Monday, December 28, 2009

I am the queen of eating other people's cookies...

I am languishing on the couch at my parents' house and am far too lazy to spend a lot of time blogging. But I will post these cookies, if only to make you all jealous. I scored these beauties at the cookie exchange right before Christmas:

The embarrassment of cookie riches include peanutty buckeyes, apricot rugula, lemon wreaths, my caramels, chocolate crinkles, Russian tea cookies and gingerbread with dulche de leche filling.
Here's a close-up:

My share (about four dozen total) are sitting in my freezer, waiting for me to emerge from my holiday sugar coma when I am desperately craving cookies and wishing everyone would bring their homemade caramel corn back to the office. And I will remember these cookies, and feel high-and-mighty-and-triumphant on my cookie throne and think, I'm so SMART, I froze all those cookies! And then I will eat cookies to my heart's content.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I am the queen of caramels

A few years ago, I learned to make caramels from a chef friend who trained at Le Cordon Bleu. Some sea salt adds a delicious savory touch and it's easy to make a chocolate version too. They were scrumptious and they were a great gift. Too great in fact. My friends are addicted. The holidays are always slightly crazy, and every year I think it's too much trouble to make them. And whenever I verbalize the possibility of no caramels, a wave of protests drowns me out.

But I really was thinking about not doing the caramels this year. Really. Then a friend roped me in with different scheme: a cookie exchange. Three kinds of cookies, three dozen each. I said no way. BUT, they didn't want me to bake, they wanted the caramels. And frankly, I want their cookies. So the caramel factory kicked into gear.

Here's this year's batch.

They don't look like much in the pan, but I assure you they are incredible. I was more patient this year, so I think they will be less gooey than in years past. I'm also going to make an easy chocolate pretzel recipe: melt a Rolo onto a pretzel in the oven, stick a cashew on top and voila, turtle pretzels!

For those interested in making salted caramels yourself *cough cough* the recipe follows.

Salted caramels
500 ml heavy cream
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
3 tbl butter
1 tsp salt.
Buttered pan
(2 c. chocolate chips if using)

Add cream to a heavy, deep pot, then add sugar and corn syrup. Combine. Heat over med-high heat until the liquid becomes clear. Reduce heat to low to medium low. Simmer until it reaches the "soft ball" stage on a candy thermometer, about one hour. (Or use the ice water method, dropping some into ice water. Once the candy rolls into a firm ball, it's ready.) Remove from heat, add butter, salt and chocolate chips if applicable. Pour into buttered pan. Cool.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I enjoyed great Asian food in Federal Way

From K.

One popular saying I committed to memory this year: Fish where the fish are. It works in business, for sure. But it's also a sensible way to find tempting vittles. Case in point: Federal Way, home to a huge Korean population (and, a huge population of Korean restaurants!).

My husband and I checked out Kokiri (32703 Pacific Highway South, 253-838-4288‎) for Korean barbecue on a recent Friday night and ordered wayyy too much meat for our in-table grill. If it's just the two of you, order one meat selection to grill and try something else as your second dish. We really liked the short ribs and our chicken, however. Not to mention the wealth of banchan!

Last weekend I finally checked out HMart, a Korean food mecca in the spirit of Uwajimaya sans the bright lights and fun decor. Scored a great deal on a box of dainty, delicious pears. Found Squirt in bottles, Mexican Coca-Cola, heavenly sponge cakes, so many different types of beans, produce and flours and an entire area devoted to fresh kimchi.

They even had a man outside roasting sweet potatoes for immediate consumption. One of my favorite ways to warm my belly and my hands, a habit I picked up after visiting family in Japan and picking them up in the park at the end of frosty fall runs with my family.

What a nice surprise it was to also discover a great Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood. Koharu (31840 Pacific Highway South, 253-839-0052) offers a delicious range of well-executed dishes in a tranquil setting surprising for a strip mall. Below is one of my favorite dishes, katsu-don (deep-fried and breaded pork cutlet atop a bed of hot rice, soaked in a shoyu-egg broth). It's not raw; apologies for my lousy camera :)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I was befuddled by The Counter

The Counter taunted me for for weeks before it opened with images of perfect burgers piled with fixings of my choice. MY choice! I'm a Red Mill devotee, but was willing to consider defecting if the burgers demanded it.

K and I met there for Sunday lunch. Maybe it was the hour, but overall the place seems really kid-friendly, which makes sense considering the menu. It's just burgers, fries and shakes, right? But once I started trying to decide among the burger toppings, a burger no longer seemed so simple. Jalapenos, grilled pineapple, fried egg, red peppers, dried cranberries, bacon, gruyere, fried onion strings on a bun or English muffin or in a bowl?

Oh my. I couldn't think straight. Then I started to think they should have designed the burger for me. I didn't want to do it any more. And they have a few pre-designed options, but they all felt safe and lacked the tantalizing choices like roasted corn and black bean salsa. So I boldly went for: gruyere, caramelized onions, tomato, lettuce, avocado, garlic aioli. I know, not bold. K chose similarly traditional toppings, though she went for Russian dressing. You also can go halvsies on sides, so we split french fries and sweet potato fries ($4.95), forgoing the third choice, fried onion strings.

The fries were disappointing. A burger place should know how to do fries and The Counter's are not up to snuff. They were rather dry, and for thin fries, not very crisp. The sweet potato fries were much more satisfying, with a mellow sweetness.

But our burgers showed up piled as high with toppings as I hoped. They were quite intimidating to consider. The grilled bun was neither fantastic nor bad, just a pretty decent burger bun. The meat patty was quite thick, almost too thick and the meat was underseasoned. But the caramelized onions were beautiful, if slippery, and along with the gruyere and half an avocado, made up for the lack of flavor in the meat. The aioli also was served on the side, a nice touch.

I rather enjoyed my burger ($9.25) and K also had a banana shake ($4.95) that was thick with chunks of real banana. Nothing was really wrong with our meal except the fries. But it also was not the kind of place that ignites an all-consuming passion, like Red Mill with its incredible burgers and heavenly onion rings. Like its meat, The Counter is just a little bland.

The Counter
4609 14th Ave. N.W.

The Counter on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I sipped at the 20something wine party

From K.

It was a dark and stormy night. Puddles soaked our cute boots and peep toes. Our cheeks were pink from cold.

What better time to cozy up to one bar, then another, then another, for sips of luscious Washington wine?

My friend KT invited me to 20something, a wine event for the younger set at Fremont Studios. They transformed the space into a sleek party-ready spot, complete with a decent DJ, flattering lighting, tasty bites and plenty of great-looking boys and girls. Single ladies, be sure to get tickets for next year's event. There's plenty of shopping to do ;)

But as happily partnered women, we focused on the wine. Favorites included the syrah from Gilbert Cellars and the riesling from Cave B. Beyond that, my memory is a bit ... compromised ;)

The people watching also was great. Saw tons of fun headbands and fascinators (aka, those feather-heavy concoctions that perch atop one side of your head). Fashion sense skewed toward dressy/sexy, with only a few folks in jeans. You could get away with a cute cocktail dress here or even classy hootchie-wear, though more ladies opted for a few steps down in formality/over-the-top sexiness. Guys were in button-downs and dressy sweaters. Only remember one guy in flannel.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I slurped ramen at Samurai Noodle...

From N.

I love soup so much I am always sort of sad when the weather is warm and makes soup-eating uncomfortable. (This is coming from a person who passed four winters in Alaska, so take it with a grain or two of salt.) In celebration of a major downpour this morning, I went to Samurai Noodle for hot ramen soup.

I last ate there about a year ago, and had this vague memory of being unimpressed. My favorite ramen in the area is the shoyo (salt) ramen at Ginza in Bellevue, but many others love Samurai, with a wait even at lunch on a Monday, so I thought I'd give the much-closer Samurai a second try.

A simple menu can be a beautiful thing. Samurai does not subscribe to that philosophy. There are so many add ons, I didn't know what to do. The basic bowls include a pork, chicken, pork and chicken or soy and seaweed broth options. A tonkatsu bowl is already priced at $6.75, and I decided a basic bowl surely was good enough, so I didn't order more meat, broth, noodle or fixings like sliced hard-boiled eggs. I should have.

My bowl arrived with noodles, black mushrooms, scallions and a pork slice and a smallish amount of broth. Ramen is all about the broth, and Samurai's is rich and hearty, but not complex in the deep, savory way that makes you pledge to eat soup every day the rest of your life. The noodles also were too thin to give a satisfying chew, even when ordered firm. The roast pork is undeniably tender, yet still can't compare to the meltingly soft pork belly that comes in a Ginza bowl. And after awhile, I was bored with just noodles and pork. I wanted egg, bamboo, something.

I turned to cream puffs. Samurai is right outside Uwajimaya's food court, so after I spooned up my last bit of broth, I made a beeline for Beard Papa's.

If you haven't had a Beard Papa's cream puff, you must. For $2.15, you get a fresh puff filled with a lovely custard that is smooth, yet light and perfectly sweet. It was divine.

Yes, there's cream in that puff. Samurai might be worth it if you include the cream puff, but it's not worth the wait. If I want the real deal thing for fresh ramen, next time I'll brave the bridge and head out to Bellevue for my Ginza fix.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I did the Nantucket...

From N.

What's the Nantucket? According to this fellow at Surfside beach, it's walking your dog while driving your Jeep down the beach. Look closely: there's a leash attached to that quite adorable dog. We'll chalk the incident up to age. (One of my friends was encouraging the pooch to run a little faster.)

I was out on Nantucket last week for a close friend's wedding. Everyone should get married on Nantucket. It's one of the loveliest places I have ever laid eyes on. In addition to wedding duties, there were bike rides, kadima battles on the beach, fishing, doughnuts, lobster and shuffleboard at the Chicken Box. I'll close with a view from the wedding reception.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I pondered the "Yellow Terror" exhibit at the Wing Luke Asian Museum

(with props to the Wing Luke)

From K.

Sometimes, art is art for art's sake. Other times, it makes a statement about who we are and how we live. "Yellow Terror" at the Wing Luke in the Chinatown/ID definitely is the latter.

