I read the gentle, but firm, reminder of Scandinave Spa’s no talking rule: “Welcome,” the sign read, “to our haven of silence.” Ah, what a relief! I was stealing a few hours away from the nonstop bonding of our family vacation.* I planned to get scalding hot, dunk in a cold plunge pool, and then wrap up in towels to read my mystery novel. Scald. Freeze. Read. Repeat – all in blessed tranquility. Trust me, it’s why Scandinavians are thin and don’t hate their children.
But I did speak aloud a couple times, “It’s so clean,” I whimpered to a perfectly maintained hosta. “It’s so tidy and smells of eucalyptus,” I practically wept to the lemon wheel floating in my water.
I have trouble keeping order and creating beauty in my life. My house is a constant, wailing metaphor for the unfocused mind. When I try to flee inward to escape the toppling laundry cairn that is my living room, I crash into the Sanford and Son junkyard of my brain, complete with the requisite bellowing dog, Entropy.
I try to form little oases of beauty and intention in my home, but these days, they end up coated in dog hair (real dog, not the one from that scene in my brain). Okay, so clearly, I have some mental and domestic work to do. But – here comes the bright spot – I usually manage to get a meal on. The forethought and execution involved in coaxing ingredients into dishes is my way of giving shape to the day, and finding an orderly spot in my home/life.
This spicy kimchi slaw recently brought me much eating joy, and appeared in several iterations on our table over the course of a week. Though the Bon Appetit recipe is lovely as it is, it benefits from a grated apple, toasted peanuts and/or grilled tofu. Once I grated on some beets – fantastic – and also added slivered snap peas. And I used red radishes for more color than daikon provided. I left out the kimchi once, and went for lots of lime juice and sriracha.
So set yourself up with some serenity slaw, and stop glancing around at the chaos that threatens to flush you down a toilet of unopened mail, forlornly single socks, and aspirational books you will never read. Focus solely on the slaw. Fork, Crunch, Repeat. There…see? Now isn’t that a healthy, pretty little haven of order? All silent…save for the munching.
*Yes, I was back in Canada! I should write for their tourism board. My motto: “Canada! If there’s anywhere else to vacation, I don’t want to know about it!”
My sister and I were descending the hill from our rented tiny house (50$/night!!) above Nelson, B.C., when an indecipherable symbol lit up on my dashboard. It was either telling me that the car had to be tumble-dried on low, that this was a unisex bathroom, or that my wi-fi was still loading. A perusal of one of the six Harry Potter-size manuals that came with the car revealed that it actually had something to do with tire pressure.
I stopped at an auto repair shop and told my troubles to Glen, who looked like you could tell him your hair was on fire and he would remain unruffled. As he meticulously checked my tire pressure – even spritzing my rims with soap and water to detect leaks, I told him that I loved his town. He paused reflectively, then said,”You ever see that movie…oh in aboot 1987 with-” “YES!!” I interrupted him, “About a hundred times!!”
I knew the film ginger-haired Glen was referring to: Roxanne, the romantic comedy written and starred in by Steve Martin. The title character, played by Daryl Hannah, with her wavy, man-trap hair and slouchy boots, launched my lifelong desire to have a denim vest. I wish I could say my lifelong desire to be an astronomer, like her character… but no, no, just to wear a denim vest. By 1987, I had already earned a couple Cs in math, and I knew which way the wind was blowing. If you are going to dream big, you better pass geometry.
“I was in the barn scene,” Glen went on, “But they fuzzed me oot.” I love Canadian accents, because I love everything Canadian, except poutine. “Should I watch it again and look for you? Or for the place where you were?” “No, no,” he said, with resigned good humor,“They fuzzed me oot, ya know.” Here it is, three decades later, and not just Glen, but the owner of the health food store, and everyone else I talked to, remembered the glorious months when the film crew was in town, putting their charming burgh – once a silver rush boom town – on the map for American moviegoers.
If that sounds sad, or like the town is in a state of faded glory, it isn’t. Nelsonites know they are in a stunning corner of the world. I don’t know what it was like back in 1987, (when Steve Martin came into the health food store in search of a vegetarian hot dog – true story) but right now there are breweries and eateries a plenty. Going north? I recommend Cantina del Centro* and Yum Son, for delicious food, friendly staff, and attractive, fun, atmosphere. (It’s rare to get 3 out of 3 don’t you think? Oh, were you hoping for inexpensive too? That’s funny). But let’s talk baked goods.
The Kootenay Bakery Cafe is a buttery chunk of heaven. The interior isn’t fancy, or particularly hip, but the ingredients are fresh, organic, and often local. The energy was pleasant, and the workers were very matter of fact when their wi-fi went away, leaving me unable to pay for the armload of pastries I had hoped to make off with. They were kind of like, “Hey, you are in the most beautiful place on earth, plus you don’t look like you are starving. I think you are going to be just fine,” but without being jerks about it. And I was! I was just fine! But only because after a fruitless search for a cash machine that spoke American, we came back the next day with credit cards again, the wi-fi was humming, and we had a redo.
Chocolate croissants! Savory pies! Potato frittatas! The frittatas were such a perfect size, (about 5 inches in diameter) that I had them show me the ingenious silicone pan they were made in. When kitchen staff bring out specialty pans for me to look at, I hear angels singing. There are so many choices at this bakery, you may find yourself wringing your hands. If I ever stay in Nelson again, (please!!) I will eat there twice daily for several days, until I feel I have sampled the bulk of their wares. As their city motto exhorts, “Forge Ahead!” I take that mandate seriously.
Eating the chocolate croissants, a favorite of my youngest daughter’s, made me decide that once I returned home, (for I would have to eventually) we would make them together. I wasn’t planning to attempt homemade pastry dough – heavens no! I would use frozen dough, cut into triangles and wrapped around my favorite chocolate bars. Years ago, I was in a big hurry and just bought croissants, implanted the chocolate and stuck them in the oven. Were they homemade? Well, they were homewarmed. But more importantly, were they good? I think you know. I recommend making them, anyway you can. If you make your own dough, please have me over, But don’t bother trying to teach me; I would be there solely to eat, which is my reason for going most places. “Forge Ahead,” is an excellent motto. But so is “I’m Here to Eat.”
P.S. It just occurred to me that Steve Martin made chocolate croissants in It’s complicated. In this romantic comedy, he stars opposite Meryl Streep, whose character is a successful pastry chef and patisserie owner. On their first date she takes him to her shop, after hours, and tells him she can make him anything he wants. Their pairing may be complicated, but unlike his with Hannah, it’s more age appropriate. I do still love Roxanne though, in spite of the predictable May-September match-up.
*Thank you to the front desk manager at the very cool, recently renovated Adventure Hotel, for the tour, and the recommendation for Cantina del Centro. And thank you Uncle Frank, for seconding the recommendation.
I know I am prone to gush about our neighbor to the north, but Eaters: look at the scenery! Oh Canada!
Oops! I mean: Eaters, look at the scenery!
My sister and I went on a mini-tour of the Kootenay region of B.C. and, just as I suspected, it’s a woodsy and mountainous wonderland with gobs of fresh air. The lakes are deep and chilly,* the residents are friendly, and there are lots of hot springs. Sadly, the gasoline and beer cost three prices, and we always seemed to be in dire need of both. But otherwise, it’s paradise.
The Canadian border guard who eyed our passports and asked us if we had guns, gin, or cocaine** that we needed to fess up to, noted our last names and inquired if he sensed, “Sister trouble headed north.” Oh yes.
Cut to our return from three nights in an adorable tiny home in Nelson, (more on Nelson next time) as we paused in postcard pretty Rossland, a ski town an hour north of the border. We asked a local where to get pastries and fortifying hot beverages, and she recommended Alpine Grind. I complimented her lovely town and she sighed happily, “We drove in 27 years ago and never left. I raised children in this town, and now my grandchildren are here.” I was tempted to do the same, but then remembered I was 47, with a family waiting back in the states. Too late for another life, but not too late for a pastry.
The Alpine Grind was a cafe of surpassing deliciousness with a menu including a vegetable frittata pressed (Yes! PRESSED!) bagel sandwich that fairly groaned under the weight of so much cheese. Served with salsa, it was exactly what we needed at the outset of a 500 mile (804 kilometer!) journey home. After that filling breakfast, my sister and I each ordered a baked good to go, something we were unable to resist doing on this jaunt. “I am on vacation!” I kept telling myself, from deeper and deeper within my chins. It’s a good thing I don’t vacation more often.
On my way out the door, I was doctoring my coffee at the creamy (milk from local, grass-munching cows!) embellishment station, when I looked around at upwards of six new mothers with babies. I was impressed with the level of lactation, human and bovine, in the area. “What’s the deal with all the babies?” I inquired of the rugged man who was also tarting up his coffee. He looked like he slung refrigerators around for a living.”That’s what this town does,” he replied. “I am just trying to get out of here without getting pregnant,” I said, letting out my signature, self-conscious cackle-honk. And then, because I never run out of stupid things to say, I topped it off with: “I’m kidding; I am only here for ten more minutes.” Marycake! Shut up! He looked at me circumspectly, “You never know. You may meet the man of your dreams here.”
Yes, well, the man of my dreams was, at that very moment, back in Olympia with a congested and coughing daughter, and a similarly ailing dishwasher; I knew he was mightily weary of my wanderlust. Forget possible impregnation, I needed to get out before I used up my husband’s store of patience. I grabbed my scone and took flight, my sister on my heels, clutching her cinnamon roll.
I will have more to say about baked goods and Canada – I usually do. So stay tuned to see if we made it back, or decided to stick around and stalk Justin Trudeau while bakery-hopping.
*I asked a local where I could find a good place to swim and she said, “You can’t. By the end of summer the lake temperatures will be just up to…freezing.” That right there, is all the encouragement I require.
I wish this post’s title were original to me, but I swiped it from an episode of The Sporkful, Dan Pashman’s off-beat and inspiring podcast. I recently discovered this amazing food lover’s feast for the ears, and it is now the soundtrack of my every car ride. Here’s his tagline, “Every week we obsess about food, to learn more about people.” Pashman proclaims himself an Eater, which is, as you know, a distinction dear to my heart. I am not a trained chef, not a restaurant critic, and can’t afford to be a foodie (plus the foodies won’t have me because I still consider peanut butter the nectar of the gods). But boy, am I an Eater.
These wise, liberating words about cake came from the eaterly lips of Yotam Ottelenghi, who was the guest on a recent episode. His cookbooks, including Plenty and Jerusalem, are visually thrilling. Even if you never make one of his dishes, just looking at the photographs makes you want to fondle an eggplant. He is also a fan of sweets, and the inventor of one of my very favorite, stunningly delicious (and deliciously stunning) desserts: the strawberry pomegranate and rose petal mess. I wrote about it here, and have made it many times since. His new book, Sweet, just arrived in stores. Just a side note: he is fabulously easy on the eyes (and ears, with a voice like creamy butter).
Never one to turn down a command, request, or gentle nudge to bake a cake, I got to it. I would love to say I followed Ottolenghi and Goh’s recipe for beet, ginger and sour cream cake to the letter, but as always, that would be a lie. First of all, I used carrots in place of beets. I had the perfect amount of grated carrots in my freezer, plus I can’t get used to beets in desserts, despite their brilliant coloring abilities. It called for 3/4 of a cup of sugar; I used 1/2. It called for sunflower oil; I used butter – and so on. It all came together to make a good carrot cake, complete with crystallized ginger and pineapple, (the latter was my addition) but it’s really the frosting I want to dwell on here.
Cream cheese frosting is proof that God loves us, but with fresh ginger juice painstakingly squeezed in? Well, it’s clear God loves us more than we deserve. I was in enthusiastic agreement with Ottolengi’s idea that it’s better to enjoy a homemade slice of cake in the sustaining company of family and friends, than to waste your precious sugar quota on dispiriting granola bars, maneuvered into your face while you drive, or demoralizing Famous (not with me) Amos cookies. Yes, I am a sweets-snob, but that’s not news. So I was careful to eat no other dessert the day I made the cake. But then, due to the creamy, gingery frosting, (coupled with an inability to self-govern) I ate three pieces. Oh well, I will try to do better tomorrow, when I bake another cake.
5 1/2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature (I used 8 ounces)
1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated into a fine-mesh sieve place over a bowl and flesh squeezed to extract all the juices
Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place and beat (you may also use a hand mixer) until smooth (the amount of time this takes will vary). Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add the cream and beat for about 1 minute, until the frosting is thick and smooth. Add the ginger juice, beat for a final few seconds. Slather on cooled cake.
A few days ago, I described one of my younger daughter’s friends as “intense.” “Mom!” commenced daughter, (and I thought, here it comes) “you always describe people as either intense, tiresome, or delightful.” “Ah!” I said, “That’s because they are!” This daughter is known for dispensing – at no cost! – hard truths. Mostly, she’s delightful, when she’s not being tiresome.
I don’t mean to detract from the nuances and quirks that make humans such slippery creatures – so hard to fathom, to define, to put in a box. Forget all that for now. Most of us are simply this: intense, tiresome, or delightful.
That evening, my older (intense) daughter’s (delightful) friend D. paid her a surprise visit, bearing brownies and Klondike bars. The classic vanilla ice cream sandwich is dependably good, I think, regardless of brand. Around here, what we usually refer to as an ice cream sandwich is ice cream mashed between two cookies, and it’s fantastic. But for years I have said we would try to make a home batch that copies the mass-produced variety. So after D’s visit, I decided it was time to take it on. But wait…what about a California twist on the classic i.c.s? Klondike a l’Orange? Gold Rush meets Golden State.
I love orange ice cream, and it’s a rarity. Orange sherbet is out there, (cheap and unhealthy but kind of yummy if you are feeling nostalgic) but orange ice cream is harder to find. Julie’s Organic Ice Cream used to swirl an organic vanilla ice cream with a mandarin sorbet that was like a whole pint of creamsicle. Need I say it was splendid? The creamsicle is where one generally goes to fulfill the desire for a creamy orange confection. But sometimes, I rely on an old favorite recipe of mine, from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream.
For the thin cake portion of the i.c.s., I turned to Jennie Schacht’s recipe, reprinted on the King Arthur Flour website, which I have linked to here. Never have I smoothed a batter out so meticulously. I didn’t give this much attention to the GRE, which explains a lot. I made a half recipe because I suspected that despite the obvious, inarguable deliciousness of this treat, and my daughters’ willingness to assemble the sandwiches for me, they would decline to eat any of them. I was correct. They treated the Klondike bars like they were a delicacy, but shunned mine, because, “orange doesn’t go with dark chocolate.” “Tell that to the chocolate orange!” I huffed. I then delivered the remaining ice cream to my friend Kirstin, * and the i.c.s. themselves to my friend Elke.** They both raved, and I asked Elke to describe them so I could quote her. “It’s…yummy! But I guess you can’t write that can you?” Oh, I can and I will. Offspring=tiresome. Friends=Delightful.
Orange Ice Cream
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup whole milk
2 Tbsps. orange zest
1 Tbsp. orange juice, freshly squeezed
Whisk egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt in a bowl, and set aside.
Bring cream, milk, zest, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar to a simmer in a saucepan set over low heat; remove from heat; gently pour some hot cream mixture into the egg mixture to warm it up and temper it. Pour the tempered egg yolks back into the saucepan.
Return pan to low heat; cook custard, stirring constantly, until it reaches 175°F on candy thermometer; *** pour into a bowl set in ice water bath; cool to room temperature, stirring as needed to keep skin from forming.
Stir in juice; cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 4 hours.
Strain ice cream base through fine mesh sieve into clean bowl; discard zest; chill custard for at least 4 hours. Place custard in ice cream maker; process according to manufacturer’s instructions; transfer to airtight container; freeze.
Cook’s Note: I reduced the sugar by a tablespoon and next time, I will reduce it by three. In lieu of the cream/milk mixture, I used 3 cups of half and half for simplicity’s sake. I also used an extra tablespoon of orange juice because I love citrus.
*Delightful, a little intense
**Delightful, a little tiresome, never intense
*** I do not know if the thermometer I use is an actual candy thermometer. In any case, it’s not a human thermometer, because we don’t use those. The two human temperatures in our house are “you’re-not-feverish-you’re-anxious,” and “you’re-hot-go-lie-down.”
Last week I traveled with my sister and daughters to Colorado to visit my younger brother’s family. I do love my crazy weasel niece and nephews but the real reason I went was to see the giraffes. Some people would fly to Kenya to view them at a preserve, but you know what? Colorado is closer, and not only am I in my lite rock and lite beer years, I am also in my lite adventure years. Do I need to take malaria tablets before I go somewhere? Then I am not going there. I see it as my contribution to restoring America’s international reputation: who wants another American tourist clamoring for wi-fi and soy milk?
When we arrived at my brother’s house, my SiL – a woman who has domesticity down to both an art and a science – had stuffed the fridge with vegetables. Long acquaintance with our family has given her familiarity with our ungulate ways. For a herbivorous Perry, there is no such thing as a side salad. Salad is the center, so just consider the amount you would make for anyone else, triple that, and get ready to chew.
I know I just wrote about salad in The Salad of Destiny, but sometimes destiny strikes twice. I read once that mixing lettuce types is a key to successful salad-making. I read that salad article instead of the “How to Get a Beach Body in Five Minutes” article. * I don’t have five minutes for that nonsense, but I do have time to make a salad that promiscuously mingles leaves.
And as I learned the next day at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, I am not the only creature with a pressing and perpetual hankering for greens. These elegant, impossibly tall creatures, who actually seem to float along, are committed, enthusiastic herbivores. I chose the one with the most polite tongue and offered this long-lashed ruminant some romaine. It was a delightful moment. I envied her height, her fetching coat, and her four stomachs. I think she was less impressed with me. But we don’t choose what form we take in this world. Some of us get a beach body, some of us get cloven hooves. But in this human form, we are given the ability to appreciate. We are able to admire, and I did. To behold an animal so lovely was worth the flight, and were I more bold, it would be worth a flight all the way to Kenya.
One head Bibb or Boston lettuce, gently torn
One head iceberg, chopped (optional)
a couple cups mixed salad leaves of whatever kind you like
a few mini peppers, sliced into rings
a few stalks of asparagus, raw or blanched, and chopped
a few snap peas, sliced
fresh herbs like parsley, mint, or lovage, chopped
a splash of white balsamic or rice vinegar
splash of pumpkin seed oil (optional)
salt to taste
Mix. Serve to ungulates.
*Hint: A five-minute beach body is achievable with an airbrush. Or, in the interest of time, shave off five minutes and go out there with the body you have. Spend the five minutes you get back shaving some parmesan over your salad, and don’t bother shaving your legs.
This post is dedicated to Kai who, as it happens, was right about what goes down on the undercarriage of the largest North American rodent.
The moment my husband alerted me to the worldwide vanilla shortage, I pointed to the door, “Go to Costco!” I wailed at him. “Get the Kirkland brand two pack of vanilla extract before the price triples. WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?!?” He might as well have told me that there was a worldwide shortage of mirth and joy. There is, actually…
He returned an hour later, harried but triumphant, as I rifled through the boxes. Aha! There it was! “Thank you!” I embraced the bottles warmly, then spied the receipt, “FIFTY SEVEN DOLLARS?!? You paid FIFTY SEVEN DOLLARS?!” His smile collapsed. “You said to get vanilla,” he pointed out.
Thus began an era of paranoia. I would hear a noise in the night and jerk upright. Was that someone skulking around my kitchen, fixing to steal my vanilla? Well they’d have to get through me first.
Once my bottles were empty, I stole my mother-in-law’s. Then I decided that until the up and coming vanilla farmers tended their orchids to the point where they were producing the precious beans whereby all our baked goods are enhanced and made delectable, (so about five years) I needed to get creative. I rely heavily on vanilla to perk up the flavor of not just baked goods, but smoothies as well.
While making scones, I had to remind myself what a spectacular flavor enhancer citrus zest is. Okay, I didn’t actually have to be reminded, because my friend Kirstin said she is surprised I don’t have some sort of “built-in zester like a body part, like one of your arms could transform.” If I ever need a bionic limb, I will ask for it to come with a rasp as part of a Swiss army knife arm that includes an immersion blender.
Vanilla – like salt, sugar, lemon and MSG – enhances other flavors. Vanillin, which is derived from powder on vanilla pods, (or is synthetically manufactured) is sometimes used in place of vanilla. I queried my friend and fellow blogger, Susie, (The Flavor Scientist) who described vanillin as “flat” and vanilla as “rounded” in flavor. But the best flavor enhancer of all, she claimed dreamily, is castoreum. “You know, “she said, “from beaver balls.” Pardon Susie’s French, but we are all adults here (except for the kids who are reading this). Wow, finally an answer to the question of what attracts beavers to each other.
I thought back to my friend Kai insisting that vanillin was made from secretions that emanate from the business end of beavers. Without going into further detail about the seamy side of that industrious, bucktoothed critter, I will just say Kai was right. After much fevered research (I want to steer you gently, but firmly, away from any image searches here) I can say that castoreum is from somewhere near the anal glands of male and female beavers. Susie, despite being an actual scientist, calls them beaver balls because, as she said, “It’s not technically true, but it’s fun to say.” Now that is science in the public interest. And yes, castoreum does show up, labeled as “natural flavor” in some artificial vanilla and, as Susie off-handedly pointed out, “It isn’t kosher.” No it certainly isn’t. That thud you heard was a rabbi, fainting.
So lacking a beaver dam adjacent to your kitchen, Susie suggests coffee or hazelnut extracts to enhance flavor. I like instant coffee powder in cookies and cakes, as well as almond, lemon and orange extracts. Good luck baking in this time of vanilla scarcity. May you not have to resort to luring a wayward beaver into your kitchen to caress your sponge cakes with their hindquarters.