In the thick of it

Hello there, my friends. I realize it’s been awhile- last time summer was still a promise, and now we are in the thick of it-  in all its thunderstorming, sunkissed, mosquito bitten, ripe raspberry glory. But a very good reason brings me back here today, and that reason is chocolate.

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I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with Wm. Chocolate to develop a recipe using a couple of their chocolate bars. Wm. Chocolate (which stands for owner and chocolate maker’s name, Will Marx) is a new company in Madison making chocolate from ethically traded single-origin cocoa and unrefined cane sugar, which is a fancy way of saying that now you can eat your chocolate and feel good about it, too.

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In addition to having a decent farmer’s tan and about 18,000 more mosquito bites since my last post, I also have a new part-time job making popsicles at Bloom Bake Shop. As a long-time popsicle lover (I used to live on Minute Maid Fruit Juicees in the summer- orange flavor, please-), this is sort of a dream come true. One of the flavors we have been making at Bloom is fudge, and I wanted to play around with that idea when experimenting with Wm.’s Belize and Ghana chocolate bars. I knew I wanted to make something cold that didn’t require the oven- and summer is all about frozen treats- so I originally intended this to be a recipe for popsicles, which it certainly still could be. But sometimes popsicles can be a big drippy mess, especially for a certain toddler, so I realized this recipe could also be used to make individual-sized chocolatey frozen dessert cups, like a frozen hot chocolate. I tested this recipe with both the Belize and Ghana bars, and honestly I can’t tell you which is my favorite. The Ghana bar is a classic chocolate bar and a tad bit darker while the Belize bar is sweeter and fruitier. Okay, if you made me choose, I would use the Ghana bar, but you can’t go wrong with either (to find Wm.’s Chocolate- around Madison or to buy online- click here.) You could use this recipe to make popsicles by pouring the hot chocolate (once it has cooled) into molds, but I opted for freezing it in ramekins and mugs. I also decided to top the frozen desserts with raspberries because picking these berries from the patch in between our cars and the neighbor’s fence is my favorite late June/ early July morning chore, but you could also top them with blueberries, blackberries or fresh whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

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Frozen Hot Chocolate with Raspberries

One batch of this recipe yields 16 ounces of hot chocolate before freezing, so plan accordingly if using popsicle molds or making individual-sized desserts.

Ingredients:
2 ounce Wm. Chocolate Ghana bar (or Belize bar)
1 can (full fat) unsweetened coconut milk (13.5 ounces)
2 tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbs. maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
Raspberries and mint- for topping

Directions:
Pour coconut milk into a medium-sized saucepan. Add sugar, cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla and salt and whisk over low-medium heat until gently simmering (about 5-8 minutes.) Break the chocolate bar into pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Pour the liquid over the chocolate and stir until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth. Taste for salt (if you are a salty chocolate person, add a little more!) Pour hot chocolate into ramekins/ mason jars/ mugs/ popsicle mold, and place in freezer. Depending on the container, freezing time will probably be about 2 1/2 -3 hours. Before serving, allow to sit at room temperature for a few minutes until it can be eaten with a spoon. Top with berries, fresh mint or whipped cream and chocolate.

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Enjoy these desserts with family and friends, hopefully on one of those Wisconsin summer evenings where you linger, linger over the late day sunlight and the first lightning bugs of dusk. Cheers.

This post was in partnership with Wm. Chocolate

 

There’s nothing wrong with Nashville

My recent decision to plan a trip to Nashville began as most good ideas do, with the feeling that my living room walls were closing in on me while a Todd Snider song played on the local community radio station. Within a couple of hours I had booked four nights at a cozy East Nashville airbnb with a huge backyard and a potbellied pig named Abby. I’ve never spent much time thinking about Nashville, but it’s only 9 hours away by car and I suddenly had the urge to hear a southern accent. It wasn’t long before my sister decided she needed to hear one too, so she booked a flight.

I fell fast for this city, and long to go back… Today. Nashville in April is warm and green. The city is laid-back and friendly. Every single person we passed on the street said hello, including a shirtless jogger who took out his headphones to take the time to say, “How y’all doing.” If you tell someone in Nashville that you like something of theirs, they give it to you! (I am now the proud owner of a button with a picture of Obama smoking a cigarette.) In Nashville, there is a hardware store where cats sleep in a basket of flowers in the window, and a taco joint where women share a pitcher of margaritas at 8 pm on a Sunday while their kids play with my little ponies. This is my kind of town.

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We spent most of our time in East Nashville, which was really easy to do. We ventured out a couple of times- including an unsuccessful attempt at getting into the Bluebird Cafe and a successful field trip to the Pinewood Social, a giant place with delicious greyhounds made with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, a bowling alley and $7 coozies- but we spent most of our time eating, drinking and walking around on the east side of town. Here are a few of our favorite things in East Nashville. Many of these recommendations came from Abby the pig’s family, our lovely hosts for the week.

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High Garden Woodland Tea House: At High Garden you can buy tinctures, eat miso soup, and order a kombucha flight. And the woman pouring the booch has a roommate from somewhere in Wisconsin, so she’s no stranger to Wisconsin cheese, one of our favorite topics.

Two Ten Jack: Sake and wine on tap, a forgiving waiter who may have gotten sprayed in the eye with water by a certain toddler, and the BEST vegetarian ramen I have ever had in my life.

IMG_3134Turnip Truck: A natural grocery store with a juice bar, lots of organic food, emergency drinking beer, and pimento cheese spread.

Ugly Mugs Coffee Shop: This unpretentious coffee shop was within walking distance of our place and had outdoor seating, hot coffee, granola with yogurt and breakfast sandwiches.

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Barista Parlor: This pretentious coffee shop had a record cabinet built out of wooden pallets, $5 cups of (really delicious) coffee, and the most tasty breakfast biscuits with an egg and cheese. Totally worth the denim-apron clad male baristas wearing girl power buttons.

Southern Grist Brewing Company: We had lots of fun sitting at a picnic table in the parking lot of this brewery. We made friends with the other parking lot dwellers, including some sweet dogs, and loved Southern Grist’s unique and tasty beers. And the pimento cheese snack, of course.

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The Treehouse: That photo is of The Treehouse’s grilled pineapple mule. They have grilled pineapple mules on their cocktail menu.

Sky Blue Cafe: A small, busy diner with lots of breakfast choices. My favorite is the homemade granola served with yogurt and berries. So delicious.

Jeni’s Ice Cream: This delightful ice cream shop smells like waffle cones and they make flavors like lemon buttermilk frozen yogurt and goat cheese with red cherries.

IMG_9644Mas Tacos: Pineapple cilantro aguas frescas, free pickled carrots and other veg at the counter, and tacos like fried avocado and sweet potato with quinoa. And there’s a patio out back with a hot pink-painted cement brick wall. Cash only.

You stole our hearts, Nashville. We hope to see you soon.

*Many of these photos belong to our travel partner, my sister Sena.

 

Farmer Brown’s garden

I love the progression of spring. The first brave plant to push through the sleeping earth is the purple crocus. Next come daffodils, tulips, irises and lilacs. One by one the birds start singing and bunnies are hopping around, waiting for the first green things to munch. In the vegetable garden, it’s the chives that signal warmer days are ahead and then everyone starts talking rhubarb.

Around this time rhubarb starts popping up everywhere. In your garden, at the farmer’s market, in a bag from a friend or neighbor. While most people think rhubarb was destined for pie, Madison darling Quince & Apple– maker of small batch syrups and preserves- has bottled this sour perennial, pairing it with bitter hops, turning it into a syrup perfect for a spring cocktail.

Just like the start of baseball season and playing in rain puddles, when I was growing up springtime also meant Easter and elaborate egg hunts with clues written by my dad, followed by a basket full of pastel-colored candy. This year I hope to host a spring-themed brunch party with radish sandwiches, deviled eggs, a delicious carrot ginger tea cake with lime glaze from the March 2016 Sunset magazine (it’s so good!) and beer cocktails made with Quince & Apple’s Rhubarb Hops syrup. This month I had so much fun experimenting with the rhubarb syrup- which can be mixed with anything from prosecco to vodka to club soda- but found that it tastes delicious with beer. Also, it’s nice to serve something at brunch that won’t get people feeling too bubbly so early in the day! My inspiration for this drink was the French Monaco, a beer cocktail either served to adults at children’s parties, or drank by French children at brunches (I still haven’t figured this out) but either way, it seems quite charming.

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Per the recommendation of the helpful people at Star Liquor on Willy St., I chose the new (and so tasty) spring farmhouse ale from Door County Brewing Company. As a nod to the smell that would permeate our house when we dyed Easter eggs, I rinsed the glass with a swirl of cider vinegar, which really brings out the tart flavor of the rhubarb. Add a green spring of thyme for some green herbaceous-ness and voila! Farmer Brown’s Garden- the perfect spring brunch beer cocktail.

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Farmer Brown’s Garden

Makes one cocktail

IMG_9130Ingredients:
1 ounce Quince & Apple Rhubarb Hops Syrup
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces farmhouse ale or pilsner
Splash cider vinegar
Sprigs of fresh thyme

Instructions: Pour the syrup and fresh lemon juice into an ice-filled shaker (or a jar with a lid) and shake vigorously. Rinse a glass with a small splash of cider vinegar and strain the syrup and lemon juice into the glass. Top with beer and garnish with a fresh sprig of thyme.

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Happy spring.

This post was in partnership with Quince & Apple.

These are the people in your neighborhood

Lately Half-moon is really into SOUNDS. When he hears a sound he gets wide-eyed and says, “OH. WHAT’S THAT?” And he also wants to know what sounds things make. It’s easy when he asks what sound a truck makes, or a duck. It’s much harder when he asks about things like deodorant, North Dakota, stripes and starfish. What sound does a starfish make? This might be the eternal question of the universe. I know I stumped one of my favorite yoga teachers with that one the other day, and he usually seems to know the answer to everything. I wonder if Rumi knows.

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Because he’s into sounds, and because I like to be outside, Half-moon and I spend a lot of time walking around. These walks use to happen at a faster pace, but now we linger and watch. A couple of weeks ago a fire truck drove past and rang their bell for us. Now the “sound” of a fire truck is “ding ding.” 30 seconds later a city bus went by and honked. So guess what sound a bus makes? “Honk honk.”

IMG_8909Last week I wanted to go get lunch at the Mermaid Cafe before they closed for good, but before we could go in we needed to watch a UPS delivery man make his neighborhood rounds.We followed him around a city block, watching and listening. When another truck parked him in, he got out of his truck and explained to us that he’s not allowed to reverse- he’ll get in trouble. So I pointed out where the driver of the other truck was and we all stood together and waited. I soon realized that there were delivery trucks all over at this time. We started picking up on the rhythm of the neighborhood and how things work at 11 am on a Thursday. It was like a scene out of a Richard Scarry book.

When I could wait no longer for a Bahn Meatless sandwich, it took a little convincing, but luckily we could sit in the window and continue to watch the street. When we finished lunch and walked out on to the sidewalk, our new UPS friend was driving past, waving vigorously.

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I’ve realized that I can no longer really have an agenda, but I’m learning that maybe that is the luxury of not having any place that I really have to be. The luxury of being forced to slow down and watch. And listen. Two days ago we stood and watched a tree get cut down for two hours. We watched the first city crew disassemble the large tree right before our eyes (by a man we had met the week before in a different spot, when we stopped to talk to him and he made lots of SOUNDS for us with his truck) and then we watched the next crew drive in and take the tree away using a giant, loud claw machine. Normally I would be slightly annoyed by the noise, or just walk past without a second thought, but standing and watching this whole process was almost meditative.

In addition to sounds, Half-moon has also been super into lingonberries. And pancakes.

IMG_8819I was cooking vegan all month (something that ended a little early when I decided I just needed some eggs and cheese already), but I adapted a recipe for vegan oat pancakes earlier in the month that I will share. You can make them vegan- or not- but I highly recommend them with lingonberries (my mom gave us a jar of them that she found at Whole Foods.)

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Vegan Oat Pancakes

Makes about 12 pancakes, depending on how big you make them

Ingredients:

1-2 bananas, mashed
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 flax eggs (2 Tbsp flaxseed meal + 5 Tbsp water)
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons canola oil (or coconut oil)
3/4 cup (or more, depending on consistency of batter) coconut hemp milk (or substitute other milk)
1 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup whole wheat or unbleached flour (or sub other flour)
Chopped walnuts (optional)
Lingonberries for serving

Instructions:

Prepare flax egg by mixing flaxseed meal and water and letting set for 3-5 minutes. Mash bananas with baking powder. Add flax egg, oil, salt, vanilla, milk and nuts (if using) and stir. Stir in oats and flour until just combined. Melt oil (I used coconut oil) in a skillet and add desired amount of batter to make a few pancakes at a time. Cook for 2-4 minutes on each side – until golden brown (I am working on a getting better and cooking the pancakes- I find that when it’s ready to flip, the pancake will easily give a little.) Serve with lingonberries (or maple syrup.)

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I’d like to thank all of the bus drivers, fire fighters, tree trimmers and UPS drivers who have taken the time to honk, wave, and interact with us- I wish I could make you all a big batch of these vegan oat pancakes.

In like a lion

Ah, March. Historically I’ve had a bit of hard time with this month, and I know I’m not alone in this. It feels like everyone you know is off somewhere warm and green, eating local citrus fruit, sipping cocktails out of coconuts and diving into impossibly blue water. I know this isn’t true, but it’s where your mind goes when you find yourself staring at your own walls and messy cupboards. I remember one March in college when I housesat for a dear family friend who was taking her annual trip to Mexico. While everyone else in the world was on vacation, I sat on the floor of her glassed-in front porch with her black lab, Puccini, and wrote a poem about a dying fish who belonged to my best friend’s roommate. This fish floated sideways in it’s tank going up and down, up and down, and I wrote some lines about trying to find your equilibrium. I bet I could find this poem if I looked around, it has become the thing that I now think of when it becomes March.

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But March is also a time of renewal and rebirth, and even if we can’t see it through the rain-snow and mud, warm, green days are on the way. And if you can’t get out of dodge, one way that I have started to look at March is as an opportunity to shake things up a little bit and maybe get out of a few ruts. A few years ago, inspired by one of my favorite yoga teachers, I decided to create my own version of a “cleanse” right around the time of the spring equinox. For about 12 days I gave up coffee, dairy, sugar and alcohol and I ran most mornings before work. I started each day by drinking warm water with lemon and I cooked vegan dinners by night. As a vegetarian who cooks most meals using whole and mainly organic ingredients, this wasn’t too much of a stretch and I didn’t feel very different at the end of the 12 days, but I did learn that you can put avocado in smoothies instead of yogurt, that I could live without coffee and beer and that even though getting out of bed 40 minutes earlier- in the dark- is rough, that it feels really good when you get home from your jog and the sun is just coming up. And I also discovered some new favorite recipes and a blog that I still love to this day. So, I’m going for it again. I’m not giving up coffee this time (let’s not get too crazy here), but I did drink it black this morning, instead of with my regular heavy pour of 1/2 and 1/2. I’m going to keep making overnight oats with whole milk for Dan and half-moon, but I’ll have my oatmeal plain with raisins and walnuts. And I’m going to cook dinners from the extensive- and underutilized- collection of vegan cookbooks sitting on my shelf.

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I’m not going to buy dairy alternatives like fake cheese or almond milk- the strange list of unknown ingredients weirds me out- but hell yeah I’ll make walnut + lentil loaf with ketchup on top. Last night I made chili, that just happens to be vegan if you don’t add sour cream or cheese on top.

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It’s still cold and damp outside, so warm, hearty meals are in order- but this is a good time to cook farro for the first time or try a new recipe for new soup. Or go to a different yoga class or buy a new plant or finally get those three empty jars of honey out of your cupboard. Instead of writing the whole month off, do something that helps you look at the world with fresh eyes, even if from your own kitchen. If you get creative, there are seemingly small things you can do to help you look at the world a little differently. March is your oyster.

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Pinto and Black Bean Chili

Ingredients:

1 cup dried pinto beans
1/2 cup dried black beans
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, chopped,
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cans tomatoes (diced or San marzano style- or combination)
2 cups water or veggie broth
Salt
Chili powder
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Toppings:
Fresh squeezed lime juice
Cilantro
Green onions

Directions:
Presoak beans for a couple of hours in a big pot, and then bring to a boil and let simmer for a couple of hours until cooked and water is mostly absorbed. Place the beans in a bowl, and then add olive oil to the pot. When the oil is warm, add the garlic, onion and celery and sauté for a few minutes. Add the chili powder and cayenne, if you like the heat, and salt, and sauté for another minute. Add the beans back to the pan, and add the tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for a few minutes (or longer) before serving. Taste for salt and cayenne. Top chili with lime juice, cilantro and green onions.
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Do you have a way that you like to “celebrate” March? I’d love to hear it. Happy almost spring, my friends.

A spot of tea

This will be all about muffins and tea. If you don’t like muffins or tea, it’s okay if you want to read this instead. Or this.

img_7570All right, all you muffin and tea lovers, let’s get started. This winter I had the pleasure of writing an article about herbal tea for Edible Madison magazine. I grew up with a Scottish grandmother who drank tea every night after dinner, so I have fond memories of family dinners when the tea pot and china cups would come clinking out of the kitchen, someone would pour me a cup of black tea and I would fill it the rest of the way with milk. But when I received the Edible Madison assignment, I didn’t know much about the subject of tea, so this article was a hoot to research and write. I also got to hang out with some interesting tea people at some delightful places like Anthony at Macha on East Johnson St.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I received a message from a farmer named Tony who was wondering if I would be interesting in sampling his “living” herbal teas that he grows on a farm in Mondovi, Wis. I have a soft spot in my heart for farmers, and a new appreciation for tea, so I of course said yes. A few days later I received some Sacred Blossom tea in the mail.

I love these teas, mostly because they are so beautiful when they are steeping (and they taste really delicious, too.) But also because it’s obvious that these herbs were grown with a lot of love and care. Please check out Tony’s website and his kickstarter campaign to support a Wisconsin farmer who is doing something really special in the world of teas.

And while that tea steeps, start making some muffins! My parents found the recipe for these Morning Glory muffins in the New York Times. I made them last weekend and baked another batch yesterday. I am in love with them. They are a little finicky (you need to shred carrots and apples, toast walnuts, melt coconut oil, etc.) but I think it’s fun and they turn out really well. I consider myself to be a lousy baker, but I’ve been having luck lately with muffins. I will post the recipe as appears, not as I did it, because if you followed my directions it would be something like this: Measure flour, (don’t) measure cinnamon, spend nine minutes looking for baking powder, realize half-moon is sitting on the television, read Reggie Jackson, read Reggie Jackson, read Reggie Jackson, read the Bunny Book, read Reggie Jackson, read Reggie Jackson, realize you were supposed to use the large mixing bowl for the wet ingredients, measure the baking soda, read Reggie Jackson, abandon muffins completely and run out the door to meet a friend for happy hour when your significant other gets home from work, remember the next day after yoga that you started making muffins, locate (wrong-sized) bowl of dry ingredients, locate left-for-dead carrots in veggie drawer, make a cup of tea, finish mixing batter, bake muffins, eat most of the (still warm) muffins while standing at the kitchen counter.

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But here’s how the newspaper said to make them:

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Morning Glory Muffins

From the New York Times

INGREDIENTS
1 cup/120 grams all-purpose flour
¾ cup/85 grams whole-wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup/177 milliliters whole milk
¾ cup/160 grams packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
¾ cup/90 grams shredded carrot (from 2 medium carrots)
½ cup/77 grams shredded apple (from 1 medium apple)
½ cup/57 grams unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted
¾ cup/90 grams finely chopped walnuts, toasted
¾ cup/112 grams raisins
½ cup/118 milliliters melted coconut oil

PREPARATION
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, dark brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Stir carrot, apple, coconut, 1/2 cup of the walnuts and 1/2 cup of the raisins into the wet mixture. Stir in the melted coconut oil.
With a large rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Do not overmix. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cups. Sprinkle the remaining walnuts and raisins evenly over the tops of the muffins.
Bake until puffed and set and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer the muffins, in the tin, to a rack to cool for 5 minutes. Then remove the muffins from the tin and let cool completely on the rack. Once cool, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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And while it feels like spring out there today, I am hoping for more winter days with a steeping cup of hot tea and a batch of muffins in the oven. Happy Saturday.

An alternative universe

It feels a bit like we’re living in some sort of parallel universe right now. I’m spending a lot of time on the internet switching between reading headlines and looking at photos of marches and emailing senators and drooling over the flavors of doughnuts at my favorite recurring pop-up event. Things feel like they are trying to be normal- but they’re not. We alternate between statements like, “Did you know what he did today?…Is it even possible to place a media blackout on the EPA?,” and “We have to make sure to get to there in time to get a pineapple doughnut.”

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But it finally snowed today. A wet, sloppy, heavy snow- but it’s still snow- and it feels a lot more normal than the foggy, rainy 40-degree days we’ve been experiencing. So I started building a snow fort using one of those plastic brick molds that I haven’t used in about 30 years (but the fort has since collapsed.) And Dan is finishing up a project for the cats that he started a few weeks ago. Half-moon discovered shoveling and had his first cup of hot chocolate, and we ate leftover curry for lunch… life as we know it in this alternative universe.

After looking up some curries, I made up this recipe the other night when I happened to have a can of coconut milk and didn’t want to run to the store (I’m trying to break my “visit-the-co-op-everyday” habit.) It turned out really well and I’m happy to add it to the regular rotation. Served over brown rice, it’s bright and hearty and full of whatever vegetables you can find in the fridge.

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Coconut Curry with Kale and Carrots (or whatever veg you have)

Ingredients

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 onion, sliced
Some fresh ginger, grated or minced
1/2 or 1 whole bunch kale
2 carrots, sliced
Additional veggies optional (I used leftover bell pepper and cauliflower florets)
1 can regular (full fat) coconut milk
2 cups veggie broth (I use vegetable base bouillon + hot water)
Curry powder
Salt to taste

For serving:
Cooked brown rice (or quinoa)
Lemon juice
Cilantro
Chili flakes

Directions

Melt the coconut oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and ginger to the pot, and cook about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the carrots, kale and any other veggies, a pinch of salt and cook about 3-5 minutes more. Add curry powder, coconut milk and veggie broth and taste for salt. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat and cook 15-20 more minutes, paritially covered. Serve over brown rice with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and top with cilantro and red chili flakes, if you like. Then consider making a donation to the ACLU.

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Although things seem really, really wrong right now, I like this resistance movement that continues to heat up. And as my incredibly insightful and inspiring yoga teacher made us all declare last Saturday morning, “We’re in charge.” At least in how we handle ourselves and what actions we take in these next few months. It’s time to keep fighting back, my friends.