Thursday, August 6, 2009

Food for A Family Backpacking Trip

Before we moved to Michigan in 2004, Geoff and I spent many weekends together backpacking along the west coast. On short trips, we brought ingredients to make pancakes and scrambled eggs for breakfast, bagel sandwiches for lunch, spaghetti or Indian curries for dinner, and s'mores for dessert. If we had space in our pack, we threw in a bottle of wine. On week-long trips, we were happy to eat trail mix, granola bars, and instant oatmeal on days 4, 5, 6, and 7. Tomorrow, we are headed to North Manitou Island for our first backpacking trip in Michigan and our first backpacking trip with our 3-year old. Of course, I've been thinking for days about what we'll bring to eat. Since we'll be carrying Caroline's gear in addition to our own, space will be at a premium. But it's only a 2-day trip and the hike in to our campsite is not more than a few miles. What should we bring? So far, I've gathered ingredients for hummus (instant), cucumber, and cheese sandwiches, whole wheat rotini pasta with garlic and cherry tomatoes, and s'mores (always s'mores). Plus, I've packed bread, instant oatmeal, granola, crackers, dried apples, blueberries, cherries, hot chocolate, tetra packs of milk, coffee, and tea. What am I missing?

I just learned that the weather forecast predicts rain for Saturday, which to me is just additional motivation to carry good food. Eating instant oatmeal on a beautiful morning is one thing. But who wants to sit in a tent eating instant oatmeal for 2 days? Come to think of it, who wants to take a family backpacking trip when the weather forecast predicts rain?! Me.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Simple and in-season: White Bean and Corn Croquettes

Sweet corn is in-season! We bought half dozen ears from Kory Krueger (Sweet Spot Orchards) at the farmers' market on Saturday. They were $0.50 a piece. We usually eat sweet corn as corn-on-the-cob but tonight, I cut the kernels off of one ear and added them to my recipe for bean croquettes.

I use an easy and versatile recipe for bean croquettes: First, I mash together 2 cups cooked beans (any kind), 1/2 cup onion (minced), 1 egg, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste. (Tonight, I added corn to the bean mixture). I like my croquettes with a little bit of texture so I mash them using a potato masher. For a smoother texture, you can put the bean mixutre through a food processor. Next, I cover the bottom of a large skillet with vegetable oil and turn the heat to medium-high. Using my hands, I shape about a 1/4 cup of the mixture into an oval-saped cake. I repeat this step with the remaining bean mixture. Finally, I cook the croquettes in the hot oil until golden brown on each side (about 3 minutes per side). They are best when served hot or warm.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Simple and in-season: Roasted vegetable sandwich

One of our family's favorite summertime meals is a simple roasted vegetable sandwich and a green salad. I made these sandwiches for dinner tonight using eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and cucumbers that I picked up at the farmers' market today. I cut the eggplant and zucchini lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices, brushed both sides with olive oil, and cooked them under the broiler for a few minutes per side. I placed the vegetables on one slice of toasted bread from Avalon International Breads (Detroit) and spread neufchatel cheese on another and put the slices together to make a sandwich. I ate my sandwich as is. Caroline disassembled hers but ate all the pieces.

Happy Birthday Caroline!

We celebrated Caroline's 3rd birthday yesterday with this beautiful buttermilk cake from Zingermans!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fruit flies be gone!

Since we started composting our fruit and vegetable scraps, I’ve noticed that the amount of garbage our family generates per week has decreased from about five grocery-size bags to one. I’ve also noticed that we have a significant fruit fly problem. We put our fruit and vegetable scraps into a plastic container and dump the container out into our compost when it gets full, or about every other day. The container has a tight-fitting lid but it still attracted fruit flies, so many of them that even Caroline said to me one day, “We have a fruit fly problem!” I hate to kill bugs of any kind but seeing the tiny flies buzzing round the kitchen all day really gave me the creeps. So, I started poking around the internet. How do you get rid of fruit flies? The most obvious way is to remove the source, or in my case, the plastic container. But I’m a busy mom and I like to save myself trips to the compost if I can. After another minute or so on the internet, I came across on-line stores that sell a full suite of fruit fly eradication options: pest control sprays, fly traps, gels, baits, traps that use pheromone sexual attractants. For about $100, you can even buy your own professional ultraviolet fly trap. I passed on all of these options and opted for a simpler trap made of materials that I had on hand: plastic food wrap, rubber band, small glass jar, apple cider vinegar. I put about a 1/8 cup of apple cider vinegar in the jar and covered it with a piece of plastic food wrap secured in place with a rubber band. I then poked several holes into the plastic food wrap (using a fork) and placed the jar on the kitchen counter. The fruit flies, attracted to the apple cider vinegar, quickly made their way through the holes in the plastic food wrap. But they couldn’t get out.

Our family returned from a 10-day vacation on Sunday night and I’m pleased to report that we came home to a kitchen free of fruit flies.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Keta salmon on sale!

