Monthly Archives: October 2008

Michael Ableman Speaks in Everett

I just got a notice about a speaking engagement featuring Michael Ableman this Friday evening , which I highly recommend for anyone in the area who can make it. Michael Ableman is one of those people who can be a bit hard to describe, but farmer-activist-speaker-photographer-storyteller sums him up to a small degree. I’ve had occasion to hear him speak twice at conferences in the past decade-plus and he remains one of the most inspiring, moving, engaging speakers I have ever heard. His book From The Good Earth: A Celebration of Growing Food Around the World had just come out before the first time I heard him speak, way back in 1994! More books since then, and you can learn more about his background and his work here.

If you love good food, care about the future of farming, are passionate about sustainability and sometimes tire of the doom-and-gloom perspective on things, get thee to Everett Friday evening for this presentation, which is being put on by the Cascade Harvest Coalition. One thing I loved about Ableman’s approach is that he’s more about solutions, positive change, making a different, moving forward. We need more of that.

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My Own Private Yakima

This funny reflection came to mind as I was surveying my small backyard patio-garden a few weeks ago. As my eyes cast over one corner, where I have an espalier apple tree framed across the top by a trailing vine of golden hops, I realized it was a tiny little slice of the Yakima Valley in my Seattle back yard. For well over a century, apples have been an important crop in the Yakima Valley, to the east of the Cascade Mountains in south central Washington State. That’s something many people know. But what you may not know is that Washington state is one of the world’s top producers of hops–a key ingredient in beer production. This has also been an important crop in the valley for about as long as apples have. In fact, one of the only hop museums in the world, the American Hop Museum, is found in charming little Toppenish, Washington.

Now if I just transplant some of my rampant mint from the other side of the house, it would be the perfect Yakima trio of crops. (This time I’ll put it in a pot, though, I learned my lesson about planting mint directly in the ground!) Mint, too, is one of the lesser-know major crops of Washington state. In fact, the state is, and has been for a number of years, the top producer of peppermint and spearmint in the country (most of which is processed directly into oil and used for countless products). And not just lots of it, but very high quality too. I’m doing research on tea and spoke to a Northwest tea company who, in searching the globe to source ingredients, could find no better mint elsewhere than what grows in the Northwest.

This all brings to mind one of the coolest, most interesting and by far most aromatic research trips I ever took. It was a good five-plus years ago when I was invited by the Washington Brewer’s Guild (which has since formed the Washington Beer Commission) to join them on a field trip to Yakima Valley during hop harvest. Mike Hale, founder of Hale’s Ales, was the chauffeur, driving the group around in an old bus he owns. It was a glorious early September day, both hops and mint being harvested. With the bus’s windows down while traveling the small side roads of the valley, we’d have alternating doses of intense mint aroma and the phenomenal grassy-resiny smell of fresh hops. It puts me in a reverie again just thinking about it! And I think I’ll head to the back garden right now for my own hop harvest (which is perhaps a bit overdue) to make some of my own relaxing bed-time hop tea. Or mint tea. Or both. With a nice crisp apple alongside. Yakima, all the way.

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Beer Meets Birthday Cake

Not long after I got to help toast the 21st birthday of Rover’s restaurant, it was time to celebrate another birthday. My brother’s. He’s older than 21, that’s all I’m going to say. I crafted a dinner menu around one of his favorite food groups: beer. Make that top-quality, finely crafted beer, the likes of Northwest ales and Guinness. No six-packs-of-Bud for this aficionado.

