Beets were on my top food offender list when I was a kid. Beets didn’t come from a farm or the grocery store, they came from a salad bar. Sizzler, Soup Plantation, even Carl’s Jr. (yes, they had a salad bar in the ol’ days) all had ‘em. Sliced or julienned, my auntie would pile them on her salad. All I knew was, they went straight from a can into a tub and they tasted like dirt in dark purple water. Who would eat that? It was one vegetable I flat out hated. Conversion, er, enlightenment(!), came 20 years later, via a slightly sweet, earthy roasted beet salad with blue cheese and a citrus vinaigrette. Beets went from vegetatum non grata (probably not accurate Latin) to one of my favorites.
Fast forward to this week. I get a daily email from Il Corvo in Seattle that gives the rundown on the pastas (it’s what they do) on offer that day. It’s mouth-watering and torturous at the same time, since they’re only open for lunch Monday through Friday and it isn’t close by. Monday’s lacinato kale parsley pesto had basil and I had none, but it got me thinking about pesto alternatives, and about the four big fat beets I had in the fridge.
I’m tiptoeing into Fall. The last few mornings there’s been more of a chill in the air, but the afternoons are still warm. I’m still wearing flip-flops, but with long sleeve t-shirts. My cherry tomato in a hanging pot is in its second wind. This is when we keep our fingers crossed for one last push. Last night’s pasta carried that forward. Summer’s Lite Brite punches of heirloom tomato and basil were left behind, making way for the earthiness of mushroom. We (er, I) haven’t quite given ourselves (read: myself) over entirely to the autumn, but this mushroom ragu was a first tentative step.
September is about new beginnings, well, at least as far as the school year goes, so maybe that’s why OJ kicked off his new diet and exercise regimen now. Whatever it is, this new deal is already changing the way we eat (and I thought we were in a pretty good place to start with).
The main challenge? Everything is weighed separately – 100 g protein, 80 grams carbs, however many grams fat. But when I start to look at how I cook, how do you calculate vegetable soup or pot pie or a casserole of any kind? Everything is mixed in.
This first week there’s been a lot of grilling going on. Last night flank steak, over the weekend we grilled chicken. And it was that chicken that formed the basis for this chicken tikka pasta salad.
As a food town, Seattle may not have the swagger of New York or San Francisco or LA, but it stands on its own. Ask foodies across the country about Seattle and they might mention Pike Place or the fact that Tom Douglas catered a fundraising lunch for President Obama, but ask them if they’ve heard of Kirkland, Washington and they’ll say, “Oh yeah, like at Costco. Kirkland.”
A Microsoft bedroom community, Kirkland is the home of Costco #1, but it’s also the home to one of the best restaurants in the Seattle area — Café Juanita. Specializing in northern Italian cuisine with a focus on locally sourced ingredients, Café Juanita is casually elegant, at once special occasion and neighborhood spot. You might know chef/owner Holly Smith as winner of the James Beard Foundation’s 2008 Best Chef Northwest, or for her turn on Iron Chef America, where she won her bout with Iron Chef Cat Cora. This year, Chef Smith was nominated as Outstanding Chef in the US by the Beard Foundation. But I gotta tell ya, I didn’t need the Beard Foundation to confirm that Chef Smith’s got game.
It’s been four years and I’m still having a hard time adjusting to the seasons in the Pacific Northwest. I’m used to strawberries starting in late January, asparagus starting in April and lasting nearly to the fall, stone fruit starting in May, and then being socked in by June gloom. But if there’s one benefit to the long, cool spring we get in the Pacific Northwest, it’s an extended window to enjoy peas. Long after the southern climes are into their tomatoes, we’re still enjoying sugar snaps, English shelling peas, and snow peas. And when those sugar snaps are fresh — they’re sweet and crunchy…and there’s nothing like ‘em.