Columns

 

Summer salsa recipes you can make your own | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

June 18, 2016

“Boy, you could bottle and sell this salsa!” said my husband.

We were sitting on the deck eating dinner. The sun was shining, our kids were out playing in the yard and we were eating simple hand-held beef tacos topped with my savory and sweet summer salsas that force you to eat with your head tilted to the side so you don’t miss anything.

“Yeah, mom, this is the BEST thing you’ve ever made!” my daughter added.

Really? The BEST thing I’ve ever made? I felt my nose crinkle and mouth twist like the Church Lady from those old Saturday Night Live sketches.

“Well isn’t that special?” I heard myself say in my head.

What about all the Thanksgiving extravaganzas? What about the pot roasts? The perfectly cooked Copper River Salmon? The amazing cookies and cakes I’ve lovingly baked? My stews and soups? What about…

In my mind, the list went on and on.

Out of all the things I’ve served and been proud of, this simple salsa was, well, too simple. It was too easy, too pedestrian. There was not a lot of technique. The food processor really deserved the bulk of the credit.

But every cook loves to make people happy. That’s what we say, right?

“I love to cook because I love to feed my family and friends and make people happy!” I hear myself saying all the time.

And so isn’t it ironic when people really gush over something simple you just “threw together” and barely a whisper of gratitude over a meal you’ve really poured your heart into?

What about that coconut cream pie I made down to the coconut flakes in the homemade dough?

But as I sat there quietly watching my family enjoy my tacos it was hard to deny the obvious. Why is it so hard to just graciously take the compliment?

If the point of cooking is to bring sustenance and joy to others through a delicious meal, why does it matter what it is? Why isn’t something simple worthy of being the best thing?

If the point of cooking is to bring joy to people through my food, then why do all those “not good enough” scenes from meals gone past that were slaved over haunt me like the “Ghost of Culinary Past” as the home cook quietly waits with baited breath (and, probably, flour on her flushed cheeks) for the long awaited, beautiful praise for the dishes she has meticulously perfected?

But I’ve learned that cooking for me is just as much about giving to others as it is learning about myself.

And watching my family devour and enjoy the savory and sweet salsa — a simple and fun way to add a complex depth of flavor, zing, and pizazz to other dishes — is a reminder of what’s important.

I understand we’re talking about salsa here, but really the lesson translates to anything.

Getting a million compliments on an outfit you just threw together and getting your nose bent out of shape for not getting a compliment on the “perfect” outfit you spent way too much money on.

There are always those reminders in cooking, as in life, that often times the simple is better than the over-processed, over-scheduled and over-glitzed. Simple just is. And if we look a little deeper, it has as much heart and value as the complex and expensive.

So I started thinking about my salsa making.

For one thing it has evolved over the past couple years. I was tentative at first, until I realized the forgiving nature of salsa: too much of any one ingredient means you up the ante on the others to find the right balance for your palate.

Which is where I discovered that salsa, like life, screams out for you to make it your own.

So I did. I started off making the traditional tomato-based salsa, infusing it with flavors I love, the herbaceous freshness of truckloads of cilantro, Vidalia sweet onions, white onions, enough squeezed sour limes to make your lips pucker, cumin, jalapeno and the addition of that spicy shrewd shallot that, shows up like a character actor ready to pack a punch to the rest of the ensemble cast. There’s also loads of minced garlic, garlic salt, a pinch of sugar to help balance the acid and the spice.

I had such a great time making my savory salsa that I had to work on a sweet version for grilled seafood, tacos, nachos and, well, everything: Precisely cut mangoes, sweet and sour apple, pineapple, cilantro, red onion, more limes, shallot, garlic and salt. Then, last summer, I decided to work some magic with a sweet salsa for grilled seafood.

Making salsa is a real practice in patience and knife skills.

These are basic ingredients, but when I pick them out, I smell the cilantro, I feel the mangoes for ripeness, I look for the garlic in the farmer’s market that still has the dirt on the strings, I choose the freshest and I do so with intention.

As I got “out of my head” and rejoined my family on the deck, it felt better than good to tilt my head and take a bite of my salsa-infused beef tacos, munching away the flavors popped, and so did the reminder that there are no greater lessons than the simple ones.

Give these a try, but don’t feel obligated to stick exactly to the recipes. Remember: make your salsa your own.

For Carolyn’s ‘Pippimamma’s Pineapple, Mango, Apple Salsa’ recipe, please visit www.rentonreporter.com.

 

Summer grillin’ couldn’t be easier with right cut of meat | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

April 30, 2016

summergrill

Carolyn Ossorio got some’meaty’ tips from Ted Coffman of Shawn and Ted’s Quality Meat Market in the Highlands about summer grilling. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio.

 

“Hey, Carolyn, how’s your mom?! She still working at the salon?” Ted asks as he jags up to the butcher counter. He has a compact frame and is always moving with intensity.

Not the random chaos of say, a chicken with its head cut off, Ted is THE supreme commander of his domain: Shawn & Ted’s Quality Meat Market.

“Good, good,” I say. “She’s not working at the salon anymore, but helping a lot around our house these days,” I add.

Normally, I avoid small talk like the handle of the grocery store restroom.

Read more

It’s repugnant to me because it usually feels forced and insincere. I realize it’s a necessary social norm to the alternative of living off the grid with squirrels for friends or Starbucks in Alaska. I know that seems harsh, but really, who enjoys small talk?

An example: There’s a coffee shop I purposely avoid (of course Karma designs that it’s my husband’s favorite coffee shop) because the barista has referred to me as Caroline for the last 10 years AND because during a “serving” of small talk, he said, “You know I always think of you and your husband whenever I watch that show Mike and Molly … because you’re a writer and she’s a writer.”

Who wouldn’t want to be compared with a 300- pound fictional character who met her husband at Over Eaters Anonymous?

However, there is one scenario where I appreciate the lost art of small talk and that is when it’s authentic and has a purpose, like my brief but informative conversations with Ted.

When you walk in to Shawn & Ted’s Quality Meat Market in the Renton Highlands it’s like walking into that one-time-fictional bar where everybody knows your name … literally, I’m not kidding, Ted knows your name. It is so important to Ted to remember every customer’s name that he even has a little cheat sheet taped to the butcher case with crib notes of descriptions of customers who for whatever reason he has a tough time remembering.

But there is a purpose to it … he actually cares about his customers and believes it’s vital to reinforcing the feeling of a fun old-time country atmosphere and extremely customer focused.

Ted’s my butcher and after eight years of being a weekly customer at his Renton Highlands butchery, he’s a friend. With summer feeling like it’s already here, I had to stop by and get some grilling tips from tips from Ted.

I was having a huge cookout at our house. I had ordered a couple of racks of baby back ribs, Kalbi marinated short ribs (a mixture of teriyaki, ginger, brown sugar and red pepper flakes), chicken thighs, a handful of brats, three pounds of extra lean ground beef and a few New York strip steaks.

I always over or undercook the steaks and so wanted to get some advice from Ted.

When I walked in, “Free Bird” was floating on the air waves at Shawn & Ted’s and I hung back behind the counter by the freezer and waited for him to finish helping his customer.

“Hey Bob, what are you going to cook with that ground beef?” Ted asked.

“We’re doing some grilling,” Bob replied. “Not sure if I should get the lean or extra lean.”

“If you’re grilling, Bob, definitely go with just the lean ground.”

I horned in, “Hey Ted, I just ordered a bunch of extra lean ground beef for burgers that I’m grilling up tonight, did I mess up?” I asked.

Of course he had a solution.

“You’ll be fine, just make sure that when you grill ground beef, especially extra lean DO NOT press the burger into hard patties. Keep it fluffy and loose. Compressing the air out makes the burger dense like a hockey puck.”

There is something satisfying when the grill is piping hot and the cheese is beginning to melt to press down the spatula on the patty and hear all the juices sizzle as they splatter on the flame in a showy display of grilling prowess.

“Another thing,” Ted shared with Bob and me, “never take your spatula and press really hard when it’s sizzling on the grill, because what you are doing is pressing out all the fat, juices and flavor.”

Note to self: don’t be a grill show off!

I watched Ted add up Bob’s purchase the will they all do at Shawn & Ted’s, by hand on the back of the butcher paper.

After Bill left, Ted waived me over for a “working” interview: I watched while he trimmed and cut.

First Ted slipped out what he called, a “Primal Cut.” Essentially a gigantic side of beef the size of a sack of Russet potatoes.

Watching Ted handle that Primal Meat was pure artistry. Using a sharp knife that reminded me of an Arabian sword with the curved tip sliding it this way and that way like a surgeon. Trimming the white fat with a practiced hand.

We talked about where his passion for customer “It’s important because you just don’t get that kind of service anymore. I spend so much time here that my friends are my customer service comes from.

“I learned to remember everyone’s name from Pike Place market, Crystal Meats, established in 1947.”

It was at Crystal Meats in 1988 that Ted found his calling. Instead of heading off to Bellevue College to be an accountant, Ted stayed put working 80 hour weeks at Crystal Meats.

“I learned the value of customer service from a very personable meat market and fell in love with the energy of the place and the customers.”

Crystal Meats went out of business in 2012 and so prompted Ted and his business partner Shawn to open Shawn & Ted’s Meat Market in Renton.

“My absolute favorite thing is to have a customer walk in and say that I was right about the beef choice. On a holiday I take pride in knowing that I’m a part of people’s conversation by just doing my job the way it should be done.”

Which is why Ted always tries to ask his customers what they plan on cooking with the meat they purchase.

“Three out of 10 people are buying the wrong meat for what they are trying to accomplish. Technically, our stew meat is the most tender when cooked correctly. But people buy a piece of meat, take it home, cook it incorrectly and they never come back because they think the meats not good.”

Which is why Ted likes to provide an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to ask questions and who also appreciate the quality service and product that they provide.

Customer service is a lost art. These days there’s not a lot of talking and communication.

There was also a pile of slivered New York steak trim and fat strips piled up and then wrapped up with care almost like a meat present.

I asked Ted what advice he would give to grillers this summer.

“Don’t give up! After 28 years I still learn something new every day. Just cook, don’t get caught up in it and don’t be afraid to mess up or ask questions, that’s what I’m here for!”

 

Celebrate St. Paddy’s Day with homemade fish and chips | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

February 27, 2016

fishandchips

Carolyn Ossorio and her son Patrick, who is convinced this month’s holiday is for him, with a plate of fish and chips Image Credit — Submitted.

 

For me, eating fish and chips is like eating a great burger — if I’m going to go for it, I want it to be the best deep fried fish and chips I’ve ever eaten in my life, otherwise, to paraphrase Mr. T: I pity the fool who disappoints.

Recently, my husband and I went on a date to try the fish and chips at a local restaurant for this month’s column. With five kids, date night takes on biblical proportions, so after securing a babysitter, our expectations were running pretty high.

So I felt conflicted when I ordered fish and chips and they were horrible. I mean, the fish was literally rotten.

Everything was going great, the service was excellent, clean, inviting environment, wide beer selection, wonderful appetizers. They had gotten everything right but that one thing. And serving rotten food is a big deal.

I stewed about it for days afterward.

Read more

On the one hand, I never want to write bad stuff about a restaurant. Unless it’s a travesty of justice, why be a jerk? I can always walk away; no harm, no foul. We live in America where there is always another choice.

And, honestly, operating a restaurant is really, really hard. We cannot complain that there aren’t enough restaurants in Renton if we are not willing to support the folks who have committed everything to making it happen.

I learned this first hand waiting tables.

When I was 18, I realized that the only way I could afford to go to college was if I could wait tables at night and go to school during the day.

With zero experience I talked myself into a job waitressing at a steak and seafood house. I had heart! I was passionate! I was creative! I was a hard worker!

It became very clear to everyone, including myself, that without question, I was the worst waitress in the world.

Those first few months were brutal. Going home crying every night because I was the “worst waitress in the world” taught me a huge lesson early on in life.

I learned the hard way that to be successful at anything it takes lots of luck, creativity, but mostly consistency, tons of hard work and a passion to continue on regardless of how many times you mess up.

Eventually, I went from being the worst server to being the best server. I stayed with that company all through college.

Which is why, today, I may not be writing up the restaurant. But you can be sure I’ll go back! I just won’t order my beloved fish and chips again.

I really have no business ordering fish and chips at a restaurant anyway.

First, I have an amazing fish and chip recipe I cook in my own kitchen.

Second, it’s no secret that we humans attach a lot of emotions to our food.

Whether its because you’re broke and this is your only night to eat out for the next two weeks, or you’ve been on a diet for a year and this is the first “cheat” night, or, as in my case, biting into fish and chips reminds me of being Irish!

Or perhaps of a St. Patrick’s Day spent on a cherry bar stool at an Irish pub hoisting a pint of Harp’s while grubbing on the finest fish and chips in your life while singing green alligators and long neck geese when I was in college.

So yes, it’s reasonable to say that I have an unreasonable amount of expectations when I order fish and chips!

The truth is, Rentonites and Seattleites in general are picky. Our expectations are too high.

Maybe it’s because were from the PNW, sister city to Portland, who gets to be weird while Seattle is expected to pick up the slack.

Seattleites are often described as “frosty, but fair.” Self starters. Creative, high achievers, doers of the right thing…up to a point: but mess up our fish and chips and we won’t be back. And we’ll retaliate by telling all our friends or go on YELP.

It is my personal opinion that the business model of YELP is evil: giving a platform for anonymous people with zero accountability to ruin a reputation. Not cool.

What I do know is, I think we owe our support to new, local restaurants and give them a chance to grow. But we can’t forget to show much love to the restaurants that have been here forever and are still serving amazing food.

But until Renton has a new Irish pub, I’ll save eating my beloved fish and chips at home with my family! Try the recipe yourself, and Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

 

A Valentine’s Day brunch from Peyrassol you can make at home | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

January 26, 2016

valentine

Columnist Carolyn Ossorio and Peyrassol Head Chef Sacha Tinsley pose for a photo after making eggs Benedict. Image Credit — Submitted.

 

Sachia Tinsley and Scott Cory are the wife and husband co-owners of Peyrassol, Café at Southport.

Just finding Peyrassol, wedged beneath the Bristol apartments along an inlet road, seems like a secret, unexpected port near the shores of Lake Washington.

Every Rentonite with a little curiosity should absolutely make their way “off the beaten path” because the truth is Peyrassol, which opened in 2010, is at the epicenter of development in Renton, right next door to the new hotel on Lake Washington at Southport.

Offering “Rustic Western European cuisine that is refined yet country” in a quaint, down-to-earth space, the food is made with high quality ingredients and guided by Executive Chef Sachia’s palate and Sommelier Scott’s internal mood ring.

I asked Scott to explain a sommelier.

Read more

“Think of a sommelier as a table side wine and beer educator and also a food guide all wrapped in one. Peyrassol offers some Washington wines but mostly Italian and French to complement a menu that, brings the taste of the lifestyle of dining in Europe to our restaurant,” Scott said.

According to Scott, when he goes to a table it’s his job to understand the table’s mood. To suggest a wine pairing based on their menu, and it is absolutely critical for him to “read the table,” or understanding what the guest is looking for, what they are used to drinking and if they want to try something new.

In Renton, the proprietors of Peyrassol are what I would describe as the “whole enchilada.”

There’s a confidence and an attention to detail that I appreciate, backed up by years of hard work (Scott has been a sommelier for over 26 years and Sachia has been cooking since she was two and more recently as Executive Chef at Wild Ginger and Triple Door).

On a recent Monday I was able to cook and chat with Chef Sachia. When she suggested we make eggs Benedict, a popular item on their Sunday Brunch menu, I was a little disappointed.

I had anticipated learning the secret of a much talked about favorite beef bourguignon, slow simmered in red wine and homemade stock and served with a polenta cake. Or perhaps learning the secret ingredients to some of their other dishes perfected from their travels around Western Europe, like hand-cut pasta dishes such as a “spaghetting alla chitarra al zafferano,” featuring pasta tossed in a saffron cream sauce and Dungeness topped with garlic sautéed prawns.

So when she suggested eggs Benedict, I didn’t mention that I kinda have a thing against brunch. Not as a concept, but in my experience it’s rarely done well.

I’m just not a fan of tonging out ham or turkey swimming in a mystery liquid. Or weak coffee, frozen orange juice or stale pastry that you feel compelled to eat just to keep a pulse.

But that’s the joy of learning how to cook with the pros; it changes your perspective and pushes you out of your comfort zone.

I would soon realize that the eggs Benedict was the perfect choice in it’s simplicity and, when well executed, is divine just like all of the food coming out of the Peyrassol kitchen.

We started with the hollandaise sauce. She cracked out egg yolks, setting aside the whites for other recipes or to donate to a local boys shelter.

She whisked the yolks with lemon juice and sea salt and after a bit added melted butter. With a touch of elbow grease I was surprised how quickly the sauce came together. And it was a beautiful sauce, somehow at once thick and thin with a velvety sheen.

I watched her dress two small piles of rocket arugula with a little olive oil on the cutting board before placing the glimmering greens gently on the halved English Muffins.

Next came poaching the eggs. Using the same pot of boiling water with a little bit of lemon juice and salt, she cracked in a couple of eggs.

As we waited for the eggs to cook Sachia shared the origin of the name, Peyrassol.

Sachia waited tables during the day and cooked at night at La Spiga which is where she met Scott, who, as the Sommelier at the Broadway QFC frequented La Spiga. Peyrassol is the name of the French Rose they shared from Provence and became the namesake in homage to their favorite wine and food experiences from their travels, something they hope to replicate, adding their own flare.

I could see her perfectionism in her kitchen, the cooking timers were placed “just so,” the knives were a reach away, sparkling clean and very sharp. But it was her arsenal of squeeze bottles, meticulously labeled that really intrigued me, Like magical potions filled with Sachia’s house-made sauces.

I commented on the lithe cut of her Beechwood smoked ham and she said, “And that’s thick for me.”

I nodded as I watched her pour the brilliant, lemon-colored sauce over the poached eggs nested in ham like a mother gently draping a warm blanket over a baby.

Slicing through the light, fluffy, poached egg was satisfying as the yolk burst over, mixing with the lemony, rich sauce, the sweet smoked ham, acid and spice from the arugula

We toasted my brunch conversion over a Blood Orange champagne.

And this my friends is how they do everything at Peyrassol: Precise, measured, thoughtful.

In Sachia and Scott’s world of Peyrassol they want every detail to be as wonderful for the guest as possible, mimicking the adventures of their European travels.

There is nothing more satisfying than eating a really delicious, thoughtful meal with excellent service from people who are passionate about what they are doing.

Peyrasoll in Renton is a no-brainer, a must try for Valentine’s Day or any day.

For the full Peyrassol eggs Benedict recipe, click here.

 

Fire up your New Year’s with Honey Bourbon Chicken | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

honeybourbon

Columnist Carolyn Ossorio poses with Steve McKenna and his New Year’s Eve offerings. Image Credit — Submitted.

 

The holiday season is great time to try new recipes and meet new friends.

I met Steve McKenna this month while hosting the tree lighting event at the Piazza in downtown Renton and we had the chance to talk about Steve’s two favorite subjects: food and spirits.

With New Year’s Eve on the horizon, I thought it would be fun to invite over a pro to learn how to cook a tasty New Year’s Eve finger food and an inspired cocktail with flare.

And there’s probably no one better qualified to teach cooking with alcohol than Steve McKenna, a New York transplant and now Renton resident who made his television debut on “Three Sheets,” a show about going around the country and world getting to know the locals and the best sights to see by having a drink with people.

Read more

Actually many drinks, which earned him thousands of Facebook followers at Iamstevemckennad and the dubious honor of having his name, “Mckenna’d,” recorded in the urban dictionary and loosely translated means “to get drunk and do stupid stuff.”

Steve is best known as co-host of the “Drinking Made Easy” television show.

But don’t let the signature dark shades and “professional drinking jacket” fool you (apparently it’s a custom piece with a lip in the front to hold your glasses, a front pocket with the circumference to hold a can of beer and sleeve holders with traction for a batter grip on said beer), Steve’s also an accomplished Shakespearean actor and chef.

His new web series, currently in production and called “Boozy Kitchen” will feature recipes like theHoney Bourbon Chicken Tenders we were making in my kitchen.

“Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon,” McKenna commented as I leaned into my kitchen counter to watch him dredge raw chicken tenders through an egg wash and then flour. I watched him do it again, with the egg wash and then flour before he moved into the panko flake finish.

I sipped the bourbon cocktail Steve had served, a medley with a honeyed, thyme infused simple syrup he calls “Perfection takes Thyme.”

I don’t know much about bourbon, but I do know enough about life to enjoy it while watching someone else getting their hands dirty in my kitchen.

“You can wear gloves if you don’t want to get your hands all dirty ’cause by the end of it they’re gonna be like big balls,” Steve said, holding up his hands to emphasize that after only two rounds of dredging, his fingers themselves were breaded think enough that I was worried for them being so close to the fryer.

“But I like getting my hands dirty. The best trick with breading anything is to get that egg wash and flour dredging into every single nook and cranny and build up that breading! Repeat in the egg wash and flour at least two times!” he said.

