Friday, December 25, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
This is the last trip of the season for Ryan's canoe and kayak rental business, and it's one of my favorites. The put in is in English Lake, Indiana, on the Kankakee, about 1.5 hours drive from Chicago. It was cold and windy, but the sun stayed out most of the time.
About 8 miles later, we took out at Dunn's Bridge and hightailed it before sunset to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, where thousands of sandhill cranes gather for a few months in late summer and fall on their way south.
Every day around this time of year, these social birds fly into a massive swampy field at dawn and dusk, where they hang out, gets some drinks (of water), and go dancing - they perform a courtship ritual that involves bowing, jumping, calling, and flinging grass - as deer graze on the outskirts of the wetlands. For the rest of the day and night, the cranes leave the field to scavenge for such local delicacies as corn and insects.
By the time the sun dips behind the trees and the sky clears of cranes, we are ready to experience our own local delicacy - fried pickles from the Kniman Tap! Except for pizza, almost every item on the menu is fried, from jalapenos to perch to my favorite, curly fries.
Since I've gone on this trip a few times, I have learned a thing or two about eating fried pickles, so allow me to dispense some of my wisdom...
In fact Ryan came home after yesterday's trip with a dozen eggs, a bag of onions and potatoes, a jar of honey, and some pumpkins from a local farm. He saw a sign that advertised eggs and pulled over. It was easy as that to get a taste of the local flavors.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Saturday, October 3, 2009
- Banner with new photo. I'd like to change the banner seasonally to reflect the different produce that I get, and it's pear season now. These are dessert pears, "luscious and rare" according to Simply Wisconsin, my CSA. I would add "small and sweet." The other thing that I love about these pears is the imperfect look of their skin, because this is often what real food looks like when it comes out of the ground or picked off a tree. Grocery stores often feature the best looking produce but its not necessarily the best tasting. I intentionally positioned the pears on the right side of the screen so they will not compete with the photos that I put in blog posts. Finally this photo also captures a glimpse of my blog's namesake, the wooden table in my kitchen.
- New Wooden Table font. I love the cursive. Who writes in cursive any more? Let's bring cursive back. Who's with me?
- Tag cloud. This is a different way of featuring the tags. Instead of a long list, they appear more condensed and sized according to how often I use each label. I also edited the list to include only the items that came in one of my CSA boxes. You can find the tag cloud under the heading In the CSA Box in the right column under Blog Archive.
- Flickr feed. I fnally broke down and bought a new and better camera, so I really want to improve the photography on the blog. Right now, most of the photos on the feed already appear in the blog but I plan to add Flickr-exclusive images soon. The Flickr feed is under Inside the CSA Box in the right column.
Well, that's it. Take a look around. It might look different soon enough.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Not this summer. In July we had an average of 69.7 degrees here in Chicago, and I can't say that I have minded not having to haul out the air conditioner.
But earlier this week temps crept up past normal, and my kitchen felt thick with humidity. I had cucumbers and onions to use and decided that this was the perfect time to make gazpacho, especially since I had gotten a recipe from a wonderful home cook who, fortunately for me, doesn't believe in keeping her recipes a secret.
With her blessing I am posting this recipe. It's so simple to make and includes watermelon, an unexpected ingredient that adds a hint of sweetness and feels like a cool breeze sliding down my throat.
Gazpacho (by Amy Currie, author of Memoirs of a Home Cook)
Pulse tomato juice, tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, red onion, and watermelon in a food processor. Add vinegar and oil. Season to taste w/salt and pepper. Serves 6-8.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
But when I look back on the experience now, I don't think about how a bunch of men twice my age, wearing pastel-colored fur from head to toe, smoked me. No I don't think about that at all. Really, I don't.
Plus I was eating a lot of processed crap, like Rice-a-Roni (a food staple in my 20s), and I made little effort to eat the right mix of protein and carbs, which is essential if you want to perform well in a marathon or other endurance activity. It's not that I didn't know what to eat, it was more that I thought my body could handle it. I was wrong.
