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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Paths to Fitness: Peanut butter cookies

If we’re lucky, the loss of an old favorite leads to a new delight. Take tubs of Marantha crunchy peanut butter at Costco, for example. First we assumed they had moved it again, then we desperately searched, then we asked—only to find out that the product “was no longer available.” What now? Trader Joe’s blue label ”Crunchy Salted” to the rescue: smaller, easier to mix, cheaper, and crunchier. When Parenthood jerked its last tear, who stepped in to offer a weekly hug? This is Us. When I could no longer find root beer popsicles, what should magically appear but Mocha Mochi Balls; but there will never be a acceptable substitute for TJ’s Salted Caramel Gelato. 

Anyways, swimming is my favorite mode of exercise. I had a brief fling with a Lifecycle, but I don’t like to get hot and sweaty. Ten years ago, I didn’t consider regular exercise as something I would ever do. No one exercised in the 50s, 60s, and even 70s. You never saw an adult or, for that matter, anyone over thirteen riding a bike. Gyms and barbells were for boxers, jumping jacks and squats were for Phys Ed class, organized sports were for boys, and you ran only if you were on the track team or if someone was chasing you. Although in the late 60s my friend Sally and I decided to jog around the Methodist Church parking lot. We dropped it quickly though, and returned to a third cup of coffee and the daily crossword puzzle.

This March, after my pool closed due to the virus, I did nothing. Then my life coach said, “Time to get out of the couch and go outside.” On my first few walks I grumbled—about the rain, about the sun, about the silence, about the noise. Then one day I didn’t grumble anymore, it was all enjoyable. I heard the ordinary brown sparrow’s beautiful song, I watched Buffleheads in the pond across the street, I saw the sun shining through the wet trees, I followed the gradual blooming of the daffodils, I chatted with Dorothy, waved at Alan, praised ponytail girl’s big black poodle, remembered to step up to avoid the tree root growing under the path, and said a quick “Good morning” to black-haired girl in white jacket as she strode past me every day.

So will I continue these lovely walks when the pool reopens? Probably not. That bad angel who perches on my left shoulder, wearing pajama bottoms and slumped in the couch, will moan, “Oh, you don’t really need to walk, a quick swim is good enough.” Cheerleader angel, the one on the right, with letter sweater and pom poms, will cartwheel and cheer, “Come on, you can do it.” But in the end, knees will vote no, stomach won’t want to wait for the daily peanut butter toast, and I”ll quit walking.

BTW, if I see one more commercial by a billion-dollar, publicly-traded, hard-sell corporation murmuring that they have my back, that we’re all in this together, reminding me to wash my hands, urging me to stay safe, and soft-selling me their product with fuzzy warm shots of dancing families, precocious tots, and furry pets, I may throw the TV into the backyard—being sure to maintain social distance.

Peanut Butter Cookies

    • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup white sugar
    • 1 extra large egg, lightly beaten
    • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
    • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1/2 tsp. baking soda 
    • 1 1/2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350˚ and position 2 racks in upper and lower thirds.

In a medium bowl, beat butter with the sugar until creamy.

Add egg, peanut butter, and vanilla.

Combine flour, salt, and  baking soda.

Mix in to butter, peanut butter, egg, and vanilla mixture.

Roll tablespoons of the dough into 24 balls. Set the balls on 2 baking sheets, and using a fork, make a crosshatch pattern on each cookie.

Bake for 15 minutes shifting sheets from front to back and bottom to top, until cookies are lightly brown. 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

What day is it?: Smokey Chicken and Green Onion Quesadillas

Chicago, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

I was hanging out the sheets the other day when I realized that it wasn’t Saturday, I was a day early. Before the lockdown, I knew it was Saturday because I swam at the pool early. Sunday was John Miller on afternoon baseball, Monday was my day off swimming, Tuesday was questionable, Wednesdays were for groceries, on Thursdays we went vegetable shopping at the Farmer’s Market, and Fridays were David Brooks/Mark Shields night. I obviously don’t work anymore; these days, it seems like every day is Saturday. When we start school or enter the workforce, we march to the tick of the clock, to the pages of the calendar, and are at the beck and call of time. When you have a job, Tuesday and Thursday may be drifty, Wednesday has its own nickname and everyone knows when it’s Monday and Friday. 

I have adhered to Saturday clean-sheet day since I was a kid. My mom taught school so housework revolved around her schedule—Saturdays were for clean sheets, vacuuming, and grocery shopping. In fifth grade, days of the week underpants were a big deal. My friend Barbara Kilzer got a set for her birthday, setting off a chorus of must-have pleas among my circle of friends. Muth wasn’t convinced, but one day the underpant package from Sears showed up in the mail. I stuck faithfully to the weekly plan and tried my best, given the fact that laundry day was Saturday, to wear the correct day. I forgot all about DOTW underpants until the late 80s when I saw When Harry Met Sally.

If you work in a restaurant, there are no weekends. Cooks don’t look forward to Friday, only the servers, who fatten their wads on the busy weekends, are glad to see the end of the week roll around. Saturday and Sunday bring on the crowds and dreaded brunch, Monday will be your day off, if you get a day off, Tuesdays add checking in the orders to the already packed day, Wednesdays mean a spirited meeting with the manager about food cost, Thursdays are a bit of a breather, and you’re back to Friday.

When we lived in the 501, I knew it was Tuesday because the garbage collectors clanged us awake, Thursdays announced themselves when Rai, our flight attendant neighbor, returned from a scheduled trip. I could hear his call-out, “Cat, I”m home” and the metallic thump and roll of his suitcase as it hopped up the stairs. Julia, our next door neighbor’s granddaughter, announced Saturday mornings with, “Gramma, I’m ho ome” and it didn’t take long to remember that lawn guys mowed early on Monday morning—I could hear the groans from upstairs guy. 

These days, it seems like every day is Saturday. In the stay-home-stay-safe mode the sun comes up, the sun goes down, we walk our daily walk, vacuum the rugs any old day, watch sporting events from the past, and there it is, time to change the sheets again. But if it were all to be taken away, the things I’d want back are the mundane, the every day: chipmunk viewing, morning chats with my sister, sunshine visits with my neighbors, snuggles at night with the sweetie, and hanging out the sheets. The rhythm of daily life—what could be better.

Here are a few morning-walk shots of Spring flowers.

Incidental beauty in the woods

  

Neighborhood beauty

   

And, incidental visiting frogs

Our Army green frog is back for the summer

Smokey Chicken and Green Onion Quesadillas 
  • Flour tortillas—lightly buttered 
  • Cooked, pulled chicken (canned chicken is just fine) mixed with barbecue sauce (my fav is Jack Daniel’s Original BBQ)
  • A couple squirts of Mexican crema, sour cream, plain yogurt (what the heck, strawberry would work), cream cheese, mayonnaise, bottled Ranch dressing—anything white and gooey will do
  • Diced green onion (I seldom find green onions in the bin and usually resort to finely diced white onion)
  • Diced green chilies in those little cans are a great addition as well as canned, sliced black olives
  • Chopped cilantro (use the stems too, they’re crunchy and sweet) 
  • Grated cheddar cheese (or a shredded mix in a bag—who’s to know?)

Combine chicken and white gooey stuff.

For one quesadilla, spread a bit of cheese, ¼ c. chicken mix, ¼ c. green onions, chilies, black olives, cilantro, and more cheese on one buttered tortilla. Top with second tortilla—press firmly to seal edges. Cook over medium-low heat until down side is golden brown in heavy skillet, turning once. Finish in 350° oven for 10 minutes.

Another method, which is easier to flip, is to spread toppings on one half of tortilla, fold the empty half over the full half, slide into buttered skillet, brown bottom side, butter top side, flip over and finish in the oven. 

Serve with black beans, fresh tomato salsa and more white gooey stuff.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Taking Sides: Thai panang curry with salmon and red yams

Nature Boy, Nat King Cole

We tend to choose sides when it comes to nature: baby hippo over crocodile, chipmunk over hawk, fiddlehead fern over blackberry, round and furry over slick and scaly. When I’m standing on the edge of our slope with a jar of Roundup in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, I decide who lives. That blackberry whip that wraps around my ankle and bloodies my cheek is an easy target; the slowly unfurling, hesitant fern, wins my protection. We’re always glad to see the chipmunk eating the bird food but I just read an unsettling NextDoor post about a screen door left ajar, an intrusive squirrel, and the ensuing drama. Same with mice, if they keep to themselves, we are at peace. Just stay in your own yard!

I do remember one battle where the good guy/bad guy line was blurry. In the 1980s I stood with the herd of nightly Seattle/Vashon walk-on commuters waiting for the boat to ease into the island’s north end dock. An eagle swooped low over the water right in front of the boat, dipped his talons into the Sound, and snagged a huge salmon. (Now could there be anything more Northwest?) The salmon was having none of it—he flipped, wriggled, and dove deeper in the water taking the eagle with him. The boat’s captain, watching the mashup from behind the wheel, tooted his horn as the boat closed in on the pilings, the eagle, and the salmon. The audience was divided: some cheering for the eagle, some rooting for the salmon, but everyone holding their breath hoping that the deadlocked pair wouldn’t be churned up in the propeller. 

The eagle, wings heaving and straining, gathered all his might and pulled both himself and the salmon out of the water just before the boat leaned into the dock’s timber dolphins. The walk-ons cheered, arms thrust in the air, the captain laid on his horn, the crew, caught up in the drama, hurried to ready the chains for landing. We all watched as the eagle turned sharply in the air with the captive salmon; the big fish gave one last flip and plummeted back into the sound. The eagle looked down, straightened course, and went back to his search for food. I wish there was a picture but, you know, back in the day few of us had a camera at the ready. This one, poached from TripAdvisor, will have to do.

BTW, KOMO news ran a bit the other day about Stephen King commissioning chainsaw sculptor, Josh Landry, to turn a sawed off tree in King’s front yard into an art piece. Traffic along his side street crawls by to have a look. Got a sawed off tree and a chainsaw?

Thai Panang curry with salmon and red yams (the salmon is incidental. The curry is just as good without it.)

  • 4-6 ounces skinned, boned salmon cut in 1” cubes
  • 1/2 peeled red yam (or sweet potato, butternut squash, or pumpkin), peeled and cut into 1” cubes
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 small onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons Panang red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 can thick coconut milk  (if you use TJ’s coconut milk, you will open the can to a thick, almost solid coconut fat layer on top of the thinner coconut milk. Don’t worry, just remove it all from the can into a bowl and whisk until smooth. You can also blend to smooth.)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce 
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Thai basil leaves or sweet basil
  • 1/4 cup finely diced cilantro stems and leaves
  • zest of one lime
  • juice of two limes

Place a Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Add the coconut oil. Once the oil melts and shimmers, add the garlic and ginger. Season with sprinkle of salt, sauté 2-3 minutes, add onions. Season with a sprinkle of salt and sauté until onions are translucent. 

 

Move the garlic/ginger/onions to the side of the pan, add the panang red curry paste and peanut butter to the center of the pan. Sauté the paste/peanut butter for 2-3 minutes to intensify the flavor, stirring with a spatula. 

 

Add half of the can of coconut milk, simmer for 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, bring to a simmer, add sweet potato cubes and remainder of coconut milk, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt, sugar, curry paste, or lime juice to balance salty/sweet/spicy/tart flavors, simmer 15 minutes, or until sweet potato is soft.

 

Remove from heat and stir in the salmon cubes, turn off the heat, let sit for five minutes. (You can also brown salmon in coconut oil at the beginning of the preparation, reserve until this point, then add to sauce/sweet potato mixture.)

 

Add basil leaves, cilantro, lime zest, and lime juice. Taste for balance.

  

Serve over rice or noodles.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments