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My life in a nutshell… Part 3

Hanging out with Ruth Reichl was really wonderful! I had so much fun and really I owe that to my friend Cynthia, who went with me that night. Dawn ended up having to work and missed out on the whole thing, and Cynthia decided to go with me. We started out at the Hwang Do Noodle House, and while we took a meandering route to get there, it was well worth it! The name of the restaurant was not in English so it took a bit of deduction to get to it, though once we were in and saw the name of it in English on the menu we were very pleased with ourselves! We shared the house special soup with hand made noodles, a light broth, some clams and a few other things. The noodles were spectacularly good! We also shared a pork dish which was quite spicy and not Cynthia’s cup of tea, so to speak, (though I loved the tea there!), and we also ordered the dumplings. It was an appetizer and we thought that this amount of food sounded reasonable, after all, the soup cost 5 bucks, how much food could it be? Well let me tell you something, the Koreans are abundant with their food! We got a huge bowl of soup (don’t worry Cynthia, I won’t tell everyone how you entertained me trying to figure out the chopsticks on that dish), a sizzling plate of pork, all the little side dishes and kim chee that always accompany Korean meals, which I LOVE! And 6 hockey puck sized steamed dumplings that were the best dumplings I have ever eaten. The flavors in the filling were so varied and lovely, they teased and pleased my tongue like never before! I must go back for more dumplings. I am dreaming of those little purses of pork!

Sated in both appetite and conversation we headed out to go the few blocks down to where Ruth was speaking. This was Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, and it was put on by the Library: A FREE EVENT! I brought my 2 favorite books of hers, hoping to get them signed, and when we walked in to see an auditorium full of chairs and bereft of people we couldn’t believe it! We got 3rd or 4th row seats, right in front of her! There was a pre-function event for library donors and that is where everyone was: across the hall! So we got our pick of seats and that was fine with me! The auditorium filled in behind us and then suddenly she was there. They gave a great intro for her and she filled the next hour with stories and sometimes I closed my eyes to envision her tales. She is a wonderful speaker and it was a thrill to hear some of the behind-the-scenes details of her career and books. She flew in just for this event and was leaving again right away… in town less than 24 hours and the only event she did was this one! What a coup for the Pierce Co Library! Way to go!

As we stood to head up towards the signing table I was sure the line would be interminable, and I knew Cynthia was running on little sleep AND she had not brought books to sign so I was beginning to chicken out. Cynthia would hear none of it and insisted we wait in line. We actually got up towards the front of the line after mowing down a few seniors who were moving slowly, and it went very quickly. Everyone ooo’d and aaah’d over the fact that I had a hard-back of Garlic & Sapphires, because I read it a few years ago (thanks, mom!)… we got closer and my throat began to close up. I asked, in what I thought was a perfectly loud voice, if I could take her picture, and no one heard me! Cynthia took the camera, asked in the same voice that I had (I thought!) and Ruth said yes. The woman who was assisting in opening the books to the right pages pulled me over and said “stand next to her!” and my eyes got as big as pancakes! Ruth smiled, pulled me to her and put her arm around me and I got my picture taken with her! Holy cripes, I was so speechless (yes, it’s true!)and the grin on my face is so crazy! You can see it on the cafe facebook page if you want a good laugh!

It’s my dad’s birthday this week and my sister Lisa is coming up for a few days so we can have some family time around it. On Saturday we are going to Slim’s Last Chance Chili Shack in Seattle, which I love anyway, to enjoy a record release party. Many moons ago Lisa, a self-taught drummer, was in a rockabilly surfer style band called Los Hornets. They were really great and even opened a show for Dick Dale, so that tells you how good they were! Los Hornets was old school, with a stand up base and rough-around-the-edges vocals and they were very popular in a time when grunge was becoming really well known in Seattle. Quite frankly, I like Los Hornets better than Nirvana, but I digress. Lisa is a marine biologist now, though she keeps in touch with old band mates, (sadly, Slim, whom the bar is named after, has passed away) and this release party has to do with the old days. I am looking forward to some great chili (how will I decide which one to have??), throwing some peanut shells on the floor, and hearing some good music.

So let me see…where was I in my past history telling… I will keep this one short since I already took up so much of your time today. I was on the opening team of the flagship Shari’s restaurant in King County (Renton), at the Benson Hy/Petrovitsky rd. My roommate made the pies for that store and I was a server… I refused to work in the kitchen when I saw what they had to work with. I did, however, learn to make great milkshakes there and we hand blend our shakes at the cafe. I worked in several restaurants starting as a bus ‘girl’, working as a waitress, in catering, as a hostess/floor supervisor, and then I hit the kitchens. I went from one job, making 800-1000 pies a day, (1500-1800 during fair season!), to another shucking oysters in cold prep and flipping omelettes on the buffet station at a hotel fine dining restaurant, finally to helping run the kitchen (Charlie’s Bar & Grill-no longer there) at the Maple Valley Golf Course. The first chef I worked under was a former prison chef and he was a giant Mr Poopy Pants, though he taught me how to make everything from scratch. We made absolutely everything by hand in that place, including our cheese sticks for the bar and anything else that we served. He practically beat into me the importance of making good food to serve, or get out of the kitchen, period. (Ah yes, I remember the screaming matches we would get into…) When he left he was replaced by a guy named Greg Rooter. Greg was a pit man and he hand built a brick bbq station in back of the restaurant. He taught me about bbq and grilling and catering, and I heard that he eventually opened his own bbq restaurant in Covington. He was a nice man and taught me a million things that I still use today. Charlie’s was sort of a dive with fabulous food and strong drinks, just what every golfer loves it. It pains me to think about them tearing out that bbq pit when they got rid of Charlie’s and built a big, shiny new fancy-pants restaurant on the course closer to the highway.

My last restaurant job was actually front-of-the-house for a big name hotel restaurant in Seatac. I was finishing up my BA in criminal justice and I hated the attitudes of the admin there. I swore I would never work in that field again because of how they treated their staff, and 16 years later when I decided to get back to the craft, I swore I would never be a boss like they were. I succeed and fail at that goal daily, and will continue to strive to be the boss I never had, yet always wanted. My mentor Greg Rooter was the closest, though technically we worked for Charlie and he had some serious addicition problems so there were issues. I learned things from every boss I had, sometimes it was more about what not to do, though more often I was learning all about the restaurant business and cooking, even though I didn’t realize that was what I was learning. I thought I was just working my way through college.. little did I know I was preparing for my dream life.

Next week for the diner classic/comfort meal we are roasting up half chickens and we are serving them with truffled risotto. I am also going to make a lemon and almond rice pudding to have and so that is the recipe for this week. Yum!

4 cups whole milk (don’t skimp here, it won’t be creamy if you do)
1/2 cup rice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp sea salt, fine
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons-zest them first!)
1/4 cup amaretto
Zest of 3 large lemons
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

In a heavy, medium saucepan, combine the milk, rice, sugar, vanilla seeds, vanilla and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender, about 35 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix together the lemon juice, amaretto, and lemon zest. Slowly stir the lemon mixture into the rice mixture and cook for 10 minutes longer.

Stir in the whipping cream (mixture will still be runny but will thicken as it cools). Spoon the rice pudding into 4-6 small serving bowls, or one big bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Sprinkle the chilled rice pudding with sliced almonds and serve.