Defrost at the 2018 Northwest Flower & Garden Festival!

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:

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2017 Northwest Flower and Garden Festival Show Garden

Seattle’s Pike Place Market-A Gift in January

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!

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Lemony Dill Halibut Salad: A Scandinavian Refresh

I created this halibut salad this weekend after we had some friends over for dinner. My husband had cooked about three huge pieces of halibut from our June trip to Alaska and we had about a pound of cooked halibut leftover. While cleaning up on Saturday, I put it in the fridge. On Sunday I decided to do something with it to avoid waste.

My taste buds steered me towards a lemony Scandinavian flavor profile that day…I had attended the Nordic Culinary Conference here in Seattle back in May and I think it was those thrifty creative chefs—Claus Meyer, Sasu Laukonnen, and Titti Qvanstrom—  who inspired my path that afternoon.  At the conference, the chefs discussed how they avoid waste, use local ingredients, and employ simple techniques to ramp up inherent flavors and achieve impressive dishes.

So…while staring at a Pyrex dish full of flaky white fish,  I challenged myself to make a fresh and appealing salad with the leftover. Rather than just mix it up with some mayo which is the  traditional route to go for those who do employ leftover fish in their kitchens…I decided to ramp up the flavors.

Leftover fish can be a tough sell.  I wanted a “refresh”.

So, I looked in the fridge and the garden and pulled my Cuisinart forth on the counter. My food processor is crucial for challenges like this. It speeds the process and makes fish tidier to work with.  From the garden, I gathered a handful of dill, and a rummage through the fridge yielded some decent celery and a big voluptuous lemon.  With that, I had a game plan!

The key to my Halibut Refresh? I added lemon juice BUT I added it at a critical point.

I didn’t want to dilute that burst of sunshine.  I wanted to make sure it played a key role so I sprinkled the juice directly on the halibut and processed the halibut, celery and lemon BEFORE I added the mayonnaise.  I am convinced that this simple sequence in steps made an enormous difference in my end result because the lemon got mixed into the fish and the fish absorbed it, becoming light, sunny, and citrusy in the process. I then added the dill and the mayonnaise.

Here’s the recipe. A ridiculously appealing Alaska Halibut salad with definite Scandinavian tilt. I enjoyed it on piece of Larsen’s Bakery Light Finnish Rye. A match made in heaven.

Lemon and Dill Halibut Salad

3 celery stalks, cut into big chunks

8 to 10 ounces cooked halibut (poached, grilled or baked is fine), broken up into chunks

1 large lemon, rolled on the counter and then juiced*

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh dill

2 to 3 tablespoons low fat mayonnaise,  or to taste

Salt to taste

To Serve:

For serving: slices of lightly toasted rye bread and fresh Bibb lettuce leaves

For garnish: citrus zest, thinly sliced red onion, extra dill

 

Put the metal blade in the food processor, add the celery chunks and process the celery with three or four pulses to chop it. Put the halibut in the food processor, drizzle the lemon juice directly over the cooked halibut. Pulse once or twice to mix and incorporate the lemon juice. Add the fresh dill and the mayonnaise and pulse three or four times just to mix. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste.

To create an open faced sandwich: Serve the salad on lightly toasted rye with a piece of lettuce and garnished with zest, extra dill, and thinly sliced onion if desired.

*Lemon Tip: To extract the most juice from a lemon, roll it on a counter before you juice it. You can also prick a couple holes the lemon, zap it in the microwave for twenty seconds, roll it on the counter and then juice it. These little techniques go a long way towards extracting all that sunshine from a lemon!

 

 

 

The New Williams Sonoma in Seattle: Bucking the Trend

If you live in Seattle and like to cook,  be sure to check out the new Williams Sonoma at the University Village. A whopping 10,000 square feet and only opened since yesterday, this store immediately engaged me.

I’m a tough nut to crack when it comes to cookware. I am partial to certain brands such as Le Creuset, Cuisinart, Kuhn Rikon,  All-Clad, and Wusthof, so I’m well aware that high quality cookware comes at a hefty price. It’s an investment that should last a life time.

IMG_3664So, when I entered the new Williams Sonoma today,  I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Unlike the old store located across the Village, which was significantly smaller and cramped, this large store is open, inviting and spacious. It also features floor to ceiling displays of cookware in a variety of styles and sizes from an array of manufacturers.

I have to say that over the years when I shop for cookware, I have noticed that very often items I am interested in aren’t in stock and I am referred to a website or a catalog. This catalog default method always irritates because I like to pick up the pots and pans I might buy. I also like to hold a knife or, in the case of an appliance, inspect the controls and the features.  I also ask a lot of questions and always appreciate the knowledge, opinion,  and input from the storekeepers.

IMG_3686When I roamed around the new store today, I really felt as if they had hit the mark. The huge displays of cookware drew me in and fed my curiosity. Although I’m not in the market for new cookware right now, it was very helpful to see all of the options right there in front of my eyes and to be able to compare and contrast the choices between the different brands. Shopping experiences like this simply aren’t that easy to come by these days and I spent a fair amount of time in that department.  I soon found myself wishing I could justify purchasing a set of Mauviel Copper Pots from France. Alas, I couldn’t justify it even with the Grand Opening Discount of 20% so I moved on to the next department…Cutlery and Small Appliances, which sits right behind the cookware.

IMG_3673This u-shaped section is by no means a run of the mill department because in the center of this section, there are tables with small appliances, cutting boards and sponges. The helpful customer service gal told me that shoppers are invited to “test drive” the appliances right there before purchasing! They have large wooden tables set up with various appliances, a cutting board and a sponge! I really liked that approach and set up. This morning the Vitamix representative was there buzzing up a pineapple and grape smoothie and discussing the fine points between the different models. As for the knife display, the sales gal pointed out that they even keep a bowl of fruit and vegetables at the ready so cooks can try different knives right then and there to see how different knives feel and function in the hand.

IMG_3697Although I resisted the Mauviel pans, I succumbed to buying an Emile Henry pizza stone. Again, it was the display that sucked me in. They had the regular Emile Henry pizza stone (which I once had) and then a bright red round ridged Emile Henry stone. I suspected that the ridged pan was designed to make a crispier pizza crust and indeed that is what I was told.  With little delay, I had one rung up. Thankfully that 20% Grand Opening Discount brought that pan down in price by $12.

So, if you like to cook, check it out. Cooking is, after all,  a sensory tactile experience and buying cookware should be one, too.

Thankfully, Williams Sonoma is bucking the trend and reinvesting in that delicious reality.

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.