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a bird in the hand…and hope

I had the feeling I was running behind in life…Do you ever? As if life were meant to progress by a schedule – like an efficiently-run German passenger train (which of course, we all know, it is not) and here I was, about to miss it.

Wasn’t it Lewis Carroll who said, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get?” Was it the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland? Or was it me? Certainly it was me.

The other day I was feeling as though, no matter how long I might live, I could never catch up.

{ O woe is me, my name is Pity! }

hmmm…

It might have made some sense had I asked, “But dear, exactly what is it you’re trying to catch up with or to?”  But of course, when you’re in “that mood” (meaning the complete absence of all good sense) you don’t ask such questions.

Sometimes though, in a life of grace (which is the life we all live, whether we know it or not) something happens. Something flies through the window to break the spell – the hex – we’re under, and set us right again.

The other day, I found myself in such a state of mind. And then…

Through the open doors of summer, a chartreuse vireo flew into our house. She was fluttering against the windows, seeing beyond them to the sky and trees, and trying desperately to find her way out again. Slowly I took my hand to her. To my surprise, she allowed me to lift her, fully enveloping her trembling tiny body between my two hands. She weighed little more than air. I walked with her back outside, then lifted my top hand. There she was, eyes wide. I expected her to fly. Straight away. But she didn’t.  Instead, she stayed.

She stayed and stayed as I walked with her, carrying her from place to place, in search of that spot where she might feel free again to fly.  Instead though, her tiny gray feet clutched tight to me as I spoke softly to her that it was safe to leave now. She closed her eyes and took long rests…opened her eyes and looked around…and then closed them again. Here she rested. And rested.

And so did I.

’twas perfect peace to me.

 My husband and I watched, relieved as finally she flew, un-hurt.

And in that, All things were made right again.

~ ~ ~

There is a fellow-blogger I’ve grown especially fond of – Shira – her blog In Pursuit of More …Living with {just a little} Less will be so worth your time to check out, if you haven’t yet met her. She has a generous and gracious heart. She puts wonderful, healthful food on the table, and gives us words of wisdom to grow on.

Before leaving for a family trip to France recently, she was asked to say a few things about


H O P E .

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cedar plank salmon with spearmint sauce

Have you wondered if all we ever eat around here is salad and vegetables and the occasional dessert? no, no, not so! During salmon season (I’m almost embarrassed to say) it’s on our table maybe as much as once a week. Our local newspaper’s food section had a wonderful-sounding salmon recipe last week that I was itching to try. We had a pot brimming with spearmint begging to be crushed and its aromas set free. It was fated.

This dish was so beautiful, so incredibly aromatic that (and now I truly am embarrassed) I was far too impatient to take photos of it. There was going to be no stage-setting. No turning it this way and that and getting the light just so. There was going to be no waiting. I mean none! So here you have it folks. Just as it came off the grill and its fragrant sauce was ladled on. Just before we gobbled it all up, smacking our lips and planning when we’d eat it again next…

This dish was, to my mind, absolutely perfect as it was. No changes were made to the original recipe, other than to halve it since we weren’t feeding a crowd. Therefore, we owe a debt of thanks to chef David Padberg of Portland’s Park Kitchen for the recipe. I’d hug him if he’d have it!

Salmon fillets steeped in the aromas of  cedar smoke and steam, then ladled with a variation on salsa verde, made with fresh spearmint leaves. An incredibly delicious flavor combination.

(I hope you won’t be off-put by the addition of chopped anchovies to the sauce. Those and the capers add the perfect bit of salt & fish to complement the salmon…and their flavors were not at all over-bearing.  The garlic and hot chili seeds added the perfect hint of heat. The lemon zest – oh you know! Let’s get on with it…

(I’ve halved the recipe for you below as most won’t be feeding 10 to 12. The above-pictured salmon fillet was 1 pound and we had sauce left over. It fed 2 generously  –  Guinea Pig loves his salmon – with enough left over for lunch the next day.)

Cedar Plank Salmon with Spearmint Sauce

(5 to 6 servings)

Sauce:

  • 3 anchovies, finely chopped (if using salted anchovies, rinse them thoroughly first)
  • ½ cup tightly packed fresh spearmint, finely minced
  • ½ cup tightly packed fresh parsley, finely minced
  • 2 Tablespoons capers, finely minced
  • ¼ cup finely minced shallots
  • Grated zest of about 1½ lemons
  • 2 smallish cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin  olive oil
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste

the Salmon:

  • 1 untreated cedar plank
  • 2 pound whole salmon fillet
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ teaspoons firmly packed brown sugar

To make the sauce: In a medium bowl, mix together the anchovies, herbs, capers, shallots, lemon zest, garlic red pepper flakes and olive oil. Chef Padberg says to then add lemon juice to taste and allow sauce to sit for at least 1 hour for flavors to meld before serving. I let the sauce sit for quite some time before adding the juice. I waited to add the lemon juice until the salmon went on the grill as I didn’t want the vibrant green to change. Makes nearly 1 cup of sauce. 

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we interrupt…

We interrupt our normal interruptions to bring you a new kitchen. (Normal interruptions, which will include food, will resume tomorrow.)

Long dreamed-of, our kitchen is here.

Pots are bubbling, freezer’s making ice, spices sprinkling, soapstone’s silky, cookies in the oven, mama’s smiling big.

a welcome-back-to-the-kitchen gift from spree’s Grateful Guinea Pig

So many of you good people have offered encouragement these past few months while we went through a fairly major renovation at our house. Some of you spoke from multiple experiences of your own. Your kind words have meant so much to me!  I’ve held and replayed them in my mind on the most discouraging of days (and there were a few of those.) Many of you have asked for a peek into the newly remodeled kitchen – how could I possibly say no when you’ve brightened so many of my days?

We were able to save our cabinets and simply have them re-finished. We attached new pulls on drawers and cupboards.

We replaced our gas cooktop (who does that?!) with induction. It’s hiding over there under the rooster. Love it! Induction is wow, amazing, and since it’s fairly new technology and not all that widely-known, I plan to tell you a bit about it in another post. (I’ll feed you too.)

We replaced sinks and faucets. 

The button on the counter above? It replaces another that had been situated on the cabinet to the side. It was one that everyone’s hip accidentally bumped to start the garbage disposal.

sil-granite sinks – made of granite dust & silicone they’re durable, virtually heat & scratch-proof, quick-drying & easy easy care

 

We replaced a 23-year-old fridge with one spacious and light, so that fruits and vegetables no longer go there to die.

Have I already mentioned to you that we replaced our old countertops with soapstone? I want to warn anyone out there considering them – they will scratch. (Well, more precisely I mean, you can scratch them – even as careful as you are.) BUT, much to their credit, they are smooth and silky as baby skin (for those of you tactile like me –  you’ll spend a ridiculous amount of time petting them at first .) And because of their satiny finish, light doesn’t glare off them. They’re very very easy on the eyes! And have I mentioned they’re fun to pet?

So what haven’t I shown you or told you about? I think that about covers it. Except something you would have guessed anyway – it is such a joy to be back in the kitchen. A lot of interruptions still, and dust, because our bathrooms are more than a week away from being complete. But this is the heart of the home…the place where we prepare the food that becomes love put on the table…

savoy cabbage on soapstone…look for an Indian-inspired recipe next week, and salmon on a cedar plank tomorrow.

Thanks for sharing in the journey with me and for your thoughtfulness & patience along the dusty way. And Brydie! (City Hippy Farm Girl)  Thank you for the kangaroo cookie cutter from down under! Look to see Joey’s jumping off the platter here one day soon!

love, spree

a crisp of stone fruits

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peaches, nectarines,

apricots, cherries, plums

sublime in their ecstasy dancing,

sweating sweet sunny juices of summer

. .

What is it about stone fruits that makes them so amiable and easy-going? Such contented things. Never any squabbling. Never an ego out of control. No matter which of them is in the bunch, it’s in all ways pure sweet harmony.

I’ve made this crisp  in many combinations and it always tastes … well, sort of perfect. This time it was with a crowd of them all – some just slightly under-ripe, holding their shape while adding a bit of tartness, other dripping their ripe sweet juices over the cutting board onto the counter. The addition of bing cherries (though no more than a good fragrant handful) colored the entire dish with the blush of magenta. Here is a dessert, baked but simple, without secrets or special formulas, and full of summer’s freshness and freedoms.

Crisp Topping

  • 3 T. unsalted butter, broken into several pieces  (see NOTE)
  • 3 T. walnut oil
  • ½ to ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

NOTE: instead of using a combination of butter and walnut oil, you could simply use 6 T. butter. Or all walnut oil.  Or 3 T. butter & 3 T. coconut oil. Such freedom.

Either using your fingers and kneading together the ingredients or using the paddle attachment of your mixer, work the ingredients together until you have a mixture resembling coarse crumbs. Set aside.

The following recipe will fill a 2½-quart gratin dish. On this occasion, I separated the recipe into 3 separate baking dishes, baking them all together, but only serving one. The others will be gently reheated for serving later – perhaps even for some special breakfast, served alongside cold Greek yogurt drizzled in honey.

A Crisp of Assorted Stone Fruits

  • 3 pounds (about 1.5 kg) assorted stone fruits
  • ¼ cup sugar (nice with vanilla bean scented sugar if you have it)
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

When selecting fruits, a combination of ripe and slightly under-ripe fruits work to produce the most balanced flavors.

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

Wash fruit, remove stones and pits. Cut cherries in halves, all other fruits in approximately ½-inch slices. Mix the sugar with all the spices and then sprinkle over the fruit. Toss together and tumble into buttered baking dish (or dishes) of your choice. ( See below for baking times.)

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wrapping up

Furniture and cabinets are shrouded in plastic, floors draped in folds of color-splattered canvas. Things a bit messy here, friends. Final painting has begun!

Only a few days remaining in this project of ours and then I’ll resume a more normal posting schedule here. I’ve appreciated so much your understanding and continued support even though I’d go missing for days and days on end. I’ll try to get a simple summer dessert out later today, but know better than to promise.

Again, I ‘m very grateful that you take time to visit me here, amidst the mess and real-lifeness. I SO appreciate your company!

May  your day be light and breezy! See you soon!

♥Spree

green beans in summer

Keeping it simple, keeping it cool.

Fresh, crisp green beans, lightly and barely cooked then chilled. Drizzled with walnut oil. Scattered with toasted walnuts and fresh thyme leaves. Sprinkled with crunchy salt & crumbles of blue cheese. Served with anything off the grill or as one of a trio of summer salads. Simple and cool, like lemonade and a run through the sprinkler, just what we need, just as we need it.

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.

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A few secrets to beautifully cooked green beans: 

Lots and lots of water…a big pot full of roiling, boiling water.

Lots of salt…way more than you think you’d need.

quick cooking.

And, unless you’re serving immediately, a good ice-cold bath & toweling off. (the beans, I mean … but it might be just what you need too.)

Why so much water? Because when you drop the beans in, the temperature will naturally drop and will need to return to a boil…that takes far less time the more water you have. Why so much salt? It helps lock in the color AND salted water boils at a higher temperature. (Don’t worry – very little of it will be left on the beans.) As quick a cooking as possible because the longer they’re in hot water the limper and paler they become and the more of their vitamins and minerals they’ll lose. Why the quick ice bath? If you don’t cool them immediately, they’ll continue cooking outside the pot, well beyond their perfect doneness. (Thank you Julia Childs – how to cook good green beans, one of the first things I learned from you as a young cook.)

As usual when presenting vegetables, I’ll leave quantities safely in your own able hands. Here are just a list of ingredients & a few guidelines.

Green Beans in Summer with Walnut Oil, Walnuts & Blue Cheese

Fresh, crisp brightly colored green beans

Walnut oil (so delicious! You won’t be sorry you picked some up if you haven’t already)

Walnuts

Coarse, crunchy salt (like Fleur gris or Maldon) – (See NOTE)

Blue cheese

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

~ ~ ~

NOTE on salt – if you enjoy salt, you’ll much prefer the crunchy little bits of a coarser, slower-dissolving kind in a dish like this. It adds another element & a distinctive texture to this simple dish.

