Trending, in or out? Porcupine meatballs

ABBA, Dancing Queen

http://www.youtube.com/embed/xFrGuyw1V8s

In 1989, the Sweetie and I bought my Aunt Normie’s house on Vashon. The house sat back from the road on a high-bank waterfront with a view of Quartermaster Harbor, the Yacht Club, and Mt. Rainier. The decorating style was true to the 1970s and featured a small, separate kitchen, avocado green appliances, formica in the kitchen and bathrooms, oak everywhere, a spindled room divider, and gold, shag wall-to-wall carpet. I had loved the house for years and was thrilled with every detail…except for the gold shag wall-to-wall carpet. As soon as we had a little stash saved up, we tore out the gold shag and installed quieter, sage green plush. It never occurred to us to replace it with hard wood floors, that was a trend yet to come.

Our current house, built in 2016, is also true to the decorating styles of its decade: open concept, stainless steel appliances, subway-tile in the kitchen and bathrooms, and…beige, wall-to-wall, contractor-grade carpet. As soon as we had a little stash saved up, we replaced the wall-to-wall with hard surface flooring, it never occurred to us to replace it with better carpet.

As I stopped following decorating trends years ago, I thought I would check in with Mr. Google to see what’s in and what’s out. I’ve been out for so long that the cycle has started over again: floral wallpaper is in; mixing Gramma’s wicker, ruffles, and chintz with modern touches (called “grandmillennial style”) is in; tapestries are back (time to pull your mother’s William Morris out from under the bed); “whimsical” bathrooms are in; black and white is in but all white is out, barn doors are out, word art is over, the Italian villa kitchen look is passé (Oh no, what to do with all that gold-veined marble), your futon is no longer relevant, and that zebra rug in front of the futon…out it goes. Don’t know what world these people live in, but no one I know would toss a perfectly good zebra rug.

There is one “in” trend that I consistently support: “layering new and old”, although my decor tends more toward the layering of old and old. Our furniture is piecemeal: a cabinet given to us in 1983 by LA apartment neighbors, Bob’s grandpa’s buffet and dining room chairs, an oak table Beth used for years and returned with the broken extensions fixed by her father, a funky, green chest built by Irvine Allen, a leather couch bought during one of Ted’s Eugene visits, the black bedroom dresser—a gift from our 501 neighbor Anne’s sister, and the yellow table lamp, brought along from another life. Ginny has been a big factor in our decorating style, both inside and out. In 1979 she recovered a rocker I bought at Grannie’s, one year she made me the cutest ever bark cloth foot stool, and this year she donated a stunning red leather chair and red metal table for the office—also a Grannie’s find, recovered a beautiful side chair she found on the sidewalk, and…lugged the stump of my dreams up from the beach.

My new stump


New chair, old buffet, Grampa chairs, Beth’s table


Spiffy bird-watching footstool

Regardless of what the trends are, I will always love solid wood doors, hardwood floors, subway tiles, white kitchens, concrete counters and floors, glass brick walls, mosaic anything, rocking chairs, oriental rugs, stained glass windows, braided wool rugs, long dining room tables, kitchen slide-in booths, folding room dividers, and, last but not least, quilts everywhere.

A quilt for every nap.


Ginny’s work in progress.

Porcupine meatballs

Meatballs:

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked, cooled, long grain rice
  • 2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 medium onion, minced
  • 1 Tbl minced garlic
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 slices of bread, torn
  • 1/4 cup milk

Sauce:

  • 1 23 ounce can condensed tomato soup
  • 1 cup beef stock or water
  • 8 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Instructions:

  • Make the Sauce
  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • In a bowl, add all sauce ingredients and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Meatballs:

  • In a small bowl add the bread and milk and gently press down. Allow to soak for 5 minutes.
  • In a large bowl add the rest of the meatball ingredients. Add the panade mixture (milk and bread) to the bowl. Without overworking the mixture, gently mix just to combine. The mixture should be wet but hold a shape when you form it into a ball.
  • Scoop enough meat mixture to form a 2” round ball. Wet your hands and shape. Damp hands are a trick to keeping the mixture from sticking to your hands.
  • Place the meatballs in a 3-4 quart baking dish or 9×13” baking pan. They can touch. Repeat until all of the meatballs are shaped and in a pan. If necessary, use 2 pans if you do not have a large enough pan. Assemble and bake
  • Pour the mixture over top of the meatballs. Cover the meatballs with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the cover and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 165F.
Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Touch ‘em all: Salmorejo

John Fogerty, Centerfield

On the day I was born, my dad was still smarting from the loss his beloved Yankees suffered when the St. Louis Cardinals won the 1942 World Series, four games to one. I grew up with the summer sounds of baseball coming from the big living room console radio. Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter, Roy Campanella, Willie McCovey, and Joe DiMaggio still rattle around in my brain, waiting to be called up. Daddy listened to the games in his big chair by the window; the rest of us drifted in and out, yelling encouragement or moaning softly.

