Thursday, September 7, 2017

Rodeo recap and few of my favorite things 9/07/17


If you find yourself in Ellensburg, WA at the end the August and in need of a pair of cowboy boots, may I suggest checking out the local Goodwill? On a tip from a friend we went and found the scene pictured above. One of the employees shared with me that the year prior, they sold around 2000 pairs of boots. My husband found a great pair, but sadly the womens boots were all too snug for me and the mens boots were all too big (story of my life). (If you're looking for brand new boots, I understand the recommended place is Old Mill Country Store.)

The big Ellensburg Rodeo and Kittitas County Fair was this past labor day weekend. My sister and her family traveled out from the "westside", (Seattle- west of the cascades) and it was so much fun to experience together.

On Friday afternoon, we all went to the county fair. Walking the rows of booths, we shared a fair specialty, an "elephant ear": it is an enormous fried sheet of sweet dough, doused in cinnamon and sugar. It was quite a sight to see my husband walking towards us with both arms supporting the width of the treat. After sugar-ing up, we took our two-year old niece, Amelia, around the barns to see all the animals: horses, chickens, sheep, goats, cows, and bunnies. Local kids work hard raising and caring for the animals themselves and they proudly stand in front of the animal pens to share about the particulars. In one barn, I met a young man who showed off his sheep with nubby tan and black fur and big eyes. I asked him how much bigger the sheep would get and he matter-of-factly answered that "pretty soon she will be going to freezer camp, so she won't get much bigger than this." I did not ask for the details of "freezer camp". As someone who has lived a long while separated from the reality of what stocks my grocery store cases, it is going to take a bit of adjusting on my part to get used to the idea of living so close to food sources. I know that local farming like this is the most healthy and responsible way but it was an interesting experience to look at an eight year old and realize he had a better handle on the food chain system than myself. (As part of annual tradition, the junior raised livestock is auctioned off each year and this years sales were over $460k. Read a little about it here.)


On Saturday morning was the rodeo parade. My sister, Amelia and I were invited to watch with some new friends. Their family gets up early to secure seats right downtown and generously invited us to join them. The parade was wonderful- entries were from all over and the parade itself last for about an hour and a half. From floats, candy was thrown to onlookers but some parade entries were more creative: one passed out bottles of water and another, shiny large Washington apples. The pacific northwest potato chip company, Tim's, had a handful of employees handing out snack sized bags. One of my favorite moments was seeing the parade participants from Yakama Nation, dancing in their gorgeous beaded regalia. From Tacoma, WA there was also a band of bag pipers, whose music always makes my sister and I cry. There were, naturally, lots of horses in the parade, and although I know nothing about them, even I could tell these were some extraordinary animals- coats gleaming, heads held high, and manes and tails tossing as they marched down the street to cheers and claps.

In the afternoon, my sister and I walked to the Rodeo. A friend generously gifted us tickets and passes to the Gold Buckle Clubhouse and I am afraid we are now forever spoiled by the experience of hanging out on the shaded clubhouse porch, drinking gin and tonics and watching the rodeo events. The Ellensburg Rodeo is considered one of the top 10 in the country and draws world-ranked participants. I think it is a pretty great to be introduced to a sport by such accomplished athletes. In particular, I was floored by the speed of the barrel racing.

In the evening, we all ate chicken caesar salads in our tiny rental house (I cooked chicken breasts in the crockpot until shredded and whipped up Julia Turshen's dressing. It really is the best) and then it was our husbands turn to head to the rodeo to watch the bull-riding competition. Elizabeth, Amelia and I picked up bubbles and ice cream bars at the grocery store and, in the waning light, played at the park by the Yakima River. Amelia did not want her ice cream bar, so I got to eat two.

It was such a fun weekend and we've already determined to make it a family tradition. For those of us familiar the crowds of Disneyland or the largesse of an LA County Fair, the local Rodeo and Fair are just about the right size: large enough to draw talented participants and special exhibits, but small enough to feel hometown and not commercialized. I am, admittedly, in my honeymoon phase of living in a new place, but still, it felt pretty special.

In other goings on, we are experiencing a terrible wildfire just to the northeast of us. The air quality is so poor that some local schools are delaying their start and we've stayed indoors most of this week. The pups are getting a little stir crazy but our inconvenience is nothing compared to folks whose property is threatened and those tasked with fighting the fire. Hoping all is resolved soon.

From around the web, here are a few of my favorite things:

For all the fuss about cooking from scratch, here is a list of things Bon Appetit says they will not make homemade. Do you agree? (I would never attempt homemade tater tots)

A friend survived a recent plane crash in Alaskan waters. Along with the pilot, he and three other passengers swam to shore and were later rescued. Here and here are interviews recounting the ordeal. This line gives me chills: "The feeling of stepping, or just kind of sliding out of the plane into bottomless water, it was a feeling I won't forget."

This takes some serious dedication and talent to accomplish.

At night, if I can't seem to turn my brain off, I love to watch these clips (#7 may be my favorite).

Finally, for those of us who enjoy a well-placed cuss word, "The Social Benefits of Swearing."

Happy Thursday Friends!

Friday, September 1, 2017

halibut salad melt


Please do not imagine that dinner time at my house always finds us enjoying impeccable meals. I can make some real stinkers. Almost more frustrating than a dinner that completely bombs is one that is just like okay. If dinner is a full acknowledged disaster, we can move on and enjoy a bowl of frosted flakes. But when dinner is just okay, we trudge through it. I found myself in such a situation recently when I tried a new recipe for Proven├žal halibut. It was pan fried halibut steaks with a sauce of tomatoes, Kalamata olives, capers, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and basil. Except I forgot to add the basil. But I don’t think that’s what doomed the dish. I wanted to try something different with halibut and landed on this and it did turn out to be different, we just didn’t like it that much. I served it with parmesan roasted cauliflower, which I liked better than anything else on my plate.

The next day, I was going to have the leftover halibut with sauce for lunch and realized I was really not excited about it. Also, most of the time, fish is terrible reheated. I once worked in a building with a sign in the breakroom stating that microwaving fish was not allowed. No matter how fresh the fish, the smell of it reheating is pretty unappetizing. So, here I was, not looking forward to lunch and I decided to cut my losses. Rather than doctor up the Proven├žal sauce further, I pulled the halibut steaks from it, made a little halibut salad, layered it on thick slices of sourdough bread, and broiled it with a lid of cheddar and parmesan cheese. It was the opposite of okay. It was like, brilliantly good.

I am a little tempted to call this a tartine. I basically live to call an open-faced sandwich tartine. (I never mind a little pretension.) Tartine is the French word for an open-faced sandwich, but, while this includes gorgeous halibut, it’s roots are more diner. I think melt sandwiches are the hero of leftovers. This sandwich could easily be made with leftover salmon, canned tuna or grilled chicken. I think the success of a melt hinges on two items: some type of pickle element and a good amount of toasted cheese. Without a vinegary bite, it is almost too luxurious- all that gorgeous mayonnaise and cheese is best enjoyed with a little relief for the palate, be it from relish, pickle or caper. I happen to really love capers with halibut but feel free to substitute what you enjoy best. As for cheese, I use whatever is in the fridge. The only requirement being it needs to melt well and also there should be enough of it. This is not time to skimp.

Which brings me to a note about the bread. One of the things I was just sure I was going to have to give up when moving to small town, was artisan bread. My Trader Joes in SoCal spoiled me and I was used to boules and long baguettes. Post-move, I thought it would be Orowheat and wonder bread from here on out and that good bread was something I would need to learn to make. I made my peace with that. Dang, was I wrong. About a 5 minute walk from our rental house is Vinman's Bakery and the folks there make the most gorgeous bread. They have their classics (multi-grain, sourdough, etc) and then everyday there are additional bread specials with names like German Farm Bread and Orange Raisin Rye (both excellent). I am slowly making my way through it all. My routine is the dogs and I walk Josh to work and then once or twice a week we stop back at the bakery. I tether the dogs outside and step in to a space filled with the smells of yeast and flour and pastry filled with cream and rhubarb compote (heaven). When you buy a loaf, the helpful bakery staff offer to slice it up on their fancy slicing machine. The other day when I picked out my selection, the gentleman behind the counter apologized and said the bread was too warm for them to pre-slice for me. I grinned like an idiot at the thought of someone apologizing for warm bread. The puppies and I returned home to a second breakfast of fresh bread with butter.

Halibut salad melts

Makes two large open-faced sandwiches

Halibut salad:
2 cups cooked halibut, broken into bite sized pieces
¼ cup good mayonnaise
¼ cup chopped celery (about 2 small ribs)
scant ¼ cup chopped scallions (about 1 scallion)
1 ½ tablespoons drained capers
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

to assemble:
2 large slices of thick bread, lightly toasted
½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 medium tomato

1) Mix together the halibut salad. To avoid smashing the fish too much, gently toss all the ingredients together with a fork.

2) Move an oven rack to the highest placement and turn the oven broiler to high. 

3) On a rimmed cookie sheet place the two large slices of toasted bread (I toast mine in the broiler, but you're welcome to use a toaster. The key is to just lightly toast it, as the bread will get another dose of heat from the broiler). Top bread with generous scoops of the halibut salad and then distribute the cheese.


4) Place under broiler and broil until cheese melts and starts to bubble. Keep an eye on it- it only takes moments under the broiler to go from toasty perfection to inedible charcoal.


5) Remove from heat and let stand momentarily. Serve topped with slices of tomato. Sprouts are also good.