Archive for October, 2008

Missed Opportunity

October 7, 2008

So, let me just put this out there. I never used to watch TV. I was probably even a little snobby about the fact that I didn’t know anything about any of the shows.

In the summer of 2003, Randy and I moved to London. Besides a few of his business school contacts, we didn’t know anybody. Our year there was one of the best of my life but it was lonely. Television was more pleasant to watch there and we quickly fell into the habit. Two of their five networks do not have commercials and one of them would run movies without the massive edits that we have in this country. Even on the channels that had commercials, there was only a break every 20 minutes, as opposed to our 8-10 mintues here.

Once we returned home, I kept up my television habit. I wish at the end of the day, after the kids are in bed, I had the energy to read, but I just don’t. I like to zone out and relax but I am a little appalled at some of the shows I have gotten into. Sure, I love Project Runway, Top Chef, The Office and those other “acceptable” ones. But I also have gotten hooked on America’s Next Top Model and, yes, The Bachelor.

For those of you who don’t know, last season’s The Bachelor was actually The Bachelorette and the guy who she almost chose lives in Seattle. His name is Jason and he seemed like a very nice guy, he has a young son, and women all over the country fell in love with him. I don’t think anyone was surprised when they tagged him to be the next Bachelor.

Here is where things get interesting. My brother Alex is a personal trainer. He owns a personal training gym in Bellevue (a suburb of Seattle) and one of his clients happened to be this guy Jason’s boss. When he said he needed to get in shape for this show, the guy sent him to Alex.

I heard all this through my mother, who wouldn’t be caught dead watching a show such as The Bachelor, but she is very amused that her daughter, the one who used to be such a TV snob, does. I immediately got stars in my eyes and called Alex offering my services as a personal chef. He was enthusiastic, saying he would like to know what Jason was eating and knew that, as a trainer, he would get better results for his client knowing that the food was healthy. I think we left it that Alex would check with him and I would think about if I really had time to cook for one more person and add a completely other part of town to my route.

And then I got really busy. I picked up a new client. I cooked for a friend. I had crazy weekends full of food. I tried through all of this to be a good mother to my boys and keep my household intact. I kept thinking that Alex would call me if Jason was interested. I guess, with good reason, I let the ball drop.

Alex brought his kids over for dinner on Sunday night and told me he had just had a weekend of filming with ABC. They were in town to document Jason’s life here and the training he was doing was a part of it. I asked him whatever happened with the chef part of things and he stunned me by saying, “You never called me back.” Suddenly, I felt like I had just missed a tremendous opportunity and spent the rest of the evening replaying our last phone conversation in my head, and berating myself for not going after something with the potential to be really big.

But now, several days later, I realize that things probably worked out better anyway. Really, how could I have increased my food production and driven and miles and miles off my normal route for a non-paying client? My business is just me in my kitchen. Scaling up requires a huge investment of my time, something I don’t have with two young kids. My brother has a gym, he has a staff. I have me in my kitchen. If I got publicity from cooking for The Bachelor, where would that leave me? Unable to take on the clients who could potentially come my way.

Interestingly, today I got a request from a friend to help out someone in need. A woman who works for him just had a very preemie baby and he wants to nourish her with my food twice a week for the next couple of months. This is where my attention should be, on cooking and sharing my food, not my theatre major pipe dreams.

I have to say, I think Jason would have enjoyed this soup, healthy and filling as it is. But the person who really needs it, and who I would be really happy to share it with, is a new mommy, scared for her baby.

Mediterranean Five-Lentil and Chard Soup with Walnut Gremolata
Adapted from
The Artful Vegan
Serves 6

With all apologies to The Millennium Restaurant (whose cookbook this is), I made some changes to the method here. They suggest you cook each type of lentil separately for which I see no reason, other than to make you crazy and do a lot of dishes. You can use fewer types, even just plain old ordinary lentils too. Don’t let the long list of ingredients scare you off, it is an easy soup to make with little hands on time. The gremolata isn’t totally necessary but gives the soup a nice crunch.


1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and very finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp. minced parsley

2 tbsp. minced dill

1/2 tsp. salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Serve, or store refrigerated, covered, overnight.