I braised a big Misty Isle brisket with Pike Brewery Pale Ale, fresh bay leaves, lots of onions and root vegetables (turnips, rutabegas and carrots). Came out pretty deliciously, if I do say so. This is one of those preparations that almost doesn’t require a recipe. Doesn’t really matter if it’s 2 onions or 3, you can nix the root vegetables, you can use red wine or other complimentary liquid (beef broth, a blend of broth and wine, etc.) in place of beer. Season the meat well, brown both sides, then set the meat aside. Cook onions in the same pan (oh, almost forgot, lots of chopped garlic too) until they become partly tender and lightly browned. Return the meat, shift onions over and around the meat, then add a couple bottles of beer and a few lightly torn bay leaves. Cover loosely with foil, braise in the oven at 300 degrees for about 4 hours. Better to cook a bit longer and ensure tenderness than risk a still-tough brisket! I added the root veg in large chunks about halfway through.

But you’re here for the cake, I know that. I based my brother’s birthday cake on a recipe from The Best Places Northwest Desserts Cookbook that I wrote. The recipes are all from restaurants, inns, cafes, bakeries, etc. that were in the then-most-recent edition of the Best Places Northwest guidebook (this link is the current edition). It was a really fun project to work on, testing recipes that range from homestyle oatmeal cookies to a swellegant Grand Marnier Cake. This recipe, Black Bear Ginger Cake, came from the Manning Park Resort in Hope, B.C. Their recipe called for Black Bear Ale, from nearby Kamloops. In honor of my brother’s love of Guinness, I used it instead. This makes for a deeply flavored, moist, aromatic, delicious cake that (as a bonus) holds up well for a few days, still tender to snack on later in the week. I whipped up a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream as well, working in some Guinness just before tossing it in the freezer. Made for a great partner to this cake.


Black Bear Ginger Cake, Manning Park Resort, Hope, B.C.

from The Best Places Northwest Cookbook (Sasquatch Books, 2004)


1 cup Black Bear Ale or other dark beer or stout

1 cup molasses

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3 eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons powdered ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (I was out, so used allspice instead)

12 pieces candied ginger, roughly dime-sized


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9- by 13-inch baking dish.

Combine the beer and molasses in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Take the pan from the heat and sprinkle the baking soda over but do not stir; foam will rise in the pan (will it ever, be prepared!). Set aside to cool for about 15 minutes.

Whisk together the eggs, granulated, sugar, and brown sugar in a medium bowl until well blended. Whisk in the oil. Stir together the flour, powdered ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom in a large bowl.

Whisk the beer mixture into the egg mixture, then whisk this into the dry ingredients in 2 batches. Pour the batter into the baking dish and scatter the candied ginger evenly over the top. Bake until the top springs back when gently pressed, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 12 servings.


The recipe came with a caramel sauce to accompany but I just served this with the ice cream instead.

The terrible irony is that my brother ended up being sick for his own birthday party. But the cake had been made, the brisket braised…not to go to waste surely. We toasted him heartily throughout the evening and even sent a tiny video to wish him well. Happy Birthday, Big Brother!!

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Marcella Comes to Seattle

It’s so tempting to call Marcella Hazan the “Julia Child of Italy.” The temptation made that much easier because I know so much more about Julia Child’s life than I do about Marcella’s, which I imagine to be true for many other cooks in this country. Reading the New York Times Book Review this weekend taught me far more about her life than I’d known. For instance, like Julia, Marcella did not fall in love with cooking until later in life. “She grew up in a household with a mother and two grandmothers who were ace cooks yet remained a culinary novice,” the Timesreview explains. And again like Julia, her husband was a strong influencer who introduced her to the world of gastronomy and fine dining, Victor Hazan is woven inextricably into the culinary career and life of his wife.

(I can think of two areas where Julia and Marcella are clearly not alike. Julia was a non-native interpreter of French cuisine for the American home cook while Marcella came to the States with a lifelong connection to her native Italian cuisine. And I don’t think any Saturday Night Live cast member ever did a send-up of Marcella the way Dan Aykroyd did Julia!)

To help us all learn more about Marcella, from the early years when she just began to find her footing as a cooking teacher and cookbook author, we can now turn to Amarcord, her memoir being released this week. Amarcord, for those like me who didn’t already know, means “I remember” in the dialect of Emilio-Romagna in the north of Italy. (And it’s also the name of a Fellini film from the early 1970s.) Take a deep breath before reading the subtitle, “Marcella Remembers: The Remarkable Life Story of the Woman Who Started Out Teaching Science in a Small Town in Italy but Ended Up Teaching America How to Cook Italian.” Whew! Could have had a batch of gnocchi whipped up in that time.

She is, no doubt, the Grande Dame of la cucina italiana, I refer often to her The Classic Italian Cookbookwhen I want to get at the nuts and bolts of Italian techniques and traditional dishes.  I and others in the Seattle area have a chance to meet Marcella and Victor Tuesday October 14 at a gathering at’s brick-and-mortar home on Elliott Avenue. Tickets are available here, and readers of Mon Appétit get a special off of 20% off the ticket price! Just write “mon appetit” in the notes field when you get to the check-out page (they’ll apply the discount when processing the order). Space is limited, so don’t delay in getting a ticket.

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Filed under Cookbooks, Food Personalities

My Kind of Fast Food

When I left for La Varenne cooking school back in the summer of 1989, I thought I had a tidy 9 months ahead of me. But what already was clearly going to be a fascinating adventure became even more so when the excursion got extended a few different times and became 2 1/2 years of French bliss. I finished my degree as planned, but stayed on for new opportunities that presented themselves. It became something of a bohemian lifestyle, moving a lot, often back and forth between Paris and the northern Burgundy countryside where the school’s Château du Feÿ is located (and currently for sale, if you’re in the market for an amazing château property!). Even in Paris, I lived many different places: a spare room in a family apartment, a spare apartment in the La Varenne building, even on a friend’s couch in the Austrian Embassy for a week or two (he was the chef and I was between gigs).

By far my favorite spot, though, was the tiny apartment where I hung my chapeau for 6 or 8 months while working for Patricia Wells and still keeping my fingers in some La Varenne work (just prior to Anne Willan having begun the Look & Cook book series, which kept me in France for another year). The bed in this very small nook of an apartment, on Rue de Trois Frères just below the basilica Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, was on a platform raised above some of the living space. The kitchen so small I had an under-counter fridge and just 2 electric burners with which to cook. Did I mind? Not in the least. To have any Paris real estate to call my own was like heaven, and my windows looked out onto a backyard garden with a peek-a-boo view of the Eiffel Tower.

Needless to say, I did very little cooking in that kitchen. I became a quick

the fixings

the fixings

regular at the nondescript café Le Favorit on my block and took advantage of amazing to-go foods available at nearby markets. I did come up with one “signature dish,” however, inspired by this experience: chicken with endive. Now and then, on my way home from work, I’d buy half of a rotisserie chicken from a streetside vendor and pick up a few heads of Belgian endive. With just a skillet, a dab of butter and a few splashes of white wine, this became such a satisfying meal for such limited resources.

sauteing the endive

It was with that dose of nostalgia that I recreated the meal a week or two ago. I bought a whole rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and a bunch of endive, reliving for a moment the delicious simplicity of that slice of my life back in Paris. I halved the endive heads and cut out the core at the base of the leaves, which harbors bitter flavors.  Then halved each piece again into quarters. After heating a combo of butter and olive oil in a skillet, in goes the endive to saute for a bit. I don’t stir much, more just gently swirling the skillet and carefully turning the endive pieces; ideally I try to keep the portions together as much as I can. Though the random few leaves that separate? They’ll just caramelize a bit more and bring some extra, lovely flavor to the dish. It’s all good.

When the endive had started to soften and seemed about half cooked, I topped it with the portioned chicken. I drizzled a good 1/3 cup or so of dry vermouth into the pan, topped it loosely with a piece of foil and reduced the heat to low. Twenty minutes or so later, the endive will be tender, the chicken will be gently reheated and dinner will be ready to serve. If there’s liquid left in the skillet or the endive looks a bit pale, crank up the heat for a minute to polish things off.

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