Sunday, February 19, 2012

Morrocan Olives

This is one of those recipes that is made to be shared.  I first had it as a table snack during a class as Pantry at Delancey.  When I got home I had to e-mail to ask "how did you do that?"  Today I hosted a very special party for a very special occasion: to celebrate the first grandchild in our group.  To welcome the beautiful Kesler, my dear friend Nancy's grandson.  I put a bowl of these out.  Didn't say anyting just curiously watched the reaction.  And it was good.

These look like just regular olives.  But they have such a wonderful, unique taste.  "Apple pie"  "Pear pie" they said.  The olives are flavored with lemon, cinnamon and fennel seed.  Try them.  You will like them.  And you will be asked for the recipe, I guarantee it.

When I asked Delancey's they said "we have no recipe, but this is how it's done."  There were no amounts, just ingredients and process.  So this is how I will pass it along to you as well.

First, pick the right kind of olives.  Get good Sicilian olives.  Big, plump, spring colored green ones.  Ask for a tasting.  You want the mildest, butteriest ones.  I buy mine at PFI in Seattle, near the Kingdome.  If you don't know of this place find it.  All the great chefs shop for bulk goods at this small, unassuming, warehouse.  Bring your own containers so you can get the brine with the olives.  They have at least 20 kinds to choose from.  I forget which kind these were but ask to taste the Sicilian greens.  This is the mild, buttery one.  You'll know it when you taste it.  At PFI you can only buy by the pound.  But since you bring with the brine they will last for a long time.  And who doesn't want a good container of olives in the fridge.  (By the way, PFI has the most beautiful cheese selection, but you also have to buy by the pound as well.  I also buy all my spices, bulk, and flours, pulses, rice, etc. at PFI.  Best deal in town.  Oh, they have an amazing selection of sea salts as well.  And olive oil and vinegars.  Just go there.  Mapquest it.  It's hidden at the bottom of that brick building Mapquest takes you to. )

  • Good quality Sicilian olives
  • 1 Meyer lemon
  • 3-5 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
  • Good quality olive oil (Trader Joe's works fine for this)
Pour olive oil in a sauce pan  You will want just enough to cover the olives.  Crack the cinnamon sticks (leaving them more or less whole but broken to release the flavor) and put in oil along with the fennel seeds.  Slice the lemon and throw in (skin, seeds and all). 

Heat the oil to hot but not boiling.  Let it heat and infuse for about five minutes.  Then add the olives.  Leave on the heat for another ten or fifteen minutes, hot, but not boiling.  The lemon will decompose from the inside out, leaving large pieces of skin.  Remove from heat and let cool down.  Put in air tight container.  When serving use slotted spoon to dish out of the oil (but reserve in the airtight container so you can return any unused ones for enjoying later.  Put some of the lemon and cinnamon in the dish as well (it's so pretty).  Store in refrigerator with the infused oil and lemons and cinnamon. 

Collect everyone's email addresses, or friend them on FB.  They will want the recipe.  Really.  Trust me. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Big Things Happen in Small Places

His enthusiasm is infectious.  The twenty some faces around the conference table at Swedish’s Ben and Catherine Ivy Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment, focused on Dr. Greg Foltz, tracking every word this talented neurosurgeon and leading research scientist shared as he brought us on his journey to cure brain cancer.  He began by asking how many of us knew someone who had or has brain cancer.  Every hand went up.   Some, like me, may have a friend currently in her battle for time against this (currently) unstoppable killer.  Others, like my dear friend who was not there, the trauma still too close at hand to expose herself, may have lost a precious child to its insidious onslaught.  At the table were my friends Sharon and Brian whose son is currently in its grip, now nearing his fourth year in battle for more time against this always unbeatable foe.  The hit rate of those at the table who knew someone in a battle with brain cancer was 100%.  Yet, as Dr. Foltz explained, there are only about 20,000 new cases yearly diagnosed in the US.  And this has been the biggest part of the problem.  When you know so many people touched personally by it, 20,000 seems a big enough problem.  But, in the world of cancer, or other major medical problems, that’s not enough to warrant the research dollars or motivate major pharmaceutical companies to find a cure.  Thankfully, it’s enough to warrant the dedication of Dr. Foltz, and a handful of other doctors and scientists at other centers around the country, towards finding the cause and finding a cure (actually cures) so that someday he can tell a patient “here’s how we can save your life.” 

On this day, our group is privileged to receive an approximately hour-and-a-half tour of the Ivy Center and labs.  Dr. Foltz, after a full day, including doing surgery on a patient, meeting with patients and conducting research in the lab conducts the whole thing.  He starts with a presentation on the history of brain cancer treatment and research in the conference room.  This is followed by a walk through the Ivy Center with a discussion about Ben and Catherine Ivy and the services the Center offers.  Then we are walked through the back side of the center (it is after hours) and into the small labs where exciting things in the advancement of treatment are happening.  Here is what we learned and saw.

Just four years ago the only thing to tell patients receiving the diagnosis of glioblastoma, the most common – and aggressive - form of brain cancer, was that they needed to prepare for a short battle, for which they would have only a dismal arsenal of weapons to defend themselves and against which they would surely lose.  Probably six months would be the longest they could hope for, and only if they had found the enemy early.  Now, with advances in surgery and radiation and chemotherapy, some patients are sharing up to four more years with their families. There are even a few five-year survivors now.  And finally it looks like soon a newly diagnosed patient may hear these words “this is what we can do to likely save your life.”

Not only are Dr. Foltz and his peers hopeful that there will soon be ultimate winners in this battle, but that that they can greatly increase the quality of life for these troops during battle.  They’ll do this by identifying specific protocol for each patient, depending on their particular cancer’s genetic markers, so that harsh side effects from treatment are reduced or eliminated.  

 In the fascinating presentation Dr. Foltz compared the progress in finding a cure for glioblastoma which, until now, has been labeled as “incurable” to “consumption” at the turn of the Century, or more recently, leukemia: both of which were also once labeled incurable.  Consumption is something nobody worries about, yet at one time it wiped out a third of the European population.  When I was a little girl I remember hearing of other children getting leukemia and knowing that it was fatal.  Yet today it’s almost a relief if a cancer is diagnosed as leukemia because it is known as curable.  Soon, it is hoped, a glioblastoma diagnosis will be equally curable as leukemia.  And maybe one day, like consumption, no longer even something anyone has to deal with. 

The presentation included an overview on progress in identifying genetic markers for specific cancer cells, and a fascinating discussion on why pharmaceutical companies are not focusing on identifying a cure (basically too few patients mean too little profit).  Dr. Foltz and his colleagues have found ways to use research focused on other problems to solve this one. His story included a tale of a mouse that has been “invented” that has no immune properties of its own so they can “infect” mice with a patient’s specific cancer cells (removed during tumor surgery then grown in a lab) and then test the impact of various drugs and dosages on that cancer so as to determine a specific approach for that patient. 

Rather than focus on creating a new cure, they are finding that drugs already developed to help patients with other seemingly unrelated problems, like depression, seem to carry some key to confronting glioblastoma.  Dr. Foltz had a wonderful way of presenting this highly scientific focused subject matter at a level that was not only easy to follow but also interesting.  He explained a major focus of his approach to find a cure was like something many of us experience with shopping on “”  The analogy is tied to the phenomenon whereby just one interaction on the site provides enough information to be compared with the millions of other shoppers and their purchasing history that by the time you go to the checkout screen, the website can recommend dozens of other items that you are likely to also be interested in.  This analogy emphasizes how important tissue data banks coupled with a history of the response to different types of treatment will increase the chances of finding the best approach to tackling a patient’s particular cancer. 

Then we were taken on a tour of the labs where all this groundbreaking work is going on. Although it was after hours and the lab workers were gone, in this surprisingly small space, the machines were working on: sorting out genetic markers; growing cancer cells in vials that could be harvested later to test treatments; and infusing cells with cancer fighting agents in order to create vaccines. 

While much of the presentation and tour included the simplified explanation of scientific approach, Dr. Foltz also emphasized how important the individual’s experience is.  How huge the impact to family is.  How important it is to involve the larger community as well.  I admired his openness to working closely with the patient and their family in doing what is right in their own situation regardless of what trials may be currently de-rigueur.  How quality of life is important while the scientific battle often focuses more on extending the quantity of life.  The Ivy Center provides support to the patient and family in dealing with the impacts to their lives, while the scientists and doctors deal more directly with the cancer itself. 

In addition, the Ivy Center was carefully planned to encompass patients’ needs, beginning with the Center’s lobby design. It contains many alcoves and partial walls to allow families privacy and community while waiting and then receiving news from surgeons.  The exam and treatment rooms include seating spaces for supporting family members, rather than relegating them to standing in the corner as other places oft do. 

