The Mud Run

This past weekend, my friend and I volunteered at the Taylor Shellfish Bivalve Bash--an ode to clams, mussels, and oysters harvested here in the Pacific Northwest. We had a great time hamming it up at the oyster shuffle board. Yes, folks, slide your oyster shells along the board without it going through the hole at the end of the table. (The secret is to select a shell that easily slides, but still has some heft to stop short of going through the hole.)

As with any other festival, they had food and music. The Bivalve Bash, however, had a twist. Unique features included a shell sculpture competition (like building a sand castle with oyster shells), crab races, and my favorite...the mud run. I had a chance to see the kid's race.

At low tide, the sea recedes and leaves mud flats. A course is then laid out in the mud. Challenged by running in knee deep mud, many people loose their shoes.

Veteran runners improve their odds by duct taping their shoes on.

Everyone who passes the finish line wins a golden oyster shell.

As you can imagine, runners end covered in mud....

Bahn Mi Love

Vietnamese sandwiches or Bahn Mi are the perfect fusion from the French colonization of Vietnam. A light and airy, but still slightly chewy baguette is smeared with a special sauce. Then pick your pleasure...BBQ pork, ham, combo, or tofu. Topped with julienned pickled carrot and jamaica, cucumber, jalapeno, and a tangle of cilantro, Bahn Mi are one of the best bargains in town.

It can be a hotly debated issue about who has the best Bahn Mi, but the m.o. is all the same for these delis--most of them are supplied by the same vendor so they all have nearly identical offerings. The one differentiator, however slight, is how they make their Bahn Mi. For me, my loyalty belongs to Saigon Deli.

One day, I'm going to challenge my friends to a Bahn Mi crawl to see who really does have the best. You see, in Seattle's "Little Saigon" neighborhood, there are at least five shops selling these gems within a 2 block radius. No matter where your favorite is...these subs are the perfect cheap eat. For a mere $2.25 (tax included) you can get one of these tasty sandwiches. Order me a #1 and I'm in pure bliss.

What if....

Since starting this blog, I've struggled to make a definitive statement about myself (notice the handy "X" under: About Me). I guess that alone sums things up. I resist limitations and being compartmentalized. Instead, I find myself dwelling in possibilities...and pursue them passionately. Often you can find me challenging the sky really the limit? Just because something hasn't been done, does it really mean it can't be done? As a child, I'm sure I was the one asking the never ending, "Why?"

So, reader, be warned...there is no doubt I'm hatching a plan when a sentence starts with "I wonder what would happen if..."

Riding the wave of a brainstorm, I frequently put "What if" in motion--never really sure what will happen next. To my own astonishment, expressing a sincere interest often breaks down a number of barriers. (As the Persian proverb tells, "If you don't crack the shell, you can't eat the nut.") By deliberately seeking out what's possible, I'm often surprised to learn I'm traveling on an unconventional path.

Playing the "What if" game stretches me in ways I never expected. I exceed my own limits and then wonder, "how did I get here?" Nonetheless, my curiosity and "What if" philosophy has served me well. Call it dumb luck or's led me to some interesting adventures.

Here are a few examples:

1. What if I invited
Tony Bourdain to dinner?
2. What if I flew in a stunt plane...doing
aileron and barrel rolls over Puget Sound?
3. What if I organized a group of students and went to
Cuba? (Think Clinton legally entering Cuba with a visa)
4. What if I went scuba diving in the
Blue Hole with sharks?
5. What if I flew to Seattle for the ultimate blind date?
6. What if I trekked in the Guatemalan jungle canopy to watch howler monkeys feed on tree top blossoms?
7. What if we crossed the DMZ line into Cambodia, gaining military access with an expatriate and a bottle of Thai whisky?
8. What if we did an authorized fly by of the
Space Needle--flying so close you could see people dining in the restaurant at the top?
9. What if I had a clandestine meeting with a Secret Service Agent and he snuck me in to see preparations for the
Presidential motorcade?
10. What if I flew over
glaciers in Alaska on a float plane that nearly crashed?

Embracing the "What if..." philosophy, I've pieced together a wonderful life that is not easily summed up in a statement. It's not the kind of thing you plan for but it does require a different mindset. I seek out a life that's less ordinary...and it has rewarded me in ways I never could have imagined.

Get on the Bus

On the South side of Seattle is a pocket neighborhood called Columbia City. For years, it was one of the cheaper places to live and it supported waves of immigrant communities. The melting pot of this neighborhood is African American, Somalian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and Hispanic. Traveling down the main road, Pho shops are plentiful, along with Ethopian, BBQ, Italian, and a wealth of other great hole-in-the-wall places.

The stand out, however, is Tacos El Asadero. It's a can't miss place with a big white awning and picnic tables out front. The catch? In this place the kitchen & seating and all are housed in a converted bus!

