Fresh Tomato Pasta for the Height of Tomato Season

Every time I come upon a tomato grown in our garden, I exclaim, “hello, gorgeous!”Fresh Tomato Pasta on

My garden and the farmer’s market are booming juicy ripe tomatoes.  We have been enjoying tomatoes with reckless abandon with simple preparation: in BLT’s, in a caprese salad or sliced on their own.  Another delicious and simple preparation that honors a juicy tomato is this uncooked tomato pasta sauce that I tossed with hot whole grain spaghetti.  It contained sliced and chopped tomatoes, two chopped sweet Italian peppers, a clove of garlic- minced, chopped flat leaf parsley, basil, and a few dashes of red wine vinegar and the tiniest drizzle of olive oil.  I mixed up the sauce and left it raw, then tossed it with the pasta, cooked al dente.  I topped it with fresh cracked pepper, a little salt and a ball of Buratta: fresh mozzarella with a creamy center, opened for scooping a spoonful on to each plate. The Burrata is a nice texture compromise between ricotta and regular fresh mozzarella and really made this lush.  This was a fabulous summer pasta and an easy way to focus entire meal on tomatoes, raw and in their finest form: juicy and warm from the vine.  Summer’s lease hath too short a date!  Dig in!  My recipe is a mash-up of recipes from Martha Stewart (here and here) and from a recipe from Bon Appetit, with the addition of Burrata from my own imagination.

After a break from blogging over the summer, I’ve decided to make shorter posts more the norm.  I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

Soft Eggs and Avocado on Toast with Cauliflower Soup

Like most people, soups are on heavy rotation at our house in the winter.Soft Eggs and Avocado on Toast with Cauliflower Soup I made this Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Garlic from a recipe in a recent Real Simple Magazine and a loaf of Jim Lahey’s wonderful No Knead Bread last Sunday.  We had a few people over on Sunday night, so most of the bread was eaten up.  I needed some inspiration for a quick side dish to make the leftovers into a square meal for supper on Monday night.  P1070723Fortunately, the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living just arrived.  I paged through it, and landed on a quick, simple and still luscious side dish, that  made our cauliflower soup a satisfying meal–Sesame Toasts with Poached Egg and Avocado.Egg and Avocado on Toast up Close

To the extent possible, I followed Martha Stewart’s recipe for Sesame Toasts with Poached Egg and Avocado, but for the arugula I subbed spinach, very lightly dressed with tarragon vinegar and olive oil and I subbed crunchy, toasted slices of No Knead Bread instead for Sesame Toast.  I was able to duplicate the rest of the preparation using ingredients we had on hand.  Yes, I treat our household to the purchase of fresh avocados almost every week.  Tasty Supper of Cauliflower Soup and Toast with Poached Egg and Spinach SaladThis is more of a reminder than a recipe, really.  I occasionally need a reminder that eggs and avocado in their natural form are only a few minutes preparation away from becoming a sublimely luxurious, simple supper.Cauliflower Soup - Toast with Avocado and Poached EggsThis meal was on the table in minutes, was tasty and brought a little light into a dark winter evening.  It works well with soup,  or on its own, and it would also be wonderful for breakfast or lunch.


Cucumber Days

Take two, I had a few issues with my first post made from my Ipad, so I’ll try that again… 

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3 years into gardening, this is the first year we’ve had any success with cucumbers. This year, we are enjoying them regularly in salads, on tacos and most commonly sliced thin, perhaps peeled, and tossed into a bowl with cracked pepper, sliced purple or white onions, snipped fresh herbs, such as chives, flat-leaf parsley, or dill all soaked in white vinegar and a splash of water. This is a taste from childhood that I learned to love at my Grandma’s house, fresh from her garden. We are harvesting spicy Serrano and hot, citrusy Lemon Drop peppers every day.  I have been chopping these and tossing them into the vinegar-water mixture. It mellows their bite enough to make them a perfect, punchy but palatable addition to the mix.  I consider this sliced cucumber, onion, hot pepper and herb mixture a perfect summer side dish, snack, condiment and salad.

There are two schools of thought on the ubiquitous sliced cucumber side dish, one vinegary, like mine, and the other, a creamy version made with sour cream. Check out this recipe for the creamy version of sliced cukes on Deucecities Henhouse, a favorite Twin Cities based blog haunt of mine.

Watching the cukes grow has been almost as much fun as eating them. Ours are growing in all sorts of unconventional shapes. I spend time every week tying tomato plants to chicken wire and winding twine around bamboo poles to support green beans, peppers and peas. Cucumber vines take the initiative of sending out tendrils that stretch out until they find other plants and structures nearby, then curling the tendrils tightly around so they hang tight. Cucumbers are fully capable of supporting themselves.

The Summer Sandwich // Simple Dining, Al Fresco

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?

We’re still working our way through it, and savoring every little morsel–we figure it cost us about 8 cents per crumb.

Remembrance and Red Currants

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.

Thoughts on 32

My face doesn’t show up on this blog often because I’m usually the one taking the pictures. I just had a birthday so I thought I’d come out from behind the camera for a moment while I think about being 32.  Having a birthday in early July means that when you turn the corner to calling yourself a new number, you are also turning the corner on half of the calendar year’s passing.  I have always found this time of year to arrive with the same feelings as a year ends and a new one beginning–it makes me look forward and backwards at the same time.

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31 was a great year. Many of the best moments were spent enjoying time with Bjorn, with family and with friends near and far.  Some great additions to the last year of my life occurred by design.  We got to travel to see new places and friends who we don’t see as often as we’d like–this was thrilling after several years without.  I made more time for hobbies, a little reading, lots of cooking and more writing.  Some of the best times were day-to-day moments at home, in our garden, or banging pots and pans in the kitchen making dinner.  Trying new things like preparing a meal for a youth safe house in our neighbourhood, Bjorn brewing beer (more on that some other day) and striving for more simplicity have enriched our routine.  Some memorable moments were the result of surprise–in one week going up on stage to “spin the wheel” to select the set list at a Yo La Tengo concert at the 400 Bar, and not long after, having my name pulled out of a hat and winning a Minnesota Vikings-sponsored trip to Cancun.  I have a feeling that this year will bring unexpected high points–surprises borne seemingly from coincidence and others from the predictable–doing the things I love, being with the people I love.  One realization I had recently after watching the Walkmen perform at First Avenue a few Saturdays ago was that seeing a great band perform is still worth staying up late for and even made me feel like I dialed back my age a few years.  Another realization I had is that my ideal birthday is spent in the lake, floating, swimming and enjoying the day in the presence of family and good friends.  I look forward to new discoveries, both small and great.  I am grateful for 31 years rich in family, friends, fun and happiness.  I am happy to welcome this new age.  As Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen sang with determination and intensity a couple of weekends ago, “I know that it’s true –it’s going to be a good year!!”

Anticipating Early July

The beginning of July is perhaps my favorite time of year.    Sandwiched between Canada Day and Independence Day is my birthday.  We spend this span of celebratory days at the lake.  

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.

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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.

Happy Friday!

I find it somewhat ironic or at least interesting as a person who spends plenty of time thinking about, preparing and writing about our weekend and evening meals that Bjorn and I eat about 10 meals every week away from home.  We eat these meals in our cars, at our desks in our respective offices or in an empty conference room with co-workers.  We don’t eat shabbily.  I make an effort to make even the food I pack for our breakfasts and lunches something to enjoy, while being easy to prepare, healthy and portable.

The fact that we spend a lot of time at work is a fact of life.  It is also a fact that I don’t like to think of the alternative of not having stable careers.  I snapped these pictures of my simple breakfast of avocado mashed on top of a reheated slice of garlic bread that I ate at my desk this morning.  This was  a TGIF moment.  As much as I appreciate my job, I love heading home in the bright sunshine with the weekend ahead.  Enjoy!

Tostadas – A Satisfying Meal in 5 Minutes

Pop quiz, hotshot.  You are starving.  Your interest in cooking is nil, but you want something tasty, now.  You, or someone who is depending on you to cook for them, are well on their way to a hunger-induced meltdown.  What do you do? What do you do?  In my imagination, when you are in culinary school there is a day that the teacher singles out a student and poses this question in a maniacal tone reminiscent of the lunatic bus-bomber in the movie Speed.  Like Keanu Reeves in the third-best film in his acting career,* I have a cool head under pressure, and the perfect response that you aren’t expecting:  Tostadas!**

I think every home cook needs to have a few quick, tasty ideas up her sleeve for hunger that’s gone too far.  There are many correct answers, but the key is to have the idea and the ingredients at the ready when there is either a hostage situation and your response will save the city, or for when you and yours just need to eat now. 

There are a few fairly obvious guidelines to succeeding at the preparation of a good meal in 5 minutes.  The first key is simplicity.  Tostadas are extremely simple.

My favorite Tostadas in the world come from Red Pepper in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and they are nothing more than a tostada with melted cheese and hot sauce.  In fact, Tostadas began appearing at our house as an homage to Red Pepper Tostadas, and are frequently eaten on evenings when we’re tuned in to University of North Dakota Hockey on T.V.

We have Tostadas with just cheese and hot sauce as a snack or side dish, but when Tostadas are the meal, I rifle through the pantry and the fridge for a few extra ingredients to round them out.  This is the second key to 5 minute dinner prep:  it must be flexible.

I’ve made tostadas with sliced black olives, canned black beans that have been rinsed, jalapenos or with vegetarian refried beans, which is one of my favorites.  You could use chopped tomatoes, frozen corn, onions, or leftover taco-seasoned beef or chicken.  The assembly simply involves topping a Tostada shell with your Mexican-inspired ingredient of choice, and melting the cheese.  Often, I just zap the tostada in the microwave until the cheese melts.  Occasionally I have used the grill, or placed the tostadas in the oven at 350 degrees.  It only takes a few minutes for the cheese to melt, and the beans to be warmed through. 

An added bonus of using the grill or the oven is it lets the cheese get a bit brown, and the Tostada shell toasty.  If you are truly can’t wait for the oven to heat, by all means, microwave the Tostada.  It will be great.

The third key to 5 minute dinner prep is that it must be something you can make easily for one person, or for a crowd.  If you heat your Tostadas in the oven or on the grill, you can make anywhere from 1 to 10 at a time.  The microwave cooking method would get a little bit tedious if you were making more than 4 Tostadas at a time.  We’ve made cheese Tostadas as a side dish for the meal we prepare and deliver every other week to an Emergency Safe House for homeless youth in our neighborhood.  We wrapped the Tostadas individually on a paper plate, which is the same way they are served at the Red Pepper.

While the Tostadas are heating in the oven or in the microwave, there is just enough time to throw together a quick salad to make Tostadas into a proper meal.  Shredded or torn leaves of lettuce, slices of tomato or olive, jalapenos, onions, and slices of avocado with a squeeze of lime juice, a little sour cream, and of course hot sauce are all perfect for a salad, and are tasty when piled on top of the Tostada.

Now, all that is left is to dig in.  Give me 5 minutes and a few pantry staples and I can take you from a little too hungry to human again.

*In my opinion, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey are the best flicks starring Keanu Reeves in a leading role.  In order to make a fair comparison, I should probably have seen that movie that forever changed effects in movie fight scenes to include slow motion flight through the air with flailing legs…what was it called?  The Matrix?  But, I give myself enough credit to review the key performances in  the height of Keanu Reeves’ acting career because I saw him live as Hamlet in grade 8.  I have now said everything I will ever say about Keanu Reeves on this blog.  I am somewhat in disbelief that I managed to say even this much about him.

**I know you were expecting a slick, action-movie –like response to the question “What do you do? What do you DO?” line of questioning, but I can’t think of any way to make a parallel between Keanu’s response that he’d “shoot the hostage” and solving a garden variety household hunger emergency.  Ok, now I’m really done discussing Keanu Reeves, forvermore.

Principles of a Satisfying Snack

I’ve been thinking about snacks.  If you say the word “snack” I associate it with the small plate containing Triscuit crackers with peanut butter and jam or slices of cheddar cheese that greeted me after school when I was a child.  I recall the semester that I studied abroad in England the break between morning lectures was an occasion for friends meeting in a  dorm room for cups of instant coffee and McVitie’s Biscuits.  It also calls to mind taking part in the ritual of afternoon noshes — a tiny bowl of salty-crunchy bits and nuts served with a cocktail and a crossword at my great Aunt Margaret’s home Victoria, British Columbia — très sophistiqué.  In these moments, snacking served a dual purpose — it was a time to pause and enjoy a simple and comforting luxury, and to stave off hunger for a few hours more until mealtime arrived.

If you don’t happen to be in the midst of childhood or your college years, or making precious memories with elderly relatives, snacking can have a dark side.  This would be most snacks that come in 100 calorie servings sealed in shiny wrapping, or anything mindlessly inhaled while standing fridge-side.  I don’t find those snacks to be satisfying.  For me, a snack composed according to a few simple principles fits into the romantic episodes in my life as well as the real world.  Take this tasty morsel — a tiny slice of rye bread topped with a little leftover egg salad and a sprig of fresh dill from my garden.  It is well worth  saving a few leftover spoonfuls of egg salad so I can have a snack like this one in the middle of a summer afternoon.

The first principle of a good snack is that it should be quick.  It should take less than 5 minutes, or preferably less than 3 minutes to prepare.  I start each day with only so much energy to devote to food preparation, and I don’t want to devote very much of that to snacks.  I like to keep a small bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge so we can grab one for a snack at work.  It only takes a moment to crack the shell and eat it with a little salt and pepper.  The protein and small amount of fat that an egg contains can sustain me through the afternoon.

The second principle of a good snack is that it should either be light, or very very small.  I usually opt for light.  For this snack that I prepared for myself and for Bjorn, I spread a wedge of light Laughing Cow cheese on two Wasa Crispbread Crackers.  I sliced a radish and some cucumber very thin.  I sprinkled a little smoked paprika on the cucumber and a dash of salt and pepper on the radish.  The whole snack contains less than 150 calories, and also healthy things like fiber.  You can enjoy the crunch of the crackers and veggie slices, the creaminess of the cheese, and take in the brightly colored veggies with a punch of paprika with your nose and your eyes.

The final principle of good snacking is to pause.  While eating, it is so important to take a moment to pay attention, so you know you’ve eaten something, and to appreciate the nourishment.  I also try to pause when I’m done. If it was a tasty snack, I might think that I want a little more, but if I give my mind and stomach ten minutes to catch up with each other, I usually find that I’m satisfied.