Crunchy local cukes and sliced onions in a potent bath of vinegar and water with salt and pepper is the perfect accompaniment to all summer food, as far as I am concerned. The flavor of the freshest mild-skinned early season cucumbers against a headstrong vinegary backdrop awakens the palate and provokes a deeply familiar taste of childhood that brings me right back to the dining room table at my Grandma’s farmhouse. My only addition to this simple recipe-less side from my past is a fluttering electric frizz of fresh dill just picked from the garden and snipped on top. Added sensory bonus: if you bring the leftovers to work and the container opens in your bag, you can smell/smell like the summery parfum of vinegar, onions and dill all day long!
When the long Minnesota winter is starting to wear on us, there are certain classic recipes that we revisit every year. A bowl of homemade soup provides a fortifying boost of energy and straightforward, clean flavors that help a body endure the waning months of cold and darkness.
A steaming bowl of chicken or chicken-less noodle soup is a warming cure for winter blahs if I know one. It is so comforting if you have a cold. I don’t follow an exact recipe to make Chicken and Chicken-less Noodle soup. I chop a few peeled carrots, a few ribs of celery and onion, and saute them in a little oil until fragrant, but still crisp. Then, I add about 5 cups of broth, (homemade when I have it). I bring the soup to a point beyond a simmer and add two handfuls of frozen peas. When the soup returns to almost-boiling I add a few handfuls of egg noodles, and about a quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley. I like to use ample, wavy, dumpling egg noodles. They need 6-10 minutes of cooking time to cook to tender, but not soggy. In order to make chicken-less soup for myself, and classic chicken noodle soup for Bjorn, I saute chicken breasts or thighs separately. When the chicken is cooked through, I chop it and add a hearty serving of chopped chicken to his bowl. You can make a whole pot of chicken-less soup if everyone prefers, or you can saute the chicken along with the veggies if everyone at your house eats chicken. Before serving, I adjust the flavour with salt and pepper. If you are a stickler for following a recipe, Martha Stewart’s Chicken Noodle Soup is similar to my general guidelines, except that she doesn’t add peas; she opts for dill instead of parsley and she uses quick-cooking vermicelli noodles instead of wide egg noodles. This soup is flexible. You could add other veggies. For me, I like to stick to the classic Chicken Noodle soup ingredients, except that I leave out the meat.
A little while ago, Bjorn’s brother was under the weather, so we decided to bring him a serving of our soup. I removed a portion of the soup and put it in a disposable container before the noodles were fully cooked so that he could bring the soup up to temp without the noodles getting soggy.
To round out our care package, we added a bottle of fizzy mineral water for some electrolytes and a quarter-sleeve of saltines to go along with the soup.
I taped my handwritten instructions to a small bag with washi tape and we dropped the package off at Brett’s house, hoping to bring a little warmth and cheer to a dreary sick day. Homemade soup tastes wonderful and fills the house with a comforting aroma. This soup is made entirely of staples that are usually on hand in the pantry and freezer. Chicken Noodle soup cooks quickly and provides comfort, flavor and textures you just can’t get from a can. When you’ve had it with winter, remember to make this soup!
Thanksgiving is only a few days away. I am looking forward to it! It will be our third year hosting my parents, in-laws and brother-in-law at our house. Thanksgiving traditions have varied and evolved throughout my life from being celebrated in October (in Canada) to having a large gathering at my parents house or Bjorn’s Aunt and Uncle’s to a smaller gathering at our house. This has become one of my favorite long weekends of the year being with both of our families, eating well, relaxing and having lots of laughs. Here is a peek at last year’s Thanksgiving preparation and the resulting meal. It is also a reliable preview of this year’s anticipated event. There will some tweaks to the menu to keep things interesting, but we’ll serve our most-loved standbys to make sure everyone get their favorite traditional Turkey Day dish.
1. Our home from the front, framed by a gorgeous golden-leafed maple tree. This year all of our leaves have fallen and have been raked and hauled away. We’ve become much more zen about raking and hauling leaves this year. It is a huge job, but we’re used to it, and we enjoy being outside in the fresh air and we love these gorgeous maples so much. It sure is nice to have a cleaned up yard before snowfall this year.
2. City Bread, drying out for stuffing. City Bread is my favorite rye bread from Winnipeg which made the bulk of our stuffing last year. We’re due to visit the ‘Peg, our freezer is empty!
3. Last year I brined the Turkey using this recipe from Macheesmo. Everyone reported the bird to be juicy and flavorful and despite concerns, I was pleased that I could still make a tasty gravy using the drippings. This year I am not brining the bird. Bjorn is brining a bone-in turkey breast that he will smoke, so I’m skipping that step since my roast turkey will play second fiddle. I wouldn’t roast a turkey, but we simply must so that we can make gravy!
4. Our little house from the back, again the maple leaves last year were gorgeous. This year, with the leaves down the focal point of this view of our house is the new roof, which is cottage red. I love it, but I’m waiting for some finishing work to be done in front before I post pictures.
5. Toasting sage from the garden for my Mosaic Stuffing. I call my dressing Mosaic Stuffing because I clean out my freezer and use up the random loaves, rolls and bread ends that I’ve been hoarding in the freezer for the last few months. I love using a variety of bread with different flavors and textures as a basis for my dressing. I follow my Mom’s dressing recipe which comes together on the spot with her coaching. It is a simple recipe with bread, butter, sautéed onions, celery, salt, pepper, sage, broth and milk, similar to the recipe from the 1967 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook but with some extra love and instinct as to seasonings, amount of milk and cooking time. We like it crispy on top and moist in the middle.
6. Sauteing celery and onions in butter for the stuffing.
7. Two pans of stuffing, one for today, and the next for the equally important Leftovers Meal, eaten tomorrow.
8. We round out our plates with a variety of roasted root vegetables: carrots, parsnip, and beets, coated lightly in olive oil and tossed with a generous handful of chopped fresh herbs.
9. Last year I grew one square foot of turnips which we saved for Thanksgiving.
10. Bjorn made the turnips into a Turnip Puff. It was a tasty vegetarian side dish, though it isn’t on the menu this year since we didn’t grow turnips!
11. Scalloped Corn is another Thanksgiving standby which will be repeated this year, except this year I am going to add more whole corn kernels as well as creamed corn and bake it in a cast-iron skillet.
12. We make a huge pot of creamy, buttery mashed potatoes because everyone loves them. I was very disappointed by the potato selection last year at Lunds– by the time I got there to shop, so many of the potatoes were green. This year I bought a bushel basket of Yukon golds from the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market. There isn’t exactly a crowd shopping at the market this late in the season, so I had my pick of potatoes and the friendly seller assured me they had just been dug and wouldn’t be green by Thursday. Shrinking the carbon footprint of our meal where I can, and having my selection of freshly dug potatoes is win-win in my book.
13. It is an all-hands-on-deck meal situation at our house. I haul out the roaster, use the crock pot and have every precious square inch of kitchen counter and table space in use to prepare this meal.
14. In contrast to the last two years, I bought a turkey from Lunds instead of from the Farmer’s Market this year. I haven’t had a lot of success buying a local turkey. I stood in line for two hours in 2010 to pick up a monstrous golden turkey, and could hardly thaw myself or get the bird cooked in time to eat the next day. Last year, our pre-ordered “fresh” local turkey was frozen and missing a wing. I’m willing to pay for quality locally grown meat, but when I’m paying a premium, I need to be assured that quality will be delivered. This year, I wanted a smaller bird and so I went the easy route. Yes, I do feel a bit guilty for not buying totally local when I can, but I decided to give myself a break. I am much happier with a completely fresh, free range bird which weighs about 12 pounds. I will be stuffing the bird with herbs and fruit, and covering it with butter and bacon, which is a family tradition, passed down from my Grammie.
Grammie roasting a huge turkey topped with bacon. Look at that Golden Bird!
15. Even though I used an electric roaster and crock pot, the oven was packed. I’m planning fewer dishes this year so we should have oven space to spare.
16. We will set the table using our Mikasa Cameo Platinum wedding china. It is simple and clean-looking, and I love it. This year, we have the full set including gravy boat! I am going to warm up the table decor a little bit this year, more candles, more colour, though the plated food will remain the focal point.
The Thanksgiving Meal:
1. Get a load of that plate of food! You will note that we enjoy both traditional cranberry sauce made by my mother-in-law, and jellied from a can. We also are so very fortunate that my mother-in-law and Bjorn’s Grandma make lefse together. My Dad and Grandfather were born in Norway, but they moved to Canada without packing their traditional Norwegian recipes, so I am pretty pleased to have married into a family in which the lefse-making tradition is going strong. I have had a lesson from Bjorn’s Grandma, and I will share that some time.
2. Mashed potatoes topped with chopped chives. I dried tons of herbs from our garden which I will use in Thanksgiving dishes and throughout the winter. This is a meal where I splurge on fresh herbs, though hopefully never again after this year, since I’m planning to plant a little indoor herb garden soon. They make everything look great and they add wonderful flavor and color that I love to see on our Thanksgiving table.
3. “Don’t drown your food” was a catchphrase from educational children’s public television. That message sunk deep into my brain. This is the one time of year I ignore it. To me, pumpkin pie is only to be served with a mighty dollop of sweetened, freshly whipped cream.
4. What is my key to a stress-free Thanksgiving? Say “yes” when people offer to bring things, especially things you aren’t good at making. I have never in all my born days baked a pie. If we’re lucky, maybe I never will. Thanks Mom!
5. The table looks festive once it is covered in an array of platters topped with appealing, sumptuous Thanksgiving standards. We’re ready to dig in!
6. Another impressive plate of food, this one topped with the brined, roasted turkey. You can see the lovely roasted golden beets on the right of the plate. They will be making an appearance again at our Thanksgiving table this year.
7. My immediate family, from left to right, my Mom, mother-in-law; brother-in-law, Dad, father-in-law and my darling Bjorn.
8. Another view of the table, close enough to see the roast turkey, carved and arranged by Bjorn, and a gorgeous platter of carrots and parsnip covered in herbs.
9. We have a buffet in our dining room which holds the dinner-table overflow. Here, wine bottles are ready to top-up our glasses, dressing stays warm in the crock, and scalloped corn and turnip puff are ready to be devoured.
10. My Mom’s homemade pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving is a homey tradition we can’t do without and her pie hits the spot.
11. The men all managed to nod off for a well-timed nap right after the meal was over. I have to wonder if tryptophan is the cause, or if they’re employing well-timed dish-washing avoidance strategy?!
12. Later in the day we manage some how to get hungry again. We set a less formal table with sandwich fixings and haul out the turkey platter.
13. We round out the turkey sandwich meal with salty snacks and cookies that my Mom and Val bring. We’ll have a full-fledged Leftovers Meal tomorrow.
We have so much to be thankful for and we are so truly grateful, wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving week.
Labour Day Weekend 2012 was probably the best on the books. We were at the lake with my parents; truly a magical place that we get to enjoy all year round. The weather was perfect this year, so we filled the hours with our favorite summer pass times: boating, swimming, water-skiing, bon fires, leisurely meals, visiting family, a great meal at Companeros, 4-wheeling, sunsets, coffee on the dock, magazines, garden strolls, board games, long talks and lots of laughs. It was the best.
There is so much that I look forward to in these precious days away from work and the city. We will spend hours in the outdoors, boating, swimming and lounging in the lake with family and friends all around. We will sleep in tents on the lakeshore and roast hot dogs, veggie dogs and marshmallows on a nightly bonfire. On the fourth of July we will drink gallons of Koolaid and eat an impressive, all-American spread at my family’s annual fourth of July Pot luck. There will be plenty of joking with cousins, Uncles and Aunts, and there will perhaps be a competitive all-ages game of volleyball with plenty of serious showing of bravado with spikes and high-fives. In the evening, Bjorn and I will venture into town with my cousins, spread out blankets on the grass, and eat candy and popcorn while we watch the fireworks. These are our traditions, some life-long, and others, new. The mood is celebratory, welcoming and lighthearted, and the attitude is “the more the merrier” when it comes to inviting guests, savoring summer pleasures together and finding new ways to have fun. This year we’re planning to dance up a storm at the Park Rapids street dance and rodeo dance during my cousin’s band Tree Party‘s nightly gig. This is our way of celebrating our two countries, my birthday, our family and our friends and savoring the simple glories of summer. These are the days that make our lives rich.
Above are photos of my Mom’s flower garden and potted plants taken a few weeks ago. I am looking forward to morning tours of my parents’ garden and yard with a cup of coffee in hand. I can’t wait to see how things are growing and in bloom. I am hoping that a green thumb is hereditary.
Lest my readers think that I’ve quit cooking, I am taking a break from my series on our recent restaurant experiences to share a peek at our breakfast this morning.
I am one of the lucky kids who got to be with my Mom in person this weekend and because I really am one of the lucky ones, my Dad and Bjorn were there too. My parents and I have always been a tight-knit little trio, and I’m thankful every day that Bjorn has made us into a fabulous foursome. We get along well. My parents drove us around town yesterday helping us finish some last-minute shopping for a big trip we depart on this Wednesday. We enjoyed some nice meals out, good talks, some time in the yard and somehow when they left, the house was a little neater and better decorated. I have a wonderful Mom! Thank you!
This is a day that we make a point of showing the precious women in our lives– our mothers, grandmothers, friends, cousins, aunts, mothers-in law and grandmas-in law — how much we love and treasure them. I dedicate this post to all of the kids celebrating their Moms today, and to all of the Moms who I hope are feeling loved and getting treated to something special. For my Mom, the woman who lives an inspired life and spends her time making it beautiful and going to the end of the earth for the people she loves — thank you for showing me how I want to live. Thank you to all of the Mom’s in my life for being the true examples of love, courage, generosity, inventiveness, selflessness and of course, awesomeness! I know some amazing Moms, and I have one! You are all a blessing!
Being a good daughter is easy with my parents. Sometimes when they visit, Bjorn and I prepare a fairly elaborate repast so that they get in on our cooking adventures. In contrast, one of the highlights of this weekend was recovering from the shopping expedition (shopping is not my forte) with beer and Cheetos and chips and salsa on the patio. Not only do we get along, but my parents like to do pretty much the same thing we do on a Saturday afternoon. They are easy-going which makes them good parents and good guests.
Even with a pre-trip fridge-purge going on I still managed to make breakfast. It is Mother’s day, after all. When I got up, I ran out to the yard and snipped some things that went to seed last year and grew up on their own: dill, chives, lettuce and a radish. I won’t get the veggie garden planted until after we’re back from our trip, but that hasn’t stopped it from shaping our recent meals of its own doing.
I rinsed the garden produce and let it dry and decided to make a salad. For the salad, I rinsed and drained a can of chickpeas, sliced a cup of grape tomatoes, a ball of fresh mozzarella and a few bunches of baby spinach from the farmer’s market that I had washed and dried and torn into bite-sized pieces. I tossed the veggies, cheese and chickpeas in a quick vinaigrette made of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped chives and dill, a shake of Mrs. Dash, and some fresh ground black pepper.
I made some cinnamon-raisin toast and poached eggs. I also made bacon in the oven, which is the best food preparation idea since sliced bread. You simply place bacon on a rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and place it in a cold oven. Turn the temperature to 400 degrees farenheit and check the bacon after 12 minutes. Between 12 and 20 minutes the bacon will be done to crispy perfection, or at least that’s what the omnivores reported.
We aren’t sure what we are doing to attract these noble red beauties to our yard, but we love their company and their song, and we hope that we won’t scare them away.
One of the things I picked up for our trip when I was shopping this weekend was a watercolour sketchbook and a small handful of watercolour pencils. I haven’t done anything more than doodle in a margin for ages, so hopefully I can shed some rust and relearn a few tricks from high school art classes.
Our Iris are doing well. My iris is truly an heirloom. The Iris were first planted in the yard in the house where my Grammie was born, they moved several times with my Dad’s family in the 1960’s and ’70’s before being planted in the back yard of the house I grew up in. They bloomed there for about 18 years and then they moved south to my parents home on the lake in 1995. Last summer I transplanted 20 or 30 bulbs to our back yard.
You won’t be hearing from me much or at all for a few weeks, but when we’re back, we’ll have seen some new horizons and have stories and inspiration to share. In the meantime, above is a sketch and an observations of our Iris. You never know, I might manage one more post before we leave…
Here is a little peek at how things come together around here. We live, I snap a few pictures and sometimes sketch one in watercolour and then put it all on the laptop with my words and thoughts and hit “publish”! It is a fun and happy life.