Peas on Moss

Say it a few times. “Peas on Moss”…. “Peas on Moss”… And then say the French phrase “Mise en Place”, rhyming it with “Peas on Moss”.

That’s how I remember a phrase that I try to keep close to heart when I cook. LIterally, it means “to put in place”, a cooking technique that calls for all of the ingredients to be washed, cut, measured, and placed around the food preparation area, along with necessary tools and condiments, before any cooking starts. I have commented that I’m by nature a messy cook. Or I think it’s “by nature” as if I claimed it was “by nurture” I’d be blaming my mother, and I am not wanting to do that. She’s a much better cook, and neater cook, than I am. I seem to cook by the “why use just one bowl when two or three will do?” school of cooking. I try hard now not to make a mess, but it’s hard work. And yes, it really does work better to follow the “mise en place” method.

I was interested to read that Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef, considers “mise en place” a religion for him … “The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it: you know where to find everything with your eyes closed, everything you need during the course of the shift is at the ready at arm’s reach, your defenses are deployed. If you let your mise-en-place run down, get dirty and disorganized, you’ll quickly find yourself spinning in place and calling for backup. I worked with a chef who used to step behind the line to a dirty cook’s station in the middle of a rush to explain why the offending cook was falling behind. He’d press his palm down on the cutting board, which was littered with peppercorns, spattered sauce, bits of parsley, bread crumbs and the usual flotsam and jetsam that accumulates quickly on a station if not constantly wiped away with a moist side towel. “You see this?” he’d inquire, raising his palm so that the cook could see the bits of dirt and scraps sticking to his chef’s palm. “That’s what the inside of your head looks like now.” — Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Don’t even try to think about what the inside of my head looks like often times when I’m cooking. I’m trying… to keep things “in their place”. Hard work. But I think it pays well if you can get it!!!


The “I hate to clean up Cookbook”

I got the most recent issue of the New Yorker in the mail a few days ago, and finally sat down to enjoy reading it. One article in particular caught my eye. I noticed in the title the words “I hate to clean up Cookbook”. My immediate thought was “wow, my kind of cookbook”. Haven’t you noticed that there are cookbooks that track how much fat is in each dish, or how long it takes to make it, or that each recipe contains no more than five ingredients? I don’t mind using more than five ingredients, or having a recipe take more than 30 minutes to prepare. But I’m a messy cook. And maybe it would be good to have some warning ahead of time that certain recipes will make more of a mess than others. My mother put up with my messy ways when I was growing up, and my husband enjoys my cooking enough that he is willing to clean up after me, but still….It would be nice to get done cooking something and discover the kitchen wasn’t a disaster zone.

So, I opened the magazine and discovered it really was a humor article. I had missed that the title really was “The BP I Hate to Clean Up Cookbook”. Missed that BP part at first, and then realized it was fiction (but then, aren’t most cookbooks when it comes right down to it?).

Here’s an example of a recipe from this article:

Blackened Prawns

This is such a favorite with the guys on the rigs that the running joke is that our company was named after the dish! Believe me, you won’t have leftovers (but, if you do, they’ll last and last).


Prawns. If prawns are extinct, use chicken drumettes.

Enough finely chopped garlic to overcome aroma

1. Coat prawns with garlic. If necessary, use glue gun.

2. Broil. Watch for flareups.

Tip from Chef Tony: Cooking is like playing jazz—there’s no such thing as a mistake.

Really, compared to the mess in the Gulf right now my kitchen is always an absolute island of organization and cleanliness.

poetry in the news

There’s a poem by the former US Poet Laureat Billy Collins called The Country. It conjured up very vivid images when I first read it. Here – you can read it also, or if you’d prefer, listen to an audio version:

The Country

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time –

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

The VFW building in Yakima, Washington recently burned down. The investigation that followed was published in the newspaper with the headline “VFW FIre? Blame the flaming rat”. A fire isn’t funny, but I couldn’t help bursting out into laughter when I read this paragraph:

“The rodent caught fire while gnawing through the electrical wiring of a jukebox, fled back to its nest inside an old piano, where it ignited its nest of combustible material, said Yakima Deputy Fire Marshal Ron Melcher.” Just couldn’t help thinking of Billy Collin’s poem.

