Wednesday, March 25, 2009

To San Francisco!

I must admit, I left my heart there back in 2000.

That was the first time I went to San Francisco, and fell in love with that shiny city.  The colors, the sunlight on technicolor townhouses, the fog and chill and crashing waves, the energy of a place where people live and do so with abandon.  

I'm going there again tomorrow to meet up with a slew of old friends.  Old friends are the very best kind (especially when they happen to live in glorious destination cities).  

I know that SF is a destination itself for some of the greatest food in the West.  My old friends and I will surely hit a jewel or two, besides the wine tasting we're planning among the vineyards.  However, I fully expect that the most memorable meals I'll have will be the ones that are casually eaten, casually prepared by ourselves, at home and lounging on carpets and sofas. 

I'll be sure to collect photos and tidbits of bites to seek out... I already have a few in mind to return to from the last journey.

See you soon.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Campfire Crackerjack

No, not a model.  I won't fix your car in exchange for a load of firewood.  I know nothing about installing cabinets... no, not a model... street performers are needed for tonight!... freelance travel writing, well, that would be cool but I haven't travelled anywhere exciting in a decade... no, not a model... dancers needed?  sounds like fun, um, wonder if they need ladies with a little junk in the trunk... not a graphic designer who can do your logo... no, not a model... Isn't there anything I'm qualified to do on Craig's List?  

I suppose I could just whip up a few batches of organic double fudge brownies, put out a card table near Pike Place Market with a large "Bake Sale" sign and see who has pity on the nutrition intern whose pennies are screaming from being pinched so damn hard.  Before being arrested, I would probably end up having to pack up and leave after being asked for the thousandth time "Why is a nutrition intern selling brownies?"  Well, I don't believe that wheat grass shots have quite the market value, kay?  
Don't think I haven't thought about converting my commuting bike into an umbrella-ed rickshaw to transport gawking tourists from one fish and chips stand to another during the rainy spring break season.  

Ideas?  Anyone?

I've been putting off grocery shopping for almost the entire month.  Things have gotten a little dire around here, kids.  Of course Mark has been smiley about the whole situation, because all it takes to make pizza is flour, water, tomato sauce and cheese.  We've had pizza twice in one week.  But when the time came that I had used almost every ounce of edible foodstuffs lurking in our cabinets - wow, pinto beans from '97! He was grumbling when I suggested he use salted peanuts as a topping on his favorite bowl of morning oats.  Not amused.  

We were both not amused as well when at 5:30 on Saturday night we realized we had nothing to bring to an appetizer party that started at 7:00.  I looked in the bare cabinets for the fifth time that day, somehow believing that there would magically appear a baguette, bunches of fresh green fragrant basil and a mound of fleshy red and purple heirloom tomatoes... 

Popcorn.  Buckwheat groats.  Brown rice.  Cane sugar.  I grabbed the popcorn, the sugar, and raced to my computer to look up that awesome blog entry from David about how to make your own caramel.  I didn't have any butter or any cream... but I did have olive oil and some vanilla soy creamer (I know, cover your eyes, David.)

Let's just say that it turned out much better than it sounds like it would have, even though I was a few seconds shy of burning that sugar into a blackened, sticky mess.  Beginner's luck.  The flavor came out more like a mildly sweet cracker jack... with the caramel reminiscent of burnt marshmallows.  Yes, Campfire Crackerjack - genius! And I would have added the salted peanuts if it weren't for Mark eating them all on his oatmeal.  Sheesh.

Making caramel sounds daunting, but it really is a fun little adventure.  Just don't try it with 45 minutes till showtime, because you'll want to take your time and be careful not to burn yourself (or the caramel).  

The moral of the story is that even poor people can have fun in the kitchen.  Now,  back to Craig's List... and to read up on pipe-fitting and swimsuit modeling... much more lucrative surely than selling green smoothies on Pike Street.

*** for the caramel recipe - using the real ingredients- see the link on David's name above.  There are many recipes for caramel out there, but David's technique can be applied to many of them. 



Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Out of Place

Local. Organic. Seasonal.

These are the father, son and holy ghost of the 'save the world through food' movement, now omnipresent, in the Pacific Northwest.  We get a little haughty about it, a little holier-than-thou at times, in the midst of our trying to do good for our bodies and the planet.  Gasp!  Are those mass-market organic canned tomatoes in your pantry?  Those blueberries are little blue chemical bombs!  Ack!  Were you planning on making me a pesticide smoothie with those??   

I've been following these principles for a few years now, trying like mad to keep my dollars at the farmer's markets and out of Safeway, eating out at restaurants that label every carrot and bean sprout with the local farm that sowed them with care, loving words, soft music, and loads of flowery-smelling manure.  I even, at times, knew the name of the cow from whence my stinky cheese came (Red Darla exhibits some real sophistication for a cow.  Moo.) 

I've been trying to keep the unavoidable melodrama and panic to a minimum (although Mark would probably disagree, as I've been known to hurl slices of major-brand supermarket wheat bread across the kitchen at his HFCS-loving head).  

Alas, I try.  I try to do good while eating well, enjoying food, and keeping my perspective.  It doesn't help that my dining room table is strewn with conscious-eating magazines, organic market fliers, and recipes torn from every local, organic and seasonable publication you can imagine.  It's an occupational hazard, the obsession to vote well with every dollar I spend on food.  Us nutritionists, neurotic as we are, don't always sleep so well some nights.  

But I have learned, after years of extremist experimentation, that raw foods/vegetarian-only/vegan-without-grains/macrobiotic/pesca-ovo-vega-mega-tarianism (all local, organic, and sustainable of course) is not the only answer.  As the buddha says (or as I paraphrase from reading Siddhartha so many years ago) the middle path is the way to go.  The key is finding what your own middle path is, as each person's extremes may be entirely different.  

I'm getting into my own groove these days, finding comfort in my middle path.  It's March here in Seattle, and we're at the point where the new sprouts and buds are crying out from underneath the transient morning snow. The winter vegetables are just about depleted, with no Spring ones yet to take their place.  My fridge has been dutifully filled with carrots and parsnips and big bunches of kale.  The fruit basket is always filled with apples, pears and bananas since they're organic and fair-trade.  The lettuces I cheat on, as my salads hail from down south on the coast, but organic, are all but comfort food to me now.  If I buy meats, I buy them organic and even from the farmers who think organic is just ridiculous - why would anyone do anything but?  A long time ago, farming organic was the only way to do it.

I love my local food, and what abundance we have here in the midst of our rainy, mild Winter.  The clouds have made for grey skies most days.  The sun peeks out, then turns shy and hides behind those clouds once again. We'll have hail, rain, snow and then sunshine all in a single day.  My dinners have turned to brown or pink beans, stewed with vegetables and grains, sometimes squash.  Deep earthy colors, dark tones that fit in with the darkened sky.

But at the market, on a quick trip to our favorite market that always seems to be bursting with color, fruits and flowers - I had to have this.

On a cold rainy day, my body yearned for sunshine, for sweetness, for the memory of sitting outside, breakfasting in Cabo San Lucas and taking a bite of this all covered in lime and sea salt.  The beach breeze blowing through my hair -  the cafe con leche, sipped overlooking the sandy beach.  Spring was getting me all rowdy.  Delicious, sweet, juicy papaya... probably full of toxins and imported from Mexico.  But hey!  This is my middle path... and it's covered in little black seeds and spent wedges of lime.

I sliced this big green papaya right down the middle, spooned out the caviar-like black seeds, and chunked the buttery-melt-in-your-mouth flesh into a mound in my big white china bowl.  Respite from the chill, a bit of color to remind me it still exists in nature among the earthen greens and browns of Winter.  

Monday, March 9, 2009

Crunchy Hippy in Seattle Soda Bread

"Why the heck haven't I made this before?" I ask myself as I take the first bite.  This is like a scone, a muffin, and a piece of sandwich bread all in one bite.  It's so soft and crumbly and so sweet but not sweet at all - like a savory muffin, but a little dryer.  "This is really good"  I think, as I take another bite.  I think I could continue taking bites until this whole loaf disappears.  

I made this today, prompted by my unexpected day off, a huge pot of butternut squash soup wailing for a sidekick, and an email from Mark's mother (who reads this site) mentioning that she was going to make Irish Soda Bread this week.  She's very holiday-oriented... you should see her collection of Christmas sweaters. (Hi Joan!)  I'm not Irish, and not so into this holiday, but I am American.  Although sometimes I claim to be a bit more European, especially when I'm particularly irked by the size of a particular Chrysler "mine is bigger than yours" Expedition that blew past me on my bicycle the other day.  I'm one of those people who believes the streets should be rebuilt no wider than a Smart Car, with dedicated bicycle lanes on each side.  Soccer moms, I apologize, but if you think you really need that much space for little 50 pound Jimmy and his one other 45 pound teammate, then maybe you can buy two Smart Cars and make yourself a little train.  Modular vehicles - it can't be that tough, people.

So to relieve my curiosity on this little loaf (that may actually rival the Smart Car in both size and ingenuity), I of course turn to my Joy of Cooking and flip in the index to 'Bread'.  Not there.  Oh, I know it's here somewhere... so I flip to 'Quick Bread' and there it is, much to my relief. I'm not just relieved it's there, but relieved it's 'Quick'. I'm hungry.  The bike ride in the cold Seattle rain will do it to you every time.

The chatter at the beginning of the recipe mentions that this bread is in the American category due to its raisins, caraway seeds, and sweetness that Irish soda bread wouldn't know what to do with.  Us Americans always add sugar to everything!  Because I'm the kind to question whether or not the earth revolves around the sun, I questioned why I needed all that stuff in this recipe anyway.  But seeing as how I hadn't ever made this bread before, I didn't want to deviate to the point that I couldn't get the Soda Bread picture, ya know?  So I reduced the 2 tablespoons of sugar to 1, left out the caraway, and put a few raisins on top for good measure.  I also used a combination of soymilk and yogurt (half and half for each) for the buttermilk.  I also subbed in some olive oil for the butter.  The loaf came out so tender and flaky, probably because I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose... oops, I guess I have to add that to the list too.  So maybe we'll call this bread 'Crunchy Hippy in Seattle Soda Bread'.  

Instead of scoring a large X in the top before baking, just score a large peace sign.  

Irish American Soda Bread
8 servings (1 round loaf)

1 2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg
1/3 cup soymilk or milk of choice
1/3 cup plain yogurt (or 2/3 cup buttermilk, total)
4 tablespoons olive oil (or butter)
raisins to top loaf

In a large bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients well.  In a separate small bowl, beat together egg, milk, yogurt and olive oil.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir until just incorporated.  The batter will be wet and sticky.  Scrape the batter onto a baking sheet into a big round lump.  Top the mound of batter with some raisins, and then with a knife score a large X into the top of the loaf.   Put into a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown on top.  Let cool and remove from baking sheet.  Top with some salted butter and let your toes curl up next to the fireplace.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Surprise, Surprise

Who knew I'd be duped like that, by someone I thought was way too honest

Who knew I'd be 31 and still feel like a fool

Who knew that I wouldn't be able to eat any of the two dozen chocolate cupcakes sitting before me, all for me (due to nervous excitement)

Who knew I'd be given a heaping pile of firewood, bottles of red wine, a gallon of kombucha and so much laughter, for being here so little time on this planet (much less in these beautiful people's lives)

Who knew I'd have these friends, creating this life for myself after 2 1/2 years here

Who knew the surprise was on me.  I thought I was such a smarty pants.  Humph.  

Birthday parties, you never get too old for them.