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.

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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.

You keep me hanging on

Happy September.

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Summer keeps us hanging on. And with my sister visiting from Seattle the last week of August and beginning of September, we soaked it in. We swam, we kayaked, we cheered on Tom Cruise in Top Gun at the Union Terrace with a bunch of people who weren’t born when that movie was in theaters. And we broke down and bought tickets to Yum Yum Fest 2015.

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There wasn’t much (any) vegetarian food (we’re still not over pork belly?), but thank goodness for cold brew coffee push pops from Forequarter and Barmadillo’s delightful cocktails named after old baseball players. What more do you need, really?

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With this heat, all I’ve wanted to do is eat ice cream and drink booze, but with Half-moon in the picture, I’m trying to be a good vegetarian and eat protein, protein, protein! I’m lousy at grains and feel guilty just from looking at back issues of Bon Appetit that praise the wonders of Farro! Freekeh! Millet! Teff! It makes my head spin. But the other day as I stared remorsefully at the jar of spelt berries on my counter that hadn’t been touched since who-knows-when, I took action. I soaked those suckers in a bowl of water overnight (which was not my intention, but I went to bed before cooking said spelt berries) and the next day I cooked them up and made a tabbouleh-inspired salad with cherry tomatoes, lemon juice and loads of parsley. It hit the spot.

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Spelt Berry Cherry Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups uncooked spelt berries
1/4 onion, chopped
cherry tomatoes, halved
bunch of parsley, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Cook the spelt berries (you may soak for an hour- or overnight- to lessen the cooking time.)* Once the grains are cold, mix them together with cherry tomatoes, onion and parsley. Make a citrus-y dressing with the juice of a lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper (bonus points for freshly smashed peppercorns.) Leftovers are good for a couple of days.

*How do you cook spelt berries? (From the kitchn.com)
• If you want the spelt berries very soft, like steamed rice, add 3 cups of water or stock to 1 cup of spelt, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
• If you like it chewier and nuttier, like for salads, use 2 cups of water or stock for every cup of spelt berries. Cook the spelt like risotto, adding half a cup at a time and stirring after each addition until the liquid evaporates. They should be tender after about 30-40 minutes.

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Enjoy the heat while it lasts, my friends. The crickets’ songs will soon be a memory.

Homemade

Happy Valentine’s Day from very sunny, very cold Wisconsin. This morning I’m eating onion bagels smothered in cream cheese, nursing a lukewarm cup of coffee and re-reading sections of (my newly autographed!A Homemade Life, looking for the pink cookie recipe that broke my hand mixer four years ago. Four years ago. It was just a couple of days before the protests started. And I’m pondering trying that recipe again and if I do, I’ll tell you about it, because I never did. But today I wanted to tell you about homemade hot chocolate.*

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Last weekend Dan and I ventured up to Bayfield in search of snow and to check out the Apostle Island Sled Dog races. We stopped in Chetek on our way where my cousin had arrived earlier that day to start a fire and heat the cabin. The next morning Nancy spoiled us- with a capital s- with a breakfast of coffee, yogurt, just-whipped cream, berries and powdered sugar, fried purple sweet potatoes, eggs, toasty warm french bread and butter from the Hope Creamery in Hope, Minnesota (I mean, geez…)

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Then Nancy upped the ante by making me a mug of homemade hot chocolate for the road, which I sipped on all the way to Ashland. Homemade hot chocolate is such a treat, and one I never think to make for myself (until now.) It reminds me most of all of early mornings in my best friend’s kitchen after she had gotten her driver’s license. Newly liberated, Meagan would wake early on Saturdays to make us a thermos of hot chocolate to throw in her parents’ station wagon next to our neon K2 skis before we would head out Highway 151 to Tyrol Basin for the day. I remember sitting sleepily at her kitchen table, watching her heat the pot of milk on the stove.

If you want to spoil yourself- or someone else you love today- here is the recipe that Nancy shared with me:

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Nancy’s homemade hot chocolate

8-10 oz whole milk, hot (microwave or saucepan)
2 – 3 tsp organic dark brown sugar (recommended brand Wholesome Sweeteners)
1 Tbsp -4 tsps Ghirardelli unsweetened baking cocoa (not their hot chocolate mix)
Heat milk. Add brown sugar and cocoa powder for each cup. Stir well.

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Enjoy!

P.S. I also highly recommend a mug from Toast Ceramics, made here in Madison. Dan got me the one on the right in the top photo for Christmas and then I got the one on the left to send to my sister in Seattle. They are the perfect shape for holding cupped in both hands on cold winter days.

*It turns out I was channeling Molly Wizenberg in more way than one today- she was also writing about hot chocolate on orangette today.

A reunion of sorts

There has been a head of napa cabbage from Troy Farm lingering in my fridge for approximately the same time since I last wrote here. The cabbage fared better than my creative self, which has missed taking photos, trying new recipies and bouncing words around in my head. So the cabbage and this site made plans for this rainy November afternoon.

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My sister was the one who first told me about this recipe for smothered cabbage. She read about it on Molly Wizenberg’s blog, who adapted it from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. This is the perfect thing to make on a cool Sunday when you can drift around home smelling the onions, garlic, oil, butter and cabbage melt into each other. Next you add broth and rice and then more butter and parmesan cheese. The result is a thick soup that isn’t too easy on the eyes, but makes up for it in taste.

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Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup

From Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by way of Orangette

Ingredients:

1 batch Smothered Cabbage (see below)
2 cups (475 ml) chicken or beef broth*
1 cup (235 ml) water, and maybe more
2/3 cup (about 135 grams) Arborio rice**
2 Tbsp. (28 grams) unsalted butter
About 1/3 cup (roughly 1 heaping handful) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Kosher salt
Freshly ground lack pepper

In a good-size pot (about 4 quarts), combine the cabbage, the broth, and 1 cup of water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the rice, and then lower the heat so that the soup bubbles at a slow but steady simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender but firm to the bite, about 20 minutes. If you find that the soup is becoming too thick, add a little water. The soup should be pretty dense, but there should still be some liquid.

When the rice is done, turn off the heat, and stir in the butter and the grated Parmesan. Taste, and correct for salt. Serve with black pepper and more Parmesan.

*I use veggie broth or water to make it vegetarian

**I like to use brown basmati rice

Smothered Cabbage, Venetian Style

1 small yellow onion, chopped
½ cup (120 ml) olive oil*
1 (~2-pound / 1 kg) Savoy or green cabbage, quartered, cored, and very thinly sliced
2 or 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. white or red wine vinegar

*I used a combination of safflower oil and butter

Put the onion and olive oil in a Dutch oven (or another pot of approximately the same size), and set over medium heat. Cook and stir until the onion is pale gold, and then add the garlic. Continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant and looks cooked through, a few minutes, and then add the sliced cabbage. Stir a few times to coat the cabbage with oil; then continue to cook until it’s wilted. Add a couple of generous pinches of salt, a grind or two of pepper, and the vinegar. Stir to mix, and then cover the pan and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 1.5 hours, or until the cabbage is very, very tender. If the pan seems dry at any point, you can add a tablespoon or two of water. When the cabbage is done, taste for salt, and season as needed.

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Happy Sunday. It’s time for me to dig in.

Too little too late

I apologize for the tardiness of this post, but if you are anything like me and you still have a couple of bunches of ramps stashed away in your crisper drawer, then you’re in luck. Everyone else- tuck this one away for next April, when the ramps’ too-short growing season will be upon us again.

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This spring I have been eating ramps raw in salads, pickling them and, something that I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, eating them sauteed in butter and served on toast with an egg: For two servings, slice a bunch of ramps (bulbs and greens) and melt a pat of butter in a pan. Saute’ the bulbs and stems for a few minutes- add salt and pepper- and then add the greens and saute’ for a couple more minutes. Remove the ramps from the pan and melt a little more butter and fry two eggs (make sure the yolk is still runny). Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350 degrees or so and toast a couple of pieces of good bread (I like Madison Sourdough’s ‘Country’ bread). Pour olive oil over the toast and sprinkle with salt. Spread a soft cheese (I have been using goat cheese) on the toast and top with the ramps and an egg. Serve open-faced with a salad or roasted asparagus.

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Happy growing season!

On cabin fever and heavy cream

My tabby cat, Danger Boy, is simultaneously running around the house at high speeds and using the bathtub as a make-shift stage for his yelling practice. At press time, he is entertaining himself by sitting on the kitchen table and sticking his paw in my breakfast- a ceramic white bowl full of steel cut oats, pumpkin seeds, raisins and- Danger’s favorite- a dash of heavy cream.

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I can’t blame him- on March 2nd the light is getting longer, but winter is holding heavy here in Wisconsin.

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I’ve relied on my regular winter activities to keep myself entertained: Cross-country skiing, hot yoga, hot whiskey, entering the cats in a Bachelor gambling pool , making soup, watching Almost Famous on repeat… but things here have reached an ice-covered fevered pitch. And I’ve turned to sugar. 

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My mom recently brought me her February back issue of Bon Appétit magazine and the first page I dog-eared had a recipe for meyer lemon cream. I keep telling myself how much I love winter (I love winter I love winter I love winter) and one of the reasons why I love winter is because of floral meyer lemons*, available from November to March. My friend Martha recently gave me a bunch that she hauled back in a suitcase from her husband’s parents’ house in California (California! Lemons grow there on trees! In the winter!) So last night- after hot yoga- I whipped up a batch of meyer lemon cream, while Danger Boy pranced and yelled at my feet. I don’t always have the most success with making desserts, but this one is so simple it would be nearly impossible to mess up.

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Meyer Lemon Cream with Graham Crackers and Sea Salt

This recipe appeared in the February 2014 issue of Bon Appétit magazine

Ingredients:

3 large eggs
⅔ cup sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated Meyer or regular lemon zest
½ cup fresh Meyer or regular lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1½ cups chilled heavy cream
6 graham crackers, crumbled
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) finely grated

Directions:

Cook eggs, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened (mixture should coat a spoon), 8–10 minutes.
Transfer mixture to a blender and blend on low speed, gradually adding butter, until mixture is smooth (you’re not trying to aerate the mixture, so keep blender on low speed). Transfer lemon curd to a medium bowl, cover, and chill at least 2 hours.
Just before serving, whisk cream into lemon curd. Layer lemon cream and graham crackers in small glasses or bowls, finishing with graham crackers. Top with lemon zest and sea salt.

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Hang in there, my friends- spring is lurking out there somewhere. Until then, enjoy meyer lemons and a romp in the snow while they last.

*Freshly squeezed meyer lemon juice is also delicious in hot whiskey.