blogging for books: meat and potatoes

August 21, 2014

I confess, it took me a couple of weeks to test any of the recipes from Meat and Potatoes.  The ninety degree plus midsummer heat made heavy meat meals unappealing, and the stratospheric meat prices at the supermarket made meat-centric meals uneconomic.  But when I finally tried one of the “meat and potatoes” combos (New Mexico red chile and coffee crust tri tip, creamy blue cheese polenta and caramelized onions) my husband absolutely raved about it, comparing it to some of the better meals he’s eaten in local restaurants.  Fama, a self-taught chef and host of the TV show “meat and Potatoes”, organized his cookbook by meals, including two sides to accompany the protein of choice.  There’s lots of info on choosing and prepping different cuts of meat, with lots of emphasis on lamb and game.  The sides are an excellent aid to meal planning, especially for novice cooks, and balance the main dish well in taste, color, and texture.

I would recommend this book primarily for those novice cooks.  The recipes are very simple and easy to follow, using a short list of easy to find ingredients.  I found myself revising the recipes, both to add more nuance and to lower the excessive butterfat content.  In the tri tip meal I followed Fama’s suggestions for a superb rub utilizing chipotle chiles and ground coffee, but eliminated the butter.  The  accompanying blue cheese polenta, inspired by the taste of “corn smut” ( a fungus that grows on corn) had an appealingly funky taste but I halved the bleu cheese, eliminated the butter, and substituted 1 cup of milk and 5 cups chicken broth for the six cups of milk called for in the recipe.  I also used fresh ground polenta instead of instant.

On the next relatively cool day I made chicken arrabiata with mushrooms, roasted new potatoes and broiled broccolini.  Again tasty and simple, and this time lower in butterfat.  The combination of shitake and Portobello mushrooms in the chicken sauce was inspired but I did add a lot more red pepper than the 1 tsp called for in the recipe.  Even so, the sauce was hardly “arrabiata”–albeit mushroomy and satisfying.  The roasted potatoes and broiled broccolini scarcely justified a recipe but did taste good.

Several other recipes await cooler weather, most notably the parsnip/paprika fries and the paella with pepper bacon. 


Blogging for Books: The Banh Mi Handbook

July 22, 2014

The Banh Mi Handbook, by Andrea, Quynhgiao Nguyen, demystifies the popular Bietnamese sandwixh.  One of the pleasant surprises of this attractively designed and useful cookbook is how simple it is to create a banh mi.  For one week, while evaluating this cookbook, I made banh mi sandwiches for dinner every night.  Dinner came together in a half hour max, and my family’s tastebuds were never bored.

This was hardly surprising as ‘banh mi’, far from being an esoteric label, simply is Bietnamese for “bread made from wheat”.  A legacy of French colonialism, the banh mi incorporates French imports (baguettes, aioli, pate) with Vietnamese flavors (cilantro, hot peppers, bright crisp vegetables).  As a sandwich it is by definition simple to assemble, and its general nature allows for considerable improvisation.

Nguyen, an acclaimed cookbook writer who is a contributing editor at Saveur magazine, constructs her cookbook in a very practical way.  she outlines the basic components of a banh mi, then gives you the tools to delve as deeply into the process as you want.  For instance, you can bake your own banh mi rolls or simply buy inexpensive French bread at the supermarket (it’s supposed to be soft).  You can make homemade aioli or substitute storebought mayo.  You can make your own sausage or buy it at the deli.  The crisp quick pickles are so easy and good there’s no excuse not to make them at home.  A “master bahn mi” recipe provides rules for construction.

I tested three filling recipes, all with excellent results:  the Hanoi grilled chicken, the pork meatballs, and the coconut curry tofu.  All were simple and delicious.  the citrusy red cabbage pickle was so yummy we now keep a jar in the fridge for general use.  Ditto for the sriracha and cilantro/maggi mayonnaise.  I confess I used Fred Meyer French bread and storebought mayo, to no ill effect.

