Living the good life: Lemon Panna Cotta

The Sweetie walks along Pacific Beach, I sit above on the palisades—our old Sunday morning routine. Cliffs crowded at 10:00, I join a French-speaking couple on their concrete banquette under a spiky patch of palm-tree shade. 

Below on the white sand a stocky man in a Minnesota Twins T-shirt, radiating with unfamiliar sunburn, smears lotion on a naked toddler—mom stretched out nearby on a towel under a red umbrella. Toddler, with Dad at the ready, runs into the surf, is promptly smacked down by a wave, jumps up, and runs back to Mom’s open arms. 

A little girl in a neon orange life vest, bright blue wetsuit, and yellow surfboard falls off once, falls off twice, falls off seven times—on number eight, she rises warily to her feet, arms thrust forward, finally surfing, “Woo hoo.” French couple cheers and claps, “Bien joué, Emmie !”

A four-year old boy, being led unwillingly into the foam, clutches his Dad’s arm and shrieks, “No, no! I don’t wanna’ go out there! Get Mom!!”

Behind me on yoga mats, three travelers trade stories. A black-bearded man in a Red Sox baseball cap and his pleasant wife, on vacation from Boston, talk to a handsome thirty-year old with a prosthetic leg. 

Bearded man to handsome man, “So, how’d ja lose your leg?”

“My Harley ran into his Prius, I lost that matchup and my leg.”

Bearded man, “Add that to my list of why I hate Prius. Well you know the old saying, ‘Always ask a one-legged man the quickest way to get somewhere.’”

Silence from handsome man with one leg.

Beautiful girl in black bikini, “I got so much sand up my pants I may have to stop by Urgent Care.”

Surfer dude, “And miss Sunday beach yoga? No way!”

Emmie finds the French-speaking couple, they leave, and a fit, fortyish man, wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt and a bodysuit of tattoos, introduces himself and asks if he could join me. We sit in silence watching the paragliders drift by.

Steve removes his shirt and asks, “Would it be all right if I stand on our bench?” “Sure,” I reply. He hops up, turns around and announces, “Welcome to San Diego Sunday Beach Yoga. “Shift gears, turn your mind inward, and relax. Let’s start with cleansing breaths—balance your inhales and exhales—then go right into downward dog. Inhale!”

I turn around and along the palisades I see at least two hundred butts in the air.

 

Back home on Candlelight Drive, The Sweetie has yogurt and fruit, I have lemon panna cotta smeared with lemon curd and a thick slice of cinnamon-raisin toast.

 

Karen met this year’s bumper crop of lemons head on: a garage-refrigerator shelf of small, white, ceramic ovals filled with lemon panna cotta, little glass jars with lemon curd, Zip lock bags bulging with lemon juice ice cubes, bottles of lemonade, crocks of preserved lemon peel, and packets of frozen zest. Now that’s prosperity.

Lemon Panna Cotta

  • 1 cup whole milk 
  • 2¾ teaspoons gelatin 
  • 3 cups heavy cream 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice from 1-2 medium lemons
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch salt

Pour milk into medium saucepan. Sprinkle surface evenly with gelatin. Let stand 10 minutes to hydrate gelatin

Measure cream into large measuring cup or pitcher. Add vanilla to cream. Add lemon peel, and set mixture aside.

Set eight 4-ounce ramekins on baking sheet.

Heat milk and gelatin mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin is dissolved, about 1½ minutes. Move the saucepan off heat, add sugar and salt; stir until dissolved, about 1 minute.

Stirring constantly, slowly pour cream mixture into saucepan containing milk. Strain mixture into large measuring cup or pitcher, stir in lemon juice, then distribute evenly among wine glasses or ramekins.

Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap

Refrigerate until just set (mixture should wobble when shaken gently), 4 hours.

Posted in Family and friends, Restaurants, Travel | 2 Comments

Take onions, for example: Mother Hank’s Hot Sauce

Click on the post’s title to see the videos.

Once again, the objective reality of this story is fuzzy. Accuracy, personal attributes, and specific details have been swapped around to suit my fancy. So if you’re looking for the absolute truth, talk to Gordon.

The battle lines were drawn—you had to choose a side. When the Harlows took over management (heels firmly dug in), they were determined to avoid bankruptcy, bring Sound Food into solvency, project a tidier, straighter image, and attract customers who didn’t change the baby on the dining room table. Jeffrey, comfortable with his role as artistic director and all-around tribal leader, was just as determined to teach his staff professional culinary techniques, find regional produce, and use ingredients no one had ever heard of.

 

Jesus Barn

 

Lavender’s 

Billy, Jim, and Jack

They wrangled over the merits of the Rykoff man’s frozen, hamburger patties over Don & Joe’s bulk ground beef, Muzak instead of  live music, whether to serve side salads with in-house croutons or sunflower seeds, the virtues of paper vs. cloth napkins, flowers on the tables, one-ply or two-ply in the restrooms, and… onions. The kitchen went through at least 50 pounds of Walla Walla Sweet onions, 15 pounds of yellows, and 10 pounds of reds a week. The Walla Wallas were trimmed, cut end to end, peeled, and thinly sliced (vertically) for French Onion Soup and chopped for Mother Hank’s Hot Sauce; the yellows were trimmed, cut end to end, peeled and diced for soups, stews, and spaghetti sauce; the reds were peeled, trimmed, and sliced (on a #2) for hamburgers and sandwiches and finely diced for salsa. 

Jeffrey believed that the quality of any dish depended on the cook’s close attention to every detail and her use of good knife techniques. Take onions, for example: using a stainless steel knife (never a carbon steel blade), trim the end opposite the roots, cut the onion in half end to end, peel, lay the flat end of the onion on the cutting board, make horizontal slices through the onion stopping just before the root end, make narrow, vertical cuts side-to-side, square up the onion half, and dice into identically square pieces appropriate to the dish. French onion soup—thinly sliced (vertically), julienne-style; soup of the day—each ingredient should fit in the bowl of a spoon; stew—1/4-1/2” squares the same size as the root vegetables; salsa—square-cut in a fine dice; spaghetti sauce—diced to the size of the crumbled ground beef so as to “melt into the mixture.” 

Jeffrey confronted haphazard knife skills head on with sharp words. (This prepared me for the yelling and screaming of future Chefs who shared similar onion specifications.) Bruce, always on the alert for money-saving measures, scoffed at that waste of time and money. “An onion is an onion. Buy 100 pounds of yellows a week at half the price, throw them in that Hobart attachment thing I just bought from the Rykoff man, and move on!” So, if Jeffrey had you in the back prepping onions, you kept one eye out and had the Hobart set up just in case. 

So, the days of smoking weed behind the dumpster, making out in the walk-in, leading a dance-in during brunch, bringing your dog to work, wearing your skirt too short or too long, and letting your hair fly free were over. It was 1978 and the summer of love was long gone. A Californian had come into the blue haze of peace and love, offering the Tribe stability, heath insurance, and a Minglement discount. Island jobs were scarce and there were mouths to feed, so most members stayed the course. A few escaped: there was one with pigtails and overalls who hitchhiked into Seattle and left on a Green Tortoise bus, a couple and their parrot who moved to Bisbee, AZ, a baker who went back into the Forest Service to fight fires, a manager who opened a tea shop in Thailand, and a night cook who followed her sweetie to LA. 

For those that stayed behind, Gordon and Mary were there to console them. 

Mother Hank’s Hot Sauce

  • 4# Roma tomatoes or 2 large cans diced-in juice tomatoes
  • 1⁄2 red onion
  • 1⁄2 Serrano
  • 1⁄2 green pepper
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 bunch cilantro (cut off just below the leaves)
  • 1 small can tomato juice 
  • 1/2 t. cumin
  • 3 shakes of Tabasco
  • 2 t. salt
  • juice of three limes

Fine dice or Cuisinart onion, drain, and separately. You want the onions to be fine, but don’t want the onion juice to overpower the salsa. 

Grind remaining ingredients in the Hobart or a Kitchen Aid food grinder.

Stir in chopped onion. For more hotness, you can add some canned chipotles in sauce (a must-have for every pantry).

Posted in Chefs, Recipes, Restaurants | 1 Comment

Seeds, Sprouts, and Steak: Red Snapper Cozumel, French Onion Soup

I took considerable license in the telling of this story. Some (but not all) names have been changed, a few facts may have been exaggerated, several important dates might be wrong, and all memories have faded, but no animals were hurt during the process.

Photographs by Peter W. Murray

It was during a 1978 business trip to Seattle that the Harlows decided to hop on a ferry and visit Vashon. They climbed up ferry hill in their rented Mercedes, paused downtown at the four-way stop in front of Peoples’ National Bank, found just the right lug nut at the Vashon Hardware, appeased Rosemary with a Dilly Bar from the Dairy Queen, browsed for over-looked valuables at Owen’s Antiques, picked up a few hitchhikers in front of Vile Be’s Country Store, and stopped at Sound Food for a late lunch. 

Vashon.jpg

Vashon.jpg

Vy Biel’s Original Country Store

We knew they were trouble as soon as they walked in. As John and I leaned against the reach-in (stepping aside each time Pat got an armload of side salads), he reported that (according to Liz, whose boyfriend’s sister’s daughter worked at the Dairy Queen) they were a rich couple from LA—Bruce, a mildly arrogant food photographer in his fifties, Jan, a former model/dancer/artist/psychic in her late twenties, and their mildly bratty daughter, Rosemary. Bruce ordered a roast beef, avocado, and provolone on rye, Jan chose a Supernatural Salad, and Rosemary demanded basted eggs, turned over once, sprinkled with grated white cheese and served with a slice of toast, buttered-on-both-sides. 

Vashon.jpg

It was love at first bite. Jan chatted up the cashier (who happened to be one of the owners), found out that Sound Food was for sale, and persuaded Bruce to take a meeting with Frank and the Johnsons the next day. On their way out, they picked up a dozen granola bars, a pink box of almond galette Bretons, a loaf of Bob’s French bread, four sesame bagels, three still-warm croissants, and two Big Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Ample fuel for any future tantrums—from Rosemary or Jan. They were back that night for dinner. Bruce ordered one of the specials—Red Snapper Cozumel, Jan chose the French Onion Soup, and Rosemary demanded basted eggs, turned over once, sprinkled with grated white cheese and served with a slice of toast, buttered-on-both-sides. 

Dorothy and Dave gratefully accepted their first offer to buy out the remaining four owners and Sound Food changed hands. Along with the building’s long-term lease, an antiquated septic system, a failing dishwashing machine, and a well-used 1963 blue van, came a quirky staff of thirty moderately hard-working, commune and tepee-dwelling, college dropouts, and Jeffrey, the intense, artistic, long-bearded Chef who was firmly in charge, governed with a sharp tongue, and dressed like a Sikh. 

They had never worked in a restaurant; he started as a prep cook at fifteen, sharpening his knife skills in France and on the East Coast. They “thought it would be fun to own a restaurant”; he worked on the line for ten years in top Seattle kitchens, but was never able to raise the capital necessary to open his own place. They wanted to attract the steak-and-scotch, Vashon-Country-Club-member, Spinnaker regulars; he wanted to put more vegan food on the menu and add a juice bar.

Jeffrey (front right foreground) in Don Joseph and Liz Water’s production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”

For the Harlows, the move to Vashon was an escape from Hollywood and the pressures, stresses, and social obligations “blocking their natural aura.” Bruce had a successful career staging and photographing food shoots for television and magazine ads; Jan loved to cook and entertain; and Rosemary was along for the ride. Jeffrey moved with his family from Capitol Hill in Seattle to pursue his interest in Tibetan Buddhism and cook in an atmosphere free from corporate supervision. He introduced Island diners to exotic food with an Asian bent—tofu, tempeh, wakame, wasabi, ginger-steamed black cod, tahini, umeboshi plums, and miso. Like his more famous counterpart in Berkeley, he was determined to buy less from the Rykoff man and more from local farmers. 

The battle lines were drawn.

 

Recipes from “Recherché Recipes, Sound Food Restaurant and Bakery”

Red Snapper Cozumel 

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1⁄2 cup olive oil 
  • 1⁄2 finely diced onion 
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 1 tsp. thyme 
  • 1 tsp. oregano 
  • 1 T. coriander 
  • 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne 
  • 1 finely diced jalapeño 
  • 1⁄2 diced green pepper 
  • 1⁄2 diced red pepper 
  • 3 Tbs. capers 
  • 1⁄2 c. pimento stuffed olives 
  • 5 Roma tomatoes peeled, seeded, and diced 
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Mash 4 cloves garlic with 1⁄2 tsp. salt, forming a paste. Add 1⁄2 c. lime juice. Marinate fish pieces for 30 minutes or whole fish for 2 hours. If using a whole fish, make knife cuts in body and pour marinade inside cavity and over whole fish. 

Sauté onion and garlic in oil until onions are soft. Add bay leaves, thyme, oregano, coriander, cayenne, and salt/pepper to taste. Add jalapeños, peppers, olives, capers, and tomatoes. Simmer 1 hour or until sauce is thickened. 

Remove bay leaves and add parsley. 

If using fish pieces, brown snapper on one side in separate pan, add sauce and simmer 5 minutes to finish. 

If using whole fish, cover snapper with half the sauce and bake covered in a pre-heated 350 ̊ oven for 45 minutes or until fish flakes. Use spatula to cut portions from head to tail, and lift exposed backbone out.

French Onion Soup 

6 servings

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 medium sweet white onions, ends trimmed, peeled, cut in half end to end, then thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup flour

Melt butter over medium heat, add onions and salt, sauté briefly. Turn heat down to medium, cover, and simmer 5 minutes or until juices come out. Remove cover, simmer slowly until all liquid is cooked off and onions are caramelized and golden brown. 

Add flour, stir until mixture begins to brown.

  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Add thyme and pepper, sauté briefly.

  • 1 cup white wine

Add wine and reduce until syrupy. 

  • 8 cups chicken or veal stock

Add stock, and simmer for 1 hour.

  • 6 pieces of dried French bread
  • 3 cups Swiss cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Ladle soup into bowls, top with slice of bread. Mound with Swiss and Parmesan cheese. Broil until bubbly.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Restaurants | 2 Comments

RIP Tommy Allen: 9/21/1947-6/17/2018

Take a listen to Stan Getz by clicking on the post title. You’ll be directed to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

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You could easily spot Tommy at an Allen family event—he’d be the one holding a baby, grilling brats and burgers, or doing both. As the sixth of eleven children, Tommy had a lot of practice wrangling little kids. He was both protector and protagonist for his sisters Rita, Mary, Kathy, Barbara, and Jean, chasing off bullies and boyfriends with equal enthusiasm. 

 

He admired his older brothers Jim, Dick, and Steve. He was older brother and mentor to Norm, advisor and secret-keeper for his nephews and nieces and life-long best friend to his brother Bob.

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Tommy could easily have been Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World. He was handsome, he sailed a yacht through the Panama Canal, earned a degree from Evergreen State College, picked berries and beans in the fields with his brothers and sisters, worked on crab and salmon boats in the Gulf of Alaska, logged forests in Whatcom County, started an East-Indian import business, tended bar at Shenanigan’s in San Diego and managed Chaps’ in Stockton, was a broker for Frasier Yachts selling 80-120 foot boats to the rich and famous in California, Washington State, and Europe, held a 1,600-ton Master Oceans license from the U.S. Coast Guard, captained charter boats through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Gulf of Mexico, manned booths in boat shows from Los Angeles to Monaco, and was proprietor/grease monkey at the Green Light Garage on Bainbridge Island with Ali, Nick, and Baxter.

He rebuilt a burned-out catamaran in Port Townsend, played team basketball at Lompoc and matched jump shots with the young guns in his backyard, coached Little League baseball, could play a mean game of Hold ‘em or Chutes N Ladders, climbed mountains in Kuala Lampur, knew how to operate a road grader, loved Stan Getz’s saxophone, could bake a birthday cake, drove a ‘32 Ford on the 1960s Bellingham drag-race circuit, constructed a boat-shaped treehouse for his boys, bought his dad a twenty-foot bass boat, planted dahlias with Ali, cooked regularly for his family, washed and folded the laundry, helped Bob hand-build a quilt rack for Marla, built a 2,000 square foot shop behind his house, logged his acreage on Bainbridge, turning the trees into lumber at a local mill, drying the planks for two years in his garage, and bossing his family every weekend until beautiful hardwood floors were installed throughout the house. 

Tommy kissed his first girl at nine, bought his first car at fifteen, joined the Navy Reserve at sixteen, married his first wife at twenty, served in Viet Nam at twenty-one, found his best and final wife, Ali, at forty, became the proud father of Nick and Baxter at fifty, met his beautiful daughter, Inger, at fifty-seven, bought a run-down garage at sixty-five, turned a profit on that run-down garage at sixty-eight, and sold his last million-dollar yacht at seventy. Tommy functioned as the family banker, employer, confessor, and confidant. He charmed the woman, impressed the men, played with the kids, changed the babies, patted the dogs, ignored the cats, disobeyed the rules, and told everyone the best stories.

Tommy protected those who were younger and smaller, sometimes to their dismay. He and Bob were once driving down the streets in Bellingham when they saw a young woman being dragged out of her car and slapped around by her male partner. Tom pulled the car over, got out, grabbed the male assailant by his shirt, and bounced him up and down on the sidewalk a few times. “There! How do you like being slapped around by someone twice your size?” The young woman leapt on Tommy, shrieking, “Leave him alone! I love him, I love him!”

Family was all-important to Tommy. Ali was the love of his life, Tommy thought she was beautiful, spunky, courageous, and smart. He was proud of her career as a nurse, the way she embraced motherhood, her nightly 45-minute jog on the treadmill, her delicious muffins, cookies, and bread—especially the bread. He dearly loved his boys, Nick and Bax, and taught them how to fly fish, shingle a roof, fix a carburetor, make a grilled cheese sandwich, set a pick, swear, row a boat, be polite, respect their mother, and work hard. 