I checked out the exhibit on opening night after dinner at nearby Green Leaf with a foursome of girlfriends, not quite sure what we'd find but assured by our friend J. that it'd blow our minds. An hour later, after being moved to tears by Roger Shimomura's collection of World War II-era anti-Japanese, anti-Oriental ... memorabilia, for want of a better word, I was startled anew at how easy it is to coerce a nation toward hate.

Movie posters boasted of sailors taking on housefuls of geisha girls. Valentine cards emblazoned with Chinamen told sweethearts "I chink I'll be your Valentine." Even Dr. Seuss was in on the act, illustrating a variety of buck-toothed Japanese warriors for postcards during his stint as a talented propagandist. What hurt my heart most, though, were the "hunting licenses" not for deer or elk but for "Japs," which I hope were issued in jest. But you never really know what's going on in peoples' heads, do you?

Shimomura's paintings are eye-poppingly shocking. He favors the pop-art style of Warhol and Lichtenstein, though his twist is to relate his feelings of isolation by portraying himself as a searingly yellow, bucktoothed stranger aside comic book-perfect Caucasians. Click here to see more. I stared at "American Portrait #2" for at least 10 minutes, trying to take it all in.

"Yellow Terror" is open through April 18. At the very least, see it to also check out the Wing Luke, which is filled with fascinating glimpses into Asian-American history and the West Coast immigrant experience.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I brunched at Volterra

From K.

Brunch is my definition of the perfect meal. It's rarely eaten in a hurry; we love to linger over our plates, perhaps because we're stuffed to the point of immobility. It's typically rife with bacon, cheese and yeasty goodness like waffles and cinnamon rolls. It's often fancy and casual simultaneously.

I experienced all these things at Volterra, a Ballard restaurant I'd long maligned after a bad dinner experience on a recent birthday. "Go for brunch. It's their best meal," my friends advised me. How right they were.

Our table of six lovely ladies ordered a frittata, the wild mushroom scramble with truffle cheese, the chestnut pancakes, their un-traditionally good Traditional Breakfast and plenty of their delectable sausage and bacon. I thoroughly enjoyed my scramble, the way it blended salty and sweet and savory. I was surprised by what I admired most on my square white porcelain plate, though: the most ideal hashbrowns I've ever encountered.

Best of all, we walked out into the crisp fall sunlight with the Ballard Farmers Market just steps away. After all, it was time to start pondering dinner ingredients...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I made lots and lots of fresh cheese...

From N.

This was going to be a beautiful post with lots of messy pictures of the cheese-making and pasta-making process. Then my phone died. So instead, it will be a long, beautiful post about the making of cheese and pasta without pictures. (And if you really need a visual, imagine big pots of simmering milk.)

I arrived at my friend E.'s house last week bearing a bottle of Maker's Mark whisky, two gallons of whole milk and prosciutto. The party was bound to be good.

E. had invited me to her house for an end-of-summer Garden Party. It's her first year gardening and she has been plying me with zucchini, gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and herbs from her backyard bounty. I'm ridiculously jealous of her green thumb.

Being the type to think with our stomachs first, we decided to make everything from scratch. The menu: salad, homemade pizza topped with homemade fresh mozzarella and ricotta, fresh pasta stuffed with ricotta and tossed with homemade pesto and cherry tomatoes, mojitoes and mint juleps with mint from her garden, and a pear crisp for dessert.

If it sounds like a lot, it was. Flour flew, mint was muddled, milk curdled, whey was drained, a toddler was fed. The only real secret to pulling together that dinner in 2 1/2 hours is E. is a whiz with the food processor.

The cheese was both simpler and harder than I thought. Ricotta uses easy-to-find ingredients and mainly takes time and comes out all lovely and pillowy. Mozzarella, however, requires citric acid and rennet only available at cheese stores. You have to gauge temperature carefully, heat it in the microwave and knead it while wearing rubber gloves. Whey and curds are messy. And for all that work, you get the equivalent of about two balls of fresh mozzarella. It wasn't as smooth as the stuff in the stores, but it was extremely delicious.

We put cheese on everything. We topped one pizza with ricotta, pesto and prosciutto and another with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and parmesan. Sometimes it's better not to know what goes into your food; I probably drank the equivalent of half a gallon of whole milk that night.

But the tomatoes and cucumbers were divine, and the ricotta raviolis were amazing. The pizza was addicting. We even managed to throw a pear crisp in the oven in the midst of Garden Bounty Madness and I put away a bowl, despite my stomach's protests.

The next time lasagna makes it onto my menu, I'll invest the time to make fresh ricotta. But I'll probably buy the mozzarella. Even crazy people have to draw the line somewhere.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I took in live jazz at Jazz Alley

From K.

I've meant to visit Jazz Alley for eons now. Well, at least since the early 90s. And now I wish I'd gone earlier, before The Triple Door opened and spoiled me.

