Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Giving the bird to that chicken place

I’ve had a hard time seeing people I know participating in Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.  In fact, it has made me incredibly angry to see people all over this country flocking to support a company whose owner has contributed so much money to organizations who want to deny me rights. 

I know…it’s nothing personal, right?  They probably all have gay friends.  Or maybe not. 

Anyway, rather than stew about it, I thought I should write my feelings down.  And since I have a blog, I could share them.

Do I think a boycott is going to really accomplish anything?  I don’t really know.  I can’t truly participate because there isn’t a Chick-fil-A where I live.  It certainly won’t do much, if any, harm to the owner, the man who contributed all that money to anti-gay organizations.

Some gay Republicans call for calm.  They believe that all the boycott does is make the gays look like cry babies.  That all it does is further polarize the sides of this issue.  

Some pro-gay marriage people say that boycotting the restaurants unduly penalizes the people who work in those restaurants to support their families. 

Some people ask their gay friends not to condemn them for liking Chick-fil-A food…they love their gay friends, but they can’t deny themselves the deliciousness. 

I agree that there is some validity to all the arguments I’ve seen.  

Still, I have a really hard time supporting any organization that, at the top, wants to deny people rights. 

The company may very well employ gay people.  They, I am sure, serve them (though perhaps there are fewer now than there once was).  

I would venture to guess that very few of the people who participated in Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day in support of the company have had rights denied them.  

What really hurts, what really makes me angry, is the fact that at least one of those customers bought a sandwich today because they agree with the head of the company.  Someone out there in the US bought a sandwich because they want to deny me the right to marry the woman I love. 

How can I not take that personally?  How can I not be wounded by that? 

I lived on the straight side of the fence for 14 years.  I was lucky enough to have been married to a man who was kind and gracious when I told him I needed to leave because I wasn’t happy and knew I couldn’t make him happy. 

Now that I am happy and am with the love of my life, I am denied the same rights and protections I had when I was unhappy. 

Still, I have hope.  In November, the people of my state will vote on marriage equality.  I have hope that we will be the first state to pass the legislation in the popular vote. 

In November, I will vote for the right for gays to marry.

But for now, for today, I can choose not to support those businesses that are run by bigots.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

In quite a pickle

One of the things that floods my memory banks during the summer is pickles.  Summer didn’t just mean fresh fruits and jam-making growing up.  It also meant pickles.

The excitement would begin that day during the summer when I would go out on the side porch and inhale the warm smell of fresh dill.  I’d look over and there would be a bucket filled with huge stems of dill, roots soaking in water to help keep it fresh until dad was ready for it. 

Somewhere nearby would be big bags of large pickling cukes.  Somewhere else there would be bags of small cucumbers for my mom’s 14-day sweet pickles, but I didn’t really get excited about that. 

I know many people who thought my mom made the best sweet pickles they’d ever tasted.  I remember taking a couple of jars to a drama club picnic in high school and the sweet pickles got devoured, having been dipped in cheese whiz first.  But I’ve never been a fan of sweet pickles, so I’m not a qualified judge of their quality. 

I will still discuss their process in a little bit.  But first, dad’s dill pickles.

He’d make them in those enormous quart jars, stuffed to the gills with cukes, whole cloves of garlic, pearl onions (if he was in the mood to indulge me…he hated peeling them, but he knew I loved them) and either a split jalapeno or a dried Thai chili. 

I’m not sure what he did to the vinegar…I don’t have the recipe.  I’m sure there was lots of salt (it is, after all, a brine) and, of course, the vinegar.  White vinegar, I think, but I couldn’t swear to it.  There were gallons of white and apple cider vinegar all over the kitchen when it was pickling season.  Some alum, too, I think, to keep the pickles crisp. 

Then came the weeks of torture.  The pickles were done, and yet they weren’t.  They had to, well, pickle.  Six or eight weeks they would have to sit, I think.  Dad might let us open a jar a little early to see how they were doing.  Maybe. 

So for entertainment, I’d watch Mom make her 14-day sweet pickles.  The name of the pickle was derived from the amount of time it took to make them. 

She’d use the pint jars for her pickles as well as the smaller pickling cukes.  She also used her grandmother’s pickling crock.  I’m not sure how big it was, but it was dark brown on the inside and light on the outside and it sat in a dark, out of the way corner of the kitchen during those two weeks. 

The first week of the process was soaking the pickles in a brine.  Seven days the wee little cucumbers would sit in the crock, soaking in heavily salted liquid, weighted down by a blue and white Currier and Ives plate and a can of tomatoes or baked beans. 

At the end of the week, Mom would skim off the mold (yes, you read that right. It didn’t’ always happen, but if it did, it didn’t stop the process), pour off the brine and rinse the pickles.  She’s wash the crock, put the pickles back in and then make the syrup. 

Pickling spice, vinegar (apple cider this time, I think), sugar, boiled and then poured over the pickles. 

Every day for seven days the syrup was poured off into a pot and reboiled, then poured hot back over the pickles.  The syrup concentrates as it gets its daily boil and the heat makes the cucumbers soak up more and more deliciousness each night. 

Even though I never cared to eat the pickles, I still loved watching the process.  It was a summer ritual to me and to my mom, too, I suppose.  It was something deeply important to her to recreate this part of her formative years annually for her family. 

And, of course, by the time she was done with the sweet pickles, that meant we were that much closer to getting to eat this year’s dills. 

In later years, they’d make dilled green beans, pickled beets (blech), bread and butter pickles.  One year my dad made a whole jar of pickled garlic so we didn’t have to fight over the garlic in the jars of pickles.  Which we used to do.  We’d fight over the garlic and the onions.  Dad would eat the jalapeno.  :o)

After all that, it probably won’t surprise you that I suddenly had the urge to pickle a bunch of radishes we had hanging around.  They were starting to go south, so I decided to try doing a quick pickle on them. 

Quick pickling is not necessarily to preserve food.  It’s more to add flavor.  And I picked some Asian flavors with which to pickle those radishes. Rice vinegar, a little soy, a little bit of sugar (just to take the edge off the acid) and a good squirt of sriracha. 

The fridge still has a bit of radish funk smell to it, but it was worth it.  They turned out very tasty.  Not bad for a complete and utter experiment. 

Perhaps the ability to pickle is genetic.  If that’s the case, I’ve got some good pickling skills in my DNA.  And my son loves dill pickles, so it might behoove me to learn to make them.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Look! It's Summer! I think....

You wouldn’t know it by looking out my window.  Today, the first full day of summer, it was barely 60 degrees and POURING rain. 

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah….it’s Seattle, I know.  But it’s Pride weekend!  It’s not supposed to rain on Pride! 

Even if the weather isn’t summer-like, there are things going on around town that signal the coming of the season.

Pride weekend, of course.  Happy Pride to all the Family out there! 

The most exciting thing that has signaled the arrival of the solstice is the coming of the farmers’ markets.  Here in Shoreline, we finally have our own market!!  And it’s just a couple of blocks from our house!!!!

Last weekend was the first weekend.  Since it has been fairly cool this year, there weren’t many produce stands up last Saturday.   But there were signs up saying that we should see a full complement this weekend. 

We started getting a weekly produce box from a local service, but now that we have a market so close, we may bag the box, at least for the summer. 

Still, between the two, the market and the box, we made some really killer dinners this week.

From the box, we had some chard and green beans and a red bell pepper.  From the grocery store, we got a box of heirloom mini tomatoes.  I tossed those in some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, then roasted the hell out of them. 

I took that lovely mess of roasted veg, tossed it with some pasta and some extra special olive oil (purchased from the Edmonds market last summer) and voila!  Dinner!

It was so good it made me want to cry.  Everything was fresh and gorgeous.  We feasted!

The other great thing about last weekend was when N suggested we get chicken for lunch on Saturday.  We went to Heaven Sent Chicken in Lake City, owned and operated by Ezell Stephens.  (If you go somewhere called Ezell’s these days, it is not a restaurant owned by the name himself.  After some legal ugliness, he let them keep the name and went somewhere else to keep making chicken.) 

