Garlicky Celery-Leaf Pesto

Sauces & Spreads

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Yesterday it stormed at the West LA farmers’ market. The wind howled and was indiscriminate in its punishment, knocking over A-frame signs and garbage bins and ripping canvas away from tentpoles. Lori and I scuttle from stand to stand. It is like being back in Seattle. Lori walks right down the middle of the street, her rain jacket zipped all the way up to her huge grin.

“I’ve missed this,” she says. I tell her Mmm-hmm or something just as non-committed, but what I’m really telling her is Yeah, me too.

We stop to sample chocolate, primarily to warm up the shivering woman behind the table. Conversation is what keeps all of us warm. We approach and she comments on the weather, telling us to please come closer. It really is like being back in Seattle, where strangers begin conversations with talk about the weather. Some of the chocolate has sugar and some doesn’t, but every melted morsel is delightful in our mouths. A man passing by sees the warmth and joins the three of us, all of us now hovering closely under the tent.

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Dry again, back in the car, we eat breakfast dumplings with pork and eggs. A woman steamed them in a wok on a camping stove.

“We meant to eat brunch,” Lori says. She’s right. Sometimes these mornings–our schedule full of lines to cross off–slip away, and we forget about the in-between lines that assure us the leisure we keep meaning to make time for. We dip the dumplings in organic ketchup. The clouds are bursting. This is the first road food we eat in Lori’s new car and this stormy morning feels more special because of that.

Lori is pretty sure she doesn’t have to begin writing her essay just yet, so we buzz over to our new favorite coffeeshop. It feels like months since we had a Sunday off together.

“It’s homey in here,” Lori says. “It feels broken in.”

We sip spiced lattes and I chat with the barista as if I know why origin and growing altitude matter for this particular cup of coffee. I don’t, but the barista is nice enough to treat me like an adult.

The sun begins to peek out, but the storm is about to get fiercer. We will soon lose power. Leaves and sticks will fly around outside. One of the bulbs on the string of outdoor lights will burst. Down the street, a tree will fall onto a Range Rover.

But I won’t notice any of that, because I’ve got this babe with her new car that smells like potstickers and coffee and this badass bunch of celery leaves the farmer decided not to hack off.

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Warm Pasta Salad with Crab & Heirloom Beans

Beans, Pasta, Seafood

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Why do hummingbirds hum?

This was the question put forth by a young girl to her mother a couple days ago. I overheard the question while I was eating lunch. It was casual and, most likely, the girl asked it to ask it, nothing but playful chatter.

Because they forgot the words.

This was the mother’s response. It was simple, unexpected, playful, and it contented the curious girl. Then they were gone in a flight to the parking lot, as quickly as a hummingbird at a feeder of nectar.

When I saw these dragon tongue beans at the store, I knew I had to cook with them. Seasonal heirlooms? How could I not? But I also knew I had some crab sitting in the fridge. Then I was reminded of this little Q&A.

The little girl’s innocent, loaded question, which she conjured from her busy imagination, represented something meaningful to me: the quest to discover the world. We have different ways of doing this. One of mine is this food blog. I have said it before, but a sense of pioneerism in food is important to me, as I believe it is in Cascadia, especially in relation to the food we grow ourselves.

When farmers take the chance on these heirlooms, they are doing at least two things: taking a chance on the success of a tradition, and taking the chance on giving up some share of an established produce market in hopes of satisfying some demand for this tradition.

But we oughtn’t consume heirlooms merely because they are different or seasonal or to support our local farmers (but these are fine reasons, indeed). Our motivation ought to be more atavistic than that. Yes, heirlooms are engineered by humans, and, yes, if we go back far enough, we can trace them to a wild ancestor. If anything, heirlooms are celebrations of farmers and gardeners. They also represent the way growers adapt often foreign plants to domestic climates and soil conditions, making the most of the land, and concentrating it all in a single bite. It is no coincidence, after all, that inhabitants of the region that produces most of the world’s cabbage seed also consume so much kale. Tradition is food and food is land. The three are symbiotic.

Does it matter the hum of the hummingbird keeps it still and suspended in the air, or that the same hum keeps a Dutch wax bean hanging in the pink-purple Cascadian sun, or keeps the crabs crawling across the rocky crevices of the Salish Sea?

Unless you forgot the words, you decide.

Seattle-Style Dungeness Crab Roll

Sandwiches, Seafood

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I know, I know, I’ve been posting a lot of crab recipes. OK, only three now. But it’s for a very good reason. The harvest has been excellent this season. It might just be because it’s the beginning of it, but I’d rather not question it. Regardless, I’m finally able to make all these recipes I’ve hoped to try.

A few years ago, my brother and I took a road trip through New England. We ended up driving north to Maine, in part because of the legendary lobster rolls. We drove out to the craggy edge of the Atlantic and ate at The Lobster Shack.

The lobster roll satisfied every love of both trashy, fatty food and refined, culinary delicacies we had. It was one part goop and another part luxury, a richness in every sense of the word.

When I returned, I cooked a lobster and made some bisque. With the leftover meat, I made lobster rolls. I even began writing a post for them. Yeah, they were good. Yeah, they were trashy. Of course they were luxurious. But something was missing. Something didn’t feel right. I felt like an… imposter.

I thought long and hard about it. Every ingredient seemed right: a piece of white bread folded in half, a mound of red lobster meat, mayonnaise, paprika, salt. Probably a pickle, too. Nothing. My heart just wasn’t in it.

Then it occurred to me that lobster was the wrong crustacean. It was crab I wanted to try. Crab, after all, is home.

Crab and Arugula Pizza

Pizza, Seafood

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When I was a boy, my dad boycotted the local pizza delivery chain. I don’t remember why, but it lasted for years. Maybe he felt slighted or overcharged. Whatever it was, the boycott created some problems for us.

First, we weren’t the type of family to make their own pizza. Also, we didn’t stop eating it. No, our demand was too high. My brother and I would have colluded against him and started a mutiny. Pizza was that important. And, lastly, pizza was one of those dinners that forced us to eat together. We couldn’t take our portions and run off. All of us had to sit around the thing, usually with a rental video playing, and devour it slice by slice. It was sort of a cohesive.

The endearing thing about pizza is that many of us have some emotion attached to it, some memory that resurfaces at its baked aroma, or some colorful association to a brand or look.

See, we took pizza seriously. My dad, a Jersey boy, imported his East Coast pizza idealism, and stuck hard to it:

NO PINEAPPLE! Period. End of story. He said that fruit didn’t belong on pizza. (Maybe the pizza chain accidentally sent us a Hawaiian?)

THIN CRUST, THIN CRUST! No one should ever deign to eat pizza with a fork. Never.

ANCHOVIES! And lots of them. It’s called flavor, kids.

The only trouble was, in the suburban area we lived, thousands of miles from real pizza pies, most people wanted the exact opposite. There was one pizzeria (I’ll never forget the “NO PINEAPPLE SERVED HERE” sign and the uncompromising New York owner), but it moved far, far away.

We jumped around from one mediocre pizzeria to the other. When we were really lucky, we traveled to the city to have traditional thin crust. I don’t know whether I preferred that to the commercial, conveyor-belt-oven pizza, but I admired my dad’s enthusiasm.

I never questioned his stalwart tastes, but now I understand them more. He had his own attachments. Memories of his own boyhood, of folding slices of pizza and scarfing them down with friends and family. Pizza, a circle, is beautiful and simply communal, and the larger the pie, the greater the community that can share it.

This pizza is a moment between my girlfriend and me, it’s a memory with my family, it’s the memory of my father, and of my mother with her parents, it’s the memory of my brother, of all of our endless memories of pizza and crab.

And now here I am, about to share a recipe, thinking of these memories, coming full-circle myself. Why is food so dear? It’s always, always a little bit of discovery and recollection, isn’t it?

I wanted to write a more succinct and useful introduction. But all you get is this verbiage. If you decide to boycott me, at least this time I’ll know why.

Smoked Whitefish Schmear

Sauces & Spreads

This is a product of leftovers.

  • 1/3 cup smoked fish (sea fish such as sardines or mackerel)
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1/4 lemon, juice and zest
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh chives, minced (for dried chives, use 1 Tbsp.)

In a food processor, grind the fish until a paste. Add the cream cheese and grind until homogenous. Add the lemon juice and zest, to taste. Finally, add the chives at the end. Waiting to add the chives will prevent the schmear from turning green. Slather on your favorite bagel. This will keep for a couple weeks in the fridge.

Cherimoya Almond Cake (Tarta de Chirimoya)

Desserts, Fruit

Cherimoyas–at least up here in the Pacific Northwest–are beginning to leave the shelves. For the last few years, since I discovered it, this tropical fruit has been part of my warm transition into the spring. Most people have never heard of them, not in my encounters. And those who have face difficulty in figuring out how to use them.

The flavor of cherimoya reminds me of mango, banana, apple and pears all at once. In other words, the cherimoya isn’t simply sweet. It is a symphony of different flavors: sugar with a hint of piquancy, a creamy and mellow tartness and an almost winey clarity. Thus, this dense and moist cake has a flavor profile way beyond its simpler cousin, the Galician cake, Tarta de Santiago.