Archive for the 'garden fare' Category

for what it’s worth

Well, here we are. A solid week into daylight-saving time. A nice indicator of spring for sure, but other than that, it’s a practice I’m not fond of. The only foreseeable gain is that it keeps my 18 year old cat Hoops hoodwinked for a good week or two. Which means I get a reprieve from him standing on my head in the morning. For an old guy he keeps pretty good time He knows exactly when breakfast is.

I’m one of those people who needs all the help they can get in the morning. Just when I’ve thought I’ve made it through the worst of it, right when rolling out of bed starts getting bearable again, they go and take away the light. Moving this extra light to the end of the day only gets me into trouble. “I don’t need to start cooking yet,” I think “look how high the sun is in the sky!” Which inevitably leads to sitting down to a late dinner, missing my bedtime, and making the next dark morning all the more difficult. It’s a vicious cycle. Why can’t we just leave the light where it belongs?

There. That’s my rant.

sunshine

It seems like we’re on the fast track to spring though, which means we should talk about rutabagas. Because before we know it social norms will dictate putting away the wool and pressing our whites, shuffling the bourbon bottle to the back of the cabinet to make room for the gin, and rutabagas being forced to take a back seat. I know. Try to hold yourself together.

Here’s the thing to remember about rutabagas. They’re humble. They remind you exactly where you are. And food that is humble is food that lets you surrender—the meals that evoke a sigh and tell you it’s okay to give in. You know how certain foods keep you thankful and hopeful, all at the same time? A rutabaga can do this.

I know this because my winter Hermit Creek Farm share is keeping me well endowed with rutabagas—a vegetable that I might otherwise be accused of overlooking. But to my credit, I’m not alone in this. Turns out there is a lack of rutabaga recipes. I scoured the classics (The Joy has an excellent Winter Root Vegetable Braise) and rifled my collection of old church basement cookbooks (rutabaga puree with cream is the most popular), but overall, the pickings were pretty slim.

rutabagas

Recognizing there are only so many roads to go down with an unflappable root vegetable, I’ve been hell bent on being creative with my stash. And here’s what I’ve learned in my rutabaga trials. Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and cream are a rutabaga’s three best friends. You can pretty much do anything to a rutabaga, and as long as you add one (or more) of these players, things will go just fine.

The church ladies were indeed onto something. It’s hard to beat a plate of mashed rutabagas with a little cream and maple syrup folded in. Cube up a rutabaga, braise in a skillet with a bit of water, and when the cubes are tender and the water is evaporated, mash them up with a fork or hand blender, adding cream, maple, salt and pepper to taste. This will make any long day will feel better, I promise.

My most recent, and fanciest undertaking was rutabaga pancakes. Which is really just a riff on potato pancakes. Only I traded onions for apples and added a handful of Gruyère cheese. Heading my rule, I also made a simple maple mustard cream sauce.

If you need some prodding to actually seek out a rutabaga, this is it. There’s still time. We’re pushing it, but bringing roots into the kitchen is still proper etiquette. Either way it’s worth it. Worth it to watch this underdog of a vegetable knock it out of the park. Worth it to put such a simple food on the table. And worth it to be reminded of our very good luck, as tenuous as it can sometimes feel. 

rutabaga cakes

Rutabaga Pancakes

1 pound rutabagas, peeled and grated
1 small apple (or half of a large one), grated
1 teaspoon salt
few grinds of pepper
3 scallions, chopped
handful of grated cheese, Gruyère or other (about 2 ounces)
2 small eggs (or one jumbo), beaten
3 tablespoons potato starch
rounded 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil, for frying
scallions, for garnish

hot smoked paprika, for garnish

Maple Mustard Cream Sauce

3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Mix the grated rutabaga and apple together in a medium bowl. Add the salt and pepper, working it in with your fingers a bit to help release some juices. Stir in the scallions, cheese, potato starch, and baking powder. Fold in the eggs and mix well.

Pour a healthy slick of oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, use a large spoon or 1/4 cup measurer to drop batter in. Lightly press out the cakes with a spatula, and cook about 4-5 minutes on each side until golden and crisp. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Wipe out skillet between batched and repeat, placing a fresh paper towel on the stack of cakes.

For the sauce, bring the cream to a light boil in a heavy sauce pan, letting it cook down about 5 or so minutes until it is slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in Dijon and maple syrup.

Serve cakes warm, drizzled with sauce, scallions, and a pinch of hot paprika. Makes about 12 cakes.

*These also reheat well in a warm oven. And, they’re even good cold. Like when you’re running out the door in the morning, late, and haven’t had time for a proper breakfast.

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

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

pickle defeat

When my Grandpa Orville retired from corn and soybean farming, he moved into town and started cucumber farming. That’s what retired farmers do. They find a way to keep farming. He had ten or so acres of cucumbers that he grew for Gedney Foods. Gedney must have put their feelers out, because he wasn’t alone in this venture. Cucumbers were the hot thing in south central Minnesota during the 1980’s.

orville

Orville’s place eventually became the neighborhood grading station. Every night after picking, he’d fire up the rickety grader and trucks from around the area would start rolling in to have their harvests weighed and sorted. It was mesmerizing to stand at the edge of the conveyor belt and watch hundreds of cukes bobble along, gradually dropping off into their designated bushel baskets below. My favorites, of course, were the miniatures – the ones that got turned into crunchy “baby dills.”

My brother was partial to the big yellow hogs – the ones far too overgrown for anything useful beside chucking at random objects (sisters excluded). He was a master at firing them onto the tines of farm implements. Ah, to sit in the cucumber shed next to your big brother, drinking a cold Bubble Up, and be carefree again. Take me back.

When my brother and I got a little older, someone in our family (no doubt our father) decided it would be a good experience for us to try our hand at farm labor. We were shipped off to Grandma and Grandpa’s on the Greyhound bus for a week of paid cucumber picking. I’m pretty sure this was my first ever real-life eye opening experience. Wow. Cucumbers have prickly spines. The sun gets really hot. There is no shade in a cucumber field. It matters when you get paid by volume. I was full of revelations that summer.

It became instantly clear that my brother and I were no match for the Mexican laborers we worked beside. Their stamina was unbelievable. And they didn’t even wear the silly gardening gloves that I fussed with – on and off, on and off. But unlike me and my brother, who were working for pocket change, they were working to support their families. Kids much younger than us were putting in full, hot days. And they were always laughing to boot. I acquired an early admiration for immigrant farm workers.

I don’t know if it’s still the case, but according to the history page on Gedney’s website, they were rejecting machine-picked cucumbers as late as 1988. That was also the year, incidentally, they declared themselves the official source of “The Minnesota Pickle.” Does every state have an official pickle? Things to ponder the next time you bite into a kosher dill.

cukes

My whole adult life I’ve wanted to be a pickler. A really good pickler. Every sumer I embark with enthusiasm on major pickling projects. Unfortunately what generally results is a load of poor, mushy pickles. Occasionally I’ve turned out some mediocre pickles. But I’ve never come close to the perfect pickle. I’ve tried so many methods and recipes that I’m almost ready to raise the flag of pickle defeat. Almost.

My only saving hope is that I can, without fail, make a relatively crisp and very tasty fridge pickle. I guess it is still considered pickling, but it always feels like cheating. I’d rather be skimming the film off the top of the crock in the cellar, or filling the larder with sealed jars. As it is, I have to settle for cramming as many quart jars as I can into the fridge every fall, knowing my tangy slices will keep well into the winter.

I’ve adapted my recipe over the years to use honey instead of white sugar, but either one works. If you’re using honey, make sure that it is nice and viscous, without a trace of crystallization. You can even warm it gently if you’re in doubt. This ensues that it won’t solidify later in the chilled brine.

Sweet and Tangy Fridge Pickles

1 1/2 cups honey (runny and viscous) or 1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 cups vinegar (white, cider or a mix)
1/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 scant teaspoon turmeric
3/4 scant teaspoon celery seed
3/4 scant teaspoon mustard seed
2 small onions, thinly sliced
20 or so 4-5″ cucumbers (about 3 pounds)

Scrub the cucumbers well and refresh for a bit in an ice water bath.

While your cukes are cooling, mix honey, vinegar and spices. Do not heat (if you warmed the honey to liquify it, let it cool before you brine the cukes).