Maggi Seasoning, a flavor enhancer with a powerful umami hit, was a French import that became a mainstay Vietnamese seasoning.  I was not overly eager to use this–It seemed more like an additive to me–but Nguyen offered a gluten free alternative made with Braggs amino acids that proved an excellent substitute.

Normally, I think that specialized one food cookbooks like this are a waste of money, but the Banh Mi Handbook is so helpfully and clearly written and explodes with so many menu ideas that it is well worth the purchase.


warren weinstein website finally up

July 21, 2014

When I opened the newspaper almost three years ago and read that my mother’s friend, Warren Weinstein, a seventy year old economic development consultant in Pakistan, had been captured by Al-Qaeda, I assumed that this would be major news and that the Obama administration would make a major effort to ensure the return of this elderly man, who had worked in this dangerous part of the world for 30 years, supporting US interests.

Instead he languished in obscure captivity.  Most of the news articles I read about him were in the Indian press.  Several Indians had been kidnapped by the same branch of Al-Qaeda, but apparently the Indian government maintained an active interest in their release.  To the Obama administration, Weinsteins capture and suffering clearly represented acceptable collateral damage from their misguided foreign policy.

About six months ago, al-Qaeda released a video showing Weinstein, in a clearly deteriorated condition, pleading for his release.  Still no response from the government or a jaded and apathetic public.  Finally, his family, perhaps galvanized by the prisoner exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, has run out of patience.  they have put up a website and urge US citizens to pressure the government to negotiate for Weinstein’s release.  Is this “negotiating” with terrorists?  Yes, probably.  To live as a world citizen, one has to negotiate, even though that is more difficult than sitting at a computer screen and dropping drones on people a half a world away.

To help, please click on the following website  which provides more information on his case and links for emailing Obama and your senators and representatives.

blogging for books: knitting reimagined, by Nicky Epstein

July 3, 2014

Browsing through knitting books, I could knit everything. When I am actually committing to a project, I subject it to a stricter filter, as considerable money and time is involved. Will I (or my intended recipient) actually wear the knitted garment? Can I master the knitting techniques required or will I end up felting a mangled disaster out of frustration? How does the yarn feel and look? Is it easy to work with?
Using these criteria, out of the 25 patterns in Knitting Reimagined I would actually knit two. Not bad, but whether it justifies buying this book is open to question. Nicky Epstein is a well regarded and innovative knitwear designer who is the author of Knitting on the Edge, among other books. I found most of her designs, while extremely creative, a bit too showy for my tastes: big colorful designs, leaves coming up out of a dress, elaborate cowl necks, and the like. Some people like to wear artwork. Personally, I’d rather regard my body as the artwork and wear simple, graceful clothes to enhance it. Knitting Reimagined “reimagines” commonly knitted items such as sweaters and shawls by doing interesting things with construction, edging, and how stitches are put together. Epstein’s instructions are fairly easy to understand, and each pattern is ranked according to difficulty and time required. A section entitled “reimagine it” suggests further innovations, such as changes in length or in yarn used. A background in sewing or even pattern drafting would be helpful, as potential difficulty arises not with the knitting per se but how the various knitted parts are put together.
The first pattern I picked was entitled “royal lace coat with hood”, a romantic, fanciful coat made fromaand seven lacy rectangles cleverly stitched together with a removable hood attached. The second was entitled “crisscross weave tank”, another romantic, feminine number knitted with cotton ribbon yarn. This pattern is actually quite simple until you get to the shoulder straps–all six of them, which cross intricately in the back. “Follow the photograph” states Epstein. Well, okay. Although frankly, I like this type of intricate knitting. It’s to me what rock climbing might be for someone else–an activity I do with full concentration, one stitch at a time. It’s kind of a meditation.


Not I

April 18, 2014

I recently read a Not I, by Joachim Fest, a memoir of the author’s ( a well known German journalist and historian) childhood, which spanned the rise of Hitler and World War II. Fest’s parents, most notably his father but his mother as well, did not support the Nazi regime, and at considerable personal risk, did not hide the fact. They never joined the Nazi party. They did not greet neighbors on the street, as they were supposed to, with a “Heil Hitler!”. They read forbidden books and listened to forbidden music. They refused to let their children join Hitler Youth. They retained Jewish friends, counseling them to leave the country (some did, some refused until it was too late), doing favors for them, sheltering them when they were out after curfew, and (at their request) burying their possessions until “after the war”.
The Fests paid a considerable price for their courage. Mr. Fest not only was fired from his job in 1933 for failure to join the Nazi party, he was forbidden to take any paid employment, throwing their formerly well off family into, if not poverty, a drastically lower scale of living. The family was shunned by neighbors and their house repeatedly searched by the SS. Joachim was expelled from public school for drawing a caricature of Hitler on his desk. (he was then sent to boarding school) After the actual outbreak of war many of their family members were killed by the Russians, and the women raped and tortured, including a relative disabled by polio. Their home was reduced to rubble from bombing and all their possessions destroyed. Joachim was forcibly drafted (at the age of 16) in the last days of the war and spent 2 years in an American POW camp. His father was imprisoned, under much worse conditions, in a Russian POW camp.
Yet, of course, all this suffering pales in the face of the Holocaust. And all these acts of resistance, no matter how admirable, remained essentially personal at a time when the only effective action was massive, probably violent,political action. Fest’s father realized this, and both he and his wife, though they survived the war,did not survive their guilt, and died broken people. As the book states: “I asked him when he had learned for the first time of mass crimes in the east….my father stared silently into space for awhile…”There were rumors, and a BBC broadcast. Alarmed by these hints I spent almost three months at the beginning of 1943 looking for irrefutable evidence. Then I was sure: they were murdering as if possessed….I didn’t want to talk about it then and I don’t want to talk about it now. It reminds me there was absolutely nothing I could do with my knowledge. Not even talk about it. In the face of a whole battalion of hangmen it is better to remain silent!”
I read this, as a Jew, and think, yes, there is something he could have done. He could have talked. He could have fought. He could have stormed the concentration camps. This of course would have required massive support, and Fest, the father of five young children, was operating in an environment where most of his neighbors would have readily turned him into the SS for listening to the wrong music. How critical a mass of people do you need before an act of martyrdom becomes an act of revolution? I realize I can’t honestly say.
I realize that in the face of all kinds of unspeakable horrors that have go on all the time–Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia–in the face of the (admittedly lesser, but still inexcusable) crimes of our government, such as Guantanamo, I also tend to fall back on living with personal integrity and raising my children to do the same. I also think of the quote I’ve had on my bulletin boards since the Vietnam war, from Phil Ochs: “Ah, in such an ugly time, the true protest is beauty”. The Fests, living in a horribly ugly time, took refuge in beauty–music, literature, the fruit from their trees. They believed that if they toughed out these awful times as decent human beings, the Nazis would burn themselves out. They believed that a country that produced Bach and Beethoven would not be reduced to barbarism. And once they realized, to their horror, that they’d been mistaken , they felt impotent to do anything about it.
In the face of considerably less repression, I feel that the vast majority of Americans–and most especially those that should know better–suffer from a similar impotent malaise.
Joachim Fest admits that while the war broke his parents, for him it was, ultimately, his formative years. Traumatic as they were, he was a child for most of them. He was poor but never starving, he had a loving family, he went to school, played games, took piano lessons. He was shielded from the worst of it until he was almost an adult.
In the years since WWII the Nazis have deservedly become the representation of the worst evil man is capable of. Contemplation of that evil has spawned such studies as the famous “buzzer” one where people, subjected to various stresses, are ordered to deliver electric shocks to other participants in the experiment. A disturbing number of people, of course, do press the buzzer. I’ve always been able to tell myself comfortably–and I really do say this with assurance–that no matter the pressure, I would never press the buzzer. I am not a buzzer presser.
What makes Not I so disturbing is that the Fests were not buzzer pressers either. But that, in the context of Nazi Germany, wasn’t nearly enough.

warren weinstein still alive; pleas for help with release

December 27, 2013

If you click on the following link:  you will see and hear a heartbreaking video from Warren Weinstein pleading that American public place pressure on the Obama administration for his release.

