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Friday, November 12, 2010

black bean soup with sweet potatoes


trick-or-treat soup

Since Meredith started understanding what Halloween was all about, we’ve done a little trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. Unfortunately for her, the houses in our neighborhood are relatively few and far between. Luckily, Meredith has never trick-or-treated in a more densely populated area, so she just takes it for granted that she has to walk quite a distance for her meager quota of candy. Not that we have ever visited very many houses—she usually poops out and gets cold after five or six stops.

But this year was different. First off, our neighborhood has really come together this year because now that we have kindergartners, we parents have been spending a lot of time together at the bus stop. So several of our families decided to go trick-or-treating together! A pack of our little hoodlums would be roaming the streets together, with a rearguard of parents (dads drinking beers, moms chatting. Second, Meredith has been walking to and from the bus stop every day (it’s only uphill one way, but still, it’s almost a mile), and her walking muscles are stronger than ever. So with other kids to draw her along, plus greater endurance, we went to many more houses than before.

You might think that we collected quite a pile of Halloween candy, but it didn’t really work out that way. Despite visiting twenty houses or so (which seemed like a lot in the cold and icy road conditions), we caught a lot of folks off-guard. I don’t blame them—they kept saying “We’ve NEVER had any trick-or-treaters! I’m so sorry, I don’t have anything!” Sometimes they would give us something creative; Meredith collected a large and heavy bottle of juice and a homemade oatmeal cookie. But some just didn’t have anything to hand out. At every house that came up empty, I would explain to the homeowner “Well, you DO get to choose—a trick or a treat. We’ll come back later with the toilet paper.” They would look at me for a second, wondering whether I was serious… “Just kidding!” I would say. “But consider yourself warned for next year!” They promised to be ready for us next year! 

If this isn’t a Halloweeny soup, I don’t know what is. I spotted it in an email from, and I made my version ahead of time to eat after trick-or-treating on Halloween night. But don’t wait for next October to make it! It’s really good—perfect for any chilly night.



black bean soup with sweet potatoes

I made this soup based on recipe by Lori Longbotham, in an email from Fine Cooking. But instead of just cooking the sweet potatoes in the soup, as she recommends, I roasted slices of sweet potatoes and added them as a garnish at the end. Also I used home-cooked black beans instead of canned ones, so I didn’t have to use stock, as her recipe called for. But you could substitute canned beans and stock if you like, instead of cooking your own beans and using the bean cooking liquid. 

As Ms. Longbotham pointed out in her recipe, “The sweet potatoes in this soup contrast nicely with the tang of the yogurt and the tartness of the lime. Aniseed lends an unusual hint of licorice flavor.”

If you have time, cook the beans and make the soup ahead of time, like the day before, and then roast the sweet potatoes just before dinner. Or you can roast the sweet potatoes ahead, too, and just reheat everything when you’re ready to eat. This soup freezes wonderfully, too.

Oh, and one more thing—about the sweet potatoes. First, let’s make sure we’re talking about the right vegetable. Sweet potatoes like the ones I’ve used in this recipe are usually called yams in the grocery store—for example, garnet yams. Use the really orange ones.

The Beans

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

Drain the soaked beans, rinse them, and then put them in a large pot and cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Add the quartered onion and garlic 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.

The Soup

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon aniseed
Freshly-ground black pepper
kosher salt or sea salt

Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, aniseed, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 or 20 minutes. Taste the soup and add salt I f needed, stir well, and set aside until an hour and a half before dinnertime.

While you’re roasting the sweet potatoes, and/or when the soup is cool enough to handle without burning yourself, using a slotted spoon, set aside 2 or 3 cups of the beans and onions. Puree the remaining soup in batches in a blender. Return the solids to the soup, and when you’re ready to eat, reheat over gentle heat, stirring often (Don’t burn the beans!) and season to taste with salt, pepper and a little lime juice.

The Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes (called yams at the grocery store—get Garnet Yams, or something similar), peeled and sliced into ¾-inch thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

My method for roasting these is from Cook’s Illustrated. The reason for all the shenanigans with the foil at the beginning is that starting the sweet potatoes in a cold oven keeps the temperature lower at first, to allow more of the starches in the sweet potatoes to convert to sugars. Then the 425-degree final temperature browns and caramelizes them. If you prefer not to peel the potatoes, just scrub them well before cutting.

1. Toss sweet potatoes in large bowl with oil and salt until evenly coated. Grease one or two large rimmed baking sheets with olive oil or cooking spray.
2. Arrange sweet potatoes in single layer on baking sheet(s) and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Adjust oven rack to middle position and place yams in COLD OVEN. Turn oven on to 425 degrees and cook sweet potatoes 20 to 30 minutes, until they are starting to get tender.
3. Carefully remove foil, and return sweet potatoes to oven and cook until bottom edges of yams are golden brown, 15 to 25 minutes. If they are very tender and brown, they are already done! (Whether they are done or not will depend on how fast your oven heats up.) If not tender yet, go to Step 4.
4. Use a spatula to flip slices over. Continue to roast until bottom edges of sweet potatoes are golden brown, and they are quite soft in the center, 10 to 20 minutes longer.
5. Remove from oven; let them cool for a bit, and then cut some of them into small pieces to sprinkle on top of your soup.

