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the pastabilities are endless ( and a giveaway )

June 28th, 2012 | 21 Comments »

In moving past the continual consumption of meat with our meals, it brings to light an entirely new way of going out to eat, as I’m left wondering how up to date any restaurant will be with their meatless options. There are those places that soar, offering a wealth of meat-free entrees that dazzle, while others places rely on pasta dishes as their sole vegetarian fare.

Pasta isn’t bad, mind you. I do enjoy it. But these days, having just a pasta dish or two with vegetables as your meatless menu offering is pretty unimaginative for a restaurant.

But that being said, pasta has it’s virtues.

Hodgson Mills Pasta is running a recipe contest on Pinterest and I’m participating with this recipe. Are you on Pinterest? There’s a special page for Hodgson Mills that has all the recipe entries on it. 

I’d appreciate a vote if you’re so inclined. There are some pretty nice prizes. You must go to the page linked above to vote. Pinning this recipe from my blog won’t count.

And Hodgson Mills was nice enough to offer $25 dollars of assorted pasta to one lucky winner from my blog. That’s a lot of pasta! All you need to do to enter is leave a comment on my blog stating your favorite way to prepare pasta (US residents only, with a valid mailing address, please) You have until Thursday July 5th to leave a comment and be entered for the giveaway. I will choose one commenter through Random.Org and contact you via email, so be sure to leave that information. Hodgson Mills will ship directly to you.

Do you love your pasta rich and cheesy? How about chock full of rich tomato sauce and italian sausage? Plain with simple garlic and olive oil? I’ve been enjoying Hodgson Mills whole wheat pasta with summer fresh pesto and grilled vegetables, and creating this recipe was a deliciously fun way to use up a huge box of basil that I’d been given. Food gifts are the best, aren’t they?

 

 

Summer Pesto Pasta with Grilled Zucchini

1-lb Hodgson Mills Bow Tie Pasta
2 medium zucchini
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 t. prepared spicy mustard
1 c. prepared pesto (or make your own from scratch, method included)
Fresh Cherry tomatoes, optional

Prepare zucchini:
Heat gas grill on high for 10 minutes. Just prior to cooking, reduce heat to medium-low and brush grill grates with canola or other neutral oil. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and prepared mustard; set aside. Wash zucchini thoroughly and trim off root end. Slice zucchini the long way into three strips about 1/4″ thick. Brush with the mustard oil and place, oiled side down on prepared grill grates. Cook without moving for 5 minutes. Using tongs, carefully turn zucchini over and continue to cook until tender, about 7-10 minutes more. Remove from grill and set aside to cool. Cut zucchini in to bite sized pieces.

For the Pesto:

4 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1/3 c. olive oil
2 T. shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for finished pasta.
2 T. pine nuts (optional)
1 T. kosher salt
1 t. fresh cracked black pepper

Place all ingredients in the work bowl of a 2-quart food processor. Process in pulses until thoroughly combined, adding more olive oil if needed and scraping down sides as necessary. Scrape prepared pesto in to a bowl and press plastic wrap over the surface to prevent discoloration.

In a 6-quart stockpot, bring water to a boil. Add pasta and salt, if desired. Cook pasta until just al dente. Reserve one cup of the cooking water, drain pasta and place back in the stock pot. Add half the pesto to the hot pasta. Drizzle in a little of the cooking water and stir to combine, adding in a bit more cooking water if needed. Add more pesto if needed, along with the cooking water until it’s to your preferred consistency. Stir in the grilled and chopped zucchini and more parmesan cheese, if desired. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Chill pasta for up to an hour before serving, or overnight if desired. Taste prior to serving to adjust for seasoning, and add sliced cherry tomatoes for garnish and color.

 

raw pea salad with jicama, cucumber & mint

June 27th, 2012 | Comments Off

I’ve never liked peas. Never. But again, as always, I’d been exposed only to frozen cooked peas, often overdone and alarming in their color and consistency. Even the smell made me want to gag.

But then again, up until just last year, I’d never had peas fresh, raw and straight from the shell. I popped this raw pea in to my mouth in a moment of bravery and bit down. It was, obviously, a revelation, and the continuation of these eye-opening food experiences as an adult has been nothing short of wondrous, proving that it is never, ever to late to learn about new foods.

Still, I’d never decided to push myself in to making something with raw peas until this summer when the idea began forming in my head for this salad. Coupled with the opening day of the Shoreview Farmers Market near us (and a day off of work for me) I picked up two baskets of sugar snap peas and spent an ungodly amount of time shelling them. As I stood there, thumbs slipping through the shells, watching the peas tumble in to the water, I thought back over time to how many women had done this task before me, sitting on a breezy porch or back steps in the warmth of late Spring, a basket of peas in their lap listening to the ‘plup plup’ of tiny peas hitting the bowl. I love the nostalgia of food, how the simple means of connecting with our sustenance has been practiced for generations, going back in time when eating local wasn’t considered trendy because it was all anyone could ever do. Sometimes I long for that ability to connect, to be caught deeply in a season of plenty sitting right outside my kitchen door.

Maybe I was born in the wrong era.

I couldn’t begin to tell you where the urge for this salad came from; it arrived with the heat blasting Minnesota, wringing us out in humidity and a continual dance of thunderstorms bringing severe damage, flooding and devastation. I’ve been shocked and saddened every day as photos flit across my screen showing the aftermath of these storms. Amidst all the chaos and rain-soaked days, the idea shimmered like the waves of sunlight, boiling up in me and urging itself along. Peas. Jicama. Cucumber and especially the mint. For some reason in my head, it all worked so I shelled, chopped, mixed and crossed my fingers. A squeeze of fresh lime juice, a few shakes of cumin and salt and a spoon lifted to my mouth assured me that my mind was right, as right as heat in the summertime and peas that will always need shelling. Right in the ways of that only simple can be.

I’d be completely at home in the wide open country, on an open back porch under the sunshine and immensely fresh air. I know I would. But in my lifetime that’s unlikely to happen. I won’t be picking sugar snap peas in my garden, warm in the heat, listening to them fall in a bowl but rest assured, I will be making this salad again. From the first bite, to the next and finally a stolen spoonful the following day to remind myself of how good it was, how fresh and summery it tasted in my mouth, it was so perfect, so crunchy sweet and all mixed up with flavor and snap. Here’s to the joy of Summer time.

 

 

Raw Pea Salad with Jicama, Cucumber & Mint

3# shelled sugar snap peas
1 c. english cucumber, peeled and diced fine
1 c. jicama, peeled and diced fine
1/4 c. chopped mint
1/3 c. good quality olive oil
3 T. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 T. fresh lime zest
1/2 t. ground cumin
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the peas, cucumber, jicama and mint. Whisk together the oil, lime juice and zest, cumin, salt and pepper. Adjust to taste and pour over salad. Stir to combine, adjust salt and pepper. Chill for an hour before serving; taste for seasoning.

 

This salad was excellent served atop a bed of fresh salad greens, too. The vinaigrette dresses the greens beautifully.
Once chilled, the olive oil will solidify slightly;

you can let the salad sit at room temperature for a few minutes if that doesn’t appeal to you.

ginger nectarine cake, take 2

June 24th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

I’ve been blogging at this site for six years now. I KNOW! What the heck?!!! I’m either crazy, stubborn or irritatingly persistent, or maybe a combination of all three. At any rate, it’s like a child I’ve raised; I vacillate back and forth between utter frustration with it, and phenomenal pride. SIX YEARS!

And this here blog has seen some pretty major input of amazing recipes, many of which most of my readers have never, ever seen because, really, who looks through the Recipe Index? Does anyone? And in being a part of the blog world for six years, it’s been amazing to watch foods change and swell with time, going from something obscure and strange to being mainstream and freaking everywhere. Are whole grains all that new? It seems so, if you pay attention to the blog posts out there, but four years ago I was playing with grains, having to trek all over the city in search of quinoa, red rice, millet and farro. Now every supermarket has them, thankfully. And I love that people have embraced them.

