Christmas Ideas 2014

We've been going Amish this Christmas. Not out of any life philosophy, but rather due to the fact that everything technological in the house (and a thing or two biological) is breaking down. The microwave is out of commission. The toaster oven is only toasting the back end of whatever you insert. Even Manifold Destiny is out because the Subaru is leaking an awful gas smell (after having been "repaired" of the issue last week).

Remember this? A brilliant idea only a guy could come up with

Nevertheless, it's my annual Christmas gift post, and, thank heaven, the regular oven still works. Check out these puppies:

Those would be "Megan's Sugar Cookies," which I posted about here. I tend to get stuck in gift ruts, so the neighbors will find a few sugar cookies on their annual plates.

And a friend came by yesterday bearing a gift. I was empty-handed, but fortunately I was also in the process of making granola, and she went away with a baggie-ful. This was the granola I traditionally give out to some of my husband's co-workers, and which I posted here.

NOT how yesterday's was presented, but you get the idea

If you're into no-bake this Christmas, give my "Payraise Bars" a try. In fact--SPOILER ALERT--this is what my husband's co-workers are getting this year instead of the usual granola, and you can find the recipe here.

And finally, if you'd rather they did some of the cooking, you can always give them a new cookbook and get a concrete date on the calendar for a potluck dinner. I'm still plugging this cookbook because I use it at least once a week:

Imagine how often I'd use it if I actually were vegetarian!

The kale salad new to this edition is pretty tasty! And you still can't beat her pico de gallo, butternut squash souffle, tomato tart, and stir-fried vegetables with fermented black beans. I know everyone gets their recipes online nowadays, including me many times, but I still go back to a handful of cookbooks, and it's a lot less alarming if I spill/splatter/drip on them, rather than my laptop.

Merry Christmas (or Christmas-Alternative) to all. I'll be taking Christmas Eve off, but then I'll come roaring back with the usual get-your-food-life-in-gear New Year's post!

Breaking Out of the Food Rut

"Round of Hungary with a Padron backdrop" (River Farm's FB page)

A few years ago, a friend of mine hosted a high school exchange student from Mexico, and things have never been the same. Not only because the gal was older than my friend's daughters and provided a (sometimes alarming) preview of the teen years, but because she introduced them to jalapenos, and apparently once you've been with jalapenos, baby, you never go back.

Nowadays, if you open my friend's refrigerator, there's always a jar of sliced jalapenos, to be thrown in quesadillas, scrambled into eggs, tossed on a bland pizza. If that doesn't jazz it up enough, they add their student's favorite hot sauce.

I have to tell you--my own family's tolerance for spicy foods is pretty low. My husband's eyes water; my son complains like there's a blazing inferno if a red pepper flake crosses his tongue. So whenever we eat jalapenos (mostly in last week's pico de gallo), there are no seeds involved. And we gravitate toward the larger, milder peppers. Poblanos for chile relleno? Check. Anaheims or Guernicas for a salsa verde? Sure. And, of course, bell peppers for salads and shish kebabs and roasted for all purposes.

Another great pic from River Farm

Expand your food horizons and check out the selection at River Farms or Alvarez. I found this pepper primer with pictures to help you distinguish all those capiscum family members from each other. This Thursday we even hope to host chef and author Greta Hardin, who would be glad to answer pepper (and other) questions because she's actually written a cookbook called Cooking Your Local Produce (Ward Street Press).

Hardin hails from Seattle, so when she says "local," she means local to us! She'll have cookbooks for purchase and signing as well, if you want to take her knowledge and recipes home with you.

'Tis also the season for that other Mexican-cooking standby, the tomatillo.

Spotted at Alm Hill

As a compulsive reader, I found myself reading the sides of my tortilla chip bag one lunchtime, and they included a recipe for a salsa verde for which I think you can find everything at the Market:

Que Pasa's Salsa Verde

15 fresh tomatillos
2-3 fresh jalapeno or serrano chillies
1/2 small white onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup water
6-8 sprigs cilantro
1/2 tsp salt

Remove husks and wash tomatillos.
De-stem and was chillies. Slice onion into julienne strips and set aside with tomatillos and chillies. On a dry skillet, toast tomatillos, chillies, onions, and garlic until slightly brown. Occasional spraying of water on the skillet will prevent sticking. Tomatillos should feel soft and slightly blistered.
Add ingredients and 1/3 cup water into a food processor or blender and puree.
Add fresh cilantro and salt and blend once more until ingredients are well mixed.

Mmm! Then serve it with chips or whip up some enchiladas verdes, and you're in business.

