Food & Drink

Jennevieve Schlemmer is happy to create Thanksgiving for friends

Jennevieve Schlemmer’s kale gratin.
Jennevieve Schlemmer’s kale gratin. Staff photographer

It seems obvious that an artist would take a creative view of cooking. But for Jennevieve Schlemmer, a Tacoma artist known for sculpture and public art who’s just about to release a grown-up’s coloring book, food wasn’t always this interesting.

“I grew up in 1970s Washington, with boring mashed potatoes,” Schlemmer said. “Every vegetable was over-cooked and out of a can. I hated them. But in my 20s I trained as a chef in restaurants. I think that’s what made me more adventurous — if you try and fail you can just dump it out and try again.”

Add in artistic flair and a sister who married into a Palestinian family, introducing Schlemmer to all sorts of spices and tastes she’d never heard of before, and you have a recipe for a creative Thanksgiving.

Which is exactly what Schlemmer does.

“With family scattered all over the world, it’s always non-traditional,” she says. “We’ll often rent a cabin by the beach and take a whole group of friends and cook there.”

What Schlemmer cooks, though, is part of the reason she has so many guests: Wanting to be inclusive, she makes a vegetarian, gluten-free meal, involving as much organic food as she can. Dishes might include a cheese-topped kale gratin (“Kale’s about the only thing I can grow, plus herbs,” Schlemmer explains), sweet potato rounds roasted with black sea salt and nigella for a tart, light-pepper crunch (and a dramatic black-on-orange color scheme), or roasted white parsnips topped with sumac, a sweetly-tangy Middle Eastern spice with a deep pink hue. She’s done lentil soup, her own handmade pide bread, and just occasionally a roast chicken. (Schlemmer’s not completely vegetarian herself.)

Even her house adds to the hospitality — a wide, lime-green rambler with an enormous stainless-steel-meets-country kitchen and views over the Narrows bridge. On every wall are Schlemmer’s warm, humorous paintings, like the lime-green elephant with a ninja bandanna overlooking the large dining table.

“I really enjoy cooking for others,” says Schlemmer. “It doesn’t stress me out — it’s fun. A lot of people have anxiety about cooking, so I say to them, why not come over and relax, and I can cook, which I love? It works out for everyone.”

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

Jennevieve’s blog:

Kale Gratin


1 tablespoon olive oil (NOT extra virgin)

1 onion, medium dice

2 chipotles in adobe sauce, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 bunches kale, de-ribbed and thinly chopped (I like a combo of purple and lacinato)

1 can quartered artichoke hearts, roughly chopped


2 tablespoons olive oil or butter

2 tablespoons corn starch (white flour is perfect if you aren’t concerned with GF)

2 cups veggie or chicken stock (If you use veggie stock, go for the kind without tomatoes (like Imagine’s No-Chicken Broth)


1 cup crushed salt and pepper flavor wavy potato chips (I prefer Kettle Brand)

2 Tablespoons melted butter or olive oil

Freshly ground pepper

Note: Eat your greens with a decadent topping — I made this up for my friend that is a celiac. He gets very sick when he eats gluten and is left out at many holiday meals. The secret ingredient is chipotle, which adds some kick to complement the peppery topping. This has three parts to it, which may seem complicated, but it all comes together simply beautifully.

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. For the gratin: Combine crushed potato chips with melted butter or olive oil. Add in freshly ground pepper for more kick. Set aside.

3. For the kale: Place olive oil in heavy bottom pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, letting the onions turn translucent and brown, about 10 minutes. Add chipotles, red pepper and garlic and stir just a few times before adding kale and artichoke hearts. Continue to cook over medium heat until kale is wilted, 15 or so minutes. You can add a splash of water if pan seems overly dry but you don’t want to saturate it.

4. As kale mixture cooks, prepare white (veloute) sauce. Melt butter or heat oil in sauce pan. Once warm, add corn starch (or flour), using a wire whisk to incorporate it thoroughly. With heat on low, continue to whisk for 2-3 more minutes or until mixture has turned a tan color.

5. Stir in the broth just a little bit at a time, whisking constantly. The slower you add the broth, the better. Bring sauce to boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes, until sauce has thickened.

6. Spread kale mixture evenly in shallow 2 quart gratin pan. Pour sauce over kale slowly and evenly, not bothering to mix. It will spread out as it bakes. Top with potato chip mixture, evenly spreading it out over kale and sauce.

7. Bake 15-20 minutes, checking after 15 minutes to make sure it isn’t browned too much.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Roasted Parsnips with Sumac

4 large parsnips, ends removed, peeled, and sliced lengthwise into half-inch thick wedges.

2 tablespoons mild flavored oil

1 tablespoon ground sumac

Salt and pepper

Note: Sumac is a crushed berry found in Middle Eastern markets and many gourmet grocery stores. It adds a lovely tartness to the dish along with an attractive color.

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place parsnips on heavy, lipped baking sheet. Toss with oil, sumac, and salt and pepper and spread out so parsnips aren’t touching.

3. Bake 15 minutes, flip, and bake an additional 10-20 minutes depending on how thick your slices are. You want them to be nice and brown on the edges.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Sweet Potato Medallions with Black Salt and Nigella Seeds

2 large sweet potatoes, ends cut off, peeled, and sliced into half-inch medallions

3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons nigella seeds

Freshly ground pepper

Black Hawaiian sea salt

Note: Hawaiian black sea salt and nigella seeds bring a flavor punch as well as beautiful color to this dish. Peanut oil adds a nice nutty flavor. You can use garnet yams as well. Par boiling may sound like extra work, but it cuts down the oven time and the potatoes absorb more seasoning while cooking.

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add medallions. Boil 6-10 minutes, until medallions are easily pierced with a knife, but not all the way cooked. Drain and let air dry for a few minutes.

3. In a bowl or right on a lipped baking sheet, gently toss medallions in oil with chili powder and nigella seeds and spread out on baking sheet. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and a liberal sprinkling of the black sea salt.

4. Bake 15 minutes, turn over and bake another 10 minutes or until desired brown color.

Yield: 4 servings

Cauliflower Millet Mash

2 teaspoons mild flavored oil

3/4 cup millet

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 head cauliflower, cut into medium florets

3 plus cups veggie, chicken stock or water (use non-tomato based veggie broth like Imagine’s No-Chicken broth)

1/2 cup shredded, imported Gruyere (or other strong salty cheese)

Salt and pepper to taste

Note: A healthier mash that still tastes surprisingly creamy and extra cheesy. Goes well with gravy. Left overs can be formed into patties and pan fried the next day.

1. Heat oil in large pot. Once hot, add millet and stir for a minute or two, until it starts to brown.

2. Add garlic and stir just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add cauliflower and stock and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes, making sure that the millet has burst. Add more water or stock if it starts to dry out too much.

4. Use an immersion blender to puree the mash. You can use a hand potato masher but the immersion blender gives it a creamier texture. Stir in shredded cheese and taste, adjust the seasonings if necessary, and serve warm.

Yield: 6-8 servings

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