The Move

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to Carole King by clicking on the post title, “The Move.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

Here we go, ready or not. After three months of couch surfing, wandering, and renting—our new house is ready, papers have been signed, and the move is on. The Sweetie is working in Chicago, squeezed into a tiny downtown hotel room, washing his clothes at the Laundromat, hunting for food, and picking out his own tie. I’m home, wrangling funds transfers, storage units, and packing boxes. 

We were in our thirties when we met, both independent, hard-working, and individually involved with our families and friends. We had separate lives, separate bank accounts, and separate living spaces. We combined resources, moved to Los Angeles, and began a forty-year relationship. Over the years, we have settled into more traditional roles: I am the nurturer, Sweetie is the decider. It makes more sense for me to cook (I know how), I don’t mind cleaning, I fold a mean fitted sheet, and I truly enjoy taking care of our home. Sweetie has a good mind for financial details, prepares our taxes, takes care of the cars, and knows his way around a tool-box. 

So, we have become specialists—each proficient in our chosen field. I am glad he wants to drive, set the agenda, and take care of the details. Unfortunately, for the past fifteen years, I haven’t paid that much attention to his part of our equation. I day dream when we’re in the car, my mind blurs when he talks about Vanguard, I don’t always remember which credit card to use, and I have no idea how to wire transfer funds. Well, the jig is up, it’s time for me to pay the piper, face the music, and get this move moved. 

The process as a whole is impossible. How can I possibly stay on top of the myriad financial details that accompany an enormous purchase, keep track of all the keys, and wrangle three big strong movers without my partner? How in the world can I move every item we possess from one reality to another? Using one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, “Bird by bird, buddy, bird by bird.” (Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird”) 

Posted in Family and friends | 5 Comments

Me and the Blue Whale: Enchilada sauce

As soon as we got off the elevator, the smell was unmistakable—bad shrimp, old fish sticks, and rotten crab cakes, with just a hint of room-temperature lobster tails. As we walked into the restaurant’s kitchen, a murky leak coming from beneath the large commercial freezer in the prep area confirmed my worst fears. My first week in the Los Angeles Pacific Design Center’s Blue Whale was not off to a good start. 

Pacific Design Center 

The Blue Whale building

My new job as kitchen manager at a corporate, Mexican-ish restaurant came with a a good salary, health benefits, and a regular 7:00 am-6:00 pm, Monday through Friday, work week. I liked the front manager, knew I could improve the bland, American-Mexican menu, and thought I could turn the tightly knit, subtly hostile, kitchen staff into allies. I had never worked with pre-battered, boxed, seafood (thawed and deep-fried into submission), and frozen vegetables, so I started there. Using my old Border Grill contacts, I ordered local produce and fresh seafood and by Friday, the walk-in was filled with tomatillos, cactus paddles, Ortega chiles, fresh mahi mahi, sturgeon, and oysters, ready to shine on my revised menu. 

Eager to organize the kitchen, I tackled the walk-in freezer trying to find the profitable and create order. On Friday night, I set the white elephant in the room to “Defrost”, turned off the kitchen, and went home. I expected to come in on Sunday, plan the week’s menu around the usable, and throw out the rest. But defrost apparently meant off, and by the time I returned, all the food in the freezer had melted into a smelly, lukewarm, mess. 

The Sweetie (drafted into service) and I spent the day scooping food into garbage bags, pushbrooming sludge toward the drain, and swabbing the kitchen. It took us well into evening, but eventually, we shoved all the dripping bags down the garbage chute, Lysoled the floors and hallway, and hosed down the freezer. 

The menu stayed the same (corporate food czars said, “No input is necessary from you”), I learned to live with the fried and the frozen, the food didn’t get much better, and most of the kitchen staff remained subtly hostile. I only lasted five months but one of my allies did give me his Mom’s recipe for enchilada sauce.

Enchilada Sauce 

  • 2-3 T. oil 
  • ½ onion, fine-dice
  • 2 T. garlic  
  • ½ tsp. salt 
  • 1 t. cumin 
  • 1 t. oregano 
  • 5 T. chili powder  
  • 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder 
  • 1 T. flour 
  • 1 cup tomato sauce or jarred salsa 
  • 3 c. chicken stock or water 
  • 1 T. sugar 
  • 2 drops Liquid Smoke 

Sauté onion and garlic in oil. Add salt, chili powders, cumin, and oregano, sauté until spices are browned and onions are soft. Add flour, sauté until well mixed. 

