Let’s Get Toasted

by on Oct 28, 2014

I’ve made hundreds of grilled-cheese sandwiches in my lifetime. So imagine my surprise when I learned I was going about it all wrong.

I worked at a fast food restaurant when I was a teenager, and one of the most popular items on our menu was the sourdough grilled cheese. We made those sandwiches with bone-dry slabs of sourdough coated with something called “Whirl” (basically butter-flavored liquid Crisco) and slices of American cheese. The tanginess of the sourdough worked to tone down the richness of the cheese, and the toasty grease on the outside of the sandwich? Well. They were awesome.

Toasted cheese was also my go-to dinner when my three strapping lads got home late from a basketball game or we needed a quick meal. My stovetop would be crowded with frying pans, and when the boys were teenagers, I’d often stand at the stove making sandwiches until they were finally full. My traditional method was always to use medium-sharp cheddar cheese and whatever bread we had on hand. If I wanted to get extra fancy, I’d butter the inside of the bread to help the sliced cheese stick.

But I recently found out that real toasted-cheese aficionados use mayonnaise (yes, mayonnaise) for frying the sandwiches—not vegetable oil or butter. And forget the workhorse cheddar filling—they suggest paper-thin slices of gruyere or fontina.

And what about the tomato  soup? Oh yes, the soup. I found a recipe for roasted tomato soup online from Michael Chirello , and promptly proceeded to butcher it. The fact that I rarely follow recipes may be admirable in certain circumstances, but it’s probably not a very good trait to have if you’re trying to write a blog post about your dinner.

First you start with a can of diced tomatoes. Easy enough, right? Well, I quickly figured out I needed to actually use a strainer to drain them.

The right way

If you look closely, you can see where I spread the tomatoes on the foil PRIOR to adequately draining them. Ahem. You’ll need to toss them around a bit in the strainer to get the liquid off.

Oven takes forever

My oven takes forever to heat up all the way.

Next, you need to roast said tomatoes in a very hot oven for 15 minutes. And you’ll need to do two things that I didn’t: a) follow the recipe instructions regarding drizzling only PART of the olive oil on the tomatoes…and b) leave the tomatoes in until they’re actually ‘carmelized’ (my pond of olive oil started smoking so much that I chickened out and pulled the pan a little early).

Simmer away

Brothy vegetable goodness

Roasted toms

My poor drowned tomatoes.

While the tomatoes are roasting, you can set up the main broth with the chicken stock and vegetables. (You’ll notice I used green onions rather than the yellow onion the recipe called for–I decided to use up some that we had on hand that were looking a little droopy).

Carrot

Not really a small carrot.

I also skated on the “small carrot” instruction in the recipe. As you can see, this was no small carrot–but I cut up half and we ate the other half while we were cooking. (Even half of this Goliath turned out to be too much, as you’ll soon see.) I also may have used two stalks of celery rather than just one. What can I say? I like celery a lot better than I like recipes.

After the tomatoes were done, it was time to add the reserved juice and roasted tomatoes into the broth–along with the spices. (Although our basil plants outdoors are decidedly unhappy about our cooler weather, we’re still enjoying the fresh stuff.)

Herbs

This is the way I usually measure herbs. I threw a little fresh parsley in for good measure.

Next, use your handy-dandy immersion blender and whip it–whip it good. Add the half-and-half or cream, and you’re all set.

Cream

Adding the cream (or, in our case, the half-and-half).

Then it’s time to assemble your outrageously expensive fontina-cheese sandwiches. I bought a small square of smoked fontina from Safeway last night, to the tune of $10.99. Not exactly in the budget for a regular meal at our house, but hey, I’ll do anything for this blog.

R. helped with the sandwich assembly. I’d bought a loaf of sourdough for myself, but R. had to make do with his postage-stamp-sized gluten-free bread, so he made himself two mini sandwiches.

Mayo

Mayonnaising the outside of the bread. (And yes, “mayonnaising” is a professional cooking term, just in case you were wondering.)

Nestled in the pan

You can see the little glistening mayonnaise pockets on the outside of the bread…mmmm.

And then it was time for frying the little buggers. This was about the time Monday Night Football got going, so I was left to babysit the skillet myself. Note to all skilled toasted-cheese chefs: grilled cheese takes skillet savvy.

No matter how much your crew complains about how they’re all starving, the only way to get that golden crunch on the outside of the bread is through patience, medium-high heat and re-flipping.

And then it was time for the taste test. I had resigned myself to eating the orange  soup, figuring that it would taste like carrots more than tomatoes, but it was rich and tangy, and the fresh basil definitely saved the day.

Although R. and I both loved the way the mayonnaise schmear tasted, we were less impressed with the taste of the uppity fontina cheese (we both felt that cheddar would’ve been just fine, and maybe even preferable). But is there any greater pleasure than dipping a crunchy hot grilled cheese into tangy tomato soup?

So let us know if you have any preferred toasted-cheese methods–one of my coworkers insists the way to go is to put a little cream cheese on the inside of the sandwiches with regular ol’ sliced cheddar. My sister patented a healthy no-fry method (she uses the toaster and the microwave whenever she makes toasted cheese for her kids). Does anyone use special bread or “add-ins” like bacon? Let us know!

Dinner is served

I know you’re supposed to wipe off the rim of plates and bowls when you’re taking pictures of food. I was quite possibly faint with hunger by this point.

Roasted Tomato Soup (recipe adapted from Michael Chiarello). This is only about enough for two bowls; double it if you’re making it for a family.

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small (ha ha) carrot, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup half-and-half, optional

Strain the chopped canned tomatoes, reserving the juices, and spread onto a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, to taste, drizzle with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat remaining olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted chopped canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, chicken broth, bay leaf and butter. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add basil and half-and-half, if using. Puree with a hand held immersion blender until smooth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Laying Down the Law

by on Oct 24, 2014

There is something quite humbling about jury duty, especially if you’ve never done it before.

My husband R. rolled his eyes over my jury-duty anxiety—he’s an attorney—but then he had to admit that he’s never been called before either. I didn’t know where I was supposed to park, didn’t know where to go on the third floor, and was convinced I was going to look like a complete and utter noob.

I’d already probably cemented my reputation by forgetting to call in on Sunday night like I was supposed to, which prompted a scolding phone call from the courthouse on Monday. I didn’t tell them that I’d just gotten married and had spent the weekend hosting a giant open house for relatives I hadn’t seen in years (and yes, we are still enduring tight-lipped glances from our neighbors—let’s just say there was a lot of beer and singing involved). “There are a couple of trials starting up on Wednesday that we could plug you into,” the lady from the courthouse said, sighing.

So I showed up on Wednesday along with dozens of other people. The only thing I did know for sure was that I should leave my keys behind; I knew from tagging along to court with R. one time that the sweet little floral-print Swiss army knife that hangs on my keychain would have to be thrown in jail while I was in the building.

I managed to find someone in the security line who knew where she was going, and clipped the number 29 to my shirt collar after I filed in. We all received a six-question survey, which included a question about our hobbies. That immediately sent me into a bit of a tailspin. My hobbies? Uh…taking cats to the vet? Playing word games on my iPhone? Pretending to watch Thursday night football with R.? Everyone else was saying things about camping and fishing. I settled on the safe-sounding “I like to garden.”

It was a bit unnerving to watch the attorneys staring at people in the group while they were making decisions about the panel. It reminded me of being back in elementary school when our gym teachers let the two best athletes in the class pick teams for kickball. (That feeling of being in elementary school would be reinforced several times—we were required to line up in number order every time we filed in to court. This is surprisingly difficult for grown people, and I suspect it’s a regular source of entertainment for bailiffs.) I really didn’t want to be picked, but realized it would be kind of cool to be chosen, like I’d passed some sort of test.

I figured my overwhelming lack of experience with jury duty would sort of automatically disqualify me, but to my surprise I was indeed picked to serve on a superior court case and I became No. 10 instead of No. 29. We learned we would be serving on a felony theft trial involving a stolen trailer.

Awkward lapses of conversation were common back in the jury room during our long wait periods. We obviously had more introverts than extroverts in our group, but the extroverts did what they could. Thanks to them, we learned a lot about each other during the long hours we sat around waiting: we talked about everything from neighborhood cats to apple varieties to dinner prices at different casinos. We watched an energetic young teacher from Ike grade a giant stack of biology tests, and teased another panel member about the thick English-majoresque book she was reading. I made several impertinent suggestions about room décor, noting that the addition of a television and board games would be a good idea. “We could all be playing Monopoly or something,” I said.

We checked our phones frequently for the time while we were waiting in the jury room (we all noticed there wasn’t a clock) and I was surprised at how claustrophobic I started to feel, particularly after I fried my phone battery after playing Ruzzle for three hours. No, our bailiff said, we couldn’t leave…even to go for a short walk. We were not to linger about in the hallways where we might run into one of the attorneys or witnesses. One of our panel members admitted he was having trouble sitting still. “I don’t know, I must have ADHD or something,” he said, and the rest of us nodded, sympathetic. I fought an almost uncontrollable urge to get up and doodle on the blank white board hanging on the wall, thinking that perhaps that would be a good thing to mention the next time I went through a jury selection process. Hobbies? Yes, your Honor. I doodle on white boards.

Although we all tried to be serious, there were quite a few laughs during the two days we were together. During the trial, I happened to look up when I saw some people out in the hallway peering in the  courtroom door window. Naturally it was R. and his partner, both with big grins on their faces.

“You know those guys?” whispered a fellow juror, surprised.

“Well, one of them is my husband,” I said.

“Which one?”

“The one in the orange hoodie.”

“I thought you said your husband was an attorney.”

“He is,” I said, sighing.

But then, finally, the closing arguments were heard and we were able to reach a verdict fairly quickly. Judge Gibson came back to talk to us afterward, and the panel bubbled over with questions. Why hadn’t the attorneys asked certain questions? Why didn’t we have a clearer story of what happened? Did he think we’d returned the right verdict? “I love juries,” he said, diplomatically. “You guys do all the heavy lifting because you make all the decisions. I’m just a referee.”

It was interesting to me that we all obviously felt bonded after the whole thing was over, kind of like we’d all been on a long camping trip together. So to my fellow panel members—I’ll probably see you all on Monday when we get called back in. Someone remember to bring Yahtzee.

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How Sweet it Is…Vote for Your Favorite Halloween Candy

by on Oct 9, 2014

There aren’t too many things in life that are capable of bringing on waves of instant nostalgia, but Halloween candy has to be one of them.

One of my childhood faves was Dubble Bubble Bubble Gum. Seems like my mom always bought a huge bag of that stuff to give out. We’d spend all evening on Halloween pilfering from the big mixing bowl by the front door. We loved the odd but short-lived tutti-frutti flavor, blowing obscene bubbles, and reading the weird little comics inside the wrappers.

Of course (like all kids), our real trick-or-treating scores were candy bars, not cheap pieces of gum or hard candy. And of course we all knew which houses gave out the ultimate score—a FULL SIZE candy bar.

Crispety CrunchetyBut I had other favorites as well—palate-cleansing SweetTarts, honey-laced candy corn, those little orange “mellowcreme” pumpkins that kind of make the back of your throat sting. I also liked those big Jolly Rancher candies—you know, the big flat ones. A big green apple Jolly Rancher was cause for major celebration, no matter how sticky and difficult they were to eat.

I also have violent dislikes. I’ve never met a Tootsie Roll that I liked. (I used to throw Tootsie Pops out after I’d eaten the “good part” (meaning the outside). And forget black licorice, tooth-cracking popcorn balls, and those gross orange and black jellybeans. Ew.

My dad, who always took us trick-or-treating, liked to peruse our spoils with us. He liked candy with nuts better than we did, so our little brown Snickers bars were one of his top takes. Our plastic pumpkins filled with candy were then stored up on top of the refrigerator, and my sister and I both had photographic memories as far as our leftover candy was concerned when we were allowed to pick out an after-school snack. Woe to the rest of our family members should one of us discover a missing “Snack Size” Milky Way.

There were a few years where we found Mom’s hand-out candy stash early. Since I was a bad kid, I would rip a tiny rabbit-hole in the corner of the bag, and then my sister and I could squeeze individual pieces out without Mom catching on. Now that I’m a grown-up, I can’t say that my self-discipline has improved—my usual strategy is to buy Halloween candy just hours before it’s time to give it out, because I’ll still gobble it up.

It appears that other people are opinionated about candy as well. Check out the Seattle Time’s Sweet Sixteen bracket—they’re having a “vote off” for favorite Halloween candy this month. I took a look at the matchups this year, and I think I’m definitely on Team Butterfinger. See where you stand, and let us know.

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An Ode to the Garage

by on Oct 1, 2014

Someone once asked me what my favorite room was in my house. I didn’t have to think twice before I answered.

“The garage,” I said.

My friend laughed. “What? The garage? You can’t be serious.”

“Totally serious,” I said.

After I was first married, many years ago, we didn’t have a garage. We lived in the back of an old house on the South Hill in Spokane—just a block west of St. John’s Cathedral, in fact. Parking required an elaborate dance with our neighbors (who lived in the front part of the house) because we all shared the same driveway.

Our cars were out in the weather no matter what, and I remember once we had to stand up my best friend during a cold snap. She’d been depending on us to pick her up at the airport when she got back from a trip to Russia, but it was nearly 20 below and neither of us could get our cars to start. Of course this was back before cell phones, so the best I could do was call the airport and have her paged to let her know she’d have to take a cab home. I still feel bad about that one.

Then Phil and I moved to Mattawa, and our cars sat out in a dirt driveway on a sheep farm. In the summer in the Central Washington desert, it’s not so bad to have your car outside (other than the fact you can get second-degree burns from touching the steering wheel). But in the winter—in the snow, and mud—now that’s a different story.

We bought a little house in Royal City after our twins were born, and that house didn’t have a garage either. I remember how much fun it was during the winter of 1996-1997 when we had something like 30 inches of snow on the ground—and on our cars. The tiny house we were living in actually had a garage at one time, but it had been walled in and turned into part of the house by the former owners. I remember silently cursing them whenever I loaded crabby, snowy preschoolers into their car seats during that long, miserable muddy winter.

Garage

You have to love the color.

When we moved to our second home in Royal, I finally got my garage.  I’d often take my cordless phone out there and sit on the back of my car whenever I was talking to someone, and I’d feel like the Queen of England. We didn’t have to stash our lawnmower on the side of the house any more—we had a garage to put it in. I didn’t have to scrape ice off my windshield or kick the snow off my boots whenever I got in my car. My kids had a place to stash their bikes and sleeping bags.

Even though I was a grown woman, and even though I was married with three kids, it took having a garage to make me feel like I was truly, finally and absolutely grown-up.

And then I got divorced, and I found myself living in the corner of a pole building on a ranch in Ellensburg a few winters ago–sans garage. My Honda sat out on a gravel driveway, and my (also recently-divorced) landlady spent the winter apologizing about how her ex-husband had never taught her how to plow their driveway with the tractor. I spent many dark months starting my car up 20 minutes early in the hopes I could melt enough of a hole in the windshield-ice to see through, and we both developed a kind of tricky timing move to get our cars out of her driveway and onto the highway–we’d gun our cars before we got to the steep part and hope nobody was coming so we could slide out onto the highway.

All houses need halfway places: places where you can put things out of the weather (like yourself) for a little while without being completely indoors. It’s a place you can enjoy the thrill of being outside while still being inside—you can watch the snow fall and thunderstorms rage from the safety of your own private three-sided room. (I feel the same way about grand front porches.)

Everyone needs a little buffer zone between the inside and outside world; a place where you can take care of business without worrying about a little dirt or dripping on the floor. It’s just a civilized way to live. No matter how many oily, dirty tools and half-used paint cans you have lying around, just having a garage lends any home an air of sophistication and elegance.

Now that I’m here in Yakima, I have a garage once again. We’ve just spent hours painting it and getting some handy storage things installed to corral our gardening tools and spare 2x4s. We’re planning on hosting a party out there soon for our family and friends, so I have lots of plans for decorating my favorite room, including the installation of some temporary curtains and giant tissue-paper flowers on the garage bay doors.

It’s going to be absolutely lovely—a little weird, yeah, but having a garage again deserves celebration. My little beat-up Civic and I are finally home.

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Yakima Valley Zonta Club Celebrates 60 Years

by on Sep 22, 2014

Not everyone has heard of the Yakima Valley Zonta Club, but that doesn’t bother local Zonta club members. They just keep doing what they’ve been doing here in Yakima for the last 60 years.

The international organization’s mission is to improve the lives of women, and local club members have been involved in everything from providing hot meals for emergency shelter residents to consulting with the Yakima Police Department about the “Asian Massage” parlors that have been in the news recently.

The current president of the local Zonta chapter, Candi Broadfoot, says that the group was also heavily involved in preventing a strip club from opening downtown two years ago. “Strip clubs are often a venue for (sex) trafficking,” Broadfoot explained.

Zonta members researched city ordinances from around the state and eventually wound up making an ordinance recommendation to Yakima’s City Council to prevent the adult club from opening, she said. “If we hadn’t done the research…we’d probably have a strip club here in Yakima, and probably more than one,” Broadfoot said.

Zonta members

Yakima Valley Zonta Club president Candi Broadfoot and former president Pat Reynolds are all smiles as they look at the list of nonprofits the club will be donating to for the 2014-2015 funding cycle.

The group also raises funds through a variety of activities to donate to local (as well as international) charities, and awards annual scholarships to local senior girls. At the last business meeting, members approved eight applications for over $20,000 in funds. For the 2014-2015 funding cycle, the local Zonta club will donate $3,000 to the Dispute Resolution Center (which offers mediation for female offenders); $1,500 to the Girl Scouts for self-confidence-building courses, $3,000 to the YWCA in Yakima for safe passage relocation assistance; $2,000 to the Sunrise Outreach Center; $2,500 to the Noah’s Ark Homeless Shelter; $2,239 to Safe Yakima Valley to fund part-time youth summer jobs; $1,020 to Rod’s House; and$905 to the Wellness House for wigs and other items for cancer patients.

Zonta, which means “honest and trustworthy” in the Sioux language, was started in 1919 in New York. Since then, the group has grown internationally—in fact, there are more clubs outside the United States than inside, Broadfoot said. The organization is nonsectarian and nonpartisan, and both women and men can be members.

Broadfoot, who has been a member of the club since 1995, said that she loves the camaraderie of the group. “I like coming together with all these bright people to make a difference,” she said.

President-elect Danielle Surkatty echoes that sentiment. “I enjoy the great people in the group, the fellowship, and the things we do,” she said.

Zonta 2

Juilette Humphreys (the granddaughter of Zonta member Julia Humphreys) visits with Alicia Ullom at the last business meeting.

Whistlin’ Jack Lodge owner Doug Williams hosted the local club recently for a dinner fundraiser that featured local author Susan LaRiviere. “The Zonta Club has allowed me to meet, and in some cases become mighty good friends with the Yakima Valley’s gracious and success-driven families,” Williams wrote in an email.

The biggest challenge of the group in the past few years—like many other service clubs in the Valley—has been declining membership, Broadfoot said. The club currently has 27 members, including one charter member, Kay Pfaff, who turned 90 years old this year…but in the past, they’ve had dozens more members. (You can read more about the history of Zonta in the Yakima Valley and their past projects here.)

“We’d love to have some more young people in the club,” Broadfoot said, noting that about half the membership is made up of retired women. “They have the energy and desire to make changes.” This year, the group will likely be focusing on increasing membership.

If you’d like to learn more about Zonta, you can check out their website here, and you can like them on Facebook here.

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