You say its your birthday

Hello from the other side of winter.

It always amazes me how quickly spring tiptoes in. One day you have a sneaky April blizzard and the next things are impossibly green. Slow down lilacs-turning-brown, you don’t need to be in such a hurry. You may have noticed (or not) that I took a break from writing here. It wasn’t intentional— I’ve been busy with a new freelancing gig and chasing Half-moon around. I had a blog about my Iowa grandma,  Harriet, planned for February and meant to share my way of making black bean soup in March. But I’ve been in good company— it seems some of my favorite writers are taking breaks too.

Since we last spoke I celebrated a birthday and if you are into numbers, you could say it was kind of a significant one.


I had big plans for this birthday— I wanted to do something adventurous like fly somewhere tropical for a yoga retreat or run wild with the wolves. But it turns out that being a stay-at-home parent isn’t all the financially lucrative so I stayed home and celebrated with family and friends. An extended cocktail hour with spicy cucumber drinks led to a hazy and delightful late-night dinner— complete with ginger cake and a candle— with my bocce team. Two nights later my parents hosted us for a birthday dinner that included a slide show and one of my favorite meals- Cold Szechuan Noodles. And of course, coconut cake with coconut frosting.

The recipe for Cold Szechuan Noodles comes for our dear family friend, Susan. When I was in high school we moved into a new house in August. It was hot and I was starting a new high school and unpacking is unfun and Susan showed up with a huge batch of these noodles with all of its components in neat containers. In my mind we ate it for a week, never tiring of the spicy, peanuty sauce and crunchy, cool cucumbers. My mom put this recipe in a book that she made for me in 1999 and the introduction for it goes as follows: “As you know there are many salads like tuna salad, chicken salad and egg salad. There’s bean salad and marinated vegetable salads, tossed salad, rice salads etc. Oh, and jello. I’m putting one of your favorite cold noodle recipes under salads.” Is it any wonder I like to write about food?


Cold Noodles- Szechuan Style

From Susan Connors- originally from Jessie Ho


1 1/4 lbs. noodles- Chinese noodles or thin spaghetti
2 Tbs. cooking oil
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1 cup cooked chicken (when I was 15- yes- now we leave this out)
2 cups chopped cucumber
1 Tbs. chopped peanuts
4 Tbs. sesame seed paste or peanut butter (we always use peanut butter)
1 Tbs. vinegar
1/2 Tbs. minced ginger
1 Tbs. chili oil or paste
Szechuan pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. water
6 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. chopped green onions
1/2 Tbs. minced garlic
1 Tbs. sesame oil


Boil the noodles- remove, drain and mix with cooking oil and sesame oil. Stir separating the strands as they cool so they don’t stick together (I seem to remember my mom using a fan to cool them?) Shred the chicken (if you are into that kind of thing) and chop the cucumber. Place individual portions of the noodles- add cucumber. Toss with peanut sauce and sprinkle with chopped peanuts.


If you want to know more about the coconut cake with coconut frosting click here. I made these as cupcakes for Half-moon’s birthday last year and realized that I love coconut frosting more than most things.


Happy spring. May your lilacs stay lavender a little longer.


Book report

I have been devouring Tamar Adler‘s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace before bed, which might explain why I have been waking up famished. I really can’t recommend it enough. People often compare Adler to M.F.K. Fisher- patron saint of food writers- although I can’t attest to that because I am afraid I will knock myself- or Half-moon- out if I fall asleep reading the tome that is my copy of The Art of Eating in bed.


I love that Adler makes me feel guilty for not pickling my kale stems. I love that she has the sensibility of a Depression-era housewife, often using the same pot of water four or five times for different purposes. I love that she writes things like this:

“I recommend buying a bunch of parsley whenever you can. Then, once you have it, act as children do when handed hammers and suddenly everything needs pounding.”

I love that she sounds like an eighty-year-old woman tucked into a Tuscan hillside but is really a thirty-something woman residing in a small apartment in Brooklyn (of course.) Most of all I love that she seems to believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved with stale bread and good olive oil.


She keeps all of her food in glass jars and cooks all of her vegetables on Sunday. She turns her lemon peels into citrus syrup to mix with cold seltzer to make homemade soda. She pickles her kale stems. Adler gives advice so simple I want to slap my head and say Of course! Like how you should taste your food at every stage of the cooking process and that it should always taste good (it doesn’t taste good? add salt!) Reading this book has made me think twice about a trip to the store, instead improvising with what I already have. And it’s made me wonder why I don’t eat more meals like sauteed greens on toast. With parmesan cheese. And olive oil (of course.)

Adler also addresses a question I have often wondered when reading cookbooks and food blogs: When is a recipe borrowed? When is it “adapted?” And when is it your own? According to Adler, there are no original recipes, which reminds me of one of my father’s favorite sayings, “The last person to to have an original idea invented the wheel.” So here is a recipe. I made it up. Or I adapted it from one I read on Smitten Kitchen, another New Yorker doing incredible things in a tiny kitchen.


This recipe utilizes the vegetarian workhorse, lentils. It also has a potato and a dressing made with lemon (or vinegar) and cilantro (or parsley.) Serve it with good bread and a glass of red wine. It’s comforting and wholesome. I think Tamar Adler would like it.


Warm Lentil and Potato Salad with Capers


1/2 cup French green lentils
1 Yukon Gold potato, cooked and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 or 3 kale leaves, washed, dried and chopped into thin ribbons
1 garlic clove, smashed and made into a paste with a little salt
1 small chunk of onion, sliced into thin pieces
lemon juice and/or red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
olive oil
a couple of tablespoons of capers (I don’t rinse them)
a bunch of cilantro + stems (or parsley), chopped
feta cheese, optional


Cook the lentils in a small saucepan on the stove until they are tender and water is absorbed (keep warm.) At the same time, cook the potato in a separate pot- cover the potato with water and cook until you can easily poke a knife into it (I have a bad habit of undercooking potatoes.) Keep the potato warm, too (I just let it sit in the pot of warm water and damn I just realized I should be telling you somehow you can use the potato water for another meal.) Meanwhile, make the dressing. Place the lemon juice (or vinegar) and sliced onions in a shallow salad bowl and let sit for a few minutes. Whisk in the garlic paste, mustard and olive oil (taste it!). Add the capers and kale (taste it!) Next add the cooked lentils, cubed potato and chopped herbs (and crumbled feta cheese too, if you are using it.) Toss this all together and taste it! Adjust the seasonings, if you wish, adding salt or black pepper. (Or more lemon, capers or herbs- remember, it should taste good.)


According to Adler, M.F.K. Fisher said you don’t always have to balance each meal, just the day. Apparently Fisher used to frequent a beer hall where she would make a meal of cheese, onions, caraway seeds and crusty bread. I am so happy I found these women.

A labor of love

A baker I am not. But every year, around Christmas time, I inevitably forget this fact and get the urge to create sweet things in the oven. This is actually the third year I have made this recipe and I usually curse it at some point or another every time, even though it is ridiculously easy. And the fun thing about this recipe is that afforded me not one, but two opportunites to bang things really hard with my rolling pin (I believe the first time was a fluke- I don’t anticipate you having to do the same thing.) It took me four days to actually make the cookies, from start to finish. I started the dough on Sunday right before entertaining some guests, which led me to abandon the dough for a day and a half in the fridge. Yesterday I rolled out the dough and used a small jar to form the cookies into circles. Before I could roll out the dough, however, I had to pound it into submission after having let it “chill” (harden into a rock) in the refrigerator for two days.


Next I baked the cookies, let them cool, and then put them back into the stove so my butter-loving cats wouldn’t attack them when we left for a Christmas party last night. This afternoon, after Christmas Eve yoga and a brunch of baked eggs, I melted white chocolate in the oven, subsequently burned it, added milk to it, and then busted out the rolling pin again to crush the organic candy canes in my new dish towel.


Somehow, these cookies survived. And I think that’s why I keep returning to this recipe. My version looks nothing like the original, but I love them just the same.


In the spirit of that wise old saying- do as I say, not as I do- I am going to print the recipe the way that it appeared on Vegetarian Ventures. My adaptations- with the exception maybe of using all purpose whole wheat flour- are not recommended.


Peppermint Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies

From Vegetarian Ventures

  • 2 sticks of butter (1 cup), divided & at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 box of peppermint candy canes, unwrapped and crushed
  • 8 ounces of white chocolate

Start by browning half (one stick) of the butter. Place butter in a small saucepan over low heat and let cook until small brown flakes form. Stir often so the bubbles don’t bubble over the pan or so that it doesn’t burn. Once the butter has browned, immediately pour it into a glass cup and let cool completely.

Beat together the butter (browned and regular) and the brown sugar. Next, add in the flour and salt and continue to beat until a thick ball of dough forms. Wrap dough (with parchment, wax paper, etc) and let chill for at least 30 minutes (this will help keep the dough together).

Once chilled, transfer dough to a floured surface and roll out to about 1/2 inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter or the top of a round glass to cut out circular shapes. Transfer to a greased cookie sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place the cookies in the fridge to chill for 10 minutes while the oven preheats (this will help the cookies keep their shape). Cook cookies for 15 minutes or until they are golden brown around edged. Let cool completely.

Crush the peppermint candy canes anyway you see fit. I put mine in a ziploc bag and went to town using a meat tenderizer (also known as the kitchen hammer!) until they were in tiny pieces.

Melt the white chocolate in either your microwave or over a double boiler. I don’t have a microwave so I used the double boiler method which consisted using one saucepan inside the other and letting water simmer under the first pot while I constantly stirred the white chocolate over it until melted (this was a terrible explanation. If it is your first time using a double boiler, use this as a reference). Once melted, dip half the cookie into the chocolate and then roll in the peppermint chunks. Place on wax paper (this prevents sticking) and repeat with the rest of the cookies. Let cookies chill in fridge for 15 minutes or until the chocolate has hardened.


Merry Christmas, y’all.

Cheese ball

We may not have snow this year in Wisconsin for Christmas, but we can have a cheese ball. This recipe belongs to my Grandma Love, who hosted us in northwest Iowa for Christmas for most of my childhood. At the time I wanted nothing to do with the cheese ball, but I remember it distinctly appearing on Christmas Eve when the relatives first started appearing through the back door that led into the kitchen. Coats were peeled off, pink lipstick-covered lips gave shocks on the cheek when kissed and presents were placed under the tree. I was much more interested in the homemade sloppy joes that were served to the kids instead of the oyster stew that the adults feasted upon and the hard candy that I got if I went to church later that night with Aunt Agnes, but the cheese ball now holds a special place in our hearts- equal parts nostalgia and deliciousness.


My mom and sister made the cheese ball this week and split it into two- one they brought over for a winter solstice shindig and the other we will enjoy tomorrow for Christmas Eve. Served with crackers and a holiday cocktail, it’s just the thing.

cheese ball

Here is the recipe, the way my Grandma wrote it.



Harriet’s Cheese Ball

2 large packages Philly cream cheese
1 stick very sharp Kraft Cracker Barrel Cheese (cheddar)
1 1/2 dozen or so green stuffed olives- cut up fine
3 T dry onion flakes
(chopped pecans)

Soften philly cheese and cracker barrel cheese. I grind up the cheddar cheese and blend the cheeses together, add onion flakes and olives, blend well. Form in a ball. Roll cheese ball in chopped pecans and store in refrig. until ready to use.

Happy holidays!

Yellow rockdoor

One of my favorite things about working at the farm is learning the names of the varieties of vegetables. The green curly kale I knelt next to early this morning is named winter boar. The snow peas- since mowed down- were called blizzard and sumo. The garlic we dug out on Wednesday is music and porcelain, and a midnight purple tomato hanging on her vine goes by indigo rose; she could just as easily be in a dusty bar somewhere listening to Merle Haggard on the jukebox. We pull three varieties of beans- maxibell, yellow rockdoor and dragon tongues. Even the weeds sound like a poem to me- purslane, pigweed, foxtail and thistles.


I am drawn to words. Recently Dan and I biked to the construction zone that used to be Johnson Street to visit the impossibly too-cool-for-school Johnson Public House because I wanted to try a cold espresso beverage they were calling lavendar brown.


It was tasty. Dan thought it resembled Thanksgiving dinner in a next day’s sandwich. I also recently visited Spring Green’s Sh*tty Barn to listen to a band called Spirit Family Reunion- I had never heard of them, but I liked their name.


Later that night I ripped that sold-out poster down (with permission) to hang up in what will become my new home. I had seen the house earlier that day and stood in a field on my phone before the show with my realtor (ugh. I think this makes me a grown-up) as we made plans to sharpen our figurative pencils and make an offer the next morning. And to my still somewhat disbelief, the offer took.


And while I contemplate home ownership, I cook. I turn back to soothing tomatillos and avocados whirled into salsa varde, eggplants roasted and blended with lemon juice, flat-leaf parsley and tahini to become baba ganoush, and I improvise a hearty tabbouleh salad with spelt berries. I bake zucchini bread. And I steam yellow rockdoor beans and cover them with pats of butter and sea salt. Someone else was drawn to those.


My mom gave me this recipe for zucchini bread- I’m not sure where she got it. She says she likes to eat it with peaches. I like to eat it cold out of the refrigerator.


Zucchini Bread

1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup nuts- walnuts or your choice

Makes 2 regular loaves in a loaf pan- metal or glass. Bake 350 degrees for one hour or when it smells good and is getting brown on top. Let it cool a bit before you take out of the pans. I usually grease the pans with a little oil.

Happy August.

Asheville over easy

Dan and I recently returned from a road trip to the Asheville, North Carolina area. We drank lots of hoppy beer, ate lots of good food and spent most waking hours soaking in a cedar tub overlooking the snowy farm where we spent several nights. Ah, spring break.

People in Madison always like to compare our city to the other hip ones: Austin, Texas. Portland, Oregon. Burlington, Vermont. “You know, people always say Madison is a lot like ________ (insert hipster/ progressive/ beer or bike-friendly city here). But I’ll tell you what Asheville’s got that Madison ain’t: Breakfast places where the default side dish is raw kale salad. Not bacon. Not toast. Kale salad. And, while we’re talking about it, in Asheville they use compostable containers for to-go food. Ahem, Madison…

The place where I would eat breakfast every day of the week if I could is Over Easy Cafe on Broadway in downtown Asheville. I stumbled into the bright and noisy cafe at about 9:30 a.m. on a Monday morning. It was a reprieve after emerging from our very clean, but very dark and claustrophobic, windowless private room at the hostel. I took a seat at the bar and lolled over the juice menu, ordering one for “waking up:” Apple, celery, greens and ginger.

IMG_1050 IMG_1053

Next I pondered food. Tempted by the grits, biscuits with vegetarian herb gravy, and lavender french toast, I decided to try the breakfast tacos: Corn tortillas filled with scrambled eggs, green onions and southwestern tempeh, topped with ginger-lime slaw and cilantro. Raw kale salad and pickled carrots on the side. As I waited I sipped my juice and coffee, people-watched and sang under my breath to the 80s playlist. (“I Want to Know What Love Is” is still a really good song.)  Pretty soon I got company at the bar- a gentleman with a newspaper and a cap who sat down on his stool and ordered a carrot juice. He spoke to me about every 5 1/2 minutes, inquiring about my juice, what I ordered, how many apps I have on my phone (“zero- it’s a flip phone”) and to tell  me that race car drivers are acting like kids- getting into fights. Just as my food arrived he was scoffing at the man at the end of the bar who he didn’t think had the moxie to finish his double order of pancakes. “You’re too skinny!” I stopped listening as I admired my colorful plate for a few seconds before devouring my first taco. It tasted fresh, healthy and delicious.

After taking care of my check I said so long to my neighbor and went to rouse Dan from the bat cave- we went back 30 minutes later and again on Friday.


See ya next time, Over Easy.

Over Easy Cafe on Urbanspoon

Pizza: A love story

This is the story of girl

meets boy

meets pizza.

A love triangle with a new twist: Homemade whole wheat pizza crust.


Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

This recipe comes from Dinner a Love Story

3 3/4 cups flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill White Whole Wheat)
2 1/2 teaspoons instant or other active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/3 cup room-temperature water

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough will be stiff, not wet and sticky. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Divide the dough in two and shape each into flattened balls. (Dough can be frozen at this point.)*

When you are ready to make a pizza, preheat oven to 500°F roll out one ball of dough in a rectangular shape and place on an oiled cookie sheet.

*I skipped the step of dividing the dough and found that it makes a perfect amount for one cookie sheet (one pizza). And while this pizza is supposed to serve 5, Dan and I can take it down, just the two of us.


Top the pizza with your favorite ingredients and cook at 500 degrees for about 15 minutes. When I first made this a couple of weeks ago I had bought a bunch of arugula from Harmony Valley at the downtown Madison farmer’s market with hopes of recreating a pizza I had in Chicago last winter: a spicy arugula salad with lemon and shaved parmesan topped a thin crust pie. Heaven. So I improvised a recipe that I found on Dinner a Love Story. I topped the crust with tomato sauce and slices of Cesar’s mozzerella and baked it for 15 minutes. When it came out of the oven I dressed the pizza with a salad of arugula, lemon, olive oil and parmesan cheese. It was love at first bite.

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Food carts! are so hot right now

Just like cucumber luges,* mason jars and ironic mustaches, food carts seem to be all the rage these days. My earliest memory of the concept of mobile food goes back to the late ’80s when my best friend Meagan and I would frequent the Hawaiian Ice truck that would park somewhere along Monroe Street. On hot summer days we would go in search of the truck (most likely after a fierce T-ball game) and, after agonizing between endless flavor options, purchase a cup of the brain-freeze inducing ice and proceed to suck out all of the artificial flavor and coloring. Ah, summer…

My tastes eventually matured, and as a student at the UW, in an effort to ward off college-induced scurvy, I would occasionally purchase a piece of fruit from the wooden stand parked in Library Mall. Fast forward to the last few years and my sister’s discovery of the most delicious gazpacho from the Santa Fe Trailer, usually available on the summer festival circuit. It’s so good, it should be added to this list.