Not only did N suggest we get chicken, she suggested we get chicken livers.  Which you can get at Heaven Sent.  It’s a special order…takes about 7 minutes…and it is worth the wait!

While I prefer my chicken livers fried with less batter on them, I couldn’t argue that these were very tasty.  They were a little overcooked…like maybe the oil in the fryer was a little too hot.  But there aren’t a lot of places in town were you can get fried chicken livers (I know of one other place, if it is even still open).  And the crunch of the crust and the creamy funk of the liver…I was in heaven!! 

Quick wine note: the Jones of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon is a perfect pairing with those livers. 

I got a pound of livers and we ate half for lunch.  Then we had the other half with the fabulous pasta and roasted veg for dinner the next night. 

There was one more really exciting thing we got at the market.  We had long been curious about the beef and pork sellers.  And these guys were having a special, so we got a 3 pound chuck roast and two 2-pound packages of ground beef.  Local, grass-fed beef. 

We did as they suggested and cooked the roast in the crock pot.  Wow.  Just…wow.  This was the most flavorful piece of chuck I have ever had.  I could definitely taste the difference. 

We’re looking forward to grilling some burgers when the weather clears up.  I bet that’s gonna be some really tasty burgers. 

I hope the weather is decent enough for us to walk to the market.  I’m looking forward to seeing what else they have in store for us. 

Oh!  Before I forget, we also got some sweets from a small bakery business called Butter and Love.  Love the name…loved the treats.  We got a couple of whoopie pies, which were delicious. I could taste both the butter and the love in those treats! 

This week, we are going to go a little later and buy some lunch.  The restaurant up the street, Jersey’s, has a stand.  There was also a place that was making fresh quesadillas with locally sourced meat, cheese and veg. 

So, come on over to Shoreline if you have the urge.  Meet us at the farmers’ market.  Get some local color and then take it home and eat it. 

As summer truly arrives, I’ll be watching for strawberries, apricots and other fruits for the making of the jam, a time-honored summer tradition in my family.

Happy Solstice, Happy Pride, Happy Summer!  May the blessings of the season grace your table often.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Rare Bit for a Bunny

I love cooking for my friends.  And every once in a while, one of them asks me to make something for them.  These rare requests are like gold, because they usually take me into new culinary territory. 

Recently, one of my dearest friends tagged me in a post on Facebook and asked me to learn how to make something because she only gets it once a year, she loves it and she wants to have it more often. 

The picture she sent was of great slabs of bread smothered in cheese sauce and broiled until the tops were golden and bubbly, sprinkled with a bit of parsley for color. 

Welsh rarebit, my friends, is my next culinary adventure. 

Also called Welsh rabbit (but, I would imagine, never by the Bunny), this dish is of questionable origins.  One legend states that the dish was conceived by poor Welsh folk who were not allowed to eat the rabbits from the English hunt, so they came up with this bread and cheese sauce concoction instead. 

Like they couldn’t tell the difference? What a crock!

Per the Wikipedia article, “the first recorded use of the term Welsh rabbit was in 1725, but the origin of the term is unknown.  It may have been an ironic name coined in the days when the Welsh were notoriously poor: only better-off people could afford meat.  In England the poor-man’s meat was rabbit, in Wales the poor man’s meat was cheese.” 

This I might actually buy. 

As I looked at some recipes, a couple of things crossed my mind. 

First, why had I never had this?  It’s cheese sauce and bread!  What’s not to love??

Second, for someone who doesn’t drink beer, this will be one more thing that I will probably love that contains beer. 

Some recipes call for the sauced slices of bread to be broiled, some just tell you to ladle the sauce over pieces of toast and enjoy.  Some call for beer, some don’t.  Some call for a b├ęchamel base, some don’t.

At its heart, though, it is melted cheese stabilized with some flour and butter, thinned with some milk or cream (or beer) and served with bread.  Remind you of anything?

Let’s face it, people.  Welsh rarebit is really lazy man’s fondue. 

What is fondue at its most basic?  Cubes of bread dipped in melty cheese sauce (stabilized with some flour and thinned with beer or wine).  But it’s kind of fussy, isn’t it?  You have to cut up all that bread.  You have to have something to keep the cheese sauce warm so that you can dip your bread into it.  But the Welsh rarebit way, you just put it all on a plate and dig in.  And you don’t have to share a communal pot of cheese with people you may not like.  You get your own plate, your own cheese sauce.  You can even lick the plate if you want to.  Not something I would recommend you do with a fondue pot. 

And now it all makes sense.  Why my friend asked me to learn how to make this dish.  We all know Bunny loves fondue.  So of course she would love Welsh rarebit, too. 

So, dear Bunny, I am looking at recipes to choose one to make for you soon.  We just have to figure out when.  :o)

Because there are few things in this world that make me happier than feeding my friends.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

It's not's fruit and cake.

Sometimes you get a suggestion from a friend that sounds so fascinating that, even though you’ve never eaten it before, you have to try it.

N came home one evening telling me that one of the gals on her team gave her a recipe for something she called yogurt pudding.  Plain yogurt, dried apricots, eggs, a little flour, a little sugar, maybe some sour cream. 

I was intrigued.  But I didn’t take a look at the recipe. 

I imagined something cooked in a saucepan on the stove, the eggs and flour thickening and smoothing the yogurt to make it, well, like pudding.  Then you put in the chopped apricots and chill. 


Not at all. 

It would be accurate to say that this is pudding in the British sense.  It is dessert.  And it even might be kind of healthy. 

You start with plain yogurt, lots of chopped dried apricots, a couple of eggs, some flour, a little sugar.  Mix that all together, put it in a greased baking dish and bake it until the center gets puffy. 

Let me repeat that last part. 

You BAKE it until the center gets puffy. 

It’s a cake!!

Granted, it’s not a cake that a Bunny would eat because it has fruit in it, but it’s definitely a cake. 

Dense, creamy, tangy, sweet, chewy…it’s a feast for the senses. 

You can top it with sour cream before you bake it, which I recommend.  The sour cream keeps it from being too sweet. 

The recipe was given to us because the giver thought our son might like it.  He didn’t want to try it.  But N and I have been enjoying it all week.  It’s a great snack or it would make an awesome breakfast.  It’s solid enough that you could eat it on the go…no fork required. 

Now my brain is thinking of different ways to do this.  I already want to add dried tart cherries, because I love dried cherries.  We won’t be doing raisins, because, well, someone in the house doesn’t believe in raisins with baked goods.  And I respect that.  Maybe some dried blueberries or strawberries.  Or mango, maybe with a tiny pinch of curry. 

Not only is this dish really good, but it is ripe for transformation.  And that is something that makes a recipe more fascinating every time you try it. 

Thanks for stopping by!  Y’all have a good weekend! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

The incredible, edible egg custard!

Trying to get back into the Friday night routine.  I’ve missed spending time here, but work has been very busy, so it has been difficult to get my brain to sit quietly here and write. 

But a couple of days off has helped restore some creative energy as well as some sanity (what little I possess).  ;o)

Last weekend was Mother’s Day, a day when the Mom in the house gets a day off.  In a house with two moms, that proves a bit of a challenge, but since we wouldn’t have G if Nancy hadn't given birth, I figure that gives her a bit of an edge. 

So I decided that on Mother’s Day (or Mothers’ Day, if you prefer), I would set out to cook some yummy meals for her. 

How did we celebrate?  With egg custards, of course!  

First, there was French toast for breakfast.  In my family, there wasn’t really a recipe with measurements, there was a demonstration and a lot of practice.

This will do it for 6-8 slices of bread.  We like to use the spelt bread from Trader Joe’s. 

For starters, two or three eggs get cracked into a pie plate.  Splash in a good bit of milk (probably ½ a cup), add a healthy dribble of vanilla, a generous sprinkling of cinnamon and a dash or three of nutmeg.  Beat with a fork or whisk until well combined.  Keep that fork handy to keep mixing the custard…the cinnamon will float to the top and then get used up by the first two slices of bread if you don’t mix between dunks.

Now I like to fry my French toast on an electric griddle.  It will hold 6 slices of bread easily (instead of two in my 12” skillet) and there are no sides to get in the way of your spatula when you turn your slices. 

Dunk your bread, one slice at a time, in the egg mixture and transfer each slice immediately to the griddle.  Fry on the first side until brown, turn and let cook until brown on the other side. 

Keep warm in a 180 degree oven if you need to, but if you’re only making 6 slices and you used your griddle, you should be done in one. 

Serve with butter, maple syrup (and peanut butter if you’re from my family). 

It was delicious…French toast is so easy to make and makes people so happy.  It makes me wonder why we don’t do it more often. 

But the custard celebration wasn’t over.  When I asked Nancy what else she wanted to eat that day, she said, “Quiche.” 

I’d never made quiche before, but how hard could it be, right?  Especially if I was going to use pre-made pie shells.  (Shut up…I have a two year old and have been working a lot of overtime.  I am allowed a shortcut here and there.)

What surprised me about the recipe I chose was that there were only two eggs in the whole thing.  For a ten -nch quiche, only two eggs. 

The examples I had tasted before couldn’t have been that light on the hen fruit.  In fact, I have been turned off quiches before because they were way too eggy. 

But really, Julia Child can’t be wrong about something as beautifully French as Quiche Lorraine, now could she?

My answer to that is not only no, but hells to the no.  It was the most simple, exquisite thing in a crust. 

Technically, it came from Saveur Magazine, but it was adapted from the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.  Close enough.  Here, check it out.

1.5 cups heavy cream, a half teaspoon of salt, two eggs, a dash or two of nutmeg and about 6 ounces of bacon is all that was needed to make this gorgeous treat.  Someday when I have more time and energy, I will make the pastry from scratch, but now is not that time. 

Dice the bacon and fry until crisp.  Drain on paper towels and sprinkle in the bottom of the pre-baked crust.  Combine the cream, eggs, salt and nutmeg and pour into the crust.  Bake at 375° for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden and puffed and the middle is just set (if you stick a sharp knife in the center, it will come out clean).

Let it cool a little before serving.  Otherwise you will end up with pieces of delicate crust and filling all over your kitchen counters. 

Be patient, because the end result is well worth the wait. 

This quiche surpassed any other I have ever eaten.  It was light, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  It was sublime.  It made us weep with joy. 

We finished the leftovers today for lunch.  It was just as good the second time, though it was challenging to warm up in the microwave without destroying it.  But we managed.  And I am very sure we will manage again.

So Happy Mothers’ Day!  Because there are lots of mommies in the world and the day belongs to all of us!  

Monday, April 23, 2012


It’s a Monday Night Special Edition Blog Night!

When it comes to athletic shoes, I admit to being rather picky.  I come by it honestly.  Someone I know got me hooked on quality shoes a long time ago.  :o) 

New Balance makes some of my favorite sport shoes.  I have a pair of slides that I wear around the house.  I have my pair of Country Walks that are my favorite hiking/walking shoes. 

There’s a shoe of theirs that really should have its own legend. It’s the 990, a shoe so special that New Balance made a special pair just for President Obama.

It is partially hand constructed right here in the USA.  Well, not here, here, in Washington, but over there here, in Maine. 

They come in Men's, Women's, and Kid's, so the whole family can get in on the fun.

By the way, there has been no confirmation that Mr. Obama has actually worn the shoes.  But New Balance did have his name put on the soles, so maybe he’ll have them mounted and displayed or something. 

But seriously, if you’re in the market for a running shoe, check them out.  Invest in your feet and invest in yourself. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my Country Walks and I are going to bond over a nice little stroll. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

The comfort of someone else's kitchen...

It feels like forever since I’ve posted here. It’s been a busy few weeks, musically, which hasn’t left much time for writing or for fabulous food.

However, a couple of weeks ago, we were inspired by the time crunch to indulge in some really good take-out.

One Friday night, while I was off singing at the Wine Walk in Issaquah, Nancy ordered one of our favorite pizzas from Amante Pizza and Pasta.

The House Special is an eclectic pie, with Canadian bacon, roasted garlic, feta, black olives, spinach, sunflower seeds and shredded pepperoni. It also comes with green peppers and red onions, which we tend to leave off.

Oh, it’s delicious. Their crust has a nice flavor and isn’t too thick. The sauce is tasty, but not obtrusive. It adds to the pie without being too pushy. There’s a lot of stuff, including loads of sweet, creamy roasted garlic and tangy, salty feta.

I’m not sure why I was surprised that those two things balance each other so well. They are really delicious together. There’s the spicy pepperoni, the smoky ham. There’s the surprising crunch of the nutty sunflower seeds. And you feel kind of healthy about eating it because of the spinach. :o)

It’s a hearty pie with generous toppings and balanced flavors. An awesome Friday night special.

Now, because of some friends at work had leftover Chinese food for lunch that week, I had a craving for our favorite, Snappy Dragon.

We actually didn’t get our usual, the jao zi, Salt and Pepper chicken, and Snappy Dragon fried rice (best fried rice outside of my mother-in-law’s).

We decided that veggies would be good, so we got mu shu chicken. We also got potstickers (larger than the jao zi with a thicker wrapper) and the Snappy Dragon chow mein with the hand-rolled noodles.

Heaven! The homemade noodles are divine, with a light sauce, beef, chicken and shrimp, and some veg. The noodles are just so good! I don’t know that words can do them justice. They are toothsome, savory. And they are amazing cold! It’s really hard to stay out of the leftovers to save them for lunch or dinner the next day.

The only complaint I might have is that their pancakes are a little thick, but they are also homemade, so I really can’t complain.

There is something comforting in having those fall-back positions of favorite take-out meals. Not only comforting to eat, but comforting just in knowing that they are there when you need them.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Love Affair with the Forbidden Fruit

I have to admit, it’s been a tough week, food-wise. Two days after returning from vacation, I came down with a horrid stomach virus.

Nothing like a day on watered-down Gatorade to make one appreciate how wonderful the simple things can taste.

That first, clean, bright taste of applesauce on Wednesday evening after coughing up the contents of my stomach not once, but twice that morning and then taking 5 hours to drink a single 16 ounce glass of water was pure Nirvana (the spiritual plane, not the band).

Pure, unadulterated cooked-down apples. No sugar, no ascorbic acid to help it retain its color. Just apples.

Have you ever taken one of those single-serving plastic cups of applesauce and put it in the freezer? Then you take it out once it’s frozen and scrape the top with a spoon so you get something like an apple-y sno-cone. I used to love doing that when I was a kid. Well, really a teenager and 20-something. I don’t think they had those little plastic cups of applesauce when I was a kid. Someone out there who knows my age correct me if I’m wrong. ;o)

Come to think of is, the apple is probably my favorite fruit to just eat. I grew up eating apples when all you could reliably get were Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. But back then, the Red Delicious were pretty good. We’d buy them in five pound bags and they’d be gone within the week. The apples were small and sweet and juicy almost all the time. Every once in a while you’d get a mealy one.

But as I got older, the Delicious apples started getting bigger and less yummy. They were almost always mealy, not the tasty little gems I’d grown up eating.

Mom and Dad would sometimes get Braeburns or McIntoshes (as opposed to mackintoshes). They’d talk about Gravensteins or Winesaps or Jonathans or Pippins.

I’m pretty sure that Dad would make applesauce from McIntoshes. Maybe Jonathans. Not sure what he put in apple pies before Granny Smiths came around.

I fell hard for the Granny Smith apple in my teens. It was always crisp, fabulously tart, gorgeously juicy. I loved them. But then they started to come up dry and flat-tasting. They, too, got larger and more mealy.

Nowadays it seems like new varieties come around all the time. Now there’s Fujis (which, granted, have been around for quite a while), Galas (okay, they’ve been around a while, too), Pink Ladys and Honeycrisps. So many wonderful eating apples, I can hardly count them all.

My current favorites have to be the Honeycrisps. The flavor is delicate, sweet and tart at the same time, beautifully crisp and juicy.

