Food Finds, Fit for an Election

Over the past few months, a surprising number of political food finds have crossed my path. From bi-partisan cheeses to the most surprising cupcakes. Care to cast a vote for your favorite?



"Politician Crap" takes the form of peanut clusters covered in chocolate. Spotted in the Washington D.C. airport.







"Bi-Partisan Cheese" - a stout washed cows' milk with a goat cheese center. Spotted at the local co-op in Vermont.





Is America ready for this nutcracker? Apparently not. This Hillary Clinton nut cracker was on sale and she wasn't even out of the race yet! Guess the merchandisers knew something we didn't.... Spotted at the Washington, D.C. airport.





Poor Hillary. Outside the box and now the bargain price of $4.99 at the local thrift store. Spotted at Value Village in Kirkland, WA.




Hey cupcake! Show your patriotic spirit in chocolate and buttercream...with LOTS of sprinkles. Obama cupcakes at Trophy Cupcakes, Seattle, WA.




Democrats & Republicans in sugar work decked out in red, white and blue stars. Spotted at Trophy Cupcakes, Seattle, WA.



Obama chocolate truffles, spotted at the Luxury Chocolate Salon, Seattle, WA.

Get out there and VOTE, people!

What Are You Waiting For?

The woman upstairs from me is dying. Each week the truck rolls up and her oxygen tanks rumble across the walkway above me. “Caution: Contents Under Pressure” and “Flammable” signs are stuck to the door, announcing to all visitors that one is not well here. She’s been sick long before I moved in and her husband, gruff with a serious countenance, shields himself from any neighborly conversations. I hear, in the years before her illness, that she tended the most beautiful garden. Now the pots outside her door whither with dead flowers from years gone by.

Today, I was seized by a green thumb moment, and tackled the fern outside my door. Long neglected, the lower leaves have shriveled and turned a peculiar rust color. The grounds are tended, but somehow, this particular plot seems oddly neglected. And since I’m rarely home or I am making quick dashes here and there, it never really bothered me. But today, I was moved to do something about it. I climbed through the ivy and started whacking away at the giant fern, hoping that when I finished, it would look something like its original self, only shorn, and not like a top-heavy mohawk.

As I hacked away at the plant, the screen door to my neighbor’s home would open, and an outstretched arm placed bits into the garbage. No body, no hello, just an arm. Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity. A woman raced out the door with a cluster of keys jangling loudly around her neck, emphasizing her air of authority. A short Hispanic woman followed. She shuffled out to the street, and slowly, methodically, dumped a bucket of sudsy water into the gutter.

She’s dying.

Home hospice visits, a house cleaner, and their case worker all make frequent visits.

The irony is, I learn this, standing in what remained of her garden. Cleaning out the detritus, I learn more about her than I had in the four years since I’ve lived here.

Today’s events lead me to think about last fall. What an awful time that was. Behind the scenes, a friend committed suicide and just as the shock was wearing off, another succumbed to cancer. Two funerals in one month. Just weeks later, my house was broken into. They didn’t take much and I was certain, they’d come back for more. Each night I’d come home, hold my breath and open the door, expecting to find nothing left. Then, that article featuring me in the paper? It was tempered by a persistent stalker, who tracked me down at the office. And to top it off, my father became gravely ill around Christmas, prompting the holiday trip to their home in Florida.

There’s a country western song in all of this, I’m sure….but by January, I was content to stay at home and watch countless hours of documentaries. Like the rhythm of a farm, winter is a time for healing….and renewal. I stayed dormant, doing little other than work and stops at the library to exchange another set of films.

What that period of my life taught me, is to act with a sense of urgency. You never know. That call I received at midnight, saying “Shawn shot himself and the funeral is tomorrow” was the jolt I needed to begin reevaluating my life. I hadn’t seen Shawn in years, but I attended his wedding. Handsome, with a devilish grin, Shawn was driven and loved family to his very core.

Suicide?

How could this be?

At the funeral, a stream of photos crossed the screen: group family portraits, another with his daughter's head nestled into his chest, and in my favorite photo, Shawn is beaming with sweat running down his face--taken just after his first triathlon. I studied each photo, looking for some evidence. I wanted a sign. What did I miss? But there was nothing.

The church was filled to capacity and I wondered, “What would Shawn think if he could see all these people coming to remember him?” Maybe, just maybe, he’d make another choice.

That was a pivotal moment, for sure.

I started to play this game with myself: If I had only one year to live, what would I do differently?

Then the questions became more penetrating: Why not now? Why wait until you’re feeling poorly or the doctor gives you a devastating diagnosis? If you received catastrophic news, would that change your perspective? Why not embrace life now…while you still have the chance?

My inner voice persisted, "What are you waiting for?"

These days, I am much more aware. My perspective has shifted. I’d trade dinner and lively discussion for just about anything. And all those fabulous people in my world? I go out of my way to have parties and foster discussions. Forget randomness. It took me years to find these people. I say, “Welcome to the fold. Now I’ve got some friends I want you to meet….”

Life is far too short. I say, “I love you” more than society may deem appropriate. I hug people I barely know. And when he bends down to kiss me on the cheek, I close my eyes and relish the moment.

I avoid taking things for granted.

And savor the small moments.

My mantra has become, “What does your best life look like? And what could you possibly be waiting for?”

Food Obsession Gone Too Far?

I am always on the hunt for great food...and I have a special place in my heart for hole-in-the wall spots. Soul food, dive joints, street vendors and ethnic enclaves rank high on my list. And I keep a keen eye on places with lines snaking out the door, figuring a table worth waiting for, must be good!



The other day I was traveling though an unfamiliar neighborhood. Driving was a bit precarious as I slowed to read the signs...Tran's Pho, Willie's BBQ and a small sign leading the way to a smoke house.

My pulse raced as I mentally noted several spots along the way.

Then I noticed a building with my favorite tell-tale sign: a line that wound its way out to the busy street. Approaching noon on a sunny fall Saturday, a bustling crowd was already waiting outside.




I slowed to take note of the sign:

Northwest Community Food Bank



Oh.

Talk about a reality check! While I'm whizzing around town, anxiously looking forward to lunch with my friends and searching for the next great restaurant find...bam! My latest "discovery" was a distribution point for feeding the poor.

Deeply humbled by the experience, I begin to wonder...how fragile is my own financial situation?

And one day, could I land in the same spot?

An Interview with Cindy Mushet on the "Art & Soul of Baking"

Cindy Mushet's definitive book, the Art & Soul of Baking.





If you don't know the name Cindy Mushet, let me introduce you. She's one of those people in the background who makes amazing things happen. Her contributions may not always have her name blazed on them, but her impact is evidenced by a rich history in the culinary world. Cindy was a contributor to the Joy of Cooking, has taught throughout the United States for Sur La Table and is currently an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu. Her recipes have appeared in Bon App├ętit, Fine Cooking, the New York Times, and the National Culinary Review.

Cindy's currently on a whistle-stop book tour...and coming to a Sur La Table near you!

During her 24 hour stay in Seattle, I had the opportunity to meet with Cindy and it was kismet from the beginning. We chatted over lunch and then strolled over to my favorite bakery for a little nosh. She was just days into her 3 week tour, and despite having already done an early morning TV spot, a pod cast interview and a newspaper interview, by the time we talked she was still a fireball of energy.

A long history of teaching permeates Cindy's culinary style. She understands how her students feel, going through the effort to bake something, only to fail with a dessert you can't serve. "That's when people go to Costco and pick up something cheap." But there are so many things wrong with cheap: desserts are packed with preservatives to extend the shelf life and the ingredients stray far from anything that might be good for you...or flavorful.

Her mission became: Teach a Man to Bake, Don't Give Him a Cake.

Warm and engaging, Cindy's got an analytical mind that probes with a laser focus until she lands on the answer. While there are some excellent baking books, many of them lack direction in the most basic steps. One of the most frustrating steps both she and her students struggled with was the familiar: cream butter until light & fluffy. "What does that mean?" In her frustration she surmised, "Butter never looks fluffy...or light." Eventually she learned "light" meant light in color, not texture. And "fluffy" spoke to the incorporation of air into the butter. It's that attention to the intention that makes her recipes a step above.

To perfect her baking, she applied a scientific approach -- baking cakes repeatedly, changing the ratios at each attempt. Then, she'd study the results and determine what yielded the best outcome.

This scientific approach came from an early influence by the San Francisco's Baker's Dozen group. At the time, she was living in Berkley and there were a number of bakers in the area. They'd gather and talk about issues they were having, "I'm having a problem with this dough...do you know anything about that?"