The kitchen is in the back half of the bus, stools flank the sides along the window with a narrow counter so you can "dine in". The driver's seat holds the trash can, and the dash of the bus is adorned by a framed copy of their health permit. Ingenuity? Yes. Best tacos I've had this side of the border...oh yeah!

Becoming a Home Turf Tourist

Festival mural, Merida Mexico

I am filled with wanderlust. Day dreaming for hours, I picture myself vagabonding across the world. From pushkars and souks to night markets and early dawn fish markets, a chorus of languages I don't know, chaos, heat, and a light sweat...I love the bewildering moments of traveling in another land. I welcome hurling myself into less developed countries where busses show up hours after their scheduled departure and where the posted rules of government are not the rules of society. That disoriented feeling of not knowing what the hell is going on...or what I'm going to do something I thrive on.

Knowing this about myself, my inner voice resists things that reflect any sort of permanence. I hate the fact that I own a car. Even more...I hate the fact that my car is important to me. Every day I seem to run in conflict between living a life that's appropriate with "being an adult" and my wanderlust.

I clearly recall the first of a series of events that signaled my life has stronger roots than my vagabond self could support. Having just left a significant relationship and still crying in my chai, a friend of mine dropped off two adorable kittens she had rescued. Nursing my broken heart, she knew I needed the unconditional love. And she vowed to come back in two weeks to pick them up if I decided not to keep them. I recall laughing at her. Two weeks came and went long ago...

Then there was the mortgage. I needed a place to live, right? My real estate agent helped me negotiate a deal where I took ownership of my new home for less than the deposit on an apartment rental. Home ownership meant I could now paint the walls and finally "live in color." As I painted, and later hung that 6' x 3' oil painting, I knew I was taking myself further away from the life where all my possessions fit into a backpack.

I still frequently daydream of traveling distant lands, but I've found a way to at least mollify my wanderlust. Seattle is a city that is big enough to hold pockets of fabulous ethnic communities...and I dive in.

A gem of an Indian market is near my house. It sits in a strip mall near a big high tech company and nothing of the surrounding neighborhood would indicate what is inside. At the entrance, an invisible wall of sound and smell assults the senses. A rickety boom box with a CD stuck on repeat, the bad glare of fluorescent light, and scents of curry, cardamom, and nearly over ripe fruit transport me to India. I walk the isles and study the boxes, some in English others without translation (other than the required USDA label). I'm transported out of my familiar....and I'm only blocks away from my home.

Experiencing ethnic markets and restaurants helps satisfy that world traveler inside me. I liken it to "research", thinking that if I explore all I can locally, that when I do take that trip of my dreams, I'll be that much closer to understanding the culture. Trying unusual food here in Seattle and even learning how to make it, somehow makes me think the shock value won't be as high when I do eventually step into that country.

Being a tourist on my home turf has also helped me develop a deeper sense of place. I remind myself that there are people who save all their lives to be exactly where I am. I try to see the city through their eyes...and it has enriched the life I have today. Playing tourist, I now notice the details in architecture, study murals adorning old buildings, and admire details in public art. And I allow time for wandering off the beaten path..... By seeking out the unfamiliar, it's resulted in the most wonderful experiences and I have learned to know a different side of my city. This tourist approach has helped deepen my awareness of enjoying exactly where I am today--even if my eyes are set on a distant horizon.

Today I came across this quote:

"Life may not be the party we'd hoped for... but while we're here we might as well dance"

It took me a while to find my rhythm, but now, with arms spread wide open, I'm enjoying the music...and the dance.

House Made Sausage

Porcella Urban Market is a new place in Bellevue. They offer hard to find goodies--including duck fat & confit, pates, terrines, and house cured sausage. Today the chef, Noah Mellich, taught Sausage Making 101. (Click here to see photos of the shop).

For a mere $40, I took a 2 1/2 hour class and learned how to make three of Porcella's fabulous sausages. We were welcomed with a sampling of assorted beers, olives, pates, and lardo. Then at the end of class, I was sent home with fresh sausage and a promise to return in 6 weeks for our cured sausage.

In the class, we made:

*Italian Sausage 2 ways: stuffed in hog casings and wrapped in caul fat
*Spanish Style Chorizo in hog casings
*Tuscan Style Salami. For the smaller sausages (Salumette) we used hog casings but for the traditional size salami, they use beef middles.

As each type of sausage was completed, Noah prepared some for us to taste. I must admit, the recipes were so wonderful...they alone were worth the price of admission!

While I recently tried my hand at making sausage, I was excited to see someone else make it. Working in the Porcella kitchen, I was happy to see they used the Grizzly stuffer, which I recently bought. If you have a hankering to make sausage, I seriously recommend you get this sausage stuffer. I have the Kitchen Aid version and it is so tedious, it's prevented me from even wanting to make sausage on my own...until now, of course!

Keep an eye out for future classes at Porcella. Noah mentioned they're adding a terrine making class soon. Also on August 7th, the legendary authority on Italian food, Guliano Bugialli, will be teaching a class based on his latest book. Even if you're not up for a class, Porcella's house cured salami is well worth the trip!

Chef's Tour of Pike Place Market

Seattle's Pike Place Market is a truly wonderful place. Fishmongers, farmers, flower stall vendors, and local artisans set up shop in this historic space. For chefs and home cooks alike, this is the place to find that extra special ingredient.

Throughout the year, local chefs volunteer to give tours to help raise money for the market's non-profit organization. After the tour, the group returns to the chef's restaurant. Together, they prepare lunch based on treasures found that day.

Seeing the market through a chef's eyes is a wonderful experience. In tune to the rhythm of the seasons, they quickly find the gems. That purple balled blossom I passed up as mere color for the display turns out to be garlic blossoms--delicious sauteed and added to dishes just like garlic. Sour cherries were overlooked until I learned their season in the Pacific Northwest is counted in mere weeks.

Not only does the chef turn you on to the great ingredients, but he knows who to buy from. Tourists think it's cute that one of the fish mongers does their signature "throwing of the fish". Hovering around, cameras at the ready, they wait to capture the image of a whole fish soaring through the air. In today's tour, the chef scoffs at that fish monger. "Never buy fish from them...throwing the fish bruises it." I shuddered to think about the time my parents were visiting and not only did they throw our fish, but skipped it across the top of an icey display between us and the skipping a rock on a smooth pond. It only makes sense that our carefully selected salmon would suffer under that treatment.

Today Ethan Stowell, the chef I work with, toured 10 people around the market, then came back to his restaurant for lunch. Tour attendees received copies of the recipes: English pea soup with poached duck eggs and pumpernickel croutons and seared ahi tuna on a cauliflower, ligurian olive, and parsley salad. In a last minute addition...the chef decided to gild the lilly and added a couple more dishes: beef carpaccio with chives, arugula, and olive oil and for dessert...a bay leaf scented creme brulee.

Learning techniques from a chef can be revolutionary for the home cook--including me. While I lingered about playing hostess and making sure everyone had wine, I watched him cook and put emphasis on key points. Here's a few tips from his preparation of the English pea soup:

For the soup
Chef's soups are the best I've ever had...and he's got a secret ingredient. Ready? Mineral water. "What???" Yes, it's true. Other chefs I know look at me dubiously, then say, "That's a really expensive way to make soup." He doesn't care. It's the flavor that matters most.

The chef says, "It never made sense to me that when you're making a vegetable soup, people put chicken stock in it. That's not vegetable soup...that's vegetable and chicken." What about vegetable stock? "If you make a stock that includes carrots, celery, onions, etc. then you make for example, a pea soup....the flavors of that stock come forward and mask your primary ingredient. You no longer have peas being the most dominant flavor." Instead, he replaces all liquid with mineral water (San Pelligrino). It has a slight mineral quality, a clean finish, and you vegetable of choice remains the most dominant flavor. What about the bubbles in the mineral water? They cook off with the heat.

For the poached duck egg
When you add poached eggs to soups, the liquidy yolk acts as an enrichment as well as a flavor component. Chef prefers duck eggs because the flavor is richer than chicken eggs.

To demonstrate poaching the eggs, raw eggs were cracked into demitasse cups. Then, he carefully tipped the cup over the garbage and threw out some of the egg white. This resulted in a tighter white surrounding the yolk and significantly less floating bits of egg white during the poaching process.

With the water hot and barely there bubbles, he tipped the cup into the water, being careful not to release the egg. He actually captured some of the hot water in the cup to help set the egg, then gently released it into the hot water to continue cooking. This prevents the egg from sticking to the bottom of the poaching pan.

For the pumpernickel croutons
The night before you make the croutons, put the bread in the refrigerator. The chilled bread is easier to cut.

Here's the recipe:

Union Restaurant's
(Serves 4)

For the Soup
3 Cups Shelled English Peas
2 Cups Pellegrino Water
1/2-Cup Cream
1 Small Onion Chopped
2 Tablespoons Butter
Salt and Pepper
For the Poached Duck Eggs
4 Fresh Duck Eggs
2 Tablespoons Champagne Vinegar
Water For Poaching

For the Pumpernickel Croutons
1/2 Loaf Fresh Pumpernickel Bread, Crusts Removed, Cut into 1/4 inch Squares
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

For the Soup

Sautee the onions in butter until soft but not browned, add the Pellegrino and bring to a boil. Add the peas and simmer until tender. Remove from the heat. In a blender, puree in small batches until very smooth. Strain through a fine sieve; add the cream, season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

For the Eggs
Bring a pot of water to boil, add the vinegar and reduce to a simmer. One at a time, crack the eggs into the water being careful not to break the yokes. Simmer until medium, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, place on a paper towel to dry. Season with salt and pepper.

For the Croutons
Coat the pumpernickel with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake at 350ยบ until crisp.

Final Presentation
Divide the soup between four warm bowls; place an egg in the middle of the soup and sprinkle with croutons. Serve hot.