I know someday I will have a Honeycrisp apple that is past its prime, that has grown too big and gone mealy, and I will fall out of love again.

But for now, they are, to me, the best eating apple there is.

Apparently it’s too watery for applesauce, so maybe I’ll grab some in-season Galas this Fall and make some then. Mmmm...stay tuned....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Vacationing in the back of beyond

Okay, really, where we are has all the modern conveniences. And you can get cell service in town. But not once you get out of Winthrop proper.

On vacation with friends in Mazama, WA, we come here because the cell service is nil and the silence is so complete it has weight and mass. It is a way to escape our everyday lives and yet still have internet when we want it. :o) It’s kind of like ‘roughing it’ going camping by the Metolius River. You can go to the Camp Sherman store where you can only get domestic brie. And the best BLT on the planet.

This tradition (annual for some, occasional for others) started several years ago with just a handful of us and it became almost sacred time to me in subsequent years. That first year, it was a get away I desperately needed, with people I knew wouldn’t judge me while I contemplated one of the most difficult decisions of my life.

There is something about this place and the people with which we share it that is soul-reviving. Some of those people are not with us this year and we miss them. But then N and I have missed the last two years because we just weren’t able to get away.

Not only has this pilgrimage east of the mountains been a way to recharge batteries, but it has also been about great exercise (including snowshoe badminton) and great food and wine.

During that first trip over with M, E and T, I grabbed a bottle of wine from the local grocery. It was local wine from a winery not far from where we were staying. I’d never heard of Lost River Winery, but I loved the wine so much that I went back for a couple of additional bottles that I saved for the following year’s trip. That’s when the love affair started. A friend who came over the next year bought two cases of wine from their new (at the time) tasting room just outside Winthrop.

Then they only made a cabernet sauvignon, a merlot and a white blend called Rainshadow. I think maybe they were producing their first batch of syrah that year as well. I was happy to see, seven years later, that they still produce the Rainshadow. It’s a wonderful white blend.

So it wasn’t a surprise that when I went to the Winthrop grocery store, I made a beeline for the wine section. And found a nebbiolo that I decided was the wine to try this year. Delicious!!

When we do this vacation, we also tend to try and make meals special. There are a lot of people I know who are amazing cooks and we like to all try and show off our skills a little when we get together.

This year, because we are only two small families with two small children, there is a lot more convenience food and much less fanciness. But still some very excellent food.

Last night we decided to go out to dinner. I had been curious about a place off highway 20 that we’ve passed every time we come over here called East 20 Pizza. I looked at their menu online and thought the variety of toppings and the ingenuity of pairings was definitely work checking out.

So we packed up and headed into town where could get dinner and let our phones connect to the cell network. :o)

Let me tell you, we were not disappointed!

It’s a tiny place…a total of 6 4-tops and counter space for maybe a dozen more people. You can also call ahead and take out a hot pizza or a take-and-bake. Their business is definitely set up to serve as many people as possible, even with limited dine-in space. They have some table out on the front porch, but this time of year is not conducive to outdoor seating.

The Papa Dan’s graced our table. A pie with thin crust, a blend of their red sauce and their cream sauce (I requested this modification…their menu version comes with the red sauce), pepperoni, sausage, canadian bacon and extra mozzarella.

It was a phenomenal pie. Even the two-year-old inhaled most of a large slice. We had a couple of pieces leftover. I’m really looking forward to lunch.

At the other table in our party, individual pizzas were the rule. Each person got their own. We had shied away from the little 8” pizzas because personal pizzas, in our experience, tend to be all crust and no topping. But these were just as thin as the 16” my family shared.

There was a pesto chicken, a chicken royale (minus sun-dried tomatoes) and a mozzarella & feta pizza for the four-year-old. All were rated exceptional by their consumers.

Their red sauce is bright and fresh tasting and they apply it to the crust judiciously. To me, the perfect pizza must have the right balance of crust and toppings. And nothing turns me off a pizza more quickly than too much sauce.

The pesto was a vibrant green, which tells me it had to be pretty fresh, too. Basil oxidizes quickly, which is why jarred pesto sauces are a dark, deep green.

The cream sauce is thick and redolent with garlic, which added a wonderful richness when blended with the red sauce. Those two sauces and some pasta sheets and they’d have a killer lasagna!

One of the things that makes East 20 Pizza very Northwest is that they locally source as much of their pantry as possible. Including their wine.

Not only was I very pleased by the food, but they had Lost River wines on their menu. So I had a glass of the Community Red with my pizza last night. It was what I wanted to buy at the store the other night, but couldn’t because they were sold out.

Since we’re hoping to get back into the annual swing of this vacation trip, we are already planning to call ahead our first night back next year so they have a couple of take and bake pizzas ready for us. We can pick them up on the way through town to whatever cabin we stay in.

We can also stop at the grocery store and pick up some Lost River wine and we’ll be set.

I, for one, am already looking forward to next year!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cinnamon, take 2 (they're small)

Oh, there’s so much to write about! There’s been so much cooking in this house since I last posted! Soups and stews and tuna casserole (oh my!).

However, I fear there would be riots if I didn’t write about my baking adventures of the past couple of weeks.

And by that I mean the sticky buns.

This will be another case of food blogs colliding. I Googled “sticky buns” and this was the first thing that came up. A recipe for Cinnamon Sticky Buns at

I read quite a few recipes, but I kept coming back to this one. It had all the elements I was looking for: an egg-rich dough that was supposed to sit in the fridge overnight, plenty of cinnamon-sugar filling (with brown sugar, not white) and an ooey-gooey, sticky syrup mixture loaded with pecans in the bottom of the pan that ooze all over the baked buns when they were turned out of the pan.

I also loved that, for those who aren’t used to working with or proofing yeast, it had a link to a picture of what the yeast was supposed to look like when it was done proofing, all bubbling and foamy. Nice detail!

There are some out there, I’m well aware, who believe the pecans get in the way of all the yumminess, but I’m here to tell you they are necessary for the yummy. The provide a richness and a slight bitterness that balances all the sweet. I honestly don’t think I could handle all of that sweetness without the balance of some nuts. Walnuts would probably also be fine, but I really love the butteriness of the pecans. It’s really perfect, in my opinion.

The dough was easy to work with…dense and smooth because of the egg yolks. There is nothing quite like the feel of a yeast dough when it’s just right. It gets slightly shiny, it’s moist without being sticky, it’s almost velvety. It's really kind of sexy.

I did things a little out of sequence from the recipe. Because of timing, I put the dough in the fridge after the first rise and let it set there overnight. Then I took it out the next day, let it rise a couple of times, punching it down every couple of hours, before I rolled it out, prepped the goo for the baking pan and baked the rolls.

What did that extra rising time get me? A little more fermentation time, which means a little more flavor to the dough.

There were two things that annoyed me. First, the dough wouldn’t stay on the dough hook of my mixer and I’m not sure why. Maybe it wasn’t sticky enough. It was a rather dry day…the dough didn’t even take the minimum amount of flour the recipe called for. Maybe my egg yolks weren’t large enough. Or maybe it just wasn’t terribly humid.

That’s the thing about yeast doughs…you kind of have to play it by ear when it comes to adding the flour. Too little and your dough will be sticky; too much and your dough will be tough.

While they were baking, the house filled with this gorgeous, sweet, yeasty, cinnamony smell. I couldn’t help myself when they came out of the oven. As soon as they were cool enough, I had to try one. To my credit, it was one of the ends from the pre-cut roll, so it was kind of small.

The other thing that annoyed me…well, maybe annoyed is too strong a term. It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting even though it did taste wonderful.

The ooey-gooey syrup had a pronounced honey flavor. It certainly didn’t keep me from eating them. They were delicious! But I found as the week went on that it wasn’t quite the flavor I remembered from my mom’s rolls. So I need to experiment with the sticky topping. Maybe less honey or no honey at all and dark Karo instead of light.

All in all, it was a really tasty treat. Nice and chewy from the sticky syrup, plenty of cinnamon, a nice, tang to the bread and the crunch from the pecans.

I guess I’ll just have to keep experimenting till I get it right!