Hello old friend

Well hellooooo there. It feels like it’s been ages. How have you been? Since we last spoke the lilacs have bloomed, I have written a few concert reviews, celebrated my birthday (in a tent outside of Viroqua), found a new place to live (a house! with a yard! and chickens next door!), attended my first music festival of the summer season, obtained my first sunburn, and made a few new dishes that I want to tell you about. There’s more that we need to catch up on, but I’m going to start with the recipes for now.

Birthday morning view from the tent, Sidie Hollow campground, Viroqua, WI

The first two recipes that I want to tell you about come from a cookbook that I have had for longer than I would like to admit, because I am just now finally starting to use it. The book is Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson and it’s a very good thing that the pages are now starting to look splattered with oil and stained with fingerprints. I have had my eye on this one recipe for lime-bathed peanut salad (mainly because of the name) for awhile, but finally busted it out two weeks ago an a Tuesday evening when I was in the mood to celebrate (it has to do with a long and convulated housing situation, I’ll spare you the details, but it resulted in the aforementioned house where we will move into in June). This salad is the epitome of flavorful. As soon as I prepared this dish, Dan and I proceeded to eat 3/4 of it out of the bowl with one spoon, before dinner was even served.

Mmmmm... lime-bathed peanuts

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This recipe comes from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Lime-Bathed Peanut Salad

Ingredients:

2 cups usalted raw peanuts

4 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 large jalapeno chile, seeded and diced

3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the peanuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 5 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice along the way. If the peanuts have skins, rub them clean in a dish towel to remove the skins, but don’t obsess over this. I acually like the visual texture you get from having some peanuts with skins and some without.

Combine the tomatoes, jalapeno, and cilantro in a bowl. In a separate small bowl, wisk together the lime juice, olive oil, and salt. Add to the tomato mixture and gently stir to combine. Just before serving, fold in the peanuts. Taste and adjust the seasonings with more salt if need be. Serves 4 t0 6.*

*Yeah, right. More like two, if you are anything like us.

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To accompany the peanut salad I made a main dish called otsu that has soba noodles, tofu, cucumbers and a citrusy-gingery sauce. This recipe also comes from Heidi’s book and is equally delicious.

Soba noodles

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This recipe comes from Super Natural Cooking

Otsu

Grated zest of 1 lemon
Fresh ginger, cut into a 1-inch cube, peeled, and grated
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup unseasoned brown-rice vinegar
1/3 cup shoyu sauce (wheat-free soy sauce)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

12 ounces dried soba noodles
12 ounces extra-firm nigari tofu
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 small handful of cilantro sprigs, for garnish
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Make the dressing by combining the zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and shoyu, and pulse to combine. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils.

Cook the soba in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender, then drain and rinse under cold running water.

While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut it into rectangles roughly the size of your thumb (½ inch thick and 1 inch long). Cook the tofu in a dry nonstick (or well-seasoned) skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, the ¼ cup cilantro, the green onions, cucumber, and about ⅔ cup of the dressing. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve on a platter, garnished with the cilantro sprigs and the toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 4-6.

A serving of otsu with sauteed spinach from the farmer’s market

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I have to run, but I promise it won’t be so long until we talk again. I owe you a (simple and tasty) recipe for potatoes.

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Vintage

Don’t you just love that word? Vintage? Vintage.

This morning I am drinking an almond milk, kale, blueberry, strawberry and banana smoothie, thinking about words that I love and listening to two new songs that I discovered in the last week (due to my attempt at a new freelance career) and cannot stop playing on repeat. I’m daydreaming of asparagus at the Farmer’s Market that starts this Saturday and long train rides to Seattle….

Happy Thursday.

Don’t mistake baking for weakness

The following is a guest appearance on ‘Wisconsin Fun Next Exit’ by Dan Walkner
 
Alice's Manderin Orange Cake awaits its impending demise.

I’m a guitar player.  I have a blog about my band but if I started talking about cakes and other trifles, I may lose all of my already limited street cred.  I rarely cook.  Never do I bake.  My mom used to bake a lot when I was little.  Bread, cookies, potpies (is that baking?), all that stuff.  I remember when I was about 4 or 5 and both my brothers were in school, my mom and I would trudge through huge snow drifts to get to the store.  We had to walk because we couldn’t get the car out of our glacial wall of a driveway.  Once, specifically, I remember helping push a grocery cart full of provisions home through dunes of white powder between Bill’s Red Owl and our house.  Five blocks of it.  At some point my mom started baking this Mandarin Orange Cake for every holiday and birthday and any other occasion where sugary delicassies are required.  If anyone didn’t love it, they were keeping quiet.  Similarly, she made the “mistake” of making the world’s greatest 7 layer salad at some point and now has to make one about every 3 days to appease her loyal following.  (Slight exaggeration, but it’s the best, and I punch anyone who says otherwise.  Also, if you use Bacos in 7 layer salad, there is a special place in hell for you.  Not you Aunt Joan, it was just that once and we all forgive you.)

Alice, Daniel, and William Walkner after a bike ride contemplating Mandarin oranges.

All right.  I started compulsively thinking of the Mandarin Orange Cake for about a week straight.  I called up my Ma and she wanted to mail me the recipe.  I told her it couldn’t wait.  She read me the recipe, and here it is:

Alice’s Mandarin Orange Cake

This has a few steps, but I guess most recipes do.  The main parts are the crunch layer, the cake, and the frosting.  You can do it all from scratch, or cheat, or both.  I cheated and made some alterations.  If you tell my mom I’ll tell her you lie.

Crunch Layer

1 cup graham crackers (I got the Co-op hippie kind, but the regular kind are fine)

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 chopped walnuts

1/2 cup melted butter (I used slightly more.)

Combine the dry stuff and dump in the butter.  Don’t use a microwave.  Use the burners.  They get lonely and won’t fry your chromosomes.  Just make sure the butter and brown sugar get mixed up pretty well or you may have some sticking to the pan.  (A little bit of sticking is okay, as you will soon find out!) 

Using two 8 inch circular cake pans, line the bottoms with half the crunch stuff.  Smash it down with the nearest dull object.  I used a pint glass, but you could use a balpeen hammer, butt of rifle, etc. 

Cake

1 yellow or vanilla cake mix

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

Here, follow the box directions, except when it calls for water, substitute 1/2 of it with orange juice.  So the eggs and oil is the same, but generally it will be a 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup OJ.  Also, for the orange peel, you don’t need a lot or maybe you need more I don’t know.  If you like stuff orangy, go nuts.  Put it in the mix, though.

Frosting

1 can vanilla frosting

1 cup whipped topping (Cool Whip style, not whippets)

3 tablespoons grated orange peel

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

11 oz. can of Mandarin oranges, drained

Beat frosting in midair til fluffy.  No, actually, you should use a small bowl.  Add whipped topping.  Fold in orange and lemon peel.

Oven should be heated to 350 degrees.  Pour the cake batter equally over the two pans with crunch layer.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until you can pass a toothpick in and it comes out unscathed. 

VERY IMPORTANT (my mom yelled this, so I took it seriously): let the cakes cool for 10 minutes.  Any longer and you run the risk of not getting the cakes out of the pans.  Take them out and put one crunch side down.  Scrape the remaining crusty parts into a small bowl and hang on to them.

Frost the first layer with 1/4 of the frosting.  Stack the other layer on, also crunch side down.  Frost the bejeezus out of the sucker.  Top with the Mandrin oranges.  Then, this is my crowning glory that I thought of on my own, sprinkle the crusty crunch layer remnants over the top.  Maybe my mom does this too, but I can’t remember, and until she corrects me I’m taking credit for it.

Thanks Ma, for making this when I was little and inspiring me to obsess over it in the modern era. 

Love,

Dan

So good. Thanks, Ma.

Love is close dancing, Part 2 or I am allowed to drink booze

We had breakfast (homeade blueberry pancakes, Wisconsin maple syrup, fake sausage patties and lots of coffee) with our good friends Derek and Lanore this morning before they hit the road for Virginia (I was supremely jealous as I watched them drive away). Derek, a fantastic singer/ songwriter who has collaborated with Dan (including on this song– one of my favorites), was in town to play a show at The Frequency last night. In addition to “Old Fashioned,” Derek wrote an anthemic song about the Pine Cone truckstop off of I-94 between Madison and Milwaukee and can do a soul-bearing cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless.”

Derek and Dan at Isenroo 2010

Unfortunately Dan and I missed Derek’s set last night because we had an important task to do, which I will share in a future post…. We did however catch a set by The Snowbirds, a band out of Green Bay and Milwaukee. They were a little bit country (the good kind of country- like Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard) and even covered a song by one of my new favorite old bands, The Flying Burrito Brothers. It was a really good show- I enjoyed watching Gary doing a lot of foot stomps and rocking out on acoustic guitar and Dan was enamored with the pedal steel guitar. But one of my favorite parts of the whole evening was when I got home from the show and realized that the wrist band I had received at the door declared, “I am allowed to drink booze.” Well I suppose I am.

This morning Derek requested that I post that recipe for whole wheat pasta that I mentioned in my previous post. So I will start with that for my continued list of holiday highlights.

Highlight #4: Pasta dinner with my parents and Dan…

Whole wheat pasta with zucchini and goat cheese

The night after my parents arrived from Oklahoma my mom and I made this recipe from The New York Times. We served it with a loaf of good bread and roasted cauliflower and laughed hard about the time that my dad and his friend were watching Dairyland Jubilee and drove to the local tv station in an attempt to polka dance with Miss Whithee Bell. The story gets better from there but I think I might get in trouble if I say anymore. Here’s the recipe for the pasta (we doubled it for four people). It was delicious- I can’t wait to make it in the summer when the zucchini and basil are in season (and possibly grown in my garden).

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This is a recipe from the Dining section of The New York Times, October 12, 2010.

Creamy Pasta With Roasted Zucchini, Almonds and Basil

2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons slivered almonds

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 sprig basil, with leaves and stem

3 tablespoons goat cheese

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

6 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine.

 1. Heat oven to 500 degrees. Toss the zucchini and oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Arrange zucchini on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until golden and tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a skillet over medium heat until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.

3. Simmer the cream and basil sprig in a small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 7 minutes. Whisk in the goat cheese until the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat; stir in lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and keep warm.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain well. Toss the pasta with the cream sauce. Serve topped with the zucchini and almonds.

Yield: 2 servings.

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#5: Our trip to Evanston, Illinois a couple of days after Christmas to visit friends.

In an extremely cozy house built a very long time ago we drank champagne and ate roasted brussel sprouts and cauliflower. Despite being told that they were vegan, I abstained from eating the ribs, but I heard they were delicious.

Brussel sprouts ready to go into the oven

We finally made our way to bed after a sing-along with Dan and Pat. A good time was had by all.

#6: Our Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve Scrabble games.  

Christmas Eve Scrabble game

We started playing Scrabble again a couple of years ago. We usually abide by the rules but we have had some ridiculous games (usually to accommodate my sister who used to become frustrated easily while playing, but has recently greatly  increased her gameplay) where we allowed words like “jaxed” (as in, “Oh man, you just got ‘jaxed’), “manrib” (?) and “epain” (pain received via the internet).

Dan is generally in charge of naming the competitors and this particular game was a grueling battle between Groggy, Cold and Clean! For once I, Cold, was victorious!

Cold is the winner!

We also honor a tradition established with my cousins at a family reunion in Montana: After the game everyone holds up the number of fingers of their finishing ranking and must have a look on their face that reflects their position. And then we take a photo which is usually pretty entertaining.

