Have you heard about “capsules”? If you are a Pinterest fan or follow the fashion world, “capsule” wardrobes are the BIG buzz. To be honest, I don’t think this is all so new, but, hey, I’ve been around a while. The concept of a capsule wardrobe is to begin with five or six basic pieces of clothing and build a wardrobe with some accessories and creativity. Goals include saving you time, money and stress. But why am I talking about clothing? I’m not really. I’m talking about homemade salad dressing. More »
Nope, never liked it. A gunky mix of over-cooked potatoes, mayonnaise and yellow mustard, pickle relish and maybe a dash of hot sauce. Yuck. I grew up the outcast at the family picnic table, the ugly American child who turned up her nose at a sacred patriotic dish. Then, I noticed (somewhere in my 30’s, I suspect) that potato salad had changed. More likely, my awareness of food and cooking had grown… More »
Wow. A lot of stuff is going on! I’ll get to local celebrations, my Green Gal anniversary and my husband’s special dinner in a few…. For now, let me share with you what I’ve been reading… More »
The dog days of summer are here. While new fall produce is coming in every day, some summer favorites are beginning to thin out, cucumbers among them. So let’s make the most of what is remaining by finding more than one place for them on the dinner table... More »
It’s not quite fall, but you can sense the change—cool air in the morning, a tinge of red on the leaves, a deeper blue in the sky and a quickening sunset. Sigh. Appetite changes, too. We remain creatures of the seasons, even if we have all but lost that tenuous connection. I start craving butternut squash soup, cinnamon tea and pear or apple cobbler. But it is rather bittersweet for me. More »
Well it is officially Autumn… I’ve ordered my Thanksgiving Turkey from MOB Farms. But with high humidity and temps in the upper 80’s, it’s kinda hard to “feel the fall love.” So my menu continues light and cool a bit longer.
A lot of crops in the Midwest seem to get two chances at my table: spinach, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, raspberries and green beans are among our favorite produce that show up in both spring and fall. Just as you start longing for those long-ago spring delicacies, they reappear. And actually—in a good year—the early autumn produce is superior to its spring counterpart with better texture, richer flavor and perfect timing for canning and freezing.
I again will be freezing at least a couple of big bags of green beans in the next few weeks. But we also like to have a few dishes right out of the field. For instance, I love this savory-sweet blend of steamed green beans, cherry tomatoes, red onion and red adzuki beans tossed in a lemony basil vinaigrette. It hits all the high notes of summer and ushers in the deep melodies of fall. Gotta love all the harmony on the table.
Just a note about adzuki (some say aduki) beans: these are protein-packed little powerhouses that keep an excellent texture without becoming starchy. I get them at my local health food store, Green Earth Grocery in Edwardsville, IL. If you can’t find them, you can use red kidney beans in place of the adzuki, but get adzuki if you can for better texture, nuttier taste and extra nutrition.
- One pound fresh green beans, washed, trimmed and snapped in half
- One cup dry adzuki beans, soaked at least eight hours or overnight
- One cup thin-sliced red onion rings
- Two cups heirloom or standard cherry tomatoes (A mix of orange and red makes a really pretty dish.)
- One-half cup toasted pine nuts
- Crumbled bacon (optional)
- The zest and juice of one medium lemon
- Two tablespoons Dijon mustard (Grainy is good here.)
- Two to three cloves minced garlic
- One quarter-cup olive oil
- One quarter cup fresh basil leaves, minced (Mince and add you basil last because basil leaves go black and ugly in the blink of an eye unless immediately incorporated into the dressing.)
- Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste.
- Cook the adzuki beans until tender, about 40 minutes. Bring them to a boil using cold water and then simmer steadily until done. A taste test at about 30 minutes is a good idea. Drain and cool.
- Steam the green beans for about 20 to 25 minutes, until tender crisp. The exact timing will depend on how tender or tough your beans are. Remove from steamer basket and cool in a big mixing bowl.
- Combine the adzuki beans with the green beans and the red onion rings in the big mixing bowl.
- Make the dressing in a small bowl or large measuring cup by combining the lemon juice and zest with the Dijon and garlic. Give it a whisk to combine. While whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a steady, slow stream until emulsified. Add the minced basil leaves and salt and pepper. Whisk to combine and pour over the room-temperature bean mixture. Toss thoroughly and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Top with toasted pine nuts. Of course, you can add crumbled bacon, as my husband did.
If you want to serve the salad immediately instead of chilling it, room temperature is an option. It just depends on your preference. Note that the prep time above does not include soaking the adzuki beans.
Only Four More Market Days
It’s really coming to the end of the season for the Land of Goshen Community Market. I bet your farmer’s market is winding down, too. So here I am, once again encouraging you to plan ahead and buy local and green for the coming holiday season. What you purchase at the big mall will mean little to either the economy or the company who made the item. What you purchase from the local farmer, neighborhood potter, and your community art center will directly impact the well being of that person and the community. You’ll feel great, too. Here’s information on one of my favorite vendors… who has also become my friend:
Several friends are celebrating the birth of children or grandchildren this year. For those having little girls, I’ve got just the thing—a one-of-a-kind dress from Lexi & Me Boutique, a small enterprise run by master seamstress Sheila McCormack. Her materials come from just about anywhere and inspire the most enchanting dresses that range in size from new-born to about a girl’s size 6. These are the dresses that get handed down through generations, worn on special occasions and loved forever. Sheila also takes custom orders and sells very popular nursing sleeves, booties, girls purses, tutus and American Girl doll dresses. Her own joy is woven into each and every stitch. You can reach her by email at SheilaMack99@gmail.com.
It’s not quite fall, but you can sense the change—cool air in the morning, a tinge of red on the leaves, a deeper blue in the sky and a quickening sunset. Sigh. Appetite changes, too. We remain creatures of the seasons, even if we have all but lost that tenuous connection. I start craving butternut squash soup, cinnamon tea and pear or apple cobbler. But it is rather bittersweet for me.
It isn’t that I don’t like fall. I try to appreciate the turning of the seasons and the magical qualities of each day. But truth be told, I’m a summer gal at heart. Saying goodbye to summer seems to get harder each year, so I like to create “transitions” that help ease me through. For instance, over the weekend I gave a dinner for friends that began in “summer” and ended in “fall.” Well, sort of.
We started off with my previously posted Cold Cucumber Soup…. SO summer. Then we moved on to marinated and grilled vegetable kabobs. Everything on the skewers is at the peak of flavor right now. Aren’t they pretty?
If you’d like to make them, you can find the recipe at Delicious Living Magazine’s website. These easy-to-make, impressive kabobs are a summer favorite at our house. My only variation for Saturday night’s dinner was a swap—eggplant for mushrooms—because that’s what was in the frig. Either will work beautifully in this recipe; just replace a couple sliced slender Japanese eggplants for the cremini mushrooms. Some grilled shrimp with a squirt of lime and we were good to go.
I decided it would be my dessert that would lead us into fall, and one of my favorite fall sweets is apple pie or cobbler. The problem was, there were no organic apples at the market—it’s a little early for them around here. Sure I could have gone to a grocery store to pick up a bag grown elsewhere, but I wanted to stay as local and fresh as I could. Rosi Biver of Biver Farms saved the day with her incredible Mock Apple Cobbler recipe, the main ingredient of which is… zucchini! You know, those big, baseball-bat size squash that no one really knows what to do with?
Before you click away thinking that zucchini is no replacement for apples, I urge you to read on. No one could tell at the dinner Saturday night that they weren’t really eating apple cobbler a la mode. The flavor is all apple. And so, with Rosi’s permission, I’m sharing it with you so those last overgrown squash won’t have to go to waste.
- Three pounds peeled, seeded and chopped zucchini (You’ll need about eight cups total. I chopped mine smallish to resemble chopped apples, and they do!)
- Two-thirds cup lemon juice (from about two large lemons)
- One cup sugar (I used organic evaporated cane syrup, which is usually as close to conventional white sugar as I’m willing to go.)
- One teaspoon cinnamon
- One-half teaspoon nutmeg
- Four cups flour (I used organic whole wheat pastry flour, and it worked just fine.)
- Two cups sugar
- One and one-half cups butter (That’s three sticks—so a bit of a splurge here. It is best to have your butter cut into tiny cubes and waiting in the frig before you begin this recipe. It will stay cold and your crust will be flakier.)
- One teaspoon cinnamon
- One-half teaspoon salt (omit if you are using salted butter.)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Combine zucchini and lemon juice in a large sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in one cup of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Simmer one minute more.
- Combine the flour, salt (if using unsalted butter) and two cups of sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Stir one-half cup of the crust mixture into the zucchini mixture to create a thick filling that will look just like apple pie filling.
- Press half the remaining crust mixture into the bottom of a greased 13 x 9 glass baking dish. Spread the zucchini mixture evenly across the top of the crust. Carefully spread the remaining crust mixture, making sure it covers the top of the filling. Sprinkle with the teaspoon of cinnamon.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Some of the filling should start bubbling through the top and the top crust should begin to reach a golden brown.
You can serve it warm with ice cream or let it cool a bit for easier cutting.
Marie and I have known each other for several years. She is an amazing chef, creative entrepreneur and expert flea bag designer. Her flea bags are made from remnants that would otherwise have hit the landfills when furniture companies and interior design studios finish with them. They get a second life with Marie, as she turns them into beach bags, purses, shopping bags, wine bags and totes. She also makes pillows with them! Each is one-of-a-kind, reasonably priced and utterly charming. Your only dilemma will be which ones to choose. Fill them with wine, food gifts, beach towels—whatever that special someone will love. Best of all, they are their own wrapping paper. Smile.
My favorite-to-give-gifts are those that keep on giving. African Vision of Hope (AVOH), a nonprofit organization committed to bringing immediate and lasting solutions to children and families living in extreme poverty, is a super example. This organization sells beautiful textiles, jewelry and other items that are created by African women working their way out of poverty. With the money it earns, AVOH provides educational opportunities, creates access to medical care, builds sound infrastructure and helps communities strengthen their own financial wellbeing. You won’t give another gift with such power to change the world. You might even take it a step further and give a donation. Then during your holiday meal, perhaps you can take a moment to be thankful not only for what you have but also for your ability to give to others who have less. Makes a great tradition.
While it’s not quite holiday shopping season, it might still be a great time to transition away from the commercial side of Christmas and embrace a softer, greener, more meaningful way of giving. You have about seven weeks left to turn a stressful shopping experience into a handful of magical moment—it’s as easy as making apple cobbler out of zucchini!
Next week I’ll share more information on my market vendors who can help transform your ideas of gift giving and celebration. Many have websites and online ordering. What are you buying at your market for the holidays? Jams and jellies? Homemade soaps? Artisan apparel? Let’s hear about it!
Last Wednesday evening, Don and I were invited out to Biver Farms for the weekly CSA dinner. That’s me with Keith Biver just before things got started. People who are enrolled in Biver’s CSA program get a big bag of fresh produce each week, a selection of what is ripe and ready on the certified organic farm just outside Edwardsville, IL. They can pick their bag up most any evening after Wednesday, but most CSA members sure try to make the informal “dinner night”. As Frank Biver puts it: “We sometimes have quite a wing-ding out here.”
And they do. Everyone shows up with something they have made (or, if they were super busy, purchased) to share at dinner, and Rosie Biver is the “hostess with the mostess,” serving a few cocktails and her own really yummy creations. Don was all over her stuffed jalapeños with cream and cheddar cheese and…wait for it…BACON wrap. I swear, people think my poor meat-eater husband never gets any protein. Well I saw him down three of these while we were there.
The dog days of summer are here. While new fall produce is coming in every day, some summer favorites are beginning to thin out, cucumbers among them. So let’s make the most of what is remaining by finding more than one place for them on the dinner table.
I think my favorite part of doing this blog is talking food and green living with other people—not to mention eating food with other people. Sometimes the conversation begins at my market on Saturday mornings and can take on a life of its own as people chime in with their tips and recipes. Sometimes I email chefs whose recipes I’d like to feature or use as inspiration. Sometimes they email back! And sometimes, my friends share samples of their own masterpieces—a great plus to being a food blogger! Such was the case with my friend Henry—a pool buddy-who showed up with his latest creation in his little poolside cooler—his signature Cucumber and Yogurt Salad. To die for!
Henry has a “regular” job at a local university taking care of emergency management. Can you say stress? But at night, he heads home to his small farm, complete with row crops, a stand of maple trees (I have the syrup to prove it.), set-aside prairie and pond, a chicken-eating (not kidding) sheep, no Internet (still not kidding) and his best dog-friend Bear. Henry loves the farm, getting close to his food source—he has rendered his own lard from his own hog, BTW—and mastering the arts of home cooking. My kinda guy.
Being a brave soul in the kitchen often means an attitude adjustment, letting go of every preconception in order to approach something new with an open mind. I guess being brave in general requires a certain amount of faith and a willingness to learn and grow, doesn’t it? Such was the case years ago when I first dared to serve a cold soup to my family. My 90-year-old grandmother looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. My daughter (then about eight) simply stated: “I’m not eating that.” And, Don? Well, Don gave me one of those “please don’t put us through this” looks and then stared silently at the table. Oh, come on! It was vichyssoise, for goodness sake!
Eventually, I won them over. Not with vichyssoise, but with gazpacho. It seems that it is easier to accept cold tomatoes and cucumbers than cold potatoes and leeks. Whatever.
Over the years, my gazpacho has gone from exotic meal-night experiment to summer staple, inspired by many of my very favorite chefs such as Mollie Katzen, Didi Emmons and Deborah Madison and the fabulous produce at my farmer’s market. Gazpacho is a great dish to keep you cool on hot days and one of the best ways to celebrate the heirloom vegetables from local farms as the summer begins to wind down. Besides, it couldn’t be easier to make—chop, add, puree and chill. It serves as a delicious and healthy low-cal meal and a perfect make-ahead party food. Pass the margaritas!
Wow. A lot of stuff is going on! I’ll get to local celebrations, my Green Gal anniversary and my husband’s special dinner in a few…. For now, let me share with you what I’ve been reading…
The National Parks System: Creating America’s Mythology
For a couple of weeks, I have been preoccupied with the centennial birthday of our nation’s National Parks System. As a member of The Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy, I receive periodicals from both organizations, which are always brimming with amazing photography and eloquent, inspiring and passionate prose. Their August issues are almost entirely devoted to the history, beauty, preservation, controversy, competition and value of the more than 400 parks, historical monuments and sites, battlefields, and riverways that make up our National Parks System.
According to Nature Conservancy contributor Amy Crawford, 307 million people visited the parks in 2015. A record-setter. These people came from all parts of the globe and from all walks of life–all of them drawn to, searching for, yearning to discover, needing to define…. Something.
As I read about John Muir’s journey from awed sheep herder in the Yosemite Valley to staunch environmental champion and Sierra Club founder; as I learned the tumultuous history of America’s public lands—a history of battles and treaties, of power plays and powerful visions—as I reveled in the personal stories of people touched by the magic of nature in places sacred, breathtaking and fragile, I realized something: the National Parks System does much more than oversee and protect public land; it preserves our evolving mythology.
The parks contain our doors to the Underworld, our stairways to Paradise, our craggy shores where sirens sing and mermaids sleep, our voyages down mystic rivers, our giants, legends, magical beasts and terrible gods. They touch us as not only as scientists, hikers and conservationists but also as musicians, artists and writers. They are, as is often said, our national treasures. But they are not secure.
When I was a little girl growing up in my grandmother’s house, we had few store-bought canned goods. I ate homemade strawberry preserves and red plum jelly plopped on buttermilk biscuits regularly for breakfast. Could explain why my dress size was a “chubby” in those early years. The food in my grandmother’s kitchen was pretty amazing, although for me it was just how food was—never encountered the Pillsbury Dough Boy back then. But some things my grandma cooked up were not as appealing… at least not to me. For instance, my grandmother had an immense fondness for stewed rhubarb on toast.
I couldn’t begin to count the mornings I sat at the breakfast table watching her ladle this slimy, pink concoction onto dry toast. I simply refused to try it. After all, the alternative was strawberry preserves and plum jelly. No brainer in my young mind. But this negative image stuck, and I have shunned rhubarb, even in the popular traditional dishes like strawberry-rhubarb pie, all my adult life. I figured if you had to keep covering it up with strawberries, how good was it, really? But I’ve matured (I hope) with a more open mind.
Well, yes I can… can… under very guided, expert help, that is. Last week I spent an entire morning in the kitchen of Lony Less, one of my market-vendor friends who has been canning, drying and preserving his own produce for years. It was a pretty amazing and humbling experience.
From his small backyard garden and space-challenged galley kitchen, Lony manages to turn out pickles, pie fillings, condiments, pesto, beets and sundried tomatoes. Enough for himself, his local customers and his many friends. If you are on his gift list, you are truly a lucky green gal or guy.
Last week, a combined abundance of cucumbers from Lony’s garden, his market colleague Bob Grinstead’s garden and one anonymous donor had Lony (and lucky little me) in a pickle… literally, of course. And, as we began our morning, I realized two things right off the bat:
- Lony understands the basics of cooking better than most of us, and
- the process of canning depends on the same principles as most of the cooking I already do—keep your space clean and organized, prep ahead and create a system to make your dish come together easily at the end.
Nope, never liked it. A gunky mix of over-cooked potatoes, mayonnaise and/or yellow mustard, pickle relish and maybe a dash of hot sauce. Yuck. I grew up the outcast at the family picnic table, the ugly American child who turned up her nose at a sacred patriotic dish. Then, I noticed (somewhere in my 30’s, I suspect) that potato salad had changed. More likely, my awareness of food and cooking had grown.
My first attempt at giving potato salad a re-try was inspired by Annie Somerville, celebrated chef of the famous Greens Restaurant in San Francisco and her best-selling Fields of Greens cookbook. Chef Somerville has a recipe that combines roasted yellow fin potatoes and fresh artichoke hearts with a lovely light vinaigrette. I tried a version of this salad, and I was on my way back to waving the flag. From that moment on, I’ve sought out and tried all kinds of “potato salad” (But no, I never developed a taste for the pasty yellow stuff most everyone else loves.).
Have you heard about “capsules”? If you are a Pinterest fan or follow the fashion world, “capsule” wardrobes are the BIG buzz. To be honest, I don’t think this is all so new, but, hey, I’ve been around a while. The concept of a capsule wardrobe is to begin with five or six basic pieces of clothing and build a wardrobe with some accessories and creativity. Goals include saving you time, money and stress. But why am I talking about clothing? I’m not really. I’m talking about homemade salad dressing.
Ok, let me explain. When I served my beet salad a few weeks ago, I was asked to share the recipe, and, of course, I was happy to and that led to the post earlier this week. But I also got another fairly familiar question that comes up whenever I serve a salad: “Where did you buy the dressing?” or “What brand of dressing is this?” or (once I tell them the dressing is homemade) “Can I buy something like this at the store.” The answer is no: no I did not buy it; no there is no brand to look for; and no you really cannot buy in a bottle anything comparable to what you can create fresh yourself.
There is a pervasive misconception, I think, that homemade dressings are a) time-consuming to prepare, b) require expensive and/or exotic ingredients, c) are messy and inconvenient. All of these ideas are wrong.