Read It and Eat

My book club met last night. We were trying to remember how long we've been going and who the original members were (I'm one of them), but that information was lost in the recesses of time. In any case, we used to try to theme our food to our monthly book, but we've gotten a little lazy about it. Therefore, the novel set in post-Civil-War Texas we read just inspired a carb onslaught in us that had not much to do with the book.

Some readers and eaters are more dedicated. Take Cara Nicoletti, whose delightful book I just read this week:


Ordering the book by phases in her life (childhood, adolescence, adulthood), she begins each chapter with a memoirish essay and follows up with a recipe based on a food mentioned in the book. So there's sausage for LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS and doughnuts for HOMER PRICE and cherry pie for IN COLD BLOOD. (Did you remember that baking a cherry pie was one of the last things one of the murder victims did in IN COLD BLOOD? I didn't.) VORACIOUS is a delightful read and inspires me to pay attention to the food showing up in books again, that I might be a better book club member.

In the same vein as VORACIOUS is Alison Walsh's A LITERARY TEA PARTY.


Walsh's book, featuring photos, rather than watercolor illustrations, is more strictly a recipe book, with only brief notes on what in the book inspired the recipe. The recipes are also more "inspired by" than actual connections. For example, Walsh cites A LITTLE PRINCESS (one of my childhood faves), where starving Sara Crewe passes the bakery window and salivates over fresh-baked buns. We don't know what kind of buns they were, but Walsh comes up with "Blackberry Lemon Sweet Rolls." Sounds tasty, but the connection to the book is pretty loose... Similarly, ROMEO AND JULIET leads to "Star-Crossed Foccaccia with Parmesan Chive Butter."

In any case, both of these books would be great starting points for your own themed book clubs or even a special supper or children's birthday party. 

Next month it's the "classic" in our group's rotation, so we'll be reading Elizabeth Gaskell's Ruth, about--gasp--a "fallen woman." 19th-century novels can be full of toast and tea, but I'll be extra-on-the-lookout for other foods. Let's hope this fallen woman's fleshly appetites include eating!

The Minimalist Kitchen in a Minimalist House

My husband is headed over to Eastern Washington tomorrow, to help his parents move for the fourth time in the last eleven months. It might not even be the final move, and the siblings have still to tackle the darned house, now standing empty except for decades of belongings, 98% of which none of them want.

This might explain why I'm picking up books like Melissa Coleman's The Minimalist Kitchen.


Imagine if I ran for president. I'd never get elected because I'd tell everyone, "Never buy another single thing, if you can help it. And, if you can't avoid it, don't buy new, if at all possible. Reduce, reuse, recycle. The last thing any of us need is more stuff. And I'm going to press for a Constitutional amendment, making it a law that presents shall no longer be given on Christmas to anyone over the age of ten."

But I digress. Hey, if you actually use your kitchen for cooking; if people in your family can be coaxed into eating healthy, plant-heavy meals; and if you share my love for purging, check this book out. Coleman gives a very thorough run-down on what a working kitchen and well-stocked pantry actually require, and then she provides a hundred or so recipes. After a little reading, I ran right over to my kitchen and cleaned out three drawers and dumped some little gadgets I never use. Mischief managed.

In addition to the tips and structure, the book has beautiful photographs and handy breakdowns of time and equipment needed for the recipes. I gave this recipe a whirl this week, supplementing it with some minestrone, and everyone in the family thought it was delicious.

The length of the recipe can be daunting, but done in little stages, it was actually no big deal.

 Open-Faced Sweet Potato Torta (minus the sweet potatoes because I forgot to put them on for the picture)

Open-Faced Sweet Potato Torta (minus the sweet potatoes because I forgot to put them on for the picture)

Minimalist Kitchen's Open-Faced Sweet Potato Tortas

(4+ servings, but I'd supplement with a salad or soup with meat, for bigger appetites)


3/4 c water
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp peppercorns
3/4 c thinly-sliced red onion

Bring water to boil in small saucepan. Put the rest of the ingredients, except the onion, in a pint jar, add boiling water, and stir till the salt and sugar dissolve. Put the onions in, making sure they're submerged. Throw the jar in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. (The onions are good for 3 weeks. We ate leftover ones on hamburgers and in salad. I'd make these again just to have on hand!)


1 tsp pureed chipotle in adobo sauce (freeze the rest of the can for other recipes)
1/4 c mayo

Mix together and refrigerate.


1-1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, cut in 1/4" slices
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 450F. Combine cornstarch, salt, cumin, cayenne, and garlic in a bowl. Stir in olive oil until a paste forms. Toss the potato slices in the paste to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes each side. Sprinkle with cilantro.

To assemble the tortas, you will also need:

1 can refried black beans (she provides a recipe. I made my own.)
thick slices of artisan bread
1 c arugula
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 sliced avocado
1 sliced jalapeno (optional)
1 lime, cut in wedges
Sprinkle of cotijo cheese.

To assemble, toast the bread. Smear with 1/4 cup refried beans, 1 Tbsp chipotle mayo, sweet potato rounds to cover, 1/4 cup arugula, 1/2 Tbsp cilantro, 1/4 avocado, 1-2 Tbsp pickled onions, jalapeno slices, and a squeeze of lime. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.


I had no arugula, no jalapenos, and no cotijo cheese on hand, and these were still yummy. And so healthy! Let's be real, though--if your home has normal little kids in it, they're not going to eat this. If you have an empty nest or teenagers, then go for it.

Enjoy. And now excuse me while I get back to throwing things in the Goodwill bag.

Years of Our Lives Down the Tubes

Words with Friends recently congratulated me on my eight-year anniversary as a player. This was not advisable on their part because my first reaction was "Eight years? Eight years?! I've blown countless hours on this game over the past eight years???" Granted, much of that time was spent as I slumped on the couch, already wasting my life away because the television was on, but still--

 That'll be eight years, please.

That'll be eight years, please.

Their message had the further misfortune to coincide with me finally getting around to reading a book on addictive technology and highlighting half the thing:


Consider some startling facts author Adam Alter lays out there:

  • "In 2008, adults spent an average of eighteen minutes on their phones per day; in 2015, they were spending two hours and forty-eight minutes per day."
  • "One recent study suggested that up to 40 percent of the population suffers from some form of Internet-based addiction, whether to email, gaming, or porn," and college kids have it even worse, hitting 48%.
  • "Most people spend between one and four hours on their phones each day--and many far longer...Over the average lifetime, that amounts to a staggering eleven years [italics his]."

What qualifies as an addiction? It used to be that addictions were just for substances, but now behavioral addiction has been shown to have similar symptoms and affect the same pathways of the brain as substance addiction.

Almost half of the population [has] experienced the following symptoms: [the] loss of ability to choose freely whether to stop or continue the behavior (loss of control) and [the] experience of behavior-related adverse consequences. In other words, the person becomes unable to reliably predict when the behavior will occur, how long it will go on, when it will stop, or what other behaviors may become associated with the addictive behavior. As a consequence, other activities are given up or, if continued, are no longer experienced as being enjoyable as they once were. Further negative consequences of the addictive behavior may include interference with performance of life roles (e.g., job, social activities or hobbies), impairment of social relationships, criminal activity and legal problems, involvement in dangerous situations, physical injury and impairment, financial loss, or emotional trauma.

Yikes. Now, Words with Friends is no World of Warcraft (named as the most addictive video game of all time, so far), but reading this book taught me about the microrewards and other little tricks even WWF uses to keep players playing--those "coins" we accumulate, the periodic "events" and solo challenges and game variations. Scrabble used to be a game I'd invite people over to play. Now we all just sit on our phones and only very occasionally use the chat feature to interact. Even when my mom, my sister, and I get together and haul out the physical Scrabble board, in between our turns we'll often be on our phones!

My eyes have been opened. Consider this post awareness-raising. I'd offer some solutions here, but I haven't gotten to that part of the book. It's too late for my oldest, collegiate child (who bought her own iPhone and stares at it constantly), but the two I still have at home are going to be badgered with more conversation at dinner and face-to-face interactions over those home-cooked meals.

Make some eye contact today. Quit reading this blog and put down your phone or shut your laptop and go interact with a live person. Imagine adding back eleven years to your life, without even going to the gym!

Anatomy of a Grocery Cart

 [Photo by  Igor Ovsyannykov  on  Unsplash ]

[Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash]

So we moved my in-laws into assisted living a couple weeks ago, and, besides feeling relieved that there would be people close at hand to assist with things like falls (three, and counting, since they moved in), I was also glad they would be getting three squares a day. It wasn't just that they'd subsisted the past couple years on a rotation of restaurant food that ranged from higher-end (Anthony's) to DQ (lots of DQ), but even when moving day arrived, I found the main foods in the house were Snickers bars and those little boxes of sugary cereal, to which my father-in-law would then add another packet of sugar because that was his habit from when he ate shredded wheat. Yowza. When I freaked out and scolded him for all the added sugar, he smiled and said, "That's what the caregivers say."

Three solid meals, complete with fruits and vegetables. Such a life luxury.

My mother-in-law had always done the cooking, so by the time she could no longer follow recipes, my father-in-law was confused enough that he couldn't cook either. He could sous-chef, no problem, but we didn't seem to get many caregivers interested in bothering with cooking. They came over and just ordered out.

The older I get, the more I think that, not only is access to food a luxury, but the ability to do something with it once you have it. My in-laws had some apples in the fridge, but it was easier to reach for the Snickers until I got one out, washed it, and sliced it up. People generally eat whatever's in front of them, and too often what's in front of them isn't any good.

 Delicious, but too much work? [Photo by  Roberta Sorge  on  Unsplash

Delicious, but too much work? [Photo by Roberta Sorge on Unsplash

When I was at the store, in line to check out, I happened to see a cart in the neighboring line stacked full with an amazing array of processed foods. There was soda, frozen dinners, pizzas, cereal, even corn dogs. I only knew there weren't a lot of items from the produce section because everything fit so neatly and geometrically in the cart like Lego bricks. With my in-laws fresh in my mind, I couldn't help seeing her younger face and worrying about the future. She was young! She could still get to the store and keep things straight in her head and turn the stove on without forgetting she'd done so. Shouldn't she carpe her kitchen diem? 

At least she wasn't buying Snickers.

And it wasn't like her grocery cart was unique. According to a 2016 USDA study, the number-one item in American carts is soft drinks. Now, I love soft drinks. I'd have one every day, if I hadn't read just about everywhere how terrible they are for you. I love the flavors, the carbonation, the cold. But since I try to limit the One Terrible Food I've allowed myself per day, I use that card on homemade dessert.

The study findings aren't all bad. Folks do buy a few things that are nourishing:

About 40 cents of every food purchase dollar was spent on basic items like meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and bread.
• Another 20 cents was spent on sweetened drinks, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar.
• The remaining 40 cents was spent on a variety of items such as cereal, prepared foods, other dairy products, rice, beans, and other cooking ingredients.

But 20% of your food budget on junk food is a fairly hefty amount. Say you spend $150 per week on groceries. That means you spend $30 per week on junk. Or $1,560 per year. That's a weekend trip for the whole family to a sunny clime being flushed down the toilet with the Snickers wrappers. Not to mention the health costs, the bill for which will arrive later.

While we thought childhood obesity rates might have plateaued or even begun to decline, now they've ticked up again. Despite all the urgings to exercise, people don't want to exercise (and I include myself in that bucket--I hate exercise). Maybe we could tackle it from the other end. What if those old-fashioned "home ec" classes became a state requirement? What if everyone had to learn the basics of cooking and nutrition to graduate high school? Yes, lots of people buy processed food and don't cook because they don't have time, but lots of other people buy processed food and don't cook because they don't know how, or don't know how to fit it into their lives. If you can use a knife, follow instructions, boil water, and turn an oven on and off, you can feed yourself. Healthily and economically.

I've mentioned a local cooking store where my daughter and I learned to make croissants. We also recently took a Thai cooking class. But maybe a better offering would be a "Kitchen Launch" class--one where you learn the above skills and five basic recipes to get food in your mouth and/or freezer. Maybe the most frequently purchased processed meals? Pizza. A pasta dish. A burrito. Kitchen-sink soup. A casserole.

We're smart folks. We can do better. At least until we're all in the assisted-living place and paying someone else to do it for us.

Coming in from the Cold

I see the whining about the length of these Pyeongchang Winter Olympics has begun, but I think what we're really seeing here is an impatience with our lingering medal drought. For all the "spirit of the Games"-business and "bringing the world together," I imagine it's much easier to feel warm and fuzzy when you're Norway, wondering how you're going to get all that hardware through the metal detectors on the flight home. The length of the Games has also helped me decide which shows I never want to see (Good Girls) and which vehicles I never want to buy (that one that the guys says looks "better than 99% of the SUVs out there") because I'm so sick of the ads for them. (And I don't even know what that one other guy is selling, who talks about the power of the technology in our hands, because I change the channel the second I see his face.) But--I'm whining.

 Photo by  Mira Kemppainen  on  Unsplash

If we can't go for the gold, we can at least come in from the cold. And nothing warms us like some good food and drink. When I asked her this morning, our not-very-bright Alexa told me this morning that it was "27 degrees Fahrenheit." I appreciated the "Fahrenheit," which she didn't use to specify, because, if she'd only said "27 degrees" like she used to, I might have thought she meant 27 degrees Celsius (= 80.6F) and I should put a bikini on, or 27 degrees Kelvin (= -411.7F), and I was already frozen to death. 

But no, 27F we can deal with and even enjoy, if we can put something warm in our bellies. This weather has my husband craving hot chocolate from Ladurée in Paris, something I never ordered because it was too rich for my blood.

 Gateway to goodness

Gateway to goodness

And by "hot chocolate," I mean "hot pudding" -- it's that thick.

 [Thanks for the pic,]

[Thanks for the pic,]

Imagine his delight when, for Christmas, our youngest gave him the ingredients and recipe to make his own Ladurée-style chocolat chaud! He's made it at least four times already and swears it tastes just like the real deal. Concoct some of this for yourself, and you'll float through another week of fifth-place finishes without the least urge to complain.

Ladurée-Style Chocolat Chaud

(Makes 2 servings)

1 cup whole milk (don't use nonfat or 2% --what's the point)

2.5 ozs high-quality "bittersweet" or dark chocolate, finely chopped

1 Tbsp light brown sugar

Heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Once it's warm, whisk in the chocolate, stirring until melted and steaming hot. Cook at the lowest possible boil about three minutes to thicken, whisking constantly. Taste, and add brown sugar if desired.

Be My Korean Valentine

Am I the only one who likes to watch Olympic medal ceremonies for the first time because these gals are so cute?

 Where can I buy one of these robes?

Where can I buy one of these robes?

I'm beginning to think South Korea should always host the Winter Olympics. Why? Because, windy weather on the slopes aside, they do everything so nicely. I love the little groups of Korean girls in purple who applaud the events (even curling, for Pete's sake), sponge down the ice while the Zamboni cruises around, and pick up any bouquets and teddy bears that were hurled. I love the medal-ceremony ladies, as I mentioned. I even love the segments on Korean food because Korean food is awesome. I love how everyone has been bundled up because, unlike in Sochi, it's actually been freezing.

And then, of course, there's Chloe Kim, whom both Americans and South Koreans happily claim.

 (Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP/Getty Images)

(Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP/Getty Images)

So, in honor of both South Korea and America, here are two recipes we've cooked in our house.

Bulgogi (Korean Stirfry from Skagit River Ranch)

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
salt to taste
3 Tbsp sugar or honey
1 bunch scallions, cut in 1" pieces
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp Mirin or sherry
1 tsp red pepper flakes, or more, to taste
1 lbs thinly sliced beef for stir-fry
1 Tbsp peanut or vegetable oil.

Mix soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt, scallions, garlic, wine, and red pepper flakes in medium bowl or Ziploc bag. Add beef and marinate at least one hour or up to overnight.

Bring to room temperature. Stir fry over medium-high in the peanut oil until the meat is browned but not overcooked! This might be as little as a minute. Don't overcrowd the pan--do it in batches, if necessary. Serve with rice and lots of seasonal vegetables.

And then, on a completely different note, we had chicken soft tacos last night, with roasted chicken from Korean-American Chungah Rhee's new cookbook (and blog) Damn Delicious. (I had to get over the fact that I thought the titles of both should be "Damned Delicious," in order to be grammatical, but whatever. The food is good.)

cookbook (1).jpg

All-Purpose Chicken

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1/2" strips
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place chicken in a single layer on a baking sheet and toss with all other ingredients. Bake 15-18 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center. Serve immediately or refrigerate or freeze.

Enjoy, and let's hope our Speed Skating team gets out of its doldrums!

Rainy-Day Chicken Pot Pie

You know you've become a Seattleite when...

  • You find yourself apologizing to out-of-town visitors about the weather;
  • You find yourself pointing in various cloudy directions and saying, "If it weren't raining/overcast, you would see the Olympics/Mount Rainier/the Cascades/downtown Seattle over there";
  • You become expert at spotting even the smallest, narrowest break in the clouds and tinge of blue sky;
  • A sunny day makes you feel guilty, if you don't spend part of it outside;
  • You scoff at people using umbrellas for anything less than a total deluge.
 This past week... [Photo by  Brandon Wong  on  Unsplash

This past week... [Photo by Brandon Wong on Unsplash

They keep forecasting some decent weather, but until it materializes we must keep on keeping on. I'm headed over the Pass the next couple days to help my in-laws pack up for the move to assisted living, and it promises to be an emotionally and physically trying time, but, on the plus side, Thursday is supposed to be partly cloudy there and 60F! At least the weather won't mirror the mood.

In the meantime, our droopy surroundings call for something homey and heartening, like chicken pot pie.

 That's what I'm talking about

That's what I'm talking about

Penny's Chicken Pot Pie

1/4 cup butter
6 Tbsp flour
1 c milk
2 c chicken broth
3 c cooked chicken, torn up into bite-sized pieces
1/4 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp summer savory
1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley or 1 tsp dried
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 c carrots, sliced thin or cut in little chunks
1 c peas
1/2 c cooked, chopped onions (I mix with a little olive oil and microwave a couple minutes)
1/2 c corn
1 - 9" pie crust (I used pie crust dough made from the Bellevue Farmers Market Cookbook p.71 that I'd frozen last August)
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp cold water

Preheat the oven to 425F. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Blend in the flour. Add milk and broth and heat, stirring, until thickened. Add chicken and all the seasonings, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in vegetables, spoon into large, ungreased casserole dish, and let mixture cool to room temperature.

Roll your pie crust out until it's larger than the casserole dish. Cuts slits in the crust to vent. Lay the crust over your filling and crimp to seal. Brush with egg glaze.

 The pie in its unbaked glory

The pie in its unbaked glory

Bake your pot pie 30-40 minutes, or until brown and bubbly. Serve with a salad and maybe crusty bread. I'd say it yields about eight servings, which means it fed our family of four people, with one serving of lunch leftovers!

Penny's Pot Pie was so tasty it just might make you wish for the rain to continue another four months! Oh, wait--the rain actually probably will continue another four months. Well, enjoy your pie anyhow.

Lemonade from Lemons, or, the Evolution of Our Diet

 [Photo credit: Francesca Hotchen]

[Photo credit: Francesca Hotchen]

We've been dog-sitting this week, and it's hard not to feel sorry for the little critters and their boring culinary life. A quarter-cup of kibbles, mixed with a tablespoon of icky wet food, twice a day. Day in and day out. Every day of the year. Every year of their lives. Whew.

But it does make you wonder how that little bit of food suffices to meet all their nutritional needs and even makes them prone to gain too much weight. Dogs don't even need vegetables! All those ones pictured on the dog-food packages are for the owners' benefit, not the dogs'.

So why is that animals can supply all their nutritional needs so simply, while humans have a list as long as their arms of requirements? Fruits, vegetables, fiber, "essential" vitamins and minerals and fatty acids and amino acids. How do cows thrive on--basically--tufts of grass? And cats and dogs do just dandy on meat, thank you very much. Are human beings the only animals on the planet requiring such a princess diet?

I've come upon the answer in my recent reading.


This fast and fascinating book talks about the flip side of being the most amazing creatures the planet has yet produced, or, at least, the smartest. It turns out that there are plenty of not-so-amazing flaws we've developed along the way that are more or less survivable because we humans band together and apply cooperation and brainpower to our challenges.

Take, for example, our lameness with dietary requirements. Just about every danged animal on earth can produce its own vitamin C, for starters. In house! In their livers! Open mouth, insert food, generate vitamin C, whether the food contained any or not. But somewhere along the thousands and millions of years, some yahoo human underwent a mutation in gene GULO, which disabled the in-house vitamin C factory. But the human diet was already so varied, because we worked together and wandered about, gathering all kinds of food, that the food supply met the vitamin C needs, and the yahoo didn't even notice his defect. He didn't get scurvy and die before he could reproduce, so his dysfunctional gene wasn't skimmed from the gene pool. Instead the dope got married and had ten kids, and on it went. Now it's just humans, guinea pigs, and fruit bats who have to go outside for vitamin C.

Multiply that process times all the other essential micronutrients other animals can produce and which we can't. All the B vitamins. A. E. Nine amino acids. Linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids. Therefore, we discovered when it was far too late, if our diet didn't provide these items, we got sick. We developed scurvy or beriberi or protein deficiency or breakdowns in healthy cell membranes. Yikes. All without our knowing, we outsourced a few key processes in the factory and ran into trouble whenever the outside suppliers went out of business.

That's the bad news. Over the eons, humans become the lemons of the dietary-self-sufficiency world. The cow snickers into her tuft of grass. The dog smiles over his dry kibbles.

But the upside, of course, is that, since we're such princesses now and require our diets to provide so many things we can't provide ourselves, we get to enjoy a varied diet. As Lents puts it, 

While we eat plants and other animals mainly for their energy, consuming them also brings us all the proteins, fats, sugars, and even vitamins and minerals that those living things have in their bodies. We're not getting just energy when we eat, in other words; we're also getting various organic building blocks.

So there, cow and dog!

Even for vegans, who abjure the nutritional shortcuts that eating animals provides, "variety is the easiest way for vegetarians and vegans to ensure that they get enough of all the amino acids they need."

So pamper your princess side. Vary the foods you eat and make lemonade from the lemons our biology has handed us.

In Praise of Hospitality

When's the last time you invited someone over for a cup of tea or a meal?

