(above: Pipes from organ in St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, where I practice)

There’s nothing like going away from home to see new sights, meet new people, eat new food and to fall in love with another part of the world—-even if you’ve been there before. I like to travel (more than my husband does) most places, but I am most fond of traveling, renting a place with cooking privileges and then hitting the local markets, wine stores, cheese shops, bakeries, etc. for a whole new take on cooking. Opens your heart and mind, to say nothing of your cooking sensibilities. (Especially if you’re in another country where you don’t know how to say 1/2 pound of ham, please) Unless you’ve traveled with your cookbooks (or have internet access for all the great food sites with recipes) and recipes (and I have been known to do it all), you’ll likely have to rely on your 2 things:

1. the great food available in the season in which you’re traveling
2. your own good sense and ingenuity

Maybe you brought a spice rub or two for grilling in the park, but, for the most part, you must rely on being able to shop and cook out of those ingredients you’ve just purchased. You probably are not going to want to spend an extra $100 on the right oils, vinegars, spices, condiments, etc.

That’s what these summer blogs will be devoted to as I attend music graduate school at University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. And, oh, by the way, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the study (and entranced, too) that the blog hasn’t been posted since right after I left. Looking at turning that around, but frequent postings won’t return until I finish this semester.

the furnished apartment kitchen———-

So, a kitchen with an old, thin, cheap, warped 8″ omelette pan and a similar 3 qt saucepan. That’s it for pans. There’s a wooden spoon or two, a plastic spatula, something that might pass for a knife, 4 small glasses, 4 small plates, 4 larger plates and some assorted bowls. Perhaps a couple of other oddities (including an electric hot water maker that makes one cup at a time) make up my kitchen equipment. No whisk. No saute pan. Nothing in which to bake. NO tea kettle, coffee pot, no cups. Definitely no Cuisinart. I think the idea was to eat cereal or sandwiches…most likely take-out from the Thai place downstairs.

And, yes, this is a 3rd floor walkup. (Legs getting in shape for sure.)

—– i brought from home———–

I knew the drill, having been here before, so had brought along my favorite grill pan, a 12″ skillet with 4″ sides, a tea kettle and French Press for coffee, my favorite whisk, tongs, etc and, of course, a few spices. ( not really necesary as Penzey spices-order online!- is right down the street and you can buy small quantities) I broke down and bought a colander, a small iced tea pitcher and a $6 toaster from Target. Oh, and I had also thrown in my favorite 3 knives along with a wine opener. I borrowed a thing or two (like a couple of wine glasses and a cutting board) from a nearby friend Sue Hall (also babysitting our puppy Gabby–that’s another story) and we were all set. Right.

–making the best of what’s available locally—–

The best thing about St. Paul (and there are many great things) for me is that we live in the midst of phenomenal food shopping and, if you’re not in the mood to cook, there are quick bars in which to jump up and grab a burger and a beer (you’re in Minnesota) or a glass of wine if you’re not a beer drinker. So far, our favorite local bar is the Groveland Tap, where you can also order (Sundays only, I think) great toasty broasted chicken and a cool glass of wine on the sidewalk cafe outside. You’ll probably make a friend while sitting outdoors. There are also lovely cafes with super salads and desserts (Cafe Latte, Shish) where you can pop in for lunch or supper or just while away a gorgeous midwest summer afternoon poring over your Analysis of Choral Scores (from Greek Chant through Late Baroque) textbook.

All this and still time to practice organ…………balance is the goal.

For you, it might be the local sightseeing taking up your days.

Within a couple of blocks of our apartment (rented from Macalester College) there are two really good grocery stores (most stores here are local), Coastal Seafood, a tiny holeinthewall cheese shop, Breadsmith, Dunn Brothers (best coffee on earth)…. Thomas Liquors (maybe you’ll be there in time for the 20 percent off sale!)… You get the picture. Want something for dinner? Run down the block and be there and back cooking in 10 minutes. And, since you had to go up and down 3 flights of stairs, you got some cardio workout in as well. Don’t want to cook? Pick up a lovely small meal already cooked. Or just go for the cheese, get some wine and head for Como Park or one of the tuneful outdoor concerts in St. Paul or, even in Shoreview on Wednesday nights. Saturday mornings, don’t miss the downtown St. Paul Farmer’s Market, which includes flowers and top-quality locally produced meat (including smoked fish), to say nothing of the produce.

–so I decided to cook——————————

We’ve done a variety of things, but, in the interest of health and wealth, we’ve also cooked quite a bit and had some tasty tidbits and whole meals, too. One of the easiest things to do is to buy some meat that’s quickly grillable and fix a salad chock full of vegetables, running through the bakery on the way home to grab a baguette and an already-made pound cake to round out dessert. Enjoy this meal even if you’re home, but want no-fuss or muss summer cooking. If you have a friend to grill the chops while you make the salad, you’re eating in 15 min.

MENU———–

Grilled Rub of your choice Bone-in Pork Chops
Summer Greek Salad
Baguette
Pound cake with strawberries, pineapple and ice cream

Shopping List
Pork chops (4)

2 Cucumbers
Red Onion
Zucchini
Tomatoes

1 head radicchio
Green Pepper
Parsley
Mint
Lemon
Pint Strawberries
Already-cut fresh Pineapple
Small bottle olive oil
Butter
Small pkg crumbled feta
Vanilla ice cream
At Bakery: Baguette and Pound cake

Things I packed: Rub (a sm bag of Montreal Steak seasoning), Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Recipes (such as they are):

Chops: Heat grill pan over high heat (if the burner will do it)
after giving it a quick rub with a little bit of olive oil. (You could do this over the tiny park grills, too, if you get a cheap, disposable pan of charcoal) Meantime, sprinkle ribs with about 1/2 t your choice dry
rub on each side. Sear the chops on one side for 2-3 minutes and turn to other side, repeat. Lower heat and let chops cook until just a little pink remains (it’s safe). Remove to plate and let sit 10 minutes while you prepare salad.

Salad: Chop cucumbers, 1/4 c onion, zucchini, 1 large tomato,
1 large green pepper, radicchio and place in large bowl (or pan; I have
no large bowl here!). Mince the mint and parsley and
stir. Squeeze the lemon over all and drizzle with olive oil.
Salt and pepper to taste. Crumble feta over all. (note: no large bowl)

I need a bigger meal: Add penne pasta to the salad (buy it already cooked a the deli or fix your own)

Dessert: Slice pound cake and place on plates. Slice the strawberries, take the pineapple out and place over the cake.
Top with ice cream.


Wine: We had on hand a mellow California Petite Syrah that was smooth and tasty with this meal, but you could also try a dry Rose or even a no-oak Chardonnay as a foil to the kind of middle-Eastern salad approach.

After dinner: Go for a walk and breathe. Try smiling at a few people.
One of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, calls it “the spiritual practice of putting one foot in front of the other.”

I have to tell you that, in Minnesota, more likely than not, folks will actually greet you on the street walking… maybe even engage you in chat about the weather, your dog, the kid on the scooter, the incredible blooming yards. My daughter is convinced people are just happier here. Hmm. My husband says his company calls it “Minnesota nice” when they desire a softer, kinder approach…
Hey, nice is free.

Summer Reading (besides text books) AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD, A GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH by Barbara Brown Taylor and PASSION ON THE VINE by Sergio Esposito.

Summer music reading: Organ Chorale preludes, many chants, Renaissance masses and motets, German cantatas, oratorios,Passions, madrigals (Italian and English) and chansons.

Sing a new song (or play it on the organ),
Alyce