It is fall in my neck of the woods and I am so very happy about it! I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible. That means a walk in the woods at the Blandford Nature Center today. Being outside in the woods with sunshine filtering through the orange and yellow leaves was so good for my soul. Continue reading
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 🙂).
There is nothing that says fall in Michigan like a cold, juicy apple on a crisp autumn day. And (in my opinion) no better place to enjoy this special treat than right here in Michigan. Michigan apples have a flavor that is out of this world. The comparison between a store-bought apple and an apple fresh from the orchards is like comparing store-bought tomatoes to one picked off your own tomato vine. Just one bite and you are transported immediately to the gnarly tree it came from. Eating apples this time of year makes me feel so grateful for fall. Fall is one last hurrah. A punctuation mark on summer. And in Michigan, that punctuation mark isn’t any old period. It is an exclamation point.
We are fortunate to live in an area of the country that abounds with apple orchards. Just yesterday we drove up to the Sparta area, a bit north of Grand Rapids, and checked out a couple of apple orchards. It was a cloudy day with patches of rain but when we made it out to the orchards, the sun had peeked through and it lit up the landscape. Suddenly the reds on the trees were flaming, the pumpkins were bright orange orbs, the apples shone red-purple, and the rolling fields of dried corn stalks glowed golden under a deep blue sky.
My sweetie often jokes during his performances that Michigan apples are the only apples that have the all the vitamins and nutrients a body needs. If you’re eating apples from anywhere else, you’re missing out. He grew up picking apples with his whole family when the times were tough. His dad would climb to the top of the tree, his mom would handle the middle, and he and his siblings would pick up the “drops”, the apples on the ground under the tree that are used to make apple cider. True story.
When I say cider, I’m talking about the real deal. The kind that can only be found this time of year, freshly pressed, cloudy, sweet and tart. This time of year, almost any gathering you go to offers cups of hot cider for guests. It can be a special treat but I’m not the biggest fan of drinking hot beverages beyond coffee and tea. But how could I walk past those gallons of apple cider? Well…I couldn’t…so I had to figure out something to do with it.
I came across an idea for an apple cider reduction. And I am so glad I did. All it takes is a big, heavy pot and some patience. You basically just boil the cider down until it is 1/4 of the original volume. I boiled 8 cups down to 2 cups over about an hour or so.
This reduction can be used in a myriad of ways. You can make a vinaigrette with it (mix with olive oil, a splash of white balsamic vinegar, a dash of salt and pepper) or brush meat with it if you desire. And if you really want to go all out, keep boiling the cider down from 8 cups to about 1 cup and you’ll get an even sweeter reduction, just begging to be poured on ice cream.
And with that I present to you one of the easiest desserts I’ve made, roasted apples with vanilla bean ice cream, walnuts, and a cider reduction sauce. For this, choose apples that will hold their shape in the oven. I chose Cortland apples but Fuji, Jonathon, or Honey Crisp are all good choices.
This dessert is so simple yet such a delicious way to enjoy the season’s best offerings. If you are looking for other apple recipes, head over to Cooking Light–they have dozens of apple recipes, with some of the best here. The apple upside-down cake looks amazing.
I’m planning to use some leftover roasted apples to make apple muffins with cream cheese frosting. This recipe looks like a good place to start my brainstorming!
But for now, here is my simply delicious roasted apple recipe.
Roasted Apples with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Apple Cider Sauce; Serves 4
- 4 medium apples, cored and sliced into wedges
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp cane sugar
- 2 cups good quality vanilla bean ice cream
- 4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- 4 tablespoons apple cider sauce (see below on how to make!)
- Make the apple cider sauce ahead of time (see below).
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°. Spread the apple slices onto a large baking sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until soft but still maintaining their shape. Go too far and you’ll have apple sauce wedges (which would still taste good so no worries!).
- Scoop apple wedges into four bowls. Add 1/2 cup scoops of ice cream to the top, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon walnuts, and drizzle 1 tablespoon cider sauce on top of it all. Dig in!
Apple Cider Reduction Sauce
- 8 cups (1/2 gallon jug) fresh-pressed apple cider
- Make the cider sauce ahead of time (you can make this up to a month ahead!). Pour apple cider into a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low to simmer for at least an hour and up to two hours until the apple cider is reduced from 8 cups to 2. You can keep this sauce in the fridge for a month and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- To make the sauce even more condense, you can boil it down further until you have about 1 cup left from the original 8 cups.
- You’ll use just a bit for this recipe and can store the rest to use in a variety of dishes.
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:
‘He looked at his watch, astonished how the months had fallen out of it.” –The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
This summer has flown by in a happy, hectic whirl. Amidst the excitement and busy-ness, there have been a few constants. Warm, heavy evenings interrupted only by the crack of the bat and the roar of a crowd while listening to the Detroit Tigers on the radio. Letting the dog out, then in, then out again. The slow summer rhythm of the neighborhood, with neighbors spilling out on porches and long, spontaneous chats while walking the pup. Drew’s wet waders slung over the white pipe railing of the back porch to dry, oozing tales of trout or simple tales of a good wade down a stream (“That’s why they call it fishing, not catching,” he reminds me). The communion of friends sharing meals and stories under the twinkle fairy lights on our back patio. Saturday mornings bumping into friends and talking with our farmers at the market. The sweetness of a good night kiss shared. Cold oatmeal for breakfast.
We have eaten cold oatmeal nearly every morning over the last four months. And yet, each day I wake up looking forward to it in its many variations. Soon the warm months will have moved on and we’ll be switching back to oatmeal in other forms, oat bran, cooked rolled oats, baked oats, oatmeal griddle cakes.
Cold oats can, and have, been enjoyed in our household in every which way. On a Saturday morning in summertime, in a patch of sunlight on the back stoop, glasses still on, hair wild, eyelids heavy, one hand thumbing through a cooking magazine. On a Tuesday morning, racing to get out the door to work, spoon in one hand, blow dryer in the other. At the desk at work, typing with one hand, eating a greatly anticipated breakfast with the other. At the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula at a campground, coffee bubbling in the percolator on the camp stove, a morning fire in the fire pit, reading the What’s U.P.? paper, a hodgepodge of odd news and Upper Peninsula real estate. On a Sunday, listening to our BBC radio drama, The Archers, and drinking our pour-over coffees.
Cold oatmeal (aka Muesli) has been a constant in these moments over the warm spring and summer months. It has been both a breakfast made for the simplicity and the quickness of it, and a breakfast made for the enjoyment of it. Some of the best meals are the simplest and this is an excellent example.
Because oatmeal is such a constant in my life, it has become the unsung hero of my mornings. I have not thought to post about cold oats until this post came about, opting to write about more savory, later-in-the-day meals instead. But how could I not share this beloved meal with you?
Cold oatmeal can be made in a huge variety of ways, whatever suits your tastes or pantry at the moment. The formula I usually follow is oats, almond milk, dried fruit, nuts, maple syrup. Occasionally if the fruit is good I’ll stir in some fresh peaches, blueberries, raspberries, figs, or plums but usually I enjoy dried fruit, soaked in the oat mixture over night.
One of the best things about this breakfast is that it is a huge time saver. The night before, you simply put old-fashioned rolled oats into a jar or bowl, cover with just under twice as much plant-based or animal-based milk, any additions you want, and place back in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you don’t need to lift a finger (or turn on the stove if the day is a hot one) to enjoy a filling and satisfying breakfast. Convinced? Follow the easiest-recipe-in-the-world below and you’ll be singing its praises too.
Cold Oats With Dried Fruit and Nuts
- 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
- 1 and 3/4 cup almond milk, soy milk, or cow’s milk
- 3-4 dates, chopped
- 2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup, optional (some folks are happy with the sweetness of the fruit without additional sweetener)
- Mix all ingredients into a jar or bowl.
- Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
- Grab a spoon, stumble to the fridge, grab cold oats, and dig in.
- Substitute raisins, cranberries, dried plums, dried cherries, or any other favorite dried fruit.
- Add fresh fruits when in season. Blueberries, peaches, nectarines, prune plums, raspberries, blackberries…all are good options.
- Cook up some apples with cinnamon and stir into the mix.
- Substitute yogurt for some or all of the milk.
- Experiment with raw pumpkin seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, or any other nuts you love.
A week and a half ago I met a remarkable woman whose work brought me to tears and who gave me a sense of hope in the kindness of others. Shura Wallin, the founder of Green Valley Samaritans in Sahuarita, AZ, spoke to a small group of like-minded participants of a seminar discussion at the Circle Pines 75th Anniversary Celebration in Southwest Michigan. A tiny woman with a huge heart, a big message, and a spitfire to boot, shared with us her stories of locating migrants who are found suffering and offering them first aid, food, and water to prevent them from dying in the desert as they cross the border and make their way toward Tucson.
Her stories were touching and she reminded me just how closely tied we are to others and how we can always find a common thread of understanding to carry us past differences of personality, religion, politics, and all other ‘issues’ that can stand in the way of finding common ground. If we try, we can usually find a common thread despite our differences.
One of the reasons I love food and cooking so much is that it offers a common ground and shared experience. Drop the politics and a group of people coming together over good food can come to coexist over the shared joy of food.
It is also the finest way I know to show someone you care for them. For me, cooking healthy but tasty foods and sharing them with those I love is the simplest gesture of love I can offer. I love having friends over to share a meal with us. I love sending them home, bellies full and leftovers in hand to enjoy for lunch the next day. To me, food is love.
Not too long ago (but long enough ago to make me feel like I’m behind on posting!) I whipped up these spring rolls when our friend, Natalia, had a canceled flight and ended up staying the night with us. Although I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled about the canceled flight, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to have her for dinner. It was a hot and sticky night that called for something fresh and cooling. We had a wonderful night hanging out and I loved hearing Natalia and Drew share their new songs with each other. I felt lucky to share an unexpected meal with a very cool new friend.
This recipe is great because it satisfies those who eat gluten-free, vegans (without the sauce or with a modified sauce), and vegetarians, as well as meat eaters and picky eaters. The fresh spring rolls seem to be a universally enjoyed dish, at least amongst the many friends I’ve served them to.
Fresh spring rolls can be concocted in a myriad of ways–this is just the way I do it most of the time. Feel free to experiment or pick and choose various components from other recipes. Here are a couple of others to pick and choose from: Fresh Spring Rolls from Cooking Light (2004), Fresh Vegetable Rolls from Cooking Light (1999).
Fresh Spring Rolls With a Thai Dipping Sauce–Serves 4
- 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sambal oolek (garlic chili paste)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely grated carrot
- 12 (8-inch) round sheets rice paper
- Head of butter lettuce (tender leaved lettuce)
- 1 cup julienned carrots
- 1 cup julienned cucumber
- 1 cup shredded radishes
- 1/2 cup basil and/or mint leaves, chopped
- 1 block of extra firm tofu, drained and pressed for 1 hour (for instructions, click here), cut into fat matchsticks
- 2 tablespoons tamari or high quality soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil or olive oil
- Add oil to a wok or skillet and heat until very hot. Toss tofu into pan–you’ll need to keep an eye on it to avoid burning and toss with a spatula or spoon until browned. Turn off the heat and dash the soy sauce onto the pan. Toss tofu into sauce and let sit to cool for a bit before making the rolls.
- To prepare dipping sauce, combine all six ingredients. Stir until sugar dissolves. Let sit while making spring rolls.
- To make the spring rolls, put an inch or two of hot water in a wide, shallow dish with sides. I sometimes clean out the sink and fill it with water if I can’t find a bowl right away.
- Place one rice paper sheet at a time into the water. Let soften–it will take about 30 seconds. Don’t soften too much or the sheet will fall apart–you’ll get the hang of it after a couple of tries. Put rice paper sheet on clean counter or a large plate. Put one piece of lettuce in the center of the sheet and top with carrots, cucumber, radishes, tofu, and some chopped herbs. Fold one edge over the filling, then both sides, rolling as you go. The rice paper will stick and form a seal. Press the seam if it doesn’t automatically stick. Put the spring roll on a platter, covering with a wet paper towel to keep from sticking.
- Repeat with remaining ingredients until you are out of either filling or papers. Slice on a diagonal, arrange on a beautiful platter, and serve with dipping sauce.
“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 wow wow….this summer is flying by! July is drawing to a close and I have barely caught my breath. But it’s been such a good summer…I dare say the it may be best I’ve had. I’ve gone for many summer walks, the temperatures have been wonderful other than one intense week of 90’s, my pears are growing like crazy on the tree in my yard, we’ve gone trout fishing (catch and release) in some gorgeous Michigan rivers, and we have had some wonderful dinners with friends. It’s pretty magical to sit outside on the patio until the sky is dark and the fireflies come out.
It has been a summer of music! We’ve taken the ferry to Manitowac, WI for Acoustic Fest (photos above!) and enjoyed Buttermilk Jamboree, NorEaster Festival, and Roots on the River. I have met so many incredible people at these festivals and feel so invigorated by these new friendships.
My work has begun to feel more routine and I really enjoy getting to know my coworkers. I’ve flown around on the corporate plane doing research in stores in Indianapolis, Michigan, and Ohio and feel like I’m making a difference for a company I believe in. Yes, things are turning up.
I’m really excited to share the good news that Grand Rapids Magazine plans to publish an article about me in their October issue this year. I’ve been interviewed for content and in two days a great local photographer is going to do a photo shoot with me! I can’t tell you how excited I am! I’ve never had a photo shoot before! Wish me luck!
A couple of weeks ago, I whipped up this quinoa salad after having one at our friend’s camp, the Tosebo Camp For Boys, over the fourth of July weekend. The salad is very healthy and has the perfect combination of textures and flavors; crunchy, soft, sweet, and spicy. It was the perfect meal for hot days when I stayed far, far away from the stove. This is a great dish for potlucks, one dish dinners, and lunch and is easily adaptable to your taste preferences. Enjoy!
Quinoa Salad with Corn, Black Beans, Avocado, and a Chipotle-Lime Dressing; Serves 4-6
- 1 cup multi-colored quinoa (red, black, white)–or any color
- 2 cups water
- 1.5 cups black beans (I cook my own but you can use canned)
- 1.5 cups corn kernels, frozen or fresh
- 1/2 roasted red bell pepper, diced
- 1 green onion, chopped (or you may use red onion, finely diced)
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- 1/2 avocado, cubed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Put quinoa and water into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately turn down to a low simmer and cover. Simmer the quinoa in the water until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. I’d check it as it cooks–sometimes I feel that the water absorbs better than other times and I’ve burnt it from time to time!
- Mix the quinoa, black beans, corn, red pepper, onion, and cilantro in a large bowl.
- Mix the oil, lime juice, chipotle, adobo sauce, cumin, agave nectar, and salt and pepper in a small bowl.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Serve topped with more cilantro and cubed avocado.