Sunday, December 14, 2008

A first

Last night was our first snow of the season. It was also my first attempt at baking a chocolate truffle layer cake. This year has been a big ball of firsts, and now that it’s coming to a close, it only seems appropriate to end with a few more.

Mark turned the big 4-0 this week. I was more excited for it than he was. Forever the optimist and the one wise enough to mention that ‘life is what you make it’ - even he thought the number to be daunting, strange and not quite something to jump up and down about. As for me, I thought it was terribly cool to have my sophisticated older and wiser guy (who looks not his age and acts definitely not his age… but in a good way) turn 40. To mark the occasion, I did nothing other than turn to chocolate. Not only because Mark is obsessed with chocolate in any form, but because it seemed the most decadent, rich and celebratory of all the things I could fathom to mark a milestone. Besides, chocolate makes people happy… and if you’re going to be depressed about your age you might as well stuff your face with butter cream frosting and have a beer.

When we woke up this morning it was freezing. The clouds were in a strange state of in-between, their high and wispy thinness showing patches of black, opening up to the sky and letting the sun shine through. The wind was whipping around, blowing the bamboo in the front yard all over the place. I knew it was cold, because the linoleum on the kitchen floor is always a fairly accurate thermometer of the chill outside our front door. I put on my slippers, Mark put a blanket around his ‘jamas, and we made coffee. Mark drank his hot in front of the computer while I let my go cold – I had to finish the birthday cake.

I wanted to try out a recipe for ‘Mile-High Chocolate Cake’ that I found on Mark mentioned at one point that a chocolate truffle cake would be yummy, so I found a recipe for chocolate truffles (also something I had never tackled before) and hoped that the two would come together nicely in a decadent, orgasmic marriage of rich dark chocolatey-ness that would put him into a solid age-amnesia-causing sugar coma. Well, one could only hope.

The recipe was a lot of fun, even if I didn’t have the correct cake pans and disgustedly refused to use 6 sticks of butter for the frosting (ok, I used 5). I’m just not used to going whole-hog on the decadent dessert front. I’m more the girl who shows up at the dessert and cocktails party with the carrot cake made with whole wheat pastry flour and honey. I’m my mother’s daughter, what can I say? It’s my first truly decadent dessert, made with all the ingredients that usually send a shiver up my spine. White all-purpose flour? Check. White sugar? Check. Heavy whipping cream? Check. Mind you, all ingredients were totally organic. A girl has her principles, you know.

After my morning of fussy cake preparations, licking chocolate spoons before 11am and drinking cold coffee, I felt fairly satisfied in my work. I put on my running tights and fleece headband and went for a run in the whipping cold air. The sea water crashed on Alki beach, and the shores at Lincoln Park were cluttered with huge logs washed in from logging on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s amazing to see the force of the water on days like today. The
cold wind working alongside the waves, reminding you where you are and where you come from.

That night we went out to dinner, to 35th Street Bistro in Fremont. It’s become Mark’s favorite place for a burger, and mine for the wine and the carefully and mindfully prepared food. We sat in front of the large front window, tables lit by candlelight, and told each other how lucky we were to have the other as a partner in life. The words weren’t this direct, but in so many other words and sweet smiles we both understood. Small snowflakes began to fall outside, in front of street lamps and onto the sidewalk. The small flakes turned to large ones, and pretty soon all the diners in the house were looking out the window, smiling and pointing because snowfalls in Seattle don’t happen every day.

By the time we got home the ground was covered in a thin, wet layer of white stuff. It felt sort of magical, since neither of us are used to very much snow anymore. The bamboo trees off our front porch were leaning all the way over to the ground, weighed down by wet snow. We both thought it a novelty, a cozy snowstorm… and chocolate birthday cake!

With a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream alongside, the cake turned out pretty well, even though it was more like a milk chocolate cake than a dark chocolate cake. The truffles made up for the richness, and I would classify those as a definite success.

Mark didn’t seem too critical. Of course I wouldn’t know exactly because his mouth was too full to answer my inquiries of what needed a little more of this or that. He just kept taking the truffles and smashing each one into the top of his layer cake, cackling a mischievous ha ha HA! each time. Well, some things deserve few words I guess.

We’ve weathered this year much like the beaches at Lincoln Park. We’ve taken the waves and let them crash against us, changing our sands in the process, but never letting them wear us away completely. Driftwood washes against our shores, and we don’t know what for. The wind turns cold and we don’t know when it will turn warm and soft again. This year we hung tight, stuck together and we’re still not going to let too many firsts rock us from our foundation, though the sands seem to be shifting underneath.

As the snow falls outside the bamboo hut, we look outside and know that the first snow of the season will be the last in our little place. We can only look forward, no matter how scary or beautiful or unbelievable it may seem, even with the number 40 attached.

Mocha Truffles
Adapted from a recipe from Ina Garten from the Food Network 2008
Makes about 20 – 25 truffles, depending on size

These are decadent, sweet and rich but not overwhelmingly so. You can omit the coffee and simply use cocoa for rolling, or you can get creative and add cinnamon, cloves or ginger too. Truffles are fun for flavor experimentation. Try adding peppermint essence instead of the vanilla for the holidays, or add whiskey or a flavored liqueur to really get a surprised reaction. Have fun!

1/2 pound good dark chocolate such as Green & Black’s organic 70%
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons Grand Marnier, optional, add if you like orange flavor
1 tablespoon prepared coffee
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
2 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar (omit if you end up using a 60% chocolate or less)

Rolling mixture:
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 teaspoons finely ground coffee beans (espresso ground)
1 teaspoon confectioner’s sugar

Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife. Place them in a heat-proof mixing bowl.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan until just before it boils. Turn off the heat and pour the cream into the bowl with chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the Grand Marnier, if using, coffee, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate for 10-15 minutes until it sets into a stiff ‘dough’.

With 2 teaspoons, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until firm. Roll each dollop of chocolate in your hands to roughly make a round ball. Roll in the rolling mixture until coated. These will keep refrigerated for weeks, but serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Step by Step

In the last month, I’ve been walking. A lot. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few of my nutrition rotations at a place right here in West Seattle. So every morning, I leave my house in comfy pants, my comfy Dansko clogs and an umbrella tucked into an outside backpack pocket (in case of an unforeseen deluge), and walk 35 minutes up two humungous hills to work. I love it.

The sun has begun to put on its pretty sunset show earlier and earlier. Now, if I stay too late at work, I walk home in the twilight. At the top of the highest hill in West Seattle, I begin to walk down… down… down …with a view of the Olympic Mountains backlit by pink and sapphire. The view of the city stretches out before me opposite those twilight colors, trying to compete with its own sparkling lights and the space needle’s orb glowing orange.

With the darkness coming so early, my days find me inside from four o’clock until bedtime. I don’t know how many times Mark and I have said to each other after a five-thirty dinnertime, “it feels like midnight!” There isn’t much room to spread out inside the bamboo hut, what with one bedroom and one living/kitchen room and a thinnish wall in between. We end up spending our dark evening hours with our noses in books, our faces in computer screens, or squinting at magazines in the poor reading light. I’m feeling the need to rebel against the darkness. It’s time to get out.

So I’ve been walking. More. I put on a heavier jacket, my Danskos, and leave the umbrella behind like a good hearty Seattlite. With all the hills, winding back streets and bridges, our part of the city is perfect for urban hiking. I set out right as dark falls and climb up streets that belong in San Francisco. I wind around roads that are only traveled by those who share its address, I breathe heavy as I use my legs to carry me to places both physically and mentally distant. I breathe. I gaze at the panoramic view of Seattle in the fog. I feel the mist slowly and surreptitiously soak my forehead and eyebrows, and I dream.

After dark all the houses are lit from the inside. Big picture windows that frame living rooms and warm kitchens glow into the darkness, allowing anyone to peek into their secret world. Tonight I walked by a mansion of a home, strung with colored Christmas lights. I could see their Christmas tree all in white lights inside. At another home, lit from within, a long paneless window revealed a complete dinner scene – with grandpa, mom and dad and two kids sitting around a long table, serving salad out of a large bowl. I also peek, with some amount of guilt, into the grandest of homes, to get a glimpse of their modern furniture and perfect lighting. I feel transported, taken out of my body and away from my life to enter the worlds of others. I can imagine stepping onto their plush rugs, sitting on their pristine furniture, sharing a meal around a perfect table. I’m a Pisces, so I’m doomed to be a dreamy sort, I know. But if I cannot dream and escape then I cannot create something greater for my life. As I imagine what could be, I create it and bring it to me in some way.

About a year and a half ago, when I first began spending lots of time here with Mark in West Seattle, in those dark cool evenings I would walk up those hills to 35th Street, as it afforded the most spectacular view of the port and the skyscrapers of downtown. For some reason I was drawn to those hidden residential streets around 35th and Harbor Avenue below. They were quiet, labyrinthine, and felt to me, well… dreamy. I admired the modern homes with their tall narrow design, to take advantage of space vertically because horizontal space was so precious. I pictured Mark and myself in one of those homes, with a view of the city laid out like a giant photograph in some coffee table book. I could feel it, rising in my chest.

About a year later I would walk again on those streets, on another urban hike on some lazy summer day and find a spacious modern home, empty and for sale, that I labeled ‘dream house’. Whenever I was feeling depressed, or when Mark and I would be feeling feisty and hopeful about the future, we would drop by the dream house and peek in the windowed front door. It was magical, it was for sale, and it was entirely out of any price range we could imagine…but it was somehow ours.

A few weeks ago, after months of online searching in the For Rent ads, I stumbled upon a notice for a place that looked spacious, full of light, and within our price range. The address read 35th Street, West Seattle.

It was the first place and the last that we looked at in our search for a new home. We signed the lease last Saturday after a visit and a chat with our landlords who live upstairs in the house. She works in organic gardening. He’s an architect who loves cycling. They both exude a kind and loving energy for people and for their home.

In two weeks we’ll be moving up to 35th, to the top of the hill, where our evening glass of wine will be shared with the lights of the city, the ships going in and out of the port, and the Sound with her wet fog and chill. We’ll gaze out the windows of our living room onto that view, warm light stretching out into the darkness.

Maybe a passerby, on her walk, will guiltily peek inside our not-so-perfectly furnished dining room on the hill and dream about living way up high.

A toast to moving on, and moving up, and the power of visualizing the life you wish to live. May I see you all around our dining room table in the coming year, sharing a meal in a home, lit from within.

Monday, December 1, 2008


The last piece of apple pie is still in the fridge, but that's all that's left of our Thanksgiving meal. 

Thought I'd share it with you...

**The recipe I used is the classic apple pie recipe that everyone and their grandmother uses from the Joy of Cooking... but using part honey instead of all sugar, with a few more spices thrown in for good measure. The crust is a fantastic all-butter affair stolen from the Smitten Kitchen. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Pie

No words here folks... too busy chewing... Hapfey Tanksgibbing.

No-Fault Pumpkin Pie
from the New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen

2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin or squash (canned pumpkin is fine)

1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
3/4 teaspoons sea salt
2 beaten eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place pumpkin or squash puree in a medium-sized bowl, and add all other filling ingredients. Beat until smooth.

Spread into the pie crust and bake at 375 for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 and bake another 40 minutes, or until the pie is firm in the center when shaken lightly.

Cool at least to room temperature before serving. This pie tastes very good chilled, with rum or vanilla spiked whipped cream, or some high-quality vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Just Another Sunday

At the Market

Every Sunday morning, I roll out of bed and walk over to our bedroom window. I spread the blinds with my thumb and forefinger, stick my nose through the hole and squint my eyes up toward the sky. Then what follows is either a "Do'oh! Still raining" or a "Woohoo! Sunshine" or a "Hmmm, looks a little cloudy out there." I suppose I'm the official weather reporter for 4753 Delridge.

This morning was definitely a 'woohoo' day, which meant that our morning would have a bit more energy radiating onto and into whatever we did. The coffee Mark made today was pumpkin spice. We never drink the flavored stuff, but I must admit that it exceeded my expectations for pre-ground flavored coffee. After we took in all the caffeine we could handle, we spontaneously got into a 'discussion' (which is really what we like to call an argument) about what furniture would go where and why in our new house (which isn't even ours yet, as the lease still hasn't been signed). Yes, that sunshine brings all kinds of energy with it - or maybe we both just had a bit much caffeine.

We worked out all our frustrations (okay, almost all) at the gym. We go to the gym just about every Sunday. We both lift weights and put in our one hour time block for the weekend so we can walk around the rest of the week saying "gosh, I'm sore" and "feel these abs, baby" and "c'mon, hit me right here." I don't cherish my gym time really, but I know it needs to be done. Kind of like washing the dishes.

We then went our separate ways to work on those things we love best. Mark went to a friend's place to play music, and I went to the farmer's market. The sunshine meant everybody was out with me, stocking up on vegetables, pumpkins and turnips for Thanksgiving. I loaded up on apples so I could bring both a pumpkin and apple pie to dinner at Michelle's this year. The West Seattle Farmer's Market is my favorite Sunday ritual, besides the coffee drinking and those fun 'discussions' I get to have with my significant other. It's my time to walk through slowly, taking time to look at all the amazing things that come from Vashon Island, Carnation and the woods... somewhere. The foragers have been displaying some pretty awesome fungi this Fall. The mushrooms they find come from all those pine forests Washington is famous for.
Today I saw giant chantarelles, hedgehogs and even black truffles! I had no idea that this area had their own version of this famous and expensive 'shroom. But instead of the hundreds of dollars per ounce you'd see for truffles from Europe, these were $8 per. Maybe next time I'll treat myself to a bit of black gold.

I made my way home with my bounty - but wishing I could have taken home a few of those expensive things that I simply cannot justify right now being a student... like dried fresh heirloom beans, those truffles, and a few fillets of Alaskan salmon from Loki.

I lamented the few hours left in the day, as I began to work on my computer, writing and planning for a couple of upcoming classes I'm teaching (I'll keep you in the loop). Just one more hour of daylight and I could have gotten in a short bike ride to the water, or maybe a walk over to the Delridge P-patch to gawk at some rainbow chard. Instead I work, and then start to make dinner before Mark gets home. A simple meal that I've mentioned before, but one of our fav's; buckwheat soba with peanut sauce and tofu.

We sit eating dinner and we're both exhausted. We've had a full weekend of socializing and being out late. An open house at the Henry Gallery on Friday, and then wine tasting and dinner with friends on Saturday. I'm tired but contented, because seeing friends is very much worth the fatigue.

It's a short week this week, so have a fantastic Thanksgiving everyone. I'm grateful for you, for food, for friends who drink wine, for 'discussions' that may be fights, and for this blog where I get to share it all. The good, the bad, and the bread that just won't rise.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Dish to Look Forward To

Something to look forward to.  I always need something to look forward to, to get me excited when I'm feeling that cool, grey weather dreariness.  Yes, I know it isn't very buddhist-in-the-moment of me to say it, but looking forward to something, anything is just what gets me through the week when I feel stuck in the hamster wheel of my life.  Wake up. Run 6 miles in the dark.  Walk to work.  Work.  Walk home.  Have dinner with Mark.  Talk about the day and the rain.  Watch it get dark before 5.  Wish that I didn't have to get up and do it all again the next day.  Sigh.  Do it all again.

No, my life isn't awful, or really even that difficult... it's just the weather and the routine that could make anybody feel a little sodden right now.

Sometimes that something is simply thinking about that nice little kiss that Mark will give me when he walks in the door.  Sometimes it's my favorite television show full of blood, medical drama, sex and McDreamy (attention Grey's Anatomy producers:  you run the risk of losing a viewer if you fail to incorporate a hot dietitian character into the next season.)  Sometimes it's making Friday night plans to do happy hour at our favorite haunt, and other times it's picturing myself curled up in a blanket and reading a book that takes me far, far away.  

But sometimes, I agree to break out of the monotony by engaging my creativity - and of course this involves food.  This week I started with an ingredient:  wild rice.  Then I started layering ideas on top of that rice. What about something sweet?  What's in season?  What color would be exciting?  Pomegranates. Check.  Then something acidic, to give it some tang... oranges, with their zest!  Now this dish is starting to scream fall.  And then some walnuts and sage... and this may even be one to add to my cookbook.  Cookbook?  Oh yes, that's another thing I tell myself to look forward to; my future and very imaginary cookbook, published by a well-known house, promoted by the Food Network (this comes after my own show, of course) and getting publicity through Gourmet magazine and while we're at it - Oprah. (Hey, this is my fantasy-slash-coping mechanism. Deal with it.)

As I bring myself down from a creative gastronomic reverie, and remind myself that a rice salad won't bring me fame and fortune, I pick up the ingredients from the market, put them into my clunker car, and head home. Beautiful food shared with others is something to look forward to, even without a pristine photo layout and endorsement by talk show hosts... but it would help.

So here's my effort, shared with you, my adoring and multitudinous fans!  A colorful, delicious and nutritious dish, endorsed by the folks in the bamboo hut, featured and promoted in Seattle Sundays, and eaten by me. Enjoy, as I've been looking forward to this moment all week.

Wild Rice with Pomegranate and Sage
Serves 6

This dish may scream fall, but the colors remind me of Christmas.  This dish would go well with any holiday meal.  You could try this with cranberries either fresh or dried in place of the pomegranate, but why not make an excuse to explore this exotic fruit?  They aren't as complex as they seem... just go here to learn more. The wild rice I used is of this type by Lundberg organic.  If you want to substitute a wild rice blend, I'm sure that would turn out yummy as well.    

2 1/3 cups water 
8 oz Lundberg organic wild rice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon orange zest
Juice from 1 medium orange
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped fine
 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
2/3 cup broken walnut halves, toasted

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of the sea salt and the wild rice.  Stir once, bring the rice back to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat and cover to cook for 45 minutes.  Do not stir!  You'll know the rice is done when you lift the lid and tip the pot to one side, showing no pooling water, meaning it has all been absorbed.  

While the rice is cooking, zest the orange to gain the 1 teaspoon of orange zest, then juice it into a small bowl. Add the zest, then the olive oil, minced sage, and 1/2 teaspoon of the sea salt.  Stir to combine.

Open the pomegranate to remove its arils.  Set aside 1/2 cup of the arils.  Toast the walnut pieces either on the stovetop or in the oven until lightly browned and fragrant.

When the rice is done cooking, add the orange juice and sage mixture, and then the walnuts and the pomegranate arils.  Stir and serve warmed.  


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Friendship Pumpkin Soup

My friend Michelle gave me two whole sugar pie pumpkins a few weeks ago. Michelle is a gardener and a foodie, and a generous one too. She dropped them off on the way to her wine and food pairing class (she’s a wino like me, we met working at NHJ winery) and in an ironic exchange I gave her two gluten-free pumpkin raisin muffins made with pumpkin from a can. Poor girl, goodness knows it wasn’t a fair trade, but I just had to give her something for her generosity.

They are two beautiful, perfectly round, basketball orange gourds. So pretty I didn’t want to use them right away – why would I do that when I have nary a piece of seasonal décor in our little house? I put one on top of the television and one on the bookcase. There are few flat surfaces not yet occupied in our hut. So there they sat, looking so sweet, reminders that now’s the time for baking sweet things.

This Sunday, after looking at them for a few weeks and wondering just how many pumpkin pies I could sucker out of them, I decided it was time to make some food. I desperately wanted to make up the perfect pumpkin pie for you, my friends, but we’ve been eating enough sweets around here lately to make me think twice about generating yet another dessert for our fridge. Besides, I could always make up a pumpkin pie later, when Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away. I’d surely have enough pumpkin to freeze, and enough to make up some pumpkin muffins too (though these will surely have more soul).

Pumpkin is one of my favorite things. Just last week you could find me moaning over a pumpkin cake doughnut someone told me I just had to try. Last week Mark and I split a seasonal Pumpkin Ale from Elysian Brewing Company here in Seattle (which was fabulous, pumpkin-y with a hint of nutmeg). I got to the farmer’s market late today, and by one o'clock the pasta guys had run out of their pumpkin ravioli, otherwise I would have bought a little bit to complete my week-long pumpkin binge. Chances are, if it has pumpkin as an ingredient, I’m in.

The pies would have to wait, but what about a hearty pumpkin soup? I’ve made butternut squash soup and gingered carrot soup which are lovely on a cool Fall day. Pumpkin soup might be good, with garbanzo beans and a sweet and savory spicy curry. I split both of the pumpkins in half, scraped out the innards and laid them face down in a baking dish. There is something so terribly familiar, so evocative about cut fresh pumpkin. It’s that pungent jack-o-lantern smell that you first smelled as a kid. About a month ago I was doing my daily run along the running path, red and gold leaves overhead and beneath my feet. Blue skies and sunlight - everything around me sighed like Fall. I caught a whiff of something… so… familiar. Right away I knew what it was. Pumpkin guts! I looked quickly to my left and there on a back porch, 50 feet away was a dad and his two kids and five pumpkin carcasses laid a mess. There’s just no mistaking that smell. I could have been another 50 feet away and still have recognized those pumpkins.

I set a pot of water to boil, added roughly chopped carrots and onions, and later some dried garbanzo beans and kombu. After the beans softened, I add a chopped apple. The pumpkin was roasted and cooled by this time. I took a small forkful of orange flesh and mashed it against the roof of my mouth. It was sweet and soft and wonderful. This will make a fantastic soup.

This was Slow Food for sure. I spent most of my Sunday buying kale at the farmer’s market, roasting the pumpkins and then letting those beans soften up for hours. I don’t always plan to spend most of my Sundays making food, but seemingly the food makes plans for me. I begin with an idea, and the vegetables willfully take over.

This time I won’t share a recipe with you, as this soup was so much of a little of this and a little of that, but I’d be happy to list out the ingredients and let your own vegetables take over the plans. All I can say is that the richness of the pumpkin and the variety of spices make this one of my best soups yet.

Maybe Michelle will accept a bit of this soup as a fair trade – Michelle, what do you think? Let’s pair it with a nice gewurztraminer and talk pies.

Friendship Pumpkin Soup

Water or stock


Large onion


Dried garbanzos



Roasted pumpkin

Olive oil

Kala masala spice mix



Sliced fresh ginger

Moroccan spice mix (coriander, cinnamon, cumin, mint)

Freshly grated nutmeg

Nutritional yeast

Cayenne or other ground hot pepper

Ground Black Pepper



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fluffy Buckwheat Pancakes

Oh buckwheat, how I adore thee… let me count the ways.

1 Buckwheat crepes (also called gallettes) with spinach, mushroom and cheese
2 Toasted and cooked whole with caramelized onions and potatoes
3 Mixed with garbanzo flour and quinoa flour in baked goods – buckwheat is gluten-free too!
4 Raw buckwheat soaked and sprouted, then dehydrated into the cutely named ‘buckwheaties’

What, only 4 ways? Well now there’s 5. Buckwheat pancakes I love best. I love them not just because they are so sweet and toasty and fabulous, but because they were the first thing that Mark asked me to make this past Sunday morning. Actually, I think they were the first words he spoke at all to me. Eyes open. Yawn. A kiss. “Will you make buckwheat pancakes?” I smiled, because unimaginably, this was the exact thought that ran through my mind right before he asked that question. We do that a lot.

I’m used to making pancakes. I’m the pancake improv queen. I can scat and doowop those cakes with the best of ‘em. I never use a recipe. I see what I’ve got and throw it in the bowl. Sometimes it works out… and well… sometimes it doesn’t. After Mark and I moved in together, I started making pancakes right and left. I now had someone to cook for (a.k.a a victim ripe for my experimentation.) He’s been through dense vegan whole wheat cakes, fluffy white and wheat cakes, pancakes with blueberries not-quite-cooked-through, buckwheat cakes flatter than, um, a pancake. Needless to say he’s been through many pancakes, but you won’t hear any complaints from him. Good or bad, they’ve all been covered in real maple syrup and slathered in butter, which perfects any imperfection.

A few weeks ago I decided to become a bit more systematic in my experimentation. In other words, I needed to find what was working and write it down. Over time I sensed that the lightest and most blissful pancakes came when I used yogurt and baking soda. It’s no wonder as the yogurt’s protein gives the cake structure, and it’s acidity activates the baking soda so effectively to give a good rise. I remember my mother using yogurt in her pancake batter when I was growing up. It must be key.

With forced fastidiousness, I plopped down a pencil and paper next to my morning batter-making and came up with this. After all the batches of pancakes Mark has ‘endured’ he’s always said “yum” or “good job” or “you’re the best, Pancake Girl” but this time, he had no words. He only gave a guttural “Ughhhhaaaaaahhhhh” and followed it with an “MMmmmmm.” I’ve never seen him in more pleasure over a pancake (and he’s a french toast guy.) It’s the ultimate. We both agreed. You’ll never want for another pancake recipe again. Heck, you may never make another pancake again that’s not buckwheat.

So this is number 5, but I think you’ll agree it’s number 1.

Fluffy Buckwheat Pancakes

The first time I made these I used nonfat yogurt and came out with a dry product. Don't use it! Stick with a lowfat yogurt, a brand I like is Nancy's Organic. You could substitute the white spelt flour with a white wheat flour and you'd probably be safe. Try topping them with berries, bananas or even some maple sweetened yogurt for a power breakfast.

1 cup lowfat yogurt
1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice or sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons water
1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup white spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons butter

Mix together the first 8 ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine well and then add the flours and baking soda. Beat well to smooth the lumps. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium heat and add the butter to the pan. Pour batter out 1/4 cup at a time for medium-sized cakes. Top with real maple syrup and moan. I know, they're obscene, aren't they?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ginger Chocolate Almond Granola

Fall has been good to us lately. I seem to remember much more rain this time last year. There were more dark and cloudy days. On my morning runs along the bike trail, I’d see so many sodden red and yellow leaves stuck like papier mache to black pavement. This morning the leaves were wet, but only because of the dew of the cold October mornings we’ve had. Little rain, more blue skies to act as the backdrop to those technicolor leaves.

There was quite a bit of blue today, and the sun, in it’s low angle, peeked out from behind a few fluffy clouds to illuminate the yellows and oranges. It’s funny how each season has its colors. Spring is rose and yellow-lime green from new buds, with hints of violet purple from the crocuses. Winter is deep pine green, if you live in the Northwest, with lots of grey from clouds and foggy mornings. Winter is also white, as some mornings you may look out the window and find that a cloak has been pulled over your front yard. Our whiteouts come not from snow, but from a marine fog that will never let you forget where you are. If you don’t touch the waters of the Sound that day, the Sound may reach out and touch you.

Fall has many colors to give, but the ones that pop up everywhere are school bus yellow, orange and brick red. Fall also gives us smells. Today while jogging along the trail, admiring the confetti of leaves and low sunlight, I smelled cloves. Sometimes there is a mild cinnamon in the air too along with the chill. No wonder this time of year we turn to spices with hearty, deeply-colored foods to make our meals - orange pumpkins, profoundly green kale, and orange-red foraged mushrooms like chanterelles and the lobster variety I saw at the market. We incorporate the smells… spicy pumpkin pie with cloves and cardamom, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg too. The spices have also found their way into my kale and root veggies. Their piquancy wakes up your tongue, warms your mouth with a low, slow heat. A penetrating, sustained heat that is surprisingly subtle, despite is power.

The most attractive of all the warming spices is surely ginger. It’s my absolute favorite of all the spices that we associate with fall and winter cooking. It’s actually a rhizome, not a seed as most spices are. We can use it dried and ground, or peeled fresh and grated so the powerfully hot juice runs out with the pulp. China grows more of this rhizome than any other place in the world, but we import lots of it from Jamaica too. Yes,
unfortunately it’s not a local food. It’s one of those exotic ingredients that we’ve come to see as quite normal here in the US. Like chocolate and coffee, we don’t really produce much, if any, but we enjoy it in abundance.

So on this cold, dewy October morning with Mark still asleep in bed, I decided to make a batch of something spicy and warm. I love granola. I love ginger. Why not combine the two? This recipe is so simple. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t make their own granola on a weekly basis. The fresh stuff is so great, and you avoid having to buy the stuff from the boxes or bulk bins that use extra oils and way way too much sugar. It takes 30 minutes, from start to finish. I added almonds, honey and maple syrup, and then some chopped chocolate. Divine.

My feet are freezing against the cold kitchen floor, and the windows are fogged from the cold outside – but the heat of the oven will fix that. The oats and almonds are toasting and the smell of ginger is wafting into every room. I have nowhere to be but right here, stretching my neck toward the windowpane to watch the sun peek out.

This to me is Fall - hearty and warming food, the oven on early to heat the house. We’ll let the rain come eventually and the greyer skies too, but for now I'm having my Fall.

Ginger Chocolate Almond Granola

This is almost too decadent for breakfast! I enjoy using a candied ginger from Trader Joe's that is uncrystallized, so it isn't gritty and too sweet like crystallized ginger can be. Green & Black's chocolate is fantastic if you can get it, in this recipe I used the
72% baking bar. If you can't find this particular brand, try to get chocolate that's organic and fair trade. This granola would make a great dessert served with some honey-sweetened yogurt and black cherries.

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons unhulled or hulled sesame seeds
1 - 2 tablespoons whole flax seeds
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup grade B maple syrup
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon dried ground ginger
1 - 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup uncrystallized candied ginger, chopped finely and
loosely packed
1/5 cup dark chocolate, chopped, 70% or higher

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, stir together first four ingredients. sprinkle in the vanilla in drops while stirring. Then add the honey and maple syrup, and stir to coat all the dry ingredients well. You may have to really work this for a bit to get all the clumps out - but if you like clumps, just add more honey and don't stir as much. Once all the dry ingredients are coated, put in the dried and fresh ginger, cinnamon and salt. Stir well. Place mixture on a large baking sheet with raised sides, so your granola doesn't slide off and make a mess. Bake for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. The granola should be brown and golden all the way through (stirring once or twice during baking will allow even toasting.) Cool the granola completely - and I mean totally, otherwise the chocolate will melt all over the place... but hmmm, maybe that's a good thing... so go ahead and add the candied ginger and chocolate. Serve it up with vanilla soymilk. Yum.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Thyme Roasted Orange Fries

Tossed in olive oil and thyme

I have a secret. I love French fries. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before, and wow, that felt good. I love French Fries!! I’ve always loved them, in secret, like I love chocolate cake. But somewhere along the way, I’ve ordered chocolate cake in a restaurant when a dessert was to be split, or made one at home with whole wheat pastry flour and tofu icing, just to make myself feel a bit better. But I’ve never ordered fries in a restaurant in recent or not-so-recent memory. They are just one of those off-limits foods for me. You know, those foods that you can’t imagine ordering to finish all by yourself because it’s just so… so… junkfoodlike. All I can see is a big pile of guilt-inducing greasy calories. Sigh, yes, Dotty the Dietitian has just dropped her apples and has tackled me again. Every time I dine out with Mark or a friend, I order a veggie hummus sandwich and then say with a radiant smile “Side salad, please, with dressing on the side.” And when the plate across from me arrives, piled high with those fragrant naughty fries, I reach over and say “Mmmm, do you mind?” Maybe the allure is in the taboo. A hot potatoey fry dipped in too-sweet ketchup. It’s just so good. I think they taste better taken from my partner’s sandwich platter anyhow.

A bouquet of thyme and rosemary is more fragrant than flowers

Two years ago, on a wild and wooly trip to San Francisco, my friend Eric (also classifiable as wild and wooly) insisted that we take a motorbike trip into the heart of the city to visit his absolutely favorite Belgian restaurant serving his absolutely favorite thing… French fries. As you may know, the Belgians take no prisoners when it comes to the art of frying the tuber. A Belgian fry is double-fried, once to crisp and cook the fry, a second time to recrisp the outside and add an additional layer of browned flavor. If I had gone to this place by myself, I inevitably would have ordered something a little more… boring. But Eric brings out the sense of adventure in me, so we ordered those fries and rolled our eyes at the potatoey creamy decadence of it all.

But still, I haven’t yet made peace with the French fry.

But do you know what I love, what I will always be happy to make when root veggies come in season? Orange fries. They’re so sweet, and dare I say, more enjoyable even than the traditional russet potato ones. These fries are so colorful and buttery, doused in olive oil and roasted with thyme until their browned sweetness makes them stick to your back teeth. These fries are long thin strips of organic yam and sweet carrot. Even the most diehard French fry fan will take a shine to these. They are fries for sure… but sweeter, and not deep fried, and use a healthier fat too. I think they are a bit more interesting as a contrast to your black bean burger or chicken sandwich, wouldn’t you say? But mind you, I do not mean these to be a substitute, they make no apologies for who they are.

And neither should I. I love French fries. And no, I still won’t keep my hands off your plate.

Browned and sweet

Thyme Roasted Orange Fries

serves 4

These fries work well with any herbs you have on hand. I like to use Nash's carrots from here in Washington state. They are the sweetest I've had. Look around at your farmer's market and sample around for your favorite orange veggies.

4-5 large sweet carrots

2 medium-sized oblong yams

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 bunch fresh thyme

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice each carrot and yam into long strips, about 1/4 - 1/2" thick. Not too skinny, or they will roast too quickly and burn at the tips. Place the pieces on two large baking sheets and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil for each batch. Pull the leaves off of each thyme branch, and not worry if some of the tough branches get mixed in... they'll come out later on the pan. Leave some branches whole if you like, just leave enough small leaves to help coat the fries. Put 1/2 tablespoon of coarse salt on each tray and toss well. Spread the fries out as far apart as you can, so they roast faster and crisp well. Bake until brown and crispy. If they aren't brown enough, they won't taste as sweet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What’s for Dinner?

So it’s approaching 5:30pm and I’m home from work. Mark is home. We’ve both just stumbled warily through the door, given smiles and little kisses and small exclamations of how we’ve missed each other during the day. We chuck off our shoes and our jackets and stumble as fast as humanly possible into our comfy plaid pajama pants. I plop on the couch and Mark opens the fridge for his favorite beer. Ah, finally home.

Now, what’s for dinner?

In our house, I rule the kitchen. Now mind you, Mark makes a mean bowl of pasta with red sauce from our favorite organic brand from a jar. He also does steamed broccoli with toasted almonds and olive oil like a champ. He’s also been known to jump (okay, sometimes maybe begrudgingly roll) out of bed on a Saturday morning and with a bounce in his step go to the kitchen and exclaim “French Toast and Bugs Bunny!!” With two eggs, vanilla soymilk, oat sunflower bread and real maple syrup, he whips up half a loaf of the stuff with Bugs antagonizing Yosemite Sam as inspiration.

But when it comes to dinner, ahem, I take on the responsibility for fulfilling at least one third of his daily protein, calorie, and phytonutrient needs. I’m a nutritionist, what can I say? I quietly try to figure out how to balance out what he’s probably already eaten that day, which goes something like this: cereal, power bar, turkey sandwich, power bar, five stalks of broccoli (yes, this is my crowning achievement), power bar. We’re gonna need some major plant foods here, folks. We’re gonna need a protein source, and if at all possible let’s try and eat some grain other than wheat (don’t even get me started on the over-wheating of America!) And dinner needs to be yummy, and creative, and something that I will have fun playing with, and different than the last five dinners we’ve had (which would all be various forms of pizza if Mark were Kitchen Sorcerer). After all my mental nutrition calculations and creative machinations I seem to forget to ask the vital and obvious question, what do we feel like having for dinner?

Many nights I could just eat a salad with a bunch of leftovers thrown in and call it good. But Mark doesn’t like salads (yes, I’ve still got a ways to go on that one) so something hot and vegetable-y it will be.

How about some tofu? And stir fried veggies… and then some quinoa… but I feel like something soupy with savory salty broth. I didn’t want to make soup, but I think we can compromise somehow. The little concoction I came up with was so colorful, but warm and hearty too, but also light, I suppose. Maybe you just have to taste it to see what I mean.

Now a word on quinoa. Have you not yet tried this exotic little pearl of perfect nutrition? Run thee to a corner natural foods market and grab yourself a bag. It’s now a staple in my kitchen. You can use it just about anywhere you’d use rice, but quinoa is higher in protein and fiber. It originally comes from the Andean countries of South America where many native cultures have subsisted on it, particularly in Peru. In the past I have struggled to describe it’s aroma and flavor. Then a few years ago when I was teaching a kid’s cooking class we made up a pot of quinoa. I let the 7 and 8 year old kids put their nose near to smell, and a precocious little girl turned to me and said “corn!” And wouldn’t you know she’s right. The aroma smells like fresh sweet corn, and the flavor is also reminiscent, but mildly so.

I admit, on some tired days dinner may seem like a chore, but most evenings I remind myself that dinner is a ritual. It is a way we care for our bodies, our minds, and our lovers. Dinner is an opportunity to feel the vegetables snap on the chopping block, smell the garlic turning brown in the pan, give a whisper of thanks that I have such beautiful food, and the ability to taste it, touch it, and give it to others. It is a meditation, a creation that is all your own. If you have to spend 20 minutes, why not make them count? Those minutes are gifts, opportunities to slow down and care for our bodies. Even if it's pasta and jarred sauce, it is your contribution. It is a way to show love.

Dinner is what you make it.

Tofu with Herbed Vegetables and Quinoa

This dish is just a gussied-up version of the staples that we have for dinner many nights, tofu or beans, any vegetables leftover in the fridge, and some of that magical quinoa. So simple, play around with it and make it pretty, or stir it all together, add more broth and create soup!

1 pound extra firm tofu, sliced into strips or squares
1/2 cup shoyu or tamari
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup quinoa
3-4 cups water, flavorful stock and/or a dry white wine
2 large sprigs rosemary
1 bunch sage
1 bunch thyme

3 tablespoons miso
3 tablespoons olive oil

4-5 cups of any vegetables you have around (red cabbage, hearty greens, tomatoes, carrots, etc.)
5 large cloves garlic
3 tablespoons vegan worcestshire sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil

fresh cracked pepper and sea salt to taste

Marinate the tofu for about an hour in the shoyu. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil until a drop of water crackles and sizzles in the pan. Add the tofu and sear until dark brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. While the tofu is frying, in a medium saucepan bring the vegetable stock and/or wine to a boil. Add the quinoa, rosemary, sage, and thyme and cook until quinoa is tender - there should be a nice amount of broth leftover. Turn off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Add the miso and olive oil and stir well. If you love garlic, add some extra cloves into the cooking quinoa. While the quinoa is cooking, saute the vegetables. In your cast iron skillet, add the 3 tablespoons olive oil and bring to temperature. Add the garlic and saute until very lightly brown. Add the harder vegetables, such as carrots or potatoes first. Cook for a few minutes, then add the softer vegetables. Once all vegetables are tender, add the worcestshire sauce and cook a minute more. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in deep plates, layering the quinoa, then the tofu and topping with the vegetables. Garnish with fresh herbs.

Monday, October 6, 2008

More Family Stuff… and More Chocolate

In a past life I was a flight attendant, a server at four different brand-new Chicago establishments (most of which no longer exist), a manager of a shoe boutique, a fashion event coordinator, a raw food enthusiast, and a nanny to a tow-headed-firecracker of a baby named Mia. In a past life I did just about anything I could do to make my rent and still allow myself a modicum of personal freedom (well, maybe this isn’t so past.) And the majority of my past ‘careers’ before I found my stride in the nutrition world were fairly forgettable… or maybe I just wish I could forget them… well, except for that little firecracker named Mia. Some jobs were better than others, and that was a job that I was honored to have. Mia, at the time, was the six-month old baby of my good friends Thomas and Gina who lived a few blocks from me in our Chicago neighborhood. A couple of times per week I would arrive walking at their house at 8 am, already sweating from the muggy, hot summer morning, ascend the front steps to their big brick house where I’d be met by a swoosh of cold air-conditioned air and by Thomas’s ‘buenos dias’ as he scrambled to get to work.

Thomas was my first boss at my first job out of college. He was the first person I met in the city who inspired that insecure and unsure girl to do better, to be better. Our friendship lasted beyond that first job, and we later worked together for Coprodeli, a nonprofit helping the poor of Peru. Years later, after he and Gina had Mia, I was overjoyed to be asked to have a small part in her childhood.

So when Mark and I traveled to Chicago, all I could think about was how wonderful it would be to see my Chicago family again.

Blue Line El train, Damen stop. In that familiar heat, suitcases in hand we took that familiar walk, past the park where I’d stroll with Mia, past the café where I’d sit outside with a beer on a sunny day… oh, the bittersweet memories came flooding back. I was home, but not home. I ached to continue walking down Damen, all the way to my old flat where I found myself, finally, living alone for the first time. I ached for home.

“Papi! Papi! they’re here they’re here!” I see a little girl sitting on the front stoop, blond as a little Marilyn Monroe, turning to run into the house to get her Papi because we’re finally here. Mark turns to me and smiles. I’m smiling and can’t stop. “Abre la puerta, por favor, Mia, abre la puerta!” I hear Thomas’s voice from inside the house. Mia comes down the porch steps and opens the gate. She’s a little girl now, no longer a crawling baby. My heart swells and feels like it just may pop. Thomas comes out with Mia’s new little sister Lourdes and I don’t know who to hug or kiss first. This is always how it should feel to come home.

We sit around the kitchen chatting and catching up. Thomas goes to the cellar and pulls out a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo. Something to go with the pizza he’s put into the oven. Now, when it comes to wine, Thomas doesn’t play around. I know that any casual bottle he pulls out of that cellar is going to be fantastic. He reveals a bottle of Pesquera. I’ve always wanted to try this wine! But as usual, I drink on a beer budget these days. The Pesquera was heavenly. Oh, you must get a bottle of this. It’s worth a few extra dollars, maybe dollars you would have spent on something silly anyway, right? I mean, what if you get hit by a bus tomorrow and you die without experiencing a sip of this stuff? Tragedy, People. Tragedy.

For dessert, Mia and her Papi put on a perfect performance in preparing and serving the special treat. Mia, almost four, put a white napkin over her arm and approached Mark asking, what would you like for dessert, sir? After informing us that the dessert that evening would be the ‘especialidad de la casa’ (house special consisting of toddler chocolate cookies, strawberries and whipped cream arranged in grand style on a dinner plate) it was served with gusto by our hostess, Mia.

As we nibbled our fancy-pants dessert served by our fancy-pants hostess, said hostess informed us that she wanted to go to Seattle. I inquired, “Hm, Mark, do you think she’d fit in my suitcase?” Mark replies, “Oh yes, I do think she’d fit.” Mia’s eyes grow large, and a mischevious smile comes across her face. You can tell she’s contemplating the possibility.

Mark and Mia

The next day we tour the city by car, admiring the polished skyscrapers, the avenues walled in by buildings, the parks, the bigness of it all. I had almost forgotten how big this city is, after three years being gone.

That Sunday evening, I was excited to take Chocoholic Mark to my old place of employment, Hot Chocolate restaurant (an early foreshadowing, I suspect, of the amount of chocolate I would encounter in my life with this guy.) I expected to walk in the door and not recognize a soul save the chef-owner, Mindy.

Nope, not a chance. The old crew was still there, to my astonishment. Chocolate must breed loyalty.

Mark ordered the mac ‘n cheese and a little Scottish Ale with a disturbing name - Skullsplitter. I ordered the grilled octopus with cannellini beans and tomatoes and a glass of Gruner Veltliner... and then crossed my fingers. Finding perfect octopus is as easy as, well, catching one with your bare hands. I haven’t had perfect octopus since the first time I had it in Spain so many years ago. Over the years I continue to order it, hoping each time that it would come out as tender and juicy and flavorful as that first bite in that little joint in Lorca, Spain in 1995. It never does. I don’t know why I keep on betting my dinner in order to get that remote payout of a mouthful of octopus bliss. Isn’t the definition of madness continuing to do the same thing over and over again and each time expecting a different result?

This time, the octopus was perfect. Here’s to madness. We also have a new favorite beer. Skullsplitter Ale from Orkny Brewery, violently delicious, if you may. And combining that bitter and sweet ale with the rich salty cheese souped over those macaroni elbows? Hea-ven. Like I said, some jobs were better than others.

The dessert, however, was the real show - with complex combinations, deconstructions, miniature towers, sauces poured with a flourish and ice cream flavors that only Willy Wonka would appreciate. We ordered two desserts but were served five. Surely my old friends were just concerned that our blood sugars were getting dangerously low. A chocolate cake, deconstructed, the chocolate tart with meringue and salted caramel ice cream served with a homemade pretzel, doughnuts with hot fudge sauce and caramel corn, a berry tart with sweet corn ice cream, and lastly, something that isn’t on their menu anymore, a ‘flight’ of hot chocolates with cookies and homemade marshmallows… just for old time's sake, of course.

Hot Chocolate Flight with sweet treats

Mark was in heaven. I was concerned that I wouldn’t sleep for a week, buzzed on sweets. It was obscene. We ate what we could, but barely made a dent. We walked back to the house late through the warm summer evening air, bags of leftover treats in hand.

That night as I lay in bed, images of all my years in that city ran like a projection reel in my mind. This place feels like home, but so does Indiana. Seattle feels like home too, just without the patina of many years of hardship and love. Where is my home? I still ask myself, as I feel sometimes like I should choose. I roll onto my side, and Mark is there beside me falling into sleep. I put my head on his chest and feel it rise and fall. I’m calmed by the warmth, he breathes and his hand strokes my head. Hmm, home, I think. This is home.