Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Taste of Seattle

What can I tell you about Seattle? We spent a little less than a week in the area and barely even hit the highlights (of food!), but we still enjoyed plenty of good stuff.

First, the blackberries. They grow wild around there like kudzu grows in the south. We first found them around Green Lake near my friends’ home, but also found huge bushes growing in parking lots and along the side of the road. And apparently no one picks and eats them because all the vines were just heaving with huge ripe sweet fruits, some of which fell apart after picking and then just melted on my tongue when I popped them in my mouth. Even better, no chiggers! One night after dinner at Ivar’s (a local seafood joint I went to for the benefit of the SO), we picked the equivalent of about a quart of them. They were delicious on their own and also as a topping on some organic lemon sorbet we got at a local market.

We did actually buy some produce while we were there, too. We took a trip down to the famous Pike Place market where along with the fishmongers, there are tons of flower sellers, produce vendors and people selling just about everything else you can imagine. We bought fresh figs and Rainier cherries (cultivated locally) and enjoyed them all week. Also in the Pike Place market: the Daily Dozen Donut Company, where you can get freshly-made tiny cake donuts. Cinnamon, powdered, plain, and chocolate with sprinkles. Or get a mixed bag like we did. They were fresh out of the fryer when we got them, so we had to wait impatiently for them to cool, but it was very worth it (as you can see from this report). I’ve never had a better donut; even though I come from the land of the Krispy Kreme, I prefer cake donuts.

We also saw the original Starbucks down at the market and though they’re as ubiquitous there as just about any city of size, there were an astounding number of other coffee joints—just about on every corner. I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t tell you much about the quality, but I did enjoy some good breakfasts courtesy of some of the local coffee shops. This great little place in Queen Anne, The 5 Spot has an ever-changing menu (and décor) based on a featured area of the country. While we were there, the theme was Oregon. From the Oregon menu, I ordered the hazelnut pear French toast described thusly:
Three slices of thick sliced bread dipped in Oregon Chai custard, griddled golden & topped with Justin's slightly sinful cinnamon-pear syrup, mascarpone-chai whipped cream and toasted hazelnuts

Oh wow. That whipped cream was just divine…not too sweet and nice and thick (and not oily like canned whipped cream).

One morning, we ate at a lovely café on the ridge (where you can see the Olympics in the distance over the city below) called Fresh Flours. The SO got some savory pastry called a pithivier and I got, well you can see I had a difficult time choosing just one pastry, so I got some basque cake, an orange currant scone, and a caramelized pecan muffin. Not a crumb was left behind. My only regret is that I didn’t try one of the Japanese pastries.


It wouldn’t be a trip to the Pacific Northwest without some seafood, right? Ha! The SO thought he’d be able to get me to eat some fish, but he failed. Luckily, Ivar’s had a couple of vegetarian-friendly items on the menu (not hard to find in Seattle). While he ate some local Coho salmon, I ate some local heirloom tomatoes and a salad with local blueberries and cheese from the Columbia Valley. I really appreciated being able to eat vegetarian, eat local and eat well.

But I couldn’t sacrifice every night. There are just too many vegetarian and vegan restaurants in town and I couldn’t leave without trying at least one. So my friend Christy and I left the menfolk to fend for themselves and we headed off to Carmelita.

Oh, wow, the luxury of being able to order anything on the menu! And the torture of not being able to eat everything. So Christy and I negotiated and decided to share several plates. We started out with pickled bing cherry salad topped with hazelnut vinaigrette and the grilled corn-scallion beignets. The salad was excellent, but those beignets…oh, yes. Savory corn donuts—perfectly seasoned and perfectly fried so that they were crisp on the outside, moist on the inside and not greasy at all. Yum. And that was just the beginning…next up was a fig pizza with “Oregonzola,” walnuts and honey. This could have easily been a dessert instead of a main course. Delicious. Our other main course was the mascarpone-polenta torte with grilled summer vegetables. It was good, but not good enough to fill up and sacrifice dessert.

