Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Picnic Fever

Oh, it's been too long since I've written anything. We went camping, and soon after that school ended for the boys and Joe took them on a road trip to Lake Chelan. While they were gone, I had absolutely no desire to do anything but revel in being alone with Lilli and taking it very very easy. That is not to say I haven't been keeping busy though.

Even though the weather here in Seattle has been sort of lackluster--typical gray days with little bursts of warm drizzle--I have nevertheless fallen in love all over again with picnicking. I wish every meal could be a picnic, even though it is much harder to get a 9 month old to eat when she isn't sitting in a chair. We picnic in parks, and on hikes and out of the trunk of the car. It's pretty much the Best. Thing. Ever.

I've also been working quite a bit in the P-patch, and last week I pulled up a few stragglers of green garlic. I had some garlic planted last season that I had trouble pulling out, and so I just left it, knowing that it would grow back next time around and make wonderful sweet tender green garlic stalks. I have a friend who has always raved about her favorite green garlic soup recipe, and how good it is with a little bit of créme fraîche and some toast, so my plan was to give her a green garlic present and hopefully get an invite to dinner in return. Alas, she injured her back this spring, and while I did give her the green garlic, she has been too laid up to have guests. I decided I could dream up my own good recipe, and try it out for myself. I even perfected the required créme. And even though it wasn't perfect picnic weather in the evening, we took it to the park and ate it on a blanket, out of real bowls, since the park is so close to our house.

I looked around for recipes for this miraculous soup and came across several, but most seemed to go back to just one, from Alice Waters. I didn't have any new potatoes, but I did have a leftover baked potato, so I took the peel off of it and put it in to give it some body. This recipe produced a soup that wasn't very, well, green. I know, I know. The "green" refers to the garlic itself. But I had pictured a green soup so at the end I decided to change that by adding a huge handful of the overabundance of rainbow chard I have growing out back. I have to say, I was rather pleased with how it turned out. Too bad I waited until the end of green garlic season to make it! I think I might try out a version with roasted garlic and baby onions because there won't be any more green garlic this year. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Back to the picnic. I paired the soup with some zucchini fritters, tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, and a rosé that Joe and the boys brought back for me from Eastern Washington. Oh, and a handful of kalamata olives. And for dessert we had cinnamon grahams smeared with dark chocolate ganache--kind of a fireless, more indulgent s'more. Well, really, I went for a run after dinner and Joe had dessert. Then I had a chocolate protein shake made with coconut milk, which is sort of dessert like. Oh well.

Green Garlic and Baked Potato Soup
adapted from a recipe by Alice Waters
serves 4 (if you don't kill your blender making it and spill soup everywhere)

1/2 lb green garlic, white and light green parts only, in 1/2" pieces
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 medium sized baked russet potato, skin removed and cut into chunks
5-6 big leaves of chard, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp or so heavy cream, sour cream or créme fraîche, plus more for serving

Heat the olive oil in a small stockpot. Add the garlic and turn down heat to medium, toss in a pinch of salt. Cover and let the garlic sweat for a few minutes, until it becomes fragrant. It's OK if it browns a little. Brown bits just mean more flavor later. 

Add the potato and the stock, and bring to a boil. Let simmer until the garlic is very tender, about 5-10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the chard. Cover and let it sit just a few minutes, maybe 5, until the chard is soft but still bright green. 

Process in your blender in 3 or 4 batches, or with a stick blender if you happen to have one. Stir in your cream of choice, and serve. Don't let anybody stop you if you want to take it out for a picnic, even though soup isn't usually a picnic food. Bonus points for real bowls.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lilli's Forest

When we decided that we actually were going to need a bigger home a little sooner than we originally thought, I was sad and also excited. It was stressful, to say the least, to be selling a home at "the bottom" but we just trusted our agent and did what was best for our family. It was going to be nice to have a real yard and a bedroom with a door, even though it meant leaving behind the little house that we had carefully made into a home over the course of a couple of years.

