Memorial Day, A Culinary Tour of the Countries of the World: Butterscotch Cookies

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On the Sunday morning before Memorial Day, we forged ahead (ignoring the advise of chirpy Traffic Blonde) and set off for We The North to the annual Fritzimar soiree in Vancouver, B.C.  Holiday travelers, apparently still at home making pancakes and drinking Mimosas, were few and I-5 was a breeze. Our jets cooled at the border crossing, however, and we inched ahead for thirty minutes before it was our turn to lie about not bringing food into Canada.

We got to the Stanley Park area this time without getting hopelessly lost, won the Vancouver parking lottery, and arrived ten minutes early. 

The Fritzimars are a clever couple and this year’s Memorial Day dinner theme, “United Nations”, was another winner. Each dish on the menu was named after a country in the United Nations: Swiss cheese, Irish ham, Swedish meatballs—you get the drift.

It was a beautiful day in their neighborhood so the table was set outside among the flowers, patio trees, and ocean breezes. With an eight course meal, its wise to pace yourself, but that proved difficult from the beginning. We started with appetizers in the sun on the rooftop garden of their building—delicious sausages from seven countries served on Persian flat bread, along with Irish ham, Spanish almonds, and Russian dressing. Back to the townhouse patio, we settled in for a veritable parade of vacation spot cuisines.

A break after the salad gave everyone a chance to loosen their belt, walk off a few calories, and compete in the annual Name That Tune contest—consisting of songs with the name of a country in the title. The Macbeths won, hands down, shouting out both singers and song titles in mere seconds.

Back to the table for the main course, a delightful cheese plate, dessert, and Port. We rolled out at around 7:00 and headed for home, pleased to find the border crossing swift and the drive South easy.

Another beautifully cooked, tasty, well-paced dinner party with time to stretch, enjoy, and celebrate good food with great friends. Thanks to our hosts for sending their menu and the Butterscotch Cookie recipe.

A CULINARY TOUR OF THE COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD

BEVERAGES
Americano cocktail
Czechvar beer (light and dark)
Non-alcoholic beer
Canada Dry ginger ale and tonic water
French Rabbit chardonnay
Chateau Canada Bordeaux

APPETIZERS
Sausage platter: Mexican, Spanish, Hungarian, Turkey, Italian, Polish, Chinese
Russian dressing
Persian flat bread
Irish ham
Spanish almonds

SOUP
Hungarian goulash soup with Swiss steak, swedes, Chinese cabbage, Bermuda onions
French baguette

OMELET
Spanish omelet with Canadian bacon

SALAD
Greek salad with bulgur

MUSICAL INTERLUDE: NAME THAT COUNTRY (OR FORMER COUNTRY) SONG

MAIN COURSE
Swedish meatballs
Belgian endive purée
Frenched French green beans

CHEESE
Swiss cheese
Danish blue cheese 

DESSERT
French vanilla ice cream
Turkish coffee 
Brazil nut brownies
Butterscotch cookies

AFTER DINNER
Port wine
Cuban cigars

Butterscotch cookies

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon sized slices
  • 1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

 Sugar Dredging Mixture:

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar

Sprinkling salt: Fleur de sel, Maldon, sea salt, or Kosher salt for sprinkling. (Do not use fine grain table salt as the flavor will be way off and unpleasant.)

Preheat oven to 375°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Vigorously whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder and set aside. Mix together the brown sugar/white sugar dredging mixture in another bowl and set aside.

Place 10 tablespoons of butter into a thick-bottomed skillet over medium heat. The butter will foam a bit before subsiding. Once the butter takes on a tan color and begins to smell nutty take it off of the heat. Add the other two tablespoons of butter and mix it in until it melts

Pour the brown butter into a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the brown sugar and salt and mix. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and mix together, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl at least once.

Add the flour mixture in three increments being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom once or twice. Mix just until the flour is incorporated. The dough will be very thick.

Take 1/2 to full tablespoon-sized pieces of dough (you can make them a bit bigger or smaller to your liking, just make sure the pieces of dough are all the same size) and gently roll them into ball shapes.

Dredge them in the sugar dredging mixture until well-coated. Place on the baking sheet and sprinkle with a little bit of the sprinkling salt (be reserved with the salt as very little goes a long way).

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges have browned a bit. Be careful not to over-bake. Allow to cool on the sheet for one minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Tastes best with a glass of milk for dipping.

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Beliz, The Time of My Life: Coconut Shrimp

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Today’s post is written by my sister, Ginny, about her son’s May 5 wedding in Belize. 


Belize

 

April 30: the journey begins. Vashon to SeaTac, red-eye to Atlanta, transfer to Belize City. Tiny, scary hopper flight to San Pedro, van ride from airport to water taxi with a stop to buy provisions (mostly limes and tequila). Water taxi to X Tan Ha. Arrive at 2 pm. 

 



May 1: first dinner—water taxi to Portofino. Blackened snapper. 


May 2: snorkeling at Ho Chan Marine Park. My new best thing EVER! It’s like jumping in your dentist’s aquarium. All the salt does a number on your do, however. 10 minute walk down the beach to dinner at Costa Blu. Great coconut shrimp and black bean salsa. 

 

Father of the groom


Sister of the groom

May 3: water taxi to San Pedro for more provisions. The town—hot, crowded, and picturesque, yielded eggs, chips, salsa, and pineapple. I did find some part time work for the off season. 


Ginny.jpg

Mother of the groom, trying not to work


May 4: another snorkeling offer, and why not? This time, directly off from the resort with a beautiful turtle at the head of the parade of rainbow-hued sea life. The sea bottom reminded me of the Sonora desert, with rounded humps, wavy fans, and pokey spires colored with burnt umber and purple. Whisked off by water taxi to San Pedro to the rehearsal dinner on a large flat-bottomed boat. Enjoyed drinks with little umbrellas, delicious dinner of some sort and dancing on the deck while hanging on to the rail in an attempt not to go overboard. Frowned upon by the captain. We had a few minutes before the taxi, and what ho? A Karaoke Bar? Never one to turn down karaoke, Mia and I pitched out a surprisingly good “Time of My Life”, Dirty Dancing style. 


Sisters

 

May 5: Wedding day. Rain? Didn’t stop yoga on the pier. You’re gonna get wet and hot anyway. Clear and calm by 2:00. Primping with the beautiful bridesmaids; my daughter, the fairest of them all. The wedding went off without a hitch, well there was the hitch—Andrew and Ashley. Lovely, happy, and in love. Dinner and dancing under the heavy clouds, but who notices, until the rain scatterers the revelers. Partying goes on for some, bedtime for others amid the crashing of a very dramatic thunder storm.

 

The bride and groom

 

May 6: Recovery day. Sunday, bobbing in the pool on a very large inflatable swan, dinner at Manta Chica with Pam And Eric. Andrew and Ashley invited the parents over for lunch on Monday, guess they missed us! We moved on John McAfee’s estate for another very colorful drink. As the story goes, he is in exile for murdering someone. Then a very long and bumpy ride in the golf cart to Secret Beach for a stunning sunset. The end of the road exposes a ramshackle group of huts, hammocks, and hippies. No electricity, but lots of cold beer—go figure. Our final dinner at Portofino under the full moon with warm breezes swaying the palm trees. A fitting finale to a most memorable week.



Coconut Shrimp

 

  • 10-12 large shrimp
  • 1 cup Panko
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tablespoon grated lime peel 
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 1-2 cups high-temperature oil for deep-frying 

Remove shells from shrimp, but leave tails on. Set aside. 

Mix Panko, coconut, lime peel, salt, and cayenne pepper. Place in large bowl. 

Place whisked eggs in separate bowl. Add shrimp to eggs, a few at a time. Shake excess eggs from shrimp. Add shrimp to Panko/coconut mixture and toss to coat. Reserve coated shrimp on plate or sheet-pan, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. 

Pour enough peanut oil into large skillet to reach depth of 1/4 inch; heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add shrimp to skillet and cook until golden and just opaque in center, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve with Thai Chili Sauce or Cilantro Mint Chutney.

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Horse racing: My Fair Lady or Guys and Dolls?

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In Victorian England and in the tribal world of the desert, horse racing was upper crust. Aristocrats (shades of My Fair Lady), dressed like Lords and Ladies, mingled at the Royal Ascot and Bedouin princes (shades of Lawrence of Arabia), dressed in flowing, white robes, sped across the sands on horses that were treated like royalty. When horse racing came to America, owning race horses was for the rich and priviledged. Gentlemen wagered between themselves on the outcome of the races, hoi polloi placed bets with touts and bookies.

All horse racing tracks, Churchill Downs or Emerald Downs, have high and low brow options. If you pay enough and follow the dress code, you too can hand your car keys to the valet, sit in a Turf Club box seat, eat shrimp tempura, drink Mint Julips served in tall, frosted glasses, and watch the races through the long lens of your binoculars. Or you can ride in from the outfield on the Doodah Express, queue up in the grandstand for $9.00 beers and jumbo hot dogs, dodge strollers and toddlers, and lean in at the finish line with the railbirds as the horses and dirt clods fly by.

Low brow or high brow, on Kentucky Derby Day, you can pretend you’re at the Ascot Races in East Berkshire. Even in the grandstands, people are dressed to the nines: women in dresses, seductive shoes, and oh those hats; men in pastel summer suits, bow ties and straw hats. Can’t think of another sporting event that features women in flirty skirts, colorful wide-brimmed hats and stilleto heels.

Beautiful people at this year’s Kentucky Derby Day at Emerald Downs in Auburn.

I think he is wearing this ironically.

Sixty ago, horse racing, baseball, and boxing were the only sports that mattered. Common folk cheered for Secretariat and participated with the wealthy in the excitement of watching a $2.00 bet come in at 6-1. Today, while TV ratings for the Kentucky Derby have risen steadily, the sport is on the decline. Tracks, both small and large, close every year due to the fall off in patronage, horse racing’s shrinking chunk of America’s gambling dollar, and the complicated learning curve of handicapping. But the track can’t be beat as a sports venue to people-watch and eat a Hot Ziggety Dog. 

And remember: always bet your mother’s name, any number combination of six/one/five, or a grey horse that poops during the parade to post.

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Send them on their way dancing: Frozen Key Lime Pie

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Last weekend at the University of Tennessee, forty-nine percent of the students graduating with a Batchelor’s Degree in Engineering were women. One of those women was my grandson’s wife—a beautiful, smart, young woman with a head for math and an eye on the future. The next day at Anderson College in South Carolina, my granddaughter walked across the stage to receive her Batchelor in Special Education—another beautiful, smart young woman with a 3.87 average, the heart of a teacher, and a new job at a local high school.

The new engineer and her husband

The new teacher

Both ceremonies started off with solemn music and a stern admonition to “hold all hoots, hollers, cheers, and applause until each graduate has received their degree.” Of course by the time each one of the thirty thousand, seven hundred, and forty-two graduates had been announced, walked across the stage, shaken everyone’s hand, and exited, diploma in hand, the audience was asleep and in no position to woo-hoo. 

When are They going to come up with a ceremony that includes joy and celebration for students who studied hard, turned down frivolity, put in all nighters, and anguished over a million papers. And how about the family members who supported their person, emotionally and financially, for those long four years? Wish those in charge could come up with fewer admonitions and more words of praise, a few comedy skits, music revues, or even a dog and pony show to send them down the aisle, on their way, and into the world with brass bands and some guitar licks instead of sermons and a dirge. Maybe next year. Anyways, two more graduations down, with only a few left to go. 

In our family, graduating means food, lots of food. For the new engineer, it was a cookout: burgers, potato salad, fruit, baked beans, salads, and cake. The new teacher celebrated her degree and her new job with Lebanese food: kibbee, koosa, stuffed grape leaves, felafel.

The next day was Mother’s Day which in our family means food, lots of food. My son’s mother-in-law must have pulled an all nighter to come up with her glorious menu: grilled chicken, steak skewers, roasted vegetables, saffron rice, “Artisan flat bread”, and Key Lime pie. 

 

In between the eating, there was the visiting, singing, toasting, story telling, adventure exchange, laughter, and maybe a misty eye or two. So if I have any words for the new graduates, it’s hoot, holler, and woo-hoo at every opportunity. Celebrate each victory as it comes along with brass bands and cartwheels—save the solemnity for traffic court.

Nora Ephron’s Frozen Key Lime Pie

  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed or bottled Key lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
  •  One prepared 9-inch graham cracker crust, refrigerated
  • 2 to 3 cups lightly sweetened whipped cream, for topping

In a mixing bowl, beat yolks until thick, about 3 minutes. Add condensed milk, lime juice and lime zest. Beat again until well blended, about 1 minute.

Pour into pie shell, filling it to the brim and mounding slightly on top. Cover with plastic wrap, stretching wrap tightly across surface. Freeze until firm, at least three hours

Just before serving, remove from freezer and discard plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 5 minutes, then spread with whipped cream and serve.

Or just buy one from Costco.

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Sparkly whites and a new restaurant: Border Grill chilaquiles

In March 1985, during my shift at Stratton’s Grill, Dennis yelled, “Marla, phone’s for you.” No one had ever called me at work before, so it was with some trepidation that I went into the office. 

“This is Susan Feniger. How would you like to work with Mary Sue and I at our new Mexican restaurant?”

After setting up a time to meet, I hung up, did a discrete happy dance, and went back in the kitchen to finish a batch of Texas beef and pork chili, cheddar biscuits, French vinaigrette, clam chowder, and bone seven salmon for the night’s dinner rush. My excitement at working with two of my LA restaurant dream bosses was only slightly tempered by the fact that I was their second choice. They had offered the job to Dean, sous-chef at Trumps, but he was happy where he was and recommended me.

MSM/SF and I met in the construction zone on Melrose Avenue, next to L.A. Eyeworks, and had an instant connection. We talked excitedly about menu items, vendor choices, the difficulty of finding exotic ingredients, which line cooks were available, the new kitchen layout, the proposed start date, and ended the business meeting with a three-way jump-and-hug. 

I was waiting for the Sweetie by the door when he got home from work that night, “I got the job, I got the job!!” 

“Great”, he said. “What’s the salary?” 

“Well, we didn’t get around to that, but I’m sure it will be fine.”

Luckily, by the time I found out that I’d taken a pay cut, it was too late. Anyways, we opened in May, 1985. In 1983, MSM/SF had spent six months in Mexico traveling, eating, and living with Tacho, City Cafe’s prep cook. They gathered recipes and techniques from market vendors, home cooks, street corners and two year later, opened the Border Grill, LA’s first authentic Mexican restaurant, featuring food from Oaxaca and Yucatán. 

Mary Sue Milliken outside the Border Grill, 1985 (They never did take the old City Cafe sign off of the front door.)

MSM/SF in the crackerbox kitchen at the old Border Grill

I’ve wondered why there weren’t any exceptional Mexican restaurants in Tacoma. Oh there are plenty of AmeriMexican places with hot-to-the-touch plates spilling over with red rice, refried beans, and something under a blanket of red sauce but where is a Rubio’s, a Baja Fresh, or a locally owned spot that serves tlayudas, cactus salad, tongue tacos, tinga, and fresh pico de gallo?

Well, it took a teeth cleaning to find one. Always the last to know, I heard about Brewers Row from my hygienist, while tilted back in a dentist chair with a suction hose and a metal pick in my mouth. “You have to go there. Their jalapeño breakfast biscuits and carnitas tacos are the best!”

The boys that make it all happen.

Now that I knew, I wasted no time—I drove home, picked up the Sweetie, we went directly to Brewers Row, at 26th and Alder, and ordered one jalapeño breakfast biscuit with house-made chorizo and one carnitas taco plate—they were indeed the best. The menu includes, might I add, tlayudas, tongue tacos, tortas, horchata, great coffee selections, artisan tap beers, and delightful desserts. Mean Yelpers might whine about a $6.00 taco, but as for me I’ll gladly pay on Tuesday for a great taco in an art and music-filled room today.

So thanks to my great hygienist, who makes my quarterly teeth cleaning episodes something to look forward to, I have sparkly whites and a new favorite restaurant.

Border Grill Chicken Chilaquiles  Yield: 6 to 8 servings 

  • 2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
  • 3 cups Red Roasted Tomato Salsa (see recipe) 
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced paper-thin
  • 12 large tomatillos, husked, cored, and thinly sliced 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 12 day-old 6-inch corn tortillas, 18 if individual casseroles are being made
  • Butter for greasing casserole
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated Mexican manchego cheese 
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated panela cheese
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated añejo cheese  

In a large mixing bowl, combine the salsa, cream, salt, pepper, onion, tomatillos, and shredded chicken pieces. 

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium- low heat. Cook the tortillas just about 5 seconds per side to soften, and then transfer to a large colander to drain. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 4-quart casserole or 6 to 8 individual casseroles.

Combine the manchego, panela, and añejo cheeses in a mixing bowl. 

To assemble the chilaquiles, spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture over the bottom of the baking dish. Push the solids in the bowl of chicken and salsa to the side so that the liquids form in a pool on one side. Dip all the softened tortillas in the pool to moisten. Layer one third of the moist tortillas over the cheese and top with half of the chicken mixture with its sauce. Sprinkle half of the remaining cheese over the chicken. Repeat the layers, ending with a layer of tortillas on top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. 

Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown. Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing or unmolding from individual casseroles.

Red Roasted Tomato Salsa 

Yield: 1 quart 

  • 1 pound Roma tomatoes, cored
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 serrano chiles, stemmed and seeded 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper to taste 

Preheat the broiler. 

Place the tomatoes, garlic, chiles, and onion on a foil- lined baking tray. Drizzle with the olive oil. Broil 6 to 8 inches from the flame for about 12 minutes, turning frequently with tongs, until evenly charred. 

Transfer the vegetables and any accumulated juices to the blender or food processor. Add the tomato juice, salt, and pepper. Puree, in batches if necessary, until smooth. 

Pour into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature for table salsa, or use warm as an ingredient in rice or chilaquiles. 

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The Hippies Have Won: Lentil soup, Lemon tahini dressing

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I wanted to be a hippie in the Sixties but I lived in the wrong state. From my kitchen table in Iowa, I read about the goings on in San Francisco and it all sounded exciting, but I enjoyed changing the baby, wrangling a kindergartener, and putting another load in the washer. In the Seventies, I moved to Vashon Island, which was on the front line of the battle between the long-hairs and the straights. 

The Vashon Straights had the Elks Club, their own restaurant—the Spinnaker, their own churches, the traditional way to give birth—doctors and hospitals, their own outfit—Polo shirts and khakis, the normal way to raise a child—one mom, one dad, the decent way to have a relationship—one woman, one man, fenced yards, Harvest gold refrigerators, golf shoes, their own food—meat, dairy, and alcoholic drinks. 

The Hairies had women’s groups, their own restaurant—Sound Food, their own outfit—tie dye shirts and jeans, Eastern philosophy, midwifes and home births, a village that raised the child (Who’s got the baby?), free love, consciousness raising, meditation circles, communes, macramé candle holders, Birkenstocks, their own food—heavy, dense bread and lentil loaf, and weed. There was seldom a meeting of the minds.

Don’t know whether the baby boomers out-numbered or out-lived traditional members of maimnstream culture, but as a recent New York Times article said, “The Hippies Have Won.” Today you can buy miso, tofu, hummus, and tabouli at Safeway, Oprah (Queen of Daytime TV) meditates, fathers, no longer safe pacing in the waiting room, cut the cord, having a midwife is an option at most hospitals, attendance at traditional churches is declining, cannabis is legal in twenty-six states, and you can buy $625 designer Birkenstocks, but thankfully there’s been no resurgence in macramé or in airport Hari Krishnas.

Shoes.jpg Macrame.jpg HKs.jpg

Members of the counter-culture were among the first to stay off the grid by using solar energy, to produce pesticide-free produce, to barter as a mode of financial exchange, to sell organic products at local co-ops and farmer’s markets, to promote environmental awareness, to march for peace and civil rights, and to wear jeans everywhere (thank you, very much).

Until we moved to Eugene, I had to be at work by 7:00 and lost contact with hippies so I never did join a tribe but I can still roll my eyes at Nordstom’s $400 mud jeans, flash the peace sign, make a mean granola bar, appreciate Colin Kaepernick’s fro, and admire Jacob DeGrom’s flowing locks.

Jeans.jpg  Colin.jpg  Deform.jpg

Lentil soup (from Jeffrey Basom’s cookbook, “from the Bastyr Kitchen”)

  • 1 1/2 cups lentils
  • 4 cups stock or water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 onion, fine dice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 carrots, fine dice
  • 2 stalks celery, fine dice
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 1 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small potato, fine dice
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil chopped
Soak lentils overnight or cover with water, bring to a boil, turn off heat, and cover. Let stand for one hour. Drain lentils.
 
Bring water or stock, lentils, and bay leaf to a boil and simmer uncovered until lentils are soft.
 
While lentils are cooking, sauté onions, garlic, and oregano in oil, sprinkle with salt, and cook until golden brown.
 
Add cooked onions, carrots, celery, tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes to the lentils and simmer for 20 minutes. 
 
Add potatoes and vinegar, simmer for 15 minutes. Add chopped basil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Thin with more water or stock, if necessary.
 
Lemon tahini dressing (from Melanie Lohmann’s cookbook, “Recherché Recipes from Sound Food Restaurant)
 
1/4 cup celery, chopped
Handful fresh parsley
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 small green pepper, chopped
6 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. salt
 
3/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup water
6 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
 
Blend first eight ingredients at high speed. Reserve.
 
Whisk tahini to smooth. Add oil in slow stream until well combined. (Or use hand or standing mixer with whisk attachment.)
 
Add water, whisking until light in color. Add soy sauce or tamari and whisk until smooth.
 
Whisk in lemon-vegetable mixture. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
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Timely wimey, wibbily wobbily stuff: Pan-fried oysters

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 Oral traditions and memories have been passed down for thousands of years using music. With rhymes, rhythms, and alliteration, music retrieves information from the past. A particular piece of music can transport us back to another time and place—a virtual time machine in our brain. A soundtrack often accompanies important events in our lives, something playing on the radio, at a live concert, or in a restaurant attaches itself to a fond (or maybe not so fond) memory, and hearing this music again brings along the smells, tastes and emotions of the time.

Here are a few of my trips in the go-back machine.

Seattle, Washington—Rhythm is a Dancer

December, 1992—learning to be a cube rat instead of a kitchen slave. Sweetie and I live on Vashon Island, so my commute to Seafirst Bank in downtown Seattle takes an hour and a half each way and includes my car, a Metro bus, a ferry, another bus, and my feet. If I sneak out of work ten minutes early, I can be home at 6:00 instead of 7:00. 

Run three blocks down Cherry, wait for the 118 on 2nd Avenue, hop on the bus and look for an empty seat, tune my Walkman to 103.7 FM-The Mountain, and watch the city go by: the Bon’s Christmas windows on Fifth Avenue, Ruby Montana’s Pinto Pony, down-and-outs sleeping on concrete benches in Pioneer Square, companionable cursing if there is an event at the Kingdome, the stunning view as we round the curve on the West Seattle Bridge, brick homes along Fauntleroy lit up and twinkling, the rush of smug happiness knowing I won’t be stuck in the long line of cars waiting for the boat, trudge down the dock curled up against the cold rain, back on the bus, close to home now. 

Always, always hear Rhythm is a Dancer at least once—didn’t like it then and whenever I hear it now, I feel cold and tired.

Los Angeles, California—Fast Car

August, 1988—Six months after my chicken stock accident, I’m back at City Restaurant in the office instead of the kitchen. Although my official title is Catering Manager, in reality I am the girls’ assistant and gofer. I keep track of their calendars, look over the chapters of their first cookbook before they go to the editor, test recipes in the kitchen, and oh, by the way—would you pick up Susan’s laundry, take my car to the lube shop, walk Stella, and drag Mary Sue’s new rescue puppy to the vet for her shots?

It is noonish, mid-summer, hot as can be, cassette of Tracy Chapman’s wildly popular “Fast Car” turned up as loud as it will go, puppy in the back seat of the car whining, moping, barking, and burrowing under the driver’s seat as far as she can go. The puppy is one of a litter dropped off on the side of the 10 without even being leash trained and is a dog walker’s nightmare. 

92°, stuck in LA traffic, no air conditioning, roll the windows down only to have Pup attempt an escape and get stuck up to her armpits. Manage to extract her from the window using my front seat, railroad-crossing, Mom arm, only to have moron dog throw up over the front seat and down my back. The smell, the heat, the urge to drop puppy back off on the side of the 10 all come back every time I hear that perfectly lovely song.

Knoxville, Tennessee—Ashokan Farewell

May, 2012—my granddaughter Katie’s high-school graduation. Her pep club takes up two rows in the auditorium and includes one mom, one dad, two siblings, three grandfathers, three grandmothers, plus cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. We are the kid’s table of the ceremony—where the giggling, poking, snickering, eye-rolling, baby crying, and whispering take place. You know…the row that gets the glares and shushes.

It’s early summer Tennessee, in a hot, stuffy auditorium, near the end of a lengthy commencement program (which included impractical advise, windy speeches, a long graduate roll call with only one name of interest, and amateurish musical performances) when the speaker introduces a string duo who will finish the ceremony. The young violinist tucks her chin, lifts her bow and begins to play a haunting piece that Lauren identifies as Ashokan Farewell, which we all hope will never end. Babies stop crying, chattering ceases, and mouths drop open as the ageless refrain fills the air. The cellist joins in for the second verse and our family spontaneously holds hands, happy to be together, watching one of our own succeed. 

Ashokan Farewell is on my morning playlist so every day begins with a rerun of that time, holding hands with those people. 

Vashon Island, Washington—Blackbird

October, 1976—The summer of love is long gone and the hippies have migrated north to Vashon Island—many of them working at Sound Food. There is music on Friday nights, featuring local talent, some good, some bad—all playing to enthusiastic audiences and competing with noisy toddlers, crying babies, and the clatter of dishes and silverware.

The 7:00 dinner rush is over and I’m leaning against the reach-in with the smokers, moving out of the way to let waitron units get to the side salads and desserts. I don’t usually take a break, but tonight the Sweetie is here for our “second date.” Jan announced his arrival when she placed his order for pan-fried oysters, “He is soooo handsome.” I leave the leaners and smokers and join him in his booth along the side of the restaurant.

 Rick Tuell adjusts the microphone, sits down on a stool in the middle of room, the lights dim, he takes his guitar out of its case, and plays Paul McCartney’s Blackbird, singing along softly, almost to himself. I’m not sure which is more beautiful—those introductory chord changes or the sweet lyrics, but all of it—Jan, Bob, the oysters, the stool—comes back in full thrall every time I hear that song. 

Pan-fried oysters 

  • Extra small fresh oysters
  • Egg wash (equal parts egg & water)
  • Flour, seasoned with salt & white pepper
  • Breading: 1 part dry bread crumbs or “Panko”, 1⁄4 part parmesan cheese, 1/8 part parsley
  • Salad oil for frying

Dust oysters in seasoned flour, then in egg wash, then breading. Heat oil, cook oysters to golden brown about 2 minutes per side. Serve with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and/or lemon. 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Restaurants | 4 Comments

San Diego: Surf, Sand, Sunsets—Lara’s Broccoli Ramen Salad

If you receive this post via an email from Marla in the Kitchen, to watch the attached video, click on the post title and you’ll be redirected to the blog’s WordPress website.

Establishing a routine brings order to life on the road. The hotel is on a seven day schedule, the Sweetie always works, the mailman doesn’t come, the Tuesday/Friday garbage truck ruckus is absent, and I don’t go to church, so I have to look at USA Today to see what day it is. There is no wall clock in the room so I count on the wigglies to tell me what time it is: at 6:00, they’re still, at 8:00 Easter Bunny wags tentatively, at 9:00 Koala Tourist joins in, Dancing Angel isn’t far behind, Yellow Duckie stirs, by 10:00 the rest of the tribe quivers with anticipation, and when the sun hits the window at noon, they are all clacking with gusto. Strongman is on strike and Pink Flamingo refuses to play—they must miss South Beach. Yes, I have too much time on my hands.

Up at 5:00, read the news, tidy up, check email, do the crossword—it’s now 6:00. Pool doesn’t open until 8:00. Found a good radio station—news until 9:00, jazz after that, Terry Gross, a new podcast, S-Town that my sister told me about, All Things Considered, work on my quilt, read a few books, forage for dinner at the nearest shopping center, then Sweetie comes home. He takes a quick soak in the hot tub, eats a few bites, chats a few chats, then slides into bed until his alarming 3:00 am wake up call. I know, I know, it’s not fair, but it’s the hand I’ve been dealt. I do have to listen to loud techno-pop music blaring from outdoor speakers when I swim, though.

Visiting San Diego is to be on the outside looking in. Real estate has gotten so expensive that I couldn’t find a single house on Zillow in our old Mission Hills neighborhood available for under $900,000—condos from the upper $400,000s. Beautiful blue skies, sandy beaches, greener than green golf courses, outdoor pools, closest bus stop to the hotel is a 28 minute walk, very few bike lanes—got to wonder where the pool men, cooks, daycare workers and dog washers live and how they get here. 

The view out our window. (I’ve cropped out that annoying freeway part.)

Anyways, I am lucky to be on the 10th floor of a fancy hotel, swimming in the pool, sipping coffee in the “Concierge Lounge”, working on my tan, and merging on the freeway every time I leave the hotel parking lot. I could even go to Mexico.

I hunted and gathered a Crunchy Asian Chicken Salad from TJs last night, Lara’s is better. This has become my go-to dinner salad. Add chicken, shredded cabbage, zucchini, or beets, cauliflower, cooked rice or other grains, craisins, sesame seeds, tofu, bean sprouts, edamame beans or peas, mango, avocado, maybe even whisk in a little peanut butter and soy sauce into the dressing. Top with peanuts, croutons, tomatoes. Or not. 

P.S. Sweetie’s project got an early out and we’re headed home today, the long way. 

Lara’s broccoli ramen salad

  • 1 package beef-flavored ramen
  • 2 Tbsps butter
  • 1 package broccoli slaw
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds 
  • 3 finely chopped green onions

Dressing

  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar 
  • 1/2 cup salad oil
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • Packet of beef seasoning from ramen package
Crush ramen noodles to loosen. Melt butter in skillet until foamy, sauté noodles and almonds over medium heat, stirring occasionally until browned.
 
Whisk dressing ingredients together in a bowl. Place the broccoli slaw into bowl and toss with the noodles, almonds, and sunflower seeds. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat. Garnish with chopped green onions.
  
 
Posted in Family and friends, Travel | 3 Comments

California Water Wars, Part II: Broccoli and tofu with noodles

Judy Nelson was a seventeen-year old blonde with a ponytail and perfect bangs who wore cashmere sweater sets. She was a cheerleader and homecoming queen, plus her Uncle Tick owned our town’s only teenage hangout. She wasn’t really a mean girl, but she existed far above me, in the upper social realm of my small-town Nebraska high school. So, of course it was Judy Nelson who, in 1960, achieved our senior class’s collective dream and moved to Southern California: Hollywood, Disneyland, Sandra Dee, Tab Hunter, warm beaches, convertibles, high schools with swimming pools, and Gidget. 

We didn’t know then that there are two radically different cultures in California. There’s the Hollywood version found along the western corridor with spectacular coastal scenery, affluent residents, ideal weather, liberal values, and green consciousness. There’s San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego with homes priced from $600,000 to $60,000,000 and incomes that allow for angst about whether or not it is ethical to consume foie gras.

Then there’s California’s dusty interior from northern Central Valley to the southern desert. In hot Central California there’s Stockton, Lodi, Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield where a Santa Monica-style bungalow can be had for $100,000, where well-paying jobs are scarce and where concerns focus on high unemployment and on how to incorporate the immigrant labor force necessary to grow more than half of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

The two Californias disagree on how best to use the Sacramento River. As soon as you leave Sacramento and drive into the arch-conservative, Trump-country, San Joaquin Valley, the signs appear with regularity: “Congress created dust bowl”, “Dams vs. trains”, “Farmers use water too”, “Is growing food wasting water?”, “blame Pelosi for the drought.” Emotions run high and hot but the logic isn’t always clear.

 

Studies published in 2015 showed the general public what the farmers had known all along: growing food takes water, lots of it. While the chart below is a real eye-opener, the numbers don’t reflect the fact that California’s agriculture is a $46 billion dollar industry that provides 450,000 jobs. There’s never an easy answer.

So prepare this recipe for broccoli and tofu over noodles, pour yourself a glass of beer, take a two-minute Navy shower and get over your craving for chocolate.

BTW, last week we drove south on I-5 through the San Joaquin Valley so Sweetie could start work on a project in San Diego. Once we got to Lebec and the Tehachapi Mountain foothills of the Grapevine, the signs disappeared: Pyramid Lake was full, the hills were bright green, the wildflowers were blooming and Los Angeles was but a water balloon away.

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Broccoli and tofu in Thai peanut sauce with noodles

Peanut Sauce:

  • 1 c. soy sauce
  • 1⁄4 c. balsamic vinegar 
  • 1⁄4 c. molasses
  • 1⁄4 c. brown sugar 
  • 1 c. sesame oil 
  • 1 T. hot chili oil 
  • 1⁄2 c. Tahini
  • 1⁄2 c. peanut butter
  • 1 T. kosher salt 
  • 1⁄4 c. lime or lemon juice
  • 1 bunch finely sliced green onions

Blend soy sauce, molasses, brown sugar, chili oil, sesame oil, Tahini, peanut butter, green onions and salt. Add lime or lemon juice while mixture is blending. 

China Moon’s hot chili oil: 

Bring 1 cup peanut oil to smoke point, add 1/4 c. crushed red chili flakes.  Let steep until cool. Strain and reserve.

