Monthly Archives: April 2009

A Preview of the Julia Movie

Oh, you know. The Julia Child movie that’s been in the works for a while now. The one starring Meryl Streep as Julia? Based on that Julie & Julia blog/book? I’m not an ET watcher, but a friend just passed along this link to a preview from the show. On that same page there’s this link to the official trailer of the film, due to open early August. Nora Ephron wrote the screenplay based on that Julie & Julia book, but also incorporated the wonderful My Life in France to reflect Julia’s early years in the country that would change her life. It’s an interesting plot line, following two different real-life stories in some sort of cinematic tandem.

The idea of anyone playing Julia Child–aside from in an over-the-top context, which her bigger-than-life personality invited–just sounded like a losing prospect from the beginning. If there’s any actress out there with enough skill and talent to pull it off, surely Meryl Streep is about as good as it’s going to get. Still, I was highly skeptical. Of course the world is full of one-of-a-kind individuals. And some have translated admirably well to film bio-pics: Ben Kingsley in Ghandi, Jamie Foxx in Ray.

But Julia Child?

I don’t know if it has to do with the fact that she is one famous person I actually spent time with on more than a few occasions, including interviewing her at her Cambridge home for a magazine article. But she just struck me as a personage who would be harder-than-average for an actor to capture.

And certainly the jury is still out. But these few minutes of preview I’ve just seen bode pretty well for how deeply Ms. Streep took on Julia’s personality and mannerisms. I’m not sure sure how much I love (the amazing) Stanley Tucci as her husband Paul, but maybe I’ll be surprised. Now we just have to wait another few months to see how it all plays out on the big screen!


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Simple Pleasures: Coffee Ice Cream

It all started with a simple hankering I had on the way home one afternoon a month or so ago. In the corner of the parking lot of my local grocery is a Tully’s. Some handful of years ago they started selling (really quite tasty) soft-serve ice cream, in coffee and vanilla, or a swirl of both if you couldn’t decide. Not too big, quality ingredients, particularly tasty cones…it was the perfect snack that I indulged in only now and then. Clearly my last visit was a while ago, because the woman working the counter looked at me funny when I ordered a coffee cone. After a few moments she said, “oh, we only have chocolate and vanilla.”


I contacted Tully’s HQ and found it had been a company wide change last summer, the shift from coffee to chocolate (and chocolate nonfat frozen yogurt at that, geez!). He said they were considering ways to re-introduce coffee ice cream but nothing definite at this point.

Thus began my recent obsession with coffee ice cream. A few days later my husband showed up at the door–knowing of that recent disappointment–with not one but two different coffee ice creams for me. The love. He learned early in our college-days dating how much a weakness I have for ice cream. Still do.

One was a moshi version, balls of coffee ice cream wrapped in a distinctive rice-flour-and-sugar based chewy dough (this version of the dough coffee flavored as well) that envelops the ice cream. I’ve never cared for moshi and these really didn’t hit the spot too well.

What I did love was the Häagen-Dazs he brought. Not just the everyday coffee, but coffee that’s part of their new “five” line. These are ice creams made with only five ingredients. All of them share the same four as a base: milk, cream, sugar and egg yolks. Add ginger or mint or cocoa or coffee, and you’ve got a deliciously pure and simple treat. Yummy. This was a very satisfying bowl of coffee ice cream.

It was right about this time that I read an article in the Times previewing a new line of Starbucks ice creamsbeing rolled out this month. A day later (before I realized they weren’t due to be in stores yet),  I was at the customer service counter at Thriftway asking if they were ordering it yet. I jumped thecoffeeicecream1gun, but have since had a chance to taste one of the flavors, Java Chip Frappuccino, coffee ice cream with dark chocolate chunks. Really delicious. The flavor isn’t just a single-tone “coffee” element but has some of the deeper complexity you find in a rich cup of coffee. I’ll get to the three other flavors in due course: Caramel Macchiato (coffee and vanilla ice creams with swirls of caramel), Mocha Frappuccini (coffee and chocolate ice creams swirled together) and pure-and-simple Coffee (coffee and espresso ice creams swirled together).

So Tully’s may have initially let me down with the shift in what comes from their soft-serve dispenser. But thankfully that hankering can now be satisfied by a slew of new indulgences in the world of coffee ice cream.

