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When Paris came to Seattle, or on carrot-fennel soup

Some days, everything just falls into place. Seattle has been sunny and warm and at least temporarily spring-like; I managed to twist and cajole my hair into a messy-chic ballerina-meets-French-frump bun that stayed in place—no drooping!—for over seven hours; and, thanks to divine intervention and local farmers, I bought two brimming basketfuls of organic strawberries and still have money left over to pay rent. It really doesn't get any better than that—unless, of course, the whole scene takes place in Paris. It’s downright bliss all around, and especially the fantastic hair. Enjoying these things isn’t easy, however; it takes work, or rather, it takes leaving work early.

The story begins a few mornings ago, when I found myself sitting in my office, distractedly watching the angle of the sun shift on the building across the alley from my window. By two in the afternoon, it was unbearable: I was suffering indoors while a spectacular day hovered just out of reach on the other side of the windowpane. But rather than continue to needlessly moan and mourn, I put down my red proofreading pencil and traded the carpeted hallway of the office for the concrete of the sidewalk. A few blocks away at Pike Place Market, I found that I wasn’t the only one: we were a crowd full of shirkers. And with good reason: at the produce stands, tables were lined with berries and ramps and frilly-topped carrots, and pale green bulbs of fennel leaned invitingly out of wooden crates. As I stopped to admire them, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find an unfamiliar woman standing next to me.

“Where is the Metro?” she asked, staring at me from behind dark sunglasses.

“You mean the Metro buses?” I replied, trying to remember if I’d ever heard anyone call the local public transportation system by its official name.

“No, the Métro, may-TRO,” she said, carefully enunciating through what I now recognized as a distinctly French accent. She made a downward zooming motion with her hand, as if to imitate a train going underground, and looked at me quizzically.

“Oh, the Métro? The subway? Seattle doesn’t have a subway. But you can catch a bus on Third Avenue,” I explained, gesturing up the hill. She turned from me and started away, and I returned to the piles of produce, wondering at our surreal exchange. Lo and behold, Paris had come to Pike Place.

Looking at the fennel bulb under my hand, I remembered the morning that I came to France last June, when I opened the door to my short-term rental, threw my bags down gleefully on the bed, and ran back outside to the Sunday market—a French version, if you will, of the one I found myself standing in now. That morning, I snatched up the makings for a modest early-summer feast—red-skinned apricots, a ripe wedge or two of cheese, and the ingredients for my favorite carrot-fennel soup—and came home to lunch in my little studio, with its tiny hallway kitchen, sunny terrace, and kitschy garden gnome in the grass. And this Seattle afternoon ten months later, I decided that it was only fitting to cap my superlative day with a celebratory carrot-fennel nod to Paris—who, after all, had come a great distance to find me.

Indeed, some days, everything just falls into place. So I came home to my familiar long-term rental with its not-so-tiny kitchen, sunny catwalk balcony, and kitschy garden gnome on the railing; threw my grocery bag down gleefully on the counter; and ran for the stockpot.

Carrot-Fennel Soup
Adapted from Amanda Hesser in The New York Times Magazine, and, I think, Cooking for Mr. Latte

This light soup strikes a perfect balance between the delicate springtime flavors of young carrots and fennel. Be sure to choose carrots that are sweet and worthy of being eaten on their own; if you make this soup with tired, winter-weary ones, you’ll be sorry.

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced; fronds reserved and chopped
1 ½ lbs. carrots, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4-5 cups vegetable broth (I used Imagine brand)
¾ tsp. salt, or to taste
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 Tbsp. crème fraîche, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy saucepan, warm oil over medium heat. Add the fennel slices, and cook, stirring, until softened. Add the carrots and garlic, and cook for another minute or two. Pour in 4 cups vegetable broth (if, after puréeing, you feel that the soup is too thick, you can add the final cup, but it’s better to err on the side of adding too little at first), and season with salt. Simmer, covered, until the carrots and fennel are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat, and stir in the orange juice and reserved fennel fronds. If you have an immersion blender, purée the soup directly in the pot; otherwise, transfer it in batches to a food processor or blender, puréeing until smooth. Stir in the crème fraîche. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve warm.

(Recipe updated March 20, 2007.)


Sugar High Friday, or Long-Distance Ginger-Molasses Cookies for Kate

More often than not, Orangette is just a fancy cover for what might be more appropriately titled “The Molly-and-Her-Friends Show,” or “What We Ate, How Ridiculous We Were, and How Much We Adore Each Other Because of and/or Despite Our Ridiculousness.” Lately, however, it’s been a little quieter than usual around here. A principal cast member is missing, and that would be Kate—she of the pointy red heels, long-distance bike rides, winning-hearts-and-minds cakes, broken French, early-morning bread-baking, gin and tonics on the 18th floor, mussels with crabs, and the vacuum cleaner with a hip-hop low-ride shag setting.

About three weeks ago, Kate packed up nearly all of her worldly possessions and jetted off to India on a six-week business trip. When not slaving away, she’s petting elephants outside her hotel (“They are so leathery and sweet and misty-eyed and hUGE!”) and pounding the pavement in her practical but less chic Easy Spirit heels. She’s having coffee in a “pre-independence coffee shop—beautiful wood, leather, simple tables, white long apron on lanky legs and dust swirling in the sun—with dusty clientele sipping their excellent coffee and milk, discussing politics and religion for hours.” And she’s running in a park that’s “beautiful and enormous, with trees dropping pools of flowers that perfume everything and make it look as though brightly colored light is pouring up through the ground at the base of each tree.” Now, certainly, all of this is very nice, and it’s lovely to live vicariously through her letters. But really, it’s not okay.

There’s no one, for instance, to make sure that I’m getting my weekly quota of whipped cream, and there is no vacuum to borrow, low-ride or otherwise. Though Kate left me with custody of her Otis Redding CD and the remains of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, cocktail hour is somehow lacking. And my visits to Victrola Coffee—where we’ve been known to stage riots if the outrageously delicious Macrina ginger-molasses cookies are sold out—are much less gossipy, much more productive, and no fun at all. If this continues, you may soon find “The Molly-and-Her-Friends Show” shelved with the dramas, rather than the comedies. I may also get very skinny and very sober.

But you know me better than that. Rather than mope and starve, I bake. Last Monday, in honor of Kate’s 26th birthday, I gave myself The Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook, which happens to hold within its very pretty covers the recipe for our coveted cookies. That night, there was no drama and there were no riots, and instead there were gin and tonics and ginger-molasses cookies—dark and spicy, cakey and buttery, with a crisp, sugar-coated edge.

Though perhaps better dipped in milk than in Bombay (Sapphire), they filled my apartment with a perfume strong, delicious, and exotic enough to, I’m sure, be confused with that of the loveliest flowering tree in a park in Bangalore. Soon, Kate can tell me for herself.
Happy (belated) birthday, ma petite!

Ginger-Molasses Cookies
Adapted from Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook: Favorite Breads, Pastries, Sweets & Savories

When I e-mailed Kate to tell her that I’d bought this cookbook, she replied, “Jesus, you're adorable. I’m going to have to take a week off and lock myself indoors with it.” And with good reason: Macrina Bakery produces some of the most delicious cookies, crostatas, and breads (especially challah and baguettes) in the city. These cookies may look down-home, but with a kick of pungent molasses and piquant ginger, they’re really very sophisticated.

2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
½ cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature (preferably a non-trans-fat brand such as Spectrum)
6 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups light brown sugar (I used muscovado for its extra perfumey-ness)
2 eggs
2 tsp peeled and grated ginger
1/3 cup molasses
½ cup granulated sugar (I used unrefined cane sugar)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground cloves, and salt, and mix with a whisk to evenly blend. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl and with electric beaters, cream the shortening, butter, and brown sugar until smooth and pale in color. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the ginger and molasses, and mix to blend well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

Using a rubber spatula, fold half of the flour mixture into the wet mixture. After the first half is incorporated, add the remaining flour, and continue folding gently until all of the flour has been absorbed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. [At this point, the dough can hold for up to 4 days.]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone liner. Pour the granulated sugar into a pie pan or shallow bowl.

When the dough is solid and cool enough to handle without horrible sticking, scoop it out of the bowl and roll it into balls a scant 2 inches in diameter. Toss each of the balls gently in the sugar, and then place them on the baking sheet (you should be able to fit eight on a single sheet), leaving 3 inches between each ball. Bake cookies on the center rack of the oven for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown and slightly puffed. Let cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes before transferring to a rack. Repeat with two more sheets of cookies.

Yield: About 22 cookies.


9 am Sunday: bubbling oil and beignets

After a few weeks’ hiatus, it’s high time that I recommitted myself to what has clearly become the celestial purpose of Orangette: making Jimmy famous. He may be the gay husband of my former employer Rebecca, but he’s also much more, and that’s where I come in. My commitment to Jimmy is truly the highest of callings, a fanatical devotion to a church where a choir of deep-fryers sing sweetly from the altar. On the seventh day, some rest and some go to Sunday school, but I go to Jimmy’s. And then I write about it.

This week’s episode began with a rather enthusiastic e-mail from the man himself. He’d been on a mission, he explained, to replicate New Orleans’s classic Café du Monde beignets. He’d done an experimental batch on Tuesday and had another planned for Friday afternoon, and by Sunday, Jimmy promised (and I quote), there would be “powdered sugar flying everywhere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” If there’s a more compelling cause for using sixteen exclamation points, I’ve yet to hear of it.

So I arrived chez Jimmy at 9 am to find Rebecca doing her nails on the couch—Jimmy generously allows her to keep a small chest, full of lotions and potions and polishes, on his coffee table—and Jimmy in the kitchen, slowly heating a small cauldron of oil. After the requisite Rebecca-style greeting of hugs, stroking of my off-white cashmere capelet (already on its way out, I know), and wondrously off-color remarks about my untended cuticles, I joined Jimmy next to the stove.

“I think we may have done it this time,” he said, carefully pulling back a dishtowel to reveal dozens of triangles of dough on the countertop. I poked one with my index finger. It felt light and springy to the touch, like a very small down pillow. This morning’s recipe was the first he’d found that called for proofing the yeast with warm water and sugar; previous methods had called, somewhat illogically, for the yeast to be added dry to the flour. The results had been delicious, he explained, but they’d lacked a certain airiness, a balloon-like quality that is the mark of a true French Market beignet. There was only one way to find out how this morning’s proofed variety would perform, however, and that was to start frying.

In matters of fat, Jimmy is clearly blessed. This morning he was a vision of apron-clad serenity, tongs in hand before the bubbling font. The burner of the stove, splattered with droplets of oil that glimmered under the light, glowed like a fallen halo. And most importantly, the dough began to puff divinely.

The first batch, as one might expect, was Rebecca’s,

which allowed me the opportunity to watch and learn proper beignet-eating technique. And as luck would have it, not only is Rebecca a remarkably talented Pilates instructor, but she’s also gifted in the art of beignet consumption. Proper beignets are dusted with a thick blanket of powdered sugar, and, as she explained, in order to avoid the dreaded “white beard of shame” one must lean forward at a hard forty-five-degree angle while eating, preferably with a bowl under the chin. Understandably confident in her beard-avoidance skills, Rebecca wasted no time in letting loose with her usual cry: “Jimmy, there’s not enough sugar! There’s a naked corner here! Jimmy! More sugar!”

I adore this woman—even though she, when my bowlful of beignets was ready, made me laugh in mid-bite and thus forced a white sprinkling of shame down my pant leg.

But then again, when you’re dealing with something as heavenly as Jimmy’s beignets,

the concept of shame is pretty unfathomable. Some say that cleanliness is next to godliness, but I’ll take a hol(e)y beignet and sugar-coated legs instead. Sixteen exclamation points indeed. I hear that Jimmy is next in line for the papacy.

Seattle-Is-the-New-New-Orleans Beignets
Adapted from Chuck Taggart’s The Gumbo Pages

As long as you’re not afraid of a lot of hot oil, these aren’t terribly difficult to make at home. As Chuck says, “The yeast dough must be prepared in advance and refrigerated overnight. . . .For home preparation, the dough works better in the large quantity given here, enough for about [4] dozen beignets. Don’t worry, though…the dough keeps well under refrigeration for about a week. Just cut off some dough when you want to make beignets—roll it out, cut it up, and fry for about 3 minutes per batch. . . .Or just invite enough people over to eat all [4] dozen.”

1 package active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water (100-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground nutmeg
¼ cup vegetable shortening (non-hydrogenated, if possible)
Vegetable oil, for frying (Jimmy chose Crisco brand oil)
Tons of powdered sugar, for dusting

Put the warm water into a large bowl (Jimmy did this and all subsequent mixing steps in the bowl of his KitchenAid stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook), and sprinkle in the yeast and a couple teaspoonfuls of the sugar. Stir until dissolved; then let rest for 10 minutes or so. Add the rest of the sugar, the salt, the eggs, and the evaporated milk. Gradually stir (or mix) in 4 cups of flour and the nutmeg, and beat with a wooden spoon (or dough hook) until smooth and thoroughly blended. Beat in the shortening, and then add the remaining flour, about 1/3 cup at a time, beating until it becomes too stiff to stir, and then working the rest in with your hands. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Roll the dough out onto a floured board to a thickness of 1/3 inch. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the dough into triangles measuring roughly 2 x 2 x 3 inches.

Pour the oil to a depth of roughly 4 inches in a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven. Heat the oil to 360 degrees Fahrenheit, and fry the beignets 3 at a time until they are puffed and golden on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per batch. Turn them over in the oil with tongs once or twice to get them evenly brown, since they rise to the surface of the oil as soon as they begin to puff. From batch to batch, try to make sure to try to keep the oil as close to 360 degrees as possible; if necessary, allow a few minutes between batches for the oil to reheat to the proper temperature. Drain each batch for a minute or two on a platter lined with several layers of paper towels, and then dust heavily with powdered sugar. Serve three beignets per person—at least for the first round.


On sharing and sugar, with a lot of banana cake

Like so many others who love the warmth of the stove, I once thought that I wanted to be a chef. One of my half-brothers had gone to cooking school, so it seemed only natural. Never mind the fact that said half-brother does the least amount of cooking of anyone in our family; chefdom was clearly in my blood. To test my reasoning, I took an internship one summer at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, the city’s oldest, most well-known vegetarian restaurant and the birthplace of several celebrated cookbooks. I knew next to nothing about restaurant kitchens, much less that I would be told to “fire” this or that, slice onions as “thin as an angel’s eyelash,” or distinguish among three different types of Champagne vinegar. Suffice it to say that though I was only there two days a week for a month or two, I learned more than I’d ever expected—namely, that a commercial kitchen wasn’t for me. I found that I missed the very thing that had drawn me to the stove in the first place: the human element of cooking and eating, the direct link between preparing food and sharing it, face to face, with people I care about. It didn’t feel right to plate a dish and watch it disappear into the faceless unknown with a waiter whose name I couldn’t remember. Forget this back-of-the-house business; I wanted my house, where the dining room and the kitchen were one.

That said, however, I did come away from Greens with one promising discovery: a mysterious thing called pastry arts. My favorite task at Greens had been plating desserts, from individual ginger crunch cakes with seasonal fruit to homemade ice creams, and I began to wonder if life as a pastry chef wouldn’t suit me pretty well. It somehow seemed gentler, more touchy-feely, and, well, sweeter—that is, until I realized that it would entail a bit more hardcore complexity than I’d bargained for. My dessert aesthetic was rustic comfort, not chocolate spray guns and sugar sculptures. Though spun-sugar cages are very pretty, I’d probably have to be locked up in one before I’d enjoy making them. What’s more, there was the specter of repetition: I worried that making the same items over and over, day in and day out, would destroy any sense of adventure or enjoyment I had. So with no small amount of disappointment, I left my chef plans, pastry and otherwise, for someone with more bravery and stamina, and instead here I am, writing my way around the kitchen.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when last week I found myself going downright pastry-artsy on banana cakes. Talk about repetition: I baked three of the things—each a slight variation on the other—within the span of four days. The frenzy was sparked by a dinner party Friday night, to which I’d brought an impromptu, seemingly simple creation: a single-layer banana cake with a chocolate ganache glaze. Though delicious, it was dense and a bit rubbery, more bread than cake. I was outraged. I had gorgeous photos of the thing,

but it was an inferior specimen; I wasn't happy to share it with anyone, much less with you, discerning reader.

So I put aside my usual evening plans—watching old episodes of Sex and the City and sobbing whenever something perfect happens; you see, my nights generally are not too saucy—and instead I baked banana cakes until I got one right. I’m no pastry chef, but I tweaked and tasted, from all-purpose to cake flour, buttermilk to sour cream, baking powder to soda, recipe to recipe. At one point, I even contemplated getting a chocolate spray gun for further ammunition. And when, with much rejoicing, I finally found the ultimate cake, I quite nearly made a spun-sugar cage to crown my humble masterpiece. I almost reconsidered cooking school. But instead, I decided to cut to the chase and just hurry up and start sharing.

Sour Cream-Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache Glaze
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible and The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking

This cake is remarkably moist and banana-y, but unlike banana breads, it has a light, fine crumb. Dusted with powdered sugar, it might well be the ultimate in comfort food, but the dark chocolate ganache lends a bit of sophistication.

For the cake:
2 cups sifted cake flour
¾ cup plus 2 Tbs sugar (I used fine-grained unrefined cane sugar, which worked fine)
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 large ripe bananas (about 225 grams, peeled)
½ cup sour cream (not low- or non-fat)
2 large eggs
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
10 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the ganache:
¾ cup heavy cream
8 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate (I used El Rey 58%), finely chopped
1 Tbs rum

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9-inch round springform pan with cooking spray, line the base with a round of parchment paper, and spray the parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a food processor, purée the banana and sour cream until completely smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla, and process briefly to combine. The puréed mixture will be light yellow and quite loose.

Add the softened butter and about ½ of the puréed mixture to the dry ingredients in the bowl. Beat to combine on low speed; then increase the speed and beat for about 90 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and add the rest of the purée, beating to combine well. The batter will be light tan in color and should be smooth and creamy.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and dry. Remove the cake from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, and then remove the other rim of the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, and carefully remove the base of the pan and the parchment paper. Allow the cake to cool completely.

When it is cool, begin the ganache. Put the chocolate in a medium mixing bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a near boil in small saucepan. When it is steaming well, remove it from the heat, and pour it over the chocolate in the bowl. Stir or whisk until most of the chocolate is melted; then cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir or whisk gently until the mixture is completely smooth. Stir in the rum. Let the ganache stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the cooled cake and its wire rack onto a rimmed baking sheet, and slowly pour the ganache over the cake, using an icing spatula or long, flat knife to spread and smooth it across the top and down the sides. [Scrape excess ganache off of the baking sheet for reusing, if you like. You will likely only need to use about 1/3 of the ganache for one cake; the rest will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or frozen for up to 3 months. Soften or melt before using.] Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for at least a half hour before serving.


She cooks, she tells again

Over at Saucy, the second installment of “Cook and Tell” is up and available for consumption, titled “Have Your Beefcake and Eat With Him Too.”* Please forgive me the pun; I couldn't resist. I mean, really, could you?

While you're there, I hope that you'll take a moment to peruse Saucy's other features and news, updated daily, Monday through Thursday. Saucy pulls together a bit of something for everyone, from
(cook)book and magazine reviews to columns on drinks, gardening, baking, host(ess)ing, and practical cooking. Plus, there's a cheese of the month feature! If that doesn't make you happy, you're just a very picky eater. I hope that you'll make Saucy a part of your daily rotation.

*Special thanks—long overdue!—to Gigi, for being an insightful and enthusiastic first reader for “Cook and Tell,” and to Nicho, for being a wonderful friend then and now.


For a French-toast master on his 76th

My father loved to play in the kitchen. For him, relaxing after a long day of patients and paperwork meant pouring a Scotch and taking up residence at the butcher-block island. Sometimes Burg would scour our overflowing shelves of cookbooks for ideas or techniques, but mainly he’d work by feel and taste, stewing, sautéing, melding this and that—and never keeping the slightest note of the path that led him from start to finished dish. Somewhere there may be an index card in his blocky handwriting, detailing the ingredients for his trademark vinaigrette or summertime potato salad, but it’s unlikely and, anyway, hidden forever in the dark recesses of an overfilled kitchen drawer. His experiments were many, and most were fruitful, but his was an uncalculating science: personal, sensual, ephemeral.

What I remember most clearly aren’t his lamb shanks or inventions involving endive; it’s Saturday breakfast. Burg, never a late sleeper, would rise early to prowl the local garage-sale scene—occasionally even scrounging up a dubious treasure, such as an ancient, leaden Sharp “Half Pint” microwave, which I promptly dubbed the “Half Ton”—but he came home in mid-morning to refuel, and to make breakfast for me. It was nothing fancy—I grew up on Bisquick pancakes and honestly, it’s hard to find a better batter today—but we did have standards. From an early age, I was trained to be a 100%-pure-maple syrup snob. As a native Canadian, Burg would have nothing else. He bought his chosen brand in an appealingly round-bellied plastic jug and stashed it in the door of the fridge, where it would beckon insistently until Saturday would roll around.

While I was very fond of the pancakes—fluffy and perfectly circular, thanks to our trusty pancake pan—it is Burg’s French toast that haunts me. He was a strong proponent of cooking French toast in oil rather than butter, and in fact, one of my most vivid memories of the last weeks of his life is a bedside conversation I had with him and my half-sister Lisa in the hospital, discussing the merits of oil versus butter in French-toast cookery. The hot oil, Burg claimed, seals the outside of the bread and turns it wondrously crisp and lightly puffed, while the inside melts to a near-custard. He was clearly onto something, because I’ve never had a better version than his. I’m not sure that I can equal it, but this morning, with the help of a loaf of challah I rescued from the freezer, I’ve come close.

Today would be Burg’s 76th birthday, and it seems only fitting to celebrate him this way. For one of the first times in weeks, the sun is shining—a little tentatively, but shining nonetheless. This morning reminds me of a poem I found in one of Burg’s bathroom drawers in the days after his death. It was written on the back of an index card—I suppose he did write some things down—and it must have been the fruit of a mid-meeting brainstorm, or maybe an early-morning revelation between garage sales. I don’t think he’d mind my sharing it, but if he does, well, I trust he’ll find some tricky, playful way to let me know. Or then again, since I’ve said awfully nice things about his cooking, maybe he’ll let me enjoy my French toast in peace.

Sunrise (A Too-Long Haiku)

The sun bursts
Out of the eastern night
And flames the sky
With joy—
Your smile.


(My Attempt at) Burg’s French Toast

1 cup milk (I used whole, but he probably used 2%)
4 large eggs
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
Mild-tasting vegetable oil, such as canola
6 slices bread (a bias-cut country French loaf, or challah, preferably), about ¾ to 1 inch thick
Pure maple syrup, for serving

Whisk together the first five ingredients in a wide, shallow bowl.

Place a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over low to medium heat, and add enough oil to just cover the bottom of the skillet.

Two or three at a time, add the bread slices to the egg mixture in the bowl, allowing them to rest for a minute or two on each side. They should feel heavy and thoroughly saturated, but they should not be falling apart. When the oil is hot, place the slices in the skillet. They should sizzle a bit, and the oil should bubble lightly around the edges of the bread; take care, however, that the oil is not too hot, lest the egg mixture burn. Cook until the underside of each slice is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn the bread, and cook until the second side is golden, another 2 minutes or so. Remove the bread from the skillet to a plate lined with a paper towel, allow to rest for 30 seconds or so, and serve immediately—with maple syrup, of course.

Yield: 6 slices, serving 2 or 3.


Feel-good FareStart

Back in September—a lifetime ago in blog years, it seems—I wrote about a Seattle nonprofit called FareStart and its weekly Guest Chef Nights, in which local chefs work with FareStart’s students to produce impressive three-course meals. Last night I had the pleasure of attending my second Guest Chef Night—this time in the company of fellow food blogger B (of Culinary Fool), B’s friend E, and my ever-faithful Keaton—and once again, I can’t keep it to myself. Everything about FareStart just feels so good that it would be a crime not to share. Consider this a public service announcement.

Our evening began with a tour of the bustling kitchen, where the students were hard at work in their chef’s whites, plating salads and hefting deep pans of chive gnocchi. A year ago, FareStart launched its “Futures Rising” capital campaign to raise money for improved facilities, and the kitchen presents a convincing case: though of moderate size, it is no-frills and in need of a facelift, not the sort of space one would expect to find churning out a remarkable 2,500 meals per day (which it does, between the restaurant, catering services, and contracts with area shelters). We found the evening’s guest chef, Dave Miller of the Jolly Roger Taproom at Maritime Pacific Brewery, busily plating pork tenderloin, with a student at each elbow and a squeeze bottle in each hand. He gave us a quick tour of the evening’s eclectic map-hopping menu, its dishes linked by the presence of a Maritime Pacific beer in each, and we hurried back to the equally bustling dining room to get started.

