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  • Archive | June, 2007

    spuds of spontaneity

    the best ever potato salad - this is not subjective

    If you took a random sampling of my friends and asked them if I was a person of spontaneity or planning, they would not only file me in the “planner maximusˮ category, but also add a snarky comment about how I was born with an exact itinerary of to-do’s in my head. Regimented – yes; spontaneous – let’s just say I’m working on it.

    My mother, if she could, would undoubtedly pipe in, and tell you that I arrived on the scene exactly nine months after the wedding day, ahem conception, as in her contractions began nine months on the day after she was married. And while she was quite keen on giving birth in April (it’s considered bad luck to give birth in May), I insisted upon my own arrival time, around 5:30am on May 1, precisely committed to that biological gestation clock Mother Nature has given its human fledglings.

    In grade school, I used rulers and color pencils to denote my daily activities and their durations. And in college, I diligently (or perhaps psychotically) rewrote my notes after class, using a ruler and colored pens to achieve neat, pretty and to-scale graphs.

    Some of this has changed: I no longer color-code my closet, despite the daily temptation; and my books, now commingled with KS’s, lack that autobiographical order that made me feel closer to Nick Hornby.

    radishes... kind of sassy... really big!

    But I was happily content not to have any weekend plans – our first weekend of no weddings or birthdays or other commitments. Of course, we couldn’t just sit still, and decided to throw a little barbecue! For awhile now, I wanted to make a potato salad – but I kept finding recipes that made me wrinkle my nose in disgust – too much mayo here, not feeling the eggs there. And given my boundless love for the spud, how was it that I was yet to find a potato salad to love? The famed Russian salad “olivyeˮ, otherwise known as the winter salad, or “zimniy salatˮ, does not count – as the key word there is zimniy, or “of the winterˮ. And do you see any winter outside? No? Me either. All thanks to Deb – this salad is going to become a staple of summer cookouts and picnics – it is incredibly delicious.

    So, how did I fare when KS and I decided to throw a last minute barbecue? I was cool as a cucumber. Not only did I get most of the ingredients at the farmers market, but we had enough time for a long walk, food prep and I even found a few minutes to throw some lip gloss on to look pulled together for the guests! I guess I could do this spontaneous thing, as long as, well, I get a bit of warning in advance that we need to be, well, spontaneous!

    2 lbs fingerling potatoes
    1 large cucumber thinly sliced
    1 bunch of radishes – thinly sliced
    1/2 cup chopped dill
    1/2 cup chopped green onion
    1/3 cup mayonnaise
    2 tbsp sour cream
    salt and pepper to taste

    Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 20-30 minutes until soft when pierced with knife. Drain and cool completely. In a large bowl cut potatoes into thick slices, add cucumbers, radishes, dill and green onions, followed by the mayonnaise, the sour cream and some salt and pepper. Mix well. Add more salt if necessary.

    Serve chilled in a large bowl or small bowls.

    radish- mast_topmenu-orange.gif


    The Politics of Breakfast Cereals

    My apologies for not responding to this very silly Wall Street Journal Op-ed about Kellogg’s stopping use of licensed characters for marketing, unless the food in question meets certain nutrition benchmarks for sugar, fat and calories.

    Here are some choice quotes from the piece:

    This retreat comes after the Naderite Center for Science in the Public Interest

    and…

    …the food activists, who are fronts for the trial bar, are targeting the cereal makers and broadcasters.

    and finally…

    The real issue is the threat of lawsuits themselves, which can cost tens of millions to defend while a company’s stock price is held hostage to a media assault.

    Notice the level of invective? Notice the very carefully chose words and phrases such as “Naderite” and “front for the trial bar”, giving the perception, without proof mind you, that the quest to minimize influence of marketing upon children lays directly at the feet of the American Bar Association and any other legal institution that would profit from lawsuits against food companies.

    Don’t you believe it.

    In my opinion, the one thing more despicable than a greedy lawyer, is a greedy marketer. And is it the marketer or the lawyer who profits from the status quo of children’s advertising?

    Look, obesity, especially children’s obesity is not as simple as “Children need to exercise more”. There are several other variables clearly at play, including what foods are being fed to them, the amount of food being fed, and yes, even the amount of time a child spends in front of the television being exposed to commercials that state “Cap’n Crunch is a nutritious part of a complete breakfast” or something similar.

    As I’ve said before, if a company spends an inordinate amount of time and money hyping a brand, and people come to realize that the reality doesn’t measure up to the hype, the company shouldn’t be surprised when there is pushback. When consumers realize that Cookie Crisp and Count Chocula may not be as nutritious as the company has let on, the hype starts to seem less like PR and more like lies and manipulation.

    And no one likes to be lied to and manipulated.


    A Teaser

    Yesterday, I purchased a bottle of 15 year old Scotch. Sometime in the near future I hope to be able to tell you, not only the name of the Scotch, but why it was purchased.


    The Southern Breakfast

    “Make sure you get to have a biscuit!”

    That was one of the last things Tara said to me before I headed to North Carolina. She knows how I feel about breakfasts, and she wanted to make sure that I knew that Southern breakfasts are a little different from what we are used to up here in the Pacific Northwest.

    I love breakfasts. If I had to make a choice between eating out for dinner, or having breakfasts, I’d say “See ya later!” to supper. It’s an easy choice for me to make.

    It had been a while since I’ve had anything that one could consider a “Southern” breakfast items. I try to restrict my intake of Sausage and Biscuits, and I had not had grits since I was five years old. But I was intent on changing that.

    Out of everything I learned over the past weekend, the primary items that stood out was that there is no substitute for a well made biscuit. None. A well made biscuit is a work of art. Light and fluffy, larger than a fist, and hot enough to melt both butter and jam, a biscuit is the best example of how simple foods are often the best.

    In addition to the biscuits, I had grits (okay in small servings), Country Ham with red eye gravy (salty but very tasty), eggs, and Blackeyed Peacakes covered with herbed gravy (pictured above). I got the impression that the blackeyed peacakes are not traditional.

    Country Ham and red eye gravy was the other item I was looking forward to sampling out of those mentioned above, as I’ve never had either item. It was delicious – salty, but delicious. Think “a salty Easter Ham though a little more red in color and more fat to deal with”. Here’s a quick tip for those of you thinking of having country ham – use a biscuit to sop up any remaining fat and/or gravy. You can thank me later.

    The idea of red eye gravy is novel to me. Adding coffee to fat seems so blessedly American, that it was impossible for me to resist. It tastes as one would expect it to taste.

    There was one final realization hit me at these breakfasts, one that I should have realized at the many, many other breakfasts in my lifetime. The realization is this – there is a world of difference between a glass of “fresh orange juice” and a glass of “freshly squeezed orange juice”. One comes out of a carton, the other comes directly from oranges. The difference in taste is clear.

    In my defense, I typically have coffee at breakfast, something that Seattle does very well.


    Food Snobbery: a response

    Apparently Laura over at Starling Fitness didn’t take kindly to my post yesterday about food and community. I got that impression when she entitled her post Food Snobbery.

    Let’s deal with her last paragraph first:

    Try going hungry for a couple of days, Kate. Even “the food you deserveˮ will taste like a godsend after that.

    Setting aside for the moment that this is a simple straw man argument (because of course that any food I eat after three days of hunger will seem like a godsend), explain to me exactly how eating at Applebee’s or getting a loaf of Wonder Bread from Safeway helps the local farmers, the local economies, or even regional food diversity?

    The answer is easy – it doesn’t, regardless of how hungry I am.

    Let me explain the simple economics of franchises. The dollar I spend at a franchise ends up somewhere else. If I eat at an Applebee’s, my money spent there ends up in Overland Park, Kansas. If I buy my groceries at Safeway, my money eventually ends up in Pleasanton, California. Regardless of how wonderful these communities may or may not be, it benefits me in the long run if my dollars ends up in local banks here in Seattle where they can be reinvested into my local economy, instead of Kansas or California, where I’ll see little to no local economic long term benefit.

    Now, if a community decides it has no problem in letting a Starbucks (as an example) into the area, instead of investing their resources and later patronizing a local coffeehouse, that’s a communities right. Just don’t get angry when your money comes back into Seattle, making local upper management at the headquarters here all that more wealthy. Because one dollar spent at a Starbuck’s is one less dollar spent at the local coffeehouse. Over time, what that means is that one less local business will exist, and one less chance of a local business person re-investing in the community that gave them their success.

    This doesn’t just happen with coffeehouses, but with restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, farms, etc, etc.

    If the citizens of a community don’t understand this basic concept, they’re going to have less influence on the types of food found within the community. If they don’t take the time and effort to change their infrastructure, then they will have to settle for what others from outside of the region determine which products should be sold into their community. And once those products are sold, their money will end up profiting a company hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.

    Asheville, North Carolina is but one of many places in this country which are starting to understand this. They realize it’s not just about the restaurants, but their entire food infrastructure, from farm to table and everything in between. They are getting a decent return on their investment with a diverse amount of restaurants and markets, and keeping many farmers and local entrepreneurs in business. They are getting the food culture they deserve.

    Conversely, if a city is peppered with Chili’s and TGIFriday’s, and Albertson’s and Safeways, and there’s minimal to no effort being brought forth to change that, then they are getting the food culture they deserve as well.


    Food and Community

    I’ve been thinking about this post for over a day now, and I’m still not sure just exactly how to word it.

    The trip to Asheville, North Carolina was busy, way too short and, most importantly, very enlightening. A city of approximately 75,000 people, and when those in the suburbs and surrounding county areas are considered it ups that to 200,000 plus. And if I remember one fact about the city, it’s this:

    In the downtown area there is only one franchised restaurant. Most every other eatery in the area (and there’s a fair amount of them) is an independently or locally owned operation. Not only are there no McDonald’s, Wendy’s or KFC’s, there’s no Gordon Beirsch, Chili’s or any other nationally recognized restaurant.