These would be dessert

So lose your if-it's-Saturday-it-must-be-spaghetti mindset and try some of our height-of-the season peppers this week! You might find your life will never be the same.

50 Shades of Food

Midnight snack

"Everyone has his little quirks, my friend," Meadows said as he lifted his sandwich. "Some people chase other people's wives. Some lose themselves in whiskey. I find my solace in nature's own nourishment...Food may well kill me, but it's also what has made life such a pleasure." - JAWS by Peter Benchley

It's summer all right. I had the strange and sudden urge to read JAWS for the first time--maybe because it's set at the beach, and we're headed there with the in-laws next week. The book has stood up well over the years (especially the shark bits), but the newspaperman's quote above stuck in my head particularly. Probably because I'm all about the solace and pleasure of food and really think other people's wives and whiskey can't begin to compare.

Seriously. Can your neighbor's wife do this?

Carrot Sutra

Those babies, actually found at our Market last Thursday by personal friends, way outdid the contortionists grown by my neighbor, which I've featured here before:

Pretty tame, by comparison

And could whiskey ever roll around on your tongue and palate like the hummuses (hummi?) of Market newcomer Uncle Eyal's?

By now you've figured out that hummus and its cousins are the perfect partners to chips, pitas, and vegetables, and Uncle Eyal's livens things up with their different flavors and shades:

Not sherbet, but a sure bet

Take the beet hummus on the left--yum! Your only problem will be keeping your kids from digging into it because they think it's raspberry sorbet.

But really, nothing says pure sensual pleasure like a blueberry pie. Mr. Meadows from JAWS would have given up a front-page scoop for the blueberry pies we eat in our house. Even better, I decided to retire from pie-making a few years ago ("Easy as pie," my eye!), and, rather than giving up homemade pie, my husband decided to learn to make them. His pies are f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s! He makes them four at a time, and we freeze them to bring out during the months when summer is a fading memory.

If you've suffered through a storebought pie, you know they have two main problems: (1) the crust is kinda blah, and (2) there isn't enough filling!!!

My first bit of advice is to make your own crust. Pillsbury won't help your cause. Our family sticks with "Joyce's No-Fail Pie Crust" recipe, featured in the BELLEVUE FARMERS MARKET COOKBOOK alongside the peach pie recipe we use.

Add to your homemade crust:

= 12 cups of blueberries = 2.4 pies' worth

Blueberry pie is absolutely the easiest fruit pie you will ever make (unlike peach or apple), but a good one requires 5 cups of blueberries per pie. This flat above will net you two+ pies, or just two pies, plus blueberries to eat out of hand. Use your favorite filling recipe. They're all basically some fruit, some flour, some sugar, and some lemon rind.

If you're going to freeze your pie, don't bother slashing the top crust. Just wrap it securely with plastic wrap and then foil, mark it, and pop it in the freezer for that special occasion. The cookbooks will tell you to eat within six months, but we've gone up to eleven with no problems whatsoever. When it's time to bake, we unwrap, thaw on the counter, and then bake like a fresh pie, with maybe ten extra minutes added to the time.

So up the sensual pleasure in your life and hit the Market this Thursday or Saturday. As Meadows says in JAWS, as he stuffs his face, "I'd rather go my way than end up in the belly of a shark." Amen.

Spirit of 1976

My husband brought one cookbook to our marriage: the 1976 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted, during a house purge, to chuck the thing. It brags inside that "18 million homemakers use this best seller" for its 1500+ "triple-tested" recipes, its lay-flat binder, its tabbed dividers, and so on. And the thing has indeed held up, physically speaking.

Fashions change. Case in point.

But food fashions change, just as clothing fashions and home-decorating fashions do. And, as with those other arenas of life, food fashions in the mid-70s staked out an interesting territory. For one, scores of women had entered the workforce, and convenience became more important than ever. Therefore many recipes in the book call for canned, condensed soup (the ubiquitous "can condensed cream of mushroom" a particular favorite) or "1 envelope cheese sauce mix" or "1 tube refrigerated biscuits, halved." There are recipes for "Luncheon Meat Dinner" and "Tuna Jackstraw Bake." In the latter, every single ingredient comes from a can, right down to the topping-- that other 70s favorite, the "1/4 cup chopped canned pimiento."

And yet. For every woman throwing down the briefcase and reaching for the can opener, there was still one cooking from scratch. She might no longer raise and pluck her own chicken, but she still bought whole chickens at the store and needed to know how to cut them up. How do I know? Because I use the pictures from the Better H & G Cookbook to cut up the whole chickens I get from Skagit River Ranch. I need those "step-by-step" pictures! Yeah, I could look it up online, but I hate dragging my laptop into the kitchen where it might be splattered with chicken guts from my inexpert butchering.

Look at the stains on that page!

Another reason I can't quit this cookbook is its "Creative Uses for Leftovers" page on the Index Tab. What should I do with leftover buttermilk? Cooked chicken? Mashed potatoes? Tell me, Oracle!

When my husband used three precious Skagit egg whites for a meringue, I couldn't bear to toss the rich, golden yolks. They sat in the fridge for a week until I finally cracked BH&G. Bearnaise sauce? No. Hollandaise? Nah. Sauce Moorea? What the heck? But there--last in the list--"Vanilla Pudding." Really? You could make pudding at home, without one of those cute little boxes of sugar, fake color and mystery coagulants? Yes, reader, you can. And, oh my gosh, is homemade pudding ever luscious.

I had some semisweet chocolate squares, so I threw in two ounces.

If you've got two eggs, treat yourself tonight:

Chocolate Pudding (adapted from the 1976 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups milk (I used 1 cup whole, 1 cup 2%)
2 ozs semisweet chocolate
2 slightly beaten egg yolks
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla

In saucepan, blend sugar, cornstarch, and salt; add milk and chocolate. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.

Stir small amount of hot mixture into yolks; return to hot mixture; cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat; blend in butter and vanilla. Makes 5-6 servings.

You may wonder afterward what to do with the leftover egg whites..? According to my trusty BH&G, Nougat might be in your future.

That, or "Chilled Prune Whip."

May Day

Good news, everyone! The countdown to Opening Day is on. If you follow any other local farmers markets, you see them all gearing up. My own hands are twitching for some Loki salmon, some Fishing Vessel St. Jude tuna (can you say "multi-can discount"?) and a quirky new vegetable to try, depending on what's on offer. Word has it Foraged and Found will be there with possibilities like nettles, morels, various wild lettuces, and fiddleheads! (Recipe ideas for such items can be found in the Bellevue Farmers Market Cookbook or at a blogsite such as Mixed Greens.) The kids and I were also sitting at MOD Pizza last night, agreeing that it, while tasty, couldn't touch Veraci at the Bellevue Farmers Market.

Market Season also means I'll have fresh blog fodder for you, rather than just fear-inducing food factoids that I've trolled from the media. Speaking of which, here's the round-up for the week:

1. If you haven't yet seen FOOD, INC., it's an informative and entertaining movie. And it's now on Netflix Instant Play, for those of you who considered seeing it in a theater but thought you might be stoned for bringing in your processed snacks and super-sized Diet Coke. I confess I have a thing for smart bald guys who talk about food, and this movie has two: Eric "Fast Food Nation" Schlosser and Michael "Omnivore's Dilemma" Pollan. (Celeb farmer Joel Salatin may also be bald, but he never took off his hat.)

2. And I read Susan Brackney's PLAN BEE: EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE HARDEST-WORKING CREATURES ON THE PLANET. Very fun and educational book. Given all the buzz (forgive me) about the honeybee's demise, I must say I was heartened by a few things I learned here. For one, honeybees aren't native to the Americas. So if they completely disappear here, it'll be us going native. For another, "killer" bees also help with pollination and make honey! Brackney reports that apiarists can also cultivate this hardier species, at a certain increased risk to themselves. And for finally, they may not make honey, but butterflies, birds, and bats also help with pollination. If only the bats were just a tiny bit cuter...

3. More good news for saturated fat lovers! Scientific American confirms what other studies and Nina Planck already pointed out: natural, saturated fats found in things like butter and bacon were not the killer after all. The food and diet industry hastened to replace saturated fats with such "improved" ingredients like transfats and soybean oil and carbs, carbs, carbs, only to find this move didn't help a bit with heart disease, diabetes and such. Butter and bacon fat are back on the menu! And--bonus--they taste way better.

4. And, lastly, if your house is overrun by mice, you may want to consider putting out some soda pop and processed food. Science Daily reports that the phosphates in such items have been shown to reduce the little squeakers' lifespans. Extrapolated to humans, researchers conclude that "high levels of phosphates accelerate signs of aging...[and] may also increase the prevalence and severity of age-related complications, such as chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular calcification, and can also induce severe muscle and skin atrophy." Whoa, there--we may not care one bit about chronic kidney disease or cardiovascular whatchamacallit, but premature aging??? Soda, we are through!

For some happier reading, if you haven't already checked it out, peruse my article on the BFM for Ever wonder how many people come to our Market? Check out the interesting statistics Lori provided.