26 December 2010

Christmas Baking: Buche de Noel

I'm not much of a baker, but my sister-in-law, El Fab, is a master. Every Christmas when she's in town, we spend a day baking a treat for Christmas dinner.

One year it was gingerbreadmen, gingerbreadwomen, and enough gingerbreadcats to concern Bob Barker. Last year, we doled out Santa's Favorite Cake - a red velvet/peppermint concoction. This year, we're looking overseas to a French tradition: Buche de Noel - which is basically an edible yule log. My dear friend Elisa just sent me the Tartine cookbook for my birthday, which contained a recipe; this was the perfect time to test it.

On Festivus, we schlepped to numerous stores to get our ingredients (including some Tuaca for courage). Then we spent three solid hours baking the cake, brewing the espresso syrup, and whipping up an intensely rich coffee-Kahlua-infused buttercream. We rolled the "log" and left it in the fridge to firm.

On Christmas Eve came decoration time. Rather than form meringue mushrooms ala Tartine, we purchased some darling pinecone and hollyberry decorations from Home Cake. We made "moss" from pistachios and "bark" chocolate ganache, then dusted the entire log with crystallized, edible "snow."

Much better than the yuletide logs we used to make in gradeschool, I'd say.

Merry Merry, to you and yours!

12 November 2010

Canlis Clues: The Menu Scavenger Hunt that Has Seattle in a Tizzy

I've only been to Canlis once. I grew up in Seattle, hearing about the legendary, low-slung restaurant overlooking Lake Union.

In the 80s, Canlis was untouchable: a luxurious place reserved for the uber-wealthy who dripped in diamonds. In the 90s, Canlis' excess seemed outrageous in the era of dirty combat boots and flannel. By the early aughts, I downright dismissed the notion of ever wanting to dine at Canlis. After all, it was a place for grandparents and outdated, out-of-town tourists.

But for some nagging reason, my curiosity was piqued. I'd driven over the Highway 99 bridge all these years, looking at Canlis, wondering what it was like inside. I'd entered the foodie scene in Seattle -- and, for some reason, its community was still talking about the staid restaurant. And well-timed Tweets from the restaurants' marketing team -- beautiful photographs of colorful, artful, modern dishes -- helped me realize my impression of Canlis may have been wrong.

So after 33 years, I finally asked to go to Canlis for my birthday last December. I figured I'd be let down. And, truthfully, I was.

Don't get me wrong -- the service, Canlis' hallmark -- was impeccable. The dining room was pretty, if as predictable.

But my expectations were simply so high.

I wished we'd been seated at a window table.

When I ordered a cocktail off the featured-drinks menu, the waiter explained that they were out of one of the ingredients. Isn't Canlis' staff supposed to scramble into its helicopter and hustle to locate items on guests' request list? I wished that they'd gone out of their way to fix this.

We both ordered fish entree; when they arrived, my salmon was tasty but the garnish -- a pea-sized dollop of potatoes -- made me chuckle. Honestly, I wished we had gone to Duke's Chowder House.

It was a nice treat -- a chance to finally witness what all the fuss was about. But, I didn't expect to be back.

So here we are, nearly a year later, and all I can think about is Canlis. Why? Because they're in the middle of one of the best marketing campaigns I've ever seen.

A few weeks ago, Canlis' third-generation of family ownership -- brothers Mark and Brian -- began a city-wide scavenger hunt that has me aflutter.

Each day, the restaurant posts a cryptic clue on the restaurant's Facebook page and Twitter feeds. The clue leads the finder to a spot somewhere in the city that hides a menu from 1950. The finder of the menu can then dine at Canlis for 1950's prices.

Why does the campaign work?

The chase: The contest plays on our culture's obsession with winning. It's why eBay is so wildly successful -- have you ever entered a bidding war on an item you don't even really want? You just wanted to win. On Wednesday, convinced I had solved the Canlis riddle, I drove in an adrenaline frenzy toward Greenlake, visibly shaking as I hunted the trees for the clue (I was wrong). As I write this post, I'm constantly flipping back to Canlis' Facebook page -- refreshing it constantly -- to see if they've posted today's clue. I just want one of those menus!

The price: We all love a good deal -- especially in a recession. I haven't yet seen a copy of Canlis' 1950 pricelist, but given our country's skyrocketing inflation rates, I'm sure it's a doozy. I imagine dining for a fraction of the cost. It's a smart move for Canlis, too: new customers get to sample Canlis' fare at an incredibly low price; they're bound to be wowed -- and return to pay full price. Thus Canlis establishes a new generation of customers.