Weinstein, now 72 years old and suffering from a heart condition, was captured over two years ago by Al Qaeda in Pakistan.  He had been scheduled to leave Pakistan, where he had been working for the US government, in the next few days. His capture made minor headlines and then fell from the news.  Mr. Weinstein and his family are long time friends of my mother’s and in the year following his capture I publicized any news updates about him that I could find, but they were few and far between and mostly in the Indian press.  While theoretically the Obama administration was negotiating for his release, I could find no evidence to indicate this.  The only government that seemed to remember his existence, was again, India, who has seen quite a few of its citizens captured by the same branch of Al Qaeda.  Over the past year, I have not posted much about Warren Weinstein because I’ve had nothing to say.  Now at least there is proof that he is alive.

   We may not know the full details of Weinstein’s work or the details of his capture.  Obviously any video emanating from a prisoner is generated under duress and its contents are suspect.  None of this matters, really.  Weinstein was working for the US government.  He willingly put himself in a dangerous position for work that he believed in, for work supported, presumably, by the Obama administration.  His friends, family, and co-workers know him to be a kind, sweet, intelligent man.  But now, in his time of need, the Obama administration obviously finds him inconvenient.  They prefer to pretend he does not exist.

Please do not allow Warren Weinstein to be forgotten!  Please use the power of social media to get the word out about his plight and pressure Obama to negotiate for his release.  

banal news update: organic milk is better for you

December 20, 2013


Late Afternoon Sunlight on Mt. Hood

“Study shows organic milk could be a healthier choice,” states Katy Muldoon of the Oregonian.  In a study conducted by Washington State University, researchers tested nearly 400 samples of organic and conventional milk and found that the organic milk had a much healthier ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids than conventional milk. the difference is believed to be the result of the pasture and forage-based feeds used on organic dairy farms.  Wow, grass.  Isn’t that what cows are designed to eat.

A healthy ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 acids protects against cardiovascular disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, and inflammation (which is probably at the root of all these other illnesses) This ratio held up consistently through all fat levels of organic milk, rendering whole organic milk more protective against heart disease than conventional skim milk.

This study is illustrative of a problem with most mainstream dietary recommendations, which are issued on the assumption that one is eating the degraded agribusiness version of a food, rather than the whole food as nature designed it to be.  You will find similar fatty acid ratios in free range eggs and free range beef, both food categories that are conventional no-nos for people looking to lower their risk of cardiovascular and other illnesses.

The problem is not the food.  The problem is what conventional agriculture does to these foods.  Big agriculture and processed food companies would like nothing better than to demonize an egg and sell you an eggbeater, or demonize whole milk and sell you low fat this and low fat that.  You don’t need these fancy products!  Just eat (or drink) the real thing.

wendy’s recipe file: leftover chicken tortilla soup

December 11, 2013

mushrooms on the coastdon’t eat these!

This is an experiment. I have attached a photo of mushrooms that should appear with this text. It seems like every blog except mine features multiple photos, and I do like to take photos, so I’ll be putting some of my favorites up. However, the recipe that follows has nothing to do with mushrooms. It is a recipe for tortilla soup, that is another example of how soup has the capacity to create something from virtually nothing. What does the soup look like? Do you really need a picture of a bowl of soup any more than you need a thousand pictures of a sandwich someone is about to eat? The soup is slightly thick, with a mild red color, sprinkled with green avocado, rust-yellow tortillas, and brighter yellow grated cheese. It’s great on a chilly winter evening and comes together really quickly.
Serves sux
Chicken broth (half of mine came from boiling the leftover bones of a large roast chicken; I added an aseptic container (approximately 5 cups) of Imagine brand chicken broth. Whatever mix of broths you use, you will need approximately 10 cups)
Leftover chicken (at least 2 cups, chopped into bite size pieces)
1 large jar roasted peppers (I used ones I roasted and froze last September when organic red peppers were at their lowest price)
1 onion, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen brand)
2 jalapenos chopped or hot sauce to taste (I used my homemade hot sauce, made from Hatch chili peppers grated and mixed with salt and vinegar–again, dating back to the glory harvest days of September)
2 avocados, diced
1 cup cilantro, destemmed and lightly chopped
approximately 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 package corn tortillas
2 T olive oil

