Sunday Morning–Another Day of Isolation

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Today my favorite radio program comes on at three and I can listen to old jazz for three hours.  I will probably spend those three hours finishing my painting of a very scary rooster, much larger than lifesize while my pot roast fills the house with its scent. At one I will start the pot roast we are fixing for dinner.  Food and painting seem to be our primary focus along with reading these days.  We are spending more time communicating via email with friends to be sure that they are all still healthy. As of Friday we have 92 cases  on the island with 42 of them in the long term care facility where my friend lives.

I don’t mind the isolation at all.  I am actually enjoying my time at home with my husband and my dachshund. We are doing more cooking together ( including the dog who is always underfoot when we are in the kitchen) and working on creating interesting menus from the freezer and the larder (it’s not called a larder because you lose weight). The house is cleaner these days too.

My husband has started seeds yesterday in the greenhouse and cleaned out all the hydroponic beds in preparation for planting.  We pulled out all the groceries that have wintered over, so have a bushel of kale, chard, and green onions to use up before they go bad.  I am making ribollita (a Tuscany soup) later in the week which will use a chunk of the kale. I didn’t have the canned cannellini beans for it so cooked up some to be ready. We have canned tomatoes in the root cellar and lots of garlic.  I will use lonzino instead of proscuitto which I don’t have on hand.  Should be ready for that.

This morning for Sunday breakfast, I made aebleskivers (apelskivers), a Swedish pastry/sweet bread ball. My favorite recipe is with buttermilk.  You must have an aebleskiver pan to make them. We eat these with jam, berry syrup or maple syrup.  Some folks sprinkle them with powdered sugar, but we do not.  Too messy that way. I recently saw a recipe where someone fried meatballs in their aebleskiver pan.  WHAT A DESECRATION! You would never be able to use it for its intended purpose again.

While I was waiting for my husband to beat the egg whites for the recipe, I was looking though the cookbook I was using, Notes from a Scandinavian Kitchen, but Morry and Florence Ekstrand (1980)which is still available through Amazon. I AM 3/8th  Swedish, 1/8th Danish. When I was growing up we had occasional Scandinavian meals, Svenska kottbollur (Swedish meatballs), rullepolse (a rolled meat stuffed), Swedish rye bread, Nana’s cardamom buns (similar to hot cross buns) and, when Nana visited, Swedish coffee.  There were a few other things as well, but these were the memorable ones. I make the hardtack recipe from this book and we are just about out, so that will be a project for next week.

While I was reading this lovely little cookbook, I was gaining some inspiration for later in this incarceration, oops, isolation.  Morry and Florence included many interesting thoughts and vignettes from their earlier lives.  Some of it a history of living in Scandinavian communities in America, most of which are very entertaining and great reading while the aebleskivers are cooking in their special pan.

I am always amazed at the diverse ingredients that were available in Scandinavia.  I have to remember that the Vikings traveled and pillaged far and wide and many of the spices and herbs from the eastern Mediterranean were available to them, cinnamon, allspice, clove, ginger and much more, many of which are seen in a vast number of recipes, both sweet and savory.

The more common ingredients are prepared in very diverse ways to make them less boring and more palatable. The potato is used mashed, boiled, fried in pancakes, leftovers in dumplings, lefse, some hardtack, and a number of desserts.  Soured milk or buttermilk is a standard household item and one that I purchase in half gallons or make my own from the last jug, like making yogurt. Dairy products were readily available as almost every rural homestead had a milkcow.  Cream and butter figure heavily in the diet as does sugar.  I could never understand the use of sugar in meat dishes like meatballs.  I guess in a cold climate you are starved for calories.

The gathering meal that was popular in America when I was growing up was the smorgasbord.  Seattle had the famous King Oskars on old Highway 99.  We ate there occasionally.  I can remember all the wonderful dishes to choose from.  I still seek out good pickled herring.  I even taught my husband to love it, to my chagrin.  I went to Ballard (the Scandinavian enclave in Seattle) and purchased a two quart container of wonderful pickled herring.  My husband turned up his nose and thought about gagging.  I said, “How do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it.  Try it, you’ll like it.”  He tried it and conceded it was pretty good.  When I came home from work the next day and he was fixing dinner, I decided I would like a few pieces as an appetizer.  The container was half empty.  Boy, did he have a Swedish lunch, herring and hardtack. Now we can hardly keep it in stock.  We eat it too fast.  I which I could make it, but alas, I would have to catch my own herring!