Add tomato sauce, and stock or water. Simmer 15-20 minutes or until smooth and glossy. If you have a hand blender, use it to blend the enchilada sauce. Otherwise, use a regular blender, no need to strain. You may wish to thin the sauce more, so use either water or stock.  

Posted in Recipes, Restaurants | 3 Comments

Cooking without fire

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to The Doors by clicking on the post title, “Cooking without fire.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

 

You don’t need a designer kitchen with a Miele refrigerator and a Wolf range to produce tasty food. One of my favorite food memories is sharing a loaf of bread, a roll of salami, a wedge of brie, and a Hershey bar with my kids while sitting on a driftwood log at KVI beach. Granted, the lack of a knife meant tearing off a hunk of Bill bread, gnawing on the roll of salami, and scooping an ooze of brie, but the meal was perfect. 

I’ve cooked in commercial kitchens from Stratton’s 6’x8′ stainless steel closet, to a slightly larger Border Grill box, to the 1984 LA Olympics commissary kitchen, housed in the cavernous Hughes aircraft plant. Some of our home kitchens have also been less than fabulous. As a new bride, I lived in a converted chicken coop that had a toilet in the kitchen, discretely surrounded by a ceiling-hung, flamingo-themed, shower curtain. 

Then there was the Cove Motel with its unique “kitchen work triangle.” In this triangle, the stove was in one corner of a huge square room, the sink was in the opposite corner, and the refrigerator was out on the back porch. On Strathmore Avenue in Los Angeles, the kitchen was so small, I could touch the stove, the refrigerator, and the sink without moving. I could also, without moving, open the screenless window and toss a garbage bag from our second floor apartment into the dumpster below. (The apartment manager chastised me one afternoon after I tossed a bag of raw chicken scraps out the window, missing the dumpster and nearly hitting him.)  

Anyways, our current kitchen has granite countertops, teak wood floors, and plenty of cupboards; but no stove, no dishwasher, only two working electric outlets, and a refrigerator that opens halfway. I’ve prepared melty cheese sandwiches, tomato sauce (thanks to “As Seen on TV” copper sheets), and pizza, as well as chicken, fish, and steaks on the outdoor Weber. I grilled peaches for a peach, ricotta cheese, prosciutto salad, made “cowboy caviar” (black beans, diced tomatoes, corn, and cilantro), cooked pasta in the microwave, and stir-fried Thai noodles in an electric skillet. 

But my favorite came straight from TJ’s freezer section: frozen brown rice mixed with “Multigrain Blend with Vegetables” (both zapped in the mw) topped with diced avocado, chopped tomatoes, boiled egg (see recipe below), and served with a whisk of Greek-style yogurt, tahini, garlic, lemon, and Sriracha. This no-fire Buddha bowl is the gourmet version of my favorite quick lunch: brown rice, jarred salsa, and yogurt. 

Then there’s coffee pot cuisine: fill the machine with chicken stock instead of water, run the cycle into a Cup O’ Noodles bowl, add diced tofu, and ¡Viola!, ramen soup. Or how about this: put eggs into the coffee carafe, run a cycle of hot water through the filter, and let it sit on the heat for 5-8 minutes—boiled eggs. And don’t forget your vegetables: fill the coffee machine basket half full of raw broccoli, run the cycle twice (or until done to your taste), and—a nicely steamed side dish. I read about a dorm rat who made grilled cheese sandwiches with her clothes iron and bacon with her curling iron, so the possibilities are endless, if messy. 

So, man up, fire is for kitchen sissies—claim your microwave, celebrate your Mr. Coffee, and if you’re flush with cash—buy a fancy toaster oven or a George Forman. BTW, the coffee machine’s heat element makes an acceptable piece of toast. It has to be round and may take a while, but we fireless cooks are in no hurry.

  

Posted in Family and friends, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

There will be blood: City Restaurant Tandoori Chicken

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to Tom Petty below by clicking on the post title, “There will be blood.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played

We’ll miss your music, Tom Petty

Our temporary rental is fully furnished—comfortable leather couch, stylish side chairs, dining room table, cozy bed, dishes, etc. However, there are a few things missing. There is no stove or cooktop (a refrigerator-sized wine cooler has replaced the oven), no dishwasher, no working vacuum cleaner; there are no top sheets (the landlord is Danish—”Danes don’t use top sheets”) and the kitchen is missing a few tools. There was no can opener (now in Ina Garten’s world this may not have mattered), no sieve, (how in the world do you get the lumps out?) and no vegetable peeler.

