Archive for August, 2011

Sutra in Seattle

August 24, 2011

My sister and I have been habitually vacationing, every summer for a week, the past couple of years. One year to the Oregon coast, once to the peninsula, LaPush and Neah Bay. This year, not sure of the amount of time we had, no place came to mind for either of us. So, her brilliant idea: let’s just go day tripping for three days and sleep at home in our own comfy beds. That is what we did.

First day: how could you miss on a trip to IKEA? We had no lists. We both have favorite items from trips past. My all time favorite thing is the plastic grater box with 2 tight fitting grater lids. It comes in red now, but I love the white one I have had for years. My sister loves the orange solar reading lights. The base comes off so you can place it in the sunlight. Then you snap it back in place for reading in the evening. Excellent! I also love the woven rush baskets with the huge bowl and footed base. I have two of those. IKEA also has a great wok at an incredible price $4.99. I use one at school and it does the job well. They have two great wicker chairs, one at $29.99 and one at $79.99. Very reasonable.

After making our purchases: my new favorite is a wind up flashlight in bright red that kind of looks like a giant space age pepper grinder, plus  jam, strainer, those thin yummy cinnamon wafer cookies….we thought of going to the movies, the Help, Beginners, something thoughtful. But our timing was off. Eating was next. I have been carrying a Seattle magazine from last year with a line up of 60 restaurants that are changing the way we eat in my car for just this purpose. We looked in at Sitka and Spruce, they were full. We thought about Poppy but have been there recently. So we went to Sutra on west 45th. Click the link for some photos and more information. I want to talk about the food!

I don’t usually take photos of my plate as many folks do in restaurants. I feel self conscious. I commit the dish to taste bud memory instead. First, I must tell you that the entire meal was vegan and you must imagine the color themes as you read the descriptions. Here is the line up of courses:

Urfabiber Tomatilla-Corn Soup with a Musk Mellon-Red Leaf Lettuce, Shaved Fennel and Fried Caper Salad, with Roasted Garlic Lemon-Hempseed Dressing

Cashew Cheese Flan with Juiced Carrot and Cilantro, Frisee Dressed in Lime and Sesame, finished with New Blue Potato Chips and a Tequila Black Lemon Gastrique

Chanterelle and House Smoked Great White Northern Bean/Nigella Stuffed Eight Ball Zucchini with Sauteed Rainbow Chard and a Yellow Banana Inferno Chile-Tomato Sauce, finished with a Basil Chiffonade  the Nigella seeds are so beautiful and very tasty. I know you have some growing in your yard, or neighborhood. When the plants dry out, save the pods, shake out the seeds. Each pod has hundreds of seeds. Use them for breakfast-eggs, lunch-salad dressing, dinner-sprinkle on baked squash or mashed potatoes.

Cinnamon-Port Poached Peach with a Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream finished with an Elderberry Glaze

I love the addition of the exact type of zucchini and chile. The Urfabiber is a spice blend from Turkey that was sprinkled over the silky creamy, warm and bright Tomatilla Corn Soup. So smooth, absolutely no dairy. So good. The Cashew Cheese Flan was mysteriously light with wonderful texture. And the home made blue potato chips were crispy and folded almost like origami birds. Beautiful. The gastrique tasted of lemon and maple syrup, a new flavor combination  for me. The main, a sweet little stuffed zucchini came complete with the top and stem reminiscent of pumpkin. The beans, chard and tomato flavors were comforting with the added smoky flavor…..a campfire must be nearby.

This was a lot of food…..yet we eagerly anticipated that dessert. No disappointment. Ethereal and aromatic peach slices surrounding a scoop of vanilla coconut heaven. I have tasted Elderberries before and they are sooo acidic. Somehow the chef coaxed a wonderful apple like flavor out of the glaze with just a bit of sugar and cooking down. This foiled the sweet flavors nicely.

We met the chef, Aaron Geible, after dinner finished up. He graciously answered some of my questions about the cashew cheese and gastrique, we talked about the importance of knowing as much as we can about the foods we purchase, cook  eat, passing that on to our kids, about supporting local growers which then brings the whole community closer. The restaurant emulates this in the huge amount of information one gets from the waitstaff and menu. The kitchen is in the dining area and diners are settled at long cozy tables, we sat with some women from southern California. I know this is the trend these days, a view of your entree being flamed and sharing the French press with your neighbor, but here it all seemed natural and sincere.  You must go there. Click on the link, read about it, and go. Especially go if you have hesitations about vegan or vegetarian food. Aaron and crew will change your life.

That was day one. wow. Next day we went to Bellingham, strolled downtown, went to Man Pies, which I will tell you about later…..really good pies with a great southern style crust. And then to see “The Help”. I read the book and like the writing and the take on an unknown subject. I felt bad as was intended, about the inequities and violent meanness. What I loved was the intelligence and humor shown in the face of despair. The movie did the job, but I wouldn’t see it again – my sign of a really good or great movie is wanting to immediately see it again.  My temperpedic bed felt so good to the old hips that spent way too much time sitting.

Day Three – we could have driven hours and hours, spent $200 on a hotel room and $50 for the lunch, but instead we packed the avocados, chips, cheese, eggs, watermelon and juices into the basket, and drove 4 miles to Snee-oosh Beach. We took blankets and my dog, Monk, a rottie/shepard/lab mix. He loves to swim and fetch. The sun was hot. We are both reading the latest book by David Brooks. We took turns. The beach glass was few and far between but dogs were in abundance so Monk got to work on his social skills. Sand in our crevices, slightly pink toned, a few hours later we headed back home to Caesar salads with shrimp, tall cool glasses of water. Then a dip in the hot tub and a snooze under the stars for me. What a nice idea for vacationing. It worked….ok, one photo.

Advertisements

My Father Passed Away This Year

August 20, 2011

My father passed away January 4 of this year. He was 93. I hadn’t seen him often for the past 25 years. Short phone calls and emails. Increasingly it would be his wife on the phone because he didn’t hear well after awhile. And often he really wanted to talk with my husband, not me. But I have been thinking about him more often this summer, I knew I would, as I fished and foraged as that was something he shared with me as a kid. (When I am a teacher we always refer to them as children or students but here I can say “kid”) The photo above is a lovely tableau of a few red huckleberries I found while searching for the dewberries shown in the previous posts pie. Huckleberry picking is a big memory for me. My folks would pack my sister and me into the old “56 Buick and we would head up into the Cascades (mountain range) to their favorite sub-alpine lakes where blue and red huckleberries abound. This was back in the ’50s.

I remember him as really big, which is only natural when I was pre-adolescent, and small. He was big in stature, and big in personality, loud, extravagant, boisterous. And he was fun. It was only later I understood the kind of pressure this created in a marriage, and for soft, vulnerable children. I never knew that it wasn’t my fault when he would storm out of the house. Later, I would believe that it was all my mom’s fault. That took some major amends with my mother much later as an adult. And arguments? That was one of his favorite pass times: tricking us into an argument as we grew older, as if shouting was a major merit in his debate. Often this took place during dinner time. We all have distorted eating habits to this day. I didn’t own an official dining table until about 3 years ago.

Yet, the best fish I have ever eaten was a steelhead caught on February 16, 1966 by my dad, cooked over an alder fire in the back yard. This is February, we all had on coats and there was snow on the ground. And those huckleberry jams were the best. You wonder where I got my well seasoned taste buds? All I had to do as a child was ask my father what a certain food was, or what it tasted like and, poof! the next day or next week after payday we would be cooking and eating it. Once I asked him what the difference between pork chops and lamb chops was. We ate them off and on for a week, seven different ways.

He got mad at my mom once because he thought her cooking was bland. She had grown up thinking that herbs and spices were extravagant and kind of like cheating. He had been in the army overseas, many of his mates were from east coast cities, Italians, Eastern European, and Australian. He learned to make noodles, smoke fish and game, for instance. So my mom told him to cook! I will never forget the roasted chicken with half a cup of dried marjoram rubbed all over and throughout. We had to eat it.

During winter months at low tides, which usually happens at or around midnight, he knew the best clam beaches in our area so we would trek out with lanterns, shovels and pails, this was when you could keep a bucket full. My dad loved to whistle and we could hear him going down to the water in the darkness, us kids trying to keep up because on the way to the beach in the car he had told us scary stories about people lost in the waves. We loved the little steamers…..arriving home at 6am, putting the pot of water on, my mother throwing a loaf of garlic bread in the oven, dad making cocoa for everyone. Have you ever dunked garlic bread in your cocoa? for breakfast? One of the best tastes EVER.

My dad had unusual rules for foraging. As we camped out at the Stillaguamish river in the summers there was usually a dairy farm near by where the farmer also grew field corn for cow food. My dad was not opposed to sneaking through the woods to the fields to pick some, which roasted over the campfire was tolerable….even tasty if tough. But he never poached as the fish and game laws became more restrictive in when and where you could find your food. He complained, argued, but always abided. He understood the need to protect nature and how our behaviors should change as the environment changed. He didn’t think we needed laws for that, just common sense. I don’t think he ever made peace with how humans can be so ignorant about what they have.

He was a Republican of course, and profoundly disappointed in three independent, left leaning daughters. Although this scenario was perfect for the aforementioned arguments. When I was 13 we had been in the Viet Nam war for 2 years. My best friend Lane from across the street came over with newspaper articles we should read to know what was really going on and that we could go to a protest meeting in town. Instead of talking with Lane about his fears, my dad told him to go home and told me I wasn’t to hang out with Lane any more. If the saying “we’re going to hell in a hand basket” was ever true, it was for my father. When I think of his pain over our country, some pain I feel as well but for different reasons, I am glad he is at rest in a place where I believe he could have a big boisterous chuckle and perhaps know and understand his kids in a way he never did living.

I am sure there is more to say but I think I will leave you with this photo of my dining room table, the first one I ever bought, three years ago….I am 59.

Dewberry Pie Reverie

August 13, 2011

Sometimes having concrete evidence of success catapults us into taking on a fearful challenge. I am talking pie crust here…..which can be as  difficult to work with if you don’t understand the ingredients…..kind of like hoping for a good marriage when you’ve only known him for two weeks. The perils translate into bland taste, tough crust, and possibly the horrid soggy bottom. So believe what you see because contrary  to the way I think and talk I admit to being a mediocre baker. I can sometimes bring in all the wow factors. But often I forget a step, or an ingredient or commit an act of baking treason I would fire a student over. (pretend fire of course)

For a two crust pie with a small ball of dough left over for galettes or pie crust cinnamon crisps start with:

2 1/4 cups AP flour

pinch of salt and sugar

1/2 lb. or 2 sticks of unsalted butter, the best you can buy

ice cold water, we don’t know how much yet so have 1/2 cup ready

Mix the flour, salt and sugar with your hands. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces, throw in the bowl and toss with flour. Now, rub pieces of butter between your fingers, kind of sliding them into flat little strips or shards. Keep at this until all the butter pieces have been reduced in size and flattened out, meanwhile being coated with flour. Continue this motion with both hands for a minute, you begin to see the flour change color and become slightly mealy, yet there is still plenty of larger unblended butter pieces.

You can chill the dough for ten minutes now if you have time, and think for a couple of minutes about what you have done: enrobed most of the flour in fat which will protect it from mixing straight with the water you will add next. The flour contains gluten which for pastry purposes we do not want to activate. This is another reason why, for the next steps, we will manipulate the dough as minimally as possible.

So now, use a 1/4 cup measure, get your ice water, and begin sprinkling a tablespoon of water at a time over the flour mixture, fluffing it with a fork. You can imagine fluffing right? Pull the fork up from under the mixture quickly, barely coaxing the water and butter to dance together. Continue adding bits of water and fluffing until the dough begins to come together. It should barely come together. Stop! you’re adding too much. I can see it starting to look wet. Usually 4-6 tablespoons is enough.

Now, carefully scoop up a large hand full, maybe slightly smaller than a soft ball. Gently press together into a ball. If it is falling apart, ok, add 1 more splash of ice water, fluff, and try again. flatten the ball into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap. This is the bottom crust for a 9 inch pie pan. Scoop up another ball, slightly smaller, wrap in plastic wrap, this is the top crust. You should have a small ball, a tennis ball? size left over for playing with later.

The dough before forming into disks over there on the right.

Next, chill these for at least 30 minutes. We want the butter cold so it will continue to protect the flour and there is no chance of the little bits of butter melting out into space.

Use plenty of flour when rolling out, roll out from the center in all directions, not too heavy handed. You learn to feel the dough under the roller moving out evenly. Don’t worry about tears, we can fix them. Once you roll the dough out place the pie tin on top. The crust should come out about an inch past the edges of the tin. The crust is big enough. Fold the dough in half, slip your hands underneath and gently place on one half of the tin. Unfold the dough to cover the entire tin. Adjust for even edges. The colder the dough stays the easier it is to handle. Trim the edges to just the edge of the pan, use scraps to gently press into any tears.

Add your filling! In this case I used the dew berries or blackberries, rubus ursinus, we picked last night, 4 1/2 cups with 3/4 cup sugar and 4 T. of dry tapioca. This is a very tart pie. You must be ready to accept the scoop of super vanilla ice cream needed to foil the puckery goodness.

Roll out the top crust the same as the bottom, so it looks slightly larger than the pie tin. Fold in half, gently drape over the filling, unfold and it looks like

the left. Trim the edges a bit, and gently fold the top crust under the bottom all the way around. Flute the edges to press them together.

Now, you don’t have to do anything else to the pie but make 4 cuts half inch long equidistant from each other and slide it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, center shelf. This first step causes the butter to melt into the crust without thinking. It has no chance to worry about it’s magical job, it just performs. It is in the zone! After 15 minutes turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 20 minutes. Now the filling is starting to become gelatinous and the crust is turning. Continue to bake until the juices begin to bubble out the top a bit, and the colour is golden. I just like to spell it that way. I prefer grey to gray also.

However, if you like a little wow factor, brush the top of the crust with milk or half and half, sprinkle BIG sugar crystals over the top and then bake as above. One of my favorite stores in the Pike Place Market is Market Spice for their vast array of herbs and spices and blends, plus, every color of rainbow big sugar crystals.  It is important to let the pie cool to warmish, so the tapioca can pull together all the juices nicely and there is no wet puddle on the plate.

This pie really does need an ice cream or whipped cream foil. It is very tart and…..earthy. As I prepared the berries I needed to pick out a bunch of fir needles (another clue to where they like to live) which probably added some resiny notes.

So! Cut into the crust. It is flaky yes? You barely need to pierce it with the knife and it shatters along a fault line of crispyness. And the bottom looks golden, not like a belly that’s never seen the sun. Congratulations! It took a bit of focus, some whys and wherefores, but it is perfect. Now, there is only the consideration of who to share it with….. those who have an inkling for what you have just accomplished and can share your joy I hope.

Let me know how your crust turns out.

postscript….there are always thoughts that get lost in the mystery of baking, when the hands take over and all we have are our senses. Further notes on pie crust:

You can always use a pastry blender, one of those “D” shaped utensils with half dozen scooped cutter blades held together by the flat handle, to break up the butter into the flour. I just love to use my hands and try to keep them cold. I can tell what is going on with my hands.

as you become more facile with the dough you can cut back on the fat, the butter, if you feel that is important. This ratio just increases the chances of a really flaky yet tender crust. Whole wheat pastry flour can be subbed for the AP flour. I often use it with apples as they seem to go together nicely. Fairhaven Mills in Bellingham makes an excellent pastry flour.

Foraging for Wild Dewberries

August 12, 2011

Just as I wouldn’t tell you exactly how to catch a king salmon, I wouldn’t tell you where we picked the wild blackberries or dew berries below. The Pacific Northwest, particularly western Washington is famous for the wild, tangle of blackberries rumored to cover cars, entire buildings, in a matter of months left unchecked, the Himalayas. These are not the berries I am talking about. the berries we suffer thorn pricks, nettles (which grow in the same environment – a clue!), tripping and falling over nurse logs are dewberries or rubus ursinus. The berry is smaller generally, but has a superior taste, an almost smokey flavor. It took us about one hour to find and pick about four cups, enough for a pie we will make tomorrow.

You will notice (another clue!) the red huckleberries in the mix as well. I couldn’t leave them behind.

The smell of the berries is rich and earthy, one of my favorite aromas of summer, along with the smell of flowering beet seed fields, a real treat if you have never been swept away by their intense odor. When making pies, tarts or galettes these berries do not need as much sugar as the other varieties. Taste and decide for yourself.

And on this broader subject of foraging, we ate the last of our recent batch of fresh crab tonight after pulling the refuse from the woods out of our hair, putting salve on our mosquito bites, and washing dirty feet. I picked some fresh tender green beans out of the garden and put them in with the pasta for the last two minutes simmering. Bruce cracked the crab, I made a garlic cream sauce for the pasta and we were settled in for the evening.

These are my favorite pasta plates or bowls. IKEA for just a few dollars. The black makes almost anything look better.

Bruce really has a knack for prying the leg meat out whole, which always is appealing. We feel very lucky to live in this vibrant, voluptuous place where we can wander around finding good food to eat. We have discovered that the salal berries we saw today are edible and very tart. I am going to look into this!

There is no doubt in my mind that what we did today was foraging. The berries are wild and we only had to know where to look. But I am wondering if fishing and crabbing, and hunting for that matter, are still foraging when one has to buy the licenses and report in the catch. It still requires the work, the know-how, that special aggregate of handed down lore and skill. And yet there is a difference in my mind…..as I am sitting here writing I just noticed this huge beautiful blackberry juice stain on the side of my hand….I am going to lick the last reminder of my day off and then should probably have a bath………..

Breakfast Musings…..Helping Out

August 9, 2011

This is my favorite breakfast: part of a toasted sourdough baguette, a fresh nectarine or peach, fresh goat cheese and homemade tayberry jam. I do like pancakes with maple syrup, and I do love biscuits and sausage country gravy. Granola with almonds and a full fat organic vanilla yogurt can win me over too. There is pure taste bud joy in the commingling of crusts, creaminess, the slapping together of tart and sweet and sour in the breakfast you see above. I feel a certain success in getting the nectarine to ripen perfectly in it’s brown paper bag. The jam recalls Bruce in the kitchen with his little lacy apron, mashing the berries, stirring the jam, steam wafting throughout our little house, wait, there was no lacy apron? Ok. A different story.

I did a small benefit dinner for some friends last week. One of the qualities about living in a small town is that we know each other. I am not saying I know everyone in LaConner but a lot of us run into each other all the time at our small store, small post office, the bank, walking the dogs, the dock where we dump in our boat, our favorite shops where we know the owners and those who work there. Somehow this makes us all neighbors in the best sense of that word. So when a neighbor becomes ill and has no healthcare plan, and that could be a whole new rant of a post, we rally. There have been benefits and donations, she is getting everything she needs and thankfully  is still with us today.  So I donated a couple of dinners for six, my favorite number to cook for.

How lovely to then be able to cook for other neighbors in the cause! It was a beautiful afternoon on Skagit Bay, up in the trees, looking across to Goat Island and the entrance to the Channel.  We started with goat cheese, pestos, olives, I love those chartreuse ones I can’t spell or pronounce, and some crackers, my favorite opening. Next was a salad of mixed baby greens, gorgonzola, blackberries, toasted pecans and a berry vinaigrette, followed by a filet of fresh halibut, marinated for a few minutes in the vinaigrette, baked for 10 minutes, topped with a skewer of grilled spot prawns, and a nap of reduced and strained raspberries with garlic, red pepper flakes, sea salt and honey, brown rice on the side. The dessert course ran riot! Chocolate genoise with chocolate ganache with raspberry filling and a mound of softly whipped cream! Fresh peach crisp flavored with cinnamon and cardomom resting next to a spoonful of lavender/vanilla ice cream. Enjoy these pictures!

The champagne grapes make a sweet contrast with the cheese.

I will remember how to spell that beautiful olive!

 

You can use walnuts, almonds, or pine nuts in this salad. I like the milder, sweeter pecans with the super tart blackberries.

 

 

White plates would have made the raspberry reduction stand out nicely.

 

 

 

Why so many desserts? We couldn’t decide on one. Small portions saved our day. And there must be left over cake, crisp, and ice cream for a midnight snack.

 

 

I am hoping for more photos to come from this afternoon. Everyone had their cameras out for the repast and stunning day.

2011 Canoe Journey Chronicle of Canoes

August 3, 2011

The Swinomish Tribe hosted the 2011 Inter Tribal Canoe Journey this last week. I live on the other side of the channel and so had a wonderful view of the arrival procession of canoes, and then seven days of protocols, singing and drumming took place in the village. You had to be there. Below are some of the canoes that made the journey, some coming from as far away as the north end of Vancouver Island. Click on the photos to enlarge so you can see the details.

Above a waterproof canvas canoe with wood frame.

Some canoes were made of fiberglass, some were carved out of one red cedar tree, taking over two years to finish.

  This is a gorgeous example of traditional painting of the salmon.

On the right you can see the carving, as well as the gear needed for travel.

The Swinomish built three pavilions patterned after their traditional woven cedar hats, that are at home on the new beach and park they created for the Canoe Journey, afterward for all to enjoy. The Canoes are gone now, but we will all remember the beauty of the songs and the generosity of the Swinomish People.

Chasing the Salmon in Rosario Strait

August 3, 2011

We wake up early, for me, at 5am, make coffee, sandwiches, check our gear for licenses, navigation tools, poles, tackle box, cell phones, gloves, the net, you gotta have a good net, a bucket for me to pee in because I am a girl and have not mastered the bend-over-pee backwards over the rail method…yet. Then we drive to the boat launch, put our $5 in the box, make sure the plug is tight, straps are off, motor is tilted up, and slide our 18 ft. white Weldcraft into the channel.

It takes about 30 minutes to hit the strait and after that I can’t tell you where we go, I have been sworn to secrecy…but if you fish I am sure you know where to put it in neutral, drop your lines, and bring the kicker up to 1.6 knots, try to relax and watch the poles for the jigglies. Sometimes we have an extra passenger.

All these activities are subject to the tides we are trying to catch. As water moves through the strait and pushes up against islands, fish move along the inlets and around the points and  there is where we want to be.

There are three types of salmon out there right now: King, Silver, and Humpy. Or as some refer to them: Chinook, Coho, and Pinks. This is a 22lb. King salmon which was fileted and grilled with garlic and butter.

This turned out to be a white king, which we think might be part of the Frasier River Run up in B.C. White King have a delicate flavor, olive oil or a bit of melted butter are a nice addition, I like to add old apple tree prunings to the coals for more flavor. Traditionally, alder wood smoke is used.  Below is a 8lb. Coho, fileted out. Again, this can be grilled, open faced. We use two grills the same size, that fit our little Weber. Lay the fish out flesh side down on one oiled grill and cook for about 5 minutes. Place the other grill on top, grasp both grills with heat proof gloves and turn the grills over. The fish now lays on the new grill, skin side down. Carefully release the top grill from the beautiful marked flesh. Cook for a total of 10 minutes….this all depends on the thickness of the flesh. The rule of thumb is 7 minutes for each inch of flesh.

This last photo is of a 7lb Humpy we caught a few days ago. Bruce cleaned it, left it whole, stuffed it with lemon slices and roasted it for about 20 minutes, 10 per side, with some Hickory chips on the coals as an experiment. The flesh is very tender and after cooking simply open up, remove the lemon, and pull gently at the back bone and all bones come loose in one slow movement. Traditionally, Humpies, or Pinks are smoked. Some folks think Humpies are not worth the trouble…..this fish is delicious.

So, we’ve been having fresh caught fish and beets, salad greens, cucumbers and green beans out of the garden. I am going to get some pistachios, a couple of limes, and make my sisters cold beet and pistachio salad with lime dressing soon.