Eventually, the group gelled into something more formal. They'd meet once a quarter and learn from each other. Tackling Angel Food cake, for instance, each person brought a finished cake and the recipe. "You wouldn't believe the variety! They all fell under the category of Angle Food cakes, but they were so different." Getting to the heart of the differences, the group sampled each cake, decided which characteristics were ideal, and then compared recipes. Side by side, they'd see the ingredients were the same. "Okay, now what did you do differently?" They'd analyze the techniques that arrived at an excellent finished product. Not surprising, this process deeply influenced Cindy's approach to baking.

When she was first asked to write a book on baking, Cindy thought, "What could I say about baking that hasn't already been said?" After further reflection...and before she'd given a final answer, she tapped into her own collection of over 200 baking books. Laying multiple books out on the living room floor, she poured over them with an analytic approach ---what's here? What's missing? And most importantly, what did her Sur La Table students struggle with when using the recipes?

Because she had years of contact with students who are often unsure, she could see firsthand where the issues where, and modified her own recipes accordingly.

Then Cindy turned to the bible of cooking science, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. While the book is a treasure trove of information, admittedly, it's a very dry read.

So, Cindy asked herself, "How can I combine both solid recipes and provide enough information to help people understand the science behind what's going on?"

She was determined to prove success in baking is built on a solid foundation...not a fluke. Tapping into an analytical approach, combined with years of teaching, the result is her latest book, the Art and Soul of Baking.

It hits the mark on every level.

In fact, she gives a lot of credit to Sur La Table, who was the impetus behind the project. They were very "hands off" in the creation of this book. None of the directions were cropped or modified to save space. And they gave her the time necessary to create a book of substance. Two years to write it, one year for editing means this book is much more than just a collection of recipes.

Baker's Dozen alum, Alice Medrich, wrote the forward and she highlights two key points: the chart for Baking Pan Volumes (What's the difference between a 9 x 1" Pyrex pie pan and a 9 x 1 1/2" Emily Henry fluted pie pan? It's here.) And a handy chart that converts measuring cups and spoons into exact weights. Alice notes, "The book's two essential double-page charts should be photocopied and hung inside a cupboard door for easy reference." Taking a cue from Alice, mine are laminated and stuck to the side of the refrigerator...and I refer to them, regularly.

The Art & Soul of Baking is packed with relevant information designed to bring success into the kitchen. Whether you're a novice or a seasoned baker, I found her discussion on the Eight Main Ingredients invaluable. And the photos for bread dough detailing the different stages: underrisen, perfectly risen, and overrisen doughs provides the visual cues necessary when conquering the land of yeast. Tips in the margins, "What the Pros Know" layers the knowledge base, providing multiple "ah-ha!" moments.

I consider myself a fairly accomplished baker and I've got dozens of books on the subject. Frankly, this is the book I have been looking for. Cindy is a perfect guide -- explaining not just how, but why. Surely I'd be a better baker today if I'd had this book sooner.

The good news is, there's still plenty for me to learn. And with Cindy as my guide, next up...conquering my fear of yeast!

***

Now, if you're a serious baker, no trip to Seattle would be complete without a stop at Bakery Nouveau. The owner, William Lehman, has a stable full of accolades, but most notably, he was the Captain of the Bread Bakers Guild, Team USA in 2005. Teams from around the world competed at the prestigious event and William's team took home the gold. (You can still catch footage of the competition on Food Network re-runs.)

After lunch, Cindy and I made a beeline to Bakery Nouveau.

This is what Cindy called "research":






One of my favorite things about dining with chefs, is watching the way they eat. I'm fascinated by how they truly tune into what they're eating. Look, smell, touch come into play and mentally, each dish is deconstructed before the first bite. Cindy was impressed with the crumb on William's baguettes and took note of features in the crust.




This caramel and custard beauty is one of my favorites. Cindy's book tour escort joined us and just before we tackled this dish, Cindy took a moment to explain how the caramel coating was brought to a dark amber, creating an intense caramel flavor that is actually balanced by bitter notes from the depth of the caramelization process.

As you can see, this is a visually stunning dessert and I love the gold leaf detail. This dessert is called the Phoenix. It's three layers of mousse (chocolate, pear and caramel) on a bed of candied pecans, bathed in a caramel glaze.





Pause for a swoon. This is my absolute favorite dessert at Bakery Nouveau: a crispy thin praline base with a uber creamy chocolate-hazelnut mousse, topped with milk chocolate shavings. Prailine Dream, indeed.



