Lettuce turn up the beet

Well look at that. I wrote my first ever Wisconsin fun next exit (b)log post seven years ago today. I was just going to start off by talking about how it takes Half-moon and me, on average, 4.62 hours to get ready to leave the house (just to make it into the backyard) but I guess I’ll keep my mouth quiet about time. Because it can fly and it can drag but either way we never seem satisfied with it. Let’s talk about roasted beets instead.

I recently decided that there is nothing better than slicing into a warm beet and eating it while standing at the kitchen counter. Beets taste like the earth; like dirt and minerals. Beets are the real deal. My current stash of beets were dug out of the ground just past Magnolia, Wis. at Raleigh’s Hillside Farm. Nice work, Lauren and Kyle. While I like beets raw and shredded into a salad with citrus and herbs, in the fall and winter beets demand to be roasted. Lately I’ve been following my mom’s method, which is to preheat the oven to 350 degrees, wrap indivdual beets in aluminum foil and bake until they are tender and the skin peels right off with a paper towel (depending on the size of the beets, this is usually 40-50 minutes.) If you are feeling industrious, save the dark pink liquid that pools in the foil and use it to dye some cloth or something, just like I’m sure they would do in the Little House on the Prairie. Or at some hipster mercantile general store in Portland or Brooklyn. Once cooled, if they make it that long, the beets can be sliced and added to a jar with vinegar and water and stuck in the fridge to snack on later. Or they can be added to a salad, like the one I made recently, with a dressing of maple syrup and cayenne pepper that was inspired by a Driftless Organics farm recipe for squash. A word of warning: beets are messy. Half-moon loves them, especially with his favorite lunch of a mustard sandwich, which has led to a number of his bibs turning a slight shade of pink. But you can be strategic with this- the red one with the white polka dots is a good bet. Cutting boards, counters and fingers might also get smudged but I think it’s worth it.

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Roasted Beet Salad with Greens and Spicy Maple Syrup Dressing

Ingredients:
2-3 roasted beets, sliced
A bunch of arugula, spinach, or a crunchy lettuce (or a mix)
Optional toppings: crunchy celery, sesame seeds, hard boiled egg

Dressing- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup, chili powder or cayenne pepper (or both), salt and pepper to taste, a squeeze of lemon works, too

Instructions:
Wash and dry greens and place in salad bowl with sliced beets. Combine dressing ingredients in a jar and shake well, toss with greens + beets. Top with something crunchy- seeds or celery (or both) and enjoy.

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Happy November.

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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.

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.

Farm report

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

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

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

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

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

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Farm Salad

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

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

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

Directions:

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

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Happy summer.

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