Sunday, January 27, 2008

Alice is Back! And Dark Days Efforts Contine

I had not been able to find my new Alice Waters cookbook for the past couple of weeks. First I thought I'd left it at the beach, but, then when we were down there last weekend, I discovered it wasn't there either. :( A few days after we were home, I was sitting at the kitchen table and happened to look over in the vicinity of the bread machine and there was the book - sitting on top where it isn't visible when you are standing up. I was so happy to get back into it that I took a picture with the roses I got from a friend recently just to show Alice how glad I am to have her back in my kitchen!

As I look at my ongoing effort to eat more locally grown and raised foods, I am seeing a pattern. Usually on the weekend, I prepare a well-thought out meal, sometimes two, that hit the 90%/200 miles target pretty closely. Then the remainder of the week consists of leftovers from those meals and, later, some mish-mash of what we have on hand, which is more likely 50% local at best. This past week, we had the infamous pink and orange meal. In trying to use up things in the fridge and freezer one night, we had salmon, sweet potatoes and squash for dinner. Not a green item in sight. Certainly not what we would call a balanced meal, but it furthered the cause of using up things on hand. Other nights, it was leftovers from the lentil soup and the kale and chevre stuffed chicken.
(Jan. 20)

My best effort this week was last night's birthday dinner party for Grady. I made Boeuf Bourguignon (updated from Julia child by Bon Appetit), served it with boiled new potatoes and a hearty seven grain bread. I was able to get almost all the items in this dinner from Oregon and Washington with the exception of the wine and probably the herbs (don't really know their origin). One of these days, I will try growing herbs again, but it's not been a success story for me in the past. And the wine could be a nice Oregon Pinot Noir, but, as I said once earlier, I can't bring myself to put the more expensive wine in such large quantities into the stew. We can appreciate the difference when we drink it, but are not really seeing a difference when it is cooked all day with the beef and vegetables. So, I resort to a less expensive red from elsewhere. In any case, it was delicious and got glowing reviews from the guests.

For dessert, I made Chocolate Pave from my re-found cookbook. The butter, eggs and whipped cream on top were from nearby farms, but the chocolate and sugar came from further afield. I topped it with a sauce using the raspberries that Grady grew last summer and were kept in the freezer. I mixed the berries with "Aqua Perfecta Framboise Liqueur". Grady's sister got this for him at St. George Spirits in Alameda, because we don't have any more of our homemade raspberry liqueur left. Our friend who can't eat gluten appreciated that this was a flour-less chocolate cake. It's not really much to look at in a picture, but I'm including a photo because we used Grandma Mik's beautiful art deco dishes. Anything would look great on these plates. And, most important- it tasted wonderful, especially with the raspberry sauce, and the birthday boy loved it!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I've Got Rhythm!

Good news to pass along - for those of you who heard about my wonky heart. The irregular and too-fast beating has basically self-corrected. Still don't know what caused the atrial fibrillation in the first place - more tests in a week and a half to try to find out. But, meanwhile, this means I don't have to have the dreaded paddles to shock it back into its normal rhythm. Hooray for my ticker!

This how it looks now and how it looked last week:

Monday, January 21, 2008

Some things are better than football

Since I ended the last post with the high hopes for the NFC football championship game, I thought I should just add a brief follow up. Very sad in Packerland today. Seems like it was their game to win (home field advantage and all), but they couldn't get there. Very exciting game, but those kinds of games are a lot more fun when your team wins in the end. :( But, as, my mother (Packer fan extraordinaire) said - it will be much easier to watch the Super Bowl this way.

Terrific weekend at the coast. Weather was drop dead gorgeous - sunny and clear, although cold. On the way home, we all were struck by the deep blue color of the Pacific, which is usually gray, gray, gray this time of year. Our friend was smarter than we were and stopped to take a picture. Thanks for sharing, Jeff!

Looking back toward Manzanita from highway 101.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dark Days Challenge: Teamwork is the Best

It was almost a year ago that my friend Jeff and I took a cooking class together – a gift to me for my birthday. It was a one-evening, one-meal class on the theme of cooking with locally grown foods in the winter (several months before I actually read about Laura’s challenge). Even since, we have been planning to make this meal for Grady. Finally got to it this weekend at the coast with Jeff’s daughter and family joining us. The original menu included:
Baked Stuffed Chicken with Chevre and Red Kale
Belgian Endive Risotto with Taleggio and Walnuts
Slow Roasted Beet Salad with Parsely, Celery and Fennel
Peppery Gingerbread with Brandied Whipped Cream
Our meal last night did not include that salad because the number of beet and fennel lovers in the crowd was pretty small. So, we had a salad that included some lettuce and veggies from afar along with local arugula, and red onions.

The other modification I made was in the risotto. I didn’t find any Belgian endive at all, let alone locally grown. So, I used shitakes, leeks, and chard from the farmer’s market this past week instead. And I substituted a cheese called “Ancient Heritage Rosa” from Canby, Oregon. The cake and chicken were made pretty much as is, with the exception of using Russian red kale and adding a little chard to bring it up to the amount we needed for two chickens.

These are the before and after picture of the chicken. The stuffing (chevre, wilted kale, bread crumbs, egg, parsley, garlic and nutmeg) is placed between the skin and the flesh of the chicken which has been split so it lays flat. Then the bird gets rubbed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and roasted for about 40 minutes.

With Jeff taking the lead on the chicken and salad, and me on the risotto and gingerbread, the result was a lovely meal without either of us losing too much time from our weekend beach relaxation. The chicken and risotto were pretty much all local and the salad and cake about half and half.

The class that inspired this meal was offered by “In Good Taste” which offers a terrific selection and variety of courses here in Portland. Jeff and I are about to sign up for another one sometime in February. This kind of birthday present makes the having of birthdays something to look forward to. Thanks, Jeff!

But, now it is time to watch the Packers again and see if they can get themselves into the Super Bowl.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Arghhhh! Vegetables Kill Cookware

And, here I was, just starting to like them.
But, perhaps I should just admit that I am the one who just managed a fine job of ruining a pan by leaving it on the stove and forgetting about it. I had a nice collection of vegetable leavings from the past week. And I am planning to make a lentil soup this weekend with the bone left from the ham we had recently. I wanted to get the broth made so it would be ready to take with us down to the beach on Friday and use it for the soup. Cleverly, I put it on the stove and then came out to the livingroom - got started reading some blogs and forgot all about the broth! Oh, my what a mess. And what a loss to the upcoming soup. Sigh.

Rounded up another assortment of greens at the Farmer's Market on the way home this evening. I'll have to try Gina's secret ingredient when I cook some of them. But, I do have to be careful not to get carried away since the doc says that too many dark leafy greens can interfere with the meds I had to start taking last week for my irresponsible heart. (Vitamin K is the culprit.) I'm pretty sure that is absolutely the first time I have ever heard someone talk about vegetables not being good for you. Not exactly sure what "too many" is, but it seems unlikely I would consume a quantity that would be harmful.

So, those are my vegetable stories for the evening.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dark Days Dinner

That sounds kind of ominous, doesn't it? Feel like I should get out the black candles and create some ambience for dinner tonight. This is a meal I haven't cooked yet, but am getting ready for. Lately, I'm never sure how I will be feeling by later in the evening, so I thought I'd report in ahead of time.

I've had a hankering for ham every since they were being advertised before Christmas. But, we had other wonderful things for the holiday meals. So, now I'm going to have my ham - from Oregon-raised and processed pork. The ham will get some enhancement with a bourbon, molasses and pecan glaze. The glaze will include some travelling pecans and bourbon, but the apple juice is local and "Aunt Patty's" molasses is at least processed in Eugene.

I'll be making "Swiss Chard Gratin" to go with the ham. But, this version will have not just chard, but a variety of greens from my last outing to the farmer's market. (See them in the Jan.9 post.) A nice thing about how they were being sold is that I was able to pick individual pieces instead of buying a full bunch. With just two of us, it is hard to get variety when I have to buy whole bunches of veggies. So, this gratin will have kale, three varieties of chard, beet greens and collards, all from the farms in our area. I've not used these enough to know how well that will work, but it seems worth a try. I have to admit to being a newcomer to liking and using many of these greens after my grown daughter re-introduced me to them a couple years ago. Grady is not a big convert as yet, but I discovered that he does like this recipe from the Epicurious website. The cheese will be an "ancient heritage rosa" from Canby, Oregon. And, instead of chicken broth, I am using a vegetable broth that I am making. The cream is from a dairy here in Portland and the onions, garlic, and herbs also are local.

I thought I was having a pretty local breakfast this morning - a scramble with scallions, shitakes, and a Willamette Valley cheese. But, then I double-checked the egg carton and found they were not from around here as I had thought. Sigh. Clearly I need to check more closely next time. Lessons learned along the way in this eat local challenge.

And, meanwhile, back at Lambeau Field, I am happy to see that the Packers have gotten themselves back on track after that disastrous beginning of the game today.

(Sunday morning update: that ham glaze was also great with some leftover sweet potatoes that I dug out of the freezer for this meal and the mixed greens in the gratin was a fine combination.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Blog goes wacky

No, I don't know why the header bar is now suddenly a lot wider. I went to change the wording on it a little and then the photo went wonky. First it went to half the size it had been and then when I tried to fix it, it doubled the previous width. I'm tired of trying to fix it tonight. Guess I'll have to sign up for Blogging 101.
Any suggestions from my vastly superior and talented blogging mentors?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Winter Farmer's Market

Is this great or what?! Beautiful produce from local farms in January. Cold, but no snow, and lots of friendly people.
I hate to admit that it has taken me this long to check out the year-round farmer's market at People's Coop, especially since it is quite close to where I live. But, in my continuing saga of trying new things, this was a terrific one. I am so pleased to have these lovely and local greens, squash, carrots, onions, and mushrooms. And, it will help with my next mostly local meals this week. Life is good!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Voodoo Wedding

Reading other blogs, I observe that the well read bloggers provide useful information as a service to their readers, in addition to talking about stuff going on in their lives. So, I decided today I would share some very important and useful information that I just discovered. If you are in the market for putting on a wedding in the near future, you will want to know about this option. Voodoo Doughnuts, here in downtown Portland, can take care of all your wedding needs. They will provide a legal wedding ceremony, including coffee and doughnuts for 10 of your nearest and dearest friends, for the very reasonable fee of $175. How great is that? Engaged couples, check out (The photo is from their webpage.)

I feel a need to follow up this picture of doughnuts with a little something about my efforts towards more responsible approaches to eating. Last night's dinner was an example of one of the dilemmas of eating local. When trying out a new recipe, I prefer to stick with what it says and try it once before attempting variations. So, this dish was only partially local. Four of the most important ingredients were not at all local - three from Italy and one from Wisconsin. I made "Zita with Tomatoes, Capocolla and Diced Mozzarella". (From Lynne Rosetto Kasper's Weeknight Kitchen email service.) Only the tomatoes, parsley, basil and garlic came from Oregon. But, in the future, I know the pasta could be local, just a different shape, and I'm guessing that I could find suitable substitutes for the sopressata, pancetta and mozzarella. In any case, it was very tasty and, as always, withLynne's tips with the recipe I learn more about cooking. It is not particularly photogenic, but here is a shot of the sauce:

So, this will not count as one of our 90% local meals this week, but seemed worth sharing anyway. And, by the way, no need to thank me for the public service announcement on Voodoo Weddings. I live to serve.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Getting Back On the Wagon

Catching up now since I was out of town much of the past two weeks - in California and at the beach.
That time before, during and just following Christmas were a difficult time for me to keep up with the eating local challenge - other people cooking, eating out, using up what was in the fridge, and then travelling. But, now that we are mostly back at home and I have more control over the meal planning, I'm returning to my goal of participating in the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge. In between Christmas and New Years, we had good friends for dinner. Santa had brought me "The Art of Simple Food", Alice Waters' wonderful book of lessons and recipes. So, my first meal from it was the Autumn variation of her Minestrone Soup. It may not be entirely clear from this small photo, but it was beautiful. You may be noticing that the visual appearance of food seems to be important to me as well. It's hard not to notice these great combinations of colors and textures.

I used a squash that might be an Ambercup. (Our farmer friend Katherine was was there for dinner and had another name for it, but I can't remember what she called it.) In any case, it has a bright orange skin and a luscious golden orange flesh. I used this in place of the recommended butternut. Kale also went into the soup, so the dark green and the golden color were very pretty along with the cranberry beans. These and all the other vegetables in the soup were grown in our 200 mile radius.

My other mostly local meals recently included the fritatta on New Year's morning and our New Year's Eve dinner at the beach - salmon and a risotto with shitakes, leeks and a Willamette valley goat cheese. And I can't wait to try more things from my new best friend Alice.

January 1, 2008 - Two Reasons to Celebrate

Celebration Number 1: My official retirement date. After 33 years as a teacher, math specialist, and principal, I am a free woman! Woo-hoo! Well, not exactly free since I still need to earn some income in order to help support us in the style to which we have become accustomed. So, I will continue working on a project for the school district part time through June. But working part time suits me just fine. The photo is from a goodbye party that the staff at my school held for me recently. Sitting on top of the photo album is "Queen Joan's" tiara. It was quite lovely, as I'm sure you can imagine. Currently looking for other opportunities to wear it.

Celebration reason number 2: Michigan 41, Floria 35. Finally, a bowl game win and an upset to boot. M Go Blue! And, Welcome to Rich Rodriguez.

Other highlights of New Year's Day: Grady's sister, Ardie, with us, a visit from their cousins and a phone call from Aileen on her way home from Spain. Started out the day with a lovely frittata for breakfast that was mostly local - red potatoes, red onions, and red chard. Very beautiful and tasty as well.
Overall, a great day.