Tag Archives: food

Transforming our neglected property

Contemplating Mrs. Brown made me want to share about our landscape’s ongoing makeover! Most of our efforts the past four years have required a hefty amount of observation, research, planning, muscle and dedication, but little money. It’s been a patience and grit game. Now that I can look in the rear view mirror I know that this was about trusting in the process, even when I was unsure how everything would unfold. By going slow, the land had a chance to let us know what needed to happen and we could jump on opportunities as they arose.

Doing our work by hand and without chemicals felt frustratingly slow at times, but that grew easier to accept each year, too. We have completely avoided pesticides, despite how tempting Round-Up may be for the weeds among our brick patio bricks that WILL NEVER DIE. We’ve even torched them without success. But, I’m not giving in. No bees or salmon will be killed in the name of obtaining a “perfect” lawn or garden. We prefer to accept the dandelions among us.

I often felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the job our first year. This lot is exceptionally large for Seattle standards (a fifth of an acre), and the weeds had raging parties for a decade. (For some “Before” pictures, please visit this post.) We hadn’t received our landlord’s blessing to change anything yet, so we cleaned up bits and pieces, pruned overgrown trees and bushes, and learned the perennial vegetation as it poked through the ground. In the meantime, probably due to our hard work, we convinced our landlord to let us build vegetable beds and take complete control of caring for the backyard. We evicted the hack-and-whack landscaping team, giving plants a chance to thrive.

The second year Harry built some raised beds for edibles. (Not those kinds of edibles, silly.) I started dividing the overwhelmed, introverted irises and lilies so they’d have space to bloom. (I know how they feel.) Splitting plants is one of my favorite ways to fill in beds and experiment with new planting locations. Free and easy! I also jumped on all opportunities for free or cheap plants to transplant. We received daisies, wild geraniums, and strawberries from friends. A few neighbors passed along divisions, and I frequented bare root and other affordable sales.

Our latest, and most ambitious short-term project, was hauling an enormous amount of mulch onto the property. Mulch makes gardens happy not only because they’re more attractive, but also because the soil retains moisture better, the wood breaks down to feed the soil, and weeds are suppressed. In late March we signed up with Chip Drop, an organization that alerts arborists that they may drop as many wood chips at your site as they’d like on any day they choose. It’s free! We signed up imagining we’d have a week or two to prepare for about five to ten cubic yards. Two days later they dumped EIGHTTEEN cubic yards (!!!!) on our driveway. I guess they liked my tip.

Clearly, it was time to act or else we’d never park our car in the garage again. (As it was, it took four weeks of serious work to clear that pile!) First I prepped our most wide open, heavily weeded and/or overgrown areas for the cardboard weed barrier. Both non-glossy cardboard and newspaper decompose and are safe in the garden. They beat the heck out of plastic weed barriers because they’re free and sustainable, plus you can actually plant in them later or move them around with ease. Plus, worm food!

Prepping for the cardboard involved weed-whacking big patches of weeds to the ground and hand-pulling those in smaller areas. We could’ve hand-pulled them all and spent five months doing this, but why? The cardboard we used is thick enough to smother most weeds. As long as it’s properly layered, it works. (There are places I short changed by not overlapping cardboard enough or using too little newspaper, so I’m already going over those again as weeds poke through. Learn from me. Even though it feels like it’s taking forever, I highly recommend you layer well or you’ll probably end up doing it again sooner than later anyways.)

I saved all of our Sunday New York Times papers for six months and used every single, non-glossy page. Surely Bill Cunningham’s fashion pages will yield showstopping flowers! Harry made frequent stops at a nearby bike shop to collect empty bike boxes. We removed all the staples using pliers, pulled any bits of tape off, and tore the boxes apart. I used an exacto knife to cut them to smaller pieces and feel totally badass. Cheap gardening thrills! Another perk!

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Some bike boxes were whiney.

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Parts of this process are really fricking ugly. Just keep working. It’ll look good eventually.

Once an area was ready, we piled mulch on top. We made sure to give trees plenty of space around their trunks and bushes adequate respect, too.

Voila!

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We are reaping our biggest rewards this year. We delighted in a steady stream of blooming irises from March through May. The lilies are starting to strut their stuff. Weeds are minimal and the mulch looks great. The beds are bursting with color or filled with green. Even the alley looks good.

The edibles are pretty happy, too, minus some unwanted berry leaf-munching bugs. Snap peas are taller than Miles, raspberries and blueberries are starting to ripen, and I ate my first boysenberries yesterday. YUM. One round of artichokes were consumed and more will be this week, making it our best artichoke year. Tulip’s gravesite is growing beans, squash, corn and a few flowers. It’s not doing as well as I’d hoped, so I’m guessing I rushed the process too much. The other hugelkultuur bed has tomatoes and a few other things. It’s doing ok. Next season should be better for both of them. I really hope we get to experience it.

I feel so fortunate to be gardening among Mrs. Brown’s flowers right now. I know how it felt to leave my first garden in Colorado, and I know how much I’ll grieve leaving this one, but now I’m savoring the transformation. One of my current favorite activities is to sit under the grapevines in the backyard and watch the boys play soccer with Harry or run through a sprinkler. Saturated with beauty, if not water.

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Spring’s call

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After a few weeks of increasingly anxious waiting, good news keeps bursting from the ground. Harry secured a contract for a few months that might become full-time work. The boys were accepted into a school that is a significantly better fit with our educational philosophies. While there is grief in leaving friends behind, we are eagerly anticipating joining this community. I am so thankful to have relief from the unknowns, as well as the opportunity to look forward to new experiences. In the meantime, I am relishing the present. It’s spring, friends!

Spring beckoned me to the garden, sore back be damned. Peas, lettuce, arugula and kale are in the ground and the tiniest of lettuce leaves are now visible upon careful inspection. A few peas peeked out today, too. Flower seeds were sprinkled all around, too. For me and the bees. A couple hugelkultuur beds are in process, ensuring my reputation as one of the craziest gardeners in the neighborhood. (The fact that I’m not THE strangest says more about Seattle than it does me. I have neighbors down the street who grow a ton of food, own goats, and trap and eat bothersome squirrels on their property.)

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I transplanted a bunch of perennial herbs and flowers out of this bed to make room for my first half-ass hugelkultuur. It’s our sunniest spot that’s ok with the landlord to change around, so I try growing heat-loving veggies here. I threw a ton more logs down, some leaves, weeds and grass, a layer of compost and a layer of topsoil. Fingers crossed! (Really should’ve done this last fall…)

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Here she is, simmering and sitting pretty for the next month until I plant.

Anyways, it’s not the first time I’ve covered a yard with cardboard and newspaper while neighbors craned their necks. After submitting a to-scale plan and receiving approval, I xeriscaped our front yard in a Colorado HOA suburban community that was filled with perfectly green, weed-free, Round-up abundant, sterile turf yards. Mulch and newspaper was a surefire way to get all busybodies talking. I ended up doing most of that work at night with a headlamp on, mostly to avoid gawkers and cranky old men with nothing better to do than complain.

In comparison, this time feels easy, if not downright delightful. I got landlord approval years ago! Many people pass by on walks and ask about the project with genuine interest. I’ve met five new neighbors since the mulch was dumped. Gardening is a fabulous way to build community in a neighborhood that appreciates it. Most people in Seattle do, thankfully. If they don’t, they’re certainly not surprised to see it. Gardens and weeds are tolerated, along with the chickens and goats of urban farming nutheads. (Oh, how I dream of joining them.)

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Enough mulch was dropped on our driveway to bury a bus. The boys immediately took to rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows. Give them a pile of mulch and they’re like sheepdogs around sheep. They need to move it. Three days in and I’ve barely made a dent in this pile. Oy.

Spring brought rain and wind, which was surprisingly absent most of winter. One of the nastier days we hunkered down to watch Mary Poppins as a family. It was the first movie in ages that hasn’t landed our boys crying in our laps. They giggled like crazy, eyes wide in wonder, “She’s flying with an umbrella!” “They’re dancing on the roofs!” The sweetest sound in our house in ages was the boys singing “Chim chiminey” repeatedly after the movie’s end. (And, by George, Mary doesn’t even sing “Let’s go fly a kite!” It is Mr. Banks, of course! Somehow, it’s still her voice in my head when I’m biking. Even now that I know better.)

Spring brought a morning of traipsing through the farmer’s market with Miles, who eagerly accompanies me anywhere offering quesadillas. On our way out, with our treasured orchard apples, my favorite loaf of bread and a few veggies in hand, I spied the word “nettles” written on Foraged and Found’s sign. My heart skipped a beat. I’ve wanted to try them for years but always let intimidation stop me. This time, I walked away from that booth with an extra skip in my step, a bag of stinging nettles, and a bag of watercress. I immediately knew what dinner would be.

I didn’t handle the nettles at all until they were blanched. I dumped them straight from bag to boiling water, treating them like hazardous waste until I was certain they wouldn’t sting me. Our first encounter left me confident enough to forage for them now. The taste is absolutely worth a possible sting.

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Toast a delicious piece of bread, sourdough rye if you’re lucky, and top it with a thick layer of chevre. (I had a black truffle chevre, and oh man, that was extra nice.) Spread on some nettle pesto and voila! My first real bite of spring came courtesy of those nettles and I’ve enjoyed spoonfuls of it almost everyday since.

(I substituted almonds for pine nuts because they were already in my house. I also added a bit more olive oil and lemon juice. Pesto is easy to make to taste. Have a bite, see what you think, and add more of what you want. We first enjoyed the pesto on pasta along with a watercress salad. In a somewhat miraculous evening, both boys ate both dishes! Plus, Miles exclaimed, “I love watercress!” which might be the nicest utterance I’ve heard exit a 4 year old’s mouth when faced with an all-green dinner.)

P.S. Are you on Instagram? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE instagram (beankathleen). It sharpens my focus on the everyday moments of my life that are filled with beauty. After years of using it, I think my eye is better trained to appreciate simple delights. I am so thankful for that practice. Plus, it gives me glimpses into the precious tidbits of other people’s lives. Or the not so pretty moments to which we all relate. I like seeing those, too. Occasionally I also post wacky pictures there. Like this one: my cry for help after the bags of nettles and watercress attacked me.

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Sugar, ah, honey honey

Moments of my life are an incredibly odd, barely-anyone-is-in-the-audience musical. I frequently have a song in my head related to what I’m thinking about. Sometimes it’s my own snazzy made-up tune, other times it surprises me from the basement of my brain. Harry “benefits” from these songs quite regularly. He’d thinks it’d be funny to highlight my antics on a YouTube channel. Today’s post has me singing The Archies, “Sugar, Sugar.” Feel free to join me in your own at-home musical now or thank me for the earworm later.

I’ve realized that if you scroll through my blog recipes, it’s a little deceiving. I am quick to post favorite sweet recipes, the treats that punctuate our life, and less apt to share what is sustaining us between those moments. I’m basically showing you our exclamation points while leaving out the text. And those exclamation posts are rolling in sugar.

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Random soup I actually took a picture of simply because it was beautiful. This is an example of my CSA stone soup approach – purple potatoes in the base, some cooked quinoa I had in the fridge was tossed in, plus roasted romanesco and cauliflower thrown on top because why not.

There are various reasons for this pattern here. I typically follow recipes for desserts and they last long enough that I can sneak a picture or two without much fuss. In contrast, I’m a very practical cook. During peak produce seasons our meals are made from whatever the farm boxes and garden have provided. I throw a bunch of vegetables together in a pan and roast them, make a curry, piece together a soup, make a vegetable-rich pasta dish, or lay out various picnic-style nibbles, like cheese, eggs, bread, salad and fruit. Some of these meals feel worthy of sharing here, but I rarely think about photographing what I’ve cooked prior to us consuming it, let alone writing down the steps for how I made something. So, it doesn’t happen and I forget what I did a few months later, making up another soup instead.

I’m here to set the record straight. With a treasured soup recipe and an itty-bitty commentary on sugar.

In general, I like our approach to sugar. I don’t demonize it. I view it a lot like I view alcohol. We remain mindful that it can become addictive, over-consumed and lead to significant problems, but as an occasional treat it’s fine (for us). Basically, the only time I embrace sugar as a main ingredient is in desserts. I bake about once a week with whole fats and usually some percentage of whole grain flours. These desserts are rich and satisfying, so we rarely end up eating five cookies or three muffins in one sitting. Rarely.

Unfortunately, it takes dedicated label reading to ensure that sugar remains solely in desserts.

If you run into me at a grocery store and see me cursing at yogurt or a loaf of bread under my breath, it’s because I’ve just read the label. I am concerned that sugar has invaded the ingredient list of almost everything one finds on a shelf in grocery stores. It’s being used liberally in places few would expect it, turning savory, would-be-healthy foods into candy. Pasta sauces, salad dressings, crackers and dried fruit are being pumped with sweeteners. Now I’m occasionally even re-reading ingredient lists of things I buy regularly to confirm they haven’t changed. I’ve noticed that as popular brands get bought off by bigger companies, sugar gets added or increased.

Our everyday food routine is pretty simple and mostly sugar free. We drink water and things steeped in water. We rarely buy juice and almost never purchase soda. Our regular breakfast rotation includes oatmeal and eggs. One weekend morning we eat buttermilk pancakes that are sweetened with maple syrup (there’s no sugar in my batter, unlike boxed mixes). I make a maple syrup and brown sugar sweetened granola somewhat regularly. Weekday lunches for the boys include simple vegetarian sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg for Charlie, some cheeses, sliced fruit and veggies. Harry and I usually eat leftovers from a big dish of whatever I make Sundays (chili, soup, etc…), a salad or a sandwich. Our dinners are typically quite basic, too. Rice and roasted veggies, soft tacos, pastas, salads, soups and occasionally meat or fish with vegetable sides. Last night the boys ate quesadillas and frozen peas heated in butter while Harry and I finished off leftovers. This isn’t unusual. It’s the simplicity that helps us maintain the pattern.

This particular soup has nourished us for many winters. Years ago a relative handed me a newspaper clipping with the recipe and I risked it, despite hesitations with the lentils. It was my first exposure to red lentils and I wasn’t yet familiar enough with Melissa Clark to know that I could trust her taste. I immediately loved them ten times more than other lentils, so I’ve been making this soup multiple times a year for six years. I’ve tweaked it a bit along the way to suit our desires: thickening it up a bit, adding more carrots. We like it this way, but I also appreciate that it’s a very forgiving soup. Fewer lentils, more carrots, more lentils, fewer carrots. It can all work out. Just add broth or water if it’s too thick for your taste. The flavors will be nice either way. It’s a hearty, nourishing soup with enough lemon to remind you that spring will come.

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This is an “Oh! I should take a quick picture and blog this” shot. It’s really delicious. You’ll just have to trust me more than the picture.

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

Slightly adapted from Melissa Clark’s NYT recipe         Yields 6-8 servings

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 white or yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A pinch or two of cayenne, ground chili powder or paprika, more to taste
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken or vegetable broth (plus more broth, or water, if too thick)
  • 2 cups red lentils (rinsed and picked through)
  • 3-4 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon, more to taste
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, to garnish (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic, sauteing until softened and golden, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and spices. To prevent burning, stir constantly for a couple minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the broth, lentils and carrot and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook about 20-30 minutes, stirring here and there, until the lentils are soft.

Puree at least half of the soup using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. (Be extra careful with hot soup and blenders.) Taste for salt and texture, adding salt, pepper, broth, water and/or further blending as desired. Stir in the lemon juice. Top with cilantro or parsley and maybe a drizzle of olive oil or dusting of chili powder.

 

Podcasts and pumpkins

While chopping, whisking flours or sorting laundry, I frequently listen to podcasts. The one requirement: I must be alone. Otherwise I’m forced to pause and rewind twenty times within a five minute window to compensate for the surrounding monkey noises. That gets awkward with beet juice or batter on my hands. Either way, between the shows, siamang calls, and our recent subscription to Rdio, I’m taken care of in the background noise department. Speaking of which, have you heard this song? It came on randomly for my husband, stopping him in his tracks. We keep listening on repeat. Take a break and let it wash over you.

Oddly enough, the music or program of choice keeps coinciding with my task. “Beat It” popped on while I chopped roasted beets. I danced in my apron in the kitchen, waving my red-stained hand like it wore a white glove. While preparing this pumpkin bread, which made my entire house smell like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, the next-in-line show from Molly and Matt’s hilarious Spilled Milk post was, whaddaya know, pumpkin spice! I guess I should stay away from podcasts and songs about knife injuries. Or burning kitchens.

Back to the pumpkin. I never imagined that anyone familiar with Seattle’s amazing coffee offerings would convince me to try a Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL?!!!) at Starbucks, but they did. Plus, they provided consolation that I’m not alone in my dislike of pumpkin pie. Lastly, and most importantly to me at the time, they enjoy pumpkin bread. It would’ve been a teensy bit discouraging to be in the midst of preparing this with intentions to share here while simultaneously wondering if my offering was detested by a majority.

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Our vegetable farmers provided CSA members with THREE (!!!) Winter Luxury pumpkins this year because the unusually sunny, warm summer weather made for fruitful squash. I was thrilled by the abundance. I’ve roasted all and thus far we’ve consumed pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and pumpkin risotto. Thanksgiving will involve me trying my best to share the caramel pumpkin cheesecake.

Roasting whole pumpkins is amazingly simple. Stab the pumpkin a few times with a knife. (I forgot to do this for 1/3. It turned out ok, but needed longer and I had to poke holes anyway. I may have been lucky.) Bake it for an hour at 300-325℉, or until you can poke through the skin with a fork. Once it’s cool, the skin peels off with tremendous ease, the seeds scoop out in a few swoops, and the flesh can be frozen in containers sized for the job or used within a few days. It comes out so tender and moist that it’s already a puree- no blending and very little mashing required.

Is fresh pumpkin tastier? Many argue that it’s up for debate. I surmise it depends on the squash. Winter Luxury pumpkins receive a lot of fan mail. I’ve seen their overflowing mailboxes. Apparently, butternut squash is also favored for pumpkin breads and pies. I have yet to try, but I’m intrigued. Just don’t bother roasting your average Halloween pumpkin. You’re much better off with canned. (Plus, it’s probably moldy by now.)

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This pumpkin bread is velvety, tender and has bit of a crunch from the crust. I generally prefer sweetened breads to be smooth, so I stray from nuts, raisins, etc… in the batter. Streusel and crunchy toppings are different matter, though. Bring ’em on.

Regardless of your stance on “pumpkin spice”, you have some control here. You can tone things down if you’re not a huge fan. (In this case, I would recommend leaving the cinnamon as is, reducing the nutmeg and eliminating the cloves.) I find it strong but balanced. My boys LOVE it as is, and as trusty as their palates may be, I share that here because they would probably reject it if it were more heavy handed. In fact, I just pulled out a jar to thaw so I can make another loaf because Charlie thanked me THREE times for sending him a cream cheese slathered piece in his lunch yesterday. “It was just delicious, Mom.”

I am not sure how I acquired this recipe. I’ve been making versions of it for years, before I even read food blogs, and all I have is a printed paper. I’m sharing the version that I lean towards most often. I bake it in a loaf pan and as muffins. I add up to a third of whole grain flours by keeping the weight the same, I change the ratio of oils by keeping the volume stable. All of these experiments have worked. So, if whoever led me to this recipe is out there and reading this, Thank You! It’s survived a lot of recipe culling. It’s the slice of pumpkin I want at the table.

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Pumpkin Bread

From someone who may or may not identify themselves, who adapted it from Tartine. Makes one 9×5 inch loaf, two 8×3 inch loaves, or 12 muffins.

  • 225 g (1 2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 255 g (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) pumpkin puree (I’ve used as much as 300g without problems. It just needed to bake a little longer.)
  • 200 g (1 cup) coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil (I typically use about 1/2 cup of each. You can use 1 cup of just one oil. I prefer the combo.)
  • 270 g (1 1/3 cup) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons demerara or turbinado sugar (though granulated is ok)

Preheat oven to 325℉ / 160℃ with a rack in the middle. Butter pans or line them with muffin cups or parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the oils, granulated sugar, pumpkin puree, and salt until they are completely combined. Add each egg individually, whisking until it’s fully incorporated prior adding the next. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the dry mixture to the wet, stirring with a gentle hand until just combined. To help it mix evenly, scrape down the sides occasionally.

Place the batter in your pan(s) of choice. Smooth the surface by rapping the pan on the counter, as needed. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of sugar evenly over the batter. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, the 8X3 loaf pans for 44-48 minutes, or the 9×5 loaf pan for 60-65 minutes. (Always check them with a tester to ensure they’re cooked. If there’s still wet batter on the tester, throw the pan back in the oven for a few more minutes.)

Let cool in the pan for 10-minutes, then unmold and cool completely on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Want to gild the lily? Take a note from Renee Erickson’s zucchini bread recipe and fry the slices in some butter first, serving them up with a dollop of creme fraiche. The bread is also quite nice topped with cream cheese. I bet a lightly sweetened sour cream would be delicious, too. Why not ice cream? Or whipped cream? Just like pie, but better.

 

 

A case in point

I would put money on Brussels sprouts being the most hated vegetable among my generation. Too many of us were served them steamed to oblivion without an ounce of fat, grain of salt, or drop of acid to help them along. Because of that long history of disappointment, this is a great vegetable to experience after the transforming powers of roasting. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. If bacon is a gateway food for you, start there. There’s a reason it’s a classic pairing. I enjoy them roasted with balsamic, too. And, of course, let’s not forget about them with aged gouda and sriracha.

I’ve written in detail about Brussels sprouts before and this probably won’t be the last time, either. Having an arsenal of ten to twenty great brussel sprout recipes is not unreasonable, right? Maybe this blog should be called Brussels Sprouts and Baking. Anyways, I like them raw, shaved into salads, but I adore them caramelized from roasting so much that I would’ve eaten the entire pan last night if Harry didn’t object. Just don’t give them to me mushy and steamed.

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Our last CSA pick-up was a double. Two weeks of vegetables on our counter!

I didn’t set out to share this recipe here, but once I tasted them and groaned with delight, I snapped a few shots knowing what I needed to do. The one of the stalk was taken for my Instagram friends. I’m weirder and sillier there. (More myself- I’ll get there here, too. Baby steps.) I happen to post shots of vegetables in front of my face somewhat regularly, so this was sent out prior to knowing I’d share the recipe. Now, you too, can see what Brussel sprouts look like before they’re detached! (They have big leaves that stick out all around, too.)

This preparation presents the sprouts a bit brighter, and certainly a tad brinier. It would make an excellent Thanksgiving side, but also can stand alone nicely as a meal by itself. Throw an egg on it, poached or fried, and let that runny yolk add an extra saucy element. (The browned butter mixture can certainly be left off of kids’ portions. My boys aren’t huge fans of capers and although they ate a few bites, I think they would’ve eaten more without the sauce.)

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The recipe comes from the queen of roasting and braising, Molly Stevens. Have you seen her James Beard award-winning books, All About Roasting and All About Braising? I don’t own them, but I check both out at least three to four times a year from the library. When I recommend savory cookbooks to new cooks, these top the list. She is an excellent teacher and clearly shares the rationale behind the techniques, helping novices feel comfortable along the way. Her recipes are tried and true, approachable and delicious. That braised cabbage I can’t get enough of? Hers. Our Thanksgiving roast last year was from her, as well. She’s the first chef I go to when I want to cook a huge, expensive chunk of meat but am scared.

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♬ These are a few of my favorite things! ♫

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers and Lemony Browned Butter

From Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting. Serves 4 as a side.

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, yellow or brown
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed

Preheat the oven to 425℉ with a rack positioned in the center. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or just scrub later).

Cut the Brussels sprouts into halves or quarters to make for bite-size pieces. Place them in a large bowl to toss with the olive oil, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Arrange the coated sprouts in a single layer on the baking sheet. (You don’t want them crowded because they’ll steam instead of caramelizing.) If some leaves fall off that’s fine; leave them to roast, as well.

Roast the sprouts for 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice to encourage even cooking. They should be tender throughout and nicely browned.

To make the browned butter, melt the butter over medium heat in a small skillet or saucepan (smaller than 6-inches across so that it doesn’t burn). Once it’s melted, add the mustard seeds, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until the butter foams and turns golden brown. This will only take about 2-minutes, so watch carefully and swirl the pan frequently to prevent it from burning. Next, add the capers and lemon juice, removing the pan from the heat immediately. They’ll sizzle! Season with salt and pepper to taste and keep warm until the sprouts are out of the oven. (The butter process took about five minutes. It could be started towards the end of the roasting period.)

Serve the sprouts after tossing them together with the browned butter mixture. Add more salt, pepper or lemon juice as desired.

 

 

Like a drug dealer, but different

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As I watched Charlie willingly eat kale and pear, both foods he adamantly DOES NOT LIKE, I realized I haven’t shared this trick with you! My favorite method of encouraging the boys to continue trying blacklisted foods is to provide “gateway” foods. You know, like gateway drugs, except with a healthy outcome.

I happily dish up all sorts of gateway foods to promote flavors and textures most challenging to them. Charlie ate his kale salad and pear slices because they were paired with blue cheese. (I know. It’s nutty. Blue cheese isn’t challenging to him yet pears make him wince.) He’ll eat just about anything with blue cheese and I don’t see why he shouldn’t sprinkle some on his dinner.

If I make kale chips after a month or two break, I mix in a tablespoon of brown sugar with the olive oil and salt. The sweetness always gets them over their initial hesitation. In fact, I forgot to put any sweetener on our last batch and it’s been sitting around for a few weeks, waiting to be composted. Frankly, I don’t want to eat them either.  Just a sprinkling, and we would have demolished a hefty amount of kale in one day.

Same thing with smoothies. If I’m going to use greens and haven’t done so in a long time, I make sure they’re 1) hidden by blueberries or plums because sometimes the boys will turn their noses up at the very hint of the color green in a drink, and 2) sweetened more than usual (adding honey, instead of just relying on the natural sweetness of the fruit).

Historically, our most successful gateway foods have been butter, cheese (grated, sauces, sprinkled, sliced) and balsamic vinegar. For several years, both boys would eat just about any vegetable we gave them if they could dip it in balsamic. Vegetable dips, bean dips- including hummus, sweeter chutneys and sour cream dips sometimes do the trick, too. Ketchup almost always works for roasted root vegetables, of course. They learned that one from the french fry dealers.

I’m absolutely a food pusher. I don’t care one bit that it requires extra fat, salt and sometimes sugar for them to keep tasting. Fat and salt should be embraced with our fresh vegetables! I will sing that song until I die. In the meantime, pass the butter, please.

Among the mushrooms + my first cookbook giveaway!

I find the lush wooded trails of the Pacific Northwest deeply alluring, somewhat mystical. My Colorado-trained hiking eyes are familiar with dry, rocky terrain. Here, however, I half expect a little gnome to run across the path and hide under a red capped mushroom. Or for Frodo’s hobbit hole to be revealed around the corner. A decade of northwest living has not yet accustomed me to the dense curtains of green that I had previously only envisioned through books and movies. Mostly fairytales.

Exploring Carkeek

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Massive ferns line the way amongst giant, moss covered evergreens. The rays of light that manage to peek through the canopy make for glistening moss and leaves. The return of rain in the fall awakens fungus, transforming the undergrowth. Mushrooms! They pop out to add dots of white, yellow and brown. Many congregate under the evergreens, others hang out on trunks.

Ever since reading The Mushroom Hunters, Langdon Cook’s fascinating account of our local foraging scene, I feel like the mushrooms tease me for my lack of skills. “Come here, little girl. Surely we’re safe! We’ll taste soooo good.” But, I am too smart and cautious of a woman to heed their tempting calls. Maybe someday I’ll learn to safely identify who is tricky and who is kind. In the meantime, I might require that every hike be followed by a trip to the market.

Angels or devils? I did not know, so I left them in peace.

Just like fresh, sustainable fish and well-sourced meat, I used to avoid buying mushrooms because I was afraid I’d end up throwing a lot of money into the compost bin. There are cheap button mushrooms to be found, for sure, but I longed to play with the chanterelles and the morels. Often these run over $15/lb at the market. They felt like a pretty serious commitment and I wasn’t yet confident cooking them.

Then, one summer evening in 2013, after hanging with the Two Crazy Monkeys all day, I drank a glass of wine. Or two. While checking email I discovered that one of my favorite Seattle chefs was doing a giveaway as part of her recipe testing for a mushroom focused cookbook. The person whose shroomy haiku won the most votes would win a tasting meal.

I’ve tasted Becky Selengut’s food more than a handful of times, through assisting several of her classes at The Pantry at Delancey and elsewhere. I also own Good FIsh, one of her other cookbooks. That book and its accompanying videos helped my brother and I take on an oyster shucking adventure, taught me how to choose and cook scallops, and guided me through my first time debearding mussels. Not only is she a great teacher, her food is delicious. I love mushrooms. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

A slightly-less-inhibited-than-usual-me contemplated my haiku. I realized that her fans and friends all shared a love for her wit and often irreverent humor so I fired off this little ditty:

Fungi kissed my log,

baby chanterelles emerged.

Morel of story?

AND I WON! Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed because there were some beautiful, truly poetic haikus written and mine was just a joke. But I won!

About a month before the dinner, Becky let me know the night would focus on the truffle section of her book. I’d never had even a taste of truffle before but was quite aware of its lure. I’m pretty sure I peed my pants. I danced and squealed my way to Harry, proclaiming how lucky we were. I didn’t know the half of it.

Becky and two of her closest friends greeted Harry and me at the door with champagne. I mean, come on! We can just stop there, right? It was our first date out in months. He didn’t have a job most of the summer and a babysitter was a big deal. To have a date and be greeted with champagne felt royal.

With champagne in one hand, the other soon held freshly baked gougères cut open to cradle a slice of white Alba truffle. We could’ve finished off the plate of those and called it a night. We all exhibited deep groans of appreciation. The rich man’s popcorn, “diamonds of the kitchen.” Whatever you call them, those things were absolutely amazing. I’m glad I soaked it in because I doubt I’ll ever eat one again. As Becky states in the section about what pairs well with them: “Truffles really like rich people.”

