If it wasn't for my mother...

On Thursday evening I had the honor of joining 14 other aspiring food writers at the home of Diane Morgan. An award-winning cookbook author and freelance food writer, Diane resides in Portland and hosts a yearly six-week course on The Art of Food Writing. I was lucky enough to jump at the opportunity when a former high school classmate and fellow food blogger, Keith, put the bug in my ear that Diane was registering attendees. The first night proved to be interesting, entertaining, and inspiring as the group did the classic round table of who we were, why we were there, and what we wanted for our paths to becoming food writers. We also received an in-depth, live biography of Diane's road through the industry. I am eager to embark on the remaining five classes of learning and developing and watching as all of our skills grow.

Diane wasted no time with a few exercises. One was focused on the art of recipe writing, which was an assignment due for the next class. But the first was a five-minute, free-writing exercise. I've done free-writing exercises in the past and for some reason always seem to forget how helpful they are when my mind is stuck or I'm avoiding my laptop surrounded by books and an abundance of topics that I could write about. Pick a topic, any topic, and with the five minutes that follow, write whatever comes to mind without stopping or critiquing any possible spelling or grammar errors. Diane gave us a topic, 'If it wasn't for my mother...' and then started the clock. Below is what I wrote...

If it wasn't for my mother, I would have never received the wonderful attention I received today at FOODday for bringing in her famous peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I remember Allen asking me last week what my favorite childhood recipe was. I told hm it was probably my mom's, her "Mrs. Fields", cookies. I promised Allen I would bring them in. Days past and I finally gathered all of the ingredients I needed. Last night I composed the batter, but waited until this morning to bake them. I wanted the cookies to be fresh and in their absolute best light; for this was their day to shine, and in a sense, my mom's day to shine at one of Portland's most well-respected authorities on food. So I popped them in the oven at 9:15am and carefully stood by for the nine minutes of baking. They were each perfectly uniform and looked like heaven. (End of five-minute free-write, but I decided to continue on this morning...)

The smell was just as I remembered when my mom used to make them; warm semi-sweet chocolate chips, brown sugar, vanilla, and creamy peanut butter. What more could you want on a cold winter day? And still today, just as when I was a kid, it's incredibly tough for me to refrain from nibbling on the remaining cooking dough sitting in the bowl, waiting for its time in the oven. I tell everyone that, in my opinion, the dough is the best part. By the time the cookies are done, I've had so much of the decadent cookie dough that I have no need for an actual cookie. And lucky for those in the newsroom, that was the case yesterday. I did two-and-a-half sheet pans, yielding 35 cookies. For some reason, three came out a bit more toasty than the others so those stayed behind, about five went to my good friend and artist of my freshly sculpted eyebrows, Ingrid, so that left about 27 for the paper. I placed all 27 on one of my new, white, square plates with the rounded edges and carefully wrapped them with two layers of plastic wrap. The plate slid perfectly inside my Culinate cloth grocery bag and were ready for the trip to the transit center, a ride on the Max, and the walk from Pioneer Courthouse Square up Broadway to 1320 SW Broadway.

When I arrived in the kitchen Allen was heating up his lunch in one of the microwaves. "Allen, I have something for you today," I said and carefully placed the bag on the counter. I was a bit hesitant to bring them out too quickly, though. Why? The day prior I had chatted with Mike Davis, photo editor for the Oregonian. Mike often times doubles as the actual photographer and shoots many of the shots featured in FOODday and MIX magazine. I had an idea. "How cool would it be for my mom to have a couple of stylized photos of her famous cookies?" I asked him with a look on my face that most likely resembled that of a five-year-old little girl asking her father for the doggy in the window. Mike immediately agreed the idea would be a great one. So before announcing the arrival of the cookies to the newsroom I was glad when Mike walked into the kitchen for another photoshoot planned for the day. While Linda and Danielle discussed the recipes for the "real" photoshoot, I asked Mike if he wanted to "warm up" and shoot some photos of the cookies. He, of course, said yes, and we snuck into a corner of the studio to shoot. It is amazing what the magic of a camera, and cameraman, can do. The cookies are delectable on their own, but with a few clicks and minor adjustments to the cookies, Mike took them to a new level of stardom.

And one for the dunkers; catching the actual drop coming off the cookie...go Mike!

And I'm glad Mike got the shots. Once word spread that they were in the kitchen, they were being gobbled by the second, and after a quick walk through the newsroom, they were gone for good. And Allen nearly lost his chance, too, but snagged one just in the nick of time.

Now as most food bloggers always supply recipes for their sweet and savory creations, I must refrain. This is my mother's recipe and it's always been her wish that it stays in the family...sorry. Maybe someday she'll decide to send it out to the rest of the world, but that will be her decision. For me, it's not my recipe to give out; I guess I'm just lucky to be in the family!
Thanks, mom, and all the mom's out there who create those special, one-of-a-kind goodies that last from childhood and beyond.



Hail the Parsnip!

As you may have guessed by now, Tuesdays are my new favorite day. Well, Saturdays will always be first, but when it comes to weekdays, Tuesdays are now it. I've gotten out of my late-night routine of slaving away over hot, gas stoves in the kitchens at school and not hitting my pillow until the wee hours of 12:00 or 1:00am, to now rising at 5:00am for a 5:30am spinning class. The mornings prove to be cold and dark, but I love the feeling of being able to hear a pin drop as I go out to my car and head off to the gym. The sense of being up before the rest of the world and getting that much-needed workout done before 6:30am is always worth getting up for. And greeting my fellow spinners in class is an added bonus.

My other reason for loving Tuesdays? When I get home from class I know I'll be able to open up the paper to find recipes I've helped cook for shaping stories in the day's FOODday. My favorite recipes in today's edition? Parsnips! They're my new favorite vegetable. A root vegetable, parsnips have a visual appearance of white carrots and carry a sweet flavor to them. Linda and I couldn't get enough of the Roasted Parsnips with Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary. Wow. They were a delectable surprise hot from the oven as Mike so gracefully shot for the photo on page FD3. And let me tell you, they were even delicious cold out of the refrigerator the next day! It may be due to the cold weather, or maybe it's the fact that it really is easy to make at home, but soups are hot on my list of favorite foods to curl up with right now. The Parsnip, Carrot and Ginger Soup concoction is another hit. The sweetness of the parsnips with a little punch of the carrots and sherry vinegar make it a savory bowl to carry in your palms on these incredibly chilly days we're experiencing in Portland. Lastly, the Heidi's Parsnip Muffins were a sweet treat for skeptics out in the newsroom. When a few voices in the photo department heard I was testing muffins made with grated parsnips, their faces became covered with looks of disgust. "Well, think of a carrot muffin, or carrot cake," I told them, and their faces came back to normalcy. Like Linda and I were with the roasted parsnips this group was with the muffins. They're perfect, and like everything else, are just delicious. And you can still feel good about them as they're made with vegetables! I stopped by the store on my way home from work last night to pick up my bunch of parsnips, and I highly suggest you hop to it and get yourself a bag as well. If you try any of the recipes, let me know what you think!

Savory waffles? No warm maple syrup, no fruit compote, no whipped cream? Yeah, that's sort of what we thought when Grant approached us to come up with some toppings for the increasingly popular food. Once we opened our minds a bit, though, Linda, Grant and I couldn't stop coming up with savory items to add to them. "Ok, so think of just about anything you can top a pizza with," I said to the two as the idea was beginning to make the wheels in my mind spin. Later that afternoon, Linda and I could have honestly sat at her PC for hours thinking of different items to top on the buttermilk and cornmeal-filled goodies. It's fun once you get going. I've promised more than one friend a Sunday brunch at my place for a while now. I must get it on the calendar, for now I have something unique to play with! A "Savory Waffle Sunday Brunch?" Yum!

Yes, it's cold out, but be sure to enjoy the gorgeous clear blue sky and bright sunshine welcoming the city on this Tuesday.



Fun stuff at FOODday

Be sure to check out the FOODday section in today's Oregonian. I began my externship in the test kitchen at the paper a little over a week ago. On my first day, I was thrown into the middle of preparing fruit compote and measure out ingredients of some fabulous smoothies for a photoshoot. I have to admit, it's fun for me to see shots of both on the cover of today's edition!

Try the oatmeal, it truly is wonderful. I just finished my own bowl of re-heated steel-oats moments ago. I take the already prepared oatmeal out of my refrigerator and add 1/2 cup of it to a pot with 1/4 cup water and bring it to a simmer. For a little added flavor I add about one teaspoon of vanilla, and since I don't have anymore fruit compote left, I've been chopping up two dried figs and two dried apricots to throw into the pot at the end. The fruit adds such a nice texture and those figs are to die for. They add just the right amount of sweetness to the bowl.

Of the smoothies, I really enjoyed the Blackberry-Ginger-Green Tea as I'm a regular fan of both ginger and green tea-combined or not. The Peach Cobbler was a favorite of the taste-testers that day as well. Oh, and I did arrange the strawberries and sliced bananas in the blender for the photo on FD2! One of my favorite things during culinary school was plating and presentation, so working with food styling and being involved in food photography will be a fun part of the job.

Coming from a journalism background in school, I'll also say that it's exciting to be in the middle of all that's going on in a newsy environment. The test kitchen is located on the fourth floor of The Oregonian building on SW Broadway. When I ride up the elevator I usually take a right, then a left past the executive offices. Down the hall and another left and I'm in the middle of the FOODday section, where I first see Editorial Assistant Kate Leeper, then Assistant Editor, Katherine Miller and Copy Editor, Danielle Centoni. Across and diagonally to the left from Katherine is Editor, Martha Holmberg. No, she doesn't have an office, but rather a 10 x 10 desk space with low-standing walls just as the rest of the staff does. It's an incredibly friendly group of experts that really know their stuff and aren't afraid to voice their concerns when there's not enough salt or the soup isn't creamy enough or they can't taste the parsnips in the parsnip muffins (yes, parsnip muffins, and they are delicious!).

I was browsing through the latest edition of MIX magazine on Friday. I had already read the edition, but wanted to buzz through again to get some reminders of new venues to try over the weekend. It blew me away when I began reading the names of the contributing writers and photographers. Hey, I know all these people now, I thought! I'm working among the likes of Leslie Cole, Mike Davis, Freddie Joe, and John Foyston and see them on a regular basis as Leslie often stops into the test kitchen to taste, critique, and offer her opinions on perfecting the recipes that go alongside her stories, and Mike enters the kitchen to get a feel for what he'll shoot for the day.

I'm very excited to have the opportunity and will continue to share more of the adventures and a behind-the-scenes look from the Test Kitchen.

By now you should have had your oatmeal, so go get your smoothie ready for your afternoon snack!



UPDATE: "Cloned and Medium-Rare, Please"

Update, Jan. 15: According to wire reports in today's Oregonian, the FDA came to a decision that eating meat from cloned animals is safe. The "final risk assessment," which hasn't been released, but that was obtained by The Washington Post found no evidence to support concerns that food from clones may harbor hidden risks, according to the story.

It still seems to be a bit of a debate and I'm certain that this isn't the last we'll hear of the issue, both from a safety and moral standpoint.


Could you eat a perfectly cooked, juicy piece of steak if you knew it had come from a cloned cow? Yes, genetically engineered livestock. It looks like the cloning of animals for faster production of milk and meat may soon be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, according to today's Wall Street Journal. And it isn't that cloning is new. It's been around for well over a decade and the cloning of livestock is very common internationally; however, the approval would allow the products of cloned livestock to be used for food. Multiple sides of the food industry are a bit wary, and who can blame them? Some say no viable testing has been done to prove that ingesting products from cloned animals is safe. And others say the government doesn't have proper proceedures in place yet to determine whether products sold at local and national grocers can be marked as coming from a cloned animal.

The article does state that even if the FDA does give clearance, consumers would likely not see food from cloned livestock for two to three years.

I will admit, I'm not an expert on cloning, but learning that the next filet mignon I order may have came from a cloned cow, it definitely causes my ears to perk up.

We will just have to wait and see if this is truly where our production of food is headed.


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