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Summer Camp for Foodies

I always loved summer camp as a kid. For many summers my folks dropped me off at Camp Killoquah north of Everett for a week of canoeing, swimming, archery, making sand candles, singing camp songs. I can’t remember much about what I did last month, or the name of someone I met at a meeting last week, but I can remember those darn camp songs. Why is that?

The food? Well, not much sticks with me about the food. Aside from one delicious recollection. Some mornings we’d build a camp fire (we were Camp Fire girls, after all) and toast slices of bread on sticks held precariously over the flames. Then came the fun. A virtual smorgasbord of toppings we could add at will: peanut butter, jelly, chopped nuts, raisins, coconut, brown sugar, cinnamon sugar. Man, that was some amazing toast, I’ve thought about it more than a few times over the years. But never had the nerve to try recreating it. Maybe one of these days.

Short of going back to relive the bug bites and lumpy cots, the early reveille and KP duty — there’s a better option for us grown-ups to enjoy a taste of summer camp right here in Seattle. Make that a surprising, delicious taste of summer camp. Summer camp, done up Tom Douglas style. Which means your breakfast might just be a bowl of pho made by Eric Banh from Monsoon, as was the case on the morning I joined Summer Camp last year.

Some of last year’s highlights included making breads and pizza at Serious Pie, learning cake decorating techniques, wine tasting challenges, a demo with Armandino Batali from Salumi and an outing to Pike Place Market followed by cooking together in the Palace Kitchen. Oh, and loads of demos by local chefs, such as John Sundstrom from Lark and and Mark Fuller from Spring Hill.

It’s a busy week, five full days. But the pacing’s great, lots of different things going on throughout the day, great conversations and interactions, the guests clearly having a lot of fun together, and intently interested in the subject at hand: great food and beverage, shared in a convivial and engaging setting. Think about going back to camp this summer. It’ll definitely be delicious. Maybe I’ll share that toast recipe with Tom, for old time’s sake.

I can’t promise that there are still spots available, they go QUICK, many guests from previous years jump right on board again. But they have added a second week this year, so it’s possible! To find out more, check out this link on their web site.

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On the Road: Vancouver and Whistler

Now that it’s actually springtime in Seattle (at least for another day or so), it’s hard to remember having been in the snow up in Whistler early last month. vantrain2But watching a rerun of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show on Vancouver a few days ago brought back to mind my great trip north early March.

As is my habit, I took the train up to BC. I haven’t driven to Vancouver (nor to Portland, for that matter) since Amtrak started the Cascades service along this corridor. The really sleek Talgo cars used on the Vancouver route were out getting spiffed up in advance of the Olympics traffic early next year, so we rode on more traditional cars. But the route is the real star, gliding along the shoreline in many spots, only occasionally skirting I-5. vantrain1Once in Vancouver, my sister and I had about 30 minutes to kill before boarding a bus from the same station that took us to the center of Whistler. Easy-breezy.

We were lucky enough to be staying at the Four Seasons hotel there, a 2004 addition to the upper part of town at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. We had dinner reservations at the hotel’s Fifty Two 80 Bistro later that evening, but I couldn’t resist a trip to a favorite spot in town: Bearfoot Bistro.

I’ve had a few splendid meals at BB in years past, but the real highlight is its bearfoot11cool champagne bar. There’s a strip of solid ice that frames the bar area, with indentations where your foot-less champagne flute nestles perfectly to stay chilled between sips. We chose the Blue Mountain rosé sparkling wine from the Okanagan, a 2004 vintage that spend a few years on lees. It was the perfect partner for a sustaining bowl of truffled fries, with a decadent dish of truffle aïoli alongside. Oh my, what a perfect snack!

Dinner back at Fifty Two 80 was a delight. What’s not to love about a salad course that includes lobster, shrimp, truffles, avocado, tomatoes…all under a heap of fried thin slivers of leek? Nothing! It was wonderful. whistler6Barb had a generous salad of grilled vegetables. For my main, I went with the night’s special: venison with crosnes, wild mushrooms and a fig-blueberry jus. Delicious. I love crosnes, which remind me–in flavor at least–a bit of Jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes. Rarely see them on menus, so I may likely order a dish just for the side! My sister’s pasta was rich and creamy with cheese, and packed with wild mushrooms. We sampled a glass each of two other local wines: Laughing Stock Cabernet and Kettle Valley Merlot, both outstanding, lush, balanced.

I really love the feel of the spacious room, it’s very relaxed, cosy, stylish in a low-key and slightly retro fashion. The fireplace in the dining room is accented with small colorful tiles, the club chairs in the lounge area an whistler2endlessly inviting spot to linger over cocktails and snacks, visit with friends, warm up after a day on the slopes (or walking around town).

Alas, time in Whistler was brief. One night, just a few hours the next morning to enjoy the hotel (a dip in the outdoor pool, a little steam and sauna time, blissful!), have some breakfast and do a little shopping in town. Back on the bus for another gorgeous trip on the Sea to Sky highway whistler4between Vancouver and Whistler. It’s had a lot of work since my last trip up that way, but they’re still blasting and widening and working on that roadway that will carry so many folks to some of the key Olympics venues early next year.

Vancouver had us at the sister Four Seasons property of our Whistler stay. This is a great central downtown spot that has some rather unusual curb appeal–they did wonders dressing up the sitting area at street level, where the vehicle drive-thru is, but really you don’t see much of the hotel’s character and style until you’re well inside. They’ve put millions into the interior over recent years, though, and it’s definitely worth a visit.

The main restaurant, now called Yew, has been significantly revamped. I’m vanc1always charmed by large spaces, high ceilings, dramatic interiors. Yew has that, in spades. Dramatic art, natural light, lots of Northwesty touches in the colorscape and wood-and-stone accents. A great spot for a simple pint of local pale ale, or an all-out dinner celebration. Our meal that night was spectacular. This seafood sampler plate was a great start, which included an octopus salad, raw scallops with radishes, a tuna poke with olives, and lobster roll. On to luscious cauliflower soup with black cod brandade, smoked sablefish with pea puree, a breast of local duck for my main course. vanc3All outstanding dishes, full of flavor and local color.

Dessert was an embarrassment of riches, a sampling of what they might serve for a special 2010 menu they have on tap this year, leading up to the 2010 Olympics kicking off in February.  For $2010, you’ll be served a 5-course dinner for 10 in their cool glass-enclosed wine room at the center of the dining room. My favorite of the desserts we sampled was the salted chocolate mousse. Divine.

We hit town just a month or so after the new Shangri-la hotel opened. It’s a brand I wasn’t familiar with until recently, but anyone I know who’s traveled much to Asia clearly knows of the upscale hotel group. In fact, I was shang1surprised flipping through my copy of The New Yorker last month to see a full-page ad for the hotel, touting it as the first Shangri-la in North America. It cuts a striking pose in downtown Vancouver, standing 61 stories tall, the tallest building in Western Canada. The first 15 floors are hotel, the remainder residences (which, as I understand it, have been selling pretty well despite the economic times we’re in).

Luxury here translates into clean, sleek lines, simple but bold artwork, pretty understated all around. The lobby has a simple concierge desk and bell desk, but no registration. Most guests arrive by the underground drive, where a staff person greets them and they’re whisked up to their room where details of registration will play out. It may be a common practice for the super jet-shangdumpset types, but I’d only experienced that one other time: the Halekulani in Honolulu.

The hotel enlisted New York-based celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten for the restaurant. Market is, like the hotel, sleek and elegant, surprisingly busy on a Tuesday night, tables packed, a nice buzz about the place. The signature truffle pizza with fontina is reason enough to head to Vancouver, really decadent. We sampled a number of dishes from the menu, including Dungeness crab dumplings with Meyer lemon and celeriac tea (ethereal), rice cracker crusted tuna with citrus sriracha emulsion, a few other delights. And amazing desserts, not the least of which a caramelized banana tart with praline and a silky caramel ice cream. 

It seems a bit as though all we did was eat and drink during the trip. And vanc7there are a couple other meals I want to quickly add as well. Lunch at Rangoli, the newer, more casual, sibling alongside celebrated Vij’s restaurant. We walked here after tooling around Granville Island for a while one morning. A marvelous, filling, flavorful lunch. And we joined some Vancouver friends at Fraîche high on the hillside of North Vancouver for a really fun and tasty dinner one night, marking the first anniversary of this popular restaurant. Chef-owner Wayne Martin had been chef at the Four Seasons Vancouver for a while before opening first Crave on Main, now this fun spot. It was nice to get out of downtown for a bit and join the locals!

vanc8I’m excited for Vancouver and Whistler that they’ll be the home of the world’s beloved Olympic tradition come winter next year. I’m even more thrilled that it’s a few hours away from my hometown and will likely have just minor peripheral impact. I can’t imagine living in a city while it hosts such a monster of an event. But the Olympic buzz sure is building, as this clock in front of the art museum counts its way down.

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Kitchen Tips: Coring and Seeding Peppers

This is a simple little technique that I picked up somewhere in the course of my culinary development a couple of decades ago. I have a feeling it morphed out of having had that peler à vif  technique drummed into us at cooking school (a technique I use pretty often, as it happens). That link’s in French but you easily get the idea. The one thing the video doesn’t show is taking out the individual orange sections. Just slide the knife blade between the flesh and membrane of one section, and again on the other side of the same section, so that the little wedge of orange flesh just slips right out. Work over a bowl to catch the section, and the juice. Keep going around the orange in the same fashion, folding back the membrane flaps like the page of a book to keep them out of the way. A great addition to a salad, maybe with spiced chile1walnuts and blue cheese? And the orange juice can be used in the vinaigrette as well. Delish.

So, back to this chile version of the technique. Adapted to bell peppers and other chiles, it works pretty well,  though with the reverse goal. On the citrus fruits, the idea’s to get at the pure core of the fruit without any peel or pith. For the chile family, it makes quick work of removing the crisp, delicious outer flesh, so the core and seeds remain intact for easy chile2disposal.

Simply use a small, sharp knife to cut away a strip of flesh from the core end to the tip. Depending on the shape of the chile, you may need to make the cut at a slight outward curve–rather than straight down–to avoid the bundle of seeds attached to the core. (This is particularly true with rounder bell peppers. My sample chile here is a red jalapeño.)

Turn the chile a bit, and repeat a few more times until you’re left with the chile3stem/core/seed portion and strips of flesh ready to use.

I also use this technique on tomatoes, for recipes where the goal is tidy strips or dice of tomato without extraneous seeds and pulp. If you have a batch of tomato sauce or a stew in your near future, you can always save the tomato pulp for that.


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On the Road: Denver Highlights

Still in a bit of a fog following a very full week in Denver last week for the IACP conference. Much as we have opportunities to get out on the town for meals and excursions, cocktails and random breaks — it never really feels like I’m able to do justice to a city when passing through for a conference.

It’s the nature of the exercise, I suppose. The time we spend together at the keynote presentations (with luminaries this year the likes of Dan Barber, Mas Masumoto, Michel Nichan, Kim Jordan…and Lynne Rosetto Kasper and Kim Severson served as amazing moderators), workshops and formal denvchic1events are the core of what give us the opportunity to interact and network, catch up with friends and learn together new skills and information to help us in our careers. I can always return to Denver to visit the Denver Art Museum (our opening reception was there but I didn’t make it around to see much of the artwork) and walk the Cherry Creek path.

denvchic2So here are some highlight of what I was able to see/do/taste while in town.

I took a wonderful day-long excursion to Chico Basin Ranch, an 87,000 acre property that raises grass-fed beef. One of the state’s largest historical ranches (herds of cattle have been grazing here since the late 1800s), they do things the old fashioned way on this property. Not only do they raise their cattle on natural grasses (the animals never see a feedlot nor are ever fed grain), ranch manager Duke Phillips and his crew also travel on horseback to do the day’s work. No jumping in a jeep or SUV to cover the 5 or 6 miles to where the herd is. Guests can join them for a week of working the ranch and living that timeless western lifestyle. “But this isn’t a dude ranch,” Duke was quick to point out. No 3-star meals or afternoon hot-denvchic3stone massages. But the picnic we had of the ranch’s grass-fed beef–in burger form, cooked over cottonwood coals–was amazing.

