Oh, the weather outside is frightful: Arroz con pollo

Weather Report, Birdland

 

Northwestern Washington gets no respect when it comes to weather—the assumption is that it just rains all the time. In Houston, Atlanta, Tallahassee, and Phoenix, they snicker when they hear that our Cooling Centers open during an 85° “heat wave.” Well, we have some weather to talk about this week—one weather forecast calls for 8” of snow by Sunday!

In the Midwest where I grew up, snow season started in October and could last through April, the ground frozen hard with miles of slumped over cornfields and steaming cows huddled together at the hay bales. In 2010, we spent a winter on a job in Duluth Minnesota living in a condominium that looked out on Lake Superior. Every morning when we pulled up the shades, a new and stark ice scene appeared. The lake gradually froze, container barges stopped passing by, and a thick sea fog drifted over the ice.

One weekend morning when we looked out, the ice was dotted with clusters of little structures made of blue tarps, wood, metal, or ice. What? Those intrepid Minnesota fishermen can’t wait until Spring so they trek out onto the frozen lake, either in snowmobiles or in pickups, set up ice shanties, drill holes in the ice, and drop a line. Some huts are tricked out with heat, small kitchens, generator-powered stoves, and electricity. Fishing styles vary: there are the jiggers, there are the bobbers, and there are those who lay prone on the ice, peering down into their ice holes, waiting for the big one.

As my Mom (and probably yours too) used to say, “Sure, it’s all grins and giggles until someone gets hurt.”  Ice fishing is a bracing adventure as long as the ice part is there. But eventually, and sometimes without warning, the thick ice cracks apart, separating one ice guy from his people, sending him adrift into the endless Lake Superior.


That exact mishap occurred while we were in Duluth. A grandfather and his grandson were cozied into their winter fishing shanty, when their 15 square feet of ice started to crack. Grandpa, a veteran of the sport, tossed the truck keys to the thirteen year old and yelled, “Drive in as fast as you can go, I’ll be right behind you!” Luckily Grandpa had been secretly teaching grandson how to drive, so grandson got to the banks of the lake—only to see Grandpa slowly disappearing into the ice fog. Twelve
 hours later, a helicopter rescue crew lifted a cold, slightly blue Grandpa up off the ice floe, into the warm copter, then down on steady ground to his waiting family.


I made this recipe the other night—delicious. The rice is so tasty and the sauce is to die for, next time I’ll make more sauce—Sweetie and I ate all four portions. I might also use chicken breasts instead of thighs.



Arroz con pollo 

 

Sofrito:

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped

1 onion, chopped (1 cup)

1 Poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped 

5 garlic cloves, chopped coarse

1 teaspoon ground cumin

 

Sauce:

½ cup mayonnaise

3 ½ tablespoons lemon juice (2 lemons), plus lemon wedges for serving

Salt and pepper

 

Chicken and rice:

4 bone in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed

tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup medium-grain rice, rinsed

1 tablespoon Sazón* (Mexican spice blend)

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, halved

tablespoons capers, rinsed

2 bay leaves

½ cup frozen peas, thawed 

 

*Sazón is a spice blend common in Latin American cooking usually found found in the Mexican spice rack in most supermarkets. If you can’t find Sazón, use this spice combination: 1 teaspoon garlic powder, ¾ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon paprika, ½ teaspoon ground coriander, ¼ teaspoon ground cumin.

 

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. 

 

Sofrito: Process cilantro, 1/2 cup onion, Poblano pepper, garlic, and cumin in food processor until finely chopped, scraping down bowl as needed. Transfer sofrito to bowl.

 

Sauce: Process mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons sofrito in now-empty processor until almost smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer mayonnaise-herb sauce to small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Chicken and rice: Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add chicken to pot skin side down and cook without moving it until skin is crispy and golden, 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate; discard skin.

 

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add remaining 1/2 cup onion and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in rice and Sazón and cook until edges of rice begin to turn translucent, about 2 minutes.

 

Stir in broth, olives, capers, bay leaves, remaining sofrito, remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, scraping up any browned bits. Nestle chicken into pot along with any accumulated juices and bring to vigorous simmer. Cover, transfer to oven, and bake for 20 minutes.

