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An Ode to My Mother

Chokecherry Picking

We stained our fingers deep red, and our buckets mounded high with the chokecherries we’d been gathering all morning. My mother, my children, and I had driven down to a large thicket on a side road along the mountain river. It was a forgotten spot, a little traveled place where few went. Here the chokecherry bushes billowed over the ditch on the edge of the gravel. We felt like we held a precious secret in knowing where this stash of bitter berries grew. The berries grew abundantly, and we picked with abandon.

Now as we looked at our haul, we knew the work was far from over. We needed to turn these currently inedible berries into the sweet and delicious canned goods we treasured all winter long. My mother, a native of Montana, had grown up around these wild gems and knew the secrets to pulling out their flavor. We followed her lead as she patiently instructed us on how to clean and cook them and then extract the meat from the inner seed, resulting in a thick liquid. This deep, garnet-colored juice became the foundation for our jams and syrups. 

The tradition continues: this year's strawberry jam

Wild Grapes

Not long after this, my mom and I went through a similar process again, this time in Minnesota. It was early September, the time of year when the wild grapes ripen. We picked on the fence lines that bordered the freeways in spots where birds had planted the grape seeds years before. Once again buckets filled the kitchen table, and as we looked upon the bounty we had just gathered, we knew we had hours of work ahead of us. Undaunted, my mom pulled out the big pots from the cupboards, filled the sink with cool water, and we began the tasks of sorting and cleaning the grapes and then creating the delectable wild grape jam we treasured so much.

Untamed grapes found in our neighborhood

I am grateful that my mom taught me how to go out into the woods and pick wild berries, be it wild blueberries, wild plums, wild grapes, or chokecherries. The concentrated nature of wild fruit results in an unusually flavorful jam. I grew up eating these delicacies, so they became a part of my cherished memory.

Mom in 2017

Growing Up

My mother was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants who had homesteaded land in eastern Montana. Life on the prairie had not been easy for my grandparents as they worked tirelessly to tame the land and carve out a ranch. Cold, heat, grasshoppers, an overall lack of resources, the Great Depression, and more all worked against their success. I’m not sure that my mom or her siblings ever noticed, however. The spirit in the home was one of resolve, humble tenacity, and a calm graciousness. They crafted niceties from scraps, making intricately embroidered linens, dinners for neighbors, and warm loaves of bread baked in a coal-fired oven. 

Mom's wild rice soup

You see, it was a part of my mom’s inner soul to create sweet delicacies from sour grapes. It was who her parents had been and their parents before them. Eeking out beauty from scarcity. Hospitality bubbled up from a natural interest in others and their wellbeing. This graciousness was ingrained in her fiber as she welcomed family, friends, and strangers alike into the home. They often stayed for just a cup of coffee and a piece of something sweet, but sometimes they stayed for years.

Lemon bars

A Seat at the Table

From an early age, my mom modeled many things for me. She was an effortless hostess. That generation didn’t fuss for guests. You see, a tin of homemade goodies always sat in the freezer waiting to be enjoyed. Sometimes it was a lemon bar or a piece of apple crisp. Other times she treated us to was a plate full of hamburger mushroom casserole or a bowl of Minnesota wild rice soup. Sometimes all we needed was her listening ear. Other times it was a warm bed and a shower. She spent her days thinking about others. When people came to visit, my mom feted them and welcomed them wholeheartedly.

Mom's beef and mushroom casserole

The two constants were the tables. One was in the kitchen, the other in the dining room. The first greeted you on frosty mornings with a hot mug of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal topped with bananas, or crispy toast smeared with the jam du jour. The other table became the site of prolonged story telling by hosts and guests alike as dinners and the accompanying conversations ran late into the evenings. The food always remained simple, hearty, and home cooked. Soups, stews, casseroles; food to feed a crowd of hungry stomachs. We came, hungry for conversation and nourishment, and we left sated on all fronts. 

Making krumkake at Mom and Dad's house

The Gifts My Mother Gave Me

Even as the years passed and age began to get the better of her, hosting her dear family remained my mother’s favorite pastime. I like to think I inherited that from her. Whether we arrived early or came in after dark, the windows of the house would be glowing with a warm yellow light, the porchlight welcoming weary travelers.  My mother greeted the family with open arms, cozy beds, and fresh towels laid out for us.

Fresh peach pie

What remains today are the memories, the inner pull to emulate the gracious ambiance for others that she so faithfully created for me. An ambiance that pulled people toward her, that made them feel in that moment that they were the only ones that mattered. She wasn’t one to jump to a decision, but she carefully weighed the options. Mom gave me her measured thoughtfulness. She gave me the gift of time, her time. Such a precious and rare gift this is. It’s simple yet seemingly increasingly unavailable. She gave with no expectation of reciprocation.

A listening ear, a cup of coffee, a piece of pie, a jar of chokecherry jam, a couch on which to sit and chat awhile, a quiet wisdom; these are what I’m bringing with me into the future. These are the gifts my mother gave me.  

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Roasting as a Pastime

Roasted Italian Memories

The evening was stormy. Cracks of thunder played overhead. As we hurried up the old cobbled street, our feet danced around the growing puddles and streams. We were staying in an ancient hamlet buried in the hilly Umbrian countryside. Upon stepping into the trattoria, we took in the aromas of roasting meats, pizzas, breads, and vegetables.

A gorgeous and massive medieval pizza oven took up one entire wall of the kitchen. Stacks of olivewood sat neatly stacked to one side. This was my first exposure to the unabashed, divine nature of roasting. The cozy warmth on a cold and rainy night. The taste of a perfectly charred beet, halved garlic heads drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, wild mushrooms and fennel bulbs. They pulled me in. I was hooked and haven’t looked back. I relegated the taste of bland canned beets and garlic powder from my childhood to the cobweb-filled attic of my memory bank. Going forward, it was roasting or nothing. This was a sort of genesis, a new horizon. I moved from steamed carrots to roasted carrots, from boiled baby potatoes to toasted wedges.

Roasting Beets

Let’s take beets. It seems simple enough. I slice the freshly scrubbed beets into wedges, toss them in olive oil, sea salt, and coarsely ground black pepper. Next I spread them in a single layer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, placing them in a hot oven to roast (400 F). After cooling the beets, I drizzle red wine vinegar and a good quality olive oil and then add sliced green onions and toasted pumpkin seeds. I lightly toss the mixture and lay the salad over a bed of arugula.

As we tuck our forks into this ruby salad, a refreshing sweetness greets us. Roasting the beets has concentrated their sugars and given the tips of the wedges a slight crunch. The overall result is delicious.

Roasting vegetables produces a depth of flavor one doesn’t get with the other types of cooking. An almost caramel tone develops in them.

Roasting Cauliflower

Let’s look at cauliflower. Take a whole cauliflower, steam it for a few minutes in a pot of boiling salted water, after taking it out, rub it all over with olive oil, salt and pepper, and place it in a very hot oven (475 degrees) for 20 minutes or until toasty on the top surface. This version of roasted cauliflower is absolutely scrumptious served with a cool yogurt cilantro sauce.

Roasting Eggplant

Another vegetable that benefits immensely from roasting is eggplant. Roasting transforms the interior of eggplant into an almost buttery consistency. I recently made an iteration of an Israeli staple where I roasted the scored and oiled halves of an eggplant until they became nicely browned. Then I topped each half with a citrus, pomegranate molasses, and tahini mixture and broiled those halves for a couple minutes until they turned caramel in color. I covered these halves with dollops of a yogurt cucumber mixture, sprinkled toasted pistachios, slivered mint, and Italian parsley.

Adding Complexity with Sauces

The dry heat of an oven amps up the flavor of what can normally be a rather plain tasting vegetable. Roasting adds the char on the edges and a caramel-like sweetness. With a bit of creativity accented by fresh herbs and cool flavor filled sauces, roasted vegetables move from the ordinary to the deliciously sublime.

Using whole-milk yogurt as a base and adding refreshing ingredients such as lime, lemon, cilantro, Italian parsley, basil, dill, cucumber, scallions, and spring greens like arugula, sauces and dips can compliment the depth of flavor in roasted vegetables. It’s the savory counter to ice cream on a slice of pie. You can definitely do without it, but oh, its addition is so wonderful!

Vegetables Galore

We are about to enter into the season of ubiquitous vegetables. Tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, beets, carrots, onions, cabbages, and squash of all varieties will soon be at our fingertips. Try roasting these.

When garden produce is starting to pile up on my counter, I pull out a sheet pan, lay down parchment, spread out any variety of vegetables, drizzle them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and add whole garlic cloves, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Then I place the pan in a very hot oven (400 F). Simple prep, yet it yields a divinely complex result.

However you end up using the vegetables in the end, roasting first will give a new dimension of flavor to the dish. Be it a salad, a soup, a side, an hors d’oeuvres, or a braise, roast and then combine. You won’t have any regrets.

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Farm to Your Table

If it’s Saturday morning and it’s summer, our farmers market is open for business. The center aisle is packed with shoppers. A folk music group serenades us with background tunes. A young couple meanders, sipping their steaming cups of freshly brewed Cherrybean coffee. Others are loaded down with bags of vegetables or a massive bouquet from Alissa’s Flower Farm. The aroma of wood-fired pizza wafts through the air, welcoming us in from the parking lot. We bump into friends, catch up on the latest happenings, compare loot, promise to get together soon, and then move on.

Produce at the Market

I have so many favorite stops. I make it a habit to buy a little something from many. Sunnyside Gardens is my go-to for unique and colorful annuals that make up the flower pots flanking my front door.

John at The Cornucopia was kind enough to bring me a bushel of basil last year when I was binge-making pesto. He carries gorgeous greens like red bok choy and long, curly garlic scapes. He is always ready to tell an interesting story. We know about how he had to harvest his 1400 heads of garlic early because of flooding.

I count on Jensen Sweet Corn for their purple, lime green, and pale orange cauliflower. True to its name, their sweet corn is deliciously sweet.

I have become quite obsessed with the pearl oyster mushrooms from Daniel at Dakota Mushrooms and Microgreens, often making the trip to the farmers market with the intention of picking up some of these tasty fungi. Pearl oyster mushrooms, when sauteed in a little olive oil, finished with sherry and truffle salt, and served with roasted new potatoes is positively addictive.

The middle of August is the time for picking up flats of tomatoes from Carper Sweet Corn and Produce or Seedtime and Harvest. These ruby heirlooms are an essential component to canned salsa, pasta sauce, and tomato basil bisque.

I must not forget to give a shout-out to a recent farmers market addition, Darin at D’s Smoked Nuts. Darin slow-smokes a variety of nuts, then adds some spicy heat. His nuts are almost as good as his quirky videos on his website, or should I say they’re much better.

Cauliflower from Jensen Sweet Corn roasted with green olives and golden raisins

A Rich History

The history behind markets such as these goes back thousands of years to when farmers would bring their wares to the nearest town to sell in a centralized space. This central plaza was the place to be. Business was conducted, and people met to socialize.

In the history of our country, the first official farmers market was located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They actually designed the town around a central lot that was designated as the Central Market. This market continues to thrive today with many of the vendors being multi-generational. From that first market, farmers markets grew into a movement. Today there are approximately 8000 official farmers markets in the U.S. This of course does not include roadside stands and other pop-up markets (originally called “curb markets”) that you come across as you drive our nation’s byways.

Farmers Markets Today

What is it about a farmers market that is so magnetic? Why do we go to it even though we often have our own gardens at home? Perhaps it is the pervasive sense of celebrating community. Or is it about honoring our local family farmers and food artisans? A century ago the average family farm produced over fifty different kinds of crops or products. The resurgence of this sort of diversified farmer with just-picked organic produce faithfully offered each week, rain or shine, is an inspiration.

Supporting their commitment and hard work is crucial to their success. Crafting delicious dishes from these nutritious gems is beneficial for all. In our house, the weekly summertime tradition is such: Saturday morning, go to the farmers market and pick from our garden, then Saturday evening, cook from the bounty.

From cheese that is cultured just up the road to freshly-baked pastries. From hand-made soaps to cuts of bison, eggplants to zinnias, it’s all there at your farmers market. You just need to bring it home to your table.

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The Many Uses of Ginger Root

A Ginger Collection

Who knew when we were young and sipping on a can of ginger ale that this root would become such a large part of our culture and diet?

As one of Scandinavian heritage, I was first exposed to the spice in the form of my Aunt Joyce’s incredibly crisp ginger snaps and my family’s Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It was an ingredient people used to bake things. I didn’t give it much thought or find it particularly remarkable.

The root morphed its way into my life like the shoe collection taking over my closet. It slowly expanded, almost unnoticed, into more and more of the dishes I made. Now I eat it in something almost every day.

I really started playing around with the ingredient back in the early 90s. I was developing an Asian grilled pizza recipe, and I wanted a fresh kick component to the sauce. In went grated ginger root. It was the perfect je ne sais quoi I was looking for.

Cooking with Ginger

When I started exploring the world of Indian dishes, ginger was in all of them.

Next it landed in my Thai Curried Noodle Soup, and then I started pickling it to serve alongside Vietnamese dishes. I love serving it pickled with sushi. Now it shows up in my homemade rosemary ginger tea or in the lemon ginger kombucha that the family seems to devour around my house.

Fresh or frozen root is not the only way to go. My latest obsession is candied ginger, which I tuck into impossibly tender scones, buttery pound cake, and cookies. You can also sprinkle on ice cream or pancakes; the list could go on and on.

Ginger is a grass which grows in tropical regions. It produces a pretty yellow flower and is often used as a part of landscaping in warm climates. The root of the grass is called a rhizome. It reminds me of an Iris bulb, which is also a rhizome. The various Asian cultures started incorporating ginger into their cooking and diet thousands of years ago. They brew it in tea or use it as a spicy addition to hot and cold dishes alike when a little kick is wanted. They use it pickled, candied, dried and ground into a powder, and of course fresh.

Thai Curry Noodle Soup with rice noodles, ginger, curry, chicken, mango, red onion, cilantro, lime, and green onions.

Facets of the Root

There is much debate between Eastern and Western medicines as to ginger’s specific health benefits. While the experts battle this out, we can all sit back and enjoy this wonderful, edible rhizome, knowing at the very least, it is okay for you health-wise, and at the very best, it aids it relieving a half a dozen or more illnesses.

I would be remiss if I didn’t end by mentioning ginger beer, the essential ingredient in the ever-popular drink, a Moscow mule. Served in an icy cooper mug, this refreshing drink is the perfect thirst quencher on a hot summer evening.

On this cool and gratifying note, start incorporating this versatile and delicious spice into your recipes. I always have a fresh root in my vegetable drawer, a frozen root in my freezer, and the powdered or candied spice in my cupboard. Just like shoes, you can never have too much.

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Sweet Mangoes – A Fruit of My Youth

Malagasy Mangoes

When I was a girl, my family lived on the island of Madagascar. Often my mom would ask me to fetch something from the yard. “Cami, would you go get me some mangoes?” I would take my wagon out to the cluster of mango trees down by the river. It was pure heaven to have the grove of mango, avocado, leches, banana, and citrus trees so close at hand. I would soon return with a wagon-full of sweet mangoes. This it when my love of this fruit first began.

When they were in season, we could never get too many mangoes. We peeled them and ate them plain, biting the juicy meat off the center seed. It was a messy business with all that sweet elixir running down our arms and dripping off our elbows. My mom would remind me, “Don’t get that juice on your clothes. Mango stains!”

The Fruit’s History

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Hailing originally from South Asia about 5,000 years ago, mangoes are now one of the most popular fruits worldwide. Nutritionally speaking, they are good sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, making them very healthy to eat.

Mangoes play a central role in the cuisines of many tropical cultures. They are cultivated all over the world: Asia, Africa, southern Spain, South and Central America, the southern United States, Hawaii, and Australia, thus completing the global circuit.

The sweet meat is used in as many ways as the cuisines it inhabits. It can become aam panna or mango lassi, both popular beverages throughout Asia. In India it becomes a part of the main entrée as an ingredient in dahl, a sauce served over rice. Furthermore, mangoes can be pickled, dried, juiced, grilled, added to salads, and mashed. Or even eaten plain.

Mangoes in Your Kitchen

With modern agricultural advancements, different varieties of mangoes are now available almost year round. I think of them, however, as a late winter/early spring fruit. Currently there are two varieties available in our grocery stores, the creamy, sweet, golden Alphonso or “honey” mango and the more prevalent green/ruby-colored Tommy Atkins cultivar. Both types are delicious. They do, however, have slightly different flavors from each other.

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A delightful curry quinoa salad with mangoes, green onions, cilantro, and almonds.

I tend to use Alphonsos in a way that lets their sweet, smooth nature shine. I cut them into large slices and serve them in a way that they can stand alone. The Tommy Atkins mangoes hold up very well in grain salads or are used green in more of a Thai or Vietnamese-type dish. Strips of under-ripe mango simply tossed with lime juice, green or red onions, diced jalapeños, and a sprinkling of sea salt is a perfect example of a dish that rises above the sum of its parts.

The versatile, delicious mango is in season right now. Let us help you discover this wonderful fruit. Together we can explore mangoes in our myriad of classes that include them. In the meantime, when you are in the produce section, pick up some mangoes. Peel them, bite into the sweet meat, and discover the many ways you can add this gem into your meals. They are, oh, so worth it!

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Microgreens in the Winter

Why Microgreens?

I am thinking about them right now in the colder months because they grow so easily inside. Microgreens are defined as the edible, immature greens that are harvested about two weeks after germination. Little pea shoots, the tiny leaves and stems from broccoli, kale, amaranth, red cabbage, and sunflowers; these are a few of the more common types of microgreens.

The Uses for Microgreens

They can be used in a myriad of ways including as a confetti topping on an open-faced sandwich or pizza, tossed as a salad, or as a refreshing accompaniment to any braise. I love including them in cold quinoa or rice salads because the raw crunch adds not only depth but also beauty to the dish. Try them in a wrap or a soup. Mix them into your breakfast smoothie. They are a tasty reminder of summer.

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Research done by the USDA has shown that microgreens are many times more concentrated in a wide variety of nutrients than their adult counterparts. Research is still being done on these jewels that pack so much nutritional punch, but in the meantime, eat and enjoy knowing you are eating something good for your health.

Growing your Own Greens

I buy my microgreens at out local co-op store. I love that they are locally grown. However, if you would like to grow your own, it is very easy. Any disposable tray or pie plate will work. Poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage, fill it with moistened potting soil, and sprinkle your chosen seeds per instructions on their packets. Usually you just barely cover the seeds with more soil. Water the soil by misting it with water a couple times a day. You want to keep the soil moist but not wet. Place the tray in your sunniest window or under grow lights. The plants should get about four hours of sunshine each day.

Next time you are building a turkey, vegetable sandwich, include baby pea sprouts instead of that leaf of romaine. You will love it!

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Salt: The Only Rock We Eat

Salt as Currency

Salt: “a substance so valuable it served as a currency, has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires and inspired revolutions.” So explains author and food historian Mark Kurlansky in his consummate book on the subject, succinctly titled “Salt.”

What explains salt’s culturally critical importance? The answer lies in its ability to not only enhance flavors but more importantly to preserve perishable foods. Before advances in technology, science, and manufacturing, there were few avenues available to keep foods from spoiling. Nations who laid claim to abundant salt deposits flourished, and those who didn’t paid homage.

Enhancing Flavor in Cooking

As fascinating as this rich history is, salt continues to be a staple of the kitchen. What I love best about it is what it does to heighten the flavor of a crisp spring radish or a perfectly ripe tomato. It is a staple to any great kitchen, for it has the ability to bring depth of flavor to countless dishes. I have been known to use some type of salt in every course of a meal. Its value comes to fruition when sprinkling a truffle scented variety on top of creamy Burrata. It then just as easily delights as a dessert capstone of sea salt caramels.

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My pantry includes salts from around the world. These include pink salt from the Murray River in Australia or the Himalayas. They span grey fleur du sel from the Geurande in France or Wales to delicate white variety from Bali or Maldon. In Spain or Italy, salt makers marry it with peppers or truffles to develop a deep, rich flavor. Or it is smoked with every type of wood smoke imaginable, one of my favorites being Alderwood.

We will travel the world on salt’s back, appreciating it in all its diversity through my full array of cooking classes. Come join the journey!

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The Ancient Beverage Kombucha

The Rise of Kombucha

It seems kombucha is everywhere. It is available on tap both at my local co-op and a nearby brewery. Dozens of flavors sit on display in our grocery stores. From coffee shops to restaurants, this probiotic tea is the hot, new beverage. It rightly deserves its popularity. This drink simultaneously boasts being refreshing and highly nutritious.

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Originating in China, kombucha has been made and consumed for centuries. The ingredients, black tea, sugar, healthy bacteria and yeast, and flavorings of your choosing ferment together to produce a fizzy, delicious drink that is teaming with beneficial bacteria called probiotics. The immense value of these probiotics to your gastrointestinal tract and other regions of your body cannot be disregarded. As a culture, we are only recently beginning to appreciate all the healthful advantages that probiotics offer.

Brewing Your Own Kombucha

If you have purchased this fermented drink lately, you have discovered that making this a frequent activity will surely drain your wallet. For this reason as well as because it makes for an enjoyable hobby, I brew my own kombucha. It is fun and tasty to mix ingredients to create custom brews. Some of our favorites are raspberry lime, lemon ginger, and strawberry.

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Ripe and Roasted offers a class to give you both the tools and the knowledge to successfully start making your own kombucha. We will teach you the process, and you will be given your own SCOBY (the bacterial starter) to get you going.

Kombucha, the ancient drink from centuries ago, is the drink of today, delicious, fresh, rich with healthy probiotics, and easy enough to make in your own home. Let me show you how!

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Beets

Attributes of the Beet

This deep ruby-colored globe is as delicately flexible to use in your cooking as it is beautiful to behold. The National Garden Bureau has named this “The Year of the Beet.” A justly deserved honor this is!

Beets are an obliging workhorse in the garden. They thrive in a variety of conditions, easily started in spring, after the last frost and not resowed until early August. They prefer slightly acidic soil (pH greater than 6.0) and are fine with a sunny or part-sunny spot.

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Microgreen salad with shredded beets, toasted almonds, crème fraîche, and dried cranberries in an oil balsamic vinaigrette.

Cooking with Beets

Both the leaves and the root are delicious and packed full of nutrients. I love beets roasted with a little olive oil and sea salt, used as one of the essential ingredients of Russian Borscht stew or boiled then tossed with goat cheese, crisp apple wedges in a toothsome salad. Likewise, the greens contribute well to soups, salads, or even smoothies. Because of their high nutritional value, they’ve taken the health-conscious world by storm. You can buy everything from beet pills or juice to beet powder.

Nothing, however, replaces a good old chunk of roasted beet.

Let’s explore together this versatile vegetable. From its humble beginnings all covered with loamy brown dirt to a rich garnet sliver poking out of a meaty braise, let’s celebrate the year of the beet.

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