a nosebleed in phoenix.

(this story started here…)

 

So I woke in my little metal frame bed in Flagstaff to the sounds of a hostel: mummering, zippers zipping, showers turning on, half-asleep bodies moving slowly around. I had done it, I had survived my first night in a hostel. Pretty much boring. For being as personable as I am, there is something about hostels that have always turned me off. I retreat in my shell, I don’t talk to anyone, I put up the wall – at that point I thought it was just because I didn’t understand how it all worked, but this has pretty much remained true throughout my life so far.

I packed my big ass green canvas pack – you know, the kind with a big metal frame and about 100 hanging straps and 35 different pockets. Like this – big, square, made in the early 70s:

green pack

I can still hear the jangle of those metal tipped straps hitting the frame and each other. And I can still feel the intense pain from walking around with it packed full of clothes, shoes, and my discman. I only thought about space, not about weight, when packing for the trip – but that lesson would be learned very soon.

With my green pack and Deltron 3030 on my headphones, I boarded a small bus (more like a large van) slated to take us to Phoenix as the morning dew was drying up. For the next two hours I watched the long pines and lush green change to short brush and dusty brown, and the temperature in the bus went up about 25 degrees. It was my first time in a desert, my first time watching a terrain change so drastically, and my first time in the place my father was born.

My dad was born in a small hospital in Phoenix while my Grandpa was working a saleman job there – a few years later his father, mother, and four siblings all moved up to the temperate and more hospitable suburbs of St. Louis. He doesn’t remember his time living there at all, but it lives on in the legacy of our family.  “Phoenix. That’s the place dad was born.”

My only contact in Phoenix was the biological sister of a friend who had grown up with an adopted family. They had recently reconnected, just before the birth of her second child. I don’t know how or why I thought it would be the best idea to stay with them, these complete strangers and their brand new baby – only that my friend was (and is) one of the most open-hearted and generous people I had ever met, and I assumed I would find them the same.

I called their house from a payphone at the bus station and the boyfriend gave me explicit walking directions, “Go north one block, our street is about eleven blocks down on the left. We are the fourth house from the corner, the door on the right.” Twelve blocks!!! What luck! In a few short minutes I would be delivered from the Phoenix heat to the open arms of some complete strangers, Huzzah!

What I didn’t know were two things: (a) Phoenix heat was in no way like St. Louis heat and (b) 12 Phoenix blocks was a whole lot bigger than 12 St. Louis blocks.

St. Louis’s thermostat generally tops off around 95 on really bad days, and though there is no escape from the humidity, you would almost always find your path crossed by the shade of a few of the 1000’s of trees in the Greater Metropolitan Area. Phoenix was hotter, dryer, and sunnier. I don’t think they even have trees there.

I trudged my first block with the 55 pound (oh, I weighed it later that night) pack on my back and many many curse words in my mouth, realizing it was the longest block I had ever experienced. By block four I was sweating profusely, getting a little dizzy, and sort of freaking out. Well, this must have shown on my face because moms in SUV’s started pulling up and asking if I wanted a ride.

I refused them, out of my “don’t get in a car with a stranger” policy. But for cripes sake!! What was wrong with me!?! They were nice soccer moms with big hearts. Many of them couldn’t believe I said no and stared at me shaking their heads as I walked away. I guess they knew just how dangerous that heat could be – I had no idea.

Finally I reached the house, parched but still conscious.

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Their little apartment was littered with toys, rightfully so – a thing I didn’t mind and was actually quite used to from having younger siblings. Their place boasted an outdoor pool and beautiful citrus trees growing all around – these trees and this pool provided the only good memories of my short time in Phoenix.

So I had a plan for my first full day in Phoenix:

-repack my pack and send home what I didn’t need, because I HAD to lighten the load

-go up to see a culinary school in Scottsdale (…I think it was the Arizona Culinary Institute)

I marked the first thing off my list fairly quickly, then on to the second – without the aid of GPS, the internet, or even a cell phone. How did I do it?!? I’m pretty sure I purchased a map and got a bus schedule. Weird huh? Armed with my guidance tools and a bottle of water, I hit the road.

It was another sweltering, insanely hot and sunny day in Lovely Arizona. No, really, Phoenix is a dusty bowl in the desert:

phoenix

I thought the phrase “fry and egg on the side walk” was funny and appropriate in St. Louis – oh no! it was meant for this little piece of hell.

