Monthly Archives: August 2010

International Food Blogger Conference 2010

Opening Party at the IFBC

This weekend I attended the International Food Blogger Conference here in Seattle.  I had been looking forward to this event for months, and I was not disappointed.

Imagine walking into a cocktail party with two hundred and fifty or so extremely animated people you’ve never met before, all of whom want to talk about exactly what you want to talk about.  They are witty, interesting, humorous, and curious about you.  Then sprinkle in a few fascinating celebrities you’ve always wanted to meet—yes, that’s Morgan Spurlock over there drinking a cosmo, and indeed that was Dianne Jacob who just joined your conversation with fellow food blogger Father Leo.  Throw in chefs offering tidbits of their finest creations, all the wine you care to drink, and gifts to take home with you.  There are people walking around with a lamb pop in one hand, a camera in the other, and a grin from ear to ear…and oh yes, it doesn’t end on Friday night.  All of this goes on for three days.

Cod BLTs by Jason Wilson of Crush

I learned something from every speaker, but there were a few that really knocked my socks off: Penny De Los Santos, whose session on food photography was so inspiring that she had her audience in tears, then on our feet for a standing ovation; and Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, who talked about the multi-volume cookbook he is producing, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking .  Wow.  Just, wow.

 For an excellent rundown on all of the sessions from the conference, check out my new friend Kendra’s posts about the weekend over at Kitchen Report.

I met, ate with, and learned from some amazing, passionate bloggers, like Feed Yourself, Teenie Cakes, Rural Eating, Purple House Dirt, Awake at the Whisk, Food Flirt, Stephen Cooks, Savour Fare, and so many others.  

Food Bloggers at Lunch

Truly remarkable chefs produced food for hundreds of people at a time without even breaking a sweat–like it was no big deal at all to plate 250 meals while hungry bloggers vied for photos, asked questions, and generally acted like a plague of tipsy locusts.  

Marinated Octopus with Chickpeas and Preserved Lemon

I love trying new foods, and I had a couple of firsts at the conference.  Somehow I have lived in the Pacific Northwest my entire life without trying Geoduck  clams—until I walked up to the table where two grinning guys from Taylor Shellfish Farm presided over a very…umm…substantial geoduck on ice and some gorgeous, delicate plates of geoduck ceviche and crudos.  They led me through the initiation rites–squeezing lime over a morsel of geoduck, spearing it with a toothpick, dragging it through kosher salt, and popping it in my mouth.  It was good!  Crunchy but yielding, and after the initial tequila shot blast of lime and salt, it tasted of nothing but fresh seawater.  

Geoduck Ceviche

And then there was the Steak Tartare, served up at lunch on Saturday by Daisley Gordon of Campagne.  I generally prefer my meat in a state of advanced char.  But how could I pass up the opportunity to jump into a new experience with both feet?  The chef answered my questions about the provenance of the beef, then he handed me a plate.  After picking up a glass of the paired wine, I wandered around a while, joined a group at a stand-up table, generally stalled, and then I finally spread the ground steak on a slice of bread, topped it with a few greens…and became an instant devotee.   I went back for seconds.  

Steak Tartare

On Sunday, a convoy of gourmet food trucks roared and chugged into position outside before lunch.  The odors of fire and meat and goodness filled the air, and we all stampeded outside. 

Kaosamai Mobile Lunch Cuisine

It was wonderful to spend an entire weekend eating, drinking, and making merry like a gluttonous duchess.  But in the end, it’s not just about partying like it’s 1999.  Here’s what I came away with: Pay attention to what you put in your mouth, where it came from, what it is made from and how.  Food should be shared, so gather together in community.  Be inspired.  Be passionate.  Be brave.  And never forget those who are absent from the table.  

Salmon Carpaccio from Seastar Restaurant

Secret Sherry Society Pre-Dinner Cocktail Party

Secret Sherry Society

Crispy Trout from Kaosamai Mobile Lunch Cuisine

Taco and Tamale from El Camion Taco Truck

Rolling Fire Pizza

Pike Brewing Co. Beers Proved Popular

  

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Jam

I’ve been collecting jars from thrift stores for a long time—too long, really.  I had fine lofty plans for a cupboard full of jam last fall, but somehow the sunny late summer days when I could have been picking blackberries just slipped by and before I knew it, winter was here, it was raining, and I was still buying my jam at the grocery store.

As I’ve been out running this summer, I’ve been watching the blackberries flower, then fruit, then ripen.  Finally it was time, and my sister and I went out and picked a million blackberries on a beautiful sunny afternoon.  And that was it.   I was committed.  With two gallons of berries in my fridge, the clock started ticking.  The very next afternoon, I got out my equipment, my cookbooks, and a whole lot of sugar.  I mean a TON of sugar.

I had never made jam before.  And the part that confounded me for a while was the strongly worded but completely opposite directions in all of the books.

Sterilize your jars in the oven, one book suggested.  NEVER sterilize in the oven, said the next, the jars might explode. Try the dishwasher.  Don’t even bother sterilizing at all, directed a third.

Seal with paraffin!  No, waxed paper!  Only lids and rings will do!

There were long boil vs. short boil recipes.

And the pro and anti-pectin factions.

Then there was the bitter controversy over whether to turn the jars upside down while they seal, replete with italics.

Fortunately, jam making wasn’t particularly difficult.  I chose the most conservative recipe and followed it religiously.  I measured and mashed and cooked, and filled and processed.  And at last, there on my cutting board, were a row of jars, glowing deep purple like jewels, lids popping musically as they sealed.

And the jam, when I finally spread it on my pancakes, was divine.  It tasted like blackberries.  Bright, fresh, summery, and just sweet enough.

That taste of summer will be most welcome when, all too soon, winter is here, and it is raining again.

The recipe I used was the Blackberry Jam recipe from 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades, & Other Soft Spreads, by Linda J. Amendt.

Blackberry Jam

  • 5 cups crushed blackberries
  • 1 box (1.75 oz) regular powdered fruit pectin
  • 6 1/3 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • ½ tsp unsalted butter (optional)
  1. Prepare canning jars and lids and bring water in water bath canner to a boil
  2. Pour blackberries into an 8-quart stainless steel stockpot.
  3. In a small bowl, combine pectin and ¼ cup of the sugar.  Gradually stir into the fruit.  Add butter, if using.
  4. Bring fruit mixture to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Gradually stir in the remaining sugar.  Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.
  5. Remove pot from heat and skim off any foam.  Let jam cool in the pot for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace.  Remove any air bubbles.  Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp paper towel.  Center hot lids on jars and screw on bands until finger-tip tight.
  7. Place jars in canner, making sure they are covered by at least 1 inch of water.  Cover and bring to a gentle boil.  Process 4-oz jars and 8-oz jars for 10 minutes; process 1-pint jars for 15 minutes.
  8. Remove jars from canner and place on a wire rack or cloth towel.  Let cool for 24 hours, then check seals.  Wash and dry jars and store in a cool, dry, dark location.

A few notes:

I did not use the butter, which is supposed to help reduce foam.  It just sounded too weird.

I put about 1/5 of the berries through a sieve to reduce the seeds in the finished product.  Next time, I’ll use a food mill for that, because it was awfully hard to mash those berries through the sieve.

If you’ve made jam before, this is probably enough information for you.  If you haven’t, I think that the whole book is necessary to make the jam properly.  It is full of precise step-by-step instructions and a rationale for each of them, tips in side bars, and equipment lists, all of which contribute to the success of the jam.

*****

I am very excited to be attending the International Food Blogger Conference this weekend.  This is my first blogging conference and I’m looking forward to everything: workshops, speakers, food, wine, and especially meeting some of my fellow food bloggers.    Stay tuned, as I’m sure I will have lots to share about this next week.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Foraging

“What happened to you?”   I was at a party, sunk into a deep, comfortable couch with a cocktail raised to my lips.  Another guest had glanced idly at my bare legs, then looked again, covered as they were in an impressive network of scratches that sort of resembled a road map—there were bigger scratches like freeways, others the merest faint logging trail—and hence the question.

In the sudden lull, I looked down, laughed, and said, “Picking blackberries.”

Everyone nodded.

The temperature had crept steadily up all week, until it was in the 90’s by the weekend.  I love hot weather.  While all of the other Seattleites made a beeline for the movies or sprawled in front of their air conditioners moaning softly and eating ice cream, I was in my element.  Like a lizard coming to life on a hot rock, I stretched and relaxed, my toes and fingers warmed, my very bones seemed full of sunshine.  I was drunk on it—grinning and euphoric.  Oh, the joys of putting on shorts and sandals and sunscreen.  The pleasure of visible toenail polish!

I knew exactly how I wanted to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.  I collected my ice cream buckets and my sister, and we went berry picking.  Blackberries grow wild all over the place here—they are literally weeds.  And I’ve got a sweet picking spot, with easy to access blackberry vines running alongside a footpath.

It was glorious.  We put on our sunhats and worked our way down the trail.  We chatted a little, but mostly just focused on the hunting and gathering.  While the easy to pick berries were plentiful, the best ones inevitably dangled tantalizingly just beyond arms length, tempting us to step just a tiny bit into the bramble, to reach just a little farther…

The sun beat down on  my shoulders, the back of my legs, and the tops of my feet, so bright I could almost feel the yellow of it on my skin.  A stream gurgled out of sight, somewhere just behind the blackberry brambles.  The occasional crow wheeled overhead.  Every now and then a bicycle whizzed by.  Bumble bees accompanied us, their constant buzzing a hypnotic Buddhist chant in the background—strong and soothing and continuous.

It occurred to me that we were part of  legions of women throughout history who have foraged side by side, patiently, persistently.  The earth turns, the seasons change, but all over the world women are always out there, digging, gathering, gleaning at the edges of fields, filling buckets and sacks with the bounty.

My thoughts wandered along these lines, then stilled.  Picking berries is a meditation, a prayer, a walking zazen.  As hands move from vine to bucket, vine to bucket, vine to bucket, the monkey mind settles down.

At last, after what could have been just an hour or all afternoon, our gallon buckets were full to overflowing.  When we couldn’t put a berry in without three more falling out, we wandered back to the car, our flip-flops smacking the hot asphalt–with scratched legs, sticky purple fingers, sunburn and freckles wherever the sunscreen couldn’t keep up, and enough blackberries to make a whole lot of jam.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Fresh and Crunchy

Summertime is salad time, right?    I love pasta salads, but there is the small issue of having to boil water for the pasta on a hot day…and a big green salad is dandy, but somehow leaves me feeling simultaneously virtuous and forlorn.  I’ve eaten, but I don’t really feel satisfied.  I will never get tired of a classic Caprese salad, but I fear my hair may turn gray before my tomatoes ripen this year.

I’ve gone crazy for this salad.  It’s quick, requires no cooking, and is oh, so deliciously satisfying.  After eating a bowl of it, I feel like I’ve eaten.  It’s real food.  Cold, crisp, tangy real food.  In fact, I’ve gone so crazy for it that I’ve had it three times this week.  The first day I just scarfed it up.  The next day I had it with some chunks of fresh mozzarella on top.  And on the third day I mixed it with a handful of farro.  All good.  Very good.  And the salad stayed fresh and crunchy right up to the last bite on day three.

I’ve still got the other half of the head of cauliflower in the refrigerator and I think I may be ready for more…

*****

Update: I’ve entered this blog post in a Side Dish Challenge.  You can check out the other cauliflower side dishes over at Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice.  Thanks for the suggestion, Sara!

*****

Cauliflower and Kale Salad

(adapted from Steamy Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 6 large kale leaves
  • 1/2 head cauliflower
  • 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped onion
  • 1 tsp snipped chives
  • ½ cup diced cucumber
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Tear the soft leaf of the kale away from the center stalk that runs throughout the length of the kale. Discard the tough stalk. Finely chop the kale leaves. Add to a large bowl, along with the cherry tomatoes, chives, onions and cucumber.  Grate the cauliflower using the large holes of a box grater. Add to the bowl and mix. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and the olive oil. Pour dressing into the bowl and toss gently.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

On Grilled Corn and Desire

Do you remember what it was like when you were a kid, and you wanted something really, really badly?  Maybe the item itself was nothing big, but the longing was big.  Big enough for a holy grail.  Big enough to make you feel all funny inside like you couldn’t take a deep breath until you had it.   I felt that way about a lot of things.  Barbie accessories, Normandy Rose jeans, Trixie Belden books, Pixy Stix, curly hair–just to name a few.

And corn holders.  You know–the little handles you poke into the ends of corn on the cob to make the eating less messy?  The yellow ones shaped like little nubby ears of corn?  Every time my family ate corn on the cob I sighed over our lack of corn holders.  They would make corn so much more fun!  And, like so many pointless material possessions, the desire wasn’t really about an actual need for the item itself.  It was about an image.   They were so cute! And obviously cool families had them.  I wanted a cool family of the sort that would casually produce corn holders for all, as if such luxury were a mere trifle—an everyday affair, really.

Well, I never did get my corn holders.  And they are exactly the kind of extra junk in my kitchen drawers that would make me shudder now.  Besides, I kind of like getting my hands messy when I eat corn.  I guess the window of opportunity, when corn holders would have completed my life, has passed.

 

But I still think corn on the cob, with or without holders, is pretty great.  Especially on a peaceful, warm Sunday afternoon.   I’d been wanting to try grilling corn in the husk, so I picked up a few ears at the Farmer’s Market.   I decided that in the interests of scientific rigor, we should also have a control corn.  So I shucked one to go straight on the grill.  With the other two, I peeled back the husks without detaching them, and pulled out the silk.  I rubbed the corn with a handful of butter, and then returned the husks to their former position, tying them in place at the top with a bit of husk.

Michael put them on the grill, away from direct flame, and turned them periodically for about 20 minutes.  The control corn gradually turned golden with a few darker kernels, and the corn in the husks got dry and brown with some charry black on the outside.

When they were done, I stripped the dry husks from the corn.  We slathered them in more butter, salted them, and dug in.  The control corn was good, although a bit chewy.  The corn grilled in the husk was much better.  It was tender and juicy, with a slight smoky flavor.  Perfect.

Conclusion: corn grilled in the husk rocks.

Sitting on the deck without shoes, eating corn on the cob and watching sailboats on the lake, I have everything my heart desires.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine