January 28, 2009


It's one of my biggest pet peeves- when bloggers blog about how busy they are, even too busy to write an entry. But today I'm going to be my own worst enemy and do that very thing. My attitude this past week reminds me of the haste in which I took this picture of the escalator at the Seattle Public Library. I was in a hurry because I just wanted a ride. That's what we writers seem to forget sometimes - to stop observing and just enjoy the ride.

Rather than try to pull myself together and make sense of this whirl of events called 'last semester of college, potentially moving to another city, and stress of finding a job in an ill economy,' I plan to lay it all out there for you to draw your own conclusions. Here's the recap of my weekly ride:

Chopping onions at the restaurant. Being an intern at a major magazine. Hours spent fact-checking. Mincing garlic. Getting post-grad advice from editors. De-seeding squash for soup. Checking job-listings on Craigslist. A hearty, early-morning fried egg. A random Indian dance at the Dinkytowner. Writing papers. Brunch with friends. (We won't mention the buzzer, right girls?)Doing dishes. Gingersnaps. Sharing farm stories with chefs. Reading for classes. Making soup stock. The city bus 6 times a week. Striking up random conversation on the bus. Reading for fun. Working at the kitchen store. Strong coffee. Apartment hunting. Julia Child. My new scarf and boots. Interviewing a farmer for an article. A free cookie from a cute guy at Starbucks. Reading news articles my dad sends me. A post-homework glass of wine. Interviewing a chef for an advertisement. Going to bed at 2am. Switching work schedules. Quinoa and cabbage. Waking up at 7am. Learning to hand-code HTML. An overdue dinner-date with a dear friend at a French cafe. These events, like this gum in Seattle's Post-Alley, are beautiful to me in their messiness and random nature.

You get it.

If there's one thing keeping me sane during my last semester, it's the anticipation of a good meal at the end of the day and talking with those who make my heart warm. Thanks be to cabbage. And my mom.

January 20, 2009

Good, old-fashioned change

Yesterday I had big, Obama-like plans to write here - a blog about change, on such a historical day, marking my moment in living through this history. But then change (of plans, that is) did happened as the last first-day of my college career, friends, textbook-buying, cheesecake, and Obama filled my day. I still can’t decide what gave me more chills- seeing hopeful, young black girls looking at Obama as if he was their rock, or the velvety cheesecake Bethany and I ate while watching the First Lady dancing with her Mr. President at the various balls. All this buzz about change got me thinking about change in my life. Taking a birds-eye view at this past year, I see that what has changed in my life isn’t seemingly change at all, rather a back-to-the-basics reversion to more simple life. In celebration of this realized-change in simplicity, I decided to make some tomato soup with my farm’s produce, frozen from this summer. (And it feels so good to stick hot soup in the face of Minnesota Winter.)

My mother's canned garden tomatoes also found their way in the soup. Canning is no minor issue in my family, my mother and sisters can food furiously. This canning process is quite a production and has been for some time now. It’s even gotten to the point where my mother has a ‘canning section’ of the garage, and has young, newlywed neighbors come down for lessons from her. Just as Barack Obama so eloquently relates his situation to that of the early framers, I have turned an eye and ear to the wisdom of my culinary-ancestors. Both obsessive foodies, MFK Fisher and Julia Child didn’t stop at the kitchen, they put hard work and diligence into communicating with others and encouraging them to know their food while taking greater pleasure in it. My flight back from Seattle found me reading through MFK Fisher’s, ‘Gastronomical Me’, where she shares memories of canning strawberry jam with her grandmother in California. She writes, “The first thing I remember tasting and then wanting to taste again is the grayish-pink fuzz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam.” (Are your tastebuds sweating?) As for Ms. Child, her wisdom is endless. I savor up her good-sense like chocolate frosting left on a spatula, appreciating its classic timelessness, knowing that many before me have experienced the same appreciation and pleasure. Tonight I curled up on the couch to her first season of ‘The French Chef’, where she shared the key to successfully flipping food in a pan: “You must be courageous of your convictions; if you want to flip it, you’ve just got to flip it.” Talk about chutzpah. She tried it a first time, which flopped because she admittedly didn’t think she could do it. But the second was executed with such confidence and grace, it almost drives one to think she faked her first failure in order to relate with the unpracticed American home-cooks. Oh Julia, you’re so kind. And I'm sure your chocolate icing was divine, too.