Don't get me wrong. Jazz Alley is a fine spot to take in live music, like the John Patitucci Trio, which played a set that veered between melancholy and vibrant last night (I was mesmerized by his bass fingering and the versatility of the drummer). It had an intimate atmosphere and decent acoustics. But I couldn't help comparing the two. Both have swell desserts, though Triple Door's gelato banana split wins hands down. The Triple Door is lucky enough to offer a menu from Wild Ginger, which sits just upstairs. Jazz Alley's cuisine is just OK. Then, there's the view. Jazz Alley has a handy, open-air balcony that offers great views of the stage, if you don't mind waking up with a crick in your neck the next morning, as I did today. Triple Door lets most of its guests have a straight-on view of the musical action.

At least I loved the music :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I watched the Maldives, Shim, Thee Emergency and Pickwick at the Tractor

From N.

I can't say I love alt country. I'm often about nasally indie rock bands. But I have been enamoured with locals The Maldives since Capitol Hill Block Party. Their mournful music and clear voices appealed to me. Plus the hype around their three-day CD release party that coincided with the 15th birthday of The Tractor Tavern was unavoidable in social media world.

I snagged tickets on the last night of the sold-out three day Tractor extravaganza. There were a lot of openers, including Pickwick, who I liked despite the name. The lead singer had an amazing voice and the alt rock band had an appealing sound that I want to listen to more. Thee Emergency, on the other hand, could use an emergency makeover. They were out of tune, their music wandered and they had no cohesive sound that I could make out. The lead singer had a strong voice, but that was about the only redeeming quality of the band. I've heard before they're talented, but I disagree and wouldn't waste my time with them again.

The next opener, Shim, was unexpectedly amazing. The two lead singers are throwback 70s with their long curly hair, but they had incredible stage presence with their arena rock music. Those two are meant to be rock stars. The band was powerful, and while it's not music I'd ever listen to at home, they are worth catching for the performance. They also had a rather fratty and drunk following who pumped their arms as they sang the words to every song. (Arm in the picture is from one aforementioned fratty follower.)

By the time The Maldives showed up, it was 12:15 and my ears were ringing from Shim. Still, the Maldives put on a helluva show.

Their music feels so lonely and quiet when you listen to them through headphones, but on stage, they are an intense, powerful rock band. I loved watching them jam and was swept up in their performance that night. If you don't already love them, you should.

Tractor Tavern
5213 Ballard Ave NW

Monday, September 7, 2009

Je mange a la Boat Street Cafe...

From N.

For the official Frenchified honeymoon send-off for newlyweds P. and M. before their trip to the south of France and Paris, I joined the happy couple and a few friends at Boat Street Cafe. The French sendoff was fun and there were a few people at the table who actually know the language. I was once one of them. But no longer. I have forgotten all my high school French and there will be almost zero cutesy French phrases in this post. I know you are tres desolee.

A few French restaurant ideas were tossed around before they decided where to eat, including Cafe Campagne and Maximilien in Pike Place Market, but I was super excited when they chose Boat Street. I've heard from many people that it is superb.

I immediately adored the tiny space, tucked downstairs in a building on Western Avenue, with its white walls and French country air made luminous with hanging lanterns. We had the kitchen table, and gathered around bowls of blue and white M&M's from the bride. The menu is packed with elegant, straightforward French options like the seriously divine Boat Street pate ($12), steamed mussels with chorizo ($15) and whole roasted poussin ($24), which I must inform you is chicken in case you think it's fish. Yes, my French is THAT BAD.

Boat Street does simple things perfectly, like bread. Mini Columbia City baguettes came hot with butter, nicoise olives and olive oil. We devoured it. I could only find happiness in the pate appetizer of perfectly creamy mild mousse served with crisp toasts. And for my entree, I had housemade sausage ($18), which came with a few beautiful potatoes and lots of caramelized onions. It was simple, almost peasant style food, but the pork sausage was balanced between fat and flavor, and the potatoes cut the richness. The caramelized onions added acidity and depth.

I also loved P's shrimp. I don't remember the preparation but I remember lots of butter and garlic and deliciousness. I am not often wowed by shrimp, but really thought hers were wonderful.

Other dishes like a spring onion and tomato flan ($18) and crab cakes also looked amazing. The dishes were often simple, not overwrought, and I appreciated the care the restaurant took to edit the dishes to keep them interesting yet straightforward.

I don't eat French much beyond Capitol Hill's Cafe Presse, but I adored Boat Street and given any reason, like the whole grilled sardines ($18) I spotted on the online menu, would be back in a heartbeat. Actually, I could take a whole plate of those sardines right now. I'm not kidding. Tout. De. Suite.

Bon Voyage P. and M.!

Boat Street Cafe
3131 Western Ave. #301
Seattle, WA
(206) 632-4602

Boat Street Cafe & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I bought a huge blue ring...

From N.

I've been attempting to curtail shopping lately, with weddings, bachelorette parties and a trip to Mexico on the docket all within a month or so. I have a list of all the things I "need," i.e. an iphone. But I also don't have a lot of restraint. Exhibit A: the Rachel Leigh gumball ring.

I blame lookrichbitch. She made me realize I wasn't subscribed to the weekly DailyCandy deals. I think it was better when I wasn't subscribed to the weekly DailyCandy deals. I had been musing about buying more dramatic statement rings but I wasn't going to do anything about it until I saw this ring online, at 30 percent off. The gumball came in fun colors like strawberry, grape, cookie (actually a bland brown) and pacific. The discount was not such a fabulous deal, but I was waiting around for the King County elections results (Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels came in a shocking third in the primary) and had a lot of unfocused energy, so I zeroed it in on my checking account.

