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!
From our home in Saint Paul, Minnesota there are a number of great cities that make a doable weekend road trip. While I am huge a fan of Madison and Chicago, my personal favorite weekend road trip is “Minne to Winni”–the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The miles between these cities are the span between my current and former hometown. When you visit your hometown, you tend to visit your friends more than spend the weekend as a tourist. Still, we had in mind one place we wanted to check out: Parlour Coffee. Our friends, Ben and Jenny are friends with the owner, Nils, and have been talking the place up. Our friend Ben built these great birch plywood benches that sat outside Parlour in summer months. Parlour makes great coffee. It is ground and brewed to order. If you are going to visit Parlour, don’t plan to hang out and use the free WIFI–they have none. This is a place to stop for a perfect cup, a quick chat with your neighbour and be on your way. The decor at Parlour is spare. The walls are white, and the chandelier hanging over head stands out as a focal point in the sparsely adorned space. I snapped a picture of the chandelier (the first photo, above) and it happened to look like the cover art on Vampire Weekend’s self-titled album. The place is hip, and conveys the pared-down Kinfolk-sensibility; they are tuned into the beautiful simplicity of perfecting a craft. Parlour actually fits the Kinfolk model enough to have been featured on the beautiful Kinfolk blog, for a relatively new kid on the block in the heart of wintry Canada, this is a high compliment and an indication that this is a coffee business that is very much on the right track to succeed among those who appreciate simple, well-made luxuries as a high art.At Parlour we enjoyed a Gibraltar–a creamy, rich concoction of espresso and milk served with a flourish in a small glass tumbler. A Gibraltar isn’t on the menu, and you can’t have it to go. In the spectrum of espresso drinks, you’d find it somewhere between a cappuccino and a latte. Parlour has the art of coffee down. If you have been to Koplins in Saint Paul, it is a similar caliber of artisanal coffee experience. Upon hearing we were in town from Saint Paul, Parlour’s owner asked if we were familiar with Koplins, acknowledging that their offerings are comparable. In my opinion, both places serve marvelous coffee, but Parlour is friendlier and less pretentious. For example, I didn’t get lectured about ordering off-menu and requesting that my Gibraltar be prepared half-caf at Parlour, but I was read a mini-riot act following my typically innocuous request for skim milk in my latte on my first visit to Koplins–oops. The barista at Koplins informed me that I would probably be satisfied and choose to consume less over all if I drank real whole milk instead of skim in my latte. While possibly true and totally forgivable, I found the little lecture served on the side of my spendy whole milk treat a teeny bit unnecessary. You are looking to add a local food-loving yuppie to clientele, aren’t ya Koplins? If you spend 20 minutes on the premises of Parlour enjoying a sticky bun, you will see that people here know each other, know the baristas, greet each other warmly. They come to oogle each other’s new babies, but mostly the people come because the coffee is above average. When compared, Koplins is Minnesota nice, Parlour is Friendly Manitoba. I know where I feel most at home… Parlour is a wonderful addition to the ever-evolving Exchange district, formerly the heart of Canada’s grain trade, currently the artsy elbow between a gritty section of Winnipeg’s North Main, and the outstretched arm of Portage Avenue, which traverses downtown, and stretches west out of the city and across Canada as the Trans-Canada highway. One more tip for Parlour: pick up a pound of coffee and receive a complimentary espresso. Nice! In Winnipeg, Parlour is lovely and well worth visiting for a fine cup coffee. You will find yourself close to several galleries worth visiting: Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery and Raw Gallery of Architecture & Design, to name two.If you have a sweet tooth, Cake-ology is also just around the corner from Parlour, and is a great spot to stop to pick up a treat to go. We all ordered cupcakes and enjoyed our treat at home later in the evening. The frosting was luscious and not too sweet, and the cakes that were being decorated behind the counter of Cake-ology were lovely to behold. Winnipeg is a city with innumerable options for experiencing ethnic cuisine. On this visit we enjoyed the buffet at India Palace at 770 Ellice Avenue, and according to a Winnipeg Free Press article, laminated and posted near the buffet line, so has Richard Gere. We also enjoyed the mural on the wall outside. Before hitting the road for home we stopped at Safeway on North Main to pick up a few loaves of City Bread, also known as the bread of my dreams. City Bread, and a few other local bakeries such as KUB Bakery bake and sell wonderful rye and pumpernickel loaves in grocery stores throughout the city but nowhere else on earth, as far as I can tell. I have found no similar substitute. It is simply the best bread. We also brought home a half dozen bottles of Half Pints beer, brewed at Half Pints Brewery Co., one of Winnipeg’s first microbreweries, and certainly its finest. A few years ago, we toured Half Pints and were treated to fresh pretzels served with spicy mustard from Lange’s Pastry Shop, at 710 Ellice Avenue. Lange’s has become a regular stop for us while we are in the city.Several of Winnipeg’s Safeway grocery stores still boast the iconic 1960’s wave-style architecture.We made our way home Sunday afternoon, across the snowy, wind-blown prairie, along the border between Minnesota and North Dakota and back to Saint Paul. We enjoyed our weekend in Winnipeg; a place where I feel at home, but always find I have much to discover. We enjoyed our discoveries, but most of all, we enjoyed time with our friends. To experience these pleasant spots I’ve highlighted, or discover other treasures in this friendly, vibrant city, I encourage a Minne to Winni roadtrip, bring your passport, and perhaps your parka– and bring home bread.
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.
Last weekend when it came time to eat, both Bjorn and I were hungry for the same thing: “real food.” We’ve been raking tons of leaves, the air is chilly, it gets dark early at this time of year which is more than enough to make a person crave warmth and comfort. To us, “real food” is the food that we would have eaten as children. It is wholesome, homemade, hearty and satisfying– something Grandma would make. This particular meal is one I grew to love as a child but isn’t one that either of our Grandmas would have made–though amazing cooks, there isn’t a Ukrainian among them. I grew up in the North End of Winnipeg so many of my friends and classmates had a Baba. There is a large population of second, third and forth generation Ukrainians settled in the North End. Family recipes are preserved and propagated through their use at wedding socials, at social clubs suppers, church fundraisers and in restaurants that serve good, home-style Ukrainian food. I can say with assurance that even without a Ukrainian relative, any Winnipegger worth her salt knows a good perogy. To me, perfect perogies are filled with a cheesy potato mixture, boiled and fried with onions until they are golden and crispy and served with sour cream. Perogies can be the center of a meal on their own. When served with borscht, holobtsi, kovbasa and a slice of City Rye or Pumpernickel bread and butter, you are having a homey, North End feast. I set about to make perogies from scratch for the first time last week. I didn’t have the advantage of Hunky Bill’s Perogie Maker or a Baba’s recipe so I followed my instincts and took some guidance from a pierogi recipe by Martha Stewart. Martha is Polish so she uses the Polish spelling for Pierogi. Each Eastern European country has their own name for a perogy, and each family has their own variation on the recipe and favorite way to serve perogies. Whether you call them perogies, pierogi or varenyky the general concept of a perogy is the same: a soft, unleavened dough is stuffed with potatoes, vegetables, herbs, cheese or meat, boiled and sometimes fried, and typically served with fried onions and sour cream or jam. I made half the quantity of Martha’s dough and potato filling, doubled the cheese and I channeled “North End Baba” while a I rolled, stuffed, boiled and fried. I found the dough forgiving and easy to handle. I floured the counter and rolled the dough to 1/8 inch thickness, then cut as many rounds as a I could with a juice glass. I measured the cheesy-potato mixture into each round with a scoop to avoid over filling any. The potato mixture is the consistency of dry mashed potatoes, since it contains no milk or cream. It was surprisingly easy to stretch, fill and pinch the soft dough to form tightly sealed, plump crescents. I boiled all of the perogies in batches of 8 or so. Not a single one burst open.Some people stop here and eat perogies after boiling them. We tasted one, and found it tender and thoroughly cooked, but the next step of frying the boiled perogies with onions is my favorite preparation. After boiling the perogies, I froze half of the batch, spreading them out on a lightly greased cookie sheet and covering them with saran wrap to fry up another day. Roasted red beets are a good side dish to serve with perogies. So often I read recipes for roasting beets skin on and then slipping the skins off after they are roasted. I find this to be a messy way to nearly burn my fingertips and dye them pink. Instead, I peeled and sliced red beets before roasting them. I coated them lightly in olive oil and sprinkled over some thyme from our garden that I saved and dried, and roasted the beets at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes.
I love the way roasting a vegetable with herbs deepens its flavor and intensifies its color. The aroma of roasting thyme is the inside-the-house equivalent to autumnal the scent of fallen leaves.
I fried our perogies in butter with sliced onions. The results were exactly what we were hoping for– my perogies were homey, satisfying and so delicious that I could hardly believe I made them myself. The meal took me right home to Winnipeg, I will always be a North Ender at heart.
This post is one part ode to one of my favor summer meals and one part cautionary tale. I figure that this blog is about my life, including some of the great meals in it, so I will start with a brief account the day when I spent inadvertently spent $17.72 on 0.57 lbs of cheese. [Oopsie.]
It was a typical Saturday morning. We started our day at the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market. I determined my mission that day was to purchase the components of a summer sandwich for our lunch. At the time, our garden still had a few weeks to go before it would have much to offer us. I bought vegetables, bread, and then we left the market and looped our way up Grand Avenue to the Saint Paul Cheese Shop. That place is pretty neat. Sampling is encouraged, so we tasted several paper-thin wisps of cheese the cheesemonger shaved neatly off of several wheels of cheese and dropped into our extended hands from the forked tip of the blade of his cheese knife. I let my guard down. It is atypical for me to make a mindless splurge without glancing at the price per half pound. I was in a cheese-induced stupor when I asked for a small wedge of Marcel Petite Comte raw cow’s milk cheese from France, and a wedge of Terchelling Sheep’s milk cheese from Holland. I’m sure there are people who routinely spend far more than this on cheese in any given week. I’m not knocking it and I might do it again at some point. The difference will be that I do it intentionally. As a consolation, at least the cheese was very, very good.
Whew. Now that I’ve made that confession to my friends and readers, let’s make a sandwich! A Summer Sandwich is quite simply a sandwich with any combination of meat or vegetarian meat substitute, seasonal vegetables, cheese and sandwich spreads piled on top of nice bread.
I sliced a grainy loaf of bread and served the bread and cheese with our own cheese knives on wooden cutting boards. We eat most of our meals al fresco on our patio. It has been 90+ degrees farenheit there lately, but it is still very pleasant in the shade of a Maple Tree canopy.
I filled a platter with sliced cucumber and tomato, garden lettuces, piles of deli turkey and tofurky, along with bowls of mayonnaise and grainy dijon mustard, and placed salt and pepper shakers on the table. The secret to the perfect summer sandwich is bringing out whatever looks good and fresh, and let each person assemble the sandwich they desire.
If Freud were here, he’d say, “a sandwich is never just a sandwich.” It is the meal I ate on pebble beaches out of a cooler with my parents camping in Door County, Wisconsin in grade four. It is the BLT’s that beckoned numerous cousins, Uncles and Aunts to my Grandma’s farm house every July when the tomatoes were all ripe at once. It is the meal of lettuce, ham, turkey, tomato and cheese sandwiches on good sandwich bread that we shared with friends from Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saint Paul and Minneapolis on a lakeshore in Northern Minnesota after a long, hot day on the lake last year over the 4th of July long weekend. It is the halved baguettes piled with cheese, sliced tomato and a pile of pršut [for the meat eaters] that we ate on a secluded pebble beach a few months ago in Croatia.
What is one to serve on the side? Well, nothing—any decent summer sandwich is in itself, a square meal. Or, if the mood strikes, some salty-crunchy potato chips, leftover potato salad out of the fridge, deviled eggs or summer fruit would all be the perfect compliment. On this particular day we rounded out our plates with bright, rainbow radishes that were too pretty to slice or even to remove the stem. Sure, they could have been thinly sliced and piled on the sandwich, but they were refreshing, spicy perfection and a visual treat perched on the side our plates.
A Summer Sandwich is simple perfection. No matter what fresh fixings are available, where you are, or what time it is, a sandwich satisfies hunger. A sandwich feeds a crowd with varied tastes, comes together easily and is a perfect meal to eat outdoors on a hot July day.
And the cheese?
In my childhood, summers stretched long and leisurely. The two places you’d find me were at our cottage on the lake or my Grandma’s farm-house, a mile away from our cottage through the woods and across the field. My Grandma had a currant bush. Each July, one or more of us cousins, Uncles and Aunts were handed an aluminum bowl with a dented silver bottom, and a low wooden stool to sit on, and sent out to pick the currants. That task, and that shiny, dented bowl passed as a torch of honour among us. There always seemed to be enough currants for several of us to have our day to help pick the seemingly endless supply of brilliant, red berries, and later, be given more than our fair share of praise for the resulting pies. When I picked the currants in Grandma’s yard they reminded me of beads, dangling from intricate jewelry–abundant, glowing, red orbs, suspended from a wire-thin stem, and secured with a tiny knot. I ate many of the shining rubies right off of the bush. My Grandma lovingly folded those that made it into the house between crusts into a pie, baked in a much-used tin pie pan, and served it warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. The tart-sweetness of the berries under tender crust lingers in memory, inseparable from the warmth of summer days with Grandma. A few weeks ago at the Farmer’s Market I came upon an older Tasha Tudor-like lady who wore her long hair wrapped around her head in braid. She had 4 or 5 little berry boxes filled with Red Lake Currants sitting out at her stand. When I bought them, she told me that she likes to eat currants on yogurt for breakfast, or in salads. She also told me they’d be good for a few weeks. I felt a gentle touch of my Grandma’s spirit tasting those tart currants and talking to the sweet elderly lady. I couldn’t bring myself to add the currants to yogurt or salad. This early-July treasure must be made into a dessert. I couldn’t think of anything I could make that would do the currants justice–I am not much of a baker. I put the currants in a bowl and carried them with me up north to the lake last weekend. I left the bowl of currants with my mother. She knows the tart-sweetness of the pie in my memory and will adeptly fold them between crusts and savor the lingering warmth of July days past.