I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, whenever my in laws are visiting, I tend to have an above average number of kitchen mishaps. Take for example, the day a kitchen shelf “leapt” from the wall. It smashed my precious mortar and pestle received as a gift from Bjorn as well as a jar of balsamic reduction which spattered most of the kitchen with a thin layer of sticky brown goo. There were also those blueberry muffins that turned out like hockey pucks the day I invited Val for breakfast a few years back. Most recently, I attempted to make deviled eggs out of some lovely, fresh, farmer’s market eggs, and –the eggs would not peel. When the world hands you eggs that are locally grown, fresh, organic and lovely that —will not peel– make Disheveled Eggs! Disheveled Eggs start by following your favorite approach to making Deviled Eggs, mine being a stiff, simple egg yolk mixture with a little mayo, minced celery or shallot, salt, pepper and a bit of mustard to taste. The key to Disheveled Eggs is to pile on eye-catching, creative and tasty garnishes to disguise and distract from your less-than-perfect peeling and filling of the egg halves. Among my great garnish ideas either used or imagined are thinly sliced radishes, finely chopped chives, sprigs of dill and parsley, thinly sliced baby dill pickles, a tiny spoonful of capers, some flaky tuna or a little smoked salmon, a tiny bubble-tower of salty of caviar, a squirt of Sriracha “Rooster Sauce,” tiny olives, a heavy shake of smoked paprika, or a tiny pile of thinly sliced prosciutto. No matter how much you are sweating it in the kitchen, if you bring this platter of fancifully garnished eggs to table you will receive reactions of awe and delight–trust me. My quick-fix to classic deviled eggs was inspired by James Beard Award winning Canal House Cooks Every Day cookbook by Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hirsheimer not only did this lovely tome inspire many of my imaginative garnishes, but they finally gave me instructions to cook eggs from soft to medium to hard with reliable results. For the ambitious who prefer to follow a recipe, here is a deviled egg recipe using homemade mayo piped into the egg halves recently posted on Amateur Gourmet. Bon Appetit!
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.
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.
Soon, I will begin sharing a series of blog posts about our recent trip to the Czech Republic and Croatia. I am currently winnowing the photo count down from somewhere in the upper 800’s, so it will be a few more days before I begin posting about that excellent adventure. For now I will share what we’ve been up to days since we’ve been home, other than eating Hoagies at Davanni’s.
It can be a little bit of a hard landing to return to reality and normal life after a trip to a far-away place. Every day of our trip was filled with complete freedom and enjoyment of our friends and new sights and experiences. We dove into days of complete leisure with reckless abandon. When I faced the reality of coming home and returning to work, knowing it would be time to plant the garden was my saving grace. This is my third year planting veggies in raised beds using the square foot gardening method, and I love it more every year. In 2010 Bjorn constructed 3 raised beds. From the start I had a great experience raising vegetables following this method. It is low maintenance and great for a relative novice. I knew from minute-one that 48 square feet of veggies was just the beginning. Last year, Bjorn constructed three more 4 foot x 4 foot beds which brought our veggie gardens area up to 96 square feet. We found that was the perfect amount of space for a veggie garden for two people.
Even though I cleaned and prepped the beds in anticipation of our return, about a million weeds managed to spring up with remarkable speed. Pictured above is a stinging nettle that came up in a few beds. I know that I could have used it in a soup or this interesting Nettle Pasta, but frankly, I haven’t completely recovered from my experiences with stinging nettles from childhood, so I’m not finding that soup or pasta idea too enticing.
I weeded the beds and mixed in a healthy heap of organic compost. Already up in two squares are chives, a perennial herb I transplanted from my Mother’s garden that comes up in early spring and has already appeared on our plates in scrambled eggs, on baked potatoes and in salad dressings. I am planning to dig up the grass and earth around the edge of each bed and bury bricks at ground level this year. It helps to have at least a few inches of space around the edge of each bed where nothing will grow because it is difficult to mow grass right up to the edge of the bed once plants grow up. I have considered expanding the plant-free edging further using crushed rock or paving bricks. I haven’t had the ultimate design idea come to me yet, so for the meantime, the bricks sit on top of the soil.
I was surprised to find a crop of some sort of mushroom sprung up in the grass when I cleaned up the beds for planting. It might have had something to do with the fact that it rained a lot while we were away, and the grass went a few weeks without mowing. For the record, I am not having all of the fun in the backyard. When we bought our house, I wanted a vegetable garden, and Bjorn wanted to build a patio, or “partio” as my neighbours have called it, affectionately, we hope! (Oops, sorry neighbours. We think you are great!). We both had our back yard wish come true in the first few months of the first spring in our house. Thank you Bjorn [and some of our friends for help on the patio] for getting it all done. Now, we live in the back yard during the free moments of our waking hours from May-October. It just keeps getting better and better.I had great intentions of starting tomatoes, peppers and maybe other plants in the house in the late winter this year, but I didn’t get that undertaking off of the ground. Instead, I bought seedlings at the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market which was a huge improvement in selection and in price over seedlings I have purchased from local greenhouses in previous years. I bought most of my seedlings from an older man and his wife who filled several paper bags with plants, gave me a ton of gardening tips, threw in a few extras herbs and flowers and only charged me $20. I might try starting seeds in the house next year, or, I might go find the guy and his wife at the Farmer’s Market who gave me more encouragement, healthy little seedlings and advice than $20 can typically buy. My cousin Alice (above), inhaled a deep whiff of fresh herb fragrance and exclaimed for about 3 minutes straight. That is how great our herb seedlings smell.
Bjorn is adept at building climbing structures and critter protection for our raised beds using electrical conduit, rebar, chicken wire and zip ties. The design of the climbing structures is based on the book All New Square Foot Gardening with our own improvements (chicken wire, zip ties) that we arrived at as our best strategy last year, after some trial and error using string and lighter-duty netting. The 4 x 4 beds are spaced 3 feet apart and are surrounded by chicken wire with a tall climbing structure at the back. They give our yard some organization and symmetry– these characteristics don’t come naturally to gardens I plant.
I have gotten smarter with experience. Alice has been helping with the garden since the first year it was planted, but this year when she offered to help plant the garden. It made planting way more fun to work together on our own little community garden. As the saying goes, many hands make light work.
The square-foot beds are a visual contrast to the mishmash of my planting methods I employ throughout the rest of the yard. I thought about switching the grid lines from screwed-together lathe to string, but at the end of last season the lathe grids folded up into a neat, compact fan so I decided to keep them.
In total, planting was a two-day affair. The second day involved planting all things that come from seed packets.
Now, all we have to do is keep things weeded, watered and pick whatever is fresh and ready to eat. While we wait for things to grow there is no end of outdoor summer fun to enjoy in the Twin Cities. After a long sunny day of planting, we drove to the Minnesota Zoo to see Feist.
The last time we saw Feist live was in 2006 or so, before The Reminder came out when she performed at the Fine Line in Minneapolis. Here, Feist is performing Cicadas And Gulls with Mountain Man who are touring as her backup singers and includes a Minnesotan among them (Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, to the right of Leslie Feist).
Getting the garden planted followed by a great outdoor show? I couldn’t have asked for much more beautiful summer Saturday. Life is good.
This is one of my favorite moments in the spring. We have a tree in our front yard that has burst into bloom and covers our yard in an a canopy of electric-pink blossoms. When the wind blows, soft petals drift through the air and settle into the grass like fuchsia confetti. I try not to stray far from home while this tree is in bloom, lest I miss a precious moment of our tree’s bold and reverent announcement of spring’s arrival.
In the back yard there isn’t a whole lot going on yet. Most of our 96 square feet of raised beds are looking forlorn and neglected. Even so, dandelions are anxiously popping up in the lawn and there are a few random leaves of lettuce and herbs that managed to re-seed themselves poking their way up in our raised beds. The exceptions are the 2 square feet which are abundantly producing our earliest perennial crop — Chives!
I swear that the first moment the sun comes out in the spring, these little troopers start growing like mad. They don’t give a rip about snow and frost. I love these dark coloured, mild-flavoured little toughies. I transplanted mine from my parents’ garden. My Mom and Dad tend an amazing flower garden in their partially wooded, partially sun-soaked yard on a lake in rural Northern Minnesota. They focus on flora and their only edibles are chives, rhubarb and my Dad’s small blueberry patch. They have always grown chives and my Mom sends me out to snip a small bunch to garnish baked potatoes and other dishes when I’m home. I love chives on potatoes, salads, and pasta and pretty much anything that can be heightened by the addition of a dark green garnish with a mild, onion-y flavour.
Our garden’s earliest offering provided me with the jumping-off point for our breakfast. I did a quick Google search to see what others have been saying about chives at breakfast time. I quickly found two breakfasts with chives in a starring role. The first was a recipe for Chive Scrambled Eggs by Martha Stewart. I don’t dig the thought of cottage cheese in scrambled eggs* so instead, I decided to follow inspiration and guidance in a recent post on a lovin’ forkful for our breakfast of scrambled eggs with chives and a grape tomato salad with a few tweaks of my own.
Tomato and Cucumber Salad, serves 2
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
- 4 inches of cucumber, quartered and chopped
- 1 ½ Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
- 1 ½ Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 ½ Tablespoons of fresh chives, rinsed and chopped
- Fresh Ground Black Pepper
To begin, I went outside with my kitchen scissors and snipped a small bunch of chives from each of my two abundant bunches. There will be no shortage of chives for us this summer, but I still try to use each bunch equally.
- 2 Whole eggs, plus 4 egg whites, lightly beaten
- 3 ½ Tablespoons light cream cheese
- 2 ½ Tablespoons fresh chives, rinsed and chopped
- ½ Tablespoon unsalted butter
Once the salad was assembled, I cracked the eggs 2 whole eggs into a bowl, then separated 4 more eggs, and added only the whites. I measured the cream cheese into the bowl, and ground black pepper into the eggs. Most recipes call for salt at this point but if you add salt as much as recipes and food shows call for, you are going to consume way too much salt. There is no need to exceed healthy sodium levels in your diet. There are so many other flavors and textures going on in most meals that you don’t need to salt your food at every turn for it to taste wonderful. Once the eggs were adequately whisked, I melted the butter in a non-stick pan and scrambled the eggs.
When the eggs were just set, I sprinkled chives and folded them in while the eggs finished cooking. I like my eggs on the done side. I’m all for super-soft eggs that are made so creamy and decadent at the Birchwood Cafe, but if I’m not there I prefer mine to be fairly firm. With the addition of cream cheese, the eggs stayed moist and turned out to be some of the fluffiest eggs I have ever made. As soon as the eggs were done to my liking, I served them in a low dish, and served the salad in small bowls on the side of our plates.
This breakfast hit the spot. It felt as springy as the day. The salad had light, refreshing flavors and the eggs were fluffy with a subtle creaminess. Our garden’s verdant chives carried a mild and pleasant onion-note throughout the plate. This breakfast was satisfying and gave us lightness and energy to enjoy the beautiful spring day before us, missing not one precious, perfumed breath.
We try to get up early on the weekend. Not as early as on a weekday, but as most people do, we only get two days a week that are our own, so we like to stretch it out and pack in as much as we can into the daylight hours. We have both been exhausted from a very busy November, so this morning we both slept in. It surprised me that I could stay in bed for almost 10 hours, but clearly, it was needed. When I finally got up and made coffee, I was hungry! All of that sleeping was hard work. So I set about to make a quick breakfast, well brunch actually, because it was too late in the morning to call the meal breakfast in my books.
I had a hankering for avocado on toast. I have long loved avocado slices on a sandwich. I adore homemade guacamole (especially my homemade guacamole), but I only recently discovered the lusciousness of eating a lightly seasoned avocado mashed on a slice of toast. The heat from the toasted bread brings out the rich and unctuous nature of an avocado. Eating the avocado simply on its own on a grainy slice of toasted bread lets the avocado be the star. Since avocado contains “good” fat, it is healthy too.
I sort of felt like having an egg, but I wasn’t feeling very ambitious, so I put it to a vote. Bjorn voted “yes” to an egg, so the above sandwich was born. I’m sure Bjorn would have enjoyed a fried egg, but I’m not very good at frying eggs, so the egg ended up scrambled in a little bit of butter. While the eggs were slowly cooking, I toasted 4 slices of grainy and fiberous New England Brown Bread by Country Hearth. This bread is a staple in our pantry. There are only 90 calories and 4 grams of fiber in a slice of this stuff. It has become my favorite bread for toast. I sliced and slightly mashed an avocado, and stirred in a shot of lime juice, a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper- all of which I consider to be essential seasonings for an avocado. I also sliced a ripe, red tomato. Once the eggs were mostly set, I added shredded Colby Jack cheese, chopped fresh chives and a little salt and pepper. I lightly buttered one slice of toast –this bread is very grainy, and is pretty dry without cheese, butter or some other spread on it– and mashed 1/2 of the avocado on to the other slice for each sandwich. I piled on the eggs, and sliced tomatoes.
The last step was to salt and pepper the tomato slices lightly. Eggs, avocado and tomato are all foods that taste best with a little salt and pepper. Seasoning each element of the sandwich kicks up the flavor, it is just as important to use a very light touch on each so the sandwich doesn’t become too salty and peppery as a whole. I put the avocado-topped slice of toast on top of the egg and tomato slice, Bjorn ate his open-faced. Either way is great. The sandwich is tasty and gave me plenty of energy to get moving and make something of the day.