Three years ago I made a cake with olive oil in it and was all over myself at how odd that felt, and also jumping up and down a little bit with each bite because, whoa….. it was GOOD. Nowadays, there are olive oil cakes popping up in every season, with every fruit imagineable. No one bats an eye at olive oil in a cake. But three years ago? It seemed new, fresh and different. And I clearly recall feeling rather odd pouring all that oil in to the batter. But the result was stunning.

That was three years ago, and I haven’t revisited that recipe once. Shame. It was pretty amazing, and now with nectarines in season, I picked up a sack of them and pulled up the recipe in my Index. And I’ll tell you; nothing makes me groan in agony, feeling like banging my head on a wall as I do when I see the way I used to photograph my food. {{Go on, take a look. I don’t mind.}}

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way in that area.

In re-working this recipe, the one substitution I made was to use fresh grated ginger in place of dried and ground. I recalled that the ginger taste was just not that noticeable in the previous attempt, but with the addition of it fresh, it just popped out of the cake, dancing up front and center in my face. Balanced with the tang of lemon, and the subtle fruity nectarine pieces that literally melt inside the cake, it was a combination of tastes that are at once bold and forthright, yet clean and crisp. And that olive oil? It’s darn near perfect.

Ginger Nectarine Cake

2 eggs
1/3 c. milk
1/3 c. good quality olive oil (use the best you’ve got; you will taste it in this cake)
1 lemon, zested. Squeeze out juice from half.
1 T. finely grated fresh ginger
1/3 c. sugar (original recipe calls for 2/3- I found the smaller amount to be perfect. Adjust accordingly to your taste)
1-1/2 c. AP flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
3 large nectarines, two diced small, one sliced for garnish
2 T. crystallized ginger, chopped fine.

Preheat oven to 350°. This cake can be made in any number of pans, like a 9×13 for a thin cake, or an 8×8 for a thicker cake. You can also use a 10-inch springform pan with removable bottom. I used a 2-qt oval baking dish. Spray any pan you use with non-stick baking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk and oil until emulsified. Add lemon zest and juice and whisk again. Mixture will look slightly curdled and will be very thick. Stir in fresh ginger and sugar, whisk the mixture vigorously.

Separately, whisk flour, baking powder and salt together. Stir in to wet ingredients until just barely blended. Add in diced fruit and fold to incorporate. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Arrange sliced nectarines on top, and sprinkle with the crystallized ginger and a tablespoon or two of sugar, if desired.

Bake cake until the top is nicely golden brown and the cake springs back when touched, about 40-60 minutes, depending on the pan you use. The toothpick test will help determine when it’s done. (A 9×13 will get done quicker, so be aware of that)

This cake recipe originated in a copy of Real Food magazine, available quarterly at Lunds/Byerly’s

instagram friday

June 22nd, 2012 | 1 Comment »

Our poor state has had a tumultuous and destructive week, weather wise; a deluge of rain has fallen, inundating parts of the state with floodwaters, severe thunderstorms jolted us out of bed two nights in a row and the heat soared along with the humidity. Summer came with a vengeance. Still, as always with Summer, there is plenty to enjoy and appreciate. I won’t share a photo of the what the weeds in my garden have done in this heat, though. That’s hardly something to go on about.

Fathers Day weekend was very enjoyable, beginning with a date night dinner out that included a walk across the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls, thunderous from the recent rains.

And ended with a leisurely drive for ice cream.

Monday morning I’m always greeted with this look, silently pleading with me to stay home. Now.

I enjoyed an intimate gathering with other food bloggers at the kitchens of one of our most popular local food trucks, The Chef Shack. There was food, good beer and a guided tour of the three iconic red trucks.

There also was a great deal of cooking, in spite the heat.

Ginger Nectarine Cake, anyone? Stay tuned for the recipe.

Plenty of good grilling happened……

This week’s delicious discoveries…….

 It’s all about salad.

And more salad

Think I’m joking?

I would never joke about salad

The Mother Lode of Salad

Then of course, there’s the grilling options

And tasty snacks or appetizers

Don’t forget desserts, either

Because the possibilities right now are endless!

