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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

red lentil soup with yellow squash (or zucchini)

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Becky the babysitter

Dan and I sell our Rise & Shine Bakery bread at the farmers market most Saturdays from 9am until 2pm. Becky is the wonderful babysitter who spends most Saturday mornings playing with Meredith. (Her last name will remain a secret, just in case you other South Anchorage parents might be looking for a fabulous babysitter—I try to reserve all Becky’s spare time that she’s not camping, playing volleyball, doing her homework, or training for cross-country skiing). I never know what Meredith will come home with after a morning with Becky: a plate of brownies covered in sprinkles and cut into fanciful shapes, a ziploc bag of orange homemade play-dough, a row of vessels filled with evil-smelling “concoctions” brewed from kitchen spices and food coloring, or a sheaf of drawings, paintings, and cutouts. Meredith ADORES Becky. And of course, so do we.

But in truth, it’s not just Becky who babysits Meredith—sometimes, it’s her whole family! When I drop Meredith off in the morning, Becky’s almost always there, but sometimes Dan will pick her up at noon from Becky’s dad, Mike, who has helped her make a cool sailboat sculpture out of wood scraps, festooned with skulls and crossbones. Other times, Becky’s older sister, Emily, has lent a hand when home from college, famously taking Meredith biking around the South High School track. And Becky’s mom, Alice, has helped in more ways than I can count—first of all, by being a fantastic parent. (In fact, she is a parent coach, and Dan and I took several sessions with her in the fall of 2009, improving our family life immeasurably during a rough patch.) Alice has raised her daughters with the knowledge of how to capture the imagination and enthusiasm of a child. Sometimes Alice takes over when Becky has an appointment or activity for part of the morning. And once, a couple of weeks ago, when Becky, Emily and Mike were gone on a boating expedition to Whittier, Alice took Meredith on her own and went to the zoo! (She volunteered for this, on a weekend that was otherwise her own!)

We are so grateful to have such a family in our lives! Thank you, all four, from the bottom of our hearts!

I love to make this soup now, when the yellow summer squash comes out at the market, because the yellow squash maintains its integrity a bit more than the green. But it’s delicious with zucchini, and even other veggies (see note, below). 

red lentil soup with yellow summer squash (or zucchini)

This is a really fun, really yummy dish with nice Indian flavors, and it’s relatively simple. This recipe is pretty much straight out of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, except I’ve added a lot less oil. Even if I only have enough squash to make a single batch, I always make a double or triple batch and freeze some of it before adding the squash. Then I can add whatever vegetable I like to the soup later, when I thaw it out. Don’t limit yourself to making this dish with squash. I’ve served it with broccoli (a big pile of garlic-roasted broccoli in the center of a dish of this soup is especially lovely, not to mention delicious), and it’s wonderful! You could use any kind of vegetable you like in place of the zucchini; just pre-cook it and add it at the last minute before serving, in the middle of a lake of lentils in a bowl.

You can serve it with rice, but I love it just on its own. If you wanted to get really fancy, you could make a simple Indian raita (yogurt, garlic & salt) to serve with it. But really, it’s good enough to just eat by itself.

2 cups red lentils, washed and drained
½ teaspoon turmeric
sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
a pinch of cardamom seeds, pounded just to break them up a bit (or use ground cardamom, but don’t add it until you add the onion to the skillet)
1 (3”) cinnamon stick
4 bay leaves
1 ½ teaspoons whole cumin seeds
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 teaspoons peeled fresh ginger root, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 medium yellow summer squash or zucchinis, cut into bite-sized chunks (3/4” squares)
freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more, if you like things spicy)
a few squeezes of fresh lime juice (optional)

