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eG Foodblog: David Ross - Black Pearls of Gold


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Hello and good Monday morning. Welcome to my Foodblog. First off, let me congratulate Little Ms. Foodie-a fellow Northwesterner and former resident of my home, Spokane, Washington. She correctly answered the location of the 'teaser' photo, and correctly answered the variety of the little berries in the second 'teaser' photo:

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You are looking East from Spokane through the pine forests to Mount Spokane, the little dark bump in the background. We are in the far Eastern corner of the state, about a 5 hour drive from Seattle to the West. Seattle is a one hour flight from Spokane, which I do every day. Yes, I commute to work on an airplane, every day. I live in Spokane but work in Seattle. The flying bit comes in because I am in management for an airline. That's the day job. Food and writing is really my passion. More on the work schedule later. Now on to photo #2, a personal favorite of mine:

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Sorry to the folks who guessed these little blue nuggets were wild Maine blueberries. No, they are wild huckleberries. I am so excited that a fellow Washingtonian, (is that a word?), correctly identified the secret ingredient photo. I am making an offer right now to Little Ms. Foodie that I will bring you a bag of wild huckleberries to Seattle later this Summer in recognition of being the first to spot the huckleberry photo. We will arrange delivery details later.

Huckleberries are simply the most flavorful little beauties you will ever taste. In fact, I actually have goose bumps right now as I write to you about huckleberries-they are that precious to me. They are about half the size of a blueberry and range in color from red to purple to black. I can't really describe the flavor of a huckleberry other than to say it is sweet yet tart, much more tart than a blueberry. What sets the huckleberry apart in my opinion is it's fragrant aroma-a cross between rose, orchid and just about any other tropical flower you can name. The scent is unmistakeable, and wonderful.

If you smell a huckleberry, the aroma will be forever stored away in your senses and then, even 10 or 20 years later, if you smell another huckleberry it will transport you back to that original huckleberry sensation.

The subtitle to my blog-Black Pearls of Gold-is in honor of how highly I prize the huckleberry. We pick them wild just a mere 20 miles out of downtown Spokane, our main competition being black bears and grizzly bears. We'll visit more about huckleberries later this week-how my Grandmother used to buy them from an American Indian woman who sold them door to door out of a hand-woven basket, how to cook them and where to buy them.

For now, welcome and I hope I've whetted your appetite for what I promise will be an insightful, fun and funny, informative and personal look into my world of food and cooking and how it really defines who I am. I hope we'll form some new friendships along the way and that I'll learn about you and the food and cooking in your life.

Now back to the pesky day job for a bit and I'll be back to you soon.

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Oh, bravo!

Do I remember correctly that Huckleberries are tarter than Blueberries? And make a wonderful jelly?

I have a sis in Vancouver, Washington that regularly sends me Marionberry Jelly. Amazing.

Am looking forward to following along.

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Oh goodie!

We went camping up thataways a bit when I was a tweenie. My sister and I picked wild huckleberries and the folks made huckleberry pancakes. It was our first experience of foraging in the US (I'd been berrying in England as a small child), and we remember it fondly.

We also liked salmon berries.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Oh, bravo!

Do I remember correctly that Huckleberries are tarter than Blueberries? And make a wonderful jelly?

I have a sis in Vancouver, Washington that regularly sends me Marionberry Jelly. Amazing.

Am looking forward to following along.

How wonderful! A Floridian who knows about Marionberries! I was raised in Salem, Oregon. Salem is in Marion County-the home of Marionberries. More on Northwest berries to come.

You are correct, Huckleberries are more tart than Blueberries. We don't add too much sugar to huckleberries because we like the tart flavor to come through. Huckleberry jelly is wonderful, like the clear essence of the berry.

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Well, that's a first for me. I confess I always thought huckleberries were the stuff of myth and legend - a local patois for something more common like mulberries or something Mark Twain made cocktails out of. :rolleyes:

David, this might be a stretch - and feel free to disregard if you want - but would you care to weigh in on airline food these days? If you are privy to those arrangements, what tack has your company decided on?

