February 23, 2013

Portland Oregon Sign


It’s been six months since I last posted.  I never gave you all a round-up of my deliciously fun Julia Child birthday dinner. I didn’t tell you about the Un-Turkey Day feast David and I served in our new apartment (we served brisket to our families the Saturday after Thanksgiving).  I haven’t told you of our new, beautiful dining room table (though now I have – see it below? I’m in love with it).  I haven’t shared with you my new burr coffee grinder or my discovery of carrots as a delicious mid-morning work snack (whole carrots, not the yucky baby ones).



Maybe it’s because when you move across the country like we did this past year, you rip up so many roots, realize what you’ve left behind, and spend a lot of time discovering all the wonderful new things around you.  Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much energy on being in Oregon (yay!) and not with my friends in Boston (boo!) that I haven’t had the strength to log on here.

A friend of mine told me the other day about a pastor who traveled for a few weeks with a nomadic tribe in Africa.  One day, all the men in the tribe packed up their tents but instead of moving on, they just sat down on the ground refusing to continue.  Nervous he had done something to offend them, the pastor found out (through several translators) that they had decided they had traveled too far the day before, and had to wait for their souls to catch up.  So they waited.


Packing Boxes


I feel like my soul, or whatever you want to call that part of my being, took the road trip we didn’t have time to take, and then decided to extend it to include some sightseeing.  It’s probably in the Chicago art museum, or maybe it’s made it to Glacier National Park.  I’m not quite sure, but I know it’s not yet here with me in Oregon.

And that means, it’s been hard to blog.  I haven’t decided what I want to have my next identity here be. I wrote an entire Master’s thesis on the meaning of online identities but I have no idea what mine is yet.  I’m now working professionally in educational tourism, and while it’s a seemingly simple jump from there to culinary tourism, I don’t know what that would look like on this blog.  This site has gone from an unsuccessful attempt at crowd-sourcing recipes, to a journal of my Fulbright year, to a chronicle of my degree in Gastronomy, to a half-hearted attempt at continuing the blog through photography and various food topics. Now, I’ve suddenly lost my narrative.

So bear with me, as I wait for my soul to catch up and I find my virtual identity.  I promise, in one form or another, I’ll be back.

August 24, 2012

The Cooking Has Begun


I spent the first half of the week planning the execution of my menu for Julia Child’s 100th birthday celebration.  I went to the farmer’s market where I procured this bounty of local produce.  I’m already realizing I probably need to buy more garlic.  Yes, three heads is not enough.

I will report back with more details of the process when it’s over, including the menu and a few recipes should you want to host your own celebration. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some non-cooking thoughts.  While I’ve been busy in the kitchen this week, I’ve been listening to a lot of radio podcasts.  There is a clip, from This American Life, that struck me as one of the most creative, beautiful, funny, and painfully sad pieces I have heard in a long time.  It was written and performed by David Rakoff, who died August 9th from cancer.  Aired only a few weeks before Rakoff’s death, it is a tangent to the story of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and the cockroach who reaches out over the Atlantic to a doctor (who speaks only in rhyme) is a beautiful piece of art that everyone – no matter if you’re a German Studies major or not – should listen to. If you can call a radio play written in response to a short story published almost a hundred years earlier “fan fiction,” then this would be the best fan fiction I’ve encountered.

Click here for the story “Oh the Places You Won’t Go”

Note: click on the arrow just below the picture to start the clip. The player starts in the middle of the show, right before Ira Glass introduces the piece.  It’s about 13 minutes long.  If you have the time, the one-hour special on Rakoff’s professional, and personal, life that aired on this week’s This American Life show is a beautiful tribute.

August 18, 2012

Garden Gnomes: Zucchini Blossoms Wilting on the Vine

I’m starting a series on my vegetable gardening experiences here, since I’ve only been gardening for a few years.  I think blogs should be beautiful, but they shouldn’t only portray the best sides. Here I’ll definitely be sharing my stumbles and mistakes.  I might also share some triumphs if there are any.  It’s called Garden Gnomes because, well, those mythical creatures are blamed for pretty much anything that goes wrong in a garden, often when it’s not their fault at all.

Just after arriving in Oregon, I planted a zucchini plant in the side vegetable garden.  I’ve never grown zucchini myself before, and I was nervous.  It was a spindly little romanesco seedling.  I haven’t had romanesco zucchini in a long, long time and I’m looking forward to eating zucchini of a different texture, with its ridged edges.

I planted, and hoped. A couple weeks ago, I saw the first bloom.  By nightfall, it had shriveled and died. The blooms have coincided with a heat wave here in Oregon. Were my blooms shriveling in the heat? Were they suffering from some sort of rot or wilt?

Luckily, doing a little bit of research, I found out that this is really quite normal.  Zucchini plants produce male flowers first, then female flowers a week or so later.  The male flowers grow, are used by bees to pollinate the female flowers, and then die off. Side note: as the plant matures and has more female flowers, you can harvest some of the male flowers to stuff and eat.  Since the male flowers grow first, you often get a lag time between the first blooms and the first fruits.

You can also visually tell the difference between male and female flowers.  Male flowers have long stems, like the one you see above.  Female flowers have what looks like a mini zucchini growing below the flower (in fact, that’s what turns into the zucchini fruit).  I don’t have a photo of that, since my plant hasn’t produced any female flowers yet, but I’m crossing my fingers that all is well in the vegetable garden and we can proceed as usual!

August 17, 2012

Sausage, Tomato, and Kale Recipe

I had grand plans to share recipes with you in the past couple weeks.  And then the plans fizzled.

First I planned a peach cheesecake – I’ve been on a peach kick all summer, so when a neighbor stopped by with fresh, hand-picked peaches from a local orchard I kicked into gear.  I’d just gotten a German cheesecake cookbook from my mother for my birthday, and I decided the stars had aligned for me to make a peach cheesecake.

But it flopped. Quite literally.  While it tasted delicious, the juiciness of the peaches (the original recipe was for a berry cheesecake) was too much for the poor cake to handle and the bottom third just oozed peaches and the remains of the crust.  David’s mom called it “Peach Delight” and we all gobbled up the flavors of summertime. But the sad dessert was not photogenic, and certainly not something I’d recommend to others before tweaking it a bit more so it holds its shape.

Then yesterday morning around 8am, I beat the heat and did some gardening. I had some pruning to do in the tomato plant section and ended up with a bunch of small green cherry tomatoes as collateral. Almost immediately (it was early after all and I hadn’t had my coffee yet), a light bulb went off in my head: fried green cherry tomatoes!

We had them for dinner, crisped with flour, an egg/yogurt mixture, and panko. They flopped too. At first I thought the first batch was bitter because the oil was too hot. I turned the oil down and cooked the rest of the pint of tomatoes, heaped them up on a serving plate, and dug into them for dinner. The whole batch was so bitter we couldn’t eat them. And everything else tasted bitter, including the rib-eye steak we served with it.

I’m so glad we didn’t have guests over. Those fried green cherry tomatoes look way too innocent.

So, with photos that look deceptively delicious but don’t have good recipes to go along with them, I had a conundrum on my hands for a blog recipe.  Which brought me to this tried and true favorite.  Unlike the peach cheesecake, it’s supposed to be a bit a bit soggy, and the kale cooks long enough that the bitterness dissipates and the whole dish just tastes amazing. We used to blanch the kale separately, but we recently started just throwing it in with the liquid washed and chopped up. There’s enough liquid to “blanch” the kale, but you still keep all the nutrients in the liquid that turns into the base of your sauce (and you spare yourself making a third pot dirty).

So here you go: this week’s recipe.  I worked hard on this post, so you better go out and try it. Besides, these vegetables are all in season right now, so you don’t have any excuse not to. And did I mention it was easy? It’s really easy.

Sausage, Tomato, and Kale Linguine

1 lb pork sausage (pick your favorite flavor, you can also substitute for chicken or turkey for a healthier option. I usually buy bulk sausage, but you could also use link sausages chopped up or removed from the casings)
1 lb linguine pasta
1 cup leeks, washed thoroughly and minced
1 cup onions, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1 bunch kale (somewhere between 6 and 10 stems), washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups water or broth
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup cheese, finely grated (I like using a mix of Jarlsberg and Parmesan, though also use Gruyere when I’m feeling like splurging. Other Swiss cheeses such as Emmenthaler would be good too)
red pepper flakes to taste (optional) for less spice but still peppery flavor, consider using aleppo peppers
parsley and/or chives, chopped (optional)

1. In a heavy-bottomed saute pan, brown the sausage and set aside on a plate lined with paper towel to soak up the grease.