While waiting for the bus I discovered the trick of spitting water on the ground and watching it IMMEDIATELY evaporate. It was cool! It was scary.

I boarded the bus with a few dusty people – no, really, they had dust on them – and found a seat near a Latino grandma. The foreign architecture rolled past the big bus windows. It was like Phoenix was made up of crappy apartment buildings from the 70’s. Ugly siding and nothing higher than four stories. Growing up in St. Louis and spending most of my time in the middle states, I had never seen a city that was so young before, one that wasn’t built around grand turn-of-the-century stone buildings with broad walkways, giant iron gates, and majestic spires.

Then the bus stopped. And wouldn’t start again. So we all sat in the sweltering oven of a bus until another one showed up. Then, a few blocks later, that bus stopped. And wouldn’t start again. As I exited the second broken-down bus my nose began to bleed, bright red blood trickled down my chin onto my shirt and hands. I am assuming this was from the intense arid climate and dust. Either way, it was the awful icing on a shit cake.

At this point I was officially freaked out and very hungry, so I walked to a nearby Chinese Restaurant with tissue in my nostrils and tried to drown my sorrows in some fried rice. BUT no one warns you that Chinese food tastes different in other parts of the country – I mean it all comes from China, right?! I choked down my weird “Chinese” food and defeated, deflated, tired, and very hot I got on a bus going back to that little apartment with the pool.

I never made it to that culinary school in Scottsdale.

I have never gone back to Phoenix either.

from the beginning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I got here, (whatever “here” is: in Washington, in this small town, cooking in someone else’s kitchen, an author, a blogger, a chef) and been feeling like I want to explore the stories that brought me to this point.

It’s hard from me to do this chronologically – because I don’t think the human mind really works that way – but I will start back in the day.

A few weeks ago, I rode the Amtrak from Seattle to Portland and many memories were jostled inside my head. Mostly regarding the trip I took, when I was young and wide-eyed 19, around the country via the train in search of the right cooking school. Now, this sounds MUCH more poetic than it really was. I was actually just an anxious kid looking for a way to get out of the small town I grew up in. It should be noted that I never actually visited any schools during my month long trip.

Somewhere in my young life I heard about the Amtrak Rail Pass (still in existence, but a little different now) where you could ride as many trains as you wanted in a 30 day period for about $600. Seemed pretty damn epic at the time, actually it still seems pretty epic. Unlike the Euro Rail Pass, I couldn’t just hop on any ole train any ole time – I had to plan out my trip ahead of time and then get all the tickets printed out. But….I could change the tickets at any time during my trip. So really, effectively, I could get on any ole train any ole time.

+++++

The first leg of my journey began through the Southwest – on the Southwest Chief. I got a sleeping car for this 27 hour trip (thank god) because of a slip up from gentleman that printed my tickets. It was the longest, and most comfortable, hours in a row that I would be on a train for the whole trip. After that I would master the art of taking up two seats to sleep across or finding a comfortable corner of the sightseeing car.

The sleeping car was more like a closet with two seats and a tiny table – flanked by a sliding door, and a huge window. Not a spacious and beautiful room you saw in old movies.

northbynorthwest2

At night an attendant came and pulled down a bed from the ceiling, making my sleeping spot, basically, a little metal train coffin that rocked back and forth all night. Truly one of the weirdest nights of sleep I’ve ever had.

+++++

The first major stop on the line was Albuquerque. It was a “stretch-your-legs-and-have-a-cigarette” kinda stop. So I wandered off the train and around the rosy pink Spanish colonial style building, where native people were selling jewelry and wares as they must have been doing for quite sometime.

FHAlbuquerque

This was my first time being in the Southwest and I had momentary culture shock, I certainly felt like I was in another country. The people, the buildings, the air – everything was so different. A little loopy, I hopped back on the train and we headed towards my stop: Flagstaff.

Flagstaff was actually just a way-station to my first real destination, Phoenix – but the train didn’t go that far south, so it required a short trip on a bus. I stayed a night in Flagstaff.

This little college town afforded me my first hostel experience, my first time in the mountains, and my first night on a long and mostly solo journey through the States and Canada.

As I laid extremely stiff in my tiny hard bunk bed, sore from a far too heavy pack and long walk, I thought, “Well, I guess this is it.”

 

 (the story continues here…)

Spring Events.

My events coming up in St. Louis and Grand Rapids.
Come buy my book, Take a class, and Shake my hand!!! I would love to see you.

Shop Like a Chef - A Food Lover's Guide to St. Louis Neighborhoods

Spring has officially Sprung and we will be making our rounds with the book, cooking class, and lots of other fun events!!

Please join in St. Louis and Grand Rapids for all the food and fun.

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ST. LOUIS

May 18, 2014 – 10:30am-3pm Book and Mustard Sales at The Kitchen Speakeasy

My Orange House (3100 Potomac, 63118)

May 20, 20142pm Presentation and Book Signing

Grand Glaize Branch Library (1010 Meramec Station Rd, 63021)

May 22, 201411am-2pmCheese Making Class

My Orange House (3100 Potomac, 63118)

GRAND RAPIDS

May 27, 2014 – Radio Interview

May 28, 20147pm Fundraiser “Iron Chef” for Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra

The Ambassador Ballroom at the Amway Grand (187 Monroe NW, 49503)

May 29, 20146pmVegetarian Comfort Foods Class

Downtown Market (435 Ionia Ave SW, 49503)

May 30, 20146pmVegMex Class

Downtown Market (435…

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Holy Granoly.

Most of my life I’ve been like, “What’s the big deal about granola!?” Even when we made it at Local Harvest, I thought “this is good, but….I don’t get it.”

Until recently when I couldn’t afford $4 boxes of cereal (and frankly didn’t want to eat that sugar laden, preservative filled, GMO’d stuff) and needed another option. Once I made my own granola, I was blown away by how delicious it was. Maybe because I made it myself, or maybe because I took care in choosing the ingredients – but whatever it was, I hadn’t eaten granola so satisfying before.

Since I started making granola in my own kitchen, I can’t stop eating the stuff. And I can change the flavor as much as I like and I control the ingredients completely. After about five months of eating it, I’m not sick of it yet.

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Granola is simple. Generally it is just oats (old fashioned rolled oats – not instant or steel cut) and nuts, covered in a mixture of sweet (sugar, molasses, honey) and fat (oil, butter) then baked for a short time. I recently made three different granolas, to show you the range of fats and sugars you can use – as well as the different things you can throw in, from nuts to dried fruit. These recipes yield a very small amount of granola, I usually make about 3 or 4 times this much and it lasts for at least a month in an airtight container.

The basics of granola making are: heat sugar and oil mixture (with other flavors if you desire), stir into oats and nuts, spread on cookie sheet(s) and bake at 250 – 300 degrees for about an hour, mixing and rotating often. Once it has cooled, mix in dried fruits, chocolate, or anything else you want to use raw.

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Honey Butter Granola

This is a light granola with a subtle flavor, the honey gives it just a slight sweetness.

1/2 c honey

4 Tbl butter

1/2 tsp vanilla

pinch of salt

2 c oats

1/2 c pecans (raw and chopped)

1/4 c sunflower seeds (I used roasted, but you can use raw)

1. Place honey, butter, vanilla, and salt in a small pot – heat until butter is melted and everything is combined.

2. Place oats, pecans, and sunflower seeds into a bowl – stir in honey butter mixture.

3. Once well mixed, spread onto cookie sheets in a thin layer and place into a 250 degree oven.

4. Turn pans stir granola every 20 minutes for an hour. The granola will still seem soft, but once it dries it will harden into perfectly crunchy granola.

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Molasses Hazelnut Granola

This is a darker granola, with a richer flavor. I love using unsulphured molasses for it’s complicated flavor and it nutrients. Reminds me of gingerbread a little bit. 

1/4 c brown sugar

2 Tbl unsulphured blackstrap molasses

2 Tbl grapeseed oil

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

2 c oats

1/2 c hazelnuts (chopped)

1/4 c flax seeds

 

1. Place brown sugar, molasses, oil, cinnamon, and salt in a small pot – heat until everything is combined.

2. Place oats, hazelnuts, and flax seeds into a bowl – stir in sugar oil mixture.

3. Once well mixed, spread onto cookie sheets in a thin layer and place into a 300 degree oven.

4. Turn pans stir granola every 20 minutes for an hour. The granola will still seem soft, but once it dries it will harden into perfectly crunchy granola.

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Super Seed Granola

This is called Super Seed, not only because I used a couple different kinds of seeds, but I also used a Garden of Life product called Super Seed to add flavor and fiber to this granola. This granola uses coconut oil and agave, giving it an interesting flavor.

*Note: you can replace the 1/4 c brown sugar with 1/4 c agave.

1/4 c brown sugar

2 Tbl coconut oil

2 Tbl agave

pinch of salt

2 c oats

1/4 c Super Seed

1/4 c sesame seeds

2 Tbl pinenuts

1/4 c pepitas

1. Place brown sugar, agave, coconut oil, and salt in a small pot – heat until everything is combined.

2. Place oats, Super Seed,sesame seeds, pine nuts, and pepitas into a bowl – stir in agave oil mixture.

3. Once well mixed, spread onto cookie sheets in a thin layer and place into a 250 degree oven.

4. Turn pans stir granola every 20 minutes for an hour. The granola will still seem soft, but once it dries it will harden into perfectly crunchy granola.

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Go crazy! Try anything! Let me know how it works out.

And if you don’t want to make your own, Sarah Kate makes amazing granola for sale various times of the year – I suggest getting yourself a bag (she evens ships it).

make your own crackers.

For the love of trying to do everything myself (and the necessity of not having very much money) I ventured into cracker territory about a month ago. What resulted was delicious, pretty easy, and lasted for a long time (like three weeks in an airtight container).

My favorite part is: the resulting cracker was just a blank slate for whatever I wanted to sprinkle on top – like sesame seeds, flax seeds, poppy seeds, cracked pepper, cracked mustard, parmesan, rosemary, garlic, and on and on.

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The dough is easy enough to make:

(for a fairly big batch, feel free to cut it in half)

3 c flour

2 Tbl sugar

2 Tbl salt

4 Tbl oil (any kind really)

1 c warm water

Just mix in sugar and salt with flour, throw in oil and warm water and mix!!! Once all incorporated, knead for a few minutes. Then you will have this:

Your ball of dough. If you use the entire recipe, you should separate your dough into 4 balls.

Your ball of dough. If you use the entire recipe, you should separate your dough into 4 balls.

Cut each ball into 6 pieces.

Cut each ball into 6 pieces.

Put pieces on a lightly floured surface and roll.

Put pieces on a lightly floured surface and roll.

Roll until it is paper thin. No, really....paper thin - it's not that hard and it's the difference between crisp and chewy crackers.

Roll until it is paper thin. No, really….paper thin – it’s not that hard and it’s the difference between crisp and chewy crackers.

Slide rolled dough onto a pan.

Slide rolled dough onto a pan. (Not pictured: Be sure to prick the dough with a fork all over (docking), you’ll see why later.)

Cut into strips (a pizza roller works best).

Cut into strips (a pizza roller works best).

Cut the other direction.

Cut the other direction.

Bake at 450 for just 5-10 minutes, or until the crackers are nice and golden.

Bake at 450 for just 5-10 minutes, or until the crackers are nice and golden.

Below are the difference between the dough that has been docked (pricked with a fork) and the dough that wasn’t:

Crackers without docking (being pricked with a fork). They are all puffy and uneven.

Crackers without docking (being pricked with a fork). They are all puffy and uneven.

Crackers that were docked. Nice and flat and much crisper with an even brown.

Crackers that were docked. Nice and flat and much crisper with an even brown.

 

Crackers for Everyone

makes about 100 small crackers

3 c flour

2 Tbl sugar

2 Tbl salt

4 Tbl oil (any kind really)

1 c warm water

1.Preheat oven to 450.

2. Mix dry ingredients (flour, salt, and sugar) in a large bowl.

3. Pour in oil and warm water, mix with a fork until the liquid is incorporated.

4. Mix with your hands until the dough is uniform, and then knead for at least 2 minutes.

5. Separate dough into 4 balls, and let dough rest for about 10 minutes (if it is dry, you might want to place a damp towel over the dough).

6. Cut each dough ball into 6 pieces.

7. Roll out each piece on a lightly floured surface until paper thin.

8. Slide the rolled dough onto a tray, dock the dough with a fork, and cut into the size crackers you want.

9. Place into oven for 5 minutes, rotate the tray and cook for another 5 minutes. Check and keep cooking until the crackers are golden brown. They may be a little soft when they come out, but as they cool – they will crisp nicely.

(Note: if you want to add toppings, I usually wet the dough with egg or water (using a pastry brush or small spoon) after step 8. Then I sprinkle whatever I want on top (sesame seeds, salt, poppy seeds, flax seeds, etc).

 

Crackers!!!

Crackers!!!