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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mountain biking. It’s an adventure!


mountain biking jump
this is not Duthie, rather the only picture I have of my brother and me mountain biking; he's the jumper; i'm the knee shaker in pink.

Well, it certainly is if you go with my brother. Mountain biking with Taylor is putting your life in the hands of someone with the risk evaluative ability of a two year old. He appears to know no fear. And I hate him.
I have devised a life saving set of protocols for dealing with situations where you could end up depending on the guidance of one of these adrenaline junky types, one of these compound-fracture-separated-shoulder-acute-braindamage-from-multiple-concussions types: don’t do it; tell them to take a hike; avoid them at all cost; absolutely never go outside with one of these people. Period. However, if you somehow find yourself attempting to enjoy the outdoors with such an individual, it is imperative to keep a cool, clear head, unless you hear the words, “It was an easy trail for me, bro,” then duck or jump or run! Holy shit! Just get the hell out of there! Those words spell your imminent doom! Because in the mind of the down-hill mountain biking enthusiast, there is no discernible difference between bunny hills and black diamonds.
The last time I went biking with my brother, he took me to a series of trails outside Issaquah, WA generally referred to as Duthie or Duthie Hill. We set out from Kirkland at ten in the morning on a drizzly Sunday. After parking and riding up to the actual park it was around noon. It’s best to plan for an all day affair here, unless you live quite close.
I had never been to Duthie before and I was very impressed. It’s a wonderful place. Compared to other trails I’ve hurt myself on this one was by far the nicest. Volunteers and donators have obviously been very generous with their time and money at Duthie. And it gets a lot of use. The trails are all well groomed and well ridden. There are literally trails for all levels. There is even some kind of mountain biking camp for kids out of Issaquah, or so I’m told. I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent the majority of my time doing repeat runs of possibly the easiest trail there, Boot Camp, where I saw what appeared to be a three year old girl doing basically everything I was doing only a little better and faster. This is no exaggeration (I have a healthy fear of pain and I don’t care who knows it).
mountain biking kids
see? Small children ride (and run) Duthie! My niece and nephew at the pump track.
Boot Camp is a great trail for the beginner, and being a beginner myself, you can trust this assessment. Maybe. It’s very straight-forward (but of course it’s not straight at all). There are no (or possibly very few, easily avoided) jumps. Mostly it is a kind of rolling zig-zag of well bermed, alternating switch-backs. When you get the hang of leaning into them and you feel comfortable enough to do it with a decent head of steam, it’s a very enjoyable sensation!
And so of course I eventually forgot all of my protocols and was wooed by the allure of “shredding the gnar, gnar” and all the other silver tongued equivocations of my un-brotherly guide. We went down some scary stuff. I think one was called Dirticus or Ryan’s Somethingortheother. I’ve blocked them from recollection. I’m sure I walked down most of them and probably cried a bit. But all in all I had a blast. And the only injury I suffered was to my pride, of which there’s not much left to wound (so it only hurts a little). I can wholeheartedly recommend mountain biking at Duthie!
maiming ryan's somethingortheother
this is Taylor smashing (or pinning, or stoking, or whatever the term is!) Ryan's Somethingortheother, I guess.

And so, if you find yourself on Duthie Hill or any other trail with a pack of alpha-males, remember my words of wisdom and you might just make it down the mountain upright and in full possession of your faculties. Enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

For my omnivores: Chicken Cacciatore

gluten free chicken cacciatore
Today we cook something new, something different, something slow, something my-mom-used-to-make-and-I-have-attempted-to-recreate-but-obviously-almost-accidentally-vastly-improved-upon-with-my-masterful-kitchen-skills, something semi-Italian (Southern, if one can believe the interwebs). Yes. A meat recipe. The first of many. Enjoy!


