Take your time

 

I love stories about food, but you probably know that by now. There’s a recipe at the end of this post, but if you’ve got a second, here is a story about fennel: Last December my sister and I went to a winter solstice fire and ran into our longtime family friend, Gillian. While we huddled near the low light of the dying bonfire, Gillian told us about the summer solstice party that she used to throw in June, complete with a bottle of Aquavit frozen in a block of ice with floating flowers. In the darkness, we dreamed of fresh dill, rye crackers, vinegary cucumbers, gravlax, and a long, drunken dusk under the willow tree of Gillian’s backyard. We hadn’t been at these parties, but we could picture ourselves there.

Several snow-less, gray months later, my friends and I started to make plans for a July weekend getaway to the Driftless area of Wisconsin. When we started to talk about menus, I thought back to Gillian’s summer solstice party spread. So for our Friday evening meal, my friend Morgan brought smoked salmon, crackers and cheese, and I decided to make a fennel salad. Gillian hadn’t mentioned fennel, but I could see the green, wispy-fronded vegetable fitting right into the mix. I had read about a salad with fennel and olives in Bon Appetit and wanted to recreate for our mid-summer meal.

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And now for a brief interlude- here is something that you need to know about my sister and me: while we love to think about, prepare and eat food, we are the world’s slowest cooks (just ask our mom.) Once when my sister was visiting my roommates and me in Wyoming, she decided to make us beef stroganoff for a Sunday meal. After an afternoon trip to the grocery store, I believe dinner was served just after midnight… But it was some of the best beef stroganoff you could ever have, as this was back in my meat-eating days.

Back to the old farmhouse in the middle of July and the fennel salad that I began preparing around 6 p.m. Several hours later, as more friends had arrived, I was still grating orange peel, chopping fennel fronds, sipping on gin and tonics, listening, talking, crushing an olive, laughing, slicing a fennel stem, and looking again at the recipe I had scribbled down in my notebook to loosely follow. When the salad was ready around 10 p.m., it was a hit.

Next in July came a vacation to a cabin on the Gunflint Trail in Minnesota (it was a good month.) Reunited at last, my sister and I decided to recreate Gillian’s menu for one of our nights at the cabin for a belated summer solstice party.

 

Again I decided to make the fennel salad to accompany smoked salmon from Grand Marais, boiled potatoes with dill, pickled beets, marinated cucumbers, and a bottle of Aquavit. I picked up the pace a bit this time as there was a hungry family to feed.

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Fennel Salad with Green Olives

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients

2 large fennel bulbs, tough outer leaves discarded, bulbs, stems, and fronds separated
1 cup Castelvetrano olives
¼ cup olive oil (lemon-infused olive oil is nice)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
Flaky sea salt

Preparation

Slice fennel stems crosswise (not too thin) and place in a medium bowl. Coarsely chop fennel fronds (you want about ⅓ cup) and add to bowl. Crush olives with a flat-bottomed cup or side of a chef’s knife and remove pit. Coarsely chop olives. Add olives, oil, vinegar, orange zest, and red pepper to bowl; season with kosher salt and black pepper, then toss to coat.

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I realize it is now October, but we often get a brief period in southern Wisconsin in the fall when fennel is being harvested on our farms again, so live it up! Get yourself some fennel and carve out a few hours to slowly make this salad for some people with whom it’s fun to take your time. Cheers.

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When life hands you lemons make tabouli

I’ve just returned from a magical place called Minnesota. It was kind of the perfect family vacation- there was a lake, a sauna, and no phone service. Returning home from vacation is always hard; suddenly to-do lists swarm in your head as you no longer have nothing to do all day but read, wait for happy hour and kayak after loons. This re-entry was particularly unhappy, however, as we came home to some uninvited house guests who had taken up residence on our cats (yes, fleas.) So instead of unpacking the car, grocery shopping, missing the sauna and dealing with laundry, I have spent the last couple of days vacuuming and spraying every surface of the house (and the cats) with lemon water- the home remedy on all of the hippie websites for people like me who refuse to spray mass quantities of chemicals around her home. In good news, I also came home to some ripe cherry tomatoes in my garden, so when I realized the fridge was quite bare today and I was hungry after all of that vacuuming, I whipped up a quick batch of tabouli.

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Tabouli is nice because it is hearty and can make use of a variety of summer produce. Today I relied on a half of a cucumber I found in the vegetable drawer and some mint from my garden, along with the cherry tomatoes. I juiced a lemon and voila! I had something to eat for a late lunch.

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Tabouli with Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients:
1 cup bulgur
A couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cucumber, chopped
1 lemon
1-2 Tbs. olive oil
Parsley
Mint
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Place one cup bulgur and two cups cold water in a pot and bring to boil. Cover and cook on low until water is absorbed, about 8-10 minutes. Once bulgur has cooled, combine with cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and chopped herbs. Squeeze the juice from one lemon and whisk in olive oil. Pour dressing over salad and season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Happy Monday, y’all.

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

 

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.

Light a fire

I wrote my first blog post here on November 14, 2010, so it’s almost been six (six!) years. Wild.

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I may have been neglecting this space a bit lately, but I’m happy it’s still here. And if you just read that last line, then I’m happy you’re still here, too.

It’s been a really beautiful, warm fall. We took Half-moon to his first pumpkin patch a couple of weeks ago (as of press time, the pumpkins remain uncarved. Maybe it’s better late than never?) We had a delicious picnic dinner  in Tenney Park from the Underground food truck and Sitka Salmon folks and discovered that Half-moon LOVES smoked salmon. I went catting with a notorious Madisonian (more on this in this coming week’s Isthmus) and we’ve been enjoying late afternoon happy hour fires. I have also been making lots and lots of rice bowls with veggies and tofu. The funny thing is, I was inspired to make these bowls by a meal that we had in Seattle about five years ago when we took the train to visit my sister. One night my old roommate from Wyoming, Brett (who had since moved to Seattle) and his wife, Kate, had us over for a super fun dinner where we created our own bowls with rice, salmon, and vegetables- I remember shredded beets- and a delicious, herbaceous sauce.

So I found myself thinking about this meal one morning about a month and a half ago, which turned out to be the same day Brett found me on Instagram, after having not communicated for at least over a year. Cosmic energy, my friends.

And from checking out Brett and Kate’s instagram pages, it turns out that they know the farmer behind one of my all-time favorite blogs, so I need to get to that bottom of that, too. All right, rice bowls. I had a realization sometime in the last couple of years that I am not very good at making stir-fry- it always ends up too greasy for my liking. Instead of sautéing veggies, I prefer them raw (or cooked separately ahead of time- like roasted brussel sprouts) served with a salty, umami-y sauce + fresh herbs (like cilantro) + sesame seeds or peanuts. Here is how I like to make rice bowls:

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Rice Bowls with Tofu and Seasonal Vegetables

Ingredients

Brown rice (cooked according to directions- about a cup uncooked rice for 2-3 people)

Vegetables: any combination of shredded napa cabbage (really good marinated in sesame oil- reminds me of the wok seared sesame noodles from when I worked at Noodles and Co.), green beans, shredded beets, sliced radishes, green onions, thinly sliced kale, brussels sprouts, etc.

Baked tofu (see this blog post for marinade and baking directions)

Sauce: Play around! Here are a couple of combinations to try-

soy sauce + (dark) miso + sesame oil + lime/lemon juice + chopped cilantro

gochujang (fermented chile paste) + soy sauce + water

Toppings: peanuts or sesame seeds, (more) fresh cilantro

Directions

Place cooked rice in bowl. Top with tofu, vegetables, sauce, peanuts or sesame seeds and fresh herbs.

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Tonight we’ll have to light a fire to embrace the early darkness. Happy fall.