I had buyer's remorse waiting for it to show up, but now that it's here, I'm quite happy with it. It's big and bold and fun, and will perk up plain dresses and shirts that need a pop of color.

I ate at Moshi Moshi

From K.

Ring-ring, ring-ring.

"Moshi moshi?"

"Hai. K desu!"

"Hai! O genki desuka?"

Yes, I'm definitely genki, or feeling energized. I always feel this way after good Japanese meals. Something about the combo of miso soup, fresh fish, pickles, good rice and something fried just sets me smiling (all that tonkatsu et all is from Portugal's legacy in Japan BTW, but we can forgive them because it tastes so great). My friend KT suggested a trip here after we realized we hadn't shared dinner in ages. Too much training for triathlons and bootcamp make us forget how much fun we can have when we're not working out.

After the typical Ballard parking drama, we met up in a booth along one of the walls and perused the menu. KT went for a bowl of fresh sashimi (chirashi) and I ordered tonkatsu. We split pickles and each got miso soup. I think KT would have appreciated a pictoral sushi guide to better enjoy her dish, though she seemed happy. My tonkatsu came out piping hot, crispy and meaty, with a rich-yet-fruity dipping sauce (made me wonder if they just go ahead and pour Bulldog Brand straight from the bottle?). The pickles ranged from super tasty to bland and spiritless (they need to perfect the eggplant for sure). The miso made my mouth happy, as did the high-quality green tea. We enjoyed all this beneath the glow of their LED pink sakura tree that crowns the restaurant. While MM did not displace the ID's Kaname as my favorite Japanese spot, I shall return (I also love Hiroshi's on Eastlake for nikku udon and curry rice, but I digress :)

Next time I want to explore their drinks menu, as well as their mochi (I wonder if it's from Tokara in Phinney/Greenwood? Or of their own creation?). But this night we headed down the street to Cupcake Royale to try out their new, reformuated cake recipe.

They definitely seemed more moist and less crumbly. But then again, their cupcakes always taste great in store, not as swell by the time you're home (unlike Trophy). Seemed promising though, and I'm happy to experiment some more for the sake of scientific research :)

The deets
Moshi Moshi: 5324 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle, 206-971-7424
Cupcake Royale (Ballard): 2052 N.W. Market St., Seattle, 206-782-9557

I made the most of a day trip to Portland

From K.

I've been making the three-hour trek to Portland for years. The reasons abound: Prom dress shopping, family functions, Trailblazer games, conventions, great food, rare books at Powell's. This time was family function/fun. Mom and I piled in her Highlander and hit the road.

First stop: Country Cousin.

If you've stopped in Centralia, Wash., before for gas, you know this place. It's the super kitschy, country-themed restaurant by the outlets that resembles a giant farmhouse. Inside is a gingham-checked wonderland of country decor and some very good pot roast and BLTs. They also serve yak meat cooked up a variety of ways. We saved that for next time.

Second stop: Multnomah Falls

I'm not sure how the heck I've been to Portland dozens of times and never managed to visit this gorgeous spot. It's about a 30 minute drive from downtown toward the Columbia River Gorge. You'll notice the rocks start changing into quirky formations. You'll see it get more woodsy. You'll pass other, smaller waterfalls on your way to Multnomah. Then BAM! There it is, within view of the parking lot. We passed three separate weddings getting photographed with the falls as a backdrop that day. Hiking to a little footbridge mid-falls took us only a few minutes.

A refreshing close-up

The view gazing down from the footbridge! Whoa!

So doable, yet still beautiful. Don't miss it (but wait to buy cheaper and just-as-good soft serve at Dairy Queen en route to home I-5, or stop at a Burgerville for a blackberry shake (yum!) OR head to our third stop!

Third stop: Voodoo Doughnuts

Don't you just wanna sink your teeth into it?

I'd heard about this place from a several friends now, where they lay strips of bacon atop their maple bars, craft doughnuts to resemble unmentionables for bacheloette partie and even create voodoo doll-esque doughnuts complete with pretzel sticks for pinning (they're also open 24 hours, which makes for great people watching).

We waited in line with all manner of Portland humanity for about half an hour, then realized we had only $5 cash (beware, they're a cash-only joint). Thankfully, that was enough to get us two creations: The aforesaid maple bar and a chocolate ring (Mom likes to keep things simple). We couldn't even buy milk. But the doughnuts lived up to their promise: Fresh, fragrant, not too sweet, not too simple, good texture in dough and frosting, goooooood flavor. Next time I will bring J. to have a Grape Ape doughnut.

The deets
Country Cousin: 1054 Harrison Ave., Centralia, Wash. (360) 736-2200
Multnomah Falls
Voodoo Doughnut: 22 S.W. Third Ave. in Portland. 503-241-4704

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I found a good way to use zucchini...

From N.

