Tuesday, March 29, 2011

somewhere beyond the sea

I grew up on a remote island in Southeast Alaska, where talk of the latest catch, kill or top secret blueberry picking spot were all part of our daily vernacular.  My hometown boasts a bevy of forests overflowing with wild game and an endless ocean teeming with abundant sea life.  For the most part, fellow Alaskans devour fresh king salmon, halibut, crab and venison like they were going out of style.  Practically everyone knows someone who fishes or hunts.  In fact, three of my dad’s best high school pals became successful commercial fisherman.  Needless to say, the idea of paying for fish was unheard of.


The sole exception to our ‘never buy fish’ rule was when mom would take me out for fish and chips at the Bayview Restaurant.  Those were no ordinary fish and chips.  They were hearty strips of just-caught halibut, delicately battered and deep fried to golden brown perfection.  The fish was always accompanied by a generous serving of piping hot waffle-cut fries, two dainty cups filled with ketchup and tartar sauce, a sprig of parsley and three jelly beans.  To top it off, there really was a sparkling view of the bay and harbor below.  In fact, had the halibut been any fresher, it might have writhed its way off of my plate and flopped back into the water, just across the street. 

Mom grew up in Portland, Oregon.  She moved to Alaska as a young woman and up until that point, the closest thing she knew to seafood was canned tuna.  This duly explains why she rarely cooked fish.  Now and then, we had clam chowder, the occasional salmon burger, and a dish I will never understand called Halibut Olympia (more on that later), but those fish-centered meals were few and far between.  Mostly, we ate a lot of hamburger, pork, roast beef and the ever-popular Cornish game hens.

In this regard, I have a greater appreciation for seafood than friends who ate fish day in and day out.  I still salivate when I recall barbequed king salmon glazed with brown sugar and lemon, enormous spot prawns dipped in drawn butter, tender, salty slabs of still warm smoked salmon and oversized bowls mounded with just steamed king crab legs.  Granted, those memories are diamonds in the rough.  Not everyone who wields a fishing pole knows their way around the kitchen. 

The most appalling, yet surprisingly prolific fish preparation I’ve encountered is one which varies from family to family but never ceases to repulse me.  I am continually amazed by how many Alaskans consider it appetizing and I am equally horrified by its lack of semblance to anything remotely delicious.  The dish, called ‘Halibut Olympia’, consists of halibut smothered in a mixture of chopped white onions, sour cream and mayonnaise, topped with bread crumbs or shredded parmesan and baked in a casserole dish until bubbly and golden.  I have never understood why fresh halibut routinely ends up in this tragic mess of an excuse for dinner. 

In an attempt to thwart the aforementioned glop, I swore off salmon and halibut for many years.  It was easier to feign total disdain than partial acceptance.  The absence of seafood during my childhood never really struck me as unusual until I moved to Seattle and realized how lucky I had been to grow up with unlimited access to the bounty of the sea.  I was astounded to discover that people routinely paid for the same fish I had turned up my nose to on countless occasions. 

In my early twenties, I lived in the heart of downtown Seattle, just three blocks from Pike Place Market in a high rise with a fully equipped barbeque deck.  It was then that I relented, swayed by deep orange filets of wild king salmon, beckoning me from the nearby fish stand.  The temptation of fresh Alaskan king coupled with the lure of a hot grill and a deck with a view, sufficiently halted my longstanding salmon strike. 

A few years later, I landed upon a recipe for fish in parchment or ‘poisson en papillotte’ as the French call it.  It was one of those recipes that almost wasn’t, it was so easy.  Though any fish would do, I opted for halibut and knew at once I had rediscovered an old friend. 

Parchment has a similar effect to that of the tempura-style batter on the fish and chips of my youth.  It seals in moisture, essentially poaching the fish in its own juices; which is a whole lot healthier, yet no less flavorful.  Halibut is a fish people tend to overcook and this method couldn’t be more versatile or foolproof.  My seven year old daughter loves to make her own ‘packet’ and this is easily one of her favorite meals.  Although the recipe below showcases halibut, the same preparation would work for a wide array of fish and vegetable pairings.  