Finally, I just have to share this photo. When we first sat down, this was Cindy's initial reaction!

Space Needle Sunset


A Peek into My World

I don't blog as often as I'd like, and behind the scenes, I'm far more busy than you might imagine. The other night, someone who knew my work in the culinary biz said incredulously, "You have a full time job too?"

Well, I did...until last Thursday.

I have been working as an analyst for an award-winning magazine. With a focus on real estate mortgages, it was only a matter of time until the economic downtrend hit our doorstep. Thursday, the company reduced their staff by 1/3 and I was included in the mix. I crunched numbers for a living and was responsible for keeping a close eye on the national economic trends. While the layoff came as a surprise to some, I predicted it was only a matter of time. So here I am, poised and ready for the job hunt.

Luckily, just before I left, I was handed some juicy projects...including testing a new web user interface, conducted web analytic trend spotting, designed the training materials for the new program--including a 26 page glossary of industry terms, and I created a series of downloadable training videos. At the very end, I became quite fluent in conducting webinar presentations, which we rolled out to our 400 clients. It was exciting to see it all come to fruition before my departure.

Since the layoff, opportunity has been pounding on my door.

Lamenting how tired I was, a friend of mine retorted, "You're not complaining because your life is fabulous, are you?" Gotta love my friends for adding some perspective!


In case you're interested, here's a look at my schedule since Saturday:

Lunch with wine & cheese guru and blogger Catherine Reynolds and the husband and wife team of Wright Eats.

Consultation with a Naomi Andrade Smith on her first book.

Met with documentary flimmaker, photographer, and author Scott Squire.

Attended Theo's Chocolate University class on cacao production in West Africa.

Lunch interview with author Cindy Mushet to discuss her new book, "Art & Soul of Baking" and nosh at Bakery Nouveau.

3 days of events with Michaele Weisman, author of "God in a Cup":

- Blogger event hosted by Keren Brown and Muse Coffee Company

- Met with the North American Barista Champion, Dismas at Stickman and Kim Ricketts of Kim Ricketts Book Events

- Chocolate Tasting at Claudio Corallo & met with Andrew Daday, former coffee buyer for Caffe Vita

- Brunch with Robin Leventhal (chef/owner of Crave) and Dismas (Owner of Stickman)

- Tour through the Ballard Farmer's Market

- Tour Pike Place Market and visit the very first Starbucks

- Attended a "Meet the Producer" event at Stumptown with the Guatemalan Cup of Excellence champions from 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008.

- One Pot/Caffe Vita/Kim Ricketts dinner, including a book signing and interview with the author. 60 people in a swank Capitol Hill Loft.

- Dinner at Union and met with Chef Ethan Stowell.


And finally, I've been invited to speak at Antioch University. We finalized plans this week.

Yowza! What a wild ride this has been!

Local River...the Ultimate in Sustainability



Locovore?

How 'bout a self-contained ecosystem...in your living room?
Just steps away from your food source, you can't get more local than this!



Mathieu Lehanneur is a modern designer who defines ecological-based home decor.



This model comes equipped with a hatchery for freshwater fish and a hydroponic vegetable patch. It's a symbiotic relationship--the plants act as a filtering system, extracting nutrients and purifying the water.



To read more about the project see Mathieu's website. (Tab #28)

Foodbuzz & The Featured Publisher Dinner

Perhaps you noticed the pop of color over there on the right? That lovely banner is courtesy of the folks at Foodbuzz. In the willy-nilly searches of the internet, it's still difficult to sift through bloggerland, and find the ones that really resonate with you. Enter Foodbuzz with a solution. Their mission is to gather food bloggers in a central location and with their handy search tools, this is a great spot to find fellow food bloggers.

Back in May, I took a trek out to Vermont. On Foodbuzz, you can sort the blogs by location, so I was able to quickly pop into local blogs and get the lay of the land. My time in Vermont was way too short, but in the future, I wouldn't hesitate to contact bloggers for a little rendezvous.

While Foodbuzz is still a fledgling organization, they're growing at a pace that would make a dot.commer drool. The website's infrastructure is very user friendly and I have spent hours poking around, reading a slew of blogs. Some of my new-found-favorites? White on Rice Couple, FX Cusine.com, Food Junkie Not Junk Food's Flavor, and Tamarind Trees.


Earlier this year, the Foodbuzz folks made a sweep through Seattle, and organized a dinner with a handful of Featured Publishers. Through the lively chatter, wine and course after course of food, I managed to snap a few photos....


Restaurant Zoe: This Belltown spot is a favorite among food aficionados. When I think of Zoe, I think: gourmet comfort food. Note: The ingredients used are farm-fresh and seasonal. In the pictures below, when you see "spring peas & morels," that's a dead giveaway that I'm playing catch up...






East Coast Scallops with Morels and Spring Peas I'm a sucker for scallops and these were seared on the outside, moist and cooked to perfection on the inside. That savory mushroom jus still haunts me.

Seasonal greens with Boiled Egg and Olives. This dish hit all the right notes: sweet & sour vinaigrette with bitter greens and briny olives.






Peking Duck Breast with Nicoise Olives, Braised Fennel, Caramelized Endive, Oranges and Duck Jus - Just one question: do I really have to share? The duck was flavorful without being the slightest bit gamey and this dish made me a convert of the fennel, endive and orange combo. I'd seen it in cookbooks and raised an eyebrow more than once, but it was divine.

Big Eye Tartare with Celery Salad & Granny Smith Apple - Fresh and light tuna, on a bed of celery and granny smith apple. Together, these flavors were fantastic! A new-to-me pairing discovery that worked really well.





Chocolate Moose on Genoise with a Candied Fennel Frond Garnish - How beautiful is this? It tasted even better!

Salted Caramel and Candied Peanuts on Housemade Ice Cream - Ditto. Delish. In this photo the whipped cream looks like it came out of a canister, it didn't. That's freshly whipped cream, loaded in a pastry bag and piped with a star tip.





Unfortunately, I didn't catch everyone's name or blog...but on the left, that's Lisa & Chris of We Heart Food, Ryan of Foodbuzz and author of Ryan the Girl, that's Jen at the top of the table from Foodbuzz and author of Eating Plum, and near right, meet Jessie from Cakespy.

What a wonderful opportunity to connect with the San Francisco crew and meet fellow bloggers. Thanks Foodbuzz!

Book Love Knows No Bounds...

At ten years old, I had a paper route. I was responsible for delivering the afternoon and weekend editions, making the rounds on my pink Huffy Sweet Thunder 2. Like other young girls, I had a deeply-rooted fixation with horses and I'd ride through the neighborhood, pretending my Huffy was a jet black jumper named Midnight Dream Chaser. My trusty steed would wait patiently as I rolled the papers, one by one, and stuff them into my ink-stained bag.

The papers were delivered to a central distribution point at the corner of Miramar & Kingsway Drive. There, I'd meet other kids with routes next to mine. Each day, I'd rush to the stack of waiting papers and get a thrill trying to read the headline through the plastic binding. I'd flip the bundled stack over, pop the yellow cord, and as if inhaling for the first time, the papers would expand, noticeably.

My route yielded $20 a week, including tips. I'd hoard my money until Scholastic Books came to my classroom. Paper fliers listed book after book for purchase, at a discounted rate. Super geek that I am, I wanted them ALL. I'd pour over the list, reading each description and study the thumbnails. When the deadline arrived, I'd be forced to make a final decision...and anxiously wait for our order. In my world, anticipation for Scholastic Books dwarfed Christmas by a long shot.

While other kids obsessed with Donkey Kong and arcade games, I was perfectly content, reading my books. Eventually my parents learned, being sent to my room was not an effective punishment. After the allotted time was up, my mom would call and welcome me back to the family. Already engrossed in a book, I'd shuffle my way down the stairs, hours after my punishment expired!

Eventually, my obsession with books was replaced by boys and clothes.

For years, my book fetish lingered, dormant -- until I discovered an interest in cooking. From that moment, it was over. Each book unfolded a new interest: food politics, history and science to cookbooks ranging from baking, chocolate, condiments, party food, plate styling, regional or international...you name it, I had to have it.

When I did PR for the Chef, one of the first things that endeared him to me...was his collection of over 800 cookbooks. I picked his brain...and made a point to learn his favorite authors. His style, simple, yet elegant was deeply influenced by the French chef, Michel Roux. To better understand the chef, I bought every book Michel Roux wrote, and read them cover to cover.

As the piles of books grew, suddenly, I realized, "I need 12 lifetimes to try all these recipes!" So I gathered up my friends and we went to work.

