Archive | September, 2011

Fruit and Veg Therapy

28 Sep

There’s a part in the movie “Up In the Air” where George Clooney’s character comments that he is surrounded, rather than isolated, in the traveling life that he leads.  Physically, yes.  There are people everywhere!  But emotionally?  I think he needed a bit of a reality check.

That’s just what I got the last two days.  I have always enjoyed traveling, even for work.  Educational conferences are usually beneficial and have me leaving with a sense of cognitive renewal.  At 6:17 tonight, I returned from one of those conferences that, while started out a bit rocky, ended up leaving me with some new insight and information.  But the travel?  I needed my own bit of therapy at the end.

It started with a four-hour drive, mostly in the dark with the first Oregon Autumn rain.  Pouring rain.  Then, arriving to our destination close to 11:00pm, I drove up and down the same ½ mile of street looking for the small motel that would serve as our residence for the following two days.  Once the motel (that shall remain nameless due to liability reasons) was found, and we were properly checked in, the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke and pet urine overwhelmed the fact that there were no doors on the bathroom.  I’m not recalling a four-hour rain-soaked delusion – it really smelled.  And had no doors on the bathroom.  Really.

So, with a few quick phone calls and a small argument with the lovely lady at the front desk, another hotel was promptly booked, which, in educational standards “met” (rather than “did not meet,” nor “exceeded”) what we needed for our stay.

After two NyQuil-induced nights, one of which was restless, another four-hour drive home, and the residual effects of conference food (while tasty at the time, you know what I’m referring to), there was something left to be had: my own therapy.  Veggie therapy.

So I whipped up a spesh.  A lovely fruit and veg salad that not only hit the spot, but reminded me that the lovely fall air was still crisp and comforting.  Combined with my favorite sweatpants, a good glass of wine (Oregon’s first Baco Noir), and a DVR’d Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the night erased all travel stiffness.

Please, don’t wait for a memorable travel experience and vegless conference food to make this salad; it’s easy, comforting (thanks to the oh-so-wonderful sharp cheddar cheese), and slightly unexpected on the taste buds.  It’s good for any night, not just a veggie therapy night.

Fruit and Veg Salad with Lavender Balsamic Dressing (serves 2) 

For the salad:

  • 2 c torn baby red lettuce (I prefer the tender tops rather than the inside ribs) 
  • 1 medium sweet apple, cored and diced (I used Gala – their season is just starting up here)
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 c red grapes, sliced
  • 1 med head broccoli (or two small heads), stems removed and cut into florets
  • about 3 oz sharp cheddar cheese, diced (really, use as much cheese as you want – the cheddar flavor pairs perfectly with the onion, apple, broccoli, and apple).
  • 1 large sprig basil, leaves removed and thinly chopped

For the dressing:

  • 1 tsp good quality honey
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ tsp fresh lavender buds, rubbed between your hands to release oils
  • 1 ½ extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

Mix the dressing by adding the honey, vinegar, and lavender buds.  Pour in the extra virgin olive oil while whisking to emulsify.  Season to taste, and set aside. 

Put all of the ingredients for the salad into a bowl and quickly mix to combine.  Pour over the dressing, and toss again, just so the dressing lightly coats the ingredients.  Taste for seasoning (I found I needed more pepper), and serve.


A Happy Autumnal Equinox

23 Sep

Something happened today that brought tears to my eyes: I found a George Winston CD.

I’ll explain.

There are bits of memories of my childhood that stand out – some more than others – but there are a few that pop up quite often, hugging me with familiarity.  One of which is listening to the Dan Fogelberg and Al Stewart CDs my parents would play when they were entertaining.  Another is dancing to Christmas music with my sister during the middle of summer in the “sunroom,” dressed in winter snowsuits.  But the one that I’m often reminded of more than the others was a simple glimpse – one of the few times as a child when I stepped back and took a reflective look at things.

We were living in Bartlesville, Oklahoma at the time (a tiny oil-driven town), and it was the middle of a bible-belt fall.  While the land was very flat, there were parts of the town where tall tress and small roads wound through the countryside.  My parents had just purchased a brand-new Lexus – it was shiny and black with slick, tan leather interior.  And it had one of those pull-down middle armrests in the back seat.  And it was big.  AND it had a tape player.  (This car leaves a specific spot on my heart, as it was the car I ended up taking to college with me.  I was the most stylish RA on campus.)

So after bringing the car home, we all piled in.  I remember not particularly wanting to go – I was probably whining about something and Jenn was always on the move, even at such a young age.  But nonetheless, the four of us piled into the car and just started driving.  We started down that windy, tree-lined road and crossed over that rickety old bridge as my dad put in a tape: George Winston’s “Autumn.”  It’s piano music, an album that my parents would listen to over and over, especially in the car.

As we drove along, my dad, in his effort to make me stop grumbling said, “Jill, just listen to this,” and turned up the volume.  At that moment, I did – I listened to the familiar melody, my elbow giving in to the slippy leather of the armrest and the turns of the car, and looked out the window at the trees going by.  Jenn was unusually still and quiet and my mom was relaxed with her head against the large tan headrest.  I listened to the music, wondering if I would ever be able to play the piano like that.  And I vividly remember looking at my dad, my mom, and my sister and realizing why we all got in the car in the first place: just to take a drive.

I don’t remember falling asleep, but I do remember waking up with my head on that armrest.  The music was over, the drive was over, and that’s where the memory fades.

Today, conveniently being the first day of fall (Rob reminded me that it’s actually the Autumnal Equinox – I love that my husband and I share nerdiness) and a day off from work, I delighted in waking up to the foggy, cool air and enjoyed a late breakfast with a friend.  Then, making the most of the quietly celebrated day, I drove down one of Oregon’s tree-lined windy roads to Bandon, a town about 30 minutes south of where we live.

Bandon has an “Old Town” area which is great for knick-knack shopping and artsy-fartsy stuff.  The first store I entered was new to me – a quaint, privately owned gift shop filled with the cutest, well, gifts I’ve ever seen.  In the mist of getting some good Christmas ideas (as well as picking up yet another cookbook – no, I don’t have enough), I turned the corner and saw a shelf of gardening books and a few eclectic CDs.  Not paying too much attention, I quickly browsed through the CDs, and there it sat: George Winston’s “Autumn.”  Just one copy.  I just looked at it.  I may have even shaken my head in disbelief.  And then, in true Jill fashion, proceeded to tell the owner the whole story behind this CD while she was ringing me up.  Yes, I was that customer.  And that happy.

Practically skipping to the car, I tore off the packaging and turned on the car.  As the first song started playing, the feeling of that familiar music, the drive, and my parents, filled me.  Again, in true Jill fashion, the tears welled up, and I had a small, sobbing moment – on the first day of fall, I was listening to “Autumn,” the most unlikely CD to find in a gift store in a teeny vacation town, remembering one of the most humble memories I have of my family.  This really is the best season.

If this is your first time reading 42potatoes, first, Welcome!, and second, this is actually a food blog.  Though this post obviously had nothing to do with food.  So, in good spirit, I’ll provide a treat: the yummy crab cocktail I had for lunch.  Super simple, super fresh, and a great combined reminder of my parents: my mom loving a good shrimp cocktail, and my dad driving miles to get good crab legs.

Delight in your memories, and delight in fall!  And eat good food!

Crab Cocktail (serves 2)

  • ½ lb. fresh, lump crabmeat (I had Dungeness, our sweet local variety)
  • a small handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tsp mayonnaise
  • 1 heaping tbsp prepared horseradish (I like a LOT of horseradish in my cocktail sauce – go easy if you don’t like the heat)
  • a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce
  • a few dashes of Tabasco Sauce
  • zest and juice of ½ a lemon
  • zest of a lime
  • cracked pepper, to taste
  • fresh parsley, to garnish

Mix all the ingredients for the cocktail sauce together (everything but the crab and tomatoes); season to taste. 

In a serving bowl, mix the crab, tomatoes, and cocktail sauce together.  Squirt with a bit more lemon, and a sprinkle of parsley, if desired. 

Listen to George Winston, and ENJOY! 

Please, Share in my Joy

19 Sep

Yes.  That’s right.  That is a truffle.  A wild, black truffle.  And it’s all mine.

Last week, Rob and I both had very important, stressful, and accomplished weeks with our jobs.  Towards the end of Friday, I was already feeling the oncoming and inevitable first-month-of-school cold, and while Rob had duty (again) on Sunday, we looked forward to our only day together in a long time.  So when Saturday morning came around, I downed some Airborne, took some cold meds, poured some hot tea in a to-go cup, and we made our way to Florence for their farmer’s market.

The goal was to stock up on some end-of-season tomatoes and peaches (with canning in mind), but then we saw the humble sign – Gourmet Wild Mushrooms.  With a simple arrow pointing the way.  While Rob took our flat of tomatoes, and lug of peaches to the car (did you know that a technical case of peaches is called a lug?  New for me, too), I made my way through the end-of-summer Oregon mist to the small tent selling said mushrooms.

Boy did this lady have mushrooms.  First off, she looked like she had been foraging for days – maybe she had.  Her hands were dirty and strong; they revealed her expertise of having dug their way through many sodden woody trails finding nature’s tastiest fungi.  I looked around, my eyes gaping at the lack of flourishes, just plain white paper bags loaded with mushrooms.  Immediately my eyes came upon a large bag of wild chanterelles.  Immediately their nutty smell and almost crunchy texture made me salivate.  As I reached to grab the bag, I looked up and just a bit to the right, and saw the sign:  “Rare.  Hard to find.  $25”

I looked up.  “Is that a truffle?”

“Yeah.”  Her lack of tone was slightly off-putting; but then again, this is her thing.  The last time I saw a truffle was when two little shaved slivers topped my overpriced fancy pasta who knows how long ago.

“Oh my gosh.” I reached to touch it, but then pulled back. “Can I smell it?”

Finally a crack of a smile, “Of course.”

Picking it up, I was surprised at how light it was.  And the smell was intoxicating.  Musty, umami-y, and freshly familiar.

“You found this?”  (incredulous)

“Yep.” (lack of emotion)

“Where?” (dumbfounded)

“Up north.” (vague)

“Just north of here?” (slight begging)

“Uh, yep.”  (clear as mud)

“So, were you coastal… or in the mountains?” (pleading)

“Yep.” (gotcha)

Here’s to brevity.  She made her point.

Obviously, I bought the truffle.  And the dull, fuzzy headache I had somehow disappeared for a while.  What’s the best cure for the common cold?  Buy a black truffle!

So tonight, despite the ever-persistent germy headache, I cooked up the most earthy, humble, and tasty dish I’ve had in a long time:  Wild Chanterelles with Herbed Quinoa and Shaved Truffle.  Paired with a few sips of a thin but potent Oregon Pinot Noir, the night ended on an amazing note.  A shroomy note.  A hint of fungi.  A wild concoction… I could keep going.   But I won’t.

If you can find wild mushrooms at your local farmers market, MAKE THIS DISH.  It is super easy, and unbelievably comfy.  And thank your local foragers.  🙂

Wild Chanterelles with Herbed Quinoa and Shaved Truffle (serves 4) 

  • about 2 lbs wild chanterelles, tips of woody stems trimmed off
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c chardonnay (oaked, buttery chard works better here) 
  • 1 c quinoa
  • 2 c water
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp chopped rosemary
  • 1 tbsp chopped basil 
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp shaved black truffle
  • s&p 
  • Earthy finishing extra virgin olive oil (optional) 

In a large saute pan, heat the butter over med-high heat.  Add the mushrooms, season with s&p, and saute until all the mushrooms are covered in butter.  Let brown, stirring every once in a while, for about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring quinoa and water to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cover.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  

Once mushrooms are nicely browned, add the wine (deglazing the pan), lower the heat to med-low, and cover until mushroom caps are al dente.  

Fluff the quinoa with a fork, and season with s&p and the lemon juice.  Pour into a serving bowl and top with herbs and then mushrooms.  Sprinkle the shaved truffle over the dish, and finish with the extra virgin olive oil, if using.  

Take a deep sniff of the incredibly aromatic meal, and ENJOY!  

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