chill meter

Sha-wing! Did you hear that? That was August. My dear, sweet August, flying by. I could live in August forever. A bottomless supply of tomato sandwiches, cat naps in the the corn patch, icy fruit popsicles, sweet peas gracing my windowsill, and a stack of beach reads. What else is there, really?

sweet-pea

If I play my cards right (I did), August also means a highly anticipated trip to the Minnesota State Fair. I grew up with the fair and I’m sort of a nut about it. Which is amusing. Because crowds, fried food on a stick, and highly stimulating situations generally make me run. But you’d never guess it, to see the way my faces lights up crossing over the Como Avenue skywalk into the fairgrounds. All bets are off, I tell you.

And without fail, August also brings a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters. My number one rule about the Boundary Waters is this: always go. No matter how busy, stressed, or complicated life may be, always go. I actually wrote this rule down in a notebook seven years ago and it seems to have stuck. Some trips aren’t as long as I’d like, but still, it’s time in the wild. This year, though, we landed a full 7 days. Heaven.

This didn’t, however, keep me from racing around like a fool before the trip. Business to take care of, food to prep, camping gear to mend, and house sitter details to work out. My desk was littered with “to-do” notes. At the height of the pre-trip hubbub I mentioned in an e-mail to my friend Gail that I needed to “figure out the chaos of my life” and that with any luck I’d “have an epiphany” on the trip. She sent me back a one line response: “or not, spontaneous epiphanies are good…laborious epiphanies not so much and they might interfere with your chill.”

My chill? Epiphanies be dammed. Nothing was going to stand in the way of my chill. Nothing. I should mention that Gail is, quite possibly, my wisest and most inspirational friend. Her advice is typically worth heeding.

boundary waters chill

It was a top-ten, five star trip. We hit the peak of wild blueberry season, ran into remarkably few people, and had a turtle count in the double digits. Cool nights let me burry deep into my down sleeping bag and afternoons warmed up enough to play multiple rounds of “lizard basking on hot granite” (one of my very favorite pastimes).

I discovered author Ruth Rendell and had Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford to keep me company on the trail. Nothing like a good old-fashioned English whodunit to nod off to sleep with. Rendell gave my vocabulary a run for its money. Words like bedizened (dressed up or decorated gaudily) and anathema (something or someone that one vehemently dislikes) left me begging for a pocket dictionary. And I came away with a new favorite expression: “needs must when the devil drives.”

I worked hard, slept even harder, and ate well. I delighted in the fact that, as always while camping, my life was brimming with mindfulness. Every step on the portage trail was a step to be considered and noticed. I always knew right where my pocket knife and lip balm were. Meals were efficient, simple, and satiating. My greatest anticipation was our daily “after-chores” swim. There was no clutter, no wasted energy, no laborious thought. My chill meter was pegged, baby.

There is nothing in my world that beats a week in the woods. I come back glowing and super-charged every time. Still, it’s good to come back. Back to the shores of Lake Superior. Back to the corn patch. Back to my chaotic life. Back to September, where there is still plenty of time to enjoy an icy fruit pop. And maybe, just maybe, back to a spontaneous epiphany. Happy summer.

icy pop

Tart Cherry Icy Lime Pops

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen tart cherries (to make a healthy 1 cup of puree)
1/2 cup greek honey yogurt (or 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt with 1-2 tablespoons honey stirred in)
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/3 cup sugar + 1/3 cup water for a simple syrup

Simmer the sugar and water together, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Chill this mixture in the freezer while you prep the rest of the pops.

Blitz the cherries in a food processor to make a generous cup of puree. Add more fruit if necessary. I like mine pureed pretty finely, but you can leave the mixture chunkier if you prefer a bit of texture. Combine puree with the rest of the ingredients, ideally in a large pourable measuring cup. Stir in the chilled simple syrup and whisk to blend.  Pour the mixture into popsicle molds, or, in a pinch, dixie cups. Insert sticks and freeze at least 8 hours or overnight. Makes about 5-6 popsicles, depending on the size of the mold.

* You can, of course, substitute different fruits. Just vary the amount of sweetness to suit your tastes. Some fruits may pair better with lemon too. The simple syrup gives texture to the pops and keeps them from turning too icy.

cherry-puree

bee flop

I’m a list person. I write lists to help empty out my head. The idea of course, is to get my jumbled thoughts on paper, thereby freeing up precious mental space for something else. I keep an ongoing work related notebook, and at the back of each of these books are pages and pages of neat, tiny lists. And, yes, I even break my lists into sublists. Things I need to do for work, people I need to talk to, items I’m on the look out for, errands I need to run, perfect dinner party menus. You name it, I can subcategorize it. I can’t help it. It’s genetic.