Trim the blossom end from cucumbers, and peel alternating stripes, leaving some of the peel intact. Dice into chunky coins. Mix sliced onions and cucumbers together. Pack into 2 clean quart jars. You may need to start a third jar, but as the vegetables settle and brine, they will shrink a bit, allowing you to pack more in.

Pour the room temperature brine over cukes. Seal with lids and let rest in fridge for a few days before eating, turning jars occasionally to mix brine and spices. You can keep adding fresh cucumbers to the jars when there is room. Pickles will stay crisp and flavorful for several month in fridge.

pickles

perfect sweetness

I am, like a lot of us, a creature of habit. I thrive on routine. Which is precisely why I appreciate the expansiveness of summer. It shakes up my world in all the best ways.

pea pile

It’s such a treat to stay up late with one last glass of wine on the patio, even though it’s a Tuesday. Or to be able to sneak away to my sweet corn fort to drink my morning coffee in secret. I love veering off course to follow an unexpected line of hot squishy tar with my bare feet.

I like trying to predict if the wind has dramatically altered the water temperature of the Lake Superior bay I’m about to jump into, knowing I’m committed either way. I don’t need an excuse to paint my toes a garish color. Or to make an ice cream run at 3:00 in the afternoon. I can take my yoga out to the warm grass and my hula hoop to the beach.

And I love that I can spoon hot buttered peas over toast and call it dinner. Could there possibly be anything better? I wrangle the last pea into my spoon, and sigh. My head and heart as full as my belly.

toasty peas

Peas on Toast

2 cups shelled peas
3 cloves young, fresh garlic, sliced thin*
2-3 tablespoons butter
2-3 tablespoons broth or stock
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
coarse or flaked salt and pepper to taste
sliced bread for toast

Warm the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic and let it infuse the butter for a few minutes. Stir in the peas, stock, and thyme. Cover and let the peas simmer for about 5 minutes, or until they reach your preferred level of doneness. I like mine to have a little tooth to them. While the peas simmer, make your toast and lightly butter it. Spoon peas over toast and season with salt and pepper. Serves 2.

*If you can’t lay your hands on this season’s fresh garlic, I might omit it. Cured garlic will overpower the perfect sweetness of the peas.

smile power

I got my start as a graphic designer laying out ads for a newspaper in southern Minnesota. I had an old fashioned “in and out” box on my desk. Am I dating myself? Ad copy would pile up in the “in” box and finished ads loitered in the “out” box, waiting to be proofed. Every so often our proof reader, Hallie, would come by and empty my “out” box. She’d return my stack a few hours later.

My routine was to pour a cup of coffee and thumb my way through the return pile. Most ads had minor corrections. Ads that were perfect though got a signature Hallie smiley face scrawled with her blue proofer’s pen. Oh how I loved to find a perky little smiley face lurking in the corner. Ads that were really messed up got a confused face. And if an ad came through the proofing rotation more than twice, you could expect an evil stink eye. Shudder.

stink-eye

It quickly became clear to me that Hallie was a master. Nothing got by her. And boy could she draw a smiley face. I marveled at her ability to give a simple little face so much expression. Her faces frequently made my day. I actually started a smiley face file. Every once and a while I’d clip a face until slowly I amassed an envelope full of smileys. And let me tell you, when you’re feeling down and you dump out a pile of smiley faces that someone has drawn, it’s hard not to feel at least a little bit better. It’s been over 10 years since I left the paper, but I still have my envelope of smileys tucked in my desk drawer. Just in case.

The staff at the paper was small and frequently we’d gather together for lunch at the back table, sharing bits and pieces of our lives. Hallie’s kids and grandkids are scattered all over the country and I loved hearing about their lives. She could also talk food and gardening to no end. Truly a woman after my own heart. We shared many meals and swapped many recipes.

ruby-stems

I start every rhubarb season off with a batch of Hallie’s rhubarb muffins. Made with brown sugar, they have a rich carmel flavor that pairs beautifully with tart rhubarb. Last week I baked my third round of Hallie’s muffins in as many weeks. They’re that good. I packed a few muffins and a thermos of tea to take out to the bee yard for a hive check. My two new hives have been limping along with the cold spring weather – which has resulted in me clucking around them like a nervous mother hen.

Out at the bee yard I pull the lid off of hive one and find a gorgeous queen, busy at work. Her brood pattern is good, but it’s still in small patches on the frames. Her hive population is small too – all young nurse bees and not many foragers. I close up the hive and give them a reassuring pat. The situation in hive two, however, is all together brighter. After multiple hive checks, I’ve yet to lay eyes on this queen, but that hardly matters. My heart leaps at her handiwork – frame after frame of perfectly laid brood. In a week or two this hive will be bursting with bees.

I remove my veil and take a seat on an empty pallet for a cup of tea and a muffin. I decide to call the elusive queen in hive two Hallie Frances. She has earned a smiley face, no question. I think I’ll even tape one of Hallie’s smileys to her hive for extra encouragement. I mull over hive one. This queen is younger by a good two weeks. I’m confident that she’ll catch up. Last fall I named the daughter of my all-time favorite queen Ella Bella – after another woman whom I respect and admire (childhood idol turned adulthood inspiration). Sadly this little hive did not get a fair shake and they met their match with this winter’s unrelenting cold. So I decide to call my new underdog queen simply, EB. Hell, maybe I’ll give her a smiley face too. Smile power works – I know.

I pack up and test the voltage on the electric bear fence before I go. Finally I can relax. I’m heading into the summer bee season with two strong ladies at the helm. And that, makes me smile.

yippee!

Hallie Francis’s Rhubarb Muffins
I don’t care for overly sweet rhubarb baked goods, so I do not pack the brown sugar. I also prefer a very rhubarby muffin. Adjust both to suit your taste.

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil (something neutral like canola)
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 – 2 cups rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Cream together brown sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla. Mix together dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Fold in rhubarb and optional nuts. Batter will be thick and sticky. Fill muffin tins 3/4 full and bake at 400º for 20 minutes. Makes 1 1/2 dozen regular muffins.

https://garlicpig.com/2012/09/27/season-finale/

key players

I’m hopelessly fickle when it comes to salads. One meal I fall hard for a fiery greek number studded with olives and the next I’m all about avocados laced with sprouts. Days later I’ll proclaim shaved asparagus with lemon and parmesan the best salad ever. I can’t help it. I’m in love with them all.

spring love

But if I absolutely had to pick my most treasured salad, it would have to be the first, no-frills lettuce salad straight from the spring garden. I change it up depending on what’s available, but my go to combination is a head of velvety buttercrunch lettuce tossed with thin radish slices and scallions.

I realize this is hardly a fair time of year to be making such sweeping declarations, but this one I can defend. Even when the sturdy greens of fall start rolling in, I’ll hold tight. A garlicky caesar based kale salad or romaine quarters tossed on the grill with crumbled blue cheese might give these simple inaugural spring salads a run for their money, but if push came to shove, I know which one I’d pick.

Spring is continuing to drag her feet on up into northern Wisconsin. We’ve barely seen a day over 50ºF in the last three weeks. My spinach and lettuce seedlings are perpetually stuck at 3 inches tall. So I nearly cried last week when I opened my highly anticipated Hermit Creek Farm “spring kick-start” CSA box and found all the key players. Gorgeous ruby radish globes, tall perky scallions, and a head of soft, papery thin buttercrunch lettuce. I think I actually had to sit down and catch my breath.

Of course with every salad comes the conundrum of dressing. Typically I am not a creamy salad dressing sort of person. I’ll take a vinaigrette or even just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and coarse salt over a cream dressing almost any day. Mayonnaise and buttermilk hardly ever get involved. So it’s peculiar that my choice dressing for my proclaimed darling is cream. Almost pure cream. With just a splash of vinegar and pinch of sugar added. The sweet, tangy light cream makes a perfect shroud for spring lettuce. It’s creamy, but it’s delicate. It doesn’t overtake the greens – my number one rule with any dressing.

farmhouse dressing

You remember Grandma Myrtle? Well this was her go to dressing. I learned about this sweet little concoction from my mom, years ago and almost by mistake when we were in the kitchen throwing together a salad. It’s one of those simple unwritten recipes that so easily could have been overlooked and lost. Fortunately it has found its way into one more kitchen. I come back to it every spring with the arrival of tender lettuce. And I always think of Myrtle bustling about in her farmhouse kitchen.

Farmhouse Cream Dressing

2-3 tablespoons cream
1-2 tablespoons vinegar (I use rice)
1-2 teaspoons sugar
fresh ground pepper

Mix together and adjust flavors to your liking. Serve over fresh greens.

noodles and butter

Food is complicated. Too complicated, really. But I love food, so I spend a lot of time thinking about it. And there is no shortage of fodder. Books like Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,  Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, and documentaries such as Food Inc., and Forks Over Knives keep my brain reeling.

Blame the long winter, but I’ve been doing an above average amount of soul searching lately about what I eat and why. And it’s recently struck me that I want to revert back to a vegetarian diet.

Most (but certainly not all) of the animal products I’ve been eating are byproducts of a happy life, raised by people I know and trust. I firmly believe that the small farms I buy meat from, like like Hermit Creek Farm and Pasture Perfect Poultry, create vital ecological systems that are healthy and sustainable. And it feels good to be a part of that cycle. So it’s been confusing to have vegetarianism tugging at my sleeve.

veggie-wonder

I originally became a vegetarian at the ripe age of twelve. I distinctly remember the day I realized that there even was such a thing. An entire group of people who consciously didn’t eat animals? These, I knew, were my people.

My twelve-year-old logic was twofold. I loved animals almost more than anything as a kid. My heart was (and still is) a giant sinkhole of compassion for anything and everything living. I’m the type that says a silent blessing for roadkill. Additionally, I didn’t really like meat – the taste, the texture – nothing about it turned me on. And that’s saying something because my mother is known for her cooking. I certainly couldn’t blame my distaste on dried out chops and rubbery chicken.

I shared this breakthrough with my mom who only responded with, “That’s fine, but you’re not just going to eat noodles and butter.” She then embarked on learning (and teaching me) how to cook like a proper vegetarian. Talk about a mom on her game.

As I learned more about food politics, my reasons grew more ethically and environmentally based. By college I was dabbling with a vegan diet. Though when life landed me on a small organic farm in northern Maine I dutifully tried reintroducing meat – mostly out of a notion that I should take responsibility and be a part of the ecological loop I was helping to create. But it didn’t stick.

Years later, after working with scores of small, sustainably oriented farmers, meat slowly crept back into my diet. I even came to like it. Kind of. The overall number of meat to vegetarian recipes in the Pig archives should tell you something about where my loyalties lie.

bowls-in-waiting

I’ve also been studying the Yoga Sutras this winter. And the first yama, ahimsa – which translates to “do no harm” – really resonates with me. It’s funny, but it took reading it in print to wake up the twelve year old in me. Maybe I’m oversimplifying and skirting details, but if I allow myself to be a kid again, all I can say is that it just feels better not to eat animals – even ones that are impeccably raised.

And for now, that works. I’m trusting my instinct and it feels good. I’ve been rediscovering falafel wraps, hot rutabaga melts, and yes – noodles. But not just any noodles, and certainly not just noodles and butter (thank you mother). I’m talking soba noodles, crunchy vegggies, and flavors so simple that all they can do is shine. I used short sprouted mung beans for this dish, but traditional long mung bean sprouts (or any other sprout) will work just fine.

Fried Noodles with Broccoli & Bean Sprouts
(Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food)

5 ounces noodles (soba, udon, or curly ramen)
3 Tablespoons peanut oil
2-3 Tablespoons fresh grated ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups broccoli
2 large handfuls bean sprouts
4 scallions, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese cooking wine (shao shing)
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste

Cook noodles in a large pot of salted water until they are barely done and still toothsome. Drain and toss well with 2 tablespoons oil.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a hot wok or large skillet. Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the broccoli and bean sprouts, cooking for another minute or two. Tip in the noodles and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, keeping everything moving over hot heat. Add the scallions, soy sauce and cooking wine. Stir-fry for another minute and remove from heat. Season with a bit of coarse salt and red pepper flakes to taste. (Serves 2-3)

fried-noodles