‘poisson en papillotte’ or ‘fish in parchment’

yields 4 servings


3 cups short grain brown rice
6 cups water
2 – 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 – 1/2 teaspoons salt

fish + vegetables
16 ounces fresh halibut, tilapia or salmon, as desired, skin removed
8 medium-sized sea scallops, optional
12 medium-sized wild shrimp or prawns, optional
1 bunch carrots, peeled and sliced in 1/4 inch rounds
2 medium crowns broccoli, florets cut in bite-sized pieces
2 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut in 1/2 inch pieces
12 crimini mushrooms, quartered, stems trimmed
2 –3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced in 1/4 inch rings
1 lemon, cut in 4 wedges 
1 bunch fresh dill

2 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
crisp white wine such as chardonnay or pinot gris, nothing too fruity
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
coarse sea salt

4 large sheets parchment paper (15 x 20)



Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place water, rice, butter and salt in a medium pot with a lid.  Bring to a boil.  Stir once.  Cover and reduce heat to simmer.  Cook for 40 – 50 minutes.  When water is absorbed, remove from heat and fluff with a fork.  

fish + vegetables
Rinse fish, scallops and shrimp with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.  Divide the fish into four servings.  Set aside.

Place the prepared vegetables in separate bowls.  Be sure to rinse the leeks well to remove all sand and grit. 

Place a piece of fish, off center, on the right side of the parchment, leaving a 3-inch border to the right.  Surround the fish with two scallops, three prawns and a handful each of carrots, broccoli, zucchini and mushrooms.  Place a sprig of dill over the center.  Scatter leeks over all.  Dot with one tablespoon butter, drizzle with olive oil, add a few splashes of white wine and season with coarse salt.


Fold one side of the parchment over the fish and vegetables, so that the corners meet.  Fold over the edges several times to seal the packet.  If personalizing the ingredients in each packet, use a sharpie to write initials on one of the folded-over edges. 


Place the packets, folded edges up, on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees.  Carefully tear open the packets to retain the fragrant juices inside.  Pour fish and juices directly over a bed of brown rice and serve while hot.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


''It's very fancy on old Delancey Street, you know'' – Lorenz Hart  

Welcome to the real thing.  You know you’ve found it when you’ll drive halfway across town at half past four to satisfy a hankering for really great pizza.

Situated on a quaint residential street in Seattle’s North Ballard neighborhood, Delancey is a place like that.  In addition to mighty fine pizza, they’ve got the unassuming location, the diverse and bustling crowd, an uber-amiable wait staff and food that falls somewhere between comforting and inspired.  Consider it the destination you’d gladly burn fuel for; which is good, because unless you live in the neighborhood or accidentally stumble upon their doorstep, it’s not exactly next door.  Then again, don’t most sought after places require a measure of seeking out?


Should you miss the 5pm seating, be prepared to join clusters of patient dinner folk parked just inside the front door.  A decidedly hip, albeit unpretentious hostess predicts wait times and takes drink orders with unsurpassed warmth and poise.  And with a glass of wine in hand, the wait is entirely bearable.

The entry is home also to the tiny pizza kitchen, upstaged by a narrow counter and a handful of French barstools.  These coveted perches offer diners an ideal vantage point from which to witness owner and chef Brandon Pettit while he works intently beside the glowing woodfire pizza oven he built himself.  Pettit’s mop of brown curls, encircled by a rolled up bandana, sway to-and-fro as he shapes each pie with tremendous passion and intensity. 

In fairness, Delancey is more than just one man’s dream.  Pettit’s wife and cohort in business, local author Molly Wizenberg, has been by his side from the get-go.  Their restaurant came to fruition in 2009, shortly after Ms. Wizenberg wrapped up her first book, ‘A Homemade Life’.  Not surprisingly, Wizenberg threw herself into the role of restaurateur with the same fervor and gusto she summoned when writing her bestselling memoir.

The dining room’s spartan interior seamlessly unites a minimalist aesthetic with retro funk furnishings and a few welcome pops of color from framed photographs suspended on whitewashed walls.  Hanging lamps in red orange enamel cast a warm glow on the buzzing scene below.  A kitschy communal table, circa 1965, offers a nostalgic nod to grandpa’s rec room, sans shag carpet and avocado-hued walls.  Smaller, poured concrete tables paired with vintage chairs, offer yet another thoughtful juxtaposition of old and new. 


Much like its surroundings, the menu is concise and unfettered.  Seasonal salads and pizza toppings abound and local, organic produce prevails.  Standing pizza offerings are punctuated by specials such as the ever-popular clam pie or one with stinging nettle pesto.  The Jersey is an old-school tossed salad with classic Italian vinaigrette, ribbons of purple cabbage and carrot, crunchy golden croutons and a snowfall of grated parmesan.  In summer months, try the sweet corn, feta and Billy’s tomato salad, all sunshine and tang laced with the sultry sweetness of just shucked corn.  Cooler months bring the likes of grilled treviso scattered with buttery breadcrumbs and topped with tendrils of preserved lemon and paper thin parmesan shavings.


Pizzas are thin crusted and slightly larger than a dinner plate.  With salad and dessert, one is easily enough for two light eaters or one ravenous diner.  The toppings are balanced, fresh and alive with flavor.  An array of choices include a few cheese variations, pepperoni, sausage or hot salami, a white pie and my favorite, the crimini with fresh mozzarella and thyme on an olive oil base, to which I religiously add prosciutto.  The salty, savory combination of mushrooms and prosciutto accented by a subtle hint of fresh earthy thyme is nothing short of miraculous.  Add to this the pristine canvas of a well-crafted crust and its a done deal.

Pettit’s crust is a divine culmination of his visits to beloved pizza kitchens throughout the states as well as those in Italy.  He has honed a product reminiscent of some of the best; while distinctly his own.  You will crave this crust long after sinking your teeth into its burnished exterior, resplendent with thin, crackly bubbles, giving way to a chewy, satiny center that is airy yet substantial.  The flavor is layered, robust and almost nutty with a depth that is lacking in most thin crust pies.


Wines at Delancey are often local and always well-priced.   Pettit and Wizenberg are staunchly committed to offering luscious, affordable options; each selection carefully considered to compliment their menu offerings. 

The welcome addition of pastry chef, Brandi Henderson, formerly of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, is the icing on the proverbial cake.  In the heat of summer, Henderson’s dreamy cloud-like pavlova topped with delicately sweetened, whipped Greek yogurt and fresh local raspberries is cool and creamy, tart-sweet perfection.  Come autumn, her spicy ginger cake with roasted pears and luscious butterscotch is pure poetry.  For a simpler finish, Delancey’s trademark bittersweet chocolate chip cookie with a touch of grey sea salt is always on the menu.

Delancey is open Wednesday through Saturday, 5 pm – 10 pm and Sundays, from 5 pm – 9 pm.  Phone- 206.838.1960

Be on the lookout for The Pantry at Delancey, where Pettit will partner with Brandi Henderson and Olaiya Land to create a community kitchen offering hands-on cooking classes, family-style dinners, private events and locally sourced catering. 

Delancey on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

pie. pie. pie.

Ever heard of a pie slam?  You are not alone.  Until last month when I signed on as a willing participant, I was as clueless as the rest.  This, after I swore I would never enter another cooking or baking competition.  Having previously subjected my culinary endeavors to the scrutiny of judges in both a whoopie pie bake-off and a holy tomato contest, I can attest to this:  I do not care for losing.  Not one bit. DSC_2438

So, what exactly is a pie slam?

The pie slam, as we know it, came into being when two gals with a penchant for baked goods and the written word joined forces to host a pie baking contest with a twist.  In addition to baking a pie, contestants of a pie slam must write a short story about said pie and then read their story aloud before an audience and panel of five judges who determine the best combined story and pie.

When my husband gently reminded me of my sacred vow to never again compete in the food arena, I was quick to dispel his qualms by pointing out how vastly different this was.  The pie slam wasn’t going to be just another baking competition, it was a chance to merge baking and writing, two of my favorite things.  How could I resist?

Jessie Oleson, of Cakespy, and Wendy Sykes, of Four and 20 blackbirds, hosted the event in Cakespy’s Capitol Hill headquarters on March 14, also known amongst math nerds as ‘Pi Day’ (i.e. 3/14).  The five judges included Nancy Guppy of ArtZone, Dani Cone of High Five Pie, Kate Lebo of Good Egg, and pie slam co-conspirators, Oleson and Sykes. 

On the day of the pie slam, nine contestants placed their entries on two long tables draped with cotton candy pink linens.  Dainty blue cards showcased the names of the contestants and their pies.  The room filled with nervous anticipation as starting time drew near.

the pies


Each pie was distinctly different, from traditional fruit varieties to the fantastical lunchbox pie topped with chocolate-dipped potato chips, yet only one would take home the blue ribbon.

At half past six, Wendy Sykes introduced the judges and called the first contestant to read her piece.  It was me.  My heart raced as I stated my name, pie and the title of my story (see below).  Being first is no picnic.  My voice wavered at first but steadied as I delved in to my piece and hoped for the best.  One by one, the entrants came forward and shared their stories.

the contestants


The judges sampled each pie in conjunction with its story. 

1. Max Snyder shared his highly entertaining account of baking an apple ‘pie’ in his dormitory.  2.  Sarah Spiller reminisced about her grandmother’s pies and revealed her love affair with pumpkin pie.  3.  Stephanie Crocker, of Sugar Bakery, considered which pie she loves best and settled on apple with a domed top.  4.  Brook McDonald read a playful poem about her Lunchbox Pie, a peanut butter banana filled creation topped with chocolate covered potato chips.  5.  Wendy Johnson shared tender memories of the pies her mother baked for her father and recalled which one he loved best: blueberry.  6.  Alexander Jhin merged cake and pie in his story and in his ‘Pake’, a chocolate cake baked atop a cherry pie.  7.   Aharona Ament told a story of a boy named Fig, who was born on Pi Day and loved to bake.  She baked a fig, apple and walnut pie.  8.  Kate McDermott, of Art of the Pie, used a pie server as a prop as she engaged in a dialogue with pie and considered why she loves it so.  She baked a shaker lemon pie.  8.  Sarah Dapcevich (that’s me) told the story of a couple who shared a piece of pie at their favorite restaurant.  The pie she baked and wrote about was chocolate cream pie with macadamia brittle and malted whipped cream.

Pie slam collaborators, Wendy Sykes and Jessie Oleson, tally the results

While the judges deliberated and tallied the scores, pie slam attendees mingled, noshed on pie, perused Jessie’s cute-as-a-button shop and admired her delectable artwork. 


In the twinkling of an eye, the results were in:  First place went to Kate McDermott, of Art of the Pie, for her shaker lemon pie and pie dialogue.  She took home a handmade blue ribbon and a framed watercolor by Jessie Oleson.  Runner up was Alexander Jhin with his inventive ‘pake’ and witty story involving a cupcake who aspired to be more than just a cake.  He received a retro oven mitt, handmade by Wendy Sykes.  Congratulations to the winners and to all the contestants in the first annual Cakespy Pie Slam.  See you next year!

DSC_2502  Jessie’s husband, Danny, and pugs, Porkchop and Olive, came out to support the pie slam

Below is the story I entered in the pie slam.  It’s a fictional tale drawn from several meals eaten at Bar Tartine, my favorite restaurant in San Francisco.  I have a theory that a restaurant is only as great as its dessert menu.  Considering the fact that dessert is typically the last impression, it is surprising how often a stellar meal is punctuated by a mediocre confection.  The pie in this story was an actual dessert served at Bar Tartine and it did not fail to impress.  I tried my best to recreate the pie and have included a recipe should you care to make it yourself.

  Win or lose, the pie that won my heart

The Most Beloved One

Vera caught her breath as she doggedly mounted the final step of the endless staircase leading up from the subway platform. A sudden gust of wind tousled her loose waves and she shivered a little, bracing herself for the chilly five-block stroll from metro station to restaurant. Never mind the broken escalator; Vera avoided those mechanized steel beasts even when she was wearing sensible shoes, which of course tonight she wasn’t. It was a small price to pay for looking this good, she rationalized. A shock of electric blue dress peeked out beneath her gray wool coat and she smiled the satisfied smile of a woman who knows she will turn heads.

Clyde caught hold of Vera’s arm and linked it with his own as she gladly leaned in to the warmth of his body. His easy manner and boyish good looks complimented Vera’s own youthful countenance and confident stride. The two turned a corner and joined the Thursday night crowd already hungrily pacing the sidewalks in search of dinner and respite from the biting cold. This short stretch of pavement was home to some of the best dining the city had to offer; a veritable tablecloth spread before the discerning diner.

Amid the myriad of choices, Vera and Clyde remained devoted to but one. One beloved establishment captivated their hearts, minds and bellies in flawless succession. Vera felt her pulse quicken as they approached the entrance. Black lacquered window frames reflected a neon glow from the street lamp hovering overhead. A near invisible sign hung from two metal hooks, arrogant in its austerity as though taunting passersby to overlook the place.

The famished, windblown duo stepped inside where a rustic chandelier crafted entirely of antlers shed soft light on scattered tables, diners, and wait staff. Wide plank walnut floors were a throwback to earlier days. A few well-appointed vases overflowed with wild, brambly flowers, softening the edges just enough. Vera let out a contented sigh as the din of the bustling interior drew her in. Across the table, she locked gazes with Clyde, their faces aglow in eager anticipation.

They sipped tart sweet huckleberry aperitifs, inhaled still warm, thyme-scented gougeres, like bitty poufs of cheesy, eggy nirvana, and sunk their teeth into fragrant, unctuous dates filled with tangy, creamy local gorgonzola. They marveled over thick slices of bread with a dark crusty exterior and chewy, satiny center. When the main courses arrived, there was room still for delicate pillows of ravioli with ricotta and stinging nettles and goat prepared three ways, each a revelation of taste and texture.

As far as Vera was concerned, the question of dessert was no question at all, rather a resounding affirmative. True to form, Clyde insisted he could scarcely accommodate another crumb, let alone dessert; but you go ahead, he murmured. Overcome by a sated stupor, Clyde reclined in his chair while Vera intently perused the nightly selection. Despite his admonition to the contrary, Vera knew her man could never resist anything dark and chocolaty. She zeroed in on chocolate cream pie with malted whipped cream and macadamia nut brittle, willing it to be as ungodly good as it sounded.

When the pie arrived, Vera’s desire to share was momentarily dampened as she contemplated the less than generous slice set before her. She slid the first forkful in her mouth and audibly moaned as the silky chocolate filling and buttery graham cracker crust mingled with comforting malted whipped cream and the salty sweet crunch of macadamia brittle. With his fork poised, Clyde no longer waited for an invitation. Vera didn’t mind. Pie this good was meant to be shared.


my two biggest fans

A big shout out to my dear husband and sweet daughter, who gamely accompanied and cheered me on at the pie slam.  I may not have won first prize but I went home with my two most prized ones.  XOXO

  this one prefers lollies over pie.  kids.

   before and after: the downside of trying all nine pies

chocolate cream pie with malted whipped cream and macadamia brittle


This decadent pie is a close interpretation of one served at Bar Tartine, hands down my favorite San Francisco restaurant.  There’s no denying the pie has a lot going on; yet each component is intrinsic to the final result.  Silky chocolate filling and buttery graham cracker crust mingle with comforting malted whipped cream and the salty sweet crunch of macadamia brittle in harmonious accord.  The recipe requires a measure of advance planning but the steps are well laid out and your efforts will be handsomely rewarded.



3/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted


1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream + 1-1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch salt
4 egg yolks 
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (such as Scharffen Berger), finely chopped 
1 tablespoon unsalted butter 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar


macadamia brittle
1 cup shelled macadamia nuts (salted)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cane syrup (lyle’s or steen’s)
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda


malted whipped cream
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1- 1/2 tablespoons malt powder
1- 1/2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brush a 9-inch pie tin with melted butter.

In a food processor, finely grind macadamia nuts with graham-cracker crumbs, flour and sugar.  Blend in butter. Press mixture into bottom and up the sides of prepared pan. Chill in freezer for 10 minutes.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Return to freezer for 10 minutes.  Bake 6-8 minutes longer. Cool crust, 30 minutes.


In a small saucepan combine sugar, 3/4 cup heavy cream, buttermilk, cornstarch and pinch of salt, and whisk until smooth. Place over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil, whisking from time to time for the sugar and cornstarch to dissolve and the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Continue cooking at a low boil for an additional 5 minutes, whisking constantly.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly. Pour 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolks and whisk thoroughly. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan and whisk over the heat until thoroughly combined and very thick, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl, and whisk in the chocolate, butter and vanilla. Continue whisking until thoroughly combined (mixture will be very thick). Cover the mixture with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface and refrigerate until cooled to room temperature, about 30 minutes.


Place 1 1/3 cups heavy cream in a chilled mixing bowl and add the confectioners' sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cool chocolate pudding mixture.


Spoon the chocolate mixture into the prepared pie crust and refrigerate until firm and cool, at least 4 hours for best results.  In a pinch, 2 hours in the freezer should do the trick. When ready to serve, top the pie with malted whipped cream and brittle.  Serve immediately.


macadamia brittle
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spread the nuts on a baking tray lined with parchment and toast them in the oven until light golden, 4-6 minutes, turning the nuts after 3 minutes to toast evenly.  Remove nuts from the pan and cool to room temperature. Coarsely chop the nuts and set aside.

Put the sugar in a medium saucepan. Add the cane syrup and water.  Stir to mix and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Continue boiling, undisturbed, until a layer of bubbles forms on top, 3 to 4 minutes. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and continue to boil undisturbed for 5 minutes longer. Place a wooden spoon on top of the foil to keep down.

Remove the foil and add the butter.  Gently stir with a wooden spoon a few times. When the butter has combined with the sugar mixture and forms a soft boil, add your candy thermometer.  Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer inserted into the mixture registers 300 degrees, about 8-10 minutes (depending on your cookware). Meanwhile, grease a 9 x 12 inch sheet pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray.

When the sugar mixture reaches the desired temperature, immediately but carefully stir in the salt, baking soda and chopped macadamia nuts. Using a long metal spatula, spread the nut mixture as thinly and evenly as possible over the prepared pan. Leave the brittle to cool to room temperature. The brittle will harden very quickly.

When the brittle is completely cooled and hardened, run a clean, dry towel over the brittle's surface to absorb some of the oil, if needed. Carefully cut or tap the brittle with a mallet to break it into irregular pieces. Store in one or more airtight containers at cool room temperature.

malted whipped cream
Place the heavy cream in a chilled bowl, add the malt and confectioners' sugar.  Beat until stiff peaks form.  Cover and chill until needed.

Spoon malted whipped cream into a pastry bag or plastic bag with one corner snipped off.  Pipe poufs of whipped cream on each slice of pie.  Garnish with shards of macadamia brittle.  Serve.


Chocolate filling adapted from Emeril Lagasse.  Macadamia brittle from Food.com.  Crust adapted from ‘Baked: New Frontiers in Baking’ by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

hace frio, eh?

Throughout our freshman year in high school, my best friend and I relished in passing absurdly pointless notes to one another between classes.  Frequently, my friend’s messages began with the self-derived catchphrase, ‘Hace frio, eh?!’  For those unversed in Spanish 101, ‘hace frio’ roughly translates to ‘it’s like an igloo in here’.  This multilingual greeting was the product of  said friend’s first year Spanish coupled with a souvenir expression from her recent visit to Canada.  And it was chilly.  We lived in Alaska, mind you, where classrooms were often too cold for comfort, particularly as the building was warming up in the morning.

IMG_5594_sitka.com   january in sitka, alaska… brrr!

Unlike the sentiment my friend penned to protest those frigid mornings, the expression ‘hace frio’ takes on a welcome connotation when used to describe, say, a refreshing beverage or an ice cream sandwich.  That’s what I’m talking about.  Refrigeration.  A modern convenience we routinely take for granted.  I certainly did until a few weeks ago when our ‘refrigerador hace frio’ no more.  Pardon my pathetic Spanish.  I took French in high school.  In layman’s terms, our underappreciated refrigerator is now irreparably broken.  Worse yet, it’s not just the fridge that went kaput, it’s the freezer too.  How do I know?  The GE repairman told me so.  Calling it a tragedy would be a tad melodramatic but the news certainly isn’t cause for celebration.  The only reason I pulled out the bubbly was that it was no longer chilling in there anyway.

     r.i.p.  ‘you miserable piece of crap’  2006 – 2011 

This sorry situation did not unfold in a fortnight, rather, it was a long drawn-out process.  Also known as, we were slow on the uptake.  That and my 6-year old had taken up a fascination with freezing water in plastic baggies, silicone candy molds, doll-sized cups; you name it, she froze it.  Because of the sudden increase in freezer activity, we assumed that the influx in overly soft ice cream, melty ice cubes and generally squishy frozen foods was the product of our inquisitive child’s frosty misadventures.

On Christmas morning, as I spat out a spoonful of cold cereal laced with sour milk, I chalked it up to the grown-up version of a lump of coal in the stocking.  On subsequent sour-ish milk encounters, I self-diagnosed a sinus infection.  When I cracked open eggs for a batch of brownies and turned up a rotten one, I noted it was a different brand than the ones I usually buy.  I won’t be buying those eggs again, I said to my husband as I dumped the bad egg in the compost bin.  These incidents were not consecutive which rightly explains the fuzzy paper trail. 

When at last it came to light that our freezer was intermittently shutting on and off, we tried banging on the fan cover because, you know, maybe there was ice stuck in there.  And because, when all else fails, just hit the dang thing.  It worked on VHS players and old TV’s with bad signal, didn’t it?  No dice.  The time had come to call in help.  Or in our case, a guy named Jim who charged $87.50 to tell us it was time to buy a new fridge.  Our failed fridge was just shy of five years old with a one-year warranty.  “Was it something we did?” I hopelessly inquired. 

“Nope,” said Jim, “Some fridges just don’t last that long; but I can give you a coupon for $87.50 toward your next fridge when you buy it on our website.” 

Thanks Jim.  Thanks a lot. 

That was two weeks ago.  I have since mourned the loss of frozen homemade pizza sauce, pesto, pea soup, chili, chicken pot pie and a whole lot of of other good food gone bad; yet I remain staunchly in denial regarding the fridge itself.  It hasn’t budged from its usual spot.  There it stands, an empty facade, a carcass, a useless piece of stainless steel.  My daughter’s artwork, spelling tests and school pictures still adorn the outside, as do the bright-eyed gazes of smiling babies on announcements I can’t bring myself to discard.  “How on earth do you manage without a fridge?!” you ask.  Now there’s a question.  Fear not, good people, we are not fridgeless over here.  In our basement, we have a vacant mother-in-law equipped with a stout under-the-counter refrigerator.  Bigger than a hotel mini-bar, though not by much, it doth suffice.  And by suffice, I mean it actually gets the job done. 

   euro-style, baby

Three things I loathe about our predicament: 

1. Schlepping up and down the stairs for whatever I didn’t grab the last time I was down there.  2. Come morning, it’s downright cold in the basement when I retrieve the milk for my bowl of cereal.  3. The freezer is the size of a glove compartment and can’t even handle a piddly pint of ice cream. 

Three things I love about our ‘euro-fridge’: 

1. I have noticeably slimmed down due to the aforementioned stair climbing and lack of quintessentially frozen treats.  2.  Nothing gets shoved to the back because the back is the front is the back is the… 3.  I get to pretend I’m French.  They get by just fine with comparably pint-sized cooling units, non?

It’s not only the French who rely on smaller refrigerators.   My Dutch in-laws have a similarly scaled-down model.  Whenever we visit them in Holland, I am amazed at their ability to efficiently cram it all in.  This mainly necessitates purchasing smaller quantities at more frequent intervals.  In addition, it is considered perfectly acceptable to store eggs, fruit, jelly and some cheeses at room temperature, thereby freeing up additional room in the icebox.    Personally, I draw the line at unrefrigerated eggs and cheese.  You say lukewarm eggs, I say salmonella.  Some things just don’t translate.

IMG_1414   ‘to market, to market’  paris, france

In the United States, small fridges are associated with college life or that first shoebox you affectionately called an apartment.  It’s all fine and good when you have but one mouth to feed.  The question becomes, how can a family rely on the same?  The very idea is un-American and terribly inconvenient to say the least; but it can be done.  Call it a lesson in moderation and restraint.  Turn a blind eye to those buy two/get one free sales, bypass coolers in wholesale grocery stores and forget about frozen convenience foods altogether.  We live in a spread out country.  Shopping for groceries is a hassle.  Why make it harder than it already is?  Now there’s some food for thought.

Eventually, we will purchase another behemoth refrigerator and when we do, I will no doubt have newfound respect for my freezer.  I will spend less time driving to the grocery store.  I will occasionally indulge in a late-night dish of ice cream.  And I will gratefully acknowledge the luxury of taking a pan of homemade lasagna straight from the freezer and placing it into the oven because sometimes, convenience really is bliss.

When all is said and done, I hope to retain the spirit of simplicity I’ve experienced during this temporary inconvenience.  I’m also hoping to retain my pared down waistline.  The day our fridge died, I could have ordered takeout.  Instead, I channeled my inner Frenchwoman and headed to market, though the meal I fixed was decidedly American.   Rather than dwell on our loss, we feasted on roast chicken with mushrooms and greens, oven roasted potatoes and whole wheat buttermilk biscuits.  And we didn’t have ice cream for dessert.