Sunday, September 30, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

September 30, Matt and I had our 2nd Anniversary. Since I had work that day (wah-wah, as Debbie-Downer would say), we celebrated on the 29th, which was Saturday and a gorgeous Indian summer day.

We rolled out of bed at around 9:30 (I swear I still have jet lag!) and went down the street to the Wayfarer, a popular little dive that serves breakfast and dinner. One of our traditions is to go out to breakfast and bring a game to play on birthdays and special days, so we brought backgammon. Matt won one, I won one. We called it even. And Bert, our favorite waitress who wears fried egg earrings and different colored socks, who calls Matt sweetheart and darling and has the best East Coast accent, waited on us and added some heirloom tomatoes from her garden to my omelette plate. Joy!


After breakfast, we headed to Dock Square in Kennebunkport with Phyllis and Gene's kayaks and put into the river. It was really windy and difficult to paddle into the wind, but it was clear and sunny and when the wind was at our backs, we could just glide downriver.



After wandering around the port for awhile, we went home and took a nap to rest up for our night on the town. We were so excited to go to a restaurant that we'd heard about back in Seattle: Five Fifty-Five. This July, Food and Wine magazine featured the top 10 up-and-coming young chefs in America. We took notice because Matt Dillon, the chef-owner of Sitka and Spruce on Eastlake (in Seattle) was one of the chefs on the cover. Our friend Maria loves the restaurant and we finally got a chance to go in April for Matt's birthday. We loved it and we were so glad to see Matt honored by Food and Wine magazine. Along with him, a chef from Portland, Maine was also featured, Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five.


We got all dressed up (I teased Matt that this would be the last time I would have a reason to dress up until we leave Maine) and drove the half hour up to Portland for an 8:15 reservation. We were seated on the second floor, more of a balcony, and from our seats, we could see down into the open kitchen. With my recent restaurant experience under my belt, I was mesmerized by their timing, presentation, and cooking methods.

We ordered wine first: a viognier for myself and a sicilian red wine with earthy notes for Matt. We decided to split the mussels, with house pickled cherry peppers, chive butter, and garlic. I confess, I nearly licked my plate when we were finished. The sauce was rich and delicious.

For salads, I had a beet, arugula, bleu cheese and pecan brittle salad with a butter sage vinaigrette. Matt had apple, arugula, and cheddar salad and the cheese came in a tiny pastry shell. Delicious. For entrees, Matt had hangar steak with a cauliflower flan and I had peppercorn encrusted scallops with fennel mashed potatoes and pearl onions and carrots. SO rich and yummy. There were only 3 scallops on my plate and I could hardly get through them.

For dessert, Matt had a fallen chocolate souffle cake and I had a trio of handmade icecreams: hot pepper, apple crisp, and maple. Yum! We had such an amazing meal and it was great to be in a city, albeit small, for a night.


A wonderfully relaxing and decadent anniversary. We're definitely happy to be married to each other and we are becoming each other's best friend all the more on this new adventure.

On an entirely different note, Armstrong and Ella are in love. :)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This week's culinary creation #2: Butternut Squash Risotto

Since these days I can't have any pasta, I have been experimenting with different kinds of rices. I have recently fallen in love with arborio rice, the kind that is used in making risotto.

A few weeks ago I tried out an easy risotto recipe that simply boiled the rice and "aromatics" (herbs and flavoring elements of a dish), drained them when the rice was plump (just like pasta) and then added the rest of the ingredients at the end. That recipe used garlic, dried cherries and pistachios, and was a major hit with Matt and I (sorry no pictures), but it whet my appetite (literally!) to try out a traditional risotto, a somewhat more elaborate process.

At the grocery store, I found some beautiful butternut squash that was pre-skinned, scooped and cubed and ready to cook. In the past I have served the squash by itself or as an ingredient in homemade ravioli or gnocchi. But since I can't have pasta, I thought to myself, "Aha! Butternut squash risotto!" I also picked up some sage to create a browned butter sage sauce, dynamite with squash, and some fresh pecorino to shave over the top.

I thought that the traditional style of cooking risotto would be difficult, but it turned out to be easier than I expected and the flavor is FANTASTIC. The concept behind risotto is to infuse the rice with lots of flavor in the beginning of its cooking process while it is still very absorbent, instead of at the end by pouring a sauce or stir fry over top.

