Archive for the 'project picnic' Category

the great e-scape (project picnic.4)

I have good news people. It’s twirly-dip season. More commonly known as garlic scape season. I adopted the twirly-dip nickname many years ago, long before I knew my garlic plant anatomy. I now know that the “scape” is really a flowering seed head. It’s the garlic’s natural way of reproducing. Each flowering pod contains a handful of “bulbils,” a fancy name for itty-bitty garlic cloves. If left to its own devices, the garlic scape matures and waits for its bulbils to be scatterd. Assuming all goes well, each bulbil matures into a small head of garlic the following year. And yes, humans can do the same thing and intentionally plant the bulbils, but it takes a good three years of planting and replanting the resulting cloves of garlic to get a decent size head. Still, that’s pretty cool.
Now, back to the botany lesson. About a month or so before the underground bulb fully matures, a garlic plant heeds the call to send up a flowering scape. It starts as a little sprout emerging from the top part of the plant. Over the course of a week or so, it begins to lengthen and curl around into a spiral. Hence the “twirly-dip” terminology. It really is a thing of beauty. Left intact, the curlycue will eventually straighten itself back out and shoot skyward. The garlic plant puts energy into developing its seed head – at the expense of the bulb below ground. Which means if large, plump heads of garlic is your goal (and you’re willing to do the work of the bulbil), then trimming the scapes off is in your best intrest. To me this is a win-win situation. My garlic heads grow larger, and I’m left with a culinary treat that is especially fun to cook with. Which is pretty much how I spent my entire holiday weekend. You have been warned. Prepare to be inundated with garlic scape recipes.
But first, let’s cover a few garlic scape practicalities:
1. If you’re harvesting scapes from your own garden, it is best to pick them when they are in full curl, between 1/2 and 3/4 turn (like in the photo above). If you pick them too young, it potentially shocks the plant and may cause secondary sprouting or formation of side cloves off the main bulb. If you wait until they start straightening out, the stalks will be tough and unappetizing. Trim or snap the scapes off just above the top leaf of the plant.
2. Scapes store well – up to 3 weeks in the crisper drawer. So if you come across a source, stock up! For those of you with your own garlic patch, consider yourself lucky. Otherwise, scapes are becoming more and more popular and can often be found this time of year at farmer’s markets and natural food stores.
3. When cooking with scapes, it is best to trim the actual seed pod off and use the section of stalk below it. In other words, you want to cook with the portion of the scape that emerges from the top of the garlic plant to where the seed pod starts to bulge out. The top part of the scape is more grass like and stringy. There is no harm in eating it, but you might find yourself doing a considerable amount of chewing. Plus, there is a much better use for them. Slow simmered with water, a splash of white wine, a few greens, and a handful of fresh herbs, they make a lovely garlic soup stock. I keep a bag going in the fridge and when scape season comes to an end I make a big pot of stock for the freezer. Full recipe forthcoming…
4. Left raw, scapes are tender and garlicky, but are less pungent than an actual clove of garlic. Finely chopped, they make a lovely addition to green salads, egg salad, tuna salad, any salad really. Think of them like a scallion. When cooked, the scapes become creamy and nutty, with just a slight hint of garlic flavor. Which makes them perfect for stir-frys, fritattas, scrambled eggs, and pasta dishes. It’s important not to overcook them though, as they tend to get tough.
My first scape harvest of the season almost always goes straight over hot coals. This is my favorite way to prepare them. Toss them with a little olive oil, fresh pepper and sea salt and lay them on the grill or fire pit. I use a finer mesh screen over the grate to save anyone from an untimely death. It takes about 8 – 10 minutes for them to soften up and get a little char. Turn them once or twice and when they look tender, transfer to a platter, give them a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of chili pepper flakes. If you’re anything like me, they will disappear faster than one would think possible. (You’ll see in the photo that I have grilled the whole scape, even though I just got through telling you to cut the top part off. I almost always follow my own advice, but still there is no denying how artistic the entire scape looks – sometimes it’s fun just to cook the whole package).
