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I have 40 recipes in my queue and no time to try them

From mydogischelsea by
June 15, 2009

I eat so much better in the winter. That’s the season when I have that elusive thing called “time.” Time to make homemade stock. Time to try out fiddly recipes. Time to make three side dishes and a dessert for later.

But just as the first asparagus spears and snap peas hit the stands of the farmers market, the quality of the food I eat exponentially drops. This is because spring heralds the beginning of Ultimate Frisbee season. This means: team practice twice a week. League play every week, sometimes twice. Pickup games at every turn. Since Tuesday, I’ve had one evening that WASN’T dedicated to playing my chosen sport.

I practically go straight from work to the game or to practice, stopping at home only to pick up the dog. Occasionally (if there’s time) I’ll eat a pre-game slice of cheddar cheese and a handful of almonds. By the time we’re done playing, it’s after 9 PM and I am “hangry” (starving to the point of delirious ire). All I want to do is stuff my belly with greasy pub food as fast as humanly possible and go to sleep.

My CSA share has begun and I watch with horror as my greens age in the fridge. My garden is bursting with chard but I don’t bother to harvest it. The flat of strawberries I intend to turn into a slew of jams and desserts gets mushy and moldy.

And you can’t bring leftovers for lunch if you didn’t cook anything the night before. So instead of eating a delicious, healthy, home-cooked midday meal, I am forced to venture out into the food void that is downtown Vancouver, Washington, in search of something vaguely edible. All of this eating out is taking a toll on my pocketbook, my arteries and my tastebuds.

Tonight, I have plans—to go home and cook. I will use up the leftover chicken from last week’s non-Ultimate day and I will make enough chicken soup to feed me all week. I will sautee my overgrown chard in garlic and olive oil. I’ll eat CSA beets and kale and garlic whistles.

Most importantly, I will NOT scarf down an overcooked hamburger at a bar.

I will eat well.

Question of the day: How do you eat when you need to eat fast? I am open to suggestions.

Why salad shouldn’t be a main course

From mydogischelsea by
May 22, 2009

On Mondays at my office we have this thing called Salad Days. The idea is that everyone brings in lettuce and a topping to share, the office supplies the salad dressing, and together we eat our healthy greens. It’s great in theory, but I’ve been opposed to Salad Days from the start. Here’s why:

I love salads. Love them! Nothing beats an arugula salad with shaved Parmesan and a light homemade vinaigrette. Or greens with apple, green onion and avocado. Or radicchio and endive with bleu cheese. The possibility with salads are virtually endless, and, of course, need not begin or end with lettuce. But salads are just NOT supposed to be main dishes, ESPECIALLY when they are made with bagged lettuce topped in a smorgasbord of conflicting toppings and finished with bottled Newman’s Own dressing.

(I also harbor more than a touch of resentment that I should be expected to share my delicious farmer’s market goodies in exchange for Bacos and flavorless grape tomatoes from Costco.)

I guess I should also should point out that I have a ravenous appetite. I have to eat something substantive about every two hours or I get extremely irritable and cranky. Which is to say: if I am hungry, do not cross my path.

But last week, I attempted to go with the flow and eat just a salad for lunch like everyone else. I consumed an entire head of red-leaf lettuce with more than my fair share of toppings that did not complement each other (including smoked salmon for protein). I portioned out 4 tablespoons of salad dressing, or twice the recommended servings size--still not quite enough for the entire head of lettuce. In the end? I’d consumed about 30 grams of fat and I was STILL STARVING. I’d have been better off just eating a damn hamburger. Which is what I wanted when I was done.

Salads, in my opinion, are meant to be small, decadent, nutrient-rich side dishes that accompanies a more substantive main course. Get your greens from your salad and fill up on something else.

Anyway, I hate to be Oscar the Grouch and everyone else in the office seems to be really into the Salad Days thing. (Probably also helps that no one else appears to need as much food as I do.) So I’ve been thinking: maybe next week I’ll bring a pasta salad? And chicken salad? With lasagna served atop a bed of spinach?

Because if I’m going to fill up on a salad, it’s going to take a little thinking outside of the boxed organic baby greens.

On food and memory

From mydogischelsea by
April 22, 2009

“Everyone seems to have such strong memories associated with food.” A coworker of mine observed this recently after a writer’s workshop. Our task had been to write a series of six-word stories about family—most of which ended up being related to food. “I wonder why that is,” she said.

I’m sure an academic has studied this phenomenon at great length, but here are my amateur guesses at why this seems to be universally true:

1. Everyone eats. Not everyone has a mother, or a brother, or a dog. Not everyone has a good time at prom. Not everyone goes on big family hikes or gets married or learns to surf. But, to varying degrees of enjoyment and plenitude, everyone eats food.

2. Food is sensory. They say that smell is the strongest tie to memory, and if you’ve ever caught a whiff of something familiar but distant, you know why. My childhood smells like the blossoms of an Ailanthus tree—pungent and overwhelming. If I pass by one of those trees in the spring, I can instantly the sun flickering through branches along the New York City street I grew up on.

Taste, I think, is equally strong; the only reason we don’t see it as such is because our ability to categorize taste is more limited. Things are either sweet, salty, bitter or sour, and very few tastes are unique to a specific memory. But still, taste does have that same transporting property: one bite of a good Italian gravy (AKA “tomato sauce”) and I’m suddenly 7 years old and about to dive into a bowl full of fusilli and meatballs in my grandma’s kitchen.

3. Food is central. Food and drink is at the core of everything—a culture, a family, an event. I was 5 years old at my grandparent’s 50th anniversary, and these are the only things I remember: There were lots of people I didn’t know. The event was held in a restaurant next to a body of water. I was allowed to drink as many Shirley temples as I wanted. To this day, I can still taste the grenadine.

My family (and most people’s families) gather for food. Big events in our lives are underscored by the central common activity: eating in celebration. No matter what the occasion, happy or sad, we eat communally. It is, in many ways, the whole point of coming together. And those are the moments we remember.

4. Food happens a lot. In life, we remember the activities that are incredibly unique (your cousin’s wedding, your college graduation) or mundane and repetitive—you may not be able to place when it happened, but I bet you can picture a time when you sharpened a pencil or picked a dandelion. The things in between (at least for me) get lost in the filing cabinet. Food happens all the time, usually thrice daily. It would be hard not to have an entire drawer of hanging folders in your brain dedicated to the topic.

So, there you have it: complete speculation on why food is central to so many people’s memories. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Oh, and, in case you were wondering: my mother’s biography in exactly six words:

“It needs salt,” she always says.

If I only had a steam-free milk frother...

From mydogischelsea by
April 15, 2009

My mother always says that a kitchen isn’t complete without a lettuce spinner and a food processor. When she visited me a few years ago, she was dumbfounded by my lack of both.

“I couldn’t function without mine!” she said. (And I don’t doubt it—it was a crisis of epic proportions when her microwave gave out.)

I don’t think I need to tell you what she gave me the following Christmas.

Now, I do love my lettuce spinner—almost as much as I love my Cuisinart—but I’m not sure I’d make the case that a kitchen isn’t complete without one. In fact, I think I got along quite fine before either item entered my world. Even now, without all of the appliances and accoutrements I wish I had—a crock pot, a stand mixer, a Le Creuset pan—I’d say my tiny little kitchen is pretty well stocked.

But, just like your self-esteem, your confidence in your kitchen is fragile. One little nudge and mine shattered.

Enter the catalog that arrived, unsolicited, in my mailbox. After drooling through the All-Clad section, I discovered a trove of kitchen gadgets. It turns out that not only am I missing some basic gear, I also lack in “essentials” I didn’t even know existed.

Such as:

  • Non-stick paring knives
  • A cookie dough scoop (spoons are so passé)
  • A cupcake courier (this is a “must-have for the baker"—it safely transports up to 36 cupcakes without disturbing the frosting)
  • A salad-dressing mixer (I guess shaking your dressing in a jar is inefficient)
  • The “Garlic Zoom” (a little plastic ball on wheels that chops your garlic—like a garlic press, except straight out of the Jetsons’ kitchen)
  • “Poach Pods” (silicon egg poachers)
  • A lemon and lime squeezer AND a device to store sliced citrus (anyone who is anybody knows not to squeeze by hand, didn’t you know?)
  • A potato ricer
  • An apple peeler (apparently regular peelers aren’t good enough—this one even cores and slices your fruit)
  • A clip that holds stirring spoons to your pots (never lose a drip again!)
  • A vegetable sanitizer
  • A brownie cutter-upper (The blurb says: “Take the guesswork out of evenly slicing brownies.” Thank goodness someone has finally solved the inequitable distribution of brownies in this world.)

I read the catalog cover to cover, partly out of jealousy for the things I couldn’t afford or wouldn’t have room to store even if I wanted them, but mostly out of outrage over the fact that there’s actually a market for things like “ice orbs” (vertical ice cube trays that store ice while making it) and “muffin top pans” (inspired, I’m sure, by that episode of Seinfeld).