L

A new peeler might not spell disaster in your world, but I was blithely peeling a cucumber when I peeled the tip, with attached fingernail, off the ring finger on my left hand. Restaurant rule #2 came to mind, “Don’t bleed in the food” and I pinched what remained of the tip tightly with my thumb. Also missing in our furnished apartment were bandaids. I wrapped a kitchen towel around the offending finger and we drove quickly to Bartell’s on 6th Avenue, managing to leave only a few drops of blood on their floor. BTW, if you are going to peel off a finger tip, choose the ring finger on your left hand—aside from holding your ring on, it’s relatively useless.

This somewhat self-absorbed tale is an introduction to the larger theme of restaurant kitchen dangers. Dealing with cut fingertips, thumbs, and palms comes naturally to restaurant cooks, as does burns, scalds, and being on the receiving end of a heavy, falling, object. There are a million stories of blood in the kitchen, here are three.

1. When I started on the grill at Trumps in 1983 (there is no connection to POTUS, the name Trump had not yet been ruined), it was my first job in the controlled chaos of a trendy, high-end Los Angeles restaurant kitchen. Stratton’s was smaller, formal, and intimidating but it was ruled by kind-hearted (mostly) but tightly-wound, Dennis. Michael Roberts ran a French-influenced, strict, disciplined operation and took no prisoners, so I danced as fast as I could to keep up.

As grill chef, I was responsible for the mesquite fire under the 50 pound grill grate. Started too early, the coals faded; started too late, there were only flames and big trouble for me when service started. One night, the heat was just right but I was in the weeds: six steaks, five chicken breasts, four racks of lamb, two lobsters, and a foie gras on the grill with more orders waiting on the Remanco. One of the smoldering coals popped, sending a burning ember down the front of my coat and into my bra. I yelped, stepped back, shook out the hot cinder, and was back in action before Chef started to yell. I still have the scar and never wore a bra in the kitchen again. 

2. Andre, City Restaurant’s newest turnstile CIA intern, stood by the industrial blender while I showed him how to finish the horseradish coulis. We sautéed the shallots and mushrooms until soft and golden, glazed the pan with wine, grated the horseradish root, added and reduced the cream and were ready to smooth the whole mess into a sauce. The commercial Robot Coupe, able to turn old shoes into a creamy paste, was bolted to the counter to prevent liftoff. Andre poured the hot sauce into the jar, screwed it tightly onto the base, and waited for me to set the lid on top. At that moment, Fish Guy finally came through the back door with our seafood order. As I turned to yell at him for being late, Andre pushed the blend button, and the contents of the blender shot out of the unattached lid, covering Andre’s right side from head to toe with a hot, lumpy sheen. He blistered slightly and, I’m ashamed to say, my first words to him were, “You are going to finish your shift though, right?”
 
3. One of the unique details of the City Restaurant kitchen was the Indian tandoor oven. The tandoor, fired with charcoal, produced chicken, beef, lamb, and chicken skewers, and naan bread. To cook naan bread, the cook brushed clarified butter from a tall, round soup inset onto each side of the flat dough, dipped one arm into a bucket of ice water, stuck his arm down the tandoor’s round hole, and slapped the bread along the wall of the 800° oven. Needless to say, no one who worked the tandoor had any hair on their left arm. 
 
Tandoor.jpg
 
One night a grill cook from Spago, interested in learning about tandoor ovens, was working the line with Dennis, City’s sous chef. Neither was used to sharing the grill space, so there was bumping and jostling. Spago guy tipped the clarified butter directly into the tandoor hole—the oven erupted, shooting chicken bits, naan bread, skewers, and lumps of charcoal all the way down the line to the startled pantry cook. No one died, but there were plenty of singed eyebrows, fried bangs, and crisp beard hairs. The bar patrons, watching the live feed from the Kitchen Cam on the bar TV, cheered and hollered for more. 
 
City Restaurant Tandoori Chicken 
1 4-5 pound cut up roaster or individual chicken breasts and legs 
Yogurt marinade: 
Add to blender:
  • 3 T. garlic
  • 3 T. fresh ginger
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons Spice mix (cumin/cardamom/coriander mix)
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 c. yogurt 
  • Spice mix: Roast 1/4 c. cumin seeds, 1/4 c. whole cardamom seeds, and 1/4 c. coriander seeds in sauté pan over medium heat, shaking pan constantly to avoid burning. When you can see wisps of smoke coming off the spices, remove from heat, let cool and whiz in spice blender. I have at least two coffee grinders with missing parts that work perfectly as spice grinders. 

Blend until smooth. 

Tandoori chicken: 

Coat chicken pieces well with marinade and refrigerate overnight. Remove chicken from refrigerator 2-3 hours before cooking. 

Heat oven to 450 degrees. 

Remove chicken from marinade and shake off any excess marinade. Discard leftover marinade. 

Place chicken pieces on rack placed in a sheet pan or tray. Cook chicken for ten minutes, turn pieces over and cook for 5 minutes more. 

Squeeze fresh lemon juice on chicken pieces and serve with basmati rice. 

You can also grill the chicken—5-10 minutes per side.

Posted in Chefs, Recipes, Restaurants | 2 Comments

Seabeck Succotash: Poached pears with cardamom and saffron

At twenty, Beth was a good cook and nearing sixty, she’s an even better one. She went to Evergreen College for a few years and followed her interest in plants to a job at the Looking Glass Gardens, a degree in Horticulture at the U. of Washington, a job at Seattle City Light, and eventually a thirty-year stint at the Seattle Center. We have cooked for each other during all those years and I can say that there was never a dud from Beth’s kitchen. Her food is well-cooked, perfectly seasoned, and beautifully presented. 

This year she and her husband hosted the annual Succotash event at their Hood Canal house, where charm is abundant, views are spectacular, but the kitchen can be challenging. Regardless of the culinary surroundings, this year’s menu, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, was a stunner. His Middle Eastern recipes emphasize bold, clean flavors, call for fresh produce and herbs, and require plenty of mincing, chopping, squeezing, dicing, and sautéing.

We ate too much, drank just enough, stayed til the summer sun was gone, told many tales, and had a wonderful time.

Fava bean kuku

 

Rice pilaf

Bean and red pepper salad

Meatballs

Poached Pears With Cardamom And Saffron, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem

  • 1/2 tablespoon cardamom pods
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 firm pears, peeled, stems intact
  • 1 6-ounce container crème fraîche

Gently crush cardamom with a rolling pin or the bottom of a skillet to slightly crack open pods without releasing seeds.  

Combine cardamom, wine, sugar, lemon juice, saffron, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer. Add pears; add water if needed to completely submerge pears. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer, turning occasionally, until pears are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer pears to a plate. Increase heat and boil poaching liquid until reduced to 1 cup, 10–15 minutes. Can be made 8 hours ahead. 

Cover and refrigerate pears. Let syrup stand at room temperature. Rewarm syrup before continuing. 

Spoon some of syrup over cold or room-temperature pears. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche; pass remaining syrup.

Fava bean kuku

“This frittata-like dish is characteristic of the Iranian Jewish cuisine. Barberries, another typical ingredient, are tiny sharp berries. Try looking for them online or in specialist Middle Eastern and Iranian shops, otherwise substitute with chopped up dried sour cherries. Serve this as a starter with Yoghurt and cucumber.” Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem

  • 1 pound fava or broad beans, fresh or frozen
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 6 medium eggs
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads dissolved in 1 Tbsp water
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 3 tbsp crème fraîche or plain Greek-style yogurt
  • salt and black pepper

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, season with salt then add fava beans. Cook covered for 5 minutes if fresh, or 8 minutes if frozen. Drain fava beans in a colander.

Sauté diced onion and minced garlic in olive oil until translucent. Set aside. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, baking powder, sugar, dill, mint, saffron and its water, salt and pepper. Once smooth, fold in the cherries, crème fraîche, and onion mix.

To the egg flour mixture add cooked fava beans and sautéed onion. Mix well.

Grease oven proof dish with olive oil, then add the batter. Bake for 30 minutes or until done.

Serves 6.

 

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Adventures at the Faire: Onion burgers, Scones

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to Grace Slick below by clicking on the post title, “Adventures at the Faire.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played

With apologies to Lewis Carroll

I was sitting on a curb in Puyallup, when a black and white, googly-eyed cow wearing white fur gloves and a black matador’s hat ran by me crying, “Oh dear, oh dear, she’ll have me executed.” Having dozed off while day-dreaming in the sun, it took precious minutes before I could rouse myself and follow him.

Looking at the Smart watch on his front hoof, he said “Hurry, we’re late, we’re late. This is the last day of the fair, and the pickle judging is almost over.” And with that, he hopped on a red scooter and disappeared through a hole in the chain link fence.

Without considering the consequences, I followed him through the fence hole and along a long, green tunnel, when suddenly we were falling down a very deep well. He landed first, brushed off his blue waistcoat, and hurried away, leaving me to consider my predicament. I jumped up, looked around, and saw his tail disappear into a small room with a three-legged table full of craft beers and Strawberritas beautifully marked “DRINK ME” in cursive along one side and a three-legged table with onion burgers, Krusty pups, and raspberry scones on which were spelled “EAT ME” in currants along the other side.

Although I felt the urgency of Cow’s mission, the onion burger called to me and I took a bite. Feeling a bit smaller, I stretched up on tiptoes and helped myself to a raspberry scone. 

 

Licking the last crumb off the scone paper, I scurried to catch up and saw Cow walk into the Farm Animal barn and hide among the other cows. Bossie, the Goth Guernsey with tattooed ears, a headband, and a nose ring, gave him up for a salt block and a ticket to the rodeo, gesturing toward the show ring with her large white head.

“Have you seen a Holstein in a blue waistcoat?”,  I asked Doorgirl sitting on a long, brown Hereford table consulting her magic tablet.

“He rounded the corner and caught a ride on the flying elephants”, she said.

“Curiouser and curiouser”, I thought as Cow whirled through the blue sky on his big, pink elephant. “But Cow”, I shouted, “Where are you going?”

“I’m on my way to see the Red Queen”, he said. “But first, we must get permission from Soothsayer. Follow me.” He dismounted with a triple SowCow, skinning one knee, then scootered on, while I followed on my white horse. 

We secured our steeds, stood in front of the mysterious yellow bird, and looked at him in silence. Taking the hookah out of his mouth, he bubbled to us in a languid, sleepy voice, “Who are you?”

Yellow_duck.jpg

“This is Dora, I’m Cow and we want to see the Red Queen”, Cow said firmly.

Dora.jpg  Cow.jpg

“A magic carpet is your best bet, but beware the Jabberwolk“, Soothsayer replied. So I chose a pink carpet, Cow chose a blue one and, in the time it took to say “Oh frabjous day, calooh callay”, we glided to a stop in front of the Red Queen’s throne.

 Carpet.jpgCarpet.jpg

The Red Queen stepped down imperiously onto the ground in front of Dora and Cow. Spiderman, SpongeBob, and Hello Kitty soldiers quickly surrounded her and lifted her onto their shoulders. The Red Queen shouted, “Off with their heads!”, in a thunderous voice and pointed her royal scepter directly at us.

 

“But wait, wait!”, said Cow, “We know who won the pickle judging!”

“Hold your tongue until you’re spoken to!”, screamed the Red Queen. Then, she leaned down and whispered, “So…which pickle is it?”

“It’s the Nelson dill, from Pe El…or Doty”, said Cow.

 

“Splendid”, said the Red Queen. “The morning line had him at 5-1 and I made a bundle, so we’re done. Back to your humdrum lives and, as a reward for your efforts, choose a jam from the display.”

Cow chose a Duncan peach marmalade, I picked out a Goebel figgy plum ginger (surreptitiously slipping a jar of Pringle tomato jam into my pocket), and we wandered off to ride the ferris wheel.

Onion burgers

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoning salt 
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar, divided
  • 4 sesame seed hamburger buns, lightly toasted
  • Lettuce leaves
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Caramelized Onions, recipe follows
  • Sriracha mayonnaise: Stir ample drops of Sriracha into Best Foods mayo 

Season ground beef in large bowl and shape into 4 balls. Poke deep hole in each ball and fill each with 1 1/2 tablespoons of cheese. Mold meat around cheese to enclose. Flatten each filled burger to 3/4-inch-thick patty.

Grill burgers to desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium.

Place burgers on bottom halves of buns, squirt with Sriracha mayonnaise. Top with lettuce, tomatoes, caramelized onions and upper halves of buns.

Caramelized Onions:

  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 salt

Peel and slice onions into 1/2″ rounds. Melt butter into skillet, add onions and salt. Sauté over medium low heat, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes or until soft and brown.

Ginny’s Scones

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Tbs. baking powder
  • ½ cup cold butter (1 stick cut into ½” pieces)
  • ½ cup dried currants
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup milk or half and half
  • Glaze of 1 egg and 1 Tbs. sugar

Preheat oven to 350˚. In a food processor or large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut in butter until mixture in crumbly. Stir in currants or nuts if desired.

Beat egg with milk and add all at once to flour mixture. Process or stir just until mixture comes together in a sticky mass. Transfer mixture to a work table and knead briefly to form dough.

