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Sunday, October 24, 2010

roasted brussels sprouts with mustard, walnuts and crispy crumbs

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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

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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!

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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

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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
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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)
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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

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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

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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!

 

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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)
OR
2 pounds new potatoes, sliced lengthwise, then cut into bite-sized pieces, then steamed until tender
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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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Thursday, August 26, 2010

strawberry cosmopolitan

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the conspicuous cart

I admit to feeling a bit self-conscious when I’m trundling through Costco with one of those colossally tall bottles of Kirkland-brand vodka in my cart. I think the bottle is taller than Meredith. Whenever I’m in Costco, I’m always likely to meet several people I know, or who know me from the farmers market…  and when I inevitably do, I always imagine they are thinking “Ye gods! Does she actually DRINK all that vodka? What a lush!”

It could be worse… I’m not buying cartloads of pizza pockets, battered onion rings, microwaveable burgers, or buckets of Miracle Whip. And I’m buying that vodka to make fruity five-o-clock drinks—not to guzzle straight out of that monstrous bottle. Usually my cart is also loaded with the other necessary ingredients: limes, lemons, watermelons or peaches, strawberries or oranges, grapefruits or plums

Really, when you think of it, vodka could be construed as a HEALTH food. A drink every day is supposed to be good for your heart, right? I don’t really like the taste of alcohol, so a fruity mixed drink is just the ticket to keep me healthy. And just think of all those vitamins in the fruit! Not gonna catch ME with scurvy! 

But back to that bottle. Unless you, too, have bought one of those massive jugs of 80-proof, you have no idea how unwieldy that monster is to pour a measure of vodka into a tiny jigger. I wish they would change the shape into something more manageable. Like the Absolut Citron bottle. [Whoops! Did I just admit to buying another Costco-sized bottle of alcohol?] Anyway, if the bottle weren’t so tall, it would have two advantages. One, it would be easier to pour. And two, it might not be QUITE so conspicuous in my cart.

Here’s a drink I love to make with strawberries and the aforementioned lemon-flavored vodka. I don’t have to tell you where I get the Absolut Citron, do I?

strawberry cosmopolitans

This recipe makes enough for two strong drinks. I like to make this in the blender, with frozen strawberries—either local ones from the farmers market that I’ve frozen, or the berries from the big bags from (you guessed it) Costco. But if you have fresh strawberries you want to use, by all means do that!

8 or 9 large strawberries, frozen or fresh (don’t thaw first, if frozen)
3 ounces lemon vodka
2 ounces Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur)
1 ounce freshly-squeezed lime juice
sweetener to taste (see recipe for sugar syrup, below)

1. Put all the ingredients except for the sweetener in the blender, and buzz until nicely pureed and smooth.
2. Taste and add sweetener if needed. I like to add a little if my strawberries are tart, but the Cointreau is sweet, as well, so taste it first.
3. If you’re using frozen strawberries you can just pour this into a small glass if you want, without ice, but I like to put lots of ice in a tall glass and then pour the drink over the top. It stays cold longer. If it’s really thick and icy when you first make it, pour it into the glass first and then push the ice cubes on top and into it. Drink with a straw, if you have it!!

sugar syrup

1 cup water
1 ½ cups sugar

1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, under the sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Cool the syrup and pour into a glass jar and keep it refrigerated.

 


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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

spicy Indian spinach and potatoes

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graduating from the bike trailer to the trailer-bike

Way back in May (Remember that sunny week?) we went to Hope for a long weekend, since Dan was doing a bike race. On the day of Dan’s race, Meredith and I readied ourselves for a ride from the Porcupine Campground to the Seward Highway and back. We would cheer for Dan and the other racers—he was doing two laps of 25 miles each on the Hope Road.

Meredith wouldn’t be riding her own bike the 18 miles each way, though—luckily, she is still good-natured about riding in the bike trailer, as long as she’s had a chance to wear herself out riding her own bike beforehand. (I confess: she listens to books like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on an ipod while I pull her along.)

Luckily, it was nice weather, but we had a rather stiff headwind on the way back to the campground, which pulled against the trailer to make it seem more a baby grand piano than Burley’s finest. But more than the wind resistance, what most caught my attention was the increase in weight; Meredith had definitely grown over the winter. I was utterly knackered at the end of our ride. After five years of hard use, it was time to pass the trailer on to someone with a smaller child—the size that can be pulled without inflicting quite so much pain. We needed to find a new scheme for biking together.

So we ordered a trailer-bike. Dan attached it to the road bike first, and quickly rejected it as too wobbly with the bike’s skinny tires. So we brought it to my family’s cabin in Kachemak Bay, where we keep our mountain bikes for use on the hilly dirt road from the dock at Jakolof Bay.

Sure enough, Dan’s mountain bike pairs nicely with the trailer-bike, and a few days ago, Meredith and Dan made a sedate tour on the new assembly, stopping frequently to pick likely-looking salmonberries while I ran along. Meredith’s face was radiant—so happy to be pedaling along with her dad instead of riding behind in a trailer. She also seemed to be enjoying it more than powering her own bike as I ran alongside and helped push her up the big hills, which is what we did in June and July.

We woke on Saturday morning to cloudy skies, which, surprisingly, were not even drizzling. We were pleased to anticipate a family bike ride without the downpour that has plagued our daily outings. (Rain doesn’t stop us, but I do admit to a dampening of spirits at the outset of our excursions.) We motored the skiff to the dock and unloaded our bikes, swapped rubber boots for bike shoes, and donned helmets. But as we pedaled up the dock to the gravel road, the rain began to fall.

No matter. We were enjoying our ride toward Red Mountain immensely. And what a delightful ride for me—Dan biking with a cheerful Meredith, and me not having to pull or push anyone but my own self up the mountain! We were having such a lovely ride that we just kept pushing and pushing up the hills—and soon we were within striking distance of the end of the road at Red Mountain! We were so proud of Meredith for hanging in there, helping pedal, and hanging on over potholes and rocks. We had never expected to get all the way to the top!

We turned around at road’s end, and began the long ride back down the hill. We’d buttoned up as best we could, but it soon became clear that we need to invest in several fenders. As we sped down the rain-soaked old logging roads, Dan’s rear wheel flung a fountain of sandy mud into Meredith’s face. Very soon, she was transformed from a mud-freckled, dirt-speckled child into a heavily bearded one. Halfway down, Dan perched his cycling glasses on her little nose, so even though the glasses slid down repeatedly, her eyelids filled with a little less gravel. By the time we got back to the boat, she was spitting mouthfuls of grit, shivering, and (justifiably) sniveling.

We loaded the boat, zipped back to the cabin and flung off our filthy, clammy clothes. We were too chilled to take photos, but I did show Meredith her face in a mirror before we hopped under the outdoor shower to clean off. She laughed to see her face completely caked with mud. It took a while to scrub off our bodies and rinse out our eyes, and then took much longer to launder our clothes in buckets, but it was well worth it! We are so proud of intrepid Meredith for her first trip up Red Mountain!

I made this Indian spinach dish in Anchorage and then froze it before adding the potatoes, to bring down to the cabin. (Potatoes don’t freeze very well—they get mushy and mealy.) We ate Indian spinach and potatoes with spicy chickpeas for dinner and that helped warm us up after our bike ride! 

 

spicy Indian spinach with potatoes

This recipe is based on one in Neelam Batra’s 1,000 Indian Recipes, a fantastic resource for flavorful and interesting dishes made with all kinds of different vegetables. I love to serve it with rice and raita (raita is yogurt sauce: just stir a small clove of minced garlic and salt to taste into a couple of cups of plain yogurt), or with spicy chickpeas—I’ll add that recipe another time. Find garam masala, an Indian spice blend, at Summit Spice & Tea, if you don’t have some already!

4 small red or waxy yellow potatoes (such as German Butterball or Yukon Gold), scrubbed and cut into bite-size dice
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 pound spinach or chard (if using chard, remove stems and chop the leaves coarsely)
1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon peeled minced fresh ginger
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced
1 to 2 fresh green jalepeno or other chile peppers, halved, seeded with a spoon and minced
1 to 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped (you can used canned tomatoes if you don’t have any fresh ones)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

1. Put the potatoes in a pot, cover with cold water, add the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes. When the potatoes are tender, scoop them out with a slotted spoon.
2. Pile the spinach or chard leaves into the remaining water, stirring them around to soften them with the boiling water, cover the pot again, and cook them just until they are tender and wilted. The spinach will only take a minute or two; the chard will take longer. Pour the greens into a colander and let them drain.
3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the cumin seeds; they should sizzle when they hit the oil. Quickly add the onion and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and green chiles and cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic has mellowed a bit. Then add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until most of the juices evaporate, 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Add the coriander, garam masala, and turmeric, cook about 1 minute, and then add the potatoes and spinach to the onion mixture. Mix well, cover the pan and simmer over medium-low heat, about 5 more minutes, to blend flavors. Taste the dish and add salt, a little at a time, until it is just right. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle a little more garam masala over the top if you desire (taste it first to see if you want more spice), and serve.

 


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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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