Monday, March 29, 2010

The Perfect Storm

First off, it was a Monday.  This is, only on the rarest of occasions, a good thing.  And never simply because it is a Monday.  Maybe it's Christmas on a Monday, or the first day of your honeymoon, or the day you won the lottery.  But you're never going to wake up and be glad just because you wake up with a monstrous "M" on your calendar.  Secondly, I was in a terrible mood.  Partly because of that whole Monday business.  The mere existence of "work" didn't help, either.  Then there was the weather.  After days and days of strange but adored sunshine and warmth, God remembered that Portland is supposed to be miserable this time of year.  So entered the wind.  And sleet.  And downpours.  And darkness.  And freaky sonic boom that finally turned out to be a lonely pipe bomb

It was the perfect storm to stir up a cardinal craving for soup. 

We were planning on having soup today anyway.  We just had no idea how perfect our planning was.  We were cruising through Trader Joe's this weekend, and Matt picked a pack of gnocchi out of the noodle section.  "I have an idea," he said, which, when it comes to food, is usually either a stroke of genius or just something else he wants to wrap in a tortilla.  "We could try and make that soup like they have at Olive Garden."

Oh yes, the beloved Soup, Salad and Breadsticks sensation that is loved at lunch hours everywhere.  I work right next to an Olive Garden, but with only a lunch half hour, I rarely get to experience the sensation.  The disconnected, heartlessly pepper grinding waitstaff doesn't have a flair for urgency.  Whenever we find ourselves there on a weekend though, I take full advantage of the opportunity.  The Chicken and Gnocchi soup is my hands-down favorite, and has caught the heart of Matt as well with a few stolen bites (for his meal he opts for something more seriously substantial, like the Tour Of Italy Triple Bypass Platter). 

I was very glad that this suggestion was the former, and began plotting my copycat. 

The prep to make this soup is marginal.  It is easy to do on weeknights, even bad ones.  The celery and carrot hacking helped relieve some of my misguided aggression, and stirring the ever-thickening pot was a Zen meditation that was richly rewarded.  All I needed to do was plan slightly ahead, and everything was almost ready to go.  On a night like tonight, it worked happy wonders that takeout never could.  We sat down, both of us grinning at our cunning alchemy, and the rich steam evaporated with our daylight cares.  After an extra helping, we were both a little more in love with each other, and the world.  And isn't that the entire reason we eat together in the first place? 

Hokey Gnocchi Soup
1 Costco rotisserie chicken, pulled apart with no skin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely diced
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 small bunch of kale, chopped
2 cans of Cream of Chicken soup
1 can of Cream of Mushroom soup
1 canful of thick milk (probably whole)
2 canfuls of water
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
3 sprigs of thyme, leaves plucked from the stem
1 tablespoon of finely chopped basil
1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary (or fresh... I went out and found my plant was dead :'( 
1 package of premade potato gnocchi
Salt and pepper
Olive Oil
2 tablespoons of butter

Heat olive oil and butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, thyme and rosemary, season with salt and pepper and let soften while occasionally stirring for about 8 minutes.  Add the celery and carrots.  Stir to coat with oil and butter.  Cook for 3 minutes, then add the wine.  Allow it to absorb and evaporate.  Add chicken stock, bring to a boil and cook for several minutes, until the celery and carrots begin to get tender.  Turn the heat to a low simmer.  Add the cream soups, water, milk and chicken.  Allow to slowly cook and marinate for 45 minutes to an hour.  About 20 minutes before serving, add the kale.  10 minutes before, stir in the gnocchi.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve topped with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and warm, crunchy garlic bread.

Rejuvination complete.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday - Baking Day

I think I saw that embroidered on a kitchen towel once. Either that, or Sunday was Laundry Day. Either way, it's typically the day we know another week is inevitably bearing down upon us, and we need to get ready to face it. Like it or not, those two days we worked so hard to get to don't last half as long as they reasonably should. We go grocery shopping for what we'll need at work and at home, we wash clothes and shave our legs/face (depending on the person and day), and tie up any loose ends hanging off from Friday.

Every once and a while, I get inspired to go a little further. Do something that will make surviving through the week a less painful proposition. Maybe clean the garage. Or, as I tried to convince Matt this week and failed, organize the pantry. What I did do this Sunday was turn on the oven and start baking. While scavenging through my recipe clippings and cookbooks for weeknight and Easter recipes, I came across a couple treats I'd wanted to try but never got around to. We also have some cold-weather comfort food slated for tonight and tomorrow (jambalaya and a chicken and gnocchi soup based on the one Olive Garden ladles out for lunch), so I thought I'd bake up a few loaves of French bread. You know, just so we weren't too carb-deprived.

I had all my favorite gadgets and machinery working their magic. The Kitchen Aid, with miracle dough hook. Kitchen Aid blender, which mysteriously made a cupcake batter. Pampered Chef citrus squeezer. Microplane zester. Registry muffin tin! I made a royal mess, but made the house smell like heaven.

The only problem? Who's going to eat all this crap. Matt's not a big sweets guy, although I think I saw him eat about 4 of those cookies. And with my sloth-stealth metabolism, I am the last person who should be getting such wild kicks from playing patisserie. Everything would work out so much better if I had a hobby that was more advantageous to staying in shape. Like, water polo. Or long-distance marathon training. I want to cook like Ina Garten, not look like her.

So, the fruits of my labor are going to have to end up where good food comes to die - the office break counter. They come for the coffee, they linger a second to examine what's in the mysterious tupperware. On a rainy Monday, it can help get everyone loving you. Or moderately tolerate your existence at least.

Here is the Rainy Monday Cookie recipe, from Giada. Use LOCAL hazelnuts, FARM FRESH eggs, RAW milk and GOOD vanilla. God help you if you don't have good enough vanilla....

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not the instant kind)
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp.
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Heath bar, finely chopped
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked and chopped
2 cups semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325. Finely chop the oats in a food processor.

Or, if you're like me, you don't have one and you have to use a knife, like the pioneers.

Using an electric mixer (or if you don't have one, a spoon like the cavemen) beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in the toffee pieces, hazelnuts, and chocolate chips.

Drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets by rounded tablespoonful, spacing them 1 inch apart. Bake until the cookies are golden, about 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Maxie says:
"I do not accept your piddly cupcake offering!"

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Like a cluster of daffodils unanimously trumpeting in the rise of spring, a neighborhood doesn't seem to be alive until the sun comes out. Since we moved into our house in October until just a few days ago, the only clues that anyone lived in these buildings were a few passing cars and garbage cans that mysteriously appeared and disappeared on Wednesdays. This week, with the perfect weather and serendipidously timed spring break, we've been able to see our close inhabitants in full force.