2. Meanwhile, set a pot of water on high on the stove to boil for the linguine. Season it liberally with salt.

3. Drain any left-over grease out of the now-empty saute pan. Add a dash of olive oil (if needed) and the leeks and onions. You want the vegetables to pick up the sausage bits and flavor on the bottom of the pan, so do not clean the pan between cooking the pork and the alliums (=members of the onion family, aka leeks and onions – maybe you learned a new word today!).

4. Add the kale and the liquid and cook covered for about six minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure all the kale gets “blanched.”

5. By this point your pasta water will likely be boiling, so add your linguine and stir, cooking to package directions.

6. When the kale is cooked down, check the level of the liquid.  There should be a bit left coming about a quarter inch up the pan. If not, add a bit more liquid. Then add the cherry tomatoes, sausage, cheese, and pepper flakes.  The cheese will thicken the leftover liquid enough to coat the vegetables and linguine.  Bring the vegetables and sauce to a light boil, then turn off the heat almost immediately. Taste and correct seasonings (notice you haven’t added salt or pepper until now, because the sausage is flavored enough and the cheese also provides salt – I rarely add pepper unless I’m not using pepper flakes).

7. Drain the noodles and gently pour them into your saute pan and carefully mix them into the vegetables.  If your pan is too small for this maneuver then mix everything together in a large serving bowl and top with the parsley/chives.  Voila! Your meal is done.  Guten Appetit!


August 9, 2012

Julia Child’s 100th Birthday Celebration

When I was little, my family and I would watch a lot of PBS.  Of course this meant many sessions of watching Julia Child cook in her Cambridge, MA kitchen.  We enjoyed watching her cook with other master chefs, and in particular I liked her series with Jacques Pépin. Fun fact: I thought Jacques was Julia’s husband until I learned about Paul Child many years later.

When I went to Smith, I learned that Julia was a Smithie too.  She was rumored to have been on campus my first fall in Northampton, but I didn’t get a chance to meet her.  Which is sad, because on August 13, 2004 (two days before her 92nd birthday) Julia passed away in California.  I was at a family reunion at the time.  That evening, my sisters and I prepared dinner for our extended family, and held a toast to our fellow jovial Smithie.

Three years later, I would be accepted into the Gastronomy Master’s degree that she and Jacques Pépin helped found, and in Fall 2007 I enrolled in the culinary program at Boston University that Julia developed. In November of that year, I spent three magical days cooking food with Jacques Pépin and his best friend, Jean-Claude Szurdak. It felt like a dream, a wonderful, delicious dream. We deboned whole chickens, prepared sweetbreads, oysters Rockefeller, omelets, candied citrus, caramels, and so much more. We put the huge, 8-station lab kitchen to the test, and all 12 of us students were pushed to the edge of our culinary abilities. We cooked with so much butter Julia would have been proud.

Next Wednesday, August 15, would be Julia’s 100th birthday. I’m thankful that almost fifty years after her first TV show launched, her accomplishments and her enthusiasm for food are still being celebrated. I’ve been drafting a multi-course meal for the occasion. Because that’s what Julia did on her 80th birthday (she had multiple such celebrations across the country). And what better way to celebrate birthdays than with food, family, and friends?  We’ll be celebrating a bit late, so check back here at the end of the month for a round-up of my culinary attempts.

In the meantime, if you feel inclined, pick up one of her cookbooks and prepare one of her dishes next week. Counter to popular belief, not all her recipes are complicated. In fact, many of them are quite simple. I highly suggest her easy-to-use cookbook Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom. If you have an iPad or Nook, and want to be a bit more adventurous, download the Mastering the Art of French Cooking app. Or, simply give a toast in her honor when you eat your regular dinner. After all, Julia’s mission was to help us all celebrate good food and good friends.