Once I get the craving for grilled scapes out of my system, I move onto other things. This year I decided to start with garlic scape pesto. Mixed with some chunky penne pasta, it was the star of our June picnic. Actually, I take that back. The real star of the picnic was a thunderstorm, complete with green skies, quarter size hail, and straight line winds. Mark and I had decided to take an “extended picnic” and turn it into an overnight camping excursion. We packed our picnic tin, loaded the kayaks on the roof, threw in a blanket and some books, and headed for Lake Superior’s Bark Bay. We managed to score a tent camping site on the Herbster beach and geared up for a much needed day of play.
Well fortified with pasta bathed in twirly-dip pesto, we ventured out for a late afternoon paddle on the lake. Sunny skies, slight breeze, calm waters. All good. Back on land we had just settled in with gin and tonics (car camping has its merits) when we noticed some ominous clouds gathering off to the southwest. Sure enough a few minutes later the county sheriff was easing his way though the camp ground alerting campers of a severe weather system on it’s way from Superior. We packed things up as best we could and headed for the tent, fully expecting to resume our evening after the storm blew through.
But there was the problem. The storm didn’t exactly “blow through.” The traveling warm air mass hit the cool wall of Lake Superior and stopped – for a good long while. We laid in the tent, watching the sky outside do amazing things, occasionally exchanging a silent worried look, and listening to the sound of hail ricocheting off of our poor little picnic tin. I didn’t have high hopes.
Hours later we emerged from our abode (which was still standing and still mostly dry inside) to assess the situation. It was dark now and still raining, but the brunt of the storm had finally passed. Lake Superior was positively roaring. We learned that the majority of tenters had been evacuated to the local high school for the night. We also heard rumors of another cell coming through at 4:30 a.m. Hmmm. This news prompted us to do something we have never done before while camping. We decided to plan our escape. Mark went for the car while I packed up the sleeping gear. We rolled up the tent into a sopping heap, threw it in the back of the car and drove the 30 minutes back home. I was stunned to find the picnic tote still dry inside. We had a late night snack and retreated to the quietness of our bedroom.
We awoke to sunny skies, refreshed and ready to resume. With a thermos of coffee for the road we made the return trip back to our boats and other belongings. As we suspected, the bay was a churning chocolate brown soup and the campground was littered with upside down tents drying out (some considerably more worse for the wear than others). After a hearty breakfast we headed out for a paddle through the Bark Bay Slough – a costal barrier spit and lagoon that feeds into Lake Superior. Water lilies were blooming, dragon and butterflies were out joy riding, and we enjoyed several fine turtle sightings as we paddled our way back towards land. What a way to ring in the season’s first twirly-dips!
I should warn you that this pesto is indeed garlicky. To me though, it strong and flavorful without an overbearing garlic heat. I love to eat it straight on salty pita crackers or bread. It also works well to cut it with créme fraîche, yogurt, and/or sour cream and use it as a vegetable dip or pasta sauce. And, like most pestos, it freezes well for an excellent winter treat – or pull it out even sooner and pair it with fresh summer tomatoes. I adapted this recipe from one I found in the Washington Post several years ago. I find it works best to use a food processor to really grind up the scapes and nuts. But if you’ve got determination, you could do it by hand with a mortar and pestle.
Stay tuned. Recipes for pickled dilly scapes, beer-battered scapes (oh-my!), and garlic soup stock are on their way later this week.
Garlic Scape (twirly-dip) Pesto

1/2 cup garlic scapes, chopped, flower portion removed (about 10 scapes)
1/3 cup almonds or walnuts
1 teaspoon lemon zest
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil (I use more oil if the pesto is going over pasta)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
large pinch of sea salt

Process the scapes, nuts, lemon zest and juice in a food processor until they are somewhat smooth and the texture is to your liking. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, pulsing the machine as you go. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and fold in the Parmesan and salt by hand. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Makes about 1 cup.

to the dogs (project picnic.3)

I’ll be honest. Life has been doling out some hefty punches lately. At the risk of dragging you into the ring with me, I’ll just touch on the highlights. Or would those be lowlights?

My heart is aching (and filled with hope) for a dear friend who’s husband was recently diagnosed with leukemia. They are both tremendously strong, but no one deserves to fight such a battle. I have been sending them every last ounce of my energy. In my own, far less serious medical world, there are some complications with my eye surgery. Scar tissue has caused a pocket of fluid to build up which is increasing the pressure in my eye and not allowing the tube implant to do its job. It is also makes me look as though I have a large marble stuck under my eyelid. I have what is technically referred to as a “bleb.” C’mon, really? A bleb? Can’t I get a cooler medical diagnosis than that? But it does sort of roll off the tongue if you say it a few times. And it is a fairly accurate descriptive of how I look and feel. Bleb.
In other news, the sweetest of my 3 hives of bees (led by queen Ruth Wilson) limped through the winter, only to meet their demise this spring. It was a little unexpected and cleaning out her hive boxes left me feeling especially glum. As a bee keeper I harbor a big responsibility for my girls. I wondered over and over what else I could have done to help them. And if loosing thousands of little bees wasn’t enough to break my heart, having to put our dog of 8 years to sleep last week was. We are slowly trying to adapt to the ghost dog that has taken her place. It’s hard.

I guess it should be no surprise then that some of this sadness has followed me into the kitchen. I’ve turned out a few duds lately. Most of them have at least been edible, but one went to the dogs – literally. I knew this experiment had gone bad when my friend Charly, a man who is not afraid to bring road kill into the kitchen, found it hard to choke down. This was an ultimate low for me. Charly loves food. He’ll eat nearly anything. I know, because over the years I have seen him happily indulge in plenty of my mistakes. I’ll be ready to chuck something into the compost and Charly will intervene for another helping. Not this time though. This time Charly suggested we feed the remains to his team of Siberian sled dogs. Ouch.
I had made stuffed eggs for our May picnic outing. The picnic was lovely. The eggs were not. Having just pruned off the tops of my basil seedlings, I enetered into the kitchen with a handful of aromatic goodness and tried to get inspired. I decided to make use of our egg surplus and stuff a dozen of them, hard boiled, with a savory basil-anchovy-egg filling. Evidentially I was a little heavy handed with the anchovies. The dog team is still barking about my culinary prowess.
We took our May picnic at one of my all-time favorite destinations – the Winter Greenhouse in Winter, Wisconsin. If you look at a map of Wisconsin, you will find the town of Winter in the upper west quadrant of the state, smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Which I realize is not unusual for a lot of little Wisconsin towns. What sets Winter apart is that it is home to what is truly one of the most amazing plant nurseries I have ever visited. (My husband Mark can attest that this is no small number). So each spring we make the 2 hour pilgrimage south to walk their grounds and greenhouses and get inspired by color, texture, and patterns. Then I typically load as much of this inspiration as can fit into the back of our little car and head back north to spread the beauty.
This year we found a quiet bench in one of their shade gardens to enjoy our picnic lunch. Despite the egg fiasco, the rest of our fare was quite tasty. Hands down, the star of the picnic was a kale salad. With the exception of preparing the salad, I have to give all remaining credit to my friend Landis. Not only did she provide me with the recipe, she grew the kale to boot. And I’m so glad. Because she has hereby turned me on big-time to spring kale. Until this salad I didn’t even know there was such a thing as spring kale. In my book, kale is a sturdy fall green that tastes even better after a kiss of winter frost. Spring kale, I have discovered, is something altogether different. It is tender and sweet and frilly. And it is perfect as the base for a raw salad. It was so fantastic that we were scrapping the bottom of the container before I even had time to snap a photo.
Kale Salad with Chilies & Pecorino
(Adapted from  Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite)

1 bunch of tender spring kale
1/4 cup coarse homemade bread crumbs (from a slice or two of good bead)
1 small clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon recd chili pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper to taste

Trim about 2 inches off the kale stems (you can save these for a soup or stock). Slice the kale into 3/4 inch ribbons. You should have about 4 to 5 cups. Place kale in a large bowl.

Using a mortar and pestle or a heavy knife, pound or mince the garlic clove with the salt into a paste. Transfer the garlic paste to a jar with a lid and add the grated cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, chili flakes, a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. Give it all a good shake and gently pour it over the kale. It will take a bit of stirring to get all of the leaves well coated. Let stand for about 5 minutes and serve with an additional sprinkling of cheese, bread crumbs, and/or olive oil.

forge on (project picnic.2)

I realize that we’re already into the double digits of May, but I’m still stuck on April. For what it’s worth, it has come to my attention that I am currently behind on just about every aspect of my life. So indulge me. All the way back to April. Almost always, I consider April to be the home plate slide into spring. But not this year. This year, April was cruel. This year, April boasted more “snow events” than March. Less overall accumulation, but still, it’s  painful. After 7 months of cold, snowy weather I start to get anxious for some heat and humidity. Yes, I said humidity. I’m sort of sick in the head that way. But that’s a whole different post. What I really want to talk about is our April picnic. Which is tricky, because it didn’t happen. The weather on our proposed date was a gusty, snowy, grey 27º F. I couldn’t take it anymore. I put the picnic basket back in the shed and we went out to dinner.

I reasoned that we could just double up in May. I have high hopes for May. And things are looking up weather-wise, despite the fact that there were flurries on May Day and the day after. Snow flakes aside, last week we had our make-up picnic. Not at all what I was intending, the affair ended up being a late night dinner with the picnic blanket spread out on the floor in front of the wood stove. Did I mention that I am struggling to keep up lately? Mealtime appears to be no exception. Still, it did feel sort of picnicky.
I decided to go Asian. I made my first ever batch of steamed buns, filling them with spicy kimchi. I had never attemped theses delights before, but I was inspired because I thought they would make the perfect hand food for a picnic. All in all it went pretty well, though there were a few stages in the process where I was longing for a Chinese grandmother by my side to gently guide me. But I managed to muddle through with the help of a YouTube video. While the buns steamed I made a simple soy sauce dressing to dip them in.
And then I started in on one of my all-time favorite salads. It also happens to be my potluck offering of choice when I’m pinched for time. Super quick, not fussy, and it doesn’t violate my “no nondescript rice dish” policy for potlucks. Plus, I know it’s a winner because someone generally asks for the recipe. I typically make this salad with shelled edamame, but this time I mixed it up. I’ve been in Minneapolis more than I’d care to be lately. As an incentive I have been rewarding myself with an ongoing tour of my favorite grocery stores. At Bill’s Imported Foods, my latest and most treasured destination, I found a bushel basket of plump fava beans that I couldn’t resist. So I used them in the salad in place of edamame. The result was as tasty as usual – nutty and fresh. And it got me especially revved up for the two rows of favas that are just starting to poke up in our garden.
I kept the rest of the picnic fare pretty simple, rounding the meal out with some zingy wasabi chick peas – one of my latest addictions, and fortune cookies for dessert. My cookie presented me with some particularly timely wisdom. “You could accomplish many things that you give up in despair.” Wow. If this isn’t exactly what I needed to hear. Especially lately when it sometimes feels easier to give up rather than catch up. I taped my fortune to the top edge of my keyboard and glance at it throughout my workday. At the most basic level it keeps me plowing through and forging on. But it also reminds me to live large, dream big, and check my skepticism at the door.
Corn and Bean Asian Salad
Adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s Veganomicon

Dressing:
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce

Salad:
2 cups shelled edamame or fava beans
1 1/2 cup sweet corn (fresh or frozen)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
salt to taste

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the edamame for about 5 minutes, If using favas, boil the beans for one minute, drain, let them cool and slip the beans from the tough outer skins. Return the shelled beans to a pot of boiling water and simmer for 2 – 4 minutes until they are bright green and tender. In the last two minutes of cooking (either type of bean) add the corn. Drain the corn and beans in a colander and run under cool water. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the dressing, Add the sesame seeds and salt to taste. Chill salad prior to serving.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

eat my pie (project picnic.1)

One of the best perks of being self-employed is having fairly nice control over my schedule. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but in general, I can tweak it when necessary. And so last week, when my husband Mark was on holiday from teaching biology to his darling sophomores, I planned accordingly. We decided to go all out and head to the exotic locale of Duluth, MN. Crazy, I know.

I booked a couple of nights at the historic Fitger’s Brewery Hotel overlooking Lake Superior. Unlike most times we travel, we chose our accommodations precisely for the room. We were banking on spending some time there. I requested a lakeside room that had high ceilings, picture windows that actually open, brick walls, lake view – certainly not the Caribbean, but there was hot running water. It would work for me. I packed a novel, a few cooking magazines, the backgammon board, and our well-stocked travel bar that my friend Linda made for us years ago (think vintage sewing suitcase decoupaged with bar-humor and other happy artwork).
We did our fair share of roaming the city, but, as planned, we also spent a considerable amount of time in the historic hotel. Lazy morning coffee morphed into gin and tonics. We sat in front of the picture window, pretending it was spring as we watched for big lakers passing though beyond the frozen bay. Mark kept the daily paper open to the shipping news, announcing which vessel was due when, binoculars at the ready. This year’s shipping season began on March 17 with the departure of the James R. Baker from Superior. On our last morning over a game of backgammon, Mark announced that the largest boat on the Great Lakes (the Paul R. Tregurtha at 1,013 feet, 6 inches long) was due into port around noon. It’s been a long winter. It doesn’t take too much to excite us.
The rest of the week we spent at home. I did do some work, but I also managed to squeeze in some playtime. We had our annual “baby goat happy hour” with our friend Michael up the shore at Sassy Nanny Farmstead Cheese. This is the time of year when Michael is overflowing with baby goats (this year’s season total was 34). And every year I forget how funny they are. They exude mischief and playfulness. It’s contagious. I didn’t even mind when Delilah, a nursing mom, came over and took a large pull on my gin. She’d earned it.
Now don’t laugh, but we also did marathon viewing of Project Runway – a fashion based reality show. We don’t watch many movies or television (we are television free with a computer monitor for DVDs) and I can honestly say that I have never seen a single episode of any reality show. But when my friend Julie handed over a season’s worth of Project Runway a few weeks ago, I was intrigued. She has never steered me wrong in any avenue of life, and she stayed true to form on this one. I was instantly hooked. Entertaining, but also inspirational. I wish I had that amount of passion and confidence for something. Plus, I need a little glam in my life. I’ve already professed my love of Tim Gunn to Julie and asked her for the next season.
And, speaking of projects, we had the first picnic of my 12 month project picnic goal! March was fickle this year. Our yard still has a good foot of snow. Overall it has been grey, cloudy, snowy and wet. I’ve sort of been twiddling my thumbs, waiting for a chance to break out the picnic basket. So when the sun finally decided to pop out last week I thought we’d better give it a go. I sent Mark out to the fire pit to shovel out and get things going. Meanwhile I pulled together a simple lunch. Carrot seed salad, homemade salsa and chips, dill pickles, and a chard pie (leftover from dinner the night before). I packed up the basket for its inaugural voyage, and before I headed out to the fire, I stuck a lovely little lemon cake in the oven. Picnicking at home has its advantages.
Now I know chard pie does not sound all that exciting. But trust me. It is so tasty. And so easy. I won’t even mention how good all those dark leafy greens are for you. That’s like an extra secret bonus. Really, you should eat this pie.
I make this all summer when the garden is overflowing with chard. Sometimes I also mix in spinach, kale, beet greens, etc. It travels well and it is great served hot, cold, or at room temperature. This recipe is an inspiration via Laurel’s Kitchen.

Popeye Pie

2 cups ricotta cheese (I’ve also used cottage cheese)
2 eggs beaten
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large bunches of chard (about 2 pounds) lightly cooked, stems and all
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
paprika (I prefer a hot smoked paprika)
fresh, dried, or roasted tomato slices for topping
To cook the chard, chop it coarsely, keeping the stems separate. Discard any really tough stem ends and finely dice the remaining stems. Start the stem pieces cooking about 5 minutes before you add the leaves. Cook the leaves until they are just tender and wilted, but still bright green. Drain the chard into a colander and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
Beat together cottage cheese, eggs, lemon juice and salt. Fold in the chard and press into 8×8 baking dish. Sprinkle with panko and paprika. Bake in a 350º F oven until set, about 1/2 hour. Let stand to cool for several minutes before serving. Serves 4-6

project picnic

My sweetie and I have never really gotten into giving gifts on Valentine’s Day. We exchange valentines for sure – Mark has won my heart with his brown paper bag valentines dressed up with nothing more than a sharpie. Truthfully I think the first year he made that style he was in a pinch and managed to pull off something quick. But it was charming. So much so that now I’ve come to love and expect them. This year he went all out. He found the stash of construction paper at school.

I almost always make a plate of pretty pink cut-out cookies. Or sometimes a tray of coconut cupcakes dotted with tacky conversation hearts. If the ice road over to Madeline Island has formed by the 14th, we’ll set out for one of our favorite restaurants, Lotta’s, for a deliciously romantic meal. But we’re just as happy to stay in, cook something simple, and light a few candles. As it happens this year, the ice road was open, but Lotta’s was not. So instead, I made Cacio e Pepe and served it in cute little baked parmesan bowls. A spinach salad with chopped egg and a tangy lemon mustard vinaigrette, a bottle of wine, and we were all set. It was a photo worthy meal, but in an effort to be the teeniest bit romantic, I refrained from bringing my camera to the table. I snuck back later and took a dessert shot instead.

But this year, there was something else at the table. A present for Mark. Curiously, it’s something that I have longed after for a long time. A good old-fashioned picnic basket. I love picnicking. What can top finding a few new salads to try out, rounding up some good cheese and fancy snacks, packing a blanket, a fresh magazine – or maybe the Sunday crossword, and heading somewhere outdoors to take the afternoon off? It’s something we don’t do nearly enough of.

In an effort to inspire us, I found an old metal picnic tote on Etsy. I outfitted it with enameled plates, bistro-style tin wine glasses, outrageously miniature salt and pepper shakers, stripey napkins, and some odds and end silverware. I also threw in a book of Pablo Neruda love poems. Then I made 12 cut out hearts, each with a different picnic destination on it – one a month. Seems like a reasonable goal, doesn’t it? My proposed settings range all over – from Potato River Falls (where you can lounge about in waterfall filled pools), to the top of Mt. Ashwabay (our local ski hill that has a stellar view of Lake Superior), to my mom’s cherry orchard, to our living room floor (I figure we might need an inclement weather back-up).

I agree with Alice Waters’ in her Art of Simple Food when she claims our taste buds are enlivened in the open air. And who out there couldn’t use a little more R&R and change of pace in their routines? I for one am looking forward to reviving the fine art of picnicking. I can’t wait to round up and create some picnic worthy recipes to share with you as we take our monthly adventures. I welcome anyone who wants to join me on project picnic and share their experiences. I’d also love to hear any good local picnic destinations if something comes to mind!