These are days when cooking doesn't sound like much fun, but nothing on the restaurant menu sounds all that great either. When I think about eating, I want fresh, seasonal food - crisp salads, sauteed greens, a little fish, icy fruit, or something snitched right from the garden.
In years gone by, I had a large community garden patch and some plantings at home, with up to 35 tomato plants, tomatillos, potatoes, garlic and onions, peas and beans, peppers and eggplants, cucumbers, squash, and corn, beets, radishes, greens, figs, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and one year, even some okra. Abundance. I gifted fresh vegetables, herb starts, and froze plenty of sauce to last the winter. Hated going out to eat and paying big bucks for simple preparations of the vegetables lying in wait at home.
The last few years we've been limited to what fits in 3 patio containers. Thank goodness for the local Farmer's Market! This spring, in spite of circumstances, we managed to start a small vegetable garden. With some work, we were able to turn a small area of heavy clay into a couple of well manured and composted planting beds. The home compost, rich and crumbly, held a ton of squash seeds, invisible to the eye. Volunteers were everywhere. I allowed 3 plants to stick around as a border for the tomatoes, and transplanted a couple elsewhere. Seems like hundreds were uprooted and composted again. Seeing the beautiful blossoms, wish we had kept a few more to try stuffed squash blossoms or squash blossom tart.
Any year I see tomatoes turning red for the 4th seems like victory. 3 of the Stupice on the patio have color!
Two fer baking - another birthday to celebrate and testing recipes for a friend!
Ham and cheese biscuits with fresh rosemary. One of our four plants survived this snowy winter.
For a few years, I volunteered at "Taste Washington" - the annual extravaganza of wine and food. Volunteering = helping the wineries and restaurants unload their wares and getting them into the venue (there were a few.) We also helped set up the place, did greetings, handed out gift bags, and someone must have helped clean up. The event itself, pretty spendy, never held that much interest for me. I liked trying all the food bites, but after tasting and spitting a half dozen wines (of the 500 or so on offer) I was done. If they did not sell out - you could still hustle down to the QWest Event Center this afternoon and support this event. I'd head straight to Dahlia's table for the roast suckling pig and Cadence and Quilceda Creek for whatever they are pouring. And don't forget the dessert and chocolate tastings, with all those late harvest wines.
Fresh from Traveler's Lunchbox is dessert for tonight. No Meyer lemons available, the regular ones had to do. The batter filled the 1 quart pan more than 3/4 full, and rose just a bit above the pan edges. It's light, tart, and very creamy. Michael says it made its own gravy. We had to sample just a little while still warm from the oven.
Really, we have been eating the last month. Just nothing all that pretty to show you. Michael continues to give Vij's Cookbook a work out, and while the flavors are great, it isn't the prettiest food to photograph. We rely on Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants when we can't see to cook - Top Gun, Szechuan Chef, Thien Phat are the most typical hangs.
We can highly recommend Verve in Columbia City for pretty food that is good to eat, at prices that are reasonable and generously portioned. Garrett makes delicious sauces to go with things like beef cheeks and sweetbreads with gnocchi, but you can also get a crisp winter salad, a cheese plate, or a nice steak or roast chicken to go with their wine bar intent. Not drinking, that's okay too. Desserts are worth the splurge, made in house. They are also open for brunch Saturday and Sunday with wild boar chops to side up to eggs, or fig-ricotta stuffed french toast. Sorry, no pictures from the recent foray. The menu does vary.
You'll have to make do with my homemade cake, lemon buttermilk with homegrown plum compote and a side of Double Rainbow french vanilla ice cream.
Muffins are easy. I don't mean you should go to Costco and buy a flat of giant heavy structures of chocolate, almond poppyseed, blueberry, and banana nut muffins. They serve their purpose, but they don't make me happy like freshly baked ones do. Still warm from the oven, these little cakey wonders can be made with simple ingredients, or filled with healthy additions like fruit, nuts, spices, fiber, and vegetables (think pumpkin and zucchini.) There are low fat versions, gluten free ones, and even sugar free options.
Go into the kitchen and pull out two bowls (one for dry and one for wet ingredients) and a muffin tin or two. With a recipe and ingredients in hand, you can have a tray full in less than an hour. January has brought us blueberry streusel, apple streusel, and pumpkin cranberry. Looks like I missed a Sunday. I like the streusel topped versions better for the sweet and buttery crunch atop the tender mouthfuls. I also prefer muffins made with butter over those made with oil. Like cupcakes without frosting (the thought has crossed my mind that a frosting or icing would be a nice addition...) muffins are easy to share, portion out, give as gifts, and eat. They freeze well, well wrapped, but that hasn't been an option lately.
(These cranberry pecan studded beauties are full of pumpkin and spice too.)
The first day of the year is also our friend Rick's birthday. I'm trying to make it a tradition to bake for his birthday. This year, blueberry muffins with a crumb topping were the gift of the day. The recipe is from The Gourmet Cookbook - the big yellow book with the annoying yellow recipe titles. The berries were from Skagit Valley, fresh from the freezer, from last summer's farmers market. I added a touch of lemon to the recipe - grated lemon peel from the one lemon harvested in 2008 from our indoor tree.
Hoppin' John is traditional New Year's Day food in the south. We might not be southerners, but we like this dish enough to borrow the tradition. Michael made a heartily pork studded version of black eyed peas served with rice, and fresh collard greens cooked until they were soft and sweet. He found a smoked pork shank to use rather than a ham hock or bacon. It was flavorful and meaty, without the skin I can do without. I made a skillet of basic cornbread served up with just a bit more butter.