Summer snapshots, with captions

image

Our northern native perennials have a shaggy sort of loveliness, like this one: the pasque flower. A meadow anemone, it’s a cold-weather, sturdy sort of flower, and thrives in the front stone flower bed. They say it takes its Latin name from “one that grows where the frogs live” and that it does well in the tundra. Right on both counts.

image

Cosmos. These were the first flowers I ever planted here, and I like to keep them around for nostalgic reasons. They enjoy being neighbors with poppies, and don’t mind a little mint sprouted around the feet, either.

image

"Come inside with me, mom, come play Legos." Kids. They make such a big deal out of moving between outside and inside, never wanting to leave the space they currently inhabit. He doesn’t want to come inside. He doesn’t want to go outside. Yet I know that by the time the end of summer rolls around, he’ll be swinging the screen door, banging between inside and outside without any hiccup. And he’ll finally transition to wearing shorts every day, just when it’s about time to start wearing pants again. It’s a good thing that a day can feel so long, because summer is just a sliver. 

image

Hank would like us to take down this sign, because he made it ages ago, when he was four, but we can’t do it. It encapsulates our feelings about the garden, which are generally gleeful.

image

This year, Aaron build a little upright shed in the bottom of the garden, for tool shelter. The water is really high this year, which has been good for canoeing. Come August, though, the wild rice will grow in and probably choke out the open water.

image

Aaron moved the cold frame from the early lettuces and peas to cover the bed of eggplants and peppers this year. They’re loving it under there. To the right you see a small plot of Tarbais beans. The packet said they were bush beans, but after a few weeks of watching them wave long feelers around in the air, looking for support, Aaron said, “they never tell you they’re pole beans,” and built a rig for them to scale. That’s okay. It means we’ll have more of them, and these are my shell beans (to myself, I call them shellies), the beans I slip from the pods before they’re all dried out. I vacuum-pack and freeze these for the winter, so we can’t have too many, really. (They have very thin skins, making peerless stews and the best bean hummus ever. I highly recommend freezing shellies.)

image

Here’s the far garden door, which we rarely use, guarded by our giant rhubarb plant. (The others are inside the fence.) To the right you can see the far edge of the black currant patch, which is coming along nicely, to blight in sight. The canopy above is Toka plum. And to the right, over there, we have more plum trees, apple trees, some cherry shrubs, and a small patch of strawberries, which the rabbits really seem to be enjoying this year.

image

Did you know that we call our place Hazelbrush? Aaron carved this sign years ago, after we spent a few weeks one fall digging out a stubborn network of hazelbrush roots from the plot of land that is now our garden. Because this is a sandy glacial moraine, we need ever bit of topsoil we can get. So we dug those roots with pulaskies, yanked out their long, stretchy lengths, and shook out every single root ball, leaving the black dirt behind. It was hard work, but we both remember it as the very best of times.

No-Recipe Recipes

People sometimes ask me how I am able to whip up so much food for parties and events so quickly. As my family and friends know, it’s not due to my organizational skills. No, in truth, my mood runs more to the spacey/dreamy side of the spectrum …  but when it comes to throwing down a feast for a party, I can usually do it, with a modicum of stressing. And I think it’s because when I’m in the groove, I don’t follow recipes (unless they’re my own, and I’m testing them for publication.)

So in the interest of general time-saving, and making life simpler in the kitchen, I want to introduce something I’m calling “no-recipe recipes,” or recipes that have simple ratios you can memorize, or general quantities you can approximate. Whenever you can get away from recipes in the kitchen, you can fly. 

Today on Adventures in Eating, my monthly radio show on the Christopher Gabriel Program, a super-diverse, really interesting cultural talk show out of Fargo, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite #no-recipe-recipes, one for Rhubarb Jam. Straight rhubarb, no filler. The finished jam is the color of a really good rosé from the south of France. The color of a bloomy sunset after a storm. The color I want to paint my toes. And now, the color of my favorite toast-topper. (It’s also magical on ice cream.) 

If you want to hear us yak about it, and other things I’m cooking lately, tune in to 970 AM WDAY out of Fargo, at 11:35 today. (AM is super nostalgic to me, having grown up with a dad who listened to so much fast-talking AM radio … )

Passion Fruit Pavlova

image

Okay, what’s your longest interval between clipping a recipe and actually making it? For me, this one’s a record. It’s been absolutely years since culinary school, when I filed this recipe, fully intending to give it a quick whirl … and then I don’t know what happened. Sixteen years, I guess.  Many (many) desserts later … . 

image

I’m a huge fan of pavlova, which is like a big fluffy pile of soft meringue whose center divot holds a puddle of whipped cream and some marinated fruit. (Properly, the fruit should spill lusciously over the sides.) Every time I’ve had pavlova, the meringues were cooked until soft and crackly; they crumbled into the cream, dissolved in the fruit, and on the tongue. They were good. But I kept hearing about these other kinds of meringues, slightly under-baked ones, meringues with soft marshmallow centers, and chewier edges. And I dreamed of those. 

This recipe was for the latter, the gooey ones that have always eluded me. When I made them I realized that not only was this a delicious paradox of a dessert—both swoony and super-light at the same time—it was dead-stinking easy to make. 

image

If you have an electric mixer, the only skill in this entire operation is holding back on the sugar. Be patient. Add it as the recipe says, just a few swishes at a time. This way, the sugar actually melts into the whipped egg whites, making for glossier whites, and at the end, a plusher, chewier meringue base. 

image

I love the texture of the unbaked meringue fluff; you could give it to a three-year-old and they’d be mesmerized for hours. It has stiffness to it, and resistance and strength, but absolutely no weight to it. I feel like I could use it to spackle things around the house. Amazing. As directed, I plopped out two blobs from my ice cream scooper, one on top of the other like I was making a double cone, and then smashed them together to make the center pothole.

Once baked, they look nearly the same, but more relaxed. You tip them carefully off the cornstarch-dusted parchment and hold one in your hands and it is as light and as fragile as a tiny hollowed-out porcelain figurine and, in fact, exactly like the tiny white porcelain bird my mom set in the fake nest on the mantle every Easter. 

image

You could use any fruit to top these, but passionfruit is the traditional Australian garnish for pavlova. As you might have guessed, I did not buy these fresh passionfruit at the grocery store in downtown Park Rapids. By way of my TV show, sometimes (not on a daily, or even weekly basis or anything, but once in a while) people now send me things. And so when the nice people at Melissa’s Produce asked me what I wanted to try, I asked for the moon. I said, “fresh passionfruit?” I have absolutely no idea what season they belong to, or if we were in it, because I was in the grip of a daydream that stretched back to the time I cooked in New York kitchens, where these round purple globes were as common as apples. For an avowed sour-fiend such as myself, this is the fruit for me. It’s tartness is up-front—tingly-sour, not shy, and really fruity. It has bouquet and fragrance, too, not unlike a really wonderful white wine.

So I asked for them, these rare fruits, and they landed—traveling across continents and possibly through time—on my porch. 

I stuck the dark purple skin of the passion fruit—which also felt, curiously, light for their size—with the tip of my paring knife, ripped them open, and scraped out the seeds. They crunch in the teeth, feeling lighter than the seeds of pomegranate and bigger than those in a raspberry, but they’re definitely edible. But I wanted lots of sauce. So I decided to strain most of the seeds out, add some sugar to the puree, along with a bit of water and enough cornstarch slurry to thicken. I added a lump of butter and let it cool, making kind of a cheater’s quick curd. 

image

I carefully portioned up the sauce, the seeds, the whipped cream, and five of the most beautiful of the meringues to take to a dinner party that night, and then I made one up: meringue, cream, passionfruit sauce, seeds. Just for kicks, and to take its picture. I intended to let it sit around for Hank to eat later, but I couldn’t stay away. I crushed it. It was like my spoon was stuck on repeat. 

image

I think it was the chewy center, which was even better than I imagined it would be. Or maybe the soft ploof of cream hitting the crumbling dry outside of the meringue. Or maybe the sour sauce slicking it all, or the crunch of those seeds. Either way, tart fruits are made for this dessert. Looking around, at what I have on hand, I’m dreaming about filling those creamy-crunchy meringues with hot pink baked rhubarb.

Recipe after the jump. 

Read More

Hope and Humidity

image

We’ve got ourselves a good case of the Marches. 

I’m hungry but picky at the same time lately, like I don’t know what I’m hungry for. The house plants are reaching hard for the window sun and the starts are still too young to baby. The front yard is busy melting and freezing and refreezing into a treacherous topography. (Around here we rarely see a midwinter melt, so the returning heat has to burn through all of the piled-up ice and snow, all the way down to October’s first layer. It’s an ice crust that contains history.)

In other words, we really appreciate the spring here in Minnesota. Honestly, just the prospect of wearing real shoes again after months of clomping around town in snow boots—or as my mother would call them, clodhoppers—thrills me. So when that electric-green chive spire finally pokes its brave tip through the earthen matting of the herb bed (not yet, but really soon) I might choke up a little. I will definitely slip my feet into my cold, stiff, long-lost shoes and walk out into the sog and pick it.

But as for now, back in the kitchen, I am still making cold-weather food: huge meatballs bobbing in marinara over cheesy polenta … potato-bacon soup ladled over quick-boiled cabbage … vegetables with cream, pasta with bacon, squash with coconut milk, all new kinds of creme caramel. There’s not a single thing here that can stand up on its own. Everything squishes and oozes dramatically into its own luscious puddle—which might not be a bad definition for winter food. Good stuff, for sure, but I’m ready for the upright, energetic ingredients of summer to start walking through the door. I miss the brittle green beans, the light tufts of lettuce, the crisp hollows of the shelling peas. Even though I don’t love them, I miss the zucchini flowers attached to the ends of the baby zucchini and their five fleeting minutes of puff. They remind me of the soaring bangs I created in middle school: the stiff crest of curls that began to wilt soon after I exited the hair-spray cloud. Similarly, zucchini blossoms taste rather airy to me, but I do admire them for their volume and good looks, and I’m not opposed to frying up a few when they arrive.

We’ve started a bunch of garden seeds already. Last year, after losing most of my starts in our little unheated greenhouse (great for growing greens but not newbie tomatoes at the moment) I decided to farm out the lot to our friend Christine at Forest & Floral in town, so that they could grow up right in a controlled greenhouse. She planted our onions and brassicas (cabbages, collards, broccoli and the like) a few weeks ago, but called us in to plant the tomatoes, and I’m glad she did. It was heaven to sink my hands into her trough of potting soil. My niece, pictured above, did an excellent job helping out. Turns out, her tiny fingers are good for dropping single seeds. (Hank and her brother much preferred to scale the snow mountain outside.) It felt glorious to just be in the greenhouse, back in the land of the living. Even in mid-March, the air in the greenhouse feels heavier—bound down with growth and humidity, but high on hope.  

Speaking of that, here are some of my garden hopefuls this year. We will plant so much more—four kinds of tomatoes, four kinds of beans, two kinds of winter squash, two zucchini, two kinds of eggplant, two kinds of peppers, three kinds of potatoes, and of course all the lettuces and asian greens and root vegetables, and I know I’m forgetting something. We pack a lot into that garden, or try to.

image

Fava beans. These grow very well in Minnesota, and if you can keep them upright long enough, they’ll fruit twice. Aaron runs a midsection of twine around them for stability and I harvest fresh favas in June and then again in September. Some people say that you can eat the baby favas raw and unpeeled, but please enlighten me, because I just don’t get that one. I slip the raw beans out of their fleecy pods into a pot of boiling water for a bare minute, drop them in ice water, and then squeeze them out of their skins, and they are amazing. Meatier than green peas, but just as sweet, and larger. This year I’m growing these purple ones.

image

Kohlrabi. Mine never grow to this size, but they’re fast sprouters and we might have some to nibble on by June. If layered in crushed ice or soaked briefly in ice water, they turn impossibly crisp and sweet, becoming the kings of the crudité plate.

image

Cour di Bui cabbage, prettiest conehead ever. These varieties are usually earlier than the massive ballheads and meant for fresh eating, not storing. The bluish tip-blush and lovely crooks and corners of these leaves reeled me in.

image

If it was all for fresh eating, I’d only grow a couple of cucumber plants, but I grow at least twenty—all with the intention of making lots of pickles, mostly my grandmother’s fermented dills. For these I need a variety that stays petite and slim and doesn’t get too seedy. I always grow one called Homemade Pickles, but in recent years I’ve been supplementing with an Israeli-type, burr-less and slender, and they make excellent fermented dills.

image

My interest in eggplant has grown into a full-blown weakness. Fresh eggplant is so delicate, sweet, subtle but somehow addictive. And they’re gorgeous. I think that the West African name for them—garden eggs—is exactly right.

image

This will be the year of the Japanese squash, as I fell for two kinds. This  goofy, corseted one and another bumpy blue-green monster. Oh, that they will actually get 95+ days of sunshine to fully ripen! Let’s hope.

image

My German Pinks. I grow them nearly every year. These tomatoes actually feel heavier for their size than the other beefsteaks, and I can’t get over the color, which seems to hover indecisively between red and pink. They’re even lovelier in person.

image

Black Trifele, a pear-shaped black tomato from Japan. I love the slow, sneaky flavor of a good black tomato—and the way their richness stands out against the pop-sugar of the cherry tomatoes—but one in this shape? I  just couldn’t resist.

Happy gardening to all! And to those who don’t grow their own, happy eating.

(By the way, these images came from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog, from which I did a fair amount of ordering this year. But I always get my reliable bulk seeds from Fedco, and most of my pretties from the pre-eminent Seed Savers Exchange, out of Iowa.)

This is likely the last ski of the year. Unfortunately, it was also my first ski of the year! (I’d hoped to get out more, but it was such a cold winter.) Spring is barreling down the pipe, though, and I am anxious to leave this black-and-white business in the dust and enter the technicolor spring. (In between those two we have the lovely mud season, which is truly not without some charm.) My garden seeds are started and I’m dreaming about my flowerbeds. More on that soon.

This is likely the last ski of the year. Unfortunately, it was also my first ski of the year! (I’d hoped to get out more, but it was such a cold winter.) Spring is barreling down the pipe, though, and I am anxious to leave this black-and-white business in the dust and enter the technicolor spring. (In between those two we have the lovely mud season, which is truly not without some charm.) My garden seeds are started and I’m dreaming about my flowerbeds. More on that soon.

Temporary Housing

image

Some traditions are meant to be broken—quite literally in this case. When we moved back home, I’ve instituted the gingerbread house tradition, and soon after I tacked on a ritual for its demise, too: every year on New Year’s Eve, the kids get to tear it apart and eat it.

For me, homemade pieces make the house come alive. I realize, in this age of gingerbread house kits, that making your own gingerbread walls and doors and roof pieces feels hopelessly retrograde—but let me tell you, chomping the house is a lot more fun when the gingerbread and the frosting both actually taste good. And like my husband, Aaron, said as he carefully moved the house from perch to perch, real gingerbread houses smell so incredible.

I used to cast about for any holiday baking recipes, but now I just keep it simple, and turn to my very favorite Christmas baking book: Visions of Sugarplums, by the former New York Times critic and food writer Mimi Sheraton.

image

It’s a slim book packed with recipes that sound amazing and work even better: delicate Swedish gingersnap dough that begins with 1 1/2 cups of whipped cream and yields brittle, spicy cookies that actually snap; unusual Finnish rye cookies; Island-spiced eggnog from the Caribbean; and a recipe for a gingerbread house which includes an indestructible, yet truly delicious, citrus-laced molasses dough.

A single recipe makes enough for one house plus a bunch of rolled cookies. Hank and I went to town.

image

I think I love this guy best. He reflects Hank’s interest in the body, and has a heart (albeit a little low) and a single “nerve.”

And then we have Aaron’s glam warrior. And my pom pom man.

image

image

But the best part of a gingerbread house remains the story spun around it—the idea of entering the house, living in it, and nibbling on its trim. As we were making it, I told Hank the Hansel and Gretel story in all its dramatic, gory detail. His eyes widened, and it made me want to fill the insides with candy couches and chairs and reading lamps.

image

Hank didn’t want to let it go, but so sad, we couldn’t keep it around forever, gathering dust. He relented to its New Years Eve destruction, and he and his friend enjoyed the take-down, even though the gum drops were a bit hard and chewy. Hank had had his eye on the chimney for weeks. Was it as good as he imagined, I asked? Did it taste smoky?

He thought it did.

image

image

Powered by Tumblr.