Monthly Archives: August 2010

Guest Post: Canning in Kansas with Samantha

Processing

I’m no chef.  In fact, I’m no cook.  I’m one of those people who can ruin cookies (the kind you buy from the store and just put in the oven).  The last place I should be writing is a food blog.  However, since I became C’s girlfriend, I have begun cooking.  And butchering chickens.  And now canning.  It’s funny how men can do that to you.

Last weekend’s adventure was canning.  I staunchly refused to can this summer while at his house even though our garden was overflowing with fresh veggies.  This refusal was partly because I envisioned this process as a nightmare of jars and steam and boiling water and vegetables and mystery ingredients.  However, since I left, C got busy in the kitchen (with a little help from his mom and grandma) and started canning.  It turns out it’s not that hard.  So with him in charge, I canned my first veggies.  Or rather, I assisted.

The first step is to sterilize the jars, lids, and rings.  In a big pot, steam the jars and in a saucepan, boil the lids and rings.  According to C, “If you have nothing else to do, boil more water.  You’ll need it for something.”

Sterilizing Jars

We started by making salsa and canned tomatoes.  First, blanch the tomatoes in boiling water.  Then place them in cold water. This quickly cooks them and makes them easy to skin.  We chopped the tomatoes into quarters (for canned tomatoes) or smaller pieces (for the salsa).

Blanching Tomatoes

Our salsa is a modified version of Fiesta Salsa from the Blue Book Guide to Preserving by Ball.

The original recipe calls for blending:

7 cups chopped seeded, peeled, cored, tomatoes

2 cups chopped, etc. cucumbers

1/2 cups chopped jalapeño peppers

2 cups banana peppers

1 cup sliced green onion

1/2  cup sliced, peeled roasted Anaheim peppers

¼ minced cilantro

3 cloves garlic minced

1 tsp. minced fresh marjoram

1 tsp. salt

½ cup cider vinegar

2 tbs lime juice

However, we left out the banana peppers, green onion, Anaheim peppers, and marjoram.  We used 2 cups of jalapeños and lemon juice instead of lime.

Cooking the salsa

Then we filled the jars, leaving 1/2” head room.  After carefully placing on the lids and rings (so as not to contaminate them or burn yourself), the jars go back into a hot water bath to process.  Process time depends on the recipe.  Our salsa processed for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the water.  We used a handy tool like this

Handy jar grabber

As the jars cool, you will hear the “pop” of the seal.

Next we tackled the pickles.  I was in charge of slicing.  It’s not necessary to peel the cucumbers because they’re being pickled.  Simply slice into hamburger rounds or into spears.  We removed the seeds from some of the spears, especially if they were large.

sliced cukes

We then used C’s great grandmother’s pickle recipe.  I’m not about to divulge this family secret but in true homemade canning style, the recipe was “by the jar” so we simply put a few ingredients in each jar.

Garlicky mystery

Then we packed them with the cucumbers as tightly as possible.  This keeps the veggies from floating to the top when the liquid is added (floating as well as not filling the jars full enough can interfere with the processing).

Meanwhile in a sauce pan we heated water, vinegar, and salt.  This pickling mixture was then poured over the cucumbers.  Since the mixture has to fill in around the cucumbers, it is necessary to make sure that there aren’t any air bubbles.  We used a special “tool” that also measured the head room but a spatula works just as well.  Then we capped the jars and processed again.

Finished pickles

On our pre-canning shopping trip, we supplemented our own garden produce with some grocery stores peppers and a local farmer’s tomatoes, and okra. So with these leftover veggies (we bought way too many peppers), we continued pickling jalapeños, Serrano peppers, and okra.

Always wear gloves!

*Note* Sam is a great friend of mine from grad school. She is an accomplished photographer and talented writer. She teaches college English in Western Kansas. Maybe she’ll start her own blog soon…

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Homemade: Fried Chicken and Collard Greens

Fried chicken, collard greens, mashed potatoes

I recently visited a nearby farmer’s market/CSA  and left wanting to try collard greens. Debbie’s Garden and Farmer’s Market is a little confusing because it’s one purveyor offering food from various farms in the area. Debbie’s isn’t organic and sometimes the food isn’t even local but the reason I went was because a friend called to tell me that they had “carrots as big as a baseball bat and a lot of other stuff.” Not that I’m really into carrots, it’s just that he was excited to tell me about a “farmer’s market” near us. When I walked into the ramshackle building I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s one room with shelves and bins arranged around the walls, nearly everything for sale is produce although they also have honey and nuts.

uncooked mustard greens with bacon and chicken stock

I was looking over the collard greens when Debbie, or a woman similar to Debbie, started telling me how to choose them and how to cook them. I’d never eaten collard greens before, encountering them rarely and assuming they were much like spinach (they are in the same family as cabbage and broccoli). Debbie told me to chop them up, boil them in about and inch and a half of chicken stock, add some crispy bacon and then salt and pepper them. It sounded good to me! But after the collard greens  had been in my fridge for two days I realized I was going to need to eat them with something.

Thighs and legs frying in grapeseed oil (recipe written out at the bottom)

Fried chicken came to mind. In my quest to also make fried chicken for the first time, I was concerned about fat content. I didn’t want to make something at home that I could have just bought at KFC. I turned to Cooking Light for help. I will admit, CL doesn’t always have the healthiest options. They still use plenty of butter and cheese and bacon in their recipes. But for revising something as calorie-laden as fried chicken can be, they do a good job.  This video recipe claims to “cut calories in half and reduce saturated fat by a whopping 92 percent.” I think the trick to this is to: 1. take the skin off the chicken, 2. use grapeseed oil in a small amount instead of lots of canola oil and 3. don’t use buttermilk for dredging. (Written recipe at the bottom of this post).

drain the chicken on a paper bag instead of a peper towel

I follow the recipe pretty closely except that I’m heavy-handed in spicing the flour for the breading. The first time I made it our chicken was fragrant of pumpkin pie because the spices include ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon (along with paprika and black pepper). We have since adjusted the spices and added some cayenne to the mix. I felt so accomplished arranging  that pretty plate of fried chicken, collard greens, and garlic mashed potatoes. (Garlic mashed potatoes are a snap to make with this. Boil potatoes, mash with your preferred amount of butter, salt, milk, and pepper and add two cloves of minced, sauteed garlic– make sure to cook the garlic or no one will love you for days).

Barefoot in the kitchen

In the end, collard greens weren’t my favorite. Sure, they have bacon and chicken stock to make them more friendly, but to me they were more like soggy spinach. I’d like to make them again and try a different preparation. Something tells me this cook might know her stuff when it comes to greens. The chicken is definitely the star of the show in this meal. The meat is moist and flavorful, if a bit greasy.  It was so fun to make a meal already so familiar and yet brand new. And even though the greens weren’t my favorite, I learned a whole new set of skills and allowed myself to be inspired. Thank goodness for collard greens.

Filling meal with a little less fat

Cooking Light’s Panfried Lower-fat Chicken (I recommend watching the 3 minute video as well)

Ingredients: 4-6 pieces of chicken (thighs and legs), skin removed, fat trimmed; 1 cup flour; 1 tsp each of paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, black pepper; 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or chili powder; Kosher salt, ziplock bags, cooling rack; paper bags

1. Combine all spices except the salt with flour in a ziplock bag. Dry each piece of chicken, salt with Kosher salt or fine sea salt (it sticks better and you don’t need as much 1/2-1 tsp) then put it in the bag and shake to coat.

2. Set chicken on a cooling rack on a baking sheet (they want the chicken suspended) and place in the fridge for 90 minutes to let the spices soak in. (The moisture of the chicken is utilized here instead of buttermilk or egg).

3. 15 minutes before starting, take the chicken out and let it warm up to room temp. Re-coat in spices and flour.

4. Heat up 1/4 cup of oil to start (I use medium heat). Oil is ready when a piece of bread dropped in bobs to the surface. Fry chicken in the oil, don’t crowd it, and turn every 5 minutes with tongs.

4. Drain chicken on paper bags (paper towels are too sticky and you’ll lose your breading). Enjoy!

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Four Meals from Houston Restaurant Week

We live in the suburbs. It’s pitiful sometimes, really. The ‘burbs are great when you want to choose between the seven grocery stores within a mile of your house, but it’s not great for people who like to eat food off the beaten path. We have Carraba’s, Willie’s, Chili’s, Church’s, Spring Creek BBQ, James Coney Island, Outback and IHOP. But because our area is so densely populated, a few gems have managed to squeeze in too. We have Hikari Sushi (post coming soon), the original Lupe Tortilla, a great new Thai place, and at least five Pho restaurants nearby (yet another post). So it was with great pleasure and gusto that we decided to venture out for  Houston Restaurant Week and try something different inside the Loop.

Shrimp Corndogs with a shot of lemonade at Haven

What’s so great about Restaurant Week here is that a portion of all your meal tickets goes to the Houston Food Bank. $5 of each lunch and $10 of each dinner purchased from the special Restaurant Week tasting menus are donated. In this scenario, I think everybody wins. People are encouraged to eat out and feel less guilty about spending $60 on dinner because it’s for a good cause, the restaurants get more traffic and customers, and the Food Bank gets donations and much needed publicity. Here’s a cause marketing scheme I can get behind!

Salad with Potato Goat Cheese Cakes at Indika

Something else nice about Restaurant Week are the tasting menus themselves. Instead of poring over pages and pages of expensive and unfamiliar food (who knows if it will be any good), the menu breaks it down into three or four choices for each course. It really takes the pressure off. I’d like to note here that I have no clue what words to use in describing food. I will attempt to keep “yummy” and “tasty” and “delicious” to a minimum, but my goal here isn’t to present you with the written word of food porn (all these gorgeous photos that you really ought to click on and enlarge are a different story). I’m mostly writing to promote an awesome event and share my delight over being so fortunate to eat great food with great people.

Peach Semifreddo, Branch Water Tavern

My first meal was eaten at Indika with my best friend. She was in from Japan for a few days to visit before moving to Hawaii to be with her boyfriend. He was coming into town for the weekend before they left and she was extra nervous because he was supposed to propose soon. Indika helped answer an important question for A. during this intense moment.

Chaat, or a rendition of Indian Street Food

After the first course she declared, “If he doesn’t propose soon, I’m going to ask the chef here to marry me. I don’t care about gender,  just as long as they cook for me!” Good to know that A. has her priorities straight. The food was really beautiful and richly flavored. I don’t eat a lot of Indian food, but I am assured that this is one of the best places in Houston to try it. The dining room was big and airy and I’d love to sit on their inviting patio this fall and have dinner.

Mojoto with Guava, Mint, Dark Rum, and Chili

Roasted Portabella layered with Garbanzo, Spinach Puree, Butternut Squash and Chevre

Later in the weekend, we took A and R to Branch Water Tavern for lunch. We’d eaten here before, but the food was so great that we decided to come back and show our support. The three course lunch menu was a great treat, although R suggested I do a “redneck review” of our food. So instead of Duck Mousse with bread and pickles, we had “fancy cat food on toast.” And instead of heirloom gazpacho, we found ourselves eating “salsa soup.” R shut up when he was served the most enormous chicken pot pie we had ever seen as his entree.

the men are pleased at their good fortune-GIANT chicken pot pie

Fisherman's Stew

I need to say that Branch Water serves miraculous desserts. I had dessert at every meal during Restaurant Week and Branch Water puts them to shame. I don’t know if it was the good company or the simplicity of the desserts that won me over, but they did. See the Peach Semifreddo above.

Toffee Pudding with Pistachio Ice Cream

The following week J and I went to try Brasserie Max and Julie. Neither one of us had ever tried specifically French food and a friend had recommended it. We went for dinner which may have been a mistake because the portions were huge and we did not finish them all. Max and Julie feels intimate and classy inside. The waiters were very formal and attentive, which was a bit unnerving. We had to ask specifically for the tasting menu, but once we had it in hand the rest of the experience was fine.

French Onion Soup, a meal in itself

All the food was very hearty and warm and filling. In retrospect, it was home food, something mom cooks a lot of and overfeeds you with when you’ve been gone too long– in a nice, caring way. At least my dinner was like that. I had French onion soup with an inch of amazing cheese and bread and tons of onions followed by an entree of three slices of pork and mashed potatoes made entirely out of butter. J opted for a salad and some river trout, although he got the butter potatoes too. I might go back if I feel like I need to be deeply comforted or if Houston ever actually gets cold.

Truite Meunières Traditionelle

Rôti de Porc à la Moutarde or Pork Roast in Mustard and Rosemary Sauce

Our last stop was at Haven, A Seasonal Kitchen this week. I’ve never heard anything about, but the offerings looked good and fun: Shrimp corndogs and Wild boar chili. Who could say no to that? Haven is really sleek and modern and a “green” building to boot. The dining room is giant with row upon row of white tablecloths and expectant wine glasses. The patio looks like an island getaway, although we noticed it is unfortunately situated behind two other eateries’ dumpsters (though they are across the street). We may have to come back just for the cocktails and to try it out.

Porch Swing cocktail: Pimms, Hendricks gin, cucumber, lemonade

I love that the Porch Swing J ordered came in a mason jar. Haven is supposed to be about Texas regional cuisine and it works to show off that influence. For example, we listened to country music the entire time we were there in that fancy dining room. Our lunch was fun and adventurous, much like the Texas spirit. My plate of adorable shrimp corndogs and accompanying shot of lemonade to wash it down was a thing of reality television competitions. And they were great! fluffy corndog batter, juicy shrimp inside, and a spicy remoulade to brighten it up. J’s wild boar chili was flavorful and not too complicated. Our entrees were straightforward and good lunch size. And my cut of tenderloin was cooked perfectly. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly at Haven and we’ll be back again, hopefully with friends.

Hill Country Wild Boar Chili

Free Range Chicken with Bacon Spaetzle and Crispy Onions

And that’s it, folks. We had a great time at Restaurant Week and feel encouraged to try the Houston food scene a little more often. We had planned to take advantage of it anyway, but our visitors prompted us to make the most of the tasting menus and discounts. Here’s to Restaurant Week and Here’s to the Houston Food Bank! Cheers!

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Beating the Heat in Washington State: Sights and Bites from Vacation

Flowers in Anacortes, WA

We are experiencing miserable heat in Houston right now. It’s August and we really can’t expect much more. I’d like to mention that while we are seasoned Okies, used to scorching summers, we are not used to the still, unmoving air that makes being outside here truly unbearable. We’ve been eating ice cream, swimming, and laying under the fan as a way to combat the heat. Today, I’d like to share a few images and moments from our trip to cool, clean, shady, 60-degrees-every-morning Washington state.

Mountains on the way to Anacortes

Washington is a great place to visit– there are too many things to do and see in one trip and it is so beautiful you’re almost guaranteed to come back. Washington is a kind of sweet paradise for me. I visited with family a few times during my childhood and then worked at a Girl Scout camp there for two summers during college. I used to wake up every morning at Camp River Ranch, walk out of my cabin, and literally give thanks for being in such a naturally beautiful place. If heaven is anywhere, it might as well be Washington for me. Our choice to visit this year was influenced by a few factors, but two major ones were that 1. We wanted a stress-free vacation and since we know Washington, it was easier to de-stress there, and 2. Roundtrip tickets were phenomenally cheap from Houston. Something else we took into consideration: we are not laid back, sleep on the beach vacationers. We need plenty to do but with the option for rest, naps, and laziness. Washington can be as full of activity or rest as you want.

Tomcat from Top Gun

Day 1 We arrived in Seattle in the morning with an ambitious itinerary: visit the Museum of Flight, shop for groceries at Trader Joes, drive to Anacortes, and eat dinner. I’m glad to say we accomplished it all and felt pretty good afterward! The Museum was interesting and full of restored WWI and WWII planes. J really got into it and I was happy to tag along and read and look. We walked through an 80’s Air Force One and got to see a lot of other, more modern planes in the main display room. Before driving out, we stopped at Trader Joe’s near the University of Washington and nearly died of envy. It was full of so much good stuff (I didn’t take photos of our purchases). We got wine, fruit, cheese, and trail mix and peanut butter filled pretzels for hiking and kayaking later. I would like to note, however, that “Two Buck Chuck” (Charles Shaw wine) is now $2.99 Chuck. I guess the economy has effected everyone.

Two Buck Chuck

Food in tow, we drove the 2 hours to Anacortes. We went to Anacortes because I wanted to go sea-kayaking and look for Orca whales. The Orcas spend their summers in the San Juan Islands to which Anacortes is the port town. We stayed at the reasonable and homey San Juan Motel. Some of you will shudder at the images of this hotel room but I would like to say it was clean, comfortable, and suited our needs just fine– and it was retro and unromantic in the most hilarious way!

Motel Sign

Wood paneling to match the bedspread

Nevertheless, we were totally charmed by Anacortes. It’s an adorable town that thrives on tourism and an oil refinery. We actually stayed in the old part of town and were able to walk to dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. We ate at the nearby Rockfish Grill, recommended to us at the hotel. We sat in their lovely beer garden and enjoyed the thrill of being in a completely new place, sipping homebrewed beer, counting ourselves lucky. As we ate, we heard violin music playing and after dinner went to investigate. It turns out that a hotel was hosting a summer concert series in their garden and cooking up barbecue. We stayed and listened to Swil Kanim, Native American musician and storyteller. I could have listened to him for hours– his music was meditative and interesting and each song had a story to go with it. We walked around a little afterward in the cool dusk and looked at charming homes and little shops. It was a great first day.

Dinner at Rockfish

Swil Kanim spinning stories

Day 2 The morning of our Kayaking trip we wanted a hearty, stick to your guts breakfast to help us make it through 5 hours of paddling around on the ocean. We ate at Mary Ann’s Kitchen, recommended by our waitress. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch in a converted house. We woke up early and tottered down the street,  commenting that we could see our breath. In July. True to small town American fashion, we immediately made friends with the local who was also waiting on the kitchen to open. He ushered us inside, helped the waitress post the menu, and then sat down to a table nearby, opening his paper and idly chatting with us as we ordered and waited on food. Mary Ann’s breakfast was really yummy and hearty. While the food won’t get any Michelin stars, the feeling of being in a beloved restaurant and eating food made with care was priceless.

Deception Pass Bridge

When we got done it was still nearly three hours before we were to meet the kayak outfitters, so we took a 10 minute drive out to Deception Pass State Park and Deception Pass Bridge. Wow. and Whoa. and Wow. The images here don’t really capture the height of the bridge (which you can walk or bike over–shudder) or the noise of the churning waters below. The pass is a very narrow channel and when the tide is coming or going the speed of the water rushing in or out gets fairly fast. We walked down the steep trail to the shore and enjoyed the view for a while. I’d love to go camping at this park. It’s amazingly beautiful and right on the water.

walking down to the shore

J tangles with kelp

By 11 am we had been to the outfitters and were meeting our tour guide and fellow kayakers at the dock. It turned out there were only four of us kayaking–so while the trip was pricey, it was practically a private tour. After getting into our dork-tastic gear (kayak skirts and life vests) and into our two-man boats, we set out on a five hour paddle that took us west out of the bay past Washington Park, around the west side of Burrows island, around the west of Allen island, out around the wildlife refuge rock and back along the east sides of both Allen and Burrows islands. Map of the area here. We stopped for lunch on Burrows island near the lighthouse and enjoyed a gorgeous view of the bay.

Overlook Lunch

The highlight of the day was making it out to the wildlife refuge rock where pods of seals were sunning. They jumped into the water when we came about, probably out of cautiousness and curiosity. They followed us as we rounded the rock. We even had a seal pup come up and say hello right next to our kayaks. It came up right next to J and looked at him before swimming back to it’s mom. WOW. We didn’t need to see orcas after that, and good thing, because we didn’t. The tour was thoroughly enjoyable, not too hot or cold or strenuous. As we headed back, we spotted the co-founder of Microsoft Paul Allen’s yacht, “Arctic Wolf.” We had a good chuckle over whether or not to join him for a barbecue and stared a little jealously as he docked on his private island. Although, I think overall, we had the better day.

Seal in on the rock in the middle--about the fall in

Day 3 We planned to go to Pike Place Market. We did. But as we drove towards Seattle after bidding farewell to lovely Anacortes, we decided to do something a little more low-key the first day in the city. So we ended up going to the zoo. J and I are zoo lovers. We’ve been to the zoo in nearly every city we’ve visited and last summer we went to the best zoo in the country, San Diego. Woodland Park Zoo was beautiful and a lot of fun. Many of the animals were up and about, which I love because as a child I felt like I never saw the cats or the bears or really most animals doing anything! The zoo is a little like a walk down memory lane and we enjoyed our detour there very much. Like every day we spent in Washington, it was gray and cloudy until about 1:00 and then the sun came out and wherever we were would absolutely sparkle under the light (maybe that’s what Stephanie Meyer was attempting to convey).

Up close and personal

Grizzly

After the zoo we checked into an inexpensive hotel we found online near Kirkland. While the hotel was entirely unremarkable, it should be noted that those who want a Seattle experience don’t need to stay in the city proper itself. Compared to Houston, Seattle is incredibly drivable and easy to navigate (at least for me it is). Staying in Kirkland gave us the chance to drive over Lake Washington twice a day and to see more natural areas we might have missed if we had stayed downtown. For dinner, we met up with a friend of mine from high school and his fiance. They took us out for a great sushi dinner at Kisaku and to see Inception. It was nice to meet up with old friends and feel a little more at home, the great thing about Oklahomans is that we’re usually hospitable and friendly, no matter where we are.

Homes along Lake Washington

Sushi at Kisaku

"Meet the Producer" on a sign to the right

Day 4 We did make it out to Pike Place Market on Sunday. The Market is really about sights, sounds, and smells. The stalls and restaurants may change, the customers may be more local or touristy, the live bands better or worse, but Pike Place Market is always interesting, colorful, delicious, and overwhelming. Here’s hoping it never changes. I’m just going to put in some images from our visit there and leave it at that. What more can I say? You have to go.

Produce Stand

Pike Place Fish

Flower Stall

Band outside the original Starbucks

Forgive me chocolate, for I have sinned...

After wandering for several hours eating, buying cheese and pasta and desserts, we needed to sit down and eat some real lunch. even though I was loathe to leave the market, I wanted chowder. The best place to get real clam chowder is at Iver’s Acres of Clams down on the Pier. We happened into the restaurant during Sunday brunch, but passed it up for something more simple and hearty. We got a window seat and watched kids feed begging seagulls while we ate. It was great to put our feet up for a minute and get away from the bustle.

Clam Chowder

As we ate, we eavesdropped on the conversation  behind me. Two women had been to Bite of Seattle at different times during the weekend and were catching one another up. Apparently, we chose wisely not to go. According to these ladies, the lines were long, much of the food was cold, and it was a bit pricey to go hang out in a park eating fast food with everyone else in Seattle. I felt a little better about our choice not to go. I had wanted to, but was worried about the crowd and the pitfalls of choosing a bad food stall. I smiled and dug into my soup.

Island and cherry orchard on the far shore

We headed back to our hotel around 2:00, but before our afternoon nap (a vacation ritual) we stopped by the Japanese Gardens in the Washington Park Arboretum. I went to the Gardens once with my mother when I was young, but barely remember them. They’re really beautiful and well-curated. I can only imagine how it must look in spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Everything in the garden is symbolic of at least one, sometimes two or three, elements of nature and Japanese culture. It was a lovely, quiet respite after the market.

Garden overlook

Snow melt, lower Denny Creek

Day 5 On our final day in Washington, we went for a walk in the woods. After much discussion about which woods to go to, I decided a familiar area was best and we headed out along Hwy 90 into Snoqualmie National Forest. I’ve been out hiking here before and even camped on Lake Kachess one fateful summer. After stopping by the ranger station and learning that our ranger had not been into the woods herself in quite a while, we chose to hike out to Denny Creek, a natural rock slide and popular swimming hole in the summer and then continue up to a lake at the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, J and I were not dressed in the best hiking gear. Sneakers, no sunscreen, not enough water, and jeans instead of shorts sealed our fate long before we would ever have seen that mountain lake. We did have a sunshiney 3.5 hour hike and made it up to a beautiful waterfall before turning around, so all in all, not bad for some flatlanders.

Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen...

Waterfall

Strange flowers

When we got back from the mountain, I wanted to go raspberry picking. Unfortunately, we drove too far out of our way for no raspberries and I felt kind of cranky and ready to go home. Thankfully, we had planned to have dinner with the lovely M. from Austin and her friend. We met at our VERY FAVORITE Italian restaurant EVER in Redmond, WA. Tropea Ristorante Italiano is a highly reviewed hole-in-the-wall, family owned eatery. I discovered it by accident the first time J came to see me in Washington and I wanted to go somewhere nice for dinner. This restaurant may have played a key role in J’s later decision to marry me. The food is made out of cream and butter and tomatoes and fresh, fresh, fresh meat and vegetables. It is heaven on a plate and there are no words to describe how much I love it there.

Shellfish medley

hand drawn dessert menu 3 pages long

limoncello gelato, I kid you not

It was a lovely, lovely evening and a great close to our vacation. Washington gave us everything we could have hoped for, we had adventures, we stretched and rested our brains, we reconnected as a couple, we ate, we laughed, we enjoyed. Thank goodness here will always be Washington state.

