Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bits of My Weekend: Volume 18

V ery mellow weekend around here... as a result, I didn't do too well with the camera. This really will be "bits" of my weekend...

In true "Sher" fashion, I underestimated how long my recovery from the wisdom tooth yank would take and had thought I'd be bouncing along swimmingly by Friday evening, and definitely by Saturday. That was not to be. I don't think I've slept so much in one day in quite a while... quite nice, but I do think I baffled husband. He'd come in and see me sleeping, leave for a couple of hours, come back, and sure enough, there I'd be, still sleeping. I have to say, though, that I think all that sleep went toward a good cause. I am feeling better tonight than since the glorious extraction on Thursday, and I'm sure each day this week will be better and better...

Regardless of how I'm feeling, cherries still need to be picked, right? These were all quite easy pickin' while standing on the ground... I think everything from ladder height has already been sacrificed to the birds. There are more out there for me to pick, but I just got enough for a cobbler, as I have yet to think biting into a cherry sounds like a good idea.

The theme of the weekend really was: "what's soft enough for Sher to eat?" I did smoothies until I was fruited out--every possible combination of blueberry, strawberry, nectarine, watermelon, banana and yogurt. And don't get me wrong, I'm not really complaining. These were very yummy smoothies. But after awhile, I just wanted something MORE. Something to chew. I started fantasizing about tortilla chips, for crying out loud. And at the movies on Sunday, I just stood and inhaled the popcorn scent... not for me...

Well, to supplement the smoothies, Friday night I mixed a goodly amount of jack and cheddar (and a little queso) into polenta and that was sublime. Saturday I made scrambled eggs with cream cheese and cheddar. Quite yummy. Then this afternoon I thought I really should have something with vegetables, so I cut up a couple of zucchinis with my mandoline and sauteed them with finely chopped asparagus, cut corn off one cob, and a cup of quartered grape tomatoes. And because cheese is the sub-theme to the weekend, I threw in a generous handful of parmesan, and some pine nuts as well... and half a cup of half-and-half. Yeah! It was wickedly wonderful. And all those vegetables, right?! I made sure they got super-soft--more so than I normally would. Divine.

And finally, the cherry cobbler. The best cobbler recipe ever, I'll say it yet again. And with cherries straight from the tree, it was a lovely finish to our Sunday.

A little yard work, a little movie time (Knight and Day... okay, but nothing to get all worked up over. Could have been better, could have been worse... nothing like a ringing endorsement!), a little nap... OK, well, a lot of naps. And most important, a whole lotta sunshine! Doesn't get much better than that. Hope your weekend was lovely too.

For more Bits of My Weekend, go here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday night grateful moment

Quite the week. Lots going on, plenty to distract me from Seth's absence for a few weeks while he's roadtrippin'... happy for the distractions!

Top of my mind tonight is that I'm grateful my wisdom teeth are finally out. They would bother me every once in awhile, but not a lot; and dentists have been urging me to get them out "whenever's convenient" for the past decade. Well, convenient is a relative term, eh? I'm glad it's over, glad I got to "sleep" through it--they claim I was awake but, whatever, don't really remember much at all, thankfully--and so grateful for my dear friend's wonderful nursing care throughout the day. We didn't really set it up like we'd spend the whole day together, but it just sort of happened, and as we'd finish one movie on Netflix, she'd change my little ice packs and we'd load up another... the day just kind of slips away on you... Well, I'm entirely grateful for Shauna. She even provided follow-up phone check-in today, kinda like my dentist! What a pro!

I'm grateful for a peaceful weekend ahead for husband and I. No specific plans other than maybe a movie (because I haven't been watching enough of those during my tooth convalescing!) on Sunday... It's been a long week for him, too, with lots going on on all fronts, so we'll relax and enjoy the sunshine (says she, hopefully, looking out on a strangely warm yet windy day...).

Grateful for the cherries we do have. Even though I don't really want to chew them right now, I will go out and pick what I can this weekend and maybe I'll be feeling up to a cobbler tomorrow or Sunday...

Grateful for the great weather we finally got this week. Not entirely consistent yet, but you can tell how nuts we all have been for the sun, we'll take what comes our way!

