Moderna unlocked the door, we threw our underwear in a sack, and the Sweetie and I motored south to Eugene for a long delayed visit with our old friends. Passing into Oregon from Washington, the change is unmistakeable: looming evergreens give way to open fields, leafy trees, and a wide horizon. Traffic finally thins out around Wilsonville and the drive becomes a rural, extended Sunday afternoon pleasure drive.
New pup Micah greeted us at the front door with woofs and wags, Patty and Jim not far behind with hugs and hellos. They live in a lovely community near Autzen Stadium with immediate access to a trail along the river that goes for miles. The house is sun-filled, spacious, and so, so comfortable with a stunning back courtyard featuring a musical waterfall, tumbling rocks, and blooming shrubs.
It was the perfect visit: lots of talk, snacks, walks, and fine dining with a bit of retail therapy thrown in for good measure. When we lived in Eugene, a drive to Thistledown, a local farmers market stand, was a weekly event. As they sell only what they produce, the shelves were a bit bare this time, but we did buy a few plants and a big pot for summer planting.
Home again, after a brief but spectacular event with a rolling truck tire—thankful for long-time relationships, vaccines, and a steady hand at the wheel.
1 cup walnut halves/pieces (you can also use this recipe for candied pecans)
1/4 cup white granulated sugar (not coarse sugar)
1 Tbsp butter
Heat over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently (with a heat proof non-plastic spatula) so your mixture doesn’t burn (especially towards the end).
When the sugar mixture starts melting, stir constantly until all sugar is melted and nuts are coated.
Transfer immediately onto a sheet of parchment paper and separate the nuts right away.
Today’s trip in the wayback machine begins with threadbare pillow covers—those zippered cases used to keep pokey, stabby feather ends inside your bed pillow—resulting in a trip to Macy’s. Plenty of parking, empty store aisles, no customers, no perfume squirters, no live piano music, no sales clerks to be seen, as we walked through Cosmetics and rode the up escalator to Linens—just the Sweetie and me left to our own devices. We finally disturbed a young man, who was intent on restocking, “You might try over there in the 50%-off corner.” Hidden on the floor beneath a jumble of duvets, pillows, sheets, and mattress pads were two pillow covers.
Now, how do we pay? We wandered some, looking for a cash register, and saw a sign, “Pay at the Friendly Service Counter.” Luckily, the only other shopper in the store knew what and where the friendly service counter was and we were soon out the door—no wonder we use Amazon. But before Amazon became our department store of choice, there was Frederick & Nelson, The Bon Marché, Bonwit Teller, Bullocks, Younker-Martin’s, and Neiman Marcus. Luxury departmentstore shopping was usually reserved for wealthy customers, but Christmas—with Santa land, opulent window displays, and a chance to ride on stairs that moved—drew in throngs of middle class families.
In my 1950s South Sioux City, our store was Younker-Martin’s. On Saturdays, we crossed over from Nebraska to Iowa on the Missouri River bridge to downtown Sioux City and the corner of 4th & Pierce. In the summer we put shoes on and modeled prickly school clothes for Muth, in front of the full-length mirror. In the winter, we made a day of Christmas shopping, holiday window gazing, and Santa sitting, topped off with a turtle sundae in the 2nd floor cafeteria. Muth took a turn at the cosmetics counter, face upturned, as a primly dressed “Cosmetic Consultant” applied foundation, blush, and lipstick that was too-red. We rode the elevator, operated by a uniformed gentleman who gently intoned, “Second floor Linens, Fourth floor Ladies’ Lingerie” as he glided us up to Children’s Clothes on Fifth. On the way out we strolled through the Men’s Department, picking up a box of pipe cleaners and a flannel shirt, then headed home.
In downtown Seattle, Frederick & Nelson was the standard of elegance. You could rest your elbow on a satin pad at the glove counter while the sales clerk fitted you for a long, slinky glove. You could buy a hot dog in the basement cafeteria, a box of house-made Frangos under the chandelier in front of the grand staircase, a wedge of coconut cake in the third floor Tea Room, or a fancy chicken salad sandwich in the upscale, eighth-floor restaurant.
In the 1970s, traditional department stores, once big city fixtures, moved into suburban malls leaving downtowns vacant. The rise of on-line shopping and the emergence of Walmart, Target, TJ Maxx, the Dollar Stores, and Big Lots siphoned customers away from mall department stores, leaving empty stores and deserted walkways. Last week Ginny needed batting for a new quilt, found it on Amazon, and had it in her hands within a day. It’s hard to justify putting in the time and expense to shop in a brick and mortar store, but we do miss that brief visit to elegance. Maybe vacant malls will help in the current push to revitalize downtowns but luxury department stores aren’t likely to be part of the effort.
Frederick & Nelson’s Chicken Salad 4 servings
1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breasts
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans, divided
1/3 cup drained, sliced black olives, divided
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice Shredded iceberg lettuce
1. Put the chicken into a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce the heat. Simmer, partly covered, about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the chicken tests done. Remove from the water and cool. Then dice and put into a bowl.
2. Add the celery to the chicken. Save about a tablespoon of the pecans and a couple of tablespoons of the olives for garnish, then add the remaining of both to the chicken.
3. Stir together the mayonnaise, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Fold into the salad, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. (If the salad seems too stiff once chilled, loosen with a couple of tablespoons water.)
4. Serve the salad on a bed of iceberg lettuce, garnished with pecans and sliced olives.
We seldom eat in restaurants—it’s expensive, it’s unreliable, and it’s just too much trouble. Anyways, I always felt more comfortable in the back, behind the swinging kitchen doors, with the loud music, cursing chefs, plastic 7-11 cups, hot ovens, and sharp knives. However, the Sweetie and I do clean up good and have ventured into the string-quartet, champagne-glass environment of fancy, high-end restaurants: Chinois in Los Angeles, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and Blackbird in Chicago, to name a few. As enjoyable as those occasions were, my favorite dining experiences have not been in the beautiful, the gleaming, or the posh.
I’ll choose fish tacos at a no-name spot on an ocean terrace in Baja, California, roasted corn at the Washington State Fair, a short rib slider on a Wilshire Boulevard curb in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, falafel from a street cart in Tel Aviv, a pupusa at the Des Moines, Iowa Farmers Market, bibimbap at a Spanaway strip mall spot, a tastebud-tingling banh mi from a Portland food truck, shucked oysters at a walk-up bar in New Orleans, a lobster roll from a beach shack in Rockport, Maine—all priceless.
So when Ginny came for a visit last week, we wanted a lunch adventure and headed for a taco truck the Sweetie and I pass every time we go to Costco. It’s one of a line-up on Marvin Road which includes two more taco trucks and a Texas barbecue stand billowing smoke out the back side of the trailer. We lined up behind worker guys wearing yellow hard hats, feeling more confident with our choice—hard-hat guys always know where to find a good taco. Ginny ordered a carnitas plate and I chose a chorizo torta. Both orders were delicious, with enough food to feed four of those hard hat guys.
Pulled pork plate
I’ve been looking for the soul of Lacey ever since we moved here. Maybe it’s there with the taco trucks—across the street from the Bud Barn, next to the Aztec Bowling Alley.
We have bounced forward into Daylight Savings Time and the days are getting longer. Soon, winter will have no choice but to concede and let the sun shine in. Here are a few promises of color to come.
If you want to see a larger view of one of the “gallery,” click on the picture and it will enlarge.
Place pork in a large bowl or roasting pan. Rub mixture all over pork and cover bowl with plastic wrap; transfer to refrigerator for 6 hours and up to overnight. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Transfer pork to a large roasting pan, discarding any accumulated juices (or drain accumulated juices from roasting pan that pork is in). Transfer roasting pan to oven and cook, basting every hour with rendered fat in roasting pan, until meat is tender and easily shredded with a fork, 4-6 hours.
The first chef I worked for in LA was a tall, handsome, Irish lad with a wicked tongue, a quick wit, and a hot temper. In the 80s, when the Sweetie and I moved to Los Angeles, we kept to our neighborhood and seldom ventured east of Vermont Ave. When I started looking for a job, I canvassed block-to-block in Westwood, knocking on restaurant doors within walking distance of our apartment.
One rainy October afternoon, I dripped into Stratton’s, an imposing, formal, European-style restaurant on Broxton Ave, and asked to see the chef. Dennis—tall, dark (think Sex in the City’s Mr. Big), and languid with a cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth—walked lazily into the empty dining room from behind the swinging kitchen door and sat down at a linen-draped table. “What can you do?” “Well,” I stammered, “I can do anything you want.” “Make a soup for dinner service,” he said. I made potato leek soup, passed the test, and started work the next day.
Dennis, a lifelong baseball fan who bled Dodger blue, was an unrepentant flirt, an enthusiastic gambler, and a hardcore partier. He was also a CIA (food not spies) graduate with an amazing bank of culinary knowledge, knew at any moment what his food cost was, and had the respect and affection of his volatile Mexican prep staff. Not so much the wait staff—they were just plain afraid of him. His temper was legendary—new, young, servers were especially vulnerable and short-lived. He was always sweet to me, though, and became a good friend. Through him, I met Bea and through Bea—Karen, Laurie, Bill, Sandy, Nana, Fred, Ricky, MoMo, Nancy, Ruby, Anabel, Kyle, Stella, Rusty and Jack.
Dennis’s kitchen was like a closet—crowded and narrow, with room for two people at most. The hot line consisted of six burners, two ovens, a salamander (overhead broiler-type oven), a two-row cold table, and three under-counter reach-ins. A stainless steel prep counter, three feet behind the hot line, ran the length of the kitchen. The pass-through, where the runners picked up the food, was directly above the cold table.
Not many executive chefs work the line, but Dennis did and was an excellent sauté cook—focused, foul-mouthed, and surprisingly fast for someone so tall. Special requests from the maitre’de received an immediate, explosive refusal. “Tell them to bleepin’ eat somewhere else if they want their bleepin’ steak well-done!” I served as his counterpart during the lunch rush from Tuesday through Friday, plating dishes, saucing entrees, wiping plates, and expediting the tickets as they came in from the dining room.
Dennis loved to party and no party was more important to him than St. Patrick’s Day. Los Angeles’ pubs and bars celebrated with vigor—green beer, green hair, green food. Dennis began talking about the upcoming holiday long before, so when Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day, finally arrived, he was stoked. Friday, the day after, I came to work at 7:00 am as usual, filled the steam table, and set up the mise en place necessary for a big lunch rush. Fridays were huge—the orders started at noon and we were slammed until 2:00 or 2:30.
10:00, no Dennis—not too unusual. 10:30, still within the limits of his world. 11:00, now the waiters are worried. 11:30, now I’m worried. At 11:45, the door to the small kitchen opened and Dennis crawled in on his hands and knees. “Marla, you’re going to have to get it alone today,” he moaned. His right eye was swollen shut. His lip was split, and his hair flattened to one side. He climbed up onto the stainless steel table, stretched out as far as he could, made a pillow of the kitchen towels, and went to sleep. Raoul, the dishwasher, came in to help me, Dennis roused around 2:00, and we all survived to have an elegant staff lunch of Glazed Corn Beef, mashers, and Irish soda bread.
“May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door.” Happy St. Patrick’s Day
Glazed Corned Beef and Cabbage
4 to 5 lb. corned beef
1 Tbs. pickling spice
1 Tbs. salt
10 peeled cloves of garlic
1 head cabbage, cut in wedges
6-8 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
4 red potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
4 Tbs. brown sugar
2 Tbs. vinegar
2 Tbs. cup mustard
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C)
Place the brisket in the center of a roasting pan. Place the onion and garlic on top of the roast, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the seasoning mix over the roast, and pour enough water into the pan to almost cover the meat. Cover with a lid or heavy aluminum foil.
Roast for 5 to 6 hours in the preheated oven, until the roast is fork tender.
Mix glaze ingredients.
Remove beef from juices. Add vegetables and simmer until tender—15-20 minutes.
Place drained beef in roasting pan and pour glaze over roast. Bake at 350 degrees, basting occasionally, for 30 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes, slice to serve on the diagonal. Serve with horseradish mayonnaise.
Last year when the lodge pool was closed for repairs, I rode the exercise bike at 9:00 am and listened to a local AM radio station broadcast its commercial-free “Nine at Nine” segment. Every day the disc jockey featured a year from the 1970s to the present day. One Tuesday I pedaled to 1976—David Bowie, Tom Petty, Tin Lizzie and Queen. My energy ebbed and surged according to the revolutions per minute—when they were up to 80 rpm, I rocked. Queen’s, “Somebody to Love” powered me through my morning doldrums.
The song reminded me, as only a song can, of a specific time and place: the post-dinner scrub and scrape at Sound Food. Patty, the pantry cook, and I cleaned the kitchen after the last dog had been served. By 10:00, we had been slammed by at least 200 customers, four hyper-active waitron units, and one surly dishwasher—we were ready for a beer and a bed. Music got us through.
Bob the baker listened to tapes during his 1:00 am-7:00 am shift, dancing with whomever came in the back door. Bob’s cassette player had seen better days: it was floured with flour, caked with cake and permanently turned to max with no volume control knob. If you wanted to reduce the sound from ear-splitting to loud, you had to bring in your own pair of pliers. Musical choices were limited: Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry for early morning solo jitterbugging; swing music when the first breakfast waitress showed up; and head-banging music from the radio to finish off the day.
Facing kitchen cleanup after a long dinner shift, Patty and I needed head banging and found two Queen tapes. Bob didn’t much care for Queen, but it suited our late night routine perfectly. We listened to that tape each night for months. Before long, we knew every word and performed our way through the grill scrub, the stove scrape, and the floor mop.
Years later at a Eugene, Oregon yard sale, while searching through a Tupperware/T-shirt collection spread out on blankets, I heard the familiar sounds of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Over at the Books, Tapes, Records table, a ten-year old boy was belting out the song to his little sister, who was sitting on the grass, listening in rapt attention. The boy knew every word, every Freddie Mercury falsetto, every Scaramouche. Good things never disappear.
Here are a few good things from the golden era of Sound Food.
Orange Date Muffins
1⁄2 c. orange juice
1⁄2 c. chopped dates
1⁄4 c. softened butter
1 1⁄2 c. flour
3⁄4 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
Either remove rind from orange and chop finely or grate orange-only part of peel, then chop whole orange. Add coarsely chopped orange, orange rind, dates, soft butter and egg—combine well. Sift together dry ingredients and add to orange/butter/egg mix until it is just combined. Don’t over mix.
Bake 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
Sesame Chicken (Perfect when cooked, cooled and picnicked. Also reheats well.)
One cut up frying chicken
Marinade: 1⁄2 c. honey 1⁄2 c. lemon juice 1 c. sesame seeds, toasted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine marinade ingredients.
Brown cut up fryer in hot oil. Be sure to let the oil come up to a near smoke stage before browning the chicken and please, don’t bother the pieces until a nice crust forms on the bottom.
Pour off excess oil. Pour sesame marinade over chicken, bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Basting the pieces during the cooking time can only help.
Northwestern Washington gets no respect when it comes to weather—the assumption is that it just rains all the time. In Houston, Atlanta, Tallahassee, and Phoenix, they snicker when they hear that our Cooling Centers open during an 85° “heat wave.” Well, we have some weather to talk about this week—one weather forecast calls for 8” of snow by Sunday!
In the Midwest where I grew up, snow season started in October and could last through April, the ground frozen hard with miles of slumped over cornfields and steaming cows huddled together at the hay bales. In 2010, we spent a winter on a job in Duluth Minnesota living in a condominium that looked out on Lake Superior. Every morning when we pulled up the shades, a new and stark ice scene appeared. The lake gradually froze, container barges stopped passing by, and a thick sea fog drifted over the ice.
Ice fishing huts
View out our living room window
Freighters stop running once the Lake freezes
There’s a big one down there
Me on our chilly deck
One weekend morning when we looked out, the ice was dotted with clusters of little structures made of blue tarps, wood, metal, or ice. What? Those intrepid Minnesota fishermen can’t wait until Spring so they trek out onto the frozen lake, either in snowmobiles or in pickups, set up ice shanties, drill holes in the ice, and drop a line. Some huts are tricked out with heat, small kitchens, generator-powered stoves, and electricity. Fishing styles vary: there are the jiggers, there are the bobbers, and there are those who lay prone on the ice, peering down into their ice holes, waiting for the big one.
