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!