Archive for July, 2011

Lopez Island, By the Numbers

July 29, 2011

30 years ago, my mom drove me to the parking lot of a church on a Tuesday morning in late June.  In that parking lot were several buses, lots of moms, and even more kids.  It was my first day of camp, 1981, and my first time going away for more than a slumber party night.  I was 10, almost 11, and I was terrified.  I only knew one girl and she was a year older than me and therefore in a different unit, a different world in camp terms.  We had never visited the camp and I had no real idea of what to expect other than that I would be able to ride horses.  (Like many girls that age, I was obsessed with horses – until I got bucked off of Nellie Gray and my obsession turned to fear.)  I didn’t know that I would be sleeping in a wood-framed but canvas-topped tent, that it would rain everyday for the first week, that I would feel hungrier and colder than I ever had in my short life, and that I would watch the road for signs of my mom coming to pick me up to save me from almost unbearable homesickness.

I also didn’t know that at Camp Nor’wester I would learn how to build a campfire on my very first day, sit in a wagon pulled by Clydesdale horses in a 4th of July parade; learn to sail; swim in water so cold it made my teeth ache; spend every Sunday at non-denominational chapel, eating from a giant bowl of banana split at Sunday “supper”, and taking a hike for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the evening.  I didn’t know that I would learn to sleep with my jeans under my sleeping bag so they didn’t freeze in the night; fall in love with an 11 year-old boy; dance the Virginia Reel; sing songs of breathtaking beauty; and feel like my heart was being ripped out of my body when it came time to say goodbye to my beloved counselors and friends.  That was only the first year.  In later years, I learned to play the guitar and sing in front of the whole camp, fell in love with plenty more boys, got bucked off more horses, and found out that the best bakery in the world was just down the road.  I have long said that I want to have my ashes scattered over Sperry Peninsula and I know many former campers feel the same way.

(The ferry landing on Lopez.)

20 years ago, my parents took off on a wonderful-sounding trip to Calgary and Banff, Alberta.  They decided to drive and I was between my junior and senior years on college at the time so I was excited to have the house to myself for two whole weeks.  Just before the Canadian border, they were stopped at the bottom of an exit ramp and a car plowed into them from behind at high speed.  The trunk of the car got pushed up all the way to the passenger seats but thankfully, neither of them was hurt.  In spite of the fact that the car was now completely undriveable, they were determined to have their vacation.  They came back to Seattle, re-grouped, rented a car, and threw together a trip to the San Juan Islands and Victoria, B.C.  By this point, they had been going up to Lopez for ten years visiting me and later my brothers in camp and they too had fallen in love with the island.

(Deer are everywhere on Lopez.  If you sit still on our deck for long enough, they will come out of the trees and walk right by you, looking into your eyes as they pass.)

On that trip, in 1991, it rained.  They were staying in a bed and breakfast and they were bored so they walked to town and into a real estate office.  A woman in the office said she had a place they had to see and away they went.  My parents had looked at property before but nothing seemed right.  This one was just right.  It needed some work, it was too dark, had very dated finishes, a deck that was about to collapse, and other problems.  But it was on a bluff overlooking Mud Bay, had easy waterfront access, was just about the right size (small) and, in an amazing twist of fate, faced our beloved Camp Nor’wester.  On a quiet summer evening, we could hear the campers singing after meals and hear the morning bell.  Minor construction began and by the following summer, the house was ready for use.  Since that time, and because of two men’s greed, the camp is no longer there, in spite of the fact that it changed people’s lives for almost 60 years.  We no longer hear singing or wake-up bells and we no longer see teepees across the water or smoke coming from the fire pit in the long house built in the Kwakkiutl style.  We see four monstrous houses with slate roofs built by Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft, one of the world’s billionaires, and a man who almost never sets foot on that beautiful property.

Even though camp is no longer there, I treasure that view and offer heartfelt thanks that my parents had the vision for it.  (Camp Nor’wester continues to thrive on another island in the San Juans.  Our children will go there when they are old enough.)  For half my life we have had that house.  I’ve been up with friends, co-workers, family, my ex-husband, current husband, in-laws, and my children.  There is that cliche “if these walls could talk”.  But oh, if those walls could talk.

(This the super high tech kayak rack that my dad rigged up on the beach.)

10 years ago, in the winter of 2001, I brought Randy to the Lopez house for the first time.  We had only been dating a few months and I was almost more worried about that introduction than I was bringing him to meet my parents for the first time.  I knew my parents would love him, former Navy pilot, Harvard MBA, brilliant and kind.  But would he love Lopez?  Would he understand what a special place it is, how important it had been and would always be in my life?  No need to worry of course.  It is a magical island, something he surely would have picked up on even if I hadn’t been along to share the most special parts of it.  I love that we went in the winter together, something I had never really done before.

(Beaches are rocky on Lopez, not a lot of sand.  And that water is bone chillingly cold.  We don’t do much swimming.)

9 years ago, on Valentine’s Day, after a little over a year together, Randy asked me to marry him.  He did it on a most special beach, one I had discovered as a camper.  He likes to tell the story that he asked me, showed me the ring, and that I ran away.  That is not true.  I was overcome and I turned away – there was no running involved.  I had made an unfortunate choice in my first marriage.  I had wasted two years on a re-bound guy that was everything but right for me.  To find myself on my favorite beach, contemplating a life that I had always wanted with someone who was right for me…  It was too much in the moment.  Thankfully, I quickly recovered and said yes.

Later that year, August 24, 2002 to be exact, we got married in the little church on Lopez.  How could we marry anywhere else?  We had a tiny ceremony on a sunny day and our families and very closest friends were present.  It was a perfect day in every way including dinner at our favorite Lopez restaurant and dancing to a bad cover band in the island’s dive bar.  There are several ways to drive back to our house from town and from one of the roads, you can see the church in the distance.  These days, it always makes me catch my breath.  When we went in May, Graham said, “That’s where Mommy and Daddy got married,” to which Spencer replied, “Where were we?”

(4 kids in jammies in the hammock.  What more do you needOK, maybe a cinnamon roll.)

We headed to Lopez last weekend with some dear friends.  Because Randy was on his way back from New Orleans, I drove the familiar route along I-5 and then Route 20 taking us to the town of Anacortes where we catch the ferry.  Randy is usually the family driver, so me being in the driver’s seat allowed me to really think about where I was going and why.  How many times have I driven that path, in how many different cars, with how many different people, in how many different phases of my life.  Camper, daughter, sister, employee,  girlfriend, friend, daughter-in-law, wife, mother.  Lopez will continue to be an important part of our family’s life and I am grateful.

(Randy kayaking with Spencer on his lap.  The piece of land to the left is the previous Camp Nor’wester and the white blob above it is 10,777 foot Mt. Baker.)

Birthday Dinner

July 27, 2011

Thank you to all of you who entered to win the Keurig coffee maker.  I asked my contact there to pick a number between 1 and 239.  She told me that her favorite number is 2, so she picked comment #222.  Francesca wrote:

I moved from Italy to California where I am trying to colonize the locals. My husband has already been assimilated and happily consumes copious amounts of olive oil (the good stuff) and aceto balsamico tradizionale.

It seems fitting that an Italian won a great coffee maker, does it not?  Francesca, I will be sending you an email!

It seems these days that social media is a common topic.  People like to talk about the pros and cons of things like Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, etc.  I have very specific uses for Facebook and Twitter.  Keeping up with far-flung friends (Facebook), directing people to my blog, networking in the Seattle food community, and getting answers to cooking and dining questions (Twitter), and making sure I get as many birthday wishes as possible (both).  If you have ever felt down on a birthday, then you probably aren’t on Facebook or Twitter.  Yesterday was my 41st (bummer), on a Tuesday (bummer), and it was raining (double bummer).  If that doesn’t sound depressing, then I don’t know what does.  But through the magic of the internet, I got so much love and attention that my little Leo heart was full.

