If I could take my favorite parts of Boston (good eating, culture, ethnic diversity) and combine them with my favorite parts of Portland, Maine (working waterfront, close to nature, laidback lifestyle), I think I’d end up with something akin to Seattle.
I had just over 24 hours in the Pacific Northwest’s largest city, so my impressions are naïve at best. But I did manage to squeeze in a fair amount of running around and sightseeing, and at first blush, I liked what I saw. In Seattle, it seems, one often gets the best of both worlds. I’ve long struggled to choose whether I’d rather live by the sea, or near the mountains, and I loved that in Seattle you can have both. Likewise, it’s got the culture and diversity of a big city, and yet the graciousness of a small town. One can be cosmopolitan, yet outdoorsy, worldly and yet local.
I started my day in Seattle at Caffe Vita, a local coffee chain. Seattle takes its coffee pretty seriously (you’ve heard of a few Seattle-based coffee chains, no?), and I’m pretty sure I quadrupled my caffeine intake while I was there. Caffe Vita was just down the street from my cousin Anne’s place, so when I work up at the crack of dawn (still on east coast time), I wandered over there for a little pick me up. The coffee was lovely, but I was most impressed with just how nice everyone working there was, especially before 7 a.m. No attitude. No rush. Smiles!
After a morning of errands, Anne took me to Pike Place Market. Touristy, yes, but also charming. We ate fresh-cracked uni, tasted local cheeses, and bought some heavenly pastries. Lavender shortbread? Swoon. I also peeked inside the original Starbucks, ate some cucumber kimchi, and eyed (but did not eat at) a Filipino lunch counter with a sign that said “Your portion size is determined by your attitude.” Amen.
After filling up on samples and sweets, we headed to lunch at Il Corvo, where we stuffed ourselves with pillowy gnudi and chewy tagliatelle doused in grassy, olive pesto.
Anne had to go to work that afternoon, so I decided to continue sight seeing with a 10-mile run. Very pretty, but a terrible idea after such a big lunch. At one point I texted Anne “pasta + running = yetch.” Running has become one of my favorite ways to see new places though, and this one didn’t disappoint. I ran through an industrial marine area, past a bunch of marinas, and out to Golden Gardens before looping back and running down 85th Street through the rolling hills of Ballard.
We celebrated Valentine’s Day that night with dinner at one of Seattle’s best restaurants (blog to come), and were on the road at six the next morning, headed off on an epic three-state road trip. Seattle was in the rearview mirror, but after an introduction like this, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back for more.
Anytime I visit my Dad, I brace myself for an inevitable on-slaught of meat into my diet. While I’ve never been one to shun a pork chop, Dad brings meat-eating to a whole new level. I say rack of lamb, he says leg of lamb. I say steak, he says whole prime rib. And the flesh of one animal is rarely enough; Dad’s favorite meals involve cooking what he calls the whole barnyard: something pork, something cow, something sheep. Maybe poultry… maybe. You get the picture.
As one might imagine, my visits to England usually involve at least one, if not many, trips to the local butcher.
I love them. You never know what you’re going to walk into when you arrive. They might be breaking down chickens, trimming roasts, or wielding a big saw over a huge piece of meat. You might see a whole pork belly, a pile of wings, or the backside of a lamb.
The place isn’t particularly big, there’s maybe standing room for a dozen customers, so there’s no avoiding the show while the butchers dance around one another behind the counter as they prepare each order.
A few years ago they gave me a tour of the place, bringing me through a meat locker where cow carcasses were hung up like suits, and showing me the upstairs work area where they grind all their leftover bits into sausage. You know a place is legit when they show you where they make the sausage.
This year, we decided to make a brisket for New Year’s. While this is a pretty normal cut in these parts, the Brits were intrigued, particularly when told we wanted the bones left in. One guy disappeared into the back, only to return with a quarter of a cow slung over his shoulder.
I love seeing these primal cuts, watching what part of the animal creates this roast or that, or how hard and long a butcher has to saw to get through a rib. There’s no denying that your food came from an animal, or that someone worked really hard to get it to your plate in top shape.