1. Put the lentils and 4 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. When it boils, remove the foam that rises to the top. Add the turmeric and stir it in. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook very gently for 20 to 30 minutes until the lentils are tender and have dissolved into a puree. If it’s not soupy enough for your taste, add more water. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and stir to combine.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium high heat in a nonstick frying pan. When very hot, add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, and whole cumin seeds. Stir for a few seconds and then add the onion and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir and fry until the onions are golden brown.
3. Add the ginger and garlic, and stir and fry for another minute. Then add the zucchini, black pepper to taste, and cayenne. Stir for a minute and add 1 cup of water, cover, turn the heat down and cook for 2 minutes, or until the zucchini is beginning to be tender. Add the contents of the frying pan to the lentils. Stir gently to combine and cook on low heat for a minute or two until the zucchini is cooked to your liking.
4. Season with salt to taste. Squeeze lime juice over the top just before serving, if you happen to have a lime on hand, and you remember to do it. I usually forget, but it is a nice touch.


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Sunday, July 25, 2010

grilled salmon and zucchini with Turkish cucumber and yogurt salad

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Meredith at the market

Yesterday was Meredith’s first full day at the farmers market—usually, she’s at her babysitter’s house on Saturday mornings, but Becky was busy this weekend. (More about fabulous Becky in a future post.) Since our other babysitters were out of town or otherwise engaged, we resigned ourselves to bringing five-year-old Meredith with us to the market. It seemed like a good idea to try it out, since when school starts in mid-August, our babysitters will be much busier with sports and other activities. Could we pull it off?

Dan and I sell our Rise & Shine Bakery bread at the market on summer Saturdays from 9am until 2pm. During the first few hours of the market, we’re pretty busy slicing samples and selling the bread as fast as we can—helping people decide what flavors will go best with their dinners that night, how many loaves to buy to freeze before that flavor comes around again, or what pan loaf their kids might like best to eat in sandwiches.

I thought the best chance of keeping Meredith happily occupied on her own during our busiest time was to provide:
1. plenty of fun snacks,
2. a nest to snuggle in (sleeping bag and pad in the back of the car, parked behind our bakery stand),
3. crayons, paper, and stickers,
4. Richard Scarry picture books,
5. copious snacks,
6. her bike and helmet to ride around the market, and
7. did I mention the snacks?

So on Saturday morning I got up early and packed a picnic bag for Meredith, including:
1. thick slice of our fruited almond sourdough bread (that was breakfast on the drive to the market),
2. thermos of hot chocolate with a separate little cup of marshmallows,
3. cup of cherries (the Rainier kind),
4. peanut butter & honey sandwich,
5. green beans,
6. cup of those awesome Kettle crinkly potato chips (!!). 

Her bike and helmet packed, her nest ready, Meredith slept longer than I can remember in years. I finally had to wake her up at 8:15 so we could drive down and meet Dan at the market, where he had set up our stand already.

When the market opened at 9:00, Meredith was zooming around on her bike, visiting the other vendors and doing little tasks like trading bread for cauliflower, zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I was so pleased that she remained cheerful all morning—some of the time in her “nest” and sometimes biking around, doing laps. The mornings always fly by for us while we sell bread, and I was so glad I didn’t have to try and entertain her while waiting on customers.

Then, near the end of the market, our friend Terri came back by the market (she had bought her bread earlier) and asked if Meredith could come to the zoo with her! It was such a cool, cloudy day that her hiking partner for the day had backed out, and she wanted to go to the zoo…  but her kids are 19 and 22 and were not interested in joining her. And everyone knows that it’s more fun to take a kid to the zoo than to go alone! What a lovely surprise for Meredith, and for us! Thank you, Terri!

We took down our stand when we ran out of bread, and came home to unpack and have lunch. We started working on preparing the veggies and fish that Meredith had bartered bread for at the market, and by the time she got home from the zoo, we were relaxed and ready for our evening together. Terri had bought Meredith a treat at the zoo, but suggested that she only eat half of it, so she would still be hungry for supper. Meredith agreed, but assured Terri, “Don’t worry, I’m ALWAYS hungry!”

Like I said. Plenty of snacks. And like my mother always said: “It’s a wise mother who knows her own daughter.” And another appropriate old saw: “Like mother, like daughter.” Here’s the supper we made last night from the bounty at the farmers market, for which Meredith and I were, indeed, hungry.

grilled salmon and zucchini with cucumber & yogurt salad

Start the salad first, since the cucumbers, onions, and yogurt need to drain separately. Then grill the zucchini, which can happily sit while you set the table, mix the salad together, and grill the salmon.

Turkish cucumber & yogurt salad

This salad is based on one in a cookbook called Olive Trees and Honey, a book of Jewish vegetarian recipes from around the world. It’s a salad, but I think of it as a sauce to go alongside my grilled salmon—although it’s so flavorful and refreshing that I eat enough of it to be properly called a salad! I should probably call this whole meal “yogurt salad with salmon on the side.”

Salting the cucumber and draining the yogurt keeps the salad from getting watery, even if you use nonfat yogurt. If you use full-fat Greek yogurt, you won’t need to drain the yogurt.

1 large English cucumber
½ a medium red or yellow onion
2 teaspoons salt for sprinkling
———-
1 to 2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon salt (if needed)
3 cups nonfat or lowfat yogurt
1 teaspoon dried dill, or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1. Put the yogurt into a sieve and let it stand over a bowl for an hour or two in the refrigerator to drain some of its liquid.
2. Halve the cucumber and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Slice each half into strips, then cut into small dice. Finely dice the onion. Put the cucumber and onion into a sieve or a colander, toss with the 2 teaspoons salt, and let stand at room temperature for at least an hour, or up to 3 hours. Drain, and press out the extra liquid.
3. Mash the garlic finely in a garlic press, or, lacking that, mash the garlic and salt together in the bottom of a bowl with a fork until it’s a paste. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. You can serve it immediately (that’s what I did), but it will develop more flavor if you let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. It will be good for a couple of days.

grilled zucchini

This recipe is so easy it’s sort of embarrassing to call it a recipe, but just in case you haven’t already discovered this method, I’ll describe it. We eat gallons of zucchini like this in the summertime! It’s great an as appetizer, in sandwiches, alongside soups, in salads, or just cold right out of the fridge, eaten with your fingers.

several small or medium zucchinis (buy more than you think you could possibly eat)
olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt

Heat a grill to very hot. Slice the zucchini lengthwise, into planks a little less than ¼” thick. Toss them with olive oil and salt. Turn the grill down to medium, and grill them about 3 minutes on each side, until they have grill marks and are nice and tender. Eat them right away or else eat them later at room temperature. Try not to eat them all right as they come off the grill, or the rest of your family will be annoyed.

grilled salmon

1 large filet salmon
dill fish rub (we love the Halibut Cove Dill rub from Summit Spice & Tea), or just use salt & fresh-ground pepper
canola oil (for the grill)

1. Skin the salmon filet and sprinkle it all over with the spice rub or salt & pepper, rubbing it on to cover all surfaces. 
2. 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).
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Remove the salmon from the grill to a plate.

 


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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

toast with collard & green olive pesto

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Meredith’s first backpacking trip

The big news around here is that five-year-old Meredith and I did our first ever backpacking trip together! We’ve been discussing it for a long time, mulling over our route, destination, equipment, and most importantly, the menu. We settled on Rabbit Lake, a gradual climb of about four and a half miles from the trail head on the upper hillside of Anchorage.

It’s been at least seven years since my last backpacking trip—a long time, considering Dan’s and my enthusiasm for remote adventures before pregnancy, infant and toddler stages. We’ve been enjoying car camping and skiff camping trips since Meredith was born, but Meredith is old enough now to hold her own on hiking day trips. It was time to break out my pack.

So last Saturday after selling our bread at the farmers market, I rummaged around in the basement and ran up and down the stairs all afternoon, unearthing the necessary gear and then testing things out in the sunshine on the lawn. I explained to Meredith that I really did NOT want to discover that I had forgotten the tent poles when we arrived at Rabbit Lake. Or that my trusty WhisperLite stove’s plunger had dried up and wouldn’t pressurize the fuel can. Meredith got so excited about all this testing that she could hardly bear to break down the tent to pack it. Unfortunately, the weather report for the next few days looked rather ominous—especially for Sunday-Monday. Monday-Tuesday looked marginally better, and was our only other option.

Sure enough, we woke to a steady downpour and wind on Sunday, so we decided to postpone for a day and hope for the slight change predicted in the weather report. I PROMISED the distressed Meredith that we would go the next day, rain or shine. It looked like we would get wet no matter what, but we’ve got trips and day-camps and visitors for the next few weeks, so it was now or never. Anyway, we’re tough! We’re Alaskan! If you don’t camp in the rain in Alaska, you never camp!

So… Monday morning at the house was not raining, just overcast and gloomy, but as Dan drove us up to drop us off at the trail head, it began to rain…  so we donned our rain gear and hiked our way up in the wind and rain. Turns out that Meredith and I can hike nearly the same speed, as long as I’m weighed down by everything we need—clothes, food, kitchen, tent, and sleeping gear! By the time we neared the top, the wind was howling and it was raining sideways and freezing cold, so we didn’t want to stop for lunch—we just ate our apples on the hoof.

When we got to the lake, we found a slightly protected spot near the lake and set up the tent. Meredith was a big help with the tent in the wind and rain—and I was reminded afresh how demoralizing it is to set up one’s tent in a downpour (those huge drops splatting on the parts that are supposed to be DRY), but we managed. We changed into warm dry clothes and huddled inside our tiny tent, eating our yummy cheese and avocado sal-wiches (Can you see the green smears on Meredith’s face in the photo, below?), and then snuggled into our sleeping bags to get warm. I will forever be grateful that Meredith actually offered to let me put my frozen hands on her warm little tummy to warm them up. Am I a lucky mom, or what?

Lo and behold, the rain let up a bit, so after our lunch snuggle we set out for a little adventure around the lake and on the tundra in a mild drizzle. We had hot chocolate at tea time. By dinnertime it had all but stopped raining, better luck!! We boiled up our Annie’s mac & cheese with green beans, and then we both fell into our sleeping bags after a story and some card games. Meredith went to sleep right away after dinner, but then woke up again at 8pm and couldn’t go back to sleep for a long time because of the bright daylight—so I read more chapters of our book, she ate a bowl of leftover mac & cheese, and finally she conked back off. 

On Tuesday morning we woke up to a brighter overcast day, which was lovely.  We enjoyed our morning hot chocolate, then oatmeal with raisins for breakfast, and then hiked back down to meet Dan, on his way up the trail to meet us. I’m so proud of Meredith, hiking like a trooper and enjoying her first backpacking trip even in marginal weather!

The recipe below has nothing whatsoever to do with our hiking trip, except that I came up with the recipe just today, the day after we returned. It’s made with Alaskan collards and tomatoes from our CSA box. I LOVE IT. What a fabulous way to eat your greens!

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toast with collard & green olive pesto

This pesto recipe is based on one I found on epicurious.com, submitted by Danny Toma. He uses Parmesan cheese in his recipe, and twice as much olive oil—but I found that with the rich olives, I didn’t need the cheese or the extra oil!  What a fun way to eat your greens!! I spread the pesto on toast, but you can also use half this amount on a pound of cooked pasta. Just freeze what you won’t use in three days. (A ziploc bag works well.)

slices of hearty whole grain bread
tomatoes
collard & green olive pesto (recipe below)

Make the pesto. Slice your tomatoes. Toast your bread. Apply pesto in thick mounds (remember, it’s your vegetable!) and top with tomatoes. Enjoy, with a napkin at the ready.

collard & green olive pesto

1-3/4 lb collard greens (you can use kale, instead, if you want)
7 to 12 large brine-cured green olives (2-1/4 ounces), pitted
2 garlic cloves
1/4 to 1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut stems and center ribs from collard greens and discard. Slice greens into strips and stir collards into water, bring back to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 15 minutes. Drain collards in a colander, pressing on greens to extract excess water.

2. Blend olives and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add collards, water, vinegar, salt, cayenne, and pepper and pulse until finely chopped. With motor running, add oil in a slow stream. Taste and add more salt if needed.

 


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