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instagram friday

August 31st, 2012 | 1 Comment »

This past week was a bit sluggish, what with a few days of feeling a noticeable lack of energy, complete with some swollen glands and a sense of general malaise. I took a day off work, I sat on the couch a lot, drinking iced tea and a lot of water and I read a lot of material that had accumulated around me, unopened and ignored.

But still, life happened around me. I did get to the Minnesota State Fair on a gorgeous day to spend time with good friends, enjoying good craft beer, some delicious food and a riotously funny 1980′s cover band that had me falling down laughing while I danced and sang myself into a state of exhaustion.

My friend Matt, who writes the lovely blog Thyme in our Kitchen entered a gorgeous cake in the Fair and won Third Prize. A visit to see this in person was warranted. Aren’t those chocolate ribbons beautiful?!

 My friend Stacey and I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Marjorie Johnson right outside this display case that held Matt’s cake. Marjorie holds the honor of winning the most blue ribbons for baking in the State Fair’s history, and we struck up a conversation with her, telling her about Matt’s cake. It was in her well-honed opinion that he should have won a Blue Ribbon because, in her words:

“Well, just LOOK at that cake! How lovely is that? Compared to those plain ones next to it, he should have won first prize.” 

So there you have it. Stacey and I were tickled to have talked with such an icon.

The Seed Art at the Fair always astonishes me.

Yet, we were left a little perplexed about this outfit though.

Those seed pods are the heads of Purple Coneflower plants. It raised more than our eyebrows among spectators.

Moving along…….

There was a particularly bountiful trip to the Farmers Market, where I scored Sweet Potato Fingerlings. This visit cost me $23.


Ever eaten toasted flatbread spread with Brie and topped with chopped red grapes??  I highly recommend it.

I learned that I should never go outside to enjoy a summer night on the patio at snack time.

Unusual Sleeping Position #7,120

The deliciousness…….

Amanda’s Zesty Black Bean and Sweet Corn Slaw (oh yes….. yes indeed!!)

Tofu for Tofu Haters.  AKA: Get. On. Board.

Grain salads make my heart go all a-flutter

Need anymore Kale inspiration???

Have I mentioned this Maple Scented Cornbread?? I need some good maple syrup. Stat.

My kind of breakfast. Or lunch. Or…. you know, dinner.

Isn’t this just GORGEOUS!!?? {{not to mention delicious looking…..}}

I simply MUST make this before fresh corn season is over. Just…. WOW

With that, have a wonderful weekend. See you in September.

inspiration for the bounty

August 29th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

In case you’ve been living underground, or in a state of firm denial, September begins on Saturday.

And to that I say “WHAAAAAAT??”

Summer just seems to whiz by us in a blur. There at the start it seems like it could be endless, days and days of nothing ahead of us and hours of daylight that stretch long in to the night. All of a sudden we turn the page to August, the air changes a bit and the light leaves earlier and the slide to Fall comes fast and quick. The ‘back to school’ photos are showing up everywhere this week, and next Tuesday, after Labor Day there will be tons more. For the first time in 13 years, I won’t have a child in school. It’s both bittersweet and wonderful. There’s a lot of change happening in our household as my boy finds his way in this world.

There is one constant with us now, as the tables turn from Summer to Fall and schedules become more prevalent, and that’s the staggering, loaded tables of the Farmers Market in it’s most bountiful season. Even though I know this to be true, it still boggles the mind when I gaze around me at the wonders that came from the soil, the simple act of placing seed in dirt, with faith, water and sunshine, and a plant that we can consume grows before our eyes. Water washes the dirt away and we take knife to vegetable flesh, some raw, some cooked and all delicious and perfect. I love when people share photos of their CSA bounty, the excitement clear in their words. What a blessing we have in the bounty of such a plentiful season.

But the question remains; how much eggplant and zucchini and tomato and corn and EVERYTHING can we consume, in all honesty? What’s next for the buckets of peppers? The endless greens? Oceans of onions? If you time your visit to the Farmers Market just right, the vendors tend to give away and handful of extras when you buy something, just to move it along. I’ve often staggered home under the weight of such visits, dumping out my bags on to the kitchen island to survey and ogle and dream and scheme. And I’m happy to share my findings.

Ratatouille Gratin

 The bread base alone in this dish is incredible, but the meltingly good, thinly sliced veggies on top of it become so soft and tender from the oven that your fork slips through it without a second thought. Get out the good olive oil, round up your fresh herbs; this dish should be in your meal plan now.

Roasted Ratatouille with Crispy Chives

There is surely no shortage of recipes for Ratatouille, and countless ways to pull together this classic and rustic dish. This roasting method was a favorite way to use up zucchini and eggplant last year, bringing out the sweet flavors and the topping of crisp chives added such a perfect extra touch.

Toasted Farro with Greens and Tahini

 Simple and quick, although not the prettiest, any hearty green can be used, along with any grain. The versatility of this dish is one of it’s best appeals. Plus side? It’s good, fast and hearty without being heavy.

Herbed Sweet Corn & Tomato Salad

As fresh as you can get, and beautiful to behold, this salad spotlights all the gorgeous tomato varieties available, resplendent with fresh herbs and crunchy sweet corn. It’s perfect for any remaining hot Summer days.

Herb Flatbread with Pesto & Caramelized Onions 


A bit futzy, as you make both a pesto and this delicate herbed flatbread, PLUS caramelizing a pan of onions, but put them all together and it packs amazing flavor. Use a good cheese and say Hello to an elegantly done meal or appetizer.

Tomato & Mushroom Pizza

 This was, hands down, one of the best pizzas I’ve ever made at home. I could not get enough of it and ate far more than would be considered reasonable, but that’s how good it was. And once again, it requires a few steps ahead of putting together the final result, but every moment spent creating this pizza is well worth it.

There are SO many more recipes and simple dishes to put together that I could share with you but I think I will save those for another post in order to not overwhelm you. This bountiful season will continue, and of one thing I’m certain, we’ll all need lots more inspiration before the end is in sight.

instagram friday

August 24th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted an Instagram Friday. How’s everyone been? Enjoying your summer? August has been spectacular for us- just glorious weather and perfect Summer days. What a nice treat from the heat and humidity of July.

The best part about the past few weeks is that an amazing transformation took place in our yard.

It started out looking like this……

And while I loved the flagstones, there was gravel in between them that I did not like. And the weeds? Ugh. So we had a plan…..

And within just a few days, it came in to being.

The path extends around the garage to the front of the house, connecting to the driveway, and providing a place for our trash cans on the side of the garage. The best part is that it’s completely sealed, so NO weeds. I’m so enamored with it. There’s LOTS more landscaping that’s going to get done, as we tore out everything in our yard but four mature trees, so once it’s all planted, I’ll share the before and after photos of everything. It’s going to look very, very nice when it’s all done.

So… what else??

There was the Relay Triathlon that our family participated in on the 19th. Extended family- aunts, uncles, cousins- made up seven relay teams for this triathlon- a 1/4 mile swim, 17.2 mile bike ride and a 5K run- I did the biking leg, as did Mike, and Griffin was a swimmer. It was a hugely successful and ridiculously fun day for everyone involved.

There was food….. obviously.

(that’s Baked Pizza Gnocchi with Greens)

We attended a gorgeous outdoor wedding and I just loved Mellissa’s bridal bouquet. It was so creative!

We celebrated our 10th anniversary.

And naturally…….

Everything delicious and important to report……

 Coffee in a pan???

Some good writing rules even I can get behind

Corn Salad with Grilled Tofu- perfect for the last of the season

Salad spread for sandwiches without the mayo

Spinach and Corn Enchiladas- no red sauce needed

All you’ll ever need for Fall Harvest—–> 40 Autumn Vegetable Recipes

Don’t ever let me hear you say “That’s impossible!!”

HAVE A TERRIFIC WEEKEND EVERYONE!!

ten years

August 16th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

“Chains do not hold a marriage together.  It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads
which sew people together through the years.”  

~Simone Signoret

 

 

“You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.”
~Sam Keen

 

I married at 38, and by that time in my life, I never expected to either be married, stay married or be happily married.

But God had other plans for me, as well it should be.

“Lovers do not finally meet somewhere. They are in each other all along.”
~Rumi 

I won’t say that the past 10 years have been easy; in fact, it’s probably been the hardest 10 years of my life. Marriage forges you, like new steel, and that’s pretty painful at times. It hones and sharpens you, stripping away everything that you once were and shaping you into part of the ‘We’. It rids you of ego and self, forcing you into compliance for the sake of your relationship; fight against that and no one wins. Nothing has made me fight harder for what I need than these last 10 years, and nothing has turned me into a fighter more, someone willing to do what ever is necessary to uphold this sanctity I’ve been given. These years have stripped away parts of an old me in huge chunks, re-knitting a fabric of a million shared threads, with him, that I would step in front of a train to defend.

And if I thought I loved him when we married, it pales in comparison to how much I love him now. It goes deeper, wider and stronger than I could have ever imagined. This man has been, hands down, the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And next to my mother, he’s been the only one that’s loved me unconditionally, supporting me regardless of my choices or direction, who has given me the freedom to be me, and be the best me that I am capable of. He encourages me to pursue my dreams, to take time alone, to leave the house and see my friends, to take care of who I am and what I need because he knows that when I do, I have far more to offer him. And we both benefit from that.

“I love you, for putting your hand into my heart and passing over all the foolish, weak things that you cannot help dimly seeing there, and for drawing out into the light
all the beautiful belongings that no one else had looked quite so far enough to find.” 

~Roy Croft

I’m certain of one thing today, and that is that on a cool Summer day, August 17th, 2002, I made the right decision in spite of the unknown, that in sticking to the vow I took, in facing the hard parts head on, and in rejoicing in even the most minor of victories together that we’ve cemented our union with an impenetrable bond. After 10 years, we still laugh at each others jokes, we love spending time together and we still kiss like newlyweds.

And I also know that what I hoped for on that day, that this love would be redemptive, consoling, life-giving and glorious, and in those gifts I’ve learned that there are a few things that we can dream about and expect; and without a doubt, that they’ll come true.

“be fearless…. and above all, have fun!”

August 15th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Happy birthday Julia Child!!

The culinary icon and towering personality would have been 100 years old today. And if she was alive, she no doubt would stick to her mantra in the kitchen, regardless of whom she was talking to:

And the thing is, this being fearless aspect of cooking, this devil-may-care mindset and learning from every mistake I make is how I approach each day in my kitchen. I’m not perfect by any means; I make a ton of mistakes still, even with the advanced skills I have. I still am full of anxiety when I try something new, but I keep trying, I keep figuring it out as I go and I keep entering that kitchen, day after day with fresh eyes and an eagerness that propels me forward. I’ll never tire of trying.

Never in the history of our culture has there been a time that is so saturated with every aspect of food. Our culture is obsessed with it’s food, some in a good, good way and others, not so much. There is more awareness now about food, from the way it’s grown and raised to the means of acquisition to the method it’s prepared; it’s on the minds and tongues of everyone and never before has there been such a desire for making and sharing good food.

Julia Child was one of the pioneer who started Americans out on this food adventure. The warbling, funny and iconic host of PBS’ The French Chef gave us permission to explore and expand our palates, to try out new foods and recipes. Her seminal work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking was first published in 1961 to critical acclaim, and is still in print today. She was a prolific cookbook author, as well as host of several other television shows. Her entire kitchen is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Julia paved the way for so many other chefs through her inspiration, her urging people to just get in the kitchen and start somewhere, anywhere. Nobody could have imagined in the 1970′s, an era of bland, boring and uninspired eating that if we could consider ourselves fast-forward three decades that we’d be deeply embedded in a cultural revolution that embraces fresh, seasonal and sustainably sourced food. Julia herself likely could never have anticipated that, but here we are, and there she was, unknowingly a forerunner in a movement that’s spanned decades and shows no sign of slowing down.

So let’s pour an Angosoda, Julia’s favorite drink.

A shot of Perrier sparkling water and a few dashes of Angostura Bitters make up Julia’s favorite pick-me-up; Angosoda. The spritely bubbles give a sense of celebration. And the Bitters are well known for helping soothe a full belly.

And how about cake?? There can’t be a celebration without cake, can there?

This Honey Spice Cake, or Pain d’Épices is a lovely cross between cake and bread. Rich and moist from the honey, lush with spice and flavor, it’s perfect for a celebration with decadent whipped cream or rich gelato, wonderful with a cup of coffee in the morning or tea in the afternoon. And it ages beautifully, wrapped in plastic and forgotten in the freezer for a month, or even left on the countertop for a few days if you can muster up the courage to leave it alone. I can’t. We can’t. Quick breads such as this are my most favorite item to bake. This dense cake was fragrant and dark, bidding me ‘Good morning!!’ when I rose the day after baking it. A thick slice, a steaming rich cup of coffee and a rainy morning were a fine trifecta of celebration for a most beloved woman.

Thanks Julia, for paving our path on this delicious road, for urging us to be fearless, for teaching us to laugh off our mistakes, for continually inspiring us to try something new. For everything you’ve done, and continue to do with your lilting spirit, we raise a glass on your birthday in thanks and celebration.

BON APPETIT!!!

Honey Spice Cake (Pain d’Épices)

  • 1¼ cups honey
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 3½ cups whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
  • ¾ cup almonds, ground fine
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • ¼ cup dark rum
  • ½ tsp each: ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground white pepper
  • 2 tsp grated fresh orange or lemon peel
  • ½ cup each: dried apricots, chopped and golden raisins

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Generously butter bottom and sides of the springform or loaf pan. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the honey, sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved. Then beat in the baking soda and salt. Add half the flour and beat about a minute.
  4. Gradually add the remaining flour and continue to beat 2 minutes more on medium speed. The batter should be stiff and sticky.
  5. Reduce the speed on the mixer to slow and add the remaining ingredients. Mix until everything is well incorporated. Scrape the batter into the pan; smooth the top with a damp or spatula.
  6. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour. The cake is done when it begins to pull away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted in center emerges clean.
  7. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 15 minutes. If using a springform, release the pan sides; otherwise unmold the cake and place on a rack, top-side up. Cool for about 2 hours or until completely cool, then wrap well in plastic.

Julia recommends waiting at least a day or more before serving. For the best flavor and texture, age the cake for 2 weeks in the refrigerator or 1 month in the freezer.

 

 

DISCLAIMER:
I was provided the Perrier and Angostura Bitters for free in exchange for exposure on the blog.
All opinions and words are my own. 

refrigerator pickles for a memory

August 10th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Something glorious happened in Minnesota in the last week; that stifling, oppressive heat and humidity finally was swept away and in it’s place is cool, breezy sunshine, temperate nights and audible sighs of relief. A pair of jeans even made an appearance lately.

Now I do realize that August can still be hot and sticky, but I am really crossing my fingers that the worst of it is over. I enjoy my outdoor time, my biking and fresh air and I would really love to get back in to this without taking a bath in my own sweat.

And it is that time of year too, for pickling, for canning, for preserving. I haven’t leapt headfirst in to the preserving craze that a  lot of home cooks are on these days, but this year, faced with an abundance of cucumbers from our garden at the lake, I did tackle making refrigerator pickles and I’m so glad that I did. These pickles pack a punch of memory that I love with each crunchy, sweet-sour bite.

When I was very little and before my parents split, we spent a few summers enjoying a vacation at a resort near Detroit Lakes. It was a perfectly idyllic week for both parents and children, as this resort had all sorts of activities planned out, guaranteed to keep kids happy and occupied, while parents had their own time to sit and relax. Every morning, the staff would gather the kids right after breakfast, and some days, keep us busy until we arrived, breathless, grimy and sunburned back at the dining hall for dinner. Three squares a day were served, and at dinnertime, a relish plate was on every table that held carrot and celery sticks and tiny, sweet-sour pickles that I loved. The vegetables, inevitably, would absorb some of the pickle brine, so everything sort of tasted the same, but I loved nibbling off that plate and had no idea how much I missed that flavor until last Fall when my sister-in-law brought a jar of refrigerator pickles to a family gathering and I lifted one to my mouth for that first, long forgotten crunch.

It was like rapidly falling backwards in time to being 5 years old, reaching across the huge rectangle table in that massive dining hall, with floor to ceiling windows open to the summer breeze and surrounded by the last memories of my family completely intact. That sweet, salt, celery and mustard seed flavor had eluded me for a lifetime and I didn’t even know it until I tasted those pickles. I was flooded with memories, scents and nostalgia. I could smell the lake, our cabin, the cotton sheets we slept on, suntan lotion, the hot dry grass underfoot. I could see that resort in it’s entirety. I could recall the fun and laughter and the sheer exhaustion of falling asleep after a long, busy and exciting day. It was the last memories of perfection in life, before fracture, before pain and shouting and the upheaval of divorce. It was the end of one life and the beginning of another. But now, where life is happy and easy, where the love abounds, the flavor comes full circle. And I’ve made six quarts of these lovely little pickles, and we’re all enjoying them greatly.

There’s very little work involved in making these pickles, outside of stuffing the jars with cucumber slices. Our garden cucumbers from the lake were quite round and large by the time I got hold of them; with smaller cukes, the stuffing becomes much easier. Add in slices of onion and peppers, crushed cloves of garlic, slices of jalapeño for kick. I made my quarts with garlic and love the flavor. One 12-hour period in the refrigerator and you’re done.

 

Refrigerator Pickles

For the Brine:
1 c. white vinegar
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 T. kosher salt
1 t. celery seed
1 t. mustard seed

In a non-reactive pot, bring ingredients for brine to a boil, stirring well to help dissolve the sugar and salt. Place sliced cucumbers and any extra flavor additions in quart jar. Pour brine over, screw down the top and shake gently to distribute. Allow to cool slightly, then place in refrigerator for a minimum of 12 hours. Make sure you’re putting the jars in the refrigerator while they are still fairly warm. You should be able to hold them, but still feel the heat.

Give the jars a good shake the next day to redistribute the brine and slices. This recipe should make enough brine for 1-2 quarts.

 

RECIPE NOTES: I doubled this recipe for my first batch, which made three quarts, easily. The next batch, in which I had 12 huge cucumbers to use, I packed 4 quart jars, made a 5X batch and ended up with quite a bit of brine left.

Be sure you are really packing the jars well. These will shrink considerably while pickling.

For both batches I made, I used a small amount of brown sugar in place of the white. It gives the pickles a bit more deep flavor. It’s not necessary at all, just an option.

 

{instagram} friday

August 3rd, 2012 | Comments Off

It’s a Friday {{again}} and I have a weekend off {{AGAIN!!}} and tomorrow my boy leaves for his second Missions trip to Mexico, after which Mike and I embark on a week of no kid obligations. Suffice to say, we’re looking forward to it a lot.

Our week started out on a sad note when our Audi blew a water pump at the start of a road trip to Brainerd for some much anticipated R&R.

Thankfully we weren’t far from home at all and quickly re-grouped, plotting out Plan B and taking off in the warm sunshine. We spent the day driving beautiful country roads South of the Twin Cities, enjoying the views of thousands of acres of farmland and lovely river towns. I found glorious treasures in dusty old antique stores.

Glorious morning images……

Is there anything better than waking to the sound of rain??

We celebrated a huge rite of passage for Griffin this week when he got his Drivers License. He was just a little bored here, waiting for the instructor.

There were some fancy cars spotted too.

A daily photo challenge began with White Peach Photo!

Cats. Of course.

Sweet breaths of fresh air.

My weekly inspiration……

Daily August vegetable love

Reinventing the wheel

Corn love; perfect for right now

And more corn love, with greens. So perfect.

I hope you all have a marvelous weekend!

sweet corn & goat cheese spread

August 1st, 2012 | 4 Comments »

It isn’t much, I admit. This spread, or dip or whatever you wish to call it was a lightning bolt of inspiration one night when I was craving something different to put on our favorite grilled dinner item- a loaf of pillowy ciabatta bread stuffed with an assortment of grilled vegetables.

Sweet corn is in that stage of ripeness and availability right now that finds it everywhere you turn, and we’re consuming it several times a week, as well it should be. We’re so blessed in Minnesota to have an abundant crop of the good stuff, ready on road side stands, in the Farmers Market and a few select amazing Minnesota grown varieties in the local grocers as well. Sweet corn that bursts when you bite it, needing little besides a drizzle of butter and salt to make it wonderful. Have you tried mashed avocado on sweet corn? You must. It’s simply divine. And this creamy, slightly tart-sweet spread also lends itself highly to corn, hot from the grill or bubbling stock pot of water.

Beyond the goat cheese and sweet corn kernels, stripped from the cob, you could do any additions to this, with endless possibility. Fresh herbs are a must; I used lemon thyme, oregano and parsley (my basil is overgrown and bitter from the heat- big sad eyes here) but if you have good basil, by all means, use it in this spread. Add a pinch of sugar to balance the tart; combine some Southwestern flavors like cumin, lime juice and zest and chili powder for a big ol’ kick. Add curry powder and lime juice  for an altogether different interpretation. Since the sweet corn supply is endless, your variations on this could be as well.

Sweet Corn & Goat Cheese Spread with Fresh Herbs

1 ear sweet corn, cooked and kernels stripped
2 oz soft plain goat cheese
1 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 t. fresh lemon zest
3 T. mixed fresh herbs
Pinch of brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor and process until fully combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if it’s too sweet, or a bit more sugar if too tart.

Just a note on this: I have a tiny little food processor, like a quart sized one and it was perfect for making this spread. In a larger bowl type of processor, you may not have a confined enough space to get it to mix properly. Try it in a regular blender, or in a deep pyrex measuring cup with an immersion blender if you have either of those options. This made about a cup’s worth of spread, but if you want to make more, increase the ingredients accordingly.