I don't garden, so an abundance of zucchini isn't an issue, but last week I took on everyone else's zucchini stress. I have read so many food stories about creative ways to use up zucchini from overflowing gardens that I got really worried when a friend bestowed a beautiful one from her garden.

I usually like to chop it up and put it into veggie enchiladas, but I wasn't in the mood. So I read every zucchini recipe I could find. In my scanning of a million zucchini recipes, I found one in Gourmet's cookbook for zucchini and portobello pizza with Robiola cheese and truffle oil. It sounded promising.

I couldn't find robiola cheese which is described as custardy, and substituted taleggio cheese, which is rich, creamy and slightly stinky (my favorite kind.) The recipe is simple. Clean out the gills from two portobello mushroom caps and dice along with one zucchini. Toss with salt and pepper. (And chopped chives if you have it.) Stretch out dough on baking sheet or pizza stone, drizzle olive oil on dough, spread the vegetables in a thick layer, and then add cheese. Bake at 450 until the crust is golden. Drizzle white truffle oil if you have it.

I was afraid the vegetables wouldn't cook in the short time in the oven, but they were tender, and with the creamy cheese and delectable truffle oil was quite perfect. I don't always make recipes again, but this one is going into the rotation. I've included my favorite pizza dough recipe from Gourmet below. (Tip: make it the night before and let it rise overnight in the fridge.)

Pizza Dough
Combine 1 tbl. flour with 1/4 c. warm water and one packet yeast. Wait until top looks creamy, about five minutes. Add to 1 1/4 c. flour, 2 tsp. olive oil, 2 tsp. salt, 1/2 c. warm water. Mix until combined. It will be very wet, add another 1/2 c. flour. Knead on floured board for eight minutes until elastic and smooth. Put back in floured bowl, add flour to top, cover with plastic wrap tucked around dough, let rise for 1 1/4 hour in warm place, or overnight in the fridge. Let warm before using. Stretch out on oiled baking sheet. Bake at 450 until golden, about 10-15 minutes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I snagged the last camping spot in Leavenworth...

From N.
I haven't totally given up on backpacking, but it's easy to think of all the reasons to avoid it: bear bags, 40-pound packs, simple food that's maybe even freeze-dried, less prep and repacking of bags. Wine weighs a lot.

By comparison, car camping is total luxury. Although I'm pretty bare bones compared to the RVs that roll around with full set-ups including tables, canopies with mosquito netting and grills. Here's my tent.

Backpacking gets you deep into the wilderness, but car camping still gets you two to three hours closer to amazing hikes. This past weekend, my friend L. and I headed to Leavenworth, the uber kitschy Bavarian town set in stunning scenery two and a half hours from Seattle. We were there to get a taste of the Alpine Lakes that are the entryway to the popular Enchantments, which is, you know, overrun with backpackers.

My friends and I are always last-minute about camping. We tend to drive someplace, cross our fingers and look for camp sites. I think Leavenworth has more rock climbers and families camping than any place in the state. Seriously. We drove through four full campgrounds on Icicle Creek Road before a guy waved us down at Ida Creek, the very last campground on the road. He told us to wait for the people clearing out of spot 5. If that site wasn't open, I'm not sure what we would have done. Possibly panic.

We set up my tent, then took a stroll along Icicle Creek, exerting ourselves just enough to tell ourselves we deserved our hamburger dinner. But first, L. set us up with an adorable oilcloth tablecloth on the picnic table and even lit colorful citronella tea candles to try and dissuade the bugs. It didn't work on the bees.

While she got the fire going, I made hamburgers on my camp stove. There ain't no hamburgers when you backpack. I seasoned the patties with salt and pepper, then pan-fried them on my stove. Our patties were cradled in buttered, grilled brioche buns lathered with mustard and then topped with melted cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes from L.'s garden and sliced crunchy pickles. Hamburgers are awesome anywhere, but they are unspeakably awesome in the woods. We ate it along with a delicious potato salad with olive oil and herbs L. made and Caesar salad from a bag. We finished off the night with dark chocolate wafers and some Maker's Mark in front of a fire. Car camping totally wins.

The next day, we sprinted past the backpackers with our featherlight daypacks on the 4.5-mile trail to Lake Stuart at the foot of Mount Stuart. The moderate trail is gorgeous, winding along a creek in a dappled forest before opening up to alpine vistas. We ended with lunch by the lake. It was quite perfect.

The backpackers are headed past these peaks into the Enchantments. So I'm maybe, slightly, just a little bit jealous. I could probably be convinced to do it. Sigh. Maybe backpacking wins.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I relaxed to The Dodos at Seattle Center...

From N.

KEXP has been hosting free concerts at Seattle Center at the Mural every Friday and it's the perfect way to check out bands and wind down from the week. Sometimes it's local acts like hip hop dynamos Dyme Def. Last week was opener Army Navy and main act The Dodos.

I've been to a couple, but it was the first time I arrived early enough to see the opener. I have a weird weakness for nasally indie rock with poppy hooks (see The Rural Alberta Advantage), so I naturally loved Army Navy. They had a great, confident presence and the show made me want to listen more closely to their music.

