Thanksgiving is just around the corner! As someone who is always thinking of her next meal, I couldn’t be more excited about the holiday. As most folks do, I have some favorite dishes that have always been traditional in my family. Homemade cranberry sauce. Cornbread dressing. Whole wheat bread dressing. I can’t wait to have these items on my plate. Over the years I’ve also updated some classics and they have bumped out the traditional dishes. The last couple of years I’ve been making a sweet potato puree with coconut milk, thanks to the recipe in Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen. A few years ago I updated green been casserole for a simple version of steamed green beans with pickled sweet and sour onions and a maple dressing. Love!! This year I plan to add Brussels sprouts to the table and came up with a new favorite way to eat them.
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.
Soup season has arrived, folks. You’ll be seeing many soups posted on this blog over the next several months, a testimony to my efforts to survive another cold and dark Michigan winter. The leaves on the trees are nearly gone (please hang on while I wipe the tear that is rolling down my cheek…sniffle), the lawn furniture looks eerily out of place and begs to be put away, Halloween is over and talk of the holidays creeps into conversation. We’ve already got a game plan for Thanksgiving dinner (my first time hosting!) and my mind is focused on developing recipes for healthy Thanksgiving sides for my next cooking class. The sun sets at around five o’clock and I’m still considering bucking the trend and ignoring daylight savings time (who’s with me?). The space heater is fully broken in and we are ready to hunker down under afghans for the next five months. For those of you who do not live in a similar climate, this is serious stuff, folks. A true test of resilience or sisu, as my mom would say. Sisu is the Finnish word for strength in the face of adversity…my mom would say, “you’ve got sisu, girl!”
I’ve always envied those that are able to do what they love for their livelihood. Although there are certainly downsides to it (as most authors, musicians, and artists know), there is great appeal to this lifestyle. My sweetie is able to do what he loves, playing music and building instruments, and usually makes ends meet with the modest income that comes in. It may not be all roses all the time, but there is something to be said about being able to have the time to spend on developing specialized skills and enjoying one’s passion.
Over the last few weeks Drew has been working long hours in the woodshop building a gourd banjo. As a luthier (a beautiful way to say “builder of stringed instruments”) and newly learned clawhammer banjo player, he was intrigued when he heard Bob Lucas play a gourd banjo at a symposium called Common Ground on the Hill earlier this summer. A couple of months later, he began to study plans of existing gourd banjos and set about building one himself. After hours (and hours..and hours) of reading, planning and ordering supplies, and just a few weeks after the inaugural cutting of one large gourd, shipped from California, he sits playing his beautiful gourd banjo in the kitchen.
I am amazed that building a gourd banjo went from an idea of his to now, a few weeks later, a reality. I do not have the skills required to build a musical instrument or the passion to do so myself but I most certainly am in awe of this beautiful instrument created by his hands.
I do like my job and find excitement and satisfaction from it at times. But as grateful for it as I am (and grateful for steady employment that affords us a comfortable home and meets all of our basic needs) I cannot honestly say it is my life’s passion. Luckily, I get to spend time with my true passion from time to time and sometimes I even get to share it with others. Tonight I volunteer taught a cooking class at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids (a wonderful cancer and grief support clubhouse) and I got that feeling that I think Drew must feel when he is working on building a banjo or a guitar. I felt like I was doing something that I could do forever. I was completely relaxed, had fun, and felt so passionate about sharing my love for cooking with a great group of women.
Because I cook so much (daily), I sometimes take for granted the skills that I’ve acquired in the kitchen. I’m just a simple home cook when it comes down to it but I am surprised when I show a class how to do something and they are excited and delighted by it. Tonight I showed the women how to make a Mexican meal using butternut squash and black beans. We made butternut squash and black bean chili and these butternut squash, black bean, and charred onion tacos. At various points in the class I became animated and excited to show random little tips as they popped into my head. How to slice an avocado in its peel. How to peel and cut a butternut squash. That you can eat the skin of a delicata squash. That you can boil apple cider down into a glaze. That you can warm and char a tortilla directly on the flame of a gas stove. That you don’t have to measure everything exactly. That a little chocolate in chili adds depth and richness. Usually these little joys of the kitchen stay with me. I am usually pretty quiet in the kitchen at home, choosing silence over music, focusing on the meditative act of chopping vegetables and washing dishes. I usually take the little aha moments with cooking for granted or I assume that they will not delight anyone other than myself. It was brilliant fun tonight to not only share my love for cooking but to have fourteen women clap, smile, and say mmmmmm along with me while I cooked, learned (yup–still learning!), and dished up samples of our fall fiesta.
I do hope you try these tacos. They are a unique way to use my favorite fall vegetable, butternut squash. They are filling and hearty, aromatic and flavorful. It’s really a compliment when someone who loves meat tacos deems these an A++ (thanks, hon!). Needless to say, if I ever have a restaurant, these are making the menu.
And whatever your passion, I hope you get to spend a few moments with it today.
Butternut Squash Tacos with Charred Red Onion and Black Beans (and a bunch of yummy toppings!)
- 1 small butternut squash
- 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
- 1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 cup black beans, dried and cooked, or canned is fine too—be sure to drain well
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 12 corn tortillas
- 2 radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 avocado, sliced
- ½ cup fresh cilantro, washed and stems removed
- ½ cup queso fresco (Mexican crumbling cheese)
- ½ cup lowfat sour cream
- 1 scallion (green onion), thinly sliced
- 1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
- Sriracha (garlic-chili hot sauce, a.k.a. “Rooster Sauce”)
- Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly oil a baking sheet with 1 teaspoon oil.
- Prepare the squash: Cut the bottom off of the butternut squash to create a flat surface and stand squash on its end. Cut the squash down the middle, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard (or…as reader Natashia suggests, you can clean and roast them, spreading out on a baking sheet as if you were roasting pumpkin seeds–takes about 20 minutes). Peel the outside of the squash with a knife, taking care to always have a flat surface for stability. Slice the squash into ½ inch slices. Cut the slices into ½ inch diameter matchsticks, about 5 inches long.
- Place the squash sticks onto the oiled baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Don’t crowd the pan—use two pans if needed. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Poke with a fork to test for doneness—the fork should easily pierce the squash and the squash should still hold its shape. Remove from the oven when done.
- In the meantime, heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil on medium high in a cast iron skillet or other heavy skillet and add the onions and garlic along with a sprinkle of salt. Cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have browned and softened slightly. Add the beans to the pan along with the cumin and stir for a moment until heated through.
- Heat a small skillet over high heat and add tortillas to the pan, one at a time, turning until they are heated and a little crisp. Once all tortillas are heated, add a few sticks of squash to each, a large spoonful of the onion and bean mixture, and any toppings you like (from the toppings listed above). Squeeze a wedge of lime over each and serve with Sriracha or another hot sauce on the side.
Makes 12 tacos
What an incredibly gorgeous weekend it has been. The weather was perfect. And by perfect, I mean 70 degrees, crisp, sunny, and chock full of fall fun. On Saturday we headed about an hour and a half southeast to Bellevue, MI, to Crane Fest. It was well worth the drive. Each year, thousands of sandhill cranes migrate to Florida for the winter. They happen to stop off for a rest at the Baker Sanctuary in Bellevue each year in October. Sandhill cranes are amazing and beautiful birds. They are the oldest living species of bird, having existed for over 9 million years. They are graceful, lovely, and have a gorgeous rolling trumpet song that fills the air as they join together for the evening at the sanctuary. If you’d like to read more about Crane Fest and about these beautiful birds, click here.
Now, at the end of the weekend, cozied up with my sweetie, the pup, and our brand new calico kitty (!), I’m thinking of the week ahead and what I’ll make for dinners. I’ve got plenty of squashes and root vegetables and not much time this week so I’ve got a hunch I’ll be making some soups. This time of year is perfect for soups. You’ll be seeing a lot of soups posted here over the next several months. As gorgeous as Michigan is in the spring, summer, and fall, winter is (though beautiful in its own way) long and cold. Perfect for warming bowls of soup.
This soup is a creation of mine. Most of the time I see carrot soup, it is carrot-ginger soup. Carrot-ginger soup is great but it’s everywhere so I wanted to make something a little different.
This soup is so easy and takes only about 15 minutes hands on. You roast the veggies in large chunks until soft, add to a soup pot with broth, coconut milk, cilantro, and spices, and give it a whirl. Easy, warming, and delicious. And healthy to boot. I hope you enjoy!
Roasted Carrot Soup with Cilantro and Coconut Milk
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 2 and ½ lbs. of carrots, scrubbed
- 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled
- 1 large sweet onion, sliced into thick slices
- 1 large clove garlic
- 6 cups of vegetable broth or water with bouillon if you prefer
- 1 can light coconut milk
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. garam masala spice blend
- 1 small bunch of cilantro, stems and all
- 2 tsp. good quality olive oil to garnish, optional
- Cilantro to garnish, optional
- 4 tbsp. goat cheese to garnish, optional
- OR 4 tbsp. plain yogurt to garnish, optional
- Pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) to garnish, optional
- Heat oven to 375°. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish.
- Roughly chop carrots and sweet potatoes into pieces about 1 inch in size. Slice onions into thick slices. Peel garlic clove (you can leave the garlic clove whole). Place all into baking dish and cover. Roast vegetables for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.
- Pour roasted vegetables into a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven and turn heat to medium. Add vegetable broth, coconut milk, cumin, coriander, garam masala, and cilantro. Be sure to save a little cilantro for garnish.
- Using an immersion (stick) blender (see note below), blend the contents of the soup pot until smooth.
- Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a few leaves of cilantro. If you are in the mood, sprinkle some goat cheese onto the soup. Or plain yogurt. Or pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds). Whatever you fancy! The version in the photos is cilantro and olive oil. Simply delicious.
- This makes a large batch of soup—you can enjoy it for several days and freeze any leftovers.
Kitchen Tip: If you don’t have a stick blender, you should get one! It is one of my favorite kitchen tools. It helps you avoid having to pour hot liquids into a blender. All you need to do is place the stick blender in the soup and whirl away. You can also use it for smoothies, hummus, salsa, and so much more! But if you don’t have a stick blender today, you can use the ol’ blender method, just be careful! And put a stick blender on your wish list…! And no. Cuisinart Smart Stick does not pay me for this endorsement 🙂).
“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion…the beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kit string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies…..” Tom Robbins
It’s Sunday at seven. The shadows are getting long and we have food on our minds with no options left in the cooler beyond some crackers and dried apricots. We are heading south toward Grand Rapids enjoying the two lane portion of 131 south and all it’s eccentricities…the concrete statuary, the tree filled with shoes…and feeling that feeling that comes when a weekend is drawing to a close and the next week lies ahead.
August in Michigan is heavenly. It is deep summer, the fields are dusted with flowers, vegetable stands overflowing with corn crop up in front of farm homes, the hay is being baled in the fields. The days are hot, the nights are cool, and you begin to see the random tree already starting to turn colors, an unwelcome reminder that this won’t last forever.
This summer has been full of music, friends, and food. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to travel around with Drew on some weekends for his festival concerts and house concerts. It’s been an exciting journey and I’m so lucky to be able to hear some of Michigan’s finest musicians on a regular basis. We are heading home from FarmFest, where Drew played two tight concerts with his band. We didn’t spend much time there but the setting was beautiful and the stage was one of the coolest I have seen. The festival is held on the grounds of an organic farm east of Gaylord, MI. It is a quaint festival with two stages and tents and various vendors dotting the woods that surround the main fields. After walking past a booth full of tie dye for sale, chioga beets popped into my head. Chioga beets (a.k.a. candycane beets) are the tie dye of the vegetable world. Visually, it is one of my favorite vegetables and the taste is hard to beat too. A milder beet, they fall in between yellow beets and red beets in flavor and look gorgeous mixed with their other-colored siblings, some dill, and goat cheese.
A couple of weeks ago I had a photo shoot with the Grand Rapids Magazine. They plan to have an article about Dinner With Aura in their October issue. I was asked to have a dish photo-ready so created this vibrant and flavorful salad (thanks for the suggestion, honey!), experimenting with the beets to find the best way to showcase their color and flavor. Some of the beets in this recipe are whole-roasted and some are shaved raw. To capture the brilliant color of the chioga beets as shown in the photos, you must shave them raw with a mandoline slicer (never, ever use a banjo, says my ever-wisecracking banjo-picking boyfriend….haha) or with a sharp vegetable peeler so you can see the beautiful patterns and can eat the beets with no trouble despite them being uncooked. Beets are also marvelous grated raw into a green salad and tossed with a vinaigrette. Experiment as you wish with the basic elements of this salad: beets, mild feta, fresh dill, honey-balsamic glaze, and raw pumpkin seeds. You can’t go wrong.
Three Beet Salad with Cow’s Milk Feta, Fresh Dill, and a Honey Balsamic Glaze
- 3-4 large beets; 1 yellow, 1 red, and 2 chioga if you can find them
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Flaky sea salt
- 1 small clump fresh dill, roughly chopped and some left whole for garnish
- 3 oz cow’s milk feta, crumbled (or sub sheep’s milk feta or goat cheese)
- 1 tablespoon pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- Heat oven to 400. Remove beet greens and scrub beets but do not peel. Put one of each color beet in a small to medium covered baking dish (or use tin foil to cover if you do not have a covered dish). Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Roast until you can pierce the beets with a fork, about 1 hour. Let beets rest in the baking dish until cool enough to handle.
- In the meantime, heat honey and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and quickly reduce heat to low. Let simmer until the mixture reduces into a glaze, about 15-20 minutes. After what is called for in this recipe, you will have plenty left over for other dishes–this will keep for weeks in the fridge.
- At this point, if your beets are cool you can remove the skins. The beets will slip right out of their skins if you pinch them! Once all of the beets have been skinned, stand each beet on its head and cut into wedges, about 1/2 inch thick on the outside. Keep the yellow and pink beets separate from the red beets to avoid staining.
- Toss the yellow and pink beets with the dill and feta. Arrange red beets amongst the others. Shave several slices of chioga beets and arrange around the plate. Sprinkle with pepitas and drizzle lightly with honey-balsamic glaze. This can be served at room temperature or cold. Will keep for a few days in the fridge.
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.
“The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing-wax. Of cabbages and kings. And why the sea is boiling hot. And whether pigs have wings.” –Lewis Carroll
I’ve had this quote stuck in my head all day because I keep thinking, “the time has come, the time has come!” The farmer’s market has returned and along with it, the excitement of seeing the produce parade, unfolding week by week. Last week the most exciting finds at the market (for me) were pea shoots and sunflower sprouts. This week, asparagus. I wait all year for asparagus and am giddy when I see it make its brief appearance, standing at attention all down the rows of the market. Alas, I am in Denver this week (well, not alas–I get to learn fly fishing in the mountains–can’t beat that!) and am missing out on the first appearance of asparagus at the market. But lest I get ahead of myself…let’s talk about pea shoots. And sunflower sprouts. And last but not least, for a tour of my local farmer’s market, click here and I’ll show you around my beloved Fulton Street Farmer’s Market.
Before we went to the farmer’s market on opening day, May 4, I was imagining what we might find. It was a cold and long winter so our produce in Michigan got a slow start. Radishes, asparagus, pea shoots, leeks…all popped into my head. We didn’t find radishes or asparagus last week but found pea shoots! And sunflower sprouts! I knew exactly what to do with these two wonderful spring vegetables. This salad seemed the perfect thing to make and it allowed me to experiment with sauteing pea shoots. This salad has both raw and sautéed pea shoots, some sunflower sprouts, yellow beets, radishes, and crumbled goat cheese. Finished with a light honey-mustard vinaigrette, this salad was the essence of spring.
Spring Pea Shoot Salad with Sunflower Sprouts, Yellow Beets, and Goat Cheese; serves 1
- 1 medium yellow beet, peeled
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2-3 oz bag of pea shoots
- 1/3 cup sunflower sprouts
- 2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the beet and slice from top to bottom into thin wedges. Place in a saucepan with water to cover and a dash of sea salt. Bring to boil then turn heat down to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until beets have softened but are not mushy. They should still have a little bite to them. Drain in a colander and let cool.
- Split pea shoots in half. Arrange half of the pea shoots in a salad bowl—I like to use a shallow bowl to showcase the salad…much prettier that way! Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet or wok. Add the other half of the pea shoots to the pan and saute briefly, just until wilted. Add the wilted pea shoots to the raw pea shoots in your salad bowl. Add the sunflower sprouts to the pea shoots and toss. Arrange the beet wedges amongst the greens and sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the salad.
- Mix the mustard and honey together in a small bowl until combined. Slowly drizzle the oil into the honey-mustard mixture. Add the vinegar slowly then whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a little vinaigrette over the salad (there will still be vinaigrette left over for more salads). Sit down and welcome spring with this simple salad.