At age 20 when I told Daddy, a staunch Republican and life-long Presbyterian, that Dick and I wanted to get married, he asked, “Is he a Republican?” “No, he’s a Democrat.” “Is he a Protestant?” “No, he’s a Catholic.” “Is he a Yankee fan or a Dodger fan?” “He’s a Yankee fan.” “Well in that case, you have my blessing.”

Luckily, when the Sweetie and I lived in Los Angeles and became true blue Dodger fans, Daddy wasn’t around to witness the betrayal. We went to Chavez Ravine, ate as many Dodger Dogs as we could, drank 25 cent beers on Fan Day, and were there when the Dodgers won the 1988 World Series. We loved hearing Vin Scully call Dodger games on the radio. He was the master of understatement, allowing his audience to experience the game without constant interpretation.

I remember listening to another play-by-play announcer, can’t remember his name, talking about a game he called as a rookie commentator: it’s the bottom of the ninth, the game is tied, and the star hitter who is down in the count, smacks a fast ball over the fence for the winning home run. The announcer was so excited that he forgot the star’s name and burst out, “Touch ‘em all, Mr. Baseball Man.”

Baseball play-by-play announcers are known by their home run calls. “Touch ‘em all, Joe” came from Tom Creek calling Joe Carter’s game-winning home run for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series. The Seattle Mariners’ all-time marvelous Dave Neihaus was famous for his “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Gramma cause it’s grand salami time!” ESPN’s Chris Berman’s “Back, back, back—gone!” is loved by some but not by all, and then there’s the Cub’s Harry Caray’s, “It could be, it might be, it is…a home run!”

In 1975, during his Saturday Night Live monologue, comedian George Carlin described baseball as a “pastoral sport,” compared to football’s “technological struggle.”

“In football you wear a helmet; in baseball you wear a cap.

Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying; baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.

Football has the two-minute warning; baseball has the seventh-inning stretch.

Football is played in a stadium; baseball is played in the park.

In football, you get a penalty; in baseball, you make an error—whoops!

The object in football is to march downfield and penetrate enemy territory, and get into the end zone; in baseball, the object is to go home! “I’m going home!”

And, in football, they have the clip, the hit, the block, the tackle, the blitz, the bomb, the offense and the defense; in baseball, they have…the sacrifice.”

Anyways, just thought I would tip my cap to baseball before football takes over.

BTW, if you’re one of those lucky gardeners who has spare, ripe tomatoes on hand, give this Spanish alternative to gazpacho a try. 

Salmorejo  

  • 3 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste 
  • 8 plum tomatoes, cored, halved, and seeded  
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed  
  • 1 1/2 cups white French-style bread, cut into large pieces  
  • 1⁄2 small onion  
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 
  • 2 tbsp. sherry vinegar 
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped 
  • 1 1⁄2 cups finely chopped Iberian ham or prosciutto 

Place salt, tomatoes, garlic, bread, and onion in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit for 1 hour.
Drain vegetables, reserving 1 cup soaking liquid; place in blender. Squeeze water from bread; place in blender with reserved soaking liquid, oil, and vinegar. Purée until smooth; season with salt and pepper, and chill. Pour into serving bowls; top with eggs, ham, and a drizzle of oil. 

 

The Sweetie’s latest CT scan “looked good” so we’re feeling very happy. 

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September: Plum Streusel Tart, Plum Chutney

September of My Years, Frank Sinatra

“One day you turn around and it’s summer. Next day you turn around and it’s fall. And all the winters and the springs of a lifetime, whatever happened to them all?”

September’s slight melancholy inspires song writers: See You in SeptemberSeptember in the RainSeptember Song, Try to Remember—all about lost love and remembering. I slip into a mood on the first whiff of autumn and stay there until my birthday. What happened to summer? How could it be Labor Day? Where have all the flowers gone? But we all know that once firecrackers light up skies on the Fourth of July and send the poor doggies onto your lap, the next time you turn around, it’s Fall.

Any gardener knows the end is near by looking out the window at the flowers, the zucchini, and the fruit trees. Dahlias scream out in reds, yellows, and peaches; those vulnerable hanging baskets whine for an everyday watering; any squash plant worth it’s salt has taken over the garden, hiding zucchini the size of seals beneath it’s broad leaves; if we’re lucky tomato vines hang heavy with red orbs; red chard challenges the cook to keep up with its output; and if it’s that every other year, Italian plum tree branches droop with juicy purple fruit and mean wasps.

As I rely on the kindness of friends and family for plums, Ginny again graciously offered her plum bounty for jam and chutney. The mornings warn of the coming change of seasons and when I got up today I felt that exact moment when I know for sure that summer is not going to last forever. It’s dark when I get up in the morning, the sun sets later every night, I saw my first fallen red leaf the other day, the grosbeaks are gone, the spiders are busy building webs, Chipper Jones, the chipmunk, cheeks bulging with bird feeder droppings, scurries back and forth hoarding for the lean season; and mournful geese, flying in neat, V-shape silhouettes, honk across the sky.

According to our TV Weather Blonde, September will be unusually warm, but we all know what’s coming.

Plum Streusel Tart (an old City Restaurant dessert— steppy, but worth the trouble).

Paté Sucre

8 Tbs. (1 stick unsalted butter), softened

1 cup + 6 Tbs. powdered sugar, sifted

1 egg

1 tsp. salt

1 3⁄4 cup flour

In an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and salt, and beat until combined. Add flour, all at once, and slowly mix until flour is evenly moistened. (Don’t mix until a ball forms around the beaters).

Transfer to a plastic bag and form dough into a 6” log. Seal bag, pressing out any air, and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Divide log in half for one tart. To roll, soften dough by pressing it with your hands until soft and malleable. Form a 4” round disk. On a lightly floured board, roll from center out, lifting dough, turning slightly, to prevent sticking. Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness.

Fold dough in half, and lift into tart pan. Unfold and press gently into bottom and up the sides. Chill 1⁄2 hour before baking.


Almond Cream

1⁄2 cup + 1 Tbs. granulated sugar

1 cup almonds (I’ve used both blanched and unblanched)

9 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla

Process sugar and almonds in a food processor until fine. Add butter, one Tbs. at a time, pulsing after each addition until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.


Streusel

1⁄2 cup packed brown sugar

7 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature

1 tsp. cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp. salt

1 cup + 2 Tbs. flour

Cream together sugar and butter until smooth. Add cinnamon and salt and mix until blended. Add flour. Mix with your fingers just until crumbly.


To assemble tart

Roll Paté Sucre and use to line a 10” tart pan with removable bottom. Preheat oven to 350 ̊. Bake empty tart shell for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and spread almond cream in hot tart shell. Bake another 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Cut 8-10 plums in half and remove pits. Arrange plums, cut side down, over baked almond cream; sprinkle with streusel and bake 20-30 minutes, until plums are soft and crust is golden brown.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. 

 

Plum Chutney 


10# Italian plums (preferably free from a friend) 

3 c. sugar (or part sugar, part Splenda) 

1 c. rice wine vinegar (cider vinegar works too but is stronger) 

1⁄2 c. fresh chopped ginger 

3 T. chopped garlic 

1 t. nutmeg 

1 T. cinnamon 

1 t. allspice 

1⁄2 t. salt 

1⁄4 t. cayenne pepper 


Combine all and cook two-three hours until thickened. The last hour is very tricky—I’ve ruined more than one pot by not minding the plums. Be sure to stir occasionally during the first two hours, and frequently (almost constantly) during the last hour. Process in a hot water bath for 25 minutes.


 Taken in our Eugene backyard 

My very own beets

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Glorious gardens: Sautéed greens


When I was a kid, my summer backyard always included a vegetable garden. Daddy did the up-front work: the hoeing, planting, weeding, and harvesting; Muth dealt with the results: the washing, cooking, and canning. Not much was expected of us three girls. We sat in the garden among the August tomatoes, kitchen salt shaker in hand, rubbing off the dirt and eating the warm red globes out of hand, but didn’t contribute much to the garden’s success.

Thirty years later when we lived on Vashon, the Sweetie wrangled a big vegetable garden. He rototilled every September, mixing in fallen pears, oak leaves, sheep manure, and kelp, planted a winter cover crop, rototilled again in the spring, planted rows of beets, chard, carrots, green beans, lettuce, tomatillos, basil, zucchini, cucumber, and tomatoes; then usually went on the road to work, leaving the bounty of his labor to Muth and I. One summer when he was home on an extended break, there was such an abundance of beets that he canned fifteen quarts of pickled beets. One year, we turned our rare bumper crop of tomatoes into gleaming jars of spaghetti sauce.

If there is a downside to a successful garden, it shows up in too many baskets of tomatoes on the back porch, armfuls of beets heavy with dirt clods sitting on the kitchen counter, a sinkful of chard leaves, and an oh-no-not-another box of zucchini. Now, you can hardly say that my little chard/beet garden defines overabundance, but still… We have chard in some form every day just to keep up: sautéed greens, chard tart, chard/beet/feta pasta, beans & greens soup—we’ve had it all.