The audience: By tapping in to social media -- the campaign is entirely run on Facebook and Twitter -- Canlis reaches out to a new target audience.  One that's young and hip. No longer is this your grandparents' restaurant.
The connection to the city: Canlis has done an impeccable job of positioning itself as impossibly local. Each clue ties in to a Seattle-area landmark, historical site, or beloved secret spot. Clues have been hidden at the Fremont Troll, Memorial Stadium, and the Arboretum, and local personalities including Starbucks' Howard Schultz and the Seattle Sounders' Sigi Schmid are getting in on the game.  By aligning themselves with the city, Canlis is (re)establishing itself as a hallmark of Seattle.

The community: When a new clue appears, the Canlis Facebook page's wall explodes with comments. It's fun to be on the hunt, working together to solve the clue. I love the threaded conversations -- friends exchanging theories and sending out a representative on the chase.

The fun: Canlis' campaign is a great escape from the daily doldrums. Every day around lunchtime, I open my Twitter feeds and Canlis' facebook page and wait. Refresh, refresh, refresh. Then scramble! Stop in the  middle of a project, grab the keys, and go! We joke, but I truly wonder how workers' productivity is impacted by this campaign? 

Excuse me, I've got to run. Canlis is about to post its next clue...

25 October 2010

Heel-kicking Good Time: What to eat and see in Austin, TX

Calaveras, a common symbol of Dia de Los Muertos, welcome me to Austin

Everything I previously knew about Texas, I learned from the screen. I've watched "Dazed & Confused" countless times, and I'm obsessed with TV's "Friday Night Lights." I'd only been to Texas airports, connecting in Dallas and Houston but never stepping outside of the ports. My sister-in-law even lives in Big D (aka Dallas), but she usually comes to Seattle to visit family in her hometown.

I had this vision of what Texas would be: all boots and hats; big hair and bigger cars; beer and BBQ and ballgames.

So when my husband mentioned a trip to Austin for the Austin Film Festival, I knew I had to tag along. For five days, we made a condo on boisterous 6th street our home. My husband and his filmschool friends spent their days in film festival presentations. I eventually got a weekend badge so that I could access some of the late night parties, but there was plenty of time to kick around town in search of good food and finds.

Some like it hot! Rows of choices at Whole Foods.

We didn't rent a car, so I walked (or ran) nearly everywhere. I hoofed it down 6th St. toward the Whole Foods flagship store (aka the Mothership). Along the way, I found a quaint and quite delicious deli called Walton's Fancy and Staple, which I thought had been recommended to me by a friend. Turned out I was confusing it with the new Ethan Stowell restaurant of nearly the same name here in Seattle, but it was a wonderful mistake: the "turkey sweet" sandwich perfectly fueled my trek. I can still hear the crisp croissant crunching around salty bacon and heaps of roasted turkey, caramelized onions, and diced apples.

The "Turkey Sweet" from Walton's Fancy and Staple

The next day, I ran Congress St. across the river toward the hip SoCo district. My excuse was exercise, but it was also a scouting mission to spot shops and restaurants. I made a mental note of the storefronts that displayed Dia de los Muertos shrines in their windows, and located Jo's coffee next to the Hotel San Jose.

On Saturday, after attending a very informative panel at AFF, it was back to SoCo. Lord help me, I could not find a bus or cab that would take me the 1-mile trip south; turns out the street was closed due to a Lance Armstrong bike race. Everything was on detour. And so, back to me and my feet making the rounds. Back over the water (which smelled especially rank that day thanks to the 1.5 million bats that reside below the South Congress bridge). Back to the shopping district -- this time with a checklist and an open pocketbook.

My first pitstop along the 2-block strip was Jo's: the iced Belgian Bomber (half cold-press coffee; half chocolate-hazelnut deliciousness) amped me up. Next, I wandered in to Tesoros Trading Company, a veritable Dia de los Muertos mecca. Then Uncommon Objects, a well-touted antiques store. And finally in to Allen's boots, where I spent more than an hour poring over a 3-shelf-high rack of boots that stretched the entire depth of the store. All in my size.

Decisions, decisions, decisions... Endless rows of boots at Allen's.

It was in Allen's where I had a decidedly Texas moment. As I waded through the cowboy kickers, I observed a young couple. She trying on boots; he patiently watching and waiting, quietly encouraging her to get whatever was most comfortable. "That's something I've learned in the last few years, baby," he drawled. "Make sure your boots are comfortable." This guy sounded *just* like "Friday Night Lights'" Tim Riggins.

A few hairs later, as the University of Texas football game buzzed over the radio in the background, the National Weather Service interrupted the game to announce an impending tornado in a nearby county.

"We've gotta get outta here, baby," said "Riggins." Ever the eavesdropper, I assumed he wanted to get going because of the storm.

"I can't hear the game in here," he explained.

I guess my preconceived perception of Texas -- all boots and ballgames -- wasn't so far off the mark.


If you go to Austin, here's a must-do list:

To Eat
Walton's Fancy and Staple (609 W 6th St.): All frills on the outside -- and all fills on the inside. This retro, black & white & floral chic cafe is the perfect place to refuel. Order from the counter, making selections from fresh pasta salads, sandwiches, and specials of the day -- part of the "fancy." Or choose from "staples" that are always on the menu. For $6, I got an intensely tasty Turkey Sweet sandwich: a perfectly flaky croissant brimming with sliced turkey, crispy bacon, sweet caramelized onions, and crunchy diced apples. Plus a pickle. While you wait, browse more fancies -- including fresh floral bouquets, home-decor trinkets, and toothsome treats. Before you leave, take a peek in the dessert case and consider a cupcake or cookie to go.

Garrido's (360 Nueces on W. 3rd St.): Decidedly unique, inspired, modern Mexican fare. I didn't get the chance to dine-in at this restaurant; rather, I sampled a couple of offerings at the Austin Film Festival's Food + Film soiree. The lobster tamale (who would've thought?) oozed with goodness. And the nibble of blackberry mole sauce that accompanied short ribs was a revelation: the mole we get in Seattle just does not compare to this rich, spicy, warming concoction.

Whole Foods (flagship store at 525 N Lamar St.): The mothership

Clay Pit (1601 Guadalupe St.):  High-end, inventive Indian delights. We waited a long time for a table (more than an hour) as intoxicating smells allured us. Sidling up to an appetizer of curried mussels -- dainty bivalves swimming in orange curry -- was worth the wait. As was the complexly seasoned Saag Paneer, which, rather than a bowl of mushed spinach, shone in intricacy: my eye could discern each fleck of chiffonade spinach. Order extra naan to mop up the sauces.

Jo's (adjacent to the Hotel San Jose at 1300 S. Congress St.): Eat -- and drink -- at Jo's. This walk-up window emits casual cool. Order an iced Belgian Bomber -- a concoction of half cold-pressed coffee and half chocolate-hazelnut-cream -- and sip it in the shade of the covered porch while scouting for rockstars emerging from a haze at the Hotel San Jose next door. If you want migas (a breakfast staple of scrambled eggs and tortilla strips), get there early: They were out of all breakfast items by my 11.30 arrival.

To See
Austin Film Festival -- a screenwriter's haven. Days of intense, insightful presentations and panels, dotted with film stars (ahem, Ed Burns!). (October)

Congress St. Bats! (Under the Congress St. Bridge) -- I missed these and regret it! They say you should always leave something for the next visit... I will be back for those bats.

To Shop
Allen's Boots (1522 S. Congress St.) - endless rows of cowboy boots, hats, and plaid shirts. The real deal.

Uncommon Objects (1512 S. Congress St.) -- classic antiques by the truckload.

Tesoros Trading Company (1500 S. Congress St.) --  arts and crafts from around the world. Looking for calaveras (Dia de los Muertos skulls)? This is your place.

Cattle is big in Texas. Whether as wall art in Uncommon Objects...

Or overseeing the Driskill Hotel bar.
Where all the cool kids stay: Hotel San Jose

Iced Belgian Bomber from Jo's

Austin is known for its live music; we were lucky enough to catch one of my favorite bands -- The Old 97s -- for FREE on  4th St.

Dia de los Muertos Cerveza! (Spotted at Whole Foods)

04 October 2010

Fleshing it Out: Cooking Raw Meat

It's been quite some time since we last spoke of meat.

Here's a glimpse into where I'm at, now more than half a year into my meat-eating foray. I've garnered a new love for turkey sandwiches, cheated a few times with bacon, and even ordered chicken saltimbocca this weekend (yes, with the pancetta).

Notice what these all have in common: Someone else was doing the dirty work of preparing my meats.

Alas, it's time to jump over a hurdle.

When I first reintroduced fish into my diet a few years ago, cooking got interesting. It wasn't so much the cooking as it was the preparation. Peeling back the plasticwrap and handling the raw fish used to make me squeamish; I'd use knives and tongs and spatulas - anything I could get my hands on to keep my hands off the actual fish.

I've since relaxed. It took some getting used to (and a lot of handsoap), but I'm now comfortable with letting the raw meat drape over my palm as I tug out thin bones with my fingernails; massaging oil and spice into the flesh; placing the slab directly from fishwrap to foil-lined baking trays without hesitation.

I felt a stronger resistance, though, when I envisioned doing the same with poultry...

So much so that it took me nearly 8 months to bite the bullet and buy some raw chicken to cook.

I've had a bag of frozen chicken breasts in the freezer. Even those made me nervous because I had to think about properly thawing then properly cooking the flesh (neither of which I have to worry about for vegetarian options).

But, last week, I finally got brave. And it's all because of my October edition of Food + Wine magazine. As I thumbed through the pages of recipes, I noticed a new trend: I was dog-earring recipes that contained meat - and, for possibly the first time in more than a decade, I wasn't thinking about what faux meats to substitute.


I landed on this Chicken Scarpariello recipe. It looked relatively easy and very tasty.

So off I went to Whole Foods' meat section to buy some boneless chicken thighs and the various accoutrements to finish the recipe. I invited another meat-eating friend over for dinner, got out my skillet, and went to work.

I only hesitated once, trying to figure out how to season the chicken before landing it in the pan - without touching it (I quickly remembered a trick I saw on Rachael Ray; leave the meat on the tray you buy it in, and season the top side. Flip that seasoned-side down into your pan, then re-season the new "top" as the bottom starts to cook.)

Easy-peasy. And immensely satisfying - even cold, as leftovers, the next day. I can see this becoming a new go-to and I'm so happy I'm over the hump.

26 September 2010

My Other Love: Musings on Music Journalism

Music. Words. Both are things that define me to the core.

I've been music-obsessed from the start. My mom tells that as a toddler, I'd teeter up to the record player (one of those massive, furniture-piece consoles with turntable + speakers + storage) and bob along to Lou Rawls. I apparently had a penchant for "Groovy People."

When MTV launched in 1981, I was there. I can't prove that I remember tuning in on the very first airing of Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," but it couldn't have been long after. That old MTV moon man intro, played between actual videos (back when the "M" actually stood for "music"), still gives me the chills.

I started piano lessons in my single-digit years, then transitioned to the more portable flute in fifth grade. I toted that tin whistle around through to my early twenties when I graduated from college with a Minor in Music.

My other love, words, started just as early. I'm a talker, insisting on the last word. At some point my smart parents must have realized they could hand me a pen and paper and have me channel some of my Chatty Cathy into written words.

And so, for much of my elementary school years, you'd find me passing my free time by creating books and having them bound and "published" at our school library's own printing press.

It wasn't until about age 14 that I put two and two together, realizing I could marry my love of music and writing into a career as a magazine journalist. And so, my hobby of poring over music rags like Rolling Stone and SPIN become dually focused: I read the articles to learn about the bands + to see how the journalists crafted their stories.

About this time, my hometown of Seattle spiked the nationwide radar as an emerging hotbed of cool. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden were suddenly household names. When we'd travel out of state, we'd see fewer and fewer blank stares when we described where we called home. Seattle, and its gritty music, was on the map.

I couldn't have dreamed up a better place to be. Right place, right time.

Those years solidified my goal to be a music journalist. I rapidly set forth my path, eying journalism colleges with strong music programs, finally enrolling in the University of Oregon to study magazine journalism + minor in music. While in school, I landed an internship at the renowned Seattle music mag The Rocket. My senior thesis investigated Girl Zines (which, inevitably, centered mostly around boys in bands). I covered the music & entertainment beat at the university newspapers, continued to freelance at The Rocket until it folded, and found a longstanding home as a contributor to ThreeImaginaryGirls.com (a Seattle-based music website). I was living the dream.

Until I fizzled. I'd had enough of reviewing CD after CD, trying to come up with witty ways to describe what felt like the same ol' thing, over and over. I tired of going to live gigs, staying out late and cramming to wrap a review before the next day's publication. My swan song was covering a two-day megafest celebrating Sub Pop's 20 years as a Seattle music label. It was exhilarating and exhausting.

And so, as you know, I switched my focus to the kitchen. For the last couple of years, my creative energy has been directed at all things food. Yet, in the back of my mind, the wheels always cranked around What I Might Do Next. I knew music would return.

For the past couple of months, I've been putting on that old hat. The details are nascent, but I should be sharing more soon. Suffice it to say you may start to see more musical references in my recipe reviews...perhaps more posts as we get closer to the big reveal. I'm also hinting at a few things over on Twitter.

One thing I'd like to know: Do you care if I write about music here? Or, would you prefer to see that on a different site? Leave me a comment to let me know.

20 September 2010

How doth my garden grow (or die): Learning lessons from an urban gardener

Summer has shown its last rays of sun, replaced by rain. Torrential downpours, even. Yesterday, during a break from the drops, I headed out to my garden patch to harvest a handful of cherry tomatoes. I had to get to them before the pelting rain split them open.

While there, I also yanked up bushels of baby carrots, tugged out 4 baby bulbs of garlic, and took stock of the growing season on a whole.

Not good.

Early on, we lost the warm-weather crops: the jalapenos and sweet pepper plants withered almost immediately in Seattle's cool spring. Next time, I'll have to exercise patience and plant those after, say, Memorial Day.

I had a pretty good run with the carrots and radishes, but learned a lot about planting techniques. The carrots look like corkscrews; planted much too close together and not "thinned" properly, they didn't have space to grow straight. The radish patch was a success - but too much so! Next year, I will stagger my plantings so we aren't left with 80 ripened radishes on exactly the same day.

The lettuces - all romaine - performed great. I'll try those again next year with some additional varieties like butter or red-leaf for my salads.

The 2 pea plants dried out. We got a few pods, but not enough for full meals. Next season, I need 2 things: poles for the vines to climb, and moats surrounding the plants to corral the moisture.

The one zucchini plant proffered 1 squash thus far. Earlier in summer, I used a few of the blossoms in a delightful, soft salad (blossoms, butter lettuce, and avocado gently tossed with lemon/olive-oil + sunflower seeds). But I noticed that after I plucked the blossoms, the then-baby zucchinis seemed to rot away. Did I prematurely remove their nourishment? I had expected an abundance of squash - anticipating making chocolate zucchini cake. Not this year.

My 4 tomato plants showed promise. They grew mightily and without blight (something that had plagued my potted plants the last few years). Their new locale in the baking sun, with tall, box-shaped trellises to crawl, turned out ok. Flowers bloomed abundantly. But our "summer" weather - so grey, so cool - didn't serve them well. We only started seeing ripened fruit a few weeks ago; today, more than half of the plants are loaded with green tomatoes.

The edible flowers - nasturtiums and violas - both grew well, but their spot wasn't right. Next year I'll transfer them into the raised beds so they don't get covered over by the tall-grass weeds that invaded our rockery.

The herbs - sage and parsley - also did well. But, frankly, I forgot to use them. Next year I'll pot my herbs and put them on the front porch to gently remind me, daily, of their presence.

The Italian kale held its own, but I don't crave kale until the weather turns dark and dreary. Next season I'll search for a variety I can plant closer to end-of-summer so I can harvest it come autumn.

The straight carrots - the ones I remembered to thin.

Now, after weeks of neglect (because the weather has turned, I haven't been outside), my raised beds look somewhat shameful. The parsley shot 3-feet high and is going to seed; the romaine, too, stretches, spindly, toward the sky. Now, the space formerly occupied by the radishes is overrun with pallid, 2-inch toadstool mushrooms. I did some tidying, but part of me is ready to let all of the remaining crops die out and start anew next spring.

So, we'll call this a building year, full of learning lessons.

In that spirit, here are my notes for what I need to do for the 2011 garden:
  • Raise the height of the dirt at least another 6-10" - which will also require that I build up the height of the sides of the raised beds
  • Install more poles
  • Track down a few more pots for herbs
  • Find a good landscaper to reclaim our rockery (Have a recommendation? Send 'em my way!) and put down weed block.

2011 Planting List:

  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • basil (grow inside)

  • butter lettuce - 2
  • romaine - 2 or 3
  • red leaf lettuce - 1
  • arugula - 1
  • (Can you tell that I love salad?!)

  • strawberries
  • raspberries (already have, but need to be cut back/moved)

  • tomatoes - 4 plants
  • jalapenos (plant later in spring!)
  • sweet peppers (same!)
  • carrots (need to raise the dirt level + remember to thin after they poke up)
  • zucchini
  • pumpkins
  • radishes (1 packet was enough, but i need to stagger my planting!)
  • peas
  • pole beans

  • nasturtiums (move from rockery)
  • violas (move from rockery)
  • sunflowers
  • marigolds

09 September 2010

Kicking out the Jams

I've been sitting on this story until it was good and steeped, ready to roll out to the world. I'm giddy with excitement to announce to you that my dear pal Rebecca has officially launched Deluxe Foods, an artisan house selling jams, jellies, and chutneys. Basically, anything good and sweet that will come in a jar and be served alongside toast. Or meat. Or cheese. (She's crafty that way; when you pick up some of her wares, be sure to check out the label copy for tips on how to enjoy the products. You might find some surprises!)

Rebecca can best be described as a maven of all things wonderful -- she's one of the most authentically happy people you'll ever meet. She's got a verve for life that is unstoppable. And her taste -- for food, handbags, and vintage trinkets -- is simply spectacular. (Bottom line: You really should meet her, if you don't already know her.)

In her professional life, including a stint as Amazon.com's first-ever cookbook editor, she more than excelled. Case in point: When she left her post as a Microsoft vendor last year, I inherited her project. I was thrilled for the opportunity, but jittery about stepping into those shoes (which, while fashionable, were big ones to fill).

Rebecca, smiling yet wielding a (label) gun. Watch out! (Photo courtesy Rebecca Staffel/Deluxe Foods)

But her time on the nine-to-five circuit had run its course. When she turned in her two-weeks notice, of course everyone asked, "Where are you going? What will you do next?"

Her answer?


And so, off to business-planning and goal-setting and permit-securing and commercial-kitchen-finding she trotted. After securing all the necessities (surprisingly, not many of them having to do with melding fruits and sugars into sweet delicacies), she announced Deluxe Foods' stamp on the market. And has been running at a feverish pitch ever since.

Strawberries, macerating (Photo courtesy Rebecca Staffel/Deluxe Foods)

Some 14 short months after turning in her dayjob laptop for good, Deluxe Foods is ready to sell. You can find the jams and jellies at Seattle's Picnic and 106 Pine, and she'll be showing (and sampling!) at the upcoming Artisan Food Festival at the Pike Place Market Sept 25-26.

Please plan to stop by for a taste (or three). I think I'll be there sometime Saturday, helping sling syrupy concoctions. I'd love to introduce you to my friend -- a living, real-life example of someone living her dream.

Pictured above is a sample from last fall of Deluxe Foods' delightful Sakuma Strawberry -- bursting with color and flavor and perfectly great on toast with PB (Or, straight out of the jar. Not that I've tried that.).

23 August 2010

Dear Vancouver

Dear Vancouver,

I'm sorry it's been so long since you've heard from me.  It's not that I didn't want to stay in touch. I've simply found myself so busy...

Remember when we had so much fun together in the early 2000s? Great meals, wonderful shopping... those times we watched Indy cars spin around the track.

You've really grown up since then, ramping up the chic factor and erecting big arenas to host legions of fans during the 2010 Olympics. It's no wonder the Olympics committee picked you for the Winter Games: You always dress so stylish, with international flair, and have been leap years ahead of your time (especially compared to Seattle) with your lightning-fast SkyTrain.

It's true -- your taste has gotten more glam (Hello, Gucci, Tiffany, and Burberry). Your restaurants cost a lot more, too (especially now that our American dollar is so weak in comparison). But, you're worth it.

I'm so happy I took my mom up to see you for her special birthday celebration! We dined on some of the freshest seafood from COAST. Plus, how cool is it that your aquarium endorses sustainable, "safe" fish to eat -- so I knew instantly what to order. Thanks for that!

Thanks, too, for fueling us up on caffeine with your many Starbucks (nearly every corner!) plus the Murchies tea shops where I picked up some black currant tea and the stone fruit teas for my Seattle mornings.

Thanks for the wonderful shops on Robson (Zara! Aldo! Lush!) I can't wait to wear my my new treats from each once the weather cools off.

And, you know what? Thanks for being zany, choosing to host a Zombie day. We quite laughed as we walked into the Art Gallery to see the (incredible) Modern Woman exhibit and were suddenly surrounded by bloody zombies. Awesome. (I think my favorite was the zombie-housewife chasing her zombie-husband with an oven mitt.)

Thanks for fostering the musical talent of Michael Buble. That cat is one helluva charmer, and we loved every minute of his show at GM -- er, Rogers -- arena.

Finally, thanks for the lovely landscape of Stanley Park -- 1000 winding acres of muted blues, greens, browns, and greys; of huge salt-water burnished rocks awash in sea kelp; of low-hanging fog atop the Lions Gate bridge (comparable to the beauty of the my first love's Golden Gate). True tranquility.

I had a great visit, and can't thank you enough for your open arms in welcoming me back.

XO, and I promise not to stay away so long this time,


Oh, PS! Thanks SO MUCH for keeping English candy in stock in your quickie-marts! I'm in Cadbury heaven...

12 August 2010

Quick bites: The latest tastes

Thanks to a rush of social engagements and some extra free time, I've eaten a veritable smorgasbord of new tastes over the past few weeks in Seattle. Some of my favorites:

  • Slices of sweet, luscious Pence Orchards peaches at Metropolitan Market (and, now, found in my fruit bowl). Bonus: As part of his Peach-o-Rama festival at Met Market, Jon Rowley charts the peaches' sucrose levels with his beloved refractometer so we know how much (or how little) sugar to add to our pies.
  • A soft, salty big pretzel with a kicky Welsh Rarebit cheese sauce at Quinn's. Strangely, we ordered this alongside the dessert course and it paired wonderfully with the sweets.
  • Beauteous beignets at Where Ya At Matt. These fluffy pillows are heavily dusted in powdered sugar that melts, sensuously, as it hits the tongue. Eat them while they're still warm.

And finally, to wash it down, I've found 2 new favorite warm-weather wine vintages:

  • Tart, tangy, and slightly effervescent Albarino -- a Spanish white from the northwestern region of the country
  • The crisp, refreshing zing of chilled rose -- especially Vinho Verde rose.

(I'd hoped to hit up the Melrose Market and sample some treats at Sitka & Spruce last night. We took our chances and went sans reservations; alas, the walk-in tables were all full. We'll try again in a couple weeks and I hope to tell you it was delicious!)

31 July 2010

Dill-icious home-made pickles

Today, my mom and I set out to pack a peck of pickles. Or a baker's dozen of quart jars. I'm not even sure what a peck is...

We've long planned this summertime event. The last time we made pickles was August 1986. I was nine, immeasurably blonde and tan from all-day-every-day swimming sessions. I'm guessing I wore something neon, maybe some jelly bracelets, Aqua Socks, and leggings. Wham! was likely on the stereo.

Today, 24 years later, I'm not so much blonde (nor tan; summer, come on!). There was no Wham! on the stereo -- instead, mother-daughter chatter rang through the kitchen. We still had a blast. And I did wear leggings.

In assembly-line fashion, we set up stations: jars (cleaned and sterilized in the dishwasher), 1/4"-thick rings of onions, peeled whole cloves of garlic, plumes of dill (trimmed down from tree-size stalks), a collection of spices (pickling, red pepper flakes, mustard seed among them), o-rings for sealing. And, of course, cucumbers. Brine (apple cider vinegar, pickling salt -- no iodine included, and water) bubbled behind us on the stove; a smaller pan of water cradled simmering lids, ready to seal our treasures.

We layered, seasoned, and packed the contents, ladling in the brine then screwing the lids on tightly. The cucumbers looked so verdant in their sour, warm bath.

And then we waited for the "ping!" of the lids' indicator button sinking in, heralding that the seal had taken.

As we pickled, my mom told the story of the recipe's history. She first made these pickles in 1970 -- an annual tradition that would be repeated until 1986. Through those 16 years, my mom penned studious notations about the statistics surrounding her canning process: the date, how much the cukes cost per pound, how many jars made.

In 1975, the little cucumbers cost a mere $.10/lb. By 1984 they were up to $.31/lb (And probably purchased at the Yakima Fruit Market in Bothell, where we'd frequently pick our produce. I fondly recall wandering through the aisles and rising on my tippy-toes to peer into bins of seasonal loot.). This year, we paid $1.99/lb at the Market -- a whopping 642% percent increase. I'm already thinking that we should plan to grow my own to stave this cost, as we did in '86 (Though our yield was only a slight 2 qts that year...).

Another jarring fact: At the apex of her pickling, my mom made 47 quarts of the little devils. 47 QUARTS.

I recall eating a lot of pickles as a kid -- now I have more context as to why there was always a jar open.

Alas, today we made only 13 quarts. Nearly one-fourth of that peak, but enough to send me home weighed down with a box of jars that will line my shelves for at least a month to cure before we dive in. I already can't wait until next year.

23 July 2010

Summer so far

As we headed into the new fiscal year at my dayjob, I learned my hours were to be reduced to 32/week. I think everyone feared this news would be upsetting -- but I can't stop smiling.

I'd been secretly hoping to go 80% at some point. Imagine what I could do with one extra day a week...read a book, watch The Price is Right, bake pies, freeze popsicles, brine pickles, swim in the lake...

All of these scream summer to me. The kind of summers I used to cherish -- no work, no school, just long stretches of sun and fun and none to do.

So far, I've done a pretty good job (though the first few weeks were filled with several errands and daytime appointments as I eased in). I hope to find more of this in my future:

Yogurt popsicles from Orangette; I fell instantly in love with these last summer during a Delancey pre-opening party and dear Molly has finally posted the recipe

And this:

Mom's favorite Lemon Supreme cake, dolled up something fierce for a fancy bday with sugared violets from my backyard

Perhaps more road trips on I-90 E, with a swing through Cle Elum/Roslyn (Pioneer Coffee Co. + Dairy Queen are requisite pit stops):


Also hoping to spend many an afternoon lazing in the backyard under a canopy, a light breeze lapping my hair as I drift in and out of sleep between chapters in a good book. I've just finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet-- lovely!

Up next, I'm thinking of:
My Life in France
The Great Gatsby
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

What do you recommend?

Also, still need to find a hammock...

29 June 2010

Mind-benders: What's in that "burger"?

Show and tell time!

I just have to share this super-clever birthday party idea that my friend Allison did for her son's first birthday.

Check out these "burgers" - they're vegan, gluten free. And, sweet! That's right, they're dessert burgers (plus fries). How freaking cute, right?

Allison wanted me to be sure to credit Bakerella for the idea (here's Bakerella's post).

But I think Allison takes the cake (har, har) for her further dietary modifications. The "buns" are vanilla cupcake; the "burger" is a brownie; and the "veggies" are frosting made from Earth Balance products. Also, those "fries" are vegan sugar cookies.

I'm smitten!

25 June 2010


19 June 2010

Recipe test: Carrot/Radish salad

“I’m composing!” is a common line heard at Chez Duchene. We’re a family of artists; writing our main game.

So today, after returning from an exciting initial session with my photographer friend about her book (more on this to come), I walked in excited to tell Nate about my morning.

“I’m composing!” was the response from Nate, hunkered over his laptop, lost in a scene of his new screenplay.

As in, Shhh. Don’t bug me right now.

Not 30 minutes later, finished with his scene, Nate wandered into the kitchen ready to chat.

“I’m composing!” I replied.

But this time, not with words; root vegetables were my tool.

I’d been asked to bring a salad or veggie side dish to my family’s dinner gathering this evening. Plus, I had a crisper drawer full of radishes + a bag of organic carrots that needed to be put to use. So, after researching and brainstorming a way to achieve both goals, I landed on a new creation: Carrot-radish salad.

We’ll see how it goes over with my family – 8 adults and 2 kids ought to be a good testing ground.

For now, here’s the recipe in stage 1 of development:

Carrot-Radish Salad
12 thin organic carrots, grated (I whirled mine through the Cuisinart to make short work)
10 radishes, cut into matchsticks

Sweet-Chili Lime Dressing
1 T. salt
3 T. sweet chili sauce (found in the Asian-foods aisle)
3 T. Mirin
1 T. organic lime juice
6 T. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. black pepper

In a large bowl, gently mix the root vegetables. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together.

Just before serving, gently pour approx 1/2 the dressing over the vegetables and mix. Add more dressing to your tasting. (My hope is I’ve made just a smidge too much dressing & that we can cut back this recipe by 1/3).

I think, for color’s sake – and taste, too – that some chopped cilantro and/or black sesame seeds would make a nice garnish. I simply didn’t have any on-hand, so we went without.

*** Update: This went over well! Even the kiddos liked it. I put in a bit too much pepper (call me butterfingers!) but it didn't mar the flavor. Upon eating this, I think it's more like a carrot-radish slaw (minus the mayo). Another idea to add: snap peas for crunch and color. Good for summer picnics!

Want more recipes? Check out WanderFood Wednesday postings!

14 June 2010

How does my garden grow?

We've had an unseasonably cool and damp "spring" so far in Seattle. According to one stat, we haven't seen the temperature ascend to 75 since last fall. Like I've done many mornings in the past few weeks, I woke up and turned on the heat again this morning.


So, despite that the calendar says "June," I'm convinced that it's more like April. I can't tell what my garden thinks.

We're swimming in radishes. (Lesson learned: next year, I don't need to plant all of the seeds from the packet at once!)

There are blooms on the tomato and squash and pea plants.

Carrots are sprouting.

We've lost all of the pepper plants (jalapeno and sweet), which is a shame... maybe they needed a sweater.

The basil, too, is withered -- perhaps from over-watering (it sits under no protection from the rain).

Of course, the mint is spreading rampantly. Glad I stuck it in a container.

Fellow NW gardeners: How are your plots and plants doing? Any tips for me on what went awry with the peppers or basil?

Also, what can I do with all of these radishes? One friend mentioned pickling them... Also, I may buy some baguettes and slather them with butter and sea salt as a restful bed for thin slices, ala Molly Wizenberg's recipe. Any other recipes you'd care to share?

09 June 2010

The Game-Changer

It occurs to me that I've never shared Part 2 of my "How I Became a Vegetarian -- and How I Fell" story.

[Here's a link to Part 1 in case you want to catch up where I left off]

Flash back to 1996.

My new food plan -- a plant-based diet heavily influenced by Mediterranean foods such as pastas, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil (coincidentally, less straining on a college-student's budget) -- quickly became a habit. Before I knew it, I was graduating from college, finding a "real job" and engaged to my boyfriend (the same vegetarian I'd been dating in college). 10 meatless years had flown by.

I scarcely thought of what I was missing, until the fall of 2005. During a visit from my aunt and uncle, my mom grilled a salmon -- a tradition in the Pacific Northwest and a longstanding weakness of mine. I was already feeling fragile, as my stepdad had recently been through unexpected open-heart surgery. My guard was down. As we sat at the table, my aunt and I locked eyes as I picked at the fish. “Shh!” I whispered. She smiled. I stole another bite. And another. And another. I probably ate half of that 3-lb salmon myself that night.

That salmon satiated me until a trip to Kauai the next year. Sitting in the open breezeway of a small steak and fish house near Poipu, my husband, Nate, and I made a plan: Today we would try fish.

Why now? We’d been to the islands multiple times, always coming home to long faces as we told friends and family that we didn't enjoy the delicate mahi mahi or ono they found so integral to the Hawaiian vacation experience. But it wasn't the peer pressure that got us. Fact is, we'd both been feeling lethargic and plateauing in terms of our physical shape. It was time to shake things up, and Hawaii -- a vacation from reality -- was an idyllic place to start.

I ordered mahi mahi, Nate tuna. Our voices wavered as we placed our order. As the waitress retreated to put our ticket in the kitchen, we exchanged nervous looks. There was no going back. This food would arrive. We’d be paying for it, no matter what. Could we go through with eating it?

As the plates arrived, we each took a tentative first bite. Then, beaming, we raised our eyes, clinked our glasses, and devoured those fish.

There’s been no looking back -- both of us proudly pescatarian (or vegaquarian, as my friend Dana dubbed it) -- for the past few years.

The taste is one thing (divine). The health benefits another: After a few short weeks on fish, both of us noticed a measurable jaunt in our step and surge of energy as our protein levels rose above sea level.

06 June 2010