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happy friday!

July 27th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

I didn’t get around to an Instagram Friday post; this week needed some stepping back time, a few days at the lake and alone with my own heart to become a bit more grounded, seeing life a bit clearer. I took my big camera along, which I’ve affectionately named Clara, and I was so grateful to have her there with me because the shoreline was abundant in wildflower blooms, and the butterflies and hummingbirds were a constant. We patiently waited for those perfect moments that make snapping 250 frames all worthwhile.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!!

instagram friday

July 20th, 2012 | Comments Off on instagram friday

The season of heat, and plenty, seemed to sum up this week in my Instagram feed.

I have to admit that I love what this heat and humidity does to my hair.

And who doesn’t love the peak of freshness from the Farmers Market in July??

There was also a bountiful vegetarian potluck I attended….. and… uh……


There’s inevitable feline shots, of course.

One of my favorite shots I’ve ever posted on Instagram is this one of a fountain that I took with my DSLR camera. I love how the filters make it look so light and airy, bringing out all the spray of the water.

And for fun, I threw in a few shots of photos found around the web.

What’s been on my mind this week??

A terrifying and harsh article of global truth

I keep coming back to this one: “There is a particular type of beauty in honesty.”

And re-thinking the means of doing what I love

Peaches are perfect and outstanding right now.

And it’s blueberry picking time everywhere.

But there’s always lemon as the perfect stand-by.  {{thank you Marion Cunningham}}

Perfect pasta for summer

Perfect salsa for summer

Perfect cake for celebrating a culinary icon  {{thank you, Julia Child}}


summer bounty

July 18th, 2012 | Comments Off on summer bounty

It’s more than just food, sometimes.

July has shown us little mercy. She rises daily at dawn, consistent and sure of herself, simmering her heat and thick air giving little relief in the night hours. I’m stuffed through and through with her blistering melancholy, brought down by hot winds, the white haze of mid-summer and a relentless, calculating sun. I snack on watermelon slices, thick with juice and snapping cold against my teeth, lush ripe cherries that burst in my mouth, forcing a wave of juice down my throat, nearly choking me in glorious abundance. My plate piles with deep green leaves, scattered with tiny radish and beets, shaved strips of deep red carrots, burnished fingers of grilled zucchini. I bite down on corn cobs that spray sweet white milk over my cheeks, lush with mashed avocado, squeaking tart lime and the right touch of salt. I wither. I rise, and repeat. My oven seems lonely. I forget what pants feel like and the washer spins over and over with white linen, flippy cotton skirts, the most minimal of clothing. I’ve lost count on the number of pitchers of iced tea I’ve brewed, the ounces of water consumed daily as a means to keep moving. I pin up my hair, thick with humid curls and dream ever so slightly of cutting it all off. Which I won’t. Come Winter, through bitter winds and snow, I’ll press it to my neck for warmth and remember this July. This heat, choked and hard that descended on us without respite.

But the rains come, thankfully. Blessedly. There is no scent more beautiful than that of the rain falling on a parched earth. With thunder rolling and wind in the trees, it’s a melody of riches for the heat weary soul. I press my face to the screen, taking in deep lungfuls of fresh wet air, reveling in the sound of water rushing past my ears and the earth drinking heavily of this bounty. It revives me; lifts me and lightens the spirit. I feel giddy, like a girl; thinking to run and dance in rejoicing at this gift from above. But instead, I watch, mesmerized at the patterns of droplets on stone, like snowflakes no two the same, each bringing sweet relief.

I love this season called Summer, even with it’s scorched sun and grass, with it’s heat, humidity and drapery drawn against the day, the endless bounty of life-sustaining foods, the inexpensive means to feed us, body and soul, sun on bare skin, the smell of warm grass, the light at 9pm.

Or even later than that.

{{ taken by Bald Eagle Lake, late June around 10:10pm }}

I don’t tire of this heat, as tiring as it can be on me; I know as soon as Summer wends it’s way towards September and tomato plants wilt against the inevitable downfall of their life span and the calendar pages turn that it will be missed. It’s a yearly struggle of self vs. elements, attempting to embrace the present without fail, to move through the days in the swelter of high Summer, no word of complaint falling from my lips for I know in my lifetime of this season, it’s as brief as a spark, or a thunderstorm that breaks up the endless pattern of scalding sunshine. It’s embedded deep in my bones with my DNA, my lifetime of July, followed by years of sultry August, right on the heels of exalted and sweet September.

tomato jam

July 16th, 2012 | 5 Comments »

I’ve never really been a fan of ketchup, and can’t recall the last time I really ate it. Maybe in college, dragging a thick and steaming hot onion ring through a plate of ketchup and mustard swirled together, or possibly on a bratwurst, back in some far away and hazy memory but it’s been a really long time. Griffin likes it, Mike won’t touch it.

Then I discovered tomato jam.

From Herbivoracious, my current cookbook love by Michael Natkin, I saw this condiment in the last pages of the book and was intrigued by it, then read a really positive and glowing review of the same recipe on another food blog, sealing the deal. With a few imperfect tomatoes and a bit of time to simmer the jam, the first time I scooped it on to my plate and tried it was a revelation. I frankly didn’t know what to expect, but what landed on my tongue was unlike anything I’d tasted before. It was thick and bursting with tomato flavor, a bit sweet but not at all syrupy or tinny like ketchup. And as soon as the last bit was scraped from the jar, I knew I needed to have more.

And the thing is, this is a perfect recipe for this time of year. You don’t need lovely tomatoes to make it because you cook them down to a thick jam, so all those ones on the vine that don’t make it to the plate, the ones that maybe split in the heat, or have one side that won’t ripen; think of the bushels of tomatoes at the Farmers Markets that are there for canning too, how perfect they’d be to make this extraordinary condiment. It goes so well on burgers, sausages, hot dogs, veggie patties, on top of grilled vegetables or spread on bread for your sandwich. You might think you need to hide it in the fridge so your spouse won’t eat the last of it. (ahem…. not that I did that or anything…. just sayin’) It’s a quintessential summer treat, making your cook-out more refined and grown up. Save the syrupy sweet ketchup for the kids in your life. This tomato jam?? It’s ketchup with a Ph.D. And that’s for us.

Tomato Jam

1-1/2 lbs of fresh tomatoes, peeled
1/2 a small onion, diced
3/4 c. sugar
2 T. lemon juice
1 T. kosher salt
2 T. chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of saffron threads
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Fresh ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the jam has thickened, about an hour or more. Stir often while it simmers.

From Herbivoracious.

This cooks for a looooooonnnggg time. A very long time. The first batch I made took well over an hour to cook down, and the second round I made was a double recipe and that one cooked for over two hours. Most of that time is pretty hands off though; you stir every once in a while but you are not tied to the stove by any means.

I’m not a huge fan of rosemary. WHAT?? I know. But I’m not. So I subbed in lemon thyme, oregano and parsley and who would even know that this wasn’t exactly how it should be made?? It’s glorious this way. Experiment with your own fanciful herb combinations. For both batches I reduced the sugar, adding only 1/3 of a cup for a single batch, 1/2 cup for the double batch. I also added lemon zest to the mix because when you’ve got lemon juice, you need lemon zest, as far as I’m concerned. But that’s just me. The book says to use up the jam in three days, and although I’m certain I could have done that if I tried, it lasted for more than a week in my fridge just fine.

I’m debating an attempt to water bath process some of this so I can have it all winter long. It’s probably going to happen. Probably.

instagram & photo friday

July 14th, 2012 | Comments Off on instagram & photo friday

Happy Friday errrr…. Saturday everyone!

(What?? You’ve never written a post that you forgot to publish??)

Moving on…….

This week’s weather was perfect for some outdoor activity. I spent a glorious afternoon with a dear friend and her two daughters, taking in fresh air, sunshine, water, ducks, laughter and baby toes, catching up after much too much time apart.

 Clara and I took a walk through the gardens near Lake Harriet, a scene from decades back in my memory, fountains worn smooth from hands and time, and abundant flowers basking in the hot sun of July.

Of course, there was a lot of time in the kitchen. This season of fresh plenitude makes it so easy to eat such glorious meals.

Finally, some sleepytime images. Of course.

What else? As always……..

Walk away from your recipes and really learn how to cook.

And while you’re at it, get out of ‘The Busy Trap’. Take a vacation, would you?

It’s the season for fresh cherries. Have you read The Cherry Manifesto?

Going a little cuckoo for anything that doesn’t require heat. Like this.

And this.

And even this.