 

Transfer pot to wire rack and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Fluff rice with fork and stir in peas, if using. Discard bay leaves. Serve with mayonnaise-herb sauce and lemon wedges.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Six more weeks: Texas-style beef and pork chili

Listen to Badfinger’s Day After Day and Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe

Who knew? According to Apple News, along with the famous Punxsutawney Phil, two other groundhogs have the power to doom us to six more weeks of winter: New York’s Staten Island Chuck and Connecticut’s Chuckles X. They are apparently in cahoots, as all three (in the midst of an epic Nor’easter), predicted an extension to this year’s dismal grey winter.

My mom and dad moved from Nebraska to Puget Sound in the late sixties and their first February, Muth wrote me a letter describing her joy at seeing green grass, little white snowdrops, miniature daffodils and tree buds beginning to swell. Sure, there were days of dripping rain, grey skies, and damp wool jackets but still—there was hope. In the Midwest, the ground is frozen solid until late April, the tree branches are bare and smooth, winter storms push through without pause, and snow shovels remain at the ready. In Northwestern Washington, when January is finally over, we look for snowdrops, heath, tiny daffodils, and camellias to light up our grey winter landscape.

By now the commitment to hasty New Year’s resolutions has faded, the pandemic drags on, and—much like in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, every morning seems like the one before. Grumpy, self-absorbed TV weatherman Phil Connors woke up again and again to February 2, Sonny & Cher singing I Got You Babe, and the mundane details of life repeating exactly, day after day. Gradually, his unrestricted pursuit of doing whatever he wanted shifted to acceptance and he found joy in learning to play the piano, creating ice sculptures, helping the people in his life, and eventually becoming the man Andie Macdowell wanted him to be.

The pandemic has given me over three hundred mornings to examine the details of my life: cozy fires, sister chats, brisk walks, off-and-on swims, more time to read, The Durrells in Corfu, and sleep snuggles with the Sweetie. Not sure I’ve become a better person, but I do have a sharper appreciation of my life and my dear ones.

So…as long as its bleak and drippy outside, let’s look for a little bit of comfort in a hearty beef and pork chili.

Texas-style Beef and Pork Chili 

  • 2 ancho chilies (You’ll find anchos in the Mexican food area of a grocery store. They’re usually in a clear plastic bag by the Mexican spice rack. Split them, remove seeds, and roast over a burner or in a skillet. When soft and dark, they’re done. Cover them with 1 cup boiling water and let stand until they’re soft. Blend and strain. Reserve liquid. You can also make great chili powder using Anchos, just roast them as above but don’t cover them with water. Instead, let them cool, then them whiz up in a spice grinder.)
  • 2 # beef, cubed 2 # pork, cubed
  • 3 T. flour
  • Sprinkles of cumin, coriander, oregano, mild chili powder, salt, and pepper
  • Good glug of oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 T. garlic, minced
  • 1 T. cumin
  • 2 t. coriander
  • 1 t. celery seed
  • 2 t. oregano
  • 1 t. marjoram
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1⁄8 t. allspice
  • 1⁄8 t. cloves
  • Some canned chipotles (if you like some heat)
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 4 c. chicken or beef stock
  • 1 cup beer
  • Strained Ancho chili liquid
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 T. minced canned chipotle peppers in sauce (add more to taste)
  • If you’re a bean lover, add a can of drained pinto beans—just don’t tell a Texan. (“There’s a saying in Texas: “If you know beans about chili, you know chili ain’t got no beans.”)

Dry beef and pork cubes, sprinkle with some cumin, coriander, oregano, chili powder, salt, and pepper, then dredge in flour. Brown in hot oil. Add onions and garlic, sauté until soft and light brown. Add measured spices—brown. Add tomato paste, stir, and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add stock, beer, strained Ancho chili liquid, tomatoes, chipotles.

Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook until meat is tender 1 1⁄2-3 hours. If you like soft, creamy beans in your chili, add them early in the process; if you like the beans firmer and to hold their shape, add them in the last hour.

Accompany chili with salsa Fresca, grated cheese, sour cream, sliced olives, diced avocado, lime wedges, and crunched up Doritos.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 3 Comments

Shopping cart shame: Kung Pao Chicken

In celebration of a perfectly good day or to chase away those ten-grey-days-in-a-row blues, here’s John Phillips Sousa. Thanks, Ginny. (Don’t know how those musicians can avoid the urge to march around!)

