Saturday, November 28, 2009

Kimbo's Cakes

Holy smokes, I have so much to tell you about! Time sure does fly when you’re on the road, and I’ve got at least three new posts queued up. I’ve been in Seattle, Montana, Wyoming, and now Florida. Next week I set sail from Miami, and head down to the Carribbean. I know… it’s rough. Anywho, I will be sending out some rapid-fire posts before we go, and have yet to determine whether or not I will be able to post again before we return from our voyage.

There is so much to cover from our trip in Seattle—first and foremost, my sister Kim. I guess you can say that food runs in our family.

The world needs to know about her. Not only is she a first-class sister, who offers shelter to us vagabonds every fall; she is also a tremendously gifted artist, who worked with glass for many years before shifting her talents to working with sugar. She attended the baking and pastry program at the phenomenal and groundbreaking Seattle Culinary Academy(by the way, if any of you are researching culinary schools be sure to check out this cutting edge and affordable program). Her specialty is wedding cakes. She is currently employed at the new Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Seattle, and prior to that she made wedding cakes for Macrina Bakery. She is currently in the process of putting together a web page—I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

For now, check out a couple of the cakes she made while Noah and I were in town.

This is her Signature Carrot Cake.

Super moist and perfectly spiced layers of carrot cake with a silky buttercream frosting, are topped with handmade marzipan baby carrots and devil’s food soil. So clever!

This one grabbed almost a thousand dollars at a charity auction, and I was the lucky one who got to watch her make it while sampling cake and frosting scraps.

Sooo good.

This next one she made at work features the name and logo of the restaurant at Seattle’s lovely new Four Seasons hotel. Cool!

I love the tubes of paint and the gold dust on the lettering of this artist’s palette—a perfect metaphor for my sister’s incredible work. Go Kimbo!

Just wanted to introduce her to you. I have a feeling you'll be seeing more of her soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Spirit of the Raisin

As you may know from my last post, Noah and I have left our sleepy, rain-soaked, Alaskan hideaway, and are on the road. When we deplaned in Seattle, life suddenly accelerated. Text messages, combat driving, rush hour traffic, social calendars, restaurant reservations, dress clothes, and pay parking suddenly filled our days. As did family and friends, phenomenal food, abundant art, Seahawks games, dodge ball games, sushi dinners in tatami rooms, and handmade tortelli with porcini mushrooms in truffle oil. I realized after a couple of years in Juneau that living in Alaska is like living in a different country, and leaving it meant a bit of culture shock in both welcome and challenging ways.

It feels like we’ve been unplugged for the last few years, and for a reluctant technophile like me, that hasn’t necessarily been unpleasant. Dinner conversation in Juneau revolves around bears, salmon, whales, eagles, and how to survive the weather. Dinner conversation in Seattle covers music, iPhones, art, Twitter, and food. It’s the city versus country cliché, and I seem driven somehow to straddle both worlds; perhaps, with one foot more heavily rooted in the countryside realm.

Midway through our stay, Noah and I traveled to Whidbey Island for an overnight retreat.

Food dovetails so seamlessly into so many experiences, connecting us to each other, connecting our days, and granting me a unifying thread in my writing. So it was with delight that I sat with my friend Kurt Hoelting at the Whidbey Institute for a day of mindfulness, which began with a handful of raisins.

Three raisins to be exact, and I’m guessing we spent about fifteen minutes eating them.

After a city week of continuous indulgence, a feast of flavors at our favorite old haunts and a few new ones, I found myself sitting quietly, with a small group of people, in a little sanctuary, actively doing nothing for a day. No place to go. No cell phones or emails. Nothing to achieve but nothing.

Kurt welcomed the group with a beautiful poem: Love after Love by Derek Walcott. Then, he passed around a cup of raisins, and told us each to take three raisins from the cup, and refrain from gobbling them up. Instead, we held them in our hand.

“Look at the raisins, like you’ve never seen a raisin before,” Kurt suggested. And I began to notice the wrinkled brown nubbins in my palm. There were actually a number of colors on each fruit, red-brown, purpley-grey, and dimples filled with a whitish film. I picked up the biggest raisin, and saw it with new eyes, an alien edible.

“Put the raisin up to your nose," Kurt guided us, "noticing how your arm moves your hand to your nose, with ease, without thinking, with effortless coordination, and inhale the scent of the raisin.”

The perfume filled my nostrils, like a glass of very old port. Sweet. Musky. Burnt sugar and vanilla and mineral soil. How had I never noticed the scent of a raisin?!

“Now put the raisin in your mouth,” Kurt said, “but don’t chew it up right away. Roll it around in your mouth. Feel the shape of it on your tongue.”

I sensed it’s softness, firmness, ridges, dimples. And when I was ready, I bit into it, feeling the skin break between my teeth, feeling the density of it’s dried pith, and most of all tasting the full explosive complexity of this ugly little fruit that I never really cared for. I had never thought about a raisin. If anything, I merely tolerated them.

I had been devouring my way through Seattle’s culinary Shangri-la, and I found my mind wondering what levels of flavor, texture, and aroma I had been missing out on. Not to say I didn’t appreciate all those wonderful meals (with gusto), but what might they have tasted like if given this kind of attention? What deeper level of richness could I bring to the experience of eating, just by slowing down, by paying closer attention?

Without haste, we moved on to the second raisin, this time keeping in mind how the raisin was made. What went into this little fruit? Earth. Water. Sun. A trellis for the vine to grow on. A hand to pick the grapes, and some way to dry them. A box to store them in, ship them in, sell them in. A truck to transport them on, and a driver to deliver them. A buyer. A shopping bag. And a hand to open the package with. This time, when I tasted the raisin, I uncovered mineral elements, flavors that went beyond my own personal experience and tiptoed onto the bigger picture. When I held an appreciation for the earth that grew the raisin, I could taste the terrior—or geography of the fruit. This was an even deeper level of paying attention.

Finally, with the third raisin, Kurt brought our attention to the little stem or hole on one end of the raisin, and asked us to think about what the raisin was attached to. My third raisin had a tiny peg of a stem, and it made me think of an umbilical cord. I pulled the stem from the raisin, and the hole it left made me think of a belly button.

“We are all connected somehow,” Kurt reminded us, and I thought about how each grape is connected to a stem, a stalk, a leaf, a root, the earth. Words like holistic and interconnected get thrown around a lot these days. It’s easy to forget their true meaning, to forget how to feel the connection we share as living organisms on this planet.

What an eye opening experience, all because of three humble little raisins. Before breaking for lunch Kurt said, “Let’s bring the spirit of the raisin into our experience of lunch today.”

The spirit of the raisin. I like that. It’s something I hope to carry with me from that day on Whidbey, and something I wanted to share with you. Happy Thanksgiving Food-G readers. May you bring the spirit of the raisin into your experience of your own Thanksgiving meal.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blueberry Cottage Cheese Pancakes: A Farewell Meal

The sun has set on our time in Alaska. After four years, Noah and I are moving on. Saying goodbye to this place has been harder than any other, and the only salve is the fact that we have a literal sea of possibilities before us. Don’t ask where we’re moving to; the answer to that question is still ironing itself out, but I’ll let you know when we find our new home.

In the meantime, Food-G is hitting the road! I’ll be sharing our stories and meals with you from the Northwest, Florida, and even the Caribbean through the next coupla months. Tally HO sailors! We are pulling anchor and FLAVOR AWAITS!

...Back in Juneau, when the time came to clear out our freezer, I found a bag of blueberries I had picked back in August. It’s hard to compare the intensity of an Alaskan Blueberry to those of the Lower 48. They are so much more tart, more intense, so full of dark juice-- I’ve got quite a few ruined tee shirts to prove it. They stain your teeth and lips and fingers and everything they touch with deep magenta. When I eat them, especially along the trail, it’s as if I can feel their nutrients energizing my body—emphasis on the “-zing”.

I held the bag in my hands and wondered, “When will I be back here? When will I be able to taste the radical wildness of these berries again? I must not let them go to waste!”

I grabbed a skillet, a tub of cottage cheese, and my trusty box of Bisquick (yes, Bisquick. It’s part of my childhood, and one of the few convenience foods I love too much to give up). Noah poked his head into the kitchen, lured by the smell of toasting batter in a buttered pan.

“What’s for breakfast?” he asked.
“My favorite breakfast of all time,” I said.
“Blueberry pancakes then?” (It feels good to be known so well…)
“Yep,” I said happily, “With wild blueberries and cottage cheese.”

Tasting those berries, intensified by warmth, was the perfect last meal. Someone once said to me that life is a series of moments, some of them great. Berries are like that, a series of really sweet moments. I will never forget the one’s we’ve had here.

 Blueberry Cottage Cheese Pancakes (serves 4)

Cottage cheese curds dot these crispy-gooey pancakes with little bits of melty goodness. The best way to add blueberries to pancakes is to pour the batter, and then drop the blueberries individually onto each cake.

2 cups Bisquick Baking Mix
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup cottage cheese (large curd is best)
A few grinds of pepper

1 – 1 ½ cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Butter or cooking spray, for pan

Combine first 6 ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and stir to combine. Heat a small to medium nonstick skillet over medium to medium low heat (4 out of 10 on the heat dial). Coat the pan with a thin sheen of butter or spray before pouring in a 4-inch wide dollop of batter. Immediately drop a few of the blueberries (evenly spaced) into the batter. When edges look dry flip the cake, and continue cooking until golden brown on both sides.

Another blast from summer's past: Forget-Me-Nots, the Alaskan State Flower.

Farewell Alaska. Forget you, I won't.
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