Messed up Milk

I was grocery shopping last week at a Safeway store. I don’t usually go there as it isn’t in a convenient location but it seems like a good place to buy food. One of the items on my list was milk. We generally buy skim, or non-fat, milk, so that’s what I bought. Or thought I bought. We got home, and Dave poured himself a glass and immediately declared that something was wrong with the milk. He said it tasted bad. I tried a sip and agreed. It just didn’t taste right. So then I read the label. Sure, I read labels sometimes in the store, but usually only for products that I haven’t bought before. I buy a gallon of skim milk several times a week, so it’s hardly a new purchase. As I looked at this bottle of milk, I found out that what we’d bought was called “Lucerne skim supreme fat free milk“. OK, this sounds like what I meant to buy, doesn’t it? I read further. The small print said “with natural flavor to enhance rich taste”. What?? I read further still to the ingredient listing: “fat free milk, artificial color*, carragennan*, natural flavor*, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3. *Not present in regular fat free milk”. Now just what is going on here? I guess they thought people don’t like skim milk so they wanted to make it taste “richer” by adding flavors and color and thickeners. Personally, I have gotten used to the rather weak taste and insipid pale color of skim milk, and that’s what I expect when I buy it. I guess that others don’t necessarily agree. This was not only a disappointment, but also seemed like a deception. I contacted Safeway to tell them my thoughts about this and they apologized by sending me coupons worth $5 off further Safeway branded products. I will read the labels before I buy the next Safeway items!

Anyhow, even though Safeway was reimbursing me for my unsatisfactory purchase, it was still hard for me to just pour this milk down the drain. I might not like the way it tasted, but I was sure it still has nutritional value. So I used it for making tapioca pudding tonight, one of my favorite comfort foods. I’m a food scientist, so I think I know how ingredients will react, and I didn’t think this milk would make a difference in a pudding. How wrong I was! When I cooked the milk, egg and tapioca, the mixture foamed a lot more than usual. Odd. The real test was in the taste, though. I didn’t share with Dave what I’d done. The tapioca pudding was served with a topping of huckleberries in syrup, something that almost always improves anything. Dave ate it, but commented that the something about the texture seemed wrong. Along with the foaming, I had noticed that the pudding also kind of curdled when I mixed everything together. Hmmmm. It met with a thumbs down vote from Dave after dinner.

So, thank you, Safeway for messing with a very basic food! Yes, I’m a food scientist. I mess with food for my livelihood. But I seriously wonder what the food scientists and sensory panels at Safeway were thinking when they introduced this product into the market. My vote: dump the rest of the gallon down the drain and don’t buy it again.

So, I dumped the milk and was very surprised to find a thick layer of sludge at the bottom of the bottle. The container hadn’t said to “shake well before using”, so it didn’t seem right that it had settle out like this. I wonder now if the bottle of milk I bought had not been batched correctly, and that there was too much carragennan? Or something else gone wrong to make it settle out like that? Still, I will stay away from this in the future and look more carefully before buying.


A First Time Pasta Experience

Several months ago I clipped a recipe for Semolina Lasagna with Spicy Amatriciana out of my Cooking Light magazine.  It was not just a stand alone recipe, but included a lot of instructions for how to make home made pasta.  All these years of cooking and this is something I’ve never made.  I don’t know why, but I just have never tried it.  I was intrigued by the directions, and finally gave it a try this past weekend. While it looked like a long list of ingredients and instructions, I found that I already had all the necessary items. For some reason, I had bought semolina flour for a bread recipe I had tried awhile ago, and thought I should find some way to use it besides the bread, which must not have been a hit as I don’t recall ever making it again.

So I mixed up the flour(s), eggs, water and oil.  The recipe said to use a food processor, but since I don’t have one I mixed it up with my KitchenAid mixer, using the dough hook.   There didn’t seem to be enough dough though so I finally took it out and hand kneaded it for awhile.  While letting the dough sit for the 20 minutes called for in the recipe, I made the sauce.  It had a lot of sliced onions and tomatoes with a little bacon and garlic and olive oil.  It went together quickly and continued to simmer as I rolled out the individual lasagna sheets.

a rolled out piece of lasagna

a rolled out piece of lasagna

I found I really liked rolling out the dough.  It handled very well and was easy to roll out into a thin long rectangle.  Perhaps it also provided some kind of outlet for all the irritation and frustration I was feeling about the upcoming election and the economy (and countless other things, I am sure). Nothing like taking a rolling pin in hand and swinging it around the kitchen and transforming blobs of dough into pasta to provide a calming influence on my mood. Others might use yoga of meditation. I’ll settle for a rolling pin and flour any day.

After rolling out the six lasagna sheets, they were boiled for a few minutes each, then assembled. To me, this is an interesting recipe as the lasagna is made into individual servings, taking a long piece of the pasta, adding some sauce, then folding the pasta over, adding more sauce, over and over.

assembling the lasagna

assembling the lasagna

It’s not like other lasagna I’ve had, as it didn’t have very much cheese.  I supposed that’s why the recipe was in Cooking Light!   I didn’t have individual baking dishes so I used oven safe bowls and small casseroles.  It worked OK, but wasn’t as pretty as the picture in the magazine article.  Still, it looked fine and tasted very good.  Since I made six servings, I put part away in the refrigerator for later use (after assembling but before baking).  It tasted even better today when I heated it up.  All in all, a fun cooking experiment.  Even better, a big nudge to make more home made pasta and start experimenting. It sounds like the old refrain of “what took me so long to try this?”  I’ll be trying other kinds soon as we head into fall and cooler weather.  Suggestions welcome.

a single serving, ready to eat

a single serving, ready to eat

Bote Wine


Bote wines, pronounced as two syllables, with a long O and an E sounded as a long A.  Sounds foreign. But what it really stands for is “Bowels Of The Earth”.  B O T E.  Ahh, The Yakima Valley.  I’ve been writing some blogs with many kind words about this area, but if the truth be told, this isn’t paradise, or at least many who live here don’t think so.  Yes, there is an abundance of great produce.  And nearby mountains with great hiking.  And a valley filled with poverty and desolateness.  Lots of good, but balanced by lots of iffyness.  (Is that even a word?).  Promise, as yet unfulfilled.   

Back to the topic.  I belong to a group that makes wine each year.  We started as a class of “newbies”, taught by my boss, and have continued over the years as the “old-timers” to make wine each year.   Each fall we get together for an evening each week for three or four weeks to crush grapes (from various sources) and get the wine started, and then later in the year we bottle that year’s wine, or the previous years.  Last weekend was our yearly bottling.  A few members were missing, but five couples met to bottle up 20 gallons of wine.  Included was Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Lemberger.  All told, each family took home almost 3 cases of wine.  For the $35 cost of the “class”, it’s a pretty good return.

We meet at the “founder’s” home, and make a great mess of his kitchen.

Andy and Brad bottling wine










Debbie and Brad hard at work. Notice the work gloves.










All told, it’s a few hours of steady work to get the wine into bottles and labeled. 

John overseeing the siphoning of the red wine










We welcome all willing to help.

Evan, our youngest (under legal age) bottler













After a few hours, we have many cases of bottles divided up ready to go home.  The best, though, is yet to come.


cases of wine.  Notice bored dog in background.

cases of wine. Notice bored dog in background.













When the work is done, we feast on grilled burgers and salads and desserts and all sorts of treats.  And then “the girls” get to take off for a ride in Debbie’s (or really, Andy’s) Mustang convertible through Selah. This year the weather was cool and pleasant, and we laughed our way around the rural roads.  Simple pleasures.  

The crush begins again in a few weeks.  I like the rhythm of the seasons.

Heirloom tomatoes

 It’s finally “pay back” time.  We planted Heirloom tomato seeds last March, watched over the little seedlings like new parents over a baby, prepared beds behind the house, and anxiously, eagerly, waited to see if we’d get tomatoes.  We started harvesting some a few months ago. First to ripen were the small cherry tomatoes, in our case, Golden Globes (not actually Heirlooms, but tasty all the same).  Then the Tigerellas and Green Zebras.  The neon green inside of the Green Zebras is pretty incredible, and so is the flavor. 

Golden globes, Tigerellas, and Green Zebra

Golden globes, Tigerellas, and Green Zebra

As the summer turns to Fall, the larger tomatoes have started maturing.  Brandywine, Caspian Pink, Big Rainbows.   

an assortment ready to eat

an assortment ready to eat









Our best bearing plant is the one we planted in a wooden half barrel.  Perhaps the plant likes that it is growing in a container that once aged wine.  Well, I doubt it.  The soil in our yard in poor and we have amended it behind our house for the tomatoes, but the best conditions still are the barrel with lots of good soil.  Just too expensive, though, to set up for a lot of plants.   

Caspian Pinks nestled with nasturiums

Caspian Pinks nestled with nasturiums

Of course, with the harvest at some point comes the question of what to do with all the tomatoes.  I am a fan of the NPR show “The Splendid Table” with Lynne Rossetto Kasper.  I subscribe to her weekly newsletter (for weekday meal ideas).   This week her featured recipe was a gazpacho made with heirloom tomatoes.  I have never made gazpacho before, but was willing to give it a try.   The blender looked so appealling filled up with the cut up tomatoes and cucumbers, but I didn’t think to take a photo.  The finished soup tasted good, but my photo didn’t do it justice.  The Splendid Table paired the gazpacho with a hot corn bread pudding, so I did the same as we had lots of fresh corn on the cob needing a home.   Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s comment was that “Cool gazpacho and a hot corn bread pudding piled with fresh sweet corn is a genius of a September supper.”  I agree, even though my cornbread was not quite cooked through when I pulled it out of the oven and cut into it.  Here are the recipes:

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
From Latin Evolution by Jose Garces (Lake Isle Press, September 25, 2008). Copyright
2008 by Jose Garces. Used with permission of the publisher.

Yields 4 cup

4 large red heirloom tomatoes
2/3 English cucumber, seeded
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons diced day-old baguette, crust removed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1. To make gazpacho: Core tomatoes. Dip tomatoes into boiling water for about 15
seconds then shock in ice water. Peel tomatoes.

2. In a blender, combine tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, vinegar, and bread. Puree until
smooth. While processing, slowly add olive oil until emulsified. Season with sugar,
salt, and pepper. Gazpacho can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Judy’s Best Cornbread Pudding

Serves 4 to 6

Judy Graham, who works with me on this newsletter and is one great cook, created
this luscious old style meeting of corn pudding and cornbread. Use fresh corn when
it’s in season, but know that niblet style canned corn tastes just fine here. You
could bake off the bread an hour ahead, wrap in foil and reheat it, or freeze it up
to six months. Use organic ingredients if at all possible.

2 large eggs
8-ounce container sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1-2/3 cups corn kernels (canned Niblet corn, or from 3 fresh ears)
1-1/4 cups coarse-ground cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour (measured by dipping and leveling)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Grease a 9-inch square pan. In a medium bowl beat together
the eggs, sour cream, and milk until smooth. Stir in the corn. In a bigger bowl,
stir together the rest of the ingredients to thoroughly blend.

2. Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients only long enough to moisten them —
the batter will be a little lumpy. Scrape it into the pan and bake about 25 minutes,
or until a knife inserted in the center of the corn bread comes out with a few
dry-looking streaks. Serve hot.


Truth be told, I don’t peel or seed my tomatoes for gazpacho, or sauces, especially
when pureeing them.

Shop farmers’ markets and roadside stands for heirloom tomatoes. Taste before
buying, if possible, and choose a mix of varieties for complexity and depth of
flavor. Varieties that are equally balanced between mellow acidity and sweetness
include Brandywine, Rutgers and Celebrity. Black tomatoes like Black Krim, Chris’s
Ukraine, and Cherokee Purple lend deep, rich, almost red wine-like flavors. For
accent add high-contrast (high sugar and high acid) varieties such as Early Cascade,
Red Currant and Sun Golds.

If great tasting tomatoes aren’t to be had, you could substitute canned ones like
Muir Glen, Bella Italia or Hunt’s. Be sure to use whole peeled, not pureed.

English cucumbers (also called hothouse) are mild tasting, nearly seedless and are
usually sold in supermarkets in shrink-wrapped in plastic. You want firm ones with
smooth skin and no soft or shriveled spots. Store in the refrigerator up to a week.

A bottle of good sherry vinegar is a pantry staple you’ll reach for again and again
for its complex blend of sweet and tart flavors. Besides salad dressings, blend a
splash into soups and pan sauces, and sprinkle it on roasted or baked potatoes and
peppers. Brands to look for include Lustau Pedro Ximenez, Solera 77 Reserve and Cepa

Out of Service




Dave and I went camping at Mt. Rainier National Park this past weekend.  I took Friday as a vacation day so we could get up to the Sunrise area in the Northeast corner of the park early enough to leisurely set up camp and explore.  The weather was very nice, with mild temperatures (high 50’s in the day, mid 40’s at night).   I love Mt. Rainier (or, as Carrie used to call it when she was about four years old, Mountain Baneer).  It has rain forests with deep green colors and high alpine meadows with flowers.  The air always smells good and refreshing.  It also has The Mountain, which looms over the park.   On Saturday morning we drove from the campground to Sunrise Point to watch the sunrise.  There were some clouds obscuring the mountain, but we still were able to watch the glaciers turn pink with the first light of the day.

Sunrise at Sunrise

Sunrise at Sunrise

When we visit, we like to camp. And we like to hike on the many miles of great trails.  It’s a natural, wild environment, and as such, we expect that man has not tamed it.  Here is the sign that greets visitors as they arrive at the White River Campground. 

Sign warning of geological hazards

Sign warning of geological hazards










After all, Mt. Rainier is an active (yes, active, not dormant) volcano.  There was a particularly bad storm in late fall of 2006 that also caused a lot of damage from flooding, trees blown down, and rivers literally changing their course.  One of the campgrounds within the park no longer exists.  A river changed course and took the campground with it.   We have gotten used to bridges that get taken out by flooding, and repaired by park personnel.

 Damaged bridge at Silver Falls

Damaged bridge at Silver Falls



Dave and Tyler crossing a "temporary" bridge

Dave and Tyler crossing a “temporary” bridge




Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout with roof blown off

Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout with roof blown off











This is part of “living with nature”.   The part that surprised me on this trip was how many of the non-natural parts of the park are “out of service.

Non-functioning camper's sink

Non-functioning camper










"out of order" bathroom stall at campground

"out of order" bathroom stall at campground














payphone at White River Ranger Station

payphone at White River Ranger Station














I tried to make a few phone calls, to my mother and daughters, but my cell phone had no service and the pay phone wasn’t working either.

So, I know there are more visitors to the parks.  I also know that each visitor pays an entrance fee.  I know that there are lots of competing interests for our tax dollars.  But still, these places are too important to let slide into disrepair.

Sunset magazine idylls

The local newspaper had an article about a local wine tasting room where there would be an electric car show this weekend. While I had seen the sign along a country road on the outskirts of Yakima for a place called The Tasting Room, I didn’t know anything about the place. So it sounded like a good excuse to go exploring. We drove west of town (towards “buy a gun Tieton”), out to Naches Heights, following a familiar road we used to travel to our dog sitter’s house. It’s rolling, high sage hills, and provides good panoramic views of the mountain ranges. After a slight mix-up in directions, we pulled off on a dirt road, following the signs to the tasting room. After a turn up a long driveway, we came to a large dirt parking area with an old farmhouse and out buildings. There were a few cars, but our first impression was that we’d made a wrong turn and ended up at someone’s house. That’s always a slightly uncomfortable feeling, but I really thought from the small hand lettered sign pointing to additional parking that we were at the right place. So we got out of the car and walked over to the house, as it looked like there was a small sign outside it. Bingo. We were at The Tasting Room. It’s an old farmhouse, with the front room turned into a tasting room (and the rest a home for the caretakers), showcasing the wines of three different area winemakers. They are small producers, so joining forces is really the only way they can afford a tasting room. We sampled the selected wines of the day, with Damien, the caretaker/ tasting room host, chatting away about both the wines, the winemakers, and himself. He thinks that he and his wife (the two are the caretaker team) moved from Northern California to the best job imaginable. They live at the house, care for the grounds and run the tasting room.

But here is the best part of this place. It’s a beautiful setting, high above the Cowiche Canyon, with basalt outcroppings. The owner has started his vineyard on the land. They welcome people to come and picnic on the grounds, even providing picnic tables on  their covered porch. Seems like a Sunset magazine type setting.  And they worked with the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, a group that has preserved much of the surrounding area and has a great network of hiking trails, to have a half mile connector trail leaving from the canyon bottom and creek up to the Tasting Room property. They said that people are free to hike to or from their property, at any time, and enjoy the grounds for a lunch break or rest. Of course, I am sure they also are more than happy to have you buy a cold glass of sangria or wine to enjoy as you relax. But mostly, I’m just excited about finding a new section of hiking trail in an area we already enjoy.