Archive | February, 2011


24 Feb

Norm had it right.  He went to a place where everyone knew his name.  He walked in, everyone waved and exclaimed, “Norm!” and he sauntered to his chair so nonchalantly but all the while feeling a slight elation from the comfort of knowing he was accepted.

Or maybe he just really wanted a beer.

Either way, the recognition was evident.

As I was driving home from work today, my little PT Cruiser coughing a little from the unfamiliar snowy weather, I thought about my Cheers – a little bread and wine bar in good ol’ Coos Bay where I walk in and am always greeted with a smile (I’m understating here – this place has the best darn bread and wine I’ve ever had in my life).  One of my good friends was working there tonight, and thinking the variable weather was going to cause people to stay indoors, I decided to stop by to keep her company (and taste some great wine).  Well, she didn’t need the company, as the place was hopping, but I unknowingly did.  Not experiencing a sense of loneliness, I never really realized what I may be missing in the small art of conversing with interesting people.  Tonight I got that pleasure, well after the cafe had locked its doors.

Sitting between a 91 year old woman and an ex-Coastie dungeness/prawn fisherman, I swiveled my head back and forth between the two, soaking in their many, many experiences and stories like a sponge in the desert.  At times, I felt inadequate – what do I know about anything?  I’m just a girl pushing 30 who teaches and loves to cook.  But the softness and warmth of their genuine conversation pulled me in without me realizing it.  As many conversations in our neck of the woods turn to the water, when asked about my own fishing experiences, I talked about fly-fishing in Colorado, casting for hours before catching a measly 12-inch trout.  Which prompted the lovely woman, Jane, to talk about jumping (literally!) off her dock – her dock – to go clamming.  Shovel and bucket in hand.  That spurred our fisherman friend, Henry, to talk about tides and water temperature with such passion and delicacy you would think he was reliving pulling up his first full pot.  I’m sure my wide-eyes gave away my interest; this was so much better than watching reruns of Deadliest Catch.

Meanwhile, the owner’s son, Sam, was prepping for tomorrow’s chowder lunch (the most amazing clam chowder I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a lot of chowder).  I noticed he happened to be slightly distracted and, having overhead him earlier in the night, I simply reminded him of a few things he needed.  And in unnecessary thanks, he brought me a piping hot Rustic French Baguette, crusty and soft, and still smelling like sweet yeast.  I was more than humbled.  The combination of true genuineness and mouth-dropping amazement from Henry and Jane, and the over-the-top generosity of Sam made me feel like the luckiest girl ever to step foot into Coos Bay (did I really just use ‘lucky’ and ‘Coos Bay’ in the same sentence?).  But then I just realized, this is the small town nature – people have fantastic stories (that are simply daily life to them), and when you get right down to it, they care about each other.  I wanted to hug all of them, but didn’t, of course.  That would just be silly.

I did, however, exchange numbers and accept an invitation to go clamming off a private dock, and receive a card to get fresh prawns still wriggling from the shock of fresh air.  And I came home with a beautiful loaf of bread, which I knew exactly how to eat.

Well, eating it plain would really have been the best way, but I wanted to make a “dinner” out of it.  Nothing big, especially since Rob is gone for the night, but something tasty and similar to Henry, Jane, and Sam: exciting, understated, and memorable.  So I made a classic go-to dip, my Lemon Rosemary Balsamic & Oil (actually, it’s one of Rob’s faves – maybe I should have saved it for when he came home!).  I call it a Balsamic and Oil because I really don’t use a lot of oil (compared to your normal oil and vinegar dips), but rather flavor the oil with the vinegar.  “Marinating” the balsamic vinegar with the lemon zest, rosemary, and a hint of garlic, really creates a lot of flavor that hits the mouth all over – tangy, earthy, sweet, and fresh.  I only include a bit of oil to add a touch of fat, giving the dip a smooth feeling, but not enough to weigh down or muddle the other flavors.

With Sex in the City as background dinner ambiance, and my latest issue of Food and Wine as a placemat, I ate way too much bread this evening (which doesn’t help the detox), but absolutely loved every second of it.  I’m so thankful to have a comfortable place where some people know my name, and even more thankful to have learned three more names from walking in the door tonight.

Lemon Rosemary Balsamic & Oil (makes about 1/4 of a cup)

  • 2 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, unpeeled
  • zest 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tsp good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 good crack of black pepper
  • Your favorite bread for dipping

Preheat the oven to a high broil.  On an oven-proof tray, heat up the garlic clove for about 5 minutes, until fragrant.  Remove and let cool for a minute.  ** By heating the garlic clove on high heat for a bit, it brings the oils and sugars to the surface of the clove, thus able to be easily pulled into the vinegar.

Meanwhile, add the vinegar, zest, rosemary, and oil to a serving dish.  Take the garlic clove and place it underneath the flat side of a chefs knife, and smash the heck out of it with a firm smack with the palm of your hand to the knife.  The peel should come right off, and the clove should have split apart.  Add the garlic clove to the vinegar mixture.  Let sit and “marinate” for about 10-15 minutes.

Rip (or cut) apart pieces of bread for dipping.  Give a good crack of black pepper over the vinegar before serving.


*** The Empire Cafe is located in the Empire District of Coos Bay, OR and sells artisan bread, hard-to-find wine, and other homemade goodies.  It’s fantastic.  No, seriously.  Even carb-haters will love it.

I Think My Detox is Making Me Fat

23 Feb

So I originally planned this “detox” to cleanse my body of all the heavy foods I’ve been indulging in over the last month.  Temporarily going back to my vegetarian ways, I’ve even sided more on the vegan outlook, minus the sweet touch of honey now and again.  I must say, this diet change has been revitalizing!  Rejuvenating!  I feel born again into the wonderful world of herbivores!  So why, with this plethora of fruit and veg, is my belt tightening?

Because I have a problem – a cooking problem.  Can anyone else subscribe to Indulgence Anonymous?  Anyone?  Here’s the situation: I so LOVE cooking and food and eating that I am tastifying stereotypically dry nut-and-berry diets, thus filling myself to capacity.  Maybe I can coin the next fad diet: Overeating Detox.  Hmm… kind of sounds like Jumbo Shrimp.

Take, for example, last night’s Chinese Peanut Lettuce Wraps.  All raw veg – carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, red peppers, iceberg lettuce – accompanied by a peanut sauce.  Sounds pretty blah, right?

Rob and I were *this* close to licking the plate.  There is something so innate about enjoying fresh food straight from the ground – it’s difficult to equally compare it to a grilled steak.  And Rob was so sweet to give me the leftovers for lunch today, not that there was much leftover. We both ate way more than our share.  Our meal was healthy for sure, and a cinch to whip up, but our overindulgence negated any healthy change we were initially aiming for.

With our bellies full and warm (from the addicting spiciness of the peanut sauce), we slept like babies and woke up excited about what today’s detox cooking adventure would bring (well, at least I was excited).  Next up, Spicy Black Bean Burgers.  I’ll try to be more European in serving size, but with such lovely fresh ingredients, I can’t make any promises!

Chinese Peanut Lettuce Wraps (serves 4, about 2-3 wraps each – well, it’s supposed to, but if you eat like Rob and I did, you won’t have much leftover)

  • 1/2 a small Napa Cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • about 7-10 crimini mushrooms, wiped, stalks removed, and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce, leaves carefully removed 1 at a time.
  • 1/4 c hulled peanuts, roughly chopped (cashews work well, too)
  • Sweet and Spicy Peanut Sauce
  • lime wedges, to serve with wraps

Sweet and Spicy Peanut Sauce

  • 2 tbsp all natural creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Sriracha (or more for more heat)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lime

To make the peanut sauce, add all ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth.  Taste for seasoning (if too strong or pungent tasting, add a bit more olive oil).

Pour sauce into a salad bowl and mix with the chopped veg and nuts.  Taste for seasoning.

Serve with a plate of refreshing lettuce leaves, to act as a perfect fresh wrap for the sweet and spicy veg.  Pile them high, squeeze over some lime juice, and lick your fingers of any dripping sauce.


