"You're all about the food," my darling ball and chain reminded me for the millionth time. He said it in response to my pointing out Arnold Palmer on the tee-vee. "There's the guy they named the iced tea after," I cried.
Yes, I watch golf. (That's No. 1 thing that is non-food related.) Especially enjoy watching The Masters. I actually used to play golf. Like a lot. When we lived in Spokane, Johnny and I frequented the beautiful public courses like Indian Canyon, Hangman Creek, Esmeralda. We'd get in a quick nine holes after work. Twilight golf. But that was all BC, Before Claire. Golf takes up a helluva lot of time, something you don't have a lot to spare when you're new parents. Best case scenario is four hours, and that doesn't count time spent bending the elbow at the old 19th hole. My favorite part of a round on a hot afternoon. Now, I'm just an occasional spectator, though I might take it up again one of these days.
I'm also an accidental Mariners fan. That dude I've shared my home with for decades bleeds Mariners blue, through bad times and good. He really should have been a color man, considering the dead-on commentary he runs while watching games, either at home or in the stadium. (It was a rough one last night, as we were part of the smallest crowd in the team's history, and they lost. By a lot.) Over the years, I've been swept up in the drama and the characters on the team. I've seen the guys of summer play at Arlington in Texas and in the old Yankees stadium. And, last week, I got to meet one of the legends of the game. I gushed like a 10-year-old version of myself, telling Edgar Martinez he has always been my favorite Mariner.
Speaking of 10-year-old versions of myself, my nickname around that time was Bullfrog. Because I could burp louder than anyone in my class. Still can.
Later, when I was doing a college internship, working at The Leavenworth Echo newspaper, I became known as Big Salmon. Because of my uncanny ability to leap out of the Wenatchee River like one of those fish. Still can.
Back when I lived in Leavenworth -- from fourth to eighth grade, when we (briefly, thank god) moved to the hell hole known as Marysville -- I went to camp at what's now Sleeping Lady. One year, I was named top camper in our lodge, an honor that meant I had the cleanest fingernails and the smoothest sleeping bag. At Camp Field, we sang neat songs like "What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor?" and I also won a pie eating contest. Still could. (And, yes, that last one is about food, but also sports. If you consider competitive eating sports.)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - legendary civil rights leader,
electrifiying preacher, foodie.
King was famous for his key role in the struggle for equality
through nonviolence and for sermons that inspired a nation. His good works are
well-documented, with more than 900 book titles listed on amazon.com.
But there was another side to King that's seldom discussed,
a side that loved down-home Southern cooking such as pork chops, catfish, fried
chicken and peach cobbler.
"Oh, he was a big eater. He never shied away from the
table, " said Dr. Bernard LaFayette, a distinguished scholar-in-residence
at the University of Rhode Island, who worked closely with King as a student
volunteer and Freedom Rider, and later as national coordinator for the poor
people's campaign King launched just before he was killed. "Growing up in
the Baptist church, so much centered around meals. The church was an extension
of your home."
LaFayette said during that tumultuous time food was often eaten on the run.
"We ate a lot of Vienna sausage and potted meat out of a can, with soda
crackers, " he said.
Food - and lack of access to it - played a pivotal role in some
of the most memorable civil rights struggles including the sit-ins at
"whites only" lunch counters around the South.
Four years ago today, I went to work in professional kitchens, starting with the Dahlia Bakery. It was quite an experience, one I documented in a regular column called Critic-Turned-Cook, which appeared on Serious Eats for more than a year. I was planning on turning this culinary adventure into a blockbuster movie -- Susan Saradon would play me -- after my memoir became a best seller, but, well... could never get an agent interested in pitching it. That's the way it crumbles, cookie wise.
Anyway, what the heck, I recently re-read this section of my sample chapter and still think it's pretty fun:
My eyes open just before the alarm was set to
go off. Groan. It’s 4:47. I barely slept. I am so excited about my first day on
the job in Tom Douglas’s pastry kitchen, I feel like it's Christmas morning.
After I got my food handler’s card, I had
filled out the necessary paperwork, studied the company handbook and spent
hours practicing my knife skills. “Pretend like you’re shaking hands with it,”
one You Tube video instructed.