1) Saute the onion, peppers, and jalapeno (if using) in the olive oil until soft and fragrant.
2) Add the broth and tomatoes, cook for approximately 10 minutes.
3) Puree with an immersion blender. Cook down for approximately 10 minutes more and adjust for taste. You may with to add some salt and/or more hot sauce.
4) Meanwhile, oil 1-2 baking sheets and cook the tortillas at 350 until crisp. Cut into strips.
5) Serve soup, garnishing bowls with cheese, avocado, and cilantro.

life of pie

December 10, 2013

Portland has two types of pizza: the austere, thin crusted kind with a discreet sprinkling of artisanally sourced ingredients, and the ebullient thick crusted kind with gobs of gooey cheese and pepperoni of unknown origins.
My loyalties fall somewhere in between the two. But Life of Pie, a new addition to Portland’s pizza scene, does the austere kind well. I predict it will give Apizza Scholls, currently the leader in that category, valid competition.
Located on the hot N. Williams restaurant strip, Life of Pie has an casual, upscale pizzeria look. A huge wood-fired oven, imported from Italy, dominates the area behind the counter. The menu is limited, featuring eight 11″ pies ( large enough to feed one hungry person or two dieting ones) with well-conceived toppings that are creative but not bizarre. The crusts, made with local Shepherd’s Grain flour, are crispy but still toothsome, the tomato sauce delicious but not excessive, the homemade mozzarella cheese creamy but not dripping off the pie. My favorite was a seasonal mushroom pie with an intoxicating scent of truffle oil. It was rich, but unlike many white pies, not overwhelmingly so. The fennel sausage and Mama Lil’s pepper pizza might give Apizza Scholls’ a run for its money, though I could have used a few more peppers. Sweet oven roasted leeks were the star of the bacon, goat cheese, and leek pizza; the goat cheese was good too, but the full slices of bacon, albeit generous, were a mite fatty and chewy.
Their arancina, crispy deep fried rice balls with a luscious mozzarella center, were some of the best I’ve had short of Italy. And if you want a healthy offset to all this cheese and sausage, start your meal with a kale salad in a gentle honey lemon vinaigrette with a yummy breadcrumb garnish.
The house Portuguese wine set off everything very nicely.

wendy’s recipe file: green beans with roasted garlic, anchovies, olive oil and almonds

November 19, 2013

Sometimes it seems like all Thanksgiving recipes–even the vegetable sides–are overloaded with an excess of butter, cheese, and breadcrumbs.  All that richness can be very tasty, but totally apart from nutritional considerations, I think rich dishes taste best contrasted with other flavors.  This green bean recipe derives its interest from the intense flavors of garlic and anchovies, set off with a vinaigrette style sauce and some tasty garnishes.  Green beans freeze well, so maybe you have some leftover from your summer garden!  At any rate, the frozen variety make a decent substitute for the fresh.


2 pounds green beans, halved if needed

1 garlic clove

1 2 oz can anchovies, chopped

1/2 cup roasted almonds (marconas are good)

1/2 cup olive oil

2 T red wine vinegar

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup roasted red pepper, cut into strips.

1)  Roast garlic by cutting off top I/2 inch of the whole head with a serrated knife.  Rub the outside of the head with olive oil and bake at 375 degrees for about half an hour or until the garlic is soft.  When cool, squeeze the roasted garlic pulp from the individual cloves.

2)  Steam green beans until crisp-tender.

3)  Combine the roasted garlic pulp with the anchovies, olive oil, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce. 

4)  Toss with the green beans and let sit for at least an hour at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld.  Garnish with roasted red pepper strips and almonds.



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