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Over the years we weave a tapestry consisting of threads from friends, family, pets, work buddies, and loved ones. Some patches are colorful; other patches more subdued. Tommy’s portion was big, bold, and bright. He will leave a huge hole in the fabric of our lives. 

Posted in Family and friends | 5 Comments

Flow: Chicken breasts with Port

Rest in peace, Anthony Bourdain. To watch the video featuring Bourdain at Les Halles, click on the post title to go to my blog’s website.

I was watching a TED talk the other day about Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (had to watch a YouTube on how to pronounce the name) and his concept of “flow.” I remember buying his book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” in the 90s, but found the read too New-Agey and I never did finish it. In the TED talk, the presenter described flow as the mental state achieved when a person is focused on performing an activity for its intrinsic value and is fully present, immersed, and in the moment. A state that is relaxed but intense, where time flies but stands still, and where actions are effortless within a challenging situation. Think of Michael Jordan “in the zone”, or an individual who is rock climbing, mountain biking, or surfing. 

Csikzentmihalyi applied “flow” specifically to artistic endeavors such as playing music, writing, dancing, painting and intellectual pursuits such as scientific research, concept development, and inventive design. Although TED didn’t mention blue collar work, I remember times cooking on the line in a restaurant kitchen when, apparently, we were in a flow state. 

It began like any other night: each station set up for the rush, manned by a professional with skills that matched the challenge. Service started at 5:30 with a few early birds; gradually picking up steam—then let the circus begin. The expediter shouts orders from chits coming through the Remanco in a tappity blur—“ordering one monkfish, one lobster, three chicken breasts with port, three poussin, two skirt steaks—one SOS; salads out on the 12-top; pickup four breasts with port; fire three New Yorks; 3 out on those hushpuppies; where’s the skirt for 13; ordering one risotto on the fly; ordering two clam spags; draggin’ two side salads; pick up cheese plate for a deuce; 86 the branzino; hold table 23; that’s five breasts all day; order/fire one ribeye—blue; kill one New York; stretch the soup; VIP on 24; fire the 12-top; Ruth Reichl’s in the house.” Cooks echo each call-out, “Yes Chef! One monk, one lobster, three breasts, three poussin, two skirts—one SOS.”

The heat intensifies, the fryer boils over, sauté pans hiss and sizzle, bursting into flame as bourbon is added: HOT BEHIND, YES CHEF, I’M IN THE WEEDS, WHERE ARE YOU ON 24, DROP FRIES FOR 23. Dishwasher sidesteps onto the line, shouting BEHIND!, stretching to put clean plates on the pass, picking up bus tubs heavy with sauté pans.

No motion is wasted: bend down to pick four steaks, three chicken breasts, three poussin, one monkfish, and four swirls of pasta out of the low boy, run to the walk-in to grab a live lobster, pin him down on the table and cut him in half, spin six sauté pans onto the hot top, a round of oil in each one, brown the poussin, drop the pasta, slide the dead lobster down to the grill man, check the chicken, sear the steaks, breasts in the oven, steaks out, bourbon in, pasta in, drop the hushpuppies, poussin out, plate poussin, cream in the bourbon, pasta out, drag a little pasta water into the pan. Second push comes, repeat over and over in varying iterations until the rail is clear at 11:30.

We look up at each other and wonder, “What happened?” The hours didn’t exist, only the dance—we were one beast moving in slow-motion but at a full tilt. 

When I’m just cooking for me and the Sweetie, I still try to focus on the techniques, enjoy the ingredients, and remember what Michael Roberts used to say, “The easiest way isn’t the best way.” So I whack whole garlic cloves, peel tomatoes, fine dice the onions, trim the skin off the ham slice, make a fruit coulis for the salmon, fry the tortillas to soften before stuffing them for enchiladas, and brine the chicken breasts. I don’t achieve “flow”, but then I don’t limp all the way to the bus stop either.

Michael Roberts’ Chicken with Port 

Add butter to hot sauté pan. When foaming has stopped, brown chicken breast, skin side down. Pour off fat. Add 2 T. shallots, 2 parts red Port to one part chicken stock to sauté pan with chicken. Roast in oven for 10-12 minutes. Remove pan from oven, remove chicken breast and keep warm. Reduce liquid (port/chicken stock) to syrup. Add 1⁄2 c. heavy cream—reduced until thickened. Add 2 T. stilton cheese, and whisk in 2 T. cold butter. If the cream sauce separates, just add a little water to the pan and swirl around.

