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.

June 11, 2014

Quinoa Avocado Tacos

avocadotacos

I've written here before about how different Ray and I are, from our approaches to life to the foods we like to our senses of humor. We've always maintained, however, that these differences are what makes our life together so great. This summer we will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, which, in scheme of things, isn't very long, but I still think 5 years is significant. Even more meaningful to me right now is the way that we worked together over the past year to take care of our baby, maintain our household and support each other. This was certainly not the easiest year of our relationship, but we worked together, made necessary changes and not only survived but possibly even thrived.

Next week we are headed out on a big road trip which will be a chance to relive all of the challenges and thrills of this first year of Amos' life over the span of 10 days, five states, and camping with a not-quite-toddler. I'm a little nervous about how the trip will go, but I know we will enjoy the opportunity to see so many new places and we will make the best of whatever comes our way.

The strength that comes from our differences is also one of the things I love most about food. I am in awe of the possible combinations and the way that disparate flavors so often compliment each other perfectly. Ray had these avocado and quinoa tacos when he went to Las Vegas for work in April. He came home eager to recreate the meal which was a huge treat for me. My taste buds were thrilled by the way that the creamy avocado, nutty quinoa, spicy creme fraiche, salty cheese and tangy pickled onions (and sweet corn, too) made for perfect bites that I really could not get enough of.

These tacos are ideal for summer. I'm dreaming of eating them alongside grilled sweet corn when it is in season.  There are several elements to the tacos, but each one contributes something that I think is essential. Fortunately the ingredients don't require a lot of prep and each bite is a little celebration of the amazing way that differences can come together.

avocado taco

Avocado and Quinoa Tacos
Inspired by the Avocado Tacos at the Border Grill Las Vegas
This recipe can be very quick and simple or you can make it a little more complicated by making your own creme fraiche or a more complex corn relish. Almost everything can be done a day ahead of time (just cup up and prep the avocados at the last minute) or prepared shortly before you are ready to assemble the tacos. All of the ingredients in these tacos can be used with other taco fillings or as accompaniments to beans and rice or anything else you wish.


Quinoa Avocados
1/2 cup quinoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ripe avocados
1 tablespoon lime juice
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Pour in the quinoa and add the salt. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain the excess water from the quinoa and set aside to cool. When you are ready to make the tacos, cut the avocados into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss with the lime juice and roll in the quinoa so that each piece of avocado is covered with quinoa.

Pickled Onions
1 medium red onion
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water 
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Cut the onion in to thin slices and place in a bowl. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt and pour over the sliced onions. Let stand for 20 minutes or until you are ready to make the tacos. The onions will keep in the fridge for several weeks.

Corn Relish
1 cup sweet corn, off the cob (fresh or frozen)
1/3 cup of your favorite mild salsa (I used this) 
Steam to corn for 3-5 minutes until it is cooked. Stir in the salsa. Let cool before using.

Chipotle Creme Fraiche
1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon lime juice 
1/4 teaspoon salt
Stir all ingredients together, adjust flavors to your taste.

You will also need:
8 corn tortillas
Queso fresco, crumbled
Cilantro, optional

To assemble the tacos:
Warm up a tortilla in the oven or toaster oven. Each taco gets about 1/4 cup of the quinoa avocados, 2 tablespoons of corn relish, 1 tablespoon of pickled onions, 1 tablespoon chipotle creme fraiche, 1 tablespoon queso fresco, and a sprinkle of cilantro. The tacos are best with all of the ingredients in them but you can adjust the amounts to your liking, just don't fill them too full or they will be hard to eat.

Makes about 8 tacos, serves 2-3 people



June 6, 2014

As it is


Amos turned one this week. I baked him a cake that was imperfect but delicious (no unlike this year we spent together). We gave him a sliver of cake and he devoured it like he eats cake every day.

It's on these occasions when I want to be able to sum up everything, to express exactly what it all means to me, to capture the best moments of this year that has passed. Then I realize that I just need to be in it, soaking up life as it is.

May 30, 2014

Tiny Project #2: Make it Your Own


With the arrival of summer weather I decided that Amos and I both needed some t-shirts that we could wear every day. I am not about to sew a t-shirt myself, but I was excited about the idea of adding my own designs to some soft, durable shirts. There are many, many ways to do this, but applique is my method of choice.

This little project is a great way to refresh shirts that you might not love any more, or to embellish new-to-you t-shirts. So far, I have made three for Amos and one for myself. If you are nervous about ruining a shirt that you love, try appliqueing on a shirt you don't really like, on a test piece of fabric, or on a shirt for a little one who will soon have it covered in blueberry or watermelon juice (so it doesn't matter if it isn't perfect).

I used quilting cotton and jersey cotton and was happy with both results. The appliqued design will first be attached to the shirt with fuseable interfacing which helps keep the stitching strong and gives you a little freedom to play with the stitch that you use. If you are using quilting cotton a zig-zag stitch around the edges will keep them from fraying. You can zig-zag or straight stitch depending on which you prefer and if you don't mind a slightly frayed edge. You can also sew into the middle of the applique fabric to add texture and pattern (as in the feather, above) Simpler shapes and fewer fabrics will work better if you are a beginner, but try whatever you like.

Materials:
A t-shirt or other fabric
fusible interfacing (available at fabric stores)
cotton fabric for the applique design
thread, pins, an iron and a sewing machine


Begin by choosing a design or image you want to create in fabric. You can draw it first or just start cutting the fabric.


Once you have your design, cut it out of fabric and out of the interfacing. I cut my fabric image then lightly ironed it to the interfacing and cut the interfacing to match the fabric.


Choose where you will place the applique on the shirt. The interfacing should in between the shirt and the cotton fabric. Iron all three layers to fuse them together. They will be fused together lightly so you may want to pin the applique in place before you sew it just to make sure it doesn't shift at all.


For stitching the design you have many options. You can choose a zig-zag stitch on your machine and go all the way around the edges of the applique fabric. You can go around the edges with a straight stitch (quilting cotton fabric will fray on the outside of the stitching). You can use a straight stitch to create pattern and texture within the fabric and help secure the fabric more sturdily to the shirt.

Since t-shirt fabric can be stretchy and slippery, it is easiest to keep your stitching on top of the applique design. You can add stitches on the t-shirt itself, as I did with the chicken's legs, if you want.


I am excited to share these tiny projects with you. If you have any questions or my directions are unclear, please ask!