August 27, 2014

Farewell Saint Paul

toes
sidewalk

It is a huge gift to live in a place that you love. You might arrive there by a stroke of luck, by accident, after listing pros and cons or as a result of hard decisions or hard work. Sometimes you don't know what to expect from the place you are moving to and it turns out to be more wonderful than you could imagine. I feel so lucky that I have lived in some amazing places and that I can choose where I want to live. It can be hard, though, to choose one great place over another.

alley
flowers

When we moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota, I really didn't know what to expect. From the start we loved our neighborhood and the many gorgeous bike routes, lakes, parks and trees that fill the Twin Cities. It took a while to really feel at home here, but now that we are moving it does feel like we will be leaving one dear home for another. Fortunately I know we will love living in Southern Maine, too, but in the last few days before we leave, I wanted to share some of the places that have made our home great.

summit ave
sunlight

Our neighborhood is perfect for walking around. There are many beautiful old houses to admire, plenty of big old trees to provide shade and even poems in the sidewalks to read as you pass by. If you need more than a poem to read, there are lots of Little Free Libraries in the area. We love walking to Bars Bakery, where I was lucky enough to work for a couple of years, for chai, coffee and caramel rolls as well as other delicious treats and good company. I shop at Mississippi Market frequently, since it is only a block from our house, they have everything I need, and its nice to be part of a co-op. The third place in our neighborhood that I go all the time is Blooma. I went to lots of prenatal yoga classes took Amos to baby and toddler classes, and also took Barre and Vinyasa classes there. I hope I can find another yoga studio that I will enjoy as much.

selby
walk

Summer in the Twin Cities is ideal for sitting on patios and eating ice cream. The Cheeky Monkey (another former workplace of mine) has good food and good brunch whether you eat inside or out. We've only been to the W.A. Frost patio a couple of times but it is a fun spot for a drink on a summer evening. Brasa is another nearby favorite for a meal. Probably my favorite ice cream spot is Cow Bella where you can eat amazing flavors of gelato that tastes like it was made it Italy.

spider
vines

Our neighborhood is also home to one of Amos' favorite places to play. The Holly Tot Lot is a playground for kids under 5 and we have spent many hours there this summer. We have also enjoyed bicycling to Como Park to visit the zoo, the lake, or the incredibly fun swimming pool. In the winter, the Como Park Conservatory is the perfect place to escape from the cold and imagine you are in the tropics. When we are over that way we often stop at Peapods for baby and kid's stuff and the sweet and friendly Colossal Cafe for breakfast or lunch.

reflection
curling

We don't go to downtown Saint Paul a lot, but the Lowertown Farmers' Market is a good place to stock up on vegetables (and locally made foods) in the spring, summer and fall. Downtown is also home to Black Sheep Pizza, Tin Whiskers Brewing, a beautiful library, some nice parks, and Union Depot, among other things. Across the river we have visited Harriet Island which is a fun way to get another perspective on the city and ride a riverboat on the Mississippi, if you like that sort of thing.

cathedral
capitol

One of the best ways to travel in the Twin Cities is by bicycle. If you are visiting you can rent a Nice Ride and get in a bike lane, on a bike trail, or take the greenways which cut through Minneapolis so you can avoid the roads as you pedal through town. We love visiting the lakes and parks in Minneapolis, especially Lake Harriet and the area by the Stone Arch Bridge (which is home to the Guthrie and the Mill City Farmers' Market). Some other favorite things and places: browsing at Common Good Books, admiring and buying fabric at Treadle Yard Goods, breakfast or treats at Patisserie 46, a meal at Blackbird Cafe, a special dinner at Saffron.

ninas
roof

With two cities full of good food, interesting neighborhoods, museums, music, and parks there are many things we didn't get a chance to do and, I'm sure, many things I forgot to mention. There is also lots to see and do in other parts of Minnesota and nearby states. Since we are leaving very soon I'm letting go of regrets for things we haven't done and just enjoying our last days in this place. Taking these photos on an early morning walk around my neighborhood gave me a chance to see things with new eyes and appreciate this place even more. We've been lucky to call it home.

