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December 6, 2011 7:00 PM

Food lovers on your gift list? Buy local (authors, that is)

Posted by Nancy Leson

"Buy local" is a constant theme in the food world, so why not do your part during the holidays by biting into a stack of food-centric books by local authors? Among the giftables in that impressive 2011 collection are moving memoirs, homegrown how-tos and culinary diversions, including these:



[Seattle Times/Courtney Blethen Riffkin]


Unlike my husband, I'm no doughnut freak. But -- fry me a river! -- that changed when I got my mitts around "Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts: Secrets and Recipes for the Home Baker" (Chronicle Books, $16.95). In it, Top Pot's Mark and Michael Klebeck (along with invaluable help from food writer Jess Thomson) divulge their homegrown approach to homemade doughnuts, including wintry wonders like Peppermint Snowdrifts and the flamboyant coconut-topped Pink Feather Boas that helped make Top Pot the holiest of holies.

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November 28, 2011 6:00 AM

Seattle sushi-sensei Shiro Kashiba's book offers wit, wisdom

Posted by Nancy Leson

Holding court in Belltown, Shiro Kashiba's eyes, darting under expressive brows shaped like Mount Fuji, miss nothing. And that's saying something. Three days a week you'll find Seattle's pre-eminent sushi chef right where he wants to be: standing behind his sushi bar, celebrating the fact that at 70, he's doing what he dreamt of doing as a grade-school boy in Kyoto.

These days he has something else to celebrate, and so do we: the publication of his memoir, "Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer." Beautifully photographed and illustrated, filled with memories spanning seven decades and two continents, the book chronicles his years spent as a sushi apprentice in Tokyo's Ginza district and brings us up-to-date with Seattle's contemporary sushi scene.

That scene began in 1970 in old Japantown, where Shiro stepped up to Seattle's first full-service sushi bar. It continues today, our sushi sensei now having mentored a cadre of sushi chefs who've been opening restaurants all over town.



"Shiro: Wit, Wisdom & Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer." You've got to read it.

At Shiro's, the boss is as much an entertainer as an educator, his wit as sharp as his knife. "Sayonara!" he shouts before wresting the heads from a pair of wriggling spot prawns, sending them to the kitchen for frying. "These are from Hood Canal," he instructs, proffering the sweet meat over vinegared rice as sushi nigiri. "Local!"

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October 11, 2011 5:13 PM

Book Larder: Seattle's community cookbook store opens in Fremont

Posted by Nancy Leson

Fifteen years working in human resources at Microsoft was enough for Lara Hamilton. Hungry for change, "I knew I wanted to do something in food, but I wasn't sure what," recalls the owner of Book Larder, Seattle's only dedicated cookbook store and culinary events-space, making its debut Wednesday, Oct. 12 in Fremont.

The catalyst for change came, as is so often the case these days, via Twitter.

At the suggestion of food-focused friends, Hamilton began to "follow" Kim Ricketts, owner of Kim Ricketts Book Events and the culinary matchmaker behind Cooks & Books -- the food- and wine-fueled schmoozefests that bring together chefs, cookbook authors and the people who love them.

"Kim tweeted that she wanted help bringing chefs to Microsoft," looking for an on-campus contact interested in lending a hand, Hamilton said. Unaware that her virtual Twitter-pal was the name behind a popular speaker-series held on the Redmond campus, Hamilton answered the call. And that's how the HR-specialist soon found herself rubbing elbows with (and hoisting books for) celebrated chefs like Thomas Keller and David Chang, an on-the-job opportunity that would become the start of a life-altering career change.


Lara Hamilton, at Book Larder, open Wednesday at 4252 Fremont Ave. N.
[Seattle Times/Mark Harrison]

Soon after, she quit her job. And when Ricketts offered her a new one in September 2010 -- managing the Cooks & Books events -- "I jumped at it," said Hamilton. "I love cookbooks, I love working with people. It was all perfect." Until her friend and mentor was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and primary amyloidosis.

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August 29, 2011 2:15 PM

Bon Appetit! I'm a Lucky Peach and a nod to Lewis Lapham

Posted by Nancy Leson

That was some glorious weekend! For me, at least. I admit I felt guilty entertaining friends Saturday evening, with Mac smoke-roasting chickens while so many of my family and friends rode out Irene, including my sister Jill, who lives "down the shore" in South Jersey and spent her 50th birthday in evacuation land. (Yo, Jill! I saved you a thigh!) Here's hoping that your friends and family come out of the disaster as unscathed as mine did, and that as floodwaters continue to rise and fall, everyone stays safe.

And now, on a much happier note, allow me to turn to that not-so-guilty pleasure: reading about eating. Yes, summer's coming to an end (insert your "summer" joke here), but my endless pile of food-related material is never ending. And high on my list of must reads is this tasty trio.


Two quarterlies and a monthly = a world of good eating. [photo/Nancy Leson]

Here's why:

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July 19, 2011 7:00 PM

"Food Lovers' Guide to Seattle" author Keren Brown's a doer

Posted by Nancy Leson

Ask Keren Brown what she does for a living and she'll tell you, "I'm a food entrepreneur." Dig further, and you'll learn she's also the force behind the food-industry networking events known as "Foodportunity," the voice behind the "Frantic Foodie" blog and author of the new "Food Lovers' Guide to Seattle" (Globe Pequot Press, $14.95), an insider's look at the very places I'd send you if you'd ask me where to find the best food in town.

Her Food Lovers' guide is so comprehensive -- sharing everything from restaurants to road trips, specialty shops to food-focused events -- I'd be quick to hand that compact paperback out to new arrivals the minute they hit the streets. It's exactly the book Brown needed when she arrived here five years ago, knowing little about how to cook and nothing about the local food scene.



So, how did this 32-year-old Montreal native, who taught at a Berlitz language school in Israel during her 20s, go from naive newbie to Seattle food maven? That's what I wanted to know.

Q: You were raised on Chef Boyardee and boxed mac 'n' cheese, learned to appreciate local foods while living abroad and knew exactly one person when you arrived here: your husband. These days, you're hosting hundreds of folks at sold-out Foodportunity events and impressing the folks at marthastewart.com, who dubbed you a 2010 "Doer of the Week." OK Ms. Doer: How'd you do that?

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June 6, 2011 9:43 AM

Well fed and well read: chapter one, my weekend edition

Posted by Nancy Leson

That was some lovely weekend. Mine started with a Friday evening visit to Shiki (translation: four seasons), the lower Queen Anne sushi bar and homestyle Japanese restaurant owned and operated by longtime Seattle sushi chef Ken Yamamoto. And it ended with the sun over the yardarm in my best friend's backyard, where we celebrated the season by grilling a Copper River sockeye on a cedar plank.


Yes, it tasted as good as it looks. I hooked this four-pounder at QFC, where whole Copper River sockeye was selling for $6.99 a pound.

Of course, my weekend wasn't all about eating. Given how much I love to read, time spent doing so (and in my book, there's never enough of it) is always part of my weekend routine. And what do I read about? Two guesses. Here's some of what I learned:

The June/July issue of Saveur, which I finally got down to reading, gets down and dirty with a special issue paying tribute to cooking with fire. The magazine takes a cross-country, cross-cultural look at our "BBQ Nation," kicking off with a taste of the South courtesy of my favorite food writer, John T. Edge.

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July 28, 2010 1:24 PM

Tech savvy or troglodyte? I've come a long way, baby

Posted by Nancy Leson

To all the food bloggers, chef bloggers, food photographers and All You Can Eater commenters who make my work less like "work" and more like fun, I've just got to say: "Thanks for sharing!" And to others who pooh-pooh the concept of (over?) sharing online, I have this to say about that: I get it. You see, it wasn't too long ago when I learned you can trust someone under 30 -- and the tech-toys that come as naturally to them as singing "I'm Old Fashioned" did to Ella Fitzgerald.



My brave new food-focused world, always at my fingertips. That's a good thing. And a bad thing -- depending on who you're talking to. What do you think?

Back then, Karen Gaudette was my next-desk neighbor at the Seattle Times and a fledgling food writer with a learner's lust for her new beat. As her elder stateswoman, I'd regularly answer her queries regarding restaurants, cooking and obscure foodstuffs, and she'd reciprocate by answering my questions about cell phones, photo-sharing software and social media -- among other things that cleanly divided us into two camps: tech-savvy 20-something reporter and food-focused troglodyte. I'd talk about strawberries. She's talk about BlackBerrys, and our conversations regularly went like this:

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April 7, 2010 10:10 AM

Seattle Edible Book Festival: "Last call for edible books!"

Posted by Nancy Leson

Forget the annual Seattle Times Peeps-show (I'd be ineligible to enter): every year I promise I'm going to try my creative hand at the Seattle Edible Book Festival, entering the literary fun-fest where readers cook-up goofball ideas marrying food and books. Like this one:



"Are You Bare Bun? It's Me, Margarine" [Nice work, Janet Fryberger, whoever you are.]


My, how time flies. I was prepubescent when Judy Blume published "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." (Drippy Norman Fishbein! Mean Nancy Wheeler! Go-Bras!), recently re-read. I loved it at 10, and even more decades later.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed I find time to make it to the festival, held Saturday April 10 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. Tickets are $10, free if you enter the contest. All the info you'll need to compete or attend is right here.

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February 1, 2010 9:59 AM

Missed Sunday's paper? Lots of food stuff. Read all about it.

Posted by Nancy Leson

Every Sunday morning -- if I'm lucky -- I get a good hour to sit and read the paper the old fashioned way: by holding it in my hands. Yesterday, I was impressed to see how much coverage the Seattle Times gave to my favorite subject. Here's a taste, just in case you missed it:

Could you feed two people on $12 a day, or feed yourself on $7? That's the question posed again this year by United Way of King County during Hunger Action Week -- an annual effort to raise awareness of the plight of those living on food stamps. Reporter Nancy Bartley profiles culinary student and food blogger Eric Rivera, (who took the challenge last week), and more to the point, a single mother who, like millions of others across the nation, is challenged by those financial constraints throughout the year. Read the story here.

The Footprint Issue of our Pacific Northwest magazine dug into the greenery of "a new edibles ethic" with a grow-your-own cover story courtesy of garden-guru Valerie Easton. Val profiled the ways in which gardeners might give it up for foodstuffs. The photo spread encompassed the edible landscape and Green Lake-neighborhood garden of Tom Douglas's right-hand woman Shelley Lance (who blogs right here) and her husband, Frank Shoichet. What Val didn't mention is the couple have close ties to another well-publicized garden: the Obama's (their personal chef, Sam Kass -- who tends the tomatillos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- is Frank's cousin).

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January 11, 2010 3:28 PM

Jane and Michael Stern talk Roadfood: tonight and tomorrow

Posted by Nancy Leson

Before there was Chowhound, Yelp, the fooderati on Twitter and that spiky-haired blond guy on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," food writers Jane and Michael Stern made it their mission to take our tastebuds on a cross-country tour. Armed with prodigious appetites, useless roadmaps and plenty of Alka-Seltzer, they've spent more than 30 years on our highways and byways, eating as much as 12 meals a day during some 200 annual road trips.

They've made it their mission to stop for the likes of chess pie and pig's ear sandwiches along every turn in the road. She hates ketchup. He loves kishke and together they've traveled to joints with names like Putz's Creamy Whip, fending off waitresses offering "Jewish tea" (er, that's "Do you wish tea?") and attempting to avoid the worst of the no-tell motels.

When they're not on the road, gathering material for their Roadfood books and Web site, they're on the radio -- dishing with Lynne Rossetto Kasper on "The Splendid Table." You've read their columns in "Gourmet," seen them on "CBS This Morning" and portrayed on the Lifetime movie "Ambulance Girl," based on Jane's memoir of a food writer turned small town EMT.

Today, they're in Seattle talking about their favorite subject: eating. And it's not too late to join the conversation tonight at 6 p.m. when they're hosting a benefit dinner for Seattle Arts & Lectures at the Palace Ballroom. Or you can catch them tomorrow, January 12, when they'll be yukking it up with a lively lecture at 7:30 p.m. at Benaroya Hall (tickets available at the door for both events, or via the SAL Web site: details here).



Jane and Michael, doing what they do best (AP photo/Jim Cooper).


Last week, I had a chance to chew the fat with my fellow food-loving fressers, comparing notes on eating for a living during a coast-to-coast phone chat from their home base in Connecticut -- with Jane's French bulldog Elmer listening in. Here's what they had to say:

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January 6, 2010 7:54 AM

In Seattle, teriyaki has the Edge. Your favorite teriyaki spot?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Today, in his ongoing series "United Tastes," my clever colleague John T. Edge -- the award-winning columnist, author, raconteur and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance -- introduced New York Times readers to one of Seattle's worst-kept secrets: our lust for teriyaki.

John T. (yes, that's his name -- he's from the South!) is not the first to examine Seattle's teriyaki fast-food-fanaticism, nor is he likely to be the last, but his extensive reportage is worth examining, so give it a read right here. Then tell me this: What's your favorite teriyaki-stop?



You haven't lived till you've shared a laugh -- and a story -- with John T. Edge, seen here in Seattle last month taking a break from teriyaki to check out the Danish pastries at Nielsen's. And yes, he loved those Snitters.

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December 15, 2009 5:37 PM

Seattle Weekly's new critic Jason Sheehan, comin' over hot!

Posted by Nancy Leson

Local writers hoping to step up to the plate and take Jon Kauffman's soon-to-be-vacated job at Seattle Weekly were surely disappointed to hear today's announcement: they've hired an outtatowner to take his place. Good on them if the guy's half as talented as the Weekly's food dude, who arrived from the Bay Area a few years back and is set to return shortly. Today in his Voracious blog-post Kauffman introduced us to his successor Jason Sheehan, the James Beard Award-winning food writer at the Weekly's sister-paper, the Denver Westword and author of "Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love, and Death in the Kitchen."

After eight years of professional fork-lifting in Denver, Sheehan told his Seattle counterpart he "can't wait for the opportunity to start causing trouble in a new time zone." Describing his life on Mountain Standard Time, Sheehan writes: "There have been midnight pho shops and dim sum breakfasts, homebrew whiskey, Ghanaian house restaurants and a completely unreasonable number of tacos. I've drunk Vietnamese snake wine and hundred-year-old bourbon, eaten with gangsters, been thrown out of diners, breathed liquid nitrogen, eaten fire and seen the sun come up with smoke on my breath and barbecue sauce in my hair."

Sounds like a guy I'd love to lift a glass of Vietnamese snake wine with over a midnight bowl of pho. But for now I'll raise a glass of Osake Junmai Ginjo Genshu in his honor. Sheehan arrives mid-January.

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November 19, 2009 10:05 PM

Jonathan Kauffman to leave Seattle Weekly for SF Weekly

Posted by Nancy Leson

There are few food writers as talented as Seattle Weekly's Jonathan Kauffman, and I was sorry to read the announcement today that he's blowing out of town, heading back where he came from: San Francisco.

In a brief post on Voracious, Kauffman wrote:

I'm both sad and excited to announce that on January 1, 2010, I will be moving back to San Francisco to become the restaurant critic for the SF Weekly. For the past three and a half years, I've had the privilege of writing about food in Seattle at a time when this city's restaurant scene is exploding. Covering everything from the Korean suburbs to the newest crop of artisanal butchers has been a blast, and I'm sad to leave a paper that I think is producing some of the sharpest, most interesting writing in Seattle. At the same time, I'm excited to return to San Francisco. Not only is it another one of the nation's best restaurant cities, it's the place where I learned to cook, where I ordered my first bowl of pho, where I ate my first bowl of octopus-shrimp cocktail off the side of a taco truck in a grim Oakland parking lot. My roots there run deep.

Meanwhile, as his Seattle fans weep, the folks at SF Weekly are ordering Cantonese seafood in his honor. John Birdsall, editor at Voracious' sister-blog SFoodie, posted the news in San Francisco minutes after Kauffman pushed the "send" key on his preliminary farewell post.

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November 5, 2009 10:33 AM

NYT posts "100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do"

Posted by Nancy Leson

Journalist and author Bruce Buschel is opening a seafood restaurant, and in preparation for that he's put together a two-part list of "100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do." The first debuted in the New York Times last week, the second ran today. His list pushed all the right buttons re: wrong-doing, and I'm not surprised at his readers' (voluminous) reaction, having seen it before when I've delved into the subject of service.

A decade ago, after taking the job as Seattle Times restaurant critic, I posted a list of my own restaurant service peeves -- among them many cited by Buschel. In 2004 I was floored by the volume of commentary after writing "When Restaurant Service Goes South." Two hundred readers e-mailed or called in a single day to offer their two-cents regarding lousy service, a number that was a big deal back before we had global commenting capabilities via our Web site. In 2005 I wrote my "Ten Commandments of Restaurant Behavior" -- a how-to for diners, with restaurant pros weighing in on how we can all get along better, regardless of which side of the table we're on. And again, readers rewarded me with commandments of their own.

As a former waitress, a longtime restaurant critic and someone who dines out often and loves the restaurant business -- imperfect though it may be, I think Buschel's list provides excellent advice, as well as some "in your dreams, pal" suggestions.

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October 21, 2009 3:05 PM

Duck dinner: Seattle chef reinvents the way I'll think about it

Posted by Nancy Leson

When I was a very young woman, in love with a young man who made his living at his family's hardware store in New Jersey, I used to eat wild duck fairly regularly. Rick shot those ducks himself, bringing them home with the able assistance of our Golden Retriever, Adam. Later, when I was living in Alaska, in lust with another guy who hoisted a gun for fun, I learned how to remove a dead duck's pinfeathers -- using a waxing process not unlike the one my hairdresser insists I allow her to repeat with my eyebrows.

In the end, I married a man who does not shoot ducks and who has no time for sissy dogs like Golden Retrievers, preferring, instead, Northern breeds with minds of their own. And to my mind, there's no better duck than the one my husband smokes out back on the Weber: birds I buy already gutted, cleaned and devoid of their pinfeathers. Funny: before today, I never thought much about me and men and ducks -- though I'm well aware I'm crazy for them. In fact, I had one for dinner just last night. Duck, I mean.



Fragrant Duck, at Wild Ginger in Bellevue.

What got me thinking about ducks, however, was not last night's dinner at Wild Ginger (delicious, by the way), but an extraordinary blog-post entitled "My omnivore's dilemma."

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October 5, 2009 9:32 AM

Gourmet magazine on "close" list says Conde Nast CEO

Posted by Nancy Leson

It seems like only yesterday (actually it was only yesterday) that a friend stopped to ask, "Did you go see Ruth Reichl at Third Place Books the other night?" I hadn't. She was there, representing Gourmet as its longtime editor, promoting the 68-year-old magazine's latest cookbook. And now comes news that there's truth to the rumors I've been hearing: Gourmet is one of the magazines on Conde Nast's chopping block. What a sin and a shame -- as my friends and other food lovers across the country are reporting this morning.


What next! Gourmet is no longer the apple of Conde Nast's eye. I'll miss it.

Here's the internal memo from Conde Nast CEO Chuck Townsend:

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September 21, 2009 8:05 AM

Good morning -- for Northwest flour power

Posted by Nancy Leson

It'll be a busy day for me, getting back to the blog after a three-week break for other business. But as I roar around getting the kid off to school and knocking back my second cup of coffee, I want to make sure you don't miss today's front-page news: Melissa Allison's dateline cover-story from Reardan, Lincoln County, profiling Pacific Northwest wheat farmers who've banded together to market their flour under the name Shepherd's Grain. Seattle bakeries (among others) have taken to the local product, and so can you: it's sold under the Stone-Buhr label and available at local supermarkets. And in case you're wondering, it makes a fine pie crust -- like the ones I rolled out this time last year to make the best of my homegrown cherries and the fabulous fall apple harvest.



Meet your local wheat, courtesy of farmers whose grains reign.

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August 28, 2009 8:00 AM

That's one scary Slim Jim -- the kiddie "bar snack" of choice

Posted by Nancy Leson

It's been a long time since I'm eaten a Slim Jim, which is probably a good thing. Read this Wired story explaining "What's Inside a Slim Jim" (thanks for turning me on to it, Angela Garbes) and you'll see why.

Here's a little bite:

"It's real meat, all right. But it ain't Kobe. The US Department of Agriculture categorizes beef into eight grades of quality. The bottom three--utility, cutter, and canner--are typically used in processed foods and come from older steers with partially ossified vertebrae, tougher tissue, and generally less reason to live. ConAgra wasn't exactly forthcoming on what's inside Slim Jim."


When I was a kid, and kids were allowed into bars with their parents, I'd pull up a stool in the cool of "Uncle" Les Brown's taproom, where my kiddie-cocktail-of-choice was an icy Coke with a bright red cherry (or three), knocked back with a couple spicy beef batons. Who knew I was eating "partially ossified vertebrae" and pressed chicken parts -- or that they could have tasted so indescribably delicious?

So, am I the only one old enough to recall the joy of bellying up to the bar back when minors could do such things? Or do you, too, recall eating (what?) and drinking (what?) with the grownups while they bent an elbow at the neighborhood watering hole?

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August 24, 2009 10:41 AM

Vertical farming not pie in the sky, plus Skagit Valley love

Posted by Nancy Leson

As I sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper this morning, I couldn't help thinking about the green beans I ate for dinner last night -- grown in local soil by a local farmer and bought on Saturday at my local farmers market. Nor could I stop thinking about the farmers I've come to know by name and by face, including those who work the land, grow the crops and raise livestock in the stunning acreage we know as the Skagit Valley -- a place that always makes me say, "Is this gorgeous, or what?"

Those thoughts were prompted by an op-ed piece in today's New York Times, "A Farm on Every Floor," which began "If climate change and population growth progress at their current pace, in roughly 50 years farming as we know it will no longer exist. This means that the majority of people could soon be without enough food or water. But there is a solution that is surprisingly within reach: Move most farming into cities, and grow crops in tall, specially constructed buildings. It's called vertical farming."



Nate O'Neil of Frog Song Farm (left) farming horizontally on Fir Island. You'll find him upright on Saturdays, selling organic produce at the Edmonds Farmers Market. (Seattle Times/Harley Soltes)

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August 13, 2009 9:48 AM

Julie & Julia: she said, they said, we said -- you said?

Posted by Nancy Leson

The last time French food-lovers got carried away with a feature film, it involved a cartoon rat, a spindly eggplant-loving restaurant critic and a Paris kitchen famously given the once-over by a four-star American chef. And yes, I cried at the end of "Ratatouille," which, coincidentally, was the last movie my husband and I saw together in a theater until last weekend, when we (and what seemed like half our neighborhood) went down to the Edmonds Theater to watch "Julie & Julia."

Mac loved it. And when the actress playing editor Judith Jones cooks Julia's boeuf bourguignon, he leaned over and whispered, "that's the first recipe I ever made out of `Julia Child.'" He didn't call the famous cookbook by its rightful name -- "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Nobody does. And may I mention he was 12 years old when he first schlepped "Julia" into the kitchen? (Which explains, in part, why I married him.)

Unlike Mac, my childhood TV-cooking hero was Graham Kerr, the "Galloping Gourmet." As a pre-pubescent home cook in Philadelphia, I always envisioned him inviting me up from the audience to share a glass of wine and a taste of whatever he'd prepared that day. Who knew that one day the Galloping Gourmet and I would both end up living right here, writing about our favorite subject? But eventually, I, too, came to consider Julia Child a personal hero, whose many cookbooks line my shelves and in whose presence I once stood, in awe.


Julia, signing books at Sur la Table in 1995. Nancy, cub reporter, just behind her right shoulder waiting for an audience. (Seattle Times/Ben Benschneider)

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August 12, 2009 11:56 AM

Faceless in Seattle: restaurant critics chime in

Posted by Nancy Leson

Last night, my husband and I entertained friends at our favorite neighborhood sushi bar -- Taka Sushi in Lynnwood. The tiny place was packed, and I couldn't help but notice a couple dining in a corner with their toddler and a newborn baby. When they got up to leave, they stopped by our table and inquired, "Are you Nancy Leson?" Then, bless their hearts, they thanked me for turning them on to Taka, which they love and regularly frequent -- despite the fact they live in the University District. Yes, I was busted: in the best possible way.

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August 10, 2009 10:40 PM

Restaurant critic: get out! Is anonymity a thing of the past?

Posted by Nancy Leson

With the announcement last week that New York Times editor Sam Sifton has been appointed to take on the role as the paper's new restaurant critic, the hue and cry was swift: "Everyone knows what he looks like, so how can Sifton get a `true' read on the restaurants he'll be reviewing?" NYT executive editor Bill Keller answered that question in the Diner's Journal blog today, writing, "Read Ruth Reichl's book about her long stint as the Times restaurant critic, and you learn that despite all her theatrical dress-ups she was often made by the maitre d'hotel." True enough. As a restaurant critic of longstanding, I too was occasionally "made" -- even when I arrived wearing my favorite disguise.



The nose knows!

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June 10, 2009 12:35 PM

Seafood sustainability: Bittman (and other pros) weigh in. Thoughts?

Posted by Nancy Leson

In the ongoing discussion about seafood sustainability, Mark Bittman's very personal perspective in today's New York Times -- "Loving Fish, This Time with the Fish in Mind" -- is something you need to read. Bittman is a prolific food writer and author of many books, including, not incidentally, "Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking," his first. When I read his essay this morning, I was struck by many things, including this passage:

"Merely buying a piece of fish has become so challenging that when my publisher asked if I wanted to revise the my book [Fish], I felt I had to decline. The cooking remains unchanged, but the buying has become a logistical and ethical nightmare."

For any environmentally half-conscious eater, purchasing and consuming seafood is likely to provoke the very concerns Bittman so articulately articulates: "How do you buy fish without driving yourself nuts or feeling never-ending guilt?" he asks. A fair question, that.



Fish: it's a wrap -- for some seafood, says Bittman, but not others.


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June 2, 2009 10:02 AM

Don't drop that food! But if you do, what do you do?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Last night, I was reading a review of Kathleen Collins' book "Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows," when I came across this passage regarding the author's research of Julia Child's PBS series, "The French Chef."

"[Collins] has even tracked down the truth behind the slippery story of the chicken (or was it a turkey?) that landed on the kitchen floor. Rather anticlimatically, Child never scooped a large bird off the ground and plopped it back onto a platter; instead, it was a small piece of potato pancake, flipped with endearing maladroitness onto the stove top, that provoked her legendary remark, "If you're alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?"

I wondered just that Sunday night, when our annoying new dog, who has a thing for bread products, managed to jump high enough to steal half a loaf of just-baked bread from the counter. By the time she was caught in the act, she'd eaten a goodly portion. So, what did I do? I cut away the half-eaten part, "kissed it up to heaven" (as we used to say when I was a kid) and made toast out of the rest.

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May 27, 2009 6:45 AM

Yankees, Mets, Mariners: Et tu, Bruni?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Et tu, Bruni? Front-page news in the NYT: resto-critic Frank Bruni takes himself out to the ball game -- checking out the concessions at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. Sounds like he didn't score too well -- Shake Shack and Esca-fied seafood notwithstanding. What, no Ichirolls, Ivar's or The Man?

That said, I feel his pain. And when in Rome (or, just outside of it) I'll happily stick to Skillet's skillful rendering of burgers and barbecue with a side of hand-cut fries. For dessert? Well, you know:



Cracker Jack? It's Mmm M's good.

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May 18, 2009 5:11 PM

Daddy take a bow: Matthew Amster-Burton's Hungry Monkey

Posted by Nancy Leson

My shelves are lined with books written by friends and colleagues, and I revel in the fun-factor of reading about the lives, loves and liberties taken -- in fact or in fiction -- by every one of them. Matthew Amster-Burton is both a friend and a colleague. His first book "Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater" had me laughing out loud in recognition, and that's something bound to happen to any parent, whether you know the guy or not.



Matthew, last week at Olivar on Capitol Hill

If you're a regular reader of the Seattle Times, Seattle Magazine, Culinate, or gourmet.com -- where Matthew is a frequent contributor -- his humorous self-deprecating writing-style may be familiar. Ditto for his blog, Roots and Grubs.

Walk the streets of north Capitol Hill where he lives with his wife Laurie (a school librarian), hangs out writing (at Joe Bar) and shops at Bailey-Coy Books (where he proudly sold 50 copies of "Hungry Monkey" at last week's book-launch party), and you may see him arm in arm with this pretty young thing -- whose big blue eyes and appetite for life will be broadcast across the nation tomorrow morning when she cooks with her dad on the CBS Early Show.

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May 12, 2009 5:49 AM

Food blogs: That's Entertainment

Posted by Nancy Leson

Yes, it's true: everyone's got a food blog. OK, not everyone, but it sure feels that way. And it makes sense to me because while we might not all be interested in movies or old scrapbooks, everyone's interested in food, right? Well, last week, Entertainment Weekly gave props to a handful of food blogs, including two of my favorites -- Molly Wizenberg's "Orangette" (if you haven't read Molly's new book, "A Homemade Life," go get it -- then lock yourself in a room with a cup of tea and read it till you've finished!) and "Thisiswhyyourefat" (which is so much fun, they got a book deal, too). Now, tell me: besides All You Can Eat, what other blogs do you read, and if you had to play favorites, which would you say were the most entertaining and/or enlightening?

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April 24, 2009 6:09 AM

Social-network butterfly: Leson learns, "Twitter is a noun, tweet is a verb!"

Posted by Nancy Leson

OK, I did it: I'm officially tweeting (at http://twitter.com/nancyleson). "What next?" e-mailed one of my followers when she got the news, "Facebook?" Oh, go ahead, call me a dinosaur. My kid does it every day. But if you want to know what I'm doing in 140 characters (drinking coffee, not that you asked), feel free to follow along. And if, like me, you've been rolling your eyes at the whole concept of "sharing" with strangers (what? I don't do enough of that already?), and want to better understand how social networking works, here's a helpful tutorial courtesy of a 10-year-old (Hey, Cooper! I hope Archie McPhee paid you with something more age-appropriate than coffee-flavored dental floss):


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April 9, 2009 11:14 AM

Bacon: it's not just for breakfast anymore -- your favorite?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Jon Stewart's got nothing on my pal Mark Rahner, whose Seattle Times story about Baconnaise cracked me up this morning. And while that bit of smoky-scented reportage was a kick in the pants, I almost fell out of my seat while watching this:



And I thought I loved bacon!

Perhaps like me, you grew up eating Oscar Mayer's crispy pork-product, eventually moving up to something more locavoracious -- say, bacon from Bavarian Meats or Hempler's. If you're really hardcore, you might mail-order from Nueske's or belong to the Bacon of the Month Club, where they'll ship an exciting new artisan bacon to your door every month. (I once sent a gift of club-membership to my dad -- a real bacon fiend who wasn't beyond eating bacon for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Dare I mention it was a Big Birthday-gift? Or that he didn't live to see the next big-birthday milestone?)

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April 2, 2009 11:56 AM

You big fat pig

Posted by Nancy Leson

I've been singing the praises of Heath Putnam's Wooly Pigs since I tasted his fine swine at Monsoon on Capitol Hill, so I read with great interest yesterday's New York Times article on the subject. The story -- dateline Hungary -- made me hungry. It profiled the Mangalitsa, saved from near extinction by a Hungarian animal geneticist, and gave credit to Putnam for importing 25 of the wooly-coated piglets to our little corner of America. Today, he's producing nearly 1,200 piglets a year and chefs and food scribes across the land are taking notice, effectively turning his pedigreed porcine product into the Copper River salmon of pork.



Heath, famous for raising Mangalitsa, doing just that at the U-District Farmers Market

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March 25, 2009 8:02 AM

Japanese recipe website: it's J-Simple

Posted by Nancy Leson

When we talk about Japanese food in Seattle, we're usually talking about one of two things: sushi (my favorite subject) or teriyaki (the city's ubiquitous "Japanese" take-out shops). But there's so much more to the cuisine, as you can see if you take a spin through the whoa-vey-iz-mir! aisles of Uwajimaya or the much smaller (and homier) Maruta Shoten in Georgetown. There you can stock up on ingredients needed to make the simple homestyle recipes you'll find at J-Simple Recipes. There's lots to love on this impressive site courtesy of brother and sister team Kenji and Manami Imai, from Japan's Aichi prefecture. Especially for folks like me who live for Japanese food but have yet to attempt making such comfort-food classics as this one:

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March 17, 2009 9:33 AM

What's next for P.I. food writers?

Posted by Nancy Leson

See that redhead on the left? Does she look familiar? No? Well, say hello to Leslie Kelly. Until today, you knew her as the P.I.'s whining and dining restaurant critic. On the right is Rebekah Denn, who kept abreast of the local food scene via her Wednesday food column and her P.I. blog, Devouring sEATle. That was some strong sweet tea they were drinking, and today I raise a glass of something even stronger to those longtime journalists as they head out into the great big world of, well, let me let them tell you.

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February 26, 2009 7:48 AM

Viva Villa Victoria: Hot tamale Naomi Andrade Smith joins the blogosphere

Posted by Nancy Leson

Following the personal and professional path of Naomi Andrade Smith has always been as intriguing as it is inspiring (read this Pacific Northwest Magazine cover story to find out the many reasons why):



Ben Benschneider/The Seattle Times


Those of us who loved her tamales (and other great eats) at the original Villa Victoria in Madrona, and more recently at her short-lived shop in Columbia City, may be wondering what Naomi's up to these days. The answer can be found on her Villa Victoria Blog, where she shares stories (and recipes!), including this one, explaining exactly what to do with "leftover" chilies de arbol.

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February 25, 2009 8:40 AM

Pasta water discussion hot topic in my house

Posted by Nancy Leson

Over my morning coffee, I read with great interest today's New York Times installment of "The Curious Cook" by Harold McGee. In that kitchen-tested testament, McGee answered the question "Why boil so much more water than pasta actually absorbs, only to pour it down the drain?" That query, and the pro's answer, made me want to rush to my computer and send the Curious Cook a query from another curious cook -- this one:

When I'm in a rush to make pasta, whether it's for a family favorite like spaghetti Bolognese or a box of Annie's macaroni and cheese, I often use hot tap water to speed the process. At which point my husband, Mr. Safety, grabs a ruler (just like the one the nuns used to use on him in grade school) and slaps my hand, reminding me once again that I should "Never, ever use hot tap water for anything that's going to be ingested":



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January 27, 2009 5:12 PM

The last Chinese book club dinner: Eat, Drink, Discuss

Posted by Nancy Leson

This being Seattle, and the fact that you're a reader, leads me to believe you're either in a book club, know someone who's in a book club, or -- as I did for so many years -- wish you had the time to join a book club.

Two years ago I made time, and here's why: because my book club cooks and our monthly dinners are amazing. I've long thought I should show-and-tell you how amazing they really are, and this being the week for Chinese New Year's celebration, and also the month we read "The Last Chinese Chef," I figured that time has come.

First, a bit about my group. Some are shopkeepers while others have office jobs. One's a beach ranger, another's recently retired, one writes for magazines and does PR work. A few keep the home-fires burning while their husbands work. And then there's the one who, I'm convinced, works for the CIA (the governmental arm, not the culinary institute), though she pleads the Fifth every time I suggest it. Each valiantly holds her own in our spirited discussions about the books we've read, and for me, spending time around the table with these smart funny women is one of the highlights of my month.

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January 7, 2009 9:17 AM

Maximus pantry for Minimalist New Year: what's in yours?

Posted by Nancy Leson

In today's New York Times, "The Minimalist" Mark Bittman brings home a point that became all too clear to me during our recent "Storm Watch: 2008!" when I, like so many of you, hunkered down at home and cooked. During that lengthy home-'n-hang I turned to my fridge and pantry with considerable more interest than usual, to keep from having to de-ice-and-snow the car or walk in (ankle-) deep snow to get to the market for provisions.

Using ingredients I had on hand I made soup. And turned to my larder for homegrown potatoes to eat with that comfort-food specialty, roast chicken. I also baked many loaves of the Bread Recipe That Roared (thanks again, Bittman!). I even delved into my notorious downstairs freezer for inspiration.

So this morning, when I saw the photo accompanying The Minimalist's story "Fresh Start for a New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen" and read what he had to say about the literal "ins" and "outs" regarding cooking essentials, I immediately wanted to share it with you. And here's why:

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December 16, 2008 3:51 PM

Those lips. Those eyes. That hat. Cracking crab with Eric Ripert and my "favorite Frenchman"

Posted by Nancy Leson

"Nancy!" said Thierry Rautureau, pronouncing my name the correct way: like the city in France. "Thees ees your favorite Frenchman!" Thierry was calling to invite himself to lunch -- with me and his buddy, New York chef Eric Ripert. Ripert, known for his lustrous head of hair, Angelina Jolie lips and sea green eyes (he'd play himself in the movie) was in town this week promoting his latest book: "On the Line: Inside the World of Le Bernardin." We were scheduled for lunch, and Rover's chef wanted in. How could I say "Non!"? After all, Thierry is my favorite French chef. I've even got his "Pinup Boy" shot right here next to my desk at the office:


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November 21, 2008 4:10 PM

The New Yorker Food Issue: (Jane) Kramer vs. (Bob) Kramer -- loved both

Posted by Nancy Leson

Yesterday, Nate was beside himself because his Yoshi slippers finally arrived in the mail (thanks, Amazon!). But I was every bit as excited, because The New Yorker's annual food issue had arrived, too:


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November 17, 2008 1:15 PM

Everyone's a critic -- and this kid's out to prove it

Posted by Nancy Leson

Read this terrific story about David Fishman, a 12-year-old New Yorker who's got the chops for restaurant criticism. And before you say, "only in New York" recognize that I, too, have been dining out alone -- since the ripe old age of seven. And look what happened to me! O.K., so my (then) 6-year-old sister was with me, but, like Fishman, we dined out without parental supervision at a young age -- and lived to tell the tale. Literally.

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November 14, 2008 7:05 AM

Northwest authors cooking up a cookbook social

Posted by Nancy Leson

Talk about a signature event: On Monday, December 1, Tom Douglas is hosting his third annual "Ultimate Holiday Cookbook Social" at the Palace Ballroom. From 4 to 7 p.m. he'll join an impressive list of chefs and cookbook authors who'll be selling -- and signing -- their books. Twenty bucks buys one glass of wine and a whole lot of "tastes" from Tom and his friends, who will each showcase a recipe for your noshing pleasure (they'll have a cash bar if you need another nip). Tickets (call 206-448-2001 or e-mail christinal@tomdouglas.com) are non-refundable and with a group of authors like the ones listed below, it'll no doubt be standing room only. Here's who you'll be rubbing shoulders with:

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November 7, 2008 12:30 PM

'Shroomin' -- on a funday afternoon

Posted by Nancy Leson


Hey! Don't miss reading my Seattle Times colleague Lynda Mapes' great story today on foraging for mushrooms "somewhere east of Snoqualmie Pass." And do watch Mark Harrison's accompanying video on stalking the magnificent matsutake:



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October 24, 2008 4:15 PM

365 Breakfast Dishes -- a la mode

Posted by Nancy Leson

Anyone who knows me well knows how I feel about breakfast: I'd rather wait till lunch. Forced to choose my favorite breakfast eats, I'm likely to say "leftover Chinese food." And that's only if I can't get out to an Asian restaurant for a bowl of soup noodles. So, if I'm no fan of breakfast, why did I recently purchase this?


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October 21, 2008 9:13 AM

Sheila, I love ya

Posted by Nancy Leson

I was hanging out in my favorite bookstore on Saturday, when I saw this:



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October 20, 2008 9:01 AM

Seattle's Historic Restaurants: a visual history

Posted by Nancy Leson

In 2003 I spent time at the Seattle Public Library, researching a column about its little-known Northwest Menu Collection. I could have spent days there lost in the past, thanks to the menus that inspired me to write the following:

Every menu tells a story, and the scores of them comprising the Northwest Menu Collection -- a small but significant treasure trove of Seattle restaurant history -- tell ours. Three flat gray boxes, stored in the depths of the Seattle Public Library's main branch and retrieved for perusal, afford hours spent lost in the luxury of time travel.

I had a blast doing that research, and with menus in hand was able to easily envision those once-popular restaurants -- places that may have vanished physically, yet live on in our collective memories. And then, last week, I got my hands on a book that brought that same sense of history to my living room:



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October 10, 2008 1:00 PM

His pants are on fire

Posted by Nancy Leson

A few weeks back, I got my hands on a romp of a book called "The Devil's Food Dictionary":



It wasn't the clever title that first piqued my interest. Nor the subtitle: "A Pioneering Culinary Reference Work Consisting Entirely of Lies." Or even the illustrations:

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October 8, 2008 12:29 PM

Oh, McGee, you've done it again: the "hottest" in pots and pans

Posted by Nancy Leson

There are a lot of people who turn to names like Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray when they're looking to buy pots and pans. I'd direct them instead to Harold McGee -- the science-minded food authority and author of that kitchenmeister's bible, "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen." In today's New York Times, under the header "What's Hot, What's Not In Pots and Pans," McGee offers a very personal look at his batterie de cuisine -- which, from what I read and what I'm guessing, looks an awful lot like mine:



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October 6, 2008 12:30 PM

There is nothing like a Dame

Posted by Nancy Leson

Seattle's got a lot of Dames -- culinary professionals affiliated with Les Dames d'Escoffier International. You may even know a few by name. Names like Fran Bigelow (maybe you've eaten her chocolates?), Gina Batali (famously seen slicing salumi in Pioneer Square), Braiden Rex-Johnson (a frequent Seattle Times contributor who riffed on "oyster wines" in Sunday's Pacific Northwest magazine) or Lisa Dupar (who's caterered a local event or two -- hundred thousand). And maybe you even know this grand Dame:


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September 2, 2008 12:08 PM

Just in time for back-to-school: a great cookbook for kids

Posted by Nancy Leson

Hey, I just got my hands on a terrific kid-oriented cookbook.

"Real Food for Healthy Kids" by Tracey Seaman and Tanya Wenman Steel (Morrow, $29.95) is amazing on many fronts -- despite a title that makes it sound about as exciting as reading a toxicology report on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with a foreword by the Surgeon General:



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August 22, 2008 9:00 AM

I'll have the salmon sushi -- medium-well

Posted by Nancy Leson

When Jon Rowley talks, people listen. Especially when he's talking about salmon. I just read his take on "Why You Should Avoid Raw Salmon" on Gourmet.com, in which he discusses (among other less than appetizing issues) a Chicago man who blamed his nine-foot-long diphyllobothrium latum (that's Latin for "Oh my God! It's a tapeworm!") on a seafood restaurant that served him undercooked fish. And that's when I determined perhaps I shouldn't be so quick-on-the-draw when reaching for the salmon tartare, the salmon ceviche or the salmon sushi I eat all over town. While Rowley doesn't suggest one should never eat raw salmon (freezing it at minus-31 degrees Fahrenheit or colder for 15 hours kills the Diplyllobothrium larvae), he explains why aficionados such as myself might proceed with caution, noting in summation:

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August 7, 2008 11:13 AM

Food mags -- what's in your pile?

Posted by Nancy Leson

In my dreams I spend the lazy days of August at the beach -- with a big stack of books and magazines beside me. Believe me: those days at the beach are few and far between for this busy scribe (ditto for the "lazy" days). But when it comes to those stacks, I've got 'em in spades. There's the sky-high bedside stack. The either side of the couch and armchair stack. The piles and piles in the office stack. The magazines-to-recycle-at-the-doctors'-office stack. And then there's this spread of current culinary ink:



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July 23, 2008 11:07 AM

You say tomato, I say. . .

Posted by Nancy Leson


Check out Karen Gaudette's Seattle Times story today re: prolonging the life of your produce. Among the helpful hints was a quote from supermarket anaylst and "Today" show food editor Phil Lempert, who says to better horde your harvest, stick with that old standby: paper towels. Lempert suggests layering a paper towel in the bottom of the crisper drawer (something I do) and regularly replacing it (something I don't do often enough) -- which helps remove excess moisture. "A paper towel is produce's best friend," he says. Anybody have any other produce life-enhancing tips? Feel free to comment, below.

Speaking of produce, in today's New York Times, Julia Moskin takes on one of my favorite subjects -- tomatoes that taste like tomatoes. In her tale "The Return of a Lost Jersey Tomato," she profiles that elusive fruit: the one whose mythic food-memory is deeply imprinted on this (adopted) "Jersey"-girl's soul. In its honor, I plan on eating this homegrown -- and appropriately "cold tolerant" -- Stupice for lunch today, with only a sprinkling of sea salt. If it tastes anything like the Jersey tomatoes of my girlhood, I'll eat my hat:


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July 22, 2008 10:23 AM

Pull over, chef, and let me take your picture

Posted by Nancy Leson


Here's another one to add to my post on food-related vanity plates, in which I suggested that my license plate should say ETZALOT and Eaters replied with ideas of their own (my favorite: XTRVRGN):



Don't worry, officer! I didn't take the photo while I was driving south on I-5 yesterday. Honest.

So, anybody know the guy in this Toyota? What's he COOKED 4 U?

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July 21, 2008 12:10 PM

Squab, by any other name?

Posted by Nancy Leson


My grandfather raised homing pigeons in South Philadelphia, and once I was surefooted enough to navigate the steep stairs that led to the roof -- and his lovingly tended coop -- he'd invite me up to admire his flock. Which leads me to wonder: Had he lived long enough to read "Pigeons: The Next Step in Local Eating (No, Really)" -- as my trusty culinarily-minded correspondent Glenn Godden did -- would he have forwarded that Wired Science blog post, which says, in a nut graf :

"When you look at a pigeon, you might see a dirty, rat-like bird that fouls anything it touches with feathers or feces, but I see a waste-scavenging, protein-generating biomachine. At a time when rising demand for meat across the globe endangers the food system, and local eating has gained millions of (T-shirt wearing) adherents, it's time to reconsider our assumptions about what protein sources are considered OK to eat."

As an immigrant from Ukraine and a kosher butcher who lived through the Great Depression, my "Zayda Sol" knew what it meant to be poor and hungry. So, pigeon protector though he may have been, chances are he'd have read that locavoracious take on his fine-feathered friends and said, "So, nu? Roast me two!"

Me? I'll take mine minced with Chinese vegetables, served in a lettuce cup. You?

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July 18, 2008 11:56 AM

Show me the Beast!

Posted by Nancy Leson


When my 17-year-old niece was a tiny tot, she had a toy that cracked me up -- a talking Beauty and the Beast mirror that said "Show me the Beast!" when you pressed a button. And having made the unforgivable error of missing the Burning Beast event I blogged about last week, I'm beholden to The Stranger's Bethany Jean Clement and her video camera-toting cohort Kelly O for chronicling that Carnivale of Carnivorousness . Show me the Beast, indeed:

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July 10, 2008 7:24 AM

Trader Joe's: cooking with the book

Posted by Nancy Leson


Stacey Lampkin, of Kirkland, needs some advice. Here's her query:

"I have heard a bit about the Trader Joe's cookbook (that is not affiliated with Trader Joe's) and am very intrigued by it as I shop at Trader Joe's a lot. Have you seen this book and if so, have you tried any of the recipes from it? It is getting good reviews on Amazon, but before I plunk down $25 for a cookbook, I'd love to hear the good word from a pro."

Well, this "pro" has yet to get her hands on the book -- "Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's" by TJ fans Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati:


Anybody seen it? Cooked from it? If so, what's the word?

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July 3, 2008 4:09 PM

Cream Puff Daddy

Posted by Nancy Leson


When Karen Gaudette saw the dispatch about Beard Papa's cream puffs at Safeco Field on Daily Candy this morning, she absolutely freaked. How do I know? I got my work-mate's memo at 6:35 a.m., complete with uppercase letters and exclamation points. Karen -- who couldn't believe I hadn't heard about these sweet treats -- patiently explained that Beard Papa's have been spreading around the U.S. almost as fast as Red Mango locations -- now selling frozen yogurt at Pacific Place, Alderwood Mall and U-Village. And she's obviously not the only one who thinks the puff daddy's goodies are worth e-mailing your friends about before you've even downed your first cup of coffee.

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July 1, 2008 12:00 PM

Food-shopping tips are in the bag

Posted by Nancy Leson

Reporter Ron Lieber provided a great read -- and some savvy food-shopping tips -- in a "Your Money" column that appeared last weekend in the New York Times. For the record, the best food-shopping tip I ever got came my way a couple of years ago when I was gnashing my teeth at the supermarket while trying to open a plastic produce-bag. I was cursing those unyeilding rolls found in every grocer's produce aisle when a woman squeezing the avocados beside me said, "Here, try this." I watched as she wet her fingers on some damp produce, grabbed the plastic bag I was angsting over and -- voila! -- open sesame.

Got any food-shopping tips you want to share? Let me have 'em.

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June 4, 2008 9:08 AM

Eat fish. Not too big. Try sardines.

Posted by Nancy Leson


Taras Grescoe wants to teach us how to eat fish, starting at the bottom -- of the food chain. Grescoe was in town recently, delving into the subject on KUOW's "Weekday" -- whose guests also included Seattle Times reporters Lynda Mapes and Warren Cornwall, discussing their impressive series on the state of our own Puget Sound. I've only just begun reading Grescoe's new book, "Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood." And like Michael Pollan's latest, "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" (urging us to "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.") it hooked me from the start.

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May 28, 2008 4:00 PM

Wind and rain blows East

Posted by Nancy Leson


First, Wild Ginger plans a second outpost in Bellevue, and now Monsoon is doing the same, as you can read here in Leslie Kelly's "On Dining" column. The upscale Vietnamese bistro blew me away when it opened nearly a decade ago and continues to do so today, and I'm happy to know that owner/chefs Eric and Sophie Banh chose to go the smaller route, taking over the shuttered Porcella Urban Market location in Old Bellevue where they'll install the new restaurant and bar, rather than blowing into some gargantuan mixed-use complex or honking-big mall, OD-ing their geographical footprint and diluting their unbelievably delicious product. ETA: fall.

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May 28, 2008 11:20 AM

Bagging a grocery-store bargain

Posted by Nancy Leson


"Skyrocketing food prices are prompting more shoppers to scout sales, clip coupons, haunt bread outlets, freeze sale-priced meat for future meals and otherwise watch their pennies, some for the first time in their lives," writes my food-page colleague Karen Gaudette in today's Seattle Times.

As you may have divined from reading All You Can Eat, I regularly balance my high-end expenses (like the prime rib we grill-smoked and served to dinner guests the weekend before last), with groceries like these, bought for a grand total of $11 at Viet Wah:


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May 20, 2008 4:54 PM

Critics carped: TASTE gets "warm" re-do

Posted by Nancy Leson


When Providence Cicero reviewed TASTE at SAM, her opening salvo read:

"`Expect to be Amazed,'" trumpets the ad copy for the fabulously redone Seattle Art Museum. Yet what's most amazing about its ambitious new ground-floor restaurant, Taste, is its lack of visual excitement. The Queen of Narnia might feel at home dining in this chilly, white space. But this daughter of Eve finds it stark. The fully exposed, stainless-steel kitchen eclipses the dining room's virtues -- clean lines, big windows, a sleek bar -- and creates the unfortunate effect of making the restaurant seem like the institutional cafeteria it is trying so hard not to be."

The P.I.'s Leslie Kelly had this to say in her review:

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May 20, 2008 10:30 AM

Pass the vanity plate

Posted by Nancy Leson


Attention road warriors! With all the food and wine fanatics around here, it's no surprise we're seeing an increasing number of cars bearing food- and wine-related Washington State vanity plates like these, parked in the lot of an event I attended last night:


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May 19, 2008 11:05 AM

The egg came first

Posted by Nancy Leson


If you've ever thought about raising chickens in your backyard, and missed reading Nicole Tsong's ode to the urban chicken coop Saturday in NW Home & Life, give it a read. I think about raising chickens all the time, because there's something really special about a fresh-laid egg, and I've got enough room in the backyard for a nice-sized coop. But then, I think, why bother? For one, between the two geriatric dogs and the four fish aquariums in need of constant care, plus the ever-propogating stick bugs in their insect cage (a birthday gift given to my son from some crack-pot friends of ours -- don't get me started), do we really need more pets?


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May 15, 2008 11:18 AM

Patricia and Walter Wells: They'll always have Paris. I'll always have Jeff Bergman

Posted by Nancy Leson


So, you think being a food writer is all about rubbing elbows with the foodarazzi, eating entirely too well, drinking fine wines and getting paid to do so. Well, if you took a look at my Wednesday afternoon this week, guess what? You'd be right!

After a day spent glued to my computer, I hit the road, headed for an intimate wine-and-horse-divorce party with Walter and Patricia Wells, at the home of one of the best cooks you probably don't know: Jeff Bergman. Jeff's grilled cheese sandwich recipe won top prize from the Seattle Cheese Festival folks (he'll be doing a cooking demo at the Pike Place Market festival from noon to 1pm on Sunday, where you might just get a taste):

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May 13, 2008 7:40 AM

Quick! Make this for dinner

Posted by Nancy Leson


If you're anything like me, you tend to wait till it's almost too late to decide what to cook for dinner. I'm a last-minute stop-and-shopper, prone to hitting the store on my way home from work/wherever, then tooling around the supermarket, thinking: "What looks good tonight?" Early this month, I spent $35 on "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper" at a booksigning event. That may seem like a small fortune, but it turned out to be cheap at twice the price. Not only because it was signed by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, and co-authored by her uber-talented producer and busy working-mom, Sally Swift, but because when I took it home and read it, I realized: Whoo-wee! This one's a keeper! What's more, it's also a user -- filled with tips of the cooking-trade, laughs (yes, they discuss the "after-effects" of eating asparagus), cookbook recommendations and many, many quick-to-fix meals, including this one:


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May 12, 2008 8:06 AM

Portrait of an incredible young chef: a cautionary tale

Posted by Nancy Leson


The May 12 issue of the "New Yorker" has a story you shouldn't miss: a profile of 34-year-old chef Grant Achatz of Alinea. Ten months ago Achatz, co-owner of the Chicago restaurant "Gourmet" calls the best in the country, was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer. He says he was told by one oncologist, "You'll be dead in four months." Read it.


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May 7, 2008 11:15 AM

"Beyond the Great Wall": Why I love this book

Posted by Nancy Leson

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid don't just write cookbooks, they take you on an extraordinary voyage to places you never knew you wanted to see -- then make you so much better for having seen them. Reading about this couple's travels, and absorbing the photographs in each of their six cookbooks, I feel as if I'm sharing their senses: seeing, tasting and smelling along with them while learning so much more than how to prepare the recipes. Their latest effort, Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, may be their best effort yet. And that's saying a lot:



More good news? They're coming to Seattle May 22 to promote it, signing books and showing slides from the "other" China -- the one that takes us far beyond moo shu pork and General Tso's chicken -- at a Cooks & Books event to be held May 22nd at Culinary Communion.

I spent much of the weekend poring- and "peering" over Beyond the Great Wall-- when I could pry it out of my husband's hands. (Their Seductions of Rice is his favorite cookbook.) And on Sunday, I cooked from it for the first time, making Uighur Lamb Kebabs after learning that the Uighur people of Central Asia speak a Turkic language, cook over a wood or charcoal fire, and that their sheep and goats forage in the hills and oases of Xinjiang. You can view the results, below.

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May 2, 2008 11:59 AM

Your weekend assignment: Bake this "no-knead" bread. It's unbelievable.

Posted by Nancy Leson


By now, I'm sure you've heard about "No-Knead Bread" -- the "No way! You're kidding me!" easiest-recipe-ever for making an incredible (and incredibly cheap) loaf of crusty, European-style bread at home.

Really? You haven't heard about it? Well, where have you been -- out spending $5 a loaf at artisan bakeshops? If so, allow me to turn you into a bread-making machine, because if my bread can look like this:

So can yours!

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April 30, 2008 3:00 PM

Oh yes, he Cannes.

Posted by Nancy Leson


If you haven't read Greg Atkinson's Pacific Northwest magazine story this week about going to culinary school, what are you waiting for? And for every one of you who ever thought of ditching your career in [fill-in-the-blank] to study culinary arts -- something I regularly hear folks tell me they're longing to do -- comes the following success story, courtesy of today's press-release from the PR-wonks at Edmonds Community College:

"Edmonds Community College Culinary Arts student Robert Schaudt, 36, of Bellevue will help prepare food for guests attending the Cannes International Film Festival in May as part of the American Pavilion culinary team.

