Monday, November 24, 2008

Cup O' Soup

Who doesn't love a meal made up of soup, salad, and crusty bread on a cold winter night? Caroline. It's not that she hates soup. She just doesn't care for it. Since she has been battling a cold all week (and has now passed it on to me and Geoff), I decided to serve chicken noodle soup for dinner tonight. Instead of serving it in bowls, I put the soup in mugs. It did the trick. Caroline drank her soup like a pro. "I do. I do. I do like the soup" she said mimicking the words in Dr. Seuss's Sam I Am.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Food Grouch

Geoff just called me a "food grouch." Since moving to Michigan in 2004, our friends have sung the praises of Ann Arbor. "Oh, you'll never like East Lansing, Betty. I know you. But you'll love Ann Arbor." "There's better food in Ann Arbor." "Ann Arbor has better bookstores." Ann Arbor this, Ann Arbor that. After my food shopping experiences today, I am feeling less than chipper and pining for familiar old favorites like the Meridian Township Farmers' Market, Schuler's Bookstore, and the East Lansing Food Co-op. But here's why I'm grouchy. Our first trip this morning was to the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market. What drives me crazy about this farmers' market is that none of the organic farmers list food prices. So every week, I load up my bag with goodies, tell the farmer (or whoever happens to be working the stand that day) what I've got and some number spills out of their mouth. Today, it was $29. Last week I bought about the same amount of produce and it was $14. What's the deal?! I could ask what each item costs but why do I have to? I've never been to a farmers' market where products weren't labeled with prices. I want to pay a fair price for food but really, was the price of the vegetables we bought today really $29? I guess we'll never know. Our next stop was Zingerman's for our usual cup of coffee and pastry. Since my good friend Allison was coming over for lunch, I also hit the deli for some meat, cheese, and olives. I settled on nicoise olives ($18.99 per pound) and French sausage for $12. It was a splurge but Allison is moving to Italy and today was our last visit together for awhile. And honestly, since I haven't bought nicoise olives in a long time, I couldn't remember what they typically go for. Plus, if it tasted as good as it looked (or if you get what you pay for), why not? But it didn't. The nicoise olives weren't anything special and the French sausage was horrible and left me feeling sick to my stomach. After my food experiences today, I am wondering what all of the Ann Arbor hype is about...well, maybe that isn't a fair statement. There are some good things about food in Ann Arbor. Like Alex Nemeth's Fuji apples. I feel better just thinking about the big bag of Fuji apples in my refrigerator. They are the perfect size, crunchy, and sweet. Now those are good apples. And they're affordable too.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Before leaving Portland, I bought myself a present: The Paley's Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley. Paley's Place is a well-known restaurant in Portland's chic Northwest 23rd Avenue neighborhood. We've never eaten there but everyone I know that has just raves about it. I read the book on the plane back to Michigan while Caroline slept on my lap. With recipes like Chicken Roulade and Huckleberry Kuchen with Cassis-Huckleberry Sauce and Creme Fraiche, I doubt I'll be able to find the time to make most of the dishes in this book. But I didn't buy it for the recipes. I bought it for the stories. I laughed out loud when I read about Vitaly Paley's weekend with Fergus Henderson cooking pig trotteres and partridges. Reading the stories about the food and food producers of the Northwest reminded me of why I love to cook. Even though I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, much of it is spent preparing easy to prepare meals that I know Caroline will enjoy. The Paley's Place Cookbook inspired me to cook one of my favorite dishes tonight: chicken provencal. It is a recipe I found in an old Cook's Illustrated magazine from years ago and for some reason, I assumed that the flavors would overwhelm Caroline and she wouldn't like it. Instead of following my own advice (I can hear the annoying message now: Some foods may need to be introduced to children up to 20 times before they are willing to try it) I just avoided this dish altogether. I served the chicken with oyster mushrooms (Tantre Farms) sauteed with garlic and Israeli couscous. To my surprise, Caroline loved her meal. Thank goodness!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Bouquet From Kaleng

Life has been busy these days. We spent 10 days in California at the end of October and just returned to Ann Arbor from a trip to Portland, Oregon. We were back in Michigan for only a few days in between, just enough time to get over jet lag...before heading to the west coast again. Portland is our home. Before moving to Michigan, Geoff and I lived in Portland. We were only there for four years but during that time, we made many close friends, including Kaleng Moua (pictured here). Kaleng is a farmer and vendor at the Portland Farmers' Market. He grows and sells fruits, vegetables, and flowers. We became friends with Kaleng and his family years ago. We first met at the farmers' market but we became friends while working together to try to improve farm direct marketing opportunities for immigrant farmers. I visited the Moua's farm years ago and was so impressed with the diversity of the products they grew, how hard they worked, and their care for their land. At that time, Kaleng mostly grew flowers, vegetables, and hazelnuts. Over the years, he has started growing specialty foods like figs and jerusalem artichokes. We visit Kaleng at the Portland Farmers' Market about once a year. The market is so busy that we never get a chance to talk for more than a few minutes. I always bring him one of my favorite Michigan foods and he always gives me something from his stand to eat during my stay. This time, he gave me a bag of perfect jerusalem artichokes, a bunch of bok choy, and a bouquet of dried flowers. "For your office" he said as he handed me the flowers. I turned away and pretended to look at his figs so that he wouldn't see the tears rolling down my cheeks. Kaleng. He is always so kind to me. I thought of Kaleng earlier this week as I cleared a spot on my desk for the flowers. They look beautiful and even though they are dried, they smell lovely. I thought of Kaleng again tonight as Caroline and I prepared the jerusalem artichokes for dinner. It was my first time cooking with jerusalem artichokes (also known as sunchokes because they are the tubers that form under sunflowers). Caroline helped me to scrub them clean and after I sliced them into 1/2 inch rounds, we tossed them with our hands in sunflower oil and dried rosemary and roasted them in the over. They were delicious.
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