Blue Januly

The term “Januly” was recently coined by Cliff Mass, the weather blogger and University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences. We, the soaking chosen, are accustomed to Junuary but this is beyond the pale.

I spent an afternoon with my friend Kirstin, exploring the Ape Caves, in southern Washington. We tramped down 3/4 of a mile into the damp, 42 degree tunnel, and there was not a bit of blue cheese to be found. Or bleu. No Gruyere either. I kept expecting to round a corner and bump into a festering, odorous glob clinging to a cave wall. So why, in the absence of cave-aged cheeses, were we down there? Well, where else do you experience the cacophony of your children’s howls echoing off the walls (punctuated by their voices screeching “Let’s howl again!”)? Only in your minivan. And, as Kirstin pointed out, our weather is so unapologetically LOUSY, that we might as well just burrow underground.

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I made my way through the ancient lava tube, thinking about miners trapped in the lonely dark. Edison Pena, who spent 69 days in a Chilean mine, went running every day down there in sweltering and terrifying conditions, his future uncertain, his loved ones miles above him. He completed the New York marathon a few weeks after he was freed. I thought about all this on a day when I had been unable to rouse myself from bed to go for a jog. My reason? The weather: too…dank. Just then I heard a lonely howl and tripped over a rock in the dark, nearly braining myself on petrified bat dung. I deserved that.

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In truth, I am not much of a fan of stinky cheeses, though I developed a taste for them when I was pregnant. I know! Blue cheese is on the forbidden list for pregnancy, along with everything fun you want to do. But I am not writing a pregnancy manual, (No one would read that. Who would take advice from someone who developed a cowl of neck fat during gestation?) so I can talk about it. I may have had a small glass of wine as well, but never with the cheese.

But there was a little gorgonzola cheese number that Kirstin and I used to eat on her dock in the summer, back when the sun used to shine here. Nigella Lawson’s version (that she eats on a houseboat in Capri) is quite rich, with sour cream and loads of cheese. The one we made was a basic guacamole* (avocado, cilantro, green onions or chives) with blue cheese added to taste. It is fantastic on celery and radishes, but as the rain persists and your pupils begin to ache from permanent dilation, you will turn to chips, and eventually, to just your fingers. If you need to crawl into a cave due to uncooperative (nay, unjust!) weather, or howling children, then grab some roquamole/guacablue and lower yourself down the hole. It eases, just for a moment, the pain and insult of a sodden July. Need some light down there? Build a fire and burn your bikini. You won’t be needing it.

avocado hair mask
Go light on the cheese here for the hair mask.

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*Normally, lime would be an essential ingredient of guacamole, but the cheese complicates this. See what you think.

And Stoop, I Must

This installment of marycake is dedicated, with (spurned) affection, to Marnie, Eric, Jasper and Molly.

apenderwickOn our recent trip to Chelan with our Aussies, we listened to Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks. In the throws of her first crush, Rosalind, the eldest child of the Penderwick family, tells herself she would never stoop to using food to attract a boy’s attention. She assures herself of this as she places a yellow bow on a package of still-warm brownies she will soon be delivering to a handsome boy.

Rosalind is touching in her adolescent self-deception.  But when it comes to using food as human fly paper, I am without adorable illusions about my own character.  I have or will use snacks to attract boys, women, men, (gay or straight) girls, babies, and once, an otter – also possibly gay –  that wandered into my backyard pond.* If I want you to like me, I will wave food in your face.  And if you are my Australian friends of previous posting fame, who made me love them and then walked out on me – divorced me, really** – I will lure you with Slut Red Raspberries in Chardonnay Jelly.***  I didn’t invent the name but oh, oh, how I wish I had.

nigella.com
nigella.com

If that dessert wouldn’t get anyone to come hithering back to Olympia where raspberries grow like hotcakes (you know what I mean; I make a lot of pancakes) then what would?   My friends live in Melbourne and grow citrus in their backyard, so I do see the draw of the place:  tangelemons, orangelos, limegerines, ALL SORTS of juicy delights and yet, these people are still putty in the wee, thorny hands of the Northwest’s crowning glory.

