Home-Cooked Memories

Just like a song or an image, food can launch our minds back in time. We talked to Eastsiders about the family dishes that helped shape them. Because more often that not, our greatest meals are made with love.

Eirik Olsen (right) with his father

Eirik Olsen (right) with his father. Courtesy Eirik Olsen.

Eirik Olsen

Founder of the nonprofit Feed Washington and Partner of Sterling, Johnston Real Estate
I spent the majority of my childhood in my parents’ Scandinavian food store on Market Street in Ballard. These were the days when you could walk down the streets of Ballard and hear Norwegian or Swedish being spoken as often as English. Some of my fondest memories of that time are of helping my dad smoke salmon for our customers. The smell of the smoke that would linger in my clothes and the taste of the salmon still bring back feelings of joy to this day. I have recently taken up the hobby of smoking salmon using the recipe and cold smoking process my dad used 40 years ago. Hopefully, this recipe transports you to the Ballard of the 1970s.

Smoked Salmon


  • Salmon fillet (sockeye is the easiest to work with)
  • Brown sugar
  • Table salt
  • Smoke (I generally use alder)


  • A smoke source (I use an old Traeger grill)
  • A wooden box with refrigerator shelves, connected to the wood source by a dryer hose
  1. Place salmon fillet in a food grade tub that is larger than the salmon and at least 2 inches deep. Grab a handful of brown sugar and rub it into the salmon. Pour salt liberally over the salmon until it is completely covered. Let sit at room temperature for eight hours.
  2. Rinse salt and sugar off, pat dry with a paper towel, and place salmon on a rack to dry in the open air for eight hours (I usually have a fan blowing on the fish to speed up the process).
  3. Place salmon on rack in wooden box and smoke until salmon has golden color on the skin side (usually eight hours is good).

Courtesy Gene Juarez.

Gene Juarez

Founder of Gene Juarez Salons & Spas
As the youngest Mexican boy of six in Wapato, family meals are one of my fondest memories. One of my favorites was when my mother and sister would cook enchiladas. Walking into the kitchen, the smell of fresh corn tortillas and spices filled the air. On the table, a display of enchiladas that always seemed to be stacked a mile high. The enchiladas were covered in a blanket of extra spicy, red enchilada sauce, and then filled with onions and cheese. Next to the enchiladas were always peeled heads of lettuce lying over many layers of ice. It was such a delight to eat the enchiladas; the flavors danced on my taste buds and nearly jumped out of my mouth with excitement. The second bite was into the chilled lettuce. The combination of heat and cold really played with my taste buds. There is nothing more memorable than a mother’s food! We seek it out the rest of our lives, and nothing can quite compare.

Szyperski’s father by the North Sea, drying fish to make jerky

Szyperski’s father by the North Sea, drying fish to make jerky. Courtesy Bianca Szyperski.

Bianca Szyperski

Co-founder of JuJuBeet
Growing up in Germany near the North Sea, the smell of salty air was always close. My dad was a captain on a small fishing boat and took me out many times during school breaks. Sometimes we would be out for multiple weeks at a time. I helped the fishermen clean the fish and stow them in huge iceboxes below decks. I remember sitting with the crew in the galley in the far back of the ship, over a nice warm meal, while the trawler would beat into the sea. I remember the cook making my favorite dish, poached halibut with mustard sauce. The fish so fresh, it would just fall off the bone into the thick creamy mustard sauce. Of course we would eat potatoes with this, a staple in German cooking. Having had access to affordable and super-fresh fish, my parents were always fond of preparing various kinds of meals from the sea. I remember eating so much fish that, at times, I did not like it at all anymore. However, now that I am looking back, I think that all the fresh quality fish was actually quite a blessing, and I still strive to add some nice fresh fish to our family diet.

Photo courtesy Layla Pujol

Photo courtesy Layla Pujol

Layla Pujol

Food blogger of Laylita.com, which covers food, cooking, and recipes from Latin America
One of my favorite food memories when I was growing up was helping my mom make humitas, an Ecuadorian dish of savory steamed fresh corn cakes cooked in corn husks — similar to tamales but made with fresh corn and filled with cheese. Preparing humitas was always a big deal, especially since it involved an entire day of work. Neighbors and friends would usually pitch in to help. We started early in the morning by going to the corn field to pick the corn, then we would take several large bags full of corn to our house patio.