Steve’s dredging technique was developed as a line cook in his home town of Essex, New York, at the Old Dock House (a waterfront restaurant his Dad bought in 2006) where he perfected the art of deep frying.

According to Steve, the restaurant’s best seller was The Shore Platter, featuring three deep fried shrimp, three cod and three oysters. After a summer frying up a gazillion Shore Platters he earned the nom de plume “Stevie Shore.”

Here’s a couple of cooking tips I learned from watching the deep fry maestro: Let your pan get hot before you put the oil in. Pound the chicken tender out a bit so it’s not so thick with the breading and doesn’t become “sushi chicken” and no one gets salmonella.

And of course, Steve’s chicken tenders were super crispy and a perfect golden brown color!

But what was really fun was watching him infuse the honey barbecue dipping sauce with bourbon.

I think most home cooks, including this one, have a fascination with flambé, a cooking procedure in which alcohol is added to a hot pan to create a burst of flames. From flambéing to deglazing to braising cooking with alcohol doesn’t take a chemistry degree, but it is a real skill to understand the connection between pairing the right flavors to add depth and dimension and, you know, not burn your house down in the process.

For my part, I was a believer, the Honey Bourbon Barbecue Sauce was sweet, rich and the bourbon added an unctuous quality to it that paired wonderfully with the cool and refreshingly sweet and herbaceous Perfection takes Thyme cocktail.

Steve’s new show, “Boozy Kitchen” is a perfect venue to teach home cooks his passion for food as a trained chef and the fact that he’s become an accidental expert on all things alcohol. There’s twists on Beef Bourgeon (his recipe features both wine and bourbon), a French toast in a peach brandy sauce, a killer beer batter and a shrimp scampi to die for with wine and butter in it all day long.

Everyone is always looking for a great holiday recipe and Steve’s Honey Bourbon breaded chicken tenders are a smart alternative to barbecue wings at a party.

Served with the sauce on the side and a vibrant honey and thyme-infused cocktail at your New Year’s Eve gathering, they are sure to be a hit!

For the full recipe for Steve McKenna’s Honey Bourbon Chicken Strips and his Perfection Takes Thyme cocktail, click here.

 

 

A new recipe from the Old World for this holiday season | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

oldworld

Columnist Carolyn Ossorio and Helga Jacques share a toast before rolling up Helga’s Austrian Apple Strudel. Image Credit — Submitted.

 

Pulling up to the driveway of Helga Jaques’ Renton home I was excited to learn a new recipe for the holidays.

Her house is reminiscent of a Chalet in the Swiss Alps in a sea of modern construction. Instead of overhanging eaves made of wood, the house is adorned with a latticed network of connecting grapevines. This year, Helga and her husband of over 50 years turned 120 pounds of their home grown grapes into Verjus, a kind of cooking vinegar.

Yes, it just so happens that we have a real life Austrian grandmother on the hills of the Renton Highlands.

Read more

So when I had the opportunity to learn how to make Helga’s homemade, old-fashioned Apfelstrudelthat’s rolled up and filled with tart Granny Smith apples, I was like, “Ja!”

The thing I love to do more than anything over the holidays is to bake with my family and I was excited to learn how to make Apple Strudel with my kids.

Austria is situated in central Europe, bordered by Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. German is the national language.

I have always wanted to travel to Europe, and hanging out with Helga feels like the next best thing: She is literally everything that my not-well-traveled romantic American mind conjures up when fantasizing about the European sensibility: intelligent, easy going, less pretentious, artistic, fun, outgoing, open and knowledgeable about eating great foods that are harmoniously paired with spirits, without all the guilt.

Helga’s kitchen has all the elements I love: a mixture of old and new cooking equipment that is both efficient, homey and approachable. Her house is dressed in art, as she is an accomplished artist, and the view from the kitchen window is of her expansive backyard garden.

“There is an Austrian way to roll dough, Carolyn,” Helga said, as I rolled up my long sleeves to get to work and learn. The Austrian way to roll dough was taught to Helga by her grandmother, Hermione, whom she says was tough but fair, ideal qualities for making a great Austrian strudel, which is a simple recipe of flour, water, salt and butter.

But every cook knows that making simple ingredients sing is the hardest thing to do.

And judging by Helga’s hovering as I liberally doused flour on the marble countertop, I could sense i was about to learn the “right way” to roll the strudel dough, as taught to Helga by her grandmother.

“Not too much flour, Carolyn,” Helga said in a lovely accent that sounded German, but softer. The Austrian accent is lighter and when Helga speaks it’s rhythmic, as if she’s talking and singing at the same time, especially as she says, “Excellent, Carolyn!”

Suddenly I felt like I was in my grandmother’s kitchen. There is something about the way a grandmother teaches you things that you want to learn to do it the “right” way, which of course is their way.

You want to earn their praise. And Helga’s praise and charm warmed my heart ,alongside the nip of Austrian raspberry schnapps that we toasted with, of course.

Helga showed me how to slap the dough across her marble counter top and then while we waited for the dough to rise in the oven for an hour it was fun to talk “shop”: Our love of cruising thrift stores for kitchen gadgets, cutlery and pans and when to use baking powder versus baking soda, both are leaveners, but they are chemically different.

When a recipe calls for baking soda, it usually calls for some type of acid like buttermilk, brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, molasses, applesauce, natural cocoa powder or honey.

Since baking powder already contains an acid to neutralize its baking soda, it is most often used when a recipe does not call for an additional acidic ingredient.

Helga explained to me that in a pinch you can add a little lemon juice to milk if you need buttermilk.

As the rising time was nearly complete the conversation turned to how to properly “season” your cast iron pan with oil, which we were using to melt a stick of butter.

Helga let me pour in the bread crumbs. The scent of butter and toasting bread was heady.

According to Helga, a cast iron pan is really great for browning things, such as the bread crumbs we would add to the apple filling.

After the dough had risen, we rolled it out into a circle and Helga transferred it to a round table, where she showed me how to pull out the dough gently from the center. I followed her around the table as we put our hands to the center and gently pulled the dough to the edge of Helga’s grandmother’s table cloth.

The job wasn’t complete until we had achieved a paper-thin fineness through which we could read a newspaper.

Helga encouraged me to fling on the sugar, cinnamon, browned bread crumbs, raisins and apples. Then, using her grandmother’s table cloth, I watched her expertly roll the dough into a gorgeous layered log.

When the Apple Strudel was baking we chatted some more about life.

“Thank you for teaching me how to make apple strudel,” I said to Helga.

“Of course, Carolyn, strudel is a traditional thing you want to pass on to kids,” she said. “It’s a bit tricky, and better to have someone show it to you in person.”

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook and paused on a headline that said there was now a service available that would rent a mom to you for $40 an hour. She would teach you to sew, listen, help you buy groceries and make a meal.

I shared the link and made a snarky comment on my Facebook page about how today we are so technically advanced that we can now put a price on a mother’s love.

But then I was reminded of the soft, silkiness of Helga’s grandmother’s table cloth and how fortunate I was to have fingered the pale pink date “1910” cross-stitched into the edge of the worn cloth. What a gift it was to have spent that evening learning this recipe and story from Helga that I will this holiday season pass on to my children.

And the truth is, if you have a mother’s love in your life, it is truly priceless.

This holiday season I highly recommend finding someone to teach you a new recipe.

For Helga’s Austrian Apple Strudel recipe, click here.

 

There’s a burger for every addict at this classically trained chef’s ‘house’ | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

burgers

Columnist Carolyn Ossorio poses with Chef Marcus Olson. Image Credit — Courtesy Image.

 

I love a good hole-in-the-wall as much as the next person. Burger Addict, sandwiched between a biker bar and an old-school convenience store in a crusty corner off of Maple Valley Highway feels more like the punch line of a bad joke than the new “house” of a classically French- trained executive chef like Marcus Olson.

The fact is, when you walk underneath the neon yellow and red “Burger Addict” sign your senses are hit with plain walls holding up aged 1950s architecture, framed in oak trim in a sea of squared white tiles.

Despite this, the word of mouth alone on Burger Addict was enough for me to pull the trigger and find out what all the hype was about: was it true that we have another Iron Chef in Renton?

Read more

Well, not quite. Chef Marcus Olson attended Le Cordon Bleu, is former executive chef at Le Meridien in London and Paris as well as The Bull Run Restaurant on Wall Street in New York City and whose resume is much too long to recite here.

Suffice it to say, Chef Olson has been invited to the “Iron Chef” arena more than once, as well as Top Chef, but declined because he said the whole process is counterintuitive to his cooking philosophy: cook the best food you can with great service and you have customers. “These shows have little to do with being a chef. They are edited like a soap opera and I don’t want seven minutes to create an Amuse-bouche out of vending machine food,” he said.

I can say that as a Food Network junkie, I really enjoy seeing the glitzy and acclaimed chefs in my living room, with all the hype and glory of the Roman Colosseum. But instead of chariots and warfare you have a bedazzling wonderland of ovens and rows of high-powered mixers all with the chef at the center of the whirlwind.

So at first blanche, Olson’s critique sounded, well, treasonous. But I was also intrigued. And the burger was really delicious.

Every burger at Burger Addict is made from fresh, hormone-free Washington Angus top sirloin that is ground in-house. The artisanal fries are also made in-house, as are the gelato milkshakes that come in two flavors, vanilla and chocolate. Ghiardelli chocolate, of course.

“If I can’t cook the best burger, we have problems,” Chef Olson said to me as I devoured the lettuce-wrapped creation known as The Natural. If you are expecting a fast burger at Burger Addict, with gooey orange cheese dripping with a gremolata of special sauce, rehydrated onion bits and shredded iceberg you’ve come to the wrong place. The Natural is a straightforward hamburger with BURGER ADDICT CHEESE (Olson is in the process of getting the recipe patented), raw onion, lettuce, pickle, parsley aioli cooked to order with Olson’s own cooking process that uses high-temperature induction French ovens to result in a flavorful burger that is only 280 calories.

Olson returned to Seattle 10 months ago after 18 years away cooking in Europe, D.C. and New York. He hopes Burger Addict will help finance his larger plans of opening a four-star waterfront restaurant. Apparently, the fact that Burger Addict is the only handmade burger place in the world that delivers, coupled with the new marijuana laws have put in motion the ability to print money. The only challenge is trying to take a to-go order with someone who has the munchies. Apparently, pot makes you hungry and also talk really, slowly … which is a challenge when you’re trying to run a restaurant.

“The police love us because since we are delivering were keeping people off the road who might otherwise get behind the wheel … and they love our burgers.”

According to Marcus, the concept of Burger Addict was based on his philosophy as a chef as well as simple math: more than 210,000 people drive on Maple Valley Highway each month and for the last 25 years, Americans’ hunger for burgers has increased 25 percent every year.

Then, simply offer it at a fair price, so families do not have to spend as much as at a national chain.

At Burger Addict, the burgers getting are moderately priced between $5 and $10, depending on the size.

Finally, says Chef Olson, “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”

Burger Addict has been open only about 100 days and has already been wooed by two national chains with starry eyes and open wallets. I was surprised he wasn’t tempted to entertain their offers after hearing about his 90-hour work weeks doing every job in the house.

“I cook, clean the toilet, mop the floors, clean the fryer and I would rather do all these things … than listen to corporate jargon and doing things unethically for the guest and employees,” he said. “I would rather take a place like this, a dilapidated hole in the wall that’s been doomed to failure and turn it around.”

It’s a long way from culinary school and cooking for dignitaries to the Maple Valley Highway, but I have to say, the idea of serving good food, putting customers and employees ahead of shareholders and treating people the way you want to be treated, sounds tasty. About as tasty as a Burger Addict Natural Burger and Fry meal, in fact!

Burger Addict is located at 2435 Maple Valley Hwy.

 

Ditch the diet and focus on a ‘healthy eating life plan’ this fall

ditchthediet

 

Columnist Carolyn Ossorio with some of her apple haul.— Image Credit — Submitted.

 

Whenever I have gone on a diet, I have failed. Not a miserable failure mind you, but there was just one problem, and admittedly it was a biggun: I was unable to sustain, ummm, not eating.

Besides, cooking and breaking bread with family and friends is one of the joys of my life. So not eating or cooking for my family feels a bit like the antithesis of living life to its fullest.

If it were up to me the word “diet” should be eradicated from the planet.

Diet to me usually means you have to give up eating the foods that made you squishy to begin with: no more cupcakes, spaghetti Bolognese, peanut butter cookies or fudgey chocolate cake.

Read more

Which is why I prefer to call what I’ve been doing for the past four months my “healthy eating life plan.” It connotes focusing on habits and foods that are better for your body and soul and on not giving up anything.

Diets always remind me of fads, anyway. And, with a few exceptions (like the Rubik’s Cube), generally, no good can come from fads.

Which is why I have stayed away from quinoa. Obviously.

Of course no one ever thinks that fads are annoying in the “hey day” of the fad, you just continue munching on that Kale-quinoa-turkey ball and say, “I’m Gluten Free.”

It’s only afterward, when the fad becomes ridiculous and ironic that you realize the error of your ways. Besides, no one likes the person who suddenly changes their eating and exercise habits and then lords it over everyone else.

Which is why if asked, I simply say, “healthy eating life plan” or to my foodie friends: “I was tired of feeling like a deep fried Twinkie and wishing to be a Petit fours.”

These days I’m going for balance.

Which means this time of year I still make my family’s favorite Back-to-School snacks like granola, chunky apple sauce and homemade honey’d peanut butter.

Getting ready for school is always hectic as kids are both excited and nervous about their classes. For all of us, it feels like an opportunity for a fresh start AND it is literally the most organized I will feel all year.

So between the mad dash of cleaning, school shopping and getting paperwork in order at school (I have one kid with asthma and tree nut allergy), the family took some time out to grab some free apples to stock up the pantry with my delicious Chunky Pippimamma Apple Sauce and Apple Butter.

We came by the opportunity to pick our fill of apples from the “Buy Nothing Renton Highlands” Facebook group. The group’s philosophy is about giving, sharing and community.

Essentially, if you have something you no longer need and want to freely give to a neighbor in the community, you make a posting and people who want your free stuff respond (in our case we wanted the apples). The owners of the fruit trees couldn’t bear the idea of all the fruit falling to the ground and going to waste and invited a few neighbors onto their property, asking in return for a few jars of apple sauce or whatever was made with the apples and plums.

This past Sunday we showed up at our neighbor’s house bearing four Mason jars filled with jam and the kids and I walked away with five bags of apples and a wonderful experience of picking and climbing the trees together.

This is a great time of year to get started on some positive changes in your life. Whether it’s your own version of “New Healthy Life Plan” or reaching out to your community, or some other goal.

In full disclosure, I did try my own recipe of Quinoa Turkey balls, because, well, I was hungry. Afterward, I decided that I am so ok with being a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich.

So long as it’s a rice cake with my homemade Honey’d Peanut Butter topped with Apple Butter and thin apple slices, of course!

 

We’re jammin’ and we hope you like jammin’ too | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

hotfromtheoven

Columnist Carolyn Ossorio displays some of her farmers market finds and future jam projects. Image Credit — Submitted.

Whoever coined the phrase, “If you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen” must have been canning in the middle of a heat wave.

And this month, for me it’s all about cooking in MY scalding hot kitchen.

What’s on the menu at Camp Ossorio?

Chutney, cherry marmalade, bread and butter pickles, pickled green beans, basil and garlic tomato sauce, beet and sage relish, peach butter, and of course, raspberry, blackberry, cherry, apricot jam.

I feel a little like a squirrel stocking away nuts from my garden, or in the parlance of home cooks who have learned the art of “putting up” from their mother’s, grandmothers or Youtube.

Read more

Stirring batch after batch from a bubbling cauldron of smashed fruit and sugar that could cause third degree burns, while wearing an apron, hot oven mitts and manning two other burners filled with water for a hot bath and a separate pan for sterilizing lids.

I think part of the charm of canning is that the technique hasn’t changed much. Arguably, it’s one of the few things in life that there isn’t an “app” for.

But if you’re going to can, you want to pick the freshest, best ingredients possible. And, fortunately, Renton has two Farmers Markets filled with local fruit and vegetables. Tuesdays from 3-7 at the Piazza in downtown Renton. And, on Friday’s from 3- 7 at the Renton Landing.

I feel fortunate to have mastered a skill that was helped along by Napolean Bonaparte, of all people.

“An army marches on its stomach,” Bonaparte famously said, and placed an ad in Le Monde offering 12,000 francs to anyone able to invent a new way to preserve food for his troops. A French baker answered the call creating the glass jars and water-bath method we use today.

There have been other iterations toward perfecting food preservation including pottery, tin-iron canisters and others. Then in the 1800’s inventor John Mason created the lid with the rubber ring that created a vacuum seal that protects the food from spoilage.

For me, there is a deep sense of personal fulfillment in having access to a bountiful local harvest at the peak of its freshness and preserving it for another day.

I also love the feeling of sharing those simple, old-fashioned style Mason jars with little bits of fabric or a simple sticker that says, Vanilla Peach Jam.

But mostly, I know there will come a morning, which feels light years away from these 90-degree days, when I’ll wake up and it will be either drizzly or overcast, but probably, both. On that day, I shall take a thick piece of wheat bread perfectly toasted – perhaps a petite baguette – and slather it with creamy, salty butter and spoon on chunky, bright red strawberry jam recently harvested from a field not too far from home.

Delicious.

The thing about canning, as I’ve discovered is true with most things in the kitchen, is NOT “if you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen” but rather “If you don’t take a chance you’ll never learn.”

So, if you’ve always thought about trying to can, but felt too intimidated, you’ve gotta try! All it takes is a willingness to say to yourself, “I’m totally OK with messing this up.”

Besides, the thing with jam, as opposed to baking bread and your mother-in-law, is that jam is very forgiving.

Which is to say, you really can’t mess it up. It might not “set” which is to thicken the way you like it, but raspberries and sugar always pair well together!

This year, I was a little slow on the draw and missed the strawberry season. Partly, because I’ve taken a majority of white and brown sugar out of my diet.

And jam has tons of sugar in it. Which is why in the past I kind of looked the other way while dumping in that truckload of it into the pot; It just tastes so darn good!

But this year, I decided to take my own advice and take a risk and try something different: jam sweetened entirely with raw honey and bananas.

I decided to add bananas because they are so naturally sweet. True to the “Just Do It” cooking adage I always subscribe too, I just did it!

The jam didn’t set exactly as I would like, but it tastes delicious and I’m calling it my “Pippimamma Honeyed Raspberry Banana Jam.” I will be adding it to cookies, sweet breads, cereals, smoothies, toast and whatever else I can dream up.

These days if you go into any grocery store and there are all sorts of gadgets designed to entice shoppers to buy into the tradition of canning as a way to preserve foods.

But getting started, all you really need is a big stock pot, Mason jars, fruit, sugar/honey, pectin and a culinary desire to “just do it.”

So hit those farmer’s markets and see what you can dream up!

 

In search of the perfect tomatillo salsa with Chef Tom

tomatilloSalsa

Famed Chef Tom Douglas, at left, poses with Carolyn Ossorio and her daughters Amelia and Sophie. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio.

 

“Good job,” I say, helping to chop the last bits of cilantro.

I stand beside my daughter Sophie in our Mad Men-era kitchen. The double oven is yellow, the countertops are a rusty orange Formica.

This afternoon I’m Sophie and Amelia’s sous chef. I lean into the mini island and watch as Sophie slips my cilantro into the beginnings of our Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with Chicken Skewers.

The kitchen island overlooks our open living room where my mom is watching over Baby Ty cruising the furniture.

“The smell is amazing,” Mom says referring to the potent, freshly chopped onion and garlic we picked up at the Renton Farmer’s Market last Tuesday.

Read more

There is definitely a difference between mass produced and local produce –like wild from tame. The cilantro was jalapeno green, wet and damply alive like flora in a rainforest.

The fresh garlic looks prehistoric and nothing like its plastic jugged cousins of pre-peeled bulbs available at Costco. The husk surrounding the garlic cloves has a purple hue with little bits of dirt still clinging to the tendrils.

“Thanks, Mom. This is fun,” Sophie says pulling the seeds from her poblano chiles. She’s 10 years old and a budding culinary master.

Her passion for cooking inspired me a couple years ago. I never realized how much I would come to enjoy cooking with my kids on what we now call our “food experiments” — in homage to Albert Einstein’s famed “thought experiments” of which E=MC2 was the result.

The E=MC2 of our “food experiments” is the pursuit of kid-friendly recipes that our family can cook together for fun while at the same time creating a healthy connection with food.

“What can I do now? Amelia asks, pointing to the now faded recipe. (We used the printed-out recipe as our guide.) A little like geocaching, but instead of a hand-held device, the now-crumpled and literally “rubbed with love” recipe had been given to us by Chef Tom Douglas for our latest adventure.

On the other side of the island, Amelia and my nephew Lucas begin chopping the tomatillos, one of the main ingredients.

Out of the three generations preparing the recipe: grandma, mom and kids, none of us had ever cooked with tomatillo’s.

