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Seattle goes ice skating

jason

Last night I tried to wait until traffic calmed down before leaving my day job… It was a long day, thanks to a series of small technical and non-technical complications playing against an urgent issue, and my own inexperience with the mysteries of the team’s build system.

It got longer, though, when snow started coming down. I kept the traffic flow maps handy on a background window after hearing that snow was accumulating even on the freeway. After things settled down a bit, I left, but it was slow going.

I believe it took a bit more than 20 minutes to make it the half block distance between the garage and the road, thanks to ice on the road and confused people.

The freeway itself had cleared up by then; I went to pick up a colleague who was stranded after some bus mishaps, and headed across the bridge without any particular obstacles. I-5 slowed down around 65th, and I pulled off to bypass the traffic in favor of surface streets heading to Northgate. Unfortunately, one of the hills near Maple Leaf was backed up like mad… I think it took an hour to get down a hill that would normally be a 5–10 minute burden. I finally started heading home, which took another 30 minutes thanks to an icy 125th St. and Aurora Ave.

I got home around 9:45, after leaving work at 7:20. It was rather ugly.

Waking up to KUOW in the morning I heard that people were being told to stay home if at all possible, that most of the roads were actually in worse shape thanks to the overnight freeze, and that even when the freeways were clear the surface roads in Redmond and northern parts of Seattle would be risky.

I checked my survival gig email account and learned that the offices were closed, and asked a few other colleagues if they braved driving the Eastside today, and the answers were all negative.

So I dedicated the day to doing work for my own business, although at a rather sluggish pace. There’s only a seven block commute to that office. It turns out, though, that FedEx Ground services were suspended for the day, so my packages didn’t go anywhere.

Notable accumulations of ice and snow are such rare occurrences on roads in Seattle that nobody quite knows how to deal with such natural disasters as two or three inches of snow.

Gussied up Thanksgiving leftovers

jason

I usually end up with too much gnocchi when I make them; it’s not easy to, for example, bake less than a quarter of a squash or less than two potatoes.

My excess butternut squash gnocchi from Thursday went straight into the freezer, but I felt compelled to dig right back into them on Saturday night. And although I love the squash-enriched cream sauce I usually make to accompany them, I wanted to do something a tiny bit different.

Butternut-gnocchi-tartufo-butter

I wanted to make further use of my truffles in something other than an egg dish. I was a bit worried that the truffle might overwhelm the squash flavor, but it turned out to work well in moderation. I just put a bit of shaved truffle in sizzling butter, added a tiny bit of preserved lemon, and adjusted seasoning a bit after adding some pasta water to the butter-truffle sauce.

Instead of using a cheese like parmesan, I shaved over the pasta a bit of an interesting aged goat cheese that has an almost fruity quality that contrasted nicely with its nutty flavor. I carelessly tossed the label, but I hope I can track it down again when I crave it next…

Matsutake!

jason

Matsutake-banner

I started very quietly offering local matsutake, or pine mushrooms, on YuzuMura.com last fall. This year, I’ve had a surprisingly large number of orders in spite of relatively minimal promotion, but the season has not been as prolific as in the last two years. I wonder if the scarcity is making people notice my site more, or if it just took a while to get an audience.

Matsutake-bulk-web

This was from my first batch I got a couple of weeks ago, shipped just a day after they were picked… they were quite nice (although the photo was simultaneously overexposed and oversaturated). I wish I could have afforded to eat some of them… I did manage to score a deal on some slightly older ones, not pictured, which had lost a bit of moisture, and I turned them into a few simple dishes. I really wish I had spent the time to make dobin-mushi, which is still my favorite application of matsutake.

Matsutake are as eagerly anticipated by Japanese food lovers as truffles are to those fond of Italian and French cuisine. American and Canadian matsutake are whitish, whereas the extravagantly expensive Japanese ones (the kind that go for $300 for 6 small pieces in Tokyo department stores) are a much darker brown. However, the aroma is similar; in my experience, Japanese ones tend to have a more dramatic aroma and a milder flavor, whereas the North American variety, which is actually a different species as I recall, seems to have a milder aroma but a more intense flavor.

I actually had to raise the price a bit last week, unfortunately. Thanks to the low yields this year, the matsutake costs are close to double last year’s. Once I consider the cost of including 2–day or overnight shipping in the price, they’ve been fairly low-margin… Maybe the late season will change things if I’m lucky. Some of the local matsutake guys prefer the ones that come after the first freeze.

Culinary slump

jason

I’ve actually been eating fairly undramatically in the last month or so… I can think of only two or three memorable meals that I prepared recently… While I usually feel compelled to cook for myself about as well as I do for guests, I’ve sometimes struggled just to come up with an adequate idea for dinner.

It has been a long time since I’ve primarily cooked for myself… but previously, when I faced such a situation, I still tended to want to eat well. So I don’t know what’s different this time. It’s not so much that I want to eat badly; I just find myself uninspired.

One meal was memorable primarily due to the leftovers it generated. I made a kind of roasted cauliflower and cannelini soup, which got me through about a week of lunches. It was a simple soup with a simple flavor, nothing particularly dramatic.

On Thanksgiving I cooked for a friend, since my nearby family hadn’t planned anything this year… I surprised myself by putting together about 9 dishes… some focaccia with a garlic cannelini spread (yes, that white bean has been a recurring ingredient as well), some sauteed broccolini with garlic, roasted red potatoes with dill, butternut squash gnocchi, a persimmon and almond salad, more roasted cauliflower, and a truffle frittata with some shavings of a nice smoked goat cheese. I also made a cranberry sauce… some marinated mushrooms, and some chanterelles with oven-braised leeks.

I don’t do mock turkey… it just seems like a disastrous concept, so I’ve never felt any urge to add it to my table… but Jennifer baked a few pieces of brined turkey for herself (and for future leftovers), along with a stuffing.

Speaking of truffles, Ballard Market started to carry black truffles at a fairly reasonable price… I only bought a couple of smallish ones, but I have gotten fairly good results… I think I’ll make a simple pasta with truffles and butter tonight.

Last night I went shopping a bit and then ate at Matt’s In The Market… I usually don’t eat by myself anywhere other than quick service restaurants, but I just felt like being self-indulgent.

I think if I can keep preparations simple but ingredients a little extravagant, I’ll at least feel a little inspired…

Last dinner with Hiromi

jason

I guess it’s a little sad that I’ve taken several weeks to get around to writing anything about our last dinner…

Hiromi got a little restaurant weary after a few weeks of farewell dinners and , even though we generally ate very well… Over three or so weeks, we found ourselves at Volterra, Lark, Licorous, Sambar, BOKA, Nishino, Monsoon, Marco’s Supperclub, Yea’s Wok, and probably a few others…

It was a whirlwind tour of Seattle’s restaurant scene. The only time I usually go to restaurants with that much frequency is when I’m out of the country, travelling. It also hasn’t even really been in my means to do that for the last few years… even though I’ve got a reasonably reliable income stream again, it was a painful dent in the wallet, but it was worthwhile.

Anyway, she requested that I cook something for her last Seattle dinner before returning to Japan, so I tried to do a nice weeknight meal.

Goat cheese ravioli with shiitake-caper sauce

I bought some goat cheese ravioli, and Hiromi had picked up various mushrooms at Sosio’s in the Pike Place Market. So I made a sauce with shiitake, some kind of shimeji, capers, shallots and a bit of butter and cream.

Eringii-pizza

The mushroom stash also included some eringii. We had some nice tomatoes but no basil, but for some reason I did have dill… so I made an improvised tomato sauce of chopped tomatoes, dill, and garlic. It turned out to be a good match for the mushrooms. The only thing I regret is slicing the eringii lengthwise, as they did get a bit chewy and tended to slice off the crust when bitten into.

We had recently made a trip to Chateau Ste. Michelle and bought about 12 bottles of wine, which is a lot for us. For this dinner, we decided to dig into a very decent Riesling labeled Eroica. It was still a couple of weeks before Halloween, but we had a couple of the trappings, thanks to a cleverly presented gift from a friend of ours and an impulse candle purchase at the Ballard Market.

Eroica

I vaguely recall considering making a salad or some vegetable side dish, but either I skipped it at the last minute or it escaped Hiromi’s photographic attention. It was, after all, a weeknight… I wasn’t home until fairly late, thanks to evil traffic and a need to make a quick supermarket stop. I wanted to make something a little exciting, but still practical for after-work preparation.

Mangodanger

Our dessert involved some pureed Kent mango, lime juice and rum… I’m sure something else went into this, perhaps a banana or something, but my memory fails me. It’s not the rum’s fault… really… It was only there to add a touch of evil to our smoothie.

Dinner was all last minute and hurried… Hiromi threw together the pizza dough from inadequate instructions I gave only a couple of hours before I was supposed to come home. I only decided to make the pasta after it caught my attention at Trader Joe’s on the way home, when I was grabbing a couple of things.

But it was a nice quiet sendoff before I took her to the airport the next morning. 

Nashi no hiyayakko

jason

It sounded like a very odd idea to Hiromi at the time, but both of us were converts after we tasted the results of this variation of hiya-yakko.

A few weeks ago, after a rushed trip to Leavenworth, we went nashi picking near Everett, at an orchard owned by the family of a friend.

We ended up with such a bounty that we needed to exercise an unusual level of creativity to find uses for our treasure.

I suggested we try grating the nashi in the style of daikon-oroshi, to which we added some grated fresh ginger. We placed this atop of kinugoshi (soft) tofu, added a bit of chopped scallion, and splashed on a small amount of Japanese soy sauce.

Nashi-hiyayakko

It’s a surprisingly refreshing seasonal twist on a classic side dish.

Hiromi used to ask me what we needed to buy when she made a grocery shopping trip, but I usually suggest just buying whatever vegetables look tempting, and I promise to figure out something to do with them. For this meal, that was a running theme… I worked out a Japanese-ish treatment of the day’s purchases.

We ate a nice tempura of mataike and arugula.

Maitake-rukora-tempura

Hiromi had picked up some patty pan squash and shiitake, so I made a simple itamemono from that.

Pattypan-shiitake-negi-itami-ni

I also made daigaku-imo, which is usually a snack rather than a side dish, but that didn’t stop me.

Daigaku-imo-redux

Laugenbrötchen

jason

I impatiently made Laugen with an inadequately smooth dough a few weeks ago, and the skin never quite became glatt enough to make for attractive rolls.

I’ve actually made nicer Laugen before, but I was careless that Sunday…

Laugenbroetchen

Anyway, it’s another thing that Hiromi became a fan of, thanks in particular to the Columbia City Bakery, while in Seattle. So I thought I’d make some one morning.

Anyway, the technique is not particularly interesting… I just made a yeast dough, a customary Natron  (baking soda) solution brought to a boil, and stewed the rolls a minute or so, pressed the buns into some coarse salt, and baked until browned.

With more careful attention to detail, and a slightly warmer kitchen on the day in question, I’d have a somewhat smoother skin, but they tasted fairly decent.