Monthly Archives: December 2009

Now bring us some figgy pudding

I’ve brought my ship into port, all flags flying, and all hands safe on deck. Saturday morning, just before noon, we finished the Saint Vincent de Paul Christmas baskets for another year. It’s never easy. Every year it’s two months of non-stop Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. But this year we all worked even harder than usual.

My Office Floor

So many more families asked for help this year that I couldn’t bear to close the list the week before delivery as I usually do. Hence, I was still adding clients to the list at 10:00 on Friday night, and still calling teary, grateful clients early on Saturday morning to say yes, we would be bringing them food that day. Saturday was a scramble, as you might imagine, but everyone pitched in, and we provided Christmas groceries and presents for seventy-three families. Yay! And Phew!

I barely moved from the couch last Sunday, but after getting a little rest, I was ready to think about my own Christmas. I’ve made my list, checked it twice, and made the rounds of grocery and liquor stores–the liquor store is a zoo on Christmas Eve, but very festive, I must say. I’ve stuffed the stockings and delivered baked goods to the neighbors. And in a little while, I’m going to put on some Christmas carols, pour a glass of wine, and start cooking. Oh, nothing too strenuous or fiddly. I’ll make potato leek soup, and meatballs with yogurt dipping sauce, an orzo salad with spinach and feta, and a cheese tray.

Ho Ho Ho

Sissy and her family are leaving town today for the holiday weekend, but Michael is coming over later, and I’ve invited a few friends to stop by at their leisure, and we’re going to curl up in front of the fireplace and watch Christmas movies and graze.  I’ve got eggnog, and cocoa, and rum, and the makings for White Russians, and Prosecco. The trick will be to not get too tipsy to make it to midnight mass…

And it really wouldn’t be a proper Christmas without my Great-Grandmother’s Plum Pudding. Many years ago, I started making traditional English plum pudding for Christmas dinner. Initially inspired by my love of British mystery novels and then finally moved to action by my annual viewing of A Christmas Carol, I bought a pudding mold. My first plum pudding was so-so. I’m not a fan of candied fruit, but the liberal application of brandy and flames helped.


Then, on a visit to my grandparents, I happened to mention the whole Christmas plum-pudding thing. My Grandfather started telling stories of Christmases past, and before I knew it, he had written out the recipe for his mother’s Plum Roly-Poly Pudding on a piece of my Grandma’s letter paper, in his spidery, old-fashioned script. He signed off with, “This was my Mother’s. We sure like it. Grampa Porter

The recipe is simple, doesn’t call for candied fruit, and results in a light, fluffy pudding that is more cake than fruitcake. It’s not a perfect recipe. It makes a fragile pudding that is merry hell to unmold without breaking.  And frankly, I usually modify the Dip recipe by substituting whiskey for the water.  But Christmas cooking isn’t about perfection, is it? It’s about gathering with friends and family and giving from the heart.  And even if I serve a broken pudding every now and then, I know that generations of love are mixed up in that pudding, and I remember my Grandpa Porter’s shrewd eyes that saw everything, and his smile, and how much he loved life, and his pride in his family–imperfections and all–and how he relished a treat.

Grandpa Porter

Plum Roly-Poly Pudding
• 1 cup ground suet
• 1 1/2 cup flour
• 3 tsp baking powder
• 1 cup milk
• 1 ½ cups plums, cooked and pitted

Combine flour, baking powder, suet and milk to make batter. Put half in a greased mold. Spread plums in an even layer, then the rest of the batter. Steam for 2 ½ to 3 hours.

• 1 cup sugar
• 1 tbsp flour
• 1 tbsp vinegar
• 1 tbsp butter
• ½ cup water
Mix and cook for about 3 minutes

Carefully remove pudding from mold to serving plate. Serve hot with dip. For traditional presentation, pour brandy over pudding and flame pudding, and decorate with a sprig of holly  (Word to the wise: put the holly on top AFTER flaming the pudding.  Take my word for this).

Merry Christmas!


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Since Delancey opened in August, there’s been plenty of hubbub amongst the foodie set on the internet, reviews in the papers, and long waits for tables. When the Wednesday night dinner group tried to get in the first time, the two-hour wait was so disheartening that they ended up at Veraci  instead.  But finally, these many months later, they decided to try again.  And while I had any number of pressing things I should have been doing instead, I really couldn’t resist going along.   I’ve been following the story of Delancey on co-owner Molly Wizenberg’s food blog, Orangette, and could hardly wait to see for myself. 

So, on a frigid evening, I parked my car on a dark Ballard side street and hurried into the warmth of the little restaurant.  Michael and Dan were already there, and the host had assured them that the wait shouldn’t be too long.  Lori arrived a few minutes later, and we sat in the tiny waiting area, gradually thawing out. 

The several other groups also waiting for tables chatted patiently, sipping glasses of wine and looking over menus.  The food in front of the people seated at the bar smelled divine.  And in the open kitchen, serious pizza-making was going on.  I recognized the guy carefully stretching pizza dough as Brandon, one of the owners.  Completely focused on his task, he had a calm, absorbed expression on his face, as though he were listening for the dough to tell him when it was ready. 

Just as Dan suggested that the four of us should order eight pizzas, the front door opened, and in walked a red-haired young woman clutching a notebook and grinning from ear to ear as she greeted the staff in the kitchen.  It was Molly Wizenberg herself–exuding energy and, frankly, just sort of glowing. 

The host checked in with us a few times, smiling and pleasant.  He commiserated over the wait, saying that our table for four should be available soon, but the party currently at the table seemed to be enjoying lingering over their drinks…

We got our table after about a 45-minute wait, which given the epic historical wait times, seemed pretty bearable. 

We ordered four pizzas, not eight, and they came quickly, piping hot from the oven.  They were delightful pizzas, with a good ratio of crust to sauce to toppings.  The crust was flavorful and chewy in places, crisp in others, but never crackery like some thin crust pizza can be.  The Pepperoni was a classic.  The Sausage was a poem…housemade sausage bursting with meaty flavor, a slightly sweet tomato sauce, and rounds of fresh mozzarella came together in a most lyrical way.  The Romano had fresh and aged mozzarella, thin anchovies, kalamata olives, and a hint of spice somewhere in the mix that made the already fresh flavors a little more raucous.  Richly flavorful, The Crimini was paved with mushrooms.  Sliced paper-thin and toasted to the perfect doneness, they covered the pizza like a drift of fall leaves deep enough to shuffle gloriously through.

As we ate our pizzas, I luxuriated in the warmth and relative humidity of the restaurant, the air outside having been so achingly cold and dry the last week or so.  From our table, I had a good view of the kitchen, and watched  as the business of pizza-making continued.  All of the staff at Delancey were young.  Bright and shiny, they all gave off palpable air of cheerful competence.  Every one of them seemed to really care about what they are doing, and to be having a really good time doing it.  I watched as they topped pizzas, and grated cheese with careful air attention, and checked the bottom of pizzas in the open wood-fired pizza oven. 

For dessert, we shared a sort of pear-crumble concoction that tasted like apple pie to me.  It was good, pleasantly hearty winter fare. 

Delancey: a great place to eat, and worth the wait.  Getting a glimpse of the real restaurant and people behind the stories on Orangette: Priceless. 

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It’s beginning to look a lot like oatmeal

Early in the morning, before the furnace clicked on, before the alarm went off, I shivered under newly inadequate covers in the suddenly chilly house. I woke up to the first frost of the year.  The predawn world outside my bedroom window was all sharp edges, like a black and white photographic negative.  As I drove to work, I saw the fir trees standing out clearly in silhouette against the lighter sky, a full moon hanging just above their black tips. 

One day it was fall, damp and windy.  The next day it was winter, and I was searching the coat closet for gloves and scarves.  I brought the extra blanket and flannel sheets out of the linen closet, and prepared to hibernate. 

I’ve been hankering, these last few frosty mornings, for a big bowl of oatmeal.  Perhaps I should explain that I make a definite distinction between weekday food and weekend food.  Weekdays are for simple whole foods—vegetables, grains, and a little meat for lunch and dinner.  Breakfast is usually a piece of whole grain toast and a scrambled egg, or sometimes Greek yogurt with granola and raisins.  But on the weekends, I loosen up and go for the rich, fatty, time-consuming foods. 

I don’t consider oatmeal a healthful utility breakfast, but rather a weekend luxury: protein-poor, decadent–extravagant even.  Therefore, I stopped by PCC  for a bag of slow-cooking whole rolled oats, some fresh brown sugar, and a carton of cream.  Because I don’t screw around when it comes to oatmeal.  Instant oatmeal is for lightweights–I’d just as soon not bother. 

You need to have time to cook real oatmeal, to stand at the stove in slippers and bathrobe, to stir the simmering grain as it turns creamy, to taste periodically until the oats are just past al dente-soft, but still with some resistance to the tooth.  Spoon fresh, soft brown sugar on top, and a handful of raisins.  Sit down with a cup of hot coffee and the steaming bowl, and then, at the very last minute, trickle a small river of whole cream over the mountain of oatmeal (not milk, definitely never skim milk, but maybe half and half in a pinch, e.g. snowstorm or nuclear disaster or some such unforeseeable situation).  Stir the silky cream into the oatmeal until it is shiny with sugar and fat. 

This richness must be consumed slowly, perhaps with a side of bacon for protein, and the Sunday New York Times.   Scrape the bowl.  Lick the spoon.


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Oh, Big Easy

Sunday night was the season finale of The Amazing Race.  I don’t think I was the only one to be a little verklempt about going into the final episode without the Globetrotters.  Flight Time and Big Easy were such good sports and showmen and just so darn likeable that even when Big Easy spectacularly blew the Kafka challenge in Prague and they were eliminated in the previous episode, I still sort of expected them to be at the starting point for the finale anyway.  How could we go on without them? 

Well, we did manage to soldier bravely on, thanks in part to guacamole, Jambalaya/Paella, and homemade ice cream. 

Before Kate and Aaron arrived, we were talking about danger foods.  You know–the food you simply can’t keep in your house or you’ll eat ALL of it?  Rob said homemade ice cream was his downfall, and I admitted that for me, it’s chips and salsa or guacamole.  Enter Kate and Aaron, who plop down a giant bowl of guacamole and a bag of chips, directly in front of me on the coffee table.  Dip, munch.  Dip, munch.  Uh oh! 

I did manage to tear myself away from the guacamole for long enough to dish up a plate of their yummy dinner.  Was it jambalaya, or was it paella?  I’d call it a successful fusion of both, one pan featuring sausage, and the other with shrimp.  Lightly spicy, with bits of bell pepper, the rice was cooked to a perfect crust on the bottom.  Then there was that bowl of guacamole still in front of me, for a postprandial snack. 

Rob’s homemade ice cream was the last word in ice cream.  I tend to be suspicious of the homemade variety.  Too many times, it’s been over-hyped as the ultimate dessert, then when the ice cream maker is proudly opened, I end up with a mushy bowl of something resembling, heaven forbid, ice-milk–thin tasting with annoying ice crystals in it.  Well, we had none of that ice-milk sadness.  Both the eggnog flavor and the Reese’s peanut butter cup flavor were as rich and creamy as anything Haagen-Dazs ever churned out, but with much fresher flavors. 

I could only spare room for a few bites of the ice cream however, because there was still a little bit of guacamole in the bottom of the bowl. 

And congratulations to Lindsey, the lucky winner of the Amazing Race betting pool.  May she take her winnings to Vegas and parlay them into a cool million.

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A Reverse-Food Post

I almost never get sick enough to stay home from work.  And yet earlier this week, stay home I did.  I awoke with a splitting headache.  I thought at first that I’d just ignore it and it would go away, but then I promptly tossed my cookies, called in sick, and went back to bed to lie, alternately sweating and shivering, but not tossing restlessly–Oh no, because moving my head even the slightest degree was really not a good idea, head movement leading inevitably to dizziness which led to…well.

It’s really no fun at all being sick.  Staying in bed curled around a cat all day holds none of its usual charm under the circumstances.  I mused at one point, “Wow!  I don’t remember the last time I felt this terrible!”  But then I quickly recalled last summer in Toledo.  The two lost days in the most heartstoppingly beautiful city in Spain.  At least here I have ready access to 1) running water, and 2) Lipton noodle soup.   Because just try finding chicken broth in the old city of Toledo.


When I’d finally slept off the worst of my affliction, it was time for cautious nibbles of the specialties of the house: dry toast, weak tea, and when those did not reverse themselves for a few hours, ginger ale and saltines.  I have a definite process when convalescing from a stomach bug and have learned to skip a step at my own peril.  After saltines came propping myself up on the couch with a bowl of Lipton noodle soup.  Then applesauce.  The only time I actually miss having a TV at my house is when I’m sick.  Applesauce just goes with Law & Order marathons, you know?  I substituted some podcasts at low volume and zoned out.

I returned to work a bit dizzy, but basically sound.   The peanut butter sandwich I ate for lunch was bland enough to not upset the applecart, and I wasn’t that interested in food anyway, except in a strictly survival sense.

But by the end of the day, I was actually starting to feel vaguely hungry. It was finally time for some real food again.  Nothing too taxing: not too complex, or spicy, or meaty.  All I wanted was some simple starch and some flavor.  Just like in Toledo, when I finally staggered down the five flights of stairs from my hotel room.  I emerged, blinking, and collapsed into a chair at the restaurant in the plaza and ordered a plate of spaghetti with parmesan.  The perfect dish for the return to the world of real food.

So when I got home from work, I whipped up some pasta with a few sautéed mushrooms, some olive oil, butter, garlic, and parmesan.  It only took a few minutes.  Then I lit a fire and collapsed on the couch with my dinner, an afghan, a Kathy Martin, Student Nurse book, and the ubiquitous cat.  It’s much more fun to be sick when I don’t feel quite so sick anymore.

Actually, buttered pasta with parmesan is not just good for convalescence of the tummy.  It’s also good for broken hearts (with a large side of ice cream), or delicious any time as a simple, but satisfying dinner.  Add sautéed shrimp or vegetables such as zucchini and bell peppers, serve with a salad and bread, you’ve got a respectable last-minute company dinner.

Buttered Noodles with Parmesan

  • 3 oz whole wheat Spaghetti
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 4-5 Crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • parsley

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, heat butter and olive oil in skillet over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes before adding garlic.  Cook gently for a few more minutes.  Drain pasta, and add to skillet.  Toss to coat, and turn pasta onto plate.  Sprinkle lightly with parsley, generously with parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.  Serves one.

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