 [Photo by  Matthew Henry  on  Unsplash ]

[Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash]

I heard surprising statistics this weekend on the decline in American hospitality. We still have people over for food or what-have-you, but the frequency is going down. Not too hard to believe, considering the difficulty of aligning bazillion schedules to make things happen. In our own house, we'd been trying to get together with another family, with whom we'd been trading the "we should have you over" comment for a year. After a couple months of actually trying to schedule something among all of us, I threw in the towel and just asked the other mom if she wanted to hang out.

She did. And she even offered to make me the authentic Ghanian meal she had first dangled as a lure! Yowza.

First, there was "light soup," as in, not-heavy soup. (A heavy soup might be one that was peanut-based.) Oh. My. Word. Light soup consisted of a broth made of stewed chicken, tomato, and onions, in which floated pieces of said chicken and generous portions of Alaskan King Crab legs. My hostess said that, in Ghana, the tomato-onion base was referred to as "gravy." Good gravy, that was good gravy! I was so busy slurping down two bowls of light soup that I neglected to take a picture.

 Off to make some light soup. [Photo by  Billy Redd  on  Unsplash

Off to make some light soup. [Photo by Billy Redd on Unsplash

But I did get pictures of the fried plantains:


done in a deep fryer and tasting like a cross between French fries and something faintly banana-y. We ate them mixed into the Jollof Rice:


which was a little bit like Spanish rice. My hostess deliberately made the food "not spicy," but she passed some hot sauces from the nearby Vietnamese grocery store. It was a wonderful meal which I'll always remember--not just for the fabulous food, but also for her warmth and hospitality.

Because, did I mention that, before this lunch took place, I got the date mixed up and showed up one week early (oops), surprising her in her pajamas. "Are you sick?" I asked. To which she shook her head and answered, "No, but our lunch is next week." Oops oops. But the astonishing thing was, she insisted I come in anyhow for a cup of tea. Hospitality!

Too often we picture inviting people to eat as a lot of work. We think, not only must there be food and drink, but your house should look like it's just been professionally-staged.

 Feel free to pop by! And, yes, my house always looks like this. [Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Feel free to pop by! And, yes, my house always looks like this. [Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

But what if, like my friend, we threw open the door in our pajamas and just said, "Come on in! Love me, love my mess"?

Some years ago, my husband told me about a colleague he knew who said she always left a little project lying out, not cleaned up, when guests came over, so they'd know she was human and feel comfortable. I've taken this a little too much to heart, I guess, because I leave my dining-room-"office" as is, unless we need to eat off that table. Ditto for kids' backpacks, bags going to Goodwill, and empty packaging from Christmas--and that's just what I can see from where I sit! Love me, love my mess.

And what if we opened our homes and refrigerators to some of the new people piling into our schools and neighborhoods? Did you know that, according to the City of Bellevue website, 39% of our city population was born in over 90 different foreign countries?! How is that even possible? Are there even 90 countries on the planet? Moreover, "about 50 percent of [Bellevue's] population is of a minority race or ethnicity and 42 percent...speak a language other than English at home." You know what this means, don't you? It means there is a whole city out there of fabulous ethnic home-cooking, waiting to be sampled!

So invite over that one person you've been running into and make them something from your tradition. With any luck, they'll return the favor, and the world will be a warmer, tastier place.

The Great Brain

Once upon a time, I irritated and offended a friend by referring to people in their mid-30s as "middle-aged." (At the time, we were in our mid- to late 30s.) Later I apologized and conceded that, since life expectancy for women in the US was now at 78+, people in their mid-30s technically weren't at the halfway point. Since that little brouhaha, however, some years have passed, and I think there's no denying that, once you're in your 40s, 50s, and 60s, you're "middle-aged," if not even gathering speed on the downhill slope.

 Where are the brakes on these things??? [Photo by  Max Kramer  on  Unsplash

Where are the brakes on these things??? [Photo by Max Kramer on Unsplash

As a fellow downhill skier, my interest in the aging process has grown, especially when my kids say to me impatiently, "You already asked me that!" or my Alzheimer's-afflicted mother-in-law asks me for the fourth time in an afternoon what grade the kids are in now.

Anyone who has ever searched for a word, or forgotten a name seconds after meeting someone, or needed to be reminded of a memory that everyone else seems to share and swears you were present at, will be interested in what I've learned about the aging--and the aging brain in particular.

For starters, I love brain books such as Oliver Sacks wrote, stuffed with anecdotes of weird things that go wrong with people's brains. But as I've aged, I've become more interested in what can be done about the things that go wrong, which is where this book comes in:


Author Doidge takes just about any brain condition and talks about how new learnings in brain plasticity have led to new, powerful therapies. Once your brain is broken, in whatever area, it doesn't have to stay broken. No matter your age or how long ago the breakdown happened. The brain has the marvelous ability to reroute functions around non-functional areas. This includes brains damaged by injury, disease, aging. Doidge tells amazing stories about stroke victims, blind people, autistic children, people with cerebral palsy, you name it. And he talks about people just plain getting older and noticing their processing speeds and memory aren't what they used to be. There are therapies, folks! We no longer have to ride off into the mental sunset when the horse turns that direction--not without putting up a fight, at least, and getting the horse to detour for a while longer. Seriously, it's impossible to read this book without wanting to send copies to everyone you know with whatever condition.

But since I'm aging and have been thinking a lot about my mother-in-law's dementia and my father-in-law's cognitive impairment, I was most interested at the moment in the aging brain stuff. About memory Doidge writes,

A major reason memory loss occurs as we age is that we have trouble registering new events in our nervous systems, because processing speed slows down, so that the accuracy, strength and sharpness with which we perceive declines. If you can't register something clearly, you won't be able to remember it well (loc 1479).

How to remedy this? With learning. With focused concentration, as when we were younger and had to learn everything. Basically, by middle age, you spend your days doing things you've been doing for years, if not decades: your job, your household tasks, driving, reading and talking in the same old language. Nothing new under the sun. You're replaying mastered skills, even while the systems that allowed you to master them in the first place go slowly downhill (see picture of skier, above). This is why, when adults between 60-87 participated in an "auditory memory program" that trained them on exercises for processing sound, they turned their memory clocks back 10+ years. But even if you can't afford or don't have access to fancy therapies, we can do homegrown therapies of our own. Doidge suggests:

  • studying a musical instrument;
  • playing board games;
  • reading;
  • dancing;
  • exercise, like walking or cycling;
  • picking up any new skill that requires intense focus because of its unfamiliarity.

Brain researcher John Medina echoes these recommendations in his new book


while adding some interesting suggestions:

  • engage in conversation/debate with someone whose point of view does not agree with your own (!!! How happy that there seem to be plenty of opportunities nowadays, if we could work up the courage);
  • put off retirement because total retirement = brain death;
  • get some sleep;
  • and don't just read, but read 3.5 hours a day! (I'd like to know how that can be managed if you're also still working, but I suppose if you replaced TV with reading, you'd come close.)

Neither book talked diet, but I'm guessing the same foods that prolong our general physical health certainly wouldn't damage our brains. You know--ye olde fruits and vegetables.

Now that you've read this post, you've completed 5 minutes of your 3.5 hours of reading, so you'd better hurry off and get to the rest of it. We'll see you later at dance class.

New Year's Resolutions, in Miniature

After six years of club swimming and one year of begging to quit, my youngest has now graduated to "just" summer league and high school swimming. In place of club swimming, she has joined the gym and--miracle!--used it several times per week. But even as a new gym member, it didn't take her long to experience the New Year's crush.

 New Year, new you??? [Photo by  Brooke Lark  on  Unsplash

New Year, new you??? [Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

"The gym was super crowded, all of a sudden!" she marveled.

"Don't worry. It's New Year's Resolutions," I assured her. "They'll be gone by March. If not February."

We turn that calendar over, and hope springs eternal, doesn't it? This will be the year we quit the bad habit. We drop the ten pounds. We pursue that goal.

But if and when we fail, it tends to make us more cynical about making changes in the future. Why bother? What would make it work this time? Don't worry about gym overcrowding--everyone will give up in a few weeks.

This got me to thinking about miniature New Year's resolutions. Why not start smaller, so we can tick something off the list and feel success? Forget losing ten pounds. Forget suddenly starting to eat four servings of vegetables a day, when now you get one, if you're lucky? Small steps. Slow and steady wins the race.

 Even better when you walk, make eye contact. [Photo by  Matt Quinn  on  Unsplash ]

Even better when you walk, make eye contact. [Photo by Matt Quinn on Unsplash]

How about trying one of these micro-resolutions for size and durability?

  1. Walk one errand. Pick one errand on your to-do list this week and walk it, instead of driving. I had to return some library books and realized I had two hours in which to do it. A quick map search told me it would be 1.7 miles each way, 3.4 miles round-trip. Entirely doable. Later that night I was a little sore, but I slept like the dead.
  2. Skip one hour of TV. What time do you usually flop on the couch, never to rise again until it's time to go to bed? What if you put it off for one hour, just once this week, and used that time to call a friend/ read a book/ clean out a drawer. Set a timer, and when the hour is up, return to flopping like usual.
  3. Delete one social media app for a day. Which one do you check compulsively? Which one do you decide to glance at, and find an hour's gone by? Delete it from your phone for one day. Whenever you go to check it and find it not there, take a victory lap and think of one thing you love about your life.
  4. Try one new vegetable recipe. Dust off the cookbooks and pore over the vegetable recipes for something you've never tried. Or close your eyes and point to a recipe. Make score cards for your family, that they can hold up for fun.
  5. Learn one foreign phrase. One good thing about living in Bellevue is that there are so many languages spoken. On my walking errand to the library, I heard Spanish and Mandarin Chinese from fellow pedestrians. Exercise your brain by learning how to say something in another language.

Today I'll be trying #4, since the acorn squash in our pantry are turning orange (???). I figure, if you did each of these once per week, 2019 would find an even more amazing You.

Beat an Addiction in 2018!

It's January 3rd, which means we're three days in to our family's annual tradition of Sugar-Free January. Which, if you've been following this blog for longer than a year, you know really means "Dessert-Free" January, since it's not really our aim to root out every last grain of sugar in salad dressings or ketchup or crackers. Dessert-free. Farewell for thirty-one days to the cookies, candies, cakes, pastries, and other treats we overindulged in, in December.

I've been thinking about addictions lately, having just come off a family trip where all the teenagers stared at their phones any second we weren't eating or playing a board game. Addictions come in all shapes and sizes, not just in the shape of alcohol or illicit drugs. In fact, I've picked up this book, but haven't yet started reading:


Do I need a book to tell me people get addicted to phones and video games and social media? Not really. But I'll see what he has to say.

Whatever your personal addiction--sugar, technology, shopping, diet, exercise, harmful substances, porn--you may be encouraged by a book I did already read, which argues that addiction is not a chronic disease. Contrary to the argument currently in the ascendant, addictions aren't forever.


Author Lewis makes the amazing claim that, "most addicts and alcoholics do recover, and that a majority of those—up to three-quarters, depending on where you get your statistics—recover without any treatment" (8%--Kindle copy, so, sorry, no page numbers!). He also draws little distinction between addictions to harmful substances and other addictions:

Behavioural addictions assume the same characteristics, the same trajectory, and often the same outcomes as substance addictions. Gambling, sex addiction, porn preoccupations, eating disorders, and even excessive Internet use have entered the spotlight next to drugs and booze... (11%)

Why do we become addicted in the first place? Not through disease, but rather through our brain plasticity. That is, our addictions are a result of the brain naturally adjusting to the feedback cycle it's faced with and trying to streamline for greatest efficiency, as it does with all habits. And habits formed with an emotion tied to them are all the more powerful. Not many people get emotional about brushing their teeth, but we sure might enjoy the rush of pleasure from that first bite of cheesecake or that first (or third or fifth) drink that settles our anxiety.

And, granted, some addictions are easier to train away than others. Sugar really isn't such a tough one, other than a few days of craving throughout the month.

But in every addiction, Lewis finds a deeply-engrained habit, made up of three parts: (1) the mental habit; (2) the feeling habit, in which desire is involved; and (3) the behavioral habit--that groove you lay down in your brain--that becomes more and more compulsive. Take sugar, for example. The mental habit is that I like to have something sweet after lunch sometimes and always after dinner. The feeling habit is that I get all anticipatory about which yummy treat I'm going to indulge in. The behavioral habit is I do it just about every single day, unless it's January, so I wear a deep, deep groove in my brain. Having dessert becomes automatic. So, in January, I have to make a mental choice to remind myself that it's January, season of deprivation. I have to transfer my desire to savoring a cup of tea, maybe a little more mindfully. I have to replace the dessert behavior with a Satsuma.

But for deeper-seated, more damaging addictions, Lewis argues that there's often more going on. We might have anxiety or past trauma or impulsivity. There might have been a perfect storm of character traits, combined with a thrilling "sudden romance with feel-good chemicals" that resulted in compulsive behavior. We might need help examining what goes into our addiction and reconnecting the thinking train to it. Especially since, "whether the addiction is to alcohol, meth, coke, tobacco, or heroin, grey matter volume in some prefrontal areas has been thought to decrease by as much as 20 percent" (46%). That is, the more we've given into our substance addiction, the less mental wherewithal we have to combat it. Happily, even a few months of abstinence reverses the brain decline.

If you're struggling with a deep-seated addiction, maybe 2018 is the year you decide you want to get your life back! Read some books about it. Make an appointment with a counselor. One woman in the book, jailed for drugs, took advantage of her prison time (and being forced to go cold-turkey) to read books on mindfulness and addiction, so that she could sort her way out of it. It's not bad, to learn addiction isn't an incurable disease. It's actually hopeful.

Happy New Year.

Handmade with Love, or, at Least, Effort

Gift-giving is not my forte. If I'd had my way, those Three Kings would've shown up at the nativity with nothing more than a handmade card and called it good. But it was what it was, and now the rest of us are roped into this tradition of giving gifts to dozens of people of varying levels of intimacy, until we reach the level of intimacy where we can say, "Let's not exchange gifts," and nobody's feelings are hurt. Life goals.

 This year's book club cookie exchange haul

This year's book club cookie exchange haul

Moreover, I've been reading Nomadland, a nonfiction book about all the Americans, many of them retirement age, living out of their vans and RVs, driving around the country doing exhausting, low-wage, physical work in sugar beet fields and Amazon warehouses. Ay ay ay! Look what my sugar habit and online purchases are doing to people!


All of which is to say, if we must give gifts, homemade foods seem like a good alternative. Or anything that didn't require an elderly person on four Aleve a day to scan and load or unload or stack or categorize it.

My son's swim team did a Secret Santa name-draw, and, in an improvement over past years, he was able to come up with a concept, which he passed off on me and his younger sister to execute. (As recently as last Christmas, I would have been required to come up with both concept and execution.) It seemed his chosen recipient liked chess. Well, we guessed he already had a chess set or two, chess books, etc. So what if we did chess cookies?

A quick search on Amazon revealed that chess cookie cutters would not only require elder abuse, but would also set us back a hefty amount. Instead I opted for homemade chess stencils:

 Printed out, glued to cereal-box cardboard, and cut out. Frosting not included.

Printed out, glued to cereal-box cardboard, and cut out. Frosting not included.

To make sure the frosting was durable, we chose the Royal Icing variety, which I decided I'll never make again, durability or no durability. It's more like spackle and about as tasty.

 The finished product: blue team

The finished product: blue team

Who knows? The kid might have received his highly effortful gift, left it out on the counter all night, container lid open, so that everything got stale, or he might have loved them. We'll never know, because one teenage boy gave them to another teenage boy, and the results were never discussed. By clever interrogation, I did manage to learn one thing. Me: "But did he look more disgusted or delighted?" 16YO: "Delighted."  It'll have to do.

Merry Christmas to all. No post next week because I'll be off Christmasing with family, but enjoy this last hurrah before Sugar-Free January.

Of Pomegranates and Persimmons

Back when I used to subscribe to Bon Appétit Magazine, one of my favorite features was where people wrote in, requesting restaurant recipes for dishes they loved. (On the other hand, one of my least-favorite features was the monthly article on happy rich people entertaining other happy rich people in their privileged primary/vacation homes--gag. But that's another story.) Anyhow, I was at work the other day and heard of a holiday salad served to rave reviews and pleas to share the recipe. The recipe was then duly begged for by me, but it has yet to materialize.

 Pomegranates just scream "holiday." [Photo by  Nathalie Jolie  on  Unsplash

Pomegranates just scream "holiday." [Photo by Nathalie Jolie on Unsplash

Therefore, when I was shopping at Uwajimaya for the Quadratini wafer cookies my son loves so much and saw a bin of persimmons, I had the urge to attempt the salad myself, based only on a verbal description.

Mind you, I'd never eaten a persimmon before, despite them now being grown across a wide swath of the United States. I haven't any idea if they're water hogs or environmental boons or disasters, or if slaves have to pick them, or whatever. But, just like pomegranates, they're beautiful fruit for a holiday salad, and pretty tasty, too. The main variety for sale has a kind of embarrassing name--if one gave one's mother-in-law a box of "Fuyu" persimmons as a Christmas gift, would she be pleased, or would she suspect an underlying message?

 Fuyu persimmons (not "Fuyu, persimmons"--see how important punctuation is?)

Fuyu persimmons (not "Fuyu, persimmons"--see how important punctuation is?)

It turns out my half-remembered, made-up Holiday Salad went over big at dinner, and we had it two days in a row. So I now share my own version with you all, for your holiday tables.

Made-Up Holiday Salad

Serves 4

4 cups torn Romaine lettuce leaves (I might try spinach next)
1 ripe persimmon (should give when you press on it)
1 section of pomegranate seeds
1/4 cucumber, sliced
1/3 to 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
crumbled goat cheese (optional--my 14YO objects to it)
your favorite vinaigrette (the recipe originator called for garlic vinaigrette)

As I mentioned, I might try it again with spinach and possibly some sautéed shallots. Delicious.

So much for the good-for-you food. Now it's back to business, completing cookies for a cookie exchange tonight. That recipe actually started with boxed cake mix(!!!), which is why today's post was not about them.

Our Changing Grocery Store

We live in a food wonderland, you probably realize. We have our Bellevue Farmers Market six months a year, plenty of grocery and food specialty stores in spitting distance, and restaurants and food trucks galore. And surely the national trend of young Americans leaving desk jobs to farm (usually in environmentally-aware ways) includes a load of Washington representatives. How spoiled are we? Even my oldest daughter, when she tires of the food (and lack of awesome vegetables) at her sorority, catches a bus with a friend and hits the prepared-food offerings at the nearest PCC.

But all our spoiledness didn't stop me from wishing our area had a Heinen's. I'm not from Cleveland, but reading Grocery: the Buying and Selling of Food in America, with its especial focus on how that family-owned store changed over the decades, inspired me to look online at the area. Imagine: good food and a good baseball team!


If you're interested in food (and why would you be reading this blog if you weren't?) and our food system, this is a fun and fascinating read. The nutritional info may be familiar, but it's a good reminder. I suffered familiar pangs of if-I-had-it-all-to-do-over-again when Ruhlman talked about "stripped carbs" and breakfast cereal. 2018 may be the year the Dudleys finally part ways with Cheerios. And watch out for the sugar levels in granola bars! I picked a fancy one up at a local coffee shop to read the label and almost dropped it in alarm when I saw how many grams of sugar it contained. Yikes. It made the Kashi ones I'd bought with a coupon look like kale bars.

There were other interesting bits in the book, as in:

  • Americans consume 50% of their calories through snacking(!).
  • Only 58% of American dinners require actual cooking. The others involve "assembling" purchased, prepared elements, or reheating fully-prepared foods.
  • In 1975, the typical grocery store had fewer than 9000 items. Now they offer 45,000. And that isn't 36,000 new kinds of fruits and vegetables. It's processed products and prepared foods.
  • "When you choose a non-GMO-verified product, it's not necessarily any better for you than a GMO product, but it is a vote for better agricultural practices."
  • When it comes to choosing unprepared, healthier food options, like fruits and vegetables, instead of processed foods, "We can spend our money here or we can spend it at the drugstore [on medicines]." That is, we either put better food into our bodies, or we pay to fix those bodies later, after the cumulative damage is done.

Ruhlman did spend some time exploding grocery-store myths which I had read in other places. For example, the refrigerated cases are in the back, not to lure you through the entire store, but because refrigerated cases take a lot of space and loading, and it's most convenient to put that at the back where the trucks can pull up and where they won't block everything. And most grocery stores don't, in fact, play slow music so you'll spend lots of time there. They play whatever music the employees happen to have chosen. (I've personally found that the thing that clogs up grocery store aisles the most, and adds to the time I spend shopping, is how many elderly shoppers and/or parents with the giant plastic race-car carts are in the store that day.)

Even though grocery stores make their highest margins in the produce department, they carry all the crap because they don't want shoppers being forced to go elsewhere to find what they're looking for. And the steaming, buffet offerings of prepared foods are not big moneymakers, but it's what people want more and more--someone else to do the cooking for them.

 The atrium of Heinen's Downtown Cleveland store - given over to prepared food dining

The atrium of Heinen's Downtown Cleveland store - given over to prepared food dining

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, make the effort to do your own cooking, as much as possible. It's healthier--you choose the ingredients and know exactly what is and is not in it--and cheaper and brings the family together. I was pleased someone interviewed for the book quoted the same diet plan I think will fix the world:

Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It's short, and it's simple. Here's my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That's it. Eat anything you want--just as long as you're willing to cook it yourself.

Of course, given my family's obsession with The Great British Baking Show and our love for baking, this diet plan won't work the same wonders as it might in your house. But that's what our Sugar-Free January is for...

Stollen Moments

Years ago, former director of the Bellevue Farmers Market Lori Taylor gave me a loaf of Christmas bread from one of the Market bakers. I can't even remember which baker it was or what it was called, but I hid that loaf in the freezer and ate the entire thing myself, slice by slice. It was a crusty loaf, not sweet, and not covered with powdered sugar, but inside were bits of dried fruit and nuggets of mouthwatering almond paste.

Whenever the Christmas season rolls around, my thoughts return to that elusive loaf. It doesn't help that our family has recently started watching The Great British Baking Show and critiquing any family bakes in Paul Hollywood's accent. (My Thanksgiving rolls were sadly "oonderbaked."

 Everyone's a critic

Everyone's a critic

Well, since I was newly inspired, and my bread machine had bit the dust, I decided this Christmas was the time to try recipes that just might be like That Famous Loaf (TFL). For starters, TFL sounded a little like traditional Christmas stollen, in that it contained dried fruit and almond paste, so that seemed like a decent place to start. I knew right off that I wanted to adjust the recipes I saw out there--candied citrons? Yuck! Ditto marzipan. I hit the grocery store and chose dried apricots, dried Bing cherries, and some candied pineapple. In place of marzipan I got a brick of almond paste. I also threw in a few raisins. A very nice fruit combo, it turned out.