I know!  Just last week, I proclaimed strawberries the grand dame of Northwest fruit, but allow me to be clear: strawberries are a pleasure of springtime.  Raspberries are Summer.  When you live somewhere with this much persistent cloud cover, the arrival of summer doesn’t always seem inevitable.  Raspberries mean the sun is showing its face and God doesn’t hate us after all.  Marnie, an atheist, says that if she were going to believe in God, the raspberry would confirm that deity’s existence.  I say we have permission – believers and skeptics alike –  to be greedy for the sweet, fleeting weeks before raspberries give way to the (also delicious and praise-worthy) more sobering blueberry which says not “Summer,” but “Summer’s Decline (and all the usuals about your mortality).”

But there will be plenty of time to speak at length – and I will – about blueberries.  But is there ever enough time to eat raspberries?  That is a rhetorical question…which I will now answer:  No, as you lustily make your way through the rows of vines, you will hear, always, time’s winged chariot catching up with you. So make haste.  As with basking in the company of those you adore, we all crave more time.

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*The otter was excellent practice for my second daughter who also likes sardines and is also fine if you just set the plate on the ground.  The otter ate all our koi first though.
**They moved back to Australia.  Mean, I know.
***Nigella Lawson adapted this recipe sent to her by a friend traveling around – where else? –  Australia.

 

Remember, you are alone in the kitchen…

bon appetit..and it’s a good thing too, because sometimes my stove-side mutterings are less than ladylike.

Last week I was planning to make an almond meringue for my book group because it seemed like something that was French enough, without getting me into trouble.  I have been facilitating a seniors book group for four years and I stuff these ladies with sweets.  This month, we read Bob Spitz’s Dearie, the remarkable life of Julia Child, so the pressure was on. The results actually went into the compost, a fate I only dole out to the most egregious failures.  I even ate that chocolate cake that didn’t have any butter, but these sea sponge-like bloblets went in the bin.

Once thedearie meringues went out with the yard waste, I decided to bake something Julia wouldn’t:  a banana cake filled with Noccialata, the fancy chocolate hazelnut spread that I like.  It was simple and moist and just right for the group. One member claimed that she thought the Grande Dame herself would have liked it.  I wouldn’t go that far, but knowing a bit more about Julia now, I am sure she at least wouldn’t have made me feel badly about it.

Nigella in Repose
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Though I have tried to absorb some of Julia’s confidence and wisdom (such as”Remember you are alone in the kitchen”), she has not been a muse of mine, culinarily.  Honestly, I just don’t understand French cooking; it has always seemed too meaty and saucy. Besides, I am not short on kitchen muses.  I have my beloved Nigella Lawson, a veritable Queen of Cookery, who I may have mentioned a time or two.

I was introduced to Nigella in 2000 when I started library school.  In the mornings before catching the bus to Seattle, I would fold a few clothes while watching her first show, Nigella Bites.  A journalist, restaurant critic, home cook, author and television personality, she is wildly successful and as you can see, genetically blessed.  For some, this is a bitter pill.  Recently, she was questioned on whether or not she is a feminist.  Perhaps the interviewer wasn’t questioning Nigella’s commitment to sisterhood simply because she enjoys the kitchen and looks fetching on a couch, but I doubt it.  Ladies, please!  Gone are the days when we flipped a man the bird and frisbeed a frozen TV dinner at his forehead just because his stomach had the nerve to growl. (Of course if he’s demanding dinner, by all means brain him with a soup can.)

omnivoreNigella made me aware of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets (that’s British for hard candy), a delight that is unavailable in the United States.  A few days ago I had the pleasure of being in San Francisco at Omnivore Books on Food.  I was thumbing through Nigellissima when I turned to my BFF and said earnestly, “I just wish I could try a rhubarb and custard boiled sweet!  I would have to go all the way to England and I don’t want to! As an English major I feel guilty about not wanting to go.  The rain!  The brown sauce!…”  Needless to say I went on a bit, but here’s what happened next: I walked to the counter to buy a postcard and there was a jar of, YES you guessed it! More to the point, it was an open jar, for sampling. The owner imports them. I ♥ San Francisco.  I have now tried the indescribably toothsome RaCBSs, they are the best hard candy I have ever eaten, and I didn’t even have to go all the way to the British Isles and endure their inferior dentistry.*

Though I owe Nigella so much (if only she wanted something, anything from me!) for making me familiar (perhaps a bit too familiar) with pavlovas and other confectionary and savory joys, there is a way that Julia Child has also done me a good turn.  Julia didn’t start cooking in earnest until her late thirties, after spending years trying to light on her true passion.  She is the Patron Saint of Late Bloomers of which I am a proud (or rather, a sheepish and nervously smiling) member.  I am, in fact, still waiting to burst forth in bloom, any day now…

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* That link is to one of my favorite poems so as you can see, my English degree has hardly been for nothing.

Cranberry Salad: not just for thanksgiving anymore

IMG_1581Is it possible that I have not yet written about this salad? Clearly I have no time to reflect on it because from early October until the bogs are bare, my time is spent making and eating it. Cranberry salad is to winter what the fig salad is to late summer. I changed my blog background to feature this dish because it is an essential part of my winter cooking.

This refreshing concoction is the only item I make that my entire household willingly eats at every meal (peanut butter cookies do not count). If my husband doesn’t actually like it then he’s been putting on a brave face for 14 years (he has been putting on a brave face for the aforementioned number of years but not, I think, in regard to this salad). I gorged myself on this when I was pregnant with my first daughter (It formed a key component of my 5000 calorie a day gestation diet. I gained 40 pounds and I can show you how to do it too. Why don’t I have a book deal and a celebrity following?!?)

Winter fruits are so pretty together, and I load this up with pomegranate pips so it looks bejeweled. My mother says that this recipe is the descendant of a relish she served every Thanksgiving. It soon became clear that none of us wanted a relish portion, we wanted a salad portion (I come from salad people). Obviously, once a year was insufficient so, come October 1st, I start fixing it twice a week.

It is luscious with a variety of oranges. I like Cara Caras but little mandarins, tangerines, navels – all good. Have someone in the produce department help you find a decent pineapple if you don’t feel up to the task. Maui golds are the best I have eaten. No offense, Costa Rica but your pineapple farming is lackluster.

Cranberry Salad

1 pineapple
2 or so oranges depending on how many you have and how many you want
1 apple (red varieties looks best in this but don’t always taste best)
1 package of cranberries (the standard Ocean Spray plastic bag)
1 Tablespoon of honey, or so
1 pomegranate

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It’s me, marycake! Just kidding!

Though this is simple to make, skill-wise, it can be time consuming at first, so settle in.  Not all of you have tackled a pineapple by yourselves because you usually have the servants do it, I get that.  But when the maid has the day off and you crave a salad of rubies and garnets, then you are going to have to roll up your sleeves.  Sharpen a knife and watch this helpful “How To: skin a pineapple” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBNHLSSktAk but don’t get waylaid by “How to Skin a Bear.” Yikes.

Then it’s a matter of dicing the oranges and apples and whirring the cranberries in a Cuisinart.  You can chop them by hand but as Nigella Lawson  (author of nine books, including How to Be a Domestic Goddess) says about such fiddly ventures, you will risk a nervous breakdown. While they are being chopped (and this takes a matter of seconds so don’t turn it into cranberry puree) you can add the honey.  I find that sometimes I have to heat the honey a bit to soften it up.  I don’t use much, but then I err on the tart side.  Before I had my own Cuisinart I used a blender to make this.  If you need to do that, first of all:  bless you.  Secondly, process them in small batches.

As for the forbidden fruit, a 22-second video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pZLW2Wc–o and voila! This is how I divest a pom of its pips, but please know this will take longer in real life than it does for the nice lady in the demo.  Keep whacking the fruit with a wooden spoon and rotating it.  I learned this trick from Nigella, who told me (well, she told everyone who was on their couch watching her show, but I felt that we were having an intimate chat) that it would change my life.  Oh, it has.

Enjoy this as a tonic against the relentless array of Halloween candy (I am mostly immune but I will half-nelson a trick-or-treater for their candy corn) which, on the first day of November, will morph seamlessly into a glut of Christmas treats.

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P.S.  I just read something about a cranberry relish with cauliflower, mint and anchovy bread crumbs.  Again, I rely on fair Nigella’s kitchen wisdom:  “The impulse to be interesting is, perhaps, the most destructive one in cooking.”  The Goddess speaks.