often use regular old grocery store Hunt’s. The imported Italian are the best but cost plenty more—San Marzano or Muir Glen are both good brands.  Heavy cream and half and half make for a silky delicious soup, but you can substitute less caloric milk for part of the dairy or leave it out and use only stock. Thin to your preference. Restaurants make many variations on this method for soup of the day, substituting any other vegetable: broccoli, mushroom, spinach, asparagus, potato/leek, squash, beet, carrot, etc.  

Lentil soup:
In 1974 when I started working at Sound Food, I was no stranger to lentils. Dick’s dad, Pop, made Umjudada, Lebanese lentils and rice, on a regular basis so it became one of my rotating dinner favorites. Surprise then, when a few years later lentils showed up on every “Hippie” communal table. Our friend Ted, regaled us with stories of the lentil loaf served at a counterculture Thanksgiving dinner on the Everson-Goshen Road and the gastric distress that followed. Back at Sound Food, Jeffrey’s vegetarian lentil soup (finished off with fried onion bits), a lunchtime favorite with both locals and hippies, has been on my rotating favorites ever since.

Nick Stellino’s lentil soup with sausage

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 5 cloves garlic, cut thickly 
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped carrots 
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery 
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar 
  • 1 pound cooked sweet Italian sausages, cut into 1/4” dice 
  • 1/2 cup white wine 
  • 1 cup dry lentils 
  • 2 cups beef or chicken stock 
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 
  • 1 cup ricotta 
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper  

Stir the oil and the garlic in a nonstick pot over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes, stir, and cook for about 1 minute until the garlic starts to brown.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, carrots, and brown sugar. Stir well and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the sausages and cook for 2 minutes, stirring well.

Pour in the wine, stir, and cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the lentils and cook for 1 minute.

Add the beef stock and tomato sauce, Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Add red wine vinegar and simmer for 10 minutes.

Top each serving with a tablespoon of fresh ricotta.

Chicken soup:

Chicken soup—liquid penicillin, comfort served up steamy and fragrant, guaranteed to warm both body and soul. When I was in fifth grade, despite Daddy’s misgivings about my reliability, I started a paper route (A girl could always use a little money). Every weekday at 5:00 pm (5:00 am on Sundays) I rode my bike down the street to Mr. Connor’s house to load up my bike sack with the day’s edition of the Sioux City Journal. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, the paper had to be delivered. At the end of the route, I would start looking in the windows of those houses that had a television. Captain Video and His Video Rangers was on at 7:00 so I would pick up the pace to be home on the couch when the theme song began.

Daddy was right—I hated that paper route and complained daily. One especially severe winter day I whined into the kitchen, shoulders slumping, sad-faced and droopy. “Please take me in the car!” Daddy relented, we finished off the route in no time, and came home to Muth’s chicken noodle soup in our warm kitchen and Captain Video’s rangers in the living room. No greater love…

Thai chicken noodle soup

  • 1 cup cooked shredded chicken 
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, 2 tsp sesame oil 
  • Kosher salt 
  • ½ lb rice noodles (I also have used both udon and ramen—cooked separately and added at the end)
  • 1/2 onion, diced 
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced 
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced 
  • ½ lb mushrooms, diced 
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic 
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger 
  • 1 tbsp minced lemongrass (I rarely have lemongrass but I’m sure it would be good)
  • 2 tbsp red curry paste or panang curry paste (try a little more if you like spicy)
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar 
  • 1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk (don’t worry if the coconut milk is solid at the top. Just pour it in a bowl & whisk)
  • 1 ½ qt chicken stock 
  • 3 limes, juiced 
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce 
  • Garnishes: Thinly sliced scallions, cilantro leaves, lime wedges 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the rice noodles one minute less than the package’s instructions. Drain the noodles and run under cold water. Set aside. 

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion and shallots. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring often, until tender and slightly caramelized. Season with a pinch of salt. 

Add the carrots and mushrooms. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. Cook for a minute until fragrant. 

Add the red curry paste and stir well to combine. Whisk in the coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes, stirring often. 

Stir in the shredded chicken and cooked rice noodles to heat through. Taste for salty, sweet, sour, hot balance and add where necessary. Right before serving, stir in the lime juice and fish sauce. Serve the soup hot with scallions, cilantro leaves, and a squeeze of lime.

 

 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 4 Comments

Heronswood: Sheetpan chicken with plums

For no good reason, here’s Tusk, with a young Fleetwood Mac and the 1979 USC marching band. Click on the post title to listen to the video.

While browsing for wildflower tips, the Sweetie came across Dan Hinkley’s book, Windcliff, and ordered it from Amazon. It is a heavy, coffee table hardcover filled with beautiful photography, poetic prose, and advice on gardening in the Pacific Northwest. The book describes Windcliff, Hinkley’s home garden, and Heronswood, a fifteen-acre public botanical garden and nursery near Washington State’s Kingston ferry, established in 1987 by Dan Hinkley and his partner architect Robert Jones. Heronswood is currently owned by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and is being restored by the tribe, Heronswood volunteers, and Heronswood staff, with input from Hinkley and Jones.

Itching for a reason to get off the block, the Sweetie and I picked up Ginny at the Pt. Defiance ferry and headed up Hwy 16 to tour the garden. As an afternoon ride certainly calls for lunch, along the way we stopped at Mori Sushi & Bento in Poulsbo.

Poke bowl


Bibimbap


Bento box

The day was cool, the sun a dim reminder, and the clouds open to the suggestion of rain. We took a path that skirted the edges of Heronswood, passing through the folly (part fountain and part temple) in the woodland garden, past the kitchen potager, the pond, and the extensive collection of hydrangea varieties. As summer has turned into brisk fall and the colors are more subtle, visitors are fewer and we were almost the only people there. We hope to return again to see another season.

I’m giving this ”Gallery” feature a try and I think if you click on one of the small “thumbnail” pictures, it will open into a larger view.

Stone columns

Sheet pan chicken with plums, New York Times, Melissa Clark

“Beautiful to behold and easy to make, this sheet-pan dinner combines sweet plums and soft red onions with crisp-skinned pieces of roasted chicken. Toasted fennel seeds, red-pepper flakes and a touch of allspice add complexity while a mound of fresh torn herbs crowns the top. If good ripe plums aren’t available, you can substitute another stone fruit including peaches, nectarines or pluots, though if your fruit is very sweet, you might want to add a squeeze of lemon at the end. Serve this with rice pilaf, polenta or warm flatbread for a festive meal.”

Ingredients 

  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds 
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest 
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely grated 
  • 2 teaspoons honey 
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice 
  • Large pinch red-pepper flakes, or to taste 
  • 1 chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut into parts 
  • Kosher salt and black pepper 
  • 2 cups ripe, soft plums, pitted and cut into 3/4-inch thick slices 
  • 6 fresh thyme sprigs 
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced from root to stem in 1/2-inch wedges 
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling 
  • ⅔ cup torn mint, basil or cilantro leaves (or a combination) 
  • Flaky sea salt, for serving 

Preparation 

Toast the fennel seeds in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Pour seeds into a mortar and pound with a pestle until coarsely crushed (or lay seeds on a cutting board and pound them with a can or jar). Put the seeds into a large bowl and stir in lemon juice, zest, garlic, honey, allspice and red-pepper flakes.

Season chicken generously all over with salt and pepper and add to the bowl, turning the pieces to coat them with marinade. Mix in plums and thyme sprigs. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. When ready to cook, heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put the chicken pieces, plums, and thyme sprigs on a rimmed baking pan. Add onions, spreading them out around the chicken and plums. Season plums and onions lightly with salt. Drizzle everything with olive oil.

Roast until chicken is golden and cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes, removing the white meat if it’s done before the dark meat.

Transfer chicken pieces as they are done to a platter. Spoon the plums and onions around the chicken. Drizzle a little of the pan drippings over the chicken and serve, garnished with the herbs and flaky salt.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

The Back of the House: Sopa de Guajillo

This post was originally published in 2016.


“Immigrants are good for our kitchens and for our country.”


Ry Cooder and Harry Dean Stanton, Across The
Borderline 

 


Le disparé cinco veces, por accidente.”

Up at four a.m., on La Brea by 5:30—the clock in front of the bank already reads 78 degrees—I’m in the kitchen at 6:00, with enough time to make a quick espresso before the boys arrive. If I smoked, I would lean against the dumpster in the alley and have a cigarette. Instead I’ll sit on pastry counter and enjoy the quiet before the chaos begins. It will be the last time I sit until dinner service is underway.

“Hola, Raul. ¿Como esta?” My ally, the dignified, solemn-faced dishwasher is always first in. He owned a small business in Peru but lost everything during the last military coup and came to this country to start over. He examines the kitchen to spot anything the night guys missed and walks through the back door into the alley, ready to unload the produce truck. His nephew, Luis the pot washer, walks in behind him, loosens the stacks of kitchen towels just delivered by the laundry and portions out twelve for each station. Raul’s wife Lupe, the shy, sturdy pastry prep, saves two towels from her dole and hides the rest in a “Lard” container.

Raul, Luis, and I head for the walk-in to plan the day. Everything is dragged out, opened, sniffed, and either thrown away or put on someone’s prep list to add to the day’s revenue. Luis dips the string mop in hot soapy water, wrings it out and swabs the walk-in floor, adding a pine-scented, hospital smell to the chlorine odor of fish a day too old—no money there.

By this time Manuel, the tall, surly King of Prep and his crew of three—all from a small town in Oaxaca—are here. They find a narco station on the battered boom box, turn it up to #Pain, unwrap their stilettos from clean kitchen towels, and check their eight-inch prep list. The vegetables are stacked and waiting in the alley, so they head out to distribute the sacks and boxes to the prep sinks, the pantry, the walk-in, and the upstairs storeroom. The exotics—truffles, stinky cheese, French strawberries, chanterelles—are carefully boxed and set by Chef’s office door.

I argue with the produce guy about the limp green beans and overripe tomatoes, bringing in Raul when I need help with my Spanish, sending back the slippery oyster mushrooms and moldy raspberries. “I have choices, you know, I could call Frank’s.” An empty threat—we all know that’s not an option.

The meat order arrives—again Raul and I check each item, bartering, badgering, and rejecting. Today’s meat order, which includes a baby goat—one of Dennis’s night specials, three boxes of chickens, two boxes of ducks, three legs of lamb, four untrimmed tenderloins, a side of pork, cryovaced skirt steaks, and chuck roasts for grinding, is iced and stacked by the butcher’s station. The bussers, one from Honduras and two from Mexico City, trickle in, start the morning coffee, and fill the silverware tubs with hot, soapy water.

Sweet-faced Jose, the second dishwasher, joins the others in the alley unpacking vegetables and distributing the meat order. His mother Maria, the pastry assistant, checks yesterday’s pastries deciding which to toss, which to put on the pass for the staff, and which to sell. Last year she paid a coyote $2000 to smuggle her and her son into San Diego, then to LA where she got a green card from her brother, the butcher, and replaced Flora who had been deported.

The butcher—speaking of the butcher, where’s the kitchen’s rock, Jon Pierre? He’s always here by 8:00 with his two guys and it’s already 8:30. My world shudders.

At 10:00 the kitchen phone rings. Manuel answers and hands it to me.

“Jon Pierre, donde?”

Manuel translates, “There was a fight last night in my backyard. I shot him five times, by accident. I’m on my way to El Salvador. Lo siento. I’ll try to call when I get there. Tell Maria.”

I look at the meat stacked by the butcher block and know that it will be a long day for both of us.


When it was Raul’s turn to prepare family meal, if we were lucky he would make his mother’s Sopa de Guajillo. The following recipe is an approximation.

Sopa de Guajillo
  • 1 (2-3 lb) whole chicken, a chicken cut into pieces, or the chicken removed from one roasted or poached whole chicken
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Water to cover
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 guajillo chilies, deveined and deseeded (these chiles are not so hot)
  • 2-3 arbol chilies, deveined and deseeded (be careful, these are very hot)
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 tomatillos, husks peeled off and chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 11⁄2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 cup green beans, cut in 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • lime wedges
  • queso fresco, crumbled
  • chopped cilantro

Place whole chicken or chicken pieces, onions, and garlic in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cover with water or chicken stock and bring to a boil, turn down to a slow simmer and cook until chicken is done–30 to 45 minutes. Remove chicken from pot, cool, and take chicken from bones. Strain stock.

In a small sauce pan, bring water to a boil and drop in chilies. Remove pan from heat and let sit for chiles to soften. When softened, drain off cooking liquid from chilies and add chilies along with tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, garlic, cumin seed and salt to blender with 1/2 cup chicken stock and blend well. Set aside.

In Dutch oven, add 1 Tbs. oil and heat to medium high. Pour in blended salsa and fry briefly. Add chicken stock. Reduce to medium heat and add vegetables. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Add cooked chicken pieces, simmer for 10 minutes. Add more chicken broth if necessary. Taste for seasoning and garnish with chopped cilantro, squeezed lime wedges, Mexican crema or sour cream and queso fresco. Serve with warm tortillas and a side of beans. Yield: 6-8 portions

 

Posted in Chefs, Recipes, Restaurants | 2 Comments