All of this brings me to a gorgeous Friday evening in May spent in Olin Park with my other best friend, Ryan (there you go, Ryan, it’s in writing for the world to see) and 498 other Madisonians eager to check out the city’s inaugural food cart festival, Isthmus a la Carts. We arrived at Olin Park around 6, just as the sun was beginning to hang lower in the sky, giving the tall grasses that happy hour glow, and made a beeline for Banzo (well, first beer, then Banzo). I was eager to try the falafel and hummus that I had been hearing so much about through the Madison grapevine.

And it was worth the hype. The crispy, warm falafel was brown on the outside, green on the inside and perfect with the tahini sauce and optional hot sauce (I opted, and you should too.) The hummus sampler was tasty as well. I am excited for summer when I can make the trek to the cart for a full-size falafel extravaganza.

After eating falafel, drinking beer and catching up from our perch on the hill, Ryan and I mozied next to Caracas Empanadas for homemade empanadas.

Meat eaters were out of luck, but I was not.

The sweet plantain and roasted garlic empanadas, with a shot of cilantro sauce on the side, were where it was at. The crust melted in my mouth, melding sweet flavors of plantain and garlic, enlivened by the refreshing cilantro. Oh yeah.

From there, things get a little hazy. There were samples of veggie burgers and tofu with rice, Ryan had sausages, I had more beer. For dessert, Ryan sampled deep fried oreos, but with no Hawaiian Ice truck in sight, I made my way back down the hill to Banzo for my nightcap.  

*Don’t be the last to know about cucumber luges… post coming soon.

Banzo (Food Cart) on Urbanspoon

A reason to celebrate

Good morning from Boulder, Colorado. With all due respect, Wisconsin, it was time to get out of Dodge. After a fairly uneventful* car ride across Iowa and Nebraska, Dan and I arrived in sunny Boulder Saturday afternoon and let the Spring Break revelry begin. And since then we’ve been eating and drinking like it’s 1999. Yesterday there were crepes and mojitos, Avery pale ales and grilled kale salads. And there was pizza. Oh, was there pizza. I’m now convinced that you if haven’t had pizza at Pizzeria Locale, then you haven’t had pizza. I spotted this place the second we landed on Pearl Street. As we drove past in our Interstate 80-induced haze, I took note of the happy-looking locals sitting at the open-air bar. We would go back. And we did. Yesterday. For lunch. Oh. My.

There was fizzy water.

There was a bloody mary made with 14 ingredients, 12 of which were made from scratch in their kitchen.  “I’m a vegetarian,” announced our waiter. “So I order the drink without the prosciutto-infused salt on the rim.” Damn it. “I’m a vegetarian too,” I replied. If there was ever a reason to un-quit the meat, this might be it. But the cocktail, made with San Marzano tomatoes, was delicious all the same.

And there was this salad. This salad. Snap peas, rainbow carrots and greens dressed in a combination of shallots, whole grain mustard and citrus. Whoa. Hoo ha.

A margherita pizza followed. Unsliced. Hot out of the 1000-degree oven. Magical.

We were full-on splurging at this point, so why not have dessert? And dessert we had- Saltimbocca con Nutella. Basically a calzone filled with Canadian Nutella (it’s made without corn syrup, our waiter informed us) and topped with powdered sugar. Served with a cup of drip coffee. Now that’s lunch.

And, it turns out, we had a reason to retroactively celebrate. When we returned to our friends’ home and I checked my email, I found out that I had been accepted for the this. So a new writing adventure begins.

*There was the incident with the state trooper in Nebraska who pulled us over and placed Dan in his vehicle and then questioned me about a suspicious-looking item he had spotted in my car. “What is this?” He questioned me. “It’s a pen?” I responded quizzically. “It’s an environmentally-friendly pen,” I sputtered. “I got it a film festival for rivers.” Apparently he thought I was going to smoke something with the pen made from recycled brown paper. After questioning Dan about his shiny belt buckle and chuckling when I responded that Dan was my domestic partner after being asked about how we were related, he joyfully sent us on our way with a warning, wishing us happy travels.

Pizzeria Locale on Urbanspoon