Tomato Season 2017: Digging Those Eastern European Heirlooms

Well, I admit it. I start thinking about the upcoming tomato season in December. Seattle is ridiculously dark and rainy during the last month of the year, but without fail that’s when my tomato and garden catalogs trickle in and that’s when I leave the holiday hubbub at the door and start to plan for the spring.

This year, we are having a ridiculously cold and rainy spring and everyone is wondering when the dreary weather will hit the road. No one has any answers and the media even salts the communal wound by publishing articles saying this is the rainiest season EVER for the Emerald City.

That being said, I am still marching forth on my tomato planning but I am also preparing for what will most likely be a late and truncated tomato season. When I moved to Seattle from New York over twenty years ago, I got turned on to the Eastern European heirloom tomatoes. I was told that these varieties are naturally conducive to Seattle’s maritime climate and that they produced flavorful unique tomatoes that defy the odds. Indeed, varieties such as Black Krim, Moskvich, Gregori’s Altai, Cosmonaut Volkov, Stupice and Siberia have been the backbone of my tomato beds for year.  These varieties sit alongside the classic heirlooms such as Carmello, San Marzano, Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine.

I often push the envelope and plant my tomatoes around April 15th but NOT this year because nighttime temperatures are still dipping to 40, which is way too cold. Hence, I’m coddling my plants at the kitchen table and at locations throughout my little house until the days get warmer and brighter.

If you haven’t gotten your tomato game plan in order yet, fear not because there’s still lots of time to reach for some of the Eastern Europeans. I grow some by seed but I also rely on the plants grown by Langley Fine Gardens on Vashon Island. You can find them at  Sky Nursery in Shoreline, at Swanson’s Nursery in NW Seattle and at select farmer’s markets during spring.  Or, you can simply order live plants directly from Territorial Seed in Oregon.

 

 

Banh Town in North Seattle: Vietnamese Street Food Served with a Smile

It pays to drive the carpool. It can be deliciously rewarding in many ways.

Twice a week I drive my son and his buddy over to evening lacrosse practice. En route, I get the scoop on everything from the Spanish curriculum at a local middle school to the boys’ recap on last week’s game.

Recently, one of our carpool conversations circled around food. We were talking about my son James’s favorite teriyaki joint in the neighborhood and our 14-year-old car pool passenger quickly chimed in with HIS favorite joint in the area…Banh Town.

Banh Town: Vietnamese Street Food. Banh Mi. Pho. Happiness

I was immediately intrigued by his suggestion because the place had been on my list for about two years…Will quickly gave me a recap on their pho and their sandwich selection. Sighing in the back seat, he told me their vermicelli salad was “the best.”  I think Will was in fact making a mental note to get back there sooner rather than later.

I made a similar note and this week when my husband and I wanted something light, fresh and different for lunch, I suggested Banh Town. We were soon out the door and on our way to this small, bright and cheerful little family owned and operated Vietnamese restaurant. Located at the busy intersection of Greenwood Avenue North and Holman Road and sitting right behind a Jiffy Lube, Banh Town is a treasure. The interior is bright and the walls are decorated with large  colorful photographs of Vietnam.

 

Vermicelli Salad.JPGChauanh, was our server and she is also one of the owners. Service with a smile seems to be the mantra at Banh Town and we were quickly briefed on the menu which includes an array of banh mi, pho, vermicelli salads and a variety of starters. Although I’ve been making a lot of pho during this wet and rainy Seattle winter we’ve been having, I opted to celebrate the sunshine yesterday and ordered the chicken vermicelli salad ($9.95). My husband had the five spice chicken banh mi ($6.95) and we shared two spring rolls ($7) and an order of quail’s egg poppers ($7), which were a family recipe from Grandma Le. ( I think Grandma Le might be Chauanh’s maternal grandma. We were told she is a great cook and she is cited as the recipe creator on a few of the flagship items on the menu so take note!)

Bahn MiThe banh mi arrived with a side of sesame slaw and the sandwich was light and beautifully done with a crispy airy French roll and lots of fresh cilantro. My salad was full of flavor and the skewered chicken was grilled to the perfect degree. Perched on top of cold vermicelli noodles and a cucumber lettuce combo, the chicken added a nice protein punch to the light and satisfying entrée. The quail’s egg  poppers were crispy on the  outside and the interior was subtle and comforting.

The bill was reasonable by Seattle standards and totaled less $40 with tax and tip. The restaurant  is now open seven days a week and offers takeout and delivery via Doordash and Postmates.

The restaurant’s logo touts: Banh Town: Vietnamese Street Food. Banh Mi. Pho. Happiness.

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

 

 

 

Discover Asian Doodle Soup!

We’ve all heard about Zoodles…spiralized zucchini that often takes the place of pasta in savory dishes.

Well, I’ve come up with Doodles! Spiralized Daikon radish that works equally as well in hot and cold dishes.

Until yesterday, I had never bothered with Daikon radish, a huge mild white winter radish from Asia. A cruciferous vegetable high in fiber and low in calories, this vegetable is indeed an underappreciated powerhouse.  When I was at the upscale Asian market in my neighborhood this weekend, I noticed boxes and boxes of these radishes around the produce department. Clearly a seasonal loss leader, they were priced at 49 cents a pound so I decided to buy one.  At the time, I didn’t know what I’d do with it but I figured something would strike my fancy.

At home, I was going to originally prep the ingredients for my Asian Chicken Salad but the weather was awful over the weekend and the chill permeated so I ditched the salad idea and decided to craft a warm and soothing Asian soup. That’s when I had my AHA moment. The Daikon was on my counter and it occurred to me that the elongated vegetable would be perfect spiralized!

daikon-doodles-2017

So, I readied my  KitchenAid Spiralizer  with the fine spiralizer attachment, cut the daikon into five inch chunks, and attached it to the spiralizer. It spiraled perfectly and the “Doodles” worked great in an Asian pho with shredded Napa cabbage, cilantro, Thai basil and scallions.   I simmered them in a homemade Asian-style chicken broth over moderately high heat for about three or four minutes. After that,  they softened a bit but retained some crunch. A very satisfying low carb and low calorie way to get a hefty hit of vegetables on a cold rainy Seattle day.

I didn’t use them all in one go yesterday so I stashed the leftover Doodles in the fridge and they stored perfectly—no browning or discoloring and they remained crispy and crunchy overnight.

So, if you find Daikon on sale and you happen to have a spiralizer in your kitchen, give Doodles a go!

 

Cookbook Review: Nourishing Broth

I love cookbooks and have hundreds of them in my home. New releases, trendy editions, vintage copies, dog-eared classics. You name it, I pretty much have it in my disorganized and tattered but beloved collection.

Over the years while writing for newspapers, Amazon’s Al Dente blog and my own website, I have reviewed numerous cookbooks and one of my benchmarks for judging a book is whether the recipes and tips really work. Lately, I’ve noticed that many cookbook reviews give a casual broad mention of the content and the author and it’s pretty clear that the reviewer didn’t really crack the book and put it to the test.

I often ask myself, did this person peruse it or use it? For me, the true test takes place on the stove and at the kitchen counter. Are the instructions logical and is the ingredient list accurate? Does the author erroneously assume knowledge and omit details that might impact the finished results? Do the recipes add value to the everyday repertoire? Is the content unique enough that the reader is encouraged to ditch tradition, take a risk and try something new?

Well, when I recently saw Nourishing Broth at the  Amazon Bookstore down at Seattle’s University Village, I put it on my cookbook bucket list and bought it a few days later. Admittedly, the paperback book isn’t flashy.but the contents are indeed explosive. Written by Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Foundation, the book covers all aspects of making nutritious restorative homemade broths and is based on in depth research, countless studies, and no nonsense home based culinary tradition. Sally cites research and writes convincingly how a well crafted broth can help tackle issues such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, digestive diseases, mental health, athletic challenges, and even saggy middle aged skin and the dreaded cellulite! This is a lot of the stuff that our grandmothers knew intuitively but somehow got shoved aside as time marched on and the food scene became more dynamic.

Consisting of three main parts: Basic Broth Science, The Healing Power of Broth, and Recipes, Nourishing Broth sent me on a little quest.  I’ve always made homemade broths for my family and my kids often swear by how my chicken broth, when laced with ginger, garlic and cilantro, can quickly turn around a nasty cold.

Sally’s book, however, inspired me to tweak my tradition even further. With my list in hand at my neighborhood Asian market,  I headed for the meat department and purchased unique stubby cuts of beef with bones and collagen. On page 168 in the introduction to her recipe for Classic Beef Stock she says: “Good beef stock requires several sorts of bones: knuckle bones…marrow bones….meaty ribs…and shanks…”  I gathered a motley but beautiful collection of shanks, rib cubes, oxtail and more.

Following her basic recipe and using my big All-Clad slow cooker, I was flabbergasted by the depth of flavor, silky texture and  overall richness of the beef broth I created. I incorporated that broth into numerous soups and dishes that week and the feedback was very positive. I really knew I was on to something when I spontaneously worked the last of that broth and beef into a late night beef taco for my 14 year old son.He declared it the “best ever.” My beloved Golden Retriever even took note and sat patiently next too me while I drained the broth at the end of the day! When I half jokingly asked her if she liked “gravy” she licked her lips, wagged her tail and sat at attention!

Since then, I’ve made chicken and shellfish broth recipes from the book and incorporated many of Sally’s healthy tips. Priced at $23, this book offers tremendous value and endless healthy inspiration. I highly recommend it.

Circa 1995, A Tip from Mom: Eat More Salmon

Funny how a simple phone call from mom can chart a new course.

Back in 1995 my mom called me. I was living in Seattle and was a new mother. Mom was sitting at the kitchen table at home on Long Island. She didn’t beat around the bush. She got right to the point and told me I needed to eat more salmon. Huh?

Mom had read an article in The New York Times that morning and it was based on research coming out of Seattle’s University of Washington. Published on November 1, 1995 and entitled “Study Finds Anew a Benefit in Eating Fish,” the article presented findings from a six -year King County study that clearly showed how eating even moderately sized servings of seafood rich in omega three fatty acids held promising health benefits.

I soon received that hand clipped article as well as others addressing Vitamin D, darkness, breast cancer risk and more.  They all mentioned the benefits of eating oily rich fish such as salmon. I took it to heart.

After all, beautiful wild salmon was readily available at the seafood counters and in the local waters all over Seattle and frankly I found it to be a restorative and positive way to take action on a brutal reality that wasn’t fun, pleasant or even remotely palatable.

You see, my mom was 2800 miles away suffering through metastatic breast cancer and would soon undergo a bone marrow transplant with a tragic outcome. My older sister, who was 36 years old had just conquered breast cancer and intensive chemotherapy. As for me, I was only 30 years old and was faced with a tsunami of risk heading my way.

Back then I was actively participating in the High Risk Breast Clinic at the University of Washington. When I moved to Seattle, the specialists at NY’s Memorial Sloan Kettering had told me to go to the UW. So, I heeded their advice, and every six months I showed up at the University of Washington Medical Center for a check-up.

Although I dreaded those darn appointments, being a journalist, I always took solace in the “news” that my docs shared each time. It seemed like research was breaking new ground daily. My wonderful doctors, who faithfully followed me for the next ten years, educated me and encouraged me to participate in the new technology and warned me that “false readings” were possible but part of the research.  Hmm. Okay. And, indeed, when they were learning how to administer and read MRIs for breast cancer screening, I was on the table. I was injected. I was zoomed in and out of the MRI machine and I was often called back when some minuscule spot looked odd and they wanted to “dig further.” Dig they did.

To make a long story short, after a decade with UWMC, I was diagnosed in 2004 at the age of 39. It was early but the docs, like mom, didn’t tread lightly. I was told: “double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.”  No chemo or radiation would be necessary because it was so early. With little waffling, I agreed and had the surgery.

I’ve never looked back and have been grateful to have nipped that nasty beast in the bud so early.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Seafood Month, I was recently inspired to donate to Sea A Cure, a fundraiser bridging the seafood industry and the cutting edge research being done at  City of Hope.  The fundraiser popped up on my Facebook page and it resonated instantly.

For me, it was the amazing doctors and researchers, both here and in NYC, who dedicated their careers to finding solutions and better detection methods but it was also that simple no nonsense call from mom that cold rainy day in 1995.

Since then, I’ve known that I can’t always fix exactly what might ail me but I sure can take the helm and dish up a hefty dose of prevention right in my own little kitchen. That’s why over the years, wild salmon, as well as many other types of seafood, have played a big role in my every day cooking, writing and recipe development.  It’s quick, easy, delicious, versatile, widely available and ridiculously good for you. What’s not to love? Clearly mom was on to a good thing!

If you want to see some of my salmon articles and recipes, click here and here.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Sea A Cure Friends of the Seafood Industry fundraiser click here. For more about City of Hope, check out these informative links.

 

 

The Year in Review: My P-Patch Garden

Well, it’s official. I am wrapping up a full year as a Seattle P-Patch gardener. The P-Patches here in Seattle are a network of 88 organic community gardens dotted throughout the city. Operated by the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the gardens have a legacy that dates back to about 1973 when the first one was started at Picardo Farm.

My little one-hundred square foot garden is located at the Haller Lake P-Patch, which is in North Seattle and only  stone’s throw from I-5. Located in a quiet corner of a church parking lots, it’s been a delightful oasis and experiment for me this last year.

I’ve messed around with inter planting, growing small garden varieties, companion planting, succession planting and a whole lot more.  Inspired by some vintage  U.S. Government Victory Garden booklets that I found at an estate sale, I inter planted aggressively, pulled plants once they were totally spent, and replanted something new shortly thereafter in order to keep the produce coming. The rewards and yields were  massive considering the tight quarters.

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Some of the items, such as beets, peas, kales, chards and carrots were planted directly in the beds. Other things like Savoy cabbages, yellow pear tomatoes, and Red Iceberg lettuce were put in as starter plants purchased at the nursery.  In mid June some items like winter kale and Brussels sprouts were started by seed at home and when transplanted to my P-Patch, simply tucked under the tomato plants. I figured the loftier tomato plants would protect the little starts from harsh summer sun and heat.

The garden organizers at my P-Patch keep telling us that we have til October 31 to plant our beds for the winter or simply clean them up, mulch them and let them take a snooze til spring. This year, I’ve opted to plant mine with cold weather varieties such as elephant garlic, kales, chards, rutabagas, purple kale, Nordic Brussel sprouts, and winter carrots.  I wasn’t able to have a winter garden in  my plot last year simply because I got my plot too late in the season. I’ve had a winter garden at home every year for about two decades now but I am really excited to push the proverbial limit and see what I can get in a SMALL space winter garden! Now, that’s a victory!

Stay tuned…and stay warm!

Wnter Garden October 2016.JPG

Dorothy Kalins: Do Some Damn Reporting!

Do some damn reporting.

Shed new light.

Think hard before you write.

These imperatives might seem like directives from a high school English professor but they were words of wisdom shared by Dorothy Kalins at the Association of Food Journalists 2016 Conference being held in Seattle this week.

Kalins is the founding editor of Saveur Magazine and her career in journalism spans decades and countless assignments. Tasked with giving the keynote presentation, Kalins started by painting a rather dark and gloomy picture of the current state of journalistic affairs.  Even though the sky was blue in Seattle yesterday, clouds wafted throughout the room.

Kalins played hard ball. She reminded us of the cataclysmic shifts in journalism and how we are all being asked to produce far more content in far shorter time frame. She assured us that we aren’t crazy for thinking we are working in a difficult climate and reiterated what we all already knew: The old rules do not apply.

She said we live in a pernicious Wikipedia world where it is far too easy and tempting to scoop up what has already been written without checking what’s been written. She acknowledged that this difficult environment lets us down as journalists because getting it out is often more “important” than getting it right.

Even though the reality was tough to swallow, Kalins wrapped up on a high note and offered inspiration. In a no nonsense tone she assured us that all isn’t lost and that we are still in the driver’s seat. She urged us to take the high road, maintain standards and expect more.  I jotted notes as quickly as I could while she talked. Here are some of her pithy tips:

  • The Personal Essay Category needs fresh thinking. Cut through the fat of personal opinion and stop the indulgence of first person journalism. Be original.
  • Do some Damn reporting!
  • Be Inspired!
  • Shed new light.
  • Think hard before you write!
  • Now more than ever, we must be our own editors. Our own task masters.
  • Internalize that voice.
  • Make that damn phone call. (Ditch the email interviews!)
  • Have that primal experience of research.
  • Get out of your chair!
  • Welcome questions

And, most importantly, she said, “We do not lose our nerve. We do what journalists have always done. We look around corners…we go out and we tell the world.”

Well said.