But mostly I write lists to help maintain an illusion of control. That said, I’ve learned to be careful when making bee yard lists. Yes, there are always routine jobs that need doing, but I’ve come to understand that most of the big bee jobs are unpredictable. You might know certain tasks are impending, but generally there are so many variables, it’s hard to say exactly when they’ll need doing. Making them difficult to plan for. This is hard for me. Which is why I couldn’t stop myself from writing “split hives” on a list a few weeks ago.

pink-bees

The problem is that as a beehive grows in population, it can start to feel a little cramped inside. At a certain point, the bees will take matters into their own hands and split themselves into two populations. They do this by swarming. Which means that half of the hive leaves (with half the honey stores) to find a new home. The really rad part of all this is that bees have the ability and wherewithal to raise a new queen for the hive when they need one. All fertilized eggs that the queen lays develop into female worker bees, UNTIL the workers decide to provide the growing larvae different nutrition. Just that slight change in diet changes larvae from a developing worker bee into a developing queen.

Prior to swarming the bees will start raising a handful of queens, just to be sure at least one survives. The bees know (miraculously) that it takes 21 days for a queen to fully develop. Shortly before the new queens begin to hatch, roughly half of the bees will fill up on honey, surround themselves around the old queen, exit the hive, and take off to a new home. Like clockwork, the queen cells in the hive begin to hatch. The first queen out wins, as she will promptly begin to destroy any unhatched queen cells. Her second task is to exit the hive – her one and only foray into the world – to be mated so she can return and resume the role of egg layer for the good of the hive. Problem solved.

As a beekeeper though, an even better solution is to keep the exiting swarm of bees in your possession. There are two ways to accomplish this. Catch the swarm before it sets off for new real estate and install them into an empty hive, or manually split the hive into two BEFORE they get the notion to do it themselves. Method one requires vigilance and a healthy bit of luck that the swarm actually lands where it’s retrievable. But method two, method two, you can plan for.

incoming

I knew that Hallie Frances’ hive was strong coming out of winter. And she didn’t miss a beat with resuming laying eggs this spring. So I also knew it was only a matter of time before they would start to think about swarming. Hence my preemptive list item. I was going to beat them to the punch.

My plan was to pick a fine day where I had plenty of time to more or less dissect Hallie’s hive. I’d find the queen, isolate the frame that she was on, and then hand pick an assortment of ten other frames – a nice mix of honey, pollen, capped brood, and fresh eggs – to create a second hive. Then I’d put the frame with the queen on it back into the the initial hive and reassemble it with empty frames to replace the ones I’d removed. The new hive would get to work raising themselves a fresh queen, and Hallie’s hive would have their breathing room.

Ha.

It sounds so perfect, doesn’t it? Which is why I looked at my list one fine day and decided the time had come. But here’s the thing. Nothing went according to plan. In three full boxes of bees, I could not find Hallie to save my life. I always find the queen. Always, except for when I’m looking for her. And halfway through the job, my overtired back decided it was done lifting heavy things. Like done, done. As I was looking around at the mess of boxes and frames I’d created, dubious  that I’d find the energy to put it all back, a rogue thunderstorm rolled in on my perfectly fine day. And on top of all that, this very full hive of bees showed absolutely no signs of swarming (they’ll often pre-build telltale queen cells). Everything last little thing was telling me that this hive simply did not want to be split.

bee-mess

Wet, tired, and disappointed, I laid down on my back next to the hive in defeat. A wood tick creeped along the inside of my veil. Eventually, I got up, put everything back together how I found it and headed for home. I keep bee notes in my calendar and when I got in and sat down at my desk I simply wrote “bee flop.”

But after a few days, I realized that it wasn’t actually a bee flop at all. The bees were fine. It was just a list malfunction. As is often the case, it took three boxes of bees to remind me of something big. My lists are futile. They may make me feel more on top of things, but not necessarily the things that count. As much as it makes my precise type-A personality squirm, deep down I know that there’ll be no tally of how many things get crossed off my tiny, neat lists. Life is much bigger than that. Thank god.

“The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees that burned with sweetness or maddened the sting: the struggle continues, the journeys go and come between honey and pain. No, the net of years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.” – Pablo Neruda, Still Another Day

just because

A few weeks ago I was talking to my mother, lamenting the quality of plain old cotton dish towels. I’m spoiled, see, because way back (and I do mean way back) when I moved away from home into my first apartment, I was granted a stack of my grandmother’s hand embroidered flour sack dish towels. At first I just thought they were cute. A little salt dish, three kittens frolicking, a cheery teapot. They made dish drying an event.

salty-dogs

But over the years, as Grandma Myrtle’s flour sacks have become stained and thread bare, a few brand spankin’ new towels have made their way into my kitchen drawer. And I just need to ask, at what point in our history did dish towels stop absorbing water? The new towels seem to excel at spreading a thin film of water over the dishes. Whats more, they’re boring. Hence the grumbling to my mother.

I really had no motive. It was just honest complaining. But last Friday, there was an unexpected package in the mailbox. It was soft and had a nice weight to it. Like all unexpected packages, I let it sit on the table a while before opening it. That’s half the fun of an unexpected package, after all. When my anticipation meter was sufficiently pegged, I slit the tape and (surprise!) was greeted with a gently used stack of Myrtle’s handiwork. I didn’t know there were any left after all of these years. My mom has been holding out on me.

monday

But she made up for it by sending me a “days of the week” set of towels. Each one features a perky dog undertaking a daily scheduled activity. There’s the market on Thursday, cleaning on Friday, and baking on Saturday (cupcakes even!). Sunday is church, of course, followed by laundry on Monday, which naturally leads to ironing on Tuesday.  But that’s where the fun stops. There were only six towels in the package. What the hell am I supposed to do on Wednesday?

My mother’s theory, based on the note she enclosed, is that Wednesday must simply be a day off. I do not buy this. Is it gardening? Mending? Canning? Or maybe Wednesday is the day set aside for painstakingly embroidering inanimate objects onto dish towels, using no less than three thread colors per towel. The fact that women of my grandmother’s era routinely did this stuns me. And it actually leaves me feeling a wee bit envious.

How rich to have the skill, the time, and the patience to embellish something that could just as easily be left plain. And why? Just because, I’m guessing. To prove you can transform a cut up flour sack into a bonafide kitchen towel worthy of display. Finding a treasure on Etsy can’t possibly compare in the satisfaction department. I examine Myrtle’s neat, precise little stitches and feel a little gyped.

busy-dog

I am pretty confident that my grandma’s plate was as chock full of things to get done as mine is, probably more so when you really get down to it. So I long to know how she made time for all the little “just because” things. The things you don’t have to do, but that leave you feeling better if you do. The things that put an extra little shine on our day. The things that are easy to forget about when we get busy.

However she pulled it off, it seems worth exploring. Maybe I’ll rustle up one of Myrtle’s old embroidery hoops so I can make a proper towel for Wednesday. My stitching skills are dreadful I’m sure, and life would certainly forge on without it, but isn’t that exactly the point? In our age of modern convenience and instant gratification it’s nice to remember that the process can outshine the outcome.

bake-on

raw reality

Man. Does this happen every April? I am in a funk to beat all funks. (Ask me if the latest streak of grey, 25ºF, damp days is helping.) But, I shouldn’t complain. At least I’m cozy and well fed. Which is more than I can say for my neighborhood deer friends. They are, in a word, frantic. This year’s snow came early and stayed late. It’s not uncommon to find 5 or 6 deer piled together in a patch of bare ground the size of a hula hoop. Nor is it unusual to see them darting across roadways or staggering into the streets, looking dazed and drunk from hunger. 

lake-superior-in-april

Their erratic behavior has put me on high alert during my daily commute. “Must not smuck deer friends, must not smuck…” is my new driving mantra. My 26 year career behind the wheel has been a lucky one. I’ve had relatively few run-ins with cars or wildlife. But the few times I have is enough to make me want to turn in my keys for good. It’s awful. And gut wrenching.

Even more so, I learned last week, if you are driving in a post-yoga class, blissed out state of mind. I was nearly home, feeling triumphant, having successfully made it through the white knuckle stretch Mark and I call “deer alley.” But on my very last hill I found myself simultaneously slamming on the brakes and veering into a snow bank. There was the horrible, unmistakable thud and my eyes locked with a deer’s – inches from my windshield. We tied, I’m sure, for whose eyes held the most panic.

While I was busy plowing into a snow bank, the deer managed to bounce off my front end, stumble, and miraculously dart back into the woods. And just like that, it was over. We all survived (I hope) but my bliss meter had gone from full to empty. I limped the rest of the way home, feeling helpless. It doesn’t matter the circumstances – causing harm to anything makes me feel like I have way overstepped my bounds.

Mark reminded me that deer are tough and resilient. He said I’d probably be more stiff and sore in the morning than the deer. And he might have been right. Then he went back to collect missing car parts. I rummaged through the freezer to try and pull something together for dinner. Still thinking of the deer, I was feeling especially blessed that I have a freezer of food to rummage through. I pulled out a carton of last summer’s sweet corn and a half used bag of chick pea flour.

fritter-spice

Sweet corn fritters via the River Cottage VEG cookbook just might do the trick. Fast, lightly fried, mildly spicy, all with a tinge of summer sweetness. Unapologetic comfort food. As I was dropping the first round of fritters into the fry pan, my e-mail pinged at me. I absentmindedly perused my inbox and for the second time that night was jolted into a raw reality. The message was from a life-long friend. It was surprisingly upbeat given the terribly sad and tragic news it contained. I felt hot tears on my cheeks. Fritters were not, after all, going to do the trick. I kept my post at the stove anyway. But with an incurable knot in my stomach.

The deer, and quite obviously my friend, have stayed with me all week. I’ve been wrestling with things that I don’t understand. Big emotions that have no cure. My only solution has been to try and practice santosha – one of the guiding principles of yoga that roughly translates to experiencing contentment in any situation. Not just under mundane circumstances, or even easier, during situations that generally make us happy – but any time, and all the time. Not so easy when we’re uncomfortable and scared. Yet attempting to find this unconditional peace – by sort of settling and breathing into the sadness, is the only thing that has brought me solace this week.

corn-fritters

My unending gratitude to the instructors at Humble Be Yoga who continually fill me, both physically and spiritually.

Sweet Santosha Corn Fritters
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal’s River Cottage Veg

1 1/4 cups chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
dash of ground cayenne pepper
pinch sea salt
10 ounces frozen sweet corn
3 green onions, chopped
handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 jalepeño chopped, with seeds if you like heat
1/3 cup plain kefir (or milk)
1/3 cup water
Canola or peanut oil for frying

Cilantro Raita

3/4 cup plain greek (or thick) yogurt
2 1/2 ounces soft goat cheese (chev)
small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
flaked sea salt and peeper to taste

Combine the raita ingredients and let sit.

For the fritters, sift together dry ingredients into a bowl. Add remaining ingredients, except kefir/milk and water. Mix well and slowly stir in the kefir and water until there are no lumps.

Heat about a 1/2-inch of oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, drop spoonfuls of batter into the oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan – the fritters shouldn’t touch. Cook about 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove and drain on a paper towel while continuing to cook remaining batter.

Serve warm, toped with a healthy dollop of the raita and sriracha or tabasco. (serves 4)

*A few notes: you can also use fresh mint for the raita. For the fritters, it is worth seeking out the chickpea flour. The nutty favor of it works magic with the sweet corn and spices. Bob’s Red Mill brand is pretty widely available. You can also use all kefir, all milk, or all water for the liquid. I love the extra tang that kefir adds.

santosha-bowl

confidence boost

Well, here we are a solid week into Spring. And while I wouldn’t exactly say that the melt is on, we have at least had a handful of days above freezing. Which has given me a chance to sneak out to my bees for the first check of the year. I haven’t lifted their covers off since October – five long months ago. And unlike most winters, I’ve barely even been out to put my ear against the hives for a telltale, hopeful listen.

winter-bees

Which means that I was especially wound up on my drive over to the bee yard. I was fairly confident that I left both hives with enough of honey for their winter food supply. But I’m also painfully aware at what a remarkably harsh winter its been. Even if a hive has enough honey, if it is too cold for too long, individual bees won’t be able to break away from their big cluster to access it.

I also knew that one of the hives – the reinging Queen Ella-Bella – went into the winter with a slightly smaller population than is ideal. True, fewer bees means less mouths to feed, but the hive also needs critical mass to maintain a cozy interior hive temperature of roughly 80º F. The bees achieve this by banding together in a big clump and literally shivering their flight muscles all winter long. No rest for the weary, I tell you.

fall-cluster

Since it was my first formal visit to the hives, I decided I had better bring gifts. I’d been away five months after all – it just didn’t seem right to show up empty handed. I didn’t know if the hives had survived or not, but I wasn’t in the mood to take chances. I reasoned that if they were still living, they are most likely starting to run low on honey. So I mixed up a fondant like ”candy board” for each hive. Which is basically a cooked sticky mixture of sugar, water, and vinegar.

I also mashed together a pollen substitute. If things were going according to plan in the hives, the queens started laying new eggs back in February. But developing larvae need pollen in their diet. And if my phenology records are to be trusted, it will be mid to late April before the maple trees are budding and even longer until the dandelions are blooming. And this particular “Spring” doesn’t seem to want to play along. Things could get ugly.

I got to the bee yard and awkwardly hobbled over snow drifts, clutching my my sugar cakes and pollen patties for fear they fall and disappear into the abyss. Ordinarily I start my hive check with the most easterly hive, but since I was nervous and wanted a confidence boost, I decided to look in on the stronger of the two hives first. I pried the lid off Hallie Frances’s hive and to my sheer delight, a handful of bee friends – albeit slightly stunned – buzzed up to greet me. My heart literally leapt. I resisted the urge to pull out an entire frame for a better look. Because even though it was technically above freezing, it was also snowing. I plunked down their sugar and pollen treats, ushered a few strays back into the hive, and sealed them back up.

winter-cluster

I sank deep down into a snow bank and sighed with relief. Hallie’s hive looked amazing. Her large population of bees will almost certainly need to be split into another hive later this spring. That’s the best any beekeeper can hope for. Even if EB’s hive hadn’t made it, I knew I would still have two hives of bees to keep company with this summer. I wrestled myself free and held my breath as I proceeded on to the second hive. I popped the lid and found another bunch of buzzing bees. The clump was much smaller, but Ella’s girls were hanging on!

I drove home with a grin on my face, bursting to share my good news with someone. I e-mailed my beekeeping friend (and source of both of these hives) Kris with the late winter bee report. I knew she’d understand. And she did. She replied back saying that my news was like getting an overseas letter from someone dear and feeling so relieved that everyone is still okay. Which really struck me. Because in this day and age, waiting for an overseas letter doesn’t really happen anymore, does it?

Kris’s comment reminded me that we live in a society that is increasing losing its ability to wait, its capacity to simply not know. And for the umpteenth time since I started keeping bees, I understood that the bees were teaching me something I should pay attention to. They were showing me of the value of uncertainty. That not only is it okay to wait and wonder, it’s often immensely more rewarding to do so. Of course, it can also be more heart wrenching, but either way, I’d argue the waiting – if we let it – takes us to a deeper, more meaningful place within ourselves. The practice of not knowing keeps us hopeful and raw and real.

And you know what else? I’m learning that it’s okay to live with  a little anxiety. Healthy even. Every bit of the the type A-ness in me wants to squelch it out, but my itty-bitty bee brain tells me to let it rest. To hover around it, invite it in, and let it breathe a bit. Because sometimes, living with a little unease is the best way to learn about who we are and why. And the more we understand and respect that, the better we can be for one another.

spring-nuc-cluster

(The photos in this post show Hallie Frances’s hive just starting out in May 2013 (bottom), in October 2013 after a summer’s worth of work (top), and March 2014 on the tail end of  a long, cold winter.)

sprout junkie

Last winter, in the middle of March, my friend Kris came to dinner. I remember this, because the hostess gift she brought changed my life. After everyone made it in the door and the rigamarole of coats, boots, and cold hugs had subsided, Kris came into the kitchen and set down a plate. I pulled back the covering and was greeted with several perky shades of green. GREEN. IN MARCH. Kris had brought me, of all things, a plate of sprouts.

As an (almost) lifelong vegetarian, I’ve always thought I should be more of a sprout fanatic. I mean they are quintessential vegetarian food, right? Maybe. But in all honesty, a plastic carton of alfalfa sprouts does absolutely nothing for me. Nor a bag of yellowing mung bean sprouts. Too often their mineral taste and chalky texture overpowers everything else, leaving a disparaging taste in my mouth.

soaking

But right away I could tell there was something different about Kris’s sprouts. For starters, they were so GREEN. And so FRESH. Kris gave me a quick run down. There were pea shoots, mung beans like I’d never seen, a spring mix with broccoli and spicy radish, crunchy lentils, and glorious pile of sunflower sprouts. I sampled a pinch of each and knew right then and there that my winter kitchen was going to be a different place.

I do my best to eat with the seasons, which means there are several months (too many really) where succulent leafy greens are more or less absent from the scene. Sometimes out of desperation I’ll let loose and bring home a bag of arugula or spinach, but besides that, cabbage is my leafy green stand in. So to know that I could replicate these flavor packed, crunchy green sprouts all winter long was almost more than I could handle.

I ruthlessly started quizzing Kris. Where does she get her seeds? (a Canadian company called Mumm’s) Do I need any special equipment? (canning jars, a few pieces of fine screen mesh, and maybe a aluminum pie tin) How long does it take? (2-7 days depending on the seeds and your preferences) How much maintenance is involved? (after an initial 4 hour soak, a good rinse twice a day). How long do they keep? (a week or so in the fridge). I could do this, I thought. And I did.

Confident that this was a kitchen habit that would stick, I placed a sizable order (with so many choices, it was hard to resist). I store a small jar of each variety  in the pantry and restock from the freezer – where the seeds stay vaible for a good long time. I’ll put my sprouting supplies away for the summer months, but from November through June, look out. My kitchen counter comes to life!

spouted!

I have become a full on sprout junkie. I enjoy them all, but two that always make the rotation are sunflower spouts (which I have a tendency to gulp down by the handful,  often eating the entire tray before it even makes it into the fridge for storage) and mung beans. But unlike the long, slightly yellow, slightly slimy mung shoots I find at the grocery store, I now enjoy what seems like a completely different food – crunchy, petite, fresh, protein laden nuggets. The key with mung beans, I have learned, is to only sprout them for a few days, until just the start of a shoot appears. Lightly steaming at this stage unlocks a world of flavor and texture.

I eat sprouts plain with a pinch of crunchy salt whenever I’m in the mood for something raw and green. All winter long I deploy them as edible garnish on just about anything. I cook with them too – adding the larger beans to soups and pastas and reserving smaller leafier sprouts for sandwiches and omelets. And for a night of ultimate wintertime culinary fun, I toss as many varieties of sprouts as I can together for a crazy, crunchy, flavor-packed salad. Whoowhee!

But in keeping with my quiet Scandinavian stoic roots, I often take it down a notch and opt for a more subtle, steamed mung bean salad. The toppings vary, but the result is perfectly satiating. It is, hands down, one of my favorite winter salads.

stoic-steamed-salad

Mung Bean Salad for 2 (or 1 if it’s the dead of winter)

2 large handfuls of fresh mung bean sprouts, steamed in a small amount of water for just under a minute. They should be green and toothsome.

Drain and divide among 2 small plates.

Top with any or all of the following:
a dash of oil (olive and/or toasted sesame oil)
a dash of rice vinegar
a dash of soy sauce
(or mix all of the above together with some fresh garlic and ginger for a simple Asian inspired dressing)
fresh scallion
dried shallot
preserved lemon
toasted sesame seeds
crunchy, coarse salt

* A note on sunflower seed spouts – you can sprout them in a jar like all other seeds, but Kris turned me on to using a disposable pie tin with small holes poked throughout the bottom. The seed hulls fall away to the bottom of the tin and the sprouts grow more upright, making them easier to harvest.

cabbage dialog

I’ve got a wireless weather station on my wall that gives me all sorts of stats. Humidity, sunrise, sunset, moon phase, and naturally, temperature – indoor and out, high and low. But really I get all the information I need from the little fellow in the middle of the LCD display. Weather Boy. He sports a range of weather dependent wardrobe options, from swim trunks to full winter regalia complete with scarf and hat. Anything below freezing and a snowman appears by his side. And that’s all I need to know. I probably don’t need to tell you that Weather Boy has been in the company of his snowman ALL winter.

weather boy

Polar vortexes, arctic blasts, record setting wind chills – it’s been one wicked winter. Last time I checked, Lake Superior is 93% frozen and is on track for a complete freeze over. This hasn’t happened for 18 years. And it’s been 20 since we’ve had a January as cold as this one was. Earl has set a new personal best for taking care of his daily business. I haven’t ventured out to check on my sweet little bees since December – partially because of temperature and partially as an exercise in letting go. One of our backyard treasures – the Apostle Islands Ice Caves – has gone viral, generating throngs of people that (for me at least) dilute the magic of it all. The woodshed is frighteningly low. Propane is hovering at $5 per gallon.

Despite all this, there is one thing that delivers solace. Cabbage. I am rich in cabbage. No matter how bad it gets, there will be cabbage.

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Is it worrisome that I’ve been channeling the pioneers and early settlers? They survived much worse – quite possibly without cabbage. So I consider myself lucky. It’s difficult, in all this snow and cold, to accurately recall the garden, but my cabbages help remind me. Last summer boasted perfect conditions for late season greens. I loaded up our make shift root cellar this fall and have continued adding to it with cabbages from our Hermit Creek Farm winter CSA share. I pull one out about once a week. That’s the beauty of cabbage, it’s durable. Even a tired, slightly slimy cabbage can be revived by peeling away a few outer leaves.

I must not be the only one with a cabbage surplus. I’ve overheard an unusual amount of cabbage dialog this winter. My aunt Lynn turned me onto a bright tangy slaw from the original New York Times Cookbook with caraway, onion, mayo, and plenty of lemon juice. When my friend Ann saw Mollie Katzen’s latest Heart of the Plate, on my shelf, she raved about the peanut coleslaw – tenderized cabbage with a savory peanut sauce. And the always inspiring Mary over at the Cookery Maven motivated me to make my first ever hot and sour soup – cabbage based, of course.

cabbage-wedge

But it’s awfully hard to beat plain old chopped cabbage sautéd in a little butter with onion, salt and garlic. Add a thinly sliced potato for bulk, a pinch of caraway, maybe a fried egg over the top and you’ve got a stick-to-your-ribs winter meal any homesteader would be proud of. And I’d argue it’s nearly impossible to top roasted cabbage. Far too late in life I discovered the glorious things that happen to cabbage when it meets a hot oven. It turns melt in your mouth soft and takes on a rich, caramelized sweetness. Even non-cabbage people tend to like it – trust me on this, you non-cabbage people.

Roast cabbage can be served in any number of ways, but my favorite – like most things – is to keep it simple. I love a big spoonful slopped alongside of a bowl of warm beans. Good Mother Stallards are my choice, but any dense meaty bean works. Sprinkle a little shaved Parmesan over the top, pour a glass of wine, and cozy up to the fire. Winter never looked so good, despite what Weather Boy has to say.

winter antitodte

Oven Roasted Cabbage

Peel away any tired outer leaves from the cabbage and remove the core. Cut into even slices, about 3/4-inch thick. Lay slices on a baking sheet and rub with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a 400º F oven for about 30 minutes, turning one half way through. Try and keep the slices intact when you flip them. Remove form oven when cabbage is slightly browned and has a few toasted edges.

root redemption

Well, it’s happened. I’ve reached the stage in winter where I simply can not bear all the layers I put on to keep warm throughout the day. This longing to shed my wool tights and polypro zip-ups for loose, flouncy clothing crops up every year. But this year’s feeling of bulky, confinement has arrived substantially earlier than usual, which is troublesome. There’s a lot of winter left up here in Northern Wisconsin. This past week has left me desperately rooting through my wardrobe for signs of hope. My kingdom for something gauzy and peach.

rooty

On Saturday I took my gloom into the kitchen and decided to rummage through the crisper drawer instead. I was reminded that it can get pretty bleak in there this time of year too. My hands had landed on a couple of castoffs. Two large, lumpy softball size rounds of celery root. They’ve been loitering in there far too long. One arrived in December and the other made it’s way into the drawer in early January. Both came as part of our monthly winter CSA share from Hermit Creek Farm. I keep meaning to shred them up for the crown jewel of a wintery salad, but somehow they’ve eluded me. I displayed them on the counter for inspiration. That’s when it hit me. All these confining layers and lack of sunlight. I feel just like a piece of celeriac. Bulky, pale, gnarled, and in the case of these two particular roots – dejected.

I could overcome this, I thought. It was -12ºF after all. What else did I have going on? I turned to scan my cookbook shelf. I pulled out a few dead ends before my eyes landed on Vedge – a relatively new book in my collection given to me by my friend Julie. An exciting and appropriate addition to my shelf as I reembark on vegetarianism. Written by the owners of the of the Philadelphia based restaurant of the same name, the book is filled with  wildly stunning combinations. There is no doubt that Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby are passionate about their vegetable. Vedge offers up no less than four celery root recipes.

celery root

I decided on Celery Root Fritters and Rémoulade – two vastly different preparations of the same vegetable. I was intrigued. It sounds fancy, and it even looks fancy, but it was a cinch to prepare. The recipe makes an insane amount of rémoulade (a classic French mayonnaise based sauce) but I was okay with this. I put it on everything for the next three days – toast, mashed potatoes, giant white beans, I even crowned a wintery salad with it. The rémoulade was such a bright addition to my winter staples. I’d make this recipe again in a heartbeat (more celeriac please, Hermit Creek Farm!) and I wouldn’t adjust the quantities one bit.

Be warned however, that even after you free the celeriac of its knobbly exterior, you’re still left with a pretty sad looking vegetable. I was feeling dubious at best. But I forged on, encouraged by the gorgeous photos in the book.  I served our fritters over a bed of wild rice (also courtesy of our Hermit Creek Farm winter share – have I mentioned how much I love my farmers?) with some simple greens. I sat down and lit the substantial pillar candle that graces our winter table for months on end. And I felt redemption. If a lumpy, dull celery root can undergo such a worthy transformation, isn’t there hope for all of us? Perhaps there’s more significance to the need for endless layers than meets the eye. Let’s hope.

friiters!

Celery Root Fritters and Rémoulade
(From Landau and Jacoby’s Vedge)

Rémoulade:
2 cups peeled, grated celery root (1 pound)
(a shredder attachment on a food processor works great for this)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (vegan or regular)
4 cornichons
2 tablespoons capers (salt brined if possible)
1 tablespoon dried dill (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons shallots, chopped

Blanch the grated celery root in a pot of salted, boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain well, squeezing out any excess moisture as it cools. Meanwhile, combine the remaining rémoulade ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine into a chunky, but creamy mixture. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cooled celery root.

Fritters:
2 cups celery root, peeled and diced (1 pound)
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper

Combine and roast on a sheet pan in a 300ºF oven for about 20 minutes until tender. Remove and let cool slightly. transfer mixture to a food processor and blend until it forms a chunky paste. Form into 4 or 5 balls and flatten into discs about 1 1/2 inches thick. Set the fritters onto a piece of parchment as you go.

Coating:
Mix 1/4 cup chickpea flour (or substitute any other type of flour, but the chickpea adds great flavor) and 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning (a favorite that I personally think no spice drawer should be without!) on a plate or shallow bowl. Dredge each fritter in the flour mixture and return to the parchment.

Heat 1/4 cup peanut or canola oil in a frying pan over high heat until the oil starts to ripple. Carefully place the fritters in the oil and brown each side for about 2 minutes. Once the fritters are golden brown, gently remove to a paper towel.

Serve immediately with a generous spoonful of rémoulade atop each fritter. Lovely over a bed of wild rice.

celeriac

toing and froing

Whooboy. I’m in transition. Really, I’d like to hope I’m on the backside of transition. November brought an opportunity to work on a more permanent basis with one of my long time design clients. So I’ve been busy juggling freelance work while also settling into a new life in the marketing department at Northland College. It’s great, I love it, change is inspiring. I’m just a lousy juggler.

juldough

I knew going in that this year’s holiday baking regimen might be compromised. Realizing I had a limited amount of time in the kitchen, I thought long and hard about what would fill my holiday tins. My week 52 toffee for sure – it was the first (and last) thing I made. Another no brainer was a few batches of the Smitten Kitchen’s spicy brittled peanuts. And I painstakingly narrowed it down to just one cookie recipe. Great Aunt Mable’s recipe was a top contender, but in the end, I settled on a simple Swedish rye cookie – another nod to Grandma Myrtle and my Scandinavian roots.

I’ve been fussing with a rye cookie recipe that came attached to a Julebock cookie cutter I bought years ago. The Julbock is the popular Scandinavian Christmas goat – you know the one – usually made of straw and tied up with a red ribbon. In the playful spirit of the goat, “julbocking” is a Scandinavian tradition that involves going from house to house to make mischief and merriment. I didn’t grow up julbocking, but I did grow up with a red wooden goat, handmade by Grandpa Orville. It was, and remains, my favorite Christmas decoration. As a kid I think I was drawn to the shiny red paint. But as an adult, I relish the symbolism of playfulness and joy. It’s too easy to lose that in all the hoo-ha.

julbock

Which is precisely why I decided to mix up a batch of jolly Julebock rye cookies. They would be the perfect antidote to this extra helping of chaos I’ve been indulging in lately. All month I moved my marked up recipe card around the kitchen as a prompt to fire up the mixer. From the counter, into a cookbook to mark a page, inside the mixing bowl itself, and back into another book. Herein lies the problem. In all my toing and froing, I lost the recipe. At least three times I spent what should have been precious baking time ransacking the kitchen for the recipe. Did I mention I’m a lousy juggler?

