Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Summer and State Fair wrap ups... autumn beckons

I blinked and suddenly realize I'm eating candy corn for breakfast. Autumn calls.

It's been a heck of a summer filled with change and melancholy, and while current events have me nervous about the future I am glad to be on this road driving away from the recent past. While summer wasn't exactly what we'd hoped for, we did celebrate every opportunity that came our way. And man oh man, those celebrations were phenomenal.

In August T and I donned kitty aprons and prepared a Nordic summer supper to support Planned Parenthood. The highlight this year was our signature cocktail, the Ruth Bader GINGERburg (1/2 ounce ginger syrup, 1 ounce each Tattersall gin and grapefruit crema, shake with ice. Pour into white wine glass, finish with sparkling wine, garnish with cucumber.). The meal we served told a story of epiphany and growth (ask me about it if you care for details): an amuse of potato chip topped with creme fraiche and Lake Superior herring roe, rye puffs filled with smoked trout and apple salad, summer tomato pie, farmers market salad, a few recipes inspired by Chef Marcus Samuelsson's "Aquavit" including caramelized steak with lingonberry BBQ and corn mashed potatoes, and a dessert of sweet corn ice cream and blonde kladdkaka (Swedish gooey cake).

Then there was the MPR Raccoon. The little raccoon was seen climbing up a tall building in downtown St. Paul, rather than down to safety. We collectively held our breaths as we watched the raccoon slowly, stealthy climb for 20 hours without food or water; up 23 stories of the building that houses MPR. Her fate became a symbol of surviving wretched events of the past two years. As afternoon became night we watched and waited. Then morning came and we heard the news that the little raccoon made it safely to the top of the building where animal control lured her into a cage filled with cat food and water, and she was later released into a reserve with, presumably, no tall buildings. If the MPR Raccoon can make it, perhaps we all can.

Immediately following MPR Raccoon's climb and capture, t-shirts and tote bags were available for purchase with proceeds going to The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota that happens to be in our neighborhood. I was happy to order two t-shirts the day they became available, and scored a pair of MPR Raccoon socks at the State Fair. In fact, the raccoon was a minor celebrity across the Fairgrounds especially in seed art.

Speaking of the Minnesota State Fair... she was a grand one this year! I had an amazing opportunity to demo at the brand spanking new Cambria Kitchen in the Creative Activities Building. What a coup that was! We billed it "Nordic food geek goes to the Fair," and I cooked up traditional Nordic foods with State Fair ingredients: SPAM lefse pizza, deep fried pickled herring with lingonberry hot sauce, aebleskiver with cheese curds, and Not-So Mini Ginger Pinchy Donuts. It was an amazing day and a darned good Fair.

Image above from @susanskovbo

The Minnesota State Fair is all about relationships: our relationships with ourselves, our neighborhoods, our state, our country; our relationships with agriculture, food, animals, art, craft, media, religion, politics; our relationships with friends and family, foes and and rivals. It is a beautiful microcosm of life, and a reminder that like it or not we are all in this together. We gather together and walk the same paths. We take a lot of ibuprofen and drink some cold beer and listen to music and share Sweet Martha's cookies with strangers. We admire the ribbons won for biggest pumpkin and prettiest goat and best decorated cookies because we love it when our neighbors are succeeding. For 12 days every year we come to this place, we mingle, we stand in lines together, and for the most part we get along.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Summer flits and fleets

To flit: To move about rapidly and nimbly.

To fleet: To pass over rapidly; To take the cream from.

Minnesotans are known for our obsession with the weather. We pride ourselves on adaptability and readiness to greet the day regardless of temperature or storm. At the very least, our diverse weather gives us something to talk about with strangers while we stand in line (apparently, Minnesotans are also really good at standing in lines).

This year, you will hear us complain to one another, we had no spring. We went from April blizzards to sweltering May heat and humidity. We tell each other that our spring-less year is making summer pass by even quicker than usual. We have only three months of summer, and much of that is spent fighting mosquitoes and Japanese beetles, and fanning ourselves. In order to really reach into the season and celebrate, we have weekend parties where the outdoors call to us, and we grill. Oh yes, we grill.

One group of our friends has been gathering for a grilled pizza party for many years. This year we were a smaller group, due to illnesses and travel. But we managed to have a grand time anyway.

My contribution included a boozy daiquiri chiffon cake. Normally I top this sucker with whipped cream and seasonal berries. But for our group we paired the slices with Churned Lemon Custard Cream.

Daiquiri Chiffon
For the cake;
2 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil
5 egg yolks
6 ounces rum
2 teaspoons vanilla
Zest of 4 limes
8 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar

In large mixing bowl whisk together flour, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt.

In medium bowl of stand-up mixer fixed with flat-beater whisk together until very well combined oil, yolks, rum, vanilla, and zest. Slowly add flour mixture and beat until combined.

In large bowl of stand-up fixed with wire whip beat egg whites on l;ow to medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue beating on medium speed. Slowly add 1/2 cup sugar and increase speed to fast. Beat until stiff peaks form.

Detach wire whip and use it to blend about 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter. Use large spatula to fold in remaining whites, 1/3 at a time. Do not overmix, but combine well enough that no whites are unmixed.

Pour batter into ungreased angel food cake pan and bake in preheated 325-degree oven 1 hour. Cool upside down. When completed cool, poke top of cake with skewer and slowly pour half of daiquiri syrup over entire top so that it soaks into the cake. Set aside for half an hour. Carefully remove cake from pan and flip over onto serving platter. Poke underside of cake with skewer and slowly pour half of daiquiri syrup over so that it soaks into the cake. Set aside for half an hour.

Serve frosted with whipped cream if desired.

For the daiquiri syrup;
In small sauce pan bring 1/2 cup sugar and 3/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice to simmer and cook, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup rum. Set aside to cool.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Finding the divine in Every Day

Yesterday my favorite storyteller was the keynote at a conference I attended. Kevin Kling uses his voice to connect and inspire us, and humor to heal. His stories remind us of our humanity. And, like me, he comes from Osseo, Minnesota (and we both marched in the band although a decade apart) which is, you know, pretty cool. Small town guy makes it big. His sister was my 12th grade Honors English teacher. My friend's dad was Kevin's Cub Scout leader. Kevin generously contributed a blurb for my first book. So of course, we are pretty tight, practically besties. (Except that we're not. Kevin doesn't actually know who I am, but he is always kind when our paths meet.)

The world gets a little darker every day. Bad news. Tragedy. Cruelty running rampant. Reading or hearing the morning news is akin to drowning in a pool of muck. By evening's headlines I'm practically immune to it all (Except that I'm not. No one is.).

Kevin's words at the conference yesterday will continue to resonate with me for a long time. He encouraged us, a room full of communicators, to seek out inspirational stories, and to find the divine in Every Day. "Treat every story like a love story, and you will understand why your heart wants to tell the story." He reminded us that good storytellers are good listeners, and that deep listening becomes empathy. We can gain wisdom from someone else's story without going through the often painful experience that leads to growth. "Don't listen for what you expect: listen for what's actually there."

"Tell the right story at the right time. What does the moment need at this exact time?" Wow. The right story told at the right time connects, heals, inspires, and ignites faith.

Today we learned about another senseless loss of someone whose stories connected, healed, inspired, and ignited faith across cultures. Flawed, honest, and charming, Anthony Bourdain reveled in learning about and sharing community through food.

We are on this path together, for better or worse. We have to continue to connect and remind each other of those connections. Bring as much lightness as you can to an often dark world. Tonight T and I will celebrate the amazing wonderful life we have together with our cats and our peaceful home and the good food and wine that we are so lucky to enjoy. Appreciate what you have, and find divine in the Every Day.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners

Times are tough and navigating the world safely has become a little trickier than it should be. We are exhausted from it all, and I always reach for nostalgia to sooth my soul. Summer is here, and this is the season for feeling the zen of sunshine, warm breezes, and ... um... Lebowski.

"The Big Lebowski" is a perfect movie. The more I watch, the more I learn, and the more appealing that imaginary world of 1991 Los Angeles becomes. The Dude, aka Jeffrey Lebowski, is a laid back, pot smoking, unemployed bowler. His daily regime includes the aforementioned pot smoking, a steady drip of White Russians, and meeting his buddies at the bowling alley where they share some beers and some laughs as they try to roll their way into the finals.

A case of mistaken identity throws The Dude and his calm life into chaos. With assistance from his bestie Walter, The Dude does his best to figure his way out of the mess and maybe make a little cash on the side (enough to possibly bump him into a higher tax bracket). Things just get messier, yet through it all The Dude abides.

My favorite definition for the act of abiding is: (of a feeling or a memory) continue without fading or being lost: continue, remain, survive, last, persist, stay, live on. In the chaos that has become our new normal, we are all abiding as best we can. I look to The Dude for ways (minus the pot smoking) to remain calm and keep my inner peace in tact.

T and I have a Memorial Day weekend tradition that we tend to without fail. We grill our rendition of In-N-Out burgers, drink Caucasians (White Russians, and yes, considering current events we smirked a bit as we sipped the vodka, KahlĂșa, and cream cocktails), and relish in the hope that our antihero, The Dude, still exists somewhere in the world, abiding.

As The Stranger says, "I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners."

To read more about this year's Lebowski dinner, head over to Called to the Table.  

Thursday, May 17, 2018

What would Mister Rogers do?

I've been thinking a lot about Mister Rogers lately. Apparently, so have the rest of you. 2010's documentary "Mister Rogers and Me" aired last month on PBS and is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Another documentary, "Won't you be my neighbor?" is hitting theaters this summer. Tom Hanks will play Mister Rogers in a biopic to be released next year. We need Mister Rogers now more than ever. We need that kind, gentle voice encouraging us when times are tough, reminding us that he likes us as we are. (Not unlike Mark Darcy's approval of Bridget Jones: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.)

Last year I began an attempt to be a kinder person. It went well for a few months, but then the world got all up in my face again and my kind demeanor fell away. Frustration and anger about current events replaced the kindness. I have always been quick to speak and slow to think. After a  far too common outburst I step back and ask myself, "What would Mister Rogers do?" and judge myself against what I presume would have been his measured response.

The current reactionary trend has all of us talking louder and listening less. Controversial, unscientific, often dangerous beliefs are touted as protected speech and actions. Some days are more difficult than others. Last week I was verbally accosted by a woman who ranted loudly about how climate change is a hoax. Tuesday I confronted a dog owner who left her beautiful Poodle-mix trapped in a hot, locked (we checked) car in the sun for more than half an hour. Both situations brought out the worst in me, and when I react to ignorance and cruelty with insults how does that make the world a better place? Afterwards, as usual, I asked myself (and T) "What would Mister Rogers do? How would he respond?" 

Mister Rogers would probably give me a gentle smile and let me off the hook because (I hope) my heart is in the right place. He might give me advice on slowing down, thinking carefully about possible repercussions, and bringing peace into my little corner of the world. Mister Rogers always knew what to say and how to say it.

I wrote about Mister Rogers at Called to the Table this week, and posted a recipe for chocolate sandwiches. Chocolate sandwiches are a nice temporary antidote to the noisy, aggressive, thoughtless world.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mrs. Beasley and the height of happiness

That's me in the image above, on Christmas morning long ago, at the height of my happiness and as filled with joy as a child could be. (My sisters, on the other hand, look as thought they've experienced their fair share of disappointment, don't they?) I'm the kid in blue, sitting on my grandpa's lap (my favorite person in the whole world), clutching my best Christmas gift that year, Mrs. Beasley.

Mrs. Beasley was a grandmotherly doll I first fell in love with while watching "Family Affair." Buffy, the little girl in the television show, had a Mrs. Beasley doll, and I wanted to be just like Buffy. The cool thing about Mrs. Beasley was she talked when you pulled her string. She talked about jumping rope together, telling secrets, and she told me she was once a little girl just like me. She had a pair of glasses that she didn't mind sharing with me when I wanted to wear them.

The magic of that morning and the joy I felt lasted for a day or two. Then our family packed up and drove to our maternal grandparents' home where we celebrated a late Christmas with our only cousins. I wrote about that visit a few years ago, and how my cousins violated Mrs. Beasley and her possessions.

I always felt bad for Mrs. Beasley for having to endure those dreadful cousins. Mrs. Beasley had a hard time reading or even seeing once her glasses were taken. It was never the same between us, as after that visit both of us were a little less joyful and a little more cautious about the outside world.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Leaving on a jet plane and other weekend adventures

Nordic Ware demo team: me, Edd, Mary Kate, & Linda

"This story begins with a meatball (as all good stories should)..." has become my "On a dark and stormy night..." But honestly, this story really does (almost) begin with a meatball.

This was my second year with the great and generous folks at Nordic Ware in Chicago for the International Home + Housewares Show. During the weekend I help out in the kitchen and do a few demos as clients stop by the booth to chat about both new and classic, beloved products. For the 2018 Show, I was asked to create a spicy meatball to be prepared in the stovetop Kettle Smoker, and a chocolate waffle for the Sweetheart Waffler. Of course, meatballs are waffles are pretty much two of my favorite things in the world, so creating the recipes was pure joy. I spent a weekend or two playing with ingredients and came out with recipes I am very pleased with.

What a thrill it was to cook side-by-side with Edd Kimber of Great British Baking Show fame. Edd won the first season (not yet aired in U.S. but a little bird told me you can stream it illegally if you look hard enough. Not that I'd encourage such behavior...) and since then has made baking his career and lifestyle. The guy is amazingly knowledgeable, and I learned a lot from him during our short time together. Over dinner on Saturday night we peppered him with questions about his audition, what Mary is like in real life, and his favorite/least favorite show entrees. It was a fascinating look into one of my all-time favorite cooking shows.

Americans who love GBBS gravitate toward the show because it is so unlike many televised American competitions. The competitors are generally kind to one another, witty, charming, humble, and my goodness they can bake! Edd is the epitome of the spirit of GBBS. Check out his blog at The Boy Who Bakes.

As for meatballs... get the recipe here. I like to call them Swedish-Thai meatballs because they have one foot firmly implanted in Swedishness and a few toes in the flavors of Thailand. Lovers of chocolate, get the waffle recipe here.