Still, I wonder if I can cut it. I’ve
never worked in a professional kitchen. I feel like I’m bringing my kazoo to
play with a symphony orchestra. But I do want to play. I’m game. That should
count, right? Showing up is half the battle.
At 4:49, my poor husband, John, is
finally sleeping after hours of wrestling the insomnia demon, so I quickly and
quietly dress in the dark, go downstairs and guzzle a cup of dark roast before
starting the 25-minute walk downtown to the restaurant, past the glowing Space
Needle and homeless men sleeping in doorways. A cyclist blows past, his
headlamp illuminating the rain-filled potholes on the street.
It’s April Fool’s Day. How fitting I
begin this kooky quest on this silly holiday. I feel like the set-up to a bad
gag. “A washed-up critic walks into a kitchen…”
Nostalgia can be so bittersweet, especially when it's unexpected.
This morning, I dropped my car off for service in Ballard. There was an hour to kill, so I walked to Honore, a lovely bakery that makes beautiful and delicious pastries. And, boom, I found myself on the street where my great grandmother, Signe, lived when I was a little squirt.
We called her GG, which sounds vaguely French, but she was straight-off-the-boat Swedish, one of those big, soft, old-world women who smelled like lemon drops and moth balls. There, on my morning walk, I spied the kitchen window I had looked out of many years ago while drinking coffee with cream and three teaspoons of sugar. At that sturdy table, she fed us damn fine fried chicken. Sheee-con, she pronounced it. She used to buy a live bird at a butcher down the street. They'd slaughter it and she'd bring it home and bread it and fry it and -- not really sure why -- she'd finish it in a pressure cooker. It was tender, but soggy. Like the pork in sweet and sour pork.
Walking past that house stirred some powerful memories. Of riding the bus downtown with her, of being slightly embarrassed because she seemed addled with age. Of watching her make delicate cookies at Christmas and of the feud that simmered for years between she and her daughter, my grandmother, Sigrid. The true story of their festering rancor is buried with them. There's nobody left to illuminate the hurt. When GG died, she left her daughter $10 and said it was because she had been to see her once in the past 20 years. She actually put that in the will. That had to burn my grandmother because she cared about money so deeply.
GG left me and my sister and brother a whole bunch more than that, to be in trust for us until we turned 21. The $12,000 I received was like a fortune back then and I put it to good use, traveling around Europe after college, discovering so many incredible flavors and having a mostly wonderful time. That gift sent me down the path that I'm still on today, the never-ending search for food made with love and the stories behind the people who grow or make that food.
I ordered a croissant at Honore, and it did take me back, flashing on the first time I had a real French pastry on my very first trip to Paris. It sounds so corny, but that bite changed my life for the better.
At most barbecue competitions, the focus on cooking tough pieces of meat low and slow. The embers of charcoal and/or wood coax maximum tenderness from shoulder and brisket after a long, long time. Pitmasters stay up all night, making sure the fires burn evenly. That's true commitment and you can taste the love.
That's probably why I respect and admire these slow cookers so much. There are no short cuts, no tricks they can play to create the most memorable bites, what they hope will be a grand champ after the meat has been turned in, tasted and judged.
But there was a delicious detour from the low-and-slow agenda at the first-ever Kingsford Charcoal Invitational, held last fall near St. Louis. The teams gathered to cook in this competition represented the best of the best, the ultimate battle of the Grand Champions, and it was so on. While this was by far the smallest competition I've ever witnessed, it was also the most dead-serious. Sure, a few beers were enjoyed, but everybody brought their A games, many hauling their custom rigs great distances to participate.
The warm-up to the big show, the tasty tease, if you will, was the One-Bite Challenge: Prepare an appetizer lickety-split using just five ingredients, grill it and wow the distinguished panel of judges, including my pal Amy Mills. I'm not going to reveal who won the One-Bite because it's all going to be featured on an hour-long show March 17 on Destination America -- part of a BBQ Pitmasters marathon! I'll just say that I was completely in agreement with the judges.
Now, here's something very cool: You can demonstrate your considerable cooking chops by entering Kingsford Charcoal's One-Bite Challenge. Winner gets a trip to Memphis in May's World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, aka the Super Bowl of Swine. (I'll be there this year!)
It's easy to enter. Just submit your five favorite ingredients and a recipe name to Grilling.com. Entries are accepted until April 15. Oh, and here's a fantastic recipe from that challenge cooked up by the reigning barbecue queen, Melissa Cookston. Go Yazoo's Delta Q!!
Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Shrimp
Makes: 20 servings
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 5-10 minutes
20 Gulf shrimp
20 slices pepper-cured bacon
1 8-ounce rectangular package cream cheese
1 jar whole pickled Jalapeños
Thai sweet chili sauce
1.Preheat a grill to medium-high heat using Kingsford® charcoal. While grill preheats, peel and devein shrimp, leaving tails on.
2.Cook bacon directly on the grill grate until it is close to being fully cooked, but is not crispy. Set aside.
3.Slice cream cheese into 1/4 x 1/4 x 1/2-inch long slices. Select pickled jalapenos that are roughly the same dimensions as the cream cheese. Remove stems and seeds.
4.Place one strip of cream cheese and one jalapeno piece on each shrimp, then wrap with a slice of grilled bacon. Secure with a toothpick, then place the shrimp with tails on the cool side of the grill so they won’t burn.
5.Cook for 2-3 minutes until bacon is crispy and the shrimp is pink throughout. Remove from fire, brush liberally with Thai sweet chili sauce and serve.
Recipe created by the Yazoo’s Delta Q competition barbecue team for the One Bite Challenge category of the Kingsford® Invitational.
My BRAM (brudder from another muther) just told me that he's started cooking in his semi-retirement. Well, he has cooked before, but now, he's actually using recipes and ENJOYING himself. He then listed dishes he'd made recently, including poached salmon.
This makes me so happy that I decided to share the super simple cookbook I created for Baby Girl. A short list of her faves including extra cheesy mac, Thai curry for a crowd and meatloaf like her grandma used to make.
I guess it tickles me so much to think of others getting a kick out of taking ingredients and turning them into dinner, but more so when somebody is late getting on board the cooking express. After years, cooking is a no-brainer for me. I rarely use recipes... (for better and, sometimes, for worse)...
But the neat thing is that no matter how long you've been cooking, you can ALWAYS learn something new.
Not shocking, but still feel a little sheepish admitting that I'm a big fan of the Food Network stars so many dismiss or mock. Yes, it pains me to see Rachael Ray or Giada open cans of broth, but that's how a hell of a lot of busy people cook, so get over it. They give good recipes.
Here's one from Giada for sweet potato shoestring fries with beet ketchup I'm passing along to my buddy. Maybe not the best for a "beginner" who doesn't own a mandolin. Still, it might be inspiring.
Since the tragic, shocking, heart-breaking shooting last week, I've been feeling like so many human beings: hopeless, deeply sad, super pissed. I have stewed about what I could do to try and make a difference, making me feeling more morose.
It certainly didn't feel right to be plugged in to my usual social networking community. Tweeting about what I was eating would have been beyond insulting to the memories of those victims, to the little children and the grow-ups who died trying to protect them. Each time, I see a new photo of one of those poor, sweet children, it stabs me in the heart. How can I post Facebook photos of a batch of English toffee?
So, I stayed away. Or, I tried to. When I did check in on Twitter, it was awash in links to anti-gun petitions and more sad, sad news that was hard to read. And then, on Sunday, there was another shocking loss. Poet Jake Adam York, the brother of my friend, Joe, died after having a stroke. He was just 40 and such a bright spirit. If I lived near Joe and his lovely wife, Kathryn, I would make them a casserole. The universal sign of sincere sympathy.
Cooking -- and eating -- always brings me such comfort. A way to show I care and I love to share. So, I made cookies. I took myself out to lunch, to be surrounded by the happy buzz of conversation, a scene that made it seem as if anything was possible. Don't you love how food brings people together? That feeling of community is what I love about connecting online, talking turkey and bacon and barbecue, cookbooks and delicious blog posts and controversial lists.
Maybe dissecting every bite and photographing each dish might be over-the-top, but there's another way of looking at things: There's nothing wrong with a little diversion. I'm not going to stick my head in the compost and ignore what's going on in the world. But maybe talking about food can be kind of like a balm. Like that casserole I long to deliver to my friends, an edible gesture to show I care.
I will not forget about those sad stories, the loss so many families must face. But I'm slowly indulging my need to connect with that online food community. Will I see you there?