Thankful for our home and environs. When you're stuck IN your house, it makes you appreciate it more, I think. And to look out on the view, even though it's changed(ing) over time, it's still a beautiful view of the Blues...

I know I mentioned Greg Johnson awhile back, after I saw Last Chance Harvey and heard his song, "Looking Out On Monday Morning." Well, I continue to listen to his greatest hits collection while out in the yard, boppin' around on the mower, and wanted to share some other songs I enjoy. The first video's a little "romance-y" for me, but I like the style it's shot in at least, and I do love his lyrics. I'm always grateful to have music on my iPod that makes a few trips around the yard go by faster!

And here's another for good measure, just in case you haven't gone over to YouTube and started watching all of his videos yet...

Hope your weekend allows for all the things you need. That's what I'm banking on, for sure (for you AND for me!).

Top Chef Season 7: Episode 2

Week two and already I'm late with my little Top Chef commentary. Oh dear. But my excuse this week is that I completely forgot it was on! I'm not sure that's a valid excuse, but I was also a bit distracted by getting a couple of wisdom teeth janked Thursday morning. Now THAT's an excuse.

So this week started out with a fun quickfire, pretty standard Top Chef stuff except for one little twist... chefs get to cook together in teams of two--really together: the cheftestants wore an apron that tied them together and they each had to use one hand to contribute to the effort! Yikes.

The visiting judge for this episode was Sam Kass, Assistant White House Chef and Food Initiative Coordinator. He works with Michelle Obama on programs to utilize local and organic foods in the White House and to spread the word nationwide. I liked his tidbit of advice prior to the quickfire: "Leave your egos at the door and forget about taking credit." I think that fell on mostly deaf ears...

In honor of being in D.C., they made a bi-partisandwich. Ha. (I have a feeling we'll get lots of those kinds of political-angle dishes and challenges...)
Arnold + Kelly: Curry-rubbed chicken, honey and sambal, cucumber, mint, dill and cilantro. This one sounds delicious to me.

Kenny + Ed: Chile-rubbed tuna, cucumber-mango slaw on multigrain. They liked the flavor on this one.

Angelo + Tracy: Fish sandwich (flounder, spicy mayo, pickled red onions). Good flavor, say the judges.

Tiffany + Lynne: Flatbread saltimbocca with goat cheese, artichokes, peppers and white asparagus--was deemed pretty messy to eat.

Andrea + Kevin: "Philly Cuban" (pork, pickle, mustard, gruyere). The gruyere sounds good to me!

Amanda + Tamesha: Proscuitto, swiss, dijon and pepper salsa.

Alex + Tim: "Croque Madame" interpretation: lamb, mornay sauce and egg.

Jacqueline + Stephen: Chicken with avocado and onion. Judges thought this one was boring, no real flavor.

Sam Kass judged the sandwiches and put two teams at the bottom of the spectrum: Stephen + Jacqueline, Lynne +  Tiffany. He also named the top two: Tracy + Angelo, Kenny + Ed: Tracy and Angelo take it with their fresh flavor and spice. (Angelo is on a roll... Everyone is feeling it.)

Elimination challenge: based off Let's Move, Michelle Obama's initiative to increase childhood health and nutrition. So the challenge was to cook a healthy lunch on a budget... the average public school budget: $2.68 per child; $134 for 50 kids - $4 (labor and supplies) = $130 for each team. The meal needed to consist of a main course, side, salad, dessert.

It was kind of humorous that they were SO far away from Whole Foods for this shopping expedition. And even at the no-name food wholesaler, they had a challenge getting through the line without needing to shave major $$ off the total. Cooking on a budget... kind of gave them a new perspective on what schools have to work with, I'm sure!

Then back to the kitchen they go: already some personality tweaks going around between cheftestants. You'd think these people had been cooking together in really tight spaces for weeks on end rather than this being the second challenge. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the coming weeks...

