Happy Valentine’s day from Coast to Coast and Happy Birthday to a fine young woman in Seattle we love and cherish.
Cindy at her first farmer’s market outing at Irvine Regional Park
Foodstuffs are always the way to our hearts. It brings back memories, enhancing your experience all over again with flavor, panache and punch.
Half the lure of New York is the restaurant scene. Berkeley is teeming with multicultural manna from heaven. Pasadena has the fortunate position of being home to a few culinary schools and chefs practice on diners every chance they get and diners get the benefits of their stand out or edgy trends. Let’s not even start in on cruises, Hawaii or Europe. I could write a travel diary solely focusing on meals.
I remember great moments in my life by what I was eating. I asked for ten homemade pizzas for my tenth birthday. I made seven for my son’s third birthday party although I am sure he has no memory of it. When my husband and I were dating, he always ordered lasagna and we scoured Long Island and NYC for Italian. We shared hot fudge sundaes at the Friendly’s in Commack and we were the first to try the ‘all you can eat’ promotion for breaded fried shrimp at the Sizzler’s in Smithtown, N.Y. in the 70’s.
My BFF in NY once brought garlic bagels and onion bialys on the plane with her and people on board were begging her and dying for a bite from the sheer intensity of the smell wafting throughout the cabin. At the bottom of her magical bag she had NY Italian cannolis stashed amid heavy cold packs. Now, that’s a good buddy.
I am sentimental about when I first tried this or when I last tasted that. My first onion was raw and eaten like an apple once I had teeth. I ate the lemon innards up until not too long ago. I first and last had escargots served with drawn butter, garlic and parsley on a family Baltic cruise. I had a field day tasting different animal meats for the first time but I swoon recalling about it now at Brazilian churrassquerias both in Brazil in my twenties and in the U.S.A. when the kids were petite and dared to dare me.
Every menu is an opportunity to celebrate like Thanksgiving and make it sacred.
For a few years, I threw themed luncheons sharing original, foolproof recipes demonstrating them in my kitchen.
Yes, food is vital and plays a big part in our lives.
So it’s no wonder that food gifts, food related products, gadgets or books are frequently exchanged in our family. My nephew just got into pie making – perfect opportunity for a few pie centered cookbooks for his shelf. My son’s girlfriend wanted to do some cast iron cooking, a nice Lodge specimen and cookbook followed. My husband loves popcorn (who doesn’t?) – hot air popper wrapped and under the tree.
I gladly visited Seattle and brought home food gifts and had tons of food stories (check in the Search box for Seattle to read earlier posts ).Thanks to my son and J, we have the best of Seattle that could be packaged and stuffed into luggage right here in our own Southern California pantry. The rose petal jelly was the only thing I even wanted for Christmas when asked. It is unmatched in quality. We visited the start up store and heard the story of Kukuruza popcorn on our chocolate lover’s tour. I spent hours tasting Quintessential oils and vinegars before concluding which flavors to ship back home. I munched and snacked on freshly roasted Ceres’ sugared pecans with M and J after visiting the needle and Chihuly gardens. Fifteen months later, we were gifted with a huge supply that ran the gamut and covered every sweet tooth.
I don’t know if it’s the fact my son and his girlfriend are flying off from Seattle to take in New York sights and also visit with my daughter who resides there next weekend or just a hankering but today while shopping like two newlyweds with the love of my life at the supermarket after hitting a farmer’s market, I decided I had to have those delectable Little Neck Clams behind the smooth, clear glass, next to the adorned, garnished red pepper made to look like a starfish in the iced seafood section. I immediately unloaded groceries once home and proceeded to make an old Long Island stand by –
Steamed Little Neck Clams: For 18 clams or 2.75 lbs. Serves one hungry Long Islander or two – three appetizers for normal hungry people.
Rinse your clams. Sometimes you have to scrub the beard or tiny hairs that develop around the opening of the bivalve but we usually get them pretty cleaned up in our supermarkets around here. The clam shells should be closed. Any clam that does not close when you touch it, needs to be discarded. They instinctually will shut their door when you knock. If they remain slightly ajar and do not respond to your tap, they are not edible. We want live not dead clams to begin with or you will get ill.
Chop up one or two peeled garlic cloves and two scallions or ‘green onions’ as we call them here out west. Sautee in a wide bottomed pan with one teaspoon of olive oil. Add a few red pepper flakes if desired for extra punch.