Five-Lentil Soup

2 tsp. olive oil
1 red onion, cut into small dice

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger

2 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground

1 tsp. caraway seeds, toasted and ground

1 tsp. dried thyme

tsp. allspice
2 bay leaves

cup dry sherry
2 tsp. sugar

2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes

cup dried red lentils
cup dried brown lentils
cup dried green (Le Puy) lentils
cup dried black beluga lentils
cup dried yellow split peas
6 cups vegetable stock

2 cups chopped red chard

2 tbsp. light miso

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook soft. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add all the spices and saute, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the sherry, sugar, all lentils and the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Add the chard and simmer for 10 minutes, or until wilted. Place the miso in a small bowl and whisk in 1/2 – 1 cup of stock until the miso has dissolved, then add the mixture back to the soup. (This will keep the miso from clumping.) Remove the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a garnish of 1 tbsp. of the gremolata.

Dinners Out

October 6, 2008

I love to eat out. I am almost always disappointed by the actual eating-of-the-food portion of eating out, but I still look forward to it everytime.

The day I started this blog, I was on my way to a restaurant for a date night with my husband. I took notes of everything I ate and blogged about it. In the early days (waaaayy back in May), I thought I would include reviews of the restaurants we ate in over the course of our bi-monthly date nights and other nights out.

And then I came to realize that I was going to sound like a serious broken record. Do people really want to hear about what a bummer it was to have only one choice on the menu, and have that choice be a risotto or pasta, over and over again? If you don’t live in Seattle, you probably couldn’t care less about our restaurant scene anyway. If you do live here – well, it probably isn’t all that interesting to hear about how eating out sucks for vegetarians. And if you are a vegetarian living in Seattle, you certainly don’t need me to tell you how hard it is to find a thoughtful meal here.

But we had quite a weekend and I just had to share.

Friday night, Randy and I attempted to eat at Sitka and Spruce. We had some business in that part of town and had had a very good dinner there last summer. It is a tiny place with a huge emphasis on locally sourced foods. The menu is written on a chalkboard and changes every night. The two times I have eaten there, the food was very interesting, perfectly seasoned, and a treat to eat.

When we arrived to put our name in, we were told it would only be a 20 minute wait. We went across the street to have a drink and then went back after about 30 minutes only to be told it would be another 15. We stood at the bar and ordered a bottle of wine and some appetizers and waited. My salad arrived (perfectly dressed and generously sized) and we waited and we waited and waited. Finally, after Randy’s appetizer was not materializing, and we had been waiting an hour and 40 minutes for what was supposed to be a 20 minute wait, we asked for the check. There was no apology, there was nothing taken off the bill. We were mad enough that we even left some wine in the bottle – a crime! Why oh why do restaurants do this?? If they had told us over an hour initially, we would have thanked them and gone somewhere else. Now we will never go back.

Saturday night we went with some friends to try Poppy, a new restaurant from the previous chef of The Herbfarm – a Northwest institution. The Herbfarm is kind of our French Laundry and is a place I have still not eaten. I remember hearing tales of their infamous reservation policy (you could only call on one day for the following six months) and just couldn’t muster the energy to play the game. These days, I think things have gotten a little less Napa-y, but we still haven’t tried it.

The concept of Poppy (which is a beautiful space – it does not feel like you are fleece-clad Seattle) is eating in the Indian style of Thali. A thali is a round tray and the way of eating is where many small offerings of food in individual dishes are gathered together on the tray. For someone who always complains that I only get to have one flavor in my meals out (my pasta to your steak, starch, and vegetable), it was an intriguing and exciting idea.

I will still maintain that I was excited by the food. Of the ten (ten!) things on the tray, eight were already vegetarian and the other two could be substituted out. There were some lovely things on there – most notably the Sunchoke Soup – but all together it didn’t wow me, or the other five people I was dining with. Again, I have to appreciate the concept and I would return if for no other reason than to get to taste lots of different things in one meal. I would definitely plan to eat dessert somewhere else – all three that we had were totally forgettable, and the apple “deep dish” had way undercooked apples and an almost inedible crust.

This brings me to Sunday night. Randy was out of town and my sister-in-law had a mom’s night out, so my two brothers and I had take-out together. I can’t remember the last time we were together without a spouse or our parents joining us. It was really nice to spend some time with them and just delightful to watch the cousins all play together. We decided to get sushi so my brother Michael and I walked up to Kisaku to get it.

People who eat fish say this is one of the best places in town for sushi. As a veg, I am not one to judge. I do like that this place has several vegetarian rolls on the menu, but one contains something deep fried, and the other contains mayo – both things I hate in sushi. So I order very simply from that place. Apparently not simply enough as I woke in the middle of the night with an incredibly upset stomach. It was severe enough for me to know that I had some kind of food poisoning – an ironic fate for a vegetarian. I called them today to tell them and they graciously said they would refund the whole meal. A very intelligent gesture but I can tell you I will never go there again.

So three nights out and two restaurants on the black list!

Some Talk About Weight

October 5, 2008

I am not a big breakfast eater. I know what they say – how it’s the most important meal of the deal and all that. I just can’t bring myself to eat much. Part of it is that I am totally not a morning person and I think it takes my stomach a full hour to start working after I get my “Mommy!” wake up call. Part of it is so many years of being weight conscious and watching calories.

Most women I know have hit That Day. The day where they can no longer eat whatever they want. The day when having a decent figure takes work instead of coming naturally. It varies for everyone, but I had the extreme bad luck to hit That Day when I was sixteen. Up until then, I was never a skinny minnie, but I just didn’t pay all that much attention and just ate until I was full. My mom was (and is) a good cook and made healthy meals and I always enjoyed eating. My mom has always had serious issues with her weight (she is very thin) and food, but – good for her – she managed to keep her thoughts to herself when it came to me.

And then, at the ripe old age of sixteen, I ate my way through France and it all changed. Michael Phelps can eat his 12,000 calories a day and still be ripped and thin – my 12,000 calories a day (if it wasn’t that, it was pretty close) just made me chunky. I lost the 15 pounds I gained but always had to watch it after that. Some combination of pain au chocolat and hormones ruined my eat-anything-I-want days forever.

I didn’t gain the Freshman Fifteen when I went to college for two reasons. I didn’t drink beer (yet) and I lived on the 4th floor of my dorm. This meant walking up and down four flights of stairs many many times a day and I really think it is that which saved me. My weight remained about the same as high school until I hit my late 20’s and went through a separation and finally a divorce. I dropped 15 pounds in 3 months – a lot on a 5’3″ frame – and managed to keep it off until I got pregnant with my first son many years later. I will be honest and tell you I kept it off through deprivation. I never snacked. I never tasted the wonderful desserts I would bake. I would never finish food that was on my plate – even if it had been a small portion to start with.

I could not embrace my inner foodie. I could not enjoy the food I put so much care into making. It was not a way to live for someone who loves food. Getting pregnant freed me somewhat from this cycle. We were living in London at the time and, because of the tremendous amount of walking I did just to keep our lives going, I was the thinnest I had ever been. I vowed that as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I would eat french fries and that is exactly what I did. I ate a lot of french fries, a lot of dessert, a lot of everything during those nine months. I allowed myself to have eggs for breakfast. I started cleaning my plate. If a cookie sounded good in the afternoon, I had one. For the first time since I was sixteen, I had juice everyday. It was my only pregnancy craving and I drank gallons of orange juice or Paul Newman’s Limeade. It was wonderful!

As I started to get bigger, I started to lose my appetite. I also kept active during the whole pregnancy and I never let myself go completely crazy. 18 years of dieting can do that to a person. For these reasons, I didn’t gain all that much. I stayed within the 25-35 pound guideline. But it was very hard for me, after having been so thin pre-pregnancy, to adjust to my new body and new appetite. Women who have nursed a baby know what I am talking about. I never thought I could consume so much food – except when I was in France.

About a year after I had him, I threw in the towel and decided I was never going to be that weight again. I had a new and somewhat more healthy approach to the food I ate – namely to enjoy it. I took small portions of the desserts I made. If I was hungry, I had a snack. I tried to balance it all with exercise which, admittedly, was difficult with a young guy hanging around all the time. I just tried my best to make peace with myself and balance my love of food with my love of fitting into my pants.

I am still trying to find this balance as my business grows and I am finally (20 months later!) at peace with my body post-second baby.

Because I would rather eat a larger lunch and dinner, breakfast is usually some yogurt and possibly a piece of fruit these days. But I will have to change the rules for this granola. I have been making it for years and everyone who tastes it loves it. One of my clients said, “This isn’t a cereal, it’s a candy bar!” Not because it is so sweet (it isn’t) but because it is so decadent tasting. Every so often I find another granola recipe that sounds interesting and I make it, only to regret not having made this one. Perhaps the best part is the incredible smell of butter, cinnamon, and honey that will linger in your kitchen. I made this for my clients as an apology for my disaster last week. I think they will forgive me.

Fruit and Spice Granola
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Makes 10 cups

I would recommend sweetened flake coconut in this recipe rather than the unsweetened kind. It’s texture and taste work better. I use whatever combination of dried fruit I have on hand at the time I am making it. This time it was apricots, cranberries, raisins, and dates.

4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup coconut

1 cup sliced almonds

1 cup pecans

1/2 tsp. cinnamon
tsp. nutmeg
1 stick unsalted butter

cup honey
2 cups mixed dried fruits

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, stir oats, coconut, nuts, and spices. In a small pan, melt butter and honey over low heat, stirring occasionally. Pour butter mixture over oat mixture and toss to combine well.

Spread granola evenly in 2 shallow pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, stirring frequently and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully stir in fruit. Let cool, stirring occasionally.

(Will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one month.)

Dana Disaster

October 2, 2008

This photo is the highlight of what was supposed to be dinner for clients tonight. Proof that anything tastes better fried. These are rice noodles fried for less than a minute in 350 degree oil – totally addictive and snack worthy.

It was bound to happen sometime. In the two and a half years that I have been cooking for my clients, I have never had a disaster. Sometimes a portion of my menu doesn’t turn out like I planned, but overall I have always felt proud of the food that I bring them. And inevitably, the food that I am most unsure about is the food that they like best.

But today, I was too ambitious and it backfired on me. Recently, I was rocked by the news that one of my clients doesn’t like Asian food, but after reading about it here, his wife let me know that what he really doesn’t like is stir-fries. Overall, Asian food is not his favorite but is all right.

So, I got it into my head that I wanted to make a very non-stir-fry-yet-still-Asian dinner. As I was menu planning last week, I turned to one of my most labor-intensive and yet incredible food cookbooks – The Artful Vegan. Tuesday’s menu had a North African slant and I wanted to make their incredible Dolmas recipe. Instead of rice, you use Israeli couscous and buckwheat groats which are tossed with dried cherries and pine nuts. The dipping sauce is made from toasted sesame seeds, thyme, sumac (which are ground berries with a sour flavor), and olive oil. Very complex flavors and totally addictive – even for someone like me who doesn’t love stuffed grape leaves.

This cookbook comes from the Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco – a vegan Mecca. I had the good fortune to eat there once and it almost made me cry to have to decide what to order. Fortunately, I was there with a large group and got to taste almost everything on the menu – all of it extremely complex and flavorful without totally overwhelming my palate. In my experience,vegan food – unless I am making it myself – either totally falls flat and has no taste at all, or totally overcompensates and adds so many layers of flavoring that my tongue gets tired eating it.

I have both of Millennium’s cookbooks and the food is definitely special occasion cooking. Very time consuming yet very rewarding. So, why did I decide to make three of their recipes in one week? Sometimes I get an idea in my head and plain old reason doesn’t dissuade me.

Tonight’s dinner was supposed to be:
Tofu Skewers with Peanut Sauce

Miso Broiled Eggplant on Rice Noodle Cakes
Asian Guacamole Salad

Here is what went wrong.

Tofu: I thought I had skewers but I didn’t, so I just tried to grill the marinated tofu and it totally stuck to the grill. I had to pull it off in very unattractive pieces but thought that the amazing peanut sauce would compensate for the unappetizing look.

Eggplant: Where to begin… In typical Millennium fashion, this dish had four completely different components. The eggplant, the noodle cakes, the walnut miso sauce, and the wasabi “cream” sauce. The sauces were incredible and totally something I would make again for dipping with vegetables or pita (which is how Randy and I ate them tonight.) The eggplant is made in the broiler and because I was trying to do too many things at once, they burned. The noodle cakes – oy. They probably would have been good but were totally something that needed to be made right before serving and they just got greasy and unappetizing. Plus they starred arame which is a type of seaweed and as I was started sauteeing them, I thought to myself, “Mark (my client) is going to hate this.”

Salad: The best part of this dish was the fried rice noodles. The rest of it would have been totally fine if the other parts of the menu hadn’t tanked.

So, mid-way through the rice cakes, I stepped back and said, “This menu isn’t fit for my clients” and walked away from it. Randy and I ended up eating a salad that starred the tofu, eggplant, lettuce and other veggies I had on hand with the peanut sauce as dressing, and pita with the dips.

If this is your first visit here, you may be asking yourself why on earth anyone would ever hire me to be their personal chef. The truth is that most of the food I make is quite good and I rarely make dinner altering mistakes. Tonight was a good lesson in humility.

Exit the Plums, Enter the Apples

October 1, 2008

Apple desserts. They just scream fall, don’t they? And winter and really even spring. But especially fall. I never make anything with apple in the summer because a) there are amazing short-seasoned fruits on offer and b) by then I’ve had it up to here with apples.

But as we enter October, I am excited to start filling my house with the smell of cinnamon, sugar and apples. We had a great group of friends over on Saturday for a big dinner. Big as in they all stayed past 1am and much alcohol was consumed. I actually took each couple (there were three) up on their offer to bring an appetizer, which is something I almost never do. I am not a control freak by any stretch, but I do feel that when I invite people over for dinner, I should make the food. But appetizers are something that always seem to be an afterthought for me, so I thought I would appreciate the help.

Since I knew we would have plenty to munch on, I decided to make a hearty soup, fall salad, and a flatbread. I originally thought of this as a more “simple” menu so I could focus more time and energy on a more elaborate dessert. I’m not sure how making 5 things (because of course I ended up making an appetizer) is simple, but there you go. At any rate, I knew exactly what I wanted to make – Country Apple Tart with Spiced Brown Butter. This is a dessert I have made twice now and it is a showstopper. Imagine an apple tart with a custard poured over top. This custard stars brown butter in which cloves, vanilla seeds, and star anise have been cooked. The smell is divine but is no match for the taste. And the presentation is lovely. The tart is not difficult but has several time consuming steps. If you are interested in taking on a long but very worth it project, you can find the recipe here.

For something a little more simple, and to give a final goodbye to baking with summer fruit, I made Dimply Plum Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours for my clients this week. If you are a food blogger, you are probably tired of hearing about this cake as it was the Tuesdays with Dorie choice last week. (For those of you who are not food bloggers, there is a group that bakes something from this dessert tome each week and blogs about it.) I decided I would double the recipe and bake it in mini loaf pans so each of my clients could have their own cake, rather than a slice. I am no math student, I didn’t really try and figure it out ahead of time, I just hoped doubling it would be enough and lo and behold, it turned out perfectly. Here is the recipe as it was orginally written.

Dimply Plum Cake

from Baking From My Home to Yours

Makes 8 Servings

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Scant 1/4 tsp. cardamom (optional)

5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower

Grated zest of one orange

1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

8 purple or red plums

Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 inch square baking pan, dust in the inside with flour, tap out excess and put the pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom, if you’re using it, together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. On medium speed, beat in the oil, orange zest and vanilla. The batter will look very light and smooth, almost satiny. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are just incorporated.

Run a spatula around the bowl and under the batter, just to make sure there are no dry spots, then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums cute side up in the batter, jiggling the plus a tad just so they settle comfortably into the batter.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is honey brown and puffed around the plums and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes – during which time the plums’ juice will return to the fruit – then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool right side up.

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