Chard, glorious chard


I mean, come on, this is one beautiful beet!

But abundance in a flower garden has no downside. The Sweetie has spent hours on our backyard slope raking, hoeing, adding top soil and compost to the rocks and bad dirt, and eventually sowing three pounds of wildflower seeds—then came the weeding and watering.

Our wildflower season started with drifts of small white flowers, soon little bluebells emerged, followed by splashes  of California poppies. Then came the batchelor buttons, pink and red poppies, and lavender snapdragon-like blooms. We’re now in the red, pink, and white cup-like extravaganza supported by cosmos and accented by black-eyed suzies.

Meanwhile in the raised planter, the nasturtiums have taken charge, those tall red-flowered somebodies tower over everyone, the huge variegated-leaf plant with pink carnation-like flowers threatens to explode, and overseeing his domaine—the purple morning glory, Granda Ott. All in all, our garden spot is certainly not restrained but it is entertaining.

Basil, who moped through May, June, and part of July, hit his stride and insists daily on pizza Margherita, caprese salad, or pesto.

Mophead hydrangea, a spoiled two-year old who is quickly outgrowing her pot, decided to wear pink this year.


Our neighbors’ garden is a glorious extension of abundance: wallflowers, lilies, crocosmia, yarrow, and fuchsia blooms that look just like sparklers.

Swiss chard/beet greens 

  • A couple slices of bacon, cut into batons
  • A lump of butter
  • Half an onion, diced
  • Minced garlic
  • Chard/beet stems, diced
  • If there are any small beets attached to the beet greens, scrub them, cut them into smaller pieces, and add them along with the onions, and chopped stems.
  • About twice as much greens as you think 
  • Sherry or red wine vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper 

Cram as many greens possible in a small microwaveable dish, sprinkle on some olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Microwave for 3 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid. 

 

Sauté bacon in butter until softened, add onion, garlic, chard/beet stems, and any beet pieces. Add a splash of water or reserved greens liquid. Sauté for five minutes or so until onions and stems are soft. Cook briskly at the end to reduce liquid. 

 

Coarse-chop cooked greens and add to onion/bacon/stem mixture. Simmer five minutes. 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 4 Comments

Rent Control?: Sound Food clam chowder


When I moved to Vashon in 1971, Ginny found me a waterfront cabin on Klahanie Beach that rented for $75 a month. Granted, getting there required hiking down a steep, quarter-mile path from the road—pitch dark at night and treacherous in the winter—but still, once I got there, my porch was the beach with views of whales, seals, and cargo ships passing by. From there, I moved to an inland, three-bedroom rambler on five acres—purchase price $45,000. Granted, in the 1970s, $45,000 wasn’t chump change, but still…

In the late 70s, Sweetie and I lived on the island as summer-home gypsies. We would find a place in September, move out in June, then move back in at the end of summer. We rented a loft in Betty MacDonald’s farm for $100/month, so deep in the woods that we dressed for winter in the morning, then went uptown to warm up. Then for a few years there was the Klinks’—a tiny, high-bank waterfront on Tramp Harbor, built by a ship’s captain in the 1930s, complete with captain’s wheel, stained-glass lookout, a productive Italian plum tree, and a killer view of Mt. Rainier. A few years later with two full-time salaries, we stepped up and rented Normie’s house above the Quartermaster Yacht Club—modern, bath and a half, full kitchen, wood stove—$200.00/month.

We lost one salary and for $125.00/month, we rented the top floor at the Cove Motel (known then as a good place to buy weed) and lived above a clutch of bikers who loved to party, dressed in scary black leather, and had even scarier black dogs. One late night (or was it early morning), after listening for hours to thumps and hoots, I summoned up the nerve, marched downstairs to complain about the noise, pounded on their door, and retreated meekly back up the stairs after the tallest, meanest biker opened the door and barked, “What!” But we loved the Cove—pre-Fixer Upper, open-concept design, with kitchen, bathroom, living area in one room, and a tiny space with a bed that opened out to the ocean breezes. Luckily we didn’t have much stuff as all storage was along the outdoor staircase.

We lived in Olympia for a while—in a mid-century rambler close to the water and then, in a rundown, Westside bungalow purchased for $23,000 and sold six months later for $25,000. We had friends who lived in Boston Harbor—waterfront rentals for $100-125/month—and we loved going there for poker, bridge, and general merriment. Boston Harbor, like Vashon, was small, affordable, and funky. Ginny and I took a little trip there a few weeks ago to see what was left of the old charm. Glad to report that the charm, smallness, and funkiness remain—affordability, not so much.



