Living the life of Eloise: Breakfast-room burrito

As a young reader, I loved the Eloise books, written by Kay Thompson, about the adventures of a six-year old girl who lived on the top floor of New York’s Plaza Hotel. My life in was about as far from Eloise’s as could be. There were no hotels in Pender, Nebraska, Eloise’s mother let her have a dog, Eloise was self-confident, ordered room service, and was allowed to be impertinent. Little did I know that eventually I would lead the life of Eloise and learn a thing or two about long-term hotel stays.  

  • Is that cheap, black plastic radio flashing 12:00 in loud red numbers? Hold down the “Time” button and the “Hour” button at the same time, scroll to the correct hour, do the same for minutes. 
  • Is your room too hot? Hotel thermostats are notorious for being deceptive. You think you’re in control, but you wake up at 1:53 am, sweaty and hot because the air-conditioner isn’t working. You set it for 65, sure enough it says 65, but “THEY”, the ones actually in control, have set the building’s temperature to suit the bottom line—therefore it’s never cool enough. Try this: 1) hold down the display button 2) Press off while continuing to hold down the display button 3) Release off, but continue to hold down display, and press the up button 4) Release all buttons 5) Scroll for your desired temperature. Or, try this: hold down both the up and down arrows at the same time and a wonky “bp”, meaning by-pass, displays. Set the temp to your liking and go back to sleep. You’ll have to do it every 24 hours, but it’s a small price to pay for a cool sleep.
  • Can’t sleep because the light comes into your room through the gap in the curtains? Use a trouser hanger to clip them together.
  • Speak up if there is something broken in your room.
  • Always tip the housekeepers, the maintenance man (he’s probably the one who can Jimmie your window open), and don’t forget about the breakfast room workers. Those people are the ones who can make your stay more pleasant. 
  • Pack duck tape, a screwdriver, and a electric plug extender in your suitcase. Duck tape covers the awful LED light on the smoke alarm THEY installed right above your pillow, duck tape can be used to make an acceptable refrigerator shelf, hang a wall clock, repair a cracked coffee machine, or fix the hem of your pants; a screwdriver may open your window if the maintenance man refuses, tighten a wobbly fan, or prop up the window you forced open; and there are never enough electric sockets in a hotel room.
  • Use your empty suitcase as a laundry basket. That way, you can roll right on down to the laundry room. And don’t forget to pack a handful of dryer sheets.
  • You can make passable coffee if you add a packet of Starbuck’s Via to a hotel cup of coffee.
  • Sneak food from the breakfast room in paper coffee cups to use later—hard-boiled eggs, a few packets of cream cheese or peanut butter, yogurt, nuts, or Craisins. I made a decent dinner salad once with breakfast Canadian bacon, hard-boiled eggs, Craisins, microwaved waffle pieces, walnuts, and a bag of lettuce. And, check out the Breakfast Room Burrito below.
  • Don’t hesitate to move the furniture around. I set up a little sitting area with a chair facing the view, a side table, and the cheap radio close by so I can listen to Fresh Air and Radio Lab.
  • Check the front desk around five at night, there may be cookies. 
View from our window
Mural at the hotel entrance 
View from the parking garage
Sacramento’s ride-share “Jump” bikes
Sacramento Memorial Auditorium
 
Breakfast-room burrito verde
  • Scrambled eggs, breakfast meat, butter pats, leftover rice, sliced or shredded cheese, flour tortillas, bottled tomatillo sauce, chopped cilantro (this may be a stretch)
  • If you have a burner, sauté breakfast meat and rice to reheat, microwave scrambled eggs
  • Lay rice/meat mix and eggs in the middle of the burrito, sprinkle with cheese and cilantro. Roll neatly as possible
  • Melt butter in sauté pan, brown all sides of burrito
  • Turn heat to low, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes
  • Microwave tomatillo sauce, pour over burrito
 
Posted in Travel | 2 Comments

Bagpipes

I know it’s not my time, but I had a request for a bagpipe YouTube. 

Every September in Sacramento’s Capitol Park, the California Fire Foundation honors the firefighters who died during the past year. There was no mistaking where the ceremony would be taking place.

