Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tis the season of sweaters and scarves -- and grilled cheese

Grilled cheese is great for when you're in the "curl up with good book and cocoa" mood, or even for when there are 10 children running around the house and you just want to throw down a big tray of sandwiches in front of them and say "Eat!" In our house, the magic of the gooey deliciousness is in the cheese. I grew up on Tillamook cheddar, and no other cheddar will do. The bread may vary, but the cheese is a given. Pair it with some Campell's tomato soup (adding water, not milk) ... and all the generations are happy and smiling.

But I'm no snob. I'm a grilled cheese fan! Wait, grilled cheese connoisieur! And I'm happy to report that Tacoma is a great place to love grilled cheese. I have three go-to places right now for when I'm not at home and craving cheese, and can't wait to find more.

Capers Downtown, 701 Pacific Ave.
This three-cheese grilled goodness is toasted to perfectly browned perfection. The cheesey magic does not get lost or overly dominate from its place between not-too-thick-not-too-thin slices of rustic bread, the perfect amount of toastedness, and a subtle smothering of some sort of herbed buttery yumminess that has me dreamily licking my lips for hours after lunch. It's a grilled cheese that comes closest to my own but with that "I don't regret paying someone money for this" flair. The sandwich can come with Capers' oh-so-cozy tomato basil soup, one of their several tasty side salads, or a smattering of other sides. I'm rather partial to the side Caesar salad. A light layer of dressing that gives the lettuce enough zing to make it interesting, but doesn't overwhelm you with thoughts of "and how many calories are in this?" A few slivers of a hard sharp cheese (I assume Parmaesan?) throughout the salad always make me smile, and I can never leave even one of their croutons on the plate. Capers has subtle fabulousness down to a T!!!

Paddy Coynes, 815 Pacific Ave.
The Ultimate Cheese Sandwich here is definitely worthy, and in an atmosphere that definitely facilitates the gift of gab without having to kiss a gross Blarney stone. (If you don't know why it's gross, you'll have to ask ... I'm not mucking up a post about grilled cheese with that gory detail.) The Ultimate Grilled Cheese is like none other I've encountered in T-town. I'm guessing it contains some sort of Irish cheddar ... it's sharper, cheddary-ier, and comes topped with bacon and tomato. Yum. The bacon was a new concept for me, but the tomato in the grilled cheese was a scrumptious trick I learned while living in Cork, Ireland, for a few months. Though I did learn it from an American. But hey! You like tomato soup with your grilled cheese? Then why not just stick a tomato in the sandwich to start with? Awesome. The sandwich also comes with Paddy Coynes' signature shoestring fries. And while they're great fries, the cumulative amount of salt between the cheese, bacon and then the fries usually has me leaving most of the thinly sliced potatoes on the plate. It might be worth the extra buck or two or whatnot to sub a salad -- or maybe I'll just ask for no fries next time.

Over the Moon Cafe, 709 Opera Alley (Court C)
This gooey goodness (appropriately named "Not your ordinary grilled cheese sandwich") was my first foray into downtown T-Town grilled cheese splendidness. They're pretty proud of this cheesy baby at Over the Moon. It is a French recipe, a "Croutes de Fromage" "from the mountains of Bura, France, and includes thick slices of freshly baked sourdough bread and Gruyere cheese and mellow and moist Swiss cheese that has been soaked in a sweet white wine sauce before grilling," according to the Volcano's 2007 grilled cheese review. While tradition would have me pairing this baby with their tomato basil, I actually prefer their crab bisque. It's not always on the menu, but if it is -- and you can handle both dairy and seafood -- the very not ordinary grilled cheese with crab bisque will easily make your comfort food list. Add the cozy, friendly conversation space and the little London-like alley for ambiance ... and Over the Moon is the perfect place to find a little slice of gooey gladness even in the dark of a drizzly winter.

Where else? In Tacoma or out ... where does one find grilled cheesey greatness!?!?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Barefoot in the kitchen, part VII: Grandma Vina's Chili

Made chili the other night. Oddly, while the children ofter rebel and protest "mixed up food," chili is one that has passed the test. This is a family recipe from my husband's side of the family. And the kids know it. When they asked "what's for dinner?" and I said "chili" ... the immediate next question was whether it was Grandma VINA's chili. When they were eating it, they wondered if this was how Grandma VINA ate it. Is this how Grandma VINA made it? Lordy children, yes. Or at least I will tell you this. I only minimally doctored the recipe. It was a double-batch, so I used some of my garden-fresh (yet frozen by me) homemade tomato sauce in replacement of half the canned tomato goods ... but they don't need to know that. They ate it. They loved it. The Boy asked for more. Yay for them willingly eating something other than ramen or macaroni and cheese. Boo for the fact that tomato products give me heart burn. Oh well, this stuff is yummy and worth it. :)

Grandma Vina's Chili
(pretty much add "more or less" to every ingredient on this list ... you can also add more and different beans and leave out the meat altogether if you're so inclined)

1 medium-sized onion
1-1/2 pounds of ground round steak or hamburger
1 (10-3/4 oz) can tomato soup
1 (15-16 oz) can of kidney beans (liquid and all)
1 (15 to 16 oz) can whole tomatoes
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (t0 taste)
1/8 tsp. pepper (t0 taste)
1 tbsp. chile powder (to taste, approx. 1 tbsp. chile powder to 1 lb. meat)

Chop the onion, and brown with the ground beef. Drain off any liquid. Combine meat and onions with tomato soup, kidney beans and whole tomatoes. Mix well, then add sugar and spices, to taste. Simmer for several hours on stove. Serve with crackers and/or cheese. (Freezes well.)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Afternoon TV just ain't what it used to be ... (a sign of hope for newspapers)

This blog post is not about people watching less television and reading more newspapers. I'm not THAT naive. Instead, it's about my revelation today that the current mainstream media vs. the Internet paradigm shift seems to have shades of the network vs. cable battles from approximately two decades ago.

I seem to (vaguely) recall the doom and gloom claim among the networks when cable started to grab hold. I remember celebrating when our rural home was finally plugged in. I remember switching over from network mainstays to Nickelodeon and Disney distractions.

And perhaps this kind of behavior IS to blame for the fact that this week's network television schedule is not riddled with the types of programming that beckoned me off the bus during my childhood afterschool hours. Things like: The Smurfs (it's their 50th anniversary this year!), Gummi Bears, Scooby Doo, Thundercats, Animaniacs, Small Wonder (not a cartoon, but close!), Ducktales, Heathcliff, My Little Pony, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Talespin, Inspector Gadget, She-Ra, He-Man, Jem, Voltron, Muppet Babies, Transformers, Darkwing Duck and others. (I even remember someone I knew in high school had a Darkwing Duck TATTOO -- wonder if that's still there ...)

A peek at this coming week's afternoon television on the major networks includes soap operas, the news, talk shows and sit-com re-runs. The closest thing to a cartoon is King of the Hill and The Simpsons at 5 on Fox. Oh, and some Cosby Show re-runs. Seriously. Instead of Brainy Smurf and Strawberry Shortcake, we get Dr. Phil and Tyra.

The public television stations still have their good thing going, but definitely cater to the younger child with items like Arthur, Reading Rainbow and Curious George.

Afternoon programming for kids is still out there, it's just that cable has taken over all facets of afternoon television for the younger set with fare like The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, SpongeBob Square Pants, Total Drama Island, Chowder, etc. They're not that bad. If I were a kid nowadays, it would likely be this set of shows that I talked about on the bus with friends about who got home in time to see what, who got to watch what, which were your favorites, which show's paraphernalia toys did you get for your birthday, etc. So it's there -- you just have to have cable.

Nowadays, it's the doom and gloom among traditional media that the Internet is killing them. I remember when we finally got fed up with dial-up and got a high speed connection. And I know that I've started to read more newspapers online, and watch more TV online, and stream my radio online.

And it's true: The explosion of the Internet is hurting mainstream media, it's pretty obvious right now as more and more newspapers are putting significant percentages of their staffs on the chopping block. But is it the death of mainstream media? I think not.

We are in transition. (And ask any mom who's gone through labor au natural: Transition sucks.) We are still wondering what content is best played where, when, how and by whom? Good question. If we knew the answer, we wouldn't have the questions.

We'll have to wait and see while everything sorts itself out. But traditional media will not die; it will evolve. (Perhaps heavily relying on the very medium that wounded it so very deeply.)

I dare say that when we look back 20 years from now, there will still be television ... there will still be radio ... there will still be print media.

But we will have reason to be nostalgic.

It won't be the same.

And nothing ever is.