A former Assistant Editor at Gourmet Magazine and a freelancer for more than 20 years, Melissa Trainer is an avid cook, writer and gardener. Aside from writing content for a diverse group of clients, Melissa enjoys tending her organic kitchen garden and using the fruits of her labors in her family kitchen. Over the years, Melissa has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times, Real Food, Amazon, and many other publications, business, and organizations. For many years she was a daily contributor to Amazon's Al Dente blog, writing daily about kitchenware, recipes, culinary tips and dining trends.
Ouch. My early morning news feed had a nasty eye opener this morning.
It looks like the holiday cheeseboards will get pricier this holiday season if you plan on using imported European cheeses. Seemingly overnight, a 25% tax was slapped on an array of European goods, some of which are French wines, Italian cheeses, and single malt scotch whiskey.
I haven’t gotten my hands on the full list just yet, however, my holiday cheese indulgences did immediately spring to mind. Will I be paying 25% more for Gruyere, Stilton, Parmesan? Most likely yes. The tariffs are supposed to hit mid October, which means there’s still time to stock up.
Alas, I began to wonder, if I do stock up, how should I store it? Keeping it in the spare fridge doesn’t always work so well due to the temptation staring back at me every time I run down to grab the spare eggs or milk.
That said, I remembered an old blog post I wrote years ago…it has a handy tip worth sharing:
In general, cheese doesn’t lend itself to being frozen, but take note that Stilton, England’s historic blue, freezes quite well! I gleaned this little tidbit years ago while I was poking around the website for the Stilton Cheese. The cheese can be cut into six ounce portions, wrapped in foil or cling wrap, and then frozen for about three months. To defrost the cheese, simply let it thaw in the fridge or the larder for about 24 hours. The slow defrost method is recommended because it prevents the cheese from becoming too crumbly!
So, let’s put the deep freeze on this cheesy taxing reality, folks!
Tis the season for pears. Let’s face it. Who needs pumpkins when you have pears?
That said, do you know how to choose a perfect pear? Well, if not, read on!
Because these gorgeous fruits are grown to maturity on the tree and then brought to ripeness at room temperature off the tree, it can be hard to judge whether certain varieties are ready to be eaten or not.
With a Bartlett it’s fairly straightforward, because the skin changes from green to golden, indicating ripeness. However, with others such as Bosc, Comice, and D’Anjou, it is harder to judge because the skin doesn’t change color and the flesh doesn’t soften all that much.
That’s why it’s worth mastering the “Check the Neck” technique. Developed by the USA Pears, this simple method teaches us to apply some pressure to the pear’s neck, which is also the stem end. If the pear yields to the gentle pressure, then it is sweet, ripe, and ready to eat!
It’s so worth learning quirky tips like this one, because they make grocery shopping and cooking for seasonal ingredients so much more enjoyable and successful!
I’ve been at this gig for thirty years now. Of course, I’ve learned many things over the years but one thing that really strikes me is that as much as things change, they also remain very much the same.
One of those things is without a doubt the power of the written word.
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the dramatic shifts in publishing, both in platforms and in standards. To adapt to those shifts, I’ve also utilized my training in an infinite number of ways and for a variety of clients and publishers across platforms, developing recipes, writing press releases and newsletters, crafting social media content, writing blog posts for Amazon and most recently acting as a Contract Editor for Amazon here in Seattle.
One of my favorite challenges these days is helping my cadre of small business owners. Small business is a quiet but mighty economic engine here in the United States, but I believe it’s these folks who often get caught between a rock and hard place. They don’t have the resources to tap the expertise of a large media company and many of these business owners are so busy tackling the day to day operations that they simply don’t have the bandwidth or desire at the end of the day to craft content and engaging social media for their customer.
That’s where I come in.
I love working with small businesses. I find that listening to them, hearing their story, brainstorming ideas, and writing about what makes them unique is a cost-effective tool.
Basically, it’s a simple time-tested tool that brings customers OFF the sidewalk and IN the door.
So, if you have a small business, contact me to craft the content you need on Main Street!
The Emerald City is living up to its reputation this week. Cold. Rainy. Dark. Ugh.
Yesterday, I was craving a light and lean salmon lunch but I couldn’t bear to make a salad so I decided to shift gears and focus on using some king salmon in soup. Chowder was too heavy so I started to explore pho as a reasonable option.
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea and began to wonder if I could devise a simple technique that would cook the salmon but simultaneously safeguard the fish’s buttery texture and telltale flavor.
Working quickly, I loaded my InstantPot with some chicken and vegetables, set it to high pressure for 25 minutes and headed to the Asian market in my neighborhood for some cilantro, Thai basil, fresh rice noodles, and Napa cabbage.
At home shortly thereafter, my soup came together in mere minutes. The hot simmering InstantPot broth was a ladled into a Le Creuset saucepan with finely shredded cabbage, a few slices of ginger, and about an ounce of rice noodles. That simmered for about two minutes and was poured into a pho bowl. I then added about two ounces of finely sliced skinless salmon into the steamy broth and let the salmon cook gently in the residual heat of the broth. I then added a final garnish of herbs and sliced jalapenos and my light and lean Gingery Salmon Pho was ready for slurping!
So, here is the basic and easily adaptable method for making a quick pho at home:
Put about two cups of chicken broth into a small saucepan. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat.
Add about a half cup of finely sliced Napa cabbage , a few slices of fresh ginger, and about one ounce of rice noodles. Simmer for about two minutes, stirring once or twice.
Pour the steaming broth carefully into a deep bowl, top with about two ounces of thinly sliced and skinned fresh salmon. Using chopsticks, gently poke the salmon into the hot broth to submerge it and to help it cook in the hot broth.
Garnish with finely chopped fresh cilantro, Thai basil if available, and thinly sliced jalapenos. Serve!
The next time you get a text from your kids be on high alert and don’t fall for the turkey query at hand.
There’s a cheeky little prank going around amongst our kids who are grown and on their own…they are texting mom and asking how to microwave a 25-pound turkey! I received this text from my dear daughter who now lives in New York. I didn’t fall for it because I had seen it the day before when one of her longtime classmates called her mom, videotaped the call and then posted the hilarious long-distance mother/daughter exchange on Facebook. When my daughter’s prank hit a dead end with me, she went on to text her dad and brother. They both fell for it and worried phone calls rapidly ensued to set her straight.
Well, my rebuttal to this? Text them the number to the Turkey Talk-Line at Butterball and tell them to call these turkey pros who have been at it for over 30 years.
Why? Because next year you are coming to THEIR place for Thanksgiving and they’d better start practicing now!
Seattle’s Nordic heritage? It runs deep. And, it’s undergoing a renaissance thanks in large part to the new Nordic Museum, located in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Sleek, contemporary, and inspiring, this museum manages to walk the tightrope of time. In one glance, it brings the artists and current trends of the Nordic countries right before the visitor’s eyes and in another moment, it artfully looks back and shows the visitor where today’s trends are rooted and from which they came.
Formerly called the Nordic Heritage Museum and until this year, located in a turn of the century school building, the new 57,000 square foot museum is a giant leap forward and one that required a multimillion-dollar capital campaign in order to bring to fruition.
Although it opened last May, I hadn’t had a chance to visit until this morning. It’s Julefest weekend at the museum and I knew this would be a great chance to celebrate the season and to see the new digs…for an admission fee of only $7. I purchased my tickets online last night and arrived early at the museum only to find that a line had already formed a half an hour before the 10 AM open!
A Nordic Christmas Celebration, Julefest brings together artisans, purveyors, musicians, and bakers all of whom share a common Nordic legacy in one way or another. When I attended Julefest at the old school house location last year, the event was lovely but crowded and cramped. This year? It was a complete shift.
With the museum’s spacious interior, massive windows, and abundant light, Julefest was lively, upbeat and impressive. My first stop was to peruse the “Goodies2Go” section, which is basically the Scandinavian bake sale featuring Christmas classics such as spritz cookies, rosettes, and krumkake. I bypassed those for caloric reasons (!) and moved on to the purveyors where I found tables heavily laden with vintage Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates, Norwegian sweaters, long burning locally made beeswax candles, handcrafted wooden tools and more.
Next on my list was to do a quick perusal of the permanent collection, located up a sleek staircase. A sharp contrast to the permanent collection at the old museum, which was educational but dated, these galleries were bright, fresh, educational and informative while at the same time displaying many items that ran the gamut from contemporary to historic. There were many nods to the community’s fishing legacy here in the Pacific Northwest, and I really enjoyed seeing some of the vintage items, such as old canned salmon labels and tools of the seafood trade.
Next up? The gift shop which was very sleek and even fashionable might I say. A case of contemporary jewelry and items is right there at the entrance, while books, Norwegian sweaters, and Royal Copenhagen caught my eye.
Nearly last on the list? I had to check out the museum cafe, Freya, which has a lovely sleek fireplace at the entrance and features updated Nordic specialties such a smorrebrod, Danish dogs, and even personal smorgasbords!
Before leaving, the last thing on the list was a gift to me. No, it wasn’t Royal Copenhagen or a new sweater. It was a new cookbook and an individual membership to the museum. I intend to visit often.
A good recipe and great ingredients withstand time.
I was reminded of this on Sunday evening. It was hot and steamy in my little Seattle kitchen, and I was decidedly cranky. I was anticipating a busy Monday ahead and wanted something small, delicious, sweet and easy.
I needed to soothe the transition from Sunday to Monday. Pie? Nah…too time-consuming. Dinner? Well, my husband was in charge of that. So…I mulled my options and within minutes I was digging through my recipe box looking for an oldie but a goodie: Grandma Holmquist’s Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies.
I first discovered these gems when I visited the Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards in 1997, and Grandma Holmquist invited me into her farmhouse kitchen. She had baked a batch of these classics earlier in the day and handed me one straight from the cookie jar. She said she’d been making them for years and told me with a smile that she couldn’t keep the jar full when her farm clan was busy. Indeed. they are simple, easy and superb. And, the flagship ingredient–DuChilly hazelnuts–are the winning ticket.
Unlike other more run of the mill Pacific Northwest hazelnuts which are round and need to be skinned before using in recipes, the Du Chilly is a little-known heirloom variety. Elongated in shape and hard to harvest, they lack the bitterness of other varieties and are unique because they don’t require any tedious rubbing and skinning before using. Simply toast, chop and add.
I eventually wrote about the farm and published the recipe in The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest Magazine that year, but the recipe became one that I made regularly when my kids were little. Aside from the amazing hazelnut flavor thanks to the toasted and chopped hazelnuts, the dough is ridiculously easy to crank out…it is oil based and can be stirred up in one bowl. Frankly, it was the easiest way for me to crank up a batch of delicious homemade cookies while little kids cruising around at my feet!
So, next time you are craving a little chocolate, a little hazelnut, something yummy, something easy…thank Grandma Holmquist for this one! She was on to a good thing years ago!
Grandma Holmquist’s Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 48 cookies
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup canola or Wesson oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup chopped lightly toasted hazelnuts
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl beat eggs well. Add sugars and beat until well blended. Add oil and vanilla. Stir well to combine
Sift in dry ingredients and add hazelnuts and chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheets and bake in batches in the middle of the oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned.
These are just a few of the local foods I scavenged and savored on a recent RV trip to Alaska. While traveling from Anchorage to Seward and then down to Homer, I poked around shops, farmers markets, bakeries, restaurants and harbors to hunt down these off the grid goodies made by small local and dedicated artisans.
My husband and I have been camping for decades now and one of my side shows while doing so has been to hunt down local specialty items while we are out on the highways and byways. For many years I had a mobile kitchen in our family travel trailer which took our family of five far and wide through the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. This week we had a fully equipped kitchen in a Minnie Winnie which we rented from Great Alaskan Holidays in Anchorage.
While cruising through the Land of the Midnight Sun this week, I stocked my pantry with a spontaneous array of local goods. It was a delightful way to bring the flavors of Alaska to the Dixie plates on the campground dinner table.
The kelp pickles, made in Sitka from local seaweed and seasoned with the iconic bread and butter pickling spices, were ridiculously good. Pickle rings were added to smoked cheese bratwurst carted up from Seattle. They were also tucked on smoked salmon canapés, resulting in a very Scandinavian inspired hors d’oeuvre.
The sliced sourdough was from The Bakery in Girdwood and sadly didn’t last long in my mobile kitchen. Light and flavorful, the bread made great sandwiches and was enhanced even further with sunflower sprouts from the Saturday Homer Farmers Market. It was the bread of choice for breakfast and lunch.
The Alder smoked Kachemak Bay Sea Salt also from the Homer farmers market added a lively touch sprinkled over the evening salad.
Haskap Jam from Alaska Berries was scored at the visitor center in scenic town of Kenai. No one at the center could tell me much about the blue jam but back at the Heritage RV Park it was great on my morning granola with yogurt and berries. Eaten seaside while being warmed by the sun was simplicity at its best.
Peonies. Prince William Sound Salmon. Cruise Ships. Tourists. Sunshine. Sea Breezes.
The Pike Place Market I visited today is much different than the one I visited last January. Of course, TECHNICALLY and structurally it’s the same as it was back in January but this morning. the market wasn’t tenuously navigating Seattle’s unpredictable January weather.
Today, the market was strutting her seasonal stuff and loving it! Once again, I had to be downtown very early so after I “checked the box” on an errand well before 7:30 AM, I decided to stroll down the hill and head to the market. It was bright and sunny, and I figured it would be a great time to beat the crowds and see what’s coming in locally.
Alas, when I arrived I again found quiet streets and walkways. My first destination? The flower vendors who were clipping and arranging thousands of local peonies. One of my favorite flowers, the incredible array made me swoon. As much as I love to garden and have success with many things, my attempts to grow peonies have failed repeatedly. These bodacious pink orbs, frankly, made me green with envy! I didn’t buy any simply because I didn’t want to cart them all over. That being said, they were a bargain and the prices ranged from $10 a bunch to $20. Local. Seasonal. Gorgeous beyond compare.
Next stop? The fish stalls. All the guys were sporting their waterproof orange pants, spraying the walkways, scooping crushed ice onto displays and answering questions from early birds like me. At Pike Place Fish Market they didn’t have any Copper River King or Sockeye because it’s been a rough season up there this far. They did have a massive 25 pound Prince William Sound king in a huge bin filled with ice. The adjacent tabletop display of Prince William Sound sockeye nearby also impressed.
After that, I was ready for a breather so I traipsed over to the nearby park to do a little people watching and eyeball the massive cruise ship docked nearby. As I examined that Norwegian behemoth from afar, I knew the crowds from within would be emerging and heading towards the market so I beelined to breakfast at nearby Seatown, one of Tom Douglas’s restaurants. The Fried Egg sandwich with avocado, Bavarian Meats bacon and a side of crispy hash browns was just what I needed before trekking back UP the hill to catch my bus.
While schlepping up to Third, I realized that the Market is indeed a living entity that shifts with each Seattle season.
Gardens in New York City? Can they really offer a respite from the urban jungle and the endless horn honking?
These were the questions I posed to myself when I was in New York City for four days last month. I was attending the Annual Conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and was also visiting my daughter who just moved to Manhattan.
With a little advance planning and a razor-focused gameplan, we managed to visit three gorgeous gardens–The Gardens at the Met Cloisters, the Heather Garden in nearby Fort Tryon Park, and the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. All of the gardens were magnificent, inspiring and restorative. Here’s the recap:
The Gardens at the Met Cloisters
Located in Washington Heights in Fort Tryon Park, The Met Cloisters is the ultimate respite. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the Hudson, the historic Romanesque and Gothic cloisters are naturally inspiring in and of themselves, but for me, it was the medieval courtyard gardens that hit home. My daughter and I went early on a Sunday morning and the four gardens–the Judy Black Garden, the Herb Garden, the Trie Cloister Garden and the Orchard, were in full swing. There are garden tours at 11 am each day but unfortunately when we got there the couple in front of us snagged the last two spots for the day so we had to explore on our own.
Of the four gardens, the Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden was my favorite…for obvious reasons. As an avid cook, food writer and gardener, I love growing edibles and the Herb Garden was deliciously inspiring. Boasting scenic views of the river below, the garden was segmented into quadrants of culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, and vegetables. Fruit trees were situated throughout the plantings. Large terracotta pots were planted with olive trees, rosemary and other tender plants. Church bells rang from above and sparrows flittered about amongst the plantings. The plants were all carefully labeled and insights as to how they were used in the Middle Ages were noted.
The Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park
After the Cloisters, we decided to hunt down another Secret Garden. I had read something that alluded to a beautiful garden near The Cloisters but I couldn’t remember where it was so I started asking the staff at the Cloisters. No one seemed to know so I eventually had to go to the museum’s information booth and ask about “that nice garden nearby.” One informed gentleman in a back office heard my query, came forth, and then went off to another office to pull out a little brochure called The Heather Garden. He handed it to me and said, just go left down that way into the park. Ummm. Okay.
So, we trekked along, asked for a few more directions, trotted past the New Leaf Restaurant and eventually stumbled upon our secret destination!
Well, what a treasure! Fort Tryon Park was gifted to the City in 1935 by John D. Rockefeller Jr who then engaged the Olmsted Brothers, whose father designed Central Park, to design the park and the heather gardens. Over the decades the garden has had its ups and downs but in 2009 the Fort Tryon Park Trust reinvigorated the garden to what it is today…a multiacre all season garden boasting nearly 500 varieties of plants that attract flora and fauna such as birds, bees, and beneficial wildlife. When we were there, the garden was alive with blooms of bluebells, azaleas, iris, rhododendrons, peonies, salvia and more. Aside from enticing Crayola color scheme at hand, the city air was also perfumed with heady aromas from the flowers at hand.
The Central Park Conservatory Garden
The last garden on our list was the Central Park Conservatory Garden located in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue and 105th. An officially designated Quiet Zone, this six-acre formal garden was delightfully QUIET when we visited early on a sunny Monday morning. The main entrance is on Fifth Avenue and features the Vanderbilt Gate, a massive wrought iron structure made in Paris and originally from the Vanderbilt Mansion on 5th. The garden itself features three smaller gardens each with an Italianate, French and English influence. When we were there we had just missed some of the best blooms, such as the wisteria and the gorgeous tulips. That being said, the fountains and European sculptures made us feel as if we had landed in a beautiful garden somewhere in Europe.