We love wild salmon but because it's so expensive, we only buy it when it is on sale. This week, Keta salmon is on sale at Whole Foods Market. The price? Only $6.99 per lb. I had never heard of Keta salmon until Sunday morning when Caroline and I went to Whole Foods Market to buy our groceries. I wasn't sure what it would taste like but for $6.99 per lb, how could I go wrong? I bought a pound and we ate it for dinner tonight. Unlike King or Sockeye salmon, Keta salmon (alson known as Chum or Chub) has a very mild flavor and light colored flesh. Keta salmon has a lower fat and omega-3 fatty acid content than other species of salmon. For example, 3 oz of King salmon has about 11.5 grams of fat compared to just 4 grams of fat in the same amount of Keta salmon. But it is high in protein and, well, it's salmon and we love salmon. To cook it, I placed it skin-side down on a broiler pan, brushed the flesh with melted butter, rubbed it with Alder smoked coarse salt and broiled it for 6 minutes. I served it for dinner with brown rice and a side of sauteed yellow squash cut into rounds. The salmon had a nice flavor. So nice that I think I will go back to Whole Foods Market later this week to pick up some Keta salmon to freeze and eat later this summer. Keta salmon is on sale until July 21.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Where Our Milk Comes From

For the last two years, we've been buying Calder Dairy milk. I'm lactose intolerant so I've never tried the milk but Geoff tells me it tastes great. Calder Farm is a family owned and operated farm in Carleton, which is located about an hour south of Ann Arbor. The farm has a relatively small herd (110 milk cows) of Holstein, Brown Swiss, and Jersey cows. Artificial hormones are not given to the cows to enhance their milk production. I've always wanted to meet the cows who produce the milk that Caroline drinks everyday so this afternoon, Caroline and I drove out to Carleton with our friends Katherine and Julia. I had never been to a dairy farm so I wasn't sure what to expect. We arrived at 3:00 pm, just in time for Caroline to have a chance to help give a bottle of milk to a 7-day old calf. We spent the next hour walking around the property (and eating ice cream from the on-site ice cream parlor) and at 4:00 pm, we watched the cows being milked in the milking parlor. The farm has a small milking parlor with only 8 electronic milking machines. It takes about an hour and a half for all 110 cows to be milked. The milk is stored in a refrigerated tank and then taken to Calder Dairy in Lincoln to be pasteurized in small batches and bottled in recyclable glass bottles. After watching so many documentaries exposing the underbelly of the conventional and industrial food system, I was heartened by our visit to this farm where cows are treated with respect and where the employees seem to take pride in their work.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Needle Lane Farms CSA

When our friends Leslie and Steve asked if we could use their CSA (community supported agriculture) share while they were out-of-town, of course I said "yes." They are members of Needle Lane Farms CSA (Tipton, MI) and pick-up their share at Morgan and York on Tuesdays. I love the CSA model. Members subscribe to a farm by buying shares of the farm in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the operating the farm. In return, they receive a share of the harvest throughout the growing season. Before Caroline was born in July 2006, we were members of the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm CSA (community supported agriculture). Every Wednesday we went to the farm to pick up our share of fruits and vegetables for the week. We never knew what we would get in our share from week to week and that was part of the fun. I loved the challenge of making meals from surprise ingredients. After Caroline was born, we found that we didn't have time to go to the farm to pick up our share and I didn't have the energy to accomodate surprises. So we dropped our membership. I miss being a member of a CSA so when it came time to pick-up Leslie and Steve's share today, I hurried to Morgan and York. Their share of vegetables -- broccoli, lettuce, kohlrabi, chard, cabbage, red potatoes -- looked ultra-fresh and delicious. Dinner tonight? Whole wheat pasta tossed with sauteed garlic, broccoli, sun-dried heirloom tomatoes, toasted pinenuts, and parmesan cheese and served with a side salad. Thanks Leslie and Steve!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Don't toss the beet greens!

Beet greens are delicious. They can be used as a substitute for spinach, chard or kale.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Caroline's new favorite vegetable? Beets!

Last year, Caroline would barely touch my roasted beets. This year, she can't get enough of them. She likes golden beets and Chioggia beets (the pink and white stripped variety) but her favorite beets are the red ones. She likes the taste enough to eat them but what she loves most is the way that they make her tongue (and everything she touches) that deep red-purple color. Sometimes, she rubs the roasted red beets along her lips and says, "Look Mama! Lipstick!" I don't encourage food play but I let Caroline get away with a few applications.

I roast a bunch (or a couple of bunches) of beets on the weekend, store them in a covered container in the refrigerator, and use them throughout the week in salads, as a side dish, or just as is.

Roasted beets


Preheat the oven to 450F. Trim beets and scrub clean. Small beets can be roasted whole. Large beets should be cut in half or quartered (depending on their size) if they are going to be roasted alongside small beets. Place beets, cut-side down, in a oven-proof dish. Add a splash or two of water. Cover dish tightly with foil. Place in the oven and roast for about 30-40 minutes or until beets are easily pierced with a sharp knife. Peel beets while they are still warm by using fingers to rub off the skin.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Strawberry (or other fruit) jam salad dressing

We bought a flat of strawberries at the farmers' market a few weeks ago and ended up turning about half of it into jam. I love strawberry jam but we probably have more of it now that we can use up in the next year. While tinkering around together in the kitchen last week, Caroline and I made strawberry jam salad dressing. The recipe is simple: 1:1 ratio of olive oil and Agro Dolce vinegar (or champagne vinegar) and strawberry jam to taste. If you like sweet salad dressing, add more strawberry jam. For more subtle hints of strawberries, add less.

What happened to our lettuce? And our broccoli?

Saturday afternoon was my first trip to our community garden plot since returning home Friday after an overnight trip to DC. When I saw that the tips of our lettuce leaves had been broken off, I have to admit that my first thought (or maybe I said it out loud) was, "Doesn't Geoff know how to pick lettuce?" But then I saw that the tip of one of the broccoli leaves also had been ripped off. It seemed strange that Geoff would have tried to harvest a broccoli leaf. When I got home, I asked Geoff, "Um, did you pick some lettuce while I was gone?" When he shook his head, I panicked. What had gotten into our lettuce? When we planted our garden, we put up a fence around our entire plot. We even buried it and used metal stakes to secure it into the ground so that critters wouldn't be able to eat our food. When I checked my email later that afternoon, I saw that I had a message from Katherine, one of our community garden sages. She wrote, "So I was just out in the garden and it looks like a groundhog got into your garden." I felt my blood pressure rise as I kept reading. It turns out that a groundhog got into our plot through slits in our fence, probably made by the University of Michigan Northwood grounds maintenance crew who weed-wack around the fence. Katherine, who also happens to be a friend, repaired our fence for us by patching the slits with pieces of fencing material and garden-variety twist ties. I was thankful and thought that our groundhog problem had been resolved. But when I went to check on our garden this morning, I saw that the bottom of our "door" had been pushed aside and found our broccoli plant standing near-naked with its leaves eaten away. I am not happy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

First Raspberries!

Our first stop at the Ann Arbor farmers' market this morning was Tantre Farm located next to Hollander's and near 4th and Kingsley. These days, we start our Saturday morning farmers' market shopping at Tantre Farm because they have a large variety of produce; whatever we can't buy there, we buy from other vendors. This morning, they had yellow/gold and red raspberries! Caroline loves raspberries so we bought a couple of half-pint containers of the red variety. The USDA certified organic raspberries were $4 for a container. I don't always buy USDA certified organic produce but when it comes to berries, which are so hard to clean, I almost always buy them from vendors who do not spray their berries with chemicals. Caroline loved the raspberries and ate a full half-pint container as we walked through the market.

Friday, June 26, 2009

How to Talk to Woodchucks

Geoff: Caroline, what would you say if the woodchuck came up and wanted to eat our flowers? I would say, "Get away, woodchuck!"

Caroline: No, Daddy. That would not be nice. I would say, "Woodchuck, please don't eat the flowers because Mama will be cross."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Simple and in-season: Summer squash quesadillas

It's 90F outside and too hot to cook anything that requires turning on the stove or oven for long periods of time. I contemplated getting take-out sushi for dinner but since it's a farmers' market day, we'll have something simple and in-season tonight: quesadillas made with summer squash and Monterey Jack cheese and salad made with lettuce from our garden. Dessert? Mulberries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My carrot came up!

About a month ago, Caroline started singing a song about carrots. "Carrots grow from carrot seeds, I planted one today. I watered it, I
pulled the weeds, carrots grow from carrot seeds." The song is based on Ruth Krauss' 1945 book, The Carrot Seed. Caroline's teachers, Sandra and Erin, are both interested in food and nutrition so I wasn't surprised when I walked into her classroom one day and saw the row of red flower pots, planted with carrot seeds, lined up on the window sill. Mya's carrot seeds germinated first. Others slowly followed. Until today, Caroline's pot looked like it was filled only with dirt. But she wasn't discouraged. "Not yet" she would say in a sing-song voice when we checked on her pot in the mornings. When I picked her up today, she was very excited to tell me that her seed had germinated. "My carrot came up!" she said. We looked into her pot and sure enough, a tiny plant had poked its way through the dirt. We have a garden at home but I love that Caroline gets a chance to grow food with her teachers and friends. Growing food allows Caroline to learn how to care for a plant and exposes her to the work that is involved in planting a seed and nurturing it to maturity. And it teaches her the value of patience...It will still be a couple of months before the carrots are ready to harvest and to eat.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Parsley House

Uncle Butch made us this "parsley house" to keep the woodchucks out of our pots. It's made out of chicken wire and a bamboo stick. The chicken wire was bent to form a tube and wire cutters and pliers were used to cut and bend the wire together along the long sides of the tube.The bamboo stick, which runs along the bottom of the pot through two holes in the chicken wire, is meant to prevent the woodchucks from knocking over the house. Clever.

Ah ha! It's a woodchuck!

Here is one of the woodchucks that has been eating our parsley! It turns out a family of 5 live two doors down beneath our neighbor's back porch.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Halibut and...

When we headed out to the farmers' market this morning, I had planned to buy asparagus to serve for dinner tonight alongside the halibut that I bought yesterday. Uncle Butch, our favorite uncle from Portland, Oregon, is visiting for the weekend and I had hoped to show off some Michigan asparagus. I was disappointed to learn however, that asparagus season is over. Unbeknownest to me, I ate my last bite of this year's fresh Michigan asparagus this past Tuesday night. I mourned about the end of asparagus season for about a minute or two and then quickly turned my attention to the strawberries , cucumbers, greens, peas, and everything else that is now in-season. I began thinking about a new menu for dinner tonight. Frog Holler Farm had cone cabbage and cilantro and Tantre Farm had yellow summer squash (pictured here) and beets. And I knew I had a package of La Jalisciencse whole wheat tortillas at home. New menu? Halibut soft tacos with roasted yellow summer squash and cone caabbage cilantro slaw. Roasted beets with fennel oil on the side.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday morning at SELMA

When my alarm went off at 6:00 am this morning, I was tempted to hit snooze so that I could get another hour of sleep. With the thunder and heavy rain, I tossed and turned in bed for most of the night. I was tired and in a bad mood. But instead of pulling the pillow over my head, I got out of bed, took a quick shower, and got dressed. It was Friday morning and I promised Caroline last night that I would take her to SELMA for a special breakfast. I don't know if she would have been upset if we skipped it (or if she even remembered my promise) but it's important to me that I keep my word. Plus, I knew that being around friends would do more for my mood than a couple of extra strength Tylenol. SELMA is a volunteer-run local-foods breakfast salon on the Westside of Ann Arbor. Every Friday morning, Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe open their home to their community to join them for breakfast made with seasonal and local ingredients. I met Lisa yesterday at the Food System Economic Partnership conference in Adrian but I first heard of SELMA from my friend Julia earlier this week. We arrived at Lisa and Jeff's home at 7:00 am and before we even got to the front door, I could smell something delicious. Bacon? Once inside, Lisa greeted us and welcomed us into her home. We signed-in, wrote our names on masking tape name tags, and made our way to the kitchen where people were mingling, eating, cooking, and serving. The menu was posted on a piece of butcher paper taped to the wall: tortilla espanola with potatoes and onions, tortilla flamenca with peppers, potatoes, and onions, frittata with Jeff's homemade coppa, waffles with fruit and bacon, yogurt granola parfait with fruit. Guests are invited to make a donation for their meal; money raised is used to support the local food community. Caroline and I sat on bar stools at the huge kitchen island. Baby Sophia, her doll, sat on the island, propped up against the pepper grinder. My friend Julia was one of the many SELMA volunteers working this morning. She served me a very good cup of coffee and brought a special breakfast for Caroline: pizza fritte drizzled with chocolate and served with fresh strawberries and a mint leaf (pictured here). Carolyn, who I met for the first time today, took my order: frittata with coppa served with greens. We ate our breakfast slowly and savored every bite. The frittata and greens were delicious. And Caroline loved the pizza fritte. We left SELMA around 8:00 am with me feeling relaxed and Caroline with chocolate on her lips...and on her forehead!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dig a hole and bury it!

It's almost 10:00 pm and Geoff is outside digging a hole in our backyard for our fruit and vegetable scraps. Why? About a month ago, we decided that we wanted to start composting. We had been generating so much garbage but most of what was getting thrown away was food. But we didn't want to invest a lot of time on building a composting system or a lot of money on a fancy turning unit. So, when our friend Joan told us that she gave up her 3 compartment composting system for the old "dig a hole and bury it" method of composting, we thought...why not give it a try? Since then, Geoff has been digging small holes in the backyard and filling them with our fruit and vegetable scraps. The amount of garbage that we generate has decreased and hopefully, we are improving the quality of our soil. There's one problem...we are running out of places where we can dig our holes.

What happened to our parsley?

Before heading out the door every morning, Caroline and I water the herbs we planted in the pots on our small back patio (which is really just a small slab of concrete). We grow rosemary, edible flowers, curly parsley and until this morning, Italian flat leaf parsley. The stems of the flat leaf parsley are still in the pot but the leaves aren't. What happened to our parsley?! Caroline had an idea. "The woodchuck ate it" she said. I think she is right. A woodchuck (a rather plump woodchuck, I might add) has been hanging around our backyard for about a month now and has been munching on the dandelions. Has he moved on to our parsley?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Strawberries and Joan's Granola

When we visited our friend Joan a few weeks ago at her home in Piermont, NY, we went to the nearby farmers' market early one morning for the season's first strawberries. Joan served the strawberries with plain yogurt, maple syrup, and her famous homemade granola. It was delicious. Caroline liked the strawberries and plain yogurt but she loved the granola. It's made with rolled oats, wheat germ, sesame seeds, powdered milk, sliced almonds, ground hazelnuts, honey, and vegetable oil, and is probably more nutritious (and more affordable) than the typical store-bought variety. In Michigan, strawberries are now in season. We bought an entire flat this morning from Sweet Spot Orchards for $32. When we got home, Caroline and I made granola using Joan's recipe; the recipe is published in her book, "This Organic Life." Caroline loved scooping out the ingredients and then mixing everything together in a big bowl using her hands. Breakfast tomorrow: Sweet Spot Orchards strawberries, Joan's homemade granola, plain yogurt, and Michigan maple syrup.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cherries in DC!

It was Caroline who spotted the cherries first. "Mama! Cherries!" she said pointing to a huge display of the season's first cherries. They were bright red and on the small side as far as cherries go. I grabbed a quart and gave them to Caroline to hold as we waited in line to pay a steep $8 in exchange for a taste of the season's first cherries. It's still too early for cherries in Michigan. But we were in DC over the weekend and within a 150-mile radius of DC, cherry season is just beginning. Our Sunday morning ritual when we are in DC is to visit the Dupont Circle farmers' market and buy smoked blue fish empanadas from Chris' Marketplace to eat for breakfast. On Sunday, we found a shady spot on the east side of the market where we sat down to eat our empanadas and cherries. Within minutes of sitting down, Caroline's white tank top was stained red-purple from the cherry juice that dripped from fingers as she tried to remove the pits and down her chin as popped each one into her mouth. It won't be long now before we'll be able to enjoy cherries here in Michigan.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Snapping and Eating Asparagus

Instead of going to work early this morning, I volunteered in Caroline's class. Since asparagus is in season, I decided to teach the eight 2-ish year olds how to cook asparagus. I arrived at 9:00 am with a bottle of olive oil, sea salt, an asparagus ink-stamp, and about 60 spears of asparagus. We prepped the asparagus by snapping off their tough ends. The children loved the sound of the snap and some of them snapped and snapped their spears until all but the tips were snapped into bits! We put the long spears and bits together in a bowl and tossed the asparagus with olive oil. Then, I passed around a small round box of sea salt so that each child could have a turn to put a pinch of salt into the bowl. We spread the asparagus onto a broiler pan and put it in the oven for about 5 minutes or so. The children were eager to try the asparagus and patiently sat around a kidney-shaped table waiting for me to pull the pan out of the oven. The spears and bits were placed into individual cups and so that each child could have their own serving. Some of the children, like Caroline, already knew and loved asparagus. Others had never tried it before. And one child was introduced to it at home but, according to her mom, wouldn't touch it. This morning, all eight children asked for more and eagerly ate all of the spears and bits. And then just for fun, I stamped their arms with my asparagus-ink stap.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Blackberry Ice Cream in a Pink Egg Cone

Caroline loves ice cream. So when we visited her friend Maia (who has lots of fabulous toys) last month, I wasn't surprised when she went straight for Maia's Melissa and Doug ice cream set. This is absolutely the coolest toy: four (hard plastic) individual scoops of ice cream, two cones, and two scoops. Since all of the pieces are magnetized, you can actually use the scoops to pick up a scoop (or two or three or four) of ice cream and set it on a cone. It looks so real that if you close your eyes and think about being on the beach on a hot sunny day, you might actually lick it. Since Caroline and Maia's play date, I have seen the ice cream set at several toy stores. Each time, I pick up the box, look at the price (about $30.00), and think about how excited Caroline would be if she had her own set. But I haven't bought it. Until today, I couldn't quite place my finger on why. But I figured it out this morning when Caroline brought me a black rubber ball set inside one half of a plastic pink egg and said, "Here, Mama. I made this for you. It's a blackberry ice cream cone." In today's world of reality TV and toys that look like their real-life counterparts, children's imaginations seem fleeting. Maybe I'll buy the ice cream set for Caroline next year. But for now, I love her imagination.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Black Walnuts and Hickory

I meant to buy black walnuts and hickory from Sweet Spot Orchard last week at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market but I was so focused on buying their asparagus that I completely forgot about the nuts. So when we went back today, we bought a pint of black walnuts and hickory (and asparagus and green onions). When we got home, we tried to crack the nuts open using our nutcracker...but they didn't give the slightest bit. I tried to break them open with my meat pounder but they still wouldn't crack open. Finally, Geoff took the nuts outside, placed them on our concrete steps, and used his hammer to break them open. We used our fingers to pull the meat from the shell and ate them right there on the steps. The nuts were delicious...sweet and full of flavor. Caroline loves nuts of all kinds and these were no exception. Unfortunately, I'm not sure when I will have a chance to crack the rest of the nuts so for now, they are sitting in a bowl on the kitchen counter.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pizza: The Other American Pie

I've had my eye on the pizza making class at Zingerman's ever since we moved to Ann Arbor last October. But I didn't think that the cost to take the class fit into our budget. Geoff surprised me last month with two spots for tonight's class. It was a great class and worth every cent. Shelby (pictured here cutting Pizza Bianca) was our instructor. He was funny, helpful, and skilled. We learned how to make New York- and Chicago-style pizzas and Pizza Bianca, a simple Roman-style pizza. We tasted pizza, made our own dough to take home, and came home with four pizzas we made in class. My New York-style Pizza Margherita is pictured here. It's made with homemade crust and sauce, Bel Gioioso fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and a little bit of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. We put two deep dish pizzas in our deep freezer to save for dinners later this month and a couple of New York-style pizzas (Pizza Margherita) into the fridge to eat for dinner tomorrow night. We'll use the extra dough to make pizza with Caroline this weekend. Like most toddlers I know, Caroline loves pizza. And these days, she also loves the spinach we buy from Brines Farm at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market on Saturdays. Fresh spinach on pizza? Sounds like the perfect spring topping to me.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Asparagus Now In Season!

For Geoff, spring training marks the start of spring. For me, it's asparagus. From now until the end of asparagus season (mid to late June), our family will be eating asparagus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on as many days of the week as I can get away with. There will be asparagus in morning omelets and sauteed, broiled, grilled or steamed asparagus as a side dish for lunches and dinners. The asparagus season is so short that we never tire of eating the green spears. And since Michigan is the third largest asparagus-producing state in the country there will be plenty to eat over the next month and a half. We had sauteed asparagus alongside baked cod for dinner tonight. Caroline loved the asparagus and ate it by first biting off the tip before eating the rest of the spear.

What's up with the queue?

Free compost at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market! If we had known in advance, we wouldn't have rode our bikes to the market this morning. Alas, with two bikes and one bike trailer, we didn't have room (or the strength) to lug home a bag of compost.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Morning Pancakes

Caroline and I make pancakes every Sunday morning. It's a ritual we've had since she began eating solid foods, more than two years ago. I assembly the ingredients and (with a little bit of help from me) Caroline does everything else: cracking the egg, measuring flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, butter, and buttermilk. We take turns stirring the batter and then let it rest for about 30 minutes before we pour it into circles on the hot griddle. Sometimes we add blueberries or thinly sliced apples to the pancakes. My friend Woody told me that when small bubbles begin to form and pop on the surface of the pancakes and the edges begin to dry out, they are ready to flip. The pancakes are resting now. In another 20 minutes, we'll eat them with real maple syrup.

Ingredients: 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons white sugar, 2 large eggs (slightly beaten), 2 cups buttermilk, 2 tablespoons melted butter. Optional: blueberries or other fruit.

Directions: Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Combine wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just moistened (the batter will be a bit lumpy). Let sit for at least 30 minutes. Have a hot griddle ready. Pour batter onto griddle using a 1/4 cup measure or small ladle. Add blueberries or other fruit. Flip each pancake over when edges begin to dry out and small bubbles forme on the surface begin popping. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Serve with real maple syrup.

Community Farm Kitchen

I met Mary (pictured on the left) and Becky (pictured on the right) from Community Farm Kitchen this morning at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market. Their stand is located at the end of the first row of vendors (or beginning of the last, depending on where you're coming from). They were tucked away and we probably would have missed them except that we were looking for Shannon Brines (who has become one of our favorite farmers) and he was located near the Community Farm Kitchen stand. It was the muffins, displayed on a glass cake stand, and the map of Michigan marked with pins pointing to where the ingredients came from, that caught my eye. The Community Farm Kitchen is a program that operates alongside the Community Farm of Ann Arbor, a local CSA that has been in operation for more than 20 years. Members of the Farm can also become members of the Kitchen. From June through November, members receive vegetables grown on the Farm and have the option of signing up to get their vegetables prepared by the Kitchen into soups, salads, stir-fries, and other healthful dishes. Mary Wessel Walker is the food entrepreneur who started the Community Farm Kitchen back in 2007. This year, she added a bakery to her Kitchen. When I met Mary, the first thought that crossed my mind was, "I wish I knew you when Caroline was born!" Fresh, home cooked meals made with local and sustainably produced ingredients is exactly what all new moms need. Caroline chose a bran muffin for her morning snack and we also bought a loaf of bread. The muffin was eaten within 15 minutes and we ate a few slices of bread for lunch. Delicious! To learn more about Community Farm Kitchen, contact Mary by email at or by telephone at (734) 395-7782.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Food Inc.

Coming to theaters this summer, Food Inc., by filmmaker Robert Kenner (filmmaker of Inconvenient Truth), exposes the underbelly of America's centralized, corporatized, industrial food system. I had a chance to watch Food Inc. at this year's Kellogg Food and Society conference held in San Jose this week. With the recent outbreak of a new strain of swine flu that has sickened hundreads and killed at least 20 in Mexico, the film's focus on food production is especially timely. The film made me cry and almost vomit. It's a must see.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ted's Mahi Mahi Sandwich

We spent most of today with Uncle Butch who took us on a windshield tour of Oahu's coastlines. Around noon, we drove past Sunset Beach, a beautiful beach up on the north shore. Across the street from beach is Ted's Bakery. The outside of the Ted's is painted with colorful murals and there are a handful of tables with umbrellas out front. It looked more like a place to buy surfboards and bikinis than a bakery. Ted's wasn't a planned stop but we happened to be driving past around lunchtime so we pulled into the small parking lot. Inside there are two surfboards that hang on the wall plus a refrigerator filled with pies and cakes, a glass counter with shelves of croissants, apple turnovers, and sweet buns, and a large menu board with everything from hot dogs to special plates with fried rice, spam, and eggs. I ordered a mahi mahi sandwich and a side of papaya to share with Caroline. After about 20 minutes (or was it longer?) our sandwich was ready. We took our lunch to Sunset Beach and found a shady spot under a palm tree. The mahi mahi sandwich - a piece of battered and fried mahi mahi, mesculun greens, sweet onions, tarter sauce, and tomatoes on a Waimea seseme bun - was delicious. Caroline loved it too. Mental note for future trips to Ted's Bakery: buy two mahi mahi sandwiches....they're too good to share.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spam Musubi

Hawaiians, including President Obama, love Spam. More than 4 millions cans of Spam are consumed in Hawaii each year. At the Saturday farmers' market, vendors were selling Spam in breakfast dishes (fried Spam, rice, and eggs) and as Spam Musubi - sliced, fried, and tied to a ball of rice with a strip of nori (seasoned seaweed). In Hawaii, Spam is sold everywhere: convenience stores, grocery stores, food carts, gas stations. How did Spam (developed by Jay C. Hormel in 1926) achieve iconic status in Hawaii? According to an article published in The Huffington Post, Spam made its way into the Hawaiian diet when military personnel introduced it during World War II. Because it's shelf stable, it became a standard K-ration for soldiers who ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For curious mainlanders, an instructional video on how to make Spam musubi is posted alongside the article. When I asked Geoff (pictured here) how his Spam musubi tasted, he described it as "salty" and "fatty" tasting. I think I'll stick with the papayas.


We arrived in Hawaii last night. It was warm and misty when we got off the plane. It felt good. We are here with Geoff's family: parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece, and uncle. Unlike most of our vacations, I don't have much in the way of plans for our week on Oahu. That is, except for our trip to the farmers' market this morning where I had hoped to purchase most of the produce and breads for the week. Since we are still on eastern standard time, it was easy for us to wake up at 6:00 am to head out to the market with Uncle Butch ("Alan" is his real name but we lovingly call him "Butch"). The early morning start might sound like overkill but we wanted to get there before the vendors were cleaned out and according to a Hawaiian steward that Uncle Butch met on his flight to Hawaii from California, the pickings are slim after 9:00 am. We arrived at the market just before it opened at 7:15 am and it was already swarming with people. Although the market doesn't open until 7:30 am, shoppers can pick out and pay for their produce before 7:30 am and pick it up after it opens. The Saturday farmers' market is located at Kapiolani Community College, near Diamond Head . There are three farmers' markets on Oahu and they are listed on a website along with their locations and participating vendors. Our first stop was Ba-Le Bakery where we bought (purple) taro bread, granola, a couple of loaves of sandwich bread, baguettes, and apple turnovers. Our stomachs were growling but after we paid, we had to wait until the 7:30 am bell rang to eat them. It was worth the wait...the turnovers were delicious. By 9:00 am, we were stuffed from snacking on samples and eating the local foods like dango (Japanese dumplings coated with thick sweet sauce, grilled, and served on a skewer),homemade ice cream, and musubi (seasoned rice balls). Geoff even tried the Spam musubi, which is a slice of Spam tied to a rice ball with a piece of nori (seasoned seaweed). I'm an adventurous eater but...I draw the line at Spam. We left the market at around 10:00 am with an empty wallet and loads of food for the week: papaya, mango, avocado, pineapple, strawberries, tomatoes, bok choy, mesculun greens, lettuce, eggplant, zucchini, sweet peas, lavender infused salad dressing, chocolate sauce (for ice cream), seaweed asparagus, Auntie Nani's chocolate chip/macadamia nut cookies and macadamia nut shortbread, Hakurei turnips, longan, apple bananas, loquat (pictured here), carrots, mangoes. I love Hawaii.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

And it Snowed

It did end up snowing but not on Sunday as predicted. It snowed Monday and we got enough of the white stuff for Ann Arbor schools to be closed for the day. Here's a snow day picture of our yard (and part of our row house) on the University of Michigan north campus.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Early Spring Greens and Beets

It's supposed to snow tomorrow but today feels like a beautiful spring day. It is 54F and sunny with blue skies. We started our morning at the YMCA where Caroline takes swim lessons that start at 8:30 am. By the time we made it to the farmers' market at 10:00 am, it was packed. The warmer weather means that spring greens like arugula, pac choi, spinach, mesculun greens and claytonia are plentiful. Stopping for greens at the Brines Farm table has become part of our Saturday routine. We bought seven bags of greens today including one bag of mesculun greens for our friend Christine who lives in East Lansing. We also stopped at the Goetz farm table (whose greens are pictured here) where we picked up two bunches of beautiful red beets. I'll roast the beets and serve them as is or in a salad with arugula and goat cheese. The (beet) greens will be chopped, sauted with chopped onion and mixed with brown rice and feta cheese. This rice dish is one of Caroline's favorites. I love early spring.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Spring is here! The warmer weather means (more) fresh greens grown by nearby farmers are now available at the farmers' market. When we arrived at the Ann Arbor farmers' market this morning, we headed straight to the Brines Farm table where Shannon and Priscilla (both pictured here) were busy bagging several different types of baby greens - pac choi, arugula, mixed greens (and others). Shannon is the proprietor of Brines Farm. He has a hoop house operation in Dexter, Michigan, which is about 10 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. I guess you could call him a hoop house harvester of sorts. A hoop house functions like a greenhouse but unlike a greenhouse, it is unheated. It has a series of hoops for a frame and it is covered by looks like a long, white tunnel with a door. Virtually unheard of a few years ago, they are catching on in places like Michigan where the winters are long and cold. Thanks to hoop house harvesters like Shannon, it is now possible to eat fresh, locally grown greens on an almost year-round basis. We left the market today with a 1/2 peck of Braeburn apples from Alex Nemeth and from Brines Farm, a bag each of arugula, mixed greens, and pac choi .

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Claytonia from Brines Farm

Spring is finally approaching. It's not here but it is approaching. Tree buds have begun to appear, the snow has melted (finally), and vendors at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market are selling more than apples, soap, and lamb pelts. Even though it poured rain on Saturday, there were more people at the market than there have been the past few weeks...or, has it been months? By the time I made it to the market, Alex Nemeth had run out of Fujis and Braeburns (my second choice variety). I was disappointed but ended up buying a half peck of Red Delicious apples. I don't care for the thick skin of Red Delicious apples but the flavor of these apples is quite good and the texture surprisingly crunchy for this time of year. For months now, apples have been my only market purchase. But on Saturday, I couldn't help but the notice the delicate salad greens the shape of small flower petals at the next stand over. Priscilla from Brines Farm in Dexter was selling Claytonia. I had never heard of Claytonia but it looked so fresh and beautiful so I bought a bag ($3 for about 6 ounces). I served it Saturday night as a side salad with paper-thin slices of roasted orange beets and lightly dressed with seasoned rice vinegar, olive oil, and freshly ground pepper. It was delicious. I did a quick Google search to learn more about this mysterious vegetable and learned that Claytonia is part of the Purslane family, a family of greens that many people treat as weeds. It was slightly tart and tasted almost like very young spinach. Caroline was interested in this new vegetable and nibbled at the pieces on her plate. With any luck, she'll eat more of it the second time around.

Friday, January 23, 2009

California Sunshine!

As soon as I saw the return label on the package that said, "Ray's Organic Grove," I opened the box as quickly as I could. Inside, under a protective layer of foam was 13 lbs of beautiful, sweet smelling Meyer lemons. Uncle Ray and Aunt Pat live in Modesto, California. They live in a modest, unassuming house on a quiet street just off the main road that cuts through the city of Modesto. From the front, the house looks similar to the others on the block. But in the backyard is a small but productive orchard that Uncle Ray has tended for years. Uncle Ray grows the lemons (and he grows them well) and I'm sure that it was Aunt Pat who carefully placed them in the box and sent them to us via FedEx. I love Meyer lemons. They have wonderful flavorful that I can only describe as intensely lemon-y. I rarely see them in grocery stores out here and when I do, they are too expensive for our budget. It's not the first time Uncle Ray and Aunt Pat have sent us this box of California sunshine. But I never take this special treat for granted and use as much of each lemon as I can. So, what am I going to do with 13 lbs of lemons? I will make cakes (of course) and other lemon-y baked goods. That will use up a couple of pounds. The rest? I'll freeze the rind and juice separately in small containers so that I will have them on hand the next time a recipe calls for a tablespoon of lemon juice or a teaspoon of lemon rind.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Lesson on Family Meals

Since moving to Ann Arbor last October, family meals have become weekend affairs. Geoff commutes to Michigan State University for his job (a one-hour plus drive) so by the time he gets home at 7:00 pm or so, Caroline is in her pajamas and ready for bed. I eat dinner with Caroline on most nights but wait to eat with Geoff a couple of times a week. Tonight was an eat-dinner-with-Geoff night. I gave Caroline her dinner (zucchini and whole wheat penne pasta with pesto from our summer-time freezing stash) and sat with her while she ate. She took a few bites but then started goofing off. And the more I encouraged her to eat her dinner, the more she goofed off. Her fork kept "accidentally" falling on the floor. Oops, she bumped her head and needed an ice pack. "More milk please!" Finally, I became frustrated and said (rather firmly), "Caroline. Let's focus on your dinner." Her response? With an earnest look and wide eyes, she said, "Mama, why don't you eat with me?" Is that all? I served myself a small bowl of pasta and sat down with her. Not surprisingly, that is all it took. As soon as I started eating, Caroline stopped fussing and happily ate all of her meal.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Peanut Butter Dip and Apples

The only locally grown fruit that I can find these days is apples. Every week I buy half a peck of Alex Nemeth's (pictured here with his lovely wife) super sweet Fuji apples at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market in Kerrytown. Even though they were picked months ago, they are still very crunchy. Caroline likes apples but she doesn't love them like I do...except with peanut butter dip. When we moved to Ann Arbor last October, I discovered the most amazing peanut butter. It is called Cream-Nut and it is made by Koeze Company in Grand Rapids. I first tried Cream-Nut at Zingerman's when it was being sampled. At $6.99 a jar (17 ounces), it was a bit too pricey for our budget. But a few weeks ago, I found it at Whole Foods Market where it was only $4.69. I bought it right then and there and I've been in peanut butter heaven ever since. This morning, Caroline and I used it to make peanut butter dip. Here's the recipe. Add a little bit (about a teaspoon) of boiling water to a tablespoon of peanut butter. Stir like mad until creamy. Add more water if needed. Use as a dip for apples and celery or eat straight out of the bowl.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cooking with Caroline

Some of my favorite childhood memories are those that took place in the kitchen working side-by-side with my mom turning whatever was in-season, into a meal. These days, Caroline joins me more often than not when I am in the kitchen. I love watching her as she grows increasingly confident in her cooking skills and adventurous in tasting and smelling food. After making blueberry pancakes for breakfast this morning (our weekly tradition), Caroline and I made a batch of hummus. I put the ingredients and our cooking tools on the table and we went to work. When we cook together, we share tasks. I measured the tahini (6 tablespoons), water (1/4 cup), salt (1/2 teaspoon), and olive oil (2 tablespoons). Caroline poured and stirred. We took turns squeezing lemons for juice (3 tablespoons), pressing one clove of garlic through a press, and grinding the cumin (1/4 teaspoon). After all of the ingredients were prepped, we moved on to the Cuisinart, which hands-down, is Caroline's favorite small kitchen appliance. We start by processing the chickpeas (1 cup), garlic, salt, and cumin together for about 15 seconds. Then we add the liquids. Caroline loves to press the big, grey buttons (start and stop) while I push the mix of olive oil, lemon juice, water, and tahini through the top. We process the hummus until it is smooth and creamy and then turn it out into a bowl. Served with whole wheat pita bread and carrot sticks, it makes a great snack.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Eating Seasonally in Tuscany

When we booked our winter vacation to Tuscany, we knew we wouldn't be eating fresh vine-ripened tomatoes. What we didn't expect is that our hosts Laura and Luciano at Il Canto del Sole would eat seasonally to the point of consuming almost no fresh produce in the wintertime. With the exception of Clementine oranges and persimmons from Sicily, and storage vegetables like carrots, onions, garlic, and pumpkin, our diets for our 11-day vacation (Christmas day through January 4) consisted primarily of homemade pasta, eggs, meat, bacon, cheese, pizza, bread, and of course, gelato (which, according to my definition, is always in season). Not that I'm complaining. The food was fabulous and we all loved the simple Italian meals that Laura and Luciano prepared daily for us. The pumpkin lasagna we had one night was especially wonderful. It was made with homemade noodles and melted in my mouth. Meals eaten out also were made with seasonal ingredients so ordering insalta mista (which was always on the menu but never available) was simply out of the question. Instead, we ate thin-crust pizza, like the one pictured here, throughout our travels in Tuscany.
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