Your guide to eating fresh every single day of the month.

Or just a whole lot of inspiration for that summer glory

Eggless Egg Salad. Quite the oxymoron.

Baked Sriracha Potato Chips. Just. Kill me. Now.

Everyone loves quick. Especially pickles.

Have a wonderful weekend!!

the cherry manifesto

July 11th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

I went a bit crazy over cherries recently. After discovering them at a local market for $2.98 a pound one week, I splurged and bought nearly 18 pounds worth of them. Then barely two weeks after that, the same market had them for $1.97 a pound and I bought about 8 more pounds.

I know. Whoa, girl. And it begs the question….. just what did I DO with all those cherries??? Besides gleefully stuff them in my mouth. Which I did a lot of, mind you. They are so crisp and perfect and juicy. I could hardly help myself and I’m pretty sure my veins ran thick with deep, dark cherry juice for a few days. I know our kitchen looked like a battle zone following some of our marathon pitting sessions. Griffin was really helpful in that regard, gleefully pitting fruit shirtless so he could comment on how he looked like a mass murderer. Ha. Kids.

For the past several years, we’ve managed to just about eat our weight in cherries when they come in season; it’s one of our all-time favorite fruits and each year as we slurp through a sack of them, our fingers turning purple in our consumption, we’ve always talked about trying to dry them for future use. We have a huge Harvest Maid dehydrator, and dried cherries are one of Mike’s favorite items to put in his daily yogurt, but at almost $10 a pound for them, we don’t keep them on hand much at all. So faced with this year’s bounty, the first goal was to dehydrate as much as possible. Thankfully, a trio of helpful hands made the job of pitting and slicing them a bit easier, and our first batch came through successfully. So successful that I turned around and dried a whole dehydrator full of them again. We were left with about 3 quarts of dried fruit, and Mike’s eyes shone with anticipation.

The process to dry them takes up to 12 hours; we pitted the fruit and sliced them in half, then started the dehydrator at 145° for two hours right around dinnertime. At that point, we turned it down to 125°, placed it in our mudroom (that thing is loud, y’all) and forgot about it until the next morning.

For more inspiration, I scoured the internets, implored friends and sought out anything cherry related for several days. My eyes popped in excitement upon finding a Chocolate Cherries recipe, soaking ripe cherries in chocolate simple syrup and a few quarts of those went in the fridge.

Here’s the link to that procedure; it ridiculously simpleDark Chocolate Cherries. The worst part of doing these was to keep them in the fridge for two weeks. I’m sure I could have consumed them earlier, but part of me loved the idea of anticipating such a treat. And what a treat they were; lush and plump with a rich taste of chocolate amidst the sweet fruit. Dropping them over a bowl of vanilla bean ice cream, drizzled with the chocolate-y liquid was a sensory adventure of taste and delight.

I roasted a batch of fruit too, sprinkled with dark brown muscavado sugar and drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar. Sprinkled with chopped mint, they were mind-blowing; warm and soft, sweet and slightly tangy all at once. They will make a wonderful addition to yogurt, or on top of ice cream, or better yet, turned in to my favorite brownies for a sweet treat. Another wonderful treat for these roasted beauties was to spread some ricotta cheese on good sourdough bread and top it with the fruit. Make it even better by gently broiling the ricotta first.

Here’s my method for roasting the fruit:

Roasted Cherries

Pit and de-stem one sack of fresh cherries, removing any that are bruised or moldy. Heat oven to 450°. Place cherries on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar of choice- it can be brown sugar, cane sugar or any type of specialty sugar. Use about 2-3 tablespoons and just dust the tops of the cherries. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the cherries swell and release some of their juices. Mix about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar in with a cup of water. Drizzle over cherries, shake to distribute and place back in oven for a few more minutes, allowing the juices to bubble and thicken slightly. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool. Sprinkle with finely chopped mint and place in a jar with a few mint sprigs overnight. Remove mint the following day.

For another batch of fruit I made a Cherry Ginger Butter from my friend Amanda. It comprised my very first water-bath canning experiment and went off without a hitch. I was impatient though, and didn’t allow the fruit to completely cook down so the end result was more of a fruit sauce but it’s still an incredible flavor. And it gave me the canning bug so hopefully I can do some more with that as the bountiful summer season winds down.

And you know what?? Another local market is having a Cherry Blow-Out starting on Thursday!! Cherries at $2.99/lb AGAIN. Yikes!! Good thing there are other inspirational ideas that I found:

Cherry Balsamic Vinegar

Martha Washington’s Preserved Cherries

Cherry Cornmeal Cake

Cherry Crumble





millet & chickpea salad

July 8th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

Summer kind of smacked us around this past week in Minnesota. We’re a state that lives for Summer, for beach time and hours spent outdoors engaging in just about any activity that means we escape our houses and enjoy the weather, but then there are those Summer days that are so hot, so thickly humid and uncomfortable that we have no choice but to stay home, avoid the triple digits outdoors and attempt to entertain ourselves while the sun tries to burn holes in our roof.

I’ve experienced some hot Summers in my lifetime; 1988 was a blistering hot Summer that saw temperature records fall by the score, knocking out ones that had stood the test of time since the 1930’s. I was living in a third floor walk-up apartment with no A/C and I’ve never been so miserable in my life. One evening in July, as I sat out on the stoop with other exhausted and over-heated residents of our building, the night air at 10:30 was still hovering around 105°. Trying to sleep was impossible. At 3:30 that morning, I finally gave up and turned on the radio, only to hear that the current temperature was 88°. During that particular Summer, we saw a stretch of weather where the temperature did not fall below 85° for more than a week. At that point in time, central air-conditioning was still a novelty.

I don’t recall much about what I ate during that sweltering Summer, and having this cool, crunchy and fresh salad around might have made those awful days a bit more tolerable, but at that point in my life, my culinary exploits were just about non-existent. Thankfully, for our current heat wave, and after a quick and sweaty trip through the Farmers Market, we were stocked to the hilt with fresh greens and lettuces and crisp vegetables, making this dish a mainstay of those sticky days blessedly spent inside our comfortable, fully air-conditioned house.

Not familiar with millet? Most of us in the USA see it only in birdseed, and that’s a sad fate for us humans, but terrific for the birds. Millet is widely cultivated  in the form of pearl millet in India and parts of Africa, and is popular there due to it’s high productivity and and short growing season. In the USA, the most widely cultivated form of millet is proso millet, grown and used as birdseed. Millet is an ancient grain, known for being the least allergenic and most digestible of the gluten-free ancient grains that are becoming more popular. Millet is high in fiber and all the B vitamins, iron, calcium and zinc. It cooks in less time than quinoa and has a pleasantly sweet and nutty flavor.

This salad, born of desperation and some choice nightmares over stressful memories of past sticky summers, made our stretch of housebound days feel a bit easier. Even in the cool comfort of home, with the heat and humidity kept at bay by closed shades, eating becomes almost an afterthought. There’s no comfort in foods that are heavy or rich; no desire for flame or heat, and when the mood strikes to eat something, it’s good to just reach in the refrigerator and pull out a bowl of summertime goodness. The crunch and snap of fresh vegetables, the headiness of herbs cut straight from the garden outside your door and a blind eye turned from the weather forecast was welcome relief as the calendar page turned to July.

This salad is endlessly versatile, and if Millet isn’t available, you can use just about any small grain you wish. With the wide variety of fresh vegetables in season, as well as delicious greens, putting your own personal thumbprint on this salad is a cinch. I loved the addition of the radish greens to the salad, offering their unique peppery bite, but if you use them, seek out organic radishes to insure that the greens aren’t laden with pesticide residue. And as always, with time in the refrigerator, this salad takes on a lot more flavor.

Now we’re all set for the next heat wave. Let’s just hope it’s not too soon.

Millet & Chickpea Salad

1/2 c. raw millet
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (remove the seeds if desired)
1 small bunch radishes and their greens, washed and sliced
1 c. fresh chopped herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme and parsley
1/4 c. good quality olive oil
2 T. white or red wine vinegar
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, bring 1-1/2 cups of water to a boil. Rinse millet in a wire mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Add millet to boiling water with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Test the grains. They should still be firm, with a bit of softness, like rice. All the water might not be absorbed either. If tender, remove from heat and drain remaining water. Spread cooked millet on a parchment lined baking sheet to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the cooled millet, chickpeas, cucumber, and radish, greens included. Whisk the oil and vinegar together in a small measuring cup, season with salt and pepper. Pour over vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if you wish. Add half the herbs, toss together. Chill for about an hour. Taste before serving, adding more seasoning and herbs to boost flavor.

cauliflower two ways

July 5th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Cauliflower is so endlessly versatile, and to think up until a few years ago, I’d only eaten it raw or boiled. Boiled? Ugh. Steamed is a much better, albeit bland, option, but if you allow it to go too far in the steamer, it’s lack of inspiration becomes legendary. The epiphany, thankfully,  was the pan of deeply roasted cauliflower that changed my mind about the stark white florets forever. I’ve tried it mashed like potatoes, and also pureed smooth with parmesan for a creamless alfredo sauce. But time and again, I placed a pan loaded with it in to a hot oven and devoured the results.

That was about it for that vegetable, and I was fine with it. I could eat cauliflower year-round, and I do, but now with a few new methods in my arsenal, I can enjoy this vegetable a whole lot more.

I came across this fried ‘rice’ recipe for Cauliflower on Shanna’s blog and knew that I had to get that going in my own kitchen. While I do love fried rice to the depths of my heart, it’s best when you have cold, cooked rice on hand and that’s not just something that materializes in this kitchen every day. But a head of cauliflower, ground in a few pulses in your food processor and mixed with the same type of seasonings in a hot wok can be a dynamite substitute, with a lot less calories and carbs.

And simple doesn’t even do this justice. It’s ridiculous how easy and quick this is. I spent more time prying the leaves from the core of cauliflower than any other aspect of putting this together, including chopping an onion. Given that you’re basically pulverizing the vegetable, you can use the core of it as well and no one would ever know the difference. In less than 10 minutes after heating up my wok, we sat down to steaming bowls of this fragrant meal.

Shanna has two options for this recipe on her blog, which is a wealth of beautiful writing (with a love story that’s almost as good as ours…..) and this base of ground cauliflower could really withstand just about any treatment to create your own version. I made a rich curry flavored dish, enhanced with ground pistachios for flavor and as I tossed and cooked it, inhaling the fragrance from the wok, I started thinking of all sorts of vegetables I could add to this to make it better and deeper in flavor, and in a second round of this simple meal, I added in some leftover vegetables from a coconut curry stir fry that Griffin had made, as well as a few handfuls of cold rice and the results were equally spectacular. This will be a new favorite in our house, you can bet on that.

Another mind-blowing option for Cauliflower that I’d been thinking about lately is to prepare it on the grill. I’ve seen methods of doing this by slicing through the head, creating a ‘steak’ and laying that on the grill. In my attempt to cut my Cauliflower though, my ‘steaks’ broke apart, leaving me with no other choice but to toss them on my grill plate to cook. Probably one of my best purchases for outdoor cooking, my cast iron grill plate lays directly on top of the grate and is perfect for cooking all manner of small foods; I can grill peppers and onions for fajitas, asparagus without losing any stalks, mushrooms, small fruit and a wide range of other foods, and it was perfect to create this smoky, sensational grilled cauliflower. I could barely contain myself from eating the entire bowl of it.

My most favorite marinade to use on grilled vegetables is a spicy mustard vinaigrette, brushed or tossed with the vegetable prior to being placed on the grate. It imparts terrific flavor, with just a bit of punch from the mustard. I’ve found that it works well on almost every vegetable I’ve ever grilled. Which, admittedly, has been A LOT. I love to grill just about anything.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

1 small head cauliflower, leaves removed and broken in to large chunks
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. fresh ginger, minced
1 t. crushed red pepper flakes
Coconut oil for cooking
Soy sauce and sesame oil to finish

Place the cauliflower in the work bowl of your food processor and pulse to break it down. You want small pieces but not too deeply ground up. It happens fast too, and I need about 3-4 good pulses before it’s perfect.

Heat  a small amount of coconut oil in your wok, or other large deep skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring continually, until it’s softened, maybe 5 minutes tops. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for several more minutes. Add the cauliflower and stir to mix everything up. At this point, once the cauliflower is warmed, you can be done. I cooked it through a bit so it wasn’t completely crunchy, retaining just enough bite to be toothsome. It’s entirely up to you.

Drizzle the cauliflower with a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil, if desired, before serving.


RECIPE NOTES: This can be treated like any fried rice recipe, using vegetables to bulk up the finished product. The variations you can make are positively endless.