Every year where I grew up, we had November 15 off of school. It wasn’t always that way. Over the years as we grew up, so few kids came to school that day, the district finally caved and it became a recognized day-off, no absences counted. What, you ask, happens on November 15? Opening day of deer season. Boys and men dressed in their favorite flannels and boots and headed out to their deer blinds as if heading off to war. The ladies? They went to Green Bay to go shopping.
Ah…it’s autumn in Michigan. My favorite time of year. The air is crisp, everyone begins cramming in the last of outdoor fun, the incredible aroma of Michigan apples fills the farmer’s market, and pears spill out over the patio from the pear tree in the corner of our yard.
I was never a fan of pears when I was a kid. As time has gone on and my tastebuds have matured, I’ve come to accept pears in my life. I’m not saying I’ve outright embraced them but they have a toe in the door nowadays, and that’s saying a lot for me.
What brought about this change? The pear tree in my back yard. When hundreds of pears began to fall that first fall after I bought my house, I was determined to learn to love them. I felt so lucky to have a fruit-bearing tree at my house in the heart of the city.
I really enjoy the pear tree’s beautiful white blossoms in the spring and eagerly anticipate the fruit ripening in the fall. I particularly enjoy them with some aged white cheddar cheese on a fruit and cheese platter. Last year I enjoyed a pear crisp with cardamom. This year I decided to update that, bringing in my favorite fall fruit, the apple, along with some dried cranberries, to create a truly fall dessert.
There is nothing I enjoy more than a crisp baking in the oven as the leaves are painted red and down vests, sweaters, scarves, and fashion boots appear in place of shorts and sundresses. Crisps are easy and make the best of the season’s fruits. Cut up some fruits, pop this in the oven, and enjoy steaming up the windows of your kitchen for the first time this year.
4 tablespoons butter + some for greasing the pan
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup unbleached flour
pinch of salt
1.5 lbs pears, cored and sliced
1.5 lbs apples, cored and sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Heat the oven to 400°. Grease an 8 or 9″ pan with a little bit of butter. Cream the butter, oil and sugar together, using a mixer or fork. Stir in the nuts, seeds, lemon juice, oats, flour, and salt, until combined and crumbly. You can make the topping ahead of time, if you like.
Put the pears, apples, and cranberries in the prepared dish, sprinkle with cardamom, and toss to coat. Crumble the topping over all. Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crust is starting to brown, 30-40 minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you have it!
If you have a pear tree as I do, you have hundreds of pears and are surely looking for ideas on what to use them in. Here are some recipes from Cooking Light to try if you fancy something different than my pear crisp recipe below:
Pear Muffins: http://www.cookinglight.com/food/quick-healthy/healthy-muffin-recipes-00412000070942/page22.html
Pear-Cranberry Pie with Oatmeal Streusel:
What a weekend. What a life! One year ago, my weekends primarily consisted of work, work, working on my house. Every weekend I’d have a list full of tasks to tackle: sweep, mop, dust, weed the garden, post a blog post, grocery shopping…..etc. etc. etc. My life has changed so much to one where productivity is not the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong…I value productivity and feel good about myself when I’m getting things done. I’m proud to be a hard worker. But it never seems to be enough. I never make it through my list and I always feel like I’ve failed because of it. I’m starting to learn that when the goals you set are unreasonable, you will always feel like you have failed. I recently started something new–now rather than focusing on how many things I have left on a list, I start a new list of what I have accomplished and that list never fails to make me feel better than the list of tasks yet to be done.
My life has changed so much in the last year. I still have the same old anxieties about productivity and accomplishment. But I now have someone who balances me out (most of the time). Last winter when we threw our first potluck together, we were so busy making food that I didn’t get around to mopping. I kept fretting about it and was getting pretty cranked up about it until Drew said something that stopped all of the nerves. He said, “you know…all of these friends are going to come tonight and when they leave, they will all talk about what a fun time they had. And I guarantee none of them will say that they had a fun time but it would have been more fun if only Aura mopped the floor.” Sigh. So simple. But left to my own devices, I’d never have gone down that train of thought. Thank goodness for my voice of reason. Lucky girl.
This weekend was such a far cry from weekends of old! Drew and I crammed in about every fun thing we could think of. It all started with a long walk downtown with the pup after dinner on Friday. Our walks are always wonderful meanders through downtown with no agenda and no idea of when we’ll get home. We are so proud to live in the city of Grand Rapids and proud to see all of the progress made here in the last several years. Grand Rapids has so much to offer…an incredible sculpture park, a small but beautiful zoo, the largest art competition in the world, award winning restaurants and breweries, a great baseball field for the Tiger’s farm team, live outdoor music for free almost any night in the summer, two brilliant farmer’s markets…I could go on.
