Adventures at the Faire: Onion burgers, Scones

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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.

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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. 


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Seasonal disorder: Peanut sauce, Lebanese green beans and lamb

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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

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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

Moved and shaken: Beer Bread

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, “Moved and shaken.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

Moving is impossible. My life usually revolves around a routine: 6:00 am—straight to the coffee machine, 8:00—underpants in a bag for the morning swim, 1:00—a secret snooze disguised as meditation, baseball at 5:00 pm, horizontal by 10:00. Then one day there are cardboard boxes in every room, plastic bags full of clothes for the Goodwill, and a constantly full garbage can. All sense of order is gone: Who moved my knife! What happened to the duct tape? Where’s the coffee? Why did you pack the scissors? When will this be over? Confusion reigns, the sky is falling. 

The first phase was orderly and organized: one pile for the road trip, one pile for the temporary rental, and one pile for the ultimate residence—all clearly marked “R”, “T”, or “L.” The second purge showed faint signs of loosey goosey: a down vest wrapped around Normie’s bowl, books tucked in with canned goods, flips flops bookending jars of preserved lemons. In the end, hysteria reigned: dogs and cats living together, prescription drugs hidden beneath dish towels, tax forms wrapped around the coffee cups—any empty box quickly filled, higgely piggely, with whatever was on the counter. If only we had an x-ray machine so I could find my electric toothbrush.

But in the end, the mover guys moved our stuff without drama (Well, there was that incident of the bed frame that refused to fit through the door) (and, oh yes, they did have to completely rearrange the storage space to squeeze in the futon) for only three times what we thought it would cost. 

The chaos has been replaced with a calm, empty space that no longer belongs to us.

 

Why did I wait and give someone else the benefit of a clean refrigerator?

Clean and empty

Here’s the Buddha, draped and stuck in the storage unit with an unknown leg.

The buyer insisted that we leave our portable air-conditioner.

When we got to the first stop on our road trip, I found a box of Trader Joe’s “Beer Bread” jammed in the suitcase with my pillow—a perfect example of serendipity. 

TJ’s Beer Bread

  • 1 box TJ’s Beer Bread
  • I beer
  • Butter
  • Cheese

Open box, pour beer into large bowl, add contents of box, add grated cheese, stir gently, scrape batter into greased loaf pan, pour melted butter on top, bake in 350° oven for 50 minutes.

We ate it warm with andouille sausage and seafood gumbo—well worth $1.99.

 

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Friends and strangers: Amish friendship bread

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, “Friends and strangers.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

For my two sisters and me, summers in small-town Nebraska meant swimming at the local pool. After obligatory Morning Bible School, we were sent off to swimming lessons. We walked home for lunch, then back to the pool (in time for Muth’s afternoon nap) for open swim—crowds of kids, a few sun-bathing moms, and one life guard. The boys cannonballed on top of the girls being Esther Williams, performing underwater ballet, or shrieking in the shallow end. Pubescent boys, too cool to get their hair wet, sat on the diving boards, smoked behind the snack bar, and pulled squealing teenage girls off their towels into the deep end. It was pretty much Lord of the Flies anarchy, every kid for themselves. 

After three or four hours in the pool, we walked home barefoot sharing a Popsicle, eyes foggy, seeing rainbows from the heavily chlorinated water. By the end of the summer, the soles of our feet were calloused and tough as cowhide, our skin was dark brown from all the hours spent without the burden of sunscreen, and our hair was bleached greenish-yellow from the sun and the pool water.

Fast forward sixty-four summers—every morning I nod to large, black man reading the newspaper in the window, present my card at the counter to be swiped, and head for the locker room. I greet naked women either getting dressed or undressed, chat a minute with soon-to-be well-dressed woman who drives a Jaguar, and try to avoid hyper-girl who always wears pink, talks to herself in a loud voice, leaves drifts of powder on the floor, and gets upset if you stand too close. I swim laps at the adult-only downtown Y in a salt-water pool, hair tucked into a silicon cap, eyes protected with goggles, “NO JUMPING, RUNNING, OR DIVING”, listening to music courtesy of waterproof earphones. 

My pool

Washington D.C. Hyatt

Houston L.A. Fitness

Santa Barbara Municipal Pool

Nine or ten people who mirror my morning routine have become my pool peeps. Here are a few of their stories.

Teri: her husband is a “prominent lawyer” who recently dislocated his shoulder rock climbing, they own “a lot of rental property,” vacation in Hawaii, have a 30 year old daughter who recently “sold her condo for loads of money” and moved home—Teri shares her life stories easily. Don’t share a lane with her, she swings her arm out to the side as she strokes. 

Joni: has a beautiful, swift stroke, wears a red bathing suit, and once asked me to take a picture of the tattoo on her back. She said that it was the anniversary of the day she was diagnosed with melanoma. After surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, her oncologist declared her to be “cancer free.” She had the spot tattooed so that she would remember to be thankful for each day.