Last time we were at Costco, I watched a 40-something woman unload her purchases into the trunk of her Lexus, push her shopping cart around to the front of her car, get in, and drive away—the cart corral was two cars away. What’s up with that? Almost as bad are the scofflaws who push their cart into the front position of an empty corral and leave it there. Where’s the community spirit, where’s the “We’re all in this together” mentality? Houston wins the award for The Worst Cart Wranglers Ever. There were shopping carts in the middle of parking spots, carts with two wheels over the concrete parking stop, carts left on sidewalks and highway medians, and carts running loose, wily nily. The problem became so thorny that the Houston city council created an official board to deal with the issue—meetings were held, resolutions written, directions issued—and yet disobedient carts still run free.

I recently read a reference on Buzzfeed to an “Are You A Jerk” quiz, so I had to look it up. Yes, I did take the quiz, yes, parking lot courtesy showed up, and no, I did not rank at the top of the jerk meter. Near the top of the quiz was, do you wear a mask in public? Come on now, we can wear masks for the good of the community—just like we don’t drive drunk, we cover our mouths when we sneeze, we diaper our babies when they swim, we leave one cookie on the plate, we shovel the sidewalks in front of our house, and we push the darn cart as far into the corral as it will go!

Another annoying public trait is the compulsion to herd into a conveyance—elevator, bus, airport shuttle—before the arrivers can get off. I once railed on about that in a blog post while we were staying in a hotel—the nerve, the rudeness! That same day, I barged into an up elevator carrying a load of nachos, crashing into a family, spilling salsa and cheese down the front of a father and his startled two-year old. When getting on a city bus, I have to snap my wrist to keep me from following the urge to walk over whoever is trying to get out. So much for my community spirit.

Then there are those dog owners who fail to clean up after their pets. On the walking trail behind our house I see lots of dog walkers, most are non-offenders. The large, gruff men who patiently wait for fluffy white yappers on a string always make me smile. Then there are those dogs who think an oncoming walker will enjoy a cold doggie snout thrust into their crotch—“Oh look, he likes you!”

Last rant—waiting in line. If I were a resolution maker, I would vow to have more patience this year. No more beeping when the driver in front of me appears to have dosed off at a red light or drives 15 mph in a 25 mph zone, no more eye-rolling when that shopper with the overfull cart waits until the last second to rummage through her purse for the checkbook and then asks to borrow a pen, no more heavy sighs when snackers clog up the aisles at Costco. After all, what exactly of great importance do I have to attend to and, we’re all in this together, right?

On Cook’s Country the other night, Bridget and Julia made this one. Haven’t tried it yet, but it’s on my list.

Cook’s Country Kung Pao Chicken

Chicken and Sauce:

  • 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into ½-inch cubes 
  • ¼ cup soy sauce, divided 
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch 
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry 
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar 
  • 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil 

Stir-Fry:

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic 
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger 
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, divided 
  • ½ cup dry-roasted peanuts 
  • 10 – 15 dried arbol chiles, halved lengthwise and seeded 
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, ground coarse 
  • 2 celery ribs, cut into ½-inch pieces 
  • 5 scallions, white and light green parts only, cut into ½-inch pieces 

BEFORE YOU BEGIN:

“Kung pao chicken should be quite spicy. To adjust the heat level, use more or fewer chiles, depending on the size (we used 2-inch-long chiles) and your taste. Have your ingredients prepared and your equipment in place before you begin to cook. Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to coarsely grind the Sichuan peppercorns. If Chinese black vinegar is unavailable, substitute sherry vinegar. Serve with white rice and a simple vegetable such as broccoli or bok choy. Do not eat the chiles!”

Chicken and Sauce: 

Combine chicken, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, cornstarch, rice wine, and white pepper in medium bowl and set aside. Stir vinegar, sugar, oil, and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce together in small bowl and set aside. 

For the Stir-Fry: 

Stir garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon oil together in second small bowl. Combine peanuts and 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until peanuts just begin to darken, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer peanuts to plate and spread into even layer to cool. Return now-empty skillet to medium-low heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, arbols, and peppercorns and cook, stirring constantly, until arbols begin to darken, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until all clumps are broken up and mixture is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add chicken and spread into even layer. Cover skillet, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, without stirring, for 1 minute. Stir chicken and spread into even layer. Cover and cook, without stirring, for 1 minute. Add celery and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until chickenis cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Add soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and shiny and coats chicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in scallions and peanuts. Transfer to platter and serve.

Posted in Rants and Raves, Recipes | 2 Comments

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.

 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

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

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments