The Start of Thirteen

Well, we found ourselves a new apartment in December….and a great one at that.  I told you, things really do work out in time.

The place is in Northeast Portland, in an area that I didn’t really know too much about but am seriously diggin.

_MG_6959These are our new neighbors, we’ve named them Aflack and Af-black.   The ones below are the ladies, they also live right behind us.  Yes, our apartment has ducks and chickens, and no, I’m not kidding.  This is Portland, after all.
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We moved into the apartment officially on Christmas Eve.

IMG_1011Funny story about that though.  I was so concerned with getting all of our stuff to the new place by the holiday that I completely spaced calling the gas and electric companies to switch them to our name.  Luckily the electric company was nice enough to keep our electricity on, but I can’t say the same for the gas company.  Christmas morning, as we attempted to make pancakes, we quickly learned that our stove wasn’t working and neither was our heat.  It was pretty pitiful, actually, because we had planned on spending the day quietly unpacking in our new place, eating and drinking wine, only two of which were feasible at this point but didn’t seem too appealing without the accompaniment of the third.  So, we scrambled to find restaurants that happened to be open.

IMG_1037This isn’t a picture of our Christmas brunch, but rather my favorite brunch cafe I’ve experienced in Portland, called SweeDeeDee.  My good buddy Rebekah took me one day.  It’s freaking adorable and highly, highly recommended.  Tim and I ate something sort of similar on Christmas morning, after much angst and desperation.

IMG_1029This is more indicative of what our Christmas day looked like. F YOU, IKEA DRESSER! Lesson learned…be prepared for the holidays, because NOTHING is open! But more importantly, never buy Ikea furniture ever again.

On the bright side of the holidays, I received these two bad boys as a gift from my parents this year, soooooo rad (love youuuu).
IMG_1032IMG_1047_MG_6949But back to my new apartment…a fridge is a very integral part of a house!  It’s important to me that mine shows some character.  As you can see, lots of fun stickers and photos from adventures as of late as well as lives past.  The dirty dishes and clutter in the background, also a kitchen staple of mine.

_MG_6950Captured by Porches Brewery, Emma brew.  It was consumed on a rock by the Willamette river on July 4th. I kept the bottle, obviously.

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This tree lives right across the street.  It get cold sometimes, especially in the wintertime, so naturally some lovely Portlandian knitted it a sweater.

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I like squash, especially those of the butternut and delicata breeds. The butternut went into the dish in the next photo, an odd creation of mine that was pretty tasty.

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IMG_1078And the delicata, that went into this quiche I made earlier today.

IMG_6941 IMG_6953That there’s my new stove.  It  is perfect and adorable, I’m kind of obsessed with it.

IMG_1062That and my cast-iron skillet.

IMG_1063You can make pretty much anything with it, like the other day when I decided to make a pear compote.

IMG_6943And these are just a few more pics of the new place.
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A while back, I made potato samosas with mango persimmon chutney for the Iron Chef:Persimmon competition. I didn’t win, again, but it was a super fun project and that’s pretty much all that matters to me in the end (sort of).  I have the recipe lying around in a journal somewhere, maybe eventually I’ll get to posting it on here….na, probably not but please inquire if your curiosity strikes.

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And lastly, I leave you with a few photos of our adventures to Mt. Hood, one of the coolest parts about living in Portland.  Not only snowboarding in a sweet spot an hour and a half away, but NIGHT SKIING! IMG_1060IMG_1068IMG_1059IMG_1075It’s nice to know that life goes on (and snowboarding still exists) outside of Aspen….and it’s fantastic.

A happy new years to you, maybe it be the best one yet.

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Thanksgiving at the Kemps

Note: this is a quick post I wrote shortly after Thanksgiving that I never actually published….never too late for a blog post.

Thanksgiving was more than I could have asked for this year.  Not only did I get to binge out on tons of carby, sugary goodness after a week and a half of utter deprivation, but I also successfully managed to pull off a surprise visit home.  It marked the first time in over two years that I was able to come home for the holiday after two consecutive winters in Snowmass, so it was an especially memorable one for me.

Thanksgiving for me is all about coffee and iPad-time in the morning in between my parents in bed, hanging out with my family and closest friends, cooking lots of yummy food, chillin and watching movies, and yes, wine.  There’s not much more I need, really.

Here are a few pictures I snapped this past weekend.

