Food Friday: Summer Tomatoes are Upon Us!

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Cake is the perfect food. Really. You can eat cake for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You might get a wee bit roly-poly, but nonetheless, a nice slice of pound cake can be eaten at any time of the day or night. You can toast it for breakfast, eat with your fingers while reading the newspaper at lunch, and serve it with an amusing wine and perhaps a salad for supper. It is the Spackle of the kitchen – it covers up for your shopping and food preparation flaws.

Tomatoes are the perfect fruit. Once again, you can have them for any meal. The British fry up breakfast, long touted as the best thing about British cuisine, always includes eggs, cold toast, fried bread, sausages, bacon, grilled mushrooms and grilled tomatoes. At lunch the tomato is the vital ingredient for BLTs, which as we all know, are the pinnacle of all lunch experiences. And for dinner, the tomato is the most versatile item on your windowsill.

So far, this week for dinner, we have had gem-like tomatoes grilled in a pan with a little oil and garlic, and then tossed them into a mixed green salad, with bacon, some extra basil, homemade croutons and chunks of fresh mozzarella. Tuesday night we boiled up a pot of fresh (though, admittedly, store-bought) pasta and sautéed some tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus tips, garlic and shrimp, and threw everything into a couple of bowls. We also had garlic bread, in case there wasn’t enough garlic in the sauté… We also had some delightfully cheap Chardonnay.

Wednesday night we had big beefsteak tomatoes, sliced with more fresh mozzarella, garnished with lots of basil from the container garden, oil and balsamic vinegar. And more garlic bread. Oh, and some wine.

Thursday night we grilled a couple of small steaks, sliced the heirloom Ugly tomato generously and drizzled them with brown butter, and also had some mixed greens. And wine.

https://food52.com/recipes/18779-brown-butter-tomatoes

Friday night is Pizza Night, and we will be making some Big Love Pizza; cooking small pizzas on the grill, adding handfuls of squeezed and drained Marzano tomatoes, grated mozzarella, sliced of pepperoni and at the very last minute a handful of fresh basil. Dare I add some wine?

Perhaps we are in a tomato/basil/mozzarella rut? What a delirious place to be! Perfect for the summer, when the humidity makes us limp, and the afternoon thunderstorms induce longing for coma-like naps.

Grilled Tomato Salad – for two

12 or so small tomatoes that you picked from the back yard, or bought at the Farmers’ Market
4 slices of bacon
2 slices thick, day old bread, cubed
1 ball of fresh Mozzarella cheese, cubed
1 garlic clove, peeled, please
1 salad bowl filled with mixed salad greens and some basil leaves
snatched from the garden

Fry bacon. Drain on paper towels. Crumble.

Cut the bread into cubes, and fry in the hot bacon fat until golden brown. (Pescatarians – use oil, you poor suffering souls) I sprinkle the croutons with garlic powder, Lawry’s Seasoning Salt and a little dried oregano while draining on paper towels.

Add a little oil to the still hot pan, and carefully deposit the tomatoes and the garlic, roll everything around with a couple of wooden spoons, until the tomatoes start to blacken and blister and the garlic becomes overwhelmingly and seductively fragrant.

Fill your salad plates with the greens, top with tomatoes, mozzarella and crumbled bacon. Bliss!

How about a slice of pound cake for dessert?

Here is a link to my blog and the original recipe for Big Love Pizzas: http://jeandsanders.blogspot.com/2011/06/june-4-2010-its-food-friday-big-love.html

“A thin grey fog hung over the city, and the streets were very cold; for summer was in England.”
― Rudyard Kipling

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
― Miles Kington

Food Friday: Fresh Picked Daily

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Our Pacific Northwest family vacation broke us out of our hamster wheel routine here at home, and plunged us into all sorts of new experiences, food and eating being tantamount among them. We trolled new grocery stores, strolled farmers’ markets and stalked the miles of corridors and underground passages in Seattle’s Pike Place Market in our quest for the Next Meal.

There was something new to be seen around every corner. Imagine – carrots that come in colors other than orange! We saw artful displays of asparagus that ranged in size from pencil thin to baobab-tree-trunk-thick. Pink radishes gleamed. Red raspberries twinkled. Blueberries were silvered and glistening. One rather imagined romantic interludes, sitting by the water, watching the sunset, tossing back Prosecco and nibbling on the day’s gathered goodies. It was our vacation, after all.

We spent a week on San Juan Island, in a house in Friday Harbor. There were all of the usual family squabbles but there was also lots of easy laughter. We were using a strange kitchen, searching the cabinets for salt and pepper and colanders, while preparing lovely fresh produce and washing buckets o’berries. We had the leisure to pause and carefully compose Instagrams of our meals. We also huddled silently together a couple of times to watch a delicate deer tippy toe her way up the verdant lawn, pausing to nibble along her leisurely way. We are such tourists. Never mind that the owners of the house would probably have been out on the porch raising the dead and pounding on pots with wooden spoons to spook the deer (and undoubtedly, her Lyme disease ticks) off the property. We were content to absorb the quiet and enjoy the novelty of wildlife .

One day we went on a hike that had us circling around through some fields down to the water, through fresh smelling, waving grasses. We kept sniffing an aroma that somehow reminded us of Thanksgiving while we trotted. We puzzled about this as we walked along and tried to identify songbirds, observing crop circles (seemingly) and we photographed a fox, unselfconsciously posing on a little mound. It wasn’t until we attended the San Juan Island Green Market the next day, with all of its thoughtfully labeled goods and wares, that we learned we had been striding through sage, which would explain our Thanksgiving fixation.

One plant booth at the market had clearly tagged plants, which informed this ignorant traveller some of what what we had been viewing: sage, wild ginger, Siberian iris, Alaskan yellow cedar, Asiatic lily and blue fountain iris.

Also carefully labeled, which I didn’t grasp at first, at a bakery booth, was a big fat “GF Brownie”. Luckily, the Pouting Pescatarian rescued me, and steered me to the other end of the baked goods table, and supervised my purchase of a good, old-fashioned, riddled with sugar, eggs, chocolate and gluten: a real, honest-to-goodness brownie. That could have been a good morning walk spoiled! Instead, it was a pleasant, warm and gooey event.

In addition to the brownie, we also bought a fresh, warm baguette from the Café Demeter Bakery, some heirloom tomatoes, fat radishes, plump strawberries, and heads of rich, dark green buttery lettuce, plus a few sausage rolls to keep the Tall One’s calorie count up, at least until lunch. The village was feeding our family, and very nicely, too.

We didn’t have the same sort of shopping experience once we got back to Seattle and its busy market. We were not hunting and gathering for dinner in the big city. We were touring the sights and sounds and smells without needing to do daily food shopping. We snacked quite liberally, though, which could explain why our clothes are a wee bit snug now. We visited museums and galleries and the aquarium, but kept returning to the market in Pike Place, which had the tantalizing allure of foreign movies, with bright colors and exotic people. It was truly an amazing spectacle.

Now we are home, and I say, “Get thee to a farm stand, a U-PICK-IT, the local farmers’ market and take a big bite out of summer!”

You can never go wrong with a nice sun-warm tomato, eaten like Harriet M. Welsch, sliced up into a good juicy sandwich with a little mayonnaise, but here are a few summer tomato recipes from our friends at Food52 and Bon Appétit. You’ll even get ideas for using up that leftover corn!

https://food52.com/blog/7782-9-summer-tomato-recipes

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/grilled-flatiron-steak-with-toasted-spice-vinaigrette

“The next morning Mrs. Welsch asked, ‘Wouldn’t you like to try a ham sandwich, or egg salad, or peanut butter?’ Her mother looked quizzically at Harriet while the cook stood next to the table looking enraged.
‘Tomato,’ said Harriet, not even bothering to look up from the book she was reading.”

~from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Food Friday: Endless Possibilities!

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An embarrassment of riches barely describes what an extravagantly glorious place the Pike Place Market is! We crawled all over this 9-acre historic district for several days on our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, and I feel like we could have spent another few of days of exploration there. It is huge, sprawling, varied, multi-cultural, multi-leveled, colorful, loud and bustling with myriad folks of every variety. People watching here was a unique pleasure. Sometimes we forgot to keep up our end of the conversation as we gawped with abandon. We stared a lot. More importantly, we ate a lot, and often.

On our first morning in Seattle, jet-lagged and creaky, we stumbled over to the Market and posed for the obligatory tourist selfies in front of the large red neon sign “PUBLIC MARKET CENTER” that towers over the brick street. As it was quite early we did not annoy too many of Seattle’s patient drivers when we were striking poses in the middle of the Pike Street and First Avenue intersection. Later in the day it might have been a different story, although we never saw a single traffic casualty for all the frenetic driving.

For the record – I could never drive in Seattle – at least not in a car with a standard transmission. The roads are San Francisco hilly, and I shudder to imagine stopping at a red light, at night, the road slick with wet, fallen leaves. The mind boggles and the spirit shrinks. Cars must yield to pedestrians in Seattle, and jaywalking is frowned upon. Seattle is not like New York City where gonzo pedestrians dive into the rivers of traffic with center-of-the-universe impunity. In Seattle, as long as you are within the safety zone of the cross walk, you are well and truly blessed. And then you can explain to me how Seattle drivers can back into diagonal parking spaces, on inclines!

After indulging our tourist egos we had that enormous breakfast I nattered on about a few weeks ago at the Athenian, with its broad swathe view of Elliott Bay. It is only one of dozens, DOZENS I say, of restaurants at Pike Place Market. There are sit down fancy places, sit down casual spots, and you can sit down on Tom Hank’s stool at the Athenian. There are market stalls with take away food. There are strolling musicians of varying degrees of professionalism and skill. There are cafés and stands and storefront bakeries. There is a Starbucks whenever you hear the siren song. I am amazed that we were even able to roll onto our plane for the return flight.

There are Korean, French, Persian, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Kastoori, Irish, Mediterranean, Turkish, German and Chinese as well as standard American foods represented here. In no particular order, we visited many of the eateries:

I had an excellent buttery salty shortbread cookie at Le Panier. Le cookie était délicieux! http://www.lepanier.com/

We watched cheese being made at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. It explained once and for all the notion of “curds and whey”. Amazing! www.beecherscheese.com

We toured the Pike Brewery, had burgers and Dungeness crabs and revisited the Naughty Nelly. http://www.pikebrewing.com/
At the Shy Giant we had some locally made Snoqualmie gourmet ice cream. Not everyone can boast about that!

One of our best meals in Seattle was at the Virginia Inn: www.virginiainnseattle.com
I had an excellent bar burger. Good beer. Great wait staff. And a fab neon sign. Neon is something they do very well in Seattle. They are all very proud of the glassworks done by the artist Dale Chihuly and his workshop, but you’ve got to appreciate the abundance of great neon designs, which are cheerful beacons in the dark – when the sun finally goes down on these long summer evenings.

We queued up for Pike Place Chowder: http://www.pikeplacechowder.com/ A busker played his violin while we ate, with the sweetest saddest baroque piece I have ever heard, while we were watching the crowds swell and the line lengthen.
One memorable breakfast, later in our trip, was at Caffe Lieto, where we experienced the Biscuit Bitch. I stuck to my usual timid sausage biscuit, the Pescatarian had something healthy with veggies and eggs, but the Tall One out-ate us, as usual with his order for a Smokin’ Hot Bitch – biscuit and gravy smothered in cheese and topped with a grilled Louisiana Hot Link & jalapenos. You have to go there. The competition for an outdoor table with dueling mommies with double strollers was highly amusing. I guess the locals eat there, too! http://biscuitbitch.com/

We only had one grumpy indifferent meal in the Pike Place Market, when we were all surly, and feeling end-of-the-vacation-y with each other. It was not a reflection on the restaurant. But a few hot French fries and a Diet Coke later, I was my sweet middle-aged self again. You are never more than a step away from palliative food therapy here.

There is much to explore at Pike Place Market, and the prepared foods are just the beginning. I haven’t even mentioned the incredible displays of flowers, fruits, vegetables, Dungeness crabs and the amazing flying fish! Next week…

http://www.pikeplacemarket.org/

Here is a biscuit recipe from Food52 in case you want to make a nice big fat Seattle breakfast this weekend: https://food52.com/blog/7641-rosie-s-buttermilk-biscuits

“May I recommend three Maryland beaten biscuits, with water, for your breakfast? They are hard as a haul-seiner’s conscience and dry as a dredger’s tongue, and they sit for hours in your morning stomach like ballast on a tender ship’s keel. They cost little, are easily and crumblessly carried in your pockets, and if forgotten and gone stale, are neither harder nor less palatable than when fresh. What’s more, eaten first thing in the morning and followed by a cigar, they put a crabberman’s thirst on you, such that all the water in a deep neap tide can’t quench — and none, I think, denies the charms of water on the bowels of morning? ”
― John Barth, The Floating Opera

Food Friday: Naughty Nellies in Roche Harbor

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What can you do after you have taken a boat deep into gelid Canadian waters to watch a school of orca whales tear a seal apart? Why, drive to Roche Harbor, drop by the Madrona Bar and Grill, and sit on a sunny deck by the water, and drink a Naughty Nelly. Of course you do!

We spent an unforgettable morning on a 30-foot boat out of Snug Harbor in Mitchell Bay with Spencer, our knowledgeable captain and naturalist. He trolled the water, with his ear clamped to a phone, listening to other captains nattering about orca whale sightings, at the same time identifying landmarks, birds, and lighthouses, while blithely dodging the surprisingly heavy ferry traffic. We barreled through the water, past waterside houses and summer cottages with another couple who had recently moved to Seattle. They were quite nice people, who were genuinely interested in chatting with the Tall One and the Pesky Pescatarian.

After about an hour of zipping along Spencer slowed the boat down and we were all agog as we caught a glimpse of our first troup of dorsal fins, and then the graceful arching black and white bodies, diving and whirling and powering through the calm water. We tracked their movements for about half an hour as they swam here and there and hunted. And then the mob clustered, and hit. Television nature programs do not prepare you for the sight of red blood frothing and spreading in the water. I never even saw the seal, which the Nature Channel probably would have anthropomorphized thoroughly. Instead of watching through a HD filter, we viewed the actual messy circle of life out there, and were amazed. Even the avowed Pescatarian was gobsmacked.

Amazement is tiring, and hunger-making. We made our way back to Snug Harbor and bade our companions a fond farewell. We sought sustenance, and our pack circled through the landscape, and tooled over to Roche Harbor. Roche Harbor is an attractive, yet slightly old time-y, Disney-fied resort, perched on another vertiginous, rocky hill. You could smell fresh paint and we had to admire the faux Craftsmen architecture of the newly-constructed vacation homes that lined a street sloping down to the water. There were American and Canadian flags fluttering from every possible perch, and baskets of draping watercolor flowers festooning the lampposts.

We walked past a beautifully maintained garden at the gingerbread-clad Hotel de Haro, which had precisely trimmed topiaries and sweeping bowers of fragrant wisteria. And swathes of grass that must have been precisely hand scissored at night by garden gnomes with tiny little pinking shears. There were beds of nodding peonies, interspersed with artful clumps of bleeding hearts; all very romantic and sweet. In some ways the Pacific Northwest reminded me of England: cool temperatures, lovely public displays of flowers, spurts of gentle rain and lots of good beer.

We had a table overlooking the marina at Roche Harbor, outside in the sun, where we basked like that unsuspecting seal. Luckily, we were met with excellent nibbles and not predatory orcas. The ever-hungry Tall One swarmed this: the Field & Stream Club Sandwich – a “Flame-grilled fresh Columbia River Steelhead, crispy bacon, tomato, green leaf lettuce and caper and artichoke aioli on grilled Focaccia.” The Pescatarian nibbled like a bunny on a green house salad.

On vacations I collect French fries, and frites, and homemade potato chips, and hash browns. I ordered Steak Fries for us to share as an appetizer – Best Beloved and I were still on East Coast time, and couldn’t eat much, yet. I was allowed 2 or 3 of the crispy, delicious garlic-y fries that I wrested away from our own young orcas. (Russet Steak Fries with Roasted Garlic Olive Oil [Gluten free!] Skin on Russet steak fries tossed with Parmesan, parsley, and steak salt and roasted garlic olive oil. Yumsters. We make a variation on this with potato chips at Christmas time.)

Mostly I was happy with the brew and the view. Years ago Best Beloved flew into Roche Harbor by seaplane, and it has been the stuff of family legend ever since. We were all happy to have a shared memory of it now.

And really – next week – Pike Place Market and Pike Brewing Company…

Garlic Parmesan Potato Chips

I tried it out on the neighbors last year at our little New Year’s Eve fete, and it was hoovered up in record time.

1 12-ounce bag of potato chips.
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons dried parsley flakes.
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic

In a small sauce pan, or frying pan, warm the 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add the 4 cloves of garlic-pressed garlic. Cook at a low heat for 3 minutes, until fragrant. There nothing like garlic to make the house smell divine. Let the oil cool for about 5 or 10 minutes.
Put the chips in a large, shallow bowl. Drizzle with the garlic-infused oil. Toss the chips, gently. There is nothing worse than tiny little mingey bits of chips when one is trying to impress… Add the parsley and half the Parmesan cheese.
Warm the oven to 350°F degrees.

Put the chips on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Warm in the oven for about 7 or 8 minutes. Put the chips back in the original shallow bowl, scatter in the rest of the cheese, and toss. Serve warm. Yumsters.

Serve with Naughty Nelly ale, cheap white wine, or our favorite tipple, Prosecco, which makes it all taste so marvelous.

Pike Naughty Nellie Ale
http://www.pikebrewing.com/beers_PikeNaughtyNellie.shtml

Roche Harbor
http://www.rocheharbor.com/

Madrona Bar & Grill
www.rocheharbor.com/dining/madrona

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
― Benjamin Franklin

“So, if people didn’t settle down to take up farming, why then did they embark on this entirely new way of living? We have no idea – or actually, we have lots of ideas, but we don’t know if any of them are right. According to Felipe Fernández-Armesto, at least thirty-eight theories have been put forward to explain why people took to living in communities: that they were driven to it by climatic change, or by a wish to stay near their dead, or by a powerful desire to brew and drink beer, which could only be indulged by staying in one place.”
― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life

Food Friday: On Vacation

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Vacations are wonderful things. We were lucky enough to get out of town, out of our routines, out of our crowded little heads and into a part of the world three of us had never before visited: the Pacific Northwest. We look back on it now, and are amazed that a mere three weeks ago we were enjoying wearing sweaters, sitting on a back porch of the house we rented, companionably chatting and laughing while thrilling to the unaccustomed view of a faraway snowcapped mountain, listening to song birds warbling with gusto and brio. Bliss.

We sat on the porch for breakfast coffee, for evening Prosecco, and for after dinner glasses of wine. We read books out there, took photographs and contemplated learning how to play Bocci, under the tangle of fragrant wisteria, above the long green sward that tumbled down to the steps to the beach below. We watched deer tiptoe across the damp lawn, nibbling on the shrubbery. We spent many minutes watching yellow striped caterpillars measure the porch railing.

One daily routine I was happy to abandon for the duration of our vacation was my usual panic about dinner. I am not the organized sort who sits down on Sundays with a grocery list and happily plans the week’s dinner menus. Sometimes we cook a chicken on Sunday and I stretch the leftovers out over another couple of meals. (Thursday night we did have cheesesteak sandwiches made from Tuesday night’s steak, so I’m not completely hopeless…) On vacation the endless possibilities are charming novelties with unfamiliar stores and packaging, instead of the constant repetition of the tiring variables that make up daily food prep.

Usually, along about 3:00 in the afternoon, I pause at my work at the drawing table and consult my watch. Then I research something quick and easy on Food52.com, race the dog up and down the block, and hightail it to the grocery store to pick up the suggested ingredients, along with the wine imperative, and a dozen tiny cans of expensive cat food hoping to tempt the taste buds of the ancient howling cat, who is always hungry and never satisfied with our cat food selection.

When we were on vacation, there were four of us who planned the meals, and cooked the meals. And even four of us who set the table and washed the pans and stacked dishes in the dishwasher. Finally, my fantasies come true!

There were also four of us who wandered the farmers’ markets, making purchases and testing samples and buying brownies and cookies and sausage rolls and artistic treasures. The San Juan Farmers’ Market in Friday Harbor (http://sjifarmersmarket.com/), Washington was a well-attended community affair. If you ever visit the Saturday Farmers’ Market in Friday Harbor, be sure to stop by the Quirk Farm Art booth and liberate a felted wool lamb. I did. www.quirkfarmart.com. (It has a terrible website, but their work is exquisite)

We enjoyed sociable strolls around the grocery stores and markets; drifting, observing and making droll conversation – something we don’t normally have time or inclination to do at home. Visiting the supermarket at home is always a swift race to the finish – not only do we have to get back home before the black, shedding dog climbs on the white sofa, we have to avoid the woman in Aisle 3 who was room mother with me when one of the children was in third grade. She continues her zealous, competitive mommy conversations even in these post-collegiate days… It can be dangerous if you pause for just a moment and appear vulnerable in the produce department!

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise is Best Foods west of the Mississippi, something I had forgotten until we were searching for condiments. Sticks of butter are longer and skinnier than we are used to. The Dungeness crabs were the crabs du jour for several lunches. There are many wonderful beers and wines produced in Washington State. And we ate lots and lots of crisp Washington State apples.

You would think that with one Pesky Pescatarian, one Paleo eater, one Who-can’t-stand-seafood, and one Agreeable Omnivore we would have had more arguments, but we were surprisingly conflict-free. Our little UN of tastes and appetites discovered that Paul Newman’s Hint o’Mint Cookies are quite yumsters, especially for breakfast. Who realized they are organic? And we learned that there is something for everyone when we all pitch in to cook a breakfast that includes eggs, bacon, chocolate pancakes, blueberry pancakes, plain pancakes and fresh local blueberries, blackberries and strawberries.

Dinner was when we had to do a little more dancing around. One night I had very tasty cheese and crackers with my Prosecco while everyone else was scarfing down cold, fresh, briny oysters. When they ate fresh sockeye salmon, I had a tasty little burger. We enjoyed lots of Washington State produce, and greens, and beer!

We did not have the Maine lobsters, although it was discussed. We posed for some silly selfies with the live lobsters, and then, politely, bought a dozen local oysters, which we managed to shuck, without any maiming or bloodshed. I am told they were quite deelish. So were my cheese and crackers.

Next week – the Pike Place Market. Holy smokes!

“There are two kinds of travel: first class and with children.”
― Robert Benchley, Pluck and Luck

“Really. Is there anything nice to be said about other people’s vacations?”
― Amor Towles, Rules of Civility

Food Friday: Breakfast in Seattle

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We have just come home from a delightful family vacation in the lush green and ever so cool Pacific Northwest. Originally we had thought that it would be the year to bask in the sun in Italy, but the planning got crazy and complicated and the “free” airline tickets were anything but bargains. We pondered the many options available to us, and finally arrived at Seattle, a place the children and I had never visited but that my husband had been to a few times, briefly, for business. We decided that our celebratory, milestone holiday would be spent west of the Mississippi – the first time for the four of us.

The Tall One was finished with college, and the Pouting Pescatarian has just one more course to go before she is released upon the universe, and the summer yawned before us. Didn’t Memorial Day sneak up on us this year? In my head it is May 31, not May 26. But I was not consulted.

Two years ago Best Beloved and I visited London over Memorial Day. The Queen needed us to come help her celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, and what a swell party that was. We enjoyed food and drink and walking and cool, sunshiny weather. Almost exactly what we found in Seattle. There was a little less pomp this year, but still some great beers. And on this trip I packed sneakers so I did not get awful blisters as I ran around town. Although no one warned me about the hills in Seattle! This was a detail never addressed on Grey’s Anatomy.

As part of our otherwise thorough research about Seattle we watched Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle, and were delighted when we stumbled into the Athenian restaurant (http://athenianinn.com/) in Pike Place Market, and had an enormous breakfast there on our first morning west of the Mississippi. A scene in the movie was filmed in the Athenian, and there are two red plastic plaques fastened to the lunch counter that mark where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner sat. We opted for an upstairs water view, however. We could see across squat buildings to the waterfront ferris wheel, The Seattle Great Wheel, Elliott Bay, the Seattle Aquarium and Bainbridge Island. This was where we watched the Tall One tuck into the first of many breakfast extravaganzas. Not that any one of us was a breakfast slouch – we had flown across the country overnight with just a bag of mustard pretzels served to us by the airline. Sustenance was called for! Watch this serious escalation in meal size:

I ordered a toasted bagel with cream cheese, bacon and a Diet Coke.

The Pouting Pescatarian chose the relatively modest Veggie Scramble with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, peppers, spinach and Swiss cheese with a glass of orange juice and a coffee.

Best Beloved asked for Homemade Corned Beef Hash with two poached eggs, hash browns and toast, with a cup of coffee.

Drumroll, please: The Tall One had the Three Meat Omelet (bacon, sausage and ham) with cheese, a half stack of hotcakes and a generous side of hash browns. Coffee with cream and sugar. Amazing.

Restored and revived we wandered down the stairs, photographed the site where Tom Hanks stood briefly in 1993, and took a quick peek at the Pike Place Market. (We would return in a few days to explore the famous halls of frenzied and aromatic activity.) Then we conquered the most vertiginous hill I have walked up since I visited San Francisco in 1989, which was when I was recovering from surgery. Seattle was almost as painful twenty-five years later. Up the Pike Street hill we trotted, ogling sights and sounds, albeit with me trailing way behind the pack, to get our rental car. We tooled downhill to the hotel to gather up our luggage, and then we were off to catch a car ferry in Anacortes, to our Friday Harbor destination on San Juan Island. We stopped at a market in Anacortes for sandwiches to tide us over on our journey and to stock up on some bare essentials for the rental house. Amazingly we squeezed oodles of grocery bags, and wine bottles, and a cooler into the car amid the welter of bags and backpacks, and drove off to join the line for the ferry.

We munched our sandwiches as we sat in the queue for more than two hours, waiting for the ferry, which we barely made. The car that was 10 cars behind us didn’t make the 2:40 with us. They had to wait until the 4:30 ferry. Luckily, for once, we were a little early. It was Memorial Day Weekend Thursday, and we were all anxious to dive into summer. We stood shivering in the cool breezes on deck and watched as ferries, sailboats, sea gulls, and tree-covered islands streamed past, until we arrived in Friday Harbor; a colorful working harbor, with pleasure boats, tour boats and fishing vessels and schools of tourists and townsfolk.

After we were disgorged we followed circuitous directions through the small town to our house, which was an ingenious combination of two smaller houses, with a wisteria-covered pergola, flaming fuchsia rhododendron bushes and drifts of pink peonies. An eagle flew overhead, and we could see the snow-covered Mt. Baker across the still water. Breakfast in Seattle had been forgotten. It was time to start cooking dinner.

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”
― A.A. Milne

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUP7U5vTMM0

http://www.splendidtable.org/recipes/luxury-scrambled-eggs

Food Friday: Chicken avec Salsa á la Thomas

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On Mother’s Day I was easily persuaded to just walk away from the kitchen. I sat at the kitchen counter, though – technically in the area of the family room – and nursed a glass of my favorite cheap white wine and watched as my husband Tom prepared dinner. He was motivated by inspiration and improvisation. Luckily, he had done a little online research earlier in the day, and had hunted and gathered at the grocery store – since normally we do not have fresh, ripe mangoes on hand.

His idea came from a big, convivial barbecue lunch we had recently enjoyed at a restaurant while celebrating our son’s college graduation. 4 Rivers Smokehouse (http://4rsmokehouse.com/) was the spot our new graduate chose, and we fed him, and two of his pals, an enormous amount of food in about a minute and a half. Barbecue in Brobdingnagian portions is the perfect fuel for youthful omnivores. Tom had a modest serving of Smokehouse Sliders – pulled pork, Angus brisket and Texas sausage with fries and cole slaw. The young academics had trays full to spilling with the restaurant’s signature Angus brisket, pulled pork, sliced pork, jalapeños, more fries and fried grits. Amazing. I sipped a Diet Coke and caged some fries and watched all the skinny young men scarfing down their huge meals. What I cannot understand is why they didn’t have room for the enormous and beauteous desserts…

Tom enjoyed his pulled pork and filed away an idea for a variation on that theme. On Mother’s Day he did his research, made a quick trip to the grocery store, and set about preparing his first Chicken avec Salsa á la Thomas for his adoring public.

• 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
• Salt and pepper
• 1 smallish Vidalia onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
• 1 1/3 cups barbecue sauce (our newly minted grad insisted on Sweet Baby Ray’s, because he has opinions)
• 1 cup tomato sauce
• 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
• Lashings of hot sauce (we like things spicy)

Tom basted the chicken breasts with this mixture, and baked in a shallow dish at 350°F for about 45 minutes. Every 15 minutes he re-basted the chicken. When it was done, he shredded the chicken with 2 forks, and mixed it up with the rest of the marinade (in a very healthy fashion – the basting brush had not been dipped into the remaining goo) and put it in a saucepan to simmer and warm up again while the table was set and the wine was opened.

Peach & Mango Salsa, for the side dish

1 cup chopped fresh, locally grown tomatoes
2 ripe peaches, pitted and chopped, please
½ cup chopped sweet red pepper
½ cup chopped ripe mango
1 chopped fresh jalapeño (be careful – don’t rub your eyes!)
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to pop open the Mother’s Day Prosecco.

You can serve with tortilla chips, or be a suburban sophisticate, and make your own crostini. Yumsters.

We had an elegant meal with the shiny new grad out on the back porch, enjoying the breezes and talk of the future. And I didn’t have to wash or dry a single pan or bowl. Bliss. More Prosecco, please!

“Read. Read all the time. Read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life.”
― David McCullough

More tasty chicken ideas from Mark Bittman of the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/05/11/magazine/mag-11eat-chicken.html?_r=0

Food Friday: The Pieplant in the Back Yard

FF_rhubarbslide

There was a large, dark rhubarb plant lurking in the back yard of my house when I was growing up. It grew hugely each spring. It was in the lower yard, tucked in a corner near the barn and a couple of rotting, homemade cold frames. Some neglected antique roses wended their way lazily up a nearby trellis, which was most likely covered in lead-based paint. It was an area of the yard relegated to small children, where we would not jump off the stone wall into the fastidiously weeded herbaceous borders, or trample the Jack in the Pulpit, or swing from the lilacs. In that corner we could dig and play. It was the next to the compost pile, and near my sandbox, where I tried unsuccessfully, sadly, to tunnel to China.

We were allowed to pick the flowers down there – the wild flowers that appeared as if spontaneously generated, though, nothing that had been deliberately cultivated. Our daisy and buttercup chains were never long enough to make crowns, though. We dissected the acorns that fell from the neighbor’s oak tree that towered over our hedge, to make fake fingernails, doll teacups and also projectiles to hurl at my brother. Nature’s bounty was generous indeed.

Like small children in an Edward Gorey cautionary tale, we had been instructed early on to know what poison ivy and poison sumac looked like, so we never touched the leaves of three, or the more insidious beard-like vines that snaked up trees or the tempting velvety-looking red sumac. And we were lectured, often, that we shouldn’t eat anything we encountered in the woods. An exception was made for berries. We went berry picking at our old house on Strawberry Hill, and could strip a raspberry bush in an afternoon, and even bring some home. Foraging was not yet fashionable.

And yet, we were allowed to pick rhubarb and tempt our fates. The dangerous knowledge that the leaves were poisonous gave us such a thrill. We loved to think we were doing something reckless as we nibbled our way up the rhubarb stalks, inching closer to the leaves. That frisson of courting death was heady. My mother never realized that we snuck small Pyrex bowls of sugar down to the lower yard, and that many a summer afternoon was spent sticking stringy rhubarb stems into the bowl, while we ruminated about the depth of the China tunnel, and milked dandelions and generally were kid-like, enjoying the long summer months.

I suppose there still could be a rhubarb plant down there by the barn, though after this winter I would be surprised. And now I might consider foraging for some to bake into a pie with strawberries, or into some muffins, although I think I would prefer the cocktail below, myself.

Now in season, the rhubarb is a perennial vegetable, which originated in China. It wound its way to Russia, then ambled to England and then hopped a ship for the States just before the Revolutionary War. My favorite story about rhubarb, or the pieplant, comes from my all time, much loved literary character, Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a very young bride in the 1880s, she needed to make a lunch for some hired hands, and everything went disastrously. First she didn’t soak beans long enough, so they were rock hard, and when she served her pies: “There was a pieplant in the garden; she must make a couple of pies… And when it came to the pie – Mr. Perry, a neighbor of Laura’s parents, tasted his first. Then he lifted the top crust, and reaching for the sugar bowl, spread sugar thickly over his piece of pie. ‘That is the way I like it,’ he said. ‘If there is no sugar in the pie, then every fellow can sweeten his own as much as he likes without hurting the cook’s feelings.’”
-Laura Ingalls Wilder, The First Four Years*

It took me a long time to puzzle out that it wasn’t a magical pie plant in her garden, á la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was rhubarb that almost ruined Laura’s day. Luckily, she had the gracious Mr. Perry. Laura would have liked one of these icy cocktails I bet!

Rhubarb and Strawberry Ice
1 cup sugar
4 cups water
4 cups rhubarb cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup raspberry-flavored vodka
2 tablespoons lime juice
Mint leaves and strawberries, for garnish

• Combine the sugar and water in a 3-quart saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add the rhubarb. Return to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the rhubarb is soft and falling apart, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate overnight.

• Strain the pulp and discard it. Combine the rhubarb syrup with the vodka and lime juice.

• Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Cover and freeze until ready to serve. Spoon the ice into the glasses and garnish each with some mint leaves and a few strawberries which are about to be locally abundant! Yumsters!

http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/rhubarb
http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/history
http://pickyourown.org/MDeast.htm

*Text copyright © 1971 by Roger Lea MacBride

The Gashlycrumb Tinies
By Edward Gorey

“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.
B is for Basil assaulted by bears.
C is for Clair who wasted away.
D is for Desmond thrown out of the sleigh…”

http://www.edwardgoreyhouse.org/

Food Friday: Cast No Aspersions

FF_CastnoAspersions

It was one endless, dreary, snowy cold winter. A lot of you probably feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder after The Long Winter; so happy to see the snow melted, thrilled to see the cherry blossoms and you are now waiting for the dogwoods to burst forth.

Spring brings fresh and tasty treats to the table, and we are happy to see them; perky and green and bursting with crunchy, chewy goodness. All that snow was good for the asparagus – the melted water soaked the dirt slowly and steadily, resulting in the asparagus feast you will be enjoying for the next few weeks, along with all the new peas, radishes and heaps o’ramps.

A Compendium of Asparagus Recipes:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/02/dining/stir-fried-spicy-asparagus-recipe.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/dining/skillet-baked-eggs-and-asparagus-recipe.html

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/06/03/dining/20110608-asparagus-recipe.html?ref=dining

http://food52.com/blog/10210-risi-e-bisi-italian-rice-and-peas-asparagus-with-shallots-and-chiles

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/tuna-asparagus-and-new-potato-salad-with-chive-vinaigrette-and-fried-capers

We have a heated debate in our house about asparagus: fat or thin? I tend to push for fat (but then for a while all I knew about asparagus I learned from Martha, thus I was probably drinking the Kool-Aid…), while Best Beloved yearns for pencil skinny. Mark Bittman, who is wise in the wily ways of asparagus, finds positively for both schools of thought: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/17/dining/17mini.html

This is how we usually prepare asparagus, and coming from two childhoods where the asparagus was boiled to death, this is a good advancement for mankind:

Broiled Asparagus

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 pounds asparagus
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pepper
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Heat the broiler. In a large bowl, toss the asparagus with olive oil, salt, and a pinch of pepper until well and truly coated. Place them on a wire rack, which you put on a baking sheet, with a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper underneath (to minimize clean up time). Spread in a single tidy layer. Add a squeeze of lemon juice
Broil, turning occasionally, until tender, 5 – 8 minutes. Serve immediately!

I have read recently that it makes for more tender asparagus if you blanch them in boiling water for about a minute before starting the broiling process. I guess that depends on how many pans you want to clean up after dinner.
We also wrap asparagus in aluminum foil and toss it on the grill, along with the corn and hamburgers. No pans! Genius!

One sneaky way to introduce a touch of asparagus is to shave a bit of it into a salad. Some of our fussy eaters have never realized that they were getting an extra vegetable that way. Though they still complain loudly about the days when I used spinach for lettuce in tacos. And these are the people who never had white bread until they went to elementary school and observed other peoples’ lunches! Subterfuge is a parent’s best friend.

“Pray how does your asparagus perform?”
John Adams, in a letter to his wife Abigail

“Let there be seasons so that our tongues will be rich in asparagus and limes.”
-Anne Sexton

Food Friday: Taste of the Town

FF_TasteofChestertown

We have no cooking tips for you this week – just some encouragement to go out and eat! The 7th Annual Taste of the Town gets underway on Sunday, and it is the perfect opportunity for you to sample the wares of our many and talented chefs and restaurants. It is the ideal event to get out of your comfort zone and to taste something new for a change! Abandon your California Chardonnay rut (like me) and taste some new wines! See what is so special about ice cream sandwiches from Brooks Tavern. You haven’t had good bangers and mash for ages! Get thee to the fountain park in downtown Chestertown!

Here is the link to the press release: http://chestertownspy.org/2014/04/16/taste-of-the-town-celebrates-seven-years-of-delicious-food-fun/

It’s nice to get out of the kitchen and mingle with folks we probably haven’t seen for a while. And though you are a fascinating person, (because why else would you be reading Food Friday?) maybe you could use a new conversation gambit. Here are a few podcasts I like to listen to while I am zooming Luke, the wonder dog, out for his daily constitutionals. They make me feel adventurous and happy and they are highly entertaining. Our neighbors probably mutter under their breaths and their leaf blowers when we sail past, but I have ear buds firmly planted. By artfully multi-tasking, and getting some culture while walking the dog, I have also got a good idea of what to have for dinner – a never ending conundrum!

FF_TasteoftheTownslide (1)I think to truly experience all that the Taste of the Town offers one needs a scientific approach, much like a buffet eating plan. Dan Pashman, who hosts The Sporkful food podcast (http://www.sporkful.com) advocates serious scientific theories about the correct way to work a buffet line. Start with the meats, fish and other proteins, and leave the pastas, salads and bread for last. (I can’t remember how he weighs in for dessert, I’ll have to go back and listen again…) This is a great podcast, endlessly informative and amusing. Dan Pashman was a guest host on Sound Check this week and had a fascinating interview with Kelis: http://soundcheck.wnyc.org/story/kelis-in-studio/. Kelis is someone whose music doesn’t fall into my narrow range of folksie/show tune music, but now I think I will listen to some more of her music. She cooks, sings and writes – what a dynamic package of talent!

The Dinner Party Download is an hour-long podcast that is rich in jokes, discussion, celebrity interviews and music. Listening to it weekly will make you an enchanting dinner guest, whether you are balancing a plate on your knee, twirling pasta with fine sterling, or mingling under the big tent in Chestertown.
(http://www.dinnerpartydownload.org/). The podcast starts with a silly ice breaking joke that you can file away to use at your next dinner party. (This week’s guest Scarlett Johansson was hard pressed to remember the last dinner party she went to, so don’t feel left out.) But when you are standing in the queue for a sample of Crow Farm’s latest vintage, you can slyly interject this joke: “ ‘What do you call an alligator in a vest?’ ‘An investigator.’” They will either love you, or walk away, fast.

The Splendid Table (http://www.splendidtable.org/) is a little drier, but charming and highly informative. It has more cooking instructions than either the Dinner Party Download or The Sporkful. I enjoy the questions people ask the host, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, in the Stump the Cook segment. Sometime they are absurdly extreme. Here is a list of ingredients from a recent podcast, and Lynne is expected to recite an edible dish that can be made deliciously from them: Longjing tea, fruit (peaches and plums), preserved vegetables, fried dried fish maw and bittersweet chocolate.
What could you make from that? I am headed back to the Crow Farm queue…

I hope you get out of your cave and enjoy the spring weather. There is a lot going on this weekend. Plant a tree, visit the Farmers’ Market, buy a book, stroll through the Nearly New, enjoy your local talent and produce. And, as the inimitable Julia would say, “Bon Appétit!”

The sun was warm but the wind was chill
You know how it is with an April day.
-Robert Frost