Monday, December 31, 2007

Your workout begins

OK, Susan has finally started putting yoga workouts online.

For the past 15 months I've had the immense privilege of working out with one of the world's greatest fitness instructors, Susan Powter.

Susan faces (for the umpteenth time in her colorful career) the challenge of figuring out how to replicate the astonishing classroom experiences she gives us so that they are accessible to everyone.

She's been playing around with some ideas via video, via MySpace, and via blogging, in the past several months. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't.

Now she's got Susan Powter Online going. This site does not provide the polished, organized exercise information we're used to from all those videos and DVDs we've all purchased (and not used) in the past few decades. This site is about how Susan, who turned 50 two weeks ago, lives a fit, healthy life in her modest, artsy home in Seattle (which she shares with her young son). Here's some yoga in her little Seattle studio; it's cold—that's why Susan starts out in fluffy slippers!

Our workout with her Sunday was in the hallway of the school where we rent space. Temperature? 55 degrees. And we were sweating when we finished.

Here you go:

Friday, December 28, 2007

Twixt Christmas and New Year's

I came across a clever quotation today for which I'm seeking attribution. It was:

"People are so worried about what they eat between Christmas and the New Year, but they really should be worried about what they eat between the New Year and Christmas."
— Author Unknown

This amused me because I don't worry particularly about what I eat at holiday parties, but I do get rather disgusted by all the sugary stuff and high-fat dips that end up hanging around after Christmas. So today was "throw out the sugar" day, and I tossed all sorts of candies and cookies (having already cleverly eaten the chocolate-covered cherries!). It wasn't nearly as easy as it sounds, because many of the items were once-a-year treats, and a few were homemade. But I did eventually manage to toss everything — except for 10 of my mother's spritz cookies.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fashion: Best of 2007

I've put together a list of some brands I thought were particularly impressive this year. Note that many of the links go to a retailer's site rather than the manufacturer's; that's because most of the manufacturers have pretentious "branding" websites with vacuous Flash intros and lousy navigation. The retailers, by contrast, want to sell things so they have sites that actually work.

Corso Como. American-designed, Brazilian-made, these leather boots and shoes have a high-fashion look but quite a bit of comfort. High-quality materials put the prices in the $100 to $260 range. Look for them online at,,, and Zappos. In Seattle, you'll find them at local boutiques such as Nuovo Modo in downtown Seattle and the new Lambs Ear Shoes in Fremont. Note: You may want to size up a half size for these. And be sure to check for online sales.
Runners-up: Born (for comfort and quirky good looks) and Sofft (for a comfortable high heel; but be aware, you want to be sure to try on a pair half a size the larger size, feet can tend to slide forward into the roomy toe box, leaving a gap at the heel).

Mandarina Duck. This Italian company's patented fabrics are striking and unusual, with bags featuring a mix of leather and nylon-type materials. Even leather bags are likely to feature a mix of sueded and finished leathers, plus plenty of pockets, sturdy construction, and models that magically expand via snaps and zippers. All this styling comes at a price ($200 - $400). Do beware of the synthetic fabric bags which, while resembling backpacks, are neither waterproof nor stain-resistant.
Runners-up: Matt & Nat vegan bags (at Shoefly and Sole Food in Seattle) and Libaire (online) for sturdy bags in rich-looking pebble leather.

Wacoal. "Sure they fit great, but they're so expensive," you say. That's no longer the case. You can find most styles of these $60 bras for $20-$25 (new with tags) on eBay—so try them on at Nordstrom, buy one, and get the rest online. (If you are someone who has long avoided underwires as being uncomfortable, a Wacoal can probably get you to reconsider.) To see Wacoal's vastly expanded catalog of styles, for all styles and shapes, visit the major online lingerie sites like Bare Necessities and Fig Leaves, which have a better selection than Nordstrom. Fig Leaves has one fancy Wacoal model selling for just $15 this week.

Now that sheer pantyhose have been declared hopelessly out of style, grownups can enjoy wearing opaque tights. Unfortunately, my top picks are devilishly hard to find: The synthetic-blend tights from Hot Sox. Nordstrom carries only the metallic version, so check out local shoe boutiques (where I just ordered two pair).