The team, which serves press, filmmakers, stars and industry professionals, prepares up to 1,000 meals per day during the festival in France. Schaudt was one of 35 culinary students selected for the program from a pool of 1,200 applicants.

While earning his two-year culinary arts degree, Schaudt works as a chef at Dan Thiessen's O/8 Seafood Grill in Bellevue. Afterward, Schaudt plans to open his own restaurant serving tapas, desserts and wine. Schaudt's favorite dessert? Chocolate lava cake.

Before coming to the college, Schaudt sold cars. `I was making great money, but it wasn't my dream,' he said. `My wife encouraged me to go back to school for a career I really loved and I have passion for food and wine.'"

Hey, congrats, Robert! And please tell Julia Roberts that I don't care how popular "My Best Friend's Wedding" was: No real restaurant critic could be that thin!

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April 28, 2008 7:28 AM

Breakfast: take two. Strangers eat breakfast, too.

Posted by Nancy Leson


In my last post, we chatted about breakfast, and where to get a grand-ish-slam without breaking the bank. Meanwhile, I somehow I managed to miss the fact the staff at The Stranger offered an all-hands-on-deck take on breakfast/brunch last week -- which I enjoyed with a cup of coffee in the quiet of my home this weekend. Go check out what they have to say here, then come back to me and weigh in: Where do you get your bacon/eggs/granola/huevos rancheros/fancy-Fruit-Loop fix?

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April 23, 2008 12:00 PM

Summer camp: Spanish omelets and "bug juice" and Peanut Chews, oh my!

Posted by Nancy Leson

I just opened the latest e-mail newsletter from Tom Douglas, which plugs the blog of one of my favorite food-fanatics -- my NY-based bargain-bites-buddy Ed Levine, whose Serious Eats is well worth talking a look at if you haven't already. And I couldn't help noting that Top Chef's Zoi Antonitsas -- who I chatted about in a post the other day -- will be a "counselor" at Tom's "summer camp" this season. Tom's ungodly expensive summer tour de forced-feeding sounds like way too much fun, and it made me think, with much longing, of my (inexpensive, and worth thrice the price) childhood summer camp: Golden Slipper.

Each year, my sisters, brother, cousins and I would spend three weeks in the Pocono Mountains freezing our tushies off every morning swimming in the ice-cold pool and mountain-cold lake, hanging out at the Nature Lodge (camp song, sung to the Supreme's tune, "Stop, at the Naaaature Lodge. . .") and gossiping about our camp crushes (Gary Discount! Camp counselor "Uncle" Alan Braverman! Swoon!). And of course, we spent plenty of time in the dining hall eating Spanish omelets (hated those!), drinking "bug juice" and waiting to hear about the evening's entertainment (like the talent show where I once got up in front of 500 people and brought the house down with an imitation of Babs Streisand singing "Don't Rain on My Parade").

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April 21, 2008 1:37 PM

Bargain dinners at home. What's cooking at your house?

Posted by Nancy Leson

I'm not a big spender, but I do spend a disportionate amount of money shopping for high-quality foodstuffs. Reading my pal Karen Gaudette's front-page news today regarding the precipitous rise in food costs, got me thinking. With money buying less at the market these days, which homecooked meals do I consider a delicious bargain? Last night's dinner came quickly to mind.

For my family of three, I roasted a whole Washington chicken ($7) basted with a couple of tablespoons of bacon drippings leftover from breakfast. I served the chicken with Yukon Gold potatoes ($1.49) which benefited greatly, flavorwise, from being chunked and browned in the bottom of the roasting pan with the chicken drippings. And I splurged on my family's favorite green vegetable, Chinese long beans (for which I paid about $4). Bottom line: for just over four bucks a head, we had an incredibly delicious dinner. One that took little effort to prepare and provided enough leftovers to make two thick chicken salad sandwiches for lunch.

So, here's what I want to know: What delicious, inexpensive dinners are you cooking at home?

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April 10, 2008 4:15 PM

My name is Nancy, and I am a Cookbook Junkie

Posted by Nancy Leson


The sky might be falling in the cookbook industry (see last post), but you couldn't tell that from looking around my house. I've got a cookbook collection that's getting competely out of hand -- and I wouldn't have it any other way. If I had to venture a guesstimate, I'd say I own more than 500 cookbooks.



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April 10, 2008 11:52 AM

Cookbooks, the Food Network, and Famous Guy's wives

Posted by Nancy Leson


Kevin Rochlin e-mailed me with this query:

"After browsing in bookstores and making a rough estimate of the books
covered in The Good Cook flyer (the cookbook equivalent to a record club) it
seems that 90% of cookbooks out there are either by Martha Stewart or Food
Network
stars. While I am a fan of many of the shows, I don't consider the
majority of them cooking experts and do not really have an interest in their
recipes. Do you think that the number of cookbooks by non Food Network
authors is still the same but overshadowed by FN, or has the FN taken over
the industry?"

In a word, Kevin? Yes. I do think the Food Network has taken over the industry, and there's a reason:

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April 1, 2008 3:10 PM

Where in the World (Spice) is Tony?

Posted by Nancy Leson

After reading my previous post about a perfect day at Pike Place Market and my aromatic trip to my favorite culinary apothacary, the question has arisen:

"Speaking of World Spice, what happened to Tony? Did he sell it? I never see him there and can't tell if he still owns it or not. I'd love to know what he is up to, nonetheless (I love his spice tome!)."

In 2005, owner Tony Hill sold World Spice Merchants to longtime employee, Amanda Bevill.

"I started working for Tony in 2002, when he was finishing his spice book. I was looking for a career change, and so was he," she explains. With those changes in mind, Amanda became Tony's apprentice. "Everything I know about spices, I learned from Tony," she says, though it probably didn't hurt that in her previous career she was a medical herbalist. "For me, it's always pretty much been all about the plants."

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March 28, 2008 4:30 PM

The spoils of Easter

Posted by Nancy Leson

I loved this New Yorker cartoon in the March 24th issue, which also has a profile of New York chef David Chang I plan to read right now.

UPDATE AND NOTE TO READERS, 3/31: Pardon my barging into a previous post, but I need to point out that I've deleted the New Yorker cartoon I photographed and reprinted in this space on Friday. I ditched it because I neglected to consider copyright issues when posting, and thought I'd better hit the "buh-bye" button before someone gave me legal grief. So, now you need to go find the 3/24 issue (the one with Spitzer in his boxers on the cover) and look for Danny Shanahan's cartoon involving an eagle landing in a nest with a dead bunny and a basket full of candy. Three eaglets are checking out the carnage and the caption reads: "The candy is for after dinner" -- famous last words in my house. As for that David Chang profile: amazing. Writer Larrissa MacFarquhar peeled the onion for an honest look at New York's hot young chef. Yes, he's neurotic, and has anger issues, and he's first to say so, but you can't help respecting Chang after reading this revealing piece, centered on the opening of his latest restaurant, Momofuku Ko.

And here are the spoils from my son's Easter basket. He was thrilled to see that the Easter Bunny had brought Zours. Peeps? Not so much. The Bunster was thrilled to wear "his" new Panther Vision ball cap with the heavy-duty flashlight in the rim, when he stopped by late last Saturday night. I understand it was pretty dark out there when he was hiding those plastic Easter eggs.

Easter

I'm going to try to restrain myself from blogging over the weekend. It's a fun job, but hey -- it's still a job! Talk later. . .

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March 26, 2008 2:10 PM

When it rains it pours

Posted by Nancy Leson

So here's what happens when you're me, and your face is plastered all over the Seattle Times after years of working incognito.

You wake up at 6 a.m., go downstairs and find your husband reading the paper. You look at the front page and see they've used a "Gilroy is Here"-style photo of your heretofore anonymous face, splashing it across the top of the paper as an A-1 teaser. "So?" you ask your husband.

"It doesn't look you," he says. "Who does it look like?" you wonder. "It looks like some 1980s big-haired girl from Kent," he says. Actually, you think it looks like the 1980's big-haired '80s girl from the Classmates.com ads, but it's too early to argue.

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