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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Spring Dinner

It's spring, so the chinook are running in the Columbia. We've eaten it twice this week--Tuesday (joined by my parents, who are visiting) simply roasted with a little olive oil and fresh thyme, with a side of saffron orzo, spinach, basil, peas and pine nuts; tonight (joined by MWR) cooked en papillote with asparagus, scallion, lemon and dill with roast fingerling potatoes on the side (recipe adapted from Real Simple).

For each packet, tear a piece of parchment paper about 10 inches wide or so off the roll. Put on the parchment, just off center, a piece of salmon, some two-inch pieces of asparagus, and a good five-finger pinch of minced dill and scallions. Drizzle with EVOO, squirt with a quarter-lemon, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper, and, starting at one side, twist the paper to make a tight packet around the food. Roast at 400 for 20 minutes and the above picture is what you get. Next time I'll do it for only 15 and see how it turns out. The potatoes were tossed with a little olive oil and roasted separately for about twice as long. Optimally I would have two ovens and be able to roast the potatoes at a higher temp for more browning/crisping.

For dessert, rhubarb cupcakes with whipped cream, chopped crystallized ginger and diced roasted hazelnuts. For the cake, I used a recipe from The Moosewood Book of Desserts, but I think any buttery cake would work fine. Put about 3/4 of the batter into the tin, sprinkle with diced rhubarb (being careful not to press it down, which will make it sink during baking), then top with the last bits of batter. You don't need to worry about spreading the batter to cover the rhubarb; the heat of the oven will do that job quite handily.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Another gratuitous kid pic

D'you ever wonder . . . ?

. . . about things in your past, conversations or events, and what would have happened if they had gone just a little differently?

A couple of our acquaintance, roughly of my parents' generation, have an interesting story to tell. They knew each other as teenagers, though he was a few years older than she. They were friends, but the age difference and other circumstances meant that they never actually dated. While he was away at college or on his mission or something like that, she started dating someone else, who eventually proposed to her. She called her friend and told him, and then there was one of those pauses. She was wishing and hoping he would say, "Don't marry him; marry me instead." He was wishing and hoping she would say, "But I don't really love him; I'd rather be with you." But neither of them said anything, and she married the other guy and had a bunch of kids with him, and he married someone else as well. Many years down the road, both of them ended up single at the same time, and they finally married and have been very happy.

My story is less interesting, because I'm not sure there would have been any significant long-term consequences of things having gone differently. But you never know. Either at Christmas or in the spring after my freshman year in college (do you remember, MWR?), a friend threw a party for those of us who'd come back to town. Most of the people in attendance were from my high school class, but there were a few siblings and random others from different graduation years. One of the guys there was one I'd known since fifth grade, when we'd swum on the public pool swim team. He was two years older than I was, and for the two years we'd swum together I saw a lot of him in a Speedo. He was the subject in my first ever sex-y dream, in about sixth grade.

So anyway, at this party there was food and parlor games and even dancing--and, unlike in junior high and most of high school, people actually danced. This guy asked me to dance on a slow song, and force of habit from stake dances led me to assume the "closed" dance position, as opposed to the bear-hug typical for school dances. I awkwardly explained that that was how we did it at church dances, blah blah blah, and he was nice and said it was nice to try something different, but could we dance closer together? Yeah, sure. Dance dance dance, chat chat chat. As the song was ending, he asked if I wanted to go outside for a little walk, and I SAID NO! Hello!?!?! Could I possibly have missed more signals? It wasn't until much later that I realized what I had (probably) missed out on, and there was no going back, none.

Now, I think it's a fairly safe bet that I wouldn't have married this guy or even dated for long (if in fact he had been interested in a girlfriend instead of just some casual necking). But at that age and stage, a little of the right kind of attention from the right kind of guy (he was SUPER nice) might have done really good things for my self-esteem, which in turn might have helped me be less desperate and downright pathetic, etc. I still don't think I would have found someone I should marry in Utard. But who knows? With a little more self-confidence, I might have chosen an entirely different (~ more risky) career path.

How about you? Anything you wish had gone differently? Or wonder what would have happened if it had?


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Save the Date

As I'm sure most of you reading this already know, I've got a big birthday coming up this year. So please mark your calendars for a big bash on Saturday, June 9. Further details yet to be determined (though at breakfast today, my brother said something about a huge backyard fiesta chez lui--they have a half-acre lot--complete with mariachi band! provided weather cooperates, of course).


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I don't care if spring is just around the corner . . .

I've been feeling like SOUP. Earlier this week, a lazy dinner involved getting three kinds of soup and a baguette from Elephants Deli (lamb with barley, turkey rice with fennel and butternut squash, and mulligatawney with chicken and apple), but I felt guilty (as I frequently do) for buying something I am very capable of making myself. So I went to the cookbook shelf, and started (as I often do) in my amassed issues of Cook's Illustrated (organized not chronologically but seasonally: all the January-February issues together, etc.--and I rotate them as each new bimonth rolls around, so the most seasonally appropriate recipes are easy to find). Now, with my family's dietary restrictions (Number Two is allergic to cow's milk and does not tolerate cooked tomatoes very well), and my own dislikes (I cannot abide mushrooms), a number of otherwise good-sounding possibilities were eliminated right off the bat. But when I got to the recipe for Split Pea Soup with Ham in the March-April 1999 issue, I knew right away I had a winner--the only ingredients I didn't already have on hand were the ham and the split peas.

So, today after teaching choir to Number One's class at school (we have performances next week), Number Two and I ventured forth in search of the recipe's recommended 2.5 lb bone-in picnic ham (from the shoulder). When I called Gartner's Meats, and they didn't have one, I got the feeling I would probably have to find an alternative. I found what looked like a decent one at Sheridan Fruit Co.: a 2-lb bone-in ham shank, meaty and dry (not shrink-wrapped and watery). A pound of split peas from the bulk section at the supermarket, and I was ready to roll.

I put the ham shank in a dutch oven with 3 qts of water and four bay leaves, then simmered it for about 2.5-3 hours. Then I pulled out the meat and put it on a plate to cool, and put the peas in the broth to simmer for about 45 minutes. Then I chopped two medium onions in the Cuisinart, chopped three carrots and two celery ribs on the cutting board, and heated two tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick skillet until shimmering. I sauteed the vegetables over pretty high heat until they were getting browned, then reduced the heat to medium-low and added two cloves of garlic (minced--actually run through a garlic press), 1 T butter, and a pinch of sugar. Then I continued to saute the vegetables until they were nice and brown.

After the ham had cooled enough to handle, I picked off and hand-shredded the meat. I peeled and cut into 3/8-in dice two medium russet potatoes. Then I put the meat, vegetables and potatoes into the pot and continued to simmer until the potatoes were tender. I adjusted the seasonings with fresh-ground black pepper and a couple of teaspoons of balsamic vinegar (no additional salt was needed), and served it with multigrain artisanal bread. Yum.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007


Today's Oregonian had a special magazine supplement about living in the Pearl District, an area of massive development in the last several years here in the PRP. It started out as an artist-y, industrial place, with some quirky shops, some warehouses converted to loft apartments, and quite a bit of industry (the Henry Weinhard's brewery, and multiple--get this--ball-bearing establishments). We used to live there before Number One was born, in a loft apartment in a converted pharmaceuticals warehouse. In the last few years, the neighborhood has changed dramatically, with tons of new condo and apartment buildings, lots of retail establishments, and more restaurants, not to mention the building of the Portland Streetcar.

Anyway, in an article about where to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, I read, "St. Patrick's Day falls on March 17 this year." !?!?!?! Does it ever not? Rrr.


Book Group Brunches

My book group met today for the first time in nearly a year. I started it five years ago last fall, but last year we got into a slump, or maybe just out of the habit, and I'd really desperately like to get back into the swing of things. Partly because having deadlines gets me to read more books (as opposed to reading magazines or watching TV, in both of which I am terribly behind at the moment), and partly because I LOVE having an excuse to put together a fancy-ish three-course brunch, using local and seasonal ingredients, of course, for an audience more appreciative than my children.

