Monthly Archives: February 2010

picnic in the park in February

tacos on the grass

You know, when it's winter time, you almost forget the color of the grass. Even around here, where it rains more than snows (or it doesn't snow at all), so the grass is there, not hidden under a blanket of white, the grass sort of disappears. It grows dull, like a piece of silver left in a cupboard and starting to rust. The grass may be green but it's a muddy, khaki green, nothing wonderful.

We always long for spring, Danny and I. (and you, I'm betting too.) We long for new vegetables and the chance to fire up the grill and warm air on our skin and picnics.

Yes, picnics.

Meals during the winter most often happen under the cover of darkness. Dinner means looking out the window and imagining the trees growing leaves out there in the pitch black. Nothing feels that casual. It all feels planned.

Last week, we had our first picnic of the spring, with tacos carnitas.

tamale on the grass

And tamales, the paper plate flung on the suddenly vivid green grass.

We were driving near the Arboretum in Seattle, wondering if our little one would go to sleep by the motion of the car. We really wanted to eat our take-out food from Rancho Bravo, an unadorned Mexican place, run by the same folks who ran the legendary taco truck of the same name in Seattle. They've let go of their itinerant ways and settled in an old KFC in Capitol Hill. There's nothing fancy about the place. The swiveling chairs are attached to the tables — this was clearly a fast food place. They only take cash. They have Mexican Coke and tamarind soda and about 12 items on the menu.

I still have to try the posole. But I keep coming back to the tacos carnitas. They're just so damned good. And cheap.

And the tamales, falling out of their corn-husk wrappers, fragrant with spiced pork and spicy sauce and all this warm goodness that steams up on the face and really makes you believe that spring is around the corner.

When the kid wouldn't sleep, we stopped the car near a patch of green grass. We climbed out of the car and had a picnic.

Lucy at a picnic in February

She could not have been happier, clutching her plastic fork, dropping rice on herself, nibbling on carnitas, and smiling. She didn't care that the grass was actually still damp and we all had wet butts. What does a kid care about that?

We were on a picnic in February.

Rancho Bravo

1001 E Pine St
Seattle, WA 98122

Rancho Bravo on Urbanspoon


Matthew’s carnitas

Matthew's carnitas

Our friend Matthew is very talented. He's a brilliant writer, underspoken and hilarious. He's a wonderful father to Iris, who is 6 and one of the smartest little whippersnappers you're ever going to meet. And he makes a mean bacon and jalapeno pizza.

Last week, we went to visit him and the family. Spring had sprung and we smelled daphne wafting from apartment gardens as we walked toward their home. We were greeted with delighted giggles from Iris. Our toddler, Lu, took a few moments to warm up, even though she loves these three (Laurie is the solid base of that triangle). With the introduction of bubbles and some of Iris's favorite toys, however, there was soon squealing and bouncing on toes.

A good time was had by all.

At lunch, Matthew had to leave to meet a friend at Matt's in the Market. They have chips and dip as a starter, with house-made salt and pepper chips with bacon caramelized onion dip. We understand why he was leaving us. (Actually, he had planned long before to meet a friend from New York there. We're lucky we got to see him at all.) Before he left, however, he showed us the pot full of carnitas he had made for us.

Bye, Matthew!

This was Lu's plate, pretty simple. Carnitas, fresh cabbage, a wedge of lime. Not much more needed than that.

We ate and talked about the warm weather coming through the balcony door. Iris has become a much pickier eater over the years, which is to be expected, so she didn't want the cabbage. Or much of the meat. She watched Lu gobble up every bite and demand more with her pointing finger.

“Wow,” she said. “Lucy and yummy food sure do go together!”

We all laughed. True. (And when she's six, our little one is bound to be pickier too, so we're enjoying these days of her eating everything put before her.) Yummy pork carnitas like this can go together with anyone.

The recipe for these carnitas is in Matthew's incredible book, Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater Rather than being a self-help book, a dour guide of what not to feed your children and how to avoid choking, Matthew's book is a knee-slapping, full-of-information story of living with Iris and good food both. Besides stories so true you might spit out food from laughing as you read it, Hungry Monkey also contains recipes for foods that kids and adults might like.

Like these carnitas.

I was going to tell you to buy the book for the recipe, but Matthew was kind enough to give me a link for them, so you can make them now. This is a link to his podcast with our good friend Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette fame), a wonder of food and giggling called Spilled Milk. You should subscribe to the podcast too.

First, however, make these carnitas.  (It's the first half of the carnitas salad recipe. You should make that too.)


pork skewers at Lola

pork skewers at Lola

Seattle has so many great restaurants that it’s hard to chooose sometimes.

I could sit here for hours and tell you about memorable meals that Danny and I have shared in little dives and popular places, both. Vietnamese, Northwest cuisine, Ethiopian, and oysters galore — we’ve explored so many that our list of favorite places is long, long, long.

But we’re still exploring. We’ve been finding new eateries and dipping our forks into sauces and salads we didn’t expect. We’ve been sharing some Seattle restaurant finds. We’ll continue in the months ahead.

Still, even so, sometimes it’s good to go back to the familiar.

Last week, we asked folks on Twitter: “What’s the best lunch in Seattle?”

Answers streamed in. Some of them we have explored already. Others are new to us. But a few people we trust wrote the same name: Lola.

Of course. How could we have forgotten?

Lola is one of Tom Douglas’s restaurants. Tom Douglas is well-known, well-loved, and welcome to feed us any time he wants. His restaurants are always changing their menus to suit the seasons, drawing from the strength of small farms and local food producers. The food is impeccable tasting without being fussy. Actually, the restaurants feel like Douglas the person: expansive, voluble, interested in everything to do with food, and hearty good without too much fuss.

Lola is Douglas’s Mediterranean restaurant, drawing its flavors from Greece and Italy, Turkey and North Africa, all while using ingredients from the Pacific Northwest, like razor clams and salmon from Alaska. Really, you can’t go wrong.

When our friend Kristin Korb, an amazing bass player and jazz singer we’ve been lucky enough to know for years, came into town for a few hours before heading north for a concert, she wanted to meet us somewhere good for lunch. “Somewhere where the vibe is chill, the food is good, the space will hold us, you know?” (Jazz musicians really do talk like that.) Lola.

We all loved it. They make great food without any pretension, food you don’t mind moaning about and leaving a crumpled cloth napkin on the table afterwards. I had the pork skewers, bathed in harissa, then grilled. The slight sweetness and then the heat of the harissa melted into the charred edges of the pork and slithered into the juicy flesh.

The smashed potatoes were good too.

We’re going to try making this soon, at home. If we can do it well, we’ll let you know how too.

In the meantime, go to Lola.


2000 4th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121

(206) 441-1430

Lola on Urbanspoon

pork at Toulouse Petit

pork cheeks confit

We don't have a lot of late-night dining experiences these days, other than the meals we eat at 11 pm, battling over whether we're going to watch The Daily Show or the local news. (And what does it matter, since we're both exhausted by 11:15 and call uncle anyway?) Once we had a baby, the dinners in Seattle restaurants after Danny was done with his shift, with the two of us laughing toward the car at nearly 2 am? Those ended. Immediately.

Lunch, however? Lunches are great.

Most Fridays, we leave the island where we live and head into the city. We've lived on our rural island (but only 20 minutes from Seattle) for not even a year, and already Seattle feels like The Big City when we drive its streets. We have friends to see, errands to run, places to be. Lunch somewhere, with a different set of friends each week, is a great way to slow down and enjoy ourselves.

Especially when there is pork.

A few weeks ago, we went to Toulouse Petite, a New Orleans-style restaurant in lower Queen Anne. It's big and spacious, with booths and tables and a long bar with gleaming bottles of alcohol above it. Clearly, at night, this is a hip scene, the kind of place where good-looking single people jostle elbows at the bar and hope for something more than a meal. At lunch, however, that vibe was not there. Our waitress knew how to deal with toddlers, since she has one of her own. We felt welcomed.

And the meal began well. These are pork cheeks, done confit style. That means they were cooked in pork fat, low and slow.

You can imagine these were pretty darned good. (I have to admit that I found it jarring that they were crispy. I expected the sort of meltingly tender texture of well-braised meats. But the jarring feeling gave way to satisfaction in the mouth.)

jambalaya with spicy andouille

This is jambalaya. Pretty darned fine jambalaya, too. There were many kinds of meats, sausages, and heat in there. In fact, for me, there was way too much heat. I love a good spicy dish when I know it's coming. However, when no one warned me that this would make the roof of my mouth feel withered and a bit like ashes afterward, this was a bit of a shock.

It was also a terrible loss for our toddler daughter, who loves to eat anything we eat. The heat made her scream. This isn't a kid's restaurant, and we had other food for her. However, I sort of agreed with her.

The bite of braised pork shoulder I ate was pretty great, though.

fried oyster and bacon sandwich

This is Danny's lunch: fried oyster and bacon po' boy. With all that gluten, obviously I couldn't share any. But he was too busy chowing down on it, eagerly, to even tell me about it until after we were in the car. Those french fries looked pretty damned yummy, too.

So all in all, we had a good lunch. Danny highly recommends the po' boy. He says it was extraordinary. I'd skip the jambalaya next time. I haven't seen pork cheeks on many other menus in Seattle, so those are worth the trip.

And hey, we were in the city, eating pork. What could be wrong with that?

Toulouse Petit

601 Queen Anne Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98109

(206) 432-9069

Toulouse Petit on Urbanspoon


pork medallions

pork medallions over quinoa cakes

“Hey honey? We need some pork for lunch.”

The light was right outside. We were all growing hungry. I wanted to write this post. So I turned to Danny and asked for some pork for lunch.

20 minutes later, this appeared on a plate. A quinoa cake with sauteed pepper and kale, topped with seared pork medallions.

Thanks, sweets.

Pork Medallions

If you should find that you need lunch fast, and you don’t have time to braise or fire up the barbeque, try searing some pork medallions instead. All you need is a small pork loin, some hot oil in a pan, and salt and pepper. Everything else you can build around it.

1-pound pork loin (or tenderloin, if you wish)
canola oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Slicing the pork into medallions. Slice the loin into ½-inch-thick pieces. Or, if you have a kitchen scale, make them 2 ounces each. Use a good sharp knife.

Pounding out the medallions. Put each slice of loin between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat tenderizer, pound out the loin pieces until they are ¼-inch thick. This will help to make the meat tender.

Searing the medallions. Set a large sauté pan over high heat. When the pan is hot hot hot, add enough canola oil to barely coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil rolls around the pan easily, put 3 pieces of the loin into the pan. (Please make sure your pan is truly hot. Otherwise, the pork will boil instead of being seared.) Cook until the bottom of each piece is browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn them over and cook the other side.

Repeat with the rest of the pork. Or, save the extra pieces for later.


now this is a Valentine’s Day present

Boccalone caramels and lard soap

As I wrote last week, Valentine's Day isn't a big deal around here. Neither Danny nor I decry it, walking around frowning at all the cards and roses. I understand why some people fall for it. For us, it's just another day. We love each other every day. And we love our friends too. (Being committed to someone you love deeply? It's a place of calm, deep breath. Having only that love in your life? That's a disaster.)

Besides, the real Valentine's Day celebration arrived the day before.

In the mail, a small white box with our name and address written with a clear script. Danny ripped it open, wondering what could be in such a small package. Out spilled our surprise: Humphry Slocombe lard caramels.

Back in December, we told you about reports in the NY Times that Humphry Slocombe had paired up with Boccalone to create the richest caramel imaginable. However, since we had been to San Francisco and back before they hit the stores, we felt a little sad.

Our friend Anita is one of the most generous people we have ever met, without expecting anything back. She's just built that way: kind. She, it turns out, had been searching for these caramels since she read that piece we wrote. The day before Valentine's Day, they arrived at our front door.

(And the caramels? Everything we expected. They are sweet as taffy and porky as the lard in a good pie crust. It might be an acquired taste for some, but we savored every bite.)

At Christmas, Anita gave us some Boccalone lard soap. In the shape of a pig. (We haven't had the heart to try it yet. We don't want it to go away. It's in a prominent place in the bathroom.)

How lucky are we to know Anita? Very.

You should know her too. Anita and her equally wonderful husband, Cameron, write a great website called Married With Dinner. You should head over to read it for the impassioned stories of celebrating local foods while eating as gourmands. These two know how to live.

And, they make great pork dishes. Check out these recipes:

Pozole Rojo

Bay Studded Pork Shoulder with Wild Mushroom Sauce

Pork Times Four

Pasta e Fagioli with 'nduja

Championship Jambalya

Making someone's recipes is a good way to know that person. You want to know Anita and Cam. Make these and you can start.

(We, however, feel really lucky that we know them even better than that.)


prosciutto pizza for Valentine’s Day

last night's pizza

Danny's on the way home from the restaurant right now. He's exhausted — I could tell from his voice on the phone — from cooking for couples all night long. Maybe someone proposed at one of the tables, with a flourish of cloth napkin and candlelight and teary eyes. Maybe they were eating Danny's pork loin special (stuffed with homemade garlic pork sausage, seared, and roasted) before it happened.

Maybe some couples had lousy nights, because they had so many expectations of this drippy day. (But the pork special probably helped.)

I really dislike Valentine's Day. I disliked it when I was single because I didn't have someone bringing me velvet heart-shaped boxes filled with slightly squashed chocolates because he had been so fervent in pressing them to his chest before he could reach me. Now that I'm married, I dislike Valentine's Day because it feels so artificial.

Love feels much more like this evening will be. Danny will come home after 10 pm, tired and smelling of garlic and the grill. He'll take off his hat — his hair sticking out above his ears — and fold me in his arms. Then he'll go into our daughter's room and watch her sleep for a moment. We'll sit on the couch smooshed with crackers left over from her lunch and food stains on the cushions. We'll sit down side by side, legs touching, the both of us tired but talking until midnight, sharing our day.

We might have a picnic on the couch and watch the Olympics. Probably, pizza. Maybe like this one — soft mozzarella, chevre, homemade puttanesca, and little slivers of prosciutto.

There will be no roses, no chocolates, no cards. Just the comfort of knowing each other, and knowing what love feels like, and no longer having to explain it to anyone else.


pork chops with apples and mustard sauce

pork chops with apples and mustard sauce

Twitter often leaves me hungry.

Friends write slivers of the dinners they are creating at home (“Twice-cooked pork belly with pickled cabbage and taro”) or sampling at restaurants (“Porchetta stuffed with homemade sausage, roasted mushrooms, bacon, carmelized onions, & garlic, braised 6hrs”) or creating for other people (“Nothing says love like a spicy salami!”), and we are left feeling a little faint with all the possibilities, determined to get into the kitchen to make ourselves something that will satisfy that phrase-driven hunger.

A few weeks ago, Jonathan Gold left me ravenous. Now, let's be honest: this often happens. The man is a god of food writing. Bawdy and confident, fascinated by street food and the dishes that come out of poverty, unabashed celebrator of all things Los Angeles (and even the Valley), Johnathan Gold always makes me laugh and gasp at his turns of phrase:

The vibe here is evolved crunchiness, which is to say, like a pre-gig potluck whose intrinsic veganism has been expanded to include ricotta cheese and the occasional slab of organic pork belly, all resting comfortably within the boundaries of conscious omnivorousness. The stewed Rancho Gordo beans with toasted bread crumbs were delicious.”

And then he makes me hungry.

I happened to be on Twitter when he responded to my fellow writer and friend Renee Schettler's wonderings about what to do with apples when feeling adventuresome. Johnathan Gold sent back this message:

@thejgold “Richard Olney's pork chops and apples in mustard sauce. Godhead.”

That was enough to make me want to be in the kitchen, cooking.

It took a couple of weeks, and these pork chops, for us to have the occasion to make this recipe, in our own way.

Worth the wait.

Thank you, Twitter.

(You don't have to wait, however. You can make this today.)

Pork Chops with Mustard and Apple Sauce, adapted from Richard Olney

2 slightly tart apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 bone-in pork loin chops
1/4 cup apple cider
1 medium onion, fine chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 heaping tablespoons mustard
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Lay the apple slices in the bottom of a glass baking pan (we used a pie pan). Throw it in the oven for 15 minutes.

As you are baking the apples, set a large sauté pan over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When the oil is hot, sear the pork chops until the bottom is browned, about 7 minutes. Flip them over and sear the other side.

Pull the apple pan out of the oven. Put the seared pork chops on top of the apples.

Deglaze the sauté pan with the apple cider, reducing the liquid until the pan is almost dry. Pour that reduced liquid over the chops.

Add the remaining oil to the hot pan. Toss in the onion and cook, stirring, until it has become soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sage and rosemary and cook until they release their fragrance, about 2 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock. Stir in the mustard and combine.

Cook until the liquid has reduced to ½ its volume. Add the butter and whisk it into the sauce quickly.

Pour the mustard sauce over the chops and apples. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the pork chops have reached an internal temperature of 160°, about 15 minutes.

Feeds 2.


pigskins for the super bowl

chichironnes from Cochon 555.

It's the Super Bowl tomorrow. Most of America will be watching (although I always find it strange when people watch just for the ads). And most of us will be gathered with friends, eating and laughing, taking bets on who will win. And yes, watching the commercials.

If it's a good party, you'll be eating crispy pigskins.

“'It’s just fat and salt and crunch,” said Lester Ayala, a cook from Connecticut who had dropped into Porchetta in the East Village for the first time last month to try a sandwich with a good ratio of soft, lean pork to fatty, crispy skin. 'What’s better than that?'

To be sure, fat, salt and crunch should always be invited to a Super Bowl gathering. Adding a porky layer of fried skin not only gives heft and flavor to the snack menu, pigskin is just sort of fun to serve at football games.”

Click on this link to read the entire New York Times article about the rise of pig cracklings, pork rinds, and crisp pigskins in the last few years, an era Kim Severson characterizes as “…a good slice of the country still deep in its pork worship period.”

And with the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl, why not eat what they do in New Orleans?

“Cracklings are the American cousins of the French grattons and the chicharrón common to Latin America. In its perfect form, a crackling offers a square of skin that cracks when you bite into it, giving way to a little pocket of hot fat and a salty layer of pork meat.”

Of course, if you are an Indianapolis Colt fan, you might not want to eat the New Orleans treat. Then again, it's pork. You'll probably make an exception.

What porky goodness will you be eating for your Super Bowl party?

And if you're reading this Monday, give us the play-by-play of your pork after the fact.