Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Absentee Blogger

I'm not really sure what the best excuse is, but I've been pretty busy lately and have not kept up with the blog. Easter, with choir rehearsals and dinner preparations, etc. would be one. Another has been taking care of Mr. Hop-a-long after his knee surgery. And then spending the last few days at the beach. I'm sure I could think of others, but, really, no one will care.
We have had some nice local meals lately and I will write about them. But, today we are off to sunny southern California to see both of our kids. So, I will have to do a big catch up sometime middle of next week after we return on April 1. So, I guess I won't have a report this time around for the Dark Days Challenge Update. It's not due to lack of local eating effort, but lack of blogging time.
Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to a little warmer weather in LA and San Diego - not to mention seeing Kris and welcoming Aileen back from Antarctica.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Our Best St. Patrick's Day Dinner Yet

With fond memories of my two Irish grandmothers, Lillian Boyle and Catherine Kilpatrick, we are celebrating St. Patrick's Day this evening with our annual family dinner. "Family" this year includes Jeff, Catherine and a friend, Ian and Jennifer and their two wee ones - Liam and Graham as well as Mr. Hop-a-long.

I am using New Seasons corned beef. They start with center-cut brisket from the Country Natural Beef cooperative in Brothers, Oregon. It is cured for three weeks in water, apple cider vinegar, corinader, white and black pepper, chli pods, anise, dill, mustard seed and salt. And then I combined ideas from two different recipes with what I usually have done for this meal. Our beef, potatoes and onions are all from Oregon and Washington. But, I didn't manage to get local carrots or cabbage - ran out of time to get to the farmer's market today to see if they had any. Of course, I am making my Mom's recipe for Irish Soda Bread. I don't know that it is terribly authentic since it does not have caraway seeds, but it does have a pretty hefty dose of butter and buttermilk. So, it's quite rich and very popular with the family and guests.

One of the recipes I borrowed from today was written up by Darina Allen, author of Irish Traditional Cooking, on Epicurious. She makes this comment about the "traditional" corned beef dinner:
" Although this dish is eaten less frequently nowadays in Ireland, for Irish expatriots it conjures up powerful nostalgic images of a rural Irish past. Originally it was a traditional Easter Sunday dinner. The beef, killed before the winter, would have been salted and could now be eaten after the long Lenten fast, with fresh green cabbage and floury potatoes."

Dinner turned out very well. I think this corned beef, prepared without the injected chemicals, was so much better than what we've had in the past. Of course, it was enhanced through cooking with the Murphy's Irish stout and the carrots, fingerling potatoes, onions, cabbage and fresh thyme and parsley. Mom's soda bread was delicious, although kind of crumbly this time. Fortunately, we invite the kind of guests who don't worry about form over taste and they were game to just serve it up with a spatula and enjoy.

Last course, naturally, was the Irish coffee. I was happy to try Married with Dinner's version from this week's Drink of the Week, with the slight modification of using brown sugar cubes. My thanks to those terrific food and beverage writers.

And, now I am relaxing with my feet up after a busy day! Our St. Paddy's Day dinner was a bit more work than usual this year since my regular helper had knee surgery on Friday and is spending the weekend on the couch. What some people won't do in order to get out of some work.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Pi Day

Celebrated on the third month, 14th day at 1:59 p.m because
pi is approximately 3.14159......

Once a math teacher, always a math teacher. It's a curse, but I can't quite let go. So, I must wish you a happy celebration of Pi Day.

A circumference
divide by diameter
irrational pi.
- Paul D
A bit of pi-ku (aka Pi Haiku) from the Exploratorium Pi Day page

And, by the way, it is also Happy Birthday to Albert Einstein today as well.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Recap

Looking back since the last reporting in for the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge, I have a pretty short report to make. I wrote about the braised chicken, a squash tart, a roasted whole chicken, and a bean soup in the past couple weeks. I was out of town a good chunk of last week and so I wasn't cooking as much as usual. We did have a lovely salmon dinner that Gina made for us at my sister's house, and since that is in Seattle, I am guessing it was a local fish.

Then, while we were on San Juan Island, we had dinners at two restaurants that use products local to that area. This included meat grown on that island and produce from a garden on a nearby island. At the Steps Wine Bar and Cafe, I had a chicken tamale, featuring braised chicken from Synergy Farm near Friday Harbor. Other dinners our group tried included local broccoli, island grown lamb and homemade bacon. We had an equally delicious dinner at Backdoor Kitchen, an organic and natural restaurant known for international cuisine and also, incidentally, for being very tricky to find, especially in the dark. Gina and I both enjoyed that East Indian Thali platter.

Meanwhile, though, all this out-of-town time meant that I missed both of the last couple of farmer's market options. The next opportunity will be coming up this weekend. So, our local eating will have to come from freezer (not ours and cans as well as Oregon meats and fish. However, we do have quite a bit to use up from our freezer - it's just not all from local sources. And, then I am looking forward to the opening of the larger market at Portland State on April 5 after we get back from a trip to southern California.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Back from the San Juans

Got a bit of a reprieve for the update on Dark Days Eat Local Challenge since Laura won't be looking for them until Wednesday. So, meanwhile, this post will be mainly a collection of some of my photos from a trip to San Juan and Whidbey Islands this past week with Mom, Ann and Gina. Ann already wrote a pretty good description of our adventures in a family email and pretty much no one else reading this would be interested in all the details.

So, here is a random set of pictures from the trip. For the really loyal family (and others who don't have enough to do with their time), I've got them posted on my flickr page.

In the Rosario Strait heading to San Juan Island

Mom and Ann on the ferry

Cocktil hour in "our" lobby at the Lakedale. "ours" since we were the only people staying there!

We got some great looks at this eagle. I haven't often wished I had a better camera since mine is so darn convenient, but this was one of those times.

The madrones were beautiful - at American Camp and at Lime Kiln State Park.

We didn't manage to see any whales in spite of a lot of looking. But, who needs whales when you get to have a private photo shoot with a camel. Dear readers, meet Mona:

and Mona's new best friend Gina (with Girl Scout cookies)

On the other hand, the sisters were not so sure about this new friend. I blame it on our parents who never let us have pets when we were growing up.

Unfortunately, my camera froze for a while when we got some nice views of the rabbits and foxes. So, it looks like I went to the islands and spent most of the time with one kind of wildlife that I totally did not expect to see.
This will give my U. M. buddies a little to think about as we plan for our next roommate gathering when we go up to the San Juans next fall. And tomorrow, I can see what I can remember of our eating local efforts over the past couple weeks.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Counterpoint to the Shopping Nightmare

A week or two ago, I wrote with disgust about a bad shopping experience. Served me right to even think that a big box store was where I had to go for what I was looking for, and for wasting the gas to get to the outskirts of town to go to one. But, I am happy to report that this weekend, I had experiences of a different sort in the retail world. Yesterday I brought a canvas bag full of books to sell back to Powells. They took all but two and gave me a store credit for $30. I then bought three books about Prague and eastern European countries (to start planning a trip for next year). Total for the books was $30.88. So, I coughed up the eighty-eight cents, put the books back into my canvas bag and got out before my 15 minute parking limit expired. Is that great or what? And today, a similar experience with a used clothing store where I take in my clothes off and on. And the two things these positive experiences had in common? Both locally-owned businesses; and buying and selling used items. Helps take the bad taste out of my mouth from that other shopping experience.

Meanwhile, spring is on its way in Portland. There are some photos below of flowers in or from our yard. And today's activities involved riding my bike and, when the car was needed, driving with the sun roof wide open - not to mention blasting out some music of my youth that American Roots was playing this afternoon, some classic doo-wap tunes.

And, now it's time to finish up my dinner preparations with a Draper Valley Farms roasted chicken and farm market onions, potatoes and carrots. Simple, but all local and, with any luck, delicious.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Russians Invade and Make a Mess

Meanwhile, unrelated to food, we are in the midst of the giant mess here on Ladd Av. Yes, a new roof is on its way. This is good news. For at least two years, I have been lobbying for a new paint job which our house DESPERATELY needs! The current paint job is beyond bad. First, Grady was just too busy with other projects to get going on the painting. Then, he went up on the roof and came down to declare that the roof was in such bad shape that it had to be replaced before we could paint the house. :-( So, NOW, when the roof gets finished, there should be no more excuses not to paint the house. (Stay tuned to see if that is really the way it plays out.) According to Grady, if you are getting a roof done in our area these days, you either have the crazy Mexican guys or the crazy Russian guys. He chose the crazy Russians who have done other roofs for us on rental units. They're actually not crazy, but rather a nice bunch. I think only Alex, the lead guy, speaks English - at least he is the only one who talks to me. They start out the day with a little moment of prayer together out on the front walkway. Then they get to it and they really do work hard. Their lunches look quite interesting - various pickled vegetables in odd looking glass jars, hard boiled eggs and sandwiches with really thick bread. But, not immune to the draw of high quality American cuisine, later in the day yesterday, one of them brought over a couple of Domino's pizzas, which they shared with Grady. That kept them going while they stayed late to finish cleaning up that big pile in the picture. Fortunately, they got the first layer on sufficiently to protect it just before the rain started late yesterday afternoon. So, next week, we'll see them back to start working on the new replacement roof. Big doings here at the home front.

Dark Days Soup

First off, as a follow up, I did try out the Squash tart from "Green Bean Dreams" this week and it was great. I had an ambercup squash left from an earlier trip to the farm market and local onions. I added some shitake mushrooms. I know that is probably sounding a bit like a broken record since I seem to keep adding them to a variety of things I've made lately. But, we get them from Oregon all through the winter and they go well with so many different things. The ambercup is a beautiful golden color, so the tart was pretty to look at, as well as tasting good.

Then, on Thursday evening, I made a bean soup that was also mostly local. I have this dangerous habit of trying new recipes when we're having guests. But, fortunately, this one was very successful. I'd gotten a mix of four kinds of dried beans at the Hillsdale market last weekend - cannellini, cranberry beans and two others that I can't remember. I also used those lovely baby carrots and some onions in the photo of my trip to the market. I combined ideas from a recipe in The Slow Cook and one from The Splendid Table: Big Bean Soup Served with Little Nibbles. One of the extras I added was locally grown arugula. Then the recipe suggests serving the soup with any of a variety of "embellishments". The ones I chose happened to mostly not be local, however. But, they were nice enhancements, including parigiano-reggiano and parrano cheeses, chopped parsley, and a peperonata that I made with four kinds of peppers and farm market onions. With more planning time and effort, I could use other embellishments from local sources and I do plan to make this soup again.