After about 3-5 minutes, uncover and add your fresh herbs. I tossed in some basil from the garden, no need to chop unless you are on a Master or Top Chef competition. This is also a great time to add another splash of olive oil. I added one teaspoon (40 calories). Cover and let steam longer. Healthy clams do not want to open up. The muscles on either side of the shells keep them closed tight and we don’t eat this part. Notice how they are starting to lose their battle and are slightly opening up. Sea water and clam juice gets released into your broth and no salt is required. Eventually, the clam surrenders its life and releases its grip and that’s when the shells open wide. Metaphor?
If you have linguine boiling, drain and place under your clams, for classic Linguini with Clams. Once all the clams open @ 7-10 more minutes, remove them one by one in their shell (for presentation purposes) onto a platter or deep dish.
Pour the whole shebang onto your awaiting clams.
Maybe I will re-run my story on Clam Digging over the next few days.
“I think I have enough fodder for my blog to last me a month”, I believably but a bit joshingly told my husband while in Las Vegas. Apparently, I do.
When I was visiting my son in Seattle, I learned about Dale Chiluly’s art and glass at his museum under the space needle. I was impressed and in awe by the colorful blown glass pieces. The Bellagio has an art store dedicated to Chiluly and many standout pieces.
Something or everything, everywhere or somewhere, always reminds me of one or all of my kids.
What does a bike race have to do with a Brassica vegetable?
Le Tour is in France and began exactly one hundred years ago by a Frenchman.
Cauliflower was introduced to the French via Italy in the 16th century, La Varenne (a famous chef and one of the first writers of gastronomy) used it and it became popular during the reign of Louis the XIV.
Hence, the French connection.
As a Francophile, I love all things French and Le Tour’s coverage on television worldwide includes sweeping views of my beloved country I must have lived a past life in because I cannot for the life of me understand the incessant draw to its land, people, language, fashion, cuisine, culture, arts, music, history and incessant beauty.
My living areas abound with touches of obvious, even garish French – loving gestures such as big black signs that say PARIS or a black-framed watercolor of the Eiffel Tower in the rain.
Tiny reminders of how much I love France scatter bookshelves via French inspired bric-a-brac like a tiny Eiffel Tower pillbox and a mini ceramic magnet I purchased in Paris that resembles the quintessential petit dejeuner with croissants, café au lait and a French daily paper.
One of my favorite ways to prepare cauliflower is to steam florets from a huge head till tender (anywhere from 10-20 minutes), add to a food processor with two tablespoons of butter, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, freshly grated nutmeg, sea salt and VOILA – mashed cauliflower that closely resembles mashed potatoes without the starch but high in folate, fiber, phytochemicals and vitamin C.
The Tour de France just finished its 8th stage today over the Pyrenees. Tomorrow, there will be four rugged climbs for the cyclists. The Tour lasts three weeks and I am floored by the athletic stamina, ability and speed of the participants. Day after day, they sprint, they climb and they fall, averaging one hundred miles a day.
It’s a coup de grace or final blow for some and a piece de resistance or outstanding accomplishment for others as I view with amour and longing, the great landscapes and vast regions of France, while enjoying artisanal French yogurt made in our very own Sonoma county or savoring mashed cauliflower with my Dijon chicken or tasting Brie topped French baguette toast with rose petal jelly form Seattle.
Who knew how tasty watching hours of cycling could be?
We all have our war stories to tell. I was in labor for 28 hours. The night before it froze (unheard of in Orange County, CA). Our pipes burst and we called a plumber the day before. It was the coldest, rainiest February I had ever experienced, here.
They cut me open and our baby boy was born on Feb. 16, 1990 at 10:23pm. I never knew my heart could just bust out wide open like that every time I looked at him. With each child, my heart just grew and grew every time I gazed upon them. And I could never take my eyes off them. But he was the first born. Our world was never the same.
It’s my son’s birthday today. Funny, how I am sitting here in his old room, turned into media den, watching Top Chef Seattle (where he resides now).
He is a successful, loving and happy 23. All grown up, working in his field, accompanied by a wonderful woman who we adore as well.
How I miss him. I miss the baby that made his stoic grandfather cry when he held him in his arms at the hospital. He was the apple of my dad’s eye. He resembles him physically and has his mannerisms. My aunt in Argentina cried bitterly when she met him back in 2004. He was fourteen and looked just like her brother as a teen. She kept calling him my dad’s name. She kept staring at him, eating him up. My father passed away, a few days later.
I miss the toddler who loved dinosaurs and Disneyland. We went there every day and he knew the name of all the extinct animals displayed in the tunnel section of the Main St. train ride where the antiquated diorama held primitive adventures, ferns (his favorite plant then) and fake lava spouting out of paint brushed volcanoes. His love of dinosaurs led him to Michael Crichton and science fiction. His love of reading led him to a great knowledge of vocabulary, hence the name, Mr. Dictionary.
I miss the preschooler who adored his baby sister enough to let her stick sweet tarts into his nose till they stung and got dressed up in a purple Barney dinosaur suit just so she would hug him. “I love you, you love me” I heard him singing. He was amazing with babies and children have always been attracted to him. It must be the childlike quality of play he owns and wears well.
I miss the young boy we dragged out to the t-ball and soccer fields every weekend. The youngster who took piano lessons and got into the GATE program. The brother that led the way for his sisters into junior and senior high school, making our last name one to be respected academically and hard to follow in this town.
I am relaxing here in my arm chair, reminiscing about our first-born, only son, striking out on his own, visiting now with his significant other when he comes back home. Twenty three years later, I face time him with our i-phones. I show him our eighty degree sunny weather, he unintentionally reveals his childhood plastic dinosaur collection on his bathroom shelf in rainy, cold Seattle.
We, his father and I, celebrate his kindness, his acute intelligence, his depth of heart, his ingenuous humor and the unassuming demeanor he displays as he explores his world in wonder, still.
Happy Birthday, Son.
And Happy Birthday and thank you to you too, J. (you know why)
Last time I flew, I wrote down how I felt. The reality is that in the middle of the turmoil, I always feel like this could be the end. What I am learning in my class for anxiety ridden people is that feelings are just feelings and they are not necessarily true. What? Yup. They are just feelings. And what may be crazy scary to me – might not be the same for you – but it’s still valid in our own heads. Fear + Worry = Anxiety. Something I didn’t realize. I had anxiety about going to the anxiety class. The first tool we are given is to breathe. That’s the first instruction. I have tons of fear and worry. I am an anxious person. I thought maybe I could write through my fear, understand it better. So when I started to feel scared, I drew out my notebook and pen and started to scribble like crazy. I breathed in and out, long and slow, deliberate breaths and my written words were:
“OMG! TURBULENCE! going through clouds. (Inject the Serenity Prayer here). Blessed be the day for me and mine. For someone who dislikes travel, I have certainly done a lot of it. Amazingly. I’m in God’s hands. No one can take away from me what God wants me to have. (Three pages reflecting on writing). Geez NOT bumpy like this. Perhaps I should have brought more writing paper. Starting our descent. Maybe my best defense to my own fear, my healing comes in the form of expressing myself in words-love, love, love to delve and edit and refine.”
“I drive up to the mountains all the time. Going through these clouds is horrible. I remember arriving in Tahoe and the plane was all over the place and finally dipped all of a sudden, just dropped into the basin of the airport. Cabo San Lucas too. I hear/feel the wheels – oy vey (yiddish for OMG) – another time flying into the storm in NY with lightening. OMG! This is shaking – God help me! I hear my family – all is well. Blessed be the day. Smile. All will be well. I need to remember to have faith. God wants me well. All will be well. I have so much work left to do? don’t I? I imagine. Watch. Live. Write. Share. Give joy. I am here to give and share in joyful moments with J & M (I was on my way to Seattle).”
” Why didn’t I get something spiritual to read not this dumb National Enquirer? The crypto-quote was fun anyways. I can write my way through this. My arm is SHAKING! No wonder my shoulder hurts. Geez. We have been flying completely in a cloud now for half and hour. Really? Remember the Andes? Flying through snow and between peaks? And I survived that. OMG. Pure cloud and grey and darkish. No wonder we live in sunny OC. 73% of the time it is sunny. Granted I get tired of it – but this not perceptible darkness is scary. The cabin has darkness. We are descending and I still don’t see any land or lights.”
“Ah, finally, the Pacific – cold, dreary Seattle. I see it now – trees look like they have color – why are we tipping to the right? Yes, the trees are very colorful. Snow. I swear snow. Drops off my window, yes, snowflakes on my window. Geez. May God bless us all. My family. Everyone I encounter – an awakening, so beautiful – parks – cone shaped trees – snowflakes – wet – lots of pine trees and colors, yellow brown…….we are about to land……and……touchdown and then the G-FORCE BRAKING!!!!! The sensation that I will fall out of my seat! It’s so dark and it’s 10:50am. Cloudy. Rainy. Dark. Wet.”
“Thank you G. Thank you. I have tons of relief and anticipation to see my family. I didn’t start fearing flying till I was four months pregnant with M – the man I am now going to see today, in his element.”
The return trip was slightly easier but the Serenity Prayer was employed nonetheless – frequently. I recall my late friend Leticia. Her fear was driving on bridges and overpasses. Like me, she knew she still had to do it. But her fear was real to her. She loved to fly. She didn’t die driving on a bridge or in a plane. She battled and lost to cancer, even though I don’t know anyone who was more positive, ate healthy every day of her life and had amazing coping skills. So, you never know.
My friend, P always says, we live between our ears. It’s a bad neighborhood sometimes. And it is up to me to etch a sketch it clean, shake it all up, and think good, positive thoughts. Imagine my happy place, breathe. Substitute scary with life-affirming beliefs. Breathe.
One of the best gifts (they were all fantastic and thoughtful) I received this Christmas was The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook – Sweetness in Seattle the latest 2012 tome by Tom Douglas. My Seattle connection, aka J and M, were kind enough to lug the volume (with 125 recipes and a bounty of pictures) home for me.
I have over 300 cookbooks and have read them all. From cover to cover. In fact, I am an incessant and varied reader. I am not fast, but I am extensive and have a wide range of interests, that I take seriously at one time or another and love to delve into deeply.
As you know from past posts, I have been everything from low-carb to gourmet to vegetarian to basic to raw to vegan and the one important belief I have held on to is that it should be organic and of course, delicious.
The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook is about the sinful. It is decadent and I am salivating as I write. The scrumptious prizewinning pecan brownie recipe is here!! Famous “Nora Ephron” peanut butter sandwich cookies! English muffin sammies filled with savory fixings, sweet notes, tips, photos and a well- written introduction!!!Heaven! Crostatas, cookies, cakes, cupcakes and creams! Help!
There’s a recipe from the book I will be adapting because I am thinking of bringing it to our annual New Year’s Eve soiree at my sister’s. We can all start watching our waistlines the next day. The original recipe calls for the addition of bananas but not everyone likes them so it is suggested I omit them. It also calls for homemade pralines but I will use my gift of roasted sugared pecans from Seattle. Pralines/pecans can be purchased at Trader Jo’s most of the year. This Maple Cream Pie calls for a pre-baked pecan pastry shell filled with Maple Pastry Cream and then topped with more fresh cream and sprinkled with Caramelized Pecans.
I hope everyone’s Holidays were happy and drama free.
Presents and giving and expectations abound at this time of year. I had some memorable moments and some memorable gifts. The moments were free and the gifts were some of the least expensive. It was the thought, the time and the care put into the event or item that mattered.
The time and effort all significant others put into celebrating with our family, gift-exchanging and general conviviality.
The time and effort my mother-in-law spent preparing, decorating and feeding us on Christmas Eve.
The time and effort my mom spent knitting scarves for my two kids who live in cold weather climates, now.
The time and effort everyone made to get along with everyone else.
The time and effort it took V to make all the dishes and prepare all the platters with mindful attention to detail and thoughtful expression on Christmas Day. It was remarkable.
The time and effort E spent picking out a special gift for me and taking her sister and brother everywhere, whenever.
The time and effort J spent picking out special presents for all of us and how she takes care of M, my son.
The time and effort M spent taking a walk with me, making special time just for his mom. His coming to visit us with J.
The time and effort my husband spends every day working without complaint, thirteen hours a day, sometimes six days a week, so we can live comfortably – and the little plastic CA license plate he placed in my stocking that says I am loved which means so much to me.
I could ramble on how grateful I am for this wonderful Christmas! I loved my writer’s box filled with tools, notebooks and reference books. I loved the art and mirrored tray and rose quartz. I loved my Seattle gift bag full of goodies. I loved my animal print loungewear, my animal print shoes and especially – the picture my mom gave me of all three of my kids when they were 6, 3 and 7 months. I loved all my gifts. But the best was having us all home together, at the same time. Now, 22, 19 and 17.
What were your favorite gifts? Were there any special moments you deem noteworthy? Was there a present you felt you gave that came from the heart and also took time and effort?
I hope everyone enjoyed what I gifted them too. The act of giving is therapeutic for me – it seems shameful; it is so rewarding. May I remember it is the time and effort everyone put into it that I found so significant. Perhaps that is an outstanding gift in and of itself; time and effort.
I indulged in rabbit stew and a buttery, slightly sweetened butternut squash soup at the Local 360 restaurant. All of their food is sourced from no farther than 360 miles away, hence the name. Washington has game, dairy, seafood, berries, cherries, and nuts to name only a few resources. The creamiest, sweetest milk and butter from local and no hormone given, free to roam and live and eat grass- fed cows. I believe they massage them as well.
Which brings me to Beecher’s handmade cheese house on Pike Street where we fondly experienced their signature smooth, sharp and dreamy macaroni and cheese. Displayed next door is a floor to ceiling glass enclosure where cheese is made for all to see and be educated about (always learning) in immense containers. Supposedly, Martha Stewart’s favorite cheese is Beecher’s Flagship cheese, which is used in the sauce we partook of. I am sure she shops back east from their Flatiron, NY store.
We also ate and I brought home roasted and caramelized pecans, bought at a stand in an indoor food court by the Space Needle.
After exploring the theatrical, twinkly night view from the top of the World’s Fair Needle and the exquisite, ethereal and colorful Chululy gardens and glass museum, we ate at Skillet Counter, in the food court. Again, I devoured butternut squash soup (even fresher and creamier, less buttery than the first one from Local 360) and picked at my son’s incredible lemony pancakes. Crisp and lusciously fried up on the outside, fluffy and tangy with an essence of vanilla on the inside that lingered in your mouth, these were absolutely the yummiest, most delectable and tender battered up cakes my taste buds had ever tasted, ever. Next opportunity, that is what I am ordering at Skillet Counter, no matter what time of day or night. And as simple, bare and unassuming as the place may appear, it actually may be the first chain of eateries I want to be taken to, next time… a la In ‘n Out Burger when out of towner’s come back to visit us in CA.
Pike Street Market is unbelievable. Imagine stand after stand of artisan food, supplies, groceries and goods with samples for everyone, dedicated fellow foodies oohing and ahhing too and a boisterous roar of activity, languages, song and laughter.
I ate cherries, observed fishmongers entertain, listened to modern washboard minstrels, and beheld every manner and vast quantities of remarkable crustaceans, unfamiliar crazy looking fruits and unusual vegetables I had never even conceived or heard of.
I tasted and purchased cinnamon almonds, rose petal jelly, chocolate hazelnut sauce and apple ginger chutney.
There were numerous and assorted types of pastas, sauces and homemade wares, including soaps, soups, dips, breads, t-shirts, etc. It reminded me of the Ferry Market in San Francisco or Eataly in Manhattan. The best of the best local fare – served up in the quickest, closest, oldest manner of selling your wares. Ahh. A delight and a pure rush to all the senses.
On the morning of my return, we ate brunch at Toulouse Petit, a corner-dining establishment that had a wait and a line outside the entire time before, while we ate and after we left. For a darn good reason. A bustling staff hustled and continuously brought customers delicious fare from the busy kitchen. I had fresh crabmeat eggs benedict. I had to have more fresh seafood. The day before we had gorged on fried fish in baskets on the pier by the Aquarium. Looking back, it seems inconsiderate and debauched of us to devour seafood by the fish museum. Needless to say, I came back a few pounds heavier, even with all the walking and sightseeing.
After brunch, and right before we had to head out to the airport, the clouds lifted and I was able to peek at snow-capped Mount Rainer. The Cascade Range is visible from hilly, steep Seattle, across the Puget Sound. I was amazed repeatedly, all weekend and in retrospect, at how J easily parks backwards and on a slant, as M runs out to purchase a parking ticket you stick to the inside of your window. I suppose the strategic placing of automobiles is not to test you on your parking expertise and maneuvers, but to keep the vehicles from sliding down the precipitous hills.
M and J graced our threshold today. They are visiting and staying with us for the holidays. I desire to relive and to continue the discourse of our wonderful weekend together. Our Seattle ex-pats are home. Our New York college faction is here, cooking up a storm for Christmas Day. Our tree is brimming with colored paper, ornamental boxes and cutesy decorated winter-themed bags. Our family is one again, all three significant others adding interest to, enhancing and revving up the hilarity, the festivity and joy!! Let the teasing season begin. My husband and I are beside ourselves with happiness, smiling from ear to ear, giving each other knowing, emotional nods. We drink in our brood as they watch My Little Ponies, play X-Box together and create new memories. It’s all about the kids, it’s all about our love, it’s all about the family….and….of course….it’s all about the food.
Make sure to put out special Christmas cookies and eggnog for Santa Claus and elves, tomorrow night.