Today's book was Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. We picked it because it was recently named "Best Oregon Book Ever" by Portland Monthly magazine, and also because it's one of the longest-residing denizens of my "to be read" shelf. Oh my goodness--why haven't I read this book sooner?!?!? I guess because it's on the hard side for a high school audience, and I didn't go to college in Oregon (I used my sister's copy, which she got for a class at a local community college). It is on the more demanding side in structure--he changes point of view very frequently, and jumps around in place and time, as various characters have flashbacks. But once you get the hang of it, get to know the characters, it becomes much easier to tell who "I" is at any given moment. This is definitely a book that lends itself to reading in large chunks, and not in bits and pieces. For sure the last 130 pages or so (it's 600+ pages in most printings, of which there have been many) should be read at once.

We were intrigued to discover that the book was made into a movie in 1971, starring Henry Fonda and Paul Newman. I'm not thrilled with this casting (of course I had my own mental pictures of the main characters), but I've reserved the movie at the library, and we'll screen it at a future date if I can figure out a good way to hook my VCR back up to my TV.

Today's menu was not my most, well, mostes', because each thing I served was a repeat from a previous meeting (ideally I don't like to repeat). And some items on the original menu were dropped when I opted to finish the book last night instead of doing more shopping/running around. For instance, I had wanted to start with bran muffins and frozen peaches (a tradition in my family), but my sil ended up not coming, and I didn't make time to go pick some peaches up from her (I've decided now that I'll freeze some myself this year). So we didn't have a real starter course, and I served the bran muffins alongside the main dish, quiche with fresh wild salmon, asparagus, and gruyère. For dessert I wanted something chocolate, but with this week's schedule (we returned from out of town Wednesday afternoon) I decided to scale back and serve a purchased Guinness Stout Cake (a very chocolatey affair, despite the name) from Marsee Baking.

The quiche I made from the Bittman, only using one-inch cubes of salmon, two-inch pieces of blanched asparagus, and about a cup of finely grated 15-month raw-milk gruyère instead of the onions in his basic recipe. The 6 eggs and 2 cups half and half called for in his recipe overflowed my deep-dish partially-blind-baked (12 minutes at 425) shell, so I think next time I'll try 1 1/2 C half and half. I think because I didn't cook the salmon first, the quiche took nearly twice as long to bake as it said in the recipe (30-40 minutes at 325), and the asparagus was slightly overcooked. If I do it this way again, I'll shorten the blanching time (today was 1 minute) considerably (like to 15 seconds). I love quiche, and it's another one of those things that are so much better when they're homemade. This morning I managed to make two pie shells and freeze one, so my next quiche will hopefully be not long in coming.

The bran muffins were an enormous hit--five of us downed 12 mini and 7 full-size muffins, slathered with butter (they actually can make a pretty good argument for being healthy before you do that). Here is the recipe:

2 C boiling water
5 t soda

Mix these together and let cool.

1 C butter, softened
2 C sugar
4 eggs
1 qt buttermilk
5 C flour
4 C All-Bran
2 C Bran Flakes
2 C dates, chopped

Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add other ingredients, in order (don't forget to add the soda water with the other wet ingredients). If you are mixing it in a Kitchenaid, you will need to transfer it to a larger bowl after adding the flour, and then fold in the cereal and dates. Once you have it all mixed together, you can keep it in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks. Just don't stir it before baking. Fill greased muffin cups (or cupcake papers) 1/2-2/3 full (I use appropriately-sized ice cream scoops), and bake at 375 for 25 minutes.

Our next book will be Atonement by Ian McEwan (another long-time resident of the to-be-read shelf), and we've picked a tentative meeting date of April 14. Here's to hoping we re-establish the habit!

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Friday, March 9, 2007


On the route I take to pick up Number One from school every day, periodically (once or twice a month) there is a beggar standing by a stop sign. His sign reads, "I need money for food not drugs." The problem is that everything about his appearance positively SCREAMS "meth-head"--the gaunt frame, the sunken cheeks, the missing teeth. I saw someone pass him a cigarette once, but I have to wonder if he ever gets any cash, ever. The thing is, if what you really want is food, or shelter, or work, there are better and more efficient ways of getting it than begging on a street corner. I suspect that most passing drivers know that, but I suppose that some don't--otherwise why would he keep coming back?