As my Mom (and probably yours too) used to say, “Sure, it’s all grins and giggles until someone gets hurt.” Ice fishing is a bracing adventure as long as the ice part is there. But eventually, and sometimes without warning, the thick ice cracks apart, separating one ice guy from his people, sending him adrift into the endless Lake Superior.
That exact mishap occurred while we were in Duluth. A grandfather and his grandson were cozied into their winter fishing shanty, when their 15 square feet of ice started to crack. Grandpa, a veteran of the sport, tossed the truck keys to the thirteen year old and yelled, “Drive in as fast as you can go, I’ll be right behind you!” Luckily Grandpa had been secretly teaching grandson how to drive, so grandson got to the banks of the lake—only to see Grandpa slowly disappearing into the ice fog. Twelve hours later, a helicopter rescue crew lifted a cold, slightly blue Grandpa up off the ice floe, into the warm copter, then down on steady ground to his waiting family.
I made this recipe the other night—delicious. The rice is so tasty and the sauce is to die for, next time I’ll make more sauce—Sweetie and I ate all four portions. I might also use chicken breasts instead of thighs.
Arroz con pollo
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
1 onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 Poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped coarse
1teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup mayonnaise
3 ½ tablespoons lemon juice (2 lemons), plus lemon wedges for serving
Salt and pepper
Chicken and rice:
4 bone in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup medium-grain rice, rinsed
1 tablespoon Sazón* (Mexican spice blend)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, halved
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 bay leaves
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
*Sazón is a spice blend common in Latin American cooking usually found found in the Mexican spice rack in most supermarkets. If you can’t find Sazón, use this spice combination: 1 teaspoon garlic powder, ¾ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon paprika, ½ teaspoon ground coriander, ¼ teaspoon ground cumin.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
Sofrito: Process cilantro, 1/2 cup onion, Poblano pepper, garlic, and cumin in food processor until finely chopped, scraping down bowl as needed. Transfer sofrito to bowl.
Sauce: Process mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons sofrito in now-empty processor until almost smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer mayonnaise-herb sauce to small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Chicken and rice: Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add chicken to pot skin side down and cook without moving it until skin is crispy and golden, 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate; discard skin.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add remaining 1/2 cup onion and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in rice and Sazón and cook until edges of rice begin to turn translucent, about 2 minutes.
Stir in broth, olives, capers, bay leaves, remaining sofrito, remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, scraping up any browned bits. Nestle chicken into pot along with any accumulated juices and bring to vigorous simmer. Cover, transfer to oven, and bake for 20 minutes.
Transfer pot to wire rack and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Fluff rice with fork and stir in peas, if using. Discard bay leaves. Serve with mayonnaise-herb sauce and lemon wedges.
Who knew? According to Apple News, along with the famous Punxsutawney Phil, two other groundhogs have the power to doom us to six more weeks of winter: New York’s Staten Island Chuck and Connecticut’s Chuckles X. They are apparently in cahoots, as all three (in the midst of an epic Nor’easter), predicted an extension to this year’s dismal grey winter.
My mom and dad moved from Nebraska to Puget Sound in the late sixties and their first February, Muth wrote me a letter describing her joy at seeing green grass, little white snowdrops, miniature daffodils and tree buds beginning to swell. Sure, there were days of dripping rain, grey skies, and damp wool jackets but still—there was hope. In the Midwest, the ground is frozen solid until late April, the tree branches are bare and smooth, winter storms push through without pause, and snow shovels remain at the ready. In Northwestern Washington, when January is finally over, we look for snowdrops, heath, tiny daffodils, and camellias to light up our grey winter landscape.
Arthur in the snowdrops
By now the commitment to hasty New Year’s resolutions has faded, the pandemic drags on, and—much like in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, every morning seems like the one before. Grumpy, self-absorbed TV weatherman Phil Connors woke up again and again to February 2, Sonny & Cher singing I Got You Babe, and the mundane details of life repeating exactly, day after day. Gradually, his unrestricted pursuit of doing whatever he wanted shifted to acceptance and he found joy in learning to play the piano, creating ice sculptures, helping the people in his life, and eventually becoming the man Andie Macdowell wanted him to be.
According to the movie trivia, Phil bit Bill three times during the shooting of this scene.
The little ruffian himself.
Phil and his PA admirers.
Don’t know why they wear top hats.
Master ice sculptures
Phil in the wild.
The pandemic has given me over three hundred mornings to examine the details of my life: cozy fires, sister chats, brisk walks, off-and-on swims, more time to read, The Durrells in Corfu, and sleep snuggles with the Sweetie. Not sure I’ve become a better person, but I do have a sharper appreciation of my life and my dear ones.
So…as long as its bleak and drippy outside, let’s look for a little bit of comfort in a hearty beef and pork chili.
Texas-style Beef and Pork Chili
2 ancho chilies (You’ll find anchos in the Mexican food area of a grocery store. They’re usually in a clear plastic bag by the Mexican spice rack. Split them, remove seeds, and roast over a burner or in a skillet. When soft and dark, they’re done. Cover them with 1 cup boiling water and let stand until they’re soft. Blend and strain. Reserve liquid. You can also make great chili powder using Anchos, just roast them as above but don’t cover them with water. Instead, let them cool, then them whiz up in a spice grinder.)
2 # beef, cubed 2 # pork, cubed
3 T. flour
Sprinkles of cumin, coriander, oregano, mild chili powder, salt, and pepper
Good glug of oil
2 onions, diced
2 T. garlic, minced
1 T. cumin
2 t. coriander
1 t. celery seed
2 t. oregano
1 t. marjoram
3 bay leaves
1⁄8 t. allspice
1⁄8 t. cloves
Some canned chipotles (if you like some heat)
2 T. tomato paste
4 c. chicken or beef stock
1 cup beer
Strained Ancho chili liquid
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 T. minced canned chipotle peppers in sauce (add more to taste)
If you’re a bean lover, add a can of drained pinto beans—just don’t tell a Texan. (“There’s a saying in Texas: “If you know beans about chili, you know chili ain’t got no beans.”)
Dry beef and pork cubes, sprinkle with some cumin, coriander, oregano, chili powder, salt, and pepper, then dredge in flour. Brown in hot oil. Add onions and garlic, sauté until soft and light brown. Add measured spices—brown. Add tomato paste, stir, and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add stock, beer, strained Ancho chili liquid, tomatoes, chipotles.
Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook until meat is tender 1 1⁄2-3 hours. If you like soft, creamy beans in your chili, add them early in the process; if you like the beans firmer and to hold their shape, add them in the last hour.
Accompany chili with salsa Fresca, grated cheese, sour cream, sliced olives, diced avocado, lime wedges, and crunched up Doritos.
In celebration of a perfectly good day or to chase away those ten-grey-days-in-a-row blues, here’s John Phillips Sousa. Thanks, Ginny. (Don’t know how those musicians can avoid the urge to march around!) Last time we were at Costco, I watched a 40-something woman unload her purchases into the trunk of her Lexus, push her shopping cart around to the front of her car, get in, and drive away—the cart corral was two cars away. What’s up with that? Almost as bad are the scofflaws who push their cart into the front position of an empty corral and leave it there. Where’s the community spirit, where’s the “We’re all in this together” mentality? Houston wins the award for The Worst Cart Wranglers Ever. There were shopping carts in the middle of parking spots, carts with two wheels over the concrete parking stop, carts left on sidewalks and highway medians, and carts running loose, wily nily. The problem became so thorny that the Houston city council created an official board to deal with the issue—meetings were held, resolutions written, directions issued—and yet disobedient carts still run free.
I recently read a reference on Buzzfeed to an “Are You A Jerk” quiz, so I had to look it up. Yes, I did take the quiz, yes, parking lot courtesy showed up, and no, I did not rank at the top of the jerk meter. Near the top of the quiz was, do you wear a mask in public? Come on now, we can wear masks for the good of the community—just like we don’t drive drunk, we cover our mouths when we sneeze, we diaper our babies when they swim, we leave one cookie on the plate, we shovel the sidewalks in front of our house, and we push the darn cart as far into the corral as it will go!
Another annoying public trait is the compulsion to herd into a conveyance—elevator, bus, airport shuttle—before the arrivers can get off. I once railed on about that in a blog post while we were staying in a hotel—the nerve, the rudeness! That same day, I barged into an up elevator carrying a load of nachos, crashing into a family, spilling salsa and cheese down the front of a father and his startled two-year old. When getting on a city bus, I have to snap my wrist to keep me from following the urge to walk over whoever is trying to get out. So much for my community spirit.
Then there are those dog owners who fail to clean up after their pets. On the walking trail behind our house I see lots of dog walkers, most are non-offenders. The large, gruff men who patiently wait for fluffy white yappers on a string always make me smile. Then there are those dogs who think an oncoming walker will enjoy a cold doggie snout thrust into their crotch—“Oh look, he likes you!”
Last rant—waiting in line. If I were a resolution maker, I would vow to have more patience this year. No more beeping when the driver in front of me appears to have dosed off at a red light or drives 15 mph in a 25 mph zone, no more eye-rolling when that shopper with the overfull cart waits until the last second to rummage through her purse for the checkbook and then asks to borrow a pen, no more heavy sighs when snackers clog up the aisles at Costco. After all, what exactly of great importance do I have to attend to and, we’re all in this together, right?
On Cook’s Country the other night, Bridget and Julia made this one. Haven’t tried it yet, but it’s on my list.
Cook’s Country Kung Pao Chicken
Chicken and Sauce:
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup soy sauce, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, divided
½ cup dry-roasted peanuts
10 – 15 dried arbol chiles, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, ground coarse
2 celery ribs, cut into ½-inch pieces
5 scallions, white and light green parts only, cut into ½-inch pieces
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
“Kung pao chicken should be quite spicy. To adjust the heat level, use more or fewer chiles, depending on the size (we used 2-inch-long chiles) and your taste. Have your ingredients prepared and your equipment in place before you begin to cook. Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to coarsely grind the Sichuan peppercorns. If Chinese black vinegar is unavailable, substitute sherry vinegar. Serve with white rice and a simple vegetable such as broccoli or bok choy. Do not eat the chiles!”
Chicken and Sauce:
Combine chicken, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, cornstarch, rice wine, and white pepper in medium bowl and set aside. Stir vinegar, sugar, oil, and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce together in small bowl and set aside.
For the Stir-Fry:
Stir garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon oil together in second small bowl. Combine peanuts and 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until peanuts just begin to darken, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer peanuts to plate and spread into even layer to cool. Return now-empty skillet to medium-low heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, arbols, and peppercorns and cook, stirring constantly, until arbols begin to darken, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until all clumps are broken up and mixture is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add chicken and spread into even layer. Cover skillet, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, without stirring, for 1 minute. Stir chicken and spread into even layer. Cover and cook, without stirring, for 1 minute. Add celery and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until chickenis cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Add soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and shiny and coats chicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in scallions and peanuts. Transfer to platter and serve.
In the early 1950s Midwest, along with lazy days, ice cream trucks, and DDT spraying, summer brought the ominous threat of polio. The specter of “infantile paralysis” showed up every summer, terrifying parents and health officials, banning birthday parties, closing swimming pools, interrupting my favorite Saturday matinee serial, and isolating children to their own back yards. No one knew for sure how the disease was transmitted—one summer, the prevalent theory blamed cats. The next year it was open windows, unknown water sources, and imported fruit. Ginny remembers getting a polio shot in kindergarten and having her picture taken for the Dakota County Star—“Probably because I had the most terrified look on my face.” Bob also remembers that he and his siblings were on the front page of the local paper in a group shot, receiving their vaccinations.
Middle class parents felt helpless—they had survived the Great Depression, fought and won a war, and they expected buoyancy and good fortune. A crippling disease that targeted children distorted the idealized notion of what family life should be. There were polio epidemics every summer but they tended to be regional not nationwide with an economic impact limited to the surrounding geographical area, and mainly affected children, not wage earners or businesses. In 1955, Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was declared safe and effective and the public lined up eagerly for the vaccine; in 1962 polio cases were reduced by 90%; and by the end of the century, polio had become a memory.
2020’s pandemic brought along a year of losses: we lost our freedom to mingle, to hug, to swim, to celebrate in a noisy bar, to sneeze unabashedly in a crowd, to eat popcorn in a darkened theatre, and to jump up and down at a sporting event; but our children, sisters, brothers, and grands are healthy and safe so thank you for that. This year we lost members of our extended family: the Sweetie’s sister—her husband, our long-time friends—their siblings, my sister-in-law—her niece, our daughter-in-law—her dog Lucy, and my daughter—our dog Louie. We remember them all and our other lost brothers, sisters, Moms and Dads—here’s thinking of you.
One 4-pound boneless pork picnic shoulder, sliced in half along the grain
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle in sauce
4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
1 cup red wine
2 T. Dijon mustard
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 cups chicken or beef stock
3 to 4 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced or 1 cup diced-in-juice tomatoes
1/2 bag frozen pearl onions (Ginny told me about these and they’re fabulous)
Root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips), diced yams or squash, if desired
Toast seeds in a sauté pan over medium heat and grind to a fine powder—using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Sprinkle the divided pork shoulder with the ground spices and salt, then tie each piece so it cooks evenly.
Coat a Dutch oven with olive oil and bring to a medium-high heat. Brown pork on all sides, remove from the pan and reserve.
Lower the heat to medium and add onions and season with salt. Cook the onions until soft and aromatic, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, minced chipotle, and 1 more teaspoon of ground coriander/cumin and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer.
Add the wine and reduce by half. Stir in the mustard and add the bay leaves and oregano.
Return the pork to the Dutch oven. Add stock and tomatoes to the pan until the liquid comes halfway up the side of the pork. Add salt if needed. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, and put the Dutch oven in the preheated oven.
After 1 hour, turn the pork over and add more liquid to the pan if the liquid level has gone down. Add pearl onions, cover, and return to the oven for 1 hour.
Remove pork from oven, turn the pork back over, return to the oven without the lid, and cook for 45 more minutes. The liquid should concentrate. Put root vegetables in now, if desired. (I roasted the vegetables separately and added when everything was done.)
Remove the pan from the oven, remove the pork and reserve for 15 minutes, tented with aluminum foil. Skim any excess fat from the pan and reduce the pan juices, if needed. Slice the pork and serve with vegetables and juices.
Listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing New Year’s Eve by clicking on the post title.
In January 2020, we worried about our traveling friends and the brushfires near Sydney, Australia, growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Britain’s upcoming Brexit, and the the report of a new virus in Wuhan, China. Who could have predicted what the rest of the year would bring. It’s difficult to look back on 2020 with any degree of fondness. It was a year of rolling disasters: an impeachment, the killing of Floyd George and the ensuing social upheaval, the raging fires up and down the West coast, the bitter, acrimonious presidential election followed by the refusal of a petulant tyrant to admit defeat, and a global pandemic that seems to have no end. I should at least be bruised or battered but here I am, cozy, well-fed and comfortable—life is indeed not fair.
Commercials telling me, “We’re all in this together”
No more Salted Caramel Gelato at TJs
So, my bright list far outweighs the not-so-bright list. And there you have it: my family and friends are healthy, my refrigerator is full, I spend my days with someone I love dearly, my sister lives close by, my kids are kind and successful in all ways, my grandchildren are generous and happy, the family is adding babies to the blend—I have so many things to be thankful for. Here’s looking at you, 2021.
Favorite recipe of the year.
Thai chicken noodle soup
1 cup cooked shredded chicken
1 tbsp coconut oil, 2 tsp sesame oil
½ lb rice noodles (I also have used both udon and ramen—cooked separately and added at the end)
1/2 onion, diced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
½ lb mushrooms, diced
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced lemongrass (I rarely have lemongrass but I’m sure it would be good)
2 tbsp red curry paste or panang curry paste (try a little more if you like spicy)
1-2 tbsp sugar
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk (don’t worry if the coconut milk is solid at the top. Just pour it in a bowl & whisk)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the rice noodles one minute less than the package’s instructions. Drain the noodles and run under cold water. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion and shallots. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring often, until tender and slightly caramelized. Season with a pinch of salt.
Add the carrots and mushrooms. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. Cook for a minute until fragrant.
Add the red curry paste and stir well to combine. Whisk in the coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes, stirring often.
Stir in the shredded chicken and cooked rice noodles to heat through. Taste for salty, sweet, sour, hot balance and add where necessary. Right before serving, stir in the lime juice and fish sauce. Serve the soup hot with scallions, cilantro leaves, and a squeeze of lime.