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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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So, it turns out, we did all right.

Just like that

And just like that, Half-moon is one. And in love with pushing things around, like plastic lawn chairs, his stroller and empty beer bottles.

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I’ve been feeling really nostalgic this week about the week he was born; mainly for how unbelievably incredible it was to bring a human into the world (and the people who helped make this happen) and for all of the iced coconut lattes I drink that week from Indie Coffee while we were in the hospital. I had one latte on his birthday and I plan on having at least two more before the weekend.

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We celebrated Half-moon’s birthday with some of his favorite foods, including pickled beets, watermelon, Batch Bakehouse bread, and cucumbers. My mom made carrot cake cupcakes (YUM) and I made a farro salad with asparagus, kale, peas and lemon. It couldn’t be easier to make (don’t bother cooking the asparagus, use frozen peas) and it’s even better the next day with some shredded Parmesan cheese.

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Farro Salad with Asparagus, Kale and Peas

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked Farro*
1/2 pound asparagus (raw), chopped into bite-sized pieces
Several kale leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup frozen peas (thawed)
Parsley
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of a lemon
Splash of white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Cook the Farro (*cover Farro with water in a pot and cook at medium-high until water is absorbed- 25-35 minutes. Add more water, if necessary, until Farro is cooked to your desired texture… I like mine a little chewy.) Let Farro cool.
Mix olive oil, lemon, parsley, and vinegar in a large bowl. Add asparagus, kale, and peas and allow to marinate in vinaigrette for 30 minutes or so. When Farro has cooled, add it to the vegetables. Mix up the salad and add salt and pepper, if you like.
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Cheers.

 

Late spring potato salad with lovage

Last weekend Dan, half-moon and I ventured up to the square to go to our first farmer’s market of the season. I really had an ulterior motive, which was to go to Field Table for doughnuts and iced coffees. I was never much of a huge doughnut lover, but when visiting my cousin in Brooklyn a couple of years ago, I kind of fell in love.

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The doughnuts at Field Table were crazy good. We got one of each- Raspberry, Miso Butterscotch and Maple Bacon (that was just Dan’s.) And then one more Raspberry. I can’t stop thinking about that frosting.

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After a quick stop for cheese curds from Bleu Mont Dairy (the best, in my opinion) we ducked in and out of the crowds to grab some spinach and organic potatoes from Driftless. Later that day we were headed to a get-together and I wanted to make potato salad. So this is the potato salad I started to write about the other day, when half-moon decided to bang some club soda against the floor and then I told you about rhubarb shrub.

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While I didn’t clearly state this in my last post, but  may have seemed obvious, I love vinegar. I prefer it to mayo in salads any old day. I also had some lovage that I wanted to use; it was the lovage that my mom gave me after she had waved it around in half-moon’s face while the two were sitting in her yard. Waving leafy green things (dandelions, chives, etc.) in his face is one of her favorite activities and he likes it, too.I also threw in some capers for good measure. I could have cooked the potatoes for two more minutes, but it was a hit, and it was a lovely afternoon in our friends’ backyard. Half-moon ate cheese curds for the first time, had his first apple juice box (straws are tricky!) and we lingered into the evening. Welcome, summer.

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Late Spring Potato Salad with Lovage and Capers

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds organic potatoes (I used a combination of fingerling and yellow)
One handful of lovage and garlic greens (the shoots that come up before the scrapes), chopped (I think chives would be good here, too)
1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons capers
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Wash and cook the potatoes. Cover the potatoes with water in a stock pot (I don’t peel them) and bring to a boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender, but not falling apart (I guess if they are falling apart, it’s too late… I don’t claim to be a recipe writer.) Drain the potatoes and allow to cool. If you are in a hurry, run cold water over them and let them sit in some cold water.
Mix the remaining ingredients (except salt and pepper) in a large bowl. Adjust the amounts of vinegar, olive oil,mustard and capers to your liking.
When the potatoes have cooled, cut them into bite-sized chunks and toss them into the dressing. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper, if you like. Take it to a party, or eat it all yourself.

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Happy long weekend.

Keep me on my toes

This post started as one thing and now has turned into something else entirely, but that’s how things go sometimes, isn’t it? I was going to write about potato salad, but fate intervened in the form of a mobile half-moon, and now I am going to tell you about rhubarb shrub (the drinking vinegar, not a bush.)

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Half-moon has been cruising around for a little while now, but he’s really gotten interested in everything lately and has a certain hankering for the cat food bowl, beer bottles, kitchen cabinets, the contents of the blender, dresser drawers and dirt. Now for a montage.

So this morning when I had my back turned, half-moon happened upon a bottle of fancy club soda and by the time I got to him, he had somehow managed to partially open it. Not wanting it to go to waste, my mind worked quickly (not something that happens much lately)… I have rhubarb!* I have vinegar! There is ice in the freezer!

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And that’s how I ended up typing one-handed, listening to this much-needed spring rain, and sipping a delicious and refreshing rhubarb shrub and club soda. If I didn’t have yoga later, you can bet there would be some booze in it.

*All credit goes to my friend Allison, whose wonderful neighbor, Tom, gave me the rhubarb last weekend and Allison for suggesting I make a shrub out of it.

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Rhubarb Shrub

Ingredients:

5 or 6 large rhubarb stalks, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup (organic) sugar
club soda

Directions:

Place rhubarb, vinegar and sugar in a medium-sized sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring a bit, until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20-30 minutes. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the liquid into a bowl and allow to sit for about 30 minutes to make sure you get all the liquid. (I plan on saving the rhubarb mixture to mix into yogurt.) Mix the liquid (the shrub!) with club soda- half and half or to your liking- add a splash of gin or vodka if you please, serve over ice and enjoy! Keep the leftover shrub in the fridge for whenever you
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I hope something is keeping you on your toes these days… you never know what unexpected good things might come from it.