Heavyset, hairy, bearded man who wears a blue swim cap: has a powerful, if choppy, stroke and goes forever. Don’t share a lane with him thinking that he will get out anytime soon.

Otter boy: wears a long-legged, blue and yellow striped, spandex Speedo, does a strange, limp-wristed backstroke—the only one in the pool I can consistently beat. 

Older Asian man with one leg: wheels himself into the pool, parks along an outside lane, removes his right leg, sets it neatly out of the way, scooches himself out of his wheelchair onto the pool edge, and slides in—amazingly fast, usually beats me.

Traci: deeply tanned, having a yard sale this weekend, has been moving to Massachusetts to live with her son since last October, has a cute figure, and does violent water aerobics in the far right lane (When I see her while I’m swimming underwater, she reminds me of a pony).

My favorite, Connie: 80ish, retired minister with a smooth elegant stroke, prays while he swims, used to go 50 laps without stopping. After eight months of absence, he recently returned—colon cancer, chemo, radiation, and exhaustion. Back in the pool between treatments, happy for each day he can swim, thankful for his family and his doctors, grateful for health insurance, always cheerful, pleasant, and glad to see me.

My sense of community comes from familiar strangers: my pool peeps, the people I chat with regularly in the courtyard, the shoppers and checkers I see at the neighborhood grocery store, the jogger that passes the Sweetie each morning on his walk, the big, grey cat that comes out from the bushes to greet him, our mail carrier, born in Fargo, who just came back from a trip to North Dakota, the lady at the dry cleaner who fixes sweater holes, zipper pulls, and comforter tears. I’ll miss them all.

Amish Friendship Bread 

Put starter (this is the hard part—finding some starter) in plastic bowl with a lid (do not use metal bowl). Do not refrigerate.

Day 1: Do Nothing

Day 2, 3, 4: Stir with wooden spoon 

Day 5: Add—1 c. flour, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. milk. Day 6, 7, 8, 9: Stir with a wooden spoon. Day 10: Add: 1 c. flour, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. milk 

On day 10, make the bread. First, after adding the below ingredients, pour off three one-cup starters. Keep one for yourself and give the other two to friends. Pour remaining batter into a large bowl and add the following:

  • 2/3 c. oil
  • 2 c. flour
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 1 large box instant vanilla pudding
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1⁄2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 c. milk
  • 1⁄2 t. salt
  • 1⁄2 t. baking soda 
  • 1 c. nuts
  • 1 t. vanilla

Mix well, pour into two well-oiled large loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and remove from pan. Add more or less cinnamon to taste, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, nuts, raisins, currants, dates, chopped prunes, or apricots if desired. Freezes well. 

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It’s all in the family: Cinnamon apple cake

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, “It’s all in the family.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played

So here’s the latest shake of the snow globe. We decided to go for location, location, location. After standing on the future back patio of a not-built home in a planned community, we chose peace and quiet, birds and butterflies, the murmuring of the trees, and the close proximity to walking/biking trails over the promise of what we could eat, explore, and experience in the city. That’s the good news. The bad news—it will take three to four months to build said house and one month from “date of proposed occupancy” to close. So, no matter how you crumble the cookie, we will most likely not be putting up the Christmas tree in our new house. 

Once thrill and euphoria gave way to buyer’s remorse and should-ofs, the reality of being houseless (I won’t  say homeless—that would be insensitive and over-dramatic. Although I did recently moan, “Well, I guess we could live in our car!”) settled in. The last time we rented an apartment, we folded the classifieds, circled potential candidates, conducted drive-bys, and called bored landlords who had something everyone wanted. 

Today there is Craigslist, Apartment Finder, Airbnb, and Mr. Google. Just like the search for a job, a house, or a golden lab—personal contacts beat all. Unless you’re the first to know, by the time a good one is made public, it’s gone. We expanded our circle of potential locations, upped the dollar amount, and lowered our expectations but the search was grim. $10,000 should buy a five-month stay in the South of France, but today it covers a below-ground, 600 square foot, unfurnished one-bedroom, adjacent to the community basketball court/playground—and if you’re not interested, there is a line waiting to sign up.

To put a personal spin on Blanche DuBois’s last line in Streetcar Named Desire, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”, we will depend on the kindness of our friends and family. We will cook in exchange for a room, promise to put our dirty dishes into the dishwasher, take our shoes off, hang up our wet towels, fold the newspaper neatly, not let the dogs out, be vigilant when using the garbage disposal, and stay out of the good candy. For those of you on our short list, thanks in advance for your kindness. 