August 11, 2014

More and Less


Four years ago this month we arrived in Minnesota and unpacked our moving truck while melting in the heat. Now I am packing the contents of our apartment back into boxes which we will move at the end of the month. Over the time we have lived here we have let go of a lot of the things we brought with us and we have also gotten lots of new things (including a baby). As always when packing and moving, I have been thinking a lot about what to bring with us and what we don't need to keep anymore.

As I decide what will go in our boxes I am trying to focus on the things that we need, that we use all the time, and that we thoroughly enjoy. I know there will be a few things that don't fit this criteria that I decide to pack anyway. I am already pretty conscious about what I chose to fill my home with but it is surprising how easy it is to get attached to things and how easy it is to confuse the things you own with part of who you are. I am amazed at how freeing it is to let many of these things go.

We are probably not headed toward extreme minimalism but I am glad that moving is giving us an opportunity to reassess the things we have and to lighten our load. I have also realized that I can do this on my own terms. I can let go of things when I am ready. I don't have to count my to count my things or get rid of anything that I don't want to though I am inspired by other people who chose to live with less. I am excited to have a fresh start with our new apartment. 

P.S. I am hoping to pack less of my inventory. If you see something you need or thoroughly enjoy (or whatever) from Seedling Design, I am offering 25% off through August 25. More info here.

August 1, 2014

Chocolate Meringues

Before I get to the chocolate meringues, I have to tell you about the reason I had six extra egg whites. I served this vanilla ice cream when we had friends over for a cookout. We ate scoops of it on top of brownies for dessert. After a busy day and a delicious meal, we all ended up melting into soft puddles just like the ice cream we devoured. (hint: churn the ice cream about an hour before you want to eat it, it will be the perfect soft yet frozen).

When the ice cream is long gone and you suddenly remember the six egg whites that have been sitting in a jar in the fridge, this is the recipe for you. If you are lucky you will remember them on a day that is perfect meringue weather. To be honest, I'm not sure if meringues have to be weather dependent but my mom always insisted that they should be made on clear days with few clouds and almost no humidity. I set out to make these meringues on a day that perfectly fit that description. It was cool and the sky was vibrantly blue. By the end of the day it was raining and my meringues survived just fine.

My first impulse for these egg whites was to make a pavlova but I didn't have a pile of fresh berries, nor did I need a show stopping summer dessert. So I made chocolate meringues. These could be good under a pile of berries, too, but they are excellent eaten as is.


Chocolate Meringues
It seems like the basic ratio for meringues is 1/3 cup of sugar for each egg white. These are definitely sweet so next time I will try reducing the amount of sugar a little bit. If you don't have six egg whites, it is easy to adjust the recipe to make a smaller amount.

6 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder 
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350'. Beat the egg whites on medium speed until they are stiff, but not dry. Continue beating and add the sugar a few tablespoons at a time. When all the sugar is added, beat in the cocoa until it is completely incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate. Scoop the meringue onto parchment lined baking sheets. Place the meringues in the oven and turn off the oven. Leave the meringues for at least two hours or over night (I stored mine in the oven and that kept them fresh for a couple of days).

Makes 12 large meringues.



July 15, 2014

Throw it all in


I'd like to excuse my recent laziness in the kitchen by saying that good summer produce hardly needs embellishment. But been taking the easiest route for most of our meals in the past several months. I make a lot of vegetable, grain and bean salads which are perfect when filled with fresh summer vegetables and herbs. Recently I've been making a pesto which is equally lazy, just throwing some basil, some spinach, and whatever else I have on hand into the food processor. I use a garlic clove or two, maybe some nuts or cheese, and plenty of olive oil. The last batch I made included some soft goat cheese with gave the sauce a creamy tang. The variations are endless and as long as you have good ingredients and flavors you enjoy, I say, throw it all in.

I've been tossing this sauce with potatoes and other blanched vegetables but I know it will be a great addition to anything with tomatoes once they are ripe and abundant. It is an easy way to add color, flavor, and some extra greens, protein, and healthy fats to whatever summer brings into your bowl.

Free Form Pesto
You don't need a recipe, but here are some suggestions. And when I say throw it all in, you will want to consider flavors a bit. Not all herbs/nuts/cheeses/oils go together but many do.

1-2 cups herbs and or greens such as basil, spinach, cilantro, mint, kale, arugula (I like to use one herb and one green for a batch of sauce)
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup nuts or seeds such as sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, etc
1/4 cup cheese such as parmesan or chevre or you could use a bit of yogurt or sour cream for a creamy sauce
1/4-1/2 cup oil (depending on how thin you want the sauce to be) such as olive, avocado, grapeseed 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Place all ingredients in a food processor and whir until the sauce reaches the consistency you desire.

Makes about a cup of pesto.



July 10, 2014

The Business of Every Day



I marvel as the days get longer and longer, celebrating the light until we pass the tipping point and still enjoying it even as the sunrise is a few minutes earlier and earlier. Two weeks ago when I walked home from my yoga class at nearly nine o'clock the sun had yet to dip below the horizon. I didn't turn on a light as I sat at the kitchen table. Now, at that time, the room is almost dark. I tend to mourn the loss a little more than I celebrate the gain, but the days are still quite long. Summer is in full swing and the weather lately could not be more perfect.

Just yesterday Amos started walking a lot more, going from two three four steps at a time to nearly walking across the room, over and over. He is top heavy and wobbly but beginning to join the world of vertical travel instead of being a lying, sitting, crawling ball of energy. I notice these small changes, too. Watching him learn to walk is actually thrilling and seems almost miraculous except that almost all of us go through this stage and then don't think anything of striding around. I am excited to watch the progress but I already feel nostalgic for my crawling baby. He continues to change little by little each day and week, giggling more, understanding more, becoming capable of more.

We're in another summer of transition. Of the seven or eight summers Ray and I have had together, at least five of them have had a big event. Travel, a wedding, a move, a baby, and at the end of August we'll be moving back to Maine, which has always been our plan. Its strange to think that so much of our life together (and all of our life with Amos) has happened here but now it will continue somewhere else. During our time in Minnesota, we've learned to lean on each other completely. We will certainly miss this wonderful place to live, but we'll be happy when the transition is over.

A minute more or less of sunlight, little hands reaching higher, chubby feet stepping further. Filled with the business of every day, these changes go nearly unnoticed until you look at the sky or see the shadows have shifted. Other times there is something big circled on the calendar and it forces you to contemplate the way everything has been different and the way nothing ever stays the same.

July 3, 2014

Campfire Pizza

campfire

Before we left for our trip out west, I thought long and hard about what we would eat while we were camping. There are lots of meals that can be made easily without lots of ingredients or equipment and basic cooking implements. I wanted to make sure our meals were not just simple, but delicious and satisfying. The kind of food you want to eat at the end of a long day of exploring, hiking or being outside.

campfire pizza dough

We planned to use our backpacking stove for some cooking but also hoped we would be able to cook over a fire. Since we were car camping we brought a cooler to keep perishable food fresh for a few days. I also packed a basic selection of kitchen equipment and quite a bit of non-perishable food. I had most of our meals planned out with a few extra options in case something didn't appeal. Since this was our first extended camping trip with Amos, I aimed to be as prepared as possible.

campfire dough

The meal I was most excited to try was campfire pizza. Flour, salt and yeast were easy to pack and the only other things we needed were a jar of sauce and some mozzarella cheese. It wasn't fancy, though a few extra toppings would not have been hard to bring. I mixed the dough an hour or so before we wanted to start cooking and in the warm air it rose quickly. At home we sometimes cook pizza right on our grill but while camping we cooked it on a cast iron skillet. Once the fire is hot, it doesn't take long for the skillet to become the ideal surface to create a crisp, chewy crust. It can also burn pretty quickly if it gets too hot, so there is a bit of trial and error involved.

campfire pizza

The pizza was easy, delicious, and satisfying enough to make twice while on our trip. If you have plans for camping or campfires this summer, you should definitely give it a try. What are your favorite meals to make while camping?

