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28 February 2008

bacon, a party unto itself

bacon-wrapped dates

Oh bacon, how we love you.

A few weeks ago, I received a rather long and hateful comment from someone hiding in anonymity. I didn’t publish it. No big deal. These things seem to happen, if you have a life online. Still, one of the lines that was meant as a terrible insult turned into a funny little chanting compliment around here: “I’ve never seen a website so filled with pork.”

Well, Mr. Anonymous Hater guy, you might want to click over to another website right now, because you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen today’s entry.

For the past few months, we have been having informal potluck parties at our home. On one of the last Sundays of every month, we pick an ingredient, send it to everyone on the email list, and sit back until we can share the succulence. Each month, it’s a different mix of friends, since we all have such chock-a-block calendars and a thousand directions we could go. The Chef and I love this, actually. It’s a different party every time.

Last month, we had the winter root vegetable party. The diehards showed up. We ate well, and healthfully, and there was space and time to talk with everyone, in meaningful bursts. But we knew that this month would be a bit more like mayhem. Why?

Bacon party.

an array of bacon dishes

There’s just something about bacon. Its salty, slightly-sweet crunch, the way it shrivels into itself when we fry it, the heavenly ahhhh one sighs when leaning in for a smell, and the way bacon seems to make everything, everything better. Some foods only mingle with a few others. They’re part of an exclusive club. Smelt — one of our favorite fish, to tell the truth — tastes divine with a few friends. However, chocolate-covered smelt sounds like one of the candies from the Crunchy Frog sketch from Monty Python. But have you tried bacon chocolate? Oh god. Bacon is the most exuberant, open-minded host you have ever met. Everyone is welcome. The door is always open. The sunlight streams in. And bacon is equally happy to see everyone.

And so, it’s no surprise that the bacon party was the best attended of all the potlucks so far, with a flurry of emails from frustrated friends having to bow out, saying, “Shoot! I had such a great bacon recipe, too.”

Actually, it’s probably for the best that we didn’t have more people. As a group, we seemed to test the limits of amount of bacon eaten in one day.

It was hard to resist. There was sweet-potato hash, made by Kimberly and Paul. Actually, they brought two dishes, one made with Skagit River Ranch bacon, and the other with low-sodium bacon. Could anyone tell the difference? Not a bit. They were both delicious. (And this may have been the only discussion of health matters all day.)

bacon-potato extraordinaire

Our supremely talented friend Monique came in, sunlight sweeping in with her, bearing a dish of these seemingly simple-to-prepare scalloped potatoes. Layered a dozen high with potatoes, sour cream, onions, cheese, herbs, and bacon, these potato-bacon extraordinaire (the only name I have for them) were deeply satisfying. Monique arrived a little later than most, when the entire room thought we couldn’t take any more bacon. But we all leaned forward from all parts of the room to take these bites.

My darling husband cooks better potatoes than anyone I know. But all afternoon, he kept moaning about these potatoes. “What did she do? I have to know.” We still don’t know. It’s her secret weapon, these potatoes. Hell with Helen of Troy. The Trojan Wars could have easily started over the bacon-and-potato goodness you see pictured here.

(Oh gosh, if only Monique would start her own blog and share these with us….)

bacon-wrapped dates II

My dear friend Karen brought these beauties: dates wrapped in bacon, drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. She felt bad that she hadn’t realized the dates still had pits in them. Thank goodness, I say. Without the pits, we would have popped every one of these into our mouth in one bite. And then I would have eaten a dozen without even looking, and then I would have been sick. Pits forced us to slow down.

(And hey! No one brought bacon-wrapped scallops. There was a time those would have been at the top of the gourmet list. Luckily, our friends are more creative than that.)

deconstructed BLTs

Talk about creative? How about these — deconstructed BLT sandwiches. Combine cooked bacon, tomatoes, and mayonnaise, and then line lettuce leaves with the tempting concoction. For an extra crunch, top with gluten-free croutons. (Judy, who prepared these, doesn’t even have to eat gluten-free, but she was kind enough to stop at Whole Foods for croutons for the party. Now that’s a kind guest.)

Judy also made a dish so damned popular that we never got a photograph of it: candy bacon. Bacon roasted with brown sugar, walnuts, and a touch of cayenne pepper. Oh god, when it was warm, it was like a deadly elixir, some aphrodisiac put together by an evil witch. You knew you shouldn’t keep eating it — our arteries pumped harder in protest after several pieces —but you just couldn’t resist. Luckily, Judy is on the good side, so we weren’t lulled into 100-year sleeps. (I’m glad that fairy tales don’t use bacon as a force for bad.)

bacon-wrapped bacon

There were other dishes, and reasons to faint from heart over-exhaustion. But perhaps the most dramatic, in name and deed, was this: bacon-wrapped bacon.

Matthew learned this trick from friends of his — pork belly braised in aromatic Asian spices, cut down into bite-sized pieces, and then wrapped in bacon. Just out of the oven, these made us all slobber. I knew I shouldn’t, but I ate the first one in one gigantic bite. The rich, dulcet tones of pork belly sang out against the low bass notes of roasted smoked bacon and I wanted to join in with the heavenly choirs. But I just kept walking in the backyard with Monique, speechless, with bacon fat on my chin.

(And I can't give you the recipe here, because Matthew is including it in his book, which comes out in 2009. It will be worth the wait. Believe me, you'll want to read Hungry Monkey.)

Oh, but I take that back. Perhaps the most dramatic entrance was Megan’s, who arrived late enough that most of the people at the party missed this unbelievable feat. She made baskets of baked, woven bacon, and filled them with lettuce and tomatoes. When she and Scott walked through the open front door, those of us left in the living room wanted to drop to our knees and thank her. Seriously? These were visually stunning. No one wanted to eat them, at first. And that’s not only because we had been eating bacon products for hours, but also because they were so damned beautiful.

We gave in and crashed them with our teeth.

the end of the bacon party

Before we ate our fill, we all shared the brands of bacon we had used: Nueske’s; Daily’s; Skagit River Ranch; Whole Foods; and even good old Oscar Mayer. We all seemed to agree — in these dishes we really couldn’t tell the difference. In individual slices, I have my stalwart favorites. But mixed in and mingled in other dishes, they were all just bacon.

All good things must come to an end, including bacon parties. By the end of the afternoon, the sun had set and we finally closed the door against the now-chilly air. Our friends sat on the couch, draped against chairs, and on the floor, all of them in a bacon coma. I swear, I think we lost our words for awhile. All we could say was, “Bacon.”

The next day, the Chef and I tried to heat up some of the leftovers for lunch. After one bite each, we realized we couldn’t do it. We just couldn’t eat any more bacon in one 24-hour period. Even we have our limits.

But we’re going back to it soon. We have new brands and recipes to try, after all. For those of you who are gluten-free, or anyone just wanting to eat in your homes more often with your friends, we heartily recommend potlucks. Dinner parties are lovely, of course, but there’s a certain show-off energy to them, a frenzy in the kitchen trying to prepare everything, and a whopping big grocery bill in the end. With a potluck, everyone participates, no one pays too much, and we all have something to teach each other.

(What would you have brought if you had been invited to the bacon party?)

And when everyone brings something gluten-free, you are reminded again.

There is so much food to eat. There’s really no deprivation to this.

Thank goodness bacon is gluten-free. Yum…………bacon.

p.s. Thank you to our amazing friend, Mark Eskenazi, who not only arrived at the party with a free couch for us (really! Like I could make this up.), but he also brought his gorgeous, large-format Canon camera. When the food was placed on the table in the living room, he was so taken by the beauty of it all that he started snapping photographs. I put down my camera and enjoyed watching him compose the shots. So thank you, Mark, for these beautiful photos of bacon.


I'm thrilled and honored to announce that the Chef and I will be appearing at an event in honor of my book at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks. This stunning bookstore in Vancouver B.C. not only holds a drool-worthy (and very dangerous) collection of cookbooks from around the world, but they also have a beautiful, long chef's table where they hold eating events for cookbooks.

We will be at Barbara Jo's on March 15th, at 11 am. If you should be there, you'll receive several dishes based on recipes from the book, some cook cooking techniques and suggestions from the Chef, and some (hopefully) funny stories and inspiring exhortations from me.

Space is very limited, so please click here for details. Sign up today!

twice-baked potatoes


Of course, we don't just ask our friends to bring food. We make something every time. And one of the many qualities I love about the Chef? He doesn't try to impress with foams and mousses, impossible dreams of food that no one else could make. He simply makes food he loves to eat. And in the end, he's pretty easy to please.

Potatoes, cream, sour cream, good white cheddar, salt and pepper. That's all he needs to make something that makes everyone moan with pleasure. They can taste his particular heart in these.

When I asked him to jot down a recipe for me, as we drove to the restaurant, so I could post it here today, he scrawled in the big black notebook I keep for food ideas, his sideways scrawl in rushed Chef chicken scratch. Rather than trying to translate for him, I'm going to write this one (nearly) as he did. (I'll spell out potatoes instead of pots.) He rarely works with recipes anyway, mostly with his hands and muscle memory.

If this doesn't make sense to you, ask. But he'd like to encourage you to not rely so much on tablespoons or precise measurements. Throw in a pinch of this, pour a little of that, grate a pile of that other thing, and see what happens.

With bacon involved, you can't go wrong.

Cook 5 slices of bacon down until crispy. Save the fat.

Bake 10 red potatoes at 425° for an hour or so. (Toss with bacon fat and salt and pepper first.) Until soft. Cool.

Halve potatoes. Scoop them out.

Run insides through ricer, or sieve.

Add cream, sour cream, olive oil, white cheddar, salt and pepper.

Put back into the potatoes.

Bake until golden brown.

Top with bacon pieces.

21 February 2008

our morning routine disrupted

leek and prosciutto pasta

Damn you, Jamie Oliver. You always make me hungry.

Long, languid morning moments in bed with the Chef are almost always my favorite of the day. In a way, that time is sacred space. I don’t mean that we light candles and chant incantations. I mean, in the utter mundanity of cups of hot coffee, worn cotton pajamas, and the rustle of the newspaper between us — there is life.

The two of us? We have increasingly busy lives. I have to work hard to resist climbing onto the computer as soon as I wake up (comments to publish! Intriguing emails from New York! More questions to answer!), starting the workday before I have put my contacts on. Sometimes, the lure of the outside world calls to me like a siren song. But then, I look up and see the Chef shuffling to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. His hair looks like he has survived a windstorm in the middle of the night. He’s rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and he probably could have slept for an hour more. (That man works hard. Ten hours of prepping and cooking without sitting down once? Whew.) Even though there are always emails to answer, I step away from the computer and slip my bare feet into the wet grass outside to retrieve the paper. We meet back in the bedroom.

And there we stay for the next few hours, listening to the Bob Rivers show on weekdays, eagerly anticipating Breakfast with the Beatles on Sunday mornings. Every morning, I take apart the newspaper, throwing away the sections we never read, and folding open the living section to the comics. I hand it to him. He always reads the comics first. (Frankly, I once thought this was strange. Now, he has me reading Pickles and Lio too.) Long silences lapse, interrupted only by the turning of pages, the sipping of coffee, and the laughter between us. We discuss nearly every story. By the end, our fingers are stained grey and black. Sometimes, I touch his face when I kiss him, and I leave a grey smudge running down his cheek.

And at some point, early on, one of us always says, “What do you want for breakfast?”

(The answer is usually eggs.)

Something we don’t do much of in the mornings that might surprise you? Talk about food. Other than the daily discussion of the first meal of the day, we don’t dream up recipes, hash out last night’s dishes, or imagine what we could create next. Why? Long ago, we tacitly agreed: this is our time together, apart from our work, apart from the world. We are far more than our love for food, expansive as it is. Our love for each other doesn’t always involve memorable mouthfuls, meals that linger in the mind, and mache salads. There are reminiscences of eye surgeries as a child, imagined trips to Lake Powell, and the repetition of a thousand inside jokes that no one else could possibly understand. Food wants to creep in, but we gently push it aside. We want to be alive to each other in a different way, on those long, lovely mornings.

Besides, whenever we start discussing fish specials and speculations of future recipes, the Chef starts dancing. His fingers start tapping on his knee and his toes start pointing north. This waltz has a frantic pace. He’s thinking of the restaurant, and it’s time to go. All his sentences shorten. The languid kisses become pecks on the cheek, followed by a quick pat on the back. I know that routine: time to go.

And so, I’m more than happy to not discuss food until noon.

Damn you, Jamie Oliver. You’ve interrupted our morning.

Really, I should blame the Food Network. I’m not sure why they would relegate the brilliant Mr. Oliver to 9:30 in the morning on Saturdays. Especially because this new series of his, Jamie at Home, is the most mature and compelling series he has ever done. Older and even more sure of himself, Jamie has calmed down his frenzied hand gestures and incomprehensible sound effects. Instead, he’s simply cooking, in a rustic kitchen somewhere in the country.

(He still makes extravagant faces and joyful noises when he loves a bite of food. And frankly, half the time I watch him now, I feel like I’m watching the Chef.)

For me, half the appeal of this show is watching the life I can imagine for ourselves someday. A spacious kitchen filled with light, and an enormous garden just outside the door. Look at Jamie’s kitchen — or at least the one on television. It’s not that luxurious; it’s not outfitted with the latest in gleaming kitchen equipment. But the wooden cutting boards are scarred from so much use. And in that garden are vegetables so enormous and gorgeous that people shopping at grocery stores can only dream of something that good.

Watching Jamie together makes us both laugh with delight at his excitement about fat white leeks. For long moments, there is silence, as we both sit staring at his hands chopping in the kitchen, both our mouths open. And then our minds start racing.

Sometimes, the Chef sends himself a text message with an idea, a squiggle of an idea that will develop through the day into meals for the people who come in that evening.

And so, on Saturday mornings now, we have given up our morning routine. We still read the paper and drink our coffee. We still kiss and giggle. But at 9:30 in the morning, I look over at the clock and jump up for the remote. “Time for Jamie!” I shout. And we settle into bed, cuddling with each other, the remote control clutched in the Chef’s hands. (You know that cliché that men need to control the remote? It’s really true.) Television in the morning, a show about food. The Chef may start dancing earlier in the day than he does on every other day. We leave earlier on Saturdays than any day of the week.

But with Jamie in our ears, and visions of fat white leeks simmering with prosciutto in our minds? The interruption of our morning routine is more than worth it.

Thank you, Jamie Oliver. You always make us happy.

leek and prosciutto III


If you saw the Jamie at Home episode shown last week, you may have run out to buy the ingredients and made this pasta with slow-simmered leeks for dinner that night. I certainly did. Easy-peasy to make and filled with flavor, this pasta dish made us both sigh with happiness, in bed, at midnight.

If you didn’t see the episode, you want to make this for dinner tonight.

One of the tricks we have learned with gluten-free pasta? Undercook it. Italians cook their pasta al dente — a solid surface with a slight bite. It seems that most Americans cook their pasta to death, to the point of flubbiness. Let’s change our ways. With gluten-free pasta, it’s especially important to undercook, just a bit. And until we have created handmade gluten-free pasta we love, we’re using Tinkyada penne for this dish. It works.

When I asked the Chef to make this again, at the restaurant in the afternoon, so I could take photographs, he added a few of his own touches. Sautéed hedgehog and yellowfeet chanterelles mushrooms. Fresh mozzarella. Drizzles of aged balsamic vinegar. Oh lord, I wanted to take those photographs fast.

We shared the bowl of pasta afterward. His face told it all — wide open and rubbery with excitement. “It just melts, all of it together. My mouth is just filled with melty goodness.” And then he made this the pasta special for the night at the restaurant.

So, you know, it works.

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, fine diced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
3 fat white leeks, root and green parts removed, washed and sliced thin (if the leeks are slender, use 5)
7 slices of the best prosciutto you can find
½ pound wild mushrooms (whatever is within reach for you)
½ teaspoon each kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 cups cooked pasta
1 large ball fresh mozzarella
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (as aged as you can afford)

Simmering the leeks. Bring 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic cloves to the oil and sauté until you can smell the garlic perfume. (Be sure not to burn the garlic.) Add the thyme and cook until the herb releases its smell. Toss in the sliced leeks and stir for a few moments, until all of the slices are coated with the garlicky, herby fat. Turn down the heat to simmer. Cover the leeks entirely with all the slices of prosciutto, making sure that no steam is evaporating by the end of the process. Cover the skillet with a lid and allow the leeks to simmer for 30 minutes.

Sautéing the mushrooms. In a different pan, bring the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to heat. Add the mushrooms to the pan. Stir and cook them until they have shrunk and released their juices. Set the mushrooms aside.

Preparing the pasta. Take the pan with the leeks off the heat. Remove the prosciutto from the top of the leeks. Set those pieces aside and slice them into slivers. Put the cooked pasta into a bowl. Add the sautéed mushrooms and the caramelized leeks. Season with salt and pepper (remember that the prosciutto is salty, so you might want to go light on this one).

Divide the pasta into two plates. Top with slices of fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar. Settle slivers of prosciutto on top of the pasta. Serve immediately.

Feeds 2.

14 February 2008

a love letter to the world

sugar cookie from Sensitive Baker

Dear lovely, quixotic world,

I take you for granted, sometimes. Certainly, I exult at all the tastes that excite me (like this sugar cookie from the Sensitive Baker in Los Angeles, which Sharon and I ate in the parked car before we even drove away). I’m overtaken by the beauty you offer, the sudden flashes of sunlight on the trees to my right, or the first daffodils beginning to show their yellow buds at the base of the tree, outside the pharmacy, down the street. These moments stop me. They take me out of myself. For an instant, I appreciate you, my heart unfurling from its winter position into openness, again.

But still, I forget you. I walk through the day, focused on the next task ahead, and I forget to say just how much I adore you. How can you be so enormous and expansive as to include smoky chipotle enchiladas, spicy bipimap, and lemongrass soup in one place? All at the same time, people are hunching upon your dirt, eating lotus root dumplings or teff porridge or cornmeal mush with ham mixed in. I lose myself, in my small world. You are much bigger, and more important, than me.

Love really isn’t the word for this.

the pink banked up

Today is Valentine’s Day, although I’m pretty sure you don’t really care. All around us are banks of bouquets in pink paper, lacy hearts, boxes of chocolates, and cold red roses. Oh gad, I hate this holiday. So manufactured. I used to tug against this day because I didn’t have anyone with whom I could share it. What other day can make people feel so bad about the state of their lives?

But even now that I have someone, the one who makes me giggle every morning, I still don’t like this day. What a hustle of sales pitches and guilt trips. There’s this ad that plays on Seattle radio incessantly these days, a damned diamond commercial. Some dorky woman is recounting the story of how her dopey boyfriend became much better in her eyes when he gave her a diamond ring. “He put it in the microwave?” her incredulous friend asks.
“I know! I almost ate it!”
(Remind me not to eat at these people’s houses.)
Worst of all, both women are in awe of this man’s ability to buy a diamond ring, when he was so obviously a nincompoop in their minds. “Your Brian?!” she asks.
Yes, because nothing makes a relationship better than gazing at your loved one through the gauzy dazzling haze of a diamond ring.


(This morning I turned to the Chef and said, “Man, I’m a cheap wife. I already owned my engagement ring, and our wedding bands cost $18 each. You certainly didn’t have to struggle.”
“I know,” he said. “Sweet.”
And we both grinned.)

I don’t think diamonds are beautiful. There’s already so much beauty for the waiting.

red flecks on sign

Just outside the restaurant this afternoon, a cadre of no parking signs stood at attention. Exasperated drivers glanced at the entire bank of spots blocked to them, and they grimaced visibly through their tinted windows. But I was walking, already slower. The sun felt warm on my shoulders. I stopped to look.

Lean in close to anything, and it’s gorgeous. The flecks of red, the scuffed white patches, the dirt smudges, the scratches landing down — there’s an entire world in there.

Right now, that looks more beautiful than a bed strewn with roses.

(And no thorns.)

That’s the thing about you, dear saturated, satisfying world — you are always giving.

red shoes on cement

Later, when I was trying just to notice, I looked down at the sidewalk. This woman had just hunkered down in a seat outside the bakery, her cup of tea steaming. Before she turned her face to the sun to drink some in, she looked at me with my camera pointed down at the ground.

She laughed at me, quietly. I must have looked ridiculous. Why would anyone take a photograph of the sidewalk?

Why not?

Look at all those lines, the dark patches, the angles leading toward the street, the store, the path ahead. Who says this isn’t worthy of our attention?

Besides, I was really trying to capture her shoes, the ruby-red-gilded-maraschino-cherry-raspberry-in-summer shoes.

Look what you offer, you expansive, absurd world. That shoe, the table leg, the shadow? A perfect triangle. Everywhere, symmetry.

there are too many of these

We have too many of these around, though. Do not enter. Stop. Go away. Cease and desist. Don’t trespass. Don’t fence me in.

Why are we making so many rules?

Maybe, my dear and mostly unfathomable world, it’s because you don’t have many. It occurred to me today — when I was walking around open from the sunlight on my head and the camera to my eye — that you are always saying yes. Yes and yes and yes and yes.

And not yes to any particular decision, based on morality and pleasure. But yes to everything. Yes to birth and death, war and negotiations, bloodshed and laughter, summer and winter, crocuses poking up through dog poop and candy wrappers to glance up at the sun. Yes to this minute and this and this and this one. You just keep giving. And you don’t expect anything in return.

I think, today, of a line from a Theodore Roethke poem: “Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.”

Maybe we write up rules for what love should be (“He’d better get me a really good present,” I heard someone say today.) because deep down, if we admitted it, we’d have to say: we just can’t do what you do. We don’t know how to say yes to everything, every minute, no matter what happens. We’re afraid of your power.

I stand in awe.

handprint on heart

So, my ridiculously silly and unceasingly gorgeous world, I know it’s a fallacy to keep saying “my world.” Forgive me. I’m human. I’m trying to understand. Although, it seems to me that when I stop asking questions and searching for answers, everything makes sense in a place without words.

But I’m still using words.

You know what’s funny, you yielding and barbaric yawp of a world? I know that half the people reading this expected me to write an impassioned love letter to the Chef for Valentine’s Day. After all, it is our first one being married. And I do love him, deeply.

But we don’t like Valentine’s Day, to be honest. He’s been working like an overheated dog all day, preparing food for people with special reservations who need this meal to mean everything to them. (I’m sure it will be fantastic.) I’m home alone, the sound of the dishwasher running in the kitchen. That was my present to him. I did the dishes. We love each other, and learn from each other, every day. We don’t need this one, in particular.

Besides, yesterday was a kind of valentine for us. We were in the New York Times, in a piece called “I Love You, but You Love Meat.” (That doesn’t describe us.) It was about couples who work through different food needs in the midst of a relationship. We were happy to participate, and to share our story. But if I needed any confirmation that you are a surreal and surprising world, yesterday morning I turned on the computer and saw our faces staring back at me on the New York Times website. My oh my.

So this isn’t another love letter to the Chef. Those are more private these days.

And besides, what I have learned, these past two years of loving him, is that love only expands outward. I didn’t truly know how to love before I knew him. Now, loving him only makes me love the moments as they arise, no matter how they look, more and more and more. What a shame it would be to love only one person, in the midst of this panoply and cacophony of human beings and little objects of attraction.

You’re teaching me how to love everything, oh world.

Thank you. You have my love, as long as I am breathing.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting,
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


If you live in Seattle (or nearby), and you have the time, please come by Queen Anne Books on Tuesday, February 19th.

At 6:30 pm, I will be reading from my book, answering questions, and hoping to meet many of you. This reading is particularly dear to my heart, as I used to live in Queen Anne, and this was my bookstore. In fact, Queen Anne Books is where I bought my first gluten-free books, as well as sustenance reading when I was sick.

I'm so excited to be there. And I might just be bringing treats with me too...

lobster tail


Isn't it funny, that the lobster has become such a symbol of luxury and gourmet gluttony, when it was once considered so humble?

Still, it is good. And tonight, the Chef made lobster risotto for the menu at the restaurant. And if I'm lucky, he might just bring home a little bit for me. That's the only present I need: him home with me, the two of us eating together.

For the lobster risotto, follow the same general directions as we specified for the artichoke risotto, which is here.

However, be sure to omit the artichokes. Add one teaspoon of saffron with fresh herbs to the onions when you are simmering them.

At the end, when the risotto is ready, add pieces of poached lobster tail to the risotto.

And it probably all tastes better with this shrimp stock, as well.

6 ounces shrimp shells
1/2 carrot, small chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, small chopped
2 celery stalks, small chopped
2 cloves of garlic, small chopped
2 tablespoons thyme, finely diced
2 tablespoons tarragon, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
water to cover

Add all the ingredients into a large stockpot. Simmer on medium-low heat for one hour. Strain.

Use this stock to make the risotto, and that lobster taste will burst out even more.

08 February 2008

inspiration strikes in the strangest places


Sometimes, all it takes is a little change of scenery.

As much as I love Seattle, even in the midst of winter, it’s good to go somewhere else. Three days in Los Angeles — with my oldest friend in the world, driving under blue skies — was just what I needed.

Three days away from the Chef still strain my heart. We sent each other a hundred dozen text messages and burbled stupid sentences into each other’s ears through the phone. Still, he was terribly busy at the restaurant, and I had work to do. We can handle it. We did.

And walking up the street from Sharon’s apartment one afternoon, heading to the car, I stopped. Vivid orange against green against blue sky. “My god, they’re growing kumquats in their front yard!” Sharon shrugged. She sees it every day.

That vivid orange color has sustained me through the windy, sodden days since I returned home, and the last two days of struggling with a cold. (Traveling takes its toll now.) For a couple of days, my eyes saw blue skies.

Spring can’t be too far off.

Since we were in our teens, Sharon and I have been eating together, and comparing notes. We lingered over omelets at Madame Matisse. We sat in her living room and watched Jane Austen on Masterpiece Theatre while eating brown rice pasta with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. We oohed again over sea salt caramels from the Little Flower Company, and bought good goat cheese at the Silverlake Cheese Store. Every time I visit her, I eat a sweet corn and tuna salad from the Casbah Café. It’s like my own neighborhood spot now, the one I visit once a year.

Being with her inspired me to start thinking about food again.