Broccoli and tofu with noodles: 

Sauté garlic, ginger, sliced green onion and tofu in hot oil. Add blanched broccoli. Add noodles and some peanut sauce to pan. Bring back to heat. Sprinkle with cashews roasted in small amount of chili oil. 

Serve with Japanese cucumber salad and Chinese 5 Star beer.

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

Keep Tacoma feared: Torchy’s Queso

If you are a subscriber and receive this blog via an email from Marla in the Kitchen, to listen to Neko Case sing about her hometown Tacoma, click on the post title and you’ll be directed to the blog’s website.

Google Tacoma and you will get more links to pickup trucks than to the “City of Destiny.” If you Google “should I move to tacoma”, you won’t find many Facebook-worthy vacation stories, get ready instead for “crime-choked”, “a branding problem” and “a place no one would choose.” Tacoma has long been called “the Armpit of Puget Sound” (“a block of Velveeta in every refrigerator”) by its neighbors to the North and South. 

People driving from sophisticated Seattle to quirky Portland, stuck in the Fife/Tacoma Dome/JBLM traffic, become intimately familiar with each Tacoma roadside attraction: car lots, RV dealerships, the psychedelic Emerald Queen Casino digital billboard, $1 Chinese food near the army base and the infamous (let’s get out before the shooting starts) Tacoma Mall. But if travelers would just bail and exit the I-5, they could see the Lemay Car Museum, the Tacoma Glass Museum, the Chihuly Glass Bridge, the Washington State History Museum, the Port of Tacoma, the Theatre District and the Stadium District.

Tacoma Glass Museum and Chihuly Glass Bridge

Port of Tacoma

Stadium District—the elegant and the authentic

Stadium High School

W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory 

 

St. Patrick’s Church

Presbyterian Church

The Ansonia Condominiums

Trickey’s Pop Culture Emporium

Rankos

Ball Auto 

Tacoma was once home to the ASARCO Smelter and still tolerates Simpson’s paper mill, both companies responsible for “The Aroma of Tacoma.” (Bruce Springsteen was said to have left town early during a concert stop, due to the overwhelming odor). In 1972, studies found that on Vashon Island, a ten minute ferry ride from ASARCO, the arsenic level in children’s urine was 15 times higher than what was considered safe. Each spring, county health officials advised island gardeners to plant only root vegetables and to avoid growing anything above ground. In 1986 after 100 years of operation, ASARCO was permanently closed and the decades-long project to remove toxic waste and soil from the surrounding area began.

Now, whether The Aroma’s upgrade from toxic stench to occasional unpleasant odor softened the general opinion of Tacoma or whether it’s due to the fact that Seattle and Portland are too full, too expensive, and just too keen on themselves. Grit City, with its urban living and affordable rent, is becoming a cool kid. When we moved here in 2006, neighborhood dining options were limited to a bad Mexican restaurant and The Harvester, known for its patty melt. Opened in the last three years and within walking distance, are Indo (Southeast Asian street food), Shake, Shake, Shake (top notch burgers and fries), the Art House Cafe (always order the breakfast pizza), The Copper Door (16 craft beers on tap), and the Rhein Haus (lines so long we can’t get in). 

To balance the new and spiff with the old and worn, there are the classics: the Parkway Tavern (opened in 1935), Doyle’s Irish pub (get your soccer on here), the Red Hot (great dogs and suds in a divey bar), the Frisko Freeze (1950s drive-thru burgers), Dorky’s Arcade (beer and pinball in the Theater District) and much, much more.

6th Avenue neighborhood businesses

 

 Downtown sidewalk stencil

Tacoma has a vibrant, flourishing street art community. The Tacoma Murals Project, a collaboration between local artists and community service groups, is responsible for bringing 27 murals into the city’s urban landscape.

 

 

Anyways it took a while, but when someone asks me where I’m from, I no longer say “near Seattle.” I’m proud to nestle here in the armpit, on Commencement Bay, among beautiful old houses, near Hilltop, in urban-living-with-affordable-rent, scrappy Tacoma; but now I’m afraid that the secret will get out—as Neko Case sang, “Hope they don’t find you, Tacoma.” 

Now if they would just do something about the potholes.

So, here’s what we do with our block of Velveeta.

Torchy’s Queso

  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 diced jalapeño
  • 2 tsp. Lawry’s Taco seasoning
  • 16 oz. Velveeta
  • 10 oz. can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chili
  • 1/2 teaspoon bottled chipotle sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 oz. grated Cotije cheese 

Brown hamburger, half of the raw diced onion, and the diced jalapeños in a skillet. Add taco seasoning. 

Cut Velveeta into chunks and place in heavy-bottomed pot on low heat. Add remainder of raw onion and can of Rotel tomatoes and chili.
 
Melt Velveeta slowly, then add hamburger/onion/jalapeño mixture, and chipotle sauce. Thin with milk or cream if you want the Queso thinner. Once Velveeta is completely melted, add chopped cilantro. Garnish with crumbled Cotije.
Posted in Family and friends, Rants and Raves | Tagged , , | 1 Comment