Turning a corner

It feels like we’ve turned the corner. Suddenly everyone is smiling on the bike path, shedding off the damp, gray cloak of winter and turning faces toward the sun. The trees are budding and the water in the lake is moving again; always a startling, impossible sight after so much stillness. It hasn’t exactly been easy to live in Wisconsin the past few years, for a number of obvious reasons for those of us who believe in logic and reason, nature, public education, fairness, humanity and snow in the winter… you know, those things. But the past few days serve as a reminder of why we do it. There’s that day. The one where everyone is outside and everyone is beautiful and everyone has a speckled cattle dog and all of a sudden you remember what green looks like. And all you want to do is get your hands in the dirt or sit in your friend’s backyard in the sun, beer in hand, soaking in the warmth. And walk for hours. And remember that there are people who put dinosaurs in their yard and knit electrical poles; the kind of people who help you remember that you are not alone in this fight to feel like things can be right in the world again.

And when you get home from that walk, you need to eat. Something nurturing but light, something simple but delicious. I have been making these broccoli melts from Smitten Kitchen at least once a week. Broccoli or broccolini lightly steamed and then doused in lemon, garlic and red pepper flakes, covered with provolone and lightly toasted on good bread; served with a slaw of red cabbage, shaved carrots and celery, it makes a perfect light spring dinner.

I have made the recipe from memory several times, but I recommend following the directions at least once- it’s really good just the way it was written.

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Broccoli Melts

From Smitten Kitchen

Yield: 8 small-medium open-faced melts

1 pound broccolini or regular broccoli
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
A few pinches red pepper flakes, to taste
Finely grated zest, then juice, of 1/2 lemon (juice before zesting only if you enjoy being grumpy)
Coarse salt, to taste
1/2 cup finely grated aged pecorino romano cheese
8 thin slices totally unfancy deli provolone
8 slices bread of your choice

If using broccolini, cut it into 2-inch segments. If regular broccoli, peel the stems with a vegetable peeler first so that they cook evenly, and cut the rest into large chunks.

Pour about 1-inch puddle of salted water into a large sauté pan and bring to a boil. Add broccoli and cover with a lid and boil/steam for 2 minutes. Drain well and pat dry on paper towels, wringing out as much extra liquid as possible. Chop into small (roughly 1/2-inch) bits.

Wipe sauté pan dry and heat over medium. Add olive oil and let it heat for a full minute. Add garlic and pepper flakes, cooking for 1 minutes, or until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden. Add the broccoli and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, seasoning with salt. Transfer mixture to a bowl and add lemon zest, juice, pecorino and more salt and pepper flakes to taste.

Heat broiler.* Arrange slices of bread on a tray and lightly toast on both sides. Scoop broccoli mixture onto each slice of bread, lay a slice of provolone over it and run under the broiler until cheese has melted and begun to blister. Eat. Repeat.

*We’ve been using our new toaster oven- thanks, mom!

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I hope today finds you knitting an inanimate object or digging in the dirt or simply walking, in awe of the buds and basking in the warmth. Happy spring.

Smashing eggs

I wonder if it’s possible to run out of words. That is a bit how I am feeling these days, although it could be the _______ (fill in the blank) weather/ state of affairs/ lack of sleep. So witty banter aside, I don’t know about you, but I have been eating a lot of egg salad these days. Making a properly hard boiled egg is a much debated subject, one that has caused arguments in my family and maybe yours. I am not going to take sides here or attempt to tell you how to do it, but I will say that after an embarrassingly long amount of time, I figured out that I like to put the eggs in the pot and then fill it with water- I have cracked too many eggs the other way. Do you have a favorite way to boil eggs? If so, please share!

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The reason for the abundance of eggs was because my sister convinced me that we should dye eggs for Half-moon’s first Easter.

Half-moon was excited because he likes to smash things against the ground. Like eggs. So, in retrospect, it was a really good idea.

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Growing up my dad would write elaborate rhyming clues that would lead us on a wild chase for eggs and, ultimately, our darling baskets filled with candy. I vividly remember one spring-like Easter afternoon sitting outside and listening to the Brewers broadcast on the radio while devouring pastel-colored candy corn. Thrown together at the last second, my egg hunt for Half-moon wasn’t nearly as planned out and it all led to a basket of stuff that he had already had, but now I get to eat a lot of egg salad.

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When making something for the first time or looking for a recipe, I often turn to Smitten Kitchen. When I looked up egg salad and saw that her recipe included pickled celery, I knew I needed to look no further.

I’ve been improvising each time I make it, but adding pickled celery every time. I like to mix it with spinach, for a nice salad for lunch.

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Egg Salad with Pickled Celery

Inspired by Smitten Kitchen. Makes one serving for a quick lunch or dinner- feel free to double or triple.

Ingredients

One hard boiled egg, chopped
One spoonful mustard
One spoonful mayo
One spoonful pickled celery*
One spoonful capers
Fresh parsley, chopped
Spinach
Bread, optional

Directions

Mix all ingredients- except bread- in a bowl. Eat as a salad, or, if you prefer, put mixture on bread and eat like a sandwich.

*Pickled Celery (from Smitten Kitchen):

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 stalks celery, trimmed, diced tiny

Pickle your celery: Combine vinegar, water, Kosher salt and sugar in a jar and shake it until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add diced celery to jar, cover it and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, ideally one hour and up to one week.

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Bring on spring.