Friday, October 19, 2007

la taqueria and a lemon crepe

I flew to San Fransisco last weekend for some much needed R&R. I would have gotten far more R&R had I not booked a hotel at the very top of Nob Hill, but at least I had a nice view of the city once I got over the wheezing caused by the near vertical climb to my hotel room.

Anyone who says that Portland has great food (I'm talking to you, Mr. New York Times) is mistaken. Portland has adequate food. Sure, we have a nice variety of restaurants, and yes, we have new restaurants opening up on every corner. There are some nice grocery stores, like New Seasons. But when I try to think of a food - any kind of food - that Portland does better than anywhere else, I'm left drawing a blank. And I haven't even traveled all that much, so all the amazing food I'm missing in places like New York or Chicago (let alone most of Europe and Asia) blows my mind.

And it's true, familiarity breeds contempt.

The best food of my trip was a plate of escargot from a little French restaurant across from my hotel, a place called Rue Lepic. The waiter was Chinese, the chef appeared to be Mexican, but the food was perfectly French. The restaurant decor was charming, as it had no attitude whatsoever and wasn't trying too hard, like most French restaurants I've been to. The escargot was served in a garlicky tomato sauce instead of the usual sizzling butter, and it was exactly perfect. No pictures, though.

However I did take a picture of my carne asada tacos from La Taqueria in the Mission District. Amazing!

I also stopped at a creperie in the Mission called Ti Couz and had a lemon & sugar crepe with Chantilly cream. It was the best crepe I have ever had.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

What is wrong with America today

Speaking of hicks and processed meat products, Kevin (who can't resist buying new and disturbing junk food) purchased this at Winco last week:

That's right, it's "Jeff Foxworthy's HAM JERKY." When beef jerky just isn't hitting the spot anymore, or if your beef allergies keep you from enjoying a chewy piece of jerky every now any then, you can rip open a big bag of ham-flavored dried meat product and tear right in.

Thank you, Jeff Foxworthy, for making sure that ham is no longer shut out from the jerky industry. You saw a niche market that wasn't being exploited to it's full extent, and you filled it. With dried, chemical-laden pork.

I wonder if Jeff Foxworthy and Dwight Yoakam are friends? Or maybe - deadly enemies?

Tomorrow I'm going apple (and pear) picking in Hood River. Whenever I think about picking apples, or any other kind of tree fruit, I get the Frost poem "After Apple Picking" stuck in my head and then I start thinking about extended metaphors and symbolism and how awesome Robert Frost was, and then I want to read the poem all the way through so I go start looking through my books, and then I find a bunch of interesting books I'd forgotten about, and pretty soon I can't remember what I started looking for in the first place. So, I haven't really thought out what I'm going to do with all my apples yet.

And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking; I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Little Pillows

I made potato gnocchi last weekend, and it was a very enjoyable experience.

I've never made gnocchi before, and after reading recipe after recipe warning of all the horrors that can occur in the gnocchi-making process (really either they end up too gummy if you add too much flour, or you don't add enough and they fall apart in the boiling water) I was worried I would screw something up. But in the end, they turned out quite nicely. I served them with a tomato-basil cream sauce, made with fresh tomatoes.

Instead of the typical gnocchi pattern made by pressing each dumpling against the tines of a fork, I went the lazy (or, I prefer calling it "rustic") route: I just made a little indentation with my thumb in each gnocchi, and when I was finished, it looked like a baking sheet cluttered with soft little doll pillows. So cute.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Food is disturbing

Look what I fished out of my homemade vinegar jar the other day:

It's a layer of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria, otherwise known as a mother. The slime layers had grown so heavy they had sunk to the bottom of the jar, so I pulled it out, and now another one is forming. The mother sort of reminds me of jello, or very firm jam. It was pretty thick, too:

Cool, no?

In other news, I made a peach lattice top pie last weekend. It tasted great, but it looked like it was made by a 3rd grader. I've always been too impatient to bother with making food look pretty.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Putting food by, or ; my basement smells like fermented cabbage

Presently, I'm obsessing over food storage and preservation. It's an offshoot of my whole trying-to-eat-locally obsession. And when I obsess, I go all out. In the words of Sylvia Plath:

Food Preservation is an art, like everything else
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

So, yeah. I'm obsessive. I just ordered "Putting Food By" from Amazon (to add to my small - but growing - food preservation library) and when I was at the coast I found and bought a book titled "Preserving Food without Canning of Freezing." I've started making my own vinegar (I have a slimy grey mother floating on the top of a bottle of local organic wine this very second!) and sauerkraut. I've already canned strawberry and marionberry jams, dill pickles and tomatoes. I've got bags of green beans, blueberries, roasted peppers, pastured beef and buffalo in my freezer.

The problem is, I think I may enjoy "putting food by" more than I enjoy the actual foods themselves. An example: sauerkraut. I adore sauerkraut, don't get me wrong. But the process of making real 'kraut is appalling in it's simplicity: You toss shredded cabbage with a few teaspoons of salt, then press it into a non-reactive (preferably ceramic) container for a month or two. The cabbage releases enough liquid to cover - which inhibits the bacterial growth. Lactic acid does it's work, and a few slimy weeks later, voila! you've got kraut.

Kraut is something my German ancestors probably always had on hand, because it stores well, and it tastes good. I know this. But my modern sensibilities still scream at me, every time I want to try a spoonful of homemade sauerkraut: "Ick! Why would you want to eat something that has been rotting on the counter for 2 months!"

So my point is - I have a full crock of kraut and no one to eat it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Whispering Whale

I'm coming to the conclusion that I may not be cut out for this whole "blogging" thing. I like food, and I like writing, but I can't quite get the two things to gel together. But since I'm fully aware of my tendency to give up on pretty much everything after the initial novelty has worn off, this time I'm going to try to fight my "why bother?" mentality and keep on blogging. Yep. I'm taking one for the team. A team I refer to as "Team Blogger."

So - if there is one good reason to visit Newport, Oregon, this would be it:

The Shrimp Sandwich at the Lighthouse Deli. Super yum. The sandwich looks slightly mangled in the picture because I couldn't stop myself from taking a bite before taking a picture. Fresh seafood + mayo + good bread = genius.

And if there is one other reason to visit Newport, it would have to be the Captain's Platter at the Lighthouse Deli:

And even if you are one of those poor, misguided fools who won't eat seafood, you should still visit Newport. Head down to the Bayfront and buy yourself a Pronto Pup - then walk across the street and read about the Whispering Whale, who floats in space over a giant semi-transparent pyramid.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tartar, Lord of Sauces

I have big news, people: tonight, completely by accident, I made an EXACT replica of Zip's Tartar Sauce.

Whenever I make my semi-annual trek back to Spokane, I always make sure to go to Zip's at least once, so I can get my tartar sauce fix. Sometimes I stop at the Zip's location in Ritzville on my way into town, just so to order a large fry, a couple small containers of that precious mayonnaise-based sauce, and possibly one of their many burgers, that all have names like "The Boss" and "the Salad Burger" (when I was a kid, I always expected that one to be a salad on a bun, but no - it's just a regular old hamburger with lettuce and tomato.) But it's the tartar that keeps me coming back. A few of the Zip's locations sell the tartar in 12 ounce soda cups to appease frenzied tartar fans like myself.

And no, I don't drink the tartar straight out of the cup - I learned my lesson in moderation a long time ago. My parents would occasionally take my whining little sister and I to one of the million Spokane Zip's locations. One hot summer day when I was 10 or so, I went a little crazy with the tartar sauce and managed to suck down at least 20 servings before my mother could notice and tell me to knock it off. Unfortunately for yours truly, the zitty 15 year-olds working behind the counter must have forgotten to swap out jugs at the condiment bar, because I spent the next day puking my guts out. Spoiled tartar puke.

And yet - I still wanted more. It's that good.

When I really like a particular food, I always want to figure out how to make it myself, because I like the idea of having it available 24-7. I don't like waiting 180 days to get my Zip's fix. So I've tried replicating the recipe countless times, based on what I guess is probably in it. I've detected small pieces of onion a few times, and some specks of what looks to be pepper, so I always include these ingredients. Once I even overheard an cashier explaining what goes into making the sauce, but a screaming child drowned out almost all of his words except "pickle juice." So I've been making mediocre mayo and pickle juice concoctions ever since. For a while I thought I got close by adding grated onion juice. I've tried to make up for my failures by spicing things up with capers, lemon, dill, chives, and so on. Still, the flavor was just not right.