All this reminiscing of canning and storing food got me thinking about my generation of cooks and eaters. My 20-some year old sister-in-law is inspiringly enthusiastic about raising her own chickens (despite their eggs freezing) and putting up her garden for storage in order to eat throughout the doldrums of winter. The motivation behind canning has changed completely as it used to be about survival, making sure one’s family has enough just in case harvest wasn’t as bountiful the next year. We have no ability to relate to this with the immediate access to an endless variety to food-products that we have. Even better, young men and women are engaging in these time-intensive processes to reconnect with the ways of their ancestors, to get closer to the earth, and depend on their own ingenuity for sustenance. This attempt at reconnection to those who have gone before us is much like what we heard in Obama’s speech.

I think I may like Obama so much because he’s got many characteristics of one of my favorite foods: the egg. Now I know most food metaphors are awful, but I just can’t help this one. Both of their binding powers are intense – the ability to move a nation’s people above its rigid two-party system, turning some Republicans a hue of blue (like the Araucauna egg!). As for the egg, its binding power is its calling card. Like the egg-based quiche, asparagus and bacon come together as one under the egg and Muslims and Christians come together under the guidance of Obama. Among other admirable qualities- timelessness, versatility, and practicality are atop the list.

Maybe this whole idea of change really isn’t about change at all, rather a reverting back to the ways-of-old, making the stone-cold hard decisions like our founders, being empowered by the grassroots movements of those still with us, and truly coming together from an increased desire to share and love outside ourselves.

Returning to what's essential - that’s change.

January 13, 2009

That's quality.

My palate is forever ruined. Seattle did nothing but dance with my taste buds, while heightening my sense of quality and making it difficult to settle for just anything. To give you a taste, I want to highlight 3 particular stars that took center-stage in this foodie dream that the -5 degree weather and the box of stale crackers just woke up from.

On my last day in Seattle, I could not leave without having a ferry ride and, more importantly, a last pear. It was news to me that Washington and Oregon contain the optimal growing conditions for these beauties. Biting into my first one after a food-run to Central Market sent me in a daze. I've always liked pears because they are so complex, striking a balance of both masculine and feminine characteristics. Their grain can be gritty and rugged, and as they ripen they become masculine in their gruff spots, like an old weathered leather glove or the cheeks of a mountain man. At the same time, they are feminine in their curvaceous contours, elegant posture, and delicate juiciness. These characteristics of my first Washington pear were twice as intense as their shipped-in Minnesota counterparts. I felt as if I was lied to in Minnesota, as to what a good pear is. The pear isn't the only thing: dark chocolate, espresso, salmon, artichokes, croissants, bread - these all tasted like new things to me and forced me to swallow an ugly truth: Minnesota has second-rate food.

Besides turning my back on my opinion of Minnesota food, I have another confession: I've never eaten a real artichoke before this trip, only ones from the can. As a foodie, I should be completely shameful. But my inexperience with artichokes gave me one of my top Seattle food experiences. This was made possible by a loud, boisterous vendor at Pike Place Market. , promising they were the best in the market. Sure, I’ve heard similar claims. A Minnesota summer road-trip isn’t complete without seeing roadside vendors selling sweet corn out of the back of their truck, all claiming to be the best. But, who are we kidding, if you’ve had one cob here, you’ve had them all. I couldn’t tell you how the choke fared compared to others, but I can attest that it’s been one of the most unusual, exciting experiences I’ve had consuming a vegetable. After a night of ecstatic dancing, Mi Ae and I were famished, so we assembled a random spread of leftovers: sautéed mustard greens, roasted beets, Ski Queen goat cheese and black currant jam with crackers, and SPAM (that’s another story). But the heart of this meal (or whatever you’d call it) was the artichoke. The process of peeling and sliding the flaps between your teeth, savoring the flesh, inching your way to the middle, is much like unwrapping a present. As we neared the heart, the earthy nut flavor softly intensified and the flesh became more substantial. And finally, the heart – the base of its existence, giving essence to its whole, was both velvety and robust. A very complex thing, the artichoke heart is. Its name accurately projects its qualities.