The recipe eventually unearthed itself, a few days after Christmas, from a pile of neglected paperwork in my office. Better late than never when joyfulness is on the line. I galloped straight into the kitchen, put on some Johnny Cash, and got out my rolling pin. I love this cookie. It’s complex, and not too sweet – which means it isn’t for everyone. But for me, it means not being able to keep my hand out of the tin. It’s also a perfect afternoon tea cookie. And, as with all cut-out cookies, don’t limit them to the Christmas season. Think valentine hearts, four leaf clovers, flying witches, and showy turkeys.

Swedish Rye Cookies

I’ve made this recipe a handful of times, altering here and there as I go, and I’m finally 100% satisfied. The biggest change I made is to swap in honey for white sugar. If you’d rather use sugar, omit the honey and use 1/2 cup sugar. The dough might seem a little sticky after chilling, but it is very forgiving. Just don’t be shy about rolling it out on a well floured surface. It makes all the difference. Feel free to play with spice combinations as well.

3/4 cup butter
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg
1 1/3 cups rye flour
2/3 cups white flour
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream the butter and honey together. Add in egg and blend well. Mix together dry ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add to the butter mixture. Mix thoroughly. Form the dough into two flat rounds and chill for at least an hour, or overnight. Roll out the dough rounds on a well floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out cookies and transfer them to baking sheet with thin spatula (you can re-chill and re-roll the scraps once – more than that and they run the risk of getting too floury). Bake at 350º F, 5-6 minutes for smaller cookies, 8-10 minutes for larger shapes. Watch carefully – they brown quickly! (Makes about 6 dozen, smaller 2″ cookies)

joy

dabbler to devotee

I am not a morning person. My whole life I’ve wanted to be a morning person. It sounds so lovely to get up and greet the dawn with clarity and vigor. I’ve tried, believe me. But forty two years into it, I can say –  with certainty – that I am not a morning person. I’m not a cranky morning person, mind you. I’m just a tired morning person. There is no clarity and no vigor.

south-dakota-sunrise

Such as it is, I make it a point to turn in early for a good night’s sleep on Thursdays. Just so I can get up early enough every Friday to walk the dog, steep a cup of tea, find my yoga pants, and scramble out the door for an 8 am class at Humble Be. I know, I know – those of you who are lucky enough to be morning people are scoffing at this. It’s hardly the break of dawn. But those, like myself, whose witching hour starts at 9 pm, will understand. It goes against our nature. It’s hard.

Still, this Friday morning yoga class is the highlight of my week. The experience is so completely nourishing that by the end of class, I’ve nearly forgotten I’m not a morning person. Really I get this same groovy vibe with all  of the classes I take at Humble Be, it’s just the Friday morning class stands out. Because it’s really something to walk out the studio’s big wooden door after class and greet the rest of Friday with clarity and vigor. This is as close as I will come to achieving morning person status.

Until relatively recently, I considered myself a yoga dabbler. I’ve tried a variety of classes in a variety of places and have even cobbled together and on-and-off-again home practice. I essentially started doing yoga as a way to move my body and stay flexible. But my Humble Be experience has turned my yoga world upside down. I’ve gone from dabbler to devotee. I’m not just practicing yoga to move my body anymore. I’m doing it to move my mind and my breath too.

I’m a regular at several Humble Be yoga classes and I’ve come to truly appreciate how seamless and well thought out their classes are. Humble Be instructors consistently offer me a richness that my home practice lacks. A windy afternoon, for example, might inspire Kellie to talk about the push and the pull of daily life and the importance of being able to draw it all in. She’ll then devote the next 75 minutes to poses that focus on using the body’s core to help balance opposing forces that work against the body. It seems so subtle at the time, but two weeks later when I’m being yanked all willy-nilly in ten different directions, I’ll gratefully recall how I can use my body and mind to reign it all in.

stromy-weather

Likewise, I’m constantly reminded in classes how I can use my breath to calm myself down when I’m worked up, anxious, or frustrated. Just a few weeks ago, on my first bad weather drive of the season, I had four hours to play with a breathing technique I learned from Scott. And it worked! The deliberate pause at the top and bottom of each breath got me home. Humble Be classes encourage me to slow down and cultivate mindfulness. And it goes without saying that a regular practice has left me stronger, more flexible, and better balanced. Talk about a package deal.

Yoga can mean a lot of different things to people, but for me, Humble Be yoga helps define how I travel through each day. I may think I’m just popping into the studio for a quick class to stretch out, but inevitably, some little bit of teaching sticks with me well after my mat is rolled up. And my life is all the richer for it. Blessed be Humble Be.


instapig

september isn't letting me down after all #latesummergarden #notoveryet #thankful 2:41 baby! #fat40 #markandtheniner #pedaldammit race day! #chequamegonfattire #markandtheniner