Monthly Archives: March 2008

On the Road: D.C.

This will be one of those “a picture is [hopefully] worth a thousand words” posts. Although unfortunately, you end up getting nearly a thousand words as well. My little digital camera must have been near capacity when we got home last week from five days in Washington D.C. I can’t resist sharing some of the favorite sites and best bites of the week.

farmers marketWe hit the Dupont Circle farmers market on Sunday, which was a big treat. This proved to be somefarmers marketfarmers market of the most springy color we saw all week! A bit early for all the blossoms. I was thrilled to find YARN for sale at this market. And yes, I bought a bunch. 

WA monument 

Sunday afternoon we spent time visiting a few of the monuments in town. I’d never been to the Lincoln Memorial, which is really impressive and moving. This is the view from the steps, looking back down the mall toward the Washington Monument.                                

We spent a few hours in the Natural History Museum, particularly enthralled by the amazing stones, minerals and gems. There is a Butterflyspecial butterfly exhibit there now, including a live butterfly pavilion (which requires advance tickets and timed entry). It was amazing. This butterfly really grabbed my attention, looking every bit like an owl’s eye sitting there. Its interior wing coloration is brilliant blue. So cool.                  

Navy MemorialWalking down Pennsylvania one morning, we happened upon the Navy Memorial. My dad was a career Navy man (which in large part explains why three of us four kids were born on Pacific islands), so this was a touching connection for me. Particularly seeing the bronze panel devoted to the “Sea Bees” — the “can-do” Contruction Battalion division that my father was in.

                                                                            
Any place we vacation, I’m always interested in checking out local
orchidsbotanical gardens. It’s the frustrated gardener in me, I guess. I love seeing lush, colorful, inspiring gardens. (This is one of my all-time favorites, on Kauai.) I was surprised to find that the US Botanic Garden was just steps from the front of the US Capitol. It features an amazing orchid display right now, went nuts shooting many of the flowers.                                                        

                                                            

papayas

Papayas growing in the botanic garden. I’ve always been jealous of the years my family lived in Hawaii before I was born. Apparently there was a papaya tree in the backyard. I’m still not over it. I don’t really care to live in a tropical climate, but the idea of walking outside to pluck a papaya is mesmerizing.                   

crispy porkHere’s a sample of our lunch at The Source, a new Wolfgang Puck restaurant in town. It’s connected to the Newseum, a news-focused interactive museum that will be opening April 11. (A cool feature out front is print-outs of that mornings front pages from a newspaper in each of the 50 states, plus a handful of international papers.) Anyway, this lunch started with a plate of Crispy Suckling Pig with Black Plum Puree, Pickled Cipollini and Sweet Bean. Really, really delicious.                                                       

slidersWe stopped in to Zola a couple of times for a drink and a bite. These are their Shrimp and Lobster Sliders from the bar menu. Very tasty. Zola’s next door to The International Spy Museum which we went to one day. Tons of memorabelia, information, background, interviews with former spies, etc. Slick, busy, more commercial than many DC museums, but a fun option for culture of a different kind.

banana split

This photo barely does justice to this delicious dessert at Central. A most perfect banana split. I already can’t wait to return to DC just to have that dessert again.

                                                                                             

houseIn the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden, this was my favorite: an optical illusion of a house created by Roy Lichtenstein, the perspective shifts visually as you move from side to side. 

Library of CongressOne of many photos I took in the Library of Congress. What a stunning interior, so much craftsmanship, beautiful materials, interesting stories to be told by the figures and designs. The ornateness of every detail–mosaics, columns, lighting, color, statues, inlaid stonework–it was nearly sensory overload. I could have spent another hour or two in there.

Lunch at Oyamel on our last day was a treat. I’ll definitely return oyamelhere for dinner sometime, particularly for a dose of that delicious-looking tableside guacamole they whip up. Here’s my “gaspacho estilo Morelia” which is a sort of chunky salad with jicama, mangoes, cucumber, jalapeno and orange. Wonderful.                            

Oh, there are so many more shots to share, bites to recount, museums and other experiences to regale you with. But I simply have to call it a night! There will be other travels, other meals, other adventures to share with you soon enough.