Denver’s restaurants definitely didn’t disappoint. I was solo the first evening, and walked from my downtown hotel to Fruition restaurant, in a residential  area that apparently touches three neighborhoods: Cherry Creek, Capitol Hill and Cheeseman Park. I loved the simplicity of the interior, the rich colors, the casual style of the place. It’s clearly a locals spot: a couple celebrating the wife’s birthday, friends meeting denvfruitover dinner, maybe even a first date or two. Though not as bustling as Restaurant Zoë tends to be, Fruition reminded me of that neighborhood bistro in Seattle that I so adore. Dinner began with the house salad: watercress, grilled asparagus, red onion, avocado and crispy shallots (what’s not delicious with avocado and crispy shallots?).  For my main, I was enchanted by the brussels sprout-sweetbread accompaniment to the beef culotte steak, but am kind of kicking myself for not ordering the Colorado lamb with boulangere potatoes and blood orange salad. And the rabbit pot pie sounded a bit too rich that evening. Next trip!! I suggested those dishes to colleagues visiting Fruition later in the week and all raved.

My next dinner out was with a big group at Duo restaurant. A quick cab ride into the Highland neighborhood, and we’re walking into this cool open space with rustic brick walls and old windows hanging as arty dividers. We snacked denvduo1on their salmon and smoked trout tartare, fried baby artichokes with lemon aïoli and arugula salad with shaved fennel, fava beans and mint — all delicious. And it could have been dinner. It was late and we were chatting about how easily appetizer-grazing could be dinner that night. But soon as the entrées arrived, we dug in with gusto anyway. Being from Seattle, I didn’t order the night’s special: wild Alaska halibut with herbed aïoli. This dish was the perfect snapshot of spring, served on a bed of braised seasonal vegetables (radish, carrot, baby onions, peas, fingerlings). The herb aïoli was so delicious–like a ramped-up béarnaise–we asked for a couple small side dishes of it to slather on everything we were eating. I opted for the lamb T-bone served with farro and baby artichoke pilaf, outstanding too.

Let’s see. The next evening, four of us went out to Root Down, one of the newer kids on the block, open just four months. But the very hip, very local spot still garnered one of the slots at the conference’s opening reception, denvroot1where their beet flan and the carrot-red curry soup had lots of us talking. It was great to go to the source to try as many other dishes as we could manage. The room was a total buzz, lots of youthful vitality. And while IACP members seem to take over most of the great restaurants when we’re in town for a conference, we didn’t notice any of our colleagues at RD that night, so felt a bit like we were in on a locals’ secret! Sharing all around, we ordered the winter panzanella (carrots, parsnips, arugula, frisee, goat cheese…yum), rice crispy calamari with fried lemons and tomato-chile salsa (so tasty), buffalo sliders with shiitake relish (very good) and a big fat pork chop with cheddar polenta and fennel-tomato sofrito. Every bite was flavorful and so satisfying. Our only disappointment was that they didn’t have the banana crème brûlée pie available that night. (Yet another reason to return to Denver.) We made do with housemade ice cream, peanut butter and banana flavors (the latter a bit bland).

Wow, quite a week of wonderful dining. Rioja was next on the list, my last out in Denver. They also were part of the conference’s opening, where I (and denvrioja1many others) swooned over the arugula ravioli with (I believe) a walnut-cream sauce. Pasta was the highlight of my dinner at Rioja on Friday, the tortelloni filled with artichoke-goat cheese mousse, in an artichoke broth, topped with fried artichoke slivers, queso de mano cheese and truffle oil…? Wow. Other dishes were good, interesting, but didn’t stand out as quite as distinctive as items sampled at other restaurants of the week.

The days were too long to squeeze in too many nightcaps before crashing in bed (with hopes of getting at least 4 or 5 hours of sleep). But one intrepid pal and I capped off Friday with a visit to the nearby historic Oxford Hotel and denvoxhoteltheir cool deco bar, The Cruise Room. That’s “cruise” as in cruise ship, I understand the long slender bar was designed to appear as if it might be aboard the Queen Mary. Mellow, sexy, arty, timeless, it was a great spot to toast the near-end of conference week.

The grand finale of the week was the IACP awards gala on Saturday. I was thrilled to see friends with nominations, including Puff by Martha  Holmberg (more on that later….I’m going to see if I remember how to make puff pastry from cooking school!) and Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes by Jennifer McLagan (which won its category, beating out Thomas Keller and Jacques Torres — go Jennifer!!). You can check out both the finalists and the winners here. What a week. But it’s great to be home.

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