Chicken Cacciatore

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
4 bone-in, skin-on hind quarters
½ cup flour (I use my own gluten-free blend)
1 tbs garlic powder
½ tbs sea salt
½ tbs black pepper
2 tbs dried herbs (equal parts rosemary, thyme, oregano and basil)
½ cup fresh basil (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (minced)
1 large onion (chopped)
2 bell peppers (chopped)
2-3 small zucchini (quartered lengthwise and sliced into ¼ in. chunks)
12 mushrooms (sliced)
2x 15oz cans black olives (whole)
28oz can whole tomatoes
15oz can crushed tomatoes w/ basil
¾  cup red wine (something you don’t mind drinking)
6 tbs olive oil

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Combine flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried herbs in a large bowl. Heat three tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy, oven safe pot with a lid (such as a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Dredge chicken parts  in flour mixture until well coated (it’s really personal preference on what parts you use; I like the hind quarters and use them exclusively because the meat is more moist and flavorful). Arrange coated chicken across the bottom of the pot in a single layer, skin-side down. Fry until brown and crispy, about ten minutes, and then flip the chicken and do the same to the other side.
When both sides of the chicken are well crisped, remove them to a tray and pop them in the oven to hold their temp (hurray food safety!). Add the minced garlic, onion, bell pepper and zucchini and another two or three tablespoons of olive oil to your pot and sauté for a few minutes. Add two tablespoons of the flour mixture and sauté for another five minutes, stirring often. Remember to discard any unused flour mixture. Stir in the wine. Add both cans of tomatoes and the fresh basil. Mix in the mushrooms and black olives. Kill the heat. Take your chicken pieces and lay them across the top of the sauce in your pot, skin up, just slightly pressing them into the sauce.

Put a lid on it and pop it into your preheated oven for the slow cooking, three to six hours depending on whether or not you prefer the bones to be soft enough to bite through. When you think it’s just about ready, remove the lid and turn the heat up to 400 in order to re-crisp the chicken, twenty to thirty minutes. Watch it carefully at this high temp so as not to burn it.

Serve over pasta or long grain rice or eat it with a big wooden spoon straight from the pot if you like. Dig in or buon appetito or whatever! Should make about six servings, I think.


gluten free chicken cacciatore improvisation
lacking a dutch oven, I improvised using casseroles for a birthday feast at a friend's house

The great thing about Cacciatore is that it’s all rough approximation, coarse chopping and it’s another kind of one pot dish. Cacciatore is Italian for “huntsman,” so it’s meant to be a rustic, fly by the seat of your pants kind of affair. So go ahead and chop your vegetables with an old spade out by the wood shed (that’s what I do)!


It does take a while, but it’s all very simple and a great deal of that long prep time is hands off slow cooking. It works best if you have something you can move directly from the stove top into the oven, a big cast iron pot with a lid like a Dutch oven works perfectly; however, you can always improvise. For instance you can do all the prep work in a pot on the stove and then move everything to a crock pot for the slow cooking, or just reduce the heat to barely a simmer, just a smile across the top, throw a lid on it and do all the cooking right on the stove top (with the heat source directly to the bottom of the pan, this is the method most likely to scorch your sauce a little, but if you’re okay with it it, I’m okay with it).

And so as with all of my recipes, I say experiment. You can try (I have not) to use tofu, tempeh or fried eggplant to make a vegan version. Omit any veggies that don’t strike your fancy. Go ahead and grate a truckload of fine hard Italian cheese on the finished product; I’ll try not to hate you too much if you do (I once loved cheese, but she was a violent and spiteful lover). Make gradual changes. Little mistakes are easier to accommodate and still produce something reasonably edible.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I call him Flour Sans Gluten or Sandy for short

gluten free flour

Generally I use whatever flours I happen to have on hand, but more specifically I mix about two parts combination of flours (millet, rice, buckwheat, sorghum, almond, garbanzo bean, masa harina, etc.) to one part starch (my preference is tapioca). Every kind of flour has different properties that lend themselves better to certain situations. So in an all purpose flour it’s nice to combine a few of them. Millet for instance can absorb a lot of liquid and has a flavor somewhat reminiscent of cream of wheat. It’s best to blend it with sorghum or rice flour. I like to start with rice and/or sorghum flour as a base, making up at least one part or more of the entire flour mixture. Then I pick a number of the other flours such as almond or garbanzo for flavor or texture or other properties I’m looking for (garbanzo flour tastes like beans, so it’s best used for savory dishes with other strong flavors).
Here are a couple examples of a typical flour blend I would use:

Basic All-purpose Gluten-free Flour Blends

½ cup rice
½ cup sorghum
½ cup millet
¼ cup almond
¼ cup buckwheat
1 cup tapioca starch

or

1½ cup rice
¼ cup sorghum
¼ cup potato flour
1 cup tapioca starch

Oh, Sandy. I love you’re rich, diverse character. You change at whim and with the seasons and whatnot.

Note: Be especially careful when selecting your starches and flours as the labeling can get a little confusing: for instance, tapioca starch is often called tapioca flour, but it's just starch; similarly, arrowroot flour and arrowroot starch are the same thing; however, potato starch and potato flour are sometimes used interchangeably, but potato flour is made of whole cooked and dehydrated potatoes and it definitely cannot be used as a starch in gluten free baking.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

IPA: a love letter

harvester ipa

I used to enjoy you. It’s difficult for me to write this. There was a time when I could walk into a bar and look at the taps with more than just a pathetic longing. I could nod to the bartender and ask for the most hoppy, malty, bitter, thick and heady glass of tongue loosening, anxiety salving barley juice. I could order anything. So many options. So many ways for me to love you. I never knew how bad you were for me. I never understood how deeply you hurt me. Of all the betrayals, the glutinous back stabs, the gastro-intestinal sucker punches, I felt yours the most intensely. For four years that wound has gaped and festered. With no real respite from the pain, only paltry gluten-free imitations of you, Frankenstein concoctions made from what remains when you remove all the vitality from beer, all that vital wheat gluten or whatnot. And I have wept and wailed. I have cursed my lot. I have forsworn the bars I used to call home. But suddenly and recently, like last tuesday, I experienced nothing short of a miracle. I had a good gluten free beer. No, that’s doing it an injustice. I had a good beer that happened to be gluten-free. It was like magic! I haven’t shut up about it since. Just ask Elle. She’ll tell you how sickening it is to listen to me wax poetic about his new brew. I think she’s just jealous. I love you again! I can honestly say it. I’m not ashamed and I’ll never take you for granted again (mostly because your high cost is rather prohibitive in this regard). I’m going to shout it from the roof tops. I love beer! And it’s all thanks to the masters at Ground Breaker Brewing in Portland, Oregon. I don’t know what dark secrets were bestowed upon them on what strange cross street by which black manifestation, nor what price they paid, but I thank them deeply for their dedication. And to end this rant I’ll raise a glass, thank my lucky stars for love restored and begin bemoaning my complete financial ruination that shall commence forthwith. Cheers!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The long awaited, much anticipated: Thai Curry Soup

vegan gluten free thai curry soup
My first internet recipe. It’s nothing terribly exciting. Just something I whip up for friends and family when the occasion seems ripe for something quasi-ethnic, and I feel like cooking a quick meal in one big pot (i.e. I’m feeling lazy). Well, without further ado here’s the scoop:


Quick and Easy* Thai Curry Soup

1 onion (cut into 1 in. chunks)
4 or 5 cloves garlic (minced or pressed)
1 small piece ginger (minced)
1 red bell pepper (cut into 1 in. chunks)
10 or so crimini mushrooms (sliced or quartered)
1 or 2 carrots (shredded)
6 green onions (chopped)
1 lime (sliced into wedges)
Thai basil or cilantro (for garnish)
3 tbs coconut oil
3 tbs red or green Thai curry paste
3 tbs liquid aminos or fish sauce (less if your using soy sauce or tamari)
1 can bamboo shoots (strained)
1 can pineapple chunks (strained)
1 can coconut milk (more for thicker, creamier soup)
2 cups vegetable broth or Basic Chicken Stock (less for thicker, creamier soup)

Heat a pot with coconut oil to medium high heat. Stir fry the garlic, ginger and carrot for two minutes. Add the bell pepper, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and onion and stir fry for another minute. Add the curry paste and liquid aminos and continue to stir fry for another three minutes. Pour in the coconut milk. Stir in the vegetable broth. Add pineapple chunks. Bring to a slight boil. Reduce heat and simmer five minutes or until vegetables reach desired tenderness. Toss in green onions. Pour soup over noodles or rice or take it straight. Garnish with Thai basil and a lime wedge. Enjoy!

thai curry soup veggies
I think that’s everything. The amounts can all be tinkered with to taste and of course any vegetable that doesn’t suit your preferences can be omitted. There’s always room for fudging. Just be sure to taste it and make gradual changes. You can also add tofu, meat or fish to the soup. Just remember to fully cook it in a separate pan and add it to the soup just before serving. It’s a good idea to sautee it with garlic and ginger to give it plenty of flavor.

*I have been told by some that this recipe is neither quick nor easy, but I refuse to believe it! Maybe I just have a skewed sense of how long it takes me to cook because I enjoy the chopping so much I forget that it counts as part of the cooking process too.