Monday, June 29, 2009


Tina calls them tiny spheres of evil. I can't enough of them, especially locally grown. I don't get to the weekend farmers markets very often as I work every weekend. The smaller week day markets are just fine, not quite as festive and far fewer occupied stalls but I still enjoy them. 

Several  years ago I decided I was only going to support local immigrant farmers, Hmong farmers in particular. I meet a young Hmong woman, Mhonpaj Lee who was a medical interpreter. Mhonpaj grew up farming in Minnesota and initially she resisted following into the footsteps of her elders. But farming runs deep in the Hmung culture and after graduating from college she took over the family plot. Turns out Mhonpaj became a leader in the local Hmung farming community and has empowered her family and her community to integrate western farming methods along side of traditional Hmung methods. She connected the Hmung farming community with the Minnesota Food Association that has helped them develop farming business plans. In short, Mhonpaj is a local hero to the Hmung farming community. Her story compelled me to learn more about the Hmung farming community in MN and decided I wanted to support them as best I could. So I make a deliberate point to buy from the Hmung farmers. I enjoy visiting with them, learning about their farms and watching the entire family run the business.

On this particular day these shelled peas caught my eye. I am not one to shy away from work, quite to the contrary. I love any labor associated with food and cooking but two young girls managing the stall told me they had shelled these peas themselves. They were certainly more expensive and I need four pounds. I wanted to honor their labor and buy the peas they had shelled with their little hands. Many would say I spent way too much, but I left two very happy young girls smiling and hopefully feeling empowered. As for myself I got home and made my favorite cold pea soup. You can find the recipe in previous post from last summer. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More cherries!

We have a long standing tradition in hour house called Soup Night. Ten years ago when I started working just weekends I wanted to find a way to stay connected with family and friends. Soup Night became the vehicle. Every Tuesday for 8 weeks in the fall we invite anyone who wants to join us in our home for homemade soup. I make two kinds of soup and we serve good bread and homemade chocolate chip cookies. The soup is always gluten free, the bread and the cookies, well they are not. I wouldn't subject my guest to gluten free bread! Soup is great comfort food and the weekly gatherings have become revered evenings of comfort and good company. After the 8 weeks I am often relieved, it is a great deal of work. But come spring and summer I am hankering for soup and an audience. We don't host host soup nights outside of our fall gatherings, it is just too much work but I continue to make soup and mostly experiment with new ideas. Lucky for me we have dear friends, Paula and Andrea, who are eager and willing to try my creations. This week they are getting cold cherry soup. Cherry soup is a quintessential Hungarian dish, usually made with tart cherries. I made a sweeter version using  bing cherries. While we were in Budapest I got a few varieties of pálinka, a traditional Hungarian double-distilled fruit brandy (double-distilled = gluten free). I used a dash of cherry pálinka whisked into some crème frâiche to drizzle on the top of the soup. The result was a very refreshing and delightful!

2 pounds fresh sweet or sour cherries, stemmed and pitted
2 cups of water
10 teaspoons of sugar, more if you use sour cherries
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup dry red wine

Wash, stem and pit the cherries. Place them in a pot along with the water, sugar, cinnamon stick and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring often. Add the wine and cook 3 more minutes. Remove from heat, remove the cinnamon stick. Blend the cooked cherries in a blender, food processor or using an immersion blender. I actually used a vitamix and then passed my soup through a chinois. The result was a very smooth soup. The recipe suggests reserving a few whole cherries to add to the purred soup for texture which I did not do. Chill several hours or overnight and garnish with a drizzle of crème frâiche if you like.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Close Encounter

I have an unusual work schedule. Ten years ago I took a "baylor" position, a staffing initiative to cover weekend shifts. I work three 8 hour shifts, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Don't feel bad for me, I choose this schedule, I get paid very handsomely and I accrue all my benefits at a full time rate. This schedule allows me to spend a great deal of time doing the things I enjoy most, like walking!

I keep very busy during the four days I have off. For the past 10 years my day starts with a 9 mile walk. I leave the house every morning at about 5:20, regardless of the weather. Dawn, my time of day! I have the world to myself. I love the solitude, the stillness and the rising sun. I am at my best in the wee hours of the morning. I never wake up and suddenly find that spring has arrived. I watch the seasons edge up in subtleness. I watch the moon set and the sunrise and I take notice of everything around me on these morning walks. They are not an aerobic activity, they are strolls.

This morning I was running late, trying to calculate the risk for rain. I usually head straight to the Cathedral, or the Capital to watch the sun come up but today it was cloudy so I turned west on Summit just around 5:30. I was distracted and preoccupied with the recent images of Iran in my head, when suddenly I was startled by something running right in front of me. At first glance I thought it was a cat, an awfully big cat. On second glance, I realized it was a red fox and it was trotting right down the middle of Summit, maybe 10 feet in front of me. The fox stopped, turned around and squared me off, dropping prey from its mouth, a rabbit and a squirrel, right in the middle of the road. We were both frozen, my heart skipped a beat as I contemplated who would make the next move. I just stood there watching. Eventually the fox collected the rabbit and ran off between two houses, leaving the squirrel.

I spend a fair amount of time outside. We are members and frequent visitors at the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida. I have seen some of the best wildlife has to offer. I am not disturbed by the visual of the food chain. But this fox had me captivated, such an unexpected encounter. I have seen deer up on the hill, some unusual birds and even an owl on my early morning walks, but never a fox! It was a thrill for sure! An hour or so later, I went past the site where the fox left the squirrel - it was gone. I couldn't help but wonder if the fox returned to collect the prey.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I can't help myself

I know they are not local. I can't help myself. I will succumb no matter what. In the dead of winter when cherries from Chile show up, I could care less about the carbon cost of my christmas cherries. I understand it is shear madness to transport non essential luxury food across the world. I don't care. I have to have my cherries! I know that in order for me to eat these cherries in December, that unreasonable measures were taken to get them to my grocery store, packaging, refrigerating and shipping over 7500 miles. And it doesn't get much better in the summer when they show up in abundance in the grocery stores, although my summer supply probably comes from somewhere in North America. I will pay anything, including an outrageous amount for my crop share through Cooks of Crocus Hill every July.  I loose complete sensibility about trying to eat local, caring about carbon footprints, and honestly if you told me that the labor conditions for the pickers was awful, I might pause but inevitably I would capitulate. I am not particularly proud about these successions but I love my cherries. 

My first actual memory of eating cherries took place only 20 years ago. I don't remember having them as a child, growing up. We had apples, oranges and bananas in our house. My mom's idea of a grand treat was frozen strawberries that showed up  in crystal glasses for Christmas brunch.  20 years ago when I was a novice nurse at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis I took care of a 9 year old girl from the Pacific Northwest. Katie Button came to have spinal surgery and spent the summer with us. She was my very first pediatric emergency, and stopped breathing one day because of too much pain medication. When it was time for Katie to leave the hospital we had a going away party. Katie didn't want cake or ice cream, she wanted cherries and she wanted to learn how to spit cherry pits. So I brought a bag of cherries to work and on her last day Katie and I sat in the stairwell of the hospital, eating cherries and spitting the pits down the stairwell. We had a blast and so began my love affair with cherries. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Canning Beans

I will confess, I love canning. I long for September all year, for the end of the farmer's markets when bushels of tomatoes are ripe and ready for canning, when you can get loads of red peppers to roast over a bonfire and then can fire roasted peppers.  But recently I canned my own beans, with the help of our friend Jill, who is my canning mentor! We got together on a cool spring day, early in May and canned garbanzo, pinto and black beans. I can't even begin to describe the difference in dried beans that have been soaked over night, cooked and then canned versus the canned beans you buy at the grocery store. My primary motive was to have a stash of beans ready for Indian cooking at a moments notice. Of course this is a great deal of work! But I have been known to spend an entire day making my own tomato paste and consider time in the kitchen well spent. I am grateful to have the time and energy to spend hours upon hours grinding my own spices, making almost everything we eat from scratch and minimizing our consumption of prepackaged food. I love reaching into the pantry and grabbing a can of tomatoes, peaches, red peppers, chutney or beans that I have canned myself. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to support my local farming community, particularly our immigrant farmers all year long by supplying myself with local canned tomatoes and peppers. And, now when I want a quick Indian dish with beans, well I have plenty.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Summer Food

We got a new grill, a fancy Weber. I wish it were charcoal but the condo association only allows gas. I love grilling, year round but especially in the summer. These vegies and chicken were marinated in Lawry's Herb and Garlic marinade which is gluten free and fat free!