So tonight, I was in a hurry, so I put some light mayo in a bowl, absentmindedly (and accidentally) poured in a ton more kosher pickle juice than usual. Then in a fit of laziness I added some garlic powder, onion powder and pepper, stirred it up and LO! Trumpets sounded, the clouds opened overhead and a beam of heavenly light shone down upon the bowl, while wing-ed angels sang in chorus. Zip's elusive tartar sauce sat on the counter before me. It took 32 years for me to stumble upon the secret. It really is the pickle juice that makes the tartar!

And now I never have to go back to Spokane ever again. The icing on the proverbial Scripture Cake. Although I probably will, because of annoying things like family and guilt.

PS - for those who care (Lisa I'm talking to you) I found this for sale on Amazon. WOO HOO!

Edit: Never mind about the mac and cheese. Despite the picture of canned macaroni, the description states it "comes in a microwaveable cup." After doing some more research, I've determined that the brand of canned macaroni I'm searching for is Franco-American and it has been discontinued. Damn you, Con Agra!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I've been working 50 hour weeks lately, so I haven't had as much time as I'd like to obsess over food. I have been trying to make foods from scratch using local ingredients though, and managed to make farmer's cheese the other night, and it turned out really freaking delicious:

and here's a fuzzy shot of my very first potato plant harvest... fingerlings!

On Saturday, I made chicken and dumplings for the first time ever, using leftover chicken from a Kookoolan Farms chicken I bought at the Hillsdale Farmer's maket.

It was good, although I'm still undecided about whether or not I'm a fan of dumplings. Gummy, wet dough is not particularly appetizing. But it was much more interesting than making chicken noodle soup, which I can't even think about without shuddering.

I'm also making red wine vinegar from scratch. The jar is sitting in my cupboard, I hope to have vinegar in the next few months. Or maybe just a jar full of of mold. I can't wait to find out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nothing to see here, move along

So no, I didn't take any pictures of my fancy Mexican dinner. When you're trying to get everything on the table before it gets cold, it's hard to remember to whip out a camera and take pretty pictures.

I've been spending an exorbitant amount of time lately pondering the meaning of "local" foods. "Local" is the new (well, the last few years) buzzword in the land of food blogs/magazines, but I still can't decide what my personal stance is on the topic. I really do try to buy local when possible, but I also buy my organic (or, if I'm feeling especially cheap, non-organic) tomatoes from Mexico in the winter. Even the highest quality canned tomatoes are produced hundreds (or more likely, thousands) of miles away. Should I stop this practice of buying produce out of season? Probably. Should I make a concerted effort to buy all my meats and dairy product from local sources? Well, of course - duh. All of that seems obvious enough.

But what about the grey areas? Like what if the milk I'm drinking was produced by a cow that lived only 20 miles away, but the cow was fed with grain that was sprayed with pesticides? What then? Should I stop buying dairy products altogether? But then what if the locally produced tofu and soymilk I buy is made with soybeans that were trucked in from the Midwest? Is that any more acceptable?

I've recently learned that there is no source of hard red wheat (the wheat that is commonly used for breads, pastas, etc) that is grown locally. Hard red wheat does not grow well in the Northwest. So - should I cut bread out of my diet completely, because I know that the wheat that was used to make it was produced at least 500 miles from Portland? Should I buy organic wheat from the closest possible source and make pasta, breads, etc, myself? Or can I buy products that contain non-local wheat from local companies? Or do I cut out wheat completely and start eating a crapload of potatoes instead? And considering that I have a full time job, when am I supposed to find the time do cook/can/grow everything from scratch?

And when I start thinking about all the foods I love that come from far away, tropical locales - like pineapple, or avocados, my head starts to spin. Do I have to say goodbye to tropical fruits forever in order to be a responsible human being? Even plain old sugar - think of all the miles sugar has to travel to get to Oregon. Not to mention the amount of processing that sugar requires before it makes it to my table. Should I try to hunt down a source of organic beet sugar? Or do I only use local, organic honey?

It gets so ridiculously convoluted. There are so many weird food rules - everybody seems to have some ludicrous idea of what is ok to eat and what isn't, and those things are constantly in flux. Junk food, bad. Whole grains, good. Carbs bad, protein good. Protein bad, carbs bad, fat bad, meat bad, soy bad, processed foods bad, calories bad. Bad, bad, bad. I've known people who "can't" eat fruit, or are "allergic" to vegetables. Why do we have to be afraid of everything we put in our mouths, unless it fits into some illogical dietary regime?

I don't have an answer to any of these questions. It's frustrating. Sometimes it seems almost impossible to eat anything without causing irreparable harm to the planet. But food is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, not purgatory. I shouldn't have to feel guilty (or, on the other side of the spectrum - superior) whenever I sit down to eat a meal. Right???

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It's freaking HOT

The dog days of summary have arrived! 102 degrees yesterday, 98 today. Luckily, I work in an office, so I get an air-conditioned respite for a good portion of the day. But the moment I leave work, I'm enveloped in the sticky heat and all I want to do is go home, open a beer and sit in a cool bath. Or, more likely, I'll just stand in front of the fridge with the freezer door wide open. But I certainly don't want to cook dinner. Last night, I cheated and ordered in Hot Lips pizza. But tonight, I decided to suck it up and make something using my ever-abundant supply of CSA produce. Here's what I ended up making:

It's Zucchini Carpaccio! I've seen it on several different blogs in the past few days (it seems many people have the same "its too hot to cook but I'm hungry" conundrum) and I tinkered with the recipes I found online - my version is made with thin slices of zucchini, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, thyme, Parmesan and Fleur-de-sel. I happened to have new bottles of really good vinegar and olive oil, a big wedge of Parmesan, and fresh thyme from my garden, so there was really no way to screw it up. Still, the combination of these ingredients with the thin slices of fresh zucchini far exceeded my expectations. It even made me grateful for the hot weather. Briefly.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Bubble and Squeak

This little fuzzy fellow is who I found when I googled "Bubble and Squeak." Apparently his owner really likes cabbage and potatoes!

I first saw the recipe for Bubble and Squeak on an episode of what was possibly the best cooking show of all time: Two Fat Ladies. Their recipe calls for melting a large hunk of lard in a pan, and then when the fat is good and hot, they add cooked brussels sprouts and sliced potatoes and fry it until it's caramelized and crunchy. The recipe's unusual name is onomatopoeic - as "bubble and squeak" is supposedly the sound the vegetables make while they're cooking. At the time, I was far less adventurous when it came to food, and I thought the recipe - and the name - was just disgusting. Lard? Brussels sprouts? No, thank you.

Since then, I've become better friends with the Brassica genus, and now I love cabbage in all its forms. Napa and savoy cabbage, brussels sprouts, collard greens, turnips - all delicious! The only thing I'm still leery of is mustard greens. Mustard greens seem a little too "hardcore" of a leafy green for me. But - who knows what the future might bring? Maybe next year mustard greens will be my new best friend.

So anyway, back to my story. This morning I realized I had a half a head of cabbage in the fridge and some lovely little new potatoes that were screaming to be eaten. I had read that brussels sprouts and cabbage were interchangeable in this recipe, so I decided it was high time to give Bubble and Squeak a test run, but with butter and olive oil instead of lard. It didn't make any squeaky sounds while it was cooking, which was a disappointment. But it did look pretty damn good on the plate, with a pork sausage on the side. And it tasted really good, too.

Bubble and Squeak
1 lb cooked potatoes (any kinds will work) sliced or mashed
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 lb cooked cabbage, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter in a 10-inch heavy nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then add cabbage and potatoes, mashing and stirring them together, while leaving some lumps and pressing to form a cake. Cook, without stirring, until underside is crusty and golden, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

National Fluff Day

It seems like every middle-class American family has a jello salad and/or dessert that they eat around the holidays. In my family, it's layers of jello with cream cheese, mayo and pineapple, simply referred to as "the jello salad." I've heard of other people making something they called "the jello salad", but the recipe is never the same. My great grandmother made it, my mother made it and now I make it whenever I go see my extended family for the holidays. It varies in colors depending on the holiday: raspberry and lime for Xmas, orange and lemon for Thanksgiving, but other than that, it's been exactly the same for at least 50 years. And my ex-boyfriend's family used to clamour for something they lovingly called "Pink Stuff" which was a mix of Cool-whip, jello, assorted canned fruit and cottage cheese. Both of these things were - and are - delicious, even though most of us (ok, maybe just me) won't usually admit it in public.

Yet whenever someone describes their family's holiday jello dish, it always sounds disgusting and just wrong. Mayo in jello? Fruit cocktail? Yuck. And really, jello itself is pretty gross. But still, when you mix all of those things together, I think you usually end up with a dish that is much better than the sum of its parts.

Or maybe I'm just being sentimental.

At any rate, last year I came across a recipe for something called "Raspberry Fluff" in a summer issue of Cooks Country. They have an interesting section on lost recipes where readers can write in requesting old recipes they've lost or never had in the first place, and this fluff recipe was the "found" recipe of the issue. I thought nothing of it, but later I found myself going back to that page over and over again and eventually I decided: I must try fluff.

The recipe contained some of the usual ingredients: cream cheese, a packet of dream whip, pineapple and a box of raspberry jello mixed up in a graham cracker crust. Easy enough. I made it, and it was good. Then I wondered: what could make it better? So I made it again, this time leaving out the jello and replacing it with a packet of gelatin and lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and water. Instead of canned pineapple I mixed in fresh raspberries. And the second time it was really good. Light and airy, and not overly sweet.

Yesterday, for the 4th, I made fluff again - this time I made a raspberry coulis, and mixed that in with lemon zest/juice to make the fluff bright pink. I topped it with a thin layer of cream cheese & powdered sugar and some raspberries:

I think it turned out really well. Maybe a little too tart from the lemon, but much better than the first batch I made.

So, I've decided to make my new & improved version of Fluff into my own 4th of July holiday tradition. I'm not big on American nationalism, but hey, I'm happy to have an excuse to celebrate average Americans' penchant for gelatinized, airy, sugary desserts. It's now "National Fluff Day" in my book.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Weekend Cookery

I've been working lots of overtime lately. Which means that during the week, by the time I get home and whip up something for dinner, I'm way too tired to blog about it. But, the good thing about OT is that I have plenty of extra $$, which means that I can splurge on whatever damn food I feel like and not feel too guilty afterwards.

Saturday morning, I woke up with a hankering for razor clams. It's razor season, so you'd think I'd be able to find clams for sale at any old store - but of course it can't be that easy! Concordia New Seasons, my trusty local grocery store, had nary a clam. Then I tried Costco, and they didn't have any clams either. Instead I came home with up a brand new knife set (!) and 2 pounds of Copper River Salmon, which we grilled for Saturday night's dinner. It was so good, I forgot about my razor clam itch, momentarily at least.

But I awoke this morning determined to find razor clams somewhere in the Portland Metro area. I called City Market in NW, which houses Newman's Fish Market. And as luck would have it, they DID have razor clams, so I jumped in my car and ran across town to buy a pound. Then as I walked to the register from the fish counter, my grocery basket mysteriously filled itself with: a liter of Sicilian EV olive oil, capers, parsley & cheese sausages and a container of lard from Viande Meats, french butter (they had the brand of butter I obsessed over in Paris, which I've never seen in the US until today) and a rhubarb flavored soda. Quite a haul.

Freshly cleaned razor clams look like crazy aliens:

Here they are tenderizing in buttermilk, pepper, garlic and Tapatio:

and right out of the frying pan, served with homemade tartar and buttermilk coleslaw:

These were the best clam steaks I've ever had, hands down.

When I tallied up what I spent at Costco on knives, salmon and various other sundries, and then add in what I spent at City Market, I've determined that my razor clam craving wound up costing me somewhere in the range of $50 per clam. But it was totally worth it!

Scripture Cake II, electric boogaloo

Holy Christ! Apparently Scripture Cake is a real thing! I was just too ignorant & atheistic to realize it. This particular recipe is nice enough to provide the biblical translation for each ingredient, for the less godly chefs out in internet-land.

And of course, a bible-themed cake recipe is going to make a dry and heavy spice cake. That's no surprise.

Well, I'm off to read "The God Delusion."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Sunday

This morning Jenn, Jenny and I drove out to Sauvie Island and bought 2 flats of beautiful strawberries for $12 each. I didn't plan on buying that many berries, but it was a crazy good deal. Last year I paid $24 for 1 flat of strawberries that weren't nearly as good.

Then we made tons of jam, as is our summer custom. Jenn and Jenny made strawberry jam and strawberry & raspberry jam (they picked some of the raspberries in my back yard, thank god.) I just made strawberry jam with honey, because that's my favorite:

It turned out really well. I used the remainder of a quart of honey that I bought at a farmer's market last year, so my jam is all-local! I've had problems with jam made with honey not setting up properly before, but this time I tried using a calcium activated pectin and it worked so much better. And because calcium activated pectins aren't dependent on sugar to jell, this jam isn't sickeningly sweet. I only used 2 cups of honey total, and it made about 14 jars.

I also made pesto with basil from my CSA bin.
I know, pesto is kind of boring, but this batch was exceptionally good. All the produce I'm getting from my CSA is amazing. I grilled some bread, then mixed up some pesto with cherry tomatoes and served it as build-your-own bruscetta. I think I ate about 95% of it all on my own, but everybody seemed to like it.

While the jam was cooling, and the lids were popping (which is such a satisfying sound) we talked about all the other things we want to can this summer: pickles, tomatoes and salsa are at the top of our list. Canning is addictive.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Vegan Meal Challenge

Anyone who knows me will attest that I have a deep distrust of most things labeled "vegan." Why? Well, without going into too much detail about my personal (and biased) opinions on other people's dietary regimes, I suppose that the least complicated answer is that I think that the majority of vegan foods don't taste nearly as good as the foods they're attempting to mimic. And because I don't subscribe to a vegan/vegetarian set of beliefs, I have the option to eat whatever version of a food that I think tastes the best - and frankly, the best is usually the omnivore one.

That said, I love plenty of foods that fall into the vegan category. Especially the foods that aren't trying to be vegan. Like guacamole, or hummus, or tofu. Well, I suppose you could argue that tofu (well, soy) is often used as a meat or cheese or milk substitute, but in my opinion, these food fake-outs are really soy at it's worst. Sure, Edamame is a tasty snack, but in no way is it similar to the ground, powdered soybeans that are mixed with cane syrup and stabilizers to make that modern day junk food called soymilk - which, in my opinion, usually tastes like a mix of beans and sawdust.

Still I'm always afraid that there's some tasty delight out in Veganville that I'm missing out on, because I've prematurely dismissed it as "not good" based solely on it's vegan-ness. For example, once I actually tasted a Vegan Supreme marshmallow, I realized how much better they were than regular marshmallows (until I discovered that Vegan Supreme actually contained fish gelatin. But that's another story.) I think that tempeh reubens are great, and a well-made tofu scramble will kick an egg's ass any day of the week. But had you told me beforehand that I would be impressed by any of these foods, I wouldn't have believed it.

This fear of missing out on potential deliciousness is what drove me to the Vegan Meal Challenge. Well, I've never actually called it that, but it has a nice ring to it - despite the fact that there is no actual "challenge." The basic idea is that I make a meal that is 100% vegan, trying new recipes and/or foods that I haven't tried before. Then I ponder the results and determine whether or not I would make the meal again.

Tuesday night, I decided that I would try making mac & cheeze. And since I was already going to the effort, I declared it a challenge and made the whole meal animal-free. The mac & cheeze recipe was basically the same as the regular version – you make a roux, stir in the liquid and then add cheese (in the vegan version, the dairy is substituted with nutritional yeast and Earth Balance margarine.) Then you mix the sauce in with cooked noodles, top the whole thing with seasoned breadcrumbs and bake until browned and bubbly.

I rounded off my dinner with some saut̩ed chard, and some bbq "ribz" Рand it really did make a very attractive meal. But what about the taste? Well, my taste buds told my brain that the taste was merely ok. The pasta had a taste reminiscent of cheese powder, but really it was more like a weird super thick gravy. To be fair, I may have liked it better had I not been comparing it to the cheesy version. So the official result of this challenge was: I wouldn't make it again, but I would eat it again if it was offered to me. When Kevin got back from band practice, he ate the leftover "ribz" on top of a bowl of the mac, then told me: "it's good - for vegan food."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Scripture Cake and other important news

First of all: I know everyone has been hanging on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what I did with my dandelion greens, so I'll fill you in. I did absolutely nothing with them. That's right, I threw the wilted, slimy remains in my compost pile this morning. Yeah, I'm a lazy jerk.

But, on a more positive note, I've been eating my favorite breakfast of ALL TIME this entire week (sorry for the terrible pictures, my camera sucks almost as much as my photo-taking ability):

If you can't tell from the crappy photo, that's raspberries, a spoonful of creme frache and toasted hazelnuts. The only way this could be better is if I had some blueberries to throw in the mix. Yum.

And yesterday, I went rummage sale-ing with a couple of friends and I bought 4 cookbooks for $1 each:

My favorite has to be "Wyoming Cookin" because it's full of recipes with names like "Cowpunchers Rice and Beef" and "Son of a Gun Stew" (and oddly enough - a large percentage of the recipes call for peanut butter. ?) There are poorly drawn sketches of cowboy boots and tepees on every page. Pretty awesome.

My second favorite cookbook from the bunch is "RECIPES from the WOMEN of First Baptist Church Des Moines, Iowa" because 1) it has at least 5 different recipes for Oatmeal Cookies, each exactly the same except submitted by a different parishioner and 2) I found this recipe for "Old Scripture Cake":

I tried whipping up a batch, but I was fresh out of Leviticus 2:13, so foolishly I tried adding extra Judges 5:25 instead. The bowl immediately burst into flames, then Satan appeared right before my eyes and ate all the uncooked batter right out of the bowl. Sick!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Ok, not everything is food.

Back in 2004, I celebrated my 30th birthday in a yurt on the coast. It was great, despite the fact that pretty much the entire trip, it was POURING rain (it was raining so hard that we saw hundreds of frogs hopping merrily down the middle of the street.) Kevin and I spent most of our time working on crossword puzzles in the yurt. But at one point, the rain did stop, and I ventured outside, only to be greeted by this fellow:

Pretty freaky, right? At the time all I could have said for certain was that this cartoony-looking thing was some sort of fungi, but other than that it was a total mystery. A few months later I bought the book "All That The Rain Promises And More" by David Aurora. The picture of the crazy guy on the front cover is what sold me, but it turned out to be a really informative book. I learned that the mushroom I had seen near my yurt was Amanita muscaria, also know as Fly Agaric, a psychotropic mushroom. I haven't been a big fan of hallucinogens since my high school days, but I'm still happy that I can now call this red warty creature by his rightful name, if I ever come across him again.

Anyway. I'm getting around to the point of the story, I swear.

Last week Kevin and I took a couple days off work and rented a cabin at a nearby state park. It was mellow - we cooked bratwurst over the campfire, Kevin worked on crossword puzzles, and I wandered around attempting to identify birds, plants and hopefully find a mushroom or two. But it wasn't until we were in the middle of packing up the car to go home that I almost stepped on these:

I grabbed my trusty mushroom guide, and after checking the stem, gills and cap, came to the conclusion that these were Lactarius fragilis - or "Candy Caps" which the book stated were not only edible, they were choice edible. The book had a recipe for Candy Cap cookies - because once these mushrooms are dried, they smell sweet, like maple syrup. I realized right then and there that, as God was my witness, I wouldn't be able to say I had lived a full and meaningful life until I had eaten candy cap cookie, fresh from the oven. So, I picked a handful and wrapped them up for the trip home.

But when I got back, I realized that perhaps my earlier decision to try these mushrooms was perhaps a little too hasty... was I absolutely certain that these were really Lactarius fragilis? Or could they be poisonous impostors, full of toxins that would cause irreparable damage to my kidneys and liver? I decided it would be a good idea to consult yet another mushroom book, and the internet. Everything checked out. These were the real deal. I set up a makeshift dehydrator and thought about my candy cap cookies for the rest of the day.

Now every piece of information I had read stated that candy caps smell very sweet when dry. Hence the name. And once my mushrooms were dessicated, they did have an odor that seemed reminiscent of brown sugar. Proud of my harvest, I pulled Kevin into the room and told him to inhale the delicious aroma of my choice wild mushrooms. But the moment he took one sniff, he wrinkled his nose and announced "Those things smell like FEET!"

Dubious, I smelled them again. And Kevin was right - they did smell like feet. Not brown sugar, not maple syrup - just stinky, sweaty feet. How had I thought that stench was sweet? Wishful thinking? I don't really know. But of course after that, I couldn't bring myself to cook them, partly because they might not be candy caps at all, and could possibly kill me, but mostly because they were completely unappetizing now that I realized they smelled like wet socks.

As David Aurora would say "when in doubt, throw it out."

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Summer has arrived

Ok, add another food to my list of favorites: raspberries.

When we were housing-hunting a few years back, the fact that this house had an established raspberry patch was a MAJOR selling point. Sure, the house needed a new roof and had few dead mice rotting away inconspicuous corners, but raspberries negated all those minor, unimportant details. I took it as a sign and made an offer. Once the deal was done, I cleaned up the mice carcasses, lugged in my furniture and waited impatiently through the winter and spring for my first batch of raspberries to arrive.

Raspberries are sneaky. Early on in the spring, before the canes have filled out, you can't imagine that you'll ever have more than a handful of berries. Then they flower, and you feel a little more optimistic as you watch the bumblebees humming around and the green berries forming.

When I saw my very first ripe berry, I ate it with gusto. And then I saw another, and I ate that one too. And after a few days, I had a whole handful of berries, which were also eaten out-of-hand. Life was GLORIOUS.

I can't pinpoint when it happened that first summer, but I do know that one day I walked out to the backyard and there were so many ripe berries that I couldn't eat them all. And now, inevitably, ever single year there comes a point which once seemed impossible: I just can't eat any more raspberries. The thought of going into the backyard becomes downright depressing. My precious berries start falling to the ground. I've made tarts, coulis, put berries in salads, mixed them in with my yogurt. Every June my friends and I make multiple batches of jam. These attempts to trick my taste buds into thinking I'm eating something new doesn't quite get to the root of the problem: there are just too many damn berries. Eventually, I wave my white flag and admit defeat. Nature always wins. Berries rot. The hot summer days get gradually cooler, the vines die back. And then at some point, I find looking longingly out the window, wondering if next summer I'll have enough raspberries.

So, you can imagine that when I looked outside last night and saw the first red berry of the season, I had mixed feelings. And then I ran outside and ate it.

Monday, June 4, 2007

SPAM spam SPAM spam

There is a relatively short list of foods I never get sick of: beef jerky from a butchers shop, Zip’s tartar sauce, fresh blueberries and homemade marshmallows all come to mind. Ok, actually it's quite a long list, when I start thinking about it. But - at the very top of the list is sushi. Sure, when sushi is poorly made it’s insipid. But when sushi is good, it’s very VERY good.

So last Saturday, I bought a crab at the Hollywood Farmers Market from the Linda Brand Crab booth. They always have fresh seafood, and I have a hard time not spending a fortune whenever I see one of their booths at a market. I like to buy a whole crab and clean it myself right when I get it home. There is nothing more humbling in life than spending a Saturday evening scooping out crab guts. At least this crab was cold – hot crab guts are much worse.

After that task was over, I sat down in front of the tv with a nutcracker and a stiff drink and carefully picked out all the crab meat. Good times were had.

Whenever I spend a sizeable amount of my money and time on a crab, I’m going to make sure I make something good with it. Which is why I took advantage of an uneventful Sunday afternoon and made sushi: California rolls, tuna rolls and Spam musubi.

It was all extremely good, but the Spam musubi ended up being the Sunday night main event. First, I marinated slices of Spam (I actually used Spam Lite – because hey, I’m healthy like that) in Soy Vey teriyaki sauce. Then I put a fried slice of spam on top of some spam-shaped sushi rice with a thin layer of egg. I discovered that the empty Spam can makes a great mold for the rice! Then I wrapped up each piece with a strip of nori. Hello! Porky, eggy goodness.

Kevin was recording The Curious in our basement most of Sunday afternoon, so when they were all finished recording, the band came upstairs and sampled my sushi offerings. The Spam Musubi was a hit! And I was happy to share the wonders of Spam and rice with an appreciative crowd.