    This fact is even more impressive when the fact that Asheville’s second largest industry is tourism is taken into account. When the tens of thousands of visitors enter the city and see the vibrant restaurants, cafes and bistros, only one of them has a recognizable brand name.

    And as I was taken around through the neighborhoods to talk with various food entrepreneurs and advocates, one thing became very clear to me. A community gets the food culture it deserves.

    Those involved in the food in Asheville have worked hard to lessen the influence of big business has had upon their community. And don’t be fooled, big food has a strong presence in the area, especially the further away one is from down town. But there is a strong, concerted effort to mitigate their influence.

    Whether it’s a local non-profit designed encourage local food entrepreneurs, the farm advocate who’s working to connect family farmers with new markets, or the restaurateur who proudly proclaims their belief in local and sustainable food products, Asheville is a city where the independent food community, not only thrives, but in many parts of the county is regarded as an equitable alternative to the McDonald’s, Safeways, and Conagra’s of the world. There are cities with populations much larger than that of Asheville’s who don’t have this level of integration into their community.

    Part of this is certainly due to Asheville’s size. When you have less people to feed, it’s easier (i.e. cheaper and quicker) to change and adapt the infrastructure in place needed to get food to the people.

    But the key component to change the infrastructure is to have a requisite amount of passionate people willing to put in the time and effort to make those changes. The less people involved, the more the current status quo stays in place.

    What Asheville has demonstrated to me is that a small city or town doesn’t have to be beholden to mega-food corporations any more than cities like New York, San Francisco, or even Seattle have to be. But it does take work and passion. Lot’s of it.

    A community gets the food culture it deserves, whether it’s one where Applebee’s and Albertson’s dominates, or one where local restaurateurs work with local farmers and consumers spend their money in a way that ensures that their dollars are re-invested in their community. Asheville has clearly chosen where it wants fits in this spectrum.


    the a-ha! ingredient

    DSC_0091

    The last several weekends have been tightly packed. There were bachelorette parties, birthdays, weekends away, weddings, funerals, family stuff, and so on. And while it’s fun to travel, it does, eventually take its toll on you. And so I welcomed a weekend of no plans, no traveling, no obligations – I had visions of myself alternating between movies and meals – oh bliss was to be mine!

    But in our typical nature, we cannot just sit still. Far from it, we thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to have a barbecue. A last minute thought, we somehow managed to pull it all together without feeling the least bit rushed. On my way from the gym, I stopped by our farmer’s market and picked up fresh, lovely vegetables. And in the afternoon, KS and I took a stroll to Greenwich Village to the famed Florence Meat Market to pick up some meat for the grill – beef, sausage, chicken.

    And within a few hours of cooking, we pulled together some delectable treats – like a strawberry-apricot crisp that was devoured in seconds (with that strawberry frozen yogurt I made a little while back!) or a potato salad that I will now make over and over and over, all thanks to Deb of Smitten Kitchen.

    DSC_0092

    But the true revelation came to me when I was trying to make something with the black beans. I opened and rinsed them and they just sat in the kitchen, glistening, almost expecting something grand, something truly new from me. I remembered that I had some tomatillos in the fridge from the last grocery trip. Though I never cooked with them, I kept thinking about salsa verde and what a great complement to grilled fish or chicken that might be. But I didn’t quite gather my creative juices so the tomatillos sat in the crisper awaiting their fate. What I wound up creating was a bit of a hodgepodge of stuff – I even threw in some basil and it actually worked. I was, to be honest, playing around, and got lucky that everything tasted so good in the end. Tomatillos, of course, were that surprising a-ha! ingredient that made the whole salad/dip/salsa stand out – and it was not only easy to make, but had a zero drop of oil – making it a healthy side or appetizer. It was voraciously consumed by all and especially welcomed by vegetarians at our impromptu soiree. And as for leftovers – we’ve got a nice shiny bottom of the bowl to admire.

    1 28 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
    4-5 medium size tomatillos
    2 medium size tomatoes
    1 large jalapeno, seeded and cored
    zest of 1 lime
    juice of 1 lime
    a handful of herbs – I used cilantro, parsley and basil
    a few pinches of salt to taste

    In a food processor, pulse together tomatillos, tomatoes, jalapenos and herbs – until you get a chunky puree.

    Combine the beans and the puree in a large bowl and add lime juice and lime zest. Mix well, and season with salt to taste.

    Radish’s note: when dealing with jalapenos, it is in your interest (mark my mistakes) to work with them while wearing latex gloves. The oils of the peppers stay in your skin long after several meticulous soap washes and be ye not so stupid and try to take your contacts out the same night after handling these with bare hands.