1/2 t crushed red pepper
Sunday, July 5, 2009
After the camping trip, I stayed at Rachel's in Seattle. She has a gorgeous backyard with the most amazing garden. It felt like my own private CSA. I snacked on plump, juicy raspberries and crunchy sugar snap peas. It helped make up for the fact that I had to abandon some of my CSA veggies at home before the trip.
On the last leg of my journey, I visted Emily, Ben, and Oceanne in Sausalito. We had a delicious dinner at the Michelin-rated Japanese restaurant Sushi Ran. But I must give a shout out to Ben for his inventive "French pizza." On homemade dough, he topped the spinach, corn, and onions - with three eggs.
I was so happy to see all of those fresh vegetables after such a long, cold winter - finally! But it seemed like my CSA got a late start this year. Since I get a half share, I only pick up every other week. This year I am in the second group, which means I started the second week instead of the first, so I think that's why it felt later to me.
Unfortunately, my delivery came two days before a weeklong vacation to the west coast to visit some friends. I didn't have much time to eat all the goods, so the first night I made a 3-course meal: my favorite strawberry and feta salad, sauteed chicken with spinach and green garlic, and a rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
I always think of the early CSA deliveries as very green and leafy, but that night belonged to the ruby red stalks of rhubarb. I made the recipe straight from the Homegrown Wisconsin CSA newsletter. It truly satisfied. The oatmeal in the crust gave it an extra crunch, although I will go easy on the sugar next time.
Rhubarb Crisp Bars (from Homegrown Wisconsin)
Top and bottom crust
1 Cup flour
3/4 Cup oatmeal (uncooked)
1 Cup brown sugar (packed)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon butter (softened)
1 egg (beaten)
2 cups rhubarb (cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
Mix flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, and butter until crumbly. Press 1/2 into greased 9” square pan. Add rhubarb. Beat egg. Blend sugar, flour nutmeg and butter. Add beaten egg, beat until smooth. Pour over rhubarb. Top with other half of crumb mixture. Press mixture down lightly. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Great with vanilla ice cream!
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Just looking at them cheers me up.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Lawn seats at Ravinia mean only one thing. Picnic! I found this black bean and tomato quinoa recipe on The Kitchn to supplement store-bought cheese, crackers, and strawberries.
But I didn't have time to tweak. I had to get going so I wouldn't miss a scheduled talk at the other event that's always high on my Chicago summer to-do list - the Printers Row Lit Fest.
Many authors also give talks about their books. I had the privilege of listening to chef-turned-New-York-Times-food-columnist-and-book-author Molly O'Neill discuss her new anthology of American food writing.
As I ponder this, I suddenly realize why the quinoa tastes so bland. I forgot to add green onions! My mind tingles with a mix of dread and relief. How could I forget when they were on the recipe? I can add them later, but would the flavor have been stronger if I had mixed them in earlier? This internal dialogue rages inside my head. It's undeniable. I am a recipe follower.
I think there is a stigma associated with this, that recipe followers aren't creative or adventurous enough to experiment with ingredients and make a dish our own. But when I think about it, I am reminded of why I was intimidated to start cooking in the first place - a great fear of messing up. Compounding that fear were articles, magazines, cookbooks, blogs, and all those picture-perfect dishes that made cooking feel inaccessible and not worth the effort.
Just two weeks before the summer CSA deliveries start up again, it's worth revisiting why I decided to start. Essentially I was bored with my narrow range of food choices and thought that if I paid upfront, I would have to find ways to eat it. I also loved the environmental aspect of eating food that's grown nearby. What I didn't realize was how much better the food would taste and how many new foods and flavors I have discovered in the process.
Now if someone (usually Ryan, who qualifies as more of a cook) suggests a substitution or variation on the recipe, I'll still flinch. But Molly says that being a recipe follower is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it's how people get comfortable in the kitchen. Relief! I mean who cares as long as I'm making meals from real food and not boxes?