Mama cookin up a delicious chocolate pecan pie from scratch.

Fig, ricotta, arugula, and hazelnut mini-pizzas Kyle and I made for a starter.

Apps and wine around the fire.

Daddy trimming the turkey.

I almost finished that entire plate! (note, the wine is Domaine Drouhin 2010 Pinot Noir that I smuggled home from Oregon)

Hope everyone else enjoyed their Thanksgiving!

Pre-Thanksgiving Cleanse Update 2

Just a quick update.  It’s now day 7 and I’m still going strong on my no dairy, gluten or super sugary foods cleanse.  

These past two days have been a bit of a downer for sure.  I have had some moments of clarity and contentment, but in general I’ve been feeling more, I don’t know, blah, than I was for the first three days.  Physically, I feel healthier overall which is manifesting in a more positive self-image.  My energy has been up and down, but I have been kicking ass in bouldering and I’m wondering if that has something to do with heightened energy levels or maybe a lack of sluggishness typically resulting from the overconsumption of gluten and/or dairy.  

This is what I’ve been eating, mostly.

Day 4

  • Green juice (apple, kale, beet, pomegranate, cucumber)
  • Amaranth mixed with chick peas and a fried egg
  • Almond butter/honey
  • Ginger kombucha
  • Mixed greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette 
  • Truffle fries
  • A glass of red wine

Day 5

  • Green juice
  • Coconut water
  • Soy chai
  • Kale salad with preserved lemon, black beans and flax seeds
  • Kim chee
  • Vegan taco with corn tortilla, rice, black beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole.  
  • Chips and salsa.  

Day 6

  • Green Juice
  • 2 tacos with fried eggs, chia, flax seeds, pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole
  • Soy chai 
  • Grilled romaine salad with cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and marinated onions
  • Chips and hummus

Day 7 (so far)

  • Green juice
  • kale salad with flax seeds and black beans
  • almond butter/honey

My two overarching observations so far are as follows.  One: I, surprisingly, CAN live without these foods!  And the second: I don’t wait to live without them!  Cheese, bread, milk, these are all foods that are just too good to give up entirely!  To do so would be depriving myself of some of life’s most tasty pleasures, and it is not something I want to give up of post-cleanse.   

Three and a half more days to go.

Pre-Thanksgiving Cleanse Update

Today is day 4, and I have to admit I woke up feeling pretty groggy for the first time in a few days.  This may or may not have to do with my diet over the past four days.  The first three days I felt pretty dang great.  I’ve had a extra pep in my step and mental clarity that I often felt I was missing before.  It’s been a great feeling so far!

I thought I’d be craving bread, dairy and sweets much, much more than I actually am!  The one time of day I’ve found myself in a bind is late night after I get home from work.  I’m usually in a snacky mood but not in the mood to cook anything.  This is the time when I would normally reach for something easy like bread, crackers, or cereal, I have had to battle a bit here.  Instead though, I’ve stocked a few go-to items that I can grab and not feel terribly guilty about, like almond butter and hummus.  I will literally eat spoonfuls at a time…is this weird?

Since my boyfriend’s diet consists mostly of these three food groups, I thought that it’d be harder to do a cleanse like this since I’m constantly around it.  It’s really not that bad!  This morning I watched him eat  two eggs (which I don’t consider to be dairy and am still eating) on buttered toast as I sat there drinking my measly green juice.  As good as it looked to me, it wasn’t difficult to watch him eat it without giving in.  This was a welcomed surprise!  Tonight’s our first night off together this week, so having dinner around him probably won’t be as easy…

The only real issue I’m having is at work.  Something I’ve already learned is to always eat before coming into work.  You see, I work at one of Portland’s best restaurants where the sight, smell and temptation of decadent and delicious food is absolutely unavoidable.  To make matters worse,  some of my fellow workers are constantly giving me shit and trying to tempt me to eat things like buttered crushed potatoes, french fries topped with cheese sauce or hollendaise sauce, etc.  It’s not so much that I’m craving it and it makes it more difficult to resist so much as it’s just really annoying.

I have kept a log of everything I’ve eaten in the past few days, for myself and also so that you may get some ideas as to what’s available if you choose to do something like this.

Day 1

  • green juice (kale, cucumber, apple, ginger, carrots)
  • kale salad with preserved lemon, beets and chick peas
  • grilled romaine salad with fresh herbs, tomato and marinated onion (this salad is on the menu at Imperial and normally comes with feta cheese and fry bread croutons, which I omitted)
  • a pear
  • almond butter
  • hot tea/ soy chai

Day 2

  • green juice (apple, pear, swiss chard, carrot, cranberry)
  • steel cut oats with 100% maple syrup, cinnamon, flax, chia and an egg sunny side up
  • chickpeas sauteed in olive oil and spices
  • almond butter
  • hummus
  • KIND gluten-free nut bar
  • a few bites of steak at Imperial
  • hot tea/hot water with lemon

Day 3

  • Green Juice (cranberry, grapefruit, orange, kiwi, swiss chard)
  • steel-cut oats with persimmon, flax and chia
  • New Season’s turkey chili
  • New Season’s harvest vegetable slaw with kale, carrot and cabbage tossed in apple cider vinaigrette
  • ginger kombucha
  • a few bites of kim-chee (I’m currently obsessed with it)

Day 4 (so far)

  • green juice (kiwi, cucumber, swiss chard, pear)
  • coconut water

I must admit that having a juicer helps A LOT, especially because drinking a veg/fruit juice in the morning keeps me fully and happy for a few hours, almost more than a full breakfast would.  If you are interested in a similar cleanse or maybe to improve your diet a bit, you can find relatively inexpensive juicers such as the Jack LaLanne, which is what I have.  This juicer is tons of fun, effective, easy to clean, and amazing for your health.

Porky Piña Cole-Slaw-Da Slidas’

It’s not easy moving to a new city.  I knew this before moving to Portland, but I didn’t really think about it all too much before our arrival.  That is, until we pulled into the driveway with a car full o’ crap, a puppy and merely the clothes on our backs.  Now luckily we had a place to call home for a couple of weeks in a small trailer on a chestnut farm just outside of Portland, which we had arranged through WWOOF.  

But other than that, there was no plan laid out ahead.  No house to call our own, no jobs lined up, no family to greet us with love and hugs.  As exciting as it may have been, to say that the uncertainty wasn’t overwhelming would be a lie.

It’s certainly a comfort to know of a few people in the big bad city, to know that if you absolutely need somebody to call, there are people out there.  Aquaintences, facebook friends maybe who you rarely, if ever, talk to.  But it’s absolutely a great feeling when someone reaches out a hand to make you feel especially welcomed.  I have Alice to thank for that (yes, the same Alice who I took a cheese making class with a while ago).

Alice is an old friend who I met back in my days at Vassar, once upon a time when I played soccer competitively.  Through a series of events I found myself, for the first time in my life, not only living in a new city but one that was entirely across the country from everything and everyone that I ever knew.  I wouldn’t call Alice my first friend or even my closest friend during my freshmen year, but she was always the nicest and friendliest of teammates despite the seemingly inherent senior-freshmen discrepancy.  Before I knew it, I was a sophomore and she a graduate moving on to continue her chem studies at UC Berkeley.  There, she played soccer on the same adult league team as my sister (who lives in San Francisco) as well as myself for the season that I spent in San Francisco.  And then, I left for Aspen.

Somehow the stars aligned once again, and fast forward two years later we have found ourselves both living in Portland.  It was about a week after moving into our new place that she invited us to her upcoming get together. In this Iron Chef-style competition, attendees bring dishes or drinks highlighting one key not-so-secret ingredient.  The first one I was able to attend was an avocado theme, and with little preparation time I whipped up a porcini mushroom and avocado salad with a lemon parsley vinaigrette, Lucia’s recipe.  It was good, but most other dishes were better. 

A few months later, Iron Chef: Cilantro was underway.  I stepped up my game with Tequila Lime Cilantricles, boozy popsicles tasting somewhat of a jalapeno cilantro-spiced margarita similar to the ones described in an earlier post.  I was in the running, but was eventually beat out by my more savory-minded counterparts.

And this past weekend, I competed in my third event, Iron Chef: Coconut.  For this one, I decided to take a bit of a different approach.  Instead of featuring the themed ingredient, I decided to use it as more of a backdrop, incorporating coconut into my dish in many different, yet subtle, ways.  I wanted to use an ingredient that paired well with coconut, so naturally I went in the direction of pineapple.  But I didn’t want to make a sweet dish, and I also wanted to use meat as a challenge to myself more than anything.  I’m fairly sure I’ve heard of others using pineapple juice in a marinade for pork, so that’s when the idea of a pulled pork slider came into play.  Pulled pork and coleslaw, naturally.   After a few days, I settled on my plan.  Pineapple pulled pork slider with coconut cole slaw.  Frankly, my idea was pretty awesome if I do say so myself!

After an hour of pacing back and forth through the aisles of New Seasons checking off my grocery list and doubting that I had everything I needed, I went home to begin prep.  Six hours of slow cooking the meat, reducing a sauce, and chopping veggies went by and before I knew it I was out the door and on my way to Alice’s house with about ten different tupper-wared components in tow.

These Iron Chef parties are, I’ve learned, not to be taken lightly.  There is extensive planning, countless shit-talking emails, graphic designing, outfit wearing, and libation-consuming to be had before the entries even get plated, and it’s exhausting!  But moreso awesome, because as soon as the party starts chaos ensues in the kitchen, with everyone putting last minute touches on their dishes, starting with drinks and appetizers and continuing to main dishes and then desserts.

At the end of the event, after everyone’s bellies are stuffed and we are no longer capable of taking another bite, we all roll ourselves into the living room and the votes are tallied, with each person getting a total of 6 points awarded to their top three votes (three for first, two for second, one for third).   The winner is awarded the coveted Golden Frying Pan for the duration of their reign, bragging rights and the choice of the next theme ingredient.  Unfortunately for me, my “Porky Piña Cole-slaw-da Slidas'” were beat out in the final ballot by a point, putting me at a tie for second with Alice’s coco-licious cheesecake.  The bar was set high for this battle, and I’m comforted by the moment of silence that overswept the room as they bit into my sliders.  A moment of tasty bliss, I’d like to believe.

It is a victory I can and will still look forward to.  Someday, perhaps.

Alas, here is the somewhat informal recipe of my sliders, dedicated to my friend Alice (and her fiance Mike as well as many of their lovely friends).  Thanks for making me feel so welcomed in this little big town called Portlandia.

Porky Piña Cole-Slaw-da Slidas

Apologies but no measurements here- I don’t generally use measurements but more so just go by sight and taste.

Ingredients:

Pulled Pork:

  • Humanely-raised pork shoulder (I asked for about two lbs. from the butcher)
  • Pineapple juice
  • Whole grain dijon mustard
  • soy sauce
  • Coconut juice (or water, with pulp if possible)
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
  • Apple cider vinegar, splash
  • Salt/Pepper

Cole Slaw:

  • Napa cabbage
  • Red cabbage
  • Carrot, 1 or 2 grated
  • Pineapple chunks, minced
  • Dried coconut flakes, toasted lightly
  • Vegannaise (can also use regular mayo or other mayo substitute)
  • Coconut Milk
  • Whole-grain dijon mustard
  • Apple cider vinegar, a splash
  • Small jalapeno pepper (optional), finely chopped
  • Chives, minced for garnish
  • One loaf of challah bread, sliced evenly

Glaze:

  • Pineapple Juice
  • Coconut juice (or water)
  • Maple syrup

Begin by placing the pork in a slow cooker and turn the timer onto 6 (or more, if you have the time) hours.  In a small bowl, combine 4 parts pineapple juice, 1 part dijon,  1 part soy sauce, 2 parts coconut juice, 1 part SBR’s BBQ sauce, and a splash of apple cider vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add to the slow cooker with the pork and leave it be.

You can wait a few hours before preparing the rest of the components.

In a small saucepan, combine 2 parts pineapple juice, one part coconut juice and 1/2 part maple syrup.  Stir on low to medium heat for at least fifteen minutes, until the water has evaporated and the syrup will coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Begin your coleslaw by finely chopping your cabbages either by hand with a knife or with a mandolin, and collect into a large bowl.  Add grated carrots, minced pineapple chunks (if the chopping of the pineapple creates residual juice, add that to the mix as well), chopped jalapeno and a handful of toasted coconut flakes.  In a small bowl, combine equal parts Vegannaise and coconut milk, a small spoon of dijon and a splash of AC vinegar.  Combine well and then fold into the cabbage and carrot mix.  Season with salt and pepper as needed, then keep in the fridge until service.

At this point you can toast the challah slices at about 250 degrees on each side until golden brown, should take no more than 15 minutes in the oven.

One the meat is fully cooked and tender enough to break apart with a fork, turn off the heat and remove any super fatty pieces.  To assemble sliders,  put a heaping spoonful of pulled pork on a slice of toasted challah, drizzle lightly with pineapple glaze, top with an equal portion of coleslaw to pork and top with a light sprinkle of toasted coconut and minced chives.  Top the slider with another slice of challah,  and stick a large toothpick through to keep it in place.

For the next battle, Iron Chef: Persimmon…Allez Cuisine!

Simply Roasted Cherries with Rosemary

I would like to start by saying: my aunt Jane is an amazing lady.

Not only did she send me this antique cherry picker she found at a garage sale a couple of weeks ago, but she is pretty much responsible for my complete and utter obsession with garage sale-ing and flea market-ing.  She also taught me how to bargain.  Before I was even ten years old.  Believe it.

She’d take me to garage sales and flea markets all over the Bay Area on the weekends, and helped me to start a small ceramic dog collection by showing me the bargaining ropes. For you newbies, I’m talking about how to suggest a price that’s well lower than what’s listed and then slowly work your way to the middle.   Or how to pretend like you only have only two dollars in your wallet when you actually have ten.  It’s a skill that, as insignificant as it may seem to you, is incredibly important to me to this day, and especially so now that I’m living in Portland, the garage sale capitol of the world.

There are many, many other life’s lessons and skills that I’ve learned from Aunt Jane, but today I’m thankful for our common appreciation for antiques (especially kitchenware) and good bargains.

Might I add, she’s also quite the cooking extraordinaire, and one of my first true kitchen role models growing up.

I hope she would approve of this simple, yet delicious creation.  Something tells me she would.

Simply Roasted Cherries with Rosemary 

Ingredients

  • A whole bunch o’ cherries, washed and de-stemmed
  • A sprig or two of rosemary, de-stemmed and roughly chopped

You don’t necessarily need a cherry pitter, although it is quite handy and useful!

First you must preheat the oven to a low and slow 250 degrees.  As it’s heating up, you will want to pit your cherries.  I’ve seen recipes where people roast cherries with the pits in, or even entirely whole and with the stems still attached, but I’d rather avoid the nuisance and since I now have a cherry pitter, I went all out on the preparation.  De-stemmed, pitted, halved, the whole nine yards.

So yes, chop in half, and spread onto a baking sheet, skin side down.  Sprinkle with coursely chopped rosemary, and place in the oven.  Allow to bake for at least an hour, if not more, keeping an eye to watch for burning.  Bubbling or crackling noises are okay.  After a long while, your cherries should have shunk to about half their original size, browned or crisped up a bit, and shriveled up like your skin after a long bath (how’s that for kitchen imagery?). If you pop one into your mouth, you will notice how the flavor and sweetness of the cherry is greatly enhanced.

From this point forward, the world is your oyster!  Er, cherry.  You may do with them what you please.  Pop them in your mouth as a healthy snack, throw them on some crackers with your favorite chevre as a beautiful and delicious appetizer, add them to fresh greens in a salad, or even incorporate them into a pastry of your choosing.  It would be utterly impossible to find dissatisfaction in your outcome.

Now, this recipe isn’t quite brain surgery.  In fact, it’s safe to say you could probably do it blindfolded.  It’s the concept that I’m trying to emphasize here, that uncommon pairings of fruits and herbs can and DO go well together.  Also, that fruit can be enjoyed in more ways than just fresh, or in a pie or pastry.  In fact, in many cases roasting or grilling is an incredibly useful method for enhancing the sweetness of the fruit.  It’s also a fabulous way to disguise fruit that you’ve allowed to go a day or two past it’s prime.

If you want to cook simply and do it well, then you will allow the ingredients to speak for themselves.  This is what I’m learning.

 

 

 

 

Cherry Rhubarb Compote

So today I went to the Farmer’s Market. It’s something I strive to do at least once a week, but usually don’t get around to it somehow and end up running to the grocery store for those items I run out of every few days. While I aspire to include it into my weekly routine, it still feels like a novelty to get up in the morning having placed the farmer’s market into the first priority slot of my day. It makes me so excited and anxious that I will literally jump out of bed upon the first sight of daylight, completely skipping the obligatory daily puppy cuddle sesh we’ve grown accustomed to in this household in order to make it before the best selection is gone. This morning was the first that I had planned to bike to the market, all the way across the river, not realizing that it was warming up to be a sweltering afternoon here in Portland. Not yet having installed a basket on the back of my bike for exactly this sort of activity, I was soon to pay for my oversight.

Ideally, before my trips to the market I’d have prepared a list of items that I will buy in order to have these ingredients for meals I would make in the days following. I’d walk down the rows of vendors, scouting out these items for purchase and place them neatly into the brown wicker basket on the back of my bike and then ride home, bright eyed and smiling and waving to people along the way. In reality, today went a little something like this: compose a mental list of ingredients that I may way to buy, jump on my bike with a giant backpack on to compensate for my lack of bike storage, get to the farmer’s market completely sweaty from said backpack, walk around in awe of the vast selection, become overwhelmed by the feeling of wanting to buy everything but having to hold back due to a lack of money in my bank account and storage space, losing my focus in the selection and crowds and scurry around buying a few random items, realizing upon attempt that the backpack is a terrible form of produce storage but no longer having a choice in the matter, and then hopping back on my bike to attempt the sweaty ride home, giant backpack in tow.

The items I purchased today consisted of local strawberries, cherries, garlic, kale, agrietti (what the?), house-cured bacon, and rhubarb. While I don’t regret these purchases per se, I’m now stuck with a bunch of random items that don’t necessarily go together but are worth a few attempts. It’s fun, I guess. Like a puzzle, figuring out which pieces go together and how to do so. For instance, it’s pretty much common knowledge that strawberry and rhubarb go well together, and I would imagine that the kale, garlic, and bacon do as well (you might also add agrietti, a Mediterranean succulent I learned today). But I was in the mood for some a little different. Not too different though, because last time I tried something like that it didn’t work out so well for me. So instead, I went with the cherry/rhubarb combo and created something that I think you might enjoy. I made a cherry rhubarb compote, and it was pretty dang easy. I like it that way, simple, because adding too many ingredients I’ve found to conceal the flavor of the produce. And it just makes thing easier for me, but for the sake of my cooking reputation I’ll keep with the latter.

Cherry Rhubarb Compote

Ingredients

  • About a pound of fresh cherries, pitted
  • About a pound of fresh rhubarb, chopped
  • About 4 Tbsp sugar
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • A nice grate of fresh ginger

I put the chopped rhubarb in a saucepan with zest and lemon juice, ginger grating and 3 Tbsp sugar (reserve one for later) and put on medium heat. While the rhubarb was cooking, I removed the pits from the cherries (this can be a tedious task or an enjoyable one, depending on how you look at it) and diced roughly while periodically returning to stir the rhubarb. Once the rhubarb was 3/4 of the way cooked, I removed the pulp from the saucepan in order to prevent overcooking of rhubarb, then added the cherries to the rhubarb juice and allowed to simmer, about 10 minutes. When the cherries looked about half way broken down, I reincorporated the rhubarb pulp and allowed to simmer on low heat for about ten more minutes. Using my wooden spoon I mashed the fruits in the saucepan to assist in the breakdown. Lastly, I removed it from heat and allowed it to cool for a few minutes and then placed in a glass mason jar.

Since I didn’t do the whole hot water seal thing, I imagine that this compote will be good for a week or two. In addition to simply spreading it on bread with butter, there are other ways I hope to use it. The compote came out with really nice flavor but a little tart, so I suggest pairing it with something sweet, such as vanilla ice cream. Or, yummm, with pancakes (or french toast) and maple syrup. Or with a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Or even in a smoothie. It’s all about versatility, people!

Horray for my first attempt at preserving fruits. Hopefully at some point soon here I can learn how to legitimately get going with all of this canning business. But for now, amateur attempts like this one are juuuuuust fine.

This blog will be resuming shortly, I promise.

So, after a month or so of driving around the country, visiting friends and family, camping and working on a chestnut farm, we have finally arrived in the promised land: Portland, Oregon! To write about my travels would take a novel, and while I do enjoy the occasional soul spilling essay, this blog is specifically about my recipes, experiences in the kitchen and any other food-related happenings that I want to share with the world wide web. So, with that in mind, please put me back in your bookmarks and expect to see my blog come to life once again very soon (and especially now that I will be getting Internet at my new house tomorrow morning!!). But for now, I will leave you with two newfound loves of mine: Juanita’s tortilla chips (I never knew a simple corn tortilla chip could stand out so heavily from the rest) and secret aardvark habanero hot sauce.

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Adventures in Cooking

Three days ago Tim and I packed up our entire lives, squeezed them tightly into a 2001 green Ford Explorer and parted with sunny Snowmass Village, Colorado, where I’ve called home for almost two years now, en route to our final destination of Portland, Oregon.

Oregon Bound

With the windows rolled down blaring tunes from Bob Seger and Paul Simon, we headed out west through Carbondale, Paonia and up through the stunning Red Mountain pass as the skies turned to gray and snow began to fall, heavily, as if to bid us one last farewell to the Mountain State.

Summit of Red Mountain Pass

The descent turned the snowfall into a rain heavy enough to soak the boardbags strapped to the top of the car as we trucked on through Durango, where we were hinted towards a campsite just outside of town that, upon arrival, I deemed too wet and cold to assemble our tent in the darkness of the wilderness.  Thus we drove into the later hours of the night, the mountainous landscape fading into an endlessly flat and seemingly abandoned desert where warmer as it was, felt uncomfortable and unwelcoming to outsiders.  Our eyelids now heavy, we were stuck between a rock and a hard place.  This situation we had found ourselves in, opting to sleep sitting up in our packed car, doors locked, on the side of the highway for the few hours before the sun began to rise, was our first indication that we were surely in for an adventure.

Sunrise in the Arizona Desert

The next two days was smooth sailing with a few bumps along the way, cruising through an empty landscape of red rock formations scattered sparsely with green bushes and barbed wire fences, an occasional small settlement of trailers and abandoned cars to break the monotonous beauty.

Utah/Arizona Desert

We stopped for a few humble meals, to play on the beaches of Sand Hollow and Lake Powell for a few hours and to give the puppy some exercise, but it came easy.

Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah Border

Sand Hollow, Utah

Our car performed well at a steady pace of fifty five miles an hour, no faster, we found a beautiful camping spot among cacti and pink sand dunes, and even came across a place to take a shower and use the wireless connection.

Camping in Ponderosa Grove, Utah Border

Cooking steak and rice for dinner

Yesterday, we arrived in Las Vegas to spend a couple days with Tim’s extended family, where we can enjoy the comforts of normalcy before hitting the road.  Ironically, it was once we stopped moving and regained our sense of comfort that we once again found ourselves underneath that rock: among the walled communities and sprawling streets of North Vegas, the bearing on our car had broken and it needed immediate repair.  Life: 1, Tim and Emma:0.

The unpredictibility of adventure is something that I thrive on.  It’s the spontaneity in adventure that ignite my highest highs and my lowest lows.  It is a feeling that I bask in on my adventurous victories, an overwhelming relief and satisfaction that I can float on after enduring  problematic situations, and at the very least a gripping story that I can one day tell.

It is this adventurous spirit that comes alive when I backpack through another country, when I road trip around the country, and is even even mildly invoked when I do anything outside of my normal routine and comfort zone.  Most recently, though, it’s the way I feel when I step into my kitchen with an idea of what to cook.

My hope is to continue to find adventure in my cooking.  To be spontaneous, to be creative, and to always be thinking on my feet and developing an instinct for which flavors and ingredients pair well together.  And to be okay with setbacks and mistakes in the kitchen.  This is something that I learned first-hand a few days before leaving Snowmass.

It is with this adventurous spirit that I attempted to create a dish the other day and failed miserably.  I boiled sunchokes and purple potatoes in some veggie and beet broth using scraps from previous meals.

Once tender, I threw them in a blender and added the broth, salt and pepper in an attempt to create a pureed soup.  Not only did the purple potatoes combined with the pink beet broth create a strawberry smoothie-like appearance, but it was slimy with an aftertaste of moldy smelly gym socks, literally, that would not leave my mouth even after spitting it out.  I kid you not, it was terrible.  It was foul.  So much so that it went straight the sink without hesitation.  But not without the guilt of wasting and absolutely letting down those beautiful ingredients that I had started with. The low that I felt about my cooking abilities at that moment was a low reminiscent of the time I missed my flight in Costa Rica, when I got on the wrong bus in Ecuador, or when our car broke down in Vegas.

It occurred to me: why is it that in the wonderful world of food blogging nobody ever writes a post about a cooking experience in which they failed miserably?  Inevitably every cook messes up at some point, and it’s those moments in particular in which one learns the most and grows both personally and culinarily.  It’s also this way that I feel about my adventures, that all low moments bring life lessons and memories that shouldn’t be forgotten or thrown to the wayside.

So for now, we are here in Las Vegas and will be here until our car gets fixed.  And you know what?  It could be worse: we could have been stuck out in the middle of the desert with no cell phone reception, fifty miles from anything that even remotely resembles a town to get help.  And with the soup, it could have been worse as well.  I could have been making a meal for my friends or family and royally f***ed up, or my wasted ingredients could have been a whole lot more expensive.  Something my mom always taught me was that sometimes in life you just have to say what the f*** ever, and move on.

And this also goes for the kitchen.  If you mess up, deal with it, learn from it, and move on.

The adventure continues…

Ingredient of the Week: Sunchokes

Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, first really came onto my radar a few weeks back at The Cheese Shop’s Farm to Table Dinner, where they served a smashed sunchoke and potato side dish.  I had heard of the ingredient a few times here and there, maybe on Food Network, in a blog or at a farmer’s market, but was always so confused by it that there was no getting me near that thing.  Was it a root, similar to a potato that you can boil or bake?  Do you have to cook it or can you eat it raw?  Or is it more of a spicing agent with its similarity in appearance to ginger or fresh turmeric?  Does it have to be peeled or can you eat the skin?  These were all questions that floated into my mind as I was confronted with the ingredient, so overwhelmed by it all that I didn’t dare consider bringing some into my kitchen.

Now that I think about it, I’ve often felt this way about less common ingredients I find at the market.  Similar to celery root (celeriac) or fava beans, my curiousity about ingredients such as sunchokes was overshadowed by my fear of the unknown.  I admit, I’ve been known to judge a book by it’s cover once or twice in my time.  I remember the day a bulb of fennel once growled viciously at me from the shelf of the grocery store, offering a challenge that my insecurities told me was out of my league.  Yet my instinct spoke otherwise: since incorporating it into my cooking I have learned to embrace its licorice-like flavor and crunchy texture, enhanced only by the discovery of its ease and incredible versatility.  It was then that I realized, isn’t the experience of learning new and exciting things perhaps what I love most about cooking?  With this newfound enthusiasm at the forefront of my mind, I grabbed a few sunchokes out of the basket at the Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus and set out to conquer at least one of my fears.

With a little examination and research, I discovered that the sunchoke’s bark really is a lot bigger than its bite.  From reading about the sunchoke, I learned that they are of the tuber family, which also includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, ginger, jicama, parsnip, radish, and rutabaga.  Contrary to popular belief, they are not in fact related in any way to the typical artichokes we find in markets.  They are actually, and quite surprisingly, a part of the sunflower plant that grows below the ground.  Nutritionally speaking, sunchokes contain a significant amount of inulin, a carbohydrate linked with a healthy digestive system due to its probiotic (bacteria forming) properties.  They are also high in fiber, B vitamin folate, vitamin C and iron.  Most of these nutrients, however, are found in the skin of the sunchoke, so I recommend cleaning it well and cooking it skin on.

Appearance-wise, sunchokes have a beige or even brown skin and are nobby and similar in size to ginger.  In fact, it would not be unheard of to confuse a sunchoke with a piece of ginger in a market, so be mindful of that when shopping.  In terms of taste, they are nutty, often sweet, and do share some similarities with the flavor of an artichoke (perhaps that is how they got the name?).  They can be treated in the same way as a potato, boiling it to soften and then mash it, baking to a soft on the inside, crispy on the outside consistency, or pan sauteing with other veggies in a stir-fry.  Contrary to the potato, it can be eaten raw, as many recipes call for throwing some thinly shaved sunchoke into a leafy green salad for a fresher take on the tuber.

Simple Roasted Sunchoke

To be honest with you, the original title of this recipe was Roasted Sunchoke Chips but the thin pieces of sunchoke came out soft rather than crunchy and crispy, so I had to change it a bit.  This one is so simple I would hardly count it as a recipe.  Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  After washing your sunchokes well, chop them into small pieces.  Coat evenly in olive oil, sea salt and pepper and, if you would like, some chopped rosemary.  I have found that the flavors of sunchoke and rosemary work well together.

Spread the pieces evenly on a baking sheet and throw in the oven for fourty five to an hour, until the pieces are nicely browned on the outside and soft with a bite on the inside.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for five minutes before serving.  This works best as a side dish, with maybe some roast chicken or a nice fillet of fish and alongside some fresh veggies.