September 27, 2010

Black worm incident | Huckleberries | Lentil stew

We had kind of an icky food experience this weekend involving a food that's a staple at our house — dried shiitake mushrooms. My husband made a hot pot with lots of vegetables, shiitakes, and dashi made from soaking the dried mushrooms. As I was eating mine, I fished out a unidentified black thing and asked my husband (now referred to as NG for "needs glasses") what he thought it was. He thought it was a piece of mushroom. I didn't think so but started eating again, when another black thing appeared.

I took a closer look and saw teeny tiny legs at the front end. Gag. Then I noticed that some of the mushrooms looked like Swiss cheese, as in full of holes. And some of the holes had black dots. I squeezed such a mushroom, and another little black worm came out. I went to the pot and found lots more mushrooms with black dots. NG is a fast eater and had already finished his soup; he looked kind of sorry. I found the black worm incident disturbing and got rid of the rest of the package of mushrooms. Now I'm sorry I didn't soak them to see if the worms were alive in the dried mushrooms, or already dead, having been dried with the shiitakes before packaging.

The dried shiitakes looked perfectly normal. Neither the tops or the gills showed any sign of insect invasion; it was only after they were soaked that the holes and worms appeared. Has this ever happened to you? Does anyone know anything about this? I was just about to start cooking recipes from a newly acquired Japanese cookbook, and now my heart's not really in it. I'm not sure I can bring myself to use dried mushrooms! When I tried to find information about this online, I actually found a Web store selling mushrooms with or without worms! Can someone please explain this to me?

Miss E spent the weekend with us (her photo appears at the top of the post instead of the worms — she's so much cuter) and we made fruit salad together. It's been a long time since I've worked with 2-1/2-year-olds, and I misjudged the brilliant Miss E's knife skills. She was asked to cut a banana with a butter knife, and instead of using the knife, she smooshed up the pieces with her fingers. "That looks really appetizing," commented my son sarcastically as he walked into the kitchen. The rest of her job was to put the fruit that she and I cut into the serving dish, but she wished to take a bite out of each piece before putting it into the bowl. I convinced her to just eat the whole piece if she wanted some.

Notice the little blue berries in the bowl? (This is not the bowl with the mushed bananas!) They are huckleberries, and I read about them on Carbzilla's entertaining blog. She told me where to get some (at the farmers market) and we tried our first huckleberries. They look like tiny blueberries but have a much more intense flavor — delicious! Miss E loved them, especially in the huckleberry pancakes she had for breakfast.

I made a lentil stew for dinner with carrots, potatoes, corn and spinach. It was rich with smoked Spanish paprika, tomato paste, turmeric and other spices. (It also had dulse, but don't tell NG.) I topped it with fresh tomatoes and avocado, and served it over brown basmati rice. The end of summer tomatoes added a bright highlight to the delicious fall flavors of this warming stew.

Approximate directions for lentil stew
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 " chunks
  • 3 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup green lentils, washed
  • 2 medium onions, cubed
  • 2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup chopped frozen spinach (or 1 bunch fresh)
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup packed chopped parsley
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fruity vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • a few pieces dried dulse (not flakes) as desired
  • avocado and fresh tomato for topping
  1. Put the carrots, potatoes, lentils, onions, paprika, turmeric, garlic and tomato paste and water into a large pot. Bring to a boil, turn heat to simmer, cover and cook until vegetables are tender (about 30 to 45 minutes). 
  2. Add spinach, corn, parsley, and vinegar. Break apart the dulse pieces and add. Simmer a minute or two until the veggies are cooked. 
  3. Taste for seasonings, and add salt and pepper as needed. 
  4. Place into bowls with rice, and top with avocado and chopped tomatoes.

September 22, 2010

Indian dinner | Kasha varniskes | Bye bye summer | Spam

Samosas, Basmati rice, and whole wheat roti
Last night we attended the monthly dinner sponsored by Vegetarians of Washington. Each month a vegetarian dinner is catered by a different Seattle area restaurant. The dinners are always vegan, but the diners are a very diverse group that includes eaters of all ages, occupations and dietary persuasions. Last night we had a great time with a particularly congenial group of people, and we all enjoyed an Indian meal presented by Pabla Indian Cuisine, with restaurants in Renton and Issaquah.

Kabli Channa (Punjabi style garbanzo beans)
Mixed vegetable curry
Aloo gobi (spiced potatoes and cauliflow
In addition to the foods pictured above, we also had rice pudding for dessert, and received Nature's Path Peanut Choco chewy granola bars as an extra treat.


Kasha and bow-ties

 In my last post I displayed a photo of kasha and bowties (kasha varnishkes) made with shiitake dashi, shiitake mushrooms* and miso, promising a recipe. I'm posting a recipe with less exotic ingredients, instead, and a note on using shiitakes. For one thing, I'm out of dried shiitakes and need to make a trip to our favorite Asian market to restock our supplies. Instead of trekking down to the International District, my husband headed to the closest supermarket to purchase fresh mushrooms and raw, hulled buckwheat groats.*

As I have written in an earlier post, "traditionally, in Russia, kasha means porridge and can be made from any whole grain or combination of grains. To me, it means buckwheat groats, and kasha varnishkes is buckwheat and noodles, specifically bowtie noodles. Kasha varnishkes is a traditional comfort food brought to America by Russian Jewish immigrants.

Buckwheat is actually the seed of a fruit, not a grain. (You can read all about buckwheat and its possible appropriateness in gluten-free diets here.) It is very nutritious, delicious and quick cooking. Hulled, raw buckwheat is called buckwheat groats, and that's what I'm starting with in this recipe. After it's toasted it's called kasha."

Kasha and bow-ties
  • 8 to 10 ounce package bow-tie pasta (or other small pasta or flat noodle)
  • 1 cup raw, hulled buckwheat groats*
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped (about 1 to 1-1/4 cups)
  • 4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced (about 8 or 9 mushrooms or 2 heaping cups)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 cups hot water
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 teaspoon tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon evaporated cane juice (natural sugar)
  • heaping 1/2 cup minced parsley
  1. Cook the pasta, drain, (toss with 1 teaspoon of oil if desired) and set aside.
  2. In a large, heavy, dry pan such as cast iron, toast the buckwheat until fragrant (about 4 to 5 minutes) stirring continually.
  3. Add the oil to the pan then add the onions and mushrooms. Cook and stir until the onions begin to soften (about 5 minutes).
  4. Stir in the garlic and a pinch of salt (less then 1/8 teaspoon). Cook and stir for about a minute.
  5. Add the 1-1/2 cups of hot water to the pan slowly. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to simmer, and cover the pan. Cook until the buckwheat is tender and dry. (about 12 to 15 minutes)
  6. Meanwhile, add the tamari to the warm water. Add the sugar and vinegar and stir to dissolve sugar.
  7. When the buckwheat is tender, mix in the noodles. Stir in the tamari mixture.
  8. Stir in the parsley, reserving some for a garnish. Grind black pepper over the kasha. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Serves 4 to 6.
*If you can only find toasted buckwheat groats, you can skip the pan toasting and start cooking the kasha at step 3. Warm the oil in the pan, then add the onion, mushrooms and toasted buckwheat to the pan together.

*You can also make this with dried shiitake mushrooms and mushroom broth. Soak 8 to 10 dried mushrooms in 2 cups of warm (not hot) water in a bowl for at least an hour, or until soft. Squeeze out the mushrooms into the bowl, remove the stems and slice the mushrooms. Add enough water to the broth, if necessary, to make 1-1/2 cups. Make the recipe using the shiitakes and broth instead of the fresh mushrooms and water.


Bye bye, summer

Spider web-draped still-green tomatoes and a lone pepper from our tabletop garden.
With fall officially here, there's no choice but to bid summer a sad goodbye. I'm not one of those people who can't wait for the cool, damp, RAINY days of fall. (Oh wait, wasn't "cool, rainy" supposed to be a description of winter? Or was that spring? Or maybe even a good part of this past summer, here in the PNW?) Cool-rainy is not my favorite type of weather (and thank heavens I spent the summer in the blazing Midwest where I soaked up heat like a sponge) so I hate to see summer — even a less-than-perfect summer — end. I like soup, and and other cold-weather foods like kasha, as much as anyone, but I like sunshine more. Come back, sun come back. Sigh.

I photographed some of the "end of summer" herbs and veggies growing at our house and around the neighborhood. You can see a lone Asian pear in our tree. When we went out to gather the fruit the other day, there was another couple happily picking them all. We asked if they could leave a few for us since it was our tree (we're living in the house and paying rent!) and they informed us the house's owner said they could pick the pears. They carted off all the reachable fruit, and that was that. We're not very argumentative and don't like to cause trouble with the neighbors, so we let it go. But we were a little sad.

Fennel drying in a neighbor's garden

September 19, 2010

Blueberry-lime muffins | Kasha and bowties

Whenever our little granddaughter comes to our house she always asks if she can have a muffin. I gave her a muffin once when she was barely a toddler, and she never forgot it. Miss E has a fantastic memory, and a raging sweet tooth, and practically reaches cosmic consciousness when she sees a piece of cake or a cookie. I never thought I'd be the sort of Grandie who indulges sweet cravings with things other than fruit and such. I was very into natural sweets with my own children, and not much into baked sweets myself. But I swear, I am compelled to give Miss E treats. I try to respect her Mom's wishes, and I DO keep it reasonably healthy, but this is a side of me that I find surprising.

And it's not just sweets. Today I actually bought Miss E a bright yellow Dora the Explorer shirt that I found on a resale rack for $1. This deserves a capital OMG. Miss E, who knows Dora from a talking book she received from her other Grammy when she was nine months old, was ecstatic; she's sleeping in the shirt as I write this. Her Papa, when we dropped the shirt off, said, "Oh no," but too bad.

Back to the muffins. As a baked treat, muffins can have less fat and sugar than cake or cookies, but be just as much fun to eat. I always make them with whole wheat flour and other wholesome ingredients so they will be as healthy as possible while still providing a pleasurable eating experience. I know I could just give her fruit or veggies for treats, but she gets plenty of those good foods, and she loves muffins so much, it's fun to sometimes provide these baked goodies.

Now that she's 2-1/2, Miss E can help me make them, and she loves that. The muffins pictured here were supposed to be blueberry-lemon, but when I went to get a lemon from the refrigerator, there was only one lime. The little cook was waiting so I grabbed the lime and made do. The lime was so juicy, there was a quarter cup of juice in just half the fruit, so I used the zest from the entire lime and the juice from half.

My little helper thought the muffins were delicious, and so did I. But next weekend I think we'll make fruit salad, just to change things up.

Blueberry-lime (or lemon) muffins
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F and oil 12 or 18 muffin cups. The recipe is enough for 18 muffins, but you can squeeze it all into 12 muffin cups and have muffin tops if you want. I actually prefer the smaller ones, but I only have a 12-cup muffin tin. I've been meaning to purchase a 6-cup pan so I can have lots of leftovers to freeze.
  • 1-3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup evaporated cane juice (like Sucanot)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup blueberries (I used frozen)
  • zest from 1 lime (or lemon)
  • 1-3/4 cups non-dairy milk
  • 1/2 cup lime (or lemon) juice
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened, non-dairy yogurt
* You can use all white whole wheat flour instead of coconut flour. If all wheat flour is used, use only 1-1/2 cups of milk. The coconut flour gives the muffins a wonderful, soft, silky texture and more fiber, but isn't necessary.
  1. Stir the flour well to lighten it. Spoon it into the measuring cup and use the flat edge of a knife to level the top.
  2. Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and whisk or stir well to thoroughly combine.
  3. Stir in the zest and the blueberries.
  4. Combine the milk, lime juice, oil, vanilla and yogurt in a medium bowl and stir until smooth.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine, mixing as little as possible to incorporate all of the flour.
  6. Divide the batter (will be thick but light) between 12 muffin cups if you want muffin tops, or 18 muffin cups,for smaller muffins that don't fall over the pan.

Kasha and bowties

I love buckwheat so much I could eat it all the time. Traditionally, it's a winter food, and has warming qualities. I made kasha and bowties, or kasha varniskes, last night, and was intending to include a recipe, but now I'm too tired to write it. I'll get around to my version of k&b, which uses dried shiitake mushrooms and miso, soon, but in the meantime, if you want a great soup with buckwheat and bowties, try this one.

September 14, 2010

Loving Hut | Tilth Harvest Festival | Urban flocks

Last night marked our second visit to The Loving Hut vegan restaurant in Seattle's International District. I can't talk about the food without first giving a little background about the restaurant, and the woman behind it. But ... it's complicated. The Loving Hut is part of an international chain of vegan restaurants operated by independent owners under the auspices of Supreme Master Ching Hai. Is that a cult, you ask? Well, maybe. In searching out information about Supreme Master Ching Hai, I found lots of conflicting facts concerning what may or may not be unusual business practices and behaviors. To keep this at a reasonable length, and not be negative towards the Supreme Master, I'll stick mainly to the positive message approved by Supreme Master on her various Web sites.

She was born in Vietnam in 1960 to Catholic parents, but was exposed to Buddhist teachings through her grandmother. Her father was a distinguished naturopath. She was married briefly to a German scientist (when she worked in Germany) but left the marriage to pursue enlightenment with spiritual masters in the Himalayas. She sought out, and eventually found, a teacher of the Quan Yin method of Buddhist meditation — the meditation on inner light and inner sound. Supreme Master Ching Hai now accepts students of meditation, and offers her teachings free to all who agree to follow certain rules of behavior, such as being vegan, and giving up alcohol, drugs, tobacco and other vices.

The restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived, but several dining parties
Her enterprise is massive, and she has millions of followers. But, I'm mainly concerned here with the restaurant and its message. The restaurant's slogan is "Be vegan. Go green. Save the planet." Can't complain about that. The restaurant strives to serve delicious, healthy, organic, reasonably-priced vegan food. So far so good, right? And they have a parking lot — no small concession in hard-and-expensive-to-park-in Seattle. There's a literature table when you first walk in, and it has things like a vegan restaurant guide, and other information on embracing a vegan lifestyle. There was a "Meet Your Meat" DVD from Action for Animals, and a "Food Choices & Climate Change" DVD. The latter was obviously produced by the Supreme Master TV group, and it had photographs of Prince Charles, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and, that's right, the Supreme Master. I haven't had a chance to view it yet.

There is a large-screen TV in the restaurant that plays the Supreme Master TV channel nonstop, but the sound isn't loud enough to encourage listening, and from where I was sitting, I was unable to see or hear well enough to understand what was showing. But no need to visit the restaurant if you want to watch, you can do it here: It's available in many languages.

When we entered the nearly empty restaurant, we were greeted with disconcerting enthusiasm. I like to feel welcome at a business establishment, but occasionally a line can be crossed (I'm thinking of some experiences in Trader Joe's checkout line, to be specific) between welcome and weird. The young man who welcomed us, and became our waiter, was incredibly cheerful and helpful. Once I adjusted to his level of joy, I was OK, but something a little more subtle might have been nice. Do I sound like Scrooge? (He was attentive and charming, and I'm sure any discomfort was entirely my fault.)

So, by now you're wondering, how was the food? It was great. In spite of the overload of fake meat on the menu, I enjoyed the dishes we selected on both visits, but last night was my favorite. I wish we'd had more people with us so we could have tried more dishes. And I wish we could go back tonight! For starters we ordered basil rolls. These looked like perfectly made, fresh Thai spring rolls, but wrapped inside with the basil, vegetables, tofu, clear noodles and unidentifiable fake-meat-whatever, was a crunchy layer that might have been fried noodles. Whatever it was, it was amazing, and I want more.

Next we had Chinese Broccoli Noodle, which was filled with veggies, and was delicious. The vegetables tasted fresh, and the sauce was light — not heavy or greasy. I personally think it would have been better without the "beef," but we loved the large amount of Chinese broccoli and the ginger-flavored sauce.

Our second entrée was Curry Masala, with tofu, onion, and according to the menu, "all vegetables." This also was filled with fresh veggies, and topped with a delicately seasoned curry sauce. The dinner came with complimentary tea and brown rice. Although I really liked our food choices, I couldn't help but notice the huge bowl of fabulous looking soup at a nearby table. As we were leaving, I had to comment how good it looked, and ask what it was. It was called Bun Hue, and is a traditional, spicy soup that I'm ordering next time. Yes, we're definitely going back!


Tilth Harvest Festival

This past weekend we attended the Tilth Harvest Festival, a celebration of local, organic food and farmers. There were rows and rows of informational booths as well as vendors selling everything from vegetables to chocolates to chicken coops. And speaking of chicken coops ...

If you are vegan, what do you think of the whole backyard chicken movement? I spoke to a few members of a vegan group at the fair, and they showed me the information sheet they were handing out. The paper was a realistic discussion of the care and responsibilities involved in humanely caring for urban hens. It emphasized the commitment required to nurture and protect from predators, urban chickens that might live 10 years or more. What happens when the chickens stop laying eggs? What happens when they get sick and require costly veterinary care? Hens are often treated as disposable creatures — certainly as edible ones. I also learned about the possibly questionable sources for urban chickens. Factory farms that hatch chicks routinely either grind up defective and slow-hatching females and newborn male chicks alive, electrocute them, or throw them into trash cans, where they slowly suffocate. Buying chickens from these places supports the cruelty.

On the one hand, if individuals using the highest standards raised their own chickens for eggs, and never depended on commercial eggs, perhaps we could see a small reduction in the suffering of hens raised for egg production. Part of me is very attracted to the idea — I like chickens and find them interesting. On the other hand, I'm vegan, and would rather see the urban, organic, local food movement embrace a more animal-friendly diet. I admit to being a little put off by people in rapture over local cheeses, meat, and eggs.

While at the festival, we attended a fermentation workshop where the owners of Firefly Kitchens talked about and demonstrated their approach to fermenting foods. I sampled their carrot ginger slaw and it was really good. They put the shredded vegetables and salt in jars and pound them to release their liquids, then ferment them from three days to four weeks to obtain the desired results. I felt they were too casual with their directions, telling people to taste a salt solution to see if it was salty enough to prevent bacterial growth, and they didn't make a strong enough case for proper cleaning of jars and equipment. For people new to fermenting foods, there wasn't enough detail. I've done quite a bit of food preserving in the past (before I got so lazy :D), including pickling in jars and crocks, and was surprised at the lack of clear information.

The workshop made me wish I had my Japanese pickle press here in Seattle so I could make quick pickles. The pickle press uses salt and pressure to make vegetables release their liquid, creating fast pickles and fermented foods. I may just pay a visit to Amazon and see how much the presses cost these days. Or maybe it's time to visit City Kitchens, and take advantage of their birthday sale.

Before we left the festival, we stopped at Devra Gartenstein's quesadilla stand where we found her selling three heat-and-eat black bean tamales for $5. We bought three, took them home, and had tamales with leftover ranchero sauce, kale and salad for supper.

September 10, 2010

Cupcake tarts | Birthday dinner | Smoky spicy black beans and rice

Don't you just hate when you're rushing around and you make a mistake because you're ... rushing around? My middle son's birthday was September 8, but because the rest of the family couldn't come for dinner that night, we decided to celebrate the following night instead. Still, I wanted to make him a little something sweet for his b-day, like ginger carrot cupcakes based on this recipe. But I was, uh, rushing around, and I wrote down the recipe incorrectly. Even as I was mixing the batter, I knew it was too thin, but I ignored my gut feeling, and just sloshed ahead. Unfortunately, I'd left 1/2 cup of flour out of the recipe, so of course, the tops sank. I filled the sunken tops with chocolate chips and put the poor cupcakes back into the oven for a minute to soften the chips so I could swirl the chocolate around and make them look less pathetic. The cupcakes were surprisingly good, under the circumstances.

My self-induced baking curse continued the next day when I attempted to turn these orange mini-bundt cakes into a single, modest but normal, bundt cake. I knew my pan was too big, but I used it anyway, hoping the cake would rise to the occasion. You've heard of muffin tops? Meet bundt top. To make the situation even more bizarre, the request to my son and d-i-l to bring a birthday candle and one of those little plastic candle holders got misinterpreted, and they brought a huge candle in a metal holder. Well, good thing I'd made the bundt top; the candle fit right in, so we lit it and sang happy birthday.

Fortunately, the first part of the dinner was free of mishaps. The birthday dinner was Mexican-themed with spinach enchiladas with ranchero sauce, smokey black beans and rice (recipe follows) and salad.

The enchiladas were from this recipe. (For the yogurt I use Wildwood unsweetened plain, and for the cheese I used Daiya cheddar.) The beans and rice were improvised for the occasion. I was trying to make a dish so spicy that none of the spice-crazed diners would add additional hot sauce. I also wanted to be able to eat it myself, so I wasn't quite able to meet my goal. :D I passed a small dish of chopped jalapeños at the table that everyone except my husband and me put on everything. I thought the beans and rice were very flavorful and plenty spicy.

Smoky spicy black beans and rice
  • 1-1/2 cups raw, long grain brown rice
  • 2 cups chopped onion (about 2 medium onions)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cans low-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained (or 3 cups home-cooked)
  • 2 peppers from a can of chipotle in adobo, minced (less if you want to reduce the heat)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions, optional
  1. Cook the rice, preferably in a rice cooker. The rice should be fairly dry. I cooked brown basmati in a rice cooker with 1-3/4 cups of water.
  2. In a large wok or skillet, sauté the onion in the oil . As the onion starts to brown, add the garlic, cumin and oregano and cook for a minute or two until the cumin is toasted and fragrant. (You could also pre-toast the cumin, remove it from the pan, and add it back in at this point.
  3. Add the pepper and celery, and cook for two minutes, stirring, until the vegetables start to soften. Add the salt and mix in.
  4. Add the rice and toss with the vegetables. Cook for two minutes to flavor the rice.
  5. Add the beans and chipotle. Heat until the beans are hot.
  6. Optional: Stir in 1/2 cup chopped green onions, and cook 30 seconds before serving. Or garnish with raw chopped green onions.
  7. Optional garnish #2: thinly sliced red radishes.
Generously serves six as a side dish, or four as a main course alongside salad and a vegetable.

note: If you want the dish smokey but not spicy, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika instead of the chipotle in adobo.


"Can't a girl get her beauty rest without being disturbed by the paparazzi?"

As I was concentrating on getting this post written, Buffy was making herself more comfortable by unmaking the guest bed and settling in. She looks slightly annoyed at being photographed, doesn't she?

September 06, 2010

Back in Seattle again | Bathroom dog | Beeen eating | Blueberries in the rain

Here you can see our 17-year-old dog, Buffy, checking out the most enormous motel bathroom I've ever seen. It was so big it had a telephone, sauna and hot tub. (Just kidding about the sauna and hot tub.) But it was big and it did have a telephone. It was in Fargo, North Dakota on our first night of the four-day drive from Madison to Seattle, and Buffy gave it the once over before settling onto one of the beds.

We're back in Seattle, now, but I was reminded of the photo this morning, when we failed to take Buffy outside in time for her morning pee, and she went into the bathroom and peed on the floor. "Bad dog," you're probably thinking, but think again. She COULD have peed in the bed or on the wall-to-wall carpet in the bedroom. But no, she jumped off the bed, went into the bathroom and peed on the floor. Granted, she didn't use the toilet and she did pee on the bath mat, but still. Pretty weird, right?

This post will finish up our summer trip photos before moving on to life and food in Seattle. We took a more northerly route for our return trip, and after Wisconsin and Minnesota, we hit North Dakota, and headed for Fargo. I can't remember what we ate in Fargo — no photos — which is probably not a good sign for what the food was like, but the scenery was cool.

The above photos were taken as we passed through the North Dakota Badlands.

In Montana, somewhere near Billings, we took a detour to view Pompey's Pillar. We couldn't actually enter the fee-required area of the park and walk to the pillar, because dogs weren't allowed, and I wasn't about to leave Buffy alone in a kennel area that the guide said was available someplace in the park. So we gazed upon it from a distance, and walked around in the free parts of the park. Had we been able to view the butte up close, we would have been able to see Native American petroglyphs, as well as the carved signature of William Clark.

William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, climbed the butte, and etched his name and date of visit into the sandstone rock face on July 25, 1806. This is the only piece of tangible, still existing evidence, of Lewis and Clark's journey along this route, now known as The Lewis and Clark Historic Trail, which passes through 11 states. The purpose of the expedition, called the Corps of Discovery, was to search for a water route from the plains of the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean.

The 150 foot high butte was named by Clark after Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, whom Clark had nicknamed Pompy. Pompy was the infant son of Sacagewea, the Shoshoni woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on the expedition, providing invaluable help to the explorers. Pompey translates to "little chief," in Shoshoni. In 1814, the rock was renamed Pompey's Pillar by Nicolas Biddle, who published an account of the expedition.

Above are two photos I took from the car window as we traveled through Montana; it's so beautiful there. Our second night was spent in Miles City, where we had greasy Chinese food, requiring the use of paper towels before we could eat.

On our third night we stayed in Missoula, and were looking forward to eating at a vegan Indian restaurant we'd read about on Happy Cow. Although still listed in the 2010 phone directory, unfortunately, when we got to the restaurant, it was gone, and in its place was a Mexican eatery. We ended up getting make-your-own salads from the The Good Food Store, and they were pretty tasty — probably a healthier option, too, but I was disappointed. Actually, I was in a really bad mood.

On our last day we entered Eastern Washington and stopped at one of my favorite places to stretch and take photos — the Columbia River Basin.

I still feel squeamish when I think about the boy of about 12 whom I observed scrambling on the high, jagged cliffs, with a straight drop to the river. He was accompanied by his two teen-aged sisters, one of whom finally said, "do you realize you're on the edge of a cliff?" before leaving him and returning to the trail. The boy was wearing flip flops. And where was his mother? She was fiddling with her camera from a nice safe place.


Home again
Once back in Seattle, it was pretty hard to get back into a routine of cooking after so much eating out. It was not just too hard to do the cooking, it was nearly impossible to even think of anything to cook.

In situations like this, I often opt for a brothy bowl of noodles, mushrooms, tofu, kale, potatoes, and carrots.

My husband whipped up a big bowl of my favorite chickpea salad, that I ate for lunch several days in a row.

My son cooked a delicious lunch of broccoli and gyoza. He used a bag of frozen vegan gyoza from Trader Joe's.

We bought a gorgeous bunch of Chinese spinach at the farmers market yesterday, and made lentil soup with rice and spinach.

It was even better today for lunch when I added leftover corn cut from the cob, and avocado slices.


Picking blueberries in the rain

If someone had invited me to go blueberry picking on a rainy day last year, I probably would have declined. I associate picking fruit with sunshine and warm days. But after a year in rain city, I must have adapted slightly, because yes, I did go blueberry picking in the rain. I didn't have an umbrella, but I did wear a rain jacket. Blueberry picking is tedious because the berries are so darn small. It takes forever to accumulate a reasonable amount in the bucket. My hands were wet and cold by the time we left, and my bucket was a sad, empty thing. I managed to freeze two quarts, but that was far less than I'd hoped. Maybe if the sun shines again, I'll go back to Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm in Bellevue. It seems to be in a public park, which I can't quite figure out.

You can see there were lots of ripe berries on the bushes, but picking them is slow going because of their small size. It seemed that no matter how much I picked, the bucket remained nearly empty. I had visions of picking a supply for the winter, but that would have required more hours and patience than I could manage. We used to easily pick 30 pounds or more of strawberries, and I didn't realize how different it was to pick blueberries.
Blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity of all fruits and are recognized for their positive effects on heart health, lowering cholesterol and strengthening the immune system. They have also been studied for their ability to reduce stomach fat. Besides their health benefits, they're delicious additions to smoothies, breakfast cereal, muffins, cobblers and other desserts, as well as a low-calorie (80 calories per cup) snack eaten out-of-hand.

The farm uses "organic practices" whatever that is, and from the looks of things, they don't use slug pesticides. There was a slug convention taking place in the fields, and Pacific NW slugs are impressive.


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