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Celebrating Experience

I rarely muster much enthusiasm for restaurant promotions. You know, restaurant-fests the likes of Dine Around Seattle (formerly “25 for $25”), Boston’s Restaurant Week, Dine Out Vancouver. I certainly covered Seattle’s restaurant promotions a lot while food editor at Seattle Magazine. I’m sure they’ve got legs as a means for restaurants to fill seats in low seasons and draw in new patrons who hopefully will return to dine at non-promo rates. But for me personally, I’m still relishing the novelty of dinner at home after those seven years of excessive dining out (Seattle Magazine coupled with being editor of the local Zagat guide). A bargain isn’t enough.

All that to set up this contradiction: a new restaurant promotion that did grab my attention. And it may make me book a few reservations to take part. It’s called Seasoned Seattle and shines the spotlight on restaurants that have been in business for twenty years or longer. In restaurant years, that’s what? maybe 45 or 50? definitely the sign of maturity and some deep local roots.

I’ve always leaned more toward the old than the new. Houses, book covercars, movies, music. In so many arenas, there is something about my personality that connects with and delights in the character that comes with age. I’m a happy camper in my 1956 house, driving an old Jetta, watching Cary Grant and listening to Frank Sinatra or Blossom Dearie. With my growing-more-charming-by-the-year husband by my side.

This attraction is no less true of restaurants. While of course I love to check out the latest-greatest dining spots to come on the scene, when I’m “off duty” and just dining out for pleasure, those aren’t necessarily the first choices on my list. I love returning to the favorite haunts in town, places where there’s history, context, a story to tell, a longtime relationship with their neighborhood and the community.

One of my favorite Seattle books is the one-of-a-kind You Can’t Eat Mount Rainier!, by Bill Speidel. It was published in 1955 and serves as what I believe to be the first restaurant guide ever written for Seattle. It was a time when Continental cuisine flourished in restaurants. Locals picked wild berries and tossed out crab pots for supper, but the idea of this region having a distinct “cuisine” that was worthy of restaurant tables hadn’t yet gelled. There were 53 restaurants included, each with a signature recipe ranging from Sukiyaki to Frikadellar (Danish Meatballs), Lobster Thermidor to Chicken Pot Pie. But a few regional items like Baked Fillet of Salmon and Dungeness Crab in Wine Sauce.

What I revel in about that book is that more than a few of those restaurants are still in operation.  We lost a couple in recent years, the Cloud Room and Andy’s Diner. Stalwarts include Alki Homestead, Bush Garden, Canlis, Ivar’s Acres of Clams, the Georgian Room (now just “The Georgian“). Those latter two are among the restaurants in this well-seasoned promotion happening in April. Others newer on the scene include Madison Park Cafe, Queen City Grill and 13 Coins.

I hope those of you in the Seattle area might make a point of visiting some of these older restaurants in town, during the promotion and beyond. New and hip is all fine and good. But how colorful and textured would life be if that was all we had to choose from? Don’t even get me started on the debate about the Manning’s restaurant site in Ballard. Or the fact that the Twin Teepees was torn down to become, essentially, a vacant lot. For every multi-use, condo-retail complex that goes up in town, I hope we can preserve at least one building, one restaurant, one link to our past that won’t go the way of the dodo.

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Rediscovering Tater Tots

“You gonna to eat your tots?” – Napoleon Dynamite

I tried making it through the movie Napoleon Dynamite a couple of times. I just never quite got it, the humor and the appeal of this indie flick. But in missing the point of ND, I clearly also missed something of a culinary resurgence that the movie seems to have helped launch: “tots.” The little nuggets of potato goodness were, apparently, a favorite food group in the movie.Tots

Once again, NPR set me up with the information I needed. I not only learned, driving around a few weeks ago, of the tots’ role in the movie. I learned a little food history (the nuggets of compressed potato bits was devised at Ore-Ida using trim from their French fry production) and that tater tots were making their way into the fine dining circuit. You can catch a clip from the film here, linked with a piece a couple years ago also on NPR about the Napoleon Dynamite Festival in Preston, Idaho (which includes a tater tot eating contest, natch).

This recent story particularly caught my attention because not a week earlier I’d been nibbling on a tater tot for the first time in many years. Not a Tater Tot® out of an Ore-Ida bag, instead a housemade version at Ten 01 in Portland. It was happy hour and I’d ordered their tots, embellished with bacon and shallot, to accompany my Alaska cocktail (gin with yellow chartreuse and a couple dashes of Regan’s Orange Bitters; wonderful). Unapologetically served with classic Heinz ketchup, those tots were outstanding.