We ate a rosemary chevre gelato, late at night, even though the air was cold outside. Rosemary chevre? And white chocolate with ginger, too. As soon as the weather turns warmer, I’m experimenting with both of those.

breadsticks at the Sensitive Baker

Sharon and I shared the joy of sitting at The Sensitive Baker, the sweetest little gluten-free bakery in Los Angeles (well, Culver City, technically). I smiled for two hours straight, with the chance to meet so many of you. And as much as I focus first on the foods that are naturally gluten-free, I sank my teeth into warm gluten-free breadsticks, just out of the oven, and sighed with pleasure.

I need to work on those too.

Strangely, one of the places in which I found the most inspiration was the freeway. You have to understand — driving on the freeway anywhere near Los Angeles means taking your life into your hands. Even after midnight, the black roads are awash in a thick sea of red headlights. The side streets are snarled with impatient drivers and potholes that leave tires flat and drivers cursing. Truly, I still don’t understand why anyone lives there. (Sorry, Los Angeles fans.)

Sharon feels deeply ambivalent about the city in which she has lived the past five years. And she expresses this by muttering and growling at every single driver that annoys her. They all annoy her. This continual tirade is how she survives every drive.

I survive it by turning up the radio.

Driving back to Silverlake on the 10 freeway, we were moving fairly slowly. Sharon flipped the station to give herself something to do, and she stopped on NPR. The warm dulcet tones of Lynne Rossetto Kasper came trilling out of the speakers. I love this woman, and her show The Splendid Table, every weekend. (And I make no attempt to hide this — oh, how I’d love to be on that show.) But under a dire traffic situation, her voice sounded especially soothing, like a nursery school teacher reading us a story before nap time. So I turned it up, and we settled into her world of food.

I sat up and forgot the traffic when I heard her describe a dish of polenta fries she had recently eaten in a restaurant. Creamy polenta, cooked slowly, perhaps forty minutes, and then set out to chill. When the polenta was cold, it was cut into French-fry size. Rolled in egg yolk, and then bread crumbs, and then fried.

Sharon and I both sat forward in our seats at her description. As soon as she went to break, I turned to Sharon and said, “Oh my god, I’m making those.”

The day after I returned home, filled with sunshine and happy to be back on Seattle’s placid roads, the Chef and I rolled polenta in eggs in his kitchen. The sun broke through the clouds for a moment, and I started snapping pictures.

You never know what’s going to inspire you.

polenta fries I


This recipe is wonderfully easy to make, and the rewards are rich. But it does require patience. Instead of using quick-cooking polenta, please find authentic cornmeal. (And just a quick reminder — Bob’s Red Mill makes cornmeal, but it’s packaged in the gluten facility.) Stir and stir, savoring every physical sensation for 30 to 40 minutes. That means low, slow heat. You can’t make this as quickly as you want to eat it.

And then you wait. Wait for the polenta to chill. Really, you should probably refrigerate it overnight. And this means being patient enough to plan ahead the night before. It’s worth it.

When these are finished, they are wonderfully crunchy on the outside, with the creamy give of hot polenta inside following close behind. All that patience paid off.

1 batch of creamy polenta (please click here for our recipe), with sage in place of rosemary, chilled in a shallow pan
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup cornstarch (for dredging, this measurement is an estimate)
4 eggs, whipped well
1 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon each kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Heating the oil
. Put the canola oil in a deep skillet and bring it to heat. (Keep kids out of the kitchen, at this point.)

Preparing the polenta fries. Take the chilled polenta out of the refrigerator. Cut it into French-fry-size shapes. (You don’t want shoestring potatoes, but you probably don’t want giant wedges either. Aim for the middle.)

Setting up an assembly line
. Dredge the polenta fries in the cornstarch, coating well. Coat the fries in the eggs. Finally, roll each of the fries in the breadcrumbs. Make a plate of prepared fries.

Frying the polenta fries. Carefully place the polenta fries into the oil. Let them bubble away happily until they are browned, about three to four minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place onto a plate covered with a paper towel.

Suggestions: Before serving, top the polenta fries with a bit of lemon zest, for a quick taste of sunshine. These also go particularly well with a parsley pesto as a dipping sauce.

Feeds 4.