Tomatillos are referred to as the green tomato that are a staple of Mexican cuisine. And for us newbies, acquiring them proved a challenge.

At the second local shop, Mexican Tienda, I heard Amelia cry, “Mommmy! The Tomatillos!” Her look of delight as she held aloft a husked green fruit was pure Indiana Jones.

Chef Tom Douglas was in Renton recently, cookin’ up some Rubs with Love salmon and steak at McLendon’s where his line of Rubs with Love spices and sauces are available.

Douglas is a big supporter of shopping locally. In 2006, Tom and his wife bought a farm in Prosser, Wash. Using three acres for a vegetable garden they are hard at work realizing their dream of a truly farm to table experience. The fruits and vegetable bounty are shared and celebrated with friends, employees and patrons of their popular restaurants.

And did I mention this Iron Chef’s coconut cream pie is a rhapsody in flavor layering. Crisp pie dough flecked coconut meets chilled creamy filling topped with whip cream so dreamy you could lay your noggin’ on its sweet goodness and float on the coconut and white chocolate topping like a concert jumper riding a wave of fans.

I chatted with Chef Douglas the other day about our family’s latest “food experiment” following his Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with Chicken Skewer.

Tom is one of eight siblings and I asked him if cooking with his family and working in their garden was a primer for his cooking career.

He chuckled. “I wish it was that romantic. We were forced into servitude or we didn’t get our allowance. I don’t know too many kids who ask to weed the garden.” Chef Tom did go on to say that he had gotten interested in cooking around his family experience.

Shopping with four kids between the ages of 10 and 14 months, I could definitely relate. Criss-crossing Renton searching for the ingredients –Johnny Cash was our muse and his song — I’ve been everywhere, man.

We went to the Renton Farmer’s Market, man.

To Mexican Tienda’s, man.

To Ay! Jalisco, man.

To Saar’s, man.

To Shawn and Ted’s Quality Meat Market, man.

We’d been everywhere, man.

But it was worth it.

I asked Tom if he had any kid-friendly tips for parents.

“Cooking with your kids is a remarkable exercise to let them in on the purchasing part of the process — kids love to shop and its great to take them to these ethnic places where people don’t always speak the language. You need to treasure hunt a little bit. Don’t be too parental, let them discover little things … like the palm sugar at the front counter and the little Mexican candies that will get them interested in food in other places and food from other places. I think it’s a great way to translate that into a kitchen and a recipe. They’re more invested in the process instead of just being dragged away from the TV and a video game.”

You don’t have to be a master chef to enjoy “food experiments” with your kids. Cooking is accessible, fun and having all the gadgets and gizmo’s isn’t necessary. What I do recommend is having a great recipe. Something you’ve never cooked before as you begin the hunt for fresh local ingredients like the ones we used in Chef Tom Douglas’s recipe.

 

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

with grilled chicken skewers

Yields ¾ cup salsa and 4-6 servings of chicken

8 till ounces tomatillos (2 ½ cups), husked, rinsed and dried

2 teaspoons olive oil plus 1 tablespoon

1 poblano or Anaheim chile, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon pureed canned chipotle en adobo, or more to taste

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400º F. Combine the fresh tomatillos with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a pan and place in the oven for about 10 minutes, tossing them around a couple times, until softened and lightly browned here and there. Allow the tomatillos to cool slightly, then put them on a cutting board and chop coarsely. Put the tomatillos in a sieve and drain off and discard all the liquid. Combine the drained tomatillos, the poblano, cilantro, onion, lime juice, garlic, chipotle, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until your skewers are ready.

 

For the chicken skewers:

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

16 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 mins and drained

Peanut or vegetable oil for brushing

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fire up the grill or pre-heat the broiler. Cut each chicken breast into 4 pieces, about 2 inches by 1 inch each. Thread 1 piece of chicken on each skewer, brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the chicken on skewers over medium coals, turning often. When the chicken is cooked through, or after about 7 mins, remove the skewers from the grill and spoon the salsa over the top just before serving.

Tom’s kid-friendly tip: serve the salsa in small bowls so that little ones can dip their own skewers. Remove the meat from the skewers before serving to very little ones—they can have sharp tips!

 

Jammin’ with the kids at IKEA with garden whisperer

gardenwhisperer

Author Amy Pennington Image Credit — Submitted.

 

“Mommy, why are you smiling?” Patrick asked, sitting patiently in the grocery cart.

“Well, I was just thinking about a memory,” I said, jiggling the glass jar like a snow globe, watching the aromatics float and skid about the jar. Different packaging than I remembered . . . but the same slivered garlic cloves, the same cool beans.

Like looking into a crystal ball suddenly I was transported back in time. I saw myself standing at the bar at the fine-dining restaurant perched at the edge of the sea where I used to work when I was in college. The doors and windows were open and the place was crowded with people, live acoustic music, the clinking glasses, the hustle and bustle as I leaned into the bar waiting for the drinks my guests had ordered.

Read more

There was a jar of the those beans just like the ones in the gourmet market . . . briny, salty, spicy, garlic floated around on the bottom, red chili flakes and coriander balls. The other drink garnishments were open for our fingers to slip into. A Mai Tai was garnished with a fresh cut pineapple skewered with a maraschino cherry.

But the Bloody Mary I was waiting on required one of those pickled green beans and only the bartender was allowed to garnish that drink because of how expensive the specialty beans were. They would wriggle their fingers into the mason jar and pull out those beans. Plunging them into the Bloody Mary and then the rest of us got to spear the green olives and lime squeeze.

Boy I wanted to try one of those beans.

As a broke college student, every tip was accounted for — there was no room for drinks garnished with gourmet beans. The pickled jar of string beans reminded me of how I used to observe other people at the restaurant, the people who could afford the beans.

It felt a little like a kid with her nose and fingers pressed up against a toy shop window, dreaming of the day when she would get to play and eat pickled string beans too.

But the beans reminded me of something even more powerful – the elation I felt at the end of the night when once again I was able to pay my rent and go to the University of Washington, making my way on my own and finding that though it was hard, I could do it.

Next in line at the market was the canned peaches.

I picked up a jar snug with half moon orbs suspended in their own thick syrup.  And saw my past once again . . . in the peaches.

This time I saw my five-year-old sitting next to my sister in Mrs. Hagen’s kitchen.  Mrs. Hagen was a grandmotherly, kind-hearted babysitter.

For snack Mrs. Hagen made my sister and me graham cracker and chocolate frosting sandwiches.  I loved squishing the thick layer of frosting out the sides and licking the edges.

Mrs. Hagen lovingly tended the largest garden in the neighborhood. It was flush with all kinds of peas, wax beans, strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers, pumpkins. Most summer days were spent sitting beside the warm composting piles that smelled like rotting grass as I lay in wait for the unsuspecting garter snake to slither out.

I loved helping Mrs. Hagen peel apples from her grove of apple trees.  My sister and I were given potato peelers. I remember feeling awed by Mrs. Hagen’s paring prowess; standing in front of the kitchen sink, she would peel the skin off an entire apple in one long string—one after another.

Our reward for helping was a slice of cinnamony sweet apple pie.

But my favorite treat of all was Mrs. Hagen’s canned peaches.

Canning peaches was an all-day event: steaming jars, cutting peaches and filling a cauldron sized enamel pot with fruit, pounds of C&H sugar and pectin.

Afterward we helped transport most of Mrs. Hagen’s jars into the cellar.

However, when we returned to Mrs. Hagen’s kitchen, her gift to us was a beautifully curved mound of cottage cheese topped with a still warm canned peach with syrup juice spilling over the sides into a sweet, sour, creaminess that warmed my belly.

I recall how comforted and special I felt in Mrs. Hagen’s garden and kitchen — at a time when my parents were in the midst of a divorce. Those days spent at Mrs. Hagen’s were a haven.

I’ve been paying forward Mrs. Hagen’s canned comfort food in the form of strawberry and raspberry jam.

Every season we visit the Renton Farmer’s Market prowling around for the plumpest, juiciest raspberries and strawberries.  And like Mrs. Hagen my kids and I make a day of it: cutting fruit, boiling and cooking jam, designing fun labels and packaging with recipes and fun tags to pass out to friends and family.

“So Mommy, are you going to get the beans or the peaches?”

I glanced down at Patrick.

I put the jars back on the shelf.

“We’re going to learn how to make both!” I said.

I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com.

At IKEA

Carolyn: Cooking with kids

We’ll be filming the first episode of our web series, “Cooking with kids at IKEA” 10:30-11:15 a.m. June 27, where we will capture the time-honored tradition of canning and sharing canning comfort stories.

Canning aficionado and famed garden whisperer Amy Pennington, author of “Urban Pantry” and host of KCTS “Check, Please!”, (pictured at right) will join me and the kiddoes in IKEA’s demo kitchen for a free canning event.

All are welcome as we explore the lost art of giving simple gifts like sweet strawberry jam or brandied cherries infused with aromatics for a mean martini!

Amy and Carolyn with show tips on fruit and veggie preparation, designing personal jar labels, the art of repurposing brown bags into unique gift packages complete with a recipe tag. For more information, go to  http://www.ikea.com/us/en/store/seattle/activities.

 

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? No? How about a snack anyway? | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

 

On a recent morning I was tying one on at The Berliner Gastropub (my Pippimamma apron that is) and continuing a heated conversation with the husband and wife dynamic duo of Dennis and Lydia Mascarinas, proprietors of the Berliner Pub in Downtown Renton.

Dennis and Lydia have an easy way of chatting with people in the restaurant business, small talk is a breeze. And then there’s Lydia’s Australian accent… She could say “composting” (something she’s passionate about) and it sounds interesting.

But back to our conversation.

Our foodie dialogue had started a week earlier with something that most people can relate to: what to cook for dinner?

Only, we were wondering what German dish they would teach me to cook for this Pippimamma: Hot from the Oven series. The Berliner offers a blend of German and American food and something for all tastes.

Read more

Many of the dishes offered at the Berliner are Lydia’s Austrian mother’s authentic German recipes and there are many choices!

First, we talked about making Berliner’s own recipe of all-natural, foot-long beer bratwurst. I’ve always wanted to try to use a meat grinder and fill the casings, but have been too intimidated to try it at home.

“Too boring,” they said.

OK…

Perhaps skewering a feast of local sausages served up plump, piping hot and sourced from the famous Pike Place Market Bavarian Meats butchers and smothered in mustard sauce?

What about the traditional Schweinshaxe, a new menu item, featuring mini pork shanks glazed with rum, blackberry and horseradish with a side of spätzle, a type of egg noodle that is the staple of Germany.

I was also keen on the Bratzel, a pretzel the size of Andre the Giant’s open palm, doughy and soft as Temperpedic foam, served up warm and sprinkled with salt, two different mustards and a cream-cheese-and-syrup combo that satisfies the sweet and savory parts of the palate and when combined with a nice cold Maisel’s Original Weisse, an unpasteurized wheat beer is a hallelujah of a carb bender one won’t soon forget!

What about the corn dogs?

Fuhgeddaboudit, as my New Yorker cousins say, these babies aren’t the frozen variety. These wieners are authentic German Wieners, hand dipped in a Berliner secret batter and deep fried to a golden goodness. Knowing the secret recipe for those dogs would be too dangerous!

“Let’s make a Weiner Schnitzel (breaded and fried thinly sliced pork) paired Kartoffelsalat or Hot German Potato Salad that is not like your grandma’s potato salad,” Dennis promised.

It’s a dish Lydia grew up eating often, and they still use Lydia’s mother’s recipe at The Berliner.

Lydia’s mother is from Austria and emigrated to Australia.  Lydia grew up in Australia and 17 years ago while traveling the world, she made a pit stop in the U.S. She wandered into a bar after a salsa class where she met a charming bartender named Dennis who had lived in Germany and spoke German as does Lydia. For these two the language of love was less “Parlez-vous, francais?” and more, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

In addition to being passionate about everything German, Dennis and Lydia had practical reasons for opening the PNW hot spot for everything German—they wanted a place to bring their kids, and enjoy a great beer! Kids are allowed in the pub until 10 p.m.

“Why Renton?” I asked, trailing behind Dennisas he made his way to the walk-in refrigerator filled with kegs that support 20 German beers on tap. “Being from Seattle, what made you want to open the Berliner, here?”

“Well, I cheated,” Dennis said with a smile, “I was a demographics student at the University of Washington. Based on demographics and what was going on I knew Renton was the place to be!”

All their tap beer is brewed in Germany and shipped over in kegs through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast of America. They work closely with importers who travel to Germany to find new and unique beers to bring over, often from smaller breweries. Sometimes they have beer on tap that isn’t available anywhere else in the States.

Back in the kitchen, Dennis was ready to cook.

After frying the bacon for the potato salad and adding apple cider vinegar, potatoes and a few other simple ingredients we set the potato salad aside and moved on to breading pork into thin cutlets.

Dennis wore a custom black t-shirt with the Berliner’s familiar bear logo and the phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “I am a Berliner.”

“I thought it would make a cool t-shirt,” Dennis said, in homage to the famous JFK speech. “We called our establishment Berliner because it is the capital of Germany and is an amazing city. We thought it would be a recognizable name for the American public so they would know straight away that we have a German place.”

The Weiner Schnitzel and Hot German Potato salad is served steaming hot, sweet, sour and spicy…the combo represents the Americana comfort food version of “pot roast and mashed potatoes” of the German world and is served up fresh daily in DTR with Rotkohl or sauerkraut-i-fied red cabbage.

“Since opening business has been great,” Lydia added, “The people of Renton particularly have been very supportive as have others from further afield. We have people coming to us from Tacoma, Olympia, Issaquah, Seattle and everywhere in-between. Our guests are what makes Berliner what it is today! We are hoping to open Tacoma in April of this year. The construction is now moving ahead rapidly and, barring any hiccups, will be complete by April. Keep your fingers crossed!”

When you go into the Berliner for dinner, whether you’ve lived in Renton your whole life, new to the area or just visiting, the atmosphere feels eclectic. There’s dim lighting and a cozy atmosphere with a fire in the middle of the room; Think “Vikings” on AMC the great hearth and long table bench seating, steins of deep amber and dark colored beer.

And the crowd is as diverse as Renton itself.

If you’re there on a Saturday night as I was later that evening there was yodeling in the background and dueling trumpets from the local father and sons German group, the Happy Hans band.

They also offer trivia night, karaoke, an amazing beer garden and best of all I enjoyed the live music of local German Band, the Happy Hans!

Oy, Oy, Oy an Octoberfest cheer, followed by a Prost! A German toast that means bottoms up!

 

It’s not Halloween without homemade caramel apples (with recipe) | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

caramelapples

Pippimamma and her caramel apple pops. Image Credit — Submitted.

 

Editor’s Note: The recipe printed on Page 13 of this week’s Renton Reporter inadvertently left “2 cups of half-and-half” off of the recipe’s ingredients list. The full, corrected recipe is below. We apologize for the error.

I was bantering the other day with my husband, Paul, about the idea of offering out homemade candy to trick-or-treaters, specifically, caramel apples.

He thought I was being ridiculous. I thought I was kind of being ridiculous.

Read more

So many things have changed the way we parent, but it seems like Halloween candy has stayed exactly the same since the urban legend of razor blades and pins in candy apples. Which is ironic because there has never been one documented case of razor blades in Halloween candy, ever.

For me, Halloween ain’t Halloween without that caramel apple, (not the weird looking bright red one, it’s all about the creamy, dreamy camel-brown soft one).

The caramel apples were invented many years after the bright red, cinnamon candy apple, by Kraft Foods employee Dan Walker in the 1950s when experimenting with excess caramels from Halloween sales; he simply melted them down, and added apples.

Which, admittedly, is kind of a boring origin story for one of my favorite childhood treats.

A caramel apple was a special treat because unlike a Snickers or a KitKat walking around with it was something special. It meant that you were either at the Puyallup Fair or a mom or a Nana had to make it for you.

Eating a caramel apple (preferably around a gang of kids without a caramel apple) was an event. It was something you sat down and put your whole body into it. It makes me smile when I think of how I would turn my head to the side for the initial bite that got everything started, digging my eye teeth into that sweet, camel-colored gooey, softness and continuing through to the crisp crunchy Granny Smith apple. Of course, there was that sticky string that traced across your cheek, maybe you’d wipe it away with your sleeve, maybe you wouldn’t. Chomping the mixture of tart apple with salty caramel that cut the perfect balance of sweet and sour.

Delicious!

These days, however, I don’t want to eat an apple on a stick.

That probably sounds a little snooty, but really, how many adults, outside of a circus, do you see taking gigantic bites from a caramel apple?

Last year around this time of year, I splurged and bought a “gourmet” caramel apple the size of Jupiter on a stick in downtown Seattle. It looked nothing like the golden goody of my childhood, but it was gourmet, it had to be the best, right?

It was coated to the max with layers and layers of chocolate, white chocolate, marshmallows, and peanut toppings.

The first bite felt more like chomping into a jaw breaker instead of the dreamy caramely softness. How could that monstrosity possibly deliver on the childhood memory I was craving?

It couldn’t.

Which is why I love making caramel apple pops; It’s the same concept without all the work.

Well, there’s still work making the homemade caramel sauce, but it’s a family fun thing and the kids love to scoop out the little apple balls and dip them into homemade caramel with little sticks. Or, dip the whole apple and dump on toppings.

Either way, celebrate Halloween in style this year with my caramel apple recipe this year!

Pippimama’s Caramel Apple Pops

Ingredients

• 1 cup butter (no substitutes)

• 2 cups half-and-half

• 1 cup packed brown sugar

• 1 ½ cups light corn syrup

• 1 ½ cups white sugar

• 1 Tablespoon vanilla

• ½ teaspoon salt

• 8 -10 wooden sticks

• 8 -10 medium tart apples (either organic or wash off apple wax)

Directions

• Insert 1 wooden stick into each apple or using a melon baller spoon out flesh into balls and stick with toothpick or wooden stick.

• In a heavy saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, cream, salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

• Cook and stir until a candy thermometer reads 248 degrees (firm ball stage) about 30-40 minutes and for a softer caramel cook just a few less degrees.

• Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.

• Dip each apple into hot caramel mixture; turn to coat.

• Holding by the stick, sprinkle with nuts or whatever you desire while the caramel is still warm (work quickly the caramel sets up fast).

• Set on generously buttered wax paper to cool (make certain to generously butter the paper).

• With extra caramel pour on popcorn for popcorn balls or pour into a brownie pan covered with Saranwrap for extra candy bites.

 

Really, who has the gall to steal a totem pole?

 

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m digging a seven-foot hole for the Henry Moses Totem Pole,” the man replied. He stood in the center of a raised flower bed at the Renton Fred Meyer. He wore jeans, T-shirt, white baseball cap and turquoise studs in his ears.

“I’m White Bear,” he said leaning against his shovel. “A couple of years ago I was parking my car here and I looked up at a faded totem pole. So I went researching at the Renton Historical Society.”

White Bear discovered the totem pole was the Henry Moses Honoring Pole. Moses was the last hereditary chief of the Duwamish tribe and the first Native American to graduate from Renton high school, in 1916.

Read more

“I wanted to restore the pole — then it was stolen.”

My ears perked up. “Stolen? Who steals totem poles?”

White Bear sat beside my shopping cart. He positioned himself comfortably —boy did he have a story to tell.

One rainy afternoon in early December 2009 a crane operator maneuvered a boom truck over a curb of a popular West Seattle park. In broad daylight another man, the one who had hired the crane operator and brought special tools, unbolted the 500-pound, 18-foot-long totem pole. The totem was lifted onto the truck but was so heavy the truck sank into the mud.

A towing company was called and the Seattle Police who unwittingly assisted in the theft of the totem by re-directing traffic.

The guy with the special tools claimed to be on the Seattle Arts Commission. And in lieu of prosecution paid more $20,000 in a plea agreement to restore the West Seattle pole after he confessed to the location of the totem pole. The police found the Moses pole alongside the West Seattle totem pole on a trailer parked at a senior center in Keizer, Ore.

After hearing White Bear’s story, I asked him where I could see the Moses totem pole. It was currently being restored by the original artist commissioned to make the totem pole in the 1970s.

Feeling a little like Scrappy Doo in the Mystery Machine, I pulled our minivan up to Jim Ploegman’s Renton workshop.

“Fred Meyer is restoring the totem pole. It’s going to be a big thing with the commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of Renton High School,” Jim said.

“Can we touch it?” I asked, referring to the totem laying belly up on stilts.

Jim nodded.

Amelia, Baby Ty and I felt the smooth fin of a whale painstakingly carved into the thick cedar tree more than 30 years ago. Jim began describing the colors he would use to breathe life back to the pole again.

“Who steals a totem pole?” I asked, still trying to process such a galling theft. “Can you tell me his name?” I asked, looking at Jim. He wore a mauve-colored beret (think Leonardo da Vinci) with an eagle feather poking out the side.

A look of disappointment descended across his face, the way older people do when younger people just don’t get what’s important in life.

“You don’t want to write about this guy.” Jim said as if speaking of the thief was tantamount to conjuring the likes of Voldemort.

