Indian Spinach Dahl (Lentils) & a review of Extending the Table

Indian-Spinach-Dahl-1 I’ve literally always been a list person. As a young kid, I would meticulously pour over the toy catalogs that came in the mail just after Thanksgiving and then write a thorough list of all my Christmas hopes and dreams, detailing exactly which Rock Tumbler set and which color Pow-Pow-Power Wheels jeep I needed.

So naturally, when Pinterest came around, I did what any normal 29-year-old would do and made myself a visual Christmas list, cleverly titled Want. For the past two years, the cookbook Extending the Table has been on that Pinterest board, and for two years, nobody’s gotten it for me. I knew I’d love it…it’s in the same family of cookbooks as my beloved Simply in Season, as well as More with Less.

extending-the-table

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Authentic Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie I entered the workforce around the age of 14 as a proud busser/hostess at Scuttlebutts – a restaurant in my hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It was there that I learned the finer points of clearing tables, refilling drinks, and through gritted teeth, patiently telling demanding patrons that no, there was nothing I could to bump them up the list on our 40-minute wait.

You see, Lake Geneva is a town of about 8,000 people that swells to close to 20,000 in the summer, when droves of upper-class Chicagoans descend on the small town, hauling speed boats and jet skis behind their luxury vehicles. It was as obnoxious as it sounds.

Yet, those tourists were my bread and butter as I eventually became a waitress at Scuttlebutts. It was a good job that I held over many summers, but those were also some of the longest, hottest summer days of my life. Our tiny kitchen had no AC, so working there was an exercise in controlling back sweat. And one of my favorite ways to refuel while waiting for an order to be ready was to take in a huge spoonful from our industrial-sized cans of whipped cream.

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Peach Pie with Lattice Crust

Peach Pie Lattice I used to be afraid of double crust pies. Pies are already high maintenance enough, and so to add a crust to the top seemed like a fool’s errand. It could rip. It could be chewy. Worse…it could burn.

And so I stuck to crumble-topped pies. They seemed somehow safer, more predictable. Plus…who doesn’t love more flour, butter, and sugar on top of pie filling, right?

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A 10-Pie, 10-Pi Birthday Party

pie-party Last week, on June 27, I turned 31.4 years old.
So, naturally I celebrated my 10π birthday…with 10 pies.

10-pie-party

Left Top to Bottom: Cream Cheese Fruit Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie, Apple Crumb Pie, Gluten Free Berry Pie
Right Top to Bottom: Cherry Pie, Strawberry Galette, Peach Pie, Key Lime Pie, Lemon Tart

Here’s the ridiculous backstory:

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Wheat Berry Kale Salad with Rhubarb-Ginger Vinaigrette

wheat-berry-kale-salad-3 When I tell people about this blog and its focus on seasonal eating, often they will ask me if I’m one of those locavores who only eats things grown within the state. And my reply is no…because I live to eat clementines in the winter in my attempts to avoid scurvy.

Their next question is usually: So, do you have one of those CSA farm shares? And I tell them another no as all of the credibility seeps slowly out of my words. We’ve never done a CSA before – mostly because I like to garden (when I’m not newly pregnant or having a newborn, which is basically never), and because I LOVE going to the farmers market.

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Bacon-wrapped Egg Cups with Cheese & Spring Vegetables

Bacon Wrapped Egg Cups On the tail end of our honeymoon (seven years ago!), Eric and I stopped to have breakfast with a friend who lived in the city we were flying out of. She took us to a little breakfast spot that I remember very little about other than its phenominal omelettes. See, up until that point, if I was going to have eggs, they were going to be matched with cheddar, ham, and bell pepper, because that was what should be.

But on a newly married whim, I decided to order an omelette with…what’s that you say? Mozzarella. Spinach. Asparagus.

And it was sort of life-chanaging. The earthiness of those greens with the creaminess of the melted mozzarella…with eggs, was well, perfect. And that omelette has stayed with me ever since, quietly but haughtily setting the bar for every egg I’ve had since.

Bacon Wrapped Egg Cups

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Road Construction Tractor Birthday Cake

Road Construction Tractor Birthday Cake An Introductory Note: Owen turned two last week, and we celebrated his birthday with a bunch of friends and their kids last weekend. In the weeks prior, Owen and I had perused Pinterest together, and out of dino, dog, and truck cakes, he wanted a tractor cake. The design of the cake came from this pin, but I figured out the cake & frosting combination and assembly. And this post? It’s portions of my regular letters to my kiddos (you can read the whole letter & all the others) here. 

Road Construction Tractor Birthday Cake

Dear Owen,

You’re two. You. My baby. You’re two. How did that happen? Your baby rolls and dark hair have been replaced by a little boy who is muscular and lean and summertime blonde all year long. A boy who climbs on the furniture and runs down the sidewalk and talks from morning until night. We are beginning to see who you are, and we say this at least once a day: you are passionate. Your days are full – of emotions, energy, experiences – your highs are high and your lows are low, Owen Bowen.

