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23 Feb

I spent a weekend in Portland recently.  For half the time, I was in regular old Portland at an old fancy hotel with no sign of hipsters.  I drove the three hours to attend industry meetings in a windowless ballroom.  The meetings were about as exciting as you might expect.  Our client dinner in El Gaucho’s private room was just as fancy as you might expect.  Also, stuffy.  If it were on my personal tab, I probably would have regretted the $1,000 bill.  But it wasn’t, so I didn’t mind much.  I happily ate my steak and chose the wine.

In my few spare moments of free time, I snuck a peek into all the glory of Portlandia.  Seattle is not so far from Portlandia, both in distance and, in some neighborhoods, culturally.  But Portland takes it to a much higher level of hipsterness that I can’t even pretend to understand.  I drank an americano at Stumptown.  I watched girls (…and boys) in neon leggings paired with hand-knit oversized grandpa sweaters and majorly messy top-knots saunter to the barista, showing a complete lack of interest in life generally.  Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are from Seattle, but these Stumptown folks seemed to know all about popping tags at the thrift shop.  I snacked on a scone in my Lululemons, feeling utterly yuppie and out of place.  I strolled through Powell’s on my to lunch and got lost in the Rose room, mesmerized by the smell of old books and people a few days past their expiration date for showering.  It felt romantic.  And kind of grungy.

The Portlandia food (other than El Gaucho, honestly) was what got me.  I called J at every meal or texted him a photo to share the deliciousness.  Hipsters do some weird things, but one thing they do well is choosing the best restaurants.  I managed to follow their lead to some amazing places in Portlandia:

Brunch at Clyde Common in the Ace Hotel, aka Hipster Heaven.  Bacon steak.  Rosemary biscuits.  Communal seating, get to know yo’ neighbor.


Oven and Shaker.  In the Pearl District, this little spot made me swoon at lunch with its perfectly concocted pizza pie.  You can buy the kitchen a 6-pack; it’s on the menu.  It’s also across the street from Jonathan Adler’s store, a feast for my color-loving eyes.


I also went to The Parish, a Cajun/Creole gem that served me a delicious soft-shell crab sandwich and the southern fried chicken to my colleagues, I enjoyed a mini-cupcake from Cupcake Jones and had the best mini chocolate chip cookies with sea salt of. my. life from Two Tarts Bakery on 23rd.  Oh, and don’t forget the food trucks.  I visited those, too.  To sum up, I mostly sat in windowless ballrooms, walked, ate, observed hipsters doing various decidedly cool activities, and ate some more. 


11 Nov

Did you know that homemade croissants take three days of work? Me neither!

A week ago, while experiencing a craving that I can only imagine rivals a pregnant woman’s craving for ice cream and sardines, I had a hankering for croissants. I selected the first google hit that popped up and was pleasantly surprised to see that Fine Cooking described making “classic croissants” as “not difficult.” Bullshit, I say.

I (J) am not a baker, per se. I don’t typically like to measure ingredients, which is incredibly ironic given my type A personality. I like to cook by feel and sight. Freud would’ve likely opined that I acquired this trait while I watched my mother and grandmother cook. Cooking with my grandma would go something likes this: Little J would ask, “How much bread crumbs should I use, Grandma?” And she would reply, “Use enough to mix them in with the meat.” Me, “WTF.” Alright, I didn’t say WTF to G-ma, but I’m sure the 5 year-old equivalent of WTF went through my large, child-sized head. Suffice it to say, I found the precision required for baking croissants pretty darned challenging.

Below is my memory of the recipe or you can read the real recipe here.

Day 1 of making croissants is easy. Throw all the ingredients into a mixer equipped with a dough hook, turn on the mixer, and wait.

Day 2 gets a bit more challenging. Make a 6 x 6 square of cold butter and roll it out so it’s a 7.5 x 7.5 square. Yep, here I am with a tape measure, measuring butter. Roll out the dough and fold your healthy butter square inside the dough. Refrigerate dough, take dough out, roll dough until it’s 8 x 24 inches, measure some more. Refrigerate, take out, roll out, measure two more times. Make gigantic mess of your kitchen counter by throwing flour everywhere.

Day 3 requires you to find your inner architect. Roll out the dough until it’s 8 x 44 inches. Reflect on how happy you are that your kitchen island is the length of a football field. Cut dough into perfect triangles, start rolling, and make sure they look pretty. Bake. Break out butter (because there’s probably not enough already inside) and jam. Chow down at 1 am and try to remember why you wanted croissants in the first place.

Three Hour Lunch at Salumi

18 Mar

First, let me start off by saying that I definitely wasn’t business drunk.  Mostly because I wasn’t drunk at all.  But I did sip on 2.5 glasses of wine during a business lunch recently.  In my defense, it was a 3-hour lunch.  And the partner who invited me most certainly had more glasses of wine.  And never once did I question my soberness or professionalism or proper etiquette. But, still, 2.5 glasses in the middle of the workday is not insignificant.


Second, ohmygoodness Salumi is delicious and really really really knows how to impress its backroom guests.  J has been many times for sandwiches at lunch.  Together, we had been once before (hence these photos from last summer—even with my 2.5 glasses of vino, I didn’t have the courage to photograph the “business-drunk” lunch).  I should warn you that the lunch would have been awful for a vegetarian or anyone on a low-sodium diet.  There was meat in every. single. one. of the 6? 7? 8? courses.  Except for the dessert course.  But for at least 5 minutes I was under the impression that the chef told us the vanilla gelato and blackberries were sprinkled with pig salt.  It turns out, the chef was saying pink salt.  I suppose the sodium levels took over and I heard what I wanted to hear at that point.


Back to the meal.  Sandwiches it was not.  When you reserve the backroom, you eat what they serve and you fall a little bit in love with what you eat.  We enjoyed antipasti, including several kinds of house-cured salami and prosciutto and olives.  Then there was the prosciutto-wrapped chicken wing course.  Surprisingly easy to eat, especially for someone like me who does not do chicken with bones unless forced.  Is that weird?  Moving on.  We dabbled in sausage with onions and peppers (something I refused to touch 9 years ago when J and I were early in our relationship).  Then there was the eggplant parmesan dish. AH-ma-ZING!  Out of control, I tell you.  Meaty—now that I think about it, perhaps this was the one meatless dish—but light and balanced.  Next we had pasta.  Wide house-cut pasta noodles with red sauce and bits of lamb.  I don’t particularly like lamb, but I could have eaten that pasta for days.  The piece-de-resistance was the enormous braised pork shoulder.  It was phenomenal.  But the tastiest part of the entire meal were the tiny button mushrooms gracing the edges of the pork shoulder.  I have no idea what was going on with those mushrooms, but they were intensely delicious.  The moment they popped into the mouth, it was clear these mushrooms were something special.  My grandmother, who “hid” onions in my tuna sandwiches for years (you can’t hide that taste, first of all, and secondly, why did she take the extra time to dice the secret onions that I hated?  I’ll never know), would have been proud of my affinity for those teensy delightful mushrooms.


So, it turns out that working as a private civil attorney has its perks, which this week came in the form of a much-appreciated salt coma on a Wednesday afternoon.  I “bonded” with a couple of partners at my firm and got to know some really friendly client-folks.  I was at the private table in the backroom that people who had spent upwards of 60 minutes in line to eat a sandwich (see above) kept peeking around the corner to see.  We had the fancy food—instead of mere sandwiches as big as my face—with the many bottles of wine and we were having a great time schmoozing in our business suits at 2:30 pm in the middle of the week.


[The above communal table was not ours, though the private backroom isn’t much fancier than this.  Which is part of the charm, really.]

Lest you think it was all fun and games, I billed nearly 8 hours on Wednesday, despite the 3.5 hours I was out the office for lunch (and no, the time at Salumi didn’t count).  I put in the time at the office not because I’m worried about meeting my billables—luckily, my hard work and high standards have paid off so far in the form of more work from the partners—but rather because I have so much work to do and what feels like very little time to do it.


The good news is that I’m learning how to set boundaries.  On Friday, I found the courage to ask a partner if it would be necessary for me to work on his project over the weekend.  On weekends past, I simply did the work.  This time, he kindly told me that it wouldn’t be necessary.  So I’m giving myself a treat.  No work this weekend.  It makes me nervous because there is much to be done next week.  But I am trying to convince myself to believe there is more to be gained from taking a break and refreshing my brain and energy for what’s to come on Monday.


For the record: Salumi deserves its good reputation.  Not because it’s Mario Batali’s family’s place.  Not because it’s fancy.  It’s most certainly not.  Just because it’s good.  Really, really, reliably good.

Christmas Lefse

25 Dec

As a child, I believed that early Christmas morning was the absolute highlight of the holiday season. This year, as I look back to reminisce and try to place into context both what I’ve lost and gained this year, I am struck by the magic my parents created for my brother and I when we were kids. They always made sure Christmas music was playing in the background, each of the seemingly millions of lights were lit throughout the house, fresh coffee was brewing and something delicious was baking for breakfast. Our home was inevitably warm and cozy, no matter how early we awoke them. And, without fail, the stockings were filled with the most amazing, priceless trinkets and candies from Bartell’s Drug Store (presumably?) that one could ever hope to receive. It was all sparkle and shine and hope and excitement. Magic.

