Cue the seagulls

Here’s the funny thing about summer- it always seems like it’s going to last forever. You think this, this! will be the summer that I _______ (fill in the blank.) And now with the September page of the calendar looming, you look back and think, “Where did all that time go?” And here is the other thing- as much as I like to think that I am this free spirit who revels in freedom, I have to admit- I sort of like structure. Unless I’m traveling, I do much better with a bit of a schedule. And sometimes I wonder if I love the idea of summer more than I really love summer. My dad and my sister, they really love summer. My dad considers the summer solstice to be the saddest day of the year because it marks the height of summer- the days only get shorter from there-  and my sister records the crickets on her phone to listen to all year long. My mom on the other hand, really loves sweet corn but she misses football and a sense of normalcy. I can see it both ways. But summer is really bittersweet, I think. The world is your oyster, yet there is so much pressure to do it right. Around the beginning of August I start to hear the seagulls from The Boys of Summer in my head on repeat and feel regret for what could have been. But, at some point, it’s important to take stock of reality and think about what was possible, what you actually got to do, and the fact that you can’t live every moment in a perfect Instagram photo with an amaro filter. No other season makes me feel this way, but I still love you, summer. You are sneaky and wonderful and happy and sad. You are snap peas and mosquito bites and screen porches and swimmer’s itch. You are sweet corn and ragweed and swimsuits drying on the line.

image

This summer I may not have started a Shovels and Rope cover band or made pitchers of sparkling rhubarb cocktails every day or even blogged once (not once!), but I did some awesome stuff, gosh darn it. I got to go hiking with some dogs and write about it.

I got to drink a few cocktails and write about those, too. I lost a lot of bocce games with some good friends at the East Side Club. I vacationed in Blanchardville, Wis. population 823, with the fam, and learned that it’s acceptable to eat salad for breakfast.

I went for lots of bike rides with Half-moon, traded three hours of labor a week for vegetables, and created this really delicious salad, but forgot to write down the recipe.

image

I kayaked a few times, and canoed a couple of times. I ate dinner with my sister in a field.

image

I vacationed in northern Minnesota with my family where we (some of us) worshipped the sauna. I checked out a stack of books from the library and never read them. I did some yoga. I let vegetables rot in the fridge and snuck them to the compost pile in the dark of night. We took Half-moon to Iowa, and fed him sweet corn.

image

So, it turns out, we did all right.

When life gives you carrots

Happy August.

IMG_2182

You know that time-old adage “when someone accidentally brings home a five-pound bag of carrots from the grocery store instead of a one-pound bag, make pickles”? Well, good news: Summer is pickle season! And pickled carrots are just the thing to make on a hot Friday late afternoon. The recipe comes from Ms. Molly and I wish I had the charming Beatrix Potter-esque carrots that she used but I just made carrot sticks. The good old kind that my mom would put on the dinner table every night in a small yellow cup filled with water to keep them crisp.

There is something about making a pickling brine that satisfies this part of my being I didn’t know existed until recently. It’s something basic and primal- maybe my Iowa roots- but you can’t beat the hazy glow of vinegar that hangs in the air while you crack peppercorns and wash quart-sized jars.

IMG_1688

Half-moon watched later that night from his perch on the kitchen floor as we listened to the Brewers on the radio and I packed the carrots into jars and stuck them in the refrigerator. In a week we could crunch into the garlicky, tangy pickles.

____________________________________________________________________

Spicy Pickled Carrots with Garlic and Thyme

This recipe comes from Molly Wizenberg’s first book, A Homemade Life.

Ingredients:

2 cups apple cider vinegar, plus more for topping jars
2 cups water, plus more for topping jars
1/4 cup granulated sugar
6 (5- to 6-inch) sprigs fresh thyme
5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns, cracked
1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Heaping 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Heaping 2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
1 1/2 pounds small (finger-sized) carrots, or standard carrots, cut into sticks about 1/2 inch wide and 3 inches long

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, thyme, garlic, black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, salt, and mustard seeds. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup vinegar.

Put the carrots in a large, heatproof bowl, and pour the warm brine over them. Cool to room temperature. While the carrots cool, wash 2 quart-sized canning jars and their lids in warm, soapy water.

When the carrots and brine are cool, distribute the carrots evenly among the jars, arranging them snugly. (Hands and finger work best for this; tongs make a mess.) Using a ladle, divide the brine evenly among the jars. The carrots should be covered completely by brine. If they are not, add a mixture of 2 parts vinegar and 1 part water to cover.

Seal firmly and refrigerate for at least 3 days, or, preferably, a week; carrots are dense and take time to absorb the brine.

Note: Covered and refrigerated, pickled carrots will, in theory, last indefinitely, but we try to eat them within a month or two.

Yield: 2 quarts

____________________________________________________________________

Happy pickling!

Blossom and bloom

After a cool start, summer has arrived in Wisconsin. Things here continue to move at a pretty slow pace.

1

Hanging out in the mornings with Half-moon while he pulls up a stool at the milk bar, I have been observing summer perennials and a neighborhood romance bloom (watching white-haired, tank-topped Gordy pedal back and forth by our other neighbor’s house on his turquoise bicycle, I started to get suspicious… One day I got to text Dan, “they smooched!”) While the days feel pretty lazy, I also like to play a game called, “What can I get done in the two minutes it takes Dan to change Half-moon’s diaper?” Then I go into turbo-charge: I turned a calendar page (eleven days late)! I made diaper spray (1 cup water + 1 tablespoon olive oil + 1 teaspoon soap, like Dr. Bronner’s)! I found the key to the garage in the washing machine! It’s a lot of fun.

We’ve also been experiencing some “firsts.” On Wednesday, Half-moon attended his first gig with his dad. It was at Cress Spring Bakery for their pizza night. Located in a valley outside of Blue Mounds, Cress Spring Bakery is an idyllic place to lounge with a wood-fired pizza and a cold can of beer. Their chocolate chip cookie/ Sassy Cow vanilla ice cream sandwich might be my favorite thing I have eaten this summer.

IMG_1835

This morning we took Half-moon to his first downtown farmer’s market. Yesterday, he met his first donkey at his first music festival, and a couple of weeks ago I actually followed a recipe to make marinade for the first time. And it was really f*$#ing good. The recipe came from my new Thug Kitchen cookbook, and if you don’t know Thug Kitchen, you need to.

IMG_1595

(Disclaimer: I didn’t actually make the marinade for the baked tofu- Dan did- but I called out the ingredients from the milk bar.) I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but my favorite way to eat tofu is baked. Not me, the tofu. While the Thug Kitchen cookbook didn’t say this, I like to bake tofu on parchment paper- I think I learned this from Mark Bittman– when you only have two minutes to clean up, this makes it really easy (first press the tofu before marinating, then bake tofu for 10-15 minutes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in a hot oven-  400 or 450 degrees.) We followed the recipe for the ginger-sesame marinade and ate it with the Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad. Here is the recipe for the marinade for the tofu:

IMG_1591

And the noodle salad:

________________________________________________________________________________________

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

From the Thug Kitchen cookbook 

Ingredients: 

1 package (6.75 ounces) thin rice noodles
1/2 head of lettuce, chopped (or other greens)
2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
1 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, finely chopped
Lime wedges, for serving
Toasted sesame dressing* (or other Asian dressing)

Directions:

Cook the noodles according to package directions. When they are done, drain the noodles and run them under cold water until they are cool to the touch. Set aside.While all that is going down, get all your veggies and herbs ready and make your dressing.To serve, pile a large mound of noodles in the center of each plate. Arrange the lettuce, veggies, and herbs around the mound while leaving a good amount of the noodles exposed. Drizzle the dressing on both the noodles and lightly around the vegetables. Sprinkle peanuts all over and serve with lime wedges.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

*

IMG_1597

We are now off to our first neighborhood block party. Happy Saturday, my friends.

Over the moon

Towards the beginning of June, I gave birth to a son. We’ll call him “Half-moon.” That is what I not-so-secretly wanted to name him. It came to me in the middle of a sleepless night- in addition to becoming my favorite yoga pose during pregnancy, I thought it would set him up for a career as a left-handed pitcher.

Meet Half-moon:

IMG_0604

Parenthood is a trip; my kid’s faces and noises are pretty much the most damn charming thing on earth. The cats couldn’t be more excited.

IMG_1198

I’ve gotten pretty good at doing things one-handed. Motherhood has also drastically altered my definition of a “productive” day. Now I get excited if I make a smoothie! Before noon! But today I really have something to brag about- as I type over the head of Half-moon, there is a raspberry crisp bubbling away in the oven. I was inspired by a recipe for a peach crisp in the July issue of Bon Appetit and the fact that there was a bowl of raspberries- picked over the weekend by Dan- sitting on the counter. I also added strawberries and cherries for good measure.

IMG_0071

I love crisps because there is a decent chance you have all of the ingredients if you decide to make one on a whim, and they are so impossibly easy- you could probably even do it one-handed.

_______________________________________

Iron-Skillet Raspberry Crisp

Adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2015

Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
⅔ cup (packed) light brown sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Filling
1½ cups walnuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2¼ pounds fruit (I used raspberries, cherries and strawberries)
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:
Whisk flour, brown sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Rub in butter with your fingers until clumps form and no dry spots remain.
Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened in color, 8–10 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop.
Smear bottom and sides of a 10″ cast-iron skillet with butter. Toss walnuts, berries, brown sugar, granulated sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl to combine. Transfer to skillet and crumble topping, breaking up into large pieces, over filling.
Bake crisp until topping is golden brown and juices are thick and bubbling around the edges, 25–35 minutes.

_______________________________________

Eat with vanilla ice cream. Because it’s summer. And you deserve it.

IMG_0058

Welcome to the world, Half-moon. May it be always be filled with fresh-picked raspberries and kitties. Cheers.

Farm report

Last week I started working 12 hours a week at Troy Farm. This statement sounds somewhat ridiculous considering most farmers work more than 12 hours a day, but hey, although I have an official farmer’s tan now, I’m no farmer. But I did feel a burst of pride when I spied the bundles of parsley that I helped to harvest being sold at the Willy Street Co-op and I am getting really good at making kale “bouquets” (the trick is to cradle the bunch of leaves in the nook of your arm and give it a gentle squeeze- not hard when you feel as affectionately about this vegetable as I do). My first task at the farm was picking ripe ‘Sumo’ snow peas. Something I quickly learned was no easy assignment. Although my instructions from the head farmer, Jake, were to be “super-human fast” I went at the pace of a sloth as I deliberated over every pod’s level of maturity, scared of doing it wrong and picking peas that were under or over-mature. After an hour I had picked 1/5 the amount of peas as the rest of the crew and was feeling like I should have stuck to shopping for peas at the market. But when my shift ended I was red-faced, sweaty and covered in dirt. And I couldn’t wait to go back the next day.

During the week I also trellised tomato plants, sheared off fennel roots, picked basil and was reunited with my new nemesis, the snow pea. But this time around I already felt more confident in my agrarian abilities and I worked one speed higher than sloth. Somebody buy me a John Deere tractor hat.

IMG_1811

In exchange for my work at the farm, I am receiving a weekly share of vegetables. It’s a tad overwhelming trying to figure out what to do with all this food.

IMG_1816

My answer this past week has been salads. Lots and lots of salads. I’ve been smashing a garlic clove on my cutting board and pouring on some salt. I smear it into a paste and add it to my new beautiful salad bowl (thanks, Dan!) Next I add a fork full of stone ground mustard and some sort of acid- either lemon juice or red wine vinegar. Pour in a generous amount of olive oil and some fresh herbs (I like parsley and dill). Whisk this all together and add greens and whatever crisp veggies you have lying around, toss it all together and enjoy for a late lunch! If you’re feeling fancy, and don’t have to go back to work, maybe even pour yourself a glass of lazy sangria (red wine + San Pellegrino blood orange soda + sliced lemon and limes).

IMG_1795

I know you don’t need me to tell you how to make a salad, but here you go.

_________________________________________________

Farm Salad

Dressing: Garlic, salt, lemon juice or red wine vinegar, stone ground mustard, olive oil, fresh herbs

Salad: Greens- combination of lettuces, spinach, and/or kale (washed and dried), chopped veggies (summer squash, cucumber, kahlrabi, radishes, etc.)

Optional add-ins: Sprouted lentils, sliced dried figs, hard boiled egg, parmesan cheese…

Directions:

Smash a garlic clove and pour salt over it. Chop and smash until you have a smooth paste. Add to your big salad bowl, along with mustard and lemon juice or vinegar, olive oil and fresh herbs. Add your greens and toss to coat all of the leaves. Add chopped veggies and toss again. Grate parmesan cheese over the top, if you like. And serve with a side of good bread.

_____________________________________________________

Happy summer.

IMG_1810