Ah, dessert. Again, there was too much good to choose from, so we chose two: a grilled peach galette with honey ricotta and crème fraiche and a duo of ice cream sandwiches. The galette was rich and flavorful, but those ice cream sandwiches were sublime. The first was blackberry-mascarpone ice cream in pistachio-orange cookies (hey, somebody’s actually picking those blackberries!) and the other—probably one of the best desserts I’ve ever had—was lemon curd ice cream in ginger-pine nut cookies. The cookies were almost like pralines and the spice of the ginger was the perfect accompaniment for the lemon curd ice cream which was so good, I can still taste it now. Rich and creamy with just the right amount of lemon flavor.

Speaking of ice cream, on our very last day in Seattle, we finally made it over to Molly Moon’s in Wallingford. Christy had been telling me about their salted caramel ice cream for a while, so I was very eager to try some. But when we got there, I was faced with an amazing selection of flavors. I opted for a double scoop: one cardamom (more delicious than it sounds) and one scoop of honey lavender. The SO had cherry chunk and balsamic strawberry. We got a pint of the salted caramel to go. Molly Moon’s ice cream is so rich that it’s soft and creamy right out of the freezer. I loved every bite of every flavor, but if I could have any of it again right now, it’d be the cardamom. I have some cardamom in the pantry…yeah, no.

On our way out of town, Christy packed some local chocolates (how many times have I used the word "local" now?? Seattle seems to be very locavorious): Fran's gray salted caramels and a Theo's 3400 Phinney chai milk chocolate bar. I'd say they were more than a fair trade for the Goo Goo Clusters and Moon Pies I brought for them from Tennessee.

If you go to Seattle, I'd say that mid- to late-August is definitely the time to go. It rained more than I'd really care for and the humidity put the Redneck Riviera to shame, but the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and other local foods available at this time plus the occasional ray of sunshine (and rainbow) make it worth getting through the grayness of the average day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Coming Soon

I made it back from Seattle, but I'm still buried under a pile of laundry and extremely mediocre vacation photos. But I've got lots to report. Seattle's a great town for foodies and I barely scratched the surface of what was available. The abundant rain and occasional rays of sunshine yield a bounty of delicious produce in the area. So much so that giant blackberries grow wild and largely unpicked all over the place. How wonderful it was to pick and eat the sweetest, juiciest blackberries I've ever tasted without having to worry about chiggers! Details soon...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Popsicles and tomatoes

Not much new around the kitchen this week...Monday night, I enjoyed a delicious dinner over at Claudia's house. She'd inadvertently used more chili flakes than I had a taste for in a lovely citrus farro dish, so using what I'd learned from a friend of mine at work (who cools her mother's spicy Indian food with homemade yoghurt), I asked if there was any dairy around. Turns out, Claudia had a yummy Greek yogurt in the fridge that was a lovely complement to her dish. I felt like a real foodie (for once) in suggesting something that actually worked well. I gave myself a nice pat on the back.

I'm still enjoying the tomato bounty around here...I've had several versions of bruschetta and several margherita pizzas. Today, I will likely have a tomato sandwich and hey, guess what, margherita pizza for dinner. The Momster is in town, so leftover tomatoes will be going with her. The Significant Omnivore and I are headed to Seattle Tuesday, so we have to clean out the fresh produce. There might be one or two tomatoes left. Might. I'll see what I can save because Mom's tomato plants in Memphis haven't been doing as well as my friends' plants here in middle Tennessee.

This week, I was also able to catch Throwdown with Bobby Flay, which featured Las Paletas. Interestingly enough, Bobby made sangria popsicles (which had been suggested to me in a previous post). I've not yet made them, but did take the suggestion to make the bluberry peach popsicles. You wouldn't think that combination would be all that remarkable, but they are really good. Regardless of that, since seeing the episode, the SO is now very keen on going to Las Paletas. Lucky for him, I can actually find the place. Actually, when it's really hot out, it's not that hard to find--you just drive down 12 South until you see a parking lot full of people eating popsicles.

