When I got home from school today it was a balmy 32 degrees so I decided that it was definitely a day to run outside. As I slipped and slided through the slushy snow under a hazy crescent moon I saw kids skating on a neighborhood ice rink and ran past a very familiar christmas tree twinkling in the window of a house near where I went to high school. I smelled wood-burning stoves, saw countless trees aglow with those big colored bulbs that always remind me of Charlie Brown and ran past my Grandma’s old house where I spent many second Christmases (the first one being celebrated in Iowa) eating puffy cheeseballs, drinking 7-up and reading my dad’s Donald Duck comic books. It’s easy to get excited about Christmas as a kid. As an adult, I think sometimes you have to force yourself into a little bit. It’s not that I don’t get excited to spend time with my family and friends, open presents and eat lots of delicious food- I definitely look forward to those things. It’s just that as a child there is something mystical about Christmas that I find to be missing now. But I’m focusing on the little things, like giant green, red and blue-colored bulbs glowing on snow-covered pine trees, to coax myself into the season. The following is a list (in no particular order) of things that are helping me get there. Here’s to bringing some of the magic back.
1. Just Coffee’s “Peace on Earth” coffee
I was thinking about giving up coffee for the week (after an extremely jittery Monday morning) until Dan came home with this package of Just Coffee from Willy St. Co-op.
2. My advent calendar
My mom has been sending me this one from UNICEF the last few years. It doesn’t have the cardboard-tasting chocolate in it, but I think I like it better this way. It’s also fun when Dan opens the day and says stuff like, “Oh no, there is a giant monkey stealing Christmas presents.”
Anyone in the Madison area have a copy I could borrow? I don’t have cable and I am jones-ing to watch it.
4. Listening to Otis Redding’s “White Christmas”
Today happens to be the anniversary of the day that Otis’s plane crashed into foggy Lake Monona in 1967. It breaks my heart a little to think that he was only 26-years-old. This beer that I am drinking is for you, Otis.
5. My Snoopy calendar
6. Hunkering down at Mickey’s Tavern on a snowy evening for vegetarian Shepard’s Pie
I have a soft spot for Coldplay. And Christmas lights.
10. Busting out my old mix tapes
In about 1994 my best friend Meagan and I made a mix tape entitled, “Bon Hiver,” after our favorite episode of “Northern Exposure.” We took our mix tapes very seriously. It has stood the test of time despite a couple of missteps (namely Eagle’s “Hotel California”). Everytime I hear “Ruby Tuesday,” Misguided Angel,” or “The Boxer” I feel nostalgic for winter time.
11. Getting locked out of my house and…
taking a trek through a winter wonderland to my aunt and uncle’s house for a key while Dan composed a song for Clovis Mann’s upcoming Gingerbread Spectacular event: “It’s gingerbread… it’s spectacular….”
12. Listening to The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Carolina Christmas”
It’s a pretty sweet album. It includes “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “My Christmas in Custody.”
The forecast calls for more snow and it’s time to open a new door on the calendar. Apparently this one features a plodding, giant teddy bear planning some sort of present attack. Stay tuned.
If I seem a little distracted it’s because I can hear Dan standing outside the front door right now talking on his phone and he happens to have all of the fixins’ for tonight’s pizza. Today I have consumed very little (a banana and a piece of toast with peanut butter) and I just ran 3.77 miles at the gym (too cold to run outside today- boo), so needless to say, I’m slightly famished.
All is forgiven…. he just entered the house bearing two Sierra Nevada Celebration Ales, olives and news of Packers tickets for the last game of the regular season at Lambeau Field. Go Pack! On to the field trip….
This past Saturday Dan and I took a day trip to charming Mineral Point in southwest Wisconsin.
As a sign boasts upon your arrival into the town (not the one above!), Mineral Point is “twinned” with a village in Cornwall, England; Mineral Point, one of Wisconsin’s oldest cities, is very much like an English village. After the first European settlers came to Mineral Point in 1827, the discovery of lead in the area in the 1830s brought about a “mineral rush;” news of the lead reached Cornwall, England and many Cornish miners and their families began to arrive in Mineral Point. Today Mineral Point boasts a strong art community. Many of these artists and galleries are housed in the sandstone and limestone buildings built by the European settlers. (Do I sound too much like a tour guide now? I did half-fake my way through a job as a kayaking tour guide in Yellowstone for a couple of summers.) On to the awesome-ness that is Mineral Point.
We were invited to visit Mineral Point by our new friends whom we met over the Thanksgiving weekend. Relatives of Dan’s bandmate, this family welcomed us warmly with open arms and we feel very lucky to have gotten to know them. Tim told us that a perfect time to come would be on Saturday so that we could experience the Gallery Night/ Candlelight shopping extravaganza. With the snow that we received overnight on Friday, the town definitely looked extra holiday-y! Our first stop was at the General Store on High Street where we purchased some locally-made spicy beer brittle (officially called “Fire in the Hole”). We devoured the whole package standing outside of the store on the sidewalk.
Next we stopped at La Bella Vita on Fountain Street. This store had beautiful yarns and knit hats and also vintage clothing and household items. Dan came this close to purchasing a kimono-style robe for lounging in during the Packers games (but, alas, it was not green and gold.)
After La Bella Vita we met up with our friends for a stroll about town…
And then we stopped at Cruise Inn for a beverage and tutorial from our friendly bartender on how to play an endearing (and somewhat addicting) dice game entitled, “6, 5, 4.”
By this time the town was aglow with luminaries and decorated lampposts as we made our way to our dinner destination, the Brewery Creek Inn.
Dan and I actually discovered this place on our own a couple of months back when we decided to go for a little joy ride. The food is delicious and it has a very lively- yet cozy-atmosphere. There is a walnut burger on the menu that will completely alter your universe if you have been looking for an alternative to the traditional cheeseburger.
There are some incredible-sounding desserts on the menu at this place, too. I actually got to try a bite of a rich chocolate cake on my second visit to the Brewery Creek Inn (Saturday was my third) with my sister and her friends before the remainder of the cake was devoured by our friend’s hilarious and adorable two-year-old son (after eating the cake he entertained us for minutes by repeating, “Dog, dog, dog, dog…” before crashing from the sugar rush.) On my next visit I fully intend to devour a dessert myself.
After dinner we said our goodbyes, purchased one more package of spicy brittle (for breakfast), and hit the road. It was a lovely day.
I love this man. And I truly love being on the road. What sparked this love of the open road may have been a road trip that my family took to Maine and back in a lime green Ford Pinto when I was five-years-old. On that trip we experienced many adventures, including one night at a hotel in Buffalo Port Jervis, New York where, at least as I recall, the swimming pool was the color and consistency of pea soup and, according to my dad, contained barracudas- we all swam despite these conditions. Or it could have started much earlier with countless car trips to Iowa to visit my grandparents (often with my sister and I fighting over the ubiquitous line in the backseat). I have memories of spilling my chocolate milk all over my grilled cheese at a chain-type restaurant in Canada or Michigan and an image in my mind of a drawing (done while driving through Pennsylvania?) where a family of octupi are eating Pizza Hut (I believe this was a subtle hint). I remember being woken up by my parents at 5 a.m. in a motel in Indiana where they declared, “Let’s flee,” because some loud truck had been parked outside of our room all night and another time fleeing our reservation at a place on Cape Cod because it was found to be less than desirable. At the age of 10 or 11, I once cried upon arriving at our hotel in St. Augustine, Florida (after 16 hours in the car with my mom, 16-year-old sister, and our two friends) when I discovered that the doors weren’t as blue as the Atlantic Ocean as our guidebook had promised. I’ve been driven through Washington D.C. and Boston (without stopping), counted my mosquito bites under a tree in Ithica, New York Burlington, Vermont while my sister was on a whirlwind college campus tour, and gotten car sick along the windy highways of California. I suppose it could have gone the other way, but a wanderlust for traveling the country via the highway began and I have had it ever since.
Last spring Dan and I took a two-week road trip with stops in Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. This trip was full of family, good friends, and many magical moments including this dessert (inhaled at the Lincoln Cafe in Mt. Vernon, Iowa);
finding my new favorite dress at this store in Norman, Oklahoma;
finding a road sign in New Mexico for the town named in one of my all-time favorite songs (Willin’ by Little Feat) ;
getting snowed on in Arizona on April Fool’s Day;
and realizing that my dear relatives from Montana were ordering mochas in the same cafe in Moab, Utah where Dan and I had decided to eat breakfast. What a serendipitous meeting that was that morning.
On that trip we played Scrabble with my mom while listening to a cd of bird calls; met multiple different groups of people with connections to Wisconsin; attended a 3-day wedding in Scottsdale bringing together people from Green Bay and Germany (a perfect match) where we taught our German friends how to play bags and our Arizonian bartender how to make old fashioneds; got our tent blown away by torrential winds outside of Moab; and listened to our first Brewers game of the season because they were playing the Rockies as we drove through the mountains of Colorado on our way to Denver. I didn’t want the trip to end- it’s one of the only times that I can remember that I wasn’t ready to walk in the door of my house, drop my bags and sleep in my own bed. I wanted to keep going. In fact, I cried as I drove my car down the empty streets of Madison at 5 a.m. on the last morning of our trip.
Along the way Dan played six shows- we called it his “Lake Effect” tour.
Traveling the country with a musician can be one of the most fun ways to travel. You figure out where and when the shows are and then you get to connect the dots in between, which allows you plenty of freedom and adventure along the way. We lucked out and were able to book Dan shows pretty easily. For an entertaining review of Dan’s show in Flagstaff, click here and scroll down. I like the title at the top about “Midwestern weirdness…” I’m not sure how they knew about the accent….
But, being on the road with a musician can also mean late, late nights, unpredictable schedules, unpredictable bar patrons, and unpredictable meals. It can mean eating potato chips for dinner, no dinner, or tacos at 4 a.m. (albeit they were my favorite black bean tacos from Burrito Drive on Willy Street in Madison- the pickled red onions are a MUST). This is what happened on our latest road adventure this past weekend as we drove between Madison, Manitowoc, Two Rivers, Manitowoc, Concord (the suburbs of Sullivan/ Ixonia), Madison, Manitowoc, and Madison in a five-day stretch. And all of this leads me to lentil soup. On Friday I received a text message from my mom saying that she was making bean soup for dinner (my mom has taught me an enduring appreciation for the deliciousness and comfort that is soup) and it was practically all I could think about for the rest of the weekend. So last night I finally got my soup. And it made it all worthwhile.
This is a recipe that I have made a bunch of times, but I have to say that this was my best batch. The only thing that I really did differently was that instead of using 6 cups of water, I used one cup of old red wine and 5 cups of water. I also used all brown lentils and I really liked their texture. I served it at 9:30 p.m. with steamed broccoli with lemon and a sourdough baguette and it was oh so good to be home again (this time).
This recipe is from the cookbook, “The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Soup.” (I received this cookbook from my mom for Christmas several years ago with the inscription, “For obvious reasons.”)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic; minced
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons curry powder*
1 cup canned diced plum tomatoes, with juice
1 1/2 cups dried brown or pink lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained
6 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock or prepared broth**
1 lemon, sliced
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach
salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and bay leaf and saute until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes and their juice, lentils, stock*, and lemon slices. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Discard the lemon slices and bay leaf.
Just before serving, stir in the spinach, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the spinach is wilted but still bright green. Season to taste with salt and pepper.**
Ladle the soup into warmed bowls*** and serve immediately.
Makes 4-6 servings****
*I think I add more than two teaspoons of curry powder and I also add chili pepper flakes.
**Since going veg I don’t use chicken or beef broth but I also don’t like the flavor of store-bought vegetable stock. I have used water every time (and now I will use a little wine too).
***Warming the bowls does sound like a nice touch- I have yet to do this.
****For once Dan and I did not eat all of the “4-6” servings and I am looking forward to the leftovers.
Enjoy this soup at home any time and revel in being in your own kitchen with a warming and wholesome meal. But when you are ready to be on the road again, fish out your atlas, grab the tent, pack up the car (don’t forget the healthy snacks), and blast this song as soon as you hit the highway. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.
Because this is going to be a very short post tonight, I am going to allow this photo (taken in the basement of a friend’s house on the outskirts of Manitowoc at a very undecent hour) to summarize my Thanksgiving weekend for now:
Tomorrow I am going to write about the lentil soup that I made for dinner tonight because it was the best batch of lentil soup that I have ever made (I’m not trying to brag here- it was just soooo good), and I think you will enjoy it too.
It is getting to be that time of year where we think a lot about food. But let’s be honest, I always think a lot about food. Yes, Thanksgiving is upon us. Please forgive me if I seem a little shallow here, but I have consumed a total of about 372 calories today and so I am thinking about what I am grateful for in terms of things that I like to eat. I am grateful for my sister who introduced me to kale about one year ago. Since she first uttered the words, “kale and pasta,” I have eaten that for dinner approximately 42,000 times. Here is a summary of what she told me that she likes to do:
Throw a couple of glugs of olive oil in a saute pan with some garlic and red pepper flakes. After washing and drying some kale, rip it into bite-size pieces and throw that in the pan, too. Saute it for several minutes (I like mine to get a little crispy) and add some diced canned tomatoes, if you like. Tonight I might add some freshly squeezed lemon juice at the end, instead of the tomatoes. Stir in some whole wheat pasta (I like to use penne) cooked al dente and- if you’ve got it- shred some good parmesan on top. Voila. Yum.
Tonight I am also grateful for my boyfriend who says things like, “They’re like doughnuts for rich people,” when asked to clarify “scones” to a friend of mine on the phone this past weekend (I was in the midst of kneading the dough for the first batch of scones that I ever attempted to make- more on that later). And I am also grateful that Dan- who apparently believes that I am secretly rich- makes pizza once a week on an undisclosed night (sorry dear neighbor, you told me not to tell you which night).
Finally, tonight I am grateful to my parents for many, many reasons, but one of those reasons is the Le Crueset cookware they gave me last year for my birthday. This pot has changed the way that I cook. Everything tastes better when it is cooked in my lovely green enameled dutch oven, including the gratin that I made last night. Before my sister gave me a huge vegetarian cookbook last Christmas, I don’t think I had ever paid attention to gratins, but then I started hearing about gratins everywhere. So, with my new trusty Le Crueset and after much heckling from Dan that I would never actually make a gratin, I have now made this recipe twice. Here is a warning about the following recipe: It is delicious, but it is rich. I recommend saving this one for a day when you have shoveled at least four feet of snow or skiied the Birkebeiner. You have been warned.
Root Vegetable Gratin with Cheddar and Horseradish Rye Crumb Crust
1 pound rutabaga, peeled* and cut into chunks
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 pound turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup apple cider or wine
1 tablespoon minced garlic
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour**
2 cups whole milk, heated
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons horseradish
4 ounces grated aged cheddar cheese
1/2 cup rye bread crumbs
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread vegetables in large baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and cider or wine, scatter on the garlic, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss well. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes, then remove foil and continue to roast until vegetables are brown-tipped and tender, 20-35 minutes longer. Meanwhile, make a white sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan; stir in flour and cook over low heat several minutes. Whisk in milk, bring to simmer, and cook gently 10 minutes, stirring often. Season well with salt and pepper. Stir in nutmeg. Gently fold the sauce into the roasted vegetables. Transfer to a buttered baking dish (or leave in the same dish the vegetables were roasted in). Mix horseradish, cheddar, and bread crumbs with your fingers and scatter the mixture evenly over the vegetables. Continue to bake until bubbly, 20-30 minutes. Makes 6 servings.***
*The recipe says to peel the vegetables but I just washed them well (I’m afraid of peeling off all of the good stuff!)
**I used whole wheat flour
***The recipe claims to feed six people, I am telling you that it fed two, but one of us ate A LOT
I served this gratin last night with a mixed green and spinach salad with some sliced onions and yellow peppers. I dressed it with olive oil and lemon juice in an attempt to cut the richness of the dish. This sort of worked.
Tomorrow I am off to lovely Manitowoc County where I will have the opportunity to visit some of the finest establishments that area has to offer. Stay tuned. Until then, I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday.
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!
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).
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.
Back to first grade tomorrow. Fortified by pizza, I am ready.
Want to know a secret? Sometimes at the end of a run I like to sprint down my neighbors’ street so that they think I run really fast. The best case scenario for this situation is that they are sitting out on their deck drinking beer so that they get to see me run really fast and then offer me a beer to replace my fluids. Once in awhile I lace up my running shoes just to sprint past their house a few times and try to get offered a free beer. No, that last part isn’t true.
On to the mac-n-cheese. The official title for this log entry is “Do yourself a favor and make this recipe for skillet macaroni and cheese immediately if not sooner.” It is soooooooooo crazy delicious!!!!!!! I found it on a New York Times website featuring vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes. It’s made with whole wheat pasta, broccoli and mushrooms and you can use skim or low-fat milk (I used 1% and it was super creamy) so it has some redeeming qualities in terms of health. Oh! And you use real butter so you can avoid that poisonous stuff that comes in the tub. So, there you go! It’s health food! I omitted the tarragon because a) I gave up looking for any on the sticky spice shelf above my stove after about 2 1/2 seconds and b) I know that I have heard of tarragon, but I don’t really know what tarragon is (Is that terrible? Am I missing out?). I figured that red chili pepper flakes would be the perfect substitution for the tarragon and I was right.
The amazing thing about this recipe is that I usually have to double or triple the sauce part of recipes in order to make dishes saucy enough for my taste. I love sauce. But this recipe actually satisfied my desire for sauciness (that is a strange-looking word) as it is written. I didn’t even add all of the milk because it seemed like it was going to be too much, but, in retrospect, I could have added it all. It says that this recipe provides 6 side-dish servings. All I can tell you is that Dan and I polished it all off in one sitting but I had been sprinting back and forth in front of my neighbors’ house in hopes that they would give me a beer. I accompanied the dish with a salad of delicious spinach greens (with olive oil and lemon juice) that I risked my sanity in obtaining at the indoor farmer’s market this past Saturday. Enjoy.
This is a recipe from the Health section of the New York Times website.
Skillet Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli and Mushrooms
This skillet-supper version of the classic is quicker and easier to make. This hearty comfort food easily functions as the main dish for vegetarians.
4 ounces grated Cheddar2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or other hard cheese1 tablespoon unsalted butter1 small yellow onion, chopped
6 ounces cremini or white button mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups low-fat or fat-free milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced tarragon leaves or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces dried whole-wheat pasta shells (not the large ones for stuffing), cooked and drained according to the package instructions
4 cups small broccoli florets, cooked in boiling water for 1 minute (broccoli can be added to the pasta during the last minute of cooking, then drained with the pasta in a colander)
1. Mix the Cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a large, high-sided, oven-safe skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid and it comes to a simmer, and then reduces by about two-thirds, about 5 minutes.
4. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables in the skillet. Stir well to coat.
5. Whisk in the milk in a steady, thin stream until creamy. Then whisk in the mustard, tarragon, salt and pepper. Continue whisking until the mixture starts to bubble and the liquid thickens, about 3 minutes.
6. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in three-quarters of the mixed cheeses until smooth. Then stir in the cooked pasta and broccoli.
7. Preheat the broiler after setting the rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source. Meanwhile, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the ingredients in the skillet. Set the skillet on the rack and broil until light browned and bubbling, about 5 minutes. (If your skillet has a plastic or wooden handle, make sure it sticks outside the oven, out from under the broiler, so the handle doesn’t melt.) Cool for 5 to 10 minutes before dishing up.
Yield: Makes six side-dish servings.
Two signs today that a Wisconsin winter is on its way: I ran all the gas out of the mower this afternoon and alternate-side parking starts tonight. This means that I get to annoy my neighbors (not the ones with the beer) when their side of the street doesn’t get plowed because of my car. Oh joy. At least we have macaroni and cheese. Here are a few photos from last winter.
Tonight I am cooking up a stir-fry with bok choy, broccoli, kale (it’s delicious), and garnishing with some parsley that I discovered going strong in the garden today as I ripped out the straw-like tomato and pepper plants from this summer. While wandering around Willy Street Co-op today I decided to make up a sauce with coconut milk, lime juice and probably some pepper flakes. I’m winging it. I’ll let you know how it goes.