Each month we assigned ourselves a different book and cooked diligently from them. But to be fair to the author, we established a few rules: no substitutions, no modifications, and you must choose a recipe that challenges you in some way--by technique or ingredient. The recipe must be prepared exactly as the author has written it.

Monthly, the recipe choices were submitted to me and compiled on a spreadsheet to avoid duplications. Dishes were prepared at home or finished on site, and shared potluck style. We'd meet to enjoy sumptuous late afternoon lunches, and discussed the books with earnest:

- How did the recipes read?
- Were the steps easy to follow?
- Did they add any unnecessary steps? Or omit anything?
- Were the header notes engaging?
- How was the overall selection of recipes? Balanced?
- And were there any surprises?

Between girl talk, the conversation always steered back to the book. We analyzed everything: "Who made this dish? What were you challenged by? Any unusual ingredients or steps? What was your overall impression of the recipe? Did the final dish match your expectation in the head notes? And would you make it again?"

At our table, we tackled some of the finest cookbooks in modern day print: Thomas Keller, Julie Sahni, Rick Bayless, Julia Child, Jerry Truanfeld, Alice Waters, Lidia Bastianich, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid and the list goes on.

For two years, our group met every month. It was a wonderful way to explore recipes and take a hard look at the makings of a cookbook. We tried no less than 10 dishes from each book, and were able to get a solid foothold on the author's premise.

Our group comprised of working chefs, cooking school instructors and other food enthusiasts. Tackling these recipes, we were experienced enough to know, the outcome--for better or worse, rested solely on the recipes.

One chef also functioned as a cookbook ghost writer. It was fascinating to see her read through a recipe and say, "That won't work, but let's try it anyway."

After two very disappointing books, we honed the list to represent modern classics. For the two duds, we tried several dishes but discovered none that were flavorful or particularly noteworthy. That experience drove us to ask...who tests these recipes? It became painfully evident, not every author thoroughly tests their recipes. Over time, we began to notice serious errors and omissions. And while some books were aesthetically beautiful, clearly more money was invested in the graphic design than the recipes.

This experience has changed the way I look at cookbooks, and I couldn't be more grateful. For a book that is more than a mere collection of recipes, there's a ton of work that goes into the process. Books that add value and truly have something to teach are sure-fire winners. Whether you're introduced to a new ingredient (garbanzo bean flour) or a new technique (caramelize part of the sugar before introducing it to your custard base), to me, these books are worth their weight in gold.

Over the past few months, I've had the good fortune to be able to meet with several authors. We've discussed everything from what inspires them -- to the challenges of writing a book...and the shifting arena of the publishing world. Creating a book is not an easy process. Along the way, there are many challenges...and very few things are under the author's control -- from the cover art, to graphic design, photos, the choice of paper and the editing of crucial information to save space.

I often ask, "Are you satisfied with the end result?"

The answers are inspiring, as well as intriguing.

Bloggin' Love...

Whoo hoo!

Ya'll remember the Candied Bacon Toffee? I'm pleased to announce that wonderful salty-sweet-bacon lusciousness has been featured on Key Ingredient!

Candied Bacon Toffee

Salty, sweet and bacon…what's not to love?

See Candied Bacon Toffee on Key Ingredient.





And I'm sporting this groovy new badge:




Haley, thank you very much! We're saving you a seat at our next Swine Divine Party (Warning: Wear your stretchy pants!)

Wandering in West Seattle



Ahhhh.....

There's nothing like salt air and the gentle nudge of waves lapping against the shore. As if pulled by an invisible string, gleaming white ferries glide across the water, contrasting brightly against Puget Sound's deep blue waters. Dotting the open span of water, evergreen-strewn islands rise, dark and inviting against a backdrop of rugged, snow-capped mountains. Seagulls cry overhead, swooping in to catch bits of stale bread.

Mere minutes from the heart of the city but leagues away from the hustle and bustle, for me, West Seattle is quintessential Seattle experience. Here, sea, land and skyline converge, offering stunning views from nearly every vantage point.



Lady Liberty looks out on the city skyline, providing a strategic perch for a passing crow.






Beach Drive offers mountain views and jaw-dropping sunsets.







On this day, I met Igor, a Russian immigrant who landed in the U.S. 15 years ago. He emerged from the frigid water, doning a wet suit with a broken zipper. New to Puget Sound diving, he poked among the rocks and crevices, searching for eels, octopus and starfish.




"Avenue of the Stars" hugs the shoreline, depicting constellations by the season. Inlaid plaques like this one are dedicated to well-loved family members. As I leaned over to snap the dedications, rising with sentimental tears in my eyes, one man rushed across the street to lend some assistance...worried that I might be ill. When he notice my camera, we both had a good laugh!





Sun-bleached driftwood provides a perfect spot for climbing.







And a surprise around every bend....Tennis anyone?





(Too beautiful for words.)


Blustery Nights

Crossing the 520 bridge





Driving into the city, traffic came to a full stop.


Howling winds blew spray and waves, cresting over the barrier. At a crawling pace, a noticeable sway rocked my car with an eerie, irregular rhythm.


Idle time and a killer sunset?


Sometimes, the journey is even better than the destination.

Thank you, Food & Wine!


Alert!


Woman down in isle 11!




No, I did not take another nasty fall....

Last night at the grocery store, I perused a couple magazines. When I cracked the pages of this month's Food & Wine, I nearly passed out!





The October edition of Food & Wine, Ethan Stowell recipes, starting on page 85.



My old client, chef Ethan Stowell, has an ELEVEN page spread in the October issue of Food & Wine. Now he was recently named one of their "Best New Chefs," so that's not surprising (okay, the amount of real estate dedicated to this article is a delightful surprise...)

Taking up the majority of those pages are glorious photos...and RECIPES. Yeah, so, big deal right? Well, I'm here to tell you, it is a big deal.

It's no secret that chefs hate writing recipes but Ethan was particularly stubborn about it. As a self-taught cook, to him, recipes were a bit frivolous. With simple preparations, he has an instinct about what goes well together and an innate sense of timing that tells him when things are just right.

The rest of us wanna-be-cooks, need a little more help. I study cookbooks endlessly and have an army of top notch chefs just a phone call away. Still, I cling tightly to recipes and rarely deviate from them. So for me, recipes are like gold. A treasure map into the land of deliciousness.

And there lies the conflict. Ethan's a culinary genius, I'm a slave-to-the-recipe dolt who wants to look like a genius!

In the end, we reached a compromise.

When media wanted a recipe, he'd narrate them to me. (Yes, Chef, I'm ready for your dictation...) I'd get it typed and formatted, then send it back to him for final polishing. (Since he worked with some funky ingredients, it was mostly getting the spellings right.)

Honestly, getting recipes out of him?

The word "painful" comes to mind....

So when I see TEN beautifully photographed recipes and most are new-to-me dishes, I nearly fell on the floor! God bless the folks who made that happen!!

Now here's the deal. It was not uncommon for me to eat at Union 3 or 4 times a week. Luckily, Ethan changes the menu every day, but you would think after 18 months gourmet gluttony, I might be ready for a break. But the truth is, I crave his food. Singing his praises was the easiest thing in the world....

Between you and me, I begged shamelessly for some of these recipes!! And there they are, within the glossy pages, featured with some serious drool-worthy photos. Amazing.

If you can't make the trek to Seattle, now you too can enjoy TEN incredible new recipes. The weekend's here and it's time to cook up a feast! I'll be starting with the Baked Orecchiette with Pork Sugo...a favorite of mine at the restaurant.

Thank you Food & Wine.

I know...minor miracles were involved!


If you want to take a look at the article, hop to it. Magazines get shifted out earlier in the month these days....By October 25th, you may be looking at the November edition.

Related Posts:
One Hell of a Year for Ethan Stowell
Tavolata
Chef's Tour of Pike Place Market
Let's Call it...Progress

Reflections

Sunrise over Smoke Mountain



My good friend Johnson is working on the trading floor of the Hong Kong stock exchange. He's learning quickly...the American financial collapse is having serious repercussions around the world. Newly minted with a much coveted MBA, he is in China, watching history unfold as the markets drop in a frenzied downward spiral. Over the years, I've been one of his mentors...watching him develop into a savvy global citizen. Seattle, Vancouver, Barcelona and today, he's in Hong Kong, I'm in Seattle. We traded news stories like text messages, lamenting the ramifications of a $700 Billion-dollar bailout package. The ticker in front of him continues to drop, and he is quick to remind me that in recent years, Asia has been dealing with repeated blows--from Japan's currency crisis to SARS and the Avian Flu epidemic. For a short while, there was hope. Until now.