Everyone would sit and start removing the corn husks while telling stories of local legends, usually involving the devil to scare us kids. Next we would remove the corn kernels and grind them in an old-fashioned manual crank grinder. The ground corn is then mixed with eggs, cream, crushed garlic, onions, and seasonings. This mix is placed in the corn husks with some cheese in the middle, then they are folded, and placed in the steamer to cook for about an hour. We could buy humitas already made at many local restaurants, but their flavor doesn’t compare to the ones made at home with family and friends, from the corn your family grew, and served steaming hot with a drizzle of spicy aji hot sauce.


  • 6-7 fresh ears of corn, with husks
  • 3 cups grated or crumbled cheese, mozzarella or a fresh farmers cheese
  • 1 cup diced white onion
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • About 1 cup corn meal
  • ¼ cup of heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Remove the husks from the corn. Try to keep each husk intact ó the large ones will be used as wrappers, and the smaller ones will be broken into long strips to tie around the humitas. To help make the corn husks more pliable, place them in a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain the water and save the husks until ready to use.
  2. Cut the corn kernels from the cob. Place the kernels, 1 cup of cheese, the diced onions, crushed garlic, ground coriander, corn meal, cream, eggs, and salt in the food processor. Mix until the corn is pureed. In a large pot, place 2½ cups of water and a steamer.
  3. To fill each humita, stack two husks, fold the left side of the husks, then fold the top half over the bottom half to create a semi-pocket. Fill it with a large spoonful of the mixture and stuff some of the remaining cheese in the middle. Fold over the right side of the husk and tighten it up. Use the thin strips from the smaller husks to tie around the wrapper and keep it closed.
  4. Place the humitas in the pot on top of the steamer. Keep them slightly inclined with the open end on top. Place any leftover husks on top and cover with a tight lid.
  5. Bring the pot to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 35-45 minutes. The humitas will be slightly firm to firm when they are done. Serve warm with hot sauce.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia commons

Photo courtesy Wikimedia commons

Jordan Babineaux

Former Seahawks safety and NFL Analyst and host
One of the best parts about growing up in Texas was enjoying our family gatherings and holiday celebrations. As the youngest of five, it was, ìEat when the foodís ready or big brother just may have your share, too.î Even though, sometimes, I got the remaining crumbs, I enjoyed growing up in a big family. What really made those moments special were Momma’s homemade recipes.

My favorite: gumbo! What’s better than a bowl of Made from Scratch Seafood Okra – My Momma Cook Better than Yours Gumbo? Itís a process heating flour at a consistent temperature, constantly stirring, to make the roux the color of chocolate. Crying tears while cutting fresh onions, as the aroma of chopped bell peppers, green onions, and garlic ignites the entire house. Sausage, crab legs, okra, shrimp, chicken. … Boom! … Pow! … Bang! Your choice!

A gumbo generally takes several hours, but it’s worth the wait. A tradition I watched and enjoyed as a child, I now do in my own kitchen.

Photo by Joanna Kresge

Photo by Joanna Kresge

Larry DeGroen

Firefighter/Paramedic in the Bellevue Fire Department
My parents were born and raised in Indonesia. Most family recipes have an Asian flair. I think the most memorable is Chicken Satay with a spicy peanut sauce. [A few years ago] my mom was babysitting her great-grandkids. It was my niece’s kids. One was, I think, 4, and the other was 2. And she slipped and fell and broke her hip on a concrete floor. Because my mom couldn’t get up, the 4-year-old had to get her phone for her, which meant she had to get on a chair and crawl onto the countertop. After she went to the hospital and returned to her home on Bainbridge, I just went over to her house and cooked for her and her friends for at least a month. Every single day I had off, I would go over there. It was really fun. It was a good experience. It was one of those times where you kind of go, “How am I going to react to this?” And I felt good about myself.

Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce


  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons coriander
  • 1½ cup Kikkoman soy sauce
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 lb. skinless/boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1½-inch pieces

Spicy Peanut Sauce:

  • 1 cup peanut butter at room temperature
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • Salt
  • Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce

Saute the onion over medium heat to soften, not brown, for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and coriander and continue to cook until you can smell the coriander in the air, just another minute. Add the soy sauce and sugar, and cook on low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. The sauce will thicken a little. Let it cool in the pan.

Combine the chicken and soy sauce mixture in a zip-lock bag and let sit in the fridge for about an hour. Don’t let it sit too long, as it can get too salty.

Put chicken on wooden skewers. Cook over a charcoal grill until just charred.

Mix the peanut butter and lemon juice together. Slowly add a little water and continue mixing, adding more water when the mixture becomes well-combined. Eventually the mixture will resemble a thick but pourable sauce. Add salt and Sriracha to taste.


Courtesy John Howie.

John Howie 

Chef at Seastar, John Howie Steak, and Beardslee Public House
Our family has enjoyed this Texas Style Steak Chili recipe for many years, and we have fun making it together. I taught my boys how to make it so they could cook for friends and family, giving me a break. That’s one of the reasons I really like it. My older son, Eric, made it twice for our church chili cook off and won both times. My younger son, JoJo, made this chili with friends for their chili cook off in their high-school culinary class. We serve it with a fresh salsa that keeps it light and full-flavored. I hope my sons carry on the tradition of making this family favorite with our grandchildren.

Texas Style Steak Chili

  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 4 cups diced white onion
  • 2½ pounds diced beef
  • 1¾ cup tomato sauce
  • ¾ cup pineapple juice
  • 1½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • ¾ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • ¼ cup mild chili powder
  •  teaspoon Habanero chili powder
  • 2¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon ground basil
  • ¾ teaspoon granulated garlic
  • ¾ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 bay leaves
  1. In a large stock pot or braising pan, place the oil, begin to heat; add the beef and the onions; and sear until the onions are tender.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients; bring to a simmer, lower heat, and cook for 4 hours. Stir occasionally, or the mix can be placed in a Crock-Pot and cooked at a low temperature.
  3. Place the appropriate amount of chili into the cup or bowl. Top with the shredded cheddar, then tortilla strips, salsa, and cilantro sprig.

Courtesy Molly Stearns

Molly Stearns

Chief Philanthropy Officer at Overlake Medical Center Foundation and Auxiliaries
Each year, we celebrate Thanksgiving not only with our own family but with an extended family of friends who come from near and far. More than 20 years ago, I found this recipe for “Horseradish Carrots,” which was a finalist in the Mercer Island Reporter recipe contest, and I served them with our dinner. They were a huge hit … and still are. The smell as the horseradish, mayonnaise, and oils all cook together with the onions and carrots. It’s wonderful. I even adapted it and created the “skinny” version, leaving off the topping of butter-fried saltines. But no matter what version we use, the carrots have become a staple at our Thanksgiving dinners, and we’ve all shared the recipe ever since. One year, I can remember needing to buy eight pounds of carrots to keep everyone happy. My husband has the most work, as he gets to do the peeling. Now my daughter makes them when she celebrates with her friends out of town. The carrot tradition has moved to the next generation. “Be sure to bring the carrots!” has become our Thanksgiving mantra.


Photo by Rachel Coward

Photo by Rachel Coward

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Jean Floten

Chancellor of Western Governors University, former president of Bellevue College
My father served his nation for nearly three decades as an officer in the Air Force. As he climbed the ranks, he received assignments at outposts across the country and around the world. Every step along the way, my family stood right beside him.

In 1964, his orders took him — and us — across the Atlantic to Fontainebleau, a commune on the outskirts of Paris. There my mother took classes from the French culinary institute, Le Cordon Bleu. Like the legendary Julia Child more than a decade before, my mother learned cooking techniques from the finest instructors in the world. I most admired her skills as a crêpière, able to create towers of the golden, paper-thin pancakes. I’d watch as she poured the frothy batter into a sizzling pan until the edges began to curl slightly, then expertly flipped the forming crêpe over, ready to serve.

To this day, around special family occasions, I think of my mother and her crêpes — and specifically her spectacular Gateau de Crêpe a la Florentine. The dish is layer after layer of fillings, each separated by a single crêpe, reaching over 2 inches tall, drizzled with a pairing sauce over the top. When ready, it is cut into pie-shaped slices and served on its side. My verdict: C’est vraiment magnifique!

Entrée Crêpe Batter

  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter

Place in blender in order given and blend for 1 minute at high speed. Scrape sides and blend for 15 seconds more. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Photo courtesy Food Network

Photo courtesy Food Network

Amber Kelley 

Host of the YouTube show Cook with Amber and Winner of Food Network’s Star Kids 

I come from a huge family with lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Every year on Christmas Eve, my family hosts the family Christmas party for about 40 people. We work all day, cleaning the house, bringing in extra chairs and tables, and making sure that our house and outfits are festive.

This day is special, not only because I get to see family members that I havenít seen all year, but because of the delicious food! The star of the show is the soup bar. Every year, a long row of Crock-Pots sit on our table, and each one is filled to the brim with a different kind of steaming, bubbling homemade soup made by different family members. Clam chowder, taco soup, chicken noodle, to name a few. One of my favorites that we often make for the party is our Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup. It’s so cozy – the savory chicken sausage, bit of smoky bacon, and the rich chicken broth cling to every nook and cranny of the kale. By the end of the night, the pot has been scraped clean, and everyone always has a smile on their face.

Photo courtesy Amber Kelley

Photo courtesy Amber Kelley

Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup

  • 1 lb. chicken sausage, mild Italian
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups (or so) fresh kale, tough stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
  1. In a non-stick or lightly oiled pan, cook the sausage in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until crumbly and cooked through. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cook the bacon in the same pot until crisp, then drain, leaving a few tablespoons of drippings with the bacon in the bottom of the pot.
  3. Stir in the onions and garlic; cook until onions are soft.
  4. Add chicken broth and sausage and bring to a simmer. Add kale just before serving and mix until it wilts.
Photo by Rachel Coward

Photo by Rachel Coward

Bellevue Fire Department

When the Bellevue Fire Department hosts an open house, little kids visit Station 2 to see the red and gold, quintessential fire equipment — the heavy helmets, the hoses, the gear, and, of course, the trucks. But according to Bellevue firefighter Steve Seiwerath, the heart of the station for crew members is the dinner table.

“The table is where everybody sits around and tells stories. You hear about the way things used to be,” he said.

It’s also where they share meals. With 24-hour shifts, the firefighters cook for each other. Baked ribs, one-pound hamburgers, and Étouffée — a Cajun style dish similar to gumbo — are all on the rotating menu. If there’s an emergency call in the middle of cooking dinner, the stove burners and the BBQ will automatically shut off. They admittedly have ruined some meals this way, but for the most part, dinners at the station are pretty tasty.

Along with the lengthy shifts and answering calls, cooking and eating around the table bonds the crew. Station 2 is currently working on building its own dinner table out of driftwood. For many of them, the station becomes their home away from home. And the crew, their second family.

Photo by Joanna Kresge

Photo by Joanna Kresge

Jennifer-Navva Milliken

Curator of Craft at Bellevue Arts Museum
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish calendar and signals the advent of a new year. In Israel, where I’ve lived for nearly half my life, the country’s quotidian operations come to a halt, and time is made for family, friends, ritual observance, and the ceaseless preparation of abundant amounts of food. Rosh Hashanah in particular is observed with a menu of foods that resonate with symbolic meaning as well as celebrate the harvest season. Among the apples and honey, round loaves of challah, black-eyed peas, dried fruits, and fish heads, the pomegranate is perhaps the most didactic and emblematic of Jewish thought and tradition. According to tradition, each pomegranate contains 613 seeds — the precise number of mitzvoth, or commandments, outlined in the Torah.