Most good things end (and begin, for that matter) with coffee. I don’t ever remember coffee not being in my life. My father measures out his coffee each night for the next morning, and my mother experiments with new beans and flavors like she does with fabric for her quilts. I was raised to adore the stuff and am surprised my body has managed to reach the height of 5’7". Coffee and I have had a complex history, whose progression includes: Folgers instant powdered cappuccinos (in my middle-school attempt to be posh), grinding my own beans in high school, a shameful stint at Starbucks, the French Press pot in college, a coffee-free summer at the farm, and now – Seattle coffee. There is a completely different coffee lexicon in Seattle. If you want just plain coffee, the barista will not understand you if you ask for a coffee; you’ve got to order a ‘drip.’ The espresso drinks not only come in 3 cup sizes, but you also have the option for a single, double, or triple (even a quad!) espresso in the drink. These coffee shops are absolutely no place for indecisive people. That’s the thing about Seattleites and their coffee – they all know exactly what they want. Over the years I’ve developed a loyalty to the americano and savored over 10 of them while visiting the Seattle at various places: Café Besalu, Café Presse, Vivace, Starbucks, Le Panier, Zeitgeist, Caffé Fiore, Pegasus Coffee House, Café Vita, and Elliot Bay Book Co. Another element that adds to the coffee experience is the espresso art floating atop of each drink.

I have many things to thank the Pacific Northwest for: the wall of gum at Post Alley, chocolate croissants, 40 degree January weather, in-season produce,pleasant morning walks, a breathtaking ferry ride, misty rains, forests that put you in your place with their gargantuan trees, the bounty of life evidenced by moss growing between the cracks of the sidewalk and on rooftops, and the excitement that surrounds those moments when the sun actually comes out. (Yes, it does!)There’s no one way to sum up all I experienced there, but I’ve learned that to truly visit a city is to taste it, which leads you to learn about the people who live and cook there, the land and what it produces, the tastes of those who consume it, and a picture at how the city sees itself. If Seattle were a coffee shop, it would be the one that rarely advertises, has minimal store signage on its façade, yet somehow manages to find a line of customers that extends its doors, where people wait ever-so-patiently for a simple croissant and drip, whose customers pride themselves in the quiet knowledge that they’ve found the best spot and wish to keep it a secret. Sorry Seattle, the secret’s out. (Here are some of my pictures.)

January 5, 2009

NW Oregon's Top Ten

Peter Gabriel sang our way to Oregon as we took the famous 'I-5' to Portland Saturday morning. Peter Gabriel, a musician I was shamefully not-so familiar with, has an array of music in which people have been enjoying for decades. Sneaking a peek into this sensory experience, realizing how much I've been missing, and how much I still don't know, was like what a weekend of having no sense of taste and honing my other senses was like. Many things in my daily routine went unnoticed before because of my foodie-obsession, always concerned with taste and good food. Now I, too, understand and appreciate the beauty of the roar of the ocean, the vibrant colors of salt water taffy, the calming brush of a gentle breeze, the solace of a cashmere sweater, the beauty of a well-worn old book, the elegance of antique jewelry, the silkiness of rice noodles, the rarity of substantial conversation, the angst of Portland's hipsters, the picturesque cottages in Oregon's forests and parks, and the hilarity of old hair-dyers in hotels.

I know it seems as though this record has already been played, lamenting on and on about how much it sucks that I lost my sense of taste. But, hey, this is a food blog. And it takes two to tango. But this record is almost over as the flavor of a whole package of grapefruit Halls coughdrops I sucked down at Powell's bookstore faded in and out, and I can faintly smell the Carmex smothered over the bridge between my nose and lip, which is trying to reverse the damage the Kleenex has done. Sorry for the imagery. Let's talk Oregon and food, shall we?

There are many notable things but I must keep it short (mostly due to the average person's attention span, the stack of postcards that are screaming my name, and the window-of-opportunity for a bath today that is slowly diminishing). So I will do it like David Letterman, the man who my dad can strangely resemble so much when he puts on a pair of small glasses.

Here's the 'Top 10 Reasons to Visit NW Oregon'

1. Seaside Candyman - One can find 170 flavors of salt water taffy, hear 'Candyman' continuously, and feed candy to the seagulls outside.