The brisket turned out beautifully, by the way. Rubbed in a secret blend of spices and cooked low and slow for more than 15 hours, the meat was fork-tender and delicious. Definitely worth a trip across the pond.
Sub-hed: In which Gary Dzen tries to make a beer lover out of me
Once upon a time I liked beer. This was back in my early 20s when I was living in Wisconsin (a great beer-producing state), and I could eat anything I wanted and still fit into my pants the next day. My then-boyfriend and I would pass hours eating brats and drinking local beers- everything from Miller Lite to Sprecher Black Bavarian was fair game. These were the days when Leinenkugel wasn’t available out of state, and the folks that started New Glarus hadn’t yet met the president. Back then, beer seemed to go with everything- from Friday night at a polka hall to a Saturday football tailgate outside Camp Randall to a Sunday afternoon fishing trip (fun fact: I learned to fish in Wisconsin). I drank beers at fine establishments along State Street, in taxidermy adorned bars in the state’s northern woods, and in my tiny studio apartment in Milwaukee’s Marquette neighborhood where I could smell the Miller Brewery just blocks away.
Then I moved to Florida, and everything changed. Gin and tonics tasted better in the semi-tropical nights, and on the occasion I wanted a beer, Corona Light and Coors would have to do. Little has changed since then. Summers, I drink gin and cheap light beer. During winter, the last thing I want is a cold drink in my hand, particularly one that fills you up like Thanksgiving dinner. Pass the red wine.
When I befriended Boston.com beer blogger Gary Dzen a few months ago, I could see the hurt in his eyes when I proclaimed Coors my favorite beer. “We gotta work on that,” he said. I just nodded and reached for a can with blue mountains. But true to his word, Gary called a few weeks ago and asked if I’d help him taste beers for his “12 beers of Christmas” column. I agreed, mostly because he played up to my ego and also asked me to cook for it. But I was more excited about my chicken chili than I was about any of the beers Gary wanted to try.
Last week, six of us convened for an evening of beer tasting. Gary had done a lot of research and arrived with a large box filled with cans and bottle of various sizes. Being the connoisseur of fine things that I am, I was most excited for the beers with pretty labels. Chili was served, and tasting commenced.
The first thing I realized is that I know nothing about tasting beer. While I could say “Yeah, I like that” and “This is gross” I had a hard time quantifying any of my claims. While others talked about flavors popping and citrus notes, I said things like “This one smells like an old lady.” Not exactly insightful.
The second thing I learned is that you can’t judge a beer by it’s cover. I always thoughts that dark beer = heavy beer, but that isn’t always the case. There were just as many lighter colored beers that I didn’t like as there were dark ones. That said, there were some that I did like.
Which brings me to my third point: I remembered why I used to like beer. Beer can be as complex as wine, and it can be delicious. While I don’t think I’ll ever be a freak for hops, or crazy about malts, I do firmly enjoy Belgian ales. A few of my favorites of the night: Vineland One, Hibernation Ale, and Delirium Noel. If beer’s your thing, or you want to learn more, you can read Gary’s full review here.
Lastly, beer seems like a much more viable option when looking to buy local, which is something I think about as it pertains to food, but not as much when it comes to drink. New England wines are not ever going to do it for me, but beers are another thing. I’m already a huge fan of Pretty Things, Harpoon and Sam Adams, but Gary’s tasting made me realize that I’ve just scratched the surface. Mystic Brewery, Mayflower and Notch (to name a few) are all doing interesting things, much more worthy of a taste than a no-name glass of Cabernet. Gary may not have made a beer drinker out of me yet, but he’s greatly improved the chances that I’ll venture out of my comfort zone when I imbibe in the future.
And that chili I was so excited about? It was delicious too. Lest you think beer is only good for drinking, I highly recommend cooking with it as well.
White chicken and beer chili
2 lb ground turkey/chicken
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic
1 10-oz can green chile, chopped
6 cups chicken stock
1 12 oz bottle beer (I used Sam Adams Boston Ale)
1 lb dried navy beans (do not soak)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp smoked black pepper
salt to taste
2 Tablespoons chili seasoning
shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onion, cilantro
Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook chicken until done. Drain meat and set aside. In same pot, heat a glug of olive oil over medium heat and saute onions and garlic. When onions are translucent (~2 minutes) add green chile, stock, beer, beans and spices. Return chicken to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer 6 to 8 hours (You can also cook over night in a 250 degree oven) until beans are tender and mixture thickens. Makes about 10 servings. People will want seconds.
Almost eight years ago, a persistent friend peer-pressured me into signing up for my first 5k road race. I don’t remember much about my training, but I know that on race day I’d never run three straight miles before; my goal was simply to finish the 3.1 miles without walking.
I made it in a respectable 33 minutes, but it was one of the hardest physical feats of my life. For a week afterwards, I limped around, legs sore and stiff. Climbing stairs was a nightmare.
Still, the following year I signed up for the race again, and ran my first sub-30 5k, a huge feat in my mind. Shortly after that, I took up long-distance biking, and eventually Olympic-distance triathlons. But the run was never my friend. I’d smoke the swim, and kill it on the bike, only to plod along on the run getting passed by everyone I’d passed the previous two legs. I resigned myself to never running much faster than a 10-minute mile.
in the midst of a ride from Miami to Key West
The 10-minute mile mentality stuck with me for years. When I moved to Boston running became the most convenient form of exercise, and while my mileage increased over time, I didn’t get much faster. Last year, a friend convinced me to run the Reach the Beach relay, which included an 8-mile leg. I was scared, but not wanting to let the team down outweighed my fear, and I finished, quads screaming. Still, once I knew I could run 8 miles, doing 13 didn’t seem like a stretch, and so I signed up for my first half-marathon last September. After three months of training, I finished with an average pace of 10:16, and hardly ran for two months after that. When I did the Jingle Bell run in December, I couldn’t believe how hard running had become. I struggled to finish the three mile race in 32 minutes.
This year, I decided to start running more seriously. I set a goal back in January of completing three half-marathons. I started tracking my mileage via Daily Mile, and clocking the majority of my runs with the Map My Run app. Over the summer, I found an amazing running group that motivated me to get out of bed in the morning, rain or shine. I started boot camp again to work on my core and upper-body strength. On Labor Day, I ran 17 miles, doing a 10-mile run with friends in the morning, and then a 7 mile run with the group that night. My splits for both were sub-10. AMAZING.
running took me across the Golden Gate bridge/ Cambridge race/ stats by month
Suddenly, in September, I started to feel like a runner, a word I’d never used to describe myself. I felt energetic, not tortured, on runs. My form improved. When Reach the Beach rolled around, I completed 24 miles in 36 hours, and while I was sore afterwards, it was nothing compared to the way I’d felt after that first 5k. Last week, I did a training run in preparation an upcoming half-marathon. I knew I wanted to do 8 miles, but I also wanted to compete in a local 5k. So I ran an easy three miles to the race, then raced, and ran home. I finished the 5k in 26:06, a time I never dreamed of seeing.
my morning routine
I’m running my third-half marathon of the year on Sunday. My goal is to PR. I’d also love to run a sub-2 hour race, but I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet. Yet is the operative word there, and in order to motivate myself to keep running through the cold months I’ve signed up for two half marathons next year: one in February, and one in March. I’m committed to getting stronger and faster.
While general fitness is my overall goal here, I have to say it feels really great to tackle something that once got the best of me. It’s also awesome to do this alongside a group of inspirational and fun people who drive you to get out of bed on cold, dark mornings. And it’s fun to be outside rain or shine, enjoying a piece of the city that few see. It is hard, sometimes. But not once have I ever finished a workout and regretted it. Can’t say that about many things.
view on my favorite local run route
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a prize. And this muffin recipe is a pretty good one. I can’t remember how I stumbled onto it… I think I was looking for a baked oatmeal recipe that I made last year, but it might have been Twitter. I’ve blogged about other oatmeal muffins, and I’ve blogged about overnight oats- this combines those two great things into something delicious. The oatmeal is more tender after a night of soaking, and these muffins are a bit moister and fluffier than the others I blogged. If you soak your oats and then forget to cook the muffins, don’t worry. I’ve left them in the fridge for a week and still made perfectly delicious muffins.
Overnight oatmeal muffins
1 cup rolled oats (not quick/instant)
2 cups low-fat buttermilk, or regular milk
1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat bran
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
6 tsp ground flax seeds
- 1 pint blueberries
- 1 cup raisins
Combine oats and milk and refrigerate overnight.
Heat oven to 350. Combine flour, wheat bran, soda, baking powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl. In a large bowl combine milk/oat mixture with oil, sugar, and eggs. Stir well and then add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Fold in berries or raisins, if desired.
Spoon 1/4 cup of batter into greased muffin tins and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of ground flax over each one. Bake 18 minutes or until centers are firm. Makes 14 muffins.
Buttermilk has got to be one of the most under appreciated ingredients out there. Sure we might see the occasional buttermilk ranch/biscuit/pancake on a menu, but buttermilk is hardly a kitchen staple in these parts. Most times when a recipe calls for buttermilk, I just measure out the quantity in whole milk and then add some vinegar to it. I don’t use it enough to justify always having it on hand, and usually the recipe is hardly worth a special trip to the grocery store.
In reading up on this underdog of dairy products, I was surprised to learn that buttermilk is a staple in traditional New England cooking. While it makes sense in the spirit of Yankee frugality, buttermilk was not something I encountered until I ventured South, which is where this recipe comes from.
It’s hard to go wrong with ice cream of any sort, but if you’ve only ever had ice cream made from ordinary milk, you’re in for a treat here. Tart and creamy and extra rich, it’s the essence of summer, and a staple for my North Carolina relatives who to this day take turns cranking an old-fashioned churn to make it at family gatherings. I’d also argue that making it shouldn’t be confined to just the summer months, but rather that it should be paired with apple crisp and pumpkin spice loaves.
Truth be told, when I was a kid ice cream so sour it couldn’t be tamed with chocolate syrup kind of freaked me out. Nowadays, it strikes me as a richer, more delicious version of the frozen yogurt that’s all the rage. It shines alone, or on top of a dessert, and is definitely worth a special trip to the grocery story.
Buttermilk ice cream
2 quarts buttermilk
1 pint whipping cream
1 small can evaporated milk
pinch baking soda
3 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons vanilla
Combine ingredients and freeze in an ice cream churn. Keeps well in the freezer up to one week.
It only took five years, but I’m finally excited about autumn.
I can’t believe that it’s been five years since I moved here from Florida. That first fall I remember being enchanted by the foliage, and yet dreading the impending winter. I was cold all the time. Those first few weeks, I joined friends at local bars and watched the Red Sox make their way to a World Series, was surprised at how people got so into Halloween, and wondered how anyone could start their day with oatmeal. My, how things have changed.
This past summer was amazing. They always are. But when that first whisper of autumn came in September, I was sort of excited at the prospect of hunkering down in the kitchen baking muffins and drinking tea.
And that’s largely what I’ve done. Aside from running, working, planning a bathroom update and a bit of travel. This recipe was originally a quick-bread that Shelby over at Lady Gouda blogged about last year. Moist and not too sweet, I loved it just the way it was. But I’ve been getting up at 5:30 a.m. four mornings a week to work out, and I needed a more portable breakfast, so I made it into muffins. As I invariably do with recipes, I also tweaked it over time, adding more spices, and raisins, and nuts until it became something different enough for me to want to document, mainly so I can remember how to make it next fall.
I love this recipe because it comes together so easily, and makes a treat that captures the essence of fall. While suitable for breakfast, I’d argue that the loaf could serve just as well for dessert. It’s that good. The loaf is moister, but the muffins are easier for me to handle on these dark fall mornings. No knife required.
Pumpkin Spice Muffins
(adapted from Lady Gouda)