Just as we walked up to the right spot, we could hear the first wail of the pipe and the clickety thump of the drums as the Pipes and Drums band started their march. 

The family of each fallen firefighter was presented with a flag during the ceremony.

 I think way down deep everyone loves bagpipes—the crowd in the park certainly did. It was a solemn, moving event and a beautiful opportunity to remember Josh. 

 

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Burners and bagpipes: Sacramento

Life can pivot on a moment’s notice. The late night call from your agent offering you a part in the new HBO mini-series, Ed MacMahon appearing at your front door with a check for $6,000,000, peeing on a stick and watching it turn pink, hearing your shoulder crack as Altuve tags you at second base, sitting in front of your Doctor as she says, “Well, the tests have come back…”—the balance tips. 

Life-changing but not nearly as dramatic was the recruiter’s late night call telling the Sweetie, “You’ve been cleared to start on Tuesday.” The wait was over, the scurry to get ready began, and we were on our way to Sacramento for four weeks. I’m reluctant to leave the hummingbirds and chipmunks, our cozy living room fireplace, the trees that are flaming into autumn, and my sister, but I am certainly ready to live without the grating construction noise the cement trucks make as they build a road on our front porch.

So before you can say, “Crocker Art Museum,” here we are in Sacramento, home of the Kings, the State Capitol Building, UC Davis Medical Center, the second sunniest July in the world, the third best park system in the country—not exactly at the top of any list, but interesting none the less.

Our closest grocery store reminds me of the Jewel-Osco in Chicago—narrow dark aisles, curt customer service, shelves crammed with one of everything, occupied sleeping bags lining the sidewalk—used by just about everyone within a six-block radius.

Although I read the notice that was slipped under our door, I was startled to see a window washer outside our 11th floor window this morning. 

The Johnny Cash mural painted on the side of our hotel by Shepard Fairey for Sacramento’s recent “Wide Open Walls Festival.”

Downtown mural, “Shared Abundance,” celebrating the California rice harvest, painted by Franceska Gaméz.

Chicago is famous for its abundance of public parks, but here in Sacto we have the beautiful World Peace Rose Garden right across the street.  

While I was in the rose garden, smelling the roses, I heard the unmistakeable sound of bagpipes. You might remember I love bagpipes, so I followed the sound down the path and there they were: the California Firefighters Pipe and Drum Band practicing for the 2018 Memorial Ceremony honoring fallen firefighters. 

Sacramento performance artist, David Garibaldi, painted this as he was having lunch at the “Cafeteria” across from our hotel.

As we’re back to one burner and a microwave, there won’t be a recipe. Stay tuned though, I am working on 15 ways to “upgrade” instant ramen.

Posted in Travel | 3 Comments

Harvest: Tomato jam, Plum Chutney, Plum Streusel Tart

“Want some plums?”—the brief text from my sister was music to my ears. An abundance of plums (or “plummage” as she so aptly put it) meant plum chutney, plum jam, roasted plums, dried plums, or if I’m feeling flush with time and energy—a plum tart. 

Italian prune plums are those egg-shaped, purple plums that droop the branches every other year, lay on the ground covered with wasps in September, require little preparation, and cook down into dark fuchsia goodness.

If all the hard work in spring and summer pays off, a gardener is rewarded with almost too much of a good thing. However, we are seldom burdened with an excess of tomatoes, green beans, Rainier cherries, raspberries, or eggplant. When we lived on Vashon, we had an old, scrubby apple orchard that produced tons, (I’m not exaggerating) of warty, knobby, apples every September. What the deer and squirrels didn’t eat, were juiced, sauced, pied, tarted, crisped, dried, smoothied, and eventually raked into the garden for compost. 

By the first of October, I winced at the sound of a full bushel basket thumping down on the back porch. Ginny and Ron had an old, hand-cranked, apple press that they trundled out of the shed every Fall, and set up…under the apple tree…for their friends and family to use. The Sweetie and I would shovel the excess apples from our yard into the back of our beat-up, orange pickup, hose them off, drive along Quartermaster Drive and Tramp Harbor to their house, and squeeze apple juice into recycled milk jugs. There is nothing like drinking fresh-squeezed apple juice as it pours down the chute into your cupped hands, picking out the stems and worms as you go. We were blissfully unaware of the dangers of unpasteurized raw juice and, aside from an occasional case of the “runs”, suffered no lasting harmful side effects. 