And…happy Fourth of July!

Sound Food Clam or Fish Chowder

  • 3 T. butter
  • 3 T. flour
  • 3 stalks celery fine dice
  • 1 fine diced onion
  • 4 carrots—fine dice
  • 4 smallish red potatoes, peeled
  • 1 t. dry thyme
  • 1⁄4 t. dill or 1 head fresh dill
  • 2 c. fish stock, clam juice or chicken stock
  • 2 c. 1⁄2 & 1⁄2 or heavy cream
  • 2 cans canned chopped clams or 1# firm fish (salmon, halibut, cod, snapper)
  • 2 c. corn (fresh is best, but frozen is fine) 

Melt butter and mix in flour. Sauté one to two minutes, stirring constantly, to develop roux.

Add vegetables and herbs, sauté to coat, stirring constantly. Add stock and simmer until thickened and vegetables are soft, 15-20 minutes.

Add cream, simmer gently for two minutes.

Greens—beet, mustard, collard—are also great in this soup. Add after hard vegetables are cooked.

Add chopped clams or raw cubed fish and corn. Bring back to a simmer.

Serve with pesto, red pepper rouille, chopped parsley

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Sound Food | 2 Comments

Green: Chile verde with white beans

 

In 1982, when the Sweetie and I moved from rainy-day Vashon to semi-arid Los Angeles, we were amazed by the abundance of green, manicured lawns in front yards and the popularity of full, azure-blue swimming pools in back yards. In Westside LA neighborhoods, the grass—a David Hockney still-life of wealth and status—looked like it had escaped from a well-tended golf course. The daily hiss and sprinkle of lawns started up early each morning, along with the aggressive spray of professional hosers cleaning the sidewalks on the UCLA campus near our apartment. Run-off cascaded over the concrete, along sidewalks, down gutters, into storm drains, and out to sea. Yards were green, pools were full—there seemed to be plenty of water.

We were surprised by this mindless waste. In most of Puget Sound, by the end of June the grass is brown, with yellow dandelions and their dark green leaves the only sign of life. But by the first of October, the dormant season is over and Fall rains bring back the green grass.

David Hockney, Montcalm Pool, Los Angeles, 1980

David Hockney, A  Lawn Being Sprinkled, 1967

Our four-year stint in San Diego found front yards sporting the same Hollywood green. In Eugene, Oregon, however, a green lawn was a sign of thoughtless indulgence and if a bike-riding, tree hugger caught you watering your lawn, you were likely to receive a scolding. In Portland, Oregon, old neighborhoods with charming bungalows, flaunt frowsy, weedy, dried-up lawns. In Tacoma, not known for its ecological drift, we scoffed at lawn sprinklers and wore our summer brown grass as a badge of honor.

We currently live in a green-grass-in-the-front-yard zone—not by our own plan or hard work. Community wisdom chooses green, trimmed front lawns kept tidy and manicured by mowers, blowers, weeders, and trimmers. Now, don’t get me wrong—I am pleased as punch to forego the grind of a weekly mow but given the option, I’d prefer Portland blowzy, frowsy or Vashon it’s-July-so-of-course-the-grass-is-brown landscape design.


Chile Verde With White Beans Serves 4

  • 1 lb. tomatillos, husks removed, quartered
  • 2 avocados, peeled and pitted
  • 4 jalapeño chiles
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 4 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, divided
  • 3 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 1 Tbsp. dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. cooked cannellini beans (If using canned, rinse off canning liquid.)
  • 2 cups water or vegetable stock
  • Juice of 1 Lime 

In a blender, combine tomatillos, avocados, jalapeños, cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, 2 garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds, 2 tsp. olive oil, and salt. Purée until smooth. 
 

In a heavy soup pot, heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Slice remaining 2 garlic cloves in half, and cook for 1 minute. Add onions, Mexican oregano, cumin, red pepper flakes, and remaining 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds; cook until onions are translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatillo sauce, beans (if using canned beans, wait until the last 10 minutes of step 4 to add the beans; otherwise they will fall apart) and water or stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for for 30 minutes, stirring often. 

Stir in the lime juice just before serving.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 1 Comment

Cooking as comfort: Ribollita

I wasn’t sure whether or not to write a post this week but silence didn’t feel right. I don’t have words that might inspire or illuminate, but I do want to acknowledge the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. I have lived a long life of safety and comfort; I was born to caring parents, taught by generous teachers, and have been in a loving relationship for forty years. I have no idea how it feels to worry about what might happen to my son when he leaves the house, or to understand the the accumulated rage it takes to light a car on fire. I do feel sadness, despair, and the imperative to recognize lost lives and share the pain. I will try to be kinder and vow to work toward seeking leaders who will unite us with compassion.

On a much less important and more mundane note, I am currently on my second day of the dread colonoscopy preparation—leading to a procedure that ranks with having a root canal or watching The Bachelorette. Included in the complicated, four-page, particularly severe set of gastroenterological instructions, is the mandate to stop eating solid food two days before the day of the event. Seems unnecessarily unkind to me. 

I am surprised how often I think about food. What no cream in my coffee? No peanut butter toast after my morning walk? No afternoon Dorito snack? No dip into the pickle or olive jar? Not even a rice cake? Food marks time, rewards my efforts, celebrates the end of the day. Countless times I think, “time for a snack” only to remember.

I also miss the ease and focus I experience when I cook. I can remember working behind the line in restaurant kitchens when time disappeared in a dance of effort, practiced skill, and teamwork. In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi named this state of mind “as being in the zone—the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” 

Stepping into the routine of cooking is always a stress reliever for me. For the most part I can control what happens: the water will boil, the onions will caramelize, the pork shoulder will become tender, and something eatable will emerge. Just throw in the occasional scorched peppers, salty potatoes, and overcooked salmon to keep my pride in check. 

So, if I could go into the kitchen and cook something to eat, would it be scalloped potatoes, sweet potato panang curry, a tuna melt? Maybe I’d try Mark Bitman’s recipe for Ribollita.

Ribollita 

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 small onion, chopped 
  • 1 carrot, chopped 
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped 
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic 
  • Salt and ground black pepper 
  • 2 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans 
  • 1 15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes 
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or water 
  • 1 fresh rosemary sprig 1 fresh thyme sprig 
  • 1 pound chopped kale or escarole 
  • 4 large, thick slices whole-grain bread, toasted 
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced 
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan 

Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add onion, carrot, celery and garlic; sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

Drain the beans; if they’re canned, rinse them as well. Add them to the pot along with tomatoes and their juices and stock, rosemary and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so the soup bubbles steadily; cover and cook, stirring once or twice to break up the tomatoes, until the flavors meld, 15 to 20 minutes.

Fish out and discard rosemary and thyme stems, if you like, and stir in kale. Taste and adjust seasoning. Lay bread slices on top of the stew so they cover the top and overlap as little as possible. Scatter red onion slices over the top, drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Put the pot in the oven and bake until the bread, onions and cheese are browned and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. (If your pot fits under the broiler, you can also brown the top there.) 

Divide the soup and bread among 4 bowls and serve.

Posted in Recipes, Restaurants | 4 Comments

Hard work, Part 2: Pot roast

In case you decide to go to the effort to make that pot roast from my Saturday blog, here’s a slight revision. I forgot to mention that my neighbors did not put the potatoes and carrots in with the meat—that would be just silly. Instead, add the root vegetables about two hours into the cooking. Here’s a corrected recipe.

Pot roast

  • 1 3 to 5 pound beef roast chuck, round, or brisket
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 to 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups low sodium beef broth
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 large white onions cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 1 pound baby carrots
  • 1 pound red potatoes cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary

 

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a large dutch oven pot over high heat.
  • Season both sides of chuck roast with salt and pepper. Add vegetable oil to pot and sear roast until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes each side.
  • Remove roast from pan and set aside briefly on a plate or cutting board. Add garlic to pot and sauté 60 seconds. Deglaze  pan with red wine and beef broth. Add roast back to the pot.
  • Pour Worcestershire sauce over roast and place the onion chunks on top of and around the meat. Place rosemary sprig on top.
  • Place a lid on the pan and transfer it to the preheated 350 degree oven. Cook 2 hours, then add potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour. When meat is tender, shreds easily with a fork, and vegetables are tender, it’s ready.

 

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Hard Work: Vinegar chicken, Pot roast

John Handy, Hard Work

I made pizza for dinner the other night. There was pizza fallout from one end of the kitchen to the other—flour, semolina, caramelized onion/mushroom, pepperoni slices, tomato sauce, shreds of cheese, a floured rolling pin, parchment paper, olive jars, sliced tomatoes, and a hint of desperation—vaguely reminiscent of my La Jolla Sushi Burrito adventure. I’ve eaten great homemade pizza, but not at my house—eatable yes, but great, no. Ginny and Ron make killer pizza (on the grill even), Karen makes a delicious pie using a special pizza oven stored in a handy location for snack emergencies, I see Instagram pizza made by my nephew, my niece, and my grandchildren, so it can be done at home, just not by me. Sometimes when we cook, the results aren’t equal to the effort.

I remember Thanksgiving a few years ago—it was the Sweetie and me, so a turkey breast was just the thing. I brined, minced, stuffed, rubbed, roasted, and basted with lukewarm results. The gravy was grayish, the stuffing dry, and the meat had to be consumed with a glass of water, wine, or milk. The time and effort were there but the results were disappointing. Cooking can be like that—it always takes effort to make a stir fry, soup, stew, pie, or cookies, but sometimes the results don’t shine.

One summer in the 70s, I put falafel on the menu for a Sound Food ethnic dinner. During a trip to Israel a few years before, I had eaten as many as I could and wanted to reproduce the experience—how hard could it be? At the time, falafel was not readily available and could be found only at the Phoenecia in West Seattle. Ginny was working at Sound Food then and we soaked, ground, mixed, diced, and rolled falafel for one hundred. The afternoon before the event, we filled up a pot with oil, heated it to 375°, dropped in a few guinea pigs, and stood over the pot watching with dismay as the balls dissolved into crumbs, turned black, and sank to the bottom of the pot. After a desperate call to the Phoenecia, we added flour, squeezed falafel dough in kitchen towels, reshaped the balls so they looked like hockey pucks, and aired them out on bakery racks in the parking lot. On the second run the hockey pucks held together and the day was saved—unfortunately, they tasted like hockey pucks. But, oh well, after stuffing them into Baker Bob’s soft, chewy pita rounds and stuffing them with pickled vegetables, hummus, lettuce, tomatoes and tahini sauce, no one could taste them anyway.

Then there are those times when the knives align and everything is just right. My neighbors were telling me of a recent pot roast dinner they prepared. Now, they have made pot roast many times before and always with effort, time, and good results: the browning, the braising, the simmering, the waiting—but this time, the pot roast was perfect. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, the gravy brown and silky, the carrots sweet, the potatoes perfectly soft. Hard work paid off.

Years ago when I was a cube rat in Seattle, I came home from my grey, drizzling, two-hour commute to the smell of dinner in the oven. The Sweetie followed a Gourmet magazine recipe and made French lamb stew—tender cubes of meat, slender batons of carrot, a few rosemary branches, and garlic. All the result of smart shopping, effort, and a dose of good luck. I’ve tried over the years to reproduce that dish but haven’t come up with a lamb stew that good.

Then there was our January dinner party based on Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Oh Jerusalem. There was definitely hard work: dicing, boning, mincing, blending, roasting, basting, stuffing, creaming, baking, and whisking. This time, the results were equal to the effort: feta beet salad, tabouli, roast chicken with clementines—all reflective of the time spent in the kitchen.

Now, both Steve Jobs and the Buddha said that the journey is the reward, but when I spend hours over a hot stove, I’d like the results to match the effort—just sayin’. Here’s that pot roast recipe and a Mark Bittman vinegar chicken Ginny told me about that both return brilliant results. Skip falafel, buy them at Trader Joes or Costco.

BTW, foxglove season is with us, they’re beginning to bloom here and there along the walking trail. One year, the foxgloves bloomed tall and purple throughout Nikki’s property. It was a special event—every May we waited for it, but it never happened again.


Foxgloves near the walking trail

Mark Bitman’s vinegar chicken

  • 2 olive oil
  • 1 3-pound chicken, cut up for sauteing
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots or scallions
  • 1 cup good red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Set a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; when it is hot, place chicken in the skillet, skin side down. Cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes, or until chicken is nicely browned. Turn and cook 3 minutes on the other side. Season with salt and pepper.

 

Place skillet in the oven. Cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until almost done (juices will run clear, and there will be just a trace of pink near the bone). Remove chicken to an ovenproof platter. Place it in the oven; turn off the heat, and leave the door slightly ajar.

 

Pour all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking juices out of the skillet (discard them)(I never discard pan juices). Place skillet over medium-high heat, and add shallots; sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until tender, about 2 minutes. Add vinegar, and raise the heat to high. Cook a minute or two, or until the powerful acrid smell has subsided somewhat. Add ½ cup water (I added chicken stock) and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring, until the mixture is slightly reduced and somewhat thickened. Stir in butter, if desired (I will always desire the addition of butter).

 

Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet, and turn the chicken in the sauce. Serve immediately.


Pot roast from the Stay at Home Chef

  • 1 3 to 5 pound beef roast chuck, round, or brisket
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 to 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups low sodium beef broth
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 large white onions cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 1 pound baby carrots
  • 1 pound red potatoes cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a large dutch oven pot over high heat.
Season both sides of chuck roast with salt and pepper. Add vegetable oil to pot and sear roast until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes each side.

Remove roast from pan and set aside briefly on a plate or cutting board. Add garlic to pot and saute 60 seconds. Deglaze  pan with red wine and beef broth. Add roast back to the pot.

Pour Worcestershire sauce over roast and place the onion chunks around the meat. Place rosemary sprig on top.

Place a lid on the pan and transfer it to the preheated 350 degree oven. Cook 2 hours, then add potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour or until meat shreds easily with a fork. 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Sound Food | 2 Comments

Food fight: Waffles



These days, everyone is cooking—not so much for the sheer joy of it, but because, other than take-out, they are the chosen feeder of the family. Wish I had what it takes to bake bread. I had a grilled cheese sandwich the other day made with Ginny’s home-baked sourdough bread that was, without a doubt, the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten—I’d gladly stand in line and pay $6.00 for a loaf, but make my own, not so much. Pork shoulders are a no-show at the grocery shelves, chicken is scarce, eggs are expensive, and where is all the tahini? Celebrities are elbowing their way onto BuzzFeed, eager to share their latest home-grown kitchen culinary delight: rappers making lobster-laden grilled cheese sandwiches (not as good as Ginny’s, I’ll bet), Kristen Bell deep-frying Oreos in her air fryer, Ina Garten beaming with her waffles, Cindy Crawford tackling her grandmother’s brisket recipe.  

Back in The 80s, the Sweetie and I watched Great Chefs of the World on PBS—some travel, some exotic scenery, always ending up in the kitchen of a world-class hotel restaurant, the camera focused on toque-wearing men making soufflé tarts, frenched lamb chops with demi-glace, ballottine of braised poultry, beef tournedos filled with foie gras, tall cakes frosted with Italian meringue, chanterelle-stuffed poussin with raspberry vinaigrette—astoundingly complicated dishes with no easy tips, shortcuts, or substitutions and not even a hint of “If I can do it, you can do it” baloney. We knew, that they knew, it was far beyond our skill level. There were no wry comments into the camera, no yelling, and little commentary.

I stopped watching cooking shows on television after the first season of Iron Chef America. “Let the battle begin!” marked the start of an hour that featured Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay or Mario Batali trying to out cook Masaharu Morimoto, Cat Cora, or Rick Bayless. How did this showcase of extraordinary culinary techniques, palates, creativity, and ingenuity become a parody starring  “the sexiest chef in Asia” slinging hash with “the worst cook in America?” Or even worse, a two-year old with his own YouTube cooking show?

So, here’s my pitch for a new competitive cooking show: three contestants crowd into a small, dark corner, known as a hotel-room kitchen, to prepare dinner for two. They have one glass-top burner that stops at warm, a microwave with two settings, a stubby refrigerator that opens the wrong way, with vinegar, black pepper, and breakfast room bacon and eggs as the “surprise ingredients.”

Watch the fun, enjoy the mayhem, cheer for the cut-throat competition. See the tears as “Chef” number one is whacked in the face opening the microwave; share the hilarity as “Chef” number two struggles to dice an onion on a towel with a cheap, dull knife; laugh with delight as “Chef” number three spills his finished soup on the floor; thrill with the drama as “Chef” number two melts down, jabs number three with the cheap, dull knife, slips on the spilled soup, and is “fired” for taking an unauthorized rest break. “Good”, mutters number one, “More counter space for me.” Winner gets an eight-week stay in a hotel. Should be a winner.

 Ina Garten’s Waffles

  • 1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees) 
  • 1 package (¼ ounce) active dry yeast, at room temperature 
  • 2 teaspoons sugar 
  • 2 cups lukewarm whole milk (90 to 100 degrees) 
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for the waffle iron 
  • 2 tablespoons honey 
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
  • 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 extra-large eggs 
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 
  • Sliced bananas, toasted coconut, warm maple syrup, and crème fraîche, for serving 

The night before, combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a very large bowl (the batter will expand enormously). Allow it to stand for about 5 minutes, until the yeast dissolves and the mixture has started to foam, which tells you the yeast is active. Stir in the milk, butter, honey, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and whisk until the batter is smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to sit overnight at a cool room temperature.

The next morning, heat a Belgian waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions and brush the top and bottom with melted butter. Beat the eggs together with the baking soda and whisk them into the batter until combined. Pour just enough of the batter onto the hot waffle iron to cover the grids (⅓ to ½ cup each, depending on your waffle maker), close, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes on medium heat, until the waffles are golden brown. Cut them apart with a small knife, if necessary, and remove them with a fork. Repeat the process until all the batter has been used. Serve the waffles hot with sliced bananas, toasted coconut, maple syrup, and crème fraîche and let everyone help themselves.  

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