HAVE A WONDERFUL WEEKEND!!

herbivoracious- review & recipe

June 19th, 2012 | 5 Comments »

I’ve been on a mostly plant-based eating plan for just over a year now and have no intention of ever going back to eating meat on a regular basis. I’m not against having a bit of it here and there if the mood suits me, but with a heightened awareness of how it deeply affected my health, I’m off of the stuff for the long term.

Trouble is, I’ve been searching for cooking inspiration and while I can find a great deal online in the blogs that I follow, I hadn’t come across a really good source until I serendipitously found Michael Natkin’s blog, Herbivoracious, and within a day’s time was invited to a local book signing with the author. Everyone who attended the event received a complimentary cookbook and several tantalizing bites from the simple and gorgeous recipes in the book.

I haven’t devoured a cookbook like this in a very long time. I’ve purchased a few promising vegetarian cookbooks through used book stores, but have come away from them feeling uninspired, or worse, dismayed at the boring recipes. In our current state of food, with a wealth of ingredients available to us, fresh produce everywhere and home cooks hitting up the internet with abandon to share their stories and recipes, we shouldn’t feel like pasta and vegetables make up the bulk of a vegetarians meals, but that was the message a lot of vegetarian cookbooks still seem to send. I wanted something that reflected the modern cuisine, full of a wide selection of fresh ingredients, unique spices, terrific grains and a grown-up mentality towards consumption of plant-based foods. Just a few pages in to Michael’s book and I knew I’d found what I was looking for, breathing an excited sigh of relief. I immediately started marking pages, rich with inspiration, my mouth already watering over what was to come.

One aspect of this book that I love is that it mirrors my own cooking philosophy, in that a recipe should be a guide, and not a cut and dried interpretation of the finished dish. Michael clearly discusses ways to change up his recipes, suggesting additional ingredients or substitutions and encouraging the reader to utilize what’s on hand. Every dish is simple, yet elegant, running the whole range of time needed for completing the recipes from about 10 minutes to pull together an easy salad to longer, in-depth recipes for those special occasions. The book is full of advice on sourcing ingredients, caring for your knives, planning your meals and making your prep easier to manage; he covers so many little details that it makes the book more than just a cookbook, but something akin to treasured kitchen advice. The cover page is gorgeous, but if it gets torn, stained or otherwise in your exploration, the actual cover itself still has it’s beautiful logo. I like that in a book.

Even while still at the book signing event, chatting excitedly with a few friends and paging through the book, I came across the Golden Beet Tartare recipe and knew that would be tops on my list. I adore gold beets and it sounded like a delicious summery salad for a hot, sticky day.

I wasn’t wrong at all about that. The heat is on, Minnesota. It’s time to stay cool, right?

Fresh and bright, this simple salad has crunch and texture galore, the rich earthy taste of beets and mellow cucumber and onion. The original recipe called for raw red onion which I don’t ever use as I dislike raw allium in anything, so I substituted grilled vidalia onions with just enough snap remaining. Once it was all pulled together I thought it still needed a bit more color to jazz up the visual aspect, so I finely chopped some kale leaves that gave it the perfect balance.

I can foresee this recipe becoming a regular in my kitchen, giving it repeated appearances and endangering my endless love of beets. With the upcoming beet season looming, and such pretty colors and patterns in this nutritious and healthy root vegetable, I vow to practice enough restraint to keep it fresh and desirable so we can continue to enjoy it’s benefits. Right now, I’m fighting off the urge to consume the entire container of this salad. A definite winner.

Please visit Michael’s site, for his complete recipe for Golden Beet Tartare. I’m going to give you my method, which, as Michael encourages, is my own take on the recipe.

 

Golden Beet Salad

3 medium beets, tops trimmed (save them and eat them if it’s your thing)
1/2 an English Cucumber, peeled and finely diced
1/2 medium Vidalia onion, grilled but still somewhat crunchy, finely diced
1 T. capers, drained and minced
1/2 c. kale leaves, finely minced
3 T. olive oil
1 t. fresh lemon zest
1 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 T. fresh chives, minced
2 T. fresh parsley, minced (I used flat leaf; curly would work just as well)
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Heat oven to 400°. Place a square of foil in an 8×8 baking pan and put beets in the foil. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and fold the foil over the beets. Roast the beets until a knife inserted in them slips out easily. The time will depend on the size of your beets, but plan for at least 45 minutes to an hour. Allow the beets to cool, then peel and dice them.

In a bowl, add the beets, cucumber, onion, capers, kale, lemon zest and juice, chives and parsley. Drizzle in the oil, add a few shakes of sea salt and grinds of pepper. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning. Allowing the salad to sit for a few hours, or overnight before serving will deepen the flavors. Adjust seasonings before serving.

 

 

DISCLAIMER:
I received a complimentary copy of Herbivoracious from attending the book signing event.
All opinions and feedback about the book are strictly my own.
 

 

the good guys

June 17th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

It’s Fathers Day.

And in my son’s life there have been two amazing men who have taken on the role of raising him who were never asked, nor expected to do so. My brother Mike, in the photo above, has been a constant in Griffin’s life since the moment he was born, and they share a bond that’s unbreakable.

And of course, there is my Mike, who took on the role of Dad to an 8-year old boy who deeply needed a good and loving man in his life. Outside of being a wonderful husband, Mike has been a loving Dad as well, providing a constant to Griffin that has grounded and influenced him beautifully.

And a Father’s Day wouldn’t be complete without honoring those men who step up in the life of a child without a second thought, who mentor, challenge, love, discipline, comfort, joke with, laugh with, bond with, grow and change alongside them during life’s inevitable peaks and valleys. Your presence, your love and your heart are so deeply appreciated.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!! 

instagram friday

June 15th, 2012 | Comments Off

Another week done and over, and we’re sliding all over the place on the weather scale in Minnesota. Ultra hot and windy days are followed by chilly rain and clouds, and now the heat is ramping back up again, along with increasing humidity.

My week started out on a very high note.

And after a whirlwind weekend of family, friends and celebration, we all crashed. Hard.

In the midst of the chaos, with family, happy children and a lot of amazing food, stood a bouquet of sunshine for all to see.

In a moment of frivolity and boredom, there were shadow puppets.


I spent a lovely afternoon at Dehn Herb Gardens on Wednesday, walking through greenhouse after greenhouse of fresh herbs and lettuces, rich with oxygen and plant life. My head felt clearer when I left there than it has felt in a long time. I took home a huge box of fresh lettuce and another of basil. Guess what was for dinner that night?

{{the best pesto I have ever had in my life}}

There were other delicious things happening in my kitchen this week too. With cool weather, I always get the urge to bake.

{{Blueberry Oat Quick Bread with sunken blueberries- that trick of coating them in flour does not work}}

Grilled vegetables, anyone?

I spy a swath of light from the setting sun, still visible at 10:15pm.

And of course, there were all the delicious finds…….

My obsession with vegetarian burgers knows no limits

Or the endless ways to combine pasta and vegetables

See what I mean?

I mean, really? I am obsessed.

Super summery light eating with these easy Summer Rolls

Happiness is always a choice

A perfect book for the introverts of the world

My current cookbook love.

HAVE A WONDERFUL WEEKEND EVERYONE!

HAPPY FATHERS DAY TO ALL THE DADS !

blueberry compote with lemon thyme

June 13th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Summer is all about the simple, right? There’s such an abundance that planning a meal becomes moot, and your food comes together easily with a few ingredients, a nice olive oil to drizzle, maybe even served on a paper plate so that we can get back outside. Back to summer and enjoyment.

I’ve been on a creative kick with fruit, as evidenced by that gorgeous and frightfully easy Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, and when blueberries went on sale at a local grocer, I stockpiled them, dropping them on yogurt, in cereal, atop pancakes and just about any other vehicle to my mouth that one can imagine. Nothing like fresh blueberries.

And there is nothing quite like this Blueberry Compote, resplendent with Lemon Thyme and fresh lemon juice.

Coupled with a fast and furious love for the cheese within a cheese known as Burrata, and an ongoing affair with the tender and tiny striped leaves of the Lemon Thyme plant, I took a leap of faith on the perfect marriage of lemon and blueberry and created this quick topping that complimented the creamy cheese to utter perfection.

On a hot day, breaking open a ball of fresh mozzarella, watching the dreamy interior slip in to the bowl, mixing with the dark, deep blue of the berries, this was a quintessential summer treat. It’s made to cool down the sultriest of days. It doesn’t require much else than a spoon, really. Or good toasted bread, because really, anything tastes good on toast, doesn’t it?? And toast is a much easier means to achieving a good meal than any other base as it goes well with just about anything placed on top of it. I think a good loaf of cinnamon bread would be ideal for this creamy, berry-filled treat.

Aren’t familiar with Burrata? It’s a ball of fresh mozzarella that’s filled with shreds of MORE fresh mozzarella that’s soaked in rich cream. It’s cheese, and then some and every bit of it is rich and satisfying. It’s a nice appetizer, a perfect salad option (think good grilled veggies awash in that phenomenal cheese bath) or a delightful dessert. At upscale grocers, you should be able to find it with the other fresh mozzarella products in the deli.

All that’s left to desire is a warm, lazy day and the need to fill the belly.

Blueberry Compote with Lemon Thyme

1/2 c. fresh blueberries, washed.
2 T. fresh lemon thyme, minced
1 t. fresh lemon zest
1-2 t. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of good sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2-3 T. good quality olive oil (use the best you’ve got here)

Mash berries in a glass measuring cup and stir in the lemon thyme, lemon zest and juice. Allow to stand for a while in order to blend the flavors. Whisk in the oil, add salt and pepper to taste, and more lemon if you wish. Chill thoroughly. The mixture will thicken as it cools, due to the oil. Whisk it again before serving to loosen.

In a bowl, carefully place one Burrata and using a spoon, break it open down the center, allowing the creamy middle to spread out. Spoon the chilled compote over the Burrata, drizzle a little oil over it and a thin pinch of good sea salt. Grab a spoon.

instagram friday

June 8th, 2012 | Comments Off

By the time I return to my little corner of the blogging world next week, we’ll have a high school graduate in the house. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

But this past week? Not cool. Warm. Hot even. And it was gloriously, perfectly June; weather that begged to be enjoyed and appreciated, because technically, it’s Summer and it’s an ever-so-short three months of sheer madness and ecstasy in the state of Minnesota.

So enjoy I did.

I took a long bike ride and spotted a lovely lady.

Remember this picture from my Memorial weekend butterfly extravaganza? I hadn’t identified the top left butterfly, but I finally learned that it’s a Pearl Crescent.

There was ample blue sky and sunshine this week, but also a perfectly June-like thunderstorm, preceded by a gorgeous sky.

Flowers bloomed in abundance. I love that aspect of early Summer.


And cats slept in silly poses.


 
 
 
There were some pretty amazing finds this past week too…….
 
Chocolate Chunk Pretzel Cookies {{Yes, please!!}}
 
A Potato Salad for all summer long
 
Cocoa Chai Granola- perfect combo of chocolate and spice
 
Perfect scones for Strawberry Season
 
Scroll down the the very last picture in this post and TRY not to gasp out loud.
{{unless you’re my husband…..}}
 
A cutting board I covet
 
A cookbook I got that I can’t wait to explore
(you should explore the website….
 
HAVE A WONDERFUL WEEKEND EVERYONE!!!
 
 

a super simple strawberry vinaigrette

June 4th, 2012 | 7 Comments »

It’s almost ridiculous how simple and delicious this vinaigrette is, how a few smashed berries and a drop or two of balsamic vinegar can transform into a delightful, light and spring-like marinade for the freshest of fresh greens, but this is the very reason why we blog, share and shout our discoveries. These delicious surprises need to be more widely known.

Do you ever feel like the very fiber of your body fills up sometimes with the grimy bits of your life? Sucking you down and drawing all the energy out of you? I’m very blessed with an easy job that’s only {barely} part-time, but it’s a whacky schedule that leaves only a few days a week completely free and I often cram them with activity with friends, or cooking, household needs, market trips, etc… so much that there comes a time when my body just wants to scream “WAIT! Will you SLOW down a minute???” My sweet husband sees this on my face much clearer than I ever feel it in my bones, and gently urges me to listen. I love that man. So Memorial Weekend came, I had a whopping FIVE DAYS OFF and our lake home called, and finally, I listened. Complete with said husband’s urging me to “Just go.” And within the walls of a beloved summer home, rich with memory and the ability to lull me to a state of relaxation that releases all those icky, grimy bits, the creative mind floods with possibility.

Prior to my escape, and ahead of a pending thunderstorm, I browsed the insanely crowded St. Paul Farmers Market and packed a large sack of fresh greens to take along with me. Thunderous clouds chased me home, and by the time I pulled the greens out to clean them, the sky had opened, lightning flashed and thunder rolled and the cat climbed in a cupboard to hide, poor thing.

{{mr. big eyes}}

I certainly don’t blame him. Thunder does that to a soul, sometimes.

And away from the city, with the sparkling lake outside and lush humid air circulating, I opened the bag of freshly washed pea shoots I’d purchased, a bunch so enormously large that my two hands could not span the circumference and they thoughtfully conveyed “We need something more than what comes in a bottle.” and with the pack of strawberries saying ‘Hey! What about me?’ I spurred a breakthrough. What? Your food doesn’t speak to you? Shame. There’s is a lot to hear from our food these days.

And if pea shoots haven’t yet been discovered in your eating repertoire – and mercy, do you like peas? try the pea shoots, you will not regret it!-  microgreens of any kind are a perfect option, as well as the freshest of spring lettuces, spinach, chard, kale….. the possibilities choke with potential, all dancing about, trying to show us the best they can offer. And if you’re privy to a garden with teeny root vegetable greens that require thinning, like radish or beets, those little shoots that you pull from the ground are delicious too. We thinned baby lettuce and radish from the lake garden, then the beets at home were thinned and the bag of greens that resulted nearly made me weep with joy. Silly, I know. But that abundance is sweet manna, no greater thing to a hungry soul drawn tight from the grimy bits of life.

This kind of salad, where freshness is bursting from every corner of the plate is where you would happily pull out your very best bottle of olive oil to use in this vinaigrette. You can’t imagine the taste of that plate up there; I was so enamored of it myself and I’m the impetus behind it, but when the first bite slipped between my lips, coating them with sweet-tart strawberry, dressed in perfect olive oil, I wondered if this truly was heaven on earth, bound in a plate of über-local garden greens and a super simple vinaigrette. I ate it for breakfast, it was that good.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

This “recipe”, so to speak, isn’t precise with measurements. And I apologize to those who require those parameters. Do your best with these suggestions.

1 pint of strawberries, washed and hulled
Balsamic vinegar
Good quality olive oil
Brown sugar
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Salad greens of the proper quantity for the number of people you’re serving.

As you wash your berries, keep an eye out for the inevitably softer, slightly mushy berries. Set these aside, as their sharper, wine-y taste make them perfect for your vinaigrette.

Wash and spin dry your greens.

In a small measuring cup, place 3-6 chopped berries (dependent on how much vinaigrette you wish to make)  and mash them with a fork to release their juice. Add a few drops of balsamic vinegar and a generous pinch of brown sugar. Stir it together and leave it on the counter. How long? My first batch sat for nearly three hours. The second, only about 15 minutes. Mash the berries on occasion, and stir to keep it emulsified.

Just before serving your salad, add the olive oil. How much you add depends on how many berries make up the base. More berries? More oil. Add less than you think at first, as you can always pour in a bit more. You want a nice balance of sweet berry, tart balsamic and smooth oil. Shake a few more drops of balsamic as needed, add a dash of salt and pepper and taste everything along the way. You’ll know when it’s perfect.

Plate the greens, add a few sliced berries and drizzle the vinaigrette over the top. I like to keep the chunks of mashed fruit in there, but if you’re a purist, strain it before using. But those chunks are delicious.