Now you might be wondering why I cooked on my birthday.  Did I mention that it was my 41st, on a Tuesday, and it was raining?  Plus, my brother is fond of saying that the best vegetarian restaurant in Seattle is actually my house.  Would I be the most arrogant person in the world if I said that I agree?  I’m not saying the best food in the city can be eaten here – far from it – but if you are going to take me out for veg food, I’d rather eat my cooking.  Plus, I like to cook.

Sometimes I feel like I should only post grand recipes here.  Like blow your socks off things that I have spent hours in the kitchen making.  Never mind that I don’t make things like that all that often (unless we are talking dessert) and that the truth is, I am a huge fan of simple dishes.   If something tastes great and doesn’t take a lot of effort, I will sing its praises.  From the feedback I get about my recipes here and requests for upcoming classes, I would say that many of you are wanting more and more “weeknight” type recipes.  So here you go.

I know much of America thinks that we vegetarians eat only pasta and salad.  It is true that I eat a lot of salad but the last pasta recipe I posted was way back in February.  I do crave it in the summer when fresh and light sounds just right and I want to keep cooking time to a minimum.  Here, lots of fresh herbs were pureed with some olive oil and garlic – think pesto without the nuts or cheese.  I tossed warm pasta with that mixture and then stirred in cherry tomato halves and Kalamata olive quarters.  The whole dish got a healthy sprinkling of Pecorino cheese which is truly a favorite of mine.  It took about 15 minutes start to finish and the dish can sit for hours before serving.  Pretty perfect weeknight meal – even for a birthday.

Two Years Ago: Indian Spiced Chickpea Salad with Yogurt and Herbs
Three Years Ago: Creamy Eggplant with Peas

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives, and Pecorino
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 6

1 pound penne
½ cup olive oil
1 cup basil leaves
½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tsp. coarsely chopped thyme leaves
2 tsp. coarsely chopped marjoram leaves
Kosher salt
1 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
1 cup coarsely grated Pecorino cheese (about 3 ounces)
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the penne and cook according to package directions until the pasta is just al dente.  Drain and allow to cool slightly.

Place the herbs, garlic, and olive oil in the bowl of a mini food processor or the jar of a blender and purée.  Stir in a large pinch of salt and scrape the purée into a large pasta bowl.  Pour in the pasta and toss well to coat, you may need to add a bit of olive oil if the pasta seems to dry.  Stir in the tomatoes and olives and let stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes for the flavors to develop.  Just before serving, add the Pecorino and season to taste with pepper.  Toss well.   (Can be made up to 2 hours ahead.)

Vegetable Enchiladas

July 25, 2011

Randy has been in his new job for over six months now.  In that time, I can count on two hands the number of times he has traveled for work.  Maybe even one hand.  That is huge for our family.  Before he left Microsoft, he was sometimes gone three weeks of the month.  The boys thought it was strange when he was here during the week.  He was exhausted, I was exhausted.  It was a life that was not sustainable and the travel is one of the reasons he changed jobs.

Now, when it is time for him to fly out, he can’t remember where the business suitcase is.  He has to look hard for his passport.  It takes him more than ten minutes to pack because he is out of practice.  The boys get confused as to why he is not here for dinner.  It is all so much better.  I don’t mind a business trip here and there – it gives us a little break from each other and a chance to miss one another.

Last week, before Randy left town, I decided to make his favorite kind of food.  I figured it would be nice to give him a good send-off and I was ready to try a new Enchilada recipe. I have a favorite but we had some sun last week and mushrooms didn’t feel very summery.  As with that one, this recipe gives you a filling but not heavy dinner – one that just begs for refried beans, lots of guacamole, and cerveza.

Two Years Ago: Asparagus Ragout and Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Vegetable Enchiladas
Adapted from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures
Serves 4-6

The Sauce
1 28-ounce can tomato purée
½ cup heavy cream
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 large garlic clove, minced
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

The Filling
Canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 ear of corn, kernels cut off with a knife
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried epazote (optional)
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained
1 14-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 8-inch flour tortillas
1 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

Make the sauce
Combine the tomato purée, heavy cream, cilantro, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.

Make the enchilada filling
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Pour in just enough canola oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the onion.  Sauté until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes, then add the zucchini, corn, and dried herbs.  Cook until tender but not mushy, about 7 minutes.   It’s ok if the zucchini gets a little brown.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chiles, beans, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.  Allow to cool slightly.

To assemble the enchiladas, pour a layer of sauce over the bottom of a large casserole dish (or 2 smaller ones).  Spoon one eighth of the bean mixture along the center of a tortilla, then roll the enchilada up.  Place seam side down in the baking dish and repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Spoon the remaining sauce over all the enchiladas, and sprinkle the cheese over top.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes.  Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

One for the Weekend, Part Two

July 22, 2011

(Have you entered to win a Keurig Platinum Brewer yet?  You have until noon PDT on Tuesday, July 26th to enter.  You can do so here.)

A while back, I wrote a post where I talked about pedestrian tastes.  In that post, I mentioned Chex Mix as one of my, shall we say, less than gourmet tastes.  We did a fair amount of driving on our little family vacation to the Delaware shore and each gas fill-up/bathroom break, those little bags of Chex Mix beckoned to me from the gas station store.  I don’t ever buy those bags because they are full of chemicals and artificial everything and also because if I bought a bag I would eat a bag.  Simple formula.

In the “appetizers” section of my recipe notebooks, I have several recipes for homemade mix.  We are heading to Lopez Island with some dear friends and, seeing as I know there will be lots of snacking with four kids around, I figured it was time to try one of them out.  I picked this recipe because it stars Old Bay Seasoning – something that Randy loves with all of his heart.  Truthfully, it is not the Old Bay that he loves, but the Maryland crabs that come coated with the stuff – the ones he gets to eat every other July when we visit his extended family on the Delaware shore.  This meal – “going out for crabs” – is one he looks forward to for 730 days.  It is the same meal that I dread for 730 days.  Imagine being a vegetarian at a long table covered with newspapers and mallets everywhere which are used to smash crabs into edible bits, claw sucking, meat flying…  It’s not pretty.  My dinner on that night is an iceberg lettuce salad followed by french fries and overcooked corn on the cob.  This year they actually had “steamed rosemary potatoes” on the menu which I ordered, but I ended up eating french fries anyway.

Anyway, Old Bay. I used to have a tin of Old Bay Seasoning hidden amongst all my spices.  It was battered and a bit dusty and my hunch is that it was among the few possessions that were saved from Randy’s kitchen when our households merged.  I certainly didn’t buy it – I’m not even sure you can buy it in Seattle.  When I went to reach for it yesterday, it was not there.  Where does a box of never-used seasoning go?  It might be that I brought it to London when we moved there and if I did, it is in the possession of our downstairs neighbor’s housekeeper to whom I donated all of our spices and leftover food because you cannot bring any food item at all back into the U.S. when you move back from abroad.  Not even canned goods.  Not even dusty tins of spice mixes.

So, thankfully the internet is useful for things like online banking and spice recipes.  I looked around a bit and found that most of the Old Bay knock-offs feature a lot of celery salt, a moderate amount of paprika, and a pinch of just about everything else in your spice cabinet.  I riffed on this one mostly.  As this was baking in the oven and the smell of salty goodness started to spread around my kitchen, I started to get nervous.  Why am I making something I know I cannot resist?  And guess what?  I cannot resist this mix.  At least I know I am eating mostly goodness and no chemicals.

One for the Weekend, Part One: Spiced Cocktail Nuts
One Year Ago:
Tortilla with Potatoes and Grilled Zucchini
Two Years Ago: Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce

Chesapeake Bay Snack Mix
Adapted from Everyday Food (I think)
Makes about 12 cups

In an effort to make myself feel less guilty about eating handfuls of this at a time, I used an all natural Chex-like cereal and Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies rather than the oyster crackers called for in the recipe.  Oh, who am I kidding.  I shopped at Whole Foods for the stuff and those were my only choices.  Also, I have a giant container of pre-shelled pistachios in m pantry, so I threw some of those in and cut back slightly on the peanuts.

6 cups crisp corn or rice cereal, such as Crispix or Chex
3 cups thin pretzel sticks
3 cups oyster crackers (or Cheddar bunnies)
2 cups roasted unsalted peanuts
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp. hot sauce, such as Tabasco

Preheat oven to 250ºF.  In a large bowl, combine cereal, pretzels, crackers, and peanuts.  In a small bowl, mix together melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay, lemon juice, and hot sauce.  Pour butter mixture over cereal mixture and stir until ingredients are completely coated.  Turn out onto a very large rimmed baking sheet.  (You might want to use two sheets.)  Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Allow to cool, stirring a few times in the process.  Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Keurig Giveaway

July 20, 2011

I’ve mentioned this before, but as a food blogger, I sometimes find offers in my email inbox.  For me, these offers fall into one of four categories.  There is the “you’ve never heard of me, but I would love to write a guest post on your blog about something that has nothing to do with the food you cook or write about”.  Also the “you’ve never heard of us, but send us your content and we will not pay you but we will link directly to your site”.  Or the “how would you like a giant box of bacon/sausage because clearly, we have never read your site?”  And finally, thankfully, the “you have heard of us and how about we send you something you actually want?”

Keurig falls into that last category.  Imagine my delight to find an email from these guys offering me a coffee maker.  You see, I love coffee.  I live in coffee capitol of the country.  Within a square mile of my house there are probably 20+ places to get a terrific cup of coffee including one of the very best in the city (they compete in and have won the Barista Olympics) which is just 1½ blocks up the street.  I never make coffee at home because of that.  But sometimes, I don’t want to walk out the front door just for a cup of joe and sometimes I don’t want to pay over $3 just to wake up in the morning.  I have an old Cuisinart coffee maker and in dire straights I will haul it out of the basement and make mediocre coffee – and therein lies the problem.  If I can get decent coffee at a gas station, and in Seattle you can, why would I make a bad cup at home?

So I said yes to Keurig, please send me your wonderful machine.  I was very transparent about my plans.  If I liked it, I would write about it on my blog.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t.  Originally, they wanted me to write about it multiple times, tweet about it and to all that I said no thank you.  I need to love something to plug it here.  But Keurig wanted me to have the machine anyway, I guess they were confident that I would love it.

And I do.  Randy does not drink coffee so having a sleek looking machine that makes one cup at a time is perfect in our house.  I wondered how it would do with a brunch crowd and it behaved beautifully.  Each person got to make their own cup of coffee and if they needed a refill, they just made another.  So much better (and fresher!) than pouring from a pot sitting on the warming tray.  It only takes a little over a minute for a perfectly fresh cup of coffee.  Keurig also sent me a nice variety of coffees to try and there are tons of choices, including teas and hot chocolate.  The coffee I have made tastes great and Randy has liked the tea as well.

Because I like to share the bounty, I asked if they would allow me to give away a machine on my blog.  Not only did they say yes, they are offering an even sleeker machine than the one they sent me!  How to win a Platinum Brewer?  I am so curious about all of you – I sit here and blab about my food, my family and all manner of things and, for the most part, I know next to nothing about you.  So please, tell me one thing about yourself.  What you do, where you live, how many kids you have, the name of your cat – just one thing.  Make it interesting if you like.  The winner will be chosen at random and the contest will close at noon PDT on Tuesday, July 26th which is, coincidentally, my birthday.

CONTEST CLOSED! Thanks for all the entries.  Winner to be announced tomorrow.

Finally, I forgot to post these photos in the Salted Caramel Squares post.  Those squares are sophisticated enough for the end of a fancy dinner party and simple enough to be adored by a four and six-and-a-half year old.  While I was trying to get a photo of the squares, the boys were following me around the house waiting for their chance to eat them.  Yesterday, I made Ashley’s beloved chocolate chip cookies because the cookie jar was empty and when Spencer saw them on the cooling rack he said, “Why didn’t you make more caramel squares?”

Also, Graham lost his top front tooth.  I know the photo is blurry but I love that face.

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