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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Well, that's a first for me.  I confess I always thought huckleberries were the stuff of myth and legend - a local patois for something more common like mulberries or something Mark Twain made cocktails out of.  :rolleyes:

David, this might be a stretch - and feel free to disregard if you want - but would you care to weigh in on airline food these days?  If you are privy to those arrangements, what tack has your company decided on?

No, they are a distinct variety. I was coached on the difference between huckleberries and blueberries as a child. Just as I was coached on the differences between blackberries, dewberries and raspberries. And the differences between apple, crabapple and mayhaw. Same families, different flavor profiles and uses, and thank goodness I was raised by foragers! I have a silly Ramp story I will tell you one day....

Now Marionberries, they have an amazing flavor. I wonder if they would work in a South Florida climate? I do have a fence row that would support a spiny hedge.

And David, sis and I make fair trades. I send her grits, white corn meal, peas, butterbeans, boiled peanuts, canned tomatoes and lots of love.

She sends me her own frozen self harvested Dungeness Crab, home smoked salmon, Marionberry Jelly, and some things she tosses in that are wonderful as well as a lot of love.

Works for me and Fedex! :biggrin:

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I have a sis in Vancouver, Washington that regularly sends me Marionberry Jelly. Amazing.

I hear the Marionbarry jelly from Washington DC is addictive.

Sorry, couldn't resist that one.

Seriously, I am very glad to hear about food on the left coast. I have never had a huckleberry, friend.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Oh goodie!

We went camping up thataways a bit when I was a tweenie. My sister and I picked wild huckleberries and the folks made huckleberry pancakes. It was our first experience of foraging in the US (I'd been berrying in England as a small child), and we remember it fondly.

We also liked salmon berries.

My Grandparents lived on a ranch in Prineville, Oregon in the central part of the state. It is on the Eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains. My Grandma used to tell a story of the American Indian woman who would sell huckleberries out of a hand-woven basket. She was a member of the Warm Springs tribe and picked the berries on Mount Hood near Portland. She sold the huckleberries door to door to the local farm families. My Grandfather made huckleberry pancakes on Sunday mornings.

Huckleberries grow well in the high mountain areas of the Northwest. They thrive in cool environments with lots of Summer sun. The nursery folk have never really found a great method for growing huckleberries commercially, so they are still hand-picked.

They start to show up in our farmer's markets in July, but I wait to buy mine until August or the first of September. Like fine wine grapes, you have to pick huckleberries at precisely the moment the sugars are concentrated, but before the little berries start to dry up. Unfortunately for the pickers, the grizzly bears instinctively sense the moment the huckleberry is at it's peak ripeness, so they have to take their bear spray into the forest with them.

I buy my huckleberries from a Vietnamese family. They pick morels in the Spring and then huckleberries in the Summer and sell them at the Farmer's market. Last Summer the huckleberries were $35 a gallon, which is a typical price. They are usually sold fresh in gallon bags. Spendy yes, but what do we pay for prime beef or foie gras?

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I have a couple of huckleberries bushes in my back "yard" which is more of a mini-forest, but I get very little fruit. I think they need a lot more sun. I have to eat them almost one at a time, which is torture. So hail from the other side of the state, and I'll enjoy learning what I could do if I could gather more than 8 huckleberries at any given moment.

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Oh goodie!

We went camping up thataways a bit when I was a tweenie. My sister and I picked wild huckleberries and the folks made huckleberry pancakes. It was our first experience of foraging in the US (I'd been berrying in England as a small child), and we remember it fondly.

We also liked salmon berries.

My Grandparents lived on a ranch in Prineville, Oregon in the central part of the state. It is on the Eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains. My Grandma used to tell a story of the American Indian woman who would sell huckleberries out of a hand-woven basket. She was a member of the Warm Springs tribe and picked the berries on Mount Hood near Portland. She sold the huckleberries door to door to the local farm families. My Grandfather made huckleberry pancakes on Sunday mornings.

Huckleberries grow well in the high mountain areas of the Northwest. They thrive in cool environments with lots of Summer sun. The nursery folk have never really found a great method for growing huckleberries commercially, so they are still hand-picked.