At Deception Pass

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Get a Life, Foodie

Dinner in Anacortes, Rockfish Grill

It’s been a month since I’ve written here. I’ve been off having adventures, seeing friends, and finishing the first half of my English Master’s exams (that would be the question writing portion, now I’m onto preparing to answer the questions). In the time I’ve been gone I’ve had a lot of really wonderful experiences with food and friends, although I realized about halfway through my adventure that I was recording more food than friends. This is an unfortunate oversight which I have attempted to correct since coming back from Seattle. John, Ruth, Maria, Lauren, I’m so sorry we didn’t take a pic together while eating those amazing meals. On the other hand, I did put down my camera immediately after snapping some food shots and spent the rest of my time catching up and enjoying conversation. While the dinners we ate were good, even more so was the time spent together. Looking back over more recent photos of Ash and Rob, Olivia and Alex, I’m glad we snapped those pics of all of us, though I’m sorry it might have detracted from catching up.

Humongous Chicken Pot Pie, Branchwater Tavern, Houston

At the Houston Press Odd Pairings wine tasting

There’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck when it comes to writing and thinking about and photographing  food, and it’s the search for that balance that may have resulted in so much foodie backlash this month. One Houston Press article asks “Has the ‘Foodie’ Backlash Begun?”  and debates whether we should begin an “anti-foodie” movement or simply tell them “Suck It, Foodies.” This conversation is part of the larger debate over how, where, when, what food should be and can be enjoyed and relished or vilified and condemned. Certainly the elitist aspects of being food-obsessed should be taken into account. Questions about how big the carbon-footprint of your Chilean strawberries is and how much is too much to spend on a meal have a place in the debate. I think Katharine Shilcutt, author of the “Foodie Backlash” article says it quite well:

“What was once the domain of a passionate, geeky few has suddenly mushroomed into a hobby for many: eating for sport. In the same way that it’s now “cool” to be a computer nerd or a comic book aficionado, it’s lately become cool to be a foodie. And as that hobby becomes more mainstream, it also becomes more self-aggrandizing, a pompous satire of itself.”

Food Trend Failure: bacon stuffed roasted tomatoes

Shilcutt goes on to describe recent decadent obsessions with foods like  bacon and truffles as symptomatic of “foodie” indulgences. I can’t argue with her about the ridiculous extremes some eaters and cooks go to. I myself am guilty of trying out a recipe for tomatoes stuffed with breadcrumbs and bacon–it looks great, but it was greasy and heavy and too much. But I’m glad people have something constructive to get excited about. I know food seems like a very transient thing in our lives, on the plate and then gone, but it can also be the tangible embodiment of culture, family, art, and spirituality. I think it’s important that food has a renewed place in our discourse about health and pleasure and family and relationships. This may sound like a lot of talk for spaghetti squash casserole or BBQ chicken and corn, but 4 or 5 nights a week at our home, it’s also a welcome respite from a long day, a symbol of love and care, a meal for connection or quiet reflection. Cooking can be a meditation or a loving act or a moment of experimentation. I don’t think that going into raptures over pizza or ice cream by themselves is very thrilling, but thinking about who the food feeds and how it feeds body and soul can be a revelation.

Note: Phaedra Cook wrote a really thoughtful response to this debate, “In Defense of Foodies.”

Cheese stuffed squash flowers

One of the nicest meals I ate this month has no photo. While in Washington my husband and I bought cheap wine, cheese, crackers, and fruit, found a park, and had a picnic on some hotel sheets I swiped. We barely spoke, just read our books, ate, enjoyed the cool Washington weather, and dog watched. The beast cheese was a Triple Cream from Trader Joes. The grapes were moldy. The wine was delicious. It was a little bit of heaven.

All of this is to say, my meals this last month have been eaten and made in wonderful company. I cooked for friends who just had a baby, I ate sushi with old friends from high school, I went to a relative’s home for steak and laughter, I introduced other friends to the best Italian restaurant in Washington, I ate several quiet, restorative meals with my husband, I adventured with college friends to some great new places in Houston, I was welcomed into someone’s home by a surprise brunch with new friends, and I made ice cream for my husband while he worked hard. I have had a great month in which food played a big part, which is surprising when I look back on it. While I was busy taking photos and jotting notes, I was also creating memories and savoring the moment. I think that’s probably the best an amateur foodie can hope for.

Peach ice cream dessert to die for, Branchwater Tavern, Houston

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