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from my friend Masumi, a student at Brown University. Masumi has a sharp mind and a nervous giggle that belies her age. The last time we met, we slurped thick saucy noodles and discussed her education. I reminded her that one year at Brown University was like buying new Mercedes, annually. I held her gaze and said, "Make the most of it."

She has.

Masumi is now in Cameroon, West Africa. Packed in an overburdened carry on, she brought donated laptops and sold them in a dusty open market. Two discarded laptops raised enough money to dig a new village well.

Over lamplight and cups of tea, nights in the village, the conversations often turn deep and inquisitive. They discuss the politics of poverty, genocide and terrorism. The villagers, she says, "think George Bush should face an International Tribunal for war crimes." Across the globe, the war in Iraq is never far from our minds--even in Cameroon.

Masumi is American-born, with a lineage that mixes Japanese and Caucasian. In the village, she speaks French and is determined to learn the local dialects: Bazu, Ghomala, Limbum, and Pidgin. As she probes her own convictions and gropes for answers to injustice, delight comes in simple ways. After learning Masumi is a vegetarian, her host mother consulted the local doctor for advice.

Poverty is not without humanity.






I write a blog about food. And travel.

At times, I am disgusted.

Living in America, many would consider ours an enviable life. I have traveled to 17 different countries, many are developing nations. Like Masumi, I struggle with the questions travel brings forward. While I yearn to be sitting in a West African hut talking with the elders over kerosene lamps, I am here. In America. My e-mail is flooded with invitations to dine sumptuously and meet with celebrity chefs. One dinner, one book and rubbing elbows with fame costs more than...vaccinations for an entire school.

This American life seems so....trivial.

And the hundred mile diet makes me laugh. Bourgeoisie Americans declare themselves locovore and drive 60 miles for...salt.

The truth is, most of the world's population doesn't have a choice about where their food comes from. Villages trade with villages. And if the capitalists have their way, the locals will develop a taste for Cocoa Cola and white bread. Western societies eye India and China--the world's largest populations-- and think, "These countries need...Frappuccinos!"

I visited a Starbucks in Northern Thailand. Instantly recognizable by the familiar club chairs, branded music and Plexiglas. I could be blindfolded, placed into a Starbucks anywhere on earth and know exactly where I was. That's branding for you. But it was clear they were attempting to adapt someone's idea of "local culture." An impulse item at the cash register included a box of Chinese moon cakes. It made me smile, until I looked closer. Emblazoned right on the cake...was a coquettish Mona Lisa-smiling-mermaid, doing finned splits under a banner of S-T-A-R-B-U-C-K-S. I turned and ran from the store, narrowly missing a collision with a determined tuk tuk driver.


I am here.


And I want to go there.


I don't have any answers...but I have many, many questions.


I read recently that Jefferson, long before the Louisiana Purchase was even a possibility, began grooming Meriwether Lewis for the journey. Several years beforehand, Lewis began developing the skills needed for his monumental journey of discovery. What, exactly, would Lewis & Clark encounter when they traveled "West?"They had no idea. Lewis learned everything he could about about flora and fauna, cartography, geography, medicine, and the list goes on. Incredibly, at the time, they thought woolly mamoths still roamed the land! While they may have been misguided about a few details, there's no doubt, preparation helps ready the mind.

For the past year, I too have been preparing. My reading list is staggering. I've attended classes and lectures, and dined with some of the most interesting people you could ever hope to grace your table. Remember finals week in college? Yeah, it's been like that. For over a year now.

The more I learn, the more difficult it is to narrow down exactly what I'm looking for. I carried around a National Geographic map for a year, trying to rule out countries I didn't want to see. But the fact of the matter is, I've traveled long enough to know, every country is filled with a kindness and human dignity that at once is beautiful and startling...and it brings tears to my eyes. That's what I yearn for. Whether we connect over mango lassies or lapsong, it doesn't matter. Wherever you go, a smile is still a smile. A hug is a hug.

Real humanity trades in the commodities of kindness and compassion.

Not iPods and cell phones.

Beat Me To It...

Last week:

1 intense night at Chocolate University
2 web-based presentations
3 author interviews
4 posts
7 new ice cream recipes

And 1 invitation to Nicaragua

Honestly? I fantasize about getting stranded on a desert island...so I can catch up on a backlog of posts! Even on book tour, Karen and Andrew beat me to a it! (Scroll down)