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Posts Tagged ‘Pacific Northwest’

Well, since we’re halfway through May already, I know you’re probably itching for a recipe or two. Never fear – I spent the month of April cooking, so I’ve got recipes stacked up like storm clouds and headed your way. White chicken chili, carrot cake, two-bite brownies, gâteau au citron, jalapeño cheese straws, peanut butter oatmeal cookies, almond coffee cake – you name it, I’ve got the recipe.

First things first, however. Like I said, it’s been a while, so we’ve got more than recipes to catch up on. See, the way I look at it, talking without bitching is just unfinished business.  And everyone knows that you won’t catch me talking unless it’s every minute I’m awake. So I think you can see where we’re going with this.

And if you haven’t already guessed from the title, the topic I want to complain about today is the three feline aggravations.

Now, for the past few months, I’ve noticed that the demon trio has slacked off on efforts to drive me to the brink of insanity. I don’t know that you’d call it true hibernation, but it’s like they’ve been in some kind of winter-induced catatonic torpor, or something. Oh sure, they’ve managed to wreak the occasional inconvenience, but their efforts have fallen short of out-and-out havoc by a country mile.

Now that it’s the month of Mayhem, however, all that’s changed. Yes, the catastrophe is out of the bag.

See, just recently, the three cataclysms have emerged from their seasonal stupor with a snap, crackle, and a pop. Whereas a few weeks ago they’d typically spend the majority of the day cached in a pile somewhere sleeping off the effects of the hummingbirds they ate last summer, now they’re raising a ruckus night and day, tormenting the living daylights out of anything that moves. And they’re even worse with things that don’t have the sense to run – like the rugs and upholstery.

In fact, the more valuable the object, the more incensed they seem to be that it’s still standing. It’s like they’ve gone into catabolic overdrive in an attempt to reduce the world to its constituent elements before June.

Well, I’m here to tell you that living amidst the wreckage created by the three destructionistas is no joy. So every morning, rain or shine, they get the boot. Let them take out some of their aggressions on the neighborhood, is my feeling. The house and I can only stand so much.

Of course, nothing suits their diabolical purposes like being pitched out the kitchen door. I mean, the imps have a lot of hell yet to raise, and they’re behind schedule as it is. So, yes, they’re only too happy to go –

– that is, until they get the urge to go.

Next thing you know, the fleet of three is bobbing at the kitchen door with their faces all long and serious and their ears rotated to the side and down like semaphore flags signaling distress.

Well, of course I take one look at that and open the back door like the sucker they take me for. And after a brief flurry of confusion at being given exactly what they want, the three fiends stampede back inside, making a beeline directly for the scratch box. Then, like the precious little princesses they’re not, two stand demurely by as the third takes a turn tossing sand on the Fresh Step beach. And then out they go again, only to repeat the whole process a few minutes later. In-out-in-out – all morning long. And before you know it, it’s time for lunch.

Well apparently, it’s warm and dry enough for most of their outdoor activities (hunting, laying low in the bushes, fighting, taunting birds), but it’s still too cold and wet for them to squat.

Now, I’ll admit that they’ve been shedding, so maybe the fur left covering their delicate backsides isn’t quite up to snuff. And I understand that the deciduous landscape is still too leafless to give them the privacy they prefer. And I suppose the soil is still a little too wet for the pawed squad to dig deeply and cover completely.

Oh yes, they’ve got some good excuses, no doubt about it. I can’t argue with that. Trouble is, “good” is nothing but an afterthought in these fiends’ master plan.

Yep, it’s plain as day what they’re up to once you understand their agenda. See, the three wee weasels go through this rigmarole just to reassure themselves that I am still at their beck and call. Yes. Because ideally, their aim is to monopolize all my waking hours just like they do all my sleepless nights.

Case in point, they could surely use the john before embarking on their daily search-and-destroy, could they not?

Yes, they could.

But do my little inconsiderados ever think of doing that?

No, they do not.

And I don’t expect they’d listen to my advice on the subject, either, so I’m not going to give it to them. Instead, I’m going to quote someone they respect.

Don’t take it from me, mes petits démons. Heed the words of the French Chef herself, who evidently had a particular weakness for creatures of your ilk. It is she who issued the immortal mandate that even you would do well to mind:

First, you take a leek.