Here were my ingredients:
4 oz turkey bacon, minced
1/2 yellow onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
5 cups chicken stock, brought to a boil, covered, and heat turned off
salt and pepper to taste

First I sauteed the turkey bacon (pancetta would be fabulous with this dish as well, or if you are a vegetarian, leave out the meat, and toast some hazelnuts to add in at the end). In the rendered oil right along with the now crisp bacon, I sauteed the onion (shallots would also be a nice substitute here) and garlic and added freshly ground coarse salt and pepper for flavor.

Now here's where the rice comes in. In the same saucepan, I added 1 cup of dry arborio rice and let it toast with the onions, garlic and bacon and get coated in the oils. Then I added 1/2 cup of good white wine. You can imagine how the flavors were being soaked up by the dry rice. I had already boiled five cups of organic chicken stock and once the rice had absorbed all the wine, I began adding the stock, one ladleful at a time, waiting until one had been absorbed before adding another. This whole time, the heat was medium high and I was stirring constantly.

Meanwhile I made my butternut squash and browned butter sage sauce.
Squash:
Approx. 1 lb. squash, skinned, cleaned, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
2 TB unsalted butter
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 TB brown sugar

Browned Butter Sage:
1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter
12-15 fresh sage leaves, torn in half
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

For the squash, I melted the butter and put the squash and salt in on a medium heat, stirring from time to time until it became tender. About 10 minutes. Then I added the brown sugar and let the squash carmelize for a few minutes before removing it from the heat.

I have to admit the first time I tried to make the butter sauce, I burned it. So don't let your butter get too hot. Melt it in the pan over a medium heat and as it begins to get hot and maybe just begin to bubble around the edges, add the sage, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Remove from heat just as the sage begins to get crisp and the butter is a golden brown.

By now, my risotto was done. Very moist, but perfectly cooked inside the grain, which is the best thing about cooking rice this way. I simply stirred in my butternut squash and some of my browned butter sage sauce. At the end, I shaved my pecorino and served it over the top. You might be tempted to put cheese into the risotto, but it becomes too rich, so I would recommend holding off. until you've at least tasted it as it is.


Here is the recipe for the easy risotto I tried a couple of weeks ago:
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 1/2 cups (about 1 medium) finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf/Italian parsley
1 TB minced fresh rosemary
3 TB unsalted butter or olive oil
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3/4 cup shelled pistachios, lightly toasted
1/3 cup dried cherries, halved
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

Bring 3 quarts of salted water to boil. Add rice, onion and garlic, and boil for 16 minutes, or until rice is tender and al dente (slightly firm--do not overcook).

Put parsley, rosemary, and butter (cut into pieces) into a largo bowl and add the drained rice and onions. Stir together until butter melts. Add cheese, pistachios and cherries, and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This week's culinary creation: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes


I've been cooking up a little storm, taking advantage of days off and being inspired by autumn weather. The first week we arrived, Ashley sent me a package containing a bullet-proof way to make friends in a new place: a cupcake cookbook! Not only cupcakes, but gorgeous, vegan cupcakes. Not that I'm vegan, but if it tastes good, I'm in!

A few words of wisdom from "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World":

"Why cupcakes? We feel that this question can only be answered with an A to Z list.
A=Adorable. This one is obvious. Who doesn't think cupcakes are cute? Off the top of our heads, probably only Dick Cheney.
B=Blogworthy. A surefire way to get people to look at your blog is by posting pictures of cupcakes. No one wants to hear about your terrible day at the office or what you think of China's space program. They want to see picture of cupcakes. Trust us."

Matt's friend at school, Sondra, was having a birthday party and I wasn't going to be able to go because I was working, but I had run into her in the grocery store and promised to send something sweet to eat with Matt. I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to try out one of the recipes in "Vegan Cupcakes."

Since it's fall, I settled on a pumpkin chocolate chip cupcake recipe and decided to make cream cheese frosting instead of the cinnamon glaze suggested in the cookbook. I bought some gluten-free all-purpose flour, which is now my best friend because if I make pastries at home, I can actually eat them! I wasn't sure how it would turn out, non-wheat flours being fairly dicey in their results, and I bought a box of carrot cake mix just in case all else failed. But the gluten-free flour made perfect cupcakes and I couldn't even taste the difference!

I also used dairy products in my cream cheese frosting, but since I wasn't actually cooking for any vegans, I figured it would be alright. I've learned how to segment oranges at work, which involves using a very sharp knife to remove the peel and then to remove each orange segment from the thin membranes that surround it so that it is juicy and sweet with no stringy husk. I wanted to use these for my garnish, so I added orange zest to the cream cheese frosting. The combo turned out perfectly! Here are the recipes:

Cupcakes (makes 12)
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup soy milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg (my own addition to the recipe)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used ghirardelli's 60% cacao dark chocolate)

Combine wet ingredients, sift in dry ingredients. Stir together gently with fork. Fold in chocolate chips. Divide between 12 muffin liners in a muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees for 22-24 minutes.

Frosting:
1/4 cup margarine or butter, softened
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 TB finely grated orange zest

Cream together butter and cream cheese using an electric mixer. Add sugar in 1/2 cup increments while mixing. When smooth and creamy, add vanilla and orange zest. Frost cool cupcakes.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Our first visitors: Mama and Papa Roddy

Thank you for coming to visit us! Besides having our first Bush siting (Barbara, who sat right next to us at Bandaloop restaurant on Thursday night), we went to the Portland Headlight, a historic lighthouse; had a fabulous dinner at my restaurant, Pier 77; and got to show you around our neighborhood.
Maggie, thanks so much for the Keens. They have already been put to use with our many kayaking adventures. Bob, thanks for the great meals. You both bless our lives so much!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A walk around Cape Porpoise

So I promised some local flavor. Here are some photos from our walk around Cape Porpoise (our neighborhood) last Saturday.



Nunan's Lobster Hut is packed out every weekend night and we see bus loads of people coming in for Maine's best lobster. Just a couple of blocks from our house.



Old lobster dives are everywhere. This one is across the street from Nunan's.



The library and Methodist Church on the corner. We can hear the church bells chiming the hour from our house. It reminds me of living in Switzerland at L'Abri where the church bells in Huemoz carried up the mountainside to us. My watch broke my first week there and I never needed to replace it.


The red barn has (I believe) a widow's walk on its roofline, something you see in the architecture of a lot homes and buildings here. Widow's walks were built in people's homes in seafaring towns like ours as a kind of lookout for people to watch for ships coming into port. Of course, some ships never returned, hence the somewhat morbid name for these interesting spaces. I have a thing for weathervanes and it's a smorgasboard around here. I suppose wind directions are important for people who live and work by the sea.









Beautiful restored barns and clapboard churches are everywhere in this part of the country. Architectural detailing is still a huge part of the local style, something we don't see a lot of in the West, sadly.

There's so much more to show you, but this is just what's nearby for now. More soon!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Maine: The Way Life Should Be"

On Goose Rocks Beach, a few miles from our place

"Maine: The Way Life Should Be"--When Matt and I read this slogan at the state line as we drove up from Boston, we laughed. It's become a bit of a running gag since there's a lot about Maine that's pretty unique. Like wild turkeys crossing our road the other day. Or ridiculous taxes when you buy a car, based on the original price when it was brand new. What?

But I will say this for Maine. On the turnpike (aka freeway), people actually move over to let people pass them if they are going slow in the fast lane. It's as if they are actually using their brains while driving. I've never seen anything like it in Seattle. :)

Actually, it's a beautiful time of year to be in Maine and we are enjoying it. The weather is gorgeous, the tourists are gone, and we are settling in nicely.

We were pleasantly surprised by our furnished mother-in-law apartment when we arrived. The cats seem to like it too. Our landlords, Phyllis and Jean, are spunky and kind and have practically adopted us. Phyllis is from Ireland and has a wonderful Oirish accent. We didn't bring much of our own stuff, so it doesn't quite feel like our place, but the interior is nicer than we expected and will certainly suffice for the ten months we're living here.

Armstrong in the kitchen

The Kitchen


Living room/Office


Our apartment: deck, two windows above the garage, and side entrance

Ella

Matt started school on the 5th of September and the day before we bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee down in New Hampshire--something that I'll feel safe in when winter comes. We've made friends with Elliot and Ashley, a couple who lives down the road from us. Elliot is in the design program with Matt. He's from England and Ashley is from Bellingham, Washington, so it's already and easy friendship full of similarities.

I started a little part-time job while I'm waiting for my certification to substitute teach to come through. I'm boosting my culinary knowledge, something I've been wanting to do for a while now, by working in the kitchen at an upscale restaurant on the end of the cape, walking distance from our place. I've already learned a lot and I am enjoying it for now.

Next time, I hope to post some photos of friends and the local flavor. This is really a charming little town full of great character. Until then.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Goose Rocks Beach

Some photos of our lazy Saturday at Goose Rocks Beach, a few miles from our house.










Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Goodbyes...

It was hard to say goodbye to Seattle and all the warm, interesting people that we love there. Here's to you guys (the ones we got pictues with, anyway).The Gunthers

Acker, Reynolds, Box, McPhearson and Teague, Van Winkle
Acheson, Hesse, Matt, Funscomb, Sawatzky