Archive | November, 2011

Clean Up, Aisle 14

21 Nov

Last year at this time, I was blogging 2-3 times a week, happily writing and experimenting with my Turkey Day Trials, and prepping for the best holiday of the year.  It was my first Thanksgiving cooking, and my parents were coming up to visit – everything had to be perfect.  This year, everything still must be perfect, but I’ve moved up a level in the video game of life, causing more hurdles to jump over and extra-point challenges to face.

Rob and I see each other almost every day.  But our jobs, while enriching and rewarding, have brought us to a new intensity in limited interaction.  Having just entered the Aircraft Commander syllabus, Rob is working even harder and studying whenever possible.  My job leaves me, more often than not, wanting to crash out on the couch saving any laundry or other household chores for “another” day.  We have been busy with bittersweet traveling (going to North Carolina for Rob’s uncle’s funeral; sad occasion, but nice seeing lots of family), busy with friends (Meghan and Daniel’s trip up from Irvine was a blast!), and busy being stressed over Oregon’s missed field goal to lose a should-have-won game against USC (urgh).  We’ve had some,well, busy times, but I’m certainly not complaining – Rob and I live a very full life.  But it all kind of caught up with me yesterday.

In my house growing up, Thanksgiving was the biggest holiday we celebrated.  We ate, we watched the Macy’s Parade, we ate, we watched the Dog Show, we ate, we watched my mom squeal as my dad de-innarded the turkey, and we ate some more.  Last year was pretty much the same, except I was the one de-innarding the turkey, and Rob was the one running after me with 409 to disinfect any poultry germs.  But while last year I had time and ability to experiment with pumpkin pie, taste-test three different stuffings, and concoct the best turkey to herb butter ratio, this year has been a bit different.

Yesterday, Rob and I went to the grocery store to pick up the final fixins for this year’s meal.  We had returned the night prior from the UofO/USC football game feeling drained and exhausted from the expended adrenaline, lack of body warmth, and long drive.  I had a list – no, the list – of Thanksgiving necessities (one year, my mom forgot the black olives.  My dad still talks about it).  We were walking up and down the aisles picking up our loot, when, all of a sudden, all of the to-dos and lack of Thanksgiving preparation that I had been keeping on the back burner, running at a gentle rolling simmer, came rushing to the forefront of my brain reminding me that the BEST day of the year was only 4 days away.  And I had not prepped at all.

I stopped.

“What’s wrong?” Rob asked.

“I…. I….”  the panic levels were audibly rising.

“What?” his concern was obvious.

“Holy Crap I didn’t get to do my turkey trials this year!  There’s so much to do!  This is the best day of the year and I’m not enjoying it the way I should!  And I don’t remember which kind of stuffing I’m supposed to buy!” the verbal vom came out at, what I imagine, was faster and a few pitches higher than normal.  Rob could see it starting.  I was loosing it.

The tears started flowing.  With a mixture of exhaustion, stress, and downright immaturity, my shoulders started to methodically shake.  Rob took me in his arms and gave me his best bear hug.  After including a couple of “it’s alrights” and “shhs,” to ease my “but I don’t even have a dessert!” fears, he broke me of my breaking point like only he could.  Right there between the canned pumpkin and the Shake ‘N Bake, with his quick New England wit he exclaimed, “Clean up on Aisle 14!”

Well, even with all of my grocery store blubbering, it turns out I did get to have a turkey trial this year, even if it wasn’t a planned dish for my family’s Thanksgiving feast.  A friend requested a minimal chopping, gluten-free stuffing to enjoy with her family this year.  Since I often have secret love-affairs with large amounts of gluten when Rob is on duty, I took this as a challenge.  I researched; most gluten free recipes require cubes of gluten-free bread, a food that is difficult to find and can stereotypically be dry, dense, and tasteless.  So I improvised and came up with a “crumble” of sorts using corn meal and almond meal.  The dish had the stuffing-like texture, and the flavors of Thanksgiving were all incorporated.

I called my mom from the grocery store, still sniffling from my “incident” back in aisle 14, confirming the correct stuffing for our dinner (during which time she genuinely asked me if I was 1) okay, and 2) a mental – got to love the east coast mommy!).  So needless to say, despite its tastiness, we will be sticking to tradition and not be having a gluten-free stuffing for our holiday.  But hopefully my friend and her family will, and enjoy the flavors, and the holiday, without scary gluten allergies.

Happy Thanksgiving!

No-Chop Gluten-Free Stuffing (serves 6-8)

  • 1 leek
  • 1 large apple
  • ½ medium sized red onion
  • 3 celery ribs
  • 2 yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • 1 ½ c cornmeal, medium grain
  • ¾ c almond meal
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 3 sprigs fresh sage
  • s&p
  • olive oil for drizzling

*** Special equipment needed: Food Processor

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and grease a square baking dish with butter.

Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a large sauté pan.  Chop the leek, apple, onion, celery, and potatoes into very large dices (about 2 inches each).  Toss into the food processor.  Pulse 3-4 times; just enough so the veggies are chopped up, but NOT pureed.  Pour the veg into the sauté pan, and season with s&p to taste.  Sprinkle in the thyme leaves and sauté until the veg has softened, but not browned.  Add white wine and simmer for a few minutes, then turn the heat to low.

Change the blade in the food processor to the dough blade.  Add in the cornmeal, almond meal, butter (broken up with your fingers), rosemary, and sage.  Season with a sprinkle of s&p.  Pulse until the mixture comes together like damp, grainy sand.

Mix ¾ of the cornmeal mixture with the vegetable mixture, and pour into the baking dish.  Using a spatula or the back of a large spoon, even out the mixture.  Sprinkle the rest of the cornmeal mixture on top, and drizzle olive oil over the top (to help with browning).

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is crusty, and the inside has cooked all the way through.


The view from our bedroom window.

Travel, Catering, and Trying to Slow Down

3 Nov

I must apologize for my delay in writing, especially since I’ve recently gotten some new subscribers (yay!).  There has been a lot going on – many things that have left me feeling blessed and thankful, and many meals that I’ve wanted to share that have left me feeling, well, mmm.

Right now, Sig is lying at the foot of my bed (something he is not generally allowed to do, but since Rob is on duty, he’s keeping me company) and we’re both listening to the Oregon rain tap against the house.  It’s steady but not strong; just enough to know it’s wet outside.  Fall flew by faster than the leaves could change, and this is literally the initiation into our “rainy season” (known as “winter” in other parts of the country).

A few pounds heavier, and a bit out of my normal chi, I have spent the last few months doing my best to balance work, working out, cooking, and more work.  My job this year has given me opportunities to meet some amazing, brilliant, and inspirational people in the educational field (hi Mickey and Penny!), as well as continually fill me with new experiences and learning opportunities each day.  Even though I am in a coaching position, there have been days I where have felt like a student again, leaving me, conversely enough, with simultaneous humility and strength.  There’s been a lot of travel, and a lot of tired nights, but many rewarding experiences.

In taking a break from the work excitement, Rob and I had the opportunity to go visit our CSA farm, Wintergreen Farms in Noti, Oregon.  They were having a harvest potluck party and we drove out to get a hayride tour of the farm and rub elbows with the real pros (they’d probably laugh at my barely-living rosemary starter right now… better yet, if I were really lucky, they’d give me some compost to help grow the little bugger).  It was an amazing experience and completely took the farm-to-table mentality away from just a movement and brought it full-circle.  Woohoo for talented farmers!

Then, onto the catering gig.  Last weekend, I had the honor and privilege of catering a friend’s wedding.  There were just over 20 people and heavy hors’deouvres with finger foods were the main course.  The night was magnificent.  The menu consisted of everything from lavash and homemade cucumber ricotta, marinated olives, sun dried tomato palmiers, to turkey and goat cheese meatballs in a mustard and berry sauce.  Of course my 5-spice popcorn and sweet and salty nuts played a part (can’t have a party without those – no matter how fancy!), and a huge platter of seasonal roasted veg with 3 dipping sauces rounded out the table.  It was a lot of fun preparation and an even bigger payoff to see the bride, in her “wedding slacks” smiling ear to ear throughout the night.  Cathy and Dennis – I wish you all the happiness in the world!

Now, I have to admit, Rob and I have started to really become Oregon foodies.  If you had asked me two years ago if I could picture myself eating elk roast and day-fresh wild duck breasts, I probably would have laughed, scoffed, and then exclaimed, “I wish!” (probably while throwing my hands in the air, as I can be overly-emphatic like that sometimes.  What – you’re not surprised?). Well, over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been blessed enough to have wonderful hunting friends supplying us with those latter game meats, and it has been my joy preparing them.  I’ve learned a lot about game meat living here, and I believe the best preparation is to keep it simple with few ingredients, thus really bringing out the flavor of the lean proteins (wild duck has very little fat – just learned this when I wrongfully scolded the hunter for cutting off the cherished fat cap off the duck breast.  I also learned you should never scold a hunter).  I prepared the elk roast medium with a sear and a quick red wine-braise in a screaming hot oven.  The duck was seared to medium rare in cast iron with oil, butter, citrus, and a tossing of woody herbs.  Paired with my Nana’s Apple and Bacon Braised Cabbage (this is one recipe I will never give out!), the meal was beyond a hit.

With another travel day ahead, tonight was an easy dinner: Raw Tomatillo and Pink Pearl Tomato Salsa with Chicken Mango Sausage.  Trader Joes has a fantastic go-to chicken sausage selection, with many varieties from which to choose.  And the salsa, with the help of the food processor, literally took about 3 minutes.  The light, easy, and super flavorful meal was on the table in abra-cadabra-speediness (then was perfectly followed by leftover Halloween candy.  The bowl has to be emptied somehow. Any other suggestions?).

Life should **hopefully** be slowing down just a bit, leaving me with some time with my man, my dog, and to catch up on October’s Food and Wine, maybe start November’s Thanksgiving issue, and find out the details behind the big Kardashian divorce news (only the most important things for my free time).  Oh and the bathroom needs cleaning.  Sig needs a bath.  And there are about 5 leeks and a giant fennel bulb with my name on it in the fridge.  Maybe slowing down will have to wait!

Enjoy the salsa!

Raw Tomatillo and Pink Pearl Tomato Salsa (makes about 4 cups) 
Note: pink pearl tomatoes are a smaller, grape-sized tomatoes that are sweet and mild, and pink!  If you can’t find them, substituting cherry or grape tomatoes would work fine. 

  • 3 c Pink Pearl tomatoes
  • 3 c hulled heirloom tomatillos (heirlooms are smaller than conventional tomatillos, and have much more flavor)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • juice of 1 lime
  • juice of 1 clementine or mandarin orange
  • 1 1/2 tsp raw agave 
  • 1/2 tsp of Tabasco sauce (more or less depending on your taste) 
  • s&p 

Mix all ingredients in the food processor.  Pulse until pureed.  Taste for seasoning.  

Eat with sausage, on fish tacos, or just with plain old tortilla chips.  And don’t forget the beer. 


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