~ Julia Child

Leek Potato Soup (Potage Parmentier): About

Everybody makes leek potato soup in the winter months. That’s a good time to serve it, but leeks grow best during cool weather, so they’re in season right now up here in Exile. And if you have any experience dealing with Sybil (i.e., the spring we’ve got up here in the Pacific Northwest), you know we’ll be in need of a batch of this soup at several points during the month of Mayhem. As for the rest of you living it up in Paradise, well, just chill this soup and call it Vichyssoise!

Some leek potato soup recipes are heavy on cream and loaded with various spices. This one is simpler, better for you, and it emphasizes the flavor of the main ingredients. It’s rustic fare, so feel free to add any vegetable you like to the basic mix.

For example, you might try adding a cup of chopped watercress to make Potage au Cresson, à la Julia Child. On the other hand, you might want to add some chopped celery along with the leeks and potatoes – that’s good, too! The combinations are endless, and completely up to you. Improvisez! That’s my advice. (See some suggestions and cooking times below.)

Yes, this soup makes a substantial base for further additions, but it’s fragrant and hearty enough just as it is. Easy, inexpensive, versatile, and flavorful – what could be better?

Savor it as a reminder that it’s often life’s simplest pleasures – like taking a leek – that are all you really need to weather Mayhem.

Bon appétit!


Leek Potato Soup (
Potage Parmentier): Antidote to Mayhem

4 cups (about 1 lb.) sliced leeks (white part and about 1-2 inches of the tender green part)

3-4 cups (about 1 lb.) peeled and coarsely chopped potatoes

2 Tablespoons butter

1½  quarts chicken broth (canned or fresh)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon dill weed (optional)

½ cup heavy cream (optional)

3 Tablespoons chopped chives or minced parsley

1.  Split the leeks lengthwise leaving the two halves attached at the root end. Spread the leaves apart and wash well. Chop into ½ inch pieces, discarding the root.

2.  Using a 3-4 quart stockpot, sauté the leeks in butter over moderate heat until tender but not yet brown.

3.  Add the chicken broth, potatoes, salt and pepper to the stockpot.

4.  Simmer partially covered for 45-50 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

5.  Now you have a choice, depending on how rustic or refined you like your soup. Process the soup using one of the following methods:

a.  Mash most of the potatoes right in the pot with a potato masher.

b.  Run all or part of the soup through a food mill.

c.  Transfer all or part of the soup in batches to a blender or food processor to purée.

d.  Use an immersion blender to purée the soup to the desired consistency.

Personally, I recommend a or d because you won’t scald yourself decanting hot soup, and there’s less cleanup afterward. If you’re serving it chilled as Vichyssoise, however, it should be puréed until completely smooth using methods b or c.

6.  Add dill weed, if desired, and additional salt and pepper to taste.

7.  Optional: stir a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream into each bowl before serving.

8.  Garnish with chives or parsley.

Suggestion 1: Add 1-2 cups chopped celery, diced carrots or turnips, chopped canned or fresh tomatoes, dried lentils, or partially cooked dried beans or peas to simmer along with the leeks and potatoes for the full 40-50 minutes.

Suggestion 2: Add 1-2 cups fresh or frozen cauliflower, cucumbers, broccoli, lima beans, peas, string beans, okra, zucchini, canned beans, shredded lettuce, spinach, sorrel, or cabbage for the last 10-15 minutes of the simmer.

Suggestion 3: Add 1 densely-packed cup chopped watercress leaves and stems during the final 5 minutes of the simmer.

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Well, up here in Exile, Oregon, we’ve got ourselves a little problem. And it just so happens that this particular problem is so common that no one even bothers to mention it anymore, even though it’s on just about everybody’s mind. And it’s the same sort of trouble that manages to show up at about this time every year, just like clockwork. I’ll give you two hints: it’s green, and it’s thought by some to grow on trees. Anybody?

Nice try, Mr. Heckle N. Jeckle, but you’re wrong. See, everybody’s got problems with money these days,* not just people living up here in Exile, and not just during tax season, either. Go ahead, guess again – I’ll wait. That’s right: what I’m talking about here is MOSS.

Now, I realize that most of you people might not put moss high on your list of things to be concerned about. In fact, you probably don’t think about moss much at all where you live, all warm and sunny and dry. You might even think that a lush green layer of moss is something to be admired, or maybe even cultivated, like a weedless expanse of lawn or a plush head of hair. Well, I guess I’d better clue you in on the bitter truth, then. Here goes: Moss Is Not Your Friend.

