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