The magic this season is decidedly less sparkly and shiny and hopeful than in years past. It was further dampened by my release of tears/sobs early yesterday afternoon. But it was rekindled a bit during an evening surrounded by family and a night cuddled up with J and Stella by the light of our tree (where we watched 2 Netflixed episodes of Nip/Tuck. It may not seem very Christmasy, but let me tell you something. Over the past two years we  have occasionally watched episodes and the Christmas episode happened to be next in line last night. So weird, right? And it happened to involve all sorts of insane plot lines that totally put my family problems into perspective. We don’t have family members who are British female pimps who get off by stealing other people’s organs under the cover of night and disposing of them by hiding the remainder of the body in Santa toy bags. At least not that I know of. So that was comforting. I owe a big huge holiday thank you to those crazy Nip/Tuck writers!).


Earlier this month my Mom and I (and J, for  a few minutes) joined two of my cousins to make a family favorite, lefse. It’s a Christmas requirement to have lefse at family gatherings, so in some ways we didn’t have much of a choice but to make it. But it was also a tribute to my very special Grandma who, for the first time in my life, was not a major presence during the holidays. I suppose there is some comfort in the fact that she is hanging out with my brother this Christmas. In any event, we did our best to make her proud with our lefse offerings. The process of kneading, rolling, flipping and folding (not to mention buttering, brown-sugaring, rolling again and devouring) also brought some of the magic back to Christmas this year. It was nice to know that she was there in spirit, cheering us on with her Norwegian pride.


Combine ingredients with an electric mixer:

5 lbs potatoes, peeled and boiled

2 sticks of salted butter

2 teaspoons of salt

Refrigerate overnight (the overnight part probably isn’t necessary, but it’s just how we do it in our family). Push the finished potato mixture through a ricer to remove all lumps. Perhaps add salt to taste, but not too much.


Preheat lefse pans to 400 degrees. Accept the fact that, when you are done making lefse, your kitchen will look like a giant flour bomb went off.


Pat a medium-sized handful of dough into a flattened circle, adding flour as you go. Not too much, or Grandma would have told you it’s too starchy. It should feel like cookie dough, but not wet at all. Experiment with it. When it’s too starchy, you’ll feel more flour than potato and you know you’ve gone too far.


Put the pressed, floured dough on the center of the floured linen-covered lefse board. Make sure there is enough flour so your dough won’t stick. If it sticks, all hell breaks loose, more or less. A wet board is a useless board. Use your rolling pin that is covered with a lefse sock and gently, but swiftly, roll the dough as thin as possible. It will look something like a tortilla. But thinner and more delicate.


Take your lefse stick (that your Grandfather carved many years ago, if you’re lucky) and gently, gently loosen the dough from the board on all edges and underneath. Move the stick to the center of the dough and channel your Grandma’s patience as you pick it up with the stick and move it to the lefse pan.


Unroll the dough onto the pan and arrange so there are no folded edges. Wait for it to bubble and then do a happy, celebratory dance. The hard part is over.


Flip your lefse once, after about 1-2 minutes when the underside has developed beautiful brown spots. After 1-2 additional minutes, use your lefse stick to transfer the finished product to the linen towels that are waiting on the side of your pan. Fold it into quarters and stack neatly, covering the stack each time to keep the lefse fresh and hot.


My family spreads butter on one side and sprinkles it heavily with brown sugar, rolling it up like a tiny burrito. Ask anyone who knew my Grandma and they’ll tell you that her lefse made the holidays magical.


Wishing you a Merry Christmas if you celebrate that sort of thing. Otherwise, wishing you, and everyone, peace and a bit of magic during this holiday season.

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

24 Nov

I’m thankful for the simple moments—hot coffee and fresh omelets for breakfast after a short jog in the rain with Stella. I’m thankful for the indulging moments—our favorite sour cream chocolate cake with cream cheese peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache. I’m especially thankful for the meaningful moments—spending the day with family and friends and appreciating the life we’ve been given to live as fully and honestly and happily as possible. We wish all of you a very happy thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 2011 breakfastThanksgiving 2011 StellaThanksgiving 2011Thanksgiving 2011 Stella 2

Cupcakes & Grieving

19 Nov


When we arrived in Scottsdale, I was beyond excited when I saw a Sprinkles shop mere blocks from our hotel. J and I love a good cupcake and I’d never had the privilege of eating one from the Beverly Hills-based bakery. We have strong opinions about the Seattle cupcake scene (Trophy is overrated, Cupcake Royale is reliably top-notch) and we served cupcakes in lieu of cake at our wedding.


We were walking in downtown Scottsdale, waiting for an appropriately late enough time in the morning to engage in cupcake-eating, when we found out my brother died. Needless to say, we weren’t exactly in a cupcake mood after hearing the tragic news.


There have been a handful of particularly hard days since 11.11.11. One of those days being the 12th, the day we packed up my parents and sent them off to the airport to fly home to deal with the reality of their son’s death. Waiting with them for the shuttle to the airport was gut-wrenching. I honestly didn’t know if they could make it through the airport bureaucracy and I didn’t know how they would handle being cooped up in a small aircraft squeezed next to strangers. They made it home intact, so I guess they handled it as well as could be expected.

All I really wanted to do for the rest of the day, after we spent time with my two sisters, was to walk and breathe fresh air. I wanted to allow time for the impact of his death to start to settle in. I wanted to give myself space to feel the emotions as they passed through. And I wanted to know what it would mean to experience a new normal, a normal that involved both a release from endless worrying about my brother and a deep sadness that he would not be an active participant in our future life.


J is a good husband. He knows what a cupcake can do for me and he made it feel okay for us to stop by Sprinkles during our walk, even though it was the day after my brother died and even though it was not a moment that called for celebrating. I ordered the banana+dark chocolate. J ordered the peanut butter+chocolate. Both were perfection.


Our walk eventually led us to the most romantic tapas restaurant. We didn’t take photos, mostly because no image could have possibly captured the magic of the moment. The trees on the patio, twinkling with lights and glittering with crystals hung in the branches, were framed by the desert sunset sky. We ordered Spanish wine and croquettes, both of us noting the strangeness of finding the perfect little tapas spot in Scottsdale during the moment when we most needed to hold onto the good parts of our life. We reflected on our very happy life together, which is so full of love. We remembered my brother and took a moment to appreciate that he was, finally, at peace. We toasted to life.

On our way back to the hotel, I wiped tears from my face. We stood and held each other on the sidewalk. We tried to make sense of our new normal. And then we spied the Sprinkles sign across the street. In our defense, it had been a solid 5 hours since we last ate cupcakes. And we had walked for much of the day. And we were grieving. So in we went, the nice girl behind the counter remembering us from before and making us feel like it was completely normal and healthy to come back for round 2. This time we ordered pumpkin+cream cheese frosting. It was worth the calories, we wholeheartedly agreed.

I don’t know what tomorrow or next week or next month will feel like during this time of grieving. But I know that I am so thankful for the little, simple moments of happy that shine through the sadness.

Blackberry Oat Scones

28 Sep

I found this recipe at Orangette. After I started combining ingredients, I realized that I didn’t have enough half and half, so I substituted 1/3 cup of the half and half for nonfat milk. I also substituted the Turbinado sugar with cane sugar for garnish. Both substitutions seemed to work fine.


The way that Molly from Orangette describes the recipe made me feel a little pressure:

Like a classic biscuit dough, this scone dough needs a light touch. It’s important to work quickly, and to not overwork it. There will be small bits and flakes of cold butter in the dough, and they’re essential to its structure: if they get too warm or overworked, you can wind up with a scone that spreads like a cookie or a pancake.

To relieve some of the time pressure, I pre-cut the butter on a plate and stored it in the fridge until I needed it. Worked like a charm!



3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed golden brown sugar
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. kosher salt
11 Tbsp. (5 ½ ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 ¾ cups cold half-and-half
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries or blackberries

For garnish:
3 Tbsp. old-fashioned rolled oats
5 tsp. Turbinado sugar

Makes 12 scones


Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pulse to mix well. Add the butter and pulse again briefly, until the mixture looks coarse and the largest lumps of butter are no bigger than a pea.


In a large bowl, stir together the half-and-half and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and the rolled oats, and stir until just combined. The dough will be thick and sticky. Add the berries, and stir briefly to mix. [When I use blackberries in particular, I find that it’s difficult to stir them into the dough without crushing them, overworking the dough, and turning the whole mixture purple. My solution is to only stir a little, and then move on to the next step. As you scoop the dough onto the baking sheets, you can use your fingers to press any errant berries into the mounds of dough.]

Using a 1/3-cup measuring cup, scoop the dough into mounds, arranging them 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Garnish the tops with rolled oats and Turbinado sugar.

Bake for 24 to 27 minutes, or until the center of the scones feels firm to the touch.


Note: Molly says that, wrapped in plastic wrap or stored in an airtight container, these keep beautifully at room temperature for 4 or 5 days. Warm in a toaster oven before eating.


Crab Cleaning

26 Sep

Crabs . . . Now I understand why they’re expensive in restaurants – because they’re kind of gross to clean. After S’s Mom and Dad took us crabbing, they taught us how to cook and clean the crab.

Cooking? Got it, boil them in a bunch of water and salt. Cleaning? Umm, gross.

S’s Mom’s advice was pretty simple. “Shove your thumb in there. Rip that off. Pull it apart.” I’ll note that the part that you “shove” your thumb into happens to be where the crab’s private bits would be if he were a person.

I learned what crab butter is. And it looks like the ooze that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crawled into.

The end product was well worth it. As you can see in the impressive iPhone photo below, we had lots and lots of crab.

But, catching, cooking, cleaning, and eating your own crab is exhausting work, people. I used scissors, forks, little forks, chop sticks, anything I could find to get all the meat out. S and her folks, on the other hand, are pros. They can break a crab leg at the joint and extract a leg’s worth of meat.

Unfortunately, despite my most heartfelt pleas, S still declines to crack my crab for me.


Celebrating J’s Birth

17 Sep

J’s birthday is around the corner. We’re celebrating with all sorts of foodie-related goodness over the next week. Unfortunately for him (and me) I don’t think the near future will include a Sour Cream Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache Glaze. But we will be dining at the recipe creator’s restaurant, Delancey, which will hopefully make up for the lack of homemade cake. Our plans also include sampling our way through Seattle’s first-ever Mobile Food Rodeo, dining and cocktailing at Tavern Law, and raising our miniature beer mugs at one of our favorite annual Seattle events, Fremont Oktoberfest. Lots of birthday cheer to J! And cheers to creating memorable make happy moments.

[image via Orangette]

The day we learned how to catch the crab (the edible kind)

8 Sep

8am wake-up call at Casa de J & S. Home-brewed coffee in hand, empty cooler tucked into the backseat, waiting to be filled with the catch of the day.


We’ll meet you just past Potlatch State Park, they said. Go to the boat launch near the bathroom, walk down the ramp and we’ll find you there with the boat. We showed up right on time at 11am and skipped a few rocks while we waited for them to pull ashore. Feet first we stepped into the cold Puget Sound water, they drove the boat toward us, onto the ladder we climbed and off we went.


They reserved one of the four crab pots so they could teach us how to prep it and put it in the water. Even with only one pot, room to move around the boat was scarce.


Step 1: Attach a mélange of raw chicken parts (above) to the inside of the empty pot. Try to pretend it’s not the most disgusting thing you’ve done all morning.

Step 2: Make sure your rope is securely tied to the pot.

Step 3: Gently place the pot in the water (so your nasty chicken scraps don’t get lost at sea) and feed the rope into the water.

Step 4: The pot will hit bottom, the rope should still be in hand. Attach small weights to rope, throw in remainder of rope, which already has a buoy tied to the end. The buoy has your name and address written on it. In case of thievery, strong tides, or your own shaky memory [Editors note: you should probably check the name on the buoy before you pull up the pot, before you see a circle-shaped cage that you do not recognize as your own, before you have to throw it back into the water quickly so its owner doesn’t see you scheming their pot…not that we personally experienced this or anything…].

Step 5: Frolic around the sound for approximately 60 minutes. Frolicking might include taking a cat nap in a sprawled position across the bow of the boat. Also, you might eat skittles and smoked salmon and sip a root beer. Then you will probably question the snack choices. Finally, you will decide the snacks are individually stellar, but perhaps not ideally paired.


Step 6: Pull up the pots and cross your fingers for crabs (again, I mean the edible kind). Throw out the females (identified by a wider honeycomb-shaped underside) so they can continue to reproduce. Make sure your males (with a narrower honeycomb-shaped underside) are big enough and throw them in the cooler. And by “throw” I mean jab your hand near the least-scary part of the crab’s flailing pinchers as quickly as humanly possible, squeal like an excited 3-year-old and fling the sucker out of the boat as though it were a life-or-death situation.


Step 7: Clean and cook the crab. Details coming soon, compliments of J. Stay tuned.


You did good, they said. You pulled up the pots, ignored the pinchers to toss the crab, and cleaned it. All on your first crabbing outing. We had fun, we said. And we did. So much fun. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a seriously relaxing, fulfilling day.