Saturday, February 16, 2008

About books...

I love books. If they were jewels, I would be like a crow - piling their "shineyness" in every corner - pleased with my booty.

As a child, the best day of the week during the summer vacation was the day the Bookmobile came. We lived 7 miles out of town - wayyy out in the country - nearest neighber (asides my grandparents who lived right "next door") was about a mile and a half away - you get the picture - pretty lonely for two little girls whose dad was busy farming and whose mom was, well, busy.

But during the summer months, once a week, the bookmobile came. My younger sister and I would climb on our bikes and pedal the mile and a half or so over the bumpy gravel road to "the schoolhouse corner where it would stop on it's route around North Central Washington.

This little one room school house was called "Mud Springs School" My older sisters both went to 8 grades of school there. The year I was to start first grade, they sent us all into "town" on the big yellow bus - (an hours ride to get 10 miles.) The surrounding community used the building as a community club for many years until vandals from out of town broke out all the windows and it was unsafe for use. All that's left of the old school house is the bell tower that was erected in the center of the corner, and lots of memories, of course.

Somehow my dad had gotten elected or appointed to the North Central Regional Library Board. He was adamant that the Library needed to serve the outlying communities of the region - so the Bookmobile was started. They would pick books that they thought would appeal to differing ages and off they'd go - and we'd be there to meet them - pick out our books, stash them in the front basket of my old green one speed (with balloon tires and back pedal brakes, of course) and we'd ride back home where, through the magic of books we would start out on our newest adventure.

I don't remember much what I read those days - I do remember spending one entire summer reading "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. These days, I favor romance novels, sci-fi fantasy, mysteries, and cookbooks. If you really think about it, a good cookbook embodies all those things - romance of finding a new food you'll love, fantasy of traveling to many different places through the foods of the region and the mystery of how particular ingredients mixed together could turn out, tasting delicious and looking just right.

That is why I was excited about a year and a half ago when my friend Greg Atkinson published his newest cook book, West Coast Cooking. (If you click on the name, it will take you to it's page on

As far as I'm concerned, this could be the new west coast food bible - Greg is very thorough about including the diverse global connections that make up our "west coast eating" - oriental, Mexican to name a couple - while he links our diversity to the history of cooking in America. Although there are no photographs, his stories about the over 400 recipes that make up this cookbook (and each recipe comes with it's own story!) are more than enough to satisfy the hungriest reader.

Greg is an accomplished chef, teacher and this is his fifth cookbook. He also writes a regular article called "Taste" for "Pacific Northwest", the Sunday newsmagazine of The Seattle Times, as well as being a guest host on local public radio and TV.

So, is this an unabashed plug for his book? You bet. But I have know Greg for over 25years, and his writing never disappoints. What the heck, has used copies for under $9 - what more could you ask for?

Here's his recipe for "Spanish Rice" - from the old days when we worked together at "Dos Padres" (a little Mexican Restaurant in South B'ham) in the late 1980's - he was a line cook and I was the Sunday night dinner music. If I asked nicely, he would make me a BBQ Chicken Quesidilla for dinner after my shift. And I'd have a big scoop of the Mexican rice that they served. Yes, those were the good old days.

Spanish Rice (Makes 6 cups)

Spanish rice may be thought of as a simplified form of paella, minus the sausage and seafood. This version though is even simpler. Instead of sautéing the rice in fat or oil, many Mexican cooks simply pile it into a pot with puréed tomatoes and onions and let it simmer until the rice is tender. The result is a fresh tasting dish of surprising subtlety.

2 cups Jasmine or Basmati rice
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Water, as needed

1.) Rinse the rice in three changes of water, swishing it around in every rinse to remove as much starch as possible. Allow the rice to drain for 10 minutes.
2.) Pile the chopped onion and the tomatoes into a blender with the garlic, oregano and salt and puree until the mixture is smooth. Add enough water to bring the level of the puree to 4 cups.
3.) Put the puree into a large saucepan over medium heat and stir in the pre-soaked rice. Cover and cook until steam escapes from under the lid. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and the tomato and onion puree has been absorbed.

Recipe Copyright, Greg Atkinson, 2006


Kathy said...

What a great post, Tina! And after my keeping you on the phone so long, too. LOL! I will give this recipe a try! But...I'd also like your beef stew recipe. :)

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

A cookbook with NO PHOTOS? What am I supposed to drool over???

Sharon said...

When the kids were growing up, I was a scratch cook and loved it. Now the only think I cook is bread and wool. The stages of life are surprising and unpredictable, but I can see that is a wonderful rice recipe. I too had a love affair with the library and read on the school bus for the hour ride to and from school, sliding down into the seat, wedging my knees up against the back of the seat in front of me and using my legs as a book rest.

Quail Hill Knits said...

What a wonderful post. I tried the rice tonight. Kenny, my totally picky eater, asked for seconds, then thirds! I am ordering the book tomorrow.

Quail Hill Knits said...

What a wonderful post. I tried the rice tonight. Kenny, my totally picky eater, asked for seconds, then thirds! I am ordering the book tomorrow.

Tammy said...

I love your analogy of books to jewels! :-) I am right there with you. I have so many books squirrled away around here it'd be a bit embarrasing if I cared. Great post! Take care.

MISS PEACH >(^.^) said...

Gosh Tina the rice sounds so wonderful. I love Mexican food.
Mommy wanted me to be a good girl and come say bye until next week. We will miss you so very much while we are away. It is always hard to go away even if it is for a short time. I need to pack my litter girls room and my sleeping vest burrito all of my cans and biscuits and bring my house water. Gosh it is a major feat of organization! Stay warm and have a cozy peaceful week...Love Miss Peach