Hold the presses, there’s been another shake of the snow globe:

After cycling through four of the five stages of loss—denial, anger, bargaining, depression—I finally reached acceptance this morning during my swim. I was ready to hit the vagabond trail (espresso machine in tow) to surf couches, cook in new kitchens, and, when necessary, turn my underwear inside out; but while I was accepting, the Sweetie was looking and found a beautiful, lower level, furnished, two bedroom apartment on Craigslist less than a mile from where we currently live. 

“One bath sunny daylight basement home with garage. Private, surrounded by woods, meadow, and Puget Sound view. 5 minute walk to charming Proctor District. Just uphill from historic Old Town. Next to Puget Park. Highly desirable neighborhood with easy freeway access to I-5. Fully furnished. Washer and dryer too. New stainless appliances. Gas fireplace. Both bedrooms have huge walk in closets. This is a very nice place and the location can’t be beat.”

Washington.jpg

Washington.jpg

                    Dog not included

We saw the place this morning, wowed the landlords with our charm, our age, our no-pet/no-smoking status, and signed a four-month lease for about the same price as we paid for our first house. Oh well. So we will spend August vacationing instead of wandering, with a place of our own to come back to on the first of September. Thanks to the Sweetie for not giving up and thanks to our friends and family for your interest, your help, your warm invitations, and your kind words. 

If you show up at the door with this Cinnamon Apple Cake in your hands, they are sure to let you in.

Cinnamon Apple Cake
 

  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 c. salad oil
  • 1⁄4 c. orange juice 
  • 2 c. sugar 
  • 2 c. flour 
  • 4 t. cinnamon 
  • 1 t. salt 
  • 2 t. baking soda 
  • 4 c. small dice Granny Smith apples (It’s important to chop the apples into small pieces) 
  • 1 c. chopped walnuts 
Butter and flour one 10” or a 9”x12” layer pan. Beat eggs until light yellow, add oil in a slow stream and beat until slightly thickened. Add orange juice. 
 
Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda. Add to eggs/oil mixture and process until combined. 
Fold in apples and walnuts. Bake for 1 hour in 325° oven or until firm on top. 
 
Cream Cheese Topping 
 

  • 16 oz. cream cheese—room temperature 
  • 1 c. sifted powdered sugar 
  • pinch salt 
  • 1 c. heavy cream 
  • 1 T. vanilla

Beat on machine with whip until light and fluffy. 

Posted in Family and friends, Travel | 2 Comments

Snow globes: Pizza

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, “Snow globes.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

Ruby’s dad has more than a million frequent flyer reward points. Almost every Sunday he heads for the airport to catch a flight from the west coast to the east coast. When Ruby was little, she could count on a new snow globe every time her Dad returned from the corporate wars. She’s in college now, but snow globes still line the top shelf in her room. The Sweetie calls them shake-em-ups—the Space Needle is surrounded by floating green sparkles, palm trees and a hula girl stand tall amidst drifting white flakes, a Bavarian village braves a winter storm. Take one down from the shelf, turn it upside down, give it a shake, and the sky falls. 

Our life is a snow globe: it has been taken off the shelf, upended, and the sky is currently falling. Painting the balcony railing pulled a thread and we’ve been unraveling ever since. Our soon-to-be not house is clutter-free, clean as a pin, and a welcome relief every time we come home from another house-hunting competition. Now, we are buyers not sellers, in a hot housing market—the shoe is on the other foot, the chickens have come home to roost, we are paying the piper, what went around has come around.

The good news is our closing date is only a few weeks away, the bad news is our closing date is only a few weeks away. We found a house we love with no view, a house we didn’t love with a spectacular view, a beautiful house in a not-so-beautiful neighborhood, a not-so-beautiful house in a beautiful neighborhood, and so on: Goldilocks’s complaints about porridge and chairs spring to mind. 

                      $315,000

Jubilee.jpg

                         $369,500

                           $599,000

We fight the urge to succumb to scope-creep. There is no end of beautiful houses in beautiful neighborhoods past the north end of our budget. But then, that is always the case. I remember reading an article in a Santa Barbara paper warning would be-buyers to “expect to compromise if you are looking at $2,000,000 houses” What, no helipad?

Driving north or south on I-5 between Seattle and Portland, you see evidence of incredible growth: highway construction, industrial development, huge cranes towering above urban neighborhoods (My son once said, “You can estimate the financial health of a city by counting the cranes.”), a constant stream of 18-wheelers hauling logs, building material, lumber, and all of our on-line Amazon purchases. The good news is, Tacoma is growing; the bad news is, Tacoma is growing. Real estate in Tacoma’s North end has always been pricey, but now, the march toward gentrification includes Hilltop, Lincoln District, 6th Avenue, Fife, and Parkland; leaving Centralia, Pe Ell, Doty, and Vader/Ryderwood.

Obviously it’s time for us to man up, make a list of our priorities, ramp up the energy, and tamp down the expectations. Hold on the ride is not over yet.

Completely off topic, my sister makes her own pizza, she even makes her own pizza dough. Last week, between house disappointments, we stopped at TJ’s and I saw a bag of pizza dough. Somehow the thought of making a pizza cheered me up so we bought the ready-made dough, pepperoni, mozzarella, eggplant, roasted pepper, and Romas. I roasted the pepper and eggplants, sautéed the onions and mushrooms, sliced the Romas, opened the jar of pizza sauce, lined up the pepperoni, rolled out the dough, and tried to remember how they do it behind the glass wall at Costco. Anyways, it turned out great. So great that we’re having pizza again tonight. 

I may be the only one you know who had never made pizza at home. 

Pizza

Preheat oven to 500° F.

Sprinkle a flour/cornmeal mixture onto your rolling surface. Roll out the pizza dough to a 12″ circle. Ease dough into pizza pan, tucking crust around the edges. (I used a throw-away foil pizza pan from the grocery store. Ginny uses an upside down sheet pan.)

Sauté sliced onions and mushrooms until soft.

Roast sliced and oiled eggplant in 400° oven until soft and slightly brown.

Roast, peel, and slice red pepper 

Peel and slice Romas

Spread pizza sauce over dough. (I used a jar of Sugo di Pomidoro pizza sauce. Ginny likes pesto instead.)

Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese

Add sliced Romas, eggplant, sautéed onions and mushrooms, or pepperoni. Season with salt and red pepper flakes.

Top with more cheese 

Holding the pizza pan on the bottom, slide onto lower oven rack

Bake for 12 minutes or until the crust is brownish and the toppings bubble.

If you used a store-bought foil pizza pan, ease pizza out of the oven rack onto a flat surface—my bamboo cutting board worked perfectly. Once out, slide pizza out of pan onto cutting board. 


 

Posted in Family and friends | 3 Comments

Move: Tater tot casserole

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, “Move: Tater tot casserole’.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

Ma Bell transferred my Dad five times before my tenth birthday. My protests about moving again and my questions about the fate of Gordie Schmeckpepper’s new kittens who lived under the front porch, Marzee Carlsteen’s upcoming birthday party, or the fort we built down by the creek were dismissed. “You’ll make new friends and have new experiences.”

We had a routine—everything came out of the cupboards, into the middle of the living room, or on top of the bed you slept in. Then into big boxes (saved in the garage after the last move) into the middle of the living room, into the moving van, and into the middle of the new living room. Before the beds were made and a new neighbor had dropped off a “Welcome to the neighborhood” casserole, Daddy had a clothesline installed in the backyard, a dog run set up for Maggie the cocker spaniel, and a tractor tire swinging from the biggest tree. 

The Sweetie and I have moved fourteen times in forty years—that’s an average of once every three to four years. We should have minimum baggage—after all, fourteen boxes of books and papers, that cool rattan bar with matching stools, Daddy’s rocking chair, those darling grade school bookcases I bought from that man on the corner, six rollup maps of the world, and Grampa’s big round oak table, fell off the bus long ago. 

But still with us, in addition to a houseful of furniture, are the concrete Buddha, two broken printers, one box of baseball caps, countless paintings, two boxes of Christmas paraphernalia, three boxes of vintage dishes, and four unmarked, plastic containers potentially full of valuable stuff. We dragged the contents, untouched in eleven years, out of our five foot by five foot storage locker and stacked it behind the car in the garage, ready to store and ignore for another eleven years. 

If any of you out there are considering a move—just don’t. Shelter in place, make do with your current situation, wear noise-canceling headphones to block out the loud neighbors, adjust to a house that’s too small or too large, set up a reservation chart for the one bathroom, learn to live with the bowling alley above your head. Forget about spending your golden years in a remote beach spot—it’s not worth it. By now you may have guessed, we’re in the middle of Move #15.

It all started when the Sweetie painted the railing of our balcony. Before we knew it, all clutter was gone, you could see under the bed, glamorous pictures showed up on Redfin (Who lives there!), strangers wandered the courtyard, and we were were listed. 

We have accepted an offer, survived the inspection, and wait for the appraisal. Good news, we could close by the end of the month. Bad news, we could close by the end of the month and have no where to live. 

So if you are on our short list, don’t be surprised to see us in your driveway. Please save room for the concrete Buddha—he’s heavy but he never makes a fuss. Now, if only neighbors still brought over casseroles.

Tater Tot Casserole

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 (32 ounce) package tater tots
  • 1 cup frozen vegetables
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • If you’re fancy, add Worcestershire sauce, Sriracha, or truffles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef with the onions. Drain excess fat, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the beef mixture evenly over the bottom of a 2 quart casserole dish. Arrange tater tots evenly over beef layer.

In a small bowl, stir the soup into the milk until smooth; pour over tater tot and beef layers.

Sprinkle Cheddar cheese evenly over the top.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and slightly brown.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 8 Comments