They start to show up in our farmer's markets in July, but I wait to buy mine until August or the first of September. Like fine wine grapes, you have to pick huckleberries at precisely the moment the sugars are concentrated, but before the little berries start to dry up. Unfortunately for the pickers, the grizzly bears instinctively sense the moment the huckleberry is at it's peak ripeness, so they have to take their bear spray into the forest with them.

I buy my huckleberries from a Vietnamese family. They pick morels in the Spring and then huckleberries in the Summer and sell them at the Farmer's market. Last Summer the huckleberries were $35 a gallon, which is a typical price. They are usually sold fresh in gallon bags. Spendy yes, but what do we pay for prime beef or foie gras?

Given what you said above, it sounds like I'll be able to buy some huckleberries at the Portland Farmers Market in August when we are there on vacation. Am I right? I was already looking forward to our trip, so this will be an added bonus.

Fun blog already!

I like cows, too. I hold buns against them. -- Bucky Cat.

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Well, that's a first for me.  I confess I always thought huckleberries were the stuff of myth and legend - a local patois for something more common like mulberries or something Mark Twain made cocktails out of.  :rolleyes:

David, this might be a stretch - and feel free to disregard if you want - but would you care to weigh in on airline food these days?  If you are privy to those arrangements, what tack has your company decided on?

Airline food, or what is still served on planes, is awful. The only food served is barely edible, whether it is served in first class or sold in coach. If Rold Gold pretzels are better than 'real food' you know you are in trouble. Some of the airlines have gone to the buy on board concept-a 'wrap' sandwich with a processed turkey roll and wilted iceberg lettuce come to mind. And don't forget they 'give' you the condiments for 'free'-an aluminum packet of mayonnaise and maybe one of mustard.

At our company, a regional airline, we at least have kept a measure of service onboard-and kept a measure of integrity. We were the first airline to serve Starbuck's coffee and that is when Howard Schultz was just a guy selling coffee in Seattle. Today he's a billionaire and trying to put a Starbucks in every city that has running water-in the world.

We are also the only airline that serves complimentary wine and micro-brews on every flight. Our micro-brews and wines only come from small producers native to the Northwest. We have recently served some very good Chardonnays and Merlots from the Walla Walla Valley in the Southeastern part of Washington State.

Our snacks tend to run to the pretzel and snack mix category, but we occasionally serve items made by local companies. For example, we usually serve Fisher State Fair Scones in August in celebration of the local Fair season. Fisher scones have been sold at fairs in the Northwest for something like 100 years. We usually have them delivered to the airports fresh and serve them on longer flights.

Now speaking of Marionberries from previous posts, they play a part in Fisher scones. I remember as a kid going to the Oregon State Fair in Salem and having a fresh hot Fisher scone straight out of the oven. They were filled with fresh Marionberry jam from berries picked not far from the fair. They weren't the heavy, thick texture of scones in most bakeries today. The Fisher scones were always soft and buttery, more like a fluffy biscuit than a hard scone.

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Yes I think the Portland Farmer's Market would have some huckleberries later in the Summer, most likely off Mount Hood.

For anyone who can't buy them fresh at your local market, just go to the web and search for huckleberries. There are a number of companies who sell huckleberries frozen and in all manner of products from jams and jellies to BBQ sauce. A lot of the companies are in Montana, Washington and North Idaho.

Here is a link to a story I did a few years back on huckleberries. It was for a now defunct site and I was just starting to do food writing as a hobby. I'd re-write the piece today, but it gives you a bit more about huckleberries and some recipes to try. Enjoy.

http://www.themediadrome.com/content/artic...ckleberries.htm

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This promises to be an interesting and "different" blog, and I look forward to reading more about the intricacies of berries and so forth. Have fun, David!

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Airline food, or what is still served on planes, is awful.  The only food served is barely edible, whether it is served in first class or sold in coach.

I just had some excellent vegetarian meals (penne with fresh thyme and roasted tomato sauce stood out, in particular) on Lufthansa; they were so good that I said, "This can't possibly be airline food." The bagel-in-a-bag wasn't so great, though. :wink:

Based on your huckleberry posts, it sounds like summer is your favorite season for cooking. Is this true?

Thanks for blogging! :smile:

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We are also the only airline that serves complimentary wine and micro-brews on every flight.
Now, that is a great commute!

I was in Portland last year and I was very impressed at the quality of Northwestern-made beer and wine.

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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Marionberries! On my last trip to Oregon Wine Country I had the best marionberry pie. My two friends and I ate the whole pie in lieu of dinner, it was that good. It still makes my mouth water thinking about it.

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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Airline food, or what is still served on planes, is awful.  The only food served is barely edible, whether it is served in first class or sold in coach.

I just had some excellent vegetarian meals (penne with fresh thyme and roasted tomato sauce stood out, in particular) on Lufthansa; they were so good that I said, "This can't possibly be airline food." The bagel-in-a-bag wasn't so great, though. :wink:

Based on your huckleberry posts, it sounds like summer is your favorite season for cooking. Is this true?

Thanks for blogging! :smile:

Actually I think my favorite season for cooking is Fall, followed by the Holidays, Winter, Summer and then Spring.

In the Fall the Northwest is blessed with Apples and Pears. Washington produces a huge portion of the country's apples and pears in the Wenatchee and Yakima Valleys in the central part of the state. I also like our 'filberts' in the fall. Yes, I still call them by the less snooty name they are known for today-Hazelnuts. The marketing folks felt that we needed to get on board with the traditional European name so about 20 years ago we cast off the name Filbert and started calling the nuts Hazelnuts. In the Fall I put toasted, crushed hazelnuts in a pie crust for a pear tart. I also make a delicious, old-fashioned Apple Brown Betty that is simply appes, butter, cinnamon and fresh bread crumbs. It is so delicate and buttery it will make you just sigh when you taste it.

I like cooking in the winter because it gives me an excuse for heavy meat dishes and braises. It's the time of year when we pull all those great Russet Potatoes out of the cellar. Thank you Idaho for leading the pack in potato production.

In the Spring we get local asparagus and wild morels come out of our forests.

In early Summer we see strawberries and raspberries, followed by the unique Oregon berries-Loganberries, Marionberries and Ollalieberries.

In Mid Summer we'll see tomatoes before we move into August and start to see peaches.

The growing season in Spokane in Eastern Washington is about 30 days or so behind Seattle in the West. It is a terrible temptation to wait that long for our stuff to come into its own, but it's always better to wait a bit for your tomatoes to ripen in the garden at home.

Gosh we have so many wonderful food stuffs out here-Copper River Salmon and Halibut are running out of Alaska right now and we get it shipped in fresh every day.

Our geography in Eastern Washington lends itself to raising cattle. To the South of Spokane is the 'Palouse' area-mile after mile of rolling hills covered in wheat fields. Most of our wheat is harvested late in the Summer. The Palouse is one of the world's largest producers of dried peas and lentils.

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We are also the only airline that serves complimentary wine and micro-brews on every flight.
Now, that is a great commute!

I was in Portland last year and I was very impressed at the quality of Northwestern-made beer and wine.

I know, quite the commute. By the way, here is your humble host at his workplace in Seattle:

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I have worked in the airline industry for 20 years. About seven years ago I moved to Spokane from Portland, for the second time, and bought a 1940's vintage home with a goal of 'fixing it up.'

Unfortunately, my business is incredibly unstable and about three months after I bought my home, they closed some of our operations in Spokane and I got transferred to Seattle. Thus started the daily commute. I never felt I could financially afford to move to Seattle as the home prices are about 3 times what they are in Spokane. My day usually starts with waking up at 4am and getting home back in Spokane about 6pm.

My real passion is food and cooking and writing, which I hope to make a full time career venture sometime soon. I can retire from the airline business in November so the food God's willing, I'll get into my food work full time-for profit.

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Dave, thanks for that calendar of harvests for your area, that just the kind of thing I like to read about a place that I have little experience with (I've been to Washington but not Spokane).

So whats it like outside your window? Rolling hills, jagged mountains, high arid plateau? Or is exactly like your teaser photo?

Do you eat any unusual foodstuffs from the coastal rainforest? Little-known First Nations food?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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This looks very promising, David!

What else have you planned for this week, foodwise - besides hunting for huckleberries?

I have lots planned. We'll be starting with a look into my kitchen-the refrigerator, the drawers, the tools, the stove, all of it.

I've got some thoughts to share about the state of cooking programs on television, and my own personal experiences cooking on PBS and my local ABC television station.

I've got lots of food photos of recent dishes I've cooked at home, and finally, I hope we'll have time to talk about a subject near and dear to me-the dining scene in Las Vegas and a recent trip I took down there to attend the Bon Apetit Magazine Food and Wine Focus.

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We were planning on planting several huckleberry bushes in the back yard, along with some blueberries as well. Now I'm really excited - I've never tasted huckleberries, but they sound divine!

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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By the way, commuting on an airplane to work actually can be a learning experience for a foodie.

This morning I sat next to a woman and somehow we started talking about food. I think she probably saw me making notes on my July issue of Bon Appetit and it peaked her curiosity about my interest in food.

She told me she cooked a brisket and corn on the cob last weekend, and was quite upset that her guests ate all of the meat and cheese tray. Hmm. While I like all the dishes, I don't think I'd ever serve a Jewish-style brisket, corn on the cob and an Italian meat and cheese tray at the same dinner. Maybe it was her version of a cross-cultural fusion menu. She told me she wasn't at all happy with the fact that her guests started eating the brisket before she sat down!

She also said that the 'key' to a good roast beef is to "cook it frozen." She said she buys a large chuck roast at Costco and freezes it. Then she puts a lot of whole garlic cloves in a deep roasting pan, puts the frozen chuck on top of the garlic, covers the pot, then cooks it in the oven at 200 degrees for at least 8 hours. According to her, it is very tender and juicy. Not exactly how I would recommend slow-braising a roast, but at least the story was funny and made this morning's commute enjoyable.

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Let's move into my home and take a look at where the cooking takes place.

I don't know why people are so curious as to the size of your home. Have you ever had a complete stranger ask you about your house and "how many square feet is your home?" As if the bigger the size of your home means anything about you as a person. I guess some people think that bigger means better. What's that saying-"it's not how big it is but how you use it?" In the case of my house, and my kitchen, size doesn't matter.

There's no Wolf Stove, no Gaggeneau, no Thermidor side by side. Do you need a 1500 square foot kitchen to stir risotto? That's my defense. While it would be nice to have the means to outfit a restaurant quality kitchen in a home, I make do with what I have. And I do a pretty good risotto in this little space.

The entire house is 950 square feet. Quite adequate for a middle aged bachelor.

The kitchen takes up about 72 square feet of the house-measuring 7 1/2 feet wide by 9 1/2 feet deep.

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I hope Steven (aka Fat Guy) sees this photo. I took it for him because last week he started a thread about cherries. You can see a big bowl of fresh Washington Bing cherries on the counter. They just started showing up in our markets last week. I'll be doing some photos of a delicious 'Cherry Clafoutis' that I did last weekend.

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There is a small dining area in off to one end of the living room. When I moved in it looked like the inside of a barn that was 60 years old. I put down new hardwood floors, wainscoating, moulding, the drapes and new lighting.

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This is my newest kitchen gadget-and don't call it an ode to Marcel Vigneron of Top Chef infamy, otherwise known as 'The Little Man of Foam.' I've been wanting to toy with the idea of "foams" since I got back from Las Vegas and a dinner at Guy Savoy. They served a very good 'Seafood Foam' over a filet of 'Crispy Sea Bass.' This is a 'Foamer' that is normally used for whipped cream, but I'm going to try it to make a 'Shellfish Foam.'

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If you are in my age demographic, anything over 49, you certainly are familiar with the old-fashioned 'Spice Islands' rack that our Mother's had in their kitchens in the 1960's. Spice Islands still makes and sells the spice racks and I think it fits the decor, or lack thereof, of my 1940's kitchen.

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I know, I'm just like you when it comes to spices. We buy more than we need. It goes stale, and we keep the bottle on the shelf for 15 years. Cumin that is 15 years old has absolutely no flavor. And yes, I've heard the experts say that we should only buy a small quantity of the spice we need, otherwise what's left in that big jar goes stale. I guess I can't help my habit of buying big when it comes to spices. I buy a $4.00 bottle of Cream of Tartar only to use a teaspoon every three months when I make biscuits.

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Here are some shots of what's currently living in the refrigerator.

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These are photos of drawers that hold some of my tools.

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There is a small room at the back end of the kitchen where I keep the washer/dryer, dishwasher and a small chest freezer. I also use that as my 'pantry.' I've got some baker's racks filled with kitchen equipment and a large cupboard with food stuff like dried pasta, flour and sugar, the basic dry staples.

This happens to be the top of the microwave which I use as a storage shelf for some Asian sauces and oils. Hey, when you have limited space you use every inch you can get.

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Remember I said this morning the blog would be personal? How more personal can one be than to expose their dreaded tupperware rack in public?

I take lunch to work every day, usually in tupperware. It sure looks cool carrying your lunch in tupperware in a Walmart plastic bag through the airport doesn't it? And I call myself a cook!

Where do tupperware lids go? If you know, let me know. About every three months I find I have more bottoms than tops. I take my tupperware to work. I bring my tupperware home. I wash it, I put it away, then I come back later and there are more lids than bottoms. It's like one of those bad episodes from 'The Twilight Zone' when the store mannequins came alive at night only to go still during the day. I think the tupperware comes alive at night, then it flies away and we don't ever see it again.

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This is another baker's rack of equipment in the pantry.

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      eGullet was nice enough to invite me to write a food blog chronicling what I've made or eaten out for one week. I'm so excited about it! Thanks guys.
      About me:
      I dream about food, I wake thinking what's for dinner and I'm so excited to share it with you. I'm part of the food world in New York. By that, I just mean that I'm so fortunate enough to be invited to great events where I get to eat great food. I'm also a nerd and a part of the technology world. I produce, edit and sometimes host food related web videos and I'm also a part of the tech world.
      I'm launching a website called Please, Pass the Gravy. www.pleasepassthegravy.com We let you create a menu, invite friends and then collaborate on that menu. Never host another potluck with 8 pasta salads. You could use it now, but we're alpha launch, it works but it's ugly. It's my ugly baby. So, if you use it be kind and message me if you have improvement ideas. I thought it would be ok to write about it here because it is food related.
      I live in Brooklyn with a lovely guy who likes to eat and a small corgi mix dog. I cook pretty much every night and do a nice brunch on the weekend. I am not a crazy dog lady, but I do admit to cooking food for the dog. I have an excuse, beyond doting, he had seizures that have stopped since not feeding him dog food.
      Foods I cook:
      Spicy foods! If you look at my blog I have a simple papaya ketchup with habanero that is pretty darn good.
      I love great cheese. This may be the week for Beer Cheese Soup.
      I try to limit carbs, though I do cheat.
      In any given week C. and I probably eat cauliflower, broccoli and green beans as a side.
      Tonight's dinner will be Vietnamese inspired. We'll see how it goes. I'll post about it as soon as I can.
      Any requests? Questions? I'd love to hear from you.
      -Grace
    • By Duvel
      In these challenging times, a full summer vacation is not an easy task. For the last 1.5 years we have been mostly at home with the clear plan to visit Catalonia (or more precise my wife’s family) latest this summer. And it looked good for a while. Unfortunately, the recent rise in case numbers in Spain have resulted in …
       
      OK, let’s skip this part. Long story short - my wife and me are fully vaccinated, as are >90% of the people we care about in Catalonia. After some discussion (after all, Germans tend to prefer to be on the safe side of things) we simply fueled up the car, got each a test (for the transit through France) and started to drive …
       
      After a leisurely 11h drive we arrived at a small fishing town somewhat north of Barcelona around 3.00am. We unloaded the car and my wife an the little one went straight to bed. 
       

       


      I found an expired beer in the elsewise pretty empty fridge and enjoyed the cool breeze on the terrace. Holidays, here we come …
       

    • By liuzhou
      Last week, Liuzhou government invited a number of diplomats from Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar/Burma, Poland, and Germany to visit the city and prefecture. They also invited me along. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday introducing the diplomats to the culture of the local ethnic groups and especially to their food culture.
       
      First off, we headed two hours north into the mountains of Rongshui Miao Autonomous County. The Miao people (苗族 miáo zú), who include the the Hmong, live in the mid-levels of mountains and are predominantly subsistence farmers. Our first port of call was the county town, also Rongshui (融水 róng shuǐ, literal meaning: Melt Water) where we were to have lunch. But before lunch we had to go meet some people and see their local crafts. These are people I know well from my frequent work trips to the area, but for the diplomats, it was all new.
       
      So, I had to wait for lunch, and I see no reason why you shouldn't either. Here are some of the people I live and work with.


       
      This lovely young woman is wearing the traditional costume of an unmarried girl. Many young women, including her, wear this every day, but most only on festive occasions.
       
      Her hat is made from silver (and is very heavy). Here is a closer look.
       

       
      Married women dispense with those gladrags and go for this look:
       

       
      As you can see she is weaving bamboo into a lantern cover.
       
      The men tend to go for this look, although I'm not sure that the Bluetooth earpiece for his cellphone is strictly traditional.
       

       
      The children don't get spared either
       

       
      This little girl is posing with the Malaysian Consul-General.
       
      After meeting these people we went on to visit a 芦笙 (lú shēng) workshop. The lusheng is a reed wind instrument and an important element in the Miao, Dong and Yao peoples' cultures.
       

       

       
      Then at last we headed to the restaurant, but as is their custom, in homes and restaurants, guests are barred from entering until they go through the ritual of the welcoming cup of home-brewed rice wine.
       


      The consular staff from Myanmar/Burma and Malaysia "unlock" the door.
       
      Then you have the ritual hand washing part.
       

       
      Having attended to your personal hygiene, but before  entering the dining room, there is one more ritual to go through. You arrive here and sit around this fire and wok full of some mysterious liquid on the boil.
       

       
      On a nearby table is this
       

       
      Puffed rice, soy beans, peanuts and scallion. These are ladled into bowls.
       

       
      with a little salt, and then drowned in the "tea" brewing in the wok.
       
      This is  油茶 (yóu chá) or Oil Tea. The tea is made from Tea Seed Oil which is made from the seeds of the camellia bush. This dish is used as a welcoming offering to guests in homes and restaurants. Proper etiquette suggests that three cups is a minimum, but they will keep refilling your cup until you stop drinking. First time I had it I really didn't like it, but I persevered and now look forward to it.
       

      L-R: Director of the Foreign Affairs Dept of Liuzhou government, consuls-general of Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos.
       
      Having partaken of the oil tea, finally we are allowed to enter the dining room, where two tables have been laid out for our use.
       

       
      Let the eating, finally, begin.
       
      In no particular order:
       

      Steamed corn, taro and sweet potato
       

      Bamboo Shoots
       

      Duck
       

      Banana leaf stuffed with sticky rice and mixed vegetables and steamed.
       

      Egg pancake with unidentified greenery
       

      Stir fried pork and beans
       

      Stir fried Chinese banana (Ensete lasiocarpum)
       

      Pig Ears
       

       
      This may not look like much, but was the star of the trip. Rice paddy fish, deep fried in camellia tree seed oil with wild mountain herbs. We ate this at every meal, cooked with slight variations, but never tired of it.
       

      Stir fried Greens
       
      Our meal was accompanied by the wait staff singing to us and serving home-made rice wine (sweetish and made from the local sticky rice).
       
       
       
       
      Everything we ate was grown or reared within half a kilometre of the restaurant and was all free-range, organic. And utterly delicious.
       
      Roll on dinner time.
       
      On the trip I was designated the unofficial official photographer and ended up taking 1227 photographs. I just got back last night and was busy today, so I will try to post the rest of the first day (and dinner) as soon as I can.
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