Monday, June 23, 2014

Three weeks? Really?

Has it really been that long since I last  posted?  Crazy.  I know we've eaten since then and am almost certain I've photographed food on a number of occasions since early June.  What's my excuse?  I've returned to the world of work.  Yup, caving to the eternal, unending, ceaseless (I may be overstating just a bit...) pressure of my handsome husband to actually bring in money as opposed to just spending it, I took the HR position offered at Target back in April.

I'm only working four hours a day (but that's 20 hours a week!  How ever will I handle it?) but I'm using the 10 a.m. start time as impetus to haul my sorry self to the gym every morning.  Reality?  I've not been EVERY day, but most.

I digress.  My focus here is to be food and I'm talking about non-food items.  On a food note, however, I heard yet another query, posed with absolute unbelief in the speakers' voice, regarding our food choices.  "Don't you ever want to have something besides a plate full of vegetables?"  I had to respond that, actually, we eat so much more than just "a plate full of vegetables."  I began describing the variety of grains and greens we eat when I noticed my listener's eyes glaze over...and gave up.

But back to food...I had yet another meltdown Saturday.  I say 'yet another' because I've experienced more than two moments fraught with high emotion since I arrived days before the tornado.  Meltdown aside, I used my emotional state and excess energy to create the best potato salad I've had in 20 years.  Seriously.

My former father in-law hailed from nearby Benton, AR.  His potato salad was stuffed with bacon - real bacon - and bacon grease.  Oh goodness but it was delicious, creamy, rich and crunchy with the unmistakable flavor of bacon (and bacon grease.)  Since then I've tried several times to recreate it with limited success.  Well, actually, no success.  Oh, I've had my Truffled Potato Salad victories and Mama's Potato Salad successes but nothing close to Bob Clark's.  The best.

This, however, came close.  In fact, Art says it's the best he's ever had.  Ever.  That's a big word coming from him.  Caribbean Sweet Potato Salad begins with, well, obviously, sweet potatoes but combines Russet potatoes AND fat-free sour cream.  I feel almost virtuous crafting potato salad that's flavorful with something as relatively healthy as a sweet potato.

Sun Setting over Lake Ouachita
Moments before, (or after, I forget) my meltdown, we were invited to join our friends Mark and Maria for the afternoon on Lake Ouachita (Wah-chi-tah).  The lake was wonderful and the afternoon was splendid.  While it was humid, once the boat picked up speed it was perfect.  As the afternoon wound down, we shared lunch/dinner.

And, as we're not vegetarian nazis, we served Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato and Avocado sandwiches with the Caribbean Sweet Potato Salad this entire post was to be about...
Non-Vegetarian-Nazi BLTA's and BEST Caribbean Potato Salad





The sandwich ingredients were prepped before we left (with fresh-from-the-farmers-market-tomatoes -- YUM).  Sammies were assembled at the lake and served alongside the salad.  As the sun set, we marveled at the beauty that is Arkansas and discussed the menu plan for July 4th at Lake Something-or-Other.    Maybe Arkansas isn't quite as bad as it appears at times...



Best Caribbean Sweet Potato Salad
6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatos, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

  • 1/4 cup light mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup light sour cream

  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon curry powder, or to taste

  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions

  • 1/2 cup chopped celery

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
1.     Place potatoes in two separate saucepans and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn heat to medium-low. Cover, and cook until tender but still firm, 12 to 14 minutes for sweet potatoes, and 10 to 12 minutes for white potatoes. Drain and place in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with vinegar, and cool.
2.     To make the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, and curry powder in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3.     Mix the green onions, celery, and cilantro with the potatoes. Pour the dressing over the potato mixture, and toss to evenly coat vegetables. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving to let flavors blend. 







Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hmmmm...

I think this may be what is meant when people speak of 'humidity.'  As I begin this post, before 8 a.m., the temperature is a near-perfect 72° but the humidity is 83%.  I don't know that I've ever seen that happen in the NW.  I'm sure it does, especially  in the winter when it's raining, but I've never noticed it.  But, y'know, it's lovely out here.  The sun is peeking through the trees, the birds are calling to each other (at least, I think that's what they're doing. Art says it's a mating call, that they're all just looking to get la...um, lucky) and the potato vines I planted last week are taking over!
I planted potato vines on our 8' x 8' deck in Portland last summer simply for their beautiful variegated-green foliage and vines.  They trailed over the balcony as they grew and were just so easy-care - something very important to me as it relates to gardening.  When we returned from Arizona in November, I was disappointed to find them dead and chalked it up to a lack of water.  No worries, it was time, I reasoned, to plant winter pansies.  As I pulled up the dead vines I found - surprise! - sweet potatoes!  We have them again, this year.  I think I have a better idea how to encourage real potato growth now so we'll see what happens come fall.

I received and accepted a job offer yesterday (yay, me!) as the assistant HR manager for one of two Target stores in Little Rock. (This, remember, is the home of Wal-Mart.  Target isn't big here.)  I think it's going to work well; I'll work half days which will get me out of the house early (I won't be sitting outside blogging in the morning) and, as I've joined the Summer Challenge at the gym at UAMS, I'll go to the gym at 7:30, give it my 60 minutes, shower and be to work by 10.  AND it will, as when reached goal weight in 2001, help create a routine reminding me to work out.  

Because I spent so much of the day waiting - at Target, at the lab for the drug test, at the post office - and because I just felt puny and yucky yesterday, I pulled almost-past-it's prime kale from the fridge and whipped up the kale salad from Katherine Duemling of cookwithwhatyouhave.com fame.  Katherine provided the weekly recipes when we were part of Sauvie Island Organic's CSA. I learned so much just reading her ideas and suggestions for cooking.  I was a follow-the-recipe-at-all-costs sort of cook before 'meeting' Katherine.  Now, I've learned to improvise.  (Best tip I took from Katherine? Cook and keep on hand (in the freezer) reconstituted beans.  Lacking any idea for dinner tonight?  Pull a pint of black beans from the freezer and thaw ((the jar)) in hot water.  Add rice and Shazam! you have dinner.)  But back to the salad...the salad, simply, ribbons of kale, is served heavily dressed with a lovely, garlicky dressing:
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup good olive oil
2 tablespoons ripe avocado
1 teaspoon honey, or to taste
fresh pepper to taste
Whisk the garlic, salt, lemon juice, olive oil, avocado, honey, and pepper until smooth. Taste, and adjust with more salt, or honey, or lemon juice.


The salad is simply:
a half-pound of kale, washed, mixed with
two carrots, julienned.  I always add an
avocado, diced and a
cup of cooked barley or wheat berries or farro if I have it.

Toss half the dressing with the salad, massage with your hands (really.  It works better than anything else - and it's fun too!) and, if there's time, let the salad rest before serving.  Just before serving add the remainder of the dressing (if you think it's necessary.) Sprinkle with toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds (again, I toast these in large quantities and generally have them in the freezer) mix again and, presto! a pretty and very filling, salad.
While I can, and have, eaten this by itself for dinner, Art wants a bit more.  I pulled from the freezer the other half of the mushroom and herb polenta we had several weeks ago.   Two minutes in the microwave for the polenta, a quick toast in the broiler for the bread and we had dinner!

Best part?  Art did dishes.  Bon appetit!


Monday, June 2, 2014

The Arkansas Wine Trail...

seems something of an overstatement but I realized the need to suspend my Northwest wine country expectations as we set out on this adventure.  We chose the Memorial Day weekend to begin our first-ever exploration of Arkansas wine country.  Did you know wineries in Arkansas were creating wine before Oregon was even a state?  Neither did I.  I was surprised and impressed by that little factoid.  In fact, direct from the Arkansas.com website, a bit of history:

Back in 1880, two European families settled in the Arkansas River Valley, attracted by its fertile sandy soil and moderate climate. The two pioneers of the American wine industry were Jacob Post, who came to America in 1872, and Johann Wiederkehr, who immigrated to Altus from Switzerland in 1880. Area conditions reminded them so much of the fine wine-making regions of Germany and Switzerland that they each established vineyards, which was the beginning of a wine heritage and viticulture in Arkansas.

We headed north and west from Little Rock, stopping first in Morrilton, AR.  There we were to find Movie House Winery in the recently restored Petit Jean Theatre.  Alas, they were closed for the holiday weekend (really? Apparently Memorial Day weekend is nothing in the Arkansas wine world.) but we did have the opportunity to look around charming little Morrilton.  Best find in Morrilton?
Harp's Market; THE grocery store in Morrilton.  MY Harp(er)'s mother asked if they sold items other than Harps. Cute.  You can't market three year olds, can you?

Disappointed, we left Morrilton continuing our journey to Arkansas wine.  Choosing the exit on
I-40 labeled "Arkansas Wine Trail" we found ourselves wandering through very pretty country.  Scenery in Arkansas is very different for us.  First, the trees.  The forest is so dense and much of the state so flat, it's hard to have any sort of view.  We DID take an exit labeled "Viewpoint".  Apparently the Viewpoint is on the OTHER side of the freeway.  We'll catch it next time. 

We entered Altus with measured expectations.  We're not wine snobs (well, maybe Art is) but we ARE from the premiere Pinot grape growing region in America.  First stop was Mount Bethel with it's very humble cellar/tasting room.  The winemaker's sister was in charge that day; very friendly and welcoming.  The offerings at Mount Bethel were impressive if only by their number; there were something like 15 tastes available.  There was another couple in the tasting room with us, they are frequent visitors and visited to replenish their stash of the wine they like most from Mount Bethel, strawberry wine.  Yup. Strawberry.  Second-best they felt was the Blueberry Muscadine. They left with a mixed case of both.

With tentative steps we approached the wine bar.  Explaining we don't like sweet wine we passed over the sweet wines, going directly to the dry side of the list.  Surprisingly, the Sauvignon Blanc was delightful.  Dry and crisp with a hint of minerality on the finish.  Encouraged, we moved on to the Syrah and Cynthiana.  I was most interested in the Cynthiana as I'd read it's comparable to a cross between Cabernet and Zinfandel.  Alas, I found it muddy and flat.  The Syrah was, again, surprisingly appealing. At $9/bottle we walked out with three bottles of the Sauv Blanc and two bottles of the Syrah.  (Sidebar: I opened a bottle of the syrah last night when a friend stopped by.  Blech. We'll see what happens with the next bottle.)


Next was Post Winery.  Along with the folks at Mount Bethel, the family Post is directly descended from the two founding families of the region.  Post has a brand-new tasting room/production facility that looked to us, like the tasting room at Patricia Green.  Again, we passed over the sweet whites and reds and headed to the dry wines.  I didn't care for any of the wines at Post but Art liked the locally-grown Chambourcin.  Again, less than $10/bottle, so we picked up several bottles.  





On next to the oldest winery in Arkansas; Weiderkehr Cellars.  As I look at their website now, I wish they had been pouring the wines listed instead of the Niagara, Blush Niagara, Beau Noir (a proprietary blend) and Blush Muscadine.  Perhaps we might have been more favorably impressed. I was intrigued by the notion of their restaurant, a Chalet Suisse Weinkeller, housed in the original, hand-dug cellar of Josef Weiderkehr.  (Try to ignore the tragically hip young woman wearing the requisite uniform as she waits for diners. At 4:30 on that Sunday there was nary a car in sight.  Sigh.  A long night for her, I'm sure.)

Last stop was the winery I was most eager to try if only for its fetching name, The Chateau Aux Ark, pronounced 'Ozark'. Clever no?
Lifting, again, directly from their website: 
  
 "...this winery is the world's largest planter of Cynthiana grapes, the largest U.S. Chardonnay vineyard outside California and the largest Zinfandel planter in Arkansas..." 

alas, in our experience, merely planting great quantities of grapes does not make a great winemaker.  I'm  fairly certain we'll return once - at least - but I wasn't impressed. Again, review of the wines on their website cause me to wonder why those wines were not available for tasting.

Home later than we expected, what to have for dinner became the conumdrum.  As we're not militant in re: vegetarian-all-the-way, we had BLT's.  Yes, bacon is plant-based, isn't it? I mean, pigs eat vegetables, don't they?  BLT's on the patio with a Arkansas beer.  Prost!