Getting old, or getting “cool”?

The latest issue of Sunset magazine had an article about a “retro ranch remodel”. Hey, that sounds kind of neat. I live in a ranch style house. But am not all that sure about the “retro” part. So I read on and discovered that we have several things mentioned in the article as “retro” finds. When we were married, one wedding present was a salad bowl set from Catherine Holmes of Norway (thank you to the Kettunen’s). I loved the design 35 years ago, and still love it.

Imagine my surprise to find that the article specifically mentioned this line of enamel ware in the “where to shop” section.

I continued to read this issue of Sunset magazine and was surprised again to find another mention of a wedding present as something to look for at flea markets… my couroc plate.

So, the question remains… old or cool? And it really doesn’t really matter, as I’ll, as always, continue to keep the things I like no matter what anyone else thinks.

The Big Apple

Am I referring to New York City? That city is known as The Big Apple, isn’t it? No, I’m thinking about the apple that Matt, our R&D summer intern, brought into my office this afternoon. Not quite “an apple for the teacher”, but similar. He had noticed that a bin of fuji apples in our pilot plant had a lot of huge apples in it, and he wanted to show them to me. He’s the son of an orchardist, so he’s familiar with apples. His comment when he handed me the giant apple was that “it’s bigger than a size 40”. Apples are sized by how many fit into a 40 pound box, and the largest commercial size is a 48. I weighed this one at home, and it weighed over a pound, so Matt was correct. Here’s a photo of it next to a one cup measuring cup to give some perspective.

Now, that’s a big apple! Matt then explained how sometimes the first year a tree bears fruit it has giant apples, and there is no retail market for them, since they don’t fit in the standard sizes. So they end up as cull fruit for processing even if they are of very good quality otherwise. We talked, and wondered if farmer’s markets might be a good, higher value market for this kind of giant fruit. I couldn’t resist trying it, and found it tasted great. Just had way more servings than normal!

Back to the other Big Apple. Tree Top, my employer, is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year, and as part of the celebrations is sponsoring a recipe contest that has as the grand prize an all-expense paid trip for two to New York City to attend the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival in October.

So get creative and see what you can do with a big apple. Maybe you’ll win a trip to see the other Big Apple.

I’ve been on island time…..

Back home, and not so ready to return to work as I think I’ve become accustomed to “island time”. We spent the last half week staying on Lopez Island, in the San Juan Islands of Washington state. We biked, hiked and kayaked our way around Lopez and Shaw Island, and just totally relaxed.

What’s the hurry? And what’s the worry? I found myself slipping into the slow pace of the islands. I even quickly picked up the local tradition of the “lopez wave”. Driver’s on Lopez Island wave at other drivers whenever they pass by. Not a “take your hand off the steering wheel and do a beauty pageant wave”. Just a “keep your hands on the wheel and lift a few fingers” greeting. It’s friendly, it’s fun, and it’s a way residents seem to show they take seriously the unofficial title as the San Juans’ friendliest island.

We lucked out and had beautiful weather on the islands after lots of rain earlier in the week. Ah. Hard to return to work after spending time in this kind of setting.

Bread even better!

My sister Becky turned me on to King Arthur Flour’s web site.
I’m glad she did. It’s a great place to get inspiration for baking, and some skills needed to do it right. Becky shared their ciabatta bread recipe, which I’ve made, as has my Uncle Dick. TOG tried the recipe recently, and it came out pretty flat. Yet was still good enough to use with his dipping sauce. He shared it with me, and I want to share it with a broader audience (the other two readers of this blog?). Sound so good that I’m ready to try it out for myself once we return home!

Here’s the recipe for dipping stuff. Not too scientific, just add what you

Herbed Oil For Dipping (Like Carrabba’s)

Yield: 1/2 cup

Prep. Time: 0:05

1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. parsley flakes
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 – 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

-Combine all ingredients, except oil, on a shallow bowl or plate.
-Pour olive oil over.

I used the 1/2 cup of EVOO and watch the red pepper If you don’t want
it too hot.