Honor Thinking

22 Feb

Isn’t February just flying by?  It feels like just yesterday that Rob and I were sitting down to our fabulous Valentines Day dinner, rather than over a week ago.  I kind of wish it was just yesterday – we had the most amazing meal: Marinated Flank Steak, perfectly grilled (despite the pouring rain and 30+ mph wind gusts – our garage smelled like a steakhouse, but it was well worth the smell and safety hazard), sweet potato soufflé, roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce, 36-hour fermented rosemary and citrus Fougasse bread, and finally a chocolate sponge cake with pinot-marionberry sauce.  Needless to say, we were weak at the knees, and not just for each other.

We had to get in as much quality time together as possible as Rob has had a funky schedule lately, and my week was filled with a trip to Portland.  Wednesday morning, six other teachers and I drove up to attend  a national Mathematics Leadership Conference put on by the Teacher Development Group.  It was simply an honor to be asked to go, as it was geared towards teaching us how to teach teachers to become better teachers.  The week was filled with fabulous research, mathematical practices and developments, and the over-arching mentality and high expectation to honor thinking.  By Saturday night, my brain was full… and so was my stomach.

We were fed like royalty!  Giant dinners, beautiful lunches, all you can eat (and I did) breakfasts, and a dessert table that was always at the ready with any pastry, cake, cookie, or puff a heart could desire.  There was so much food, and so much sitting, then more food – I started to hope that my brain’s energy was capable of burning calories.

Alas, algebraically proving a linear function did not quite accomplish the same results as a 5-mile run.  So on top of sleeping most of Sunday, I planed for a major detox.

In a few of my entries, I’ve mentioned my former vegetarian days and have fond memories of cooking many meatless meals.  Vegetarian cooking is what made me a cook – figuring out flavorful alternatives to protein and animal fat was a welcomed challenge, and I was always delighted when those enjoying my food would have the oh-my-gosh-there’s-no-meat-in-this-dish epiphany with only a few bites left on the plate (just ask my Irish mother-in-law).  But such that it was, after many years, pork belly (bacon, pancetta, etc.) brought me back to the omnivore world.

So this past Sunday morning, still sleepily in my PJs, I had to honor the thinking of my past and go back to enjoying my vegetarian days.  Wanting to really detox, I decided to nix dairy and limit bread as well, leaving my compilation of vegetarian recipes more veganized.  Carrot in hand, I knew I soon would be feeling cleansed, at least until a Bacon Butty sang my name.

With Tuesday rolling on through, so far, so good.  Even my meat-loving hubby has taken on the detox challenge (beer is mostly yeast, barley, and water, right?).  The last few days has provided us with a flurry of delicious fruit and vegetable smoothies, two rounds of leek broth that never got the opportunity to see the inside of the fridge,and experiments with Tahini paste.  But the most amazing dish so far has been a simple chard salad with a finger-licking roasted garlic dressing.  The hot bite of garlic just plain gives in to the long intense oven heat, leaving the cloves so sweet, caramelized, and wonderfully mushy.  Mushy garlic = yum.  Not exactly an equation for a linear function, but the answer to an insanely healthy vegan salad.

And tonight’s meal was another unbelievable flavor sensation… Chinese Peanut Lettuce Wraps.  Should detoxing really be this much fun?!

Raw Mushroom & Swiss Chard Salad (serves 4)

  • 5-7 stalks of large swiss chard leaves, washed, ripped off the stem and julienned into small “ribbons”
  • 1/4 c dried cherries, roughly chopped
  • 2 c crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

  • 1 head of garlic, sliced in half
  • 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Agave nectar
  • 3/4 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • about 1 tsp water
  • s&p

To make the vinaigrette, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Take the sliced head of garlic, and create a package, lightly folding aluminum foil around the garlic.  Reopen and add the water and a bit of s&p.  Lightly close the package, place on a sheet tray, and roast for about 30 minutes, until garlic is slightly browned and mushy (a pairing knife can be inserted into a clove and pulled out without resistance).

Once cooled enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their paper into a bowl.  Add the rosemary, white balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, and mix to incorporate.  Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, whisking all the while.  Taste for seasoning.

Pour the dressing into a salad bowl, and assemble the salad ingredients in the same bowl.  Toss to incorporate.  Taste for seasoning.

Enjoy with some crusty buttered bread, or spiced croutons!

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