With only a few minor quibbles, it was a very good meal.
We began somewhere between Japan and California, with a salad of organic field greens with a ginger and alt ale dressing, scattered hazelnuts, and miso-seared halibut cheeks. I have a weakness for halibut cheeks and their surprising richness, and these generous chunks were delicate and delicious, even if their miso glaze was a bit too sweet for my taste. [Please note the superhuman restraint required to avoid—or maybe not—using the term “sweet cheeks.”]

For our entrée, we moved to the Southwest with lime-seared pork tenderloin, a roasted-corn masa cake wrapped in a green pasilla chile, sweet shoestring onion rings, and a trio of beer-based sauces: Salmon Bay E.S.B. piri-piri, Bosun’s Black Porter salsa negra, and Islander Pale Ale chimichurri.

It was a big, busy plate, but the pork was barely pink and perfectly done, and the masa cake was reminiscent of a stripped-down tamale, deeply flavored with corn. And the shoestring onions stole the show: this time, a dose of sweetness was most welcome.

Keaton and I, doing double-time for vegetarians everywhere (including ourselves, circa a few years ago), also sampled the vegetable entrée, squash-and-broccoli-rabe fritters with tomato-ginger jam and chive gnocchi. The fritters were rustic springtime comfort food—a union of crispy, buttery crust and green-tasting, creamy interior.

Things got very exciting when dessert arrived, straddling an imaginary border between New Mexico and Georgia. An roasted-peach brown-butter cake with buttermilk-habanero ice cream and Bosun’s Black Porter molasses,

it was soon dubbed “the flying pie” by E, after both Keaton and B accidentally shot various parts of theirs skidding across the table. That’s not to say that it wasn’t tasty; it was simply very architectural and a bit tough to pin down, literally and figuratively. The thin brown-butter cake was moist and rich, a wonderful foil to the sweet-tart lightly cooked peaches, but the habanero ice cream was a point of contention, bracingly spicy and a bit on the icy side. I choose to blame it on the freezers in the current kitchen—with new facilities (ahem!), I’m sure that future ice creams will be nothing short of luscious.

So I can’t keep it to myself. The place was buzzing with energy, and so were we. I hope you'll consider supporting FareStart and its students, whether it be by joining a few friends for dinner on Guest Chef Night ($19.95! Three courses!); volunteering as servers; making a simple donation; or perhaps even attending this weekend’s Taste Washington or next month’s Taste of the Nation, two local food-and-wine events whose proceeds benefit FareStart.
And I hope you won’t keep it to yourself.


On routine, with tears, taste buds, and chickpea-tomato soup

Alright, I admit it: I’m kind of boring.

I love routine. I’ve never been good at change—which is to say that I’m actually rather bad at it. My poor, long-suffering mother can attest to this: during college, I called her at the beginning of each and every quarter, sobbing and sniveling incoherently about my new schedule and new classes and the end of life as I knew it. I’m also the girl who took the same brown-bag lunch to school every single day for the first fourteen years of her life: Peter Pan creamy peanut butter on mushy Home Pride whole wheat bread (no jam, jelly, or other gelatinousness; no crunchy peanut butter; no natural peanut butter; no white bread; no seeded bread; and no change). My taste buds may well be the eighth wonder of the world: how they managed to survive such monotony is one of the greatest mysteries of all time.

Though I’ve lately gotten more friendly with change and spontaneity in general—ah, the wisdom that comes with (ahem) maturity!—even today, I regularly put my taste buds to the test of boredom. Nearly every morning, I sit down to the same breakfast in the same crimson bowl, and nearly every morning, it makes me ridiculously happy. Thus sated, I flounce down to the bus with roughly the same formulaic lunch: slices of bread A; slices of cheese B; a Tupperware of soup C or vegetable D; and a piece of fruit E, according to the season. Today it was honey oatmeal bread, cave-aged gruyère and Cabot cheddar, chickpea-tomato soup, and an heirloom navel orange. I may be boring, but they were eyeing my lunch covetously at the bus stop. Who knows what could happen if I gave up the routine now: a bus operator strike, riots, revolution, the end of life as we know it.

Chickpea-Tomato Soup with Fresh Rosemary
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart…: Soups, Salads, Muffins, and More from New York City’s Favorite Bakeshop and Café, by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau

I first tasted this soup a few years ago, on a cold, windy December day in New York City. Each spoonful unites the fruity acidity of ripe tomatoes with the earthy sweetness of chickpeas, rounding out the whole with a subtle undertone of rosemary. This soup is a breeze to make, especially if you have an immersion blender, and keeps well for several days in the refrigerator.

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas
3 Tbs olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 3-inch sprigs fresh rosemary, needles removed from stem and finely chopped
2 cans diced tomatoes, one 28-ounce and one 14.5-ounce
A pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable stock (I used Imagine brand)

Drain the canned chickpeas in a colander, and rinse them well.

Warm the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat, and add the garlic and rosemary. Cook for a minute or two, and then add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, a few grinds of pepper, roughly half of the chickpeas, and the stock. Bring to a boil over high heat; then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat to purée. If using an immersion blender, purée the soup directly in the pot. Otherwise, wait a few minutes, until the soup cools; then purée it in batches in a blender or food processor and return it to the pot. Add the remaining chickpeas, and warm the soup over medium heat. Serve warm.

Yield: 6 servings.


Love letter with animosity and asparagus

Dearest Seattle,

Every now and then you’re really spectacular. It’s usually something small and subtle and a little gritty, something I would have missed if I didn’t have a nasty habit of staring, a keen ear for other people’s conversations, or a weakness for your Patagonia-meets-post-punk fashion sense. It’s the chatty produce vendor at Pike Place Market, a gin and tonic at the Alibi Room, a romp in the ravine at Ravenna Park, or your Space Needle glowing on the night skyline like some sort of majestic wizard’s tower in a sci-fi movie. You’re everywhere I want to go. To hijack the Frank O’Hara poem “Steps,”oh god it’s wonderful / to get out of bed / and drink too much coffee / and smoke too much salmon / and love you so much.”

But Seattle, we need to talk.
You’re a tease. After a mild, sunny, beautiful winter and the glowing weather of last month’s Pork Week, you’re now nothing but gray. Your skies have only two settings—cloudy and rainy—and for variety, you throw in a little wind. If you keep this up, I’ll no longer be able to roll my eyes at those silly people who, at the first mention of your name, joke about umbrellas, raincoats, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. You’re letting me down. Stores are swarming with bathing suits; tulips are in every vase; and you’ve decided it’s winter.

But because I care about you, I won’t turn my back. I’ll carry on as though everything were fine. I’ll lead the way by example. And I’ll begin with asparagus.

Even though it’s blustery outside and my hair is wet and matted from an early-afternoon walk in the mist, I can still exhibit proper springtime behavior by eating asparagus. It’s everywhere these days, poking up from the soil like a strange lunar life form and clustering in bunches in grocery stores. Everyone is talking about it—green or white, finger-fat or pencil-skinny. And though I’ve eaten asparagus in any number of ways—steamed, blanched, puréed into soup, folded into soufflé, or dusted in dried powdered orange rind and saffron, à la Astrance in Paris—my favorite springtime ritual involves nothing more than a few fat stalks, olive oil, salt, and a good, hot oven.

Seattle, I’m waiting for you to come around. When you decide you’re ready to behave, you know where to find me, and if you hurry, I’ll save you some roasted asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus

This method is nobody's breaking news, but it’s quick, easy, and absolutely delicious. The high heat of the oven concentrates the flavor of the asparagus without taking away or adding too much moisture, and the result is fork-tender, lightly caramelized, and unexpectedly juicy.

1 bunch green asparagus, preferably on the fat side
Olive oil
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus stalks, rinse them well, and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and drizzle them with a thin stream of olive oil—it doesn’t take much. Use your hands to roll the stalks in the oil to coat them lightly but thoroughly, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10 minutes; then shake the baking sheet to turn and roll the asparagus. Bake for another 4-5 minutes, until the asparagus are a vibrant, shiny, cooked shade of green and their skins are lightly blistered and slightly wrinkled. They should be soft and yielding but not shriveled or mushy. Serve warm or at room temperature.