This is all about nightgowns and loungers, like the gorgeous lightweight cotton knits at Soma. Look for the long, slim V-neck loungers, sometimes with matching robes. These are not big, baggy t-shirts. (Do, however, watch out for the Soma sleepware that isn't machine washable; who wants to hand wash a bulky bathrobe?)

I tried quite a few styles and brands of jeans this year, and didn't come up with any winners. I can, however, recommend Eddie Bauer's Classic Fit bootcut corduroys (the plain ones, not the fussy-looking embroidered ones). Eddie Bauer offers several fits in tall, regular and petite, including the contemporary Classic Fit with has a modern (slightly low) waistband. For those of you hunting for jeans, it's always worth checking out the style advice (based on your measurements and preferences) at

No nominees in this category, I'm afraid. I didn't like the styling of The Territory Ahead three-button cashmere (too boxy). Macy's Charter Club house brand cashmere seemed narrow and tube-like and bunched up on the shoulders (but better than nothing—I bought one). Eddie Bauer didn't have a single Merino wool sweater for women (it had winter sweaters made of cotton, a real mountaineering faux pas!). I thought the Sundance Catalog and Garnet Hill cashmere sweaters were a bit overpriced (and the Garnet Hill v-neck had one of those low, low necklines). The styling on the L. L. Bean cashmeres made them look like sweatshirts. J. Jill had novelty rather than classic sweaters (mostly cotton, some in wools). So, I have to confess, I got all my sweaters this year on eBay and at consignment shops. I did, however, order a Red Moon brand gray cashmere jersey at the sale this week, so will report that later. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Clam chowder and rommegrot

Signs of the season: My blogs are turning up in searches for "clam chowder" and "rommegrot." Now I already knew that rommegrot is a traditional Christmas dish in Scandinavian households. But, sure enough, there is a Christmas-chowder connection in New England. Sounds absolutely delicious, too.

I'm also seeing hits for "turducken" and "virginia eggnog" and "bundt pan." And one query for "Waring Ice Cream Parlor troubleshooting." Oops.

But the query that's really got me worried is the one from someone in Riverhead, New York, for "chowder raccoon."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Only in Seattle

Ron at is bemoaning the lunancies of the latest crop of Zagat reader-powered restaurant reviews of Seattle. To create the reviews, Zagat editors play a strange word game, stringing together very short phrases from reader reviews to create restaurant profiles, or, as Ron puts it:

"the 'capsule reviews' take isolated 'nouns and adjectives' from 'reader comments' and string them together to make 'nonsensical' and 'often inaccurate' profiles.

One of the gems Ron cites as he shakes his head about the "Yelpification" of restaurant reviewing is the reader who indignantly complains (on the online Zagat) that Salumi, Seattle's renowned cured-meat emporium, is not vegetarian-friendly. Mio dio!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cookie joy

Having lost the detailed instructions from last year's Sur la Table cookie-decorating class, I was forced to start from scratch this year. This caused a lot of anxiety because I felt as though I didn't have any spare time to test new recipes — and cookies are particularly nerve wracking because they not only have to taste good, they have to be sturdy enough to withstand decorating. Fortunately, I came across a great book, Cookie Craft, by Valerie Peterson & Janice Fryer, that solved most of my problems.

The two recipes I tested today were gingerbread from Great Gingerbread by Sara Perry and a basic sugar cookie from Cookie Craft. The cookie the picture, in which the gingerbread is baked on top of the sugar cookie, is a good example of the ideas in Cookie Craft — very easy to do, but unusual and attractive.

The gingerbread cookie recipe turns out to be absolutely stunning — a "grownups' cookie" with loads of ginger and other spices, dark brown sugar, and heady molasses flavor. I'm less excited about the sugar cookie — the rich, buttery sugary taste is almost like a shortbread and I'm concerned that once I start applying royal icing in the decorating stage it will be overwhelmingly rich.

I whipped up the gingerbread dough yesterday and the sugar cookie dough today, and was freaking out a bit because the gingerbread dough was very sticky, while the sugar cookie was stiff and rather dry, making it a challenge to roll out. That's where the Cookie Craft advice came in handy. They favor rolling everything out on parchment paper to prevent sticking. You can even peel the extra dough away and transfer the entire sheet of cookies on parchment directly to the cookie pan, so you don't damage the tender cookies moving them around with a spatula. I modified this by simply trimming the parchment with the cut cookie on it, using a kitchen scissors and putting each cookie (they are large ones) on the baking sheet on its own little scrap of parchment. This kept the cookie sheets clean and easy to use, and it was very easy to just peel the parchment off the back of the baked cookie when you set it on the wire rack to dry.

After the cookies cooled, I stored them in layers, separated by parchment, in clear plastic salad containers I'd been saving up.

I'l be back later in the week with the full report on decorating the 100 or so cookies. Wait'll you see the moose!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Rich and thin

Venture capitalist Heidi Rozen, 49, threw herself into an exercise regime, lost 30 pounds, and has now written an album of pop tunes (recorded, thankfully, by professional recording artists) about the experience called Skinny Songs. Check out "I'm a Hottie Now."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Something nice

After being beaten over the head by advertisers and marketers for the past month, I thought this, from United, was a pleasantly understated surprise.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Hidden gems in Fremont

After the Noodle Group lunch in Fremont today I did some underground shopping.

It involved finding the alley just east of the statue of Lenin, and following signs for Stickman coffee into a large lobby. Start with a rich, creamy espresso at Stickman (owned by the fellow who is the current North American champion barista), then walk down the hall to two windowless boutiques. The first one on your right is a brand new shoe store; it doesn't have a sign yet, but it does have Corso Como shoes, reasonably priced high fashion shoes that are astonishingly comfortable. Just beyond the shoe store is the amusingly named Impulse boutique, where dresses cost $250 - $500, and high-end materials and elegant European styling justify the prices.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

More bags I can't resist

Last weekend at the Ballard arts fair Seattle Sampling I saw amazing fabric bags by the Woodway artist Constance Lee. They are far sturdier than most designer handbags, though just a little bit too fancy to be everyday bags. I guess the best way to describe them is to say that they make you wish you lived the kind of life in which one of them could be your everyday bag. Lee had also created a few very elegant smaller bags for holiday parties, one of which you see pictured here.

She doesn't have a website, but I did find websites that mention her work and have contact information.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The perfect sweater dress

Sold out in my size, but it was the perfect dress. Courtesy of Almost Dressed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Great blog: Male Pattern Fitness

I just came across the blog Male Pattern Fitness by Men's Fitness writer Lou Schuler, and I'm impressed. (As well as envious — I'd love to work full time on a health and fitness blog.)

Schuler is doing a bang-up job of covering and commenting on a wide range of health and fitness news. I liked today's post, quoting Rocky Mountain News columnist Paul Campos, writing about amateur athletes and pro role models. Campos observes: "Shaq generally isn't available for a pickup basketball game, but anybody can go to the local high school track and try to run 400 meters in 71 seconds."

Oh, and don't let the title put you off. There's plenty of information on women's fitness in the blog, plus hilarious ramblings like this one debunking a study about the impact of your initials on your life choices.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Objects in the mirror may appear smaller...

Long ago -- when you bought jeans at Army Navy stores and you weren't in the Army or the Navy -- I vaguely recall buying women's jeans using men's waist sizes.

Today, the ultra-pricey women's fashion jeans are being sold by similar numbers. The problem is, what's a 30 in one brand is a 32 in another, and so on. The online fashion site has been putting together a guide to sizing for many of the major brands (7 for All Mankind, Frankie B, etc.). However, when you see that a size 10 is a 31, check the General Sizing Guide above to make sure you correspond to Adasa's definition of a 10 -- because it runs a good bit smaller than a 10 in a non-premium line such as Eddie Bauer or The Gap.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Æbleskiver and rommegrot

This weekend is the annual Yulefest at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard, just a few blocks north of us. Today Zorg and I went and up and channeled our fathers' Scandinavian ancestors as we ate at a lunch of open-faced sandwiches (meatball, egg salad, and herring), split pea soup, cakes, cookies and rommegrot.

I'd gone up to the Yulefest when it opened at 10 a.m. to scout the crafts booths, and stopped in at the aebleskiver cafe to watch them prepare these spherical Danish dessert pancakes. While various websites I consulted later compared aebleskiver to American pancakes, they remind me a bit of beignet. They're cooked in an aebleskive pan, cast iron with seven hemispherical indentations for the batter. As they puff up, you rotate them using a thin wood skewer or very delicate fork until they are round and brown.

Like beignet, aebleskiver are sprinkled with powdered sugar; in addition they come with a side of jam.

My favorite Scandinavian food (well, after Swedish korv, which isn't on the Yulefest menu) is rommegrot, a Norwegian porridge I first encountered at the Yulefest several years ago. It's fairly obscure, but I chased down some recipes and in the process discovered that there are two types of rommegrot: One includes sour cream or yogurt; the other uses regular cream. I'm definitely a fan of the sour-cream variation.

Since the recipe involves combining butter, flour, sugar, and (sour) cream and then topping the resulting hot porridge with more butter and sugar, plus cinnamon, this is not a dish you'd indulge in frequently. I have devised a one-serving recipe for it, but usually just wait for Yulefest to enjoy it.

Here's a good recipe from the Sons of Norway website; it even it tells you how to make your own sour cream using whipping cream and buttermilk.

New old sweater

I'm wearing someone else's sweater, but it doesn't look anything like it did when she was wearing it. That's because in the interim it passed through the studio of designer Malin Bengtsson.

Bengtsson, who has an online shop in the virtual crafts marketplace, has a booth this weekend at the Nordic Heritage Museum's Yulefest. Her work is a perfect extension of the festival's Scandinavian crafts (heavy on needlework and colorful woolens) into the 21st century: She's taking old sweaters and turning them into one-of-a-kind new fashions using techniques such as serging and felting.

This bright marine-blue sweater is one of her most traditional items -- a cashmere-blend V-neck enhanced with lettuce edges. (I desperately wanted the chocolate-brown cashmere with fiber woven along the boat neck, but that item, with 3/4 sleeves and a crop hem, was just too horizontal to look good on me.)

Bengtsson's reincarnated knitware line include leg warmers (and arm warmers) made of sweater sleeves; hats; scarves; and, of course, sweaters. To purchase, dash over to the Yulefest Sunday (10 - 6) or check out her Etsy site.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cook's animated

Tonight John and Barry and I went to hear Christopher Kimball, the driving force behind Cook's Illustrated magazine and website and America's Test Kitchen, speak at Third Place Books in Bothell. He was charming, and spent most of his time taking questions from the enthusiastic audience that packed the stage area and overflowed into the food court that adjoins the bookstore. I realized that I miss clever, articulate preppies. And I came away determined to try his new vodka pie crust for my next apple pie (though I'll be using one of Martha's designs for the crust assembly).

Before Kimball's talk, the topic of molecular cooking came up. John said he hadn't heard much about that trend. My knowledge of it is, unfortunately, abstract rather than experiential. Spearheaded by restaurants in first in Spain (El Bulli), and soon after in Chicago and New York, it uses scientific principles to create dishes such as fried mayonnaise, and pate that can be tied in a knot. Predictably, it's also inspired a vituperative backlash -- all of which is described well in this post at 3 Quarks Daily. And there's even a website devoted to the broader topic of molecular gastronomy:, which has tips for home chefs who want to try the molecular approach in their own kitchens.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Five hours a week

I devote five hours a week to fitness. That includes four hours of actual workout and one hour of getting to and from two 90-minute yoga-based classes and one 60-minute belly dance class that involves a 10-lb. weight belt.

The reason I do this is because if I do any less, it doesn't work. What I mean by "it doesn't work" is that fat doesn't burn any more. And, to some extent, the workout is a struggle rather than enjoyable -- I guess because at once or twice a week I can't maintain the levels of strength, balance and flexibility that make working out physically enjoyable.

Five hours, in three 90-minute chunks, is a LOT of time. It means that two times a week, dinner with Zorg is disrupted. And that I can't attend professional meetings on the evenings when my classes meet. And that I don't like to go away for the weekend because that means missing the Sunday morning class. And that when we have guests, I go slithering off to class instead of being a good hostess and cooking for them.

Perhaps there are people for whom fitness is something they can just "fit in" in the openings in their schedules. But I find there are few such openings in mine, and certainly not enough of them to keep me fit. Fitness has to be planned and scheduled, and lots of fun or important activities sacrificed -- and other people inconvenienced -- in order to get results.

And, oh yes, it's totally worth it.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A new take on fish: Soy-poached sole

Zorg has asked that I cook fish more often. Something beyond my usual fall-back, expensive salmon grilled on the barbecue. Thus I found myself at the market, eyeing a heap of nice-looking sole. I equate sole with flounder, and I cook flounder by dredging it in flour (mixed with salt, pepper, and herbs) and frying it in butter.

The fellow at the fish counter suggested that I toss all the little filets into a glass bowl, pour in some sherry and herbs, and microwave it for three or four minutes. That just sounded weird to me. But I bought a pound of filets anyway.

Then I went home and read the flat-fish section of Mark Bittman's book on cooking fish. I put 1/3 cup of soy sauce into a big flat-bottomed pan, added some sliced ginger root and fresh garlic cloves, and a bit of sesame oil. And a sprinkle of sherry. Brought this to a boil, then took it down to low, tossed in the sole filets and put on the cover. Nine minutes later: Dinner.

We both liked it enough to put the recipe into regular rotation. But the biggest fan of the soy-poached sole was Sheba, our deaf white cat. We had some left over, and she has been demanding a bit every time we go near the refrigerator.

Now I'm wondering about poaching a thicker filet, such as swordfish.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A sweater you can't refuse

One of the inspirations for Food, Fitness, Fashion is Amber Nussbaum, who blogs about all those topics on My Aim Is True. Amber takes a hands-on approach to fashion as a member of the Norfolk (Va.) Craft Mafia, a gal group featured this past week on the cover of their local newspaper. Great photo!

Overnight roasted tomatoes

Music and Cats has what may be the definitive post on slow-roasting tomatoes and then using them for pasta and other dishes. And such gorgeous photos of the tomatoes!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And now, on to Thanksgiving

It's time to toss out the Halloween candy (can we say high-fructose corn syrup?) and move on to a more complex culinary holiday: Thanksgiving. Yes, it's coming.

It's tempting to go into denial, but then you'll find yourself racing around looking for baking pans, roasters, turkeys, and exotic ingredients at the last minute -- paying top dollar, and standing in long checkout lines with all the other people who tried that tactic.

Over the years I've enjoyed wonderful, storybook Thanksgivings -- and had turkey days that ended with me staring miserably at a kitchen full of greasy poultry leftovers and ruined tablecloths.

I like to think I'm getting better at it. Here are five steps I've learned to take in order to come to grips with the very real logistic and emotional issues that surround Thanksgiving:

1. Clean out the pantry well in advance. Whether it's your storage locker, basement, garage, or pantry, get in there and make sure you have a clear path to the stuff for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that you have the equipment you need: roasters, baking pans, cookie sheets, cookie cutters, pie plates, large serving bowls and platters, a functioning mixer (for whipped cream and mashed potatoes), enough place settings of china and stainless for the number of guests you expect, and a nice tablecloth and napkins. A punchbowl and a large coffee pot will help, too. Make a list of what's missing (for Step 4).

2. Check the appliances. If your refrigerator is acting up, or your oven seems to be baking unevenly, or if some of your burners don't work, this is the time to get replacements or call in the repair person -- not the week before Thanksgiving. And make sure the dishwasher is on its best behavior, as well.

3. Read up on Thanksgiving cooking. Don't leave yourself at the mercy of some lifestyle magazine at the checkout counter, either. Do some research and find a Thanksgiving cookbook that suits your style, be it vegetarian, traditional, gourmet, or natural foods. Then read it. I can strongly recommend Cook's Illustrated Thanksgiving Survival Guide (online) for its thoroughly tested recipes. If you like to cook, but are not used to orchestrating complete meals for a crowd of guests, I'd suggest the ebook Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner. It takes a project management approach to the meal, with checklists and charts -- as well as all the recipes you'll need to prepare a classic Thanksgiving meal.

4. Buy (or borrow) the necessary equipment. Take your list (from Step 1) and look up the items you need on Amazon, getting a sense for prices and creating a wish list. Then head for your local consignment shop or a discount store such as Ross. You should be able to get much of what you need very cheaply at one of those shops; the remainder you can buy online at Amazon,, or similar. It's fine to borrow these items, but don't rely on someone to remember to bring them to the Thanksgiving event. Get them in advance.

5. Plan for enjoyment. Think about your favorite Thanksgiving meals from the past and what made them really wonderful. Do you enjoy simple, informal buffets or elegant sit-downs? Traditional recipes, or the latest gourmet trends? A big, energetic group of guests or a small group of quiet, reflective people? Plan a Thanksgiving experience that's as close to your ideal as possible. Strongly resist taking responsibility for a meal that's outside your comfort zone! If someone insists you provide an ultra-gourmet experience, a strict vegetarian meal, a feast for 24 with elegant linens and silver, or cater to a guest list full of people who creep you out, don't do it. Tell whoever is asking for something you don't want to prepare that they can host Thanksgiving and you'll bring a dessert or wine!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pumpkin everywhere

I came home from yoga tonight to find a pumpkin lit and glaring at me on our front porch. And a bowl of pumpkin innards waiting for me in the kitchen.

Zorg had insisted last night on buying a big pumpkin at the Ballard Market and tonight he carved it, giving it a particularly crazed expression that I suspect had something to do with his day at work.

My job was to separate the seeds from the pulp and toast the seeds -- with a little olive oil and salt -- in the oven. Fortunately, pumpkin seeds float; I floated them out of the pulp, dried them with paper towels, and tossed them onto a foil-lined baking pan. Toasting them took about 45 minutes in a 375-degree oven, and the house smells great. (Particularly after I carted the pulp off to the compost bin.)

Happy Halloween!

(cross-posted on The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out)

Bodywork and beyond

When you feel good, you crave activity (aka exercise) and good (aka healthy) food.

This is where bodywork -- from classic massage to Chinese medicine and Rolfing -- comes in. These treatments and techniques relieve pain, help you overcome physical restrictions, and heighten body awareness.

My friend Larry Swanson, a top-notch web designer, has created a site called Bodywork U. It's primarily for bodywork practitioners to find professional development programs and classes. But, with its list of state-by-state list of massage schools and other programs, Bodywork U is also a great way for you to find the leading studios and practitioners in whatever bodywork area you'd like to explore.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Middle View

In the past year I've gone from a size 14 to a size 8, but have lost only 13 pounds.

This was mysterious to me, but my fitness instructor says I've probably lost 25 pounds of fat and gained 12 pounds of muscle.

This is intriguing, because the most common measure of health and fitness is the BMI (body mass index, an estimate of body fat based on height and weight). My BMI (of 27) indicates that I'm still significantly overweight -- which seems to me to a bit weird for a size 8 woman.

Now comes a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that suggests that waist circumference (adjusted by race/ethnic identity) is a better indicator of fitness and risk for cardiovascular diseases. Interestingly, my waist is the area of my body that has lost the most inches; my waist measurement falls well below the study's criterion for "overweight."

Squash Caramel

It's squash season, so I tore a recipe for squash soup out of the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 20-21) and picked up a large acorn squash at the Ballard Market.

It wasn't until I began making the recipe that I realized the "Roasted Squash Soup with Brown Butter" was one squash, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and one cup plus two teaspoons of butter. That's not soup, that's squash-flavored carmel sauce. Somewhere at the Wall Street Journal, a recipe writer is out of his or her gourd.

I found it particularly bizarre because the recipe starts by having you split, seed, and roast the squash, which will carmelize the vegetable's abundant natural sugars and make additional sugar pretty much overkill -- in every sense of the word.

So while my (unsugared but lightly buttered) squash roasted, I went back to the drawing board with the rest of the recipe to see what I could do to replace the butter with something a bit more appetizing.

I ended up sauteeing some naturally sweet vegetables -- chopped sweet onions, a chopped red pepper, and three chopped carrots -- in a little bit of butter. Then I added water to cover the veggies and dropped in three stalks of celery (to be removed later, before pureeing the soup) and left that to simmer.

After the squash finished roasting, I removed the skin and added the squash to the vegetable soup, and then removed the fibrous celery. Then I left the soup to cool (so it could be pureed later in the blender).

To get the browned butter flavor, I reduced the cup (16 tablespoons) of butter called for in the recipe to 2 tablespoons and followed the fairly involved directions for melting and boiling the butter, which concludes by setting the saucepan in an ice bath to get the golden brown butter separated from the milk solids. That butter is then added to the pureed soup.

(I did it, but it was a pain. I wonder if an interesting oil could be added instead -- sesame perhaps?)

The recipe winds up with cayenne, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vinegar, lemon juice, and salt added to the puree, which is then gently heated before serving. I pulled back quite a bit on these final additions; my soup was less rich and sweet and thus needed less sharp flavoring to "cut" it.

The final soup got Zorg's "yum" of approval, and I'll be cooking it again.

Mushroom season, delicious and daring

My year in Italy included a meal in a private dining room at one of the city's finest restaurants. It was October, the height of mushroom season, and the menu our host chose made the most of it: antipasto with herbed, marinated mushrooms, a first-course pasta with a heady sauce of fresh porcinis, and Portabella mushroom steaks for the main course. The only off note among the chorus of "oohs" and "ahs" around the table was my friend Patrizia, who could be heard muttering "We're going to be poisoned."

Therein lies the challenge for mushroom aficionados.

Once you move beyond the basics of the common cultivated button, cremini, and portabella mushrooms (and several varieties of Asian cultivated mushrooms, such as shitaki) you're at the mercy of the mushroom pickers who comb the woods and fields. Fortunately, the vast majority of them, and the markets they sell to, can distinguish the edible wild fungi from the dangerous ones. That means the morels, chanterelles, and porcinis that turn up at your local market present only the most infinitesimal risk while offering the rewards of fabulous flavor for pastas, soups, sauces, risottos, and more. If you don't find them locally, a good online source is Foods in Season, specializing in fresh wild mushrooms (including truffles) from the Pacific Northwest.

Go to town cooking up Risotto al Funghi Porcini and the like, but, unless you are a mushroom expert with extensive experience, do not eat the mushrooms found in your yard or on hikes. Most of the perfectly safe wild mushrooms have poisonous look-alikes. Also, be aware that some amateur mushrooms pickers -- and hikers -- insist not only on eating what they find, but in serving mushroom-laced dishes to unsuspecting guests. Their dinner parties are good ones to avoid during, and right after, mushroom season.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Welcome to Food, Fitness, Fashion

When I noticed how many posts on my personal blog were about food, fitness and fashion, I realized that I wanted a place to blog about these topics without making my usual readers roll their eyes. Thus "Food, Fitness, Fashion" was born.

I'll be commenting on fashion trends, focusing on a longterm perspective. Sure, "kitten heels" are back, but where the bleep did they come from in the first place?

And I'll be writing about food, reporting on ways to cook, eat, and even indulge healthily and enjoyably -- without turning yourself into one of those ghastly food vigilantes. (If you think I'm turning into one, please comment immediately and send truffles.)

Finally, I'll be writing about fitness -- a topic on which I'm afraid I am a bit of a vigilante. You may be able to guess, by checking out the blog's fitness links (at right), what kind of vigilante.