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A Ray of Sun and a Puddle of Quicksand

4 Apr

Sometimes it takes a weekend just to slow down and appreciate the small things in life.  This weekend was just that.  Rob didn’t have duty, we enjoyed our time together, and the sun even came out for longer than a nanosecond, which allowed us to have a gourmet picnic breakfast on our back patio.  It was just lovely.

Saturday consisted of a trip to Eugene, and then a laid-back girls night a girlfriend’s house.  She, being a fellow foodie, had great food, an amazing cocktail, and a plethora of wine.  The only thing better was the estrogen-rich girl-bonding conversations that ensued.  Leaving her house relaxed and genuinely happy, I woke Sunday morning to a strange foreign object in the sky – it was bright and warm, and strangely familiar… Ok, I’ll cease with the dripping sarcasm, but you get my point – it felt like a reset button had been pushed waking up to the sun.  So while Rob was still sound asleep, I got to work making food for our breakfast outside.  

I should set the scene a bit and explain that while we have a nice backyard, we have no backyard furniture.  Furthermore, as it’s been raining daily for months, the lawn looks more like a small jungle with killer dandelions, and crabgrass that seems like it’s going to come alive.  So Rob and I sat on the 5×10 ft. concrete rectangle which we covered with our first-time used picnic blanket and couch cushions.  We yummed over Baked Eggs with Spinach and Chipotle Hollandaise sauce and we soaked up some very-needed Vitamin D.  It was just perfect.

But after an hour, an inevitable thin layer of clouds came hazing in.  So before the rain had its chance to keep us housebound, we decided to go for a hike – something Rob and I love and bond over, but haven’t had the chance to enjoy for quite some time.

We found a new trail which led to a WWII bunker (cool, but kind of creepy… I didn’t venture inside), but had to be very careful of our footing.  The trail had a heart-racing, but not debilitating, incline, and, remember all the rain?  Well, rain = mud.  Lots and lots of mud = slippery slope.  Higher elevation up a mountain = eroded sandstone.  Slippery saturated, loose sandstone = quicksand.  And Rob’s foot went right in.  He was up to mid-shin before slowly and carefully found solid ground and pulled it out.  Laughing the whole time, he pointed out the “puddle” saying, “Don’t step there!”  By this point, the gooey mud had already seeped in and invaded the inside of my shoes, and after realizing one wrong step could suck me in, I deserted the (small) Indiana Jones within and let “flight” take over “fight.”  Home sounded so much better than this muddy mountain!  But with Rob’s happy-boy encouragement, we trekked on.

The trail leveled off to a 6 foot wide ridge with beautiful deep green ravines on either side.  But we were then confronted with a fork in the road and it’s corresponding question: Right, down through the ravine, or left, up the mountain?

“Which is more muddy?” Rob asked, squishing with each step.

“Probably both,” I sighed, still weary of slipping in mud and now falling down either side of the mountain after slipping.

We chose up.  The trail got smaller and more dense to where we had to walk in single file.  By this point, our conversation had lessened and the comforting yet questioning sounds of nature surrounded us.

I heard the buzzing before Rob, behind me sounding like a large hornet or a bullet bug taking aim.  Within the longest millisecond period of time, the buzzing got louder and faster, and then changed to a high pitched whop whop whop similar only to the sound of Rob flying the helicopter too low over our house.  Whatever this Unidentified Flying Object was, it was coming straight towards us, Rob’s bald spot a targeted landing pad.

I did what any normal person would do – scream and duck (causing a slip in mud) at which time Rob heard the dive-bombing flying monstrosity and did the same (without the girly scream).  Was it a bird?  A plane?  Underdog?  Most likely it was a freakishly large bug getting his week’s worth of laughs by making a couple hikers almost poop themselves.  My “fight or flight” kicked in again, this time even more for just sliding on my butt down that muddy mountain.  But we trudged on.

As you can probably guess, this Oregon Nature Nightmare does have a happy ending.  We ran into an old logging trail, and by the time we reached the top, the sun was shining again, and the whole Southern Oregon Coast was before our eyes.  We could see hundreds of miles down the rugged shore, past ports and harbors we haven’t even yet explored by car.  From our birds-eye view, we could see how the treacherous weather makes this place so unique; the green and violent Oregon Coast is breathtaking.

Holding hands, as we turned to head back down the mountain, we looked up to see a fleeting sight of freedom and beauty: a bald eagle soaring just above and quickly out of sight.

We made it back down the mountain without any more mud slips, UFB (Unidentified Flying Bug) encounters, or quicksand rescues.  That night we enjoyed a lovely dinner with friends, and fell asleep happy and tired.

Needless to say, our hike definitely worked off the indulgent hollandaise sauce consumed earlier.  But with or without a hike, this is one of our favorite breakfasts that needs to be made more than just on the token sunny day.  It’s super easy, incredibly flavorful, and such a treat (and after eating it, you’ll have enough energy to climb a scary mountain – literally!).  Enjoy with your favorite coffee or tea, and just indulge!

Baked Eggs with Spinach and Chipotle Hollandaise Sauce (serves 2)

  • 4 eggs, 2 of the eggs separated into whites and yolks
  • 1 tbsp Half and Half
  • 2 c baby spinach leaves
  • 2 tbsp mild green chilies (I find them in small cans in the international foods isle)
  • 2 chipotle peppers, very finely diced
  • 1/4 c finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • juice of 1 mandarin orange
  • 3 tbsp cold butter, cut into large dice.
  • s&p
  • slices of good bread, toasted, for serving
  • Sliced strawberry (or cherry) tomatoes, for garnish
  • Sliced dried mission figs, for garnish
  • fresh basil, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy, oven-proof small saute pan, saute the green chilies in one small dice of the butter over med heat.  Once warmed through and very slightly browned, add in the spinach leaves and saute on med-low to wilt (they will wilt drastically).  Season with a bit of s&p.  Once mostly wilted, pour in the Half and Half.  Carefully crack 2 whole eggs into the pan (make sure the yolks are separate from each other), and add 2 egg whites.  Top with the cheddar cheese and a bit of cracked pepper.  Put the pan in the oven, and set timer for 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, put some pieces of your favorite bread in the toaster oven to crisp up.

In a small saucepan, add the chipotle peppers, and a small dice of butter.  Saute until fragrant.  Add the juice from the mandarin orange and the 2 egg yolks, and start whisking to emulsify.  One or two dices at a time, add the butter and whisk, until incorporated (put a gentle elbow grease into it).  Do this over low heat so the eggs don’t solidify, and if you see them start to scramble on the sides of the pan, take the pan off the heat and keep whisking.  Once all the butter is incorporated, taste for s&p.  The sauce should be silky and thick, and orangeish from the peppers.

Check the eggs – the whites should be just set, and the yolks still a bit runny.  Garnish with fresh basil chiffonade, tomatoes, and dried figs (the figs really make this dish pop – they add such an amazing surprising sweetness and texture).  NOTE: if you pull the eggs out a few minutes early, add the tomatoes and put the pan back in the oven to soften the tomatoes a bit.  It really does make a difference. 

Serve the eggs straight from the pan; gather the eggs on top of a piece of toast, and pour over a generous amount of hollandaise sauce.  Serve with some mandarin oranges and eat immediately!

Enjoy!!

No More Turkey

1 Dec

Ok.  There comes a point where the yummy leftovers really do become: urgh-leftovers, again?  We needed a change.  With just bits and pieces of Thanksgiving food still sitting in the oversized and, now, underfilled refrigerated storage containers, Rob and I have been craving a change.  Especially a healthy one.

But creating healthy, yet creative, interesting, and tasty dishes can sometimes be tricky and require some thought.  No one wants to eat twigs and berries (and I’m not referring to cinnamon sticks and blueberries, cause those are just darn delicious).  And many tasty proteins are not the leanest.  So while chatting with a great friend yesterday, I expressed my Tryptophan slump.  What should I make that healthy, easy, and comforting?  She lead me in the direction of her go-to fish dish she and her husband love.

