Archive | June, 2012

A Proud Finn

28 Jun

“Seek the road
to Astoria…”  -Mike Doughty

Last weekend, Rob and I crossed another item off the Oregon Bucket List, and one that I have been dying to see since moving to the Oregon Coast.  After a hard work-week (at least for Rob), we set off Friday morning for the 5-hour drive up the rugged and winding Oregon Coast road ending in Astoria, one of the most unique, genuine, and culturally robust cities in the state.

I have been in love with Astoria since I visited it during a sidetracked detour from a work-related conference.  It was February; cold, windy, dreary, and yet the energy was strong and alive in the old, small cannery town.  Better even, the Scandinavian culture drew me in at the first sight of a Finnish flag standing downtown waving at full mast.  At that I-belong-here moment, I vowed at some point in my life, to live in Astoria.

Granted, and obviously, I haven’t yet lived in Astoria.  But I Rob and I did make it up there for the Scandinavian Festival.  It was a fantastic weekend, and I think Rob saw a side of me that was new to him.  Here were some of the highlights:

–       Immediately being recognized as a Finn.
–       Rob lighting up when he was told he could “maybe pass as a Viking.”
–       Listening to folk music from Swedish and Finnish fiddle and accordion bands (a great spark for memories of polkaing with my dad).
–       Watching the Astoria Opry pay homage to the Scandinavian married life (according to them, it costs $500k to get a divorce from a Scandinavian – because, “it’s worth it!”  Yikes!)
–       Seeing giant, giant men walking around.  Seriously.  Like, Thor, Magnus, and Ole-type giant.
–       Being kissed on the cheek by a giant Finnish man masquerading as a Troll.
–       Seeing Rob getting kissed by the giant Finnish man masquerading as a Troll.
–       Eating many, many meatballs.
–       Eating lots and lots of berry jams.
–       Eating lots and lots of pastries.
–       Eating as much Finnish Fruit Soup as my already-stuffed belly could handle.
–       Hearing the story of how a wood-worker was not able to sell his products at the festival until the committee found out his wife was half-Finnish, half-Norwegian (he was German and clearly tried – though not with much avail – to stifle feeling miffed.  His wife, with her typical Scandinavian stoic, strong, and you-know-I’m-always-right-and-you-better-be-thanking-me look, just sat in a chair in the back of the booth and gladly took our money).
–       Finally, realizing I’ve been naturally, and unknowingly, cooking Scandinavian style foods and dishes for most of my adult life.

Enjoy some pics, and recipes to come!

 

 

 

Scandinavian-smoked salmon with homemade blueberry jam and soft cheese

 

Pickled cucumbers with lemon

 

“Canned” tuna salad (it was perfect for the drive up to Astoria – compact, tasty, and literally layered with flavors)

Kelly’s Guac

10 Jun

There is this standing joke in my family regarding my husband and food.  He’s 100% Irish; meat and potatoes to a T.  By this point, I’ve got him eating white fish and some sushi, and the argument into the world of beets still remains.  But there is this thing that he does with new foods, which to this day is still a source of entertainment for my family and me.

A few years ago, after my Grandpa’s funeral, my whole Mom’s side of the family was settled in at my Aunt Regina and Uncle Tom’s house for the needed, and frankly expected, decompress after a highly emotional weekend.  The TV was on some agreed upon sitcom, gin and tonics were flowing and standing at the ready, and my Uncle Bob (a self-proclaimed master griller) was making dinner.  Maybe it was more like constructing dinner with full scaffolds, or staving-artist-inspired composing dinner – time ticked on, on, and on, and the fam was growing increasingly hungry.

Our sitting around chit-chatting started to incline (or decline, depending on your personal half-glass) towards being plain boisterous.  So my cousin, Kelly, who has the joyously natural instinct to make sure everyone is happy at all times, ran to the kitchen.  Minutes later, she returned with a big bowl of her homemade guacamole and chips.  While she would have been fine without any recognition, the cheers she received did not go unnoticed, and everyone dove in.  Including Rob.

“Wow, Kel!  This is awesome!”  My mom, being a lover of all things avocado, exclaimed. The oohs and aahs surrounding Kelly’s guac circled the room.

“Ah, thanks Aunt Susie!” Kelly’s Long Island inflection clearly came through.  “I made it myself!”

Rob looked at me, “This is great!” His eyes only got that big when ogling at helicopters.

“Kelly, how did you make this?” I inquired – seriously, it was the best guac I’ve ever had.  Still is.

Kelly revealed her secret recipe, of which I’ve been making ever since.  But there was another secret in the room – Rob.  There’s my at-the-time boyfriend, diving into the bowl of creamy green goodness, devouring it.  He licked his chops.  He licked his fingers.  He would have licked the bowl if he weren’t trying to impress my extended family.

Years later, through our courtship and engagement, and like most couples do, we had a date spot.  Every Friday we were together, we would go to Javier’s and have our fill of beyond-good Mexican food and margaritas, including guacamole.  At one point, as Rob was eating the guacamole like he had enjoyed it in the womb (this is actually true for me – Mom kept me fed well with Chimicangas and guac en utero), he proceeded to casually reveal to my mom and me how his first time even seeing guacamole was that night in Long Island waiting for my Uncle’s dinner.

Looking at my mom’s crinkled brow, raised eyebrows, open mouth, and cartoonish question mark over her head, I could only imagine what my face revealed.  WHAT?!  If he had said that mid-marg-sip, the spray would have been good enough for primetime TV.  We are not talking about foie gras here.  First of all, who in this nation that lives remotely close to a Taco Bell does not know about guacamole before they are 26, and second, WHAT?!  For years he’d been eating the stuff like rest of us.  We never would have guessed his christened-to-the-avocado moment was Kelly’s guac.  Frankly, we would have celebrated it more.

While funny by itself, Rob’s ability to fool us into his oh-I’ve-been-enjoying-this-food-all-my-life is not limited to the avocado.  Pigs in a blanket have also been revealed, as well as one of my favorite (and most cooked) foods, poached eggs.  But as summertime is right around the corner, and keeping true to Rob’s newly indoctrinated family tradition, we shall have guacamole.  Just like the “old” times.

Kelly’s Guac (make as much as you want, but the following is good for 2-4 people) 

  • 3 ripe (soft, but not squidgy) Hass avocados 
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/8 tsp (or a sprinkling to-taste) garlic salt 
  • 3-5 dashes Tabasco sause. 

Scoop out the inner green flesh of the avocados into a medium bowl.  Juice in the lime (prick with a fork before squeezing, if necessary), add the garlic salt, and the Tabasco sauce.  Note: Tabasco sauce has a high vinegar content, so start with a few dashes and add more to taste.  

Mash, mix, and stir together with a fork – I purposefully and specifically use a fork here because it gives a creamy, yet slightly chunky texture.  

Dip your favorite chip, and ENJOY (for the first time, or the hundredth!)  

Wine Stained Lips

2 Jun

Did everyone have a nice Memorial Day last weekend?  The long weekend always denotes the unofficial start to summer, and in the education profession, the difference in students is tangible once they are aware that the long weekend signifies summer is right around the corner.  Even this year, having not been in the classroom, I, too, am more than excited for the summertime.  It will be our last summer in the area, and I have my Oregon Bucket List growing daily.

In the meantime, as I look outside at the beautiful, sunny, warm day, I can’t help but reflect on some of my favorite things we’ve experienced in this area thus far.  The biggest one has to be the wineries.

Having not an ounce of the pretention NorCal wineries can be rumored to have, the Southern Oregon wineries are some of the best kept secrets of the wine world.  Literally, seriously, and truthfully, I’ve had some of the most amazing wines out of barrels and libraries in Oregon, and more importantly, have met even more amazing people in the process.  The Friday of Memorial Day weekend was a perfect example.

Rob and I decided to go to two wineries last Friday: King Estate (a very well-known Oregon winery), and TeSóAria, an up-and-coming phenom. We took our time tasting, enjoying the views, the conversation, and of course the wine.  Also unlike the Napa strip (which I say with love – Louis Martini is on that strip and still, to this day, Lot 1 Cabernet is hard to beat), the Southern Oregon wineries are physically far apart from one another.  Kind of a blessing really, as it forces the legal limits and saves the wallet from purchasing cases of what-was-the-name-of-that-grape-again? slurred through wine stained lips.  So as we make the hour and a half trek over to TeSóAria, we knew we were pushing the 5:00 closing pour.

But then, with a smile and a hug for me and a firm handshake for Rob, John Olson greeted us with exuberance, quickly introducing us to the other couple visiting that day.  One of my favorite songs of all time, REM’s “Nightswimming” was crooning in the background, softening the edges of an already comfortable surrounding.  After catching up, chatting about the new wines, and falling in love with Molly the Jack Russell Terrier, Rob and I realized we had stayed way past our patron welcome; 5:00 had come and gone as quickly as that last amazing taste of the new year’s Bulls Blood.  Stating that we realized we had kept him from his evening, John’s rebuttal was generous and hospitable – to the barrel room we went.  Rob almost skipped (oh I know you can picture it).

John had an unnamed bottle of a red blend – an experiment of sorts – unlike anything I’ve experienced in wine.  It could only be compared to when Robert Plant partnered with Alison Krauss for a duet album: big and bold, but subtle and complex.  Complimentary enough to pair with a steak (which we did), nonetheless multifaceted enough to stand alone (which it did).  While I won’t give away his blend varietals or percentages, I will say that the man is plain genius.

The night proceeded to unfold with private cellar tastings, and the six of us (by this time Joy, John’s wife had joined in on the fun – it would’ve be hard not to as we all, at that point, were standing in her kitchen) helped prep, cook, and enjoy dinner together.  We told stories, exchanged laughs, and marveled at how strange it was that all six of us knew Arizona’s Javelina Leap.  The view from the backyard patio, overlooking sun-kissed estate vines dewing from the evening Oregon mist, was in a word, magical.

We drove home happy, full, thankful, and blessed to have shared an evening with such simply wonderful people.

Like John’s wine, this memory should stand alone, unmuddled by my own soupçon.  So rather than give a huge life-changing feast of a recipe, I’ll leave a small taste, a simple indulgence.  We ate this the day after our dinner with the winemaker. The simple flavors really stand out in this dish; the lemon, and olive oil are like a quiet old married couple, content in love.  Savor the humility of the meal, enjoy with good wine, and create lifelong memories with fantastic friends, and family.

Herbed Pasta Salad (serves 6-8)

  • ½ lb (CHECK THE BOX) mini bowtie pasta
  • 2 tbsp chopped basil
  • 1 tsp chopped mint
  • ½ tsp chopped thyme
  • ¼ tsp chopped rosemary
  • 3-4 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon (you may want more juice when tasting)
  • s&p

In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente (still has a pleasant chew to it).

Meanwhile, mix the herbs in the bottom of a large bowl, and add the lemon zest and juice (really get in there with the juice.  Use a fork to prick the pulp if need be).  When the pasta is done, drain well.  Still warm, add the pasta to the herbs and quickly start drizzling the olive oil over the pasta.  Quickly mix well until everything is incorporated.  Season with s&p, and taste for more lemon. 

I like to garnish the pasta with paper-thin slices of lemon and whole basil leaves.  Serve at room temperature.  

Enjoy! 

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