We've been no exception, taking full advantage of the front porch and backyard seating. And I've been exploring the (couple) hidden corners of Hubbard on my bright pink cruiser bike. WITH Hello Kitty bell. Oh yes, I command the adoration of 5-year-old girls and sideways stares of everyone else.

Pedaling back around the corner last night, I was almost stopped in my tracks by a sight I hadn't beheld in ten years - a Schwan's truck! It's frozen home food delivery, meaning they don't make the rounds in apartment complexes and dorm buildings. No, this has been a service only homeownership could re-realize.

So many of my favorite snacks came crystallized in those bags, which were savored every once and a while as a "treat" while I was growing up, since none of them were cheap. The soft pretzel sticks stuffed with melty cheddar cheese, the breakfast pizzas with country gravy sauce, and s'mores ice cream bars! Without trying to look too freakishly giddy, I flagged the smiling driver down and requested a catalog.

"Are you familiar with Schwan's?" He asked, noting my address in his notepad for future solicitation.


"Yes, I have used your services in the past," I said in my grown-up voice.

He offered to come back either later in the evening, or in two weeks. This was not the kind of thing I could rush. Time needed to be taken. Selections had to be circled. Lists had to be made. I chose the latter, and went back inside to unleash the giddiness.

I let Matt do a once-through on the catalog before I did, since he was Schwan's-deprived as a child. But I was ready with ballpoint pen in hand as soon as he had finished a casual glance. First item circled - Italian-Style Meatballs. Easy spaghetti on a worknight! Vegetable blends, indulgent snacks, exotic juice from concentrate. So many options to make options easy.

"Want to look at what I circled?" I offered, handing him back the bible.

First scrutiny - "Meatballs? We don't need those. Your meatballs taste better!" "Pizza? I like your pizza. We're not getting that." "Chicken Parmigiana? You make that!!"

Well... yeah. Of course I can make that. I can make anything. (Except for Pad Thai). That doesn't mean I always WANT to.

And then, it hit me. I was cursed with the double-edged sword of people liking my cooking.

It's a wonderful feeling on weekends, holidays and oddly inspired weeknights. But after a particularly irritating day at work in the middle of the week, I don't want to go home and measure spices, make a million dirty dishes and have to clean up after myself. I like that couch too, damn it! I want to effortlessly have food come to me. I want to open up my fridge, take out a single container, wait ten minutes and be done with it. Not all the time; even good convenience food gets old fast. But having it around in the freezer bank, waiting for that day that I really want to cash in my savings for a vacation.

But now, I've uped the ante. It's not as good. And to someone who doesn't chip in the labor, it seems just as easy. Why the hell would we buy pricey primavera when you chop a few veggies, do something in a pan, boil something and BAM! it's done and tastes way better?

I haven't always had this issue. I didn't just come fresh out of my college dorm room knowing how to cook (or how to do laundry, for that matter). It's just because I love it so crazy-much that I've tried and failed and tried again to get better. I remember a time when Matt couldn't stand my sad, soggy-middle pizza. He'd have brought in the whole Swan-crested truck before suffering that meal again! But I just HAD to keep watching Food Network, reading cookbooks and getting my hands on my mom's secret perfect crust recipe. In climbing the culinary rungs, I created a monster.

Tonight? We both got home late. Picked up pizza at a local restaurant. The verdict? "It's good," Matt shrugged, "but I would have liked yours better."

Thank you, and damn you!! FIE!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Luckily, all that time and money at the market didn't just feed us for one day. At the end of the Great Quiche Lunch of Legend, I still had two very important purchases left from downtown - my Tails & Trotters pork chops. You remember, the ones finished on the naturally lush bounty of hazelnuts?
"How do you know they actually feed them hazelnuts?" Matt scoffed as I gingerly set them on their own pedastal shelf in the fridge. "They probably just eat garbage and sell them for twice as much."

"Yeah, I bet they mix in some of their own feces just to really stick it to us, too."

True, as I've mentioned, I am a sucker for poetic copy. But if there was a clever ruse going on at this Portland swinery, it's duping some majorly savvy foodies - Beast, Clarklewis, Urban Farmer and Park Kitchen all feature the pork on their menus.

The most surprising feature to me was the price. These two hefty, bone-in chops were $9. Combined. You can't get crappy pork for much less than that. And they're not going to come with a life story like this:

Our pigs are fed a diverse diet that is specifically formulated to their growth needs. All the grains are raised by our grower, and include oats, barley, triticale, and more. Corn and soybeans are minimized during the growing stage, and removed entirely in the finishing stage.

They are never fed antibiotics, hormones, growth stimulants, or animal byproducts (pigs that become sick and require medication are sold through conventional channels after the requisite waiting period).

Traditionally, pigs produced for prosciutto are fed a special “finishing” diet for their last 60–90 days where a large portion of their feed is replaced with acorns. finishing provides increased flavor to the fat and meat, as well as produces the necessary intramuscular and subcutaneous (under the skin) fat cover necessary for prosciutto production—our main long-term objective.

While the Northwest isn’t good acorn country, it is renowned for its hazelnuts!

From the moment I set those two tender chops in my big green market basket, I knew exactly what I'd cook them with. I had a simmer sauce match made in heaven waiting in my pantry.

I kind of have a fetish for sauces. I can't resist their vuluptuously curvy jars, their seductive names, the naughty serving suggestions - "go ahead. Mix me into a stir fry. I'm also good as a mmmmmarinade." I hoard them, anticipating some flavor famine around the corner, until my feeble plastic shelving can't take anymore. Every apartment we've ever left has a deeply bowed, sad looking canned goods shelf we've left in our wake.

I pan-fried the chops in a deep saute pan in olive oil to get some browning, then transferred them into a baking dish to finish off in the oven for 13 minutes. I deglazed the pan with some Two Buck Chuck, then added a generous amount of Apple Grille Sauce and let it reduce down into a thick glaze. With the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, it acquired an apple-and-bacon flavor that was just begging to get back on top of those sweet nutty chops.

In a rare and strange showing of kitchen involvement, Matt was inspired to make one of his favorite side dishes from growing up - baked mac. With just some sliced cheddar and evaporated milk, it's lighter than the macaroni I normally would make, which starts as a roux that turns into fondue and creates a whole mess of Deen fatty pleasure. I also had a leftover pie crust half from the quiche, which was filled with cheater cherry pie filling and topped with struesdel crumble. Voila, the pumble.

"This," Matt announced, scraping the last bits of hazelnut-fed flesh off the bone, "is a home-cooked meal."


Monday, March 22, 2010

night off

Yuck, I'm feeling awful tonight. I will leave you, dear friends, with the fanciful food comedy of Jim Gaffigan taking on my favorite classic condiment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

To Market

What could possibly be better than the first day of spring, 70 degrees and sun on a Portland March day, AND the opening of the Portland Farmers Market? It truly was Saturday perfection yesterday when me and my best friend Heather ventured into the heart of the PSU park blocks to inaugurate a season I hope to live and love to its fullest.

We've had this date circled in red on the calendar for a good month or so. Our plan was to go and make a meal from the local, in-season ingredients, a la Barbara Kingsolver. With a market like this, it wasn't too daunting of a task. I've been to quite a few markets throughout the Pacific Northwest - the tiny, discontinued weekly gathering in my hometown comprised of a psychic, a birdhouse-maker, and my sister's boyfriend's grandma peddling pies. The posh-and-pricey Lake Oswego Market, where rich women pile in to block your path with strollers and agonize over strawberry varietals. The Puyallup Market, where I got my first $20 free-range broiler chicken. The start-up Villebois Sunday Market just steps away from our last apartment, which was unbeatable in the convenience factor but relying a little too heavily on the kettle-korn-and-flower segment. The thing that makes the Portland Farmers Market as exciting as it is for foodies is that it is all about the food. There are no goat milk soaps, no questionably attractive jewelry, no "whimsical" yard signs with "funny" phrases on them. Unless you are selling something genuinely edible, you're not going to have a booth here.

Without the filler, you get down to the meat. And the pesto. And the fresh pasta. And the chevre. When it comes to variety of prepared food and raw ingredients, you're not going to beat the Portland Farmers Market. It literally is an outdoor market - you could do your weeks' grocery shopping here, and not have to stop at Fred Meyer on the way home.

"I've been pre-thinking," I admitted to Heather as we passed the welcome booth. "And I thought, what if we did a quiche? With a fresh salad?"

"Ooo, that would be good!" she sweetly conceded. "I've got some Fiorucci prosciutto at home from work that we could use if we don't find anything else."

Oh, that's probably something of note. Heather and I met working at a specialty food distribution company. She's still there, with the perks of free delicious samples. Why am I no longer marketing cheese? That is a story for another day, another blog, another book.

As we walked toward the first produce vendors, I was momentarily sidetracked when I recognized a display of raw honey jars. It was the same floral, deep amber honey that I had bought last year at the Villebois Sunday Market, which was now down to the last sad, crystallized spoonfulls in my cabinet. "Oh my god! You're here!" I exclaimed, gleefully grabbing a replacement.

After passing several produce vendors, we began to get a feel for what we were working with. Lots of leafy, hearty green vegetables. For the salad, everyone was sporting spinach. The moment I saw arugula, I dove for it. I had it already in my mind that I wanted leek instead of onion, so I picked out what looked like the biggest of the bunch and stuffed it in my basket. And in between the braising greens and root vegetables I spotted something I hadn't tried before - broccoli rabe. "I bet this would be good if we sauteed it down a little bit for the quiche," I suggested.

Heather was craving feta for the spinach-and-arugula salad, and toward the end of the west row we came across a new goat's milk creamery from Woodland. According to the vendor, this was her first batch of cheese, and she was super-excited.

When it comes to cheese, we are not a pair that's easy to impress. As official professional cheese snobs, we've had it all, from Alouette spread to Delice de Bourgogne, artisan creameries to corporate milk conglomerates and everything in between. So it was with more trepidation than expectation that we tried the Strawberry semi-hard goat cheese.

Whatever those rookie goats are doing, they're doing it right.

The cheese was some of the best I've had since leaving the business two years ago. Absolutely no barniness or goaty aftertaste. And unlike most flavored cheese (*cough*BritishCheese*cough), the strawberry wasn't fake or overpowering. It was just hanging out in the background, not being too sweet or strong, just bringing enough character to make you wonder, "wow! What is in this?" We had our salad!

A couple booths were gathering a large crowd of customers and full-on camera crews with their morels and shiitakes, but we wanted a mild mushroom that wouldn't have to fight with the prosciutto. After a few tries we found some good ol' creminis, and in the meantime I spotted a tagline that made me stop in my tracks (not easy to do, since it was getting more and more crowded): "Pasture-Raised, Hazelnut-Finished Pork."

Hazelnut-Finished? Like the heritage pigs in Italy? Ooooh. It's just like poetry. I picked up two pork chops for Matt and I to enjoy later, and we were ready to go. If I was going to pay for parking and another dozen Full Of Life eggs on the way home, I was going to need the little cash I had left.

When we got back to the house, I immediately started Ina Garten's Perfect Piecrust in the beloved Kitchen Aid as Heather washed and prepped the veggies. Her fiance tried looking up quiche recipes on his iPhone, but only came up with those that called for pre-cooked pie crust. Neither of us had actually made quiche before, and I don't keep frozen pie crust on hand, ever. Running with just the ratio of eggs to milk, we began winging would could potentially be a very effort-filled fuckup.

We sauteed the leek and a couple garlic cloves in olive oil and butter, and added the sliced mushrooms at the very end so at least they wouldn't be raw in the eggs. Then I gave the same treatment to the long stems of broccoli rabe. When it was just starting to soften up a bit, I scooped it back out on the cutting board and sliced into generous chunks. I have a new favorite vegetable. It's like a cross between broccoli and asparagus. I can't wait to work it into the weeknight side dish rotation so that green beans, green salad and corn can take some extra time off.

While the quiche baked and a Penzey's mix vinaigrette married flavors, we all sat out on the porch and actually felt warm. The fuzzy feeling from being able to realize a sunny afternoon with friends in your very own, hard-earned backyard felt pretty good, too.

When all of our hard work was said and done and we sat down to eat, the  procured provisions didn't stand a chance. Every last crumb in the Emile Henry pie plate was obliterated, and even the fast-food addicted boys were cheering for real food. Sure, Matt thought the broccoli rabe was spinach- "putting spinach in there was genius", he proclaimed - but we can't educate everyone overnight.

I am proud and confident to present the recipe for Heather and Tabitha's First Quiche. It's the perfect way to use all those beautiful things you brought home, but may not have any idea what to do with.

4 eggs
2 cups whole milk (I still had leftover raw milk from last week! But now it's gone... sad)
1/2 cup shredded cheese (we used extra-sharp Tillamook cheddar that I had in the deli drawer)
5 slices of prosciutto, cut into small strips
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced and stemmed
1 leek, diced
1 bunch broccoli rabe, sauteed and cut into 1" strips
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 recipe for Ina Garten's Perfect Pie Crust, half-baked in the oven for about 25 minutes

Whisk together the eggs and milk in a bowl. Set aside. Saute the leek and garlic in olive oil and butter until softened, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add mushroom and leek mixture and all the other ingredients to the egg mixture, and pour into the semi-finished pie crust. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until the eggs are 98% set. Top with a little extra cheese. Oh, and feel free to substitute the fillings for whatever your market gives you :)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Aurora in Wonderland

Aurora, Oregon is not the kind of place you'd expect to drive through and stumble upon sophisticated food finds. Sure, amidst the quaint antique malls and charming farmhouses, there may be an ex-Texas diner fry cook serving up hash worthy of a Diners, Drivers and Dives visit. Or maybe a sweet granny spicing legendary fried chicken with a blend she's taking to her grave. White Rabbit Bakery, however, seems as though it got lost on the way to NE Ainsworth and decided to settle its roots in alien territory, like an orchid in the tundra. Gluten-free cookies and bacon-topped "Swine-Amon" rolls? Are we really five miles from Canby??

The interior of the coffee shop and scratch bakery (no Galaxy Desserts or Mostly Muffins in sight!) is full of whimsical reminders of its namesake, and a modern Victorian feel. The moment you walk in the door you're face-to-face with a mad world of tempting patisserie.

I ordered a White Chocolate Raspberry scone and caramel latte to go, because I had this work thing to get to (huh? We have to work for a living? Boo...). Carrying the giant pyramid of scone into the car, I figured I'd be throwing most of it away for sure.

That's until I starting eating it.

Scones generally have a pretty bad rap for being dense, dry dough pucks. And rightfully so. Have you ever gotten one of things from Starbucks in desperation for a breakfast fix? I know, it's not a decision we're usually proud of in retrospect. This fresh, still oven-warm pastry was (correctly) crusty on the outside, but inside, the soft, airy dough was the perfect cross between cake and biscuit. That lightness and flakiness is something that will not survive a freeze. Stained with the fresh, sweet raspberries, it reminded me of the Fischer's fresh-baked scones I was treated to at the Puyallup Fair once a year as a kid. Just bigger, better, and with far less carnies.

Is Aurora an anomaly, or an archetype for the future? Doesn't it only make sense that from where the good food grows, the good food is prepared? Already Aurora is sporting this gem of a bakery, a chocolate-covered fruit and nut factory with a gift shop that's worth any drive, and a barbecue kitchen I've been begging Matt to let us try. Why should we have to drive into the 'big' city limits to eat the fresh, real foods sprouting out of our bucolic backyard?

I'm holding out for the day a chef from Aurora is nominated for the James Beard award. Until then, I'm just rejoycing the return of the SCONE.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Festive Fare o' th' Irish

My mom has a flair for making holidays special. For every major celebration-themed day there was something unique to mark it - something we didn't have any other time of the year. On Halloween night, it was pizza burgers. On New Year's, it was appetizers for dinner. Valentine's Day never went by without pink frosted sugar cookies, and Easter would never be so without an instantly-disappearing platter of deviled eggs. We looked forward to each years' passing of holidays for the love and fun of our family traditions; bright patches to savor through the year's routine.

Even though it's been 7 years since I've woken up living in my parent's house, I still feel something is amiss when I'm wished a Happy St. Patrick's Day without being able to smell my mom's Irish Soda Bread. I plan to carry on and share all of these nuggets of love with my own kids someday, but with the lack of time and just a less-than-impressionable husband to instill traditions into, many fall by the wayside where they are sorely missed.

Luckily, there's a little piece of St. Patrick's Day that remains simple, even to the working class. I was reminded of this when we were at Costco during the weekend, and passed a huge end cap of Corned Beef.

"St. Patrick's Day is Wednesday!" I exclaimed, scooping up the biggest buttery brisket I could find. "I can make this!" It's the meal that Mom makes every single year, the one I'll never eat at some greasy bar with Guinness on special.

Yesterday morning, I put the corned beef in the Crock Pot with about an inch of water. After a phone consultation with Mom I refrained from adding the cabbage, carrots and potatoes into the all-day simmer, saving them from becoming hopelessly soggy. By the time I got home, 9 hours later, the corned beef was too tender to shake and permeated the entire house with a sweet, mustardy smell.

I'm not a big beer drinker, which makes hop-happy holidays like St. Patrick's Day a little sad for me. But armed with a bottle of Midori and plenty of vodka, Matt shook me up a festive cocktail to boil veggies to!

Brought the Crock Pot cooking liquid and water to a boil, then added a chopped head of cabbage, baby carrots and halved red potatoes to the pot. I figured this was at least authentic. If there's one thing the Irish and British have in common, it's boiling the hell out of their food.

Just to add a little touch of home, I made a point to dig out what green serving dishes I had around. You can see, however, that Easter was a little defensive about this shamrock shit impeding on its hard-fought territory. The chicks will not yield the field.

We didn't so much civilly eat dinner as much as inhaled the melting ruby beef right off its 'serving' plate. We probably would have just polished off the whole cut if I did not pre-pack a good hunk of it for-


Corned Beef Hash, a non-childhood tradition that I'm making our own. After hearing Alton rave and complicate it on Good Eats, I knew we could do something just as good without going out and buying dough-measuring dowels and crafting smoke screens from air filters or whatever the hell else he'll insist you have to do if you don't want to serve mediocre crap. I started with fresh, uncooked red potatoes and onion, and let them soften in a pan over medium-a-little-high heat with butter and canola oil. Added a good shake of Red Robin Seasoning Salt, pepper, a splash of cider vinegar and beef broth, and added the sliced corn beef after about ten minutes of cooking.

I added the cabbage at the very end, again out of fear of the dreaded soggy veggie. Topped with over-easy eggs, not from Full Of Life farm because I'm all out. BUMMER. Curse you, adorable farm that is only open 5 hours one day a week!! How dare you be out in the pasture, loving on the chickens and cows. After the porn shot was taken, it got an ugly-but-delicious squeeze of my dearest ketchup and sriracha sauce.

The verdict? I thought it was great. A new, different and worknight-easy way to enjoy the same ingredients all over again without feeling like we'd just done it. Matt says? "You know that I really don't like cabbage."

Eek, a green leaf vegetable snuck its way in there! I knew something was ruining this carbfest.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Skipping Spring

Today was a day full of great food that hopscotched right over our impending new season. Burgerville deemed me a "Very Important Foodie" (no autographs, please), which basically just means I check Facebook often enough to be one of the first 150 people to respond and get a free lunch. Oh, but not just any free lunch. Seasonal Burgerville lunch!

It's great when a local fast food chain decides to be seasonal. It is a sign that all hope may not be lost. That, like in my marriage, the pathologically picky and seriously snobby eaters can come together in a common place with a 50's aesthetic and very attractive collateral materials.

For the sparse culinary season that is March in Oregon, Burgerville cleverly dipped into preserves - pickled! Behold, the Pickled Pepper Cheeseburger.

I'll let Burgerville's food porn copywriter take it away.

"Our featured Pickled Pepper Cheeseburger is inspired by local chef Grace Pae, founder of Artemis Foods (we're celebrating community members who share our love of local food and sustainab...le values all year long!). A 1/4 lb. Country Natural Beef patty topped with Tillamook Pepper Jack cheese, baby spinach, marinated red onions, Mama Lil's pickled peppers and a smoky aioli on a Portland French Bakery toasted Ciabatta bun. YUM! And Rosemary Shoestring Fries are back, too!"

Appealing, fresh produce that they deliver on in-store as well. The pickled peppers and onions were a genius balance of sweet and tart, the kind of thing you don't expect to find on a lunch half-hour in the middle of... er, the suburban res/com area I work in. I could just sit there and dip them in that aioli all day long. My only little qualm? Ciabatta. Ciabatta is to the 00's what Foccacia was to the 90's. Your sandwich isn't gourmet until you stuff it inside one of these cantankerous breads. The problem is, the almost-sourdough flavor and signature toothsoome chewiness of ciabatta stands up and beats the rest of these fine ingredients into sniveling submission. I want the bread to frame my burger, not chew the scenery.

This Rosemary Fries centerfold is cruelly misleading.

See all those pretty green flakes of herbage? LIES!!! Mine looked like someone accidentally shook a smidge of green-hued pepper onto the order before realizing they hadn't grabbed salt. And since they're shoestrings, they do a very poor job of holding my very favorite part about ruining my figure with fries - KETCHUP. I love ketchup. For this heavy task, a Red Robin steak fry beats these Rosemary-deprived weinie tots anyday.

So, that was my foray into epicurean analysis this afternoon. Thirty minutes later and it was back to corporate slavery.


I got to go home.

Dinner was easy, because I did all the work last night. I rubbed a whole cut chicken in that print-label Jamaican Jerk seasoning, and let it dry marinate overnight in the fridge. At the same time, I put together a Crock Pot full of Roosevelt Beans. Another reminant of my parents' travels (anyone seeing a pattern here? Tabitha stays home while her parents go on adventures... take two). My mom and dad brought this recipe back from their horseback riding guides on last summer's trip to Yellowstone. I'm sure they have an intoxicating charm I can't even hope to replicate when served on a tin plate over a Wyoming fire, but wherever you find yourself, they are damn good beans. All I had to do when I got up this morning was take the pot out of the fridge, put it in the crock heater and turn it on (and I ALMOST walked out the door without doing it! That would have been a travesty). When I got home tonight from the dentist, my teeth were freshly polished and ready to dig into whatever was making the house smell like impromptu July weekend barbecue.

Just for kicks, I topped the grilled chicken with a little chili mango sauce. Then I got all Bobby Flay on the plate. According to Matt, I am a dork. I will not challenge this assertion.

I have to seriously commend Matt. He is getting so much better at barbecuing the things I set forth from the kitchen into the manly realm of FIRE. I used to just smile through the pain as my kabobs came back charred, my pork chops dry, the steaks - raw! Even for me, the queen of rancidly rare. He cooked that chicken perfectly, and most likely would have even if I hadn't been behind his shoulder, pointing out prime grill positions for each cut. And in the ultimate badass move, he didn't even feel the need to cut into an unsuspecting breast to test for doneness, losing all precious juices in the process. He KNEW we weren't getting salmonella. That's my baby :)

Here's the recipe for the beans, which get an extra kick from our personal addition to the recipe, Sriracha sauce. Oh, and I don't like lima or butter beans, so I use garbanzo and white beans. The garbanzos add a great firmer texture. But if you like those soft, thick legumes, well... whatevs. Matt also likes to wrap it in a tortilla. He likes to wrap everything in a tortilla. The universe is his burrito.

Roosevelt Beans
1 lb hamburger or sausage (I like Costco's Louisiana Hot Links. Freeze the rest for jambalaya! MMMM.)
1/2 lb bacon, diced into 1/2" pieces and pan-fried.
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 can pork n beans, with juice
1 can kidney beans
1 can lima beans
1 can butter beans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp mustard
1/2 cup ketchup
1 good squirt of Sriracha Sauce
salt and pepper

If you're using non-cooked hamburger or sausage, brown it with the onion in the bacon grease. Toss everything in the crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Orange Blossom Gelato

After letting the carefully-cooked milk, cream and eggs chill down in the freezer this morning, I poured the mixture into the whirring Cuisinart ice cream maker. This is always the scariest part. I've had some serious disappointments trying to make ice cream since getting the machine at my bridal shower. After bitching to the Cuisinart rep on the phone about how it must be defective, she asked, "well, are your ingredients 'cold'?" Well, not really. Not, like, frigid. Either way, I've wasted some great blackberries and a leftover flat of raspberries in semi-solid, gooey messes.

Luckily, the prep paid off this time around. The Orange Blossom Gelato frothed and firmed up perfectly. The Orange Blossom extract was more floral than orangey, a fragrant note of some plant I'm sure I've never seen. The candied orange peel added a nice contrast in texture, which was good for me because I'm not typically a big ice cream person. And, just like drinking the milk straight, the gelato made with raw milk was intensely rich. I just had a small dessert-size bowl after dinner tonight and I feel like I'm going to have to dig out my 'fat pants' for work tomorrow. Here's the recipe, if you're wanting a citrus vacation from March.

Orange Blossom Gelato with Candied Orange Rind

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup white sugar
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
Pinch of coarse salt
1 1/2 teaspoons Orange Blossom Extract OR, if you haven't been to the Caribbean lately, 1 teaspoon of Penzey's Pure Orange Extract
Candied orange peel, very finely diced

Place the milk, cream and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a small pan and cook over low heat, whisking occasionally, until it is warm to the touch.

Place the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the extract and the salt into a small metal bowl and whisk until completely mixed. Add 1/4 cup of the warm milk mixture to the eggs, whisking all the while. Continue adding milk to the eggs, 1/4 cup at a time, until you have added about 1 1/2 cups. Slowly, whisking all the while, return the now milk and egg mixture to the remaining milk mixture in the pan and continue cooking until it just begins to thicken. Don't let it boil. Allow to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate overnight.

Take out of the fridge about 20 minutes before putting in the ice cream machine, and stick in the freezer. Pour into ice cream machine according to your particular machine's directions. About 2/3 through the solidification process, add the candied orange peel. Transfer to a freezer-safe container and allow to sit in the freezer for 4 hours before serving.

Candied Orange Peel a la Martha Stewart
1 orange
1/3 cup sugar

Using a citrus zester or vegetable peeler, shred long strips of orange peel.

Place strips in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Drain; repeat two more times with fresh water.

Place sugar in a clean saucepan with 1 cup water; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes. Add the citrus strips to the boiling syrup; reduce heat, and simmer until strips are translucent, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat; let strips cool in syrup, at least 1hour. Remove from syrup when ready to use.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Full of Life Field Trip

It was an unexpectedly stunning faux-spring day today, with the clear sunny sky betraying the bitter-cold wind whistling through the valley. Perfect for a drive in the toasty Corolla. We set the Garmin to a desination I've been meaning to get to since seeing them at last years' Villebois Farmers Market - the Full of Life Farm in St. Paul.

Following the gentle voice of Garmin, we wound around the lush green fields that make up our expanded backyard, flanked by gently rolling hills framing drool-worthy farmhouses, old and unwavering orchards, a charming state park and BABY GOATS!!! Not 15 minutes from our front door did we pull into the Farm's mud-path entrance (slightly before Garmin said we would; thankfully, the Corolla has a great turn radius).

As I learned last summer, lusting shamelessly after the pasture-meandering broiler chickens, all of the animals on the farm are treated with dignity and respect. They spend their lives the way nature intended them to - eating grasses and clovers, and roaming free of space constrictions and constant stress. The inspiration and ethical model of the farm was inspired by Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm, the diversification paradise that Michael Pollan dedicated 1/4 of The Omnivore's Dilemma to exploring.

Although you're able to pick up the farm's chickens, beef and pork cuts, and chicken eggs at several 'scene' markets around Portland during the season, there is one deep, dark secret you have to trudge into the mud and country to discover...

That's right, people. I am talking about the illicit, dirty, underground world of:


Unpasteurized, or raw milk, is legal to own and consume in Oregon. It's the distribution that is tricky. Under state law, commercial dairies are "prohibited from distributing raw milk. The only exception is for small operations with three cows or less, which are permitted to sell raw milk on-site but cannot advertise sales or ship off the premises." These small dairies, like Full of Life farm, are not allowed to personally market their controversial wares. But crazy fringe bloggers can yak about it all day long. There's a sort of underground railroad in the Portland area of Meetup groups and recycled Bell jars, with the au natural lait lovers trading availability tips and pick-up dates. It's like an Ecuadorian drug cartel. With less grisly murders. And more cheese.

My dealer, Hayden, packs me up some suspiciously-colored eggs.

Leaving, I saw a HERITAGE TURKEY! Not a very common sight, although the Local Heirloom Foods movement is proving their saving grace. Many breeds are, or are near, extinct. I better start saving now for Thanksgiving - the beasts don't come cheap. He may have sensed my intentions; he totally flexed on me when I jumped out of the car for a picture.

Getting the goods home, I was a little nervous. I haven't actually had a straight-up, Kahlua-less glass of milk for about 15 years. I only have it on hand for recipes, and usually end up throwing most of it away week after week. But a special (and legally dicey!) treasure like this deserves to be experienced straight-up, no chaser.

Gracelessly pouring myself a small glass (I spilled :( ), I took one last apprehensive breath, and tipped the foaming cup to my lips.

It was thicker and creamier than any milk I can ever remember drinking, without being sticky or cloying. The taste immediately on my tongue was the familiar taste of milk, but pure and clean and distinctly fresh. The real flavor came as a sort of aftertaste, after the gulps had washed smoothly down my throat. It was grassy and floral, like the aged raw milk cheddars from Fiscalini in California. The farm essence harks back to childhood and departed decades, when you didn't need a homeland security badge to get into the facility where your family's food comes from.

The wealth of dairy inspired me to break out the ice cream machine and marry my local milk and eggs with my St. Martin Orange Blossom extract. The result? Orange Blossom Gelato with Candied Orange Rind. It's in the fridge chilling out; I'll put it into the Cuisinart tomorrow morning to come together.

Collecting my 4 necessary egg yolks, I decided not to be wasteful and use my last remaining Safeway egg. I knew there would be a difference, but when you crack 'em neck'n neck, it's truly striking.

Anyway, we will see what happens tomorrow when my foreign and fresh ingredients meet. Until then:


Friday, March 12, 2010

Bubble Bust

I admit it, I'm a little gulliable.

I'm not sure if it's an affront or a credit to my professional marketing career. In one way, it's nice to be your own ideal customer and think of what you'd see/think/feel. On the other hand - well, is everyone really that dumb??

It isn't something that stops at food, even if I like to think of myself as an above-averagely gifted and knowledgable culinary craftsman. I remember starting work at the Will Remain Anonymously Named Food Distribution Company a few years ago, and being crushed seeing all of the frozen options - and realities. Yes, I thought that at Starbucks there were these secret, extremely compact bakeries, where baristas snuck back to knead scones and glaze muffins.

As I may or may not have mentioned, Metropolitan Market in Seattle is my favorite grocery store. It is, simply put, perfection. The Admiral district store, mind you - you have to go to the right one. It's an independent chain in and around the Seattle area, which means that I don't get to shop there on a weekly basis (which is probably a good thing - I'd go bankrupt otherwise). But when I do, it's like nothing I can replicate in Portland. The adorable cookware-and-cookbook shop-within-a-shop, the (mostly) scratch bakery, the fountain in the produce section, the hand-spun mozzarella - all with the sleek and cosmopolitan class that you just don't find anywhere in Oregon. People do not dress up in Oregon, and neither do their grocery stores. There's an air of reverie for the food, one that would ward off thoughts of going in your pajamas and mustard-stained sweatshirt.

I have my routines on my visits, every month or so. I always buy a bag of their in-house pitas. They're much softer than other pita bread you'll buy, but they crispen up along the edges under the broiler, creating a great crunch and supple, bready center. I grab a real glass bottle of 1% milk - because it's glass! and also locally/sustainably/deliciously created. And I grab an issue of Metropolitan Market's Real Foods magazine. A magazine with food photography, new products, and seasonal recipes. It's a little piece of this Metropolitan Mecca I can take back to no-nonsense PDX, postcards from a home I refuse to yield.

So I was going to feature a really awesome recipe, dear readers (whoever you are - I feel oh-so-super awesome ranting out to my proudly proclaimed ZERO FOLLOWERS glaring at me from the right hand of this screen). And I thought, ooh, I wonder if Metropolitan Market has a website for said magazine. This is 2010 after all, slices of toast have their own websites. Then maybe I could link to a picture, and it would be so great! Technology is cool.

So I googled "Metropolitan Market Real Foods", and this is what I got:

OF COURSE!!! You evil, clever little bastards. You don't secure nationally-noted foodies, or chef-exclusive recipes, for Metropolitan Market's meager 6 stores. Real Foods is a -



I felt so cheated! And I thought I had something special. Nope. Just a national marketing consultant template with a few local ads dumped into InDesign. And I pay 99 cents a trip for it.

"Real Food differentiates your store from the competition while providing you with an exclusive marketing tool unavailable to anyone else in your trade area. The high production standards of the magazine and quality of the content, combined with stunning visuals and graphic design, create a stimulative environment for showcasing your product."


Next thing you'll be telling me that Happy Cows don't come from California.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dogmas and Dessert

One of the prerequisites of being a pretentious foodie is reading pretentious foodie literature. It just needs to be done. It's the only way you're ever going to fit in with the co-op crowd. To meet this requirement, and re-awaken some of that hibernating non-fiction lust that passed out after I got done with my college thesis, I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Yes, I'm about two years late, but to be fair, I bought it at the Tampa Airport two years ago. So, it (almost) works out OK.

I'm making my way through it, albeit very slowly. I arrive at work every morning between 7:38 and 7:40 am, and go inside at exactly 7:50. That's when I sneak in a few pages, along with my 30 minutes at lunch, if I don't decide to run around like crazy to get an errand done in that scant amount of time. I'm about 1/3 of the way through, and so far, I just have to say that while Michael Pollan may be an anointed Sustainability Saint, Kingsolver is its Gaia. She may not have as high-profile of appearances, as polished a website, or the repeat seat on The Daily Show, but the woman has soul. She treads softly in the background, her hands deep in soil and compost, standing back and letting the beauty of her labors speak for itself. She writes about spring sprouts, neighbor-farms' eggs and friend's treasured recipes with more love than most people would use to describe their own children. While Michael trounces through the forest with some Italian aristocrat trying to find morels and prove that he can make one dinner from foraged scratch, Barbara is inside her no-nonsense energy-efficient farmhouse, scraping last winter's home-grown onions and potatoes out of the cellar for gratin from the heart.

No offense at all, St. Pollan. The sustainable food movement needs its boisterous advocate. But for really getting to the 'root' of the movement's heart, the subtlety of Kingsolver is an inspiring delight.

As far as I've gotten the Kingsolver family is still in early Spring, eagerly anticipating the summer bounty of their labors. My favorite chapter so far is Gratitude. In celebration of Barbara's 50th birthday, they are throwing an all local-food party for 150 friends and family in May. With the help of a friend, they begin to look at what will be sprouting and edible by the event date.

"There would be asparagus, of course, plus lots of baby lettuces and spinach by then. Free-range eggs are available here year-round. Our friend Kristy had free-range chicken, and the Klings, just a few miles from us, had grass-fed lamb. The Petersons had strawberries. Charlie had rhubarb, another family was making goat cheese. White's Mill, five miles from our house, had flour. If we couldn't pull together a feast out of that, I wasn't worth the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow Award I won in 1972. (Kind of by accident, but that is another story.)

The menu wrote itself: Lamb kabobs on the grill, chicken pizza with goat cheese, asparagus frittata, an enormous salad of spring greens, and a strawberry-rhubarb crisp. To fill out the menu for vegan friends we added summer rolls with bean sprours, carrots, green onions, and a spicy dipping sauce. We had carrots in the garden I had nursed over the winter for an extra-early crop, and Camille ordinarily grew bean sprouts by the quart in our kitchen windowsill; she would have to ramp up her production to a couple of gallons. We might feed our multitudes after all."

-Kingsolver 103-104
(just in case the MLA police are lurking around the blogosphere. Thank you, AP English, for instilling the fear of God into me.)

The creativity and sheer tenacity just inspires the bejeezes out of me. I don't have any birthdays to celebrate in early spring - by the time Matt's rolls along on June 11, I'm already in full-on summer mode. The only real entertaining opportunity I have before unveiling the BBQ (officially - I've been cheating on the side in my garage) is Easter.

I don't know who the hell is even coming for Easter this year. My family, all 3 hours away in the foothills of Washington's Mt. Rainier, are going to have to take a pass this time around. That leaves the in-laws, which haven't committed either way as of press time. But I'm high on eloquent fumes, and possible lack of guests, along with the early April date this year, can't damper my goals. We bought a house 5 months ago in the Willamette Valley, and I just dare you to find a better diversified and rich farming country than this. Just on the way into our town you pass a winery, an asparagus farm, haunting hazelnut groves and fields of hops. As much as I'd love the thrill of joining a Portland-area CSA, it seems ridiculous when I will probably be drowning in fresh produce grown feet from our driveway by summertime.

That's summertime, though. Lulled into a false sense of security with sunshine and days surpassing the 60 degree mark, I forget that these gorgeous gems aren't exactly right around the corner.

Before considering the limitations, I created what I thought was a beautiful early spring Easter menu.

-Roasted Dijon and Cracked Pepper-Crusted Rack of Lamb

-Spring Risotto
with asparagus, baby peas and Ossau-Iraty

-Winter Cellar Vegetable Tian
with zucchini, onions and Yukon potatoes

-First-Greens Salad
tossed with hazelnuts and French herb vinaigrette

-Bread Menagerie

-Strawberry Shortcake

Wanting to keep things local and pure, I started from the top and started researching. New Seasons stocks Umpqua Valley Lamb, raised far south toward the beautiful Rogue River Valley. "Our lamb is grown strictly on pasture," says Leonard Gondek of Umpqua Valley Lamb. "It doesn't go to a feed lot. We have a very good area and very good soils."


OK, now risotto. I google "Oregon Produce Chart" and am led to this very useful link:

Let's see, asparagus. APRIL! Sweet.


August!? WTF?? I swear to god they're earlier than that. Are you quite SURE, Agri-Business Council of Oregon?

Ossau Iraty... well, that comes from the Basque region of France. There is nothing local about it. It is simply my former cheese marketing self screaming inside to be heard. And I will listen. Case closed.

Winter cellar veggies we're safe with. Lettuce, according to the green bar, is going to be popping up locally in time. I've got hazelnuts from one of the hazelnut packing plants just a mile or so down the road, and dried French herbes lovingly preserved by Penzey's . I'm not going to go all badass like Barbara and try too hard to fuss with locally ground-flour in my bread, but I'll see if New Seasons has anything offer.

Which brings me to the crux - Strawberry Shortcake. My Penzey's catalog came in the mail last week with the dessert gracing the cover, and I think my St. Marteen Vanilla would love a test-drive on the holiday table. Sadly, according to the cruel chart, the green bar falls just short of my reach - strawberries aren't scheduled to creep out of the ground until May.

My mind races with justifications and bargains. It's been a warm winter - maybe they'll decide to come out early this year? Am I really THAT far from California? Am I a terrible person, a part of the evil industrial food machine? What would the localvores do?

Make rhubarb crisp, that's what. YUCK. I fucking hate rhubarb. It's red celery, for god's sake.

I could get around the ethics by using my own preserves - but I was in the middle of trying to move into a house last summer, and didn't have the time or means to freeze the local fruit bounty for just such an occasion.

Well, there's an idea. Locally-frozen fruit. Immediately I know exactly the place - Willamette Valley Fruit Company. About 30 minutes south in Salem, the Willamette Valley Fruit Company produces an exceptional line of frozen fruits (and pies and cobblers, if you want to totally cheat). It's so beautiful in the case, frozen snapshots of summertime.

Take THAT, cruel tease of summertime! I can have my shortcake and eat honorably too. Barbara would approve.

Well, no, she wouldn't. I'd get majorly docked for the lavishly imported cheese, consuming ten thousand times as many fuel calories per edible calorie for transport, and that damn local flour. But it's Eden, not heaven. Things don't always turn out perfect here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pillaging the Caribbean

A souvenir is always appreciated. It's nice to know that, even though someone is off having a much better time than you are in some postcard-perfect destination, you still happen to cross their mind. They might wonder blissfully what you're doing out in that ho-hum timezone they left behind, which is most likely working, sleeping, or watching re-runs of Futurama in between the two.

As nice as the sentiment is, there are only so many coconut monkey statues, Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts and plastic snow globes one can tastefully work into their decor. The true love comes when someone knows you so well, that they can walk right past the seashell-glue-and-googly-eyes emporium to dig up local treasures that are relevant (and relished!) in that everyday life you're leading while they're away.

Leave it to my mom and dad to perfect this thoughtful talent. For my mom's 50th birthday, they spent a week and a half on a Caribbean cruise. And there was no question of what I'd savor the most.


Oh yes, and those are cat butts. I told you to be warned.

Most of my island treasures were from St. Marten, from the same market Alton Brown caroused on his 3rd meandering Food Network special, Feasting On Waves. Matt's instant reaction to the whimsical hand-painted bottles and Sharpie labels - "THAT looks sanitary."

Well Mr. Corporate Food Machine, I'm sorry to rob you of your High-Fructose Corn Syrup injection.

*My husband is a notably picky, unadventurous eater. This will be explored later here, and with my therapist.

You can have your cold, soulless labels and "nutrition facts". Give me some local legend's hand-scooped specialty anyway. Grow an immune system, people. In my eyes, it's personality and mystery that's rarer and rarer to find in our shrinking world. The handmade descriptions whisper of so many possibilities - orange blossom cupcakes and gelato, coconut essence summer cocktails and sweet flavored sticky rice, and true vanilla rocketing to the top of the chocolate chip cookie profile.

I was also gifted a bag of yellow gold labeled CURRY. So potent, it makes me sneeze without even breaking the seal. In the dark, sun-shunning corner cabinet, it will wait patiently for cilantro and tomatoes to trump in the heart of summer. Barbecue, you will be blessed.

The hot sauce and Jamaican Jerk seasoning have the aid of a print shop, which might give them enough corporate cred for my husband to partake. As high a horse I can get on about my 'ingredients with soul', I can't resist a bottle that's wearing a hat.

And yes, my parents know that too.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I need to write more.

It's the kind of thing I forget to do almost always, or get really drunk and swear I'm going to do RIGHT NOW with all these GREAT IDEAS! Like taking a yoga class, or learning German, or organizing the garage. But faced with an inevitability - like high blood pressure, or a relocation to Frankfurt, or an impending visit from the Hoarders crew - I know I truly have to commit to a change. I've just been accepted into an intensive MFA program in creative nonfiction, so unless I want to flush $20,000 a year down the drain, I'd better get typing.

When trying to decide what exactly I was going to formulate this daily practice-run blog around, I knew it had to be something that a. I loved and b. was a topic with enough angles and takes to generate daily(ish) material for a good couple years. In my world, that qualifies as:

1. Work
I have a job. I know very well that, in this economic clusterfuck, that is a great blessing. I remain cognizant of this fact. However, writing about it would feed into a vicious circle of frustration, suffocation and self-destruction that I don't feel like spiraling down. So let's leave it in the background.

2. My relationship
I am married to this guy.

There we are! We've been together almost 5 years, married for almost 1.5 years. We enjoy snuggling on the couch and watching Dexter, shopping for garden furniture and doing Costco shopping on the weekends. We make each other laugh, listen to each other bitch, and work together to achieve mutual goals. Although we have a great relationship, we lack the precarious drama and unpredictability that would make unusually captivating.
Happy but boring. Oh well.

3. The cats

Oooh. This a tempting one. The possibilities for cat wedding pics, fan fiction and LOL captions stretch out before me in a self-indulgent sea. It looks like a good idea, until I hit PUBLISH and the 120 people on my Facebook page all of a sudden know that I have a cat blog. I feel the classification of "friends" may fall substantially after this.

This leaves:

4. FOOD.

Food I eat. Food I make. Food I see. Food I buy. Food I crave. Food I grow. Food I can. Food I can't.

Food is my fashion, food is my canvas, food is my heart and history and voice when every other form of expression fails. I love being around it, reading about it, and of course, writing about it. I know a food blog isn't exactly a new concept. It's about as fresh as lutefisk, and as overused as chipotle. But *I* haven't ever had a food blog (a food column, yes! but that's a plug for another day). So until I do, it hasn't all been done.

Here I will collect the musings that waft from my kitchen, my eden. Like anything made with love, it only lives when you share.

Fair warning: there still will probably be copious inclusion of cats.