Oh sure, moss may look perfectly sweet and innocuous when it first parks itself on your rooftop. It’s so puny and primitive and meek – I mean, is it really even a plant, or just tall algae? Before you know it, though, the tables have turned and you’re cryin’ like a baby for some mossy mercy.

See, moss has leveraged its way into every nook and cranny of your house, and your yard, and your life. It’s wreaking havoc in your downspouts, prying up your shingles, sliding under your siding, and hatching plans to take over the lawn. Yes, day by day, inch by inch, moss encroaches on your territory, tinting everything in its path until you find yourself awash in a cruel green sea.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against green. Green is one of my favorite colors. Green doesn’t go around broadcasting dire warnings like orange, or blocking your way like red, or shouting mindless incendiary slogans like yellow. It’s very cool, green is. Very soothing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that green is why they call this area of the country the Pacific Northwest. It’s so peaceful up here in this green corner of the country that it’s positively soporific.

No, the problem with moss isn’t the color – it’s what it represents. Moss is an ally of damp and cold, a messenger of mortality, and a dank agent of decay. It’s mute evidence of the passage of time, the onset of inertia, the slow decline into decrepitude, and the inevitable return to dust – or to mud, anyway, if you live up here.

Yes, moss is a smirking green reminder that you’re not as young as you used to be, and to you, the roof might as well be the surface of the moon. That’s right: moss is throwing a party upstairs, and no, you’re not invited. There isn’t a ladder tall enough to bring you up to the level of that half-inch high rootless invader. Moss may be low, but you’re even lower. Although at least you’re higher than algae. But man, that is still just so low.

So, how are you supposed to cope with this green fiend’s seasonal assault on your psyche? Well, it’s my belief that you can combat winter’s weak light, damp chill, short days, and mossy afflictions by cooking up something hot and spicy and delicious.

So to that end, I’m going to prescribe brewing up a big batch of my Alarmingly Red-Hot Chili con Carne. It’s a sure-fire way to beat back the creeping-green blues, and at the same time, end up with leftovers that get better with age – just like we do.  I mean, so what if we have to hire someone else to pry the moss off our backs these days? We just happen to be working smarter instead of harder is all, and unless you have moss for brains, that’s called improvement.

So, take it from me: A bowl or two of this stuff, and you’ll be armed and dangerous, and ready to put the kibosh on moss. The dosage is up to you, but I recommend two bowls to start with. If that doesn’t work, call me in the morning. You might need something stronger involving habañeros.

* Except Martha Stewart.

Wilma Jean’s Alarmingly Red-Hot Chili con Carne

Effective Against the Creeping-Green Blues And Other Winter Afflictions

1 large onion, chopped

3 Tbs. olive oil (or lard or bacon grease)

2 lbs. lean ground beef or turkey (3 lbs. if foregoing the beans)

2 16-oz. cans pinto beans (optional), drained

28-oz. can crushed tomatoes

4 cloves crushed garlic

3 bay leaves

1 heaping Tbs. dried oregano (reduce to 1 level Tbs. if using dried Mexican oregano)

2 tsp. cumin seed

4-oz. can chopped jalapeños

2 Tsp. salt

A few grinds of black pepper

2.25-oz. can sliced ripe olives

  1. In a large stockpot, sauté the chopped onion in olive oil (or grease, if preferred) until it starts to brown and glaze the bottom of the pan.
  2. Add the ground beef (or turkey, if preferred) and cook until the meat has lost its pink coloration and some water has evaporated.
  3. Add the ground tomatoes, pinto beans (if using), garlic, bay leaves, oregano, cumin, salt, black pepper, and jalapeños.
  4. Cover and simmer on low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  5. Remove cover and add sliced black olives. Continue to simmer for 30 minutes more.
  6. Adjust seasonings and serve. Good as is, or spooned over tortilla chips and topped with lettuce, cheese, and avocados.

Special note to Oregonians: Don’t blame me if it’s too hot – I warned you. Just add some more beans and you’ll be fine.

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Rachel Laudan

A Historian's Take on Food and Food Politics

in vita esse

To be alive. Dispatches from the surface of the planet.

Kicking and Screaming into the Kitchen

and other thoughts on eating, cooking, living, loving, writing from an ex-circus sideshow performer turned elephant advocate and author