Dr. Foltz believes that the cure for many cases of brain cancer is likely to already be in existence, or similar to something that is, and may be very close.  While a new lab will be opened soon at the Ivy Center, Dr. Foltz and his team are not waiting.  They are doing remarkable things with the equipment they have, coordinating with other research centers, and giving hope to the families and friends of brain cancer patients.
Note: I first visited the Ivy Center in 2009.  Here is a link to that post.  Amazing to see all that has happened since then.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Marmalade Simplified

It’s another hot summer Saturday in the house of my youth.  The house is extra hot as Mom is in the kitchen fussing over a large tall pot, steaming, with cans in it.  She is working on a batch of disgusting, slimy purple beets.  Mother is also purple and slimy.  With sweat.  There’s a banging at the back door, just around the corner from the hot kitchen.  I’m standing at the corner and see it is my father kicking at the metal screen door; his hands too burdened to knock civilly, or better yet, let himself in.  In his arms is an overflowing bounty from his fertile garden: cabbage, tomatoes, broccoli and, unfortunately, more beets.  My father is beaming, as if he has just taken a blue ribbon from the garden judges at our county fair.  From my vantage point I can see my mother still in the kitchen.  At the sound of my father’s assault on the screen door I see her straighten up from her wilted position, wipe her sweaty hands on her beet blood stained apron and mop her sweating brow with the moist skin of her forearm.  I’m confused by the look on her face.  Near to tears, she heads toward the back door to receive this delivery from my father.  As she passes by me, she looks me straight in the eye with that look that often meant “you are in big trouble, Jennifer.”  But instead, under her breath, and just under my dad’s radar, without moving her lips, she says very clearly to me “Don’t you ever learn how to can.”

I didn’t always follow my mother’s instructions.  Usually that didn’t turn out too well for me.  But the canning ignorance I embraced.  I do love to do so many things in the kitchen and am usually open to try new things.  But canning is one thing I have stayed away from because of the memory described above.  While I’ve loved taking all kinds of cooking classes, I never expected to find myself in a cooking class focused on producing anything canned.  But last fall, in the sandbox of Abu Dhabi, at night I daydreamed of what I would do when I returned to the states.  And when I found the list of classes available at the Pantry at Delancey, I had to focus on the few classes that still indicated they had openings.  The Marmalade Class had an intriguing write up, and an opening, and so I signed up without much thought to my aversion to canning. 

 So on Saturday I drove myself to the Pantry at Delancey and joined about a dozen other women for a two hour session with Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit Company in Oakland.  The session was more a demo than hands on class, though, because of the small class size we could gather round the activity at the table and stove top to clearly see and understand the process.  Rachel was far from the sweaty, harried canner that was my mother in the hot kitchen.  Tiny and polished, she shared her enthusiasm for the craft of making delicious spreads from fresh fruit.  While she has easier access to a variety of citrus fruits used in making marmalade, her instructions were universal.  Mostly they took the mystery and fuss out of creating delicious marmalades. 

Turns out the process, while not too complicated, typically takes a three day process.  The time is required for soaking the fruit in order to release the naturally occurring pectin which causes the cooked down fruit to thicken up.  The process differs based on the selected fruit and its specific properties: skin porousness, bitterness or firmness.

Marmalade contains two separate fruit components.  The primary flavor comes from the fruit used for the chunkiness.  This fruit is cut into wedges containing both the peel and the flesh (with seeds removed).  The size of the cut will determine the chunkiness of the end product.  It is either boiled or soaked overnight and then boiled (sometimes blanched if particularly bitter, like grapefruit, to remove the extra bitterness).  Meanwhile, the fruit for the jelly part of the marmalade is cut into eighths, then soaked the first day, simmered the second day and drained overnight.  On the third day the removed juices are mixed with the prepared fruit chunks, mixed with sugar and a little lemon juice and cooked on the stove top until just the right moment when it becomes perfect marmalade.  We were shown several tests to help confirm when this stage has occurred, noting that it is important to stop cooking before it reaches a stage when it will become unspreadable, but cooked enough to hold the pieces suspended and not turn to liquid on your toast.  While several clues indicate when it is done, Rachel does not rely on a thermometer.  I think I’ll be able to do the same now.

Then the most wonderful discovery: for jams and marmalades the canning process does not have to involve a hot water bath and special equipment.  Because of the high sugar and acid content they are not prone to host harmful bacteria.  The cans can be sterilized in the oven and sealed in it as well after filled. 

In the class two kinds of marmalades were demonstrated: a blood orange with Meyers lemon rind, and; lemon marmalade infused with rosemary.  We were allowed to choose one jar to take home and after testing both I settled on the blood orange version.  While tempted to hoard it for a special pantry item I couldn’t wait to share it.  The verdict delicious.  Bright and balanced.  This is something I will try at home.