And yet, despite the ridiculous nature of about half of the products in the catalog, part of me couldn’t help but feel like my kitchen has a long way to go. Just like those clothing ads designed to make us feel inadequate about how we look (ergo forcing us to spend money on more outfits), this little kitchen-supply catalog was twisting a non-stick paring knife in my side. And then sprinkling salt from a battery-operated grinding mill on my wound.



I put the catalog down. You know what? My kitchen might be smaller than most people’s cars, but it gets the job done. True, I don’t own a fat separator or fancy stainless steel cookware. But then again, I don’t need a cinnamon mill to make good food.

As far as I’m concerned, all anyone really needs is a chef’s knife, a cutting board, a couple of pots and pans, a baking dish, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Sure, lettuce spinners and food processors are nice, but you’ll be complete without them.

How seasonal is ‘seasonal’?

From mydogischelsea by
March 24, 2009

Just about every restaurant in Portland serves seasonal cuisine. In the winter, this meant that menus were loaded up with butternut squash (never any other kind), kale, root vegetables (that’s a euphemism for “carrots”), blood oranges, beets, potatoes, yams, pear-themed desserts. Because, you know, it was winter.

And now that it’s officially spring, more tender vegetables are making their way into restaurant kitchens. In fact, last week I saw an asparagus soup (a little early for that, no?) and this weekend, a pasta dish with morels. Spring has sprung.

But I worry that some restaurants use “seasonal” as nothing more than a marketing ploy. Yes, it’s spring, and yes, in the spring we get asparagus, but that doesn’t mean that our restaurants are getting asparagus from Oregon yet—or ever. And the whole point of eating with the seasons is to eat food that is available here. And now. Sure, I guess it is possible that the asparagus on that menu was local, but I doubt it, and there is no way of knowing one way or the other (especially in pureed soup form). And that, to me, is troubling.

All of this doubt began last week when I pulled out a forgotten butternut squash from my cupboard that I’d picked it up a while ago at the grocery store—a reputable grocer with an emphasis on local and organic food. I rotated its smooth body in my hand until I found the sticker. And it said:


Mexico? Really?? I go to a lot of trouble to avoid out-of-season veggies that come from afar: in the winter in Portland, this means peppers, cucumbers, asparagus, tomatoes, etc. I never thought it would also mean butternut squash. I mean, heck! A squash plant grew itself out of my compost last fall—this is the climate for these fellas. Butternuts keep for a long time, so even if the harvest was over when I bought mine, you’d think the grocer would be able to stock squash from somewhere at least semi-close.

Anyway—the point is this: if butternut squash is not available locally in the depth of the winter, then why was it available at nearly every Portland restaurant? Probably because we’re all trained to believe it should be.

And some restaurants probably did feature Northwestern winter squashes. But, inevitably, others sourced theirs from Mexico. And we’d be none the wiser.

Really, spaghetti squash is that easy

From mydogischelsea by
March 14, 2009

I’m certain this isn’t news to the Culinate community, but apparently it is to the world at large (and by that I mean “my family”): Cooking spaghetti squash is easy!

On a recent family vacation, my mother made a ridiculously fantastic meal of bacon-wrapped filet mignon, potato gratin and her famous tri-colored salad. My measly contribution to the mix was spaghetti squash tossed in parmesan, parsley, butter and a touch of maple syrup.

Now, compared to my mother’s decadent feast, my dish was inelegant and, frankly, not very good. I’d undercooked the squash and the result was a sort of Granny-Smith-esque flavor and texture I didn’t much appreciate. But my family seemed genuinely impressed by it, complimenting it far more than it deserved.

It wasn’t until the meal was almost over that I figured out why. My cousin brought it up: “So, how do you do it? Cook a butternut squash and then chop it lengthwise?”

Then, my uncle: “I’ve always wanted to make spaghetti squash but it just seems like a lot of work. Do you need a pasta machine or something?”

“Yeah, how did you get it to look like spaghetti?” another family member asked.

So this is what all of the commotion is about! The perceived notion that I’d done something difficult! If only I could be judged so lightly in every aspect of my life.

The conversation was starting to sound familiar. “It’s super easy,” I assured them. “Cut the squash in half and bake it. When it’s done, scoop out the flesh and season it. That’s it.”

“And chop it?”

“No, it grows that way. That’s why it’s called spaghetti squash.”


“Seriously, it really easy,” I assured them.

After that, no one complimented the dish again. I should’ve known better than to reveal my tricks.

Once again, the Onion gets it right

From mydogischelsea by
March 10, 2009

Much like the Daily Show, the Onion has a knack for reporting fake news that strikes a chord for its inherent truthiness, as Stephen Colbert would say. Exhibit A, which is food-related not just because of its publication’s namesake: FDA Approves Salmonella.

The article is funny not because of the absurdity of the subject, sadly, but because of its all-too-right-on implied criticisms of the FDA and the major food companies that lobby it. Which is to say: It’s funny because it’s true even though it’s not true.

Although, I suppose that that’s more sad than it is funny.

The carrot quandary

‘Is it a beet?’

From mydogischelsea by
March 3, 2009

“What do you think this is? A carrot or a beet?”

I was eating dinner recently at the bar of a nice restaurant with my uncle and my mother. The patrons next to us were prodding their side veggies—a beautiful medley of young carrots in a rainbow of colors—with a fork.

“Couldn’t be a carrot—too purple. Definitely a beet.”

Now, I know it’s rude to eavesdrop on and then interrupt people while they’re dining, but I had to set the record straight: the plate in front of the woman to my right was decidedly beet-free.

I leaned over. “It’s not a beet,” I said.

“What is it?” one of the women asked.

“It’s a carrot.”

I am no food scientist but I know a carrot when I see one. Heck, I can spot a carrot when it’s nothing more than green leaves poking out of the earth or wild roadside Queen Anne’s Lace. Carrots, much like garbage cans or telephone poles, are pretty much universally recognizable, especially when they are out of the ground, cleaned, stemmed, steamed and lying whole next to a roasted chicken thigh.

Or not.

“How can you tell?”

“It’s definitely a carrot. It looks like a Purple Haze. I grew them once,” I said.

“Really? How did you get them to be purple?”

I paused for a second. I had to be careful. I grew up in New York City, where trees grow only in designated holes in the sidewalks and produce ships in from California. In fact, I had a fear of plants (especially tall grasses and skunk cabbages—eww) until I was far too old to admit here. Believe me when I say that my green thumb is a relatively new development. I have no right whatsoever to be a know-it-all about this sort of thing.

But still. There are only so many ways to answer this woman’s question.

“I put the seeds in the ground,” I told her. “And they grew.”

My mother’s salad dressing: Best. Dressing. Ever.

From mydogischelsea by
February 14, 2009

My mother makes great salads.

What makes them so great is their simplicity. Often, when I make a salad, it’s got all sorts of goodies: avocados, green onions, apples, yellow bell peppers, what have you. That’s nice and all, but it’s a little busy. Her salads? Lettuce, bleu cheese (if and when it’s in her fridge at the moment) and The Best Dressing Ever.

Of course, the right lettuce is key. My favorite of her salads is what she calls the “tri-colored salad”: arugula, radicchio and endive, tossed with bleu cheese and dressing.

However, it really is all about the dressing. I’ve tried to replicate her dressing a million times over, but she is the true master. This is what I’ve learned: NO SKIMPING. No diets, no “lite”, no fear of garlic breath. Just go for it.

(That said: if you’re on a diet, my mother claims that you can actually lose calories while eating a salad if you dress it only in vinegar. It’s one of her “dieting tricks.” That, and drinking vodka with dinner instead of wine.)

The Best Dressing Ever (amounts are approximate):

1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup Balsamic vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (don’t skimp)

1. This is how I do it: I take a small jar, usually an old peanut butter jar. I put the tip of my pinky on the counter, holding my finger next to the side of the jar. I use the bottom third of my pinky to measure.

2. Pour the olive oil into the jar until it’s about the height of halfway up the bottom third of your pinky. Then, add the vinegar until it’s on the same level as your third joint. (Make sense? If not, just use a measuring cup.)

3. Add garlic, salt and pepper. (Remember, don’t skimp)

4. Put the lid on tightly, and SHAKE!

That’s it. (My brother likes to add about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and maple syrup, and then puts it in the blender. That’s quite good, too, but more work.)

25 food things

From mydogischelsea by
February 7, 2009

I’ve resisted this tag on Facebook like the plague. However, anything food-related is infinitely more interesting to me. I have succumbed.

1. I detest eggplant. Do not feed it to me in any form. No—not even baba ganoush. Only acceptable exception to this is thinly sliced fried eggplant parmesan. Frying it removes the disgustingly mushy texture and, obviously, cheese and a nice tomato sauce taste good on anything.

2. When I was a kid, I instilled a lifelong hatred of tomatoes in my younger brother by sucking out the pulp of a wedge of a beefsteak, showing him the bumpy inner membrane, shoving it in his face and shouting, “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN!”

3. My mother made me coffee every morning—half milk, half coffee, lots of sugar—until I was about 5 or 6 years old. That was when the sippy cup I used to drink it out of went missing.

4. I will forever be scarred by frozen veggies, especially lima beans, crinkle-cut and diced carrots, broccoli stems, corn and green beans. When I was child, those were my sole sources of vegetables.

5. The exception to #4: frozen peas are yummy. Particularly if they are still frozen when you eat them.

6. Annie’s boxed mac-and-cheese is my prepared food Achilles’ heel. I love the stuff.

7. I hate cheesecake.

8. When I was about 13, my mother got into this kick of making risotto every weekend. It lasted for like, I don’t know, a year. I hated, hated, HATED the stuff by the end of the “risotto craze.” Now? I make it at least twice a month.

9. Scallops remind me of tree trunks. I called them that as a kid.

10. I LOVE chocolate but it used to make me vomit. I threw up in the Hard Rock Cafe in New York City after eating a honking slice of chocolate cake. Definitely did not make it to the toilet on time.

11. Speaking of throwing up chocolate, every year for several summers in a row my family took a vacation to Long Beach Island. We’d eat at this restaurant called Howie’s Fish once every trip. I always got the fish-n’-chips followed by chocolate mousse (topped with a coffee bean)—and every year, my dessert ended up on the floor next to our booth.

12. I am certain my father knew how to cook, but I have no memories of him in the kitchen. Except for one time—he made a yule log, and there was a big mess on all of the counters. But the yule log was yummy.

13. Oh wait! Okay, more food memories of my dad. He hated store-bought ketchup (my brother does too, but that’s because he hates tomatoes, and now we all know why). But he liked homemade ketchup and he would make it from time to time. I always thought it tasted icky (way too much vinegar—and it was chunky! Ew!).

14. I remember also making ice cream with him. We had an ice cream maker and it took FOREVER. It was like waiting for Santa Claus.

15. For Super Bowl Sunday, he and I would make Jell-o instant chocolate pudding, and I loved every bite of it. I recently tried to make instant pudding (bought it on a whim with a coupon in the Chinook Book), but it paled in comparison to the flourless chocolate cake I made on the same night. I ended up tossing the pudding a few days later.

16. My mother makes better salads than anyone I know.

17. Actually, my mother makes better {enter almost any food here} than anyone I know. Although, I’d rate both of her sisters’ cooking with equal enthusiasm.

18. I went to college in the same city as my Aunt Mary and Uncle Gary, and they would have me over for dinner on Sunday evenings. One week, Mary made a meatloaf (which was fantastic, of course). We called Aunt Joanne to say hello—and wouldn’t you know? She was making a meatloaf, too. Then we called my mother to see if there was a meatloaf trifecta, but sadly, she had gone out to eat.

19. I am almost always hungry. In fact, a year ago I went through a two-week period of constant ravenous hunger. It didn’t matter how much I ate—I didn’t even get remotely full. My ravenous hunger finally ended when I ate a juicy rare hamburger. Mind you, I was a vegetarian at the time.

20. I detest rosemary. It ruins everything. And people put it in the most ridiculous things! Even chocolate! For crying out loud, I cannot wait for the rosemary fad to end.

21. Actually, in general, I’m not much of a fan of most dried spices. I use them, of course, but usually only when a recipe calls for them. If I am cooking without a recipe, I tend to avoid my spice rack. Most dishes, in my opinion, are best with just garlic, salt and pepper.

22. I did not know what cilantro was until I got to college.

23. Tea! I love tea! And I will judge you if you use a tea bag! There is nothing worse than stale, shredded, years-old tea in a bag. No wait—there is: scented stale, shredded, old bagged tea. Worst bagged tea of all: Tazo. Absolutely undrinkable.

24. My grandmother’s tomato sauce trumps all tomato sauces. She’s not allowed to cook anymore, though.

25. The first thing I ever learned to cook was scrambled eggs. To this day, they are my favorite way to eat eggs. Except, of course, soft-boiled the way my mother serves them: mixed in a bowl with little squares of cut-up buttered toast, with salt and pepper and a glass of orange juice.

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Laura Parisi

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Laura Parisi’s Content


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The vegetarian-cooking pioneer


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