Sunday, January 24, 2010

Portland and Seattle’s Public Pools: Go with the Flow

We lap swimmers are a persistent, methodical, passionate bunch. We want clean, well-maintained pools; regular and predictable swimming schedules; and, most of all, we want access to 25-meter+ pools for lap swimming.

Since I was born a Pisces and raised in Troutdale, how could I not be a swimmer? Sure, I thrive on being out in the mountains hiking and skiing. But swimming is my baseline exercise. It’s so elemental—I call it my mental and physical therapy.

In Seattle and Portland, we’re blessed with many good public swimming pools (the crown jewel is saltwater Colman Pool in Seattle’s Lincoln Park). Actually, we’re fortunate just to have public swimming pools, period.

I didn’t realize how lucky we are until I lived and traveled outside the region. When I asked the locals where the public pools were when I did time in Fresno, they looked at me quizzically. Huh? Same for Boston. I’ve swum laps in some pretty dingy, scary YMCA pools around the world. (FYI, New Zealand has some wonderful public swimming pools.)

So grab your swimsuit, cap, and goggles and make like a fish. You’ll get a good cardio workout while you’re at it, too.

Click here for links to Seattle and Portland public pools. Check schedules carefully. Seattle is closing its pools for some furlough days this year (which has many swimmers pretty unhappy!).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

PCC Cooks: A Cooking Class for Every Season

It’s no secret—Seattle and Portland are full of people who love to cook and eat and write about good food. We’ve got wonderful chefs and restaurants with national buzz, from mobile food carts to high-end cuisine. No wonder there are lots of cooking classes around the region that fill up quickly. Want to join the fun?

I’ve taken several classes over the years through PCC Cooks, the cooking school associated with the PCC Natural Markets in the Puget Sound region. PCC Cooks offers evening and some weekend classes with a focus on healthful (and occasionally decadent) foods from regional and global cuisines.

With my passion for local, seasonal food from our farmer’s markets and natural markets like PCC, I’m always looking for more ideas for cooking the local bounty. Especially the über-good-for-you veggies like kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. So when my friend Susannah invites me to join her for a winter vegetables cooking class at the new PCC store in Edmonds, Washington, I sign up right away.

I arrive just as class is starting and grab a table in the back row. The classroom in this new store is spacious and light, with high ceilings and three big screens above the cooking area so we can see all the stovetop action. But since this is a hands-on class, soon we’re lined up front around the counter, with a cutting board and knife for each of us (almost).

Our instructor tonight is Olaiya Land, a Seattle-based chef who teaches and caters with an emphasis on vegetarian, seasonal food. Pretty and enthusiastic Olaiya gets right down to business with her efficient manner. “There’s no such thing as a silly question,” she says to encourage us. She’s smart, knowledgeable, and keeps us going at a brisk pace, assigning us tasks to keep us involved. In her girlish, friendly voice, she’s constantly throwing out great cooking tips like how to properly cut an onion (I never knew!) and quizzing us.

“The number one thing people generally neglect in their cooking is using enough salt or acid like lemon, lime, or vinegar. Can somebody tell me why you need to add salt?” I chime in, “To draw out the flavors.” Bingo. “But add it early in the cooking process,” she reminds us.

Olaiya tells us she won’t talk as much as normal because she’s getting over a cold, but she keeps up a steady, lively dialogue with our group of 15. When it’s time to mince garlic, she throws out “Garlic is sticky due to its high sugar content. Just add a pinch of salt to make it less so.” And I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about food! I love all her great insights.

Over the next few hours Olaiya guides us through four recipes: kale simmered in vegetable broth with chick peas and seasoned with smoked paprika (my favorite), roasted golden and red beets in a hearty vinaigrette topped with toasted hazelnuts and Oregon’s Rogue Creamery blue cheese, shredded and sautéed Brussels sprouts tossed with linguine and toasted pine nuts, and roasted cauliflower with a bright cilantro-lime salsa verde (“a sexy way to do cauliflower” says Olaiya).

We slice and dice away as Olaiya sauteés and pops pans in and out of the oven. She notices who needs a task. “Halle, would you like to chop some cilantro?”

Two and a half hours pass too quickly. With about 10 minutes to go, Olaiya spreads out all of the food we’ve prepared, and we eagerly line up to sample these gorgeous dishes.

I head home armed with some great new recipes and a better grounding in some cooking basics.

When You Go
PCC Cooks offers classes year-round, with a new catalogue of courses for each season. At $35 a class for members and $40 for nonmembers, I think it's a deal. (You get to learn and eat the food, of course.) Their store locations are here. I’ve also taken classes at Whole Foods and Sur La Table in the Seattle area, although there are many place venues in the region.