I broke down and bought a bag of Ore-Ida tots last night and served them, a bit sheepishly, alongside the lamb stew and asparagus. It’s usually all-from-scratch around here. My husband didn’t miss a beat, “I’ve always liked tater tots,” he tells me. Guess I’ll have to pick up a bag now and then. They honestly are pretty tasty, especially with a few extra minutes in the oven to get perfectly brown-crisp on the outside, still tender on the inside. I suppose I could try to come up with my own homemade version. But sometimes, it’s good to stick with a classic.

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Today’s soundtrack: silence

I know, I know. That doesn’t sound at all earth-shattering. But around here it’s rather novel. I’ve got one of those busy-body brains that doesn’t do too well in pure quiet. There’s most always something playing in the background to keep me humming along through the day.

This morning began with the usual breakfast-time dose of Morning Edition on NPR. Then I loaded up the CD player with Broadway soundtracks. That, in itself, was an odd choice for workday fare. That’s more “Saturday afternoon cooking” music or, heaven forbid, housecleaning music. After making it through My Fair Lady and Sound of Music, I hit the pause button before going into a conference call late morning. And I never flipped it back into ‘play’ mode. How about that? An afternoon of me and my thoughts and the tapping of the keyboard. I didn’t go nuts, didn’t crawl out of my skin, didn’t start singing to myself. Who knew?

I’m sure I’ll load up the CD player again tomorrow. But maybe I’ll just kick the habit now and then. Perhaps there’s more to quiet than I’ve been giving it credit.

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Lunch at Home: Pizza

pizzaOk, I’m just going to come out and say this. I know that as a professional food writer, I’m supposedly above such cursed impulses and wanton indulgences. But I really like pizza. Of all kinds. Preferably delicious, wood-oven, Naples-esque pizzas (see my recounting of pizza in Naples here). But when no pizzaiolo is close at hand to craft me a perfect pizza and I sit starving at my desk, I will give in to an occasional call to Dominos or respizzapizzaort to a “gourmet” thin crust frozen pizza. That’s my truth for today.

 

Something else happened a week or so ago. I was in one of those grumbly moods, creeping up to noon, when despite a kitchen full of perfectly edible food I felt that I simply had nothing to eat. I was on the verge of dialing Mr. D when something occurred to me. I had flour and yeast (crust, check). I had some leftover marinated mozzarella balls pizzapizzafrom a weekend party, tomatpizzao sauce I’d made a week earlier that was in the freezer, a nubbin end of parmesan cheese and a jar of supremely delicious taggiasca olives from Ritrovo (toppings, check). I didn’t need to call Mr. D. I could make myself a pretty darn good pizza for lunch. And I did.

For the record, a batch of pizza dough made with 1 cup of flour proved ideal for a single pizza. I made it by hand on the counter, the Kitchenaid would be overkill this time. While the dough set about its magical rising, I gathered my topping ingredients, then returned to the desk to get some work done. I also pulled down the pizza stone, a must-have for decent crust results.

 

It took just a few minutes to roll out the dough, spread the sauce, scatter the toppings. On the preheated stone, my pizza cooked in just 10 minutes or so. Ah, delish. It was no Via Tribunali of course, but likewise miles better than any of those short-cut options. I don’t see myself making pizza for lunch all that often, but this first-time forray proved just how well I can eat midday with minimum fuss. And no phone call or guilty conscience required.

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In Print

A few things are starting to surface this week that I’ve worked on in recent months. It’s a funny thing about freelance writing. With the varied lag times between submission and publications, there can be a momentary surprise when something does show up in print.

First, I have a brief piece in the March issue of Coastal Living magazine about Northwest seafood, complete with three new recipes I developed for the article. You can check it out here.

And a few months back I was asked to contribute a recipe to an online project for National Geographic Traveler. Their feature on Seattle, as part of their “Places of a Lifetime” series, has now gone live. There is a whole slew of information for travelers to Seattle, walking tour itineraries, restaurants, Seattle-inspired movies and music,  shopping ideas, so on, with input from a number of locals.

You can check out my recipe here. I chose a favorite from my book Crab in the Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Series. This recipe roasts the crab in a very hot oven with fresh sprigs of rosemary, lemon slices, some garlic and dried chile peppers. It’s a very simple recipe with the most spectacular aroma and flavor. I’ve taught this recipe in a number of cooking classes and it always get raves.

Not available online but also in print this month is a piece I did for Horizon Air magazine about food and wine festivals in Sonoma County. It’s my second piece about Sonoma, the first I did for Alaska Airlines last year. What a wonderful region that is, I hope to get down there again this year and will have more to report sometime in the future.

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