Guinness chocolate cake


For the March issue of Grow Northwest, I offered to write a cooking piece on Irish food. I cleverly sidestepped corned beef and cabbage and soda bread, and instead used it as an excuse to make a really fabulous Guinness-braised pot roast and a lovely batch of buttermilk colcannon. I also made cake.

Guinness chocolate cake

From my research (and my parents’ experience), the real Irish version of Guinness cake is a fruity, spiced teatime sort of thing, rather than a sweet dessert. I remembered Jon making a chocolate Guinness ice cream from David Lebovitz’s ice cream book, and wanted to find a good recipe for chocolate stout cake – I eventually found it in Nigella Lawson’s Feast. And what a cake! We’ve made it twice now, and I think it’ll be in regular rotation in our house. It’s chocolatey but not too sweet, dense and moist, and keeps perfectly, wrapped on the counter, for up to a week. I think it might freeze well but so far we haven’t had enough leftover to try it. It’s very good eaten plain, but a dollop of cream cheese frosting is extremely nice. Continue reading



My review of Tweets came out in the Cascadia Weekly week before last. I had hoped to link to the article, but they never put it online. Fortunately you can read the original PDF here, and I thought I’d put up a few extra photos from my “research” trips.

today's menu

To sum up: it took us a while to try Tweets, since it’s so close to our other favorite hangouts Slough Food and The Edison, but it’s now become our go-to breakfast outing. You order at the counter, pay in cash, then wander around with your coffee cup hoping a table will open up. There’s no guarantee you’ll find a spot, especially when the weather’s bad and there’s no outdoor seating, but people seem to be pretty good natured about shifting around to make room. Continue reading

what to do with a pig liver

pate ingredients

I’m generally not a huge fan of liver, but when someone hands you a package of liver from one of their pigs, which you know was a happy, well-taken-care-of pig of great quality, you make sure to cook with it. I find myself hoping that if I keep trying it, I’ll eventually like it, so I decided to try my hand at pâté.

I found a recipe in my parents’ copy of The River Cottage Cookbook for a very straightforward-sounding country pâté, really just a liver-based meatloaf. We invited some liver-loving friends over to dinner, and a few days ahead of time I got out the meat grinder and put it together.

pork liver

Continue reading

the dinners of February

winter dusk

February has been surprisingly busy. I have a few articles coming out in the March issue of Grow Northwest, and I’m working on two restaurant reviews. I just took down one photography show and am about to put up another. Plus my band is deep into rehearsals for Saint Patrick’s Day (come see us!) But we’ve still been shopping and cooking and eating. And, sometimes, going out because we just don’t want to cook any more.


One night we decided to try two new recipes at once from our favorite Indian cookbook, the small but mighty Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen (seriously, there is nothing bad in this book). The spiced broccoli was very nice, but the star was the chickpeas with tomatoes, ginger and green chiles. Along with a chicken coconut vindaloo and buttermilk chapati, this was a killer dinner.

Valentine's Day tagine Continue reading

dinner at The Walrus

Walrus and the Carpenter

Our last dinner at The Walrus and the Carpenter was two months ago, but the delight of it is still fresh. One of the most fun evenings out we’ve ever had in Seattle, in fact. The food was perfect, including the absolute best steak tartare I’ve ever eaten in my life, delicate gnocchi in duck brodo, a salad made of paper-thin ribbons of celeriac in a creamy dressing, and a mug of warm frothy cajeta for dessert, but that was only part of the appeal.

Walrus and the Carpenter

Walrus and the Carpenter

What made it so great was the company. Shortly after we sat down at the bar, the gentleman on Jon’s left congratulated us on getting a seat, and forced us to eat all the salty, crispy fried Brussels sprouts left in his bowl. They were incredible. The two men on my right complimented me on my choice of cocktail (the unfortunately named but delicious Sexy Old-Fashioned, spiked with Allspice Dram), and I helped them argue with the (extremely competent) bartender over what to have to drink with their dessert. The couple who came in after them were bar hopping around Ballard to celebrate a birthday, and after convincing me to eat some of their duck lardo (twist my arm…), ordered a Moscow Mule in a copper mug and we all had to try that. The Seattle Freeze was nowhere to be seen – everyone was pleased to be there, eating wonderful food and drinking fabulous cocktails, and we were all friends who had never met before.

Walrus and the CarpenterWalrus and the Carpenter

weekend eats

pass crossing

We visited my folks in eastern WA this weekend, rehearsing for our band’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day concerts.  Of course we made time for plenty of good food. One night I helped my father make a spinach lasagna – he informed me that he had read over a dozen recipes and intended to follow none of them, so we made it up as we went along, and ended up with a very delicious concoction of chicken, button mushrooms, dried morels and their soaking liquid, spinach, ricotta, and a little bechamel sauce. A salad of bosc pears, lettuce, and walnuts from my parents’ tree rounded it out nicely.

The next day my mother and I went to a yoga class, and afterward we all had lunch at South, which is always exciting and wonderful. I talked myself out of getting yet another fajita sandwich, and instead tried their Revolución shrimp burrito. It was spectacular – the shrimp were intensely spicy and perfectly cooked, studding the delicious matrix of cilantro rice and beans. As always, the citrusy cabbage salad on the side was the perfect accompaniment. Despite having had the owner send me the ingredient list for this salad, I’ve never been able to quite replicate it. Must keep trying.

Our trip home was less successful food-wise, as we decided to finally try having lunch at the Alpen Drive-In outside of Startup. Since Gracie-the-dog can’t as yet be trusted in the car by herself, we’ve been doing a lot of drive-in or take-out food on our trips over the pass, usually Zeke’s or the School Bus or Sultan Bakery, but we hadn’t tried the Alpen yet. I regret to say we will never go again. The food was slow to arrive and rather expensive, which wouldn’t be a deal-killer if it hadn’t also been nasty. The milkshake was fine, but it was the only thing that was. Jon’s hamburger was meh, with cold unmelted cheese. Fries were certainly hot and fresh, but oddly mealy, and came with no condiments at all. My chicken sandwich was not only tasteless but actually too tough to eat – I felt my jaw pop while trying to take a bite. I ended up throwing out the chicken and stuffing the bun with french fries, which was at least edible if not particularly nourishing.

fried rice and beer

As a result, I was starving by the time we got home and unpacked the car. Fortunately, we still had some Chinese sausages and one last jar of homemade kimchi (which has been slowly leaking and making the basement fridge smell very interesting), so I whipped up a big batch of fried rice. We ate it by the fire in the living room, cats draped all over us, while watching a dorky British comedy and drinking Tecate. That made up for a lot.

what’s going on here, anyway?


I know it’s been a little quiet around here. I’ve been trying to decide what this blog is really for. After over five years of writing Food on the Brain, I’ve figured out that I’m not cut out to be a professional blogger. I went to a food blogger conference a few years ago where they convinced me I needed to own a privately hosted website and monetize it, but I’ve finally realized that – for me, at least – they were wrong. I don’t want to run flashy ads, or instruct people on how to make lasagna with careful step-by-step photographs and clever SEO that draws the whole lasagna-recipe-seeking internet to my door. I might write about a particularly delicious lasagna that we had for dinner, but that doesn’t mean that was the only way to make one. I don’t need to be the go-to site for lasagna. Or anything else.

I’m fascinated by the world of food, but I don’t consider myself to be an expert in anything. My original intent was to share great eating experiences, write down some of my more successful cooking projects so I’d remember what I’d done, and generally have a record of my life in food. Unfortunately I’ve allowed myself to be intimidated by the way other bloggers set themselves up as authorities and start informing people what condiments they need to use and the final word in chocolate chip cookie recipes. I personally don’t think that there’s any right answer to what any one person should like best. I just want to share the journey of discovery.

What I would like is to reclaim this space for myself. I’ve been using facebook for off-the-cuff updates instead of putting them here, which is ridiculous. If no-one comments, that’s fine – honestly, I’m used to it – but I don’t want that to stop me from writing what I want. I do write actual cooking articles and restaurant reviews and farmer profiles, and you can see all of my professional work through my other website, but that’s not what this site is for. Let’s see where it goes.

Southern comfort


setting the table

mini biscuits

It was our turn to host supper club, and we chose a theme that we thought would be welcome during these cold gray winter days: Southern cooking.

biscuit with sausage

We kicked things off with an experimental cocktail called the “Deep South,” which was maybe a bit too sweet – rum, molasses, pineapple juice, and a little cherry-infused rye, with a squeeze of lime. We might not make that one again, but it was fun to stand around with mason jars full of rum, like a taste of summer. The drinks were accompanied by Linda’s wonderful tiny buttermilk-and-caramelized onion biscuits, slices of andouille sausage, homemade mustard and pickled watermelon rind with clementines. Continue reading

construction notice

Hi everyone, just a note here to let you know that the blog may be funky for a few days. As part of my new year’s project to get rid of stuff we don’t need and pare down where possible, I’m moving Food on the Brain back to my old platform. Please bear with me while I shift everything around and try to get all the links working properly.

Update 1/16/13: The switch went perfectly, except for the sudden disappearance of some – not all, mind you, but some – of my photos. Hmm. I’ll work on that, but in the meantime, let me know if you see any other problems or broken links.

welcome to 2013

first sunrise of the year

Here’s to a bright and better new year! As we often do, we stayed in and had all the Traditional Foods of the season.


First, on New Year’s Eve, there was the chips and dip course. This year I made a variation of the America’s Test Kitchen caramelized onion dip, and it was pretty good, although still a bit too sweet. We ate more vegetables with it than usual, since I ended up with vast quantities of crudites after a catered event last weekend.

oysters Continue reading