#7: Making owl-shaped Christmas cookies in the likeness of Green Bay Packers players.

Clay and Aaron

It was our friend Maggie’s idea and I think she is full of good ideas. Do you think “fans” of other teams do this? I don’t. Go Pack Go!!!!!!!!

Gilbert
Driver, Raji and Gilbert

#8: Last but not least, Christmas Day.

Christmas Day officially started at my sister’s friend’s parents’ house where we sat around the fireplace and sipped on rum and cokes. My sister and I walked home at about 3 a.m. through the perfectly quiet and snowy streets of our neighborhood. It was one of those nights where you just want to walk through those streets forever. Sneaking in the house around 3:30 we were greeted by our father who has had to deal with our late nights for a very long time. The next morning we opened stockings and a few presents at home and then we were off to our aunt and uncle’s house where we enjoyed mimosas, coffee, egg frittata and fruit salad. In the afternoon we took our traditional trip to the street where my dad grew up to visit his friend’s mom who is 102-years-old this year and an incredible woman.

After that was Christmas dinner at our friends’ house.

Sitting around a familiar wooden table in a candlelit dining room with Japanese rice paper windows we popped open Christmas crackers, laughed at our fortunes and wore colored paper crowns. We ate spinach, citrus salad with pomagranate seeds, potatoes and peppermint stick ice cream pie. We drank wine and cheersed to being together. And at one point our host put on his golden lame suit bequeathed to him by his dear friend and put on a song and dance routine. It was a magical evening.

After dinner we went across the street to the neighbor’s house where people from the neighborhood have started to gather on Christmas night for an outdoor fire. We sipped a  little whiskey, listened to a little banjo, and had a grand ol’ time. After we left the fire Dan, my sister and I were off to the Laurel Tavern to see who would show up and to catch up with some old friends. I knew it at the time, but in retrospect, it really was quite the day.

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Happy 2011. Here’s to a healthy, peaceful and happy year with lots of highlights.

Yum Town called: They want their pizza back

I’ve got some super exciting news today to report: Metamorphic, the latest cd released this summer by Dan’s band, Clovis Mann, is featured on the cover of this week’s Isthmus, Madison’s weekly newspaper, as one of the top ten local albums of the year! 

On the cover of the Isthmus. Boosh!

Not nearly as important, but exciting to me, is that also means that my photo is on the cover of the Isthmus.

In other awesome news, tonight was pizza night. Sometimes you have those weeks substitute teaching where you spend part of your week bored into submission by the task of cutting out laminated math sheets for multiple hours and part of your week in awe of what is wrong with society when a first grader is hoisting his chair over his head to throw across the room and flipping desks over. There is something that makes these weeks better and that something, my friends, is pizza night.

I don’t remember exactly how it started or when (but I do know that it use to coincide with watching The Biggest Loser until Dan and I realized that we wanted to shoot the television, not unlike that gentleman from Black Earth who did shoot his television this week over a dancing Palin) but pizza night has become one of my favorite things that I look forward to all week long. While I like to do a lot of the cooking, there are a few things that I leave up to Dan because he does them very well: Tacos al pastor (we ate these before I quite meat- we’re still working on the veggie version), omelettes, pancakes and pizza. Dan starts his pizza with a Rustic Crust crust from the Willy Street Co-op and globs on Muir Glen pizza sauce (which to he adds chopped up hot chili peppers from the olive bar olives).

Pizza prep work

Next come the onions and the shredded Farmer John’s cheese. He tops it off with a sliced portabella mushroom cap, olives and tonight, a jalapeno pepper. YUM! We devoured it with a spinach salad with a  mustard vinagrette and some roasted broccoli with sea salt, pepper and lemon. And a nice, cheap red wine that I purchased tonight after my run at the local pharmacy- and that’s not slang for liquor store.

Oh delicious pizza pie

Back to first grade tomorrow. Fortified by pizza, I am ready.