With my new found inspiration, I drove the long and winding 2-lane road in the cold, cold rain to pick up the freshest fish Coos County has to offer.  When I got to the city of Charleston, a teeny, tiny Fishermen’s town, I was met with bright lights on the beautiful boats, a reminder that one of the finest seasons was upon us – CRAB season!  Today, December 1st, is the first day of the new crab season, and last night all the crab boats were parked like LA cards on the 405 freeway just waiting to get underway.  Their crab pots were expertly stacked and loaded, and seagulls were acrobatically dive-bombing hoping to get a rogue scrap of bait.  In a couple of weeks, the finest, sweetest, Dungeness Crab will be available to devour, no butter needed.  Saliva-inducing crab aside, last night’s fish goal was Dover Sole.

I had originally planned on using Halibut, but it is out of season, and the only Halibut available had been previously frozen (there’s nothing wrong with previously frozen fish, but in this area, if you can get something fresh, it’s better to take the bait.  Ha!).  So seeing these beautiful , uncloudy, thin filets of Sole, I went for them.  I also splurged for a piece of in-house smoked Chinook Salmon that an uncanny flavor cousin only to bacon.

While paying, I couldn’t help but be distracted by a younger couple asking to taste a piece of smoked Sturgeon.  Sturgeon?  The prehistoric fish of modern culinary confusion?  I, of course, strike up a conversation seeing the opportunity to ask the question that is usually directed at me in these parts, I ask, “Are you two visiting the area?”

A super nice couple, they explain they are from Chicago (which explains why they are a super nice couple) and on a road trip seeing as much as they can of the U.S.  My first inclination was to ask if they were lost, being that Coos Bay isn’t exactly a national sight to put on the Bucket List.  But as the guy started singing, “On the Road Again,” I couldn’t help but smile and say, “That’s really cool!”

After giving some tips on where to go for dinner and what to see at night, and a reluctant negative response to their question about whether the rain would top, I made my way home.  Hopefully wherever that couple is today, they fondly remember their Southern Coastal Oregon experience, and hopefully enjoyed the Sturgeon.  :o/

Getting home, I channeled Gen (my friend with the fish idea) and proceeded to bake this lovely, flakey, buttery fish.  I added my own twist by using chili and lime, and topped the filets over super-roasted sweet red onions and fennel.  We had some leftover Pinot grape Rose wine from the weekend, which paired perfectly with the heat, citrus, and caramelization.  Everything was so delicious and healthy, and so not anything like turkey.

Tonight will be another light dish, and Gen’s idea definitely pulled me out of my recipe slump.  I’ve already started conjuring up a healthy bunch of light ideas to relieve the holiday food-hangover.  But it probably won’t last long – Christmas is only 25 days away!  Bring on the sugar cookies!

Chili Lime Crusted Dover Sole over Caramelized Red Onion and Fennel (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. Dover Sole filets
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 c Panko bread crumbs
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • zest of one lime
  • juice of 1/2 lime, save other 1/2 for garnish and/or to drizzle over cooked fish
  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  On a sheet tray, mix red onion and fennel with 2 tbsp olive oil and s&p.  Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring twice, until caramelized and browned.

Meanwhile, in a saute pan, melt butter, and add Panko bread crumbs, red pepper flakes, garlic, and lime juice.  Stir over med-low heat until bread crumbs are coated and slightly browned.

In a baking dish, pour the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil, and layer the Sole on the bias over each other, completely filling the dish.  Sprinkle the lime zest over the fish with a bit of s&p.  Pour the bread crumb mixture over the fish, and place into same oven as the roasting veg.  Bake the fish for 15-20 minutes, until flakey and bread crumbs are browned (Note: the fish will shrink a bit and let off juices, so the fish will slightly braise in its own liquid, keeping it really moist).

Serve fish over a pile of caramelized veg, and squeeze a bit of lime over the top.

Enjoy!

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