Sunday, August 5, 2007

4.0 "Inside" the Sellwood Kitchen

Starring Erin & Mike
Filmed on Location in Beautiful Downtown Sellwood

Julia Child. Graham Kerr. Boyardee. Ray and Flay. Beard and Bourdain. M.F.K. Fisher! Prudhomme, Lagasse, and Elzar. Don’t forget DeLuise! And Private Igor Straminsky (through early morning fog I see)!

You know them all. Really — you do! But who are we? Who is there, “in the Sellwood kitchen?”

Well, we’re probably not as exciting as the chefs and food writers listed above — excluding, maybe, DeLuise — but I might be the only writer who types to Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express”. So while Erin prepares this month’s recipe, I’ll put forth a vague origin of our career.

Zephyrs of rosemary swirl into the living room. A thick candle burns on the coffee table, animated by the rotating floor fan. It’s July. It’s hot. And I drift back to the kitchens of my youth.

The scene: A Queens, New York, kitchen, where I was so young I can only remember the smell of warm cookies. The old record player spins John Denver and Peter, Paul & Mary. With so many crumbs on my shirt I could be confused with a fly strip. Of course, I ate other foods there, but most of it from small glass jars.

A majority of my memories emanate from the kitchen of my childhood home in Old Bethpage. More cookies, of course. Specifically, my mother’s famous chocolate chip cookies (“It’s just the recipe on the back of the chips bag,” she contends; but an unreplicable quality continues to infuse her legendary treat almost 40 years later). I’m a notorious consumer of cookies. A quick genealogy might rightfully pin me as half-Irish, half-Nabisco.

Mom’s a great cook. As a kid, my taste buds were slow to develop; I was never too concerned with flavor. Wait, that didn’t come out right! She made the best meals! Just nothing too exotic, thank goodness. What I’m saying is we ate a lot of chicken, potatoes, carrots, string beans, pork chops (yes, Pete, they were a little dry, but that’s what the apple sauce was for), hamburgers, and fish sticks and spaghetti (with a little ketchup) on Fridays. Hey, it was the 70s! We were German and Irish, and my mother chose the menu with that in mind. Spices? Yeah, salt and pepper! Foreign cuisine? I was deep in my teens before I ever had a taco (though we did go out for Chinese, on special occasions).

Around our house, we used to say there are those who “live to eat” and those who “eat to live”. I was the latter. Slim then, and thin now. I was thinking about getting a tattoo that says, “Just add sugar.”

Although the notion of two people starting a relationship with one designated as the cook (and historically, one who cooks like your mother) sounds daft these days, the quaint specter remains. My fiancé therefore did not need to be a classically-trained sous-chef. Can you bake a chicken? You’re hired. And, indeed, when Erin and I first met, she wasn’t much interested in cooking (her mother in fact warned me, “She doesn’t know how to cook”).

But one day Erin decided she was going to make a pie crust from scratch. So she did. And it was an ephiphanous success! I mean, she filled the pie crust; I wasn’t just sitting there eating pie crust with a dumb grin on my face. Blackberry pie, to be precise.

Empowered by her accomplishment (not only that she had baked a delicious pie, but that I dared to eat a pie involving any kind of berry — heck, I had my first cherry just the other day at the Moreland Farmers Market), she experimented in the kitchen. Fajitas! Tacos! Pasta and vegetable dishes! And more pies!

After that fateful day when we moved in together, into what would become the home of “In the Sellwood Kitchen”, she began to cook every night! Each meal more sumptuous than the last! The mulligatawny soup! The buffalo chicken tenders! Lime and mint vinaigrette! Her taming of the sweet potato! My taste buds rejoiced — suddenly I was addicted to spices! My mother’s cooking, her noble and steady recipes of starch, cellulose and protein, had built the sturdy stage on which Erin’s vibrant meals perform!

But what about the cookies? Erin hasn’t baked me chocolate chip cookies yet. She did make a few batches of Christmas cookies. And they were joyful! Just ask that Keebler elf that crashed our holiday get-together — he ate so many peppermint pinwheels he threw up in the crèche. In the culture of elves, that’s a huge compliment.

Actually, I’m the heir to Mrs. O’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies. I’ve baked a few dozen in my day. That frees up Erin to cook every other meal I ever eat. Surprisingly, she doesn’t mind. We’re a batch made in heaven. Ha, ha. See what I did?

Let’s see what she’s cooking tonight. Wild rice is steaming in the cooker. Chicken breasts are baking in the oven. And she’s just brought out two small green salads (with red onions and parmesan). She’s whipped up a tangy dressing. To think I used to only employ French dressing. Now it tastes like ketchup to me. What else is that I smell? Yup, you guessed it! Sweet potato oven fries! Oh, they look awesome — sliced thin like half-moons!

OK, I gotta go. Here comes dinner! And my appetite is “Endless, Endless!”


2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Extra virgin olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 cloves of garlic
A can of cream of mushroom soup
Salt & Pepper
Wild rice

In a casserole dish, drizzle extra virgin olive oil on chicken breasts, sprinkle with salt and pepper, chopped garlic and rosemary leaves. Spoon mushroom soup over chicken. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve over wild rice with sweet potato oven fries (suggestion: serve everything with sweet potato oven fries).

The “In the Sellwood Kitchen” cast and crew can be contacted at: