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instagram & photo friday

July 14th, 2012 | Comments Off

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!!

vegetables outside the box

October 17th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

I spent a significant amount of time this past summer wandering up and down the aisles of our local farmers markets, as many, many people do. But I don’t venture in to the larger markets in Minneapolis or St Paul, instead preferring to go to the small satellite ones in the suburbs. I can always find what I needed, and as was the case this past year, I found a whole lot more than I ever anticipated.

Each summer for the last 5 years it seems some type of theme arises from a particular food I discover and experiment with; it might be a food type, such as the summer of 2007 when I learned a great deal about cooking with whole grains like quinoa, millet, bulgur and a multitude of colorful rice varieties. Or it might be a particular food, like in 2008 when I took the humble burger in different directions, and 2009 found me falling in love with beets and getting my fill of learning about those. In 2010, what I experimented with was a killer job. Cooking went by the wayside last year, but this summer, with a better schedule and actual time off during the week, trips to the Farmers Market were a must, and in those weekly visits, I came across a multitude of vegetables that I’d never tried or even considered prior to this past June.

And what was different about this year was the increase in the need for vegetable based meals, since we walked away from meat consumption in May and never looked back. So stretching the imagination and reaching for foods that were unfamiliar was going to have to stick. I needed to expand my palate, and this was the perfect spot to do so.

If I could pinpoint one item that I really learned a great deal about this year it would be Greens. Kale and chard crossed our plates and made appearances in our kitchen nearly every week. Enormous bunches of chard could be purchased from the market for a dollar a piece and easily could feed us for 2 meals or more, depending on what I did with it. I discovered the joys of making Chard Chips, and fell in love with a simple chard side dish, sauteed with a few cloves of garlic and simmered gently to bring out it’s deeply rich and slightly sweet flavor. I love Rainbow Chard for it’s colorful stems.

Then, in one visit to the market in Maplewood, I came across a giant bunch of greens on a farmers table and asked curiously “What is this?”

“That’s Sweet Potato Leaves.” She said, smiling widely. “They’re like spinach, only a little sweeter.”

Here was yet another enormous bunch of greens, and for a dollar as well. What did I have to lose? I handed over a buck and placed the bunch in my sack and as I turned away, the farmer said with a smile “Those are going to become your favorite green!!” To which I simply smiled and said ‘Thank you!’

She was 100% correct. I stripped the leaves that evening and sauteed them for dinner and with the first bite, I was raving over how tender and amazing they tasted and couldn’t wait to return the following week for more. Also known as Kamote, or Camote leaves, and as other dark leafy greens they are loaded with vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium and calcium, making them a good choice for healthy eating. Each week I could, I returned to that market, and that farmer and scooped up large bunches of Sweet Potato leaves. While many cultures also eat the stems, I consumed only the leaves, tossing the stems in the garden to compost. Imagine my surprise when I noticed after a few weeks that those stems had taken root and were growing new leaves. I managed to get a small crop of my own Sweet Potato leaves from my garden before the first frost in September. Now that’s a nice bonus.

I’ve been on the fence with Eggplant for a while now, fighting back and forth with it, hoping to fall in love even when I fall on my face, but for some reason I keep trying and I’m really glad as I have discovered more ways this summer to enjoy Eggplant. I came across Rosa Bianca eggplants too, and was immediately drawn to their unique colors.

But I also came across a completely new (to me) eggplant; a tiny orange one with grooved sides that looked a lot like a mini pumpkin.

The farmer told me that they could be roasted like regular eggplant. What she didn’t tell me, and what I discovered a bit too late was that this little orange variety is very bitter and is considered a delicacy in SE Asian cuisine. One bite and I had to admit that I’d found a vegetable I couldn’t eat.

A few more unique vegetables crossed my doorstep this summer, due to a relationship with Ocean Mist Farms. I was contacted by a representative of Ocean Mist back in July and asked if I was interested in some fresh Fennel to try. While Fennel isn’t really anything new, it was not a vegetable I’d done much with and while I did like it, the cost had always been prohibitive. I agreed to the Fennel they would send, and soon a case of it arrived at my house, holding six large, aromatic and superbly fresh bulbs. We had a wonderful time enjoying the light anise flavor, roasting them with potatoes and carrots. Fennel becomes so nicely sweet when roasted. I also added fennel to a slaw salad I made, loving it’s crisp texture and added taste to a favorite summery dish.

Recently, Ocean Mist contacted me again, offering to send me a vegetable I’d never even heard of: Cardones. Curiosity won me over, and I accepted. I had no idea what I was going to receive.

Cardones, or Cardoons, are very popular in Italy, come from the Thistle family and are considered a distant cousin of the Artichoke. They look like mutant celery, but they cannot be eaten raw. The internal part of the plant has slim silvery gray leaves that look like sage. And they are HUGE. Check out those stalks!!!

This was nothing like I’d known before; and I was initially at a loss as to what to do. After some research online, I decided to make a creamy cardone soup out of one of the bunches. They require a long simmering time, and mixed with onion and leek, it offered a warm and fragrant scent to a chilly evening. The finished soup was smooth, mild and creamy, and as we discovered, tasted amazing with some leftover wild rice pilaf stirred in to it.

The next two stalks I roasted, and this method was the best tasting. I tossed the slices with a bit of olive oil and a splash of an asiago caesar salad dressing I had on hand and after a nice long turn in a 425° oven, they were tender and flavorful enough to toss with pasta. The experience with Cardones was really interesting; I kept expecting celery flavor, but instead got something so unusual. It was like artichokes but richer. Cardones are similar to Artichokes in that they will discolor when cut apart, and should be soaked in acidulated water to prevent brown spots from forming. I did discover too, that they will change color even after cooking, and the roasted pieces I had in the refrigerator turned a strange shade of greenish gray after a day. The taste does not change though, even when they look just a bit unappetizing. I’m sure they have a lot more use in the kitchen, and maybe I’ll come across them again so I can experiment more.

WHAT NEW VEGETABLES ARE YOU LEARNING ABOUT?
ARE THERE VEGETABLES YOU EAT NOW THAT YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU WOULD LIKE? 

DISCLAIMER:
Ocean Mist Farms provided me with both the case of Fennel and the Cardones free of charge.
I have no obligation to post any feedback or information on them, and all opinions are my own. 

perfect christmas

December 21st, 2010 | 7 Comments »

I have a lot of Christmas photographs, wrapped carefully in paper envelopes, high on a shelf in a box in my closet. It’s pre-digital Christmas, numerous shots of Griffin, and my siblings surrounded by piles of paper wrapped gifts, sporting huge smiles. I don’t pull them out much to look at physically because the images are stored in my head; multiple Christmases full of insane laughter and a wide-eyed little boy opening box after box from his adoring aunts and uncles. The year he was three, his pile of presents towered over him, and he proudly stood next to the stack, his eyes shining in anticipation.

(photo from wallpaper sphere)

It was a lot, those piles of gifts. Too much, and I had to gently tell my siblings not to indulge him so much. They couldn’t help it, and it made for a pretty joyful Christmas, especially in those early years with Griffin and I as there wasn’t always the best of circumstances in our lives. My siblings never let my boy go without, and helped me to give him some delightful Christmas experiences.


(photo from hubpages.com)

It's hard to express what a perfect Christmas entails, and everyone has a different opinion about it. It's about the food, or the goodies served, or the decorations. It's the pile of gaily wrapped gifts, with ribbons and glitter. Or it's the gathering of the clan. Our culture has given us George Bailey's Christmas, with the ringing of the christmas bell as the angel gets it's wings, or Ralphie pining for his Red Ryder BB gun. It's also given us Linus, eloquently stating the true meaning of Christmas on a dimly lit stage as his friends watch and listen. But in many ways too, far more than I wish to understand, our culture has forced a sense of commercialized perfectionism on a holiday where the true meaning of why it's celebrated has been painfully lost.

(photo from viewpoints)

It's lean for us this year, far leaner than we expected as we had to replace our furnace last Friday. But we're not a big blowout kind of Christmas family anyway. We're really simple, and most of our gifts, in all honesty, were purchased all together last week. Griffin needed basketball shoes, and asked for a new basketball. I wanted a better computer bag and Mike needed a few items as well and so we just bought them together, making sure we got what we needed. There will be a few wrapped gifts under the tree, but we reflect and focus on the meaning of the season far more than the gifts. We count our blessings amidst the dwindling numbers in our pocketbook. We know..... really, it could be far worse. I've been there. I've been face to face with poverty and want; struggling to feed a little boy and myself, shrinking to the tiniest I've ever been because I wasn't eating enough. I've laid awake at night, listening to the little boy sleeping peacefully, and shook in fear over the speedy onset of Christmas, and being so poor that I couldn't even consider what gifts I could wrap for him. And twice in my life, for two consecutive years, the spirit of Christmas, the generosity that pours out of others spilled into my life like a flood and gave me reason to celebrate when the effort of putting one foot in front of the other was about all I could do each day.
(photo clipart from christmasgifts.com)
In 1996, Griffin was two and Christmas was approaching and I was working a minimum wage job that barely kept us floating. It was really an awful time for me, but my boss became my first Christmas angel when she delivered a box at work for me from her teacher husband's high school class. They'd gathered items to give to charity, and as her story went, they had more than they needed so she asked to bring the excess to me. I don't recall how many years passed before I realized that I was part of that charity, but the box I brought home held enough items for me to be able to give my boy a wide array of presents on Christmas Day and I recall weeping with relief as I removed toy after toy from that carton, along with some very nice items for me. Every Christmas, I think of her generosity and grace, of how she lifted me up without my even knowing. We just recently reconnected on Facebook and I plan to thank her again for being the angel she was that year.

(photo from majorly cool things)

The following year I had a similar experience, and I recounted it in this post about my most favorite Christmas ornaments. Again, a friend stepped up and gave of themselves to help lift my spirits and make a better celebration for my little guy. It was the last year that I struggled against the tide that was trying to push me over the edge, and the remaining years of Griffin’s young life were much more hopeful.


(more from majorly cool things)

It isn’t about the number of packages under your tree, as the Grinch clearly found out. The Who’s down in Whoville knew exactly what it meant, each dawn of December 25th. We’ve faced some pretty mean challenges from life in the past few years but each time we feel like we’re teetering on a cliff about to slip off, something happens and the ground stabilizes. We’re blessed. And we know it. It’s hard to see among the trials we face each day, but when we awake this Saturday, we know in our hearts what really matters. We’ll sit by our lush Balsam pine, thick with ancient memories and stories, with glittery ribbon tinsel and sparkling tiny lights and we’ll smile and enjoy each other and the safety and warmth of our home. We’ll celebrate with family, laugh and drink and eat and laugh some more. The gift is here, right now, with us. It won’t be found in a box, no matter how beautifully it’s wrapped, or a meal that’s carefully thought out and prepared, or even in a plate of cookies.

The perfect Christmas is here, in the heart, with us all the time.

Merry Christmas to all,

and to all, a good night!

(photo from teal town)

unveiling my passions

June 27th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

It seems like this past year has put me in contact with a large number of very passionate people; people who love what they do whether it’s their chosen vocation, their family or a particular cause. Being around them is almost addictive. There’s a glow, a determination and a sense of joy in them when they discuss what they love, what drives them and makes them soar. I love seeing it, being around it and sharing in it as well. There’s plenty in my life that I feel strongly about, aspects of it that bring a deep sense of peace to me, that fill me with happiness. I bet you think I’m talking about food, don’t you? Well sort of, but it’s only one area of my life that I’m passionate about. My friend Missy, who writes the blog The Marketing Mama, is sharing her passion and asked for others to chime in and play along. I can’t imagine a better person to share a passionate and engaging conversation with; Missy is one of the amazing women I’ve been blessed to meet and connect with this past year through our blog networking group. She’s got a strong finger on the pulse of life around her, a smile to light up any room and a wicked sense of humor.

So, to join in on her expressions of all things we love and hold dear to us, allow me to share these simple aspects of my life that bring me an immense amount of joy and make my heart swell with gladness. I’m not one to climb to the rooftops to shout out what stirs my heart, and I’m not one to push a cause or a lifestyle or anything so subjective. For me, it’s the little things that make my life perfect.

Like Delphiniums.

This year, whether due to the copious rain that has drenched our area or just the maturity of the plants, these Delphinium that are growing in one of my garden beds have simply exploded with blooms. Deep blue and so beautifully shaped, the flowers are stunning and I just can’t get enough of their beauty. I love my flower gardens, and the way that Nature just works itself out in multitudes of color, shape, texture and time. There are days that I walk through my yard and am stunned by what’s going on, not to mention humbled that my hands did this kind of work. It isn’t much, but it’s mine. And it’s one way I can share a god-given gift with others.

Then there’s these guys.

Someday is entirely possible that I will qualify as a crazy cat lady. I am crazy about cats, and these two in particular. Eli, on the left, has been a godsend into our lives. Losing Harmon was the hardest time I’ve gone through in recent memory, and Eli came along just at the right moment, full of love to give and hungry to be loved back. Bustopher is happier with a friend, and our hearts are healing from our loss.

There’s Loveless too.

It’s a perfect sanctuary from the hectic pace of life and I do miss it with all the work I’ve been doing this summer, but recently I spent a blissful nothing type of day there, sitting on the screen porch watching the rain fall on the lake all day long. That may not sound like fun to most, but it was a much needed day off from work, and from life and I needed it like pure oxygen. It’s a place that lives in my very core, that I love beyond description and wish I could bring every single one of you there for a day just to see it and enjoy it.

I’m passionate about my family too, as any Mother would be. Watching my young man grow, mature, change and embrace the life he’s leading is a beautiful thing to see. He has some amazing roads ahead of him to explore and I can’t wait to see where his life’s journey takes him. He’s polite, kind, warm-hearted and generous. He’s funny, corny, silly and smart as a whip. And the boy LOVES his food.

Which brings me, rightly, to what I am most passionate about each waking day of my life. You knew we’d get there, didn’t you? It’s not hard to be passionate about food these days, with the Farmers Markets bursting full of the fresh bounty from the Earth. How can you NOT get excited about fresh strawberries?

Or a delightful poached egg over fresh baby zucchini sauteed with garlic scapes?

But it really goes beyond just the freshness and far beyond what time of year it is, as it’s much more about how your body feels when it’s nurtured with good food. There’s nothing more to it than that. What goes into our bodies has a huge effect on our well-being, our ability to learn at school or to do our jobs properly, to keep us sharp and focused so we can concentrate, to help our immune system be as strong as possible so we can stay healthy to enjoy our lives. I’ve seen enormous change in my own life from the foods that I eat, and notice immediately when I’ve been slipping away from the right path and eating too much junk. If there’s one area of my life that I could talk about all day long, it’s definitely food, diet, cooking and consumption. It’s my blood, my life and what God gave me to give to others.

So what are YOU passionate about?

Missy got a good response to her call about passion. See what my friends say about their own passions!

Missy

Kate-Madonna

Suzi

Cindy

Monika

Jenny