2. The Astoria Bridge- It will dwarf any notion you ever had about a big bridge.

3. Mainstream? - You can walk around the beach with your pant legs rolled up, followed by a stroll around town with completely forgetting about rolling them down, and nobody will bat an eye.

4. Seaside, OR - Oregon's answer to Coney Island. A marvelously ridiculous town. (See cheezy video here.)

5. Highway 101 - Driving this along the Oregon coastline is one of the top rated sights in the States.

6. State Parks - (namely, Ecola and Forest) Blackberry bushes grow like weeds, moss grows on houses, the ferns make you think you're in a rainforest, huge root systems, towering trees, and you may come across a random purple surfboard shack. Roads are fairly windy, not for the faint of stomach.

7. Quirky Houses - Portland is home to some of the most eclectic, progressive, and artistic people our country contains. This is reflected in the style of their houses, which can be viewed for free-of-charge from the interstates and highways. Equally as entertaining and inspiring as visiting an art museum.

8. Powell's - Located in Portland, it's the world's largest new and used independent bookstore, where I bought a James Beard and MFK Fisher book.

9. People Watching - Most interesting at Powell's. (see no. 8)

10. Being Dirty -When visiting Portland, you don't have to change clothes, bathe, shower, or eat to outwardly fit in. In fact, if you do these things, you may stick out like a sore-thumb.

(and, because the west coast mentality has gotten the best of me and I can't help but diverging from convention)

11. Pho - The appreciation and abundance of this Vietnamese rice noodle soup is astonishing. It was the silkiest, most comforting bowl of broth, vegetables, and noodles I've ever had. And it forced me to hone my chopstick skills.

January 2, 2009

Oh, Seattle. I wish I could taste you.

My first cup of coffee in Seattle was perfect. Nutty, strong, and black. It was doubled with a perusal of my recently purchased Seattle guidebook (thanks for the Christmas money that bought this, grandma). While I'm here for another two weeks, this was the first and last thing I've had the pleasure of consuming. The most unimaginable, abominable, atrocious thing happened to me my first day in Seattle - I lost my sense of taste. I lost my sense of taste. Something makes me think that the holiday goodies have gotten the best of me by weakening my immune system, another part of me blames the blasted -6 degree Minnesota winter I left with great anxiousness. And you'd think a foodie would know how to treat something like this. Ginger? Tried it. Pickled onions? Yup. Wasaabi? You betcha, alot of it. All with no avail.

Now I don't know about you, but when I travel, I plan my itinerary around my palette, around which places I want to eat out at. I had a grand list thanks to Molly and tonight we had dinner plans for the Boat Street Cafe. I thought my taste would come to its senses mid-afternoon and decide to join me for dinner. Turns out I was wrong and that its absence made even a pear, a food I most adore, look disgusting. So, what's a girl to do with one of her most cherished senses?

Make a bag, that's what. As my friend and I were packing for Portland tonight, she pulled out a bag she had recently bought at a farmers' market in Minnesota where she was doing a cookbook tour. This bag was made out of recycled vinyl from billboards. 'Drive-By Bags' takes recycled billboards, double washes them, attaches a strap, turning them into graphically appealing and unique bags and saving them from spending forever in a landfill. Hers in particular was from a Miller Beer billboard. It was an unusual neon yellow with red circles (for the fizz) which made me wonder how much different the actual color must be in order for the correct color appearance for a street viewer.

Of course, making a vinyl bag will not make my cold go away or my taster come back. Maybe if the billboard was for Airborne. But this bag made me think about using what one has readily accessible (like my other senses) and extracting as much beauty out of it as possible. Using what one considers trash in order to create a treasure. It's like using all the vegetable skins, greens stems, potato peels, onion ends to make a soup stock. Quite humble beginnings for an outcome that can transform a dish. Because I've lost my taste, I have no choice but to focus and appreciate more my tense of touch, vision, and hearing. As I am currently reading Diane Ackerman's 'A Natural History of the Senses' she explores how to heighten the experiences of our other senses. So, for the remainder of the trip, while crossing my fingers that Mr. Taster visits me before I leave Seattle, I have decided to take this seemingly awful situation, like the awful old billboard vinyl sitting in the landfill, and make a unique bag. A bag which contains experiences of beautiful sights, memorable touches, and unforgettable music.