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a tisket, a tasket

a tisket, a tasket,

a wee and leaky gasket…

or

how the get-away almost got away…

We still live in a construction zone. We’re into month three now of our remodel. This is the month (we believe, because we’re told) that all work will be done and our house returned to us for the remainder of the summer. This past weekend the Guinea Pig and I decided  that we’d pack up our dogs and a few clothes (from the four places they’re stored these days) and head over the mountain where we have a little vacation place. All around us are mountains there, a whole ring of them, surrounding wide meadows where horses graze. (No, they’re not our horses, but we “borrow” them to feed  our carrots and apples to and to nuzzle their noses.) On the other side of the Cascades, the sun makes an appearance at least 300 days a year (which to water-logged Portlanders like us is golden.) Aspens shimmer and quake and the sweet scent of sugar pine perfumes the air. (I am not kidding! It truly does!) We were so ready for this!

We arrive, the dogs do their happy dance to be there again. We breathe deep the air, and head inside.

Our arms filled with groceries for the long weekend, our feet step, unawares, into a pool of standing water in the kitchen.

a tisket, a tasket,

a wee and leaky gasket

Turns out that a simple little gasket that connects (I don’t know) 2 things that ought to stay connected had given way, and for two months (or longer) sprayed beneath our sink. Cabinets had swollen, counters had shifted and mold had set up house. Did we I cry? Did we he curse? No. Oddly enough. But the collective sigh was deep and long, and our spirits sank.

And then we got busy.

We called a plumber. We called our insurance company. We called a restoration contractor. We cut short our get-away and returned to the construction zone for some sorely needed R & R. Funny how quickly one’s perspectives can change.

~ ~ ~

I grew up spending a good (blessedly good!) part of my summers on my grandfather’s farm. Big Papa had a dairy, prize Brahma bull, guinea hens, chickens, shetland ponies, and a few horses. One beautiful painted pony, Billy, was mine. (I think Billy might have been my first true love.) I grew up roaming freely amidst milking barns, silos, tack rooms, hay lofts, tractors and the smells and sounds of farm animals. They are like heaven to me still.

Big Papa’s no longer with us, and we no longer have his farm to retreat to. But  farm is so much a part of the fibers I’m woven from that when I “lose” my way, all I have to do to find “home” again is go where the farms are.

Yesterday I grabbed my camera for a day’s outing outside Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge…wind-surfing capital of North America. That’s not why I go. Climb just outside town though, towards Mount Hood, along the cold and rushing Hood River,  and you’ll encounter countryside that looks like Alpine foothills, dotted with farms, old barns and fruit orchards. Apples, pears, cherries. And stacks of boxes where bees make honey.

When I head out on car trips like these, I’m seldom sure exactly where I’m going. But something certain pulls me along. When I climb out of the car, I’m breathing differently. My camera presses against my cheek and soon I’ve lost all sense of time. The clutter of thought evaporates. I’m like that girl again. Only this time, with a camera. (And without the skinned-up knees.)

Yesterday I met a lovely woman who grew up on this farm, Draper’s, with its cherry orchards and goats and profuse, overflowing flower beds. It’s her farm now, where she raised her three girls, and she invited me to share it. How did she know how badly I needed that? 

She knew. 🙂

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wednesday vegetables thursday

It was bound to happen.

Set an intention, make an appointment, pledge a promise, cross your heart.

But perhaps you’ve noticed –

life isn’t always a respecter of such things…and really, why should it be?

Life is bigger (& thankfully, more mysterious) than that.

But had I been able to keep my appointment with you to bring vegetables on Wednesday,

this is what I would have brought.

You would have really liked it I think…

Spinach with Chickpeas

serves 6

(more delicious by far than the photo can say)

2 pounds fresh spinach

Chickpeas (one 14 oz. can)

4 – 6 cloves garlic, chopped

1½ teaspoon ground coriander

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Pepper

Optional: Juice of 1 lemon

Optional, but wildly delicious: chopped preserved lemon

 Wash the spinach, removing only the thick long stems if there are any. Drain excess moisture from the leaves.

In the largest wok or sauté pan you have, add the olive oil.  Turn heat to medium. When oil begins to shimmer warm, drop in the chopped garlic and ground coriander. Stir until the aromas rise. Without adding any additional water, pack in the spinach leaves, place a lid on the pan and reduce temperature to low. Read more

the art of surrender

It’s not as I expected…but just as I expected.

I expected hordes of people passing through our house. I knew the messes were inevitable. I knew that clouds of dust would find their way into small hidden spaces and loud noises would ring throughout the day. I knew that keeping our dogs smiling would require extra love. I knew too that without a kitchen, life would be interesting. I was ready for all that, and even my husband would attest that I’ve been quite the good sport through all most of it. But I imagined  that I could cook and I could then post what we ate for dinner. How hard could that be?

Hmmm.

As you’ve noticed, I’ve gone silent.

It’s not from lack of intention or interest. Life – moving throughout the day – just takes far more of me during this remodel than I ever imagined. It’s been good, but it’s been complicated. It’s been fun, but it’s been challenging. It’s been exhilarating and occasionally it’s been exhausting.

I used to read in the mornings, but reading has stopped. I exercised often. That was then. I corresponded with friends and family. Now it’s howdy waves in passing or texts with lots of code talk. Leaving all rhythms behind can be frustrating, and all the more so the tighter we hold.

I knew that no matter what I expected, I would be surprised. Expecting to be surprised makes surrendering to the inevitable far easier though, don’t you think?

We’re about half way through…or so we imagine. But of course we don’t know. We humans think we know a great deal and frequently we’re mistaken about that. There will be more surprises for us. (And for you.) May we find our way to be graceful through them.

Our kitchen is nearly done. Dribs and drabs remain. But we have water now, and heat to cook with. Our food is now within reach, and pots are bubbling on the stove. Spree is stirring. And though it’s Wednesday, and you might have expected vegetables (because I did lead you to that belief didn’t I?) ~ here is the smallest of offerings.

~ ~ ~

Halibut Fillets & Ribbons of Vegetables

in little paper packages

~ ~ ~

(And already another surprise…I just this very moment, we’re talking real time here, went to locate the images I’d shot of this sweet little dinner. It appears that I’ve erased them from my card …before uploading them to my computer. So – I’ll be back to fill in the images as it looks like our house may be enjoying this dish again on Saturday. 🙂 What are you gonna do? So in the meantime, would you be so kind as to imagine a light and very tender piece of halibut nestled in a parchment package, overlaid with colorful ribbons of zucchini & carrot & fennel & red pepper & peas, all brightened by wheels of lemon, bits of ginger & sprigs of cilantro? You’re a dear!)

Days later – OK friends – even though you’ve gone to all the trouble to conjure  this dish, we’ve enjoyed the dinner again and I’ve now got the photos for you. 

You might like this with a loaf of crusty bread, wrapped in aluminum foil and put in the same oven for about 10 minutes. Or maybe boiled or roasted new potatoes, or maybe basmati rice (or that delicious Forbidden Rice, as we did.) 

 Halibut & Ribbons of Vegetables in Papillote

for 4 servings

  • 1 zucchini, sliced into ribbons or shoestrings
  • 1 carrot, again, as with your zucchini
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 handful fresh snow peas or sugar peas in their pods, thinly sliced
  • 1 small fennel bulb (tough outer layer removed) sliced thinly
  • fresh ginger root – the thickness of your thumb x 1-inch, cut into very thin matchsticks
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt & freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • 2 Meyer lemons, 1 grated & juiced, the other cut into thin wheels
  • 4 halibut fillets, about 6 to 8 ounces each (170 – 225 g) (or another mild fish of your choice)
  • Olive oil for drizzling

Preheat the oven (or toaster oven if you’re camping out indoors or feeding only 2) to 420°F (215°C).  Cut parchment paper into 14 to 16-inch square pieces.

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excuses, excuses…

Dear friends, man oh man, vhat a veek! And now, Wegetable Vednesday called on account of veather! I didn’t have what it took to brave the vindy vet, and now the plumber says too, sorry ma’am, no vater neither! 

A lifetime of experience says, now may be the time to take a wee vacation! So I leave you now,  but see you Friday!  And soon will come wegetables of course, but sveets too, because we deserve them!

’til then,

love, Spree