Jim waved us over and commenced a tour of his studio. Amelia was snapping shots with the digital camera as Jim described and pointed to a lifetime of treasures: Art, books, wood carving tools, a collection of antique ice skates dangled from the ceiling.

All the while I’m ashamed to admit … I was like a hunting dog follows the whiff of prey or in this case a good story. I felt myself becoming possessed by Bob Woodward, from the movie, “All the President’s Men,” investigating the corruption of the century.

When I got home, I contacted the Seattle prosecutor. Why didn’t the police prosecute the totem thief? I cruised the internet and made a timeline on the wall.

After a week of research I was exhausted. Besides, being an investigative reporter in Renton isn’t nearly as much fun as being a writer mom. Exposing villainy is stressful.

Jim was right.

I didn’t want to write about another rich guy with a Herculean sense of entitlement. The world was already full of too many of those stories.

A snapshot on my “conspiracy theory” board brought me back to reality. It was of Jim wearing Native American armor he’d fashioned out of soft leather and wooden plaits. Amelia posed alongside him brandishing the jawbone of an ox.

That day with Jim was one Amelia and I will never forget.

Totem pole rededication

The Henry Moses Honoring Pole will be rededicated Saturday in its new location in front of the Renton Center Fred Meyer store.

Duwamish Tribal Chairwoman Cecile Hansen and Mayor Denis Law will lead the rededication.

The rededication is 9 a.m. Saturday, May 7, at the Fred Meyer Garden Entrance, 365 Renton Center Way S.W.

I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.

 

Cooking up life lessons with an Iron Chef | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This week we welcome back columnist Carolyn Ossorio, whose new column Pippimamma! Hot From the Oven! will serve up local stories over food.

Stone-Ground Grits, Shrimp, Cheddar Cheese, Andouille Sausage and the dish that started it all: Lula Mae’s Fried Chicken served with collard greens, mashed potatoes, chicken gravy and corn bread.

Hungry yet?

“I’ve eaten a lot of grits and no one can match the soulfulness of Chef Wayne’s,” said Hank Linear.

Linear, Ron McGowan and Chef Wayne Johnson’s are the co-owners of Shuga Jazz Bistro in downtown Renton.

These days there are as many restaurants as there are writers out there to choose from.

Read more

But how many restaurants pour their heart and soul into every plate? And how many call themselves “Shuga’s” in homage to “the endearing term used by our grandmothers when they welcomed us into their homes and into their arms. It is that warmth and love that we at Shuga share with our guests and the community.”

Umm, no pressure!

The goal of this new column is to meet really cool people around Renton and share a story while sharing a meal.

And these days there’s no better story to tell or plate of food to woo your palate than a plate of Chef Wayne’s Southern-inspired food to warm the winter blues away, all set to sensational jazz.

On a recent Friday, I was invited to Shuga’s to cook Braised Southern-Style Oxtails with Chef Wayne.

After some prep work in the kitchen, the two of us moved to the line: a bay of industrial sized stoves and ovens that in the space of a few hours would be filled with five chefs busily cranking out fried catfish and chips, hush puppies, Cajun deviled eggs, bacon wrapped shrimp served with onion and apple cider vinegar infused collard greens and house-made sauces so definitive they have personalities.

Even though it was just the two of us, Chef Wayne filled up that space like a prima ballerina fills a stage.

I watched in fascination as he fired up a gas burner for the broccolini, switched back to the sink to fill up an industrial-sized bowl with water and ice (an ice bath for the vegetables so they retained the deep, forest green color) then nabbed two kitchen towels – “Chef’s gloves,” he said – to place on either side of the scarred metal braising panned curled up the edge of the foil where the oxtails had been slowly cooking for four hours.

He fanned up the steam in a rapid motion and as I inhaled the slow roasted meat and bones, infused in stock, tomato and hot sauce with spices and herbs my mouth immediately started to water.

“During the winter months, I have always loved cooking braised, casserole and baked items,” Chef Wayne told me. “It just says comfort to me and when it is cold out who doesn’t need warmth of comfort wrapped around them. I’m blessed to have a Mom that always enjoyed cooking while me and my brothers and sister where kids, it helps to get an early understanding of home cooked meals.”

There is a reason why foodies love watching food shows: the fluidity and motion with a master in the kitchen is an art in itself.

“Here, you can do this like a real chef, no more wannabe,” Chef Wayne said, with a smile, referring to our first conversation when I used that word to describe myself.

Afterward, I kind of kicked myself about being intimidated by this Iron Chef (season 9; Chef Johnson went up against Iron Chef Symon in a cucumber battle).

Chef Wayne lifted up a spoon for me to taste.

We’d spent the last hour cooking together and it was easy for me to see how much he enjoyed mentoring and teaching others.

“Why Renton? Why now?” I asked.

“I love that Renton is home to the world champion Seahawks. The space to accommodate live music. The inspiration behind a southern inspired menu only seemed right since live jazz and soft R&B was our entertainment of choice,” he said.

I watched him pull out an aged sliver of paper, wedged tight within the crease of his bill fold. I was sure I was about to get served a lesson in southern cuisine, but instead it was a note this Iron Chef had scrawled out to his younger self years ago.

It read:

• Flavor Profiler before chef or cook.

• Flavor conductor.

• Flavor compositioner.

As a writer who carries around scrawled notes in my backpack and also scattered around the homestead, I felt a kinship with Chef Johnson, who I now considered an Ahab in the pursuit of high flavors.

“If you just season the outside of the meat, you just get the flavor on the outside,” he said. “You’ve got to get the flavor inside!”

Good writers and chefs worth any salt are cut from the same cloth: on a quest to inflate people’s palates not their own egos. And what we look for is the flavor.

I’m a hottie when it comes to words like haughty—but a big vocabulary doesn’t make you a good story teller, just as preparing only the best cuts of meat doesn’t make you a great chef.

It’s all about finding the flavor in the unlikeliest of places and there is no humbler place than an ox’s tail.

Southern style braised oxtail takes time, marinating the bones in broth overnight to seal in the flavor inside and out. The next day it literally requires hours of slow cooking.

The reward, however, is a sublime and a southern inspired plate of food that transports your taste buds to a place I’ve never been, the south, within the embrace of a southern grandmother I never knew I had.

“Shuga,” indeed.

The promise of “grandmotherly hug” was not only delivered but sealed with a kiss!

“A good writer has the stamina to endure and keep writing,” my wise writing mentor once told me.

I didn’t want to believe her at the time – I wanted filet mignon. I wanted to be the most creative, the funniest, the best and loudest ALL THE TIME!

The antithesis of ox tail!

But good writers can make any story good, just like good chefs find the flavor in everything.

The ox tail ain’t no Ferrari cut of meat, but with the right coaxing it has a depth of flavor like no other.

And that’s not just a cooking lesson. That’s a life lesson, Shuga.

 

Yes, Patrick, I see you!

CoachBobby

Patrick Ossorio, left, is all smiles as he learns to swim with instructor Bobby Landig. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio

“Come on Patrick!” Coach Bobby’s voice booms across Kinder Swimmer’s Renton Highlands pool. “One arm! Two arm! Eyes and bubbles.” Bobby continues on with Patrick’s weekly swim lesson.

It’s that time of year again, the rain has stopped (knock on wood) the trees are blooming and summer is heading fast toward the Pacific Northwest.

I love this time of year when you drive by the Henry Moses Aquatic Center you hear the laughter and squeals of delight of kids having a good time. A time when Coulon Beach will be swarming with kids ready to take the plunge . . . or at least most kids.

Read more

For the past few years it’s been painful watching my 5-year-old Patrick troll around large bodies of water during the summer time. I can always find him on the sidelines, life jacket strapped on tight as he watches his siblings, cousin, neighbors and friends blissfully swim the day away.

He is so desperate to be part of the fun and yet always literally on the edge of it because he’s afraid to learn how to swim.

Fortunately, this year I discovered Kinder Swimmer in the Renton Highlands.  Kinder Swimmer specializes in warm waters, low chemicals and amazing teachers like Bobby Landig.

Coach Bobby has been a Kinder Swimmer teacher for about a year now.  He is also a local lacrosse coach for eight years.  Recently, he left corporate America to pursue a master’s degree in education.

“I was tired of the bureaucratic process and politics of corporate America.  I’ve always had a passion for teaching, so I decided to let it all go and just go for it!  I love my job,” Bobby said.

Watching Bobby each week at Patrick’s swim lessons it is obvious that he genuinely enjoys working with kids. And though Patrick is fearful of water, he pretty much trusted Bobby instantly.

I remind myself that Bobby’s the best thing since sliced bread every time I hear Patrick cry out, “Bobby, hold me!” as I sit beside the other parents at the edge of the pool.

I know tears aren’t too far behind and all I want to do is run over and comfort his anxiety.

But my “saving” him will not teach him how to swim.  And every Friday night at Kinder Swimmer I am constantly reminded just how important the role teacher’s play in kids’ lives—even saving their lives.

I had a chance to chat with the owners, Carrie McCarthy and Leona Day, of Kinder Swimmer poolside at their Renton location this past Friday while Patrick was working with Bobby and we talked about just that.

“It is so gratifying to see former students and their parents who have come up to us and thanked us for saving their kids because when they were swimming and were in a situation when they could have drown they stayed calm and focused on what they had learned at Kinder Swimmer,”  Leona said.

Carrie and Leona are local moms with a great story.

They met each other for the first time nearly 17 years ago at a local public pool where they had both signed their babies up for a swimming class.

“We had just met each other and were both in the pool holding our 12-month- olds.  We were supposed to be blowing bubbles. But the water was so cold my kid was crying and Leona’s kid’s lips were turning blue,” Carrie said.

“By our fourth lesson we looked at each other and agreed that we would be doing this for a long time…and that we could do better!”

Both Carrie and Leona live on the Cedar River so they felt it was a necessity to teach their kids how to swim.

Carrie and Leona saw an opportunity for a small business they could build together and still stay at home with their kids.  And that’s exactly what they did.  Leona now has three kids and Carrie four.

Their business plan included Carrie and Leona watching each others kids while the other taught Kinder Swimmer lessons.

“I remember coming home after teaching my first swimming lesson and I felt really good about what I was doing.  I had the feeling that I could do this for a long time,” Carrie said.

Carrie and Leona first started offering lessons twice a week at the now defunct Aqua Barn in Renton.

Through word of mouth and pounding the pavement with flyers it didn’t take long for their Kinder Swimmer business to grow.  After only a year parents were lining up to join.

Eventually, they built a pool at Leona’s house, secured another home pool in the Renton Highlands and seven years ago purchased a home together with a fabulous pool in Spanaway.  Business is booming.

“Our classes are small—no more than five.  We provide structured classes that help children to swim three times faster. All of our facilities are located at home-based pools where our pools are 92-degree salt water and our float-belt system makes our program unique,”  Leona explained.  “Fearful swimmers are one of our specialties,”  Leona added.

As if on cue, I heard Bobby’s voice. “Patrick, Jump!”

Part of the Kinder Swimmer curriculum is for all swimmers to take a turn jumping  into the pool, something Patrick (and I) dread each week.

I look away from Carrie and Leona for a moment to watch my son take his turn.  I recognize the fear in his eyes and his little legs are shaking.  But I also see something else: the desire to jump.

The other parents sitting beside me begin cheering.

“Go Patrick!  Go Patrick!”

At long last, my boy jumps into the deep blue water.

He comes up gripping Bobby and shouting, “Mommy!  Did you see me!”

“Yes, Patrick,” I shout back. “I see you!”

I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog,www.pippimamma.com.

 

SWIMMING ONLINE

Kinder Swimmer

Henry Moses Aquatic Center

Hazen Pool

Lindbergh Pool

 

Chef J goes from downtown Renton to the Big Leagues | HOT FROM THE OVEN!

 

 

Do you ever see those people at Costco schlepping Tsunami sized shopping carts loaded with everything under the foodie sky and wonder what they’re doing?

That’d be Chef Jeremy!

“When they see me coming, they yell out, ‘Chef to the Mariners!’ and sometimes open another line for me.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to hang out with Renton Chef Jeremy Bryant at two locations: his Renton home base with co-owner Kenny Rogers at Rain City Catering located next door to the Renton Chamber of Commerce and the Clubhouse Kitchen at Safeco Field, where he has been the official cook of the Mariners for 17 years.

Read more

We started at Rain City, where the ovens were filled with enough barbecue ribs to feed an army and I learned that Chefs Jeremy and Kenny finish each other’s sentences, read each other’s minds and know their strengths and weaknesses. It’s not surprising, they’ve only been hanging out since childhood: Kenny’s family moved next door to Jeremy’s Skyway home nearly 40 years ago.

In addition to being the official caterers of the Renton Pavilion Event Center, Rain City has catering jobs all over the Pacific Northwest.

But perhaps most famously there is the Mariners. During the season, Chef Jeremy preps the food in Renton and then drives it all down to Safeco Field.

And this season Kenny is the Yin to Jeremy’s Yang as the chef for the opposing team at Safeco Field.

But the story of how Chef Jeremy began cooking for the Mariners begins even before there was a Safeco Field.

“First and foremost, I started off as a Seattle sports fan. I love the Mariners,” he said, showing me around the Mariner’s Club House Kitchen at Safeco Field, usually off limits to media.

While there, Chef J showed me how to cook two of his famous Mariner recipes: Edgar Martinez’s favorite pasta and Ichiro’s superstitiously delicious “Ichy Wings.”

For a bigger guy (“Never trust a skinny chef,” he says), there’s a nimbleness to Chef Jeremy. He has the demeanor of someone whose natural environment is cooking comfort food over a flaming gas grill and freely tells his stories of 17 years in the big leagues of cooking.

And he has come a long way since his “rookie years.”

His first few days of cooking for the team he wore a paper chef’s hat and whites and made gourmet food, with carefully carved rosettes from apples.

On his fourth day, Jay Buhner gave it to him straight. Buhner knocked off his paper chef hat, the story goes, and said something like “Dude, what’s up with the fancy roses? Can you just make me some meatloaf?”

Since then, Jeremy has a little more salt and pepper in his goatee and even received a custom No. 27 (for his age when he first started cooking in the Clubhouse) Mariner’s jersey, a gift from the players. He also earned the nickname, “Papi,” bestowed upon him by Edgar Martinez, who requested a special meal from the chef that Jeremy shared with me.

“This dish happened when Edgar came into the kitchen and said, ‘Papi, make me some pasta,’” Chef Jeremy said as he and I stood cooking side-by-side in the same kitchen where the team lines up to get some grub.

It’s a pretty fortunate spot to be in and when asked, Chef Jeremy still looks a little surprised by his own story.

Jeremy went to a game at the Kingdome in 1997 and ran into a kid from his neighborhood who had become a bat boy. The kid snuck him into the clubhouse, a no-no in the biz.

Jeremy ended up meeting most of the players until Clubhouse Manager Scotty Gilbert came over and asked, “I’m sorry, but who are you?”

Without skipping a beat, Chef Jeremy stuck out his hand and said, “I’m a chef and I want to cook for the Mariners.”

For the next two years he kept on Gilbert, eventually offering to cook a meal for free.

“I told Scotty I wouldn’t charge him a dollar, I just wanted the chance to show him what I could do,” Jeremy recounted. “I cooked amazing food for them and the players loved it.”

After two years of wooing, Chef Jeremy got the call to come cook for the Mariners at Safeco Field.

The Clubhouse kitchen is a small intimate kitchen and though Safeco Field is quite a bit larger than most homes, I had no problem imagining Jeremy’s Kitchen as a focal point for players to eat and unwind, like any kitchen.

As we cooked, Jeremy shared stories of guests who stopped in over the years for a snack: the turkey sandwich for rock star Eddie Vedder; the “Kyle Seager Sandwich” for Joe Montana; a plate of chicken for Snoop Dog.

I got the impression that Jeremy might still be pinching himself as we stood in the Clubhouse Kitchen, had he not been holding tongs used to make Ichiro’s “Ichy Wings.”

When Chef Jeremy found out that Ichiro was coming to Seattle he tried to learn how to make sushi, though the player had another order in mind.

“The first day in the kitchen Ichiro asked me, ‘do you have a cheeseburger?’”

Chef Jeremy offered hot wings. Only they weren’t hot wings, exactly.

He’d been preparing a batch of Mexican inspired chicken wings and at the last minute added some teriyaki flavor, fresh ginger and Asian-inspired seasonings.

After eating the wings Ichiro went out to make a huge play and from then on he would only eat Chef Jeremy’s wings before every game. Nine wings, to be exact and always on the same plate.

Chef Jeremy’s story is one I never get tired of listening to, especially while eating pasta with a simple sautéed preparation of melted butter, garlic, onions, in a cream and tomato base with fresh herbs, parmesan and surprisingly, pepperoni with penne noodles.

“I love it when Edgar let me cook him pasta,” Chef J said, “A lot of the new players are more nutritionally conscience, so my cooking has evolved.”

But like most things I was learning about, Jeremy he has a knack for evolution, turning happenstance situations into opportunities.

It’s that knack, plus a little hustle here, a lot of hard work there and the ability to adapt on the fly that’s led to this Renton boy fulfilling his dreams in the big leagues.

Play Ball!

 

There’s a place for art in all Renton elementary schools | LIFE IN THE CITY

lifeinthecity1

Kevin McPherson, left, helps Amelia Ossorio expand her art horizons. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio

 

“I’m looking anywhere — is there anyone out there to support my cause?” Kevin McPherson said recently. Though I didn’t know him well, he wore a determined expression tinged with mild bewilderment – a “does-not-compute” look.

Kevin’s urgent plea sounded desperate — but not without hope — like a distress call sent across the airwaves of a destroyed landscape in some dystopian movie featuring aliens or zombies.

Thankfully, Kevin and I were just talking about kids and art in Renton, something he is knowledgeable and passionate about.

Read more

And I was sitting comfortably on a couch watching my 9-year-old Amelia finishing up her weekly art lesson in Kevin’s art studio that also doubles as the family home.

I had come to know Kevin from a referral. I was looking for one-on-one art instruction for Amelia.

As it turns out, Kevin was a perfect match — talented artist meets PTA dad who understands and respects the importance of kids and art. The Kennydale home that he shares with his wife and three kids, Vivian, 11, Olivia, 9, and Wesley, 4, is a brightly colored space filled with light and warmth. Amelia loved going there.

Kevin’s daughters Vivian and Olivia are both students at Kennydale Elementary School, an elementary school that was in the news recently for academic excellence, and Kevin has been a volunteer art docent at Kennydale for seven years.

“I believe the art program we have created at Kennydale has a lot to do with Kennydale Elementary’s success and recognition and something I’d like to bring to all Renton elementary schools,” Kevin said.

As the PTA Art Docent chairperson at Kennydale, Kevin oversees Kennydale Elementary School’s very successful

volunteer art-docent program.

“What exactly does a volunteer art docent at Kennydale do?” I asked.

“Volunteers are assigned to classes where they introduce a well-known art print, facilitate a conversation with the students about the print and provide an art project associated with the print. One art docent is needed for each teacher and the commitment is one to two hours each month. Students learn art history, art appreciation and art concepts and elements which help improve critical thinking, problem solving and social skills. High school students who take one or more years of art produce higher scores on the SAT,” Kevin said, as he turned his attention back to Amelia.

“You did a really great job today, Amelia,” Kevin said, as he began collating Amelia’s work.

Surrounded by the framed art of Kevin and his children, it wasn’t hard to see where Kevin’s passion for the art-docent program comes from.

Art’s effect on kids cannot be measured in widgets and quantitative data.

I can see its effects on my own kids and as a mom to four who has spent a lot of time volunteering in elementary schools I have seen its effects on their peers and I can remember how art of all genres had a lasting effect on me as a kid.

I vividly remember the art I created in elementary school: ripping old newspapers into strips and slathering the strips with sticky goo onto a blown-up balloon and when it dried, we painted the “globe.” I didn’t know I was learning about geography – I was just having fun. Or gluing macaroni to a paper plate and spraying it with silver and gold spray paint. Having the freedom to create my own story on brightly colored construction paper. Art and creativity were the things I looked forward to in school.

“Currently, there are just three of 14 elementary schools in the Renton School District with a volunteer art-docent program, creating a need to promote and implement the art-docent program throughout the district,” Kevin explained.

This past November, with a little help from an Allied Arts grant, Kevin submitted a proposal to the Renton School District detailing a plan of action to provide an art-docent curriculum for all the other 11 Renton elementary schools that currently don’t have an organized volunteer program. The proposal includes a request for funding to create a part-time position for Kevin to facilitate this process.

“I believe we need to create equal access to art education for all students and I am excited to spearhead this effort. I’ve enjoyed my time as a volunteer. But this position is bigger than a volunteer position. I want to grow it into what it really deserves, so all kids in Renton have access to art.

Kevin is still optimistically awaiting a response from the Renton School District to his proposal.

“Honestly, how do you keep the passion going?” I asked.

“My passion for kids and art comes from the artist in me. The early years of child development are critical for forming long-lasting skills in art and understanding the value of self-expression. I believe that I can pass on my knowledge of art and make a difference in their lives. As for my persistent pursuit, the more kids I can reach the better because every kid deserves the chance to discover their talent!”

“See you next week Mr. McPherson!” Amelia said, holding on to her art portfolio.

“Mommy, I just love working with Mr. McPherson and doing art,” Amelia exclaimed, as we headed home. The smile on her face was a million miles long and full of promise.

We live in a city known for its amazing force of volunteers.

Given Kevin’s patience, talent and tenacity, I have no doubt one day soon all elementary school kids will have access to an art-docent program like Kennydale’s.

 

Here’s the place to dip into for seafood

seafood

Amelia Ossorio checks out the crabs at Gemini Fish Market. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio.

 

“This is literally the best crab dip I’ve ever eaten!” I said, incredulous. In the past when I’ve eaten “the very best crab dip,” I was sitting at Chandler’s with a view of the Seattle waterfront and not in the cab of my minivan.

Yet there I was, the kids and I had barely gotten into the car and already the bagel chips had been yanked open and the Gemini Fish Market crab dip was being passed around as we sat in front of Top of the Hill Market.

A couple of months ago, Gemini Fish Market opened in an unbelievably small corner of our favorite market, Top of the Hill, and started selling the freshest seafood and sauces in town alongside the best produce and my favorite butcher, Shawn and Ted’s Meat Market.

Read more

As a result, our family has been preparing and enjoying some spectacularly simple, yet amazing seafood. I would love to take credit for this culinary adventure but really it’s all because of Gemini’s amazing seafood and the advice of Dave Gipson – a classically trained chef who also happens to be a Gemini Fish Market employee.

Dave patiently explained the best way to prepare their succulent and sweet sea scallops ­— lightly salted and peppered, delicately browned in butter.  Amazing crab-cake balls that when flattened and cooked in olive oil and smothered in a slightly spicy house-made Gemini Umami sauce (a mixture of mayo, Sriracha hot chili sauce, lemon juice and soy sauce) made our mouths water, as did countless other seafood delicacies.

The other day I had a chance to speak with Jim Oswalt, Renton resident and owner of both the original Gemini Fish Market in Issaquah and now the satellite store at Top of the Hill.

“How did you attract such a well-trained chef like Dave to work at Gemini?” I asked, explaining my appreciation for the knowledge our family had learned from Dave.

“I like to surround myself with people who can keep it simple for the novice chef or take it to the next level with the most educated palates.” Jim said. He added “a vast majority of people in general like seafood and eat it when they go to a restaurant, but are freaked out about preparing it themselves. It’s necessary for us to have guys behind the counter that know food, are passionate about food, and can convey to the customer how to prepare it and what to pair it with.”

I’m not the only member of the family picking up seafood cooking tips at the new Gemini location. Ever since Amelia, my culinarily adventurous 9-year-old daughter, ordered the clams at the Red House, she’s been excited to make clams all by herself. So, I sent her over to Dave, where she ordered a pound of fresh clams and discussed their preparation.

Here’s Amelia’s recipe:

2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup of water

Set stove to medium/high heat . . . wait a few minutes to let boil

Clean clams

Put clams in with the pot of water and chicken stock and let simmer for a few minutes

Enjoy!

Gemini serves amazing house-made dips, spreads and sauces that are made fresh daily at its Issaquah location. Seafood from all over the country is air freighted to its downtown Issaquah location so it’s two days out of the water as opposed to five (or longer) as is the case with trucked in seafood.

“We get deliveries every day. It’s more expensive but we prefer to buy fresh and wild seafood without antibiotics and hormones. We have a smaller footprint in our Renton location, so we really want to get the word out and see what people want to see at the new location. We want people to know that we can prepare specialty orders from our main store and drive them up to Renton.  Customers just need to tell us what they want and we’ll get it for them.”

Apparently business is booming.

In the beginning, the satellite Gemini Fish Market was open only on Fridays and Saturdays.  Now they are open seven days a week.

I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.

Grand opening

Gemini Fish Market at Top of the Hill Market will celebrate its official grand opening on Saturday, March 9. There will be tents and live crab and the Top of the Hill produce and Shawn and Ted’s meat market will participate as well. 425-757-0649.

Steamed Manila clams in pesto

2 lbs. live Manila clams

2 cups water

½ cup white wine

2 T bsp. green onions chopped

1 T bsp. fresh parsley chopped

1 T bsp.  Old Bay seasoning

1 T bsp. garlic minced

1 T bsp. shallots minced

1 T bsp. olive oil

2 T bsp. pesto

 

Sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil 2-3 minutes over medium high.  Add green onion and parsley for the last minute. Add wine and water and bring to a boil toss in the clams and reduce heat to medium

Cover with a tightly fitting lid. Let steam for approximately 7-8 minutes or until clams open.

Remove clams to a serving bowl and reserve 1 cup of the broth in a ramikan or bowl

Add the pesto to the broth and mix well. Pour half pesto dipping sauce over the clams and save the rest for dipping.

Serve with crusty bread

Add 1 cup of heavy cream or half and half and a some shredded parm.  Reduce for 20 minutes or so over low heat and it makes a killer pasta sauce topped with the clams.

 

 

Tracking fabled rumors at Renton Airport

airport

A 737, as seen from the Renton Municipal Airport control tower, rumbles toward take off. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio.

 

My New Year’s Resolution this year was to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to go after “bigger” stories in Renton.

So I decided to check out the Renton Airport.

I had heard an urban legend a few years ago that celebrities (in this case Tiger Woods) and also corporate tycoons fly into our little airport for the anonymity and convenience: no security checks, long lines, baggage hassles or paparazzi.

Is it possible that there is this whole other world going on in Renton that few of us are privileged to know about?

I was game to find out.

Read more

Besides, I was curious to see if there had been any progress on the new aerospace training facility that was slated to replace the old Chamber of Commerce building.

I met my guide, Ryan Zulauf, City of Renton airport manager, at offices situated below the bottom of the control tower.

The office is adorned with black and white photos from the 1940s and 50s — I quickly learned that Zulauf has a passion for aviation history. Fortunately, he has made it his personal mission to preserve the airport’s history . . . on a very tight budget.

Renton Airport is self-sustaining and doesn’t require taxpayer money. Their task each year is to protect civil aviation, create wealth in the local communities and to make enough money to replace worn out infrastructure — no easy task. Most of the current buildings were constructed in the 1950s.

The airport relies on tenant fees and grants to generate enough income to pay for annual operations and maintenance of air field and infrastructure.

Renton Airport’s humble origins began in 1922 as a small dirt landing strip for mail deliveries and at the time was surrounded by both the Cedar and Black rivers. Today, only remnants of the Black River remain.

In the 40s Boeing built warplanes at Renton Airport that helped America win World War II and then after the war, Boeing chose Renton as the place to build the 707, making Renton the birthplace of the commercial airplane industry.

I followed Zulauf up several flights of little stairs (think

lighthouse) where we would wait at locked doors until my guide spoke into a little black box and a buzzer was pressed from somewhere that verified our clearance. Inside the control tower it was all very exciting, with buttons and the control tower manager giving guidance and instructions as a 737 was taxing down the runway.

“Can I take a picture?” I asked.

“Not in here,” Zulauf said, referring to the inside of the control tower.

“But we can go outside. I hope you’re not afraid of heights.”

I followed Zulauf out of a tiny little square door inside the control tower that had the look and feel like the door in “Being John Malkovich.”

Situated up high, midway on the airfield, for obvious reasons the control tower has the best seat in the house. And there I was standing outside her balcony in the frigid cold, throwing distance from a line of 737 all lined up like freshly baked bread waiting for their first test flight.

After getting clearance from the control tower, a still-silver 737 taxis down the runway toward its first take off as I watch from my perch by the control tower window.

“This is the closest you can get to something like this,” Zulauf said.

I was half listening, totally absorbed in that marvelous sense of wonder when witnessing at close range human achievement that makes you feel both incredibly small and large as you witness a modern marvel speed like a bullet toward the edge of Lake Washington. It blasts off effortlessly, up, up and away.

“Think of Pro Flight as an aviation hotel,” Zulauf said, as we pulled up to a shiny beautiful new building — a site for sore eyes at the Renton Airport. “And Diane Paholke owner of Pro Flight as an ambassador to Renton,” Zulauf said.

I met Diane at the reception desk of her new state-of-the art aviation center. Diane’s been building her fixed-base operation at the Renton Airport for more than 19 years. Her latest development is her new 28,000- square-foot building of which she gave me a tour.

Pro Flight is a thriving hub of aviation amenities. Pilot instruction, aircraft rental (they have nine aircraft on site) airplane maintenance, fueling (the only place to fill up at the airport) and they also take care of high-end clients like corporate executives and celebrities.

But if I wanted to get the dish on any of Pro Flights celebrity clients or corporate executives, it didn’t take long for me to learn that Diane was as tight-lipped about her clients as the smoking man character in “The X Files.”

It wasn’t going to happen.

“Word of mouth is everything in the business of high-end aviation. These clients’ anonymity and discretion is part of what they’re paying for,” Diane explained.

Zulauf and I finished the tour in the parking lot of the old Chamber of Commerce building and the future site of the Central Sound Aerospace Training Center.

“What are they doing down there?” I asked pointing to a lot of construction hubbub below the chamber site. Workmen using heavy equipment were in the process of building three new jet-blast deflectors and essentially adding five more parking spaces for completed 737s.

“Well that’s a good sign that Boeing will be sticking around for a while,” I said.

“Yes,” Zulauf replied. “And it’s our job to build a new state-of-the-art training center here.” He pointed to the old chamber building.

“We have created a culture that is not easy to replicate: the finest engineers, manufacturers, mechanics and assembly folks that know how to build airplanes. It’s our job to ensure that the culture and knowledge that has been gained over the decades of building the finest airplane in the world is passed on here. If you want to capture somebody’s mind . . . you capture their heart. And there’s no better way to do that than to see the finished product from the window of this new training facility.”

No movie will help you prepare for what’s behind these walls

fedBank

The Federal Reserve Bank sits quietly on 11 acres of land in south Renton. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio

 

For the past couple of years I’d heard stories of a U.S. government monetary facility located somewhere in Renton.

Was it a mint?  A treasury? A bank?

Where was it located? By The Landing? Near Boeing?

These “stories” seemed as surreal as pirates returning from sea yelling stories about beautiful women with fish tales.

So I decided to find out if the stories were true. I mean where exactly is this big bank in Renton?

Read more

“You can’t miss the building as there’s nothing else around it except open land,” Steven Fisher, regional program manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and my designated tour guide told me in an email.

Perched on its own road surrounded by a fully fenced 11 acres of what was formerly the southern end of Longacres I found The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The Fed bought the land from Boeing in 2008 and built a new high-tech facility (which from the distance resembles a college campus) that opened in 2011.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled my minivan up to the security outpost. Things got serious pretty quick when a federal police officer with a big gun greeted me. Behind him and a set of intimidating gates were these huge cement pylons sticking out of the ground like Greek columns.

After my identity and purpose were verified, the officer conducted a full search inside my vehicle.

After I was cleared, some magic button was pressed, the arms of the gate lifted and the concrete pylons slowly descended back down into the earth.

This was serious security.

It was a beautiful summer day as I walked toward the entrance across immaculately manicured grounds in a creepy, where-are-all-the-birds-George Orwell-1984-kind of quiet.

Where were all the people?  I wondered.

Inside the building a guard encased in a bullet-proof steel box breathed into a microphone.

“It’s like airplane security. Place all your belongings on the conveyer belt and walk through the metal detector.”

Clearing another security checkpoint I walked inside the plush inner sanctum — wondering if it was OK to throw my gum in the empty pristine garbage can.

Still being watched, I decided to go for it.  It was just gum after all, not explosive C4 . . . at least I hoped.

Waiting for my guide I started to snoop around at the historical photos and documents on the wall.  They told the story of how the Federal Reserve Building San Francisco had come to Renton after 57 years in downtown Seattle.

I had moved on to the display case of five and ten thousand bills when Fisher came down.

“Do regular people ever come here?” I asked as we took the stairs up to the conference room.

“We do tours.”

Judging by the level of security and the absolute absence of any people it was hard to imagine throngs of people walking through these halls.

“Not many,” Fisher added.

“Has the bank ever been robbed?” I asked.

“No.” Fisher said holding the door to the conference room where I would watch a historical power-point presentation. There was a lot to learn, but bottom line: the Federal Reserve is a collection of 12 regional and 24 branches strategically located across the country.

They are the banks’ bank.  Which in laymen’s terms, they hold tons of money.

When I had asked enough of what I felt were serious questions, I got to the only one I was really interested in.

“Show me the $$$$!” I wanted to cry out Cuba Gooding Jr./Tom Cruise style.

But settled on, “So, umm, exactly how much is in the vault?”

I tried not to look like a salivating jackal.

“I can’t say,” Fisher said.  Sensing my disappointment he added, “A lot.  Are you ready to see?”

The vault itself is three stories encased in concrete reminiscent of the underground bunker beneath the White House where the president is ushered in the event of a nuclear war.

We waited in front of a complicated looking revolving door for my police escort.

“Sorry, but you can’t bring your notebook and pencil.  In the counting room you’ll need to keep your hands out of your pockets.” Fisher said, his eyes pointing at my hands stuffed in my jean pockets.

“Of course, now that you’ve told me not to put my hands in my pockets I won’t be able to stop,” I said trying to sound flip as we walked through more clicking locks, plate glass, and video cameras.

Knowing your every move is being monitored as a potential thief is intimidating and very exciting.

At last I saw people. According to Fisher, there are 95 employees at the branch.

The movies can’t prepare you for what I saw in the “cash rooms.”

The cash rooms are bullet-proof rooms where employees process cash that is brought in by armored car. Pallets of cash deposits are brought into a room accessible from the outside. Once the armored car has exited, the outer door is closed and the door on the inside is opened for Fed employees to verify the deposit and count the cash. The reverse is done when banks need money.

Since I wasn’t allowed to take a picture, imagine the laundry bins that housekeepers use in hotels. The cash room is filled with those laundry bins but instead of cleaning sprays, broom handles and toiletries the cash bins are loaded with bundles of cash that are stored in the vault.

The vault is the epicenter of the whole operation and when I peeked inside the image that came to mind was the government warehouse where they took the crated ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  The vault is fully automated with a state-of-the-art robotics system that handles the carts.

According to Fisher, Each cart can hold 420 bundles and the vault has the capacity to hold 1,800 carts.

If the bundles were $100 bills, each cart would hold approximately $46 million.

According to research, approximately $1.1 billion per month is processed at the vault, although Fed officials will not disclose the exact dollar amount held at any given time.

“I told you the photo would be limited,” Steven said not unsympathetically at the end of our tour.  It was like he had read my mind: the photo op I wanted was of me sitting criss-cross apple sauce atop a mountain of cash.

Instead, he clicked a picture of me standing outside of the building in the only “safe” shot that didn’t reveal any secrets.

Despite any proof, I’ve had a great time recounting my tale of adventure at the Federal Reserve Bank. Describing mountains of cash, 007 security . . . it was all very exciting and I realized sounded a bit like the pirate tales of exotic mermaids.

 

What every mother should know, where to take the kids

wheretotakeKids

Sophie, Amelia and Carolyn prepare to head out from the Cedar River Boathouse on Lake Washington. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio.

 

“HOOT! HOOT!” My fingers round into a megaphone. I commence a series of sharp owl cries — a means of communication the kids and I developed for when we’re exploring.

I hear giggling and fast-moving bodies zigzagging through the trees like the Lost Boys. Technically, the Kubota Gardens is just outside the Renton border and if you want to split hairs, it’s not really Never, Never Land.

But Kubota Gardens sure feels like a magical place strolling through the abundant bamboo, yew, birch and other flowering trees and mature shrubs.

An unbelievable feast for the hungry eye . . . desperate for summer fun in Renton that’s affordable, kid-friendly and not the same-old, same-old. I reminded myself to thank my friend Dina Davis for turning me on to this little gem.

Read more

But now the only sign of the Lost Boys in the vibrant Japanese Garden are the upended dino boots and abandoned Teva’s.  Only moments before, Sophie, with a wave of her hand and in the spirit of Peter, commanded her younger siblings off the manicured path and into the wild. It was very dramatic but according to the map they were headed toward the spring-fed pond.

Baby Ty and I held back fingering ferns. I’m encouraged, grateful that Ma Nature is still free and judging by the peals of delight from the peanut gallery still a blast for kids to explore.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, the person I want to thank is Carrie King of Renton for writing me and asking the question . . .

“As a Mama of a Preschooler (Highlands Preschool) and soon to be Kindergartner (Renton Christian School) it sure would be nice to see an article on activities to do with small kids that don’t cost a fortune.”

Carrie went on to list a few of her favorites.

“Picnic at numerous parks, Cedar River Trail Stroll, Library.  But what else is out there?  Please help.”

As a mama and Renton resident for 10 years, respectively, I have my own cache of favorites.  But part of the fun of writing this column is challenging myself to discover new adventures. I, too, wanted to try something new.  Aside from Kubota Gardens, I’d never been to the Renton History Museum near downtown Renton.

I’ve always felt I should check it out.  But the logo (a coal miner with a lantern illuminated on his head) and a somewhat nondescript white building didn’t feel particularly inviting or kid-friendly.

And when you have four rowdy kids and a mother with a super hero identity: Pippimamma … well let’s just say that the suggestion of going to a museum is a little intimidating.

Not because I don’t believe in museums as wonderful institutions but because of the breakables.  There’s not enough art in America today and I don’t want my 3-year-old to be responsible for one less piece.

But I was committed to the task of trying something new.

Sure enough my heart started to pitter patter as we walked through the doors of the Renton History Museum. It was quiet, too quiet — I felt underdressed like we’d just stepped into hallowed ground and I was wearing spiked heels and a spandex body suit. I expected trouble.

I found the people there were extremely attentive, chipper bordering on excited. At the time we were the only guests. As we wandered through the historical displays that included a model train, airplane stuff, a pictorial series on the Duwamish tribe, and staged

scenes with token memorabilia that were meant to show a part of Renton’s history,  I got the feeling the place was a tad pole version of the Seattle’s Children Museum.  But it wanted to be more.

“Do you want more people to come?” I asked employee Dorota Rahn.

“YES!” she said as if the answer was obvious. And yet here we stood the only customers.  Ms. Rahn went on to say, “With a city as diverse as Renton we’re always looking for ways to stay relevant.”

The history was interesting but I was blown away with the arts and crafts room — the shelves were filled to the gills with art supplies.  And not the chincy, mismatched and out-to-pasture kind of crayons you’d find in a plastic cup at a tired restaurant.

I’m talking ‘bout glitter, popsicle sticks, all kinds of glue, marker pens, scissors, paper and more.  The kids had a ball. And well worth the paltry admission of $6 for our family.

Our next venue was the SpringBrook Trout Farm (just down the street from Valley Medical Center.) On a beautiful summer day there are equal parts shade and sun with chairs-o-plenty.  Down-home creature comforts for any fisher woman.

We were greeted by a tail wagging pooch named “Buddy.”  An equally friendly lady helped us with our poles, buckets and handed each of the kids little containers of Alpo-like fishing bait that you ball onto the hook — no wriggling worms to impale.

Included in the price of catching a fish is on-site cleaning and gutting of the spring-fed rainbow trout fish and to the delight of the kids who raptly watched as owner Bill Briere (whose wife the nice lady aforementioned I found out is Renton City Council member Terri Briere) laid the-still beating fish heart on the counter. Let me tell you the kids were impressed.

I was busy trying to fish out the lens of my sunglasses that popped out and dropped into one of the three spring fed pools. A passerby Mom stopped pushing her stroller and helped me fish it out. We chatted and she passed along a tip: The Skatebarn in Renton is a great indoor skate park.  Another activity to add to my growing list.  Which is where an idea was born . . . Carolynslist ala Craigslist.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark began an e-mail distribution list of friends, featuring local events in the San Francisco Bay area.

And so why not make a Carolynslist where moms and dads can contribute and read about fun places in Renton.  For the purposes of this column I had one more new adventure to go.

Our final destination was one I’d been yearning to visit for years.  Deb the owner from Jet City had told me about Cascade Canoe and Kayak located at the North end of the Cedar River Trail a few years back.

So off we went, I shared a double kayak with 7-year-old Amelia and 10-year-old Sophie yet again left me in the proverbial Lake Washington dust in her single.

A view of Renton from a different angle–floating on a beautiful lake past a hanger alongside a steel colored Boeing 747.  To my right the Renton Airport was a hive of activity as sea planes flew overhead, Sophie paddled toward Seattle in the distance as Amelia and I played I-Spy with the billowy cloud formations. The experience was like taking a dreamy, big slice of life of Renton pie.

To add a favorite place to visit in Renton visit my blog at www.pippimamma.com

I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.

 

Springbrook Trout Farm

19225 Talbot Road South

Renton

springbrooktrout@gmail.com

Phone: 253.852.0360

Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday 

10 a.m. -5 p.m.

 

Cascade Canoe & Kayak

Cedar River Boathouse

1060 Nishiwaki Lane

Renton

http://www.canoe-kayak.com/

Phone: 425.430.0111

Renton Historical Museum

235 Mill Ave S

Phone: 425.255.2330

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 

1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

 

Kubota Gardens

9817 55th Ave., S.

Seattle

http://www.kubota.org/index.htm

Phone: 206.684.4584

 

Where’s Armondo? No, he’s not lying in a ditch somewhere

armondo

Armondo Pavone has spent the better part of the last year spending time with his two sons, Roman and Dominic. Image Credit — Polly Schadeberg

 

One of the many things I loved about living on Renton Hill from 2000 to 2008 was walking or biking up and down that great hill nearly everyday.

Renton Hill boasts a phenomenal view of Renton, Lake Washington and all the way to downtown Seattle. On these Renton Hill walks I always had a babe on my back or in a stroller (or both). It was a time for me to enjoy the varying seasons, the incredible view and ponder the universe, all the while keeping an eye out for a pesky forest-green Audi.

Imagine the shrillest German-engineered, efficient car horn you’ve ever heard, now times that by 20. The kind of honk you anticipate and prepare for but still somehow when it comes, as it always did, and you still nearly jump out of your skin.

Read more

And there, like the big brother I never had, was Armondo Pavone, owner of the Melrose Grill and the now-closed Armondo’s, wearing a mischievous grin with accompanying wave out the window.

The funny thing about a consistently annoying big brother is you get used to them being around, as I did.

But I no longer live on Renton Hill and since Armondo’s restaurant went out of business, I can’t believe I’m saying this but, “Where’s Armondo?”

I found him the other day at Melrose Grill.

I was waiting for Armondo in the lobby and I couldn’t help gawking at dinner guests “oohing” and “ahhing” my mouth watering as thick, perfectly grilled steaks and gigantic lobster tales were being delivered to a large party.

In addition to owning and operating Armondo’s for 21  years, Pavone co-owns the very popular Melrose Grill. In 2008 Pavone and his wife Angela took on a partner, Grill Chef Franco Phillips.

Phillips worked at Armondo’s 15 years ago as a dishwasher and went on to gain a local reputation as a “stud grill master.”

“I ran into Franco’s mom,” Armondo said as we sat down at a table, “and got his phone number.  I wanted to hire him to run the grill.  He didn’t return my call at first. Maybe he thought I wanted him to be a dishwasher,” Armondo said, and there it was the familiar mischievous grin I recognized from his rear-view mirror and those infernal honks.

Still, it was good to see Armondo.  And, I was happy to hear that business at the Melrose Grill has doubled over the last year. “It’s filling a niche — date night where you’re not spending hundreds of dollars a person—we offer something special: we only seat 80 people so the atmosphere is comfortable, excellent service and amazing food.”

It had been a year since I had last seen Armondo, looking harried on the final days before Armondo’s closed it’s doors after 21 years, when no doubt everyone and their mother was coming in to say their goodbyes.

Sitting across from him at the Melrose Grill he looked well rested but still had the feisty energy as he twittered with a straw.

“I was glad to talk to you because I think people are wondering if I’m lying in a ditch somewhere,” Armondo laughed.

We talked about life after Armondo’s restaurant closed.

“People come up to me all the time and they say, “Oh,” long pause, “How ya doing?” I understand where they’re coming from, Armondo’s was a destination for a lot of years, to the community it was like a death.  For me, it was the right time…the next stage of my life with my boys.”

Armondo has two young boys ages 4 and 2 and a wonderful wife, Angela.

“I gave myself permission to not do anything for a year, except spend time with my family. I intentionally fell off the map. I thought of it as a sabbatical.  It’s been amazing and long overdue,” Armondo said adding, “When you have kids, your priorities change so drastically, so it made the decision to close down Armondo’s easier.”

In fact Armondo wishes he would have done it earlier.  He opened Armondo’s July 1, 1985.  “A 21-year run for any restaurant is not a failure.  And I was ready to let it go.  The responsibility of owning a business, knowing that you’re responsible for employees livelihoods was like putting on a really big back pack and not taking it off for 21 years.  Letting it go was freeing.”

In addition to spending time with his family, over the last year Armondo’s been working on a custom remodel of a 1960s house in Skyway.

“I enjoy the whole aspect of construction.  In the restaurant business a good day is empty cupboards and dirty dishes.  I love the sense of completion.”

“But I’ll tell you one thing. I’m ready to get back into the community.  It’s important to give back to the community a portion of your time, energy and money needs to go back into the community.”

I asked him what that would look like now.

“Wherever I am asked or needed,” Armondo paused. “If I had a wish, it would be something to do with kids.  Now that I have kids my focus has changed.  I was caring before, but now to think of kids not having a warm coat or clothes for school feels really bad to me.”

“The one thing I really do miss about Armondo’s is the regular customers.  I didn’t realize how many good friends I made after 21 years that I no longer see and really miss.  I do want people to know that I’m happy and completely OK with the restaurant not being open—it wasn’t a catastrophe.  In the end, you go along in life and you can sit and admire the problem, dwell on it or move forward and find opportunity.”

“What’s the next opportunity?” I asked, pencil poised.

Answer: mischievous smile and, “I’m exploring my options.”

If you want to visit with Armondo yourself, come on down to IKEA where he’ll be joining me at the IKEA kitchen for episode three of my web series.  He’ll be making his own kid-friendly ravioli.

Kid-friendly ravioli with Armondo Pavone

Renton restaurateur and chef Armondo Pavone will share his popular recipe for homemade cheese ravioli that he cooks for this two sons with Renton Reporter columnist Carolyn Ossorio at the IKEA kitchen in Renton 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, as part of her Cooking with Kids web series.

 

Molly Moon’s Ice Cream a community gathering place

mollymoons

Molly Moon will join Carolyn Ossorio at her web-based cooking program at IKEA Aug. 15. Image Credit — Submitted.

As a busy mom to four kids ranging in age from 2 to 12 we always make the Seattle rounds: King Tut’s exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, Folk Life Festival, Bumbershoot, Woodland Park Zoo, beachcombing on Alki.

And when we do, a trip to Molly Moon’s Ice Cream shop is always on the dangling carrot on our itinerary, the covenant entered into between parent and child: ice cream treat at the end of whatever adventure were on – if you’re good.

Unfortunately, whether it’s the famous lines that snake up and down the five Molly Moon Seattle locations, or we’re plumb tuckered out, we usually don’t make it.

Read more

So it is with rare elation that on a recent Sunday just Amelia and I, hand in hand, moseyed our way over to the Capitol Hill Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Shop. We had just attended a book reading at Elliot Bay Book store, just the two of us, enjoying some time together. And it was here that we shared the best Banana Split I’ve ever eaten, the sweet stuff that childhood (and mommy) memories are made of.

The banana was perfectly halved, firm and not over ripe. Cradled within the banana boat were three scoops of Molly Moon’s homemade ice cream.

Up until that point I’d never tasted Salted Caramel ice cream and here Amelia and I were staring down at two scoops.

Let me tell you, the taste of salted caramel is so divine I marveled that I had gone so long without never having the pleasure of tasting something so balanced, both salty and sweet on the palate and like the character Peter in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” yearning for Turkish Delight. I wanted more.

Perched between the two scoops of Salted Caramel sat Amelia’s favorite flavor of all time, Strawberry, which can only be described in color and flavor as the beautiful love child of farm-picked strawberries and local cream churned into ice cream clouds of Strawberry Fields FOREVER!

The Banana Split has been around since 1904 when a 23-year-old apprentice pharmacist, David Evans Strickler, dreamed up the banana-based triple ice cream sundae at a soda fountain in Pennsylvania.

And anyone knows that you cannot have a banana split without homemade whip cream, a dollop of cherry topping, candied hazelnuts and hot fudge.

The Molly Moon version was the kind of treat you don’t let a little dribble of hot fudge down your chin stop you from a spoon, bumper-car-dance with your 8-year-old daughter over the last few bites.

According to Molly Moon’s new book, “Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream”:

“In the summer of 2007, Molly Moon Nizel started a business plan to create what she thought Seattle was missing most: a multigenerational community gathering place of our own where ice cream could be the vehicle to get neighbors together and put young professionals in a crowd with toddler, teenagers, and retirees alike — a place where it was affordable to spend an evening with the neighborhood.”

And the success of Molly Moon isn’t only about homemade ice cream.

“I had a political point to prove with my favorite dessert. That I could run a business that embodied all of my political values, like living-wage jobs, environmental responsibility, and good health insurance for worker, and that those concepts and making a profit were not mutually exclusive.”

It seems to be working.

“Molly Moon’s has been hailed as one of the best ice cream brands in the United Stated by “Bon Appetit,” “Sunset,” “Food & Wine,” and “Travel+Leisure” magazines.”

I love “Cookin’ and Trippin’” with my kids. But I’ve never had the “scoops” to make ice cream before reading Molly Moon’s beautiful new book.

But the kids and I have been inspired to make homemade ice cream, hot fudge, fruit compotes and candied nuts all summer long!

So much so that on Aug. 15 from 4 – 5 p.m. I’ll be hosting the amazing Molly Moon at the IKEA kitchen for the second episode in our cooking-with-kid’s web series.

All ages are welcome!

Join us and learn how easy-peasy it is to make the most delectable Vanilla Bean ice cream at home – and re-discover homemade ice cream, America’s favorite treat!

Or better yet, if anyone out there is feeling spunky, please open an ice cream joint in the DTR!  Or maybe we can convince Molly Moon to open one in Renton.

I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog,www.pippimamma.com.

 

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of Grandma Edna

EdnaCusack

Edna Ruth Cusack had her grandkids, including Carolyn Ossorio, rolling on the floor in laughter. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio 

 

I love Thanksgiving and Christmas. But sometimes the true spirit of these holidays are overshadowed by commercialism and the knowledge that so many people in our community are suffering.

Which is why, especially during the holidays, I turn to my roots for guidance just as surely as lost travelers look to the night sky for their true North.

I didn’t have much money growing up — our mom was often labeled a single parent with a disability. But she was and is so much more than that. And I’m proud to say that she never let her disability stop her from striving to break free from the clutches of poverty.

Read more

In doing so, she taught my sister and I that we could literally do anything.

But back then, I’ll admit it often felt like it was us three against the world . . . especially when the holidays rolled around.

I can remember one particularly lean Christmas I felt like the luckiest kid alive when I happened upon an abandoned Christmas tree by the dumpster in front of our apartment complex. I have no idea how this enormous, beautiful evergreen got there and it was probably twice the size as I was.

Slick with sweat, tarred up hands and a thick trail of pine needles, I managed to drag that tree up three flights of stairs by shear determination and that night we strung popcorn and cranberries from head to toe.

That event made an impression that has lasted a lifetime: that the impossible was possible with a little elbow grease and that the world works in mysterious ways and our family was meant to have a tree.

Looking back there were other gifts that in retrospect didn’t cost a dime but were treasured, like visits with Grandma during the holidays with our cousins.

Grandma Edna was big and round and squishy and I couldn’t wrap my arms tight enough around her. Something was always cooking on the stovetop of her little low-income senior apartment.

Grandma didn’t have much but she always made our visits special . . . especially during the holidays.

It still makes me smile and tear up when I think about my sister, cousins and I gathering round Grandma, begging her to perform what she called “The Sock-it-to-me-Dance!”

The Sock-it-to-me dance was like an impromptu vaudeville/carnival sideshow and even though I was the youngest we all sat criss-cross-apple-sauce around her.

Grandma would make a big deal out of un-strapping her fake leg, (the real one had been a casualty of high blood pressure and poor circulation) and looked like it belonged on a “Twilight Zone” mannequin stuck in a fashion rut: always wearing the same white sock and sensible brown shoe.

My heart pounded in my chest as Grandma handed me her “peg leg” and commenced scrolling down the specialty cream-colored sock which covered her stump. She was quite the show woman!

And suddenly revealed, the stump below the knee flew into action, flying through the air with the same energy as any Rockette and we were mesmerized by her bright, clear blue eyes, huge smile as she broke into song waving her arms as she sang, “Cha cha cha cha cha.”

By the end of her show we were all laid out on the floor laughing until our bellies hurt.

Grandma let us take her wheelchair outside and we all fought over who got to push and who got to ride as we cruised across the courtyard to her neighbor, Andy.

Like Grandma, Andy lived alone.

I remember he was always so happy to see us. Welcoming us rowdy kids into his apartment that was filled with photographs, but never any visitors.

We always left Andy’s apartment with our pockets filled with sugar cookies and his wheelchair.

We would spend hours flying back and forth through senior courtyard, drag racing those wheelchairs.

But my absolute favorite thing about these visits was cooking with my grandma.

Her dishes were often the kind that simmered away all day in a soup pot —inexpensive cuts of meat, soup bones and gizzards.  She was an amazing baker, Bundt cakes, oatmeal raisin cookies and the best baked rice pudding with three inches of custard.

Her food was warm and comforting.

She had been raised with seven siblings and had five daughters of her own and I don’t think she ever got used to living alone and not being a part of something larger than herself.

One day I was eating a thick slice of my grandma’s steamy oniony meatloaf with baked ketchup running like a river down the middle alongside a mound of buttery mashed potatoes. I remembered my dad used to call her “Red” and I asked her if it was because she was Irish.

“I’m Heinz 57,” Grandma replied, referring to the famous ketchup slogan.

“What does that mean?” I had asked.

“It doesn’t matter what your color, I’m an American and we’re all a little bit of everything,” she said with a smile.

These precious childhood memories with the tree and my grandma serve as reminders about what the holidays are about.  Appreciating what you have.  Spending time with family and friends and giving back to the community in whatever way you can.

And so, this column is dedicated to my Grandma Edna Ruth Cusack.

Thank you, Grandma, for teaching me your simple recipes and Heinz 57 creed, gifts that I have never forgotten.

This holiday season I’m baking Christmas cookies with kids at the IKEA kitchen.  In homage to my grandma and Andy, our family will be packaging up and delivering Christmas cookies to low-income Renton seniors.

Merry Christmas, Grandma.

 

Sibling House helps families foster kids

siblinghouse

Lori Church-Pursley, left, has started a Sibling House in Renton. With her are her kids, Liam and Rose Pursley, and Carolyn Ossorio, with her children, Ty, Patrick and Sophie, and Jake the dog.Our family style feast at the Whistle Stop in downtown Renton almost always begins with a mound of cheese nachos and the requisite accompaniments: hearty corn salsa, guacamole and sour cream. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio

 

The garage door whooshed open and my kids and I were greeted on the other side by Lori Church-Pursley and her adorable “half-golden-lab-half-polar-bear” Jake.

Lori’s daughter, 3-year-old Rose, walked up to me and sheepishly handed me a stuffed dog toy.

“Thank you, Rose.” I said.

Read more

The garage door whooshed open and my kids and I were greeted on the other side by Lori Church-Pursley and her adorable “half-golden-lab-half-polar-bear” Jake.

Lori’s daughter, 3-year-old Rose, walked up to me and sheepishly handed me a stuffed dog toy.

“Thank you, Rose.” I said.

Lori’s garage in the Cascade area of Renton looks like any other family garage: toys, clothing bins, canned goods . . . except Lori’s garage is very special.

Back in April Lori and her husband opened a new South King County branch of Sibling House out of their garage in Renton.

Located in Kirkland, Sibling House is a 15-year-old non-profit program that provides items of need to foster families willing to take sibling groups.

Although the garage was filled with toys for local foster kids, Ty, Patrick and Rose started scooping and running their hands inside a deep plastic bin containing red lentils – a simple toy Lori created for her kids to play with.

“Why did you start Sibling House?” I asked.

Back in January Lori and her husband fostered their first foster kids — two sisters, from January until April. I will refer to them as C and D.

Ten-year-old C and her 2-year-old sister D arrived on Lori’s doorstep with the clothes on their backs and one pair of ill fitting pajamas in the middle of the night.

“The girls’ mother had told them not to pack anything because the state will pay for everything.” Lori explained. “At first we thought our kids could share clothes because the state doesn’t reimburse for expenses until after the first month. My 10-year-old son has a lot of sweat pants and Rose was 3.”

I thought that was a sensible idea. Both Lori and her husband work for non-profit organizations.  “It doesn’t pay very well but we know we’re doing good.”

However, C was a size 16 and D was wearing 5T so they each needed a set of clothes.

“And both the girls had issues surrounding food. The very small reimbursement rate provided by the state doesn’t even begin to cover the basic expenses of food and shelter, let alone provide funds for clothing, books, toys, and enrichment activities.”

On a limited budget themselves and with very little financial help from the state, the Pursley’s felt overwhelmed.

Lori and her husband turned to Lynne and Michael Gaskill, founders of the Sibling House in Kirkland.

“Lynn and Michael provided us with bunk beds, clothing, and diapers.”

After Lori’s family fostered C and D for four months the state located a second cousin willing to take the girls.

“Having them and letting them go was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Emotionally and financially.”

That experience was the catalyst for the Pursleys to clean out their garage and start a Sibling House Branch in Renton to help other families willing to take siblings instead of splintering families in the foster care system.

“There are a lot of foster homes in Tukwila, Renton and Kent. The 98058 area code in Renton is in the top three areas in this entire region for the largest number of kids removed from homes due to neglect.

Through our efforts with this new Sibling House branch in Renton we can provide clothing, food, toys, books and personal care items. The main site in Kirkland has all this plus furniture.”

“What happened to the girls?” my 12-year-old daughter Sophie asked?

“Foster parents are not supposed to see parents. But we were told to take the girls to the DSHS office in Kent. The girl’s mother was there with the second cousin who would foster the girls somewhere over on the Peninsula.  It was heartbreaking; C and D didn’t want to go with them.”

The Pursley’s kept in contact with the mother for a while to receive information as to how the girls were doing. But eventually due to a strained relationship lost contact.

“Where does this drive to help people come from?” I asked. “Were you ever in foster care?”

“My parents were the type of people who would give you the shirt of their backs.  They were leaders in the community.  I often wonder why I am so drawn to helping people.  I guess I’m just touched by how so many kids are growing up in such cruddy circumstances,” Lori said.

It was quiet when we got into the car.

“That story with those girls was so sad.” Sophie said.

“Yes. It is.  But we’re going to help collect donations for them and that is something we can do right now to help,” I said.

The Pursley’s branch of Sibling House opened this past April.  They are actively seeking donations. They can be reached by email at lorichurch22@gmail.com

My daughter Sophie’s Girl Scout troop will be collecting donations for Sibling House at the Renton Farmers Market this Tuesday, July 17, from 3-7 p.m.

The troop will also be passing out a healthy snack recipe cookbooks for kids printed by PIP Printing in downtown Renton.  So stop by make a donation and enjoy a healthy snack made by local girl scouts!

If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com.

 

Watch the Ossorios of Renton go to extremes

Extemes

Paul Ossorio, right, takes a chain saw to the interior of his home east of Renton. Next to him is Charlie Fratitini with the show’s construction crew. Image Credit — Screaming Flea Productions.

 

It was mid January when we found out that our house was going to be remodeled for A&E’s long-running hit series, “Sell This House: Extreme.”

If you’ve never watched the show, host Tanya Memme and construction expert Charlie Frattini with new designer Daniel Kucan help desperate homeowners prepare their difficult-to-sell spaces for today’s tough real estate market.

For six weeks after we received word that we would be on the show, we were pretty much kept in the dark except for a few things.

1. We would begin filming at the end of February for four days.

2. They would put us up in a hotel during the filming.

3. We were sworn to secrecy.

Read more

Intermittently, I would get e-mails from the producer asking if I was available for the flooring guy or the cabinet owner to visit the house to “take measurements.”  They were always very friendly . . .  but were on strict orders to not let us see what they were measuring.

Since the A&E network was paying for everything, we wanted to respect their process.  Besides it was kind of exciting not knowing. We would endlessly chat about what they might do but we really didn’t have a clue as to what would happen.

Besides, my mind was busy working on my own story.

“I’m going to call Kim (the producer) and talk about having King & Bunnies provide the appliances,” I told Paul casually one day. “Wouldn’t it be cool to showcase local Renton businesses on the show!”

I’ve watched enough reality television to see the footage reel in my head.

My beloved real estate agent Mary Lou Gustine-Nelson would have her Renton Realty sign outside our house. McLendon’s friendly employees carrying in their quality materials ready to offer their amazing customer service. The familiar plum-colored Bistro Box food truck pulling up to our house to offer their suite of tasty goodness.  A coffee run to local Cedar River Coffee drive thru and, of course, I would be wearing my favorite I love Renton T-shirt.

“Carolyn, I hate to break it to you but you’re a part of the show . . . not producing it. You don’t get to control what happens.”

I understood what Paul was saying, but I was too steeped in my fairy-tale fantasy of our house being redone after stressing about it for so long and sharing that success with the city I love so much.

Extremes2

 

The night before, we had spent all day clearing out all the kitchen cabinets and trying to clean as much as possible.

At about midnight we happily escaped to the hotel. Our only itinerary for the next four days was to arrive back at our house at 8 a.m. the next morning.

We live on a one-way road surrounded by trees and the kind of quiet neighborhood that allows you to hear the crickets and see the stars at night.  It was 8:10 a.m. when we turned the bend and saw 15 trucks and cars of varying sizes sidelined in front of our house and an industrial-sized dumpster.

We knocked on our own front door and an entire film crew was in our living room waiting for us – I finally understood what Paul had been talking about.  This wasn’t a piece of writing where I was in charge of the beginning, middle and end.

“Carolyn,” the executive producer waived me over to a corner.

“Hi!” I said.

“Would you mind changing your shirt?” she whispered.

“No problem,” I said.

I scurried through tangled electrical cords and film equipment to our room like a puppy whose nose has just been swatted. That’s when I ran into Charlie Frattini.

“Hi!” Charlie said.

He had a thick New York accent.

We exchanged pleasantries about New York . . . my dad was born and raised in Staten Island and Charlie reminded me of a younger version of my dad.

“By the end of the show we’re going to be great friends,” Charlie said.

I smiled at the thought as I walked toward our bedroom to change my t-shirt. Hoping but not really quite sure I believed Charlie.

The first day of filming was a “Day in the Ossorio life.” Followed by an open house where prospective buyers came in and completely annihilated our space which we had to watch on tape back with Tanya and Daniel. Trust me it was almost as bad as being naked on national television.

Afterward, Charlie came up to me and handed me a sledge hammer and said, “Follow me, Carolyn. This’ll make you feel better.”

I followed Charlie into the kitchen. It is amazing what wielding a sledge hammer fueled by wounded pride can accomplish. In less than 10 minutes I had completely “wacked” my hideous kitchen.

The feeling was incredible.

Every night Paul and I would go back to the hotel scratched, bruised, bone tired and battle weary from painting, wielding chainsaws, ripping out flooring, grouting tile, and whatever unskilled labor we could perform.

For many DIY’ers these tasks may sound common place but Paul and I were babes in the woods when it came to construction.

That is what was so exciting about coming back to our house each morning watching the transformation of a total kitchen, dining room, living room and master bedroom remodel.

Everyone pitched in.

Over the course of four days all of us working side-by-side . . . from Tanya cheering for Paul when he was using a chain saw for the first time to the new designer Daniel painstakingly removed more than nails to create a one-of-a-kind custom bed for the master bedroom out of the original logs (think Depression-era) that came out of one of the walls Charlie, Paul and I chain sawed out.

Charlie was right . . .we had all bonded.

And what they did for our house in only four days was masterful.  A new kitchen with marble countertops, top-of-the line appliances, quality cabinetry, beautiful cork flooring, the perfect color scheme, three French doors leading out to our waterfront, simple but elegant light fixtures, real fabric curtains and staging that told a story in each room.

“We need to just ride the tide,” Paul had encouraged that first day. Boy what an incredible ride.

We are putting our house on the market this week as a For Sale by Owner and crossing our fingers.

If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.

 

WHEN SHOW AIRS

Sell This House: Extreme

Saturday, July 7, 11 a.m.

A&E

Paul and Carolyn bought their dream log cabin on the lake for $500,000. They wanted to give their three kids a picturesque upbringing. Fast forward two years and a fourth kid later–their dream cabin is turning into a nightmare! The family of six is quickly outgrowing the small space. But to move, Paul and Carolyn must sell the home for at least the $400,000 they still owe on it. New designer Daniel Kucan has a plan to completely change the space. And builder Charlie Frattini has to use a chain saw to do it. It is a log cabin after all. The team quickly finds out that doing major construction on a log cabin is no easy task. The stability of walls comes into question more than once and puts the build way behind schedule. This whole place might come crashing down before Tanya Memme even has a chance to put a speck of paint on the walls.

 

Cooking with kids is easy when you have fun ‘uncle’

Cooking with Chef Tom Douglas Video Credit — Carolyn Ossorio.

 

The blade came into view like a version of Excalibur – forged by an Avalonian elf and blessed with dragon’s breath – as the Chef’s knife easily sliced through the flesh of the slippery rainbow trout skin.

The Palace Kitchen was our Camelot.

And Chef Tom Douglas was our culinary king.

It was an early Tuesday morning and the popular Palace Kitchen restaurant in downtown Seattle was empty. Inside chairs were still upside down on their tables and the place was filled with the kind of quiet that greets you when visiting a school that’s out of session.

But inside the kitchen was alive.

The massive ovens emanated heat and there stood the heart of the place was waiting for us was Chef Tom wearing a smile.
Read more

Amelia lugged over the rainbow trout packed on ice since the night before when Amelia and Sophie caught the behemoth with the help of Bill Briere especially for the occasion at Renton’s own Springbrook Trout Farm (which by the way opened this past Saturday for another fun-filled season).

“Do you know how much this fish weighs?” Chef Tom asked the girls lifting it to the cutting board. His signature fluffy hair pleasantly fluffed.

“Seven and one-half pounds!” Sophie my 11-year-old trumpeted as if we were the only kings in the castle (and in fact we were, aside from Chef Tom, his lovely assistant Jessica and a couple of camera men who were filming the segment for a cooking-with-kids web series).

Chef Tom demonstrated how to pluck “pin bones” from the trout.

“Your turn,” Chef Tom says, offering Sophie Excalibur.

At times Sophie can be shy, but when it comes to the kitchen there is no fear – and she takes hold of the knife as easily as young King Arthur pulls the sword from the stone – it is her destiny.

Every month Chef Tom Douglas is named “Top” something or other. Top Chef, Top Restaurateur. And this month he was named No. 1 most influential Seattle person by a popular Seattle Magazine. Howard Schulz, CEO of Starbucks, was listed as number two.

Watching Chef Tom teach the girls how to cook it is easy to understand his popularity: he’s like a fun uncle who just happens to be famous. Gregarious, easy going and yet he believes in the importance of cooking with kids.

Everybody has heard the term “comfort food.” Which is food that makes us feel comforted when we eat it. Marketing gurus have long exploited the research that our impulses or what drives us are often subconscious and established at a young age through learning and emotion: The stronger the emotion, the more clearly an experience is learned.

According to one of my favorite books, “The Culture Code” by Dr. Clotaire Rapaille about why “we humans do what we do.”

“The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion create something known widely (and coined as such by Konrad Lorenz) as an imprint. Once an imprint occurs, it strongly conditions our thought processes and shapes our future actions. Each imprint helps make us more of who we are. The combination of these imprints defines us.”

Cooking with kids is important to me because one of my most memorable personal imprints came after my parents divorced. When I was with my mom (a former vegan), I had a lot of happy memories eating healthy food. When I was with my dad for summers (a Wonderbread and bologna kind of a guy), I had happy memories eating Twinkies and watching the movie Rocky.

I believe those experiences left a “food imprint” on me that has left me confused about healthy eating and “comfort food” my whole life.

Sophie methodically slices the trout into fillets. Amelia wears a beaming smile and shy pride when Chef Tom compliments her on her coring and slicing of two Pink Lady apples.

“The potatoes are from Prosser Farm,” Chef Tom says, as each of us cuts the imperfectly perfect Yukon Gold potatoes that came from his garden.

Amelia opens up the oven hatch and carefully slides a few skinny apple wood logs onto the flame. Chef Tom scratches at the grill grates with a long brush.

Brushed with olive oil and daintily dusted with salt and pepper the Rainbow trout fillets, Romaine hearts, slices of Yukon Gold potatoes and Pink Lady apples are lined up over the flame.

The restaurant is infused with the flavors of our meal. Sweetness from the Pink Ladies as the natural sugars bubble to the surface, the savory rainbow trout is grilled to perfection and tastes as I imagine Huckleberry Finn’s catch sitting next to the Mississippi over an open camp fire.

“That trout didn’t stand a chance,” Chef Tom teases Sophie and Amelia as we all look down at our cleaned plates.

He’s right, that trout didn’t stand a chance.

Unbelievable simple and totally kid-friendly. We didn’t even use dressing on the grilled Romaine the girls just squeezed lemon.

I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.

 

Whistle Stop: Heavenly dishes, with side of celestial ideas

melindajeff

Melinda and Jeff Lawrence own the Whistle Shop Ale House in downtown Renton. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio

 

Our family style feast at the Whistle Stop in downtown Renton almost always begins with a mound of cheese nachos and the requisite accompaniments: hearty corn salsa, guacamole and sour cream.

I tow the sauces to the side to make way for the delivery of Amelia’s favorite chicken wings sans Frank’s hot sauce on the side.

Next in line is my Misty Isle organic beef burger grilled into art deco perfection beside a perky side-salad of superfood greens dressed in a light coat of balsamic-walnut vinegar and polka-dotted with cranberries and gorgonzola cheese.

Read more

Fingers fly to the crispy brown sweet potato fries that are a caramelized-orange.

Robin, our server, returns carrying steaming boats of homemade mac and cheese that would give Beechers brand (deemed an Oprah favorite) a delectable run for its money.

Another Ossorio feeding frenzy begins as Paul and I sit back and delight over our chilly-willy Linenkugels as toddler Ty (the non-committal-human-lint-roller) glides through plates—a fry here, a toasted corn chip there. But his real goal is collecting all the little Oreo cookie packets that come with the kids meals.

The art on the wall is local. The atmosphere welcoming and like a familiar child it’s hard to believe that the Whistle Stop is all grown up. March 13 marked the 17th anniversary of the Whistle Stop Ale House in Renton.

Melinda and Jeff Lawrence are the owners of Whistle Stop. They have four kids — their oldest is 11 and the youngest 4.  And they have definitely created something special here in Renton.  It truly is a neighborhood family pub. That’s what makes us keep coming back for seconds.

But what prompted me to sit down and talk with Jeff the other day was his work on Facebook.

As a “Facebook friend” of the Whistle Stop, I’ve been equal parts intrigued and impressed with Jeff’s promotion of the Whistle Stop and other restaurants in the downtown core.

According to Jeff after meeting Dennis, the owner of the Berliner German gastro pub in Renton, on the eve of its opening night he was struck with inspiration and something he called “the Celestial Body” conception.

“I went home that night after meeting Dennis and built this visual.”

Jeff pointed to his phone and I saw the familiar clustering of Renton restaurant logos.

“We’re all unique. When you look at the Big Dipper in the night sky, you need all seven parts. I don’t want the pressure of being everything to everyone,” Jeff said. “I see downtown Renton as a destination, like Pioneer Square . . . not just one place.”

“Over there you’ve got an Irish bar called A Terrible Beauty!  Over there you’ve got a German bar called Berliners!  Over there you’ve got the best steak house in the Pacific Northwest . . . Melrose Grill! Over there the Red House that offers the best wines and tapas.” Jeff shouted passionately wearing the boyish expression of one who perpetually views the glass as half full as he pointed to coordinates in the air.

And though we were actually miles from the DTR sitting at a local Starbucks on Sunset Boulevard, I felt like I had a prime seat in Jeff’s vision of the DTR Constellation Observatory.

As a restaurateur and bartender, Jeff loves talking to people.

“2011 has been better than the past three years.  More parties, more get-together’s and people sitting together and utilizing the Whistle Stop to touch on ideas.”

“What do you think caused the shift?” I asked.

“Boeing gave the biggest gift I’ve ever seen when they committed to building the 737 MAX in Renton.  It was an immediate “ahhhhh” exhaled and people were at peace for the first time in years.”

“So why aren’t we attracting more businesses to the downtown core?”

“Slum landlords.”  Jeff said matter-of-factly.  “We need to replace these old farts.”

My furious pen stopped.

“I don’t care what you write.” Jeff said.  “I just want to speak honestly and clearly about what I feel the truth is.  I have ideas — don’t judge the ideas.”

These days voicing an opinion about downtown Renton feels like opening a can of worms. Just the other day I asked a business owner his opinion about the library situation in downtown Renton; his response was, “I wish it would just burn down.”

Of course, nobody wants the library to burn down.

But I think people are tired of the struggle between the idea of progress and “business as usual.”

“Thousands of people drive down Third Avenue and they don’t ever come back because of the slum landlords.  The city needs to put pressure and “incentify” these slum landlords who have not updated or taken any pride in their properties.  They are taking business away from our downtown.”

“What has been the reaction from the other restaurants about you promoting them on Facebook?  Some might think it odd that you are promoting your competition.”

Jeff paused.

“It’s odd for them, I think,” Jeff said.  “But I believe you must give in order to receive.”

“The city of Renton is a prime place. I would love to be known as the “science city” an innovative city of the future . . . with citizens who embrace change and adapt to new technologies and keep moving forward.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility if we have the will to do the right thing.”

 

35 737s a month: It’s party time!

partytime!

Beverly Wyse, 737 program vice president, whips up the crowd during a celebration Tuesday at the Renton 737 plant marking a major milestone: For the first time ever, the plant is producing 35 737s a month, a number that will grow over the next several years. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio

 

If you ever want to cut through a dense crowd I highly recommend following a news camera man—as I did the other day at the Renton Boeing Plant.

My media badge was swinging around my neck like a monkey as the local camera man cut through a sea of Boeing employees like an ice breaker in the Bering Sea.

I had intended on writing a column about kids and aviation.

Like most people I had heard of the amazing things going on at Boeing: the new accelerated production rate of building 35 737 each month (from 31.5) a feat that helped secure the recent deal to build the new 737 Max in Renton.

I thought it would be fun to bring the kids on a tour and learn about Renton’s rich aviation history.

I discovered that tours aren’t allowed at the Renton plant (public tours are available at Boeing’s Everett plant).

Read more

But Linda Lee, 737 Program Communications Manager was nice enough to invite me to join a party celebrating the accomplishments of Boeing employees this past Tuesday.

Security is so tight at the Boeing plant that reporters are shuttled over to the building that overlooks the shores of Lake Washington and houses the 737 manufacturing lines.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we walked inside the darkened hangar where a thin crack of light streaming through the gargantuan hangar door was the only tell that it was just 9:30 am.

Not in my wildest imagination would I have ever expected to experience flashing strobes, hazy smoke, and jet engines hanging from chains artfully like sides of beef at the hippest rave concert.

Live music cranked out of speakers at a decibel that would rival any U2 concert.

The mood of the employees was as high as the American flag displayed proudly. Our group headed toward the flag and the projected screen of Chase Mckinney rocking on a stage somewhere up front.

When we surfaced at the head of the crowd there was a dais and behind that, looming “large and in charge” was the 35th airplane to be produced at the new rate of 35 737 per month.

A slogan signed by hundreds of employees was pinned to the planes gleaming silver fuselage like an honorary badge. It said: Team 737 Rocks to 35 a month.

Boeing 737 program vice president and general manager Beverly Wyse took the stage wearing a colorful t-shirt that said Boeing 737 M. The mood was exciting and hopeful.

Wyse inspired all with praise.

Because of the combined efforts of employees who created and implemented new lean efficiencies critical to meet order demands. As well as partnerships between suppliers, fabrication divisions, the union and key federal, state and local divisions were celebrated as the reason that the 737 MAX will be developed and manufactured here in Renton. Wyse said.

The market will demand 23,000 single aisle airplanes over the next 20 years and Boeing has plans to capture half of that market.

Which means decades of production in Renton.

38 a month in 2013

42 a month 2014

And someday 60 a month … that’s how many our customers will need in the future.”

“You made this happen!” Wyse exclaimed amid employee cheers.

“That’s how we’re taking 737 to the MAX!” Wyse said as light-weight beach balls began raining from high above via a crane.

Boeing employees kept the momentum alive by volleying the balls through the air like corn kernels in a popcorn popper.

Soon after the immense hangar door slowly opened, letting in light as the crowd dispersed to enjoy music and tasty cupcakes before heading back to work.

I made a bee-line for those hanging engines I’d glimpsed earlier in the dark.

“Could you take my picture in front of one of these?” I asked standing in front of a huge jet engine.

“Sure.” The man said.

I knew I had just outed myself as the ultimate tourist.

But one look at that magnificent specimen of human engineering and I couldn’t help uttering, “This looks like the engine on the Space Shuttle!”

The man I’d wrangled into taking my picture turned out to be Kenneth Balls, senior manager, 737 Propulsion Value Stream.

“Would you like a tour?” he asked pointing to a row of exposed jet engines.

“Would I!”

I learned a lot that day. How redesigning a door handle can save millions of dollars and exchanging rolls of carpet on an airplane for carpet squares can streamline the process and are easier to replace when “… kids throw up.” All the practical things the average traveler doesn’t think about. And yet all these “little” things add up and are examples of efficiencies put in place by employees.

Walking back to the press van an employee riding a tricycle-type bike cruised by — one of many I’d seen peddling around the large Boeing plant.

I asked the driver about them.

“Employees ride them around the plant to transport small parts in an effort to save money, streamline the process and are more environmentally friendly than cars,” he said.

Sitting in the van I took a moment to reflect on the experience. It was a little like finding out the smartest kid in school was also the coolest.

“Hey, did you hear that Kraft, GE and Boeing were Jim Cramer’s top three picks,” our driver said to another employee enthusiastically before sliding the van door shut.

I felt myself smile as I realized it had been a long time since I had heard anyone excited about stocks again.

 

Cooking with kids at IKEA a great Spring Break deal

IKEA

Carolyn Ossorio stands in front of the iconic IKEA Volkswagen with her kids. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio

 

“I love it that you wore an I Love Renton t-shirt on New Day Northwest!” Amanda Hobbs said to me the other day.

Amanda is the local marketing and public relations person at IKEA Renton.  She had just viewed a video clip of Sophie, Amelia and I making bread on KING 5.

Read more

Amanda and I were talking about Spring Break in Renton, cooking with kids and Caspar Babypants over packages of those addictive delectable Swedish Meatballs in the frozen food section at IKEA.

If you’ve never tried them before they’re great party food.  Slide them into a Crockpot with two jars of grape jelly and a day of melting and smoldering.

Voila easy finger food.

Now it looked like our family would be trying those Swedish Meatballs on pizza!

For those tracking — back in December I made a plea in my column to help raise the nominal fee to bring Caspar Babypants for a free concert for families at the Renton Library.

It was suggested that I hit up local small business owners.  As a journalist it didn’t feel right … I know how hard it is for small businesses owners to make payroll and just keep the lights on these days —let alone shell out cash to support a kids music concert.

As with many things in life I’ve learned it’s all about timing.

Being in the right place, at the right time and with a little elbow grease — planets often flow into alignment. It also doesn’t hurt to have a community-friendly company like IKEA in our backyard.

As a parent who has shopped at IKEA for years, they just seemed like the logical choice to sponsor an event like Caspar Babypants.

They don’t advertise all their charitable contributions but I see it in subtle things that are important to me when I shop with my family.

A top-notch play area that’s safe and clean so parents can have a moments reprieve to mindlessly wander the smart, functional and affordable options for creating great spaces at home.

Comfortable, private areas for mothers to nurse and change diapers, along with ample little kid shopping carts to zoom around the endless hard wood “yellow brick road.”  Play stations strategically located throughout the store to encourage kids to finger and paw at instead of the breakables.

I was thinking about all these things as Amanda and I were in the IKEA pantry chatting about our picky little eaters and pizza.

“And your kids … they can cook the pizza with you during the demo? IKEA really believes in the power of cooking with kids.”

The kids and I are so excited to be the sfirst chefs to cook in IKEA’s brand-new fully operational totally amazing kitchen over Spring Break.

We decided on rolling out a kid-friendly pizza dough recipe that’s quick, easy, tasty and just the kind of healthy meal families on the go (like us) would appreciate.

“I’ve never used frozen shrimp on pizza but I’m excited to try them.” I said pointing to IKEA’s frozen food section.  “That’s the great thing about making home-made pizza – you can get creative with your toppings.”

In addition to using the pie-shaped wedges of white cheese available in IKEA’s pantry we’ll also use their tomato sauce and try crumbling Swedish Meatballs for toppings.

Our pizza presentation will also feature fresh items sourced from our local favorite Top of the Hill Market.

A gem in the Renton Highlands, one half of the store is a fruit and vegetable Mecca and the other half is a really amazing butcher called Shawn and Ted’s Quality Meats.

Shawn and Ted’s Quality Meats offers top notch meats with good old-fashioned service. Trust me, you can learn a lot of free advice about how to prepare meat from your local butcher.)

I’ve already had a long discussion with Ted about picking up a small platter of pizza-friendly cuts (pancetta, pepperoni, Italian sausage and Canadian bacon).

I love recipes that give parents and kids options and flexibility when cooking.

As Amanda was giving me a tour of the new kitchen our conversation turned to the past.  In 2007 the original owners of IKEA Renton, Bjorn and Anders, who back in 1994 opened the very first owner-operated IKEA in North America— retired and sold majority interest back to IKEA.

“Even though I’ve only been at the store since April, I constantly hear about the previous owners Bjorn and Anders.” Amanda said.  “Bjorn and Anders were beloved by all.  That’s why I’m so glad you approached IKEA about hosting Caspar Babypants.  I’d really love people to know IKEA is still grounded in Renton and we love supporting free family events like cooking with kids and Caspar Babypants.  We could do a better job of letting the community know all that we do…but you know Swedish Humbleness,” Amanda said.

Actually, I’d never heard of Swedish Humbleness.  So when I got home I looked it up.

“One of the key characteristics of Swedish culture is that Swedes are egalitarian in nature, humble and find boasting absolutely unacceptable. In many ways, Swedes prefer to listen to others as opposed to ensuring that their own voice is heard.”

Hmmm.  Well, I’m an American.

So I say—cue the trumpets…we’ve got something to celebrate!

Join us for a fun filled week of family friendly and FREE events at IKEA Spring Break Week to include pizza making and a Caspar Babypants concert.

 

I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Tuesday, April 10

10:30 – 11:15am

Local journalist and mom blogger Carolyn Ossorio, along with her children, will be stopping by our operational kitchen to give tips on getting the little ones involved in the kitchen. This interactive cooking demonstration will be fun to watch for the whole family.

11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Kids eat free

Thursday, April 12

10:30 – 11:30 a.m.

Baby Caspar Babypants comes to Renton. IKEA hosts  Caspar Babypants, aka Chris Ballew from The Presidents of the United States, in the restaurant for a musical performance to delight children (and parents) of all ages.

Community use for 24-acre property

24acreprop

The Cleveland home is set on 24 acres of land near Valley Medical Center that someday could become a City of Renton park – or a community garden. Image Credit — Submitted, Heidi Cleveland.

 

Recently, I heard a rumor that someone had recently donated a large chunk of land to the City of Renton.

The tip was from my mom and it was a pretty good one. For the past couple of years she’s enjoyed retirement and working part-time during the summers at the beautiful and serene ponds at the Springbrook Trout Farm just off Talbot Road near Valley Medical Center.

Apparently, the donated land in question was near the trout farm.

My mom knows that land in Renton is something I’ve been interested in for a few years now. You could say it’s at the top of my list. You know the one we all have. The “I CANNOT believe that Renton doesn’t have one of these!” lists.

Read more

From conversations about town, I know that at the top of more than a few Rentonites is:

• I CANNOT believe Renton doesn’t have a Trader Joes!

• I CANNOT believe Renton isn’t the home of a beautiful new stadium and the Seattle Sonics!

And while I love both the above-mentioned suggestions, at the top of my list is a community farm and co-op. The kids and I have already named it, The Renton Community Farm and Co-op.

A place where families, school kids and essentially any one and everyone in our community come and take tours, learn about nature, farm animals, composting, and plant free community gardens. There will also be an open kitchen where all ages are welcome to learn how to make healthy and delicious meals with our collective bounty!

So yes, I was interested in digging deeper to find out about whether the existence of this land was real.

When I called the City of Renton to get the scoop, it was just my luck to get hold of Leslie A. Betlach, Parks Planning and Natural Resources director. Apparently, Betlach has worked for the City of Renton for more than 22 years. She was very helpful when I asked her about a “chunk of property over by Springbrook Trout Farm that had been recently donated to the city?”

“Oh, you must be talking about The Cleveland property,” she said.

Edwin and Virginia Cleveland purchased the 24 acres of farmland off Talbot Road 60 years ago. Edwin was a milk man and Virginia stayed home with their growing family, eight kids in total.

I was excited to talk to the family about the story behind the land and Heidi Cleveland, who is an eighth-grade teacher and daughter of Edwin and Virginia, was equally excited to tell me about her family’s beloved farm.

“Dad was a milk man during the week and farmed on the weekends. Mom stayed at home with us kids and we helped her with the 300 chickens. When Mom and Dad bought the place, ours was the smallest farm around.”

The farm grew and the family raised sheep, dairy cows, chickens, pigs and a herd of Angus.

Heidi added, “The family home was a wonderful place to grow up and experience the outdoors. Not only did we have all types of livestock but wildlife that continues to gather there. In the last year we have had deer, coyotes, raccoons, as well as all kinds of birds, osprey, heron, eagles that fish in the pond.

However, by the early 1990s the Cleveland place was the last farm left. All the other pieces had been sold off and developed.

The family began feeling the pressure to sell.

“It seemed like everyday building contractors with nice, fat checks would show up on our doorsteps asking us to sell. Mom would cry because she didn’t want to sell the place.”

But the Cleveland’s also didn’t want the land to be split up. At around the same time the City of Renton stopped by the Cleveland place and inquired whether the Clevelands would be interested in selling three acres to create a walking trail by the Springbrook stream.

Saving the precious land for the community to enjoy appealed to the Cleveland family, so instead of just selling three acres, Edwin asked the city if it would like to buy all 24 acres.

It was a good time for the city to buy property because they had recently received funds from the 1989 King County Open Space Bond.

According to Betlach, Renton acquired the Cleveland property in 1995 for $1.2 million. At the same time the city formalized a life estate on five acres in exchange for Edwin and Virginia to remain on the property maintaining the house and all of the acreage.

Edwin passed in October 2003 at 88 and Virginia passed on November 2011 at age of 94.

Now that both owners are deceased, the property reverted back to the City in mid-2012.

Hence the rumor of the donated land.

Still, following this story has been fun. It’s been nice to be surprised by government. By our city’s foresight to protect this land when it had the opportunity.

While the property is in the city’s ownership, there isn’t available funding to construct a park.

I asked Heidi what her family’s vision of the property was.

“An educational center with either a wetland theme or a small working farm would be such a gift to the neighborhood and fulfill a need for the community to enjoy these experiences,” she said.

Now when the kids and I are drawing our schematics for the farm we’ve revised the title from Renton Community Farm and Co-op to:

Cleveland/Richardson Community Farm and Co-op.

Flour, Flour Everywhere When Baking is at Hand

flourflour

Carolyn Ossorio and her daughter’s Amelia and Sophie recently appeared on an episode of KING TV’s “New Day Northwest,” hosted by Margaret Larson. Image Credit — Submitted.

 

“Look, Mom, water!” The girls scuttle the cooking supplies they’d been carrying onto a nearby end table.

I bring up the rear, sporting my new “I Love Renton” tee, as my girl’s hustle-walk toward a decorative water fountain filled with coin-sized dreams and filled with the kind of luscious clear water a kid just has to stick a hand into.

“OK girls,” I said, as Amelia and Sophie flop onto their bellies and commence leaning into the fountain like deep-sea divers ready to explore.

Read more

The scene confirms yet again how impossible it is to play it cool when you’ve got inquisitive children whose favorite movie is “The Goonies” and whose beloved author is Roald Dahl.

Both my girls peer up at me wearing mischievous grins and wave dripping fingers.

As a former Goonie myself I understand. But I raise my eyebrows calmly that non-verbally connotes: you’re at the KING 5 studio scheduled to appear on the popular afternoon television show with award-winning Margaret Larson, “New Day Northwest.” So no funny business.

I set down my cardboard box filled with the same supplies I bring to my daughter Amelia’s second-grade class: oil, measuring cups, plastic utensils, baking powder and King Arthur Flour.

I love baking with my own kids, so it just seemed natural to volunteer at Amelia’s school in this way.

So one Friday a month Amelia’s classmates help me rearrange their desks into cooking stations.

Although it’s not a competition, watching kids work the recipe together is as fun and intense as an episode of “Top Chef.”

Each group of individuals has a separate process for stirring and taking turns as they navigate through the ingredients.

“Who has never cracked an egg before?” I asked a group of extremely focused individuals one day.

When 20-plus arms shot up like Blue Angels complete with wiggling fingers, zigzagging arms, undulating wet noodles and an over-the-top windshield wiper wave. But all wore the same expression, “Pick me!”

The air always feels electric, like something special is happening. And, of course, I’m delighted because something special is happening: Kids cooking together.

The experience has been so rewarding I contacted King Arthur Flour about bringing their Life Skills program to our Renton schools.

According to the King Arthur Flour website, here’s how it works:

Teaching to an audience of students in grades 4, 5, 6, and/or 7, a King Arthur Flour instructor and two student assistants present a 50-minute demonstration on the bread baking process. Then, each future baker takes home materials, including our nutritious whole-grain flour, and the know-how to get baking. Students bake two delicious loaves – one to enjoy, the other for donation to a community organization chosen by the school. King Arthur Flour brings this exciting program to schools FREE of charge.

A FREE program that teaches kids a life skill and the importance of sharing with others. That’s a no-brainer.

“Let’s do it!” I say.

Things were looking really good when Paula Gray, Life Skills Bread Baking program manager sent me a message that said King Arthur Flour has set aside the week of Feb. 6-10 to visit schools in the area, the first time ever in Washington.

I was “over the moon” excited about this opportunity for our kids.

Until I received word from the contact I’d been working with at the Renton School District.

She said, “I learned from the elementary and middle school staff that they are getting ready to prepare students for testing, so they are unable to fit this program into the early February timeframe.  Unfortunately, we are going to have to pass on your offer.”

I’ll be honest with you I never imagined ever having this much trouble selling something free — especially with all the budget cuts.

I understand the importance of testing our kids.

But are our kids really too busy to learn about making bread with their families and giving back to our community?

I don’t think so.

And as Alexander Graham Bell said so aptly, “When one door closes, another opens.”

And voila we’re at New Day Northwest to talk about bringing the King Arthur Flour Life Skills program to our state.

I pick up my box as the girls and I make our way to set up our bread-making table for our segment. But not before I dig into my jeans pocket, fish out a coin and toss it into that fountain.

I hope that the Renton Schools will be the first to experience this amazing program.  Check out Life Skills at King Arthur Flour at  http://www.kingarthurflour.com/baking/life-skills-baking.html

Stuck in the Sand With Nowhere to Go? Try Sandbox

stuckinsand

Patrick Ossorio sticks his head out of the sand at The Sandbox in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio

 

“Mommy! Look at the big airplane!”  Patrick, my 4-year-old says, lifting himself in his backseat booster in unison with the airplane taking flight beside us.

“Ug, ug!” Ty grunts excitedly as he points his toddler-sized finger at the train tooting down the track.

Read more

“I want to fly!” Patrick exclaims.

“Another day for trains and planes,” I say into the rear-view mirror.  “Today it’s all about playing on the sandy beach.”

It might sound like we were heading off to an exotic locale . . . instead of the usual cruise through downtown Renton toward MLK onto Airport Way and our final destination Georgetown and a new place called The Sandbox.

I enjoy driving down Airport Way because there’s usually not much traffic, and the kids get all fired up about Boeing Field and the main lines of the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad.

And I love Georgetown. An industrial area repurposed into a hip enclave of Seattle that’s eclectic without feeling trendy or commercial.

In the heart of the bohemian Georgetown “scene” is a new place, The Sandbox, an indoor beach facility where you can play in a volleyball league year round.

But the kids and I were there for a new program offered called Lil Diggers.

“I’ve never seen sand like this in Washington,” I overheard a mom say. It was a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by beautiful clean sand.

I glanced around at a full house: 20-plus moms with pant legs rolled up wriggling our toes into the white squishy sand as our toddler offspring were happily shoveling, sliding, giggling, and playing ball.

“How did all this get started?” I asked the owner Willie Moneda. He wasn’t hard to spot be-bopping around the sand like a proud papa.

Willie explained that he dreamed of giving up his day job and opening an indoor volleyball facility. Willie’s dream was born from the pick up volleyball games in the Alki sands, that grew into an indoor volleyball facility in a dilapidated West Seattle building without any heat and filled with owl’s nests.

“My wife said, ‘Either follow your dream and open a real space or stop talking about it!’”

So Willie quit his job as an engineer and moved into the new space in Georgetown — with heat, cheerful murals and a lot of sand.

“How did the Lil Diggers happen?” I asked’ referring to the toddler program that encourages kids to “happily run free and dig up the indoor sandbox as parents relax and chat with other parents.”

Willie said that he was having a meeting.  His business partner had brought his toddler who was a “handful.”  Once the toddler found the sand she was so absorbed in free play and digging they couldn’t believe it.

“We knew we had something.” Willie said.

Playing in the sand that day with Patrick and Ty surrounded by moms and toddlers it was hard to believe that Willie’s business meeting had taken place just a few months ago—clearly the place was a hit.  They now offer chair massage for Moms, beverages and snacks.

“All these people are here for the first time.” Willie said, seemingly surprised by his good fortune.  “We’ve done zero advertising to promote the Lil Diggers.  It’s all word of mouth . . . mostly Moms.”

Lil Diggers is such a simple concept — a place for Mom and tots to play outside the rain for a few hours.  I wasn’t surprised.  Moms are always looking for new places to take their kids, especially during fall and winter.

“Moms are coming from all over.  West Seattle, Green Lake and Madison Moms groups.”

“Don’t forget Renton,” I say.

I myself had heard about Lil Diggers from the Renton Meetup group called Active Moms And Tots.

“Yes, Moms are very powerful!” Willie exclaimed. His eyes had the bedazzled appearance of one under the spell of a talisman.

Driving home that day I was happy that I had discovered a fun new place to take my kids.

But by the time I was driving down Fourth Street in downtown Renton I was reminded how similar Georgetown and downtown Renton are.

The historic Rainier Brewing Co.’s original Rainier Brewery, once reportedly the sixth-largest brewery in the world, is now called the Georgetown Brewhouse and is home to artists and small businesses.

We have so many empty historic buildings that are opportunities for businesses like The Sandbox. Willie Moneda’s innovative American Dream tweaked to appeal to kids and adults alike.

With the relocation of the Chamber of Commerce downtown and (like it or not) the new high-tech KCLS library, I hope downtown Renton will continue to come into its own and experience the kind of 21st Century revival going on in Georgetown.  Attracting more artists, coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, bars and creative businesses with imaginative concepts and storefronts that will attract people from Renton and neighborhoods beyond.

Snowmageddon at the Ossorios Plays Out Like Bad Horror Flick

snowmageddon

Paul Ossorio goes sliding before he’s taken out like a bug. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio.

 

Act: I Happy Family

Beautiful powder, schools are closed, intermittent sun breaks and we’re loving every minute of family fun sledding, snowball fights and, of course, the requisite snowman in the front yard … A Washingtonian’s dream come true.

 

We returned home famished and after a hearty meal settled in to a movie and posting pictures of our snowy adventures on Facebook, when 4-year-old Patrick calmly walked into the family room. He wore the vacant expression of the newly possessed as he opens his mouth and from what feels like left field spews his version of the “split pea” scene from “The Exorcist.”

Read more

“Mommy, the burrito made me sick,” he croaked followed by another tear.

Act II: It Wasn’t the Burrito…

Long into the night snow silently piled up outside as my brave little boy was laid out flat like a rag doll, lurching his head up every so often to begin a fresh peal of dry heaves.

The next morning Patrick is able to safely drink liquids. School is closed again and the local news warns us to stay off the roads and prepare for more snow.

I’m making coffee when I hear a “click” accompanied by the dreaded “short circuit” sound effect — the power’s off.

I’m lamenting my coffee when I realize I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

As if on cue, Sophie and Amelia like pods incubating whatever alien microbe Patrick picked up are running toward me with palms over their mouths.  Like Patrick they are taken down with the same force and immediacy that befell their brother.

All day we expect to hear that “click” again that will tell us power is restored. It never comes. But in all the chaos we receive a call from our neighbor Phil.

“Come on down, we’ve got a generator, hot chocolate and board games,”  Phil says.

Boy was it tempting. He didn’t even skip a beat when I told him about our sickness and told us to come over anyway!

But there was no way I could bring our crud to his family.

“Carolyn, it gets awfully dark by 5 o’clock with four kids. I’m going to check back in with you again,” Phil had said.

Act III: The Reckoning of the Lone Survivor

“All those candles are making me sick,” says Paul, pointing to my plastic IKEA bag filled with roughly one million tea lights because I couldn’t find one measly flashlight.

The sun began to dip below the horizon and panic began to seize my chest when I heard Paul say, “You know, I feel a little queasy.”

Our family had triaged behind the closed door of our master bedroom to keep in the heat generated by our gas stove.

With Paul down it was up to me to venture out into the darkness for supplies.

Obviously, I’ve seen too many genres of horror films because our cold, pitch-black house morphed into one of those derelict space ships floating alone in outer space.  All the crew are downed by some nefarious (and putrid) alien life form and I alone was left to troll through the dark, lonely expanse searching for a source of power . . . two laptops with batteries that couldn’t hold a charge, my old school cell phone and an Ipod mini I held aloft as a makeshift flashlight searching for another retching bucket as I too succumbed.

Epilogue

I don’t think Paul and the kids will joke about plans for the upcoming “Zombie Apocalypse” anytime soon.

We were without power for three days and the nasty stomach bug took all of us down one-by-one.  We had trees crash into our yard taking down part of the fence and almost knocking down the kids play structure.  Our car got stuck in our own ditch, and our sump pump went out.

The experience taught us two things.

1. We need an emergency plan.

2. The kindness of our neighbors.

Our neighbor Phil did check in with us the next day, offering us his house to use when they went on vacation.  Several other neighbors with generators called with offers to cook us supper and to make sure we were OK, even at the risk of getting themselves sick. Another neighbor came over with his chainsaw and he and my husband Paul worked together to cut down the tangle of fallen trees in our yard.

And, of course, a big shout out goes to all the power folks who drove into our neighborhoods with their big trucks like cavalry. I think I can speak for the more than 300,000 of us who suddenly found ourselves in the dark . . . thank you!

 

‘Get that rooster off my crippled chicken right now!’

rooster

Three-year-old Patrick has become somewhat of the chief chicken wrangler at the Ossorio spread in east Renton. Image Credit — Carolyn Ossorio.

“You’ve definitely got a rooster . . . he came over and tried to get on my crippled chicken,” My neighbor informed me.

I was wide-eyed and speechless leaning up against the chain link fence that runs the length of our yards.

Adhered against our joint fences were two very different interpretations of urban chicken coops and their respective runs.

Recently, I read on the Internet that the domesticated fowl can fill a spiritual hole in an increasingly technology-focused society. In other words chickens have become chic.

Back in March, for the price of a video game, we loaded the minivan with four adopted fuzzy chicks, feed, a heat lamp, bulb, a water feeder and a feed box from Keppler’s Feed Store in Renton. Having no experience in raising chickens.

Read more

I had high hopes of raising hens as a fun activity with fresh, free-range eggs as a fringe benefit.

And yet four months later, here I stood, defensive, feeling like I was talking about my adopted errant teenage son run wild in the neighborhood.

Yikes! These chickens certainly weren’t “Zenning” me out. In fact, contrary to the bliss I’d read that others experienced by frolicking chickens who knew their names and were fun loving.

How was I to react to this latest chicken drama with my rooster attacking my neighbor’s crippled chicken? And the greater question, how had I gotten into this chicken drama to begin with?

The answer bounced back like an echo by way of Patrick’s whooping toddler cry. The bliss for me I realized was watching my naked 3-year-old boy chasing the chickens around the yard wearing mismatched dino boots – but having a ball.

Patrick kept letting what he considered his reptilian friends out of their cage. Along with the rabbits and ducks. A melee ensued . . . a mass exodus to the safety of our neighbors’ coop.

Watching Patrick chase his chickens and my 11-year-old Sophie painstakingly clean and care for them was worth what otherwise on the surface felt like drudgery. After four months we still had yet to get one egg and the aggravation of free-range meant walking through a mine field of chicken poop — yes, I know chicken pooh is great for the garden – but stepping in it is no fun.

And honestly their once cute feet took on that reptilian claw. I didn’t even like touching them — but touch them I must because of Patrick’s extra- curricular activities.

As a mother hen myself, I had to do something about that rooster. Besides it wasn’t neighborly to have “our” rooster prowling around the neighborhood on unsuspecting hens.

It was the chickens that had brought us together with our neighbors. In the two years that we’d lived in our new house, we’d only exchanged a few passing waves. Now we compared notes and chronicled chicken stories daily.

“Call Keppler’s and see if they’ll take the rooster back,” my neighbor suggested.

I nodded. Good ole Keppler’s. Just thinking about them down the street made me feel better.

For whatever the reason – food source, loving pet, calming spiritual source – chickens have become the fastest-growing urban pet. According to an interview with Director Pamela Burton of the Seattle Tilth, the City Chicken Workshop sessions have been filled to standing-room only. The two-hour classes held four times a year teach new chicken owners the basics in building coops and keeping their animals healthy.

But Seattle’s far away when you’ve got a struttin’ rooster on the prowl and Keppler’s is just down the street in the Renton Highlands as it’s been since the 1940’s.

Keppler prides itself on customer service and over the last few months it feels like we’ve become regular fixtures at the old feed store.

I talked with Nick Laborde, an employee and relative of the owners.

“In 2008 Bryan and Rhonda Cross purchased Keppler’s. My uncle grew up around here and he couldn’t stand to see it going down hill, so they bought it.”

Whether it was the recommendation for “rooster booster” after one of our chickens was injured and consequently nearly pecked to death by the others, or this time I’m calling to see if they would take the rooster back.

Amber, a longtime employee happily called another of their customers who was looking for a rooster and told me to bring our rooster right down.

Through this learning curve Keppler’s has always been there for us.

Even though this has been challenging it’s been a great experience for the kids. Taking care of the chickens has been an every day grind that they didn’t anticipate and yet wouldn’t give up on. If you’re willing to take on the challenge, it’s well worth it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *