Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ode to Mom's Cooking, by Sam

post-Thanksgiving kitchen mess
You set before me this plate of food
And I stare and poke and search for something good
To stick my fork into, but instead find
That you must have left all the tasty stuff behind.
Because you know I won't eat these things that are green.
And pasta with sauce or meat or cheese - when have you seen
Me accept anything but stark naked noodles?
Stop all this ridiculous and fruitless effort and oodles
Of wasted meals - sweet potatoes no longer drive me wild.
I know I used to eat tofu and was a child 
Who dipped his fork into any dish.
I understand that this adventurous Sam is who you wish
To see atable at 6pm when you are looking
In the cupboards and fridge to decide what you are cooking. 
Though I am finicky, I really do appreciate and see
All the effort you put forth for my palette and me.
But, think of it this way, oh mother of mine,
I do eat from the food groups. I eat just fine.
Yes, my tastes are narrow and my appetite small;
I do choke and cry when you make me eat it all.
But I will eat fish, persimmons, and even squid,
And I often can be tricked when you mix new things amid
My staples of apples, kiwi, hard boiled eggs and cheese.
So, when I won't try your new dish, don't take it as a failure, please.
Someday I will comprehend your prowess with food.
In the mean time, don't let my pickiness affect your mood.
Rest assured that one of these days my tastebuds will gel
And we will mark the day when in love with your cooking I fell. 

gougeres for Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 3, 2011


There was one day last week when all my meals were shaped like wedges. I had leftover pizza, erbazzone, and fennel-leek tart. Funny. We were not supposed to order pizza, but we had to because, although I had been in and out of the kitchen for five hours that day, dinner still didn't come together in time. Ridiculous. I managed to shed zero tears, but I did feel like punching something. The pizza guy. With his smug grin and stupid pizza bag. 

Although there is no photo of the pizza, I would like to air Pizza Complaint Number One: raw toppings. When I make pizza at home, it takes forever because I cook everything that goes on it. We ordered a fabulous, seasonal mushroom pizza that was covered in mushrooms ... raw mushrooms. Well, okay, they had been cooked for 10 minutes in the oven with the dough and cheese, but that's not enough. You need to saute, people! (If I had left the comma out of that sentence, it would have sounded like I make cannibal pizza. Saute people! Let's eat Grandma! Yum.)

So, for pizza night, I was in the process of making Brodo with capellini and chicken. The broth is made by browning the chicken and the vegetables, then simmering everything, adding wine, herbs, and water. I am always worried that I am going to season incorrectly, so I commit the same sin that home cooks everywhere commit - under seasoning. You think I would have learned by now; I am even writing about it, so I have learned, I just refuse to liberate my hand when it has salt in it. 

So, the brodo was dark and lovely looking. And under-seasoned. It goes well with lots of pepper. And, funny enough, the parsley brings it together. 

chard erbazzone
I was also making erbazzone that night, which came together by 9pm. It is easy, but requires attention during its several steps. Attention that was drawn away by my children. I do a dance in the kitchen: I look at the clock and think, Okay, I need 20 minutes solid for this next thing, can I start now? Well, if Teddy wakes up ... hmmm, I do need to shower ... Oh, Sam needs me ... hmmmm, how about now? I have ruined two dishes so far during this Two Kids thing I am doing. Burning garlic is the pits. I considered this meal the third Ruin, since we didn't eat it until the following night. 

I have posted about erbazzone before, but this was the first time I made my own crust. It is the easiest crust ever! This from someone who cannot make crust to save her life: 2 cups flour, 1tsp. salt, 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/3 cup water. Bring it all together in a food processor. Knead for 30 seconds; let it rest in plastic wrap for 30 minutes. Bam. Crust. It rolls out to 1/4-sheet pan size, too.  

fennel-leek tart
The third wedge was of this tart: fennel-leek. It is sooooo good. I did not make the crust; it is puff pastry. You have to be ready for the off-gassing that follows this dish. What? Too much for a food blog to talk about the GI implications? Sorry. Did you know that Gulliver's Travels was the first novel that dealt with matters of the water closet? Bawdy, no? You have to think about these things (gas, not Gulliver) when you are nursing because what goes around comes around, if you know what I mean. 

Enough, I know. I'm not sure how many people I have looking at this blog anymore, so I am going for shock value. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Where is Panasia?

I have been watching The Kimchi Chronicles. As you can guess, it takes place in Korea and is about Korean cuisine. I only have a couple of experiences with Korean cuisine:  bibimbap in a restaurant and Julie's mom's cooking and, well, that's a couple and that's it. 

Kimchi, for the uninitiated, is a spicy, fermented cabbage - a distant cousin of sauerkraut - pictured above. It is stinky and can age for years; these two attributes combine to mean that households make and keep their kimchi outside

Needless to say, this show gave me serious cravings for Asian fare, so I devoted a week to creating Asian meals. First was bibimbap, which is pretty simple, as it turns out. I think a lot of Asian cooking is simple, but requires so much prep that when you finish your meal the kitchen is cluttered with the biggest pile of dishes and bowls and pans ever. Josh hates it when I cook Asian for this reason, since he is usually on cleanup. I do firmly believe in and practice Clean As You Go, but, as you may know, things happen so quickly in Asian cooking that there isn't really time to pre-clean. 
finished bibimbap
Anyway. Bibimbap consists of vegetables, beef, rice, kimchi, and an egg. Then you flavor with the Korean spicy sauce called gochujong. Easy. I chose lu choy, carrots, zucchini, shiitakes, enokis, and bean sprouts for my veggies and blanched them. Well, I cooked the shiitakes in some oil. For the beef, I bought Beef for Sukiyaki and marinated it for about 6 hours. It is sliced so thin that it took a couple minutes to cook. I found good kimchi that didn't have MSG or food coloring or other crap - you would be amazed at the number of items with crap in them. Why is there food coloring in sushi? Aspartame in pickled ginger? I then baked brown rice, but needed to innovate to get a more authentic bowl of bibimbap. You see, the dish should be served in a clay pot so that you get two things: (1) some caramelized rice stuck to the bottom (socarrat, for paella eaters), and (2) a degree of heat so high that all you do is crack the egg on top and mix it in to cook it! So, in order to approximate this, I busted out my cast iron skillet. 
Truth be told, I fear my cast iron skillet. But, there are three culinary objectives I am trying to achieve: (1) drink more sparkling wine, (2) eat more interesting cheeses, and (3) use my cast iron skillet. I fear the CIS because you don't wash it. Ever. That's weird. 

You'll be happy to note that my experiment worked and I got crusty rice for my bibimbap. I did have to fry the egg in a pan, however. 

For my next trick, pad thai with real tamarind paste! I have made pad thai before, but I used ketchup to get that sweet and tangy flavor found in this dish. All I have to say is praise be to men who opened Uwajimaya. You need kimchi? No prob. Gochujong? Yup. Tamarind paste made from a pod that grows on a tree that lives nowhere near here? Yup, got that too. Oh, and lots of Spam to boot. 
tamarind paste

Pad Thai is another very simple dish. It consists of rice noodles and bean sprouts, with a protein of choice and a flavorful sauce. I was surprised that the method was to pour quite a bit of sauce over the noodles and let everything cook in it. I added vegetables, cabbage and carrots and zukes, because that's what I do.
So my pad thai with a side Thai beef salad was awesome. My Thai beef salad beats the pants off of any you can get in a restaurant. Again, I used the cast iron to get my beef just so. The tomatoes are from my garden, but you don't need them. The recipe calls for cucumber, but I didn't get one and you don't need it. As long as you have lettuce, beef, herbs, red onion, and the sauce, that's all you need. 

We have mint growing in our yard, and that's half of the herbage there. I planted the herb thinking it could spread around a lilac tree in one corner of our front yard. he he, funny ... mint doesn't like to be contained. Underground runners. I think that, by definition, plants that run underground are from Hell. 

My last dishes, which I will not wax lyrical about, even though I should because they kicked ass, were  Hanoi soup with marinated pork and vegetable lo mein. All I will say is that the broth is flavored with star anise! What?! Delightful, that's what.
I was also going to make laksa, an Indonesian dish, but a combination of events led me to postpone it. I have made it before - it has squid, scallops, shrimp, fishballs (which have nothing to do with fish anatomy, per se), and sometimes chicken or tofu or beef in a thick broth with noodles. I will be making it this week because I have squid in the freezer and lemongrass in the fridge to use. Not to mention fresh Chinese noodles, which also are hard to find without food coloring and weird chemical ingredients! What the?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hangry Glucosavore

I learned a new word that I shall add to my idiolect (feel free to add that one right there to yours): hangry. It is a combination of hungry and angry - something that I often am. When my blood sugar drops, I will take someone's head off. That might be one of the reasons I think so much about food and need to have meals planned and feel it is really strange when others do not plan meals. But won't you be hangry later if you don't make a game plan now? 

Josh's good friend Jason also gets hangry. His wife Julie said she used to carry around granola bars so that when Jason started barking, she could shove one in his mouth to curb the hanger. Awesome.

Remember my canning woes? Well, the green tomato pickles are awesome. It kind of messes with your mind to bite into a tomato that is green and that tastes like a pickle, which is automatically a cucumber pickle in my mind. 

I found out that fried green tomatoes are meant to be dredged in cornflour and fried in bacon grease! Hm, I do have another round of green tomatoes that need to come off the vine, given that the 60 degree weather has begun. And I do have some bacon. And I did bust out my cast iron skillet last night. Would that be what they call a "perfect storm"? I hate that phrase; but I detest "literally" even more. Have you noticed the pandemic overuse of this word? Ug. 

Next, I am trying to purge all the sugar from the house so that I don't eat anymore. Naturally, I have to make some dessert in the mean time. I made Mexican chocolate souffles. I noticed that the first ingredient in Ibarra chocolate is actually sugar and not chocolate. Interesting. These were really good. And I have come to realize that souffles are ridiculously easy. I also made ricotta souffles, but didn't take a photo. It takes me four minutes to hand-whip egg whites ... silly how easy souffles are. 

This sugar thing. So I read an article called "Is Sugar Toxic?" Scary title and scary topic. The author, in all his research, concluded that sugar is linked to all manner of metabolic diseases AND cancers. He didn't even mention the whole teeth rotting out of your head thing. 

Then I go on thinking that life is meant to be enjoyed and surely I do not consume gross levels of sugar because we eat lots of veggies and little to no processed foods in my house.

Then I think about how much longer living cultures (some Italians, Okinawans) really eat of sugar, and I wonder if I should compare myself to their intake or if I should go cold turkey to be safe. 

In short, I go back and forth in my sugar eating (glucosavorous) philosophy. It's a First World problem, isn't it? Probably just an American one, actually, because our food culture is so ... stunted? Inane? F'ed up?

Friday, September 23, 2011


Preserving, canning, making your own sausage, keeping chickens - all these atavistic lifestyle choices are back en force.  There is even a guy in this town who will come to your house, install a beehive, and then tend it for you. You get honey out of the deal. 

I like the idea of urban quasi-homesteading, truly creating all these things for yourself and your family. Why not? 

I'll tell you why not! Because I suck at it. Well, I have only tried the canning part and I am sufficiently bad as to stop trying. Last year I made blueberry and peach preserves - separately, not together in a jar - and they were both good, and the preserving process went fine. This year I canned four different things: raspberries, strawberries, pickled green tomatoes, and spiced peaches. Each one leaked juices into the canning water; each has too much liquid in the jars because I didn't smash the contents down enough. Bother. 
Canning, heck, even making your own sausage, is about preserving the harvest, right? I realized, after spending a bunch on flats of berries and pounds of peaches, that I do not have a harvest to preserve. Meaning, since I pay for someone else's harvest, all I am doing is exercising some notion of what I am supposed to do in this post-Martha Stewart, post-women's lib world of homemaking I currently inhabit. 

I did harvest our very own green tomatoes for the pickles. That feels satisfying. I would have harvested blueberries from our bushes, but since I did pretty much zilch in the yard this year, I couldn't be bothered to put nets over the bushes, so the cursed robins ate all the berries. 

I did learn what "freestone" means in stone fruit. It should be obvious, I suppose. Now I know what a total jerk the peach guy at Ballard Farmers Market was when he sold me nine peaches that were not freestone when I specifically told him that I was using them for a cobbler. I smashed up several peaches trying to get the flesh off the pit before I relented and took my knife to them. I learned from that mistake and got a freestone variety for my canning. I have high hopes for my spiced peaches this winter on my oatmeal. 

I was also going to ruin some marionberry preserves this year but didn't get the chance because the ladies in this neighborhood lined up 30 minutes before the berry stand opened. Apparently, the first few people in line bought up all the flats so no one else could have any. The lady running the stand said that they got 10 flats in a day and limited people to two. Can you imagine being sixth in line and watching everyone before you buy two so that you get nothing? And what happened to just buying a couple of pints to eat? Sheesh. I would have settled for a couple pints for a pie or in my yogurt!

I always seemed to pick the hottest day of the week to can too. Bah. Next year I'm sticking to cleaning. Oh, I bet I would be good at sauerkraut because you stick it in a jar and leave it to rot. That I can do.   

Monday, September 5, 2011

Muffin Roll Call

I was talking with a girlfriend about how Sam gets "special meals." I have mentioned this practice to you before, I am sure. Said gf was over as carrot muffins baked away. I said that I had a lot of carrots and thought I would make muffins in an attempt to get Sam to eat an actual serving portion of a vegetable. I then got to wondering about how many muffins and rolls and pancakes and patties I have baked veggies into in the hopes that Sam would eat them.
carrot muffin

Let's see ...
Sweet potato muffins and pancakes
Broccoli-cheese rolls
Carrot cake and muffins
Zucchini bread
Harvest cake (carrot, parsnip, zucchini)
lumpia with veggies
ravioli with veggies
veggie burgers
veggie pancakes
zucchini fritters

These morsels usually work for one or maybe two servings and then Sam's taste buds rebel or something.

harvest cake

I keep working and reworking my Child Meal Philosophy. As I see it, there are three basic thoughts:

1. The child eats what we eat. I like this one. How else are we supposed to transmit culture and dining etiquette, not to mention make sure we don't have a finicky Napoleon at the table who thinks the world revolves around his taste buds.

2. The child has a small portion of what we eat plus something we know the child will eat. This option seems a sensible middle road. Perhaps expecting a three-year-old to eat Thai beef salad is too much, but if he tastes a little beef and then has some inoffensive macaroni and cheese, surely this will create a child who is not afraid to try to new things and one who appreciates his mother's wonderful cooking. Surely.

3. The child has his own meal. This is the norm around here. It was also the norm, as I have mentioned before, when I was growing up. My mother and father would have their liver and onions with a side of steamed broccoli and mayonnaise, while we children had tater tots, carrot sticks, and chicken nuggets. There are so many problems with this, I don't even know where to begin. Mostly, I don't like it for two reasons. First, it means I spend extra time in the kitchen making something that Sam might reject. I have cried over a meal that I made just for him when he sent back to the kitchen with upturned nose. So my sensitiveness means I always err on the side of caution and make only dishes I know he won't turn down, which includes all of four things. Second, remember that Napoleon comment above? Yeah. I know my mother would say that we three kids turned out fine. I mean, look! I even have a food blog AND I eat anchovies and at one point had an entire 1/4 steer in my freezer.

But it's the philosophy.

See, I think in terms of right and wrong for just about everything. Oh, there are many ways to skin a cat, yes, but there is one best way, and that way is the right way.

broccoli-cheese rolls

There is another barrier to #1, and that is that dinner just isn't always ready at 6pm when Sam is ready to eat. So what then? I thought that I could reserve a small portion of the previous night's meal so that Sam and I can sit down to the same thing at the same time. But that hasn't consistently worked out. Also, I get worried that he'll starve. I mean, I know he won't really starve. He'll probably just go to bed hungry for a while. We already connect dessert to amount of new thing he tries and he already announces, "I don't want yogurt pretzels," to show us that he understands the connection and that he really doesn't have to try anything new because there will be more, better food tomorrow, thanks.

I could go old school and put the same dish of food in front of him day after day until he eats it. What's that? The same bowl of goulash, you say? Why, yes, it is!

I really just need to commit to having dinner done by 6pm and Sam eats it, period. That probably means making dinner around 3pm. Jacques Pepin said his daughter always ate what they ate. Lots of people do that. Why do I do that crazy American thing of making him his own meal? What came first, Sam's finickiness or me making him finicky by treating his meal as special? I probably brought this upon myself. Ug.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I have been thinking about authenticity recently. In a No Reservations episode I caught on the tele the other night, Tony went to Naples in search of the real McCoy, i.e. Neapolitan pizza. He ate at one of the two restaurants claiming to have made the first pizza and ordered the margherita, which is a purist pizza. Perhaps the purist. By outlining the virtues of this pizza, he also underscored the sins of many an American pizza pie: thick crust, tons of toppings, bland sauce, rubbery cheese. The real pizza should only have mozzarella di buffalo - fresh - for goodness sake.
Then Tony came back to New York and talked to two restaurants owners/chefs about their Neopolitan (Italian?) restaurant. They discussed authenticity and how that translates in the US. I was a Yelper once, and there is a lot of talk out there about whether this Thai place or that Sichuan place is authentic - and everyone disagrees. The point made by these two guys talking to Tony was that authentic Italian cuisine is local. Part of its very nature is that you serve what is in the region; you see the cuisine change from north to south, from mountain to sea. Okay, so for the US, we extrapolate that if you have Italian dishes and they are authentic, then they are actually inspired by Italy and sourced locally. As opposed to flying in the real ingredients from Sicily, say, and saying that you are an authentic Sicilian restaurant.

I'm just spitballing here. I think that I am a "spirit of the law" type of gal when it comes to this idea.
That you adapt to your locality makes you authentic. Perhaps everything in this country should be hyphenated. Italian-American.
Good Food did a celebration last year that was apparently Mexican-Italian. Blending is very American ... I'm thinking Spam sushi.

So we either cannot ever use the word authentic, or we can agree that it is fungible, in a sense. Perhaps you are a strict constructionist who thinks that authenticity is found in the method and the ingredients. You would therefore fly your ingredients in from whichever far-off lands were required. If you are a spirit-of-the-law adherent as I am, however, you go local and get inspired by those far-off locales.

Josh and I just ate at a local joint, Staple and Fancy, that calls itself Italian-inspired. Hm. I think there are others like me.

The above are all recent dishes chez moi: pizza margherita, pizza di zucca, spaghetti with roasted tomatoes and arugula and ricotta, tomato-mozzarella-basil (with tomatoes and basil from my yard!).

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Few things thrill me more than the end result of a cleaning project. Actually, I like the middle part, too, because I listen to my iPod. Okay. I admit that I also love the middle part because I use Bon Ami to get all the crusty stuff off the stove. Maybe I even let things get a little crusty so that I can use Bon Ami. Maybe.

There is a podcast I am loving right now; it also makes me want to move to LA - Los Angeles, that is. It's called Good Food, and it's through KCRW. They have a "market report" where a reporter goes to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market and talks to the vendors about the produce. Then there are guests who talk about restaurants and ingredients and books and things like that. I love it. The Splendid Table is another food podcast I listen to, but it's different and I like is for different reasons. I don't like it as much as GF because of the call-in period. I tend to greatly dislike listening to the hoi polloi calling in to any kind of show. I end up yelling at the radio because the callers use "um" or "like" or "you know" too much, or because I do not find their commentary call-in worthy at best or, at worst, not interesting or intelligent. I'm kind of a B like that.

I like pulling all the bottles out of the refrigerator so that I can reorganize them on the doors. They must go in themes. So I have a mustard shelf (yes, I do have that many mustards), an Asian shelf, a tall bottles shelf that has olives, ketchup, syrup, lemon juice. Why does lemon juice in a bottle taste like licking a metal pole? Gross.

I also like wiping all the bottles off. I unscrew the caps and rinse them out; and I wipe off the threads on the bottle top. I once caught Josh using a bottle cap to catch the dripping barbecue sauce, which he then screwed right back on. I chastised him, to which he responded that it all just drips back in anyway, what was I talking about that it's going to get the bottle all gross, the bottles are clean. Then I had to break it to him that I actually clean the bottles. I think he was both shocked and saddened.

But what I like most is finding bottles full of stuff that has gone south. Then I get to dump out the contents, clean the bottle, and rearrange the shelf it was on. Empty space creates possibility!
I found a dessicated flower and a dead bug in my freezer. What? Don't even get me started on the silverware drawer. How do crumbs get in with my forks? That isn't even where we do prep work or cutting or anything. This is the great mystery of the kitchen.
When we first got this fridge, I heard the installation team drop one of the door shelves. Later, after they had gone, I found a shard on the floor and pieced it into the aforementioned shelf. The company sent a new shelf, no questions asked. Well, I then wanted to wash the shelves out during my first fridge cleaning adventure. I put the shelf on the bottom rack of the dishwasher. I am sure you can see where this is headed. The shelf warped - the very same shelf that was replaced because it was dropped and chipped. Funny.
This shot is eye candy for those of you who like to see what others have in their fridges. Don't worry, this is not the final arrangement. All that talk about cleaning, like I would leave my shelves in this kind of disorder!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Letter Update

This is the actual email I sent:

Dear BA,

I was disappointed and actually a bit disgusted upon receiving my September edition of BA because of the perfume ad inside. I understand that advertising pays for a magazine, but, just as smelly candles and flowers do not go on the dining table, perfume does not go well with a food magazine. I hastily ripped out the ad, but the surrounding pages still reek. I have a feeling other readers felt the same upon cracking their monthly BA, especially after the magazine marinated in its plastic bag while sitting in a hot mailbox. I implore you never to do that again.

Jen Sorenson

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Open Letter to Bon Appetit

Dear Bon Appetit,

I will not be renewing my subscription for three reasons.
1. You put Gwynyth Paltrow on the cover. I like her as much as the next gal, but she is the only person I have ever seen on the cover. You only put dishes on the cover, and I just don't think that you should stoop to this celebrity cookbook porn garbage. You already have a ton of advertisement on the inside pages.

2. You put a perfume advertisement in the September issue! What the hell were you thinking? In a food magazine? Overpowering odor does not go hand in hand with making food, thinking about food, or reading about food. Gross.
3. I hate your new layout. I hate the way the photos look. I hate the way the recipes look. I hate the way your monthly contributor pages look. I especially hate the way that last page of celebrity comment crap looks.

After all these years I have come to realize that you pretty much recycle everything anyway, so I am not feeling bad about the monthly vacancy in my mail pile that will arise with your absence.
Yours truly disappointed,

Friday, August 19, 2011


Make chilaquiles. The best kind of leftovers allow you to put a fried egg on top. Perfect for elevensies.
Leftovers also allow you to sometimes have dessert ...
have a snack with mustard (the best kind of snack),

and even eat your greens.

I love leftovers.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tea and Cookies

One of my favorite things in the afternoon is a cup of tea accompanied by a cookie. Said cookie must have some sort of chocolate in it or on it so that, upon dunking, the chocolate gets melty.

My wonderful friend EB came over with her family and not only brought us burritos for dinner, but also snuck some cookies into my kitchen. The cookies were crumbly and oaty and chocolaty and delicious. I tried my hand at similar ones, freezing individual portions so that I didn't make several dozen and feel that I needed to eat them all in one go.
I made the batch below using the timer in my head, which you can see is broken. But I like my cookies crunchy - that aids in the dipping, you see.

When Josh and I went to China, one of our travel companions brought chocolate chip cookies for the plane. They were plump and so very pale. I commented on this and she became agitated as she described her method of pulling the cookies at the moment before any brown appeared. How could anyone let their cookies turn brown? she wanted to know. I realized that I let that happen regularly and immediately thought it must be a character flaw. So I hide my crunchy cookies.

As I said, I like to dunk and cookies are a favorite in the afternoon. Unfortunately, another one of my favorite things is to fit into my normal trousers, which I still can't do eight weeks after childbirth. I keep telling myself that I need to eat up all the "bad" stuff in the house so that I can move forward with only "good" stuff. What to do with all this flour and sugar and butter? Cookies.

I also have two cups of heavy cream.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Empty House

The company has come and gone. And this is what is left.
When Josh told me that six adults and one toddler would all be coming to add to our family of four for the weekend, I immediately thought, "What will I make for dinner?"

I love planning meals. I have menus for parties that I have never thrown: cocktail parties, beach parties, picnics. I find pleasure in spending (wasting?) time looking at cookbooks and pulling together recipes that will mesh into a grand fete. I try to balance burner and oven time as well as preparation time, and I try to plan a dessert I can make ahead.

I've been asked where my affinity for cooking comes from. I think everyone who loves the kitchen points to their upbringing, and I am no exception. Dinner was a way to show affection in my childhood home - not in the distorted way that I have seen depicted in books and movies, as in, Eat what I made to show you love me so that you get morbidly obese and have a disturbing relationship with food and me. Rather, I think that dinner in my house was simply a time to eat what you liked with family. My dad made us kids a separate meal from the adults - something that parents are either for or against, but something that definitely worked in our house. We ate what we liked and weren't forced to clean the plate. I recall being asked to eat "two more bites," but never to "finish that or you will see it for breakfast." As we got older, dinner was when we came together, even if it was over Seinfeld instead of lots of banter. When we three went off to college, we were close enough for weekend visits. Invariably, we went back to school after a weekend home with Tupperwares full of stews, burritos, and other foods we could freeze and reheat at our leisure. I think I went for weeks during my senior year without cooking for myself because Dad stocked me so well. Each of us also had a needy food phase (me as a vegetarian) which Dad included in dinner prep without complaint.

So food is important. Food communicates. It would be unthinkable for me to have people in my house and not plan meals and execute them to the best of my ability ... then critique myself.
Menu 1a: Brunch. Spinach and cheese strata; mushroom, bacon and cheese strata; sliced melon; pastries provided by the Rodes; coffee. I was pleased with the strata (stratae?). You have to assemble them the night before, which is perfect with two kids. I wanted to make waffles and muffins as well, but couldn't manage. I thought I could squeeze it in the morning of - ha ha.

Menu 1b: Dinner. Pasta with roasted cauliflower and zucchini in a olive oil-anchovy sauce, beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts, bread, bratwursts; dessert was a raspberry tart. I kept the anchovies secret because I know it sounds scary to conservative eaters. Both of my MILs do not like fish and both are generally conservative eaters, so when I prepared dinner I hid the tin and only revealed the other ingredients. I decided that a lie of omission was okay when it protected the innocent. Bobby Flay once said that anchovies are the ingredient that everyone says they don't like, but that everyone eats way more of than they realize because it is a common secret ingredient.

The raspberry (birthday) tart was awesome, if I do say so myself. I got the crust just right for the first time, but I almost made butter out of the filling, so the consistency was not perfect. Still delicious, just not perfect.
Menu 2: Dinner. Mexican chicken with sauteed peppers and onions, Mexican rice, cabbage salad with radishes, chips with salsa and guacamole, corn tortillas. I was too nervous to make this when my brother-in-law Sal was still here, since he is Mexican. I already second guess all of my menus when I start to actually execute them, and his presence would have made me shaky, I think. Not that he is a harsh critic or would have railed against inauthenticity or something. And Cass said that Sal would have approved of the cabbage salad with radishes especially, and that made me feel good. I kick myself for not having dessert and for not having time to make the refried beans, however. It cannot be an authentic Mexican meal without beans! That much I know. The dessert was supposed to be a lime-blackberry tart. It required a couple of time-consuming measures that I did not make a priority early enough in the day. First, I should have stood in line at 8:45 in order to get marionberries. Second, I needed to make a lime curd early enough to chill. Third, I needed to cook those marionberries in wine early enough to also chill. I was going to use store-bought dough because, as I have previously mentioned, I have a heavy hand with dough and screaming at shrinkage with guests in the house is untoward. Alack, no tart was constructed.
Menu 3: Dinner. Takeout pizza from 'Zaw. I did make dessert - a peach crisp. I had a menu for this evening, of course, but my two MILs talked me into (I think it was only a suggestion, actually, but I jumped on it) a carry-out from a pizzeria that sources locally (so hip!). You order; they assemble; you bake at home. Also very hip because it's almost like you made it. My other brother-in-law, Matthew, works at a pizzeria and was therefore in charge of the ovens ... although I almost micromanaged too much. (I think I got that from my dad too; he hovers, as do I.) I am glad I finally listened to Matt's sense of timing, because the pizzas would have been burnt if I were in charge.

The dessert came out all wrong. My peach "crisp" was dubbed a Peach Sweet Mush Thing. The topping melted into the peaches, so I guess it wasn't dense enough, and I think I needed a couple more peaches even though I had 10. My MIL was complimentary and said that her Southern mother would have been proud. I simultaneously thank her for the compliment and beat myself up. But don't think it went to waste because we still ate it with ice cream. Heck, even if it wasn't crisp, it was baked peaches smothered in butter and sugar.
And now the people are all gone. I have no more big meals to plan and only Josh to feed for dinner tonight.

Monday, August 8, 2011


That's right. I drink my coffee in a Winnie the Pooh mug.

Coffee works its magic on me much the same way that a bacterial infection works. Once, when Sam had a really high fever, I asked about the difference between a virus and a bacterial infection. Dr. Madanat said, "A bacterial infection is like a son of a gun who sneaks up and stabs you in the back and you never saw it coming." This is coffee in my system. I feel good, real good, when I finish a cup of joe. But then I crash and get real ornery. The crash comes several hours after I do lots of chores and write and cross items off my to-do list, and every time I think I won't crash, I won't hit rock bottom again, I won't scream at Josh for scrunching his socks up into a ball. No, not this time....

I once had a student who asked me, daily, if I had had coffee or tea in the morning. If it was coffee, she took it upon herself to prepare the class for my ire. Funny because, if I did have a cup of joe, her question irked me immensely, the little brat. But I thought her so cute when there was tea in my mug.
Obviously, coffee is not good for me. Obviously, if we have this destructive, abusive relationship, I need to sever it. But I like the high, and do you know what I like even more? The idea of coffee. The very idea of drinking it in the morning. The very idea of meeting someone for it. The very idea of sitting in a cafe, writing, reading, and sipping a mug all by myself. Yes, the very idea.

I love tea too. But the idea of tea is far less romantic. So staid. I think of someone's fat aunt who reads a lot, watches Masterpiece Mystery and lives with 12 cats. Tea is delicious and I drink it every day, but it is not romantic. It is prudent and pragmatic and goes with cucumber sandwiches.

Coffee is my jet-setting cousin in his Maserati. His hobby is taking photos and sometimes he stays out all night at the clubs. He doesn't like sushi, but he never passes up fois gras or excellent pasta. He makes his own pizza and throws spontaneous cocktail parties.

So, what existential comment am I making with the Winnie the Pooh mug? I'm not sure, but I do know that there is a Masterpiece Mystery on my TiVo just waiting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I recently read the book Hungry Monkey about a food writer here in Seattle and his daughter. The subtitle says it all: A food-loving father's quest to raise an adventurous eater. I found myself buoyed by his success, but also wishing him harm.

I have been trying to come up with and stick to a rational and realistic family dinner philosophy. (Have you noticed that I am all about philosophies? I missed my calling. After getting A's on all of my philosophy papers, how could I not become a philosopher? That has to be one arena without a glass ceiling; it just wouldn't make sense for one to exist. Existentially.) Anyway, I decided that we would eat at the table together, and eat mostly the same things, at least three times per week. Gradually, I want to work up to a special Sunday night dinner and eating together five nights a week. Also, Sam should have something to try nearly every night. "Trying" means he chews and swallows. Bribing is not off the table during the initiation phase.

I launched into my new plan with vigor.

To get him to try potstickers (not from scratch), I told him that he had to chew and swallow or he wouldn't have yogurt raisins for dessert. "That's okay," he told me. "I can have more tomorrow." Foiled! "No," I said. "No more raisins ever. Never ever. I will eat them all now." See, when you have a child and you decide to threaten, you must be prepared to follow through. I am not a huge yogurt raisin fan, but there weren't that many in the bag, so I was totally ready to see this threat to the end. I got the yogurt raisins out and grabbed a handful, dramatically bringing my fist to my gaping maw. In horror and desperation, Sam bit his potsticker and proceeded to gag and whimper as he chewed. "I want to spit it out," he said. "No," I hissed. "Swallow it." And I brought some raisins to my mouth again. Sam swallowed and declared, "I like it. That's delicious." He is nothing if not polite, because this was a blatant lie.

So one night I make this lovely noodle salad with tofu fritters on the side. I decide that Sam will try a fritter for his dinner, expecting that I will be eating his serving later. Lowered expectations have the potential to make you happy! He liked the fritter! He actually liked it. So, naturally, I am flooding the boy with fritters. I made a second batch a couple nights ago and snatched a couple out of Josh's mouth because "if Sam will eat these, then, by God, your portion will be strictly controlled." Josh begrudgingly gave up a couple.

The above noodle salad makes a lovely summer meal.

Noodle Sauce
3T sesame oil, 3T soy sauce, 1T sugar, 4tsp. rice vinegar, dash of chile oil, 1 tsp. grated ginger. Make some noodles and cut up a ton of veggies. I like cabbage, bean sprouts, radishes, celery, and shaved carrot.

Tofu Fritters
16oz. firm tofu, 2T minced green onion, 2 tsp. minced ginger, 1T sesame oil, 1T peanut oil, 3T miso paste of your choice (I like white or yellow). Saute the green onion and ginger for a couple of minutes over med-low heat in the peanut oil. Add the sesame oil for the last 20 seconds. Crumble tofu in a food processor; add the onion-ginger mixture and the miso. Blend until smooth. You can fold in edamame if you like. Heat your peanut or canola oil to 350. Then scoop little fritters into cornstarch to coat. Immediately (otherwise the cornstarch sinks into the tofu) add fritters to either a deep fry at 350 or a shallow fry of peanut or canola oil. Fry until GBD.* Drain on paper towels. These can be reheated later and last for a couple of days without loss of flavor.

*Golden-brown and delicious

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tartines: My New Dinner Philosophy

I give up on dinner. As a concept and construct.

"Dining" rarely happened to my satisfaction during this past year when Josh and I were both working. Now that I am at home with Teddy (add Sam to that in December), it still doesn't seem to happen. It's that horrendous evening timing - that perfect storm of S needs dinner, bath, and bedtime; T needs to nurse; and I need to get started chopping, etc. after cleaning up whatever is on the one counter we have for a prep area and dirty dishes dump site.

Dinner just does not happen.
The definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and thinking you are going to get a different outcome. I am insane. I keep thinking that if I only want it more or try harder or schedule adroitly, I will make dinner happen, dammit. We will all sit down to eat at 6:30 as a happy family. Josh will tell me about his day, I will nod and "hmm, mmm" appropriately, and Sam will eat all that is put in front of him. But it is not happening.

Meet the new dinner philosophy: Embrace your inner Spaniard. This means I make dinner for lunch, i.e. the big meal of the day happens in the afternoon, and lunch for dinner, i.e. a sandwich or soup or quiche (or tapas!) at night. This way I can manage that storm a little better ... and simultaneously stop being so insane.
I think my new routine is better for digestion and will probably help Josh and I with portion control, not to mention cleanup and the inevitable quibbling and hurt feelings that happen (sometimes only in my insane head). J and I have a pretty arrangement where I cook and he cleans, but there is often something that jams it up. Perhaps we eat so late that cleanup is just stupid, thus leaving the mess for me in the morning (insert hurt feelings here). Or the mess to clean up before dinner prep (remember the only counter space) is so large that cooking doesn't start until 8pm (insert a squabble here). Or Sam manages to postpone bedtime so J and I eat in shifts (insert both here). With the new plan there should be less of it all.
So I made tartines the other night. They are French-style, open-face sandwiches. Two were from the French Women Don't Get Fat cookbook, and the salmon was my own design. Our favorite was the anchovies.

Anchovy tartines
Toast four pieces of bread to your liking, keeping in mind that you will be eating them like a sandwich, so you don't want them to crumble or mush in your hand. In the mean time, rinse off as many anchovies as you want - I would say eight or ten for four pieces of bread. Pat them dry, them soak in 1T sherry vinegar for 1-3 minutes. Separately, add salt and pepper to about 1/2 cup of ricotta. Spread ricotta on toasts. Dump the vinegar off the anchovies and add 1T olive oil to anchovies. Place two anchovies per toast and drizzle over the olive oil.