Morry and Florence discuss the smorgasbord in their book.  It would be similar to the modern potluck, but with a lot more small dishes of pickles and salads, meatballs, smoked, pickled, and cream herring, jellied eel, poached, smoked, and graavlox salmon, potato sausages, lefsa, hardtack, limpa (rye bread with anise and orange peel) and much more. One restaurant in Stockholm was noted for having over sixty dishes excluding the dessert table. If you find a copy of their book, these are just a sample of the cold dishes; there are hot dishes and more.

Of course, if it is a celebration and winter, glog or if warmer weather, aquavit kept very cold.  Swedish coffee has several manifestations, some use the white of the egg in the mix, while others just throw the shells in with the grounds.  My nana’s generation held a large sugar cube between the lower lip and the teeth and sucked the black coffee, very strong, through the cube. Later in life many had cavities in the bottom front teeth or they were missing altogether.

If this didn’t make you hungry, then perhaps you can go to a restaurant that is doing deliveries from their door to their parking lot or home deliveries, but I wouldn’t take a chance at that.  My nurse friends tell me, “Assume everyone you meet has the virus.” If that is the case, I wouldn’t want them to prepare my meal.  Besides, I am a better cook than they are.

The Idiosyncrasies of Isolation

When can you remember (as an adult, not a child) having a time where you no longer had any commitments? No obligations? No appointments? Not working? Well, in Washington State, as of midnight last night, this is the status quo. Our governor declared that we not leave our homes for any non-essential reason.  We have a governing body that has decided what is essential and we are supposed to conform to that.  Medical issues, groceries, pharmacies, liquor stores (wow?) are open for our essential needs.  Almost all others, including the Boeing Company, employing almost a quarter of a million people and the largest employer in Washington state, are closed.

It is amazing what a virus can do.  We have a large number of confirmed cases here on the island where I live and the mainland across the sea from me has many more (65confirmed {March 25, 2020, the fifth largest number for a county in the state).  Western Washington was the first site of the outbreak and it is growing daily.  This virus is much stronger than the ones we have had in past years, though in the 2018-2019 winter season over 34,000 people died of flu in the US.  This one poses an even great threat, so mass isolation has been issued here in our state.

I live on a five acre farm and I can go out and work in the gardens, take a walk, and be outdoors as long as I maintain a distance of six feet from my neighbors.  I seldom see my neighbors.  I am an artist and I have been painting, painting, painting.  I have all the time I want to paint.

Idiosyncrasies? Well, my husband and I have been getting along better than ever.  We never have had so much time together.  I was worried that the constant contact would bring about bickering, but quite the contrary. We are having a great time.  Maybe having more time to interact has brought us closer.  We sit at breakfast and have discussions about all sorts of things, sometime for hours.  (I don’t have to get out of my jammies until I want.) We may see more divorces and we may see a boom in the babies born nine months hense.

Idiosyncrasies? We will probably get fat, but we are making all kinds of wonderful meals.  Tonight was Beef Stroganoff, last night was Swedish meatballs.  We fixed Chinese dumplings a biaozi (steam buns) with hot and sour soup and onion pancakes, pecan pie, peanut butter/chocolate cookies—FROM SCRATCH.  You get the idea.  I think that we will get fat during our incarceration!

Idiosyncrasies? Well the downside is we drink more alcohol.  Not a good thing.  Makes you fat and is addictive.  Enough said about that.

Idiosyncrasies?  The house is cleaner than it normally is.  This is a good time for spring cleaning and preparing to get rid of the “non-essential” stuff that has been a burden for who knows how long.  Clean out the closet of anything you haven’t worn in a year or that doesn’t fit, but you are hoping to fit into soon. Not likely since we are eating so much better and drinking more and probably gaining weight, but don’t have the nerve to get on scale to find out.

Idiosyncrasies? Communicating more than we normally would.  We are sending email and phoning relatives and friends a lot more often than we would normally would.  We don’t usually use the telephone this much, but people call to see how we are and we have a number of folks we check on as well, some because we cannot go out or because they cannot go out, but just to be sure that all is well with everyone we know.

Has this isolation caused us to do things much differently? Well, my husband and I are not particularly social people, so we do not miss the parties, dinners and social engagements too much because for us they are few and far between. We do have friends that have contracted the virus and who were in compromised positions even before that, so we are keeping them close to our hearts and trying to stay in touch every day.  We are trying to see to any needs they may have without compromising our own situation. (Ordering deliveries from Amazon for their needs or for gifts.)

I must say there is a new freedom I feel as a result of this isolation.  When I was very young and asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I replied, “I want to be a hermit.” In all honesty I guess I still enjoy a life free of the encumbrances of society. If nothing else it would give me time to do whatever I wanted, be it mend the broiler on my oven (which went out last and I am waiting for parts) or painting and creating to my heart’s content.

This coronavirus is a bad thing and we should all treat it with respect.  We are staying isolated even to the dismay of some our friends, but my spouse has compromised lung issues and it would be devastating to our household if it enters our lives. Better to be safe than sorry.  To parrot the governor, “Stay home, stay healthy.”

Remember, life is fragile, protect it.

If you are doing something wonderful in your time off, freedom from commitment, let us know.

Crabbing Season is Here!

crab omleteWow! Crabbing season just started and we were gifted wild Dungeness crab yesterday.  My husband, sweet soul that he is, picked it all while I was at work yesterday.  So this morning we are in for a great treat, Dungeness Crab Omelets with garlic herbed chevre cheese.  I even got busy and made quick bread cinnamon rolls to go with it.  Living in the lap of luxury!

Crabbing season generally starts with the first of July or thereabouts.  My sister and her husband go out, and this early in the season, generally limit, which is five crab each.  That is a lot to cook and a lot to pick, so they get out their big turkey fryer kettle and the propane burner and do it in the yard, many crab at a time.  The cooking doesn’t take too long that way, but the cleanup of the boiling process takes some energy and time.

Picking is the time consuming.  Dungeness crab is probably one of the easier kinds of crab to pick, but I can only manage to clean one about every fifteen minutes. If there are several to do, you usually end up with some cuts and abrasions as a result.  The reward is you get to snack on the crab while cleaning.  We usually keep a little dish of mayo handy to dip in.

Once finished, you have this unctuous, sweet, mildly fragrant (with slight umami taste), white meat and legs that are beyond compare to any other crab I have ever tasted. Yes, it is better than king crab, snow crab or any kind we have access to.  Close in taste is the northwest red rock crab which is almost impossible to extract its meat.

Breakfast was all we had hoped it would be.  Needless to say, we ate decadently and are thoroughly sated.  Envious? You can do it too.  All you need is a boat, crab pots, a strong back to pull the pots, a large kettle to cook the crab, lots of time for picking and moments of pure joy eating.  Prep time: very long.  Eating time: minutes of pleasure. The alternative is to pay $35 a pound and worry about freshness.

We are luck to live where this is all possible.

Today is the BIG Day

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Once a year I hang my show at the Braeburn Restaurant in Langley, Washington.  Today is the day.  I will be hanging it after hours, so tomorrow will be the first day that you will have the opportunity to see it.

In the past I have featured, trucks, barns, old gas stations, larger-than-life food items (peanut butter sandwiches 18 tall), crows and this year the feature is birds.

When my show was taken down last year, I started thinking about what I would show for 2018.  I decided to do local birds.  These paintings are in watercolor, not my usual medium, which is oil.  The really unusual thing about the paintings is they are not painted on paper, but on treated panels of medium density fibreboard (MDF). Another unusual thing about them is that they are loosely painted, not the usual photorealism of my oil paintings. This makes them more spontaneous and whimsical than my usual works.

There are twenty-five birds, a few dogs, and, yes, some trucks!  I would hope that you could visit the show sometime between July 14 and August 31. You may purchase any of the paintings and take them with you, which is nice if you are from out of town.

The Braeburn Restaurant is located at 197 D. 2nd St. Langley, WA 98260. They serve breakfast and lunch.

Their phone number is 360-321-3211. https://braeburnlangley.com/

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Crabbing Season is Here!

crab and cheese breakfast
Here we have the breakfast muffin with crab, poached egg and cheese.

Saturday was the first day of crabbing season here in the maritime Pacific Northwest.  One of nature’s bounty waiting out there for us to pick up and eat.  Though it sounds easy and, at the beginning of the season, is abundant, it is more work than it would seem.  There is a reason why picked Dungeness crab is $36.95 at the fishmarket.

Firstly, you must have a boat which is seaworthy.  You can go out in a kayak, and I have seen a few folks do it that way, but it would be dangerous.  Pulling a pot up from the bottom of the sea takes some effort, a lot of lead weighted rope and hopefully a pot full of crab.

Luckily for us, my brother-in-law has such a boat with a winch to haul up the pots.  I have gone out with friends, invited because I was strong enough to grab the buoy marking the line and strong enough to raise the pot from the ocean’s floor.

My brother-in-law’s first haul on the first day was a full pot, filled with all males, all legal size.  You can only harvest the males and only five a day per person with a state wildlife permit. In two days, he and my sister limited and shared their abundance with us.

Next you need a large pot with a heavy duty burner.  A turkey fryer set up works well.  You can boil about 4-5 crab at a time.  Then the cleaning when they are cooked.  Plunge them into cool water to cool them.  Peel off the main carapace and clean their second-hand dinner from inside.  Rinse well.

Now you are ready for the hard, time-consuming part, picking the crab.  Yesterday I picked, and picked, and picked.  We had crab for dinner and the chickens got the shells (a good source of calcium for them).

We netted about two pounds, about a quart, of picked crab.  Last night we had crab melt sandwiches, hot.  This is an English muffin with crab in mayo covered with melted cheese.  Breakfast was almost the same with an addition of a poached egg and fresh tomato.  We still have lots left and our next choice will be crabcakes with red pepper rouille. Yum!

After reading all that, some of you probably will go to the fishmongers and buy the picked crab and consider yourself lucky to have it for $36.95 a pound.  Well you enjoy it and hope it is as fresh as ours.

Crab season is upon us.  It doesn’t freeze well and turns grey if you can it, so eat it while it is fresh and say thank you to mother nature for providing such a superb delicacy.

Food dislikes

Breakfast Welsh Rarebit
Poached egg on English muffin with crab cake and sharp cheddar sauce

I am an omnivore.  I eat gluten, lactose, nuts, soy, red meat, white meat etc.  You get my point.  I try almost anything.  I may not choose to eat some things a second time, not because I especially dislike them, but I choose to fill myself with foods that I enjoy.  If I am going to take in calories, they are going to be delicious calories.

When I lived in China, we had a policy of eat and don’t ask.  In all the time I lived there, there were only a couple of dishes that I would not order again.  If my students ordered them, I politely took the first bite as is required of the honored guest, but because there were so many dishes on the table, no one noticed if I didn’t help myself to more later on.

One of the dishes was duck feet in mustard oil.  I don’t mind duck or chicken feet at all and have had some truly wonderful dishes prepared with them.  The problem with this dish was the mustard oil.  I understand now how mustard gas can kill.  The oil was truly nasty stuff.

The honored guest always gets the eyes of the fish when steamed Li with scallions and ginger is served.  I eat these, but they are not a favorite.  They have little flavor, it is just the eye-dia.

Another dish which was offered to me at numerous festive dinners where I was the guest of honor was coagulated duck blood.  This is about the consistency of soft jello, difficult to pick up with chopsticks as it is jiggly and very soft, the cubes breaking easily.  Nothing worse that staining the front of you blouse with duck blood.  I ate it everytime it was offered, but I opted out of it on following turns of the lazy susan in the middle of the table.  No one noticed as there was so much food.  Duck blood is not cheap as it is hard to keep fresh.  My students, wanting to impress me, would order it as a special dish.

There is a somewhat humorous story about duck blood that happened to my husband when his students took him out for an end of term celebratory dinner.  I quote it from my manuscript below.

“….Bob tasted this one dish, coagulated duck blood, which was one he didn’t especially care for and had had before.  He went on to the next dish after surreptitiously rinsing his mouth with beer.  As continued eating, one of the other students took a taste of the duck blood.  The student made a terrible spitting noise and hacked the mass onto the floor, stood up and started yelling.  The duck blood was spoiled.  When Bob came home he said, “If I die tonight, I want you to know I ate spoiled coagulated duck blood.” The students were most apologetic.  I guess it might be a good idea to have a guinea pig to do your tasting for you, but that is not the Chinese way, the honored guest is the guinea pig, going first and dies first, if it is bad.  Bob didn’t even get sick.”

Now we mostly prepare our own Chinese dishes and we choose only the most delicious to eat.  When we can find ingredients, we prepare them at home for ourselves and we omit the mustard gas (oh, I mean oil), the eyeballs of animals including fish and coagulated duck blood.

There are two foods that I WILL NOT EAT, never.  There are only two.  One I don’t run across but occasionally.  Parsnips are on my HATE list.  I will refuse them if you offer them to me. There is not being polite here.  I even hate the ones that come in those chip bags of mixed vegetables. It isn’t the texture or the appearance, but the taste that you sense in the back of your nose.  When I was a young girl, I had several surgeries.  These entailed putting you to sleep by putting a cone over you face and drizzling ether onto the cone.  Parsnips taste like that smell.  Ether made me throw up and parsnips make me gag.

The other food I dislike and will not eat is runny eggs.  I do run across this often. If we eat breakfast out, I almost always order scrambled eggs as they will usually be completely cooked.  I would eat a runny white, but a runny yolk tastes like….well….coagulated duck blood.  It tastes like blood. I love eggs Benedict.  Do you think I can convince the cook of the meaning of petrified?  Never.  I always have to send them back while my table mates eat their meals before they get cold.  Once at the local café, I sent them back twice and they were still soft.  I kept the fruit bowl and told them to cancel the eggs Benedict. What don’t they understand about petrified?

Now when I go to that local café, the cook gives me the stink eye and hopes that I don’t order anything with poached eggs.  I would rather green yolks than soft orange ones.  It’s too bad, because this is a dish that I would not make at home as my husband is not partial to it and it is too much work just for me unless I am making crab cakes eggs Benedict, in which case my husband will eat those with me.

I am an omnivore.  I will eat almost anything and I am willing to try anything at least once.  Try it, you might like it.

 

Good Food

Recently we went camping and one of the places we were sure to stop on our way down the coast was Westport, Washington.  Westport is a key charter fishing port.  There are tons of charter fishing boats as well as private fishing boats, crabbers, ones who fish for salmon, halibut and much more.

This is a very small town which has only a small business district with lots of restaurants for fisherman who are staying there to eat.  We were there once when we had a medical emergency and we would have had to travel a very long distance to get help according to a local clinic.  Either we would have had to go to Pt. Angeles or Astoria.  We decided to deal with it ourselves.  This tells you that the services in this town are skimpy and mostly related to charter fishing.

There are however several places here for the gourmand. One of the best is a seafood shack for purchasing oysters, scallops, mussels, all kinds of fish and more is located here.  We purchased our usual pint of yearling oysters and ate oysters for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a couple of days.  These quarter size delicacies are extra ordinary.  Doused with a little panko and lemon zest and fried in browned butter there is nothing better.  For breakfast, fried bacon, onions and oysters in scrambled eggs with home fries on the side you are really eating high on the hog.

The other place that is near and dear to our hearts is Bay City Meats.  These folks are the best source for sausages and meats.  We bought Mulligans, linguisa, chorizo, breakfast sausage, landjager, and more.

We have been home for about a month now and we broke open the chorizo for dinner tonight.  It was exquisite! Spicy with just the right amount of fat.  The stuff they sell locally is about 75% fat. Yuck.  This was just perfect.  I made chili sauce with guajillo chilies by roasting them in a little oil and then blending with boiling water, garlic and grilled tomatoes.  I put the chorizo, chili sauce and grated cheese in tortillas and spread with sauce and cheese on the top.  Just the right amount of heat and aromatics to make a dinner that was over the top.  I can still taste it and the house has this wonderful aroma.

Luckily we still have tortillas, sauce and some fried chorizo left to make migas for breakfast.  Our version is to take the chili sauce and poach eggs in it.  I will fry tortillas, dip them in the chili sauce, place the poached egg on top and cover with chorizo and more chili sauce and cheese.  Boy I am hungry already and it is still evening.

When we were on this camping trip we also found in Twisp, Washington a source for elk burger, so we had elk burger spaghetti and elk burger pastitsio last week, but those are for another blog.

Take care and enjoy.