Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pomegranate Chutney

I love using quintessential seasonal ingredients. Right now the abundance of pomegranate simply beckons me, loudly. I try and come with all kinds of ways to use the deep red seeds called arils, mostly tossing them in salads I take to work. When it comes to pomegranate I am also overcome with laziness and rarely seed the fruit myself. My friend Ivy would say I am missing half the fun when I purchase small containers of just the arils. But I am not interested in staining my hands deep red and I just want immediate gratification with spoons full of the tart tangy seeds popping in my mouth. Sometimes I get pure pomegranate juice and mix it with my tonic water for a tasty drink. I love tonic water, tonic with cherry juice or tonic with pomegranate juice.

Tomorrow I am having good friends over for dinner. People I care dearly about, all with different dietary issues. It's been fun trying to come up with a menu that is seasonally festive as well as gluten and vegan friendly. As I envisioned the evening all I could see was bright glistening pomegranate seeds. My friend Ivy suggested pomegranate guacamole. What could be more seasonal that green guacamole dotted with little red jewels! I found a festive nonalcoholic pomegranate "mimosa" recipe that is so simple, mixing sparkling apple cider and pomegranate juice. Sounds good to me! Then I realized I was going to have a good amount of vegan cream cheese left over from a potato dish I am making . Extra cream cheese screams chutney to me. My mother used to smother bricks of Philadelphia cream cheese with red pepper jelly at Christmas time. I am very partial to chutney, cream cheese and crackers. I am actually partial to chutney in general and have made chutney with just about every imaginable ingredient. It is a stable with all the Indian food I enjoy. So why not try a pomegranate chutney. This recipe is going to knock your socks off. I can hardly wait for it to cool to test it with a cracker and some cream cheese. If you like pomegranate and cherry this chutney is for you!

Pomegranate Chutney

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
12 ounces fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted, or frozen
1/2 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a deep pot heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, ginger and garlic, cook about 5 minutes, until tender and translucent. Stir in cinnamon and allspice, cook 15-20 seconds, until fragrant. Add cherries, pomegranate juice and sugar. Increase heat to medium-high, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, medium-low and simmer, uncovered 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally until chutney is thickened. Remove from heat, stir in pomegranate seeds and salt. Cool to room temp and refrigerate chutney, covered. Enjoy anyway you like!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

One of my favorite bloggers, Shauna James Ahern from http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com/ posted a recipe for gluten-free rugelach today. I am not a baker. I would much rather eat something savory than sweet but they looked so good and I had everything I needed to make these traditional Jewish cookies.

I am a big fan of Shauna's. Her website was the very first I stumbled on when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I am not sure what the connection was but something resonated in me when I read her posts. I loved her attitude and her approach, focusing on what one could eat on a gluten-free diet. I traveled all the way to Chicago to meet her when she was on her first book signing tour. She feels like kindred spirit to me.

When she posted her rugelach recipe this morning I couldn't wait to get started. You will have to visit her site for the recipe. I might steal ideas to post on but I don't take recipes! Besides you will love her even if your not GF, if only for her writing! I followed her directions exactly, including her advice to weigh the flours on a scale. Gone are the days of measuring flour in measuring cups, simply not good enough. Shauna provides directions for a log style technique as well as the more traditional twists. Since I don't have much experience in baking GF I decided to go with the log, it seemed less fragile and easier. Next time I will try the twists since they are so attractive. I made a traditional filling with apricot preserves, cinnamon, brown sugar, white sugar, raisins and toasted chopped pecans.

The only time I veered off course was when I pulled the rugelach out of the oven. I couldn't wait for the logs to cool to room temperature before cutting as directed in the recipe. I started cutting small pieces off each end, four ends what harm could that do. Before I knew it I was digging right into the middle of the logs, cutting one piece after another and eating them. The pastry is a flaky, melt in your mouth pastry without any grittiness you get with the usual GF baked stuff. Now I know exactly what Shauna meant when she wrote, "This is a stand-in-front-of-the-stove post."

I am thrilled with my results! With any luck there will be some left for Tina when she gets home from work tonight. I can't wait to share these with some real connoisseurs, perhaps the next time I am invited to Shabbat

Monday, December 14, 2009

Genius Gadget

We all love our kitchen aide mixer. How could we live without this must have kitchen appliance. But admit it, you do have a pet peeve about this essential and expensive device. The paddle attachment simply doesn't cut it, leaving tuns of unmixed batter along the edges of the bowl. You constantly have to stop the mixing and take a spatula to the rim, incorporating the unmixed batter. A real pet peeve, a nuisance to say the least.

Well I got an early stocking stuffer last night during our annual "Home Alone" movie night, Tina's favorite holiday tradition. We eat really fun gunk food like artichoke dip and peanut M and M's and watch this (awful) holiday movie (I hate slapstick humor). My niece Katie joins us, the only one with any sensibility. She arrived with three bags of fresh cherries. Although she ate her fair share of the dip and the M and M's. I guess the cherries were for me.

Anyway, I am getting off track, the genius gadget. Tina was giddy about a particular item in my stocking. After some convincing that I should have an early present I opened the small package from Cooks of Crocus Hill, http://www.cooksofcrocushill.com/ , my mother ship.

A new attachment for the kitchen aide mixer, a brilliant attachment in fact. It is a paddle attachment with spatula like edges that actually reaches the rim of the bowl preventing unmixed batter from mounting. It swipes the bowl clean with each whirl. No more pausing every few moments to wipe down the sides yourself. I love this gadget. I put it to the test this morning with some very tacky and hard to manage gingerbread batter. Not a speck of unmixed batter on the rim of my bowl. It was slick like a magic trick. I am headed to Cooks this morning to get several more for stocking stuffers for my baking pals.

The gingerbread, well it is one of Tina's favorite holiday treats so perhaps there was a secondary gain for her in my opening a present early. She will come home to her favorite treat covered in cool whip tonight!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jerusalem Artichokes

I found some Jerusalem Artichokes at Whole Foods yesterday, on my mission to find some concentrated cherry juice. New vegetables always catch my eye. I had never had Jerusalem Artichokes before and was actually looking for a second vegetable to serve with my roasted chicken for dinner so I bought a pack. Of course when I got home I had to do a little research to find out exactly what they are and how to prepare them. They look like knobs of ginger or fresh raw horseradish, and I love both so naturally these would appeal to me. They are loaded with potassium, iron, fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus and copper.

I knew they had nothing to do with the traditional artichoke or Jerusalem but I did not know they were also part of the Daisy family. In my reading I discovered they are actually a tuber and also go by the names sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambur. They come from the sunflower.

So what to do with them? I love root vegetable of all kinds, especially roasted so I decided to peel and roast them. They peeled easily, although a few of them seemed a bit soft and sort of mushy so I tossed those, thinking they might be spoiled. The harder crunchy raw tubers tasted like a potato only sweeter and nuttier. I tossed them in olive oil and generously sprinkled with salt and pepper and tossed them in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes.

They were excellent! More importantly they passed Tina's taste test and her brother liked them as well. I didn't have too many of them and I am sure we all would have eaten more. They were indeed sweeter than a potato but similar in texture. They had caramelized in the oven which contributed to the sweetness.

Now here's the thing, I developed an unusual amount of flatulence shortly after dinner which lasted well into the evening and early hours of the morning. My belly bloated and was uncomfortable with gastric pain all night long. So I did a bit more reading this morning and learned that the Jerusalem Artichoke tubers store the carbohydrate inulin (not to be confused with insulin) instead of starch like most tubers. For this reason they are a source of fructose. The carbohydrates give them a tendency to become soft and mushy (probably a wise decision to toss my softer mushier tubers). The inulin is not well digested by some people, obviously I am one of them, and can lead to flatulence and gastric pain.

The great English planter John Goodyer wrote on the Jerusalem Artichoke in the Oxford Companion to Food "which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine the men". Had I read this before indulging, I might not have. Will I eat them again, yes! They were worth the gas and pain. I would however make a disclaimer if I ever serve them to guests again. I hope Charlie and Tina didn't have too rough a night!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jack Frost's Pumpkin Pie

Everyone is posting about pumpkin pie this time of year! Of course we all think we have the best, the perfect pumpkin pie recipe, including myself. I am not a pie person. In fact I don't really have much of a sweet tooth. I would always opt for something savory before something sweet. But Tina, well she and her mother love pumpkin pie. More often than not we are in Florida for Thanksgiving and Christmas, sometimes for as long as 4-6 weeks (the benefits of an academic calendar). During these visits Tina and her mom eat pumpkin pie several times a week. Once Thanksgiving and Christmas day pass the local grocery store, Publix's puts pies on sale for $1.99 until they are gone. They have a routine. The pie arrives, it sits on the counter until after dinner and they each have a piece, claiming this is going to the the only piece they eat. Come morning time, the pie is gone and both are equally dumbfounded. Who finished the pie? Well, it sure isn't me as the pie is not GF. I can speculate with some degree of certainty that they both sneak into the kitchen through out the evening and into the night helping themselves to more pie. A few days later, another pie shows up and the same thing, the pie is gone in the morning. However, we usually don't stay at Tina's mother's so when we return the next day and the pie is gone, it is less perplexing!

While I don't love pie, I do appreciate an occasional piece every now and then. I don't really like to bake so I am limited to making single crust pies which I can purchase already made from Whole Foods. The GF pie crusts from Whole Foods are really quite good! Especially if your making a no bake pie and you cook the crust before filling. In fact, I cook the crust first even if I am making a pie that is going to be baked. It is just better.

Our version of the ever popular pumpkin pie is inspired from Famous Dave's and Tina is convinced that the secret ingredient is clover honey. She might be right!

Jack Frost's Pumpkin Pie

One pie crust
15 ounces of canned pumpkin
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup premium clover honey (preferably from your local beekeeper)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
12 ounce can evaporated milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
generous 1/3 cup whipping cream

Prepare your crust. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.Combine pumpkin, brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and mace in a bowl, mix until blended. Whisk evaporated milk, eggs and vanilla until well blended. Add the milk mixture to the pumpkin mixture and beat at medium speed for two minutes. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the prepared pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an hour or longer, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely. Whip cream and pipe around the edge or serve a dollop of whipped cream with each piece of pie.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Caramels

I just love Christmas traditions. When Tina and I got together 10 years ago she taught me how to make caramels and let me in on a secret family recipe from her Aunt. Tina loved her Aunt's caramels, so much so that she invested in nickel plated square bars to make molds for pouring her own caramel.

I am not sure how it happened but over the course of a few years I was the only one making caramels around here, thousands of them every Christmas. I established my own tradition, starting on Halloween and pouring several thousand caramels a season. Each one wrapped in red or green taffy paper, and packaged in a box or festive bag. They became my signature Christmas gift. Friends and family have come to expect the annual delivery.

Every now and again, I threaten to take a year off. After all they are very labor intensive and consume my every day between Halloween and the middle of December. Cooking, pouring, cutting, wrapping, packaging and mailing . . . it is a huge undertaking. I doubt I could actually take a year off though. I would miss the compliments too much!

In addition to the caramels we also make turtles. What could be better than toasted pecans, caramel and chocolate. These never get mailed out to anyone, the only way to get one is to get invited over during the holidays. We have tried walnuts and cashews but honestly, toasted pecan is the very best. We make milk chocolate and dark chocolate, using the very best chocolate we can find, always struggling with the process of tempering. This year Tina hit a high note with tempering the dark chocolate and they were perfect.

I can't give out the recipe, it is not mine to give but I have taught several of my nieces and nephews, and a friend or two how to make the caramels. My nieces Katie and Megan have spent several evenings over the years in our kitchen making their own stash for giving. It is a tradition I am happy to pass on to them.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Slow Fall Days in the Kitchen

I was recently asked to do some recipe testing for Shauna and Danny of Gluten Free Girl at http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com/.  When I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease I stumbled on Shauna's nearly new website and was swooned, not only by her writing but her attitude. Like myself Shauna embraced the disease considering what she could have, ignoring the idea of deprivation. Her mantra, a tattoo on her wrist "Yes".  Yes to everything. My first gluten-free cooking adventure involved a recipe she posted for lemon olive oil cookies. I must have emailed her a dozen times with questions. Each time, an answer and encouragement which meant a great deal to me. When Shauna published her first book, Gluten Free Girl, I traveled to Chicago for a cooking class and a book signing she was giving. We had dinner together. It was a lovely visit and for what ever reason, I feel a kindred connection to this internet stranger that blogs about living life to the fullest. It seemed so fitting that she would marry a chef, Danny. Now the two of them are living life large, out the pacific Northwest writing a cookbook. When they contact me and asked me to participate in some recipe testing for their new cookbook I was flattered and thrilled.  My assignment, a recipe for meatloaf, meatloaf that called for roasted chicken stock. You'll have to wait for the book to come out next year to see the recipe. 

I love new recipes and I love a dinner party so I invited 6 friends to join me for a fall meatloaf dinner last evening. My work started on Sunday, going to the farmers market to get as much of my ingredients locally as I could. Local, humanly raised steers and chicken for my ground beef and chicken bones to make the stock, vegetables from the market, and herbs from my garden. I hardly needed anything at the grocery store. I spent all day Monday making roasted chicken stock. I sure do need some practice, my stock was a bit gelatinous and cloudy, probably from letting the stock come to a boil which is a big no no! I needed the stock for a rosemary infused glaze. It was worth a days work! I have cups and cups of roasted chicken stock stowed away in the freezer.

The test was on, Tuesday morning I made the glaze which involved three hours of reducing. Again, no recipe here, but let me say when you reduce anything for three hours the result is bound to be remarkable. The glaze turned ordinary meatloaf into company fare! I did spend all day making a remarkable fall feast! Mashed potatoes laced with sour cream, cream cheese and butter, meatloaf adorned in a rosemary perfumed  glaze, roasted carrots and onions tossed in parsley and honey crisp apples dipped in homemade caramel sauce. Over the top! Not to mention a cool crisp sunny evening. Nothing could have improved the evening except our friend Craig who at least got left overs sent home. It was a fun busy three days, lots of work with a great result. I have another recipe to test, this one requires lining a pan with plastic wrap before baking. Anyone out there ever "cook plastic wrap"? I am stymied!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fall Flavor Apple Crostata

Now that looks good! I love the flavors of fall, especially apples. I have a penchant for good apple cider, Pepin Heights Apple Cider in particular.  I have been know to bring my own cider for some of our long stints in Florida. You simply can't find real apple cider in Naples, Florida. I end every evening with a small cup of hot cider. When good apples start hitting the markets the end of September I think of ways to use them as much as possible. Today I decided to tackle one of my favorite fall deserts, gluten-free apple crostata.

Crust for one gluten-free Crostata

1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup cold butter diced into small pieces
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 cup cold water

Filling for one gluten-free apple crostata

1 1/2 pounds of apples (McIntosh, Macoun, or Empire work well)
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (I used Bob's)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
4 tablespoons cold butter, diced

For the pastry in a food processor, combine flours, zanthan gum, sugar and salt. Pulse once or twice to blend. Then drop the diced butter over the flour mixture, try to cover all the butter with flour. Pulse multiple times to form course crumbs. Mix the cold water and sour cream together, with the motor running, slowly add the sour cream water and process until the dough comes together.

Turn the dough out and form into a large disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour, no longer.

Put the dough on several sheets of parchment paper and roll the chilled dough into a large circle, 13 - 14 inches across. The parchment will move around, it is tricky to keep it in place to roll the dough!

For the filling, peel, core and quarter the apples, cut each quarter into three chunks. Toss the apples with the orange zest. Cover the rolled out dough with the apples leaving a 1 1/2 inch border.

Combine gluten-free flour, sugar, slat, cinnamon and allspice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into a bowl and rub with your fingers until it starts holding together. Sprinkle evenly over the apples. Gently fold the border over the apples, pleating to make a circle.

Bake for 25-30 minutes at 450 degrees, until the crust is golden and apples are tender. Cool at least five minutes before slipping crostata onto a wire rack.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pulled Pork

Or,  Chipotle at home without the burrito. Personally I am partial to pork, especially Mangalista pork a European heritage hog that is loaded with fat and marbled red meat, tasting almost like beef. It is difficult to get here in the midwest and is mostly a product of small scale farmers and breeders who have the space and wherewith all to care for the hog appropriately. I first had Mangalista pork In Budapest. I loved the pork so much in Budapest that I had it every single night for dinner!

This particular pulled pork was not from the great Mangalista but from a bone in shoulder cut I got at Whole Foods. I try to buy local, I try to be responsible about where I get my meat from but it isn't always easy.  Someday I am going to order some Mangalista pork, I am sure there are suppliers on the west coast (I know big carbon footprint!). When I go back to Budapest in January you can be sure I will eat my fair share of pork.  This pulled pork was the most simple meal ever. I covered the meat with a Latin Spice Rub (doubled) and let it sit overnight in the fridge. Then I put the meat in the crockpot and cooked it on low for 12 hours. It fell apart with ease and made for a succulent meal!

Latin Spice Rub

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2  teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a small bowl, combine everything well, use immediately, or transfer to a jar with a tight fitting lid. Store away from heat and light for up to 6 months. Makes enough to rub 2 tenderloins, four chops or about a pound of flank like steak. For a shoulder cut double the recipe.

Once the meat was pulled, and after I ate about a fourth of the meat I made a traditional Minnesota church basement casserole, using about half the pork. I froze the rest for another meal. 

Cari's Pulled Pork Casserole

3 cups of cooked white rice
Pulled pork (about half of a shoulder)
1 pint of Cari's canned roasted plum tomatoes
1 pint of Cari's canned black beans
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
Cheddar Cheese, grated, at least a cup, more if you like

Cook rice and put it in the bottom of a 3 quart oven safe casserole. Put pork on top of rice. Saute onion and garlic in a small amount of oil, season with salt and pepper, add the black beans and cover the pork with the beans. Top with a can of roasted plum tomatoes and sprinkle grated cheddar on top. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling. ENJOY!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Blue Moon

Blue Moon, a full moon that is not timed to the regular monthly pattern, an extra full moon that occurs about every two or three years. Popular usage defines a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a month, but it is actually a little more complicated. It is the third full moon in a season with four full moons. Metaphorically a blue moon is used to describe the rarity of an event, as in “once in a Blue Moon”.

I first became aware of the phenomena of a Blue Moon in July of 1996 when I had a Blue Moon experience during a true seasonal Blue Moon. I was riding my bike to Chicago in the first ever Twin Cities to Chicago Aids Ride, leaving on the eve of a Blue Moon. I had fund raised over $10,000, and was Rider Number 1 in the event. I sat on the boards of several HIV/AIDS service organizations that would benefit from the event. I purchased a used three-speed bike and was off on the adventure and experience of a lifetime. It was nothing short of a Blue Moon experience. The night before we left I took a small, framed print of a young child reaching for the moon, a Kiki Suarez piece, off my wall. I took a sharpie and wrote “My Blue Moon” on the back of the print and wrote a note to Dan Pollata, a gay man who conceived of the Aids Bike Rides, bringing thousands of fundraising dollars to HIV and Aids service organizations. I wrote a note to Dan, telling him that doing this ride was the opportunity of a lifetime for me, colliding with a Blue Moon, a rare event. I tucked the print inside the note.

I love the moon, a full moon, gibbous moon or crescent moon. They all delight me. Most of all I love the Harvest Moon, best enjoyed at a bonfire in Farmington MN. I will miss this quintessential experience this October 4th! I am enthralled with the space program, watching each and every shuttle blast off and return to Earth. I was filled with envy when Christa McAuliffe was chosen to go into space, if only I had been a teacher, it could have been me. I envied what she would see, what she would experience, the perspective of the world I imagined she would return with. A Blue Moon experience to be sure. The envy vanished and I was left with nothing but sadness that cold January morning as Challenger imploded. It was January of 1986; I was working at Helene Curtis, managing their data and telecommunications systems. I was also the programming director for the Midwest Telecommunications Association, a group that met monthly for educational purposes. I got it in my head that I was going to bring John Glenn to one of our spring meetings to talk about technology. It was simple actually; I just called his office, and made the request. The next thing I knew I was introducing him to our organization at the May meeting. He brought Jim Lovell along! A Blue Moon experience.

I love the twilight moon that greets me every morning this time of year, hanging in the deep blue sky. The next real Blue Moon will take place on November 21, 2010, but if you go by the popular definition the next Blue Moon will take place this December on the 2nd and the 31st. As folklore would have it when there is a full Blue Moon, the moon has a face and talks to those in its light. I will be a lucky girl!

I was to have another Blue Moon experience, a 6-week medical mission trip to Northern India, providing basic medical care to Tibetan’s living in exile. My Blue Moon, Dharamsala. I couldn't wait. When my physician told me I could not go, I was heart broken but I put on a brave façade. I tried to wrap my mind around accepting the decision in a matter of fact manner. I spent hours looking for private tours to India that would be safer for my intestinal health. This kept me busy, looking for an alternative, but the sadness situated itself inside me and privately I couldn't shake it. I spent most of my summer morning walks thinking about India, the service work I wanted to do and seeing Little Lhasa. My Blue Moon experience, gone, vanished, never to be had! I struggled with accepting the loss and fantasized about taking the trip. I consumed my self with these thoughts mostly just past dawn, the moon gone and sun coming up. The sun coming up always feels like a defining moment for me. But recently I am out under the twilight moon, an equally defining moment! I am keenly aware of its waxing and waning, the ever-changing phases of the moon. Most mornings I have to pinch myself just so I know it is real, this breath taking sky, dark and deep blue, the moon hanging in the balance, stars bright and the twinkling lights of the Cathedral’s steeple.

I love the drama of the pre-dawn sky, changing every day! Wednesday morning the beautiful conjunction of the waning crescent Moon with Venus made for a photogenic scene in the pre-dawn sky. It makes me gasp and I have overwhelming gratitude for my paternal genes that get me up so early. This morning, a sliver of almost nothing I had to work hard to find the moon, hovering low in the east, just above the horizon, Venus high above, totally different than the morning before. I actually don’t know if it was Venus, I am just guessing. I am not a student of Astronomy and could not identify a Constellation if I tried. I long to see the Beehive Cluster, maybe I have and I don’t even know it. I have a sort of Orson Welles history with the elements of the sky.

When I was young my family spent a week every summer at a rustic resort in the Brained area of MN. The cabin we rented had a television, a real treat since we didn’t have T.V. at home. This particular summer, probably in the mid 1960’s there was some kind of solar eclipse taking place during one of our days at the cabin. I heard about it on the T.V. I was terrified as I learned that looking at the sun during the event might cause blindness. Viewers were told not to look at the sun without some kind of protective wear, or a shoebox contraption with a pinhole for viewing. I had neither so I took cover. While the rest of my family headed for the lake or the golf course I stayed in the cabin, closing the blinds of every window. I took the egg timer from the kitchen and hid in a closet for over an hour. It felt like the end of the world, as I knew it. The rest of my family would loose their vision. I would be the only one still able to see. How would I get everyone home, I didn’t know how to drive? I worried about the next eclipse, how would I be forewarned without a television? I thought the sun and the moon were evil elements of the sky, powerful enough to cause the loss of vision. It would be years before my romance began.

These early autumn mornings have given me pause and reminded me that there is a Blue Moon in every day. Every day brings an event, an experience, or an exchange that is Blue Moon in nature, over the top so to speak. As I have realized the true reality of my life, that each day holds something spectacular, I find the loss of India slightly tempered. It does not matter if it is a true Blue Moon; each moon is my Blue Moon. Each day holds rare moments. I am still grieving the loss of opportunity; especially the opportunity to provide service to Tibetan’s in exile but it feels less huge and less consuming. I don’t know when my sadness will be gone, not a morning goes by that I don’t think about India. But it seems like the idea of a having a Blue Moon every day is compelling enough to revel in what I do have in the quiet of dawn.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why Bother?

Last evening Tina and I shucked 80 ears of corn. This morning I blanched the corn, removed the kernels from the cob and froze 55 cups of fresh corn. It is a great deal of work indeed, but work I enjoy! One might wonder, why bother to go to all the effort when you can get frozen and canned corn in a grocery store. There are a number of compelling reason.

Most importantly fresh corn simply tastes better. There is no comparison to corn I pull out of my freezer all winter with what is sold in the grocery store. It is also the signature ingredient in one of Tina's favorite soups. I will go to any length to make a stellar bowl of soup.

It enables me to support a local farmer. Tina picks the corn up every year from a family farm in Northfield, MN. When she got home last evening and we dumped the corn from two burlap bags and stared shucking I noticed the kernels seems slightly small, the ears just under ripe. I mentioned this to Tina just as the phone rang. It was farmer John calling, concerned about our purchase as it had been picked that very afternoon from the wrong rows in the field. He felt awful, knowing the corn wasn't at its best. We could return it, we could keep it and get our money back, whatever it took to make good on the purchase. It was just less than I expected, however it was  acceptable, we would keep the corn, he would keep his money and Tina would return the burlap bags tomorrow. Now I am certain unless your buying from a local family farm no one is going to call you to tell say your corn was picked from the wrong rows, please bring it back.

It is economical! 80 ears cost us $20.00, that is  .25¢ an ear. I got 55 cups of corn,  .36¢ a cup. You can't beat that in the store.

I freeze the corn in three cup vacuum sealed bags. You can can corn but according to "Putting Food By" the flavor holds up better in freezing. Besides, I needed a little break from canning today.

I love fresh corn, simply sautéed in butter with salt and pepper. Tina, she likes Cheddar Corn Chowder. In fact, I won her over with my first pot of this soup which she was skeptical about trying. It is a hearty soup and is really best at the end of summer with fresh corn. We enjoy it all winter long thanks to the freezing!

Cheddar Corn Chowder

8 ounces bacon, chopped
1/8 cup olive oil, or less
3 cups yellow onions, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
6 cups hot chicken broth
3 cups medium diced red potatoes, (don't peel)
5 -6 cups corn kernels
1 cup cream, half and half or milk depending on how rich you want the soup, I use cream
1/2 pound sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

In a stockpot, cook bacon in olive oil until crisp. Remove the bacon, reserving the fat. Turn heat down and add the butter. Sauté onions about 10 minutes. Stir in rice flour, salt, pepper and turmeric and cook for three minutes stirring the roux constantly. Slowly add the hot chicken stock. Add potatoes, bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender. If your using fresh corn remove the kernels from the cob and blanch for 3 minutes before adding to the soup. Add the corn to the soup, then add the cream, half and half or milk. Add grated cheese in handfuls allowing to melt. To serve garnish with bacon.

For a vegetarian version eliminate the bacon and use vegetable broth.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Back to School Traditions

I love routine and tradition, things I can count on. We have plenty of traditions around here. In fact, Tina often says, "Now this is not going to become a tradition so don't get your mind wrapped around the next time." I can create a routine or tradition after having just one of something.  We should have a bonfire every time . . . We should go to such-and- such a place every . . . We should have crab cakes every . . . I declare just about everything a tradition.

But back to school traditions, they are real and they are steeped in 10 years of history with this academic I love so much. I celebrate the return to the classroom for many reason but mostly because I am so darn proud of Tina and the work she does. It isn't that I look forward to the end of our blissful summers together because I don't.  I know she doesn't look forward to it with quite the same enthusiasm as I do so I like to make it special.

So on that day when Tina and her colleagues return to the class room, committed to bringing excellence to the discipline of mathematics,  I send dozens of homemade scones down to the faculty and staff at St. Olaf. Just a little something to get their day started. I take a break from my rigorous canning routine and I bake for an entire day. Always on the list are cinnamon scones which are a favorite, blueberry scones which are labor intensive and a pain to make but they are Tina's favorite. I decided to make a white chocolate chunk with dried apricot and toasted walnuts this year as well. The emails start coming as soon as Tina puts the goodies in the work room and they continue all day long so I know they are appreciated. 

Our second tradition around returning to school is a special meal sometime during the first week. Of course I would prefer that it always be the opening day of classes, or some other consistent day, after all it is a tradition. But week one is chaotic and unpredictable and I can't count on the consistency. So, some time during week one I make one of our favorite meals, Scandinavian Meatballs, a smorgasbord classic!

We are not Scandinavian. I don't eat pickled herring, nor do I wear colorful Norwegian sweaters. I am not sure how we even got this meal on the table to begin with but I guess it is fitting since St. Olaf was founded by Norwegian immigrants. St. Olaf celebrates its Norwegian history in style especially at Christmas time when the famed music department puts on its annual concert. We have never gone but I understand it is a sea of those Scandinavian winter sweaters with the traditional Selburose in colors most of us never knew existed. I do however beg each of Tina's colleagues for the two highly coveted tickets they each get to the concert. It is a tradition to give two tickets to my sister every year for her birthday. We usually score about 6 tickets and give all of them away. People apparently give very big amounts of cash for a ticket to the concert. This year we are going to go, and I can assure you, it won't become a tradition.

Here is the recipe for the Swedish Meatballs as we call them around here.

1 cup minced onion
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 1/2 pounds of meat loaf mixture (ground beef, pork and veal)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (I used boxed Orgran all purpose gluten-free crumbs)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dill weed, divided
1/4 teaspoon each ground pepper, ground nutmeg, ground allspice and ground cardamom
1/3 cup rice flour
21 ounces beef broth (gluten-free)
1 cup heavy cream

Spray a 10 X 15 inch jelly roll pan with no stick cooking spray. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a skillet, cook onion in 1 tablespoon butter until soft. In a large bowl combine onion, meat loaf mixture, crumbs, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon dill and other spices,  half and half and salt. It will be very soft. Shape into golf size balls, or any size you like, if you do golf size you will get about 26. Arrange on coated jelly roll pan. Bake until cooked through and lightly browned, 14-18 minutes.

Meanwhile melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet or pot. Stir in flour to make a roux, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes. Gradually add hot beef broth. I add about 1/3 cup at a time, fully incorporating before adding more and working slowly to create a smooth, thick sauce. Rice flour will behave slightly differently than wheat flour in a roux but it will work! Add dill and stir in heavy cream slowly, simmer 5 minutes.

Scrape meatballs and browned bits into the gravy; stir to combine. Spoon into a 3-quart casserole. Refrigerate, covered several hours or overnight.  To serve, heat oven to 350 degrees and bake until heated through about 45 minutes. If you don't make a head of time, reduce cooking time to 30 minutes.

Serve over gluten-free noodles or rice.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Putting Food By

Food in jars! Canning. Preserving. Putting food by for later. Canning simply resinates inside me. It speaks to my very core and satisfies me in a way few things do. I am called to the hard, long hours it involves in the kitchen. I love the connection to the bounty of food in the fall. Of course it appeals to my attraction to excess and, it keeps us prepared. Besides, I like to hibernate for which canning is essential.

We are prepared around here. I am not exactly sure how that happened but it started with Tina's appointment to the Bird Flu Committee at St. Olaf. A group who's purpose was to develop policy and a disaster plan for the campus in the event of a health care calamity. I actually wasn't paying attention, potential health care catastrophes don't get my attention. I barely noticed that cases of gloves and N95 masks were showing up on our door step, I barely noticed that water and food were getting stowed away in a closet with the gloves and masks.  When the very large generator arrived, I took notice. It reminded me of the make shift "bomb shelter" my father assembled in our basement and hearing my parents chatter about the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early '60's. Had I married my father? But when we lost power for hours I realized that having a generator and being prepared paid off. The only thing missing from the closet is some Tamiflu.

Seriously, canning prepares me for the long winter months when I don't want to go out into the dark and the cold. When I just want to stay home, build a fire and realize that I actually have everything I need to whip up a great dinner because I prepared and canned. There is nothing like cracking the lid on a quart size bell jar and getting a whiff of fresh tomato or roasted red pepper. I can enough tomatoes, roasted tomatoes and roasted red pepper to last a year with plenty to give away. We use the tomatoes and peppers in just about any winter dinner imaginable, including many of my Indian dishes I like so much. 

I didn't always can. My mother didn't can, although we did have emergency food in that basement bomb shelter. My grandparents didn't can. I didn't know anyone who canned, it seems a bit old fashion and out of style. Few friends even knew what canning was. 

It started three years ago when I told my friend Theresa I was interested in learning how to can. Next thing I knew I was in her kitchen in Stillwater, her parents, avid canners, had come down from Wilmar Mn to teach the two of us the art of canning. We spent the entire day in the kitchen. Theresa's parents showed us how to use a water bath canner and  a pressure canner. We canned tomatoes, salsa, marinara and beans. We worked from the crack of dawn until dusk. I left, not at all sure I could do it alone. I remained terrified of botulism and spoilage. I had read Putting Food By, cover to cover several times. A few days later I got up early and headed to the Minneapolis Farmer's Market. A serious storm erupted like a volcano as I placed two cases of tomatoes in my car. When I got home, it was still dark, the storm continued through the morning.  I began a methodical process of canning, reading the directions out of my book, sentence by sentence, over and over, one step at a time. 10 hours later I had 7 beautiful cans of tomatoes. I could not have been more proud. I loved the ping, the sound of the jars sealing on the counter top. I loved tapping the lids. I loved admiring the contents of the jars. I was hooked.

From then on I became very serious about putting food by for winter. A colleague of Tina's gifted me a pressure canner. Phillis and her husband had canned together for years. They had a vegetable garden and in the fall they preserved the bounty of their garden canning. But Phillis' husband had passed away and she was no longer interested in canning. Her 22 quart Mirro pressure canner, was mine if I wanted it. Phillis could not have given her pressure canner to a more grateful, appreciative canner. Not a batch gets put up in the canner without my thinking about Phillis, her husband, her garden, her losses and her grief.

I really do spend all of September getting ready to hibernate. There are daily trips to the farmers market, cases of tomatoes and peppers that become sealed in bell jars. Food in jars. I love looking at the jars. I am not a perfectionist, to the contrary, my cans would never make the State Fair showcase but I think they are beautiful. I am captivated by the State Fair canning showcase, especially the paper thin pickles stacked ever so neatly, spears of asparagus making a perfect concentric circle, peaches identical in size suspended in pristine syrup. I am sloppy, not in technique but in placement. I don't really care how the food stacks up. I just want lots and lots of food in jars lining my pantry. I have struggled with excess all my life in one way or another, drinking too much, eating to much, running to much. So this preparing for hibernation does not stop with jars of food. I shuck, blanch and remove the kernels of 70 ears of corn to freeze. I make and freeze  over 20 cups of pesto from my basil plants. I can chutney and corn relish and this year I want to make my own ketchup. 

It is my favorite time of year, the cool crisp mornings, my days filled with utter satisfaction as the cans start mounting and the days grow short and the bonfires start earlier. I couldn't be happier. I long for September all year. Here now, I will savor every day. I remain ever so grateful to have this time. I do not take a moment of it for granted, knowing full well that few people have the kind of time I do, to spend doing as I like. And for that I will share my bounty with as may as possible, as often as possible. You are welcome to my canned goods, you are welcomed to my kitchen to watch or participate. It goes on all month long.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Julia Child's Chocolate Moose

We finally saw Julie and Julia Monday evening. Since I am much better critic of food than movies I'll stick to what I am good at, the dinner we had before the movie.

Coq au Vin. I rarely say never. Never ever! Never ever again. I should have stuck with my gut and made Beef Bourguignon.  Red wine and beef, they go together and create a divine gravy. Chicken and red wine??? Admittedly, I have not had a sip of wine in 20 years but trust me I had my share back in the day and just don't care for the paring of a deep robust red wine with chicken, especially to create a sauce. I should have listened to the loud voice in my head that kept saying this just doesn't read well. 

Charlie and Tina, they enjoyed the very ugly, almost purple looking dish. It did look just like all the pictures I pulled up on line but I stand by my opinion, it just doesn't look or sound good. O.K. so I didn't actually have a rooster but I did get a very good, local chicken from the St. Paul farmers market so it wasn't the chicken. And I did get really good, meaty mushrooms and spent more than I usually do on a bottle of wine. I followed the directions as best I could but there were gaps and leaps and confusion so I had to punt every so often. I am a good cook, capable of deciphering bad directions, capable of making it up as I go along but I didn't veer that far off.

We had a lovely cucumber salad, a Julia Child recipe I selected especially since Charlie likes cucumbers and it was easy to put together. 

The crown jewel of course was the Julia Child Chocolate Moose which was worth every minute of the over two hours it took to make. It was a complicated enough recipe that required my complete attention, multiple, delicate steps. I was so proud when I was done that I delivered enough for our neighbors to enjoy as well. 

As for the movie it was fun, not as good as I expected, but good. Julia Child's enthusiasm and excitement about finally getting a publisher was initially heartwarming. After learning that she apparently had nothing good to say about Julie Powell, well, I was dumbfounded. She of all people should have understood this woman's joy and experience of her book. It must have been very sad for Powell not to get a word of encouragement from Julia Child. I know she was elderly but come on!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Minnesota State Fair, Day 1

I couldn't start my day without a visit to my old haunt, Machinery Hill. So here it is, the front end of the hill where one can find just about any kind of vehicle, including all the farming equipment my father used to admire during our childhood visits to the fair. We didn't venture too far back into the hill, after all I was with my niece Megan, a seasoned fair goer and we had a limited amount of time. Off to get some roasted corn.

Nothing better than an ear of roasted corn at 8:20 in the morning, besides, it was gluten-free. None of the buildings open until 9:00 so we wandered about, scoping out our plan for the morning. Our first stop was the Education building, Megan's favorite spot in the fair, to look at hundreds of pieces of high school and grade school art work. From there we made our way to the Ag-Hort building. I was hoping to see some bees and get some buckwheat honey. We saw bees and tasted the buckwheat honey which I actually did not like, so on to the highlight of the fair! 

French Fries, gluten-free, no coating, fried in dedicated fryers and, Heinz ketchup! Hooray! 32 Ounces of my favorite food in the world.

All around a good day, and I am headed back today with my friend Paula for more time with the bees and of course more fries.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Grilled Salmon and Bean Thread Noodles

I do like grilled salmon but it so hard to pull off! I struggle with the fish sticking to the grill or fish basket and falling apart, ruining any possible presentation. This summer I discovered cedar wood sheets, pliable, smooth, paper-thin sheets that are just the right size to enclose a single serving of salmon. The sheets are soaked in water to minimize charring and become pliable enough to wrap around the salmon. I simply smothered my salmon fillets  with a gluten-free BBQ sauce, placed the fillets on the cedar sheets and tied them with a long green onion. They cook up in no short order, 3 minutes or so on each side, and no struggling to flip or get out of a fish grill basket. The salmon was tender, moist and fell apart! I served the salmon with an Asian noodle salad with cilantro and black sesame seeds.

Bean Thread Noodles

6 ounces bean thread noodles
1/4 cup gluten-free soy sauce (tamari)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons peeled, and minced ginger (I actually grated my ginger)
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned (I used matchstick carrots)
1 large stalk celery, julienned
2 green onions including green tops, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves (I chopped the leaves)
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted

In a large bowl, soak the bean thread noodles in hot water to cover until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain well, pat the noodles dry with paper towels.

In a large bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar and ginger. Add the noodles and toss until well coated with the dressing. Add the carrot, celery, green onion, cilantro and sesame seeds, toss to distribute ingredients evenly.  Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Remove from fridge 30 minutes before serving.

The recipe indicates that it serves 4, that would be four very generous portions!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tina's gluten-free quesadillas

There are a number of things Tina does really well, one of them is cooking and baking. She is actually the baker in the house. I do bake, but I don't really like it and Tina does. She has a way with dough. 

When I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease Tina was simply devastated. I wrapped my mind around staying positive and she cried off and on for a few weeks. She thought our days of enjoying food, sharing food and going out to dinner were over. Well, we didn't go out for dinner for a long time, and we had to navigate the creation of a safe kitchen, not a gluten free kitchen but a kitchen that was safe. That meant labeling jars in the fridge that were being kept gluten-free (read no double dipping with a utensil that had been glutenized), getting a second toaster, establishing a second set of gluten-free wooden spoons, and maintaining a level of vigilance around cleaning that we were not used to. For example if a wash cloth was used to wipe a wheat flour covered counter down, or crumbs from wheat bread, it went straight into the wash. It wasn't easy and it took some time to settle into a routine and get used to new habits.

It took equally long to discover gluten-free alternatives for me. Figuring out how to cook gluten-free pasta, coming up with a gluten-free onion ring, making buckwheat savory creeps were big challenges. Tina spent a great deal of time figuring out how to make some of my most favorite foods gluten-free. For the longest time we simply couldn't find a gluten-free tortilla that was any good. The ones we tried were dry, brittle and tasteless and hardly passed for a Mexican treat. Corn tortillas worked for some things but when it came to making a good quesadilla, forget it.

Then, a few months ago I saw a post on Gluten-Free Girl. Some how Shauna and Danny had gotten a package of a gluten-free tortilla made by French Meadow Bakery. Imagine that, a local bakery, right here in the Twin Cites. I called them immediately only to find out that the delivery to Seattle was a promo. The tortilla would not be available to the general public for a few more months. I kept my eye on their website and a few weeks ago they appeared. Thank goodness I live here, a mail order of one package runs about $20, way too much for 6 small tortillas. I called them and learned that if I placed an order prior to Friday, I could pick them up myself at the Eagan plant the following Tuesday.

I picked my French Meadow Gluten-Free Tortillas up on Tuesday. They were frozen and on the smallish side. Tina gave me a grocery list and when I got home I sat in the kitchen and watched her work her magic.  

The tortillas themselves are far better than any other product I have tried, and they sure beat a corn tortilla for making a quesadilla. They are chewy, which is not a great quality but they are darn good. Tina made chicken quesadillas for me with chipotle sour cream. Oh my goodness they were so good I hardly noticed the chewiness. I love it when Tina cooks for me, especially when she works so hard to recreate my favorite things gluten-free. These chicken quesadillas were simply wonderful and a great treat. I will surely be asking for them again soon.

A Cooking lesson and much more!

My friend Paula invited me over to learn how to make beer butt chicken yesterday. Actually, I guess I invited myself over after learning that she grills beer butt chicken. 

I have not come to a place where I feel comfortable eating in the homes of other people easily since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I worry incessantly about being rude or getting an accidental hit of gluten. I am a control freak about my gluten-free diet. I come by it honestly. At least I don't spin my wheels controlling things which are simply outside my dominion. I do in fact have complete control of what goes in my mouth and it is this tight grip, this rigid adherence to my gluten-free diet,  that is the only treatment for Celiac Disease. I do not have gluten intolerance and I do not have a food allergy. I have a disease that left untreated will lead to catastrophic and potentially untreatable conditions including abdominal lymphoma.  I can't control the course of cancer.

I have had good experiences and bad experiences as a guest eating in someone's home. There are some people I simply trust with my diet in their hands. My friend Jennifer for example is someone I trust!  Jennifer introduced me to quinoa, a ancient grain from South America. She also edited a great book on food allergies, 8 Degrees of Ingredients.  I know she understands the disease and the diet. I will eat food out of her kitchen any time!

I also have complete trust and confidence in Paula and Andrea and the safety of the food that comes out of their kitchen. Paula goes to a great deal of extra effort to make sure I know that she is paying attention to details like using clean utensils. She always places packages of food she is using on the table for all of us to review. She does this in a nonchalant, matter of fact manner. I appreciate this, perhaps more than anything. I don't have to ask if I can look at the label, she offers it up in advance. And when desert is served, it is the same thing for all of us. If gluten-free cookies are good enough for me, they are good enough for all of us. Paula and Andrea pick up gluten-free baked goods at my favorite bakery and they rave about my gluten-free pasta. Eating what I eat, well it just makes me feel darn good.

So, with my gluten-free beer in hand, I headed over to Paula and Andrea's house to learn how to make this beer butt chicken on the grill. It was so much fun, and so simple. After rubbing and seasoning the whole chickens we poured GF beer into to rinsed out cans of diet coke, propped the cans up into the cavity of the chicken and put them on the grill. A hour and a half later we sat down to a stellar summer dinner of succulent, moist chicken, GF pesto pasta, and ripe summer tomatoes with shaved parmesan cheese. We meet Jane, a friend of Paula and Andrea's who is the conductor and director of One Voice Mixed Choir (http://www.ovmc.org/). We loved Jane, she is so interesting and fun. Jane is part of a potluck group who's membership is made up of vegans, Celiacs and people who can eat anything. She helped herself to the GF pasta without pause, another feel good gesture as far as I was concerned. I don't like drawing attention to myself, or the difference in my diet, so when a meal can be this transparent for me it is pure joy!

 I left, happy, content and connected to these two women that I simply adore. I  left having mounted another good experience in eating out and trusting others with my well being. These evenings give me experience in being a confident, kind and considerate guest which is just as important. I am always grateful when friends and family are willing to go to the effort to eat gluten free, especially when it feels so genuine and so pellucid. I appreciate the opportunity to become a better dinner guest. I am still learning but I think I am getting better. I am learning that plenty of people are more than willing and more than capable, I just need to be more willing myself and allow others the opportunity to serve me. God knows how much I enjoy serving others.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sky Blue Pink, no photo but a lasting memory

I wish I had a picture of the morning sky this past Wednesday. Sky Blue Pink, that is what Tina's mom calls it when pink clouds are mounted against a blue sky. I  love my morning walks, if for nothing else to see an occasional sunrise that simply takes my breath away. I have had an impending since of fall for a few weeks now, it creeps up on me earlier and earlier every year. It has been dark out when I leave in the morning for at least two weeks, even darker now as August slips away. Acorns and crab apples are falling from the trees and squirrels are busy packing it all away. I too am thinking about "putting food by" as I call my canning and freezing routine that kicks up in high gear in less than two weeks. This past Wednesday, not only did the Sky Blue Pink sunrise take my breath away, but so did an old patients mother, for the second time.

When I first started walking on Summit, 10 years ago, I occasionally caught sight of a familiar woman. She was usually running and always with a dog. I tormented myself trying to figure out who she was. About a year ago, she was out running her dog and our eyes met. She stopped and said, "Cari, right? Your a nurse at Children's. You took care of my son Sam. I will never forget you." That was it, Sam's  mom, Patty. I remembered her instantly. Patty went on to tell me that I had left a lasting impression on her and she always hoped she would run into me to tell me how grateful she was for a very specific message I gave her almost 20 years ago when Sam was nearly on deaths door.  

Patty told me Sam was now a senior in high school, looking at colleges. If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have said San would never survive, and if he did, he would be mainstreamed as a special needs student. College, how could that be? The conversation returned to my work and the care I had given Sam, or more to the point, the care I had given his mom during one of his many hospitalizations. I was a new nurse really, and didn't have much experience. Sam became critically ill during a night shift. Patty seemed particularly unsure of herself. "Your only job is to advocate for him." I say it all time time to parents, I never really think about it, it seems so obvious. She stood at the end of the bed as a crisis evolved, words can't describe her fear. I took her hand, placed it on Sam's foot and said, stay connected Patty, stay connected. Patty remembered the night like it were yesterday, tears in her eyes as she conveyed how powerful my words and actions were that night. Patty said, knowing that her job was to advocate for Sam changed her world.

Twenty years of advocating and staying connected and now Sam was looking at colleges. Patty said Boston College was his first choice but she wasn't sure she could manage him being that far away. I cried as well, overwhelmed by the interaction and gave her a hug, whispering into her her ear "The job changes as they grow, now it is time to let him go." I don't have children. I don't know the first thing about raising them, caring for them, empowering them, who knew if it was the right thing to say.  I sent Patty a card last May, high school graduation month. I guess it is traditional to send the graduate a card but my connection was with Sam's mom. 

As I stood on Summit Ave Wednesday morning, under the Sky Blue Pink, I ran into Patty again, out running the dog. I stood, admiring the sun rise as she came up behind me, taking me by surprise. "Sam is leaving for Boston on the 31st" she told me. "Are you o.k.?" I asked.

"I am, thanks to you." and off she ran.

I spent the rest of the day, on top of the world, not only for the Sky Blue Pink, but for Patty and the messages she has given me along Summit Avenue. My work matters, I make a difference. How often do we hear that?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Braised Lamb Shanks

Thanks to my friend the beekeeper and her lovely farmer friends at Rising Moon Farm in Zumbrota, MN (http://www.risingmoonfarm.com/) Tina is going to have her most favorite dinner this evening!

I don't like lamb much, actually not at all. I have very bad memories of Easter lamb dinners from growing up. My mother might have served lamb once, one Easter lamb dinner. The house smelled all day long and I didn't like the smell, nor did I like the rich meat. It only takes one experience for me to mount a life time of attitude! I am not proud of that characteristic, especially since it spills out way beyond my food preferences. I am committed to working on giving second chances so I might give these a try. That is, if Tina will share.

Tina, she loves lamb and since I love her I am willing to grill lamb chops and braise shanks even if braising does evoke the memory of that awful Easter dinner. I stumbled on a recipe for braised lamb shanks years ago in the Union Square Cafe Cookbook. Apparently they are wonderful and I can imagine the long, slow cooking ensures fork-tender, fall-from-the-bone lamb. Given the noise that takes place when Tina sits down to this dinner, I know it is a winner. 

Braised Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Herbs

6 garlic cloves
4 lamb shanks (From Rising Moon Farm if you can get your hands on them!)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour (rice flour if making gluten-free)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped parsly
1 cup white wine
3 cups veal stock (I use Chef Sid's Innovative Cuisine Veal Demi Glacé which is GF)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cut one of the cloves of garlic in half and rub the lamb shanks with the halves. Cut remaining garlic into thin slices, set aside. Season the shanks with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, dredge in flour. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or large ovenproof skillet. Add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides. Remove the shanks from the pan and set aside. Toss the onions and sliced garlic into the pan and saute 3-5 minutes, until softened. Add the herbs and cook 3 minutes. Add the wine, rise the heat to high and reduce by half. Stir in veal stock, season with remaining salt and pepper. Place shanks in the pan, cover and bake for two hours, until the meat is fork tender. Uncover the pan and turn the oven up to 500 degrees. Let the lamb shanks brown in the oven for 20 minutes, basting the meat thoroughly with the pan gravy every five minutes. Remove the shanks from the pan, keep them covered and warm. Strain the pan gravy into a bowl and, using a bulb baster or ladle, skim the fat. Return the gravy to the pan and reduce by half over high heat. Transfer the lamb shanks to a warm serving platter. Spoon gravy over the shanks or serve gravy in a sauceboat on the side.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What to do with a super full of honey

I have done some reading. I have looked at pictures. I have done more reading. Until this past Sunday, I was still perplexed  about how honey is extracted from the super frames. In fact, it was just a very big blur of confussion.

On Sunday, I had a chance to go to a honey extraction workshop at Nature's Path in Stillwater, MN. I am not exactly part of the local beekeepers community, at least not yet.  I don't even have hives yet, so it felt a little dishonest to present myself as a first year beekeeper. The first year beekeeper, that was who was in invited to participate, not second year and not seasoned beekeepers, just first year folks. I signed up anyway, hungry for any source of knowledge and connection I can get. Plus I got to leave work, just in the nick of time. It was my turn for an admission and a 6 year old with behavior problems need a room, not my kind of nursing!

Jim, who owns and operates Nature's Path invited first time beekeepers over for a hands on demonstration of honey harvesting. And I mean hands on. We got to remove frames from supers full of honey, uncap and  puncture the honey filled cells and place the frames into an extractor and spin off the honey, triple straining and filtering  the honey into a bucket and filling our own jars of honey to take home. We also go to see three different ways to get bees out of your honey supers and ready a hive for winter. Jim's wife served honey crinkle cookies, honey popcorn and honey lemonade (we all know what I am doing today).

A honey super is part of the beehive used to collect honey. The supers contain frames and the honey bees collect and process nectar on the honeycomb of the frames and then cap it with beeswax. When the honeycomb is full a beekeeper will remove the full frames and extract the honey. We used a hot knife and a another tool to do the uncapping and then placed the frames into the hand crank extractor. It had been very difficult for me to picture this process and understand exactly how the honey was actually removed. I kept reading how fun and interesting it was and that beekeepers often invited friends, neighbors and family over to watch and participate in this hopefully late summer celebration. It was all of that and more, and yes, if I get honey I will host a harvesting party.

I left with a much better understanding of how this all works which was great. More importantly I felt the generosity of Jim and every other beekeeper there. This is an amazing group of individuals, ready, willing and able to impart their knowledge, their tools, their tips, their experience and anything else a novice might want or need. I meet Betty, a St. Paul beekeeper who lives practically around the corner who told me all about her urban beehive in her backyard. Gosh what fun, to have your bees right in your own back yard. I meet Jim's wife Wendy who encouraged me to come back next year when I really was a first time beekeeper and not a zero time fraud. She also thought I was smart to get a jump start on my education, no shame in coming a year early! I made a point of thanking Jim before I left. He must have seen the "deer in the headlights" look in my eyes as I admitted to being a little overwhelmed by how much I need to learn. Jim suggested I try and break the endeavor down into steps and stay focused on the job at hand this month and not get to ahead of myself. "For example, in March, think about what needs to be done in March, not what needs to be done in August."

I have so much to learn! Staying in the hear and now, staying present and not escalating into the future. I need so much work on this lesson alone!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Minnesota State Fair, Counting the days!

I am not a Minnesota State Fair fair-goer. After all, I was probably 16 before I even knew the Midway existed. My father took us to the fair every summer when I was growing up. It was not an annual summer tradition we looked forward to. He would pile all 6 of us into to the family station wagon at 6:00 am. My mother never joined us for these adventures. It took an exhausting amount of time to find the right parking spot, something not too far and not to expensive. We headed to Machinery Hill. Until I was much older this is what I thought the fair was, Machinery Hill. My father, who did in fact have farm property he was responsible for in Iowa and North Dakota surveyed the combines, the tractors, the silos, acting like he might make a purchase. Maybe he did, I don't really know. We would grow impatient and eventually he would take us to get a foot long hot dog which we thought was simply fantastic.  By 10 am we were back home, having never seen the dairy building,  the home economics building, a single animal, the giant slide, the haunted house, or any other part of the Minnesota State Fair. I didn't know local t.v. stations broadcasted from the fair, I didn't know there was a Midway, cheese curds snow cones, lemonade, fried donuts or anything on a stick for that matter. 