I was lucky enough to quickly find a great home for rent very close to our then current location. Just across the big park that is close to us. Obviously, this was fantastic because we love our neighborhood and the friends that live close to us, and also our P-Patch would still be walking distance (though not in the optimally placed location of just up the block). But the house came with hideous khaki walls throughout. Well, except where the walls were lime green or sunflower yellow instead. I would rather have just plain old white. Normally I would have decided to paint everything, but my time is so limited now for projects, so I decided just to make do with what I had and do some crafting instead.

For Lilli's room I envisioned a kind of woodland theme. There is a painting of a bunny that my dad painted, for me I guess, when I was a girl and had a bunny for a pet. And I got some green rugs that sort of made the floor look mossy. And a pretty pink lampshade with a grassy border. 

I wanted to put in a wall mural or decals, but the walls have too much texture and nothing will stick. I got the idea from somewhere to hang handkerchiefs from twine strung across where the bed would be. I had those up for a while before it really started to get on my nerves how unfinished it looked. Then I saw this idea. I ran with it. I was dyeing a shirt for Joe for a costume anyway, so I decided to dye them pink like little cherry or apple blossoms. I twisted those into the ropes and left a few of the hankies up for a while, and then added the butterflies, but it still looked kind of off. And then: Eureka! Felt leaves! I love the look of leaves that are silvery on the underside and just barely green on the tops, and I happened to have a bunch of light gray felt sitting around that was leftover from wedding crafts, so I got some olive green fabric paint and that is when the seeds for the forest got planted.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Family

I want to tell you a little bit about our household, before we get too far in our relationship. You might just decide this blog will be a little too wacky for you, but I think you will find us to be wacky in an endearing sort of way. I hope you do anyway.

Here is a list of the people/animals who live at our house:

First there's me: Venessa. I am a pastry chef by trade but mostly just a person with a passion for creating. I grew up in the Great Pacific Northwest and I am so so glad I still get to live here. My parents are both artists so I grew up with a bedroom full of paints and dress-up. It pretty much hasn't changed, except that I added passions for cooking and urban farming on top of that. 

Next up is Joe: He's my amazing husband, and this blog was really his idea. He planted the seed in my head while I was out planting seeds in the dirt. He's an avid cyclist; he loves my cooking; and he makes me laugh everyday, even when I don't want to be in a good mood. I could go on and on about him, but I'll save that for later. He's also the reason we keep Kosher. 

Tagging along with Joe are his two sons, my super funny and bright step-sons: Isaac and Aaron. They're 8 now, but when I met them they were just 2 1/2 and cute as buttons. They're witty and energetic and they keep me on my toes. They also dearly adore the next member of our little clan...

Our littlest farmhand: Lilli! She's 8 1/2 months old now, and is my treasure. She always has a smile for you, especially if you happen to be a member of the animal kingdom. She's just started crawling, and the world better watch out because she is going to do big things someday. She was born at home (someday maybe I'll tell you about it, if you're curious) and she is the inspiration for a lot of the projects I have found myself in the middle of lately. 

We also are fortunate to have a whole circus of animals who live with us:

Scourge, the cat. She's a little bit on the silly side and we love her for it. She puts up with our antics pretty well, and as a reward she gets to eat challah with us on Fridays.

Our veteran laying hens: Mambo, Andromeda and Effie. These girls are going on their 3rd summer and they are still laying like champs for now. They love love love our new house, because there is a much bigger yard for them to rule. Also, who knew that chickens could climb stairs?

And our newest members of the flock: Shadowfax, Harriet, Minnie, Hot Dog and Reepicheep. We brought these gals home in March, and they are almost full grown now. All the names have a story, but it's a long one to tell  so I'll spare you for now.

Recently we added a colony of bees. We're keeping them at the house of a friend who has a much bigger yard than us, and also fruit trees to benefit from the pollinating goodness of a couple of beehives on the property. They don't have names really, but they sure are fun!

We also have a plethora of fish, who I can't leave out because Isaac and Aaron are very proud of them. Diz, the goldfish, is at least 20 years old. There are the cloudfish, who all have names but I can't remember any of them. And then there is Bloody Mary--she was adopted when the boys were going through a scary stories phase. 

All in all, it's a pretty full house. But, I don't think it would be our house if it wasn't for all the friends we live with. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Créme Fraîche X2

Last Wednesday I had a few glasses of wine with some friends I don't see enough of. We decided that no matter the weather on Saturday, we were going to BBQ. I promptly forgot all about it, especially that I had offered to host.

On Friday, James called to ask what I was planning on putting together, and what could they bring. Talk about think fast! I knew that I was planning on making salmon cakes for dinner, and that I wanted to grill asparagus. I also had a new potato salad recipe on the menu. He decided to pick up some early corn and some rosé, and that they would bring dessert. Okay, plan in place.

Saturday rolls around...early. Lilli decides that 6am is the perfect time to wake up after staying up late to have Shabbat dinner at Joe's parents' house. After trying to sleep through her kicking and squirming and rolling and practicing crawling in our bed for a while, I got up and made cinnamon pecan coffee cake. "This is the best breakfast I have ever eaten" is declared an hour later by two ravenous 8 year olds. OK, next. Make a picnic, go to the zoo. Make a pitstop first for chicken feed. 3:30pm, eat ice cream. 4:30 head home, and then make a quick trip to the grocery store for a few key ingredients I knew I didn't have.

Joe kindly took Lilli with him and the boys to the park down the street so I could focus on making dinner without having to stop every 5 minutes and play a game. In the hour until he brought her home, I was able to defrost 1 1/2 lbs of leftover salmon and then make the cakes, and put together a lemon mayo sauce to go with; roast 3 lbs. of small delicious potatoes and some garlic for the potato salad; slice a loaf of bread to grill; rinse and trim a bunch of asparagus; and probably something else that I am forgetting, like do the dishes. This is about when I realized that not only did the salmon have créme fraîche, but also the potato salad was going to be dressed with the stuff. I've been trying unsuccessfully for weeks to make it from scratch and it has yet to turn out as thick as it should be but it still tastes good. I plan on getting it right, but for now I'm content with trying.

About 6:30 people showed up and it got a little more fun. Copper set the table and entertained Lilli while I finished everything up. The boys brought a friend home from the park and proceeded to go wild in the backyard. Drinks were poured, bread was eaten, and it was a perfect evening despite the chaos that threatened to storm in at any moment.

This potato salad recipe is very simple. It's plain but in a good way. Sprinkling the vinegar on the potatoes while they are still hot allows them to really absorb that flavor. The tang from the créme fraîche really works well with the rich flavor of a well roasted potato. It doesn't keep as well as mayonaise based salads, but you won't have to worry about that because there won't be any left. I wasn't even able to take a picture because it was gone too fast!

Roasted Potato Salad with Créme Fraîche
adapted from Good Day for a Picnic by Jeremy Jackson
serves 6

2 lbs potatoes (I used a mix of yukon, red and purple)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra
salt and fresh ground black pepper
6 cloves garlic, peel on
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
3/4 cup créme fraîche
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts

Preheat oven to 450ºF. The original recipe calls for you to peel the potatoes, but I prefer to leave the skin on. Cut the potatoes into spears and let dry a bit. Toss in the olive oil in an ovenproof skillet or onto a baking sheet. Salt and pepper to taste. Wrap the garlic in foil with a little drizzle of olive oil and put them in with the potatoes. Roast for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the potatoes have gotten nice and golden and crusty. The garlic will be done also.

While the potatoes are still hot, cut them into smaller, bite sized pieces. Jeremy Jackson recommends a serrated knife. In a good sized bowl, toss the potatoes with the vinegar. Press the softened garlic out of the skins and mush it into a paste. Add it to the potatoes and toss the whole thing again. Taste for salt and pepper.

Let the whole thing cool a bit, and then spread the créme fraîche on top, sprinkling the pine nuts over last.