That was just the beginning. The night unfolded with one stunning dish after another, each paired with wine (Becky’s wife April is a sommelier and contributed drink pairings for the cookbook, as well as our evening). I know. I felt like Annie arriving at Oliver Warbucks’ house. Silken Scrambled Eggs with Shaved Alba White Truffles (about a 1:1 ratio of egg to cream/butter–a bite of pure heaven), Homemade Fettuccine with Shaved Truffle, Black Cod with Truffled Potatoes and Beurre Rouge, and Braised Rabbit with Truffle-Stuffed Rabbit Loin. We ate and drank all night. We laughed a ton. We shared a lot of stories. It was one of the best dinners of my life.

If you’re like me, you won’t be buying truffles to cook that dinner anytime soon. But, you’re still in luck. Shroom contains fifteen different chapters highlighting a specific mushroom (cremini to oyster, hedgehog to matsutake), with recipes ranging from easy to difficult. Additionally, there’s lots of background and prep help. If you’re on the fence about shelling up cash for something a step above creminis, Becky’s book will give you the confidence to buy, prepare and consume those beauties. A year ago I assisted with one of her mushroom classes at The Pantry. I walked away feeling much more confident with cooking them and have greatly enjoyed making many mushroom-centric meals since. (None were tossed out!) With the addition of her book and videos as a resource, my only question is how good the recipe will be. Delicious, amazing, divine? These are not bad options.

Pike Place Market loot: yellow chanterelles, basil and dahlias

Acquacotta soup with chanterelles + a basil/garlic puree

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have already made multiple recipes from Shroom and I have tasted many others during her classes, our dinner, and her book’s launch party. These recipes are flavorful and diverse. She highlights a wide range of ethnic cuisines, including Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian and Indian. Acquacotta Soup with Chanterelles and Garlic on Toast nourished us well a few weeks ago. Normally I wouldn’t have been drawn to this recipe because I had no reference point for it but our CSA vegetable box contents happened to perfectly match up with the necessary ingredients. I was pleased to usher in October with a new, perfectly fall-like soup. Last week I made my first risotto! Chanterelle Risotto with Lemon Thyme provided an incredibly luxurious lunch on an otherwise ordinary day.

Today I do not give you a recipe, I give you a book. One lucky reader will get a signed copy of Shroom. As much as I adore Becky’s sense of humor and keen observations, I also respect her kindness. She lives compassionately and generously. She donates classes, buys coffee for the people behind her, teaches many, and hands slices of Alba truffles to the drooling fools in her living room. In that spirit, I knew shortly after our dinner that I wanted her cookbook to be my first giveaway.

To get your hands on this hot copy of Shroom, you either need to write a haiku or do something kind. I don’t care what the act of kindness is, just as long as it’s not something you normally do. Like changing toilet paper rolls for the next person. Let this gesture take you out of your comfort zone. Valedictorians and extra credit seekers, your act of kindness could be written about in your haiku. Or your haiku could be an act of kindness. But they need not intersect and you don’t actually get extra credit. Leave your haiku or story of kindness on my Facebook page, as a tweet, or as a blog comment to be entered. (If you comment on the Facebook page, make sure I can notify you by “liking” my page. For twitter, make sure to tag me @tableforlove. )

Though I’m not sharing a specific recipe today, you can find five of her recipes here. Take note of Clare Barboza’s gorgeous photographs. This cookbook is a work of art. Lastly, check out Becky’s How To mushroom videos on her website. They’re a perfect way to ease fears about cooking mushrooms or deepen your repertoire.

Good luck!

Closest thing to a gnome I spotted

11/1/14: Contest closed. The winner has been notified. Thanks for participating!

Rules

  1. The book will be shipped within the continental United States. Seattle residents may get it delivered by hand. Maybe even by bike! If you win and live outside of the continental USA, you may certainly ask to have the book shipped to a more local friend or family member.
  2. The contest will close on November 1st, 2014. You have until All Saints Day to be a saint. After Halloween you will need a plethora of veggie-rich, awesome mushroom recipes. This book will help with that.
  3. One entry per person. If you post on the blog, make sure you leave your email in the commenting widget so I can alert you that you’ve won. If you post on facebook, make sure the page is “liked” so that I can message you personally. Otherwise, I can’t contact you through facebook.
  4. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner. Or throw a dart. But I’ll make sure it’s fair.
  5. Comment! Write a haiku! Be generous!