Opera night at the UW Club: All artistry!

The kids straggle in, swing down their packbacks, fish out water bottles, grin, tease, chatter. Then the baton goes up, they step to the cue, and their outsized voices soar. Rehearsal day for these students in the UW opera program!

The event they are getting ready for is Opera Night at the UW Club–the first ever:  a three-course meal, accompanied by three arias, then an after-dinner ensemble program, itself in three courses.

The UW chefs are also laying the groundwork for the event, exercising their very different expertise: cooking down sauces, searing chicken breasts, stirring simmering rice until it’s thick and silky.

Show time! These two teams, with such very different talents, wove together a delicious program! They let me sit in from warm-up to execution, so take a look at how this event came together (and read the credits below):

Who prepared the dinner:  Chef Greg Fazzini (who unfortunately has just left the UW Club), sous-chef (now Chef!) Jon Maley, and Mike Hoffman.

Who prepared the music: students of opera from the UW School of Music (names below), under the direction of Thomas Harper, professor of voice/opera

The pianist for all of the pieces was Alexandra Tsirkel.

Learn more about the UW Club here:  http://depts.washington.edu/uwclub/


First course

The dinner:

Spring greens with pea vines, baby turnips, grape tomatoes, and herb chevre in champagne vinaigrette

The music:

“Mein Shenen, Mein Waehnen,” from Die tote Stadt, by Erich Korngold

sung by Jared Ice, baritone

Second course

The dinner:

Supreme of chicken with wild mushrooms in butter sauce, grilled fresh asparagus and red pepper, and crusted parmesan risotto

The music:

“Quando m’en vo,” from La Boheme, by G. Puccini

sung by Kathleen Payne, soprano

Third course

The dinner:

Local rhubarb cake with strawberry sabayon

The music:

“Vision fugitive,” from Herodiade, by J. Massenet

sung by Jared Ice, baritone

Continuing with dessert, after-dinner music

Card trio, from Carmen, by G. Bizet

Sung by (left to right) Emily Autrey, soprano (Frasquita), Elizabeth Giesbers, mezzo-soprano (Carmen), and Annalisee Brasil, mezzo-soprano (Mercedes)

Quartet from Idomeneo, by W.A. Mozart

Sung by (left to right) Nataly Wickham (Elettra), Jeremiah Cawley (Idomeneo), Cecile Farmer (Ilia), and Nina Alden (Idamante)

Quintet from Zauberfloete, by W.A. Mozart

Sung by (left to right) Annalisee Brasil, Nataly Wickham, Cecile Farmer, Simon Khorolskiy, and (substituting for Thomas Ball, who was ill) Thomas Harper, professor of voice/opera in the UW School of Music


Auf wiedersehen!

Sung by Thomas Ball and Simon Khorolskiy, with (off-camera) Annalisee Brasil, Nataly Wickham, and Cecile Farmer

Food bank gourmet

Last Sunday, FamilyWorks, my neighborhood’s food bank, threw a semi-“iron chef” event! Two top local chefs each prepared a three-course meal using ingredients typically found on the food bank’s shelves. Emceed by local celebrity chef Kathy Casey, the event featured Rachel Yang of Joule Restaurant and Amy McCray of Eva Restaurant, who both cooked us up a treat of a meal.

(Why semi-”iron chef?” Neither of these pro’s showed the least trace of a killer instinct!–More like “tofu chef.” But their food was great!)

Using just a small table for a workspace and two gas-canister-fueled hotplates, Rachel and Amy each came up with a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. And as each course got done, volunteers divvied it up for the dozens of us to sample. We also had a wine-tasting going on in the corner and a spread of hors d’oeuvres laid out on a side table so we wouldn’t get too restive. Sozo Wine was a sponsor of the event. Interesting organization! Check them out: http://www.sozoplanet.com)

Rachel opened with an Asian-accented pancake (a specialty of her newest restaurant, Revel) made with canned peas and fresh spinach.

Next, she went with a stew made with chicken thighs, mushrooms, veg, and–I suspect, not an ingredient she’s used to working with!–Top Ramen. Delicious.

What could be better for dessert than rice pudding? She made hers with sauted apple slices, “left-over” rice (“who doesn’t have left-over rice?”), and canned coconut milk. (The exact brand I have on my own pantry shelf. Yes, I saw it on the shelf in the food bank too. This is Seattle.)

Amy went in a different direction for the starter–a fresh salad with shredded sweet peppers and a citrus vinaigrette. (Like most neighborhood food banks, FamilyWorks gets fresh produce from Northwest Harvest and other large distributors. Stay tuned for a posting on how food distribution works in urban America.)

Next, she went with a chicken curry with carrots. Here, she worked in a “mystery ingredient”–a packet of nasi goreng flavoring. (Yes, from the food bank shelves. Again, this is Seattle.) The curry also incorporated coconut milk and canned peas. This stew may have shared some ingredients with Rachel’s, but tasted totally different! Also delicious.

(The volunteer who gave us our tour of the food bank showed us the substantial range of food products they offer to their clients. Many, many plastic bins of canned goods, peanut butter, fruit, produce, breads and other starches marched along a long table, each labeled with how many of each item could be taken by a family on each visit.)

For dessert, Amy also made rice pudding!–but again, a very different dish from Rachel’s. Amy started her rice in coconut milk, then zested several oranges (remember that citrus vinaigrette?–nothing going to waste here) and threw it all in. A lot of it! And we were glad she did–lovely fresh taste.

Great food!–And a fun event. Hats off to FamilyWorks for a creative fundraiser that was also an eye-opening introduction to the work they are doing to make good food accessible to every family. Do you have a similar effort in your neighborhood? Give us a snapshot of what it does.

EAT! Week in the rear view mirror

My one-week, 21-meal “plan-prepare-&-eat-a-thon” hit me with some big realities. First, eating this way is work; I couldn’t have done it (at least, the way I did it) had I not been on spring break. My respect has zoomed off the charts for the millions of parents out there who put food on the table every day for their families!

Also, cooking for one person has its challenges, and across the whole week, I constantly found that my planning/preparing eyes were bigger than my stomach. Most of the overage ended up in the freezer (in fact, I just had another bowl of that tasty squash soup). Some of it ended up in a second serving that I didn’t really need. (I suspect that I gained a few pounds across this little venture.) Some of it went straight from pan to freezer when I got a better offer from a friend. And some (too much!) of it ended up as worm food.

But let’s look at the up side. I definitely ate more fruits, nuts, and vegetables and less meat than usual. I had a very nice bit of fish. And the leftovers fed me almost every meal this week too, and will still be going strong next week.

Notes for next time:  Scale it down!–Plan most of your meals, not all of them. I’ll focus mainly on dinner, so that I pull things out of the freezer soon enough to defrost. And I’ll target amounts that will give me a couple of extra servings for lunch during the week, so that I don’t keep blowing my money at the taco truck–but not too much more. Beyond that, I’ll rely on my usual habits: keep some breakfast stuff around, and pantry staples like broth, pasta, grains, and canned tomatoes that let you improvise the rest. The strategy for fruits and vegetables?–Buy small amounts and then use them!–No more compost farming in the fridge.

So we arrive at the end of EAT!week! Two open questions that I continue to chew on: How local and how fresh? And where does it comes from and what’s in it? Stay tuned for more on these topics!

The University of Washington Club Passport to Portugal Wine Dinner

Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the February 25 Passport Dinner to Portugal with club manager Alexandra (Alex) Chordas! The Club specializes in these wonderful events that pair the wines of a particular style, region, or winemaker with a superb multi-course meal. This night’s spotlight on Portugal featured wines from the Herdade do Esporao Winery (www.esporao.com).

Here’s the video of the event:

Executive Chef Greg Fazzini designed a great dinner to  complement the wines. But unfortunately he woke up ill the day of the dinner! So Sous Chef Jon Maley (who had joined the team just a week before!) and Mike Hoffman stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and prepared a great dinner for about 60 of us.

Cheese 101 from Calf & Kid

Fourteen cheeses in a couple of hours! –This was a true fromage-orama.

At the communal table in the restaurant Sitka and Spruce, Sheri LaVigne of The Calf & Kid started us off with small offerings of fresh chevre and sheep’s-milk ricotta, then took us on a clockwise tour of a plate of twelve cheeses, from soft-ripened to washed-rind to semi-firm and hard, finishing with a couple of blues. Oh, and along the way, she gave us a concise history of a couple of millenia of cheesemaking and cheesemakers!

What were my favorites?–It’s really hard to choose. Between the two “fresh” cheeses, I preferred the plain chevre from Briar Rose Creamery (Dundee, OR)–a very light, fluffy goat cheese. Among the four “soft-ripened” cheeses we tasted, The Le Pommier Camembert (a cow cheese from Herve Mons in Rhone-Alps, France) was beautifully mushroomy and earthy; its aroma just bloomed in my head.

Between the two “washed-rind” cheeses, I’d choose the Oma (raw cow’s milk cheese from Cellars at Jasper Hill, Von Trapp Farmstead–yes, those Von Trapps, Greensboro, VT)–an unusual grassy flavor that I really liked.

(Sidebar:  the whole question of the rind on cheese turns out to be a study of its own! But “washed-rind” means just what it says–the cheesemaker washes the surface of the cheese roughly weekly during the aging process with a brine solution or alcohol.)

The “semi-firm” cheeses were nice but not as striking or unusual as some of the others. The “hard” cheeses were both cheddars, and very tasty, but the news here was that “cheddar” is also a verb! In “cheddaring,” the cheese block (hunk? batch?–you get the idea) is cut into slices, then the bottom curd is put on top and the whole thing is pressed. Repeat, then repeat . . . This process eventually produces that wonderfully crumbly texture that cheddar has.

For me the big finish was the blues, especially the raw cow’s-milk Caveman Blue from Rogue Creamery in Central Point, OR. This is one pungent cheese, no question about it!–Sheri says it smells like “a skunk died in a sweat sock.” But get through the smell and put it in your mouth!–meltingly  rich and aromatic. Plus, it looks like marble–the blue veins are large and smoky, rippling through the butter-colored cheese.

It turns out that many local cheesemakers do cheese-making classes on their farms! So, for those who love cheese, stay tuned for field trips. For the rest of you, class is dismissed!

You can learn about the cheeses of the Northwest in the “bible”: Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest, by Tami Parr (see my post for 2/23; I got the book!).

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