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
We planted some window boxes with a mesclun mix of lettuce, and chives, basil, and sage from seeds. We also picked up a scallion plant, which the cat has already decimated, and some cat grass seeds, which will hopefully distract Karl from the scallion plant.
The CSA starts up again in mid-June, which seems like an interminably long time away. I wish I could grow tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, but my back deck doesn't get enough sunlight, and the front lawn is not an option for me.
So last weekend we went to Gethsemane, where the gardening experts told us that lettuce and herbs could grow in a window that gets a lot of light. They also told us to water them often because terra cotta dries out quickly.
I can't wait for that first salad and pasta with pesto.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Unfortunately this has also become a long stretch where I'm not cooking very much. While Chicago still offers local food in the long winter months in the form of the Green City Market one Saturday morning a month, I must admit that I like nothing better than to sleep in on Saturdays, make coffee, and settle in to read the news. Even the lure of fresh vegetables won't rouse me out of the house. So I've been buying fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, lamenting how much better the carrots and the onions taste when they come straight from a Wisconsin farm and into my dinner in less than a week.
So what to do when there isn't much local food to eat? Why travel, of course. I usually take a few long weekends during this time, which is nice because I don't have to worry about spoiling food. It's also inspiring to sample the local delicacies of the places that I go, and even bring them home. During a short trip to Santa Fe, I alternated between red chili and green chili, and Ryan picked up a bag of pinon pancake mix. Pinon nuts come from small trees that grow in New Mexico. We've made two batches so far, including this morning. Although I set off the smoke detector, they were tasty with maple syrup. We ate them too fast for me to take pictures.
Another weekend, I went skiing with Ali and Becca in Montana. Ali had given me a bag of Evening in Missoula tea when she last visited Chicago. I'm not much of a tea drinker (coffee, hello), but I love the taste of this tea. It's so not Celestial Seasonings. Although I am still working my way through the first bag, I bought another to bring home.
Speaking of eating local food, I heard from Lauren in Singapore this morning, who was excited to report that she and Mo and their new precious little girl Samara are now getting a box of locally grown organic produce delivered to their doorstep. Apparently in Singapore that means kiwi from Italy, she writes. When I told Ryan, he said they must subscribe to a GSA - globally supported agriculture. But maybe that is as local as it gets in Singapore. Not everyone lives near a farm or has access to food grown nearby. I feel lucky that I do even though it's not year round. Maybe this will inspire me to freeze or can more during the summer. More likely, it will make me want to travel more.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The recipe had plenty of other spices too and turned out to be one of the most flavorful dishes that I've made.
Chicken Cardamom Masala with Cashews (From Where Flavor Was Born by Andreas Viestad)
1/2 cup plain full-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons garam masala
6-10 cardamom pods, lightly bruised
1 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons chili powder, or more to taste
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons salt
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 4 chicken thighs, halved (I used chicken breasts)
1 teaspoon powdered turmeric
Oil for panfrying
4 onions, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
4-6 teaspoons cashews
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste or ketchup
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional - I didn't use this)
Chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish
I also tossed in cauliflower and made brown rice.
In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, garam masala, cardamom, cinnamon stick, chili powder, ginger, and salt. Add the chicken, turning to coat. Let marinate for as long as you have time. Use a spatula to scrape of as much of the marinade from the chicken as possible; reserve the marinade. Pat the chicken dry using paper towels, and sprinkle with turmeric. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wide pot over high heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the skin is nicely browned. Remove chicken, reduce heat, and saute onions and garlic for 4-5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add chicken, reserved marinade, cashews, and tomato paste, cover, and cook for 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in cream (if desired) and cook for 2 more minutes. Garnish with cilantro.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Last year, I was overwhelmed with potatoes and clueless about rutabaga. This year, I am mildly swamped with potatoes with no rutabaga in sight. Instead we've been preoccupied with something new and different.