The Dodos were the stars of the show, and I also loved their quirky, creative music, including what I thought was a xylophone, but was actually a vibraphone (I had to look it up.) The vibraphonist played with mallets, but partway through pulled out what looked like a cello bow and coaxed out wistful, haunting sounds from his instrument. Some people describe them as folky, and they sort of verge on folkish, but they're really much more abstract. I was mesmerized by their show.

This Friday is the Fruit Bats and opener the Moondoggies, with doors at 5 p.m. and the show at 6 p.m. Think about passing an evening sitting on the grass in the beer garden (until security rousts you vertical because of overcrowding), drink a cheap beer and check out some creative people at work.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I made the easiest dinner ever

From K.

Hubby J and I were exhausted last night despite it only being Wednesday. After our record-setting sunny summer here in Seattle I fear I have become solar activated, and energetic only when the yellow orb hangs in the sky. This could be a problem come winter, and even now on this rainy week.

I decided last night we needed some sunshine, even if we had to eat it. Pasta is a great go-to on weary days, so I hit Metropolitan Market for some of my favorite Cucina Fresca pasta (few ingredients, good taste), fresh corn and heirloom tomatoes. I don't think I've ever spent $8 on tomatoes before!

Some of the beauts

Took 10 minutes to pull it all together. Boil water, drop in the husked corn and lower to a simmer with lid on for five minutes. Boil water, drop in pasta, cook for four minutes. Dice those luscious tomatoes, drop into heated pan with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil and sautee with some salt and pepper. Assemble. Eat. Enjoy.

Real tomatoes are filled with sunshine. And soon, so were we.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I stuffed myself at Kingfish Cafe...

From N.

It was a fried chicken, ribs and mac and cheese kind of weekend. That's what happens when you eat at Kingfish Cafe. There's no way around having the biggest, heaviest meal imaginable and loving every bite.

Kingfish is legendary, at least among people I know. It's one of Seattle's few Southern spots, and wins the award for biggest portions in Seattle, including massive slices of cake. But I have never indulged in dessert because by the time I've gotten through a plate of food, I can barely waddle out, let alone consider red velvet.

A couple of friends recently moved from New York to Seattle into an adorable Jolly Rancher house a few blocks from the 19th Avenue business district on Capitol Hill. Kingfish is their neighborhood spot. I hope they are prepared to join a gym.

Kingfish always has a wait, so we started off at the bar. After spending some time in the South, I am a fan of sweet tea and I also have an out-of-character weakness for sugary coffee drinks, but I am strict when it comes to my cocktails. I like them balanced and tart and I like to taste the alcohol. Southern or no, unbearably sweet cocktails are just wrong. And my mint julep ($9) was all kinds of wrong. I could barely detect the Maker's Mark whiskey or the mint buried beneath half a glass of simple syrup. I couldn't even come close to finishing it and O. abandoned hers for an IPA.

Moving on to more pleasant topics, like the food. Sho'Nuff fried green tomatoes and crab and catfish cakes appetizers tempt me every time, but O. and C. had seen the tremendous platters of food float past and I knew better, so we all showed huge restraint. Then decided we were splitting ribs, fried chicken and mac and cheese.

The My Way or the Highway buttermilk fried chicken had a lovely, crisp coating and moist, tender meat, while the brick of Down Home mac and cheese broke apart easily and revealed layered flavors that comes from, surprisingly, just two kinds of cheese. Onion, green pepper and mushrooms are probably the reason. Or maybe it was just a lot of cheese.

The ribs also were fork tender and had a tart, sweet sauce, which merely confirmed that I am not out of the woods yet on my bbq-sauce burnout. The wild green salad that came with the mac and cheese was a bit overdressed, but the potato salad was a nice, creamy counterpoint to the rich barbecue, along with some collard greens.

The menu also includes ribeye steak, pork chops and catfish, but you try saying no to mac and cheese. I'd love to see dishes like shrimp and grits (maybe they do on other nights), and they need to overhaul their cocktail recipes STAT, but Kingfish otherwise is a hugely fun and tasty slice of the South.

Kingfish Cafe
602 19th Ave. E.
Open for dinner seven days a week, lunch on weekdays and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I hiked Discovery Park

From K.

My husband J is not the biggest hiking fan. Which is why I neglected to tell him our evening, sunset "jaunt" through Discovery Park would really be more akin to a two-hour adventure. I gambled that when he saw the view of the placid Sound, Golden Gardens to the north, downtown to the south, pleasure boats lolling by, he wouldn't be too annoyed. Thankfully, I was right :)

Discovery Park's vastness appeals to me. It's tricky to be completely alone in Seattle, but here in the "wilds" of Magnolia you can walk for long moments of solitude. The Loop Trail takes you through leafy and needly woods, past a pretty lighthouse, up and down some big hills and past plenty of nice Sound views. It's a great spot for trail running, though I like West Seattle's Lincoln Park even better for that if I'm alone (better chance of running into fellow humans when I need them :)

But back to Discovery. J and I left feeling refreshed and reconnected after feasting our weary, Smartphone-tired eyes on glimmering water and lush greenery. Can't wait to return.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I waited in line at Maximus Minimus on the hottest day ever...

From N.

