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

 

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Jam on johnson

I never lived on Johnson Street, but my cats did. So did my sister and her cat, Guinness, who is now the unofficial mayor of a neighborhood in Seattle. Long the home of rentals, one-way traffic, a liquor store and a rock shop, Johnson Street is being lit up by new businesses. Forequarter- with its delicious cheese boards- led the way, and now Macha Tea Company, a shop named after the best kind of lunch and a new bar with kegged cocktails are joining the party. Last Friday night Half-moon, my friend Sam, and I went to Jam on Johnson to celebrate this street’s new life.

We started at Juneberry Studio and Marketplace, where Sam bought some Wisconsin art and I was charmed by a pink octopus that looks just like my favorite hotmail emoticon.

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We crossed the street and headed for Drunk Lunch (sidenote: one of my favorite drunk lunches took place in Seattle and involved my sister and old roomate Brett from when I lived in Wyoming. We ate crab salad sandwiches and drank pomegranate mimosas- the second round’s drinks were considerably larger due to the fact that we weren’t “annoying” our waiter, like his other tables.) While there were no drunks or mimosas to be found at this new style shop, we did glimpse Santa and some sweet taco-related keychains.

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Next up was the Good Style Shop (one of my favorite thrift stores) where we found Chad Vogel (Barmadillo!) and some of his kegged Strawberry Hibiscus soda. Chad’s new bar The Robin Room, will be opening up a couple of doors down from Good Style in December or January.

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We were waiting for a table at Salvatore’s, so we headed to the new Macha Tea Company where we chatted with the owner and sampled some teas.

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Next we headed for Salvatore’s Tomato Pies where we met up with Dan and sipped on creamy 3 Sheeps Pale Ales (on nitro!) and waited for our table. The pizza I had been thinking about all week came topped with crispy kale and tangy banana peppers. Oh yeah.

Jam on, Johnson Street.

 

Happy today

The truth of the matter is, I’ve been feeling a lot like my sister, the one on the right in this photo, the last few weeks.

There is one glaring reason for my sadness- my beloved tabby cat passed away a few weeks ago and left a void that has yet to be filled. And another obvious one- I haven’t slept through the night in over a year. But there is another underlying issue at the heart of it: While everyone else is parading around pumpkin patches and cooking up squash, I just don’t get all that excited about fall. Yes, the leaves are beautiful and I get to wear my favorite Lebowski-esque cardigan sweater again, but I miss summer. I miss the crickets and I miss the long, warm days. I miss Bob Uecker on the radio and I miss swimming in lakes. I miss my tomatoes that never ripened and I hate spaghetti squash. There. I said it.

Now, I realize that it doesn’t behoove you to write off an entire season, especially when you live in a climate like ours; it’s a considerable chunk of your life here in the upper midwest. In an effort to embrace the season, I’m channeling my two-year-old self: The one, who upon discovering that on Halloween all you have to do is knock on a door and someone will hand you candy, danced up and down her street yelling “Happy today, happy today, happy today!”

So I’m going to carve a pumpkin and whip up some molasses bars. I’ll cheer on the Pack and dig out my ski socks. I’ll daydream; maybe this will be the winter I’ll practice the banjo and learn to crochet. And I’m making stew because when it comes to soup, summer ain’t got nothing on fall. When I first made this stew I used Rancho Gordo heirloom yellow eye beans, which I had bought back when I was employed.

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Since then I have also used good old white pea beans (navy beans.) You can read all about how to cook dried beans here. I start by rinsing the beans and then soaking them (or not) for a few hours (if they haven’t soaked, the cooking time will be longer.) You then cover them with water in a big soup pot, adding olive oil and celery/ onions/ carrots, if you like. Cook the beans at a slow simmer until they are done. I adapted this recipe for bean stew from an article I read in The New York Times all about the Greek island of Ikaria, in the Aegean Sea, where people stay up late, take naps after lunch, and drink lots of wine. Sounds good to me.

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Yellow Eye Bean Stew

Adapted slightly from The New York Times

1 pound of yellow eye peas or navy beans
1 medium onion chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1 bunch of kale, stems removed and finely chopped
A handful of chopped parsley
1 chopped carrot
Chopped dill or fennel
olive oil
salt, season to taste

Cook beans until they are almost done (see directions above.) Add the vegetables and herbs. When the beans are done, add salt to taste. Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil.

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Serve the bean stew with crusty bread and lots of red wine and toast to the “blooming and singing of the dark” (this comes from another New York Times article which quotes the Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki who said, “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.”) Have a fire in your backyard. Eat halloween candy. And while it’s okay to be sad, you can also try telling yourself happy today, happy today, happy today.

So lucky

Hello from this side of October. With everyone else asleep on the couch, I’m reminiscing about yellow rafters discovered at a coffee shop last week on our vacation to Door County.

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Dan and I decided to take Half-moon on a little September adventure. Thanks to the generosity of friends and their families, we stayed at a cabin on Kangaroo Lake near Bailey’s Harbor and in a beautiful apartment on Washington Island. We drank coffee from an adorable cabin with a strange name and beer from the hippest new brewery on the mainland.

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We had crazy delicious sandwiches and gelato from Door County Creamery in Sister Bay.

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We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the gardens of Wickman House, thanks to my old friend- and gardener- Adam, and ate there that night for our first dinner in a restaurant since Half-moon joined the picture. Never have I eaten more delicious pasta dish in a restaurant- ravioli with preserved lemon and capers. The whiskey drink I nursed throughout the night wasn’t too shabby either.

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And then we boarded the ferry to Washington Island. What is it about ferries? I wish I had a reason to take one every day. On The Island we ate lots of pizza, drank lots of beer, dared each other to dunk into Lake Michigan at Schoolhouse Beach and had fires at sunset at one of the most beautiful spots in the world.  Half-moon flipped himself over onto  his stomach-surprising himself and us- and laughed up there for the very first time.

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What luck.

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.

Block party

Growing up on the near-west side of Madison, the fourth of July always meant a block party in our dear friends’ neighborhood. We dug for prizes in kiddie pools of sawdust and watched our parents compete in the water balloon toss. There were long tables set up in the middle of the street where neighbors placed bowls of potato, bean and pasta salad. After the communal meal we held matches to light the black snakes lining the sidewalk and waved sprinklers in the air, waiting for the adults to pop the corn and take us to watch the fireworks. And there was, of course, the parade. I remember distinctly sitting in my bedroom on the morning of the fourth creating my Rosie the Riveter costume for the 1985 parade. In a stroke of genius, I turned a colander into my helmet and someone handed me a drill to carry. I believe that was the year I won a prize- a $10 gift certificate to Michael’s Frozen Custard.

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Today I’m using a colander to wash lettuce. It’s my turn to contribute to the potuck. I’m marinating cucumbers, fennel and garlic scapes in equal parts apple cider vinegar, sugar (or honey, if you open the cupboard and find yourself without sugar) and water.

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After consulting with my salad guru, my sister, I’m making a light dressing of olive oil, salt, mustard and parsley and will toss this all together with a head of red lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces (remove the cucumbers, etc. from the marinade before adding to the salad). I need to hurry, because I don’t want to miss the water balloon toss. Happy Fourth of July, my friends. May there be a block party in your future.

Cheers.

Let’s cut to the chase

There’s a band practice happening in my living room and the snow outside is calling my name, so let’s make this speedy, shall we? A million years ago- or last month- Dan and I loaded up the car with groceries and headed up north to Chetek for a long (-er than expected) Thanksgiving weekend.

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Chetek, tucked between Bloomer and Rice Lake, is where relatives on my mom’s side of the family settled their lake homes. After a long hiatus (I have early memories of picnics with my cousins on the ice, a yellow and white checked vinyl tablecloth and beds with electric blankets), I have rediscovered this place, thanks to the hospitality of Nancy and her family.

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Summers on Lake Chetek are full of waterskiing shows, treading water for hours with cans of beer and a sleeping porch that might be my favorite spot in the world to sleep, but winters there offer more quiet isolation. Dan and I read by the wood-burning stove and went for long walks looking for animal tracks in the snow.

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We did venture into town for some adventure one night and met Betty, the bartender who could not understand what we were possibly doing there after we told her we were neither hunting nor ice fishing. She cracked our bottles of Leinie’s and went about her Christmas decorating while I plugged money into the  jukebox for us and the guy in the corner at the gambling machine. No matter the time of year, here is my rule about Chetek- I always stay an extra day then I intend to. I suggest you do the same. 

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And while I have a feeling that food is the last thing in the world that you want to hear about right now, I do want to share a couple of recipes with you. Dan and I had a lot of fun cooking our vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. It was the first time that I planned and prepared one, ever.

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We had mushroom gravy, sage and onion stuffing, bread from Madison Sourdough Company and a crazy delicious kale salad which I will tell you about now. No matter how much you have eaten in the last month, there’s always room at the table for kale salad.

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Raw Tuscan Kale Salad

From 101 Cookbooks

1 bunch Tuscan kale (for ex: black or lacinato)
2 thin slices country bread, or two handfuls good, homemade coarse breadcrumbs
1/2 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
1/4 cup (or small handful) grated pecorino cheese, plus adiitional for garnish
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Trim the bottom few inches off the kale stems and discard. Slice the kale into 3/4-inch ribbons. You should have 4 to 5 cups. Place the kale in a large bowl.

If using the bread, toast it until golden brown on both sides and dry throughout. Tear into small pieces and pulse in a food processor until the mixture forms coarse crumbs, or crumbs to your liking.

Using a mortar and pestle or a knife, pound or mince the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a paste. Transfer the garlic to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pepper flakes, and black pepper and whisk to combine. Pour the dressing over the kale and toss very well (the dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat the leaves).. Let the salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with the bread crumbs, additional cheese, and a drizzle of oil.

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And the other recipe is for a cocktail, because you can’t possibly be tired of those yet- we still have New Year’s Eve to deal with. I adapted this recipe from 101 Cookbooks, also, altering it to include my favorite winter citrus fruit, meyer lemons.

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Meyer Lemon Gin Sparkler

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 bay leaf
meyer lemons
gin (I used Death’s Door)
tonic water

Directions:

Combine the water, sugar, rosemary, and bay leaf in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes, or long enough for the sugar to dissolve, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a jar to cool completely.

In the meantime, juice and strain your lemons.

To make each drink combine 1 1/2 ounces gin and 1 1/2 ounces lemon juice and a bit of rosemary syrup in a tall glass. Stir to combine, fill glass 2/3 full with ice and top off with 1 1/2 ounces of tonic water. Stir again and garnish with a rosemary sprig.

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Happy holidays.