Foodie Tuesday: Artful Eating

Another pleasure of travel—of getting out of my familiar paths and habits—is discovering not only new things to eat but new ways of preparing and presenting foods I might have known all along. Whether there’s some entirely unforeseen ingredient or the known ones are combined in a completely unfamiliar way or plated more exotically or beautifully than I’ve seen before, it’s all, well, food for thought. And a danged fine way to assuage the hunger pangs brought on by wandering and exploring in new territory.

The time we spent in Europe in July was yet another happy example of this truism. So much so that I’ll just give you a few tantalizing shots for your contemplation and not go further. You’ll be wanting to dash off for lunch before I have any time to go on further anyhow, don’t you know.Photos: Artful Eating (Series) 2014-08-05.2.artful-eating 2014-08-05.3.artful-eating 2014-08-05.4.artful-eating 2014-08-05.5.artful-eating 2014-08-05.6.artful-eating 2014-08-05.7.artful-eating 2014-08-05.8.artful-eating

Foodie Tuesday: Some Useful Rules for Desserts

Our recent trip in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic served as a fine reminder that Europeans have some special talents when it comes to taking advantage of the fun factor of making and enjoying desserts. A cafe many of us from the choir tour group found on our stop just before crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border had a menu loaded not only with bright, shiny pictures but dessert items guaranteed to put any dedicated diner into a happy but instantaneous snacking coma.

Photo: Dessert Rules 1

You really have to admire any dessert that is not only as substantial as this but has booze or some effectively delicious substitute for it in the mix.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 2

Switch a few of the ingredients and keep the sugary deliciousness quotient (and possibly, the eaters) high, and the menu begins to expand. As do waistbands on both sides of the international border.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 3

Something with a typically European liquor flair keeps the menu distinctly local, perhaps. Even if your typography can’t keep up with your recipe tinkering, good taste will abound.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 4

Hot raspberry sauce = Heisse Liebe (Hot Love, a traditional romantic dish) when served over rich vanilla ice cream. A great dessert for honeymooners (I just happen to know), and another way to brighten up the sweetness of a giant sundae.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 5

No reason to limit the brightness of either color or flavor to raspberries and ice cream; why not add yogurt and kiwi fruit for some jazz?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 6

But really, if you’re going to get splashy with the colors and textures and flavors, why not get more elaborate yet?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 7

Or make some kid-crazy concoction that will invite the most stoic and stalwart child of any age to play with his food?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 8

Heck, why not just make the dessert as *big* as a kid. No point in being shy or subtle if you’re serious about making desserts that compel attention and ravenous attacks on the dish.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 9

Of course, if you’re planning to entice the larger, older variety of child to eat, you might consider making some semblance of slightly more grownup-sounding dishes. How about a nice spaghetti-style sundae?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 10

What, that wasn’t flashy enough for you? Try a Pizza sundae. Not surreal enough in the spaghetti imitation department? Make some rich, red strawberry sauce to pour over the ice cream spaghetti. Or for the more soigné palate, perhaps a Carbonara version.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 11

Still, I have to admit that perhaps my favorite from this elaborate collection was the skillet-with-eggs doppelgänger, which in its simple ingredients would likely be a very yummy, creamy dream of an apricot cooler for a hot afternoon and also take a good run at pretending to be much better for me than piles of whipped cream and sweetened fruit.

All of this enticement aside—and I did, however reluctantly, lay it all aside despite the strong temptations, having already eaten a pretty substantial and dairy-laden traditional European meal of ‘fried cheese’ (crisply crumb-coated slow-melt cheese served with a sweet tartar dipping sauce)—there are other dessert paths to my heart, even in the heart of dessert-magical Europe. So I waited a moderate amount of time for my digestion, stroll aided, to recover from lunch before I opted for a much smaller and less elaborate dessert. elsewhere. It was only a single scoop of Stracciatella gelato, but it was cold, creamy, rich and delectable all the same. I’m not made of stone, you know.

 

 

 

Flowers for Mom

P&I drawingIt’s your birthday. You look in the mirror and you can’t imagine who that strange person looking back at you could possibly be–your grandmother, maybe? The family and your friends are all busy and far away and there’s a ton of work to be done, so the party on your big day this year will probably be a cookie or two after dinner while you read the couple of chapters you can fit in before unceremoniously dropping off to sleep in the chair. In the hours between that morning mirror check and dinner, you wonder where all the time went and what could possibly lie ahead.

And then you wonder what your mother experiences on her birthday.

It is my mother’s birthday today, and I am far away from her and have a ton of work to do, so any party she has will be without me, as it often is anymore. And having had a cascade of health challenges in the last decade or so, she will likely wonder at the speed of the passing years and the uncertainty of those approaching.

But I hope that, somewhere in the midst of all that, she still finds cause for celebration. My own collection of birthdays is growing, as are those of my sisters and families, and for all of these we owe a certain debt of gratitude to Mom for having had the perfect mixture of innocent foolhardiness and courage that it takes to become a mother, not just biologically but with the dedication of throwing umpteen birthday parties for us, coaxing us through the many of those days when there wasn’t time or space for the party, and giving us the love and support it took to each take off on our own and have our full lives. Small as it may be, the birthday gift that I think my mother might like the best is that she created a whole slew of birthday opportunities for us her family and for many others whom she annexed to the bloodline over the years.

We are an exponentially widening universe of what-ifs and why-nots ourselves, each of us growing up, growing older and asking our own questions of the unexpected people we’ve become, and finding and building lives and loves that, in turn, reach out further than any one of us could possibly do alone. That seems to me to be the closest thing to a purpose for existence that silly creatures like humans can have. A pretty grand one, at that.

Thank you, Mama, and may your birthday glow brightly with the expansiveness that you taught the rest of us, and may we pass it along to all the others we cherish too.digital illustration from a P&I drawing

Foodie Tuesday: Pleasing Paternal Palates

photoFather’s Day 2012 arrived on a date when we were both in the same state as our respective fathers. How about that. So it was our pleasure to gather up both sets of parents and the one sibling in close enough proximity and have a meal together.

I know that you all love food, and most of you love cooking and entertaining, too–especially if it’s for loved ones. You’ve told me so on many a Tuesday, not to mention with many a blog post of your own heralding the glories of your hospitality. I appreciate these wonders more than I can express–and the insufficiency of my words to do so is still mitigated, I think, by your awareness of my good intentions when it comes to these things. But being ‘on the road’ and having no kitchen to call my own, I knew it was the better part of valor to find a good meeting place that would supply the edible, drinkable provisions and let us all sit back and do the eating and drinking unencumbered by such worries.

Since all seven of us in the party are fans of various kinds of seafood, we opted for the Father’s Day Brunch at a local waterfront eatery well known for such stuff and let it go at that. Not a bad choice. Buffets are often a dangerous no-man’s-land of dining, to be sure, but a very popular and well-attended one is virtually guaranteed not to have the infamous nastiness of those foods that crepitate tragically on the serving board until petrification or putrefaction begin to gain ascendance over them and everything gets that creepy sheen of something that may or may not have been prepared using automotive lubricants and plumbers’ tools. Father’s Day is clearly one of the Top Five when it comes to holidays associated with hauling the parental units off to an eatery, because of course even the worst cretins among us know at some level that it’s not very polite to ask Dad to cook up his own celebratory treats and not a lot of us have the time, talent or gumption to do the deed ourselves. So we were not remotely surprised to see our restaurant of choice, and all of those we passed en route to it, jammed and jiggling with crowds of hungry visitors.

The buffet was not particularly unusual or even, probably, more sumptuous than many we’ve seen or heard others describe, but it was certainly lavish enough and varied enough to keep all of us from trying very hard to converse in the noisily crowded dining space, but rather left us making cheerily knowing winks across table at each other while cramming yet another tidbit of roasted or sugary whatsis onto a fork and into our grinning mouths. The weather was far more cooperative than predicted, so we enjoyed sunny views out through the expansive windows straight across the Sound to the big city, gulls parked on the old piling remnants of the piers adjacent to us, scudding clouds that failed to reflect in the increasing chop of the water and a few water taxis and ferries cutting through the chop to zigzag from shore to shore.photoWe ate lox and blackened salmon and hot-smoked salmon, fried shrimps and steamed prawns and seafood chowder, crab legs and crab Benedicts and crab salad; fruit and greens and vegetables and pickled goods. We ate roasted potatoes and hashed and steamed and whipped; roasts of beef and lamb and pork, and sausages and bacon; pasta and bread, muffins and scones. Cakes and pancakes, crepes and rolls, desserts and cheeses and so, so much more. Bloody Marys and coffee and tea and liquid chocolate poured from a fountain over pretty much whatever you might opt to stick under the flow. Fingers included, if I judge correctly by the number of small persons hovering near said fountain. But who’s to blame them? It’s Father’s Day, after all, and without those little scarpers there would be no fathers to celebrate, eh.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Sweets from the Sweet

photoI knew we’d hit the neighbor jackpot yet again. We have a history chock-full of fine neighbors between us, my husband and I, of that sort who are not only great to chat with at the mailbox but offer help and led tools when they see projects underway, share their mystical gardening secrets, and advise on who’s the best resource for automotive care, where there’s still an independent pharmacy in town, or what the local ordinances are on right-of-way maintenance.

But we all know that the best neighbors of all have not only generosity in their hearts but also food in their hands when they show up at the door. Rhonda was known to trade her fresh-picked raspberries for our over-abundant plums. David–actually the manager at our then apartments–went door to door delivering home-grown green beans, tomatoes and zucchini that he and his wife grew in the ‘bonus’ plot on the complex’s property. Peter rang the doorbell at our place in Tyee bearing bending boards of fantastic barbecued meats and salmon and vegetables.

Add to this that we had not only other great neighbors but also heroic postal carriers, pest treatment and HVAC specialists, and remodeling contractors who have become admired friends, and you know that our standard for being spoiled is very high.

So when we moved to our current home, perhaps it was only par for the course that our new next door neighbors would arrive with welcoming smiles–and food. But what food! We didn’t have to lift a finger for anything other than unpacking and furniture-dragging for at least three days after arriving in this house because we were handed an enormous platter laden with an assortment of deliciously varied homemade salads, another piled with home-baked breads and rolls and biscuits, a plate of tender, moist cream cake, and a gallon pitcher of sweet tea. If it hadn’t been love at first sight, it would surely have to have been at first bite.

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I'm a lucky chick, having such sweet neighbors!

The flow of gustatory glories has continued unabated (and ably washed down with Mr. Neighbor’s lovely wine-selecting and punch-making skills as well as his fine Scotch collection) from that day forward. You will have no trouble believing and understanding when I say that we are devastated that these neighbors have retired and have the temerity to plan to move back to home territory in another state. Who will phone us in Canada when our sprinkler system fails during a hot spell, to tell us that they’ve already hired the company that installed it to do repairs before we come home? Who will deliver our entire stash of newspapers they collected over our out-of-town trip, updating us on the rest of the neighborhood or sharing delightful stories of their own adventures? And who will show up at random, numerous and very welcome times bearing, say, cake or cookies or pie, or a handmade bread cornucopia with a massive vegetable-and-floral display in it at Thanksgiving, a gorgeously crafted Bûche de Noël at Christmas, a sprightly spring assortment of cookies and cupcakes and jellies at Eastertime?photo

The answer, as you well know, is that it is our turn to become those neighbors, to show up unannounced with that very special something-extra whenever we can, to lend tools and perhaps the hand to use them, and to spread the joy of hospitality whenever and wherever we can. The torch–or the torchon de cuisine–has been passed. I hope I’m up to the task!photoI’ll probably start with something supremely simple like the nut-and-seed crackers that have no real recipe and change every time I make them. They make a handy vehicle for dips, salsas and salads when I want a quick bite of lunch or a not too terribly naughty snack. This time they were thus:

Nut and Seed Crackers (and Tuna Salad)

8 cups of finely chopped mixed nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamias, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds) tossed together with about a cup of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese plus coarsely ground salt and black pepper and good chile powder to taste, all mixed with just enough water to clump together into ‘dough’ and rolled or patted onto a non-stick cookie sheet (I use a silicone lining sheet in the pan so I can be extra lazy on the cleanup), and then baked at 325-350 degrees F (depending on your oven) until golden brown. I let these ones cool in one big slab and then just broke them into uneven pieces about the size for carrying, say, some bacon and cheddar cheese dip or guacamole or seasoned labne or some tuna salad. Tuna Salad, around here, is nothing more than a good quality tinned tuna (one of the brands that cooks its filet directly in the can and adds nothing other than a little salt; I like High Seas and Tuna Guys and can order it online from both, but there are other excellent sustainable-fisheries purveyors as well) seasoned with ground pepper, dried or fresh dill, smoked paprika, yellow ‘ballpark’ style mustard and sometimes chopped capers, and bound with good mayonnaise until slightly creamier than just glued together (spreads better that way).

This combination may not exactly constitute sweets for neighborly delivery, but then we know that the sweetness derives just as much from not needing to fix any food oneself, if only for a brief moment. Or for days on end, if you happen to get one of our neighbor’s fabled deliveries!