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Saturday, July 25, 2009

lemony sauteed zucchini


Before I quit my office job three years ago, Dan and I discussed, brainstormed, argued, and daydreamed about what we wanted to do next. In the end, of course, we decided to build our whole-grain sourdough bread bakery, but we didn’t know that at first. It was all up in the air. One possibility was a restaurant. Should we open a little café? Our idea for a restaurant was almost as quirky as our bakery is now, with limited days and hours, limited seating, and an daily-changing, seasonal menu that only offered a couple of choices every day. Neither of us had worked in restaurants before, so we didn’t have direct experience, but we were both pretty certain that the hours would be grueling, that serving the kind of food we wanted to share with the world would involve vast amounts of vegetable prep, and that opening a restaurant would require the integration of a myriad of different components above and beyond mere food (beverages, for instance, and the glassware to contain it… reservations, parking, and perhaps even employees—ack!)

But these issues didn’t make our decision. After all, we were naïve, idealistic, and had no idea what staring our own business would really be like. The real reason for not opening a café was that I wanted to preserve the joy of cooking for myself and my family and friends. I was afraid that if I spent so much time cooking for guests, stretching my creativity to feed and nurture others, I might lose my love of everyday home cooking. 

I know now that it was absolutely the right choice to open a bakery instead, since we still love baking together, and the bread we bake to sell and share feeds us the whole week through. In addition, I don’t find that baking bread dampens my desire to bake the occasional cake, pie, or cookie.

However, even though I haven’t been cooking for hordes of people, I’ve spent a LOT of time over the last three years providing recipes and healthy cooking ideas for other people through writing my farmers market newsletters, my cookbook, my Glacier Grist newsletters for the CSA, and in my wintertime bakery newsletters. The irony of it is that I’ve been so busy with all these recipe projects that I can hardly remember the last time I read a cookbook for a new idea, or for fun. And especially this last year it seems that I’ve just been hanging in there, cooking very simply, focusing on eating food I’d previously cooked and frozen, and using tried and true recipes. I’ve not been getting very creative or adventuresome because I’ve just been too worn out and overwhelmed.

But things are beginning to change, now that I have help with the newsletters (thank you, Nancy and Sherrill!). While I’m still not diving into cookbooks with my previous reckless abandon, at least I’m a little more interested in cooking! Things are really starting to look up! This recipe is a tasty one that I developed last year, due to an overabundance of zucchini from Arthur’s farm. It makes quick work of a lot of zukes, and it makes perfectly good leftovers, too. I whipped it up last night with two big zucchinis from my CSA box, and even though I didn’t have any parsley or fresh thyme, it was great anyway. We ate it with big chunks of our toasted walnut bread. YUM! Easy, but healthy and delicious.

lemony sautéed zucchini

This recipe is a really quick way to use up a lot of zucchini! It’s a combination of 1) the flavors from the zucchini skillet cakes in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers book, and 2) a method of quick-cooking zucchini that I found in a long-ago issue of Cooks’ Illustrated. Zucchini is so full of water that it’s hard to deal with all the liquid that comes out of it—the zucchini usually gets soggy and it’s hard to make sure all the pieces are cooked evenly. So using this method, you grate the zucchini and then roll it in a dishtowel and wring out the extra water! It’s a fast and easy recipe—easier than the skillet cakes.

You can choose your topping on this recipe—use either the toasted pine nuts, toasted almonds, or the slightly more involved garlicky bread crumbs. Whatever suits your time frame and fancy!

4 medium-large zucchinis (about 3 pounds), grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
½ bunch parsley, finely chopped
3 teaspoons chopped thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
3 tablespoons scallion greens
grated zest of a lemon
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup capers, rinsed and drained

choice of toppings

¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup almonds
bread crumbs:
2 slices whole wheat bread (you can use stale bread, but not dried hard)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

1. Placing a quarter or a third of the grated zucchini in a dish towel, roll the towel up around the zucchini, and, using two hands, twist the towel as tightly as you can (over the sink) and watch the water pour out! Shake the zucchini out into a large bowl, and repeat with the rest of the zucchini.
2. If you’ve chosen bread crumbs for the topping, tear the bread slices into smallish pieces and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse and grind them until they are finely ground into bread crumbs. Use 1 cup of them or more for this recipe.  Brown the bread crumbs in olive oil (with optional garlic) in a small skillet over medium heat. Remove from the heat when browned, toss in a little salt to taste, and set aside.
3. If you’ve chosen pine nuts for the topping, toast them gently in a dry skillet until golden.
4. If you’ve chosen almonds for the topping, toast them in a 350-degree oven on a baking sheet for 15 minutes.
5. Heat the olive oil over high heat in a large skillet and sauté the garlic slices until fragrant—a minute or so. Add the grated, dried zucchini and sauté until tender, about 8 or 10 minutes. You can cover the pan in between stirring to hurry this process.
6. Add the parsley, thyme, chives or scallions, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon salt, and capers. Cook for a minute or so longer until the flavors are melded and the parsley is slightly wilted. Taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly.
7. Serve in a large dish or on individual plates, adding the topping of your choice. Serve immediately.


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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

watermelon gin fizzes


biting off more than I can chew

Do you grind your teeth at night? I’ve done it since I was very small—I ground my baby teeth completely flat. My mom could hear me creaking and gnashing as I slept, unaware. Even though I’ve worn my night-guard faithfully every night since I was fourteen (I can’t go to sleep without it), the grinding has caused serious damage over the years. Apparently, one’s enamel can only hold up so long to such abuse.

A few weeks ago I went in for my annual dental exam, and learned that in addition to the two crowns (complete with root canals) I already possess, I’m looking at getting four more in the next few years. My teeth are splintering from decades of grinding. Now I know why my dental floss keeps breaking—the sharp edges of cracked enamel are slicing right through it.

I came home and thought about this. A lot. This seemed like an important message.

Looking back, after I quit my office job three years ago, I devoted myself to a series of projects dear to my heart: the bakery, the farmers market, the CSA, and the Alaska farmers market non-profit. But I realize I bit off more than I could chew. Maybe because I can’t seem to digest these monstrous mouthfuls during my waking hours, my sleeping body chomps and gnashes away all night, trying to masticate them into manageable morsels.

Instead, I’m just reducing my molars to rubble.

So I’m working on more effective ways to chew and swallow my outsized mouthfuls, and I’m learning how to take smaller bites in future. I’m finding the joy in letting go of projects that will be fun for others to undertake, and I’m learning to say “no thank you” to extra obligations.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to STOP grinding my teeth; after all, I’m asleep when I do it. But I’m hopeful that by slowing down and simplifying my life as much as I can, I will reduce the pressure on myself, and in turn, on my molars.

I’ve been ruminating on this post for a while now (please forgive the dental puns—I promise this is the last), and was stumped for an accompanying recipe. But then I thought of the perfect solution: refreshing and delicious Watermelon Gin Fizzes! First, they require no chewing. And second, these drinks send a clear message: “RELAX! TAKE A BREAK! STOP WORRYING!” If you aren’t into alcohol, just skip the gin—these yummy drinks are wonderful either way. Just make sure you sit down and relax when you drink yours. Sip slowly and imagine melting into your chair.

watermelon gin fizz

The idea for this drink came from an Eating Well magazine a few summers ago.

important notes:
1) You can get all the ingredients for this drink from Costco in the summertime.
2) I like to put my gin in the freezer, and everything else in the refrigerator (ginger ale, watermelon if it’ll fit, and limes). If you think of it ahead of time, you can even stick your pint glasses in the freezer.
3) You can add 1 or 2 ounces of gin, to your taste.

ingredients for 4 drinks:

half of a large (preferably seedless) watermelon
several limes
1 can ginger ale

1. Cut the watermelon in half and cut the rind off the outside with a sharp knife. (Be careful not to cut yourself—this is sort of an unwieldy process.) Cut the melon into approximately 1-inch slices, then cut the slices across so you have tall columns, about 1 inch square. (Take out the black seeds, if there are any.).  Reserve a few pieces of watermelon for garnish, if you want.
2. Put the lid on your blender, but remove the little insert in the middle of the lid (or just keep the lid off—but it will be messy).  Turn your blender on, and while it’s going, slide the strips of watermelon through the lid and pretend you have a juicer. At first, you’ll want to cover the top up with your hand so the juice doesn’t spray out, but after you’ve got several pieces in, it doesn’t make such a mess. When you’ve got a blender-full of juice, puree for about a minute, to really pulverize the pulp.  Pour the juice into a pitcher and keep going until you’ve got as much juice as you want. (You can freeze the juice for later if you want to blender the whole watermelon now and make more drinks next week.) 
3. If you kept some pieces of watermelon for garnish, cut them into cubes. 
4. Squeeze several limes to get at least ½ cup of juice.
5. You can make everything ahead up to this point.  Just make sure and put everything back in the ‘fridge until you’re ready to serve the drinks.

To make the drinks:
Put a handful of ice cubes in the bottom of a (preferably chilled) pint-sized glass. 
Add to the glass:

1/3 cup ginger ale,
2 tablespoons lime juice, and
1 to 2 oz. of gin (to your taste) in the glass. 
Fill to the top with watermelon juice.

Garnish with watermelon cubes and sip in the sunshine! 

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Monday, June 22, 2009

grilled southwestern salmon with guacamole on crispy toast



You probably already know that I sell my Rise & Shine Bakery bread at the South Anchorage Farmers’ Market during the summer. As the farmers’ market reporter, I also write the weekly email newsletter that gets posted on our website.

A couple of weeks ago two women from Trout Unlimited contacted me about holding an event to promote Bristol Bay salmon at our farmers’ market. The event, “Eat Wild!,” is to be held this Saturday, June 27, and is designed to build consumer demand for wild salmon. By building support for the fishery, they hope to help protect Southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed from the threat of large-scale mining. Trout Unlimited, partnering with our Arctic Choice Seafoods, will be giving away free samples of grilled Bristol Bay sockeye salmon along with recipes and information about Bristol Bay and the risks this fishery faces.

They asked me if I wanted to submit a recipe for their event—and I just happened to have a great recipe ready! At the market last weekend I picked up a glorious sockeye salmon filet so I could make it again and take a photo for you. YUM! I’m definitely planning to pick up another salmon filet this Saturday! You can feed yourself like a King (pun intended) and get yourself on the moral high ground—just by buying wild Alaskan salmon!

The event is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Arctic Choice Seafood booth at the South Anchorage Farmers Market, at the Subway/Cellular One Sports Centre near the corner of Old Seward Highway and O’Malley Road. More information is available at



grilled southwestern salmon with guacamole on crispy toast

This recipe is inspired by the wonderful fresh local salmon at the market!  You grill the salmon with a yummy southwestern rub, then toast a slice of hearty whole-grain bread until crisp. Spread the toast with a thick layer of guacamole, stack the salmon on top, and sprinkle with a little garnish of red onions. Serve with a simple green salad, topped with toasted green pumpkin seeds. And wouldn’t a margarita taste good with this meal? Especially if we have a sunny day and you can eat it outside on the deck!

Even if you have your own guacamole recipe already, you might want to give this one a try—it’s modified from a recipe from a Cook’s Illustrated magazine from several years ago, and I really do think it’s a good one.

For the southwestern spice rub, I really like the choices at Summit Spice & Tea Co. (at 1120 E. Huffman Road). I’d recommend their southwestern blend, or the Slammin’ Salmon, or the Coho Mojo. You could also just use prepared chili powder if you don’t have any of these blends handy.

1 large filet salmon
southwestern spice rub
canola oil (for the grill)
1 small red onion, minced
guacamole (recipe follows)
4 slices hearty whole-grain bread

1. Make the guacamole, cover it with plastic wrap (pressed directly onto the surface to keep it from browning) and refrigerate.
2. Skin the salmon filet and sprinkle it all over with the spice rub, rubbing it on to cover all surfaces. 
3. Heat your grill on high heat, and when the grill racks are very hot, scrub them clean with your grill brush. Just before you’re going to grill the salmon, fold a paper towel into a 3” square, and soak this pad in a small dish of canola oil. Swab the grill racks thoroughly with the oil-soaked pad, then immediately set the filet on the hot, oiled rack with the skinned side up (pretty side down).
4. Turn the heat down to medium and cover the grill. Cook the salmon on that side until it has nice grill marks and will release from the grill without sticking, about 4 minutes.
5. While the salmon is grilling, toast the bread on the grill or in your toaster.
6. Use the same paper towel to oil the nearby grill space, and then carefully flip the salmon onto the newly oiled patch. Cook for another couple of minutes until it’s done to your liking. We like it pretty rare, but keep in mind that the thinner tail section will cook faster than the thicker sections. You can either cut the tail off when it’s cooked and let the rest of the salmon cook a bit more, cut the tail section off before you grill it and cook it separately, or just let the tail part get more well-done than the rest of the filet for those in your family who prefer it that way.
7. Remove the salmon from the grill to a plate while you prepare the sandwiches.
8. Spread each slice of toast with a thick layer of guacamole, top with the salmon, and sprinkle with red onions. Serve immediately with a margarita or a cold beer!

I buy bags of avocados all year ‘round at Costco. Here’s how to ripen and store the avocados from Costco so they don’t get overripe and go to waste. Buy a bag of them when they are rock-hard, and set them on your counter. Every day (you must be vigilant), squeeze them very gently to see how soft they are getting. When they have just begun to get soft (don’t wait until they are squishy), put them in the refrigerator RIGHT AWAY—this will more or less arrest their further ripening, and you will have a treasure trove of perfectly ripe avocados for a week or more.

¼ to ½ cup minced onion (to your taste)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 jalepeno peppers, seeded with a spoon and minced
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro (optional)
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
3 ripe avocados
2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1. After mincing the onion, scoop it into a glass or bowl and cover with cold water and let it soak while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  (This takes away some of the bite of the raw onion.)
2. Put the garlic, jalepeno, cilantro, salt, and cumin in a medium bowl. 
3. Halve, pit, and peel the avocados.
4. Drain the onion well in a sieve and add to the bowl, stir with a fork.  Put one avocado into the bowl and mash the flesh with the onion mixture.
5. Cube the remaining 2 avocados into ½” pieces and put the pieces into the bowl.  Sprinkle the lime juice over the diced avocado and mix entire contents of bowl lightly with a fork until combined but still chunky.  Adjust seasoning with salt and lime juice. Try not to eat the entire bowl while you’re testing it.
6. You can cover it with plastic wrap, pressed directly onto surface of guacamole, and refrigerate it for a few hours before serving, if you like.


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Saturday, June 06, 2009

skillet cornbread


Farmer Boy

I’m reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy to Meredith again. She’s only four years old (well, almost five) and this is the third time I’m reading it to her. You might assume this is because Meredith loves it so. You’d be right… but the more salient reason is because I love it so. Somehow I grew up without reading this book! I read all of the other Laura Ingalls Wilder books, starting with Little House in the Big Woods (which I think is my favorite, actually), but somehow missed this one, the story of Almanzo Wilder’s boyhood in upstate New York. When I read it to Meredith the first time, I was utterly captivated… and as with all books I love dearly, I felt quite bereft at the end. Luckily I have a willing audience for repeat readings, and having just finished it for the second time a couple of weeks ago, we started all over again at the beginning.

Since the Farmers Market is just starting up in earnest, it’s an especially good time to be reading this book. It’s the story of all the work 10-year-old Almanzo can already do, and what he aspires to do, on his father’s farm…  milking the cows, feeding the stock, breaking his team of young calves to the yoke, helping cut ice for the ice house, collecting sap and boiling maple syrup, driving the plow horses to harrow the fields, planting the crops, shearing sheep, weeding the vegetables, picking berries, harvesting the crops, threshing the wheat, and hauling wood from the wood lot.

This vast amount of constantly changing and physically demanding work makes for very big appetites, and Almanzo’s mother is an amazing cook! (I add here, that in addition to all the cooking and baking for her family, she cheerfully does all the other work expected of a farm wife: spinning and knitting and weaving their sheeps’ wool into wonderfully warm and durable cloth, sewing all the family’s clothes and linens, doing the washing and cleaning, making soap, candles, and butter, storing the vegetables, and so on.)  Anyway, every day, with the help of Almanzo’s two sisters, Almanzo’s mother puts three huge and fantastic meals on the table. These meals are often described in mouth-watering detail, and these sections are Meredith’s and my particular favorites.  Meredith will often say after an account of a particularly wonderful meal, “I wish I was Almanzo!” So do I! Here are a few of our favorite sections (and these aren’t even the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners!).

Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans. He ate the bit of salt pork that melted like cream in his mouth. He ate mealy boiled potatoes, with brown ham-gravy. He ate the ham. He bit deep into velvety bread spread with sleek butter, and he ate the crisp golden crust. He demolished a tall heap of pale mashed turnips, and a hill of stewed yellow pumpkin. Then he sighed, and tucked his napkin deeper into the neckband of his red waist. And he ate plum preserves and strawberry jam, and grape jelly, and spiced watermelon-rind pickles. He felt very comfortable inside. Slowly he ate a large piece of pumpkin pie. [from “Winter Evening”]

[Almanzo and his older brother, Royal] worked so hard [packing ice with sawdust in the icehouse] that the exercise kept them warm, but long before noon Almanzo was hungrier than wolves. He couldn’t stop work long enough to run into the house for a doughnut. All of his middle was hollow, with a gnawing inside it.
He knelt on the ice, pushing sawdust into the cracks with his mittened hands, and pounding it down with a stick as fast as he could, and he asked Royal:
“What would you like best to eat?”
They talked about spareribs, and turkey with dressing, and baked beans, and crackling cornbread, and other good things. But Almanzo said that what he liked most in the world was fried apples’n’onions.
When, at last, they went in to dinner, there on the table was a big dish of them! Mother knew what he liked best, and she had cooked it for him.
Almanzo ate four large helpings of apples’n’onions fried together. He ate roast beef and brown gravy, and mashed potatoes and creamed carrots and boiled turnips, and countless slices of buttered bread with crab-apple jelly.
“It takes a good deal to feed a growing boy,” Mother said. And she put a thick slice of birds’-nest pudding on his bare plate, and handed him the pitcher of sweetened cream specked with nutmeg. Almanzo poured the heavy cream over the apples nested in the fluffy crust. The syrupy brown juice curled up around the edges of the cream. Almanzo took up his spoon and ate every bit.
[from “Filling the Ice House”]

When Almanzo trudged into the kitchen next morning with two brimming milk-pails, Mother was making stacked pancakes because this was Sunday.
The big blue platter on the stove’s hearth was full of plump sausage cakes; Eliza Jane was cutting apples pies and Alice was dishing up oatmeal, as usual. But the little blue platter stood hot on the back of the stove, and ten stacks of pancakes rose in tall towers on it.
Ten pancakes cooked on the smoking griddle, and as fast as they were done, Mother added another cake to each stack and buttered it lavishly and covered it with maple sugar. Butter and sugar melted together and soaked the fluffy pancakes and dripped all down their crisp edges.
That was stacked pancakes. Almanzo liked them better than any other kind of pancakes.
Mother kept on frying them till the others had eaten their oatmeal. She could never make too many stacked pancakes. They all ate pile after pile of them…
[from “Sunday”]

So… I tried to think of something that I make that is like Almanzo’s mother’s wonderful meals..  I surely don’t have a farm family to feed, and while I don’t make cornbread as often as Almanzo’s mother does (and she makes it so often she just tosses the ingredients together in a bowl, never needing to measure them), I do love it! I hope you enjoy it, too.

