mercredi 30 décembre 2009

The day before the last day of the year

I'm not a fan of all the Christmas holiday hoo-hah, and like New Year's Eve even less. It has something to do with being locked into things, forced to celebrate, give thanks, give and receive gifts. I prefer spontaneous feasts, laughter, gifts given for no reason.

But whatever. It is possible to have fun anyway, your way, my way. This year, we spent Christmas Eve with my siblings and cousins and their families. I have five siblings and four cousins and most of them have children, so when this gathering happens it always produces a houseful. Also gauranteed: my Aunt Janie's scalloped potatoes from Safeway. Neko loved it all, especially all the food dropping from plates to the floor and all the squealing over gifts during the white elephant exchange. She threw up about 3 am, and didn't stop until she had dislodged a walnut. It looked as if she had swallowed it whole.

My friend Nawal arrived on Christmas Eve around 11 pm. She is here to see her son, who lives with his father in Renton. It's complicated. Okay?

On Christmas Day, we had Jo's homemade cinnamon rolls on the beach at Seola. Gorgeous day. Crisp, clear, mountains standing at attention. Then a walk. Then it was time to roast a duck. We had dinner at home with Nawal and her son, Rachid. Nawal nagged Rachid and Rachid rolled his eyes. He's 17.

Now, here I am in San Francisco until New Year's Eve. San Francisco is a food lover's paradise and a walker's dreamscape. We just finished a thrift shopping spree -- I got a really cute pair of black boots for 30 bucks and a prada duffle bag at Salvation Army for 40 bucks! -- and lunch at home. Lunch was five different cheeses, including a bleu des causses and a st. nectaire, some really good bread, olives, Dahli's sun-dried tomatoes and wine. Now we're sitting around and watching Amadeus. Ah, Mozart! But it is time for a walk on the beach.

And then dinner.

Don't let me forget to tell you about Emmie's Spaghetti Shack, Le Zinc and the movie Sherlock.

Tomorrow night: Nawal is cooking a Moroccan feast and no one who was invited à l'improviste has refused. So it will be a fun full house! And best of all, I get to stay home on New Year's Eve and have a party. The last two years, we have gone with Sean and Caroline to Whidbey Island, but this year they are in France and Switzerland with Caroline's family.

samedi 26 décembre 2009


Noël au balcon...

Skype magically brings the spirit of Alison to Seola Beach

Catherine, Patty and Nawal -- after a long journey from Paris -- enjoy the Christmas sunshine

mercredi 23 décembre 2009

The gift that keeps on giving

This year my Christmas present to everyone I know is the biggest donation I can afford to the folks at Rolling Dog Ranch in Montana. You have probably seen them on television. But did you realize what privileged and interesting lives in Seattle they gave up to care for disabled animals in need? Click on the title and you'll find out. Alayne Marker and Steve Smith, you rock!

Rolling Dog Ranch has its own youtube channel, where you can see some of the amazing creatures they have saved. There is one video showing two cats like Munchy.

As everyone knows, we have a disabled cat named Munchkin (aka Munchy) who probably suffers from cerebellum hypoplasia. Suffers from is not quite right, though, because she is not in pain. She just has trouble doing certain things. She brings us a lot of joy and shows us daily how attached she is to life. When we got her, she was slowly dying of starvation because her mother had stopped feeding her. We gave her milk at first, which was a huge mistake. She nearly died of dehydration because of that. Then we found substitute mother's milk and that saved her. We fed her from a little dropper. After a few days, she began to eat solids. Here she is, taking her first bite and her first steps.

Bean and farro soup, yeah!

This is a wonderfully soothing and filling winter soup that is a meal unto itself. I served it with a salad of wild greens anyway, and had fresh bread on hand along with cheddar cheese. Click on the title for a link to the recipe, which appeared in this week's NY Times.

The recipe calls for squash, but I decided to use a sweet potato instead. No complaints from the crowd were heard.

Also, in addition to the bouquet garni I added some turmeric and some cumin, just a smidgen for a little extra flavor.

The green cabbage could be replaced by savoy cabbage.

As for the beans, I used great northern white beans but pinto or kidney would work just as well.

What makes the soup is the addition of whole canned tomatoes simmered in garlic and rosemary. I used San Marzano tomatoes, which are considered by many chefs to be the best for making sauces. Many chefs are right! They are relatively expensive (4.99 for a 14-oz can), but worth every penny.

The farro is cooked separately and then added at the very end, giving the soup a little added heft.

If you live among carnivores, you could also add Italian sausage to this soup. But my carnivore was quite satisfied without it.

Martha Rose Shulman, who provided this recipe, is one of my favorite vegetarian cookbook authors. Many years ago, I asked a friend from Canada who was coming to stay with me in Paris to bring a couple of good vegetarian cookbooks along. I was tired of Moosewood and not finding anything to my liking in French. She introduced me to Shulman, who now edits the recipe column of the NY Times' Health section.

French vegetarian cookbooks, at least at the time, tended toward elaborate recipes that took ages to make. My favorite source of recipes in France was the fiches recettes in the back of every issue of Elle magazine. There were four recipes every week, presented on one page. Each individual recipe could be stored as a separate card (fiche). I must have collected hundreds of them over the years. Unfortunately, they mysteriously did not make into the container ship that brought my stuff across the ocean.

But that's okay because I just noticed two new recipes in the NY Times; one for provençal tomato and bean gratin and the other for strata with mushrooms and chard. Strata is like bread pudding, kind of.

dimanche 20 décembre 2009

Life on the farm

Munchkin's favorite morning ritual involves clawing her way to the couch, where I sit with my blanket and coffee, and snuggling in for a session of purring, drooling and kneading with her claws. They say that cats who are weaned too early do this their entire lives. Munchkin joined us when she was 6 to 8 weeks old, after her mother stopped feeding her. She is the most loving cat I have ever encountered; but nobody sees this except me, Walt, Pushkin and Neko, because Munchy heads for one of her many hiding places when other people come around.

When she wakes up, one of us carries her downstairs and feeds her. Pushkin follows on silent cat feet. If we sleep for too long after that, Munchkin manages with great difficulty to climb onto the sofa, from where she looks up and plaintively wails in the general direction of our loft.

During the day, she usually sleeps in a little igloo that I bought and put next to my desk.

Pushkin is our Protector. Squirrels constantly try and break into our house. But for Pushy we would be overrun. As for Neko, she just likes to hang.

mercredi 16 décembre 2009

Home fitness center

Neko, in the backseat on a recent Saturday, ready to roll. Photo credit: Walt Cougan.

It's that time of the year again. Most people love this time of year, or say they do. I am not one of them. The thing is, I like to get my semi-aerobic exercise in the great outdoors, preferably with my dog Neko. She never flakes out on me. In fact, her enthusiasm is downright touching. When I pick up her harness, the tags on it jingle ever so slightly. No matter where she is sleeping (she moves around during the day, like a living sun dial), she gets up to survey the scene. If she's upstairs, she refuses to come down unless I continue to jingle the harness while giving encouragement. She has me trained. After about 30 seconds of watching me make a fool of myself, she stretches and then descends the staircase with theatrical nonchalance. But then, as I start to put the harness on, she goes all wiggly and excited on me, and inevitably starts chewing on the harness I'm trying to clip in place. And rain or shine, Neko is ready to go. She keeps up a good pace and will walk as long as I will.

Then there's me, her co-owner. A reformed runner, who wishes she had never done that to herself but who is still absurdly proud to be able to say she ran only one marathon but in less than 3 hours and 40 minutes, she loves to walk but not when it is freezing cold. In Paris, this was not a problem. The architectural density made walking in winter possible; the lack of car and location in the center of the city of lights made it necessary. Seattle is different. Public transportation pretty much sucks; one needs a car to get anywhere; all walks within walking distance of our house expose me to the cruel elements.

But I promised Neko she would get her hour walk as long as the weather was not beyond horrible - meaning not too cold. So today she'll get her walk. But in the meantime, we had to take action. The combination of inclement weather and holiday force feeding can be devastating. I started doing my daily non-aerobic routine at home as soon as we moved to this wonderful house. I need floor space and the YMCA just doesn't cut it. The floor space at the Y is about 5 square feet in front of a mirror and, at certain times of the day, it is where everyone wants to stretch. A woman with a stick doing an hour-long routine is not appreciated. Actually, the other reason I started working out at home is that too many people asked me what I was doing and if I could teach them this intriguing fitness routine. No, the answer is no. I have devloped a highly idiosyncratic but really effective routine; but it is not aerobic.

To ensure a good aerobic element during the shitty days of winter, we decided to buy an elliptical machine and put it in the basement mother-in-law apartment. We found a really good one at a reasonable price that actually folds up. It is now installed in front of the flat-screen television we got for 300 bucks. That screaming deal left us with enough to buy a base for the iPod. All we need is a second black box from Comcast and I'll be able to watch TV5 Monde while I sweat on the elliptical machine. I was partial to the treadmill at the gym, but this elliptical is great.

But what about poor Neko? I can tell she understands what is going on. She hates the elliptical and gives it dirty looks. She lies on the sofa as I work out and sighs, like a long-suffering martyr. I feel bad, but not too bad. She will have her day in the sun, and many days just like it. She is about to go out for a walk. It isn't raining hard; the temperature has shot up since the weekend; I have no excuse. And Neko doesn't even know what that word means.

Click on the title for a link to a NYT blog about the benefits of walking with dogs as opposed to humans.

WEATHER UPDATE: We did not escape the rain. However, the infernal trio (rain, cold, wet) was avoided. It is actually quite warm. But very wet. The canine social scene was dead, though we did run into our old friend Deisel, an adorable black shi-tzu who is Neko's age, and Marcia, his owner.

vendredi 4 décembre 2009

Happy 80th Birthday, Jo Cougan

Jo Cougan, sitting at her usual table at Canlis, blows out her birthday candle

Happy 80th birthday to one of my favorite people on the planet, who just happens to be my mother-in-law.

Who loves Jo Cougan? Everybody!