Monthly Archives: April 2010

Worth a Thousand Words: Colors of Spring

I may be a writer by trade, making my living hooking up words. But there are times that I can’t help myself, falling back on the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. So I’m going to play that card today and share with you some snaps from the Easter drive my husband and I took to the Skagit Valley. I sat there over our delightful, simple brunch made from that morning’s farmers market haul–frittata with sorrel and Samish Bay Ladysmith cheese–and was talking myself out of the drive. It sounded like a good idea a week earlier, “hey, let’s go check out the tulip fields!” But that morning I could only think about the workload looming. It sounded so frivolous to run off for a few hours when I could instead be clearing up my desk, catching up on emails, prepping myself for what I knew was going to be a particularly crazy work week.

In my wishy-washy state, I asked my husband, “what do you think, should we go?”

“Yeah, I do.” So we did. And I’m so glad for it. At least I was after we got out of the sluggish I-5 traffic.

Fresh air. Bright breezes. Stunningly beautiful colors. From a short distance, looking across the field you see only the melding of the tulip heads, looking every bit like a solid carpet of color. Breathtaking. We walked around the full perimeter of the RoozenGaarde field we were at (they have a few locations in the area); most visitors were taking the shorter first loop available. Their loss! Strolling. Taking pictures. Holding on to our hats. Talking and breathing and forgetting the cares sitting back in my office. It’s just what I needed on a blustery Easter day.

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Filed under excursions, garden, Northwest treasures

Microwave, Schmicrowave

I FINALLY bought my first microwave.

Nah.

Just kidding.

April Fool’s!! A day late.

I’ve never had a microwave. And I plan to live the rest of a full and satisfying life without ever owning a microwave. This week’s piece in the Wall Street Journal about microwave manufacturer’s trying to breathe some new life into the ubiquitous appliance only renews my feeling that I’m making the right choice.

I’m not old enough to remember when the first microwave oven was released (apparently first developed in 1947, home versions started hitting stores by the mid 1960s). But I am old enough to recall the plethora of microwave cookbooks that came out throughout the 1980s. Never did any of that hoopla make me in the least bit anxious that my family should get a microwave (we never did in the family home, I think everyone but me has one now). I was excited about cooking back then, very much so. But I was excited about making food from scratch, creating doughs, simmering stocks to make onion soup, dipping beautiful vegetables in batter and frying them for tempura, making sauces for beef fondue. Nothing about the microwave excited me as I was discovering cooking. And nothing about it has ever excited me in the days since then.

Yes, yes, yes. I hear across the web-o-sphere, “but you can melt butter so quickly!” “coffee reheats like a dream!” “What about leftovers?!?!” “Did ya know it will soften ice cream?” I’ve heard those arguments a thousand times.

1. I have small pans I put on the stove in which to melt butter nearly as quickly. Very old-school but works like a dream.

2. Who the hell wants reheated coffee? I make mine one cup at a time and it’s delicious. (Also no coffee maker in this house, just a simple cone filter and ground-to-order coffee beans. Wouldn’t want it any other way.)

3. I have a wonderful small pyrex lidded baking dish that’s ideal for heating leftover pasta, curry, enchilada, whatever came home with me from the restaurant the night before. I pop it in the oven, go work for 15 more minutes and it’s hot and ready to go.

4. Take ice cream from freezer and set on kitchen counter. Go watch 7 or 8 minutes of Damages or Dexter or M*A*S*H reruns and then the ice cream will be perfect for scooping.

While I was editor of Simply Seafood magazine, we did run a few feature articles about cooking fish in the microwave. The less dense texture, often smaller pieces/thin fillets and other magical characteristics of seafood do seem to make it one of the better selections when it comes to cooking raw proteins on the microwave. But even that never persuaded me since fish is, for those same reasons, incredible quick to cook in a skillet or 400 degree oven. For 2 or 3 minutes’ saving of time, I’m going to get a microwave oven? Kind of ironic, but in most other facets of my life the last thing I am is patient. When it comes to cooking, however, I feel the time invested is time well spent. And we’re talking minutes, not hours. I just don’t get it!

I found it kind of funny to read that a new development in the microwave world is adding steam, “aimed at people who are in the market for an oven with special features but not necessarily a microwave.”  See?? Even the manufacturers are realizing the limitations of the box of waves that go micro. I think of the microwave as a wholly unnecessary use of kitchen real estate, and much as folks have tried to convince me otherwise, I’m pretty strong in that conviction.

Just a week or so ago, a friend told me–after having read through many of the recipes in my new book–that I really needed to get a microwave because some of the tasks in the book could have been done in a microwave. To which my answer was (a) “no, nuh-uh, no way” and (b) if a microwave owner reads my description of putting chopped chocolate in a medium bowl and setting it over a pan of warm water to melt and thinks “duh, I can do that in the microwave” more power to them!! Happy if they find ways to use the microbox to shave a minute off the prep time. But I’m not going to be the one to tell them how to do that. It’s a shortcoming of mine as a food writer and I’m willing to accept that.

It does pain me to read that this past year there was a nearly 10% jump in the number of meals “prepared” (I think they mean “opened the box and heated”) using a microwave oven last year. The first sizeable jump in decades, they say. Is anyone really prepared to consider this “cooking”? I–for a second–was willing to concede that if a microwave oven got someone interested in cooking to the degree that it set the stage for them to pull out a skillet or bake something in an old-fashioned oven now and then…well that there was something to getting people to “cook” in whatever form it takes. But I’m not sure the microwave is a gateway to home-cooked meals from scratch. Am I out of line thinking that way? Does the average microwave user nuke burritos for dinner one night and make chicken and dumplings from scratch the next? Is it a crutch just used now and then, rather than a means to the end of most meals in the house?

But I was likewise surprised to read that only “93% of households have a microwave oven.” I’d have thought it much closer to 100%, given the plethora of products being created just with the microwave oven in mind. (Oddly, I just realized that this household has 3 Easy Bake ovens…. and no microwave. An anomaly in many ways.)

Oh, and about that new steam capability for the microwave oven…. Wait until I tell you about the bamboo steamer baskets you can buy for less than ten bucks.

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