The lunch date was set a week in advance, before we knew it was going to be the hottest day on record in Seattle. (Official temp: 103. My thermostat on Wednesday.)
Even after a few sweltering nights, we didn't seriously think about changing our minds. Our food-crazed selves wanted pig. Maximus Minimus would be ours, even if we had to stand on baking hot pavement at Second and Pike to get it.

First, you have to track the Beecher's-owned pig down. We were not the only crazy people; there was a line. The menu here is limited to a pulled pork sandwich with either Maximus or Minimus sauce, a Maximus or Minimus slaw ($2.73 alone or $1.37 with a sandwich), Maximus or Minimus drinks ($1.82) and vegetable chips like beets, potatoes, green beans and jalapeno ($4.55 alone or $2.28 with a sandwich).

Sandwiches emerge cradling plenty of pulled pork coated in your choice of sauce and a generous amount of slaw. You can add Beecher's flagship cheese for $.91, which I forgot while ordering.

The pork was mostly tender and moist, although bigger chunks were slightly dry. The bun was soft, and was dense enough that it didn't completely fall apart when soaked with sauce. But the Maximus sauce, a slightly spicy Thai with a six-pepper blend, onions and fruit juices, did not max out on the spiciness by a long shot (you can ask for them to pile on the "Hurt"), though it had a light, appealing sweetness. The Minimus slaw was based around crisp sliced fennel bulb tossed with refreshing mint and chewy cranberries in a honey mustard vinaigrette. I regretted not getting the Maximus slaw of radishes and cilantro in a light chipotle vinaigrette, which I think would have added bright flavor and more contrast. My combo was altogether too sweet and I longed for more acidity and tartness.

The Minimus drink might have been my favorite part of the meal. The juicy red hibiscus nectar was tart, sweet and lovely. The Maximus ginger lemonade also had a fantastic ginger, and almost puckery, punch.

Perhaps I wasn't in the proper pulled pork mood or maybe the cheese was the missing link, but I was not blown away by my sandwich. Despite a limited menu, there was not enough on my plate to cut the sweetness. I love me some barbecue, but highly doubt I'm going to chase Maximus Minimus around again. Definitely not during a heat wave. I'll leave the pursuit to others and content myself hotfooting it to the Marination Mobile for kimchi fried rice.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I watched Reid (and Jillian) on After The Final Rose...

From N.

The whole crew showed up tonight for the Bachelorette's "After the Final Rose" -- Melissa, Kiptyn, REID, Ed and Jillian. It was somewhat uneventful, and mostly, it was about Reid. Good.

Melissa, the bachelorette dumped on national tv by Kirkland Bachelor Jason Mesnick and rebounded with Dancing with the Stars and an engagement, cheerfully informed us that Jason feels like forever ago. I guess five months is a lifetime in reality world. She's still cute, and she looks happy.

Kiptyn showed, but since he didn't show his abs, I have nothing more to say.

Why is heartbreak so riveting? Reid is still deep in it, and even Jillian looked shaken seeing him. Jillian revealed she was so in love with Ed she could never have let him go, and there was nothing Reid could have done differently. And Reid was his funny, thoughtful self about it all. On going back to Hawaii for Jillian: "I thought slam dunk. ... I thought, 'I got this.'" On the process: "You made your decision. That's how it works. I have to accept that there's no question I can ask that will change your decision or how I will feel." On Ed: "You seem happy. No need to poke and prod to see what happens."

Host Chris Harrison also went for the jugular, asking Reid if a piece of him was still missing. I wanted to know, but Chris, seriously, MEAN. (Reid said yes.)

Then the happy couple emerged. Somehow they've only spent five days apart since the end. Is that even possible? I feel like the show changes the rules all the time on who sees who when, and it's annoying. My new thought on Ed is that he's just sort of stiff on camera. He and Jillian were kissy and cuddly, and do seem quite happy. But Ed didn't win me over until the outakes at the end when he told the story about one game they came up with to entertain themselves. They were bored, so he started prying rocks from landscaping and threw them into the pool, then told Jillian he'd pay her $50 per rock to bring them up. He said she was just like a little dolphin, diving to the bottom and dragging these huge rocks back up that weighed as much as her. It was kind of adorable.

They say they're going to get married in a year. I sort of believe them. Then again, I also believed DeAnna and Jesse were going to get married too. ABC, you did it again. Dammit.

Too cute side note: The audience member who looked about 15 and couldn't stop giggling when she got up to ask Reid a question. She asked him out. We all wanted to ask him out. Reid wisely deflected, asking, "How old are you?"

Read a Q & A with Reid and with Kiptyn. Which one will be the next Bachelor? Reid gets my vote.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm beating the heat with...

From K.

Trips to the Queen Anne pool

Picnics in the shady, grassy quad at Seattle Pacific University (part of me and hubby J's efforts to keep right on having "dates" :)

The cool AC at the Big Picture in Belltown (catch the killer happy hour upstairs at El Gaucho for a fun night out! Love the bourbon lemonade and the 410 burger)

The sleek chill of Umi Sake House (try the Naughty Roll! Just a hint of spice to liven things up)

Icy cool watermelon from Ken's Market and PCC

How are YOU beating the heat?