When I adopted a vegan diet years ago, I became alienated from many of the food traditions that had been so closely associated with my Jewish identity. Years of experimentation in the kitchen have restored some approximation of these nostalgic tastes, but — in the true spirit of Rosh Hashanah and new beginnings — fresh food traditions have been adopted along the way. That’s how these eggplant-pomegranate rolls came about.

As my husband and I found ourselves in the United States, far away from our palate of seasonal and holiday foods, we searched for something that would restore a sense of the New Year in our new home. Sweet and savory, smoked and pungent, with a bit of crunch and kick — the ingredients of the eggplant-pomegranate rolls respond to our ancient culture in a new way that allows us to feel a bit closer to home with each bite.

New Year Eggplant Rolls

  • 3 large eggplants
  • Coarse salt
  • Olive oil
  • 1¼ cup walnuts,
    chopped fine or coarsely ground
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 bunch arugula, chopped
  • Seeds from ½ pomegranate
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • Silan (date syrup) to taste (about 3-4 tablespoons)
  • Pinch of tumeric
  • Pinch of sumac
  • Pinch of paprika
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate concentrate (juice will also work; use in measured amount)
  • Sea salt to taste
  1. Cut eggplants lengthwise into thin slices. Spread slices on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and lightly rub by hand. Sprinkle with coarse salt and let rest for ½ hour.
  2. Bake for 15 minutes at 400, or until the slices appear golden brown.
  3. While eggplant is baking, mix balsamic vinegar, silan, spices, and pomegranate concentrate or liquid into a sauce. Wash and tear arugula
    and set aside.
  4. Remove eggplant from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Spread/pour sauce over slices. After they’ve cooled, distribute a measured amount (appx. ½ teaspoon, depending on size of eggplant) of fresh arugula, chopped walnuts, and fresh pomegranate seeds on each slice, saving some pomegranate for the garnish.
  5. Tightly roll ingredients into slices, leaving open at both ends; if needed, secure with a toothpick. Drizzle remaining sauce over upright rolls; follow with sea salt to taste. Sprinkle remaining pomegranate seeds over rolls. Shanah tovah u’metukah!
Photo by Michael Kartes

Photo by Michael Kartes

Danielle Kartes

Food stylist and author of rusticjoyfulfood.com
My mom loved me as a child by cooking with me and being a part of my life in every possible way. She taught me how to be a mother, how to hold a job, and how to be a supporting wife, just by being herself. Now that I am a mom with big dreams and a precious boy of my own, I am often transported back to that tiny kitchen where my mother taught me so much about life. I’d feel like a queen whenever I got to stir or add the next ingredient to dinner.

I try to make my kitchen a special place for my son, Noah, the way my mother had for me. When Noah was 3 years old he would ask me to make him birthday cakes. I’d smile and say, “Oh, baby; it’s not your birthday today, but let’s make a cake anyway!” He would say, “No, Mommy, not these cakes!” One morning I pulled a bowl out and started to make pancakes. As I added the ingredients, Noah began to sing, “Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me!” He squealed with excitement and said, “See, Mama, you are making my birthday cakes!” He’d stir, just as I had as a little girl, and wiggle and laugh. I knew that for the rest of his life and mine, we would always remember making “his” birthday cakes.

Buttermilk Pumpkin Pancakes with Pecans and Cream Cheese
Makes 8-10 1/2-cup pancakes

  • 1½ cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin purÈe
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup milk or cream
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of salt
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup toasted pecans to sprinkle on top (toast in a 350-degree oven for 7 minutes on a cookie sheet)

Cream Cheese Topping:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 1 to 2 cups maple syrup

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the pancakes, and mix until itís just combined. The batter will be lumpy.

Heat a nonstick skillet on medium heat for about 5 minutes before you pour the first pancake. Add 1 teaspoon of butter to the pan before frying each set of pancakes. Cook the first side of the pancake for 3-4 minutes or until tiny bubbles appear on the surface, then flip and cook an additional 2 minutes.

To make the cream cheese topping, warm the cream cheese for 30 seconds in the microwave. Stir in the powdered sugar. Mix it until glossy and smooth.

To serve, top pancakes with a dollop of warm cream cheese, syrup, and the toasted pecans.

is the managing editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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