This weekend Grand Rapids got even cooler with the introduction of Movies in the Park at Ah-Nab-Awen park. We stumbled upon this new treasure on our walk Friday night. We were so surprised and thrilled to see a 20-some foot inflatable screen set up in the park with the city lights as a backdrop and about 700 residents watching Princess Bride on chairs and blankets. It was so wonderful to see and made our hearts swell with happiness. We are looking forward to the 16th when we can watch Back to the Future (and come armed this time with popcorn, root beer, the pup, and lots of friends!). Way to go, Grand Rapids!
On Sunday we headed out to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, one of the U.S.’s top 10 places to visit. It was incredible. Although I’ve been indoors to see the plants and art inside, this was my first time in the outdoor sculpture park and I was blown away. Here are a few of my favorites.
Ahhhh….the weekend is over but the memories remain. One way to preserve those memories is by sharing a dish we made after shopping at the Fulton Farmer’s Market. One of the rarest and most exciting finds this time of year are squash blossoms. These pretty flowers make their appearance at the same time we start seeing an abundance of zucchini fruit lined up at stall after stall. Only one farmer at the Fulton Market carries these pretty flowers (The Barry Patch) and I have a hard time passing them up. They are very fragile and will not keep long so I recommend buying only when you plan to use them that day.
When I was a kid my mom would batter and fry these blossoms but being health conscious I prefer to bake them. I set out on a search for baked squash blossom ideas. After a quick search, I found some stuffed squash blossom bruschetta from Cooking Light’s June 2005 issue. I didn’t have everything the recipe called for so I came up with a version using cows milk feta, goat cheese, and fresh herbs. This recipe results in a crisy exterior and warm, rich interior…and a taste that is not masked by the heaviness of oil. And so beautiful! A perfect way to cap off a perfect weekend. Hands down, this has become a new favorite summertime dish.
Baked Squash Blossoms with Feta and Goat Cheese
- 1/2 cup goat cheese at room temperature
- 1/2 cup cow’s milk feta cheese, crumbled
- 3 eggs, divided
- ⅓ cup chopped basil and/or parsley
- 12 squash blossoms, if attached to baby squash, leave squash attached.
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Mix together cheeses, 1 lightly beaten egg, and herbs. Season with salt.
- Put the remaining 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk. Put the panko breadcrumbs in another bowl.
- Carefully spoon filling into each squash blossom and twist loosely at the end to close.
- Dip each stuffed squash blossom in egg, then breadcrumbs, and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
- Remove from the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
Wow…I had the craziest dream. I went on a two week vacation through several states, came back to hold my sweeties hand through a major surgery and recovery, started a new corporate job, threw a large birthday/recovery party, and went to two music festivals, all in just over a month.
Wait a minute….I’m pinching my arm…and I can feel it. It must not be a dream after all. So why do I feel so out of it? I’m the kind of girl who likes routines. I mow the lawn on Saturday. I eat oatmeal every morning and have one cup of coffee. I go to yoga 4 days a week (well…errrr…until my neat little life flipped upside down and all around a month ago). I eat my veggies. I know exactly how long it takes me to eat breakfast, drink coffee, take a shower, put on makeup, and blow dry my hair (one hour and 10 minutes).
In one short month I have gone from working from home for five years to working in an office five days a week, eight to five. I have gone from jeans and tees to high heels, slacks, and non-iron fitted shirts, equipped with a badge that gets me in and out of the building. I have gone from cooking lunches when I wanted to eat (and taking photos of them) to brown bagging it from noon to one each day. Home office to cubicle.
I’ll admit, at first I was VERY skeptical. I believe I even yelled over my shoulder one angry morning early-transition (not enjoying the new 6:15 wake-up time), “I am not convinced!!!” Yeah, I can be a real drama queen when I want to be.
But you know what? I had a change…a big ‘tude change. I decided on my seventh day of work that I could make this as hard as I wanted or as easy as I wanted. And from henceforth and ever more I have been quite pleasantly surprised at how well adapted I have become. I bought a daylight lamp for my cubicle. I had some fun ordering a new wardrobe online and feel pretty darned smart in my fancy new clothes. I love my new coworkers and have discovered after taking a dISC analysis that I am a “i”, which means that I am the social butterfly, like interacting with coworkers, and bring energy to a team. I’m beginning to think that working with people (in-person) is really good for me.
And the most wonderful thing of late is that I have watched my sweetie go from sick and not able to eat a month ago to healthy, energetic, and happy. We have gone for two bike rides, many walks, and have started to enjoy cooking together again now that food is not a battle. It really brings tears to my eyes that he can finally enjoy my cooking again and that we can enjoy our time in the kitchen together. When we started dating he said that there was no place he would rather be in the whole world than with me in the kitchen. Sold! I knew we’d be just fine from there on out. And fine we are.
We recently went to the farmer’s market and found some beautiful radishes. Reds, purples, and whites, all bundled together. Radishes are so beautiful to me. I’m not sure what the history of radishes is but to me, they symbolize life and renewal. Their peppery bite makes me feel alive and their emergence at the farmer’s market makes me think of spring and fresh starts.
In celebration of fresh starts, I wanted to share this recipe with you. I found this in the April issue of Cooking Light Magazine and knew I would like it. My favorite way to eat radishes is with some fresh butter and flaked sea salt so this browned butter version appealed to me. This recipe is also only 42 calories for 3/4 cup! Not half bad.
I didn’t use my radishes immediately so I had to cut off the greens when they were no longer fresh. In their place, I shredded baby collard greens from the farmer’s market and they were a fantastic substitute.
Cooking Light has a bunch of great radish recipes. If you are looking for inspiration, check them out here. In this dish, the radishes are blanched then sauteed in butter with lemon and radish greens. Most people haven’t had cooked radishes so I like to surprise and ‘bend the rules’ with dishes like this (I like to roast them too). I hope you can embrace change in your life, whether it’s from Tom’s to heels or trying cooked radishes for the first time.
Radishes in Browned Butter and Lemon; Cooking Light, April 2013
- 3 cups radishes, halved lengthwise, with root and 1-inch stem left on
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup torn radish leaves (or another green such as collards, turnip greens, or kale if the radishes don’t have their tops)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add radishes to pan; cook 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain.
- Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add radishes to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until butter is browned and fragrant. Add rind, juice, and salt; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat; stir in radish leaves and pepper.
Happy Memorial Day! I’m thrilled for the extra day of this weekend. It’s been a busy few weeks. Today I want to share a great recipe I found in Cooking Light’s May issue for another use of pea shoots, which I featured last week in my pea shoot and beet salad. The recipe I am sharing today is a carrot and pea shoot salad with spring onions and is the epitome of spring.
But first, I want to tell you about a few of the BIG changes going on and some of the things we saw on the trip we just returned from.
One of the first BIG changes is that I will be going from working remotely in my home office to working at (gulp) an office five days a week. I will be leaving my job as a research manager at a market research company and joining forces with Meijer’s Consumer Insights team. I’ll be working on internal research to help improve the retailer and it’s brands. Very exciting stuff. My life will be much more structured but at the end of the day I’ll have more time each week because I’ll be going from a 50-60 hour workweek to a 40 hour workweek.
Another BIG thing is that Cooking Light added my profile to their Bloggers’ Connection site and I’m thrilled! Check it out here. You’ll notice that I’ve added the Cooking Light Bloggers’ Connection badge to my page and I’ll just be sharing with you all a couple of the things I read about in Cooking Light each month. I have subscribed to Cooking Light for years and have shared their recipes with friends and family during those years. Now I’ll be sharing some of them with you!
Now onto this trip. We went on a tour of America’s Heartlands and into Colorado for two weeks. It was an amazing trip. Though I have flown into several of the towns we visited, I have never driven to them. It was a wonderful experience to drive and see a sliver of Indiana, then lots of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Denver. Iowa was surprisingly beautiful, with rolling green hills spotted with black cows and windmills. Did you know that Iowa gets 20% of all the energy in the state from wind? They have committed to generating 40% of their energy from wind, a goal that may be achieved as early as 2015. How cool is that?
The first night, we stayed in a beautiful apartment full of antiques that is set up for traveling musicians. It was right behind the stage at the Legion Arts Center in Cedar Rapids. The Legion Arts Center is a wonderful building that showcases both artwork as well as some phenomenal musicians. It is right across from the Newbo Market, a mini-Pike’s Place of sorts that was opened just 6 months ago. In the morning, we had a great cup of coffee from the coffee shop on the first floor of the building and looked at art in our pajamas. The folks in Cedar Rapids were so wonderful–one couple even called ahead and bought our lunch at a funky diner called the Bluebird Diner in Iowa City on our drive to Topeka. It was an act of incredible hospitality and we are so grateful for it. Drew had Huevos Epsteinos and I think it went down as one of his top ten meals…at least that’s what I gathered when he ate them with his eyes closed most of the time. One of the few souvenirs we brought home was a bag of the Bluebird Coffee, which I think is worth special-ordering.
In Topeka, we hit up the Topeka Zoo, where I fed a baby giraffe! We also saw gorillas, tigers, lions, black bears, eagles, and this photogenic flamingo.
We also saw the Westboro Baptist Church compound (from the outside, of course). There was a bright side to it–across the street from the compound, the organization Planting Peace purchased a house and painted every piece of siding a different color of the rainbow. A member of the Westboro church was on a ladder looking over the fence and praying against the house but that didn’t take away from the delightful presence of this house that promotes peace, fights bullying, and helps with orphanages, de-worming, and rain forest conservation. It’s wonderful to see this organization stand up for peace and this bold act gave me hope.
And then…the Rockies. Oh my goodness…the Rockies.
I had never driven in the mountains and I must have said “wow” every minute or two for the four hour drive from Denver to Carbondale. This is the view when you get into Carbondale:
Even though it was cold and sometimes snowy, the breathtaking views made me forget about having to bundle up!
That night, we ate at a wonderful new restaurant called Town. (with a period) and had a great experience sitting at the community table and getting to know a few folks. Their clams were excellent as well as the roasted carrots and cauliflower.
East of Carbondale, I had my first fly-fishing experience in the world-famous Frying Pan River. Standing in the water with the current pressing against my waders and looking at the incredible red rock cliffs that surrounded us, I started tearing up with the joy of being in such a beautiful place. My weepy moment passed quickly, though, because a rainbow trout came up to my leg and used my boot as a break from the current for about a half hour, joined by three of his pals for several minutes at a time. I learned how to cast, watch the strike indicator, and mend my line that day, all while staring down at my feet off and on to look at the pretty rainbows swimming by me.
The drive from Carbondale to Westcliffe on Highway 24 was incredible. The terrain seemed to change every five minutes. Rocky and desert-like at one turn, snow-covered pines the next. My favorite view on that drive was the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a mountain range that is almost 250 miles long.
Over the next weekend, we went fishing in the Colorado River where I got a great casting lesson from Shaggy, the awesome shaggy-bearded best friend of my sweetie.
And then in the Blue River, Drew’s other buddy, Romano, taught me more about casting, mending the line, and setting the hook. And all of that coaching paid off! I caught my first trout by myself! The boys were so proud of me when they saw me mending my line, watching the strike indicator (bobber), setting the hook, and reeling the fish in. It’s catch and release out there, and that’s what we would do anyway, so no trout for dinner.
It was incredibly hard to leave the mountains behind to drive back to Michigan but we had much to do upon our return.
After just a couple of days of being home my poor sweetie had a major surgery on Friday to correct a nerve-related motility disorder called Achalasia. The muscle between his stomach and esophagus was clenched so tight that most food could not make it through the tiny tube. It’s been such an irony that the boyfriend of a foodie/food blogger like me could not eat most foods for several months. But the surgery was so successful and slowly we are introducing foods back in. In a couple of weeks he will be able to eat everything I am eating, which will just be so wonderful.
On Saturday, I ran home to let the pup out and decided to stop at the Farmer’s Market on the way home. I was in the mood for more pea shoots, one of my favorite spring vegetables. I made a pea shoot and yellow beet salad a couple of weeks ago and loved it. On the trip, I thumbed through the May issue of Cooking Light Magazine and found another pea shoot recipe to add to the repertoire.
This recipe was quick, just what I needed for my quick break, and delicious to boot. I had to use big carrots because there were no carrots ready at the farmer’s market so I just cut them on an angle for a nice presentation. The spring onions soaked up the sugar/vinegar glaze and were marvelous. I may just cook up more spring onions with a little sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper to mix into quinoa or spoon over crusty bread. Mmmmm!
Stay tuned for more recipes from Cooking Light Magazine–I’m going to make a healthier version of biscuits soon once my honey can eat them. I’m picturing them with some fresh local butter and creamed honey……! But I am getting ahead of myself. I hope you enjoy this great springy peas and carrots recipe as much as I did!
Newfangled Peas and Carrots from Cooking Light Magazine; May 2013 Issue
4 servings of ¾ cup each; about 30 minutes total, 15 minutes hands-on
- 6 cups water
- 12 ounces baby carrots
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cups vertically sliced spring onion, white parts only (about 9 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
- 2 cups pea tendrils or watercress
- Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add carrots; reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain; rinse under cold water. Rub carrot peels off with a clean, dry kitchen towel.
- Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes or until slightly tender. Add carrots, sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper; cook 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves and carrots are thoroughly heated. Stir in tarragon. Top with pea tendrils.