Archive for the ‘Posts Containing Recipes’ category

Thar She Blows

July 6, 2014

DSC_8607We’ve had a beautiful 4th of July weekend, our first without Shel. We kind of alternated between saying things like “Oh, Shel would have loved to see our new kayaks and see how Eric modified the boathouse to give them a snug home that I can get them in and out of” and “You know, if Shel were here, we’d never be eating lunch outside in the rain under the patio umbrella like the demented Northwesterners we are.”

DSC_8557-001The weekend started off with this procession of feathered friends, the baby goslings now almost indistinguishable from their parents, even though they’re just a few months old.

DSC_8589Then, early in the morning of the 4th, before Eric and Jessica and Jordan arrived, I thought I heard cries for help from out on the water. I went and looked, and saw a sailboat with several adults aboard, not going anywhere but not sinking, so I went back to my holiday baking. But then I heard it again, distinct cries of “Help! Help!” I went out with the binoculars and realized that the sailboat didn’t have any wind, and they also seemed unsure about how to set the sails, and their motor must have crapped out. Several motor boats passed them by, perhaps not hearing their calls, and then another sailboat, under motor, stopped to help them, and ended up towing them out of sight. First time I’ve seen something like that happen, and it really made me think about what I would have needed to do, besides call the Coast Guard, if they’d been in real trouble and no one else were around.

DSC_8598Once they were safely under tow I went back to my baking, and that baking resulted in this, an Internet baking meme if ever there was one. Possibly you yourself baked this patriotic cake too, whose recipe is here . I halved the recipe so that I could make it in a 9×13″ pan, since the recipe as written makes an enormous cake. Also I added a little almond extract to the batter, and the cake was pronounced to be delicious by those that devoured it.

But the most amazing thing that happened on the 4th occurred when I was too far from my camera to show it to you – the passage of two small gray whales right in front of the house. Jordan and I were on the beach watching Eric and Jessica give the new kayaks their maiden voyage, when WHOOSH, the spouts of two passing whales blew right in front of us. We were totally spellbound, and followed them down the beach for a while, until they swam out of sight. I’d heard that very occasionally whales come through here, but had never seen a single one. I’m so sorry that Shel didn’t get to see this – he would have been beside himself with joy, just as we were.

DSC_8631And then today, right after everyone had left, I was once again realizing that I live in the midst of incredible beauty, but I live alone with it. And I have to say that alone is probably my least favorite word in the English language right now. But suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of a marching band, right outside my door. Astounded, I ran to look, and there, on the deck of a passing ferry, was in fact a band, playing a New Orleans kind of tune for what I assume were delighted passengers.

Thirteen weeks now since Shel died, the longest three months of my life. Time bends in the most peculiar way all around me, sometimes it seems that he was here with me just a minute ago, sometimes like he’s been gone for years. But right here and now there were whales, and a brass band, blowing me back into the present, which was a very great and much needed gift.


Slow Walnut Wine

June 27, 2014

DSC_8552There’s a verb in French, patienter, that we don’t really have in English. It means to wait patiently, and you’re asked to do it often, like when you’re on hold on the phone with the notorious French bureaucracy, for example. The ATM will even tell you veuillez patienter, please wait patiently, as you’re waiting for your Euros to be dispensed. The French know how to wait.

And if you want to make this beautiful French walnut wine, called vin de noix, you’ll need to be patient too – actually, in this case what you need to do it hurry up and wait. Because you have to go pick the walnuts right now, meaning, in the next few days. The walnuts must be soft, easily pierced through with a needle, and in France the optimum day to do this is the day of St. Jean, which is June 24th. So I was already a couple of days late when I picked these this morning, but hey, the climate’s cooler here, and the walnuts are probably a little behind their French cousins. So, if you have access to a walnut tree, rush out now and gather 15 of  the small green nuts.

Making the wine is child’s play, and takes a matter of minutes. It’s waiting for the wine to be ready to drink that takes patience. First you let all the ingredients rest quietly together for about 40 days. Not so hard, right? But then you filter the wine and let it rest for another….year. And if you can wait two years, it will be that much better. So run right out and get the nuts, and then, veuillez patienter. It’s a lesson in French culture, both the waiting for and the drinking of, vin de noix, that’s completely typical and utterly charming. And yes, this recipe makes quite a lot, but you won’t be sorry you have it, and neither will all the friends you’ll delight with your bottled patience.

Abra’s Vin de Noix

15 green walnuts
3 large walnut leaves
5 bottles red wine (nothing expensive, but something good to drink)
1 bottle inexpensive brandy
3 star anise
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 pound of sugar

Cut the walnuts in half, or in quarters if they’re large. If they’re hard to cut, they’re already too old and the wine will be very bitter. Place the walnuts in a very large jar, or divide them among 3 half-gallon canning jars. Add the rest of the ingredients to the jar(s), cover, and place in a cool corner of your kitchen. Now wait for 40 days and 40 nights. The wine will darken in color, and if you want it even darker you can put it outside for a few hours on a sunny day or two and let it get a little sun. When the 40 days have passed, filter out all the solids and place the wine back into the jars, or into wine bottles if you like.

I know that you are going to want to taste it at this point, and if you do, it will be horrible. Horrible, I say. Undrinkable. Don’t despair, don’t throw it out, veuillez patienter. Set it aside in a cool, dark place and forget all about it for a year or two. When you taste it after that long wait, you’ll be overcome by deliciousness. This is a wine to drink with a simple, unfrosted cake, or to drink all by itself instead of dessert. I promise you that your patience will be richly rewarded.



Glamping it Up

June 16, 2014

IMG_8368Nope, this little baby tent is not glamping. This is hard core, crawl in, crawl out, miserable camping, for which I am decidedly too old. Nonetheless, this is what I’d inadvertently signed up for when I agreed to go camping so that I wouldn’t be home alone for Shel’s and my 19th wedding anniversary.

Before I left home to head out to Cape Disappointment, I walked around the house, saying goodbye to Shel for the umpteenth time. This felt different. For two months I’d stuck close to our life here, keeping the home fires burning. Now I was venturing out to a place he’d never been. And camping: no way he’d ever have done that. It felt like a big milestone, and I was determined to be brave.

So when I found myself on my hands and knees on an air mattress, trying to crawl out of my tent in the middle of the night to pee, I admonished myself: bravery at all cost. When I woke up several hours before Eric and Jessica and Jessica’s family, and had to sit in the drizzle reading and shivering, because we hadn’t discussed how to make coffee in the morning, and because I couldn’t sit upright in the tent anyway, I swore that I’d be a good sport about it all. But within hours, I’d abandoned the idea of tenting for ever more, and persuaded them to move campsites so that I could ensconce myself happily


in a park yurt. Oh so civilized, with actual beds! A table, a heater, and even an electric light!

IMG_8517Now that’s my definition of glamping, and I’m totally hooked. A good night’s sleep, a lesson in using the propane stove early in the morning, and damn the raccoons, full speed ahead. From then on out I had a glorious time.

IMG_8372Being right on the coast, we had to grill oysters two nights in a row, the essence of succulent freshness.

IMG_8369We also grilled salmon (just layer butter, sweet onion, sprigs of fresh rosemary and sage, slices of lemon, salmon, and repeat),

IMG_8383and asparagus, just about the last of the season and oh so delicious cooked over a wood fire. There was also Crack Pie (which you should definitely make, from this recipe), and Hummingbird Cake, and chili, and fajitas, and then, the infamous Cooler Cleaning dinners. I absolutely 100% love cooking outdoors, there’s nothing better, no matter how humble the dish.

IMG_8402When we weren’t cooking, eating, and drinking far too much, we were down on the beach, which had an amazing heap of driftwood,

IMG_8409affording Eric the opportunity to square off with his future father-in-law Don

IMG_8411and Jessica to demonstrate her independence.

IMG_8412The sand showed me how easy it is to be entirely swallowed up, and I thought about Shel a lot, so gone now, not yet returning to the earth, his ashes in the closet with Toby curled up sleeping right beside them.

IMG_8419We spent a gorgeous afternoon at Hug Point, where despite the warnings about sneaker waves and rip currents

IMG_8418and Japanese tsunami debris

IMG_8460we were able to enjoy a fabulously beautiful beach,

IMG_8434that boasts a road blasted out of the rock in the 1930s for wagon traffic to round the point and travel up and down the coast, albeit only at low tide.

IMG_8443We saw all the usual, magical, beachy stuff like anemones,

IMG_8445bright seaweeds,

IMG_8453mysterious patterns drawn on the sand by the ebbing tide,

IMG_8465a gull eating a starfish bigger than its own head,

IMG_8471a handful of some kind of peculiar eggs that Jessica collected,

IMG_8475and the crazy artwork made by scurrying sand fleas.

IMG_8481We also admired beautiful rock formations,

IMG_8484including a jetty that took 30 years to build, and that narrowed the mouth of the Columbia River by several miles, in an attempt to reduce the number of shipwrecks that occurred there regularly.

IMG_8490The mouth of the river is four miles wide now, and is crossed via the prodigious bridge that joins Washington to Oregon. We spent our anniversary doing things that Shel would have enjoyed, going to the Maritime Museum in Astoria and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment, and I think that we all felt that he was with us.

IMG_8480But I have to confess that the feeling isn’t enough. I want to be able to get in my time travel machine and journey back to the days when Shel was healthy and happy, and bring him back home with me into these times, where we grope for his memory. Sometimes it’s just unthinkable that he’s not here.

But I know that if he were here I wouldn’t have gone camping, not even glamping, and that really was fun, sadness and all. And so I perceive that slowly I’m starting a new life, all the while wanting my old life back again. I might have to kick Jessica off that see-saw.

Fini, Le Foie Gras

January 6, 2014

DSC_8014Sadly, amazingly, we’ve just about come to the finale of our year-end foie gras and duck orgy. After making my terrine de foie gras, I found myself with a small bowl of vividly yellow foie gras fat that had spilled over the terrine pan, which I stuck in the fridge for “later.” Well, later finally came, and boy did I ever put it to good use.

Above you see a little poêlée de légumes, a simple pan sauté of vegetables that was made transcendent by the addition of foie gras fat. I sliced a couple of small turnips and browned them in the fat, sprinkled with some porcini salt. Blanched and shocked some green beans, tossed in some slivered red cabbage, and let it all dance together in the skillet for a few minutes. It was a fridge-cleaning dish, to be sure, but the foie gras fat made it unearthly delicious.

And then I made a foie gras sauce for the roasted chicken I served with it. Using a variation on the recipe I posted here. I sauteed a finely diced shallot in foie gras fat until it was translucent. I added a big glug, let’s say about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of dry sherry, and simmered it until it was reduced to a few tablespoons. Then I added an equal-sized glug of heavy cream and simmered that until it was reduced and thickened. And finally, I crumbled the last few ounces of my foie gras terrine into the sauce and let it melt. The roast chicken, on a bed of the vegetables, blanketed in the silky foie gras sauce, rendered us speechless. The moral to this tale: the next time you have some fresh foie gras, be sure to save any rendered fat – it proves the maxim that having a high class of leftovers makes for the best thrown-together meals you could ever hope to taste.

I’m still dreaming of that duck paté, though, and looking for the slightest excuse to make it again. Perhaps you’re coming to dinner sometime soon?

Best Dish Of 2013

January 1, 2014


After a full and joyous year of cooking, it’s the very end of this past year that stands out, and one of the very last dishes I made in 2013 that will remain in my memory as the best thing I cooked all year. It’s a long story, and it begins here, with our friends at Pleasant View Farm.


Rose and John’s Pleasant View Farm produces foie gras and duck of exceptional quality, and I was lucky enough to get two of their Moulard ducks and one foie gras this year for our holiday festivities. I spent days happily cooking them, and turned out an amazing number of delectable dishes.

DSC_7927The ducks arrived looking like this, since the carcass must be cut open to remove the foie gras. This was my first experience butchering a duck, which, after watching about a dozen YouTube videos on the subject, turned out to be a lot easier than I had expected,

DSC_7922even if I wasn’t able to remove the breasts as cleanly as a pro would have done. The breasts were enormous and beautiful – that’s a full-sized dinner fork next to them for scale. We ate two of them pan-roasted and sliced, for traditional deliciousness, and I set aside the other two for what was to become my most favorite duck dish. I also separated the legs and wings and put them with the necks

DSC_7916for making confit.

DSC_7933After three days of dry brining I covered the duck parts with

DSC_7936the fat I rendered from the ducks. Because these ducks were raised for foie gras production, they were really fat; each of mine weighed about eight pounds, and that’s without their livers, which weighed over a pound apiece. I ended up with about 2 quarts of the most pristine duck fat, and also a giant heap of cracklings from the skin. If you have cracklings, called gratons in French, and some good confit, you can’t do better than to make Paula Wolfert’s awesome Salad of Duck Confit with Red Cabbage, Chestnuts, and Watercress, which I served for Christmas dinner. I shredded the confit into the salad, instead of presenting the legs whole, but otherwise I follow the recipe exactly and so should you, as it’s probably the best salad you’ll ever eat.

I also picked the meat off the confited necks and wings and made duck rillettes, which aren’t pretty enough to merit a picture, but were a favorite around here during the holidays. I like to add a little quatre épices, or French four spice, to the rillettes for a hauntingly sweet spiciness.

DSC_7928The duck carcasses went into the roaster before being made into stock. Two ducks made about a gallon of light stock, which I then reduced to about a cup and a half. Once chilled, this became an intense duck jello.

DSC_7964What on earth can you do with duck jello? Well, you can serve it as a garnish to this absolutely stellar duck paté. I was happy to have island-grown pork and pork fat to use in the paté, as well as some really great bacon, so everything that went into it was of an excellent quality. I used this recipe, with one small change, since I discovered at the last minute that I didn’t have any green peppercorns, but what I did have was the last of my annual batch of preserved Meyer lemons. Finely diced preserved lemon made a great substitute for the peppercorns, and went so well with the Grand Marnier-marinated duck breast that I think I’ll always make it like this. And I’ll definitely always make this, because it’s stunningly delicious, and takes a satisfyingly long time and enough finicky prep to be really fun to make. Plus, it makes a huge amount, and ours fed us and our guests from Christmas day through New Year’s Eve.

DSC_7974Also, Toby, who is strictly not allowed on the dining table, conceived a mad passion for the paté, and every time I had it out of the fridge there he was, begging piteously, then eating with unmistakable devotion whatever little pieces I shared with him. But don’t make this just for your cats, make it for a party where you want to show off, and where your guests love good food. This tastes exactly like a paté from a great charcuterie in France, and even though we ate a lot of good food in France this year, this paté, fait maison, by my own two hands, is the best thing I put in my mouth in 2013. Try it, you’ll love it.

And you know it must be good when it takes top billing even over the terrine of foie gras, which I made in the classic French style, just sprinkled with Cognac, salt, and pepper. It was melt-in-your-mouth fabulous, as foie gras should be, and then some. Still, it’s the paté that will stay on my mind, and that’s saying a lot.

Euro Cookie Time

December 20, 2013


I got a lot of feedback that my Tree Metaphors made people cry, and I certainly would rather make people happy, especially at this time of year. So here’s a little ditty that’s bound to make you smile: Glazed Chocolate Spice Balls.

I was given this recipe about 20 years ago , and I’d swear that the friend who passed it on said it was Italian. However, it definitely looks and tastes more German than Italian, kind of like a chocolate pfeffernüsse, so I’m really not sure of its origins. In any case, it’s a very Euro cookie, dense, not too sweet, spicy, full of nuts and raisins. The fragrance of the dough, as you’re hand-rolling it into little balls, will take you back to Christmas past, to the days of sugar and spice, when everything was nice.

Glazed Chocolate Spice Balls

For the cookies:
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup raisins
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk, or a little more, as needed

For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 T milk
1 T brandy
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Work in the butter with a pastry blender, then stir in the nuts and raisins. Pour in the milk and vanilla and work into a stiff dough, adding a little extra milk if needed to make it all come together.

Form the dough into walnut-sized balls and bake on parchment-lined baking sheets until done in the center, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely.

Make the glaze by combining the cocoa and sugar, then stirring in the remaining ingredients to make a thick glaze. Dip the top half of each cookie into the glaze, place cookie on a rack, and decorate with sprinkles. If the glaze becomes too stiff as you work you can warm it for a few seconds in the microwave to soften it.

Let cookies dry for several hours, until the glaze hardens, before bagging or boxing them up to share with friends. To really get in the Euro spirit you can serve these with vin chaud (my recipe is here) or mulled wine, glögg, or glühwein.

Turkey Trot

November 26, 2013

DSC_7734Cruising at a trot all day today, heading into a gallop tomorrow. What I can suggest: if you’re making Jean-George Vongerichten’s Squash on Toast, be careful about what kind of squash you get. I chose the banana squash for its outer beauty, but it turns out that an oranger, drier squash would have been better. Try a kabocha, for example. This makes a sweet and sour squash and onion mixture whose flavor is alluring, but mine looks pretty terrible. I’ll be using the mint garnish heavily.

DSC_7739However, after all the peeling and seeding, my compost bin does look terrific.

DSC_7743We’ve had Thanksgiving in France for so many years recently that I can’t do it without the sweet and delicate flavor of olive oil from Moulin Paradis, imported in my suitcase for this very cook-fest. I used it, among other things, to make the wildly popular Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad, which has the advantage, reportedly, of tasting better after a day or two in the fridge. It tastes pretty darn delicious right now, so if it continues to get better it will be dynamite.


I used this fabulous Cougar Gold aged cheddar in my Low Carb Cauliflower Stuffing, which is basically this recipe, although I omit the sausage to make it vegetarian, use fresh herbs and amp them up, and add a couple of teaspoons of poultry seasoning.


And I made Rosemary Roasted Nuts, which is basically this recipe, although I use half again as much butter, and a couple of spoonfuls of piment d’Espelette instead of the cayenne. This recipe is a real low carb doozy, because it’s one of the few herb-roasted nut recipes that doesn’t contain any sort of sweeteners. It’s addictive.

And there you have it, another day in the kitchen. Hurray for one more tomorrow.