Posted in Chefs, Recipes, Restaurants | 1 Comment

Memorial Day

Each Memorial Day I write a post about our creative, generous friends from We The North and their ingenious, theme-based dinner party. This year on the way into Vancouver, we stopped a mile from the Canadian border crossing, on the Washington side, and went no further. We waited patiently, at first, for 90 minutes before The Sweetie bolted, made a U-turn and headed for home. According to the border wait-time app, we had another 70 minutes until it was our turn to lie about bringing food into Canada.

I hemmed my skirt, polished my boots, washed my hair, brought a gift sack full of new favorites from Trader Joe’s, and was reluctant to bail. But faced with another hour’s wait to cross and heavy holiday traffic into downtown Vancouver, I too was willing to flee. I regret missing the event, not seeing our friends, and giving such short notice to our hosts but there you have it. We were given lemons, but didn’t make lemonade. 

Speaking of lemons, the other day the Sweetie and I were wondering about one of our vagabond friends who left the Chicago project early. Where is he now? Is he working, relaxing, snowboarding? Does he still live in California?  We looked for him on WhatsApp, Marco Polo, LinkedIn, and Instagram, but no trace. Suddenly Bob had an epiphany—“I’ll call him on the telephone!” He dialed the number (actually, he told Siri to), and our friend answered. He and Bob chatted about work, life, the joys of a good mattress, and exchanged new project information—now we are up-to-date.

I wanted to make amends for bailing on our friends Memorial Day, so I considered texting—way too impersonal; emailing—does anyone even read their emails these days; Facebooking—I don’t have an account and neither do our friends; Snail Mail—who knows if and when a letter will come; so I went with old-school, but satisfying, telephone calls.

In the early days to check in with someone, we hitched up the horses, walked a few miles into town, or started a signal fire; now we can receive the latest information instantly. Today, calling on the phone, sending a letter, or even emailing is somehow old-fashioned. I like the peer-to-peer method, I like not having to squeeze my thoughts into 160 characters, I like seeing or hearing the subtleties of facial or verbal interaction. If I can’t do face-to-face, ear-to-ear will do.

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Keep Knoxville Scruffy: Beet orange salad

In a 1980 Wall Street Journal story titled, “What if you gave a World’s Fair and no one came,” journalist Susan Harrigan criticized the choice of Knoxville, Tennessee as the location for the 1982 World’s Fair, dismissing it as a “scruffy, little city.” Residents refused to retreat with wounded pride and have celebrated the label ever since.

1982 World’s Fair’s Sunsphere

 

Knoxville sits by the Tennessee River with the Great Smokey Mountains in its backyard. Fifteen years ago when I started visiting Knoxville to see my daughter and her family, the grands were young and we did kid things: feeding the ducks at Fountain City, picking apples at a local orchard, taking autumn drives to Cade’s Cove, and spending time hiking in the beautiful mountains. Now, the Smokies are indeed beautiful, but from a Washingtonian’s point of view, they are more like furry green hills than majestic mountains.

Our family’s “the hills are alive” moment

When they were young

As the kids grew older, we focused on downtown activities: shopping at Mast General, listening to live music at the Blue Plate Special, buying fresh produce from local farmers in Market Square, eating pizza at Tomato Head, drinking coffee at Katie’s Third Creek Coffee, or watching the rock climbers at Lauren’s River Sports.

Sister Antics, Blue Plate Special

Downtown Knoxville, Market Square

Knoxville reminds me of Tacoma: a red-headed stepchild, stuck between two cooler cousins. Tacoma—“Grit City”—forever in the shadow of Seattle to the north and Portland to the south and Knoxville—that “scruffy, little city”—stacked up against Instagramable Ashville to the east and Music City Nashville to the west. Seattle sold its soul years ago to Amazon and Portland is way too self-aware but let’s hope that Knoxville and Tacoma, on the verge of being declared cool, can hold on to their scruff and their grit.

Ashville

The light posts and parking meters are crocheted on Wall Street in downtown Ashville!

Early Girl Eatery

If only it were a 1962 VW bus

Woolworth Walk art gallery and diner

“Flat Iron,” Reed Todd

Bob found peeled, cooked beets, cryovaced in four packets of 6-8, the other day at Costco for $6. They’re not quite as tasty as the ones you roast, but way more convenient. So far, I’ve made beet soup, a beet lentil salad, beet pasta, beets and greens, beet, feta, and walnut salad, beets and cooked carrots (He also bought 10 pounds of carrots at Costco), and the below beet, orange salad. Can beet crisp be far behind?

 Beet, orange, avocado salad

  • 3-5 small cooked beets, large dice
  • 2 avocados, cubed
  • 2 navel oranges, supremed (see video below)
  • Halved grapes are good too
  • 1/2 minced shallot or thinly sliced green onions
  • 2 cups spinach or assorted greens, or none!
  • 1 tablespoon toasted salted sunflower seeds or walnuts
  • Slight squirt of agave or honey
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Wrap beets tightly in foil and roast until tender, about 1 hour. Once cool, remove skin and slice. Or buy already cooked at Costco.

Combine salad ingredients, serve with chopped nuts or sunflower seeds, and either attached dressing, Ranch, or dressing of your choice.

 Dressing:

  • 1 spoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 spoon minced garlic
  • Salt
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Crush garlic, mustard, and salt with the back of the spoon.

Add vinegar, orange juice.

Whisk in olive oil.

Season with salt and pepper.

 
Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Travel | 1 Comment

Oh, the places she’ll go: Pound Cake

You’re off to Great Places

Today is your day

The Mountain is waiting

So…get on your way!”

Dr. Suess, Oh, the Places You’ll Go

She talked in sentences at eleven months and ran before she walked. Born with a beautiful smile, a curly head of hair, and a tender heart, my granddaughter Lauren lights up a room with grace and kindness, can do a mean dance to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, and climbs a sheer rock wall like a gecko.

Last Saturday I was part of the proud crowd of parents, grandparents, and friends who watched and waited for their special one to walk across the stage and receive their diploma. I’ve been sitting in early summer commencement audiences for ten years now and we’re getting down to the last few graduates. 

Unlike previous years, the scholarly types in charge didn’t scold and warn the collective group about preemptive celebration, so the procedure stretched a bit as each robed walker received a well-deserved round of hoots and hollers. Bridg brought out the caramel M&Ms when our peanut gallery got boisterous and somehow our family row stayed awake and alert until it was our girl’s turn. 

Sixteen or so years later

Katie, Lauren, Leah

 Bridget, Lauren, Katie, Caleb, Ronnie

Lauren received a Batchelor of Arts degree, majoring in Spanish and ESL, and will start working full-time at Thrive, a local non-profit that assists at-risk youth and immigrant families. Her family is so proud of her, enjoys her sweet nature, and is confident that she will turn her world into an even better place.

Graduation Pound Cake

  • 3 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 room temperature eggs
  • one 8 oz. block cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
Bring all ingredients to room temperature—trust me, it makes a big difference
 
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. 
 
With an electric mixer and paddle attachment, beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. 
 
Add sugar slowly or in several increments; beat on moderate speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. 
 
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla. 
 
Combine flour and salt. With mixer on low, add flour/salt mixture in two additions, beating until just combined.
 
Generously coat one large Bundt pan or two 1 1/2 quart loaf pans with cooking spray; immediately pour in batter (pan will seem full). Tap pans on work surface to eliminate any large air bubbles.
 
Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out almost clean, for 90 minutes (if the tops begin to brown too quickly, tent with aluminum foil).
 
Cool 10 minutes in the pan. Turn out the cakes; cool completely, with top sides up, on a wire rack.
 
Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 5 Comments

Art Institute of Chicago

 

Although I was only a ten-minute Red Line ride away from the Art Institute, I put off going until our last week in Chicago. Home to a permanent collection of 300,000 works of art and more than thirty special exhibitions, the Art Institute of Chicago is my Swann’s Way, my Finnegan’s Wake, my Infinite Jest—I know it is worth the time and effort, but size and culture fatigue sent me to Jo Nesbo and the Museum of Contemporary Art instead.

The Art Institute of Chicago is huge—topping off at a daunting million square feet, the eight buildings house eleven curated departments, five conservation laboratories, two architectural libraries, sculpture gardens, four restaurants, the Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing, 20,000 photographic works, textiles that span cultures from 300 B.C. to the present, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawk, Pablo Picasso’s Old Guitarist, and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, to name just a few.

Hopper.jpg

Edward Hopper, Nighthawk

 Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist

 

A day trip to the Art Institute of Chicago is like trying to see Europe in two weeks—you’re better off choosing a neighborhood in Paris.  My neighborhood of choice was the Modern Wing, so I zipped past the European Decorative Arts, Etruscan artifacts, Japanese screens, and African masks straight to Renzo Piano, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and a few new favorites.

Willem de Kooning, Interchanged

Jim Nutt, Untitled

Man Ray, Departure of Summer

Pablo Picasso, The Red Armchair

Otto Dix, Pregnant Woman

Anyways, my Art Institute of Chicago visit was overwhelming yet exhilarating and given twenty or so more visits, I might just have a sense of the place. 

Posted in Museums, Travel | 1 Comment

Too easy? Southwestern Chipotle Macaroni Salad

I didn’t have a clothes dryer until my son was born. My daughter, the first born, wore diapers that swished around in a washer on the back porch until I decided they were clean enough, put them through the wringer, and hung them outside on the clothesline. In the winter my fingers were numb by the time the diapers, stacked up like cordwood, were thawing in the basement. Laundry day was indeed a day of doing laundry.

Now don’t be rolling your eyes, this is not a tale of how I survived in the olden days, walking a mile to and from school, and not having my own radio until I was seventeen. No this is a tale of, as Tim Wu in a New York Times article called it, “The Tyranny of Convenience.”

I enjoyed the laundry-day ritual—watching the clothes roil back and forth, squeezing each wet sock through the rubber wringers, and hanging out in the fresh air, but I enthusiastically embraced the convenience of an automatic washing machine. Convenience is changing our world as surely as global warming is. Amazon has taken Walmart’s #1 Villain of the Year spot as it rolls over bookstores, fabric stores, grocery stores, hardware stores, and record stores. Gone are our face-to-face interactions with small store owners and sales clerks, no more browsing the aisles of Ace Hardware looking for that special screw, squeezing peaches to find the ripe one, and choosing just the right pair of socks by feel. Simply touch the “Buy” button, and before you can change your mind, it’s there at your front door.

Social media has eliminated the need for live, personal interactions. How many times have you watched families in a restaurant who ignore each other to connect with their smartphones? Who even uses their phone to talk anymore? And why put your shoes on, start the car, and drive somewhere to see a friend—just FaceTime or Marco Polo them?

What ever happened to just waiting? When we were at the hotel in Chicago, elevator riders couldn’t even resist the scroll while descending to the Sixth Floor. When I looked out the hotel window at pedestrians on the sidewalk below, most of them walked heads down, reading their phones, narrowly avoiding the icicles crashing down around them. Recently at our local Kaiser pharmacy, five out of six waiting members were on their phones. One grandmother-type accompanying a five year old girl brushed off her, “Look Gramma look!”, interruptions to continue playing Candy Crush.

Convenience marginalizes quality. Pouring boiling water over Starbuck’s Via is easier than brewing your coffee, but it is not as good. Using garlic powder instead of peeling and mincing a clove or two is enticingly quicker, but flavorless. Relying on Spotify to create your morning playlist is more convenient than finding a good radio station, becoming a regular listener, choosing your favorites, going to a record store, buying vinyl, returning home, and cranking up the Victrola; but something is lost in the trade.

Using Instagram’s convenient format lessens individual creativity in favor of a pre-packaged communal appearance. It takes more time to find a pencil and paper and think up a birthday card, than it does to choose from a provided template and click “Send.” Digital assistants can shop for us, read to us, lock our doors, heat or cool our houses, and order pizza. Refrigerators make automatic shopping lists, ovens turn themselves on and off without the hassle of getting off the couch, and washers can be turned on remotely with a smart phone. Who knew that Clap On Clap Off lights were cutting edge? 

On the whole, convenience has liberated us from drudgery. But what we create through the individual struggle of mastering something difficult—planting a garden, balancing our checkbook, leaning to play the cello, making a quilt—is worth the challenge.

Anyways, I wanted to make good, old Iowa macaroni and pea salad for dinner the other night, but had no peas. I did have a bit of a roasted red pepper, a hard-boiled egg, a half an avocado, an overripe tomato, a few black beans, and a lot of cilantro—so Southwestern Chipotle Salad showed up instead. It’s all in the name.

Southwestern chipotle macaroni salad

  • Cooked macaroni
  • Diced tomato
  • Diced celery, radish, or jicama (or all of the above)
  • Diced fresh serrano, jalapeño, or Mrs. Renfro’s
  • Diced avocado
  • Diced hard-boiled egg
  • Cooked corn kernels (TJ’s frozen roasted corn is perfect)
  • Fine diced red onion
  • Diced roasted, or not, red pepper 
  • Cooked black beans, rinse canned ones thoroughly or the salad will be grayish (not a good look)
  • A lot of chopped cilantro
Salt a little as you add ingredients. Add salad dressing, top with crunched up corn tortilla chips—or roasted pumpkin seeds would be good. 
 
Dressing:
 
1 part mayonnaise
1 part yogurt or sour cream
1 part Bottled Ranch dressing
A squeezed lime or lemon or two
Some red sauce from a can of chipotle peppers (careful, it’s hot)
A slight shake of ground cumin
A clove or two of minced garlic
Salt to taste—don’t skimp
 
Mix or blend
 
Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments