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.
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.
I have my big sister, Alison, to thank for this one.
When I was visiting the Big Apple back in February, I had to be down by Union Square early one morning. Without missing a beat Alison told me to go to Daily Provisions and get their bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. “The Best,” she said.
Well, I adore a good bacon and egg sandwich and decided to heed the tip. It was early that morning…maybe 7:30 or so. When I darted out of the rain and into the charming little restaurant directly behind the new Union Square Cafe, the chatty customer standing next to me in line heard it was my first visit. Unsolicited, she said, “Get the egg sandwich. It’s the best.” Sensing a deja vu, I didn’t think twice. Bacon and egg sandwich it was. I have made, ordered, and eaten hundreds of bacon and egg sandwiches over the years, but this was indeed superb. A soft roll, a perfectly cooked egg, a thick piece of Niman Ranch bacon, and deliciously gooey cheese served in a wax paper pocket. The price? $7. For New York, that’s a breakfast bargain.
I’ve been back to New York a few times since that trip in February and Daily Provisions is a must visit. I’ve had the broccoli melt sandwich ($11), the spinach and arugula salad ($10), the chocolate caramel chunk cookie ($4), and the Milanese sandwich ($13) All top quality and reasonably priced.
On my visit last week, my daughter and I arrived for lunch early…a few minutes before 11:30 when the kitchen reopens. The gal at the cashless register chatted with me and explained that the shop/cafe was opened when Danny Meyer took over the location on East 19th Street to reopen Union Square Cafe in the main portion of the building. This little space in the back was part of the package so they decided to create Daily Provisions, a neighborhood cafe with “everything you need throughout the day to dine in or take away.”
With a soothing dark blue interior, welcoming staff, communal tables, charming handmade pottery from Haand in North Carolina, and great food at reasonable prices, it is a friendly and homey place to provision yourself daily!
On February 1, The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, “Instant Pot Anxiety? ‘I said a Prayer and Stayed the Hell Away.'”
In the piece, the author, Ellen Byron, interviewed various pot owners who had mishaps and struggled with operating the all in one appliance. I chuckled at some of the stories but admittedly the author was on to something. Every day when I peruse the Instant Pot Facebook feed, I see photos of Instant Pots in sealed boxes and cries for help and advice on how to take that first step to use the appliance. The posts weave into an interactive digital therapy session where fellow Instant Potters exclaim, “You can do it.” “Just start.” “My favorite easiest recipe is….” “Wear goggles and keep the kids outta the kitchen.”
As for me, I love my two Instant pots (6-quart duo and 3-quart mini) and use them daily without fail. Personally, I have never had pressure cooker anxiety because I started using the Kuhn Rikon stove top pressure cookers over twenty years ago. That being said, I can understand why some people hesitate. There are lots of buttons, The manual isn’t great. And, once you lock and load, commit to pressure and things start to rumble. there’s no turning back and you can’t open the lid and check the contents. It is indeed a leap of faith.
My solution for those folks who fret? Take the Instant pot out of the box, run the simple water test per the manufacturer’s instructions and make YOGURT!
Both of my machines have yogurt buttons and this cycle does NOT require putting anything under pressure. It simply creates a low heat that incubates your milk and starter and turns it into the rich luscious yogurt over the course of 8 hours. A miracle cycle in my mind!
I’ve tried various yogurt recipes but my favorites have come from This Old Gal and the only recipe I use now is her Instant Pot No Boil Yogurt Recipe which uses the whole Fairlife Milk found in many mainstream grocery stores such as Target, Safeway, QFC, and Winco. This particular milk does not require any preheating before making the yogurt so all I have to do is pour my half a gallon of whole milk into my 3 quart Instant Pot and whisk in two packets of YoGourmet starter. I then put on the lid, press the Yogurt Cycle and leave it alone for 8 hours. There is no pressure. No noise. No steam. No wiggles or jiggles. Just a quiet incubation on the counter.
At the end of the cycle, the mixture has transformed into thick luscious creaminess. I then put my all natural yogurt, still in the Instant Pot’s inner container, into my fridge, covered and let it sit, undisturbed, overnight.
I use my yogurt on everything from granola and citrus segments to baked potatoes and kale salads. And, I’ve discovered that it makes a great tartar sauce to dollop on Alaska halibut or salmon.
So, if you want to buy an Instant Pot but are feeling, well, pressured…skip “manual” button and go for Yogurt.
Even if you never make anything else, the savings from making your own yogurt will pay for the pot in no time.
If you have a garden, they are easy to grow and they add a delicious splash of color both in the yard and on the table. Some easy options? Calendula, chive blossoms, lemon gem marigolds, and nasturtiums are at the top of the list.
I’ve grown these annuals for years. The packets of seeds or starter plants are inexpensive and the plants don’t require a lot of fussy upkeep. Many of them even attract bees and ward off those sticky pests known as aphids. Admittedly, however, I haven’t really bothered to sprinkle them on my dinner lately. That might change this year.
Looking for some direction on how to get started in your own backyard or on your balcony? Check out this Edible Flower Collection Seed Packet from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. And, while considering this trend, be prudent and educate yourself before chomping.
Not only do you get fresh air, exercise and Vitamin D when you weed, plant and prattle around in the soil but you also get hyperlocal produce for dinner! Afterall, it was plucked from your garden, patio or even windowsill.
It doesn’t get much more regional than that, folks!
I’ve been an avid gardener for probably thirty years now and I continue to be amazed at how a simple little seed can ultimately work its way through the soil and onto my dinner plate a few months later.
Even if you think you don’t have a green thumb or a sprawling yard, seriously consider growing something. Think about what vegetables you enjoy, do a little planning and give it a shot.
Chives or parsley can be “planted” on a sunny windowsill. Mini lettuces can be sown in patio planters or in small spaces in the garden. Even tomatoes, such as Tom Thumb and Stupice, which are great for small gardens, can produce prolifically in a pot and taste great in a salad.
Need some inspiration? Here are a couple of my favorite resources for sowing the seeds of dinner!
Seed Racks at the Garden Center or Grocery Store
Don’t snarf at the seed racks in the big box stores. The seeds are well priced and the displays have a great variety. You can also score a deal by using coupons and the varieties featured are usually pretty easy to grow. Read the sowing instructions and give it a shot. I regularly buy Burpee and Ed Hume from the racks at my Fred Meyer. What do I purchase? Zinnias, lettuces, chards, herbs, cosmos, sunflowers and more. Want a small space variety? Look for the little container icon on the Burpee packets. It’s a great indicator of which ones will work well in a mini-plot.
Order some seed catalogs and read them on a rainy day. They make great wish books. I circle and mark mine up and then order. I have found some great small space varieties at both Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine and at Territorial Seed Catalog in Oregon. My insider tip? When in doubt, call the customer service folks at these companies. They are incredibly knowledgeable and have steered me in the right direction many times.
Spring fever in January is never a good thing, especially out here in Seattle where it is still a bleak, cold, dark, sometimes frosty, and always rainy.
For me, the best medicine has been a hefty dose of garden therapy. Of course, it’s too early to start digging and planting in my urban backyard or P-Patch, but one thing I look forward to every year is the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival. Held at the Washington State Convention Center from February 7-11, this annual garden show has always defrosted my green thumb.
This year the show, which is the second largest in the nation, celebrates a legacy of 30 years. The theme will be “Garden Party.” Trends in organic and urban gardening, sustainability, and variety of culinary experiences will be embraced and the twenty magnificent and elaborate Show Gardens will reflect the theme. The show will also have a spectacular lineup of seminars led by experts in the field as well as daily DIY competitions with experts. As usual, the massive shopping Marketplace will be chock full of vendors and will offer a great opportunity for gardeners, both experienced and beginner, to get answers, explore new varieties, ask growers specific questions, and stock up on favorites for the season ahead.
So, if you are itching for spring, check your calendar and plan accordingly. If you need a little inspiration, check out these photos taken last year:
Sometimes, life tosses you a gift on a whim. Yesterday, I got one of those gifts at Seattle’s most iconic destination—the Pike Place Market.
You see, I had to be down at the market yesterday morning for a client meeting. Unfortunately, the weathermen predicted rain, which, of course, isn’t unusual for the Emerald City.
So, I grumbled, dressed accordingly, and gave myself lots of extra time to get downtown.
While weaving my way towards the waterfront, I noticed that the sky was breaking up and rain was absent. By the time I parked the car the weather was looking downright acceptable. Puffy clouds. Light wind. Patches of blue. When I stepped off the parking garage elevator and onto the spectacular new MarketFront, I looked out at Elliott Bay and gasped. The view rivaled that of any spectacular August day. Expansive blue skies, calm seas, bright sunshine, panoramic mountain views, and incredible visibility. Plus, it was only about 9 AM so there was absolutely no one at the market.
No cars. No traffic. No tourists. No school kids. It hit me. I had the market to myself. I only had to share it with the dedicated shopkeepers and vendors who were setting up. Score!
I had about an hour to kill so this hour became a gift to me. Of course, I’ve been to the market hundreds of times since I moved here in 1995 but yesterday I had a chance to see it all over again as a resident, a tourist, a cook and a writer.
I strolled the market, snapped photos and realized that as much as the city of Seattle has grown and changed over these last 23 years, pretty much everything about the historic market has remained the same. The cobblestone streets stand firm. The tiles on the pathways in the market pave the way for curious tourists. Le Panier continues to attract customers not with a fancy window display but with an amazing aroma. My favorite restaurant, Café Campagne, which has been tucked in the same corner for decades, still has their fabulous country pate on the menu. The talented flower vendors fill the stalls (year-round) with bright local bouquets sold for a song. And, the world-famous fishmongers continue to keep everyone hooked with their displays of amazing Northwest seafood.
My hour went quickly but it was an exercise in slowing down and taking a breather. It was a reminder that gifts can come in the smallest ways…and when you least expect them!
Here’s a snapshot of what our amazing market looked like yesterday!
Mobile breakfasts are a challenge at my house. It simply isn’t easy to get out the door and power everyone up with a nutritious high protein start to the day. Trust me. I’ve struggled with this one for two decades.
As the proud owner of two Instant Pots (3 quart mini and 6 quart duo), I recently joined the Instant Pot Facebook community online and have noticed countless folks going gaga over their versions of the Starbucks Sous Vide Egg Bites. Prior to reading these glowing posts, I had never had one of these bitty bites but on Saturday I decided to see for myself.
While at Starbucks, I ordered a round of the Bacon Gruyere bites. Priced at $5 plus 10% tax, they rang up a $5.50 and I was handed two very small egg disks that arrived warm and savory. The texture was intriguing. It was light and fluffy, kind of like a cross between a soufflé and a quiche. The nutrition facts per serving indicated 19 grams of protein.
Overall, I found the egg bites to be very good but personally, I wouldn’t rely on them myself. Without a doubt, they would get pricey ($30 bucks per work week) and frankly, I hate going to Starbucks and standing in line because that’s a huge time suck. So later that day, I did some googling and found numerous variations on how to make them.
This version from Foodie and Wine was the one I printed off and used as a basic guideline in terms of ingredient proportions and cooking times. Her recipe called for heavy cream, cottage cheese, hot sauce, and a significantly higher quantity of shredded cheese, so I tweaked the basic ingredients and improvised on a tool. For cooking the egg bites in the Instant Pot, I used my vintage Wedgwood ramekins instead of the silicone molds or small canning jars that everyone seems to use. I reasoned that my four-ounce ramekins would work just fine and they did.
Basically, I took four large eggs, about 1 loosely packed cup of shredded cheese, ¼ cup of milk, about two tablespoons of sour cream and a pinch of salt and whizzed that in my Vitamix. I then put one cup of water in my 6-quart Instant Pot, added the cooking rack and set the ramekins, which had been sprayed with oil and sprinkled with bacon bits, on the rack. I divided the egg mixture evenly between each ramekin. I sprinkled the tops with a little dehydrated onion and chive and covered with foil.
I set the Instant Pot to STEAM for 8 minutes. At the end of eight minutes, I let the pressure release naturally and after about seven minutes the button popped down and my egg bites were ready. When I removed the lid, the foil had crept up and when I removed the foil I found big puffy egg bites that within a minute or two deflated but remained very hot and steamy. I removed them with tongs and turned out the egg bites which were gorgeous and velvety…just like the ones I tried at Starbucks. They were great on toast, out of hand on the go, or set on a bed of arugula.
Aside from being high in protein and easy to make, the best part is that the eggs bites can be kept refrigerated for five days and reheated each morning. The reheated eggs still taste fresh and they don’t have any of that nasty overcooked egg taste either. They’d be great bagged up and tucked into a purse to be reheated at the office or they’d make a great breakfast for a teenager dashing out the door hoping to beat the clock.
So, all in all, my sous vide egg adventure was a success and it’s something I will make again and again. Here’s my version:
Missy’s Easy Instant Pot Egg Bites
Cooking spray for preparing the ramekins
4 teaspoons Costco bacon bits, or to taste
4 large eggs
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
¼ cup 2% milk
2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried red onion or chives if desired
1 cup water
four ¼ cup heatproof ramekins
6 Quart Instant Pot Duo
Instant Pot Rack
Aluminum foil for covering ramekins
Prepare the ramekins: Spray the ramekins thoroughly with the cooking spray. Divide the bacon bits evenly between the ramekins.
In a blender blend the eggs, Cheddar cheese, milk, sour cream, and salt for about thirty seconds.
Divide the egg mixture evenly amongst the four ramekins.
Divide the onion or chives evenly over the tops of each ramekin
Set the cooking rack into the instant pot and pour the one cup of water into the pot.
Set the ramekins carefully on the racks and cover lightly with a piece of foil.
Put the lid on the Instant pot and set the valve to SEAL
Set the Instant Pot to STEAM and adjust the cooking time to 8 minutes.
At the end of eight minutes, the Instant Pot will beep. Allow an NPR, Natural Pressure Release, which means you are just letting the pot pressure come down slowly on its own. This should take about seven minutes. Once the valve has gone down, remove the lid and the foil.
Using tongs, transfer each ramekin to a cutting board and let rest for a minute or so. The egg bites will be puffy at first and then deflate a bit. Unmold and serve or let cool and store in fridge, reheating for about 30 seconds when desired.