Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Few Things About Me That Have Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Food

"You're all about the food," my darling ball and chain reminded me for the millionth time. He said it in response to my pointing out Arnold Palmer on the tee-vee. "There's the guy they named the iced tea after," I cried.

Yes, I watch golf. (That's No. 1 thing that is non-food related.) Especially enjoy watching The Masters. I actually used to play golf. Like a lot. When we lived in Spokane, Johnny and I frequented the beautiful public courses like Indian Canyon, Hangman Creek, Esmeralda. We'd get in a quick nine holes after work. Twilight golf. But that was all BC, Before Claire. Golf takes up a helluva lot of time, something you don't have a lot to spare when you're new parents. Best case scenario is four hours, and that doesn't count time spent bending the elbow at the old 19th hole. My favorite part of a round on a hot afternoon. Now, I'm just an occasional spectator, though I might take it up again one of these days.

I'm also an accidental Mariners fan. That dude I've shared my home with for decades bleeds Mariners blue, through bad times and good. He really should have been a color man, considering the dead-on commentary he runs while watching games, either at home or in the stadium. (It was a rough one last night, as we were part of the smallest crowd in the team's history, and they lost. By a lot.) Over the years, I've been swept up in the drama and the characters on the team. I've seen the guys of summer play at Arlington in Texas and in the old Yankees stadium. And, last week, I got to meet one of the legends of the game. I gushed like a 10-year-old version of myself, telling Edgar Martinez he has always been my favorite Mariner.

Speaking of 10-year-old versions of myself, my nickname around that time was Bullfrog. Because I could burp louder than anyone in my class. Still can.

Later, when I was doing a college internship, working at The Leavenworth Echo newspaper, I became known as Big Salmon. Because of my uncanny ability to leap out of the Wenatchee River like one of those fish. Still can.

Back when I lived in Leavenworth -- from fourth to eighth grade, when we (briefly, thank god) moved to the hell hole known as Marysville -- I went to camp at what's now Sleeping Lady. One year, I was named top camper in our lodge, an honor that meant I had the cleanest fingernails and the smoothest sleeping bag. At Camp Field, we sang neat songs like "What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor?" and I also won a pie eating contest. Still could. (And, yes, that last one is about food, but also sports. If you consider competitive eating sports.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the dinner that never was...

Here's a story I wrote in 2005:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - legendary civil rights leader, electrifiying preacher, foodie.
King was famous for his key role in the struggle for equality through nonviolence and for sermons that inspired a nation. His good works are well-documented, with more than 900 book titles listed on

But there was another side to King that's seldom discussed, a side that loved down-home Southern cooking such as pork chops, catfish, fried chicken and peach cobbler.

"Oh, he was a big eater. He never shied away from the table, " said Dr. Bernard LaFayette, a distinguished scholar-in-residence at the University of Rhode Island, who worked closely with King as a student volunteer and Freedom Rider, and later as national coordinator for the poor people's campaign King launched just before he was killed. "Growing up in the Baptist church, so much centered around meals. The church was an extension of your home."

LaFayette said during that tumultuous time food was often eaten on the run. "We ate a lot of Vienna sausage and potted meat out of a can, with soda crackers, " he said.

Food - and lack of access to it - played a pivotal role in some of the most memorable civil rights struggles including the sit-ins at "whites only" lunch counters around the South.

Monday, April 1, 2013

This Is No April Fool's Joke!

Four years ago today, I went to work in professional kitchens, starting with the Dahlia Bakery. It was quite an experience, one I documented in a regular column called Critic-Turned-Cook, which appeared on Serious Eats for more than a year. I was planning on turning this culinary adventure into a blockbuster movie -- Susan Saradon would play me -- after my memoir became a best seller, but, well... could never get an agent interested in pitching it. That's the way it crumbles, cookie wise.

Anyway, what the heck, I recently re-read this section of my sample chapter and still think it's pretty fun:

My eyes open just before the alarm was set to go off. Groan. It’s 4:47. I barely slept. I am so excited about my first day on the job in Tom Douglas’s pastry kitchen, I feel like it's Christmas morning.
After I got my food handler’s card, I had filled out the necessary paperwork, studied the company handbook and spent hours practicing my knife skills. “Pretend like you’re shaking hands with it,” one You Tube video instructed.
Still, I wonder if I can cut it. I’ve never worked in a professional kitchen. I feel like I’m bringing my kazoo to play with a symphony orchestra. But I do want to play. I’m game. That should count, right? Showing up is half the battle.
At 4:49, my poor husband, John, is finally sleeping after hours of wrestling the insomnia demon, so I quickly and quietly dress in the dark, go downstairs and guzzle a cup of dark roast before starting the 25-minute walk downtown to the restaurant, past the glowing Space Needle and homeless men sleeping in doorways. A cyclist blows past, his headlamp illuminating the rain-filled potholes on the street.
It’s April Fool’s Day. How fitting I begin this kooky quest on this silly holiday. I feel like the set-up to a bad gag. “A washed-up critic walks into a kitchen…”