Divide dough in half and pat each half into a 5” circle. Cut each circle into six wedges and arrange wedges on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush, if desired, with beaten egg and sugar. Bake on thee uppermost rack of the oven to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

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

Before the fall: Lamb stew

 If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to Willie and Frank below by clicking on the post title, “Before the fall.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

There seems to be a specific moment in mid to late September when the season shifts from summer to fall. The light is golden, spider webs hang in every corner, the air is sharp on the intake, and in the morning you find leaves floating in the bird bath. Then back-to-school supplies are everywhere, Costco brings out the Christmas wrapping paper, you can’t find a bathing suit or shorts, and you know for sure that summer is not going to last. Autumn is my favorite season, although October makes me sad—must be those Frank Sinatra songs about days dwindling down and leaves drifting by the window. 

Siskiyou County, Oregon

Even though I’m far past school age, the end of August brings with it the teeniest bit of childhood angst, then I remember that I don’t have to go back to school. The earliest memory I have is that of being taken down the alley behind our house (my inner child says “dragged”) to Kindergarten kicking and screaming every step of the way. When she dropped me off at Mrs. Henkie’s door Muth promised, “You stay here, I’ll be right back.” Forty-five years later I brought up this betrayal to Muth, but she wouldn’t have any part of it. “I did come back,” she insisted. 

My reluctance to be educated went on on for several weeks and finally Muth threatened, “All right then, don’t go to school. But you’ll have to stay in your room.” Music to my ears Brer Fox, but three days later, we were back to the drag and drop routine. Eventually I grew accustomed to being confined in a room that smelled like wet wool and had all the windows closed, with no outdoors available, my dog at home, soggy baloney sandwiches for lunch, mean boys, and tight shoes instead of bare feet. 

Yakima Avenue, Tacoma

Smokey Mountains, Tennessee

Vashon Island

Harvard University campus

You would think that I’d develop a spine by the time I went to college, but not so much. Every Sunday night, around the time my family was watching Bonanza, I called home on the dorm phone and begged to be allowed to return. ‘Fraid not much had improved by the time I got married at twenty. My young husband was stationed at the Dover Air Force Base and our newly-married drive from Iowa to Delaware (in my Dad’s 1954 Buick Roadmaster) was not my strongest hour. I did buck up, however, through that first Spring and Summer away from home, but in October I called home every day until Daddy gently said, “All these long distant calls must be costing you a lot of money.”

A fragrant pot of lamb stew with carrots and those forgotten green beans from the garden go a long way towards alleviating autumn blues. So if you’re feeling sad and lonely, bring out the stew pot, call your Mom, and sit back and listen to Willie, Frank, and Nelson Riddle

Hmm, seems like I’m on a lamb/green bean roll.

Lamb stew

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cups dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cubed or 1 pound baby carrots
  • 1 pound green beans
  • 1 large shallot, minced

Preheat the oven to 350°. 

Put the flour in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the lamb cubes in 4 batches, tossing to coat thoroughly.

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Brown lamb cubes; transfer to a plate. 

Return lamb cubes to the casserole. Add the wine, vinegar and bring to a simmer. Add chicken stock and tarragon and return to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the casserole and braise the stew in the oven for about 1 hour, or until the meat is nearly tender.

Add the carrots, green beans and shallot to the lamb stew. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover the casserole, return it to the oven and cook until the meat and vegetables are tender, about 1 hour longer. 

Add the carrots, green beans and shallot to the lamb stew. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover the casserole, return it to the oven and cook until the meat and vegetables are tender, about 1 hour longer. 


Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 4 Comments

Seasonal disorder: Peanut sauce, Lebanese green beans and lamb

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to the video below by clicking on the post title, “Seasonal disorder.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

When I was growing up, meals from my mother’s kitchen were necessarily seasonal. In the Fifties and Sixties, the only fruit available year-round were oranges, grapefruit (no one used lemons or limes), and canned pineapple (fresh pineapple wouldn’t show up in Ambrosia until the 1950s when refrigerated transport improved.) BLTs were strictly summertime sandwiches. We ate sweet corn (with tiny little fork-handles) in July and August. According to Daddy, “First you put a pot of water on to boil, then you pick and shuck the corn, then you run from the garden into the kitchen (everyone seated at the table and corn-ready), boil the corn for five minutes, and eat immediately.” Gramma’s German-style green beans with bacon, mustard, and vinegar always started with Blue Lake beans from the garden. Gravenstein apples, swiped hard and green from the neighbor’s backyard, were salted with a shaker lifted from the dinner table and eaten only in late June while sitting on the curb. In the winter, nothing but broccoli and cauliflower showed up on our plates, served on Sundays with Velvetta cheese sauce. 

