Update: Discovering Cascadia From a Land Afar


It is no secret that I have failed to update the Cascadian Kitchen in quite some time.  Two life events have transpired that have impacted my attention to this food blog, which have left me uncertain about how to adapt.  First, I started law school in 2014.  Second, I moved away from Seattle to Los Angeles.  I won’t dwell on how these two events have “taken away” my time; rather, I would like to briefly talk about how I’ve discovered that being a Cascadian “foodie” during law school in Southern California may not be impossible.

The cuisine of the Pacific Northwest, I have come to realize, is as much about what it is and how it is as it is about who it is.  By that, I mean we are interested in where our food comes from, how it came to be there, who brought it to us, and what sorts of changes it underwent through its cycle.  This is evident in grocery stores that indicate which products are “local” or name the farmer of particular seasonal produce; this is also evident in the menus of especially up-and-coming restaurants.

We love the various identities of our food–from the 800-degree wood-burning pizzeria oven to the Caribbean-spiced pulled-pork sandwiches to the steaming, fragrant broth of ramen or pho.  We love how our food regenerates, from the crudités of a fresh summer salad, to the roasted caramelization of an autumn Brussels sprout, to the fermented cabbage of some wintery kimchi.  We love the ugly and the tossed-out and the oft-ignored features of our food, embracing a dish with offal or all-out digging up the relics of the past, from heirlooms to old-fashioned curing techniques.

It is these features about who we are as eaters that makes–at least, for me–living and visiting the Pacific Northwest so fun.  It is what makes being a Cascadian feel so special.  Then, I went to law school, moved away and felt utterly disconnected from that.  Of course, I still cooked my salmon on cedar planks and made my own jams.  But it was with the somber habit of an exile.  It was as if the Cascadian food scene were an island and I was an ocean away from its fruits and bounty.

Then I started seeing Cascadia around me.  Suddenly, Costco (yes, Costco!) began selling wild Pacific Northwest chanterelle mushrooms; Portland-based ice cream innovators Salt & Straw popped up in Larchmont (then came Blue Star Donuts, and all along Pok Pok was here); and, then, Stumptown Coffee had trouble keeping their Hair Bender blend on the shelves at, like, the one store (albeit, it’s Whole Foods) that carries them.  Could it be true that Cascadia was exporting its own identity to Michelin-starry Los Angeles?

I don’t know.  But I like what I’m seeing.  I like what I’m tasting.  What this means for Cascadian Kitchen is still unknown.  I just wanted to tell you–and myself–that it is entering a new chapter.  I am rehabilitating my Cascadian foodieness, but with a fresh perspective, wiping away the rain and squinting with the sun in my eyes.  Isn’t this sort of transformation necessary?  Isn’t this also the nature of our food and how we relate to it?  I sure hope so.

The Christof Manheim Burger

Grilled, Meat, Pork, Sandwiches, Sauces & Spreads

Christof Manheim Burger

Makes 4 burgers

I have been fretting lately about my city’s inexcusable lack of interesting food inspired by German cuisine.  For those German bars that serve up pretzels with eight separate mustards, ich libe dich, but sometimes I need to swoon over more than your flat palettes of yellows and browns.  I’m not expecting anything like The Generator (although, Philadelphia, you’re not doing so badly, yourself), but, come on, Germans were some of the earliest immigrants to the Pacific Northwest, and yet we struggle to incorporate their food traditions into our own, insisting on keeping them separate from the others, like some black sheep we don’t want mingling with our prized flock.  We hide them in stained-wood bars, below the sidewalk, or at the bottom of menus.

Well, not today.  It’s sunny today, so I decided to barbecue.  In the fridge are jars of curried sauerkraut I made back in December when the green cabbage was sweet and crisp.  But, since January, I’ve hardly touched the stuff.  You see, I too have been struggling to incorporate the German food into my diet, even that one that’s insanely good for you.  I guess that fermented cabbage never sounds good with black beans or salad or pizza.

Then it hit me: I was making the same excuses as my city.  Well, guess what? Sauerkraut is not meant for only sausages and potatoes!  And, if you give me a chance, I’ll show you why…

Korean BBQ Salmon


korean bbq salmon 02

After more than a year of saving, Lori and I finally went on our big trip to Scandinavia. We were dormant and passive about it for so long that the whole thing seemed unreal, a work-life fantasy fossilized in amber. You know how it is when routine has you so locked in as to convince you that it will never diminish. It’s both horrible and just fine.

Then it happened. We jetted away on a red-eye to Reykjavik, dropped into Iceland on a brand new day, sleepless and literally hurting for coffee. For the next two weeks, we defied every habit our routine had hammered into us. We stayed out until the sun came up (except that it never went down, but transformed into twilight and twilight transformed into morning). We walked and walked and walked until our legs stewed. We spoke in Norwegian, Lori with finesse and me with a difficult-to-place Scottish-ish accent. We ate mammals previously forbidden and seafood previously rotten. Most remarkably, we broke the routine, came out guns smoking. Take that, work-life.

It’s ironic, then, after returning from Scandinavia, that my first post is Korean BBQ salmon. I wish I could tell you how inspired I was by Scandinavian takes on world cuisine (I was, once) or how Stockholm’s immigrant community lured me away from meatballs and anchovies (it did, a couple times). I wish I could call this a mash-up of traditional Norwegian craft mixed with West Coast style (I guess I could, but I could say something better on this about the IPAs).

Nah, this is just comfort food. Sticky, napkin-soaking, spicy, charred comfort food. And after traveling for weeks and not being able to cook a meal with my fiance, this was all I wanted on a hot and breezy late-summer day back in Seattle. Yeah, I might be taking a poke at fish balls or fish cakes or cardamom infusions soon (stay tuned for waffles!), but, right now, all I want is to enjoy being back in the routine we worked so hard to briefly dismantle.


Arugula Pesto

Sauces & Spreads, Vegetables

arugula pesto 02

Lori and I are preparing to leave for a couple weeks. Just about everything is done. Even the weather has taken a turn for the worse, so I don’t feel so bad about leaving Seattle in the summer. I was feeling sort of guilty because one of the places we’re going to is colder and rainier than Seattle. (Yes, it turns out there is such a place. And, no, it’s not Olympia.)

But there is still some food we need to eat or preserve. We go through pains to use food, me probably more so. I think I am just more fearless when it comes to eating old food. That’s how I’ve fortified my gut against bacteria like Mithradates protected himself against poison. (Except that one time in Syria, but that was Syria!!)

Arugula was one of those foods. But how do you preserve arugula? You can freeze it, but then you have to blanch it and pack it and–eew, I have to stop myself. A better way is by whizzing it into pesto. Arugula can be dangerous, though, in amounts too high, like cilantro. It gets bitter.

We went for it, anyway, and the result was amazing, like arugula essence but with tact and self-awareness and manners. Walnuts keep the arugula grounded; parsley takes off some of the edge.

Warm Pasta Salad with Crab & Heirloom Beans

Beans, Pasta, Seafood

pasta salad crab 04

Why do hummingbirds hum?

This was the question put forth by a young girl to her mother a couple days ago. I overheard the question while I was eating lunch. It was casual and, most likely, the girl asked it to ask it, nothing but playful chatter.

Because they forgot the words.

This was the mother’s response. It was simple, unexpected, playful, and it contented the curious girl. Then they were gone in a flight to the parking lot, as quickly as a hummingbird at a feeder of nectar.

When I saw these dragon tongue beans at the store, I knew I had to cook with them. Seasonal heirlooms? How could I not? But I also knew I had some crab sitting in the fridge. Then I was reminded of this little Q&A.

The little girl’s innocent, loaded question, which she conjured from her busy imagination, represented something meaningful to me: the quest to discover the world. We have different ways of doing this. One of mine is this food blog. I have said it before, but a sense of pioneerism in food is important to me, as I believe it is in Cascadia, especially in relation to the food we grow ourselves.

When farmers take the chance on these heirlooms, they are doing at least two things: taking a chance on the success of a tradition, and taking the chance on giving up some share of an established produce market in hopes of satisfying some demand for this tradition.

But we oughtn’t consume heirlooms merely because they are different or seasonal or to support our local farmers (but these are fine reasons, indeed). Our motivation ought to be more atavistic than that. Yes, heirlooms are engineered by humans, and, yes, if we go back far enough, we can trace them to a wild ancestor. If anything, heirlooms are celebrations of farmers and gardeners. They also represent the way growers adapt often foreign plants to domestic climates and soil conditions, making the most of the land, and concentrating it all in a single bite. It is no coincidence, after all, that inhabitants of the region that produces most of the world’s cabbage seed also consume so much kale. Tradition is food and food is land. The three are symbiotic.

Does it matter the hum of the hummingbird keeps it still and suspended in the air, or that the same hum keeps a Dutch wax bean hanging in the pink-purple Cascadian sun, or keeps the crabs crawling across the rocky crevices of the Salish Sea?

Unless you forgot the words, you decide.

Grilled Summer Squash with Pistachio and Balsamic Reduction

Tapas, Vegetables

grilled squash 02

I admire food bloggers who regularly maintain their blogs. Their dedication inspires me. At least, it inspires the ambitious and more optimistic half of me. Because the other half, looming distrustfully by, is convinced that recipes become recycled, Ingredient A, Subset A, swapped out for Ingredient A, Subset B. This darker half of me slinks around a contentless blog and mumbles and mutters about the heroism in originality.

But then the optimistic half, with his hibiscus breath, interjects and says originality is not the end, but one mean, among other means, to the ultimate end of satisfaction. Shadow Half, sardonic as he is, snaps back and asks with this schmuckish grin, “The satisfaction of what, the eyes?” Rainbow Half is unfazed. He puts his finger over Shadow’s lips and asks, “Don’t we eat with those, anyway?” I mean, it’s indulgent and horrible. A whole platonic dialogue unfolds.

Meanwhile, this poor, dejected blog sits like an alder under the moss, becoming more and more lost in the thousands of other food blogs, everyday more inaccessible and less significant, blending into grey, hyperlinked connectionlessness. Just wait. You’ll see it happen sometime around autumn, when school starts, a teenage seaside love affair that dissolves into the equinox.

For now, the love affair remains aloft. And many of these summer nights have me in front of my tiny Weber grill on my tiny balcony cooking tiny portions. I’ve discovered this love of barely warm, freshly cooked food. In fact, I’d argue this might best be served at room temperature, after the salt has brought out the juices from within, and the sweet balsamic has begun marinating into the fruit. You know, at that point in the late-night phone call, inhibitions down some, when the conversation really gets saucy.

Seattle-Style Dungeness Crab Roll

Sandwiches, Seafood

seattle crab rolls 03

I know, I know, I’ve been posting a lot of crab recipes. OK, only three now. But it’s for a very good reason. The harvest has been excellent this season. It might just be because it’s the beginning of it, but I’d rather not question it. Regardless, I’m finally able to make all these recipes I’ve hoped to try.

A few years ago, my brother and I took a road trip through New England. We ended up driving north to Maine, in part because of the legendary lobster rolls. We drove out to the craggy edge of the Atlantic and ate at The Lobster Shack.

The lobster roll satisfied every love of both trashy, fatty food and refined, culinary delicacies we had. It was one part goop and another part luxury, a richness in every sense of the word.

When I returned, I cooked a lobster and made some bisque. With the leftover meat, I made lobster rolls. I even began writing a post for them. Yeah, they were good. Yeah, they were trashy. Of course they were luxurious. But something was missing. Something didn’t feel right. I felt like an… imposter.

I thought long and hard about it. Every ingredient seemed right: a piece of white bread folded in half, a mound of red lobster meat, mayonnaise, paprika, salt. Probably a pickle, too. Nothing. My heart just wasn’t in it.

Then it occurred to me that lobster was the wrong crustacean. It was crab I wanted to try. Crab, after all, is home.

Crab and Arugula Pizza

Pizza, Seafood

crab arugula pizza 05

When I was a boy, my dad boycotted the local pizza delivery chain. I don’t remember why, but it lasted for years. Maybe he felt slighted or overcharged. Whatever it was, the boycott created some problems for us.

First, we weren’t the type of family to make their own pizza. Also, we didn’t stop eating it. No, our demand was too high. My brother and I would have colluded against him and started a mutiny. Pizza was that important. And, lastly, pizza was one of those dinners that forced us to eat together. We couldn’t take our portions and run off. All of us had to sit around the thing, usually with a rental video playing, and devour it slice by slice. It was sort of a cohesive.

The endearing thing about pizza is that many of us have some emotion attached to it, some memory that resurfaces at its baked aroma, or some colorful association to a brand or look.

See, we took pizza seriously. My dad, a Jersey boy, imported his East Coast pizza idealism, and stuck hard to it:

NO PINEAPPLE! Period. End of story. He said that fruit didn’t belong on pizza. (Maybe the pizza chain accidentally sent us a Hawaiian?)

THIN CRUST, THIN CRUST! No one should ever deign to eat pizza with a fork. Never.

ANCHOVIES! And lots of them. It’s called flavor, kids.

The only trouble was, in the suburban area we lived, thousands of miles from real pizza pies, most people wanted the exact opposite. There was one pizzeria (I’ll never forget the “NO PINEAPPLE SERVED HERE” sign and the uncompromising New York owner), but it moved far, far away.

We jumped around from one mediocre pizzeria to the other. When we were really lucky, we traveled to the city to have traditional thin crust. I don’t know whether I preferred that to the commercial, conveyor-belt-oven pizza, but I admired my dad’s enthusiasm.

I never questioned his stalwart tastes, but now I understand them more. He had his own attachments. Memories of his own boyhood, of folding slices of pizza and scarfing them down with friends and family. Pizza, a circle, is beautiful and simply communal, and the larger the pie, the greater the community that can share it.

This pizza is a moment between my girlfriend and me, it’s a memory with my family, it’s the memory of my father, and of my mother with her parents, it’s the memory of my brother, of all of our endless memories of pizza and crab.

And now here I am, about to share a recipe, thinking of these memories, coming full-circle myself. Why is food so dear? It’s always, always a little bit of discovery and recollection, isn’t it?

I wanted to write a more succinct and useful introduction. But all you get is this verbiage. If you decide to boycott me, at least this time I’ll know why.

Andrew’s Watermelon Fresco

Fruit, Salads

watermelon fresco 02

I have to confess that I don’t eat enough fruit. I blame chocolate, of course. When my sugar craving kicks in, it’s easiest to reach for the chocolate bar. I also blame cookies. But that’s another confession altogether.

So, when Andrew and Lamai came over for a crab boil, I made sure to have some dark chocolate tucked away in the freezer. You know, in case of an emergency. But the only time that freezer door ever opened was to shock the crab in ice.

As it turns out, this summer’s watermelon is dazzlingly sweet. Has it always been this sweet and I’ve been fooled by the chocolatiers, or did something change?

Anyway, Andrew threw this chilled watermelon salad together in a few minutes. It’s so darned easy to make that its convenience just might rival chocolate. Its juiciness and brilliance, on the other hand, don’t even compare.