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Classic Cheesecake

cheesecake-3 You guys, berries.
I made this cheesecake for the berries.

I go a little fruit crazy this time of year, at the first sign of berries popping up in the market. I buy a pint of strawberries, or two, and then the grocery store starts doing 2 for $5 raspberries, and suddenly my refrigerator is 74% berries.

And the thing about berries is, you have to eat them fast. Like three-days-max fast, even if you’re slightly maniacal like I am and transfer your berries into paper-towel-lined containers the minute you get home from the store so that they can all lay nicely in a single layer.

If you were sensible, you might eat some berries – in yogurt, for a snack – and then easily freeze* the remainder for smoothies  to have when it’s unbearably hot and humid in a few weeks. But maybe you’re like me and decide to make cheesecake as another vehicle for berries because fresh berries and cheesecake? BFFs for life.

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Mine

fishing Last Sunday was one of the beautiful days – warm and sunny and weekendy. When evening came, Eric’s dad got his fishing boat ready, while we got Owen ready. Sunblock, hat, snacks, carseat, as Owen, over and over again, happily informed us: “Me goin’ fishing!”

Yes, Owen was going fishing. He had gone fishing with my dad earlier in the month, and since then every stick we’d come across had become his fishing pole. He would cast it, pretend to reel, and then yell, for all the playground to hear: “I got a big one!” Over and over and over. And now, we were about to go fishing. On a boat. And I thought he was going to hyperventilate.

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Owen’s face after he caught his first fish

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Easy Pea Pesto

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Today, my good friend Rachel and I took all the babies to the zoo.

I had Elsa in an Ergo; she had Ollie, who is just nine days younger, in hers.
I chased Owen, who is somehow and heartbreakingly almost two years old.
She chased just-turned-three Archie.

We both pushed strollers, which were mostly there to carry the diaper bags. And Rachel rightly compared our movement to that of covered wagons on the prairie – slow and weighed down by only the most necessary of provisions – goldfish, graham crackers, diapers, and sippy cups.

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Overheard, Vol. 2

owen-3

Learning How Things Work:
Owen: Mom, cn I have some yer juice?
Me: No, you have your own juice on the table.

(30 second pause)

Owen: I’m sick.
Me: Oh, that’s too bad. What part of you is sick?
Owen: My aaaaarm. It hurts.
Me: I’m sorry. What do you think would help?
Owen: Me drink yer juice.

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Roasted Strawberry & White Chocolate Scones

scone-1 Your mom called, and she wants these scones for Mother’s Day.

A few weekends ago, I was setting up to test this recipe for the first time. When Eric asked me what I was making for the blog, his response was:

“Scones? Boring.”

He proceeded to tell me how he’s never really enjoyed a scone in his life and was totally not persuaded that these were going to be amazing, even after I told him about my inspiration for them.

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What Love Is

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My Dear Children,

The days will eventually come when you will think that your dad and I are systematically trying to ruin your lives. You will roll your eyes and shake your proverbial fists at the heavens, because we will say all the clichés like That shirt leaves no room for the imagination!  and No, you cannot go to THAT party! and you will wonder how it is that we could hate you so much.

But you need to know that my love for you is deep. It is overwhelming.

I know this because I will be driving by myself, and I will see an ambulance, or a train, or maybe even a tractor go by and I will think Oh! I wish Owen could have seen that. I know it in the moments that you are asleep, Owen, and a squirrel sits perched on our backsteps, so close to the door, and I think briefly about waking you up so that you could watch it with me because I know you would hyperventalate with joy. This is the love I have for you.

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Sausage, Spinach, & Artichoke Pasta “Wonderpot”

wonder-pot-pasta-3 You may be wondering what exactly a “wonderpot” is.

Is it…
(A) A sneaky trick I’m playing on marijauna users who are busy googling their drug of choice?
(B) A fabulous one-pot recipe in which the pasta, sides, and sauce are all cooked together in one giant pot, meriting the cheers of the dishwasherless nationwide?
(C) Both?

You’re totally right. The answer is C.

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15-Minute Coconut Breakfast Quinoa

Coconut-Breakfast-Quinoa-2 It all started with two inches of frost on the inside of our chest freezer.

Two months ago, I opened up the freezer to toss something in there, and I saw that we had a legit defrosting situation on our hands. But, the freezer was full to the brim of bags and bags of frozen veggies, of individually wrapped chicken breasts, of loaves of bread – all bought in bulk and when on sale because I am physically incapable of passing up a good deal – especially when I know I can stock up, squirrel-style, and keep it in the freezer.

And so I determined that in March, I would make as many meals as possible from what we already had in our freezer and pantry, only getting a few fresh dairy and produce items from the grocery store each week. I had a lot of fun coming up with meals out of our ordinary routine…and for the most part, it worked. I came up with some winners (baked apple butter pork chops over wild rice) and some definite losers (rice bowl with avocado, salsa, cheese…aaaand cut up bits from a leftover grilled hamburger). Seriously, don’t ever eat that.

Coconut-Breakfast-Quinoa-

But after a month of purging our pantry and freezers, I still had the quinoa. The quinoa I bought on impulse at Costco two years ago. The quinoa that had moved into progressively smaller containers every few months. Yeah, that quinoa.

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Bread of Life

bread-of-life

1
It starts simply.
Some flour, some water, then yeast.
It is mixed, and it is active.
It is alive.
Kneaded and pounded, then left to rest.
It is filled with air and rises with potential.
It is baked, and the aroma is intoxicating.
The smell of baking bread.
The aroma beckons us.
It speaks to us of home and comfort and sustenance.

2
The time has come.
The loaf is removed.
And there it sits, perfect in form and fragrance.
We gather around the cooling bread.
This loaf – which, done right, has been long in the making.
Forearms tired from kneading. All of that waiting.
And for what?
We rip into the bread, destroying all of the work with every bite.
The bread is consumed.
And in its death, we are fed. We are nourished.
It dies that we might live.

3

Photo Credit

Kindness

kindness He was wearing sunglasses inside.

Right there, in the library on Saturday morning. He stood there, near the checkout computer, eyes covered and with an scraggly white beard that had hints of tobacco stain. He wore black, some leather, and seemed out of place, surrounded by parents’ lugging Trader Joe’s tote bags of books and their toddlers hyped up on the recently ended storytime.

I was one of those parents. Owen, Elsa, and I had gone to the storytime that morning because it was Saturday and Eric had to be gone all day and I felt sorry for myself that this weekend day felt like every other day of the week. We needed to get out of the house. So, with Elsa in the Ergo, I’d done my best to contain Owen’s endless energy for the duration of the storytime…and then, between chasing Owen down as he raced around the bookshelves and trying to keep Elsa asleep, I managed to find a bunch of new books to take home.

books Baby in carrier, toddler firmly in hand, I lugged our thirty pounds of books towards the checkout computer. The mom in the front of the line checked out their fifty-seven books, while Owen tugged and tugged on my hand and Elsa started to make that squirming sound which, ignored long enough, erupts into what is definitely not a library-friendly squawk.

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Cheesy Roasted Asparagus & Bacon Melts

asparagus-open-sandwich

So yesterday it was 70* here, and my spring checklist was in full force.

Robin in the backyard? Check.
Tulip buds poking through the ground? Check.
Obligatory Minnesotan in shorts, sandals, and a tank top? Check.

The kids and I spent the morning at Como Zoo along with every other family of preschool-aged kids in the metro area. And I ended the day by having dinner on a !patio! with a good friend. I kind of felt like I was giving Spring a hug the entire day, and it was fantastic.

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Overheard

coffee

Over breakfast…
Owen: (pointing upstairs) Mama, der’s a gian eccavader up der!
Me: Um, I don’t think there’s a giant excavator upstairs. That’s pretty funny though.
Both: (chewing toast)
Me: (sipping coffee and stretching)
Owen: Mama’s tired.
Me: That’s actually true.

Friday Morning, April 4, with 6″ of snow on the ground….
Eric: Doesn’t seem to be many kids walking down the sidewalk to school today.
Me: Maybe they cancelled school because of snow………oh wait! It’s spring break this week.
Both: (silence)

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The Starfish Throwers

image from southernsonomacountrylife.com/

Eric and I tend to seek out movies that have been described by my mom, among others, as “quirky” and “weird.” We can’t disagree; I mean, for weeks now we’ve been scheming a way to see The Grand Budapest Hotelnot knowing whether Elsa could keep her cool for two hours in the theater and not being ready to leave her sometimes-bottle-refusing self with a babysitter just yet.

But quirky, weird, or not, it’s not often that we’ll turn down the chance to see a documentary. We’re pretty much documentary junkies, and we’re definitely those people that you’ll overhear at a party obnoxiously praising the merits of some obscure documentary we’ve just seen. It’s true.

So when we were contacted about our interest in seeing The Starfish Throwers,  we were more than on board. The documentary tells the story of three individuals who are doing incredible work to take on hunger. The key here is individuals – Katie, a nine-year old girl in South Carolina, Allan, a retired school teacher in Minneaoplis (represent!), and Narayanan, a top-tier chef in India. All three made a small choice to do what they could with what they had to help the people in need around them, and all three have had tremendous impact on their communities.

What impressed me was that these three people are actually doing the work of feeding the hungry. They are the faces bringing food, bringing compassion. And while they now have a wider network of people who are contributing to their efforts, it is still the three of them happily and deeply involved in the day to day interactions with the food and the people. Their work and stories show that everything big starts small. I loved that.

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