Tina takes her nephew Chase to the fair every year, going on 8 years or so now. They have a tradition that he looks forward to that involves a coin jar that sit on our dresser. All year long we toss coins into the jar. Every time Chase visits he checks the jar, noting how full it has become. When opening day at the fair arrives he and Tina take the coin jar to the bank and have the coins counted and exchanged for bills. This is their fair fund, the money they can spend that day at the fair. Chase doesn't know, but on occasion I go to the bank and get $20 worth of coins to dump in the jar, just so he can see the level of coins grow bigger in the jar. I am not sure what he likes more, turning in the coins or actually spending the day at the fair. I never go, I am not a fair-goer. They spend ample time at the giant slide, they eat their way through the day, and go on some crazy water ride at the very end of the day. They come home spent, with just enough energy to tell me exactly how much money was in the jar and describe the expression on the bank tellers face when he or she asks what they are up to with all that change. Chase describes every minute of the day in remarkable detail. They have a ball.

I am going to go to the fair this year and I am counting the days until the opening day, hoping to turn those bad memories of Machinery Hill into new memories. I have two stops to make during my highly anticipated day at the fair. The yellow and red french fry booths, well they serve gluten free french fries. I am going to eat so many french fries that I will probably get sick. I'll bring my own ketchup, just to be sure and make a day of it, eating fries in between my visits to the bee booth in the agricultural building, yes apparently there is an agricultural building at the fair. I imagine it might be near Machinery Hill. The Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association hosts an area in the building where bee lovers can see inside a bee hive, learn about the honey bee, watch honey extraction and even see what one can do with the wax. I can't wait. I can't wait for the fries or the bees and if all goes well, I expect to become a fair-goer. Who knows, 12 days of the great american summer event,  I just might go more than once to make up for lost time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Getting ready for Julie and Julia

Does this look like the kitchen of someone who cooks 27 minutes a day? According to Michael Pollan, Out of the Kitchen, On to the Couch, this is the average amount of time a day spent in food preparation by most American's.

Whoa! I know I am an outlier but 27 minutes, really?

We are going to see Julie and Julia, for two reasons. First and foremost Tina's brother Charlie had a serious boy crush on Julia Child and watched every single episode of the French Chef. When she died, Charlie cried. So we will go, with Charlie, to remember and celebrate the life of this extraordinary women who empowered so many in the kitchen! Julia Child is an Icon! After all she actually paved the way for the Food Network.

But this could have been my movie. True story. I have an active imagination, based on kernels of reality. I  have seen myself at the Oscars, twice in fact. The first time I am watching Kathy Bates accept the best actress award for portraying me in a movie "Testing the Human Spirit", a true story about my work as a nurse taking care of pediatric patients with AIDS. My second  appearance is for a documentary in which I work my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Those plans fell apart after I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and working my way through a singe recipe became very challenging.  My hopes of hitting the hollywood scene were dashed and Julie Powell stole the show. I am happy for her really, even if it was sort of my idea. I am mostly happy that cooking is going to hit the big screen and maybe bring some enthusiasm back to the kitchen.

I will admit, I am  excentric, especially in the kitchen. If I want tomato paste I start with tomatoes  and spend an entire day cooking them down to a tangy paste. I always start from scratch and buck the food marketing researchers idea of what cooking today is all about. According to their model and their idea on the direction of cooking, my off spring, if I had them, would consider my idea of cooking crazy. They may be right according to history. Apparently in the 1950's the rage of breaking down cooking to opening cans and boxes and using packaged food was redefined with the advent of leaving something for the cook to do, specifically, crack open an egg, so "she" could take ownership of the cake". That is crazy. I do spend hours in the kitchen, chopping, dicing, sauteing, braising, stewing. If it comes in a bottle and I can make it myself, I do, chutney, mayo, soup, sauces . . . If it comes in a box and I can make it myself I do. When I grocery shop my cart is full of fruit, vegetables, weird flours, dairy and meat. I am not going to be tricked into thinking the box cake mix is somehow mine if I crack an egg into it. 

And that movie idea, well it is on the back burner!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Aspiring Bee Keeper

My friend Kathy took me on a field trip this week. We went to her apiary, a yard where she keeps bees. Kathy has been keeping bees for the past 10 years. As an aspiring bee keeper myself I was delighted to spend the day with Kathy, see her hives, her bees, the brood, the Queen and get my first close up experience with honey bees. I am in! I am completely swooned and compelled to embark on this adventure.

The day held some surprises, including my willingness to be vulnerable and expose some of my most intimate thoughts about my yearning to keep bees. Somehow I felt completely safe, which says volumes about Kathy.  I have been struggling with the validity of my desire and needed to know if I was completely off base. You see, it isn't about the honey, although that would be nice. And it isn't about the benefits of pollination which I would be happy to be a part of. It is far more selfish and self-serving. While the bees were surely a high point, the affirmation I got about my visceral desire to keep bees was just as much a highlight. I come at this endeavor with a need to be tamed, with the idea that the bees can empower me to be more mindful, more deliberate, more contemplative, and to be  slowed down. I had only shared these thoughts with Tina. Perhaps Kathy would think, hum, she needs some therapy, not a colony of bees. I took a risk, sharing my thoughts, I knew it was a deal breaker, either I was meant for bee keeping or I wasn't and I had to know. Did I say I am in? I am in!  I was completely affirmed. I would much rather spend my money on bees than a therapist!

We  went to the bee yard, taking with us Kathy's observation hive, a small hive she keeps on her back porch for observation purposes, and teaching. The bees in this hive were not doing well and Kathy planned on adding them to an established hive. Only in doing so she needed to dispatch the Queen, something no beekeeper wants to do! The Queen seemed to have stopped laying eggs which is a very unfortunate problem, so she had to go. I felt enormous sadness for Kathy but honestly I was so intrigued in her ability to locate and extract the Queen that I lost sight of the killing. 

Then Kathy began her inspection of her equipment, one entire colony had simply absconded! The other hive, a hive that feral bees had taken up residence had encouraging activity outside the hive. Bees buzzing about, heading in and out of the entrance with nectar and possibly some pollen although I could not appreciate either of these elements. We both donned  protective veils at this point. Kathy did not really know the temperament of this particular colony, after all they had been living in the wild and simply moved in! In no short order Kathy removed her veil confident that the bees were docile and it would be easier to see and work. I would have removed my veil as well, things were going well for me, I felt enormously calm. However, it really was my first experience and I thought keeping the veil on was prudent.

 Kathy went through the boxes inspecting the frames and pointing out cells with eggs, brood, comb, nectar, honey . . . and then she spotted the feral Queen. Finding the Queen, or at least good evidence that she is well, is a critical part of the inspection. Kathy seemed very pleased, good brood, good brood patterns, a thriving hive, it was all very positive, and maybe even unexpected considering the unusual nature of the acquisition. Once the hive was put back together I did remove my veil and watched the activity outside the hive, trying to appreciate the presence of nectar in the belly of the bee or see some pollen being carried in on their back feet,  I could not. 

We left the bee yard and went to see Kathy's farmer friends who host her apiary on their land. Catherine and Melissa have been farming for the past 15 years or so in Zumbrota, MN. They raise lambs, cattle, chicken and have lama's, ducks, dogs, cats and a beautiful peacock. They wool and butcher the lambs. Catherine is a writer, and wrote The Compassionate Carnivore, a book on how to keep animals happy, save Old MacDonald's Farm, reduce your hoofprint, and still eat meat. My kind of book and I intend to read it soon. Melissa took me a tour, showing off their stunning and well cared for animals and then we went to lunch.

It was a completely empowering day. I felt calm, centered and content. I felt like the world was full of possibility and that I could in fact do this, keep bees. I realize that I come to bee keeping at the worst possible time for the honey bee! Honey bees are facing unprecedented threats which include the introduction of mites, the arrival of the Africanized bee, the prevalent and persistent use of agricultural chemicals and more recently the so called Colony Collapse Disorder which is decimating hundreds of managed honey bee populations. It is a upward battle for the beekeeper, especially  a novice like myself!

But I am in! I am hoping to find a host for my hives in Northfield and if all goes well I will hive two colonies next spring. I am registered to take a weekend class on honey bee management at the U of M in March and I am going to join the MN hobby Beekeepers organization. I have a new friend (which is the best part of all) and a bee keeping mentor. Life has taken a turn for me and I am full of energy, enthusiasm and some healthy trepidation.