Teams of four for the elimination challenge based off duos above:
1. Kenny, Ed, Angelo and Tracy: Chicken burger, sweet potato puree, apple bread pudding and celery and peanut butter

2. Jacqueline, Stephen, Amanda, Tamesha: Braised chicken thigh, sweet onion rice, green bean and tomato salad, banana pudding with strawberries

3. Andrea, Kevin, Alex, Tim: Picnic themed with coleslaw, BBQ chicken, mac and cheese, melon

4. Tiffany, Lynne, Kelly, Arnold: Black bean cake, pork carnitas, corn salad and carmelized sweet potatoes with sherbet

They turned things upside down by bringing in the losing teams first: teams 1 and 2. That left the other teams in the stew room, really confused! They had been feeling so confident until that moment... And for the two losing teams, it got rather interesting at the judges table. They started taking shots back and forth at each other: everyone was all of a sudden a nutrition expert and able to tell the OTHER team how they should have built a better menu and which dishes shouldn't have made it to the kids. The judges just sat back and let them have at each other for a little bit, then sent them back to stew before naming the loser.

Then they sent out the winning team: Kelly/Arnold/Tiffany/Lynne. The judges were impressed with the variety of vegetables, color, texture and total nutrition. Kelly was the overall winner with her made-from-scratch whole grain taco shells and pork carnitas.

They called in Ed, Kenny, Jacqueline and Amanda (two from team 1 and two from team 2) to declare who would pack their knives and go... and it ended up that Jacqueline's over-sweetened-yet-still-starchy banana pudding sent her home... Ironic, given her statement at the beginning of the show of wanting to win the quickfire so that she could just "breathe for a moment"--like they'd at this for months! Now she'll get more than a moment or two to catch her breath! I would have been really sad to see Kenny go so quickly, as he's such a bright spot and did so well last week. But he learned his lesson (hopefully) to speak up about the menu planning if he sees issues, and ESPECIALLY to look out for himself if two other people on the team have immunity. Oh yeah, he'll be watching his back around Angelo even more now!

For a fun and really comprehensive blog about Top Chef (other than the Bravo site), go to Blogging Top Chef. Lots of info about past cheftestants too!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thursday 13: Oh the randomness of it all!

Maybe I'm still on a tid-bit sharing binge since my post last night... but here's what's going on with me and in my brain these days... (read further at your own risk!)

1. I'm getting three wisdom teeth pulled in about an hour. I'm weirdly nervous about it, but trust it will all be OK and my chipmunk phase will be short and sweet. Send ice cream.

2. I am resolved that no matter how warm it gets any time soon, I will not complain about it. I was "glowing" the other night getting ready for the company picnic, and actually enjoyed the hot cheeks. (And the cool ice tea!)

3. I couldn't be happier about the amount of berries in the house. I'm also stocked up on yogurt so I see a lot of smoothies post-tooth-extraction.

4. My girlfriend who is my "person" to drive me home post-surgery (thanks, Shauna!) and I are planning to watch The Young Victoria sometime today. I have been looking forward to that girly flick--this is the same girlfriend who went to The Bright Star with me last year...we have a history of this kind of happy nonsense!

5. All of our irrigation fixes haven't really helped with water pressure when the field is being irrigated too. This is frustrating to me. Not if I stay home and water all summer, but if we're all ever gone and the alfalfa is being watered... who schedules vacations around alfalfa? Probably more than a few farmers, I guess...

6. Who else has too many clothes and nothing to wear? No, that's not an invitation for the What Not To Wear folks to come along and insult me. Just a sad fact of life. I buy all these separate pieces and nothing seems to go together, some days. Sigh. I know. What a baby.

7. Our cherry crop is a fraction of what it was last year, and what is there has been so picked over by blackbirds. I need me a little air rifle. I could sit there and... anyway. There's enough for me to have snacks now and again, and maybe a pie or cobbler over the weekend. But a far cry from the "pick all day and night and still not touch the whole crop" era of 2009.

8. I have been in such a menu-planning funk lately. Feel like we're on the pasta-pizza-tacos treadmill. But all this fresh stuff should surely jolt me out of that, don't you think? That and some serious food blog perusing too...