A.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes, these puppies neither come from Jerusalem nor do they resemble artichokes (according to Wikipedia, Europeans called them "girasole," which means sunflower in Italian. The J. a. is a type of sunflower). But they look more like a cross between ginger root and odd-shaped potatoes.
The Internet recommended putting them into soups and salads. Instead, we made this recipe. Let me tell you, it was a winner. So easy and healthy and nutty (flavored, that is). Ryan is researching grocery stores around Chicago to find out where we can get more.
Quinoa Sunchoke Pilaf (from foodreference.com)
3/4 cup quinoa
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 cup vegetable (or chicken) broth
1 cup chickpeas, cooked or canned, (drained and rinsed)
1 cup peeled, chopped sunchokes
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 tsp pepper
Place the quinoa in a large bowl; fill with cold water. Pour into a strainer, then return the quinoa to the bowl and rinse 4 times more. Drain well. Heat the oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rinsed quinoa and cook, stirring, until it cracks and pops, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the chickpeas, sunchokes, peas, and pepper, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
It was fun and I was thrilled to see Obama take the oath of office (for the first time), but I ate way too much sugar.
First, I sampled some cookies. Then a piece of tiramisu. Followed by an apple bread cakey thing. I also drank an orange mango flavored Nantucket Nectars. I didn't actually eat the cookies pictured above. I was feeling a little gnarly by the time I saw them but thought they captured the spirit of the occasion.
After awhile, my head started to hurt. By the time I got home, I had a throbbing headache.
But it was worth it to see Obama's motorcade speed by on the way to the Capitol. To see Malia's face smiling from the window of The Beast during the parade. To see the Bidens waving to the crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue. To see Bush's helicopter flying away for good.
For that, I'd eat a thousand cookies.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Last year, he shopped at the Christkindlmart in Daley Plaza and bought me a zwiebeln jar, which means onions in German. This year, he followed up with a smaller knoblauch jar for garlic. Considering the amount of onions and garlic that come in the CSA, and how I use these indispensible ingredients in more recipes than I can count, I treasure these jars. There is the kitsch factor to appreciate too.
He also bought me another item that we had been contemplating - a tajine. The conical clay pots are used in Morocco to slow cook meat, veggies, fruit, and spices. The pointy top collects the steam and returns the condensation to cook the food in the dish. Lovely aromas ensue.
There are many different combinations that can go in the tajine, but commonly used foods include chicken, lamb, pork, fish, onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, pears, prunes, raisins, dates, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cumin, paprika, and saffron. Lemons and olives are frequently used ingredients.
Our came from a local giftshop that sells stuff like mood crystals and smells powerfully of patchouli. Unfortunately this odor had seeped into the tajine and failed to go away no matter how much we washed it. Finally we crossed our fingers that the food would taste okay.
The tajine came with a simple chicken recipe. It called for dried apricots, which always remind me of my grandmother, who passed away when I was a teenager.
I have this memory of us taking one of those tiny airplanes with an aisle you need to sidestep through and an overhead compartment that fits nothing but a jacket. It was a bumpy flight through the mountains so to calm our nerves from the turbulence, she took out a bag of apricots and handed them across the aisle one by one.
Each holiday season, my grandfather sends a bucket of trail mix. For some reason, he sent apricots this time. We mixed them with the other ingredients in the dish, put the whole deal in the oven, and passed the time with a Bollywood movie called Uriya.
Two hours later the oven buzzed. We were still watching this very long movie but paused to see how it turned out. The chicken was succulent and infused with flavor. There was no hint of patchouli although it was a bit too sweet - next time I would go easy on the honey. But the meal was one of the easiest to make and most delicious that I've eaten in a long time.
We then watched the end of the movie in which (spoiler warning!) the male lead, in trying to prevent his lady love from committing the terrorist act of detonating a bomb at India's Independence Day parade, begged her to blow them up together instead. And she did.
I suppose there is something to say about the different ways that people show love for one another, but I will leave it at that.
Holman Pottery* Tajine Recipe
4 chicken breasts, skinned
* Makers of our tajine.