Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Chrildren Involved

There is a certain poetry to an awkward translation.  Especially if you imagine it said by a strapping, dark wavy haired, suntanned and oiled señor.  With a dimple in his chin.  I am researching the country of Chile, preparing myself for a mid-winter escape to warm beaches and cold beer.  Finding information on the country, not the bean dish, leads me to many websites in Spanish.  But, tadah, the wonderful web provides a translation.  Language translation on the web is really a miracle of some sort.  It allows so much more information, translated from a native tongue, so one hopes maybe a little more honest.  But also with awkward cadence, misarranged sentences and some pretty shocking translations. 

Take for example a little exploration into Chilean cuisine.  I’m preparing myself to order off a menu intelligently (and to avoid something similar to our ill fated “gristled ear” adventure in Spain).  From what I can see we will have marvelous dining on seafood pies, pork boiled in pig leather and drunken chicken.  I was however leery of the “Children Involved” listed in the beef category.  Bouncing back to the Spanish, Ninos Envueltos must be related to the meat stuffed rolls I’ve made in cooking classes in Sicily and Italy.  From what I recall the name comes from the word “envelope” for the pocket that is made for the herbs and breadcrumbs inside.  But in this case an envelope becomes “involved” and what is probably a veal cutlet becomes child.  In the actual recipe it gets further from the truth, calling for “12 scallops seat small” which I assume are small escallops of veal, not scallops of the sea.  The list of ingredients looks wonderful (chard leaves, white wine, garlic, bay leaf, cumin, vinegar and bacon).  All is pretty understandable and lovely until the last direction.  Quite frankly you are to: “Serve two children wrapped with their sauce per person, accompanied with a good creamy mashed potatoes (sic).”

The lilted, stumbling sentences manage to portray a romantic image of beaches, sunsets, harbors and birds.  Even mention of trash on the beach is not so bad.  I give you this:  “The sector of the Vatican is, after a beautiful pine forest, Los Pescadores beach. Ask for the name is something more: five beautifully painted boats rest on the shores of a small bay surrounded by rocks. There is a route that follows here northward and, using rocks, arrives at the famous Punta Lacho, listed as the best viewpoint on the Central Coast for having panoramic from Isla Negra to Cartagena. However there are some problems: the memories of the human presence who forget to bring their trash.”

It all sounds so peaceful (minus the trash) and the elusive romantic in me stirs as I envision the heat, the Malbec wines, walks on the beach, shots in a local bar.  Someone that my “powerful air” won’t scare away.  His name may be Don Nicanor.  Finally: “ Las Cruces is seaside resort all year round. Autumn rains, fog or sudden sunny give you a powerful air. Winter is in full solitude and spring with migratory birds, announces that the heat is about to return. If walking around here, hopefully he greets don Nicanor.  Meanwhile, the song of the sea never stops.” (Chile.com)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Cascadia Class and Market Tour

Note: this review of a market tour/cooking class was originally written in 2008 or 2009 but I just found it in draft form in the blogspot and decided to go ahead and post it though I believe the experience is no longer available.  But it was a wonderful time and I believe the write up captures the experience nicely and accurately.  Enjoy!)

It’s 11 AM, Saturday morning, peak of tourist season at a very crowded Pike Place Market. It’s swarming with people despite the fact that it is actually cool, jacket weather in July. Finally a break from stifling hot weather that has had folks planted in inertia due to the sweaty heat. Our instructions are to meet our chef at “the pig,” the larger than life size brass pig near the fish tossing merchants. This crowded spot is a favorite photo op for out of towners and little children. Being close to the fish launching spectacle (which later our chef will mention is food abuse: the tossing of fresh fish meat bruises the delicate meat) we are jostled and plowed over as people try to make their way to watch the famous Seattle sight. I am standing with my two dear friends: Judy my foody and travel friend, and Kris, our friend out visiting from Chicago. Judy and I met Kris on an olive oil tour and cooking session in Tuscany a few years back.

The “our chef” I refer to is Kerry Sear, Executive Chef and co owner (with his wife Heidi Grathwol) of Belltown’s impressive Cascadia restaurant. In honor of our cooking class mini-reunion, Judy has found this market tour/cooking lesson with Chef Sear, and though it didn’t quite measure up to the Tuscan experience, in terms of European flavor, it turned out to be every bit as informative, tasty, entertaining and fun as the classes in Italy.

Chef Sear, accompanied by his young soft spoken assistant/sous chef, James, whom Chef Sear affectionately refers to as “Jim-Bo”, ferrets his class of 11 (almost a full class: they are capped at an attendance of 12) out of the crowd. Chef Sear has arrived in his culinary whites which makes him easier to find, though he matches the picture on his website so we know we are hooking up with the right chef. Along with the three of us there are three couples and two other women. Between us we represent an array of culinary experience ranging from those who appear to know nothing more than the fact that they like to eat good food to those who can “one-up” the chef in foody knowledge. It is a nice group and the camaraderie only grows after the fine wine sampling that will take place at the restaurant later (more on that to come).

We will start with an hour or so working our way north through the market (mostly we stick to the shops to the east of the internal roadway as inside the market stalls it is way too crowded to make our way through or hear). It is apparent that Chef Sear knows most of the market vendors as they allow him to take apart a variety of produce as he talks about what to look for and how to use them. James stands by with a knife to cut into the produce and napkins for cleaning our hands up after digging in. He also has the cash to purchase some of the goods that will become part of the food prepared in class and gets to carry said purchases back to the restaurant. I wonder if he hires out!

Surrounded by an aromatic cloud of fresh dill that makes my mouth water, we learn about fresh fava beans and tomatilos. Some of the crowd passing by stops to catch an earful of this knowledgeable chef before we move on. We duck into Fero’s Meat Market and learn all about hanging beef (the necessity to have beef hanging to properly age and why it is so much more expensive, but worth the cost), free range chicken and cooking goat. The butcher tells us that though goat is gaining in popularity he doesn’t sell much as the largest market for goat meat is still to the middle-easterners and since his market also sales pork products that market is more apt to buy from a “clean” butcher.

We round the corner to a small specialty cheese counter, Quality Cheese. There he buys a small portion of Sally Jackson goat cheese which we get to sample. The cheese is rustically wrapped in chestnut leaves and is just between solid and liquid. It is so yummy we all proclaim our intent to return to buy some on our way back after the class (little do we know how our after meal fullness will work against any intentions to stock up, even on market goods).

From here we go back on the street and sample a variety of fruits from a sidewalk vendor, Frank’s Quality Produce. The Sharlin melon is the most wonderful melon I have ever had the opportunity to taste. James shells out some money for a small sack of lychee fruits which we peel and consume on the spot. This brings back wonderful memories of my childhood when my father’s graduate students would serve a dessert of canned lychees, a perfect ending to exotic foreign meals. Chef Shears suggests that these unique fruits can be peeled and frozen then plopped into a well shaken martini for a special touch. Our eyebrows collectively raise. Something about the suggestion of well blended martinis on a hot summer afternoon peaks our interest. Our adventure is filled with these kinds of tasty tips to be filed away for future use.

We duck inside to the only interior market stall we will stop at, Sosio’s Produce. Here we are told about special mushrooms (at nearly $40 per pound they are special indeed) and heirloom tomatoes. We are given a taste of nectarines that are nothing short of perfect. Perfect in texture, smell, flavor. I melt on the spot.

Heading back out into the market road we stop by the organic stand where Chef Sear shows us all about potatoes. Cutting into the small purple Peruvian potatoes, we learn about cooking purple potato salad, which kids adore, roasting fingerling options and yellow Yukons perfect for mashing. It’s a quick refresher course on selecting the perfect potato for a dish. James shells out cash for a large bunch of squash greens and lovely purple and green colored Chinese spinach which will be prepared for our meal.

Though there is obviously so much more that the chef could teach us at the market, time is running short and so we head east, up to First Avenue and walk north the three blocks or so to Cascadia Restaurant. This is my first trip into this Mecca of fine dining. The chef has obviously called ahead to let the crew know that the class will arrive soon as the final glasses of a most beautiful rosé colored sparking wine are being poured as we come through the door.

I would note that a restaurant always looks beautiful through rosé colored glasses. And being the focus of an attentive staff’s attention usually makes for a wonderful experience. The wine is a delicately mauve colored Brut rosé “Rosé d’Or” by R. Stuart & Co. (Oregon), smooth and just the right subtle sweetness. The bubbles are long lasting and festive. The fact that we have the open and spacious restaurant to our small party of 11 and beautifully appointed tables by the window only seals the first impression that we are in for a glorious experience. We are not let down.

With champagne glass in hand we are allowed to make ourselves at home to soak up the ambiance of the restaurant while finishing touches on our kitchen seating assignments are put in place. The four intimately set tables for three are perched in the sunshine which filters through the large front windows. As Belltown activity goes by on the sidewalk, our focus is on the breathtaking fused glass charger plates at our places. We remark that it is unfortunate that none of our purses are large enough to abscond with a plate. The colors of these plates are as tasty as any dish that could possibly be served on them. Beyond pastel, the blues and greens and yellows sigh in anticipation of the feast to come.

When I can pull my eyes away from the table and my lips from the glass of bubbly I look around the dining room. This place is the perfect balance of space and intimacy. Ceilings over two stories high counter the fact that this is an intimate venue. A large, old fashioned bar runs along the north end of the dining room and one can imagine the echoes of clinking ice and friendly bar banter from the evening before. At the east end of the bar, a wall of wine bottles with interesting labels (some lightly dusty) stretches the full height of the room, a library stack ladder on a track provides access for those hard to reach. A water wall/petition/sculpture separates the dining room from the kitchen and provides an added element of tranquility to the setting and hints at the marriage of fire and water taking place in the kitchen just feet away. The dining room is simply but elegantly decorated with small orchid plantings tucked into wall recesses and sophisticated wall sconces.

After a very short respite in the dining room where we wind down from the bustle of the market with our bubbly, we are led into the kitchen. A long counter with stools is set up for us along the west edge. The large open kitchen is abuzz with prep chefs and things simmering. We each have tasting plates, water, flatware and napkins at our seats along side a prep counter. Our champagne glasses are quickly refilled as soon as we sit down. In front of our places are intriguing sculptures of triangular crisps (I learn that these are toasted wedge cut tortillas brushed with black olive tapenade) perched on a generous dollop of white bean pure drizzled with chipotle oil. I am so angry with myself that my digital camera is lying uselessly uncharged in my purse: this is picture perfect.

Our fist lesson is in salt. Chef Sear passes around three small dishes of sea salt: one plain, one citrus seasoned, one seasoned with a smoky chili. We put small samples on our plates though we will not need them as everything we will try here is seasoned perfectly. When we learn that the container of salt that the chef holds up costs $85 our attention is drawn to a gentleman in the class who has helped himself to very generous piles of the sea treasure on his plate. We laugh heartily when his wife remarks that he has been put on a no salt diet at home and understand his desire to overindulge at this place. He is warmly reminded of this throughout the lesson.

We learn about the flavored grape seed oils crafted on site that are a staple to the kitchen: citrus oil, lobster oil, garlic and chili oils, among others. There is a bright pink concoction in one of the bottles that catches my eye for the beautiful color. Turns out is not an oil but a watermelon reduction that is used in pork dishes and others.

Chef Sear begins our appetizer lesson: small crisp pizzas made on thin pastry rounds, topped with a thin coat of cumin and coriander flavored Greek yoghurt, slivers of sweet onion and chiffonade of proscutto. There is one in our group who has a dairy allergy and the chef takes care to accommodate his needs with a non-dairy variation of each dish for him.

Next, Chef Sear pulls out a lovely cut of fresh tuna, removes the silverskin, and coats it in a fresh roasted grind of spices (anise, fennel seeds, peppercorns, chili powder and others). These are seared while he takes the squash greens that were purchased at the market and quickly wilts these and then coats with a generous portion of butter. We decide that squash greens must be an acquired taste as they are a bit too organic for our palates. One in our group is disappointed that these aren’t just wonderful as she has a garden full of squash greens that she had new hopes for. Ah well: nothing ventured: nothing gained. The ahi is served to us: it is magnificent. Pulled off the heat at the right moment, it is thick and dark in the middle, and creates a small yummy adventure as we bite through the crunchy spiced outer layer into the rich soft meat inside. This is definitely a dish I will recreate at home. The only downside to this experience is that there are no printed recipes though we understand that these dishes are created on the fly by a chef who is whipping out dishes from his creative head based on his feel of the crowd and the produce we have found at the market. A notepad and pen to write these ideas down is the only thing I find want of in this otherwise all encompassing service. In some ways, though, it is nice to relax and not be too focused on trying to get it all down. The “education” is more perfectly absorbed through all senses, sight, smell, sound and bubbly without trying to get it scientifically down.

Small baskets of crisply fried, lightly salted lotus root and tarot root slices are passed as Chef Kerry shows us the whole raw root. Who would have thought such tasty delicate treats could come from such homely roots?

Lastly, the beautiful Chinese spinach is quick sautéed and tossed with sesame oil, soy sauce and garlic oil. It maintains its beautiful green and purple hue and is also delicious (forgive me if I repeat the word “delicious” too many times in one story. It is the best word for so many things devoured here.) Our kitchen lesson has concluded and we are dismissed to the dining room where we have a very short wait until our lunch is served.

In the dining room we are very well attended to by Mathew, a shining representative of the restaurant’s wait staff. We are served a 2005 Malagousia (white) by Domaine Gerovassiliou from Epanomi in the Thessaloniki region of Greece. I am not a huge fan of white wine but the others at the table found it good. I opt to save my wine calories for the other courses: since it is before 2:00 PM I am pacing myself. I am also leery of Greek wine. (The worst thing from a bottle I have ever swallowed was a Greek Champagne on New Year’s Eve in Athens several years ago. I believe turpentine would have been more digestible). We are served a small salad of beautiful heirloom tomatoes and marinated Greek feta cheese with roast onion dressing. It tastes as marvelous as it looks.

This is followed by a generous entrée of grilled mahi mahi on a bed of fresh baby greens. Flavors are wonderful though I am afraid to say I have forgotten what they were. Perhaps I was distracted by the lovely glass of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (R. Stuart & Co. ‘Autograph’, 2004). Beautiful slices of sautéed golden beets perked up the plate color. Try as I might I could not get over my aversion to beets: if any ever looked good enough to eat these did. Alas, they still tasted like dirt to my unenthusiastic beet palate. But Judy, who is a beet fan, declared them yummy. Kris feels the same way about beets as I: we did give them the old college try.

The finishing phase of our dining experience was a beautifully presented individual organic blueberry tart (this restaurant focuses on organic produce) with a lemon balm syrup. This was paired perfectly with a 2004 Muscat (2004 Chapoutier ‘Muscat de Rivesaltes’) from the Rhone region. Mathew was very knowledgeable on the preparations and ingredients of all dishes as well as the wines. And cheerfully served us a fine cup of coffee to wake us up after our very relaxed, almost surreal, food experience. Chef Sear came out frequently during our meal to check on our experience and answer any questions we had about what we were consuming. He also sheepishly took credit for the nice watercolor paintings/sketches in the ladies toilet. This is a man of many talents but self understated. He answered the question of what he would have been if he hadn’t pursued a career as a chef. “Graphic artist” was his answer. This probably helps explain the well thought out ambiance that permeates his restaurant.

While the cost was towards the upper end for cooking classes in this region (almost $95 per person, including tax and service), in reality it was a bargain. Most cooking classes don’t come with a market tour and introduction to some of the best vendors in the market. None that I know of come with four bountiful wine pairings, so many appetizers and a full size three course lunch served. Chef Sear seemed as delighted to share his knowledge and kitchen craft with the group as the group was to be shared with. The dining room ambiance was more abundant than you will get with most cooking classes and the service from everyone involved was what I wish all restaurants had to offer. This is an experience not to be missed. To find out more about classes as well as the menu and more see www.cascadiarestaurant.com. Information on the market can be found at www.pikeplacemarket.org.

Everything That Lives is Holy

These are the things that call
Me to and through and in
What is true
Not what was true
Nor what will be true
I filled my bowl with tears
Then broke it
And all that was sorrow ran out
The emptiness became a space
To fill anew
Careful of what I put inside
Aware now of the damage
But empty for the filling
None the less

I watched from the outside
Looking up into the window where
The drapes were pulled back
And I saw into what looked like my soul
It made me sick
To see how sick it had made me
How hard it was to be inside
Looking out through the dirty window
And how much time I stood at the window
Looking in
I met my eyes through the glass
And said “everything that lives is Holy.”
And inside I awoke

2008...lost in blog editing/draft land until now...(“Everything that lives is holy” is something William Blake wrote and was the inspiration for this piece.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Roasting a Perfect Chicken: Check!

I have had some interesting meals in my life.  But when I think about my best food experiences, a really good roast chicken comes to the top.  A traditional birthday treat is La Medusa, a small Sicilian restaurant in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle, with Judy and Steve.  This small eatery is consistently outstanding.  We go to their market meal sometime in the summer where they create masterpieces with what is fresh in the neighboring farmer’s market.  It was there I had the most wonderful restaurant dinner I ever enjoyed: a roasted chicken.  Only topped by my friend Melinda’s roasted chicken.  She is a chef officially and naturally.  In the wonderful, wet Seattle winter (I can say wet is wonderful after my hard time in the Middle East) I was thinking that a roasted chicken is what I really wanted to learn how to make.  So, after a call to Melinda, I set out to learn how to roast one that I would be proud to serve.  Or to enjoy by myself.  Melinda shared with me her approach.  I did a little extra research on the internet and took it on.  After four (all delicious) birds I feel ready to (over)share what I learned.  Here is all the advice (maybe too much?) you need to roast a delicious chicken. 

What you need:

  • A 5 to 7 pound chicken (my advice: spend the extra money to buy an organic free range bird.  Too small and it doesn’t have the juice and fat you need and cooks too fast to really roast in the flavor.  Mass produced hormone fed two for the price of one F-ing Farm birds too fatty and injected with juice…well, it just doesn’t feel right to put this much love into).  Accounting for the bones and other unplatable parts you get about one serving per pound of raw, whole chicken.
  • Two yellow onions
  • Two big fat carrots
  • Four stalks of celery
  • ¼ cup ( ½  cube) butter
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ - ½ cup chopped fresh herbs (I use Italian parsley and fresh thyme and rosemary from the garden)
  • Salt (be generous) and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced (optional)

What you do:

Preheat oven to 450-degrees.  Put the rack low in the oven (the bird will be pretty high).

Peel the two onions and cut each in half.  Lay the four halves in the middle of a deep sided baking pan.  Cut the carrots in half lengthwise and layout across the top of the onions.  Criss cross the celery stalks on top of the carrots making a vegetable “raft” on which you will eventually lay the chicken.

(note, this photo illustrates the raft.  It is the first chicken I tried.  This is where I learned don't bother with a scrawny bird.  This was only 2.5 lbs and, though yummy, way too small to make a good roast chicken)

Wash and pat dry the chicken. 

Melt the butter. 

Mix with chopped herbs, olive oil, a big pinch of salt and some ground pepper.  Add the lemon juice and zest if desired.

With your hand, chicken breast side up, separate the skin from the breast meat.  Generously rub about half the herbed butter/oil mixture under the skin.  This should be a very tactile experience.  No weenies allowed.  Clip off the tips of the wings and insert into the vegetable raft.  If the chicken came with a neck stick that in the raft too.  Ditch any giblets.  Who eats those anyway?  With cooking twine, truss the legs and the “pope’s nose” together tightly then tie the wings tightly to the body.  Rub the rest of the butter/oil/herbs over the rest of the outside of the chicken.  Lay the bird on top of the vegetable raft.

Put the bird in the hot oven and turn the heat down to 350 degrees.  Set the timer for 20 minutes per pound for the bird (set the timer for two hours for a six pound chicken).  Soon you will realize you are salivating…the house starts to smell amazing!  Resist the temptation to peek.  When the timer goes off take the bird’s temperature in two places: the middle of the breast, and, more importantly, at the fattest part of the thigh.  You are aiming for an internal temperature of 160-170 degrees.  It continues to heat before it cools down so don’t worry about the thermometer saying it needs to be 175.  Even if the top is a nice brown do not be tempted to take out sooner.  You may need to go for up to another thirty minutes.  Take the chicken out BUT (this is the most important part) do not cut into the chicken for at least 15 minutes).  If you are going to want to make gravy, while the chicken is cooling remove it from the roaster and put it on a high sided platter.  I’ll explain the gravy part later.  You can leave the chicken at this point for a good deal of time.  It will stay juicy.

Gravy and Chicken Stock:

While you now have a wonderful roasted chicken, you have the opportunity to make a wonderful chicken stock and some incredibly delicious gravy.  Here’s what I do:  Put a big pot filled half way with cold water on the back burner.  When you’ve put the chicken on the platter to cool remove the vegetables from the raft and throw them in the pot with the water (if you’ve got a steamer/straining basket have it in the pot with the water.  It makes draining the broth later easier).  There will be lots of juices in the roasting pan.  Pour them into a small bowl and stick this in the refrigerator to separate. 

There will be some wonderful brown bits in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Scrape these into a small saucepan.  After the chicken has cooled for at least 15 minutes move it to a cutting board.  There will be lots of good juices on the platter.  Pour these juices into another small bowl and stick it into the refrigerator.  In another fifteen minutes to a half hour take your two small bowls of juices from the fridge.  The first bowl will have a thick layer of rendered fat on the top.  With a spoon scrape these fats into the sink.  What’s left is a gelatinous layer of thick brown gravy makings.  Put that into the small saucepan with the brown bits.  The second bowl will mostly be thick gelatinous gravy makings and a thin layer of fat.  If you want, separate that out but if it’s a small amount don’t worry.  Toss it into the gravy sauce pan.  Turn the burner onto medium.  While it’s heating up, in a small bottle shake together about ¼ cup COLD milk and a generous tablespoon of white flower.  When the gelatinous juices have melted and are near boil add the milk/flour mix and a good pinch of salt.  Whisk briskly as it comes to a boil and thickens up.  Taste it.  Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  There’s your gravy! 

When you carve the bird, throw the unusable back part into the big pot for the chicken broth.  After people have enjoyed the chicken take any bones from their plates and throw them in the broth pot too.  Simmer that broth until it is reduced to about a third.  Pour it through a colander and discard the vegetables and bones.  Some of the herbs will stay behind.  That’s all good.  Return to the pot and simmer until about an hour before you have to give up and go to bed.  Just before you retire move the reduced broth to a sealable container and throw it in the fridge or into the freezer.  You have gold there.  You can be sated just by the aromas from reheating that broth.  It’s all good!

Sides: (Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Green Beans with Garlic)

You don’t have to do anything but the chicken to be perfectly at peace.  But as long as you are messing up the kitchen, and maybe serving a few friends, and have that wonderful brown gravy, simple sides of mashed potatoes and roasted green beans are perfect sides.  For the potatoes I use some large red ones.  Cut them into fourths.  Cover with cold water plus a generous pinch of Kosher salt.  Boil until soft when pierced with a fork.  Drain.  Put through a potato ricer (I don’t like to use the mixer as they turn too starchy).  Some of the red skins will get through.  That’s all good too.  Heat a little butter and milk and mix in.  Then dip into that hot broth on the back burner and add some to the potatoes through a strainer until they are the texture you like.  Taste and add more salt if needed.

For the beans, pinch off the stem ends and wash.  Shake off the water.  Toss with a little olive oil and a little Kosher salt.  Chop finely several cloves of garlic and toss in too.  Lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Throw them into the 375 oven while the chicken is cooling.  Cook for about eight minutes.  That’s it.  Easy peasy.

What you drink:

If you are at a loss for what wine to serve with this chicken I will recommend a nice chilled rose' or a Pinot Noir at room temp.  Trader Joe’s has lots of good, well priced options.  This is a rustic meal.  No expensive labels needed.  I like one with a good write up posted on the shelf and a fun label.  I’m just that way.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Altruistic Efforts of a Gourd

Are admirable.
From excess water, it forms knobby tumors
So a blind person, coming up empty for odor
And oblivious to the brilliancy of its colorful show
Finds the messages in Braille.

An experienced gourd interpreter
Or a tactile hungry unseeing person
Might, after spending time with the gourd,
Come up with the secrets of the garden
Or life.

In the afternoon,
grief soaked and spent,
I held the gourd and tried to channel its messages
And interpret the earth and the garden that gave and took my father.
It had so much to say
Though I think it mostly spoke about any of us
And not my father
Who would have outspoken the gourd and told it a few things or two.

-Jennifer Lowe
From Hugo House class "The Poetics of Objects", 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012


On the brink of a new year, I think about the resolutions I will not make.  I will not promise to write every day.  Though I want to.  I will try.  But promising to do it every day feels like I’m cursing it to doom before the first scribble on the page.  For now I am writing about not writing.  Well done.

I will not promise to sweep the house clear of clutter.  Though I want to.  I will try.  But I am a saver and a cherisher and a planner of big things that I will get to someday.  Maybe today just the desk.  And maybe tomorrow just a drawer or two.  Again, I feel like I am cursing it to doom.  Before the first surface is clear.

I will not promise to exercise EVERY day.  Though I kind of want to.  I will try.  But I am a content lounger and reader and cocooner.  I did get in my early morning walk with my neighbor and dog.  And I am scheduled to do the same tomorrow.  And the day after.  But If I resolve to do it every day I will be defeated within the week as maybe one morning is too wet or cold and the bed too warm.

I will not promise to eat only healthy food and toss no leftovers or unused vegetables gone bad.  Though I should.  I will try.  But I am a shopper and a grazer and a lover of good wine and a sweet or two and get too carried away at Farmer’s markets.  Today, though, I had leftover Thai soup for breakfast and threw in veggies from the drawer.  But if I resolve to be good for all of the new year I will be defeated with that third glass of Prosecco after midnight and the tub of Cozy Shack pudding nursing my hangover.

I will not resolve to be grateful for everything in my life.  Though I like that idea.  I will try.  But in moments I am lost without my parents just a phone call away or have flashes of anger and bitterness about being a skilled and able professional displaced from a company I gave so much to: now with so much uncertainty about how I will make it to the finish line.  But today I awoke to the sun rising over the lake, my dog snoring at my feet, my child successfully launched into the world and an evening with good friends to look forward to.  My resolution is to make no resolutions for the future and to be content in this moment in this place.  So far so good!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Deb's Story

"Did you see the jasmine by the front door?" Deb asks me as we are walking around the back garden. "Kim (her daughter, age 37) brought it here between moves. It was a little healthy thing so I asked the landscaper who was here on a project to pop it in by the front entry. He looked at it and where I wanted to put it and said 'It won’t live.'" She planted it there anyway despite his advice. She took me to the front where the fragrant beauty was stretched to the beams, a flood of delicate white blooms spewing out. And I thought "Just like you, Deb."

Four and a half years ago, on Christmas Eve, my friend Deb Ferse, then 61 years old, got a prognosis, similar to that the landscaper made about the jasmine: a lime-sized glioblastoma was located towards the back of her brain. Five days later, after her children, including Kim and her son Kurt, now age 34, had made a hasty return to Seattle, Deb was operated on at Swedish to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Deb talks about those days with breathtaking honesty. She tells me of how she went with her husband Dick to her family doctor of many years and demanded the honest, non-sugarcoated truth.

Deb, now 65, is a retired nurse. She tells me nurses don’t cry easily. They can't. They have to steel themselves against the sorrow that comes across their workday, fronting strength in the midst of much trauma. The same applies to her husband who is also in the medical profession. But after the frank meeting with the doctor and confirming that Glioblastoma was considered incurable, she came home and sat on Dick's lap where they cried and cried and cried. And then wept some more.

Then she went into treatment with Dr. Foltz and his team at the Ivy Center. Treatment hasn't been easy: radiation, chemotherapy and participation in the critical on-going work at the Center have given us precious time with Deb. She’s been able to travel to beloved places with her family, nurture her family and garden, and have life experiences that she notes are not taken for granted in her "ABC life" (after brain cancer). She even got to throw the first pitch at a Mariner's game last year and Co-Chair the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk last year. She speaks with great fondness and appreciation of the support from the staff and specialists at all levels at the Ivy Center.

Treatment is a necessary intrusion to my vibrant friend's life. As are the monthly MRIs that bring a hellish visitor to her thoughts as she prepares herself for the potential bad news, which, thankfully has not yet come. And in between these visits she nurtures her garden and her family and her friends. We share a love of gardening. It is therapy to move plants around, feel the dirt run through your gloved fingers. Sometimes when I pull a weed out, challenged to get to the bottom of the root before breaking it out I think of Deb's tumor and hope they really did get it out all the way to the roots.
Thankfully, a small return of the tumor last year was successfully managed. But, like the surprising and unidentifiable things that sometimes show up in our gardens, an unidentifiable shadow appeared on another MRI which led to a gamma-knife treatment to check out what appeared to be a return of the tumor (and if so, a harvest of those cells to grow a personalized immunization, one of the several potential treatments that are being developed in the Ivy Center labs). While the shadow turned out not to be new growth, it also meant no tissue for the immunization route and, unfortunately created other complications that required yet another trip into her head to fix the leaks and pressure problems that resulted.

I ask Deb what she thinks about when she gardens. After a moment of thought she tells me "I have this little pendant that was given to me from a favorite place I visit. A spa in Mexico. The pendant says 'I am here.' I am here in my garden. I am here on this earth with my family. With my plants that I love. That’s what I think about. I am here and that is really something, isn’t it?"

She shows me her pendant as I head out the door. Past the gorgeous blooming jasmine that wasn’t supposed to live. I hug my friend under the jasmine's branches and reflect that she is still here. That is really something wonderful, isn't it?

(This story was written for the "Our Stories" section on the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk  website.  Deb is an inspiration and a blessing.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Being a Mother of the Band (Devilwood at Rat and Raven)

I get a text from Andy telling me I am on the guest list.  I AM ON THE GUEST LIST.  A little thrill goes through me as the bouncer checks his short list and lets me through, stamping my wrist without collecting the cover fee, ignoring my undermybreath declaration that “I am a band mother” as if that wasn’t obvious.  As if I could be mistaken for a band girlfriend or something, I don’t know.   The bar is small and dark.  Eighties-rock music is pumping into the venue room, now mostly just populated with members of the three bands playing and a very few of their closest friends.  The first band doesn’t start until 9:00, almost another hour from now.  It’s a Wednesday night in the middle of summer in the University district so the crowd will be light.  But still THE CROWD will be light.  I think of performances past with earlier versions of bands comprised of other combinations of kids where the only folks in the crowd were the dedicated parents of the band and maybe one or three bar regulars who looked to be likely to be there at their seat at the bar every night of the week regardless of what band or not.  And as the hat was passed through the crowd these same parents (us) who funded instruments, lessons and the clothes on their backs slipped a fiver or two into the hat so we can smile impressively when they excitedly tell us later that they actually made a little money.  Money which they have already earmarked as savings to buy the next better version of their instrument of lust. 

Though some of Devilwood have spent the night at my place during a previous recording weekend, and I’ve met the parents of Hilary, the smoky voiced lead singer, at college graduation earlier this year, this is the first time I’ve seen them all play together.  I was living overseas when this band formed, and in New York during their recent Seattle debut performance, and, frankly, too lazy to drive the four hour round trip to catch their latest shows in “the Burg.”  But here, before the show tonight, they greet me with hugs, introduce me to their friends who are arriving, acquaint me with the players in the other two bands who are also featured on the bill tonight. Sweetly they connect us with the other parents who are here to see what their years of schlepping kids to lessons and practices has reaped.   We’ve come a long way since the days of their sheer mortification of being seen in the room with their parents.  This is fun.  These are our kids and they are no longer embarrassed about that.  And, finally, we are on a real freaken’ guest list.

I have staked out a good table with a nice view of the stage.  I realize after things have started that this isn’t as big a coup as it used to be back in my bar hopping days.  Because now all those who came to hear the bands and enjoy their friends playing won‘t be sitting down once the bands start.  They will be standing, bobbing and shimmying to the music.  I am a band mom.  I have earned the right to a good seat (and I have to reserve my energy.  Will be only standing and bobbing and shimmying – with respectable reserve of course – to my son’s band.  I only have so much to give at my age for a show that doesn’t start until nine PM, you know.  But I will bob and tap in time to the other bands from my seat.  Those kids, ahem, players, need us too.)

About ten minutes before the scheduled start time fans of the bands begin to trickle in.  My son introduces me to some gorgeous young men and women, newly graduated working class with interesting tattoos.  They are enthusiastic and sweet and intelligent and interesting looking.  I can’t help but remember the days when I used to worry about the friends my child was gravitating to and, now, being relieved in how things are turning out. I like his friends and fans.  

So the fans are arriving but the sound technician, who was supposed to be here about two hours before show time still hasn’t arrived.  Nobody seems to know where he is.  I make a few inquiries of the bands and suggest they get a little more assertive with the establishment but resist the urge to take this on as my project J.  They are all grown up now and need to figure this out.  Apparently the sound tech can’t be found.  A backup has been contacted and is on his way.  The last band has to drive back across the mountain tonight and at this point they won’t even take the stage until at least 11:30.  It’s a “school night” and even though I’m not currently working I don’t fancy listening to very loud music (no matter how good a band is) until after midnight tonight.  I love that the kids in the bands and the crowds are concerned about carrying on too late as they have jobs and classes to get to.  What a difference maturity makes. 

Finally a sound technician shows up and things set up quickly.  The first band, Blackburn, is up.  The three guys that make the band have a nice sound.  But nothing I can dance to.  Sitting at the table, with the ‘rents, I am transported to my college years.  Bar venues were a regular occurrence.  OK, maybe too regular.  I was young, like those kids I am looking at and find it hard to believe so much time has passed.  They seem to be much better behaved than I remember myself being. 

A large screen TV glows from the side wall.  The Mariners game has wrapped up (it’s now that late) and a poker tournament is now on.  I can’t believe people spend time watching poker on TV.  That’s right up there with watching golf on TV in my book.  I notice that at the poker table is a kid, about my son’s age, skinny with a white hooded sweatshirt, with hood up looking at his cards.  The TV cuts from this kid to another heavier set kid about the same age, wearing really stupid (like star-shaped) sunglasses.  It strikes me that I am so glad I am a mom sitting at a bar waiting for her kid to play music than watching him piss away money at a poker table.  But, I realize that these kids at the poker table have mom’s too and they are probably as impressed with their own kid’s skill as I am with my own….(back to the parent’s table at The Rat and Raven).

The first band has finished and Devilwood sets up.  We parent’s agree that we will not be able to sit this one out and we move from the table to the floor.  I plant myself right up with the movers and shakers at the front.  I know I will not let go completely.  My kid has not shown embarrassment with my being there up ‘til now and I will not push my luck.  However, I manage to move enough to break my sandal (a fact about which my son later will express impression with).  I am biased, I know, but judging from the crowd, Devilwood is good.  Their set includes some very original and catchy tunes (you can find their one quality recording on Reverbnation, Sticks and Stones, if you want to check it out, or friend Devilwood on Facebook and find some other clips from concerts).  They throw in a few covers: Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”; The Mamas and the Papas “California Dreaming” and a nice rendition of the Appalachian classic “In the Pines.”  Their sound is broad and fresh and they are really clicking with each other.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen Andy perform and he has gone beyond anything I’d ever imagined.  He’s shredding the bass.  Tapping, bowing and plucking the hell out of it.  Joey on the drums is smashing perfectly and working so hard he’s taken his shirt off.  Bill does a beautiful lead guitar and backs Hilary’s lead with smooth vocals.  Nick, a hold-out with an acoustic guitar is not holding back and adds clean backup vocals too.  And Hilary, who is always so nervous before a show, leaps in with strength and character and the best smoky voice you can imagine.  She befriends the crowd like a pro and everyone in the place is happy.  Especially the parents!  This is so much fun and definitely worth the years it took to get here.  Hilary tells the crowd that as she was singing “The Ace of Spades” she saw on the big screen Poker Tournament a real honest to goodness ace of spades in someone’s hand.  All is synchronicity tonight.

After breakdown, Scruffalow sets up, Devilwood gets kudos from the fans on the floor and they graciously accept all the high-fives and hugs.  The show was impressive as was their humble thanks to their fans.

I tried really hard to stay through Scruffalow.  They were such nice guys to me before the show.  They are better known than Devilwood and it’s thanks to their promotion that Devilwood is starting to get paid bookings.  Due to the late start on a “school night” the crowd is pretty thin for Scruffalow.  Their sound is more heavy metal and the vocals are more of a primal screaming nature.  Hard to sing along to.  And it’s got to be disheartening to play to a thin crowd late on a school night.  But God Bless ‘em for their passion and their love of making music.  And for being nice to the parents in the room. 

I feel kind of like something came full circle that night.  I was there in the present, there in my past and thinking of a future where you all will know Devilwood from maybe something like being featured on Letterman.  Of course I’ll be on the guest list for that one too.  So much fun and worth all it took to get here. 

-One Proud Mother

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Blue Cheese, Pancetta and Pear Gallette

The inspiration for this yummy experience is a recipe in Mary Karlin’s Artisan Cheese Making at Home.  Mary taught the artisan cheese class I recently took at Pantry at Delancey.  I bought her book but truthfully I will probably make very few of the cheeses.  I have to stick to the simple cheese: ricotta, paneer, crème freche, marscapone.  Maybe a cream cheese.  The more complicated cheeses require special cheese making supplies, and more critically, a climate controlled environment (temp and humidity) that I just don’t currently have.  But, also in her beautiful book is a final chapter with some delicious looking recipes.  This is basically her recipe with a few changes based on what I had on hand and what seemed more up my alley.

In making this I had to figure out the best application: is it a dessert?  An appetizer perhaps.  It is sweet and savory and a pastry.  Fortunately there was just enough left over that I could test it cast as all these characters.  As a course in a big meal it loses its identity, though as a side with a simple soup and salad it does OK.  Can hold its own.  As an appetizer with a lovely glass of red wine (i.e. my kind of dinner) it was perfect.  But if you are serving a big dinner or have other things you want to equally showcase maybe not so much.  It is pretty filling and will be a hard act to follow.  Now warmed for brunch, with a nicely steamed latte: perfect.  Go for it.  Or, like me, you can start with it for something else and enjoy it for breakfast afterward until you run out.  It keeps well for many days once wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.  

I will do this again but will try it with apples next time.  A tart variety I think.  It was lovely with the pears but I want to see how it does with apples.  Note: if using apples probably peel them.  I left the skin on the Bosc pears and it just melted in with the rest but for other pear varieties with chewier skins you might want to take them off. 

The simple syrup glaze laced with cardamom, rosemary and a little maple syrup was so good and I had left over which I used in my lattes along with the pastry for breakfast.  It was the perfect marriage.  Who says they don’t exist?  In fact, I’ve been rather intrigued by the possibilities of flavored simple syrups as a result.  Yesterday evening, at Stopsky’s Deli, Mercer Island, happy hour, Andy order a gin and tonic with celery simple syrup.  It was amazing.  We got to talking about trying to create our own.  I’m even thinking I may have finally figured out a use for all these strange spices I brought back from the Middle East and haven’t figured out what to do with.  So stay tuned.  There may be a coming blog entry on simple syrups.  But for now I give you: Blue Cheese, Pancetta and Pear Gallette!

What you need: 

- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup almond flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces then chilled
- About ¾ cup ice water

-          2 Tablespoons olive oil
-          3 to 4 ounces pancetta, cut crosswise into narrow strips
-          1 yellow onion, halved, then thinly sliced lengthwise into strips
-          3 large shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise into strips
-          ¼ cup maple syrup
-          ½ teaspoon vanilla
-          ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
-          2 large pears, cored, and cut into 12 wedges each
-          3 ounces blue cheese cut into thin wedges

-          ¼ cup maple syrup
-          ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
-          ¼ teaspoon vanilla
-          ¼ cup sugar
-          ¼ cup water
-          1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary leaves

Early in the day put together the dough so it can rest in the refrigerator.  Combine the flour, almond flour, sugar and salt.  Using a fork and knife or pastry cutter, cut the small pieces of butter into the flour until the pieces of butter are pea sized and consistently distributed throughout.  First add about six tablespoons of the ice water, gently tossing with a fork.  Then, gradually add the rest of the ice water, gently tossing with a spoon just until the dough hold together and there are no dry ingredients left.  Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and put into the fridge.

(I also prep the filling part early because it makes the house smell so good, you can get the kitchen mostly cleaned up and focus on other parts of your meal before final assembly which you should start about an hour before you want to serve it.)

In a large skillet heat the olive oil and add the pancetta pieces.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the pancetta is crispy and the fat rendered.  Remove the pancetta onto a paper towel to drain.  Discard about 1/3 of the drippings, then add the onions and shallots to the skillet with the drippings.  Cook over medium heat until lightly caramelized.  Set aside.

In another bowl combine the fresh ground cardamom with the maple syrup and vanilla.  Add the pear slices and let marinate in this syrup mixture in the fridge until ready to eat.  I used Bosc pears.  (Hint: since bosc pears are firmer than other pears when ripe, the way I tell if it is ripe is to look at the stem end.  Just at the base of the stem the skin should be dark and puckered.  Not mushy at that end but not smooth.  If it is smooth and not wrinkly the pear will still be bitter.  Just wrinkly is just right.) 

Make the glaze:  In a small saucepan, combine the glaze ingredients.  Bring to a low boil and cook until the sugar is melted and the glaze is slightly thick.  About ten minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool to room temp.

Assembly and baking

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Working on parchment paper, roll out the dough circle into roughly a 14 inch circle.  Lift the parchment with the circle onto a baking sheet.  Mix the fried pancetta pieces and caramelized onion and spread them onto the center of the dough, leaving clear a two-inch border around the outside of the circle.  Drain the liquid off the pear wedges and arrange decoratively in a circle around the top of the bacon/onion layer, overlapping as needed.  Fill in the center with small pieces of pear.

Moving around the tart, fold the edges of the dough toward the center and over the filling, pleating it as you go.  Place on the lower rack of the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden.  Top with the wedges of blue cheese in the middle section that is exposed.  Bake another approximately 10 minutes until the crust is crispy and very golden and the pears are caramelized. 

As the last baking phase is taking place rewarm the glaze.  When the tart comes out of the oven brush the glaze over the top of the galette with a pastry brush.  Let cool for 15 minutes.  Then cut and serve.