9. I continue to be amazed by how people treat each other. Just when I think I've heard/seen it all... well, not really. But I'm consistently surprised by the cruelty of humans to each other. I know that sounds melodramatic, but really, it's not. People are cruel. (Now I have an image of Cruella DeVille in my head that's going to take awhile to go away!)

10. I'm also consistently wowed by how resilient humans are too. Handy, what with the cruel people and all! Some kind of evolutionary thick-skinned phenomenon, probably. But from all kinds of loss and pain and just plain old tough circumstances, I see some really inspirational people and their stories never fail to move me.

11. My iPad continues to be a source of entertainment and delight. I know I'm just scratching the surface of what that little thing can do, but it's been fun so far.

12. I feel a little chagrined that I used to scoff the idea of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I don't scoff any more. I don't think I have it, but I'm pretty sure I know people who do.

13. The dog next door is getting trained. Maybe to do sheepdog trials? It's kind of fun to watch.

What's up with you? Let me know!

And for more Thursday 13s, go here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Blog award fabulousness

Tonight I was finally catching up on my frequently-read blogs, and saw that dear Rachel over at Randomness with Rachel gave me an award:

Thank you, Rachel! I enjoy reading your blog too. Your spirit and energy are always inspiring, we watch quite a few of the same TV shows (Chuck, Psych, etc.... not sure what that says about us...) and I think we originally "met" via Thursday 13. Anyway, check Rachel out when you have a moment or three.

Apparently part of being awarded thusly is that I am to share seven (7) things with you that you may not know about me. Let's see... I'm not sure I'm going to be able to come up with that many things that NO ONE else knows... I'm kind of an open book...

1. Nothing quite irritates me like someone standing really close to me at my desk or reading over my shoulder on the computer. Not sure why. Probably only Seth knows exactly how irritating I find that. Poor boy. Missing him.

2. I used to wish for curly hair when I was younger, but now I am very glad to have straight hair that I don't have to mess with.

3. As I've gotten older, I'm more and more interested in girly things. I can remember my mother trying with all her might to get a flowery this or that into my bedroom when I was an adolescent... I'm not a floral freak, by any means, but I do like girl things more and more as time goes by... Make up? Yup. Clothes? Definitely. Mani-pedis? And how!

4. My default explanation for arrogant people is that they are insecure. I can't remember the last time I really met a truly arrogant person. I probably wouldn't be able to recognize one if I met him/her! I'd be all dismissive-like... "No, no, you're just covering for your feelings of inadequacies." Ha.

5. I have much less of a filter than I used to (sometimes). I blame this on parenting, and probably aging, too. When I was chaperoning that field trip back in May, and kids (boys) would be doing something that really was out of line, I just would tell them to knock it off. (One guy started playing with the food as I was setting up the supper buffet one night. Just about took his head off. Oh dear.) Anyway, they handled it fairly well, and certainly stopped whatever it was they were doing. It kind of surprises me sometimes, because I remember being in my early 20s and being totally intimidated by kids. Ha. Not so much.

6. Here's a completely contradictory statement: I have a much better filter than I used to (sometimes). I am much better at listening (I think) and pondering and not always responding with my instant opinion than in decades past. I have a lot more internal dialog that I used to--though when husband hears me talking to myself in the kitchen I'm sure he's thinking it would be nice (quieter) if I actually kept my "internal" chats to myself!

7. I had a recent brief period of daydreaming of getting a job at a library (don't worry, it's passed now). Just to be around books more. But then I thought, would I really read more? Probably not. And in Walla Walla I'd be stuck putting really old books back on really old stacks (at least, that's how I envision it...), and that doesn't sound very appealing.

OK, so that's seven. How many did you know?

Mid-week reminder: Poem

This poem really should be titled: How to live your life.

How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
-Wendell Berry

I know this can't be reality for most of us, most days; there are too many things that have to be done, accomplished, running this way and that. But, in pockets and pieces, I want to remember this, and let it flow into life as much as possible. It creates a desire in me to get away--even from the screens!--and just sit, be, pray, live.

Monday, June 21, 2010

First day of summer?

In response to what looks like a fairly lackluster first day of summer (anyone very surprised, really?), I have only this to say:

I so needed that today. Now that my morning laugh is out of the way, I feel like I can move on and get some things accomplished, come rain or come shine.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bits of My Weekend: Volume 17

I'm starting this post with Friday, since it was somewhat more eventful than my average weekend lead-in. I spent the day (flew over and back, thankfully) in Seattle at Children's Home Society of Washington, at their quarterly trustee meetings, and we finished up around 3 p.m. Another Walla Walla trustee and I got a ride downtown to frolic in the sunshine (I couldn't believe our good luck with the sun) and just play.

I saw a bubble tea place in Westlake Village and had to check it out. I haven't partaken of this phenomenon before, and I enjoyed the tea part quite a bit (mango). The bubble part I got a bit tired of... I was told if I am a tapioca fan I'd be a bubble fan but I don't think it's quite the same. Kind of like gummy bears swooping up your straw and into your mouth. Yeah. No. I will keep my gummies and my tea separate in the future. I know, party pooper.

Also in Westlake Village I found a Japanese shop where everything is $1.50 unless posted otherwise. Kind of crazy, a little kitschy, a LOT of cheap stuff, but still, entirely explorable. Check out these two-pronged wooden forks. Great for noodles, I'm guessing?

These ties were actually $2. I know, why the bump up from $1.50? I had to laugh when later I wandered through the Nordstrom men's half-yearly sale a few blocks away and ties were 20 times that... ha. I should have shouted: "You can really get some bargains down the street." But I didn't.

I bet you could outfit your kitchen for $50.

Also checked out some girly shops with pretty, shiny things...

And then the mother ship called me home.

Is it wrong to say that the sound of the piano is very soothing and comforting to me? I  have so many fond Nordstrom memories from over the years... silly girl.

Then it was a fun adventure taking the newest public transport option, the Link Light Rail, down to the airport. Quite enjoyable and a very efficient way to get there!

Saturday was mellow. Major sleeping-in action. Major napping. I was a little startled to realize I was THAT behind on my sleep, but I kind of knew it... I'd stayed up way too late a couple of nights earlier in the week and just never got back up to par. Anyway, late afternoon we decided to go for a drive, just to get out of the house.

Saw a strange monument in the middle of nowhere and I investigated. Turns out the Hudson Bay Company owned a major piece of land around here, way back when. How wild is that?

And of course, it had to rain on us. Quite a bit of lightning too, a bit of thunder. So we went home and had our picnic in the dining room, and did a little early Father's Day celebrating, since...

Early-ish Sunday morning we got the young lad up and out the door for a three-week trip with his dad to the Grand Canyon. I will try and keep the whining and "I miss him!" to a minimum over the next three weeks. I swear. I'll try. And I'll definitely swear. :(

Made a lovely dinner for just the two of us, and we finished it off with a bit of strawberry shortcake. Yep, pulled out my very favorite shortcake recipe. Getting ready to make a boatload of it for a company event on Tuesday, so needed to make sure the recipe still works. Sure enough, it does! 

For more Bits of My Weekend, go here

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday night grateful moment

This week I am grateful for:
The best husband a girl could ask for.

* An amazing step-dad for my son. So blessed. And doubly blessed that the son knows so too.

* A thoughtful and loving son. I keep waiting for that teenage "thing," and knock on wood, nadda... so far. I'll take that.

* A very productive Monday and Friday. The rest of the week was not-so-much (let's blame the weather, shall we?), so for this week, I'll take what I got.

* Some great chill time with Seth. We tried to watch the original Karate Kid (too cheesy) and then he went with some kids to the update one (much better, according to Seth), I "assisted" in some Super Mario Galaxy action, and of course we bit off some crossword and solitaire action over breakfast out... and, we enjoyed some plain old relaxification. Good times.

*A safe business trip for husband, who got back from a couple of road days late Wednesday night. Safe travel: I don't take that for granted.

* A safe trip for me to Seattle and back just today. Again, not taken for granted. (Picture above was just after we landed tonight. Great flight, wonderful scenery over the mountains and farmland. Gorgeous.)

* A great organization to be a part of. We got to recognize a milestone/goal met today, a real team effort, and that felt good. The real celebration comes later in July. Par-tay.

* More and more fresh fruit and berries available. It's fabulous! Can't wait for a berry medley on my ice cream tomorrow.

* For ice cream maker replacement part companies. I'm glad I don't live in the days of "well, it's broke, guess it's done." That wouldn't be good for me--I seem to break many, many things... so glad I can order up a new paddle for my ice cream maker!

* For good friends for Seth. Something that makes a mom's heart very happy.

* For extended family, who are in our prayers every night. 

 * Sunshine today while I was in Seattle. To actually take my sweater off and feel the sun on my shoulders. Ah.

* A couple of hours to just wander and people watch (and wish I'd worn more comfortable shoes!).

* That I still feel young, even though I'm comparatively NOT. Spent time in the company of an early 20-something today... and was reminded (not by her, of course) that I am so not 25, even though some days I still feel that way.

* For peace in the comfort of family. Ready to chill now... hope you're doing the same.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summertime means Top Chef! (Even if it doesn't feel like summer...)

So a couple of years ago (back in those early, giddy-with-blogging days) I blogged about Top Chef every week. Then last year, didn't. I am on the fence about how committed I could be to it this year, but I'm going to start off as if that's the plan and see how it goes...

(I'm also thinking that part of my reticence to commit is our general "meh" reaction to all things "reality TV" lately--Seth stated a lack of interest in watching So You Think You Can Dance this season and at first I thought he was joshin' me... HIM, not want to watch the b-boys and hip-hop and his favorite choreographers? We sat down together to watch the first night of real competition, just to see, and by the third dance, we were both a little bored. I know. That sounds downright scandalous. But it just seemed like more of the same old same old. Now, we didn't actually delete it from our dvr, so it's possible that on some really pathetically bored day later this summer we could get back into it, but I'm thinking the prospects are looking a wee bit grim...)

But back to Top Chef... I didn't approach seeing it on my dvr line up with great anticipation. More like, we'll see. And I was immediately swept into the season, happily. Partly, I think I was just so excited to see that Eric Ripert is now at the judges table each week. I got giddy and reached for my lap top. Silly girl. What can I say? The guy is amazing. AND seems like a decent person. In chefdom, as in life? So rare. And I was glad to see Tom and Gail back too, of course. But Eric! That's something.

After the introductions, before heading into the quickfire, I had a couple of early favorites: Arnold (the dancing in his audition video, not really a good way to judge cooking but he seems like he has a great  personality), Jacqueline (I know, I'm a sucker for the self-taught caterer, what can I say?), and Lynn (the CIA instructor). And I had an immediate "must go home NOW" reaction to John, the dredlocked one. Hmmm. Why do they have to bring the nutty ones (and I'm not judging just based on looks here, really... there was a vibe, I swear)? I get the arrogant and drama-filled, but bringing the crazy-eyed just seems kinda mean.

Speaking of mean, I need to get this out of the way: Cleavage much, Padma? I get that if you haven't ever had the "visible girls" thing working for you in the past and postpartum it's like a gift has been dropped in your lap (literally) you just might want to show it off. But it couldn't pass without a comment, that's all I'm saying. Maybe I'll have a special section this year called "Cleavage Watch" each week... That'll get the blog readership up, don't you think?

On to the quickfire: They did that really great mise en place challenge where you really have to bring tha skillz:
1. Peel 10 potatoes. Top 12 chefs to do this move on.
2. Brunoise (1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8 inch dice. EVEN dice.) 10 cups of onions. Top 8 chefs move on.
3. Break down 4 whole chickens. Top 4 chefs move on.

One guy won ALL of those challenges: Kenny. He was fast. Amazingly fast. Like no one else was even close. I loved it. His nearest competitor, Angelo, did not. This is going to be an interesting competition between the two of them. After the quickfire, it almost seemed like it was just the two of them competing... but it's early. Sometimes those early hotshots can flame out and get sent packing... and sometimes they last the whole way.

Next, the top 4 compete to make a dish using their chicken, onion and potatoes from the mise en place.
Angelo: roasted wing and thigh with curry potato noodles
Kevin: wings with hot and sour broth
Tim: potato galette
Kenny: duo of chicken

Kevin and Tim were deemed too salty and too creamy respectively, and Angelo came over Kenny. Normally I'm not really put off by confident, even overly confident, contestants, but there's something about Angelo I'm not so into. We'll see. He might grow on me, but right now I'd much rather see Kenny whup 'em.

Moving on to the elimination challenge: Angelo and Kenny were captains; they chose teams of the group and each chef competed in groups of four/five. They served a regional dish to a crowd of 300, cocktail-room style, something that reflects who they are as a chef, where they come from. There were lots of great looking/sounding dishes, but it all went a little too quick for me to get notes down... suffice it to say that I was hungry by the end of watching the judges get to chow on 17 different appetizers!

And, my heart gets a little bunny thump just watching them get ready for the event on site. Takes me back to those catering days... minutes before guests arrive and it’s all rush and hustle before the calm that takes over during the actual event.

(Another side note: Gail’s going to do Top Chef: Just Desserts, according to Padma. Finally, a Top Chef I’d be interested in participating in! And judging!)

When all is said and done, here's how it shakes out:
Winners from each group: Kenny, Kevin, Angelo, Alex = Angelo wins.
Losers from each group: John, Jacqueline, Steven, Tim = John goes home. Thank goodness.

As always, there were cheftestants who got next to zero camera time, and those who were immediate front runners in terms of standing out for their food and/or personality. It will be intriguing to see how that all shakes out in the coming weeks...

And now that the first episode is over, my top picks are Kenny, still Lynne (I think she's got some potential), Arnold (hopeful...), and maybe Ed. I also like Kelly and Andrea.

Onward to the competition! 

Mid-week reminder: Love, with little hands

Rain again? How unique. Come on, spring! You can do better than this.

With a little extra time inside this morning, I found this animation, which was inspired by two poems. I've posted them below the video. Such lovely thoughts for a gray Wednesday.

Under the harvest moon

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
-Carl Sandburg

Poem X
We have lost even this twilight ...

We have lost even this twilight.
No one saw us this evening hand in hand
while the blue night dropped on the world.

I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant hills.

Sometimes as a coin
lit a piece of sun in my hands.

I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.

So, where were you?
Who else was there?
Saying what?
Why all the love I will suddenly
when I am sad and I feel far away?

The book fell that always closed at dusk,
and rolled like a hurt dog at my feet my cloak.

Always, always you recede through the evenings
toward the twilight erasing statues.
-Pablo Neruda 
(This poem was originally published in Spanish. I ran it through Google's translator, and other than the fifth verse, I think it worked, but not being a Spanish speaker... Love the Google.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Smurf houses, $17/pound

Mushrooms are kind of a love-hate thing, aren't they? I know many people can't really take the texture--cooked or raw--and I've been known to turn up my nose at the flavor of a few more exotic types. And the smell of dried mushrooms? That pungent aroma (I'm being kind) has repelled me in outdoor markets, often, whether Chinatown  in NYC or Penang, Malaysia.

But living here in Walla Walla, one can't help but hear about morels every spring. There are the avid hunters who won't give up their prize spots to which they return to each year, as well as more casual gatherers who use the excuse just to get the family out in the early spring air. They are precious little morsels, too, with the average per-pound price being between $15 and $20--husband saw a sign for $17 on our way to Joseph, so we're quoting that as the local going rate. A week or so ago I was with a girlfriend downtown and saw someone (a mushroom farmer?) carrying a trug of morels into a local restaurant and we both raised our eyebrows in a knowing "I'll look the other way if you want to mug him" way. No words needed.

My one caveat, however, would be that I might not know what to do with that many mushrooms. Morels--for me--aren't like asparagus or blueberries, where I can eat them/it at every meal for a month (or two), in a dozen different ways, and not get tired of the flavor. I need morels maybe three or four times a season and I'm good. But when I have them, I do so enjoy the experience!

The first time I had morels I don't think I even knew I was having them. It was down at a lovely restaurant in Pendleton, Ore., Raphael's, and there is an appetizer, Wild Mushrooms in a Sour Cream and Sherry Sauce, that is simply delicious. It's a mixture of a number of mushroom types, with a light, tangy cream sauce, and they give you bread to dip into the sauce. Frankly, it's divine. Many times I have wanted to order a double helping, just for me. But being the dainty lass that I am, I settle for sharing. Sigh. It's a heavy burden, this daintiness.

But, when you make the sauce at home, who needs to be dainty? A-ha! There's the ticket. Coming back from our weekend jaunt, I was bound and determined to make something as close to the revered Raphael appetizer, and had toyed around with this recipe before. Once again, it did not disappoint. We enjoyed the sauce over steak, with parsley mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. Spring on a plate.

Mushroom cream sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 onion or 6 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of chopped mushrooms--morels, buttons and/or crimini
1/4 cup Madeira or dry sherry
1 cup cream
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/2 tsp grated fresh nutmeg
Salt and pepper to season

Heat a saucepan over medium heat and melt butter. Add the onions/shallots and garlic and saute until soft and wilted, 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute an additional 10 minutes. Next, add the Madeira or sherry and bring to a simmer for three minutes. Add the cream and boil until the mixture has reduced by a third. Stir the cornstarch and stock together in a separate small bowl and add to the cream sauce; cook until thickened. Before serving, add the chives, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

See what I mean about Smurf houses? Can't you just see Smurfette coming around the corner of the house, waving? OK,  maybe it's just me.

This was our biggest find, maybe four inches high, with stem cut off.

Sorry for the rather blurry snapped photo of the finished sauce over steak. I think I must have been extra eager to get to my supper!

Many great morel recipes can be found online. My post from last spring was of the fried variety, which we all quite enjoyed. Next up, I've thought of making soup, though most of the recipes I find seem like a watered down version of this sauce; maybe I'll just skip the soup and go get a big baguette to finish off the leftovers!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bits of My Weekend: Volume 16

After my days in the city last week, the weekend was entirely country. We set out fairly early on Saturday for Joseph, Oregon. It was gorgeous when we left, sunny and beautiful the whole time we were gone, and just as gorgeous (maybe even more so) when we got back. I have been laughing a lot lately at all the status updates on Facebook that are weather-related... the last couple of weeks have been full of griping about the rain and weather, all across the Pacific Northwest, it seems. Then this weekend it was ALL about the sunshine. I expect there are a few sunburns to go around...

I've always been a "feet on the dash" kind of gal. Nice to get the toes out in the sunshine...

I am just mad about the iPhone camera. It does an amazing job as we're whirling through the countryside.

Our welcoming committee. I'm not sure what those cows thought we were transporting in our truck... they were quite quickly disappointed and turned back to their grazing...

After lunch and a wee nap, we headed up to the tree line in search of morels. We had to abandon the truck and go on foot--the spring that we have to pass over to get to the high pasture is still heavy with mud and muck.

We'd looked for mushrooms weeks ago (when hunting started here in Walla Walla) and of course, nothing. This time though, we saw LOTS of mushrooms, but...

NOT morels.

NOT morels.

NOT morels.

NOT morels.

Finally, morels. Not a huge amount, but plenty to make supper Sunday night a bit more special.

Such odd looking creatures. I can't help but think of Smurf houses when I see them out in the grassy meadows...

The view coming back down from our hunt. We left the dogs behind; there have been a few wolf sightings recently, and we weren't sure if having them with us might actually attract the wolves... As it was, all we saw were a bunch of elk up near the elk fence (yes, on the wrong side, of course); a couple of adults and a quite a few babies. Very sweet. I wasn't able to get a good photo, though. My wild nature photography skills need some work...

But Sunday I was bound and determined to get a good shot of the bluebirds around the cabin. They are such pretty birds.

Sunday morning we mowed the grass around the cabin--it was very high, and took a number of passes to get it down. After chores and such, we headed home...

Where the fever few is blooming!

So is the lavender. I'm ready for some lavender lemonade again this summer! Soon.

And the cherries are ripening. I am actually surprised they are as close to edible as they are... with the cold and rain, I'd have thought they'd be late, but here they come!

Hope your weekend was enjoyable as well! For more Bits of My Weekend, go here.
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