The Other Garnishes
½ cup plain yogurt, salted to your taste (optional—I actually liked it better without the yogurt)
fresh lime juice, or wedges or slices of lime

Serve each bowl of soup topped with sweet potato cubes and, if desired, a dollop of yogurt, and a squeeze more lime juice if it needs it.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

cabbage salad with apples and spiced pecans


written while avoiding eye contact with stacks of photos

Now that the farmers market is over and we’re back to our wintertime bakery routine (baking bread to order through our website), we’re baking much less than we do in the summer. It’s lovely to have this kind of seasonal shift, and I really appreciate the less intense baking schedule before holiday baking begins. But I’m wondering when this extra time in my week translates into more time to do that big project I’d love to sink my teeth into? Namely, working on my photo albums.

I’m not talking about starting up knitting again, or quilting, or a big home improvement project. And the ground is frozen, which means I’m not gardening. But come on—just a few hours to sit down and start sticking those photos in an album, maybe making a few notes about the event or the date. We’re not talking heavy-duty scrapbooking, here. Just photo albums. I’ve chosen the photos, and over the last three years, I’ve even brought my discs down to Keller’s to have them printed. I just picked up my latest batch of pictures last week, certain that I’d finally have time to get going.

But so far, I haven’t made the time to actually get started. Notice I say “made” the time, rather than “had” the time. Because I have had time to do other things. I’ve made nice meals for my family. I’ve worked with Dan on purging and cleaning many drawers, cupboards and shelves that haven’t seen the light of day (not to mention a dust cloth) for months or years. And we even had a little neighborhood Halloween party. In fact, I could be working on those photos right this minute instead of writing this post. (Meredith has a friend over and they are busily making programs and tickets for their ukulele and marimba concert—coming soon to a basement near me.)

Somehow the project just seems so daunting. So many years’ worth of photos. Since we started the bakery, I just haven’t kept up. So right now it seems easier to just write about how I feel intimidated by those stacks of pictures than to actually buckle down and get started. It’s a little bit of a relief when I come up with a cooking project to fill up the couple of spare hours I am suddenly blessed with this afternoon. I’d better just write a blog post while my chickpeas simmer.

I know intellectually that once I get my teeth into the project, I’ll feel excited and realize that it’s going to be fun. I’ve always been like this: until I get started on something, it seems big and scary, and I feel paralyzed. But once I force myself to get started, I realize that it’s feasible, and nothing can stop me. I guess it’s the activation energy that’s lacking right now.

Which, I’ve decided, is fine! I can putter away on my cooking and my blog, enjoy my clean drawers, and maybe tomorrow or next week I’ll have the energy to start work on those photos. Until then, I’m not going to worry about it.

cabbage salad with apples and spiced pecans

This salad is so unexpected and surprising—full of great flavors and textures—crunchy, chewy, sweet, tangy, and savory…  I just love it! The recipe is based on one that Nancy Lampman put in last week’s Glacier Grist, the recipe newsletter that comes in our Glacier Valley Farm CSA boxes of produce. She wrote that the only problem with the salad is that she ends up eating all the spiced pecans before the salad is ready. So… I changed my recipe to make twice as many pecans! Also I made the salad part a little bigger, too, since my sliced cabbage made more than five cups. Nancy said that her recipe was a version of one in Bon Appetit Magazine, January 2007. Thank you, Nancy!

I made all the parts of this salad ahead of time yesterday morning. First I made the pecans, then the dressing. Then I sliced the cabbage in my food processor and put the shreds in a big bowl. Then I sliced the apples in the processor, too, but put them in a separate bowl and tossed them with lemon juice so they wouldn’t brown. Then, later, I just tossed all the pieces together for a lunch salad for myself, and I had lots of leftovers for lunch for today and tomorrow! The apples are still not starting to brown, even today!

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups pecan halves (you can use raw nuts,  or toast them first for 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon (scant) cayenne pepper
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly-ground pepper
2 medium unpeeled apples, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
juice from one lemon
6 – 8 cups cups thinly sliced green cabbage
1 cup dried cherries (sweet or tart—whatever you have)

1. In a medium-sized nonstick skillet, melt the brown sugar with the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne; let the mixture bubble for about three minutes, until the mixture is nice and thick and caramelly. Add the nuts and stir until nuts are coated, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to parchment or foil sheet and cool. This makes a light coating on most of the nuts—it’s not a thick one. If you think you’d prefer thicker caramel, double the sauce part.
2. Whisk vinegars and mustard in small bowl. Gradually whisk in the 1/4 cup olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Toss apples with lemon juice in large bowl. Add cabbages and dried cherries; mix. Add dressing and toss. Crumble pecans on top of each serving of salad and season salad with salt and pepper.


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Sunday, October 24, 2010

roasted brussels sprouts with mustard, walnuts and crispy crumbs


Mystery Reader

Last week was my first chance to be a Mystery Reader in Meredith’s kindergarten class. “What is a Mystery Reader?” you might ask. Doesn’t it make you curious? Interested? Even a little excited? Well, that’s just what it does for Ms. Rakos’ kindergartners! A Mystery Reader could be ANYONE coming into the classroom to read a couple of books to the class! It could be someone from the school, or a parent, or a person from the community… and the fun thing is, the kids get to guess who the person is before they arrive. Ms. Rakos gives them three clues, and then they each get to name who they think it might be.

I arrived right on time, and as I walked down the hall toward the classroom, I noticed two of Meredith’s classmates hanging around outside the door. I didn’t know if they were supposed to be out there. Were they young miscreants being disciplined in the hallway, and I shouldn’t be spotted by them? They didn’t seem the type—both the kids had been nice when I’d been in class before. I hid behind the door of the adjacent classroom for little while, waiting to see if they would go back into the classroom.

They didn’t move. How could I approach unnoticed if they were standing out there, clearly watching and waiting? I would spoil the Mystery! But if I waited any longer, I’d be late. So I popped out of my hiding place, and walked up to them. “Are you the Mystery Reader?” they asked. I admitted as much.

“But what are you two doing out here?”
“We’re waiting for you!”
“Oh! What do we do now?”
“We welcome you in.”
“OK.” We all stood there for a few seconds, and then I realized that I had been thereby welcomed. So we walked into the classroom together. Phew!

The clues for me: female, blond, and loves to read. Some of the kids even guessed me correctly! (Of course, I had been in their class helping for an hour that morning, so that might have given them an additional clue.) I was all excited to read two of my (and Meredith’s) favorite and spookiest books, in honor of Halloween. First I read The Widow’s Broom, about a lonely widow who is left a magical broom when the broom falls from the sky, no longer quite powerful enough to hold up its witch. And then I read Heckety Peg, about seven children (each named for a day of the week) who are tricked by a witch and then turned into various kinds of food. Their mother has to outwit the witch to rescue them…

I had a great time reading, and I think the kids enjoyed the books! I can’t wait for my next stint as a Mystery Reader. I just found three more fun and Halloweeny books when I was going through Meredith’s books: Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White, The Little Scarecrow Boy by Margaret Wise Brown, and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (It’s about a bat! That fits the theme, doesn’t it?). Should I ask Ms. Rakos if I can come back next week? I don’t want to wear out my welcome. Maybe I should I just start setting aside Thanksgiving books. Hmm. Do we have any books about turkeys? Pilgrims?


roasted brussels sprouts with mustard, walnuts and crispy crumbs

This is a fantastic recipe that just adds to the deliciousness of plain roasted Brussels sprouts (already heavenly) with a little Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, and caraway seeds…  and then a crispy, nutty topping. The sauce doesn’t overwhelm the sprouts, just adds to their already complex flavor.

I first tried this recipe when Nancy put it in a Glacier Grist, the weekly recipe newsletter we include with our Glacier Valley Farm CSA boxes. I don’t remember what her source was, but I recently ran across it on Fine Cooking‘s website (searching for new recipes to try on my sweet and delicious Alaskan sprouts), and was so excited to be reminded of it that I made it immediately. I really think you’ll love this recipe! 

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted lightly and crushed
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, cut through the core into quarters (or cut into halves for the smallest sprouts)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, or if you have it, cold-pressed walnut oil (I love the Loriva oils)
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup chopped walnuts

1. Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Spray two rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray (this makes cleanup easier).

2. In a large bowl, whisk ¼ cup of the olive oil with the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, caraway seeds, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and about 10 grinds of pepper. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss to thoroughly distribute the mustard mixture. Spread the sprouts in an even layer on the two baking sheets.

3. Roast until the cores of the sprouts are just barely tender and the leaves are browning and crisping a bit, 20 to 25 minutes (if your oven heat is uneven, rotate the pans midway through cooking).

4. While the sprouts are roasting, make the topping. Heat the 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil or walnut oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs all at once; toss to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the walnuts and the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring pretty constantly, until the crumbs are browned and slightly crisp and the nuts are golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Dump the breadcrumb mixture onto a plate so they don’t keep cooking and burn in the hot skillet.

5. Transfer the sprouts to a serving platter and season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Or just scoop them off the baking sheet onto your plates. Let people sprinkle the crumbs over the sprouts as they eat them, or sprinkle them yourself just before serving. (I like to add the topping stepwise as I eat this, so the topping stays really crispy.)


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Thursday, October 14, 2010

wintertime roasted tomato soup


We took a couple of weeks’ break in between our two bakery seasons: after we finish baking our bread for the farmers market, we start our wintertime gig, selling bread over the website and delivering on Wednesdays. This year we flew to Washington D.C. for a double-decker family vacation!

It was a country-mouse/city-mouse experience—first we went to rural Maryland for a week to stay with Dan’s mom and stepdad, and had a wonderful time. We rode bikes on the gently rolling roads, went boating on the St. Mary’s River, swam in the beautiful new pool at the college nearby, and went running on the local trails. Despite the monsoon that was washing out roads and flooding houses, we remained cheerful. After all, it was still warmer than Anchorage!! And we could soak in the hot tub after our wet bike rides. And cold weather is great for cooking! Butternut squash and apples from a local farmstand made great soup, and zucchinis and tomatoes were wonderful grilled (the former) and sautéed and eaten on toast (the latter).

Then for the city-mouse portion of our adventure! My amazing and wonderful mother-in-law and stepdad-in-law, Karen and Chris, had happily agreed to keep six-year-old Meredith with them for four nights and five days while Dan and I went to Washington D.C. on our own! Chris even provided the shuttle service to Washington, two hours away. This was our very first getaway vacation for Dan and I together, and I’m not sure who had more fun, the Maryland crew or the D.C. crew. Suffice it to say that Dan and I had an absolutely fantastic time, and now that we’re home, Meredith is periodically melting down in tears because she misses her grandma so much.

Dan and I stayed in a little ground-floor studio apartment in a row house on Capitol Hill, only about a fifteen-minute walk from the Mall. So perfect! We had a great time seeing the monuments, some museums, lots of gardens, and most of all, eating at some incredibly wonderful restaurants. Oh my goodness, that was the best part! The first night, we had reservations to eat at Komi, which is one of those restaurants you have to try for a reservation a month in advance, but we only started trying a week in advance. (Thank you again, Karen, for persevering on the phone, waiting out those busy signals!) The only reservation we could get was at 9pm, and we took it! We called Meredith as we were having drinks in our apartment, waiting until we could catch a cab to the restaurant, and she reported excitedly that she had eaten hotdogs for dinner!  (and vegetables!) Unbeknownst to us, we were also destined to eat hotdogs—because in the middle of our fabulous tasting menu at Komi, they brought out a tiny, spicy “hotdog” of house-made sausage topped with chipotle ketchup and mustard, served in a fresh-baked bun. It was a playful homage to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. institution (of which I’d never heard). Anyway, we all enjoyed our hotdogs!!

The strangest thing we did was visit the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a National Park located deep in the heart of Anacostia. Dan told me, and our cab driver agreed, that this would not have been a safe destination when Dan had lived in D.C. as a teenager. Even though the crack wars were no longer waging, our cab driver was concerned that we’d not get a driver to come back and pick us up. We had a lovely morning wandering through first the ponds with exotic lilies blooming over gigantic prickly lily pads, and then experiencing the last remaining native D.C. swamp on a mile-long trail, seeing egrets and blue herons, reeds and rushes and bogs and river sloughs, with the occasional background noise of sirens. A little bit surreal! And a cab driver DID come to pick us up, after all!!

One of the things I love about Washington, D.C. is that I didn’t feel like a dork being a tourist there. Because there are SO MANY TOURISTS there! From all over the world! I haven’t spent that much time in big cities, but when I do, I usually feel like I’ve just fallen off the back of a turnip truck: so unsophisticated and not wearing nearly enough black. But in Washington, I just felt welcomed. The people working at the museums and parks and gardens were happy to receive us as interested visitors, and the servers and bartenders at our restaurants seemed delighted to have us, as excited and appreciative as we were for their phenomenal food and drinks. What a great city! I can’t wait to go back!

Now that we’re back in Anchorage, and it’s below freezing every morning, the order of the day is definitely warming soups and stews. This is a soup I made before I left and froze, and I’m really enjoying it now! It’s a tomato soup, but it’s different than the other one I’ve posted. You can never have too many tomato soup recipes up your sleeve! I think you’ll really like it, too! You can serve it with a grilled cheese sandwich, or with garlicky croutons!


wintertime roasted tomato soup

I made this soup using the giant-size (6 pound, 6 ounce) cans of whole tomatoes from Costco. Yes, it makes a big batch, but it freezes really well, and that way you’ll have lots of leftovers to eat with a quick toasted cheese sandwich whenever you need a warming meal!!  This recipe is based on one in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Even though there are a lot of vegetables to prep here, if you have a food processor, it’s really fast. Because the soup will get pureed, you can just slice everything thinly in your machine and not worry about dicing onions or carrots.

1 institutional-size can of whole tomatoes (6 lbs, 6 oz)
1 cup loosely packed dried tomatoes (not the kind packed in oil), about 2 ounces
olive oil
3 medium onions, halved
8 cloves of garlic, minced
6 carrots
4 stalks of celery
2 tablespoons dried thyme
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Put the dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water. Drain the canned tomatoes and reserve the liquid. Halve each tomato and put them on rimmed baking sheets, or in shallow roasting pans, or a combination. Drizzle with olive oil—a couple of tablespoons to ¼ cup, whatever you feel like. Roast in the oven, turning once or twice, until the tomatoes are dried and lightly browned, 30 to 45 minutes.
2. While the tomatoes are roasting, slice the onions, carrots, and celery thinly—if you have a food processor, this is the time to use it!
3. When the tomatoes are done roasting, pour the dried tomatoes and their soaking liquid into the roasting pans. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, breaking up the tomatoes as you do so.
4. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a deep skillet or large saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion to the oil and cook until it begins to brown. Then add the garlic, carrot, and celery, and the thyme. Cook until the vegetables start to release their liquids. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Add the reserved liquid from the canned tomatoes, as well as 2 to 3 quarts of water, and the tomatoes from the roasting pans. Turn the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat so it bubbles gently. Cover and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. As you cook it, you’ll probably need to add more water—just make sure there is plenty of liquid so it’s nice and soupy.
6. Let the soup cool until it’s not much hotter than room temperature, and then puree it in batches in your blender until it is nice and smooth. A hand-held immersion blender really doesn’t do a good enough job here—it’s got to go in the blender to get really smooth, with all those dried tomatoes and celery bits and carrots.
7. Put some of the soup in the freezer (well-labeled) for later, and return the portion that you’re going to eat to the stove and heat until bubbling.
8. Make the garlickly croutons, below, or a grilled cheese sandwich, and enjoy!

The Croutons

5 slices hearty whole-grain bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed in a garlic press
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

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.
2. Spread the bread cubes out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-25 minutes, until the croutons are crispy and golden-brown.


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Friday, October 01, 2010

Chinese-marinated cucumbers


older-sisterly love

A couple of weeks ago I was in a bike shop, and the bike mechanic/salesperson was ringing up my purchases, noticed my name, and said “Hey, are you Ben’s sister?” Since I didn’t change my last name when I married Dan, this does tend to happen fairly often—especially since Ben and I look a bit alike, and he is a minor celebrity among skiers in Anchorage. For many years, he’s been a coach for Winter Stars, a year-round training program for cross-country skiers, from junior high school students to masters. So not only do all his skiers know him, but all the parents of the younger skiers know him, too. And from what I hear, they all love him! I’m so proud of him for making such a name for himself, and it’s so nice to hear people’s compliments when they realize that I am, indeed, Ben’s sister.

Except for one thing. I’m older! He’s my little brother! So I always correct them. “No no no, you are mistaken, I’m not HIS sister, he’s actually MY brother.” Sometimes they get it—they apologize to my injured ego, and laugh. But other times, they just look confused, apparently wondering why I don’t embrace being Ben’s sister as my claim to fame. Ben loves it when I am recognized by my relationship to him, and will thank anyone who mentions it. It’s well-deserved come-uppance for me! From elementary school through high school, he was plagued by expectations of his teachers and coaches: “You’re Alison’s brother?” I admit, I deserve all I get, and probably a lot more!

But here’s the funny thing. When we’re out skiing on the trails, or biking together, or running, he IS the older brother now! He’s such a fantastic coach—encouraging and fun, yet offering constructive criticism when needed—that I find myself working hard to follow his instructions, and am pleased and gratified by his praise when I earn it.

I’m proud of you, Ben!

Love, YOUR sister, Alison

Chinese-marinated cucumbers

A couple of weeks ago I discovered two cucumbers in my crisper drawer from last week’s CSA box the day before I was due to get the next vegetable installment, so I had to eat them pronto. This recipe is a variation on a celery recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It looked easy and fast, but I had absolutely no idea how amazingly delicious it would be. I am embarrassed to say that I sat down and ate practically the entire batch by myself for lunch.

I added tomatoes to the original recipe, and I have to say, they are absolutely divine with the cucumbers and the soy flavors. However, if you don’t have ripe, delicious tomatoes, don’t buy the bland mealy kind at the store. Just omit the the tomatoes—it will still be really yummy.

2 large English cucumbers
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
½ teaspoon chili oil (optional)
2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges and then in half, to make bite-sized pieces

1. Cut the cucumber lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard them. Cut the cucumber into ½-inch pieces. Mix with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar and set them aside for 10 to 30 minutes.
2. Whisk together the remaining sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and chili oil.
3. Rinse, drain and pat the cucumber dry, then toss with the dressing. Add the tomato chunks and toss again. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to a day. Serve chilled.


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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Indian mung beans with cauliflower


kindergarten takes its toll

As much as Meredith is loving her first few weeks of school, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only parent with an exhausted kindergartner this week. Even though she has an early bedtime and gets a lot of sleep, she is still completely worn out and on the edge when she climbs off the bus in the afternoon. And as tired as her little brain is, her body hasn’t burned off all its steam, so she’s winging all over the place, bouncing and leaping and sizzling with energy. Her emotions are on a knife’s edge; any little thing can set her off. One of this afternoon’s tragedies: writing an “R” instead of a “P” on her friend Leo’s Happy Birthday card. We pasted over it with several layers of colored paper—he’ll be none the wiser, I assured her.

Meredith’s mental exhaustion reminds me of the three months I spent in Japan with a host family when I was seventeen. Without a solid Japanese language background, I was over my head most days, whether at school with my host sister or home with my lovely but non-English-speaking host parents. Every afternoon around three o’clock, I would stagger up the stairs to my futon on the floor, lie face-down on my stomach, and fall instantly asleep for a couple of hours. I’d wake up and watch or help my host mother prepare dinner, and then be ready for bed again a few hours later.

Learning a new language and a new culture is a grueling task, and that’s just what Meredith’s been doing, along with her classmates in the estimable Ms. Rakos’ kindergarten class. I’m working hard to be ready for her when she gets home from school—both practically (dinner mostly ready to go, so I have time to play outside) and emotionally (practicing a kind and patient mindset).

We’ve now moved bedtime up even earlier. Tonight she ate dinner at five-thirty, and after the aforementioned birthday card project and a nice long book, she was in bed and asleep by seven. Hopefully tomorrow (Friday) she’ll feel more rested and it will be a little smoother. I figure in a few months she’ll have adjusted to the routine, and will have learned the culture of school, so it won’t be quite so wearing. But in the meantime, I’m liking this new bedtime.

Because of the rain this summer, Valley broccoli has not been as plentiful as it usually is this time of year. This is sad news indeed, since Alaskan broccoli is so sweet and delicious. However, the cauliflower seems to be doing fine—which means that we’ve been getting lots in the CSA boxes. Faced with a gigantic head of cauliflower, and having just barely polished off last week’s head, I knew I needed to get on this baby, and fast.

Indian mung beans with cauliflower

Since cauliflower doesn’t have much flavor of its own, I like it with big, strong flavors. I tend toward either salty, briny flavors like capers, mustard, and olives, or else I go the Indian route, adding lots of spices, ginger, and chiles to give the mild-mannered vegetable some personality.  I never seem to tire of the flavorful, spicy, creamy dals that Indian cooks make in such endless variety—they are easy to cook (no deep-frying or fritter-making for me, thanks), a perfect vehicle for all kinds of different vegetables, and you can make big batches and freeze some for later!  A bowl of creamy dal with cauliflower is soothing without being boring—it’s comfort food!

Here’s a recipe based on a recipe from Neelam Batra’s 1,000 Indian Recipes. She doesn’t call for cauliflower, but tomatoes. I suppose you could add tomatoes as well, or some green peas at the end to brighten up the color—but I had so much cauliflower in there that I thought my vegetable quota had been reached. It’s really more like cauliflower with dal, now.

2 cups green mung beans, rinsed and soaked overnight in water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 large onions, minced
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 jalepeno peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or less, if you want it milder)
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (Indian spice mixture)

1. Drain the mung beans, place them in a large pot, and cover them with two inches of water. Bring them to a boil over high heat, and then simmer, covered, until the beans are soft and creamy. This might take 30 to 45 minutes—just keep checking them and adding water as needed to keep them soupy as the beans absorb water.
2. Heat the oil over high heat in a large skillet and add the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for a couple of seconds until fragrant, and then toss in the onions and ginger and salt. Cook them, stirring often, until they are golden. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and paprika, and fry over high heat a couple more minutes, stirring often. Transfer the onion-spice mixture to the mung beans and stir well.
3. Add the cauliflower to the pot and stir them around to combine. Decide whether you want a thick stew or a soupier consistency, and add more water if you like. Taste the beans for salt and add a little at a time until soup tastes nice and flavorful. Keeping the heat fairly low, simmer the soup, stirring often so the beans don’t burn on the bottom of the pot, until the cauliflower is tender. Sprinkle the garam masala on top when you are ready to serve it.
4. This soup tastes great right away, but it’s even yummier when it’s had a day to let the flavors develop. Make a big batch and freeze some of it for later—you won’t regret it!



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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

potato salad with green beans and thyme


Denali 2.0

We’re back from our Second Annual Labor Day trip to Denali National Park, and we’re just now getting comfortable with the rather complicated reservation, camping, and bus system in the Park. For many years, we avoided the bureaucracy associated with camping in the park when it was open, choosing instead to go to Denali in May, before the buses are running. The Park Service lets you camp at Riley Creek Campground near the entrance of the park, and you can drive your own vehicle to Teklanika and bike on the road from there. So although it’s fun to be at the Park when the only people there are other Alaskans with their bikes, there are a few drawbacks. First, it’s darn cold. In early May, we never know if we’ll get snowed on while riding bikes to Polychrome Pass. And warming up after a very cold bike ride can be challenging. And second, it’s very gray…  there’s not even any green yet. Yes, it’s beautiful, all those mountains and steep passes and rivers—but stark. And now that we’ve had a taste of the stunning fall colors? Well, let’s just say I might just have spoiled myself for Denali in May.

We picked Meredith up at the bus stop after school and drove to Denali State Park to spend the night. Dan took off in the morning, biking north towards the National Park. Meredith and I sped around the campground and the war memorial on our bikes for an hour—what a change from just a year ago, when she was still struggling along with training wheels on the little pink bike. We were having so much fun we were a little late getting packed up and driving up to meet Dan… but luckily it was such a beautiful day, with the reds and yellows of the tundra and aspens, he didn’t mind the extra time riding.

We signed in at Denali National Park and drove to Savage River, where Dan dropped me off with my bike so I could ride the rest of the way to Teklanika campground. It was a lovely ride, except for the middle part where there was this huge downpour at exactly the same time that I was going down a really long, steep hill, so I was completely covered in mud, ankles to forehead, at the bottom (see photo, below). I had such a thick layer of mud on my glasses that a wolf would have to cross the road in front of me to see it. Unlikely, I know. But luckily the rain stopped soon enough and I took my sunglasses off and had a lovely rest of my ride.

The first morning, we biked into the Park, Dan pulling Meredith’s trailer bike attached to his bike. We didn’t have any particular goal in mind, but at the top of Sable Pass we still had plenty of gumption, and more importantly, ample peanuts, raisins, and apples. So we coasted five miles downhill, and then back up the hill to Polychrome Pass! We were so proud of Meredith for hanging in there and pedaling along (much of the time) without getting whiny (except for one little part). Altogether it’s 35 miles, round trip, and so scenic it knocks your socks off.

As we rode between the mountainsides, we saw two bears and a couple of groups of Dall sheep (Can I call them flocks if they are wild sheep?). An unexpected advantage of the buses is that they are wildlife warning systems. I may just be the world’s worst wildlife spotter—in addition to the fact that I’m quite inattentive (preferring to just enjoy the scenery in a bit of a daze as I pedal along), my eyes are JUST good enough to pass the driving test. Which means that I don’t wear glasses, even though I don’t exactly boast 20/20 vision. So my wildlife spotting strategy is as follows: as I’m biking along, and I see a bus stopped up ahead, I pedal up as fast as I can and look all around to find the animal they are all looking at. (You guessed it—that’s when we saw the two bears.) Yay, buses! 

Another day we rode on a bus beyond Polychrome with our lunch and hiked along river drainages and over tundra-covered mountainsides and down scree slopes. We flew kites, made friends with a young Dutch couple, hiked the Savage River Trail and saw two more sheep, right up close. We visited with our friends at their place outside the Park, and got to meet their new baby boy, Sam! And then it was time to come home, back to school…  for more adventures in kindergarten!!

This recipe doesn’t have much to do with our trip to Denali, except that when we returned, we started getting new little fingerling potatoes in our CSA box!





potato salad with green beans

I absolutely love this recipe. It’s really different than the typical mayonnaise potato salad, with a garlicky, mustardy dressing and salty little capers to brighten it up. I like a high proportion of green beans to potatoes, but if you’d prefer the salad to be heavier on the potatoes, use fewer green beans. I’ll often just eat this salad for lunch or dinner—it’s that good, and filling, too.

This recipe is modified from a recipe in Annie Somerville’s Everyday Greens. I’d always made this recipe before with roasted potatoes, but it seemed a shame to roast the sweet little fingerlings in my CSA box, so I steamed them instead, and it turned out great. So now you know you can make this recipe with either roasted or steamed potatoes, depending on whether you have new potatoes or bigger older ones.

2 pounds garlic-roasted potatoes (recipe follows)
2 pounds new potatoes, sliced lengthwise, then cut into bite-sized pieces, then steamed until tender
garlicky red wine mustard vinaigrette (recipe follows)
½ medium red onion, minced (about ½ cup)
red wine vinegar
1-2 pounds green beans, cut into 1” pieces
1 ½ tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
½ tablespoon fresh thyme, coarsely chopped, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme

1. Make the garlic-roasted potatoes.
2. Make the vinaigrette.
3. Bring a pot of water to boil and salt lightly. Place the onions in a small bowl and scoop a little boiling water out of the pot, just enough to cover them. Let the onions soak for 30 seconds, drain, and toss with ½ tablespoon of the vinegar. This takes away the sharp bite of the onions, but leaves great flavor and crunch.
4. Drop the green beans into the boiling water and cook until just tender (2-5 minutes). Drain the beans and immediately spread them out on a baking sheet spread with a dishtowel. (This allows extra water to evaporate, and the beans stop cooking almost immediately.)
5. Transfer the roasted potatoes to a large bowl with the onions, capers, thyme, and several large spoonfuls of vinaigrette. Add the green beans just before serving (so their color won’t fade from the acid in the vinaigrette) and adjust the seasoning with more vinaigrette, salt, pepper, and/or a splash of vinegar, if needed.
6. If you’ve made enough for leftovers, only add the green beans to the portion you’ll be serving right away, to keep them nice and green.

garlicky red wine mustard vinaigrette

This might make more dressing than you need, but it keeps very well in the refrigerator, and it’s great on regular salad greens, as well.

6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 tablespoon 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 and/or honey.

garlic-roasted potatoes

These potatoes are great with all kinds of things—use them instead of mashed potatoes or rice with any dish. The garlic-infused oil really makes a difference in the taste!

2 pounds waxy potatoes (such as Alaskan Butterball, or Yukon Gold)
garlic oil (recipe follows, in Step 1.)
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Make garlic oil: Mash or mince 3 or 4 garlic cloves and cover with ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Let steep for 30 minutes if you have time. Strain out the garlic and store the oil in the refrigerator.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters. Toss them in a bowl with a few spoonfuls of garlic oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss again.
3. Lightly oil a large baking dish or sheet pan, and transfer the potatoes onto it, making sure that a cut side of each potato is touching the pan. (The side touching the pan will brown nicely). Roast the potatoes until tender and browned, 35 to 40 minutes.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

oven-roasted zucchini cutlets, or deconstructed zucchini parmesan


the first week of kindergarten

We’ve just finished Meredith’s first week of kindergarten at Rabbit Creek Elementary School! What an exciting week it’s been! We walked her to the bus stop on Tuesday morning, and she boarded the bus with our third grade friend and neighbor, Zoey. (More on Zoey, our marvelous bus-helper, in a later post.) Meredith bounded off the bus in the afternoon, face shining with joy, announcing “I LOVE school! I want to go EVERY day!” I’m so thrilled that kindergarten is already so exciting and fun for her… thank you, wonderful Ms. Rakos!! I was pretty sure she would LIKE school, but I am practically beside myself with joy that she LOVES it!

Of course Dan and I tried to pry as much information from her on the walk home—and thankfully, she was happy to oblige. This is a change from her reports on her beloved pre-school, about which she would generally respond “Oh, I don’t know—I forget!” During the past three years, we were reduced to asking “Who got to be the candle-snuffer today?” since that seemed to be the one thing that 1) we knew to ask and 2) she was willing to recount.

But this year is different.

First off, she announced the biggest surprise: “Guess what color the inside of the bus is?  WHITE!” (I guess she thought the inside would be yellow, like the outside?) We’ve been regaled nightly with the “loose tooth song” (although Meredith has yet to experience a wiggly tooth of her own). I have gotten a full report on the different seating tables: yellow puffins, red foxes, blue bears. (I think I’ve got them right.) I have heard about journal time (“It’s ALWAYS in the morning, Mom!” she reported on the second day) and counting the days with tally-marks. Then, the story of their exciting Thursday in Gym class: “We did SQUADS, Mom! And I was on Squad 6!” I remembered squads from my own days at Rabbit Creek—in fact, Meredith and I share a common Gym teacher, the amazing Ms. Steen—but when I asked Meredith what they did in their squads, (like maybe a relay race or something?) she gave me a blank look. “No, Mom, we did SQUADS!” She told me about practicing lines and drawing apple trees in Art class on Friday, and how one student in her class drew black apples, but she preferred the more conventional red…

It’s more fun than I could have imagined to hear her describe her school experiences. She has her first library day on Monday…  I can’t wait to hear about her adventures with the librarian, Ms. Kean!

Thank you, Rabbit Creek Elementary School, for such a fantastic beginning to Meredith’s school year!

Now that I have a bit more time during the day to cook, while Meredith’s in school, a recipe like this with a little more prep time is more feasible. There are lots of sweet Alaskan zucchinis at the farmers markets these days… please, take advantage of them while you can—even if it’s raining on market day!


oven-roasted zucchini cutlets, or deconstructed zucchini parmesan

This recipe is very loosely based on one for an eggplant parmesan in Cooks’ Illustrated (January 2004), but you don’t have to make the whole recipe—the zucchini slices are good just on their own (as pictured). You can dollop each slice with your favorite tomato sauce, though, if you like, to make a fun deconstructed zucchini parmesan. (I’ve included two very easy and yummy recipes for tomato sauce, below—one with fresh tomatoes, one with canned.)

It’s much more fun doing this recipe with another person—there’s quite a bit of dredging and drenching to do. You won’t be surprised to learn that I always make a double batch of this because it’s so yummy, and the cooked slices freeze well! I have to admit that my favorite way to eat these, other than hot, fresh and crispy right out of the oven, is in a sandwich with mayonnaise, thinly sliced red onion, and lots of lettuce.

3 or 4 large zucchinis, cut crosswise on a slant into ½” thick ovals
6-8 slices of bread (you know my preference: whole wheat sourdough)
½ to 1 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup flour
3 eggs
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
spray vegetable oil (or regular vegetable oil)

1. Put the zucchini slices into a large bowl and toss with a tablespoon of salt, then let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours in a colander. Drain off the liquid in a colander, and rinse under water. Dry the slices between kitchen towels to remove as much liquid as possible.
2. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grind bread slices in food processor to make fine, even crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a pie plate and if your parmesan isn’t grated very fine, grind it up with a few pulses, too. Add cheese, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper to the crumbs and mix together.
3. Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in large ziplock bag; shake to combine.
4. Beat eggs in second pie plate.
5. Place 8 to 10 zucchini slices in bag with flour; seal bag and shake to coat zucchini. Remove zucchini slices, shaking off excess flour, dip in eggs, let excess egg run off, then coat evenly with bread crumb mixture; set breaded slices on wire racks on your counter. Repeat with remaining zucchini.
6. Put 2 heavy, rimmed baking sheets (preferably non-stick) in the oven and let them preheat for 10 minutes or so. Remove them one at a time from the oven, spray or brush thoroughly with vegetable oil, and load the zucchini on the sheets in a single layer. Bake until zucchini is well-browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets after 10 minutes, and flipping slices after 20 minutes.
7. While the zucchini bakes, if you’re going to serve the zucchini with tomato sauce, make the fast fresh tomato sauté or the marinara sauce. (You can make the marinara the day before, if you like. Just reheat before serving.)
8. Serve each person several slices of zucchini, overlapping slightly, on plates with little bowls of the tomato sauté. This is especially nice alongside a green salad.

fast fresh tomato sauté
This recipe is based on one from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen.

3 cups of sliced, quartered, or diced tomatoes
1 shallot or ½ a small white onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
small handful basil leaves, slivered, or 1 teaspoon thyme, minced (whatever fresh herbs you have hanging around, or growing in a pot on your deck—oregano, maybe?)
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

1. Toss the tomatoes with the onion or shallot, garlic, herbs, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. You can let the mixture marinate for up to 2 hours or use it right away.
2. Just before you’re ready to eat, heat a skillet and when hot, add the tomatoes. Swirl the pan around to warm them through, add a few drops of balsamic vinegar and some pepper. They should just warm up and release their juices, not fall apart.

marinara sauce

4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
two 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes, or diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons dried oregano
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Coarsely chop the tomatoes if using whole ones.
2. Saute the garlic in the olive oil until fragrant (30 seconds or so). Add the tomatoes and cook the sauce until nicely thickened, about 30 minutes.
3. Crush the oregano between your palms as you sprinkle it into the pot. Stir to combine, and add salt and pepper to taste. If you want a smoother sauce, put some of the sauce into your blender, or use a hand-held immersion blender to puree some of the chunks out of the sauce.

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