On Eld Inlet, Nancy faces their grape surplus by making juice and jelly and uses the over abundance of Romas by making superb tomato jam. In California, where backyard produce is impossibly brilliant, a gardener’s bounty is likely to be lemons, oranges, grapefruits, almonds avocados, or figs. My friend Karen, used her lemon crop to fill the garage refrigerator with lemon curd, lemon panna cotta, lemon juice, and lemon zest—I want her harvest. 

Nancy and Tom’s Concord grapes

Can you see the handsome man in the swing?

But for now, I peek frequently into the pantry to admire the top shelf lined with shining jars of chutney, jam, and applesauce and thank my gardening friends for the apricot cherry jam, Red Kuri squash, and lots of plums.

Tomato jam

  • 1 ½ pounds Roma tomatoes peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup fine diced sweet onions
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated or minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes or to taste

Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use; this will keep at least a week.

Plum Chutney

  • 10# Italian plums (preferably free from a friend)
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 2 c. rice wine vinegar (cider works too)
  • ½ c. fresh chopped ginger
  • 3 T. chopped garlic
  • 2 t. nutmeg
  • 1 T. cinnamon
  • 1 t. allspice
  • 2 t. salt
  • 1 t. cayenne pepper

Combine all and cook one to two hours until thickened. Process in water bath or freeze.

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 overmix).

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. Clhill 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

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Celebrate friends: Roasted Red Kuri squash soup

We zipped home from Claire and Vinny’s wedding through Northern California, days ahead of the forest fires that shut down the I-5 around Redding. Expecting heavy Labor Day traffic and fearing Burning Man overflow, we instead found empty roads and light traffic. Hairpin curves blended into straight freeway lanes and pine forests turned into fur. An overnight with Patty and Jim and into our driveway in time to drop off our bags an hour before the annual Summer Harvest Celebration dinner. 

The water in Eld Inlet sparkled under an August-blue sky, Food and Wine-worthy weather. We sharpened our appetites sitting on the front yard next to the Sound, eating toasts with fresh figs and Nancy’s superb tomato jam and everyone’s favorite—blackberry riblets.

 

Due to our move last year, we’ve recently been tasked with meeting new neighbors and making new friends. Maybe it was easy when we were younger, maybe it was never easy. First there’s the initial chatting up someone new, trying to remember their name, getting the drift of their general vibe, finding out if they love or hate the Yankees, if they talk incessantly about their pets and grandchildren, and whether they are talkers or listeners. Next there’s the awkward first few dates—your place, our place, or neutral territory. Then there’s the time, effort, and planning it takes to create a history with someone. 

Our old friends have passed all those tests, met the challenges, overlooked our faults, hired us, welcomed us into their homes for extended periods of time, are familiar with our ups and downs, remember our parents, knew us “when”, were there with ice cream when we needed it, grew old with us, stayed married to each other, and showed up on time for the past forty years. Who needs new friends? Although, we have found it so easy to settle in with our new next door neighbors that maybe there’s hope.

Friends.jpg  Friends.jpg 

   

  

Friends.jpg  

  

Friends.jpg   

  

Anyways, walking into Tom and Nancy’s house was like coming home. We knew everyone’s name, we knew their kids, and we easily picked up where we left off. We’re well past the stage of putting on a good face—they all know and accept our regular, old faces. This comfort allows for in-depth conversations about getting a tattoo, skiing, the pros and cons of pickle ball, the upcoming primaries, the mixed bag that is traveling, the pitfalls of airbnbs, working vs. retiring, the health insurance maze, bad and good TV, growing old, death and dying, real estate values, the horrors of finding a good contractor and the joys of raising a child who wants to be a physicist.

                              1989

                                    1996 

                                  2003

 

                                               2011

                                  2012

 

                                  2016

The soup was exceptional, the chicken and roasted peaches tender, tart, and tasty, and I left with a bag of green beans, a bar of good Italian chocolate, and a jar of apricot cherry jam. The days may be dwindling down, but we’ll always have Succotash.

Red kuri is a hard-skinned, winter squash that looks like a pumpkin and has a mellow, nutty flavor. Nancy grew a wagonful this year and gave me one—we’ll have soup for dinner soon.

Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup from The Cook’s Atelier, Beaunne, France

  • 3 lb. red kuri squash
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 leaves fresh sage
  • 1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
  • 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche
  • Grated nutmeg for garnish
  • Minced chives for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds. Brush both sides with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Place squash, cut side down, on baking sheet and bake for 1 hour. Scoop flesh into bowl, reserve.
 
Sauté vegetables in heated olive oil until tender, add garlic, salt, and pepper—cook 3 minutes. Add honey or agave. Tie herb sprigs in bundle. 
 
Add herbs and stock to cooked vegetables. Bring to simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes. Add roasted squash, simmer 30 more minutes. 
 
Remove pot from heat, discard herb sprigs. Blend soup, with countertop or wand blender. Pass mixture through a sieve. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. 
 
To serve: brown butter, stirring frequently until butter is golden. Top soup with browned butter, dollop of crème fraîche, grated nutmeg, and chives. 
Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 4 Comments

Claire and Vinny Till Infinity

The sun rose on a sunny, August morning, as a vague bluish haze settled over the Sierra Nevadas—a perfect day for a wedding. The bridal couple dressed separately, each tended to by close friends and family. Claire perched patiently on a stool, wedding face emerging as the makeup artist brushed and patted. (“When did she get to be a beauty?”) The bridesmaids, dressed in matching flannel robes, lounged on the bed nearby. Riva, black Lab of the bride, sat at Claire’s feet waiting for attention.

In Vinny’s quarters, Laureen, mother-of-the-groom, steam-pressed his pleated white shirt and blue tuxedo pants. (“When did he grow to be so tall?”) The men got down to work, ironing, fastening buttons and studs—the groomsmen manipulating bow ties, the fathers adjusting the knots and length of grown-up ties. “Do you know how to work this iron?” “Did anyone bring aspirin?” “Do I really have to wear shoes without socks?” 

Using a knitting needle, Ginny, mother-of-the-bride, carefully fastened the long row of covered buttons running down the back of Claire’s lacey white dress. In a nearby bathroom, an emergency alteration was in progress as a passerby stitched a bridesmaid into her dress. “Anybody have some duck tape?”  “Did you see my shoes?” “Who’s got the dog?” Music and the murmur of wedding guests filtered into the dressing rooms, adding to the anticipation. 

The ceremony was held outdoors with North Lake Tahoe as the backdrop. The bride arrived in a speed boat, the wedding officials (“with power vested in us by the internet”) were friends of the couple, the flower girl rolled down the aisle in a Radio Flyer wagon, both Ron and Ginny walked Claire down the aisle, a dark storm cloud threatened to disrupt proceedings but thought better of it, and after heartfelt promises were exchanged, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  

Claire.jpg

 

Once we dried our tears, we moved over to the Gar Woods Grill & Pier for wedding food. Passed appetizers included mini-shrimp tacos, poke won tons, and mozzarella/roasted-vegetable skewers, with entree choices of salmon, filet mignon, or roasted chicken. Ron, father of the bride and expert wine maker, created a blend of Vashon and Napa-grown grapes for a special wedding wine, the “Cuvine Wedding Blend”, which was given to each guest in a mini-bottle with commemorative label.

After dinner, there was dancing, toasting, storytelling, singing, hugging, and an all around good time. True warriors celebrated til midnight and beyond; wimps, like the Sweetie and I, left for bed while visions of wedded bliss danced in our head.

I flipped through my mental calendar pages, remembering: a smudged-face toddler wandering barefoot through Ginny’s garden; three-year old Anna and Claire playing Barbies on a blanket in Muth’s yard, a nine-year old, pink-nosed bunny at my front door in her Halloween costume, a twelve-year old soccer star rocketing down the soccer pitch, a jubilant young woman in a green Vashon graduation gown, an intelligent, professional helping me decide how to fix my wrist pain. (“Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?”)

Claire.jpg

And while I remember, Claire and Vinny anticipate—their return home as a married couple, a honeymoon in Italy, their first, twelfth, twentieth, etc. anniversaries, holding hands in the dark, morning coffee, Christmas dinners, summer vacations, private jokes, the compromises, the joys of a long history together, being a family, and building a life—“one season following an other, laden with happiness and tears.”