Today the Sweetie can have Driscoll strawberries on his cereal in January, mangoes and sticky rice are possible everyday, you can always find green beans at TJs, I make butternut squash soup any old time, you can depend on tomatillos throughout the year, ripe avocados show up on the counter regularly, and December Heirloom tomatoes taste a bit like the real thing. Recently I saw Dragon fruit, yellow jackfruit, and Brazilian dwarf bananas amongst the apples and oranges at Safeway.

Anyways, we’ve become used to finding a wide array of imported fresh produce all year long—not necessarily a bad thing. But there’s nothing like just picked. In late June, we ate our first flat of Picha strawberries—dark red to the center, white shirt forever dyed red, fingers stained for the rest of the day. After a year’s absence, bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches made with tomatoes still warm from the sun were on the lunch menu three times this week—well worth the wait. I’ve made lubia, Lebanese lamb and green beans, with garden green beans and authentic tomatoes three times this season and everyone around the table marveled at the taste. Last night for dinner, my sister made grill-top pizza with ingredients straight from her backyard. 

It’s that old conundrum: satisfaction is all the sharper after scarcity. A tall, cold Arnold Palmer after an escape from the desert, the sound of silence when the twins finally leave, a warm fuzzy robe after you’ve been sitting on the front steps waiting to get back in, the first bite of this summer’s tomato crop—well worth the wait.

A Buddha bowl with Nancy’s beans and broccolini, Ginny’s tomato, my peanut sauce.

Peanut sauce

  • 1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or agave
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce or Sriracha 
  • 1/4 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoons rice vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice

Whisk together sesame oil, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, maple syrup or agave, and chili garlic sauce until smooth. Whisk in peanut butter, and vinegar or lemon juice until combined. Thin with a bit of water if necessary. 

Lubia (Lebanese green bean stew) 

  • 1# 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
  • 1 can diced tomatoes or 4 peeled, diced Romas
  • 1⁄2 c. tomato sauce
  • 1/2 c. chicken stock
  • 1# fresh green beans

Brown meat, add onion, garlic and seasonings. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and chicken stock. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. 

Add green beans. Simmer until beans are tender, 30-45 minutes. 

Serve with rice and yogurt. 

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If it’s Tuesday, it must be Brussels

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to the video below by clicking on the post title, “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Brussels.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

It’s all so familiar, but it’s not mine anymore. Driving to our next sleepover, we know the details of every turn. If I say the magic word, surely the clock will roll back, we’ll make a left turn at the next corner, drive over Judd Creek Bridge, pull up the driveway, and walk in the door of Normie’s house next to Muth’s. We lived here off and on for fifteen years and when someone asks, “Where’s home”, my answer still, is “Vashon.”

So much is unchanged from thirty years ago: there’s yet another forgettable Mexican restaurant at the North end, the long, slow climb up ferry hill is still long and slow, there is no place to park at the Vashon Thriftway, Loren Sinner is playing at Sporty’s, there are grumpy letters to the editor in the Beachcomber, summer ferry traffic is Hell, the cormorants dry their wings on the pilings at Tramp Harbor beach. And look—there’s the driveway to Betty MacDonald’s farm where we rented a beautiful, cold, studio one summer and there’s the “Klinkam’s” sign in front of the house we lived in when Mt. St. Helens erupted. 

But wait—oh no, Bob’s Bakery is now the Vashon Island Baking Company, that red and white house on Monument Road is now painted beige, Seafirst Bank on the corner of Bank Road is gone, the Jesus Barn was listed last year for $999,5000, Vashon Hardware is a restaurant, Sound Food is no more, and there is not a single hitchhiker along the Vashon Island Highway. Oh look, there go two Porsches (or is it two Porschi) and a Jaguar, a new, fancier building has replaced the library, and there are mostly million dollar homes listed in the Real Estate section.

                         Before

                             After

Someone will be sad about their lost sandals. 

Thanks to my sister and her friends, we’re housesitting in one of the island’s most beautiful spots—down a long gravel driveway, in the woods, along the water, complete with a perfect, purring, lap-sitting cat. Hey Al, its a perfect paddle boarding spot—come on over, the water’s fine.

 

Thanks to the Sweetie’s brother, wife, and two sons for also sharing their life with us.

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The Capital of Crunch: Mark Bittman’s granola

 

“Crunchy: Used to describe persons who have adjusted or altered their lifestyle for environmental reasons. Crunchy persons tend to be politically strongly left-leaning and may be additionally, but not exclusively,  categorized as vegetarians, vegans, eco-tarians, conservationists, environmentalists, old hippies, bliss ninnies, tree huggers, nature enthusiasts, etc. Crunchy: as in, ‘I’m headed out to the crunchy store to pick up fair trade coffee and tea tree oil, do you need anything?’ or ‘I’m so sick of dating self-centered, urban, jerks. I need more crunchy men in my life.'” So says the Urban Dictionary

Once again, I’m the last to know. When my granddaughter texted me, “Gramma, that sounds so crunchy,” I had no idea what she was talking about. Eugene, Oregon is the Capital of Crunch. When the Sweetie went to graduate school here in the 70s, mainstream America blanched at the very thought of granola, tofu, The Grateful Dead, tie-dye, and weed—all warmly accepted in Eugene. It’s easy to fit in here: ride a bike (funky or fancy), wear Birkenstocks, don a weird costume (wait for just a minute, a parade will surely pass by), grow your own vegetables, drink Ninkasi beer, sport a Kitty Piercy bumper sticker, or buy tie-dye toilet paper at the Saturday Market.

Eugene was originally named Skinner’s Mudhole, then renamed to Eugene, using Eugene Franklin Skinner’s first name rather than his last name. Sort of like, Abe, Nebraska or Christopher, Ohio—anyone for Skinner, Oregon?

 

Tie-dye Man: Started tying and dyeing in the mid-60s to pay for tuition at the UO, graduated with a degree in Business, was an original Nike employee, became a millionaire, lost all his money in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, moved back to Eugene, sells shirts and bedspreads from the back of his van at local festivals, “I’m one of the few left who still does classic designs.”

Juggling man: escaped from a Romanian circus with his dog Blaze ten years ago, traded in his traditional wooden clubs for colorful plastic ones after an errant toss whacked an observer, lives on the edge of town in his Caravan, is a day-trader during the week.

 

Rasta man: known in Ska circles as “Where’s Bob”, loves to snuggle down in a pile of pillows and knit hats.

One of our favorite Eugene spots is Thistledown, a local produce stand out in the country on Coburg Road: corn, tomatoes, green beans, melon, roasted hazelnuts, and home-made doughnuts—what’s not to love.

Eugene is famous for its beautiful rivers. The Willamette, a tributary of the Columbia River, runs through Eugene and is joined by the McKenzie on the north side of town.

 

Any conversation about Eugene will include the University of Oregon. And you can’t talk about UO without a few quacks and a tip of the bill to Phil Knight, founder of Nike and the University’s major benefactor. He gets the credit (or the blame) for the extensive wardrobe worn by the Duck’s athletic teams. He and his wife Penny recently donated $500,000,000 toward a billion dollar applied science research campus. The Knight Campus will consist of three new 70,000-square-foot buildings adjacent to the UO’s current science complex. The campus will be outfitted with cutting-edge labs, research facilities, prototyping tools, imaging facilities, human subject interaction space and an innovation hub.

Eugene.jpg

Autzen Stadium, home of Oregon’s “Fighting Ducks.” 

Duck.jpg

In 1947, UO athletic director Leo Harris and Walt Disney shook hands on an agreement that allowed Oregon to use the likeness of Donald Duck as the University’s mascot.

Matthew Knight arena

Knight Law Center

Johnson Hall

We enjoyed living here and enjoyed visiting, thanks in large part to our dear Eugene friends who graciously hosted us. Thanks to them as well for taking a few pictures of their favorite spots.

Mark Bittman’s granola
  • 5 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant) or other rolled grains (i.e., wheat, rye)
  • 3 cups mixed nuts and seeds (i.e., sunflower seeds, chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, and sesame seeds)
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, or other spices to taste (i.e., cardamom, allspice, coriander, nutmeg, ginger)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup honey, agave, or maple syrup
  • salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups raisins or dried fruit (i.e., dates, cranberries, cherries, blueberries, apricots, pineapple, crystallized ginger, or banana chips). 

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts and seeds, coconut, sweetener, and vanilla; sprinkle with salt. Spread the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or a little longer stirring occasionally. The granola should brown evenly; the darker it gets without burning, the crunchier it will be.

Remove pan from oven and add raisins or dried fruit. Cool on a rack, stirring now and then until granola cools. 

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