Pizza Dough

3 cups flour (I use 2 cups white, 1 cup whole wheat because it has such good flavor)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil (I brought some on our trip in a jar, it is optional)
1 1/4 cups water (or more if needed)

Stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the olive oil and water and stir until all the flour is wet. If the dough seems very stiff or dry add more water, a little at a time. Once it has come together in a ball of dough, knead it a few times until the dough is smooth and all the flour is incorporated. Let the dough rise until it has almost doubled in size (when we were camping in Yellowstone, I left it to rise in the car since you're not supposed to leave food out because of the bears).

To Make the Pizza

Make sure your campfire has plenty of hot coals. Place your cast iron skillet over the fire and let it pre-heat. You want the pan to be hot enough to cook the dough all the way without burning the outside (you may need to adjust the pan and the fire as you go). When it is hot (toss on a few drops of water and see if they sizzle) prepare your dough. 

We used a 9-inch skillet and learned that it was better to make 4 smaller pizzas instead of 2 large ones. Even if you have a larger skillet, you will probably want to use 1/4 of the dough for each pizza so it cooks evenly and fits in the pan. You can shape the dough with your hands, toss it in the air, or stretch it on a cutting board or other surface. Add a little bit of oil to the pan to keep the dough from sticking and gently place the shaped dough on the pan.

After a few minutes, use a spatula to flip the dough to cook the other side. Once the dough is cooked on both sides (but not in danger of burning) spread the sauce and cheese on top. You can cover the skillet so the toppings will cook and melt more quickly or leave the pan open and take the pizza off when it is ready. We used the spatula to check the bottom of the pizza and make sure that it didn't burn while the toppings cooked.

Serves 2-4


June 26, 2014

Recent Travels

badlands

yellowstone canyon

yellowstone bison

traveling

I love the way travel gives us a break from the sinks full of dishes, from the same paths we walk every week and from the internet. It is an opportunity to keep my eyes open and to absorb the the colors and shapes I've not yet seen, the new fields and skies, the hills, curves and dips of new roads. We exchange the comfort of the same bed every night and a bathroom just down the hall for the excitement of foreign landscapes, unpredictable weather, and journeying together.

On our ten (or eleven?) day trip we drove about 2700 miles. First, away from Minnesota through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and then back eastward through North Dakota. We spent a lot of time taking in the almost endless expanses of green fields and blue skies through the car windows. For three of the days, we hardly drove at all while we enjoyed the comfort of a visit with family. We walked as much as we could around the awesome and strange geology of the Badlands and Yellowstone National Park. We spent far too much time trying to coax Amos to sleep in the tent but each day brought new gifts that more than made up for these rough nights.

It was impossible to resist trying to capture some of these places in photographs. I had our DSLR, my phone and my old Pentax 2000 loaded with 400 speed film but even with all this, I find myself most connected to the images I captured in my mind. I wanted to remember the visions of rushing waterfalls, shuffling, grazing bison, snowy mountain peaks and a mama bear with her cubs. But it wasn't just the sunlight, the colors, the unmatchable beauty of nature that made these sights so worthwhile. There were just as many memories that the camera would never quite contain. The three of us enjoying our time together so thoroughly while Ray and I did our best to make the challenges easier for each other. Feeling the relief that the storm was gone and the sun was finally shining in the Badlands and remembering how hard we laughed as we sat in the car and watched the wind and rain flatten the tent we had just set up. Walking among the plumes of geyser steam lit by the setting sun, long after Amos should have been asleep.

By themselves, the pictures I took may be worth 1000 words. Being in them was worth so much more.