If you haven’t already read Farmer Boy I hope you’ll check it out; it’s inspiring and heart-warming and wonderful. And then I hope you’ll take the time to visit a farmers market in your neighborhood! I’ll bet the wonderfully fresh produce will inspire you to cook and eat wonderful meals with your loved ones!


skillet cornbread

This recipe is based on one from a long-ago issue of Cooks Illustrated. I love this cornbread—it doesn’t call for any grain but cornmeal (no wheat flour), so it’s got GREAT corn flavor and a fantastic dense, moist texture with a crispy crust that you will love. It’s not sweet, cakey, or fluffy, though—so if you like that kind of cornbread, you should stick with your regular recipe. The other reason I love this cornbread so much is because years ago, my mom gave me her grain grinder attachment for her KitchenAid Mixer (when she stopped making her own bread). So I can use absolutely freshly-ground cornmeal. I’ve read that it makes a difference to use freshly-ground corn, since cornmeal goes rancid quite quickly, and that gives it a bitter flavor. So…  if you don’t have your own grain grinder, try to get the freshest cornmeal you can, and store it in the freezer, maybe—and use it up as quick as ever you can!

The original recipe calls for a cast-iron skillet, but I just use a regular 8-inch oven-proof skillet. When I want to make a bigger batch of cornbread, I make a double batch and bake it in my biggest skillet—it’s 11 inches across.

1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil (or, substitute all olive oil)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably freshly-ground or stone-ground
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup water (rapidly boiling)
3/4 cup buttermilk (or substitute half plain yogurt, half milk)
1 large egg , beaten lightly

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Measure 1/3 cup cornmeal into medium bowl. Mix remaining cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in small bowl; set aside.
3. Pour boiling water all at once into the 1/3 cup cornmeal; stir to make a smooth, slightly thick mush. Add more boiling water if necessary to make a mush, rather than a stiff chunk. Whisk in buttermilk gradually, breaking up lumps until smooth, then whisk in egg.
4. When oven is preheated, set 8-inch oven-proof skillet with butter and olive oil in heating oven. Let it heat for 5 or 10 minutes, until very hot and butter is completely melted.
5. Stir dry ingredients into cornmeal mush mixture until just moistened. Carefully remove skillet from oven. Pour hot fat from the skillet into the batter and stir to incorporate, then quickly pour batter into heated skillet. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and instantly turn cornbread onto wire rack; cool for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.


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Thursday, May 28, 2009

green salad with smoked salmon, avocados, & garlicky red wine mustard vinaigrette


Camping on Memorial Day

Many weeks ago we made a plan with Margo and her husband Andy to go camping together on Memorial Day weekend. They planned to go to Eklutna, and we were excited to join them, especially since our four-year-old daughters are great friends. The two girls together are as self-entertaining as you could hope, and Margo and I regularly exploit this phenomenon.

Anyway, Eklutna is a beautiful spot, not very far from Anchorage, with huge Lake Eklutna ringed with steep, snow-capped mountains, and lots of trails for hiking and biking. The weather lately has been glorious, and we hoped for nice weather for the weekend. We brought bikes for the kids and for the grownups, the canoe, and hiking and running gear. We figured that if we left on Friday morning, we’d have plenty of time to get a campsite.

We figured wrong, though. Every campsite was occupied, and we were crushed! We’d been looking forward to this little adventure for so long, and didn’t just want to go home! We guessed that if we tried another campground farther north, like Nancy Lakes, it would also be completely full.

We didn’t know what to do! Even as I was feeling terribly disappointed, I was thinking about the fact that I was in this predicament not just as a potential camper, but also as a parent. I had to keep it together and try and stay positive—at least on the outside. When Meredith was asking me “what are we going to do, Mom?” I didn’t know what we were going to do, but I desperately wanted to think of SOMETHING to do! I had blown it not just for myself, but for her, as well! She and I had made homemade graham crackers for s’mores, and an apple pie. We’d cooked and prepared and packed all our stuff for the whole long weekend…

But we had to stay at Eklutna for the day at least, until Andy could finish his work day and drive up to meet us in the afternoon. So Dan went for a bike ride, I went for a run, and Margo graciously stayed with the girls while they sped around the campground on their bikes.

I needn’t have worried…  when Andy arrived, he had a great idea! We could drive north toward Talkeetna and stay on Margo’s sister’s cabin property! We couldn’t get into the cabin, but we didn’t need to! We had a great time camping in the woods alongside their driveway, sunning ourselves on the dock on the little lake next to their cabin, roasting marshmallows in a firepit that the menfolk constructed, and biking on the beautiful new paved trail along the road to Talkeetna, admiring the views of Denali.

One of the meals we ate was this succulent and hearty salad. OK, so it’s not exactly typical camping food—but it was a car-camping trip, after all!



green salad with smoked salmon, avocados, and garlicky red wine mustard vinaigrette

This dressing is one that I make a lot of at once, and then keep in the refrigerator to use all the time. It keeps really well, is yummy and creamy without any eggs or cream in it (mustard is the emulsifying agent), and is great with a variety of different salads.


6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons honey
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put first 5 ingredients in a blender and blend until completely smooth. Slowly pour in oil to make a creamy emulsion. Taste and season with more salt or honey if it needs it.


1 large head lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces, or a large bowl of baby salad greens or stemmed baby spinach
½ cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds), toasted in a skillet until puffed and golden
1 avocado, peeled and cut into cubes
1-2 cups kippered salmon, flaked (I love to use buttery-rich Alaskan king salmon)

1. Toss the salad greens with dressing to your taste, then add the avocado and salmon. Toss again.
2. Sprinkle toasted pumpkin seeds over the salad and serve.


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Monday, May 25, 2009

caesar salad with garlicky croutons


our big wild ride

Several days ago Dan and I had the opportunity to take our tandem bicycle for a ride without pulling Meredith in the bike trailer. As you might guess, these occasions are relatively infrequent, and although we love the opportunity to get out as a family, Meredith at almost-five-years-old is getting not only weighty, but also not as excited about spending time in the bike trailer. I can’t blame her—she has her own bike now, and would rather bike than ride!

So, with several hours to spend on our own, we popped the tandem on the truck rack and headed for Indian, ten or so miles south of Anchorage, where the bike trail along Turnagain Arm begins. (Yes, we could bike to the trailhead, but then we wouldn’t have as much energy or time to enjoy the trail!) It was a beautiful sunny day, cool and crisp at 10 in the morning, and we were having a wonderful ride. In case you don’t live here in Alaska, you’re biking along a steep-sided arm of Cook Inlet, with glorious steep mountains on each side, snow-capped and streaming with waterfalls.

We’ve been tandem biking together since 1996, and we love it—you never have to hurry, you never have to wait, and you can chat as you bike. And after the first few weeks of learning to bike together back before we were married, we don’t fight on the bike anymore. There is a saying about tandem biking: “wherever your relationship is going, it’ll get there faster on a tandem.”  I think the same applies for canoeing together.

As we were coasting down a steep hill not far from the end of the trail in Girdwood, Dan (captaining, in the front position) suddenly slammed on the brakes. I was stoking (pedaling in the rear position), so couldn’t see what was ahead on the trail—I just hung on and tried not to drive my chin into his back. But then we slowed down and I could peer over Dan’s shoulder—and there was a very large lynx, trotting down the side of the bike trail! She (he?) heard us then, turned around to look at us, and then bounded up onto the side of the trail and into the trees. Gorgeous!

We rode into Girdwood, turned around, and on the way back, we were of course admiring the views up the mountain and across the Arm… and there was a woman on a mountain bike stopped, looking straight up the side of the mountain. We of course looked up—and there were four bears, far above us on the hillside, rolling and sliding and playing in a snowfield! They were so far away there was no worry, but we were close enough to watch them play.

WHAT A DAY!! We are so lucky to live in Alaska!

When we got home, we ate this wonderful salad for lunch on the deck. YUM!


caesar salad with garlicky croutons

This is a fun salad—and it makes a head of romaine into a complete meal. You can make a double batch of this dressing and refrigerate the leftovers in a jar for a meal later in the week, so you’re cooking once for two dinners.

It’s a great dish for company, and it’s very easy to bring it along to a potluck dinner—just bring all the components separately, and don’t dress the salad until you’re ready to sit down and eat. (Otherwise, the lettuce will wilt before you eat it.) It’s based on a recipe from Peggy Knockerbocker’s book Olive Oil: From Tree to Table.

I generally just serve this as an entire meal, because who wants to eat anything else? However, if you feel you need a little extra protein, it’s very nice topped with slices of grilled chicken breast or halibut (season with salt and pepper before grilling).


half of a 2-ounce tin of oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained, rinsed and blotted dry on paper towels
3 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1 egg (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
fresh-ground pepper

In a food processor or blender, combine the anchovies and garlic and process to mix. Add the egg, most of the lemon juice, and the mustard and process to combine. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil in a thin, steady stream. Season with pepper and process again. Taste, and add as much of the remaining lemon juice as needed to get a good balance of flavors. Refrigerate until you’re ready to eat.

salad & croutons:

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 large heads romaine lettuce, or 3 hearts of romaine
5 slices hearty whole-grain bread (preferably whole-wheat sourdough)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed in a garlic press
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mash the garlic with the salt in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the olive oil. Cut the slices of bread into ½” cubes and toss them in the garlicky oil until the oil is thoroughly absorbed and distributed. Spread the bread cubes out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-25 minutes, until the croutons are crispy and golden-brown.
2. While the croutons are baking, wash the lettuce, dry the leaves and tear into pieces, and place in a large salad bowl.
3. When you’re ready to sit down and eat, drizzle some of the dressing over the leaves and toss, adding more dressing as needed until all the leaves are coated. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese, toss again to mix, and then toss in the croutons. Sprinkle with pepper and serve right away, before the lettuce wilts.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

vegetarian posole


Chef Dan

One of the things that I’ve been letting go of lately is my self-imposed obligation to make a really fabulous dinner every night. I mean, I always want to make something yummy and healthy, but lately I’ve been doing less browsing in my cookbooks, and resorting more often to old favorites—usually SIMPLE old favorites. As this has happened, Dan has suddenly become more interested in cooking again. Since Meredith was born, and our time got tighter, he’s been more likely to focus on things other than cooking in his less frequent moments of free time. Now, maybe because I’m not menu-planning for every day of the week, there is more space for him to cook? Or maybe it’s because Meredith is almost five years old, and there is more time in his day? At any rate, it’s wonderful.

He’s got this great new theme going on, too. In the past, he would generally choose relatively exotic recipes that would involve a trip to the grocery store (or several grocery stores) to get the ingredients. His latest thing is to find something in the pantry or freezer that has been hanging around for a while, and find something to do with it. Oh joy of joys!

A couple of weeks ago he made a dish of white beans (from the freezer) on garlic-scrubbed toast, topped with sardines (from the pantry) and a drizzle scallions sautéed in olive oil (the scallions had been languishing in the ‘fridge). This week he got the idea to use up a big can of hominy, and ended up making this great vegetarian posole! He used up a tub of cooked kidney beans from the freezer, as well as a bunch of carrots and celery.

I’m not sure what he’ll decide to cook next. Will it be the buckwheat groats I bought several years ago for a reason I don’t remember? Or maybe that box of whole wheat couscous from the Pleistocene Era? (It can’t go bad, can it?) What about that celery root in the vegetable drawer that has held up remarkably well for the last several weeks? Go, Sweetie, GO! Am I well-married, or what? 

vegetarian posole

This recipe is based on one in Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. He tells you to cook the hominy from scratch, but I think the canned stuff works just fine. You can usually find it in the Hispanic section in the grocery store. Same goes for the little cans of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. Freeze the leftover chiles in a ziplock bag for later use.

1 28-ounce can cooked hominy
2 cups cooked beans: red, pinto, or anasazi (see directions below, for cooking beans, if you haven’t already cooked them)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large or 4 small onions, diced
2 large carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, chopped finely
sea salt or kosher salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried sage (you can use 4 leaves of fresh sage if you have it, minced)
3-4 cups mushrooms, preferably baby portabellas, or white mushrooms
freshly-ground black pepper

1. In a heavy soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the onion. Saute for 5 minutes, until beginning to get transparent. Stir in the carrot, celery, garlic, bell pepper, tomatoes, chiles, cumin and sage. Add ½ teaspoon salt, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.
2. Chop the mushrooms into quarters or sixths. Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon of salt until the mushrooms have released their liquid, the liquid is cooked off, and they are starting to brown. Set aside.
3. Drain the liquid from the canned hominy and add it to the vegetables. Add the cooked beans and 2 or 3 cups of bean cooking liquid to the vegetables, as well. If you’re using canned beans, don’t use the canning liquid—drain the beans and use water for the liquid, instead.
4. Bring the stew to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender and the stew has thickened, 20 to 30 minutes.
5. Add the mushrooms to the stew, and salt and pepper to taste.

cooking your beans

This will make twice as many beans as you need for this recipe, unless you make a double batch of posole—but cooked beans are handy! Just freeze the extra beans to use in another recipe later.

2 cups beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
2 bay leaves
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Drain the soaked beans, then put them in a pot and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Add the quartered onion, garlic, and bay leaves and make sure the water covers the onions. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender. This could take 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of the beans and how old they are. When the beans are tender enough to easily squish between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, turn the heat off. If you have time, let the beans sit in their liquid with the aromatics until cool. Remove the quartered onions and whole garlic and discard. Add salt to the beans to taste.


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Monday, May 11, 2009

toasted cheese sandwiches with red onions, sundried tomatoes, and crunchy romaine lettuce


Bliss Yoga with Margo

So I’ve been writing to you lately about how I’ve been trying to take care of myself… by saying “no thank you,” and letting go of some obligations. We closed the bakery for a holiday in February, and after unsuccessfully trying to start a practice of sitting still and meditating to try and calm myself, I decided that committing to a daily practice of some relaxing yoga might be a better alternative. My goodness, it’s hard to sit still!

I’d been doing a little yoga now and then for the past couple of years with my friend Margo. She is an amazing teacher, and her lessons focus more on relaxation and body alignment than other classes I’ve taken. Rather than getting a workout from her lessons, I’d get an amazing sense of calm. My body would feel more aligned and healthy afterwards, like I’d just given myself a massage. But I wasn’t good about keeping up a regular practice—my life felt too busy and frantic, and I just couldn’t add one more thing.

But by February, with all the things I’d been juggling, this wasn’t an option. I needed something to help me relax and find some balance in my life! So I called Margo and asked her if I could take weekly lessons, and committed to doing my own daily practice during the week.  Luckily, she was willing! Our lessons are different than any yoga I’ve ever done. Most of them begin with shavasana, relaxation pose, lying down with my knees draped over a tall stack of blankets so my back slowly melts into the floor. After I’ve completely melted away the tension of the day, we begin doing stretches and poses that are designed to release tightness that I’ve inevitably created by running, biking, or cross-country skiing. Margo’s yoga is not about getting exercise, but rather, to relax from the exercise that I do at other times. And it’s about the mental relaxation, too.

Each week Margo prepares a little handout of our lesson to put in my yoga notebook, with the week’s sequence illustrated by little stick figures so I can remember the poses when I get home. That way I can use any of my lessons in my daily practice, depending on what I feel like doing. And Margo always says, if I don’t have time to do anything else, just do a 15 minute shavasana. (That’s her yoga recipe for busy moms.)

I have to say that doing a weekly private yoga lesson with Margo, and then a little bit from the yoga notebook we’ve created each day (even if it is just the relaxation part) has made a huge difference to my body AND my mind. I’m not walking around all stiff and sore and stove-up from running and biking—instead, my back is relaxed and feels strong and healthy! And the relaxation every day has made a big difference to my mental space, too. I’m more prepared to meet the challenges of the day, whether I’m baking hundreds of loaves of bread, dealing with a missing CSA vegetable box, or comforting a hungry and tired Meredith at the end of a long, busy day…  I have more resilience and calm with which to handle it. Thank you, Margo!

If this kind of yoga sounds like your cup of tea, Margo is teaching some small ten-week classes this summer in her little yoga studio in her house. Each class is limited to six participants, so you get a really wonderful and intimate experience. If you live in the Anchorage area, you can still sign up—she has a few spaces left for the classes starting at the end of May.

Bliss Yoga with Margo Sorum

Cost: $130 for 10 classes (classes are limited to 6 participants)
Tuesdays, 4:00-5:15pm from May 26 to August 4 (No class June 23)
Thursdays, 4:00-5:15pm from May 26 to August 4 (No class June 25)

Please email or call Margo for more information, or to register for her class: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 907-947-2030.

Since this blog is all about wonderful things I’ve learned from Margo, I figured I’d include a great recipe she’s shared with me! It’s a new way to make toasted cheese sandwiches! And are they ever blissfull!

toasted cheese sandwiches with sundried tomatoes, red onions, and crisp romaine lettuce with balsamic dip

You might think it’s silly to have a recipe for a toasted cheese sandwich, but this recipe is something else altogether. Since Margo made one of these sandwiches for me, I’ve not made a regular toasted cheese sandwich. Instead of the usual plain cheese filling, you grill the sandwich with sundried tomatoes and red onions in it (OK, so far not that different), but here’s the kicker: after the sandwich is completely toasted and the cheese melted, you open it up and pop in a wad of fresh romaine leaves. Then you close up the sandwich and eat it, crunching the lettuce leaves and enjoying the melty cheese, dunking each bite in a little dish of balsamic vinegar. It’s so easy, and SO yummy! It’s great for lunch, or you can serve it with any seasonal vegetable dish or green salad for a wonderful dinner.

slices of 100% whole wheat sourdough bread
softened butter
sharp cheddar cheese, or whatever cheese you prefer, sliced
oil-packed sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced (don’t put too many in)
thinly sliced red onions
lots of leaves of washed, dried romaine lettuce
good-quality balsamic vinegar (Costco brand is fine)

1.    Spread each slice of bread with a thin layer of butter. On one slice, on the unbuttered side, line up a few slices of tomatoes, then layer slices of cheese, then top with red onions. Top with the other slice of bread (buttered side out).
2.    Place sandwiches in a skillet over medium heat and grill slowly until the buttered bread is nicely browned on both sides and the cheese is well melted.
3.    Take the sandwich out of the skillet and set it on a cutting board. Open it up (try not to burn yourself on the hot cheese) and pack it with several leaves of romaine. Close it back again and carefully cut the sandwich in half.
4.    Put a small dish of balsamic vinegar on the table and dip your sandwich in as you eat it. We love trying the different vinegars at Summit Spice and Tea Co. (1120 E Huffman Road).

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