 

Posted in Family and friends | Tagged | 7 Comments

Summertime comfort food : Loobia and Peach Pie

Before

After

Although Mt. Rainier is a looming presence in Puget Sound, it is a shy giant and sometimes hides under a blanket of clouds. Summertime brings out its social side and it towers over the landscape on sunny, blue days. The last two weeks, however, the mountain has been hidden from view due to the fires raging to the North in British Columbia, to the South in Oregon and California, and to the East in Yakima County. Our usually clean, cool air has become a smokey, orange/brown, haze of tangible particulants. 

Last week the Sweetie and I decided to drive to Yakima, through the Cascades, looking for relief and peaches. We found fresh air on White Pass and wildflowers on Chinook Pass, along with light traffic and beautiful views. We lost all four as we drove into Yakima, but hit the peach jackpot at Fruit City, a family-owned produce stand in business since 1966. As one of “the boys” (all the locals call owners JR and Lynn “the boys”) told me, “I get to work with my best friend and brother, plus every day is bring your dog to work day.”

Lynne and JR

We loaded up on ripe peaches and real tomatoes, bought a few pork tamales for the road, took home some barbecue dry rub, bagged five pounds of Walla Walla sweets, and headed home. Our vacay ended as soon as we got to Bonney Lake. Three hours later, after nightmare traffic and bad air, we pulled into our driveway, all traces of vacation bliss gone. But…what remained was the unmistakeable late-August urge to make loobia and peach pie. Luckily Ginny had given me a bag full of her garden-fresh, green beans and Nancy contributed a big, red, tomato from her garden, so loobia and a golden-brown peach pie were on the supper table the next night.

Don’t discount loobia because of the strange, unfamiliar name. It is comfort food at its best—here’s the Lebanese version Pop taught me. 

Loobia (Green bean stew)

  • 2# small cubed or ground beef or lamb
  • 1 onion chopped fine
  • 2 T. minced garlic
  • 1⁄2+ t. cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 t. cumin
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1⁄2 t. black pepper
  • 2# green beans
  • 2 c. diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
  • 1⁄2 c. tomato sauce

Sauté onion, garlic, and spices in 1 tablespoon butter until onion are soft. Add meat and stir to break it up until the meat loses its pinkish color. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and green beans. Simmer until beans are tender.

Serve with Uncle Ben’s Rice and yogurt.

Loobia is also good without the meat.

Peach pie

Pie dough:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Yolk of 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup water, from 3/4 cup ice water
  • White of 1 egg, beaten
  • Pinch granulated sugar

Pie filling:

  • 6 or 7 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced, approximately 5 cups
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Make the pie dough. Using your fingertips or the pulse function of a food processor, blend together the flour, butter and salt until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. There should be pebbles of butter throughout the mixture.

Add egg yolk and vinegar to 1/4 cup ice water, and stir to combine. Drizzle 4 tablespoons of this mixture over the dough, and gently stir or pulse to combine. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and gather together into a rough ball. Divide the ball in half with a knife or a pastry scraper, then, using the heel of your hand, flatten each portion of dough once or twice to expand the pebbles of butter, then gather each portion together again into a ball.

Flatten each ball into a 5- or 6-inch disc, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap the discs in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425. 

Make the pie filling: Combine sliced peaches, lemon juice, sugar and flour in a large bowl, and gently mix to combine. Set aside.

Take the larger of the pastry discs out of the refrigerator, roll it out on a lightly floured surface and place in a 9-inch pie plate. Add the peaches. Sprinkle them with the ground nutmeg.

Roll out second disc of pastry. Place on top of filling. Wet edges of the bottom pastry disc with some cold water. Trim pastry, pinch bottom and top edges together and cut a few slits to allow steam to escape from the pie. Brush the egg white on the top, particularly around the edges, and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425°, then reduce heat to 375. Cook until peaches bubble (usually that means as soon as the floor of the oven is a big mess) and the pie crust is golden, approximately 45 more minutes.

Posted in Recipes, Travel | 1 Comment

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

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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