The dough mixed up with no problems, even after I substituted whole-wheat flour for 1/4 of the total flour. I did discover that kneading dough for ten minutes is a good workout, and ten minutes feels more like twenty.

Then there was lots of rising time, followed by kneading the chopped dried fruit and almond paste in, which I didn't do that great of a job of. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would surely comment on how my filling ingredients weren't evenly distributed.

More rising time, and then into the oven for a half-hour bake. The result? Well, I can see why they usually cover it in powdered sugar, because it isn't really that attractive.

 Kind of like a Thanksgiving turkey with slugs on it

Kind of like a Thanksgiving turkey with slugs on it

 And there you see the uneven distribution of fruit

And there you see the uneven distribution of fruit

On the other hand, the bread was quite tasty warm with butter spread on it. It wasn't TFL, but it was yummy anyhow. And quite giftable, after you apologized for its ugliness. And maybe after you sprinkled it with the powdered sugar, like this baker did:

 Photo by  Jennifer Pallian  on  Unsplash  (Check out that fruit distribution!)

Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash (Check out that fruit distribution!)

I notice her loaf had a more uniform shape and better distribution. Perfectly presentable.

In any case, I'm going to try again to recreate TFL, this time using a regular artisan loaf recipe, with the fruit and almond paste thrown in. But if these homely stollen have stolen your heart, here's the approximate recipe from The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook:

Stollen (German Christmas Bread)

1/2 c sugar, scant
1-1/2 tsp salt
4-1/2 tsp yeast (or two packets)
about 6 cups of flour, of which 1-1/2 can be whole wheat
1-1/4 c milk
3/4 c butter 
3 eggs
3/4 box almond paste
1 cup total of chopped dried fruit
Powdered sugar
In the stand mixer, combine sugar, salt, yeast, and 2 cups flour. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine milk and butter and heat until 120-130F. (I got distracted and totally melted all the butter and brought it to 140F, so I just let it cool off a minute afterward.)
Gradually stir liquid into dry ingredients until just blended. Then beat at medium for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs and another 1/2 c flour. Beat another 2 minutes. Then mix in another 2-3/4 c flour with a wooden spoon.
Turn the shaggy dough out on a floured surface and knead 10 minutes, adding in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and put in a greased bowl, covered, to rise an hour.
Punch down the dough and knead in the fruits and almond paste. Divide the dough in three pieces, putting one in the fridge to wait.
With a floured rolling pin, roll 1 piece of the dough into a 12x7 oval. Then fold it in half lengthwise and place on a large cookie sheet. Repeat with second piece of dough and place 3" apart from the first loaf. Cover and let rise another hour. After 30 minutes of rising time, prepare the third piece of dough and put it on another cookie sheet.
Preheat to 350F. Bake the first two loaves 25-30 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Bake third loaf. When everything is cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Like I said, with all the egg, this had more of a challah texture, rather than a crackly crust. I wanted the crackly crust. You live, you learn. But this would make delicious French toast or an accompaniment to a cup of tea, if you toasted it and spread it with cream cheese. Stollen moments, indeed.


Gift Ideas for Your Food Lover

This is the year I'm finally breaking down and taking my teenage daughters shopping on Black Friday. Major concession, even if we're only going to Fred Meyer in the Tri-Cities. My husband suggested adding the Columbia Center mall in Kennewick, but let's start with baby steps.

 On your mark, get set--shop! (Photo by  Alexandru Tugui  on  Unsplash

On your mark, get set--shop! (Photo by Alexandru Tugui on Unsplash

If you're like me and your least favorite part of Christmas is the pressure of buying gifts, let me offer some possibly helpful suggestions. First off, two of my favorite food-related books read in 2017:


Hmm...come to think of it, giving this book could cause offense, depending on the health of the person you give it to, or it could temporarily turn your recipient into a sugar-fearing drill sergeant. Maybe this could be the gift you give yourself.

But this one is good for all purposes:


Never Out of Season combines history and food and a little science for a fascinating look at the global food supply. And it isn't entirely gloom and doom, either. But if the person you give it to also likes gardening, they'll have a blast poring over this catalog I found in Whole Foods:

 Wholesome family not included, I'm guessing

Wholesome family not included, I'm guessing

It was loads of fun just to page through this glossy, full-color catalog, bursting with all those varieties of fruits and vegetables and even flowers you don't find in the stores anymore (but which you often do see at the Bellevue Farmers Market). It looks like you can also order the catalog direct, here.

If your loved ones like to cook, one of my best purchases in 2017 was a croissant-making class that I took with my younger daughter at Whisk on Main Street. Not only did we come away with new skills and tasty samples, but we were able to reproduce them at home, and she said it was her favorite gift. Whisk offers many different classes, including some for younger kids, and I'm already eyeing the offerings for this Christmas.

 Ours looked like these, only not as good. (Photo by  Dane Deaner  on  Unsplash

Ours looked like these, only not as good. (Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

I'll do a post on home-cooked Christmas gifts later, but wouldn't it be fun to receive a complete meal that can be put in the freezer? Or a homemade gift coupon inviting the recipient(s) for dinner and a movie/board game/heartfelt conversation at your house on a possible date?

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and, really, don't bother reading this post until after you've pushed away from the feast table, happy and satisfied.

Rainy-Day Pulled Pork

One week till Thanksgiving. So far the rolls and green bean casserole are in the freezer, and the cranberry sauce lurks in the back of the fridge. I road-tested slow-cooker turkey breast and found it...fine. Not awesome, but fine. I'm thinking I'll roast a turkey on Wednesday and reheat on Thursday. Today is earmarked for hitting three stores for food (ridiculous, I know), so I'll make this quick.

We had the easiest, most yummy meal on Monday, inspired by a friend who mentioned having it and created a craving in me. The barbecue sauce recipe below is all hers! You do need to season the meat the night before, which takes all of three minutes, so plan ahead. (Or experiment with skipping it--desperate times calling for desperate measures, and all.)

slow cooker.jpg

My Variation on Their "Beginner's Pulled Pork"

1/4 c brown sugar, scant
2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1 pork roast, cut in four pieces
1 c Robin's barbecue sauce or your favorite

Combine all the seasonings in a bowl, along with 1/2 tsp salt. Prick the roast all over with a fork and then rub the seasonings over. Throw the seasoned meat in a Ziploc overnight.

The next morning, dump the meat in the slow cooker and pour the barbecue sauce over. Cover and cook 9-11 hours on low. Remove and shred the meat. Rather than draining the fat off the minimal sauce left in the slow-cooker, I just serve with fresh barbecue sauce, buns, and slaw.

Robin's No-Cook Barbecue Sauce

1 c ketchup
1/2 c molasses
1/4 c vinegar
1/4 c Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp garlic powder

Combine and use!

I served the pork on buns I pulled from the freezer, with some slaw made of Napa cabbage and carrots, mixed with a little mayonnaise and vinegar. On the side I roasted my usual combination of whatever vegetables I found in the bin: brussels sprouts, onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

Why can't Thanksgiving be this simple? In one instance it's going to be, because I'm skipping the complicated squash dish and doing the roast vegetables listed above. Easy peasy and better for you.

Happy countdown week to you all!

The Turkeys are Coming, The Turkeys are Coming!

It's a rite of passage that, one year, sooner or later, the turkey is on you. You, and you alone, are fully responsible for making sure the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table holds pride of place.

 You hold my fate in your hands. (Photo by  Andrea Reiman  on  Unsplash

You hold my fate in your hands. (Photo by Andrea Reiman on Unsplash

This year the moment has arrived for me. We're headed to Richland, as usual, for Thanksgiving with my in-laws, but last year it was already touch-and-go. They put the turkey in the oven--check. But they couldn't remember when they did that, so it roasted pretty long and heartily. This year, who knows what might happen. Therefore, I am bringing the whole dinner.

Sadly, I neglected to order a turkey from on of our wonderful farmers during the Market season. Which meant that, when I went to the store this week, thinking I would do a "dry run" of the process, QFC didn't have a single turkey yet. (Apparently they descend Saturday.) Frozen goose, yes. Frozen Cornish hens (does anyone still eat those?), yes. Even frozen capon, for Pete's sake. I don't think I could point to a capon if I saw one sitting next to me.

That left me--yikes!--a "Jennie-O Oven-Ready Turkey Breast." Call me a control freak, but I don't like people doing my seasoning for me. And I'm pretty sure that my poor turkey breast, when it was connected to the rest of its turkey body, lived a sad, unpleasant turkey life on an industrial turkey farm. But beggars with poor planning can't be choosers, so I bought the danged thing and took it home.

It's now in the slow cooker with some celery and onion and homemade chicken broth, and it smells WONDERFUL.

If you're responsible for a whole lot this Thanksgiving, this long weekend is a great opportunity to get ahead and throw some things in the fridge and freezer:

1. The cranberry sauce. That stuff has enough sugar in it that you could probably make it on the 4th of July, and it'd keep just fine in the fridge until Thanksgiving. I've already made mine, and it's ready to go.

2. The homemade rolls. My second bread machine broke on me (second bread machine in 23 years, that is, so I'm not too annoyed), and I've decided to go cold-turkey, appliance-wise. I'm going to take my favorite roll recipe and do it the old-fashioned way. Try these--they're delicious and--I hope--still pretty easy if you have a stand-mixer.

Homemade Rolls

2-1/2 to 2-3/4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp salt
2-1/4 tsp yeast (equivalent to a packet)
1/2 c warm water
1/2 c warm milk
1 egg

Mix a cup of the white flour and the whole-wheat flour with the sugar, butter, salt, and yeast in the mixing bowl. Add the liquids and the egg. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl frequently. Increase speed a little and continue to add it the remaining flour until the dough looks not too sticky and easier to handle.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead about five minutes until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to coat. Cover with a dish towel and let rise an hour.

Grease a 13x9 pan. Punch down the dough and divide into 16 equal pieces. Shape each piece in a ball and place in pan. (I let them all touch, so the rolls have soft sides after being baked.) Cover and let rise another 30 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 375. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or let cool completely and freeze. When you want to serve them, remove them from the freezer and let them thaw on the counter for a few hours.

3. The green bean casserole and or squash casserole. Totally make-ahead and freezable. My MIL doesn't like squash, so we'll be doing the green bean casserole and vegetables roasted that day.

4. The pie. Pumpkin isn't great to freeze, but apple is.

I'll keep you posted on my crock-pot turkey, but if it turns out well, I think I'll be doing a breast and a couple turkey legs in the pot on the fateful day!

Chocolate's Backstory

Aah...another Halloween has passed. If you're an average American, you're now packing away the approximately $75 worth of decorations and costume items you purchased for the occasion, and packing away any leftover candy into the spare tire hanging around your waist. And, if you're a Millenial, you're stashing the $183 worth you spent and wondering why money is always so tight.

Being a tightwad and not all that excited about Halloween (Thanksgiving is my favorite), I only spent about $10 on two little pumpkins and a bag of Snickers, which nobody at all came by to claim. Kids eat anything with sugar, it seems, but after a certain age Snickers don't really satisfy after all because we want to spend our calorie budget on real chocolate. Good chocolate.

 Photo by  Michał Grosicki  on  Unsplash

Much homage is paid to chocolate and always has been, since the time it was the hot beverage used by the Mayans and Olmecs of Mesoamerica as a ceremonial drink and aphrodisiac. The conquering Europeans never passed up anything in the New World that could be exploited, and they soon brought the drink back home, but most of us don't do our chocolate consumption in the hot-beverage form anymore. We love the solid stuff. The melt-in-your-mouth experience.

 This one is a personal weakness

This one is a personal weakness

It turns out there's many a step between the Mesoamerican chocolate drink and the highly processed and shelf-stable Erdbeer-Joghurt Milka chocolate bar. Even before the Mesoamericans enjoyed their bitter, gritty brew there were several steps. These steps are outlined in detail many places, but I most recently encountered them in a fun little materials science book:


Not only did I enjoy this one, but my sixteen-year-old son tore through it as well(!). As you might guess from the cover, chocolate is only one of the materials Miodownik explores, but he appropriately titles that chapter "Delicious."

Okay, so chocolate's backstory.

The first thing you need to know is that raw cocoa pods off the tropical trees taste nothing like the food of our dreams. First they must be whacked off the tree with a machete. Then they're thrown in a pile on the ground to--basically--rot and ferment. This stops the seeds from sprouting and also creates chocolate's "fruity" notes, along with earthy and nutty and umami-ish ones. Then it's time to roast the beans, because everything tastes better roasted and caramelized, and the Maillard reaction reduces chocolate's natural bitterness.

If you're an ancient Mayan, just grind up the result, add water, and you're ready for your religious ceremony.

If you're a 19th century European, you'll want to press the cocoa butter out of the roasted beans, grind what remains down to cocoa powder, and then use that as a base for your hot chocolate.

If you're a Fry and Sons chocolatier at the beginning of the 20th century, you brainstorm adding the cocoa fat back in and making the world's first chocolate bars.

 Good work, fellas!

Good work, fellas!

The bitter flavors of the chocolate get offset with 30% sugar and some milk, and a pernicious habit is born.

If you've been lucky enough to enjoy chocolate from around the world, you can confirm what Miodownik tells us about milk chocolate:

These days the type of milk added to chocolate varies widely throughout the world, andd this is the main reason that milk chocolate tastes different from country to country. In the USA the milk used has had some of its fat removed by enzymes, giving the chocolate a cheesy, almost rancid flavor. In the UK sugar is added to liquid milk, and it is this solution, reduced to a concentrate, that is added to the chocolate, creating a milder caramel flavor. In Europe powdered milk is still used, giving the chocolate a fresh dairy flavor with a powdery texture. These different tastes do not travel well. Despite globalization, the preferred taste of milk chocolate, once acquired, remains surprisingly regional.

Hearing that American milk chocolate has a "cheesy, almost rancid flavor" to foreigners is alarming, but I guess they always say you can never smell your own house.

The book spends some time describing the four types of crystal structures cocoa fat can be made to form, resulting in chocolate with higher or lower melting points and greater or lesser "snap." Whenever we melt chocolate at home and let it reform, it does so into Types III and IV crystals, which are "soft and crumbly and have no brittle 'snap' when broken." But let those types of crystals sit long enough, and they will transform into Type V, the most stable. You'll know when it's happened because your chocolate will have "bloomed," ejecting some sugar and fat and looking white and powdery on the outside. I've always thrown that chocolate out, and even knowing it's a harmless chemical transformation doesn't make me any more likely to eat it.

And finally, after flavor and sweetness and richness and "snap" and melt, chocolate endears itself with its secret, "psychoactive" ingredients. There's the caffeine, of course--a little. And theobromine, a stimulant and antioxidant that happens to kill dogs. And then there are the tiny amounts of cannabinoids, as in, the same ingredient that makes you high when you smoke dope. No wonder we love the stuff.

So think about all this, as you reach in the Halloween bowl for that snack-sized chocolate bar, that dumbed-down country cousin of what, when properly handled, used to be the food of the gods.