Rocky Mountain High

I am two days home from another beautiful visit to Montana. I always look forward to my trips out, even the 10 hour drive through beautiful country-side. This time, I didnt drive out alone but  had 2 friends, Molly and Steve join me, neither having been up to Glacier. Molly was a little nervous about the free-spirit adventure but I was so excited to show them all my favorite places and hoped my excitement would rub off.  Perhaps Molly had foresight for the 8 foot grizzly that decided to greet her on the trail! Lucky it was just saying hello! and not YUMMY!

For me, there were 3 highlights to this trip.

1) Hiking up to the Hidden Lake Outlook. I have been up there several times but i have never ventured all the way to the look-out (read pansy-ass). This year i decided i HAD to do it! after a short rest with a couple visiting from Florida, i was rewarded with the most stunning views. After i came down, i read that the trail only climbs 450 feet?! WTF?!

(yes there is a bear in there!)

( you cant get insanely $$ gas if the temperature is over 80 degrees. God i love Polebridge!)

2) Spending a night in Polebridge with my dear friend Greg and renting a kayak to float Lake McDonald Creek. After a couple beers at the Northern Lights in Polebridge, Greg and i ventured back to his family property for a fat bonfire and good tunes. We also saw a bear, keeping my record at 100% for bear sitings!

The next day we packed up slowly and headed down to Apgar. I know that this little adventure was very nostalgic for Greg, having lived up there the majority of his life. Everywhere we turned, he had a story from his youth. It was awesome wandering down memory lane. I cant imagine a greater place to grow up! We rented a kayak and tooled around the lake for a bit, had a light lunch and a quick dip in the crystal clear lake. Then we ventured down McDonald Creek. I last floated this creek in 1998 and had such fantastic memories of it. It was just as perfect this time! the flowers still bloom out of the weeds under water, the creek is still the most intoxicating turquoise and the fish can still be seen in depths of 10 feet. We jumped off some rocks, me on the lower level, and after we pulled out, hid the kayak in the bushes and trekked back to the car about 2 miles down a beautiful tree-lined bike path.

That evening, we enjoyed a farm to table meal at the Belton Chalet. We were RAVENOUS and started with a glass of wine that almost put me under the table. We quickly consumed duck and wild mushroom crepes and fresh hot bread. I had Veal with Farinata(!) and fig compote. Greg had scallop and prawn raviolis with chipolte cream sauce YUM!!! we rolled out of there and stopped by the Hungry Horse Dam. As the sun set, we were the only people around and Guitar Man played softly on the stereo.

3) I got to celebrate my birthday!! After a very chill day on the lake, Greg and I made Lobster Tail Ettouffe. My friends Molly and Steve joined us as well as Greg’s mom Donna and Donna’s brother Neil and his lonnnnnnnggggg-time girl, Lisa. Donna, had taken a trip over to her friend Shirley’s house that morning and brought home the heaviest densest most fantastic home-made chocolate peanut butter pie i have ever tasted!!!

Home with fantastic memories again! Thank you for such a wonderful visit. Greg you are my old soul/ partner in crime. Until next time…

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Italia and “THE BEST PASTA IN THE WOOOORRRRLD”

About a month ago, while tending to a bruised heart, I grew restless. I wanted to go somewhere to clear my head, when I came across an old bookmarked website for a  graduate program in Italy. My tax returns came in on the same day. These fateful cards could only mean one thing; a ticket to Italy! More fortune rained down as two of my best friends decided to come with me. With less than a month to plan our trip, we laid out the dates, locations, rented a car, contacted some friends i had made in Italy and were off.

Never having been to the NW corner of Italy, we decided there was more than enough to explore in the region. We began our adventures in Torino with the Alpine.

While traveling around Ireland in September, i met a couple traveling from Italy. After a short van ride and a couple pints of Guinness, we became facebook friends and said the usual, “if you are ever in my part of the world, dont hesitate to contact me!” Who knew it would be so soon.

Federico and Alice picked us up at the airport and became our personal guides for a couple of days, introducing us to Grom, which really is the best ice cream in the world. Everyday i had a grapefruit and coconut gelato.

On our last night in Torino, we hopped a bus and met  at Federico’s home for dinner.

they promised us THE BEST PASTA IN THE WOOOORRRRLLLLDDD. They didn’t disappoint.

What always astounds me, is that Italian food is so beautifully simple. Anyone can take tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and onion and make a sauce but what many people miss is the patience to make it well. Federico and Alice gave us the lowdown. Finely mince the onion and garlic  and saute them in a good quality olive oil until they are soft. Add diced cherry tomatoes and slowly cook them down until the liquid is gone. Then add your red pepper flakes and some perfectly sweet fat shrimp. Make sure your pasta isnt overcooked and add it, on high heat, to the sauce with a little more olive oil, fusing the flavors. DELICIOUS!

The second pasta we had was also tomato based but included a white wine reduction and bacon. What could go wrong? Absolutely nothing. Alice ended the meal with home made Cannoli.

The food, the company and sealed friendships will go down as one of my fondest memories.

The next morning, we hopped on the local metro system and located our rental car. With Stacey behind the wheel we quickly fell in love with our little black Fiat and headed north into the Aosta Valley of the Alps.

To be continued…

come and gone

The holidays are come and gone. Months of anticipation and delight, beautiful parties with friends and family and the festive decor everywhere, even at work! I went to the Nutcracker and Zoo Lights. I made an abundance of decadent treats and i think my Christmas cards arrived before Christmas day. phew

For Christmas, i hosted brunch at my house for about 20 people. I decided that it would be so lovely if i could make something special for the meal. Without batting a lash i pulled out Julia Child and decided to make croissants, all 14 pages of instruction, croissants.

the trouble began when i needed to triple the recipe. I started at 730 in the morning xmas eve. I knew the recipe would take about 12 hours. i had three bowls lined up with yeast rising. somewhere after the first rising which was to take place in about 3 hours, i was still waiting at 5 hours, 6 hours…so i thought OK lets take it out and see what we can do.All i had to do was flip the dough out and put it back in the bowl for about 2 hours….the next rising went perfectly..the dough was light and puffy. i thought YEA!

i rolled in the cold butter on a cold marble board and made my little croissants. then i was to wait 2 hours for the croissants to rise before baking…the croissants should have been baked and out of the oven by 10, in time for me to leave for midnight mass. At 1145pm that evening, instead of going to midnight mass, i went to bed with barely a rise.

the next morning i woke up and toasted in Christmas morning. I decided to bake them anyway and OK i would say about 2/3 of the batch turned out ok. the rest looked like little prawns.

I am going to try again with one batch and see how it goes! i will not give up!

other then that, the holiday was beautiful, i am once again overwhelmed with the love of my friends and family and very much look forward to 2011. What magic shall it bring?? we shall see!

Inspired

For the past 6 years, i have traveled up to visit my mother’s dear friend Elspeth. When i was a little girl, Elspeth took piano lessons from my mom and often times, she would leave me with a pile of books. Elspeth was something of an enigma to me. She had her PhD in Library Science,  traveled the world on her own, married the love of her life late in life and together, they had built a beautiful home in the Olympic Peninsula, where she raised Irish Setters and did “book things”. I didn’t really understand until recently what those “book things” were. I knew she had a printing press in her basement and I had seen beautiful books, hand bound from local poets, writers and artists all around her home but she was still something of a mystery to me.

Now I consider Elspeth my own dear friend. I travel up to visit her 2-3 times a year and each time i leave her beautiful property, i have a new sense of inspiration and renewal. This weekend was no different. While working on some brochures for her incredible women’s retreat center, Hypatia in the Woods, Elspeth asked me to stay Sunday afternoon for lunch with her Olympia Book Arts Society.

How could i resist? I am so excited that i stayed!! About 5 times a year this group of brilliantly creative men and women gather to work on a Book arts theme. They also bring projects to share that they are working on separately, like Patricia Chupa’s handmade book featuring movable parts that will be on display as part of the Hand2Hand Book Art Exhibit in Seattle this month. I know i am a little dramatic at times, but it was so beautiful, it almost brought me to tears.

Our project was two fold. The first thing we did was create a 6 word sentence. Next we made small books with beautifully crafted papers and stamps placing one word on each page. There were 8 people in the group and we ended up with 8 fantastically different pieces of art. Mine is titled “Toes”. My sentence read: The mud was warm and squishy.

Their second project is ongoing. The group is creating a bound book full of each member’s  imaginations around a specific letter. Each letter will be used eventually. The group has just completed E and is working on F for their January meeting. Because they asked me to be a member, i get to work on the letter F as well!! I AM SO EXCITED!!

Here are some of the “d” and “e” pages. AMAZING!

This was exactly what i needed before the holiday season begins. We are also going to be creating Endless Cards in January, which are these fascinating cards that fold and fold and fold endlessly, with new images emerging each time you fold the card in a new way. Stay tuned, i have to make my template before the meeting.

I’m Back!!

my dear cousin Sally and me, baking wild blackberry and apple struedal in Ballybay

I am back from my glorious whirlwind trip to Ireland and beyond and am ready to embrace fall in the PNW with some baking and pumpkin spice candles.

After my first week back at work…a lonnngggg week, i decided to enjoy my first official weekend without jet lag by remaining in my pjs and working on the magic that is Irish Brown Bread.

I have been searching the internet for that perfect recipe and let me tell you, there are a lot of recipes! and they are all different…arg! I have my work cut out for me.

the first recipe i tried is  from 101 cookbooks. the flavor is awesome but i am not sure if it is my flour or the recipe that made the loaf so light in color?

Onward to a recipe i found at Ballymaloe Cookery School. I went to the visit the school in September and was really excited to see this recipe online! Same flour so we will see if the results are different.

To compliment the bread and this rainy wet day,  i also found a recipe for Mediterranean Lentil Soup in my favorite Alice Waters cookbook called Chez Panisse Vegetables.  When i was in Jordan, i fell in love with their lentil soup because it isnt really thick and stew like, it is a light broth with lentils and sauteed carrots and onion and a squeeze of lemon on top. YUMMMM!

the soup turned out really great!

here is the recipe

Mediterranean Lentil Soup

serves 6-8

1 small onion chopped
1 carrot chopped
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup of brown lentils rinsed
1/2 cup of red lentils rinsed

1 bunch of parsley
1/2 head of garlic
1/2 fresh hot pepper
2 qts water

1/2 tsp cumin seeds toasted
1 tsp fennel seeds toasted

lemon juice
olive oil

saute onion and carrot in olive oil until tender

combine parsley stems, garlic, and chili pepper in a cheese cloth sack

add lentils, water and cheese cloth sack to the carrots and onions.

bring to a boil and let simmer until the red lentils fall apart and the brown lentils are tender

meanwhile grind toasted cumin and fennel seeds.

add to soup and season to taste with salt and pepper.

drizzle olive oil and sprinkle parsley in bowls before serving.

(on a side note, i added a small cinnamon stick to the cheese cloth sack as well. I also added another quart of water to make more stalk)

ENJOY!

Queen Bee Celebrates 4th Annual Dinner, with boys

The time finally came for my annual Queen Bee Spring Dinner…in August.
This year was a little delayed because of many many other obligations and setbacks.
BUT arrive it did and it did not disappoint!

For dinner this year, i thought it would be fun to try a vegetarian meal. And even more insane, a vegetarian meal with FISH! i have never cooked fish before and untill very recently, i didnt even  like it. OK truth be told i still dont love it but i am getting closer to a liking relationship. 

 Starting las month i began to trial-cook and make lists and more lists and edit those lists. the majority of my menu came from 2 Alice Water’s cookbooks; Vegetables and The Art of Simple Food. At the same time i was also reading Julia Child’s My Life in France (awesome!!) All of these books were from the library and as i made copies of my favorite recipes and folded the books into the book return i felt a sharp pain in my heart, like i was saying good bye to a dear friend. I know i will be requesting these books again! they are magnificent.

The Menu

First Course
Spiced Cauliflower Soup with toasted baguette

 

This was AWESOME! i wasnt sure because it didnt have any dairy in it but it had the creamiest spiciest texture. i topped it with a whole milk yogurt and cilantro. it was lovely and i cant wait to make it in the winter months.

Second Course
Fennel Gratin with Wild Mixed Greens

 

I used a mandolin to slice all of my fennel bulbs paper thin. sautéed with butter, tarragon and leeks then topped with Gruyère and panko, YUM! It was well complimented by the  greens with basalmic and fresh nasturtium flowers to cut the richness! so good.

Third Course
Rhubarb Sorbet with cardamom

2 weeks before my dinner, i was asked to make a rhubarb tart. I am not a huge fan of rhubarb but i will make anything once! come to find out Rhubarb and cardamom are absolutely the best pairing i have ever tasted! i ran home and collected rhubarb at the market and made my own sorbet with cardamom. YUM!!! this was officially on the menu. it didnt disappoint. i also bought these wee bowls with the lion heads on them at christmas time when they were on sale. i have been ogling them ever since and finally got to break them in! perfect sorbet cups.

Fourth Course
Wild Dover Sole with Eggplant Rattatoui and Grilled Baby Artichokes

This was the course that had me the most excited and nervous! when i traveled to France, i had the amazing opportunity to take a cooking class with a 2 star michilan chef. this course was on our menu there! i made a paste of butter, more butter and a bit more butter, a handful of flour and toasted almonds. i pasted the fish with this amazing concoction and chilled it in the fridge for a couple of hours. then i flash cooked it at 475 and broiled the top. The eggplant was mixed with zucchini, onion and tomato and herbs. i think that for a first attempt, it was pretty good. the baby artichokes were tasty but they still had to be eaten like a regular artichoke…too tough to eat straight. Lesson learned on that!

Fifth Course
Belgian Endive with Roasted Beets and Fennel Lavender Goat Cheese nad Walnut Oil

This is the infamous course where i lost 2 fingertips. i have a photo but it is pretty nasty so i will save you the ick. i think if you accidentally misuse the mandolin once, oops! but twice? shame on me. i mandolinned golden and red beets and roasted them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then i chilled them over night. they were like candy! so delicious! and no Kevin, this is not the course where you had to eat a bit of finger skin i promise!

Deep breathe we are nearing the end!

Sixth Course
Cheese plate

This wasnt on the menu but i couldn’t miss a cheese course! so i rounded up 3 lovely cheeses, a local rogue blue, a hard sheep and a triple cream. just enough to enjoy the flavors with a baguette and a sparkling Riesling that Stacey brought. it was perfect!

Seventh Course
Peach Cobbler with Honey Vanilla Ice Cream

It’s hard to tell here but i cut the cobbler biscuits into flower and bee shapes! i picked up the peaches in Olympia at the farmers market and i sweetened the ice cream with local honey. So simple and so good! i was shocked (as i always am) by the bright orange yellow of the ice cream from my chicken egg yolks! they are soooo orange!

 

 

The best part about postponing dinner until the summer was the ability to have dinner in the garden!

of course, 30 minutes before my guests arrived, it began to sprinkle! and after a brief freak out, i grabbed some tarps and held tight.

then we made the executive decision to move ‘er in! As my friend Sami told me, how lucky am i to even have space to move a party of 12 from one part of my house to another?! and she is absolutely correct. it was still humid and hot so we moved the entire production to my covered patio, with a fan.. good for me because it is so much closer to the kitchen! i was busy in the kitchen but kept giggling as i heard no wait, you have to put the yellow napkins next to every other white napkin! Wait where do the bees go? i think they go under the plates…it was a crack up! i love my friends.

 So we finally sit to eat!

and Eat and Eat and Eat. and drink…as the sun goes down and the candles are lit

my last guest departed at 1130 and i went straight to bed! it was a perfect evening!

 Until next year! Bon Appetit! 

Yakuza! More than just a japanese mafia

Long over due but not forgotten, I had the pleasure of dining at Yakuza to celebrate Stacey’s Birthday! I had been craving a very specific menu and once again it didn’t disappoint!

starting with a tasty beet martini, i followed up with my new favorite Filo wrapped scallops and pistachio grilled asparagus. Everything else was just frosting on the cupcake.

As a treat, our waitress ran down to DOC and picked up a beautiful dessert for us to share. Flourless chocolate cake with fresh mint ice cream…YUM!