We'll be in Seattle for about five days...the SO plans to eat plenty of things that once swam, but if anyone has suggestions on places to go that serve great food that comes from the soil instead of the sea, please let me know.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Isaac Hayes

Today, the world lost a very talented (mostly) vegetarian--Isaac Hayes. I used to see Isaac at the Wild Oats in Memphis when I still lived there several years ago...buying organic foods, mostly fruits and vegetables (yes, I looked). Isaac first starting experimenting with a vegetarian diet in the 70s. For a while, he was a strict vegetarian, though at times he added some fish and other animals into his diet. He writes in his 2000 cookbook, Cooking with Heart & Soul:
I started reading books on the subject and visiting health food stores to see what was available. I became really intrigued by the possibility of living and eating in a healthy way--not dying prematurely of a heart attack or stroke, which has been a way of life in my old neighborhood.

When I started hearing that eating health food could make a real difference, when I learned that by eating better, you could avoid developing these illnesses, I knew that was what I wanted to do.

Sadly and ironically, it seems he died of a heart attack while running on his treadmill. But at 65, he probably lasted much longer than he would have had he continued eat the diet he grew up eating. Regardless, he's gone too soon. He was a gifted, talented, charismatic, and charitable man. I have an autographed copy of his cookbook which (among recipes contributed by friends--many of which he knew through the Church of Scientology) contains several great vegetarian versions of good Southern soul food. Here's one that's vegan!

Fried Kale with Turnip, Mustard, and Collard Greens from Isaac Hayes's Cooking with Heart & Soul
1 bunch kale
1 bunch mustard greens
1 bunch turnip greens
1 bunch collard greens
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Wash all greens and trim off stems and thick veins. Cut leaves crosswise into 2-inch-wide pieces and mix together.
In a deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion and garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add greens and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes, reducing heat as necessary to keep the greens from sticking to the pan.
Add the water, bay leaf, vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper to the greens and cook until desired doneness, at least one hour, adding extra water if necessary.
Note: you can substitute other bitter greens such as swiss chard in this recipe.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tomato Time

Seems as though this year's tomato harvest is pretty good. This might've been my year had I not decided to put my heart and soul into growing tomatoes only to see them devoured by critters like I did for the previous two years. Luckily, I have friends who didn't give up and have enough to share!

Look at those beautiful babies. Shauna's been growing some really nifty heirlooms and Crystal has been growing juicy Romas and slicers. Between the two of them, I've got a good stock of 'maters.

So last night, I didn't have a lot of energy, but didn't feel like restaurant food, so the SO fed himself some not dogs and chips and I set about trying to figure out how to eat some tomatoes (he doesn't much care for tomatoes; insanity, I know).

And then it hit me: bruschetta. I plucked out that purple guy, the zebra, a peach tomato, and a roma, sliced them up, drained them, heated them a bit, added a little EVOO, a dash of balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, chopped basil, and salt and pepper and voila, bruschetta topping. I spooned generous amounts on slices of my favorite Provence Organic Grains bread and that was dinner. I didn't take photos of the finished product, but the array of color was beautiful and the taste was amazing. Very bright and bursting with flavor.

Tonight, I'll make a margherita pizza; this weekend, I'll make salsa. I'm truly enjoying this bounty of fresh tomatoes. I'm so glad my friends are willing and able to share!

Friday, August 1, 2008

A whirlwind tour through Milton Keynes and London

Obviously, in a week's time, I ate a lot of food, but I'll spare you the low- and medium-lights and just hit the highlights and the curiosities.

The first part of my trip was business, which took me to Milton Keynes, which is essentially a far-outlying suburb of London. It's got a huge mall and lots of chain restaurants; I think you know the type. Though the town actually consists of several smaller villages, some of which (unlike Milton Keynes--not to be confused with John Maynard Keynes) are quite old and cute. Contrary to popular belief, it's quite easy to be a vegetarian in England--even if you're in a traditional pub.

Anyhoo, like a good tourist, I mainly stuck to the chain restaurants around my hotel. Though I generally eschew what I like to call high-concept chains, I was delighted to find a restaurant called dim t, which specializes in dim sum. And has an extensive vegetarian selection. Yes, please. I ate there three times. This, my friends is what I had for dessert: chocolate won tons. They were as tasty as they appear--filled with chocolate and just a hint of liquer.

After bidding my co-workers "cheers" for the week, I headed into London. On a tip from one of my co-workers, I headed to Borough Market. I wasn't expecting to be astounded by the enormity of the market and the selection of both prepared and unprepared foods. It hurt me that I had nowhere to cook and no way to escape with some of the most amazing produce, cheese, breads, and seasonings I've ever seen. A few images for you:

After roaming around, a trail of slobber following behind my open and hungry mouth, I finally settled on a cute little stand offering handmade veggie burgers. They had three to choose from that all sounded wonderful, but I settled one comprised of a combination of grains, shredded carrots and halloumi cheese. There were six or seven side salads you could choose to stuff in your container (have one, have all; they were incredulous that I only selected two). One was a chickpea salad; another was a barley salad with herbs. I took my box and found a spot on the (crowded) grounds of the Southwark Cathedral. Everything was delicious. I could hardly be bothered to people-watch because I was so mesmerized by this delicious food. For a variety of reasons (including a much more organic food supply), the food in England just tastes so much better. Brighter. Every bite does a little dance on your tongue. I miss that already.

I spent the rest of my day hoofing around the south bank of the Thames, past Big Ben (and Parliament), through St. James's Park, Green Park and back to Kensington. So by the evening, I was ready to relax and hang out with my friend, Jenn who's living and working in the area until next year. This little guy, called the Pigalle Passion (named for the club where it was purchased), really helped me finish the day the right way.

The next day--my last full day in the UK--Jenn steered me toward a few of her favorite places. There was a Paul nearby my hotel--her boyfriend is French and so it is one of their favorite places to have breakfast/brunch/lunch/anything. I chose a sandwich, Six Cereals with Goats' Cheese. It was excellent and like so much of the food there, bursting with flavor.

We proceeded to work off our Paul calories by visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum just down the street. I have no shame in saying we spent way too much time in the jewelry and clothing exhibitions. I think there were some paintings and sculptures in the musuem somewhere...

Next up, Jenn told me I just had to see Harrods. With the dollar in the, um, "w.c.", I knew I couldn't afford anything, but heck, why not check it out?

The place was jam-packed, mostly with tourists. You could hardly walk, particularly in the food hall, so we decided to escape to the fourth floor's Georgian Restaurant for afternoon tea with sandwiches.

I won't tell you what I paid for this meal, but I will tell you it was worth every pence. Jenn was kind enough to trade off my salmon and turkey sandwiches so that I could have an extra cucumber sandwich (much more delicious than it sounds) and egg salad sandwich (rivals Destin's Donut Hole for best egg salad). The third sandwich was cheese with pickle. Again, not "a" pickle, but "pickle." It was likely the Harrod's brand, but the most popular in the UK is Branston pickle. I have been informed that some pickle is on its way to me. I can't wait. I had no interest in the marmite (wretched smell), but I did very much love that cheese and pickle sandwich.

I also quite enjoyed the wonderful loose leaf jasmine tea I had with my lunch. Despite my manner of dress, I felt quite posh.

After tea, we did a little sightseeing around Piccadilly Circus as well as a quite a bit of shopping. Though very little buying. But all that walking around made us hungry for dinner. Jenn had a favorite spot not far from my hotel, Cous Cous Darna, a lovely little Moroccan place on a quiet street in South Kensington. We started with some mint tea and triangles stuffed with herbs and goat cheese. I'm accustomed to having this as tiropita--with feta, so the taste of the goat cheese was different...and better. Perhaps I'll try this at home with that leftover phyllo that's been taunting me from the freezer...

For dinner, we shared a tagine of eggplant, zucchini, peas, and beans with apricots and plums. The sweetness of the fruit in this dish made it absolutely sublime. We ate it with a bit of cous cous that came adorned with sultanas, my new favorite raisin that I will have to find a way to procure through the magic of the interwebs.

And of course we had dessert, a plate of delicate Moroccan pastries. Though I do love baklava-style pastries, I have to admit that the sesame seed-sprinkled roll filled with fig paste was my favorite. An excellent way to end a wonderful meal that ended my trip on a high note.

As opposed to letting it end on the low note of the meager airplane food and wretched treatment from the American Airlines flight attendant on the way back to the States...

But I digress. London remains one of my very favorite places in the world to eat. Regardless of whether it's at a chain restaurant, street vendor, pub, or Marks & Sparks, I feel like it has some of the very best and most flavorful food available anywhere.